From the New York Times Bestselling author Beth Kery comes a red-hot romance like no other—where the rules of attraction are broken with that first electrifying touch. Meet Francesca and Ian.
She loved this piece. It’d killed her to give it up, but rent must be paid.
“The Cat That Walks By Himself,” Ian said from behind her, his voice sounding gruff .
She smiled and laughed softly at hearing him say the title she’d given the painting. “ ‘I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me.’ I painted this in my sophomore year of undergrad. I was taking an English literature class at the time, and we were studying Kipling. The phrase seemed to fit somehow . . .”
Her voice trailed off as she stared at the solitary figure in the painting, her entire awareness sharply focused on the man who stood behind her. She glanced back at Ian and smiled. It embarrassed her to realize tears burned in her eyes. His nostrils flared slightly, and she turned abruptly, wiping her cheeks. It had touched something deep inside her, seeing her painting in the depths of his home.
“I think I’d better get going,” she said.
Her heart started to do a drumroll in her ears in the heavy silence that followed.
“Perhaps it’s best,” he said eventually. She turned and gave a sigh of relief— or was it regret— when she saw his tall form exiting the room. She followed him, murmuring a thanks when he held up her jean jacket once they reached the entryway. He resisted when she tried to take it from him. She swallowed and turned her back to him, letting him put it on her. His knuckles brushed against the skin of her shoulders. She repressed a shudder when he slid his hand beneath her long hair, skimming her nape in the process.
He gently drew her hair out of the jacket and smoothed it over her back. She couldn’t repress a shiver and suspected he felt it beneath his hand.
“Such a rare color,” he murmured, still stroking her hair, sending the alert status of her nerves up another notch.
“Will you come here to paint?” he asked, his deep voice echoing just inches from her right ear. She stared in front of her, unseeing.
“I’d like you to start on Monday. I’ll have Lin provide you with an entry card and password to the elevator. Your supplies will be ready for you when you come.”
“I can’t come every day. I have class— mostly in the morning—and I waitress from seven to close several days a week.”
“Come whenever you can. The point is, you’ll come.”
“Yes, all right,” she managed through a constricted throat. He hadn’t removed his hand from her back. Could he feel her heart throbbing?
She had to get out of there. Now. She was way out of her depth.
She lurched toward the elevator, pushing a button on the control panel hastily. If she’d thought he’d try to touch her again, she’d thought wrong. The sleek elevator door slid open.
“Francesca?” he said as she hurried inside.
“Yes?” she asked, turning.
He stood with his hands behind his back, the posture causing his suit jacket to open, revealing a shirt- draped lean abdomen, narrow hips, a silver belt buckle, and . . . everything beneath it.
“Now that you have some financial security, I would prefer you didn’t wander the streets of Chicago in the early morning hours in order to find your inspiration. You never know what you might encounter. It’s dangerous.”
Her mouth dropped open in stunned amazement. He stepped forward and pushed a button on the panel, causing the doors to slide closed. The last glimpse she had of him was his gleaming blue- eyed stare in an otherwise impassive face. Her heartbeat escalated to a roar in her ears.
She’d painted him four years ago. That’s what he was telling her— that he knew she’d observed him walking the dark, lonely streets in the dead of the night while the rest of the world slumbered, warm and content in their beds. Francesca hadn’t realized the identity of her inspiration at the time, nor had he probably known he was being observed until he saw the painting, but there could be no doubt of it.
Ian Noble was the cat who walked by himself.
And he’d wanted her to know it.