By mid-morning we’ve checked on Ella, with no news to be had, and Chris is quick to distract me from worry with cake and flowers. Katie is pleased with our choices, but I don’t miss how Chris avoids talking to her, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t, either. His godfather, Mike, even calls once and Chris doesn’t answer.
I don’t ask what is bothering him; he’ll talk about it when he’s ready. I know when to ask questions now, and when to just help him breathe. So I revel in being home, getting unpacked, having a workout in the gym, and enjoying a bottle of champagne with pizza, which ends with us falling asleep on the couch.
The next morning, we’re both feeling more rested, and Chris suggests we go to the garage to check out my new car. I’m eager to see it, now that I’m past that trigger of guilt I’d felt initially. When I spot the shiny, gorgeous new car, I rush to open the door, quickly climbing inside.
I can see Chris’s pleasure at my pleasure, and I’m reminded that besides wanting me to fully embrace sharing his life, he needs that connection to put the past behind him, like me.
I stand up and wrap my arms around his neck. “I love it. Thank you. Can we take it for a ride?”
Alex, who has been standing in the background, clears his throat. “Not advisable. The press hasn’t left the front of the building. This car will end up on their radar, and you’ll end up with them on your tail.”
Chris’s hands go to his hips and his expression tightens. “No. We aren’t playing this game on their terms. Let’s give them what they want so they’ll stop haunting us.” He grabs his phone and dials. “Jacob. How soon can you get here? I need to borrow you to assist Alex for an hour. Good. See you in five.” He ends the call. “Let’s go meet the public.”
“What are we doing, Chris?” I ask as he tugs me toward the building, while Alex quickly falls into place.
“We’re going to talk to the press so it will run on all of the stations. Otherwise we’ll still be a story come our wedding day, and we’ll risk it being interrupted.” He eyes Alex. “You up to the task?”
“Yes, sir,” he assures Chris, as if there was any other acceptable answer, considering Chris seems to have made up his mind. “I’ll warn the apartment security and we’ll handle the crowd. When is Jacob arriving?”
“He was next door at the Italian joint eating pizza,” Chris replies. “He should be here now.” He stops and faces me, hands on my shoulders. “There’s no police investigation to silence us now. The plan is to walk outside, let them fire questions at us, and we answer them. We get the inevitable over with, and they lose interest.”
“That makes sense. Yes. I’m ready to get this behind us.”
He gives me a nod of approval and we walk hand-in-hand into the lobby, pausing as Alex talks to the new security guy, Max. Max eyes us as Alex speaks, giving a nod of acceptance.
“Ready to do this thing?” Jacob asks, appearing in front of us from I don’t know where, because he didn’t come in the front door.
“Let’s do it,” Chris confirms.
Jacob leads us forward, while Alex and Max follow behind us. The instant we reach the sliding glass doors, at least ten reporters charge toward us. I blink and we step outside, but I don’t feel the winter chill as cameras are pointed at us and lights start flashing. I feel suffocated and hot and more than a little ready to be done with this.
“How long did you know Ava Perez, Ms. McMillan?” one reporter asks.
“Did you sleep with Ms. Perez, Mr. Merit?” another asks.
A microphone is shoved at my face. “How do you feel about the deals that were made?”
Chris shoves it away. “Enough,” he shouts. “One question at a time. And no, I did not sleep with Ava Perez.”
“I met her when I went to work at the gallery,” I say, following his lead. “And I’m upset about the deals made. None of them got enough time for what they did. Rebecca is dead.”
Answers don’t calm the beasts within these reporters. The questions start firing from everyone again and Chris grimaces, motioning to Jacob and whispering in his ear.
Jacob grabs one of the reporters and pulls her with him, disappearing somewhere behind us. I’d ask questions but there are too many being thrown at me for me to even think straight. Chris and I answer a few of them, but people talk over us to the point that I’m not sure we are heard. One reporter, a middle-aged man wearing a Hawaiian shirt under a blazer, is particularly rude and keeps shoving that stupid microphone in my face. When I’m at my wit’s end, Alex and Max step in front of Chris and Chris takes my arm, pulling me back inside the building.
“Are we done?” I ask, sensing there is more going on than I know.
“Not quite,” he says, and Jacob appears from a doorway by the front desk, motioning us forward.
“We’re going to give an exclusive interview to kill some of the curiosity. And we’ll do it now, so the reporter has no time to come up with ridiculous questions.” He stops before we enter the room. “Are you okay with this?”
“If it ends this frenzy, then yes.”
“It won’t end it, but it will be a step toward making that happen.”
“If it’s not over, what comes after this?”
“We step back outside and let them go at us one last time. Then we have Alex and Jacob sneak us out of here, and we go see Katie and Mike. We can talk through the wedding plans while the reporters are too busy with today’s footage to come hunting for us. Tomorrow morning, we return here and we don’t hide. We get out and about and we let those bloodsuckers have at us. By the time we head to Sonoma to get married, it will be over. We can come home after our wedding in peace. Or, we can do what I think is safer: You let me take you someplace amazing for our honeymoon, just to be certain no one bothers us. At this point, that’s my preference.”