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DescriptionOne calendar. Twelve lighthouses. Two hearts.
Cassidy Knowles stands on the wind-torn bluff and clutches the calendar of lighthouses. The last gift from her father, with a dozen letters for a final year-long journey “together.” From vineyard roots, Cassidy has climbed up the food-and-wine critic ladder, leaving her rural roots far behind.
Russell Davis, #28 on the latest “most eligible” list, the last guy on the planet Cassidy wants. Fine with him. He has no desire for the driven, urban-fashionista, never-touch-nature Cassidy Knowles. He sets his dream by a calendar of lighthouses. The genesis of a sailing a journey. A journey that keeps leading him to the last woman he’d ever want.
Where can two hearts chart the same course? In the warmth around Angelo’s Hearth.
Reader Rating: Not rated (0 Ratings)
Sensuality Rating: Not rated
Excerpt:Russell locked his door behind the last of the staff and turned off his camera.
He knew it was good. The images were there. He’d really captured them.
But something was missing.
The groove ran so clean when he slid into it. The studio faded into the background, then the strobe lights, reflector umbrellas, and blue and green backdrops all became texture and tone.
Image, camera, man became one and they were all that mattered; a single flow of light beginning before time was counted and ending in the printed image. A ray of primordial light traveling forever to glisten off the BMW roadster still parked in one corner of the wood-planked studio. Another ray lost in the dark blackness of the finest leather bucket seats. One more picking out the supermodel’s perfect hand dangling a single, shining, golden key. The image shot just slow enough that they key blurred as it spun, but the logo remained clear.
He couldn’t quite put his finger on it…
Another great ad by Russell Morgan. Russell Morgan, Inc. The client would be knocked dead, and the ad leaving all others standing still as it roared down the passing lane. Might get him another Clio, or even a second Mobius.
But… There wasn’t usually a “but.”
The groove had definitely been there, but he hadn’t been in it. That was the problem. It had slid along, sweeping his staff into their own orchestrated perfection, but he’d remained untouched. Not part of that ideal, seamless flow.
“Be honest, boyo, that session sucked,” he told the empty studio. Everything had come together so perfectly for yet another ad for yet another high-end glossy. Man, the Magazine would launch spectacularly in a few weeks, a high-profile mid-December launch, a never before seen twelve page spread by Russell Morgan, Inc. and the rag would probably never pay off the lavish launch party of hope, ice sculptures, and chilled magnums of champagne before disappearing like a thousand before it.
He stowed the last camera he’d been using with the others piled by his computer. At the breaker box he shut off the umbrellas, spots, scoops, and washes. The studio shifted from a stark landscape in hard-edged relief to a nest of curious shadows and rounded forms. The tang of hot metal and deodorant were the only lasting result of the day’s efforts.
“Morose tonight, aren’t we?” he asked his reflection in the darkened window of his Manhattan studio. His reflection was wise enough to not answer back. There wasn’t ever a “down” after a shoot, there had always been an “up.”
He’d kept everyone late, even though it was Thanksgiving eve, hoping for that smooth slide of image, camera, man. It was only when he saw the power of the images he captured that he knew he wasn’t a part of the chain anymore and decided he’d paid enough triple-time expenses.
The single perfect leg wrapped in thigh-high red-leather boots visible in the driver’s seat. The sensual juxtaposition of woman and sleek machine. An ad designed to wrap every person with even a hint of a Y-chromosome around its little finger. And those with only X-chromosomes would simply want to be her. A perfect combo of sex for the guys and power for the women.
Russell had become no more than the observer, the technician behind the camera. Now that he faced it, months, maybe even a year had passed since he’d been yanked all the way into the light-image-camera-man slipstream. Tonight was the first time he hadn’t even trailed in the churned up wake.
“You’re just a creative cog in the advertising photography machine.” Ouch! That one stung, but it didn’t turn aside the relentless steamroller of his thoughts speeding down some empty, godforsaken autobahn.
His career was roaring ahead, his business fast and smooth, but, now that he considered it, he really didn’t give a damn.
His life looked perfect, but—“Don’t think it!” —but his autobahn mind finished, “it wasn’t.”
Russell left his silent reflection to its own thoughts and went through the back door that led to his apartment, closing it tightly on the perfect BMW, the perfect rose on the seat, and somewhere, lost among a hundred other props from dozens of other shoots, the long pair of perfect red-leather Chanel boots that had been wrapped around the most expensive legs in Manhattan. He didn’t care if he never walked back through that door again. He’d been doing his art by rote, how God-awful sad was that?
And he shot commercial art. He’d never had the patience to do art for art’s sake. No draw for him. No fire. He left the apartment dark, only a soft glow from the blind-covered windows revealing the vaguest outlines of the framed art on the wall. Even that almost overwhelmed him.
He didn’t want to see the huge prints by the art artists: autographed Goldsworthy, Liebowitz, and Joseph Francis’ photomosaics for the moderns. A hundred and fifty more rare, even one of a kind prints, all the way back through Bourke-White to his prize, an original Daguerre. The collection that the Museum of Modern Art kept begging to borrow for a show. He bypassed the circle of chairs and sofas that could be a playpen for two or a party for twenty. He cracked the fridge in the stainless steel and black kitchen searching for something other than his usual beer.
A bottle of Krug.
Maybe he was just being grouchy after a long day’s work.
No. He’d run his enthusiasm into the ground but good.
Would he miss the camera if he never picked it up again?
Not even a twinge.
That was an emptiness he did not want to face. Alone, in his apartment, in the middle of the world’s most vibrant city.
Russell turned away, and just as the door swung closed, the last sliver of light, the relentless cold blue-white of the refrigerator bulb, shone across his bed. A quick grab snagged the edge of the door and left the narrow beam illuminating a long pale form on his black bedspread.
The Chanel boots weren’t in the studio. They were still wrapped around those three thousand dollar-an-hour legs. The only clothing on a perfect body, five foot-eleven of intensely toned female anatomy, right down to her exquisitely stair-mastered behind. Her long, white-blond hair, a perfect Godiva over the tanned breasts. Except for their too exact symmetry, even the closest inspection didn’t reveal the work done there. One leg raised just ever so slightly to hide what was meant to be revealed later. Discovered.
By the steady rise and fall of her flat stomach, he knew she’d fallen asleep, waiting for him to finish in the studio.
How long had they been an item? Two months? Three?
She’d made him feel alive. At least when he was with her. The super-model in his bed. On his arm at yet another SoHo gallery opening, dazzling New York’s finest at another three-star restaurant, wooing another gathering of upscale people with her ever so soft, so sensual, so studied French accent. Together they were wired into the heart of the in-crowd.
But that wasn’t him, was it? It didn’t sound like the Russell he once knew.
Perhaps “they” were about how he looked on her arm?
Did she know tomorrow was the annual Thanksgiving ordeal at his parents? That he’d rather die than attend? Any number of eligible woman floating about who’d finagled an invitation in hopes of snaring one of People Magazine’s “100 Most Eligible.” Heir to a billion or some such, but wealthy enough on his own, by his own sweat. Number twenty-four this year, up from forty-seven the year before despite Tom Cruise being available yet again.
Not Melanie. It wasn’t the money that drew her. She wanted him. But more she wanted the life that came with him, wrapped in the man package. She wanted The Life. The one that People Magazine readers dreamed about between glossy pages.
His fingertips were growing cold where they held the refrigerator door cracked open.
If he woke her there’d be amazing sex. Or a great party to go to. Or…
Did he want “Or”? Did he want more from her?
Sex. Companionship. An energy, a vivacity, a thirst he feared that he lacked. Yes.
But where hid that smooth synchronicity like light-image-camera-man? Where lurked that perfect flow from one person to another? Did she feel it? Could he… ever again?
“More?” he whispered into the darkness to test the sound.
The door slid shut, escaped from numb fingers, plunging the apartment back into darkness, taking Melanie along with it.
His breath echoed in the vast darkness. Proof that he was alive, if nothing more.
Time to close the studio. Time to be done with Russell Incorporated.
Maybe Angelo would know what to do. He always claimed he did. Maybe this time Russell would actually listen to his almost-brother, though he knew from the experience of being himself for the last thirty years that was unlikely. Seattle. Damn! He’d have to go to bloody Seattle to find his best friend.
He could guarantee that wouldn’t be a big hit with Melanie.
Now if he only knew if that was a good thing or bad.
“If you were still alive, you’d pay for this one, Daddy.” The moment the words escaped her lips, Cassidy Knowles slapped a hand over her mouth to negate them, but it was too late.
The sharp wind took her words and threw them back into the trees, guilt and all. It might have stopped her, if it didn’t make this the hundredth time she’d cursed him this morning.
She leaned in and forged her way downhill until the muddy path broke free from the mossy smell of the trees. Her Stuart Weitzman boots were long since soaked through, and now her feet were freezing. The two-inch heels had nearly flipped her into the mud a dozen different times.
Cassidy Knowles stared at the lighthouse. It perched upon a point of rock, tall and white, with its red roof as straight and snug as a prim bonnet. A narrow trail traced along the top of the breakwater leading to the lighthouse. The parking lot, much to her chagrin, was empty; six, beautiful, empty spaces.
“Sorry, ma’am,” park rangers were always polite when telling you what you couldn’t do. “The parking lot by the light is for physically-challenged visitors only. You’ll have to park here. It is just a short walk to the lighthouse.”
The fact that she was dressed for a nice afternoon lunch at Pike Place Market safe in Seattle’s downtown rather than a blustery mile-long walk on the first day of the year didn’t phase the ranger in the slightest.
Cassidy should have gone home, would have if it hadn’t been for the letter stuffed deep in her pocket. So, instead of a tasty treat in a cozy deli, she’d buttoned the top button of her suede Bernardo jacket and headed down the trail. At least the promised rain had yet to arrive, so the jacket was only cold, not wet. The stylish cut had never been intended to fight off the bajillion mile-an-hour gusts that snapped it painfully against her legs. And her black leggings ranged about five layers short of tolerable and a far, far cry from warm.
At the lighthouse, any part of her that had been merely numb slipped right over to quick frozen. Leaning into the wind to stay upright, tears streaming from her eyes, she could think of a thing or two to tell her father despite his recent demise and her general feelings about the usefulness of upbraiding a dead man.
“What a stupid present!” her shout was torn word-by-word, syllable-by-syllable and sent flying back toward her nice warm car and the smug park ranger.
A calendar. He’d given her a stupid calendar of stupid lighthouses and a stupid letter to open at each stupid one. He’d been very insistent, made her promise. One she couldn’t ignore. A deathbed promise.
Cassidy leaned grimly forward to start walking only to have the wind abruptly cease. She staggered, nearly planting her face on the pavement before another gust sent her crabbing sideways. With resolute force, she planted one foot after another until she’d crossed that absolutely vacant parking lot with its six empty spaces and staggered along the top of the breakwater to reach the lighthouse itself. No handicapped people crazy enough to come here New Year’s morning. No people at all for that matter.
The building’s wall was concrete, worn smooth by a thousand storms and a hundred coats of brilliant white paint. With the wind practically pinning her to the outside of the building, she peeked into one of the windows. The wind blew her hair about so that it beat on her eyes and mouth trying to simultaneously blind and choke her. With one hand, she smashed the unruly mass mostly to one side. With the other she shaded the dusty window. The cobwebbed glass revealed an equally unkempt interior. No lightkeeper sitting in his rocking chair before a merry fire. No smoking pipe. No lighthouse cat curled in his lap.
Some sort of a rusty engine not attached to anything. A bucket of old tools. A couple of paint cans.
A high wave crashed into the rocks with a thundering shudder that ran up through the heels of her boots and whipped a chill spray into the wind. Salt water on suede. Daddy now owed her a new coat as well.
Cassidy edged along the foundation until she found a calmer spot, a little windshadow behind the lighthouse where the wind chill ranked merely miserable rather than horrific on the suck-o-meter. Squatting down behind one of the breakwater’s boulders helped a tiny bit more. She peeled off her thin leather gloves and blew against her fingertips to warm them enough so that they’d work. Once she’d regained some modicum of feeling, she pulled out the letter.
Where Dreams are BornBy: M. L. Buchman