He pulled out the chair facing the wide windows, showcasing a gorgeous view of Capitol Hill for Ashlee.
“My, what a view,” she said. “You can just never get tired of that, can you? I love touring and walking all the neighborhoods of DC. No matter how many times you do it, you always see something new. And the museums… Can you believe they’re all free? That just amazes me. I don’t know how they manage that, what with their displays changing all the time…”
Rafe had long since taken his own seat on the other side of the table with his view of the bar, where people his age were actually having fun. And he had to fight not to roll his eyes as Ashlee continued to talk.
The waiter held out a tall, thin menu toward Rafe. “We have an extensive list of wines—”
Ashlee cut him off with a sparkling smile and, “We’ll have a bottle of Mondavi’s 1996 Opus One, please.”
Rafe’s breath caught in his throat. He felt the skin of his face chill. He didn’t know why. It wasn’t his money. But when the waiter turned his gaze from Ashlee to Rafe with the slightest lift of his brows, Rafe said, “Actually, let’s make that a bottle from 2012.” He smiled at Ashlee. “In honor of—”
“Your second hundredth goal with the NHL, and of course our lucky number—”
“Of course.” Rafe smiled, but his satisfaction came from knowing he’d just saved the team twelve hundred freaking dollars on a bottle of wine only Ashlee would be drinking. Rafe already knew he’d need something much, much stronger. “And could I get Patron?” he asked the waiter. “Best you’ve got on the shelf.”
The older man nodded, took the wine list, and retreated.
“I never dreamed you’d be even better looking in person.” Ashlee rested her elbows on the edge of the table, clasped her fingers beneath her chin, and sighed with a dreamy look on her face. “This is just so exciting. You should have seen me when I won. I don’t know if you saw that video clip of me when I picked the number twelve in the lottery, but, oh my God, when I saw the prize, I screamed like a girl. I mean, of course I am a girl, but I’ve never sounded more like a girl than I did in that moment. My heart was just bruising my ribs. Kinda like it is now. I’m not normally a nervous person…”
A server brought water to the table, and the waiter returned with the wine and Rafe’s Patron. Ashlee never shut up. Barely even paused to take a breath. While the waiter uncorked and poured the wine, Rafe swallowed the rich, luxurious tequila he should have been sipping. And when the waiter set the wine bottle back on the table, he offered the empty glass.
Before Rafe could answer, Ashlee said, “If his glass is empty, just assume he wants a refill.” Then to Rafe, “I’ve read about your love for Patron. An elegant drink, if you ask me. Sexy. Suits you perfectly. I had a little extra time after I checked in earlier—I’m staying here at the hotel, by the way. I thought that would be easiest. No pressure or anything, I just like to be prepared. And it gave me time to look over the menu…”
Rafe mentally checked out while she continued the nonstop monologue over food. When the waiter brought Rafe’s second Patron, he had to force himself not to hammer it back. He was sure she would have at least slowed down by the time she had a glass of wine in her, but she just kept talking.
Right through the salads.
Straight into the main course.
“…in fact, my mama says my husband is going to be a very lucky man. She trained at the Le Cordon Bleu before she met my father and puts on the most amazing dinner parties, and she’s been grooming me since I was knee-high. My father is constantly entertaining. Real estate at his level is such a fussy business, but I so enjoy meeting and chatting with his clients. Recently, he represented the ambassador to Kenya, and the man brought his eight children with him. Eight. Can you believe? I mean, I love kids, and I want a big family, but eight? Anyway, I pitched in and entertained the kids while the ambassador and his wife toured properties with my father, and oh, those children were so precious…”
The waiter quietly replaced Rafe’s empty glass with a refill. His fourth. Rafe knew he couldn’t drink it. He should have stopped after one. Too much alcohol would dehydrate him. The aftereffects could dull his reaction times in tomorrow’s game. And the realization was truly painful.
Rafe tilted his head back and met the man’s eyes. They held gazes a moment. And a very clear understanding passed between them. The waiter gave him the slightest nod of sympathy before he placed a comforting hand on Rafe’s shoulder and drifted away.