These past few months have completely changed Calder’s life. Now he bears the financial burdens of this family, and it looks like he isn’t particularly pleased by this new set of responsibilities. And why would he be? He’s spent most of his life without having to think about that sort of accountability.
I'm not sure what to say, so I pick up my fork and look down at my plate. Pear and arugula with soft crumbled cheese—wow. If this is the salad course, I can't wait to see the rest. My stomach rumbles again, and I dive in with as much ladylike grace as I can still muster.
For a long while, neither of us speak. I'm not sure whether talking will improve matters or only make them worse, and the last thing I want to do is broach the subject of the Center when he’s in a foul mood. The silence stretches between us, broken only by the scrape of our forks against the china. I notice him watching me out of the corner of my eye, but I don’t acknowledge his gaze. He's the one who suddenly got all awkward. Let him be the one to start the conversation again.
I take another bite of arugula. Maybe I have this all backwards. Maybe this silence is some sort of weird intimidation technique and he's trying to psych me out. He's made it abundantly clear that he doesn't want to hear my spiel about the Center, and now he's making sure I fuck it up. He's trying to get under my skin before I even start.
I grab my glass and take another swig of whiskey. I focus on the warm trail of the liquid as it slides down my throat. It pools in my belly like a little lump of courage.
I'm being crazy, freaking out over nothing. He's probably just being polite and waiting for me to begin. We had a deal, after all. I should just go ahead and spit it out already.
I take one more sip of my drink and slide it back on the table.
“I know you haven't had many chances to visit the Center,” I say, sliding my finger across the edge of my glass, “but I really think if you came by you'd see how much work we do for the community. And how much your family's contributions mean for our programs.”
I glance up to find Calder staring at me, his fork frozen halfway between his plate and his mouth. He lowers it again slowly, his eyes still locked on me, and I squirm in my seat.
“Not yet,” he says, taking up his wineglass.
I stare at him, confused. “What?”
“It's not time to discuss it yet.” He takes a sip of his wine. “I think we should enjoy our dinner first.”
I frown. “We had an agreement.”
“We still do. You sit through dinner with me, and I sit through your speech about your little Center.” He leans toward me, his eyes intent on mine. “Trust me, Ms. Frazer, I always keep my word.”
“I'm not sure I do trust you, Mr. Cunningham,” I say.
His hand slides toward mine on the table, and his finger brushes against the back of my palm. It sends a tiny shiver up my arm.
Calder smiles, his eyes dancing wickedly. “You should, Ms. Frazer. Believe me, I think you would enjoy the experience very much.”
I snatch my hand away from him.
“I'm not going to fall for that,” I say. “I’m not one of your little supermodels. I'm here for the Center, that's all.”
I can tell from the way the corner of his mouth curls up that he doesn't believe me. This guy isn't used to women resisting his charms.
“I broke onto your property,” I remind him. “And I dripped mud all over your precious house. Besides, I don’t think I’m your type.”
“You don't think I can admire a woman with a little spirit? I told you before, Ms. Frazer, I admire your tenacity. And a few of your other assets, truth be told.”
“You didn't seem particularly admiring when you were threatening to call the cops on me,” I counter. “If you think you can make me forget about why I'm here, that I'll just throw over the Center for the chance to sleep with you or something, you're an idiot.”
Humor dances in his eyes. “I never suggested that. I've already made it clear that I'm attracted to you, and it's quite obvious that you're attracted to me as well. I'm just saying that I don't see why you can't have it both ways. Or, come to think of it, why I can't have you a few dozen ways in the meantime.”
“You're disgusting,” I say, standing up and throwing my napkin down on the table. “This is serious. The Frazer Center has done remarkable things for this community and its people—more things than you'll ever appreciate or, dare I say it, do yourself, despite all your money or your fucking talking closets and fancy ceilings. If you refuse to talk about it… if you're just going to be ridiculous and crude, then fine. I won't waste any more of your time.” I turn and storm toward the door.
“You can't leave,” Calder says calmly after me.
“No,” he says, just as my hand reaches the doorknob. “I mean it's actually impossible for you to leave. Do you remember crossing the river on your way out here? The road between here and Barberville floods whenever there's heavy rain. With a storm like this, it's probably under three feet of water by now.”
My blood goes completely cold. I freeze, my fingers closed around the doorknob.
“You're lying.”“I'm afraid not,” he says, still as calm as ever. He raises his wineglass to his lips and takes another sip. “I'm afraid, Ms. Frazer, whether you like it or not, you'll be staying here with me tonight.”