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"Get undressed and hurry up about it. Immediately. You've already kept us waiting." Steel—dark eyes glowered into hers.

Taken aback, Sera struggled to speak. "But…"

"I don't want any excuses. You're late enough as it is."

"But I'm not…"

"Either get your clothes off and get on that couch, or you can leave and not come back."

"If I could just…"


Afterwards, Sera was never quite sure why she complied. It was partly because she was so shocked and embarrassed by the whole situation and intimidated by the man's furious, commanding voice.

It was also because she felt pretty angry herself: he refused to even give a chance to explain herself. If she obeyed his order, he would end up being forced to make a humiliating apology.

And — although she couldn't quite admit it to herself — he was devastatingly attractive. Tall and broad shouldered, with black, tousled hair and a chiselled jaw, he looked nothing like the "Miss E Fotheringay" who was supposed to be taking Life Drawing Course No 46 at Edenvale Community Art Centre.

Who the hell was he? And why was he so angry?

Taking off her clothes seemed like the only weapon she had. If nothing else, it would be a good lesson in empathy for the models she was going to be painting over the next few weeks. Sera had often wondered what it must be like for them: stuck in awkward positions for hours on end, naked and scrutinised by a roomful of people.

She hurriedly pulled her clothes off behind the screen. She wasn't the world's most confident person when it came to her body: she would have preferred slightly fewer curves and a couple of inches extra height. But this was an art class, not a fashion catwalk, and she knew that life models ranged widely in age, size and shape.

It was only as Sera slipped on a thin silk kimono, conveniently hung over the top, that she realised she was about to be stark naked for the first time before a roomful of strangers. They had blurred into the background during the angry confrontation. If only her hair, strawberry blonde and wavy, was as long as Botticelli's Venus it could have covered her modesty.

Still, she had started this adventure now and she wasn't going to chicken out.

"Finally. You can recline there, like so." The tall man briefly showed her a painting in an art book: she was to copy a famous pose.

Sera looked around at the other artists as she took her place. It was a small class and there were only five other students. They included two women and three men. An elderly woman with snow—white hair and twinkling eyes sat on the left in a mauve smock, next to her was a bald man with glasses and a beard. A woman with a lot of frizzy hair, playing rather anxiously with her dangling jewellery, sat in the middle. Two elderly men, one of whom wore a purple silk cravat, were on the right.

Fortunately none of them looked like perverts. Most seemed more interested in adjusting their easels and getting out painting equipment than ogling her.

Sera felt like an object but in a way it was comforting. No one was looking at her as a person, just as an abstract shape. There was no appreciation in anyone's gaze, nothing sexual. The elderly man in the cravat held up his paintbrush in the air and squinted with one eye, trying to get the right proportions.

Even the teacher seemed dispassionate. "A few inches this way. Rest your leg there. Your arm straighter, along the back of the couch." Sera flinched momentarily as his fingers touched the skin of her arm. His touch burned.

He was so close she could feel the heat and maleness of him: the fresh linen of his shirt, a trace of aromatic cologne.

Eventually he was satisfied and addressed the class. "We'll use this pose for a fifteen minute warm up, then we'll change."

Sera may as well have been a vase of flowers or a bowl of fruit.

About ten minutes later, when she was already starting to feel cramp in one leg, the door burst open. A thin girl with bright red hennaed hair burst in.

"I'm so sorry. There was an accident on the highway and I was stuck between a car and truck for half an hour. Am I too late? I can get ready very quickly." She saw Sera on the couch. "Oh…"

The art teacher had frozen. He looked at the girl and back at Sera.

"Exactly who is the model for this class?" His tone was icy.

"I am," the girl said. "Unless you've found a replacement?"

The teacher looked at Sera and in that instant his gaze changed. Suddenly she was no longer a professional model but a flesh—and—blood female, lying naked before him. Recognition flickered in his eyes as his gaze swept her naked curves. For a moment he drank in her form, then concealed his reaction as quickly as it had appeared.

Sera gave a half smile. "I'm actually one of the students."

He was silent for a moment, a muscle twitching in his jaw. The others in the room had put their pencils and charcoal down, enthralled by the unfolding drama.

"It seems I owe you an apology." He sounded far more furious than sorry. "I'm not sure why you felt obliged to model for us."

The cravat man was suppressing a chuckle and even the elderly lady was looking amused.

"I did try to explain."

The teacher gritted his teeth. "You can rejoin the class." He checked a sheet of paper and turned to the new girl. "I assume you are actually Kirsten Prout and not an art student?"

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