• • •

“Coffee’s ready.”


My head snaps up from the pad of paper where I’ve been jotting information about Ella’s new husband, David, including his work number, and find Ralph, the gallery accountant and ever the comedian, poking his head in the door. Considering “Ralph” is Asian, I can’t help but wonder if his parents have the same infectious sense of humor I adore about Ralph. “Thank you,” I say, eager to pick Ralph’s brain about Rebecca and her relationship with Alvarez before my visit with him the next evening.

“I suggest you fill your mug before ‘Bossman’ drinks it all,” Ralph whispers conspiratorially, using one of his random, ever-changing nicknames for Mark. “He looks like he had a long night.” He tips back an imaginary glass and makes a comical face. “A bit too much wine for the Wine Master, I do think.”

I wave off this notion and glance at the clock, remotely registering that it’s almost nine and David’s office should be opening any minute. “Mark’s way too in control to let that happen.”

Ralph snorts. “You haven’t seen him today.”

He grimaces and disappears around the corner and my brows dip. Mark looking anything but perfect is hard to fathom, and since Mark seems to have quite the impact on my future, I’m curious about this development.

I push to my feet in pursuit of Ralph while he’s in willing informant mood, and find him sitting behind his desk in the office next door to mine. “I scored a meeting with Ricco Alvarez tomorrow,” I say, claiming the chair in front of his desk, not wanting to be obvious about my interest in Mark.

He arches a regal brow. “Did you now? Does Bossman know yet?”

“Not yet.”

“I’m sure he won’t be overly surprised. Alvarez has a thing for pretty women who tell him he paints like a Mexican god. And since you ooh and aah over his work, I assume you did. Stick to that strategy and you should do well with him.”

“A Mexican god?” I laugh.

He shrugs. “I call it like I see it. His ego is only exceeded by ‘the one’ who writes our checks.”

“I recall Amanda saying she thought Alvarez was worse.”

He shoved his glasses up his nose. “I guess that’s a matter of opinion. Actually, Amanda is right. Bossman rules with an iron fist but he does take care of his employees. And he’d never curse us for a mistake big or small. Of course, he’d flatten you with a look, and successfully. Alvarez once cursed me out over a one-dollar error in his payout.”

“Actually cursed?”

“Profusely.”

“Unbelievable,” I say, and in my mind, I’m replaying the journal and how Rebecca had said the artist she wrote about had a gentle strength about him. Suddenly, this doesn’t remind me of Ricco Alvarez at all. It reminds me of Chris. I shake off the ridiculous notion, trying to focus on what Ralph is saying.

“The only person with love for Alvarez—aside from admiration for his work, that is—is gone. Rebecca had a soft spot for him, and he for her, and for whatever reason when she left, he pulled his work from the gallery.”

“But he did the charity event?”

“Set up by Rebecca before she left.”

“Right. I remember Amanda saying that, too, now.” My brows furrow. “You have no clue at all why Alvarez pulled his work?”

“The man went off over one dollar, Sara. The possibilities are innumerable.”

“And he was working with Mark before Rebecca arrived?” I ask, confirming what I think I understand.

“For years.”

I wonder if Alvarez could be the man she’d been dating, but of course, that didn’t add up, since he was in town and she wasn’t. But maybe at some point they had? “Were she and Alvarez dating?”

“I don’t think so. She never talked about any man that I know of, and I don’t know how she’d have had time for one. She had two jobs when she started here—”

“Two?”

“Waitress at night.”

My belly tightens. “To pay the bills.” Rebecca had done what I hadn’t dared until she’d inadvertently led me here. She gambled that she could find a way to turn the dream into an income.

“Exactly,” Ralph confirms. “She never slept, and took naps at lunch in a chair in one of the back offices. Bossman didn’t like the conflict, though, and she’d done well enough that somehow she negotiated it into commissions.”

“Somehow? You were surprised?”

“Aren’t you? She was young and inexperienced, barely a year out of college.”

“I thought she was a few years older.”

He shakes his head. “Nope, so you can see that to snag what many a professional in this business wants and doesn’t get was a big deal. But I give her credit. She didn’t get bigheaded or take it for granted. She worked like a dog, through her lunches and late into the evenings. She needed her vacation, though this has become a bit extreme. Hard to believe she’s returning. Maybe this rich guy convinced her she needed a sugar daddy.”

“Did you meet him?”

“Never even heard of him until she was gone. I told you, she didn’t talk about the men in her life.”

But Ava had heard of this man and even met him, hadn’t she? Rebecca must have kept her new man away from the gallery, and Mark, but she was evidentially closer to Ava than I realized.

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