Book reviewer Darcy Dennison wants to wring her neighbor's neck. That's a crying shame considering how gorgeous the artist is, but she needs peace and quiet to get her work done. Models throwing fits in his apartment don't help.
On a temporary work visa, Paolo Santori has little time to paint his nudes before returning to Italy to marry a woman he doesn't love. Then Darcy bursts into his life. The solution to her noise complaints is simple--she'll model his favorite subject while she works.
Making her glisten thrills them both, but falling in love could mean losing everything he's ever known.
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Ellora's Cave Publishing, Incorporated
November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Strokes by Ashlyn Chase
Darcy Dennison stuck her head out the window and yelled, "Hey, Michelangelo! If you don't knock off the racket, I'll come up there and shove your brushes down your throat!" Honestly, how can one artist, an easel and some paint manage to make so much noise?
Another loud smash infuriated her. How was she supposed to finish the book she had to review if this madman didn't stop with all the banging? Sleep deprivation from staying up half the night to meet her deadline didn't help her mood.
Thud. Thud. Crash! What the hell? Had he taken up sculpture? The sounds resembled a hammer breaking off chunks of misbehaving granite.
Darcy grabbed her three-hole punch and climbed onto a chair. She pounded the ceiling with brutal thuds. "There. See how you like it!"
The offensive noise stopped. "Ah..." she sighed.
Just as Darcy prepared to dismount, plaster assaulted the back of her head and sent her into a less than graceful swan dive onto the carpet. Damn! It was as if gravity and her new Italian neighbor Paolo wanted to drive her crazy.
Suddenly she didn't care how sexy the Roman god was. Stomping upstairs as if each step bore a picture of his brooding expression, she tried to formulate what she would say. So much blind rage clouded her brain, she couldn't think clearly. It would serve him right if she simply screamed in his face, although he might not understand the English curse words she wanted to hurl at him.
She raised her fist to pound on the door just as it flew open. A petite blonde yelled obscenities and nearly mowed Darcy over in her haste to leave. The girl mumbled an apology and charged down the stairs.
Darcy peered into the studio apartment. A disheveled Paolo crouched on the floor with his head in his hands. Broken lamps, dishes, tipped-over furniture, paint tubes and brushes littered every inch of floor space. His easel and a blank canvas lay on the floor next to him. The only item untouched was the full-sized bed in the corner.
Darcy entered cautiously. "Paolo, are you all right? What the hell happened?"
He looked up at her with sad, brown eyes. "I think...my model...she quit."
Darcy almost laughed at the understatement of all time. Covering her mouth, she squelched the sound then asked, "Did she say why?"
Paolo rose and raised his arms in a loose shrug. "I hired her to model nude. Perhaps she did not realize. When I asked her to take her clothes off and climb on the bed..." He gestured around the room.
Darcy couldn't suppress her laughter any longer. It bubbled up from her toes and erupted.
Paolo frowned. "I have to exhibit next week." He threw his hands in the air. "Now I have no model and the gallery will be very upset. Not to mention..." His shoulders slumped. "Never mind. It does not matter now."
Darcy's laughter dissipated. Clearing her throat, she thought about her own time crunch and the pressure he must be experiencing. To let down an employer counting on her work could spell the end of her career. Maybe it was the same with his.
"I'm sorry. I understand what it's like to work on a deadline. In fact, that's why I came up here. With all the noise, I couldn't read the godawful book I'm supposed to review for tomorrow's column. It's supposed to be a bestseller but..." She copied his European shrug.
A hint of a smile crossed his lips as he stuffed his hands into his pockets. "It seems we are rowing the same boat."
Charmed by his fractured metaphor, Darcy grinned. He eventually followed suit. What a beautiful smile. Straight, white teeth set off his olive complexion and dark razor stubble. A slant of wavy dark brown hair fell over his forehead, covering one thick brow.
Having realized that several seconds of silence had passed, she tried to break the spell. "Um... Well..."
"We have not talked and the life of an artist is lonely." He righted one of the chairs and offered her a place to sit.
She didn't really have time for this but he was so hot she couldn't resist the opportunity to get better acquainted. And he was right. There was nothing as lonely as the solitary life of a writer or artist. Perhaps, as a stranger in this country, he hadn't had time to make friends. She didn't see a computer anywhere, so he probably felt more isolated than she did.
She wouldn't change a thing but on her worst days she wondered what would happen if she dropped dead. Would anyone miss her until the rent was overdue?
With a sigh she entered the ruined apartment and lowered herself onto the chair he had offered. He sat on the edge of a futon and leaned forward. "I'd offer you something to drink but I no longer have anything to put it in. I'm sorry I have been too hurried to socialize. I'll invite you for a proper Italian meal after I buy new dishware."
"Yes. I cannot afford a restaurant every night and no one makes lasagna like mine."
Darcy's mouth watered. She could almost smell the melted cheeses and bubbling tomato sauce. "That sounds wonderful, but let me give you some dishes. I have more than I'll ever use."
"That would be very kind. I am sorry I disturbed you earlier."
"I'm not," she said, surprised that she actually meant it. "I never would have come upstairs if I weren't ready to wring your neck."
He looked puzzled. "Ring my neck?" He pointed to his ring finger, which was luckily bare. Relief washed over her. Perhaps she'd flirt with this gorgeous hunk and see where it led.
"Yeah, you almost bought the farm, baby."
He cocked his head. "You have strange expressions but you are most beautiful to look at. You could be a model."
She lowered her lashes, embarrassed but insanely pleased at the same time. Erotic images of the two of them tangled in those pristine sheets rolled through her brain.
"In fact," he added with a new gleam in his eye, "if you would consider modeling for me, I will cook for you every night."
She laughed again but considered the offer. "You know...if I could read while you paint, that just might work."
His whole face lit up. "Then we can help each other!"
"Yes, I guess we can." Oh yes. He could help her, all right. Help her end her frustration from an unusually long dry spell without a man pistoning between her legs.