Last week Bold Strokes Books released my second book Clean Slate exclusively available on their website right now. So I thought I might try and whet your appetites a little by posting the first chapter here.
A trio of naked women posed in a circular tableau. Morgan had lost count of the number of models she’d seen, first as a student, then as a teacher. She’d always been able to detach herself, to see soft breasts and thighs as a beautiful work of art. The long expanse of a bare back and rounded buttocks were worthy of study, not just lust.
The bright lights in the studio cast bold shadows across their skin, the scent of linseed oil, turpentine, and old paper filled the air. The scratch of lead on paper told her something about the artist as she wandered the room; long, confident, sweeping strokes filling page after page, or tiny, precise, slow marks that steadily built an image. She pointed to a sketch every now and then, offering advice about the tone, the shadows, curves, and angles, her eyes glancing between the pages of her students and the models before them.
Morgan wiped her palms on her jeans and ignored the trickle of sweat running down her back. It didn’t matter where in the room she was, or which of her students she was talking to, she could feel a pair of blue eyes following her every move. Anna sat at the center of the tableau, her back against a pile of heaped cushions, her head resting along the length of her outstretched arm. The other arm lay across her stomach. Her small pink nipples puckered in the slight chill of the room, and her knee was raised, hiding her naked sex from direct view. One woman rested against Anna’s leg, and the other rested her head on Anna’s shoulder. Their limbs entwined and caressed Anna’s, creating a beautiful vignette of femininity.
She stuffed her hand into her pocket and felt the worn edge of the envelope. She rubbed her finger over the tiny raised edge of the postage stamp. She knew the date stamp was faded, but it was already burned into her brain. June thirteenth. Six weeks ago.
How could one piece of paper and some ink change everything? Yet it did. Her very own harbinger of doom carried on the wings of a postage stamp. The letter had thrown open the door to every painful memory she had, and promised nothing but heartache and danger. For her, and everyone around her. She did the only thing she could think of to save the people she loved. Three weeks ago, Morgan had told her wife that she was leaving, that she wanted a divorce. The words still burned in her throat and made her stomach churn, as did the pain she’d seen in Erin’s eyes as she’d packed her bags and slowly, quietly, closed the door behind her.
She knew leaving her family was best for them in the long run. Staying would only make them all miserable and put them in terrible danger. She knew they would hurt, but she was equally sure their pain would be temporary without her around. They were better off without her. Morgan quickly pushed away the thoughts that continued to plague her. They deserve better than me. She checked her watch and signaled for the class to begin clearing away.
She turned around as the model, Anna, swung her robe around her shoulders. She was only tangentially aware of Anna’s breasts before the robe swept over them.
“I was wondering if you’d like to come for a drink with me?”
Morgan shook her head. “I’m not very good company at the moment.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“It’s just a drink. It might do you some good.”
“Anna, really I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“It’s my birthday. Surely you aren’t going to make me go out alone?”
“Why aren’t you going out with your friends?”
“I will be tomorrow. But with work and stuff.” She shrugged.
“Tonight’s not the best choice. I’d really like it though if you would come out with me. It’s just a drink, Morgan.”
Morgan thought about the empty flat that awaited her, and the loneliness that was clamoring at her heels. She shrugged. “Okay.”
“Excellent. I’ll just get changed.” Anna walked to the storeroom they used as a dressing room and Morgan continued to clean up.
The last of the students packed up their gear, said good night, and left as she busied herself tidying away easels and supplies, rearranging tables and chairs, and getting the room ready for the next class to use it.
“Ready?” Anna tugged her long blond hair from the collar of her jacket and smiled as she walked out of her makeshift changing room wearing pale denim jeans, a tight pink T-shirt, and a black jacket. Morgan pulled open the classroom door and followed her out into the cool night air. They were only a few hundred yards from the Roundhouse pub and walked in silence.
Morgan led them into the crowded, noisy traditional English pub with a log fire, red velvet covered stools dotted around wooden tables, and quickly found them a space away from the dart match that seemed to be in full swing. She left Anna and went to the bar, returning a few minutes later with two glasses of red wine.
“Thanks.” Anna took a hearty swallow before putting her glass down on the bare wood and picking up the unused coaster, slowly peeling the edges apart.
“I’m afraid they don’t have a great selection of wines here. But this Shiraz should be palatable at least.” Morgan sniffed the glass, closing her eyes to enjoy the aroma of berries, the slight peppery depth, and a hint of chocolate underneath it all, before taking her first sip. It had taken her years to fully appreciate the complexity of wine, but it was something she enjoyed. “Are you okay?”
Anna tossed the coaster back onto the table and smiled. “Just a bit nervous. That’s all.”
“Why?” Morgan cocked her head to one side.
Anna hesitated, her gaze flicking around the bar, never settling on anyone or anything. “I’ve wanted to ask you out for a long time.”
Morgan looked at her, unsure how to respond. She pushed her fingers through her short black hair.
“I know you’re married. It doesn’t matter to me.”
It matters to me. Morgan took a long drink and tried to ignore the uncomfortable ache in her belly. She wasn’t sure how to react. She didn’t want to tell Anna that she’d ended her marriage. That she’d walked away from fifteen years with Erin. She was too confused. She needed to think. No, she needed to stop thinking. She wanted to stop feeling. She stroked her fingers down the edge of the envelope again. Her wife and children deserved better than a woman living in fear, someone who had lied to them and kept part of herself hidden for more than a decade. She shook her head and pushed the feelings of self-pity and loathing away. Enough with the pity party. You made your decision, now live with it.
They talked about everything and nothing as they drank and whiled away the rest of the evening. Eventually, the pub signaled they were closing and they made their way out. As they stepped outside, a wave of dizziness hit Morgan and she gripped Anna’s arm to steady herself.
“Whoa. Sorry. I only had a couple of glasses. I didn’t think it was enough to get me drunk.” Her head swam; the street lights blurred. “That wine must have been stronger than I thought.”
“Don’t worry. Hang on to me.” Anna slipped her arm around Morgan’s waist and held the other hand as Morgan wound it around her shoulders. “I’ve got you.” They walked back to the college car park and Anna’s car.
Morgan untangled her arms, feeling a little uncoordinated. “Good night, Anna.” She turned to leave and started to fish in her pocket for her phone, intent on calling a taxi, knowing she was in no fit state to drive.
“Is that it?” Anna sounded disappointed.
“What do you mean?” Morgan frowned, finding it difficult to focus on Anna’s face.
“I mean this.” Anna twisted her fingers in Morgan’s short hair, pulled her head down, and kissed her. Her tongue darted between Morgan’s lips, seeking entrance.
Morgan pulled back. “Anna, no. I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Don’t think.” Anna’s lips closed over hers again and she pressed against her chest. Morgan wrapped her fingers round Anna’s wrists and tried to pull her hands from her hair. “Why are you fighting me?”
“Anna. No.” Morgan’s hands were clumsy, her arms heavy as lead as she tried to push away from Anna, her dizziness and disorientation escalating by the second. What the fuck is wrong with me?
“Yes.” Anna’s voice was whisper quiet and breathless as she tugged Morgan closer to her.
Morgan felt herself falling, but could do nothing to stop the movement. She felt Anna’s fingers in her hair, her cheek pressing against Anna’s breasts, but she couldn’t pull away. She closed her eyes, trying to regain her sense of self control, her strength.
“Get the fuck off her, you fucking dyke!” A fist slammed into her jaw, causing her to bite her tongue. Blood filled her mouth as the pain registered and she dropped to her knees.
“Jimmy, stop!” Anna screamed.
Another punch connected with the side of her head, and her vision blurred. She tried to look at the man, his fist poised to strike again.
“You fucking bitch.”
She couldn’t hold her head up anymore and the pavement felt cold beneath her cheek. A boot landed solidly against her ribs. Then across her shoulder and back. Saliva filled her mouth and she thought she was going to vomit.
“Jimmy, stop! That’s enough. You’re not supposed to hurt her!” Anna’s pleading barely penetrated the fog clouding her brain. “He told you to get the pictures and that’s it.”
“The fucking bitch touched you.”
“Don’t be stupid, Jimmy. Whatever it was you gave me for her drink had her so weak she couldn’t do anything. Another couple of minutes and she’d be passed out. This was all me. And I was doing it for you, you fucking moron.”
He screamed his rage and kicked at Morgan’s head and connected with her temple, making her head bounce off the pavement. Blood ran down her face and stung her eyes when she tried to open them. The dull thud of a car door slamming cut off Anna’s voice before the car screeched away into the night. The streetlight faded slowly, narrowing to a pinpoint before the world went black.
If you want to keep reading about Morgan’s story you can purchase the paperback and all electronic formats from Bold Strokes Books right now. It goes on general release on the 17th of September–but do you really want to wait that long? 🙂
Also I have pledged that half of all royalties I earn from this book are being donated to an Alzhiemer’s Charity called SHARED, if you’d like to know why just follow this link.
excellent–like the unexpected plot action
Thanks, Dinah, really glad you enjoyed it.