A Work of Art
Chapter 4 (of 4)
By S. Faith, © 2010
Words: 20,595 (This chapter: 5,566)
Rating: T / PG-13
See Chapter 1 for details.
She did not have the faintest idea how to respond. Her gaze dropped again to the paper, to what to her was a marvellous likeness, only somehow more so. Yes, it was she on the bed, her nakedness artful and tasteful, only the curve of her backside visible behind her shoulders, her breasts mostly obscured by the tousled duvet. More than anything, it was the atmosphere that engaged her; she felt as if she were standing and looking at herself in the morning light, her skin glowing with reflected sunshine, the ripples and folds of the sheets, pillows and duvet in sharp relief. He had not been going for photographic exactness, but somehow this was more perfect, more real, than a photo ever could be.
"I'm pouting," was the first thing to come from her lips, which was unfortunate because it made it sound as if she didn't approve. Before she had a chance to correct herself, he chuckled.
"But do you like it?"
"Oh, Mark," she said, speaking over his words, tears suddenly overflowing onto her cheek, startling herself. "It's beautiful, how you see me."
She could tell he was relieved at her reaction, though tried he hard not to show it. He came nearer to her, putting an arm about her shoulders. "Careful," he said, kissing her on the top of her head. "No crying on the painting."
She covered her face with her hand as she sputtered a laugh through her tears. "Darling, I love it," she answered at last. "You've done me more justice than I deserve."
"Nonsense," he said. "I could never do you adequate justice."
"Shut up and take a compliment," she said with a smirk, turning to put her arms around his neck.
"Only if you will as well."
"Okay." She pecked a kiss on his lips. "Are you sure you didn't miss your true calling?"
"Absolutely sure," he said. "I don't think any other subject could draw such skill out of me."
She made a dismissive sound, but was touched to hear him say it.
"I wasn't kidding when I said you were my muse," he added.
She lifted herself up onto her toes and kissed him deeply, then hugged him tightly to her.
"Mark," she said quietly. "We have to frame it."
"We can take it to a framer in London."
"No, no," she said. "Let's do it here so that it doesn't get damaged."
"I don't think Grafton Underwood has a place that can do framing," said Mark, "but I think I remember passing a framing store in Kettering. I could take it in the morning."
"Fantastic," she said.
"We can hang it in the bedroom." From the shy, subtle little smile on his lips, she could tell he was pleased by the idea of framing it more than he'd initially let on.
"Would you rather look at a painting of me… or me?" she teased.
"No contest," he said. He kissed her in the hair again, then sighed, resting his chin lightly on the top of her head.
"You sound sad, almost disappointed."
He made a sound deep in his throat, one she could feel rumble against her. "I'll miss that uninterrupted view." She chuckled. "May I have a quick glance, for old times' sake?"
"Was just this morning, silly," she said, raking her nails over the cotton shirt on his back. "Besides, you can see it pretty much any time you like."
"Any time, you say?" he said, the hint of a return tease in his voice. "I shall have to bear that in mind for future reference. Never know when I might need it."
She pushed away, regarded him with a broad grin. "Well, then no, you may not."
"Fine," he said. "I'll just wait until the next Law Council Dinner."
"You're naughty," she teased. "Though maybe those balding, upper-class twits will finally start to appreciate me."
He chuckled, then pulled her into a kiss. As for the view he desired, she relented when all was said and done, as she always did. The pleasure they shared did not diminish with repetition, for which he was glad. As he fell to sleep he thought with great delight of his errand the next day, hoped they could rush the job so he could keep it stowed away in the boot of the car for their trip back to London, and safely from view of his parents.
His excitement was, perhaps, the reason why he woke so early the next morning. He decided to allow her to sleep in, as she had been such a good sport about getting up so early for the past week, so went downstairs to make coffee and eat a pastry before heading out on the road to Kettering with the painting (still on the paper block) carefully stowed in a polythene bag.
The closer he got to Kettering, however, the more nervous he became about showing a stranger the painting of his wife, and though tasteful in every way, she was naked. However, he knew he could not turn around and take it back to the house. She was expecting it to be framed, and it was not the sort of thing he could lie and say he had forgotten to do. He would just have to swallow his pride, his embarrassment, hand the painting over, and leave it to Fate.
As he entered the shop, a young man looked up and greeted him with a smile. About Mark's own height, with clean-cut blond hair, he said, "Here to pick something up?"
"No," Mark said with a nervous smile, shifting the bag out from under his arm.
"Ah, it looks like you've got something there."
Mark nodded, then cleared his throat. "I, um, need to have this framed. As soon as possible, if you aren't too backlogged."
"Let's have a look." Delicately the man pulled the paper block from the bag, using a folded square of paper to keep his fingers from touching it directly, and set it on the counter. "Well, isn't this lovely," he said, his eyes scanning over the painting. "And is this your work?"
He was not sure why he was so reluctant to admit to it. "Yes. It was a bit of a private thing between my wife and me."
"Oh, this is your wife?" He looked down again. "Lucky man. She's very pretty."
"More importantly than that, you've got a very nice technique," he said, his fingers hovering over the surface as if he wanted to touch it, but he didn't. "Very rich, very layered. I'm sure you've done her justice."
"Thank you," Mark said again, feeling his face flush with heat.
"You're welcome. Pardon me." He turned and called over his shoulder, "Dad!"
A few minutes later an older man emerged; it was not difficult to spot the familial resemblance to the younger man. "Yeah, Gord?"
"This fellow here has a painting he'd like framed, but he needs it—" Gord turned to Mark, asking the silent question of when.
"Um, we return to London on Sunday."
Gord turned back to his father. "So what's your schedule look like?"
"Mm, I'm fairly caught up. Just some smaller things, a couple of pieces for the Westons—their girl Sherry's wedding portrait—and a custom job to preserve a footballer's autographed shirt. How does Friday sound to you, sir?"
"Friday would be fantastic. Thank you."
The older man smiled, then his eyes flickered down. Mark saw the moment his brows raised in slight surprise. "Lovely," he said. "Love the use of light and shadow. Where did you get this?"
"It's his work," said Gord.
"Really?" He did look impressed, if Mark was not reading too much into his expression. "Well, best separate the painting from its block. I can take care of that while you fill out paperwork with Gord."
"What kind of frame you'd like: wood, metal, and so on; colour of the mat and how large of a border you'd like, if you want it matted at all; plastic or glass, with or without UV coating…"
Mark chuckled. "I never really considered the possibilities."
In the end, with Gord's guidance, Mark chose an ivory mat and a deep cherry wood frame with a bevel, a very thin stripe of gold about a centimetre from the edge of the glass, which he decided would be best with the UV protection.
"I think she'll love it," said Gord. Mark concurred. "If you'll just fill in your name and telephone number we'll ring you when it's ready so you don't have to come and wait."
Mark nodded as Gord's father emerged from the back with the paper block, which he slipped back into the polythene bag. As Mark accepted it from him, he said, "If anything comes up, if you need more time, don't hesitate to call."
"I've been doing this for forty years," said the older man, a pleasant smile spreading across his face. "I've never been late."
Mark extended his hand. "Pleasure to do business with you, sir."
"Please, call me Senior."
Mark smiled. "And feel free to call me Mark."
Since the task had taken him so little time, he decided to make a side trip to a local shop for a little treat for Bridget, for having been such a good model. As he drove home, he became more amused upon deciding how he would actually give her the gift.
Once past the stress of strangers seeing his naked wife by proxy of a painting, the drive back was pleasant and seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, and he enjoyed the bright summer sun and pleasant sensation of wind in his hair as he drove back to the outskirts of Grafton Underwood. He arrived home to find the house was still and he chuckled to himself. If anyone could make up for lost sleep, she could.
Instead of waking her, he penned a quick note to hang over the edge of the gift bag, then placed the bag on his pillow beside her before retreating from the room.
He was just putting some more water on for coffee when she came into the kitchen. She looked slightly perplexed yet amused. "Mark," she asked unsurely, "did you really buy a gift for my bottom?"
"Yes," he said in all seriousness. "It was such a good subject for painting I thought it deserved a treat, and what better treat than a nice pair of panties?"
She laughed. "You're very strange."
"Well, I'm sure if you ask nicely," he said, scooping coffee into the French press, "your bottom will be more than happy to share. Are you hungry?"
"Mm, yes please. Do we have any more of those apricot pastry things?"
"I believe we do," he said, heading for the refrigerator, where the pastries had been stored to keep them from turning mouldy.
"So you took the painting to Kettering?"
"Mm-hmm," he said, finding the last of the pastries. "Will be done on Friday. I think you'll be pleased."
"Can't wait to see it."
"They'll call when it's done."
"Oh, and we can maybe make a little outing of it."
"I'd like that."
Mark's phone rang while they were still lounging in bed on Friday morning. Bridget was surprised when he answered it, but when he advised the painting was ready to be picked up, she smiled broadly. She really was very excited to see it professionally framed and ready to hang. They were quick to rise, shower and dress for the day ahead, deciding to get some breakfast in Kettering before heading to the art store.
"Mr Darcy," the man at the counter said with a smile as they entered the art store. "And this must be your wife."
"Indeed," he said. "Bridget, this is Gord; Gord, Bridget."
Bridget took the proffered hand for a shake. "Very pleased to meet you. Oh, the picture surely does you justice."
She felt her face flush with heat, could only stammer a nervous, "Thank you."
"Just a moment," Gord said. "I'll get Dad to bring it out. Dad!" He turned his head to call the last part. "Mr Darcy's here for his painting!"
A faint voice called from the back, one that Bridget could only assume was 'Dad' calling back in acknowledgement. This was proven when, within a few minutes, an older gentleman appeared bearing the framed painting. He had grey hair and looked like Gord only fast-forwarded in time. She couldn't suppress a smile.
"Oh, the lady herself," he said, extending his hand. "I'm Gord Senior. Call me Senior."
She took it to shake it, skin flaring with heat again. "Bridget."
"I'm sure you want to see it, Bridget," Senior said. "Here you are."
He held up properly, and Bridget drew in a surprised breath, her hand reflexively going to her mouth. The dark red wooden frame with accents of gold in a thin line around the edge and the off-white mat perfectly presented Mark's work.
"I take it to mean you like it." Mark.
"Oh, it is absolutely gorgeous," she said. "Beautiful work, Senior."
He beamed a proud smile, puffing up his chest a little. "Thank you."
While Gord and Mark worked to settle the bill at the counter, Senior wrapped up the painting in brown butcher paper. "To protect it in transit," he said, sticking some masking tape down to hold the paper in place. "I'll put it in a polythene bag, too, if you like."
"That'd be nice. Thank you."
As he placed the painting into a bag, folding over then taping the top, he said, "I would really love to see what else your husband has done. He's got a good eye for this."
"Aside from some quick studies," Bridget replied, "he hadn't painted before this since he was a boy."
Senior seemed genuinely surprised. "Well, let's hope he does more."
"I hope he will," she said. "He works in a fairly high-stress job. I thinks it's good to have an outlet like this."
With that, the payment transaction concluded, and they offered their thanks again before leaving the store. Mark stowed the painting safely into the boot before they drove off. They decided to take a leisurely, more indirect route back home to Grafton Underwood. As they were driving, her mobile rang; Bridget saw that it was her mother, sighed deeply (at which Mark chuckled) and answered it.
"Bridget, darling, where are you?"
"En route back to Mark's parents'."
"Oh! When are you going back to London?"
"Sometime Sunday, I think," said Bridget, glancing to Mark, who nodded.
"What are you doing for dinner tonight? Come over for supper with us one more time."
"I think Mark needs to pick up his parents from the airport tonight." She saw Mark nod again.
"Well, then, tomorrow night! And Elaine and Malcolm can come as well."
"I… don't see why not," Bridget said hesitantly, "but we'll want to discuss it."
Mark, as it turns out, was perfectly amenable to having dinner with their parents, which she was not sure he didn't deserve to sleep on the sofa for. But, she thought, we don't see them that often, and it's good karma.
Mark did not object to the family dinner the following evening, but reminded ultimately it would have to be up to his parents, who might still want to rest after their holiday. The Darcys' flight was due to arrive at six, so Mark thought leaving by three in the afternoon should suffice. They fixed themselves a big lunch to tide Mark over until his return with his folks. "You are charged, my dear," said Mark, "with cleaning up evidence of the crime." When she furrowed his brows, undoubtedly looking concerned, he burst into a laugh. "I mean the easel and the paints and the paper. Just put them into the closet in our room."
"Oh. Okay. Wait." She paused in speaking until he looked at her. "Don't you want me to come with you?"
"I thought you might like some time to catch up writing in your diary without me around," he said. "A little time alone. Not that I wouldn't want you to come."
She mulled it over. "Mm, you have a point, I guess. We're not joined at the hip."
He chuckled, reached across the table, took her hand and squeezed it.
"You'll drive safely, won't you?"
"Absolutely not," he deadpanned. "I'll weave erratically from lane to lane and drive too close to the car in front of me."
She pulled her hand from his and slapped the back of his playfully. "You can be such a prat sometimes. If you could call me when you get there so I don't worry…"
Upon cleaning up after the meal she noticed it was about time for Mark to head out to the airport. She took him into her arms and gave him a tight hug. "Be safe, you prat," she murmured into his shirt front.
After a few moments of embracing, he pulled back and kissed her. "When we get back, we can get something to eat at the pub, okay?"
"Oh, you don't want me to cook?"
"Don't trouble yourself," he said, which she knew was code for "I'd rather you didn't burn the house down." She let it slide when he added, "Besides, our arrival back is uncertain. I'd hate for anything to get cold."
After another brief kiss, he was off. She thought it would probably be best to get the painting supplies away first. For whatever reason, Mark did not seem to want his parents to know that he'd taken up painting again. He really can be odd about things at times, she mused.
As it turned out, his parents were more than willing to go to Bridget's parents' for supper the following night. They arrived back to the house looking refreshed and relaxed, if a touch browned from their time in the sun.
"We'll be going to the Rotary luncheon tomorrow anyway," said Elaine as they tucked into supper at the pub.
"Don't you want to rest a bit after travelling so much?"
"Bah, don't need to," said Malcolm with a bit of bluster. "All that fresh air… invigorating!"
"I think they have more energy than we do," Bridget said confidentially.
Mark chuckled. "Sometimes I think you're right."
Upon returning to the house, his mother had small gifts for them: a leather billfold from Milan for Mark, and a beautiful painted silk scarf for Bridget. "You really did not need to bring us a thing," she said, pulling it through her fingers, then draping the brightly coloured scarf around her neck, "but I'm happy that you did."
"Oh, it was a pleasure. Think of it as a little thank you for keeping an eye on the place," said Elaine with a little wink.
Mark was about to say that the house was in excellent hands with the housekeeper and the gardener making regular visits, but at a pointed look from his wife, he opted not to say a thing.
"We are feeling a bit tired," Elaine went on to say, "and the luncheon's promptly at eleven, so if you don't mind helping us take our luggage to our room, we would love to turn in."
After taking turns pecking Bridget on the cheek good night, his parents headed upstairs. Dutifully Mark took one suitcase in each hand and followed closely behind; he admired his mother's ability to pack lighter than Bridget for a holiday much farther from home. After saying his own goodnights, he rejoined Bridget in the sitting room, where she had already poured him a glass of wine.
"Put them to bed, have you?" she asked in an amused tone, handing the glass to him.
He smiled. "Well, I didn't actually tuck them in, but yes," he said, then tipped his drink up to his lips. "One more day to enjoy the country before it's back to our own humble abode."
"Anything seems humble compared to this house," she returned with a smile.
"It's not so big that live-in staff is required," he reminded.
"Very true," she said. "I rather liked having the manse all to ourselves."
When they woke the next morning, it was almost as if his parents hadn't come home at all, because they were already up and gone to the luncheon by the time Mark and Bridget wandered downstairs. Mark figured it was forgivable to laze a bit more in bed than was the norm, given their holiday was drawing to a close. As a matter of fact, nothing of consequence happened for the rest of the day; he caught up on some leisure reading while she wrote in her diary and rang up her friends to see how everything was going in London, how their own house was, and assuredly making plans for the week ahead.
They then went to supper at Bridget's parents'. This was not in and of itself an earth-shattering event. It was after dinner, however, that Mark made a most exasperating discovery.
As his mother talked with Mrs Jones, as his father and Mr Jones drank scotch and bellowed with laughter, his eyes drifted over to the walls, covered with photos and other objects of art. His eyes caught up on one framed picture in particular, one he had seen a multitude of times before, and looked at it, really looked at it.
He realised it was a watercolour painting of the Joneses' back garden.
Slowly he rose and walked across the room to get closer to the painting. As he approached, he heard Bridget call after him, asking him what the matter was. He did not answer, only furrowed his brows and gazed intently at the hung painting.
"Oh, that!" said Pam, answering Mark's unanswered question. "You've seen that before, I know you have."
"I've seen it," he said, his eyes searching each square centimetre, "but never really took a close look. Did you paint this?"
"Don't be silly," said Pam. "That—"
"Mark, some more wine? Want me to make you some tea?" Bridget interrupted. His eyes at that moment fixed upon what they'd been seeking—the artist's signature—and, realising her attempt at diversion, he turned back to her.
"That's your painting, Bridget," he said, stiffly and somewhat accusatorily; the bad attempt she'd made at the start of their holiday had been nothing but a put-on.
"Of course it's her painting," said Pam, offended. "I know I've told you before." It was entirely possible. Mark had, after all, been guilty of tuning Pam Jones out on more than one occasion.
"I'd forgotten," he said, fighting a smirk. He could not truly be angry with her, though he intended on allowing her to think he was, at least for a little bit; after all, it was her deception that had prompted him to take brush in hand again, and he could not deny he had enjoyed doing so… and especially loved the results. "It's very nice."
"It's not at nice as—" She stopped suddenly, probably at the quick, panicked gaze he shot her. He did not want anyone to know, and he knew her next word was bound to be 'yours'. "Not at nice as some," she finished.
"Hmm," he said noncommittally. He turned back to the painting and regarded it thoughtfully. "It's true that it lacks a certain level of discipline," he went on, "but it's fresh, original and charming it its own way." He turned back to her. "Not unlike its artist."
Colin Jones burst out with a laugh. "Particularly the discipline bit."
Only then did Mark allow a small smile, which caused her to smile too.
They did not stay much longer, just had a slice of pie and some tea for dessert before the four Darcys—two by birth, two by marriage—piled into Mark's auto and headed into the night for the family home.
"That was a rather good evening," said Malcolm, his voice gently slurred by the alcohol he'd consumed. "Had rather missed the comforts of home."
Mark shot a glance to his wife. He knew what his father meant. He was rather looking forward to being in London again, in his own home, in his own bed. From the smile she offered, he suspected she felt the same.
"I'm glad you weren't really cross with me," Bridget said as they prepared for bed, pulling a brush through her hair. "I know you well enough to know you're a bit shy to try something you don't think you're good at the risk of failing and embarrassing yourself in front of even me. But I also know you can't resist trying to help me when I can't seem to do something."
"Very clever, wife of mine," he said, rinsing his toothbrush.
A smile tugged the corner of her mouth upward.
"Only one question still remains," he continued, a hint of seriousness pervading his tone.
"Yes." He picked up the cup, took in, swished around, then spit out mouthwash with deliberate slowness. "Do I bring the paints and brushes home, or simply invest in a second set for London?"
It delighted her to think he wished to pursue painting in the future, and all she could do was beam a grin at him. "Either way," she said. "You've always got a model at your disposal."
Mark received three very odd telephone calls in the days, weeks, to come.
The first was from his father, which in and of itself was odd because he rarely ever phoned Mark directly. The subject of conversation would do nothing to make things feel any more normal.
"It's about you, specifically your wife. Actually, it's about June," he said, rather evasively considering he had been the one to call Mark.
He was utterly confused. "What?"
"June took your mother aside to express some concern."
Mark glanced to his watch; he just wanted his father to get to the point already. "Concern for what?"
Malcolm cleared his throat. "June inadvertently overheard a conversation she found a bit dismaying. Between Bridget and yourself."
He struggled to think of any such conversation. "What did she hear?"
"More of a statement by Bridget than an actual conversation, truth be told. Something about… well, blast, not to put too fine a point on it, being a bit sore from holding the same position for too long."
Mark was too shocked to respond, did not know whether to laugh or cry as an intense heat crept up from under the collar of his shirt. Bridget had been right, it seemed, about the dirty mind of grannies; clearly June had thought exactly what Bridget had said she'd thought.
Malcolm continued, his voice hushed but gruff. "I know you love that girl, Mark, but for God's sake, keep a rein on yourself, and don't overtax her."
Mark could not very well explain the misapprehension without telling his father about the painting. "You're absolutely right," he said quietly. "I am very sorry to have disturbed June. It won't happen again."
When Malcolm spoke again, relief was evident in his voice. "Good; good." After a bit of idle chit-chat—again, odd for his father—Malcolm made excuses to hang up the line.
Mark didn't mention this call to Bridget because she might have been embarrassed that his parents were involved… but selfishly, he did not want to have to tolerate her level of smugness at being right about June's interpretation of her words.
The second call came about a week later.
"Mark." It was his mother, which was not an odd occurrence; however, the words she said next catapulted it into such a category. "You owe me an explanation."
"About what?" he responded, taken aback by her tone.
"I ran into an old friend at the Rotary's rummage sale. I think you know him too."
He held in his impatience as he said, "Who would that be?"
No glimmer of recognition at all in Mark.
"He owns an art and framing shop in Kettering."
His mother went on. "He gushed on and on to me about a painting he said you brought in to have matted and framed. I thought for sure he meant another from an attic… but then said it was perfect for hanging in a show of portraits he's thinking of doing, even if it was a little on the risqué side, and would I pass that on, which I've done." She paused to collect her breath, in much the same way a storm gathers before thundering forth. "Mark," she said darkly. "What on earth is he talking about?"
He thought briefly about how to reply. "Bridget inspired me to take up a paintbrush again."
She didn't say anything. "And you didn't want us to see this why, exactly?"
"You didn't answer my question," she said. "Did you think we would not approve of whatever it is that's risqué about it? Give us a little credit, Mark."
"I'm sorry," he said again. "I thought of it as something private between Bridget and me. If I could have gotten away with framing it myself, I might have."
She was silent for a few moments. "I didn't mean to climb all over you, Mark," she said, her tone a bit softer. "I know how much you like your privacy."
"Bridget's not wearing clothes in it," he blurted, looking around to ensure she was not in earshot. "But it's very tasteful."
"I can't imagine you'd subject her to anything distasteful," she said. After another pause, she said, "I'd really love to see it."
He smiled a little to himself. While he was slightly shy about the subject matter, it was something he was proud of having done. "We've hung it in the bedroom."
"Ah," she said. "Well, perhaps your father and I will make a day of it and come and see you sooner rather than later."
"You know we'd always welcome that."
"And… I don't know… maybe we could bring it back for Gord to hang in his show."
That, Mark decided, would have to take a lot more convincing, if for no other reason the shrill voice of Pam Jones would sure to be in their future. "That decision is best left to the subject on display."
When his parents came the next weekend and praised the painting for its beauty and subtlety, Bridget was less shy at the subject of possibly appearing in a show.
"Everyone will be clamouring for a Darcy original to hang in their sitting room," Bridget teased.
In the end, she agreed, and was more right than she could have imagined, hence phone call number three, from the show's curator:
"We've had an offer on your painting, Mr Darcy, at more than three times the estimated value."
"It isn't for sale," Mark said curtly. Then, out of curiosity, he asked, "Who's made the offer?"
"A… Mr Cleaver out of London."
Mark felt his temper rise. "Under no circumstances. Absolutely not."
The phone changed hands, Mark could tell. "Oh, come on, mate," said a new voice. Daniel's. "You could always do another; you've got the original, and I must admit I miss that lovely view very much."
"The thought of you leering at her, even through the proxy of a painting, makes me furious, not to mention physically ill."
He heard Daniel chuckle. "Perhaps on occasion I can come and view the original, then."
He wondered if Daniel would ever change, would ever stop trying to provoke him for his own enjoyment. "I'm glad you find this so amusing, Cleaver," said Mark.
"Same Mark, same stick up your arse," he said. "I can guarantee I'm not the only man, possibly woman, who'd love to put that image on their wall. Perhaps screen printing is the way to go. Mass market. And as a compliment to the fine work of the artist, I could promote it on the Smooth Guide."
"Don't even think about it," he said in an icy tone.
"Or you'll sue me. Or punch me out. Or something." He sighed over-dramatically. "A pity," said Daniel. "You could have made a mint."
He sighed, exasperated. "That would be at far too high a cost, I'm afraid. And you need to let it go already. You can't have her image just as much as you can't have her." With that he hung up the phone, then leaned to steady himself on the telephone table.
He wondered how much of that conversation she'd heard. When he turned to look at her, the concern on her face told him she'd heard enough.
"Sorry," he said. "You'd think it wouldn't bother me anymore."
"Indeed," she said, reaching to take him in his arms. "Because I am yours, and nothing can change that. There is not a day that passes that I don't thank the entire heavenly host that Daniel broke my heart."
He hugged her in return, calming almost instantly. "In that case," he murmured, "perhaps I can sign what's mine. Right on your most attractive… asset."
With a laugh, she leaned back and playfully punched at his chest. He only tightened his embrace, leaned down and kissed her until she forgot all about resisting. He did not sign her backside; rather, he treated it with great care and tenderness. It was, after all, a work of art.