Conor leaned back in his Bugatti sofa and tried to calm the tension over Charisse arriving. It was worsening his migraine. He should’ve made Raul cancel the date. It seemed like it had taken him all afternoon to get ready like he was a woman getting ready for her wedding.
He’d bathed forever and hired a man from the barbershop at the bottom of his building to come up and shave him. From past experience, he knew he’d cut himself a dozen times, and he’d likely pass out in the elevator if he’d tried to go down.
He stared at the large Monet on the marble wall across from the couch. The pastels offered visual serenity, which is why he’d put it in a prominent position. He’d arranged the penthouse to his own tastes, which he knew wouldn’t land him in any magazines. He just hoped Charisse liked his place. He wanted her to feel welcome and at home.
He’d considered turning up the air-conditioner just to have the gas fire going in the more intimate den, but that seemed the ultimate in douchey. What he really wanted to do was take her to the conservatory, but that would be like showing her a part of his soul. He didn’t know if he was ready to let her in that much.
Chimes sang out a Rachmaninoff melody, letting him know Charisse had arrived. He could see the front door from where he sat. He held his breath as Raul walked from the kitchen, across the hardwood floors and to the door. An arrangement of gladiolas and white roses that he’d cut and arranged himself in the vase from Tiffany’s sat on a glass end table by the couch. He frowned as he looked at them. The roses were maybe too prominent. Sweat broke out on his forehead. He’d already given her a ton of flowers. Why would she even want another bouquet. He should’ve gone with the diamond necklace instead. All women liked diamond necklaces, right?
His head pounded and his hand shook as he lifted it to comb through his hair.
Raul opened the door.
“So good to see you again, Charisse. Thank you for coming.”
“Thank you for calling me,” he heard Charisse say. “I’m sorry about running away the other day. I was just so surprised.”
“It was my fault entirely.”
Charisse stumbled over her next words. “Would, would you be willing to talk to me about Mother another time?”
Conor could hear the pain in her voice and held his breath as he waited for Raul to answer.
“I think that’s a conversation better to have with your father. Please come in. Mr. Grishin’s anxious to see you.” Raul stepped aside and Conor watched Charisse’s face turn from sorrow to awe as she took in the penthouse. Her gaze ran over the high ceiling and along the marble walls, stopping at each painting like she was actually admiring it.
The muscles in his neck unknotted. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and smiled when she walked towards the Ansel Adams he’d moved to the front ever since their conversation in his office.
Her curls were bouncing chaos. She usually pulled them away from her face or tied them back, but she’d left her hair completely natural. He wanted to crush the curls in his hands as he kissed her.
He let out a slow breath and continued to admire her. She wore a sleeveless button-up emerald shirt untucked over a white pair of capris. Her elbow hooked around a large picnic basket. Gold sandals completed the outfit, making her look like she was headed out for a day at the beach instead of coming to visit an invalid. Her brightness broke through to his heart like a ray of sunshine.
At last, he stood up and put his hands in the pockets of his linen shorts. Raul had chosen them for him along with the black short sleeved shirt. He probably looked like he was going to the beach too. “Hi, Charisse,” Conor said much quieter than he’d intended. At least he hadn’t growled.
She jumped a bit and then smiled when she saw him. “I’m so sorry! Here I am walking around your apartment like it’s a museum, and I didn’t even see you.”
“I take that has a compliment. I was trying to emulate a museum in this room.”
Behind her, he saw Raul nod toward the flowers and then disappear down a hall.
Still unsure about giving them to her he said, “Do you like the Ansel Adams?”
She stared straight into his eyes and nodded. “Very much.”
She was too far away. He wanted to cross the room and take her in his arms, but there was still the matter of the salon. His headache had lessened, but he didn’t want to bring up anything about business for fear of bringing the migraine back full blast.
He realized the short conversation had come to a lull, and it was his turn.
Before he could think of something to say, she walked towards the couch and said, “What beautiful flowers. Somehow I didn’t expect to see them in your penthouse. I keep imagining you have a beautiful garden in the Hamptons, but I pictured your apartment, I don’t know, sort of stark. It’s not at all what I expected.”
He smiled and motioned to the flowers. “I picked them for you. The vase is yours too. I thought it best accented the beauty of the gladiolas.”
Charisse’s eyes widened, and she touched her fingertips to the petal of a pink flower. “You picked these? Where did you find a garden? I thought you’d been in bed all weekend.”
His headache ebbed by about ten degrees. He held out his hand and said, “Could I carry the basket for you and I’ll show you where I got the flowers?”
Charisse shifted the basket to her other hand and shook her head. As she spoke, she slipped her hand into his. “No offense, but you don’t look your best. I’ll carry the food. Are you sure you want to go for a walk?”
The contact with her was heaven compared to what he’d been suffering. Why had he ever been worried about her coming over? “It’s not very far. I’d love to show you.”