SAMPLE SUNDAY: Meet Jeanette from ‘AFTERBURN’

Jeanette promo flat

 

“That’s a crock of … shit.”

Jeanette pronounced the word ‘sh-EEE-it’ which made Robyn smile.

“But Etienne said that …”

“Don’t listen to him,” Jeanette said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You must insist that they speak English when in your presence. You are in charge!”

Robyn gave a firm nod.

It was true. Why should she suffer through entire days of listening to her staff chattering along while only absorbing a fraction of what they said? They worked for her, not the other way around. And while it was true she wanted to improve her French it wasn’t unreasonable—and wasn’t it just good manners—to insist that they speak so she understood?

Jeanette had been working for her for only two weeks now, and already Robyn could tell that she would be more than an assistant, but a friend. They had the same instincts, the same sensibilities about most things, and Robyn admired Jeanette’s edgy, in-your-face style. She looked like a punk rocker, with her spiky hair and sharp features. Thin as a rail, and slightly bowlegged, she had the kind of physique that looked best in fitted jeans that accentuated her hips, such as they were.

Etienne had ‘loaned’ her to Robyn as her assistant/translator because when Jamal arrived—as he was slated to do that day—Jeanette was going to be his right-hand woman as well. She was Pouvoir Noir’s best scout and Jamal’s French counterpart; she had ferreted out some of Etienne’s best artists. Her days were short, and her nights long as she traipsed through the labyrinth of Paris’ nightlife—underground clubs, small venues and parties in Oberkampf, finding a new young sensation who would burn up the charts. But since Chris’ acquisition of an interest in the company had put a moratorium on signing new artists, Jeanette was underutilized, and so had been sitting largely idle until Jamal came to help her develop the artists they already had.

“Maybe you can come home with me and lay down the law for my nanny as well,” Robyn joked. “I like the idea that Caity will understand French as well, but I think my au pair secretly never speaks to her in English when I’m gone.”

Jeanette laughed, reaching for her espresso and taking a gulp. “Well, your fiancée is rather forceful. Perhaps he can … lay down the law when he arrives.”

“Do you know Chris?” Robyn asked.

“We have met,” Jeanette said nodding.

Robyn smiled, thinking of Chris and almost unconsciously reaching for her ring, twisting it back and forth on her finger. Jeanette’s eyes fell to the stone and she looked back up at Robyn.

“Do you love him?” she asked, her green eyes meeting Robyn’s in frank curiosity.

Robyn pulled back, surprised. “Of course.”

Her new friend shrugged. “People marry for many reasons. Love is not always among them.”

This kind of comment was typical of the French, Robyn was learning. People thought of them as romantic—and maybe they were—but they were also among the most pragmatic and unsentimental people Robyn had ever encountered. What outsiders interpreted as frivolous and starry-eyed was really, joie de vivre. A zest for life, and all its many complications, but no rose-colored glasses.

Jeanette couldn’t be older than thirty, more likely twenty-eight, and here she was talking about marriages devoid of love. When she was twenty-eight, Robyn would have been loath to admit that anyone would consciously do such a thing. Her rose-colored glasses had been firmly in place, right up until the disintegration of her own marriage.

“It’s the only reason I would ever marry,” Robyn said.

She and Jeanette were about a block away from the office which was in La Défense, Paris’ most prestigious business district. Just about every major European corporation had offices in the area, and most were impressive architectural gems. The building Pouvoir Noir had refurbished to house SE’s European offices was much older, much less impressive, and apparently, the structure was Etienne’s personal property, inherited from a grandfather who had been a business titan of some considerable reputation. Etienne, it turned out, was not much different from a similar breed of music mogul in the States—he had fallen in love with “street-music” at a young age, rebelled against family expectations for a corporate career and instead made a name for himself in the entertainment world.

The small restaurant they’d chosen for its sushi was practically empty because they were eating during off-hours, having exhausted themselves with paperwork back at the office and then looked up to find that it was already three p.m.

“What kinds of men are you into?” she asked Jeanette, reaching for her chopsticks and picking up a piece of nigiri with lightly seared tuna.

Robyn had yet to find California rolls in Paris. Just real sushi, not the modified stuff that was made for people who didn’t actually like sushi, but liked to look sophisticated and so ate it only without raw fish.

“The kind who treat me poorly, who are usually unavailable for some reason or other. Hard men who cannot love me.”

Robyn’s eyes opened wide. There was that lack of sentimentality again.

“Well, why do you put yourself through that?”

Jeanette shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose I like to be tragic.”

 

Get your copy of ‘AFTERBURN’  for Nook and Kindle now!

SAMPLE SUNDAY: Meet Deuce from ‘AFTERBURN’

Deuce2“So how’s it goin’, man? I ain’t seen you in a minute.” Chris reached across the table and placed a hand on Deuce’s neck, running it over the top of his son’s head before pulling it back. “You need a haircut.”

“I’m good,” Deuce said, ducking away from his father’s touch.

The last time he’d seen his son, he was sobbing into his shoulder, and since then, though they’d talked on the phone and emailed, things had been a little distant between them. Chris could only guess at what his mother had told him about the fight and didn’t want to know. All he knew was that he regretted anything he’d done to escalate things and cause embarrassment to his son in front of his friends. No kid should have to see that—the aftermath of his parents going at it like a couple of ‘hood-rats.

“Things okay at home?”

Deuce grunted.

“Things not okay at home?”

“They a’ight.”

Deuce was looking everywhere but at him, and Chris struggled against a rising sense of something close to panic. In a couple weeks his son would be seventeen. He was choosing among colleges and had just last month taken his PSATs. Only two of the schools he talked about were even on the East Coast. Soon he would be gone and the influence that Chris hoped to have as his father would be attenuated, replaced by coaches, friends, professors, all of whom would see his son more often than he did. Suddenly, all the time he’d squandered became clear to him—years and years of wasted time that now seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye.

The only reason they were seeing each other now was that Chris had followed his lawyer’s advice and set up a ‘date’ with his son, meeting him at a Chinese restaurant near his house. When Chris walked in, Deuce was already there, sitting at a table and texting. Staring down at his phone, Deuce looked … like him. Now, he kept glancing at the phone, restless, like there was someplace else he’d rather be.

“That’s all you got to say?” Chris asked, feeling a glimmer of impatience. “A’ight?”

Deuce looked up at him, their eyes meeting for the first time. “I don’t like having to lie to my Mom, that’s all.”

Chris leaned back. “No one told you to lie to her.”

“Then why you don’t just come to the house? Why we gotta be all hush-hush about going to get something to eat?”

“I didn’t tell you to …”

Deuce made a scoffing noise and looked past Chris’ head, outside to the parking lot of the strip mall.

“Okay,” Chris said finally. “You’re old enough, so I won’t bullshit you.”

Deuce looked up, interested now, probably because the curse-word told him that finally his father was going to level with him, man-to-man.

“Your mother and I have a disagreement about how often I see you. She was…concerned about the time I took you away, that maybe I was trying to really take you away. From her.”

Deuce nodded and took a breath. “Yeah,” he said. “She asked me a lot of questions about Robyn. And about whether I wanted to go live with you and stuff.”

Chris leaned forward. “Do you?” he asked. “Want to come live with me?”

Surprising even himself, Chris was hoping that Deuce would say ‘yes’. He’d given up so much already. Thrown away so much. He could barely remember what Deuce was like at Jasmin’s age, and recalled nothing of when he was an infant. After a year at college, Deuce would come home and his voice would be deeper and more masculine. He would have begun to form his own ideas about his life, and not rely so much on his parents. He would have slipped away.

Chris ran a hand over his chin. “Forget I asked you that. That wasn’t right of me to ask you.”

Their waiter finally showed and they both ordered. Chris got an appetizer because he knew that once the main course was done, he would have to let his son go home, and there was no telling when he might see him again.

“I …would come live with you,” Deuce said haltingly. “But …”

“But ..?”

Chris watched as Deuce shifted in his seat, looking uncomfortable. Scratching the back of his neck, Deuce’s eyes dropped.

“She’d be too lonely, Dad,” he said finally.

Chris leaned back and his throat tightened. He didn’t know whether it was the knowledge that his son wanted to live with him; or whether what moved him was that Deuce was such a good kid that he wanted to make sure his mother was okay.

“She’s got Andre,” Chris ventured.

“Nah,” Deuce said. “Not really. They fight all the time. Dre … sometimes he don’t even come home. I think he stays over in Queens with his brother or something some nights. They’re not … that’s not going to work out.”

Chris couldn’t say the news surprised him. He’d only twice briefly met Sheryl’s husband Andre, and his impression was of a man who got by on ‘pretty’ all his life. Good-looking, strapping and charming, he’d probably been taken care of by women for as long as he could remember, if not before. Sheryl had to have looked like the Holy Grail to him—beautiful, sexy and with access to more than enough money to take care of them both for the rest of their lives.

But that had been true for only as long as the money tree was shedding leaves. And it no longer was.

Last year, Chris had settled on Sheryl a sum that was not small by most measures. It was enough to take care of most people for more than a decade, if they lived a modest, middle-class lifestyle. The amount sounded like a windfall, but only to people who didn’t understand money and how it flowed. After taxes, monthly expenses, and the occasional ill-advised purchase, it could be gone in a flash.

If Chris’ guess was right, Sheryl and her husband were only now beginning to realize that. When Chris first wrote that check, they probably thought they were rich. Now reality was setting in and they had begun to see that at best, they were upper middle-class, and more likely, given the high-dollar area they lived in, they were just getting by.

“I’m sorry to hear that things aren’t going well,” Chris said. And he meant it, if only because Sheryl was the kind of woman who, when she was unhappy, felt compelled to spread it around.

Deuce shrugged. For a moment, he looked heartbreakingly adult. “I’ll tell her I want to come see you, though,” he said as though offering Chris a consolation prize. “I know you must be lonely too. With Robyn and the baby gone.”

Chris made a sound that was neither confirmation nor denial.

He did miss Robyn and Caity, and Skype and phone calls were sorry substitutes. There had been that one evening when she called him, and her voice was thick with tears; and Chris knew from the lateness of the hour that she had probably not been sleeping. She was on the verge of saying that she wanted to come home. He could feel it, even through the poor connection and across the distance; and he heard it in the faintness of her voice.

It was the moment he’d secretly been waiting for—when she would change her mind and come back so they would start their lives together. Everything inside him wanted to go to her, just fly over there and pack her, his daughter and mother-in-law up and bring them back where he believed they belonged.

But Chris knew it was only a moment. He’d had a few like that himself when he’d moved to Germany for a couple months back in the day and found himself surrounded by people who didn’t look like him, who spoke a terse language that he didn’t understand. And he felt it again when he once spent six weeks in Paris for work leaving a pregnant Robyn behind, the loneliness for her had been a physical pain.

But this time, just the knowledge that Robyn missed home had given Chris the will to do what he knew he needed to do; and what she ultimately wanted him to do—help her feel strong enough to stay. So he talked about any and everything he could think of, distracting her from the distance, babbling like she sometimes did, until at the other end of the line he heard her slow, even breaths and realized she was asleep.

“I don’t want you to do anything to make your mother mad,” Chris said looking at Deuce. “So I’ll call and tell her when you ‘n’ me are hanging out, so you don’t have to get in the middle of that.”

Deuce sighed and nodded, his features visibly relaxing.

“I’m sorry I made you lie to her.” Chris added. “Even if I never asked you to lie, when I asked you to come here without me talking to her first, that was wrong. So I’m sorry.”

“Why … y’all fight like that?”

“The truth?”

Deuce nodded, and Chris considered his words.

“The truth is that while both of us always loved you, we never…we never really loved each other. Not like a man and woman are supposed to love each other when they make a baby.”

No-Sample Sunday

Afterburn cover2aBecause ‘Afterburn’ is here, and AVAILABLE NOW on Amazon!

This one was both fun and challenging to write, I definitely wanted to do justice to the love story between Chris and Robyn, but also the love story between a man and his children, as he grows into a love of fatherhood after living a life of studious non-attachment.

I can’t lie–I’m eager to hear what you think! So as you read, feel free to stop by with comments to this post and let me know what moves you, disappoints you, makes you think … whatever your reaction, I’m open to hearing it.

Some writers write for money or fame (and don’t get me wrong, those things are probably great) but I want to know I made you feel something. So tell me if I did. I’m listening.

Happy Reading!

N,

It’s Complicated

Robyn2*** AFTERBURN ***

AVAILABLE APRIL 28th!

I used to think the best romances came with no mess, no baggage, no drama. And while those are still fun to read, for me personally they’re not as fun to write. That’s why I became enthralled with Chris and Robyn’s story in ‘Afterwards‘.

When they get together, Chris is somewhat disconnected from his three kids, by two different women. He’s running a multi-million dollar corporation and he doesn’t see himself as being on the market for a relationship. Add to the mix the two women with whom he had his three kids and Robyn’s recent and messy divorce.

ChrisHow can too people find ‘romance’ under those circumstances? Well … it’s complicated. And it’s what ‘Afterwards‘ is about. If you’ve read it, you see that Chris and Robyn demonstrate what we all know to be true–the heart generally finds a way. And if you haven’t read it, now’s a good time, because on April 28th, the continuation (and conclusion) of Chris and Robyn’s story, ‘Afterburn‘, is being released.

In the meantime, drop me a comment below and tell me what YOU liked best about Chris and Robyn’s “complicated” romance!

Happy Reading!

N.

P.S. If you don’t already have ‘Afterwards’ it’s $1.99 on Nook and Kindle for a LIMITED TIME!

From ‘Afterburn‘:

“Something’s come up and I need to be back in L.A. so I’m leaving tonight right after the thing.”

Robyn’s hand fell from his chest. “Tonight, Chris?”

“Yeah, on a red-eye. I need to be there first thing in the morning so there’s no way around it,” he said. But he wasn’t looking directly at her.

Why wasn’t he looking at her?

“Since I probably won’t even be there for that long, you don’t have to come to the party tonight if you don’t want to,” Chris continued. “That way you can get back home to Caity.”

Robyn tried to meet his gaze, but he either didn’t see that that was what she was trying to do, or he was evading it.

Tilting her head so that she could force the meeting of their eyes, Robyn shrugged. “No, I’m still coming,” she said. “What time are you leaving the party to fly out?”

“Probably around midnight.” His eyes were unreadable. Not cold, but flat like there was something behind them he was determined not to let her see.

“Okay.” Robyn shrugged again. “So if we go around nine or so, I have you for a few hours. If that’s all I get, I’ll take it.”

Chris looked directly at her then, his expression quizzical. Robyn took one more step, closing the distance between them and looking up so their gaze remained unbroken. Then glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one else was in sight, or earshot, she put her arms up and about his neck. She tried never to do this kind of thing in the office, afraid of how it might undermine her credibility, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Chris was trying to put some distance between them, but she wasn’t about to let that happen.

“I’ll take what I can get,” she said again, getting on her toes and pressing her lips to his neck. “Always.”

AFTERBURN

Afterburn cover2a

COMING APRIL 2014!

Chris Scaife is not the man Robyn Crandall thought he was. Now that Robyn’s shown him the possibility of a new life, Chris wants it. And he’s used to getting what he wants. But Robyn is seeing some possibilities of her own, as a highly-valued member of the legal team at Chris’ multimillion dollar corporation.

Just as he’s given her the confidence to soar, will Chris try to clip her wings?

Once an unapologetic bachelor and distant father, Chris Scaife is now a different man. Engaged to Robyn Crandall, a woman whose love he never thought he could have—or deserve—Chris wants a wedding to happen, and happen soon. But Robyn’s plans are quite different from that.

Will the very same things that drew them together wind up driving them apart?

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘Afterburn’ — coming April 2014

Chris2A

“So how are Robyn and the baby?” Karen asked.

The same question, asked by his eldest son’s mother, Sheryl, would have come with an ulterior motive, but Karen wasn’t like that. Chris looked at her. She was still pretty, and had given Jasmin the same perfectly-shaped mouth, perky little nose and large eyes. But now Karen was a little more of a comfortably upper middle-class suburban Mom, and less the unsophisticated young woman she’d been when they first met.

She was curvier, carrying about ten or fifteen extra pounds and her hair, once almost waist-length was now in a short bob below her ears; once almost pitch-black, now colored auburn. And she wore much less make-up, blending in with the women in this small, affluent town who knew how to tastefully enhance their appearance without being showy about it.

Today Karen wore a pair of jeans and a light summer sweater with Chanel flats, her once slender figure, a little less so. Over her shoulder was a Balenciaga hobo and in her right hand, she jingled the keys to the new Audi SUV Chris had bought her just that year.

“Robyn and the baby are good,” Chris said unlocking his car, preparing to get in.

He didn’t like talking to either Karen or Sheryl about Robyn even in passing, thinking it insensitive to belabor the fact that he was engaged to her when he’d never even considered such a step with either of them. Karen in particular had to be curious about Robyn because after all, she had loved and lived with Chris for years before their break-up, had borne him two children, and yet he had never once even hinted at wanting to make her his wife.

Sheryl was married now herself, so—even though she was probably cheating on the poor bastard—she probably didn’t care as much as Karen might.

“Are you ever going to introduce us?” Karen asked, keeping her voice light. “Jas talks about her all the time, so I know she’s probably a wonderful …”

“Yeah, sometime maybe. I better go. Traffic.”

Karen sighed. “Okay. Kaden wanted to see you, but I don’t suppose you have time to stop by the house. He’s with the sitter.”

“Wish I could, but I have a conference call that I need to get home for. He’s coming with Jas this weekend, right?’

Karen nodded. “Right.”

“Good, so I’ll see him then. Tell him I said I miss him, okay?”

Kaden was only six. His younger son was the sensitive one. The one who cried when he left, who told him every single time he was on the phone, “I miss you, Daddy,” in that sweet, baby voice he was just beginning to grow out of.

“Okay, well next time maybe you can build in a little more time,” Karen said.

She was lingering by the open door of his car as he got in, and Chris sensed that there was something more she wanted to say.

“You a’ight?” he asked on a whim. “Everything cool otherwise?”

“Hector and I broke up,” Karen said suddenly. She pursed her lips and shook her head. “Which shouldn’t be a huge surprise. But anyway …”

Chris paused with one leg in the car, one still resting on the pavement outside. He and Karen had never been ‘friends’. Not throughout their relationship and not now. Then, she had been too much in awe of him to become a confidante, too … grateful that he’d chosen her. Her humility, Chris had later come to think of as low self-esteem, and a general lack of confidence.

Every day that they were together, Karen seemed to have been thinking: thank you for choosing me, thank you, thank you. After a while it almost literally made him sick. Even while he cheated on her, didn’t come home, forgot important milestones, her attitude was thank you, thank you …When he’d finally gotten the guts to end it, after their son was born, it was a relief. The weight of her unjustified adoration and of his shame for treating her in a manner she did not deserve had been too heavy.

And now? Now, they were very cordial strangers, raising children together. Or rather, she was raising them and he participated when asked. Though he was trying to get better and paid all the bills, she still carried the lion’s share of the parental responsibility and never hinted to him about how hard that might be, or what impact it had on other parts of her life. So her talking about her relationship to him was something new, and something he wasn’t too sure how to handle.

“Why isn’t it a huge surprise?” Chris asked. “You’re a great woman, Karen. Any guy…”

“When a man walks into a situation like mine, where I’m being taken care of by my ex, and he knows he can’t do the same … well, it wears on a relationship. Hector saw the Audi and …” She shrugged. “He doesn’t understand, I guess. And he doesn’t believe that you would do all that when there’s nothing between us anymore. Or maybe he knows there’s nothing between us but still can’t handle y’know, who you are. Who the hell knows?”

“I’m sorry,” Chris said, because he didn’t know what else to say.

But at least this Hector guy sounded a lot better than Sheryl’s husband, who for months after they were married was content to live in a house and drive a car that Chris paid for.

“Not your fault.” Karen looked down at her shoes and then up at him again, shaking her head. “I guess I just need to find a stronger man, that’s all.”

For a moment, the silence between them was heavy.

“You know, you’re still young. You could go back to school or something. I’d take care of the tuition.”

“Back to school?” Karen laughed a short bark. “And do what? I was never that good at school to begin with. So I’d what? Be a beautician? Run a clothing boutique?”

Chris shrugged. “Whatever you want, Karen.”

Now he just wanted to get the hell away. He didn’t have time for Karen’s identity crisis right now. He had a crisis of his own brewing. Between Karen and Sheryl who between them hadn’t an ounce of ambition, and Robyn who had maybe too much, Chris wasn’t sure which was worse. All he knew was that his woman was chomping at the bit to run off to Paris for almost a year without him, and he was stuck in a middle-school parking lot trying to be a goddamn career counselor.

“Sometimes I wonder whether it would just be easier,” Karen said, her eyes meeting his.

“Whether what would be easier?” Chris put his other leg in the car, put the key in the ignition.

“For you and me to still, you know,” Karen said.

Chris froze.

“Because then I would have a man. Or at least part of one.”

Upskirt: A Quick Peek at the ‘Afterwards’ Sequel

When I was in grade school, two of my friends got in trouble for letting boys look under their skirts. I remember watching as two boys shimmied along the floor until they were under the spread legs of my two friends, and looking up in glee. We were all young enough that I remember being confused about what could be so fascinating about looking at a girl’s underwear. I figured it out later. Much later.

But today I’m the one lifting my skirt. Figuratively speaking. And giving you a quick peek of my work-in-progress, the sequel to ‘Afterwards‘.

Blurb:

Chris Scaife is not the man Robyn Crandall thought he was.

Now that she’s shown him the possibility of a different life, she knows that Chris wants it. And he’s used to getting what he wants. But Robyn is seeing some possibilities of her own, as a highly-valued member of the legal team at Chris’ multimillion dollar corporation. Just as he’s given her the confidence to soar, will Chris try to clip her wings?

Once an unapologetic bachelor and distant father, Chris Scaife is now a different man. Engaged to Robyn Crandall, a woman whose love he never thought he could have—or deserve—Chris wants a wedding to happen, and happen soon. But Robyn’s plans are somewhat different from that.

_____________________

“Robyn, ma bichette …”

“You can’t call me things like that, Etienne. Not when I don’t understand what you’re saying. For all I know, it’s incredibly inappropriate.”

Robyn work

Robyn was smiling up at the face of Pouvoir Noir’s president on the monitor as Chris and Frank entered the conference room for the video conference. Leaning forward with her elbows on the conference table, Robyn was wearing her powder blue suit, the one with the short sleeves that showed off her toned arms and contrasted pleasantly with her caramel-toned skin, and a bright white shirt underneath. The skirt was little short for Chris’ taste, but he never tried to dictate what she should wear, just contented himself with the knowledge that he was the man who got to take it off her.

As he and Frank entered, she leaned back into her seat, still smiling at Ballard. Chris almost felt as though they’d walked in on a private conversation.

“Got started without us?” he asked, his voice impassive.

“We did not get too far,” Allard said from across the Atlantic. “We talked about my new toy, and not much more.”

“New toy?”

“Etienne bought some ridiculous sports car that goes about three hundred miles an hour.”

“And perhaps you will sit in the seat beside me one day. It is a feeling not to be missed.”

“Can we get to work?” Chris interrupted. “I only have thirty minutes for this meeting.”

Taking a place at the table next to Robyn, he lay his tablet before him and looked at Etienne Allard expectantly. Frank sat to his left and began rifling through a sheaf of papers. He and Robyn were the only people Chris knew who still worked primarily on paper, writing everything out longhand that probably had to be transcribed later anyway. Waste of time.

“So what’re we meeting about?” he asked, not looking up at Allard’s face, magnified in front of him.

“The timing of the office,” Allard said right away. “I think we are well behind the agreed upon schedule. And I need to tell something to my people. You see I don’t have my partners with me. So if there is a problem, I would like …”

“What gives you the impression there’s a problem?” Chris cut in.

“You acquire part of my company, with promises to rain money down on all our problems, and all of a sudden …” Allard made a puffing noise. “…nothing.”

“I wouldn’t say nothing. Your debts have been paid. Your creditors satisfied.”

“And my artists sit, as you say, with their thumbs up their asses. Waiting for the American knights in white armor.”

“Shining armor,” Chris corrected without thinking.

Frustration crossed Allard’s features. “An update would be welcome, my friend.”

Before Chris could speak, Robyn was leaning forward again. “Everything is moving ahead, I can assure you, Etienne. Admittedly at a different pace than planned, but we’re finalizing the team, and expect that by October …”

Octobre!

“I think that’s what we can promise, yes.” Robyn’s gaze was unflinching.

For a few moments there was silence while everyone waited for Ballard to absorb the words.

“This date, it is not within my control so I suppose there is nothing else to discuss.” On the monitor, he reached forward and suddenly they were staring into nothingness as the screen went blank.

For almost a minute, Chris, Robyn and Frank sat in silence.

“So,” Frank said. “I think we got a pissed-off Frenchman on our hands.”

“No one cares whether he’s pissed off or not,” Chris said. “We’re not on his timeline.”

“Well, we’re not on our timeline either,” Robyn pointed out. “It’s true. We planned to be over there a lot sooner, Chris. We implied to him that we would be well underway with …”

“Maybe we should resolve the question right now,” Frank said breaking in.

Chris knew the question. Hell, he even knew the resolution. But that didn’t mean he had to like it.

“Am I the hold-up?” he asked.

“No,” Frank said. “The timeline changed for lots of reasons. But we’re at the final decision-point. We need to know who’s going to be heading this thing up.”

Chris pushed back his seat and turned, looking directly at Robyn. “Sounds like the decision’s been made.” For a moment, her eyes dropped to her lap and then she raised them again, staring back at him.

She wasn’t, Chris realized, wearing her engagement ring. Sometimes she wore it to work, other times not. He’d long learned not to assume any significance to when that did and didn’t happen. But today, of all days, he would have liked to see it there.

Frank Casey cleared his throat, realizing that the conversation that was likely to happen probably didn’t pertain to him, nor to SE business necessarily. Shoving back from the conference room table he headed for the door.

“Robyn, I’ll see you downstairs,” he said before leaving them alone.

Chris turned his chair so that he was facing Robyn and clasped his hands between his knees, leaning toward her. She was so pretty. So, so pretty. Her eyes were a little watery, and she swallowed hard—Chris saw her throat bob as she did.

“So,” he began. “You really want this, huh?”

Robyn nodded, her eyes filling even more, the tears threatening to spill over onto her cheeks. She blinked rapidly to stave that off.

Chris lifted a forefinger. He was close enough to touch her hand so he did, gently stroking her bare ring finger.

“And I’ve got no say in this.”

Robyn sighed. “Of course you do. You could stop me if you wanted to.”

He supposed he could. He could forbid it. He could tell Frank he wouldn’t allow it. He could … fire her. And none of those things would change Robyn’s feelings for him one iota—of that Chris was certain. But it would change the nature of their relationship, and it would breach the trust she had in him, that he would let her be herself, never stifle her, never try to own her.

“I do want to,” he admitted, and saw the momentary alarm in Robyn’s eyes. Chris shook his head. “But I’m not going to.”

She gave a small gasp and then reached out, grabbing his hands in hers. “Baby …thank you. I know how hard …”

Chris pulled his hands free of hers and stood. “Let’s just talk about it later, okay?”