Platinum (Facets of Passion)

BOOK: Platinum (Facets of Passion)
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Platinum
By Jeffe Kennedy

Althea Grant’s Charleston gallery might be suffering from the bad economy, and her artistic aspirations have gone nowhere, but she’s doing just fine, thank you. When bad-boy sculptor Steel rides up on his motorcycle looking to rent studio space, his infusion of cash is more than welcome. But his art is raw, visceral, sexual—and completely inappropriate for her pastel world of watercolor landscapes.

Steel, fascinated by Althea’s rare albino coloring, sees in her the key to his next piece: a metal satyr designed for bondage games. Moving into her gallery basement is the first step; seducing the cool Southern belle into modeling for him is the second.

As Steel peels away her careful manners and tasteful outfits, Althea begins to realize her life isn’t just fine at all—it’s as pale and washed-out as the watercolor paintings she’s failing to sell. Can she transform her life and accept her most secret desires?

39,000 words

Dear Reader,

This February, we decided that we would do something a little
different for the month that usually celebrates Valentine’s Day. Not everything
always needs to be hearts and roses—sometimes it can be swords, mayhem and
spaceships as well—so we’re using this month to not only debut new science
fiction and fantasy authors and series, but also to reintroduce some returning
authors in these genres. And, of course, since we’re a publisher of variety, we
have even more genres on offer this month.

Debut author Steve Vera brings us
Drynn
, book one in his Last of the Shardyn urban fantasy trilogy.
The heroes of two worlds reluctantly join forces to fight the Lord of the
Underworld. Joining Steve in the urban fantasy category is David Bridger,
returning with his sequel to
Quarter
Square
.
Golden
Triangle
is the story of a golden man, werewolf
bikers and two nemeses.

How
Beauty
Saved
the
Beast
is the second book in Jax Garren’s continuing
science fiction romance trilogy, and the sexual tension is ramping up! A
burlesque dancer and a scarred soldier defend a colony of anarchists as friends
and fellow agents, but when a new weapon threatens to rip them apart, sparks fly
as the dancer must take the lead in a fight for the soldier’s life. Don’t miss
the trilogy’s conclusion in May.

Returning authors Stacy Gail, Inez Kelley, Shona Husk and
Christopher Beats all deliver their respective book twos this month, all in four
different genres. Don’t miss paranormal romance
Savage
Angel
, fantasy romance
Time
Dancer
, Western fantasy romance
Dark
Secrets
and steampunk mystery
Vacant
Graves
.

Also in February, author Shawna Thomas launches her newest
fantasy series with
Journey
of
Awakening
. Trained from birth for one purpose, Sara
must reunite three ancient stones to restore balance to the land, but one of the
stone keepers has other plans.

Longing for a heroine who’s not your typical heroine? Have an
interest in a unique fairy tale retelling? Tia Nevitt delivers both in her
latest Accidental Enchantments offering,
The
Magic
Mirror
and
the
Seventh
Dwarf
, a
Snow
White
retelling where the seventh dwarf is a young
woman who walks into adventure with a runaway princess, a prince cursed by a
magic mirror, and a romance of her own.

Last, but definitely not least, are our February offerings
for those of you who want to read outside of science fiction, fantasy and
paranormal. Mystery author Monique Domovitch joins Carina Press with
Getting
Skinny
, the first in her Chef Landry Mystery series.
Charlie Cochrane delivers another heart-wrenching tale of love in male/male
historical
Promises
Made
Under
Fire
. And cool Southern belle Althea Grant’s subdued
life as an art gallery owner burns out of control when a seductive bad-boy metal
sculptor pushes her to explore her deepest, most thrilling desires in
Platinum
, Jeffe Kennedy’s newest BDSM erotic romance
book.

We’re pleased to introduce debut author Darcy Daniel with her
contemporary romance
Playing
the
Part
. Famous actress Anthea Cane meets her match
when she encounters an enigmatic blind farmer…but has she also met the man of
her dreams?

And despite my claim that not everything has to be hearts and
roses, I’m still a die-hard romantic, so I hope all of you discover an amazing
happily ever after this Valentine’s Day, whether between the pages of a Carina
Press book or channel surfing on the couch next to you.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your
thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
.
You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter
stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

To my mother, for dragging me to all
the art galleries, everywhere.

Acknowledgements

The name Chalkstone Gallery is borrowed from Chalk Farm Gallery in Santa Fe, one of my favorite galleries.

Thanks to Jillian Chantal for snark assistance.

Thanks to Susan Doerr, who volunteered to help me set up a newsletter out of the goodness of her heart—or possibly because she couldn’t stand to watch me flailing about.

Thanks to Brenda Schetnan, who connected me to her Charleston buddies. And to Ron Gibb, president of the Charleston Artist’s Guild, for answering my stupid questions.

To the amazing, lovely and welcoming people of Charleston: thank you for being so wonderful to me. Special thanks to Joe Sylvan of Sylvan Art Gallery, for hooking me up. Many thanks to Rhett Thurman, an artist with an amazing eye for color and composition, and her husband Harry, doorman extraordinaire, for showing me around and answering endless questions. Althea’s home and rooftop garden are based off their fabulous digs. To Helena Fox of Helena Fox Fine Art—how perfect that your assistant called in to play and you were working. Thank you for giving me the inside scoop.

Thank you to the concierges at King’s Courtyard Inn in Charleston: Lisa, Jessica and James, who acted like it was their job to answer off-the-wall questions and get me cab rides to nowhere. My weekend stay there was wonderful—more than I could have hoped for.

To my fabulous editor, Deb Nemeth, who taught me the word
panicles
, which I now intend to use
all
the
time
. And for all the smiley faces.

To the usual suspects, my critique partners Laura Bickle, Marcella Burnard and Carolyn Crane, without whose support, both in and out of the Cone, I’d be lost. To Allison Pang and Kristine Krantz, sister Word Whores and IM buddies, who always lend an ear. To Carien Ubink, Samantha Ann King and B. E. Sanderson, faithful blog commenters and cheerleaders.

To all the readers who’ve been so generous with feedback and support—it means more than you know.

And, as always, to David, who makes it all possible and all worthwhile.

Chapter One

A grating roar cut through the quiet, startling the silver-haired woman in a peach suit and pillbox hat who’d stopped to peer in the gallery window. With an aghast look at the black-leather-clad man pulling up on a large motorcycle behind her, she hurried off under the graceful arches of the palmettos lining the narrow street.

Althea sighed for the lost opportunity. Not that she could make people open their tight pocketbooks and invest in art—especially with the economic downturn—but it felt as though few customers even walked into the gallery these days. More often than not, she sat alone with the lovely watercolors hanging in silent elegance, quietly nursing the desperation to somehow keep this dream from shattering too.

Motorcycle guy cut the engine, pulled off his helmet, shook out tousled dark hair and extracted a telltale portfolio from saddlebags on the back of the bike.

Just what she needed today—another wannabe artist thinking that getting to show in a gallery in Charleston’s historic district was the ticket to success. Numbers didn’t lie. Certainly her accounts told a different tale.

Failure
, the totals whispered.
Fail
fail
fail
.

Closing her laptop with a snap, she slid it into the drawer of the fragile antique desk and smoothed her chignon. She timed it well. Just as motorcycle guy strode in the door, opening it forcefully enough that the little bell clanged instead of tinkling, Althea was self-possessed and calm, ready to send the aspiring artist on his way. She would make it quick and painless as possible. Like ripping off a Band-Aid.

After all, she knew how that kind of rejection felt.

“Althea Grant. Welcome to Chalkstone Gallery.”

He shook her hand with calloused fingers, sizing her up with a flick of his brown eyes. He wore a motorcycle jacket, faded jeans and black leather over them, like a cowboy would—and they framed his crotch in a most disconcerting way. Althea averted her eyes, feeling the embarrassed flush stain her cheeks.

“I’m Steel. Your girl, Cheri, told me to come by, show you my stuff.”

A giddy giggle rose up in her throat at that and she tamped it down, determinedly meeting the man’s eyes. His rough-stubbled chin implied he might be as hungover as her assistant had claimed to be when she called in sick. Or maybe he always looked like that. Cheri might have mentioned that she’d sent a wannabe over. Likely she’d been hitting on the guy and had forgotten all about it in her morning-after misery.

“Well, Mr. Steel. I’m afraid that Cheri—”

“Just Steel.”

She paused, resisting the urge to wipe her damp palms on her silk skirt. “Excuse me?”

“Not Mr. Steel. Just plain Steel.”

A smile stretched at her lips, not a polite one. This guy was a piece of work. “Just Steel? Like Sting or Madonna?”

His brows lowered and he narrowed his eyes at her, rocking back on his boot heels. “Or Elvis.”

“Even Elvis had a last name.”

“I don’t.”

A brief, uncomfortable moment strained between them. Althea clasped her hands together. “Regardless, I’m sorry to have wasted your time. The gallery isn’t taking on new artists at this time.” She plucked a card from the scrolled holder on her desk. “However, if you’d like to take my card…”

He took it but studied her. “Your hair is the most remarkable color.”

Self-consciously, she put a hand to it. Dropped it.

“It’s nearly a pure white. Almost colorless,” he continued. His rough fingers twitched on the binder he carried. An artist’s reflex she’d seen hundreds of times.

“Yes, well.” To put distance between them, Althea went to sit behind her desk. “I’m albino.”

Steel set his binder on her desk, tucked his thumbs in his belt loops. “Like white deer—that kind of thing?”

“Ah…yes. Like that.”

“Your eyebrows and lashes aren’t white.”

“Makeup.”

“Shouldn’t your eyes be pink?”

“Not all albino’s eyes are pink, but I wear colored contact lenses.”

“But you wear glasses.”

“I don’t see well. The lenses help with light sensitivity—and looking normal—the glasses help me with visual acuity. Any other questions I can answer on the topic?”

He flashed a surprisingly wicked grin, one that crinkled the corners of his eyes. “The only other one that springs to mind isn’t something a guy asks a lady.”

Her lips twitched in reflexive response. Why she wanted to smile, she didn’t know. He wasn’t remotely charming. “No—though you wouldn’t be the first to wonder if the carpet matches the drapes.”

He rocked on his heels again, looking tremendously amused. With his thumbs in his belt loops, the movement drew her attention even more to the bulge in the faded denim so perfectly framed by the black leather. Desperate for something else to look at, she grabbed his portfolio. What on earth possessed her to blurt
that
out?

“Um…” He put a hand on top of the binder. His knuckles were stained and rough. More like a working man than an artist. “You might not want to do that.”

She flicked a glance at him, feeling cool again. “Didn’t you bring it here for that reason?” She slid it out from under his grip, unzipped it.

“Yeah, but that’s before I saw what kind of gallery you have.”

She flipped open the portfolio and raised an eyebrow at him. “And exactly what kind is that, pray tell?”

He glanced around, his gaze landing on a lovely marble abstract on a pedestal nearby. The movement of it reminded her of an ocean wave, and she sometimes ran her fingers over the smooth sweep of it when she was alone.

Steel pursed his lips, cocked his head and gave her the same appraisal as the gallery. “Ladylike.”

He didn’t say what she knew some of the other, more successful gallery owners would call it—tourist art. Irritated, and annoyed to feel that way, Althea focused on the first photograph.

Flipped the page to the second.

And the third.

When she reached the end, she turned back to the beginning to look again.

Hot
.

Pow
.

The sculptures and paintings all radiated visceral, raw sexual power that took her breath away. The metal sculptures evoked twined figures, sometimes bound together, sometimes trying to tear apart. The paintings, less abstract, were gut-wrenching images of sensual limbs and flowing hair. Longing grew in her belly. That certain hunger to possess a work of art she loved burned brightly.

“The sculptures—” her voice kept a cool, impersonal shell over the shocking impact of his art, “—you use found metal?”

“Mostly, yeah. Inlaid with precious metal plate when I can afford it.”

“And, the paintings? Oils or acrylics?” Althea adjusted her glasses on her nose to better see the detail. This kind of thing challenged her weak vision the most.

“Either. Both. Usually what I can get my hands on or…”

She looked up at him over her glasses. “Or what seems right?”

He nodded, stuck his hands in his jacket pockets and shrugged. “So?”

“Your work is edgy, deeply moving, yet accessible. Brilliant, really.”

He looked suspicious, the scowl giving his lips an irresistibly sexy crease. “Brilliant, huh?”

Althea sat back in her chair, smoothly crossing her stockinged legs and folding her hands on one knee. “But, not right for Chalkstone. I’m sorry.”

He picked up the portfolio. “Seems I told you that already.”

“Yes. Well.” She stood and rounded the desk, ready to scoot him and his disturbing presence out the door. “I
am
sorry. But you won’t have trouble finding a gallery to show your work. I’m sure of it.”

Steel pulled a money clip out of his coat pocket and set it on the desk.

“What’s that?”

“Ten grand.”

“Are you planning to buy something?”

His hard gaze assessed the misty paintings on the walls and came back to her, eyes glittering. He let the pause stretch until she thought he might not answer.

“Space to work.”

Not what she thought he was going to say. From the way he’d looked her over, she’d been braced for something as crude and sexual as his work.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your girl said you have one of the few basements in the historic district.”

“Yes.” She scrambled to pull her thoughts together. “I use the space to prepare exhibits. There’s a sump pump, but it doesn’t always keep up.”

“I’ll pay you the ten grand to let me live and work there for the next six months.”

She blinked and pulled off her glasses. “That’s a lot to pay.”

He grinned. “For Charleston’s historical district? No way.”

“There’s no living space.”

“All I need is a mattress and a hot plate. I can shower at the gym.”

Like an animal. Who lived like that? She picked up the money clip. It burned in her hand. It could mean solvency for a while longer. Enough to get the gallery through this dry spell, perhaps. All she had to do was put up with Mr. Steel No-Last-Name for months on end. It made no sense for him to want her basement though.

She held it to him. “No. I don’t think so.”

He didn’t take it. Now she stood too close. Close enough to smell the scents of leather, smoke and man. He ducked his head a little, catching her eye.

“Look, Althea. I sold a piece and got a commission for another. I need a space I can weld in that I won’t set on fire. One that’s secure. This is my big chance—I want to do it right.”

Tempting. She understood that, wanting to do your best. She’d longed for that first big break too. Only hers had never come.

“Welding is smoky.” Hence the odor.

“Your girl said there’s ventilation.”

“And noisy.”

“I do my best work at night. You can come visit. Model for me.”

“What? No.”

“You live right upstairs, don’t you?”

“How did you know that?”

He smiled, slow and sexy. “The curtains match. Up and down.”

A flush heated her face. Absolutely the wrong guy to have to said that to. And now he might be living downstairs. Would be. As uncomfortable as the arrangement might be, nothing compared to the idea of confessing to her father that she’d blown yet another career.

“Why here? You can find space like that out of the city.”

“I want to be here. The feel is right.”

She understood that too. The tropical feel of the old city streets, with their lush window baskets of flowers and the scent of the ocean… There was no place else like it.

“Fine. But there will be rules.”

His sexy smile only deepened. “I love rules.”

The words held an odd, sensual weight. Flustered, she dropped her gaze to the portfolio. The commission must have been substantial, since his materials costs had to be high, even with found materials. “What prices did you get for your work?”

He sobered immediately, giving her a thoughtful look. “You looking to represent me after all?”

“No.” She waved a hand at the gallery and then herself. “We’ve established that you’re not my style.” Maybe she gave it a bit more of an imperious tone than necessary. A splash of the
politesse
she used with the Charleston elite who sometimes happened in.

Steel got the message and something hard and hot flared in his eyes. “Yeah—that was before you called me brilliant.”

“I called your art brilliant and I can recognize the quality of something without being attracted to it.”

His lips twitched, as if he were holding back a smart-ass remark. She braced herself for him to call her out on the lie. His gaze focused on her hair. “If you’ll model for me, I think I could get that sheen of your hair and skin. Platinum might do it.”

She went back behind her desk and tucked the money in the drawer. She’d have to close for a while to go deposit it. It gave her a moment to shake off the idea of herself in one of his hotly sexual scenarios.

“I don’t model.”

“There’s always a first time.”

“No, I don’t believe so.”

“We’ll see, darlin’.” He flashed that grin at her, the one that sent her mind straight back to one of those scenes. “I’ll bring my stuff by tonight.”

“The gallery closes at six.”

“Great—you can help me move in.”

“And there’s no parking, of course. You’ll have to come in through the alley.”

“You’re already offering to let me in the back door?”

A blazing blush lit her cheeks and he tossed off a cocky salute to celebrate his point. With a cheerful whistle, he sauntered out the door.

Althea watched him go, then went for the mop to clean up the mud his boots left on her floor.

BOOK: Platinum (Facets of Passion)
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