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On the way back to their hotel, Rocks walks with River and Sebastian is with Ava, bringing up the rear. It is done on purpose.
‘So, River how are you? It’s really good to meeting you in person having heard so much about you.’
‘Good things I hope?’ River knows what Ezme is up to, Ava is her cousin after all.
‘All good things. You’ve done really great things with Huxley. A few of my brands are on there and they’d be there even without my cousin being associated with it.’
‘Thank you.’ This is all just the tease to hook him in.
‘So?’ Rocks looks at him, ‘what’s up with you and my cousin?’
River laughs a little, at least she is not stringing him along too much. ‘I like her. I like her a lot. And tonight, I think I realised that I’m in love with her and have been for some time.’
Ezme looks at him, warmed by his admission. ‘And how does Oliver factor into your feelings?’
‘I adore him, he’s a wonderful boy.’
‘You’ve met him?’
‘Yes. He’s such a sweet kid.’
‘He means the world to Ava.’
‘As do my children, and I would never elect to come between a mother and her child, or his father to be honest.’
‘Have you met AJ?’
‘Not officially, though I think he suspects I have feelings for his ex-wife.’ River recalls the look on AJ gave him the last time he was in Ava’s office; he wants to start something, but River wouldn’t give him the time of day. He will not come between him and his ex-wife, but he has feelings for Ava and AJ will just need to get on board with that.
‘Of course he knows.’ Ezme’s tone is dismissive, she has no time for AJ.
‘What do you think they are talking about?’ Ava asks Sebastian.
‘Your cousin is probably selling you down the river.’ Bash laughs, ‘you look well though. It’s really good to see you.’
‘Thanks. You too. How is retirement?’
‘Hit me up in a year.’ Sebastian says.
‘How are you guys doing?’
Sebastian pauses, ‘we’re a bit iffy. Its why we are here, straight off the tournament, no children, no distractions just the two of us. It’s the first time we have been together in three months except the last few races when she came out but then had to leave so soon again. If it’s not fashion week, its businesses or children or family… it’s always one thing after another and we let it all get in the way of us. The season didn’t help.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that. Are you guys going to be okay?’
‘We will be. I intend to make sure of that. If you’d like to come, I’m planning a New Year’s Eve bash for her, with all the family around, you’re invited with Oliver of course. And, your boy there, because I know this will be a thing if you let it. Rocks doesn’t know so keep it on the low. The holidays are her favourite time so I’m hoping with everyone around we can pick up the mood.’
‘Thanks Bash. And don’t worry, if there is anything I know about my cousin, it’s that she is hopelessly in love with you. Let me know if I can help, I would love to.’
‘Thank you.’ Sebastian looks over at his wife, talking with River, it has been a rocky few months for them and it was all down to their schedules; but this time was punishing on them. ‘So what’s up with this new guy? Should we rally the troops?’
Ava laughs, when her family rally the troops on a new romance often means deeper dive than necessary which can be maddening. ‘I think I know everything there is to know about this one and I don’t want to scare him off.’
‘So this is something or you’d like it to be?’
‘I would like it to be.’
‘He would too.’ Sebastian confirms her unsaid feelings.
Ava cocks her head to the side, ‘how do you know?’
‘I’m a guy, I know the signs.’
Ava is hopeful. ‘This is us.’ They stop outside Le Meurice.
‘It was lovely meeting you River, thank you for a wonderful night with my cousin, for the first in a really long time. First time this year!’
‘Ahhh don’t make me feel worse than I do.’ Ava embraces her cousin with a laugh.
‘I love you always.’ Rocks says.
‘It was good to meet you River.’ Sebastian and River shake hands before bidding both a good night and walking towards their hotel.
Ava glances back at her cousin with her husband, Sebastian pulls Rocks towards him. She leans into his embrace and on her tip toes, kisses him. They look so happy, and Ava says a silent prayer that they will be okay. Sebastian and Ezme are two of her favourite people in the world, inherently good and kind. With her arm around his waist and his arm around her shoulders, they disappear into the beautiful Parisian night.
‘Would you like to have a drink with me at the bar?’ It is 2am, but River would like to still be in her company.
‘Sure.’ Bash’s words swirl around Ava’s head.
Bar 228 with is leather armchairs and mysterious mood, it offers a perfect respite from an otherwise active Paris, the perfect hideaway.
‘What are you drinking?’
‘I would settle for a cognac. On the rocks please.’
River orders two glasses of Remy Martin Louis XIII from the distinguished dressed waiter.
‘Was it good to see your cousin?’
‘It was. Thank you for accommodating them.’
‘It was no problem at all, I’m a huge fan of Sebastian on the track.’
‘Oliver is as well. He is obsessed with cars, absolutely.’
‘Must run in the family.’
Their drinks are served, and they are left to it by the waiter.
River raises his glass to Ava, ‘cheers.’
They clink glasses, and Ava takes a sip of her cognac, this particularly refined brand of drink, her favourite.
‘I want to talk to you about something, and I hope it’s not too presumptuous.’
‘I don’t think anyone can accuse you of being presumptuous.’ Ava smiles, looking at River, taking another sip of her cognac.
‘What have I been accused of?’ River’s curiosity is peaked.
‘Of being cold. Distant.’
‘Am I cold to you?’
‘You were, lately however, there is a thaw.’ It’s the drink talking; Cognac is her Achilles heel.
‘Sorry I don’t mean-’
‘Don’t apologise, nobody knows what anyone is going through and we are all going through something.’ She takes another sip, ‘what did you want to talk to me about?’ She needs to stir them back to safer ground before she confesses her feelings to him.
‘I would like you to come in as a partner in Huxley, split fifty-fifty.’
‘What?’ Of all the things she expected from River, this wasn’t even on her radar. ‘Is everything okay?’
‘Yes, everything’s good with the business, it’s just that when I started out, I borrowed money from people and have finally paid the last of the debt, with interest, so we are debt free, and I now own one hundred percent of the business. I couldn’t take one any partners with being indebted, I wanted to clear that before I shared the burden.’
‘And you want me to come in as a partner.’
‘Think about it, you don’t have to answer right away, just give it some thought. You have been instrumental to the growth of the business in ways I could never have imagined and would never have happened without your vision.’
Ava drained the last of her cognac, ‘wow… I may be slightly inebriated but I would like to come in as your partner.’ She does not have to think about it.
‘For real? You won’t change your mind in the morning when the cognac wears off?’ River cannot help those feelings inside him; he wants to tell her so much more, but this’ll do for now. But it is there, floating between them.
Ava finishes the last of her cognac, her eyes on on River, she gets up, leans forward and kisses him with just enough bite, ‘no River, I won’t change my mind in the morning. Good night.’ Her friends did say to shoot her shot.
River sits paralysed in that chair, it would be another hour before he makes it up to his suite, walking distance from hers.