“I’ll take care of the admin stuff,” I promise Ralph. “You just do your thing and buzz me if you hear from Amanda.”

“You do the same,” he calls out as I leave his office and enter mine, quickly dumping my purse in the desk drawer before walking back into the lobby to hang my coat up on the rack behind the reception desk.

“Soul-sucking bastards ready to destroy a person for thirty seconds of fame,” Chris grumbles as he enters the office with Jacob on his heels.

“It went that well, I guess?” I ask, meeting him in the middle of the lobby.

“We’re getting a gate put around the parking lot so this won’t be an issue again. I don’t care if I have to pay for the damn thing myself. I already called Blake and told him to make it happen.”

“When’s the receptionist due in?” Jacob asks, moving to stand beside us. “I was hoping to look over the messages from the service.”

“Twenty-five minutes ago,” I supply. “She almost walked out yesterday before I could promise her extra security. But I can clear the messages.”

“I’ll get the messages,” Jacob offers. “You do what you need to do.”

“I’m not sure anything else I do will be much help for this place right now. We can’t plan a grand reopening with this craziness going on.” And after what Ralph told me, I wonder if it matters anymore.

“I’d say focus on convincing the artists on display not to pull their work,” Chris suggests. “Use me all you need to. I’ll talk to whomever I have to. Is Mark in his office?”

“Yes,” Ralph calls from his desk, making it clear he’s been eavesdropping. “And Amanda is now thirty minutes late.”

Jacob’s phone buzzes and he glances at it. “Gotta run. The tech crew’s here to install some extra equipment.”

He disappears and Chris closes the short distance between us, giving me a sizzling once-over that pretty much strips me naked. “Tomorrow,” he says, leaning in near my ear to whisper, “you wear the bag or I keep you in bed.” He fixes me in a stare. “Understood?”

I smirk at him and grab the lapels of his jacket as he had mine earlier. “Yes, Master,” I whisper.

Chris looks amused. “I dare you to say that later and see what results it gets you.” He motions down the hall. “But for now, this ‘Master’ is going to see ‘Bossman.’”

I laugh and call after him, “I dare you to call him that to his face.”

The door behind me opens and I turn to see Amanda rushing into the office, her long brown hair tied into a messy ponytail.

“Hi,” she says, giving me an awkward wave. “Sorry I’m late. We were driving around the block, waiting for the TV people to get back into their van.”

We? Who is we? I consider asking directly but she’s so nervous that I stick with, “I hope you didn’t make your roommate late to work.”

She cuts her gaze, pretty much confirming my fear. She was with Ryan.

“We tried to call you!” Ralph shouts from his office.

“Oh.” She flushes and shrugs out of her jacket. “Sorry. I didn’t charge my cell last night.”

Because she wasn’t home. Every instinct I own says she was with him and that he’s bad for her. Maybe even dangerous. No. Not dangerous. Where did that come from?

“What should I do today?” she asks, hanging up her coat. Her black skirt is off center and one of her blouse buttons is in the wrong hole.

“If you could get the messages for me and bring them to my office?” I ask, and it hits me that she doesn’t seem surprised to see me at all.

“Yes, of course,” Amanda agrees. “Is Bossman here?”

“Locked in his office,” I confirm.

“And we’re in a red zone,” Ralph calls out, and I assume by her responding grimace that this must be some new code for Mark being cranky.

“Thanks for the warning.”

When she looks everywhere but at me, I ask quietly, “Are you okay?”

Her gaze lifts to mine, her discomfort palpable. I think she’s afraid I’ll find out about her and Ryan and be upset. Or maybe she’s afraid Mark will find out? Unless . . . oh God, I almost swallow my tongue. Please don’t let Mark be involved with Amanda, too. Please don’t let that be why she’s not surprised I’m here.

“I’m okay,” she says, but the words come out choked. She delicately clears her throat then adds, “It’s just . . . it’s the press and Rebecca and . . . just all of it.”

It’s a logical answer, so why am I waiting for her to say something else? I give her several expectant seconds but she says nothing. Not ready to give up, I ask, “Is there anything I can do to help you get through all this?”

She cuts her gaze again, giving a quick shake of her head. “It’s okay.”

Okay. I head for my office, and Ralph flags me as I pass his door.

I pause in his doorway as he asks, “Would it be really tacky for me to order coffee from next door and have them deliver it? I mean, I know that coffee shop used to be Ava’s, but—”

“Ava’s coffee shop is open?”

“It never closed. It’s being run by Ava’s husband. And yes, you heard me right. I didn’t even know she was married, but I guess they were living apart.”

Of course her husband would take over the coffee shop. The answer makes perfect sense, just like Amanda’s reasons for being late and flustered. And yet, nothing feels quite right at all.

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