“Did you tell him about Mark’s mother and Rebecca?”

“Yes. He doesn’t care. I think that’s why Mark doesn’t care, either. Bottom line, Newman is on a plane to San Francisco as we speak. He plans to remove his work from the gallery personally. I left Mark a message and texted him after he hung up with his mother, but I called because I had a gut feeling he wasn’t communicating with you. I didn’t want Newman to show up and surprise you.”

“Mark’s in the gallery, so he must be planning to deal with him when he arrives.”

She lowers her voice. “Between you and me, I’m not so sure he has a plan. His mother started crying while she was talking to him, and I’m pretty sure it upset him. She wanted him here for her chemo treatment, and I know he wanted to be here, too.”

I press my fingertips to my temple. “No wonder he’s locked in his office. I’ll handle it. Thank you, Crystal.”

“Thank you, Sara. Gotta run. Call me if you need me.”

The line goes dead and I sit there for a minute, digesting the way she has thanked me, like this is her family she’s protecting. She seems emotionally attached, which normally would be a good thing, but now . . . now I think of how emotional attachment has become dangerous. Amber is in rehab over Chris. Ricco is charged with a felony over his attachment to Rebecca. Ava is on trial for murder. Rebecca . . . is dead.

I want to see Crystal’s attachment to Mark and his family as good. Instead, I’m worried. And did she know Rebecca? Was she involved with Mark at the same time? Was she someone invited into their play? Does she know Ava? I feel horrible for suspecting her if she’s sincere, but I have to be cautious.

I dial Chris and he picks up almost immediately. “Miss me already?”

“I miss our bed with you and me in it, away from all of this,” I say. “Is this a bad time?”

“Never. What’s up, baby?”

I sigh. “I have a problem. Surprise.”

“Does his name start with an ‘M’?”

My lips twist wryly. “Yes.” I explain what Crystal told me about Riley. “I think I need to handle this, not Mark, but I don’t think he’ll see it that way. I’m hoping you know Riley and have some insight into his personality.”

“Yeah. I know Riley. He’s done some charity work with me. He tends to feel overlooked in the art community. The result isn’t always good. I wouldn’t put it past him to run his mouth to the press. I’m only a few blocks away. I’ll have the security guys on alert and I’ll talk to him. I know a few projects coming up that might persuade him to be tolerant.”

“Thank you, Chris.”

“Thank me later. In bed. Or out of bed. Be creative.”

I smile into the phone and respond with what has become our running joke, “I’ll use your imagination.”

“Even better.”

I’ve barely settled my cell phone back on my desk when Amanda buzzes me again. “Ryan is on the line and he says he’s outside to see Mark. They won’t let him in.”

“Did you tell Mark?”

“He won’t pick up his phone.”

“Now isn’t a good time.” And even if it was, I don’t think Mark would see Ryan. “He needs to call in advance.”

“He says Mark won’t take his calls.”

“Put Ryan on with me.”

“I, ah, he hung up.”

No, he didn’t. He called her cell phone, instead of contacting her through the security team outside. “If he calls back, put him through.”

“Yes. Okay. Thanks.”

With the odd dynamics of Mark and Ryan’s relationship on my mind, I flip open the journal and I write my own version of Ricco’s words. A fine line between friendship and hate. I underline the words.


Riley shows up at lunchtime, and Jacob quickly detours him to Chris. I order pizza for everyone, including the security crew, who are nearly done with the fence around the parking lot. There’s relative quiet in the gallery, and I find myself once again jotting notes in my journal. I’ve compiled so much information that I decide I should hand it over to Blake tonight.

Flipping to the first entry I’d made on the plane, I pick a random line and begin to read.

He’d thought he’d beaten the need for the whip outside of the one day a year, but Dylan’s death proved him wrong.

That’s all I need to rip the page out and start tearing it into tiny pieces and I stuff them in my trash can. I will not let my words be a window into Chris’s secrets and I wonder now if Rebecca would feel the same if she were alive today.

The pizza arrives and we all decide to eat at our desks. With a slice on my plate, I start to take a bite, then change my mind and buzz Mark’s office.

He answers with, “Not now, Ms. McMillan.”

“But we ordered—”

“The definition of ‘not now’ is not now.”

I inhale and sit there. And sit there some more. Then I stand up. This man has intimidated me many times, but right now, his grief intimidates me more than the man. He’s falling apart. Alone. Exactly what I did after losing my mother. Decision made, I round my desk and make my way down the hallway to his door. I knock and his reply is almost instant.

“Not now means not now, Ms. McMillan.”

Steeling myself, I turn the knob and enter his office. He personifies every intimidating man who has ever brought me to my knees, yet he is not those men. He is more, or different. He is something I cannot explain.

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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