Chris knew there were cameras? My heart shatters with the implications behind this discovery. Of course Chris knew. This is his life, his world. I should have known. I did know. “I’m sorry.” I want to tell him the wine got the best of me, but I’m afraid he’ll only think it’s another problem I represent. “I won’t let you down again.”
He studies me with those hard, calculating eyes for what seems like an eternity. “Ms. McMillan. Relax. I’m on your side. You’re not getting fired.”
Not getting fired. This is good. This is what I want. I nod, but I am still ramrod stiff.
“Relax, Sara.” It’s an order.
I want to do as he says. I want to show him I’m a good risk, a good employee, but adrenaline is lighting me on fire. I inhale and let it out, and slowly, I force the tension from my body and lean back into my chair.
“We’re okay,” Mark says and there is a gentleness to his voice I’ve never heard. “We have a bright future together.”
“Yes. I believe in you, or you wouldn’t be here, but it’s also my job to protect you and this gallery. You need to understand these artists can be manipulative. They can use the prospect of a special showing, like you want from Ricardo, against you. I need to make sure right now that you know that you need to do nothing to get work for this gallery but be the professional you are. We do not beg, and you do not let yourself get manipulated. Period. The end. These artists know I don’t tolerate that crap and as long as they believe I own you, they won’t believe you will either. So when I say I own you, Sara, I mean I own you.”
He owns me. I am not comfortable with his choice of words, but I doubt my ability to be my own judge at the moment. My gaze lifts to the mural behind Mark that I am certain Chris painted. I’ve trusted Chris. Has he been manipulating me? Using me against Mark? It’s not the first time I’ve had this thought.
“Are we clear, Sara?” Mark prods.
My attention returns to Mark, to the steely strong eyes offering me protection, a good job, a future. “Yes. We’re clear.”
I barely remember the rest of the conversation. The minute I am back at my desk I grab my phone and text Chris. Have to cancel dinner. I turn off my phone.
The rest of the day crawls by and I am in knots over Chris—-hurt, angry, confused--I feel all of these things and more. Nearing the end of the day, I am in my office, trying to focus on work and failing. Worse, I expect Chris to call through the switchboard to try to reach me and he doesn’t. Clearly, he’s not that broken up over my cancellation of dinner, and I can’t help but believe he knew my humiliation was coming and has been received. I wouldn’t discount Mark confronting him.
How could Chris intentionally set me up like he did? And he did. Chris is too smart to not know what he was doing and the tension between him and Mark is too damn obvious. I am a token in a game and I hate how badly it hurt. I hate that I let my little adventure turn into heartache.
When eight o’clock finally arrives, the knots in my stomach multiply, and I stay at my desk. What if Chris is outside waiting on me? What if he’s not? another voice dares to whisper in my head. I am second-guessing my decision to turn off my phone, to actually talk to Chris and make it clear we are over. Right. A simple blow-off. It should be easy. Instead, I am a coward who cannot talk to him, certain I will agree to whatever he asks of me. I am too far into the infatuation I have for him. And that’s what it is. Infatuation. After being humiliated by that video, I refuse it to be anything else.
At a quarter after eight, Mark appears in my doorway, his suit jacket gone, his top two buttons undone. Still, he manages to look every bit the corporate seduction king, the guy every lady wants and every man wants to be. Every lady but me, that is.
He leans on the jamb. “Isn’t it time to go home, Ms. McMillan?”
“For reasons I’d rather not discuss, I’m feeling extremely dedicated tonight.”
He ignores my reference to our earlier incident. “I don’t like leaving you here alone.”
“You have cameras.”
He laughs, a rare happening, and oddly considering my behavior, he seems more relaxed around me. “Good point,” he concedes and pushes away from the wall. “You are the witty one, Ms. McMillan, and I can see customers responding well to you. I’ll leave you to work, but why don’t you pull your car around front so you don’t have to walk to the parking lot alone?”
Cab rides for staff after tastings, worries over my safety, my being manipulated. Mark’s tough and demanding, but I begin to see him as a good boss, someone trying to help me get ahead in this world. “I moved my car out front before Amanda left an hour ago.” And because I knew that was where Chris would look for it.
“Well then, I guess I’ll depart. Remember though that once you exit the gallery, the security locks are automatic. You can’t get back in.”
“Yes. I know. I’ll be sure I’m ready to leave when I exit.”
“Good. Then you’re all set. You had excellent marks on your wine exams, by the way. I’m impressed.”
“I spent the weekend studying.” And falling hard for an artist who has my insides in knots.
“It shows.” He motions to the flowers, the only smirk I’ve ever seen on his face present. “At least he has good taste in flowers.” He doesn’t give me time to respond. “Good night, Ms. McMillan.”