Home > Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(7)

Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(7)
Author: H.M. Ward

Emily nodded to Jack, picking up a granny sweater and wrapping it around her shoulders. “It was wonderful to meet you, Abby. Best of luck, Jack.” She smiled at him, before leaving the studio.

Jack wiped his hands on a towel, before tossing it to me. “So, what’d you think?”

I caught the towel and wiped the paint off my hands. “It made me blush more than I thought it would.”

“Everything makes you blush, Tyndale,” he smiled, “but do you think it’s something you could do?” He leaned back against the stool, flexing his arms. The curves of his chest pressed tightly against his tee shirt.

My throat felt tight. “Maybe, but...”

“But what?” Jack’s expression shifted from playful to careful. “Abby, it’s clean. You saw me. When I’m painting, it’s not a nak*d woman. Everything is shadow and light. Lines and curves. Tell me you saw that on my face. You had to see it.”

“I did,” I answered looking down, my hair spilling over my shoulders. “I’m not sure what was going through your mind, but it probably wasn’t the look of a man filled with lust.” He was a few steps away from me, watching me while I spoke.

Pushing off the stool, he stepped toward me, folding his arms over his chest, “Probably?” he asked, tilting his head. I bit my bottom lip. I didn’t mean to tell him that. Kate knew that I was a virgin because she guessed. I blushed, feeling his gaze on my face. Jack inched closer, “Preacher girl, have you been alone all these years?”

Cheri chose that moment to throw open the changing room door. Jack stepped back, looking at me oddly. Cheri smiled, fully clothed, wet hair drawn back by a headband. “You did great Abby. Really. I’ve worked with several painters and I was dying to work with Jack. When Emily told me she wouldn’t be assisting, I was a little worried, but you did great.” She pressed her hands together, and turned to Jack, “I hope you pick mine, Jack! You’ll let me know, right?”

Jack nodded, his eyes drifting off my face slowly, like he didn’t want to. Turning toward Cheri he said, “Yeah, the office will tell you if it gets hung in the gallery. Be sure to pick up your check from Linda on the way out, and there’s a referral slip there for you, too.”

The girl beamed. “You have no idea how badly I wanted that referral! Thank you, Mr. Gray!” she went to hug him, and stopped herself, “Sorry! I forgot. Have a good night!” She beamed and practically ran through the door.

Surprised, I looked at Jack. “Referral slip?”

He nodded, wandering through the room, shutting off the lights. “Yeah, it makes it easier for them to get better gigs if they have a slip from me. As long as they don’t fall or creep me out, I give them one. Good job not dropping her. She would have been pissed,” a grin lit up his face as he turned.

“Jack, wait.” I followed him to the back of the room. He was rimmed in light as he turned his head toward me. “I can’t do this. I can’t take this job. I won’t be able to go back to work when I’m done if I take it. It’ll kill my career.” Actually, I wasn’t sure if I cared if it killed my career, but those loans weren’t going away, and the only way to get rid of them was to remain in my current profession.

Jack looked down at the tiled floor in the changing room. Dark hair obscured his face so I couldn’t quite see him. His voice was soft, “You’re not here for good?”

“I hope not,” I answered a little too eagerly, hastily adding, “I’m on sabbatical.”

He nodded, pressing his lips together tightly before looking up at me. “You think that they wouldn’t have you back after working for me? Like this? That it’s wrong?” His eyes bore into me, searching for an answer. What people thought of him seemed to matter more than I had thought it did.

I stepped toward him, keeping my eyes on his. My voice soft, “It’s not wrong, Jack. It’s art. And art’s subjective. But, I live in the middle of nowhere, in one of the most conservative states in the country. I have to pay attention to what people think.”

His voice was cold, “Okay.” Turning, Jack flipped off the light. The room was pitch-black. He flicked the switch and the blinds pulled up, letting moon light spill into the room, before moving toward the door to leave.

“Don’t sound like that. Jack, wait.” His back was turned toward me; he was walking away. I don’t know why I did it. I didn’t mean to. I reached out for his shoulder. When my fingers rested there, he froze. Shoulders tense, he turned, looking down at me.

“What’s right, Abby? It’s not a hard question. Either condemn me or condone me, but don’t sit on the fence and pretend to be something you’re not.” His words were sharp, the muscle in his jaw tightening.

I shook my head, “You don’t understand.”

His voice remained frigid. “No, Abby, I do. I really do.” Jack turned and started to walk. My brain played flashbacks, assaulting me with memories that plagued my dreams, turning them into nightmares. And I didn’t think he was wrong. There was nothing bad about this. In moments of panic people do stupid things. They have a split second to make a decision and you can tell exactly how crazy they really were, and I was bat-shit crazy. I solved one problem and flirted with a million more.

I blurted it out before I could stop myself, “I’m not on the fence, Jack. Your work is divine. I’ve never seen it’s equal. Ever. I’m on your side. I’ll do it!” And you can’t stop me! Ha! I was breathing hard, my face flushed with excitement. Jack stopped walking. Slowly, he turned back to look at me. I continued, feeling my pulse rising as he looked at me like my words had an effect on him. “You’re right. If it’s not wrong, then I have nothing to hide and neither do you.”

Moving back to me, he looked down, “You really think that?” His voice was deep, and the way he looked at me made my stomach clench. Parts of me that I hadn’t felt in years were suddenly on fire. The way his eyes lingered on mine, the set of his jaw and slant of his shoulders, it felt like I was melting under his gaze. Jack was caught between disbelief and awe.

Nodding slowly, I looked away from him. I couldn’t say it to his face, “You’ve always been an amazing artist Jack, but this—what you do here—it’s jaw-dropping for so many reasons. You appreciate beauty, but it’s so much more than that. Each painting is like a living thing. I’ve never seen that before. You’ve taken all the best attributes of the art world and compiled them into one thing, one beautifully stunning thing. It took my breath away when you pulled back the curtain earlier.” My voice grew softer as I spoke.

I could feel Jack’s eyes on the side of my face as I tried to look anywhere but at him. When I stopped speaking, the room was utterly silent. The only sound remaining was the muffled noise of the waves crashing onto the sand. When I turned back to look at Jack, I couldn’t tell what he thought. His head was tilted to the side, his arms folded like he was mad, but his eyes said something else. I just didn’t know what. “It’s late. I better go. Kate will wonder what happened to me.”

Jack nodded, silently walking me to my car. Before I reached for the door, he held out his hand. When I looked down I saw a slim, sleek, iPhone. “Take it. I need to be able to get in touch with you in case the shoot times shift. Sometimes there’s drama with the models.” He shrugged like it was nothing.

I stared at his hand, shaking my head, “I can’t take that.” Cell phones were expensive, and I couldn’t afford to pay the bill. Before I could protest more, Jack grabbed me by a belt loop with one hand and shoved the phone into my pocket with the other. I gasped, my jaw hanging wide open.

Jack laughed when he saw the look on my face, “It’s a job requirement, Abby, and I know you don’t have a cell. Take it. You need it. It’s a company phone, so it’s not like you get to keep it forever. We’re only footing the bill while you work here.” He pointed at the phone as I pulled it out of my pocket. “My number is programmed into the thing. If you’re late, call.” I slid into the car, knowing I’d have to take it. “Same time tomorrow. See you then.” Jack was distant again, all the warmth and playfulness from earlier was gone. I felt like I was going to hurl. I’d said too much. I nodded and drove off with a sinking feeling in my stomach.


“You did not! Abby, what they hell are you thinking?” Kate scolded. First she was mad because it was nearly 2:00am and she thought someone killed me and buried me on the beach. Second, she was pissed because she thought I’d made a really stupid decision. Third, she went nuclear when she realized Jonathan Gray was Jack Gray. I shouldn’t have told her that. Ooops.

Irritated, I grabbed a glass from the cabinet and walked to the sink, flicking on the faucet. “I already told you. There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s no lust/ p*rn element, and having me there will make sure it stays that way.”

Her dark hair fell over her shoulders as she leaned over the counter, “Abby, he’ll drag you down with him. What if the press sees you? What if there’s a scandal in the next year? Do you really want to risk it all for this? For him?” I looked away from her, chugging my water like it was air. I didn’t want to justify myself to her, but in the back of my mind—I knew that if I couldn’t make Kate see that it was all right, there was no way the church board would be okay with it. Before berating me more, she leaned back. Her jaw dropped open, “Oh my God. It’s him, isn’t it?”

Startled, I turned to look at her. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s Jack Gray. He’s turned your head,” she smiled mischievously at me. Kate could sniff things out like a bloodhound. I blanched as she teased, half sighing while she smiled, “Abby’s got a crush.”

I stiffened, placing my glass in the sink. “It’s not like that. It can’t be like that...”

“Lust doesn’t cancel out just because you took a vow, Abby.” She grinned like the Cheshire cat, green eyes glinting.

I stiffened, appalled at her suggestion, “It’s not lust! Good night!” I walked away from her, slapping my bare feet down the hallway like a petulant child, and slammed my bedroom door.

Behind me, I heard her laughing, “Call it what you want, but you have the hots for Jack Gray!”


The next morning things seemed better with Kate. She was all chatter and smiles. It was Saturday, so she didn’t have to go into the city. Since I had no money, we couldn’t go shopping or get a coffee, but I really wanted to be outside, so we went to the village to hang out. The streets were lined with shops of all sorts, and the beach wasn’t far away. Kate strolled beside me, nodding at the people she knew every so often as we walked.

“I did some research on Mr. Fabulous. You wanna hear?” she asked suddenly when we stopped in front of the bakery.

My nose was assaulted by the scent of sugar and yeast, and I was in a good mood. “Sure, why not? What’d you find, Kate?”

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