I push to my feet. I’m going to ind Ella, and talking with this Neuville person is a good start. But I’m not doing it without Chris. He’s had enough time alone, and so have I.

Now it’s our time.


The door to his studio is open when I arrive at the top of the stairs, and I hope it’s an invitation. The hard, dark song rever-berating of the walls isn’t as encouraging: “The Bottom,” by Staind. The words grind through me, inescapable, intense. Emotional.

You sufocate, you cannot wait for this to just be over. The song is the voice to Chris’s feelings. The window to how deeply he hurts. And I hurt for him all over again. If I can’t stop his pain, I’m at least going to be with him, through it.

I step inside and see Chris on a stool directly in front of the archway window, leaning toward the canvas resting on an easel.

His hand, bandaged but apparently functional, moves easily with the brush he holds, and he’s changed out of his wet jeans. He’s now dressed in a dark blue pair, but he bypassed a shirt and shoes, and his hair is soft and spiky, like it’s been freshly washed.

He showered in another bathroom, avoiding me while I’ve been wishing he’d appear.

The song lyrics remind me that every masterpiece he’s ever created has been done to music to match his mood, and this song has a clear message. He’s sufocating. He wants this to end. He doesn’t mean us, I remind myself. He needs me, like I need him.

Suddenly, I have to know how this song relates to what he’s spent two hours creating on the canvas. I push away from the door and start walking. Chris doesn’t turn and I don’t think he knows I’m here. He’s intensely into his work, deeply involved in what he’s creating. I stop as soon as I’m close enough to see the canvas, but not close enough to disturb his concentration.

And my heart skips a beat. He’s painting me. Draped in his leather jacket, my rain-drenched hair plastered around my face. I’m pale and my eyes relect such anguish that I can barely breathe. He’s captured the moment I confessed I was living my biggest fear, of him shutting me out—and he’s done it with such brilliance that I’m reliving it, my heart bleeding from the pain.

He’d said nothing after my confession, shown no reaction, but he’d felt one. He feels one now.

Chris might not have been physically with me these past two hours, but he hadn’t shut me out. My heart swells, and I burn to go to touch him. But it’s not the right way to reach him right now—it’s not the right thing to do.

I walk past him, toward the window, winging it, hoping I’ll read Chris and understand what he needs right now.

I know the instant he comes back to this world and me. My skin tingles and heats with the weight of his eyes following me.

I step directly in front of the window, several feet from where he’s been working. Turning around, I’m surprised to see him standing on this side of the canvas now. His hands are by his sides, his jaw tense, his eyes as haunted as mine are on his canvas.

I stand there and I wait. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for, but I wait. I don’t speak and neither does he. We’ve been good at this silent thing today. Too good. I can’t take it. I think I suck at waiting.

“Paint me,” I say. I’ve refused his request to do so in the past; I was afraid of what he would see. When I had secrets I didn’t want him to discover. “The real me, not the one from your memory.” I tug my tank top of, which leaves me na**d from the waist up, and I toss it aside. It’s important that he knows I’m willing to be na**d inside and out for him, and I quickly slide my pants and panties down and kick them aside. There’s a ledge that leads onto the wide windowsill, and I climb on top of it so that I’m inside the frame of the archway.

Chris moves toward me with a slow, sensuous stride, dominant but not predatory. The desire etching the hard lines of his face encourages me. He is coming for me, and I am his. I’ve held back until now, but no more. My personal demons just need to go to hell and stay there. They aren’t dragging us down with them.

I came to Paris for him, for this. Today was about his secrets, his past. His heartache and fears. Neither of us thought those things would be easy to face. And I don’t need easy. I need Chris.

Finally, he stops in front of me and my nostrils lare with his musky, wonderful scent. I want to wake up smelling like him every day of the rest of my life.

He looks down at me as the song loops and replays, echo-ing what I see in the dark depths of his stare. I catch a portion of the song, something about waves washing away scars. I want to be the waves that wash away Chris’s scars. I want that very much.

Slowly, his gaze lowers, lingering on my mouth, and then doing a lazy sweep downward over my br**sts, my stomach, my sex, and I feel it like a caress. By the time he begins traveling upward again I am liquid ire and anticipation, slick between my thighs and tingling all over. I need him to touch me, but when he’s on edge, I know better than to touch him before he’s ready.

He reaches above me and my gaze follows as he hits a button on the archway. An electronic blind begins to slide down over the window. I almost laugh at the craziness of the moment.

I’m naked, standing in front of the glass, watching a blind lower, and I don’t care. I just want Chris to touch me. He hits the button again and seals the shade into place a full foot over my head.

Still exposed to the open glass, I wonder what the point of lowering the shade was. I ind out when he reaches for a cord connected to the center of it.

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