She heard the music as she ascended the stairs and knew he’d be working. Her heart sped as she hastened her pace. Watching Gregori Ivanov work was a sensual treat. He tended to fall deeply into his work. The building could fall down around him and he wouldn’t notice.There was something incredibly sexy about that. His intensity was a little overwhelming, but in the best sort of way.Once she got to his floor, she didn’t bother ringing the bell—Gary Clark, Jr. was playing so loud Gregori wouldn’t have heard it anyway.She let herself into the front entry of the massive space Gregori occupied. Three stories of windows washed the place in light. He took up a corner of the old building in Pioneer Square. Depending on where you stood, you could see Puget Sound or the redbrick buildings lining First Avenue.She dropped the envelopes and the box she’d been delivering on the counter and wandered into his studio, leaning against one of his worktables to watch him.Pale winter sun gleamed against his bare back. Ink trailed along his spine, over lean muscle. Lines of poetry, mainly in Cyrillic, wrapped around his forearms. Barbed wire marked his ribs, interspersed with more words. When he went shirtless, she’d discovered both his nipples bore silver hoops. He wore fingerless leather gloves, one hand grasping some sort of tool as he prowled around a large metal sculpture he’d been creating for the better part of the past three weeks.His hair, currently scarlet red, stood up in liberty spikes, but other days he didn’t bother with the full Mohawk effect and he put it in a ponytail to keep it from his eyes. On many it would have looked ridiculous. But on Gregori? It worked. Like really, really worked.He wore eye protection, but she knew beneath the goggles his eyes were hazel, fringed with sooty lashes usually at half-mast like he was thinking of something particularly dirty.He worked in jeans so old they bore threadbare spots in all the right places and, though he often went barefoot around the loft, today he wore work boots.In short, he was a visual buffet. And she was really hungry.
He stalked and paused. Bending to tug on something. Or to grab more tools and sharpen a piece. Wren just watched. Fascinated by the way he created.
It went on this way for another twenty minutes until he finally looked up and noticed her there.
He slid the goggles up, a smile marking his mouth. “Wren. How long have you been here?”
His accent was jagged. Like he was. He spoke in staccato bursts, the sharp twists of his words sliding through the air between them.
“I don’t know. Twenty minutes maybe. Half an hour? I brought some paperwork by and a box. Kelsey says you need to sign the papers in the red envelope and get them back to her.” Kelsey was Wren’s cousin and Gregori’s personal assistant.
He often proclaimed to hate signing things and attending to the business side of his art so she wasn’t surprised when he sighed, taking the goggles and gloves off.
Ignoring the sigh, she stepped closer. “Can I?” Wren tipped her chin toward the sculpture.
He shrugged, pleasure mixing through his annoyance. “Sure.”
She took it in. A man, crouched in the grip of briars and something else she couldn’t make out. The metal was polished in some places, hammered in others. Sharp edges fanned out here and there. “Like flames,” she murmured.
“Yes. Exactly.” He moved closer and his scent caught her attention. Sweat, soap, the product he used in his hair. The fuel from the welding stuff he used. It all married together and became essentially Gregori.
“This is brilliant.” Wren wasn’t flattering. It wasn’t a lie. He was a genius. One of those rare few who not only made a living at what he did, but had ascended to art celebrity.
He made a sound. A growl of sorts. “It’s missing something.” They both looked at it for some time longer until he sighed. “Come have tea with me.”
He issued the invitation like a command. He tended to be imperious at times. But she rarely took him seriously, so she let it wash over her and perhaps might even have liked it. A little bit.
“While the water is boiling, sign that stuff or Kelsey will only send me back here.”
They’d known each other for a year or so by that point, she having met him by bringing things to his loft several times a week. Over that time they’d developed a flirty back-and-forth and the more often she came to his place, the deeper the sexual undertones began to dig.
He looked up from where he’d been spooning the loose tea into a pot. “Do you have other things to do instead?”
“Are you asking if I have anything else but bringing papers, checks and doodads to Gregori Ivanov in my life?”
He laughed. “Do you?”
“I do. Shocking, I know, to imagine a world outside running errands for an eccentric artist, but there it is.”
He sniffed, his lids falling as he took in the scent of the tea. “Bergamot. I love it.” His eyes snapped open, gaze homing in on Wren, who’d perched at the nearby table. “What’s a doodad?”
“Little bits of this and that.” At his puzzled look, she got up and moved into the main room. He had a collection of what looked like gears scattered across a shelf. She pointed. “Like this. A generic term for bits of stuff. One of my moms says doohickey or thingamabob.”
“Hmm. I like those terms. I do suppose you bring me all manner of little bits on a regular basis.” The teapot whistled and he turned to deal with it. “There may be something to eat in the fridge.”
She moved to the sleek, stainless-steel work of art that filled her with refrigerator envy every time she saw it, peeking inside. For a supposed wild bachelor, he had a lot of really good things to eat. “Cheese, honey and nuts?”
“Hmm, yes. There are crackers in the cabinet.”
She began to pull things out, pouring nuts into small bowls, hunting down the honey.
Wren was going to art school at Palomar, an arts college. Her messenger job paid part of her bills and had the benefit of being flexible around her classes. She was also working on her newest graphic novel and a few digital side projects. It kept her ridiculously busy, but she was never bored.
“Fine. I’m really digging my autobiographical comics course. I’ve got a digital-imaging class I’m learning a lot from.” She shrugged.
“You should bring more for me to look at. You haven’t in a while.”
It made her uncomfortable. Not to seek his opinion. She respected him as an artist. But she knew others took advantage and she never wanted him to think of her that way.
He had a hot button about it. Being used. It was part of the reason he always wore his reputation as the chain-smoking, hard-drinking, inked-up wild man in bed to keep people back. He shared part of himself with others, but he controlled just how much. She’d rather have this connection, sitting, drinking tea and eating cheese and crackers, than the bored celebrity with the big dick.
“Maybe next time.”
He took the tea to the breakfast nook and sat. She joined him, nibbling on the cheese and crackers while her tea cooled.
“What’s this piece for anyway?”
“A commissioned piece. Rich guy wants it for the front of his office building.” He shrugged.
He always acted like it wasn’t a big deal.
“Nice. That piece will absolutely make the front of any building look amazing.”
He ducked his head a moment, sipping his tea until he looked up again, gaze locking on hers. “Tell me about your work. You don’t only do what you’re told to in class. You had a graphic novel. What’s the status with that?” His tone, to an outsider, would have been imperious. An order given to an underling. Even a slight emphasis on the what you’re told to that made it clear what he thought of her need for school. It was partly the Russian in him, partly the artist thing and partly because he was one of the most supremely self-assured people she’d ever met.
At first, when she’d started delivering things to him and he’d addressed her in such a way she’d thought he hated her. Or that he was a rude asshole. Or both. But after a while she realized it was just his delivery.
When it came to his perception of art school he was most definitely abrupt. He was old school and in his opinion you had it or you didn’t so why waste time in classes? Given his path—self-taught, sold his first piece at fifteen and now routinely sold pieces for six figures—it would have been a waste of time.
But she’d been exposed to so many things in her program. So many paths she could take. She’d learned about types of art and design totally out of her major, but that would serve her anyway. What she did was different from what he did. How she took in information was part of her process.
“I’m still working on it. I’ll have it finished in a few weeks I think.”
“I want to see it. You’re very stingy with it, Wren. Didn’t I just show you mine?”
“Are you offering to show me yours if I show you mine?”
He paused, thinking over what she’d said until his mouth curved into a slow grin. “Ahh, well.” He shrugged but managed to make it dirty and suggestive. “But I did show you mine, didn’t I? Unless there’s something else you’d like to see?”
She blushed straight down to her toes. Flirting with him was big league. “Maybe so. I’ll bring it by sometime.”
“Bring it next time you come. Kelsey always has something else to make me sign so it will be soon enough.”
“All right.” She finished her tea and dusted her hands off. She didn’t want to rush off, but she’d been there nearly an hour and she had work to do. He kept getting a faraway look on his face and she knew he was thinking about his own work.
She carried the dishes back to his kitchen. “Thanks for the tea.” She moved to the entry counter and indicated the envelopes. “I need to run and you need to sign these papers.”
He frowned. “Always with the signing.”
“You have no sympathy. A hard, hard woman.” One of his brows rose as she snorted.
“Kelsey will kill me if I don’t return with these. And, if I have to come back, you have to pay a delivery fee the second time. You sign the papers, she takes care of things and makes your life easier. Seems to me, buster, you need to stop crying and pick up a pen.”
“Other people are nice to me.” He read through the papers, signing where he was supposed to.
“Meh. Stop pretending you’re not business savvy. I know you and your game. As for other people?” She rolled her eyes. “Other people want things from you. I just want your tea.”
“I have better things to offer besides tea, you know.” He waggled his brows and she laughed, though she couldn’t fight the flush building through her belly.
“Yeah? You offering any of that up?”
He signed the last sheet, tucked all the papers back into the envelope and turned to face her. “I’m not sure you have enough time for all I have to offer.”
She stepped close enough to touch the envelopes, which put her just an inch or two away from his body. “Try me.”
The moment stretched taut between them, heating slowly, deliciously. Until he stepped back with a raised brow and a harrumph. “Go on then, Wren. Bring me something more fun next time.”
She took the envelope, tucking it into her bag. “I already bring myself. Nothing is more fun than that.”
One corner of his mouth rose. “I bet.”
She turned, heading out, but paused at the door. “One of these days, you should see for yourself.”