Mona stood up straight and squared her shoulders. The wall clock said it was almost midnight. Sometime in the last hour she’d made up her mind to sell The Red. She felt better now that she’d acknowledged she had no choice but to sell. The numbers weren’t going to magically multiply no matter how long she stared at them. Might as well give up, go home, and sleep. Time to lock up. Time to give up. Except…
There was a man standing in the gallery.
Mona gasped, her hand over her mouth. It didn’t seem he had heard her gasp. He didn’t even turn to look at her. She swallowed hard, her heart running like the White Rabbit. He was tall and broad-shouldered and wore a three-piece black suit. He had one hand on his hip, one hand on his chin. Although his clothes were modern and he looked about forty years old, there was something about him that looked…old. No, not old. Old World, perhaps. Yes, that. Old World. She could think of no other way to describe him. It was the hair. That was it. He wore his hair in a style that would have best belonged on a Regency-era lord. Black and tousled, rakish even, he reminded her of Eugene Delacroix’s dashing self-portraits. Dark eyes, black heart. To Mona he looked like the devil gone courting.
But who was the devil’s lucky lady?
“Sir?” Mona finally worked up her courage to speak. “The gallery is closed.”
He didn’t speak at first. But he did move at last. He dropped his hand from his chin and stepped toward the small painting in front of him. It was a George Morland, a contemporary of Joshua Reynolds. Nothing terribly impressive about it. Merely an uninspired painting of men in red coats on horseback.
“Things aren’t what they seem.”
His accent was English. She’d recognized those lovely vowels at once.
“No,” she said. “I imagine they aren’t.”
“I hear your gallery is closing,” he said. Again the right hand came to his chin, the left hand to his hip. The left hand drew her gaze. He was lean and the well-tailored vest emphasized his trim waist and hips.
“Closed, I said. I told you the gallery is closed. It’s almost midnight.”
“You’re in the red.”
“So are you. That’s the name of the gallery.”
At that he turned and looked at her, met her eyes, smiled. She felt a current of fear run through her body, electric and exciting.
“You’re in the red,” he said again. “In debt, I mean.”
“What have you heard?” she asked.
“I heard the gallery was in distress. Such a shame,” he said.
“My mother bought paintings she couldn’t re-sell,” Mona said. “She spent huge sums of money on gallery parties that brought in no revenue. And she died of cancer last autumn. The bills were enormous.”
“No father to help?”
“I don’t know who my father is. My mother was a bohemian type.”
“And you have no money?”
“Having no money right now would be a blessing because currently I have negative five hundred thousand dollars,” she said. “So unless you’re going to buy that Morland for five hundred thousand dollars, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“It’s not a Morland,” he said.
“I told you—things aren’t always as they seem…”
Tiffany Reisz is the international bestselling author of the Original Sinners series for Mira Books and Mills & Boon, including the RT Book Reviews Best Erotic Romance 2012 winner The Siren and the LAMBDA Literary Award-winning The King. Her novel The Saint won the Romance Writers of America RITA® for best Erotic Romance in 2015.
About 8th Circle Press
8th Circle Press is a Lexington, Kentucky-based publisher of literary friction. For more information, visit our website at www.8thCirclePress.com