“I guess we know how you’re dealing with your pain,” Chris says dryly. “You aren’t. Does she know that she looks like your dead girlfriend?”

I cringe, but I’m glad that he’s not going to let Tristan pretend nor is he going to let the woman be hurt by thinking she’s more to Tristan than she is.

“Shut the fuck up, Chris,” Tristan growls, running a hand through his loose, long hair that he’s colored black with a few blond streaks. He steps in front of the woman, his tattooed, muscular arms flexing beneath his white tee as his hands go to his lean hips. “She’s American. She speaks English.”

“Good,” Chris replies coolly. “She needs to know she’s being used.”

Tristan sways forward as if he intends to have a go at Chris, the clench of his jaw telling me he’s fighting the urge. “Who the fuck are you to judge me?” His voice is low, terse. “You, who use a leather strap as an escape.”

“Better a whip than a person.”

“Dead girlfriend?” the woman demands, honing in on exactly the words Chris intended. “What fucking dead girlfriend?”

Chris replies, “The one who owned this place and looked just like you.”

Tristan hisses something in French at Chris. When the woman grabs his arm he whirls on her, gripping her wrist, and in a low, scathing tone, orders, “Go home. Leave now.”

“What?” she gasps. “I—”

“Go. Now.”

Her face reddens and she turns on her heel, charging toward us. Chris and I quickly move apart to allow her to pass between us before automatically coming back together. We are together, even in the worst of times now. Chris isn’t turning to the whip but to me, and it infuriates me that Tristan taunted him with his need for that escape. It also makes me wonder if that’s Tristan’s heartache talking, or if he did the same to Amber. Maybe he never really accepted her addiction or tried to understand it.

“Let me guess why you’re here,” Tristan drawls as the back door slams shut, his French accent thicker than usual. “You’re evicting me.”

His assumption that Chris would be so callous hits a nerve that is already rubbed raw by his reference to the whip, and I cannot stay silent. “Chris would never do that to you, or anyone—and acting as if he would says more about you than him. All he ever did was try to help Amber. He’s not a monster for that.”

There is ice in the stare he turns on me. “And we all see how successful that was, don’t we?”

The urge to shake some sense into him is powerful, and I launch myself forward. Chris shackles my arm, pulling me to him. “Sara. Stop.”

I still look at Tristan. “He came here to give you the tattoo parlor.”

“What I wanted was Amber,” Tristan growls, his fists balling at his sides. His gaze shifts in accusation to Chris. “He took her from me.”

“He didn’t—” I begin, but Chris pulls me to face him, his hands on my shoulders. “He’s right, Sara. And taking responsibility for the roles we play in life is part of moving forward.” He turns me so my back’s to his chest, his arm draped over my shoulder.

“You’re right,” Chris repeats to Tristan. “I regret the day I walked into her life, and I have a million regrets about how I handled leaving it. But I can’t change any of that. I can only do what I think she’d want me to do.”

“What she wanted was for you to stay out of her final affairs.”

“We both know she was lashing out in the midst of her own pain,” Chris replies coolly. “I believe that in her heart, she would want me to handle the future of The Script.”

“You didn’t know shit about what she had in her heart.”

“You were,” Chris says. “I know it didn’t seem like it sometimes. I know I didn’t always give you room to be her true hero—but you were.”

Tristan turns away, and his pain is so powerful it seems to leave room for nothing else, sucking all of the air out of the room. He’s bleeding inside and I bleed right with him, and I’m relieved that I didn’t attack Tristan to protect Chris. I hold on to Chris’s arm tightly, waiting for what comes next, certain it will be a blow.

Seconds tick by, and when Tristan still doesn’t turn, Chris pushes him for a reaction, asking, “Are all of Amber’s final affairs handled?”

Tristan twists around to face us, his eyes ablaze. “Of course her final affairs are handled,” he snaps. “I handled them. I took care of her.”

If Tristan’s implication that he succeeded in protecting Amber where Chris failed bothers Chris, he doesn’t show it. “I know you did, but the expense—”

“Is handled. I don’t need your fucking money. I’m sick of your fucking money, Mr. Famous Artist with a famous musician for a father and a mega–cosmetic company inheritance.”

Ignoring him, Chris coolly asks, “Where was Amber put to rest?”

His eyes narrow in a brutal glare. “She didn’t want you to know.”

“Tristan,” I plead.

“This isn’t your business, Sara,” he snaps. My sympathy for Tristan fades and I open my mouth to attack, but Chris turns me to face him, his hands going to my face as he gives me a quick nod, warning me to just let Tristan have his digs. I am almost shaking with my need to protect him, but somehow, some way, I reel myself back in, giving a short nod of agreement.

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