“What is it with you men? Do you have a problem using a person’s actual name?”
“You must be Sara,” Tiger comments. “It’s a name I earned, so it’s the one I favor.”
Taking the bait, I ask, “And how exactly did you earn it?”
“I’ll rip your throat out if you cross my clients,” he replies, and I don’t like the subtle threat, real or imagined.
I narrow my eyes at him. “You said ‘you must be Sara.’ How did you know that?”
Mark answers, “I told him of your propensity for too much conversation.”
“Does he know of your propensity for arrogance?” I challenge.
“He does,” Mark confirms, his jaw flexing tightly.
I realize that I’ve hit a nerve of self-blame, a nerve that has to be raw. “I’m sorry,” I say quickly. “It slipped out. I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”
He gives me one of those heavy-lidded looks. “Not a problem, Ms. McMillan. I also warned Tiger that you tend to be painfully honest.”
“There’s nothing wrong with honesty,” Tiger comments.
I cut him an irritated look. “There is if it hurts someone.” I turn toward Mark. “Can we talk alone for a minute?”
“No private conversation,” Tiger replies.
I gape at Tiger. “You’re protecting Mark from me?”
“I’m protecting you both from prying eyes,” he says, his tone all business. “Save the hugs and personal conversation for elsewhere.” He glances at his watch. “It’s three. We need to get to our meeting room.”
Three. It hits me now why the police wanted to move us to two fifteen. They were trying to prevent us from running into Mark, and I wonder why. Was it by Mark’s request? I open my mouth to ask, but Mark’s gaze has gone beyond my shoulder, staring intently.
I turn to find Chris standing in the doorway of the interview room, locked in an intense staredown with Mark.
When his attention shifts to me, his eyes are unreadable and his expression stone. He says nothing, but I know what he wants. I walk forward and stop in front of him. “Chris—”
He gives a short shake of his head and then backs into the room. Inhaling, I steel myself for what is to come, and follow him inside to discover two detectives sitting at the table.
Chris and I reclaim our seats, and the relief I feel when he reaches for my hand under the table is immense. This interview is daunting enough without worrying that whatever just happened between him and Mark out there will affect us.
“Nice of you both to finally join us,” the detective directly across from me says. I don’t need to see the badge clipped onto his shirt that reads “Grant” to recognize the sarcastic, cigarette-roughened voice of the man I’d spoken to on the phone while in Paris. His wrinkled white shirt, loose black tie¸ and rumpled salt-and-pepper hair have that hard-edged, hard-living look that completes the package.
“I told you not to go there,” David warns. “She was attacked. She deserved a fucking one-week escape from where the shit went down.”
The second detective, a woman with Barbie doll good looks who sits across from Chris, glares at David. “Do you have to talk like that?”
David snorts. “Afraid someone might find out you like it, Detective Miller?”
I suck in a breath at the smart-ass remark. Chris is stone-faced, but the slight quirk to his mouth says he’s amused, and I try to be comforted by his lack of concern.
Detective Miller makes a disgusted sound, crossing her arms over her navy-blue blazer and white silk blouse. “You’re a real asshole, David.”
I blink in disbelief.
“Language, Detective,” David chides her.
The look they give each other seems more like a simmering connection than scathing distaste.
Detective Grant levels me with a stare that brims with accusation. “Running off to another country is not something a victim does when they want to put a potential murderer behind bars, Ms. McMillan.”
Chris’s fingers flex tightly on my leg. “You know,” he begins with that lethal nonchalant sarcasm, “it really is outrageous, the way victims think you actually give a damn about their emotional trauma. We certainly wouldn’t want you to be inconvenienced by such things.” He sits up, lacing his fingers on the table. “Here’s an idea. Why don’t you get retailers and restaurants to post public service notices? It could read: Attention: victims of violent crimes. You are not really a victim until we say you’re a victim. Do not leave town or you risk punishment.”
David barks out approving laughter and downs his coffee. Grant and Miller stare at Chris like he’s grown an extra head, and Chris’s lips curve with undisguised amusement.
The room falls into a silence that seems to stretch eternally. Just when I think the empty space is intolerable, and I’ll have to fill it with words, David does the most bizarre thing. He starts singing a Christmas song: “You better watch out. You better not cry.”
Detective Grant snaps, “Enough, David. And stop with all the venti coffees, damn it. Every time you come in here with one of those things, you drive me to the bottle.”
“That’s the idea,” David assures him, and I realize that he has a well-established relationship with both of them. I also start to see him as a calculated loose cannon. He intentionally keeps everyone off balance and out of control, thus he’s the one in control.