THE RED EXCERPT
“Are there rules?" Mona asked of her mysterious suitor. "Expectations of me? Requests?”
Malcolm held up one finger, telling her to sit and wait. She sat. She waited. He walked to her bookshelf and perused the titles, the hand on his chin again like the first night. At last he seemed to find what he was looking for. He pulled a large white book from the shelf and leafed through the pages. Then he returned to her desk, bringing the book with him.
“That,” he said, laying the book open on the desk and pointing at a photograph of a painting. “I would like you to wait for me thusly.”
The painting in the photograph was one she knew well—Manet’s Olympia, a portrait of a young girl, naked, lying on a bed with her head up and staring directly at the viewer. It was an infamous painting, Manet making mockery of the tired old Venus-reclining-on-her-bed trope. Olympia was a prostitute and a shameless one at that. When it was first displayed, the crowds found it so vulgar they wanted to tear it to shreds.
“So I’m to be your Olympia.”
“For what I’m paying you, you’ll be everything I want you to be.”
She looked up at him, met his eyes. For the first time since they met, he touched her. He laid his hand on the side of her face, stroked the arch of her cheekbone with his thumb. Such a large warm hand. She truly believed she would regret making this agreement. But she didn’t regret it now.
“You were meant to do this,” he said softly. “You’ll see.”
“Why me?” she asked. “Millions of women in this country, millions in yours…why me?”
“Millions of paintings in this world. Only one Mona Lisa. Billions of women in this world. Only one you, Mona Lisa St. James.”
Then he left her in the office, blushing and shivering and undeniably aroused. She’d just agreed to become a prostitute to save her gallery.