The back room
Lana Alvarado took another glance around the art gallery, observing the display of her large, canvas-printed photographs for any needed adjustments as the seductive music started to softly play throughout the studio. The native San Diegan gallery owner, David waited for her nod of approval before he turned down the main lights to set the mood for her showcase. She took in the ambient glow that shown through the front floor to ceiling windows, courtesy of the mid-May sunset. While Lana generated a large portion of her income from her landscape and travel photography, her true passion lied here, within her erotica photography. Her first erotica showcase took place a little more than a year ago and she was quickly gaining a substantial local following in the San Diego area. She knew that there would be a few large Los Angeles based collectors travelling to the show tonight, and she wanted everything just perfect. She even brought in one of the best caterers in the area to serve hors d’oeuvres and the guest’s choice of champagne or scotch.
As the doors opened, Lana and David were quick to graciously welcome the guests upon arrival. Some faces were those of which she recognized, and some were new to her. The crowd that began filtering in was mostly high-end, being that Lana was able to put a decent price on her photographs due to their increasing popularity. Her lips curved into a grin as her best friend Katie Morales and her husband Mark stepped in and she hurried over to greet each of them with a hug. Lana grabbed two glasses of champagne from one of the waiters, passing one to Katie as they watched more and more art enthusiasts fill the gallery.
“Lan, this is amazing! I don’t know how you manage to do it!” Katie smiled as she took a glance around the gallery.
“She’s right, the way you seem to capture the art of sex is really incredible,” Mark agreed with a nod.
“Mark, we all know you’re really only here to appreciate my models’ breasts,” Lana quipped teasingly, and the three of them began to laugh.
“So, where’s the juicy stuff?” Katie questioned with a wag of her eyebrows.
“In the back room,” Lana replied, nodding towards the private gallery area. “I figured that the Lover’s Lust collection only caters to a portion of my regular customers, so I didn’t want to just throw pictures of penises and vaginas at everyone.”
“Wasn’t that weird? Taking such intimate pictures while they were actually doing the dirty?” Mark cringed. Lana shrugged with a small smirk.
“Love is a beautiful thing,” she answered, glancing around the room. “Well, I’m going to go mingle. Find me before you two leave,” she told them, both nodding in response.
Lana spent the next hour talking to the customers, some of which had purchased pieces of her work before, and some who were experiencing it for the first time. The response to her new collection of intimate moments was overwhelmingly positive, and her photographs were selling faster than they could keep track. She was beyond shock when one of LA’s finest gallery owners approached her, offering her a spot on the opening night of the 2016 LA Art Festival. Being part of the festival meant she would be introducing her work to international collectors and exposing herself to a whole new customer base. Just as the gallery owner dismissed himself to the men’s room, she looked over to see Katie and Mark heading towards her, along with a man she thought looked familiar. Familiar or not, his muscular build, dark hair and naturally tanned skin made her want to know him better.
“Lana, I want you to meet a friend of mine, Dylan MacNamara. Dylan is projected to be one of today’s best mystery and suspense writers,” Mark introduced them with a smile.
“That would be why you look so familiar,” Lana smiled as she moved to shake his hand. “I’m Lana, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” she stated as she continued to smile. To her surprise, Dylan took her hand in his and brought it to his lips, brushing a light kiss to the back of it.
“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you,” he greeted softly as his lips softly curved into a half-smile, pulling her into a brief trance-like state.
As his eyes met hers, all of the chatter, music, and sound of clinking glassware faded out. His stare was intense, and she fought to resist the urge to squirm under his gaze. She felt the heat spread throughout her body as her cheeks flushed and her heart start to race at the touch of his skin against hers. As the feeling continued to linger for a moment, she envisioned his delicious-looking lips caressing the small of her neck and traveling south.
“Lan, we’re heading out,” Katie’s voice quickly pulled her from her thoughts. “Congratulations on the show, this is truly incredible!” She exclaimed with a grin. Lana quickly pulled her friend into one more hug before parting ways. Lana took a deep breath before smiling back at Dylan.
“Could I possibly be honored to learn more about these beautiful photographs from the photographer herself?” Dylan asked softly, flashing her a million-dollar smile.
“Of course,” she replied, her lips curving up sweetly as she grabbed two more glasses of champagne.
She offered one of the glasses to Dylan and he gladly accepted, his fingers brushing against hers as he took the glass. A jolt of electricity sizzled through her at the simple brush of his fingers, quickly bringing her body into full awareness of the effect he was having on her. She tried to shake it off and focus on showing him around, forcing herself to ignore the feeling and push the naughty ideas out of her head. Every time a man had an immediate effect on her it ended badly. She had enough problems to deal with, she didn’t want to bring anyone else into them.
The dim red glow from the lights meant to intensify the experience danced over their skin as pair stepped into the Lover’s Lust exhibit. The photographs were all printed in black and white, and to describe them as sensual wouldn’t even touch what they really were. Dylan took a look around at the pictures that surrounded him and he inhaled deeply, the images of pure, raw sex saturating the walls. His eyes settled on a single photograph, a man and woman completely entangled in the throes of passion. The bedding was damp and disheveled as evidence of a passionate romance. The woman was on her back which was arched off the bed as the man hovered over her, tugging on her nipple with his teeth. Though her leg was bent so the most graphic detail was hidden, it was clear that his fingers were buried inside of her. The woman was using one hand to cup her other breast while the other was clenching his hair. Her head was thrown back and her face was portraying pure ecstasy as she appeared to be crying out in pleasure. Lana noticed his captivation by that photo and smiled in satisfaction as she sipped at her champagne.
“How do you catch a moment like that?” He questioned, clearing his throat as he realized his voice had been dripping with lust. “I mean, they’re actually having sex, right?”
“It’s more than sex,” Lana stated matter-of-factly. “I photograph real couples, in their own bedrooms, as they genuinely make love.”
“I might choose a different four-letter word when it comes to getting a bit rough,” he quipped, looking over at her. She shrugged, biting her lip and flashing him a seductive smirk.
“My argument is that if the couple is truly in love, any form of sex, whether it be a passionate encounter, or a rough fuck could be called making love,” she pointed out. “Do you disagree?” She asked. He shifted his weight, squirming under her gaze before taking a sip from his glass.
“I guess I always considered making love something sensual,” Dylan countered.
“Rough sex can be sensual. A woman totally putting her trust in her partner as he takes her in every way imaginable is very sensual,” she explained. He shifted again.
“You do have a good argument.”
“Have you ever experienced a love like that?” She asked, carefully.
“I don’t think so. Have you?” He questioned, curiously.
“Once, a long time ago, and then the relationship went to shit,” she drained her glass as her mood suddenly shifted.
“They always do,” he sighed, draining his glass as well before they turned and headed back out to the main area of the showcase.
Lana spent a few more minutes getting to know Dylan before being pulled away to chat with a prospective buyer. Being pulled away from him was probably a good thing, anyway. He seemed to become more interested in her throughout their discussion, and she was interestingly more attracted to him with each passing moment. As much as she needed a night with a handsome man, she knew it would be better for both of them if she would keep her distance.
By the time the show wrapped up Lana sold nearly everything that was on display. She spent a few minutes talking to David about the 2016 LA Art Festival before stepping outside and taking a deep breath of fresh, ocean air. The gallery was perched on the hillside in downtown San Diego, and though it didn’t sit right on the beach, it had a great view of the ocean. Lana stopped to take a moment to appreciate the distanced view of the waves and the sound of the breeze blowing through the palm trees before heading to the parking lot and climbing into her black Mercedes-Benz. Thanks to her success over the past year she had been able to purchase the car she had always dreamt of.
It was a short 30-minute drive to her ocean-view condo in La Jolla. She lived just above the coves where kayakers and scuba divers spent their days exploring in the southern California sunshine. She pulled into the underground parking garage and set the alarm on her car as she headed for the elevators. She startled as the voice she frequently heard in her nightmares spoke her name.
Nathan Schmidt was an extremely cruel man. Unfortunately, Lana had fallen for his Prince Charming act before realizing how much of a beast he really was. She had moved 3 times since splitting up with him, obtained a PFA against him, and had even attempted to press harassment charges at one point. The problem was that he held the reputation of being one of San Diego County’s most prestigious defense lawyers. He either had befriended or paid off anyone that could get in his way.
“Lana,” he said softly again, causing her to feel nauseated.
“Go away, Nate,” she demanded.
“Please, I just want to talk,” Nathan pleaded as she sped up, quickly pressing the Up arrow key for the elevator. “You can’t run from me forever, Babe.”
“I’m not your Babe,” she spat, hitting the button again. “I haven’t been yours for over two years, for some reason you can’t seem to get that through your thick skull.”
“Come on now, don’t be that way,” he put on his best charming smile.
“Go fuck yourself,” she growled.
The next thing she knew Nathan had grabbed her arm and threw her against the wall, holding both of her arms down. Lana struggled against him, staring him in the eye and refusing to show any signs of weakness. His lips went to her neck as he began trailing kisses down and across her collar bone. The elevator door finally opened, and she quickly kneed him between the legs, causing him to let out a strangled yelp and release her. She wiggled free from him and a ran inside, repeatedly pressing the button for her floor. The door began to close, and Nathan grabbed it. The doors stopped and began opening up again as he tried to breathe through his pain.
“You stupid whore!” He managed to yell.
Lana responded out of reflex, cocking her fist back and punching him in the nose as hard as she could. Nathan backed up, blood now gushing from his nose as the elevator doors finally closed again and she leaned back, sighing in relief as she started to ascend. Her eyes started welling up with tears and she quickly brushed them away. She refused to let him get the best of her. Once she was safely inside of her condo with the door locked she changed out of her dress into something more comfortable before pouring herself a large glass of red wine and going to sit outside on the balcony.
After a restless night with little sleep Lana got up with the sun rise, heading to Pacific Beach. She was hoping to catch some photos of the beach just as the sun brightly shone against the golden California sand. She had recently accepted a contract for a Southern California living magazine. The issue was due to be released in August and she had to have all her photos in by the end of June. The timeframe gave her about six weeks to take pictures, pick out the best of them, edit them, and turn them in. Thanks to her early-bird punctuality she was able to get a parking spot close to the beach. She slung her camera bag over her shoulder, quickly finding an area that had a great view of the pier to the right and the cliffs to the left.
Lana took pictures for close to three hours, starting with landscape pictures as the sun just started to reflect off the water and ending with shots of the surfers with the pier in the background. Once she was happy with what she had been able to capture she packed up her camera and put her sunglasses on, burying her toes in the sand as she sat on the beach and looked out at the water. She found nothing more peaceful than listening to the sound of the waves hitting the beach. The shoreline quickly became filled with happy couples, families, and joggers taking advantage of the day. Lana hadn’t even realized she was smiling until she was pulled from her thoughts by the familiar voice.
“I would have thought photographing a nude beach would be more your style,” the deep, sultry voice from the previous night spoke, sending another surge of electricity from her head to her toes.
“And I would have never thought I’d see you at the beach at all,” Lana smirked, turning her head to see a shirtless, perfectly tanned and toned Dylan. “Aren’t all writers supposed to be tortured, alcoholic introverts?”
“Tortured? Yes. Alcoholic? Depends on the week I’ve had. Introvert? Not so much. I only tend to sequester myself when I’m trying to crank out another novel. I just submitted my last book to my editor the other day. I usually take a break until it goes to publishing.”
“Sounds, like an interesting life,” she laughed softly, her eyes briefly landing on the tattoo on the left side of his chest. It depicted what looked like a Celtic tri-pointed symbol.
“Not as interesting as yours, I’m sure,” he teased back, pulling her attention away from the ink on his skin. “Do you mind?” He asked, nodding to the spot on the sand next to her.
“Not at all,” she shook her head, moving her camera bag to her other side.
Dylan sat down next to Lana in the sand looking out over the water. He had just finished with his morning run as he came across her. His first thought was that she was even more beautiful than he remembered. The morning rays giving her sun-kissed skin a beautiful glow and bringing out her natural highlights against her dirty blonde hair. It was as if fate had brought him back to her after meeting her the night before and not asking for her number. Aside from the fact that her show that had been quite sexually charged, he was sensing that she knew how to get a man right where she wanted him. There was something different about her, but he wasn’t able to put his finger on it just yet. He was getting the vibe from her that she was a free spirit at heart, but something was holding her back.
The pair continued to chat for a bit before Dylan asked her if she wanted to grab a bite to eat at one of the nearby breakfast shops. Lana had only consumed a small cup of coffee from her local coffee joint prior to coming out to the beach, so she agreed to go knowing she should probably nourish her body with something other than caffeine. At least this is what she was telling herself. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the man was attractive, shirtless, and had a gorgeous smile to match his bright blue eyes.
Dylan had rented a small beach cottage for the week and Lana agreed to walk back with him, so she could stash her camera somewhere safe and he could put on a shirt. He explained to her that he lived along the canal in Venice Beach but had traveled to San Diego for his foster brother’s bachelor party and wedding. She asked him about where he grew up and he explained that he had been in and out of foster homes for most of his childhood, but the people he considered his family were the ones that fostered him from age 15 to 18. Lana could tell that the topic made him uncomfortable, so she quickly changed it by asking about his books.
As they started their trek down the beach he explained to her that he had written a few novels, the most well-known being Reap What You Sow which had landed a spot amongst the other New York Times bestsellers. When she asked what it was about he told her only that it was about a child who had been neglected and was determined to find his family when he got older. He added in that if she really wanted to know what it was about she should read it. She teased him, playfully accusing him of only wanting her to spend her money for his profit.
When they reached the restaurant, they ordered at the counter before taking a seat outside and waiting for their food. Dylan had attempted to pay for both of their meals, but Lana insisted on paying for hers and he didn’t fight her. He was finding it attractive that she was making a point of letting him know that she didn’t need to be taken care of. He also considered it a challenge.
As their food made it to the table, Lana was telling him about her childhood in hopes that he would want to open up more about his. She explained to him that she had a younger brother, and her father’s family had immigrated from Mexico, but he had grown up in the U.S. when his mother moved there while she was pregnant with him, and that her mother was a Northern California native. Her father was a police chief and her mother was a hospital administrator and they had moved to San Diego many years ago for a job offer that her mother had received. After she had let him in a bit more by telling him this, he opened up and told her that he had never met his father and his mother had passed away in a car accident when he was four. He explained that due to having an unstable childhood which resulted in behavior issues, he was bounced around between foster homes until his last family gave him the patience and love that he needed to thrive.
They sat and talked for close to an hour before heading back to the beach house. By the time they reached it Dylan knew he wanted Lana in the worst way. She was absolutely gorgeous, and her bright green eyes were captivating. She seemed to have an incredible personality, and he could stare into her eyes for days. They stepped inside and she flashed him a small smile. He decided to make his move and slipped his arm around her waist, pulling her up against him.
“Has anyone told you lately that you are incomparably beautiful?” He asked just above a whisper, using his other hand to brush the hair out of her face.
“I don’t know that anyone has ever put it quite like that,” she breathed, resting a hand on his strong chest. His proximity was causing her to nearly go weak in the knees.
Lana felt his warm breath against her skin and she closed her eyes as she took him in. He smelled like a combination of sandalwood and cotton despite not having showered since his run. His hand came up to cup her cheek and she felt him lean in and pause before brushing his lips to her neck. The light scruff from his 5 o’clock shadow grazed against her cheek, making her acutely aware of her senses. His lips traveled to the sensitive area just below her ear as she started to melt into him. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked up at Dylan with a glazed-over expression before his lips fell onto hers and he moaned softly into the kiss. Lana initially started kissing him back, but she quickly snapped back into reality as she felt her cell phone vibrate in her back pocket. She gently pushed against his chest, pulling away from the kiss with a sigh and running her hands over her face.
“I’m sorry, Dylan. I can’t do this,” she explained, almost shamefully.
“Do what? It was just a kiss. It doesn’t have to go any farther than that,” he smiled. She began shaking her head and took a step back.
“You don’t understand. I can’t do any of this. I come with too much baggage and it’s not fair for me to involve you in my problems,” she tried to reason, reaching for her camera bag on his desk.
“It can’t be that bad, Lana. We all come with baggage,” he countered, reaching for her hand. She started shaking her head again, promptly pulling her hand away.
“I’m sorry, I just can’t,” she replied softly. “You’re not in the cards for me, Dylan,” she protested, quickly heading for the door.
Dylan was so caught off guard he didn’t know what to say. He watched her leave, staring at the door for a moment before moving to sit on the edge of the bed. He let himself fall back and rubbed his hands over his face in frustration as he laid there. He should have known not to come on so strong when she was seemingly somewhat guarded. He should have known that she wouldn’t be hard to scare away.