He pulled off his earpiece.
“Good morning,” she greeted him with false, brisk cheerfulness.
“It is one, isn’t it?” he commented quietly, glancing toward the floor-to-ceiling windows. The brilliant sunlight turned his usually cobalt eyes into gleaming slits of sky blue. “Francesca has that showing tonight. She’ll be pleased weather won’t stand as an excuse for people not to come.”
“She must be very excited.”
Ian’s brother Lucien and his wife Elise had opened a sophisticated boutique hotel and restaurant in the Prairie Avenue district several months ago, where Elise also worked as the executive chef. Francesca had been so inspired by the elegant brick structure where Lucien had situated the hotel that she’d completed a collection of some of Chicago’s architectural vintage classics, buildings evocative of a different era and graceful lifestyle. Lin had arranged for the Gersbach meeting with Kam to take place at the reception for Francesca’s showing, with dinner to follow at Frais, Elise’s new restaurant.
“Francesca has sketched for this collection, isn’t that right?” Lin hedged, hoping to avoid the inevitable topic of Kam for another few seconds.
“Yes,” Ian said wryly. “It’s been hard for her, being put off the paints while she’s pregnant. I’m betting she’ll be covering herself with the stuff once the baby is born.”
There it was, that far-off look Ian got in his eyes whenever he spoke of Francesca. It pained her far less today than it had in the past. Lin recalled vividly the first time she’d ever seen that expression—so different from Ian’s typical brutally sharp focus. It’d made her jealous to see it, she admitted, but there had also been a strange feeling of happiness going through her as well, witnessing such a determinedly lonely man finally lose himself thoroughly in thinking of another. She’d long ago accepted he’d never look that way for her. The pain had become a distant ache that bothered her less and less with each passing day.
“Francesca would deserve it,” Lin said with a smile. “How difficult for her, to have to abstain from something so entwined with her existence. I’m glad she’s found some alternatives, though. Francesca is nothing if not resourceful.” She arched her eyebrows and gave him a small smile. “I’m assuming you got her a gift, something for her opening?” It was a little standing joke between them. Lin used to purchase all the gifts for the various women he used to see before Francesca. When Ian met Francesca, however, Francesca had understandably protested about his having Lin choose gifts for her. Ian had to take a crash course in buying personal, thoughtful gifts, and he’d come a long way.
“I’m sending flowers, and I got her a first-edition photography book on classical architecture she’s been wanting from Lucien’s shop,” he said, referring to a vintage bookstore situated next to the Coffee Boutique in Lucien and Elise’s hotel.
Her grin widened. “You’re becoming an expert. The day is coming when you won’t need me anymore.”
His gaze sharpened on her. “Don’t say that. You’re one of my most prized assets. I can’t exist without you. Or at least Noble Enterprises can’t. Speaking of which, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
Lin tensed. Here it comes. Had Kam spoken to him? “Yes?” she asked warily.
“Would you ever consider moving to London? For your job?”
The ensuing silence seemed to roar in her ears. “I . . . I don’t know. Chicago has always been my home.” She collapsed back into her chair, her mouth hanging open. “You’re considering moving your home base to London?”
“I’m thinking about it,” he said honestly. “You know Francesca is going to have the baby at Belford Hall,” he said, referring to his grandparents’ palatial estate.
“Yes. And I know your grandfather hasn’t been in the best of health.” She realized how hollow her voice sounded. In the back of her mind, she’d always known that Ian might choose to make Belford Hall his primary residence, but that day always seemed far in the future. She tried to give him a rallying smile despite a sinking feeling. “I can understand why you’d want to relocate to England to be nearer to both your grandparents. Besides, it’d be a lovely place for Francesca to recover after the baby is born.”
“I’m considering it for a good chunk of time, anyway.”
She willfully steadied herself. He said it would be a short period of time, but she could easily imagine the circumstances stretching into forever. “I can’t expect everything to always remain the same,” she said evenly. “That’s the way of business. Things are always changing.”
“You’re more than just ‘business,’ Lin,” Ian said, his eyebrows slanting. “That’s why I brought it up. I want you to think about relocating. I’m sure we can come up with an arrangement that feels beneficial for you and isn’t so life altering. We’ll make a point to talk about it more next week?”
She nodded and gave him a reassuring smile, ignoring the snide voice in her head telling her of course she was nothing more than business to him. Her brain had always known that, even if her heart hadn’t adequately learned the crucial lesson.
“Enough about that,” Ian said gruffly. “We need to discuss Kam. How did it go the other night?”
“Fine,” Lin said smoothly. “I was wondering, though, if maybe we should rethink the idea of my being Kam’s guide through all of this?”