He might as well have stabbed me in the chest. “Because I’m some sort of power play with Mark?” My throat is thick, my tone choked. “Is that what this is, Chris? Or did you want me to get fired?”
“Why would I take you to Napa and help you meet his ridiculous requirements if I intended that?”
“Money to kill? A game to play with Mark?” I sound flippant and bitter. I am.
“I don’t deserve that, Sara, and you know it.” His voice is a hiss laced with anger at my accusations.
Deep down, I want his anger to mean something, I want to believe in him, but I don’t even believe in me anymore. I don’t trust my judgment. “Well, if you did want to get me fired, it didn’t work. Mark has vowed to protect me and teach me the business.”
“Protect you.” The words are hard and flat, his body rippling with sudden edginess. “You want Mark to protect you when you tell me you don’t need protection?”
“I just want to do my job.”
“It isn’t about the job with Mark. Not with you.”
“You can’t know that.”
“You’ve read the journals, Sara. Who the hell do you think Rebecca was playing bondage games with? It sure as hell wasn’t Ralph.”
“It was the man she’s vacationing with.”
“Now she’s vacationing when last night you were worried she was dead?”
“I never said that.”
“You inferred it.” He inhales and lets it out a sharp breath. “You know what? It’s time you get a reality check, baby.” He grabs my hand. “Come with me.”
I dig in my heels. He clicks the locks on his car. “Get in the f**king car, Sara, or I swear to you I’ll pick you up and put you there myself. You are going to see for yourself who and what Mark is, and stop pretending you don’t know already.”
“And since you’ve proclaimed yourself as worse than Mark, I suppose now is when I get to see your deep, dark secrets too?”
His jaw flexes. “Yes.”
Emotion shifts and moves inside me, and my anger slides away. Dread tightens my tummy. This is the big reveal he believes will make me run.
I walk to the car and get in.
Five minutes later, the shadowy darkness of the 911 isn’t as suffocating as is the silence within. We haven’t spoken a word, and it’s killing me. Guilt is eating away at me over my harsh judgment of Chris. He’d been honest enough to tell me he didn’t regret Mark seeing the security footage. Surely he was honest in telling me he hadn’t manipulated me to create the footage.
Staring out of the window without really seeing anything, I can feel Chris next to me, far from me, but close enough to touch. My skin tingles with awareness. My mind replays the touch of his mouth on mine, and on more intimate parts of my body. The caress of his hand on my breast, the play of his fingers between my thighs.
Still the silence stretches onward and it becomes clear that we are heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge, into an elite neighborhood where trees, greenery, and mansions with insane price tags and views dominate, rather than trolleys and rooftops. Our destination is in the elite Cow Hollow neighborhood I’ve heard about but never visited, where Chris stops at an expansive gated property and keys in a code. Is this his home too? I glance at his profile, opening my mouth to ask, but his posture is rigid, his demeanor unapproachable, so I snap my mouth shut. The gate opens and we drive down a long road to what is obviously a property spanning miles.
“What is this place?” I ask, bringing the stucco house into view, unable to bite back curiosity any longer.
“A private club,” he answers without looking at me, maneuvering around a circular drive and pulling to the door.
A man in a black suit with an earpiece opens my door. Chris rounds the 911 and tosses the man his keys. “Nice to see you, Mr. Merit,” the man comments. “It’s been a while.”
Chris doesn’t appear to be feeling overly cordial. “Keep the car upfront. This will be a short visit.” Chris stops beside me and slides my purse from my shoulder. “Leave it in the car.” He hands it to the security man, and I start to object but lose my train of thought when the man rakes me with a hot stare filled with disapproval. A smirk settles on his lips, as if he knows something I do not. Of course he does, and it’s unsettling on all kinds of levels.
“And the coat,” Chris adds, already pulling the leather jacket from my shoulders. I’m beyond argument at this point and let him hand it off to the same man who has my purse.
Chris folds my hand into his and the touch sizzles up my arm. I feel him tense and I think he feels what I do, but he doesn’t look at me, and I am quaking inside with nervous anticipation.
We head up a dozen steps toward a set of red double doors. Halfway up Chris says, “You’re not a member, which means you talk to no one and stay by my side.” He cuts me a hard stare, looking at me for the first time since we arrived. “And I mean no one, Sara.”
“O…kay.” Good grief, what is this place?
We hit the top of the last step and the door opens. Another man in a black suit with an earpiece on appears in the entry and Chris doesn’t bother with a greeting. “Private room.”
“The Lion’s Den is open.”
Lion’s Den? Why does that not sound good?
Chris nods and we enter the house, and I absorb the tall ceilings, the expensive art on the walls, and a winding stairwell covered in an oriental rug with some relief. This place is elegant, a place for the elite, as one would expect from this neighborhood; it’s nothing scary at all.