BEHIND THE OIL
"You're in love."
A shadow moves across the edge of the painting. Aro clears his voice behind me. "In my opinion, this is his best work yet. Well worth the wait. Don't you agree?"
"Yeah, it's . . ."
I'm, like, ninety-five percent sure I could pick my own ass out of a lineup, but the boots . . . one hundred percent, dead giveaway. There's only one pair in existence, handcrafted by the Chippendales' costume department, and they're mine. Which can only mean one thing: Edward M. Cullen has seen my biker dance. Fuck. Me.
I step toward the painting and Aro moves with me, a salesman working to close the deal. "He's calling this Sex on Wheels, 2.0, obviously going with the full nude this time—"
"Not counting the boots and helmet," I interject without taking my eyes off the painting.
"Right," Aro says. "Limited edition of two hundred fifty, hand-numbered by the artist. With the painter's return to the subject matter he is obviously passionate about—"
"Apparently," I can't help mumbling under my breath.
"—and the exquisite definition of the male form," Aro continues, "these are going to fly out the door. Which is why I made sure to get you in here today." Aro slaps his hand on my shoulder and squeezes, a strange, one-sided handshake. He's a pushy bastard, but I can't say he's wrong about anything.
"Thanks . . . I appreciate it."
My mind scrolls through the memorable clientele. Unless "Edward" is an alias for a chick, I can narrow the painter down to one of my male customers sometime within the last five months. Think, Emmett!
Dollars to doughnuts it was that twink celebrating his thirtieth birthday a couple of weeks back. His friends paid extra for a solo pose with me in the helmet. Guy could barely speak and turned bright red when I gave him a birthday pat on the ass. The age feels about right, though it's impossible to find any personal information about the artist, and God knows, I've tried. Aro is fucking Fort Knox where this guy is concerned, and the artist's website is conspicuously silent on any personal details. I can't believe I had him literally in my hands, and I didn't even know it.
"How much for the original?"
Aro clears his throat, shifts from one foot to the other. The smell of a big sale must've woken up his cock. "The artist has not released the oil, but I do have five signed prints I can sell—"
"Maybe if I speak with the artist directly." And inform him he stole from me.
"I'm sorry," Aro says, attempting an apologetic expression that looks more like a shark who's just smelled blood. "That's not possible. But . . . if you have an offer, I would be more than happy to communicate that to him and get back to you." Yeah, I'll bet you would.
"Fine. Please tell Mr. Cullen I have a blank wall in a room lined with his Sex on Wheels prints, and I'd love to fill that space with the oil of this one if he's willing to let it go. If I have to settle for a reproduction, would he at least let me gaze at the original and have a chance to tell him in person how much I admire his work?"
I swear I can hear the cha-ching and see the dollar signs light up Aro's eyes. "I shall do my very best to persuade him."
Gotta love Vegas.
Author's Note: Hello, hello! I'm so excited to share this new story with you! These two have been kicking around in my head since I saw the Chippendales perform almost two years ago at RT in Vegas! It took the boys a while to finish whispering their story into my ear, but once they started . . . well, you know how that goes. Settle in for a novella ;)
As always, every story has its backstories, hours of Facebook chats with supportive friends, ideas and drafts passed back and forth, giggles, frustration, and (hopefully, finally) triumph. First, a giant thank-you to my sweet Mere, who went with me to the Chippendales show, pregnant at the time (which we both knew) with TWINS (which we learned soon after), and was a seriously good sport about being sandwiched between me and a guy (some other lady's husband) who got WAY excited about the sweaty, torn beater thrown at Meredith in the first number. (Hello, plot bunny!) To my ever-amazing story coach and banner maker, Ladyeire, thank you for patiently and talentedly (Shush! It's a word!) helping me mold my unformed ideas into plots and pretty pictures. Loads of love to my brand new prereader, The UnderStudy, whose epic love for Emmett and the Chippendales blew the flicker of this story into a raging inferno inside me. Last and never least, my sweet, amazing ChayaSara, whose boundless support, wisdom, and love of words make me so much better at this!