Sophie stared at the blank canvas in front of her, trying to still her shaking knee. She had been nervous when she arrived this morning. The impending art class had her anxious. It was to be her first nude model session. She had painted many people over her time as an artist, but this was the first time she would be staring at two naked people for a complete two-hour session, translating their exposed bodies onto her canvas with the experience of her hands—hands that currently moved restlessly over her supplies as the seconds ticked by. Everyone else in the class seemed to be in a state of boredom as they watched the clock on the wall.
The professor sat as his desk, loudly sipping his morning coffee. He kept checking his watch, and then confirming that the time correlated with the wall clock. “Hopefully it shouldn’t be too much longer,” he mumbled as his eyes traveled toward the door, his fingers tapping annoyingly on his desk. His round stomach threatened every button on his shirt as it stretched over his width. His hair was in desperate need of a trim and his beard was riddled with gray. Despite his unkempt appearance, he had grown on Sophie, his appearance quite suitable for the rough-edged professor who seemed to view the world in its own unique light.
Sophie followed his gaze toward the open door. Giggling erupted in the hallway before a young woman shuffled in. “Sorry, Professor.” She smiled, her face flushing with color.
“So sorry.” The entrancing male voice bordered on sarcasm as the man filled the doorframe. His large presence demanded the attention of everyone in the room because of his dangerous beauty. Sophie’s eyes widened in panic and she ducked behind her canvas to avoid being recognized. She could feel the blood rush to her face. Ashton King was standing in her art class with a robe that he barely had tied. What the hell was he doing here? Just breathe. Just breathe.
Sophie remembered the first time she had met Ashton. It was her first day at her new school. Her mother had moved them halfway through her freshman year to start her new job. Sophie remembered how nervous she’d been when she walked into her new classroom.
Everyone looked up at Sophie as Mr. Walters, her teacher, introduced her to the class. She found it overwhelming with the sea of eyes on her. She found herself looking down at her worn red shoes to avoid her embarrassment.
Mr. Walters directed her toward the only empty seat in the class. Ashton was the first person she locked eyes with, and he was the most beautiful boy she had ever seen. He had long blond hair that fell perfectly around his tanned face. His steel blue eyes looked back at her. A smile formed before she realized it, but he did not return the gesture. She let the smile fall as she slid into her desk and turned her attention toward the front of the class. She heard whispering around her, but she couldn’t make out any of the words. She tried to make herself as small as possible in her seat, hoping no one would pay any mind to her.
She couldn’t shake the feeling that Ashton’s gaze was still on her, and it made her uncomfortable. She felt a gentle tug on her hair, causing her to turn around. Everyone seemed to avoiding making eye contact. She turned back with the notion that she might have imagined it, but again someone tugged on it. When she turned this time, the faces behind her were obviously suppressing their laughter. The next time someone pulled her hair, she couldn’t help but cry out at the unexpected pain. The teacher spun around from the chalkboard to assess the interruption.
“Sophie?” Mr. Walters narrowed in on her. Sophie couldn’t tell if he was angry at her or not because he seemed to have a permanently pained expression on his face.
“Sorry. It won’t happen again.” Sophie gave a polite smile to Mr. Walters, who gazed at her from over his glasses.
“Is there a problem?” he asked, studying her.
“Good.” He continued onward with the lesson. Sophie turned around in her seat. Ashton was the only one willing to meet her hot glare. She leaned forward in her seat and pulled her long hair up over her shoulder, twisting it tightly in her hands. When the bell rang, signalling the end of class, Sophie rose quickly to her feet. She turned back toward Ashton, leaning down toward him so he would see the meaning in her words. “I will not play your little game,” she said angrily at him. His eyes were so beautiful she almost lost her nerve. “Leave me alone.” She was ashamed how much he affected her. Sophie was so overwhelmed that she didn’t notice that someone put their foot in her path. She tripped and fell between the rows of desks, landing on the floor. She looked up at a girl with a head full of perfectly curled blonde ringlets.
“Oops.” She laughed at Sophie. “Nice dress, by the way. Where did you get it? A dumpster?” The girl’s laugh was shrill. Sophie couldn’t stop herself from looking down at her dress with new eyes. She had been excited to wear it on her first day. She had found the perfect material and made sure she paid special attention to the detail when she made it. She had learned to sew when she was a small girl. Her neighbor, Mrs. Martin, would watch her when her mother worked late. The first time Sophie was introduced to sewing was when Mrs. Martin sewed lace cuffs on her favorite T-shirt when it had grown too small. Now as she looked down at the material she had adored, she couldn’t help but suddenly want it off. It felt too tight, too constricting, and tears threatened to fall.
When Mrs. Martin passed away, Sophie remembered crying herself to sleep for days. Mrs. Martin had treated her like family and her kindness would never be forgotten. She had shown Sophie everything she had known about sewing and she had told her beautiful stories about her life. Mrs. Martin had left her sewing machine to Sophie, and she had treasured it from that moment on. It was all she had left of her friend.
Sophie was so embarrassed she couldn’t bring herself to speak. Instead, she left the laughter behind and stormed out of the class.
It was the first time that Sophie’s anger at Ashton bloomed within her, along with many other confusing feelings that always pulled taut in the pit of her stomach. It was impossible to breathe when he was near, impossible to think—he was a force that pulled and pushed her past her limits. It was also her first experience with Lucinda Jones, the perfectly fashioned queen of the school who held sway over everyone. She was Ashton’s girlfriend. Lucinda had made it her personal mission to make Sophie’s life hell for the rest of their high school years. Sophie had quickly become a social pariah because Lucinda deemed her an outcast, leading to the loneliest years of her life.
Based on the lustful looks that Ashton was now giving the other model, thoughts of Lucinda were currently the furthest things from his mind. Lucinda had always claimed that she and Ashton were soulmates and would always be together. It was nice to think that for once something finally didn’t go Lucinda’s way, but the thought immediately made her feel guilty.
Sophie tried to hide herself behind her canvas as Ashton and the strawberry blonde positioned themselves in their suggested pose. She watched Ashton’s confident demeanor and wondered how he could be so casual about stripping down in front of a room full of strangers.
Sophie’s excitement began to build in the pit of her stomach with the thought of seeing Ashton naked. She completely loathed him for the years of hell he and his horrid girlfriend put her through, but was curious how far his perfection reached.
Ashton discarded his robe and Sophie took a sharp intake of breath before she could stop herself. Ashton’s eyes met hers briefly before she slipped behind her canvas. Her face flamed so hot she thought it would melt off. The room became too hot, stifling. Just breathe. Just breathe. Taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes and noticed Sally watching her. They had become familiar over the weeks of their course, but that was the extent of their friendship. Outside the classroom their lives took two very different paths.
Sally smiled at her and mouthed, “I want to lick his entire body.” Sally gave her a wink before diving into her paints. If only it were that easy for Sophie. She felt like a complete mess. Please let me get through this.
Sophie considered just leaving the class with the little dignity she had left. The only thing stopping her was the fact she needed the credit for this class. The sitting was important for her final mark. Her hands shook with embarrassment as she reached for her brush. It was amazing how many old emotions began to stir now that she was in Ashton’s presence again. She had hoped with the passing of time those intense feelings would dissipate and be nothing more than some weird twisted high school attraction.
Sophie kept her body sheltered behind her canvas until the last possible moment before she had to begin. He’s a jerk. He’s a jerk. You don’t even like him. In fact, you despise him. Then her eyes found him. His tall, hard body was chiseled into a perfect male specimen, complete with deliciously golden skin. Goddamnit! The sight of him made her stir with hot need. Now she was turned on and overwhelmingly angry at herself. Why am I such a sucker for punishment when it comes to Ashton King? She was truly a pathetic disaster and cursed herself for letting him have that power over her.
Consciously making an effort to slow her breathing and her racing heart, she angled her body to more effectively view the models. Sophie refused to let her eyes travel close to Ashton’s face. The two of them were posed in a passionate embrace to portray love. Sophie focused her efforts on the girl’s form, trying to do justice to her curves. Denying even the slightest glance toward Ashton, she knew his face was angled toward her so she dared not look at him. I am strong. I am not the same pathetic girl I was in high school. I can do this.
When the end of class approached, Sophie hastily began packing up her supplies before anyone else. She wanted to make a quick getaway to avoid any interactions with Ashton. She wondered if Ashton and Lucinda kept in touch. He would probably call her up and tell her how laughable Sophie still was three years after high school. Sophie cringed at the thought of the two of them having another thrill at her expense. Physically, Ashton was the most attractive guy she had ever seen. He was tall with a robust athletic build, beautiful bone structure in his face, and a strong defined jawline. His eyes were stormy blue and he had full lips that were made for kissing. He looked like how she always pictured Prince Charming in all the fairytales from her childhood, but he was actually the villain in every other sense.
The sound of his voice as he spoke to someone in the room gave fire to her steps and she gathered her belongings and quickly headed toward the door. She let out a breath of relief as she made her way down the hallway.
“Hey, Sophie.” Sophie ignored him, continuing down the hall. “Wait up.” Ashton rounded on her. He had his robe thrown on, exposing his tanned, carved chest.
“What?” Sophie surprised herself by her abruptness.
“I noticed that you didn’t paint me in your picture. You can’t have a picture of love without two people.” He raised his eyebrows at her.
“I don’t believe in love. I figured I would make a statement.” She tried to push past him but he didn’t let her pass.
“I know you liked what you saw.” He gave her a boastful smile. God, those stupid dimples!
“Always the modest one. Actually, I was shocked that you would actually show yourself in public. I gasped because I thought I was going to throw up.” Sophie narrowed her eyes. He was taller than she remembered; he now towered over her. “Why are you even here? Don’t you have some stuffy college to attend before you settle into your privileged lifestyle?”
“Ouch.” His hand went up to his bare chest and her eyes followed. Shoot! Heat immediately filled her cheeks when lust-filled thoughts entered her mind. “That would hurt if I didn’t know you were lying.”
“I’m not,” she said stubbornly, looking past him at her escape route.
“I know you’re lying, you always bite your lip after you tell a lie.” His eyes lingered on her lips. Sophie brought her hand up to cover her mouth.
“You don’t know anything about me.” She could feel her emotions swell inside her, choking her.
“If I didn’t know any better I would say it was the first time you saw a guy naked. Your cheeks couldn’t have turned any redder.” He chuckled.
“I have seen plenty of naked men, in fact more than I can count, not that it’s any of your concern,” Sophie spat out angrily.
Ashton smiled and pointed to her lips. Sophie covered her deceiving mouth again and pushed past him, ignoring the electrical current that seemed to pulse through her with the contact. A tingling sensation lingered where her shoulder had touched him.
“See you never!” she called out behind her, using the words he had always said to her when they were in school.