“I didn’t get that impression. I knew she was in over her head and that’s why I tried to keep her away from Ryan. He knew it, too, and that’s what really upsets me. It’s like he wanted to upset her.”

“Or maybe he was sending Mark a message.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ryan knew Amanda for at least a year, and chose now, the most illogical time, to pursue her. He also knew Mark was counting on her here at work, and that a sex scandal would be highly unfavorable.”

“And Mark had shut him out,” I say, following where he’s going. A chill goes through me. “I have a very bad feeling about that man.”

“I think we all do—and we know he’s intimately involved with Ava. Have you heard from Chris, by chance?”

“No. Not yet.”

“Well, I’ll be up front if you need me. If you’re bored, you could try eating that pizza you never ate.”

My lips curve at his concern. “I’ll think about it.”

He gives me a look that makes me think he might insist, then leaves. Tapping my fingers on the desk, I stare at the painting of the roses on the floor, starting to feel irritated by how much it haunts me. I dial Chris again with no success. After ten more minutes, I’m officially getting worried. I decide to try David, but of course he’s with Chris, and doesn’t answer. I try Blake. No answer. Another ten minutes and I buzz Jacob, with no news.

My cell phone rings and I don’t even look at the caller ID. “Chris?”

“No, sorry. It’s Crystal.”

“Oh hi, Crystal. Is everything all right?”

“As okay as it can be, with the press suffocating us. I’m sure it’s a hundred times worse there.”

“I’ve been hiding from it. If you’re dealing with the press, I’m sure you’ve heard my name.”

“Yes, but I knew about Ava attacking you. Mark called me last night and told me the whole story. He wanted me to be prepared. But more than anything, he was worried about how his mom was going to deal with all of this, and he wanted to be here. Yet now he’s saying he’s not coming this weekend.”

“He told me a few hours ago that he was flying out tonight.”

“So you don’t know why he would make this decision?”

“No. I had no idea he’d changed his mind.”

“Sara,” she says, worry thickening her voice, “he told me he needs me to just handle it.”

“That doesn’t sound like Mark.”

“No, it doesn’t. That man doesn’t say ‘need’ to anyone, and he sure doesn’t say ‘handle it’ where Riptide and his mother are concerned. He didn’t sound good, and I’m not there to figure out why. Is there news on Rebecca?”

“I’m not certain. Chris is at the police station, and Mark just arrived back here at the gallery.”

“So he’s there with you?”

“He’s in the same building but I wouldn’t say he’s with me. He didn’t even speak to me when he came in.”

“Can you try to figure out what’s going on, and call me?”

“Yes. I will.”

“I know you’re going through hell, but it’s hard to be here with my hands tied. I have this family’s livelihood in my hands, and I’m terrified of letting them all down.”

“You won’t,” I assure her. She clearly cares for Mark, and I hope she doesn’t end up hurt. “Let me go talk to Mark. If I don’t call you right back, it’s because Chris and I are trying to get out of town to escape the press.”

“I understand. If you get the chance, please tell Mark his father knows what’s going on, but his mother doesn’t and we aren’t going to let her. We have a plan. I left him a voice mail to reassure him, but I have no idea if he’ll listen to it anytime soon.”

My phone beeps. “I will. That might be Chris calling, so I need to take this call.”

“Okay, ’bye, Sara.”

I quickly click at the sight of Chris’s number, only to have the line go dead. “No. No.” I dial him back and the call goes right to voice mail. My phone immediately rings again and it’s Jacob.

“Did you talk to Chris?” I ask. “He just tried to call.”

“Yes. He said to tell you he’s going to your apartment to get your bags, and then he’ll be here to pick you up. He’s with David and he’ll update you when he gets here.”

“Is everything all right?”

“You’re approved to leave town. That’s a good sign.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

I have limited time to talk to Mark, so I push to my feet and head to his office. With a deep breath, I prepare myself and knock. And knock again. Frowning, I’m surprised to hear music coming from inside. That’s unlike the Mark I know. Whatever the case, I’m not sure he can hear me knock. So holding my breath, I open the door to the lion’s den.

“Say Something”

Say something, I’m giving up on you

I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you

Anywhere I would’ve followed you

Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I will swallow my pride

You’re the one that I love

And I’m saying goodbye

A Great Big World


Cracking Mark’s office door, the searing lyrics I’d been playing on my phone two nights before when Mark abruptly left my office reaches my ears, warning me all is not well. In fact, I’m fairly certain something is very, very wrong. Easing inside, I see his empty desk.

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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