He studies me, his expression unreadable, but I have a sense of being in the eye of a hurricane. My read on his reaction to my reply is a big zero.
“When I said I don’t bring women here, Sara, I meant ever. As in no one.”
This is another out-of-the-blue remark; I assume it relates to the call downstairs in some random way yet to be explained. These are some choppy waters I’m wading in and I’m wondering if I need to swim to shore, as in the one called ‘my own apartment’.
“Yes,” I reply. “You’ve said that and if you keep telling me that I’m going to decide it’s your way of telling me to leave.”
“I’m telling you because I want you to understand how much I want you here.”
“Oh.” He wants me here. On some level I know this, but having him say it surprises me and pleases me far too much for my own good.
“I want you to want to be here,” he adds.
Surprised yet again, I sense rather than hear a hint of vulnerability in his voice. I tilt my head and study him. Yes. He’s uncertain and I get the idea that isn’t something he’s used to feeling.
“I do,” I whisper. “I want to be here.”
“Good.” He strokes two fingers down my cheek, and slides my hair behind my ear, sending chills down my neck and spine. I am overwhelmed and my body quakes. I have never in my life responded like this to a man and I’m trying to understand what it is about him that speaks so deeply to me. I’ve known good-looking men. I’ve known talented, gifted, and powerful men. But none like this one. None so complicated, none so compelling beyond reason.
“You aren’t going to like all that I am, Sara,” he murmurs darkly.
“Another warning?” I admonish him. “You’re above quota, at which point warnings become ineffective.”
“Not a warning. I’m done warning you or you wouldn’t be here.”
“You’ve issued any number of warnings since we arrived last night.”
“Yes,” he concedes. “I suppose I have. So I might as well give you one more.”
“The last one?”
“The last one today?”
He ignores my hopeful question. “Nothing has changed, Sara. I’m still not the guy who’ll give you a white picket fence.”
“I’m as far from white picket fences as you can get. Sooner more likely than later, you aren’t going to like everything you find out about me.”
My fingers uncurl on his chest, slowly splaying over the hard muscle. ”Does that mean you’re offering me an invitation to find that out for myself?”
He squeezes his eyes shut and seems to struggle for an answer before he looks me in the eye. “Against my better judgment, and because I’m seemingly powerless to stay away from you.”
Chris Merit is powerless to stay away from me?
“What happens between us stays with us, Sara,” he states, before I can formulate a reply. “I need to know you understand that. I’m an inherently private person and I have my reasons for that and they aren’t going to change. Don’t let my casual friendships around the neighborhood, and the high rise building with room service, give you an impression otherwise. I choose who knows what about me and the staff here helps me keep it that way.”
I wonder if he’s been burned as I have by letting the wrong people into his life or is he smarter than I have been. Does he just never give them a chance? “I like that you’re private. In fact, if you weren’t, I wouldn’t be here, Chris.”
We stare at each other and his scrutiny is so intense that I feel as if he’s crawling inside me and searching my soul for confirmation I’ve spoken the truth. Who or what made him this distrustful? Who or what damaged him? And does it really matter? I relate to him far more than I thought I could. I understand him beyond events and names and places.
I reach up and stroke his cheek. “Whatever happens between us stays with us.” My voice is soft, hoarse. I am affected by this man on so many levels I can’t begin to understand.
His eyes narrow and soften, and I watch the tension slide from his face, the flecks of orange fire flicker to life in his eyes. The air around us shifts and I feel the now familiar swell of desire in my stomach, expanding and threatening to consume me. I feel an unexpected, intense rise of panic. I don’t want breakfast, these few minutes of normalcy; I realize in their potential loss, I crave for some unnamed, unrecognized reason.
His hands settle on my waist, branding me through the thin cotton, and his expression reflects he too is thinking of how close to na**d I am.
His attention lowers to the opening of the robe and my ni**les tighten and ache instantly. “Do you know how badly I want you right now?” he asks, his fingers sliding to the V of the robe and starting to tug it lower.
I want him — I want him as much as I want my next breath but a voice in my head screams, not yet. Not until after breakfast. I grab the robe and pull it closed before pressing my hand on his chest to hold him back. “Oh no. None of this or that or whatever we might do. Not until you caffeinate me, feed me, and let me brush my teeth.” I grab the phone on the wall. “And aren’t the eggs burning?”
“I turned the stove off,” he says, laughing, a low and sultry sound that blends with the ringing of the phone line. He leans in and kisses my ear, his breath hot on my neck. “Because I was hoping to turn you on. I guess I’ll have to try harder after we eat.” He pushes away from me as a female attendant speaks into the receiver. “Can I help you, Mr. Merit?”