“What’s wrong?” he asks, tilting my face to his. “Did something happen?”
“Ricco. He was here. He followed us. I came out of the bathroom and—”
“Did he hurt you?”
“No.” I shake my head. “He—”
“Where is he?”
“He went out the back door. Chris, he’s saying Mark framed him and Mary because they were trying to prove he killed Rebecca. He said Ava was pressured into confessing by Mark, and”—I swallow hard—“he told me to stay away from Mark. He said he’s dangerous. He knew about me being attacked, and he said he didn’t want me to be hurt again.”
“Your attack isn’t public knowledge. That means he’s talked to Ava. Damn it. He’s going to pay her bond.” He closes his hands over the sides of my head. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” I say and it’s true. That’s how my stupid panic attacks work. They aren’t logical or predictable, and neither is anything Ricco is doing. “I don’t know if he was warning me or threatening me.”
His jaw clenches and he laces his fingers with mine. “Come on. We’re getting out of here.”
It’s exactly what I want to hear and I gladly keep pace with him. If I’d been nervous scanning for the press earlier, I’m ten times more on edge watching for Ricco’s reemergence now. Blake and David must read our expressions because they’re both on their feet before we reach the table.
“What just happened?” Blake asks as Chris helps me into my coat.
Chris grabs his jacket and puts it on, giving them a full rundown. “I’m getting Sara out of here, and I’m going to warn Mark in case Ricco heads in his direction.”
David nods. “I’ll give Tiger a heads-up as well.”
“I’m walking you out,” Blake insists. “And let me go check out the exterior of the building before you exit.” He takes off.
“There are too many unknowns here for me to feel comfortable,” Chris tells David. “We’ll stay local until after the hearing, but I’m taking Sara to my godparents’ place in Sonoma, away from all of this. I expect you to get that approved, just like I expect you to get a restraining order on Ricco, Ava, and Mary. I also want permission to take Sara back to Paris during the wait for the trial. And I want it yesterday, so we can make plans.”
“I can’t promise I can do that.”
“Then you’d damn well better make sure Ava isn’t released. And if that means we have to be there to testify tomorrow morning, then we will.”
That’s a shocker I didn’t expect, but it’s not nearly as terrifying as Ava being set free. “I’ll do whatever it takes,” I say.
“They don’t want you there,” David says, “but I’m headed to the police station now. I’ll cancel my other meeting and get on all of this.”
“Call me,” Chris snaps, closing his hand around mine, and starting for the door, already on his phone as we walk. At the front of the restaurant we step to the side of the door, away from the crowd, and I listen to the short conversation Chris has with Mark.
“Ricco showed up at the restaurant and cornered Sara. Ava’s convinced him you forced her into confessing. He’s going to bail her out.” He’s quiet for a moment and glances at me. “She’s shaken up, but fine. Look, man. Be careful. His coming here tonight says he’s a loose cannon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he came after you.” He listens a moment. “I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know.”
The instant he hangs up, I ask, “Not sure about what?”
“If you want to go to the gallery tomorrow, or even should.”
“We have to go to the hearing tomorrow, Chris. If we don’t, I’m afraid things will happen and we won’t know what’s going on.”
Blake walks in the door, and Chris wraps his arm around my neck. “Let’s talk about it at home.”
Home with Chris is the exact sanctuary I crave right now and I lean into him, welcoming the feel of the hard lines of his powerful body against mine.
“Ricco pulled out of the drive as I exited the building,” Blake announces, joining us. “No signs of any other trouble. Your driver is at the door waiting.”
Exiting the building with Blake protecting us, I slide into the back of the vehicle.
Blake tells Chris, “I’ll follow you to your apartment and have Jacob waiting for you. We’ll locate Ricco and Mary, and keep men on them.”
Chris joins me in the car and pulls me against him as if he needs me close, holding on a little too hard—or maybe not hard enough. At this moment, I’m not sure he can ever hold on hard enough.
• • •
The short drive home is silent. With the press all over this we don’t dare speak in front of the driver, and that suffocating feeling from the bathroom keeps trying to return. It has to be due to Ricco’s visit. The extremes he’ll go to to destroy Mark are terrifyingly similar to those Ava was willing to take with Rebecca. I’d thought Ricco was arrogant but misunderstood, more protector than aggressor, as Rebecca had said in her journals, but now I’m not sure. I didn’t believe Ava could kill, but she did. And I didn’t believe Michael, despite being an asshole, was capable of what he did to me, either.
By the time the driver stops in front of our apartment building, I feel as if I’m drowning in “what-ifs” and I am eager to escape. Jacob greets us as we exit and we join him to the left of the building entryway, out of the range of prying ears. “Ricco is in his home,” he tells us, “and we have a man watching him.”