“How very artsy,” I murmur, tracing the design with my fingers. The idea of destroying the box doesn’t sit well with me, nor does invading Rebecca’s privacy. So why, why, why do I know I am going to open this box? Why do I have to know what is inside? “Curiosity killed the cat, Sara.”
It doesn’t seem to matter. Of their own will, my hands go to work. I slide the flat end of the screwdriver between the lips of the lid and base and apply pressure. The latch pops easily.
My adrenaline surges and my heart thunders in my chest. I have no idea why I am hanging on a thread, why I feel like this box is so important, why I feel any of this is important. Slowly, I lift the lid, and luxurious red velvet is the first thing I see. I suck in a breath at what is cradled by that velvet and my heart thunders all over again.
I blink at the unexpected contents of the box. A paintbrush and a picture that has been torn into two pieces, so that only a woman is left. This is Rebecca. I don’t know why it didn’t seem odd to me that I hadn’t seen any pictures of her in the many personal effects I studied in the storage unit. There hadn’t been a picture of her on the gallery website either. Perhaps I didn’t notice these things before now because I didn’t want to know what she looked like.
Reaching for the photo, I hold it between my fingers and study it, study her. She is beautiful and petite with long, sandy brown hair, and a brilliant smile that tells me that at the moment this picture was taken, she was immensely happy. Her image mesmerizes me and I wonder why she tore the picture. I wonder who was in it with her and who took the photo. Even more so, I wonder why she kept the picture after she tore it up.
My brow furrows as my attention shifts to the paint brush. It’s such an odd thing to save, but then, so is half of a picture. I pick up the brush and run my fingers over the bristles that have a hint of a yellow paint at the tips. The wood bears no marks or logo. It’s clearly a sentimental item, which isn’t so unexpected really, considering she worked at the gallery. So was the man in the journal an artist? The prospects of who he might be are far reaching. My stomach knots as I think of Chris. I keep thinking about Chris and those greener than green eyes.
I seal the picture and the paint brush back inside the box and set it on my nightstand. My laptop is also on the bed with me and I power it up before typing ‘Chris Merit’ into the search bar and clicking on images. Almost immediately I get photos of two different people and realize that one is an older version of Chris. His father had been a famous classical pianist who’d lived in Paris. I don’t know how I forgot such a thing, or how I tied the image of father with son, though the resemblance is uncanny.
I google Chris and he comes up in Wikipedia. He is thirty-five, not thirty-three, and he’s dated a couple of models and an actress. Right. Way, way out of my league so I have no idea why I read into anything tonight with the man. My lips thin as I note that he has never been married. My mother’s words come back to me. Any man who isn’t married by thirty-five is either g*y or he’s got skeletons in his closet. A knot forms in my throat. God, how I miss her, how I wish she was still here so I could call her now. Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t call her now and explain my obsession with another woman’s sex life. I bite my lip. Am I obsessed with another women’s sex life? No, I tell myself immediately, rejecting the idea. If I’m obsessed, it’s with her safety.
And if Chris has skeletons, could Rebecca have discovered them and become a liability? It sounds so much like a fictional novel that laughter bubbles from my lips. Besides, with further reading, I realize Chris lives in Paris. Chris must be here for a visit. He is probably gone already.
Unbidden, disappointment fills me. Chris is the first man to interest me in well over two years, since Michael Knight, the CEO of a large computer company, whom I’d met at a charity event. I’d soon realized he was the kind of man I found alluring for all the wrong reasons. The kind that dominates and controls, and makes you feel all feminine and protected. That is, until he shreds everything you know of yourself to pieces. I’m still not sure I understand why he appealed to me, or why men like Mark, who ooze that kind of power, still appeal to me. I only know that dating men who are sensitive and caring, like I had in the past, doesn’t seem to be working for me. Chris, well, he doesn’t seem to be one of those power control freaks like Mark, but then I doubt I’ll ever see him again.
I reach for one of the journals and begin to read.
I told him I wouldn’t see him again. He told me he’d decide when I see him and when I don’t. I should have known I couldn’t simply walk away. I should have known he’d come for me, and that I, weak as I am, would not be able to resist him. Before I knew what was happening, I was in the storeroom in the middle of the day, with others nearby.
He shoved me against the wall and then tore down my panties. His lips pressed close to my ear, his breath hot on my neck, as he said, ’you know the rules, you know I have to punish you.’ I squeezed my eyes shut because I do know. I know and not only do I know but I want him, too. That’s what I’ve become, what he’s made me. I was wet and aching and all but ready to beg for the very thing I craved…punishment.
The first smack of his hand on my ass was pure pain, no pleasure like in the past, but I didn’t scream. I couldn’t scream. Not when I could be heard. Somehow, as it always does, the pain turned to pleasure. The need for him was intense, complete. He entered me and it was then I barely contained my cry, my need. He couldn’t f**k me hard enough to suit me. I was, as always, powerless to the pleasure that is him.