He led her up the steps and onto the path. He paused to pick two plums and handed her one. “I was going to pick these over the weekend, but it’s hard to do work with a migraine. Raul will say I’m a big wuss.”
“I hate headaches. I’m glad you’re up and about now.”
“It’s because you’re here. Go ahead and try it.”
She didn’t really think she was the reason his migraine was better, but he was kind to say it. She bit in and enjoyed the sweet juice flowing down her throat. “Mmmm. I love plums.”
They walked and snacked and talked. He pointed to each flower as they went and told her what they were and where they came from. His voice brimmed with pride. There were arches lined with vines leading into smaller enclosures. Some had benches where they would sit and rest while Conor spoke more about the garden. There was even a hidden composter to toss the plum pits into.
At last on one of the benches, Charisse said, “How did you have the time to do this and still make billions?”
A tinge of melancholy took over his eyes. He said, “I found out when Elise died that I’d done an excellent job of hiring people. Everything ran smoothly without me while I was taking time to mourn. Really, I’m just a figurehead waiting in my office for someone to call who needs a little weight to close a deal. I take a lot of time off. I was sincere when I said I was looking forward to being a part of your business. I was hoping I could be a little more to you than a silent partner.”
She took his hands in hers and stared down at them. She hadn’t wanted to talk about the salon or the contract. She’d still been trying to figure out how to approach her father. She envisioned him showing up with a bracelet like Marie’s and she’d say, “I don’t want a bracelet, I want my trust fund.”
He’d most likely talk about her needing protection and on and on. She released a sigh without thinking.
He said, “I’m sorry. I’d promised myself not to bring up your salon.”
She looked up ready to speak but lost herself for a moment in his sapphire eyes. Her core tightened and desire surged. She wanted to forget about everything and be with him completely tonight. But tomorrow, she knew she’d kick herself.
“It’s okay. I ran into a small problem with the loan that I need to work out. I was hoping when you felt better we could be more, um celebratory.” She blushed at her boldness and rushed on. “Hopefully, it won’t take me too long to work out.”
He brushed her curls away from her face. “I wish you wouldn’t see me as taking advantage of you if we made love while the contract is between us. I’m not using it to gain any sort of leverage over you, in fact it’s been a huge disadvantage to me.”
Charisse’s insides turned completely gooey when he said the words, ‘made love.’ She’d been forcing herself to think about being intimate with Conor as purely sexual. With Josh, she’d painted everything rosier than it actually had been—she’d been making love when he’d been screwing her.
But in the garden that Conor had designed and planted himself, the rosiness seemed real.
She tilted her head and said, “I don’t think you’d be taking advantage of me anymore. That was a result of the shock of realizing my father had been leveraging Marie for business purposes and maybe he’d done that with me.”
“No,” said Conor as he pulled her to him so her head could rest on his shoulder. “I was attracted to you as soon as I saw your picture. I just wanted to meet you, but at the same time, I thought I was betraying the memory of my wife. It made me lash out at you and Marie too. I’m sorry.”
Charisse wrapped both arms around Conor’s waist. She didn’t know if it was the two-day migraine that was making him open up about his wife’s death, or just spending more time with him. A knot twisted in her stomach thinking about Josh again. Eventually she’d have to tell Conor about the miscarriage. She was sure the loss was not on the same level as losing a spouse, but what Josh had done made it impossible for her to talk about it without breaking into tears. She hated that about herself.
Conor released her and said, “Suddenly I’m hungry for the first time in two days. Let’s go to the end of the garden and enjoy whatever delights you’ve brought in the basket.”
“It’s really not much. Just an old family recipe.”
She bent to pick it up, but he beat her to it. When they stood, he held her hand and led her to the end of the path. She hitched her breath. The sun was setting behind the skyscrapers of Manhattan. In a row at the window were rose bushes in a variety of colors. A bush with white roses and another with peach roses that had red tips appeared particularly picked over.
Charisse gasped. “Did the roses for the salon come from here?”
“Just yours,” he said. He dropped her hand and put his arm around her shoulder. He leaned on her a little heavier than usual like he needed her to prop him up. They should sit down soon. She was just so amazed by the roses.
He continued. “I’d cut them in the morning and take them to the florist before work. The rest were from my bushes in the Hamptons that I grow to sell. But I wanted you to have ones I’d grown myself.”
Words vanished from her mind. She placed her hand on his cheek, stood on her toes and kissed his lips softly. “Thank you.”
His eyes looked more bloodshot than they had earlier, but he still managed a smile. “I told you I was more than a suit.”
Charisse laughed and took the basket from him. “You need to sit down. Where are we eating?”
He turned her towards an opening she’d missed when she’d been gazing at the sunset across the roses. There was a massive swing suspended from the beams in the ceiling over a grassy area. But when they stepped on the grass, it was spongey.
Conor said, “So this is fake with whatever material they use to make playgrounds safe below it. I went for comfort. Of course there’s the swing, but sitting on the fake spongey grass makes for a better picnic area.”
Charisse grinned. “You thought of everything.”