Breaking the Rules (Page 31)

Breaking the Rules (Pushing the Limits #1.5)(31)
Author: Katie McGarry

“It’s good,” I respond. Very good.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

I comb my fingers through my hair, wishing I did accept his offer for a drink so I’d have something to fiddle with. Hunter Gray is a name I’ve heard several times this summer. He’s some sort of an artistic genius that exploded into the art scene a couple of years ago. Some people at shows mocked him for his success and his indifferent attitude to the art community, and some people called him courageous and gushed about him like he was a rock star. With all that was said, nobody ever trashed his work. It was wildly understood that he is exceptional.

And I told him one of his paintings was wrong. “I’m sorry.”

His sandy-blond hair is a little like Noah’s in the front, but unlike Noah’s, it’s long everywhere else. The waves lick his shoulders. “That’s your name?”

Just crap, he had asked me a question and I spazzed. “No, it’s Echo.” Leaving off the Emerson because I’m not giddy about involving my mom.

He falls back into his seat, causing the wood to squeak. “That’s definitely better than I’m sorry. And the pissed naked guy at your hotel room would be your brother?”

“My boyfriend—Noah.” And he had jeans on.

“Figured. The beautiful girls seem to have those.”

There’s a muttered “Humph” from behind the counter, and while I assess the girl, Hunter keeps his eyes on me. Rushed by the sensation of being on display, I slip my hand along the scars of my left arm. I should have worn the sweater, but I was so mad at Noah that I forgot.

“So…the painting?” I say, circling the conversation back around.

He leans forward and picks up the pencil he’d been drawing with. “Let’s discuss it, Echo with no last name and who must be old enough to travel with her boyfriend. Tell me which would you do—paint in the star, or do what you said and make the area where it’s missing darker?”

Not caring for how he stares at me like I’m announcing the cure for cancer, I grab a napkin out of the dispenser and fold the edges. “What did you intend for it to be?”

“To be the full constellation, but when I tried to fix it last night, I couldn’t. I kept hearing your voice yapping about constellations and how they represent the sum of their parts. But what struck me was when you mentioned a darkness because something is missing from your soul. I realized at three in the morning that I wanted the painting to be that and more.”

My mouth squishes to the side. “Then make that area darker.”

“I can’t.” This guy never tears his gaze away.

“Why not?”

“Because it wasn’t my idea.” He flicks the pencil, and it bounces onto the floor. So he has a conscience and wants permission to use my suggestion. I didn’t know people like that existed.

I toss the napkin in his direction. “I’m officially giving the idea to you. Paint as many dark spots as you want, and I’ll never claim that we had the conversation.”

“What do you do? Paint? Draw? Sculpt?”

“Um…”

“You’re an artist. I can tell. What’s your medium of choice?”

“Painting,” I answer immediately. “I love to sketch. I’ve grown fond of charcoal over the past two years.”

“Are you studying someplace?”

How to explain to an art guru that I scheduled business courses along with the art? “I start college in the fall.”

Smugness radiates with the grin. “Eighteen?”

I blow out a breath in affirmation. Dang it, he got me.

“Who are some of your favorite artists? Dead and alive.”

I watch his body language with every artist I mention. Some surprise him, some he nods at and because I’m just crazy enough to play with fire, I drop one final name. “Cassie Emerson.”

He lifts his chin. “Cassie Emerson?”

I brush away pretend crumbs on the table. “Do you know her?”

“Not personally, but I like her work. How she thinks. Screw it. She’s an artistic genius, who hasn’t received the recognition that she should. Just surprised you know who she is.”

Yeah, well, she sort of gave birth to me and then attempted to kill me a couple of years ago, and now she’s searching for forgiveness. “I’m familiar with her.”

“That’s amazing that you’re a fan of her work. We’ve got some of the same tastes in artists.” He focuses on the table as he loses himself in thought.

A high like being drunk runs through my veins. Hunter doesn’t know who I am. Noah will lose his mind, but this is my opportunity to prove that I have talent without anyone else, especially my mom, interfering. “I don’t have them with me, but I have some sketchbooks and paintings. Maybe one day I could—”

Hunter’s phone pings. He pulls it out and scrolls through it with an arrogance that reminds me of my father. “I want you to paint the constellation Aires for me.”

Air catches in my throat, and I choke. “But…I can’t…you haven’t even seen…”

“I won’t pay you, but if I like what I see, I’ll take a look at the rest of your work, and then we’ll go from there. Deal?”

“But it’s Aires.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said. Aires.”

My lungs collapse, and I clutch the table, hoping to stay upright. It’s my brother’s constellation. It belongs to him and to visit there…to touch that part…to enter past locked doors…I close my eyes, thinking of him dying. What it must have been like for him, what it was like for me to hear of his death.

I open my eyes, and Hunter stands there waiting for an answer, totally unaware of the chaos inside me. Panic builds in intensity, and I swallow to bury the pain—to bury it so deep that the misery never escapes…that it never touches the surface. “I can’t.”

“Echo—” Hunter motions to my white-knuckled fingers “—whatever is going on there, that’s why I want you to paint it. It’s why you had the guts to say to me what you did. I want that emotion in the painting.”

“I said it because I didn’t know who you were.”

“You said it because it was true, and I miss hearing the truth.” Hunter scribbles on one of the napkins then slides it to me. “Here’s the address to my studio in case you forgot where it is. It’s above the gallery, and there’s usually someone else there besides me so you can tell your boyfriend to chill. If you show tomorrow, then I have my answer.”