My escape has been further waylaid, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing anymore. “Okay,” I squeak, appalled at my lack of voice. There is a reason I don’t date much. I’m horrible at it. I get shy and I pick the wrong men, who use both of those very things against me. Dominant, controlling men, who seem to turn me on in the bedroom, and off in real life. It’s genetic. I’m quite certain that had I a sister, she would have been just as foolish about men as myself and as my mother had been. And while Chris, at first impression, doesn’t strike me as arrogant or controlling, his failure to tell me who he was earlier in the evening was in fact a way of controlling my reaction. Not that I think he is interested in me. I’m over-analyzing and I know it. Chris Merit could have his choice of women, and in fact, probably has. He doesn’t need to add little ol’ me to the list.
“You know my name,” he says, pulling me from my reverie. “It’s only fair I know yours.”
“Sara. Sara McMillan.”
“Nice to meet you, Sara.”
“I should be the one saying that to you,” I say. ”I wasn’t joking when I said I love your art. I studied your work in college.
“Now you’re making me feel old.”
“Hardly,” I say. “You started painting when you were a teen.”
He cast me a sideways look. “You weren’t joking when you said you studied my work.”
“And what do you do now?”
I feel a little punch to my gut. “School teacher.”
“No,” I say. “High school English.”
“So why study art?”
“Because I love art.”
“Yet you’re an English teacher?”
“What’s wrong with being an English teacher?” I ask, unable to curb the defensiveness in my tone.
He stops walking and turns to me. “Nothing is wrong with it at all, except that I don’t think that’s what you want to do.”
“You don’t know me enough to say that. You don’t know me at all.”
“I know the excitement I saw in your eyes when you were in the gallery.”
“I don’t deny that.” A gust of wind rushes over us and goosebumps lift on my skin, I don’t want to be scrutinized. This man sees too much. “We should walk.”
He shrugs out of his jacket and before I know what’s happening, it’s wrapped around my shoulders and that earthy raw scent of his is surrounding me. I’m wearing Chris Merit’s coat and I am dumbstruck all over again. His hands are on the lapels and he is staring down at me. My gaze catches on the brilliant colorful tattoo that covers every inch of his right arm. I’ve never been with a man with tattoos, and never thought I liked them, but I find myself wondering where else he might have them.
“I saw you talking to Mark,” he says. “Did you buy something tonight?”
“I wish,” I say with a snort, and my embarrassment at the unladylike sound that comes too naturally only drives home reality to me. We are from two different worlds, this man and I. His is one of dreams fulfilled and mine is one of impossible dreams. “I doubt I could afford one of your brushes, let alone a completed piece.”
His eyes narrow. “You shouldn’t walk away from something that intrigues you.” His voice is a soft rasp of sandpaper that still manages to be velvet on my nerve endings.
Suddenly, I’m not sure we are talking about art and my throat is dry. I swallow hard and though I hadn’t decided I was really going through with it, I blurt, “I’m taking a summer job at the gallery.”
His light blond brow arches. “Are you now?”
“Yes.” I know it is the truth as I say the word. I know I’ve already decided I am going to take the job. “I’m filling in for Rebecca until her return.” I search his face for a reaction, but I see none. He is unreadable--or am I just too affected by his nearness to see one?
His hands are still on the lapels and he doesn’t move for a long moment. I don’t want him to move. I want him to...I don’t know...but then again, yes I do. I want him to kiss me. It’s a silly, fantastical moment, no doubt brought on by the journals, that has me blushing. I cut my gaze, feeling as if the heat in his will scorch me inside out. I motion to my car, shocked to realize it’s only one parking meter down. “That’s me.”
Slowly, his hands loosen on my--or rather his--jacket. I immediately walk to my car, willing myself not to dump my purse again. I click the locks open and I stop by the curb before opening my door. I turn to find him close, so very wonderfully close. And that scent of his is driving me wild, pooling heat low in my belly.
“Thanks for the walk and the jacket.” I shrug out of it.
He reaches for the jacket and takes it, and I hope he will touch me, and fear that he will, at the same moment. I am so out of control and confused.
His eyes burn hot like green fire before he softly says, “It’s been my pleasure...Sara.” And then he just turns and starts walking, without another word.
Hours later, I sit on my bed in a pair of boxers and a tank, legs crossed, with that box and a screwdriver in front of me. I have no idea why the idea of taking the job at the gallery makes opening it seem imperative, but it does, and it is. Rubies trim the lid and an etched, abstract design is in the center. The latch holding it closed looks old and easy to break, and just as beautifully designed as the rest of the box.