By ten minutes after seven, only the guests of honor were still missing. When the next knock came, Lily went to open the door herself. Rose’s flight instinct slammed back into her, but before she could act on it her mother and the two emissaries entered the sitting room, with Fleur apologizing for their lateness.
“I’m afraid my colleague insisted on finding a florist before we could come,” she was explaining. “Young men. You know how they are.”
And indeed, behind her, Pierre’s upper body was almost entirely hidden behind a ridiculously large bouquet of pink roses. He shifted the roses in his arms to be able to see better. His face lit up when his gaze found Rose, and he crossed the room to come to her, ignoring the rest of the guests.
“Miss Rose,” he said very formally, “it is a pleasure to see you again. You look lovely tonight, if I may say so.”
Feeling suddenly on the spot, Rose managed to mumble something that might have been a passable thank you.
“These are for you,” he added, holding out the bouquet toward her, “if you would please accept them.”
Under the collective attention of almost a dozen people, it would have been more than awkward for Rose to refuse. This time, she offered a more proper thank you, but as soon as she’d taken the flowers from him she excused herself to go find a vase for them.
Sanctuary didn’t have a florist per se, but one of the nearby farms had a sumptuous garden, whose owner was all too happy to share her flowers with anyone who asked. Was this where he’d found these? What had he told the twins to explain why he wanted to bring such a bouquet to the dinner party? What had he told the farmer, for that matter, when asking for what looked like over fifty roses?
Alone in a small salon off the dining room, Rose found herself having to divide the bouquet in two so that the flowers would fit in the vases she had on hand. Her heart was beating fast yet again; too fast. Fear was seizing her once more, and the temptation not to return to the dinner increased with each passing moment.
When she heard steps behind her, she knew, without having to look back, who would be there, and she did her best to steel herself before turning to Pierre.
“Thank you again,” she said, “they are…”
She lost her words when she realized he had removed his jacket, leaving him in a perfectly tailored white shirt, deep maroon silk vest and matching tie. He was unbuttoning his cuff—his right cuff—and she knew at once why he was doing so. Her own right wrist itched, covered by her sleeve.
“I apologize,” he said when he caught sight of her shocked expression. “I’m not sure how things are done here about mate tattoos, but in France when you meet someone who wears the name that’s tattooed on your skin, it’s traditional to just show them the tattoo and wait for them to do the same. Just to know if they’re a set.”
And sure enough, as he drew up his sleeve, she could see her name spelled out in block letters on the delicate skin at the inside of his wrist.
Her stomach lurched, and she had to lean back against the cabinet behind her. She’d known for a very long time that someone out there had her name on their skin, but it had never seemed as real as it did now that she could see it with her own eyes.
Never as scary, too.
His excited, expectant look slowly turned disappointed when Rose didn’t react. From disappointed, he soon appeared mortified, and stammered another apology as he covered his wrist once more.
It would have been easy to simply pretend her tattoo didn’t match his name, as her behavior clearly caused him to believe. He’d go on to be embarrassed for a couple more hours, but in a few days he’d leave Sanctuary again and that would be the end of it. It’d be exactly as Rose had always hoped: her mate would be out of her life for good before really entering it.
So why, then, why did she slowly tug her sleeve upward, exposing her wrist—and his name? Why was she bringing that excited, delighted look back in his eyes and smile when she didn’t want to have anything to do with him beyond this dinner?