• • •
We don’t speak on the short drive back to the hotel, both of us lost in thought. The cold reality of what has just happened seeps into my mind and crawls through my body. Despite it being eighty degrees outside, I shiver, and Chris runs his hand up my arm. I turn into him, settling my ear on his chest, listening to his heartbeat, trying to lose myself in the steady rhythm. But my thoughts find a way inside the rhythm. My father finds a way inside my head. I should be beyond his reach, incapable of feeling anything where he is concerned, but I am not. My mother is dead. My father couldn’t care less if I’m dead. Michael is the son my father wanted and he would justify anything Michael did as necessary, even forcing himself on me.
By the time we are walking through the hotel lobby, I am one big ball of explosive emotion. I am clawing my way out of my own head but there seems to be no escape, and this damnable, pinching pain in my chest won’t go away.
We step inside the elevator and Chris wraps me in his embrace, settling my h*ps against his, his hand at my back. I run my fingers through his blond hair, searching his face, and I find exactly what I fear. He is worried about me, about us, concerned that my past, my weakness with Michael, means I’m too fragile to be a part of his life. It wasn’t hate I’d worried about from Chris. The hate was mine. I own it. I’ve lived it. No. What I feared from Chris was this: pity. Him looking at me like I’m a wounded animal. I push away from him and try to step out of his reach. His fingers snag mine and he pulls me back. I see the question in his face and I plan to answer it, just not here.
The elevator doors open and I rush forward, seeking privacy before I explode. The instant we are in the room, I whirl on him. “Don’t look at me like I’m some helpless pup that has to be coddled, Chris. That’s not what I need now. I need what you needed today. I need an escape. I need to know . . .” So much. Too much. “I need . . .” I have no more words. I just need.
Stretching behind me, I unzip my dress and shove it down my body, leaving myself in my thigh-highs and heels, and the dangling rubies. I’m desperate to push Chris over the edge, to make him take me the way he always does—passionately, completely.
Chris pulls me hard against his body, and he is hard where I am soft, strong where I am still weak. Yes. This is what I need. “Fuck me, Chris. Take me to that place you go and don’t be gentle.”
He runs his hand down my hair. “Not tonight, Sara. Not after you just told me that bastard forced himself on you.”
“It was two years ago, Chris.”
“Which you had to relive tonight.”
“Don’t do this. Don’t treat me like I’m breakable, or Michael wins.”
“I’m not treating you like you’re breakable.”
“You are, and if you do it now, you always will. It’ll change us.”
“No. One night is not a lifetime.”
“This isn’t just one night. It’s this night. It’s the night that—” The pain in my chest cuts off my words and I shove it away. “Pain that is pleasure. Pain that is an escape. I need just what you need tonight.”
“No, baby. I’m not going there with you tonight.”
“You mean you’re not going there with me ever!” I charge. “You’re afraid to take me there now. This isn’t going to work. He’s already ruined us.” I shake my head. “I need out of here. I need to go home.” I tug on my arms, but he holds me easily. “Let go. Damn it, let go!”
My hands close around the sleeves of his jacket. “I knew this would happen. I knew if I told you, you’d be afraid to be you.” My cheeks are wet with tears. I don’t know why the hell I keep crying. “Just let me go, so I can get all the hell over with in one night, Chris. Let me go find my way of dealing with this again. My way without you.”
He backs me against the desk, his hands on my hips, his expression unreadable. He’s still so damn in control. I’m na**d inside and out, and he’s no closer to letting down the wall this night has erected, than when I was fully dressed.
“Just let me go now, Chris.” My voice is a barely audible. I am defeated and beaten. “Please.”
His expression softens and he wipes my tears away. “Sara, baby, you aren’t alone. And I’m not going to shut you out.”
“You will. You are. You tried to shut me out today before you even knew about this. How can I believe you can go those places you need to go with me when you didn’t even believe you could earlier today?” My fingers close around his lapels, and the absolute torment I’m feeling is like gravel in my throat, and I barely find my voice. “And what if I need to go there now? I need to escape. I need to feel something other than what I’m feeling right now, Chris.”
He stares down at me, and I see the shadows in his eyes, I see the turbulence, a deep sea of emotions I don’t understand, and I fear we are both drowning. It’s too much. Everything feels like too much. “Chris,” I whisper, and it’s a plea for him to make this ache inside me go away. A plea for him to take me away like only he can do.
Suddenly, he’s picking me up and carrying me toward the bed. We go down on the mattress and he quickly shrugs out of his jacket and tosses it away. And then he’s on top of me. The weight of him, the sweet wonderful weight of him, is all that keeps me from completely losing my mind.