Twenty-four

I’m just gathering my things to leave when I hear Mark’s voice in the reception area. I step out of my office and catch his attention. “Can I speak to you a moment?”


He motions me back into my office and follows me inside. He leaves the door open. “Can you shut it?” I ask, and I regret the request almost instantly. Suddenly we are in a tiny office facing each other, and there is a simmering awareness of that fact between us, and I want to run from it. “I saw you met with Alvarez today.”

He leans on the door and crosses his arms over his chest. “We completed some final business matters.”

He’s intentionally making me pull teeth to get what I want. “Nothing about my meeting with him?”

His lips twist wryly. “He told me not to corrupt you as I did Rebecca.”

I am speechless for a moment. “And you told him what?”

“I told him you are quite capable of deciding who corrupts you on your own.”

I think this is a compliment. Or not. I really am clueless with Mark. “He asked me to have coffee with him.”

“And did he get what he wanted from you during this coffee meeting?”

“I don’t know what he wants from me.” I sound as exasperated as I am. “You both talk in coded messages.”

“Well, then, let me decode for you, Ms. McMillan, because frankly I’m tired of playing Ricco’s games. He wants Rebecca. He can’t have her. He blames me. I’d thought perhaps you could help him separate business and personal. After talking with him today, I don’t believe that is possible.”

His blunt answer disarms me. “No. I don’t think it is.”

“Then we won’t do business with him. Some things, Ms. McMillan, are just better left alone.” I immediately think of Rebecca, but he’s quick to keep me off that topic, asking, “Did you resign from the school today?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent. Then you’re all mine now.” His eyes glint and I know he’s chosen the words fully aware of the double meaning. “Good night, Ms. McMillan.”

He starts to turn and I don’t know what comes over me but I blurt, “Did you?”

He freezes in place and then turns, fixing me with his steely gray stare. “Did I what, Ms. McMillan?”

“Did you corrupt Rebecca?”

“Yes.”

“And?” I ask because nothing else will come to my mind.

“And clearly it was a mistake or she’d still be here.”

I’m speechless yet again. I just can’t find words. Mark uses the empty space to sideswipe me with another unexpected question. “You do know Chris is thoroughly f**ked-up, don’t you?”

My reply is instant, defensive. Protective. “Aren’t we all?”

“Not like Chris.”

I don’t ask how he knows. It could be the club. Maybe a friendship that once was and is now lost. It doesn’t matter. “It’s his imperfections that make him perfect,” I reply, and there is conviction in my voice.

His gaze is fiercely penetrating. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

There is a slight break in his voice that I’ve never heard in him before, and I believe him. “Like you hurt Rebecca?”

Some emotion flickers in his eyes and is gone as quickly as it appears. Guilt? Pain? “Yes.” His voice is soft, missing the unwavering command that is his norm. “Like I hurt Rebecca.”

“Is that why she left?”

“Yes.”

I am more confused about this man and his actions than ever before. “Then why attempt to take me down that path?”

“You aren’t Rebecca, any more than I’m Chris.”

He leaves my office and I stare after him.

• • •

I exit the gallery’s front door and spot the 911 parked at the curb. The relief that Chris is here does little to eliminate my apprehension; I know he’ll be upset about seeing me with Ricco.

The door pops open and just seeing him threatens to consume me. This is one time I do not want to be consumed by all that is Chris. Not with my unsteadiness about where this weekend has led us.

I lean into the car to maneuver my bags into the backseat and Chris takes them from me. For an instant he freezes, and I wonder if he too feels the charge darting through me. He sets my things behind us and I slide into the passenger seat, shutting myself inside the small space with him. I burn for his touch, for him to touch me.

Tense seconds tick by, where neither of us moves or speaks. With an irritatingly shaky hand, I reach for the seat belt and it slips out of my grasp. Chris reaches over me to help, his arm brushing my breast, the heat of his body pouring into me. His hair tickles my cheek and he lingers, his mouth close to mine. It’s all I can do not to reach up and pull it to mine, but then he’s gone and I let out a trembling breath. He pops the buckle into place by my seat and settles into his. Still he doesn’t look at me. He eases the gear into drive and maneuvers onto the road.

My fingers ball on my lap, and I’m about to explode by the time Chris pulls into a random parking spot.

We sit there, both of us staring forward. His silence is killing me and I fight a scream, dropping my head to my lap and tunneling my fingers into my hair.

“Sara, what happened to being careful and telling us where you’re going?”

I look at him blankly, his words so unexpected that I can’t process them.

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