I’d seen glimpses of these feelings before now, but this is the first time he’s spoken them aloud. “Maybe it’s some inborn need to feel close to a parent?”

“That’s the only conclusion I could come to when I couldn’t let him go. I still can’t. He’s always with me, making sure I stay just a little more fucked up.”

“If you’re fucked up, it’s all kinds of right, Chris Merit. That charity work Tristan talked about? You don’t just throw money at it. You give part of your soul to those kids and their families. You make a difference—and I’ll be honored to help you do it.”

He pulls my hand to his mouth and kisses my fingers. “Let’s elope. Anyplace you want to go. Say the word, and as far as I’m concerned, we’ll go tomorrow.”

“What? No. We decided on Katie and Mike’s place together. And my ring isn’t even done.”

“This isn’t about a ring. Or Katie and Mike, or anyone else. It’s about us, and I don’t want you worried about your father or the guest list. You know I’m not big on attention, anyway.”

I lace my fingers with his. “You’re trying to protect me, and I appreciate that, but I want to get married under those hanging roses your mother inspired Katie to plant.”

“Don’t do this for me, baby. I just want to spend the rest of my life with you. That’s all I need.”

“It’s for us. You know my father is just a hot button for me. I’ll get by it. And truth be told, I’m a little raw over Amber, too. That night here in Paris when I went to the club, I had this sense I needed to save her. I shouldn’t have listened to that feeling.”

“Don’t do that to yourself. You barely knew her.”

“Yet on some level, I felt her screaming for help. But I second-guessed myself, and thought it was Rebecca and Ella influencing my feelings.”

“You were a lot of the reason I pushed to get Amber help, Sara. It was just too little, too late. That’s on me, not you.”

“No—”

“Yes,” he says, stroking the hair out of my eyes, his hand staying at the back of my head. “Now, here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to leave all this right here, and I’m going to drive us the remaining fifteen minutes to the chateau, where we’re going to fuck like rabbits. Then we’re going to eat, and fuck some more. After we sleep, we’ll set some ground rules with Katie about the wedding so you won’t worry about it, and then we’ll fuck some more. And since I had the caretaker stock enough food to last us a week, we can stay in bed for days. Any objections so far?”

I smile, not just at his words, but at his rapid shift from dark Chris to playful, sexy Chris. “And if I do?”

He, leans closer to me, his breath on my ear. “I’ll just tie you to the bed.”

Yes. Please. My list of objections begins to form.

• • •

We pull into the driveway of the vacation home he inherited from his parents, and though I’ve visited once before, I am still in awe of the beauty of the magnificent medieval-style chateau.

As we exit the 911 I tug on my hip-length black Burberry trench coat, meeting him at the hood of the Porsche, surrounded by masses of trees and sprawling hillsides that I’ve seen gorgeously green in season.

“This place makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a Cinderella story,” I murmur, looking at the three steepled towers on the chateau.

“Sara,” Chris whispers roughly, pulling me hard against him. “I’m no Prince Charming. I’m—”

“Perfect.” My fingers touch his jaw. “Perfect for me, Chris. I’ve found my soul mate.”

He catches my hand. “Sara, you—”

The door to the chateau opens and we turn to find a woman, who I guess to be around forty, and a child about ten years old exiting the house. “The caretaker and her daughter,” Chris tells me as the woman smiles to greet us and the little girl waves excitedly at him.

“I think she likes you,” I say with a laugh as they start toward us, the little girl running ahead of her mother.

“I painted her for her mom, and ever since, she’s been my pal.”

“You painted me, and ever since, you’ve been my pal, too.”

He wraps his arm around me. “We are far more than pals, baby.”

I flatten my hand on his chest. “But we are friends,” I say, tilting my chin to look at him.

He brushes his lips over mine. “Yes. Yes, we are.”

The little girl arrives and flings herself at Chris, who hugs her and speaks to her in French. The mother introduces herself as Adele, but that’s as far as we get without Chris’s translation help.

They depart after some friendly banter and we watch them leave, the little girl holding her mother’s hand, the sight of the two of them creating a pinch in my chest.

“I can’t,” Chris says softly, as if reading my mind. “I need to be sure you’re okay with that. I barely survived losing Dylan. I still hear his laughter, and I saw the pain in his parents’ eyes as they watched him die of cancer and could do nothing to stop it. If he’d been ours—”

“I know, and I feel the same,” I agree, the admission cutting clear to my soul. “I can’t even stop worrying about Chantal. Can you imagine what I’d be like with a child? Our child?”

His lashes lower, lingering on his cheeks for several moments before they lift, the sunlight catching the amber flecks in his green eyes. “We’d make beautiful babies.”

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