A round of applause ended the tasting, swift and brief. Instead of descending back into quietness, the room resonated with gentle discussions and in her eagerness, Saffron herded them into the adjoining chamber where a light lunch and caffeinated beverages awaited. Gideon waited at the back of the tasting room. She regretted her summary execution of his advice. Why had she done it?
Close enough to him, she uttered an apology. “Sorry. Tight schedule, trains to catch.” She excused her behaviour using assumptions about her guests.
Gideon picked up his clipboard. “Of course, I apologise. Food, as well as wine, is my passion. Professional habit to comment on my own zealous desires.”
Was that a dig at her less than brilliant recommendation? Her lack of research perhaps too obvious. She enjoyed good food, but she had less experience than a sommelier when it came to fine dining. “You work for a restaurant or hotel?”
“A small group of restaurants, managed by a well-known chef with a collection of Michelin stars. I decide on bulk purchases for the group as a whole, each restaurant has their own needs according to their menu and style.”
As Lydia ushered out the remaining visitors, Gideon held back. He rested against the main table, which contained the clutter of empty glasses and carafes. The door swung shut with a clunk.
“Are you following me? I mean, had you heard of me before seeing me at Napa Valley?” Saffron went straight to the heart of the matter, his presence on her turf.
“No, to your first question and yes, I had heard of you, read about you, admired the odd photo somewhere, but Napa was the first time I had the pleasure of seeing in the flesh.” He folded his arms across his chest. She couldn’t tell from his closed facial expression if her twitchy display of discomfort extended to his own disposition.
She ignored the flattery of his admiration, but it was tough not succumbing to the poise of his stature and the veneer of sharpness sculptured on his face. Close up, closer than their previous encounters, he exuded an array of charming, if enigmatic attributes.
There was something about Gideon, clichéd perhaps, but she couldn’t put her finger on one particular facet. Perched on the table opposite her, he was an undiluted man, nothing insipid or watered down, yet neither was he jaw-dropping handsome. Ageless, or ageing gracefully, she couldn’t determine his years. The ash dusting, which glittered under the halogens, gave the appearance of greyness amongst his brown short locks, but focusing in, they weren’t grey hairs. Highlights? Was he a metrosexual kind of guy, pruning and grooming each morning before a mirror? Did he overly indulge in vanity? He certainly carried off his suave dress sense to perfection. A well cut suit, tailored and angled to match his build, which wasn’t thickset or slender, but a happy intermediate.
Gideon, whoever, was full-bodied, thoroughbred and well-balanced. Could he be harmonious with her tastes in men? Did he want to blend or dilute her? She snatched her attention away from him and swivelled to face the rack of bottles to her left. “Why did you come today? You are obviously a late booking to be on the reserve list.” She fingered the neck of a nearby bottle, which stuck out from the wall rack—a short stubby neck—a Bordeaux. The glass free of dust, she slid her forefinger along it, circling the high shoulder.
“I caught sight of your name badge at the wine fair in London. It confirmed your identity. I knew you worked for Goddards when I saw the brand name—Carafe and Cork—and I realised you must be based in Canterbury. I confess, I’m intrigued. Beyond your apparent, excellent tasting skills, I know little about you.”
He’d research her enough to know Goddards operated under the trading name of Carafe and Cork, which headlined its website, banners at fairs and marketing material. The family name was familiar to those in the business. “So you came to taste wine or chat me up?” She continued to trace the outline of the bottle, daring herself to look at him.
She faced him and saw the smirk, but no surprise. He seemed unmoved by the abruptness of her query.
“And Napa was a coincidence, as was London, but today is not?” she summarised.
“You seem just as interested in me, as I am in you.”
The heat flared across her cheeks and she dropped her meandering hand. “Possibly.” Saffron shrugged. “I thought your name is Gideon.” She raised her eyebrows. “Rolfe?”
He shifted uneasily, the first display of awkwardness, and the glasses rattled on the table behind him as the linen moved a fraction with him. He rose, planting his weight on his feet. “My first name is Rolfe, my second, Gideon. My friends know me as Gideon. Professionally I prefer Rolfe.”
“So which am I—friend or professional colleague? Do I know you as Gideon or Rolfe?”
He edged closer and from the next room, someone laughed loudly enough for the sound to reach them. She jumped slightly, reminded they were not alone. The coolness of the tasting room wasn’t the reason she began to shiver, something baser was affecting her body temperature. The sommelier halted in his tracks, cocked his head to one side and smiled. “I’m hoping it will be Gideon.”