“And smell like an ashtray,” she added. Andrea rolled her eyes. “Were you out with Cash and Ethan before this?”
Clay shrugged and threw an arm around her narrow waist. “I’m here with you now.”
“Well, let me introduce you to some people then.” Andrea immediately shifted back into professional mode.
This was what it was like when they were at events together. That same old familiar feeling. The ease with which they settled into the facade of being a real normal couple. His hand on her waist, her eyes finding his, sharing private thoughts in a glance. They had been like this for so long; it was as easy as breathing.
Except, this time, it was different. Just a slight difference but a difference nonetheless. Andrea had been standing at his back for his career, his dreams, for so long, he had never realized the shift it would be for him to be standing at her back for once.
All the people here were for Andrea. Some of the people she introduced him to were her colleagues and patrons. What he’d always thought was a brainless fascination with spending an insane amount of money on art seemed to have turned into a real career.
This whole time, he must have been fucking blind not to notice.
But he noticed now. And he felt something stirring in his chest for her. Pride. Even if he didn’t understand this world, he was glad that she was happy in it.
Andrea kissed the cheeks of a woman in a flowing long gown and said something in French he just barely caught. His French was rusty, but he was pretty sure they were talking about him.
“Yes. This is my boyfriend, Clay,” Andrea said, gesturing to him.
“Pleasure to finally meet you. Your Andrea is quite a treat,” the woman said in a thick accent. “I’ve not seen anyone with such an eye since my belated husband.”
“She is striking, isn’t she?” Clay said.
He put his arm around Andrea, and she beamed.
“That woman owns half of Paris, I swear,” Andrea told him once they were out of earshot. “Her husband was an art collector, and apparently, she’s grown to like American art even though she thinks that Americans are a bit crass.”
“We are,” Clay agreed. “What did she say about me?”
“Oh, you heard,” Andrea said, pulling him farther away. “She said you were too handsome not to have at my side at all times.”
Clay bent down and kissed her temple. “She’s right.”
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said again. “I have to do some more business, but let me show you this one project.”
Clay obliged her and followed her into another room where a large portrait was showcased. It was of a woman he’d never seen before. She was stripped naked and staring out a large glass-paned window plastered with rain. Tears leaked from her eyes, and she looked distraught. It was romanticized in some way. Her breasts were covered. Her legs crossed. She didn’t look obscene. Just missing something…and it wasn’t her clothes.
“I wasn’t going to get rid of it,” Andrea told him. “But I knew it would fetch a fortune.”
“It speaks to you,” he admitted. He wasn’t big into art, but even he could tell that the work was special.
“It does. She does.”
“How much is it going for?” he asked curiously. Why would she ever get rid of something she loves so much?
“Half a million.”
Clay choked and sputtered, “Jesus, Andrea…”
She nodded. “I know. The artist recently passed. I’d purchased this the last time we were in the French Riviera, and now, it’s worth a hundred times what I paid for it. Seemed too good to pass up.”
Clay didn’t argue with her. It was too good to pass up. They didn’t need the money by any means, but that kind of increase in value was incredible. And, like the stock market, who knew how long that value would last? Everyone was probably scooping up all the paintings from the artist while they were available. Then, the bubble would likely burst, and Andrea would be left with a painting worth the five grand she’d paid for it.
“And it’ll sell tonight?”
She nodded. “I’ve already had five prospective buyers. It might go into auction if they all decide to bid.”
“All the better for you.”
Sadness crept into her eyes at the loss of the painting, but she quickly hid it. He knew how much it pained her to get rid of this. She was first and foremost a lover of art. Even if she was making a career out of it, it wouldn’t still the sting of losing one of her pieces.
“Andrea, there you are. I’ve been looking all over for you.” A man approached from behind them and pulled Andrea into a hug before Clay even realized whom it was.
As soon as he did, his jaw clenched, his hands balled into fists, and his entire body stiffened.
Bad Suit. Asher McWalter. What the fuck is he doing here?
He stared daggers at the douche bag’s back. He stepped forward to pry Bad Suit’s slimy fingers off of what belonged to Clay when Andrea hastily sidestepped his advance.
“Oh, Asher,” she said crisply. It was her business voice. “I didn’t realize you were even here.”
“Just arrived. Had to close the gallery,” he said evenly. “You know how it is.”
Clay loudly cleared his throat, stood up as straight as possible, and stared down at the guy with pure fury in his eyes. He wasn’t at a bar. He couldn’t throw a punch. But he didn’t need to. He didn’t need to be physical with this guy. It was pretty obvious that anything he threw the douche bag’s way would crush him.
But this guy had gotten Andrea to leave that bar with him. He’d taken Andrea home and fucked Clay’s girl on the night when she was supposed to have left with him. He knew he probably shouldn’t lay his entire attack on this guy’s doorstep, but that didn’t stop him from doing it.
Andrea took one look at Clay’s face and stepped easily into his arms. She put her hand on his suit, like she wanted to hold him back. Her smile was cautious. “Asher, this is Clay. Clay…Asher.”
Asher glanced uncertainly between them. He probably didn’t know that Andrea had a boyfriend. None of Clay’s conquests knew about her. Except, well, Liz, but that was an accident when he had run into her at Hilton Head. Not that he’d gone through with it with Liz.
When neither of them moved, Andrea kept talking, “Asher owns a gallery uptown. I’ve found some great pieces there. Jamie was featured there once.”