A/N: This was a looooong time coming, but it is quite lengthy and detailed. I hope you all enjoy it. Let me know if anyone is still out there, because I have been horribly neglectful...all my fault. I have no divine excuses, but I do apologise-profusely.
Thank You Thomas Jefferson...
"So," Mokuba smiled as he leaned closer to Elizabeth, "tell me—do you know anything about wine? Heck, do you even like it?" He asked as he swirled the deep burgundy liquid around in the deep, glass goblet.
Seto tilted his head slightly as he watched the girl's expression change from a smile to a blank look of boredom. It didn't seem as if wine was anything she was entertained with, had she even taken a sip? He looked to the empty, still unturned glasses before her and realized she hadn't tried a drop. He almost laughed at the thought of her being sober and having to put up with Mokuba. Mokuba was always easier to handle with a few sips of anything to calm the nerves—his own anyway.
The blonde sighed softly and took the glass from Mokuba's fingertips and she swirled the glass, as if trying to decipher exactly what the fascination was. Looking at the liquid she shook her head. "I've never much enjoyed the idea of wine. I think it's an outlet for people to be pompous. I mean, honestly, wine is grape juice isn't it? And fermented? A deliciously fancy word for rotted—?"
Seto actually smirked at her observations. He was thankful Ashlyng wasn't at the table to argue with the pure and simple logic. He also liked the way Mokuba was looking at her in utter confusion.
"So, no wine for you, not even champagne?" Mokuba asked.
"Fancy bubbles in fermented grape juice is still…" she let her words linger. Suddenly she seemed to consider something, some deep thought, something that seemed to be bothering her.
Both Kaiba brothers allowed their attention to be focused on the girl, almost completely. Neither sure of what she would have to say, but both apparently in need of hearing whatever it was. Amusingly enough, she had no idea how she held their interest. Lifting one of the empty wine glasses, she held it up to the light and smiled—a simple thing, which caused both men to quirk an eyebrow. Was she seeing something they didn't?
"When Miss. Maz—," she paused, her eyes momentarily settling on Seto, "when Anzu and I were discussing the plans for this awards party, the chef told me a very interesting story, and it made me realize how wine is…" She shrugged and placed the glass back down on the table. "It seems a very silly hobby to me, personally. I mean, I understand how some could enjoy it and love it—but it just seems so wasteful."
Seto leaned a bit closed and repeated her last word, "wasteful?"
Looking to him, she allowed her eyes to skim over his face, which seemed a lot softer, more relaxed, ever since Ashlyng had wandered away. She nodded, "yes, wasteful."
"How so?" He asked, now wishing to hear her logic, even if she had agreed to be Mokuba's date—possibly there was some intelligence floating around in her mind. Why did it matter? He had no idea, perhaps because she had tossed in Anzu's name…
She shrugged, gave Seto half a smile and then turned to Mokuba, "I'm sure you know of Malcolm Forbes?" She then turned to Seto and watched as he gave a slight nod, if only to indicate he was listening. "Well, Malcolm Forbes once bought a bottle of wine at auction for over $150,000. It was supposedly from the vineyards of Thomas Jefferson and reportedly bottled in 1787," she explained.
Mokuba chuckled, "The chef gave you a history lesson on wine because he knew you didn't appreciate rotten grape juice?"
Elizabeth ignored the quip and turned her attention back to Seto. "He took this prized bottle and put it on display. Needless to say, from working at this resort, I know wine is stored in the dark cellars, on its side and kept cool for a reason. Unfortunately, strong lights and the wrong display angle made the cork dry out and fall into the bottle. It was thrown away, discarded because of poor judgement. No one was able to enjoy it, all of that history and potential was wasted." She paused, letting the silence slip around the three of them, despite the light music in the background. "I've been trying to figure out why it was displayed like that. Maybe for bragging rights, possibly it was to impress someone? In the end it made no difference, it was poured away like spoiled milk."
"I don't understand," Mokuba looked at her in complete confusion, was there a moral he was missing in this story? "You don't like wine because it's moldy fruit and yet you seem sad at the loss of this particular bottle—you're an enigma Elizabeth."
Her eyes finally left Seto's face at Mokuba's words. With a simple shrug she let out a girlish giggle, "if I were an enigma—wouldn't you be dancing with me instead of talking about nonsense?"
Taking her in his arms never sounded like a better idea. Standing, he held his hand down to her and she slipped her own into it—loving how the warmth of his fingers felt like a cozy glove in the middle of winter. Looking back at Seto, she gave him a weak smile, "If you'll excuse us?" He nodded and sat back, his eyes returning to the wineglass that started the discussion.
Anzu let the doors shut behind her, closing out the peaceful night and stars in the heavens. It was time to return to the party. The music had died, now only a soft undercurrent of classical music could be faintly detected. Dinner was being served. She couldn't help but roll her eyes and sigh. Why had she agreed? Returning to Otogi just sounded like a bad idea—a horrible idea.
"Miss. Mazaki," one of the headwaiters called out to Anzu, stopping her in her tracks.
Turning to look at him, she quirked an eyebrow in surprise. "Is something wrong?"
The look of frustration on his face spoke volumes. "The staff has been looking for you. We checked your table, but you weren't there." He looked behind her to the doors leading to the outside, no one had checked by the pools. "Francois is throwing a fit in the kitchen. I hate to bother you, I mean, I know you're on a date and all but the staff also knows how you wanted tonight to run flawlessly."
Shaking her head in disdain, she shrugged in hopelessness. If this party came off with a hitch she would have trouble booking big corporate events in the future. It wouldn't be good for business; it wouldn't be good for her reputation. Closing her eyes tightly, she let out a held breath and nodded, "very well, I'll go to the kitchen and try to calm Francois down—could you please go and tell my…" she paused. Calling Otogi her date sounded more than wrong, it sounded downright ludicrous. That ship had sailed and she never wanted to be on deck again. "Could you please tell, Ryuji Otogi, the man I accompanied that I'm not sure how long I'll be detained?" She asked, trying to sound as disinterested as possible. This could actually be the best of all worlds, a ticket to freedom from a man she didn't want to be with.
The man nodded, as he headed towards the reception.
"Oh wait!" Anzu called out, halting the waiter in his steps. He turned around to look at her, even as she worried her lower lip with her teeth, a slight tilt to his head. "Don't tell him where I am—please. All I need is him coming after me. Francois doesn't sound pleased, and a stranger in his kitchen would do nothing to help me deal with the man." The waiter nodded and then pushed open the doors to the room, allowing the music to swell slightly for Anzu, before it was muted when the doors closed.
Time to go into the kitchens and see what the drama was.
She walked down the hall to her left, and then through a door marked only for employees. Entering the vast kitchens, she shook her head and asked for strength and patience. Francois was so fickle and such, but the man was pure genius with the culinary arts. He had a right to be cantankerous, rude even, however, she wished that he hadn't chosen tonight to throw a fit. Too much was riding on this, too many conglomerates and companies would look at this engagement to decide if they wished to hold a function here. If the head chef decided not to serve—it would prove incompetence on a large-scale basis. Fingers would point to hotel management, and she was hotel management. Her eyes rolled. Clearing her throat, she walked into the prep area and looked for the man she needed to see most.
Francois was holding a clipboard, his eyes intent as a hawk's. There seemed to be no link from him to the active scene. Anzu's eyes glanced around and noted the bustle and hurry of every employee. Nothing seemed to be amiss, and dinner was being served—where was the issue that threatened to bring things to a screeching halt?
"Francois?" Anzu asked in a voice that sounded pathetically timid. What was wrong with her tonight?
Her first attempt was ignored, so she took a few steps closer and cleared her throat. "Francois?" She tried again, in a stronger timbre and was rewarded with a slight amount of his attention.
"Ma chère amie," he said in almost a half interested voice, "Now is not the time for you to be in here. I am desperately trying to get my incompetent staff to prepare for the dessert portion of the meal. However, with their lack of heart and intelligence—I fear most of the work will fall on my shoulders." He paused for a moment, looking up at her with a half smile, "you do know my shoulders are not broad enough to carry these worthless, inadequate imbeciles…"
Placing her fingertips to her lips, Anzu giggled at his clipped French and scathing, but in-control tirade. Where was the issue here?
"What masterpiece have you come up with for dessert?" Anzu asked as she closed her eyes and sniffed delicately at the confection filled air of the kitchen.
Francois chuckled and placed the clipboard down, "you are a little beggar aren't you?"
Shrugging and looking like an innocent cherub, Anzu pouted, "I thought you liked the fact that I was your biggest fan?"
He shook his head and sighed deeply, "you use me for my cooking abilities."
"No, I use you to hear your French accent—it is quite appealing. Your food is," she held up her hand in a flat manner and wiggled it back and forth, "only so-so."
"Mon Dieu!" Francois exclaimed, as his eyes widened.
She giggled again and pushed past him. The pastry chefs were working on the delicate tarts, cakes and petit fours. Rows of fresh fruit, melted chocolate, blown sugar, and meringues were a feast for the eyes.
One of the staff leaned into her and whispered, "he was a bear just a few moments ago—it seems someone ruined his champagne sorbet. However, when the waiting staff said they were going to fetch you—he calmed almost instantly."
Anzu couldn't help but giggle when she thought of being a calming influence on the moody chef. With ease, she walked around the preparation tables and looked over the shoulders of the sous-chef and his legion of pastry chefs. It was amazing how intricately they worked. Oh how she wanted to take a piece of pastry and devour it. Her tummy rumbled and she realized she was hungry. Missing dinner had its advantage—no more drama at the table, however, it also left her famished.
Walking meekly back to Francois, her cheeks tinged in pink, she cleared her throat. "I haven't had dinner yet," she whispered without him even acknowledging her presence. "I was so interested in helping out, that I forgot dinner was being served."
Frowning deeply, Francois looked down on her slightly bowed head. "You know I would not act badly around you—and that is why you came into the kitchens? No?" He asked, feeling a bit like a child being reprimanded by his mother.
Shaking her head, Anzu smiled up at him. "You're more than fully capable of handling everything in here. It was simply brought to my understanding that several of my guests were quite demanding and wearing on your nerves. I wanted to let you know that I have faith in you, as a chef, but more importantly as my friend."
He nodded, "Oui, I am your friend and as such, mon ami, I will make sure you are very well taken care of."
Within moments Anzu was sitting at Francois's desk, eating a dinner fit for a queen. Yes, she had missed out on socializing with the people at her table. They had probably continued to bicker even after she left. This was so much better. Sitting back in the chair, she sighed and took a sip of wine from her glass. The kitchen staff was no longer being harassed, Francois was almost chipper, and everything was sailing along on a surface that was as smooth as glass.
Seto longed to sneer at Otogi and deliver a very curt, "I told you so," but he didn't have the chance. After the waiter had come to the table to explain that his date had no intention of coming back, the sniveling excuse of a man, slunk away into the hotel. Well, he didn't exactly slink, more like storm, but the slink adjective was more suited to Otogi in Kaiba's mind.
Glancing around the ballroom he noticed his own wayward date. He rolled his eyes as he thought about how much time the girl spent grooming herself. How long had it been since she had excused herself from the table and disappeared to, 'fix herself'? Yes, she had used the excuse of wanting to look her best for his sake, but he knew she merely wished to be perfection for herself. He had begun to wonder if the girl hadn't skipped off, like Anzu.
He flipped his wrist over and looked to his watch, noting that she had been gone for quite a bit. To top it off, on a second inspection of the room, he spotted that she was now standing and talking to several men. Kaiba noticed the way she flipped her hair, held her body and blatantly flirted—without even meaning to, or was it deliberate? It was all so very obvious, but to the untrained eye—she was simply being friendly. Had he ever fallen for her charms? He seriously began to have doubts about anything he felt for her. When was the last time they had engaged in actual deep conversation? Something relating to life, or politics, not the latest gossip or her fashion sense. Shaking his head, he rolled his eyes, when had he initiated conversation? His eyes wandered to her again and yes, he had to admit she was beautiful—but beauty was fleeting, as was success if it wasn't nurtured.
Mokuba and Elizabeth returned to the table in a breathless manner. An eyebrow was raised in their direction as Mokuba burst out laughing at his brother's surprise.
Pulling out Elizabeth's chair, the girl practically threw herself into it, gasping and giggling. Mokuba quickly slipped into his seat beside her, his chair was noticeably closer to the girl's and his arm immediately slipped around the back of it. Tucking a stray lock of honey blonde hair behind her ear, Mokuba leaned in and kissed her cheek. Blushing, she bit her lower lip and looked up at him through lowered lashes.
Oh, how badly Kaiba wished to offer the couple a room, but he held his tongue and made a distasteful face at the two.
"Oh Seto," Mokuba snapped, "lighten up. If you had a girl who could dance as well as Elizabeth, and looked as beautiful—you'd be kissing her cheek and cooing over her too."
Kaiba's eyes widened, "I don't coo." He said the words with pauses in between each, looking so horrified at the thought that Elizabeth started giggling all over again.
"Of course you don't big brother—because you're with the wrong woman." Mokuba looked over towards where Ashlyng had gathered a crowd of interested suitors, and shook his head. He used his chin to motion in the direction of his gaze. "Look at her, if she were anymore…flirtatious…she would be providing prices." His last word was ground out.
No, he didn't like Ashlyng for many reasons. It stemmed from the girl's obvious lack of self-esteem, which in and of itself would have been fine—normal almost—who liked someone with a huge ego, but Ashlyng wielded her need like a sword. There was always someone left crying as Ashlyng elevated herself and crushed her competition. She was cold, calculating, and manipulative and he hated it—he hated it for Seto. His brother, though seemingly full of pride and self-confidence, had issues. Mokuba knew it, had seen it, and he didn't like how Ashlyng preyed upon him.
Naturally, Seto believed it was a mutual thing. He used her for a business advantage, and she used him for the boost it gave to her public appearance. Mokuba was very skeptical, he could see there was a veil up around the girl and he was determined to yank it down. Seto was no ass she could dangle a carrot before. Silently he cursed the shrew.
"Hmmm," Mokuba rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "I wonder what Anzu is doing. I mean, I know she may have used business as an excuse to leave—but I wonder if Otogi didn't drive her away."
Elizabeth nodded, "she doesn't really like him does she? I noticed she jerked her hand from him, and when he did touch her—well, the look on her face was anything but appreciative." Shaking her head, Elizabeth sighed, "I know Anzu, she's usually so happy, tonight…"
Seto took a long swallow of the wine in his glass. Pushing his chair from the table, he rose, "if Ashlyng comes back, tell her," he paused for a moment.
Tell her he wished to find Anzu? Tell her he needed to find Anzu? Tell her he needed something only the girl, he had seemingly known forever, could give him?
"I'll tell her you were called away and that you'll get back to her tomorrow," Mokuba shrugged.
Blue eyes narrowed on him and grew cold for a moment. Mokuba recognized the very real threat. "Make sure you do," Kaiba growled deeply. Nodding, the violet eyed man felt like a boy at that precise moment, despite the woman on his arm, the knowledge in his mind—his older brother could certainly put fear into his heart when he deemed necessary.
"Are you planning to return to the awards ceremony?" Francois asked, in that wondrous clipped French of his. "I am sure your date is missing you and my staff is in no further need of your…how you say…babysitting abilities." His warm smile showed he was taking no offense.
She sighed softly, and then closed her eyes as she contemplated her situation. Did she want to further humiliate herself by sitting at a table next to a man she had no interest in? Worse even, she was being forced to watch the man she wanted with another woman. Yes, Mokuba and Elizabeth were wonderful company but that didn't seem to be enough to force her to be a masochist.
"If you wouldn't mind, I would rather be in here than out there."
Francois tilted his head and studied the charismatic girl behind his desk. Leaning against the doorframe he shook his head, "shame that you wish to waste all the effort that went into your gown and hair and…all of those champagne bubbles that will be wasted without your enjoyment. Naturally, you may hide in here—shirk your responsibilities—even though you let your staff get away with nothing. I will not force you, as a parent would, to return. But I must admit my, um, surprise?" He casually picked up a hand and pretended to study his nails, as if they were suddenly of great concern. His eyes lifted for a moment to see if she was taking his bait.
"What exactly are you insinuating?" Anzu asked in a hushed tone.
He quickly stood, adjusting his stance and shrugged, as if his mind were an empty page.
"I am 'insinuating' nothing." He shook his head and looked so very forlorn. "I am 'stating' that I thought you to have more of a backbone, more drive, more…nerve… than to hide in a kitchen from a man."
Anzu's mind raced for a moment or two as she thought over his words. Was she hiding? She was simply making sure the kitchen was being run correctly. How did he know? Even she had to laugh at that reasoning, honestly, she knew very little of kitchens—the most she could do was taste and keep the chef in a happy mood.
Her shoulders slumped as she realized that hiding was exactly what she was doing.
He walked over to her, placed his hands out, palms up. "Come ma belle, come and rejoin the festivities. It is far too lovely an evening for you to be caged up in here, remind me to talk to you later of how depressing and dank my office is…no?" He chuckled as he began tugging her toward the exit.
Her laugh was actually light and quite sweet. Francois smiled, "your charms are not going unnoticed I am quite sure, now…away with you." He opened the door and swept his arm out, "I shall expect, how you say, 'details' in the morning over crepes."
She stood on her toes and kissed his cheek, "thank you Francois, you're very dear."
He nodded, "now go…"
Slowly she made her way back towards the large doors that opened into the grand dining room. Taking a deep breath, she lingered in the hall, walking down the large display from the local vineyards. Each had come in and set up their finest offerings, displaying medal winning vintages along with inspiring short paragraphs, in frames, on how the wines could best be enjoyed.
She wasn't much of a connoisseur, nor did she pretend to be. The florist had arranged sunflowers, Gerber daisies, and a variety of colorful floral designs all along the table—in between the individual offerings. She smiled as she ran her fingers over several velvety petals. The bunches of frosted glass grapes, in various colors, were also quite fitting and very pretty. It was perfect and pretty and… And she was stalling.
Poking her head in, just slightly, she noticed that her table was short several people. Mokuba and Elizabeth were gone, were they dancing? Or had he taken the girl for a stroll under the stars? It didn't take Einstein to see the two had been cozy. Otogi was missing as well. This made her nervous. He was probably looking for her, concerned that she had disappeared and hadn't returned. She rolled her eyes. Seto and Ashlyng were gone as well. Involuntarily, her eyebrow quirked in wonder. Dancing? A terrible pit in her stomach swallowed that thought, as quickly as she tried to force her mind to accept it. What if they had gone back to his room? They were seeing one another, they were both adults and Ashlyng had hung on him all night.
It added up, all of the reasons why Seto and Ashlyng could be in his room, and yet, her hope was that they were wandering somewhere among the others in the vast room. She had no right to feel jealous, he had promised her nothing—less than nothing. He never told her he would leave the blonde for her, nor did he allow any false hopes.
"I'm delusional, I'm insane," she muttered under her breath, as her fingernails dug into her palms. "What am I thinking? What am I doing?" Shaking her head, she growled slightly, then casually glanced around to see if anyone could see her talking to herself. Fine thing that would be, the manager of the hotel—a complete lunatic.
A warm hand settling on her shoulder caused her to jump and spin around. She turned so quickly—she almost lost her footing. The warm hand became two, and they both helped settle her, steady her. She blinked, trying to clear the confusion from her own mind, and found herself gazing up into very blue eyes.
"Are you alright?" Seto asked her in a tone that was laced in concern. His eyes studied her features, "you left, and never returned. Now you're stalking the hall, and jumpy. Did your world-renowned chef spike the meal with caffeine?"
Lifting one of his hands, he traced his fingers down her cheek. A shiver slipped through her. His hand should be slapped away. She had to tell him to go to hell and yet…
"Now this is odd, Anzu not having a snippy retort or a quick come back? You're beginning to frighten me," he smirked then leaned close to her ear, his warm breath felt like a caress on her skin. "Are you trying to avoid your date?" He chuckled, "because he slipped out awhile ago."
Closing her eyes, she couldn't help but lean into him. His warmth, the scent of his cologne, his nearness, how could he simply command every one of her senses?
Pulling back, he tilted up her chin. "Are you that work obsessed? I mean, can't you simply have a night off?" That wonderful, cocky, annoying and yet sexy as hell grin slipped across his lips. "Shall I give you a speech about turning into a machine? Or should I remind you about how it feels to be alive and human and…"
Her eyebrows lifted in shock and immediately her eyes locked on his. "I accused you of… You actually listened to me all those years ago?"
He shrugged, "every once in awhile you made an iota of sense. Never often, and certainly nothing I could write about."
Shaking her head, she pursed her lips and frowned, "you are an…"
He quirked an eyebrow, "itch you can't scratch?"
"If that 'itch' was caused by poison ivy I would tend to agree. You know, in that painful, irritating, makes your life miserable sort of way…" she snapped and pushed his hands off her. Why had she let him touch her for so long anyway? "I could probably find many diseases to describe you, itching would be the gentlest symptom. Let's see," she tapped a finger to her lips and looked upwards, "Headache comes to mind, so does acid reflux…"
Seto stood up a bit taller and folded his arms across his chest. His expression—he looked puzzled and yet slightly amused. "Anything else? Or should we move…lower?"
"Idiot," she mumbled under her breath, then turned on her heel and began to walk away from him, letting out an audible growl. Without hesitation he began to follow her.
"Clever," he smirked as he matched her strides, not wishing to let her escape his company.
"Why don't you run off and spend some quality time with your girlfriend?" She asked, trying to seem aloof and bored.
"Ah," he said in a voice that sounded too jovial for her peace of mind, "yet another symptom, greenish tone to the skin, could it be?" He shook his head and looked away from her, "instead of acid reflux, could it be jealousy?"
"Nope," she responded and sighed heavily, "just self-diagnosing myself. I think I injured several brain cells when I thought of you before tonight. However, now I've discovered the cure and…" She paused and turned to him, "and now I'm done. You and Ashlyng belong together. You seem to bring out all the loathsome qualities in one another that I refuse to embrace. You're both arrogant and annoying, and as far as I'm concerned I'm better than both of you put together and I deserve more."
He nodded, maintaining eye contact, "you do."
"Damn right I do," she snapped, and then began to walk again. Where she was heading, even she had no idea. The front doors of the lobby slid open with a mechanical hiss and the warm night air slipped through her hair. Looking around she noticed several limousines and a few meandering drivers leaning against them, talking quietly. None turned—no one noticed her exit. Biting her lower lip, she moved along the covered walkway and turned right onto one of coble-stone garden paths. She hadn't looked back to see him following, she simply knew he was, the sound of his footsteps were unmistakable.
"Why?" She suddenly asked as she twirled to face him. "Why are you following me? Honestly Seto Kaiba, for someone who in all appearances comes off as slightly intelligent you're being down right stupid."
His eyebrow quirked in indignation, "stupid? I'm not being anything of the sort. You're being stubborn, I'm doing what we both want."
"How would you know anything about my wants?" She snapped, placing her hands on her hips and glaring at him with an intensity that charmed him. "This has been all about your wants. You want Ashlyng for appearances—you have her. You want me… what? To prove you can? Well Kaiba, you can't. I won't allow it. I'm better than that. I'm worth far more than this. If you wish for her and someone on the side, then I suggest you look elsewhere." Her voice had raised and the words rushed out between lips that were tight. Her teeth clenched, she waited to see him turn and leave.
Instead, he let out a breath and turned to look towards the entrance of the resort. Suddenly, his eyes were back on her, as was his complete attention.
The intensity of his gaze caught her by surprise, and she was shocked to hear the gasp from her own lips.
"I'm here," the words were short and complete.
Anzu blinked several times, trying to take this new information in. He was here, yes, but what exactly did that mean? Taking a step back, she shook her head.
"For now you are, but you'll have to go back to her," Anzu's voice ended in a whisper.
Seto's eyes left her for a moment and he looked back towards the entrance again. Was he looking to see if Ashlyng would follow him out? Was he anxious that someone would see them? Maybe connect the dots, draw a conclusion, and catch him in this game?
"I don't have to do anything," was his response to the night. He turned back to her and shook his head. "You were the last person on earth I ever expected to find here."
Defensively, Anzu folded her arms across her chest, "sorry I didn't fit in with your plans." She shrugged slightly and looked down the path—away from him.
"I'm not going back inside," his words were firm, "I'm done."
Her attention slowly turned from the rose brambles back to him.
"Done?" She asked, her voice low and unassuming.
"I don't repeat myself," his words were harsher than he had meant.
She nodded, but was still confused. She longed to ask if it was for now or for good. Was he done with Ashlyng or with this party?
His eyes snapped on hers, capturing them, she couldn't turn from him if she tried. She wanted to ask him to clarify himself, to explain the statement. The awkward silence seemed to stretch, started to consume the darkness—began to make them both shift, uncomfortably, on that cobble stone path she had tried to use for solace. So, now what?
Were they supposed to stand here, saying nothing?
Seto struggled for something, anything. He didn't believe in giving away his thoughts, and his feelings were his own. Where did that leave him? Where did it leave her? A small part of him wondered if Ashlyng had noticed his absence. The way she was off and flaunting—he doubted it. Did he even care? It took him an instant to discover he didn't.
"I was foolish," she whispered as she shook her head. "I should have never…" The words died on her lips. She should have never spoke to him? Walked with him? Reminisced? Who was she kidding—from the moment she laid eyes on him her heart had skipped beats.
"Never…?" he led, attempting to help her finish her statement.
"You have a girlfriend, and I would never intrude or attempt," for someone so eloquent with words, she cursed herself silently in her efforts to find definitions to help move this along.
"I was moving tactically. I have a contract on the table with a megalith. My interest in Ashlyng is what she can do for me as far as boosting my worth in the eyes of the CEO," he stated dryly.
Anzu tilted her head and searched his eyes, "and you sleep with her because—" this time she dragged the word in an attempt to lead him.
He smirked, and in that instant she wished to slap him.
"I don't typically discuss my sex life with someone who isn't part of it," he explained.
"If you're inferring I have to sleep with you in order to know, I have no interest," she snapped.
"I think you do," he quirked an eyebrow. "I've never been evasive—you know how I feel. Why not be honest with me? I'll openly admit, my mind stripped you of that halo you used to sport, what do you want from me Anzu?" He approached and was pleased to see her standing her ground.
"Your absence," she glared up at him.
"That isn't something I'm willing to concede," he shrugged.
"I'm not a game, not a pawn, not a toy you can use and then discard. If I gave you that impression it was my mistake," she explained as she tried to keep all emotion from her voice.
"I don't want to play with you," he stroked his fingers down her cheek, unable to keep himself from touching her any longer. Once again, he was satisfied when she didn't pull away. Leaning in close, he let his breath warm her ear.
Her eyes closed, as a shiver raced down her spine. Colors she couldn't even understand seemed to swirl around her. His scent, so intoxicating, the warmth he caused was inviting and now…
"I haven't done anything with anyone for quite a while," his nose brushed around the shell of her ear. "The closest I came was with you, I believe you can recall that night. I've never taken a colder shower." His lips brushed against the lobe of her ear.
How was she supposed to respond? Thoughts tripped over themselves as her mind wrapped loosely around his words.
"But you and Ashlyng, I don't understand…" She whispered weakly even as he guided her hands onto his shoulders.
"Damn you Anzu," he growled, "and my brother—the meddler that he is."
Her eyes snapped open and she pulled back, just far enough to be able to look into his eyes, which now smoldered with heat. "You aren't going back to her?"
He looked down at her, and her hands dropped to her sides. Grasping her hand, he led her up the path, past the roses and fountains, along the side of the resort to the edge of the dunes. The walk was silent, only the sounds of their footfalls and waves broke the quiet. The scent of jasmine swirled around her and she briefly wondered what he was up to, once again, she was following him blindly.
When their journey ended, she found herself at the railing that overlooked the beach. He released her hand and leaned forward, resting on his arms and watching the ocean lap the shore as wave after wave crashed before him. The sky looked black in the distant, but lighter around the garish lights of the hotel behind them.
"Do you know anything about wine?" He asked her casually.
She blinked, feeling more confused than ever. Walking closer, she leaned her hip against the rail, so she could keep her eyes on him. "I know I like sweet wine, but that's about all I really know."
He nodded, but didn't look at her. He was trying to unwrap the story that Elizabeth had told him. Slowly he stood and turned slightly so he was facing her, "do you know anything about how expensive wine can be?"
She shrugged, "I know what I've learned here and I know a bit about each of the vineyards on Long Island. France makes wine too, so does California—"
His eyes closed and he seemed to take a deep breath.
She tilted her head and waited, quietly.
"You don't know anything about Malcolm Forbes do you?" He asked.
She smirked, "he wasn't on the guest list tonight, but I do recognize the name. I'm sure you've been featured in his magazine at some point—doesn't he highlight the very rich?"
Seto nodded his head. The story Elizabeth had told him and Mokuba earlier wouldn't leave his mind.
"Did you know Thomas Jefferson had a vineyard?" Seto asked her, hoping maybe she would…
Anzu cracked a slight smile and shook her head slightly, "and I'm receiving a history lesson because I confessed that I don't know much about wine?"
He sighed and let his head hang for a moment before he continued. "No, I don't wish to teach you anything about wine."
"Why Seto? Why are we here? I mean, you've abandoned Ash—," she paused, "your date, and I abandoned my own—probably even before the night started."
The voice she used sounded so defeated. He didn't care for it at all—he didn't like her sounding anything but proud and defiant. The idea of telling her how he hated seeing her with Otogi crossed his mind, how she deserved more than that little leech.
The story flooded his mind again, "Forbes purchased a bottle of wine thought to have been from the vineyard of Thomas Jefferson. He paid an obscene amount of money for it—a foolish gesture for something so…" Shaking his head, he tried to pull it all together. There was such meaning and feeling, and he almost had it in his grasp. "Well, the fool displayed it incorrectly, something about the bright lights and storing it upright instead of on its side…"
He fell silent again, and Anzu couldn't help but try to find the meaning.
Without thought, she reached out and made contact. Her hand slipped through the silken strands of his hair, loving the way it felt so right, so perfect. "He had a treasure and because of some simple mistakes he destroyed it with his own hands." Her words slipped past her lips, as he turned his full attention to her.
"That's what you discovered in the story?" He asked, moving closer to her as he enjoyed her hand stroking him.
She nodded silently, "you have to protect something precious. It's one thing to display and show, and another to show such small regard for it that you place your ego above your cherished possession. Maybe it's because he had so much money—it was less precious to him because it was pocket change?"
Seto's eyes closed as he pressed his forehead to hers, moving his hands to her waist.
"Maybe he should have enjoyed his acquired wine, instead of displaying it. Perhaps because he thought it belonged in the spotlight, he wasted the opportunity to completely enjoy it. If something is placed on a shelf and never truly experienced…" He seemed to be sorting through this minor story.
Anzu's eyes snapped open. He wasn't analyzing the wine at all.