Lark leads me back out to the foyer, and then off to the right, down a couple steel-and-concrete steps, into a huge sitting room, or, I guess you’d call it a “great room” in a house like this. There’s an enormous gas fireplace set in smooth steel along one wall, flames dancing behind glass, before a giant circular sofa. The two-story windows look out on the dark mountains and trees, and city in the distance, and the whole room is circled by steel pillars and a structural staircase leading to upper-story rooms. Everything is cool, sleek, and ultra-modern, even the oversized art on the walls.
She crosses the sprawling, open room, and I’m stunned to see that one section of the glass-and-marble wall is actually a built-in bar. She opens doors, and selects glasses.
“I keep most of my wine in the wine cellar downstairs, but I had a few bottles brought up for tonight, especially for this. Would you like a glass of white wine, Sebastian?”
I shake my head.
“I’m having one,” she says. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like one, too?”
“All right,” I agree, hoarsely. Maybe it will help calm my nerves?
“Would you prefer the Chardonnay or the Sauvignon Blanc?”
“I don’t really know anything about wines, so whatever you want is fine by me.”
“I think the Domaine Ramonet Montrachet Grand Cru will be a nice choice for now,” she says, expertly twisting a techie-looking bottle opener to unleash the cork, and then pouring the sweet beverage into two elegant, tall wine glasses.
“No Cristal?” I try to joke, feebly, naming the only expensive alcoholic beverage I can think of.
She gives me a faint smile. “Why, Sebastian? Do you feel we should be celebrating with champagne instead?”
I feel caught off-guard by her wit yet again. “No, I was just… just joking around. It just seemed in a- a place like this, that… well, uh-” I trail off this stream of stupidity.
“I see. Well. I find Cristal a predictable and banal choice most of the time.” She looks at me seriously. “I don’t always do what’s expected,” she adds, and my heart goes into overdrive again.
“Here,” she gives me the stemware, a delicate piece of glass that I feel clumsy just holding.
Trying not to let my thoughts race, I sip the cold, light wine, letting it linger on my tongue. I love knowing that she has the same flavor in her mouth. God, the thought is so sexy!
Soundlessly, the house servant, Nguyen, enters the room. When Lark finally acknowledges him, he bows and murmurs respectfully, “Dinner will be ready as scheduled, in one-half an hour, madam.”
She dismisses him with a brusque wave, and then turns back to me. “Let’s sit,” she says, taking my hand and leading me over to the sumptuous cream-and-beige couch in front of the fireplace.
The huge coffee table in front of us is a masterpiece, and looks like it’s made from long slabs of onyx. It’s topped with a gleaming steel chess set, and a low, white bowl with an almost-black orchid floating inside. Candles cast a glow like magic over everything.
This is unbelievable. Everything, the flickering fire, the soft lights, the smooth clean white surfaces, all of it is unbelievable.
Especially Lark, sitting next to me, sipping her wine as she studies me.
“What?” I finally ask, discomfitured.
“You’re so quiet,” she observes. “Quieter than usual, I mean.”
“I am? I guess I’m just thinking.”
“Thinking about what, Sebastian?” she asks me in a soft way.
“About the Martin guitar, Dylan’s guitar,” I blurt idiotically. “I brought it back to you. I gave it to Carter. It’s in the trunk of the car.”
“Is it, now?” she says, softly admonishingly. “But…” she almost caresses the words with her tongue, “what if I wanted you to have it?”
“It’s just… not right.” Not now, not yet, something inside me says, but I don’t say it out loud. “Why did you give it to me? Why… why that?”
“Because you said you liked Bob Dylan. Why else?”
“You tell me,” I say, bravely.
“Ah, you and that sharp tongue of yours, Sebastian,” she smiles. “It seemed to be the most appropriate gift.”
“Oh,” I say, disappointed. That’s all?
“It’s getting there,” she says seriously, quoting “Not Dark Yet,” from the lyrics she’d included. “I thought you should know, should remember, that… some scars don’t heal,” she tells me, eyes dark and serious, almost flat, like her voice.
Her fingers reach to trail over my hand, and my breath hitches. “What does a person choose, Sebastian?” she asks me, referring to Dylan’s poetic lyrics. “London or Paris? River or sea? Pain or beauty?”
“Are there only two choices?” I ask her. “One or the other.”
“Yes….” Her word trails off.
“Then I choose this. You,” I emphasize.
She shakes her head, eyes clouding over. “You don’t know what you’re saying, Sebastian.”
“I came here to find out.”
She swallows, frowning. “First things first. Promise me that you will keep the guitar.”
“I can’t,” I protest, shaking my head ‘no.’ “I just don’t feel right about it.”
“Sebastian… I’m not used to taking no for an answer,” she warns me, not for the first time.
“I just-” I catch sight of something, and an idea seizes me. I indicate the chess set. “Wait. I know. Do you play?”
She flicks her eyes at the chess set, too, and frowns. “Yes.”
“Are you good?”
“I’m not surprised,” I tell her. “Is there anything you can’t do well?”
Lark almost looks amused. “A few things. I don’t cook or do most domestic chores. I don’t play football.”
Holy smokes, she’s joking with me! Maybe things are going to be all right?
“I don’t play football, either,” I confess, and I like that there’s another similarity between us. “I don’t even like watching it, although my dad does.”
I push ahead with my idea. “Then how about we play chess for it? The Martin. If I win, you take it back. If you win, well… I keep it.”
“And what else, Sebastian. What else might I win?” she asks me, eyes hot as they lock with mine.
“Anything you want,” I whisper, almost not of my own volition.
She laughs, and the sound delights me.
“I’m just warning you,” I tell her, “I’m good. I was in the Chess Club in high school!”
“I consider myself fairly warned,” she assures me, and gestures me to pull the chessboard closer.
I’ve never seen such a chess set before. It reminds me of a motorcycle or racecar, I think, before Lark tells me “It’s made by Renault. Titanium. Real racing car parts.” The chessboard is black leather and silver. It’s sexy. I never thought a chessboard could be sexy.
Of course, everything associated with Lark Blackwood is sexy.
She lets me open, and I make my move, more confident than I’ve felt with her before.
She glances at the board, and moves a pawn.
Planning ahead, I move the Queen Pawn, and settle in for a long, tough game-
Seven more moves, and she announces calmly, “Checkmate.”
I’m baffled. I’m both impressed and, admittedly, a little disgruntled.
Sighing, I shake my head. “I never saw it coming,” I protest.
“Words to remember, Sebastian,” she cautions me, and raises her wineglass in an amused toast to me.
“I guess… I guess this means you get to decide what to do with the Martin,” I admit, still piqued.
“And I have several ideas,” she repostes. “But you promised me something else if I won, too, my young, sweet, dear Sebastian Stone,” she adds, her voice all husky in the way that sends goosebumps up and down my spine.
“I did, didn’t I?” My heart pounds. Holy smokes, is this it? Is she going to drag me off to her bedroom now, at long last? Is she going to kiss me again-
She doesn’t, though. She just shifts, her eyes never leaving mine, and crosses one slim leg, gorgeous in sexy leather trousers and boots, over the other.
“You never told me how your job interview went,” she says, making casual conversation.
Oh, that. PPRE. The recording and production studio. Was that just yesterday?! “I thought it went okay, but I still haven’t heard back,” I admit. “It’s only been a day, though.”
“You could always take a job at Blackwood. We have an excellent internship program. It could be a good opportunity for you.”
That seems… dangerous. I shake my head. “I, uh, don’t think I’d fit in with your company.”
“I’m not the, well, corporate go-getter type.”
Her crystal blue eyes glint with amusement. “And you think I am the corporate go-getter type?”
I crimson. “Uh, not exactly. Not corporate, that is, in, like, cold or businessy,” I stammer, although it’s not totally true. Lark Blackwood can be cold and businessy when she wants to be. “I just mean… I just meant that- that I’m- uh-” I can’t even put a sentence together.
“Oh, Sebastian, I have every faith in your ability to fit in with my company,” she says, to my amazement.
Is that a pun? Double meaning? Does she mean her business-company, or her… physical company?
I almost muster the courage ask her, but instead, we’re interrupted by the quiet Asian house servant. “Madam, dinner is ready to be served,” he announces in his exotic accent. Lark glances at me.
“Finish your wine,” she tells me, and I drink down what’s left in my glass. Then she rises, and holds out her hand to me. “Come along, Sebastian,” she says, and her fingers close around mine as she leads me from the great room.