“Did you talk to Ryan?” I ask hopefully.
“I told you, Ms. McMillan; it’s not in my or Ryan’s best interest for me to communicate with him at present.”
I bite back a snarky remark that would only lead me into a battle I won’t win, opting for an information dig instead. “You think he’s involved in Rebecca’s disappearance, don’t you?”
“You asked that yesterday.”
“That’s right,” I agree, “and I’m asking again.”
“You really don’t know your limits, do you, Ms. McMillan?”
“I most certainly do,” I say, my sureness returning, my hands finding my hips. “It’s yours I’m pushing. You said Ryan knew that Rebecca returned to San Francisco.”
“But you didn’t.”
My mood softens again with the certainty that this is a betrayal of friendship to Mark. “Could he have thought it was a difficult subject for you?”
“I don’t allow Ryan to know what difficult means for me.”
“You call him a friend.”
“A socially acceptable term, better described as a business acquaintance.”
“But one you trust,” I counter.
“Trusted. Past tense.” He changes the subject. “I understand Ricco paid you a visit last night.”
“He showed up at the restaurant and cornered me by the restroom door.”
“And he did this why?”
“To warn me away from you.”
His lips twist wryly. “At least he and I agree on something.”
I ignore the reference to our conversation yesterday and push forward with what’s important. “He hates you, and he thinks you killed Rebecca. That spells dangerous to me, especially when you consider he threw away more than most people have in a lifetime to try to ruin you.”
He arches a brow. “Worried about me, Ms. McMillan?”
“Yes, Mark, I’m worried about you,” I say, refusing to be baited. “And I know you and Chris have had issues, but he’s worried, too.”
“Issues,” he repeats flatly. “Are you referencing his warning to Rebecca to stay away from me? Or mine to you, to stay away from him? Or perhaps the ‘issues’ lie in the way he left you alone and miserable, and I tried to fuck you to your senses.”
If he intends to shock me, which I’m certain he does, he fails. I cross my arms and level him with a frosty look. “What is it with you being crass all of a sudden?”
“I wasn’t aware you had such delicate sensibilities. I’d have thought Chris would have remedied that by now. I certainly would have.”
My hands go back to my hips. “Stop it, Mark.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what Rebecca said to Chris. We see how well that worked out for her.”
“That’s enough,” I snap, and it’s all I can do not to say more, to remember he’s hurting and motivated by who knows what emotion. “Ricco accused you of setting him up. If that’s what he’s saying to me, that has to be what he’s using as a defense to the police.”
“Not a very subtle change of subject, Ms. McMillan. But then, subtlety isn’t exactly your strong point. Tiger told me about the accusations and they aren’t surprising. Ricco’s entire objective is to ruin me and he has deep-enough pockets to make a valiant effort. Do I care? No. Ricco Alvarez is the last thing on my mind right now.”
Though his expression and tone are as unreadable as ever, there’s an unspoken message in his words. Nothing Ricco can do to him comes close to what losing Rebecca has, or what fearing for his mother is doing to him now. “When do you go back to New York?”
“I’m flying back this evening to attempt to head off any bad press that might land on Riptide’s doorstep today.”
“I warned Crystal about today’s events and the potential media frenzy to follow. I didn’t want to risk her being surprised and walking out on you.”
The ice is back in his impenetrable gray eyes. “Go help Ralph finish the reports and then leave, Ms. McMillan.”
I’m stunned by the sharply spoken dismissal. “But—”
“Don’t argue, Ms. McMillan.”
I want to, but he’s stone now, and I might as well have already left the room. I turn on my heel and go to the door, before I do something insane like try to shake some sense into the man.
My hand freezes on the knob in a déjà vu moment. This is reminiscent of the many times in the past when Mark sent me fleeing his office in a mess of mixed emotions, only to stop me to land one final blow. I pause, holding my breath with the expectation this one will rock my world, as he always intends.
“Chris and I are far more alike than you think,” he says, repeating what Chris himself has said to me on more than one occasion. “Rebecca held on too long. Don’t make the same mistake.”
Anger begins to burn through me, fiery and hot. Afraid of what I might say, I yank open the door and exit into the hallway. I am not Rebecca, and Chris isn’t Mark. I refuse to let him mess with my head.
My pace and my erratic heartbeat don’t slow until I’m in my office, behind the desk. I stare at the painting of the roses that’s so much a part of who Rebecca and Mark were together, and I can’t help but think of the roses on my wedding band.