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Painted On My Heart
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Artist Kellus Hardin let love and loyalty cloud his past decisions, a mistake he definitely won’t make again. Now, lost and alone, he’s left to pick up the shattered pieces of his broken heart while facing the truth of his reality.
Arik Layne exudes power, confidence, and determination. But when an encounter with the guarded artist shakes him to the core and alters all his future goals, he finds more than just his heart on the line.
For Kellus, opening himself to love isn’t an option.
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The shrill ring of his phone should have startled him awake, but Kellus Hardin was just too damn tired to do much more than roll in the direction of the irritating sound and throw a hand out to half-ass search around his mattress for the device. When he came up empty-handed, he managed to turn the other way and do the same. By the time his exhausted sleep-hazed brain identified the phone wasn’t anywhere around him, he heard the chirp indicating a voice mail. He cracked an eyelid and lifted his head enough to look over at the alarm clock. Four thirty in the morning. Seriously? Nothing good could come from a call that time of night. He collapsed back to the bed with an annoyed groan. He’d been asleep less than an hour after working the fifteen before on the pieces he had due for the art gallery opening.
“Fuck,” he growled out, turning over again. He tucked a soft pillow into his side and decided he’d deal with that call in the morning. His exhausted state gave a solid thumbs-up on the plan, and he easily drifted back to sleep. What had to be a mere second later, the ringing started again. Stupid cell phone.
Kellus threw the covers away from his body and darted off the bed, angrier than he’d been in a very long time. He was fucking tired—tired of his fucked-up life and tired of this motherfucker who wouldn’t leave him the fuck alone.
With a vengeance, he zeroed in on the location of the noise. He marched to his laundry basket by the bedroom door and began tearing through the clothes to find the stupid phone, no doubt still inside his paint-spattered coveralls where he’d dropped it not fifty-three minutes ago before he’d finally managed to crawl into bed.
Palming the device, he glared at the caller ID. John. Of course. Who else would call in the middle of the fucking night?
“What?” he shouted as he connected the call.
“Come get him.” A deep masculine voice with a Spanish accent had him pulling the phone from his ear to look down at the screen in confusion.
Wait. Great. Even fucking better—John’s dealer.
“No,” he said firmly as he stood tall and fisted his free hand at his side. His chest bowed in defiance as if the guy on the other end of the phone were right there in his darkened bedroom. “You give him that shit, you deal with him.”
The harsh laugh on the other end of the line held what might have been genuine amusement. “I deal with him and it won’t end well.” The line went dead. Kellus shoved his fingers through his hair to help push the long strands out of his eyes.
“Fuck!” he bellowed to the empty room, spinning in a complete circle, gripping his phone in his hand and punching his fist through the air. Thank God he was alone, because if anybody had witnessed that little outburst he’d have been carted off to the nearest mental facility. He was just so fucking sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Breath heaving as anger and dread coursed through his veins, Kellus stood there, staring absently at his bed. The fatigue of the day settled heavy on his shoulders. He had responsibilities. He couldn’t take on more of John’s bullshit. He jammed the heels of his palms against his tired eyes and released an exhausted sigh. After so many hours holding a brush for the fine details of his painting, his hands cramped with the movement, and the muscles in his neck and back protested the long hours he’d put in today. He needed sleep. More than the fifty-three minutes he’d gotten.
“I’m not fucking doing this again. I warned him the last time. I made it clear. No more!” Kellus sliced the hand still holding his cell through the air with finality. With that decision made, he stalked across the room and tossed his phone on the nightstand. He climbed back in his bed, whipping the covers over his exhausted body.
He hadn’t heard from John in six days.
Six glorious, productive, happy days.
Staring up at the ceiling, unable to get his mind to shut off, he told himself he’d made the right decision. John needed to stay away. Kellus forced his eyelids closed. At this point, he’d still get a few good hours sleep before he had to start his day. The longer he lay there, the more guilt crept in.
It always did.
Images of his best friend came to mind. Happier times. Memories of his and John’s younger days and all the trouble they’d managed to get into. Those thoughts actually calmed his breathing. His mind drifted to the summer of their senior year. He hadn’t thought about that time in so long. He and John had gone to the lake with some friends. A healthy, glowing, handsome John had teased him unmercifully until he had finally agreed to skinny dip…