Date Published: 10/25/2013
Riley Saunders has her dream job. As an art director at a leading advertising agency, she works every day with her two best friends, Stella and Birdie. All three have been assigned to ensure that the Grand Opening of the Peterson Art Museum is nothing short of a success.
When a girl’s night out at a hot new Italian restaurant ends with a spilled bottle of wine, it sets in motion a series of events that leaves Stella and Birdie caught up in whirlwind romances, and Riley fearing for her life at the hands of a deranged stalker. But, when the handsome museum curator, Trent Peterson, learns of her situation, he vows to keep her safe.
In a quick-paced tale of fine art, wine forgery, and the Russian Mafia, Riley and her friends soon discover their pursuit of love will require them to expose a crime, thwart a murder, and trust the one thing that has never failed them…their friendship.
Trent, having just come from a dinner meeting, looked as if he’d stepped off the pages of a men’s fashion magazine. She invited him inside to show him her meager collection of art that she’d acquired over the past ten years. He looked closely at the paintings and grinned when he saw the one painted by his mother.
“You have one of my mother’s very first original paintings. I’m not sure if you realize how much this has appreciated in value.” His hand swept over the painting. “The museum would pay you to allow us to use this at our opening. We’ve devoted one room to display her artwork. Most of her early paintings were sold at a modest price.” He shrugged. “We haven’t had much luck locating them.”
“I’d be happy to lend it to you without payment.”
“Thank you, but I want you to think of this as a business arrangement. I’d rather pay you than a lot of other people I deal with, and remember, an amount is budgeted for this by the museum trustees.”
She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “I’m proud of it. It will be nice to see my small contribution hanging in your museum.”
“Your other paintings are good too.” He walked over to examine one hanging above her couch. “Your choices say a lot about you.” He smiled down at her.
“Such as?” A quizzical grin played around her mouth.
“Well for one, you chose vibrant colors, which suggests a zest for life. You chose pictures that did not give away everything at first glance, suggesting an in depth character with an inquisitive mind. Lastly, this rug and couch pillow suggests you love the color red.” He laughed at her expression.
“You must be psychic.” She smacked his arm. “Can we take this painting along tonight so I can see where it will hang?”
“If you wish. Do you have a soft blanket to wrap it in?”
“Yes, just a moment.”
Riley brought a velour blanket from her closet. Trent wrapped the painting carefully and carried it to his car, a luxurious black Jaguar. He opened the passenger door for her before carefully stowing the painting.
The museum was not far. Within minutes, he drove into an underground garage to a parking spot reserved specifically for his private entrance. He unlocked the door, retrieved the painting from the car and followed Riley inside. The door opened into a dimly lit foyer. She noted a few offices off to one side. A curved hallway on the other side led into the main part of the museum.
A security guard shined a flashlight beam on them before acknowledging Trent.
“Good evening, Mr. Peterson, I knew you were coming in tonight, but I had to check anyway.” He lowered the flashlight.
“As I would have expected you to. You’re doing a good job, Kenny. Thank you. We’ll be in several of the rooms tonight. Ms. Saunders is going to look around while I do some work in the Victorian Room.”
“Okay, Mr. Peterson, I’ll bring up the lights for you.” Kenny nodded as he walked away.
Riley could not contain her excitement. She loved the smells associated with museums. This one, being new, emitted all sorts of aromas, oil paint, wall paint, varnish, wood. That she could enjoy the artwork without moving through crowds of people made it even more special.
“Come along, I’ll show you my mother’s display room.” Trent juggled the picture under his arm and took her hand just as the lights came on. They followed the wide hallway until it curved leading into a three-sided open room. It had been designed for easy viewing. Trent removed the cover from her painting and hung it with care on a wall that had been allotted for his mother’s earlier paintings. Riley looked around in fascination.
Trent smiled at the rapt expression on her face. “I’m going to leave you for a short time while I work. If you need me, just call my cell. The other guard knows we’re here also. Don’t hesitate to ask them for help or directions to specific rooms.”
“Okay, Trent, I’m ready to explore. If you can’t find me when you’re finished, just call my cell.” She laughed.
“I shouldn’t be more than an hour.” He started back in the direction from which they’d come.
To Riley, the hour passed in a blink. She was so engrossed at what was spread out before her eyes, she wasn’t even aware that Trent stood beside her until his fingers brushed hers. Then, she became very aware of him. With his arm touching hers and the scent of his cologne, he radiated an aura of masculinity that engulfed her.
“What do think of our museum,” he asked softly.
“It’s magnificent, Trent. I’ve just gotten a good start. Have you really been gone an hour?”
“Actually, I’ve been gone an hour and a half. I guess you didn’t miss me at all.” He feigned indignation. “Let’s walk through the rooms so you can get a quick look. I know you’re a working girl. I don’t want to keep you out too late, and as you saw, time can get away from you.”
He took her hand and they spent the next two hours moving quickly through galleries and different exhibitions. She got an idea of where she would like to spend more time when she returned for another visit.
It was midnight when he pulled up in front of her apartment. He walked with her, and waited while she unlocked the door. She turned to say goodnight, but her words stuck in her throat as she looked at him. She knew he was going to kiss her; she knew she wanted him to. She lifted her face and his lips found hers. The Earth spun faster and faster until her whole body felt weak. She pulled her lips away and clung to him until her knees held her again. They both stood silently for a moment, in the wonder of what had just transpired. Finally, he said very softly. “Goodnight, Riley, I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Leona Pence started reading romance novels as a teen. She graduated from Nancy Drew stories to Harlequin Romance, and then to her favorite author, Barbara Cartland and her vast Regency romance collection. Happy endings were a must.
Leona began writing late in life after the death of her husband of forty-four years. They married on her 19th birthday after a three month courtship – and yes – love at first sight really did happen.
She enjoys reading, writing, online pool, and especially being a Mentor in F2K, a free online writing course.
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