‘They are definitely not stolen.’

‘Smarty pants,’ Grayson said, before disconnecting.

Aarrrrgh. It wasn’t as if she was a total amateur, Rowan thought on an internal eye-roll. She stared out of the window and tried to push her way through her panic to think the problem through.

‘I can smell your brains burning,’ Seb said, taking his seat again and pushing another cup of coffee in her direction. ‘Sip and spill.’

Rowan instinctively shook her head. ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ll figure something out.’ She pushed against the table to haul herself to her feet. This wasn’t Seb’s problem, she thought. It was hers, solely.

Rowan looked down in surprise when Seb’s hand snagged her wrist and tugged her back to her seat. ‘Sit down, drink your coffee and tell me what’s happened.’

‘Seb...I can deal with it. It’s fine.’

Seb shoved a frustrated hand through his hair. ‘That’s the problem, Rowan. You don’t need to deal with it on your own. Why won’t you let me help you?’

‘I don’t need your help! This is minor, Seb. I needed your help nine years ago. I needed lots of help then! Since then I’ve learnt to rely on myself.’

Seb flicked his thumbnail against his bottom lip. ‘Something happened that night—something more than any of us realised.’

Rowan shook her head. ‘What is your obsession with that damned party? It was at a club, I got caught with a baggie, I did community service for it... End of story.’

‘Really? I suspect you took the rap for that slick character you were so in love with. Jason... Jack...’ Seb clicked his fingers in frustration.

‘Joe Clark.’

He frowned. ‘The same Joe Clark who runs that sports betting company? The one that’s just been listed on the Stock Exchange?’

‘I presume so. His father owned a couple of betting shops, so it must be the same family.’

‘You haven’t kept in touch with him?’

Revulsion passed across Rowan’s face, accompanied by a visible shudder. Oh, yeah, there was a story here.

Rowan cocked her head. ‘What’s with the twenty questions? I feel like I’m back in the interrogation room at Sydney.’

‘You’re tough. You can handle it.’ Seb looked over the rim of his coffee cup. Her remote, distant façade was back in place and it annoyed him. She wasn’t cool and remote. She never had been. Loud, vivacious, spontaneous... He’d used to be able to read every emotion on her face.

‘Are you in trouble—again?’ If she was there was no way that he’d just sit back and watch her go through hell a second time. ‘Tell me.’

Rowan recognised that determined look on his face and realised that he wasn’t going to be shrugged off. And she felt...relieved. Glad to have an excuse to tell him, to tell somebody.

Another part of her wanted to show him—tell him that she wasn’t the ditsy, silly, crazy child who bounced from job to job, wafting her way through the world. Well, she did waft, but she worked as well. Being an art ‘picker’ took determination, time and a good eye. And hours and hours of studying jewellery, art, sculpture.

Maybe he could respect that—respect her?

Was it so wrong to want a little affirmation, a little admiration from a super-smart man? From anybody?

‘Criminal trouble? No. Financial trouble? Oh, yeah. And to make you understand I have to show you something,’ Rowan said, and walked out of the room to fetch her baby sculptures.

FOUR

‘I love this one,’ Seb said, holding the chubby, joyful figurine of a Buddha in the palm of his hand. ‘Simply stunning.’

‘It’s a Hotei, also called a Laughing Buddha, symbolising contentment and abundance and luck.’ Rowan’s finger drifted over the Buddha’s cheek. ‘I love him too. I think he’s the prize of the collection.’

After Seb had spent at least fifteen minutes looking at the tiny ivory netsukes, pointing out details that she hadn’t noticed, Rowan rewrapped the carvings and put them back into their box. Closing the lid, she wrapped her hands around her coffee cup. She wondered where to start. At the beginning, she supposed...

‘After six months in Thailand I left and headed for Hong Kong, I had a job teaching English and was barely scraping by. One day, after I’d just been paid, I was on my way to buy groceries, and there was a little shop I passed every day, full of...curiosities, I suppose. Mostly junk, to be honest. I had some time and I went in. I was browsing through a box of costume jewellery and I found a brooch. I knew right away that it was special. The craftsmanship was superb. The owners thought it was paste but I knew it wasn’t. Don’t ask me how. I just did.’

Source: www.StudyNovels.com