Curious, I rush to the bathroom to stare into the mirror at the round emerald pendant with diamonds glistening like stars around the edges, where it dips into the V of my neckline. Chris appears behind me, his eyes meeting mine in the mirror, and the connection delivers the now-familiar punch of awareness he creates in me that never gets old. There is a stark hunger in his expression that runs far deeper than the ripe physical need between us. This gift matters to him. It’s special, nothing like the tokens my father gave to my mother, and my liking it is important to him.
“It couldn’t be more perfect,” I say softly. “Thank you.”
His hand splays possessively on my stomach, and he buries his face in my hair, his mouth pressing to my ear. “You’re perfect.” His voice is rough.
Everything Chris does is as raw and real as the pain he struggles to bury in some deep, dark cavern of his soul. And I dread the moment he discovers just how not perfect I am.
After leaving our hotel room, Chris and I step into the packed elevator. Chris leans against the wall, settling me under the crook of his arm, and his touch is like a hot, welcome branding too intimate for the public setting. The rubies dangle between my legs, a teasing friction against my cl*t that, while not painful, is inescapable—as is the thick ridge of Chris’s arousal against my backside. Chris nuzzles my neck, and I shiver. I can almost taste his pleasure at my reaction, and his hands travel up and down my rib cage, tugging the silk of my dress and the jewels on my ni**les. My hands go to his, holding them steady in a silent reprimand, and his soft, sexy rumble of laughter touches my ear.
My lips curve at his playfulness, and the contrast of this moment to another occasion when I wore no bra and panties, at the winery, strikes me. I’d scolded myself for daring to see romance in what was a sexy adventure. Even meeting his godparents that warm August night still left me wondering where Chris and I were headed. I could easily spin doubts and get tangled up in all that could go wrong tonight if I let myself. The list of worries is long. Chris’s return to Paris. My impending career decisions. My secret. My gut clenches and the elevator opens.
I step off the car and mentally leave my concerns inside. Tonight Chris needs me to be clear and present. My Dark Prince is teetering on the edge of darkness over Dylan, and I have to be the rope he clings to for a lifeline.
Once in the corridor, Chris twines his fingers with mine, and this small, intimate act makes my heart squeeze, warming me far more than the gentle sway of the jewels between my thighs while I walk. I cut him a sideways glance to find him doing the same to me, and it is as if I’m experiencing a summer breeze. He floats inside me and completes me, and for the first time in my life I have a sense of being in a relationship, rather than being alone or possessed. Ironic, I think, considering this is the same man whom I’ve all but begged to claim me and possess me. He is dark passion and wicked heat and I can’t get enough of him.
We exit the hotel into the warm, cloudless night, dozens of stars shining brightly above, and I slip my small sparkling black purse over the thin emerald strap on my shoulder. The private car Chris ordered for us is waiting, but we turn when we overhear an elderly couple, also attending the gala, struggling to find a cab.
Chris and I share a look of understanding before he addresses the couple: “You can join us. We’re headed to the same place.”
A sleek 911 halts beside a doorman, and I have a momentary flashback to the night of the wine tasting at the gallery. I’d walked out of the gallery to find Chris leaning on the 911, my father’s car of choice. I’d compared the two men who are incomparable, and the smiles Chris has just put on the elderly couple’s faces drives home that point.
Inside the back of the car, sitting in the middle, I begin chatting with the woman beside me. Chris settles his hand on my knee, his thumb absently caressing my silk stocking, heat seeping through to my skin. Darts of pleasure shoot up my leg and straight to my swollen, overly sensitive clit.
It’s becoming impossible to focus on my conversation, and when I can take no more, I grab his hand and hold it still, shooting him a warning look.
Chris arches a brow. “Something wrong?”
I cut him a look and spoke softly. “You know exactly what you’re doing.”
“Yes,” he agrees and his lips twitch. “I do.”
“Of course you do,” and the fact that he does is enticingly erotic rather than enticingly frightening. It’s also the reason I hold his hand for the duration of the ten-minute drive.
We exit the car at the Children’s Museum, where the gala is being held, and cameras begin to flash. Chris’s discomfort is palpable as we walk the red carpet laid out on the stairway to the entry, and I’m not surprised when he declines visiting the press room. His dislike for the spotlight and his willingness to put himself there for his charity speaks volumes about how much this cause means to him.
Once inside the building, we pause under a massive archway that is the entry to the main triangle-shaped event room, where about one hundred guests mingle in the open area between us and the band performing on the opposite side of the room. Music echoes upward, spiraling into the massive dome covering us, and I am in awe of the artwork painted on its interior.
Reminded of another wall closer to home, I cannot help but say, “This reminds me of Mark’s office. You painted his wall, didn’t you?”
There is a slight tightening around his mouth. “Yes.”
“Yes? Just yes?”