The Billionaire's Embrace Page 9

I mounted the final step. Carter slid one arm around my waist, holding me close, and bent his head to kiss me. “Your poor face,” he said.

I lifted one hand to touch my cheek. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Pink,” he said. “You must be freezing. I shouldn’t have let you take the subway.”

“I like being outside,” I said, which was true. I liked walking and looking in shop windows and watching the people who passed me on the sidewalk.

“Well, let’s go inside where it’s warm,” he said. “We’ll get a map, and you can decide what you’d like to see.”

We went into the atrium of the museum, which was enormous, and crowded full of people, even on a weekday afternoon. I’d forgotten about the usual Christmastime swarms of tourists. Carter confidently sailed across the room, and I actually held onto the back of his coat like a small child so that I wouldn’t be left behind.

There was a long line to buy tickets, but Carter went right past it and up to the desk that said Museum Members. He fished a card out of his wallet and handed it to the girl behind the counter, who took a glance at it and chirped, “Welcome back, Mr. Sutton!” I could tell from the way she tossed her hair over her shoulder and smiled at him that she knew exactly who he was.

I glanced over at all the people waiting in the regular line. That’s where I would have been, ordinarily. None of them looked upset or impatient; they were all just waiting for their turn.

But all doors opened for Carter.

“Are you ready?” he asked, snapping me out of my thoughts. I smiled at him and took the arm he offered to me, crooked at the elbow like he was an old-fashioned gentleman. He handed me a map and said, “First, I think, the Temple of Dendur. We can sit down there and plan where you’d like to go next.”

He guided me through the crowded atrium toward a sign that said Egyptian Art. “I hope you don’t mind the crowds too much,” he said. “Christmas in New York.”

“No, it’s fine,” I said. “I’m not agoraphobic.”

He laughed. “I’ve never heard anyone use that word in casual conversation.”

I blushed and looked down at my feet. I didn’t want him to think I was showing off. Sometimes I spoke before I thought, was all. Most of the time, actually. I just opened my mouth and words fell out. I decided to change the subject. I said, “You must come here a lot, if you’re a member.”

“Sutton Industries is a corporate sponsor,” he said. “I come a few times a year for events. But it’s been a long time since I came here just to look at the art.”

Corporate sponsorship sounded fancy and expensive. “So you really care about art, I guess?”

He shrugged. “Supporting the museum is a worthy cause, and it makes the company look good. And my mother’s been on the board for years, so it makes her happy, which makes her less inclined to call me and complain about my other life decisions.” He grinned. “Also, I really like the rooftop cafe.”

We passed through a huge doorway into the Egyptian wing and turned right, and the noise from the atrium immediately dropped off. Carter said, “Let’s go straight to the Temple, and then we can look at these displays on our way out, if you’d like.”

“Okay,” I said, even though I would have liked to have stopped and looked at the huge sarcophagi he led me past. I had read about ancient Egyptian burial practices, of course, but I had never seen the grave goods in real life: the elaborately carved figurines, the coffins big as bathtubs. I wanted to pause for a while and think about the people who had made these things, and why, and why they had stopped.

But Carter was on a mission, and he had said we could linger on the way back. I could wait. He took my hand and guided me through the winding hallways, the series of nested rooms, and I let myself be led along. It was nice, in a way, to let him take over. I didn’t have to make any decisions or try to figure out where I was going. I could just let him do all the work. It was freeing.

At last, we came out into a huge room with windows all along one side, and Carter said, “There it is.”

It didn’t look so big as we walked toward it, skirting the reflecting pool; but then we climbed the steps onto the low dais where the temple sat, and I realized that only the cavernous size of the room made the temple look small.

“Wow,” I said.

“They shipped it over from Egypt in the ‘60s,” Carter said. “The whole thing, block by block. It was going to be flooded when they finished constructing the Aswan Dam.”

“Can we go inside?” I asked. People were lined up to do that, and I wanted to go into the inner sanctum and see the carvings on the walls I could barely glimpse from the outside.

“Of course,” Carter said, and we got in line.

It moved quickly. People were being courteous, maybe, and not spending too long inside. As we approached, I noticed the graffiti carved on the outer walls: a name, halfway eroded, and “1891 OF NY US.” I pointed it out to Carter, and he grinned.

“There’s actually quite a bit of graffiti,” he said. “Testosterone makes a person do strange things.”

We got inside, finally, into the tiny innermost chamber of the temple, and I looked straight up through the open ceiling, at the hazy light filtered through the glass. It was lovely and peaceful, even with all the people waiting to come inside. I could have stayed there for hours, looking at the carvings and the tiny headless statue, trying to decide if it was meant to represent a man or a woman. But I didn’t want to prevent other people from getting inside the temple, and so I said to Carter, after just a few minutes, “I guess I’m ready.”

“Okay,” Carter said. He ran one hand through my hair and kissed me, and then said, “We can sit outside and look at the map.”

We took a seat in front of the reflecting pool and spread out the map. The museum was huge and more overwhelming than I had realized. There was no way we would be able to see everything in one day. Some of it I had little interest in, like “Arms and Armor” or “European Sculpture and Decorative Arts.” I wasn’t even sure what “decorative arts” entailed. I liked old things, and things that had meant something to people, that they had made not to put in a museum but to use in their lives, to celebrate or go to battle, or to put someone to rest.

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