Chris claims the window seat across from me and slips out of his leather jacket he’d put on as we’d left the room. “So is the food, but since I’m taking you to a special winery that will serve their vintages along with fruit and cheese, I suggest we eat fairly light. I thought we’d visit the restaurant for brunch tomorrow before we leave, if you’d like?”
“Yes. Very much. Sounds perfect.” I am warmed by the romance of this place and his actions, but I tell myself not to get carried away. This isn’t romance. It’s a sexy adventure. After all, I’m not wearing panties or a bra.
“Anything look good?” Chris asks after I’ve studied the menu a moment.
“Everything. I’m starving.” It’s nearly three and we haven’t eaten since early morning.
A waiter appears and Chris arches a brow at me. “Ready?”
“I am. Cobb salad for me.”
Chris hands both of our menus to the waiter. “Burger for me. Well done. And bring us a bottle of the recommended wine selection — the Robert Craig Zinfandel.”
The waiter gives a small bow. “Coming right up, Mr. Merit.”
“No beer for you?” I ask when the waiter departs.
“It’s never good to mix alcohol and I have a few friends around these corners of the world, that would have my hide for drinking beer over wine.”
It hits me how well Chris is known here, how the waiter and the doorman knew him by name. A sick feeling hits me. I never bring women to my home. Is this where he brings them? Where he wines and dines them into panty-less submission. “How often do you come here?”
“A couple times a year.” He gives me a shrewd, narrow look, and I’m pretty certain he’s reading me like a book. I hate that I am transparent, that I have knots in my gut, and that I am reacting this way at all. I worry I’m getting emotionally attached to Chris and I don’t want to be hurt.
Chris slides a brochure of some sort from the edge of the table in front of me. “This is why I visit.”
I blink down at what appears to be an advertisement for the art gallery on site and swallow hard at the list of featured artists, including Chris. I’ve jumped to conclusions and made it obvious.
“And to be clear, Sara, until now, I’ve never brought a woman here.”
My gaze jerks to his. “Never?”
“Then why am I here?”
“You tell me. Why did you come?”
“Because you asked me.”
“I’m sure there are plenty of men who’ve hungered to give you an escape, even take care of you, whom you’ve rejected.”
It’s true. I’ve barely dated since college and the few dates I’ve had were disasters. “And I’m sure there are plenty of women who’ve hungered for more with you.”
He studies me a long moment. “Why five years, Sara?”
The unexpected probe sets my pulse to racing. “I thought you didn’t ask personal questions?”
“I’ve done a lot of things differently with you.”
“Because you are you.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Neither do I, but I’m hoping to find out.”
There is an odd tightening in my chest. Emotion. I don’t want to feel any emotion but he pulls it from me anyway. “Can you tell me when you do?”
He smiles, and it’s a gorgeous smile that chips away at the tension prickling at my nerve endings. “You will be the first to know.” He turns serious quickly. “Who was he, Sara?”
“He who?” I ask, but I know where this is going.
“The man who f**ked with your head enough to make you celibate for five years.”
The waiter appears and saves me from answering. I don’t want to talk about Michael. I don’t want to remember him. He’s the past.
The waiter settles two glasses in front of us and then pulls a bottle of chilled wine from a silver ice bucket. The waiter works the cork from the bottle but Chris ignores him. He leans back and watches me, his eyes intense with scrutiny.
The wine is uncorked and a sample is poured for Chris. He smells the wine and tastes it. “Excellent selection,” he says to the waiter. “Give your wine expert my regards.”
The waiter fills our glasses, gives a small bow, and departs. “Yes, Mr. Merit. I absolutely will.”
I sip from my glass, and my taste buds explode with a tangy fruit flavor with a hint of oak I quite enjoy. Chris stares at me. “Who was he?” His voice is low, taut.
I inhale sharply and set my wine back down. “The past. Leave it at that.”
“Who was he, Sara?”
“My father’s prodigy, the son he never had.” The confession slides from my mouth without a conscious decision to allow it to.
“How long were you with him?”
“An engagement ring.”
Surprise flashes in his eyes. “That’s pretty serious.”
I run my hand over my tense forehead and for once, words escape me.
“Did you love him?”
“No,” I say immediately, dropping my hand. “I was infatuated. He was five years older — successful and confident. He was…everything my father wanted for me.”