“I’m already all yours, and you know it.”

“But then the rest of the world will know it.”

“I’m pretty sure they do already.”

We both break out in spontaneous smiles and he encloses my hand with his. “Come. I have something else for you.”

As he does so often, he doesn’t wait for a response, leading me down the stairs to the elevator. He punches the button and it opens immediately. “We’re going to the garage?” I ask as we enter and he punches the button for the bottom level.

“That’s right.”

“Why?”

That boyish mischief I know so well dances in his eyes. “Wait and see.” With only one floor to travel we’ve already arrived, and he pulls me into the foyer, places me in front of him, and opens the garage door. As I walk forward the motion detectors turn on the lights, and I gasp when I see a shiny, metallic-blue 911 with a huge red bow on top.

I whirl on Chris. “You bought me a car?” I ask, stating the obvious.

“Actually, I bought you two. There’s a silver convertible Mercedes waiting for you in San Francisco. And you can trade either or both for something else.”

“Chris, that’s two one-hundred-thousand-dollar cars!”

His hands come down on my shoulders. “Stop putting a price tag on things, Sara. We have money, and I want you to have anything you want or need. The money isn’t any sort of control over you. But it does gives us control over our lives. And it lets us make a difference in other people’s lives. Together. We do these things together.”

I inhale and let it out. “I know—I do. My father used money as a weapon for so many years, it’s still a trigger. I hate that he still impacts me that way.”

He smiles, banishing the darkness, and holds out the remote. “Go on. You know you want to check it out.”

I nod, the fun of the moment rising. “Yes!” I take the remote and run toward the car, climbing inside to inhale the new leather scent and run my hand over the dash. “It’s gorgeous!”

He squats down beside me. “You’re sure? You like it?”

“I love it!” I turn toward him and set my feet on the garage floor, my knees touching his, then I reach into my pocket and hold out the box on my palms.

His brow dips and he strokes his name on the top. “That’s my signature.”

“Yes. I had it copied. And the wood—”

“Is African. I know.”

“Open it,” I urge.

He flips the lid and stares down at the brush. He’s silent so long, I say, “It’s—”

“The first brush I ever painted with. I know.” He looks skyward a moment, as if battling some emotion, before his hand comes to rest on the back of my head and he pulls my mouth to his, kissing me softly, tenderly. “Thank you,” he murmurs. “This gift represents both of the most defining moments of change in my life: my decision to paint, and my decision to let go of the past and hold onto you.”

• • •

It seems like the holiday is over in the blink of an eye, and then it’s time to leave for the States. Chris encourages me to dress comfortably to sleep on the plane, and like him, I choose a sweat suit. I scoff at the idea that I will ever sleep on a plane that could drop out of the air at any moment, but after a winter storm delays our flight for eight hours, and with the help of a Bloody Mary, I change my mind.

At the private hangar in San Francisco where we land, we meet Alex, the newest local Walker Security employee. Alex is tall, with wavy dark hair, and, like Jacob, appears to be in his early thirties. He’s dressed sharply in a suit and is reserved and efficient. He delivers us to our apartment at four o’clock, just two hours before we’re to meet Mark and Crystal at the restaurant, but Chris and I are both too curious about the meeting to cancel.

As we step out of the car into the sixty-something-degree air, Chris makes arrangements with Alex for our later departure.

My cell phone buzzes and I glance down to find a text message from Katie.

Are you there yet? I confirmed that the cakes and flowers were delivered. I need to know your choices by six or we will lose your Valentine’s Day bookings.

I quickly type, We just arrived at the building.

Chris joins me again. “Apparently the press has been here today, in anticipation that we’ll be around for the memorial. We’re going to leave out of the garage tonight to be safe.”

My phone buzzes again and I glance down at Katie’s message.

Oh good. Let me know!

I hold up my phone to show Chris. “Katie is freaking out about the cakes and flowers.”

“She’s going to be a crazy woman by the time the wedding happens. Let’s preserve her sanity as long as we can for our own good, and go sample the cakes.” He wraps his arm around me and leans in close, his breath a hot fan on my neck. “And then I’ll have you for dessert.”

I laugh as we start toward the sliding glass doors. “We don’t have time for that.”

“Cake sampling is five minutes. You, an hour.”

Thanks to that erotic promise, I’m all smiles as we enter the building.

When we pass the security post, there’s a fifty-something man in a suit there.

“I miss Jacob,” I say after we’re out of his earshot.

“The new man’s name is Max,” Chris says. “He’s ex-military and very capable.”


Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Books Inside Out Series Books Romance Books
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