The Billionaire's Embrace Page 10

“What do you think we should see?” I asked. I didn’t know where to begin.

“We can see anything you’d like,” he said. “I took the afternoon off. If you want to spend the next four hours sitting in front of Monet’s water lilies—well, I might fall asleep, but I’ll sit there with you.”

I wasn’t sure how I felt about a billionaire skipping work to spend the afternoon escorting me around an art museum. Flattered, and happy, but also guilty. There were other things he could be doing that were far more important than keeping me entertained. But I wouldn’t say anything to remind him of all the work that was waiting for him. If he wanted to spend the day with me at the museum, I wasn’t going to complain.

“I don’t really know anything about art,” I said. “What do you think is worth seeing?”

“Well,” Carter said. He leaned over the map. “Everyone should see a Van Gogh in person at least once, I think. His use of impasto is incredible, and it can’t really be captured in pictures.”

“Sure,” I said. I didn’t know what impasto meant.

“The contemporary art collection here isn’t worth the trouble,” he said. “Which I understand; they’ve made a curatorial decision. But we’ll be better off sticking to the classics.”

“Okay,” I said. I folded my map and stood, looking down at him. “Where do we go?”

He led me back through the Egyptian wing and up an oddly-placed staircase. I looked back over my shoulder regretfully, wishing I’d had time to look at more of the artifacts. Carter had forgotten his promise, too excited by the prospect of Van Gogh to linger.

The Fancy European Paintings collection was packed with tourists, many of them speaking Chinese and taking pictures of the paintings with their oversized cameras. Carter moved through the gallery with complete assuredness, and I followed him, trying to look at paintings without falling too far behind.

Carter stopped in the doorway of a room and said, sounding satisfied, “There.”

I peeked over his shoulder. I recognized a painting on the far wall: a spindly, dark green tree, and blue swirls of sky.

The room was crowded, but we were able to move directly in front of the painting once an older couple stepped away. I bent in close, amazed by the thick layers of paint rising from the canvas. It must have taken days to dry.

“I know it’s a cliché,” Carter said, “but I love Van Gogh. There’s no one else like him. The color palette, the brush strokes, the deep communion with nature. I’ve seen this painting dozens of times, but I’m always struck by the fact that Van Gogh touched this canvas—that he stood in front of it, just the way we are, and that we’re connected to him because of it. It’s almost like time travel.”

His hands moved as he spoke. I gazed up at him, the excited light in his eyes, and felt a chasm opening between us. He cared about this painting so much that he had imagined a personal connection with the artist, and to me, it was—a painting. A nice one, sure. Not hideous. Pleasant to look at. But I didn’t have Carter’s vocabulary to discuss what I was seeing, or his deep understanding of art to place it in some historical context. It was a painting. That was all.

I imagined his childhood, coming to these museums with his mother, learning from her about the famous painters, and maybe also the ones who weren’t famous but should have been, the ones who were forgotten by history.

The only art I saw, growing up, was my mother’s faded portrait of Jesus on the cross, tacked to the wall above the kitchen sink.

I had known, from the very first time I met Carter, that we came from different worlds. I had seen the evidence of it over and over again: the car, the penthouse, the phone call with the President, the casual way he mentioned having dinner with famous people. I had been telling myself it didn’t matter, that people from different backgrounds could be friends, and even, possibly, fall in love.

But it did matter. I couldn’t deny it anymore, not seeing the rapt look on his face as he gazed at the painting. In some ways, at least, we would never be able to understand each other.

“There are some very nice Renoirs here, too,” Carter said, touching my cheek.

I forced a smile. He was trying to be kind. “I can’t wait,” I said.

My voice sounded hollow, but Carter didn’t seem to notice. He took my hand and led me into another room.

I swallowed past the sudden lump in my throat. We would look at a few more paintings, and then I would tell him I needed a drink, and we could go somewhere else—Renaissance tapestries, Greek sculpture, something safe. Although he probably knew all about those things, too.

I just needed to get over myself. I told myself sternly that Carter didn’t expect me to know anything about art, and he wasn’t judging me for it. It was something he enjoyed, and he only wanted to share that enjoyment with me.

It didn’t really make me feel any better.

Chapter 4

Saturday was a slow night at work—slower than usual, anyway—and around 10, I found myself in a sudden lull, with nothing to do. My customers were all happy with their drinks, and nobody was looking around for me. I used my reprieve to step behind the bar, chug a glass of water, and check my phone.

No text messages from Carter, which didn’t surprise me—he was at a charity gala that evening—but still made my heart sink a little. But Sadie had texted me: girl bring that man 2 dinner 2morrow

I felt my eyebrows crawling up my forehead. I texted back: not sure that’s a good idea

My phone buzzed. I want 2 meet this hottie. Ben says he’ll cook. please!!!! it will b awesome

I sighed. One of my customers had finished his drink, and so I slid my phone back into my purse and went back out onto the floor. And then I had three tables seated in a row, and by the time I had a chance to look at my phone again, it was 3am and I was on the subway home.

Sadie had left me a series of text messages, each using more exclamation points than the last, trying to convince me to bring Carter to her place for dinner. She had been bugging me about him since the first time I mentioned him, and I knew she just wanted a chance to be able to interrogate him about his intentions, like we were living in a Jane Austen novel. I didn’t think Carter would appreciate being subjected to that.

does he like Indian food? u know Ben makes good curry

we can play scattergories

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