If you are looking for something to read this week as part of the Sex Me Up Readathon, then look no further! I am very pleased to host an excerpt of Kristen Morgen’s New Adult book, Behind the Glass today. Enjoy and join in the conversation on Twitter by tweeting Kristen @KristenMorgen and using the hashtag #sexmeupreadathon
Chapter One ~ Rebecca
Few people came here this late at night. The occasional patrons who did wander in at this hour were usually either weary college students needing a quick shot of espresso to keep going, flocks of lively young girls taking a short break before the second round of club-hopping, or on occasion, two lovers engaging in a secret romantic rendezvous.
During her many nights of coming here, she had seen it all.
It was just minutes to midnight, that wondrous part of the day when she finally allowed herself to slow down but wasn’t quite ready for sleep just yet. She had grown to love this special part of the night that belonged only to her. It was undoubtedly her favorite time to come here.
After a long, arduous week, the serene calm and quiet solitude of her beloved bookstore café had become her most vital oasis. She had come here every week for months, always alone, always at this time of night, and she’d grown to love this stylish little shop’s atmosphere. Something innocuous about it made her feel at home and she was completely at peace here. And her favorite soft velvet reading chair on the second floor could always be depended upon to be waiting for her.
The shop was an eclectic little gem tucked away inconspicuously into the fabric of downtown Madison, Wisconsin, on State Street, the city’s renowned pedestrian mall. Set back slightly between the adjacent storefronts, its unadorned façade and soft lighting from within made it virtually glow from the street at night.
The open two-story space inside could be seen clearly from the street through a simple storefront consisting of virtually seamless glass. Its clean design contrasted sharply with the adjacent brick and stone facades, giving it a light, airy feel. The openness of its design was initially what drew her here. The shop itself was quite figuratively an open book.
Inside the shop, on either side of the entrance, three evenly-spaced, colorful glass light fixtures highlighted local artwork that the shop showcased to the public. Farther inside, the first floor’s main space was filled with groupings of wood tables and chairs, large lush reading chairs, and oblong coffee tables displaying books.
Immense mahogany bookcases flanked each side of the main space and a simple granite café counter in the rear ran the entire width of the shop. A long staircase nestled into one side of the shop led to a loft area above that overlooked most of the main space below.
Unlike the first floor, the loft area above was a smaller, much more intimate space with quiet acoustics and soft lighting that made for an excellent reading environment. The gorgeous mahogany floors and dark textures in the cherry wood furniture brought warmth to the space, while the lighter wall colors and simple lines of the railings made it feel open and welcoming.
She made an immediate connection to this secluded area of the shop and habitually took refuge here each week, happily losing herself in her books and letting the busy world fall away for a while.
It was quiet at this late hour, other than the faint echo of a distant conversation and the soft music playing over the sound system. The acoustics throughout the shop were superb and the music set a relaxing tone. The inviting smells of rich coffee and baked goods filled virtually every cubic inch of the two-story space.
To her, it was heavenly, and she considered her nights here a true indulgence.
By nature she had never been the type who took time like this for herself. She was focused, disciplined, and her daily obligations to her two jobs during the week took most of her time and energy. She was, by her definition, a struggling artist paying her dues and was willing to make the needed sacrifices.
By day she worked as a staff photographer for the Isthmus, a local weekly newspaper in town. It wasn’t a glamorous position by any stretch of the imagination, but it gave her a chance to do what she loved; photography was her passion. She had been intrigued by it since high school when she took an introductory photography class for her art elective, and was immediately hooked. She had a natural eye for it and loved spending endless hours in the darkroom.
Her position didn’t pay much, and the subject matter was usually somewhat menial, but she learned from it every day and expanded her education constantly. She captured the best of whatever assignment she was given on film, whether it was Madison’s annual Art Fair on the Square or simply the pet of the week. Whatever the challenge, she was simply content to have her dependable, manual 35mm camera in hand.
The income from her daily job scarcely paid her bills, which made her second job an inevitable necessity. By night she worked as a waitress at a local high-end restaurant downtown, owned by a childhood friend’s family. The hours were long and being on her feet all day was sometimes exhausting, but she couldn’t deny how lucky she was to work there. The tips were lucrative and she truly couldn’t ask for better people to work for.
It was actually while walking downtown after a long day of work one night that she discovered this wonderful little shop. The fact that the shop displayed local artwork every month was an added bonus. She was inspired by it each week, and imagined seeing her photography in its windows one day.
Her weekly routine of escaping to this oasis over the past several months had become something she truly looked forward to. After the typical monotony of a long work week, she enjoyed treating herself to her favorite coffee: a caramel latte with whipped cream served in a large hand-thrown pottery mug. After exchanging pleasantries with the owners, she would always take her time to admire the local artwork as she walked upstairs to the loft area, and then quietly settled into her favorite comfy reading chair, eagerly getting lost in whatever book she was reading that week.
Her minutes-to-midnight ritual had become a comforting constant in her life.
This week as she walked upstairs to the loft with coffee in hand, something profoundly beautiful caught her eye in the artwork at the stairs. Tonight one minor element of her evening routine was noticeably altered.
The local art normally displayed on the café walls each month was amateur at best. It was quite appealing to the untrained eye but was by no means extraordinary. The work of art before her tonight however, was a striking exception.
As she halted on the landing, fascinated by the painting in front of her, her surroundings gradually faded away as she examined the work. It was unexplainable, but something about it captivated her deeply and the effect was magnetic. She was inescapably drawn to it.
The painting itself was no larger than a standard piece of paper, yet it appeared far more substantial to her. Framed in a simple white mat inside a basic black frame, the contrast in colors appeared sharp, yet soft simultaneously. In the foreground stood three abstract white houses set against a harsh black sky. A single blurry white line above indicated a distant skyline with dark looming blue-gray clouds above.
It wasn’t the subject matter that caught her attention but rather the feeling the scene evoked. The landscape was mysteriously barren and cold, yet strangely welcoming. As her eyes carefully scanned every minute detail of the painting, she found herself wondering what it would feel like to be inside this peculiar space. She imagined it would probably feel cool, but not cold. The wind might be blowing softly, the way it does before a storm. It would likely be quiet and peaceful. Voices and sounds, if there even were any, might echo.
Then it hit her. The feeling she connected with so strongly was loneliness.
As if created only for her, this brilliant artist had captured the feeling of being completely alone in such a beautiful way. Her usual feeling of peace and contentment in this place became abruptly emotional as she realized why this painting spoke to her so completely.
Entirely lost in her own unsettling thoughts, the sharp sound of several ceramic coffee mugs crashing to the floor at once pulled her abruptly back to reality. She spun around quickly in surprise, momentarily losing her balance on the landing and almost spilling her hot coffee. Her heart jumped to her throat and she stopped breathing for a moment. She hadn’t realized how detached she had become and nearly couldn’t remember where she was.
It was then, as she quickly scanned the main space below her, immediately identifying the source of the startling clamor, that her eyes unexpectedly noticed him.
He was sitting alone at a table near the rear of the shop, staring directly up at her with stunningly intense eyes. It was his atypical expression that caught her eye; he looked as if he had been staring at her for a long while.
He was a genuinely handsome young man with soulful, deep-set dark brown eyes. His face was striking with flawless bone structure and a strong, square jaw. His short, dark brown hair was slightly tousled and he wore two-day-old scruff on his perfectly sculpted face. His lean build and broad shoulders were indicative of someone active and athletic. Dressed casually in jeans and a dark gray button-down shirt, he was, by all appearances, definitely a man women noticed when he walked into a room.
He made absolutely no effort to look away and their eyes locked onto each other for a long moment. Feeling unexpectedly self conscious, she could feel her face begin to flush and her heart begin to race. She wasn’t used to being noticed this way by someone who looked the way he did. The intensity in his eyes continued but a slight look of curiosity began to emerge as his expression softened slightly.
Noticing this, she unconsciously tilted her head slightly and fought back a sudden urge to smile. Reluctantly, she finally forced herself to look away slowly, released from his intense gaze.
Flustered, she swiftly turned and headed upstairs, stumbling on the first step and not noticing what she dropped on the stair below. As she reached the top of the stairs she quickly made her way to her usual reading chair and settled in quietly, her heart still racing.
Unaware that a tiny smile had emerged on her lips, she felt goose bumps up and down her arms and nervous butterflies in her stomach. She had no idea who he was or why he had been staring at her so intently, but her curiosity and wonder made it nearly impossible to focus on her book or anything else.
A sudden shiver went down her back.
She focused and tried to think, trying to remember if he had been sitting there when she first walked in and ordered her coffee. Surely she would have noticed him, so it’s possible he came in later. She wondered how long she had been admiring the painting but couldn’t be sure. Maybe that was why he had been staring at her. She simply couldn’t make sense of it.
Why would he notice her? She shook her head, smiling. It was definitely a mystery.
Ultimately deciding to shrug it off as nothing more than an isolated incident she would likely forget by tomorrow, she tried not to give it any more thought and began refocusing on her evening. She was four chapters into her latest book and it was getting interesting, so diving back into it would be an excellent way to redirect her mind. The new author she was reading had a remarkable way of taking her far from reality, which was exactly what she needed tonight.
She took a few sips of her coffee and nestled comfortably into her chair.
She was halfway through chapter five when she heard a faint creak at the top of the stairs. Quickly snapping her head up, she was completely stunned by what she saw. The handsome young man from downstairs was standing at the top step gazing in her direction clear across the second floor.
As she looked at him, her heart jumped and she silently caught her breath. An equal mix of excitement and panic shot through her as he started walking directly toward her, his beautiful eyes locked onto hers again.
He stopped squarely in front of her and handed her a familiar object.
As she peered up at him, he seemed much taller than she had imagined and unbelievably, more handsome.
“You dropped this on the stairs.”
His voice was quite possibly the most mesmerizing she had ever heard.
Her heart pounded as every muscle in her body tensed up.
She struggled to release herself from his beautiful eyes to slowly look down at his outreached hand. The object he held was a beaded bookmark her mother had made for her on her last birthday. She obviously hadn’t noticed she’d dropped it.
She took it from him slowly without a word, desperately trying to form a coherent thought. After a few moments a nearly inaudible ‘thank you’ was all she could manage.
The way he looked at her and the way it made her feel seemed to prevent her from thinking clearly or acting normally. She continued to look at him, speechless.
He slowly sat down in the chair next to her with a subtle smile on his face.
“Are you alright?” he asked quietly.
There was something so familiar about his voice, as if she’d known him for a long time. She couldn’t understand it but his tone seemed to instantly put her at ease.
“I’m fine,” she answered as calmly as possible. “Why?”
She could only imagine what she must look like from his perspective. She wasn’t normally this tongue-tied and she hoped he didn’t think there was something wrong with her.
“You look like your mind is somewhere else right now, somewhere far away.”
He was perceptive. Her mind was somewhere else. And completely blank.
“Yes,” she began, desperately trying to focus. “I suppose it is. I … I usually come here to relax. It must be working.”
Wondering if she had even made sense, it was the best she could come up with for now. As her heart rate finally approached normal, she slowly started to relax a little.
“So that’s why you come here then,” he asked with a raised eyebrow, “to relax?”
She wondered about the suspicious tone in his voice.
“Yes, this shop is a great place to unwind.”
Again, his tone made her wonder.
“Why is that interesting?” She tried to read his eyes.
His expression had changed as if he knew something she didn’t.
“You look like you come here to hide.”
His eyes met hers again as he spoke, carefully watching her reaction.
To her surprise his comment hit a nerve and her mind began to race. She came here to hide? She couldn’t imagine what possible interest he would have in her reasons for coming here and wondered why he would say something like that to someone he didn’t know.
“And what would I be hiding from exactly?”
“You tell me.”
His stunning eyes studied her reaction again as if he knew what she was thinking.
“I’m not hiding from anything,” she asserted, her tone slightly more defensive than intended. She tried to understand where this conversation was leading.
He shook his head and smiled. His breathtaking smile practically knocked her over. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen in her life. He definitely had an unfair advantage looking the way he did, and she was finding it hard to keep her focus.
“Sure,” he speculated, “you come here to relax.”
“Why is that so hard to believe?” She was truly intrigued.
“So,” he began thoughtfully, “you choose this hour at night, when the shop is practically empty, to come and sip coffee and read a book, something you could easily do at home. You didn’t come with anyone and I’m guessing no one even knows you’re here. If you’re not hiding from anything, then why not stay at home and read?”
Tilting her head slightly, she glared at him, unsure what to make of what he had just said. She wondered how he had even known about her weekly routine. Had he been here before?
She felt the blood rush to her face.
“I honestly don’t see how this is any of your business, but I happen to like this place. It’s … tranquil. And I love coming here. It’s actually a great little shop with a lot to offer.”
She knew she was reaching but it seemed to make sense.
“You come here for the artwork,” he stated with a subtle sarcastic tone.
Again his comment hit another nerve.
“The artwork happens to be exceptional this month. I’ll admit it’s not always at a particularly high level but it’s encouraging to see people putting themselves out there like that. It’s inspirational.” And maybe one day if she were brave enough, her photography would be displayed here too, she thought to herself.
“You said the artwork is exceptional this month,” he clarified. His expression was suddenly warm again. She looked into his deep brown eyes, instantly shaking off their previous conversation and recalled the beautiful painting at the stairs.
“Yes,” she began thoughtfully, “it’s wonderful.” She paused for a moment, remembering how the painting had affected her so deeply. “The artist this month is extremely talented. There’s a depth to the work that’s very raw.”
He took a moment before responding.
“You seem to appreciate art. To really connect to it, I mean. That’s a rare thing. You seemed to really like the painting at the stairs earlier.”
Embarrassed, she realized he must have been watching her when she was admiring it for what she assumed to be a noticeably long time.
“Yes, I guess you noticed that.”
“It was hard not to,” he replied, smiling warmly.
His stunning smile made her heart skip a beat. She returned the smile involuntarily.
“I was connecting, as you put it.”
Feeling slightly uncomfortable, she hoped he would change the subject.
“What did you like about it?”
His curiosity was puzzling. She couldn’t understand why this ridiculously attractive stranger she had just met had so many questions for her. When she looked at him he appeared genuinely interested in her answer.
“I generally don’t connect with art unless I can relate to something I see in it. The painting at the stairs …” She paused, carefully choosing her words. “I could imagine being in that scene, what the physical environment would feel like to me, how being there would make me feel, what the artist may have been trying to convey. If it touches me on an emotional level, I like it. For me, that’s what art is supposed to do. Of course it’s different for everyone.”
He quietly focused on her, listening intently, hanging onto her every word without responding. He looked somewhat reflective, taking in what she just said. She felt slightly self-conscious, hoping she made sense. She tended to ramble when she discussed art.
She took a sip of her now lukewarm coffee and decided to try to change the course of the conversation. She had been cooperative thus far and had answered his questions. In fact, she had been more truthful than she had intended. Something about him made her feel less guarded and her words seemed to pour out, unfiltered.
This handsome stranger was surprisingly easy to talk to.
“So, why do you come here at this hour? Is it the artwork or do you just enjoy interrogating strangers?” She tried to keep her tone light so he knew she was joking. He smiled, obviously enjoying her sense of humor.
“I know the owners. They’re old friends of mine. And for the record, I wasn’t interrogating you. I apologize if that’s how I came across.” He sounded sincere. “You just intrigue me.”
She intrigued him?
Apparently he had more of an interest in her than she originally thought. As she considered this, she slowly began to realize that this may not have been the first night they had been there together. If he knew the owners then surely he would know how often she came there and when. Over the many months she’d been visiting the shop, the husband and wife owners began to anticipate her weekly arrival. But why would they tell him about one of their customers? The more she pondered the idea, the crazier it sounded.
“Why is that exactly?” she asked, trying to read his eyes.
He hesitated slightly before he answered.
“Let’s just say you’re a bit of a mystery to me, an unsolved puzzle.”
Now that was ironic. She was the mystery here?
“So it’s puzzling to you that I come to a bookstore café late at night and like to read alone? Some people just like their ‘me’ time. How is that unusual?”
“It’s not. But that’s not why you come here,” he clarified, with the same intense expression he had downstairs.
The finality of his tone made her feel as if he knew much more about her than he was letting on, and ultimately made her realize something that she hadn’t wanted to admit to herself. He was right on target.
“That’s not the only mystery,” he added before she had a chance to respond.
Implying more than she thought he intended, she was given a perfect opportunity and her curiosity couldn’t let it go.
“So, how can I be so intriguing to you in such a short period of time? We just met. You don’t know anything about me.”
He looked down and paused momentarily before answering.
“Tonight … isn’t the first time I’ve seen you here,” he admitted, still looking down. “I’ve been here late at night before.” He slowly looked up at her, carefully reading her expression.
As it finally starting making sense, she was filled with an unexpected flood of emotions. She was both flattered and profoundly confused at his interest in her. Realizing that he had likely been watching her for who knows how long actually didn’t make her feel uncomfortable, which surprised her. If anything, his very presence put her at ease.
“How long?” she asked softly. It was all she could manage to say. His piercing gaze made it hard to concentrate again.
He seemed to know exactly what she was asking.
“A while,” he said quietly, “longer than I’d like to admit.”
Her heart skipped a beat and a chill went down her back. He noticed her reaction and smiled apologetically. She didn’t quite know what to make of all of this but strangely, was far from being upset by it.
“Did you know I’d be here tonight?”
“Yes,” he replied evenly.
She wondered how many nights she had come here in the last several weeks when he had been here too. She never really took notice of the other customers in the shop, but surely she would have noticed him. She wondered how lost in her books she usually got when she was here. Would she have even been aware of a secret admirer, if that’s what he was? It sounded absurd.
“Why did you choose tonight to talk to me?”
“That wasn’t entirely planned. You saw me downstairs.”
It was hard not to. She almost blushed again as she remembered.
“But you came upstairs, to me.”
He held up the bookmark and smiled.
“You gave me an excuse.”
She couldn’t get used to his smile. It was overwhelming. She tried in vain to get a hold of herself. It wasn’t just his beauty that made her feel the way she did. When he looked at her and spoke to her this way she felt connected to him in a genuinely real way. It was unfamiliar and as much as she didn’t want to admit it, wonderful.
He sensed her apparent uneasiness and leaned away from her slightly in an attempt to put her at ease.
“I apologize if this is strange for you. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
The words strange or uncomfortable didn’t seem to apply here. Truthfully she couldn’t find a word for what she felt at this moment.
“Strange no, confusing maybe.”
This threw him completely.
“Why is it confusing?”
She didn’t exactly know how to explain it to him or even to herself. This whole scenario was definitely unchartered territory for her.
“It’s just hard for me to understand … why you would take so much of an interest in me.” Or even notice her for that matter, she thought to herself.
His expression was hard, unreadable for a few moments, until it finally softened as if he had just solved a puzzle. He smiled softly and looked directly into her eyes as he leaned in again.
“Trust me, from my perspective it’s extremely easy to understand.”
He didn’t elaborate. He simply looked at her with warm eyes as if trying to convey the extent of his feelings. His answer was somewhat cryptic yet she knew exactly what he meant. For some unfathomable reason he was drawn to her. To say that she was drawn to him as well was an understatement. The attraction was instant and magnetic.
As she leaned in slightly looking into his eyes, she realized his answer pleased her more than she wanted to admit. It was hard to believe she could have feelings of this magnitude toward someone she had just met and it didn’t make sense to her.
Things like this didn’t happen every day, she knew that, and not to her, yet she wished she could understand why tonight of all nights their paths had crossed.
As the reality of the situation began to finally settle in, anxiety inevitably shot through her and a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her she should probably go home. As difficult as it was, her instincts told her that leaving was the right thing to do.
Looking away from him she subtly began gathering her things.
Oblivious to her sudden internal battle he interrupted her before she could leave.
“I have another question, if you don’t mind,” he asked politely.
She knew she shouldn’t stay any longer, but she was curious.
“Imagine that,” she replied with a smile, trying to stay casual.
He returned the smile, sensing her apprehension.
“Earlier you said that if art touches you on an emotional level, you like it. I was wondering how the painting at the stairs made you feel.”
He seemed to have an uncanny ability to ask the one question she had no desire to answer. She couldn’t imagine why it mattered to him what she thought of the painting, and tried to think of a way to answer him without admitting too much.
“It’s hard to put it into words.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Art is a personal thing.”
As she looked down she realized it was difficult to be anything but completely honest when she looked at him and she didn’t trust herself.
His silence told her he respected her privacy, which she appreciated.
As they sat quietly together in a comfortable silence, she reflected on how incredibly rare this whole thing was. This was definitely not how she had envisioned her evening playing out tonight, meeting him.
Though her heart was telling her to stay there with him, her rational, determined mind was stronger, as always. She had answered his final question and it was now time to go.
Slowly she gathered her things and stood up. He looked up at her, clearly trying to understand what was happening. She stood in place for a moment not wanting to move. She could feel his eyes on her as she took a small step forward.
“Don’t go,” he whispered.
Her heart sank. She took another small step.
“Please,” he said, slightly louder.
She stopped and was now standing next to him, only inches away.
Deep down she wanted to stay, she couldn’t deny that. She wanted to learn everything there was to know about this man, wanted to answer any question he asked, wanted to talk to him for hours. But she had to leave. She had her own reasons for leaving and she wished she could explain them to him.
“I think I should go now,” she barely uttered, taking another step.
“Wait,” he said, looking up at her. “You said that I don’t know you, or anything about you.”
She didn’t look at him, afraid of what she might do or say if she did.
“I’d like to, very much.”
In a flash, she was sure that every ounce of blood in her body had reached her face at once and she instantly felt hot. She felt light headed and her heart began to race again. She could feel his eyes on her and desperately wanted to look at him.
She tried to focus and think of what to say.
“I’m flattered,” she breathed, “but I can’t. I’m sorry, I wish I could.” More than he would ever know she wished she could stay there with him. “I really have to go.”
As she took a few more steps, he stood up. He appeared as if he was about to follow her but something stopped him. In response she halted, as if being pulled back toward him.
He stood in place for a moment before slowly walking toward her. He lightly touched her hand with his as she quickly looked up at him. His light touch was unexpectedly amazing. Every nerve in her body suddenly seemed to come alive at once. It was the first time they had stood face-to-face and she noticed that he was a good bit taller than she was. Her heart felt as if it would pound out of her chest as she looked up into his stunning eyes.
“Will you please give me one thing then?”
At this moment she would have given him anything he asked for.
“Yes.” Her voice cracked into a whisper.
Surprised by his simple request, she breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t know if she would ever see him again and if nothing else, she was actually comforted by the idea of him knowing her name.
“Rebecca,” she answered evenly, looking into his eyes one last time.
As a faint smile crossed her face she slowly looked away and started toward the stairs, feeling his eyes on her with every step.
She hesitated for a moment at the top step, wanting to look back at him again but thought better of it. The temptation to stay would be too much to resist.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, trying to ignore the sinking feeling overtaking her. Before she could change her mind, she quickly opened her eyes and pushed forward, down the stairs and out the front door of her wonderful oasis without looking back.
The rest of the book can be found on Amazon.