As the clay on the potter’s wheel slid through her fingers, Kylie felt the tension in her shoulders gradually ease. Cool and buttery-smooth, slowly melting from the heat and friction of her hands, the clay spoke to her. A vision of what it could be filled her mind. After a quick dip of the wet sponge, she closed her eyes and allowed her fingers to take control. With her sense of touch heightened, she knew instinctively when the clay was ready, feeling it in the way it offered resistance against her fingertips. She increased the speed of the wheel and applied pressure, coaxing it open and bringing it to life.
Even with the recent upheaval in her life, or maybe because of it, Kylie felt as though she was finally discovering herself, the journey guided through her hands. Every time she worked with clay, she learned another secret of her heart, revealed another corner of her mind she never knew existed.
The discovery had happened purely by accident. By the time she’d arrived in California, the fall semester had already been in full-swing, too late to enroll in the classes she needed to continue her degree in nursing. But community art classes had just begun. On a whim, desperate to find a distraction from her own mind, she had signed up for Introduction to Pottery. The first class, she made a simple dish that fired lopsided and cracked, and she fell instantly in love. Throwing clay was soothing, it was addictive, and it was how she could see herself spending the rest of her life.
The next day, hoping it would be just as inspiring, she had added a class in sculpture. She wasn’t disappointed. In her every spare moment, she sought joy by playing loose with the confines of pottery and indulging in the infinity of expression free-form sculpture offered. For practical reasons, she knew she would have to continue her nursing degree in the spring, but until then she planned to fully explore the creative road she had never before dared to travel.
As her vision for the clay began to come to fruition, Kylie’s attention split—one half staying focused on the vase in the present, the other slipping into the past—to the creek bank and the Nebraska sun, to the blanket spread upon the grass, to the pencil in her hand, sketchbook on her knee, to the warm breeze lightly scented with a hint of wild rose…
A stray tendril of hair danced against her cheek, tickling her skin. She reached up to tuck it behind her ear, lifted her eyes from her sketch. She had his every feature memorized, but the afternoon light changed how the shadows played across his face, deepening his laugh lines, warming the crystal blue of his eyes as he watched her watch him. His gaze pierced through her as it always did, sending a flush of anticipation throughout her body. He gave her a wink, a promise for later in the night, and Kylie smiled—
A sudden, familiar presence approached from behind, startling Kylie out of her memories. Her involuntary jerk caused the vase to collapse in her hands.
“Damn it, David!” she cursed as he slid onto the chair behind her.
“I’m sorry, babe.” He slid a stool up close behind hers and kissed the back of her neck in apology. “I didn’t realize you were in a groove.”
“It’s okay.” She raised her shoulder to brush him away. She never should have mentioned she was coming in to work on the project. Only David would take it as an invitation to join her instead of understanding she’d meant it as a hint for him to stay away. He was a beautiful man—smart, strong, exceptionally talented—but emotionally he could be as needy as a child. No matter how far she roamed, she seemed to be a magnet for that particular personality-type, and it was starting to piss her off.
“You’re mad,” David stated the obvious.
“I’m not,” she denied, but she was. At the very least, she was frustrated—in more ways than she cared to admit.
“Let me make it up to you.” He reached around her and picked up the mess of clay that had been the beginnings of a beautiful vase moments earlier. “We can make it together.”
“It’s for a grade. You can’t help with this one.” She wiggled free from his arms, crossed the room to the row of wash basins. Using her elbow to turn on the faucet, she scrubbed vigorously at her hands in attempt to wash away not only the clay, but also her irritation.
“Then let’s make something just for fun,” he suggested over the sound of running water. He re-threw the clay onto the wheel and started it spinning. His strong, experienced hands cut through the stiff clay like a hot knife, instantly turning it malleable and inviting. “Come guide me through your vision.”
Unsure if she would ever be ready to share her vision with him, she deflected. “Don’t you have a giant penis to sculpt or something?”
“Finished the penis this morning.”
“Good for you.” Her words carried a cruel bite he didn’t deserve, but he appeared unaffected.
“Could be good for you, too, if you’d give it half a chance.”
She ignored his innuendo and glanced toward the clock. It was just as well David had interrupted her. She’d lost track of time while daydreaming. If she didn’t hustle, she’d be late picking Brayden up from daycare.
“It’s thick and heavy, with a web of veins running through in all the right places—a very pleasurable piece.” He smiled a wicked grin. “Would you like to see it?”
“No!” Kylie immediately declined with a laugh, though truthfully, she loved viewing his work. An artist by trade, David worked solely in edible medium. His client list included California’s most exclusive caterers, the finest restaurants, and he was in high demand. What the man could do with a block of chocolate was sensual genius.
He crossed the room and slid in behind her at the basin. Encircling her in his arms as he reached around to rinse his hands under the running water, he whispered, “Do you want see what I used for inspiration?”
Before she could answer, his lips found her neck. She closed her eyes, begged her body to react, to relax, to respond to his caress, but she remained cold and dead on the inside.
It wasn’t David’s fault. He was perfect. From his deeply tanned skin, to his silken black hair, to his long, magnificently-skilled fingers, his firm, sensuous body, he was perfection. Kylie herself was the problem, and her travel plans were making the problem worse.
“David, I’m running late.”
“You’re always running.” He intertwined his fingers with hers, moving in a seductive rhythm under the running water. “Be still for a moment and simply breathe with me…”
His hands contained the power to sculpt impossible things, create magnificent dreams, and she allowed them to coax her to stay. She leaned into his strength, simply breathing, simply feeling, simply praying his touch could be her healing balm. There was a familiarity in the way his hands moved, yet his caress felt foreign, the sensation of his skin against hers unsettling. She had to resist the urge to pull away.
“You’ve stopped breathing,” he whispered.
She drew in deep, pulling in oxygen flavored with the salt of the ocean, the taste clean, yet unsatisfying. A mild attack of claustrophobia started creeping in from his embrace. She pushed back the panic before it could take hold. “I really need to get going.”
“You’re not getting away from me this easy on Saturday. I’ve got the whole evening planned. A little dinner. A little dancing.” He turned her around in his arms, his eyes darkening in arousal as they roamed her features. “Maybe go back to my place… do a little more dancing.”
A desperate desire for normalcy battled with terror in Kylie’s heart. Luckily, she didn’t have to try and decipher the confusing emotions. “I have a wedding to go to on Saturday.”
“I’ll go with you. We can eat and dance at the wedding.”
“No, it’s a wedding back home.”
“I’ll come with you. I’d love to meet your family.”
Instant panic gripped her chest, jerking her from his embrace. “Hell no!”
He huffed in disbelief. “That’s not the reaction I expected.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just my mom is…” Kylie faltered with her lie.
“No, it’s fine. I get it,” he said, letting her off too easy. “We’re not to the ‘meeting-the-parents’ stage yet.”
“I am sorry.” She pressed a light kiss to his lips to strengthen her apology. “I just really need to take this trip alone. It’s not going to be a romantic type of trip… Nessa’s coming with me, and I’ll have Brayden, and it’s going to be busy with the wedding preparations—”
“It’s okay, Kylie, I understand.” He smiled in genuine acceptance, which only intensified her guilt. “Next time, though, right?”
“Do you have time to get together before you go?” he asked, reaching out to stop her before she could run away. He was good at picking up on her cues, but horrible at deciphering them. If he had been better at it, he would have let her run.
“I don’t know. I have two projects to do and a full schedule at work. Stop by Froggy’s sometime and we can eat during my break.”
His eyebrow arched. “That’s not what I was thinking.”
“I know exactly what you were thinking, and I’ve already told you I’m taking this slow.”
“And I respect that,” he promised. “I just really like you, Kylie. You’re intriguing, and smart, and sexy as hell. I’m dying to sculpt you so I can learn your body. I watch you move and imagine your pose, and I know the sex will be amazing. But I promise I won’t even hint at it again… not until you’re ready.”
More than anything, she needed honesty from him. “Do you promise?”
He looked her straight in the eye and crossed his heart. “You want to go grab some lunch?”
“I really wish I could,” she said, surprising herself by how much she meant it. “But I already have a date.”
She was ten minutes late picking her ‘date’ up and he was upset, but she took him to his favorite park and pushed him high on the swing. Once he started giggling, she knew she had been forgiven.