Chris pushes to his feet and takes me with him and we find the unit door shut. “I suspect the guy we just talked to shut it.”
Right. Of course. That makes sense. “I still want to look inside.”
He pulls open the door and shines the light around the room, focusing on the papers on the floor. “I dropped those,” I tell him, reliving my panic.
“Do you need whatever they are?”
“No,” I say, just wanting out of here. “Not now.”
“Then everything else looks in order?”
“Yes. It doesn’t seem like whoever was here touched anything inside.” Unless they knew exactly what they wanted and where it was, a voice in my head says. Perhaps more journals? There are many pieces of Rebecca’s life, including how she arrived and left the gallery, that are missing from what I’ve read. I don’t know why this hasn’t hit me until now. Rebecca was too consistent with her writing to skip long periods of time. If I’m right, there has to be at least a few more journals, and it would make sense for them to be in the unit. Or they were, until tonight.
• • •
Thirty minutes later, I am leaning against the wall of the small, boxlike office of the storage unit, remotely aware that Chris is in deep conversation with the manager. My Dark Prince can pretty much do or say whatever he wants right now if it gets me out of this place sooner. I manage to stay present in the conversation long enough to hear Chris secure a month of free rental, but then that’s not surprising since Chris all but flattens the office manager with a promise of a lawsuit over the danger I’d been put in.
Danger. That word has me checking out and into my own head. I tell myself Chris is excessively protective, and while it feels good to have someone care, he’s also blowing up the fear in my mind that I’m quite capable of exaggerating without his aid. My thoughts go on a roller-coaster ride of wicked possibilities that has me in knots. If I was in danger in that storage unit, am I in danger now? What have I gotten myself into? And what did Rebecca get herself into? I cannot help but relive the events in the darkness, replaying alternate endings, and none of them are happy. How does everyone just say she’s off with some hot man and not miss her?
My gut twists and my mind goes to Ella. I’ve dismissed her silence as a happy honeymoon and a friend who’s forgotten me in the midst of passion and newfound love. This isn’t so hard for me to believe of Ella. She’s alone and hungry for the sense of belonging this man has given her. But isn’t that hunger a vulnerability the wrong man could take advantage of?
Suddenly, I need to hear Ella’s voice, and if she’s forgotten me for wedded bliss, I will happily scold her. I just need to know she’s okay. I’m the only one Ella has to miss her. Ella knowing I am there for her, that if she ever isn’t okay someone will care, is important to me.
I shove off of the wall and grab my phone from my jacket and head outside, but I am quick to plant myself against the glass by the door where Chris can see me and I can see him. Stupid once tonight, not twice. The night air is not my friend, but I ignore the chill.
Punching in Ella’s number, I pray for an answer and get a fast busy signal. I shove the phone to my forehead. Why didn’t I get an alternate number? Why? I have no idea what to do. I don’t even know the exact day she is due back into town, and I decide calling her new husband’s medical practice tomorrow is my best option.
The door opens and Chris appears. I do not know how it’s possible, but each time I see him it is as if it’s the first time, as if he slides inside me and fills what is empty.
He leans a hand on the wall above me, sheltering me from the wind, from the world. He is quiet power and strength and he speaks to the woman in me in ways no man ever has. “How are you doing?” he asks, studying me with probing, pale green eyes that always seem to see too much. “You okay?”
I brush my hand over his cheek, letting the soft rasp of his dark blond stubble stroke my fingers. “I will be when we get out of here.” I let my hand drop away. “What did the manager say about the paper clips?”
“He claims they’ve had problems with kids messing around the building. Vandals.”
I feel a stab of anger and indignation. “So that’s his explanation? Kids did this?”
“He’s protecting his ass, Sara.” He slides his hand down my waist and around my backside, caressing me intimately. “And I plan to protect yours.” He brushes hair from my eyes. “You’re staying at my place until the private investigator tells us there’s nothing to worry about. That way no one but me can get to you.” His voice lowers, turns rough. “You’ll be all mine.”
The possessive way his body cradles mine, the way he says the words, sends a tingling sensation spiraling through my body. I refuse to think of the consequences of giving myself to Chris, a man I know will consume me, perhaps destroy me, but right now he feels as if he is saving me. I am willingly all his.
After a quick stop by my apartment, I am glad to be in my car, following Chris to his place. I have no idea why the stop to get my things made me uneasy, but it did. Maybe it was the tiny space and my feeling of claustrophobia after being in the storage unit in the darkness. I couldn’t pack quickly enough. Chris hovering by the door, just as eager to leave, hadn’t helped, either. It was as if we both sensed something was off.
Just beyond the driveway to Chris’s building, he stops at a light, and I halt behind him and use the opportunity to try for the fifth time to call Ella. Once again, I receive only a fast busy signal. I am helplessly incapable of reaching her and I’m rattled.