Evelyn smiled when she saw Preston come through the door. He had promised to come; she hadn’t expected him to come as soon as the show started.
“I’ll come over to you in a few minutes. I need to stay with Evan and help him make the rounds to talk to those who might buy his work,” she told him.
“Take your time, beautiful. You look amazing.” He bent and kissed her cheek. She blushed and felt slightly guilty that she didn’t tingle the way she did when Anderson touched her. It was time for them to move on and she didn’t know how to tell him.
“I’ll be around. I have a new business opportunity coming to White Valley,” he said, and it intrigued her.
“Give me ten minutes to help Evan and then I am all ears,” she told him, and he smiled. She watched him walk away and then felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She turned to see Anderson glaring at her. She turned and spent the next twenty minutes helping get Evan start talking to those who came to see his art. The entire time she felt the competing stares of Anderson and Preston. Neither man went near the other, but she could feel their dislike and almost anger around her.
“See anything you want in your office?” she asked Preston, coming to stand beside him. He cut an elegant figure in his black tux and stark white button up shirt. He did not wear a tie or bowtie, and the collar was unbuttoned. She could just see the top of his pecs.
“I liked the griffin painting,” he answered, pointing to a painting of a griffin flying over the forest.
“It is a majestic scene,” she agreed.
“So what is this new business opportunity you mentioned?” She steered him away from Anderson, she didn’t want a fight breaking out.
“I am building a brand new shopping center and am working from the ground up with the owners. I will work with each business owner to build out their suite the way they wanted. I know Xander was interested in opening a small showroom for Roxie to sell her art locally and give space to some lesser known artists,” he answered and she raised an eyebrow. Xander hadn’t mentioned opening another gallery. She wondered if he was doing it so he was closer to home with the twins around. Driving an hour plus to get to his current gallery was a long drive and one she knew he did regularly. She did it twice a week to check in with Lauren. Lauren had relocated to be the point of contact for them. Evelyn had taken over doing most of the paperwork and dealing with shipping the sold art. She mentioned to Xander that he needed to have their website redone, Marcus Zephyr’s brother Rob was going to work with them to redo the website. He’d just moved into town and they were giving him and his son Adam time to settle before fixing their website.
“That sounds neat. What other businesses are coming?” she asked, hooking her arm through his offered one.
“A jewelry store, a small clothing designer, a vet clinic, a bakery, and a bookstore as of right now. The main building construction is starting in a week. I will be very busy for the foreseeable future, so we might not be able to go on many dates,” he explained.
“I understand. Friday I am driving up to Philadelphia for my brother Luke’s engagement party,” she replied.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to go?” he asked, and she shook her head. She didn’t want to give her mother false hope over Preston. He was a nice guy, but she knew he wasn’t the one for her. She didn’t need her mother to point out she’d failed at another relationship. Now that Luke was engaged, her mother was pushing for Victor and her to get married too.
“No. I’ll be fine and like you said you will be very busy building the new shopping center. Where is it being built?” she asked trying to steer them onto another topic.
“Where the old Hooters burned down. The town voted on putting in shopping with a space for a restaurant to go in on the end. I don’t think they have a business to go there yet. When I spoke with Mayor Johnson, he mentioned they were in talks with a barbeque company looking to expand out of their food truck,” he answered.
“Do you know which one?” she asked, stopping to admire a painting of a centaur running through the woods with a tiny fairy by his head.
“No. He was being tight lipped about the family. I think he doesn’t get along well with the owner, but doesn’t want to lose the business. White Valley needs the business to draw more tourists. He wants this place to be the small town everyone wants to come and visit,” Preston remarked, and she cocked her head to the side to think about it.
“That would give Caroline more business at her bed-and-breakfast, but doesn’t the mayor and his staff worry he might become overrun by tourists?” she asked. She loved White Valley and enjoyed having moved into the town last year when Roxie moved. The small town had people who knew each other and their families. She liked that about the town, she could walk around and say hello to everyone and know their name.
“That is why he is trying to build up the shopping areas while keeping the small town feel. The shopping center will have different store facades for each one. It will give the center a look of buildings being built next to each other and not the standard shopping center. He doesn’t want the town to lose its charm,” Preston explained, and she nodded her understanding.
“I am glad he thought about it all before putting the shopping center to a vote,” she remarked and noticed Anderson out of the corner of her eye. Every time she and Preston moved on to another painting he was hovering nearby. Preston followed her line of sight and he smirked.
“I think we have seriously irked Anderson. I can tell he doesn’t like us walking together and touching you has him growling faintly,” Preston pointed out.
“Really?” she asked trying not to turn around to stare at Anderson.
“Are you sure things are over between you two?” Preston asked.
“Yes. I ended it with him about a month ago. It was time for me to move on to a man who will give me the things I want in life,” she replied and pulled him along to look at her favorite painting from Evan. It had a fairy sitting in the middle of a forest, she was surrounded by a purple aura and a tiger lay with its head in her lap.
“Beautiful,” Preston remarked.
“This is my favorite. I think it will be sold tonight though,” she replied peering at the five hundred dollar price tag. The painting alone was a third of her paycheck.
“It is something I could see up in your apartment,” Preston replied with a small smile on his face. She could tell it wasn’t his type.
“Did you see any you would like to buy?” she asked him turning to walk back through the rest of the gallery.
“I liked the griffin. That was the first one that caught my attention. How do I go about purchasing that painting?” he asked.
“Come with me,” she said and tugged him along to her office.
“You fill out the paperwork here” she instructed, handing him a small packet of papers to fill out.
“Geez, you guys want my first born too?” he joked, and she laughed.
“That is for the huge paintings,” she replied, and he threw his head back and laughed.
“Do I fill it out now?” he asked.
“Just the top page, it reserves the painting and I need the number of the painting you want and then you can fill out this paperwork and fax it, or email the documents to me,” she explained.
“Gotcha.” He sat down and quickly filled out the front page. Handing her the page, he stands and places a kiss on her lips. Just then she hears a growl and looks up to see Anderson standing in the doorway and ferocious look on his face.
“Out,” she ordered, she would not let him ruin the showcase. To her surprise, he does and keeps walking until he goes outside.
“Well that happened,” Preston remarked with an amused look on his face.
“Did you know he was standing there?” she asked.
“Yes. He has been following us the entire night. Last time I checked you and I were dating and he wasn’t your boyfriend. If the man is your mate and I suspect he just might be, then let’s make him suffer.” She stared at Preston in shock.
“You met your mate, didn’t you?” she asked, and he gave her a shocked look.
“No, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like you. I’ve enjoyed our dates,” he said, and she sighed.
“I was feeling the same Preston. I don’t see this going further than being friends,” she replied and could see the relief in his eyes.
“You didn’t want to hurt my feelings, you’ve met your mate?” she asked, and he nodded.
“Yes, but she is still recovering from the loss of her husband.”
“It’s Caroline isn’t it?” Evelyn asked.
“How did you know?” he asked looking at her in shock.
“Josie isn’t the only one who knows when someone has found their mate. I put two and two together, you just renovated her entire inn. That means you had to spend a lot of time with her,” Evelyn explained and smiled when he nodded.
“She is my mate, but her son Liam is so quiet I worry about him. She is so busy running her inn, and she lost her husband two years ago. I worry they were mates and she won’t want me,” he shared.
“Give her some time. Let her settle in White Valley then broach the subject of a date. I know her first husband was a lion shifter,” she answered.
“Thanks. I will stop by and see if she needs anything else done to the place,” he announced. She smiled and patted his arm.
“I am happy for you Preston and I hope we can remain friends,” she said and Preston leaned over to kiss her cheek. He stood, and she watched him head back out to the main gallery.
“Everything okay in here?” Xander asked, poking his head in her office.
“Just fine. Preston and I realized we were better off friends,” she explained and he nodded.
“Anderson is the one you want isn’t it?” he asked, and she sighed.
“Yes,” she groaned, putting her head in her hands and he laughed.
“Patience is a virtue. Talk with Roxie and see what she thinks,” Xander suggested.
“Oh, I plan on talking with Roxie once I come back from Luke’s engagement party. I am out of the office until Monday,” she reminded him.
“I know. We will miss having you, but this will give Anderson a chance to see what you do daily. He is taking over your duties while you are away. Roxie told me to tell you to send your parents her love, and she hopes they come back here to meet the twins soon,” he told her and she laughed.
“My mom will jump on that for sure. She wanted Roxie to come with me this weekend,” she replied and Xander chuckled.
“I have a couple of people who are interested in some art. I am splitting you and Anderson up to cover more interested buyers,” he informed her and she nodded. The rest of the night she barely saw Anderson and was kept busy by all the buyers. By the end of the show, they had sold every piece. She was sad to see the fairy go, but knew it was for the best. Evan, even though he was a pain in the ass, was a great artist and deserved to do well.