He surveyed her calmly. “I sold them. Had a customer who liked the stuff.”
Josie twisted her hands in agitation. “Can you give me an address? A name? Phone number, anything? I’d like to buy it back.”
“You had the option to pawn it, Miss Carlysle,” the man said patiently. “I specifically asked if you preferred a loan with the option of getting your items back.”
“But the loan wouldn’t have been enough,” she argued. “I needed the money then. I couldn’t wait. But it’s different now. I have the money and I have to get my mother’s jewelry back! It’s all I have left from her. It was my grandmother’s. Oh God, I can’t believe you sold it so quickly.”
The man shot her a look of sympathy but remained silent. Josie was sure he thought he was dealing with a crazy woman.
“Can you give me the information of the person you sold it to?” she asked again in desperation.
“I think you know I can’t do that,” the man said.
She wiped a hand over her face in agitation. If only she’d waited another day. But how on earth could she have predicted that someone would walk into the art gallery and fall in love with her work—all if it—and buy it for more than the dealer was asking for? It was all so crazy. Not that she wasn’t extremely grateful for her good fortune, but if only she’d waited one more day she wouldn’t have pawned her mother’s jewelry and she wouldn’t be standing in a pawnshop desperate to get it back.
“Will you at least contact the person for me and give them my phone number? You could ask them to call me. Tell them I’ll pay double what they paid for it. I have to get it back.”
He sighed and then shoved a piece of paper with a pen across the counter toward her. “I can’t promise anything, but write down your info and I’ll pass it along. I don’t normally do this kind of thing. Once it’s sold, it’s out of my hands. You relinquished any claim when you sold the jewelry to me.”
“I know, I know,” Josie said as she hurriedly jotted down her name and number. “I’m not saying it’s your fault or that you’re to blame. I have only myself to blame for acting so rashly. But I’d really appreciate it if you could just give the person a call and let them know how desperate I am to get the pieces back.”
He shrugged as she shoved the paper back to him. “I’ll do what I can.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
She turned to walk out, her heart heavy. She should have been elated. Her artwork had sold. All of it! And Mr. Downing had told her to bring more, whatever she wanted. He had an interested buyer, and though he hadn’t divulged any information about the buyer, he’d told her that the party was interested in whatever else she brought in.
The only thing marring the entire day was the fact that her mother’s jewelry was gone. She had no idea where or who had bought it or if she’d ever get it back. She’d been so happy when Mr. Downing had given her that check. Far more than she’d ever hoped for. It was enough to pay her rent and buy groceries for a few months. Plenty of time for her to get other pieces to the gallery. And most importantly, it had been enough money to buy back the jewelry she’d sold, even though she knew it would cost her more than she’d gotten from the sale.
The pawnshop had been the very first place she’d gone after depositing the check into her bank account. And she’d sworn to herself that no matter what, she’d never part with the jewelry again.
Only now it was gone, and so was the last link to her mother.
She left the shop, stepping onto the busy street, uncertain of where exactly she was going next. As she turned to the right, she was stopped by a familiar face. She blinked as she stared back at the man she’d met in the park several days earlier. He was standing there, not looking surprised. In fact, he looked as though he’d been waiting for her. Crazy thought, but she didn’t get the impression he was startled at all by the unexpected meeting.
“Josie,” he murmured.
“H-hello,” she stammered out.
“I believe I have something that belonged to you.”
He held out an opened box and as soon as she saw inside, her breath caught and stilled in her chest.
She raised her gaze back to him, confusion running through her mind.
“How did you get this? I don’t understand. How could you have possibly gotten it? How did you know?”
He smiled, but his eyes were steely. No hint of a smile in those green eyes.
“I bought it after you sold it to the pawnshop. I’m guessing since you just came out of there that you want it back.”
“Yes, of course I want it back. But that doesn’t answer the question as to how you got it.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “I just told you. I bought it after you sold it.”
She shook her head impatiently and it was then his gaze came to rest at her throat. Her bare throat. His eyes glittered with instant interest. She lifted a hand automatically to where the collar had once rested.
He’d know that she’d worn it awhile. There was a thin band of paler skin from where the necklace had been.
“It doesn’t explain how you knew about it,” she said huskily.
“Does it matter?” he asked mildly.
“Yes, it does! Have you been following me?”
“Me personally? No.”
“It’s supposed to make me feel better that you had someone else following me?” she demanded. “That’s just . . . creepy!”
“Do you want the jewelry back?” he asked bluntly.
“Of course I do,” she said in irritation. “How much do you want for it?”
“I don’t want money.”
She took a step back, looking warily up at him. They were on a public street and there were people all around them, but that didn’t mean a whole lot if he was some deranged lunatic out to do her harm.
“Then what do you want?”
“Dinner. Tonight. I’ll bring the jewelry and you can have it. All I want in return is your company for the evening.”
She shook her head. “No way. I don’t know you. I know nothing about you.”
He smiled patiently. “That’s what dinner is for. So you get to know me better. And I can get to know you better.”
“You obviously know a hell of a lot about me,” she snapped. “Including where to find me and where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing.”
“Why aren’t you wearing the collar?” he asked, his gaze once more raking across her throat.
His stare made her feel vulnerable. Like she was completely undressed in front of him.
This time she laid her splayed hand over her throat as if trying to hide the bare expanse of her skin from his gaze.
“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” she said in a low voice.
“I intend to make it my business.”
Her eyes widened. “Do you honestly think I’m going to agree to go to dinner with you? You’ve been stalking me, or rather you’ve had me stalked. You’re asking personal questions and you’re basically blackmailing me for the return of my mother’s jewelry.”
“So it belonged to your mother,” he said softly. “It must be important to you.”
Pain stabbed into her chest and she had to suck in a breath to steady herself.
“Yes. Yes, it does,” she said in a quiet voice. “I hated having to sell it. If only I’d waited a day. I have to get it back. It’s the only thing I have left of her. Tell me what you paid and I’ll give you the money. Please.”
“I don’t want your money, Josie. I want your time. Dinner tonight. Public place. No strings. I bring the jewelry. You just bring yourself.”
“And after? Will you leave me alone?”
“Can’t promise that,” he said mildly. “I go after what I want. If I gave up every time an obstacle was thrown into my path, I wouldn’t be very successful now would I?”
“You don’t know me,” she said in frustration. “You don’t want me. How could you? You know nothing about me.”
“Which is why I want to have dinner with you tonight,” he said patiently.
But she could tell he was fast losing his patience. His eyes simmered with impatience even as his tone remained even. He was clearly a man used to getting his own way. She could tell that just by looking at him. Why the hell would he want her, though? What could she possibly have that he’d want?
He was a man who wouldn’t have to look far for any woman. They probably lined up outside his door at any given time. He was obviously wealthy. He had that polished GQ look that screamed wealth and privilege. And he had a quiet confidence—arrogance—about him that told her he not only got what he wanted, but that he knew it too.
Arrogance wasn’t a quality she was particularly attracted to. But on him, it looked good. It fit him. Just like his clothing and his entire demeanor. And there was something about that gaze that turned her inside out. It had the very first time they’d met. Her stomach had performed somersaults, and he’d made her consider things she’d never considered before. He’d made her want things she’d never wanted or realized she wanted before.
And she hated him for that. For overturning her carefully ordered existence. No, it wasn’t that well ordered. She didn’t have a routine and she liked it that way. But she was comfortable in her life, knew who and what she was. Until him. Until that meeting in the park that had made her question everything about herself.
He was not a man who would be quiet. He’d turn her entire world upside down the minute she allowed him access. She knew that as solidly as she knew anything else in her life. He was someone who liked—demanded—control. It was evident in the way he spoke, the way he carried himself. He’d latched onto the significance of that collar. He’d known what it meant and he spoke as though he had vast experience in the kind of lifestyle that collar signified.
But he wouldn’t be like Michael. Nothing like him at all. And that scared her even as it intrigued her at the same time. She was curious—she wouldn’t deny that. She wouldn’t even deny that he’d made her question everything about herself—and her relationship with Michael. That he was the reason why she wasn’t wearing that collar any longer.
And now he was standing in front of her, holding her mother’s jewelry, demanding dinner with her in return for the jewelry. But his gaze promised a whole lot more. She’d be a fool to think he’d be satisfied with only dinner.
She wasn’t an idiot. She’d felt the attraction—that spark—between them. Knew he’d felt it too. As inexplicable as it was that he’d find anything about her interesting, she knew that he was absolutely interested. But for how long? Women like her didn’t hold the attention of men like him long term. And she had no desire to be his temporary plaything. A challenge he felt compelled to overcome.
“Josie?” he prompted. “Dinner? Tonight?”
She sighed, dropping her gaze in agitation to the box he still held in his hand. She wanted the jewelry back. It was priceless to her. She should be relieved he didn’t want money from her. The money she’d received from the sale of her art would go a long way in helping her over the next months. But instead she found herself wishing that he’d just take the money, give her the jewelry and walk away. Out of her life. Because this was a man who would shake everything up. No doubt about it.
All he wanted was dinner. A simple date. She’d had dates. A night out. Food. A little conversation. She could walk away then and make it clear she didn’t want to see him again.
“All right,” she finally conceded. “Where and what time?”
***Via Maya Banks Facebook page for more click HERE***