Arouse: A Spiral of Bliss Novel (Book One)
Author:Lane, Nina

Arouse: A Spiral of Bliss Novel (Book One)

 

Lane, Nina

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Olivia

 

e didn’t touch me. He could have—he had the perfect reason to—but he didn’t.

 

Instead he bent to collect my papers before the breeze could whisk them away. Instead he picked up my satchel from the sidewalk and asked if I was okay. Instead he stood between me and the busy street while I brushed the dirt from my palms and tried to swallow the knot of frustration stuck in my throat.

 

Instead he just waited. I had the strange thought that he would wait forever.

 

 

 

 

 

August 7

 

 

Adhesive sandcastles, flip-flops, and smiling suns cover the windows of the shops lining Avalon Street. The bed-and-breakfasts are filled with guests, and boats dot Mirror Lake like stars in the sky. University students crowd the coffeehouses, and both tourists and locals stroll through downtown with ice-cream cones or sodas in hand. Children, skin browned from the sun, scurry along the paths leading to the shore.

 

“Sorry, miss.” The shaggy-haired fellow at the outdoor drink stand gives me a smile of apology. “We’re out of lemonade.”

 

Of course they are.

 

I push a damp tendril of hair away from my forehead and look at the chalkboard menu again.

 

The sun has started to set, but it’s still roasting out. My pantyhose are shrink-wrapped to my body, and the elastic band is gouging my waist. My toes ache from being crammed into heels all day. And though I refuse to look, I’m quite certain there are sweat stains under the arms of my silk blouse.

 

“Okay. An iced tea, then.” I push two dollars at the guy and take the plastic cup, poking a straw into the hole. I don’t much like iced tea, but the cup is cold and wet, and the liquid feels good going down my dry throat.

 

I scan for an outdoor table, but they’re all filled with clusters of people enjoying their drinks.

 

I grab my paper bag of groceries, pull up my satchel strap, and trudge down the sun-baked street, feeling like a bone-weary schoolmarm amidst the happy, relaxed summer crowd. My ponytail slips farther from the loose clasp, welding more strands of hair to my neck.

 

Home. Our small, two-bedroom apartment sits above a row of shops overlooking Avalon Street. The sight of the wrought-iron balcony, laden with plants in fat, colorful pots, elicits a welcome sense of relief.

 

I increase my pace despite the blister forming on my heel. The minute I step into the building foyer, I drop the bag, kick off my shoes, and sink onto the bottom step of the stairs. I suck in another mouthful of iced tea. Sweat trickles down my spine.

 

“Hey, beauty.”

 

The deep, masculine voice resounds inside me. I look up at the top of the stairs where Dean is standing. His dark hair is messy from him dragging his hand through it, his shirt is wrinkled, and the sleeves are pushed up to his elbows. His tie is unknotted and loose, the buttons of his collar unfastened to expose the tanned V of his throat.

 

Warmth, both spicy and sweet, curls through me at the sight of him. Dean’s seamless combination of Brilliant Professor and Hot Hunk never fails to quicken my blood.

 

“Hi.” I duck my head and sip the iced tea.

 

“Thought you were working late.” He descends the stairs to where I’m sitting and picks up my satchel.

 

“Yeah, well.” A lump forms in my throat. “I got fired.”

 

Jesus, Liv. Don’t cry.

 

“Fired?” Dean drops the satchel and sits beside me on the step. He reaches out to brush my hair away from my sticky neck. “What happened?”

 

“A screw-up with the printer for tonight’s opening. They got the names of a couple of the big donors wrong, even though I emailed them the information twice and sent a hard copy. Mr. Hammond blamed me anyway.”

 

I hate sounding like a victim, even if that is the truth.

 

“That’s not right, Liv. Wrongful termination is—”

 

I wave my hand to stop him. “Forget it, Dean. It wasn’t that great a job. Hammond was always complaining that I made too many mistakes. Which I did not.”

 

“Want me to go beat him up?”

 

“Kind of.” My white knight…

 

“C’mere.” He slides an arm around me and pulls me closer.

 

Even though I’m hot and gross and probably smelly, I burrow against him with a sigh. Just the feel of his strong chest beneath my cheek is soothing.

 

When he eases the clasp out of my long hair and finger-combs the tangles, then moves his hand up to knead the muscles of my nape, I think I could quite happily sit there for the next hour or three.

 

“I offered to try and fix the problem, but he told me to pack up and go,” I say.

 

“Their loss.” He brushes his lips against my temple. A tingle sweeps clear down to my toes. “Besides you said the artwork was crap anyway.”

 

“It was.” I take another sip of tea. “Bunch of junk glued onto canvases. I could make us a fortune doing that. Hell, maybe I will. Olivia West, the Dumpster-diving artist.”

 

“That’s my girl.”

 

“Ah, well. Mr. Hammond was kind of a creep anyway.”