"I assume you haven’t had lunch yet. Let’s get you something to eat and I’ll explain everything." He turns to my sister who is for some reason squeezing Pace’s bicep while he grins adoringly down at her. "Pace, Becca, how about a quick bite to eat before you start your sightseeing?"
"I’m game," Pace says.
"Me too," Becca chimes in, grabbing her purse.
I want to sulk and stomp my feet and refuse to go, but denying myself food seems like a childish way to punish him. "There’s room service." I nod toward the menu sitting on top of the dresser.
"No way we’re sitting inside the room all day, Soph," Becca encourages. "Come on, it’s just lunch."
I shoot her a scowl. Traitor. I make a mental note to not be so nice to her. Like saving her some hot water for her shower this morning–that was a one-time deal. She might think she’s helping by interfering with me and Colt, but she’s not.
I gather up my belongings, my purse, sunglasses and the Euros I changed over before we left the airport, and follow the group to the elevator. This should be interesting.
The sidewalk café is beautiful and understated. Black wrought iron tables and chairs with fluffy wine-colored cushions, and ivy growing along a little trellis that separates the street from the sidewalk café complete the space. It’s sunny and clear with blue skies overhead, but not too warm, and I find it hard to hold onto my sour mood.
Colton suggests a white wine from a local vineyard and when it arrives, I’ve never tasted anything quite so light, crisp and refreshing. His impeccable taste is just one more thing that’s easy to love about him. But I can’t go there. Won’t. My body has already betrayed me by springing to life when he’s near, like when he helped me into my chair and his hand brushed against my lower back. It left my skin tingling. And when he slid out the chair across from me, his tall, commanding presence caused a little flutter in my chest. I need to keep myself in check.
His eyes roam over my exposed skin–my bare shoulders peeking from the tank top–and my chest and neck flush with heat.
I’m glad our siblings are picking up the slack when it comes to making conversation, because Colton and I remain completely silent. Small talk doesn’t seem to fit my mood and I’d have no idea what to say regardless. They chatter away without a care in the world while Colton and I exchange serious looks.
"So how long are you guys here?" Becca asks.
"Depends," Pace says.
"On?" I challenge. As far as I’m concerned, Colton has made his point, showing up here in some masculine display to claim his property. He can piss off now, thank you very much.
Colton’s sad eyes slide over to mine. "I want a chance," he says, his voice dark.
A chance to explain, or a chance with me? I’m thankful for the large wraparound sunglasses that shield my eyes from his.
"Isn’t that what she gave you all those weeks in LA?" Becca asks, coming to my rescue.
Thank you, God. The sane and feisty sister I know and love is back. I look over at Becca, communicating my gratitude without needing to speak.
Colton watches the interaction happening between me and Becca, no doubt wondering what I’ve told her about my time in Los Angeles. I hope he knows me well enough to know I’d never divulge our secret.
"I fucked up. It was wrong not to tell you…" Colton’s voice is thick with emotion, unlike I’ve ever heard him before.
"Stella is a mega-beast who…" Pace starts.
Colton holds up one hand, silencing his brother. "No, Pace. This is my mess. I will fix it."
I have no idea why, but the sudden urge to ease his pain and anguish flares up inside me. "I’m here aren’t I?" I say, meeting Colton’s eyes. Of course, I’m not brave enough to remove the cover of my sunglasses, but still.
His sad look dissipates ever so slightly.
An hour later, we’re on our second bottle of wine before the waitress even thinks to bring the lunch menu. I realize that Colton’s suggestion of grabbing a quick bite to eat is quickly turning into an all afternoon affair. The pace of this country's meal times are nothing like the US.
"Let’s order some lunch, shall we?" Pace, asks, handing me a menu printed entirely in Italian.
Our food is finally delivered, and while we eat Becca opens up about her treatment. I can’t help but notice Colton leans forward on his elbows to absorb every word. He knows the hefty price tag for the treatment was made possible by his generous winning bid. And maybe it’s the charitable side to him, but I can see in his reverent expression that something inside of him feels proud to have helped.
When Becca probes Colton about his work, he makes some offhand remark about investment banking and then launches into a detailed discussion about his charity foundation. They’re close to fulfilling their mission in Africa. The new school he’s built will have their grand opening soon.
Becca is in awe listening to him – clearly he’s a great catch who just got even better in her eyes.
"Sophie’s work is missed. She was a big help those weeks spent getting Kylie caught up." He reaches for my hand and I move it under the table.
Though the conversation buzzes around me, I can barely keep up. My head is filled with questions about Colton’s marriage to a woman he admittedly doesn’t love. Why did he marry her? Where has she been while I’ve been sleeping in their bed? My entire relationship with him now feels tainted.