I glower fiercely at him. “That’s not funny.”

“No.” His hand slides under my trench coat, fingers flexing on my hip. “It’s a lot of things, baby, but funny isn’t one of them.”


The car pulls up behind us. “You really are—”

“Mr. Merit,” the attendant announces.

Chris arches a brow, focused on me. “I really am what?”

Sexy. Amazing. “Bad.”

He laughs again, wrapping his arm around my neck, and the sound is a balm soothing my nerve endings. “Let’s go get this day over with so I can show you just how bad.” He holds the door for me and I’ve already slipped back into stress mode, reaching for the radio to try and find the news.

“I hope David told Tiger that Ricco accused Mark of setting him up,” I say as Chris claims the driver’s seat. “Your call with him was too short to say much.”

“I didn’t,” he says. “I have no idea what David told him, but we can confirm what Mark knows when we get to the gallery.”

“I can’t believe he’ll be in. Not after he pretty much told me he doesn’t want to see me again.”

Chris shifts into gear. “He’ll be in. He has to be in the eye of the storm; that’s his control. And just to be clear, the only reason I’m letting you near him, after his confession yesterday about you and Rebecca, is because I’m going to be your personal bodyguard.”

“So you said when you picked out my outfit today,” I comment of the high-necked, knee-length basic black dress. “And I’m not complaining about having you around today, considering everything going on, but you also need to be clear: I don’t need a bodyguard to protect me from Mark. I can handle him.”

“You have a big heart. Even Amber managed to get to you. It gets you into trouble.”

“I’d like to argue, but I try to fight battles I can win.”

Chris pulls into the alley leading to the newly fenced parking lot, keying in an entry code, and I’m surprised at the absence of press. “No Mark,” I say, as we park, noting the absence of his Jag. “I only see Ralph’s car, and what looks like the security crew.”

“Anything happening we should know about?” Chris asks Jacob as he opens the back door for us, obviously alerted to our presence by the gate entry.

“Nothing beyond Blake and Kelvin are at the courthouse, and it’s a media madhouse. Blake’s keeping me apprised. I’ll let you know as I get updates.”

Chris nods and we make our way to the office where, judging from the sound of Ralph swiftly keying his calculator, he’s already hard at work. Amanda is nowhere to be found. “I’d say good morning, but it’s not,” Ralph calls out. “Coffee is made and no, she hasn’t called.” He never stops keying.

I hang my coat on the rack behind Amanda’s desk, while Chris shrugs out of his leather jacket and does the same. “Don’t read into this,” he warns, and when I’m momentarily, impossibly under the circumstances, distracted by his hotness in faded True Religion jeans and a light blue “Matchbox 20” T-shirt, I decide every girl needs a man who can distract her this easily under this kind of stress.

Chris steps to me and brushes hair over my shoulder. “She’s only late a minute or two.”

“Yes, but—”

“She’s never late,” Ralph says. “Yesterday she was distracted by Ryan, and then left with him. Now she’s not here. I don’t like it. Not one bit.”

Jacob pushes through the door and motions to Chris, and he must read the instant concern in my face because he quickly holds up a hand and says, “Nothing new, and nothing to worry about. Blake’s brother, Royce, wants to talk to Chris.”

Chris squeezes my hand. “I need to take this. Royce has some FBI contacts with links to Paris. He’s using them to help find Ella.”

“Oh, thank you. Thank him.”

He motions to Ralph’s office and mouths, “Get him out of here.” I nod and he disappears into the gallery with Jacob.

I head to Ralph’s office, pausing in his doorway. “Did you try to call Amanda?”

“Not yet.” He laces his fingers on the desk, his orange bow tie practically glowing. “I sense something in the air. What do I need to know?”

“Mark’s going to have us work from home for the next few weeks. I’ll coordinate everything with you by phone.”

“Fine by me, but I can’t do that until I finish these reports for Mark.”

“How long will that take?”

“With Amanda’s help, all day. Without it, today and tomorrow.”

“You can’t finish at home?”

“Are you kidding me? The police made a mess of my files. I can’t find half of what I need. Moving things will only make it worse.”

“I really wanted you gone before the hearing is over today and the press invasion happens.”

“Unless Bossman wants me to forget these reports, I can’t. And since he called about them this morning, I’m assuming that isn’t the case.”

“He called? Did he say if he’ll be in?”

He snorts. “Like he tells me anything. He just wanted to know I was on the reports.”

As much as I understand Mark’s stress, I don’t understand how completely he’s ignored the gallery. “I’ll help,” I volunteer, sitting in his visitor’s chair. “Let me call Amanda, then you can show me what to do.”

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