“Don’t make decisions that put yourself in danger and I won’t.”
My feathers are ruffled further. “I can take care of myself. I’ve been doing it for years.”
“Is that what you call tonight?” His anger is palpable, crackling off him like the hum of electricity. “Taking care of yourself? Because if it is, you’re scaring the crap out of me, Sara. I told you I’d have someone look into Rebecca’s whereabouts and that means you leave it the hell alone.”
I’m more than defensive now. I’m pissed. I don’t need another man to tell me I don’t know how to take care of myself. I lash out. “We’ve had this conversation, Chris. Fucking me does not give you the right to run my life.”
His jaw flexes, and while the shadows hide the green of his eyes, I’m pretty sure they’d be burning with red-hot anger. “Is that what we’re back to, Sara? I’m f**king you? Is that where last night took us again? Why you are all over me in a parking lot? Because if you want me to f**k you, I’ll f**k you until you can’t remember your damn name and you never forget mine.”
Heat rushes over me because I know how capable he is of making good on his words. But in their depths is the inference I’m not already there, that he doesn’t know I will never forget him, and more so, that I don’t want to try. I open my mouth to say as much, but I don’t get the chance.
“Decide now, Sara,” he demands. “If I’m with you beyond a few f**k sessions, I’m damn sure going to do everything I can to protect you and you’re going to have to deal with it.”
My mood shifts instantly with his ultimatum. I’m already in old demon territory and I can suddenly taste the poison of the past in every word I hiss. “Protect me or control me, Chris?”
I wait for him to react, to try to smash me back down, to demand of me whatever he sees as his right. Part of me wants him to rise to this challenge. Another fears he will. But at least if he does, I know how to deal with it.
But this is Chris, and he doesn’t do anything I expect, now or ever. He just stares at me, his expression unreadable, his jaw set in a hard line.
Long, tense seconds tick by, and he reaches into his jacket and snatches his keys from his pocket. “Let’s go lock the damn storage unit.”
He turns away and I feel my stomach sink to my feet. I don’t want to fight with him. And I’m not fighting with Chris, anyway, I realize. I’m fighting with my past and I refuse to let my old demons come between us.
I dart forward and put myself between him and the car, my hand settling on his chest. He doesn’t touch me. He stares down at me and I see no emotion in him. I’ve seen this Chris, back at the winery, when he’d been given something of his father’s, when he was shutting down emotionally, and I am not going to let him do that now. Not with me. Not because I let some damnable past demon get in the way.
Emotion claws at my chest and my lashes lower. “I’m sorry.” I draw a heavy breath and meet his stare. I’m scared to death of being vulnerable with this man who, without even trying, has more power over me than anyone before him did, but I remind myself that coming here was his olive branch, his act of vulnerability. “I needed you to be here and somehow you are, and it means more to me than you can possibly know. I don’t know how I’ve made such a mess of this, Chris. Please don’t let me screw this up again like I did last night.”
For a moment he is stiff, unyielding, staring at me with hooded eyes I can’t read, but suddenly, his fingers curl around my neck in that familiar way and he pulls my mouth to a mere breath away from his. “I’m not sure I know the difference between protect and control. You need to know that.”
On the surface his warning is all alpha male, but beneath it there is something more. He is not stone and granite, at least not with me, and like so much with Chris, this speaks to me. “As long as you know I’m going to tell you when you cross the line.”
He brushes his lips over mine, soft but somehow possessive. “I’m looking forward to it,” he assures me, the furthest from resistant he could be to me claiming my piece of control. The soft rasp of seductive promise in his voice tingles down my spine and sizzles every nerve ending in my body. Like many times with Chris, I sense there is a meaning beyond the words yet to be revealed, and I want to understand it, and him.
He leans back and stares down at me, and something shifts between us and expands. Something I can’t name, but my sex contracts and I crave whatever it is in a deep, aching way. Something I have yet to discover about myself and I know that Chris can show me. And I know that I am willing to go places with him I wouldn’t go with anyone else. No. It goes deeper than willingness. It is a physical need.
Chris parks the 911 in front of the building, right by the door, rather than in the empty parking lot. “I’ll go lock up,” he says, putting the car in idle and turning on the parking lights. “What unit number is it and do I need a key?”
“One-twelve and it’s a combination lock I left hanging open on the door,” I reply, my gaze having settled on the storage facility. We appear to be the only ones here and the building is still dark. Chris starts to exit and I grab his arm. “The door is open, Chris.”
“Isn’t that the idea? Getting here in time to lock the unit?”
“Yes,” I say, glancing at the clock on his dash. “But it’s thirty minutes after closing. It shouldn’t be open.” I glance at the door again, and to the black hole beyond it. I remember how suffocating it had been inside, and I shiver, hugging myself with the certainty that someone had been in there with me.