Compulsion Ch. 02

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Author’s note: Oh, hey. Long time no see.

If anyone is still following this story after reading my one short post two-and-change years ago… thanks! I have been developing a full-length erotic romance storyline for Grace and Adrian, for which I’ve written about 25,000 words’ worth of scenes so far, including the 10,000 or so of this section. The story will be upwards of 70,000, I think, when it’s finished.

At this point I’d consider 2019’s chapter one to be more of an exploratory semi-non-canonical prologue that serves to introduce the main characters, some themes, and the writing style. I’m leaving it up, since at the end of the day it’s porn and it ain’t that serious. But please be advised that this is the real start of the story. Things should progress more or less in a linear fashion from here. And, with any luck, it’ll be less than two years between chapters going forward.

Hope you enjoy the vampiric seduction and that the burn isn’t too slow.

-MSL

*

I hadn’t expected there to be a list. As I shivered in the slush-slicked street, the bouncer flipped through far too many pages of names to find mine. How many people had been invited? I’d thought this was going to be a small crowd, a soft opening for friends, family and artists only. My heart throbbed and the chill March air bit into me like it intended to draw blood.

For a moment, I indulged in a wild fantasy–that there’d been a mistake and that I was not actually supposed to be here tonight–that my submission had been rejected after all. It wouldn’t count as chickening out if I wasn’t even allowed in.

“Grace Bergeron,” said the bouncer, setting a finger on my name and sealing my fate. He glanced back up at me. Was I supposed to show him my ID? He hadn’t asked for it yet. Maybe he was thinking that I didn’t look like a Grace Bergeron. Or maybe he wondered if he was imagining mom’s Chinese influence on my features. I had known it to go either way.

Whatever he was thinking, he kept it to himself. “Go on in. Just take the stairs.”

The foyer was just a small landing. There was one set of steps going up, and one going down.

The carpeted steps leading downwards were sodden and streaked with road salt. The thrum of music and conversation drifted up the stairwell, not especially raucous, but as blistering as a furnace backdraft against my frazzled nerves. I pressed a hand to my chest. It was clear enough which way I was supposed to go.

I thanked the bouncer and he wished me a good night as I descended into my own personal Boschian hellscape.

*

The room was full of people I didn’t know. They were mostly crowded around the bar, socializing in little tableaus, illuminated by the infernal glow of hanging filament bulbs. There were no naked figures writhing, no demons ravening, no black-eyed creatures glowering. I sucked in a lungful of warm air and tried to be optimistic. With a better mindset, the ambiance could be nice. The golden tone of the light complemented the natural brick walls and the bar’s copper accents. The dimness was just an industrial take on the candle-lit chiaroscuro of a Rembrandt.

As I knocked the last vestiges of melting slush from my high heels, I ran through my mission for the night. Stay at least an hour. Have a real conversation with someone. Get the photo.

The end of the hour felt about a million heartbeats away, and that number just went up as I sized up the crowd. My pulse raced when I imagined myself interjecting in a conversation. But the photo seemed doable.

I just had to find my painting.

The submissions were hung around the perimeter of the place, which meant I could steer well and clear of the bar, although it also meant that no one else was really looking at the art. Each piece was set in a bronze frame. I tried to be nonchalant as I skimmed past landscape after landscape, but a pit was deepening in my chest. The show was themed around the Rideau Falls, and my submission had not been a literal interpretation. Apparently I’d been alone in that. As if I didn’t stick out enough already… This dress was all wrong…

And there it was, presiding over a mercifully unoccupied booth, tucked into the corner of the room. The framing wasn’t doing my work any favours–didn’t match my colours, dwarfed my figures, and took away somewhat from the effect of the trompe-l’oeil curtain in the foreground–but it was here, and it was mine, and it was on display. And I was here, too. A sudden flare of pride sucked the oxygen away from the anxiety.

I pulled out my phone and squared up the shot. Someone caught me by the elbow and I almost jumped out of my skin.

“So sorry,” said the woman who’d caught me, “but we’re asking for no photos to be taken of the art.” She was a glamorous thirty-something. Her sleek, auburn hair was pulled into a bun. Cherry-red lips pressed into a gracious expression, and she held a glass of red wine.

“Oh, God, right. I’m sorry. kocaeli escort bayan I just promised my friend I’d get a picture…” I shrugged, guilty. “It’s actually mine. I mean, I’m the artist.”

“Oh! We haven’t met, but I’m Michelle. And you’re…” She waved a manicured hand as if she was trying to conjure up my name. “Lynn’s barista!”

Michelle. The owner, and a friend of my boss. My heart clenched and I hoped it didn’t reflect in my smile. “I’m Grace,” I said. “So nice to meet you. I wanted to thank you for accepting my piece, and for the invitation tonight. The place looks really great.”

“Of course, hon.” She took my outstretched hand and pulled me into a dainty embrace, kissing my cheeks in turn, which I was not at all prepared for. “Anything for Lynn. And after all, it’s fitting, don’t you think? Starting a new business, showing unknown artists… it’s a night for taking risks.”

Michelle lifted her glass to me. I raised my hand before I realized I had nothing to cheers back with, so I gave her a thumbs-up instead and tried not to wince at my own awkwardness.

“Love the piece, by the way,” she continued, turning towards my painting. “Even if it’s not quite on theme.”

A flush was spreading across my cheeks and I fluffed my curls out to conceal it. My Vermeer reference, the falling curtain, the Rideau Falls… it had all seemed clever a week ago, but now, faced with explaining it to someone else, I was tongue-tied.

“Like I said, risks! And I did owe Lynn the favour anyway.” Michelle patted my shoulder, maybe meaning it to be reassuring. My arms were limp and heavy. “Anyway, hon, I’ve got to make the rounds. But have fun, have a drink… oh, and remember, no photos of the art…” With that, she sashayed back into the crowd, insinuating herself into another conversation.

My dress was too tight. I was as out of place as my painting. The music faded beneath the hammering of my pulse, and I was sure every set of eyes in the place was on me as I slunk away to the bathroom to text Ellie.

send help SOS

Her reply was nearly instant. What happened? Deep breaths dude. I can be there in like 20 mins

Right. Breathing. I closed my eyes and pressed a hand to my chest, focusing on the swell of the air in my lungs. The bathroom smelled of soap and citrus.

No, don’t come. I’m being dramatic. It’s just not my scene. And then I added, in case she decided to ignore me and come anyway, You wouldn’t be able to get in, there’s a guest list.

And you’re on it!! So who says it’s not your scene???

Uhh, the owner? I was talking to her and it made me feel like my painting is all wrong. She just had to accept it because she owed Lynn. Now I wanna go home tbh

Well, she sucks, then. Your painting is fire emoji. Just remember the mission. Once you’re done, you can go home.

remind me again why I have to be here?

Ellie took a long moment to compose her answer. You don’t have to be there. You GET to be there. You DESERVE to be there. Your piece is amazing and you worked fckin hard on it. You’re gonna meet people and make connections and shit’s gonna start happening for you. I know it.

I sighed. If only I could generate some of that energy for myself. but what if I do something awkward tho

Start throwing punches? Pull the fire alarm? Call 911? Ellie suggested.

I muffled a snort with my palm. She was right, of course. As much as my brain was trying to convince me I was stranded in the middle of a life-or-death crisis, there was no real danger in any of the social emergencies I could imagine. I drew in a long breath. maybe I could just hide in the bathroom all night and text you instead

Fake it til you make it, dude. Ellie said that so often that I couldn’t help but read it in her voice. Remember the mission. You got this.

I breathed out, and imagined I was expelling all of my anxious spectres, too. Okay okay. Mission’s on. pray for meeee

I took a moment to adjust myself in front of the bathroom mirror, reapplying my lipstick and rearranging my curls. I looked good–I knew I did. Had I really been telling myself that I stood out in my little black dress? It was the one piece of clothing you could wear to anything.

Ellie was right. I was invited to be here, like everyone else, and even if I didn’t feel it, I could at least fake it for an hour. I checked the time. Just forty-five minutes, now, actually. I was going to get that photo. For Ellie, and for myself. It was my own work, after all; who would mind except for Michelle? I’d just wait until she wasn’t looking.

As I strode back into the bar, holding my head high, I pretended to myself that I’d just arrived. Hadn’t had any disheartening conversations. No anxiety attacks in the bathroom. Michelle was on the other side of the bar, lights glinting off the back of her shiny auburn head. Perfect.

I made a not-so-casual beeline for my painting, so busy keeping an eye on Michelle izmit escort bayan that I didn’t notice my next problem until I almost bumped into it. Someone was standing in front of the booth, leaning forward onto the table, looking at my painting.

Someone very tall, and wearing a suit. Someone with sharp features, whose short, black hair was carefully styled into windswept waves. Someone strikingly androgynous in profile–for a moment I imagined a man, but then she turned to me.

“Am I blocking your view?” She was wearing sunglasses. Her brows arched above the frames as she stepped to the side, inviting me to view my own painting.

“Oh! No, no, I was just, um…” My heart fluttered wildly as I struggled to justify my presence. Fake it ’til you make it. “Just browsing,” I finished, biting back a cringe.

She leaned back against the table, subtle contrapposto accentuated by the immaculate tailoring of her clothing. It made me unsure of what I usually did with my own limbs.

“Are you in the market? A collector, perhaps?” Her long, pale fingers drummed against the surface of the table in a rhythm that matched my racing pulse.

“I’m just, um… a fan of art, I guess.” It was better to be anything but Lynn’s barista, who knew no one here and who had submitted this off-theme painting, which was on display through no merit of its own. Fake it. “But maybe tonight’s the night I start my own collection?”

The anxious flutter in my chest tugged in a new direction when she smiled at me. The expression softened her severe features, turning her a little lively, a little roguish. Wordlessly, she gestured for me to come to her side. I sidled forward, arms wrapped around myself, the weight of faking it already sinking my heart down into my stomach.

“It seems that fate has brought you here, hasn’t it?” She nodded towards my painting. “So why not start with this one?”

I shot a glance at her. Was she messing with me? But her expression gave nothing away, especially with her eyes obscured as they were by her dark lenses.

“Well, it’s not exactly on theme, is it?” I said, somewhat miserably. And as my own critical eye fell on my work, the floodgates opened. “Look at the anatomy of her hand, here. That’s definitely not right. The brushstrokes in the background are rushed. Muddy. And don’t you think the composition is derivative?”

I clamped my lips together. I was giving away too much. Her expression grew evaluative, and remained so when she turned to me. Had the air in here suddenly gotten warmer?

“Don’t you think it’s the most captivating piece here tonight?” she countered, and I swore I could feel her gaze trailing down the lines of my dress.

“I think it’s the last piece here I’d buy.” At least that much was honest. My nascent web of not-quite-lies was already tightening around my throat.

“Hm.” She crossed her arms, and looked back at the painting as if she was trying to see it the way I did. Then she shrugged, and her smile turned a touch mischievous. “Well, if you really think so… how about I bet you that it’ll be the first piece here that I sell?”

“Um. Sorry. Do you work here, or…?”

“No. But if anything, that puts you at the advantage, doesn’t it?” Her smile widened into a full grin.

My heart fluttered, and I could make no objection.

“What do you say? If I sell this painting, will you–” and she tapped my shoulder, playfully–“let me buy you a drink?”

The unexpected contact of her skin against mine was like flint on steel. The spark settled into me and kindled. “Okay,” I allowed, trying to play it cool. “And if you don’t sell it?”

“Anything in particular you’d like?”

Well, when she put it like that… warmth spread across my décolletage. “Whatever I want? That’s pretty generous of you.”

She leaned in, looking around surreptitiously as though she was about to make a confession. Maybe it was that she was so close now, but her voice hit differently when she said, “Actually, I’m just very confident.” Did she have a hint of an accent? I couldn’t place it. Her tone was expressive and rich.

“You’re very… confident,” I echoed. My own voice was high and breathy, and I cleared my throat. “But confidence doesn’t sell paintings.”

“Oh? And what does, then?”

I raised my hands, then let them fall. “Oh, I don’t know. I’m definitely not an expert. But I guess I just think that art needs to find an audience. With no audience, it doesn’t matter how good the sales pitch is, or even how good the art is, from the technical side, you know? The piece has to say something, and it has to say it in a way that somebody gets.”

“And you don’t think this painting’s audience is here tonight?”

I shook my head.

She pondered that. “Well, it does rather look as if the crowd is more interested in the bar than the art, doesn’t it?” she conceded. “And what does the establishment care if it’s selling gebze escort drinks rather than paintings?” A shadow of disapproval flickered across her face. “But I’m sure you’ve heard that all great artists must make the taste by which they’re enjoyed? In my experience, people don’t always know what they want until they have it offered especially to them… and in just the right way.”

She placed her hands lightly on my shoulders. I must’ve been more flushed than I realized–her skin was so cold against mine, and it soothed and ignited me all at once. My heartbeat was a confused flurry. I barely resisted the temptation to lean into her as she turned me to face the rest of the room, while she remained at my back.

“So who will we have as our buyer, then?” She said it just to me, so close that her breath tickled my ear. I was glad that she couldn’t see the flutter of my eyelids.

“I get to pick?” Of course she’d just said as much. Maybe I was stalling so that we could stay like this a moment longer.

“Confident, remember?”

“Then…” Inspiration struck as I set my eyes on Michelle. “Her. In the green dress, with the red hair.”

Hah. There was no way she’d be able to sell anything to the owner of the bar. Triumph buoyed up in me for a second and deflated just as quickly. This was my painting we were talking about here, even if she didn’t know it–I shouldn’t be trying to sabotage a possible sale, no matter how unlikely that outcome seemed.

But it was too late to take it back. She had released my shoulders. “Excellent choice,” she said, with a slight bow, like a maître-d’ taking a wine order. Her smile was in full effect as she backed into the crowd.

She was definitely flirting with me. God, she’s hot. The thought flared up in my body as much as my mind as she weaved her way across the room with easy, masculine poise. And God, I’m an idiot. She can never know that this is my painting.

Michelle was chatting with a small group, but the tall stranger–I realized I’d never gotten her name–interjected gracefully. Michelle turned to her and smiled her cherry-red smile. It didn’t look forced now. The stranger took her empty glass away. Michelle laughed, and their hands touched.

My chest tightened and I reminded myself to breathe. Add irrational jealousy to the pile of emotions that were competing to weigh down my heart. I didn’t even know her–maybe she wasn’t flirting with me after all, and she was just like that with everyone? Or maybe she was flirting with me and Michelle. Either way, it’s not like I had any claim on her… and yet, it seemed she’d staked a very effective claim on me.

The jealousy hunkered down and anxiety leapt to the top of the pile again. The stranger and Michelle were working their way back over to me, idling along the way to view some of the other pieces. Michelle was going to see me and say something to give away my stupid not-quite-lies and I was going to die of embarrassment. Why did I have to pick her, out of everyone here? The blood was already surging in my ears.

But as she approached, Michelle was too engrossed in the stranger’s company to notice me at all. A pale hand skimmed her waist and turned her towards my painting. I wondered if Michelle felt the same spark that I had. The stranger cast me a conspiratorial look behind Michelle’s back, as though this were a little scheme we had devised together, and not a hole I’d dug myself into.

“You’ve curated an admirable showing here,” the stranger was saying, tilting her head to the side as she appraised my work, “but I wished to congratulate you on the acquisition of this piece in particular.”

Michelle tottered on her strappy heels, maybe a little drunk. “An admirable showing,” she repeated. “Yes, I do think so. And this one, well… it does make an impression… although it’s not quite cohesive with the rest of the show…”

“Then consider that a failing of the rest of the show,” said the stranger.

Her voice was quiet, but so sharp–it cut straight through me as though she was speaking against my ear again instead of Michelle’s.

“It is a rare talent to so skillfully transpose the historical to the modern day,” the stranger went on. “The composition here–obviously after The Love Letter–takes on such interesting new dimensions under the brush of a contemporary female artist.”

I repressed a thrill. She’d picked up on my reference.

“Interesting new dimensions…” echoed Michelle.

“Exactly.” The stranger’s hand tightened at Michelle’s waist. “Consider the figures in the original Vermeer–a maidservant delivers a suitor’s letter to her mistress. But here, the adjustments to the poses render their relationship ambiguous. See the gentle brush of the servant’s hand across her mistress’s bare shoulder…”

As she spoke, the stranger trailed her fingers up Michelle’s arm. Michelle shivered, and so did I.

“And their expressions–no longer is one arch and the other guileless, but rather we have the impression of a secret shared between the two.”

The stranger’s hand was under Michelle’s chin. She tilted her away from the painting. Michelle gazed, entranced, into her dark lenses. My pulse hammered in the base of my throat.

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