In Between reality and dreams...
In Between fear and hope...
In Between doubt and possibility is a love worth risking it all for...
In Between, book one of the two part Dancing Barefoot series, an epic romance spanning the globe...
Colors streamed onto the canvas. Reds. Golds. Browns. Abandoning the brush, Jessica used her fingers to smudge them together to get the effect she visualized in her mind's eye. Time had lost all meaning. What had begun as dawn transitioned to twilight and she rushed to capture the moment before it disappeared forever.
"I have found you! Your note made little sense to me. I know you want to learn Italian, but since French is my native language and your Italian needs a lot of work, how about we stick to English?" Jacques stepped into her peripheral vision.
"I'm almost done. Don't look." She sent him her best evil eye when he stepped toward the easel. "I mean it...stay away."
Hands up, he stepped back and smiled at her. "We have company tonight. My friend Carter is in town. I told him he could sleep on our sofa."
She grinned at the word 'our'. He hadn't officially moved in, but they had spent every night together since day one. They were sneaking up on two weeks together. So far; so good.
A little too good. Never one to trust 'easy', she held back.
"There's nothing wrong with my Italian," she muttered.
"Really? Tell me what you are painting using nothing but Italian. I want a detailed description." He sat on the nearby bench, tapped a cigarette on his knee, and grinned with expectation.
"You're distracting me."
"Ah, but that was English. Tell me that in Italian."
"Vada via," she said with a wave of her brush and a smile.
"Ah, go away. Very good." He applauded slowly before lighting his cigarette. "You are getting better. Tell me something else."
Satisfied with her color combination, she ignored him while she cleaned her brush before slipping it into its case. Grinning at him as he lounged on the bench, one hand on the back while the other held a cigarette to his mouth, she sauntered over to him, pleasure with her day spent painting in the sun warming her from the inside out. She leaned over him and whispered, "Baciami."
"Kiss me." He smiled and moved the cigarette away. "Much better. I take it back. You know the essentials. Go away. Kiss me. What else do you need?"
"Baciami, caro." She touched her lips against his.
"Kiss me, darling. Impressive." He opened his lips to hers, while his hand skimmed over her bare arm. "Am I your darling, sweet Jessica?"
"You know you are."
His eyes darkened for a minute before he looked away and finished his cigarette. She frowned at his sudden change in mood. He had been on again off again distant for days, going into spontaneous arguments with Ava, always in French so she had zero idea what the hell they were saying.
Note to self: learn French.
"Tell me about this Carter person who is going to be sleeping on our sofa." She handed him her bag of art supplies and the easel before touching the canvas from behind, careful not to rub the still wet surface against anything. "This will be a challenge to get back."
"So we wait. No hurry." He put her things on the ground next to the bench and urged her to sit next to him. "You are always rushing off. Who is waiting for you? What schedule are you keeping? I'm confused."
"Sometimes you can be so...European." She sighed, propped the canvas just so, and sat next to him.
"I am Belgian. What did you expect?" He ground the cigarette out beneath his boot. "I need to stop smoking. I know it annoys you even though you don't say anything."
"I never said it annoyed me." She leaned her shoulder against his.
Surrounded by various flowers, she inhaled the rich air of Florence and watched the sun set lower over the Duomo in the distance. He laced his fingers with hers.
"Carter is British. We met years ago at University. He is a filmmaker, documentaries. He wants me to go in on a project with him." He held their joined hands on his thigh.
A nagging thought that maybe she held him back from going wherever it is he needed to go whispered through her mind. She hated that she didn't want him to leave. Florence wouldn't be the same without him, the sun wouldn't be as bright, and she doubted the flowers would smell as decadent.
"That sounds exciting. Where does he want to go?" She swallowed the apprehension. She would never ask him to stay if he wanted to leave. All of her life people had put their own limitations on her and she'd vowed early on never to do that to anyone.
"Oh." She cleared her throat. "You should go. How long would you be gone?"
"Oh," she said again, feeling like a fool. What claim did she have on this man? They had been together for two weeks only. Two insanely sexy and mind-blowing weeks but still only a drop in the bucket of time.
"You should come with me." His foot tapped on the grass while his gaze remained firmly on the sunset. "Think of it as an adventure with elephants."
Her lips twitched at the image of him stalking elephants with his camera and her following behind, probably tripping over a lion or some other deadly creature. "Yeah, I think Italy is as adventurous as I get. I'm able to have wine at the end of every day—the best wine on the planet, mind you—and wake up to the smell of fresh bread every morning. This is my idea of adventure."
He twisted his head to look into her face. "Then I'll stay. I can go to Africa another time."
"You can go to Africa another time?" She frowned and shook her head. "It sounds like a great opportunity. You should go."
He shrugged. "You are here for only a few months. Africa and the rest of the world will be there when you are gone. I am not worried about it."
"Baciami." He smiled as he said 'kiss me' in Italian, his green eyes dancing with mischief.
"I like these Italian lessons." She leaned in for a kiss but hesitated, gaze locked with his. "Promise me that you'll go if it's what you really want."
He silenced her with his lips moving slowly against hers.
He'd said that the world waited for him after she left his life. When, not if. Knowing that this intense love affair was temporary for both of them—which was the only option given their different lives—created a sense of panic inside her gut that she didn't want to analyze. The thought of hugging him goodbye in an airport one day felt unbelievably wrong.
"You are thinking too much. I can almost see the wheels clicking away." He tapped his finger against her forehead. "Stop it. I am exactly where I want to be."
She wondered about the arguments he and Ava had. Were they about the missed appointment in London and now this new opportunity with Carter?
"I need to learn French to figure out what you and Ava are fighting about all of the time. I hate not knowing." She stood abruptly, restlessness suddenly raging through her blood.
"Ah, so you want to know my secrets?"
"Yes, actually, I do." Fingertips looped behind the canvas, she faced him with her other hand on her hip. "Is Ava pissed off because you've moved in with me?"
"No, she is very happy to have me away from her. She is eternally grateful to you for that." He adjusted the bag across his torso before leading her toward his motorcycle.
"Is she upset that you didn't go to London?"
"Ah, there you go with your assumptions again."
"Quit ahing me, it's annoying."
He smiled over his shoulder, his laughter irritating her more than the ahs. "Do you realize that you are covered in paint? Did any actually make it to the canvas? Not only is it on your skin, it's in your hair, too. I want to fuck you behind one of these rose bushes." He stopped and abruptly grabbed her around the waist. "I love it when you're a mess and moody."
Despite her irritation, she smiled. "You say such charming things. I can tell you're French."
"I am Belgian. There is a difference." He nibbled her earlobe.
"I'm going to smear the canvas."
"You are so sexy when you sound stern."
"Jacques, I mean it. Stop." She laughed as she wiggled free of his embrace, careful not to rub the canvas against the bushes around them.
"You are so demanding." He winked, grabbed her free hand and pulled her along the path.
Together they adjusted the bag before she shoved her hair beneath the helmet, straddled the bike, and perched the canvas just so on her back with her looped fingers. Jacques settled onto the seat in front of her, patted her thigh as a cue that they were about to leave, and accelerated out of the lot. He drove slowly through the streets, conscious of her precious cargo.
Thighs tight around him, she wondered about this Carter person coming to visit. In two weeks, she'd come to know his sister, their friends had become hers, now another piece of his puzzle arrived via an old college friend named Carter from London. One of these days he would want her puzzle pieces and she didn't know if she'd be prepared to form that picture for fear of destroying this one.
He parked in his customary reckless fashion against the curb in front of their apartment building. They walked up the stairs in silence, each content to think their own thoughts without need of sharing.
After carefully propping her fresh painting against the far wall out of danger from being bumped by anyone, she turned to find him staring at her from where he loomed in the kitchen.
"What is it?" she asked, heart leaping to her throat that perhaps he'd unconsciously picked up on her selfishness.
"I don't want to go to Africa or anywhere else—not right now—so I need you to stop pushing me away." Face shading red with irritation, he shoved his hands through his hair. "Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to know that you want me as much as I want you yet have you keep trying to get me to go away? How many times do I need to tell you that I do what I want? Why won't you believe me?"
Tears came out of nowhere to sting the back of her eyes. She blinked them back and shrugged, emotions raw from creating all day and irritation at herself quick to surface. "I'm not used to people choosing me, okay? Is that what you want to know? I have nothing to offer you, no promises or guarantees. I am...this." She motioned to her paint splattered clothes. "I am not a wealthy person and you and Ava obviously are even if you don't flaunt it. I have a job as an architect waiting for me back home in the fall. I have student loans and credit card bills. I have nothing to offer you, Jacques. I'm not the kind of woman who can traipse through Africa with you. If that's what you want, then you need to go now."
He looked like he wanted to pull his hair out by the roots. "Is it the language barrier that is the problem? What do you not understand? I don't care if you traipse through Africa with me. You are the most infuriating woman I have ever met."
Unsure what to say or even what she'd done to elicit such frustration from him, she faced him with her hands on hips and glared. "I don't know why we're arguing."
"Me either!" He slammed a fist against the counter and closed his eyes.
"Are we angry with each other for something?" Her lips twitched, wondering briefly if there was something being lost in translation.
"I am falling in love with you I think and it annoys me." He shoved his hands through his hair again, his annoyance palpable from across the room. "You with your paint and your secrets and your clumsiness and—"
"Hey, now, I am not clumsy."
"See right there! You did it again." He suddenly smiled and walked toward her. "You are maddening on every level and I cannot bear the thought of leaving you, yet you keep trying to get me to go to places like Africa. Why do you do that?"
There were those deadly dimples again. She backed toward the bathroom, the word 'love' hanging in the room between them. Had he really said he thought he was falling in love with her?
She lifted up the hem of her paint smeared t-shirt and teased him with a glimpse of her abdomen. "Shower with me. I wonder how I say that in Italian?"
"Voglio fare una doccia con voi...or something close to that." He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it away. Without breaking eye contact, he unzipped his jeans, pushed them down his thighs, and kicked them aside. "Did I lose anything in translation?"
She looked down at his naked body and gulped down the access saliva. "I think we're understanding each other perfectly."
Grinning, he grabbed her shirt and yanked it off of her before crushing her to his chest. "Let me love you, Jessica." He flicked his tongue over her lips and repeated in Italian, "Lascia che ti ami, Jessica."
Hands on his shoulders, she opened her mouth to his while wiggling free of her jeans. He didn't know it, but he asked a lot with his simple question. Her heart had closed long ago, having experienced constant disappointment and disillusionment. But now, here, with him kissing her and carrying her to the shower while whispering in both French and Italian against her skin, a flicker of something warm stirred in her chest and fluttered to life.
Keep reading In Between and lose yourself in a heart-wrenching romance that spans the globe...