Playing the Billionaire's Game - Pippa Roscoe Page 0,1

and detailed, she’d been passed over for evaluations like this again and again. At first, she’d put it down to being the newbie. Then she’d put it down to being paranoid. And three years in and still missing out on some of the big jobs? She’d been forced to realise that her—or, more accurately, her father’s—reputation was once again taking its toll on her life.

So she’d been determined to ensure that this valuation was perfect. She’d arrived at the palace in Sharjarhere from Athens, where she’d helped her friend Célia d’Argent and Loukis Liordis with an auction that raised an inconceivable amount for charity. Had she been riding so high on her contribution to the charity that she’d missed something at the palace? She shook her head, drawing a slight frown from a fellow tube passenger, even at such an ungodly hour in the morning.

No, she’d gone through each stage of the valuation process: the signature, the artistic style, the paint, the canvas. She’d removed the frame, checked the backing, the details were all correct—variations in the paint levels and thickness, the blacklight showing nothing untoward.

And her gut. The natural instinct she’d been born with telling her that she was in the presence of a true Etienne Durrántez, one of the twentieth century’s most famous artists. It didn’t matter to Sia that she knew the painting would fetch more than one hundred million pounds. It didn’t matter to her who would spend such an impossible amount of money on the painting. It was the painting itself.

The unknown woman stared at the viewer with that same indefinable sense of inner knowledge as the Mona Lisa. The secret smile of, as appropriately titled, a Woman In Love. The swathe of long dark hair was impressive even to Sia, whose tumble of thick Titian waves were so noticeable she almost always swept them up into a bun at her neck. A slash of red across her lips was worn with pride, not arrogance, confidence, not false bravado, and it had made Sia want to have known the mysterious woman. To understand where her sense of admiration sprung from, not for the painter but the model.

Sia had been so drawn to the painting that there was absolutely no way that it could have been a fake. The signature, the artistic style, the paint, the canvas...she thought, checking through the assessment. And the provenance.

Her breath caught for just a second. She’d not been shown the provenance. Her manager had informed her that she needn’t ask after it because the paperwork had already been forwarded to Sean. And even as she’d begun to question the unusual chain of events she’d heard it. The sigh.

It was one that she’d heard so many times in her three years at Bonnaire’s. She could almost picture her manager now. Overweight, red-cheeked and always slightly sweaty, the man practically defined ‘old boys club’. It was the kind of sigh that would usually precede some kind of patronising comment about her youth, gender, looks or inexperience.

The rage that had roared in her ears had almost blocked out his disappointment in having to remind her that she had been given an opportunity here and instead of making a mountain out of a molehill she should, essentially, keep her pretty mouth shut and get on with it. Yes, he’d actually said that.

And now, as the tube pulled into Goodge Street station, she was mentally kicking herself for toeing the line rather than following her instinct, trusting her gut. Trusting herself.

She held her coat tight against the unseasonal bite of the night-time gust of wind as she picked her way past takeaway boxes and black bin bags towards the back entrance of Bonnaire’s, waved her security pass over the sleek black electric reader and pulled the heavy door open.

Usually, at two-forty-two in the morning the white-walled offices would have been completely empty. But tonight at least fifteen staff were present and through the windows of the glass-lined meeting rooms she could make out at least two company directors, one of whom was shouting into a telephone, the angry words clearly audible from this distance.

Ducking into the stairwell that would take her three floors below ground to the extensive lab that took up an entire level, her heels tapped frantically on the concrete staircase as she ran to where she knew both David and the painting would be.

She ignored the stares of the lab assistants as she went straight to the long bench David used. She