“It keeps me busy when I’m not driving for Bobby,” he added.

Christie could have stayed exactly as she was at that moment and found contentment. Was this love? She couldn’t say; Christie wasn’t sure she knew what it was to be in love. Lust, passion, desire—those feelings were familiar to her. But they never lasted. Every single time, what looked like a promising relationship had failed. The flames of attraction always died out, leaving nothing but bitterness and anger behind.

In the past she’d been quick to jump into bed, and the fact that she hadn’t slept with James, that they’d only kissed on three occasions, would shock her previous lovers. They’d wonder if there was something wrong with her—or with James. The reality was that for the first time there was something right.

“You know my secrets, too,” she said. “And mine are a lot more disreputable than yours.” She wished he’d told her about his past earlier. She thought he might have continued to keep it to himself if the reporter hadn’t shown up today. That hurt, but she tried not to dwell on it.

James kissed the top of her head.

“Do you and Bobby ever talk about when you were young?”

“No. It’s in the past.” His chest heaved. “I choose to live as I do. Bobby needs me and he was a friend when I needed one.”

“What about your family?”

He shrugged. “I was their ticket to wealth and fame. They never forgave me. And they never spoke to me again.”

“Oh, James. I’m so sorry.”

“My parents are both dead. Bobby is all the family I have. Bobby and now Teri.”

Christie longed to tell him that she loved him and wanted to be his family, too.

But she knew instinctively that it was too soon. James wasn’t ready for that kind of intimacy. The habits of reserve and self-protection were too ingrained. Slowly, though, very slowly, he’d come to love her as much as she loved him.

She was counting on it.


As soon as the end-of-day bell rang, Tanni Bliss hurried out to the parking lot where Shaw was waiting for her. She climbed into the passenger seat of his old blue station wagon and leaned toward him. Shaw didn’t hesitate to kiss her.

“How was school?” he asked as he checked his rearview mirror before pulling into the heavy flow of traffic.

“The usual.” With only a week before the holiday break, no one was concentrating on schoolwork. Even the teachers seemed distracted and eager to escape.

“How was work?” she asked, already knowing how much Shaw disliked his job at the coffee shop. He was grateful to his aunt and uncle, grateful to be employed but it didn’t help him advance toward what he really wanted, and that was a career in art.

Living at home allowed him to put away funds for art school. He’d applied for scholarships but had been turned down because of his lack of a high school diploma. His father, an attorney, had pressured him to follow in his footsteps. Shaw had rebelled, and the friction at home had become intolerable. It was because of his father and the constant battle of wills between them that Shaw had dropped out of high school just weeks before graduation. When the art school was unable to accept him, the registrar encouraged him to obtain his GED and apply again as a mature student. He was taking the test in January.

“All right, I guess.”

He rarely said anything more about his job or what he did there.

“Did you do any work?” The question didn’t refer to Mocha Mama’s, but his current art project.


“Are you going to show me?” Shaw generally didn’t until he was satisfied his drawing or painting was the best he could make it.

He momentarily looked away from the traffic and grinned at her. “Maybe.”

“Shaw!” she said. “Please?”

His grin broadened. “I might.”

For a week or two now, he’d been working on something he wouldn’t even tell her about. He usually did his sketches at the coffee shop, because doing them at the house seemed to infuriate his father.

“Do you want me to take you home?” Shaw asked.

Tanni had a surprise of her own. “Not yet.”

“Where to, then?”

Tanni studied him, anticipating his reaction. “The Harbor Street Art Gallery.”

His eyes left the road as he glanced in her direction. “Why?”

Holding back this particular surprise had been difficult; she’d nearly told him a hundred times. “I have a meeting with the new owner, Mr. Jefferson.”

“You didn’t mention that before, did you?” In other words, Shaw would have remembered.


“What’s the meeting about?”


“Me?” he exploded in disbelief.

“Yes, you. Or rather, your portrait work. He’s got the ones of Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and James Dean.” Shaw had chosen people, public figures, who’d lived—and died—on the edge.


“I showed my mom a few of your other portraits, too, and she took them to Mr. Jefferson.”

“Your mom did that for me?”

Tanni nodded. “Mr. Jefferson met with Mom and asked for ideas about the gallery.” Her mother had come back, excited about the change in ownership and the new possibilities. “He asked her how to get the community involved, and one thing she recommended was showing the work of young artists.”


Tanni smiled over at him, knowing he must be curious as to what Mr. Jefferson had said about his portraits. At the same time, he was probably afraid to ask.

“So…what did he think?” Shaw spoke casually as he turned onto Harbor Street.

“He wants to meet you,” she breathed.

Shaw paled. “Tanni, I can’t!”

“What do you mean, you can’t?” She was dismayed by his response, which was the last thing she’d expected. “You’re good, Shaw! You have real talent, and more than that, you have a vision.”

“You go talk to him for me, all right?”

Shaw was serious. She was astonished by his lack of confidence, but she would do this for him without a qualm. After all, he’d helped her in ways she couldn’t begin to calculate. For the first time since her father’s death, she didn’t feel like she wanted to die, too. Some days were better than others. She still grieved, still longed for him, but she could imagine a future now. A future without him. And that was largely thanks to Shaw. So if he needed her to do this, then she would. No questions asked.

“Okay,” she said.

“You should’ve told me…you shouldn’t have done this without letting me know.” He frowned, as if her intervention displeased him, as if he thought she’d been presumptuous.

His lack of appreciation hurt her. “Why not? My mom and I wanted to help you.”

“Tanni.” Shaw whispered her name. He seemed to understand how badly he’d upset her. “I’m not ready…. I don’t have the training or the talent…. Not like you.”

“Yes, you do,” she insisted. “You’re every bit as talented as I am.” It was true that he didn’t have the formal training or encouragement she’d been blessed to receive, but he had the desire and his work revealed passion and honesty.

Shaw found a parking spot and pulled in. He turned off the engine but kept his hands on the steering wheel, holding so tightly that his knuckles went white.

“If you want, I’ll go in with you,” Tanni suggested, thinking all he really needed was her presence and support.

Shaw shook his head. “You go.”


“I’ll wait here.”

Reluctantly, she got out of the car.

Until they’d started seeing each other, Shaw had shown his work to very few. His friends knew he liked to draw but that was about it. The only people who really understood were Anson Butler and now Tanni.

The gallery was situated on the steepest part of the street, and she was almost out of breath when she reached the side entrance. Mr. Jefferson had asked Shaw to meet him there because of the renovations still in progress.

Looking back at Shaw, she gave him a small wave and then stepped into the gallery.

“Mr. Jefferson?” she called out, standing just inside the door. She heard the sound of hammering and the whining of an electric sander and called again, more loudly.

Will Jefferson came out, wearing a tool belt. He was tall and about the same age as her father had been when he died. Maybe older. He stared at her blankly. “I’m Tanni Bliss. My mom’s Shirley Bliss,” she told him. “Mom gave you a few pieces by my friend Shaw. And…and he asked me to stop by for him.” She felt a little nervous, despite her unwavering faith in Shaw’s talent.

Mr. Jefferson nodded, as if he’d suddenly made the connection. “Shirley’s daughter. Right.”


They shook hands, once he’d brushed the sawdust off his.

What if Will Jefferson didn’t understand and appreciate her friend’s talent the way she did? Tanni didn’t know how she’d tell Shaw. A rejection like this could set him back, which was something she hadn’t considered until now.

“So, you’re here to talk about the projects your mother dropped off the other day.”

She nodded.

Mr. Jefferson invited her over to a table, where sketches were carefully arranged in folders; paintings, both framed and unframed, leaned against the wall, covered with plastic dropcloths. “Your mother suggested it would be a good idea to involve young people in the gallery.”

Tanni nodded again. She knew all about that.

“I had Maryellen Bowman and an artist friend of mine take a look at these pieces,” Mr. Jefferson said. “I wanted some expert opinions.”

Tanni held her breath, then released it as she asked the question that pounded in her head. “What…what did they say?” Her heart felt as if it had stopped beating.

“Maryellen has an eye for what will sell in this area. She liked Shaw’s work and recommended that I offer him a contract.”

“And your friend—the artist?” she asked, her voice shaking just a bit.

“He had high praise for Shaw’s work, too.”

“High praise,” Tanni repeated. What beautiful words! Relief, excitement, pure happiness spread through her.

“He felt that Shaw’s talent is still pretty raw, but he definitely sees potential in these drawings. I’d like to have them on display.”

“You would?”

“These portraits reveal maturity and sensitivity. And they have a vivid sense of energy.”

“Yes, I agree,” she said solemnly, trying to sound professional. She’d worked hard with Shaw to focus on the kind of art that suited his vision and his skills—and might also have some commercial appeal. Portraiture seemed the best choice.

“Is Shaw in art school?”

She wasn’t sure how to respond. Tanni had the advantage of having attended art classes and camps through the years. In turn, she’d taught Shaw everything she’d learned, or as much as she could in the time they’d been together. If she said he was in art school, she was afraid Mr. Jefferson would discover she’d lied.