Gavin cleared his throat. "Katrina, you keep assuring me you have no money...not that I am interested in your money...or lack of it. I do wonder—what would you do if you had a substantial amount of money?"
She looked up at Gavin; he was watching her intently. Suspiciously, she studied him.
Finally, he spoke to her again. "Trying to memorize my face for future lonely nights, or are you trying to decide if I am going to trick you into disclosing you have money, after all? Or do you think that if you don't say anything to me, I’ll just go away?"
Katrina sat, still silent, not sure exactly how to answer him.
"Well, I can assure you silence won’t drive me away. I need to know certain things and the faster I find out the true and honest answers; the faster I’ll be gone from your life." His gaze never left her face. His quiet tone of voice gave her no clues if he was being serious or teasing with her.
She decided to answer with the truth and then perhaps he would go away and leave her alone. She lowered her eyes and spoke.
"If I had some money, and I don't know what you mean as a 'substantial' bit but, if I had some that wasn't earmarked for anything, I do have a pet project I'd like to funnel some into." She peeked up at him to gauge his reaction. He was receptive and attentive, so she continued.
"There’s a home for orphans where I volunteer frequently. I’ve been trying to think of a way I could help them raise some much-needed funds. There are things which are overlooked because they aren’t considered necessary. But…" she stopped, unsure of how to tell him of her dream for these children.
"But what?" His prompting was gentle.
Katrina looked at him again and caught a look of surprise on his face. She became embarrassed. She rarely talked about the children to anyone.
"Well?" He prompted her once more. She looked up at him again. Something in his face this time made her continue.
"Well, I'd like to do some different things for them. That's all."
"What things?" His voice softened and she watched his face lose some of its hard planes and angles. Katrina decided to tell him of her dreams. After all, what could it hurt? She wasn't going to see him again, so what did it matter if he thought she was an idiot?
She swallowed, then cleared her throat.
“Well, they have clothing, and food, and some books and toys, but they don’t get to do some of the things that children from regular families do.”
Gavin’s eyes watched her face intently. “Things? Such as what?”
“I’d like to be able to send them to summer camp, or go horseback riding once in a while. Maybe even go to museums, and art galleries, if they want to, or…or take music lessons.”
Katrina went on for some time, telling him about the children as they ate their soup. When she finally wound down, she realized he hadn't spoken during the entire time except to ask an occasional question.
She also realized she had gotten excited about it and was now embarrassed. He’d witnessed how much these children affected her. It was the only thing she felt passionately about anymore, these children without anyone who truly cared about them.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Browning. I shouldn't have spoken quite so freely or so forcibly. I apologize." She kept her eyes lowered and her head slightly bowed. Miserable, she felt he probably thought she was as dumb as Charleston had always told her she was.
"Oh, Katrina, you are indeed one of a kind! Unless you didn’t really mean what you’ve just said, you have no reason to apologize to me or to anyone else for your dreams and hopes.
Katrina raised her head a little, peeping out at him from under her thick, dark lashes. His gaze bore deeply into hers, baring her soul. She quickly dropped her eyes to her plate.
"I meant every word of it. If I had any money, that’s how I'd use a good share of it."
Gavin kept the remainder of their conversation throughout dinner to innocuous subjects and she began to relax for the first time in his presence. They talked on various topics and Katrina was glad she was an avid reader. She could at least converse with this extremely intelligent and handsome man sitting across the table from her without embarrassing herself. Some subjects had even brought an energetic debate of their different opinions, but it was both fun and exhilarating.
Nothing in her life had made her think she could ever have this much fun with a lawyer.
The lawyer part made her uneasy, but he had said he wasn't suing her. She could think of no other reason he would be here unless Charleston was in a great deal of trouble.
"What is it, Katrina? Something wrong with the food?" He smiled at her.
"What? Oh, no. The food is excellent, Gavin. Forgive me. I must have been daydreaming for a moment."
"It must have been a terribly unpleasant dream, Little One. It brought a frown to your lovely countenance."
Katrina looked up to see if he was teasing her yet again, but he looked completely serious.
"Please trust me, Katrina. Confide your troubles in me. Let me help you all I can." His eyes seemed to send warmth into her.
Katrina let it wash over her, making her feel safe. She hadn't felt safe in years, she reflected. Not really. Not since she'd found out about the preacher. Not since Charleston had laughed at her for being such a green girl and being so easily duped. Not since the night Robert came. She shuddered with the thought.
Gavin took her hand. "How bad was it, Little One? How terrible to be his wife? What did he do to you?"
Katrina saw Charleston's features swim before her eyes and the horror of her life with him lashed out at her, cutting at her momentary peace of mind. The pain of her thoughts twisted her stomach, uncomfortably squeezing the exotic food she’d just consumed. She yanked her hand out of Gavin's and shakily rose. Excusing herself, she almost ran to the ladies' room. Once there, she retched several times, losing her very expensive dinner. She felt so sick. Why, oh why did he have to remind her about Charleston?