The Dark Arts (The Dark Arts) by Kitty Thomas

“Lachlan, get out of here! This is the ladies room.” As if that needed stating.

He must have followed directly behind her. He’d been quiet as a panther stalking prey.

He looked ridiculous in such a rigid black tuxedo, standing in the midst of pale pink lace and cushions. His hand trailed down her cheek. “Saskia...” It was more a breath, a sigh, than speech.

She batted his hand away. “No, Lachlan. I told you, business only. If you’re smart, you’ll reserve your fucking for women who don’t have other skills you need.”

He wasn’t used to hearing the word ‘no’, or at least he wasn’t used to it being anything more than a prelude to ‘yes’. All part of a coy tease—a game a man like Lachlan was obligated to play to get to the warm, wet, excited prize.

He moved closer. “I understand. A woman doesn’t want to feel like a slut, so she pretends she never does this. She says no a few times and pushes you away. You slip your fingers underneath her panties, and you find the lie. And then it changes to yes. This isn’t a new game for me.”

Lachlan pressed her against the wall, his hand skimming down the side of her dress as if looking for an entrance to prove his point.

Saskia put her hands on his shoulders and tried to shove him, but he wouldn’t budge. He was a solid block of muscle. He may as well have been a solid block of stone. “I said, No!”

He shrugged and stepped away from her. “As you wish. We can leave if you’re ready to go. We’ve done what we needed to do.”

Saskia straightened her dress again in an attempt to hide her shaking and just how threatening she found him. “You didn’t bid on the silent auction?” she asked, trying to shift the topic to something safe.

“You know I don’t like abstract art.”

It was his sole redeeming quality.

She’d only been inside Lachlan’s home once. His preferences seemed to trend toward older, more classic work, but she couldn’t be sure if it was because of the difficulty and expense of acquiring the pieces he most coveted or because he actually had taste.

They slipped out a side door and didn’t speak again until they were ensconced in the privacy of his Bentley. Warning buzzers sounded in her head over being alone in such a restrictive space with him after what just happened in the bathroom. But he was her ride and ultimately her continued survival.

The engine purred to life, and Lachlan put the car into drive.

“Do you think they bought it?” Saskia asked as they pulled away from the gallery.

“I know they did. They’ll believe it’s a reproduction once it’s hanging in my house.”

“I never said I’d steal the real one. I only promised the fake,” she said. It was important for Lachlan to believe this was all his idea. The more he thought he had to convince her, the more committed he’d be to the version of events she wanted him to see.

“We both know you’re going to cave and give me what I want.” His hand moved to her knee. The double-entendre was probably sleazier hovering in the air between them than when it had been safely cocooned inside the privacy of his own head. At least that was what she’d decided to tell herself.

He was fifteen years her senior, but that wasn’t why she didn’t want to sleep with him. Or maybe it was. Maybe it was that despite his wealth and fitness, he was skating dangerously into age-inappropriate. And she didn’t want to be any man’s amusing piece on the side to make him feel like he still had it. What could the two of them possibly have in common? None of their cultural reference points overlapped. There was nothing to discuss.

Except maybe art.

But he didn’t understand it in the way an artist did. He was a sideline spectator at best. And owning a Quill piece wasn’t going to give him the soul of the man who’d envisioned it.

Saskia sighed. “Okay, let me be clear. If you want even a chance that I’ll steal the piece for you, you’ll keep your hands to yourself. I’m about ready to walk as it is. I get plenty of work from people less grabby and more respectful of my personal boundaries.”

“That must be why you stuffed your purse with leftovers. Because you’re living so large.”

Saskia ignored the bait and remained silent for the rest of the drive. The last thing she ever planned to discuss with him were her meager finances. Up next to Niche Industries, her net worth was a joke. And they both knew it.

She was surprised when he pulled up in front of her building instead of his own sprawling estate. The way he’d been going tonight, she’d expected to have to escape his home like a refugee, barely clinging to whatever virtue she might have left, pressing her ripped dress tight against her body.