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She let out a snort of disbelief and tossed her empty can into a waste bin.

“And the piece you’ve just finished? How much will you ask for it.”

“And why would that be your business?”

“Perhaps I’d like to buy it.”

She considered, scooting up on the edge of a bench and swinging her feet. No one could tell her the worth of her work, not even herself. But a price—a price had to be set. She knew that well. For, artist or not, she had to eat.

Her formula for figuring price was loose and flexible. Unlike her formulas for making glass and mixing colors it had very little to do with science. She would calculate the time spent on producing the piece, her own feelings toward it, then factor in her opinion of the purchaser.

Her opinion of Rogan Sweeney was going to cost him dear.

“Two hundred and fifty pounds,” she decided. A hundred of that was due to his gold cuff links.

“I’ll write you a check.” Then he smiled, and Maggie realized she was grateful he didn’t seem to use that particular weapon often. Lethal, she thought, watching the way his lips curved, his eyes darkened. Charm floated down on him, light and effortless as a cloud. “And though I’ll add it to my personal collection—for sentiment, shall we say?—I could easily get double that for it at my gallery.”

“’Tis a wonder you stay in business, Mr. Sweeney, soaking your clients that way.”

“You underestimate yourself, Miss Concannon.” He crossed to her then, as if he knew he’d suddenly gained the upper hand. He waited until she’d tipped her head back to keep her eyes level with his. “That’s why you need me.”

“I know exactly what I’m doing.”

“In here.” He lifted an arm to encompass the room. “I’ve seen that quite dramatically for myself. But the business world is a different matter.”

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“I’m not interested in business.”

“Precisely,” he told her, smiling again as if she’d answered a particularly thorny question. “I, on the other hand, am fascinated by it.”

She was at a disadvantage, sitting on the bench with him hovering over her. And she didn’t care for it. “I don’t want anyone messing in my work, Mr. Sweeney. I do what I choose, when I choose, and I get along very well.”

“You do what you choose, when you choose.” He picked up a wooden form from the bench as if to admire the grain. “And you do it very well. What a loss it would be for someone with your talent to merely get along. As to…messing about with your work, I have no intention of doing so. Though watching you work was certainly interesting.” His eyes cut from the mold back to her with a speed that made her jolt. “Very interesting.”

She pushed off the bench, the better to stand on her own feet. To gain the room required, she shoved him aside. “I don’t want a manager.”

“Ah, but you need one, Margaret Mary. You need one badly.”

“A lot you know about what I’d be needing,” she mumbled, and began to pace. “Some Dublin sharpie with fancy shoes.”

Twice as much, he’d said; her mind replayed his earlier words. Twice what she’d asked. And there was Mother to care for, and the bills to pay, and Sweet Jesus, the price of chemicals was murderous.

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“What I need’s peace and quiet. And room.” She whirled back at him. His very presense in the studio was crowding her. “Room. I don’t need someone like you coming along and telling me we need three vases for next week, or twenty paperweights, or a half dozen goblets with pink stems. I’m not an assembly line, Sweeney, I’m an artist.”

Very calmly, he took a pad and a gold pen out of his pocket and began to write.

“What are you doing there?”

“I’m noting down that you’re not to be given orders for vases, paperweights or goblets with pink stems.”

Her mouth twitched once before she controlled it. “I won’t take orders, at all.

His eyes flicked to hers. “I believe that’s understood. I own a factory or two, Miss Concannon, and know the difference between an assembly line and art. I happen to make my living through both.”

“That’s fine for you then.” She waved both arms before setting her fists on her hips. “Congratulations. Why would you be needing me?”

“I don’t.” He replaced the pen and pad. “But I want you.”

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Her chin angled up. “But I don’t want you.”

“No, but you need me. And there is where we’ll complement each other. I’ll make you a rich woman, Miss Concannon. And more than that, a famous one.”

He saw something flicker in her eyes at that. Ah, he thought, ambition. And he turned the key easily in the lock. “Do you create just to hide your gift on your own shelves and cupboards? To sell a few pieces here and there to keep the wolf from the door, and horde the rest? Or do you want your work appreciated, admired, even applauded?” His voice changed, subtly, into a tone of sarcasm so light it stabbed bloodlessly. “Or…are you afraid it won’t be?”

Her eyes went molten as the blade struck true. “I’m not afraid. My work stands. I spent three years apprenticing in a Venice glass house, sweating as a pontil boy. I learned the craft there, but not the art. Because the art is in me.” She thumped a hand on her chest. “It’s in me, and I breathe in and out into the glass. Any who don’t like my work can jump straight into hell.”

“Fair enough. I’ll give you a show at my gallery, and we’ll see how many take the jump.”

A dare, damn him. She hadn’t been prepared for it. “So a bunch of art snobs can sniff around my work while they slurp champagne.”

“You are afraid.”

She hissed through her teeth and stomped to the door. “Go away. Go away so I can think. You’re crowding my head.”

“We’ll talk again in the morning.” He picked up his coat. “Perhaps you can recommend a place I could stay the night. Close by.”

“Blackthorn Cottage, at the end of the road.”

“Yes, I saw it.” He slipped into his coat. “Lovely garden, very trim.”

“Neat and tidy as a pin. You’ll find the beds soft and the food good. My sister owns it, and she has a practical, homemaking soul.”

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