“Morning, Amanda,” I say, and Amanda studies me with a keen eye.
“Morning. You look amazing today.”
“Well, thank you.”
I enter the back office and stop dead in my tracks when I come face-to-face with Mark. The man is so damn disarming. Like fire scorching ice, he melts a girl right in her high heels. “Morning,” I manage, and I wonder if he ever has a hair out of place, or a suit that isn’t as perfectly fitted as his choice today of a pale gray that makes his eyes all the more compelling.
His gaze sweeps my body and lifts. “Amanda was right. You look quite amazing today, Ms. McMillan.”
He steps aside and lets me pass. I have this moment of frozen, deer-in-the-headlights helplessness when I realize he’s going to watch me walk to my office. Damn this man and his power trips. I don’t like this or how he has suddenly made my mind go to Michael and my father, and my fears that they still might cause Chris trouble. What does it say, that Mark reminds me of Michael?
I draw a small breath and take a step, trying not to wobble on my heels and blow the whole looking-good thing I’ve just been praised for. Not that I need Mark’s praise. I don’t.
But as I settle at my desk and put my things away, I bitterly acknowledge that I do need his praise. Why is this still who I am? I don’t want Mark; he’s too dominant. “No in between, all right,” I murmur.
“Something wrong, Ms. McMillan?”
Mark leans against my door frame, and my gaze flickers to the delicate roses of the O’Nay painting on the wall—the one he put here for Rebecca. What is wrong is that Rebecca is missing. He is the Master in the journal, and he has to know more about where she has gone.
I open my mouth to say that, then close it, remembering the warning to be cautious. I don’t want evidence being tucked away, any more than I want to be in danger myself.
“I’m nervous,” I tell him. “I’m going to resign from the school today.”
One blond brow lifts. “Are you, now?”
Approval gleams in his eyes and it pleases me to think he values my presence here enough to be pleased. “Well, then. Let me leave you to it.”
He disappears and I slump in my chair. I swear that man winds me up and leaves me exhausted from every encounter. My gaze goes back to the picture on the wall, my thoughts to Rebecca. I’m not taking your job. Come back. Be okay. And that goes for you, too, Ella. Just thinking of Ella sets me into motion. I sit up and dial the school. I have to leave a message. Great. More fretting.
Ryan calls and e-mails me staging pictures of the property I’m to help decorate, and I get to work looking for possible art purchases for the project. By midmorning I have a lag in my work, and I pull out Rebecca’s work journal and begin scouring it for helpful sales tips. My brows dip at a page of random notes. Riptide auction piece. Legit? Find expert. I inhale sharply. Rebecca was looking into a counterfeit piece that was listed at Riptide? Could that have gotten her into trouble? Surely, Mark knows, though. He had the journal. He had to have read it. Unless . . . Mark was involved. No. He’d never have given me the journal. Is this why he gave it to me? He wants me to know? I’m dumbfounded about what this could mean.
I glance up just in time to catch a glimpse of Ricco walking by my door. Panic assails me. Is he here to complain about Chris showing up at his house? I push to my feet and rush to the hall and watch Ricco disappear inside Mark’s office. I seek out Ralph, as my resident knowledge keeper, for a possible explanation that does not involve me, but he isn’t at his desk.
The kitchen is my next stop, and it’s a mistake. I walk right into the lion’s mouth. Mary turns as I enter, cup in hand.
“How’d it go with Ricco?” she asks.
Doing my best to appear unfrazzled, I walk to the coffeepot and fill my cup. “Not good. He pretty much sent me packing.”
“Really? And yet he’s here?”
I add cream to my coffee. “I have no idea why.”
She stares at me. “You must have done something to piss him off.”
The evil gleam in her eyes tells me she intended to upset me, and it works. Could she be any colder and meaner?
“Right. Thanks for the words of encouragement.” I start to turn.
“Honey, you don’t get any more encouragement than the boss wanting up your skirt.”
How has my happy morning turned to total crap? I’m about to quit my teaching job yet I’m clearly not the only person who has worries that I have this job because Mark wants “up my skirt.” What am I thinking? I walk back to my office and shut the door and I call Chris.
The instant he answers, I say, “You once told me I don’t belong in this world. You didn’t mean in the art business, right?”
“No, baby. You know what I was talking about.”
“I can’t resign my job if Mark only gave me this one because he wants to turn me into Rebecca. Would he do that? Would he hire me for strictly personal reasons?” He’s silent too long and I can’t take it. “Chris.”
“I’d like to say anything to get you out of that place, but no. He wouldn’t. He sees your talent, Sara. And so will anyone who gets any quality time with you.”
Amanda buzzes in with my call from the school. “Have him hold,” I tell her.
“You’re not a schoolteacher, Sara,” Chris says. “No in between, baby.”