He tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow without looking. The automatic assumption she would go wherever he led would have rankled coming from anyone else. But with Luke, whose usual demeanor was closed off and forbidding, the gesture made her feel wanted, accepted. As if she belonged, now and forever.

He guided her toward the outdoor terrace, where different chefs from San Francisco’s best restaurants had set up food stations. “Losing is exciting?”

She laughed. “No. It’s terrifying. But sometimes, on a night like tonight... Don’t you ever want to be surprised? Take a chance? Not know what’s going to happen in advance?”

He shook his head. “I read the last pages of a book first.”

She stopped walking, causing him to halt. “That’s terrible.”

“It’s smart. I know I won’t waste my time if the conclusion is unsatisfactory.”

“What about serendipity?” Like the serendipity of running into him outside Johanna’s office? “Or fate? Fortune?”

“Fate and fortune are excuses made by the unprepared. I know the odds and play them accordingly.” He laced his words with authority, his mouth settling into a firm line when he finished speaking.

She slid a sideways glance in his direction. “Not everything in life can be controlled,” she said softly.

He gave no indication he’d heard her, but she had to double her steps to keep up with him as he threaded his way through the crowd. She decided to relax and enjoy herself, creating mental snapshots as they sped through the party. She couldn’t wait to tell Matt all about it during their next phone call. This beat any episode of Real Housewives they’d watched in Matt’s hospital room.

Luke slowed down once they arrived on the stone terrace wrapping the length of the mansion. It was lined by long buffet tables, each one labeled with the name of one of San Francisco’s most exclusive eateries. She tugged on his arm.

“Is that Shijo Nagao?” she asked, indicating a chef standing behind a station offering sushi prepared to order. Nagao’s restaurant had a yearlong reservation waiting list.

Luke glanced over. “I believe so.”

Danica dropped her hand from his sleeve. “See you later.”

He grabbed her fingers. “You’re ditching your work assignment? For raw fish?”

“Sushi,” she corrected, allowing her hand to linger in his so she could enjoy the fizzy crackles his touch sent singing through her blood. “Expertly prepared, delicious raw fish. And omega-3 is vital to brain function. I’m sure you agree this would help me excel at my responsibilities.” She flashed him a grin, daring him to find fault with her logic.

He narrowed his gaze. “What happened to the woman with the New England palate?”

“She likes fish.”

“Fish served with wasabi. If you don’t like salsa...”

She shuddered. “No wasabi. Never trust anything green and pasty.”

He raised his eyebrows in horror, but his upturned mouth betrayed his amusement. “If I didn’t have other reasons to trust your judgment, I would reconsider our relationship.”

The word relationship sent shockwaves throughout her body. She shook her head at herself. He meant it in a professional sense. “How can you eat sushi with wasabi? It destroys the flavor,” she said.

“What? No. It enhances it. It’s a—”

“Let me guess. Chemical reaction.” She raised a teasing eyebrow.

“Yep. Some pairings are proven by trial and time to be the only choice for each other.”

“I bet if we ask Chef Nagao, he will tell you when diners add extra wasabi to their meal, it is a sign they can’t appreciate the chef’s subtle flavors and shouldn’t be served the best fish.”

Luke swung his attention from Nagao’s chef station and focused on her. “Really?”

She nodded. “The diner misses out by insisting on wasabi.”

Guests began to pack the space where they stood. Luke stepped closer to her, his presence acting like a shield. The beginning of his five-o’clock shadow was making its appearance. “Misses out,” he said, his gaze warm on hers.

Something fluttered in her stomach, and she couldn’t attribute it to her lack of an evening meal. “Yes.”


Tags: Susannah Erwin Billionaire Romance
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