Chapter Two

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The restaurant is dimly lit, with a navy-blue theme that carries through to chairs, square lights hanging from the ceiling, and apparently, even to the glassware. I'm fairly certain based on the level of fluff, that a lunch plate would cost my weekly grocery money, but my belly doesn't care. It rumbles loudly and the idea of my roasted nuts promises relief. For now, I weave through tables, forcing away a need for sustenance for a much more pressing matter: finding Gio.

I spy Mark, a good-looking man with classic looks, in the corner booth sitting in the center of two other men I can't make out. I close the space between me and him, noting his refined appearance. His blond hair is trimmed neatly, his features aristocratic, square and strong. And the man's blue suit is far more expensive than my purse. I have a last-minute fluttery moment of doubt that erupts inside my chest, but I push it down and away.

Stepping right in front of his table, I'm suddenly in the spotlight of not one, but three men, though I don't look at anyone but Mark. He's my path to answers. He's who matters. "Mr. Compton?"

He arches an incredibly practiced arrogant brow. "And you would be?"

"Aria Alard, with Accent Collectibles. I'm sorry to bother you, but I recognized you from your photo and I couldn't miss the chance to introduce myself. I have a wealthy buyer with a high seven figures to spend. I'm requesting a spot to bid in your VIP auction."

"Well, Ms. Alard," he says tightly, "who's the buyer?"

"Me," I say. "The buyer wishes to remain anonymous."

"That's not good enough," he replies. "Not when I have VIPs I'm protecting."

"In case you're wondering," the man to his left says, "he's always this arrogant."

I glance in his direction and he's a gorgeous man with longish blond hair and a brightly inked tattoo down his arm, who doesn't read as arrogant. Just powerful, and that power is the only reason he fits at this table with Mark. "Just push through it," he adds. "Or go around him and talk to his wife."

Mark's jaw sets hard and he glances at the other man. "You don't know your limits, Chris."

"I know my limits," he assures him. "You just don't like that I know yours."

Mark dismisses him and fixes his gray eyes on me. "What are you seeking?"

"A violin," I say, thankful to this Chris person for the pressure that seems to have made Mark ask for more information.

"Your buyer likes music, does he?"

The words spoken by the man to Mark's right draws my gaze and I blink into brilliant blue eyes framed by thick, longish dark hair and rugged, handsome features. I blanch with the knowledge of who this is. I'm standing across from the thirty-four-year-old rock star of violins. A man who uses his good looks, denim, leather, and arms tatted up with random colored musical notes to create an image. That along with his re-mixed versions of hot new pop hits has done what many believe impossible—he's made the violin cool and sexy.

"You're," I swallow hard and force myself not to act starstruck, which would certainly ensure I don't make it into the VIP room. I regroup and instead of saying Kace August, I say, "accurate."

His eyes, those famously blue eyes, narrow and his lips quirk slightly. Mark jumps in then and lifts a finger. "What song is playing right now?"

Ironically, there's a violin playing in the restaurant right now, and the question is a test, of course. Do I know enough to be worthy of this auction? To win his respect defies my mother's insistence that I deny my roots. This is not a work just anyone would know. But to fail could cost me the opportunity to find my brother. "'The Four Seasons,' Antonio Vivaldi."

Mark glances over at Kace. "Is she right?"

"She is absolutely accurate," he says using my own word, which I do not believe is an accident. His eyes warm on my face, ripe with surprise, but there is more. He's pleased, I think. He likes that I know his world. I am drowning in this man's blue eyes, and before I'm too far under to recover, I jerk my gaze to Mark. "Can I at least get a private viewing of the violin?"

"Leave your card and show up to Friday night's event. Buy something. That's the best way to show intent."

Buy something, with all the money I do not have, I think, acid biting at my belly. I reach into my bag and pull out my card, setting it on the table in front of him. I can feel Kace's eyes on my face, burning through me. That's when he shocks me and speaks to me in Italian: "Cambiano i suonatori, ma la musica è sempre quella."

It means, "the melody changes, but the song remains the same," but directly translated it's: "the players change, but the music is always the same."

I look at him and I know I shouldn't respond, I shouldn't connect myself to Italy with this man, but translation services are on my card. "No," I answer in English. "The musician, the player, makes all the difference, which is why he should have an instrument worthy of him." It's what my ancestor who created the Stradivarius violin believed. It's why he made the Stradivarius.

I glance back at Mark. "I'll be there Friday night."

And with that, I turn and start walking toward the exit.

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