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The Body Painter (Master of Trickery Book 1)

Pepper Winters





  New York Times Bestseller

  Pepper Winters

  The Body Painter

  Copyright © 2019 Pepper Winters

  Published by Pepper Winters

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, including electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return it to the seller and purchase your own copy. Libraries are exempt and permitted to share their in-house copies with their members and have full thanks for stocking this book. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

  Published: Pepper Winters 2019: [email protected]

  Cover Design: Ari @ Cover it! Designs

  Editing by: Editing 4 Indies (Jenny Sims)


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  The Body Painter Blurb


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven




  The Body Painter Blurb

  “Must be slim, able to stand for long periods of time, and be impervious to the cold.”

  The headline caught my attention.

  “Hours are negotiable, pay is minimal, clothing absolutely forbidden.”

  The second line piqued my curiosity.

  “Able to hold your bladder and tongue, refrain from opinions or suggestions, and be the perfect living canvas.”

  The third made me scowl.

  “Other attributes required: non-ticklish, contortionist, and obedient. Must also enjoy being studied while naked in a crowd.”

  The fourth made me shudder.

  “Call or email ‘YOUR SKIN, HIS CANVAS’ if interested in applying.”

  The final made my heart race.

  I should’ve kept scrolling past the advertisement.

  I should’ve applied for the boring receptionist job at minimum wage.

  I should’ve clicked on any other job where I got to keep my clothes on.

  But I didn’t.

  I applied.

  My interview is tomorrow...

  What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.

  —Vincent Van Gogh




  -The Present-


  She should’ve heard my warnings, seen my threats, read between the cruel lines I’d given her.
br />   I’d done my best to be a bastard.

  To be hateful, heartless, and vicious in my denial of everything that existed between us.

  But she didn’t walk away.

  She ignored my commands like an idiot.

  She believed she could help me.

  She willingly gave me the heart I’d broken when we were just kids.

  And just like back was too late.

  Too late because what she didn’t know had the power to kill her.

  Not emotionally. Not hypothetically. But cold blood.

  And now, she knew too much.

  Kiss me?

  Love me?

  Now die for me.

  I’m sorry...

  Chapter One



  -The Past-

  I’D HAD A crush on her for almost two years before fate decided I’d waited long enough, and set things in motion that I wished I could undo.

  Olin Moss.

  The kinda quirky, slightly rebellious, wonderfully nice girl who sat two rows in front of me in class.

  Most days, I slung into my seat exhausted and hungry—fighting to stay awake and learn, hoping to achieve good grades to earn a job but mostly to stay out of the principal’s office so I didn’t get a hiding at home.

  I did my best to ignore her.

  I didn’t allow her to distract me with her delicate laugh and the annoying way my heart beat harder when she smiled. I didn’t have time to be interested in girls—no desire to get close to anyone.

  My life was about survival, not fun.

  I wasn’t like my fellow students.

  I wasn’t like her.

  She didn’t look hungry or tired.

  She didn’t seem angry at life or lacking in basic fundamentals of existence.

  Her hazel eyes were intelligent. Her popularity impressive. Her acceptance of both good and bad days a lesson I should probably master. However, I was only intimate with the shitty, dark days that made everything else just as depressing.

  While Olin hung out with her friends and ate packed lunches on the field, I’d do whatever it took to keep myself alive another day.

  Food at home was non-existent. I’d learned that if I helped in the canteen during break, I had better opportunity to steal enough to eat. Filling my belly to the brim, knowing it would be another twenty-four hours until my next meal.

  When the final bell went, I didn’t bolt into freedom like the others. I dragged my feet and slinked down alleyways to a neighbourhood Olin Moss wouldn’t be caught dead in.

  There, I did my best to forget about the mouldy walls, empty cupboards, and the drunkard down the hall. I used earplugs to block the ranting and homework to ignore the constant stream of stoned guests.

  Sleep usually found me face down on a textbook, my dirty blankets thrown over me to ward off the midnight chill.

  The next morning was wash and repeat: dash from the house before they woke, spray some deodorant over the unwashed clothes I’d slept in, and collapse onto the chair two rows back from a pancake-and-maple syrup smelling Olin Moss.

  For two years, our worlds brushed but never collided.

  Until that one fateful day.

  A day that ought to have been the best day of my life, but somehow, became the catalyst for the worst.

  Chapter Two



  -The Present-

  “HELLO?” MY VOICE echoed in the large industrial space as my red heels clicked hesitantly across bare, paint-splattered concrete. “Anyone here?”

  Two p.m.

  I was on time for my interview, but it seemed I was the only one.

  Warehouse number twenty-five yawned in welcome, complete with colourful graffiti on its red brick exterior, a massive roller door with rusty chains, and a cleverly painted sign with the name Total Trickery.

  I was definitely in the right place.

  It was Wednesday at two.

  The email confirmation matched the calendar.

  So...where was the body painter who was meant to be interviewing me? Where were the other hopeful interviewees as I stepped through a small opening beside the large roller door and traded outside for in?

  Paint fumes floated with paraffin parachutes on the air. Turpentine, oil, acrylic, and papyrus all added to the recipe.

  My fingers itched to check my phone for the fortieth time. To triple, quadruple check the address.


  The details said today.

  With my chin high and heart racing, I strode purposely forward in my red-clicking heels. My interview-acceptable black dress whispered against my skin as I hoisted my small satchel with my resume up my shoulder. “Hello? I’m here for the two o’ clock meeting with—”

  A masculine groan followed by a curse whipped my head to the gloomy shadows in the corner. A scuffle sounded, something metallic clattered to the concrete, another curse bit in anger.

  Goosebumps spread over my arms. “Um, hi? I’, here for the interview?” I stepped warily toward the noise.

  Another curse followed by a loud thump.

  “I heard you the first time.” A man appeared from the darkness.

  A man with shaggy dark hair, five o’clock shadow, and eyes so maliciously green they masqueraded as body parts but were really well-honed weapons.

  A man who was bleeding from his temple, limping, and holding his elbow as if it needed reattaching.

  “Sorry, I didn’t know if—” I gulped as something long ago tugged in remembrance.


  It can’t be...

  Recognition slammed into me as forcibly as it slammed into him.

  I stumbled under the weight.

  Punched by the unbelievable.

  “Gil? Oh, my God. Gil!”



  More gorgeous than he’d ever been.

  I fought every instinct to go to him.

  Did my best not to grab him, kiss him, shake him, slap him.

  A gust of air blasted through the warehouse as if the winds of fate woke up, felt a tug on whatever linked us together, and clapped its hands in glee, saying, ‘Yes, this will be fun. Let’s put these two back together again.’

  “Olin?’s you.” His gaze tore over me as hungrily as mine tore over him.

  Time stood still. It reversed. It plopped us right back in the past where this boy had held my heart, and I’d captured his, and together we knew it would always be about us.


  There is no more us.

  I stumbled toward him, desperate to be nearer despite so much pain. “I can’t believe this. What are you doing here?”

  “What am I? What are you?” He tripped in my direction, his face etched with lines I hadn’t seen in his youth, his body all angles and threats. As fast as he’d headed toward me, he halted as if yanked back by a rope. His face fell. His shock at seeing me morphed into hardness.

  I didn’t understand how he could change so much in a few short seconds.

  Goosebumps decorated me as coldness settled like a cloak around his shoulders.

  “I’ve been back in Birmingham two years. I—” I stopped talking, unable to share the secrets that followed such a statement. “I...”

  He closed his eyes, shutting me out as if battling something deep within him. Deliberately, he took a step back, his chin coming up, his coldness settling into ice.

  The silence that’d chased us in our fledgling romance returned, thick and heavy.

  My back prickled. My mouth turned dry.

  Too much distance existed between us, swelling with memory of how things had ended, why we were strangers now, and just how much heartbreak had been left behind.

  Along with silence came shadows, creeping over Gil’s expression, shutting down any remaining signs of his shock and gratefulness at seeing me. Heartbeat by heartbeat, he hid any sign that my visit was a
welcome one.

  I struggled, not knowing what to say.

  His gaze no longer held happiness, just aching emptiness and suspicion. “How did you find me?” He didn’t give me chance to reply. “You can’t be here, Olin. You need to leave. I don’t want you anywhere near me.”


  Ice water gushed down my spine. “I...what are you talking about?”

  “I just told you. You need to go. Just turn around and walk out the same way you walked in.” He narrowed his weaponized eyes, ready to scold me, scare me, and ruin, not just my chance at employment, but any hope of closure from the past. “You’re not welcome here.”

  His words were daggers but his voice quavered with dismay.

  My heart kicked. “What do you mean?”

  “Are you deaf?” He shook his head, his body seething with anger so brutal and out-of-nowhere it seemed fake. “Why the hell are you here, huh? What made you think I’d want you here?” His gaze flickered behind me, locking onto the door as if something evil would waltz right through it. “Goddammit, I don’t have time for this.”

  “Time for what?”


  I stumbled backward just as he tripped to the side, a wince and gasp escaping through gritted teeth. “Fuck.”

  “Gil.” My concern overrode emotional agony. I flew to him, following old patterns of caring for him, protecting him, ready to be everything he needed because that was how it’d been between us.

  A partnership.

  A vow that we would always, always look after the other.

  “Are you okay?” I managed to touch his shoulder, just once. A single caress before he reared back as if I’d hurt him worse than anyone. He swallowed a groan, squeezed his eyes, trembled with pain that I knew didn’t have anything to do with his physical injuries but everything to do with us.


  There is no more us.


  “Don’t touch me,” he snarled.

  “But you’re hurt.”

  “I’m fine.”

  “You’re not. Let me help—”

  “Fuck, Olin.” His head tipped downward, unable to look at me. Unable to fight the draw that still hummed between us. “I need you to leave. I can’t...I can’t do this.”