“You haven’t seen that episode of Seinfeld? It’s an alternate universe.”
“No, I have not seen that episode of Seinfeld, but I agree. Perhaps we are in Bizarro World, since the Sara I know likes to be called by her first name.”
“Isn’t that exactly why you always call me Ms. McMillan?”
“Perhaps I can’t stomach the idea of calling you Mrs. Merit.”
I grin. “Why don’t you wait until Chris walks in to give him a hard time?”
His lips curve into what is almost a smile, and I know I’ve busted him. “Because he doesn’t take my bait the way you do.”
“You’re maddening, Mark Compton.”
“So you tell me.”
“Finally!” A pretty woman with long blond hair in a knee-length charcoal-gray dress and boots steps to Mark’s side, her hand wrapping the sleeve he’s just straightened. And not only does he let her, he covers her hand with his. “The line for the bathroom was insane,” she adds before her gaze catches on me. “Sara?”
“Yes.” She lets go of Mark and throws her arms around me. His eyes are on her, softer than I’ve ever seen them.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” she declares. “Thank you for all you’ve done with the gallery and Rebecca and—”
“We have a problem,” Chris announces, appearing by my side, his hand going to my back. “The press is outside. Jacob’s pulling up out back to get us while Alex distracts them.”
“Jacob’s here?” I ask.
“He flew in from New York with us,” Mark explains, “for exactly this reason. The press is stalking us all over again now that Ava, Ryan, and Ricco have all made a deal.”
“At least it’s almost over,” Chris comments. “Let’s go.”
“This way,” Crystal says, grabbing Mark’s hand. “I saw the door by the bathroom.” She takes off with Mark on her heels and Chris stares after them, giving his head a little shake as if he has cobwebs in his head.
I laugh and wrap my arm around his, sliding my hand in his jacket pocket. “Yes, he lets her touch him, and yes, it’s Bizarro World.”
“That’s an understatement,” he agrees as we start after them, and I love that he gets my Seinfeld reference.
We push through the crowd at the bar and have to squeeze by a line at the ladies bathroom to reach the exit. Mark pulls Crystal behind him. “Wait here until I’m sure it’s clear.”
At that moment, Jacob opens the door. “Let’s go. A couple of them rushed Alex at the front.”
Mark urges Crystal forward, staying close behind her, and Chris settles his hands protectively on my shoulders and walks us forward. In a rush of movement, we pile in the back of a limo-style SUV, Mark and Crystal facing forward and Chris and I sitting with our backs to Jacob.
Jacob climbs into the front seat, slamming the door shut and hitting the locks. “Hold on, boys and girls, because the press is coming and we’re going.” He hits the accelerator and we launch forward.
“We missed you, Jacob,” I say. “Please come back.”
“We’ll pay you more than Blake or Mark,” Chris inserts, as we all lurch sideways with a dramatic right turn.
“Doubtful,” Mark says dryly, “but you can try.”
“Why can’t ladies fight over me like this?” Jacob says; cutting another hard right that throws me into Chris’s lap.
“Chris, it’s so nice to meet you,” Crystal says, offering him her hand. “I’m a fan. Your work is amazing.”
Mark starts tapping his fingers on his leg and there’s no doubt that Chris notices, a look of pure enjoyment on his face as he accepts her hand. “If you put a leash on Mark, as it seems you have, I’m your fan.”
“Sadly, I haven’t figured out how to do that,” she concedes. “But much to his chagrin, he hasn’t figured out how to do it to me either.”
“New territory for you, isn’t it, Mark?” Chris challenges.
“One could say the same of you and Sara, I believe.”
“One could say exactly that,” Chris agrees, wrapping his arm around my shoulders.
The SUV cuts left onto an empty side street, where Jacob parks. “You have an hour before we have to leave for the memorial. What would you like to do?”
Chris releases me, glancing out of the window. “Chinese food to the left.” He grabs my hand and opens the door. “Let’s eat.”
“What?” Mark demands. “We can’t stop here. We don’t know this neighborhood.”
“I painted it,” Chris informs him. “I know it, so either come with us or we’ll see you at the memorial.”
Crystal says, “We’re coming.”
She slides out of the vehicle and Mark says something to Jacob before he, too, joins us.
Chris arches a brow and Mark replies, “You aren’t getting out of dinner with us that easily. Nice try.”
“I’d try harder, but I’m hungry.” Chris wraps his arm around me and we cross the street, Mark and Crystal right behind us, with Jacob pulling the SUV around to park in front of the restaurant before we even enter.
The four of us step into the tiny dining area that seats ten people at most, and we all shrug out of our coats, taking turns going to the fast-food style counter. In a matter of minutes we’ve settled around the steel table with our food.