“What about your mother?”

“She wanted whatever my father wanted. I barely know the person that would do anything to please…him.” I cannot bring myself to say Michael’s name, and not because I have any emotional connection. I simply dislike remembering who he made me, or rather, who I let him make me.


“Anything?”

I nod stiffly. “Even when I hated him for it.”

“Are we talking sex, Sara?”

I let my eyes shut, trying to make my suddenly thick breath leave my lungs. “Everything.”

“So the answer is yes. He made you do things you didn’t want to do.” It’s not a question.

My lashes snap open. “Because it was him and he treated me like I was his property put on this earth for his personal satisfaction.”

He studies me, his expression impassive, his features carved in stone. “And how do I make you feel?”

“Alive,” I whisper without hesitation. “You make me feel alive.”

A warm blanket of awareness wraps around us. “As you do me, Sara.”

Chris’s unexpected confession does funny things to my stomach. I make him feel alive?

“Your food has arrived,” the waiter announces in a far too efficient display of good, poorly-timed, service.

My salad, which is the size of Texas, is placed in front of me, and then the waiter sets down Chris’s burger. I sip my wine and the chill helps calm the heat burning through my body.

“They have an impressive wine list here at the hotel,” Chris comments. “And they have a wine educator on staff. If you want, I can arrange for her to spend some time with you in the morning?”

“I’d like that,” I say, aware of how hard he is trying to show support for my job. It matters, I think again. Chris keeps doing things that matter.

We dig into our food and he launches into some interesting wine facts about the region and I am far more interested in wine than I was when I was simply learning names and wineries.

“Part of understanding wine is understanding the regions where it’s produced. Italian wine is so revered because of the soil and the climate. Napa is one of the few places that can compete in those arenas, at least in my opinion. The climate here is classified as “Mediterranean”. Only 2% of the earth’s surface is Mediterranean. Add summers and mild winters, and grapes grow all year long.”

“It allows the grapes to grow but does it change the flavor?”

“Absolutely. Ten million years ago, the collision of the techtonic plates created the mountains and terrain here, along with a multitude of volcanic eruptions. The result is over one hundred varieties of soil and each lends a different flavor and texture to the product produced.”

Impressed with his knowledge, I ask a lot of questions as we eat. “How do you know so much about wine?”

There is a slight crackle to the air, a subtle tension. “My father was a connoisseur of wine to an extreme and as you’ve notice, despite my preferences otherwise, wine and art meld together quite frequently.”

His father. I sense tension in him when his father is brought up and I’m fairly certain he is also why Chris prefers beer over wine.

“Your car has arrived, Mr. Merit,” the waiter announces, appearing by our table.

“We’ll be right out,” Chris replies. “Charge the room for the tab.”

I’m surprised by this news. “You aren’t driving?”

“Easier to enjoy the wine with a sober driver to drive us back to the room.” Chris pushes to his feet and walks over to me, pulling my chair out and helping me to my feet. Suddenly, I am pressed against him, his hand molding me to his body, and he adds softly, “Easier to enjoy you.”

***

We step outside and I am reminded of how two hours of travel can drastically impact the weather. Where San Francisco has the chilly late August wind off the ocean, Calistoga, which is the Napa region we are in, does not.

A limo is parked in front of the doorway and it doesn’t surprise me to learn it’s for us. While I’ve never attended a wine tour, I’m aware the limo ride between wineries is fairly common. What isn’t common is the bellman handing me a neatly folded and delicately beaded cream-colored shawl.

“In case you get cold, ma’am. I understand you need a coat for your trip back to the city as well. We’ll have that waiting for you in your room. The city does get quite chilly.”

“Thank you.” Relief washes over me at the sight of the garment despite what I guess to be the eighty-degree temperature. Inside the winery, I fear there will air conditioning, and my braless state will draw unwanted attention.

Chris smirks at the look on my face and I lift my chin defiantly and slide the shawl around my shoulders before climbing into a car with strangers.

“Ready?” he asks when I’m well-bundled.

“Ready.”

The bellman opens the car door and I slide to the far window seat to find I am alone until Chris joins me. He settles in next to me and the door shuts behind him. “Will there be others joining us?” I ask.

“Just us,” Chris informs me and I wonder why I imagined he would have it any other way. He has money and self-proclaimed desire for privacy.

The window between us and the driver slowly lowers but I am behind the driver and cannot see what he looks like unless I twist and look back. I suck in a breath as Chris’s hand slides under my dress and settles on my bare thigh, his fingers splaying intimately around my leg.

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