“Good, right?” he asks, and takes a bite of his own slice.
“So good,” I agree, snatching a napkin from the roll he’s set on the coffee table. “I’ll be jogging a few extra miles this week but it will be worth it.”
“You’re a runner?”
“It’s my cardio of choice and I can do it at home. I’m not much into group activities and I hate the gym crowd.”
“There’s a private gym on the fourth floor. It’s one of the reasons I picked the building.”
“You have the whole floor. I’m shocked you don’t have a gym here.”
“I use the space for my studio which I’ll show you when we finish eating.”
I’m going to see Chris Merit’s studio and I am reminded of what a superstar is. “You don’t act like a famous person.”
“I don’t think of myself as a famous person.”
I finish my pizza and set the plate down, my hunger curbed enough to find him far more interesting. I pull one leg onto the couch. “But you are. You have to know you are.”
He shrugs and grabs another slice of pizza for both of us. “I’m just me.” He hands me my plate.
Absently, I accept the pizza. “You are one of the youngest, most successful living painters in the world. You’re brilliant, Chris.”
“And because I know you truly admire my work, that matters to me. Believe me, there are plenty of people who want to be close to you for the wrong reasons when you’re in the spotlight.”
I take a bite of my pizza and consider him. He’s already reaching for another slice. I’m still considering him when he takes a bite.
He arches a brow at my attentiveness. “What are you looking at me like that for?”
“You don’t like people to know you’re famous.”
“I don’t go around announcing it.”
My brows knit together as I start to piece together something. Or I think I do. “Wait. Do you intentionally use your father’s photo for public forums?”
A slow smile slides onto his lips and he disposes of his plate and motions to the box. “More?”
I set my plate on the table. “Not yet. You didn’t answer my question.”
He turns to face me, his leg on the couch as well, and scrubs his jaw, looking busted. “Yes. I’ve been known to slip in his photo here or there.” He winks. “Fooled you, didn’t I?”
“Your father looks like he’s in his forties in the photo. I assumed you’d aged poorly.”
“In other words, I fooled you.”
I purse my lips and concede. “You fooled me.”
We stare at each other and our lighthearted mood shifts, the air thickening with the mutual attraction our hot window encounter has done nothing but sate and everything to expand.
Sitting here, studying him, I’ve officially confirmed in my mind what I’d thought earlier. While I don’t doubt Chris really is lighthearted and fun, it’s not effortless either. He buries whatever he doesn’t want me to know about. This man is far more than he appears to be on the surface and the glimpses beneath intrigue me.
My gaze drops to his arm, to the red, blue, and yellow of the dragon tattoo. I scoot closer to him, and my leg presses to his, sending an instant charge over my skin.
I swallow hard, and I reach out, letting my fingers caress the dragon design. His muscles flex under my touch and it is incredibly powerful to think I might be affecting him.
Slowly, my gaze lifts to his, and his is hot coals with simmering embers. “It’s very…sexy.” I’m surprised at how easily I say the words. I suck at flirting but there is something different about me with this man.
“I’m glad you think so.”
My palm glides down his forearm and he catches my hand in his, as if he doesn’t want to break the connection. “Why a dragon?”
“It represents power and wealth, two things as a very young man I knew I wanted.”
“And you wanted money and power at such a young age?”
I want to ask why, but it feels too probing. “And now?”
“I have those things and with them comes security.”
I think of how he’d used that power with Mark, about the darker side I’ve seen of him tonight. He does like power, not in the abstract way Mark does, but he owns it in his own right.
“My first paintings were dragons. They’re in my personal collection. I never sold any of them, or even tried.”
“Here?” I ask eagerly. “I’d love to see them.”
“Oh.” Of course. Paris is his true home. I glance at his arm again. “The artist is quite talented.”
My chest tightens. A woman who he let create art on his body, who seems to have inspired him to create some of his own.
Gently, he brushes hair behind my ear, and I barely contain a shiver. “What do you want to know?” he asks.
About her. I want to know about here. “You’ll tell me what you want me to know.”
Surprise flickers in his eyes. “You are never quite what I expect, Sara McMillan.”
“Neither are you.”
His voice softens. “The tattoo artist was someone who got me through a hard time.”
I’m holding my breath, and I don’t know why.
“She’s the past,” he adds. “You’re right now.”