Friday, July 17, 2009

His Black Pearl by Colette Howard

His Black Pearl
by Colette Howard

Cover art by Bryan Keller
ISBN: 978-1-60521-269-2
Genre(s): Paranormal, Dark Fantasy
Theme(s): Interracial, BBW, Dark Desire
Length: Novella


There are two cardinal rules to any contract. Artist Hallie Brandt just broke both of them. First, she didn't pay attention to what she was signing. Sure, she knows she just agreed to paint a portrait of certain dimensions. But she's too focused on the fact that, after more than a decade of paint, sweat and tears, she's about to become a name artist. So what does a little detail like the model's identity really matter? Second? She hasn't a clue in hell who her new patron is. Yes, she's met Aaron Ioannides and knows his reputation as a world-class art collector. But just who is this man with the body of a Greek god and hands as skilled as her own?


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They had reached the open door to his library -- the room they had started in -- and he motioned her to a long table. "You use a strong, rich palette. On the surface, the characters and settings are intriguing, full of promise."
Here it comes. She forced a smile onto her face.
"But then I look at the faces, at the way they connect to one another, to their surroundings." He stopped, seemed to pull back, and she urged him to continue with a lift of her brow.
"Well, I've seen more emotion at a Botox clinic, Miss Brandt."
"Hallie, please." She had reminded him of her first name half a dozen times during the tour of his personal collection. He nodded, just as he'd done the other times, and she went on. "Certainly you find something to recommend my work. You've purchased several pieces."
She studied his face, looking for the slightest hint that his criticism was a bargaining tactic. A self-made millionaire, he had a reputation for being a tough negotiator.
"Yes, and I've been waiting for you to put aside the cold precision, the over reliance on technical form." He had a sheet of papers in front of him -- the commission contract -- and he rifled one corner with his thumb. "Do you think you can do that?"
"It's not my first commission piece," she reminded him.
Leaning back, he folded his hands behind his head and stared at her. Her lips warmed at the touch of his gaze until she had to look away.
"I can do it."
"Are you sure? There are no nudes in your portfolio."
She looked at the sheaf of papers in front of him and the checkbook beside it. She'd already read through the contract, aside from the few details that remained to be filled in -- price, size and the model.
The money didn't matter. Well, not a lot. It was more a matter of reputation. A commission with a collector of Ioannides' reputation would make hers. After a decade of scratching out a living with her paintings, she'd become the poster child for overnight success.
She had hidden her hands beneath the table earlier and she brought them out now, palms up. "Not a problem."
Dark blue eyes sparkled at her as he picked up his pen. "It will need to be a full-length nude." He ran the fat pen through his fingers, his gaze on her once again, as speculative as it had been in front of the Carracci when he didn't realize she was looking. "Full size, too, dimensions of eight feet in height by six."
She nodded and he wrote the measurements down on the paper.
He tapped the pen tip against the paper. "As to price. Something this size from your portfolio would usually run fifteen, yes?"
Hallie nodded. Putting her hands back in her lap, she knotted them together. He was giving her statements to agree with, softening her up and putting her in a passive position. It didn't help that she knew he was doing it. He did it so damn well, his voice soft as silk over powdered skin, his gaze moving across her face like a lover's kiss.
Shifting in his seat, Ioannides leaned halfway across the table.
"Since it's a commission and I plan on being very exacting..." His mouth quirked in a smile and he tapped the pen again. "I'll double that. Another fifteen for the modeling arrangement --"
"Fifteen?" She'd hardly expect to pay a model more than a thousand. She didn't need a real beauty, just a warm, poseable body to throw light on. "You have someone in mind, then?"
"Yes. The commission is dependent on the model's availability."
"At that rate, she must be famous."
Again, his mouth quirked in a smile. He wrote the sum of forty-five thousand dollars down on the contract's first page, just below the painting's dimensions. He flipped to the second page and recorded the model's name, the first sheet of paper blocking her view. "I'd say she's known, not famous. Not yet."
He turned to the third and final page and signed his name with a flourish before passing paper and pen to her. The contract was opened to his signature. She signed the line below his name and then dated it.
Flipping to the second page, she dropped the pen and looked up at him. "You've made a mistake. The model's name is supposed to be here."
"No mistake, Miss Brandt. No mistake at all."
Hallie glanced back down at the contract. There, with the same elegant strokes he'd used in signing his own name, Ioannides had written the name of the woman she would have to paint nude --
Hallie Brandt

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