The Night Is A Harsh Mistress, Chapter 9
by A. Catherine Noon
Steve stood in the small waiting area to the left of the hostess station, wearing a dark green shirt that highlighted the peridot of his eyes. His black pants highlighted other things that she decided to ignore.
Dinner passed in a blur. She ordered something with a white sauce and chicken, but focused most of her attention on Steve. He had an engaging smile and an avid curiosity. She listened through their entrees to a varied discussion of current events and music. Then came time for dessert.
“Okay, Sara. I’ve talked for nearly the entire time. Tell me about you? What do you do, when you’re not waiting in traffic?”
She thought for a moment and then smiled. “Shall we order something first?”
“Of course! I thought you’d never ask.”
They negotiated about several of the items on the dessert list and settled on a chocolate lava cake and two cappuccinos. He sat back in his chair once the waitress took their menus and studied her.
“Well, I’m a private investigator,” she told him. She’d decided to be honest on that front, at least, even though she’d given him a fake name.
“Really?” His eyebrows shot up. “What’s that like?”
She laughed. “Boring, mostly. I collect information and sort through it.”
“You must learn a lot of interesting things about people,” he countered.
She shook her head. “Not really. Mostly spousal problems. It’s not a very pretty job. I do security consultation as well, but that part of my business is going slowly.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. He picked up his wine glass. “To success in your business.”
She smiled and clinked his glass with her own. “To success.”
After dessert they took a walk along the district, window-shopping. After a couple blocks, he slipped his hand into hers. “I’m getting tired of walking, I think.”
She looked up at him. “We can go back.”
“I have an espresso maker,” he said casually.
Her heart started to pound. “I like espresso. Usually as a mocha, though.”
He grinned. “I happen to have milk and cocoa, you know.”
“Okay,” she agreed shyly.
“Shall I drive?”
She thought about it. Her car would be safe for the night where it was. “Sure.”
They didn’t speak much on the drive back to his condo. It wasn’t far from downtown. The building was quiet, a lone doorman in a black uniform at the front desk. He greeted them silently, smiling and discreet, and she wondered if Steve often brought women home.
Then she wished she hadn’t thought that.
His condo was on the top floor, twelve flights up. It overlooked the city, the lights spread out beneath them like a blanket of stars. He set the living room lights on a dimmer so they could still see outside. The carpet was a light ivory color and set off the brown leather of the couch. A glass-topped coffee table sat in front of the couch, and a large plasma monitor centered on the wall opposite. A low credenza below it held gleaming entertainment equipment and several volumes. The kitchen counter to the right overlooked the living room and a closed door on the left led to the rest of the condo.
“This is nice,” she complimented.
He smiled, pleased, but said nothing. He left his shoes by the door and she mimicked him. He went to the kitchen to start the espresso machine and she sat on the couch, looking out on the cityscape and relaxing.
“Here you go.” He spoke from next to her elbow, startling her a little.
She took the small cup gratefully and sipped. “This is great!” she blurted. It had just the right mix of chocolate and coffee.
“Good,” he answered, and sat down next to her. He set his coffee on the table and laid his other hand along the back of the couch behind her.
Her heart started to pound as he leaned closer to her. She set her cup down as his lips brushed hers, managing to find the table by luck alone.