Can love be more than a four-letter word?
Lissa Blanc is a painter on a mission. She filters the world through a lens of color, line, and form and hides her ambition behind a delicate smirk that lets her critics believe life comes easy. To her, art isn’t what she sees. It’s what she feels. Few know that behind the glitz of a prodigious upbringing, she’s driven to emerge from the shadow of painful memories that insist she’ll never be a renowned talent in her own right.
Cole Rathlen is a photographer on the mend. A crippling grief has stifled his once-rising career and compromised his creative instincts. Knowing he can’t stagnate forever, he seeks a twisted absolution in the form of a woman whose paintings give life to the emotions he won’t let himself imagine, let alone feel.
When the two partner for a prestigious project that will pull them from the mountains of Colorado to the palaces of India, Lissa quickly realizes that more than diverging ideals hinder their search for success and salvation. Was Cole’s life upended by a tragic but unavoidable choice or something more sinister? While Lissa can’t delve into the mystery but not the man, Cole can’t resist a tenacious soul that refuses to leave him chained. As the truth closes in on a project finally sprouting wings, will Lissa sacrifice her chance at success to set Cole free? Or will Cole shrug the chains of lingering regrets to prove that those who love the most, love again.
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Before becoming a writer, Libby was first a mechanical engineer in the data acquisition industry (voltmeter anyone?). Preferring writing to technical design, Libby headed to law school and eventually practiced patent law for several enterprising years (patent application covering a voltmeter anyone?). Finally realizing that technology just wasn’t her bag, she traded the voltmeters for alpha heroes and the women who love them.
Today, Libby writes contemporary romances from the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where she lives with her husband, a bona fide rocket scientist (he stuck with the voltmeters!). When not writing, Libby loves good food, even better wine, and traveling the world in search of the next great story.
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“Tell me your former glory was merely buildup to interviewing aging hookers in dingy hotel rooms,” she cooed. “‘Jewel,’ was it? Your other projects were equally impressive—drag-racing cars in Denver, even some pictures of a prized steer at the National Western Stock Show.”
Long moments faded away after she lapsed into silence. Eventually, she thought he’d refuse to respond. Then he said, “Her name was Ms. Jewel.”
Lissa’s lips curled at that, only because he couldn’t see the concession. “By all means, let’s maintain formalities.” Anything if he’d admit she was right. “But you see? We’re not so different, after all. You need me as badly as I need you.”
She worked like a fiend but only saw dividends when she gave in and let her family help. Cole had been moving up, but he’d fallen out of play after Kate’s death. The man had been working for the past year with nothing to show for it, and he could only skate on his aging rep for so long.
In other words, she wasn’t the only semi-loser on the mountainside.
“Tedious pictures of tiresome things aren’t going to save either of us.” Lissa was the half of their duo who could spice things up. If he’d concede to each of them doing their individual best—Cole documenting the world as he saw it, with her giving his reality a little spin—they could be truly great.
The last color to grace the canvas was a bright white she used to trace the chair’s skeleton in thick, almost textural lines that ran together. The final effect brought a watery sunrise rising from a dark, desperate pit. Light opposed shadow and implied a hard-won freedom. Not American-flag or death-to-Al-Qaeda-type freedom, but freedom from self-inflicted limitations, from “I can’t” and “I won’t” and “You can’t make me.”
Still, the “middle” she’d promise hadn’t been forgotten. If Cole looked closely and used some imagination, he would see that his silly camp chair formed the sun. He would know that he could provide the inspiration, even pick the subjects, but he couldn’t—and he shouldn’t—hem her in.
Because Lissa had long-ago learned that fences were easily jumped.
She grabbed the edges of the painting and stood. Slowly she turned, ready for judgment, hoping like hell he’d see reason.
Or at least recognize his chair.
On sight, Cole’s eyes flared, then narrowed to sharp pinpricks of blue—like lasers he’d summoned to burn holes through her work. He took a step, edging forward until they stood chest to chest with the canvas pressed between them.
He glanced down, eyes swirling and ominous. “You’re pushing me, trying to see if I’ll break.”
“N-no. That’s the last—”
“In the past, I was gentle and caring, always giving more, never taking too much. Now I’m jaded enough to know better. Go ahead and fuck with me, Lissa”—he stroked a finger over her lower lip—“but expect me to fuck back.”
Oh, God, please do. A flash of want branded her frontal lobe. Attraction had been seething beneath the surface, but she’d snubbed the signs, calling the twinges and pulses nothing more than a rampant desire to see the project succeed.
Complications were piling up on top of his artistic quirks… and now this. Expect me to fuck back. At least she’d gotten the rampant desire part right.
He leaned in, to where his lips grazed hers when he spoke. “Wouldn’t that be interesting? The woman who doesn’t admit to having any demons falls under the thumb of the king of them.”
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