She didn't know he'd follow her back to the roses. Back where she'd spent weeks preparing the soil and then planting them in orderly rows. Following the color scheme that he requested.
"They're very beautiful," he said, "You've done just as I asked."
She absorbed the soft and clipped timbre of his voice. The man had sophistication but she could tell it hadn't been there his whole life. Somewhere back in the beginning, he must have grown up under more modest circumstances to say the least.
His eyes were those of a fighter first, but he'd become a predator as well. In his line of work, he targeted smaller companies, watched them carefully for a while and then pounced on them at their most vulnerable.
She imagined he won them most of the time and simply added them to his growing empire. He had become one of the most powerful businessmen in the world during the past decade, she'd been doing the homework on him that she did on anyone. Never could be too careful but with him she didn't uncover very much. He'd married into another family and housed his wife and any children on an estate built on a rocky island in the Mediterranean.
His family probably didn't know everything about his life and he preferred it that way. She watched him talking to Carlos who took him inside to give him the master tour no doubt.
Dallas walked up to her drinking from a water bottle.
"I'm heading on back to the nursery," he said, "Adele's got a shipment of more roses coming in since Gunthor's purchased everything in stock."
"He sure did but he knew what he was doing," she said, "They look beautiful…and when they all bloom, it'll be a sight to see."
"You heading on back?"
She nodded again.
"Duke called me," she said, "He wants to go out tonight…to the bonfire."
"Clover…she wants to go too. So we'll see you there."
She turned to walk back to her car and he watched her go.
She stopped and turned around to look at him expectantly.
"I'm sorry what I said back there…I was way out of line."
She pursed her lips.
"Yes you were Dallas….but I shouldn't have dumped on you like that. What's going on with me is my business not yours."
He shook his head.
"That's not true…I care about you a lot…and what happened…"
She cut him off.
"It happened and nothing will change that," she said, "I'm trying to move on with my life and Miranda…she's helping me with that."
"She seems like a nice woman."
"Sometimes…Dallas…other times she's more brutal to get me to talk about things…well that are difficult to think about let alone put into words."
"If there's anything I can do to help…"
She sighed deeply.
"No Dallas…you can't help me," she said, "I need to work through this by myself…no one can save me and see with you, that's always what you want to do."
"You don't even realize that's what you're doing most of the time but you are…and I don't need it."
He looked frustrated at her words. But she wasn't about to soften the truth for anyone even him…especially him.
"So what can I do?"
She smiled slightly.
"Just be my friend Dallas…sometimes that means just leaving me alone…"
He watched as she headed back to her truck, not able to accept that she was once again putting distance between the two of them.
The bonfire attracted a large crowd and Reese showed up with Duke just after sunset. She looked out a the horizon which now looked the shade of burnt umber which would be fading soon into a mosaics of pinks, purples and finally blackness lit up by a mess of stars.
She noticed that Dallas had arrived with Clover who'd brought a blanket for the two of them towards the back of the crowd. Barbecues had been set up serving fried clams and oysters along with crab sticks and other delicious items.
Duke took her hand in his own and gestured on her to follow him towards the sand dunes.
"Let's go have our private celebration…"
Her body tensed.
"Duke, I don't know…we should stay here and watch the bonfire…"
He tugged her closer and kissed her on the mouth, brushing his lips against her first and then intensifying it so that she barely felt his hands around her waist. She felt just as charged suddenly wanting him too. They broke for air.
"Okay let's go…"
He grabbed the blanket and they headed towards the sand dunes.
"We don't have to do anything you don't want."
She looked at him then and smiled, trying to steady the trembling she felt throughout her body.
"Stop talking and I'll show you what I want."
They walked faster.
The man watched as the couple headed towards the sand dune. He had his orders after all…to keep her within sight until the night of the party.
They neared a sun dune which hid them from everyone but him and the man spread out the blanket on the sand. Soon enough they were in each other's arms, kissing and their bodies molding together. The woman reached forward to help the man remove his shirt revealing his chest in the moonlight. He slid his own hands up her thighs inching the fabric of her summer dress baring more of her.
He reached for his camera knowing his boss wanted him to record every detail of his brand new toy.
Gunthor got off the phone with one of his security men, Zach who had called in to report from an assignment that Gunthor had given him in Europe.
Unfortunately, the news wasn't very good.
"I don't think she's on the continent," he said, "Even Milan said he hasn't seen a sign of her in months."
"I don't know if I can take his word for it," he said, "I still don't trust him and now he's working with Rodrigo…"
"You're paying me so much money and I haven't found much," Zach said, "I don't know if I can keep taking it."
"Don't tell me you're developing any sense of honor now," he said, "I've got Brant in Brazil on a tip that someone's keeping her there. I've never had one get away from me before now…I must find her. My competition is using it to undermine me."
"Then I'll finish up here and wait until you decide where to send me. She was a sweet thing wasn't she? Never had it so good…she was golden."
"She had some unusual talents…that were very much desired…but I will find her. And in the meantime, I'll enjoy my brand new piece."
"Ah, your big high-priced purchase…how's she looking?"
"Better in person than in the material," he said, "Well worth hosting a party for in her honor…one she won't quickly forget."