She'd kept herself busy for most of the day, running along the beach as far as it was open, running back. He was gone then, not even an imprint left in the sand.
She'd eaten lunch alone at a street-side stand- sticky rice and unripe mango that had left her feeling refreshed and heavy. She'd gone into the city and bought bright, tasteless sundresses, the kind that end in tassels, and sandals with endless straps winding up her calves. She tried to be a tourist, but the scenic vistas left her small and alone. Sark wasn't in the suite when she returned. She'd finished reading the dossiers, Lilith Neujahr's among them. Her photo wasn't there.
It's 7:30 when he walks through the door, locking it carefully behind him, finds her flipping through blueprints, the television muted on a Spanish news network. He nods to her, barely, and goes into his room where she hears closet doors opening, closing, clothes being shucked and replaced. It's reminding her of another life, somewhere safe with Danny, and she flips the sound back on, the foreign language bringing her back to why this isn't there. Sark emerges in smartly pressed pants the color of sand and an untucked black button-down that doesn't quite cover his biceps.
She watches him search for his shoes before speaking.
"Going out on the town tonight?"
A dress that she hadn't seen him holding flutters like a flag through the air to her.
"As soon as you put that on we're going downstairs to the restaurant on the mezzanine. Neujahr is dining there tonight."
Dinner with Sark. Her stomach is tight, she feels she's swimming with sharks, bedding down with lions. She doesn't bother to make him ask instead of demand, knows it's not worth the effort or the exasperated look that he has a trigger finger on.
"Who is she dining with?"
"No one," he's sitting down to tie his shoes, another thing she never thought she'd see him do, something it hadn't occurred to her that he had to do. He catches her watching, "Get dressed. We should arrive before her."
Alone in her room she holds the dress out in front of her. It's dark, navy, long, understated, sexy. She sees him buying it for her, fingering the silky fabric, feeling it run over his hands like murky water, seeing her in his own mind's eye, spinning her around to view every angle, finally approving. She dresses quickly, slipping on the only pair of heels she's brought, stepping back into the common room.
"Let's go, then," she says, but he's already got his back to her, halfway out the door.
He stands close to her in the elevator. He's radiating something and it makes her arm tingle right where they're almost grazing each other's elbows. He speaks quietly to her while pinning a wire below his collar.
"You should know- you are Elyse O'Donnell, my traveling companion. We met in graduate school and have corresponded since. In case she asks."
She's not confused for long.
"So when you said that Neujahr was dining with no one, you meant with no one besides us."
"I thought that was obvious."
"Of course, you would."
They stand facing the door, and rolling past the third floor is occurs to her to ask, "You're going to assert that you went to my grad school? And you expect someone who already knows you to believe this?"
"There are some facades that I've maintained for a good long time. One never knows when they could become useful," he pauses, she thinks he smiles a bit, "And if you merely meant to insult my intelligence, I'd remind you that I at least finished graduate school."
She snorts, not at all ladylike, "You know you're going downhill when you believe your own cover stories."
He tenses beside her, only for a moment, "Believe what you will," the elevator chimes their arrival before she could get a word in, "But do try to be civil."
He's got his hand, almost uncomfortably warm given the weather, resting on the curve of her hip, guiding her along, and all she can do is smile, blithe.
"Aren't I always?" She switches accents as they make their way to the restaurant, weaving politely through the dinner crowd of shined shoes, too- bright colors, and a couple appalling paisley ties.
A waiter leads them to a window-side table set for three where even the empty place settings smell of fruit and spices. Sark is speaking Spanish again, ordering drinks with jarringly perfect pronunciation. Somehow it doesn't fit. Like his open, easy expression, his arm over the back of his chair. He's seen Neujahr entering and he performs for her, hand closing casually over Syd's so that she'll lean in to hear him whisper.
"Go upstairs after dinner. She won't talk shop with you here." He stands to shake the older woman's hand, offer her a seat and introductions. "Lilith, this is Elyse who I was telling you about. Ellie, Lilith is an old colleague of mine who I ran into on the beach this morning."
"So good to meet you, Elyse. Andrew spoke so highly of you." Neujahr's voice is smooth, rich, her hand cold and soft when Sydney shakes it. She's beautiful.
"Did he really?" Syd places her hand over his this time, invading his space, "He does prattle on sometimes, doesn't he?" He smiles tightly at her sparkling eyes and she drops it, sits back, "So are you also here on holiday," not waiting for an answer, "Such a gorgeous country, wouldn't you say?"
There is more chit-chat. Lilith does most of the talking. To Andrew. Makes an obvious effort to include Elyse. Sark hardly says a word, listens attentively enough. South American politics. History of the region. Mayan sites she's seen. Sark's eyes never leave Neujahr, but he keeps touching the hand that Syd keeps on the table. On an emphasized word. A shared chuckle. A striking description of a trek to a ruined temple. She tries not to flinch and blathers prettily back at Lilith-shopping and that evening's sunset.
The food comes, and before she's at her last bite he's squeezing her hand lightly, shooting her a single glance, looking around as if still hungry.
He's kicking her out. She could kill him with the soup spoon. She stretches conspicuously. He and Lilith are having some kind of telepathic conversation.
"Well that was lovely," loud, grating, very London, "Wasn't that lovely, Andrew? I wonder if one could buy these ingredients back home."
Neujahr starts a little, gets an apologetic look from Sark. Forgive my companion, it says, she is a complete idiot. Sydney pulls at her dress.
"I'm sure you could order them directly." Lilith puts on a gracious tone.
"Oh, what a good idea! I must look into that."
For a long moment they all sit silent, peering into the darkness beyond the tall windows, tracing outlines of surf and long, swaying leaves. The women fidget. Sark finishes his wine. He hasn't let go of her hand.
Their waiter arrives and inquires about their dessert orders, eyes hungry for tips and praise.
"None for me," disappointing him, "Couldn't hold another forkful. Shall we turn in for the night, Andrew?" Ignoring Lilith.
"I'll follow shortly. I'd like to stay for some tea." He turns away to order.
Only Lilith smiles, offers a short goodbye.
"And I love your dress, Elyse."
"Thank you." Quietly, then exits.