Thanks for joining me to the end of Episode 3. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. If all goes well, Episode 4 will be available for purchase tomorrow along with episodes 1-3 in a bundle. We’ve made it to the half-way point!
They spent the rest of lunch discussing all the places they’d traveled to. Charisse was shocked at all of the off road places Conor had been. She finally said, “I never pegged you as someone who’d like to camp.”
“It wasn’t really my thing. But my wife was a bit of an adrenaline junkie—Park Avenue to the Himalayas.”
He’d been animated while they talked and ate, but now he seemed to withdraw into himself. She didn’t know what had happened to his wife, but it was obvious to her that he missed her. She’d also wager he didn’t talk about her much and maybe needed to. She decided to press him about it. “Wow, did you guys climb the Himalayas?”
He stared at his plate. It had a few strips of meat, but he’d mostly finished the sandwich. “Not me. She went on her own. I was terrified the whole time she was gone. Not everyone comes back from those trips.”
Charisse held her breath, worried that might be how his wife had died.
Conor continued, “But she came back safely with a big ‘I told you so’ grin to greet me.”
Charisse relaxed and took the last bite of her sandwich.
Conor asked, “But what about you? You’ve been all over Europe.”
“Mostly for training. I tried not to roll my eyes the day I met you when you started going on about the extensive training your hairstylist had. I’ve probably been to the same places she’s been.”
Conor groaned and reached across the table to grab her hands. “I’m so sorry for being a rat bastard, as you said. You gave me the best haircut I’ve ever had, and I swear I haven’t been washing it every day per your instruction.”
She grinned. “I can tell. It looks better too.” She glanced at the watch on her wrist. “Shoot. I need to get back.”
He tightened his grip on her hands. “Have dinner with me tonight.”
She gazed into his blue eyes and lost track of time. She imagined if she said yes it might be the best date she’d ever had. But that damn contract. She knew now that Conor wasn’t trying to take advantage of her through it, but the thought of it made her squeamish.
Finally, she shook her head. “I just can’t yet. Please understand, I need to settle the business between us before I can move forward.”
“But it’s not even your fault. It’s Roy’s…”
“It’s my fault. I should’ve read the contract.”
His thumbs caressed the backs of her hands. In a softened voice that caused goosebumps to erupt on the back of her neck, he said, “You shouldn’t be punished for trusting your own father. There’s no way I’m selling the salon back to him. I want you to be the sole owner.”
She should just give in, but that way always brought her trouble. She had to be strong and sort the business out before the pleasure. “Thank you for not selling it back to him. Hopefully by Friday I’ll know one way or the other if I get the loan.”
Conor stared into her eyes, breaking down her crumbling resistance. Fortunately, he released her hands, and she gathered her wits together again.
They stood up and walked through the sandwich shop and out the door. The sun broke through the smog above and warmed her skin that had grown cold from the air conditioner.
She slipped her hand into his and said, “I’d really like to have lunch with you again.”
“How about tomorrow?”
She almost said yes right away, but decided two days in a row with Conor would be too much temptation. “No, that’s my official chore day with Marie. If we skip it, there’s mass chaos. How about Monday?”
“Done. I’ll clear my afternoon and maybe we can walk through the park after.”
“Just a walk in the park. I’ll only ask you a dozen or so times to dinner.”
She laughed and noticed his car was in front of her salon. Before they got closer, she stopped walking. What was she doing? She’d just turned him down to spending the weekend with him. She should not do what she so desperately desired—she shouldn’t kiss him again.
He turned, looking puzzled and sexy with his blue eyes staring out beneath dark bangs. Passion shot through her core and tore away her resistance. She stood on her toes to brush her lips across his, planning to keep it tame like earlier. But this time, he wrapped his arms around her back and held her tightly against his body. She slid her hands up his chest and locked her fingers together behind his neck.
Their lips pressed against each other and then released, only to meet again for another kiss and then another. He teased her lips apart with his and slid his tongue gently along hers.
Her whole body responded by leaning against him even more until she could feel his erection hardening against her belly. She needed this man soon. He was so unexpected—starting out as someone she should hate and turning into someone she trusted more than her family.
Her mind whirled with desire charging through her. What if the loan didn’t come through at all? The worry and lust caused heat to flare in her belly. Scared by her reaction to the kiss, she tried to draw away. He loosened his grip but finished the kiss properly.
He nuzzled below her ear and whispered, “You started it. I didn’t even ask this time.”
“I know. It was wrong.”
“No, it was oh so right. Call the bank first thing Monday. I can’t wait all week to kiss you like this again.”
He pressed his lips against hers one more time and then released her.
Shaken by pleasure and confusion, she turned and walked towards her salon.
His driver stepped out and walked around to open the door for Conor. As they approached, she peered closer at the driver. She knew him. How did she know him?
He was a little shorter than Conor and much older with gray and black hair. He was probably her father’s age or older.
She stopped short in shock.
The driver nodded his head and said, “Hello, Miss Larouche. How long has it been?”
Charisse gaped. Twenty years. But she didn’t say it out loud. Twenty years since her mother disappeared. Raul had been the last one to see her.