Authors: Samantha Westlake
Copyright 2016 Samantha Westlake
All rights reserved.
Selling Grace - Art of Grace, Book One
Book design by Samantha Westlake
Cover Image Copyright 2016
Used under a Creative Commons Attribution License:
Adult content warning: All characters are legal and fully consenting adults and are not blood relations.
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A Billion Little Clues
Melinda Gaines, overworked personal assistant, is cursed with permanently bad luck. Her boss keeps making unreasonable demands, and no guy has seen the inside of her apartment in
But when Melinda is sent to a party at the CEO's house, she ends up on a romantic, moonlit balcony with an unnervingly handsome stranger. Melinda is convinced that her run of bad luck is over.
That is, until she finds that her latest crush is being accused of murder...
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The Art of Grace Series, Book One
"...and you can handle that?"
I dragged my eyes away from the little black stone statue in the corner of Preston Halesford's office, back to the man himself sitting behind his desk. "Yes, totally," I said, aware that he wanted some sort of positive response from me.
Preston clapped his soft, chubby hands together. "Excellent!" he exclaimed, before reaching forward with a little grunt to pick up the sheet of paper from his desk. "Now, I think I have a few more questions..."
I did my best to appear interested, fighting hard against the pull of my eyes back towards that statue. Something really seemed off with it, I kept thinking to myself. It was fairly small, only about eight inches tall, and partly hidden by some of the books on the shelf along with it, but something about its curved lines made me think of-
"Sorry, what was that?" I asked, realizing that, once again, Preston was waiting for me to offer up some response.
Instead of repeating himself, Preston sighed, setting the paper back down on top of his cluttered desk. I glanced down at it, and even though it faced away from me, I had no trouble reading part of the headline: TEN QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY ASK A NEW EMPLOYEE. Great. Preston was taking his interview questions right off of some online list website. Was that the BuzzFeed logo?
"Becca, I'm trying to help you out here," Preston said, reaching up and rubbing the bridge of his nose. The gesture pushed his little round glasses up into his shock of white hair, and he had to pull them back down into place. "I know that you've been going through a tough time, which is why I thought of offering you this position, but you're not exactly suited for this kind of work-"
Oh crap. That didn't sound good. "Uncle Preston, I really do think that I'll be good at this job," I said quickly, "but look, do you really need to ask me all these questions? You've known me since I was in diapers! Why do you need to ask me some sort of hypothetical about..."
I tried to think back to this disaster of an interview's beginning. "...people tied to train tracks, or something?"
My uncle sighed again, but I sensed that he was ready to just be done with this, just like me. "You really want to work as the manager of my art gallery?" he asked. "Be honest with me, Becca. It's not exactly up your alley."
Preston was right. I didn't know the first thing about art, much less about any of the artists who displayed their work at the Halesford Gallery. I did know, however, that I needed a paycheck, and desperately. My bank account balance was rapidly dropping towards the level where I'd literally be able to count my dollars on my fingers, possibly without even needing to take off the conservative black ballet flats I'd chosen to wear to this interview. Besides, that huge bill for my divorce, the last one, was looming ever closer.
If I didn't find a source of income, and soon...
Well, I didn't want to think about that option, not until I'd really exhausted every possible alternative. So now, I leaned forward, doing my best to focus all of my will on convincing my uncle Preston to agree with me.
"Uncle Preston, I really do appreciate you going out on a limb for me like this," I said to the older man. "And yes, I know that art isn't really my thing. But I'll work as hard as I can, just to see the gallery succeed. You need a manager, and I really need a job, and I'll be here every day. I won't let you down."
My uncle's blue eyes clouded slightly behind his little round spectacles, nostalgia flooding over his face like a wave. "I know you won't, Becca," he said softly, and suddenly, for a moment, I felt on the verge of tears.
After all, Uncle Preston really had seen me at my highest and lowest. He'd sat in the front row of the church with my parents just a few years ago, watching as I declared my love for a man who was no longer in my life. He'd seen me hit what (still) felt like the peak of my life, only to come crashing back down all the way through the floor. I didn't have any secrets from him, and I trusted him, never hesitated to tell him about problems in my personal life. I owed him so much already, even before he reached out to me with this job offer.
For a moment, both of us just sat there silently. I struggled against the tears, and I guessed that Uncle Preston was doing the same. Finally, he clapped his hands together and then planted them on the arms of his chair, grunting a little as he hoisted himself up to his feet, his belly jiggling a little as he rose up.
"Well, if you don't want to just sit around answering interview questions that I printed off for this, I suppose that I ought to show you around," he said brightly. "What do you say? I guess that, at worst, I'll just keep you on for a little bit until I find someone else who wants to manage my art gallery."
"Sounds good, Uncle Preston," I said gratefully as I stood up as well, running my hands down in an attempt to smooth out some of the wrinkles in my jeans.
As I stood up, however, my eyes again fell on that little statue on my uncle's bookshelf, and this time, raised up from my chair, I saw the full thing, exposed and on display.
"What?" Preston asked after a moment, as he saw me frozen, half out of my chair, staring across his office. His eyes tracked along the path of mine, over to the little black carving. "Oh! You've noticed my little piece in the corner, have you?"
"Kind of hard to ignore," I said, my voice sounding half-choked.
Preston chuckled, stepping over to his bookshelf and picking up the little statue. He moved it over to set it on top of the papers on his desk, one hand still curled around it. "It's an Onyx, of course, like a couple other pieces out in the gallery. He's an amazing local artist, and his work is very highly valued. I was so touched when he gave this little miniature to me as a token of his appreciation."
"That's a miniature?" I asked, wishing that my uncle wouldn't wrap his hand around the statue in such a way. "They're normally bigger?"
Preston chuckled. "Oh, quite a bit, I'd say. You should see the size of some of the ones that he brings in! There's only so much gallery space, or else I'd offer him an entire feature on them."
"That would raise some headlines," I said, forcing my eyes away from the slightly curved rod as it pointed up. "And all his works tend to, um, look like that?"
My uncle nodded happily, picking up the statue and admiring it for a moment before placing it back on his shelf. I held off on rolling my eyes, but made a mental note to watch out for anything else by this Onyx artist. I'd need to put up some sort of sign to warn parents about letting their children loose in here, in case they saw something that scarred them permanently, I groaned to myself.
Thankfully, Preston let go of his grip on the shaft of the eight-inch black statue and led me out of his office, out into the gallery. He began talking as soon as we left, giving me a constant narrative about all the different artists who contributed their work for his gallery to sell, how he'd originally found this space and turned it into a collective for local sculptors and painters and other artists to sell their work, how he'd been featured in a couple of national magazines and news articles. I just nodded along, having heard it all a dozen times before. Heck, I'd spent many of my weekends as a small child running around the different rooms of the Halesford Gallery - although I certainly didn't remember seeing any giant, erotic shapes carved out of black rock!