Read His Masterpiece Online

Authors: Ava Lore

Tags: #alpha male, #analingus, #submission, #the billionaire's muse, #domination, #strong heroine bdsm, #rimming, #body painting

His Masterpiece (2 page)

BOOK: His Masterpiece
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I bit my lip.
He's not crazy.
That meant that Don thought Malcolm was just acting a part, whereas I was now not so sure. Where did that leave me?

Lying on my fainting couch, feeling like shit and pining for a man that I'm suddenly not certain is really real.
I wanted the Malcolm I knew to be the real Malcolm. I cared about him, or the man I thought I knew. Our time together, floating on the sea—it all seemed like a dream already, something that had happened to someone else, in another time and place. Was what we shared real, or had he only been manipulating me? The snatches of our interactions in my memory could have gone either way, it seemed...

I bit my lip, hard. What did it matter? I had to choose if I was going to believe him or believe his secretary, the FBI, the CIA, the Turkish Coast Guard, and, probably by now, the press. And if I knew anything about any of those guys, I'd go with Malcolm any day.

Which left me with one option: I had to get him out of prison. I couldn't let him waste away in there. He still had to finish his Masterpiece.

And I'd seen his attempts at art. There was something
there.

I lay on the couch and stared at the ceiling of the plane, my mind chasing itself around in circles.

I was no closer to figuring out what I should do when we reached New York and Felicia finally woke up.

“Morning, sleepyhead,” I said to her as the plane began its descent and she blinked around the cabin, clearly trying to remember where she was. She shot me a glare.

“Oh, shut up, Sadie,” she told me. “If you only knew how many nights of sleep I've been missing because you decided to get yourself pretend-kidnapped or whatever, off running around the world without even sending me a text, which, by the way, is totally rude because you're my personal assistant and you have a lot of vacation saved up, so you could have just
told
me you were taking your vacation days instead of letting me worry about it... You know the feds came and talked to me? They wanted to know if you'd talked to me at all about Malcolm, or if you'd left me a message or contacted me since you were kidnapped...” She trailed off. “What was my point?”

“I think you were trying to say you were tired.”

“Right! I
am
tired. And you are sunburned. Don't you know that's a great way to get cancer?

I shrugged. “I'll live.” It felt good to banter with her as if nothing had happened. Being as exasperating as possible to Felicia was always one of my favorite past times, and now it made the ache in my chest and the lump in my throat recede a little.

“You're
impossible
,” she told me.

Oh yeah. That was the stuff.
Feed me, Felicia.
“Sorry. I have a lot on my mind.”

Her face softened. “Yeah. Sorry. There I go, making it all about me again.”

I gave her a little smile. “If that bothered me, we'd have parted ways a long time ago.”

She smiled back, a small, rueful thing before sitting up and stretching. “So,” she said, “want to tell me what you're thinking about?”

I figured I might as well tell her the truth. “Malcolm. And the vase.”

“Ah,” she said. “Right. The embezzler and the broken vase.”

Her words sent a stab of pain through me, unexpected and unwelcome. I shoved it away, hurt and irritated. I'd always supported her,
always,
even when she was being really stupid, and that was often. But whatever. It wasn't my job to convince her of anything. “Yes. That.”

She rubbed a hand over her mouth, not looking at me. “Yeah,” she said, “I've been thinking about that, too.”

“While you slept?”

“Yes, actually. Specifically the vase. It was broken at the auction, right?”

Yup. That was how this whole thing had started. Just a moment of inattention and boom, you're running from the FBI on a luxury yacht in the Adriatic sea. I'd been worried about my life getting boring. I was never, ever going to worry about that again. “That's right.”

“In that case, why did he tell you you could have a broken vase?”

I put my hands over my eyes. “I don't know,” I said. “Malcolm is a troubled guy. He has issues. Maybe he thought it was symbolic.” Was that part of his masterpiece? Leaving me a broken vase? Our relationship come full circle?

Ugh. I love performance art, but when it gets hard to tell the difference between art and life I sometimes wish people would be just a little
less
obtuse. I once spent a full five minutes at the end of a long, fully packed art show staring at an empty stone bench and wondering if it was an exhibition piece or just a nice bench to sit on.
Can I sit on this bench?
I had wondered.
Is it art? Can I sit on it if it's art?
I wasn't even drunk. I felt the same way now. Leave me a broken vase? Is it art? Or are you just a dumb motherfucker who I miss so much I could scream?

“You have to go get the vase,” Felicia said, breaking me out of my maudlin thoughts. “He wanted you to have it.”

“Fine,” I said. The pressure of the descending plane was starting to weigh heavily on my head and I worked my jaw to pop my ears. “I don't know where it is though.”

“Start with his house. He couldn't have had everything cleared out.”

“Sure he could have.”

“Fine. But we'll start with his house
anyway
.”

“Oh, you're coming now?”

She grinned at me. “Hell no. I'm just the brains of this outfit.”

“Okay brainiac, tell me how I get into his house. I don't have a key.”

“Don't worry about that,” she said. “I have lawyers, and so does he.”

I shook my head at her, but I couldn't help but smile. “Look at you. You stopped keeping it real as soon as humanly possible.”

She made a face at me as the plane touched down. “Would keeping it real involve breaking and entering and getting arrested and never saving the grand paramour of your tumultuous affair?”

I wasn't even sure she'd used all the words in that sentence correctly, but, after a moment of sorting through it, I nodded. “Probably,” I said as the plane finally slowed to a stop.

“Then we'll use the lawyers,” she said, and at the front of the plane the pilot hopped out of the cockpit and opened the door and the wild, blustery wind of a New York March gusted inside the plane, wrapping us up in chill and cold, and underneath it the hint of spring.

I was home, but when I'd left, it had been with Malcolm. Now I was returning without him, and I suddenly realized that I had no idea when I would see him again, touch him again, talk to him again.

The hitch and ache in my chest returned with a vengeance and something must have showed in my face because Felicia asked me if I was all right.

I had no words for her. It hurt too much to think.

So I stopped.

Chapter Fifteen

Felicia promised to get the key, and I thanked her. I didn't really know if I wanted the key, or the vase, or any of this drama, but I agreed to spend the intervening time at her house.

So I buried myself in one of the guest beds at her mansion and slept like the dead. Occasionally Felicia or Anton would pop their heads in to see how I was doing or drop off take-out, telling me to keep my strength up. Even Arthur showed up once, seeming genuinely concerned for my well-being up until the moment he told me he needed me to get back on the job because he was swamped like a Long Island beach community.

In the few hours I was awake, I tried to contact Malcolm, but his bail had not been posted. His assets were frozen, and, I suspected, he didn't really want to be sprung from jail anyway. It was just the sort of thing a guy filled with self-loathing and melancholia would eat up, although if he actually went to prison I suspected the experience would begin to pall fairly quickly. His lawyers stonewalled me, and I eventually stopped trying.

Going to see him was out of the question, too, since paparazzi had surrounded both Felicia's house and my apartment. Malcolm was obviously all over the news, and as his “kidnapping victim” so was I, even though kidnapping had been dropped from his charges. Terrible photos of me beamed out across the airwaves and showed up online.

I'd been a genius at helping Felicia defeat the reporters back when she and Anton had been in and out of the tabloids for kinky sex in semi-public, but now that it was me in the spotlight I was utterly helpless. I had no idea how to protect myself. I was slow and stupid from the sun, fucked into a gentle torpor, but also ripped open and rubbed raw, and even after I'd closed the wounds the muscle underneath still needed to heal.

I turned completely inward, focusing on the ache Malcolm had left in me, slowly processing our time together. Torn apart, it felt as though as he had died, all our unspoken words still hanging between us. It was a ridiculous way to feel, but I still wandered the house like a ghost and stepped outside more times than I could count, meaning to suck down a quick cigarette in an attempt to fire my mind out of its sluggish repose, but the moment I did I would remember that I was a sudden celebrity and I would curse and dart back inside. But of course just a second was plenty of time to land me back in the celeb news cycle at least once.

But most of the time I just slept. It was easier than thinking.

On the third night I dreamed about him. We stood naked on the deck of his boat. The sun beat down, but it was nothing in comparison to the heat of his lips on my throat, my mouth, my breasts, his hands on my body. Gently he lifted my arms, holding them out, and with a delicate touch he peeled the tattoos from my skin. Fish and spiders and fire birds slipped away from me, leaving the scars beneath exposed.

Then he lifted each tattoo to the azure sky and, one by one, the sea wind whipped them from his fingers and carried them away.

––––––––

On the morning of the fourth day I awoke and finally felt
awake.
I descended the stairs, feeling restless, and, drawn by the smell of coffee, wandered into the kitchen.

Felicia wasn't there. There was only Anton, who sat at the table in the breakfast nook reading some dumb business bullshit on his tablet. I still didn't know Anton very well, so I had to force myself into some semblance of levity. Shuffling over to the table, I cocked a hip and put a hand on it.

“I really need a cigarette,” I informed him, my voice rusty with disuse. “Don't you have any secret passageways I can duck into for a smoke?

He didn't look at me right away. That's what I hate about Anton. He's just gotta make everything into some kind of dick swinging contest.

Finally he lifted his eyes to mine. Cool, calm. Unperturbed. “Of course not,” he said.

“What kind of billionaire are you?” I complained. “How can a guy as rich as you not have a secret passage in his house?”

He sipped his coffee and raised a brow. “One who walks around unashamed,” he said.

“What about when the revolution comes? You'll be first up against the wall while the proletariat scream for your head. You'll wish you had a secret passage then. Actually, you should put one in before the revolution happens. You'll thank me when you're ruling a drug cartel in Mexico.” I surprised myself with my little rant. Apparently I was feeling a bit bitter about the world.

Anton was not amused. “And even if I
did
have a secret passage,” he said, choosing to ignore my dire warnings about the imminent communist overthrow of capitalism, “I would not allow you to smoke in it. It's a filthy habit.”

“You're not the boss of me,” I said.

“Actually I am.”

...Fuck. He was right.

We stared at each other for a moment before he looked back at his tablet and sipped his coffee again. Pulling my best sullen teenager face at his unconcerned face I turned and stalked away.

In the kitchen I poured myself some coffee and stomped around the island, as restless as one of those tigers in cages at the zoo who contract OCD from being cooped up all the time.

Anton ignored me, studying the screen in front of him, as cool and unruffled as a statue of a sphinx, and just as mysterious. It occurred to me that Anton would never let someone betray him the way Malcolm did. Why couldn't I have gotten involved with one of the billionaires who crushed people without regard for sentimentality? It would have been a lot less stressful. I wouldn't have been interrogated by the feds for starters...

But of course I wouldn't have liked Malcolm as much if it weren't for the weird humanity he kept trying to hide and purge from himself as though it were a disease. I would have thought him to be just like every other jackoff rich guy.

I'm just dumb, I guess. Always had to pick the complicated ones.

Felicia chose that moment to waltz into the breakfast nook, looking radiant and thoughtful. Her eyes lit up when she spied me, though she didn't mention my recent indisposition. “Good news, Sadie,” she said instead. “The lawyer talks went well. We have achieved a key.” And she held up a lovely coppery key for me to inspect. It dangled from a small silver chain tethered to a realtor key fob.

I inspected it. “That's a key,” I said solemnly.

“And it goes to Malcolm's house,” she replied. “Now you can get in and find the vase.”

“It's probably been swept under a rug or something,” I said. “Works all the time in cartoons.”

Felicia shot me a glare. “Can we please be serious for a moment?” Reluctantly I nodded. She entered the kitchen, reached forward, and grabbed my hand, pressing the key into it. “Good,” she said. “Look, Malcolm told you he wanted you to have that vase. It must have been important to him for you to get it, so I think you should take a car and go over there and see if its in his house.”

“And if it's not?” I said. Then a thought occurred to me. “Hey, wait, if you talked to his lawyers and got the key, why didn't you just ask them to ask
him
where it is?”

A faint stain of color shone on her cheeks for a moment. Anton had put his cup down and was watching her intently. She looked from him to me and back again, then sighed. “I thought, if he really is innocent, maybe he hid a clue in the vase.”

“A clue?”

She nodded.

“In the broken vase?”

She nodded again, though this time she looked uncertain.

“A clue left behind when he was literally going to kill himself rather than expose his pseudo-brother's betrayal? Left in the hopes that someone would look in a bunch of broken vase bits and find a stack of papers a mile high proving the innocence of a dead guy?”

Felicia stomped her foot. “It could happen! And besides, it doesn't have to be paper. He could have hidden it on a disk or something.”

“In the broken vase?”

“Or in the pile of broken vase bits, yes,” she snapped. “So I didn't ask the lawyers directly about it. I just said you needed something from his house. They cleared it with him, and I'm assuming he told them it was fine to give you a key. So here it is.”

I stared at the key in my hand.

“Look,” she said after a moment. “You don't have to. But you are really broken up over this crazy guy. Go find that vase and get some closure.”

Sometimes I really do have the best friend, and I don't deserve her.

“I'll call for a car,” Anton said. “You'll avoid the paparazzi that way.” I looked at him, but he was staring at Felicia. “My dear,” he continued before I was able to say thank you, “I think we should be seen in the vicinity of Mr. Ward's house doing something terribly illicit. Surely the dogs of the press are watching Mr. Ward's house as well.”

“Oh,” Felicia said, “I didn't think of that.” Then the blush on her face grew deeper. “What should I wear?”

I took that cue to beat a hasty retreat upstairs to get ready.

––––––––

Freshly showered, dressed in my best giving-up-on-life clothes from back when I was just a struggling artist, and preoccupied with the sick feeling in my gut, I sat a block from Malcolm's house in the back of the car Anton had called for me.

I chewed my lip and stared at the phone in my hand, waiting impatiently for the text from Felicia to let me know she was about to be caught on camera by whatever paparazzi had been lying in wait for me. I just hoped she wouldn't be caught up in the moment and forget. Then again, maybe that would be for the best. What if the vase wasn't there? What if I found it and... then what? Who cared? Just a reminder of a sweet, dreamlike time I could never return to. Why would I want it?

But I did want it. I wanted to see it, touch it. Maybe then I could figure out why Malcolm thought it was so important that his last words to me were his insistence that I have it.

I couldn't quite decide how to feel about things, and it was making me nervous. I always know how to feel about things. Until Malcolm came along, I suppose. He set me off balance, made me speechless, shocked me with his utter candor.

I hadn't heard his voice in days. Almost a week? Yes, four days, maybe five. I hadn't called his cell phone in the hopes of hearing it, because that was pathetic and also I didn't want to get pegged by the feds again. I wished I had, though, and now, sitting in the back seat of a fine car, hidden from the world by the dark windows, a silent, discreet driver studiously ignoring me, the sudden temptation to call him was almost overwhelming.

Then the phone buzzed in my hand, and a text from Felicia flashed across my screen.

“SKJii SDOI(*&h ddd Kanye i”

Yeah. She was kind of caught in the moment. Good thing the content didn't matter.

“I'm out,” I told the driver, unnecessarily. “I should be back in, like... an hour? Tops?”

The driver, whose name was Jeff, though I didn't want to use it and seem too familiar, gave me a watery smile and a deferential nod. He was old, his silver hair close-cropped to his head. He looked like an ex-Marine and for a moment I wished I could just stay in this car with him, chat and talk, be
normal.
But the ache in my chest would have given me away. I nodded back to him, shoved my phone in my hoodie pocket, and let myself out of the car.

Brisk March wind whipped around me, cutting through my old clothes as I strolled down the street, trying to look nonchalant. The hood of my sweatshirt sheltered my face from the eyes of others and the worst of the wind, and before I knew it I was approaching Malcolm's house.

It was weird. I felt as though I were approaching the house of someone recently deceased and I had to fight the impulse to walk on by, to not face the sudden, sharp change in circumstances. I watched my feet eat up the pavement as if they belonged to someone else, and when they mounted the front steps I had to bite the inside of my cheek to force myself to keep going.

I reached the door. It stood before me and I realized it was almost the same color as Malcolm's eyes. Stuffing my hand into my hoodie pocket, I drew out the key, looked at it for a second, then pushed it into the lock, turned it, and opened the door.

It gave way beneath my hand without a sound, and I stepped inside and closed it behind me.

The house was empty. That much was obvious. All of Malcolm's things were gone, cleared out to be given away regardless of worth or sentimental value, and I stood in the foyer feeling more melancholy than I though possible. Yeah, the house had been the repository of a crazy person, but it had been
his
repository. I'd never asked him why he had all that junk, and now it felt like I never would. He'd go to prison and maybe I'd write to him or visit or whatever, but it wouldn't be the same. We'd never be as open as we had out on the waves of the sea, not unless he proved his innocence.

Slowly I walked around the lower floor. The place looked tiny now that it was empty, the same way a dead body looks small after the soul has vacated the premises, and I had to forcibly remind myself that I was here for a purpose rather than just turn around and leave. I should see if the vase was here. The movers probably wouldn't have taken a pile of broken pottery. It had no worth.

Or it was priceless,
I thought, and giggled sadly.

I poked around the ground floor, but found nothing, so I moved to the stairwell and climbed up the steps. The house creaked beneath my feet, groaning like an old man complaining about his tired joints. The second floor was more of the same—beautiful wood, creamy walls. A library, a music room, a long narrow game room. I peered in the closets and looked in the fireplace, but there was nothing. My heart beginning to sink, I mounted the stairs to the third floor.

Here the house became more like a home than a mansion. A honeycomb of bedrooms and bathrooms greeted me, and I started at the front, snooping around, looking in every nook and cranny I could find, but nothing greeted me until I entered what had to be the master bedroom.

It was larger than the rest and emptied out onto a terrace. The cloudy sky outside made it dim and dreary, but there was a door to the master bath that I hadn't been able to access from the hallway. I tromped to it and looked around. The light from the terrace barely made it inside, and the high, tiny windows were stained glass, giving me very little to work with. I sighed and tried the wall switch, but nothing happened. I squinted up in the darkness and saw that all the bulbs had been removed from the room.

BOOK: His Masterpiece
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