Paris, six weeks ago
It’s only twenty-four hours after Chris and I have arrived in Paris, and we’re facing the demons of his past. He pulls his silver Porsche 911 up to the front of The Script, the tattoo parlor he’d financed for Amber and her boyfriend Tristan.
Seeing the dimmed lights and Closed sign, he curses. “It’s ten minutes until eight. They aren’t supposed to close until eight.”
“He might have finished early,” I suggest, trying to soothe the darkness that has been his mood ever since we arrived yesterday. And I know why. He’s fighting the whip, that deep, evil need to punish himself and have the leather rip into his skin and muscle.
“Or,” Chris replies, “he’s avoiding me, the way he has my calls. I can see the reflection of a light in the back room, so I’m pulling around back.” He rolls forward.
I hug myself, curling my fingers beneath my arms. “Won’t the back door be locked? What if he won’t let you in?”
He cuts down the back alley. “I have to try, Sara. You know I do.”
“I know,” I whisper. I know he thinks he has to see Tristan, driven to make things right with a man he feels he somehow wronged. But deep down, I fear he craves someone who will blame Amber’s death on him, since I refuse to do so.
We round the corner and pull into the empty parking lot. “Maybe he just forgot to turn out the light?” I suggest.
Chris kills the engine. “If the light’s on, he’s here.”
Even in the shadows, I can see how stiff he is, how his wrist rests tensely on the steering wheel, his gaze locked on the place that’s more connected to Amber than it is to Tristan. Coming here reopens wounds that still ooze years of blame and guilt.
I itch to reach over and trace the blond hair teasing his neck, but I resist. He’s too edgy, buzzing like a live wire, and he doesn’t like to be touched when he’s like this. Not even by me.
“Let our lawyer drop off the ownership paperwork,” I suggest.
He turns to me, the shadows hiding his green eyes from my view. “It’s about more than the paperwork.” His voice is soft, raw in a way only acid emotion can create. “I need to know that in the end, she was taken care of. Her will didn’t allow me that right.”
“And you think Tristan will tell you?”
“I have to try.” He opens his door and steps out.
My gut knots as I shove open my own door, leaving my coat behind as I step out into the chilly November night, the wind gusting my brown hair around my face. My Chris Merit–designed Louvre Museum T-shirt does little to keep me warm, though my knee-high black boots were a smart choice.
Chris goes to the front of the car and I quickly move to his side. The starless night is dark, the mood even darker. He pulls me under his arm, his big body protecting mine, telling me that no matter what he has on his mind, I’m still with him. He’s not shutting me out. He needs to do this, and so we’ll do it—just like we’ll ride out the storm that is sure to follow.
I know the moment he makes the decision to push forward, and, in unison, we start walking. That’s how in tune I am with this man. We can read each other’s minds, and it’s like nothing I ever believed to be possible with another human being. It’s also why I know that just stepping inside the tattoo parlor is going to gut him, but he’s made his decision. I won’t stop him from doing it.
We stop at the entrance to The Script and Chris reaches for what I’m certain will be a locked door, but I’m wrong. It opens, and Chris motions for me to enter first. Everything inside me wants to wrap my arms around him and drag him away, but I understand why he must do this. It’s about knowing versus wondering, and it’s impossible to fight—the same instinct that makes people stare as they pass an accident, even though they know it’s going to be traumatic to view. The need to know consumes us, and it’s consuming him now. And what consumes Chris destroys him. I think he knows this. I think he is trying to keep that from happening, and I have to help him do it.
I step inside the warm building. It’s stuffy, as if the heat has been cranked a few degrees too high.
Chris follows me into the narrow hallway and silently shuts the door. He takes my hand and leans in, his lips near my ear. “Follow me. I don’t want you enduring his wrath.”
I nod and he moves ahead of me quickly, rounding the corner to the main room before I catch up. I blink into the dark of the retail area that’s decorated with artwork designed mostly by Amber. Memories rush over me, and I recall sitting at one of the tables set up for customers across from Amber and grabbing her wrist to question her about the whip marks on her arm. God, it hurts to know she’s gone, and I have nowhere near the history with her that Chris has.
He moves toward the doorway behind the tables, where light spills from a cutout archway. When he steps through the doorway I follow, gasping as we see Tristan’s naked ass, a pair of tattooed female legs with black four-inch heels wrapped around his hips.
Tristan looks over his shoulder and grunts before uttering a few French words that I’m certain aren’t nice. He steps away from the woman despite her protests, pulling up his pants as her eyes meet mine and she slips out of her fog of lust, her eyes going wide. Instantly in motion, she scrambles to pull her denim dress down.
I can’t help staring at her; I’m stunned by how much her ink-marked white skin, slender, curvy body, and long blond hair remind me of Amber. Suddenly, I’m sick with the thought that that’s exactly why he’s with her. He can’t let go of Amber, and my one bit of solace is that maybe seeing Chris will force Tristan to cope with a loss he hasn’t yet faced.