Home > The Red(4)

The Red(4)
Author: Tiffany Reisz

"No.”

"On the other hand, it’s a virtual certainty I’ll chain you to the bed and bugger you. I’m sure it will come as no shock to you that I am also very fond of riding crops.”

"Riding crops?”

"Riding crops. They make the most delightful sound on naked female flesh. Ever heard it?”

"I haven’t.”

"You will.”

"You think I’ll agree to this?”

"I think you will.” He sat back in the club chair again, steepled his fingers and looked at her over the top. "You’re twenty-five years old, yes?”

"I am.”

"A good age.”

"And why is that?”

"Twenty-five means you’re old enough to know better, young enough to do it anyway. Aren’t you?”

"I’ll admit I’m tempted. What are the terms?”

"In exchange for having carte blanche over your body—all three holes, thank you—I’ll save The Red.”

"You’ll save my gallery.” She ignored the comment about the holes. At least she tried to. Her body didn’t ignore it nearly as well as she would have liked.

"I will,” he said. "I can and I will.”

"What’s The Red to you?”

He raised his hands, palms up. "What can I say? I’m an art lover.”

She believed there was more to it than that, but she didn’t press him. The art world could be very shady—she knew that for a fact. Her mother had more than once allowed a painting with dubious provenance to be sold through the gallery. That was where Mona and her mother parted ways. Her mother loved the art world. Mona loved the art alone. But she’d also loved her mother, so she considered Malcolm’s offer very seriously.

Mona leaned forward, put her elbows on her desk, clasped her hands in a prayer position.

"Half a million dollars,” she said. "That’s what I need just to get The Red out of the red.”

"How long can you keep the gallery open with your finances in their current state?”

"One year at the most.”

"How much do you need to stay open for five years?”

"Another half a million,” she said, throwing out a grand sum.

"Are you making me an offer?” he asked.

"You are seriously willing to pay me that much money just to fuck me?”

He smiled at her. His dark eyes glinted like struck flint.

"You smile like the devil,” Mona said.

"The devil doesn’t smile,” he said. "The devil smirks.”

"You speak as if you know him.”

"Would it shock you if I said I did?”

"It might be the least shocking thing you’ve said to me tonight. One million dollars simply to fuck me? Really? That’s absurd.”

"I’m not paying you a million dollars just to fuck you. Fucking you is the least of what I’ll do to you. What I’m paying a million dollars for—minimum, mind you—is to fuck with you. Pardon my French.”

She pardoned his French. She pardoned nothing else of his, however.

"It scares me to think what you’ll expect from me for that amount of money. I’d rather sell myself for one hundred dollars than one million.”

"You shouldn’t let a man shake your hand for less than a hundred dollars, Mona. And you shouldn’t be afraid.”

"You won’t do anything perverse to me?”

"I’ll do everything perverse to you. But you still shouldn’t be afraid.”

"You threatened to fuck with me. What does that even mean?”

"We’ll play games, you and I. Or I’ll play them and you’ll play along. You won’t know reality from fantasy.”

"I’ll know.”

"You say that now…but I’m very good at the games I play.” This time he didn’t smile. He smirked like she’d heard the devil does.

"How often would you expect to fuck with me? Every week? Every night?”

"Nothing like that. I’ll expect no more than one night every one or two months.”

"That’s all?”

"I have…obligations elsewhere, let’s say. I am a man enchained.”

Married then? Sounded like it to her. Married or he had a girlfriend. Well, his other life was his business, not hers.

"How will you pay me? In cash? Check? We take cards at the gallery.” While cash would be ideal, she’d love to see a check to find out who he was and where he lived.

"I’ll pay you in the currency of the gallery. I’ll pay you in art.”

"You will pay me in art? You’re a collector?”

"I am. And my private collection has been hidden away far too long. I can’t think of a better way of bringing it to light again.”

"You’ll have to provide provenance. And considering I don’t even know your last name…”

"I’ll provide provenance at the end of the year. I’ll give you the artwork after each night and you can have it authenticated and insured. When our year together is up, I’ll provide impeccable provenance for all the pieces, which will increase their value and make it very easy for you to sell them.”

"Impeccable, you say?”

"Impeccable and unimpeachable.”

"Where will these assignations take place?”

"Your back room should do nicely for a playroom. The bed is back there, isn’t it? The antique brass bed?”

She narrowed her eyes at him. "You know about the bed in the back?”

"I’ve seen the back room. It’s where your mother kept the best pieces.”

"The erotic pieces, you mean.”

"Like I said, the best pieces.”

"My mother was quite shameless. I’m not surprised you knew her.”

"I am very sorry for the loss of your mother. Ophelia St. James was much beloved in the art community.”

"She was. And this gallery was her life. She told me to do anything to save it.”

"I can be anything,” he said with the slightest smile.

"Yes,” she said. "I imagine you could.”

"Do we have an agreement then?” he asked.

"I have to think about this some more,” she said. She turned in her chair to the side, rested her forehead on her hand and breathed.

"Do you have a lover?” he asked. "I won’t tell you to stop seeing him if you do.”

"We broke up,” she said. "After Mother died.”

"My condolences.”

"No need for that. We were never in love, only lovers. He was a boy.”

"Scandalous.” Malcolm sounded far more pleased than scandalized.

"Not quite. I was twenty-four. He was eighteen. He lived in the apartment across from my mother’s with his parents. In the last months I stayed with her every night, slept in the guest room. It was lonely sleeping there with my mother slowly dying in the next room.” She shouldn’t be telling Malcolm any of this and didn’t know why she was, only that he seemed interested and it had been a very long time since she’d had a conversation this intimate with anyone.

"I certainly would have seduced the nearest available person as well,” Malcolm said. "Even if my mother hadn’t been dying.”

"I can imagine that.”

"You’re welcome to imagine me seducing someone. I recommend it.”

"Sadly, it wasn’t much of a seduction,” she said. "He was young and pretty and, best of all, lived five feet away. We would talk in the hallway when we met there. One night a neighbor came out of their apartment and shushed us for laughing, so I invited him in to finish the conversation. Mother was already asleep. Her pills knocked her out around nine every night. I didn’t intend to go to bed with him, but the bed was the only place in the guest room to sit.” She smiled at the memory of taking Ryan’s virginity on the antique brass bed. She had to hold onto the headboard to keep it from rattling against the wall.

"You had every reason to, every right to,” Malcolm said. "Anyone going through what you were would need the comfort of another body in your bed. Do you miss him?”

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