“That’s fine,” Chris states, “as long as the outcome of your conversation includes her getting twenty-five percent of my sales for tonight.”
My stomach knots at both the ridiculously high figure, and the demand Chris has made. Dread fills me as I realize what this must be about. Chris wanted me out of here. He told me to leave. I didn’t listen so he’s forcing me out. Why? Why does this matter to him?
Mark’s eyes flash with ice and settle on my face, and I am certain he is either going to fire me here and now, or he’s planning my dismissal for the near future. Instead, he shocks me with a curt, “Twenty-five percent, Ms. McMillan but be clear. Future rewards will be negotiated between you and I or not at all. Understood?”
I blink at him, speechless, but still manage to calculate twenty-five percent of the roughly three hundred grand Chris has sold tonight. Surely Mark has not just agreed to pay me fifty thousand dollars.
“Ms. McMillan,” he snaps. “Are we clear?”
“Yes,” I rasp. “Yes. I…of course. Understood.”
Mark’s gaze shifts back to Chris. “If there’s nothing else, I have customers to attend and so does Ms. McMillan.” He doesn’t wait to find out if there is anything else. He turns on his heel and departs, leaving me reeling with the impact of what has happened. My adrenaline surges through me, anger curling in my stomach and chest.
Whirling on Chris, I barely muster the will to keep my voice low, and it’s all I can do to remember the customers who might be watching. “What have you done?” The question comes out a hiss and I jerk my hand back with as much discretion as I can muster considering I’m shaking, but he holds it still.
“Made sure you’re no one’s captive.”
“By getting me fired?” I tug on my hand again. “Let go, Chris.”
“You aren’t going to get fired, Sara.”
“Let go of my hand,” I ground out between my teeth.
He clamps his lips together, and with obvious reluctance, he releases me. “You aren’t going to get--”
I walk away, cutting to my left, and toward the hallway opposite the office leading to the fancy guest bathrooms, afraid I’m going to do the completely unacceptable, and cry in public. I’m not a crier. I’ve never been a crier, but this is my dream Chris has destroyed. I thought I could be here, belong here. That a famous, gorgeous artist wanted me, when he was trying to destroy me. I am embarrassed and hurt. I hurt. This hurts. Chris hurt me.
Rounding the corner, I enter the hallway, and Chris is suddenly there in the narrow passage with me, pressing me against the wall, his powerful thighs framing mine.
My hand goes instinctively to his t-shirt-clad chest. I am immediately aware of the intimacy of the touch, of my body’s reaction to the man who has betrayed me. “Don’t shove me against another wall and try to intimidate me, Chris.”
“I’m not trying to intimidate you. I was protecting you, Sara.” His hands move to my waist, scorching me, and my reaction to the sizzling touch is instant. I cover his hands with mine, trying to control what he does next, but it doesn’t help. Now, my hands are on his hands and his hands are on my body.
“Call it what you want,” I ground out, “but you had no right to do what you did.”
“He had to know he couldn’t manipulate your dream. Money, and my many resources at your disposal, does that.”
His words knock my anger and my breath away, and confusion consumes me. His actions and his words conflict at every turn. “Why would you help me? You said I don’t belong in this world.”
“Because I won’t watch him gobble you up and destroy you.”
I remember his words, and understand now that he wanted me out of this gallery, not this profession. “Because he’s a dark, messed up, arrogant ass**le who will play with my mind and use me until there is nothing else left of me I recognize.”
“And yet you say you’re worse.”
He stiffens and cuts his gaze, seeming to struggle before fixing me in a turbulent stare. “I am, Sara, which is why you should run as far away from me as you can. And I should step back and let you.”
“Then why aren’t you?” I whisper.
His eyes hold mine, and what I see there, the depth of his desire, overwhelms me. He flattens his palm on my belly and I tremble beneath the touch, and he has to feel it too. “Because,” his voice low, seductive, his hand traveling up the center of my body, “I can’t stop thinking about you, and everything I want to do to you, everywhere I want to touch you.”
His hand presses to the swell between my br**sts, and my ni**les ache with a wish he would touch them. His boldness ignites something sultry and dark inside me, a side of me that defies the good-girl school teacher who is appalled I haven’t stopped this. I want him. I want him here and now, and any way I can have him.
And when his gaze lowers to my mouth and lingers, I know he is thinking about kissing me and I have never wanted to be kissed so badly in my life.
“Do you taste as good as I think you do?” he asks, but he doesn’t wait for my reply.
Suddenly, his fingers have tunneled into my hair and he’s dragging my mouth to his. I am all soft submission, yielding to the moment, to the man. I melt into him, welcome the hardness of his body pressed to mine. And when his tongue presses past my lips, a long, wicked caress, I taste his hunger, his need. There is possessiveness to his kiss, to his hand on my back, molding me closer. I am lost in the ache that has become my need for this man, this stranger I cannot resist. He says he’s protecting me; he says he’s dangerous. I am conflicted, and sure I should be angry with him, but I am completely incapable and unable of processing why.