Months of working in the Leuce kitchen and years of studying day and night have trained Sarah to wake early. When she opens her eyes and finds herself alone in the guest room on the second floor of Luc and Summer’s home, to the pale blue and yellow sunrise, she breathes in the scent of the ocean and white flowers. She sits up, unperturbed to find herself alone. Patrick too is an early riser, and she imagines he’s tracked down Luc in order to shake more sense into him.
Getting Luc’s phone call a few days ago had been the deciding factor in Patrick and Sarah coming down to Provence. When Sarah told Patrick about Summer’s call concerning the baby swings and start-ups, his face had been smooth and easy, but she saw the flicker of worry in his blue gaze. Now, she knows that Patrick’s instincts had been correct; the tension permeating Luc and Summer’s home had prickled up her spine and brought the corners of Patrick’s mouth downwards from the moment they walked in yesterday.
Sarah slips out of bed and spends her brief and cool morning shower thinking, letting her mind work through the possibilities awaiting her when she finds Patrick later. Every instinct of his angles towards helping Luc; and Luc seems to need the help.
She is the first one downstairs in the kitchen, the hour still early. The conversations from the previous day filter through her mind as she prepares coffee and tea, searches through the pantry and refrigerator for breakfast foods. Toast and peanut butter for Summer, perhaps some scrambled eggs? Patrick needs protein, and Luc –
“Making yourself at home?”
Glancing over her shoulder, Sarah smiles slightly. “Being a thoughtful guest.”
Patrick slouches against the framed-out opening to the kitchen from the living room. With his hands tucked into his jeans pockets and his eyelids low, he is the picture of relaxation. But when she really looks at him, she can see the tension thrumming under his skin. Beyond his shoulder, she sees Luc pass through the living room towards the stairs.
“You’re a sweetheart,” Patrick says, pushing off the frame and walking towards her. His ocean-blue eyes are intent on her.
“You were with Luc?” she asks as he sits at the island, propping his elbows on the counter and his chin in his hands to watch her.
“Yes,” he says, sober as he watches her cut brioche for the broiler. Farm fresh eggs sit in their bowl at her elbow, with the farmer’s cheese, new scallions, and pancetta she found in the refrigerator. A cast-iron skillet hangs above the stove behind her; she thinks a frittata will work well for the house at large. She likes feeding people; it’s one of the realizations that she’s had over time. Beyond just making fanciful dreams come true in dessert form, she likes to provide nourishment in all ways. Patrick has brought that aspect of herself out more fully, but she knows it’s been inside her always.
“What’s going on?” she asks. When she asks, when she is direct, he will reply in kind. They are still prone to fall into old habits – his of insouciance, hers of enclosure – but when they talk to each other with purpose and kind intent, they are less likely to circle around each other. It has been a learning curve, living with a man so physically open and so emotionally reserved, but she knows their process is working.
He shakes his head slightly, watching the easy moves of her fingers on the bread knife. She slides the slices onto the baking tray and turning for the oven. “I love American breakfast.”
“I know,” she says with a small smile, tossing it over her shoulder. The sunlight seeps through the open windows on a fresh open breeze. “Since there are so many Americans in the house, I figured we could have a quorum.”
“I love when you talk academically with me,” he says, waggling his eyebrows.
Laughing, she sets a timer for the toast and turns back to the bowl of eggs. Before she can begin to crack and mix, his large callused hands settle over hers.
“Sarah,” he says quietly.
She slides her fingers in between his and leans her forearms on the cool counter, meeting his gaze. “Patrick.”
He smiles faintly, an intent curve to his lovely mouth. “You’re so pretty,” he says, stroking his fingertips over her cool skin.
“I love you, too,” she says quietly, letting the words settle between them. He needs to hear them more than perhaps she is used to expressing herself, but she doesn’t mind. “What’s going on?”
He bows his blond head over their joined fingers, kissing the back of her hand. “Luc – he needs help,” he says slowly.
“Okay,” she says, watching the top of his head.
“Not only with the baby – and all of that – god knows he will be a wreck for the next seven months – but – “
“The restaurant,” Sarah finishes, stroking her fingertips along the rise of his knuckles.
“He can’t do both. It’ll kill him to admit it, but he can’t. His chef – Nico – is a good guy, but doesn’t know Luc. And Luc needs to focus on Summer. Nico can’t run it all alone.” Patrick says, lifting his head and meeting her gaze once more.
Quickly, Sarah tries to follow his path of thinking. Currently, she is working with Philippe Lyonnais as an apprentice; there is no contract, but the expected time is six months, if not longer. She is in her second month. Patrick is set to leave the Leuce at the end of this month, just a week away. His first round of night classes finish at the same time.
“What do you want to do, Patrick?” she asks after a moment of stillness, with just the soft noises of birds and the breeze between them.
He blinks, tightening his grip on her hands. “I want to lay in bed with you for two days without leaving the apartment or answering the phone.”
She blushes and bites the inside of her lip on a smile. “What do you want to do here?”
Tilting his head, he watches her, face impassive. “I want to help Luc and Summer. And I want you to finish your time with Philippe. And I want you to be here. And I want to be with you.”
Taking a deep breath, she leans in and kisses him softly on the mouth. The timer dings behind her.
“Hold that thought,” she says, disentangling herself from his hands and turning to the oven. She pulls out the toasted brioche and plates him two slices, selecting butter, Nutella, and what appears to be raspberry preserve from the cabinets and refrigerator to serve with them. The rest she piles loosely in a cloth-lined basket. She can hear movement in the floors above. They will all be up soon.
Patrick deftly butters his brioche and slathers one piece with Nutella. She takes the other slice and tries the preserve on a small corner. They eat in small bites, quiet and watching each other.
“What you do want, Sarah?” he asks after eating his slice. He plays with the chocolate-dotted knife in front of him.
She chews slowly, eyes fixed on his face. He is all tense earnestness, torn in two. This, she can fix.
“I think that this is a lovely place to spend days off,” she says with a small smile. “And I think if you need to be here, you should be here.”
He reaches over and cups her cheek in his hand, his fingers sliding into her loose hair. “Sarah – “
“I’ll stay in Paris. I’ll finish my six months with Philippe. You should be here, with them. And in four months – we can figure it out,” she says quietly. “I love you, Patrick. I’m not going anywhere just because your family needs you.”
“God, Sarah – “
He abruptly rises from the island and circles it, taking her in his arms. He crowds her against the edge of the counter behind her and kisses her, his hands tangling in her hair. She can taste chocolate and butter and coffee on his tongue. Her arms wrap around him, her palms flat on his back, feeling the heat of him through his t-shirt. Closing her eyes, she kisses him until her lungs hurt for air, until he shifts his mouth to nuzzle at the line of her jaw and her bare neck.
“Is it asking too much?” he murmurs against her skin.
She rubs up and down his back with her palms, breathing in the sea-salt scent from his hair. “I don’t think so. But we will try,” she says honestly. Truth is at the heart of why they work; when they are not honest with each other, that is when moments of misdirection and distrust take root into something darker.
It’s hard enough to get Patrick to tell her what he wants, sometimes. After so long a time spent laughing off his desires and hiding them from everyone, he still falls into the habit. She can’t blame him; to be molded is a lingering thing.
He rests his forehead against hers. “I don’t want to stop making plans,” he says.
Wetting her lips, she lifts up on her toes to kiss him. “We don’t have to. We weren’t going to move to Hawaii or Nepal next week, anyway,” she says with a laugh.
His mouth curls. She thinks of the research she’s done on Hawaii, the south of France, California, Paris – real estate, competition comparisons, cost of living – and smiles, too.
“We may have to practice phone sex,” he murmurs.
A shiver runs down her spine as his fingers trail over her hair and under to the nape of her neck. “You’re insatiable.”
“Thousands of fantasies, remember?” He kisses her once, twice, and then releases her. “Come on. Let’s show them how to eat a real breakfast.”
They will discuss the logistics later, once everyone has gone their own ways for the day and they have time to themselves. For now, with the sound of feet on the stairs, they turn in unison to the eggs and scallions, chopping and whisking with the ease of a couple who cooks together often.
Sarah doesn’t think about how empty the kitchen will seem with him gone.
Sarah bites at the inside of her bottom lip, standing at the rose-grey marble counter. Dusk floods the apartment with purple-blue shadows, the warm overhead lamp in the kitchen touching gold to them across the tiled floors. In the bedroom, Patrick shoves clothes into a duffel bag, his shoulder blades up near his ears with tension. T-shirts and jeans lay spread over the white bedspread.
She is not looking forward to nights alone.
“I don’t have to go,” he calls from the bedroom. She can see the frown on his face even in profile.
Drawing her fingers along the veins in the marble, she tilts her head. “Patrick.”
“I don’t. I’m not his crutch anymore. I could stay, and keep you warm,” he says rapidly, raising his brows lasciviously.
She shakes her head. “It’s June and I’m warm enough at night. It isn’t about you being a crutch,” she says patiently. “You’re family.”
“You’re my family, too,” he says, dropping the shirt he’s folding and walking through the framed-out openings towards her as she remains in the kitchen. “I need you.”
“But Luc needs you more, and that’s okay,” she says. When he crowds her up against the island, she places her hands on his chest. His heartbeat thumps through his skin. “Besides, it gives us time.”
He watches her carefully, his blue gaze cautious. “For what?”
“To think about what’s next,” she says, stroking over the taut fabric of his shirt.
Tilting his head, he remains quiet, his lips thinning. “Is this your way of saying you need space?”
Startled, she digs her fingers into his chest. “No.” Tiny pinpricks of hurt embed themselves under her skin. “Of course not.”
Patrick tips his head back and blows out a hard breath towards the ceiling. His hands tighten on her waist. “I’m sorry,” he says, still staring at the ceiling. “I just – I hate leaving.”
He falls silent, his throat working. She waits, watching him patiently.
“You could do better. And it’s still so early. I can’t put my hands into us if I am so far away,” he mutters at last, red tinging his cheeks.
She wets her lips and pops up onto her tiptoes, kissing along the tough line of his jaw and down along the taut line of his neck. His skin is stubbly against her lips. “I’m not going to change my mind,” she whispers against the thin skin of his throat.
His fingers flinch against her hipbones. “Sarah, god – “
“I’m going to make caramel, I’m going to play with choux – and on Sundays and Mondays I will be with you,” she says softly. “And I’m going to make plans for us.”
He lowers his head, nuzzling his mouth against her ear. “Sexy ones?”
“And practical ones.”
“You know just how to turn me on,” he murmurs, boosting her up onto the counter.
Sarah strokes her hands over his shoulders, the line of his neck, her fingers tunneling into the soft fall of his blond hair. “Hey.”
He looks up at her and she frames his face with her hands, keeping his gaze. “I’m going to buy a new bathing suit,” she says. “Find us a beach where I can show it off for you.”
A lazy smile curls his lips. “Oh, Sarabelle,” he whispers, and lowers his mouth to hers.
The sun seems stronger in the south. Sarah blinks as she steps off of the train and onto the platform, shading her eyes with a bandaged hand as she slings her overnight bag over her shoulder. Awake since four this morning, she feels haphazard and weary, though the scent of the nearby sea air refreshes her. Her forearm stings under the white gauze that protects her latest burn, and she feels her brows come together as she shifts the weight of her bag.
Tanned and smooth residents flow around her as she gathers her bearings. She moves through the platform area to the cool waiting room, high ceilings and windows greeting her. Stepping off to a corner, she reaches for her phone in her jeans pocket peering through the sparsely-filled train station for –
His sandy voice surprises her from behind. She turns and is immediately enveloped in his arms, pulled against his chest. Laughing, she tucks her cheek against the warm cotton of his t-shirt and breathes him in. He strokes his hands over her back and loosens her hair from its low twist, tangling his fingers into the soft dark strands. They sway together, her bag falling from her shoulder to drop with a plop to the tiled ground at their feet.
He kisses her temple, her cheek, his arms tight around her. “I missed you.”
She tilts her head up and smiles at him. “You’re so tan,” she says with a laugh, hugging him to her with her uninjured arm.
Patrick grins sheepishly, hair flopping over his brow. Between her schedule and his, it’s been three weeks since they’ve seen each other in the flesh. Phone calls and texts haven’t been enough. Her skin prickles with his absence in the apartment she has full run of. She has stories upon stories of experiences in Philippe Lyonnais’s kitchen to share, but they slip away in the silence of their apartment, when she is alone in their wide bed. His own stories of Luc and Summer and the restaurant are almost too jovial to be believed.
“The beaches are nice,” he says with a shrug. She tries not to think of all the tall, beautiful women ogling him. “Come here, Sarabelle.”
He lifts his hands to frame her face and brings her mouth to his, kissing her thoroughly. She is breathless and aching when they part; under her hand, his muscles tremble.
“Hi,” he says, stroking loose dark strands from her face. His eyes are quite blue against his tanned face.
“Hi,” she says in return. Her stomach flutters with anticipation and joy.
Kissing her once more – too briefly –, he releases her from his grasp and reaches down to pick up her overnight bag by the strap. When he moves to take her hand, he stops and frowns at the gauze on her forearm. “What happened?”
“Stray caramel,” she says. “From yesterday.”
“You didn’t mention,” he says quietly, curling his fingers around hers and leading her out of the waiting area towards the village proper. The sea breeze relaxes her tired muscles around her eyes and she breathes deeply, finding it bracing. It reminds her of California, of the home she has seen so little of recently.
“I knew I’d see you today,” she says, tucking herself close to his side.
He leans down and kisses the top of her head. “It’s so good to have you here.”
Smiling up at him, she follows him along the close streets, peering at the houses side by side, the pieds a terres with their wrought-iron balconies. The town is homey and pleasant, the streets lively. The sun warms her bare arms, her toes through her open sandals. Summer and Luc’s home is a brief walk from the town center, along the sea wall and with lavender dotting the green landscape at their sides. Away from the city, Sarah feels something inside her expand. It’s a thought she’s had since Patrick relocated down here, and she has researched further into the region – she likes it here. She likes the feel, the location, the opportunities that could be here.
“They aren’t home?” she asks as they stroll up the driveway towards the house. Patrick has been staying with them in the guest room on the first floor, cheerfully putting himself to work as their handyman as well as assistant chef to Nico when Luc needs to be with Summer. Apparently, he is a masterful painter of walls. The nursery is Luc and Patrick’s joint project, under Summer’s direction.
“Doctor’s appointment,” he says, letting her inside the front entryway before he closes the door behind them.
The house is silent and cool. Sarah can feel his eyes on the back of her neck and shoulder blades. She clears her throat and toes off her sandals. “Is everything all right?”
“Just a check-up. And I don’t need to be at the restaurant for two more hours,” he murmurs, coming right up behind her. She can hear the thump of her bag as he drops it to the floor, shivers as his hand skims up her spine and under her hair to curl around the nape of her neck.
“Patrick – “
He laughs and scoops her up in his arms, one forearm hooked under her knees and the other around her shoulders. She lets out a yelping giggle, curling her uninjured arm around his neck as he carries her down the hall to the guest bedroom. The halls are a blend of sun and shadow, catching his eyes and hair as they move.
“I’ve missed you,” he murmurs, kissing along her cheekbone as he carries her into his room and closes the door behind them. His windows face the ocean, all blue skies and sea beyond the garden and the arbor. She blinks and looks up at him as he lays her onto the plush white bed and comes over her. His fingers slip under her t-shirt to her bare skin and she swallows a whimper. Her nerves and muscles are primed for his touch after weeks without.
Drawing her t-shirt off and over her head, he skims his fingertips over the curves of her breasts and the soft cotton of her bra, along the rise of her collarbones and shoulders and down her arms. His fingers edge along the gauze of her bandage. “You have new burns,” he murmurs, touching the remains of a burn from last week along her bare wrist.
“Comes with the territory,” she says, reaching up to link her fingers into his.
Face somber, he leans in and kisses her, his mouth opening over hers and tasting the remains of her coffee from six hours ago, the stale sugar from a hurriedly-swallowed pastry at five in the morning. She closes her eyes and kisses him until she can’t breathe, until she feels as fragile as spun sugar. Their legs tangle together as he drops his weight over her body, releasing her hands to lever himself on his forearms. She rocks her hips up into his, the friction of her jeans against his and the erection straining against his zipper sending sparks of heat between her legs and through her middle.
He gasps and moves his lips to her jaw, her throat, breathing hotly against her skin. There’s something desperate to his breath and kiss, as if he is afraid she will disappear. She reaches for the hem of his t-shirt and tugs up, stripping him as he lifts himself away from her for a moment.
“Do you do anything but lay on the beach?” she teases breathlessly, stroking over the gold-furred muscle, tan and delineated and beautiful. She feels soft and small and something other next to him, but the fierce light in his gaze silences the words on the tip of her tongue. He touches her as if she is precious and looks at her just the same.
“I cook a little,” he says with a crooked smile. “I think about you more than anything.”
The breath hitches in her throat. She tugs him down to her and kisses him, her tongue tasting him. A cool breeze settles over their warm bodies as he rocks his hips up into hers and unbuttons her jeans. She whimpers against his mouth as his long callused fingers slide into her panties and touch her, finding her already wet and warm for him.
“Sarabelle,” he whispers against her lips. “You want me so badly?”
She gulps down a laugh, arching her spine as he circles her clit with his thumb. “And you don’t?” she murmurs.
He groans as she moves her hand to press against the hard erection veiled in his jeans. “You know I do.”
They rock against each other, their mouths pressing and colliding and skimming against each other, against jawlines and pulse points, as their hands work each other desperately. Her need ratcheted up to such heights, it takes her no time at all to come with two fingers worked inside of her, his thumb pressed against her clit and working at her damp sex until she is gasping. She manages to unzip his jeans and wrap her hand around his hard cock, stroking him through a shuddering orgasm. They lay there across the comforter, sticky and sated, tangled around each other with their jeans half-off, breathing heavily.
“That was not what I had planned,” he murmurs against a long stretch of silence, with just the breeze in the trees and the distant rush of the ocean between them. His words vibrate against the thin skin of her throat, where he nuzzles his face.
Sarah turns her head and kisses his cheek. “I liked it.”
He groans good-naturedly and lifts himself off of her, stretching out on his side next to her. “I just – I couldn’t help it,” he says. “I had to touch you.”
A flush touches her cheeks. “I’m not complaining.”
He smiles lazily, and strokes his fingers down her bandaged arm as it rests over her head. “You’re so pretty,” he murmurs.
She sits up and wiggles out of her jeans, pushing him onto his back to sit astride his hips. “I love you,” she says, leaning down to kiss him softly.
His fingertips settle at the edge of her bandage. “I’m missing so much,” he murmurs against her mouth.
Sadness settles low in her belly. “No,” she whispers, her palm resting on his heart. “I’m right here. I’m always right here.”
The next morning, Sarah peers out past the beach, sitting cross-legged on a beach towel, slathered in sunscreen. She feels exposed even under the umbrella Luc and Patrick set up for her and Summer, stretching her bare legs out in front of her. Her heels edge into the white warm sand. She plucks nervous fingers at the halter straps of her sapphire-blue bikini top.
“I could lay out here all day,” Summer says warmly, a pink and green floral caftan draped around her form. Her tan legs stretch out in front of her. The faint swell of her belly is just faintly noticeable, at four months along. Other than an attractive fullness to her cheeks, she looks quite the same as in January; though Sarah would argue she seems more beautiful, more settled. The fear in her gaze is less prevalent than just a few months ago.
“I can see why,” Sarah says, flipping through one of her books. Why she brought four books for her three-day trip, she doesn’t know; Patrick has not left enough time to even think about anything but the strength of his shoulders and the wrap of his arms around her, the low sandy rumble of his voice in the darkness of their room.
Summer flips the long sweep of her golden hair over her shoulders, adjusting the lay of her legs on her beach towel. “I should try to find work,” she says with a wry smile.
“I think you’re doing quite a lot,” Sarah says quietly. Every other day she receives an email from Summer about the start-up she’s working on with the Berkley students; with that, and being married to Luc, and preparing for motherhood, and just being Summer Corey – it seems enough for Sarah. “I think you can just focus on what’s in front of you.”
Bright blue eyes fix on Sarah. “That’s what Patrick says.”
Sarah flushes slightly. “He isn’t always wrong about these things.”
“No, he isn’t,” Summer says, looking out towards the shore and the bright water. Luc and Patrick are out there, swimming; probably racing each other, if Sarah knows them.
A comfortable quiet settles between them. Between their emails and phone calls, Sarah feels as if she knows Summer better than before, and understands her struggles. In a different way, Sarah can completely identify with being forced into a role. Patrick tells her that it takes strength to break out of those assigned roles, and that Summer is still finding her strength. Sarah thinks she’s doing just fine.
“It’s good to have Patrick here,” Summer says after a while, voice light.
Sarah sets her book aside and looks at the other woman carefully. “I’m glad.”
“I think it’s asking a lot of you, though.”
“Maybe,” Sarah says. “But his family is important to him. I can’t begrudge him that.”
Summer flushes, just at the apples of her cheeks. “I would hope that you know he considers you family, too.”
“I do,” Sarah says quietly.
Running slim fingers through her hair, Summer wets her lips. “I hope you know that we consider you family, too.”
The breath hitches in Sarah’s chest. “That’s- that’s very kind,” she says, startled.
Shrugging lightly, Summer looks off towards the ocean-lined horizon. “You’ve been a help to all of us,” she says.
“I haven’t been here,” Sarah protests.
“Maybe not physically, but you’ve been a help. And we all appreciate it,” Summer replies softly.
Sarah wrinkles her brow, biting her lip on a smile. Something warm and full balloons through her middle, her fingertips tingling. When she moves her eyes out to the sea, she watches as Patrick and Luc emerge from the waves, shouting good-naturedly at each other. Out of the corner of her gaze, she sees Summer’s shoulders relax as Luc approaches.
Something about this place and these people fit.
For dinner on Saturday evening, Patrick borrows Luc’s car and drives him and Sarah to Daniel Laurier’s restaurant. It is just the two of them; Luc and Summer deserve a night alone in the house, Patrick says. But Sarah knows a conversation is coming that she needs to find words and plans for.
“Beautiful,” she says as they walk into the open and airy restaurant.
Patrick slides a grin her way. “You are, yes,” he says, and she blushes.
She is no longer surprised at the level of service received when Patrick is at her side; they are whisked to a table by an open window, overlooking long grass and full of a lavender-scented breeze. Patrick waits at her side as she sits, his hands stroking over her bare arms with a light touch before he takes his seat across from her. The server fills their glasses with sparkling water and then departs.
“I like that dress,” he says.
Smoothing her hands over the dark blue cotton, flirty and loose at her knees, she smiles. “Thanks.”
He reaches along the side of the table to catch her hand in his. Their linked fingers come to rest on the tabletop, a public display of affection she would not have imagined being comfortable with six months ago. But he is tactile in his affection, and it has been three weeks since she’s seen him – she wants his touch, too.
It isn’t until they have ordered – she orders the main entrees, he picks the appetizers and wine – and a cool white wine glass is filled in front of her that he raises the curtain on the elephant in the room. It has been all fleeting glances at his life here and a heady focus on touching until they cannot any longer. But here, in this restaurant she already feels comfortable in, that he dives into the conversation they need to have.
“You look tired,” she says over plated caprese and sea-salty fresh mussels.
He blinks. “I am,” he says, sounding almost surprised.
She sips her wine and waits. Patience is a skill she has in spades, except when it comes to her own professional development, it seems. The breeze lifts her hair from her neck, loose and free.
Patrick’s face shifts slightly. His mouth turns down and he looks aside, out the window. His fingers loosen against hers on the cool tabletop.
“The kitchen staff is fine. They need practice, and I don’t – I don’t have someone I can count on to do it well enough the first time,” he says at last. “I don’t have you in the room.”
Wetting her lips, she holds onto the compliment, deep inside.
“I like Nico. I like planning menus with him. He’s smart and knows how to cook. Luc is always half in the room, half thinking on Summer. Which is right. He talks to me, and she talks to me – I feel like I am overrun by their anxieties,” he says, running a hand through his overlong hair. His cheeks redden as he speaks. “They’re so – they’re so worried. About everything.”
Every nerve inside of her thrums in response to the weariness in his voice. She wants to move across the table and tuck him into her arms. “What are you worried about?” she asks instead, voice low.
He tilts his head, a light smile touching his mouth. “You.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” she says.
“I do, because I love you,” he says, without stutter or hesitation. “But it’s not even that.”
She places a stacked slice of mozzarella, tomato, and basil between her lips, watching him. When she breathes, she can smell the lavender in the air, from the fields beyond. Watching him, she tracks the taut line of his throat as it disappears beneath his crisp white button-down shirt, the stretch of the fabric over the line of his shoulders. She knows every twist and arch of his body now.
“I think about what we could do, here,” he says quietly. “I think about having you in the kitchen, leaving you in charge of the desserts – of how you could work with the other chefs, what you could show and teach them. And I like the thought. I like the picture it makes.”
Heat flushes her skin. She presses her lips together, waiting.
“But I don’t – I don’t want to take you over,” he says, stumbling over the words. “I don’t want you to – I don’t want you to feel like you’re being swept along. I want to plan with you, not for you. I know that’s important to you.”
The server clears their plates from the first course quickly and efficiently. She keeps her gaze on him, her throat tightening with emotion.
“I want to build a life with you,” he says. “With you.”
“I know,” she says at last, reaching over to curve her hand over his forearm. His skin is warm through the soft cotton of his sleeve. “I know, Patrick. That’s why I’m here.”
He smiles slightly and covers her hand with hers. “So, tell me. What are your thoughts?”
“I like it here,” she says. “And I think I would be happy to continue learning and working with you and Luc. I like Summer and I want to help her. And I think that it is important that you’re here.”
“Is it too much to ask?” he asks, looking anguished.
“We had talked about settling here,” she says, smiling at the server as he brings her coq au vin and Patrick’s bouef aux provencal. With the wine glasses topped off, they are left alone once more, ensconced in the corner of the restaurant. She thinks she would like to work in a place like this, very much. “We talked about me gaining more experience before making a larger move. And there’s room for growth here.”
Patrick grins, the most relaxed she’s seen him in weeks. “Did you bring your folders of research?”
“Of course I did,” she says primly. “Though I didn’t expect to distract you from your fantasies long enough to look through them.”
Laughing low and slow, he twines his fingers into hers and pulls her hand up to his mouth. “I trust your judgment completely. You’re the brains of our partnership,” he teases.
Shaking her head, she shivers as he kisses her knuckles. “There are many restaurants and bistros in the area, but for my long-term goals, there is opportunity for niche storefront opportunities. I’m learning how the business can be structured by working with Philippe, and it seems like with more practice, I could be capable of managing a store of that size.”
“You are capable of nearly anything you set your mind to,” he says seriously. “I think that is utterly apparent from everything I know of you.”
“And you could – help. If you wanted,” she says faintly.
He tightens his grasp on her fingers. “Sarah, I am going to have to get you alone and naked very soon,” he says, and she blushes. “Of course I want. I want to be there for you.”
“And I want to be here for you,” she promises. “So I think we should be here, together.”
Letting out a long slow breath, he shuts his eyes, pressing her hand to his cheek. She unfolds her fingers and strokes along the edge of his jaw, feeling the rough press of his stubble against her skin.
“Sarabelle,” he murmurs. The usual delightful surprise and shiver runs down her spine.
“We need our own place,” she says, after a moment.
He releases her hand, and they both reach for silverware in unison. “Of course. By the time you come down here full-time, we will have one. We can start looking on your next visit.”
She takes a bite of her chicken. “I don’t want to assume I would work with you. Luc should interview me,” she says.
“Sarah – “
“You know how it will look,” she interjects, shrugging. “I’ll apply to other places, but I would hope that my additional qualifications and a reference from Philippe will make me a top candidate in Luc’s eyes, as well as in Nico’s.”
Patrick huffs, smiling though he shakes his head. “You’re too pretty,” he murmurs.
Smiling, she raises her wine glass to him. “I love you, too.”
The evening is pleasant and easy. He tells her stories from the kitchen, she shares her ideas and inspirations that she has in the early morning on her way to Philippe’s kitchens. Daniel Laurier brings out their desserts and Patrick makes the casual introduction, glowing as Daniel and Sarah discuss her plans and future opportunities. When they leave the restaurant, hands linked as they walk along the gravel path towards the car, Sarah tilts her head back and shuts her eyes against the purple-dark skies. Lavender fills her lungs as she breathes.
“This will be good,” she says after a moment, opening her eyes and looking at him.
Patrick’s smile is real and soft, warming his gaze. They reach the car and he tucks her up against the side of the car, leaning his long lean body over hers. He cups her face in his hands, his fingers twining into her hair.
“It will,” he says.
When he kisses her, she shuts her eyes and takes the leap with him.