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I'm afraid this simply won't do."
"I don't understand."
"What's not to understand, sir? It's ugly. I hate it."
Damon Clyde ran a hand over his five o'clock shadow as he tried to make sense of the tiny, odd creature standing next to him. Tan, blonde, blue-eyed and full-figured, she was a beautiful woman from an aesthetic standpoint. Not a conventional looker by any means, but provocative in an earthy way.
He knew all kinds of females from dancers to accountants, actresses to schoolteachers but he could honestly say he'd never met, let alone lusted after, a woman quite like Kandy Kane, a self-proclaimed psychic artiste with an I-just-escaped-from-the-nuthouse air about her. He couldn't understand why his dick got rock hard every time he so much as caught a whiff of her scent.
Her name was actually Kandrea Kane and, from what he'd been warned, she hated it when people took the liberty of shortening her name to Kandy. Damon made a mental note to make use of that torture tactic very soon if she didn't quit frustrating the shit out of him.
Kandrea had hired his firm, Clyde & Masterson, to renovate her newly purchased one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. She wanted her home to be "the perfect little aura retreat" and had used her so-called psychic ability to decide on which of New York City's umpteen builders she would hire. He had found himself wishing more than a few times this past week that her premonitions, or more likely the Yellow Pages, hadn't led her to him.
"Ms. Kane..." Damon inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. She would not, under any circumstances, get to him. "I'm trying to understand what exactly it is you find ugly about this wall, but seeing as how my crew hasn't even built it yet, I'm somewhat puzzled."
He forced a smile, pleased that he managed to spit that sentence out calmly, if a bit gruffly. He could almost understand her taking a disliking to a wall that actually existed, but an imaginary one?
Holy shit, the woman was a kook.
"But you're going to build it," Kandrea said crisply. "And then you're going to paint it."
"You said you wanted it painted."
"Yes. But I didn't say I wanted it to be canary yellow! Good grief. My alcoholic aunt vomits up bile more attractive than that color."
"It will not be painted yellow. It'll be the exact shade of violet-blue you asked for."
"That's not what I saw in the vision I had this morning."
"Oh for cripes' sake "
"I distinctly saw a member of your crew paint my wall an ungodly yellow hue!"
Her nostrils flared as though this had all really happened. Damon didn't know whether to laugh, cry, bellow at her to find another builder, fuck her until she shut up or all of the above. He slapped a palm to his forehead. The woman was driving him into the same psychotic mental state she called home.
Nothing and no one got to him. Ever. He didn't want her to be the first.
And just what was it about her that was so damn alluring anyway? Damon was the sort of man whose nature was ruled by logic and science. He didn't deal well with feminine feelings, let alone cuckoo psychic ones. He was stoic and in control, sturdy and concrete. He didn't raise his voice or use his physical strength to make others cower. He never lost his cool.
And then came Kandy Kane.
He could feel the need to shout, possibly hit someone or something, boiling dangerously below his typically collected exterior. She was getting under his skin and making a mess of his well-ordered world.
"My sensitive aura," Kandrea said crisply, "cannot and will not tolerate the putrid color of stomach bile coating my wall."
Damon's fists balled at his sides. It was either that or punch a hole through the nonexistent wall in question.
Kandrea Kane was crazier than bat shit. And his dick was so hard it ached. He didn't know whether he was angry at her for being a first-rate nutjob or at himself for being attracted to a woman who made Sybil seem lucid by comparison.
He waved the work order in her face. "I have it written right here F4, which is as violet-blue as you can get. The wall will be painted that color per your instructions." His jaw clenched. Sweet God, even he could take but so much. Back in his Army days, Damon had survived two wars and ten enemy ambushes without falling apart, but this short, bizarre woman might take him down yet. "It will be built by the end of the week. It will be painted to your damn aura's liking by the weekend! Are you satisfied, Mizzz Kane?"
Her hands were challengingly planted on her hips, but she said nothing. Their gazes locked in a war of wills, her wolflike blue eyes narrowed. The silence stretched out between them.
He had shouted at her. The burst of passion had left his heart racing, his nostrils flaring and his chest heaving. He had learned long ago never to let his emotions get the better of him. Such displays worried people.
Damon was well aware of the fact that his size and muscular build were intimidating to men and women alike. He had stood a solid and powerful six feet, six inches since the ninth grade. In thirty-eight years of living, nobody had ever been stupid enough to pick a fight with him. People were instinctively wary of men sporting his mass and brawn. Yet Kandrea Kane stared at him as though she'd killed gnats more worrisome than he was. He wasn't certain if he should be impressed or irritated.
Apparently his dick thought he should be aroused. The damn thing was pressing hard against his jeans, pre-cum leaking out. The kook and her aura were driving him insane.
She turned with a whoosh of her wispy skirt and eyed the invisible wall. She always dressed like a gypsy vampire, a look that suited her perfectly. She unfailingly wore head-to-toe black clothing, her fingers and wrists decorated with bejeweled rings and arm bangles in every color under the sun.
"Yes," Kandrea finally said, ending the long, tense silence. She whirled around, showing him a hint of ankle and a wisp of blonde curls. He'd seen more skin on a nun, yet his cock seemed to think they were at a strip club. "I am satisfied."
If only he was. Damon frowned severely. He feared he'd spontaneously combust if he didn't get out of the apartment soon. Enough was enough.
"Good," he grunted. "I'll be back tomorrow."
Kandrea recalled the enthusiastic compliments Olivia and Andie had showered her with an hour ago regarding her latest artistic endeavor. Were it not for Kandrea's tendency toward self-criticism, she would have dared to call the vivid emotional rendering a masterpiece. It was definitely the best thing she'd ever painted.
She knew her two best friends had meant every word of their praise. For starters, they were both fellow artistes and recognized the need their kind harbored for brutal honesty. And being the sensitive empath that she was... well, it was difficult if not impossible to fool Kandrea with false, empty words. There had been many times throughout the years when she'd wished things were normal that she was normal but such wasn't the hand life had dealt her.
Kandrea had become self-aware at the tender age of five. She had always known she was unlike other kids her own age, but until kindergarten hadn't understood just how different she was. Her mom had referred to her as "special" and called her "gifted." The children at school had teased her mercilessly, opting for "freak" over "special" and "possessed" over "gifted."
While the neighborhood girls played outside, jumping rope and enjoying hopscotch, she drew and painted pictures of events that had taken place anywhere from the day before to thousands of years ago. She usually didn't know who the characters in her sketches and paintings were, but had long ago accepted that, for whatever reason, the ghosts of the deceased wanted their stories told.
And so Kandrea told them in honest, sometimes heartbreaking, detail.
Her latest painting was probably the most haunting re-creation of past events she'd ever put to canvas. She couldn't say why because it certainly wasn't the saddest thing she'd ever painted, yet something about the three-panel objet d'art wrenched her heart.
The first panel showed a boy, barely an adolescent, being teased mercilessly by other kids. Freakishly tall for his age, the boy stood out like a sore thumb at school. His mother looked on, heartbroken, wanting to shield her son from the pain, yet knowing when the cancer that was eating her alive worked its course, her child would need to be strong and able to fend for himself.
The second panel flashed forward a few years, to the mother's funeral. The giant of a boy was weeping quietly as he stared down at what was left of his mother's frail body. He had wanted so much to be accepted by the other kids before she passed on so she'd know he would be all right, but that had never come to be. His peers no longer picked on him they'd be fools to but they ignored him as though he wasn't even there.
The final panel of the painting showed the mother's ghost in vivid blue and poignant purple swirling above her casket. She reached down to the son who could no longer see her, trying to tell him that she knew he would grow up to become an extraordinary man. The height and brawn considered beastly by high school standards would be seen as an attribute by women and a point of envy by other men when he was an adult. She ached to hold her son, to reassure him that her love would always be with him, but she dwelled in a different world from the boy now and couldn't breach the portal that separated them.
Kandrea's eyes grew misty as she stared at the painting. She wished she knew who the boy was so she could give him the painting. She sighed, realizing that such luck rarely happened. The only thing she could do now was sell it, hoping it ended up in the right person's hands. Over the years she had learned to console herself this way, knowing there was little else she could do.
She had been tempted to keep this particular painting, for it called to her on so many levels. She too had lost her mother at a young age and she definitely knew what it felt like to be branded a freak. But, reclusive and possessing all of two friends, Kandrea knew that more people were likely to see a sold painting than one that stayed in her studio. She had no choice but to put the work of psychic art up for sale in her next collection.
Turning away from the painting with a whoosh of black skirt, Kandrea walked to the window and peered across the narrow Manhattan street. The contracting company she had hired, Clyde & Masterson, would be done refurbishing her new home in roughly two weeks. She couldn't wait to move into the much bigger apartment. Plus, living where she worked was becoming psychically exhausting.
As she recalled her earlier conversation with the construction company's owner, her lips pinched together and she turned away from the window and crossed the tiny studio to her even tinier kitchen.
She didn't know what it was about the large, brooding man that she found so handsome, but her attraction to him was undeniable. He frowned more than smiled, grunted rather than laughing. He was prickly and pompous and quite obviously didn't believe that true empaths existed not her type by a long shot. Nevertheless, the desire to have a torrid affair with the stuffy lout pounded through her libido as acutely as the recollections tore through her psyche.
"I must be losing it," she muttered, clanging dishes around as she searched for her favorite teacup. "Damon Clyde is not my type."
Turning off the kettle and popping a bag of herbal tea into the retrieved cup, Kandrea consoled herself with the notion that the attraction she felt was purely physical and no doubt one-sided. He was so tall as to make her feel tiny, though in reality she stood five feet, six inches and weighed in the vicinity of one hundred fifty pounds on a good day. He was dark-haired and dark-eyed, and just as muscular as he was tall. He was...
Oh, forget it! She never had to worry that he would find out about her bizarre attraction to him, for a man such as himself, a man who could have any woman he wanted, would never even notice the likes of her other than to gawk at her. His type never did.
Irritated, she violently strained the hot tea bag in her hand over the cup, causing it to burst apart and spray her with herbal leaves. "Damn it!" Kandrea swore as she wiped up the mess. She had given up her precious caffeinated coffee for decaffeinated tea a week ago and found herself, not for the first time, lamenting that decision.
Her teeth gritted as her gaze flicked over to the window. She prayed that Damon finished her new apartment soon so she wouldn't be obliged to deal with him ever again.
And preferably before he drove her entirely bonkers.
Copyright © 2008 by Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
Bossy & Clyde copyright © 2008 by Jaid Black