I snap at the formality of my name, and in a heartbeat I’m across the room, my hands planted on his desk. “Sara. My name is Sara.”
He just stares at me, offering not so much as a blink to show he’s human. Silence ticks between us, the air charged.
“Think about what you’re doing,” he warns, his tone a near slap, and I have to remind myself that the stony exterior he portrays is a façade. I’ve seen glimpses of the wounded man beneath, a man who’s bleeding from his soul and alone in his grief.
“I need instructions to deal with some problems.”
“Go home. Problems solved.”
I’m so over the edge of my comfort zone, I seem beyond fear. I round the desk, invading his space, and he rotates his chair to face me. His stare hits me like a blast of scorching flames. He is angry. Furious even, which is about as intimidating as it gets, but it’s also emotion. It’s success. It’s me tearing through that iron-solid control of his.
He leans back his chair, reclining casually into the leather, but he isn’t truly relaxed. “What are you doing, Ms. McMillan?”
“Trying to talk to you.”
“Unlike you, I’m not big on conversation.” The statement is punched with a blast of ice so cold, it could chill the entire state of Texas.
I don’t back down. “I know you’re hurting.”
The pain in his eyes is gone as quickly as it arrives. “Are you volunteering to help me fuck the hurt out of my system?” he challenges. “Because that’s what I do, Ms. McMillan. I fuck things out of my system.”
My fingers curl on the edge of the desk and my chin lifts in determination. “I don’t intimidate that easily.”
“It was a simple invitation. A good fuck shouldn’t intimidate anyone. If it does, someone is doing it wrong.”
The jab at Chris is almost my undoing, but that’s what he wants—and Chris’s words about people needing help when they least deserve it come back to me. “I want to help you, Mark. That’s why I’m at the gallery. That’s why I’m standing here and I’m not asking your permission to be your friend.”
“The façade of friendship is a dangerous one.”
“You said that about love,” I retort, reminding him of how he tried to “save” me when Chris was gone.
His fingers flex into the leather armrests. He doesn’t like that response. “Either get naked or get out.” His voice is low, seething with anger.
“Stop talking to me like that. Let’s get beyond that, for once. And you’re just angry with me anyway. I’m okay with that, Mark. At least you’re showing me emotion. At least you’re being real.”
“You mistake me for someone who has emotions, Ms. McMillan. I don’t.”
“Anger is emotion. Desire is an emotion. Lust and passion. Guess what? Also emotions.”
“Those are feelings.”
“Emotion is feeling.”
“Love. Hate. Sadness. Those are emotions. Fucking is about pleasure. The kind I’ve offered to show you.”
I refuse to let him see how he flusters me. “You feel sadness. I was in the office when that song made you choke up over Rebecca, and I was under that tree with you the night you learned she was gone.”
“A night you obviously don’t remember well, considering I told you to stay the fuck away from me. You don’t listen to instructions well.”
“I think that’s why you like me,” I accuse. “And I think that’s why you loved Rebecca.”
His lashes lower and this time he doesn’t try to hide his pain. Maybe he can’t. Maybe that’s how deep a nerve I’ve hit, but I don’t regret it. He’s about to drown in his own denial. I hope this is a breakthrough, a chance for him to heal.
My hope wavers when the full intensity of his gaze slams into me and he stands, towering over me, his hands coming down on my shoulders.
“Sara,” he says softly, shocking me with more than the use of my first name. “You remind me of her. Did you know that?”
My lips part in shock and confirmation. He hired me, even pursued me, because I was a version of the woman he missed and craved. He turns me toward the door and leans in, his warm breath brushing my cheek. “That’s not a good thing for either of us right now. Get out, Ms. McMillan.”
He drops his hands, but I can feel him behind me, too close. I’m not going to be a fool, waving a red flag in front of an angry bull. I quickly go to the door, then pause and turn. “Ryan is working his way into Amanda’s bed, if he isn’t there already. That seems like a serious problem to me.”
While his response is slow to arrive, it’s precise and sharp. “You would be correct.”
“What should I do?”
“Nothing. Let me handle it.”
That’s not the answer I want or will even entertain, so I don’t pretend I will. I turn and exit, leaving Mark alone . . . again.
• • •
Three hours later, Chris has saved the day with Riley and calls to let me know that he’s dropping him off at the airport. I’m relieved, and exhausted from explaining the gallery situation to clients over and over. The hard work has paid off, though. I have a list of twenty people interested in the grand reopening, and a client who wants to buy one of Chris’s paintings.
I’m about to dial another customer when Jacob appears in my doorway and charges toward me. “The police have a warrant. It’s legit and I can’t hold them at the door more than a few more minutes, if that. I’m going to warn Mark.”