Erika tuned out the auctioneer as he started in about the details of the next artwork. Gathering her purse and folder, she stood and walked to the back of the room. A warm hand wrapped around her elbow and jerked her to a halt.
"We need to talk."
Looking into Ryan's gaze, Erika felt her heart tighten. She wanted to scream at him for buying her grandmother's painting, but the memory of how much she used to love him held her silent.
Bitterness swirled around her as she pulled away from him and opened the doors.
"If you want a chance at that painting, you'll hear me out."
Erika almost didn't stop, but knowing how heart broken her mother would be if she ever found out there was a last chance to get the painting back, forced her to stop. Her mother had taken the loss of her own mother just a few months earlier very hard. It had renewed her determination that they find and acquire all of her paintings.
"Meet me in the hallway in five minutes."
Nodding her head without looking back, Erika stepped into the opening between the heavy oak doors and allowed them to swing closed behind her. Pressing a palm against her chest, she could feel her heart racing. She managed to drop into one of the antique chairs that lined the hallway, her mind whirling with thoughts about what Ryan could want.
Devastatingly handsome, born into a wealthy family, Ryan still had a down-to-earth quality about him. Part of that was thanks to his father's determination that his son not grow up thinking the world owed him anything. Ryan had once confessed, their bodies still glistening with sweat and the juices of their shared passion, that he owed his old man for that. He appreciated everything he had.
Unfortunately, a few months later, Erika knew it had all been a lie. He hadn't appreciated her. Clenching her fingers, she could still feel the coldness wash over her body as she had held the newspaper article announcing Ryan's upcoming marriage to a socialite friend of the family. He had always laughed off their appearing together in public as her being a friend of the family.
He'd shrug and respond, "Her family and mine have been close friends for generations." Swearing she had nothing to worry about, he would inevitably seduce her into not thinking about anything anymore, except him.
But that day everything had changed. He had come to his house to find her packing. Anger had flared in his eyes as he watched her throwing her clothing into a pile in her suitcase. "You're not even going to give me a chance to explain?"
Erika closed her eyes as she remembered the pain that had threaded through her at his hurt tone. She was the one who had been injured, lied to, betrayed, strung along with pretty words and declarations of love, until she had bought into the fantasy that maybe they could have a life together. Unable to deal with the emotions overwhelming her, she had choked on her answer and settled for shaking her head as she slammed the lid closed.
As she forced the zipper to slide around the bulging case, his hands had grabbed her arms and spun her around. Before she could gain her balance he had gripped her forearms and pulled her against him, his lips smacking down on hers in a kiss unlike any he had ever pressed against her. He was like a man possessed as he demanded entrance into her mouth. Licking her lips, she had the phantom sensation that she could still taste her tears melded with the taste of his lips.
As suddenly as he had grabbed her, Ryan thrust her away from himself, and stabbed a hand into his hair. Shaken to the core, she had turned and grabbed her case, her heart screaming at him to try to explain, to demand she hear him out. Instead he opened the bedroom door and held it for her. "Go on then, get the hell out," he spit out, his light eyes flashing angrily at her.
Holding the case against her side, Erika had walked out as proudly as she could manage, blinded by her own tears.
"I see you waited on me." Drawn back to the present by his mocking words, Erika stood up and faced him head on.
"Why did you buy that painting? You could have had anything else in the auction, or in any other auction. Why that painting?"
Ryan took a step closer to her, and Erika could feel the heat coming off his body. Despite his business suit and his high-class haircut, she could feel the baser animal in him just beneath the surface.
It was what first attracted her to him, that barely leashed intensity, covered by a thin layer of gentility.
"How badly do you want the painting?"