“No. I am not a reporter.”
“Then . . . who?”
“Do you know who I am?”
“Doesn’t everyone who watches the news?”
It’s not a real answer. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. “What do you want?”
“The list is long. But then, isn’t everyone’s?” The stranger’s lips twist in an evil smile and then he just . . . leaves.
I blink, confused.
Jacob suddenly grabs my wrist and pulls me around, starting to walk rapidly toward the door. I dig in my heels. “Wait! There was a man.”
“What man?” He turns to face me. “Where?”
I scan the area, but he’s nowhere to be found despite the sparsely populated sidewalk. “He’s gone.”
Jacob tightens his grip on my wrist, as if he’s afraid to let go of me—and at the moment, maybe I am, too. I double-step, relieved when we enter Riptide. Just inside, Jacob corners me, putting his back to the reception area and several security guards. “Tell me about the man.”
“He came right up to me, right in my face, and stared at me. He was right up on me and we had this odd exchange.” I shove up my sleeve and glance at my watch. “I need to tell you after my meeting.”
He shoves down the hood of his jacket. “Tell me now.”
I sigh, knowing determination when I see it. I repeat the exchange and he shows no reaction.
“He was probably a reporter we pissed off when we cleared the front door,” he says after a short pause.
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Just a gut feeling. I have to get ready for my meeting.”
“Just don’t leave without one of us with you.”
“I don’t plan to.”
He steps back, giving me space to depart. I check in with the receptionist before heading down the hallway to my office, being waylaid by at least four staff members who want to talk about the press disaster and putting off their questions until later.
In my office I quickly hang up my coat, freshen my makeup and hair, and then sit down at my desk. Then, and only then, do I let myself process that last exchange with Jacob. He doesn’t think the man with the scar was a reporter, either.
At eleven o’clock, my file for the meeting is in front of me when my phone buzzes from the front desk. The receptionist announces, “Your father is on line one, and your brother Scottie is on line two.”
I sigh. “Tell my brother I’m talking to my father and then going into a meeting. And buzz me, please, when Mr. Prescot arrives, no matter what.” I grab line one. “Hi, Dad.”
“What the hell is going on at that place you’re working at? I want you out of there.”
I press my fingers to my temple. “I warned you about all of this.”
“The news is creating a much worse picture than you did.”
“I don’t even want to know what that means right now. I have a meeting I have to be at my best for. I can’t think about anything else right now.”
“I mean it, Crystal. I want you out of there.”
“Be proud of me for managing all of this, instead. I’m managing it with the skills you taught me.”
“To work for me, which ultimately is for you—not for someone else.”
“Dad, please. You know Dana Compton matters to me and that she has cancer. Would you really want me to desert her now?”
He huffs out a breath. “I selfishly want to say ‘yes,’ and if this gets worse, I might just go run that place myself to get you out of there, or send one of your brothers.”
He’s not joking. What was I thinking, when I considered having him provide my security? He’d go nuts if he knew about the hooded man or Mark’s desire for vengeance. “I’m fine,” I say firmly. “This is not some mom-and-pop shop. This is the largest auction house in the world, with world-class security, and I’m gaining invaluable experience here.”
He sighs. “At least while you’re there, your liking for artistic men can be fed with ones who pay their own bills.”
I groan. “Not that again.”
“I can’t take another wannabe starving artist or, Lord forbid, another wannabe rock star, like that Jake fellow you wouldn’t let go of in college.”
“If you continue, I might have a seizure from the repeating conversation my brain can’t take.” My phone sounds again, and the receptionist says, “Mr. Prescot is pulling up to the building now, per the security staff.”
“Thank you,” I say. “I’ll come and get him.”
“Prescot,” my father says. “As in Larry Prescot?”
“The one and only. And he’s no happier about this situation than you are—so let me go prove that I learned from the best, as in you, and save his business. I meant it when I said I was getting invaluable experience here.”
“A far cry from tattooed rock stars, my dear. I owe Dana Compton more than a few favors, starting with this one. Tell Prescot you’re my daughter.”
“You know I don’t like to name-drop.”
“Trust me, baby. Tell him. And call me when you get home tonight.”
“It’ll be late.”
“Text me if I don’t answer, so I know you’re safe.”
“I will,” I promise. “And can you tell the rest of the clan I’m okay? Scottie already tried to call. I’m sure Daniel will be next.”