“I’m sure that’s why.” A tear slides down my cheek and Chris wipes it away. “Why are you crying?”

I grab his hand and hold it to my chest, like I want to hold him in my heart. “Because it matters. This matters. We matter, and the way you invited your mother into our life through the ring is special beyond words.”


The love in his eyes is like a new day’s sun, waking the parts of me that were buried in the darkness of night. He is my other half, my soul mate, the person who knows me even better than I know myself at times.

“I’m never letting you go,” he declares.

My lips curve. “Ditto.”

He smiles, and the heartache of his past slides away. Because of me, I think—and it’s the most amazing feeling in the world, that I can do that for him. He leans in to kiss me, pausing as we hear Katie’s voice. “I guess the kiss has to wait.”

My lips curve. “Anticipation makes it better, right?”

“But it’s torture in the process,” he admits.

“Remember that the next time you decide to unleash it on me.”

“With pleasure,” he promises, and the mischief I adore is back twinkling in his eyes.

“You heard the story of the roses?” Katie asks as they join us.

“I saved that for you,” Chris tells her, just as his cell phone rings. He pulls it from his jacket and glowers at it. “I really want to throw it in the pond right now.”

“Me too,” I agree, fearing our perfect night is about to be ruined.

Glancing at the screen, Chris tells me, “Blake,” then answers.

I want to listen in, but Katie immediately links her arm with mine and pulls me to the center of the gazebo, launching into a story I barely hear. Chris has just walked down the bridge, and the rigid line of his back says something is wrong.

He finally turns around and swiftly crosses the bridge. When he stops beside me, he laces his arm with mine and pulls me close, as if he needs to hold on to me. “Sara and I need to leave,” he announces. “Blake and his team will be here in the next five minutes.”

“Who’s Blake?” Mike asks.

“Our security team,” Chris explains.

“Chris, why?” I ask urgently.

He pulls me in front of him, his hands on my shoulders. “We’re handling—”

“Oh God, just say it.”

“Ava escaped, and they can’t locate Ryan or the kid from the coffee shop.”

Twenty-two

The world spins around me, and I sway. Chris wraps his arm around my waist, catching me to him. He glances at Katie and Mike. “Give us a few minutes.”

“We’ll go watch for your security team,” Mike says.

“And Ryan?” I ask. “Is he with Ava?”

“All they know is that Ryan took a flight to Los Angeles.”

“Oh God. That’s where Amanda is.” I push away from him. “I need your phone to call her. No, I need my phone to call her. I have her number.”

“Sara.” His hands come down on my shoulders. “They know Amanda’s in Los Angeles. They’re on it. And now that we’re cleared, the DA’s contracted Walker to help with the investigation. We’re well-informed, I promise you.”

“Still, I need to call Amanda. I need—”

“Baby, you have to deep breathe and trust me to handle this. And Blake. He’s good at what he does. He and his brothers have extensive law enforcement experience.”

“Why is he coming here?”

“Ava’s on the run, and he doesn’t want to take any chances of her making a beeline for us.”

“How would she even know about this place?”

“We don’t know if she has help with money and resources, or if she’s simply on the run, trying to survive. To be cautious, we have to assume she has resources.”

“So where do we go?”

“For now, we’re going home to the city.”

“But the press?”

“They’re the least of our worries right now. Blake feels the apartment is the most secure place for us to be. From there, we’ll decide what to do. We might go to Paris. We might not.”

“I need to deal with my work visa first.”

“It’s fine. The consulting work can be run through the States, or one of my corporations in the meantime if needed. We’ll work it out. Right now we just need to get to a secure location, and look at what we know then.”

I glance up as Blake, Kelvin, and Jacob walk toward us, and the sight of these three powerful men closing in on us has a choking effect. How bad is this that they feel we need all three of them? Chris must see my expression, because he turns to look over his shoulder, then back at me. “The odds of Ava coming after you are next to zero. She’s going to run. But I’m not taking any chances; I told Blake to come prepared.” He cups my face. “I protect what’s mine, baby.”

A moment later I’m surrounded by men, a protective shell around me. Chris is my shelter. He is my strength.

• • •

An hour later, Chris and I have said our good-byes to Katie and Mike, and Blake has assured us that their security team has them covered. We’ve returned to the rental house to pack up, and we’re in the kitchen listening to the news when Blake appears.

“We’ve confirmed that Ryan’s with Amanda.”

I stiffen, going on high alert for about the tenth time this hour. “What? Where? Is she okay?”

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