Authors: Lisa Renee Jones
To Diego, for sharing this journey with me, and making it better.
A special thanks to my agent, Louise Fury, and my editor, Micki Nuding, who have been as passionate about this series as I have been. I’m looking forward to the limo ride in our future, ladies!
If you haven’t read the novella
which is in Chris’s POV and is a look at what Chris really wanted to tell Sara in Paris, it’s only 99 cents at all e-tailers. While you don’t have to read it to enjoy this story, it’s a great prelude.
I hope you enjoy
No In Between!
November 2012, Journal Entry #1
On a plane from Paris to San Francisco
I will soon be Sara Merit instead of Sara McMillan. I can barely believe it’s true, or that Chris Merit, the amazing, talented, gifted man in the leather seat next to me, is about to be my husband. I should be snuggled against him, resting and reveling in our amazing bond that only seems to get stronger, but I cannot seem to relax. My mind is too much of a jumbled mess over last night, and everything that happened in those few hours before we left Paris. All the craziness of the past month is playing around in my head, twisting me in knots one moment, and causing me to break out in a spontaneous smile at others.
And so here I am, writing in a touristy journal etched with the image of the Eiffel Tower (isn’t everything you buy in Paris!) that I picked up in the airport, penning my thoughts just the way Rebecca used to.
I feel sick to my stomach, writing about her in the past tense. She is a stranger and she is gone, and yet she’s completely a part of me. It’s impossible to explain how deeply and profoundly her life, and her words, have spoken to me.
Since reading Rebecca’s journals I’ve often thought of starting my own, and finally doing so makes me feel like I haven’t lost her—that there’s still hope I might meet her. Maybe it’s my form of denial, my hope that Ava didn’t kill her. I feel an almost desperate need to discover that she’s still out there somewhere, still traveling the world with the hot, rich man I’m told she ran off with to forget Mark. And if I feel these things, I can only imagine what Mark must feel and how deeply this must cut him. I saw the heartache in his eyes after Ava confessed to killing Rebecca; the kind of heartache that leaves a person weak and bleeding—the way the loss of my mother had left me.
Only a week ago, when I’d first arrived in Paris and learned that Ava had turned her confession into accusations against me and Mark, I’d been terrified and overwhelmed, worried about where it would lead, and what it would mean. Now, though, my fear has transformed into anger, and defeat into a readiness to fight. I think I needed the time to deal with the rawness from the news of Rebecca’s death, and the attempt on my own life, right on the heels of losing Dylan and then nearly losing Chris with him.
As much as I’d fought going to Paris, I’m so very glad I went. It was on our last night in Paris, only hours before we left, that Chris and I made a real breakthrough in our relationship. I still can’t get the memory of the midnight phone call to rescue Amber out of my head, and even more so, the way we’d found her tied up in Isabel’s “playroom” with welts all over her skin. But as horrific as that was, it finally got her into rehab. It also convinced Chris that he hadn’t fully revealed everything he should have to me, before his marriage proposal.
I can’t believe how wrong I’d been about his secret, and I blame myself for not looking deeper inside the man I love. I know how heartache and damage run in deep layers, not easily peeled away. I’d accepted too easily that his big reveal in Paris was about his reasons for seeking out the whip years ago. About the teenage boy he’d shot and killed when he and Amber’s family had been mugged, and how he’d been unable to save her mother and father. And it wasn’t even about the once a year meltdown he confessed to having during the week of that anniversary.
His real secret, that deeper layer, was that Dylan’s death had shown him how much control the whip still has over him. Last night he’d confessed that while he was away for Dylan’s funeral, he’d sought that kind of relief over and over again. Chris can no longer say he’ll never need the whip again, so we will face that monster together and win. I’ll show him that I am strong and won’t crumble. He will not destroy me, as he swears he did Amber and now fears he will me. How can he? He’s saved me many times over.
It’s my turn to save him.
“We’re home, baby.”
I place my hand in the warmth of Chris’s and he helps me out of the black sedan he’d hired to drive us from the airport to our San Francisco apartment. “Finally,” I murmur, feeling like we’ve been traveling for weeks, not sixteen hours.
“Finally,” Chris agrees, guiding me out of the chilly November wind and under the canopy at the front door of the building while we wait for our bags to be unloaded. “And you know what ‘home’ means,” he adds, dragging me close, his hand flattening over my trench coat in the exact location of my jeans-clad backside.
“Yes,” I assure him, all too aware that he’s referencing his planned “punishment” for my refusal to join the “Mile High Club” despite the private jet he’d chartered for our travel. “You’ve made your intentions
He lowers his head, his mouth finding my ear, spiky strands of his blond hair teasing my cheek. “You were afraid we’d get arrested for having sex on the plane. We wouldn’t have, but if we had, I would have made sure it was worth it.”
“We don’t do audiences,” I remind him, pushing away from him before I drown in that earthy, rich scent of his that defines temptation.
Not about to allow my escape, he encloses my waist with his arm, trapping my body against his, and my hands settle beneath his leather jacket on the hard wall of his chest as he says, “I offered to order the flight attendant to get lost.”
“Do you want me to take your bags up now, Mr. Merit?” the doorman asks.
Chris’s lips curve. “Now would be good.” The heated look he gives me before releasing me says he’s not talking about the bags.
I stand back and watch as Chris generously tips several staff members, returning to drape his arm over my shoulder. With our hips fitted snugly together, I’m warm all over as we pass through the sliding doors to enter the lobby—and not just with the certainty of all the naughty things Chris has dancing around in my head. I’ve successfully tuned out all the troubles we’ll face tomorrow with the police over Ava, and I’m reveling in the memory of my first visit here and how far we’ve come since then. It’s a memory made complete when we spot Jacob waiting for us on this side of the front desk, looking every bit the unapproachable security person, in his dark suit and earpiece, as he had then.
“Welcome home, Mr. Merit,” he greets, glancing at me to add, “Ms. McMillan.”
I grin at him and he arches a brow. “Something I missed?”
“No,” I assure him. “Something
missed: you, greeting us all stoic and formal in that way you do. It feels like home.”
“I wasn’t aware I was being stoic,” he says, looking positively stoic.
“Like the Terminator, but you don’t have a big gun,” Chris jokes.
I give a snort of laughter that Jacob doesn’t seem to notice. He levels Chris with a stare and with a completely straight face says, “It’s against company policy to utilize big guns at work. Though while I’m doing contract work with Blake, anything goes.”
Barely holding back another snort, I lift my hands. “Way too much man talk for me.”
Chris chuckles and kisses my cheek.
The name of the private investigator, who’s been looking into both Rebecca’s and Ella’s disappearances, ties my stomach in knots. “Speaking of Blake,” I say, trying to sound nonchalant, though I suddenly feel anxious about tomorrow’s appointment at the police station, “anything new from him on Ava, Rebecca, or Ella while we were airborne?”
“Nothing I’ve been made aware of,” Jacob says.
Chris angles me toward the elevator and tells Jacob, “We need sleep. Pretend we aren’t here.”
I turn to say, “Unless you hear from Blake.”
“But it had better be important,” Chris adds as the elevator opens and we step inside.
Suspicious that Chris knows something he isn’t telling me, I wait until the door closes to confront him. “If you or Jacob know anything and you aren’t telling me—”
He cuts me off by shackling my wrists and pulling me to him, aligning our hips and legs with an intimate caress down my backside. “I know nothing you don’t know,” he promises. “Remember what we said in Paris, baby.” He spreads his fingers on my cheek, his thumb stroking a seductive line along my jaw, his voice lower and deeper as he adds, “No secrets. No in between.”
The air around us thickens, and Chris is the driving force. His mood has darkened, doing one of those wicked one-eighty shifts I’ve come to know and expect from him. No longer is he playful and light—but I’m no longer those things, either. Now we are electric, with a dark current running between us that is raw and carnal, yet soft and sensual.
Chris strokes my hair, dragging his hand down my neck, my shoulder, my arm, and I can almost feel the nerve endings in my body flickering to life, welcoming him and the pleasure he so masterfully arouses in me. But when my eyes meet his, there’s more than the punch of awareness I expect. In the depths of those gorgeous deep green eyes, I find something I don’t understand; something even more intense than the thrum of arousal burning in my belly.
Uncertainty maybe? Vulnerability? Yes. No. I’m confused, yet I know that I see nothing that Chris doesn’t choose for me to see.
The elevator dings, and I jerk around to face the exit that leads directly into our apartment. Like the first night I came here, I have an inescapable sense that once I pass through the door, I’ll never be the same again. Life will never be the same.
I realize Chris isn’t touching me anymore. He wasn’t touching me that night, either. It’s as if he feels I have to make the decision to move forward on my own, and some part of me knows why. He needs to know now that home with him is still home to me. It reminds me of why we connect, why we are those missing pieces of a puzzle that have found a perfect fit. No matter how perfect his being imperfect makes him to me, he will never see himself as I do. He will never feel he is not flawed. He will always need me to be his eyes, and he is mine.
I walk into the apartment, the glossy, light wood beneath my feet. Our suitcases are already sitting by the entryway, brought up from the service entrance. Intentionally repeating what I’d done during that first visit here, feeling that’s what he wants, I travel down the steps to the sunken living room. I drop my purse on top of the coffee table as I pass and keep going until I stand in front of the floor-to-ceiling window. Flattening my hands on the glass, watching the orange glow of the sun fade into the water, I see the stars begin to illuminate a city as shrouded in secrets as Chris and I once were. But now our blank canvas is inked with colors, not fears, and love has blossomed where there was once only passion.
Music begins to play and I smile when I hear “Broken” by Lifehouse, amazed that Chris would actually remember the song he’d played that first night we were together.
I’m falling apart,
the lyrics say.
I’m barely breathing.
I’m not falling apart, but as Chris steps behind me, his heat radiating through me, I am definitely barely breathing.
He caresses my coat off my shoulders, and this replay of the past sends an erotic thrill down my spine. As his hands fall away from me my lashes lower, my breath hitching as I anticipate his touch, waiting, wanting, until finally his hands settle possessively on my waist. He leans into me, and the feel of the thick ridge of his erection against my backside is impossibly arousing. A delicate, enticing brush of his fingers sweeping hair from my neck follows and rolls over me like a warm sun expanding through a newly open blind.
“Put your hands on the glass above you,” he orders softly.
The command thrills me, and the temptation to do as he bids, to relive our first night together, is a powerful one. Yet I have the unnerving sensation of also reliving the uncertainty I’d thought we were beyond. I don’t understand this feeling, and I don’t like it.
Desperate to drive it away, I turn to face him, momentarily overwhelmed by how tall and broad, how perfectly male he is. And as I blink instead of speak, he claims control again. He presses me against the window, his powerful thighs frame my legs, his hands brand my hips.
His head tilts, the stubble of his jaw rasping deliciously on my skin, as he announces, “I’m going to fuck you against the window again.”
Please. Yes. Don’t make me beg,
I think, and the rest of the world begins to slide away. There is only this man, the blistering heat he creates in me, and the foggy certainty that I’d had something important to say. He nips my earlobe, erotically licking away the pinch he’s created, his hands traveling upward, over my rib cage, his fingers brushing the curves of my breasts.
My nipples tighten and the low thrum he’s created in my sex, over hours of verbal teasing, blossoms and intensifies. “Chris,” I whisper, a plea for more in my voice. For him. I want him, all of him.
“Hands over your head,” he orders again.
I want to obey. Being at this man’s mercy is the biggest adrenaline rush of my life, but that feeling is clawing at me again, the sense that all is not right. Leaning into him, I ball my fingers around his shirt, and search his handsome, unreadable face. “Are we okay?”
Surprise flashes in his eyes, followed by that indefinable emotion again that I want to call vulnerability but isn’t. I don’t know what it is. He cups my face. “I need you too damn much for there to be any other answer.”
“Then why do you feel just out of reach to me?”
“I’m not. I’m right here, and I’m bleeding for you every which way.”
I don’t understand the deep cut in his words, even less than I understand whatever emotion he’s battling. “What does that mean?”
He drops his head back between his shoulder blades, tension rolling off of him. Seconds tick by like hours and he finally lowers his tormented gaze to mine. “I’m still thinking about last night. I’m still living it.”
“What does that mean?” I say again.
“I don’t know what it means,” he confesses. “That’s the problem. That’s my fear.”
“Chris, you’re confusing me. Make me understand.”
“When you came to the club after Dylan died, I was out of my own skin, damn near out of my head. Had I stayed, I don’t know what I would have done to you—or with you.”
“So that’s it.” I remember him telling me he used to be like Amber, that he still is, in many ways. “Amber’s meltdown made you worry that you might melt down again.”
“I will. I’m a ticking time bomb. Eventually it’s going to happen.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do. I always knew, but I denied it. But no more. We’re going to have to eventually deal with it.”
That “we” relaxes my spine. My hands settle on his arms, my eyes seek his. “I’m not afraid.”
But he still is, and that’s the real problem. We still have that damn whip trying to split us apart.
The intercom buzzer sounds and Chris straightens, running a rough hand through his hair. Curious and concerned about the reason for the interruption, I listen anxiously as Chris punches the intercom button and growls, “This better be important.”
“Detective Grant is here,” Jacob replies. “He’s insisting I let him come up.”
Adrenaline surges through me and I rush up the stairs to stand by Chris. “Why is he here? We aren’t supposed to be at the police station until tomorrow afternoon for questioning.”
Chris holds up a hand to me and replies to Jacob, “Tell him we’ll see him tomorrow. And call Blake to make sure there isn’t anything new I need to know about.”
“Consider him handled,” Jacob confirms.
Chris releases the intercom and turns to me, his hands sliding down my arms. “Deep breaths, baby. It’s okay. Most likely he was trying to corner us to get more details without David present.”
“Why would he want to avoid our attorney? And don’t we look suspicious if we don’t talk to him?”
“That’s what he hopes we’ll think, but we don’t have anything to hide, so why would we care what he thinks? He expects smart people with good attorneys to decline to talk to him.”
“And that’s my point. We did nothing wrong.
the one Ava attacked and tried to kill. Why would he try to corner us?”
“Probably pretty normal with any high profile suspect, but I’m calling David to be sure.”
He tugs his cell phone from his pocket, returning to the living area to face the window, and I force myself to sit down on the edge of the couch. Though I listen closely, hoping to understand his conversation with David, I can’t.
Finally, he ends the call and sits next to me, dragging my legs over his lap. “David says there’s a bail adjustment hearing set for Ava this Friday. They’ll likely ask all available witnesses to testify.”
I rest my elbows on the leather arm behind me. “What’s a bail adjustment hearing?”
“Her counsel is asking to have the bond reduced, and this format allows them a little more room for testimony than a standard bail hearing.”
“She could get out?”
“Let’s hope not.”
My heart sinks. “So yes.”
“They held her the first time. Hopefully they’ll have the ammunition to hold her this time. We should learn more at the police station tomorrow.”