The Billionaire's Embrace Page 50

She blinked her eyes open, her lips slightly parted. “Oh. Food,” she said. “Right. Okay. We should do that.”

I made her sit at the table with her wine, and then brought out plates and silverware, and finally the stockpot full of stew, and a platter of rice. I served both of us, and said, “Eat up. I hope it tastes okay.”

“It smells incredible,” she said. She scooped up some rice and stew and took a bite. “Hot,” she said, covering her mouth. “Too hot.”

I laughed. “Don’t you see it steaming? Give it a few minutes to cool down. I’ll open another bottle of wine.”

She sucked air in and out, trying to cool her hot mouthful. “I’ll be too drunk to get home,” she said.

“Then you’ll have to stay here with me,” I said, waggling my eyebrows in an exaggerated manner, hoping to make her smile; and she did. Even with her mouth covered, I could see the way her eyes crinkled.

“It’s really good,” she said. “Even though it’s hot. It tastes just like my mom’s. Did you make the liver paste yourself? How did you find the recipe?”

“I hired a woman,” I confessed. “She owns a restaurant. I had her give me a cooking lesson. This is her recipe.”

“No wonder it’s good,” Regan said. “I guess I should yell at you for spending money on cooking lessons when you can get recipes off the internet, but it seems like too much effort. I just have to accept that we have different ideas about money. And the food’s really good. So thank you for going to that much trouble, just to make me some dinner.”

“It’s the sentiment that counts, right?” I asked. “Just like with horrible Christmas presents.”

“Novelty socks,” Regan said. “Six-packs of underwear.”

“Hey now, my mother still gives me underwear every birthday and Christmas,” I said, and Regan laughed.

Then her face settled into solemn lines, and she said, “Carter, I want you to know. I’m not using you for your money. I’m—I really care about you a lot. That’s been the worst thing, these last few months. Knowing that I hurt you.”

Somehow she knew exactly what I needed to hear. The words were a sweet balm for my soul, easing the ache of abandonment. I reached across the table to take one of her hands in mine. “I want you to be honest with me. If something bothers you, tell me. Don’t wait until it’s too much to handle.”

“I will,” she said. “I’ll probably still screw up, but I’m going to try.”

“That’s all we can ask of each other,” I said. “Now let’s eat before dinner gets cold.”

“Kaldereta should only be eaten hot,” Regan said very seriously, and picked up her spoon.

We ate, and drank our wine, and Regan told me more about her new job: her kind boss, and her insane co-worker who was obsessed with some teenaged musician I had never heard of, and wallpapered her cubicle with posters of his adolescent face.

“That doesn’t sound insane to me,” I said. “It’s very normal to be interested in teenaged heartthrobs.”

“He’s sixteen! And she’s in her mid-forties,” Regan said. “But, I mean, that alone wouldn’t be so bad, but there’s also the Beanie Baby collection, and the way she re-heats fish in the break room microwave every day for lunch—”

“Say no more,” I said. “That sounds like a firing offense to me. One should only microwave fish in the privacy of one’s own home.”

Regan laughed, fingers curled around the stem of her wine glass, and for a moment I simply gazed at her, amazed that she was here, that she hadn’t, after all, walked out of my life forever.

“I have something else to show you,” I said. “You’ll need to put your coat on. It’s outside.”

She cocked her head at me. “You—got a dog?”

I grinned. “No, although I’m considering it. I wouldn’t leave a dog outside in this weather, though. It would be indoors, curled up and snoozing on my pillow, spoiled as can be. You, on the other hand, can probably survive a few minutes outdoors. Let’s get your coat.”

Regan gave me a bewildered look, but she got up from the table without arguing and put on her coat. I put on mine as well—we would only be outside very briefly, but I wanted to keep her guessing.

We went outside onto the terrace. I intended to usher Regan directly to the second level and the repurposed shed, but she veered away from me and went to the wall, pushing up onto her toes to peer down at the streets below.

She turned back to look at me. “This is really incredible.”

“Didn’t you know I had this terrace?” I asked. This was hardly the first time she had been to my apartment.

She shrugged. “I never really investigated. You can’t see much from inside. I thought maybe you had a few plants out here, but—this is like your own private garden.”

“That’s the idea,” I said. “Why bother being rich if you can’t grow trees on your roof?”

She smiled at me. “I bet it’s really nice out here when the weather gets warm.”

“Stick with me until spring, and you can sunbathe out here as much as you want,” I said. “Sometimes, when it’s really hot, I break out the kiddie pool and the umbrella drinks.”

“Oh, I hope there’s a heat wave, then,” Regan said.

“You can wear a bikini and laze around in the pool, and I’ll watch you,” I said. “We’ll both be happy.” I rested one hand in the small of her back. “This isn’t why I wanted you to come out here.”

She turned away from the wall, giving a last reluctant look over her shoulder, and followed me up the stairway to the second level of the terrace. I opened the door and said, “Close your eyes.”

She did, and then covered them with her hands for good measure. I switched on the overhead light inside the shed, newly installed by my electrician, and then steered Regan inside, both of my hands on her shoulders, showing her where to go.

“Okay. Now you can look,” I said.

She opened her eyes.

She didn’t say anything at first. She turned in a slow circle, looking at the armchair, the reading lamp, the hanging plant positioned in the window. She ran her fingers along the spines of the books arranged on the shelves—alphabetically, by last name—and turned her to head to the side to read the titles.

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