Shutting off the radio, I go down the hall toward Mark’s office. His hands are against the wall, his head tilted forward, tension tightening his body. This isn’t the controlled man I know. This is the man I saw falling apart that night under the tree, after Ava confessed to murdering Rebecca.

I want to go to him, but my gut says he doesn’t want me to see him like this. I’m backing away when he says, “Is there something you need, Ms. McMillan?”

“Just . . . goodnight.”

I don’t move. I need to say or do something to help him.

“Go home, Ms. McMillan,” he snaps.

Sighing in defeat, I turn and leave him alone, but it’s not easy. Not when I know how badly being alone hurts.

• • •

As I wait for Jacob to arrive to escort me out, Chris calls and asks me to meet him and David at the pizza joint next to our apartment building. I arrive home fifteen minutes later and hand the 911 off to the attendant. I wave at Jacob, who’d followed me over here, and head toward the restaurant. I know it has great takeout, but I’ve never been inside.

Turns out it’s far more Italian eatery than pizzeria, with dim lighting, soft music, and cozy booths beyond the hostess stand. A tall, husky man with brown hair streaked with gray greets me with an extended hand. “You must be Sara.”

I tentatively shake hands. “Yes, I’m Sara. And you’re . . . psychic?”

He chuckles low and deep. “Wouldn’t that come in handy? But no. Chris described you with artistic detail, and you’re as beautiful as he said. I’m Marco, the owner here.”

I blush. “Thank you. I remember Chris talking about you. Don’t you own a chopper shop, too?”

“Custom choppers, motorcycle repair, you name it. Chris and I tinker on his Harleys occasionally.” He winks. “Nice to see he’s no longer a lone rider.” I smile, warmed as always by the way Chris is genuinely liked by so many.

Marco motions to my coat. “Let me take that for you.” I shrug out of my trench coat and hand it over, then with a grand gesture he waves us forward. “Come, I’ll show you to your table.”

I follow him around a corner where there’s a row of six booths several steps above the floor, all draped with curtains for privacy. “I love this setup,” I murmur. He smiles his pleasure at the compliment, and then pulls one of the curtains back to reveal Chris and David, each with a beer in hand. Chris’s eyes light on me, and the heat and tenderness in his gaze makes the craziness of the day fade away for a moment.

Setting his beer down, Chris draws my hand into his. The heat of his stare and the sizzle of his touch send a wave of warmth up my arm and over my chest, and the tension in my spine finally relaxes.

As I slide in next to Chris, he lifts his chin at Marco. “I see you met Sara.”

Marco winks at me and then answers Chris in what I think is Italian. I really can’t be certain of much when Chris’s fingers are lazily caressing my thigh, sending darts of electricity straight to my sex.

Chris smiles, answering Marco in English. “You’re right, Marco.” His hand discreetly slides under the tablecloth, beneath my skirt, his warm fingers flexing against my bare thigh. “Sara is beautiful and save your Italian Don Juan routine for someone else. She’s mine.”

I blush and not from the compliment or his words, but from the way Chris’s hand is climbing higher and higher until his fingers sweep my panties. “She blushes,” Marco observes, kissing his fingers, as if it’s the conversation creating my reaction. “Bella.” His tongue rolls with an Italian accent, and unbidden, I am reminded of the Spanish version of the endearment for beautiful Ricco Alvarez often uses. Marco points at Chris. “Watch it. I like a challenge.” He leaves Chris no time for rebuttal, disappearing as he tugs the curtain shut and then surprises me as he peeks back inside and adds, “Your pizza should be up any minute,” and winks at me.

David’s phone rings and he answers the call, giving me the chance to grab Chris’s hand and softly hiss a warning. “Behave.”

He laughs, his eyes warm with wicked promise that softens into tenderness, and his hand, thankfully, flattens on top of my thigh. “I missed you.”

I soften at the sweet, unexpected confession, officially melting inside and out. “I missed you, too.” My lips curve and I dare to taunt the proverbial tiger. “And you’ve certainly made me wish we were home.”

“Soon, baby,” he promises. “Soon.”

“Assholes,” David complains, drawing our attention back to him. He sets his phone on the table and looks at me. “And so we meet again, Sara McMillan.”

I smile, amused by his odd way of speaking. “Yes indeed,” I say. “We meet again.”

Chris hands me his beer. “Here. He makes more sense when you’re drinking.”

I laugh, and despite not being a beer kind of girl, I take a swig, then hand the bottle back to Chris. “I needed that. You scared the crap out of me with the police today, David.”

He snorts and tips up his beer. “You can’t let the badge go to their heads. That’s dangerous for them and us.”

“You sang a Christmas song,” I remind him. “I’m still in disbelief.”

He wiggles his brows. “Creative shift of energy. It pulled the attention from Chris.”

Chris chuckles. “I think you finally convinced them you’re crazy. And speaking of crazy. I think Detectives Grant and Miller both need to be reminded of the meaning of their badges.”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance