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"You want me to take off my T-shirt?"
"And my yoga pants?
He nods. "Yes, mademoiselle."
"Hold on a Paris minute," I protest, glancing over at the old artist with a Gauloise cigarette hanging out of his mouth like a limp penis. He takes a drag without taking his eyes off my wet T-shirt sticking to me like a Post-it. "I ducked in here to get out of the rain, not sign up for strip aerobics."
Husky voice, low in the back of my throat. Jeez, is that me? Got to be nerves.
I had the same catch in my throat when I swallowed the mint in my mouth after David, my ex-fiancé, insisted I give lousy BJs and he couldn't go through with our wedding because he had issues with us.
As if flunking a postgraduate course in blow jobs is a top-ten reason to send me into therapy and sic my mother on me for the prepaid, nonrefundable honeymoon to Paris. But here I am, wandering around the Right Bank in the rain like Jean Valjean in squishy Nikes. Jilted and miserable.
And wondering how I let silver-tongued David—a guy who knows how to use that tongue to trigger my starter button—talk me into charging everything on my credit card. I've worked my ass off climbing the corporate ladder since college, putting my dream of opening my own art gallery on hold. Now I'm not only groomless but I had to dip into my 401-k account to pay for twelve bridesmaids" dresses with matching dyed Jimmy-what's-his-name stilettos, not to mention more than two hundred pounds of prime rib. Rare.
After I cut up my maxed-out credit card, I guzzled down the last bottle of champagne then tossed my white satin Vera Wang knock-off into the closest trashcan. The next morning I took off for the birthplace of Godiva chocolates to sweeten the bad taste in my mouth. And I don't mean spending time on my knees sucking on a guy wearing a raspberry-flava condom. I mean something dramatic and wonderful, heartstopping and sizzling with pent-up energy. I want to feel alive, desired.
Who am I kidding? I want to be a drop-dead-gorgeous sex goddess.
Youth and a fab bod aren't everything, you know.
Ha! David thinks so. That's why I'm not all snuggly and warm with him between the sheets in my Paris hotel instead of sneaking through the city like a rat in an underground sewer.
You're not young anymore, kiddo, and you are, oh, so not thin. That's why you lost David to that Aphrodite, an insipid skinny-as-a-toothpick, not-old-enough-to-drink-yet blonde. Your assistant, yet. How could you be so dumb?
Dumb? I was stupid, insane, a complete idiot for letting that bitch take David away from me. I got punked.
Zap! As if agreeing with me, lightning rips through the long multipaned window, hitting me in the eye like a redlight camera, illuminating the faint light in the studio and diluting the smoky atmos.
I blink, then blink again. A B horror film mentality creeps me out, making me shiver. It can't get any worse. Storm clouds hide the afternoon sun. A rush of rain falls outside, banging against the windowpanes shimmering with a wet sheen. Thunder cracks like a boombox bursting with outta control volume. The old building shakes. I cringe. Do I really want to go back outside into that stormy mess? That's why I don't protest when the old artist hustles me toward the platform in the back of the art studio.
"Hurry, mademoiselle, we're losing the light." A pungent whiff of burnt tobacco shoots up my nose. Who is this putz? For sure, he's no panting Adonis who can seduce a woman to take off her clothes with a smile. He's short, balding, sporting a little paunch and he smokes too much.
"Watch those hands, monsieur. I know karate." I'm bluffing, but it works with the geek corporate types I deal with every day who think a physical workout is something you do by yourself with one hand.
By the way, did you notice the old artist was impressed when I said kah-rah-tay with the accent on the tay? I may give lousy blow jobs, but I'm not Gallic challenged. I got an A in French in college. I can rattle off enough swear words to impress the surliest taxi driver, from calling him a salaud, bastard, to a quel casse-couilles, pain in the ass.
"You made a mistake, monsieur," I continue, now that I've got his attention. "I wouldn't look as soggy as overcooked lasagna if I owned an umbrella, which I don't. mention Nielsen ratings."
He makes a face. Silly me. As if he understands my popculture rhetoric to explain why he doesn't want to see me naked, why I slap on phony tanning stuff rather than sport a citrus-yellow bikini on a SoCal beach. I don't tell him cellulite and I are as tight as sorority sisters. Not to mention my stomach is upset and I feel like I'm going to pass gas from the greasy pommes frites I gulped down at the flea market.
"Then you're not a model, mademoiselle?" The old artist gestures with his two hands like he's feeling up melons in the supermarché.
I shake my head emphatically. "No." "Pity." He coughs, tosses his cigarette into an empty saucer, then does a mental strip search of my bod from the top of my red Angels baseball cap to my DKNY white cotton T-shirt, mauve yoga pants with a white stripe running up the side, and comfy walking shoes. "I'd still like to draw you."
I tilt my head to one side, thinking. What's holding me back? Posing in my bra and panties isn't any different from sporting a bikini at a pool party, right? So why not go for the win?
I nod. "Okay. It'll be a fun souvenir to take home."
He smiles, then drops the bombshell. Right into my lap. "Bon. Good. You must pose in the nude."
"Are you sure Madonna started like this?" I ask, holding on to my panties, pulling on the elastic waistband until it snaps against my bare skin. Ouch. I've already taken off my wet clothes and left them hanging on the tall black screen standing in the corner, along with my waist pack with my money and passport.
"You know, the pop star? "Like a Virgin'?" I sway my hips like the superstar diva. Somehow it doesn't have the same effect. The old artist shrugs.
"I don't care if you're a virgin—"
I'm not, but I smile anyway.
"—I wish to sketch you, mademoiselle, not make love to you."
That did it. Can my ego get any flatter? Ever seen a used condom?
Well, here goes.
I wiggle my peppermint pink panties down over my thighs and let them drop onto the small platform. There. I've done it. I'm nude. No turning back, even if I haven't shaved below my bikini line.
Vive la nue me.
I glance over at the old artist wiping down his posterboard with a damp cloth. The look on my face says, What do I do next?
He coughs, wipes beads of perspiration off his forehead, then points to my feet. I look down. I'm up to my ankles in pink nylon. I shift my weight from one foot to the other. The wooden platform creaks. Loudly. Urging me to hurry. Okay, okay. I scoot my panties off the platform with my bare toes. Wearing nothing but my sweat, I grin.
The old artist nods, picks up a Conté carré dessin, drawing charcoal, and waits for me to get into position. I hold my hand over my crotch. What a silly thing to do. I must relax. Relax. Keep up my courage. A chill slithers up the back of my neck, making my nipples harden and point straight out. I know now how guys feel when they get a hard-on in the middle of a heated business meeting. They can hide it behind this week's market stats report. Me? I'm as naked as a low-carb burger going solo.
I know you're sitting there all comfy in your sweats, shaking your head, pinching your thighs, wondering how a thirty-something woman could even think about taking yourself. It ain't pretty. Here's the skinny, which I'm not, so it's even more outrageous.
I'm desperate for excitement, a cheap thrill, and if it cost me a new pair of La Perla panties, then let them fall. Nothing exciting ever happens in corporate real estate sales, though I keep hoping I'll run into Donald Trump between bankruptcies and wives.
Unfortunately, time is running out for this apprentice wannabe. I'm thirty-four with more than a little tummy since David took off with my heart and my willpower stuffed into his back pocket. The idea of posing nude evokes a sexual charge in me, an irresistible allure of the forbidden without putting myself in danger or jeopardizing my corporate reputation, a unique twist to my personality I never dared explore.
Until now. This moment. My world is so frustratingly normal, so conservative in every way, that although I'm shocked at the artist's request, I'm also terribly intrigued. It's my nature.
Besides, I want to show my ex-fiancé I'm still hot stuff. I grind my teeth. Just thinking about David makes me cringe. When I discovered he used me to get info on a major land development deal in Wyoming, I should have broken up with him then. But he was so convincing in his "I'm doing this for us" speech, I put aside my fears and didn't protest when he proceeded to slide my panties down between my thighs and do more with his sexy mouth than give me spin.
Even my mother warned me about David, said he was listen. She oughta know. My mother and her talking mirror just divorced their third husband.
I'm not in the mood for advice so I clicked off my cell phone. Mother drives me insane with her text messages that resemble the bottom-of-the-screen news headlines on CNN. Don't get me wrong. I love my mother, even if she collects marriage licenses like some women clip grocery coupons.
For your information, I left her blissfully engaged in bringing down the French national debt single-handedly on the fashionable rue Saint-Honoré wh...