Authors: Stella London
Copyright © 2015 Stella London
Cover art/design by: Perfect Pear Creative
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, including emailing, photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.
My mom taught me
that art is everywhere; you just have to look. “Keep
your eyes open, Grace, and you can always find the beauty,”
filling our small apartments with gorgeous paintings and bright
colors, pointing out shapes and compositions as we walked city
streets. Her love of art inspired mine, but right now my heart and
head are pounding under the stress of running late, so it’s
hard for me to notice anything pretty about the traffic literally
standing between me and the chance of a lifetime.
pipe up from the back seat of the immobile taxi cab, anxiously
looking at the driver slumped in his seat. He ignores me.
I check my watch
again: 8:41 am.
I bite my lip to keep from yelling.
supposed to be at Carringer’s
Auction House in nineteen—make
First BART was late, and now I’m
spending the last of this week’s
tips to be trapped in this smelly cab, sweating under my best
business outfit. My only business outfit.
After a year of
dropping off resumes and talking up gallery owners and museum
nearly given up hope of finding a job in the art world until last
week when the best auction house in San Francisco called me.
deals in the most sought-after and highly-valued art and antiquities
in the world: French Impressionist paintings, Chinese ceramics,
Native American head masks, Greek sculptures…I
get chills just imagining the masterpieces that flow in and out of
those vaults. If I’m
late to this interview, the first opportunity I’ve
had in months might slip away and I’ll
be serving spaghetti and meatballs at my waitress gig until I
permanently smell like marinara and am too old to remember the
This time I
rap insistently on the plexiglass separating me from the driver. He
eyes me in the rearview mirror. “I’m
super late. Is there a short cut or something you could use?”
The minute hand on
the watch my mother gave me jerks forward again and we’ve
gone less than a block.
As if the obvious answer wasn’t
right outside my window, honking and spewing fumes and inching along
like snails on their way into the financial district’s
high rise office buildings.
The driver just
laughs at me. “What
do you think?”
I think you smell
like someone Febreezed over a cigar shop. But it’s
the number one rule of waitressing: rudeness never pays. “How
much further is Gold Street?”
The cabbie shrugs.
“Is it close
enough to walk?” I
is close enough to walk to eventually.”
Screw this. There is
no possible way for me to arrive looking cool and collected as
planned anyway since my makeup probably already looks like a Jackson
Pollock, and I’m
not going to let some stupid traffic keep me from my dream. “Here,”
tossing a pile of ones onto the front seat and scooting out the door.
take my chances.”
The cab driver rolls
his eyes. “Maybe
ten blocks,” he
says. I inhale a deep breath of crisp ocean air, steady my purse on
my shoulder, and start jogging.
sensible yet stylish heels feel like vice grips on my toes. My feet
are used to day-long shifts in sneakers, and it’s
hard to run in a skirt, but I can’t
give up. My carefully blow-dried hair is getting wind-whipped and
frizzy, and my bangs are sticking to the sweat beading on my
me! Coming through, please!” It’s
like running an obstacle course in heels.
I dodge through the
crowd, trying not to think about the frazzled and sloppy impression
going to make. In the meantime, I force myself to focus on the beauty
of this city: the long shadows of the tallest buildings, the modern
architecture, the sunlight reflected and refracted off a thousand
windows, the blue sky beyond. I love San Francisco, even though right
now it is not loving me back.
More. Block. So. Close. I can almost see the brass carvings and
scrolled handles on the thick auction house doors as I cross Gold
Street and round the corner…and
smash right into the muscular chest of a man coming from the
I shriek at the same
time he says, “Whoa,
a cowboy, except he’s
as posh and polished as can be. He holds his coffee cup out in front
of him like a bomb and I see the brown liquid dripping down his blue
tie and white shirt.
“Oh my God!”
I grab some
clean tissues out of my bag. “Here,
let me help,” I
say, reaching for his tie, but he’s
already shaking it out. Luckily, most of the drink seems to be
splattered on the concrete.
says, catching my hand. “There
was too much sugar in that latte anyway.”
He looks at
me as our fingers touch, his eyes flecked with shifting shades of
blue like Van Gogh’s
night sky and just as mesmerizing. I want to paint them, but then I
remember my priorities.
sorry about the spill, but I really have to go.”
I check my
running late for an important meeting.”
I start to
turn away, feeling guilty, but his voice stops me.
“So this is a
run-by coffee-ing, then?” He
has an accent. British. Sexy.
I turn back, unable
to keep from checking him out again. He has a mouth that looks like
it was carved by Michelangelo, perfectly shaped lips that smile at me
and highlight the sharp cheekbones as sculpted as the famous David’s.
like his face belongs in a museum.
I call the police?” he
I smile despite my
hurry, sure that my face is turning strawberry red. I’d
love to stay and flirt with this gorgeous man, but there’s
no time. “Look,”
backing away. “If
you give me your card, I’ll
happily pay for the cleaning bill, but I really do have to run.”
He falls in step
beside me like we’re
old friends. “Oh,
says, loosening his tie as he easily matches my sprint. “Don’t
you worry about this old thing. I’ve
been meaning to donate it.” He
tosses it in a trash can as we speed down the sidewalk and I can’t
help but notice the triangle of smooth chest showing now that he’s
unbuttoned his collar.
missed my shirt, which is good because the public tends to frown on
I imagine him
shirtless and almost walk into a mailbox.
“That was a
Over the smell of
salty sea air and car exhaust I catch the fresh, soapy clean scent of
avoiding a pothole, and thinking that no one would frown at that
must be a big deal,” he
too distracted to converse with a handsome man.”
say, separating from him just long enough to weave around a woman
walking a poodle. “Life-changing
a job interview at Carringer’s.”
putting a hand on his heart in mock anguish. “Not
going to bite on the handsome line?”
party of one, please. Thank God for the cool air. “That’s
not what I meant. It’s
admitting you do think I’m
He grins. “My
kind of girl.”
I stop to catch my
breath as we arrive at the gorgeous façade
of the Carringer’s
Auction House building. Time to bid farewell to Mr. Charming. I’d
be lying if I said I wasn’t
a little disappointed to see him go.
He smiles at me
face-to-face and oh dear God, he has actual dimples. “Good
luck with the interview.”
I say, my
gaze flicking to my watch one last time. It’s
says. I nod, trying to paste a confident smile on my face.
I face the doors
been dreaming about opening for the last week—well
really, for the last twenty years—and
feel hopeful again. I have five minutes to get inside and pull my
shit together so I can show these people what I’m
One last thing
you sure I can’t
replace that tie I ruined?”
says, his eyes twinkling. “I’ll
swing by here next week and if you’re
working, you can buy me a coffee.”
gorgeous and he made me feel better and I’ll
probably never see him again, I’m
suddenly brave. I say, “Off
the record, I would definitely call you handsome.”
I wink at him
and enjoy the surprise on his so-totally-more-than-handsome face as I
stride away from him and toward my waiting future.
Inside, my bravery
falters: this place is seriously impressive. A huge lobby with a
polished marble floor, white marble columns reaching to the ceiling,
and holy crap, an actual Rodin sculpture in the middle of the room. I
stare at it, awed, until I notice a short, brisk-looking woman
holding a clipboard. I nervously approach. “Hi,
the last to arrive.” She
guides me out of the lobby and pulls me toward the main auction hall
as I fiddle with my skirt and make sure my blazer is on straight.
“Do I look
ask but she ignores me and opens the doors.
She shoos me inside
where a woman in a sharp black two-piece business suit is speaking to
the dozens of men and women my age already standing behind tables
stacked with papers and glossy photo spreads. She stops and glares at
me as I make my way to the only empty table, closest to her.
I whisper, “Sorry,”
ignores me. The Armani-clad dude next to me who has enough gel in his
hair to grease a wheel rolls his eyes.
“As I was
woman in charge continues, pausing to glare at me again, “I
am Lydia Forbes, head of personnel. As far as you’re
concerned, that makes me lady fate herself. For one of you, this
internship will change the course of your entire life.”
rest of you will continue searching for the elusive pearl to launch
your career.” I
think I might hyperventilate, but the rest of the candidates in their
expensive clothes nod along as cool as robots.
Lydia continues as
she paces the room. “In
front of you, you’ll
find descriptions and photographs of ten objects that represent the
types of fine and decorative arts typically auctioned off here at
You have exactly thirty minutes to identify and appraise each piece,
and then you will be interviewed.”
My pulse races like
still jogging, but there is excitement mixed in with my extreme
anxiety. I get to look at beautiful art. And even though I’m
nervous, I also know that all those years I spent studying my brains
out in order to get my arts degree (while still holding down a full
time job) are finally going to pay off.
Lydia stops in front
of me, drums her French-tipped nails along the edge of my table.
of you has an excellent resume, but only one can be the best.”
She gives me
a little sneer as she walks away, and I feel like my heart might
pound out of my chest, but I know I can do this. Mom would tell me
take three deep breaths and then go. I hear her voice in my head:
slows down; you can focus.”
sharp heels sound like cat claws on the floor. “Your
time starts now.”
This is your
I take three deep breaths and dive in.
summer I went to Italy for six weeks, but now Rome feels so
provincial, you know?” a
snooty-looking brunette with perfectly straight, shiny hair sitting
next to me says.