As I headed for the grocery store, I couldn’t make myself go inside. I was too keyed up. Twitchy.
Instead, I headed down the sidewalk, tugging my hat down low. I shouldn’t have worried about it. Only a handful of people were on the street, and none of them expected to see me in this tiny town.
I welcomed the bite of cold air, not caring that I’d left my jacket back at the cabin. Something about the way the temperature attacked my skin mirrored how I felt at the moment. There was a feral edge to us both.
I lost myself in the sights of the town and that feeling. They didn’t match up. Wolf Gap was what my mom would call quaint. It had a charming, welcoming quality to it that didn’t fit with the air or my mood. Hand-painted signs proclaimed coffee shops and pizza parlors. Tourist shops and cafes.
My steps faltered as a building with large windows came into view. It wasn’t the building itself that had my feet slowing. It was an image—a photograph. A woman bent over in a field, her body contorted and hair hanging in front of her face.
Something about it pulled me in. Before I could think about the wisdom of the action, I was opening the door and stepping into the gallery space. But I didn’t have eyes for any other pieces of art. Only the one that had drawn me in.
I felt a tugging sensation in the center of my chest as if an invisible tether pulled me closer. I stopped just two feet shy of the piece. Now I could see the woman’s face. A tear tracked down her cheek. Even though her dark hair hid some of her gorgeous features, her eyes shot straight to me.
No, they shot through me. It was as though those amber orbs saw everything I’d gotten so good at hiding from the world. Those eyes were unflinchingly honest. Let you see all the pain below. And for the first time in forever, I didn’t feel quite so alone.
I moved from the back room into the gallery, leaving Gizmo on his bed, happily chewing on a bully stick. My steps faltered as I took in the man in front of my photograph, his back to me. He wore dark jeans that hugged his hips, a flannel shirt, and a baseball cap. It was too cold for only a flannel shirt, yet I couldn’t find it in me to be sad that it was what he wore.
The shirt ghosted over defined muscles and showed just how broad his shoulders were. What was it about good shoulders? I was woman enough to admit they were my weakness.
But it was the energy that flowed off him that had me stepping forward. He paid rapt attention to the photograph in front of him. I couldn’t help the question that tumbled out of my mouth. “What do you think?”
The man didn’t turn around. “It’s one of the most visceral pieces of art I’ve ever seen.”
Visceral. This man didn’t know he’d just paid me one of the highest compliments possible. “Most people think it’s depressing.” I’d seen more than one patron scrunch up their nose at it and turn away in favor of a pretty watercolor landscape.
“It’s real. A piece of the human experience. Isn’t that what art should be?”
My heart hammered in my chest. “I think so. That and to make us feel seen. Less alone in one way or another.” That was what it had done for me time and time again. It was why I had been brave enough to shoot this self-portrait. Because I hoped to give that gift to someone else.
“Less alone,” he muttered as he stared at the image. After a few beats, he turned around.
I sucked in a sharp breath as I took in his angled features that I’d seen gracing the covers of magazines at the grocery store checkout so many times. But those photos didn’t come anywhere close to doing his eyes justice. The swirling green and gold could hold a person in a trance. “Oh, crap.”
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