"And what, exactly, is out of bounds," Zöe asked?
"You'll see," Ryan said.
The car steered around the hotel grounds stopping by a discreet door in the shadows.
"And we're here," Ryan said.
They got out of the car, and walked through the discreet door in the shadows.
The door opened into a small room. There was an open fire in the corner, a wall of wine bottles, a magnificent view of the lighted slopes and a small table in the center of the room with two chairs.
"This is 'Out of Bounds' ," Ryan said, "a private room operated by the Flame restaurant. Invitation only and I happen to have a standing invitation."
Zöe was delighted but she said to Ryan, "Well, Mister Ryan, if you think this is going to impress me you're going to have to try a bit harder."
Ryan smiled, nodded to the concierge who excused himself through a panel that apparently was a door. They were alone. Ryan walked to the sideboard and picked up
two filled champagne glasses, handing one to Zöe.
"What should we drink to," Zöe asked.
Ryan paused, looked at Zöe, then said, "The path."
"And what is the path," Zöe asked?
"The path is the way forward. For you and me. I have to tell you, Zöe, that I love you. I love you for who you are not what you are. I love your mind, your laugh, your insight and everything that is Zöe."
Ryan continued. "We have never dated. We have never been intimate. We've never even held hands. But I love you. I love the way you think and talk and laugh and look at me. I fell in love with you. The thing that is you, whatever that is. I think about you all the time, every waking moment and sometimes when I sleep. I don't know life without you."
"So, there," Ryan swirled his champagne, "that's it in a nutty shell."
Zöe checked her impuse to launch herself at Ryan and kiss him to the floor. Instead she asked, "Why me? Of all the women who could and would throw themselves at a billionaire, me excluded, why me?"
Ryan put down his champagne glass and said, "Zöe, take my hands, please." Zöe put down her glass and reached out. Ryan's hands were warm and maybe trembling just a little. She grasped more tightly.
Ryan looked at Zöe, deeply. Zöe looked into his eyes and began to fall. It was a tipping point. She looked into Ryan's eyes and saw a depth, and she wanted to see what that depth held. Zöe leaned forward, tipping over and fell ... fell ... fell ... fell into insanity.
Through the fog Zöe heard Ryan's voice. "It was something you wrote, some time ago. We were talking about our lives and our futures and you said, and I remember this exactly,
"Six words. But, you didn't say 'I love you' or 'You love me." No, you said it's obvious meaning clear that we, meaning you and me, love each other. Meaning you love me and I love you and it's obvious."
"I held on to those six words. They were important to me. Words of affirmation.
To be continued ..,