“Knock on wood, we’re without incident.”
“And Mac Reynolds?”
“He made my cranky seller in L.A. look like The Good Witch of the North, he’s such a jerk. He wanted us to pay for expert reappraisals on every piece he’s bought through us, under threat of him going public.”
“And you told him what?”
“Turns out his company does business with my father’s company, and while I don’t like to use those connections, I talked to my father, who gave me a free ticket to use him on Riptide’s behalf. So I dropped my father’s name and made it clear I’m influential with his business choices. I then offered to pay for the reappraisals Mac wanted and buy back the items if they were found to be counterfeit, but since I knew they wouldn’t be, it would end up being at his expense. He’s going to keep his mouth shut.”
“Well done, Ms. Smith. I’m impressed.”
“Thank you, Mr. Compton. I do aim to please.”
“That could be debated.”
I’m surprised to find my lips curving and my body relaxing into my leather chair. “You can convince me another time.”
“I will,” she assures me. “In the meantime, is there anything else I can do for you?”
There’s a softness to her voice, real concern I don’t want to notice, but I do. “Just be you, Ms. Smith. It seems to be working.”
“One day you’ll say that and mean it.” Her phone beeps. “Before I go . . . I’m going to see your mother tonight. I’ll call you afterwards.”
She hangs up before I can reply and I turn in my chair and stare at the mural again, remembering Chris’s warning. You’re pushing her too hard, taking her places she doesn’t want to go. I kept telling myself Rebecca was just another sub, when she was never just a sub. She always wanted what I wasn’t willing to give. What I’m not sure I have to give.
She wanted love, a façade of happiness that rips out a person’s heart and leaves them bleeding. Exactly why I told her I don’t do love. And yet my heart is on the ground, and it’s damn sure bleeding.
I need Sara back. It’s the conclusion I come to after hours of picking apart the gallery’s books and analyzing the impact of closing for the next few weeks. She won’t be influenced by the media, and she knows how to handle customers for private showings. She’d also be able to help me plan a grand reopening. Chris’s attending that opening wouldn’t hurt, either. Getting him to agree to Sara’s return or his own participation, though, is another story, due to Ava throwing accusations of an affair at us.
Moving on with other options, I decide I’ll have to bring in someone from Riptide. Once I’m there, I’ll decide who. In the meantime, I start Amanda and Ralph on making plans. We set a date, and begin the guest lists. By the evening I have calls out to several high-profile artists, and I’ve sent Amanda and Ralph home. By eight thirty I’ve left my father two messages: to check on my mother, and one for Crystal, who I know will stop by the hospital.
And I’m now sitting in a high-rise building at a conference table with a view of the city lights. “Tiger,” my new attorney, sits at the head of the table and is the polar opposite of Dean. Dean, like me, wears his light brown hair short and neat, his suit perfectly pressed. Tiger is in jeans and a T-shirt, his long black hair tied at his nape, his face sporting at least a two-day shadow. He reminds me of Chris Merit, who can drop that casual persona and knock someone down ten notches in sixty seconds flat with lethal precision.
“Here’s the down and dirty,” Tiger says, leaning back in his chair. “Dean filled me in fully and I know all about the club you own and his involvement. I’ll start out with the reality we face. Election years suck. Everyone has extra pressure on them, including those unfortunate enough to be caught in a mess like this one.”
“So you’re telling me they’re coming after me,” I state.
“I haven’t talked to them yet,” Tiger says, “but the bottom line here is that they don’t have a body, but they do have a young, missing girl. That’s big news, and it’s scary news to the public.”
“Ava confessed,” I argue. “And she tried to kill Sara. Ryan, Sara, Chris, and I were witnesses to that fact. We were all there that night.”
“Sara and Chris need to get back to the States,” Dean complains. “Right now it looks like they ran.”
“Chris lives half the year in Paris,” I remind him. “It’s not like it’s some random out-of-the-country location. And I’m sure their attorney has whatever their situation is under control. Chris has money and expert advice.”
“It would look better if they were here,” Tiger agrees. “And a good attorney will use the public’s lack of information about BDSM to paint you as some sort of fetish monster who commanded Ava to take the fall for you.”
“What about the attempted murder?”
“If they discredit you and the other witnesses,” Tiger replies, “it’ll be a hard case to make.”
I press my fingers to my forehead and curse.
“This sounds bad,” Dean comments,“but it’s all smoke and mirrors to get Ava off. They have no evidence.”
Dropping my hands, I say, “We hope. And what stops this from ruining me and my family in the process, not to mention the privacy of the members of the club?”