Chantal joins me at the cofeepot, looking adorable in a pair of distressed jeans and a pale blue tank. She seems to be relaxing into our friendship, rather than acting like she’s headed to a cor-porate job every day. “This is enough for today. You don’t seem to be processing another language this morning.”

I feign shock. “No? I thought I was doing so well.”

She grins. “Right. So very well. So, do you want me to help you call around about Ella again?”

I’d managed to keep the Rebecca story under wraps, telling her the investigation was related to my old boss, but she’s been determined to help me ind Ella. “I appreciate what you did yesterday, but Rey said we just called places he’d already called.”

“Contacting the hospitals every day seems smart, though.”

“Rey says he has that handled, too.” I back down.

“Hello,” a familiar female voice says from the stairs.

My surprised gaze narrows on Amber, whose long blond hair is a striking contrast to her black jeans and T-shirt. She holds up her hands in mock surrender as she joins us. “Before you get upset, I didn’t let myself in. Chris took my key. He and Rey were outside talking when I got here and it’s too cold to stand outside.” She shivers. “I left my coat in my car and I really need cofee.” She starts to move toward the pot, then catches herself. “If you don’t mind?”

I’m shocked at her respecting how I might feel about her making herself at home. “Help yourself,” I say, hoping her request is actual progress and not just a smoke screen.

She glances at Chantal irst. “I’m Amber. An old friend of Chris’s.”

“Chantal,” she replies, sounding less than friendly. “I’m a new friend of Sara’s and Chris’s.”

“I’m not sure Sara thinks I’m a friend. We got of to a bumpy start.” Amber looks at me cautiously. “I’m hoping we can change that.” She heads over to the cofeepot without waiting for an answer, as if she knows I’ll need to recover from her statement. She would be right.

She’s being so nice, it makes me suspicious. I glance at Chantal, whose brow is furrowed, a question on her face.

I tell her, “Amber and Chris have known each other since college.”

“Yeah,” Amber agrees, joining us at the island. “It’s one of those ‘if we both get to forty and we’re unmarried, we’ll probably end up together’ kind of relationships.”

I feel sucker-punched, and Chantal purses her lips disapprovingly.

“Well,” she says curtly, “since Chris is going to marry Sara and make babies, I guess that won’t happen.”

I’m not sure if I’m more taken aback by Chantal’s claws coming out, or the baby-making reference. Babies? Chris and I?

He’s good with them, but having our own? The idea of having a child terriies me. A child I would love, who could be stolen away in a blink of an eye, like my mother was, like Dylan was from his family. I don’t think I can do that.

Amber snorts. “Chris with kids? I can’t imagine that one.

Unless some drastic change has occurred, he’s always said he doesn’t want kids.”

Chris picks that moment to walk into the kitchen, and the stormy look in his eyes tells me he heard the exchange. He stops beside me, his arm on the back of my stool, his body angled to mine, his attention on me and only me. And I see conirmation in his eyes. He, too, has lost too many people to risk loving and losing a child.

Chantal says something to Amber in French, and I’m pretty sure she’s trying to give us a moment. I seize it.

I curl my ingers around Chris’s smooth, freshly shaven jaw.

“I don’t think I could bear the fear of losing a child, either.” I say it as if he’s already told me he feels this way.

His eyes soften, and relief loods his expression. “We never seem to have these conversations the right way or at the right time.”

“There is no right way, remember? There’s only our way.”

I’m rewarded by a smile and a kiss on my temple, before he turns and sets an envelope onto the counter in front of Amber.

“That should handle your situation.” She reaches for it but he holds on to it, and her gaze lifts to his as he adds, “Make sure Tristan is okay with this.”

“I’ll deal with Tristan.” She actually looks awkward, when I’m used to more of a gloat or a smirk from her, and I’m curious about what is in the envelope, almost certain it’s money.

Chris releases it and she snatches it up. “I should go.” Amber picks up her full cofee cup and puts it in the sink, then stops beside me on her way to the stairs. “Maybe we could do lunch one day soon.” It’s not a question but a statement.

I’m really not sure what to make of this change of attitude.

I avoid meeting her eyes, knowing that’s what Chris wants.

“Once I get more settled, we can plan something.”

“Sure,” she says. “Right. When you get settled.” Then she glances at Chris. “Thanks.”

He gives her a nod and she takes of down the stairs. Chantal chases her progress with daggers lying from her eyes. and I warm inside at her protectiveness.

“She’s your friend?” Chantal demands of Chris.

I ight a smile. While Chris’s easy charm wins people over, most are too intimidated by that subtle crackle of power he 260

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance