Sam could actually hear her sister panic as she stared up at her boss. Sam, however, kept her cool and simply glared in his direction.
“Mr. Montgomery. We were just —”
“Relax, Colleen.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t you have some work to do?”
“Yes, sir, I’ll just….” Colleen stuttered, then turned to her sister and mouthed, Please don’t get me fired, before walking away.
“Boy, you just snap your fingers and get whatever you want, don’t you?” Sam spat disdainfully.
“I don’t recall snapping my fingers.” He held out his hand. “Shall I take you to your statue now? I’ve had several people inquire about it and its creator.”
“I’m not going to apologize for the jerk comment,” Sam informed, ignoring his comments about her work and the hand held out to her.
“I never asked for one.”
“And I don’t want you treating my sister badly just because I dislike you.”
“That’s unfortunate, your dislike for me. And as for your sister, she has no cause for alarm. I separate my work from my personal life.” Taking control, he took her hand in his. “Shall we go see your piece now?”
Yanking her hand free, Sam lifted her chin. “I know perfectly well where it is.” No she didn’t, but be damned if she would admit that to him.
“By all means then, lead the way.” He held his hand out, challenging her.
Damn it, now she was stuck. All she knew was that it was on the third level, but where specifically, she had no clue. Keeping her head high, she started for the stairs, in silence.
Ethan followed her. “If you had given me some business cards, I could’ve set them out with your statue.”
“I don’t have any business cards,” Sam muttered, heading up the stairs. Why did he have to look and smell so damn good?
“You might want to think about having some printed. It would help sell your pieces.”
“I don’t want your advice.”
“Samantha, about last night.”
“Is this the guy that pissed you off?” Ghostly Ed broke in, appearing out of nowhere and Sam suspected he hadn’t really vanished before after all. “He’s cute. I could have so much fun with him, so much fun using him. Just think of all the bitches I could score in his body.”
“Get lost,” Sam shouted at Ed, but in the direction she aimed her voice and eyes, the shouted command looked directed at Ethan.
Ethan grabbed her arm before they could reach the top of the stairs and pulled her to the wall. “Look, I realize you’re upset with me for what I did last night, and you have every reason, but I never meant to hurt you.”
“Right, just use me.”
“I admit what I did was wrong.”
“Good for you.” She tugged her arms free, her eyes shooting warnings.
“I am attracted to you, Samantha, but I realized last night it would be wrong of me to involve you in a messy divorce. I’m sorry.”
“What do you expect me to say, ‘that’s fine, Ethan, I understand you treated me like shit last night and that you’re attracted to me, but you don’t want to involve me in a messy divorce.’ Bullshit. And if you think I’m just going pine away for you until your stupid divorce is final, you’ve got another thing coming, pal. Get bent.”
“You tell him, girlfriend,” Ed cheered her on.
“Shut up!” Sam snapped at Ed then realized her blunder.
Ethan blinked in surprise. “I haven’t said anything yet.”
Oh how she wished both men, living and dead, would just leave her alone. Sure, Ed was trying to be supportive. Still…she didn’t need him interfering. “I anticipated a rebuttal.” Pushing away, she stomped up the steps, and there it was. Her statue. Sam’s breath caught as she moved closer. Her work was actually showcased. And as she walked toward the glass case she saw the black velvet it sat on, and her name etched on a gold plate at the Mothers feet.
Pride swelling inside of her, she felt like weeping. “It’s absolutely perfect here.”
“I thought so.” Ethan came up beside her and the scent of his cologne went straight to her belly, arousing her. “And as I said, I’ve had several inquiries as to the artist. Perhaps you could have some cards made up for me to set out for people.”
Her eyes shimmering, Sam simply nodded. She couldn’t stop staring at it. This was her work. Hers. And it was set up for all to see. It was a dream come true.
“Mr. Montgomery, you have a phone call.”
Ethan turned to the petite young woman and smiled. “Thank you, Tori. I’ll take it in my office.” He waited until Tori left, then took Sam by the shoulders. “It really is a marvelous piece of work, Samantha. A reflection of its creator.” Leaving that said, he walked away.
Sam sniffled, her heart nearly exploding. Why did the guy have to be so charming yet be such a total jerk?
The Gallery was packed with everyone from the upper class to the average Joe. There were big spenders, dressed for success with checks ready. And then there were those who came to simply imagine owning something worth more than a house alone.
Sam understood both sides.
She’d grown up with wealth, and now, on her own, understood the need to budget for everything. The ten thousand Ethan had paid her for the Mother statue would come in quite nicely. It meant she didn’t have to hurry and find a job that would take away time from what she loved most in life. Her art. And it also meant she had the time to work on Alexis Donaldson’s case.
“It’s a nice piece, isn’t it? But I think it would look better this way.”
A shabbily dressed gentleman came up beside her and tilted the painting which consisted of a multitude of colors blended in a bizarre landscape. “You’re right, it does look better like this.” And she noticed then that he wasn't with the living. “But I’m sure the artist would disagree.” She tilted it back, hoping no one had seen.
“What do artist know,” he commented lightly, frowning at the artwork in its natural position.
“I resent that, being an artist myself,” she responded quietly, hoping no one heard her speaking to air.
“My forgiveness.” He bowed, tipping his brown hat.
There were few men like that these days, pegging the gentleman at the early nineteenth century. “You’re forgiven.”
“Yes.” Startled, Sam turned and saw a stunningly beautiful blonde-haired woman dressed in a formal black gown. She hoped she hadn’t heard her talking to herself.
“Olivia Langston. I had a moment to look over your portfolio and I must say, it’s impressive.”
“Thank you.” Why did Sam get the feeling there was a but to come next?
“But,” Olivia smiled charmingly and Sam cringed. “I already have a full clientele to deal with. I wish you luck with your endeavor, though.”
“Excuse me for interrupting.” Ethan stepped to the right of Sam, flashing his dimpled charming smile that made her pulse—and she was sure Olivia’s as well—race wildly. He wore a tailored black suit this time, with a silver tie and looked as usual, very dapper and incredibly handsome. “I don’t mean to intrude, but I overheard your conversation and I must say, I think you are making a grave mistake.”
Sam said nothing but stood and listened.
“I’ve recently purchased a Dowling original and have it showcased in my bookstore. I’ve had several inquiries about it and its creator. Please, forgive my rudeness. The name’s Montgomery, Ethan Montgomery.” He held his hand out to Olivia.
The man definitely had class.
“Montgomery, of Montgomery Industries?” Olivia stammered with wide eyes.
“One and the same.” He flashed that winning smile again, and Sam noticed she wasn’t the only woman affected by it. “Just this morning I had an offer for a sizable amount on Miss Dowling’s statue. I declined, of course. Only a fool is parted with his gold.”
He was a charmer, Sam thought, watching him work. It wasn’t just his stunning good looks or those nearly crystalline blue eyes that drew you in. That deep husky sophisticated voice sucked you in and wrapped around you like a lovers arms.
“I’ll tell you what, Miss Dowling.” Olivia turned to Sam. “Why don’t we set up an appointment for tomorrow, say, one o‘clock, and we can discuss your work.”
Sam’s heart sped up but she kept her excitement contained. “One o’clock sounds perfect.”
“See you then.” She turned back to Ethan. “Mr. Montgomery. I hope you’ve found something here of interest to you?”
“A few pieces actually.” He smiled, then tipped his head as she left. “You’re welcome.”
Sam turned to Ethan, the smile she’d been wearing slowly fading. He might have talked his way into having Olivia look at her work, but that didn’t mean she had to be nice to him. “I didn’t say thank you.”
“I know. I anticipated. You look stunning tonight.”
She wore a plain black dress with a scoop neck, her red curly hair pinned up to hang flirtatiously around her face. It had taken her hours to get everything just right. “I just threw this together,” she said dryly.
Scooping two glasses of champagne from the waiter as he passed, Ethan held one out to her. “Here’s to no longer being a starving artist.”
Taking the wine glass, Sam rejected the toast and took a sip. “Why did you just do that?”
“Because, you’re good.”
“Thank you.” She knew when to accept a compliment.
“See, I knew it was in there somewhere.” Once again he smiled, but this time Sam looked away, not wanting it to affect her. “The gentleman I was referring to, who made me an offer on your work, was Alfonzo Demarra.”
Sam choked on the wine she’d just swallowed.
Ethan patted her back. “You’ve heard of him then?”
She took a breath. “Who hasn’t? My God, the Alfonzo Demarra, billionaire Alfonzo Demarra as in Demarra Galleries, inquired about my work?” The man was beyond famous in the art world not only for the art he collected, but for the artists he helped rise to fame. Then it hit her, and the glee vanished into a cloud of hurt. “You made that up to impress Olivia.”
He shook his head. “Oh, Samantha. No, I did not make it up. He really did inquire about your work.”
She felt that giddiness returning. “Okay, I’ll bite. How much did he offer you for it?”
He leaned in real close, close enough that she could smell his cologne and found it incredibly pleasing. And when he whispered against her ear her pulse soared. “It’s still in negotiations according to him, but the last offer was for fifty thousand.”
Once again she choked, this time on her own saliva. Coughing harshly, she tried to catch her breath. “Fifty thousand dollars?”
“Breathe, Samantha.” He continued to rub her back while she hyperventilated.
“Can’t. Oh God!” She felt dizzy. To combat it, she took a sip from her wine. “Fifty thousand?” she said again, still in shock.
“Yes, Samantha,” he laughed.
“Give it to him.”
“No.” He lifted his glass and sipped.
She blinked in surprise. “What? Why not? What do you mean by saying no?”
“I’ve purchased it, it’s mine. I refuse to sell it.”
“This is Alfonzo Demarra we’re talking about, the owner of some of the finest galleries, and museums of ancient and famous artwork. The Alfonzo Demarra, Ethan.” She could be famous.
“I am well aware of who he is and his status. He’s been a family friend longer than I’ve been around. But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to part with your piece.”
“Then you’ll ruin me,” she said with clear anger in her tone.
Reaching out, Ethan lifted her chin with one finger and gave her the most incredibly alluring look. “No, Samantha, I’m going to make you famous. Just have patience.”
Slipping his hand away, he left her standing there gaping.