My lips curve. “Yes.”
“He’s just like his mother,” Katie comments, drawing us back into the conversation and we turn to acknowledge her as she adds, “Humble pie, that woman. You’d never know she was an heiress to an empire any more than you’d know Chris is an acclaimed artist.”
“And his father was an arrogant ass,” Mike grumbles, “but I loved the guy.” He pushes to his feet. “Son, that reminds me. I want to give you something before I forget.”
I glance up at Chris, searching his face for a reaction to the comment about his father. He responds to my unspoken question. “He was an arrogant ass, baby.” He strokes my cheek. “Behave. I’ll be back.”
“Of course,” I assure him. “I’ll only be asking Katie to share all your deep, dark secrets.”
His expression tightens. “And she won’t have the answers.”
“Oh, I might have a few tidbits to share,” Katie pipes in playfully.
Chris does not look pleased but he pushes to his feet anyway, and slides into a good-natured grumble to match Mike’s of, “Women,” before he saunters away with his Godfather.
Katie rests her elbow on the table, chin on her palm. “You’re good for him.”
“Yes. You are. The boy is so damn guarded that it’s worried me, but he’s different with you. Relaxed. It does my heart good to see someone finally breaking through to him. He had a hard time growing up, but I’m sure you know that.”
This little jewel of information has me eager for more. I open my mouth to ask more detail but Allison rushes forward and whispers into Katie’s ear. “Oh dear. Sara dear, I have a problem I need to attend. I’ll be back soon.”
Disappointment fills me. Katie is the only person I may ever know who can share Chris’s secrets, besides Mike, and I don’t see that happening. Suddenly, I’m alone with a tray of cheese and fruit and several glasses of wine. Fifteen minutes later, I’ve emptied the glasses and I know it was a mistake. My head is spinning and I quickly nibble cheeses because, apparently drinking makes me want to eat and calories are of no consequence. In fact, I’m pretty sure wine cancels out calories right about now.
I feel Chris’s return before I see him, a tingling awareness the hum of too much wine in my blood cannot diminish. My gaze lifts to the doorway as he enters, followed by Mike, who looks confused. “Where’s Katie?”
“She had an emergency with a guest I think.”
Mike scowls. “How long has she been gone?”
“Right after you two left.”
“Oh crap,” he grumbles. “I better go check on her.”
Chris hasn’t spoken and I really can’t read him. My head is too fuzzy. He saunters over to me and squats down in front of me, moving my chair to face him.
His hand settles on my leg. “You need to get some air?”
“Air would be good,” I confirm and he helps me to my feet and I study his face, cursing the wine I’ve drank. His happy mood has faded, and there is an edge to him I haven’t seen tonight. Whatever he and Mike talked about, it’s stolen my light-hearted artist.
I touch his cheek. “What’s wrong?”
He pulls me close, and his hand slides behind my neck, and sets off alarms. His dark side is back in full force. “You see too much, Sara.”
“And you, Chris, don’t let me see enough.”
He doesn’t reply, doesn’t move. We are frozen in place, and I am lost in his stormy stare, his turbulent mood radiating off of me. When he takes my hand to lead me toward the room’s back door, my footing is unsteady. Wine and Chris do not mix well, I think, and it is the one thought I cling to as we exit into a garden. Wine and Chris do not mix. Why? I intend to find out.
Even with too much wine in my system, and his hand still firmly wrapped around mine, I feel Chris closing off, erecting walls around him as we exit through a side door of the Chateau. We cross a small brick walkway to a wooden bridge that arches over a large pond. The night is upon us, and glowing orange lanterns dangle from poles mounted in the wooden rails, the stars above us dotting the black, cloudless canvas. I inhale the hot air; the cool breeze I’d hoped for to clear my head is nowhere to be found. The stuffy night is suffocating, as is the tension humming off of Chris.
He leads me down the wooden bridge toward a gazebo, and my nostrils flare with the sweet scent of roses. These flowers are haunting me everywhere I go. I can see the greenery entwining the wooden overhang, delicate buds clinging to the leaves. I do feel ready to bloom, ready to go wherever he leads me. That is what Rebecca felt for the man she’d been writing about. That is how Chris makes me feel.
Halfway down the walkway, I stumble and Chris reaches around and catches me, his strong arms circling my waist, my hand resting on his chest.
“Yes. Fine.” I don’t look at him. This is the second time in a week he’s had to right my drunken footing and it’s embarrassing. I haven’t drunk too much since the day of my mother’s funeral.
Once we’re under the gazebo, he leans on the railing and I almost expect him to set me away from him. Relief washes over me when he pulls me into his arms and folds me against him. I settle my hand on his chest, over his heart, the soft thrum beating against my palm. The buzz in my head irritates me, clouding my ability to gauge Chris’s mood accurately.