Masked by Design - Chapter Ten

With Erik leading the way, Kristine followed two steps behind.  Had Trevor been at his side, the scene would have been almost an exact replica of the three people she glued in front of her model.

Her boss didn’t say a word as they made their way down the stairs to the second floor.  She glanced over at the master bedroom door.  No matter how many times she had been up and down these stairs, it was always closed.  On the other side of the hall was another bedroom that in her mind she dubbed the silver room.  Done in whites, greys, chrome, and mirrors that room was always open and reminded her of an old-Hollywood fairy tale.

As she made her way down the second flight of stairs to the main floor, she peeked into the room once more to imprint it in her mind. Something told her she would never be seeing it again.  

On the first floor, she decided not to delay the inevitable. Rather than apologize or beg for her job back, she held her items close to her chest then, while Erik turned right toward the kitchen, she headed toward the front door.  She would see herself out, no more humiliation necessary.

She barely made it to the foyer before he barked, “Kristine!”

At his yell, she skidded to a stop and winced. “Yes?” She kept her focus on the door, her escape, her exit.

“Can you turn around please?”  His voice softened ever so slightly.

After a swallow loud enough she was sure Erik could hear it, she turned to him.

“Do you mind telling me where you are going?” he asked.

She paused, then chose to answer truthfully.  “I don’t know.”

“Then let me help you.”  He motioned for her to come toward him.  “We are going this way.  You can leave your items there.”

At his demand, she literally put her things down right in the middle of the floor and went after him.

He walked around the back of the staircase and opened a small door, one she thought was a broom closet until this moment, when she glimpsed yet another staircase.

A long narrow staircase that led to nothing but a dark hole.

Apparently the fine for goofing off in the office was being thrown in the dungeon.

He moved back and motioned for her to go forward.  “Ladies first.”

“What?”  Her voice came out a bit breathless.  There was no way she was stepping in front of him only to allow this insane person to close the door on her.  He was right, she should have never invited a strange man into her car, and she had to be careful.  The only issue was that now he wasn’t a stranger, and she felt safe here.  

“It’s a little steep, allow me.”  As if he wasn’t going to chain her up down there, he took her hand.

His soft, strong hand encompassed hers and damn, if she didn’t forget every warning bell going off in her head.  She blindly followed him down two stairs then, right as she tightened her grip on him, there was a click and a dim golden light illuminated their path.

“Oh.”  Suddenly, the place wasn’t a dungeon, or some forgotten basement where she would be tossed aside. Instead, she stepped into a fantasy.

As they finished plunging down, she took everything in.

Huge glorious paintings in dark, muted colors graced the walls with gilded fames, making the whole space appear like some grand art museum.  A plush burgundy rug was strategically placed near a matching antique sofa, and along one side of the room was a full wet bar.

However, nothing, and she meant nothing, compared to what lay smack dab in the middle of the room under a crystal chandelier that sparkled impressively by its own account.

A golden grand piano.

Yes, it was gold.  Gold with intricate detailing with a matching bench with a burgundy velvet cushion.

What on Earth?

“Would you like a drink, Kris?”  He let his hand slip away from hers.

Was this like her last meal?  With her throat dry and utterly confused she could use some water or soda.  Rather than take him up on his offer she shrugged.  Truth was she didn’t drink wine, didn’t get why anyone enjoyed having basically cough syrup with their meal.

“How about some wine?”  As he walked across the room over to the bar, he took his coat, more like effortlessly swirled it, off his shoulders and it fluttered across a chair by the wall.

Caught without any words, she stared at him while he took down two glasses, expertly opened a bottle of wine and then poured without spilling a drop. 

“I quite like this wine, it comes from a small town in France. I think you’ll enjoy it.”  With both glasses in his hands, he returned to her.

This wasn’t breakfast with Erik the first day where she didn’t know if she could choke down a soft-boiled egg.  For whatever reason, he was offering her a glass of wine, mostly likely extremely expensive, and was being charming, well, for him.  One thing she would never do was lie to him, and she especially didn’t want to take a sip then have him watch her wince.  If she lied and managed to swallow it down without making a fool of herself, she would be relegated to drinking the swill should he ever do this again.  “I’m not a wine drinker.”  There she said it, she was honest, and he had to admire that.

His unmasked eyebrow rose.  “No alcohol?”

She doubted he needed an explanation of tequila shots with Meg and throwing up the one time she imbibed too much. “I just never developed a taste for it.”

A slight smile lifted the corner of his mouth.  “Perhaps no one ever showed you how to appreciate it.”  He offered her the glass.  “May I?”

The way his tone lowered and how he stared right into her eyes, the man could probably do anything he wanted at the moment.  If only she were another man.  Of course, this could all be part of his bizarre exit interview ritual.  Still, she took the glass.

“Every time you taste a new wine, close your eyes so you are not distracted by anything else.”  His voice rolled over her.

She did as he requested but wanted to ask him how he stood in a room with himself and didn’t become distracted.

“Now breathe in the aroma.”  He put his hand over hers and inched the glass closer to her face and slowly swirled the glass in a circle.

She took a breath, or she thought she did.  Either way all she could smell was sandalwood cologne, clean linen and Erik.  Maybe there was some wine there too. 

“I want you to take a sip, a small taste and let it the liquid roll over your lips and tongue.”  He urged the glass to her lips.  “Savor it.”

As he instructed, she took a small sip of the wine—or maybe she should call it foreplay—either way she had something to moisten her mouth.

“You should notice the flavors of cranberries, black currents, spice and just a hint of sweetness,” he whispered.

Since he mentioned it, she could practically feel those nuances dancing off her tongue.  Whatever he served her was definitely not a cough syrup.

“Now, swallow,” he commanded.

The warm liquid traveled down her throat, sending shivers and tingles through her.  After taking a moment to catch her breath, she opened her eyes to find Erik right there.

He tilted his head.  “Well?”

Still uncertain on what was going on or why, she went with her gut, took the glass and held it out to Erik.  “Cheers.”

“Perfect.”  He picked up the glass he had set aside earlier and tapped it against hers.  “Cheers.”

While they sipped the wine, his eyes never left hers and if this were any other man under any other circumstance, she would be expecting a kiss any moment.  Of all the people in the world, why did it have to be him who made her feel like she was falling but he’d always catch her?

She probably should leave.  Part of her wished he would fire her, but then what would she do?  “Erik?”  Maybe he had the answer.

“I see you like music.”  With no knowledge of her inner struggle, no idea what his actions did to her, he held his arm out and guided her the few steps over to the gold piano.  “I thought that would be something we could share along with the wine.”  

She sat on the cushioned bench, and the second Erik came around and slid in next to her, she downed the rest of the wine.

He let out a chuckle, copied her action and then put his fingers over the keys. 

Then he began to play. His long fingers swept over the keys in a blur except for that distinctive black and gold signet ring he always wore on his right hand.

Whether it was the incredible music filling the room, the wine, or how she couldn’t take her eyes off this man’s fingers, but instantly her whole world was different, dizzy, and disjointed.

What was this all about?  

Like when she tasted the wine, she closed her eyes.  Rather than the essence of berries and spices, she heard and felt every note Erik played.  Never had she heard anything like his playing, and she didn’t recognize the piece. All she knew was it was a melding of classical music and modern music. The emotion behind the melody, even without any words, hit her right in the chest.  Beyond her control, her eyes welled up and filled with tears.

When the music ended, she didn’t move, simply let the notes fade away and only then did she open her eyes. 

Again, she found Erik staring right at her.

For a moment they didn’t speak, didn’t move, then Erik reached forward and with one of those glorious fingers that only seconds ago created the most incredible heart-wrenching music, he wiped a tear off her cheek.  “Thank you.”  He put his finger to his lips.  “I suppose I don’t have to ask what you thought about the music.”

Finally, she had to say something.  Everything was too surreal, too intimate.  “This doesn’t feel like it’s for me.”  

“Why do you say that, Kristine?”  The man never took his gaze off her.

“It feels like it should be shared with a lover.”  At her own words she looked down.  “Maybe Trevor.”

Again, he reached forward, this time hooking his fingers under her chin and gently prodding her face up.  “A lover, perhaps, Trevor absolutely not.” 

Her mouth fell open. 

He put his finger over her lips.  “Do you understand?”

She paused and processed his last two sentences.  He wasn’t involved with Trevor.  The incredible yet painful sensation of her stomach swirling took over again.  The crush she had on him and tried to tamp down returned full force.  “Oh.”

“Exactly.”  He nodded and moved forward.

Here was the kiss she craved.  The one she wished for every time she left and wished things could be different. Well, things were different and here they were.  She held her breath.

“Don’t forget you have class tonight.”  He brushed his fingers over her cheek and stood.

She put her hand to her face and watched him leave the room without another word.  Once more she closed her eyes until the feeling of his touch on her skin faded.

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