“You okay, Ms. McMillan?” he asks, his voice etched with a deep, suggestive quality that burns through me with warning. I have the distinct impression that how I handle this moment in time will define our relationship, and perhaps the future of a job I’ve decided I want to keep.
“I do high heels better post-caffeine,” I reply.
His lips twitch and he surprises me by offering me a rare smile. “You are quite witty, aren’t you?”
His hand slips away from my arm and I remember all too well Rebecca talking about Mark’s games. I wonder if this shift in moods, which feels far more menacing than Chris’s, aren’t a part of how he plays with people. I set the mug down and reach for the pot.
“We should talk before you fill that,” Mark comments, and my hand stills mid-action.
I squeeze my eyes shut a moment and steel myself for what I know is coming, before rotating to face him. He’s set his mug down and both of us have our h*ps aligned with the counter.
“Talk?” I asked. “I thought that’s what we were doing already?”
“My world is invitation-only, Sara.”
Sara. He’s used my first name and I know it’s meant to intimidate me. “You hired me. That’s an invitation.”
“Coy doesn’t suit you.”
He’s right. We both know he means to the club. “I was invited.”
“By the wrong person.”
“No. Not the wrong person.”
“Quite the change of heart from our chat two nights ago, when you were quite displeased with him.”
I decide to bypass defending my reasons for being with Chris. It isn’t like Mark will approve. He won’t even say Chris’s name. “I’m good at my job. I’m going to make you lots of money, but my private life is my private life. I don’t belong to you, Mark.” I use his name intentionally.
“Then who do you belong to, Ms. McMillan?”
Chris. That’s the answer he is looking for, the answer Chris would want me to give, but the ghosts of the past roar inside me. My survival instinct refuses to let go of what I’ve fought hard to achieve these past few years in my independence. “I belong to myself.”
Mark’s eyes gleam with satisfaction and I know I’ve made a critical misstep. “A good answer and one I can live with.” His lips twist and he turns away, sauntering toward the exit, only to stop at the door and glance back at me. “There’s no in between. Don’t let him convince you there is.”
He’s gone before I can reply and I feel my knees quake with the aftermath of his words. Chris had said the same thing to me back in his apartment the morning we’d headed out to Napa Valley. No in between, I repeat in my mind. It is a reality I’ve had lurking in the back of my mind all morning. A reality that says “all” means not only that I have to embrace Chris’s dark side fully, no matter where that takes me, and us, but also that I have to show him mine, and I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready and I doubt very seriously he will be, either. Not for this. Not for his own reasons as well.
I fill the two coffee cups and I’m relieved to find Ralph on the phone, and so make my escape back to my office without conversation, quickly and painlessly. Settling behind my desk, I set my mug down and dial David’s office, only to get an answering service. The office is “indefinitely” closed. The choice of words the operator uses sends a chill down my spine. I set the receiver down and stare at the desktop without seeing it.
I’m starting to feel like I’m losing my mind. I can’t see danger everywhere. Ella is in Paris on her honeymoon. She’s fine. I’m letting this Rebecca mystery make my mind run wild. Actually, my whole life feels like it’s running wild whereas only weeks before it was calm and uneventful. I’m standing on a high-rise ledge and walking the edge, and while there is fear and apprehension, there is also a high I can only call an adrenaline rush that I crave more and more each day.
My cell phone rings and I dig it from my purse to see Chris’s number on caller ID. “You made it okay?” I ask when I answer.
“I just landed, and you know how I spent the entire flight?”
He sounds a bit on edge, or maybe I’m on edge. Maybe we both are. “Sleeping, I hope.”
“Thinking about you and not even about f**king you, Sara. About lying in my bed, with you asleep in my arms.”
His confession thrills and worries me. “Why do I feel like I should apologize?”
“Because you chose to stay there and you won’t be sleeping with me tonight.”
“Oh,” I say, and the tension that had curled inside me begins to unwind. Chris is upset that we can’t sleep together tonight?
“I’m not used to anyone having this kind of hold on me,” he continues, his voice dark and troubled. “I feel like I’m crawling out of my own skin.”
I’ve rattled his deep-rooted need for control and I am still struggling with the idea that I have this power over him that he does over me. It pleases me but I am fairly certain it truly has him unsettled. “Just hearing your voice now affects me,” I say, trying to give him the reassurance I would need if I’d just said to him what he’d said to me. “That’s how much of a hold you have on me.”
“Good.” He breathes out and I feel the relief wash over him even through the phone line. “Because it would suck to feel like this alone.”