“Mark’s waiting for you in his office,” she says.

“Which would be where?”

She smirks. “Door at the end of your hall. Good luck and I really do hope I see you tomorrow.”

I blanch. “Hope?”

She holds up her hands. “Oh no, you took that so wrong. I didn’t mean you were going to get fired. I meant that I hope you come back. I know you don’t care for all the testing.”

I relax a fraction. “I’ll be back.”

She smiles and slips her purse over her shoulder. “Good. Excellent. And, you know, I’m happy to quiz you if it would help any.”

“You’re versed in wines, opera, and classical music?”

“Nope,” she says, “and I don’t want to be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t help you study. I happen to think you’ll be great to have around. It’s just a feeling I have.”

A smile touches my lips. “Thank you, Amanda. I appreciate your offer and I might just take you up on it.”

“I hope you do,” she assures me. “I’ll see you in the morning.” She lowers her voice. “Good luck with the beast. That’s what we call him. It’s so very appropriate.”

With a much needed laugh at the nickname, I reluctantly head through the door to the right of the desk that leads to the offices. The sense of balancing uneasily on a tightrope about to tumble off consumes me. I knock on the corner door and hear Mark’s deep voice tell me to ‘enter’. The one word is more of a command than most can muster in a full sentence. The man really is one big ball of bossiness.

Hoisting my briefcase and purse fully onto my shoulder, I shove open the door, wishing I’d dropped my things by my office. The minute I bring Mark’s office into view, I forget the dull throb of the load I’m carrying for the spectacular sight of the oval shaped room with a massive glass desk in the center. I am overwhelmed with the magnificent art on the walls to my right and left. On some level, I am certain Mark wanted me to see this place, to see him looking powerful, more king than man, in the center of it all.

But it is the spectacular mural covering the entire half moon wall hugging ‘the king’ I find utterly spellbinding. My eyes travel the exquisitely painted design of the Eiffel Tower, and I instantly know the technique and the artist. This is Chris’s mastery. These two men were once friends. They had to have been and yet now they barely tolerate each other.

“How was your coffee, Ms. McMillan?”

I snap my attention from the painting to Mark, wondering how he manages to make a question sound like a demand. Don’t play his game and he can’t beat you at it. Chris’s words repeat in my head and they resonate within me but I feel trapped. I cannot be fired before I find out what happened to Rebecca.

“My coffee was excellent, and thank you for the second cup. It certainly helped clear the fog of too many wines and not enough time.”

“Sit and tell me what you studied and what you learned.” He motions to the brown leather chairs in front of his desk, indicating he wants me to sit in the one to his right. My urge is to claim the one to his left, all too aware this action would displease him. I am clearly conflicted over this man. I want to please him. I do not want to please him. But experience with overbearing men such as Mark prevails and I choose to do neither. How high I jump now will determine how high he expects me to jump later.

When I don’t move, he arches a brow. “Am I so intimidating, Ms. McMillan, that you do not want to sit?”

My chin lifts and I meet his steely gray eyes. “As much as you try to be, Mr. Compton, no, you are not. Your tests, however, are. I’d prefer to wait to be drilled on my knowledge until I can adequately impress you. I do not, however, want to wait to work the sales floor until such time.”

“We do not always get what we want, Ms. McMillan.” His expression is inscrutable, but his voice is lower, velvety, and not for the first time today, I’m not sure we are talking about my job. “Everything I do is calculated and with purpose. You’ll learn that sooner than later. There’s a wine tasting here on Friday night. The attendees are not high school students. They’re wealthy, refined customers, with refined tastes. I need you ready for them. I need you focused on preparing for that event.”

Refined. There was that word again and it bites with insult; be it real or imagined, it has the same effect on me. A sense of inadequacy fills me, a long lost enemy, threatening to bring me to my knees. Anger flares its ugly, unexpected head, and it’s far easier to embrace. “Then I guess I’d better get home and study.” Somehow, my voice is steady.

His eyes narrow and darken, and I’m pretty sure he knows he’s hit a hot spot with me. I’ve got to learn to control my reactions, and put on a game face.

“Are you aware that Riptide hosts a variety of wine tasting events in conjunction with some of the top wine producers in the world?”

I blink. ”No. I am not.”

“Are you aware that we hold an annual charity event in conjunction with the Siberian Orchestra?”

My stomach falls to my feet. Why didn’t I do my research? “No. No, I am not.”

“Then I’m sure you’ve now realized that I am only trying to help you, Sara,” he says. “I see something bigger than a few weeks on my local showroom floor for you. If that’s not what you want, then by all means, I’ll set you free in the gallery tomorrow to sell to your heart’s content.”

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