I can’t escape the fear that I proposed out of my selfish need to have Sara in my life, whether that’s good for her or not. But I remind myself that I recovered from the Dylan meltdown quickly; I will never again be what I was during those dark years following the shooting. My demons are under control, locked away in a deep, dark cavern in my soul where they won’t be destructive.
It’s the only way I can protect Sara, who has demons of her own. It’s the only way I can make this, and us, work. I need her in my life, and I know she needs me, too. I will not destroy Sara as I did Amber.
The sound of my cell phone pierces the peaceful room and Sara shifts against my side, her fingers flexing on my chest. “What time is it?”
I reach for the phone and murmur, “One in the morning,” then glance at the caller ID. The name punches me in the gut and makes me wish we were already on the plane to the States.
Sara raises up on her elbow, a shadowy silhouette in the darkness. “No one calls for a good reason at one in the morning. Who is it?”
“Tristan,” I tell her, shifting her off me to sit up fully. As always, I’m already cold inside with the absence of her touch, certain a moment like this one will rip her from my arms, and my life.
I turn away, hiding the tension I know she’ll read in my face, punch the Answer button, and tell Tristan, “You do know we leave in a few hours, right?”
“Oui, and so does Amber.” His voice is more thickly accented than usual, a rubber band of tension about to snap.
“What the hell do you think it means? Merde,” he snaps. “She’s with Isabel, in total meltdown mode.”
I shove a rough hand through my hair. “Pull her the hell out of there.”
“If I could do that, do you think I’d be calling you? I can’t get through to her, and I can’t even get inside to see what’s happening. Isabel locked me out.”
“Do what you do when I’m not here.”
“This wouldn’t be happening if you’d stayed the f**k away, Chris. I saw the look in that bitch Isabel’s eyes when she wrapped her arm around Amber and took her back to her room. She’s going to make her pay for what you did. You need to get over here and make it right.” The line goes dead.
“Fuck.” I drop my elbows to my knees, my head between my shoulders. I can never escape it. And I can’t win. Amber thinks this is about her, but for Isabel, it’s always been about me. And I know how she works. She’s setting me up, saving the beating for me to witness—but if I don’t go, she’ll beat Amber worse just to spite me.
Sara’s hand settles on my back, and I squeeze my eyes shut with the tenderness of the touch I don’t deserve. “What is it?” she asks gently, her voice a soothing caress on my jagged nerves. I don’t know what it is about Sara, but she gets to me, reaches inside me and does things to me. Addictive, wonderful things that calm me in ways I thought only a whip could do, until I met her.
But I don’t turn to her. I can’t turn to her. Not with the shit going on in my head.
I hear the uncertainty and worry in her voice, and I wish I could wipe it away—even though I brought her here to see the truth. Flipping on the light, I say, “I have to go deal with a problem.”
I don’t know what the f**k to say and I push to my feet and cross to the closet, grabbing a pair of jeans and pulling them on commando. Not five minutes ago I was telling myself none of this mattered, and already it’s haunting us again.
I turn at Sara’s voice to find her in front of me, and damn it, she is naked and gorgeous, her long brown hair draped over her pale shoulders, her bare br**sts high and the pretty pink of her ni**les puckered. All I want to do is take her back to bed, and bury myself and the demons of my past inside her. But I can’t. Not now. Maybe not ever.
“Chris, damn it, you’re scaring me. What’s going on?”
I scrub my jaw. “Amber.”
She pales and crosses her arms in front of her, already withdrawing. “Amber?”
“She’s with Isabel, and Tristan can’t get her to listen to reason.”
“As in Isabel is—”
“Beating her. Yes.”
Her brow furrows, worry etched in her chocolate-brown eyes. “And so Tristan called you to come rescue her? I didn’t think he wanted you near her.”
“Amber’s playing a head game with me and Tristan. I have no doubt that she intentionally went to Isabel tonight, knowing I’m leaving, and knowing that Isabel’s a vicious bitch. She’ll lash out at Amber to try to gain a reaction from me. It’s what she’s always done.”
Sara’s hand goes to her throat. “And Amber will take a brutal beating to get your attention?”
“I’ll get dressed.”
She turns away and I shackle her arm, pulling her to me. “You aren’t going.”
“Yes, I am, Chris.”
“I don’t want you involved in this, and I damn sure don’t want you in Isabel’s club.”
“I know what to expect.”
“You think you know, baby. You don’t.”
Her eyes widen. “What does that mean?”
I lower my gaze and fight this inner war of what’s too much and what’s not enough—all that I’ve fought since meeting Sara. She touches my jaw, silently willing me to look at her, and when I do, I face the facts. I was relieved when I didn’t melt down at my parents’ place. I convinced myself it was over. I convinced myself that I’d told her where I’d been, and that we could go forward. But I was lying to us both.