As Talia got dressed, she thought about her upcoming meeting with Victor. He was a strange man. And she was almost sure something was going on between him and his office manager, Caroline Thomas.
For some reason, Talia sensed that Caroline didn't like her, although she couldn't recall doing anything to offend the woman. She almost acts jealous of the attention Victor gives me.
She ran a brush through her hair and applied a smattering of lipstick. She needed little else to make herself look presentable. Her skin was clear and smooth, with just a few freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose.
A knock at the cottage door startled her and she jumped. When she saw her visitor though the screen door, she muttered, "That will teach me to close both doors."
Craig Lynch smiled a greeting from the small stone stoop, which served as a front porch. "Hey, Tally, want to come out and play?" he finally said, the grin widening.
"No comment," Talia responded. She did not open the door or invite him inside.
"Good one, very funny. Actually I'm here in my capacity as a reporter. I want to do a story about you and the upcoming art exhibit for the paper. Need to set up a time. How about over dinner tomorrow night. You pick the place."
He was, she would guess, somewhere in his mid-thirties. He was partially balding and slightly built. His pale blue eyes ogled her from behind a pair of rimless glasses.
"I'm just on my way out, Craig. Call me later," she said, opening the screen door. She remembered she didn't have her purse or keys. She went to grab them from the coffee table, and when she turned around, he was standing right behind her.
"Nice dress, by the way," he said, reaching out to touch the silky skirt. He rubbed the fabric between his thumb and forefinger.
"I have to go, Craig. As I said, call me and we'll set up a time for me to come by the newspaper office and do the interview."
Craig had been flirting with her since she'd moved to town and it hadn't taken her long to grow tired of it. However, he never seemed to get the message that she wasn't interested. In fact, something about him almost repulsed her.
He let go of her skirt and moved his hand to her hip. Sidestepping, she walked around him and went to the door, opening it wide.
He followed her. "Need a ride?" he asked, his thin lips curling up in a half-smile. They both stepped outside.
"I'd rather walk into town. It's a great day and I like being outdoors," she said as she locked her door, then strode past him and down the cobblestone walk.
When Talia entered the art gallery, the first person she saw was Caroline Thomas, hovering over an older, middle-aged couple who were studying a bronze sculpture.
She looked around for Victor, but didn't see him so contented herself with examining some of the pieces that were propped against the far wall. In fact, most of the paintings that usually hung on the walls had been removed and the place smelled of fresh paint. Victor was obviously sprucing things up for the upcoming show.
"I'm going to use easels for a lot of the paintings, especially yours," Victor said, from the mouth of the short hallway that separated the showroom from the offices.
Funny, she could have sworn he hadn't been in there when she'd looked for him a few moments ago.
He came to her, then reached out and took both of her hands in his. "You look beautiful as always. So what do you think of the place?" He beamed proudly.
It did look good. The new, lighter shades made a world of difference. "It's perfect." She smiled at him, thinking that he really looked more suited to big city life. So why had he tucked himself away in this little village so off the beaten path?
Caroline joined them, looking Talia up and down, before turning her attention to Victor. "The Swansons want that sculpture. I'm sending it out tomorrow, but they want a word with you."
As Victor went to talk to the Swansons, Caroline leveled her gaze on Talia. "Victor is quite enthused about your paintings. They will be ready, won't they?"
The other woman's animosity was obvious. "They'll be ready," Talia replied coolly.
"See that they are. I wouldn't want to see Victor disappointed," Caroline said before walking away.
Suddenly, the hair at the nape of Talia's neck stirred and she shivered. I'm being watched, but from where? Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a fleeting glimpse of someone staring in the front window. But when she turned to look, there was no one there.