All of us here at XOXOAD are excited to share with you a special excerpt from New York Times bestselling author Lisa Renee Jones’ next full length book in the Inside Out series, NO IN BETWEEN. Centering around Chris and Sara’s relationship, NO IN BETWEEN delves deeper into Ava’s accusations against Sara and Chris’s fear of destroying Sara, just as he did Amber. Will Chris and Sara be able to hold fast to one another, despite everything crumbling around them? Read below for a sneak peek! And be sure to download MY HUNGER, the next e-novella in the Inside Out series, on sale today!

***

He shoved me against the wall and then tore my panties off. His lips pressed close to my ear, his breath was hot on my neck, as he said, you know the rules, you know I have to punish you.

Rebecca Mason

Being alone is a unique opportunity to look around—perhaps for the security feed from the camera outside. I don’t know what I’m looking for, but it feels like there’s a missing piece to this puzzle that no one knows. I double-check the security system, then go to my old office. Settling behind the desk, I’m oddly drawn to the haunting painting of the roses again, as if my mind is trying to tell me something. A shiver races down my spine, and I dial Jacob to give him a heads-up that I’m alone.

I’m going to stay awhile, but I’ll definitely want an escort when I leave.”

“Is the security system in place?” he asks. “Yes, I checked.”

“Good. Call me in an hour to check in, or I’m going to come check on you.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks again, Jacob.”

“Thank me by not forgetting to call in an hour.”

We hang up, and the fact that Jacob feels I’m safe enough with the security system eases some of my nerves. But then, he also thinks Rebecca’s killer is in jail.

I frown at that random thought. She is in jail. Of course she is.

I’m just about to start nosing around the gallery when Chris calls. “Hey, baby.”

His deep voice radiates through me and I feel the tension from my encounter with Ryan melt away. I sink deeper into the soft leather of my chair. “Hey.”

“Are you still at the gallery?”

“Yes. Can you meet me here?”

“No. Mark finally called me, and I’m meeting him in about twenty minutes.”

“Did you hear from David after he left the police station?”

“We texted. I’m supposed to meet him after I talk to Mark for a full update. Did Jacob leave?”

“Yes, but he’s coming back to get me when I’m ready to go. Is there any word on Rebecca’s travel dates?”

“Blake confirmed Rebecca returned before you started at the gallery, and I confirmed I was in Paris that entire week, but he’s backtracking to make sure there isn’t another date he missed.”

“Does he think that’s possible?”

“He checked all the public transportation logs and saw nothing, but he’s double-checking anyway. He’s looking into private flights as well, but he won’t have any way of finding travel by car.”

My heart sinks. “That’s true. And it gives the police a tool to manipulate and scare us.”

“They can only do those things if we let them. We won’t, and neither will David.”

“Did Mark say anything helpful when you talked to him?”

“No, we only spoke for a minute—speaking of which, I need to leave for my meeting with him. Call me if you need anything, and don’t leave there without Jacob.”

“I won’t.”

“Try not to stress too much, baby. David’s good at his job. He’s arrogant, loud, and obnoxious, but it works for him, and he’s working for us.”

“I know.”

“Keep knowing, and I’ll see you soon.” He lowers his voice. “I know a certain window that has your name on it.” He hangs up and I let the phone slide away, a smile touching my lips, but it’s a sad smile. I love that man. I want to marry him. I just don’t want to do it in the middle of this nightmare and I have to do anything I can to make it end. We know the ending isn’t going to be a happy one, but at least it will be an end.

Pushing to my feet, I head out into the hallway and decide to start my search in the supply room, where I look for file boxes or security records, but find nothing. I search Mark’s barren office for the security feed and find nothing. Maybe it streams directly to his computer? I suddenly realize then that the feed will show me sitting in his office and searching around the gallery, but I shrug. The worst he can do is fire me.

An hour into my exploration, I call Jacob and check in. Afterward I search the four offices used for interns, then the cabinets in the break room. Next up is Amanda’s desk, then I spend a long time scavenging Ralph’s files.

Finally, I end up back in my office. I’ve already searched the files and desk, and my gaze now lands on the bookshelf. I settle myself onto the floor and turn on the radio on my cell phone, the music making the emptiness more bearable.

I start flipping through books, looking for notes or any other clue that might tell me something of importance. A name. A number. Anything. I don’t know. As I search I pile up the books, making sure nothing’s underneath them on the shelves. Just as I’ve restored order to the mess, the door to the outer office buzzes and I freeze.

Holding my breath, I wait for who will appear, and a crackle of familiar energy stirs in the air a moment before Mark fills the doorway. I’ve barely had a moment to blink from the impact of his power and devastating good looks before his steps swallow the space between us.

He towers above me, pinning me with an unreadable steely gray stare. “I wasn’t aware that breaking and entering was one of your skills, Ms. McMillan. What are you doing?”

Either he didn’t meet with Chris, or he’s just trying to put me on the spot. “Your staff was freaking out over a reporter who’d parked himself outside for two hours, and Amanda almost quit. I rushed over, but Ryan beat me here. He did his Magic Mike routine on her and she stayed.”

“Magic Mike?”

“It’s from a movie that has a lot of naked men and dancing, so it’s probably not your thing.”

He holds out his hand. “Get off the floor, Ms. McMillan.”

He pulls me to my feet and I’m suddenly toe-to-toe with him.

“Thank you,” I pretty much croak out, and the slight narrowing of his eyes tells me he notices. It’s power to him to affect me, another game—and I’m very tired of games. I tug my hand away and step backward. “Did you meet with Chris?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“And?”

“And I’ll let him tell you.”

I sigh. “Of course. Why would you tell me, since you’re standing right here? But okay.”

He looks amused, I think.

“In case he forgot to mention it,” I say, “you’ve rehired me. Well, technically Crystal did, and before you get upset with her, she did it because she cares about you.”

“I’m not even going to ask how you presume to know what Ms. Smith feels, since you barely know her.”

“She told me.”

He just stares at me. “Is that how you know Chris cares about you, Ms. McMillan? He tells you?”

I’m not sure what he’s implying, but I’m pretty sure it’s a slap to Chris, and I don’t like it. “Show and tell, Mark. It’s a good combination.”

Something dark flickers in his eyes, gone in a blink, but his probing questions are not. “How exactly does he show you?”

My lips purse. “In my book, privacy is like a great pair of high heels. To be cherished.”

“Good answer, Ms. McMillan. I’m sure Chris would approve. It means he can trust you, and trust is not an easy thing to give or receive.”

Is his remark about Rebecca? Or Ava? Maybe Ryan? Or perhaps it’s deeper. Perhaps it’s about what made him who he is today, the way Amber is a part of what made Chris who he is today.

“Mark—”

But his eyes shut, and he inhales deeply, emotions he rarely allows anyone to see rippling over his face. He abruptly turns and exits the office, leaving me staring after him. Then the song playing on my phone insinuates itself into my ears. Say something, I’m giving up on you. Say something, I’m giving up on you. I’ll be the one if you want me to . . .

“Say Something” by A Great Big World is always haunting, but gut-wrenchingly so tied to the months of silence from Rebecca. I can only imagine how much Mark must crave the sound of her voice, how much hope he must hang on to the possibility she might still return. How much he must wish he could tell her what he never dared—that he loved her.

Shutting off the radio, I go down the hall toward Mark’s office. His hands are against the wall, his head tilted forward, tension tightening his body. This isn’t the controlled man I know. This is the man I saw falling apart that night under the tree, after Ava confessed to murdering Rebecca.

I want to go to him, but my gut says he doesn’t want me to see him like this. I’m backing away when he says, “Is there something you need, Ms. McMillan?”

“Just . . . goodnight.”

I don’t move. I need to say or do something to help him.

Go home, Ms. McMillan,” he snaps.

Sighing in defeat, I turn and leave him alone, but it’s not easy. Not when I know how badly being alone hurts.