The employee speaks my silent language even better than English, and I’m quickly handed my cookie in a bag.
Once I’ve paid, I scoot to the end of the bar, juggle my bags, and somehow manage to gobble—okay, inhale—my cookie while I wait on my drink. I analyze why I was so desperate to escape an encounter with Amber. No, why I’d run away from one.
My lips twist in disapproval of my actions. What am I doing? Sure, Chris doesn’t want me around Tristan and I’m not a fan of Amber, but really? Running away? Hiding? If there’s anything Chris has helped me see, it’s that I have a tendency to run and call it avoidance, and it doesn’t work. By the time my cofee is set on the counter, I’m completely angry with myself for being a coward.
I glance around at the wooden tables and there are none available. I sigh and conclude I have to head home to call Blake, assuring myself the decision has nothing to do with a worry that I might run into Amber. Nevertheless, I pause with my hand on the door and steel myself for the highly unlikely chance I might run into her.
I step outside and immediately head toward the Script, past the window painted with a collection of tattoo-like graph-ics, and I don’t know why, but I stop. Cement seems to form around my feet.
I know Chris doesn’t want me to meet this Tristan guy.
Actually, he expressed concern at him being my private tutor.
Absolute disapproval would be a more valid description, but meeting him and having him become my tutor are two diferent things.
My ingers curl around the bag handles. I’m justifying standing here, and I know it, and I force myself to admit the real temptation that has me frozen in place. What I’d really been running from when I’d rushed into Starbucks. I want to go inside.
I want to know who Amber is, and what she once was to Chris. I want to know what this place was to him, what it might still be to him. But in my heart, I know Chris wants to show me these things himself. I know he won’t like that I’m here.
That’s all that matters. He matters. My decision becomes cemented in my mind.
I’m not going in.
I glance forward, and realize home is back the other way. I turn around to depart.
I hear Amber’s voice and pause, more of that cement sucking the movement from my feet. If I were an artist, I would paint myself in a box. Instead, I’m a fool who’s just ensured trouble for myself with a certain famous, sometimes cranky, painter of my own. I can’t walk away from this encounter without potentially coming of weak, and thus more of a target to Amber than I already am.
Cringing, I turn to face her. “Amber,” I manage in greeting, and her name sounds as bitter as it tastes on my tongue.
“Hi.” Before I can stop myself, my gaze sweeps her very dif-ferent appearance today, taking in the red streaks woven into her blond hair that match the shiny red pants she’s paired with black knee-high boots. Her heels are so high they could be registered weapons, and I sure as heck will think twice about ticking her of.
Her lips twist into a knowing smile that says “caught ya,”
and I assume she means checking her out, but I’m wrong.
“Changed your mind about coming inside, I guess?”
Of course she’d seen me in the window. How could she not have? “Actually, I was trying to remember which direction my house is.” I lift my Starbucks cup, attempting a fast recovery. “An addiction I’ll indulge in frequently here, I’m sure. I need to be able to ind my way from it to my house on a regular basis.”
“Right. Well, you’re here now. Why not bring your American addiction inside and see my place?”
Let me count the reasons why not. Chris. Chris. And Chris.
Repeat ten times.
But Amber’s watching me, her expression illed with a challenge that can be about only one thing, or rather, person, to which the same answer repeats itself. Chris.
“For a minute,” I agree, walking toward her, still in the establishing backbone territory with her. “I’m meeting Chris for dinner soon. “
Her gaze cuts to the side a moment and I am shaken by the blast of emotions waving of of her and into me. Pain. Resentment. Jealousy. Afected by the magnitude of what I sense in her, I stop next to her and actually have to ight the urge to comfort her, reminding myself these are the same emotions that led Ava to very bad, very dark actions.
Her head turns sharply, icy blue eyes locking with mine.
“Maybe I’ll join you for dinner.”
A shiver races down my spine at the hatred I’d seen for an instant in the kitchen last night. “We’ll have to set that up sometime.” Memories of what jealousy did to Ava soften my tone far more than Amber’s ive-inch heels ever could.
I head inside the Script and ind myself in a warehouse-like, modern-looking open space. Wall-to-wall frames are illed with tattoo designs, and saucer-shaped silver lamps dangle over two shiny white tables with curved edges sitting side by side. Behind them is an open doorway leading to what appears to be a room illed with numerous tables and leather chairs.
I make a beeline for a chair in front of one of the tables, when a man appears in the open doorway, and it’s all I can do to keep walking. Dressed in black leather pants and a T-shirt, he is tall, with wavy raven hair to his chin, and perfect, masculine facial features. But it’s not his looks that have me ready to stumble over my own feet. It’s the way he oozes the kind of power Mark does and leaves me with two certainties. He is Tristan and he is a Master.