As adoring fans showered him with compliments, Logan redirected praise away from himself and toward his various employees. In the main dining area beyond their private room, a piano and violin played Mozart concertos.
Of the three courses presented, Allison managed to hold down four bites of salad, three tips of brown-butter asparagus, and two forkfuls of steamed lobster. Vivi never stopped talking. Allison’s head pounded worse. She wanted to tell the woman to chew her food before speaking. And pause for breath. But she’d never get a word in edgewise. Over the next painful hour, Allison endured Rick’s stinging glares. Indigestion and frustration made it hard to breathe.
Unable to force-feed herself, she wiped her mouth with the cloth napkin on her lap and dropped it onto her plate. She scooted her chair back, anxious to excuse herself from purgatory.
As if on cue, Vivi launched an interrogation. “Allison, where did you say you were from originally?”
Allison replied coolly, “I didn’t.”
“I’ll bet you grew up in California. Blonde hair, beach body, starlet looks. I’m from Venice Beach.”
“How nice for you.”
“Where did you grow up?”
Allison had imagined a thousand different ways to avoid this discussion. Unfortunately, put on the spot, she had no clever reply and half the table interested in the answer. She opted for the truth. “I was born just outside Paris. Since I can remember, my parents toured with the European Opera. I traveled with them.”
Vivi gasped with joy. “How fabulous!” She dropped her fork and leaned forward. “Where did you go? What was it like? Oh, I’ve always dreamed of visiting Europe.” Her elbow slammed Rick in the ribs, and he grunted. “Tell me more!”
This was the last conversation she wanted to have with strangers, definitely not with Logan listening, learning the sad lonely life she’d lived. “It was…interesting.”
The evasive answer didn’t satisfy Vivi. “Paint the picture for me. I need details!”
Staring at a distant point on the wall, she dredged up the past. “We spent most of our time in France, Austria, Germany and Italy. We also toured the Sydney Opera House, and my parents performed in Moscow and Japan. Always traveling.” Her teeth gnawed at her lower lip. “I really never had a home, a place to grow up.”
Gentle concern shone in Logan’s eyes. “Traveling like that is a dream for a lot of people. But as a kid, that must have been hard.”
“It was all I knew.” She wasn’t looking for sympathy. “My parents lived an adventurous life, but part of me always wanted one place to call home.”
Vivi’s blue eyes glazed over, missing the shadowed undertones of Allison’s private torment. “How fabulous! So, what brought you to America?”
More discussions around the table ceased. She gained a larger audience. She dug her nails into her leather chair. “I met a soldier. An American. His description of this country was what I’d always wanted. The land where dreams come true.” She swallowed hard. “I believed him.”
“You’re not with him anymore.” Vivi’s over-statement of the obvious demanded explanation.
Allison made the mistake of glancing across the table. Rick’s glare was fastened on her. As if he’d been waiting for this moment. Easy access to a point of personal humiliation. But she refused to break so easily. “My ex-husband is no longer with us.”
That shut them all up. Not even a whisper followed. Rick’s reaction was visceral. He didn’t need to speak. His look of disgust all but called her out on the lie.
Whether he knew it or not, her admission was essentially true. When it came to Trevor’s mental state. Her ex-husband’s descent into psychosis turned him into an abomination of the young man she met at eighteen.
She hated the stares digging into her, some pitying, others eager for scandalous details. She denied them the sick pleasure. “If you’ll excuse me.” She scraped her chair back from the table.
Logan stood, too. He reached for her but she brushed past him, heading to the restroom. There she splashed cold water on her cheeks, trying to soothe the burn of embarrassment. She lifted her face, drying her chin as she looked at herself in the mirror.
Whatever beauty Vivi pointed out wasn’t in the reflection Allison saw. Her inner landscape was so damaged and desolate she’d never understand why anyone found her attractive. Least of all Logan. The sparkle that once lit her green eyes had faded long ago. She barely knew the person staring back at her. “God, my life is a disaster.”
“And I thought I had problems,” a brusque female voice responded. A faint trace of cigarette smoke hung in the air.
Allison’s gaze snapped from her own reflection to Devon standing behind her. Her insides still writhing, she couldn’t stand another minute of being vulnerable. She spoke with forced humor. “I put on quite a show. Sorry you missed it. I gave Vivi enough gossip to last a year.”
Devon shrugged. Her dark eyes were kind. “Don’t take it hard. Trust me your fifteen minutes of infamy will fade by next week. People may toss around interesting theories or pity for a while, but that requires more energy than the accepted pastimes of bitching and back-stabbing.”
A puff of laughter escaped Allison. “That actually makes me feel better.”
“I thought it might.” Devon smiled. “Want to join me at the main restaurant bar?”
“I’d love to,” Allison said a little too eagerly. She tossed her paper towel in the trash. “There’s no way I’m going back into that private room.”
“Don’t blame you.”
“I’m a cheap date tonight,” Allison added, in case the woman considered changing her mind. “Ginger ale is about all I can stomach.”
“Fine by me.” They exited the restroom together. As they took two seats at the u-shaped bar in the dining room, Devon sighed. “I tried to warn you about Vivi Dunn. The demon spawn dug her hooks into me years ago.”
“Two seconds too late.” Allison shook her head. “You weren’t kidding about the Plague.”
“Would I sugarcoat that hell-on-wheels?”
As they waited for drinks, Devon shared the amusing story of how she first met Vivi. The major’s straight-faced depiction had Allison doubled over with laughter.
Allison eyed her gratefully. “Thanks for saving me. If you weren’t here, I wouldn’t have left the bathroom. From now on, you have my full abiding trust.”