About an hour into the event it’s time for Chris to enter a signing booth for autographs, and I’m amazed at how many people line up eagerly to meet him and get his signature. He laces his fingers with mine to pull me toward the booth, but I hesitate.
“I should stay. They want you, not me.”
“Baby, you are the topic of the night. Everyone wants to meet my bride-to-be.” Not taking no for an answer, he starts walking with me in tow, but I dig in my heels. Not for the reason he thinks, I’m sure.
He stops and looks at me again, and I glance at the line of people waiting, and then him. “I just . . . I wanted to say that you’re so good with people, and so talented. Sometimes I’m still a little in awe of you.”
He cups my face. “I’m the one in awe of you, and of how lucky I am to be marrying you.”
“Chris,” I whisper, emotion lodging in my throat. “I’m—”
“My future wife. Come stand by my side, where you belong.”
I warm with his words, and we move through the crowd and into the booth. Instantly we are in the midst of activity, both of us greeting people. It’s light and fun, and even without any mastery of the French language, I find myself laughing and having a good time.
About an hour later Chantal appears, waving at me, looking stunning in a sparkly navy blue chiffon dress. I tell Chris, “I guess Tristan finally let her out to play.”
Chris waves over a guard to bring her to me, and any fear I have that she’ll feel awkward with me is quickly dispelled as she greets me with a hug and we fall into our familiar banter, chatting with each other and the guests.
When finally the crowd dies down, Chris steps to a quiet corner to talk with some Louvre officials while Chantal and I raid the chocolate table.
“I’m so glad you made it,” I say. “You were such a help, and I clearly must learn French. It looks like we’ll be here regularly.”
“Tristan doesn’t want me to go to the wedding,” she tells me, “but I’m going. I’ll be there.”
“I’m glad. Do . . . you want to talk about Tristan?”
“No, not now. I can’t talk about what I don’t understand.” Her gaze lifts and she pales. “What’s Rey doing here?”
My gaze lands on the tall, good-looking man standing by the entryway, and I do a double take. “Apparently, looking all kinds of tall, dark, and handsome,” I say, shocked to find him in a tuxedo.
“And arrogant. As always.”
As if sensing her remark, Rey’s gaze lands on us, lingering on Chantal, and the charge in the air is electric and a bit hostile. Time seems suspended for several seconds before he cuts through the room and disappears.
I shake off the experience and stare at Chantal. “What the heck is going on between you two?”
“Nothing, really. I wanted him. We kissed. But it was more than a kiss. It was . . . .something I can’t explain. And then he told me he was bad for me, and he’d never touch me again. So he hasn’t.”
“And now you’re with Tristan.”
“And he doesn’t like it.”
“He says Tristan’s bad for me.”
“And you say?”
“That Tristan needs me. I don’t know what Rey needs, but clearly it’s not me.”
“Chris thought he was bad for me, too. He’d been through hell, and he didn’t want to drag me into it.”
“Tristan has no problem dragging me into his hell.”
“I don’t know if that’s good or bad, Chantal. All I know is that if Rey doesn’t want to drag you into something he perceives as bad, he’s trying to be a good man.”
Chris is suddenly behind me, his hand resting on my back as he leans close and says, “I need to see you alone for a minute.”
“I’m going to leave anyway,” Chantal announces. “You’re here a couple more days, right?”
“Yes. We leave on the twenty-ninth.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” she promises.
Chris leads me toward a side door.
“What’s going on?” I ask softly as we step into a corridor decorated with artwork.
“I have something I want to show you.”
His expression is blank, his mood guarded, and a frisson of unease slides through me. He stops at a heavy white door with crown molding and opens it, motioning me inside.
I step inside to find a lounge area with a couch and two chairs. Rey is sitting in one of the chairs. “It’s Ella,” I say, my voice a choked whisper.
Rey doesn’t deny or confirm my assumption and Chris shuts the door behind me, his hand settling on the small of my back. “Let’s sit, Sara.”
“Is she dead?” I ask, my voice cracking. “Is Ella dead?”
“We don’t know,” Rey replies while Chris literally sits me down in the chair, kneeling beside me.
“He got a tip on Ella, but keep in mind this isn’t good or bad,” Chris says.
Rey hands me his phone with a picture displayed. “Is that Ella?”
I stare down at the photo of a woman staring up at a camera from some sort of counter, and while her hair is dark, not red, I’d know her face anywhere. “Yes. Yes, that’s her. Where is this? When is this?”
“Six weeks ago in Italy, is all I know right now,” Rey says. “That was texted to me as I pulled into the museum tonight. The good news is that we know she left France, and Neville, alive. The bad news is that no one has seen her since that photo. The store attendant said she came in acting scared, wanted to use the phone, and left out the back door when a man came in the front door. Whoever that man was followed her out the back.”