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Elo was here. Standing in the snow turning away from Aura like he was about to leave, and I don’t know why I called to him. I could easily let him go, and that would be it.
But I couldn’t. It wasn’t fair to him, or to me, and here in my gallery, we would at least have privacy for him to shout at me and accuse me of all the horrors I knew I was guilty of.
He looked good.
A tall, broad man, with blond hair, half-hidden in a scarf he’d wrapped around the lower part of his face. He looked frozen, his skin reddened where the icy rain struck his face, and all I knew at this moment was that I wanted him inside so he could warm up.
I had the bottle of Koskenkorva vodka in my small kitchen, a leftover from better days when I was free to love Goog, and our secrets were kept close to our hearts. The smooth, pure, drink reminded me of him, and us, and a million fractured memories from our time together. I was a fool to even keep it in my place, but I hadn’t the heart to throw it away.
He walked closer and then waited, and I realized I was blocking the doorway like an idiot and just staring at him. Flustered I immediately moved to one side and stepped back. When he passed me, I saw how wet and cold he was, and my instincts kicked in. I helped him with his coat, unwrapped the scarf and hung both on the hook by the door. This was my hallway, not the front door with its carved wood and sparkling glass. All the time I helped him I couldn’t look him in the eyes, focusing on the task in hand, and then running out of things I could do.
“Stop,” he whispered and grasped my hand, his fingers cold as ice. I looked up at him, into his blue eyes, and saw something there that broke my heart all over again.
“Shhh,” he said, and then I thought we would kiss, I even leaned in a little, a breath away from losing myself in something I shouldn’t.
But he moved. He released his hold of my hand and leaned against the wall opposite me.
“You said you had vodka,” he prompted, and it snapped me out of my daydreams.
“I do.” I went directly to the kitchen, expecting him to follow, but he didn’t. I took the bottle and the glasses and went to find him because I knew exactly where he had gone.
“This is beautiful,” he said to me when I found him in my workshop. He was standing in front of one of my more abstract pieces, splashes of vermillion and ochre, an angry mess of color that I hadn’t finished yet.
“It will sell. These pieces always do.”
“What about your real work?”
I placed the glasses on the small table next to my drop cloths, and poured us both a healthy amount of vodka, passing one drink to him.
“Kippis,” I murmured. I didn’t have an ear for languages, but certain things I’d picked up from Elo would never leave me. The salutation as we drank was one.
Sinä olet minun rakas. You are my love. That was another.
“Kippis,” he replied, but he didn’t take a swallow, not even one, even as I took my first sip and welcomed the burn of the vodka in my throat. It would warm me, make me relax; I might even demand a kiss from the enigmatic Finn in my workshop.
“How are you?” I enquired, and he met my gaze steadily.
“Where is your other art?” he asked, and I realized he really wasn’t leaving this.
“I’m not working on anything right now,” I lied.
“Your landscapes? You’re spending all your time on the abstract coloring?”
How did I explain that this is what made me smile right now? The only thing? That it sold, which kept a roof over my head, and oh yeah, I didn’t have the heart to do the kind of paintings I truly loved.
“Mostly, right now.”
He frowned then and placed his glass on the table. He wasn’t drinking, but he was driving, so there was that. Or maybe he felt like alcohol would mess with the walls we had erected between us. Who knew? I put mine down as well because I got the feeling we were about to have a serious discussion and I needed my wits about me.
“Why what?” I said in automatic response and winced inwardly when he scowled at me.
“You think this is a joke?” he snapped and then took a step toward me, which made me move away because he was dangerous. I knew he wouldn’t hurt me, but if he touched me, it might cause my resolve to weaken.
“I’m sorry,” I began, but then had no idea what to say next. How did I explain what bargain I’d made with the devil? He’d hate me for trying to be the hero here, would be determined that he could look after himself. I hadn’t done it just for him. Marrying Beth was the only way Dad would back down and leave Elo and Taz alone.
I wasn’t going to let either of them suffer for my own drunken stupidity on Casino night. I should never have demanded that the team vote to support the LGBT charity, I should never have drunk so much cheap whiskey, or followed it up with the readily available champagne at the event.
I should have kept my mouth shut.
Elo moved even closer, and I had nowhere to go, backed up against the wall, trapped in the corner.
“Please…” I said, but I wasn’t sure if it was a warning or a plea.
He stopped so close I could see the flecks of amber in his blue eyes, a curious mix of shades that I was abruptly desperate to paint. Then he cupped my chin.
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