‘Have you ever done that?’
‘Cyber checked up on you?’ Seb slid his innocent expression into place—the one he’d been practising since he was fourteen and had discovered code and that he could speak it. And have some fun with it. ‘Why would you think that?’
‘Because I don’t trust you further than I can throw you. Have you?’
Of course he had. She’d been nineteen, on her own in countries where she couldn’t speak or read the language. Her parents had been beside themselves with worry—actually, her father had. Her brother Peter had been concerned. Callie a little less so. Himself? Not so much... He’d always known that Rowan was stronger, smarter than they gave her credit for. He’d known that she’d be fine but he’d used his skills to check up on her so that the family and friends she’d left behind could sleep at night.
He was saved from answering that question by her chirping mobile, which rattled and vibrated on the dining room table as if it was possessed. Rowan narrowed her eyes at him—a non-verbal threat that he wasn’t off the hook—and frowned when she looked down at the tiny screen.
Rowan yanked the mobile up to her ear as her heart bounded up her throat. There was no reason for Grayson to be returning her call so soon unless she’d found the netsuke of the century or there was a huge problem.
It turned out to be both. Rowan listened to his garbled words and tried to make sense of what he was saying. ‘Are you saying that my netsukes might have been stolen? From a West End art gallery a year ago?’
Rowan rested her forehead on her hand and tried to force the panic far away enough so that she could listen to Grayson.
‘A seal, a stag antler, a tiger with cubs and a squid were stolen from the King and Cross Gallery. There’s been a lot of interest in netsuke lately, and consequently a lot of theft. They are also easy to transport, being not much bigger than the size of a golfball.’
‘If they were stolen, how did they end up in a hole-in-the-wall shop in Bali? They were covered in dust, forgotten. Nobody had looked at them for years.’
‘I can’t take a chance that these might be stolen. Didn’t you get any provenance?’
‘Gray, the guy said they were pawned. The owner never came back to pick them up and that was six years ago.’ Rowan rubbed her neck. ‘They are not stolen.’
Grayson was silent for a minute. ‘Well, if these are genuine eighteenth-century netsuke and aren’t the same objects that were stolen then I think you’ve got a heck of a find on your hands.’
‘So, it’s either really good or really bad news?’
‘Essentially. Can you prove how you paid for them?’ Grayson demanded.
Rowan’s eyes flicked to Seb’s face. He was listening to her side of the conversation with avid interest.
‘Yeah. Every cent. I drained my bank accounts to pay for them.’
‘That’s good. Of course you might take a financial hit if they are stolen, but if you can prove you paid for them then it shows you didn’t have criminal intent.’
‘Yay me. And they aren’t stolen.’ Rowan closed her eyes at the thought of waving goodbye to twelve thousand pounds. She rested her forehead on the dining room table and tried not to hyperventilate.
‘Of course if they are not stolen, then I think you’ve hit a massive pay-day,’ Grayson added.
Rowan heard Seb move from his chair and thought that he was finally giving her some privacy. Instead she felt his hand warm and big on her neck, gently stroking the tense cords.
She wished she could just lean back and soak up his strength, ask him to help her sort this out. But she couldn’t. She never asked for help...mostly because there had never been anyone around she could ask.
Besides, he’d just think that she was stupid and irresponsible... And because she liked his hands on her skin a little too much she swatted them away.
‘Do you have any documentation or photographs of what was stolen from that gallery so that I can compare them myself?’ Rowan asked Grayson.
‘No, that’s not my problem—it’s yours. I just know that it was those four subjects.’
And Japanese artists never did the same subjects. Damn Grayson! He was getting all paranoid and crazy without even knowing if the netsukes looked the same. Stupid man. Grayson was rich, but he wasn’t bright.
‘You need to do some research. Try to identify the pieces. Then we’ll talk again,’ Grayson said as Seb dropped his hand and walked away to refill his coffee cup.
‘You know you want them.’
‘And I’ll buy them—after you tell me that they are definitely not stolen.’