My thought process is waylaid as the bathroom door opens, and my skin prickles with warning even before I see Isabel in the mirror. Instantly stifening, I turn to face her, readying myself for whatever comes next. And something is coming. It’s in the crackle of the air.
She shuts the door and crosses her arms over her chest as she had when I’d headed up the stairs; she has another smug look on her face. I’m starting to think it’s her permanent makeup. “You actually think he’s yours, don’t you?” she purrs, as if it amuses her.
“Talk about getting right down to business,” I say. “At least we aren’t going to play the fake-niceties game. He is mine.”
She takes a step closer to me. And another. I curl my ingers into my palms but I don’t move. She doesn’t have a whip sharp enough to intimidate me. “Until he needs more,” she promises.
“The kind of ‘more’ only I can give him.”
Anger lights me up like ire and my nails dig into the soft lesh of my palms. “If you mean until he needs pain, he won’t.”
She inches even closer, way beyond my personal space.
We’re toe-to-toe now and I can smell her loral perfume over the candle. It turns my stomach. “He will need pain,” she promises. “He always has and he always will.”
“You want him to think he does, because you think that means he needs you. Only he never needed you. It was the object you held in your hand. The whip anyone else can hold, if they’re a big enough bitch to do it.”
Her eyes light with fury and she snaps. One second I’m watching her livid expression turn her beautiful face ugly, the next she explodes at me, shoving me hard against the narrow wall behind me. I gasp with the impact, feeling sharp pain in my left shoulder. Her hands are still on me, pressing into me, holding me captive.
“You’re the bitch,” she hisses. “You’re nothing, just one of his many attempts to deny what he really needs. He’ll fail this time, like always. And when he comes back to me I’ll f**k him extra hard, sweetheart, just for you. Maybe I’ll add an extra few lashes with your name on them, too.”
That’s it. My shock at her attack morphs into anger and adrenaline rockets through me. Without a conscious thought to act, I shove her backward and keep moving until she slams against the wall. The air woofs out of her and I hold her by the shoulders like she had me. My arms shake with the force of white-hot anger.
“No,” I grind out through my teeth, “he won’t come back to you. You know why? Because I won’t ever let him hurt that bad again, and I won’t hurt him. And I damn sure won’t let you hurt him.”
The door opens abruptly and I don’t have to look to know it’s Chris. I keep my stare on Isabel, but I feel him. I always feel him.
“Problem?” he asks, sounding rather amused.
“No problem,” I say coolly, still focused on the wicked witch of whips. She isn’t looking at me or Chris. Her lashes have lowered, and I sense her anger has transformed into something else. I don’t know what and I don’t care, either. I just want her out of Chris’s life.
I let go of her and turn to Chris. “Are we ready to go?”
He arches a brow, the amusement I’d heard in his voice lighting his eyes. “Are you ready to go?”
“I’ve done what I had to do here.”
“Then by all means. Let’s get out of here.” He draws my hand in his and we head down the hallway together, leaving Isabel where she belongs: in Chris’s past. I know Chris believes she’s there already, but I’m going to make sure he knows how true that is.
We make our way through the bar and dining area and straight to the coat check. Once we step outside and start walking 232
down the block toward the car, I ask the question burning in my mind. “What happened with Neuville?”
“We did the typical ‘swordight,’ as you like to call it—and, as usual, it was highly unproductive. Rey is meeting us at the house to get an update so he and his brother can start following up on Neuville’s claims. What happened with you and Isabel?”
“We did the typical ‘catight,’ only ours was productive.”
He arches a brow. “Was it, now?”
Maybe I’ll add an extra few lashes with your name on them, too.
I hear Isabel’s words in my head and a whirlwind of emotions expand in my chest. I glance around, desperate for privacy, and I ind the perfect place. I surprise Chris and shove him toward an alcove in front of a door where we’re alone, behind a wall, the shadows enguling us.
I look up at him, letting my eyes adjust to the shadows. “Do you remember when you shoved me into a corner like this one and warned me away from the gallery and from you?”
“I remember very well.”
“You didn’t scare me of then, and you won’t scare me of now, or ever. But I lied to both of us when I said I’d watch your pain if that’s what you needed. I won’t watch. I won’t let you be hurt again. I won’t let you need that again. We need each other.
We have each other. I love—”
He kisses me, a deep, heat-me-all-over, curl-my-toes, passionate kiss, and I melt into him. How had I ever doubted my decision to follow him to Paris? He is my home. He is my soul.
“I love you, too,” he says, his voice deep, thick with emotion.
“And I’ve already told you. I only need you.”