Prologue

November 2012, Journal Entry #1


On a plane from Paris to San Francisco

I will soon be Sara Merit instead of Sara McMillan. I can barely believe it’s true, or that Chris Merit, the amazing, talented, gifted man in the leather seat next to me, is about to be my husband. I should be snuggled against him, resting and reveling in our amazing bond that only seems to get stronger, but I cannot seem to relax. My mind is too much of a jumbled mess over last night, and everything that happened in those few hours before we left Paris. All the craziness of the past month is playing around in my head, twisting me in knots one moment, and causing me to break out in a spontaneous smile at others.

And so here I am, writing in a touristy journal etched with the image of the Eiffel Tower (isn’t everything you buy in Paris!) that I picked up in the airport, penning my thoughts just the way Rebecca used to. Used to. I feel sick to my stomach, writing about her in the past tense. She is a stranger and she is gone, and yet she’s completely a part of me. It’s impossible to explain how deeply and profoundly her life, and her words, have spoken to me.

Since reading Rebecca’s journals I’ve often thought of starting my own, and finally doing so makes me feel like I haven’t lost her—that there’s still hope I might meet her. Maybe it’s my form of denial, my hope that Ava didn’t kill her. I feel an almost desperate need to discover that she’s still out there somewhere, still traveling the world with the hot, rich man I’m told she ran off with to forget Mark. And if I feel these things, I can only imagine what Mark must feel and how deeply this must cut him. I saw the heartache in his eyes after Ava confessed to killing Rebecca; the kind of heartache that leaves a person weak and bleeding—the way the loss of my mother had left me.

Only a week ago, when I’d first arrived in Paris and learned that Ava had turned her confession into accusations against me and Mark, I’d been terrified and overwhelmed, worried about where it would lead, and what it would mean. Now, though, my fear has transformed into anger, and defeat into a readiness to fight. I think I needed the time to deal with the rawness from the news of Rebecca’s death, and the attempt on my own life, right on the heels of losing Dylan and then nearly losing Chris with him.

As much as I’d fought going to Paris, I’m so very glad I went. It was on our last night in Paris, only hours before we left, that Chris and I made a real breakthrough in our relationship. I still can’t get the memory of the midnight phone call to rescue Amber out of my head, and even more so, the way we’d found her tied up in Isabel’s “playroom” with welts all over her skin. But as horrific as that was, it finally got her into rehab. It also convinced Chris that he hadn’t fully revealed everything he should have to me, before his marriage proposal.

I can’t believe how wrong I’d been about his secret, and I blame myself for not looking deeper inside the man I love. I know how heartache and damage run in deep layers, not easily peeled away. I’d accepted too easily that his big reveal in Paris was about his reasons for seeking out the whip years ago. About the teenage boy he’d shot and killed when he and Amber’s family had been mugged, and how he’d been unable to save her mother and father. And it wasn’t even about the once a year meltdown he confessed to having during the week of that anniversary.

His real secret, that deeper layer, was that Dylan’s death had shown him how much control the whip still has over him. Last night he’d confessed that while he was away for Dylan’s funeral, he’d sought that kind of relief over and over again. Chris can no longer say he’ll never need the whip again, so we will face that monster together and win. I’ll show him that I am strong and won’t crumble. He will not destroy me, as he swears he did Amber and now fears he will me. How can he? He’s saved me many times over.

It’s my turn to save him.

One

“We’re home, baby.”

I place my hand in the warmth of Chris’s and he helps me out of the black sedan he’d hired to drive us from the airport to our San Francisco apartment. “Finally,” I murmur, feeling like we’ve been traveling for weeks, not sixteen hours.

“Finally,” Chris agrees, guiding me out of the chilly November wind and under the canopy at the front door of the building while we wait for our bags to be unloaded. “And you know what ‘home’ means,” he adds, dragging me close, his hand flattening over my trench coat in the exact location of my jeans-clad backside.

“Yes,” I assure him, all too aware that he’s referencing his planned “punishment” for my refusal to join the “Mile High Club” despite the private jet he’d chartered for our travel. “You’ve made your intentions quite well known.”

He lowers his head, his mouth finding my ear, spiky strands of his blond hair teasing my cheek. “You were afraid we’d get arrested for having sex on the plane. We wouldn’t have, but if we had, I would have made sure it was worth it.”

“We don’t do audiences,” I remind him, pushing away from him before I drown in that earthy, rich scent of his that defines temptation.

Not about to allow my escape, he encloses my waist with his arm, trapping my body against his, and my hands settle beneath his leather jacket on the hard wall of his chest as he says, “I offered to order the flight attendant to get lost.”

“Do you want me to take your bags up now, Mr. Merit?” the doorman asks.

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