A shocked look slides over his face. “What?”
I barely contain my smile. “Now you sound like me.” I cross my arms over my chest and try to seem as authoritative as he always does. “You heard me. Take of your clothes.”
His expression starts to soften, a hint of amusement lighting his troubled eyes. “Let me get this straight.” He points a inger between us. “You are ordering me to take my clothes of.”
He stares at me for several beats and then laughs. Hugging me close, he murmurs near my ear, “After you, baby. That’s how this works. You should know this by now.”
“Hmmm,” I reply, and he eases back to look at me.
I play with a spiky strand of his blond hair by his collar.
“Hmmm,” I repeat. “I don’t seem to comprehend this rule. I’m afraid you might have to spank me to get your point across.”
His eyes heat and, with a low growl, he picks me up and starts carrying me to what I assume is our new bedroom. And that’s where we are going to ride out this storm.
I wake the next morning, immediately aware of the delicious ache in my body from the prior afternoon and evening with Chris. I smile and reach for him, only to ind him missing.
Remembering what today is jerks me to a sitting position, and I glance around the fancy bedroom with elegant, mahogany-trimmed walls and expensive mahogany furniture and conirm he’s not here. I reach for my cell phone by the bed and glance at the time—eight o’clock. I wonder if he slept at all.
Then I see a piece of paper on the pillow next to me: a hand-drawn map, for inding Chris in this gigantic maze of a castle. I rush to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face, admiring the magniicent vintage claw-foot tub that sits smack in the center of the bathroom. Not because it’s gorgeous, which it is, but because Chris and I spent some interesting time in that tub last night.
I hurry and make myself presentable, dig slippers and a robe from my suitcase, and snatch my map. Not surprisingly, the two stone corridors, and several doorways and passages I travel, end at a long stairwell. I might not be in the city anymore, but Parisians seem to love building things in levels. I don’t mind. It seems everything Parisian is growing on me.
Hugging myself against the chill in the house, I head down the ifteen or so stairs to a dimly lit, dungeon-like room, and gasp. Chris is standing at a wall, working on a dragon mural like the one in his oice, and all around him, more paintings of dragons sit on easels. As my gaze eagerly travels over the paintings, I can see the progression of the young artist who became the master he is today. These are the works in which he’s placed a piece of himself; pieces he doesn’t want to share, or he’d have auctioned them of years ago for charity. But he’s shared them with me.
Chris sets his brush on a stand by the wall he’s painting and turns to face me. I walk to him and wrap my arms around his waist. “You have no idea what it means to me, to get to see this part of you.”
“You have no idea how much it means to me, to have you here.” He tilts his head toward the mural. “I came here alone last year and started this. It’s how I got through the day. But it didn’t work. This place, and the history it comes with, still brought me to my knees.”
“But you didn’t need Isabel,” I point out.
“No. I didn’t need Isabel. I will never need her again. Do you know how I know that? I know because I lay in bed and watched you sleep last night, and I felt at peace like I never have before. I decided then thatyou are what’s going to bring me to my knees, Sara. You’re what’s going to change what this day means to me.”
“What does that mean?” I ask softly. “I don’t understand.”
He goes down on one knee. “Marry me, baby. Be my wife, and spend the rest of your life painting dragons with me. I know a jeweler in San Francisco. We’ll have an amazing ring custom-made, and—”
I pull him up and kiss him. “I don’t care about a ring. I just want you. Yes, I’ll marry you.”
He’s on his feet in an instant, wrapping me in his arms and kissing me. And I inally dare to believe that nothing can ever tear us apart.
Somewhere in Italy . . .
Racing through the dark street, I search desperately for a phone.
I have to let someone know that I’m Ella Ferguson, not the person my passport says I am. I can’t call Sara without putting her in danger, which means I have to call “him.” I don’t want to call him but I have no other choice.
My gaze catches on a store window with the lights on, and I rush toward it. Bursting through the door of the small wine shop, my chest heaving, I search the rows of bottles for some form of life. An elderly man appears from the back and I rush toward him. “Phone. Please. Can I use a phone? It’s an emer-gency.”
He says something in Italian I don’t understand, and desperation rises in me. “Telephone?” I say, and hold my hand to my ear, and his eyes go wide.
Relief washes over me as he motions me to the back room, where I’ll be out of sight from the window. He hands me a phone and I punch in the operator code. “Yes. Hello. I need to make a collect call. It’s international.”
“No! No!” the man exclaims, evidently knowing at least one word in English. I try to move out of his reach but he grabs my arm and snatches the one chance I have of calling for help away from me.