Without warning, the door swung open. Tony found himself confronted by a woman about his age—mid-thirties—with a flat-lined mouth and lowered brows that told him he’d already pissed her off and anything further he did—like, say, speaking—would only worsen the situation. Brown-skinned with sleek black hair and sharp brown eyes that surely missed nothing, she would have been pretty but for the overdose of bad attitude and harsh black-on-black clothes.
“Can I help you?” she demanded.
“I, ah,” he began, hoping she didn’t decide to haul off and hit him, “I’d like to see Talia Adams.”
The woman was not impressed. “Do you have an appointment?”
“And you are…?”
“What’s the nature of your business?”
He was starting to get annoyed. He knew of several high-security government buildings that were easier to access than this place.
“I’m a friend. Is she here?”
Miss Personality narrowed her eyes. “Don’t take that tone with me. I’ll ask if she’ll see you.”
“Thanks ever so much.”
Another glare, and then she pivoted and headed off down the hall, leaving him to lunge for the heavy door and squeak inside before it could swing shut in his face.
Not the auspicious beginning he’d hoped for, clearly, but Talia was here, in the same building, and that was all that mattered. He hurried after the black-clad woman and followed her up a flight of stairs, dodging a well-dressed couple who were directing a man with a boxy marble sculpture on a dolly, and a gaggle of elementary school kids being herded by their frazzled-looking teacher. They passed the doors—some open and some closed—of other studios, and then they were outside the final door on the left.
Talia Adams said the sign. Painter.
The woman strode inside the studio with no understanding of how important this moment was to Tony, or how he’d lived for it, calling as she went, “Tally? Where you at, girl? Tally? Talia!”
Tony waited on the threshold, incapable of breathing.
The woman turned back and shrugged, ignorant of his turmoil, which was a very good thing. “Guess she went to the bathroom. You can wait if you want.”
“Great.” The woman reached for a cardboard box and shot him a last warning frown. “Don’t get in the way.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
He looked around, reveling in Talia’s presence and getting his bearings, but things didn’t feel quite right. There was one jarring difference between the studio of his memory and this one: the open cardboard boxes everywhere announced that Talia was in the middle of a move.
This possibility, he discovered, didn’t sit well with him. What if she was headed to Paris for a year of study or something similar?
On the other hand, what if she was now married to Paul?
That possibility damn near gave him chills, so he decided to pretend that Paul had never existed, at least until he was presented with undeniable evidence to the contrary.
The studio was still stark and bright, though, with high ceilings, exposed pipes and beams, and a wall of paneled windows that looked out on the street below and let in every available glimmer of sunlight. There were drop cloths and drafting tables, the sharp smell of turpentine, and canvases of various sizes and shapes leaning against the walls.
The work was as brilliant as he remembered; he’d spent enough time studying art history in school and paintings at the auction house over the years to recognize a talented artist when he encountered one, and Talia was the real deal.
She had two portraits on easels. Were these her most recent works, then? The first was of a smiling woman with brown-and-white spaniels sitting on her lap. The colors were sharp and vibrant, and Talia had captured the woman’s personality in the amused quirk of her mouth. The dogs, meanwhile, had their ears cocked and looked restless, as though they’d been promised a chicken treat if they only sat still long enough to be captured on canvas.
The other portrait was of a mother and her toddler son, their heads bent low over a collection of wooden alphabet blocks as they built a tower.