And of course, everyone was sitting around the dining table except for me.
I sat down beside Elizabeth since it was the only other chair open at the table. And all the while, Cristoff shook his head at me. I peered over at the woman, and she smiled a kind smile, almost as if last night hadn’t happened.
Then again, she was a professional.
“A man should always be well-rested, Phillip. Especially when he sleeps next to such a beautiful woman,” Cristoff said.
“Well, the romantic atmosphere of the garden had quite an effect on my fiancé last night,” Elizabeth said.
She glanced at me, tossing me a cheeky little stare while Cristoff grinned at the two of us.
“Good. Phillip strikes me as the kind of man who could use a little more romance in his world. I’m glad my little plan worked.”
“Our little plan,” Elizabeth said. “Don’t think I didn’t know what you were up to, you sneaky little snake.”
“Always foiled by intelligent women. Sometimes, I really do wonder if women should be running the businesses of this world,” Cristoff said, grinning.
“Trust me, I wouldn’t want the role,” Elizabeth said. “Phillip is completely capable of saving the universe of his own accord.”
“I’m telling you, Phil. If you release this one to the hounds, she won’t be available for long.”
“Cristoff! Does your wife know you speak that way?” she asked.
“Trust me, she punishes me enough for it,” he said, winking.
I had no idea how to process or digest any of that conversation. I needed coffee. And for Elizabeth to remove her hand from my knee. I knew we were supposed to be playing engaged, but I needed a break from her. From her heat. From her warmth. From her softness. I needed a decent amount of space between us, but it was obvious Cristoff was trying to put us in close quarters however much he could.
The “why” behind all that still puzzled me.
“Well, Phil, you look like you could use some coffee. Miss Elizabeth? Another mimosa?” Cristoff asked.
“Yes on both counts,” she said kindly.
And all I could do was close my eyes and sigh. Because with every word and every action that fell from her lips came the distinct reality I wasn’t ready to digest or process.
A woman like Elizabeth at my side would be perfect.
“How does a nice horseback ride sound today?” Cristoff asked.
My ears perked up as I spun around from the books in the library.
“Today?” I asked.
“Of course, today. I’ve been itching to break in a new horse that got shipped in a couple of weeks ago. Fancy a ride?”
“That would be wonderful. Phillip?”
I looked over at the man with his leg crossed over his knee. He was lost within the pages of a book. Ripped into another world. Not even paying attention to the conversation floating around him. I’d ventured into the library earlier to get a better look at it. I had been so entranced with it the first time I saw it, but Phillip had quickly claimed it as his room to get away from me. To put distance between us. And I hadn’t wanted to taint that. But the books called to me in a way they used to when I was a young girl, so I couldn’t stay away for too long.
I still wasn’t sure if Phillip had recognized the fact that I’d come into the room.
He sat there now, his finger rubbing along his upper lip. A piece of his hair fell into his face, the first time I’d seen something of his out of place. He jiggled his foot to the pacing of his reading as his lips moved in time with his beats. I was mesmerized by the way he read, the way he lost himself in another world, ignoring the others around him.
I almost hated to pull him from that trance.
His head whipped over to me, and I caught his eyes for the first time that day. After the silent breakfast and the four cups of coffee he’d downed to wake himself up, I figured he must’ve not gotten to bed until late. I tried staying up for him last night, waiting for him to come in so we could talk. It was obvious I had ruffled his feathers, and I didn’t want him to be upset with me, even though his comment had been tasteless. I may have been his employee—nothing but a call girl to him—but he had no right to address me the way he had.