Towards the end of my lunch shift, as my tables thinned out, I slipped outside for a smoke break. I was desperate to get away from Margot, the other painter, who never stopped scowling at me. Besides, now that I had a few more weeks' wages under my belt, I could actually afford cigarettes. Moving up in the world.
Digging in my apron pocket for my lighter, I bumped into a man standing in the cool afternoon fog. "I'm sorry," I said, stepping backwards.
He was middle-aged and expensively dressed. Unlikely to mug me, then. I supposed no one on Fall Island was likely to mug me, but you never know.
"No apology necessary." He had a smooth, velvety voice, and he was handsome in a rich, elegant way, with dark, neat hair and a refined profile.
"Are you waiting for a table?" I asked him curiously. There was no one else in the parking lot. Just him, alone in the fog, smoking a cigarette.
"Just enjoying the sea air before my lunch."
I nodded. I could understand that. I fumbled a cigarette loose from the pack and took a long drag. There was no need for me to be nervous about Kaye's party tonight. It would be fine.
"Are you in town for the summer?"
The constant question. "I moved here a few weeks ago," I replied. "To stay."
"Well, welcome. I'm James. James Emory." He offered me his hand, and I shook it.
"A pleasure." He smiled. "You have a very pretty sense of personal style," he added.
I was wearing my work clothes: a black mini-dress over black leggings, with a ton of silver and brass chain necklaces piled around my throat. Nothing special.
"Where did you get the jewelry?" He didn't have a Maine accent. I'd gotten so used to the way the townies talked that he sounded strange to me now.
"At a few different thrift shops. I mixed and matched different pieces from each."
"Very pretty. Artistic, really." His gaze slid up from the necklace to meet my own. "Are you an artist?"
"I'm a painter."
"How interesting. What do you paint?"
"Um," I began, releasing a breath, "portraits, mostly. Sort of dark, gloomy portraits." Rhys had always called my paintings dreary.
James Emory raised his eyebrows. "I wouldn't have guessed that, looking at you." He tapped the ash from his cigarette. "Do you have any pictures of your work?"
"Actually, yes." I dug my phone out of my apron pocket and pulled up a picture of a painting I'd finished a few months before I met Rhys. "This is a portrait I did of my mother."
The painting showed her sitting on a couch, one slender knee crossed over the other. She held a rose on her lap, twining its long stem between her fingers. I'd painted the background black so her olive skin and the rose would stand out, while her ink-black hair, which was so much like mine, faded into the background.
The painting was dark—literally, because it looked like an old Renaissance painting, but also figuratively, because it was from when my dad was sick, and I had been so lonely back then, and so desperate for someone, like a mother, to help me care for him.
But my mother was smiling in the funny little way she always did in photographs, and working on it at the time had made me feel better. I was proud of it, even if it couldn't compare to a Suzanna White.
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Set Me Free [complete]Romance
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