Crystal . . .
I’m standing next to Dana Compton at her bathroom mirror, staring at our reflections. My long blond hair touches my shoulders; her short blond hair teases her chin. “I hate that I had to cut it,” she whispers. “Damn cancer and that blast of chemo they gave me before my mastectomy.”
Yes, I think. Damn cancer. But I stay positive, hoping she will, too—a feat that’s getting harder every day. “That blast of chemo kept you from losing ground when the blood infection made you too weak for your cancer treatments. Besides,” I add, “I think you look good with your hair this length. You have such a gorgeous face we can see now.”
She gives me a sad smile. “Now you sound like Mark. He said the same thing.”
I smile inside at the soft side her son has for his mother; I’m fairly certain I’m one of the few people who have been privy to the real man beneath the hard shell. Except maybe Rebecca. Of course Rebecca. He’d loved her—not that he’s confessed such feelings, but the deep, cutting pain in his eyes, the desperateness in him when he touches me but wishes for her, tells me he did.
“Your son loves you,” I say. “And he wishes he were here. He tried. He flew me to San Francisco to close the Allure gallery for him.”
“I know,” she assures me. “And he did the right thing sending you back here when Ava escaped last week. What if she’d targeted you for attack, because you were working at Mark’s gallery? We don’t know what sick reason she had for killing Rebecca.”
She doesn’t, but I do. It was for the same reason a brilliant, wealthy artist like Ricco Alvarez had created the counterfeit-art scandal at Allure and the Riptide auction house, not caring about the many lives and employees it would affect: jealousy over Mark and Rebecca.
“Ava needs to be caught and punished,” she continues. “Rebecca was a sweet girl.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” I agree. “Like something from a horror movie.”
“Yes, it is.” She glances back into the mirror. “Speaking of horror movies, I’ve gotten so thin these past two weeks, it’s going to terrify Mark when he sees me. And I need to get these roots done so I’m blond again before he comes home. I’ll look more like myself then, and that might lift my spirits.”
Since she started daily radiation therapy last Friday, she’s been so exhausted that she hasn’t been able to do anything. I don’t point that out, though. Wrapping my arm around her shoulder, I lean my head against hers and meet her blue eyes in the mirror. “I’ll have the stylist come to us. We can have a spa day next Sunday.”
“Let’s do it at the spa,” she suggests, her normally strong voice weak, and her normally rosy cheeks pale.
“The doctor wants you to rest so you’ll be strong. And we’re only through the first week.”
Her lashes lower and lift. “Right. I need to get five more behind me.”
Doubt colors the words, and defeat rolls off her in a way I’ve never felt from her before this week. I really do think having Mark here for her first week of radiation treatments, as planned, would have helped. But he’s not, and I am, and it’s all a mess.
“Come on,” I urge, gently taking Dana’s robe-clad arm to lead her back to the bedroom. “Let’s go watch A Walk in the Clouds. It came in the mail today and I know how you love Keanu Reeves.”
“Oh yes,” she agrees, wobbling with me past the giant claw-footed bathtub. “He’s my younger-man fantasy.”
“Keanu’s my older-man fantasy,” I tease, thrilled that I’ve elicited a lift in her voice.
“Two birds of the same feather,” she says, as she has so many times in the year since we met at a Riptide auction I’d attended.
“Yes, we are,” I agree wholeheartedly, helping her onto the bed.
“I’m all for the movie, but aren’t the cable and Internet still not working?” she asks as I help her settle comfortably against a stack of pillows.
“Random outages,” I say, kicking off my tennis shoes with the intent to join her. “We seem to be in the not-so-random area but they promised it’ll be fixed soon.”
“Did you call Marianne next door and see if she has the same issue?”
“Yes, and she does.”
Thankfully, with Dana lucid again and Marianne being a good friend of hers, she’s helping us keep Dana from watching the news until Mark returns. I really don’t know how she’s going to react to hearing reporters talking about a sex scandal involving Mark, and a connection to the counterfeit-art claims in Rebecca’s death.
“The cable company is lucky I’m not myself,” she murmurs, sounding groggy. “I’d raise hell.”
My lips curve. “I can’t wait until you’re raising hell again—even if it’s at me.”
Crossing the room, I stick the DVD in the player in the huge oak entertainment center and grab the remote control. Turning to the bed, I find that Dana’s lashes have lowered and she’s headed into sleep. With a pinch in my chest, I stare at the woman who’s my employer, my friend, and a third mother, so to speak—one with special qualities that really reach inside me and touch all the right places. Normally she looks like she’s in her forties rather than her fifties, but today she looks her age or older. She looks breakable.
My fingers curl into my palms. Damn cancer. And suddenly, even though Mark turns me inside out, and I end up in bed with him when I say I won’t, just to say good-bye over and over again, I want him here. He got her through the blood infection, kept her fighting, and kept his father’s fear in check, despite his own. I’m trying to fill his shoes, but fear I’m failing. I don’t want to fail.