“Not now.” It’s a plea from deep in my soul. “If you love me, not now.”

His green eyes narrow, sharpen. “If? Where did that word come from?”


“I’m sorry . . . I . . .”

“Sara—”

My fingers curl around his wrists. “I need . . . Chris, I need to think.”

“Think with me. Talk to me, Sara.”

“No.” It’s out before I can stop it, sharp edged like when I snapped at the table, sure to alert him to how wrong I am right now.

“No?”

“Chris.” I press on his chest. “You need to let me figure this out.”

“Figure what out?”

“I don’t know. I need—” The door dings open and I try to dart for it.

Instead of escape I end up over his shoulder, and he carries me into the apartment. I press my hands to my face, the blood running to my head making it harder to think than it already was, his hand on my ass making it nearly impossible. I can’t do this now. I don’t know how I’ll react. I don’t know who I’ll be.

He sets me on my feet at the edge of our bed, my back to him, and then hits the light, casting us in a dim, seductive glow. “Whatever this is,” he says, pulling my coat down my arms, and holding it there, trapping my wrists as he leans into me, “we’re going to make it go away.”

I inhale a shaky breath and allow him to pull my coat off. “You can’t just say you’re going to do that and it does. It’s not that easy.”

He encloses me in his powerful arms, burying his face in my hair, nuzzling my neck, and his smell, that deliciously wonderful smell, surrounds me. “I didn’t say it would be easy.” His hand caresses up my waist and he tugs my blouse free of my skirt. “Just that we’d deal with it together.”

His palms slip under the silk, finding my bare flesh, and his touch is like liquid fire in my veins. Sensations roll through me and collide with emotions. I squeeze my eyes shut to hide what I feel, as if Chris can see my face, but he can’t, and somehow I know this is intentional on his part. The way he instinctively knows what I need is both perfection and a trap at the same time. It would be so very easy to tell him what’s happening to me, and so very shortsighted and selfish. I’d feel better now, but it would steal his freedom to be free with me, and eventually turn me into an obligation.

With another deep breath, I face Chris, and I do what I would have done sooner, had I been thinking straight. I stop attempting the losing strategy of hiding from the man I want to get lost in, and I seek the kind of escape I trust only him to give me. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I confess everything I dare. “I don’t know why I’m letting everything from the past few days get to me. I’m thinking too much.”

“You’re thinking too much,” he finally repeats, and it’s not a question. It’s doubt, and doubt, like a secret, is poison. “I know you. You aren’t saying something, and I want more than that from you.”

“I know you’re worried and trying to protect me, Chris. It’s who you are and I love you for that, but please don’t try to get in my head right now, when I’m trying to get out of it. I’m on overload, and the only ‘more’ I can take is the kind of ‘more’ only you can give me. That place you take me that leaves no room for anything but you. I need that. I need you.”

“And yet you tried to run from the elevator to escape me.”

“Not you, Chris. From me. I’m all over the place. I’m worried about tomorrow. I’m worried about Ella and Amanda and—” I press my hands to his face. “Fuck me, Chris! I need you to fuck me.”

His answer is silence, and I can feel the deep, slow way he’s breathing, the calm calculation I sense in him that has me counting torturous seconds. He leans back, his eyes locking with mine. “It won’t work.”

“Why not?” I ask.

His voice is sandpaper rough. “It would be so damn easy for me to tie you to the bed and fuck you every which way, but it wouldn’t distract me from asking questions, like you think it would. It’ll become the tool I use to get the answers you don’t want to give me.”

“Even if that’s not what I want?”

“I won’t be able to help myself. Because the last time I saw this look in your eyes, Michael put it there.” Abruptly, he sets me away from him. “But I won’t force you to tell me what’s wrong, no matter how insane it’s making me right now. That would make me no better than he was to you. But be clear, Sara: If you want me to trust you and show you everything, you have to be willing to trust me that much, too.”

He walks out of the bedroom, leaving me staring after him.

Fourteen

I stare at the doorway Chris has just exited, stunned. He knows I’m still affected by Michael. I didn’t know; how did he? Or maybe I did, but I was in denial—and that’s a mistake Chris doesn’t make. He accepts his scars. More than once he’s told me that the way Mark lives is dangerous, convincing himself that extreme control over everything and everyone around him somehow wipes out his past. Chris called it a crash waiting to happen.

And he’s right. I see Mark unraveling, pieces of him falling, cracking like glass on the ground he thinks is solid under his feet, but even that’s unsteady. Perhaps Mark’s ability to live in a façade of rightness is what draws me to him, since I’m also guilty of that, too. That’s how I survived Michael, and I’ve never envied Chris’s ability to know himself as much as I do right now.

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