Her lips curve. “Okay.”
I open the heavy wooden door and we step out onto the stone porch, a gust of cold wind blasting us. Chantal huddles into her coat, and I wish I had one. Shivering, I hug myself, and frown at the sight of Chris and Rey standing in the driveway beside Rey’s car.
“What is he doing here?” Chantal asks tightly.
“I don’t know,” I say, a gnawing, horrible sensation in my chest.
Rey is wearing a ski jacket, his keys in his hand. Chris is in a T-shirt, as if he’d rushed out to keep his unexpected guest outside. Rey says something to Chris, who scrubs his jaw in obvious frustration. Rey is trying to find Ella, and whatever he has to say, Chris isn’t happy about.
“I’m going to take off,” Chantal announces, rushing down the stairs. Both men look up, Chris focusing on me, Rey on Chantal, his gaze stormy, and I know she’s running from him. Rey goes in pursuit of her and Chris walks toward me, the set of his jaw grim.
My mind is all over the place. I want to run to Chris and demand answers. I want to run away like Chantal and pretend this isn’t happening. I want to be back in my dress, with Chris kissing me and this being one of the happiest days of my life.
Too soon, yet not soon enough, Chris stops in front of me, his big, strong hands coming down on my shoulders as he walks me back into the foyer, kicking the door shut, an act that says Rey isn’t getting an invitation inside. “Nothing is wrong, baby. Stop looking like that.”
“If nothing is wrong, why are you acting like something’s wrong? Why is Rey here? It’s Ella, isn’t it?”
“Nothing is wrong.”
“Chris. I know your body language. I know you were upset. And you didn’t say it wasn’t Ella.”
“Sara. No. Deep breath, baby.”
My fingers close around his shirt. “Tell me what’s going on.”
“Rey called me and said he had information he didn’t want to give me over the phone because it’s too sensitive.”
“We don’t know if this has any merit, but he has a contact inside Neville’s operation who says Neville believes Ella is alive, and he’s issued a reward for bringing her to him alive.”
“That’s good, right?”
“Yes and no. Alive is good. A reward for keeping her alive is good. Being hunted by someone connected to the mob is not. And buying information directly from someone inside the mob is not smart. It’s a potential blackmail situation that could end in very dangerous places.”
“Are you saying we can’t buy the information?”
“We can’t, but someone else can for us. That means using the contractors Rey suggests. So far, Blake says they’re ghosts; he has nothing on them, good or bad. I don’t like dealing with people we don’t know. I’m agreeing to use them for this one purchase to put distance between us and Neville, but I want them vetted before we go further.”
Emotion punches at me, my eyes burning. “Chris. She really might be alive?”
“We don’t know if this is real.”
“But it’s a really good ray of hope.”
He cups the back of my neck and rests his forehead against mine. “Then we’ll cling to it together.”
• • •
Chris and I spend the next few hours in his studio, with “The Gift” by Seether playing over and over on the sound system. Chris stands in the center of the stone-floored room, in front of an easel in his idea of a work uniform, which includes absolutely nothing but his low-slung faded jeans, no shirt, with his feet bare. I approve; oh yes, I do. Though I have to wonder if he gets cold. I’m chilly and I’m wearing my favorite long-sleeved pink sweat suit jacket and matching pants, and snuggled on a comfy overstuffed brown chair in the corner by the gas fireplace that Chris had installed several years ago as part of a renovation.
I try to do some research for a contract customer that Estaban referred to me, hoping to locate a rare piece he’s looking for. But between thoughts of Ella, and Chris’s canvas coming to life with dark, magical clarity for the first time since he started it the night of our arrival, I’m struggling to stay focused. The painting is one of his cityscapes—a stormy Paris that I know represents the day Tristan came to our house, and I’m in awe of how it’s come to life before my eyes. Aware that despite how much calmer he is out here in the country, away from everything else, this is a view into what he’s coping with inside. And he knows it, and has allowed me inside his creative world, though he lets no one else in. It feels like the final closed door with Chris is being opened, and I’m the only other person with the key.
My e-mail beeps and I click on it, hoping it’s Chantal, whom I emailed to check on after her encounter with Rey. Sure enough, there is a message titled “I’m safe. Stop worrying.” I’m about to click on it, but frown when I see Blake Walker’s name in my in-box, too. I didn’t even know he had my e-mail address—but then again, the man hacked my father’s unlisted phone number. I click on the message and read, “Tell Chris to call me right away. I’ve been trying to reach you both for hours.”
I sit up straight and set my computer on the chair, concerned by the tone of the e-mail and baffled by the fact that I get internet down here, though our phones won’t work. “Chris,” I call on my way to the stereo system built into the wall, which I turn off. “Chris.” He turns at my urgent tone, his brush still in his hand. “Blake just emailed me and said we need to call him right away. He’s been trying to reach us.”