“I still feel Ryan’s involved, but maybe that’s because I don’t want to think about what Ricco said about killing Ava.”
“Free will, baby,” he murmurs sadly, words we’ve spoken often this past week. “She made her choices like he is, and they’re responsible for them. But it makes me damn glad we’re leaving for Paris tomorrow. I want space between us and here, with her still on the run.”
My heart squeezes and I lean closer, teasing his hair with my fingers. “What you’re doing for Amber, by bringing back your dragon paintings and auctioning them off for the Children’s Hospital in her name, is an amazing way to honor her.”
He catches my hand in his. “I need to make this all matter to someone.”
The buzzer rings and I frown, still expecting bullets where there are no guns.
He kisses the frown mark. “Stop that. I’m expecting a delivery.”
Relieved, I sink back into my chair. “Thank goodness.” I think I see a glimpse of a smile, and maybe even some mischief in Chris’s eyes before he turns away. I hope so. That man needs to smile again.
Pushing to my feet, I refill our coffee cups. I’ve just returned to the table when Chris returns, and there’s definitely a light in his eyes that I’d feared long lost. He joins me at the table, sitting down and turning our chairs to face each other.
“We won’t have your engagement ring for another month because of some of the stones I ordered, but it’ll be ready in plenty of time for the wedding in February. But my first vision for the ring wasn’t the roses. And I’ve had that first ring created and sized for your right hand—the same side as my ink.” He holds out a black velvet box and lifts the lid, and I gasp at the sight of a ring twinkling with reds, yellows, and blues.
“A dragon,” I whisper.
“To represent the strength you are to me.”
Tears prickle in my eyes and he pulls the ring from the velvet and slips it on, an intricate dragon’s tail wrapping my finger. “I love it.” I wrap my arms around him. “And I love you.”
And he holds me to him, molding us close, hugging me a little too tight, just the way I like it.
“Hello, Alvarez,” I hear as A.J. Wright falls into step with me in the center of the busy Saturday Pier 39 crowd, meant to disguise our meeting from prying eyes.
“The kid?” I ask, glancing at the stocky ex-mercenary whose new job is doing my unavoidable dirty work.
“Badly beaten but alive, just as you ordered,” he replies. “The police will get a call to locate him later this evening.”
“A shame we had to do that, but he shouldn’t have helped Ava with the boat. And what of her?”
“As requested,” he replies. “Suffering terribly.”
My lips curve. “Excellent.”
“How long do you want this to continue before I kill her?”
“Drag it out. I have plenty of cash to pay for your time. We’ll discuss her conclusion in our next meeting. What about Mark Compton?”
“Operation ‘Fuck Mark Compton’ is well under way. You have nothing to worry about.”