Panic rises in my throat.
“You mean I'm stranded here? With you?”
“It appears so.” Calder eyes me over his glass. “You don't have to look so terrified. I'm not going to devour you or anything.”
“That's not exactly the impression you gave me a moment ago.”
“Believe it or not, I prefer my women consenting. Enthusiastic, even. Until you're willing to admit that you're attracted to me, I won't lay a finger on you. After that…”
“There won't be an 'after that'. I'm not attracted to you. Quite the opposite, actually. You're an asshole, and I don't care if I'm stuck here tonight. Nothing is going to happen between us.”
“Very well then,” he says, nonplussed. “But since you can't leave, would you care to return to the table? I don't want Martin's hard work to get cold while we sit here at our little stalemate.”
“It's not a stalemate,” I insist. “There's no discussion here. Nothing will happen between us.”
He nods, unconcerned, and I want nothing more than to smack that smug smile off of his face. Is this really all just a game to him? Is he getting his kicks by pissing me off?
A part of me wants to storm from the room. Whether I can actually make it back to Barberville or not, I don't have to stand here and take this from him. But sulking out to my car feels more childish than sitting back down at the table, and I won't let him make me feel like a sullen brat. I sigh and return to the table, sinking into my seat and taking up my fork without giving Calder a second glance.
He's watching me, though. As soon as I put the last bit of salad in my mouth, he's on his feet and back at the cart again. He removes the lid from one of the silver chafing dishes, and a heavenly aroma greets my nostrils. Damn him and his brilliant personal chef. I'm not feeling very complimentary right now, but my taste buds water in defiance of my dark mood.
The main course is pecan-crusted salmon with a side of buttered white asparagus. He serves me again, as he did with the salad. I offer him my polite thanks before falling back into silence.
The food does little to temper my anger. Neither does the way Calder keeps looking at me. I still can't believe his arrogance. He thinks he's won, that I'm halfway into bed with him already. He's so used to women just falling over themselves for him. Well, not me. Hell will freeze over before that happens. I may be stuck here, but that doesn't change anything.
I sneak a glance at him when he leans forward to grab the wine bottle again. Sure, I can appreciate his looks from a purely aesthetic point of view. Those broad shoulders and strong jawline have, I’m certain, left many a woman swooning. If I’m being honest, the untrimmed hair and stubble suit him far better than the über-polished look he sported at Arts & Hearts. But does that mean I'm attracted to him? No. He's still an ass, and a shitty personality can make even the finest man on earth seem ugly.
“Enjoying the view, Ms. Frazer?”
Heat floods my cheeks, but I recover quickly.
“Merely musing on how arrogance can really bring a man down a few notches in the looks department,” I say.
“Interesting observation.” He pours himself more merlot. “Frankly I've found that most women seem to find confidence an asset, rather than a detriment to my appearance.”
“Arrogance and confidence aren't the same thing.”
“Aren't they, though?” he replies. “In my experience, most women respond quite favorably to a man who isn't afraid to tell them exactly what he wants and then follow through on it.”
“Maybe you just attract the women who are easily blinded by money and compliments.”
“Tell me, Ms. Frazer,” he says, “why are you here, if you're not interested in my money?”
“That's not the same thing at all.”
“Isn't it?” He gestures with his fork. “Perhaps you're asking for a different application of the funds, but you're still interested in my money.”
“What exactly are you accusing me of?”
“I’m not accusing you at all,” he says pleasantly. “I'm just asking you to take a hard look at what you're doing here before you start casting judgment on other people.”
“You're one to lecture me on morality,” I counter.
He shrugs. “I'm only making an observation.”
No, I think. You're only trying to bait me. He's enjoying this whole thing too much, and I'm making it way too easy for him.
I sit back in my chair and take a deep breath. Continuing to get angry won't solve anything. I don't want to give Calder the satisfaction of thinking that he's gotten under my skin.
We spend the rest of the meal in silence. More than once I think about raising the issue of the Center. After all, we had a deal. But I'm too emotional right now. Even if I thought that I could change his mind about the Center—which I don't anymore—I can't even put together a coherent argument while I’m this worked up.
When I've eaten the last bit of food on my plate, I set down my fork.
“Tell Martin he outdid himself,” I say evenly, though I’m still actively fighting the urge to smack him upside the head. “Everything was wonderful.”
Calder smiles. “I will.” He eyes drift to my empty glass. “More whiskey?”
I shake my head. “Actually, I'm really tired. I think I might just go to bed.”
If he's disappointed by that, he doesn't show it. “Do you need help finding your way back to your room?”
I wish I didn't, but I know I'll get lost if I try to find my way back on my own. I nod reluctantly. I swear—if he tries to make a move on me, I'll knee him in the groin.
Calder retains his easy confidence as we make our way back through his house. I'm not sure how the arrogant bastard does it—how can he act so nonchalant, as if we never argued? Is it some skill he picked up from a lifetime of Never Having to Give a Damn?
I study him out of the corner of my eye as we walk. His moods seem to swing all over the place—one moment he’s cocky and sexually aggressive, the next he’s laughing with his personal chef, and still the next he’s quiet and sullen and bitter. His face is carefully blank now, but what the hell is going on his head?
This man lost his father recently, I remember suddenly.
My own dad's face flashes in my mind, and my stomach twists. Whatever I think of Calder, I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone. He hasn't said much about the event except to reference his new status in the house. How is he handling all that? It can't be easy.
The hair, the scruff, the shadows under his eyes—they’re probably all signs of his emotional turmoil over the last few months. Wentworth Cunningham was a good man, and I had the opportunity to speak with him several times about Center projects and business. He was genuinely passionate about our work, and about spreading the joys of the arts among people of all socio-economic classes—one of Dad’s main goals when he founded the Center all these years ago.