“Dealt with? What does that mean?”

“Contained was the word your father used. I didn’t ask for details. I have Blake running security records on Michael and keeping a tab on him, to be safe.”

“Contained,” I repeat tightly. “Yes. Well, he’s quite good at containing people.”

Chris brings my knuckles to his lips and kisses them. “You okay?”

I nod. “Yes, I’m fine.” I glance at the counter and notice that Diego still isn’t there.

Chris reads my expression and says, “He left for Paris to hunt down that exchange student he had the fling with.”

“He’s going to be heartbroken if she turns him away,” I say sadly, having heard from Maria that the woman didn’t feel as passionate about Diego as he did her. “I tried to talk him out of it.”

My cell phone rings and I remove it from my purse and glance at Chris. “Ricco Alvarez,” I tell him before answering.

“Ah, Bella, speak to me,” Ricco says, which is exactly how he started the call he’d made to me two days before. “Tell me you have good news for me.”

“I’m sorry, Ricco. Rebecca hasn’t called into the gallery and no one has heard from her.”

He sighs, and the sadness of the sound reaches through the phone. “Please do what you can.”

“I will.” I’ve barely issued the reply when the line goes dead.

I settle my phone on the table and Chris arches a brow. “That was quick.”

“He only wants one thing. Rebecca. He’s just so damn obsessed with her, Chris.”

“Blake and Kelvin have a man on him, watching him for suspicious activity.”

“I don’t think he hurt her. I think he really loves her. He’s like Diego, chasing the ghost of what will never be.”

“Or chasing a mistake he’s trying to cover up,” Chris warns. “Don’t let your big heart get in the way of being cautious.”

“I know. I’m being careful.”

Maria appears with our regular order. I chat with her a moment about Diego, and I can tell she is worried about her son.

When she leaves, Chris studies me for a moment. “It’s our scars that define us, Sara. Diego has to live life to appreciate life.”

“Yes.” A knot forms in my stomach at the idea that I still don’t know how deeply Chris’s scars define him.

Chris tips back his beer and then reaches for a fork. “Eat, baby. The food is getting cold.”

I nod and shove aside my worries and he tells me about Paris, continuing his diligent effort to convince me to take another leap of faith and go with him.

Our plates are removed and I reach for my portfolio. “I want to show you something.” I flip it open. “These are the art pieces I have picked out for that property Ryan has me working on.”

I spend the next fifteen minutes showing him each one of my prize finds. I glance up to find myself captured by his tender stare. He brushes his knuckles over my cheek. “You really love what you do.”

“Yes. This is a dream for me. But I . . . I know it doesn’t have to be at Allure.” It is the first time I’ve alluded that I might go to Paris with him.

He goes very still. “What are you saying?”

More and more, I think Paris is my way of peeling back the remainder of Chris’s layers. “It means I belong with you.”

We stare at each other and I can almost feel the depths of our bond weave deeper into my soul. “Yes,” he says softly. “You do.”

The waiter interrupts us by bringing the check, but the moment isn’t lost. I cast Chris a coy look. “I was wondering if a certain brilliant artist took special requests.”

“When being called brilliant by a certain sexy-as-hell woman who happens to share my bed, most anything is possible.”

My cheeks heat as I think of what has been possible in our bed, namely the leather straps he’d installed on the headboard to tie me up and torment me with pleasure. “Yes, well. I finally get to go to Ryan’s property tomorrow and see firsthand how my treasures will look. I was hoping you might come with me because”—I flip to a picture of a wall inside the property, and turn it to him—“I dream of this spot displaying a Chris Merit San Francisco skyline. You could donate the money, and I’ll—”

“On one condition.” He isn’t looking at the picture. He’s looking at me. “You sit for me and let me paint you.”

In the past, the idea was intimidating, and I told myself it was because Chris is famously talented, but it was more. It was what his brush captured, and the secrets I worried he’d reveal. I search his face now, and I see that awareness there. This is about trust, about me believing he can see the worst in me and still love me. And maybe, just maybe, if I put that kind of trust in him, he will do the same with me.

“Yes. I’ll sit for you.”

• • •

At midafternoon I finish helping a customer and return to my office, where I discover a box sitting on my desk with a card. I recognize Chris’s writing immediately. Peeling open the card I read, For tonight. Open alone with the door shut. Chris.

I trace his signature, the crisp, precise letters created by the same hand that crafts masterpieces that sell for millions.

Amanda pops her head in. “It came a few minutes ago.” She bites her lip. “Can I see what it is?”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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