MEGAN HART

Tear You Apart

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12/06/13 3:52 PM

DID YOU PURCHASE THIS BOOK WITHOUT A COVER? If you did, you should be aware it is stolen property as it was reported ‘unsold and destroyed’ by a retailer. Neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this book. First Published 2013 First Australian Paperback Edition 2013 ISBN 978 174356452 3 TEAR YOU APART © 2013 by Megan Hart Philippine Copyright 2013 Australian Copyright 2013 New Zealand Copyright 2013 Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilisation of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the permission of the publisher, Harlequin Enterprises, Locked Bag 7002, Chatswood D.C. N.S.W., Australia 2067. This book is sold subject to the condition that shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the prior consent of the publisher in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published in arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Published by Harlequin SPICE® An imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Level 4 132 Arthur Street NORTH SYDNEY NSW 2060 AUSTRALIA ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its corporate affiliates and used by others under licence. Trademarks marked with an ® are registered in Australia and in other countries. Contact admin_legal@Harlequin.ca for details. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.. All rights reserved. Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press

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Sometimes love does not have the most honorable be-

ginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half. It’s everything in between we live for. —Ann Patchett, from the essay The Sense of an Ending

This is a love story.

Chapter One
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 f lirting 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

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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 ref lection—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

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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 f lawless. 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.

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“Good. I need to pay my rent. A coupla hundred bucks would be sweet.” Of course 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?” “Yes.” “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,

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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. “Elisabeth Amblin.” 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 f lesh, 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 Canon

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and Für Elise. 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.” I am 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-ofshit-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.

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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, f lirting with a woman whose hair is not f lat 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.

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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? “Show me.” 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 butterf lies, just for a minute. Nobody else would; they’d just see the white, the black, the red. But it’s the butterf lies 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

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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. And Will is correct. I like this one. I have no place for something like that in my home, but suddenly, I want it. “Do you know who did it?” I’m already looking for the artist’s card. Will says nothing. I look at him, thinking he’ll be smiling, but he’s not. He’s studying me. “I knew you’d like that one.” My body tenses. I’m not sure if I don’t like the way he says it, or if I like it too much. Either way, I frown. “You sound so proud.” He glances at the piece of carved wood that shouldn’t look like anything but looks like a woman. “I like to figure out what people like. I mean, it’s important, you know? For an artist who wants to sell his shit.”

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“Is that what it’s about, for you? Selling things? I thought real artists wanted to…you know. Make art.” He laughs, low. “Sure. But I’m also into paying my rent and eating. Not many people can live on art.” Not many of the people displaying here in Naveen’s gallery tonight, anyway. New York City has galleries like this all over the place. Competition’s fierce. I told him to keep his Philly gallery, but he insisted on branching out. I’m still not sure this one’s going to make it. “So…you like to know what people like, so you can sell them things.” “Sure.” Will’s grin is a little sly. “And I was right about you. Wasn’t I?” “Yes.” For some reason, I’m reluctant to admit it. He nods as if I just revealed a secret. Maybe I have. “You like things smooth.” I take a step away from him. How could he know that? Hell. Until a few minutes ago, I’m not sure I knew it. Will nods again. “Yeah. Smooth. And curved. You don’t like sharp things. Angles and shit. You don’t like it when there are points.” “Who does?” My voice is anything but smooth. “Some people do.” Will looks again at the carved wood. “You should buy it. It would make you happy.” My laugh snags, like a burr. “Who says I need to be happy?” “Everyone needs to be happy, Elisabeth,” Will says. Oh, my name. When he says my name, I see it in shimmering shades of blue and green and gray. Those are not my colors. I’m red and orange and yellow. Brown. My name is autumn moving on toward winter darkness, but not the way Will says it. When he says my name, I see summer. I see the ocean.

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Blinking hard, I have to look away from him. My breath catches in my throat. I’m sure I can’t speak, not even one word. “You should buy it,” he says again. “I don’t want it.” It would make me happy, but my house is corners and angles and sharp points. There’s no place in my house for something like that. “You want it,” Will says, leaning in close for just a second. Just a breath. Naveen saves me. He comes up behind Will and claps him on the shoulder hard enough to rock him forward a bit. Will frowns, fists clenching for a second or two before relaxing as his mouth slides into a smile, so fast it’s as if he never looked angry at all. “What does she want?” Naveen asks with a smile like a shark’s. Before either of us can answer, one of the musicians, a girl with a pixie haircut to match her petite stature, eases her way between us with an overly casual smile for Naveen. She holds up what looks like a scribbled receipt. Her eyeliner has smudged and, yes, I judge her for looking sloppy. “Can I talk to you about this?” Naveen gives her a smile considerably less casual than hers and winks at me. He puts his arm around the girl’s shoulders, his fingertips denting the soft, tanned f lesh of her upper arm, bared by her strapless dress. “Sure, Calysta. Let’s talk in my office, okay? Betts, you’re good? I’ll call you tomorrow?” “I’ll call you,” I tell him. “And yes. I’m fine.” Will waits until they walk halfway across the room before he turns to me. “What’s up with that?” I shrug. “Not my business.” He squints, mouth pursed. “He’s married, huh?” “Yes.” “That’s not his wife.”

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“No,” I say. “It’s not.” Will gives them another look and slowly shakes his head, then lets his gaze slide back to mine. Sly, sideways, full of charm. He reminds me of a fox, I think suddenly. The slight spike at the tips of his ears, the way his hair feathers forward in front of them, the sleek and perfect arch of his brows. He leans close to me again. Sharing secrets. “How about,” he says, “you and me, we get out of here?”

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