“Yes,” I say, smiling. “It would suck.” I hear someone shout in the background, and I think Chris is outside the airport, trying to get a cab.

“That would be my cab,” Chris confirms. “Or rather someone getting me a cab. I’ll call you later. And order in lunch today. I’m worried about you going out.” I hear someone, the cab driver, I assume, ask Chris about his bag, and Chris replies before he returns his attention to me. “I’m serious about lunch, Sara. Order in.”


“I’ll be careful, I promise. Catch your cab and call me when you can.”

“Careful isn’t the answer I’m looking for and you know it.” More voices in the background and I hear Chris issue a muffled curse. “I have to go but this conversation is not over. Did you talk with Jacob?”

“He wasn’t around—”

“Sara—”

“I’m fine.”

“The point is keeping you fine.” He makes a frustrated sound. “I’ll call you when I get a break and we will talk about your definition of ‘careful’ and mine.” He hangs up before I can answer, another one of his “control” things.

I drop the phone back into my desk drawer and I am warm all over thinking about Chris’s confessions, and even his concerns when it comes to my safety. I do not know why it feels wicked and wonderful when Chris pretty much bosses me around, but it does. Chris Merit is my adrenaline rush.

The intercom buzzes and Amanda announces, “There’s someone named Jacob on the line for you.”

Seven

I’ve barely hung up with Jacob when I receive an e-mail from Mark titled “Riptide.” Tension slides through me at the timing of a message related to the famous auction house his family owns. He knows how much I want to earn the opportunity to work with Riptide and he’s too smart not to know how uneasy I am about where I stand. Anxiously, I click on the message.

Ms. McMillan:

Riptide has an auction planned for two months from now and I’m attaching a list of the items to be offered to the public, along with estimated sale prices. This should give you an idea of exactly how including a piece of art in a Riptide auction can impact its value. This should clearly show why you would want a customer, or artists wishing to sell unique pieces of their collections, to use Riptide as an avenue to do so. Furthermore, to have our gallery listed as the sale’s agent amplifies our reputation as a prestigious gallery, thus drawing high-end clientele to shop and artists to show their work here.

Consider this an invitation to seek out items that would fit this upcoming auction, and should you succeed, you will be invited to attend the event when it takes place. You will also receive a substantial commission of the sale.

Sincerely,

Bossman

The humor Mark shows in the e-mail by signing it “Bossman” does nothing to lessen my instant unease at the timing of the message. Mark stirs conflicting feelings inside me. I respect his success, and I’ve seen him act in protective ways toward me and his other employees that conflict with the man in the journal Chris insists is Mark. My gaze lifts to the oil painting on the wall in front of me, red and white roses by the brilliant Georgia O’Nay, a part of Mark’s personal collection that he’d placed in Rebecca’s office.

I am reminded of the roses Rebecca’s Master had sent her, of her words after receiving them. I do feel ready to bloom, ready to go wherever he leads me. I have the sense that Mark is trying to lead me, and my spine stiffens. I do not know if he is the man from the journal, but I do know that I am not his slave or submissive, nor do I intend to be. I do, however, fear that is where he intends to take me. I feel like this Riptide offer is about Chris, about me not saying he owns me. Mark is trying to own me. I’ve finally dared to chase my dream of a career in this industry, and he’s using it against me. He knows I know that while I could get a job elsewhere, the pay would be too low for me to consider it a viable way to leave teaching behind. I cannot just sit back and ignore what this could mean for me.

My mind is racing as I round my desk and head to the hallway. If I let fear of losing this dream control me, Mark controls me. I’ve worked too hard to make my life my own to let that happen. And damn it, if this dream isn’t going to happen for me, I need to stop teasing myself. The longer I do, the more painful my return to teaching will be. I can’t make a living on the pay I’ll get without the Riptide commissions. If I could, I’d have been working at this a long time ago.

My worries consume the short walk to Mark’s door and I am not surprised to find it shut. It’s not like the man invites a warm and fuzzy environment. Lifting my hand to knock, I pause as adrenaline slams into me and this time it’s not such a high. Nerves assail me and I hate it. They are a weakness and I am so damn tired of weakness. Grinding my teeth through the very real fear of this meeting ending my dream job and mocking my bravado, I knock and hear Mark’s deep voice resonate a command to come in. Everything is a command with Mark.

After opening the door I step inside. I shut the door behind me before he has a chance to tell me to. Control, I think. I have to claim it. I turn to face him, taking in the oval-shaped office and the spectacular art on the walls surrounding me. Finally, I allow myself to glimpse the man behind the massive glass desk, who oozes power and sex in explosive quantities, and whom I’d dubbed “King” the first time I’d seen him behind his desk. It’s hard not to find him impressively male and highly intimidating, and to not be drawn to him. But there is something more compelling demanding my attention. My gaze slides beyond Mark to the giant Paris-themed mural covering the entire wall and my teeth sink into my bottom lip at the delicate, familiar strokes of the brush I see in the work I know belongs to Chris.

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