Authors: Megan Hart
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary
Their passion will consume everything—and everyone—in its
I’m on a train.
I don’t know which stop I got on at; I only know the train is
going fast and the world outside becomes a blur. I should get off, but I don’t.
The universe is playing a cosmic joke on me. Here I had my life—a good life with
everything a woman could want—and suddenly, there is something more I
didn’t know I could have. A chance for me to be satisfied and content and maybe
even on occasion deliriously, amazingly, exuberantly fulfilled.
So this is where I am, on a train that’s out of control, and
I am not just a passenger. I’m the one shoveling the furnace full of coal to
keep it going fast and faster.
If I could make myself believe it all happened by chance and
I couldn’t help it, that I’ve been swept away, that it’s not my fault, that it’s
fate...would that be easier? The truth is, I didn’t know I was looking for this
until I found Will, but I must’ve been, all this time. And now it is not random,
it is not fate, it is not being swept away.
This is my choice.
And I don’t know how to stop.
Or even if I want to.
Praise for the novels of
New York Times
bestselling author Megan Hart
is a great story, steeped in emotion. Hart
has a wonderful way with her characters.â¦ She conveys their thoughts and
actions in a manner that brings them to life. And the erotic scenes provide
a sizzling read.”
is absolutely, positively, the best book
that I have read in ages! I cannot say enough about this book. The writing
is fabulous, the characters' chemistry is combustible, and the story line
brought tears to my eyes more than onceâ¦. Beautiful, poignant and
bittersweetâ¦ Megan Hart never disappoints me, but with
she went above and
Romance Reader at Heart,
like Megan Hart's previous novels, is an
action-packed, sexy, emotional romance that tears up the pages with heat
while also telling a touching love storyâ¦.
has a unique, hot premise that Hart
delivers on fully.”
âBestselling author Rachel Kramer Bussel
is not a traditional romance but the story of a
real and complex woman caught in a difficult situation with no easy answers.
Well-developed secondary characters and a compelling plot add depth to this
absorbing and enticing novel.”
“An exceptional story and honest characters
“[Hart] writes erotica for grown-ups. She
doesn't write sex just to titillate and she holds her characters to a higher
[The Space Between Us]
is a quiet book, but it packed a major punch for meâ¦. She's a
stunning writer, and this is a stunning book.”
bestselling author Megan
THE SPACE BETWEEN US
PRECIOUS AND FRAGILE
Coming soon from Harlequin
For all those who have ever lost their willâ
good night, and dream in color.
Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half. It's everything in between we live for.
âAnn Patchett, from the essay
The Sense of an Ending
This is a love story.
I came in on the train and then took a cab, but that didn’t stop the late March drizzle from destroying everything I’d carefully put together at home earlier this afternoon. My hair hangs sodden against my forehead and cheeks. My clothes cling, damp and heavy and chilled. I stripped off my dark, soaked stockings in the gallery bathroom and wrapped them in paper towels to tuck inside my purse, and my legs feel glaringly pale. Instead of the glass of white wine in my hand, I’m desperate for a cup of coffee, or better yet, a mug of hot chocolate. With whipped cream.
I’m desperate for the taste of something sweet.
There should be desserts here, but all I can find are blocks of cut cheese, sweating on the tray among the slaughtered remains of fancy crackers. The bowl of what looks like honey mustard is probably all right, but the companion bowl of ranch dressing looks like a playground for gastrointestinal distress. Courtesy of the rain, I’m more chilled than the cheese, the dips or the wine.
I haven’t seen Naveen yet. He’s flirting his way through the entire crowd, and I can’t begrudge him that. It’s exciting, this new gallery. New York is different than Philly. He needs to make an impression with this opening. He’ll get to me eventually. He always does.
Now I hold the glass of wine in one hand, the other tucked just below my breasts to prop my elbow as I study the photograph in front of me. The artist has blown it up to massive size. Twenty by forty, I estimate, though I’ve always been shit with measurements. The subject matter is fitting for the weather outside. A wet street, puddles glistening with gasoline rainbows. A child in red rubber boots standing in one, peering down at his reflection—or is it a her? I can’t tell. Longish hair, a shapeless raincoat, bland and gender-neutral features. It could be a boy or girl.
I don’t care.
I don’t care one fucking thing about that portrait, the size of it just big enough to guarantee that somebody will shell out the cool grand listed on the price tag. I shake my head a little, wondering what Naveen had thought, hanging this in the show. Maybe he owed someone a favor...or a blow job. The BJ would’ve been a better investment.
There’s a crinkle, tickle, tease on the back of my neck. The weight of a gaze. I turn around, and someone’s there.
“You’d need a house the size of a castle to hang that piece of shit.”
The voice is soft. Husky. Nearly as gender-neutral as the face of the child in the picture. I pause for just a moment before I look into his eyes, but the second I do, my brain fits him into a neat slot. Male. Man. He’s a man, all right, despite the soft voice.
He’s not looking at me, but at the picture, so I can stare at him for a few seconds longer than what’s socially acceptable. Hair the color of wet sand spikes forward over his forehead and feathers against his cheeks in front of his ears. It’s short and wispy in the back, exposing the nape of his neck. He’s got a scruffy face, not just like a guy who’s forgone shaving for a few days, but one who keeps an uneasy truce with his razor at best. He wears a dark suit, white shirt, narrow dark tie. Retro. Black Converse on his feet.
“And who’d pay a grand for it? C’mon.” His gaze slides toward me just for a second or two. Catching me staring. He gestures at the photo.
“It’s not so bad.” I’m not sure why I’m compelled to say anything nice about the picture. I agree, it’s an overpriced piece of shit. It’s a mockery of good art, actually. I should be angry about this, that I’m wasting my time on it as if the consumption of beauty is something with an allotment. Hell, maybe it is.
Maybe I actually have wasted today’s consumption of beauty on this piece of crap. I study it again. Technically, it’s flawless. The lighting, the focus, the exposure. But it’s not art.
Even so, someone will buy it simply because they will look at it the same way I did. They’ll note the perfectly framed shot, the pseudowhimsical subject matter, the blandly colorful mat inside a sort of interesting frame. They will convince themselves it’s just unique enough to impress their friends, but it won’t force them to actually feel anything except perhaps smugness that they got a bargain.
“It looks like art,” I say. “But it really isn’t. And that’s why someone will pay a thousand bucks for it and hang it in the formal living room they use only at Christmas. Because it looks like art but it really isn’t.”
He strokes his chin. “You think so?”
“Yes. I’m sure of it. Naveen wouldn’t have priced it if he didn’t think he could sell it.” I slant the man a sideways look, wishing I could be bold enough to stare at him when he’s facing me, the way I was when he was looking at something else.
“Good. I need to pay my rent. A coupla hundred bucks would be sweet.”
he’s an artist. Men who look like that, in a place like this—they’re always artists. Usually starving. He looks lean enough to have missed a few meals. Standing this close I get a whiff of cigarettes and corduroy, which should make no sense, since he’s not wearing any, but it does because that’s how I work. Tastes and smells and sounds link up for me in ways they don’t for everyone else. I see colors where there shouldn’t be any. The scent of corduroy is par for the course.
“You took that picture?”
“I did.” He nods, not without pride, despite what he’d been saying about it earlier.
If he’d been talking shit about another artist’s piece I’d have liked him less, even if he was telling the truth. I can like him better now. “It’s really not so bad.”
He frowns. Shakes his head. “You’re a bad liar.”
On the contrary, I think I’m an excellent liar.
He looks again at the picture and shrugs. “Someone will buy it because it looks like art but doesn’t ask too much of them. That’s what you’re saying?”
“You’re the expert.” He shrugs again and crosses one arm over his chest to rest his elbow on as he stares at the photo. I don’t miss the stance—it’s a mirror of my own. He bites at his thumb. It must be an old habit, because the nail is ragged. “The only reason I did this thing was for Naveen, you know? He said he wanted something more commercial. Not, like, doll heads with pencil stubs sticking out of the eye holes and stuff like that.”
I’m a good liar, but not a good poker player. I can’t keep a stone face. I know the piece he’s talking about. It’s been in the back room of Naveen’s Philadelphia gallery for months, if not years. Of course I assumed he couldn’t sell it, which didn’t explain why he kept it hung back there for so long. I joked with him that he kept it for some sentimental reasons; maybe this was true.
“That was yours?”
He laughs. “Will Roberts.”
I take the hand he holds out. His fingers are callused and rough, and for a moment I imagine how they’d sound against something silk, like a scarf. His touch would rasp on something soft. It would whisper.
His fingers curl around mine. For one bizarre second, I’m sure he’s going to kiss the back of my hand. I tense, waiting for the brush of his mouth against my skin, the wet slide of his tongue on my flesh, and that’s ridiculous because of course he wouldn’t do such a thing. People don’t do that to strangers. Even lovers would hardly do so.
My imagination is wild, I know it, yet when he lets my hand drop I’m still a little disappointed. His touch lingers, the way his fingers scraped at mine. I’m not soft as silk, no matter how many expensive creams I rub into my skin. And yet, I’d been right. His touch whispered.
“You’re Naveen’s friend.”
“Yeah. You could say that. We have sort of a love-hate thing going on.” I pause, judging his reaction. “He loves that I work for next to nothing, and I hate that he doesn’t pay me more.”
Will laughs. It ripples in streams of blue and green that wink into sparkling gold. His eyes squint shut. He has straight white teeth in a thin-lipped mouth. He shouldn’t be attractive in his laughter, the way it changes his face, but there’s something infectious about him. I laugh, too.
There’s music in the gallery, a string quartet in the corner painfully strumming their way through Pachelbel’s
They must be students, because Naveen would never have paid for professional musicians. I wonder which one of them he used to fuck, because like that painting in the back room and other things here in the gallery, including me, Naveen hangs on to things for sentimental reasons. There’s food in the gallery, too, a little lackluster. And there’s wine. But there isn’t much laughter, and we draw attention.
Will tips his head back for a few more chuckles, then looks at me. “I’m supposed to go mingle.”
I want him to linger. I want to keep him from something he should be doing but chooses not to because of me. And I could make him stay, I think suddenly, watching his gaze skip and slide over my body, my damp clothes, my bare legs. He’s already touched my skin. He knows how I feel. I want him to want to know more.
“Sure, go.” I tip my chin toward the rest of the room. “I have some things I need to do, too.”
a good liar.
“It was nice meeting you, Elisabeth.” Will holds out his hand again.
This time I entertain no fantasies of his lips on the back of it. That’s just silly. We shake formally. Firmly. I turn away from him at the end of it, feigning interest again in his piece-of-shit-that-isn’t-art, so I don’t have to watch him walking away.
Naveen finds me in front of a few pieces of pottery on their narrow pedestals. I don’t like them. Technically, they’re lovely. They are commercial. They will sell. What’s good for the gallery is good for me. Still, they reek of manure. Maybe it’s the mud they’re made from. Maybe it’s just the twisted signals in my brain that layer and mingle my senses. Whatever it is, I’m staring with a frown when my friend puts his arm around my shoulders and pulls me close.
“I already have several more commissioned from this artist. Lacey Johnsbury.” Naveen’s grin is very white. He smells of a subtle blend of expensive cologne and the pomade he uses in his jet-black hair. Those are actual scents; anyone could smell them.
When Naveen speaks, I taste cotton candy, soft and sweet, subtle. There are times when listening to my friend talk makes my teeth ache. But I like the taste of cotton candy, just as I like listening to Naveen, because we’ve been friends for a long, long time. He might be one of the only people who know me as well as I know myself. Sometimes maybe better. I run my tongue along my teeth for a second before I answer him.
“I don’t like them.”
“You don’t have to like them, darling, they are not for you.”
I shrug. “It’s your gallery.”
“Yes.” Those white teeth, that grin. “And they’ll sell. I like things that sell, Elisabeth. You know that.”
“Like that?” I nod toward Will’s atrocity.
“You don’t like that, either?”
I shrug again. “It’s a piece of shit, Naveen. Even the artist thinks so.”
He laughs, and I’m in front of a Ferris wheel under a summer sky, my hair in pigtails and my fists full of spun sugar. Not really, of course, but that’s how it feels. “You met Will.”
“Yes. I met him.” I look for Will in the crowd and see him in one of the alcoves, flirting with a woman whose hair is not flat and limp, her lipstick unsmeared. She looks as if she hasn’t eaten in years. She leans in close to him. He laughs.
I hate her.
I look away before Naveen can see me watching, but it’s too late. He shakes his head and squeezes my shoulder gently. He doesn’t say anything. I guess he doesn’t have to. Someone calls his name, and he’s off to schmooze. He’s better at it than I am, so I leave him to it.
It’s late and getting later, and I should leave. Naveen offered to let me stay at his place. I’ve done it before. I like his wife, Puja, but their kids are still small. When I stay there I’m treated to lots of sticky hugs and kisses, am woken at the crack of dawn and feel as if I have to give Puja a hand with things like diapers and feeding times. My daughters are long beyond needing that sort of care, and I don’t miss it.
“You’re still here.”
I turn, the sound of his voice tiptoeing up my spine to tickle the back of my neck. “I am.”
Will tilts his head a little to look at me. “Do you like anything in this show?”
“Of course I do.” It would be disloyal to say otherwise, wouldn’t it?
I’m caught. At a loss. I search the room for something I do like. I point. “There. That piece. I like that one.”
White canvas, black stripes. A red circle. It looks like something any elementary schoolkid could do, but somehow it’s art because of the way it’s framed and hangs on the wall. When I look at it, I see the hovering shapes of butterflies, just for a minute. Nobody else would; they’d just see the white, the black, the red. But it’s the butterflies that make me choose it. I don’t love it, but out of everything here tonight, I like it the best.
“That?” Will looks at it, then at me again. “It’s pretty good. It’s not what I thought you’d pick, though.”
“What did you think I’d pick?”
Will points with his chin. “Want me to show you?”
I hesitate; I don’t know why. Of course I want him to show me. I’m curious about what he thinks I’d like. How he could think he knows enough about me to guess at anything I’d like.
Will takes me by the elbow and leads me through the crowd, still thick considering the hour, but then I guess most of these people live here in the city, or at least are staying close by. There’s another alcove toward the back, this one hung with gauze and twinkling fairy lights. The inside of it’s curved, which makes it hard to hang square portraits there, and why I didn’t look at it tonight. I couldn’t face another of those stinky vases.
“There.” Will stops but doesn’t let go of my elbow. If anything, he moves closer to me. “That’s what you like.”
The piece is simple. Carved, polished wood. There’s no real form or figure, though the piece is evocative of a woman’s body. The smooth curve of hip and thigh and belly and breasts, the curl and twist of hair. It’s not a woman, but it feels like one. Without thinking, I touch it. She feels like a woman. My fingers curl against my palm as I take my hand away. I shouldn’t have touched it. Oils from my fingers could harm the finish. It’s not a museum piece, but even so, it’s not right to ruin it.