I think I’ve hurt him, and reality slaps me in the face. I’ve let myself think of him as some kind of demon, to avoid the real demons of my past.
In two small steps I am in front of him, wrapping my arms around him, and pressing my cheek to his chest. “I don’t think you realize how much I care about you, or how easily and badly you could hurt me.” I lift my head and let him see the truth in my face. “So yes, I’m scared to count on you.”
Tension eases from his body, his expression softening. He runs his hand over my hair and there is gentleness in his touch. “Then we’ll be scared together.”
“You’re scared?” I ask, surprised by such a confession.
“You’re the best adrenaline rush of my life, baby. Far better than the pain you replaced.”
For the first time, I think that maybe, just maybe, I am all Chris needs.
• • •
An hour later, I’m standing at the kitchen sink, sipping coffee, while Chris talks to one of the charity organizers on the phone in the other room. I am still reeling from his invitation to move in with him, my mind tossing around one worry after another. How will I keep my job and identity? Do I need my job to have my identity if I delve into new opportunities? Will any of this matter when Chris finds out I’ve lied to him? Will he understand why I did? Why I’m so ashamed of the truth? If anyone could, I believe it’s Chris.
“Ready to head out?”
Chris saunters into the room and my lips curve at the sight of him. He is wearing jeans and a brown Allure Gallery tee to match the pink one I have on, both compliments of a special delivery from Mark. “I still can’t believe you actually wore the shirt.”
He stops in front of me and that earthy, deliciously Chris scent of his teases my nostrils and tingles through me. “I have my disagreements with Mark but he’s been supportive of the hospital.”
I open my mouth to ask exactly what the disagreements were, but he takes my cup and finishes off the contents. This isn’t the first time we’ve shared a cup but there is this new intimacy between us and I feel it in every part of me. Our eyes meet and I am instantly wet, squeezing my thighs together.
Chris reaches around me and sets the mug in the sink, bringing his hand to the back of my head, and leaning in to brush his mouth over mine. I shiver and his lips hint at a smile that tells me he notices. “You taste like coffee and temptation,” he murmurs. “If we don’t go now, we won’t.” He straightens, and I approve of the new brown tee that molds every rippling muscle of his torso.
As we head to the living room, I freeze when I see the stack of journals on the coffee table. “What are they doing there?”
Chris grabs a leather bag and begins loading them inside. “The PI wants to see them.”
“We can’t just let him have them.”
“Jacob’s copying them and then locking them up for us.”
“You trust Jacob?”
“Completely. I had him checked out before I hired him for some private work for the charity.”
“But what about Rebecca’s privacy?”
“If we end up going to the police, the journals are as good as public record. Better to let the PI check things out completely.”
“Does the PI think we need to go to the police?”
“All I know is he needs more to go on, and he’s hoping the journals and your insight from basically living Rebecca’s life will help.”
My eyes go wide. Am I living Rebecca’s life? The idea sends a wave of nausea through me. I’m trying to find myself again, to create the life I always wanted. Have I simply lost myself in Rebecca’s?
I think of the man who’d stolen her identity and I stare at Chris, thinking about how he’s consumed me, and I reject the comparison of him to the Master in the journal. Chris has helped me face myself. He’s forcing me to face the past.
• • •
After I apply for my passport, Chris pulls the 911 up in front of several big-name retail stores only a few blocks from the gallery and parks at a meter. I frown. “Where’s your bank?” I ask, since he’s told me that’s where we’re headed.
“Around the corner. I thought we’d shop first.”
“You need a dress for Saturday night.”
“I have something at home.” A pathetic dress, but a dress.
His fingers slide into my hair and he pulls my mouth to his, caressing my lips with his. “I’m buying you a dress. You can pick it or I will.”
“I don’t need—”
He kisses me and his tongue is a delicate whisper gone too soon. “You do and so do I.” He lets me go and gets out of the car, and I don’t think he’s talking about the dress.
By the time I shove open my door, Chris is beside me, offering me his hand. The instant my palm touches his, a sharp pang of awareness rushes through me. “You know,” I start to say as I stand directly in front of him, “I don’t like—”
“Spending my money,” he finishes. “But I like it enough for both of us.”
“You don’t have to spend money on me. I love—” I stop, astounded at how easily it had slid to the tip of my tongue.
His gaze sharpens and he steps closer, his arm wrapping my waist. “You love what, Sara?” he prods softly.
I am on the verge of a confession better made in private. “I love . . .” I pause, torn about what comes next. “Being with you.”