Could he manage it?
No. He really didn’t think so.
From the first second he’d laid eyes on Talia, he’d been unable to manage his attraction to her, which had always been startling and undeniable. He remembered the day he met her like it was ten minutes ago.
That afternoon, as a favor to Sandro, who’d had a conflicting meeting, Tony had swung by Talia’s studio to pick Nikolas up after his painting lesson. Arriving a few minutes early, he knocked on the door and waited, his mind full of the artists he’d been cataloguing at the auction house—one-eared eccentrics with red hair, or, alternatively dark-haired eccentrics with handlebar mustaches and Spanish accents.
He hadn’t expected the door to swing open and reveal a laughing, gray-eyed woman who would change his life.
He froze, his hand still raised midknock.
She was beautiful, with a dimpled smile and white teeth, light brown skin and those sparkling eyes that seemed to contain all the warmth and energy of the sun. She was also decked out like a woman from ancient Athens, complete with white toga slung over one bare shoulder, a white ceramic pot cradled in the crook of an elbow and a wreath of green leaves perched atop her cascading tumble of black curls. Her body was lush with breasts and hips that curved to perfection.
His brain stalled out, and his thoughts fluttered away like breeze-blown confetti.
She waited, brows on the rise, as though his drop-jawed silence amused her.
“I, ah,” he began.
“You weren’t expecting a goddess to answer the door?”
He heard the swell of repressed laughter in her voice. “No. I was expecting Salvador Dali, to tell you the truth.”
She shrugged. “I don’t paint like him, either. Sorry to disappoint.”
She was a lot of things, but a disappointment wasn’t one of them. “I’m not sure I have the right place.”
“I’m not, either. Who the heck are you?”
“What’re you doing here?”
“I’m picking up Nikolas Davies. My nephew.”
“Well, then you have the right place. You’d better come in.”
She swung the door open, admitting him into a studio that was full of easels, paintings, light and the smell of turpentine. From a back room came the chatter of young voices and the splash of water.
“They’re just getting cleaned up,” she informed him, setting her pot on the nearest table and stretching across it to straighten up a couple of bins of paint tubes. Her round ass, he noticed, was a thing of beauty. “He should be out in a second.”
“Great.” Tony was engaged, and he hadn’t so much as looked twice at a woman since he’d put that ring on Skylar’s finger, but getting this woman’s name suddenly seemed important. “Should I call you Helen of Troy, or…?”
“I prefer Athena, actually.”
She laughed again, and the sound was so contagious that he found himself grinning at her and easing closer, as though he wanted to reach out and touch her joie de vivre. He wasn’t normally a grinner, especially with complete strangers, but there was something elusive but significant about her that encouraged laughter and easy banter. If she gave him another thirty seconds, he’d probably be telling her the story of his life.
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense. What’s your name?”
“I’m Talia. I’m the artist and teacher. I’m also today’s model, since the one I hired for the students didn’t show up.”
“Models,” he muttered. “You can never trust them.”
“That’s a sad fact of life, isn’t it?”
“So does Nik have any talent? Tell the truth.”
“He’s got a lot of talent. Wait’ll you see his charcoal sketch of me. You’ll love it.”
“‘We’ll see’? I have a skeptic on my hands. Do you doubt his talent, or my skill as a teacher?”
“And what do you know about art, pray tell? Do you paint?”
“I appreciate. I studied art history in school.”
“No way. Where’d you go?”