He flushed at this. “Well . . . I guess I’m picky.”
He squirmed a little in his seat. “I like to be able to control things.”
Smiling in a way that told me he knew he was going to disappoint me with what he would say next, he added, “I meant, I think I enjoy that aspect of my work. Every relationship I’ve been in since Becky feels a bit like chaos.”
“They can be,” I admitted. And when I said it, I realized I knew exactly what he meant. I’d never felt with Mark that I could predict what he was going to do next, like I had any finger at all on the pulse of his love for me. Ours was a relationship constantly unscrolling, the remaining story unknown. I understood for the first time since the breakup why, for the past year, I’d felt that tight, needling anxiety inside me. And why I didn’t feel it at all anymore.
For as much as I wanted love to be an adventure, there was certainly something to be said for stability in places.
“Dating after being with someone for a decade was disorienting,” he said. “It’s a new language I haven’t quite mastered yet.”
“I’m sure Niall can relate,” I said.
He nodded. “Max and I talked about that once. Luckily, Niall’s settled now. What’s weird,” he continued, and then smiled sheepishly up at me, “and sorry, this veers into gross ex-wife territory, but things with Becky always felt predictable, until she left, out of the blue. I thought we were happy. I was happy. Imagine how stupid I felt that I didn’t even notice she wasn’t.”
I realized in a depressing gust what he was telling me: as far as he was concerned, relationships were damned if you do, damned if you don’t. His first love seemed to be happy, but wasn’t. And everything that came after felt like it was happening in a language he didn’t speak.
I opened my mouth to answer, to reassure him somehow that this is life, and it’s messy, but for all the women out there like Becky, there are at least as many who know our minds and our hearts enough to be honest—but the words were cut off by a piercing wail.
The sound was so wholly different from any version of a fire alarm I’d ever heard that for a second some odd, ancient part of my brain screamed SEEK BOMB SHELTER IMMEDIATELY before Jensen took my hand and pulled me after him, calmly exiting the restaurant via the indicated fire escape route.
He did it with such surety that it occurred to me he might have scouted out the exit plan before we were seated. Not only did he stand and react as if he’d been expecting the fire alarm to go off, but he knew exactly where to go. I wanted to hand him a shaken martini and live out a one-night James Bond fantasy.
The fire alarm carried over the sounds of surprise and concern and finally the understanding, shouted by waiters as they ushered people outside, that it was a small kitchen fire and everything was fine, please stay calm.
As it turned out, the escape route placed us behind the winery’s restaurant, at the top of a hill overlooking the vineyards. Long past sunset, the vines seemed like a dark labyrinth of wood and foliage. Jensen dropped my hand, quickly tucking his into a pocket, and gazed out at the view. At the far end of the row before us was a small structure, what appeared to be a shed built in the center of the vineyard.
“What is that out there, do you think?” I asked him, pointing to it.
Will and Hanna slid around a few mildly hysterical older gentlemen and then sidled up beside us, looking at it.
“I think that’s where they sit outside and have lunch,” Hanna guessed. “I would. It’s a beautiful view.”
We scooted forward, making more room as people poured outside.
Will shook his head. “I’m going to say it’s the Shagging Shed.”
“I think it’s likely where they keep their smaller harvesting implements,” Niall said logically, and we all glared up at him, Will making a quiet snoring sound.
Behind us, waiters and staff were scurrying around, trying to reassure diners that everything would be handled and the situation wouldn’t interrupt our meal indefinitely.
But for now we were banished out here.
“I want to go see,” I said.
“Pippa—” Jensen began, but I turned to him, grinning widely.
“Race you!” I said, stepping off the concrete patio and taking off into the soft earth, leaving a stunned silence in my wake.
The wind felt amazing, cool and sharp against my cheeks, and for the first time—thank you, pinot noir—I giddily pretended I was in an actual race, pumping my arms, feeling the ground give beneath my shoes and pass behind me.
I heard the steady footfalls behind mine and then Jensen was there, slowing to run alongside me and giving me a bewildered look before his competitive side seemed to win out. He sprinted the rest of the way to the shed, turning when he reached it and waiting for me to come to a gasping, wheezing finish at his side.
Standing still as the shed itself, he stared wordlessly down at me while I caught my breath.
“What the hell was that?” he finally asked, a small smile pulling at his lips. “I thought you didn’t run.”
I laughed, turning my face up to the sky. The air was cool, a little damp; the sky was the color of my favorite indigo dress. “I have no idea. We were getting so serious in there.” I pressed my hands to my sides. “I liked it, I just . . . I think I’m a bit tipsy.”