Harris moved to stand beside me, and glanced at the doors and then at me. He reached into his blazer pocket and pulled out a long strip of green fabric, the same shade and material as my dress. “Ready?”
I inhaled, held my breath a moment, and then let it out. “Yes. I suppose I am.”
Harris tied the blindfold around my head, and then placed his hand on my shoulder. I heard a ring squeak on the door as he lifted one of them. I felt his balance shift, his fingers tightening ever so slightly on my shoulder as he pulled open the obviously heavy door. I smelled food, Asian, possibly. Rice, searing meat, vegetables. I heard flames leaping, low voices. Harris guided me through the door.
“I’ll see you later, Miss St. Claire,” he said.
“Wait…you’re leaving me here? I don’t know where I’m going, I’m blindfolded, remember?” I felt panicky, fearful. Harris was now familiar to me. I didn’t want to be left alone in another strange place. I wasn’t in Roth’s house anymore, or in a vehicle. I was in a restaurant. Were there people watching me, staring at me, wondering who this weird blindfolded lady was? I was embarrassed, hating the blindfold, hating the vulnerability, hating that people I didn’t know could see me when I couldn’t see them.
I felt a hesitant, cool touch on my shoulder, heard a soft male voice with a faint Asian accent. “Miss St. Claire. Please, my name is Kim. I will bring you to Mr. Roth. He has given instruction.”
“You’re all right, Miss St. Claire,” Harris said. “Have a good night.” I heard the heavy doors closing.
“This way, please.” I felt Kim’s hand take mine, placing my fingers on his arm. “Follow, please.”
I moved with careful, precise steps, and my host seemed to understand the limitation of my dress, as he moved slowly enough that I didn’t feel rushed or off-balance. I heard the voices again, but they were all off to my right, and they all seemed to be speaking the same language. Chinese, maybe? I wasn’t sure, having very little familiarity with Asian languages.
“Are there any other people here, Kim?” I asked.
“No, no,” came the response. “Only Mr. Roth, me, you, the chefs.”
“Oh. Okay. Thank you.”
“Yes, yes.” Kim stopped, and I heard a door, the slight squeak of oiled hinges, and a latch opening. “This way, please.”
Another few dozen steps, and then another pause, another door opening.
“Miss St. Claire, sir,” Kim said, a hand on my elbow urging me forward.
I heard a chair sliding, and then Roth’s hands were on my arms, my wrists, taking my hands in his. “Kyrie. Welcome.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Where are we?”
He led me four steps, pulled out a chair, guided me into it, and then resumed his own seat. “This is Longjing. It’s a Chinese restaurant I own.” His strong fingers tangled with mine. “You look…simply ravishing, Kyrie. I knew that dress would suit you when I had it made for you, but I had no clue how positively breathtaking you would look wearing it.”
I felt myself blushing. “It’s incredible, Roth. Thank you.” I ducked my head. “For the dress, for the whole experience so far.”
“Do you like the jewelry?”
I let out a disbelieving huff of laughter. “Like it? Roth, it’s…incredible. That’s not the right word…there aren’t any words. I’ve never worn anything like it.”
“That’s the point, my lovely. No one has. That set was designed for you, for that dress.”
Roth’s thumb caressed my knuckles. “You deserve the best, Kyrie. And that is what I intend to give you.”
“I just…I don’t even know what to say, Roth. Everything is so…much. I can’t even fathom how much you spent on what I’m wearing.”
“You want to know?” He sounded amused. “If you want to know, then I’ll tell you. Altogether, what you are wearing cost over one hundred thousand dollars.”
My mind was boggled. “Why?”
He laughed. “It’s nothing, Kyrie. We’re not even going to be seen tonight, either. Not in the public sense, when what we wear would be judged.”
“Do you do public appearances like that?” I asked.
“Very, very rarely. And only if I absolutely have to.”
“So then all this,” I gestured at myself with both hands, “is just for…what, for kicks?”
“For…kicks?” I heard the puzzled frown in his voice. “You mean just because? No. Not at all. You are the most beautiful woman I know, Kyrie. You should be adorned to showcase your beauty. I had this dress made so you would feel beautiful, and so I would enjoy looking at you all the more this evening.” His voice lowered, became intimate, close, rumbling. “Do you feel beautiful, Kyrie?”
I gave myself time to think before answering. “Yes. I do. Very much so.” I couldn’t allow myself to dwell on his most beautiful woman I know comment. I’d go crazy if I did.
“Then it was money well-spent.” A pause. “Stop thinking of the cost of things. That is my business, for me to worry about. I spend what I want, when I want. All you need do is be yourself, and try to trust me.”
“I’m working on it.”
“I know. Now, if I’m not mistaken, Kim is here with the first course.”
At that very moment, a door opened, and I smelled food. This time, having eaten with Roth once before, I simply sat and waited. I felt Roth lift my hand and place a glass in it. I lifted it to my lips, sniffed, smelled white wine. I heard utensils clicking and tinkling, bowls being set down, and then the door closed.
“This is Sichuan Beef,” Roth said. “A little spicy. Open.”
I opened my mouth, felt chopsticks touch my lips, felt his hand at my chin. I bit down, and he withdrew the chopsticks. A little spicy, he said. It was fiery, and I had to blink against the burn.
“God, Roth! That’s not just a little spicy, it’s f—it’s crazy hot!” I just barely remembered his dislike of cursing and caught myself. I took a sip of wine to wash away the heat in my mouth.
Roth laughed. “It’s not spicy to me. But then, I suppose I do enjoy things a little spicier than most. I spent several years in China and the surrounding countries, and developed a taste for spicy food.”
“Let me try another bite, now that I’m ready for it.” I parted my lips, bit down when he fed me a morsel of meat and rice, with some kind of vegetable. This time, ready for the heat, I was able to taste past it, and actually enjoyed it, although it did clear my sinuses a bit. “So, what were you doing in China?”