As I step fully into the shadows, my attention is riveted to where Chris is leaning with one hand on the wall, his back to me, looking out of a ceiling-to-loor archway window resembling the doors behind me. He doesn’t turn or speak, but the subtle shift in the air tells me he’s aware that I’m here.

My hesitation is a brief moment before I dart forward. I simply don’t have it in me to ride this emotional roller coaster for a few more turns, and I’m not sure Chris does, either. My impatience to end the tension between us is so extreme that I don’t stop when I’m right behind him. I place myself in the small space between him and the wall and blink up at him.

He stares down at me, his lashes a veil shielding his eyes, and he says nothing, does nothing. I know this man as I have never known another human being, and he’s waiting for me to say or do the right or wrong thing. And the only right thing I know is to be honest.

I close the small space between us and settle my hands on his waist, relieved when he lets me. Unsurprised when he doesn’t touch me. “You asked me to hear you out last night.

Now I’m asking you to do the same of me. I didn’t intend to go to the Script.”

“And yet you did.”

His tone is lat, hard, but at least he’s talking. “I went to Starbucks, not Amber’s place.”

“And the temptation to go next door was too much.”

“I won’t lie and say I wasn’t tempted to discover what was inside.” My hand moves to his arm, splaying over his dragon.

“This is part of you, and I don’t know why, but it feels almost a part of us. Yet she created it. So yes. I’m curious about her and it, and I don’t even know if it was done at the Script.”

“It wasn’t. And if you want to know about my past, you ask me.”

My hand lexes on his arm, and I have to warn myself to ight one battle at a time. He says ask him, but he gives me pieces, not complete stories. “I didn’t ask her about you. Not one single question.”

“We both know you don’t have to. She’s more than eager to share her version of who I am.”

“I, of all people, understand where you’re coming from. I remember how much I needed to tell you my past in my way.

Michael stole that from me by showing up at the charity event.

I won’t do that to you.”

His hand goes to my wrist at his waist and I’m certain he’s thinking about removing it. “Apparently that memory didn’t dissuade you, considering you went inside anyway. And you knew she’d open up doors I wasn’t ready to open.”

My ingers curl around his shirt, clinging to the material and with it, him. “That’s not true. Or it is, but that’s not what I was thinking at the time. She came outside as I was walking away. I felt trapped. She tried to intimidate me, Chris. If she’s going to be around, and clearly she is, I felt I couldn’t show her any sign of weakness.”

“So you disregarded how much I don’t want you there.” It’s not a question.

“You never said you didn’t want me there.”

His eyes turn as steely as his voice. “I didn’t have to. You knew, Sara.”

He’s right. I knew. “I was weak.” I feel my bottom lip tremble and my chest feels like it’s going to cave in. “I should have walked away.”

“Yes.” He reaches down and drags my hands from where they rest to settle them between us. “You should have.”

“I tried. I just . . . I had one of those ‘who has the bigger, ah, sword’ encounters you and Mark have but deny.” This half joke gets me nothing. He just keeps staring at me with hard eyes.

I drop my head to his chest, knowing what I haven’t said and have to admit. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this out loud.” I draw a breath and force my chin up. “Right or wrong, I needed her to know I could and would protect what is mine.”

Seconds tick by before he softly asks, “Which is what, Sara?”

The husky quality to his voice gives me courage. “You,” I whisper. “I needed her to know you belong to me now.”

He studies me for what feels like an eternity, not denying or conirming my claim. His expression is still so damn unreadable. I am going insane waiting on his reply until inally he asks, “That’s why you went inside?”

“Yes, it is. I just . . . couldn’t help myself.”

Slowly, the corners of his mouth lift and his body relaxes.

A moment later, his strong arms wrap around me and he buries his face in my neck, the earthy, wonderful scent of him tickling my nose. “I love you, woman.” He strokes my hair from my face and leans back to stare down at me. “And you can claim me as yours any day of the week. I plan to claim you.”

“You’re not upset anymore?”

“If it had been Mark, I’d have done the same damn thing.”

I scowl. “If? You did do the same damn thing on numerous occasions.”

He laughs. “Okay. Maybe I did.” His hands settle possessively on my hips. “Remember. I do own you, baby.”

“In bed,” I amend. “The rest of the time, I own me.” I smile.

“And you.”

He grins. “I suggest we debate both points after dinner.” He pauses for efect. “In bed.”

Thirty minutes later Chris and I are sitting side by side, our legs molded intimately together, in a surprisingly spacious Mexican restaurant at a table for four, rather than a saucer-sized table for two. Apparently seating two people at a larger table is some kind of cardinal sin in Paris—unless the price is right. Chris tipped the waiter what I assume was a healthy chunk of change and we scored our happy seat.

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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