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I pushed myself back to my desk and forcibly turned my attention on the pile of bill-of-lading forms waiting for me. I never glanced up again until the gallery doors swooshed opened and a tall, slender woman with flowing platinum-blonde hair entered, stopped, and posed, exuding a demand for attention. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Chloe freeze.
“Hello, and welcome to Turner’s,” I said, scrambling from behind my desk to the tune of my friend’s relief. “Is there something I can show you?” I forced myself not to cower under her intense violet-blue gaze.
“I don’t know. Perhaps. I had my driver stop because, well…” She made a fluttering hand movement. “Something about this place called to me. I doubt you have anything worthy of my collection, but one never knows, does one? Sometimes the most marvelous treasures are hidden away in the most ghastly circumstances.”
At once I felt defensive and awed, and completely unsure which emotion to follow. I chose both. “I assure you our selection is worthy of your time and scrutiny,” I said firmly, while trying to stand tall and push back my shoulders. They kept caving under the weight of her…beauty? Elegance? “Are you interested in something contemporary or nineteenth-century?”
“Nineteenth Century?” She visibly cringed. “No, no, my girl. The past is over. I’m only interested in new artists, cutting-edge pieces. I don’t suppose you have anything of that nature in a place like this.”
Grrrrrrr. “As a matter of fact, we do. If you’ll follow me, Ms.–”
“Holland. Veronica Holland.” Her voice was as smooth as her perfect French manicure.
After escorting Ms. Holland to the contemporary section, I watched her fluid movements from the invisibility of my desk, although I suspected I’d be invisible to her no matter where I was. Oh, envy, thy name is Gracie! What must it be like to be that beautiful? That confident? That blatantly perfect? Perfect. Hmmm. I scrutinized her again. You accepted the dare, lady. Time to deliver on the goods. I tried to glide over to Michael’s office, but it came off more like a series of jerks. I knocked.
“Come in, Gracie.”
But five steps into his office, I froze. Why are you tapping your fingers together like that? You look like a complete idiot!
“If we’re playing charades, you’re going to have to give me a little more to go on.”
“No. Yes. Of course.” I cleared my throat. “Remember your challenge to find you the perfect woman?”
He raised that eyebrow. “Have you finally come to the answer then?”
“I do believe I have.”
He all but leaped over his desk. “Was it the brooch?”
Was what the brooch? I led him by the hand to the middle of the gallery.
“Gracie?” he whispered.
“What?” I whispered back.
“What are we doing?” His eyes shot from side to side.
“Look toward the contemporary section,” I murmured out of the side of my mouth.
“Just do it!”
He shifted his head, and then swung it right back. His eyes were dark and angry. “In my office. Now!”
He slammed the door and faced me, daggers in his eyes. Without thinking, I took a step back.
“That…THAT…is your idea of who I should be with?”
I backed up again. “Yes!” I think. Maybe?
“Exactly why…exactly how…exactly what would make you choose this woman—for me? For me?”
“Did you not see her? Have you not looked at yourself lately? How many people could walk side-by-side with you and not be overshadowed by your… your sense of style, your sophistication, your…” I almost choked. “Extreme good looks.”
His expression immediately changed. “Extreme good looks?”
“Fine!” He threw himself in his seat and folded his arms. “I don’t know why you’re doing this. No! You know what? I don’t even care. We’ll play it your way. Fine! I’ll do it. I’ll go out there and charm this so-called perfect match.”
“Wonderful!” He stormed out the door only to return again a second later, his teeth clenched. “What’s her name?”
I clenched right back. “Veronica Holland.”
He rolled his eyes, shrugged into his jacket, and re-stormed out. I returned to my desk and tried to refocus, but the sound of his velvety-rich voice taunted my ears. What they’re discussing is absolutely none of your business. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him move closer to her. She shook her ultra-blonde locks at him. My stomach tightened. I stretched my neck against the constricting muscles. Hey, lady, you wanted this. You needed it. I twiddled my ring, my hair, smoothed my eyebrows, bit down on my lower lip. I saw the glint in her eyes and knew it was a done deal; he had charmed her into a date. Or maybe it was the other way around. He purposely turned his back on me and walked her to the door. From that position, I could hear them almost without straining.
“I’ll pick you up around eight.”
“That would be lovely.” She threw him a beauty-queen wave. He marched past me, eyes forward, mouth shut in a straight line. Slam!
I got it.
Don’t worry, I told myself as I got ready to leave. He’ll forget all about his anger once he’s had some alone time with the lovely Ms. Holland. I’m sure she has a few tricks of her own in the wooing department. That level of confidence doesn’t stop at the bedroom door!
I pulled on my hat and coat and pushed through to the cold. The moment the doors closed behind me, I felt his presence.
I scanned the empty sidewalk. “Jonathan?”
Hello, love. The sound of his voice made me jump; I refocused on the emptiness and he appeared.
Separated, momentarily, by a pool of silence, I eventually managed, “You’re here? You’ve never come here before.” He gave the storefront a side glace, and then refocused on me. “Why today? Why now?”The time was right. He smiled furtively. Shall we, then? He nodded down the sidewalk.