Cole followed Lucian through the house and into his art room, choosing to stand by the door and watch Lucian move both covered easels and the tray of paint to the side of the room. Lucian stepped out into the hall, and Cole walked forward, wondering how Lucian would paint with the easel facing the wall.
Lucian returned a moment later with a blanket and a pillow. He spread the blanket on the floor, and dropped the pillow at one end. Cole raised an eyebrow. “What’s that for?” he inquired.
“Please lie down,” Lucian requested. He moved to the storage trays and opened a few drawers, gathering tubes of paint.
“I’m going to be on the floor?” Cole looked at the blanket. Was Lucian seriously asking him to be painted posed like that?
“Also,” Lucian said, turning to face Cole, “take off your shirt.”
“Take off—” Cole gasped. “You are not painting me naked.”
“I didn’t say remove your clothes, Mr. Saunders.” Lucian laughed, dropping the paints on the floor beside the blanket. “Only the shirt, please.”
Cole hesitated, studying Lucian’s face. He had to be kidding. “Why?”
“I’m not against removing it myself.” Lucian smiled warmly, and Cole looked away.
“I don’t understand—”
“You will soon enough.”
Cole sighed heavily, giving in to Lucian’s strange demand. He unbuttoned his shirt and removed it without returning his eyes to Lucian. “My boss cannot know,” Cole said.
“I don’t have any intention of telling a single soul about this.”
The calmness in his tone soothed Cole’s embarrassment. He nodded once and placed his shirt beside the blanket before sitting down. “Now what?”
Lucian kneeled down, placed a hand on Cole’s shoulder and pushed him back gently. “Lie down,” he repeated. Cole did as instructed, positioning himself on his back and fixing his eyes on the ceiling.
“You’re not known for portraits.” Cole gathered his nerves before they frayed by making conversation. “Do you paint many?”
“I’ve done three portraits.” Lucian squeezed paint onto a tray. “A good friend of mine in college was the first.”
“A friend?” Cole lifted his head to look at Lucian.
Lucian’s movements stopped. He chuckled and resumed spreading the chosen colors onto the pallet. “She was my very first friend, actually. She died before I could finish her portrait though. I finished it later, but she never got a chance to see it.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Cole searched for sadness in Lucian’s expression but found none.
“She didn’t go far.” Lucian tapped his brush into a jar of water, cleaning it.
“What does that mean?”
“Memories keep a person alive, do they not?”
Cole dropped his head against the pillow. “I guess so.”
“You are abnormally beautiful.”
Cole snapped his gaze back to Lucian. “What?”
“Your beauty,” Lucian said with a smile, “it is abnormal.”
Cole’s eyes widened. He was sure it was meant as a compliment, but it was a very strange way of saying one. He felt his face heat up and returned his gaze to the ceiling without a word of response. He had no idea how to reply to such a thing, anyway. Abnormal beauty? What does that mean?
“I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
Cole took a deep breath. “You hadn’t. I’m only confused.”
“You’re beautiful. You should know it.” Lucian straddled Cole’s legs. Shocked by the action, Cole sat up as much as he could.
“What are you doing?” He pressed his hands against Lucian’s shoulders, attempting to push him back.
“Relax,” Lucian soothed, taking Cole’s hand, and he eased his guest back down. “I said I wanted to paint you.” He sat up and touched the brush to Cole’s chest.
Cole jerked from the cold paint against his skin. “I didn’t think you had meant like this.”
“How else would I have meant it?”
“You are my canvas,” Lucian argued.
Cole tried to relax but could feel Lucian’s body over his. The sensation was nearly unbearable. Cole tried to calm his rapid heartbeat. He tried to take small breaths. He tried to ignore the excitement building just beneath his skin, where the brush touched. He failed.
“Are you quite alright, Mr. Saunders?”
“Honesty is the best policy.”
Cole laughed lightly. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
You can buy World on Fire from Dreamspinner Press.