Her eyes, those twin wells of deep oceanic blue, widened as she noticed Vincent for the first time.
Suddenly the weariness in his arms and back was no longer a concern.
Beautiful, no question. As breathtaking as a field of sunflowers on a sunny day.
“Well now,” she said. “Who might you be?”
Eve Miller gasped. “My Lord in Heaven! Lynn Evans, you don’t just walk out an’ demand to know who a man is.” She couldn’t keep from laughing, however.
Vincent nodded at the vision with bleach-blonde hair that seemed to point in all directions at once. The sun dress exhibited her lean, tawny arms and legs, and more than hinted at the cleavage within.
Vincent had to clear his throat before speaking. “It’s all right, Misses Miller. The lady poses an honest question.” He nodded to the woman. “I’m the guy renting the guest house.”
She frowned, but in the next instant smiled broadly. “Oh, you’re the painter! Daddy told me Uncle Frank and Aunt Eve took in a tenant who paints — I thought they meant somebody who slaps it on with a roller. But you’re not that kind of painter, are you? You’re an artist kind of painter, am I right?”
A slight smile formed on his lips before he realized it. “I paint pictures. Guess you could call that being an artist.”
“You guess, or you know?” she said, arching a brow and giving him a devilish half-smile that brought out dimples in her cheeks.
“Depends on what kind of day I’m having.”
Suddenly she was at the rail, leaning over with her hand extended. Double gold hooped earrings glinted in the sunlight. “I’m Lynn.”
Vincent looked from her hand, so clean and tanned and with nails painted maroon, to his own sweat-streaked, sawdust speckled arm and oily hand. “Uh, sorry. I’m more than a little dirty here. Been cutting and hauling.”
The white towel suddenly flew from Lynn’s shoulder and struck him in the chest, where he pinned it to him just as it was about to slide down.
The vision of beauty laughed.
After toweling off Vincent stepped closer and reached up. Her hand fit easily in his own, soft and cool where his was hot and swollen and had nearly been vibrated into a state of shock. Part of his brain quivered. As she leaned over the rail the white of her bra and the swell of her breasts dared him to glance until she placed a hand there. He was careful to look her in the eyes as they shook.
“Vincent Van Gogh.”
“Lynn Evans. Good to meet you, Vincent.”
“You mean it’s good to meet Vincent, or to meet me?”
She laughed and straightened, leaned over the rail with her elbows locked. A very girlish pose.
Vincent raised his chin and half-smiled. “Okay. I see where you’re coming from.”
“Yeah, I think I do.”
“Hmmm. What kind of accent is that I hear comin’ from your lips, Mister Vincent Van Gogh?”
“I don’t often get to befuddle a French-Canadian way down here in North Cackalacki.”
“Cackalacki?” Vincent said. “... Carolina?”
She pointed at him and winked. Bingo.
Vincent shook his head in mock sadness. “You must be starved for entertainment. Let me guess: Playing games with a foreigner is more fun than watching the cars drive past on the interstate.”
Her mouth formed a lovely “O.” Her eyes sparked and widened. She laughed and pulled down on an imaginary handle. “Ka-Ching! Well, now. You’re not exactly the dull knife in the drawer, are you?”
“I manage, at times.”
“Vincent is a good soul, Lynn,” Mrs. Miller said, “He took time from his painting to help us with the storm debris.”
“Well, he certainly sounds special, Auntie.” She gazed boldly at him. “Hey, I’m no painter but I love me some art. Think I could see a few of your works?”
Vincent glanced away.
“Please?” she added.
“I don’t know.”
“Please? It’s not everyday I get to meet a real live artist.”
“It’s getting late.”
“How about now, before it gets any later?” She was female energy in motion as she headed for the stairs, hem of the sun dress swinging, sandals lightly brushing the wood planks.
“Lynn, the poor man just worked around the yard after painting since before dawn! Let him relax and clean himself up first. Plus dinner’s just about ready. Lordy.”
For the first time Lynn hesitated. “Ooops, sorry. It can wait, I guess. Well ... you’re going to eat with us, aren’t you?”
“I ... don’t think so. I’m pretty tired. Think I’ll shower and touch up a couple sketches in this pad. Probably turn in early.”
Her blue eyes watched him, looked away, then looked back at him. Her gaze was level and direct, without any discernable cunning. “Oh, come on. I won’t take much energy away from you. Just point me to ‘em and I’ll do the rest.”
They watched one another for a moment. She angled her head, smiled an easy smile. When he just stared, she raised her eyebrows, a movement that brought out the fine lines in her forehead. “Uh, Mister Painter ...?”
“You know everyone’s a critic, eh?” Vincent said, warily.
“I’ll be gentle,” she said, her smile widening.
Vincent laughed. It sounded strange, almost alien to himself. “Here, you can look at the sketches in this pad while I get a shower. Please be careful with them.”
“And dinner?” Lynn said, lifting the towel from him at the same time as the sketch pad.
“I’m not ... I’m a little out of practice with my social graces.”
Mrs. Miller looked over her shoulder at Vincent. “We’re not going to grade you on your manners. We’re simple folks. Frank made decent money as a lawyer, but I remember living my childhood farm days poorer than dirt.”
“Who cooks for you in that guest house?” Lynn asked, the almost magnetic pull of her eyes suddenly broken as she looked down at the brown cover of the sketch pad. “Wife? Girlfriend?”
“Lynn Evans, you’re about as a discreet as a bull in a china store — wait until I tell your Momma!” Evelyn Miller said, shaking her head and laughing. “Vincent, I’ll set you a place at the table. You come on when you’re ready, if you’ve got a mind to.”
Mrs. Miller disappeared inside.
The pull of those eyes resumed. Vincent wondered if she’d been watching him the entire time.
“Well?” Lynn said.
“Who does the cooking in that little yellow house?”
“We’re still on that?”
She leaned forward and back on the porch rail as she spoke. “Yeah we are, unless you’d rather not say, in which case I’d have to think you’re hidin’ something, which is okay if that’s what you want to do. Or maybe you just want to be mysterious.”
“You cook your own meals?”
“I don’t know that what I do with food would really pass for cooking, per se. I either heat food up or take it as it is.”
“Close. A lot of bread. Cheese. Vegetables. Now and then some meat. Tuna goes a long way for the money.”
“Quite the variety.”
He shrugged. “Keeps me going.”
“Well, you have to eat with us, then. Think of how much farther you’ll go with a well-cooked meal in you.” She looked down at the sketch pad once again and then, with her head still lowered, raised her brows. He could not help but warm to her, though his head told him she was little more than a beautiful stranger who would be gone after today.
“Dinner?” he said.
She put a hand to the side of her mouth as if to let him in on a secret. “It’s a custom down South here. You know, like sweet tea.”
“Okay,” he said, unable to suppress a smile. “Dinner would be great. Thank you.”
Her slender fist rose and was suddenly jerked downward. “Yessss! And after that you’ll let me see some of your paintings?”
“Yes, Mister Van Gogh?”
“Has anyone ever told you that your beauty is rivaled only by your persistence?”
Her smile faded and for the first time she appeared vulnerable. She looked away and back, and now her face held a neutral expression. Too neutral, compared to the vibrancy displayed just moments earlier. It seemed as if she were trying to appear casual.
Took her by surprise, he thought. Why wasn’t she accustomed to compliments?
“Well ....” she said. She paused and cleared her throat. “My ex had a few choice words for my ‘persistence,’ as you put it, but I don’t put any more stock in his two-timin’, alcoholic opinions.”
Now it was Vincent who tried to appear casual. “Sorry.”
The moment hung awkwardly until Lynn suddenly leaned over the rail. This time her laugh was laced with something, perhaps sadness or bitterness or regret or a mix of all of all three. “Too much information, huh? Sorry for that. Guess I’m no spring chicken, Mister Painter.”
“Spring was a bunch of years ago for me.”
Her face grew serious as she studied him. “You’ve seen a time or two, all right. Probably not enough good ones.”
“Is there such a thing?”
“Doubt it. I’m right though, hmm?”
“I’ll add ‘perceptive’ to your list.”
“Please do. So, you’re going to get cleaned up now?”
“Take care of my sketches there, Miss Evans,” Vincent said, with a smile that came all too easily.
“I will, Mister Van Gogh.”
He nodded. “Good.”
Glances flicked out and back.
Not knowing what else to say, the painter turned and, with the slightest hint of a trace of a bounce in his step, one that disturbed and excited him, strode toward the guest house.
Strange the house seemed more than just yellow now. Deeper. More golden. No doubt an effect of the waning sun ... slanted rays tempered as they passed through gaps in the trees.
He resisted the urge to turn and see if Lynn Evans still stood on the porch.
Yes, the gold must be a trick of the sun.
Thanks for reading this excerpt of my speculative romance novel, “Van Gogh, Encore.”
The complete novel is available on Amazon.