“She wants a promotion,” Ryan offers, “and she’s afraid to ask Mark.”
His explanation is so fast and smooth, his stare so steady and unwavering, that I almost believe him. But I know Amanda almost walked out today and when I look at her, she cuts her gaze away, unintentionally telling me he’s lying. “I can talk to Mark for you,” I offer, pushing for the truth.
Her gaze jerks to mine. “No. Please no. I’m not . . . ready. Not yet. Please. Promise, Sara. Don’t say anything.”
“I’ll wait until you’re ready,” I say. “Just let me know.”
Her shoulders slump with relief. “Thank you. Yes, I will.” She casts Ryan a tentative look. “I’m going to go gather my things.”
She seems to wait for his approval, and he gives it with a nod. Then, and only then, does she rush from the room. Everything about the exchange screams Master and submissive.
I advance on Ryan. “Are you crazy?” I hiss softly. “Rebecca’s dead, and a million eyes are on the gallery and on Mark. This is not the time to be playing Master and submissive with one of the staff members.”
He arches a brow. “Mark? Not Mr. Compton?” He laughs. “He was crazy to think you’d ever call him Master.”
Unease ripples through me at the implication that they’d talked about turning me into their submissive, as they had Rebecca. “No,” I say, my tone crisp. “I wouldn’t, and neither is Amanda. She’s too young and too innocent, and frankly too immature, to take either of you on.”
“No woman in my life has to take me on, Sara. I’m not Mark. I know you read Rebecca’s journals. I can’t believe anything she wrote about me would have said that I was.”
More unease slides through me. He’s just admitted that he’s the other person in the journals. Then Jacob’s warning flickers in my mind, and I wonder if Ryan’s baiting me for information, trying to find out if he’s in the journals. I’m not sure why he’d care, though. Ava killed Rebecca. Didn’t she?
“My point,” I say, “is that now is not the time to bring your lifestyle into the gallery.”
“My lifestyle? Look in the mirror, Sara. It’s yours, too, and if you must know, I called Riptide looking for Mark, who hasn’t exactly been returning anyone’s calls. They told me he was headed here. I called the back-up line, and Amanda started rambling about some strange guy by the door. I was a few blocks away, so I came over to help. Now I’m going to give her a ride home. No games; just me being a gentleman. If Mark shows up, tell him I came by.”
He disappears into the hallway. No matter how he frames the story, I don’t believe his intentions are honorable toward Amanda. I’ve always thought he was less aggressive than Mark, but I’m not so sure anymore. Perhaps he’s the biggest game player of all.
He shoved me against the wall and then tore my panties off. His lips pressed close to my ear, his breath was hot on my neck, as he said, you know the rules, you know I have to punish you.
Being alone is a unique opportunity to look around—perhaps for the security feed from the camera outside. I don’t know what I’m looking for, but it feels like there’s a missing piece to this puzzle that no one knows. I double-check the security system, then go to my old office. Settling behind the desk, I’m oddly drawn to the haunting painting of the roses again, as if my mind is trying to tell me something. A shiver races down my spine, and I dial Jacob to give him a heads-up that I’m alone.
“I’m going to stay awhile, but I’ll definitely want an escort when I leave.”
“Is the security system in place?” he asks.
“Yes, I checked.”
“Good. Call me in an hour to check in, or I’m going to come check on you.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks again, Jacob.”
“Thank me by not forgetting to call in an hour.”
We hang up, and the fact that Jacob feels I’m safe enough with the security system eases some of my nerves. But then, he also thinks Rebecca’s killer is in jail.
I frown at that random thought. She is in jail. Of course she is.
I’m just about to start nosing around the gallery when Chris calls. “Hey, baby.”
His deep voice radiates through me and I feel the tension from my encounter with Ryan melt away. I sink deeper into the soft leather of my chair. “Hey.”
“Are you still at the gallery?”
“Yes. Can you meet me here?”
“No. Mark finally called me, and I’m meeting him in about twenty minutes.”
“Did you hear from David after he left the police station?”
“We texted. I’m supposed to meet him after I talk to Mark for a full update. Did Jacob leave?”
“Yes, but he’s coming back to get me when I’m ready to go. Is there any word on Rebecca’s travel dates?”
“Blake confirmed Rebecca returned before you started at the gallery, and I confirmed I was in Paris that entire week, but he’s backtracking to make sure there isn’t another date he missed.”
“Does he think that’s possible?”
“He checked all the public transportation logs and saw nothing, but he’s double-checking anyway. He’s looking into private flights as well, but he won’t have any way of finding travel by car.”