Outside the Lines (A Bluewater Bay Novel) – Anna Zabo
Miniature artist Ian Meyer has one week to rebuild his damaged set. Needing help, he goes to End o’ Earth, the local comic and gaming shop. Owner Simon Derry pushes all of Ian’s buttons, and he also has steady hands and the skills Ian needs.
Before they can even grab a beer, Ian meets Lydia Derry, Simon’s wife. If Ian had any interest in women, he’d suggest a threesome, but then Simon explains that he and Lydia are polyamorous, and if Ian wants Simon, neither of them will complain. If anything, Lydia encourages the relationship.
Ian’s all in, and it’s fantastic working with Simon to piece together his set and then take each other apart at night. His friendship with Lydia grows too. The only problem is, the more time he spends with Simon, the more he wants everything Simon already has with Lydia: A house. A cat. A commitment. So Ian runs, and shatters the trust he has with them both—right when they need him the most. Piecing their relationships back together might prove harder than a smashed set.
It was amazing how fast two weeks’ worth of work could be destroyed. I mean, I’m used to it—half the models I built were meant to be blown up or set on fire or otherwise obliterated in a sea of special effects. This one wasn’t any different, a lovely detailed miniature of a sacred grove, complete with altars and idols—everything the larger set had—surrounded by trees in the heart of the forest. My miniature had been destined to be burnt to the ground in a spectacular magical explosion, since the EPA kind of frowned on pyrotechnics in the forest on the Olympic Peninsula. Apparently, fire and trees didn’t mix.
At least, that had been the intended fate of my model before Anderson had fallen backward into the damn thing and crushed it into tiny little bits. Stunt actors, I swear—bones made of steel. Poor set was absolutely no match for two hundred pounds of falling man.
My heart stopped, or tried to.
Would have made a great shot had Anderson been in a giant rubber suit. But this was Wolf’s Landing, not some science fiction show with mecha and monsters.
Ginsberg helped Anderson up and looked at the ruins of the model in the same way someone peered at roadkill. Pity mixed with revulsion. “Oh, shit.”
“Sorry, dude.” That from Anderson.
I couldn’t speak. Didn’t know what to say. We were supposed to film the scene this evening and now my model was . . . gone. Anna was going to have kittens. Large hungry kittens with claws and teeth and a taste for blood.
You think stuff is safe on set, that people would be careful. I croaked, still looking for the right words.
Anderson scratched the back of his head. “Can you fix it?”
I met Anderson’s gaze. Behind him, Ginsberg’s eyes were wide, and he backed away, his hands raised in surrender.
“Did you . . . really . . . just ask me that?” I barely recognized my own voice. It was too calm and cool. Nothing like the litany of oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck running through my soul.
Anderson flinched and glanced at the shards of wood, clay, and paint—he’d also managed to bend the metal leg of the table my model had been sitting on—then met my stare again and hunched his shoulders. “I mean— I’m sorry. It was an accident.”
“Tell that to Anna.” I jammed both hands into my hair, and the trembles started. Holy shit. Two weeks of work undone. I barely had any supplies left, and the production schedule was so damn tight, I didn’t know if there was any time for me to rebuild the set.
“Tell me what?” Anna Maxwell’s voice cut through the air like the thin blade of a utility knife. Her footfalls followed until she stood next to me and oh, the look she gave my ruined model . . .
Yup. Kittens. Mountain lion kittens. I pressed my lips together and tightened the grip on my hair.
“Um.” Anderson shifted back and forth from one foot to another. “We were fooling around with a hacky sack and I, uh, fell.”
“Hacky . . . sack,” Anna said.
Claws and teeth and blood.
“Yeah, it’s that game with that kind of ball—”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, I know what a hacky sack is.” She waved Anderson quiet and turned to me. “Don’t tell me that was tonight’s shot.”
“That was tonight’s shot,” I whispered.
Anna closed her eyes, and I could almost hear her counting down from ten. She let out an exhale. “You . . .” She pointed at Anderson. “Get your ass to Natalya for some extra training.”
Anderson didn’t have to be told twice. He didn’t walk away—he fled at top speed. Anna turned back to the model and rubbed her chin. “Fuck.”
I slipped my fingers from my hair. Yeah, that was about all I had too.
“How fast can you rebuild it?”
Not fast enough. “I don’t—”
Oh, man. I hated when Anna looked at me like that. It wasn’t anger, but there’s this . . . stare . . . directors got. One that made you want to cower in fear.
“Like . . . a week? Maybe?” If I worked around the clock. If I had what I needed on site, which I didn’t.
Shit. Well, it was Wednesday, so I had the weekend. “A week. Seven days. This time next week.”
She nodded. “I think we can live with that.” Some tension eased in her shoulders, and her razor-sharp expression softened. “I know this wasn’t your fault. I’ll have a talk with the crew and remind them to be careful around the sets.”
I really, really didn’t want to be there for that. “Thanks.”
We parted ways; her to scare the pants off someone else, and me, after gathering the sad wreckage of the grove into a box, back to my shop.
Didn’t take long to pull out the reusable bits from the detritus—pretty much only the stuff I’d sculpted out of polymer clay. At least that was good—those had been a pain to get right.
What wasn’t good was the level of supplies in my shop—I was more or less out of everything. I’d used so much shit making this model that I’d burned through the bulk of my stock. I had supplies on order, but who knew when that would show up in this little backwater town.
I huffed out a breath. Bluewater Bay wasn’t that bad, but shipping shit here took forever for some reason.
And I’d told Anna I’d have the model built in a week. Oh, God. Ian Meyers, you are well and truly screwed.
Desperate times and all that. I parked my car along Main Street in lovely downtown Bluewater Bay and tapped my fingers against the steering wheel. Usually when I came to Main, I went two blocks down to Stomping Grounds for some caffeine. I tended to avoid this part because it was home to Howling Moon, the mother of all Wolf’s Landing merchandise shops. The tourists were plentiful around here. Down at Stomping Grounds, the townsfolk ran interference for us, especially when we were wearing our crew jackets or hats. Kept the gawkers from doing more than gawking—like that time when a guy tried to swipe a grip’s badge.
Unfortunately, Howling Moon was next door to where I needed to go: End o’ Earth Comics and Games. I’d already come up bust at the local craft stores. I’d managed to secure some items—mostly balsa wood—at the art-supply place, but I needed model paint. For that, you had to go where they sold models and miniatures.
Only one place in town had what I needed—End o’ Earth, unless I wanted to buy official Wolf’s Landing miniatures. Hell, maybe Howling Moon had a freaking Sacred Grove™ set. Plop that down for Anna to use.
I giggled. She’d kill me. Probably for real.
Right. I’d left everything that could possibly signal I worked on Wolf’s Landing at home. Should be safe enough to head into End o’ Earth. Up and out. Lock the car. Slink past the visiting tourists. Through the door and bang straight into my youth.
Oh my God. The colors. The glint of bags. The collectors’ issues carefully hanging on the wall. All of it sent a tingle up my spine. There was the swooping thrill in my chest at the sight of the racks. I gravitated toward the new comics. I was so out of the loop, I didn’t recognize many of the titles—and half of those I did sported unfamiliar faces.
But the shop as a whole? Like an old boyfriend standing there at the corner. Hey, sweetheart, where ya been?
I stared at the covers. I’m seeing someone now. No time for old loves. I’d get lost in too many other stories and aesthetics. I barely had enough time to keep up with my own sculpture, and it was hard keeping the Wolf’s Landing aesthetic from seeping into my own creative work.
It smelled like a comics and games shop, though. All ink and paper and . . . paint. Specifically, miniature paint.
The guy behind the counter was youngish, maybe in his early twenties, and had several piercings in his ear. Given the pink Yay for Gay T-shirt and lacy scarf ensemble, he clearly wasn’t afraid of his feminine side at all.
He let me browse for a bit, but eventually coughed to catch my attention. “Let me know if you need any help.”
What I wanted, for an insane moment, was one of everything on the racks. But I didn’t have that kind of cash, and I certainly didn’t have that kind of time. I tore my attention away from the new issues. “Actually, what I need are miniature supplies.”
The clerk nodded to the right. “They’re in the back, behind the board games. Simon’s there and he’s the man for miniatures—he’ll give you a hand.” A nice professional smile. “Follow your nose.”
“Thanks.” When I walked past the graphic novels and games, I understood what the guy had meant. The familiar delightfully pungent smell of paint wafted from deeper in the store. At the back was a man painting a model at a table, and for the second time, I was struck by color and light. Not from the starship in his hand or the one next to it, but from the man himself.
If I’d known they grew them like him in Bluewater Bay, I’d have spent a hell of a lot more time on this end of Main Street. Mahogany hair, thin elegant fingers that held the brush just so, cheekbones that went on forever, and pale-blue eyes, like the sky sometimes got out here—when you could see it.
I must have made some sort of undignified noise, because his intense focus shifted and pinned me to the ground.
As did his wide smile. “Hey, hi! Give me a sec to finish this, and I’ll be right with you.”
Simon. The clerk had said his name was Simon.
“Yeah, okay.” Stunning first line, that.
With trepidation, I moved closer and followed the flow of his fingers to his brush, to the model. It was better than staring at Simon, but not by much.
Because his painting? Superlative. Maybe better than mine. Yeah, he was using a magnifier, but I did that too. His hands were so very steady and the line he drew—utterly straight. Perfect. That starship could easily have been at home in a prop shop.
How had I missed a guy like this? I’d been in Bluewater Bay almost a year and had never seen him. Before I started making any additional strange noises, I stepped away as quietly as I could, and took stock of the area around me. Tons of supplies. My geeky little artist heart flipped over—what was left that wasn’t already tumbling from watching Simon. Yeah, they had a lot of what I needed.
And something I wanted. I swallowed against desire. Down boy. You know nothing, Ian Meyers.
Simon exhaled. “There.” He set the starship down, cleaned his brush, and stood. “Now, what can I help you with?”
My brain locked up. He wasn’t particularly tall—we were about the same height—but the way his jeans hung on his hips cupped him perfectly. Legs and torso and, God, that bemused expression. “Uh.”
I’m so fucking eloquent.
“Paints?” he said. “Models? You working on something particular?”
Apparently, a nice boner. Boy, I needed to get a grip. “Yes, paints.” I swallowed. “And yes, something in particular. But it’s not a commercial model.” I waved at the kits.
He lit up. “Are you sculpting? I’ve wanted to do that, but I have no talent, whatsoever.”
I did sculpt. Stuff that would work in a shop like this too. Dragons. Fantasy beasts. Weird organic spaceships. “Your painting is exquisite. That takes talent and a steady hand.”
He snorted. “It’s not horribly artistic.”
I stepped closer to the table and him. “It can be.” The detailing on the ship—it wasn’t any particular film or television property’s merchandise—was not what was on the cover of the nearby box. “You’re doing your own thing.”
“I usually do,” he murmured.
When I glanced up, I got the distinct impression he was checking me out. Delight clashed with fear and zinged down my legs. “Me too.”
He met my stare, and his smile could have been called cocky in some script or another. “You still haven’t told me what you need.”
A one-night stand? A quickie in the back room? Dinner and a movie? Shit. “I’m here for work. It’s kind of a desperate situation.”
“Work?” He pursed his lips.
Simon had a mouth that begged to be kissed. Plump, wet, and lovely. I quieted my voice. “I make miniature sets for Wolf’s Landing.”
His breath hitched. Wasn’t sure if it was me or what I’d said, but it didn’t matter. There’s something about flustering a guy that drives my pulse skyward. I’d take it.
“What happened?” he whispered.
I told him, and he tried hard not to snicker. Failed. By the end of my tale, I was laughing too. The absurdity of it all, Anna’s reaction, and what the stunt guy would probably go through during training. “So,” I said, “can you help me?”
I hoped he could, because if the answer was no, I was out of options. And I’d never get a chance to take him out for a beer, ’cause Anna would have me buried out in the forest somewhere.