“She’s weak and not handling the pain meds—they give her a queasy stomach. They took a blood sample as a precaution. We’re waiting on the results.”

“Can she talk?”

“She’s knocked out, which is why I called now.” He hesitates. “How are you?”

I stiffen, concerned he’s heard the latest bombshell. “What do you mean, how am I?”

“I know this Mary and Ricco situation, on top of your mother’s scare, is a lot to happen at once.”

The tension in my shoulders relaxes. “Mom’s on the mend. That’s what counts.”

“The nurse is here. I’ll call you later.”

“Call me when you get the test results.”

“I will. And son, remember. Shit happens, but it only stinks as long as you keep it around.”

The line goes dead with one of my father’s many ridiculous sayings that always end up being profoundly accurate. I sit there for a moment, letting this one stir up determination, and then I dial the attorney. I can’t bring Rebecca back, but I can make sure that I don’t keep the “shit” that could hurt other people around longer than I have to. And to me, the shit is Ava, reporters, and turmoil. I’ve been down that path and it doesn’t work for me.

I have to talk to Ava and convince her to come clean. It’s the only way to end this and end it now. I hit Redial and this time I leave a message. Taking my phone with me, I head to the bathroom to shower, determination burning through my veins. I’m ready to take action. For my family. For Rebecca.

An hour after my insightful chat with my father, I pull my car into the nearly deserted back parking lot of the gallery. We’re closed and I’m not about to open the doors until I’m back here to prevent a three-ring circus.

Stepping out of the car, I am dressed in my standard finely tailored gray suit with a well pressed white shirt and a gray tie. I’m also wearing my best steely “Bossman” persona, as our accounting manager, Ralph, often calls it when he thinks I don’t hear him. My cell rings and, noting Dean’s number, I lean on the car, staying outside beyond the earshot of employees to answer.

“Did you talk to the detective?” I ask.

“Yes. And as I suspected he’s a good guy who wants justice, but he pretty much told me the district attorney just wants a conviction. He’s going to do whatever it takes to pressure you to help him, even if that means dragging you through mud.”

“He doesn’t have to pressure me. I want to help.”

“I get that and I told him that, but the bottom line here is he has to deliver a conviction—and that means someone is going down. If it’s not Ava, it’s going to be someone else. You can’t let him turn that into you.”

I curse and Dean says, “Ditto that from me. I talked to an attorney named Nick Rogers on your behalf. Many of us call him Tiger because he’ll rip your throat out if you mess with his success, which means his clients. He’s in court today, but I set up a meeting for tomorrow morning. I’m assuming under the circumstances you can make it?”

“Can we make it later tonight? I need to get back to New York to deal with the backlash this causes at Riptide before it gets to my mother. I’ll double his fees. Hell, I’ll triple them. Just get me in, and now.”

“I’ll find out and text you the answer and the address. This is going to get messy, Mark.”

“Then let me just go talk to Ava. I can get her to talk.”

“Not no, but hell no—and Tiger agreed.”

“If I can end this, then I have to do it.”

“If you go, you go with Tiger by your side. Just wait until we talk to him, Mark.”

“I have my family, my employees, Sara, and the members of the club to think about.”

“As a member of the club, you think I don’t know that? We’ll talk to Tiger. We’ll get a plan and we’ll attack. I’ll call Tiger now, but I might not hear back right away since he’s in court.”

“Right. I’ll be here.”

“Where is here?”

“At the gallery.”

“If the detective shows up or calls you, keep your mouth shut. Tell him to call me.”

“Right. Hurry the f**k up with that meeting.” I end the call and head toward the door. I’m about to enter the building when a flurry of activity occurs to my left. Turning, I find myself accosted by a female reporter with a cameraman.

“Mr. Compton,” the pretty blonde says, “I understand you have one dead employee and one arrested for counterfeiting art. I assume the two are related?”

“You know what they say about assuming,” I comment dryly, pushing open the door. “It makes asses out of pretty reporters.”

She grimaces. “So they’re not related and you’re just, what, unlucky?”

“I’d say you’re the unlucky one, or just the unwise one. People who call and schedule interviews do better than people who sideswipe me.”

“You won’t take my calls.”

“Eventually I’ll take someone’s, and it won’t be the reporter who started my day out on the wrong side of the door.” I enter the gallery and lock the door behind me.

Bright white floors gleam beneath my feet and a memory slams into me. It was near closing and I’d heard our salesperson Mary in a conversation with a customer. Something about the unknown female’s voice had compelled me to seek her out. Rebecca. I remember the moment I first saw her, her green eyes alight with excitement, her long brown hair windblown and sexy. I couldn’t look away, and I’d known she was special, that she belonged here. That she belonged with me. Damn it, she’s supposed to be here now.

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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