“But you have to deal with it, Mark. She’s gone. I hate saying that to you, but you have to stop denying the truth. Admit it, and admit that you loved her. She deserves that.”
He stares at me with unreadable eyes for several long moments. Then he reaches for the bottle and refills his glass, then just sits there, staring at the liquid inside.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” I demand.
He downs his drink. “You’re saying enough for both of us. Go.”
I walk toward the open door, then turn and meet Mark’s eyes. “If his owning my heart and my body means I belong to Chris,” I say, “then I belong to him. I’m not afraid to admit that, because he’s worth the risk of getting hurt that comes with love.” I turn and leave, pulling the door shut, only to gasp as I nearly run into Chris.
He pulls me to him, framing my face, his mouth near mine, his heart thundering beneath my hand. “You heard,” I whisper.
“Every single word.” And then he is kissing me, and I sink into the taste of him, the taste of us, and it is good and right in ways nothing else in my life ever has been. When our lips finally break apart, our eyes connect, a million silent words passing between us.
He takes my hand in his and we start walking toward the exit, but suddenly I can’t just leave, knowing that Mark is in that room alone. Chris must feel the same because we both halt at the door, staring at it. I see his struggle in the tight lines of his body, the dip of his head between his shoulders.
God, I love this man. He is so much more than the paintbrush he masters with such incredible talent. So much more than his past, and his pain. I know even before he does that he can’t walk out of here and leave Mark like this, either.
He faces me, inhaling heavily and letting it out. “I’ll be back.”
I push to my toes and kiss him. “You are the most amazing man I have ever known.”
“Don’t give me more credit than I deserve. I still may punch him, but I’ll give him an ice pack for the ride to Sonoma if he wants to come.”
I smile. “Kick him like I did. Safer for your hand.”
I exit into the gallery and decide a walk through his art might be exactly what I need. I seek out the Chris Merit sign and stare at the ten pieces of art arranged in a box shape, all visions of San Francisco through the eyes of the man who will soon be my husband. I walk to the center and sit down, shut my eyes, and let the memories flow.
That first night when I’d come to find Rebecca, during a Ricco Alvarez show. The way I’d helped an elderly couple pick out a Chris Merit picture, which earned me a job offer from Mark. Meeting Chris. Spilling my purse in front of him. I laugh with the memory, and suddenly Chris is squatting in front of me.
“What are you doing?”
“Remembering the ‘Man with One Red Shoe.’”
His lips quirk. “On the floor?”
“Yes, in the center of your universe.”
“Baby, we have a lot of world to see, and as soon as this mess passes, I intend to show it to you.” He stands up and pulls me to my feet. “The news story isn’t running after all. The police convinced them to hold off in exchange for a bigger exclusive when they’re ready to go public.”
“I heard that. But can’t Ava’s people just call another station?”
“My understanding is the police told the rest of the stations they’d get shut out completely if they didn’t wait.”
“I wish I could say that’s good, but it’s happening because bad news is coming.”
“Justice is coming,” he says. “The bad news came weeks ago.”
A lump forms in my throat. “Yes. But whatever they find on that beach is going to make it all feel very real.”
“Yes, it will. Let’s get out of here. Katie and Mike are eager to see us.”
“What about Mark?”
“He wants to stay close in case the beach search turns up any news.”
“I’m worried about him being here alone if they find something.”
“He won’t be. When I walked in, he was arranging a private jet to fly in company.”
“Crystal? She really cares about him and the family. I’m concerned she’s going to get hurt.”
“He says she has open eyes. All we can do is hope she’s seeing clearly enough for both of them.” He laces his fingers with mine and we retrieve my purse and coat, then head for the car Chris has hired.
“Michael’s gone,” Jacob announces at the back door. “Kelvin watched him get on a plane himself.”
I’m comforted, but part of me isn’t sure he’ll ever really be gone. Just like part of me still isn’t willing to believe Rebecca’s gone. “Thank you, Jacob.”
His gaze remains on me a moment longer, then he glances at Chris. “If you decide you need me to come out to Sonoma this weekend, I can make it happen.”
“I’d rather you stay focused on helping Blake here. The local operation my godparents hired seem to be working out.”
“They had to hire security?” I ask.
“As a precaution until the trial,” Chris says, his hand settling on my back. “I don’t want them getting overrun with press.”
Jacob holds the door open and Chris is about to usher me into the backseat of the black sedan, when I hesitate and turn to stare at the gallery.
“What is it, baby?” Chris asks.