Chapter Five

"Care for a drink, Mr. Makani?"

I blinked twice before realizing that one of the man's personal staff was at my side. Although I was genuinely surprised to see that the person serving us was a woman, my interest was short lived. Even after having spent only one day on the ship, I'd grown accustomed to seeing the other employees walk about in their impressive white suits and orange ties. She, of course, had been no exception to the rule which made her easy to ignore.

Then again, it also made me think of Claire Blanc.

"You are distracted again, I see," William noted with his usual smile. I'd come to understand he preferred being called by his first name when not acting as our employer, but it still felt strange since he didn't seem to like referring to me in the same way. "I really do wish you would take my offer of using Dr. Jin's services," he continued. "After all, it seems to me you favor less synthetic methods much like myself, and I assure you his means are reliable- if not superior- to any other."

"Again, I'll thank you for the offer, but I must refuse for now." The latter part of the statement appeared to satisfy him, and he let the issue end there. All while wearing the exact same, unnerving smile. "I would appreciate a drink, though."

The woman bowed, offering a small selection from a silver tray. I didn't bother to really look to see what I reached for, but I was grateful to have picked something light. After all, I'd hate to be too far gone to cook which also happened to remind me of why I was sitting there with him in the first place.

"You wanted to talk to me about last night's dinner?" I asked, taking a sip from my drink. I almost laughed when I realized it was white wine, but I only cracked a wry smile. "I hope we weren't a disappointment for you."

"Not at all, Mr. Makani," William assured me. "I feel you and your staff did spectacularly well given the work that had to be done. However, I did receive one complaint... but I am sure it was only meant to be directed at me." His smile grew. "It would seem this particular guest feels I did not hire enough help for you."

"There is no need for-"

"I do not approve of cutting corners for the sake of convenience, Mr. Makani," my employer explained. "I hired you because I found your service at my cousin's gallery opening to be excellent, and while I admire your ability to keep to an agreed budget, this is a very different matter. To not use all the resources you have available just to be sure everyone is fed precisely at six is both wasteful and tasteless."

"You certainly have a way with words," I mused. "Who would you have in mind to help us then? I would rather not have him join us without at least knowing their name."

"His name is Carl Wilkins," the man explained. "He happens to be my own personal chef, but I will be more than happy to lend his survives over to you for my guests' comfort. After all, it would appear that the only problem you encountered was dinner... which I can understand given how much more there is to be done at that time."

"Thank you." There was a moment of silence, and taking it to be a dismissal, I decided that I'd most likely overstayed my welcome. Of course, William was too much of a gentleman to ask me to leave. "I'm sorry, but I was hoping to rest a bit before lunch. I'm sorry if I'm being rude..."

"Not at all," he assured me. "I'll have your room prepared for you before you arrive."

Although I wondered just what he intended to have done, I only thanked him before taking my leave. He seemed content with this, and not another word was said as I went. However, after seeing who was coming in, I almost wanted to go back.

"Mr. Makani, perché non mi stupisce?" Claire asked, staring down her nose at me as always. Despite my noting her love for Jovani's gowns- or perhaps even because of it- she had decided to chose a different designer instead, but I was amused to see she was still in white. As I had come to expect from her, though, its clean Grecian lines and asymmetrical sleeves were a perfect compliment for her own luxurious shape. "Non è il luogo per un cusso la cucina?"

She was also just as rude.

"Is not the place for a beautiful face a lady?" I countered. I grinned to see her blush with frustration. As soon as she realized that her haughty expression had changed so drastically, though, she resumed her air of indifference. "If you want to insult me, I think its only fair I do the same to you. Nothing too personal, of course."

"Despite your lack of charm, I must admit I find myself becoming caught between despising and admiring you, Mr. Makani."

"Is that right?" I asked, raising a brow. "Perhaps you feel like telling me what made you change your mind so sudden?" After all, I had a hard time believing she was really saying it out of the goodness of her heart. "If we're being honest, my opinion about you has yet to change."

"Maybe another time," Claire sighed, looking to the door. "I have a prior engagement I must attend to. I'm sure you understand."

Like a true gentleman, I smiled as I bowed and opened door, but the woman didn't even bat an eye. No doubt she thought she was entitled to the treatment. She turned on a gold heel, her dress gracing her slender ankles, and left me standing alone in the hallway. I watched her go as the door swung close, but what stayed with me was the way her hips swayed right up until she disappeared from sight.

If what I was saw I was left wondering where I'd really ended up. If nothing else, it wasn't the same place that I'd left an hour ago. I knew William worked fast, but it was unbelievable when it had only taken me twenty minutes to get there. For a second time that day, I was at a loss for words.

Gone were the pure white linens, and in their place, there were soft blues and delicate purples. A small fountain tricked on the vanity where it was surrounded by white tea lights. The flames flickered and danced, both by themselves and itself was simple enough with only two tiers and three smooth stones placed seemingly at random.

When I settled on the bed, I realized that even the mattress had been changed. The first had been soft enough, but this was like sitting on a cloud. I almost felt uncomfortable trying to lie down. After all, it was so unlike anything else I had ever experienced. Even the wooden bowls that were filled with lavender oil and resting on the end tables made me think that I was lost in a surreal dream of some kind.

"I don't see how any of this is going to work, though," I sighed, closing my eyes. "All that fountain is going to do is keep me up anyway..."

-/-

Author's Note: Not much of a surprise following that little cliff-hanger, I think, but I didn't want to use a page break and move into the next plot point. I honestly think that's one of my biggest challenges as a writer, so I keep trying to figure out just how to do it the way that transitions best.

If anyone is curious about the design Claire's wearing, it's a Badgley Mischka dress from their 2011 Cruise Line. You can find it on their website, and its the very last in the line.