Provenance - Carla Laureano

Chapter One

IT WAS GOOD TO BE HOME. Or at least it would be, if she had the faintest idea what home actually meant.

Kendall Green levered herself out of the back seat of her rideshare and heaved her roller case out after her, then gave a quick wave to the driver before starting up the steep asphalt driveway. In the month since she’d left Pasadena, the season had switched from summer to autumn—at least as much autumn as one ever saw in Southern California—the turning leaves of the valley oak a striking counterpart to the palms that surrounded the property. Her suitcase bumped over the uneven surface in time with the click of her high-heeled boots until she pulled up short in front of a wrought iron gate bearing a laser-cut metal sign with the words Chronicle Design.

Kendall smiled to herself and pressed the button on the intercom. “Sophie . . . it’s me.”

Instantly a buzz came through the speaker, and the gate unlatched with a metallic click. Kendall pushed through with a creak and clanged the gate shut behind her, then inhaled deeply as she stepped onto the Saltillo tiles that paved the front courtyard of the property. If she were going to claim a home, this was where it would be. Never mind that the stately Spanish-style property was only a rental and served as both office and living space. It was where her antiques lived, which meant it was where she belonged. At least for now. The rent went up every year in November; one more hike and they would be out on the street.

Or Kendall would. Sophie actually had family as backup, as little as she liked to ask them for help.

As soon as Kendall stepped through the arch-topped front door, a pretty brunette appeared in the hallway, a cordless office phone pressed to her ear. She held up a finger as she finished the call, then shot a bright smile in Kendall’s direction. “Thank goodness! You’re back early!”

Kendall laughed and hugged her friend and assistant, Sophie Daniels. The string of wooden beads Sophie wore as part of her usual boho ensemble pressed painfully into Kendall’s sternum, but she didn’t pull away. She wouldn’t say she’d exactly missed Southern California while she was gone, but she’d missed her friend, overpowering rose perfume and all. “Only a day early,” Kendall said, finally letting go and pushing the front door shut behind her. She froze while a horrifying thought occurred to her. “There’s not a mouse stuck in the bathtub again, is there?”

Sophie shuddered. “No. Thank goodness. If that had happened again, the house would probably be burned to the ground.” She grabbed Kendall’s roller case and dragged it into the room right off the hallway. “Come sit down. I want to hear all about Europe.”

Kendall followed her into the space they used as an office, noting that it looked just like she’d left it—desks piled high with paperwork and fabric samples, stacks of catalogs crowding the conference table. Sophie’s goal to clean up their office obviously hadn’t materialized. She shoved aside a box of cement tile samples to make room for Kendall to sit and plopped down across from her.

“Well, despite all the auctions, London was pretty much a bust,” Kendall said. “I did pick up a modernist painting for the Vergara project at Christie’s and some serving pieces at London Silver Vaults for Rebecca Moon, but—”

Sophie rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to hear about what you bought. I want to hear about who you met.”

That was Sophie, always the optimist. When Kendall traveled for business, she was lucky to see anything beyond the auction house and antique markets, let alone any of the city’s more . . . attractive . . . sights. But that didn’t stop Sophie from urging Kendall to live a little. Secretly she probably hoped Kendall would fall in love with a European prince or be swept away by a whirlwind romance with some sexy Scotsman.

Never mind the fact that Kendall’s seven-year friendship with Sophie was the longest relationship she’d had with any human, ever.

“You know me better than that. What happened while I was gone? Other than a tornado hitting my desk.”

“We got a new client . . .”

“And you didn’t lead with that? Tell!”

Sophie’s face broke into a smile and she jumped up to grab her tablet off her desk. “Wait until you see this place. It’s a Thornton Ladd mid-century modern in Long Beach. La Marina Estates. It had a