Page 26 of Rags to Riches Baby

Oliver stepped closer to try to figure out what distinguished the piece from every other one they sold on street corners around the city. It was only when he got a foot or so away that he could see the image wasn’t painted, but actually made up of millions of tiny hearts. Only from far away did the colored hearts make up the image of the city.

“The artist loves New York,” Lucy continued. “The painting practically screams it. The color palette she chose, the light in the sky…it’s a very well-balanced piece.”

“It sounds like you really like this one. You should buy it,” Oliver suggested. Part of him was waiting for her to start spending his aunt’s money. Where was the joy in achieving one’s goal when they couldn’t enjoy it? He leaned in to look at the current bid. It was well within her means if the windfall went through. “It’s only up to ten thousand dollars right now. If this artist is half as talented as you think she is at seventeen, this painting will be worth triple that one day. It’s a great investment.”

Lucy laughed off his suggestion and he realized how much he liked that sound. Arguing with her was fun, but he much preferred this version of his aunt’s companion.

“You’re just as bad as Harper,” she said. “Counting chickens that may never hatch, no thanks to you. As far as I’m concerned, I have no money. Just some savings that have taken me the past five years to accumulate. I’m certainly not spending it on art when I may have no place to live in a few weeks’ time.”

Oliver felt a momentary pang of guilt. He’d taken the fun out of this moment for her. How different would it be tonight if he hadn’t contested the will? Would he be the one there for her when she made her first big purchase? “But what if you did? What if you had all those millions at your disposal right now?”

Lucy’s crimson-painted lips twisted in thought. “I haven’t given it much thought. But in this case, since it was for charity, I would consider buying it. I would at least bid. But otherwise I would just feel too guilty spending that much money on something like that.”

Oliver couldn’t help a confused frown. He turned to look at her with a furrowed brow. “My aunt spent a hundred times that on a single piece. Why would you feel guilty doing the same? It’s your money to spend however you want to.”

Lucy pulled away from him and the painting and started toward the staircase that led up to other exhibits. Oliver caught up and took her arm again, in part to be a gentleman and in part because he liked the feel of her so near to him. The moment she moved from his side, it felt like a cold emptiness sidled up against him. He was eager to feel the warmth of her skin and smell the scent of her perfume again. It was a soft fragrance, like a garden after the rain, that made him want to draw it deep into his lungs.

“It’s not my money,” she said after quite a few steps. “It’s Alice’s money. And if by some stroke of luck it does become mine, I couldn’t just blow it on whatever suits me. It was a gift and I need to cherish it. Do something good with it. Help people.”

Curious. He’d never once spoken to someone who felt like money was a kind of burden of responsibility. Especially someone who’d schemed to get the money in the first place. “You could give it all to charity, I suppose. But Alice could’ve done that herself. She gave it to you for a reason. I wish I knew what that reason was.”

Lucy stopped on the landing and turned to him with an understanding expression softening her features. “So do I. It would make things easier for everyone if she’d let us in on her little secret, don’t you think?”

Her words rang true in Oliver’s ears, making his stomach start to ache. Had he made the wrong call with her? He’d started spending time around Lucy with the intention of finding out what she was really about and all he’d uncovered was a woman who seemed kind, thoughtful, caring and intelligent. She was attractive as well, but didn’t seem too concerned with that.

Either she was one of the greatest con artists he’d ever met or he was way off base with this whole thing.

“This is my favorite part of the museum,” she said, letting their prior discussion drop.

They had stopped on the surrealism floor. They started wandering through bizarre sculptures and even more bizarre paintings. “Your favorite, eh? Myself, I just don’t get it,” Oliver said, gesturing to the large painting hanging on the wall just ahead of them. “This one, for example.”

Lucy sighed and stepped beside him. She studied the painting, but all he could focus on was the intriguing scent of her perfume and the glittering rubies at her ears. The sparkle drew his gaze to the long line of her neck. It was hard for him not to ogle, knowing the bare skin traveled down to the small of her back, exposed by the red dress she’d chosen from the personal shopper.

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