Tony wasn’t listening. His attention had been irrevocably snagged by the new noise of nails clicking on the floor and jangling tags. Talia’s belly dropped as though an elevator had fallen out from beneath her.
Not now, God, she prayed. Not now.
But God was apparently working on bigger projects at the moment, and didn’t answer.
They all watched as a furry black-and-white paw batted open the door from the back room and Talia’s border collie appeared, although she should’ve been asleep in her crate and therefore invisible, at least until Tony and his entourage left.
Tony stared, riveted, as the dog trotted over to Talia and sat. After a long moment, Tony’s gaze swung back to Talia, but it was sharper now. His gaze was knowing, as though he’d discovered that there was nothing she could hide from him that he wouldn’t root out and discover.
“Border collie, eh?” he murmured casually.
“Yes,” she admitted.
“What’s her name?”
Talia hesitated, feeling her carefully crafted life and lies beginning to crumble. “Chesley,” she told him.
The Madison Avenue offices of Davies & Sons were, Talia discovered that afternoon, spectacular. The building was sleek and modern, a shimmering slab of gray glass rising above the surrounding buildings and pointing toward the sky. The minimalist atrium had a splashing fountain running down one wall, a huge spiral staircase that seemed to float up into the atmosphere, and boxy black furniture, each piece probably costing more that that check Tony had given her earlier.
The second she walked in and saw the bare wall beyond the receptionist’s desk, she knew that Tony was right. This office and her work were MFEA—made for each other.
The ideas began to spark, making her manic with excitement and slowing down her steps as she walked through the double glass doors and up to the desk.
Luckily, the receptionist was on her game. “Talia Adams?”
Talia tore her gaze from her wall—yes, it was her wall now, and she was going to make it spectacular—and smiled. “Yes. I’m here to see—”
“Mr. Davies. I’ll call him for you.” The woman pushed a button on her phone and spoke to Tony through her headset. “He’ll be right down,” she told Talia.
“Thanks.” Talia felt hot color rise up through her cheeks and wished she could tamp it down. Jeez. She was like a walking thermometer, shooting into the red zone every time Tony, or even the possibility of Tony, came up. How pathetic was that?
No wonder Tony accused her of sending mixed messages.
Hell, she was surprised he was hearing Leave me alone from her when her body was so full of Take me, I’m yours.
Get a grip, girl, she told herself sternly. Focus on the mural.
Easier said than done, but she did try.
The space was so stark and open. She liked that. Uncluttered, with only the bare necessities. So the mural would have to be equally spare, but vivid, which meant yellows and oranges. They weren’t her favorite but maybe something like Sol Splendor, which she had, after all, painted for Tony, would be a good place to start. But she was also feeling a lot of green here, and that meant there was a lot of potential for—
“Talia,” said a male voice behind her. “You’re right on time.”
Wait a minute, she thought, some of her excitement slipping. That was the wrong voice.
Turning, she discovered that it was the wrong Mr. Davies striding toward her with his hand extended—Marcus, not Tony.
Disappointment gave her a strong kick in the gut, but she ignored it and glued her smile in place as they shook hands. Since there was no possibility of she and Tony getting together, she refused to entertain the idea that she was disappointed to miss him.
Tony wasn’t there to greet her? Good. So much the better.
“Good to see you again, Marcus. So this is the space, eh?”
“This is the space. What do you think?”
“I think I have a lot of ideas for this wall.”
He grinned. “I figured you would. So has anyone given you the nickel history lesson yet?”
She already knew a bit—well, a lot—about the family’s history, having checked Google before she came here, but she played dumb anyway in the hope of learning more.