Four low benches upholstered in black leather ran down the center of the room, and she blinked when she finally noticed the man sitting on one of them. In contrast to the butler’s formality, Carlisle was dressed casually in dark jeans and a black shirt with the first few buttons undone, making him blend into the bench itself. His long, dark hair was pulled back in a low ponytail, emphasizing the angular planes of his face and his piercing green eyes. He was younger than Violet had expected him to be, perhaps in his mid-thirties, and when he stood up, she instinctively shrank back. In contrast to her own short stature, Carlisle had to be at least six feet tall, and he loomed even from halfway across the room, his dark shirt unable to conceal the strength of his upper body. He didn’t look like an art collector, she decided as he approached her. He looked like a predator, and Violet had a feeling that she was in over her head.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said politely, extending his hand.
Telling herself that she was being ridiculous, Violet reached out, feeling a jolt not unlike an electric shock when she felt the warmth of his skin through her glove.
Looking down at their clasped hands, Carlisle’s mouth twisted at the sight of her glove. “Clever,” he approved.
Remembering why she was there, Violet cleared her throat and took a step back, fidgeting with her gloves. “How are we going to do this?”
“There’s no need to rush. Take your time and look around. Can I offer you something to drink or eat?” he asked.
The offer of food felt like a punch to the gut. One look at her should make it obvious that she wasn’t missing any meals. Violet wondered if he was disappointed by the reality of her. “I’d rather get started,” she said more sharply than she’d intended.
“As you wish,” Carlisle agreed easily.
Gesturing to the paintings that surrounded them, he said, “You will notice sticky notes on every frame. The color of each note corresponds to the painting’s value. We’ll start with the yellow notes and reserve the more valuable paintings for later in the proceedings. Once you’ve removed an article of clothing, pick the painting you want and claim its tag. Those will be the paintings that will go on display at your museum.”
He’d clearly put thought into this, and Violet found herself wondering if he made a hobby of asking women to strip for him in exchange for art. Somehow, she couldn’t believe it. When a man looked like Ian Carlisle, he hardly had to bribe women to take their clothes off for him. “Why are you doing this?” she blurted.
He resumed his seat on the bench and raised his eyebrows. “I thought you wanted to borrow my paintings for the museum.”
“I do, but that’s not what I mean,” she tried to explain. “I mean, why me? You could lease them to us and make some extra money. Why do you want me to strip?”
Carlisle shook his head. “I have plenty of money, Miss Fabre. I don’t need any more. Money doesn’t interest me. I’m interested in art—beauty. That’s what this is about.”
“Beauty?” Violet snorted as she looked down at herself. “You’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“Would you prefer I called off our deal?” Carlisle asked in a silky tone.
Part of her wanted him to do just that to spare her the humiliation of baring her body to a man who surely had his pick of supermodels. However, this was also the best chance she’d ever have to save the museum, and she couldn’t let it slip away. “No. I don’t want you to do that.”
Carlisle nodded. “In your own time, Miss Fabre.”
Inside her shoes, her toes felt as if they were frozen. Carlisle was watching dispassionately, viewing her with the same polite interest with which he might regard a painting from a lesser artist. Cheeks burning, Violet ripped off her left glove and cast it to the floor at her feet, hating his infuriating calm. She was getting ready to take her clothes off—the least he could do was maintain the fiction that she was aesthetically pleasing to him.
When she lowered her eyes in embarrassment, she saw the glove lying at her feet, and Violet realized that she’d made a start. “One,” she murmured, her voice echoing in the cavernous room as she looked at the paintings tagged with yellow sticky notes to see which one she wanted.
“Gloves come in pairs,” Carlisle reminded her.
“Two gloves means two paintings.” Looking up, Violet dared him to argue with her. If he protested, she’d leave the other one on, and the ridiculousness of stripping off everything while still wearing a winter glove should be enough to ruin whatever effect Carlisle was going for in asking this of her.
Giving her a sardonic look, Carlisle said, “They’re an accessory at best. I’m being generous in counting them at all.”
Violet shrugged. “If you feel like that”—she stooped to pick up her fallen glove and slipped it back on—”there’s no need for me to take them off.”
She held his eyes, Carlisle looking as though he’d been carved from marble himself. After an eternity, he inclined his head. “Two paintings,” he conceded.
“I hate your clothes.” His eyes were hooded and moody as he swept them over her gray swing dress. “You should never wear them.”
“Never wear clothes?” she panted, trying to follow the conversation.
He chuckled. “That would be a sight—the naked curator. You wouldn’t need my paintings then to attract a crowd. It’s a crime to hide breasts like yours.”
Violet subsided with a noisy sigh as his hand covered her breast and squeezed. “That’s it, Violet. Just let go. Stop hiding.”
With his command ringing in her ears, she didn’t protest when his hands went to the hem of her dress, pulling it off over her head and casting it aside as he looked down at her. Even knowing that he’d already seen her naked, Violet still blushed at his scrutiny, attempting to cover herself with her hands.
“Oh no,” Ian chided, catching her wrists and pinning them to her sides. “Let me look.”
Blushing, Violet turned her head to the side, not wanting to watch him look at her. This was nothing like her performance in his gallery. There she’d had a modicum of control over the situation. Now, even though they were in her museum, Violet felt utterly out of her depth. Whatever happened here was up to Ian. She’d take anything he was willing to give her.
“No garter belt today? I’m disappointed,” he teased, tugging down her pantyhose. Violet kicked off her shoes, hoping he wouldn’t notice the red indents her nylons made in her plump flesh.
“It’s for special occasions only,” she murmured, mostly just to have something to say.
“This isn’t a special occasion?” Ian feigned a look of hurt, his sparkling eyes belying his downcast expression.
Violet whimpered as he traced one long finger along the edge of her modest white lace bra. “Ian, please!”
“Oh, yes.” His face was avid. “Let me hear you.”
“Please!” she begged, beyond shame. “Ian, please. I want…I want…”
She yelped as he flicked his fingers against her tightly budded nipples, writhing on the cold floor. “What do you want, Violet?” he asked, sounding infuriatingly calm.
“You!” she moaned. “I want you. Ian, please.”
“That’s all you had to say,” he assured her.
When he took his hands off her, Violet moaned in protest, but when she realized he was taking his own clothes off, she considered it a sacrifice worth making. Ian’s long fingers made short work of his shirt buttons, and she watched as he cast the shirt aside, her eyes greedily taking in every inch of him.
Ian’s body was a work of art, his muscles defined without being ostentatious. The sparse hair on his chest grew thicker as it disappeared beneath his belt line, and Violet’s lips tingled with the desire to follow that trail. Noticing her admiring gaze, he grinned and leaned back to give her a better view, his broad shoulders flexing as his flat, brown nipples pebbled in the gallery’s cool air.
“Now you,” he ordered, and Violet’s hand immediately went to the clasp of her bra, heedless of her own insecurities. Ian knew what she looked like, and he was willing to have sex with her anyway. There was no point in being modest now. He licked his lips as she tossed her bra aside, gravity pulling her heavy breasts to either side until she propped herself up on her elbows to keep everything together.
“All of it,” he insisted, his voice low and deep. Responding to the gravelly note in his voice, Violet yanked her panties off, adding them to the growing pile of clothing in the middle of the floor.
“That’s my good girl,” he praised. Ian’s gaze trailed over her like a caress, and Violet moaned as her body arched helplessly. Her breasts were akimbo, her body heaving and jiggling, and none of that mattered because Ian was going to make love to her.
“Touch yourself.” Violet jolted at the command, her mouth working soundlessly as reality collided with her fantasy. Touching herself in front of an imaginary Ian was one thing, but her self-consciousness flared to life at the thought of shamelessly pleasuring herself in front of the man himself. “Do it, Violet. Let me see you.”
Violet’s lust warred with her embarrassment and won. Helpless to deny Ian anything he wanted, she splayed her hands over her breasts and squeezed, arching into her own touch with a choked cry. Doing this alone in her bedroom was pleasant, but with Ian watching her, the sensations were almost unbearably intense. She plucked at her nipples, proud of the way they flushed and beaded. Her body was unimpressive, but surely he could have no complaints about her breasts.
“Oh, yes, sweetheart,” Ian murmured. When Violet looked up at him, she nearly bit through her lower lip at the sight of him kneeling beside her, his eyes dark and glittering as he cupped his cock through his jeans. She was arousing him, and that knowledge gave her the confidence to go further.
Spreading her legs wantonly, Violet reached down to trace her fingers through her folds, shocked by how slick she was. She was wetter than she’d ever been, and Ian hadn’t even touched her yet. Her hips rocked, begging for more, and she slid her fingers deeper, relishing Ian’s growl.
“I knew it. I knew you’d be like this,” he muttered as he tore at his belt and the fly of his jeans, shoving them halfway down his legs. Violet’s eyes went wide at the sight of his flushed cock curving almost angrily against his stomach. Neither of her previous lovers could compare to his size, and for an instant she felt a flicker of fear.
Ian smirked as he caught her looking. “Are you ready for me?” he asked, giving his cock a few strokes.
Violet could only stare wordlessly, so he took hold of her wrist and lifted her hand to his mouth, sucking on her slick fingers. “Oh, yes, you are,” he muttered. “God, you’re sweet. I’m going to eat you up. Later.”