About Say it Louder:
I had a choice—dump my toxic girlfriend, or break up my band.
It should have been easy. But she’s been collecting dirt on all of us for years.
Just when I think I’ve hit rock bottom, a pink-haired street artist rocks my world. They call Willa “the Parking Lot Picasso.” I call her my refuge, my center, my last reason to hope.
When Willa’s life on the streets collides with a sudden spotlight on her art, I’ll stop at nothing to protect her. But when the spotlight turns on my secret shame, she might be my only salvation.
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Patricia snaps my attention back to her with a tiny sharp click of her tongue. “They’re calling you the Lady Banksy. Two of my clients called me this morning and asked me to buy your pieces. So you’d better figure out whether you’re in or you’re out, because otherwise the world’s going to do that for you.” She drops her voice. “And I promise you, they’ll move on.”
Dave moves Atlantic Arts from beneath Patricia’s fingertips, closing the magazine and taking control of the conversation. “If you’re interested in Willa’s pieces, someone else will be interested too. No need to hard-sell her.”
Patricia’s lips thin. “That wasn’t my intention. I just have to know if she’s really serious before I go out on a limb to make this happen.”
“We’ve got a cancellation next month. At the gallery where I’m a partner. I think you could be the right pick to roll out to the world in September.”
My mouth drops open. “That’s not even three weeks away!”
“Which is why I want to see what you have that’s salable.” She pulls her phone out of her bag. “Immediately.”
Dave tells Patricia to wait a moment, grabs my elbow, and hustles me back to Righteous Ink’s break room. “This could be your big break,” he whispers.
“You think I don’t get that?”
“Then why are you stalling?”
“The big break is the magazine. That’s something no one can take away from me now. If a gallery hangs my paintings, there will be critics. I might not even sell anything”—my voice rises to a squeak—“and I could be a flop before I really start.”
Dave’s dark eyes crinkle at the corners and he places firm hands on my knotted shoulders. His fingers sink into the muscles on either side of my neck, his expression softening, his voice gentle. “Willa, you’ve already started.”
I draw a shaky breath. “But this is a whole different level.”
“Exactly.” His hand cups my cheek and I still, feeling a thrum of energy between us. “Listen to me. I’ve been there. It’s scary to take that big leap, to put your art out there and hope someone wants it. You’re flying without a net now, girl.”
I raise my eyes from a safe spot on his chest to his face, and his expression nearly takes my breath away. He believes in me. In my art. After years of no one believing in me, after not believing in anything but what I could touch and keep and take to the bank, he’s asking me to believe.
“Can’t what? Can’t make art? We both know that’s bullshit. What can’t you do? Because right now I’m positive you can do anything.” Now both hands cup my face and he pulls me close, his lips reaching for mine. I hold my breath and let my eyelids close.
Softness. Sweetness. Hardness. Want. This is our real first kiss, our do-over instead of the crazy cover-up in the alleyway, and I savor it the way I savor really good food when I’m hungry.
I’m starving. For his lips and his tongue and his touch. His tongue traces the seam of my lips and I open, I pull him closer to me and beg with my mouth, beg to be devoured, to lose myself in need.
But Dave pulls back too soon. His lips form a gentle smile and he steps back, tilting his head toward the break room door to remind me of who’s waiting.
My chest heaves in the space between us. Breathe, Willa. Just breathe.
“Do it, girl. Take a risk.”
I know he means the art, but in my mind, the risk of wanting him is entwined with the risk of putting my art out there in a gallery. I have no business liking this guy, this rock star from another world, this man who’s so fresh off the relationship train that his head’s still spinning in rebound-land.
It’s a risk.
Heidi Joy Tretheway is a sucker for campfires, craft cocktails, and steamy romance in books and real life. She sings along with musicals (badly), craves French carbs, and buys plane tickets the way some women buy shoes.
Her first career as a journalist took Heidi behind the scenes with politicians, rock stars, and chefs, all of whom inspire her stories. Heidi Joy is currently working on her tenth book from her home in southwestern Washington.
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