Read The Contract Online

Authors: Lisa Renee Jones

Tags: #Romance, #General, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Fiction

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BOOK: The Contract
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Friday, March 11, 2011

T
oday my job took over in the most wonderful way, and I was able to quickly forget about the contract. I started out the morning with a sale. It wasn’t a big one, but it was still a sale. I set up the meeting with Ricco and my client for Monday. The most exciting part, though, was Chris coming by the gallery and my being called into Mark’s office. I soon forgot about being nervous when I heard the reason I was there. Chris set up a charity event for next month with us, and he’s going to unveil a new work that will later be auctioned off at Riptide for his charity. Mark and Chris asked me to organize it, instead of Mary, since it’s attached to Riptide.

I am beyond elated! A new work from Chris? People will be fighting for tickets to see him unveil a new work. This is so exciting, and I’m eager to dig into the details tomorrow.

As for my decision to be submissive, well, I’ve been reading up on the internet on BDSM and I’ve been tuning in to the Dr. Kat show quite often. I’m thinking about calling her again. I need someone who understands the dynamics of the Master/sub relationship, and I like the anonymity of calling in.

Aside from that, I’m supposed to have another lesson tomorrow night at his place. I just hope there are only two of us—not three.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Morning . . .

T
he nightmare came back. I
hate
that damn nightmare. I hate how real the icy water feels, pouring into my lungs. And I hate my mother’s perfume, which I used to love. That sense of doom is back. I hadn’t even realized it had left until it returned. At least tonight, I’ll be lost in some kind of sexual fantasy sure to make me forget. Escaping into his world sounds very good right now.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

L
ast night I went to his house for a lesson, and it was just the two of us. It was sexy and amazing. He tied me up and produced a pair of nipple clamps. I’d never been clamped and it hurt at first, but it was sweet bliss once the ache faded. He’d told me he was my escape, my place where I could let the rest of the world fade away. And it did. It was one of the few times in my life that I have ever fully let go. I didn’t think; I just let myself get lost in what I felt. He’d made me feel that safe.

But then he’d sent me home with a driver, and I crashed hard and felt alone all over again. The kind of alone that feels bad.

I think I’m already falling for him. I think I could fall in love with him. But is a man who is all about Master and sub capable of falling in love? Could he ever be happy with just me? There are moments when I see something in his eyes, when I feel something in his touch, and I believe he already does. When he sent me home, I almost thought it was because he wanted to escape what he felt. But that might just be me hoping for more than a contractual arrangement.

I don’t want to set myself up for heartbreak, but maybe it’s too late to avoid. Maybe I am destined to have my heart ripped to pieces by this man—because I know as I write this that I can’t walk away from him. I need to sign the contract and put the uncertainty and worry aside. I thought about calling in to the Dr. Kat show, hoping she would talk me out of such a rash action, but I know she won’t. I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to sign the contract.

And whatever will be, will be.

Click through for an exclusive sneak peek at Lisa Renee Jones’s sizzling beginning to the Inside Out trilogy

If I Were You

featuring a young woman who has stumbled upon Rebecca’s journals and finds herself drawn down the same path . . .

Available from Gallery Books

When the gallery comes into view, I pause to watch a group of elegantly dressed visitors pour through its double glass doors, which are lined in shiny silver for the black-tie affair. Artsy swirls of red letters, displayed above the entry, spell
ALLURE
.

Nerves flutter in my stomach, though I can’t say why. I love the contemporary art Allure specializes in, love their mix of local new artists who I can discover, as well as the established names whose work I already appreciate. My nerves are ridiculous. I’m uncomfortable in this world, but then, this isn’t my world. It’s Rebecca’s, and Rebecca is the real reason I’m here.

A glance at my dainty, handmade, gold wristwatch, also bought at the pier, confirms I have plenty of time to spare. It is seven forty-five, fifteen minutes until Alvarez will be unveiling a new painting that will be displayed in the gallery and up for silent auction through the end of the week. Oh, how I’d love to have an Alvarez original, but they don’t come cheap. Still, a girl can dream.

Excitement filters in with nerves as I rush toward the door. A young brunette woman in a simple black dress holds it open for me and offers me a smile. “Welcome.”

I return the smile and enter the gallery, noting the nervous energy bouncing off the twentysomething girl as I pass, an energy that seems to scream “I’m new and don’t know what I am doing.” This isn’t Rebecca, who I know will be daringly bold and confident. In fact, the hostess brings out the schoolteacher in me, and I fight the urge to give her a hug and tell her she’s doing fine. I’m a hugger. I got it from my mother, just like I did my love of art, only I wasn’t talented with a brush as she had been.

The girl is saved from my mothering when the sound of a piano playing from a distant corner filters through the air and draws my attention to the main showroom. I am in awe. This isn’t my first time visiting the four-thousand-square-foot wonder that is the Allure gallery, but it doesn’t diminish my excitement at seeing it again.

The entryway opens to the main showroom of glistening white wonder. The walls are snow-white; the floor glistens like white diamonds. The shiny divider walls curve like abstract waves, and each of them is adorned with contrasting, eye-popping, colorful artwork.

I turn away from the showroom, attending to business before pleasure, and present my ticket to a hostess behind a podium. She is tall and elegant with long raven hair. “Rebecca?” I ask hopefully.

“No, sorry,” she says. “I’m Tesse.” She holds up a finger as she glances through the glass doors at an approaching customer she needs to attend. I wait patiently, hoping this young woman can connect me with Rebecca. I listen attentively while she directs the new guest to a short stairway that leads toward the music and, apparently, the location where Ricco Alvarez will be unveiling his masterpiece.

“Sorry for the interruption,” Tesse finally says, giving me her full attention. “You were looking for Rebecca. Unfortunately, she isn’t attending tonight’s event. Is there something I can help you with?”

Disappointment fills me. To miss an Alvarez event is not something someone in Rebecca’s role is likely to do. I just want to know, for certain, that Rebecca is safe. Painting myself as a stranger doesn’t seem the way to do that. “My sister’s an old friend of Rebecca’s. She told me to be sure and say hello to her and pass along her new phone number. She seemed to think Rebecca worked big events like this one. She’ll be disappointed I missed her.”

“Oh, I hate that you missed her,” Tesse says, looking genuinely concerned. “I’m not only new, but I also only work part-time, on an as-needed basis, so I don’t hear much of what’s going on internally, but I think Rebecca took some personal time off. Mr. Compton would know for certain.”

“Mr. Compton?”

“The manager here,” she says. “He’ll be tied up with the presentation soon, but I can introduce you to him afterward if you like?”

I nod. “Yes. Please. That would be perfect.”

The piano stops abruptly. “They’re about to start,” Tesse informs me. “You should grab a seat while you still can. I’ll be sure to help you connect with Mark after the presenta-
tion.”

A thrill shoots through me. “Thank you so much,” I say, before I head toward the seating area. I can’t believe that I am about to see an Alvarez original presented by Alvarez himself.

A tuxedo-clad usher greets me at the bottom of the stairs and offers me some help finding a seat. And boy did I need help. There were at least two hundred chairs lined up in front of a ministage, set in front of a bay window that was essentially the entire wall, and almost every single chair was taken.

I squeeze into a center row, between a man that has artsy rebel written all over him from longish light blond hair to his jeans and a blazer, and a fifty-something woman who is more than a little irritated to have to let me pass. I can’t help but notice the man is incredibly good-looking, and I’ve never been one to be easily impressed. I know too well that beauty is often only skin deep.

“You’re late,” the man says as if he knows me, a friendly smile touching his lips, his green eyes crinkling at the edges, mischief in their depths. I figure him to be about thirty-five. No. Thirty-three. I am good with ages and good at reading people. My kids at school often found that out when they were up to mischief.

I smile back at the man, feeling instantly comfortable with him when, aside from my students, I’m normally quite reserved with strangers. “And you forgot to pick up your tux, I see,” I tease. In fact, I wonder how he pulled off getting in here dressed as he is.

He runs his hand over his sandy blond, one-day stubble that borders on two days. “At least I shaved.”

My smile widens, and I intend to reply but a screech from a microphone fills the air. A man I recognize from photos as Ricco Alvarez claims the stage and stands next to the sheet covering a display, no doubt his newest masterpiece. Suave and James Bond–esque in his tuxedo, he is the polar opposite of the man next to me.

“Welcome one and all,” he says in a voice richly accented with Hispanic heritage, as is his work. “I am Ricco Alvarez, and I thank you for sharing my love of art and children, on this grand evening. And so I give you what I call
Chiquitos
, or in English, Little Ones.”

He tears away the sheet, and everyone gasps at the unexpected piece of art that is nothing like anything he’s done before. Rather than a landscape, it is a portrait of three children, all of different nationalities, holding hands. It is a well-executed work appropriate for the occasion, though secretly, I had wished for a landscape where his brilliance shone.

The man next to me leans an elbow on his knee and lowers his voice. “What do you think?”

“It’s perfect for the evening,” I say cautiously.

“Oh, so diplomatic,” he says with a low chuckle. “You wanted a landscape.”

“He does beautiful landscapes,” I say defensively.

He grins. “He should have done a landscape.”

“And now,” Ricco announces, “while the bidding begins, I’ll be circulating the room, answering questions about my many works displayed tonight and hoping to have the pleasure of meeting as many of you as possible. Please feel free to walk to the stage for a closer look at
Chiquitos
.”

Almost instantly, the crowd is standing.

“Are you going for a close-up?” I ask the man next to me.

“Not much on crowds,” he said. “Nor Ricco’s attempt at portraiture.” He winks at me. “Don’t stroke his ego when you meet him. It’s big enough as it is.” He starts moving down the row toward the exit. I stare after him, feeling this odd flutter in my stomach at his departure, curious about who he is.

I frown as I repeat part of our conversation in my mind. Ricco. He’d called Ricco Alvarez Ricco and spoken of his ego as if he knew him. It’s too late now to find out how he knows Ricco, and portrait or not, I am eager for an up-close look at the featured painting. I have not met Ricco yet and it is disappointing, but I am still thrilled at the opportunity to see his work.

Sometime later, I am enjoying a lingering walk through the gallery, exploring the full Alvarez collection on display, when I spot a display for Chris Merit, whose work I studied in college. He, too, had once been a local, but I seem to remember his moving to Paris. Excitedly, I head toward his work. His specialties are urban landscapes—mostly of San Francisco, both past and present—and portraits of real subjects with such depth and soul they steal my breath away.

I join an elderly couple inside the small room, where they debate over which of several landscapes to purchase. Unable to stop myself, I join in. “I think you should take them all.”

The man scoffs. “Don’t go giving her ideas or you’ll both put me in the poorhouse. She gets one for above the fireplace.”

“Stingy man,” the gray-haired woman says, shoving his arm playfully and then eying me. “So tell me, honey.” She motions between two pictures. “Which do you think is a better conversation piece, of these two?”

I study the two choices, both black-and-white, though Merit often uses color. One is a downtown shot of San Francisco in the midst of hurricane-like weather. The other is of the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in clouds, the skyline of the city peeking out from behind it.

“A tough choice,” I say thoughtfully. “Both have a bit of a dark edgy feel to them, and both have the ‘wow’ factor.” I indicate the stormy downtown scene. “I happen to know that one depicts the impact Hurricane Nora had on the city back in 1997. To me, that makes for a conversation piece, and a little bit of history to boot, right there in your living room.”

“You are so right, dear,” the woman says, her eyes lighting up. “This is the one.” She casts her husband an expectant look. “It’s perfect. I have to have it.”

“Then have it you shall,” her husband declares.

I smile at the woman’s joy, but not without a bit of art envy. I would love to be going home with the piece, as she will be, tonight.

“I understand you had a question for me,” a male voice says, pulling my attention toward the display entryway where a man with neatly trimmed blond hair stands. He is tall and confident, an air of ownership about him. And his eyes—they are the most unique silvery gray I’ve ever seen.

“I’m Mark Compton,” he says, “the gallery manager. And it looks like I owe you more than an answer to whatever your question is. It appears I need to thank you for assisting my customers.” He glances at the couple. “I take it you’ve made a selection?”

“Indeed we have,” the husband says, clearly pleased to have his wife make a decision. “We’d like to take it home with us tonight if possible.”

“Excellent,” he says. “If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll have it packaged for you.”

He motions for me to walk with him, and I shake my head. “I’m in no rush. Help them with their purchase, and you can find me later.”

He studies me a bit too intently, those silvery eyes of his rich with interest, and I am suddenly self-conscious. He is, without a doubt, classically handsome by anyone’s standards, but there is also something raw and sexual about this man, something almost predatory about him.

“All right then,” he says softly, “I’ll find you soon.” It isn’t a statement that alludes to a double meaning, but yet, I feel one there. His gaze shifts to the couple. “Let’s go ring you up.”

The couple thanks me for my help and hurry after Mark. The minute they are gone, the minute Mark Compton is out of sight, I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding and shake myself inwardly. And not just because of the way his eyes had assessed me so
.
.
. so what? Intimately? Surely not. I still have this overactive-imagination thing going on from reading the journals. I do wonder if he is the he from the journals. He certainly has the animal magnetism Rebecca’s words painted him with. But then, so does Ricco Alvarez. Good grief, I’m making myself crazy.

A staff member interrupts me before I can go on another “crazy” thinking spree, and removes the couple’s purchase from the display. I force myself to stop overanalyzing and relax, basking in the solitude as I discover Chris Merit’s newest work.

“You like Merit?” comes another male voice, this one familiar.

I turn to find the man who’d sat next to me during the presentation standing in the doorway. I give a quick, eager nod. “Very much. I wish they had some of his portraits, but his urban landscapes are magnificent. You?”

He leans against the wall. “I hear he doesn’t have an overinflated ego. That scores points with me.”

I tilt my head and study him, relaxing into the easy conversation. “Why are you here if you don’t like Ricco?”

Mark Compton appears in the doorway. “I see you didn’t venture far,” he says to me and then eyes the other man. “Don’t tell me you’re pimping your own work at Ricco’s event?” He glances at me. “Was he pimping his own work?”

I gape. “Wait. His own work?” I shift my gaze to my nameless new friend, who looks nothing like the Chris Merit I’ve seen photos of. “Who are you exactly?”

His mouth quirks at the edges. “The man with one red shoe.” And with that, he turns and walks away.

I shake my head. “What? What does that mean?” I turn to Mark. “What does that mean? The man with one red shoe?”

“Who knows,” Mark says, his lips thinning in disapproval. “Chris has a twisted sense of humor. Thankfully, it doesn’t show up on the canvas.”

My jaw goes slack. “Wait. Are you telling me that was Chris Merit?” I rack my brain over the pictures of him I’ve seen and I remember him differently. Do I have his image confused with another?

“That’s Chris,” he confirms. “And as you can see, he has an odd way about him. He was standing in his own display room and didn’t even tell you who he was.” His hands settle on his hips. “Listen, Tesse tells me you
.
.
. I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name?”

“Sara,” I supply. “Sara McMillan.”

“Sara,” he repeats, his tone low, as if he was trying it out on his tongue, trying me out on his tongue. Seconds pass, and the small display area seems to get smaller before he adds, “Tesse was right. Rebecca is on a leave of absence.”

BOOK: The Contract
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