A groan rippled across the apartment. Savannah sat at the desk in the living room, her chin cupped in her hand. A yawn escaped her lips as she strained to listen for further movement. When no other sound reached her ears, she decided that it was probably just the building settling—or her imagination. With Chloe finally in bed and Max still at work, the house felt eerily silent. Plus, the late hour didn’t help.
She focused on the computer again. A web page displaying samples of logo designs sat open on the screen. She scrolled through, studying each piece. She figured that if she looked at enough examples, she would eventually come up with an idea for South of Forever’s logo. So far, all she had accomplished was keeping one eye open while her body grew more exhausted.
Instead of taking a nap, Chloe had spent an hour throwing a tantrum on the living room floor. Gazing at the screen with bleary eyes, Savannah resisted the urge to look up parenting blogs. Whatever was making Chloe boycott naps was probably normal. Besides, she needed to focus.
She eyed the kitchen through the pass-through and chewed the inside of her cheek. Maybe a cup of cocoa would energize her enough to get through the next couple of hours. Pushing back her chair, she padded into the kitchen and retrieved a pan from a cabinet. Within a few minutes, the scent of cocoa permeated the air. She poured it into a tall mug.
Carrying her drink back into the living room, she switched on a lamp. Max didn’t need to come into a dark house.
She set the mug down on the desk next to the computer and slid back into her seat. As she sat, something poked her bottom. Frowning, she lifted up and examined the chair. No stray screws protruded from the fabric. She slid a hand along the fabric of her shorts. Her fingers brushed something. Shaking her head at herself, she dipped her fingers into her pocket and withdrew the crumpled business card.
Smoothing it out, she leaned closer to read the small text. Her heart fluttered in her chest as she replayed her meeting with Zachary. She reached for the keyboard to look up Seven Deadly Brushes. From what the business card said, it seemed as though Zachary’s tattoo shop was also a gallery.
The home page proclaimed that they were taking submissions for their gallery. She wondered if Zachary actually had any staff, or if “they” stood for just him. Maybe he was hiring. She scrolled through the page, skimming the entry requirements. All someone had to do was email a photo of the painting they wanted to include in the exhibit. There wasn’t even an entry fee. She could submit one of her skull paintings.
Rolling her eyes at herself, she shook her head. She had no business submitting her work to any gallery. Nowhere near professional level, she would only be disappointed when she was rejected—or when she didn’t hear back from the gallery at all.
Still, her fingers itched to peel off the paper she had wrapped her paintings in. Something had to be worth submitting. Even if she never heard back, she had to try.
Shrugging, she reached for the cell phone that she and Max shared, then darted into their bedroom.
She slid open the closet door and pulled out a large wrapped canvas. Her fingers danced back and forth as she unwrapped the painting. By the time she finished, sweat beaded her hairline. Without air conditioning, the apartment was hot—and she’d just been drinking cocoa.
Three sugar skulls painted in vibrant pink, green, and purple stared back at her, surrounded by bright orange marigolds. She moved the phone around until the entire painting was in the frame. Then, before she could think about what she was doing, she pressed the button to take the picture.
She re-wrapped the painting and slid it back into its place behind her and Max’s clothing. A sigh escaped her lips. Her fingers twitched with the urge to pull out the last canvas she had worked on—a painting of Max that she had yet to finish.
Tapping a key, she woke up the computer, then connected the phone into the USB port. When the screen popped up asking if she would like to import the photo, she clicked yes and went back to Seven Deadly Brushes’s website.
Filling out their form, she uploaded the photo. Then, before she could change her mind, she pressed the send button. It zipped off into cyberspace to Zachary’s inbox. She wiped her sweaty palms on her T-shirt.
“And then right to his trash,” she muttered. Unplugging the phone, she deleted the photo. Her eyes swept toward the time on the display. Grimacing, she shut down the computer. She had spent far too much time on the gallery’s website. Steam no longer rose from her mug of cocoa. It was just as well.
She wondered what life would be like if she had finished college and started her own freelance design business. While she had never considered graphic design, she could have fallen in love with it, if she had given herself the chance. Instead, she had wasted her art history and English courses sketching rather than taking notes. She had seen the college’s required courses as a waste of time and wanted to spend more time on her actual major, and had paid the price.
Taking a deep breath, she walked back to her bedroom and closed the door behind her. It was time to stop dwelling in the past, especially when she had such a beautiful family. Given some time, maybe she could talk Max into having a baby of their own. Even though he didn’t make much money, they were relatively settled. Chloe would love being a big sister.
She pulled off her clothes and tossed them into the hamper. A satisfied sigh escaped her as the satin sheets enveloped her naked body.
The front door swung open, the creak groaning across the apartment. Max moved through the short hallway and into the living room. Imagining him weaving around their furniture, she propped her chin in her hands and prepared herself.
The door to their bedroom inched open. Max eased inside, probably because he thought she was already asleep.
“Hey,” she whispered.
Light from the street spilled into the room from between the blinds. As Max’s eyes adjusted to the dim room, his mouth dropped open. She rolled onto her side, exposing her breasts. He yanked his shirt over his head as he crossed the room. Kicking off his shoes, he joined her in bed.
The scent of his cologne hit her a second before his lips crushed to hers, his fingers tangling in her hair. Using his free hand, he cupped her breast, thumb roving over her nipple until it hardened. His other hand moved to stroke the back of her neck. She gasped, and he took advantage of the opportunity. His tongue flicked into her mouth, caressing hers. She pressed her body against his, feeling his erection against her thigh. Fingers trailed his chest, pausing at the waistband of his jeans. He kissed her harder.
She unbuttoned his jeans and dipped her hands into his boxers. She stroked the velvety skin of his head, drawing him out of his pants. He exhaled sharply into her ear, and her skin tingled. Finally, the moment she had been waiting so long for was about to arrive. Scooting to the side, she pulled him toward her with one hand. With her other hand, she helped him shed his pants. He kicked them off.
Grinning, she pressed him against her. His teeth nibbled at her earlobe. His fingers stroked the back of her head, tangling in her hair again. The slight pull only turned her on more. She arched her hips and thrust until he was inside of her. Adrenaline shot through her body, erasing the long day and her worries. Moving against him, she put her hands on his shoulders, and frowned.
He balanced on an elbow, eyes closed. For a moment, she thought he may just be savoring the moment. When his eyes remained closed, though, she stopped moving. He sagged to the side, slumping into a pile of pillows. Her jaw dropped. He had never fallen asleep during sex. Despite their recent dry spell, they joked all the time that it was their favorite pastime. Savannah turned onto her side and poked him hard in the chest. A soft snore rippled from his nostrils.
Shaking her head, she scooted down, intending to entice him into further activities. She cupped him in her hand, then frowned. He was already going soft.
Gritting her teeth, she glanced at the time. It was just as well. She needed to be up soon with Chloe, and he needed to rise early to deliver more newspapers. Curling up on her side next to him, she kissed his cheek, the stubble on his face prickly against her lips. The beard was new, too. She closed her eyes and waited for sleep to come.
Thoughts swirled through the darkness, diving into her mind. Perhaps he wasn’t interested anymore. Maybe, she supposed, there really was someone else. Poppy hadn’t seemed interested, but he still technically had time after practice for a quickie with someone else.
Savannah’s eyes flew open.
If that was the case, she should hardly be worrying about designing something for his band. He didn’t deserve it.
Hugging a pillow to her chest, she turned away from him, tears slipping from her eyes.
* * *
Sunlight streamed into the kitchen. Chloe stared through the pass-through, transfixed by her cartoon in the living room. Standing at the counter, Savannah sliced a banana, arranging it next to Chloe’s mini waffles. If all the kid was going to eat was carbs and sugar, she was going to sneak something healthy into her diet.
As she dropped the knife into the sink, the cell phone vibrated against the counter. She didn’t recognize the phone number. She almost let it go to voicemail—she didn’t want to waste their minutes on a telemarketer—when she realized that it was a Boston area code. Her heart skipped a beat.
Taking the call, she pressed the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
“Is this Savannah Santos?” a smooth, masculine voice asked. He sounded familiar.
Her jaw dropped. Her mind went blank as she realized who she was talking to.
Shaking her head at herself, she gathered her thoughts. “Yes,” she said. “This is Savannah.”
He chuckled. “Good, because I was going to be embarrassed if I called the wrong person.”
She laughed, too, though she wasn’t sure why.
“I think we met in the grocery store yesterday,” he continued.
His confidence only sped up her heart rate. “Sorry,” she feigned. “I meet lots of guys when I’m shopping for milk. Which one are you again?”
“I’m the one who’s going to make you a lot of money.” He paused. Heat enveloped her face. The phone nearly slipped out of her grasp. She wiped her hands on her pajamas. “I like your submission,” Zachary said.
“Oh?” She leaned against the counter, urging her heart to stop its galloping.
“It’s amazing. The color, the detail—I think it would be a great fit for Seven Brushes and what I’m trying to do. And I’m going to sell it for you, get your name out there.”
“You’re awfully certain of that, papi.” The term of endearment flew out of her mouth before she realized it. Clearing her throat, she forced her next words to come out quickly. “How can you sell it?”
“All you need to do, baby girl, is show up. I’m opening the exhibit at noon tomorrow. Just come, bring some business cards, if you have them. If you don’t, you’re going to be kicking yourself.”
She barely heard him. There was no way that she could go to a gallery smack in the middle of the day—not with Chloe underfoot. For a four-year-old, Max’s daughter was really well-behaved, but a gallery was no place for her.
“So I’ll see you tomorrow?” Zachary asked.
Hesitating, Savannah glanced at Chloe. She could probably figure out something. “Totally,” she said finally. She considered her options. “I mean, would it be okay to hang the painting and leave, if all else fails?”
“Of course.” The smile in his voice shot heat into her pelvis. He switched to Spanish. “It’s your painting, Savannah. I’m just here to help you succeed.” The way the words rolled off his tongue made her sag against the counter.
She had to get herself under control. Just because she was sexually deprived didn’t give her an excuse to go all loose-limbed whenever he spoke. She cleared her throat and forced herself to respond in English. “I’ll email you.” Her voice came out husky, thick with lust. Heat blazed across her cheeks. She turned on the faucet in the kitchen sink and grabbed a towel.
“I’m going to sell that painting within the first hour, Savannah,” he said.
She wet the towel and pressed it to the back of her neck. “Sure.” She nodded, her resolve strengthening. “I’ll see you there.” Then she hung up before he could say anything else—or entice her any further. She dropped the phone and leaned over the counter, the dish towel cold against the back of her neck. She needed to get a grip. She also needed to get laid, and soon.
Her mind flashed to the night before. It wasn’t like Max to fall asleep like that, she thought, but she would turn it around. She had to.
Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them—and the band.
Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.
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