‘I’m sure they can survive without our company for one night,’ he said drily. ‘I am not so cruel that I would force you to spend another hour in a craft that makes you violently ill for the sake of a dinner party with a handful of the most boring people in all of Paris.’
A compulsion, a strange, strange desire, tingled through her fingers to lace themselves through his.
Quickly she fisted her hands into balls.
So what if he’d displayed a hint at humanity?
It didn’t mean she had to hold his hand.
It didn’t change a thing.
* * *
By the time they left the vineyard, the sun had set and the Loire Valley was in darkness. The roads were clear, the drive smooth, but still Pepe was aware that Cara’s breathing had deepened.
‘Are you feeling all right?’ he asked, turning the air conditioning up a notch.
‘I think so.’ Her head was back against the rest, her eyes shut.
‘Open a window if it helps.’ It was too dark to see the colour of her complexion, but he’d bet it had regained the green hue.
Cold air filtered through the small opening she made in the window, and she turned her face towards it, breathing the fresh air in.
‘You say you’ve always suffered from motion sickness?’ he said a few minutes later when he was reasonably certain she wasn’t going to upchuck everywhere.
‘As long as I can remember. Boats are the worst.’
‘Have you been on many boats?’
‘A couple of ferry crossings from England to Ireland when I was a teenager. I spent most of those hugging the toilet.’
‘Sounds like fun.’
‘It was—tremendous fun was had by all.’
He laughed softly. If there was one thing he liked about Cara it was her dry sense of humour.
He slowed the car a touch, keeping a keen eye out for any potholes or other potential hazards. The last thing he wanted was to do anything to increase her nausea.
‘How long have you flown helicopters?’ she asked.
‘I got my licence about ten years ago.’
‘I had no idea.’
‘It’s no big deal,’ he dismissed.
‘Sure it is. I assume it’s more involved than passing a driving test?’
‘Slightly,’ he admitted, recalling the hundreds of flying hours he’d put in and the unrelenting exams. He’d loved every minute of it. And, he had to admit, his mother’s pride when he’d received his pilot’s licence had been something to cherish. Her pride was generally reserved for Luca.
‘Are you going to make me fly in one again?’
‘No.’ He knew if he insisted, she would—ungraciously—comply. As he was fast learning, keeping Cara Delaney attached to him was proving trickier than first thought.
‘So you’re going to buy the vineyard, then?’ she said, changing the subject.
‘I am. It’s a good, established business and the soil is of excellent quality.’
‘How did you get Christophe to agree to sell it to you? He looked like he’d rather be wrestling bears than dealing with you when we arrived.’
‘I think surliness is his default setting,’ Pepe mused. ‘He’s one of those men who feel they have to prove their masculinity by puffing out their chest and pounding on it.’
He heard what sounded like a snigger. For a moment it was on the tip of his tongue to share how he’d been on the verge of telling the Frenchman that he could forget the sale, so incensed had he been by Christophe’s attitude to Cara’s nausea. If his wife, Simone, hadn’t been such a welcome contrast, soothing Pepe’s ruffled feathers and chiding her husband’s surliness away, he would have refused to even take a tour.
Dealing with ultra-macho men was nothing new—he was Sicilian after all. Most men there drank testosterone for breakfast. Today, for the first time, he hadn’t wanted to play the macho games such men demanded. He never gained any gratification from them. His own power was assured. There was no need to beat his chest or play a game of ‘mine is bigger than yours’. Without being arrogant, he knew that went without saying—in all circumstances. But men like Christophe expected those games to be played. Today, for the first time, Pepe had refused.
He’d wanted to look after Cara.
His fingers tightened on the steering wheel as he recalled the way his stomach had clenched to see her so obviously unwell. Yes. A most peculiar feeling. Maladies did not normally bother him. People became ill, then, as a rule, people recovered. A fact of life.
Pregnancy was also a fact of life. As was motion sickness. Cara’s suffering really shouldn’t bother him beyond the usual realms of human decency.