They changed planes in Florida and the sun had already set by the time they landed in Florianopolis on the coast of Brazil. Claire climbed off the plane into the heat and humidity. The heavy, muggy air pressed down on her and she struggled to breathe, her mind still reeling from watching Vincent go through airport security. She didn't think it would have been possible, but he managed to make himself invisible. He blended one hundred percent into the crowd, one hand casually engulfing her own and his free hand still holding on dearly to his briefcase. He had disappeared momentarily into the bathroom, leaving her alone for a short while. Oddly enough, the idea of escape never even occurred to her. She knew that she would be safer with him than she would be out there with Raphael's big stupid ass chasing after her. He returned, and she noticed the briefcase had disappeared. He grabbed her hand and led her on toward security. She didn't ask…she didn't want to know. From that point on, things had been smooth sailing. They made it through every security checkpoint with absolutely no problems whatsoever and all of the sudden…BAM…Claire was in Brazil.
They stepped out of the airport and Claire froze in her tracks. Her eyes scanned the world that Vincent had brought her to. The word beautiful could barely scratch the surface of the description of her surroundings. She had always wanted to travel, but could never afford it and then Antonio just wouldn't allow it. Now, here she was…even though it wasn't the way she would have chosen to be her first experience abroad.
"Whoa." She said, without even realizing that she had spoken out loud.
"What is it?" Vincent asked, looking up from his wrist watch.
"This place…it's amazing." She said.
Vincent looked around as though the thought had never crossed his mind before she mentioned it and nodded, "Yeah, I guess it is."
"You guess it is?" Claire said, fighting off the urge to roll her eyes, "How can you look around here and not have your breath just…taken away?"
"I guess I'm just not a sentimental type of guy." He said. But as he looked at her, the way her face was as she stared at the landscape around her, he felt a sort of awe. Not for Florianopolis, he'd been there a million times, he was used to it…but for how childlike she seemed at that moment. She was by no means innocent or pure or even naïve. Quite the contrary, she was cynical and jaded and had seen more than a woman her age should…but at that moment, in the middle of that beautiful city, none of it mattered. She had regressed back to childhood to a time when she could find the brilliance in anything. He liked the way she looked when all of her problems disappeared. He found himself just staring at her…and smiling. He snapped himself out of it and grabbed her hand. "Time to go." He said, leading her to the nearby garage.
"You just don't appreciate the finer things in life." Claire said her voice light and airy. Something about this place had put her in a better mood than she had been in for a long, long time. She actually felt like skipping…and she didn't skip…even when she was a kid, she didn't skip.
"Not true." Vincent said, pulling a set of keys from his pants pocket, "Nothin' better than a glass of scotch and some jazz playing in the background. You can't beat that."
"Oh. And what's so great about jazz?" Claire asked.
Vincent drew to a halt and looked at her. His mouth angled up at one corner and a look of deep reverence floated across his handsome face. "The fact that it's spontaneous. Unplanned. Improvised."
Claire couldn't keep herself from smiling. Why was it that jazz fans always seemed so fanatical about their music? She couldn't think of ever having met one that wasn't. It was funny. In that moment when he was talking about jazz, he almost seemed…normal.
He shook himself out of his little self-induced trance and pushed the unlock button on his key ring. Claire's eyes widened when she saw that it was a silver Mercedes SUV that chirped at them in response to the button. She looked back at Vincent, who was now fully grinning at her. "Do Mercedes count as a finer thing of life…because I do admit to a weakness for them."
"Really? I saw you as more of a Jaguar type." Claire quipped as she hopped up into the passenger seat.
"Nobody needs that kind of speed unless they're in Germany."
"So, let me get this straight…you live here?" Claire asked.
"Well," Vincent paused, "I have a house here. I also have houses in three other countries and I try not to stay at any one of them for too long."
Claire felt a knot of disgust churn in her stomach. "Is business that good?"
Vincent gave a short laugh as he maneuvered the SUV out onto the highway. "How would you like me to answer that?"
"Don't." Claire said simply.
They drove for a while in silence, except for the Chet Baker CD that Vincent was playing. Claire was just staring out the open window, admiring the vast array of greenery along the side of the road. Florianopolis was the best of both worlds. There was a white sandy beach on the one side and what could easily be mistaken for a jungle on the other. In her wildest dreams, Claire could never have imagined such a place…and Vincent lived here on a regular basis. Then, the Mercedes turned onto a narrow road that was surrounded by tropical trees and plants that raised so high, you couldn't see the moon. The paved road soon evolved into nothing more than a winding gravel path with so many bumps that the CD skipped. The thought occurred to her that she was now on her way to a secluded area of a foreign country with a man she new to be a contract killer. Everything in her head the was logical told her that this was a bad idea, but why would he go through the trouble of dragging her out of the country just to kill her. She had watched him, if he had wanted her dead she would have already been dead and probably lying undiscovered under Clay's fire escape. She cast a glance at Vincent. His face was serious as he focused on the road in front of him, making Claire smile. But it was a sad smile that didn't reach her eyes. So much had happened to her in her life. So many things had gone so terribly wrong, so why should this be any different. Thing was, it felt different. It felt right. She realized that she was smiling because being with Vincent right then at that moment…felt safe.
The top line of the trees opened up and Claire found that the sky was so clear, she could see every star in the heavens. When she brought her gaze back down, she saw the small but elegant little house. It had white paneling, a brown roof, and a white railed porch that wrapped all the way around it. It had at least a dozen windows, which was a lot considering the size of the house. Vincent parked in front of the house and Claire had the door open and was stepping out before he had shut off the ignition. She wanted a better look at this place. As she walked toward the house itself, she found that it was hidden by the trees on three sides and the back yard was the beach.
Gotta give the man credit, she thought, he sure knows how to pick his real estate. She rubbed her hand over the back of her neck to wipe away the sweat that had collected there. She had shed her coat at the airport, but she was still dressed for New York winter and had not been expecting to be dragged so close to the equator. She had started to wander around the house to the beach. She wanted to see the clear blue water, but was stopped by Vincent's voice.
"Claire." He called, "Let's go inside."
Claire looked back at him for a long moment. The idea of running to the beach crossed through her mind. Instead, she nodded and joined Vincent on the porch.
Vincent opened the door and let Claire walk in ahead of him. He had never had anyone over to his home before…any of them…it was a strange feeling. He wouldn't have expected it to affect him so much, but seeing her walking over the hardwood floors, into the living room, her fingers brushing over the cushions of his sofa, did something to him. He had never been a man of many material wants, so his place was fairly simple. He had a comfortable living room with an amazing stereo system. He wasn't one for TV so he didn't own one. Claire turned and looked at him and her pretty eyes seemed to sparkle. She seemed so out of place in his home, though he figured anyone would have seemed out of place in his home other than himself.
"Um," he began, "I'll take you in the morning to get some clothes."
"Yes," Claire said, "preferably warm weather clothes. Is it always this hot here?"
"You think this is hot? No, Claire. This is the cool weather."
"Not at all."
"So," Claire started, feeling that they had avoided the subject for long enough, "what's gonna happen to me?"
Vincent crossed his arms and looked down at his feet. What am I going to do with her? He thought, Can't I just keep her here? He looked back up at her and felt himself smile. She was just standing there, staring at him and…as out of place as she seemed, she still somehow just…fit.
Author's Note: I know that it has been an extremely long time since I updated this story, but I mean what I say when I say that I will finish every story that I start. Let me know what you think...