First Page: Contemporary Romance
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This is the revised version. I failed to recall that the author had sent me a revision. Sorry guys!
Somewhere between ordering dinner and the arrival of the Italian salad, the conversation at Brizio’s veered into “Have you ever… ?” territory.
Two sets of eyes turned in Carla’s direction as she sipped from a glass of house red. Where do they find all this great stuff, she wondered, absently contemplating the shelves of imported cans, bags and boxes in the grocery store cum restaurant. And what the heck is it for?
‘Hey!” Mary’s finger tapped Carla’s glass, startling her back to attention. “Don’t leave us hanging. We’re collecting data.”
Data. Where was her concentration lately? “Sorry. Have I ever met someone and felt an immediate physical –“
‘– attraction to that person and, yes, I have.”
A waitress began seating a party at the table to Carla’s left and the three women automatically moved in closer to each other.
‘And,” Gretchen prompted, passing the wine bottle to Mary, who waved it away.
Carla leaned forward. “I was introduced to a colleague’s partner after work one day. He was pleasant looking, had a great smile, an average guy.” She took another sip and set the glass down. “I put my hand out to shake his and as soon as his palm touched mine, I swear electricity ran up my arm and out the top of my head.”
Glancing again around the restaurant, she realized that quite a few tables were occupied by police officers wearing firearms, Kevlar, radios, flashlights. How did they eat with all that gear and just how young did the CPD take them these days? The table straight ahead held at least one detective, though: shoulder holster, white shirtsleeve cuffs rolled back on tanned arms, shield clipped to belt. Huh. Nice pants.
‘So, what, you jumped him?” Gretchen asked.
‘No, no, no,” Mary said. “The real question is ‘Do you think he felt it, too?'”
Carla shook herself and returned to the conversation. “I have no idea, but, honestly, I wanted him, in that instant, I really wanted him. Never felt anything like it before or since.”
Were those handcuffs on that belt?
“You know, when I shook–I can’t even remember his name–anyway, when I shook his hand, he was smiling, hugely, and the part of my brain that wasn’t on fire didn’t understand. Maybe he did feel something or he was just really happy to meet me. We’ll never know.”
‘Too bad he was already taken.” This from Gretchen with a sigh. “I mean, it’s great to know strong, instant attraction is possible outside the covers of a romance novel, but without any real experience to show whether that could have lead anywhere… ” She stopped at the broad smile on Carla’s face.
‘He wasn’t just taken, he was gay.” Her friends’ surprised silence gave way to laughter, drawing looks from other diners. “Yeah, male colleague, male partner. I spent a lot of time wondering about attraction, how it works and what that whole encounter meant, if anything. Color me confused because I can still feel it.”
The women paused as their plates were set down, and then passed the grated Parmesan around the table. Could there be anything better than Brizio’s salad dressing? Maybe the basil-infused olive oil for dipping bread. Or a gold watch on the right wrist of a southpaw.
Keeping her eyes off the detective–the man–at the table ahead of her was becoming increasingly difficult. He looked so vital, so competent. Dark hair brushed back from a high forehead, tall, slender, all of his movements controlled, not rigid, just quietly capable. Where did all that power and confidence come from?
Definitely time to stop the not-staring. And there was probably a law about sizing up police officers or, worse, he’d peg her as a stalker or groupie. Sorry, sir, just admiring your wrists.
This could not end well.
‘If the electricity ever runs over you again,” Mary continued between bites, “I really would like to know if the person on the other end feels it.”
Me, too, Carla thought, refusing to look up any more. Me, too.
Maybe it was time to try the calamari sandwich or go crazy wild with eggplant, all purple, good-and-good-for-you healthy. What was the point of looking at a menu if a guy ordered the same thing every time?
The giambotta wouldn’t be a bad choice, not like the onions were going to get in the way of …
John’s eyes swiveled to his right, his brain finally registering his partner’s quiet words, taking in the party of women across the small restaurant. Blonde, brunette, something in between and, yes, there were legs. Nice ones. Very long ones.
Resuming his inspection of the menu, he muttered, “Too tall.”
The ensuing silence and the scrape of silverware against a plate had him looking to his left.
“Oh, really,” Pat said slowly, tearing one of the rolls in front of him. “Because, what, short worked so well for you the last time? Big guy like you, taken down by that ankle-biter, excuse me, ex-wife. Hey, how’s that shoulder healing anyway?”
John closed his menu, torn between astonished outrage and a choke of laughter. His partner, this stocky, red-faced Irishman, his best friend and one-time best man, never bothered to pull his punches, not even when the blow landed in a particularly sensitive spot. You had to love the guy. He cleared his throat.
“Now that the good ship ‘Tact’ just went screaming from the harbor, and nicely done, let me add, was there something you wanted to say to me?”
Pat held up a hand as he chewed, then swallowed before responding. Sure Mrs. O’Brien would be so proud of her son’s neat manners.
“Look, you’ve been to the seventeenth circle of Hell, which was not, as we originally thought, the baggage claim area at O’Hare. What she put you through …”
Not going there, not going.
“It’s done, it’s over and it’s time to get your head out of your ass.” More bread followed, having been run through the olive oil and cheese first. He shrugged. “I saw legs and I know you like legs. As your patient and long-suffering partner, it’s my duty to point these things out to you. If those legs happen to be attached to someone nearly as tall as you, I can’t think that’s all bad, considering.”
Jesus. If Pat had dragged him through the stuff on his plate, he couldn’t possibly feel more exposed, torn apart like that last roll. John rubbed his forehead with the thumb and middle finger of his left hand, the shoulder pulling only a little these days. Yes, he liked short women, no idea why since there wasn’t much need to make himself feel taller. And, yes, his ex was quite short so, OK, maybe his dining choices weren’t the only thing that needed changing.
A burst of laughter from the other table had both men looking over. The woman with the legs and not-quite-blonde-or-brown hair had said something to her two companions, setting them all back in their chairs. Although he couldn’t see their color from this distance, John could tell her eyes crinkled when she smiled. She was easily–how had his sister described herself?–five-foot twelve. Nice looking, probably intelligent, and way too soon for him.
“Gentlemen, what will it be today?”
John sighed as their waitress appeared, handed over his menu. “The usual, Nancy. Just the usual.”