He leans against the wall directly across from the table I’ve stopped at, crossing his heavily tattooed arms in front of his broad chest. I stare at them, expecting some izzle of female awareness like I get from Chris’s, and ind none. Huh. I’m still not a tattoo girl. I’m a Chris girl. The idea makes me smile inside. Yes. I am deinitely a Chris girl.
“Hello, Sara,” he says, his voice a deep, rich, highly accented tone, his intelligent eyes assessing me with far more interest than I’m comfortable with.
I set my bags down and claim the chair in front of the table, instinctively playing the power game Mark has taught me to engage in so well. “Hello, Tristan.”
His lips quirk. “You know who I am.”
“You know who I am.”
“Amber described you quite well,” he assures me, a bit too much suggestiveness to his tone.
Considering Amber has seen me naked, I really don’t want to know what that means.
Amber sits behind the table in front of me. “I left out the more intimate details,” she says, clearly reading my mind, before rolling her chair over so that she can see both of us.
My cell phone rings and I dig it out of my purse and, rather than my normal pleasure at the sight of his number, my heart plummets when it’s Chris calling. I close my eyes and push the answer button. “Hey,” I say, and my voice sounds as tentative as I feel.
“Hey, baby. I just turned onto Champs-Élysées. Where are you? I’ll pick you up so we can go eat.”
I inhale deeply, the breath splintering through my lungs like shards of glass. He isn’t going to be happy, but I have to tell him the truth. I’ve had a lifetime of people lying to me. I won’t lie to Chris. I won’t do that to our relationship. “I stopped at Starbucks, and—”
“You’re at the Script, aren’t you?”
His voice is tight, hard, and I can barely ind mine. “Yes,” I whisper.
“Is Chantal with you?”
“No. Her mother was sick and she had to leave.”
There’s a dreaded tense silence before he says, “I’ll be right there.”
“Chris isn’t happy you’re here,” Amber comments before I’ve even had time to stick my phone back inside my purse.
“Why do you say that?” I sound as defensive as I feel.
“Sweetheart,” Amber purrs, “I read your expression like it was a book.”
My attention lifts to Tristan, still leaning against the wall, and who logic tells me has just said “teacher.” I have the distinct impression his oddly timed insertion into the conversation is an efort to delate the situation before war breaks out.
“Teacher,” he conirms in English. “I hear you need one.”
There is a message buried in the heaviness of his stare that tells me he isn’t talking about French. “No. I have a teacher I’m quite satisied with.”
Amber snorts. “He’s teaching now, is he?” Bitterness tinges the clear insult.
My gaze lands hard on her, and I open my mouth to defend Chris, planning to hold nothing back—but in the process my attention lands on her arm, which is resting on the table. The material has climbed up enough for me to see more of her skin, and my lips part at what I ind.
Without conscious thought, I grab her wrist to hold her in place and see the familiar marks I once saw on Chris’s skin. The marks made by a sharply landed whip.
Ice slides down my spine. Suddenly, Amber is so much more than a bitter ex-girlfriend of Chris’s. She is damaged like him, like me, someone I relate to. Someone I understand.
My gaze lifts to hers and my throat is thick, my words hoarsely spoken. “What happened to you?”
Shock registers on her face, and I know she knows what I mean. Her lashes lower, blocking out my inspection. When they lift she meets my stare, and contempt pours from her, but it does nothing to hide the pain I now know runs far deeper than a mere breakup with Chris.
“He isn’t much of a teacher, if you don’t know what happened to me,” she inally grinds out between clenched teeth.
I lick a look at Tristan. “I know he did this to you.” I don’t wait for his reaction or hers, watching Amber as I clarify as if she doesn’t understand when she does. “I didn’t ask how this happened to you. I askedwhat happened to you.” What horrible something she was hiding from inside her pain.
Her glare is a mix of ire and ice that would intimidate someone else, but not me. Not someone who understands burying pain as damn well as I do. “Chris happened to me,” she hisses between her teeth, and yanks her arm back.
Chris happened to her? Tilting my head to study her, I try to read what’s deeper than the surface.
Chris’s voice surprises me, and I guiltily jump to my feet as if I’ve just delved into some sort of secret territory. And maybe I have. I don’t know.
He’s standing to the left of Tristan, by what must be a back entryway. Did he hear the exchange? I think he must have.
All I know for certain is how completely he has stolen every ounce of energy in the room, how the air crackles around him, and I’m struck by how easily this occurred. Casually dressed in his standard faded jeans and a T-shirt, he owns the room, where Tristan needs his leather and tats, and Mark his custom suits.
“Chris,” I say because, well, it’s all I seem to be able to think to say.