Of Sand and Stone – Lauren Smith

Rebecca Clark could stare at naked chiseled men all day, which was a good thing considering it was her job. Well, a part of it. As the curator of a small New England art museum, she looked at naked men all the time. But they weren’t real men. They were marble, not flesh and blood. For the last three years she’d specialized in marble sculpture collections, and right now she was staring at the perfect specimen. It was carved from a single slab of exquisite Italian marble by some obscure sculptor in London more than two hundred years ago. The only clues as to the sculptor’s identity were two words carved into the statue’s base: “Oath” and “Pride.” The Adonis—it had to be Adonis, as perfect as he was—stood proudly at six feet tall, though the statue was actually seven, given its foot-high pedestal. As the lights of the room illuminated the statue’s broad shoulders and smooth abs, she let herself wonder how long he had been hidden away in the large packing crate he’d arrived in, now lying discarded behind him, straw from the wooden crate littering the floor. “Well, he looks ready to me,” a man in gray coveralls announced as he brushed straw off his hands. He and his partner had spent the last hour carefully moving the statue through the warehouse and into the temporary exhibit that had come from London. “Thank you, Stan. See you tomorrow.” Although Rebecca planned to stay another couple of hours to finish the paperwork on the exhibits, she didn’t want her staff to work late.

She genuinely liked working with everyone at the museum, except for her boss. “Thanks, Ms. Clark. Have a good night.” The pair picked up the crate and carried it out of the exhibit room, leaving a trail of packing material behind them. Rebecca smiled and shook her head. It could be cleaned up tomorrow. She checked her watch and sighed when she realized it was almost ten. This wasn’t unusual. She was used to burning the midnight oil, and this was an exciting new exhibition.

Besides, it wasn’t as if she had a social life or anything—anyone—to go home to. A flicker of embarrassment made her cheeks flame. I shouldn’t be ashamed of working hard and still being single. But no matter how much she told herself that it didn’t seem to change how she felt. It seemed like the world judged a woman’s value by whether she could catch and marry a decent man. Rebecca wanted to be in a relationship, not because society expected it of her, but because she wanted to be loved. But after all the men she’d dated in the last several years she’d given up on finding a good one. Her gaze was drawn to the marble man and his lean, exquisite body with slightly sloped muscles and bulging cords of sinew. Everything was carved so perfectly into the stone that she almost thought she could see them move in the right light. He was bigger too—down there—than other male statues she’d seen, and far more masculine with his broad shoulders and slim hips.

She couldn’t help but walk a full circle around the statue to admire him…er…it from every angle. Full sensual mouth, soft bedroom eyes, and literally a chiseled jaw. But the hair— tousled rock-hard waves—that was the hair of a man who’d stumbled from the bed of his lover before posing for the artist. He was gorgeous. Real men didn’t look like this. Men were petty and selfish. They clung to women, used them or cheated on them, especially the good-looking guys. She shook her head, banishing the dark thoughts. It wasn’t true. There were good men in the world—fathers, brothers, husbands, friends.

But aside from her own father, she’d never encountered a good man in her life. If there was a lazy, spoiled, or rotten man out there, she’d found him and dated him. Not by choice, of course. People were clever about hiding their faults, and she always found new ways of being fooled. The pattern was always the same. First she’d be smitten with a man, and she would date him casually. They’d enjoy each other’s company, the sex would curl her toes, and she’d hope it would lead to something more. Three to six months later she’d find herself exhausted and fed up with the cooking and the cleaning up after a man only to have lackluster sex—if she was lucky enough to snag his attention before he passed out on the couch to the news. Even when she was lucky, she’d be so tired that all she could do was lie there and let him get his, without ever getting hers. It meant that she was still single at thirty-two, but she’d almost come to accept that fate.

Better to be alone than to be totally unhappy. Rebecca stared up at the beautiful statue, and with a bashful smile, she reached up to touch his hip. The marble was cool beneath her fingers, but she jumped and pulled her hand back when she felt a little electric spark. She studied the statue, trying to figure out how she could get a static zap from marble. Then she returned her hand to the stone again, laughing at her foolishness. “Why couldn’t a man like you be real?” Her soft voice echoed in the darkened gallery. “Someone tall, handsome, strong, yet caring when I need him to be, and sexy as hell.” But it was a dream and nothing more. Men like this didn’t exist, couldn’t exist. A sudden chill stole through the room, and Rebecca curled her arms around her shoulders, hugging herself as she gazed at the man’s stone face.

“See you tomorrow, handsome.” She bit her lip, and with a shy smile at the statue, she turned and walked back to her office. There was a mountain of paperwork waiting for her, though all she wanted was to go home with a man like the one on the pedestal in the gallery. Moonbeams cut through the wide windows, playing with shadows in the art gallery. The figures in the paintings were silent but watchful, as if waiting for something to happen. There wasn’t a sound to be heard throughout the gallery. Everything was still and silent… A woman in a white gown appeared, as if the moonlight itself had coalesced into human form. She smiled as she made her way to the statue in the middle of the room, her eyes both playful and hard. Its white stone gleamed like solid moonlight in the darkness. “Hello, Devon,” she said as she brushed a fingertip along its marble thigh.

“Are you ready to be a good boy and please your goddess?” An electric pulse shot through the stone, and she chuckled. So the mortal still had some fight in him, even after two hundred years. She studied the stone figure’s face, and her eyes sharpened. “Hear me, Devon Blake. You were punished for failing to please your goddess and seeking only your own pleasure in my arms. It was my right and duty to punish you. Now I am feeling lenient and merciful. Do not make me regret such soft emotions.” She studied the words “Oath” and “Pride” inscribed in the stone. She’d made an oath to herself to punish Devon for his pride.

A smile twitched the corners of her lips. The words oath and pride also spelled her name: Aphrodite. A little goddess humor she couldn’t resist indulging in. She paused, brushing a hand down the diaphanous white gown that hung from her shoulders and clung to her full curves. “You must prove to a mortal woman that you are able to please her without sating your own lust for an entire week. If you cannot do this, and fail to win that woman’s love because of your selfishness, then you will return to stone. And it will be far more than two hundred years before I grant you another chance.” The gallery vibrated with the goddess’s words. The spell—or rather the curse—settled into the stones and the frames of the paintings and, most importantly, into the marble statue of the man once known as Devon Blake. The goddess glanced about the room, eyeing the silent witnesses to her curse before she faced the frozen man.

“She who has woken you with her touch shall be the woman who will set you free—if you have the strength to put her desires before your own.” And with that, the goddess vanished. The gallery seemed to sigh its own quiet relief that a goddess had come and gone without leaving a path of destruction in her wake. Instead, she’d left a lingering sense of dark enchantment that could only be broken by the power of love. Such was a fitting curse from the goddess Aphrodite.

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