“People aren’t always what they seem,” he says and motions toward Chris Merit’s displayed art. “The art does not always mimic the artist. You never know the real person until you slide beneath their surface.”
Or look in their dresser drawer, I think guiltily. But Rebecca didn’t seem like someone to run out on her job to me. She loved her job. Then again, I might be wrong. As seduced as Rebecca had been by this world she’d created, she’d been scared too. And I want to know why more than ever. What created such obsession, such fear?
A sudden burn for answers, a need to leave here tonight with something more than I came with overcomes me, and before I can stop myself, I blurt, “I can cover Rebecca for the summer. I’m a teacher so I’m on break. I have a Master's of Art from The Art Institute, and a Bachelor's in business. I interned for three years at the Museum of Modern Art and I know art. All art. Test me if you like.”
His eyes narrow a fraction, the silence crackling between us for several long seconds. “You’re hired, Sara McMillan. You can start tomorrow. I’ll let you enjoy the rest of your evening.” He lowers his voice. “Tomorrow, you're all mine.” He turns and walks away.
I blink, stunned. He’d just hired me, but he hadn’t even asked me one single question. I hadn’t asked about hours or pay. I inhale a sharp breath. I’d come here to find Rebecca, to make sure she is alive and well. Instead, I am about to be Rebecca, or rather, be the Marketing Director for the gallery. So I can find Rebecca, I tell myself. Something has happened to Rebecca, and I have to prove it. That’s why I’m here. No other reason.
I am still standing in the middle of Chris Merit’s display, in stunned disbelief, when something snaps inside me. I am hot and confused and feeling like the world is spinning around me. I’ve spent money I don’t have on the ticket for the night, but I can’t get out of this gallery fast enough. I run for the door, not literally, but I might as well be. This heat I feel is unexplainable, considering the gallery is chilly, and I need air desperately. I need to think. I need to figure out what is going on inside me, because it is nothing I know as familiar.
Exiting to the street, I welcome the cool night air washing over me. I turn quickly to my left and intend to head for my car, when the strap of my purse catches and snags on the brick of the building and somehow it snaps open. The contents spill to the ground. With exasperation, I squat, trying to retrieve my items. This is so my life and there is a tiny part of me comforted by my familiar clumsiness, by something that feels like me. I mean, who else, can manage to catch their purse on a wall of all things?
“Need some help?”
My gaze shoots upward to find Chris Merit at eye level and for a rare moment in time, I can’t find the words to ramble with my nerves. While I’d felt comfortable with him inside the gallery, I am dumbstruck now that I know who he is. He is brilliant. He is also incredibly good looking, and squatting down on the ground with me, which somehow feels wrong. This night has me feeling as if I am in the twilight zone. There is no other explanation for how bizarre it is.
“I...ah...no,” I manage. “Thank you. I got it. It’s a little purse. Doesn’t hold much.” I scoop up my lipstick and a tiny wallet, and slide them back inside the bag, before pushing to my feet.
He grabs my keys and stands, towering over my five feet four inches by a good foot. I hadn’t realized how tall he was when he’d been sitting beside me at the Ricco event, or how earthy and deliciously male he smells, but the wind lifts and the scent tickles my nose. He is different from Mark, not so sophisticated and debonair, more raw, and yes, like his scent, earthy.
He gives me another one of those devastating smiles he’d used on me in the gallery and dangles my keys in the air. “You might need these to go wherever you’re going so fast.”
“Thank you,” I say and accept them. His fingers brush mine and electricity charges up my arm, across my chest, and steals my breath. My eyes meet his, and I see awareness in the deep green depths of his stare. Only, I’m not sure if it’s the same kind of awareness I feel. Maybe, it’s simply that I hide my feelings horribly and he now knows I’m reacting to him, and it amuses him.
“You’re leaving early,” he comments, his hands going to his hips, which pushes back his blazer enough for me to see the stretch of his black t-shirt across his impressive chest. I approve, as I’m sure the rest of the female population does as well.
“Yes,” I say and jerk my attention to his face, to a full mouth that has me a bit breathless, but then everything has me breathless tonight, it seems. ”I need to get home.”
“Why don’t I walk you to your car?”
He wants to walk me to my car. I’m not sure why he would want to do that. He doesn’t even know me. Is it possible that he felt that same electricity I did, or do I amuse him and he wants to continue the entertainment? Mark did say he has a strange sense of humor. “Why didn’t you tell me who you are?” I blurt, not liking the idea of being a joke.
His lips quirk. “Because then you would have told me you loved my work even if you hated it.”
My brows dip. I’m not sure how I feel about that. “That’s sneaky.”
“It spared you the awkwardness of pretending to like my work.”
“There wouldn’t have been any awkwardness. I like your work.”
“And I like that you like my work,” he approves, a warm glow in his eyes. “So...shall I walk you to your car?”