“Chris.” His name is a pained whisper wrenched deep from my soul. I start to cry, trembling as I touch his face, forcing him to look me. He lowers his lashes, refusing to look at me. “Cut him loose!” I shout, because the woman hasn’t moved.

I hear Mark speak through some kind of intercom. “Do it.”

I wrap my arms around Chris. My broken, beautiful man. “Why didn’t you come to me? Why?”

His chest heaves against mine, his words heavy, pained. “You were never supposed to see me like this.”

One of his arms goes slack and then the next and we sink together to the ground, where Chris buries his face in my neck and whispers, “You shouldn’t be here.”

“I belong with you.”

“No, Sara. You don’t. I was wrong. We were wrong.”

His words are like a hand plunging into my chest and ripping out my heart. This is the moment I’ve feared. The moment when his secrets destroy us if I let them. I press my lips to his. “I love you, damn it. We can get through this!”

He cups my head and his breath is hot on my skin. “No. We can’t.” He pushes to his feet and takes me with him. “Come with me.” He leads me to a doorway to our left, directly into a private room. Chris immediately releases me. Reeling, I barely process the hotel-like bedroom, much like the one we’d visited on my prior trip to the club.

He grabs his shirt from I don’t know where and yanks it over his head, and I hear the hiss of pain he tries to suppress. He turns away from me, spiking his fingers into his hair and just holding them there.

I walk to him and reach out to touch him but pull back, afraid of hurting him. “Chris—”

He turns to stare down at me, his eyes bloodshot, haunted. “I tried to warn you away,” he whispers. “Over and over, I tried.”

“I’m still here, Chris.”

“You shouldn’t be.”

I flinch at the venomous tone he’s used, but I remind myself this is the pain speaking. “Yes, I should. I love you.”

His jaw clenches and unclenches and his reply is agonizingly slow. “I’m going to fly out and help Dylan’s family.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“No.” The word is as sharp as the whip that is tearing us apart. “I need to do this alone.”

“Don’t shut me out.” My voice quakes.

“I’m protecting you.”

“By shoving me away? By using everything but me to get through this?”

“I’m going to destroy you, Sara, and I can’t live with that.”

I can almost hear a locked door closing between us. “Shutting me out will destroy me.”

“You’ll thank me later for this, I promise you. I’m going to have Jacob and Blake look out for you and get you through this Rebecca thing.”

Like he has some obligation to protect me. “I don’t need anyone to get me through anything. Just like you, right, Chris? If we’re over, we’re over. I’ll get a mover to take my things back to my apartment.”

“No.” He grabs my arm and pulls me to him. “Don’t make me f**king worry about you on top of dealing with Dylan. You’re staying in the apartment and you’re accepting protection until Blake says you are safe, or I swear to God, Sara, I’ll lock you in a room and keep you there.”

I squeeze my eyes shut, and try to find some cold comfort in the fact that he doesn’t want me to leave. That maybe, just maybe, he’s clinging to me and us, and this tonight is all his pain talking. “Just go do what you have to do.”

“You’re staying at the apartment.”

“Fine. Yes. I’ll stay.”

Slowly, his grip on my arm eases and he lets me go. “I’ll have a driver take you to the apartment. I’m going straight to the airport.”

I fight the pain that makes me want to turn and dart away. He’s hurting. He’s not himself. “I’ll fly up for the funeral.”

“No. That’s not necessary, and it won’t be in L.A. anyway.”

“I’m coming to the funeral,” I insist, and walk up to him and press a kiss to his mouth. “I love you, Chris. Nothing about tonight changes that.” Slowly, I pull back, but he won’t look at me. With extreme effort, I turn and blindly walk to the door. I reach for the knob and hesitate, waiting for him to stop me, but he doesn’t.

He lets me leave.

• • •

I have no memory of how I make it to the front of the mansion. Suddenly I am walking down the steps, and a guy in a suit is watching me expectantly. I don’t stop at the bottom. I don’t stop for him. I keep walking, and I reach for my cell phone as I tell him, “Open the gate.” I dial information. “Connect me to a cab company.”

“What address do you need?” the woman on the other line asks.

I grimace as I realize I have no clue and I’m halfway down the winding path approaching the exit. Not knowing where I am is yet again another brilliant move on my part. “I’ll call back when I get to a street sign,” I say and hang up, noting the closed gate before me.

It doesn’t open when I finally reach it and I wrap my hands around the steel bars and drop my forehead to the metal. It’s icy cold beneath my palms. How appropriate, since I’m freezing to death in every possible way.

The sound of a car behind me gives me hope the gates will open and I step aside to find the Jaguar beside me. The window slides down. “Get in,” Mark orders.

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