“I’m already swimming neck deep.”
“Just control the media and run Riptide. Stay away from the rest. If I find out you’ve done any differently, I don’t care how dedicated you are or how loved you are by my mother, I’ll fire you.”
“Fire me?” I gasp, hurt, insulted, and appalled.
“It’s better than having you end up hurt. You’ve been protecting my family. I’m going to protect you.”
“I don’t need protection.”
“Well, you’re getting it. Which brings me to the subject of Walker Security. Their corporate office is in Manhattan, and I’ve contracted them to take over Riptide’s security next week. They’ll also be putting men at my parents’ building around the clock. Since Blake Walker is still here working with the SFPD to find Ava, Jacob’s coming with me to New York.”
Tension curls up my spine. “This is extreme. What haven’t you told me?”
“I can’t stay away when my mother needs me. But where I go, the press follows—in far bigger hordes than you’ve experienced.”
“No. That’s not what this is about.”
“It’s me taking control.”
“Of what, Mark?”
“Everything. I’m taking control of everything.” His phone beeps. “I have to take that. Call me if anything changes.” The line goes dead.
Sinking onto the mattress, I lie on my back and stare at the ceiling. I’m taking control of everything. That includes me—or he thinks it does. But it’s bigger than that, too. I felt it; I read it between the lines. I replay the conversation, connecting the dots from everything I know to date, and come to the only conclusion I can. This is about the vengeance he vowed—and there are more players than I know. That threat to fire me was to make me back off before I see too much or get hurt. He was so fiercely adamant about protection, there’s clearly a risk of danger.
“What crazy, insane thing are you up to, Mark Compton?” I whisper.
Mark . . .
An hour after we land in New York, Jacob stops the rented Escalade in front of a ten-story gray building nestled within a cluster of buildings inside the center of Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be,” I tell him, reaching for the door.
“I’ll stay close,” Jacob assures me, his steady, clipped ex-military tone part of his steely reserve.
With a short nod, I exit the rear seat onto the street and into large white snowflakes that quickly cover my hair and my Crombie topcoat. The beginning of a late fall snowstorm is yet another chilling reminder of how far I am from San Francisco and the life I’d worked to create for myself. But the illness my mother fights makes none of that matter anymore. Her living is all that matters.
Stepping under the overhang of the building, I glance at my Rolex to confirm I’m ten minutes early for the nine o’clock private meeting I’ve scheduled tonight, before I surprise my mother with my extended visit. “Riptide” is etched in gray stone between the large glass doors, and pride fills me. It’s the largest auction house in the world, and my mother’s creation is now twenty-five years strong—only nine years shy of my time on this earth.
This place is her beast to command and her kingdom of thousands of employees to relish, but I’m the ruler here now. And I also have to take the helm of my life, and everything around me. I have to be the Master that I lost somewhere along the line—the one who would never allow someone close to him to be hurt, as I did Rebecca.
I key in a code and enter the building, greeting one of the security guards on duty. Mr. Kimmel, well into his sixties, has been here since Riptide opened, and he offers me a quick greeting. “Mr. Compton, sir. I am certain you have made your mother’s day.”
“I’m surprising her in the morning.”
He smiles and his eyes light up. “A good way to start her day, indeed. Will you be staying long?”
“Oh, sir, this is good news that everyone, Ms. Smith included, will welcome.” And I have this sense that despite all the negative media about me, he feels I will save the day, or the company—or, hell, the damn world. As if I am unable to fail, as I have too much as of late.
He lifts a hand. “Shall I take your topcoat and briefcase?”
“Just my topcoat,” I say, shrugging out of it and handing it to him. “Thank you, Mr. Kimmel.”
“No, thank you, Mr. Compton.” He taps his badge. “I got an offer from Walker Security to stay on when they took over this week. I’m honored to have the opportunity to continue to work with your family.”
Having known him since my childhood, and being aware of my mother’s fondness for him, I easily reply, “It’s we who are honored to have so many years of honest service.”
Pride glows in his eyes at my words. He deserves the compliment. I might be hard; I might be demanding. But my mother taught me to commend those who prove greatness with loyalty and fairness.
His reaction to my arrival sets my determination to achieve the goal I’m here to attend to, and my steps quicken as I walk down the long hallway that I know leads to Ms. Smith’s office. She needs to know that the Master is back from the bowels of hell. Sex and control make me stronger, which I’d forgotten these past few weeks—with gut-wrenching, heart-shredding results. I eased my rules, and crossed lines for and with Rebecca that ultimately led to her death.