“Better. You can help me take it off.”
“Deal,” I say with a laugh. “Though I want a picture before the undressing begins.”
“I’ll give you the picture if I can talk you into bringing the painting I did last night with you. It’s not dry enough for me to carry with me.”
“Of course. I don’t mind at all.”
“Great. There’s a small room in the back of the studio with a high-tech dryer. It’s sitting back there. I’ll call you when I get settled and work out the travel arrangements.”
The phone buzzes on the wall and he grabs it. “Be right down,” he murmurs and replaces the receiver before reluctantly announcing, “My cab is here.”
“Why aren’t you driving?”
“I want you to take the Porsche.”
“I have my car.”
“The Porsche has top-notch security. It knows where you are at all times.”
A flash of a past I prefer to forget slips between us, sharpening my tone. “In other words, you want to know where I am at all times?”
He appears unfazed by my reaction. “If I had to find you I could, but that’s not the point. If you were in trouble, you’d be found and found quickly. If you need help, you just tell the computer and it will get you help. It’s peace of mind for us both.”
His reasoning isn’t horrible and the past begins to slip away, replaced by another, rather obvious potential motive. “And as a bonus me driving your car makes a statement to Mark.”
He crosses his arms over his chest. “As a bonus, yes.”
My hands go to my hips. “I don’t want to be in the middle of the war between the two of you. I’m not a game token, Chris.”
He backs me against the counter, his legs framing mine, and in my bare feet and only his T-shirt, I feel tiny and he is larger-than-life. “It says you’re mine,” he informs me, his voice low, intense, “and I want him to know you’re mine.”
I’m thrilled when I should be objecting. “And you, Chris?” I challenge instead. “Are you mine?”
“Every bit of me, baby, good and bad.”
I am shocked at how easily this declaration has rolled from his lips. My own lips part and no words come out.
“Take the Porsche.” His voice is softer now, rough and seductive.
He was right earlier, I conclude instantly. I melt like honey for this man when he wants me to. “I’ll take the Porsche.”
Chris’s hand slides to the side of my face. “That’s the right answer, baby,” he murmurs, then slants his mouth over mine, his tongue pressing past my lips. The ripe taste of his approval mixed with the sweet nuttiness of hazelnut coffee floods my taste buds, and consumes me. I am happy for the first time in a very long time.
Watching the elevator doors close on Chris leaves me hollow inside. I’m alone in his apartment and the happiness of the last few minutes has waned with the sensation of being lost. I know that distance does not have to create separation between us but our newfound closeness is fragile.
For several seconds I face those steel doors, willing them to open again, but they do not, and with good reason. Chris has a flight to catch and a good reason to leave. I on the other hand have several hours until I have to be at work and way too much time to think. I tell myself to sleep, since I’ve done little of it, but I know that isn’t going to happen. There is simply too much weighing on my mind. Besides, I need to unpack and shower.
I quickly head to the bedroom and find my nearly dead phone and dig the charger out of my suitcase. Once I’ve plugged it in and set it on the nightstand by the unmade bed, I glance at the closet. I’ve never actually shared a closet with a man before and I fight a wave of discomfort. I fight off the feeling. I am crazy about Chris. I am thrilled with the evolution of our relationship. So why am I fighting a sensation not so unlike what I felt in the storage unit, a sort of claustrophobia?
“This is ridiculous,” I scold myself, then zip my case back up and snatch up the handle. “You want this man. You want to be close to him.” I roll it to the closet and flip on the light and my eyes go wide at what I find. The closet is amazing, a girl’s dream, the size of a small bedroom with racks for clothes that line each of the three sides that don’t have a door, only two of which are being used for Chris’s clothes.
Once I’ve settled the case on the floor, I squat down and unzip it. My eyes catch on the safe embedded on the right wall and I find the door open. Chris hasn’t given me the combination yet and it’s unnerving to lock Rebecca’s things away without a way to get back inside.
My teeth scrape my bottom lip and I stare down at my open case, at the small keepsake box and the journals lying on top of my things. I made a promise to Chris to lock the journals up. I gather the three journals and the box and carry them to the safe, and shove them inside, but I do not lock the door. The fourth journal is by the bed somewhere, where I’ve left it the night before, and I push to my feet and head to the other room to find it. I spot it on the floor by the bed and reach down to grab it but my hand slips and it falls open. I grab it and sit on the bed, staring at the open page. I know this entry. My knowledge of the contents makes the urge to read almost unbearable. I draw a breath and promise myself this is the last time I’ll touch any of the journals before Chris returns. I’ll call him before he’s in the air, get the combination to the safe, and lock them away. Air trickles from my lips and my gaze drops to the book.