“It’s a good trait to have,” I said.
“Come. Take a walk with me.”
I furrowed my brow as he took a few steps in front of me, expecting me to go with him. Instead of walking out toward the cars, we were heading back into the field. He settled his foot against the first rung of the fence and leaned against it, tucking his riding helmet underneath his arm. He was geared up from head to toe in formal riding gear while I leaned against the fence, clad in nothing but jeans and a shirt that hardly passed as a blouse.
“Is Phillip a good man?”
I turned my head to look up at Cristoff, watching him gaze out over the grazing horses.
“Why do you ask?”
“I only invest in people I can trust. People that are stable. That won’t go off half-cocked and destroy my family’s fortune. Who better to ask if my future business partner is good than his fiancée?”
I appreciated how careful he was with his family’s fortune. It was something my father hadn’t been, and it destroyed us. Ruined us. Sent us underground, put him in jail, and placed my mother in a mental facility to live out her days. I looked out over the horses and realized I was standing beside a man I had come to admire. He was traditional and had a great deal of values on women I didn’t respect or agree with, but that didn’t mean all of his intentions were misplaced.
“Phillip is a great man. It’s what attracted me to him. His careful consideration and his want to take care of me when I got injured during one of our first encounters is what drew me to him. And in the three years I’ve known him, I’ve only seen him as the model of stability and forthrightness.”
“That’s a wonderful rehearsed answer. Now, I want the real one,” Cristoff said.
I looked up into his eyes and drew in a deep breath.
“I’d rather stay single for the rest of my life than try to find a man half as good as Phillip. Your money will be in good hands,” I said.
Because in all honesty, it was the truth. All of it. The latter statement and the former.
I watched him nod before the two of us looked back out over the horses. I wasn’t sure how long we stood there, but the silence was comfortable, which reassured me that I hadn’t misstepped. All I had done was tell Cristoff the truth. Phillip was a good man. Skewed in some ways, but we all were. I certainly was. That didn’t discount the goodness and the truthfulness of his words and his ways. I’d be lucky to find a man half the person Phillip was to fall in love with my someday.
Falling in love.
Women like me in the profession I dealt in didn’t fall in love.
It was a nice theory, though.
“Thank you for your help. And for the company on my ride,” Cristoff said.
“Thank you for the offer of a ride. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in taking care of the horses that I completely forget about the freedom I feel when I do ride,” I said.
“Your company only made it more beautiful.”
“I really hope you’ve got permission from that wife of yours to flirt, Mr. Cristoff.”
“Oh, so formal. It hurts,” he said, grinning.
I pushed off the fence and held out my hand for him to shake it, but instead he drew me into a hug. A massive, warm, embracing hug that reminded me of the ones my father used to give me. I resisted the urge to bury my face into the crook of his neck. I resisted the urge to cry on his shoulder. I resisted the urge to fall into him the way I used to do with my daddy when the world felt like it had become too much.
“I want you to promise me something,” Cristoff said as he pulled back.
“And what is that?” I asked.
“You make sure that man treats you well.”
“He does. I promise.”
“No, Elizabeth. You demand it. Men like him, they remind me of myself when I was younger. So wrapped up in their business and their moneymaking that they don’t take time for those around them that love them. And I know you love that man. I see it in your eyes whenever you look at him. You demand the best from him. And if he doesn’t give it to you, then you tell me. Because I’ll come running to the rescue and treat you like the princess you deserve to be.”
I shook my head as a smile bloomed across my cheeks.