Exposure - Kelly Moran

Chapter One

To Want

February 14th:

I have never been anyone of great significance. I was raised in an Anchorage shack of a house to a woman who collected more men than things, and through the years her heart had been broken so many times I had to wonder why she bothered. To her, love was an eternal hope, a way to make this bitter life shine like the many little trinkets she collected. To me, love was something a person gave up a piece of themselves for and never walked away from.

I quickly learned that if I wanted anything, I had to work for it. Where my mother fruitlessly dreamed, I preferred reality. That's not to say my mother doesn't love me. She does, with every fiber of her flighty, spirited being. Our family dynamic left me more the parental figure than her, but I never lacked for anything and my need for control didn't mind.

I worked my ass off to get a scholarship to college and earned a Fine Arts degree so I could move us out of nowhere to somewhere. And I did. In a beautiful location pocketed between Anchorage and Prince William Sound, I bought my own gallery in a postage stamp of a town called Tartok Crest. Not for my own art. I have no artistic talent other than being able to recognize it. I showcase brilliant Alaskan photographs and once a year publish those pictures in a book collection. The tourists eat it up. It was a step up from the little girl who got picked on constantly by classmates or ignored throughout high school as if nothing more than dandelion fluff caught on a breeze.

Since opening the gallery six years ago, my clientele has soared from local artists to some international while still maintaining the intimate charm. Showings at Elements Gallery are in high demand. And though all this seems well and good--a rise from poor upbringings--I remain someone of little consequence. I linger in the shadows, letting the artists shine. That is their place, not mine. I merely give them the means. I much prefer it this way, for reasons I dare not pull from memory or I'll sink back into the dark.

So when my assistant strolled into my office on the second floor of Elements and set her palms flat on my desk one idle Tuesday morning, I had no way of knowing this would be the moment everything changed. A series of dominoes tipping with a clack, all leading to an unexpected and crazy end. One I fear I won't ever recover from.

Raven Crowne took in her assistant's strawberry blonde hair, loosely flowing over her shoulders in soft waves, and sat back in her office chair. Nicole's green eyes were a mix of excitement and shock, framed by the palest, longest eyelashes known to mankind. Her willowy body had caught the attention of more than one artist they'd showcased, and was now wearing an emerald green wrap-around dress that would make Raven look frumpy.

Because Nicole was one of the closest things Raven had to a friend, she never minded her interruptions during the workday, often and pointless as they were sometimes. Besides, Nicole was a work horse and Raven could appreciate that. A smile tugged at her mouth. "Yes?"

"You'll never believe who's downstairs." Nicole's words came out in a rush, as if keeping them inside would cause a rupture.

Raven's gaze darted over Nicole's shoulder to the gallery below. She'd designed her office with a glass wall facing the show floor, partly to be able to see the comings and goings, and mostly to not feel closed in. Standing just outside Nicole's small office was a man in a gray suit. She didn't recognize him, but she'd dealt with a lot of people through the years. Still, she was good with faces, and his she didn't know. He was lean and tall, with dark hair cut too short to compliment his face and hands deep in the pockets of his pants.

"Who is he?" She didn't have any appointments today. They'd just finished a week-long showing for a Washington artist who liked working with black and white. They were two weeks from another show.

"He says he's Hoan Dwell's agent." Nicole squealed and slapped a hand over her mouth.

Raven sucked in a shallow breath, hiding her own excitement. Hoan Dwell, originally rumored to be from the San Diego area, was a photographer unlike anyone they'd ever worked with. He captured women, in various stages of undress, in