She gives me a bright smile. “I like that idea.”
I warm at her response, and the school teacher and nurturer in me is certain I am so going to be her Mama Bear.
We enter another hallway that is lined with various works of art that I barely refrain from inspecting. There will be time for that later.
“I’ll introduce you to the staff when they arrive,” Amanda informs me. “There are seven of us total aside from you, two of whom are part-time interns. They’re all coming in late after working last night’s event.”
“How’d you get so lucky to work early?” I ask as we stop at a doorway I assume leads to the offices.
She cut me another sideways look. “I spilled a glass of wine on a very important client last night. It’s my punishment.”
My brows dip and a chill slides down my spine. “Punishment?”
She keys in a password on an entry panel, before turning her attention back to me. The smile of moments before has disappeared. ”Mark’s big on punishment.” She starts walking and forces me to follow and I have the distinct impression she doesn’t want to give me the chance to ask for more specifics.
We pass several dark offices before she pauses at a door and flips on the light. “You’ll be working in Rebecca’s office.”
I don’t move. I stand there, feeling icy cold, as I remember the journal entry from the night before. You know the rules, you know I have to punish you.
I walk into Rebecca’s office and the scent of roses flares in my nostrils. Searching the room, I find a small candle on the shiny cherry wood desk that while not burning, seems the logical source of the sweet floral perfume. The little personal touch I assume to be Rebecca’s reminds me that I am here to find her, and punches me in the gut when it should be encouraging, a sign of her return. Searching for more of that encouragement I should be feeling, I glance at the two bookshelves to my right, where various art books are displayed on stands and a dozen or so others are shelved, and find nothing to cling to.
“If you hit the red button on your phone, you’ll reach the intercom to my desk,” Amanda murmurs.
“Great,” I say, stepping behind the desk and stuffing my purse into a drawer. I can’t seem to get myself to sit down in the red leather chair. In her chair. “What’s my extension?” I ask because I’m trying to buy time to snap out of the uneasy feeling tingling through my nerve endings.
“Four,” Amanda replies.
My gaze lifts and my breath hitches at the sight of the painting on the wall directly in front of me. I think Amanda says something else but I don’t know what. I am riveted by the fine strokes of brilliance done by none other than the famous American painter Georgia O’Nay. I now know why there had been a key pad for a password to enter the back offices and the candle suddenly has more significance because this glorious oil on canvas features red and white roses. It must be worth a cool thirty thousand and I can’t imagine it’s not real to be here in the gallery. It is spectacular, and it is on the wall I will be staring at every day. The same wall that Rebecca had stared at each day she’d been here.
“From Mark’s personal collection,” Amanda informs me, clearly noting the way I’m gaping. “He has a piece in every office.”
I jerk my attention in her direction to find her leaning on the doorframe. “His personal collection?”
She gives a nod. “His family owns a number of art galleries and an auction house in New York called ‘Riptide’,” she explains. “He changes out the pieces every few months from what I understand. We actually have customers who schedule appointments to see what he brings next.” Stunned at this news, I am again in a rare state of speechlessness at the mention of the most elite auction houses in existence, selling everything from celebrity property to fine art.
She laughs without humor, a hint of unease in its depths. “Everyone wants a piece of that man.”
I tilt my head to study her, noting the emphasis on everyone. “You included, Amanda?”
With a wave of her hand she dismisses that idea. “I am so beneath him and most of the customers who come in here.”
Her insecurity washes over me, stirring old feelings I don’t like but I can identify with. “That’s not true. You are not beneath him, or anyone, for that matter.”
“I appreciate that but after this summer, I’ve decided that geology and dig sites are where I belong. A little dust and sun will do me better than champagne and fine art.”
“Don’t make that decision because you feel beneath Mark.”
Her expression turns solemn. “I’m not. I…” She seems to consider her words, and decides against them, instead motioning over her shoulder. “Why don’t I show you the break room. I need to get some coffee started and there’s some paperwork for you to fill out. I can explain while I make it.”
A few minutes later, Amanda has shown me the exact measure of coffee that Mark wants used if I’m ever the first one to arrive, and I’m sitting at a small wooden table across from her as she fills two ceramic cups. No Styrofoam like in the teacher’s lounge for this place.
“How long has Rebecca been gone?” I ask.
Amanda sits down across from me. “Well,” she ponders thoughtfully, pouring sugar into her coffee, as I opt for straight powder creamer. “I started two months ago and she was already gone, so at least that long.”