I melt down into the leather seat and stare into the inky darkness outside. The truth is about to be discovered. And isn’t the truth what most people fear more than anything?
• • •
The sprawling country home that Chris has rented sits atop a hill with a gated entry. “The views are supposed to be magnificent in the daytime. There’s a heated pool, gym, and a private vineyard. More important, it has a space I can use as a studio, and room you can set up as an office to work on your consulting business if we decide to hide out here awhile.”
“It sounds fabulous,” I say, as we exit the car in the garage.
“I figured we’d want to stay at least until we get some of the media frenzy behind us.” He crosses to the door to the house and grabs the large envelope propped against it, opening it to hand me a key. “You also have the gate access code, and the garage remote they left us by the gate is over the visor on the car.”
I accept the key. “You already told the Louvre you can’t do the charity event?”
“Yes. I made it up to them in cash. Don’t worry about it; we’ll be there next year.”
“But maybe now that we’re cleared, we can go?”
“If we do, I can still attend the event, but at least now they can make plans if I can’t.”
The buzzer by the door goes off, and he scrubs his blond hair into a spiky, sexy mess. “That’ll be Katie and Mike.”
I glance at his watch. “Nine o’clock,” I say. “Right on time.”
“Sorry, baby. You heard me trying to convince her to wait until tomorrow, on our way here. But she was insistent she see us tonight.” He hits the intercom and Katie comes on immediately.
“We’re here and so are you. Wonderful!” she exclaims.
Chris tells her, “I’ll open the gates and you can pull into the garage next to us.” He reopens the garage and glances at me. “A little longer, and we can crash.”
“It’s okay. I love Katie.”
“Good, because you should be prepared for a wedding explosion. She’s going to lay one on you, I promise. Details will be planned and rehashed a million times. Just keep stressing small and intimate, like we talked about, or she’ll have several countries here.”
I smile at the idea of Katie’s excitement. Headlights flash in the driveway and I have the sense of how my life has changed—how I’d been alone six months ago, and now I am not. Emotion overcomes me and I turn to Chris, wrapping my arms around his neck. “I love you, too, and . . . and I can’t lose you.”
“You won’t. I’m not leaving again. It was a mistake I won’t repeat.”
“I don’t mean that. I mean, I can’t lose you the way Mark lost Rebecca.”
“No one can promise that. She was going back to him. They had a chance and in a blink of an eye, she was gone.”
His hands rest on my shoulders. “You’re right. None of us can promise that we’ll live another day. But you can’t lose me the way Mark lost Rebecca, because you have nothing to regret with me like he does with her. And when I buried Dylan and came back to you, I knew it was all or nothing with you; no regrets.” The headlights flicker and a car pulls in next to the 911, but Chris doesn’t turn.
“No in between,” I whisper.
Car doors open and I hear, “Sara!” and I turn to find Katie and Mike coming toward us, both as distinguished and warm as I remember. They’re in their sixties and her gray hair is long and sleek, though his is getting a bit sparse on top. Both are elegantly dressed in casual, obviously expensive dress slacks; Katie’s are loose, flowy black satin.
Mike shakes Chris’s hand and then pulls him into a hug. I’m smiling when Katie goes straight for a big squeeze with me, and the distinct scent of roses reaches my nostrils, shaking me to the core.
Leaning back, she inspects me. “You look pale.” She gives Chris a reprimanding look. “Why is she so pale?”
Because you smell like roses, and I must be losing my mind.
Chris replies, “It’s been a hell of a day, Katie.”
She turns back to me. “It has been a bad day, hasn’t it? Life gets so messy sometimes, and people will do and say anything to get on top. Once, I was accused of sleeping with a reporter to get press for the winery. A bastard competitor made me look like a tramp. So I want you to know that nothing anyone says can sway us. You are your own story, here.”
“I’m with Katie,” Mike agrees and gives me a big hug, and dang it, now I know I’m nuts. He smells like roses, too, the cloyingly sweet scent staying with me after he steps away.
“Thank you both,” I say, touched by the story she shared to make me feel comfortable. And I do. I have zero sense of being judged by them. Chris was right; I had nothing to fear coming here.
“You can thank me by letting me help plan the wedding,” she asserts.
I laugh. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
She smiles. “Excellent.” She motions to their shiny black BMW. “We brought some groceries so you can settle in and relax tonight.” She cuts Chris a knowing look. “See? We saved you starvation until the stores open tomorrow.”
Chris chuckles. “I should have known you’d come prepared. Thank you, Katie.”
She snaps her fingers. “Both you men.” She points to the cars. “Unload.”