Authors: Carmen Falcone
“She’s here,” he said to Ross, and stood up. “I’ll go get her.”
In the wide hallway, she pushed a small cart. He was about to make a wiseass remark about her tardiness, when she spoke into the phone.
“Yeah. I’m good. He’s not here yet.” She stopped pushing and placed her free hand on her waist. “Yes, Luna, thanks for the stash of condoms,” she continued, a trace of sarcasm in her voice.
He bit back a satisfactory smile, but didn’t move an inch.
“I know I’m a nervous wreck. I just never thought the idea of sex would feel so business-y.” She leaned against the textured wall and whispered something he couldn’t quite hear.
He could have laughed. Then it dawned on him. She hadn’t had sex in two years… He blinked, and quietly stepped backward and signaled to the attendant on the other side to show her the conference room. The short man nodded, and Sebastian sneaked back into the room.
“Hello, gentlemen,” Grace said, as she walked into the room with a professional smile. The pristine white shirt and white pants gave her an elegant look. A long, black pearl necklace hung from her delicate neck, and her hair was down, swept to one side. He curled and uncurled his fist, flexed his fingers to rid them of the sudden tingle. He wanted to run his fingers through her long, luscious hair—which tumbled past her breasts. “Please excuse my tardiness. It took me longer than I expected to find this place.”
“No problem. Ross, meet Grace King.”
“Such a pleasure to meet you.”
Grace stretched her hand to the potbellied man, and he shook it. They all sat around the dark mahogany oval table, and for the next two hours, Ross tasted a few samples she’d brought on the cart, and then showed her a quick market study he’d made about the food and beverage field, and who her competition was.
A concern Sebastian didn’t have the right to experience filled him. Was there a guarantee that her business would take off after this?
“I say we revamp your brand,” Ross said. “Your food is good and both you and your dishes have a sassy style that’s not shining through. You need to target a younger, more upscale clientele. We’ll go over your menu and perhaps change some of the dishes’ names, add some others, and keep that modern flare on Southern cooking vibe. Can you cater to a larger capacity?”
“I’m based out of my house,” Grace replied. “I’ve been mainly doing small events, but would love to dip into the more upscale market. Cost has been an issue, as far as finding a location.” Her voice lost energy at the end.
“You should find a location. If we’re rebranding, we want to set the tone from the beginning,” Ross said.
“I’ll take care of that,” Sebastian cut in.
Grace turned to him, her expression unreadable.
“I can call a realtor I trust and get you set up.” He smoothed his voice by a notch.
“Thank you,” she murmured, a pang of surprise in her tone.
After the meeting was over, they headed to the hotel’s bar for drinks. Sebastian excused himself for a moment, called the concierge, and arranged for his belongings to be moved to another type of bedroom. He also asked for champagne and a couple of other things to help with her nerves, if the way she relentlessly clicked her pen during the meeting was anything to go by. After having eavesdropped on her conversation, somehow it seemed selfish not wanting to make things smoother for her. He snuck out on his own and stopped by the sundry shop, and afterward only had to share Grace with Ross for thirty minutes before the old man excused himself and left.
“Did you like him?” Sebastian scooted closer to her. The booth they shared was intimate.
She took a sip of her Mojito, and he had to clench his fist to keep from touching her. “What’s not to love? The man is amazing.”
Whenever they spent time like this, not talking about their dead marriage, there was a painful squeeze in his heart. Like some invisible giant hand was trying to crush him.
Sebastian took a swig of his Grey Goose, and the liquid skated down his throat. She was gorgeous. Her eyes gleamed, and she kept twisting her hands together. Was she that nervous? To share a bed with him? He coughed; his body was still painfully aware of her nearness. His thighs were hard, his length straining against his pants. “You are making me jealous.”
“Yeah, because I would totally do him,” she said, and they stared at each other for a moment and then chuckled in unison.
She offered him a sweet smile, like the ones he’d gotten from her when they’d dated. His heart tightened, and he shifted in the booth, willing the suffocating sensation away. “We could finish this conversation upstairs,” he said.
“I’m afraid conversation is not what interests you.” She shrugged, playing with the edge of her glass with her fingers.
“You’d be surprised,” he whispered, worried about those words himself.
They rushed across the lobby as a gorgeous bride took pictures with a set of giggly bridesmaids. Grace’s throat thickened, and this time it wasn’t because of the man alongside her. While they waited for the elevator, she soaked up the girl’s dress, cloaked by a long, thin veil, sheer enough to show her widening smile.
Grace’s heart turned in her chest. She’d been happy during her wedding, although they had eloped to Vegas instead of anything more elaborate. Back then, her man was a workaholic and she’d been happy letting him make the decisions—then it had suffocated her, and she’d found herself way in too deep and couldn’t back down. Until he’d reminded her too much of Aidan for her to be able to know the difference. Was there a difference?
The Sebastian she’d dated was not the same one she’d married. Or had
changed after making the vows? Her whole life she’d craved roots, especially since being homeschooled by her mother. In an RV, of all places. Maybe the idea had seemed good on paper, but in reality she hadn’t enjoyed touring the country in a vehicle and never being able to keep her friends and establish a routine. Perhaps that need had thrown her in Sebastian’s arms in the first place. And the realization she was more like her parents than she had imagined had yanked her from him.
“You okay?” Sebastian squeezed her hand, and before she could answer, the elevator doors opened in front of them. They joined the guests already inside.
Sebastian pulled her gently to the back of the spacious elevator, and she fixed her stare on the heads in front of her. He intertwined his fingers in hers, and she sucked in a breath. What did he care?
With his thumb, Sebastian made a circular motion on her palm, and she bit her lip. When the doors opened and they reached his sumptuous suite, she took in the beauty of the furnishings: curvy round chairs, a large sofa in the living area, and white, heavy drapes hanging from the ceiling. The pastel colors contrasted against the rugged man who flicked on the dim lighting. It was like Tarzan trapped in a dollhouse. A ginormous dollhouse, of course.
“The room is surprisingly sweet,” she said, in a strangled voice.
Sebastian chuckled. “In this hotel, every room is different. I’ve been staying at a different one, but tonight I requested something more—” He cleared his throat. “Romantic. Thought you would appreciate it.”
Why would he go through the trouble? As far as sex went, she was a sure thing. And whenever he splayed his hands on her, it really didn’t matter what surrounded them.
Damn it, Grace
. In a few days, he would go back to L.A., the city where he had moved to after their split. The other side of the country. Which meant she just had to come to terms with the sexual responses her body threw at her. Then, it would be back to celibacy again. At least until she met a man that fit her better.
Taking a breath larger than the suite, she followed him into the main bedroom. She glanced at the chocolate covered strawberries and the Veuve Clicquot chilling in a sparkling champagne cooler. The scent of fresh, clean linens swirled in the air, and blooming tulips sat bunched in a couple of yellow vases on either nightstand.
Two oversize robes draped over the silky immaculate bedspread. “You have master plans.” She bit back a smile. “I can’t spend the night, you know. I have to wake up early tomorrow,” she said, and expected him to protest her decision. In the past, his overbearing ways had never let her be out of his reach for too long. It was as if he had feared he would lose her forever. And, didn’t that ended up happening anyway? Oh, the irony.
“Fine with me.” Sebastian sent her a devastating smile that almost changed her resolve.
She picked up a strawberry and licked off the chocolate, her tongue twirling over the tip. “This is amazing.”
Sebastian’s stare remained on her while he served them both glasses of champagne. A flicker of undeniable desire sparked in his jade colored eyes, and she realized his gaze targeted her lips. She shivered and took a bite of the strawberry, the taste tantalizing her palate. He handed her a flute, and she accepted, then lifted it in the air, silently congratulating him.
Sebastian placed his iPhone on a dock. A blues version of Alicia Keys, her go-to singer, filled the room, the volume low and intimate. She touched her stomach, eager to contain the uproar of butterflies in it. Everything had been carefully orchestrated… for her? Really, he was going through this kind of trouble to bed her? What was his angle?
Whatever it was, she couldn’t buy into it. She’d let his deep accent and hunkiness fool her once, but she couldn’t allow it to happen again. Not when she was finally getting back on her feet. Not when she was so close to learning all she could, and taking her business where it should be going.
Sebastian removed his jacket and placed it on the chair.
She straightened her shoulders, and sipped the champagne, the dry liquid rolling down her throat. When he undid his tie and his fingers reached his top button, she finished the alcohol. It had been easy to fall into his arms the night before, without much thought. But this kind of Hollywood production made her fully aware of what was going to happen.
She twisted her hands together.
He inched toward her. “Are you ready?”
She rubbed her clammy palms together. Was she? “I…I…” The confident woman had gone on a coffee break and in her place stood a pitiful virgin. Seriously, that had to be the explanation. She hadn’t been this nervous the
she had seen him naked in all his glory, after an intensive two date courtship.
Sebastian reached for his pocket. Was he taking the condom out? The no-frills approach to sex was fine, but it was a tad…
“What are you thankful for?” he asked, and she blinked.
He waved a card in his hand. “I bought these at the souvenir shop downstairs. I thought it would be a fun game to get us reacquainted.”
Her pulse fluttered. She should tell him that what she thought didn’t matter to him, or to them. She stared at the stack of cards he folded and unfolded in front of him as he lounged on the sofa. To hell with it. Honesty was the best policy. “My grandmother. Even though most times she doesn’t know who I am, and I’m selfish for wanting her here… When I see her, I still know who she is. And being with her helps me know who I am, too.” Her voice thick at the end. She crossed and uncrossed her legs. Although Sebastian sat at the opposite side of the sofa, he stretched his long legs in her direction, and she had to scramble her feet out of his way so their limbs wouldn’t cross.
He gave her a close-lipped smile with a sympathetic nod. His eyes were warm, his face relaxed like they were in an intimate after-party recap. Craziness.
“Your turn.” Sebastian handed her the stack, and she picked one from the middle. She almost added she was also thankful for his smooth change of topic. Though he probably had a hidden agenda.
“What’s your best childhood memory?” she read out loud.
“My mom at the kitchen, baking
my favorite pastry
It’s sort of a doughnut baked in syrup.
He fixed his stare on the flute in his hand for a moment, as if being transported to a different world. She knew his father had been killed in a robbery back in South Africa when he was sixteen, which had prompted his American mother to move back with him to the US. But he had never shared much else with her. “I loved that pastry and she cooked it for me, every other weekend.”
“How did she die?” she asked. Conversations about his mother had always stood between them during their relationship. Besides that she had been dead, he had never said much—which had made her believe he and his mother had had a horrible relationship while his mother had been alive.
He clenched his jaw, and then he frowned. She was about to change the subject—maybe he wasn’t ready to talk about it—when he stared at her, and an angry expression crossed his face. “She killed herself. She couldn’t make it without my father.”
Blood froze in her veins. Was that why he had never shared much about his mother? “Oh lord… I didn’t know. I am sorry.” She scooted a bit closer to him, choosing not to touch him to avoid ruining the moment.
“We came to the US so she could get over her pain and start over… but a year into his death, she never managed to overcome her loss. I took her to doctors to treat her depression, then I started to do the grocery shopping and helped her brush her hair.” A ghost of a smile formed on his lips.
Emotion welled in her throat. Why hadn’t he ever told her this during the few months they’d been together? She flexed her fingers to get rid of the itch to reach out and hug him. Right now, it wasn’t about making demands concerning a time that no longer belonged to them. A doomed marriage.
“What I didn’t know was that my mother was gone the second my father died,” he continued, his voice low. “That woman who stayed with me was just a shadow of the lively, bright mom she used to be.”
She stretched her hand to touch his, but he leaned back on the sofa. “Your turn.”
So he didn’t want her condolences. Probably thought it was just simple pity. Hhhmm… Crossing her legs, one over the other, she sucked in a breath.
He picked a card and read. “Who would you hate to see naked?”