Title: The Naked Danceer
Author: Emme C. Taylor
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 12/19/2023
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, gay, romance, artist, dancer, arts/performance art, bonding over art, meeting your hero/idol, grieving, depression, forgiveness, healing and recovery, second chances, moral choices
“I want you to paint my naked body.”
A strange proposal made early one morning sparks the artistic collaboration of a lifetime.
Morgan barely makes it through each day, weighed down by depression and loss. He’s a well-respected artist, but he hasn’t stepped into his studio in months. He’s become more acquainted with the feel of his bathrobe than his paintbrush.
Lu knows depression well. He still struggles with it three years after a disastrous performance ended his long-term relationship and his illustrious dance career. He and Morgan are battling different versions of the same demon.
Lu decides to vent his pain and his past through a naked dance, and he asks Morgan to paint his bare skin for the performance. New love can’t cure depression. But when two intensely artistic men unite to make something unprecedented, it sparks creativity and passion and hope—things neither man has felt in a while.
After months of driving through the oppressive night, the sun is finally peeking over the horizon for Lu and Morgan. And it all starts with a dance.
The Naked Dancer
Emme C. Taylor © 2023
All Rights Reserved
“I want you to paint my naked body.”
Morgan reached for his phone but then remembered he was wearing a bathrobe. He blinked at the man in his doorway. The early morning light poured in around the stranger, edging him in gold.
“Great,” Morgan said. “Please wait here while I go call the police.”
But he didn’t leave to get his phone.
There was no possible way Morgan had heard correctly. Half asleep, eyes blurry, he couldn’t be seeing right, either, because the man on his front stoop looked a lot like Lucian Bellerose.
The man’s eyes widened at the mention of police. They caught a ray of light—deep gray, startingly colorless. True gray eyes. Morgan had never seen anyone with eyes like that except for Lucian. Morgan shifted nervously. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him. Maybe he was hallucinating. What had he eaten last night? Takeout from the fancy new restaurant down the street. Was there something questionable about that place?
“You don’t have to call the police. I’m not propositioning you,” the Lucian lookalike said with a tentative laugh. “Ah. I probably should have mentioned that first.”
As any well-spoken man would do in the same situation, caught by surprise on his doorstep, Morgan said, “Um.”
Morgan rubbed his fingers into his eyes, trying to clear away the haze so he could get a better look at the man. He could be dangerous. But even obscured by the light, he didn’t seem dangerous, though his features were rendered smudgy in the shadows. A veil of grogginess still curtained Morgan, and he wasn’t entirely sure what he was seeing. Maybe he was in a gentle doze, caught in an early morning dream about a dancer. It was a little embarrassing how many fantasies he’d had about Lucian over the last few years. Morgan was too old to have stars in his eyes, dreaming about celebrities—especially those long gone from the limelight. Or long gone, period.
“Please don’t call the police,” the lookalike said. “I know this is inappropriate. I shouldn’t have approached you like this at your home—”
“At six thirty in the morning,” Morgan couldn’t help but add. Morgan usually couldn’t deal with people until at least seven, and even then, he needed a generous amount of coffee to do so. Lately, noon was much more his speed.
“At six thirty in the morning,” the man said with a conceding nod. He didn’t exactly sound regretful about scaring the shit out of Morgan by leaning on his doorbell at sunrise. “I woke up in the middle of the night with this idea. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.”
“The idea,” Morgan said slowly, feeling his way through this outlandishness, “for me to paint your naked body.”
He was definitely going to have to call the police. His art was displayed all throughout the city: in galleries, in homes, in the media. He’d been featured nationally twice. He had some fans. Well, a few fans. Maybe more than a few. None of them were particularly rabid or avid. He wasn’t movie-star-level famous. Or Lucian-Bellerose-level loved and adored. Morgan had given his autograph over and over. He had been asked for selfies several times on the street and once in a restaurant over his creme brulé. What he’d never had was a fan show up at his home studio and ask him to paint his body. He’d never used skin as a canvas, especially a stranger’s skin. What a bizarre idea. How would that even work?
The guy resembled Lucian a bit. If he looked even passingly similar to Lucian Bellerose under those clothes, it could be an intriguing project.
No, no, no. What was Morgan thinking? He wasn’t so desperate for Lucian as to let a stranger into his home.
“Shit,” the man said. “This is too forward. I can tell by your face I did this wrong. I’m sorry. I’m not usually—well, I only had three hours of sleep last night. I don’t usually…”
“Ask someone to paint your body?”
“Yeah. That.” The shape of his sheepish smile was so familiar to Morgan. “It sounds ridiculous, but I know I have a good idea.”
Calling the police would also be a good idea. Morgan could picture his phone sitting on his nightstand. Out of reach. Useless.
Wonderful. He never had it with him when he needed it, and it was always beeping in his pocket when he didn’t need it.
“Look,” the man said, softer. “Your work is avant-garde. I know you like unusual things, and I think I have the perfect project for you. Please hear me out.”
Morgan could always slam the door in the man’s face, throw the lock, and then run for his phone just in case.
The man turned his head, glanced over his shoulder out onto the snowy city sidewalk, and Morgan caught sight of his profile. God, he really did look like Lucian Bellerose. Morgan hadn’t imagined it. Something about the curve of his jaw, the curly tips of his hair escaping his knit beanie at his nape. He had that same easy, rumpled appeal.
And wasn’t that just perfect? That Morgan would meet someone who resembled his ideal man, the man he’d watched and admired on TV for three years, and he happened to be a fan about to gut Morgan and put his liver in a keepsake jar.
He really needed his phone.
“I’ve messed this up, haven’t I?” The man stood on his toes and then rocked back on his heels. Too much energy for so early. “I didn’t mean to freak you out. Let me start over?” He pulled his cap off. His hair fell free, a chaotic mess of dark, unruly curls, with a halo of frizz backlit by the sunrise. The sight stole Morgan’s breath because, with that hair, he was an absolute dead ringer. Those stupid soft curls he’d fallen so hard for the first time he’d seen Lucian dance. This man looked so uncannily, impossibly like—
“Hi. I’m Lu.” He held out his hand for Morgan to shake. “And I swear, I’m not here to stalk you or burn your house down. Or anything else untoward.” His smile was slow and wry, tilted at the corner, and unexpectedly diffident for a man who had just asked to have his naked skin covered in paint.
Morgan sucked in a breath. “Lu? As in?”
“It’s short for Lucian.”
“I—I—um.” Morgan didn’t take Lucian’s hand. His own hand was frozen around the doorknob of his front door. He was having trouble unclamping his fingers from around the metal.
“All right,” Lucian said after another moment and let his hand drop to his side. “Friends and family call me Lu. I figure if I’m asking you to paint me naked, we can at least be on friendly terms.”
It seemed to take Morgan a decade to say, “Lucian? Lucian Bellerose?” As if there were a hundred Lucians walking around and he just had to make sure.
“Yeah. Lu Bellerose.”
All Morgan could think was you’re alive, but what came out of his mouth in a hushed whisper was “You’re real.”
Lu’s eyebrows rose slightly. The amusement that danced around his eyes made them sparkle. “Yeah, I exist. But I don’t know Santa, so don’t ask me to introduce you.”
Funny, Morgan considered himself a fan, but he’d never heard of Lucian going by Lu. He truly was a private guy, though how he managed it while being so adored in the age of social media was the question.
“Hey!” called a man from the street, an outburst loud enough to slow people and draw looks. “Aren’t you that dancer guy who—”
Lu’s voice dipped lower as he said quickly, “Probably not, man.” He stepped closer to Morgan’s door, where the walls on each side sheltered them from the city sidewalk.
It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t be. Things like this didn’t happen in real life.
Lu shoved his hat into his coat pocket. “I know I should have contacted your agent first and asked to meet you somewhere, but I couldn’t wait that long. It usually takes them at least a few days to set up meetings. It’s hard to take the time to do things properly when you have an idea.” He said “idea” like someone holding a golden egg in his palm, offering to share it with Morgan.
“You’re alive,” Morgan murmured. And whole. He somehow managed to shut his mouth on that before it could escape, thank God. Finally saying it aloud felt like relief. His voice sounded squeezed out. He gripped the doorknob so hard he wouldn’t be surprised if it broke off in his hand any moment now. His fingers ached.
Lu bounced a little, a frenetic energy just under the surface. His curls bounced a moment later, out of sync, and Morgan found himself stupidly charmed. He could see it now: the eagerness and excitement Lu could barely contain, the nerves.
“Alive…mostly,” Lu said. “Held together by the six cups of coffee I’ve had this morning. Just tell me if you want me off your doorstep, and I’ll leave. But I think you’ll want to be a part of this once you hear my idea.”
“I—uh.” Morgan swallowed. He felt slightly untethered, his mind floaty. “Okay.”
“Okay? You want to hear it?”
Hear it? Morgan was pretty sure he didn’t have to hear it. He would do it, whatever it entailed.
Morgan swallowed, worked to keep his voice steady, and said, “Yes.” I’ll do it! I’ll do it!
“Great,” Lu said. “Do you mind if I come inside? As much as I admire your front door, it’s freezing out here. And there are…people.”
Morgan moved aside, and Lu Bellerose stepped into his house, brushed past him. His first hazy, fleeting impression—tall. Just as deliciously tall as he appeared on TV. Then again, a lot of men seemed tall next to Morgan.
He still couldn’t seem to release the doorknob, which was a problem. Morgan closed the door, took a breath, and turned to Lu, one hand behind his back, clutching that damn knob. He might be forever attached to his front door.
Light from the living room leaked into the front hall. Without the contrast of sun and shadows in his eyes, Morgan got his first good look at Lu Bellerose in the flesh.
Holy shit was Morgan’s first thought. Lu looked like hell.
Meet the Author
Emme C. Taylor can be found wandering stormy beaches with a pen and notebook in hand, waiting for inspiration or lightning to strike. She believes the atmospheric environment helps her to write the grittiest parts of her stories. Crochet and dark chocolate ease her mind when her characters aren’t cooperating. Emme will happily talk about almost anything to avoid having to talk about herself. How about this weather, huh?
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