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Reckless In Love

By:Bella Andre & Jennifer Skully

CHAPTER ONE


Charlie Ballard had one hell of an imagination.

Sebastian Montgomery marveled at the garden of creatures fashioned from  junkyard scrap glowing beneath the hot California sun. A magnificent  lion roared, its flowing mane a fabrication of railroad spikes. An  elephant trumpeted-literally, its trunk shaped from two trumpets fitted  together, its body and legs forged from various old musical instruments.  Two rams, their ginormous antlers constructed of rolled corrugated-tin  roofing, were pitted against each other in a battle to the death. There  were smaller works as well-lizards cut from what appeared to be rusted  car doors, and some strange, scorpion-like insects built with nuts,  bolts, screws, and claws formed from the blades of old pruning shears.

Ms. Ballard's artwork spoke to something deep in Sebastian's core that  was as primal as the beasts she'd welded with the blaze of her torch.  Her vision was so clear, so pure, that a sense of awe radiated through  his chest. Awe at the way she put it all out there-her energy, her whole  soul, and every ounce of passion, for everyone to see-and how in her  brilliant hands, metal came to life. Inanimate objects became real.  Became magical.

Her metal menagerie touched his soul, if for no other reason than the  fact that she'd constructed something so momentous from everyday junk.

To most people, this acre lot in the Los Altos Hills area of the San  Francisco Peninsula would look like a junkyard filled with car parts;  tractor seats; saw blades; pitchforks; barrels of nuts, bolts, nails,  and rivets; and metal scrap of everything from ancient barbecue grills  to sewer grates. But Sebastian understood that they were her art  supplies-and were far more important than a green lawn or fancy  landscaping. The fact that her house and detached garage had seen better  days in no way detracted from the genius of the artistry strewn across  the property.

Sebastian removed his suit jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his white  dress shirt as he headed toward the ramshackle single garage, through  which he could hear the screech of welding equipment. His heartbeat was  already well into overdrive from the incredibly beautiful sculptures-and  his fingers were itching to sketch everything around him. He got his  first sight of Charlie standing in beams of sunlight streaming down  through two Plexiglas-covered holes in the roof, her protective face  shield up now and her welding torch off. Sebastian's heart stilled in  his chest with renewed wonder.

Because he finally knew what true beauty was.

Charlie's temples and forehead were dented from the welding mask while  her glossy hair shone with hues of red and gold in the sunbeams  cascading from above. She snapped a restraining hairband loose and ran  her fingers through lusciously messy curls, letting them spill over her  shoulders. Sebastian was instantly caught up in a vision of burying his  hands, his face, his mouth in all that incredible red hair.

Removing a heavy smock that safeguarded her arms and body, she revealed a  pair of stained and faded farmer-style overalls, beneath which she wore  a tank top. Her arms flexed with a fine ripple of muscle, a gorgeous  creation of bone, sinew, muscle, and smooth skin.

Of all the works of art on Charlie Ballard's land, the woman herself was  by far the most stunning, more radiant and fierce than any sculpture  could ever be. So stunning that only one thought remained.

He had to have her.

At last, she turned sparkling green eyes in his direction. "You're  here," she said as if she'd been waiting for him all her life.

And when he answered, "Yes, I'm here," for a moment he actually felt as if he'd discovered his destiny.

That thought was pure whimsy; he'd found his destiny the first time he  stood on a stage and encouraged people to change their lives. But  everything about Charlie Ballard and her creations made him feel as  though he'd walked into a fantasy. One where the normal rules didn't  apply, and the only thing that mattered was passion-passion for both the  art that surrounded him and the woman who'd created it.

Which was why he didn't hold back, didn't bother to act nonchalant. "You're a genius."

Her eyes went wide with surprise at his compliment for a split second,  before she smiled at him. One perfect smile that rocked his world yet  again. "Thank you."

She didn't ask him to tell her which was his favorite piece, didn't  press for more compliments, and he was struck by her quiet confidence.  It was something he'd found to be extremely rare when most people were  desperate for as many ego strokes as they could get.

"Let me introduce myself." He held out his hand, dying to feel her skin against his. "Sebastian Montgomery."         

     



 

"Charlie Ballard."

An electrical charge ran through him as she slid her hand into his.  Perhaps he shouldn't have been so deeply affected. Her grip was firm,  with a ridge of calluses along her palm. She wore no flowery scent, just  the heady aroma of woman and the metals she worked with. His world was  filled with women who glittered with jewels and smelled like designer  perfume. But Charlie Ballard sparkled with life, and all her contrasts  intrigued him. The gorgeous red hair and steel-toed work boots. The sexy  tank top and old overalls. The slightly upturned nose and kiss-me lips  that she'd hidden beneath a welding mask. Lips that were now curving  into a ghost of a smile, as if she'd felt that same zap of electricity  when they came skin to skin.

He nearly asked if he could kiss her. Instead, he forced himself to keep  that question under wraps for the time being. "Is Charlie short for  something?"

"My parents named me Charlotte. But as we all soon discovered-" She held  the baggy overalls out to each side with a grin. "-I was more of a  Charlie."

No, even at first glance he could see she was both-the beauty and the  tomboy. Beneath the drab fabric, he could easily guess at her curves,  the indentation of her waist, the taut length of leg. Again, the urge to  sketch her-and all her magnificent creations-was stronger than it had  ever been for him before.

Sebastian's art broker, Xander Smith, had set up the appointment for  three o'clock. Xander would have attended, but a last-minute crisis  demanded his attention. Now Sebastian was glad he'd had the chance to  see the elephant and the fighting rams for the first time with no one  else around. And he definitely didn't want to share his time with  Charlie.

He'd already told her she was a genius. Reminding himself that going on  about her beauty at this stage in the game would definitely be pushing  things too far, he said, "I'm a bit early, but I'm glad that gave me  time to tour your garden."

She laughed, and the sound was throaty, deeper than he'd expected from a  woman who was almost a foot shorter than he. Granted, he was tall at  six-three, and her work boots added a couple of inches to her height,  but her head still didn't reach higher than his shoulder.

"I wouldn't exactly call it a garden," she said in a smooth, soft tone that only served to stoke his attraction to her.

As they talked, he led her back out into her yard, wanting to see her  beauty amid all the splendor she'd created. "How about a menagerie?"

She smiled again, and he simply couldn't control his response to it, his  body heating up several degrees just looking at her. Just standing so  close. Her smile was as beautiful as everything else about her, even the  lingering dents in her forehead from the face shield and the shimmer of  perspiration on her cheeks and upper lip.

"Now that's a diplomatic term." Her smile was wry as well as beautiful.  Intelligent too. She rested her hands on her hips, her boots planted  apart in the dust and gravel. "Mr. Smith said you liked my dragon."

"Please, he's Xander and I'm Sebastian. And like most art brokers, he  prefers to keep things understated. But I don't. Which is why you need  to know I think your dragon is magnificent."

"Magnificent." She repeated the word as though she was more than a  little surprised by his reaction to her art. She tipped her chin at the  collection in the yard. "Most people call it junk."

Sebastian was impressed by how well she hid any sense of offense at the  word junk. Still, he'd built his career on looking beneath the surface  of people, and he could see that it did, in fact, hurt her. Maybe only a  little, but he knew all too well how the small hurts could add up.  Especially when it came to one's art and creative dreams.

Forcefully pushing away the thought of the dreams he'd given up so long  ago, he told her, "I'm not most people. And I appreciate beauty when I  see it."

"I'll take genius," she said with another smile. "I'll even let you get  away with magnificent. But beauty?" She shook her head. "That's going a  bit too far."

"No, it isn't. Take the elephant, for example. I'm amazed by the way the  instruments fit the contours of the body, the legs, even the ears. How  did you do it?"

"I used the bells from a couple of old sousaphones I found."

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