Dropping Dru’s arm, Vanya crossed the flagstone steps and approached the longtime client with a genuine smile. “Samuel.” Taking his hands in hers she turned his palms to the sky and placed a gentle kiss on each, greeting him with an affection that went beyond training. “It’s an honor to see you again.”
“Not as much as it is an honor to have your beauty grace my home,” His eyes wandered behind her for a moment, “and who might this strapping young man be?”
Dru paused a moment before responding. He took a step back but gave Mr. Asher a reserved smile,”Just the lady’s escort, Making sure she got to her destination on time.”
“Well then any friend of our beautiful lady,” he smiled at Alice’s Co-Captain, “is a friend of mine.”
With a gentle smile, Vanya turned back to her brother. “Fang xin, Dru.” Her tone was as gentle as a caress. “Thank you for escorting me. I’ll send word when I’m ready to return to the ship.”
Dru bowed his head to the red headed companion, “Duhn ruhn.” Standing, he gave the companion’s client one more look then retreated from the room.
Since it would be highly discourteous to watch him leave, Vanya linked her arm through Samuel’s and turned her violet eyes on him. “Did I make it in time to see the garden in bloom?”
“Indeed you did, my dear. The weeping cherries are so ripe with blossoms that branches nearly dip into the fountain. One breath of the scent is sure to leave you hopelessly addicted,” he answered, a sly twinkle in his steel-gray eyes.
“Then I’m afraid I’ll have to take a bouquet with me. You know I won’t stay.” It was a comfortable game between them and the companion doubted very much that the offer to remain on Cherti was anything more than habit at this point.
“You wound me, Vanya,” a smile rose underneath the salt and pepper mustache, “to turn me down before I can even ask. If I didn’t know any better, I would think there was another man.”
“A woman, actually.” An arch smile graced those perfect lips. “She’s beautiful and strong. And she takes me to the sky… and beyond.” Her violet eyes moved past his to the gray sky that hung overhead as if she could see through the clouds and back out into the black.
“She sounds like quite a lady,” The gentlemen nodded, “she would have to be to keep you from staying with me forever.”
“She would indeed.” Her head leaned against his shoulder as they walked through the arched gate that marked the entrance to his property. “After all, you’re nearly as addictive as your garden.”
“It’s the Eucalyptus.”
A low chuckle escaped her lips as took a deep breath. “It is nice.” Without missing a step, she placed a kiss on his cheek. “But you’re still the most addictive thing on this planet.”
A soft breeze crested the high wall that surrounded Samuel Asher’s property, blowing errant blossoms into the air and tousling Vanya’s long hair. The burgundy tresses curled around her bare arms as she leaned in, applying more pressure to her client’s shoulders. “You’re too tense,” she scolded gently.
“Perhaps if you entertained my offer you could keep an eye on me.” With opening eyes, Asher turned his head on the pillow. He stole a glance up at the woman who straddled his spine. That smile of his settled into the creases of his face.
“Work,” he continued, not giving her a chance to fire back. The word sighed from his lips as that lid settled back over its steel iris. “Lately I fear that alluring oasis that you truly came to visit is the only thing I can cultivate in any way.” She could feel those already tight cords in his back tighten. The man groaned softly as her thumbs pressed into the fragrant oils on his skin. “And it’s becoming the last bastion of life and color on a land that’s only known for its graveyard.”
She leaned down lower, silken hair dancing lightly across his skin, paving the path for her fingers to continue their torture. “You are the oasis here,” she reminded him gently, frowning as she found more pockets of tension. “However, I do believe I’ve suggested you move on from here more than once. Cherti can rise into civilization or fall into further chaos without you here.”
His brow knit together. “Cherti does not deserve to fall into chaos…” The elder gentleman shifted, propping himself up on his elbow and twisting to look at her. “It is my home, little butterfly.” In that moment she could see how those wrinkles in his brow had settled into greater permanence. “If I do nothing, then I’m as culpable as the worst criminal.”
Her fingertips brushed across that lined brow. It distressed her to see his age weighing so heavily on him. For the many years he’d been a client, Samuel had always seemed eternal, untouched by time or the conflict around him. Now, it seemed, he wore the effects of both. “But you’re not doing nothing.”
“No,” he closed his eyes at that feathered touch, “not any longer.”
With his eyes closed, Vanya didn’t have to hide her frown. Switching her attentions, she smoothed her thumbs over his browline, applying gentle pressure to his temples. “It shows.” Her tone echoed her touch, gentle yet probing. “Samuel,” she touched along his cheekbones then let her fingers rest on his lips, “what have you been doing?”
“Trying to keep the bloodshed to a minimum.” His eyes opened and he slid back. She settled over his lap, her thighs hugging his hips. He leaned against the headboard. “I’ve taken employ with the Nemero Company as a mediator to the community.” His sigh was felt more than it was heard. “I’m their salesman…”
“You chose a side?” For a fleeting second her body tensed on his, but she forced it away. “Were things so bleak?”
“Had to.” He nodded. “Lesser of two evils for the greater good.” He lay his hands on bare knees. They felt harder, rougher than she remembered. “At least this way I can try and help make them better.”
Her hands came to rest on his, not guiding but content, for now, to follow whatever path they chose.”If you think that taking Nemero’s side will make things better then I believe in you.” His hands showed his age, like the rest of his body, but there was still considerable strength there. “I flit through,” she smiled, acknowledging his favorite nickname for her, “visiting then moving on. You’ve rooted yourself here. I just hope Cherti knows what a gem she has in this little garden.”