Katie catches his arm. “Oh no. You sit. I’ll get someone else to get the samples. Tonight isn’t about investments.”
“This is time-sensitive,” Mike argues, sitting back down but not giving up. He eyes Chris. “A company named Maverick. Do you know them?”
“Yes,” Chris says. “Don’t do it.”
He launches into a conversation with Mike about why Maverick is a bad investment, and it’s a rare look into his business mind that I find intriguing. I’m spellbound, listening as they talk, asking a question here or there as I nibble on cheese and crackers.
At one point I glance up to find Katie staring at me with tenderness in her expression, and understanding. She hasn’t interrupted because she can see how much I’m enjoying watching the exchange, and I think she is, too. She views Chris as the son they never had, and I wonder why they didn’t have kids.
Finally the men’s stock talk wanes and we begin the wedding conversations, reviewing all of Katie’s plans and choosing the cake design. When we come to music, Chris says, “ ‘You and Me,’ by Lifehouse.”
I turn to him, remembering “Broken” by Lifehouse playing the first night we were together. From there to this. “It’s perfect. I love it.”
“Oh,” Katie says. “Changing the subject, before I forget. I don’t have an address for your father, Sara. I assume he’ll walk you down the aisle. I want to talk to him about the wedding plans.”
Still facing Chris, I squeeze my eyes shut, fighting a wave of nausea. I actually feel sick.
Chris runs his hand gently over my hair. “Sara’s father isn’t invited. And having dealt with the man, I can tell you, if I ever see him I’d probably end up in jail.”
“Oh,” Katie repeats, this time sounding shocked. “Well, we can’t have that on your wedding day.”
“Sara,” Mike says softly.
I inhale, and damn it, I have tears in my eyes that Chris gently wipes away. “Yes, Mike,” I say, not ready to turn around.
“I’d be honored to walk you down the aisle.”
Oh, God. Now I’m really going to bawl. I grab a napkin and turn to him, tears rolling down my cheeks. “I’d be honored if you would.”
“Oh, honey,” Katie whispers. “I’m sorry we made you cry.”
“You didn’t. I’m sorry my father can still make me cry.”
“He’s a bastard if he can,” she assures me.
“Oh, he’s a bastard,” Chris assures them. “A very rich, arrogant bastard. But Sara wasn’t willing to be a slave to his money. She left, giving up everything to live a life she believes in. And she’s probably the only woman I’ve ever met who found my money to be a problem.”
“I think I’m falling in love with Sara,” Mike jokes, and I laugh along with everyone else. “And this seems like the time to taste some wines. Make us all merry.”
Chris and I agree, and we fall into light conversation. The first wine comes and our glasses are filled with the chardonnay.
Katie lifts her glass. “This was your parents’ favorite wine, Chris, and the one that put us on the map after winning the Paris competition. It seems a perfect wedding choice.”
“Chris’s father had a diverse taste in wine,” Mike tells me. “That’s what made him such a good competition judge.”
Chris draws a deep, slow breath and sets his glass down. I know even before he stands that something is wrong. “I need to get some air,” he announces, and he grabs his jacket. In a flash, he’s out the door that leads to the back of the property and the gazebo.
Katie and Mike look stunned. “I—” Katie begins. “What just happened? He’s never done anything like that before. I’m confused.”
“We’ve had a lot of tragedy these past few weeks.” I grab my jacket. “We’ll be right back.”
I rush after Chris, exiting the chateau to find him waiting for me.
“Hi,” I say.
“Hi,” he returns, lacing my fingers with his. “Let’s go to the gazebo.”
I nod. “Yes.” And I instinctively know this is when he’s going to tell me about that nightmare.
In silence, we travel across the wooden bridge covering a pond. The early evening is cool but not cold, the wind light. Once we reach the other side, and to my dismay I realize that the roses winding around the gazebo aren’t in bloom. We’ve forgotten the season.
We stop in the center of the gazebo and both of us look up. “They’ll bring in roses,” Chris says, as if reading my mind. “It’ll look like they are in bloom. I already talked to Katie about it.”
“That’s a relief,” I say, and we look at each other, our fingers still laced together. “You never told me the story of the roses.”
He smiles a bit sadly. “Ah, yes. The story of the roses. My mother truly personified the saying ‘she could sell ice to Eskimos.’ When she was seven years old, she lived in an apartment and she used to pick wildflowers and go door to door, telling them she was selling roses. She sold a lot of those fake roses. Eventually she decided she wanted to help women feel good about themselves, be it as a wildflower or a rose. And the rest was history. She became a cosmetics queen.”
“And now I know how you sat down with a paintbrush and ended up one of the most famous painters on the planet.”