Wicked Design

By: Tina Donahue

He pushed back in his chair. “I know this is your decision, and I can’t stop you. But you really shouldn’t mess yourself up with that stuff.”

“Why not?”

“Your skin’s too nice.”

“It’s paler than a corpse.”

“Bull. It’s pretty, and that’s putting it mildly.” Even God descending from on high couldn’t capture his attention as her complexion did. “Since I’m not good with words, you’ll have to give me a couple of hours with a thesaurus so I can come up with something better and more descriptive.”

She hugged the binder to her chest. “What do you suggest I get? And please, not flowers, butterflies, or fairies. I want something unique.”

“Like what?”

“You’re the artist. You decide.” She paused. “Tell you what. Come to my place tonight. We can discuss it during dinner and after. All night if we have to.”

Chapter Three

The second Clover’s invitation fell out of her mouth she tensed and waited for the fallout—Van Gogh turning her down. Worse, him mumbling about getting back to work and actively avoiding her as he always did. Pretending these last moments hadn’t happened.

She was no stranger to some guys’ inherent difficulty in finessing social situations. In middle school, she’d finally screwed up enough courage to ask a computer club geek to the Sadie Hawkins dance, her first attempt at interacting with the opposite sex for something other than the stuff kids usually talked about. While the event may have been a feminist’s dream for female empowerment, it became her personal nightmare. Her classmate had trembled worse than she had, grunted something unintelligible, and then dashed into the boys’ john. From the sounds wafting into the hall, he’d lost his lunch.

Granted, she hadn’t been Suzie cheerleader, but she wasn’t the plague, either.

After that, she and the dude in question didn’t make eye contact or speak until junior year in high school and then only to say “hey.”

To repeat those awful times wasn’t an option now. She refused to wait endless years for what she wanted, especially when it came to Van Gogh. “My place isn’t far from here. It’s the apartment above Alice’s Wonderland, totally within walking distance. You familiar with it? The gift shop, not my place.” She gripped the binder. “Jasmina used to live there. That’s how she and I got acquainted. Alice, the shop’s owner and my landlady, has my jewelry on consignment. I make a pretty good living with what she sells. Not that she’s my only revenue source. I have other outlets. But she really pushes my stuff, you know? She’s a nice lady. Older. Dresses like a hippie, all that beaded vintage finery and…”

Clover wanted to stop but couldn’t. Inane conversation poured out in an endless flood, along with questions she didn’t let him answer. She’d never been the silent type and had always lacked a filter in what she’d said, but now was worse. She couldn’t freaking shut up.

Surprisingly, Van Gogh didn’t back away.

Maybe he couldn’t. Several times, she could have sworn he stopped breathing.

Good thing. She needed all the available oxygen. The room still dipped and swayed, her lightheadedness part anguish, part lust. He smelled amazing, lime and musk tingeing his clean scent.

She sniffed deeply and battled an urge to crawl onto his lap. “Tell you what. I’ll take this out front with me.” She held up the binder. “I’ll take the others, too.” She gathered them and cradled the lot to her chest, along with her parasol. “While you finish up your shift, I’ll wait on one of the sofas and go through the designs. That way we’ll both have ideas for tonight. If we need more, I have a tablet. We can use it to scour the Net. I’ll let you get back to work now. I’m looking forward to this. Thanks for saying yes.”

Somehow, she got to her feet and out the door, closing it too hard, the thud explosive. She should have run before Van Gogh found his voice and followed to cancel, but her rubbery legs wouldn’t support her. She slumped against the wall.

Jasmina and Lauren leaned out of a room near the lobby. They gestured her to join them.

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