Two Houses

Coming October 5, 2021!

Mixing love and art might end up being an epic disaster…

…or the beginning of a beautiful collaboration.

If there’s one thing Priya Gupta wants, it’s to land the collection of the year for her family’s NYC auction house, gaining the approval of her father in the process.

Running an extremely close second? For a very small sinkhole to open up under the feet of Gavin Carlyle, her childhood rival turned auction-house competitor, so she never has to see his smug, irritatingly handsome face again.

Neither of those options seem likely, especially since Gavin is dead set on winning the same collection—and his pockets are as deep as his family’s extensive art world connections. Plus, he has charm to spare. Though Priya would walk over hot coals before ever admitting that.

When they are both invited to a posh country estate to spend the week wooing the prospective client, their longtime rivalry creates sparks, all right, just not the kind either Priya or Gavin ever expected…

What people are saying:

“Bibra debuts with a sparkling, hilarious rom-com about rival art auctioneers. … laugh-out-loud banter and sensitive heart-to-hearts that will make readers swoon. This enemies-to-lovers tale hits all the right notes.” Publishers Weekly starred review ⭐️

“Hilarious, sexy, and completely unique! I loved getting a peek into Gavin and Priya’s world in this childhood enemies to lovers romance. But what shines brightest here is the amazing ensemble of vibrant characters, and the vivid New York art world setting. I absolutely adore this book!”  Farah Heron, Author of Accidentally Engaged

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Excerpt:

Chapter One

Gavin Carlyle is here. Because of course he is.

Tension snaps my back ramrod straight and my fists clench at the sight of him, my body getting ready for a fight.

I’ve got too much to do today, and I can’t deal with my mortal enemy since preschool. It takes a lot of energy to hate the same person for so long, but my natural pettiness really helps.

Character faults aside, I don’t need him here now, when I’m trying to devote all my energy to wooing this client at a Four Seasons power lunch. Gavin looks busy (and annoyingly sexy in his suit) at his own table, so hopefully he’ll stay away.

Or maybe a very specific, very small sinkhole will open up under his chair and swallow him into the earth, quickly closing before anyone else’s day can be disturbed.

I subtly shift my chair and hunch down so I can’t see Gavin, and force myself to relax. I turn my attention back to Harrison Richmond. The white man in front of me exudes power and money from his expensive suit to his flashy watch to the shoes on his feet. Shiny, well-made accessories and not a hair out of place to let us all know we couldn’t measure up.

“How’s your daughter doing?” I ask. We’ve been at lunch for about forty-five minutes now, and even though I just want to ask him about his art pieces, I’ve got at least another fifteen minutes of small talk to go. I’m timing it.

But subtly.

So far, I’ve gushed over his company’s new ad campaign and his wife’s latest charity ball. Which legitimately was fun. And for a good cause.

“She’s doing great. She’s doing a study abroad in England right now, and I don’t know if she’s going to come back home when it’s over.”

I laugh. “I did four years of college in England, and I threatened the same thing. I did come back though.”

Harrison toasts me. “Good news then.”

“The hardest part was definitely leaving the art and architecture behind. But I’m lucky that I get to work with some amazing pieces here.” At last! A transition to the business we’re here for.

Harrison has family money from some robber baron ancestor who was big in railroads, and he took that money and made even more investing in renewable energy. After he set his company up, he turned his attention to increasing his family’s art collection, buying and selling some of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever seen. Gossip says he’s looking to sell a large chunk of his collection, so he can make room for pieces more to his current tastes.

I want to be the auctioneer who sells that collection.

“Loot is a fantastic house, but Kabir hasn’t had much experience outside Indian art and antiquities.” He brings up Loot’s biggest weakness.

But I know it is too, and I’m ready. “Dad doesn’t have that experience,” I say, throwing Dad under the bus. He’s as cutthroat as I am; he’ll understand. “But I studied Art History at Cambridge, and I’ve been working on more and more diverse sales since I started at Loot six years ago. I hope you consider us if you want to auction any of your pieces. I’ve been coveting your collection since I was a kid, and I’ve imagined a hundred different ways I could present your works.”

And with a collection on this level, we can show the market that Loot is a serious contender in all types of art, not just Indian art.

My shoulders relax a little as business is finally introduced. It’s a delicate balance between not wanting to scare the millionaires by discussing crass commercial concerns and needing to get that sale. But it’s where I’m comfortable.

“Since you were a kid? You’re making me feel old.”

“Never. You get younger every year, Dorian Gray. But I have been around this business for a while.”

Harrison smiles. “All right, how would you sell my work? On the off chance I want to sell.”

The familiar electricity rushes through my veins, all my preparation focused on this moment.

“In this particular case, I would try to keep as much of the collection as possible together. I want to sell the Richmond experience. You come from an old family, and there are plenty of buyers who want to capture that connection. If possible, we could do the sale at your home in Long Island. And it would be minimum fuss for you; we’d rent a tent for the sale and make sure no one wandered around your estate.”

I get out my iPad, bringing up a picture of some past house sales I’ve done to show him how much grandeur we can put in a tent, pointing out specific pieces he owns that could be the highlights.

“You’ve done your research on my art.” He sounds impressed, and I mentally pat myself on the back. First step complete.

“It’s never work to look at your pieces—”

“Priya Gupta,” says a voice behind me, causing every muscle in my body to clench in anticipation for a hit. Not a physical one, but we can’t be near each other without throwing verbal punches back and forth.

“Gavin Carlyle, what a pleasant surprise,” I say through clenched teeth, turning to look at him so Harrison can’t see the smile that’s more of a snarl. I really want to add that it’s a surprise that he was able to drag himself out of bed before noon, but I can’t do that in front of the client. Because then Im the unprofessional one.

“And Harrison, good to see you again, so soon after the last time.” He extends his hand to shake Harrison’s.

Let the games begin. Because if they recently met, Gavin’s heard the rumors and he’s trying to get Harrison’s collection for his family’s auction house, Carlyle’s.

We grew up as children of competing auction houses, and so I’ve never been entirely comfortable around Gavin. I fell into the pattern of competing with him academically like our parents were competing in the art market. Made more difficult around the eighth grade, when I realized how distractingly, and therefore distressingly, attractive he was.

The grudge pushed me to spend extra time studying so I got better grades than him, made me make that voodoo doll, and, of course, made me check Facebook religiously when we were in college to make sure he didn’t win a Nobel Prize or start a company when I was studying out of the country.

Before Harrison can respond, something catches his eye behind me. Whatever it is must be important, because he gets up, throwing his napkin on the table. “If you’ll both excuse me for a second, I see someone I have to talk to about a missing contract signature.”

Harrison walks across the room, leaving us alone at the table.

“You’re trying for Harrison’s collection? Your auction house doesn’t even do non-Indian art.” Gavin glides into the seat across me. Vintage Gavin—feeling entitled to any space he sees.

“Loot might not, but I do. Which you already knew.”

Because there’s no way Gavin doesn’t know what the competition is doing. He’s too smart for that. And while it’s true Loot has specialized in Indian art since Mom and Dad opened the first US office in New York, after I started working there, I slowly introduced non-Indian art to our sales. Because a bigger market means more profit.

Gavin shrugs. “I may have heard a rumor or two.”

I contemplate throwing my roll at his head, but getting banned from the Four Seasons restaurant will stop all the business lunches I do here so I restrain myself.

I clasp my hands together in my lap under the table just in case they get any rogue ideas about that roll. “Everyone must be talking about it to reach you on a yacht in Croatia. Or was it driving along the southern coast of France last week?”

Gavin’s a jetsetter auctioneer who takes a little too much pleasure in the jetsetting aspect. He flaunts that part of the job all over social media. Gavin with a tan, blond hair blowing in the breeze on a yacht in the Mediterranean. Gavin filling out a tux better than anyone has a right to at a charity event in Rome. Gavin going hiking in Peru, meeting adorable llamas and looking good with dirt artfully smudged on his stupid, perfect face.

And yes, I do follow his social media, through an anonymous account of course. I need to keep an eye out on the competition. And if that means also keeping an eye on those pecs, it’s just a sacrifice I’ll have to live with.

“Some of us know how to enjoy this job, and all the perks that come with it.”

“Some of us just take joy in doing the job.”

Gavin recoils in horror, hand to his heart to sell the emotion. “And let the supermodels sip champagne by themselves? I’m not a monster.”

“Why don’t you go back to those parched, lonely supermodels?” I snarl, immediately changing my face at the last word when I catch Harrison coming back to the table in my peripheral vision.

I turn a professional smile to Harrison, as Gavin scrambles up from his seat. “I hope your business was successful.”

“It will be.” Harrison smiles, confidence and satisfaction radiating from him.

“Good.” I turn to Gavin. “Well, we can’t keep you from your lunch.” So go away. I motion back to his table, and the stunning, chicly dressed woman waiting for him.

Probably one of the supermodels from the yacht.

“Always a pleasure.” Gavin extends his hand, and I don’t know how to refuse without looking ungracious. I take it in a brief handshake, and immediately let it go like it’s covered in bird poo.

I ignore how firm his handshake is, the same way I always do on the few occasions that we’ve made physical contact over the years. Because it’s just not fair that someone this annoying feels this good.

Without my permission, my eyes track his trip back to his table. He saunters away, taking his time moving in the crowd that shifts to accommodate him.

Everything he does is effortless, from that walk, to his adorable I-just-got-out-of-bed tousled blond hair, to his bright blue eyes and lips that are always quirked in a smile. Of course he’s happy; he’s the heir apparent to his parents’ successful auction house. With all obstacles bribed, bulldozed or bartered out of his way by his parents.

In contrast, everything I do takes effort. Every show I want at Loot, I have to work to get, since my dad wants to give them all to Ajay, my younger twin. Every collector I go after I have to convince we’re a legitimate auction house, even though we’ve been in the States for over thirty years, since before I was born.

I’m tired.

But I love watching a show come together, listening to the prices get higher and higher for a piece that I know is going to cause a bidding frenzy. Or walking into one of our exhibits before the auction, seeing the museum-quality way we display the art.

It’s worth it.

With Gavin safely back at his table, I turn my attention to Harrison. I wake up my iPad and show him some more of my highlights. I’m proud when I scroll through them. My entire life in artfully staged exhibitions and happy buyers. “And if you want, I can do a mock catalog for the sale we would do for you.”

Usually I would have done the catalog before meeting with a potential seller, but I didn’t want to be too presumptuous, since Harrison hasn’t actually told anyone he wants to sell yet.

He flips through my iPad photos himself, nodding along here and there. The waitress comes with our tea, and I add milk and sugar to distract myself from the anxiety of watching him judge my life’s work.

“This is great work, as always,” Harrison says.

I smile at him, hoping this is a prelude to him giving us his collection. This sale wouldn’t just make the market take us seriously; it would make Dad take me seriously.

Harrison leans in closer, lowering his voice. “And I am selling off a large part of the old collection. Make the catalog and I’ll decide who to go with.”

I’ll take it! “When do you want the catalog by?” My mind is already spinning, going through different ways I can present the collection.

“A week, if that’s not too little time? Now that I’ve decided to sell, I want to move quickly.”

“No problem at all.” High-maintenance man, you just took away my sleep for the next week. “If you wouldn’t mind sending a list of the items you’re thinking about including in the sale, I can make a theme, exhibition layout and catalog for them.”

“I’ll email you a list.”

“Perfect. I look forward to showing you the finished product.”

“I look forward to seeing it. But I still have meetings with other auction houses.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

And then it’ll be that much sweeter when I beat Gavin Carlyle.


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