“Then have it you shall,” her husband declares.
I smile at the woman’s joy, but not without a bit of art envy. I would love to be going home with the piece she will be tonight.
“I understand you had a question for me,” a male voice says, pulling my attention toward the display entryway where a man with neatly trimmed blond hair stands. He is tall and confident, an air of ownership about him. And his eyes-–they are the most unique silvery gray I’ve ever seen.
“I’m Mark Compton,” he says, “the gallery manager. And it looks like I owe you more than an answer to whatever your question is. It appears I need to thank you for assisting my customers.” He glances at the couple. “I take it you’ve made a selection?”
“Indeed we have,” the husband says, clearly pleased to have his wife make a decision. “We’d like to take it home with us tonight if possible.”
“Excellent,” he says. “If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll have it packaged for you.”
He motions for me to walk with him, and I shake my head. “I’m in no rush. Help them with their purchase, and you can find me later.”
He studies me a bit too intently, those silvery eyes of his rich with interest, and I am suddenly self-conscious. He is, without a doubt, classically handsome by anyone’s standards, but there is also something raw and sexual about this man, something almost predatory about him.
“All right then,” he says softly, “I’ll find you soon.” It isn’t a statement that alludes to a double meaning, but yet, I feel one there. His gaze shifts to the couple. “Let’s go ring you up.”
The couple thank me for my help and hurries after Mark. The minute they are gone, the minute Mark Compton is out of sight, I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding and shake myself inwardly. And not just because of the way his eyes had assessed me so…so what? Intimately? Surely not. I still have this over-active imagination thing going on over the journals. I do wonder if he is the "he" from the journals. He certainly has the animal magnetism Rebecca’s words painted him with. But then, so does Ricco Alvarez. Good grief, I’m making myself crazy.
A staff member interrupts me before I can go on another "crazy" thinking spree, and removes the couple's purchase from the display. I force myself to stop over-analyzing and relax, basking in the solitude as I discover Chris Merit’s newest work.
“You like Merit?” comes another male voice, this one familiar.
I turn to find the man who’d sat next to me during the presentation standing in the doorway. I give a quick, eager nod. “Very much. I wish they had some of his portraits, but his urban landscapes are magnificent. You?”
He leans against the wall. “I hear he doesn’t have an overinflated ego. That scores points with me.”
I tilt my head and study him, relaxing into the easy conversation. “Why are you here if you don’t like Ricco?”
Mark Compton appears in the doorway. “I see you didn’t venture far,” he says to me and then eyes the other man. “Don’t tell me you’re pimping your own work at Ricco’s event?” He glances at me. “Was he pimping his own work?”
I gape. “Wait. His own work?” I shift my gaze to my nameless new friend, who looks nothing like the Chris Merit I’ve seen photos of. “Who are you exactly?”
His mouth quirks at the edges. “The man with the one red shoe.” And with that, he turns and walks away.
I shake my head. “What? What does that mean?” I turn to Mark. "What does that mean? The man with the one red shoe?”
“Who knows,” Mark says, his lips thinning in disapproval. “Chris has a twisted sense of humor. Thankfully, it doesn’t show up on the canvas.”
My jaw goes slack. “Wait. Are you telling me that was Chris Merit?” I rack my brain over the pictures of him I’ve seen and I remember him differently. Do I have his image confused with another?
“That’s Chris,” he confirms. “And as you can see he has an odd way about him. He was standing in his own display room and didn’t even tell you who he was.” His hands settle on his hips. “Listen, Tesse tells me you…I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name?”
“Sara,” I supply. “Sara McMillan.”
“Sara,” he repeats, his tone low, as if he was trying it out on his tongue, trying me out on his tongue. Seconds pass, and the small display area seems to get smaller before he adds, "Tesse was right. Rebecca is on a leave of absence.”
His tone shifts back to all business now, and I wonder if I imagine the raspier tone. I am, after all, excelling at making myself crazy. “I see,” I say. “Is there a way to reach her?”
“If you figure out a way, let me know,” he says. “She took a two-week cruise with some rich guy she was dating and that turned into the entire summer. I agreed because she’s good at her job and the clients love her. But depending on interns who don’t know what they’re doing is killing me. I’m going to have to get someone in here to cover for her that actually knows what they are doing.”
“The entire summer,” I repeat uncomfortably, focused on the oddity that represents. All summer was a long time for a working girl to leave her job behind. And Mark’s comment about the "rich guy" hit me just as wrong for some reason, though it could have been merely his frustration over Rebecca’s extended leave. Or maybe…could he be jealous over this rich man? My brows dip. “Leaving you high and dry like this--that doesn’t sound like the responsible Rebecca my sister described.”