“You only had to wait ten minutes to get those answers from me. There’s nothing more to tell, and she’s bound by a confidentiality agreement anyway. She damn sure better not be running her mouth to anyone.”

“She didn’t. She told me she couldn’t.”

“But you tried to get her to.”

“I just asked for more details on Corey, and what the police were saying about him and you.”

“And since there’s nothing more to tell, and she’s supposedly abiding by her contract, you got fed the ‘I’m like Blake’ bullshit I’m sick of hearing.” He doesn’t give me time to deny or confirm his accusations, adding, “Don’t go around me again. I told you this morning. I’ve trusted you in ways I trust no one, but trust goes two ways.”

“You’re right, it does. But if you think selective honesty is true honesty, you’re mistaken. I’ve seen the extra phone, Mark. Are you trying to find Ava on your own?”

His eyes are hard, unreadable before he straightens. “What would you do if the person who killed someone you cared about was on the run, and was still a risk to others?”

It’s not his obvious admission that he’s playing vigilante that bothers me. It’s his choice of wording that sends me to my feet to face off with him. “Someone you cared about? Don’t you mean the woman you love?”

His lashes lower and he cuts his gaze away.

I make a sound of disbelief. “My God. She’s dead, and you still can’t say you love her.”

His gaze jerks to mine. “It’s not that simple.”

“Yes, it is. You loved her. That’s clear for anyone to see. You still do. What do you think is going to happen if you admit it? She’s going to come back from the grave and demand a wedding ring? Maybe you aren’t pretending to be an asshole, after all.” I start to turn and he captures my arm. “Don’t,” I say in warning. “I’m angry for her, and sad for you.”

“You didn’t even know her.”

“And clearly she never really knew you—yet she still dared to give you the biggest gift anyone can give. Herself.”

His jaw clenches and unclenches, and I want him to admit his love for Rebecca. I want him to be the man I believe him to be. Instead, he releases my arm, leaving me frustrated, disappointed, hurt for reasons that I can’t name and make no sense, and my feet can’t take me fast enough to the door.

I exit to the hallway, my mind racing. Somehow, as furious as I am with Mark, I’m still thinking of the black velvet bag and wondering what was inside. This must be what happened to Rebecca. He got under her skin and seduced her just by existing. Before she knew it, she was out of her own mind and in his, just like I am, caught in the web that is Mark Compton.

Entering the lobby, I will myself to focus on the job I have to do. I stop at the receptionist’s desk and wait for Beverly to end a call. “Do I have any messages?” I ask when she’s free.

Her eyes go wide and she nods. “Do you ever.” She sets a stack on the desk in front of me. “Thanks to all the press, there’s an extra-large pile of angry customers for you today.” She holds up a finger. “Oh yes, and this.” She hands me a white envelope with my name typed in the center, the word “Private” on the corner.

My brow furrows. “Any idea who it’s from?”

“A messenger brought it—that’s all I know. Probably a reporter. They’re desperate to get to you.”

I sigh. “They most certainly are. Okay, thanks. Buzz me if you need me.”

“Some of the staff are asking about Mr. Compton.” She lowers her voice. “I think they’re worried about the future of Riptide, and hopeful that his presence means it’s secure.”

“It’s completely secure,” I say. “We’re thriving, despite all this mess going on. Mr. Compton’s not here to save the business, but to make sure that Dana, as stubborn as she is, stays in bed and fully heals before she returns.”

Remembering his softly spoken reply to his mother this morning, I love you, too, my anger at him goes down a few notches. I’ve seen him tear up over his mother, and Rebecca. He’s closed off, but he’s not a complete asshole. I refocus on Beverly. “I’ll see if he can send out a company email.”

“I feel awkward bothering him about little issues, when he has so much other stuff going on.”

“If you want to buzz me first, you can.”

Frowning down at the white envelope, I start walking, an odd foreboding in my belly. I suddenly want to tear it open.

Passing several employees with a quick greeting, I enter my office and shut the door. Rushing to my desk, I sit down and grab a letter opener, and my hand shakes as I pull it through the envelope’s seal. Then I pull out a white sheet of paper with two typed lines on it.

You don’t know the real Mark Compton.

Get out before you end up like Rebecca.

A chill races down my spine and I drop the paper, having watched enough episodes of CSI to know that fingerprints matter. Could it be from Ava? Or Ricco, who’d sworn to protect Rebecca from Mark, and tried to destroy the gallery as his own form of vengeance? Or a reporter who wants me to talk? Or. Or. Or. There are too many possibilities. And Mark all but admitted to me he’s playing vigilante. If I go to him and he makes assumptions, where will that lead?

I pull out my cell phone and call Kara, who’s still on guard here. “I just received a letter warning me about Mark.” I describe it to her. “I don’t want to hide it from him, but I’m terrified he could go off the deep end. Because you’re right: He’s looking for Ava. I’m worried about him.”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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