The question is, will he be here tomorrow? And should I want him to be? But it doesn’t seem to matter what I should want. I just want to be with Chris.
I blink against the morning sunlight in my eyes and swallow against the dryness in my throat. Awareness comes to me first with the throbbing of my head, next with the horrid taste in my mouth, and then, with the warm weight wrapped around me. I’m naked, under a blanket, and Chris’s arm is draped over my body.
For a moment, I lay here absorbing the implications and the complications that have become our relationship, remembering the explosive fight we’d had. The turbulence of that battle fades away in Chris’s embrace. Because Mike and Katie don’t know that wine was my father’s drug of choice. My poor damaged artist. He’s been through so much and thought Mike had meant well with his gift, instead he’d sideswiped Chris and left him reeling. I’d been there for the aftermath and thanks to the wine, I’d handled it horribly.
Guilt twists in my empty, aching stomach as I remember hugging the toilet, with Chris watching me be sick on the very drink that had destroyed his father. And still, he’d tenderly taken care of me, and been my hero.
“You’re awake.” The raw, morning rumble of his deep voice burns through me and I’m amazed at how easily everything about this man affects me.
He nuzzles my neck. “You have nothing to be embarrassed about.”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
He tries to turn me and I push to a sitting position, tugging the sheet with me and scooting against the headboard. “I’m radioactive. Unsafe until I shower and brush my teeth.” I frown, noting he’s wearing the clothes he’d had on the night before, a dark blond stubble thick on his jaw. He looks rough and sexy, his blond hair a wild hot mess. “You’re fully dressed.”
“Because you’re not and I didn’t want to be insensitive to how sick you were.”
“Oh.” Could he really want me when I’ve just been sick? Surely not.
“Oh,” he repeats, his lips quirking.
I wet my parched lips and my head thunders as if in reaction. I press two fingers to my temple, a moan slipping from my lips. “Dear Lord, I’m hung over. Will this hell never end?”
Chris climbs over my legs and grabs a bottle of water and some pills. “I called down to the front desk last night and had them bring some ibuprofen. You fell asleep before I could give them to you.”
Blown away by his thoughtfulness, I touch his jaw, letting his whiskers rasp against my fingers. “Thank you.” My hand falls from his face, and tenderness fills me. “I guess you aren’t a jerk all of the time.”
He nips my fingers and gives me one of his charming grins that always melt me like butter. “But leave it to you to let me know when I am.”
I swallow the pills. “You can count on it.” My stomach churns and I imagine I must look green and sickly. “I haven’t been hung over in…” I catch myself before I confess the five years that is so telling, “in years. If the art world requires I drink, maybe I’m not meant for this job.”
Disapproval furrows his brow, and he leans back on his elbow, resting on his side. “The art world doesn’t require you to drink or understand wine. It does, however, need passionate people like you. I hate that Mark’s made you feel otherwise and it’s one of the reasons I’d prefer to help you get other opportunities.”
“Riptide would allow me to make a solid salary, Chris. I need that if I’m going to make art my career.”
“I can get you a solid salary elsewhere.”
Mixed emotions wash over me. If I depend on Chris now, what happens later when he’s not around? “I appreciate the help. I do. But I need to do this on my own.”
“You are, Sara. I wouldn’t help you if I didn’t believe in you.”
“Having you believe in me means more than you know, but it’s like you’re unveiling a new piece of work. Making it on my own gives me the confidence to know I can continue to make it in the future.”
“When I’m gone.”
An ache forms in my chest and it’s all I can do not to ball my fist there. “I didn’t say that.”
“But you thought it.”
Reluctantly I concede, “I’m alone, Chris, and it was my choice, but with that choice comes the need to make smart decisions.”
“Do you know how many people would jump to use my money and resources?”
“You mean how many people would use you?” I don’t wait for an answer. I don’t have to. Michael was one of those people. “Yes. I do.”
“You continue to surprise me, Sara.” He hesitates and I think he will say more, but instead, he asks, “How’s your stomach?”
“I figured it would be.” He glances at the clock on the bedside table. “It’s already eleven. We should get up and I’ll order you some tea and biscuits to try and settle your stomach.”
“Eleven o’clock?” I twist to confirm the time on the clock, appalled at the hour. “I can’t believe we slept this late.” Regret fills me at the loss of time with Chris at this wonderful place, and all because of wine. “Wasn’t I supposed to meet the wine expert? Did I stand her, or him, up?”
“Her name is Meredith and I’ve known her for years. I woke up around eight and cancelled but she says she can see you at twelve-fifteen, if you like?”