“Two in the morning.”

“I don’t want to go back there tonight.”

“You’re safer there.”

“Right,” I say again. “Because I’m in danger from some unknown someone who might have killed Rebecca. Only we can’t find her, or Ella, or any proof of any of this.”

He studies me, his brown eyes sharp before softening. “Let’s go back to Chris’s, Sara. It’ll give us all peace of mind.”

I consider arguing, but what’s the point? At least Chris cared enough to find out I wasn’t home. At his place, I silently correct myself. Chris made it clear I was to stay there only until the Rebecca mystery was solved. In other words, his place was never my place.

“Fine,” I concede, and I grab my purse and close up Ella’s apartment.

After we get into his car and pull onto the road, I ask, “Where do we stand on Rebecca?”

He fills me in, and when we pull up to Chris’s building, I am comforted and disturbed by how thorough Blake is in his work and how absent Rebecca remains.

The doorman opens the passenger door for me. “Sara,” Blake calls, halting my exit.

“Yes?”

“My wife is coming in for the weekend. She works with Walker Security. You could do whatever women do together and talk through things. Maybe you’ll remember something helpful.”

In other words, I’ll have a bodyguard I don’t want. “I’m working. You enjoy being with your wife.” I step out of the car and walk past the night security guard, glad Jacob is gone. I don’t want to see the concern in his expression that might send me back over the edge.

I take the elevator to Chris’s floor and when the doors open to his apartment, I don’t move. Only when the doors start to close do I catch them and enter the apartment. The familiar earthy scent of Chris is everywhere, yet he is nowhere.

• • •

I sleep on the couch and wake up to walk through my morning routine like a zombie. I wear a solid black dress with black hose and heels. The safe in the bottom of the closet catches my eye and I sink to my knees and tug on the door. It’s still locked, of course, and I don’t have the combination.

A few minutes later, I stand in the kitchen, unsure what to do with myself, and dare to try to call Chris. Each ring is like a blade stabbing me in the heart until his voice mail sounds. I don’t leave a message this time, either. I dial Brandy and get her husband. The funeral won’t be until next week, because of some kind of research testing. It’s in North Carolina. He’ll have Chris get me the details.

In the lobby, I find Jacob. “I want my car.”

“Ms. Mc—”

“I want my car, Jacob.”

His eyes narrow sharply. “Mr. Merit—”

“Isn’t here.”

“You do know you have to remain cautious.”

“Yes. I’m aware, but I still want my car.”

He gets my car and I settle into the seat, wishing I’d never left the safety of what I knew behind. Everything is broken. I am broken.

I don’t even remember the drive.

The first thing I find when I arrive at work is a white envelope with my name scribbled on it in what I think is Mark’s handwriting. I sit down and tear it open to find my commission due of fifty thousand dollars, signed by Mark. There’s a note attached.

Ms. McMillan:

Under the circumstances, I cut the check early. There is peace of mind and freedom of choice to having money in the bank. After last night, I thought you might need some. If you need to take time off for the funeral, it’s yours.

Bossman

While I appreciate the money, I can’t help but think of the irony of his words considering how I’d earned the payment. I hold the check to my forehead and relive the wine tasting and the moment Chris had confronted Mark and demanded this commission for me. “I came here tonight to support Sara. I expect her to get the commission off my sales.” When I’d asked him why he’d done it, he’d said it was so Mark wouldn’t gobble me up and destroy me. Then he’d kissed me for the first time, and I was his from that point on. “And I still am,” I whisper, folding it and sticking it in my wallet. The problem is, I don’t think he’s mine. I don’t think he ever truly was.

It’s a daunting, gut-churning thought that has me sitting at my desk, unable to think of what to do with myself. No. Sitting at Rebecca’s desk. Who am I kidding? This is her life, her world. I am an intruder who owes her more than stealing her job. It is this thought that sets me on fire. I shut the door and start digging through everything in her office. Opening books, folders, magazines, and I hit a jackpot. Flat against the shelf, hidden behind other books, is another journal. I pull it out and start to read. A few pages into it, I realize she’s used it to detail an investigation into the fraudulent art she believes Mary has delivered to Riptide. There are notes about Ricco Alvarez evaluating the pieces. I do a quick specific Google search of Ricco Alvarez and discover he’s considered an authentication expert in certain types of art. There are no indications in Rebecca’s notes of him looking at the art in question.

I dial Ricco. He answers immediately. “Bella—”

“Meet me at the coffee shop.”

“Fifteen minutes.”

Adrenaline rushes through me like wildfire and I flip through the records Mark gave me for Riptide to find the pieces Rebecca has listed in her notes. They sold right after she left, or rather, disappeared. I shift from the paper reports to my computer and print details on those pieces and the new ones Mary has listed for the next auction. I slip them into my briefcase, snatch my purse and coat, and, already standing, I dial Mark’s office. He doesn’t answer.


Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Books Inside Out Series Books Romance Books
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