“Did you ask him about—”

“Yes, I’ve been on him. No word on Ella, though. I’m sorry, but he’s trying.”

“I want to be there tonight when you meet with Blake.”

“I assumed as much. I’ll see if we can get him and his team, as well as David, to our house.”

Thinking of Ava reminds me of next door. “Did you hear the coffee shop is open?”

“Jacob told me.”

“Ralph says Ava’s estranged husband is running it.”

“Husband? Ava has a husband?”

“That was my reaction when I found out.” My brows furrow with a memory and a note to add to my journal. “The day we ran into Ava at the Chanel store, she told me her ex was trying to make her jealous to win her back. Does that make you think what it makes me think?”

“That Ava needed help to make Rebecca disappear and she had it in him.”

“It makes sense.”

“Yes. It’s a logical assumption and I’m sure the police are thinking the same thing.”

“If you were that confident about what the police are doing, Blake wouldn’t be flying in today on what I’m guessing is your dime. You’d settle for him at a distance and his crew here with us.”

He pulls me to him. “Our dime, baby. What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is definitely mine. Wife.” He kisses me soundly on the lips and then heads to the door where he stops to talk to one of the security people.

I stand there, staring after him, and I’m not sure what affects me more. The security of knowing that this amazing man wants me to be his wife, or the fact that he didn’t deny the reason Blake is flying here. I was right. He doesn’t trust the police department to get the job done. Maybe he even worries, like me, that they’ll get the job done wrong.

• • •

Back in the office I pull out my list of sales prospects, but I’m still distracted by the painting, and why it’s bothering me. Maybe it simply represents what’s lost and seems never to be found, and a sense of hopelessness I don’t seem able to escape.

Though it feels like I’m spinning my wheels, I finally start the process of highlighting the gallery clients I think will be the most understanding of the circumstances, and thus will be easier sales to close.

Amanda buzzes me. “You have a call on the back line. It’s Crystal from Riptide.”

I cringe at the realization that I never called her back last night, and the wrath she must have received from Mark. I reach for the phone. “Put her through,” I say, rushing to the door to shut it before reclaiming my chair.

“Crystal,” I say, answering the line. “I’m so very sorry I didn’t call you last night.”

“You’re there. That’s what counts.”

“Did Mark give you a hard time about rehiring me?”

“Of course. It started with, ‘Ms. Smith—’ in that proper authoritative voice of his. And he tried to end it with, ‘I trust we will not have this conversation again.’”


“I was with his mother. She was having a rare feisty moment and wanted to talk to him.”

I laugh. “Oh my. He must have loved that.”

“Actually, I think he loves anything resembling feisty in her these days.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” I say and not for the first time I have the impression she knows more than Mark’s mother well. She knows him.

“How is he?” she asks softly, and something in her tone hints at far more than job duties.

“He’s keeping to himself,” I reply, “but I don’t think he’s doing that well at all.” I glance down at the messages on my desk, many from reporters. “Has he warned you about the media attention that could be coming in your direction?”

“I know about the Rebecca situation and the news reports this morning. I know it all, Sara. And I mean all of it. You can’t shock me. You can’t scare me. They can’t scare me. Mark can’t scare me.”

There’s some sort of loaded punch behind those words that resembles me with Chris too much for me to ignore. “Just . . . be careful, Crystal. Don’t—”

“Get emotionally attached? To Mark? I’m smarter than that. To his parents, too late. They’re my second family and I’m worried about them. His mother is pretty out of it with the chemo and radiation treatments, and Mark told his father what’s going on. He’s helping me shelter her, but he’s not emotionally equipped to handle much himself.”

“I’m wondering about Allure,” I start, daring to feel her out about Mark selling the gallery. “Is Mark—”

There’s a muffled knock in the background. “Hold on, Sara. Sorry.” I hear her open the door and murmur something that I can’t make out to someone. Several beats pass and she returns. “I’m afraid I have an auction with complications about to start, but I called for a reason. Newman Riley. Do you know him?”

“I know his work. He’s one of the artists on display here at Allure.”

“Not after today. He’s a bit of a diva and he’s on a tirade. He’s not pleased that the gallery is closed and that no one will return his calls. Apparently, I don’t count as someone since I’ve talked to him three times. What it comes down to is that he wanted to talk to Mark.”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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