He glances at his watch. “Ten to two; time for food. How about pizza?”
“Sure,” I say, though I’m certain I won’t be able to eat since Ava’s hearing is about to start. “You know what I like. Can you order?”
“You got it. Extra cheese coming your way.”
I shut myself in my office. Leaning against the door, I squeeze my eyes shut, only to have someone start shoving their way inside.
Relief washes over me at the sound of Chris’s voice. I move away from the door, giving him space to enter. He steps inside the office, shutting us in, and the deliciously wonderful power of him consumes the room, and me, with it.
“I heard about Michael,” he says, dragging me against him, and he is warm and hard and wonderful in all the unexplainable, perfect ways that are Chris. “I hate that I let him get close to you.” He leans against the door and frames my face. “I swore I’d never let him hurt you again. I thought he was on a plane. Blake’s team confirmed his travel, and watched him get into his car.”
My hands go to his. I will never get tired of having Chris hold me like this, or look at me like I’m the beginning and end of his world, as he is right now. “Jacob told me they thought he was leaving, but I’m fine. This isn’t his fault, Chris. He got sideswiped. And this isn’t your fault, either. You’re the man I love, not my personal bodyguard.”
“The hell I’m not, and Michael will find out that his bullshit doesn’t change anything. You don’t have to worry.”
But he’s worried, and well beyond the normal, bossy, protective man I adore. I see it in his eyes, and I fear my confession last night is why. “I wasn’t afraid, and I’m not about to have a panic attack, if that’s what you’re thinking,” I say. “I told you. They never happen at a logical time.”
He turns us, claiming the dominant position by pressing my back to the wall, framing my hips with his, his hands going to the wall by my head. “Don’t do that, Sara. Don’t assume I think you’re weak. I don’t. You were afraid for Ella’s safety last night. If that’s not a logical reason to have a panic attack, I don’t know what is.”
“And don’t you make excuses for me. That’s denial—the very thing you swear destroys anyone it touches.” I try to duck under his arms.
He shackles my leg with his. “No one’s making excuses. That’s not how I operate and you know it.”
“You must wonder when, and where, I’ll have an attack again.”
He shakes his head. “You’re creating a problem that doesn’t exist, but know this. If you have another attack, I’ll be there to catch you.”
“This is exactly what I didn’t want. I don’t want you walking around trying to catch me.”
“That’s what we do, baby. We catch each other. I’ve accepted that with my meltdowns; now you have to accept it with this. I’m not entertaining any other version of who we are together.” He runs a gentle finger down my cheek. “Understand?”
While his tone is hard, his eyes are not. He means what he’s said. He really doesn’t seem to be letting this new knowledge cloud how he sees me, or us. “This is where you agree with me,” he encourages.
“I do. It’s what I want, too.”
“Good. Now tell me what happened with Michael.”
“He says he’s staying until the trial. And the real kicker? He says he’s doing this to protect me and my father.”
“A way to intimidate you with the threat that he’ll smear you in court.”
“And a desperate play to get back in my father’s good graces, which is exactly what I told him—right before I screamed ‘fuck you’ at him a few times.”
He gives me a deadpan look. “You screamed ‘fuck you’ at Michael?”
“Several times, quite fiercely. And considering it was in a very public place, not one of my most shining moments.”
“Well,” he says thoughtfully, “you did need to make sure you got your point across.” His lips quirk in that sexy, kissable way, and the tight ball of tension in my head dissolves into laughter.
“Yes,” I agree. “I guess I did.”
His hand settles possessively on my hip. “You kicked some ass today on all fronts. David was laughing his ass off at the way you called him and put the detective on the spot.”
“Did you hear that Grant used me to start a fight next door?”
“Yeah, I heard. Interesting development. I wonder what they know about those two that we don’t.”
“He gave nothing away to me. He made me think he wanted to know more about Mark and Ricco.”
Chris brushes some hair from my eyes, his mood doing one of those dark shifts, his fingers lingering on my cheek before falling away. “Your panic attack last night means nothing, Sara. Fighting back today, does. It proves you’re putting the past behind you. You know that, right?”
“Yes,” I say, realizing as I speak that he’s right. “The panic attack scared me because it made me feel out of control, but that’s not how I felt with Michael today. Not at all. I’m not the same person I was when I was with him, or even a month ago. Or even before that last night in Paris. Because of you. Because of us.”
“Us,” he repeats.
“Yes.” I confirm that bond we share. “Us.”