“I went to the coffee shop to be near you, because I was worried about you. Then you walked in with Alvarez, whom I don’t trust.”

I glare at him. “Alvarez is my job. Just my job. You need to accept that—just like I’ve accepted that there’s nothing between you and Ava.” My voice softens. “But you’re right; I should have told you where I was going. I’m sorry to make you worry.”

“Damn it, Sara.” He twines his fingers in my hair and lowers his mouth one hot breath from mine. “You are the reason I take my next breath,” he whispers. “Why can’t you see that?”

His question steals the last of my anger. I soften against him, my fingers curving around his jaw. “Let’s go home, baby.” He kisses my forehead. “I have something to show you.”

• • •

Chris threads his fingers with mine as we walk into his apartment. When we go down the hallway, he opens a door. “This is what I did this afternoon. I wasn’t giving you a chance to change your mind about moving in.”

I walk inside to find stacks of boxes, and the small collection of furniture I’d had at my apartment.

“I snagged the key from your key chain. I had the movers bring everything so you could decide what you wanted to keep, and I paid your lease off.” He pulls me close, and his touch is home. “From this point on, what’s mine is yours, Sara.”

I hug him, pressing my ear to his chest, and I don’t want to let go. Though he’s generous with “things,” not everything that’s his is mine. For only he owns the pain of his past—and just like mine, it’s eventually going to catch up with us.

Twenty-five

The next morning, I’m at the bathroom mirror finishing my makeup just before Chris and I head to a breakfast meeting with Kelvin. We’ll be discussing Alvarez and the reference to the possible counterfeit art I’ve found in Rebecca’s work journal. Kelvin has also promised to set up an alert that tells him if Ella books any form of travel. It’s little comfort, but it’s better than nothing.

I am zipping up my purse, ready to head into the bedroom, when Chris appears behind me and sets a black American Express credit card on the counter in front of me. I stare at it in stunned disbelief and then start shaking my head.

“No.” I snatch it up and turn to him. “I don’t want this. I don’t want your money.”

“This makes sure you’ll have anything you need or want you until we can go by the bank and set you up an account.”

“No, Chris, I’m not taking this.” I don’t want to be like my mother, taken care of by a man. “I want to earn my own money. I have to earn my own money.”

He cups my face. “I want to take care of you.”

My fingers go to his wrist. “Just love me. That’s enough.”

“This is me loving you. Please. Take the card.”

I wet my lips and struggle with the demons of my past this conjures. “Just the card for emergencies. No bank account.”

“Sara—”

“Just the card. That’s a compromise, Chris—and only for emergencies.”

He hesitates with obvious reluctance but finally gives in. “Just the card.”

His willingness to give me this space means even more to me than I had realized up until this instant. I rise up on my toes and touch my lips to his. “Thank you, Chris.”

He cups the back of my head. “For what?”

“Being you.” And letting me be me.

• • •

Friday comes with a symphony of reasons for me to smile as I walk into Diego Maria’s, the place Chris and I went for our first date. Chris and I have slipped into a routine, a relationship, that has me walking on clouds. He takes me to work and picks me up each day. We enjoy dinner at home, some concoction we attempt to create together, and call Dylan, who has been faring decently, according to Brandy, on speakerphone. Chris then disappears into his studio, losing himself in his painting until the wee hours of the night, when he wraps himself around me and we sleep. Together. In our bed.

I wave at Maria as the door chimes shut behind me, and I note the unfamiliar worker helping her in place of her son Diego, the co-owner of the restaurant. I join Chris at the window table he’s claimed as his new place to sketch during the day.

“Hey, baby,” he says, standing up to greet me. The raw sex appeal of his blond hair and contrasting black jeans and a black T-shirt with an AC/DC emblem on it wreaks havoc on my senses.

“Hey,” I say, letting my fingers tease the wispy strands of sexy blond hair at his nape.

He flattens his hand on my back and pulls me close, kissing me soundly before skimming my jacket from my shoulders and holding my chair for me.

“Any word from Blake and Kelvin on Rebecca?” I ask once I’m settled, placing my portfolio by my chair and my purse on the back.

Chris claims his chair across from me, his lips twisting in a grim line. “Nothing new worth reporting on Rebecca or Ella.”

I’m discouraged by the never-ending stream of tidbits that turn to dead ends. “I can’t find any more notes about the counterfeit painting Rebecca mentioned in her notes, either.”

“On a positive note,” Chris interjects, “I did get a call from your father.”

Straightening, I prepare for the blow sure to come. “What? He called you?”

Chris slides his hand over mine. “Relax, baby. I said on a positive note. Everything is fine. He assured me that Michael has been dealt with—after calling my banker, of course.”

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