“Did you talk to her today?” I ask Christian as we wait for Mrs. Robinson’s arrival.
“What did you say?”
“I said that you didn’t want to see her, and that I understood your reasons why. I also told her that I didn’t appreciate her going behind my back.” His gaze is impassive, giving nothing away.
Oh, good. “What did she say?”
“She brushed it off in a way that only Elena can.” His mouth flattens to a crooked line.
“Why do you think she’s here?”
“I have no idea.” Christian shrugs.
Taylor enters the great room again. “Mrs. Lincoln,” he announces.
And here she is . . . Why is she so damned attractive? She’s dressed entirely in black: tight jeans, a shirt that emphasizes her perfect figure, and a halo of bright, glossy hair.
Christian pulls me close. “Elena,” he says, his tone puzzled.
She gapes at me in shock, frozen to the spot. She blinks before finding her soft voice.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you had company, Christian. It’s Monday,” she says as if this explains why she’s here.
“Girlfriend,” he says by way of explanation and tilts his head to one side and smirks.
She smiles, a slow, beaming smile directed entirely at him. It’s unnerving.
“Of course. Hello, Anastasia. I didn’t know you’d be here. I know you don’t want to talk to me. I accept that.”
“Do you?” I assert quietly, gazing at her and taking all of us by surprise. With a slight frown, she moves farther into the room.
“Yes, I get the message. I’m not here to see you. Like I said, Christian rarely has company during the week.” She pauses. “I have a problem, and I need to talk to Christian about it.” “Oh?” Christian straightens up. “Do you want a drink?”
“Yes, please,” she murmurs gratefully.
Christian fetches a glass while Elena and I stand awkwardly gazing at each other. She fidgets with a large silver ring on her middle finger, while I don’t know where to look.
Finally, she gives me a small tight smile and approaches the kitchen island and sits on the bar stool at the end. She obviously knows the place well and feels comfortable moving around here.
Do I stay? Do I go? Oh, this is so difficult. My subconscious scowls at the woman with her most hostile harpy face.
There’s so much I want to say to this woman, and none of it complimentary. But she’s Christian’s friend—his only friend—and for all my loathing of this woman, I am innately polite. Deciding to stay, I sit as gracefully as I can manage on the stool Christian’s vacated.
Christian pours wine into each of our glasses and sits between us at the breakfast bar. Can’t he feel how weird this is?
“What’s up?” he asks her.
Elena looks nervously at me, and Christian reaches over and clasps my hand.
“Anastasia’s with me now,” he says to her silent query and squeezes my hand. I flush, and my subconscious beams at him, harpy face forgotten.
Elena’s face softens as if she’s pleased for him. Really pleased for him. Oh, I don’t understand this woman at all, and I’m uncomfortable and edgy in her presence.
She takes a deep breath and shifts, perching on the edge of her bar stool and looking agitated. She glances nervously down at her hands and starts manically twisting the large silver ring around and around on her middle finger.
Jeez, what’s wrong with her? Is it my presence? Do I have that effect on her? Because I feel the same way—I don’t want her here. She raises her head and looks Christian squarely in the eye.
“I’m being blackmailed.”
Holy shit. Not what I expected out of her mouth. Christian stiffens. Has someone found out about her penchant for beating and fucking underage boys? I suppress my revulsion, and a fleeting thought about chickens coming home to roost crosses my mind. My subconscious rubs her hands together with ill-disguised glee. Good.
“How?” Christian asks, his horror clear in his voice.
She reaches into her oversized, patent-leather, designer purse, pulls out a note, and hands it to him.
“Put it down, lay it out.” Christian points to the breakfast bar counter with his chin.
“You don’t want to touch it?’
“Christian, you know I can’t go to the police with this.” Why am I listening to this? Is she fucking some other poor boy?
She lays the note out for him, and he bends to read it.
“They’re only asking for five thousand dollars,” he says almost absentmindedly. “Any idea who it might be? Someone in the community?”
“No,” she says in her soft sweet voice.
Linc? Who’s that?
“What—after all this time? I don’t think so,” she grumbles.
“Does Isaac know?”
“I haven’t told him.”
“I think he needs to know,” Christian says. She shakes her head, and now I feel I’m intruding. I want none of this. I try to retrieve my hand from Christian’s grasp, but he just tightens his hold and turns to gaze at me.
“What?” he asks.
“I’m tired. I think I’ll go to bed.”
His eyes search mine, looking for what? Censure? Acceptance? Hostility? I keep my expression as bland as possible.
“Okay,” he says. “I won’t be long.”
He releases me and I stand. Elena watches me warily. I stay tightlipped and return her gaze, giving nothing away.
“Goodnight, Anastasia.” She gives me a small smile.
“Goodnight,” I mutter, my voice sounds cold. I turn to leave. The tension is too much for me to bear. As I exit the room they continue their conversation.
“I don’t think there’s a great deal I can do, Elena,” Christian says to her. “If it’s a question of money.” His voice trails off. “I could ask Welch to investigate.”
“No, Christian, I just wanted to share,” she says.
When I am out of the room, I hear her say, “You look very happy.”