*** SPOILER ALERT!!! ***
DON’T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T READ CAN’T STOP THE FEELING YET!
If you still want to read it scroll down ⇓
This story takes place six months after Can’t Stop the Feeling ended.
It was Donna’s first Valentine’s Day as a married woman, and she’d hoped for a romantic evening with Duncan. Unfortunately, a Glasgow School of Art faculty meeting meant he was busy, and she was stuck entertaining her sister Mairi, who was visiting from Campbeltown. It was not how she’d planned to spend the evening. And it was going downhill rapidly.
“I’m going to get into so much trouble,” Donna said as she led Mairi down the worn stone steps into the basement of the Mackintosh building. “I can’t believe you talked me into this.”
“You can’t?” Mairi said. “Really? You can’t believe you were talked into this? Say that again so I can film it for Aggie and Isobel.” She held up her phone.
Donna stopped on the stairs below her sister. “Do you want to go to the life drawing class or not?”
She hurriedly tucked the phone back into her jean’s pocket. “Do I want to sit in a room with a hot naked man and pretend to draw him? Yes. I definitely want to do that.”
Donna groaned. She should never have shown her sister the drawings from her last class. The model had been a post-grad student who played rugby in his spare time. To Donna, he’d been a chance to study defined muscle form. To her sister, he was a chance to perv over a hot, naked guy. There was no way this evening was going to end well.
“This is so wrong. Life drawing isn’t about perving over the model. It’s about drawing the human form. Artists don’t even see the model as a person. They might as well be drawing a bowl of fruit.”
“You mean like a banana and two plums?”
“You’re sick in the head. You do know that, right?”
“And proud of it.”
They turned the corner out of the stairwell and headed for the basement studio that housed the early evening life class. The newly painted white walls on either side of them were art free, but that would soon change as students pinned up their work. Then, in another six months or so, they would need a new whitewash and the cycle would start all over again.
“What does Keir think you’re doing right now?” Donna said. “Because you definitely didn’t tell him you were pretending to be an artist just to ogle the model.”
“I told him the truth,” Mairi said. “That I was going to Glasgow to spend some quality time with my sister in order to find out more about her new life as an artist.”
“And he believed you?”
“Keir and I have an understanding. I tell him what I want him to believe, and he has to figure out what the reality is. It’s like a game. It keeps things interesting.”
Mairi’s relationship was a mystery to the rest of her sisters.
“Didn’t he wonder why you weren’t spending Valentine’s Day with him?” Donna wished she’d been spending it with Duncan.
“No. He knows what I think about it.”
She was almost afraid to ask. “Which is?”
“It’s all about sex. You eat chocolate, drink champagne, and talk romantic crap to each other—all in the hopes of getting laid. Keir knows I’m a sure thing, and that makes Valentine’s Day a waste of effort.”
“That has to be the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard,” Donna said sarcastically.
“I should write for Hallmark,” Mairi agreed.
They pushed through the heavy wooden door—scarred and splattered with paint from years of use—and into the plain white, windowless room. There were already several people inside. Some stood chatting, others were dragging their stools into position or setting up easels. They called out their hellos to her and Donna smiled back. There was no way to feel like an outsider in this group. There were eighteen-year-olds, straight from school; and people in their sixties, studying in retirement. There was every background, class and color. And they all had one thing in common—a passion for art.
“Where do we sit?” Mairi stage whispered. “Will the model pose on that stool in the middle? Which way will he be facing? I want to be in front.”
Donna felt her face heat as she caught a fellow student’s eye.
“She’s keen,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. Bernard was a retired postman and a wonderful painter. He’d also seen right through Mairi. So much for her pretending to be an artist.
“She’s my sister.” Donna leaned toward him. “She made me bring her. I don’t think she can even draw a straight line.”
His smile was pure mischief. “Don’t worry. I don’t think she’s here for the art.”
“No kidding…” She turned to find Mairi carrying a stool around the room as she asked everyone which the best place was to set up for a ‘good full frontal.’
“Kill me now,” Donna muttered, making Bernard laugh.
From behind a partition at the back of the room, their model stepped out. Donna let out a groan—it was the same athletic guy from the week before. Ever since Mairi had invited herself along, she’d been silently praying for another model. Any other model.
“If I left now,” she said to Bernard. “Would you mind keeping an eye on my sister for me?”
“Not on your life!” He grinned.
“Wow,” Mairi said to the woman beside her. “This art school doesn’t skimp on the models.” She cleared her throat and smiled at Gareth, their model. “Do you know which way you’ll be facing? I want to get a good spot.”
The post-grad student didn’t smile back. “This is a life class. Every spot is a good one. It’s all about the drawing. If you want to learn, choose a difficult angle, and start with some loose sketches, focusing on general form and light. What medium are you using? Charcoal? Pastel?”
Mairi looked flummoxed as she held up a pencil.
Gareth shook his head. “Charcoal is better for fast sketching. Easier to smudge out the mistakes. Anybody got any charcoal they can give the new girl?”
Mairi stepped toward him. “Between you and me, I’m so new that it’s probably a good idea for me to just observe this week—from the front. I mean, your front. So you can give me tips while I stare at you. I mean study you. In an artistic way.”
She was going to get them killed. As soon as Keir figured out what she was up to, they were dead.
Donna hurried across the room, grabbed her sister’s arm, and smiled apologetically at Gareth. “Don’t mind her. She hit her head on the way here.”
She dragged her sister to the back of the room. “Will you behave? You’re going to get me kicked out. Or worse, a reputation as a pervert. You said you would quietly observe. Nothing else.”
“You know”—Mairi put her hands on her hips—“I don’t think I like this new, assertive Donna.”
“If you don’t behave, I’ll assert my right to drag you out of here by the hair.”
“I’m telling Aggie you said that.”
“Good evening,” a voice called out, and the class turned to find their tutor standing in the doorway.
And she wasn’t alone.
Behind her, arms folded and glares in place, were their men.
“Oh, crap, we’re busted,” Mairi said. “And there aren’t even any windows in here to make an escape.”
Donna wasn’t listening, she was too busy crumbling under Duncan’s stare. She pointed at her sister. “She made me do it!”
“I know,” Duncan said.
“We all know,” Keir said.
“Even me,” Bernard, the fink, added.
“How did you get here so fast from Campbeltown?” Mairi asked, because that was the most important issue at hand. Not the fact Donna had most likely broken a million school rules sneaking her into class. Or that she’d probably made the model feel objectified by doing so.
She shot Gareth an apologetic smile, and he shook his head at her—disappointed. Her stomach clenched. She could cope with anything better than disappointment.
“Rusty,” Keir said with a shake of his head. “I followed you up here after I heard you bullying Donna into bringing you.”
“You listened to my private calls?” Her indignation caused a burst of laughter from the other students. Keir just rolled his eyes.
“Gareth,” their tutor said. “You’re being swapped out this evening. Don’t worry, you won’t lose your money.” She turned to Duncan. “Do you want to do the honors?”
He swung the door open and a tiny, wrinkled man sauntered in. “Meet your new model.”
A cheer went up at the sight of the popular model. There was nothing like drawing someone who wasn’t perfect, and the challenge of Stuart’s lines and wrinkles made an artist’s mouth water.
Unfortunately for her, Mairi wasn’t an artist. “Okay,” she said. “I’m done here.”
“Not so fast, Picasso,” Duncan said. “The art faculty want to encourage your new-found interest in life drawing and we insist that you stay for the whole class. Isn’t that right, Rhonda?” He inclined his head toward the tutor.
“I can’t wait to see your drawings.” She gave Mairi a wide smile.
Mairi headed for the door. “I wouldn’t want to impose, and I should really spend time with my husband. It is Valentine’s Day, and he’s come all this way to see me.”
“Don’t worry,” Keir said as he blocked her escape. “We will be spending time together. Duncan gave me permission to attend class with you and make sure you got the full art-school experience.” He glanced at the old guy. “Which way are you facing? We want to make sure we’re right in front and close enough to see every hair on your chest.”
The old man cackled. “That’s up to the teacher, but I’m sure she won’t mind you taking the front row.”
“Not at all.” Rhonda was clearly enjoying herself.
“Keir.” Mairi batted her eyelashes at her husband. “There’s been a misunderstanding. I was only here to support Donna.”
“Sure you were.”
“Donna,” she called, “tell him!”
“She can’t.” Duncan wrapped an arm around Donna and swept her through the door. “My wife has other plans for the evening.”
“I wasn’t flirting,” Mairi shouted.
“I know,” Keir said. “You don’t flirt. You were ogling. So, now you can ogle Stuart. He’s cool with it, aren’t you, Stuart?”
The old guy winked at Mairi.
The door shut behind them, blocking Mairi’s outrage and everyone else’s laughter. It was suddenly very quiet in the corridor. And much smaller than it had been when she’d walked along it to get to class. Donna wondered if that was because Duncan’s shoulders were unnaturally wide, or if he just grew in size when he was mad.
He cocked an eyebrow at her. “What did we agree?”
She shuffled uncomfortably as she shifted her sketchpad under her arm. “That if I felt I couldn’t say no to someone, if I felt cornered, I’d ask you for help.” She looked up at him. “But that wasn’t meant for my sisters.”
“Angel,” he said on a sigh. “It definitely meant your sisters.”
“Oh.” She studied her feet. “Did I break an art school rule taking her to class?” She pressed a hand to her stomach, sick at the thought.
“No, but we like to keep the classes for art students, not for folk after a cheap thrill.”
Her stomach tightened further. “Do you think the other students are going to be mad at me?” An even worse thought occurred to her, and she felt the blood drain from her face. “Will I be reprimanded for turning Gareth into a sexual object for my sister? Is that assault? Will I be arrested?”
Duncan raised his head and looked behind her. “Gareth?” he called.
Donna almost sank into the floor when she realized the model was behind her. She hadn’t even heard the studio door open.
“Do you feel like a sexual object?” he asked the student.
“Not nearly often enough,” Gareth said with a grin, before sauntering off.
“Gareth seems fine,” Duncan said drolly.
“Did I get you into trouble?” That was the last thing she wanted to do.
“Come here.” Duncan pulled her into his arms, and she felt her stomach settle. “You didn’t get me into trouble.” His voice rumbled through her.
“I’m sorry,” Donna said. “I’ll talk to Mairi and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
“Oh, don’t worry about your sister.” He sounded amused. “Keir’s taking care of her. After an hour drawing Stuart, she’ll be begging you to keep her away from here. I asked him to make sure she got the best view possible, for each and every pose.”
“Was Keir upset?”
He barked out a laugh. “This is the least of the things he has to deal with when it comes to your sister.” He turned them toward the lift. “Come on, you can keep me company while I finish up in my studio.”
It was a subdued Donna that followed him up to the top floor. Through the glass walls that made up the hen run—a passageway that ran over the gallery roofs to the east side of the building—Donna watched the lights of the city flicker in the darkness. It always took her breath away to see so many of them dancing in the night. For a small-town girl, seeing the vastness of the city sometimes made her feel as though she’d been swallowed whole.
Duncan led her to his studio, unlocked the door and pushed it wide. As she stepped inside, the glow of countless candles—almost as many as the lights of the city—met her. She stopped dead at the sight of a picnic blanket in the middle of the paint-splatter strewn wooden floor. There was chocolate cake, strawberries, and champagne. But no roses. Those would always remind them both of his first wife, Fiona. Instead, there was a vase of tall sunflowers, their faces so rich in gold and orange that her fingers itched to touch.
Strong arms wound around her waist, and his chin rested on her shoulder. “I’m sorry I had to attend the staff meeting tonight. I’d planned on bringing you up here after your class. It isn’t anything special, but I wanted you to know that I’d thought of you.” He pressed a kiss to the sensitive crook of her neck. “You’re always on my mind, Angel. Never think otherwise.”
Tears welled in Donna’s eyes as she clung to her husband. She would never get used to having him all to herself. Some days, it felt like she’d been blessed beyond her capacity to handle it.
“It’s perfect,” she said.
He turned her in his arms and cradled her to him. “I thought that after we’d eaten and I’d plied you with champagne, that I could talk you into posing naked for me. I want to see you here, right in the center of my studio, and to immortalize that sight in paint. And then I want to remember it every time I come into this room.”
All she could do was whisper his name.
As his lips descended to hers, Donna thought that Valentine’s Day had turned out so much better than she’d expected it to. And the night had only just begun.