I’ve taken only one step up when a whif of the familiar scent of Chris’s favorite French cofee hits me. Tension settles hard in my belly. Obviously Amber feels right at home here.

I force down the negative feelings, reminding myself that this is not the day to make assessments. It’s a day to go to bed and rest.


Chris and I reach the top of the stairs and my attention is riveted on Amber, sitting at a gorgeous stone island, her silky blond hair draped over her slender shoulders. She’s the center-piece of a gray and black modern kitchen, with stainless-steel appliances and a long line of gray-wash cabinets above the counters that have a splattered-paint look. She looks gorgeous, her pale skin pure perfection, and I’m excruciatingly aware of my day-old smudged makeup, and the heaviness of my dark brown hair that says I need a shower.

“I picked up freshly ground Malongo,” she says of the cof-fee brand Chris loves enough to bring to the States with him, and lifts a white mug with steam rising from the top. “I’ll pour you a cup.”

She’s looking at Chris and talking to Chris. This is not starting out well.

“We’ll get our own,” Chris says, pulling me around the island toward the cofeemaker and stopping by the counter. “I want to show Sara her new kitchen.”

“Her kitchen?” she queries.

Chris turns toward her and pulls me under his arm, beside him. Her legs are crossed, her toes painted bright red to match her shoes. “That’s right,” he conirms. “Sara lives with me now.

What’s mine is hers.”

Amber’s gaze immediately goes to my inger in search of a ring, and a sharp pang of discomfort pinches my chest. I shove my hand behind my back, out of sight, but I feel sideswiped 69

again at the idea of marriage. We’ve never even talked about it, and that hits me hard.

Chris snags my hand and pulls it between us. “I should be so lucky,” he replies, as if Amber has spoken her silent question, his voice low and emotional.

Has Chris just said he wants to marry me? In front of Amber?

Seven

Stunned, I turn to face Chris, my hand settling on the warm wall of his bare chest. “What?” I ask, certain I’ve misunderstood.

We’ve never talked about marriage, but I ind I can barely breathe waiting for his reply. Chris as my husband? I’ve never dared to consider it really happening.

The look he gives me is both tender and hot at the same time, illed with the promise of far more than the next sexual adventure we both forever crave. “Don’t look so surprised, baby.”

“We just . . . You never . . .”

“We will. When the time is right, we will.”

For one slice of an instant I see the trepidation in his eyes, and I understand. He’s just made sure both Amber and I know how serious he is about me, but he doesn’t really believe I’ll ever marry him.

I press up to my toes, my hands lattening on his shoulders, 71

and I whisper in his ear, “Nothing can change how much I love you.” I lean back to let him see the truth in my eyes, and pure anguish lashes in his. He is touched by my claim but he doesn’t believe it to be true. It’s amazing how far we have traveled together, how the tables have turned. Not so long ago, I questioned if he could ever truly need me—and now, it’s he who questions me in the same way.

I start to whisper his name, but his ingers slide under my hair and he brings my mouth to his, one sultry slide of his tongue licking into my mouth. The sound of Amber clinking things around loudly breaks through the passion spiraling between us and Chris pulls back, his ingers tracing a strand of my hair, the air between us thick with unspoken words. “We’ll talk later,” he promises. “Ready for that cofee?”

“Yes,” I choke out, uncomfortably aware of Amber all over again. “Cofee is good.”

He drapes an arm over my shoulder. “Then let me start by showing you our impressive collection of plain white mugs.”

We turn toward the cabinet, but not before I catch a glimpse of Amber staring at us. No . . . at me. And the look is pure hatred, the kind of look Ava gave me weeks back when she’d seen me in the deli with Mark. I’d been stunned by the hostility in her face, since she’d always been friendly to me before. The comparison between that moment and this one shakes me to the core, and my nails dig into Chris’s back where my hand has settled.

He glances down at me and his too-sexy mouth twitches, all signs of his darker side gone. “Save that for when we’re alone, baby.”

I glower at him, thinking there is a lot we should save for when we’re alone. Amber hates me for sure now, and despite what Chris said, I’m pretty sure she’s in love with him. “You were showing me the collection of white mugs?” I prod, my ingers pressing against the spot where I’d dug my ingernails, warning him to behave.

“I was,” he agrees. “And who would want to miss that?”

Amber says something in French and Chris turns to her.

“English, Amber. Sara doesn’t speak French.”

“Oh,” she comments. “That’s going to be fun for her.”

Her. Like I’m not even here. I sigh inwardly, knowing I have to put a stop to this. Though I’m not confrontational, I left my doormat status back at my father’s house.

I accept the cofee Chris pours me and set my cup on the island across from her, forcing her to deal with me. “I’ll learn.”

And this time I mean it. I will not be crushed by a language barrier. “You’re American, right? Surely at some point you had to.”

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