Authors: Jordyn Tracey
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Multicultural, #Multicultural & Interracial
Copyright © July 2008, Jordyn Tracey
Cover art by Aidan Books © July 2008
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious or used fictitiously. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
"Okay, what you do is put a small dab here of the blue and a dab over here of the white. Take the smallest bit from each and blend,” Kiara instructed. “See the results?"
The young girl nodded her understanding and proceeded to copy Kiara's actions to the letter. She was a natural, Kiara thought, and hoped for the umpteenth time that some miracle would allow the girl to one day go to art school.
"Kiara Jackson?” a voice ahead of her asked. “Is that you?"
She looked up to find an Asian man standing before her, muscled physique beneath an obviously expensive suit, strong jaw, bald head and eyes hidden behind mirrored glasses. Next to him, he held the hand of a young girl no more than eight or nine. The man pushed his glasses down his nose to peer at her over the top. Cold, dangerous eyes, so dark she couldn't be sure they weren't black. Somehow, although he had asked if she was Kiara Jackson, she was pretty sure he
A familiar tremor went through her. She hadn't run away lately, and a man as impeccably dressed as this one, wouldn't be there on Odell's behalf. She tried to relax, but tension locked her shoulder muscles in place. “Yes, I'm Kiara Jackson.
"I am Jiro Fuschida and this is my little sister, Ayumi."
,” the girl said softly. Her brother made a soft noise and frowned. She spoke louder in English. “How do you do?"
. That was the name of a character from her favorite cartoon. So they were Japanese. She nodded. “Pleased to meet you. What can I do for you, Mr. Fuschida?"
He smiled, and her heart fluttered. “Please, call me Jiro. I understand you teach children to draw and paint?"
She glanced past him to the glass doors leading out of the community center. While she had not liked the fact that she had been given a space no bigger than ten by ten feet in the lobby, which made her have to trek back and forth to the bathroom to get fresh water for her paints, she hadn't complained. The position afforded her a view of who came and went, although it could sometimes be distracting for the children. Now, she noticed the limo parked at the front of the building, and from the looks cast his way, she didn't doubt it belonged to him.
"I ... Yes, I do, but you should know there is a school here in the city that trains children in all kinds of art. What I do here is more of a hobby for the children I teach. The school is exclusive, but I highly recommend it.” She knew from personal experience that Morningside School of Art was top notch. Up until two years ago, she had worked there.
Jiro removed his glasses completely and stared into her eyes, making her feel mesmerized by his looks and his power. She swallowed hard, but a lump remained in her throat.
"I'm not looking for an exclusive school; I'm looking for someone who is not only good at what they do, but personable. Ayumi deserves no less. Now, name your price."
Kiara frowned. Sure she needed the money, but his arrogant attitude grated on her nerves. She would have loved to turn him down. Unfortunately, every little bit helped. Again, she glanced toward his fancy ride and doubled her fee. She appeased her conscious telling herself she would give Ayumi her all and see that the girl learned to be the best her ability could produce. Lately, that hadn't been much with her students. The ones with the talent soon moved on to better opportunities, or their parents could no longer afford the fees. And Kiara couldn't afford to give away the time.
Jiro slid his glasses in place. “Agreed. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons good for you?"
When she nodded, he pivoted on his heel and guided his sister out the door. She returned to her lesson, but only for a second before she jumped from her stool to run after him. A moment later, she burst through the door out into the sunlight. Shielding her eyes, she stumbled toward the curb. A hand at her elbow stopped her from stepping into the street.
"Careful,” he snapped, not too unkind. She trembled in fear anyway.
She glanced up in his eyes, wondering if he removed his glasses only so she could get lost in his gaze. “I-I..."
"I told you too much. I'm sorry."
He smiled, and her heart skittered. “Having an attack of conscious, Ms. Jackson?"
What could she say? That she had purposely cheated him because he could afford it? Should she lie so he wouldn't take his sister to someone else, someone more honest? Too late, she realized either course would make her look bad in his eyes. Her admission to charging too much had ruined her in his eyes.
"I just overcharged, that's all. You can take Ayumi to someone else, if you like. If you don't want to enroll her in the school just yet, then I can recommend a friend. She's very skilled and patient with children, although she usually works with teens and adults."
He had been handing his sister into the car. When she finished speaking, he shut the door and walked over to her, coming so close she considered taking a step backward. He towered over her, a waft of his cologne tempting her latent desire. “Let's get something straight, shall we?” he began. “I want you.
you. And I am very used to getting exactly what I want."
Kiara stood there with her mouth opening and closing, unable to put together two words to say in response to his double meaning.
"Now, you will find that I am a man who sticks firmly to my agreements. Therefore, the original fee I settled on stands. Have a good day, Kiara.” He bowed, just his head, as those of his culture often did, twisted and stepped into the limo. Only after the vehicle turned the corner did she allow herself to breathe, and wonder what changes the future held.
"You're late!” Odell growled from his chair in front of the flat screen TV.
Kiara said nothing. She hung her keys on the hook to the left of the door and slipped her shoes off to place neatly in a corner. On her way to the kitchen, she called over her shoulder. “I stopped by the art supply store. I needed more umber. The kids seem to—"
Her next words were cut off from the stinging blow across her face. Kiara bumped the table, hurt her stomach and fell to the floor. She put a hand up to her stinging face, but said nothing. Better to just keep quiet until he went back to the TV. Instead, he stood over her, breathing hard. “What were you saying?"
"Nothing,” she muttered. “Sorry, my mistake."
She stood and moved to the refrigerator. That morning, she had set the last of the beef to marinate. Only after she found nothing but an empty egg carton inside the refrigerator did she notice the bowl in the sink. The beef was nowhere to be found.
Tears in her eyes, her stomach growling, she whispered, “Odell, where's the meat I put in here this morning?"
"I got hungry,” was his flat reply. “And a couple friends stopped over. I had to feed them."
Her gaze fell on the frying pan hanging above the stove. The studio apartment might be small, but at every opportunity, she tried to add things that would spruce up the place. The wrack for hanging pots and pans over the stove had been one of her ideas. With the stove so narrow and the kitchen space limited, the idea seemed silly in retrospect.
But that frying pan was wrought iron, found at a garage sale a year and a half ago. She had fried Odell's favorite food in it many times—French fries made from real potatoes and Polish hot dogs. At that moment, all she could think of was smashing his skull with the pan.
"I haven't eaten all day.” She sniffed as tears fell down her cheeks. “The little money I did have went to paying down the electric bill in hopes that they won't turn it off. And you and your buddies ate the last of the food.” She gestured to the TV, an appliance she would never have wasted money on because there were just too many other bills neglected, and necessities. “You sit there every day staring at that thing, never caring whether this apartment is falling down around your ears."
His brown eyes grew wide in anger. “Oh, you've come home in a mood. Looks like you have too much mouth for your own good.” He took hold of her by the back of her neck and squeezed hard. “You need to learn your place."
Hunger had made her snappy and stupid. “I'm sorry, Odell. I didn't—"
"Uh uhn. Too late!” He dragged her toward the bedroom while undoing his belt. Kiara's muscles already ached from sitting in the same position all day. Odell hadn't been kind in the last week—as if he ever was. She didn't think she could survive a beating tonight.
She tried to resist his hold, but her hands trembled and her strength was a joke. “Please."
"Shut the hell up!” He forced her toward the bed, bending her body so that her feet were on the floor and her face was shoved into the mattress. Kiara tried to turn her head to drag in a breath, but Odell didn't allow it. She ripped at the covers, beat with ineffective fists at his thighs and kicked at his ankles. Nothing worked.
He flipped up her dress and tore off her panties. She had so few already and part of her panicked mind lamented the loss rather than focus on what he was about to do. She felt the belt drag across her rear, a torment he liked to inflict on her to warn her of what was coming.
She sensed rather than saw him raise his arm. Someone banged on the door. He paused. The banging went on until he decided to answer. “Stay there. I'll be right back."
Kiara turned her head and dragged in a breath. Tears wet the spot where she lay shaking and crying. When? When would she escape this? Maybe she never would. Someday he would kill her, but at least then she would be out of this miserable life.
The phone rang. She stared at it, thinking the phone company had decided to accept her partial payment for the fifth month in a row. Not that she needed the phone much. No one called her. Odell had insisted, and he would lose it again if she missed any of his messages.
She slid off the side of the bed to the floor and reached to the scratched second hand dresser for the cordless. “Hello?"
"Kiara?” She gasped at hearing Jiro's sexy voice.
"I had forgotten to ask if I needed to bring Ayumi with supplies, and if so, what she needs to bring,” he explained.
Kiara brushed tears from beneath her eyes and smoothed down her hair, like Jiro could see what a mess she was or that Odell had been about to hurt her. “I ... yes. How did you get this number?"
"I'm pretty sure you gave it to me.” He paused. “Are you okay? Your voice sounds fuzzy. Stuffy nose maybe?"
His concern touched her, although it was nothing more than common courtesy, she was sure. “Yes, I'm fine. Do you have a pen and paper? I'll give you the list now. For the pencils I name, please try your best to get the numbers and brands I indicate. They offer the best results. Some parents argue with me and say a number two should be fine, but when you're dealing with kids who don't always follow instructions on going light on the paper, the pencils I recommend work."
She heard the smile in his voice and remembered his slanted black eyes. They closed to just slits with his thick dark lashes. A man should not be that damn hot. She pushed the thoughts from her mind and focused on giving him the supply list. He was just a student's guardian, no more. Besides, her situation didn't allow for anything else.
"That's all you will need for the time being.” She heard Odell ending his conversation. “I have to go now.” She didn't give him a chance to say anything more, but pressed the Off button on the phone and tossed it on the dresser.
Odell stepped into the room, threw money on the bed and left again. Soon she heard the TV blaring. She looked to find twenty dollars crumbled at her side.
Terrified that he had started something illegal, she went to the living room. “Where did you get this?"
"Does it matter?” he grumbled. “Go to the store and get something to eat, and shut the hell up about it or I'll take it back.” She wasn't about to argue. Not only had she avoided a beating, but she could fill her stomach. Maybe she would even splurge and buy her students a donut for the morning class. She thought of Jiro again. Just meeting him had brought a little sunshine in her life. Hopefully, there would be more.