Authors: Ruth Clampett
Work of Art Book 3~The Masterpiece
Copyright © 2015 by Ruth Clampett All Rights Reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Cover Photography: David Johnston
Cover Design: Jada d’Lee
Cover Models: Michael Senich, Patricia Ashley
Editors: Angela Borda, Janine Savage of Write Divas and Janell Parque
Interior formatting: Robert Reid at 52 Novels
To you, dear reader
for if you’re reading
this final book of the trilogy
I know you’ve held
Max & Ava in your heart
And for that
You are forever in mine
Art must be an expression of love or it is nothing.
he way I see it, I have two options. I can take Max’s phone out to the balcony and hurl it into the ocean, just to even the score. Or I can find him downstairs and throw my shattered phone at him. If my aim is good, nailing him in the head could be far more satisfying than the splash before the phone sinks to the bottom of the ocean. My initial devastation over my boyfriend’s outburst has flourished into a fiery rage.
As my fury simmers, I can’t focus on any reasonable options for dealing with Max since he intercepted a text of mine and then destroyed my phone in a fit of anger. I look down at my screen and my hand tightens around the edges. I drag my fingernail across its surface, feeling the crackle of every break in the glass. My nerves are equally shattered.
I perch on the edge of the bed and dig my fingers into the bedspread. I seriously doubt I have the patience tonight to go another round with my dramatic boyfriend. I take several deep calming breaths before forcing myself to face him. After searching the first floor, I find him leaning over the patio railing that faces the ocean. His shoulder and back muscles tense when I approach, and his grip on the wood looks as if he’s going to tear the top rail off its posts.
I let out a long sigh and he flinches, then scowls and grits his teeth. The edges of his jawline are sharply rendered, despite the faint light.
Something about his barely contained aggression changes the tone of my approach. I step toward him and hold up the phone.
“Hey, Max. I got a text a few minutes ago, and I’m having trouble reading it. Perhaps you can tell me what it says.”
His steely glare moves over me before dropping down to my phone’s screen. It shines its useless gray light on his face.
“Don’t play with me, Ava. I’m not in the mood.” He turns back to the ocean.
“Really? Not in the mood, huh? Imagine that.” My voice is laced with sarcasm as I set the phone down on the railing. “Are you at least going to tell me who the text was from?”
“You know who.”
“Actually, no, I don’t.”
He glances down at the phone and then back at me with narrowed eyes. “I’m not up for this; you need to back off,” he says in a dark voice.
“Oh, I will. Believe me, I don’t even want to be here having this ridiculous argument, but first I need to know if you’re sorry for being such an ass.”
He kicks the rail. “I’ll tell you what…I’m sorry for leaving you alone at that party.”
Ah, so Travis must be the one who texted and blew our happy, calm mood.
“So, you’re not sorry for busting my phone
being such an ass?”
“Are you sorry?” Max growls.
I throw my hands in the air. “I have nothing to be sorry about!”
“Well, we’ll just have to see about that, won’t we?”
His hands grip the railing even tighter. This is going nowhere fast. I pull my shirt tighter around me and go back in the house. As much as I want to get in my car and leave, I know that isn’t the best choice.
I also know I’m wound up and can’t just sit around and wait for him to cool off so we can talk. I pace the hallway a few times before I get the urge to take a walk on the beach. Who cares that it’s past midnight? The moon is almost full, so I won’t be stumbling blindly.
I slip out the front door, march down the drive, and finish buttoning up Max’s shirt that I’d thrown on. I’m almost at the gate to the beach when his voice thunders from up above.
“What in the hell are you doing?”
“Taking a walk!” I yell.
“Are you crazy? Come back here!”
I ignore him, swiftly punch in the security code, and swing the gate open wide.
To hell with him!
I march along the shore and when the tide rises up and laps against my feet, I pause and take a deep breath. I’m glad to be away from the explosive tension back at the house, and my fury starts to calm.
From this viewpoint, the world looks black and white with hints of the silver moonlight outlining the bumps in the sand and the silhouette of houses beyond the Malibu shoreline. I walk a little further to the section of the private beach where houses are spread farther apart, so there are dark patches across the sand with no ambient light.
The stark silence echoes in my mind. Even the ocean seems quiet. I pull Max’s shirt lower on my thighs and wonder why a midnight walk on a deserted beach seemed like a good idea. Everything is starting to look a little creepy.
I hear something behind me and my stomach lurches. I jump back when I see a figure approaching. As I try to decide whether to scream, run toward the house, or both, he steps into a patch of light from a neighboring house. It’s Max, his gaze piercing and wild.
“Where the fuck are you going?” he yells.
“I refuse to be treated like this!” I fire back before I continue along the shore.
With his long gait, he catches up with me a moment later and grabs me by the arm. “Where, Ava?”
“Quit being a bully and let go of me!” I insist, while trying to shake my arm free of his grasp. “I’m taking a walk.”
“In the middle of the night, half naked? Are you nuts?”
I look down at my shirt and realize that even though I’m covered, I don’t have panties on. The length of beach in the distance now feels black and looming. But my pride overrides my logic.
“With the way you’re acting, it’s safer out here than back at your place.”
“Ava,” he groans, as he lets go of my arm and turns his attention back to the house. He lets out a loud sigh, and before I realize what’s happening, he sweeps me up in his arms.
I kick my legs futilely as he marches through the sand, retracing our steps.
“Let me down!”
He shakes his head before rolling his eyes. “I need to look out for you. You aren’t thinking clearly.”
“That’s rich coming from you,” I snap, trying harder to wiggle out of his arms, to no avail. He just tightens his grip in response, and after a few more kicks, I stop struggling and let my body go limp. As he holds me against his bare chest, it occurs to me that we must look like the cover of a romance novel. I’m pretty sure it’s one I wouldn’t want to read.
By the time we reach the gate to his house, he’s winded. When he squeezes his eyes shut and lowers his head, I push hard against him and he finally lets me go.
“You’re so dramatic,” I huff and yank the shirt back down my thighs.
I don’t look him in the eye, but I can hear his ragged breath.
I’m halfway up the stairs to the gate when I notice he’s frozen in place.
His eyes are still closed. “Max?” I call louder, my tone softening when I notice the look on his face. All of his features are sunken with defeat.
I go back downstairs. “What?”
He shakes his head and remains silent as he folds his arms over his chest.
I yank his sleeve hard. “Let’s go up to the house and just forget about all of this bullshit. Okay?”
When he doesn’t respond, I rest my hands on his shoulders. “We need to get past this. Nothing is going on, I swear.”
He nods and leans closer. “So, I was wrong? But—”
“No buts. You’re my man, and I sure as hell don’t want to be with anyone else. You have to trust me. I trust you.”
“I just…” His words catch in his throat and he reaches for me. His body is shaking, and it unnerves me.
I let him hold me as I try to figure out what to say or do. I take a deep breath. “We’re both so tired and overwhelmed, we aren’t thinking straight. Let’s just go back to bed. Okay?”
His grip tightens, pulling me closer, before he finally relaxes and drops his hands to his sides. “Dylan just got me so worked up earlier, and then when I saw that text, it pushed me over the edge. Now, I’m not even sure if I read it right. I’m sorry—I’ll get you a new phone tomorrow.”
Later, as I lie in his arms, I realize that sometimes it’s better to pick your battles and just let some things go. Hopefully, my careful reassurances before he falls asleep will convince Max to do the same.
The next day, I continue along that line of thought as he drives me to the phone store and shells out the money for my new phone. Even later, when my contacts reload and I finally see that the midnight text was from Travis, he remains silent. The way he pauses and takes a deep breath before he speaks makes me think he’s focusing on staying calm. I grab his hand and squeeze it tightly before I slip my phone inside my purse without reading the message.
But questions gnaw at me as we leave the store. Why in the world would Travis text me late at night? If he only knew how much trouble he’s caused me. I know I need to text him back, but I decide to wait until early evening when I’m back at my place.
I pick up my phone and then set it back down again three times before finally having the courage to read the message that upset Max so much.