My hope that the turbulence in Chris has passed is quickly dashed not long after we arrive at a charity luncheon. We sit at one of twenty-five tables and listen as a man tells potential donors the story of his child dying of cancer. I cannot help but think of Dylan and my gaze leaves the speaker to study Chris.
He’s in profile to me, his expression impassive, his spine stiff. I know he knows I’m looking at him but he just stares forward, the muscle in his jaw flexing back and forth. I reach down and take his hand and he slowly turns to me, and for just a moment, he lets me see the pain splintering in amber flecks through his green eyes. I trace his cheek, silently telling him I understand, and he squeezes my hand, his attention slowly returning to the front of the room.
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Once again, a stark certainty fills me. Chris is darkness and pain, and no matter how much he says he has that part of him under control, he doesn’t. I’m not sure he truly wants to have it under control. I want to heal him, to be there for him, but I wonder if I really can be. I’m not sure he will let me.
This thought lingers with me through the rest of the speakers, and I am relieved when the luncheon comes to a close, but there is no fast escape from the event. Chris and I mingle with the guests and I’m amazed at how well he maintains a façade of lightheartedness, tossing out just the right comments at the right times, to bring smiles to many faces.
An hour later, we are at the hospital visiting some of the kids,
and Chris crafts sketches of funny animals and cartoon characters. Amazingly, no one but me seems to notice how troubled he is. I watch him, seeing beyond my gorgeous, sexy man to the man who, despite his own pain, gives so much to these families, and I fall even more in love with him.
Once we’ve finished our visits, Chris and I are heading down the hall toward Dylan’s room, which we plan to make our final destination, when Chris stops walking and glances down at a text message.
The grim look on his face has me worried. “What?” I demand.
He punches in a message before replying. “Blake says the lock on the storage unit wasn’t changed but the unit looked rifled through. He wanted to know if things were thrown everywhere when we were last there.”
“No. Tell him no.”
“I already did.” He reads another message, starting to relay information as he does. “He thinks that lowlife PI changed the locks while the power was off and the combination was popped open.”
I see where this is going and fill in the blanks. “We didn’t seal the unit with my lock. We popped his into place so he could return when he was ready.”
“Right. I’m sure he was looking for that opportunity the night you met him. We can assume he replaced the original lock that was yours when he got what he wanted out of the unit.”
My head begins to throb. “How bad was it rummaged through?”
“Sounds like her things are tossed all over the place.”
A frustrated sound slips from my lips. “Can we call the police?”
“Blake says we’ll never prove someone else was inside the unit and we still shouldn’t involve the police when we’ve decided to hold off.”
Reluctantly, I accept the helplessness of the situation. “If there were any more journals, they’re lost forever.” And with them the potential answer to where she is, and who is responsible for her disappearance.
“Blake and the entire team at Walker Security are the best. If anyone can find Rebecca, they will.”
“If they’re as good as you say, and it hasn’t been easy to find her, Chris, I’m more concerned than ever.”
Chris’s mouth tightens. “Unfortunately, I agree.”
I try to shake off my somber mood before we enter Dylan’s room, but it’s an effort lost once we arrive. The energetic boy I’d met the day before is nowhere to be found. He’s in bed, bent
over a pan, throwing up, while his mother is beside herself trying to soothe him. The only thing that keeps my feet on the ground is the absolute need for me to keep everyone else’s feet there.
Brandy’s hand shakes every time she moves, and Chris’s energy ratchets up a notch. He’s like a wild animal pacing a cage he cannot escape.
Somehow, though, he reins it in and discovers Brandy hasn’t eaten or slept. He forces her to go take a break while we sit with Dylan. Chris sits on the edge of Dylan’s bed and caves to a plea for him to draw another Freddy Krueger picture. Miraculously, Dylan perks up when Chris starts to sketch on the pad he’s been carrying with him.
At four o’clock Chris has to leave for a donor meeting, and
I stay behind with Dylan and Brandy with plans to meet him at the hotel at five thirty. At five forty-five, I’m still standing in front of the hospital after waiting for half an hour on a cab. I’ve texted Chris but he hasn’t replied.
Finally he calls. “I just got out of my meeting. Did you get one?”
“No,” I answer frantically. “There’s two big conventions in town and a movie premiere.”
“Tell the cab company there’s a hundred-dollar tip in it for
them and I’ll meet you at the front of the hotel to pay them. If that doesn’t work I’ll send a private car.”
Fifteen minutes later, Chris greets me at the front of the hotel in jeans and a plain white T-shirt, with his hair lying in damp tendrils around his face. He yanks open my door and leans inside the front passenger window and pays the driver. In a rush to shower and dress, I step out of the cab, and Chris settles his hands on my shoulders and kisses me solidly on the lips. “I missed you.”
Though Chris is inherently private, right now he’s oblivious to the people all around us. I blink up at him and glimpse that rare vulnerability in his expression that always roots its way deep inside me and turns me inside out. I stroke a damp strand of his hair and a waterfall of emotions crashes down on me. “Chris, I—” A horn honks and Chris pulls me forward as a cabbie guns by me. I step onto the curb and silently finish my sentence …
l ove you.
“Crazy cabdriver,” he grumbles, twining his fingers with mine.
We start walking toward the hotel entrance, but my spontaneous confession has been sideswiped by a yellow cab. I tell myself that’s a good thing. I was crazy to do this now. It’s the wrong time and place, but I can’t seem to rid myself of the feeling that I’ve lost a moment I will regret.
I rush through my shower and slip into the hotel-provided robe to do my makeup and hair. I’ve just finished flatironing my hair into a sleek straight style when Chris appears in the doorway, wearing his tuxedo. I set the brush down and turn to him, soaking in the way he defines his clothes. Perfectly fitted and pressed, the pants and jacket hug his lithe, muscular frame with delicious results. And while he’s conformed to the expected “monkey suit,” as he’s called it previously, he is unshaven, a light brown shadow dusting his jaw, and his blond hair is rumpled and a bit wild, the contrast declaring him both the man I know and love and a rebel with a cause.
“You are the sexiest man alive,” I declare.
Chris smiles, and for the first time all day it reaches his eyes.
“I’ll let you prove you mean that when we get back tonight.” He pulls a black velvet box from behind his back. “This is for you.”
His lips curve. “And me.”
My breath catches as I read AdamandEve.com on top of the box. It’s the sexy online store I’d told Chris about on the phone two evenings before. “I’m guessing that isn’t a pink fluffy paddle.”
“Don’t look disappointed,” he teases. “I’ll order one to be delivered when we get home.” He flips open the lid and lying on black silk are three pieces of jewelry. Two matching silver hoops, each having a long strand of dangling rubies. The third has a silver hoop and a teardrop laced with the same rubies.
“To wear under your dress,” he announces.
Unbidden, I hear one of Rebecca’s entries replay in my head,
as if she is speaking to me. He turned me around, tugged my dress and bra down, and clamped my nipples, ordering me to endure the pain.
I cross my arms in front of my chest and shake my head. “No. I can’t wear those to the party.”
Chris sets the box on the vanity and advances on me. I step backward, but he’s already in front of me, framing my face with his hands. “They aren’t clamps, if that’s what you think. I wouldn’t ask you to wear clamps for an extended period of time.
This is jewelry. Nothing more than delicious friction for you, and a tempting distraction for me, which, believe me, I need tonight.”
“Oh,” he repeats, his lips curving. He reaches for the thick tie on the robe, his stare holding mine. “Let me show you.”
The panic of moments before transforms into a simmering warmth low in my belly. I don’t look away from his penetrating gaze. I drop my arms and the robe gapes open, the cool air teasing my bare skin. Approval slides over his face and his fingers lightly brush my nipples. I attempt to swallow a whimper and fail. Chris shifts our position, settling my backside against the vanity, his hips molded to mine, the thick pulse of his erection settling against my stomach.
Lazily he tweaks the rosy tips until they are hard knots, and sweet, delicious sensations ripple through me. I grab his wrists.
“Stop. We have to leave. I have to get dressed.”
“Just making sure you’re ready.”
“I am ready. That’s the problem.”
He cups my breasts and pushes them together, leaning down to lave both of my nipples at once. My lashes flutter and my hand goes to his head. I don’t have it in me to tell him to stop. I’ll just have to dress faster. I don’t notice when he reaches for one of the nipple rings. He’s just suddenly slipping it over one of the swollen, aroused tips.
I bite my lip and stare down at the dangling jewels. “Hurt?” he asks, flicking it with his finger and sending darts of pleasure straight to my sex.
“No,” I breathe out. “It doesn’t hurt.”
Satisfaction slides over his handsome face and he dips his head low again, rasping my bare nipple with his tongue. This time, as I watch him place the second ring into place, I’m aroused by more than the sight of the jewelry on my body; it’s also the idea that Chris will be thinking about this all night.
He lifts me to the counter and spreads my legs, his palms traveling up my thighs, stopping at the slick swollen flesh of my sex, where his thumbs stroke and tease. “Are you thinking about fucking me, Sara?”
“No. I’m thinking of you fucking me.”
He laughs, a deep, sexy sound that turns me to soft, melting honey. I feel myself grow wetter beneath his touch, and so does he. I see it in the darkening of his gaze, the amber heat dancing in the depth of his green eyes.
“As much as I’d like to fuck you, baby, it’ll be all the better for the wait.” He holds up the clit ring and proceeds to close it around the swollen, sensitive bud. He presses my legs apart wider still.
“Don’t move. I want to look at you.” He takes a step backward.
I yank the robe shut and scoot off the vanity, positioning myself in front of him without touching him. My chin lifts. “You teased me. You can wait until later to see me.” I sidestep him and put distance between us, before whirling around to face him.
“Now out, and let me put my dress on.”
“No bra and panties.” It’s an order, the alpha Chris I know and find so damn arousing, in all his glory.
He’s closed the distance between us and pulled me hard against him in an instant. “No bra. No panties. Understand?”
His heart thunders beneath my palm. He is not unaffected by this exchange. He does not have all the power, but his need for it permeates the air, as alive as I am when he is touching me.
I press to my toes and kiss him. “Yes. I understand.”
For a moment he’s stiff and unyielding. The next his hand is melded on my back beneath the gaping robe. His lips brush mine, then his tongue, a whisper of a touch before it’s gone.
“How is it that you always do exactly what I don’t expect you to do?” he asks in a gravelly voice. He sets me away from him and exits the bathroom, pulling the door shut behind him.
I stare after him for several seconds, wondering if doing the opposite of what he expects is a good or a bad thing. But the truth is, I don’t try to be someone else with Chris, as I have with other men in my life. I’m rediscovering myself, or perhaps finding myself for the first time ever.
With an inner shake, I spur myself into action, sliding on my black thigh-highs, black high heels, and finally, the emerald green dress. No bra. No panties. Already, the rubies are teasing me unmercifully just as Chris had with his mouth and fingers. I inspect my reflection in the mirror, loving the dress even more than I did in the store. The vibrant green complements my pale skin, and the dress hugs my body without being overtly sexy. And thankfully the fitted bodice provides enough coverage to hide the ruby-covered rings on my nipples.
Reaching for the bathroom door, I pause a moment as adrenaline pours through me at the idea of Chris waiting beyond.
I step into the bedroom to find Chris leaning against the front door, one leg crossed over the other, his arms over his chest. He watches me expectantly, silently willing me to walk to him, and I am powerless to defy him, aroused by nothing more than the way he consumes the room, and me, with it. He tracks my every step, touching me without touching me, seducing me with the promise of the pleasure he’s proven that he, and he alone, can give me.
I stop in front of him and still he doesn’t move, doesn’t reach for me. “Turn around.”
Doing as he says is automatic. He’s right. I crave these moments where he’s in control and anticipation simmers low in my belly to discover what he intends next. With him I can let go, when I don’t dare do so elsewhere or with anyone else.
A cool sensation slides around my neck and I become aware of the necklace he’s hooking at my nape. Surprised, my hand goes to the jewel at my throat, and he leans down and whispers.
“Go look in the mirror.”
Curious, I rush to the bathroom to stare into the mirror at the round emerald pendant with diamonds glistening like stars around the edges, where it dips into the V of my neckline. Chris appears behind me, his eyes meeting mine in the mirror, and the connection delivers the now-familiar punch of awareness he creates in me that never gets old. There is a stark hunger in his expression that runs far deeper than the ripe physical need
between us. This gift matters to him. It’s special, nothing like the tokens my father gave to my mother, and my liking it is important to him.
“It couldn’t be more perfect,” I say softly. “Thank you.”
His hand splays possessively on my stomach, and he buries his face in my hair, his mouth pressing to my ear. “You’re perfect.” His voice is rough.
Everything Chris does is as raw and real as the pain he struggles to bury in some deep, dark cavern of his soul. And I dread the moment he discovers just how not perfect I am.