J’ai découvert le vrai bonheur le jour vous avez marché dans ma vie. —
I discovered true happiness the day you walked into my life.
Zuri Baptiste is in trouble. She’s lost her virginity to the man who is set to take over her father’s business. How did such a thing happen? Years later she’s forced to answer that question when she faces the smooth debonair stranger who’s responsible for the only reckless thing Zuri has done in her life.
Christophe Montague is a very pragmatic man. But after a horrible breakup he seeks comfort in the arms of a young woman to forget. It works. For the next few years he channels his energies toward monetary success not love. The Oasis, a now bankrupt resort on the island of Martinique, is prime real-estate to acquire. To his surprise he encounters the young woman from his one nightstand. He soon falls into her web of lies, deceit and love.
Zuri’s gaze switched from her half eaten filet to the sparkling city lights outside of the restaurant’s window. The sky had darkened to a deep shade of violet, which stained the moon pink as the sun slipped away. It was a sky that reminded her of home.
She could see the wind in the sway of the leaves extended from the planted trees along the circular drive. A black car with dark tinted windows slowed to a stop before the valet’s booth. The driver, tall with an immaculate appearance, emerged. His hand pressed down on his cap to keep it in place, and his blazer blew open as he hurried around the front of the limo ahead of the valet. An even taller man stepped out from the darkness of the open door.
Zuri’s view had been limited by the shadows covering most of his face so she could only see the basic details. Big in stature, with shoulders a yard wide, his dark grey trench opened and closed as he took confident strides toward the restaurant’s doors.
He possibly could be one of Chicago’s elite. There were few surprises about the rich and famous dinning and mingling in the prestigious Gold Coast neighborhood. Besides, she’d seen her share of celebrities growing up on the island resort owned by her father.
Tonight was special. Her parents had chosen a really nice French restaurant with velvet chairs and pristine settings under candlelight over crisp linen. All of this had been done for her. She should be enjoying herself. She wasn’t.
Zuri picked up her fork and pushed her asparagus into a cross formation on her plate. She dreaded the conversation that the evening was edging toward.
“Something wrong with your steak, ma chérie?” her mom asked.
Nanette Baptiste, her mother, was often told she looked as young as her daughters. She had married young and in their island customs that wasn’t too surprising. Not like here in America where women aimed for college and much more. Petite in stature, Nanette’s distinctive feature had been her remarkably large expressive eyes like Zuri with naturally long lashes. She blinked and men stopped thinking she was a flirt.
Claude Baptiste preferred she wore her hair long and flowing. Her mother usually pulled the dark locks back and neatly pinned it into a chignon in public. But if you ever saw it freely cascading about her shoulders, you’d be compelled to touch it. Her French, African, East Indian heritage proved evident in her speech and her toffee hued skin. Nanette was as gracious as she was kind, never raising her voice in anger and never indulging in the island snobbery customary of women of her stature. Zuri loved her mom dearly.
Zuri decided on a sip of wine rather than an answer. She forced a smile. Today had been her twenty-first birthday, and this indeed was her very first official taste of alcohol.
“She’s okay mère,” Joi winked.
Nanette’s motherly concern deepened the frown lines over her brow.
“I’m fine, just not that hungry.”
“That’s because she misses your cooking. Doncha? Hot and spicy lambi, blaff, court-bouillon filling your belly,” Joi teased.
“Conch, boiled fish with chives or in spicy tomato sauce as opposed to the Chicago treats of deep dish pizzas and polish dogs smothered in onions and sauerkraut? Nope, I like my American food just fine.”
Grinning, Joi, her younger sister by two years, bumped her knee with her own under the table. “Yea, right. Then why did you have me sneak some boudin past customs for you? Ansa me that!”
Her father chuckled, but her mother frowned at the impropriety of Zuri’s request.
“Guess you got a point.” Zuri flashed her mother a sheepish smirk.
Her gaze shifted to her sister’s rare beauty. Despite the chill of the night, Joi wore a red halter dress that their mother kept insisting she pull up. She too had inherited Nanette’s hair but chose to wear it cropped short in a pixie like style with the tips of her spry curls tinted magenta. This was only one of the ways Joi rebelled against her mother’s attempts to keep her daughters lady-like. On the island of Martinique, the caste system had been often upheld. Her parent’s story was proof of that.
“We’re proud of you, Zuri,” her father said, “I’d like to make a toast.”
Zuri beamed. The Baptiste family raised their glasses. Her dad cleared his throat. Claude’s eyes shone with pride and love. Zuri couldn’t help but relax under his protective gaze. He was the glue that held them all together.
Each of the Baptiste women bloomed and flourished under the watchful guidance of Claude Baptiste. As a reward, his complete devotion to his children and wife was unwavering. Her parents were a great example of the type of marriage Zuri would want to have someday.
No one was prouder than she. Her father, a man of Haitian descent, had been raised unlike her mother who was Martinician. A French European family (commonly referred to as metros on the island) adopted her father from a Haitian orphanage at the age of eight and brought him to Martinique. There was much more to the story, but Claude never spoke of his time with the Lefebvre’s.
Even though he inherited their wealth, including the coffee bean plantation, at the young age of seventeen, he kept his real father’s name with pride. Claude’s strict catholic principles made life as his daughter come with certain restrictions and rules. But even he saw fit to let Zuri breach the nest and spread her wings.
“To Zuri, my daughter the college graduate. I am so proud of the woman before me and all that you’ve accomplished. We all are. Félicitations, ma trésor.”
Zuri felt a surge of love move through her. He congratulated her. “Merci, père.” She said, humbled and thankful.
Glasses clinked. Zuri savored the sour and sweet blend of her wine. Once the grape taste dissolved on her tongue, her body warmed. She relaxed. Is this what wine does to a person, she wondered. If so, she would enjoy the freedoms of being twenty-one.
“How cool is it that you graduate on the same day that’s your birthday?” Joi asked.
“Luck, I guess.”
Zuri looked up when her mother reached over and tucked a loose curl behind her ear that had fallen in her face.
“I like your apartment. You decorated it very nice and cozy,” her mother said.
Zuri nodded. “I found some neat things at a little thrift store by my place. My friend at school helped me upholster the sofa. Merci beaucoup, mère.”
“Is it a he?” her father queried.
Zuri rolled her eyes, and Joi snickered.
Claude shrugged his shoulders. “I know you’re a good girl. No way you could finish with honors if you were chasing boys.”
“Claude, honey, at her age, they are men not boys,” her mother chuckled and Zuri’s father blanched.
“Whatever they are, she has no time for those matters.”
“What matters, père?” Joi teased.
“Can we change the subject?” Zuri sighed. The last thing she wanted to discuss was her virginity, which remained shamefully in tact. It was kind of embarrassing that she had been in the city for three solid years and had not even made a guy friend outside of her study group. Getting kissed by one was still a dream. But her schedule could be the blame. She piled on the course work and finished ahead of her peers. The commencement ceremony wouldn’t be scheduled until June. It was just December.
“Fontaine has asked about you often, since your last visit home,” her mother tried to introduce casually.
“Ew! He’s so ashy!” Joi coughed out.
“Lower your voice, Joi!” Nanette admonished. “And he isn’t ashy. He has skin allergies.”
Claude groaned. “I agree with Zuri. Change the subject.”
“Well, it’s not Fontaine that’s missing you. JP is the one,” said Joi.
Tension seized the reins of the conversation. Jean-Paul was a trusted employee, family friend, and he never spoke of his desires for Zuri. To do so would incur her father’s wrath. He was Guadeloupian, six years her senior, uneducated, even though he was the head chef under her father’s employ. And her father made it really clear he wasn’t ready for either of his daughters to be paired off with a suitor, acceptable or not. He’d accept nunnery first.
Zuri gave a nervous laugh. “Père, Joi is just trying to get a rise out of you. JP and I are more like brother and sister. You know this.”
Her father’s tight-lipped scowl eased. Joi kept grinning, hoping to get her father to fly off in French and shock her mother into trying to calm him. The mood softened and Zuri felt the tension in her chest release as well. To be truthful, she had missed her family. She even secretly missed her girlhood crush Jean-Paul. Maybe she’d email him later to catch up.
She picked up her knife and began to slice into her medium rare steak. The steamy juices saturated her plate, turning her mashed potatoes pink. “Do you have to leave tomorrow evening? I want to take Joi around and do some shopping,” she said.
“Yes!” Joi exclaimed, and her mother shook her head sternly at the outburst.
Zuri ignored them both, addressing her father. His private jet could be scheduled to take them back to Martinique at anytime based on his wishes.
“Père, I want to take you to Harold’s. They have better barbecue chicken than anything JP can do at home.”
“Please, père! Let’s stay another day!” Joi chimed in.
“Ma petite. I want to know your plans.” Her father’s voice broke over the excitement and silenced her sister’s enthused gushing. He addressed Zuri only.
She glanced up from her plate into his eyes again and felt three years old. “Sir?”
“Your return home of course. I’ve paid your lease up for two months. That’s enough transition time. We can fly back in June for your commencement ceremony.”
“Not now, Claude,” her mom whispered.
Zuri’s eyes flipped from her mother to her father, wide with alarm. It was worse than she feared. They didn’t want to discuss it. They had decided her future for her. “I just graduated, père. I’m considering law schools; my LSAT scores come in next week. So, I… I haven’t decided anything.”
“Exactly. You’re considering law school, but you must learn French law not American. I’m proud of you, but we have a family business to run. I’m thinking of expanding to Fort de France and making you manager there.”
“Père, don’t. Leave Zuri alone. It’s her birthday. Can we talk about this later?” her sister demanded. Zuri was a mama’s girl. Joi was all her father’s. She could always be counted on out of the Baptiste women to rein him in. Her father looked from Zuri’s hurt stare, to her mother’s disapproving one, and then back to his youngest daughter’s pleading eyes. He smiled.
“Je suis désolée. We can talk about this later. Yes, Joi, we can stay another day or two. I want to make my girls happy.”
“Pardon,” Zuri mumbled, in desperate need of a breath.
“Zuri, chérie!” her mother called after her.
Zuri bolted from the table, nearly bumping the server in her haste. She blinked away angry tears. Quickly she rounded the dining room for the bathroom. If she had been of clear mind, she would have seen him step into the hall in front of her. Instead, she ran up against the wall of his chest.
Zuri’s heart pulsed so hard, she felt as if she’d been struck. In her clumsy attempt to flee, her feet tripped under her. With one hand he caught her elbow and steadied her. To keep her balance, she grabbed the front lapels of his suit jacket.
Mortified, Zuri’s head slowly lifted and eyes so blue they were almost violet, attached to a tanned face, stared down at her. She found him quite simply striking in its masculine beauty. Sharp brown brows, chiseled cheeks and short dark blondish-brown hair that curled around his ears added to the firepower of his gaze. Even with his face devoid of expression, she’d been charmed all the way down to her toes. “Careful, you okay?” he asked.
“Huh? Who? Me? Oh. Accident. Um. Sorry.”
I sound like a stuttering idiot.
He chuckled. “Accident’s happen.” He released her arm and she slowly loosened her hold on the lapel of his suit jacket.
Zuri couldn’t tear her gaze from his. From the way he matched her stare, she wondered if he were waiting for her to swoon, because that’s what she wanted to do, swoon and bat her eyes at him. The moment passed. He winked, then turned and left her standing there dazed, leaving the rich, testosterone packed spice of his aftershave behind.
* * * * *
Christophe returned to his table and to those impatiently waiting for him.
“Mr. Montague, we were just discussing how Ventura Resorts could ease this transition if you were to keep our executive staff in a few key positions.”
“I believe I’ve heard enough,” Christophe announced, smoothing his tie down as he took a seat.
The youngest of the three men (who had moved quite a bit to bring him to the meeting), he wasted no time in making sure they knew he was in control. The men shot each other worried looks.
Christophe, normally amused by the discomfort of others since his mother’s retirement, found it ironic that tonight he was the one twisting with dread and regret.
He cleared his throat and spoke, “On December twentieth, the acquisition will be complete. Ventura Resort & Spa will officially belong to the Montague franchise. From Ventura’s branding, to its staff, it will be Montague. That’s simply how it’s done. As for your concerns, I will make a decision on executive management of the corporate offices then. Now, instead of selling me on why you need your jobs, how about you enlighten me to as to why Ventura’s market share is less than twenty percent of what you’ve put in your shareholder reports.”
All three men began to squawk at once.
Unconcerned, Christophe’s interest shifted and so did his gaze. It swept over the bland faces of the mostly haughty diners to a more appealing one. His flustered little sparrow that bumped up against him had emerged. She gracefully made her way out of the loo, headed hopefully for a table and not the door. He was right. She stopped before a table where a more seasoned woman and yet another younger one waited with a man. He shut out everyone and everything, but her striking beauty.
From his vantage point, he saw little of her face. Christophe didn’t need to see her face. How could he not remember those eyes? Round and seductively ringed in dark lashes, she had the sexiest eyes on a woman. They caught him off guard.
She was a vision. She wore a black dress. The skirt shifted around her brown thighs. He imagined her in softer colors, yellow, pink and light blues. She looked too exotic and vibrant to have her beauty silenced by a muted dark garment. His eyes, however, narrowed on her and he suffered an unexplainable bout of lust from the way her hips swayed.
Watching her rejoin the others, he felt a small sense of satisfaction that they would continue to share the same place. Her head turned and she sat to address the only man at the table. Finally, he was rewarded with a weak smile that tugged at the corners of her full lips as she said something to him, and he reached over and touched her face. Not like a lover, but like a caring father.
Christophe kept her in his line of vision for the remainder of the evening until she and her family took leave. She was far more interesting than all the matters before him, including his battered heart.
* * * * *
The ride to The Elysian had been a short one from the restaurant, and silent. Zuri sat pushed up against the passenger door with her elbow resting on the inside jam and her chin planted in the palm of her hand.
She fumed as flashes of streetlamps, buildings and parking garages zipped by. All were part of a city she had longed to make her home. This was her time. Her liberation. Why should she give it all up now, to run a boring resort hotel on the island filled with pampered sunburned tourists and drunken college students?
The valet opened her car door and then her mother’s. Zuri stepped out in a full pout. Joi hurried around the back of the car and slipped her arm around Zuri’s. “Let’s go for a walk.”
“Walk?” Her mother looked over at them alarmed.
“Just over there to the Walgreens. I need to get some things. Besides, I want some alone time with Zuri. It’s okay. Isn’t it, père?”
“Zuri, you needn’t drive to your apartment. Stay here at the hotel with us. You girls don’t be long.” Her father said in approval.
The Elysian, located in downtown Chicago, was doors away from the bustling traffic of the city. A block north of the hotel the red neon sign for Walgreens beckoned. Joi loved to buy nonsensical things. There was no telling why she wanted to go into the drugstore at this hour.
“Yes, père,” Zuri said.
“Go on now!” Joi shooed her parents along.
Her mother leaned in and kissed Zuri on the cheek. “See you in the morning sweetheart,” she whispered in her ear. “Stop pouting. I’ll talk to him, chérie.”
Zuri sighed. “Night, mère.”
They watched their parents go inside. Joi then turned on her. “Okay, if you want père to stop treating you like a baby, I suggest you stop acting like one.”
“C’mon.” Her sister took her hand and pulled her across the street. They darted to the sidewalk out of the way of oncoming traffic. “I’m saying that if you want to stay in Chicago, then just say so. He’ll understand. You flip flop too much.”
“I do not!”
“Yes you do.”
“Right, it’s all up to me. Like he understood me wanting to go to Northwestern in the first place. Took mom a year to get him to agree. He won’t even let you leave.”
“That’s not true. Père isn’t keeping me at home.” Her sister hurried in through the automatic glass doors. She plucked a green plastic basket from a metal rack with a Walgreen’s flyer lining the bottom. Zuri sighed and followed. Her sister squealed at the cheap wall of cosmetics. Joi grabbed her a load of florescent colors in fingernail polish.
“Why are you buying all of that?” asked Zuri.
“Because at home we don’t get the colors like here. You know that. Now find me a yellow eyeliner,” Joi grinned.
Zuri gave in. She fingered through the Revlon sticks of eyeliner and other lesser known brands. “I’ve done everything they wanted. Hell, I haven’t lifted my head out of a book since I got here. No dates, no drinking, no smoking…”
“No fucking,” Joi mumbled.
Zuri chose to ignore the comment. “I got an apartment and I’ve only had my study group over and two friends. Now I’m free. I want to spread my wings.”
“Then do it,” Joi shrugged.
“Père won’t let me.”
“I’ve had it!” Joi turned on her. “Do you hear how you sound? What twenty-one year old waits until she is legal to take her first drink? Who goes to college in a rad city like Chicago and only sees the city when her parents come to town? You can do whatever you want, Zuri. Mère and Père aren’t holding you back. You are.”
“Lower your voice.” Zuri looked over at the cashier who was watching them closely.
“Arrêtez! Stop blaming us for your lame life. Have you lost your virginity yet?”
Zuri rolled her eyes. “As if I would give mine away like you did.”
She didn’t want to fight with her, but Joi always pushed a nerve. Her sister had lost her virginity at sixteen to a local boy vacationing with his family out of France. A boy who she still can’t stop daydreaming about. Zuri was jealous of her sister’s spirit, envious actually. There’s a lot more freedom in the world when you looked at it through her sister’s eyes. Joi turned down the aisle and plucked a box of condoms. Magnums! Zuri’s eyes bulged.
“Your mission is to find a guy, give him a little conversation, and then make him break you off some.”
“Are you insane?”
“Nope, just helping my sister out. You’re getting these!” Joi shoved a black box of 24 on her. “Now help me find some glitter lip-gloss. They have to have some here.”
Zuri paid for her sister’s load of tacky girl things and the box of condoms she was certain would dry rot in her lingerie drawer. Together they headed back to the hotel. She missed her little sister fiercely but not the teasing. It’s hard enough being confident in her beauty in the shadow of her regal mother and her over confident sister.
“You coming up? Père said so.” Joi mocked, with a sly smile. She stepped through the parting elevator doors.
“No, you go ahead. I think I’m going to go back to my apartment. I’ll meet you guys for breakfast.”
“You sure? We can paint each other’s toes and I can tell you about Sebastian. He’s my new hottie. I can give you some pointers on how to hook that Asian boy you were blushing with early today.”
“Who, Jin? He was a study partner; he’s going to law school. We’re just friends.”
“Yeah, yeah. Anyways, Sebastian and I are getting serious. Père gets hives when he sees him, but he doesn’t know why. I think he has a sixth sense when it comes to me and my boy toys,” Joi winked. She threw out her arm to keep the elevator door from closing. “C’mon up. You can wear something of mine.”
“I’ll see you in the morning, I got to make some decisions.”
Joi nodded. “Well call that Asian geek… see if he can fill those magnums!” The doors started to close and her sister grabbed something from her bag. “Catch!” she yelled out.
Zuri caught the box of condoms. The elevator shut with her sister giggling.
Mortified, Zuri shoved the box down in her purse. Joi always had to have the last word. She shook her head and chuckled to herself.
Zuri strolled back through the hotel’s lobby. Taking her time, she admired the pearl grey floors and Grecian décor. Almost to the revolving front door, the soft tinkling of piano keys beckoned.
She looked around, her eyes finally falling on a sign, which read, Bernard’s Bar. With the spicy taste of red wine coating her tongue and a bit of rebellion stiffening her spine, she contemplated celebrating her birthday, differently.
Joi was right. She’s the one hiding from the world. Swinging her purse at her side, she entered the bar. It was empty except for three men staring into their drinks.
As she approached, several heads lifted. Their eyes fixated on her reflection beyond the bottles of liquor and lights along the mirrored wall. Zuri didn’t shy away from their leers, even though she found the stranger’s mostly too old and unwelcoming to be real prospects for conversation.
“What can I get for you pretty lady?”
“A red wine.”
The bartender smiled. “Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot?”
“Got some ID for me, beautiful?”
Zuri blushed. “Yeah, I do.” she reached in her purse and the box of condoms lifted into view. Zuri quickly tried to cover, but the bartender leaned in with a wolfish grin.
She found her license between her ATM card and her student ID and turned it over for the bartender. He gave it a cursory glance and then reached for a wine goblet.
Zuri fixated on her image in the mirror behind the bar. She had gone all out to look mature. She was quite impressed with her dark locks curled past her shoulders and her raised bust line under her coat.
* * * * *
Christophe chose a corner table. The octagon shaped bar made his choice the best for obscurity. He sipped his scotch, counting down the minutes of the evening. Maybe he could drink the sun in. He didn’t want to go upstairs to the empty bed awaiting him. He didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts. He sure as hell didn’t want what the courier had left for him in a brown envelope at the concierge desk.
He arrived at Bernard’s just minutes before she did. She entered and instantly his interest piqued. Her long and slender legs and her graceful stride were enough as his gaze followed her to her seat.
Strange that she would be in this hotel, on this night. He tossed down the scotch. She was quite beautiful. After Gabriella, he should be leery. Still he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
* * * * *
“What’s your name?”
A lean man with bifocals and breath of vodka sprayed the question. Zuri stiffened; she glanced over to him and tried to decide if it was safe for her to answer. Before she could, Mr. Stinky Breath put a hand to her back, leaned in and looked down at her breasts. “You got big tits. How much?”
“Please don’t touch me,” she said shifting her body forward on her bar stool to make his hand drop. But it just slipped down her backside. Her eyes stretched in alarm. “Yeah, you got a nice ass too. How much?”
“I said don’t touch me.”
“Or what? You a working girl, aren’t you!” he barked at her.
Zuri shriveled a bit.
“The lady said back off.”
Her gaze turned to the stranger behind them. It was her stranger from the restaurant.
“Now move on.”
The drunk stammered an apology, grabbed his drink and staggered out to one of the tables. Zuri released a deep sigh. “Thank you. Thank you very much. He just wouldn’t stop.”
Mon Dieu, he’s tall. What is he, six-six? She had to careen her neck back to get a glimpse of his handsome face. Thankfully, he didn’t stand in too close as she noticed the way his toned body dominated what appeared to be an expensive suit.
“Are you okay?” he asked again.
“Yes,” Zuri smiled, finding his concern endearing. “Thank you.”
“Christophe.” He extended his hand.
“Beautiful name. It was nice meeting you, Zuri.” The stranger’s gaze softened. She found it sexy that a man could smile with his eyes. “Have a good night,” he said, tossing bills on the bar to pay his tab. He turned and walked away.
Where did he come from? She didn’t see him when she entered. And for the second time that night he left her spellbound. Disappointed, Zuri turned back to her wine. She downed it fast. “Can I have another please?”
* * * * *
Christophe wasn’t the kind of guy who rescued damsels in distress. She compelled him to be chivalrous yet again. Thankfully, when she smiled he came to his senses. Women in need of rescue only meant trouble his mother would say. He abandoned the idea of a nightcap in the bar and decided to take one in his room.
“Mr. Montague! Excuse me, Mr. Montague?”
Christophe stopped. The hotel clerk caught up with him. When he turned, she was panting before him. In her hand was the envelope he’d avoided all day. He didn’t need proof. But his mother had insisted on it. Christophe knew there was no need in avoiding it. There wasn’t enough scotch in him to take his mind off of it.
“This came for you sir. We were given strict orders to deliver it to you personally. I tried your room.”
Christophe sucked down a stilted breath. The weight of his pride and troubled heart was tucked away in the brown envelope. It’s where he should leave it. But he was never a man to leave loose ends. He eased open the fold and removed the glossies.
* * * * *
Who was she kidding? Picking up a guy in a bar on her birthday wasn’t her. It was insanity, and maybe even dangerous.
Zuri dug deep, fingers searching the side pocket in her purse for her parking ticket, while trying to keep the box of condoms concealed. She felt giddy and light-headed for no apparent reason than the second glass of wine.
As her pulse buzzed in her ears, she had no choice but to reconsider her father’s warning that she shouldn’t be driving. Her birthday was officially a bust. She sat there a minute longer and then summon the strength make it to her sister’s room.
“Johnny Walker Blue and make it a pour,” A deep smoky voice spoke.
Slowly her gaze lifted. Her hero had returned. He didn’t acknowledge her. His eyes seemed to be fastened on the bottles of liquor the bartender went through. His lips pressed into a tight thin line making the muscle in his jaw twitch.
“Decided on another?” she asked.
He seemed surprise to find her next to him. “So it seems,” he said.
Curious, Zuri watched the bartender pour amber liquid from a blue label into a snifter and set a small glass of water next to it.
Elbows on the bar, she leaned her face in her hands and stared, fascinated with his choice of drinks.
Christophe took it down in a gulp, hissed through his swallow and chased it with a shot of water. He gave a nod to the bartender who poured him another.
“What kind of drink is that?” she asked.
“It’s a perfect pour,” he said dryly.
“I gather that, but you don’t like it much. You drink water after?”
He chuckled deep in his throat. “That’s the point. You sip and then you savor it on your palate by chasing it with cold water. Want to try?”
Zuri sat up too quickly. A bout of dizziness hit her and she swore stars danced before her eyes.
“It’s safe,” he said.
She shook off the mental wave of delirium, and forced herself to sit up straight.
“Yeah, um, okay.”
He eased his drink down to her.
“It’s her birthday,” the bartender added.
“Is that so?” asked Christophe.
“Wow, how did you know?” Zuri smiled.
“I pay attention to the little things like your ID for starters. She’s twenty-one today,” the bartender offered. Christophe’s stare became a bit more enticing, shifting between shades of blue and violet.
Was it the lighting? Suddenly she felt sexy. Zuri nodded and tossed her chin up in a false show of confidence. “Yes, today is my day.”
“Well happy birthday, Zuri.”
“Thank you. Now how do I do this?”
He sat in the bar seat next to her and dropped his arm on the back of her chair. “You can tell a lot by how a person handles a perfect pour.”
“Um, okay,” she nodded.
“Personally, I prefer to hold the snifter at its stem, between your thumb and your ring finger.”
Zuri did as he instructed, and the bartender moved on to a young couple who arrived at the other end of the bar. She glanced up for Christophe’s approval and the sexy curl to his lips made her dizzy once more. So, she refocused on the drink.
“Swirl the scotch.”
She tried but it sloshed around the wide circumference of the snifter glass. His hand came over hers and he assisted. “What’s in it? I mean I know it’s alcohol, but is it scotch?” she asked, believing there was something more to the story of the whisky. She had read it somewhere.
“Ah, this is a first for you, isn’t it? You a virgin?”
“Huh?” she said in a hurried, revealing voice.
“Not a drinker of the malts are you?” he chuckled. She blushed. “It’s a good shot of scotch, a mix of about seventeen different rare whiskeys. The grain is aged for more than sixty years.”
“Scotch… from Scotland right?”
“Give the lady a blue ribbon.”
“Are you from Scotland?” she asked, liking the flow of the conversation.
“No, are you?”
“Funny,” she chuckled. “Okay, so I’ve swirled it. What next?”
“You want to take your time and inhale the aroma.”
She did. It wasn’t the normal stench that alcohol had for her. She liked the fragrance. It was smoky, smooth and strong, a lot like him.
“Now, this is important.” He moved in on her. Not in the creepy way the other man had, but in a way that made her straighten her back and heave up her chest to entice him to stay close.
His hand lifted. Suddenly, fingers moved her tresses and tucked her thick strands behind her ear. It was the most sensual gesture, which made her heart flutter as if many butterflies were trapped inside. And his voice, though deep like timber, was now a personal whisper. “You don’t sip but you swallow. It’s your first shot of scotch. It has to be all or none or you might abandon the relationship forever. So take it down fast and think of the taste later. And when the scotch sears your throat, torches your tongue, and warms you from the center of your chest, it will spread through you like a bushfire.”
“Bush fire? Are you a poet?” she grinned.
“In another life,” he chuckled. “Afterwards you smooth it out with the water. Bring the blaze down a bit.”
She dared a glance. Now she knew the truth. His eyes were indeed violet, under those dreamy lids, and straight silky black brows. They were too beautiful for a man’s face. Looking in them, she was reminded of the waters of the hot springs deep in the mangroves near Mount Pelée. The blue green waters in the cool morning were often a crystal clear shade of violet with a slow moving mist hovering over the still waves.
Zuri sobered instantly. Nodding that she understood, she did what he said. The bite of alcohol hit her hard and her reflex was to gag. She picked up the water and sipped, then drank the rest hurriedly. Setting the glass down and panting, she stretched her eyes wide, reacting to the even layered taste.
“Excellent,” he said, finally moving away.
Zuri laughed, hand to chest. “That was…. wow. Johnny Walker Blue?”
“A perfect pour,” he said, nodding to the bartender to fix them another.
Zuri took down two more shots again, and again, enjoying the ritual.
“Slow down, sweetheart. It has a kick.”
She burped. She blushed. “Excooose me.”
It’s Christophe’s turn to laugh.