I’m dumbfounded. I’ve never really thought this rich guy existed. I mean, the man in the journal is Mark, right? “You met the guy she’s vacationing with?”
“Once and it was enough to see him as the hot rock he is. A player and for a reason. I’d have killed to have a night with that man. I’m not sure there is a woman on the planet who wouldn’t.”
“Is he an artist?”
She shakes her head. “Some investment analyst in New York she met when she was doing work for Mark. He’s Mark’s friend. That in itself is a red flag. Mark’s as cold as ice and as hot as my coffee. Those who play together, stay together, and single. Or in this case, those who make money together, are...” She laughs. “I don’t know. No smart saying comes to mind, but both those men are all about money. Two peas in a pod.”
Play together? Was it a slip? A reference to sex? Does that mean this man is the man in the journal and he shared Rebecca with Mark?
The ticket arrives and our tab amounts to the generous tip we leave, while the topic of Rebecca is lost. I kick myself for not finding out the boyfriend’s name. We chat on our walk back to the gallery, but it’s chatter, and nothing more. I agree to stop in for coffee the next day and head back to my office.
“There’s a surprise for you in your office,” Amanda beams.
“What is it?”
“Surprise,” she repeats. “Go see.”
I arrive at my office door and stop dead in my tracks when I see the bouquet of red roses. There are roses everywhere in my room, and I feel like a Princess who’s found her Prince Charming. My stomach churns at the sweet scent of the flowers and I walk to my desk on wobbling legs. I can’t bring myself to reach for the card and I settle into my chair and stare at the twelve, unopened buds. Ready to bloom. Suddenly, I have to know who they are from. I grab the card and with a shaking hand I pull out the card.
Because under the rose trees I was a jerk, but a lucky one to have you there with me. - Chris
I cannot breathe. The card, and what’s on it is perfect. My gaze lifts to the painting of the roses and I am haunted by the connection to her. I reach for my cell phone to text Chris but unbidden I think of another journal passage.
He’s hard sometimes, demanding, but he makes me feel protected. He makes me feel special. I think I’m ready to put my fear aside of the things he wants me to do with him, and to take the next step.
I am haunted by more than the roses. I am haunted by the similarities of what she felt for the man in the journal and what I feel for Chris. But we aren’t the same. He’s not the man in the journal. Nothing points to Chris. The paintbrush. No. No. It’s not Chris. Ava said she met the man. She knows who he is.
My office phone buzzes and I jump. “Your morning customer is back to make a purchase,” Amanda announces.
I shove my cell phone into my drawer and push to my feet, welcoming an escape from what I’m thinking and feeling.
I have barely finished with my sale when Amanda tells me Mark wants to see me in his office. With my second sale of the day under my belt, I am feeling less intimidated by the summons.
“Shut the door,” he commands when I enter, from behind his massive desk. “And sit, Ms. McMillan.”
Okay, being comfortable with Mark isn’t an easy thing to do. I figure I’ve used up my good luck with my new boss back somewhere around the ‘cock-fight’ and my last refusal to sit, so I do as ordered and sit down in front of him. Oh yeah, and when my lover-non-boyfriend-whatever Chris is, negotiated me a fifty-thousand dollar paycheck. I think today is a good day to do as told.
Steely eyes assess me too long and I’m about to begin talking too much, when Mark says, “I see you received flowers today.”
Ohhkay. Where in the heck is this going? “Yes.” I tell myself to stop there, but I can’t. “It’s a nice way to start the week and the roses match the gorgeous painting you’ve placed on my wall.” Oh shut up and don’t go there!
“I assume that means you’re continuing your relationship with Chris.”
My defenses rise despite my vow to behave. “I’m not sure why this is relevant to my job?”
“The man negotiated a commission on your behalf and you don’t know why he’s relevant?”
So much for thinking I’d dodged a bullet. “If this is about money--“
“Everything is about money, Ms. McMillan, and while I have no issues paying you well, I expect to have you all to myself while you are on my territory.”
“What?” My pulse hammers in my chest. “I don’t understand what that means.”
He turns his computer screen around and pushes play and my heart almost explodes from my chest when I see the security feed. It’s me and Chris by the bathroom. Chris touching me. Chris kissing me.
“Enough!” I say, pushing to the edge of my seat.
He punches a key. “Enough indeed.”
“That was inappropriate and it will never happen again,” I quickly vow.
“You’re right. It won’t. Be clear, Sara. This is my gallery and when you are here, or attending to my business, I own you, not Chris Merit.”
“Own me?” I repeat.
“Own you. You bet on it and me, not Chris. And if you think that he didn’t know there was a camera, that he wasn’t trying to power-play me, think again.”