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337 pages
4 hours
Mar 26, 2016


"...an engaging page turner with complex and eccentric characters, as well as a riveting plot." ~ Music City Oracle

"The characters in this book are so realistic and well developed that reading the story almost feels like you've met them and understand their circumstances." ~ Serious Reading

Tanya, a reporter living in an eclectic neighborhood of bars and coffee shops, just wants is to be accepted by the musicians and artists that inhabit the world she's encroached on. When her boss assigns her to report on a one woman show, she's pulled deeper into the world of underground artists, and into a relationship with a performance artist only known as Cassia.

Tanya's dive into passion and depravity compels her investigate the enigma of Cassia, and the secrets she uncovers are darker than she imagined.

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a coming-of-age novel of literary merit that explores the questions of art, sexuality, religion, and belonging. [DRM-Free]

"This book explores not only the topic of sexuality, but also the intellectual questions that artists and art enthusiasts ask themselves. Art reflects human nature, with all its idiosyncrasies, imperfections and emotional upheavals. This story gives the reader a taste of how art, in its turn, can affect those who are closest to it. The characters from this book will stay with me for quite some time." ~ AlinasVoice

"Cassia is like a painting with many textures." ~ S. Kanton

Books by Lanette Kauten:

  • Behind the Open Walls
  • Cassia
  • House of Thistles

More Great Women's Fiction from Evolved Publishing:

  • "Yours to Keep or Throw Aside" by E.D. Martin
  • "All the Tomorrows" by Nillu Nasser
  • "Between Two Doors" by Taya DeVere
  • "Participant" by Carmen Kemp
  • "White Chalk" by P.K. Tyler

Mar 26, 2016

About the author

I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, TX, and moved all the way over to the next county… so, not very far. In high school, I was a serious and determined student with the goal of becoming a psychologist. However, an artistic desire awakened inside me during my late teens, and I became enamored with artists of all strains, and Deep Ellum became a home for my soul. After a couple of years, I realized I would have to grow up eventually (actually, my mom realized that for me), so I went to nursing school and once again became a serious and determined student. While in school, I became fascinated with research, and after a few years of working as a floor nurse, I went into nephrology research and loved it! Because just about everything interests me, I eventually picked up my long-dead hobby of writing, which I’m happy to say is now a budding career.

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Cassia - Lanette Kauten

Chapter 1

July 2010

Living in Jeffrey’s world sometimes made me feel like a dessertspoon at a dieter’s convention.

My life had become a series of baseball games, conferences, and fancy dinners with lobbyists and lawmakers. Though not the exciting life I wanted for myself, it rescued me from the less than satisfactory situation I’d chosen as a young idealist.

Go! Get out of here. Jeffrey leaned forward in his seat as the batter hit a long fly ball just to the right of the left foul line. The ball landed midway up the stands, and the ballpark erupted into cheers and fireworks as everyone jumped to their feet. Jeffrey gave me a quick kiss before high-fiving the congressman on the other side of him.

Susan, the congressman’s wife, ignored everyone around her while reading a book, the cover hidden from view.

I leaned over, but she was too far for me to read the title at the top of the page without being too conspicuous. I’d learned to appreciate the skills and strategies in baseball, but I would have preferred joining Susan and blocking out the noise and the crowd to enjoy a good book.

I forgot the game and the congressman Jeffrey entertained, and checked my phone to see what art shows and related social events would be happening over the weekend. There was an awards ceremony for local sculptors. At one time, as an art and theater reporter, I would have covered that. I flipped through the events section—two plays opened this weekend. Was she in one?

So much time had passed since I last heard anything about her. I tried not to think about her, not to remember her at all. Most of the time she wasn’t even a memory, but sometimes, like now, the simple thought of her knocked the air out of me.

I glanced at my husband, who remained focused on the game, and opened the link to the first play. Websites rarely posted the casting list, but I hoped the photos would reveal something.

She wasn’t in any of the pictures for the first play—couldn’t tell if I was relieved or disappointed. I stared at the link for the second play. I knew the playwright. When he wasn’t writing and producing, he spent his time complaining about the shallowness of the art scene in Dallas, or saying he found nothing reputable about Hollywood. His plays often centered on myths and the feminine mystique. I hesitated, my finger over the link, and finally shut off my phone and stuffed it into my purse.

Any interesting emails? Jeffrey asked. It seemed like such an innocent question, but I wondered if he suspected something.

I don’t know. I didn’t check. Do you mind if we go to a reception for sculptors tomorrow night?

The congressman cheered, drawing Jeffrey’s attention back to the game; runner made it to second.

He glanced back at me. Sure, that sounds fine. He paid as much attention to me as Susan paid to the game.

The next batter came up with two outs, and on his third swing he hit a pop-up to end the inning.

Jeffrey smacked his thigh and the congressman shook his head.

How about some beer? Jeffrey asked us.

I nodded, and Susan waved her delicate fingers as though brushing away a strand of hair, not even looking up from her book.

After the men left, she saved her place in the book with a slender cord attached to a rhinestone-studded ‘S’ and slid in next to me. You’re Tanya Falgoust.

My last name is Roberts.

Ten years my senior, she carried herself with an elegance lost on much younger wives of many of her husband’s standing. It is now, but you weren’t born married. Thank God, none of us were.

Few if any of my friends of late were aware of my maiden name, but this woman, an all but complete stranger, knew. I wondered how or why that was important. To this point, she had virtually ignored my existence, yet she now opened our conversation not with small talk or social niceties, but with a revelation that spoke of a need for caution. Everyone had a past, and most everyone preferred it remain there. I wondered what else she knew and what her intentions were.

Instead of responding, I took note of the cover of her book. It showed the side view of what was obviously a woman, though her face was hidden. I recognized the title as one I had read years ago.

There aren’t many books written about female artists, I said.

You should know. After all, it is your field.

I’ve never written a book.

She leaned in close. True, but I’ve wondered why that’s so. Your articles, had they appeared in a more respectable publication, would have won you many awards and accolades.

I wasn’t after recognition.

Susan cocked her head and said, It’s been my experience that people not seeking recognition are hiding something or from someone. Which do you think it is with you?

A moment ago, I had been wary, but this intrusion set me on edge. Instead of answering her, I faced the baseball diamond and attempted to concentrate on the game, but the intensity of Susan’s gaze distracted me. I tried not to look at her, but I could feel her presence.

When I glanced back at her, the corners of her mouth tilted upwards, just slightly, as her eyes narrowed. By the way, do you know whatever became of Cassia?

I shifted in my seat and looked around, scanning the others in the club seats around us. We weren’t in the box seats, but in a semi-secluded division on the second level. Those who shared our section focused on the players on the field and not on the game now being played in the stands.

Susan knew things, private things about me, but how did she know, and what did she want?

She ignored my nervous silence and pressed deeper. Many people say they care not for power and fame, but they aren’t being honest with themselves. Take yourself, for example. You married a powerful lobbyist when you could have had something else entirely.

I married Jeffrey because I loved him. I still love him.

You married Jeffrey for the same reason I married Paul. We’re attracted to power. The difference between us is I would have written articles for a highly regarded publication and built up a reputation beyond the one you had. I’d have certainly written a book or two, and I don’t think I’d have constrained myself worrying about other people’s feelings. I mean, really, are there any sensibilities left to offend?

I guess that shows you and I aren’t really after the same things.

Her lips curved into something more meaningful than a smile. We all want something, dear. In fact, I suspect I know the real reason you married Jeffrey and left Deep Ellum.

I snapped my head toward her. What was she after? Would this affect my Jeffrey’s efforts with her husband? No, certainly not. It wasn’t my fault, and even if it were, that was twenty years ago.

What do you want?

She smiled. Meet me tomorrow and you’ll see.

Susan was a barracuda with an expensive manicure and an even costlier face, but she possessed the innate wisdom of a shark. What she didn’t understand, or at least pretended not to, was that desires change over time.

In my case, my wants didn’t change, but I had to. Like a woman who packs away her favorite doll when she finally realizes that playthings are for children, I had to pack away my earlier life.

Chapter 2

September 1990

The painting opposite the grill was missing. Sold. It matched the one I already owned—a homeless musician embossed over skyscrapers. Together the two works would have provided a private concert of city life dissonance, great architecture clashing with Dallas’s forgotten souls, but I owned a single piece—a hollow song of solitude.

I considered the artist of both paintings my rival, only she didn’t know it.

From above me in the near-empty club came the sounds of scrambling and thumping, then soft padding of feet down the unpolished steps. When I first met Moonrock Nick, his tangled mess of curly, blond hair stood out immediately. The second thing I noticed was that underneath the ravages of fifteen years of continuous drug usage, he possessed the warm, chiseled features of a seraph. Were it not for drugs, Nick’s beauty would have been painful for mortal eyes. As it was, the shame of his loss was painful for me to see.

Nick gave me a warm hug, holding me tighter and longer than was comfortable, and I struggled against the urge to break free. After he let go, shyness crept across his face, as though he’d been caught staring at the pretty girl in class.

A certain endearing innocence clung to him, but I could never love him—not in the way he wanted.

What happened to the painting? I asked.

His gaze lingered over what was no longer there. I’m sorry. I know you wanted it, but Rodney sold it yesterday. I tried to hold onto it for you.

Rodney came around the corner where a band was setting up and greeted me in his usual way. He shoved his hands in his pockets and bounced on the balls of his feet, his shoulder-length hair shaking with each movement. Sorry, this place needs the money to keep it going.

I let out a sigh. It went to a good home. I’m sure of it.

I’ll find you something. I know a guy. Fantastic artist.

Sounds good. I turned to Nick. Are you ready?

Nick walked to the door as I stared at the empty wall across from the grill. It really was gone.

I drove down Commerce Street after we left, where the colorful signs advertising bars, tattoo parlors, and stores with clothing and homemade accessories intermingled with old, industrial signs. New businesses stood out among the old brick and terra cotta buildings, creating a splash of color to make retro look cool. Many businesses hadn’t been open in twenty years, while some of the smaller warehouses and factories still operated. Most of what was open to the public appealed to a new breed of artists and club goers—people like Nick.

I was an interloper, but he and his boss, Rodney, embraced me as a constant figure in their neighborhood.

Rodney was Deep Ellum. He breathed life into a neighborhood whose life support should have been pulled decades ago. He was also a walking paradox, wanting Deep Ellum restored to its natural charm, but not at the price of gentrification. Nick had simpler ambitions. He just wanted a place to sing and listen to live music.

Thanks for coming with me, I said. I know how hard it is to get a night off. High rises loomed ahead of us as I crossed the threshold from home into downtown Dallas.

You bet. I keep hearing about Cassia. I wanna make her my queen, my ever lovin’ dream, he sang as he mocked her recent hype.

I smirked. Careful. I hear she eats guys like you for breakfast.

Vapid, black-haired, blue-eyed sex goddess—Cassia’s name floated among the Dallas Arts District and the underground venues in Deep Ellum, and in many other pockets of my restless city. This would be my first time experiencing one of her performances, but as she was apparently all about sexualizing her assets and capitalizing on her reputation as an airhead, I had no desire to see another.

If I hadn’t been assigned to write an article about her performance, I wouldn’t have been sitting on a dirty seat in the third row of a darkened theater-in-the-round. At least I had Nick with me. He provided a perspective as one who would enjoy it.

A hard driving rhythm began—a thundering bass line overridden by a throbbing guitar note, bent, twisted, then released, followed by another. To the right of the stage, a screen dropped. Projected onto it, a stunning beauty wearing a blue lace bra and panty set spun around on a pole with enough speed to match the music. Her legs splayed out gracefully, with one foot landing on the stage and the other above her head. She let go of the pole and performed a perfect pirouette.

My breath caught. Her talent and beauty more than matched the rumors, and I finally understood how she captivated the local scene.

I broke away from the view of the screen for a brief second, and composed myself. All I could think was her parents wasted their money on ballet lessons for... this.

Then Cassia sashayed and reached behind her back to give the eager men in the recorded performance the gems they’d been waiting for. At that moment, the screen went black and the music stopped playing. Silence. Complete darkness. The only sounds were nervous shifting in the audience.

I waited, believing it to be for dramatic effect. After an undetermined amount of time had passed, the audience grew restless and spoke in low murmurs. Nick stood but sat back down when I grasped his arm. I scanned the front of the theater for a crack of light. Nothing.

A Middle Eastern song filled the room, and backlighting on the screen highlighted the movement of dancing curves behind it. Her hips swayed back and forth, as her body rolled with her chest rising and falling. Writhing and sensuous, her dancing was as hypnotic as a cobra’s, except she was both the charmer and snake.

When the screen came up, Cassia strutted up the steps in her glow-in-the-dark body suit. Had this been a concert, the crowd would have erupted into praise, but this was art of a different type. This was theater and more. Her adoring subjects expressed the awe that one might show in the presence of a god... or a goddess.

She circled the stage with slow, purposeful steps, and then stood right in front of me and yelled, Stop!

The music quit.

She lazily sat in a swivel chair in the center of the stage and placed her fingers to her mouth and her ear to mimic talking into a telephone. Two last night and four last Friday. She paused before saying, Yes, at the same time. Oh, you know baby girl can take it. She paused again before laughing. My mother doesn’t have a clue. How awesome am I? After another pause, she said, Girl, you and I need to get together—just you, me, and five other guys. Pause. Six? It only seems fair, right? As long as we share.

Such talk was far from sexy. As a regular part of the art scene, I understood that the reputation of promiscuity among performers was often deserved, and sometimes, just demeaning and gross.

Others in the audience leaned forward, soaking up every hint of titillation in her one-sided conversation.

Okay, we’ll get together and share those biology notes with the study group soon. I have three more tests next week. Bye. Mucho kisses.

Pockets of nervous laughter scattered through the audience as Cassia hung up her hand phone.

The joke was on all of us, and I smiled at her cleverness and jotted down a note. A hint of this was going into my article.

Throughout the evening, she performed several more dances and short skits, some with her acting like a sex-driven ditz, while others displayed understanding of the universe possessed by the brightest physicists. In the last act, she juggled balls of lights while performing acrobatic feats and discussing man’s relationship with light molecules. That last one was a favorite among the audience, as it combined the simple beauty of light with all the amazing ways the human body can move, and the acrobatics of thought and brain waves. She offered not the eye candy of a woman moving her sinuous curves, but a feast of sight and sound.

After the show ended, the audience filed out, shaking hands with Cassia or greeting her with warm hugs and kisses.

I leaned against the wall, waiting for my turn to speak with her.

Nick fidgeted with his fingers while pacing the same few feet.

When Cassia turned away from the last few fans to head toward her dressing room, I pushed myself from the wall and caught her just before she disappeared behind a black door. Cassia, can you spare a few minutes?

She paused. What paper are you with? She spoke with a seductive coo, as though still performing.

Umm... we have a large distribution. I know my readers would love to know more about you.

Her laugh was cynical. Must be pretty bad if you can’t tell me who you work for.

"Big D Arts and Entertainment." Just saying the name of the rag I wrote for caused saliva to suddenly pool in my mouth with disgust, and I swallowed harder than intended.

She jutted her chin at Nick. Who’s he? Your boss?

A friend, I said.

Nick stopped pacing and headed toward the door. Cassia, you were amazing. Really. A true beauty. I need to smoke. I’m going to let you girls talk while I go outside.

Cassia returned her focus to me. Follow your friend and call my agent in the morning. He’ll set up an interview.

Why can’t I do one now, unless you have plans later tonight?

She turned back to the door and slid her hand up the edge as she elongated her body, reminiscent of the old Hollywood days when sex equaled class and class equaled sex. That’s what agents are for.

I stepped between her and the doorframe, and my body briefly brushed against hers. Her plump lips drew my gaze like a magnet, and the scent of cinnamon on her was so strong I wondered if her lips tasted like spice.

Agents are for getting rid of reporters, I said.

Are you an escort?

No. I report on the arts.

She dropped her hand. Too bad. With a body like yours, you could make a lot more money in advertising than in reporting. And get more action, too.

Performance artists don’t do well in the financial business. Why do you do this instead of... offering up more profitable services?

I believe you just asked me an interview question.

I stayed silent, hoping that the old trick would prompt a response. It did, but better than the one I hoped for.

Take me out for coffee and I’ll give you that interview, she said.

Coffee? Not drinks?

I would never allow a reporter to buy me a drink. You might take advantage of me.

She slipped by me and went into the dressing room, grabbing my hand and leading me inside with her.

Two rows of five lockers each filled the room, with a bench between them. It looked like a dressing room in a small gym, which is exactly what the theater had once been.

I sat on the bench, averting my eyes as she stripped out of her performance costume, and waited for her to dress. We were close enough for me to extend my hand and—

You don’t have to do that, she said. It’s not like strangers haven’t seen me without my clothes before.

Yes, but I’m not paying you.

If you’re trying to wound me, you’re very bad at it. Her voice had dropped its soft croon and had risen in an almost impetuous tone.

I had pricked a nerve.

It takes intimate knowledge to hurt someone deeply. I don’t have such familiarity of you, but I do have feelings.

I took a deep breath and nodded. You’re right. I’m sorry. Let’s start over.

Forget it. No big deal. I thought you were making assumptions. Her tone softened into her stage voice. Tell me about yourself.

I turned to catch the sight of a naked thigh, and whipped my head back around and faced the door again. Are you interviewing me?

I wouldn’t need to acquaint myself with you if we were to have sex, but I like to know the people I’m talking to.

I didn’t know if this was part of her act or a part of her philosophy. Knowledge of people comes through communication, some verbal, some non-verbal. Sex, at least for me, required extensive communication and intimacy between minds.

My name is Tanya Falgoust, I said.

I know. I’ve read your articles. They’re quite good but not provocative enough.

What do you mean? The very nature of my articles is to do more than inform. It’s to make people think about the art they’re viewing.

No one needs to actually go to the shows or museums you write about. You paint vivid pictures with words. I can see every detail of the vases and performances you describe. You even tell your readers what to think. That does not meet the definition of provocative. She lost the soft coo again as passion animated her voice.

I turned to defend myself, and she stood in front of me wearing a satin thong and nothing else. She was perfect, a goddess with alabaster skin, beautiful teardrop-shaped breasts with pertly erect nipples. While speaking, she’d moved even closer, standing in front of me, legs slightly apart.

She put her hand under my chin, raising it until I looked into her eyes.

Being touched brought me to another level of uncertainty, and as her eyes spoke of greater intimacy, I shivered.

You may stare. You may even touch me. My body’s a work of art. I could drop my panties so that you may eat me if you’d like. I like it from attractive women, and you qualify. We’re all alone, in private. You could if you want. I’d like that. I’m discreet. I can keep another woman’s secret. You have no idea, really, how many like you have come back here with me and found themselves naked with their tongue eagerly between my legs and my fingers entwined in their hair. What you won’t do is interview me.

For a brief moment, I was under her spell, but her last statement incensed me. I stood. We made a deal. I buy you a cup of coffee, and you grant me the interview.

Not only would I get the short end, but you have no understanding or appreciation of art. I don’t even want you reporting on my show, but I realize I don’t have a say in that.

My articles are the only thing keeping that magazine from degenerating into its own cesspool. Many artists have praised my articles. Even you said they’re good and paint vivid pictures.

She crossed her arms over her smooth stomach and looked pointedly at me. Actually, I said they’re quite good, and the pictures are too vivid. The main problem is you don’t challenge your readers. Everything I do is about challenging my audience. I opened with a film of me on a stripper pole and then had an imaginary conversation that forced people to confirm the idea of me as a slut, only to slam that viewpoint down at the end of the skit. Even after watching my performance, you immediately assumed that I should be an escort rather than an artist. Did you even understand it?

What did you expect? I said. You flirted with me, told me I should be a fucking whore because I’d make more money, and now you’re standing here practically naked, and you offered to drop your panties for me. You know what? If you want me to see you in a different way, then put on some clothes.

I could strip completely naked, stand on my hands, spread my legs in all sorts of interesting positions, and recite quadratic formulas. I can be hot, feminine, a little slutty, and still be smarter than ninety-nine percent of the people in this state.

I displayed my hands as though she had won. Okay, so you’re a multi-trick pony. Congratulations.

I backed up and opened the door. By the way, thanks for the interview. My boss will appreciate what it’ll do for our ratings, and it didn’t cost me a cup of coffee.

Chapter 3

When the article went to print, my roommate and I celebrated at a trendy restaurant in Deep Ellum. The thick, red curtains and low-light ambiance presented an atmosphere that was more chic than the neighborhood. It suited Bonnie, who projected sexuality from an earlier period.

Bonnie was short, blonde, and had an irritating Gracie Allen voice, as if she had sucked on one too many helium balloons as a kid and her voice got stuck. She also had large doe eyes, which came in handy whenever she wanted anything.

Men in any era fall prey to curvy hips and flirtatious eyes.


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