I slide into the seat and he follows. Once we’ve buckled up, I turn to him, and I can’t help but stroke a wayward strand of his hair. “Thank you.”
He closes his hand around mine and settles it on the arm on the seat beneath his. “For what?”
“The clothes. First class. Helping with Rebecca and Ella. All of this costs money.”
“Money doesn’t matter to me.” His tone is nonchalant, dismissive.
“What about the teen you once were who wanted money and power?”
“He grew into a man.”
“With money and power.”
He gives me a wry smile. “I’ll rephrase. I don’t mind spending my money because I have plenty of it. I’m not about to give it up. It’s control. I like control.”
“No kidding,” I tease.
He runs his thumb over my bottom lip and follows with his mouth. “You like it when I’m in control.”
“Sometimes,” I agree.
“I’m working on all the time.”
“Don’t hold your breath, or the world will lose a brilliant artist.”
“I’ll have to make you pay for that one,” he taunts as the flight attendant begins standard announcements.
A dart of heat races up my spine. I don’t know where Chris might take me next, but I have no doubt it will be deliciously unforgettable. He leans closer and whispers, “You know, I know a club we could join together.”
I stiffen and his low rumble of laughter fans my neck with seductive promise, before he adds, “The mile-high club.”
I jerk around to face him. “Forget it, and that’s nonnegotiable no matter what you do. There are people everywhere.”
“What if I rent a private plane for our return?”
He can’t be serious. “You’d do that just for us to, ah, get membership?”
His lips curve devilishly. “Without hesitation. In fact, since this trip is one of many I’d like to take you on, I think that might be the way to fly.” A puzzled look slides over his face. “How is it again that you grew up with money and never traveled?”
As if hit by a bullet, I stiffen before I can stop myself. “Busy with childhood and teen activities, I guess.” The plane is taxiing and, afraid he’ll read my panic, I quickly turn to the window and feign interest. Silently, I kick myself for missing an opportunity to begin to share my past with Chris. I just have this unyielding sense that once I open Pandora’s box and let one demon out, even if it’s one of the smaller ones, the bigger, darker ones will escape before I am ready.
Chris’s hand falls away from mine, and I feel his withdrawal reach well beyond a small physical connection. It is all I can do not to drag his hand to my lap. “It looks like it’s going to storm,” I murmur, noting the dark heaviness of the clouds above burdened by a downpour yet to happen, much like the weight of my secret.
“You aren’t afraid, are you?”
I wonder if he’s talking about flying in the storm. With Chris, there is often a double meaning. With effort, I school my features and turn to him and meet his penetrating stare. He knows I was dodging his question; I see it in his eyes.
“I don’t know what to expect. This is new to me,” I say.
“Because your travel has been limited to almost never.”
It’s not a question and this time I’m certain we aren’t talking about the weather. I blink into his unfathomable expression, but there is expectancy in the air. The answer to why I never traveled is on the tip of my tongue, lingering there, but I cannot seem to push it out. “Right. Because I almost never traveled.”
We lift off and the bumps are instantaneous. My fingers curl around the armrest again, but this time with white-knuckle intensity. Chris’s hand comes down on mine as it had before and I sigh inside with the return of his touch. “Just a little turbulence,” he assures me. “It’ll even out when we get to a higher altitude above the clouds.”
As if in defiance of his claim, the plane jerks and we seem to drop. I stiffen and my breath lodges in my throat. “You’re sure this is normal?”
“Okay.” I breathe out. “I’m trusting you on this.”
“But not on everything.”
There is a coolness to his eyes, and I wonder how soon his walls will slam down in front of mine. I’m backed into another corner. If I tell Chris everything I may lose him. If I keep him shut out, he may shut me out, again. It’s time to at least start down a path that leads to my hell.
The plane jolts again and my heart drops to my stomach.
I tug my hand from underneath his and lift the armrest, and hopefully the proverbial wall separating us as well. “We were my father’s pets,” I say, angling in his direction. “He left us at home and ran off to his many mistresses.”
Understanding seeps into his expression and he shifts to face me. “When did you find out about the other women?”
“Once I moved away for college. That’s when my mother’s rose-colored glasses came off me.”
“She knew.” It’s not a question.
“Oh yes,” I confirm. “She knew.” I can’t tame the bitterness seeping into my tone. “If we were his pets, she was his lapdog. She was so in love with him that she’d accept anything she could get from him, which wasn’t much.”
His expression is thoughtful, concerned. “How active was he in your life?”