Fighting and Loving Ch. 05

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Ensconced within the soft lighting and smooth seats of a booth which delivered a heightened level of privacy, Nic handed her menu back to the waiter and did her best not to play with the napkin in her lap. The drive to the restaurant had been nearly silent, the radio used as a filler for the non-existent conversation. Still, both occupants had seemed comfortable during the twenty minute drive, neither feeling the need for unnecessary chatter.

Nic had been taken aback at the restaurant. It was indeed a small place, practically a hole in the wall that she would have never noticed if they hadn’t walked right up to it. She had been surprised when Des brought her to a stop in front of what looked like a closed building after parking in a public lot. But, then he had pulled the door open, allowing Nic to precede him into the darkened interior, and she was met by a polite hostess and the gentle music of a live band.

Once they had been seated and Nic had a chance to examine the subdued elegance of the place, she had to admit, she was fairly impressed. It was obvious that was the reaction Des wanted, but he had gone about it in his own fashion. Most guys would have taken her to the highest-priced, most talked-about restaurant in the city. They would have thrown money around as if it was going out of style and probably would have regaled her with talk of how impressive their status was within their company. At least, that was how other dates had gone. But, Des had taken her to a place he obviously loved, if his familiarity with the wait staff was any indication. He’d known both the bartender and their server by name and had asked after their lives with genuine interest.

Now, feeling herself relax as the beautiful strains of a piano and saxophone soothed her raw nerves, and taking in both the candles that graced the tables, and the brass fixtures that warmed up the cherry wood paneling on the walls, Nic felt the confidence to raise her eyes to the man sitting across the table from her. She was surprised to find him staring right back at her, his gaze intense and unwavering. A feeling of exposure crept over Nic. As though she couldn’t hide anything even if she were to try; not even in the privacy of her own mind.

Taking a deep breath and sipping from her glass of water to allow for some time to collect her thoughts, Nic wondered once again how Des could look at her with such passion. He examined her like a puzzle that needed to be solved, which was laughable. There was nothing about her that even hinted at being an enigma. If anything, Nic felt she was an open book, although she prayed that Des did not guess at half the thoughts she had while in his presence.

On the contrary, it was Des that was the mysterious one. She had never met a man that was so hard to read, a skill she had crafted over the years and was proud to say she was quite adept at using. That is, until she had met the man she was with tonight. Even now, the only thing that Nic was sure of was that Des seemed to want her physically. She had no idea if he even liked her or wanted to get to know her better. But, that was what a date was for, and she was determined to have some sort of insight into Des before they entered into what was fast becoming the obvious conclusion to their night.

“So, how did you hear about this place?” Nic asked, after clearing her throat and gathering her courage. She knew it was an inane question, simply designed to clear the air between them, but it was a start. You just have to learn to get comfortable around him. Just treat him like a client. He’s only interested in doing business with you. And, at this very moment, stripping you out of your neatly pressed shirt and slacks, and burying himself balls deep in your very needy pussy, is absolutely the last thing he is thinking, Nic thought before mentally slapping herself for putting that very provocative image in her mind.

“It’s owned by a friend of mine,” Des replied, pulling Nic from her thoughts. “We grew up together and managed to stay in touch even after I went to Japan. Whenever I came back to the States to visit, Rico was always one of the few people I’d drop in on.”

As if speaking his name had commanded the man to materialize, Rico appeared at the table, a kindly smirk on his nutmeg-brown face. Dressed in a pair of worn jeans and a chef’s jacket, he hardly seemed like the owner of the restaurant. He looked more like a busboy than a proprietor. But, it was obvious just from looking into his dark brown eyes that he was very happy, almost jolly, and quite proud. And the reasons for that could only be the restaurant he was standing in and the sight of his good friend.

“Man, don’t you ever stay home to eat. I swear, Keith says this is like the fourth time you’ve been in here this week,” Rico laughed, grabbing Des’ hand as he rose from his seat and initiating the typical male greeting of the one-handed, back-slapping hug.

“Why should I cook for myself when I can count on you to give me a discount on Janie’s award-winning meals?” Des smiled back at the slightly shorter mersin escort man, pleased that he had been able to visit on a night when Rico had time to come out of the kitchen.

“Hey, Janie isn’t the only one back there,” Rico exclaimed with mock indignation. “I can hold my own in the kitchen. And, if I’m not mistaken, most of the time you’re in here for the Rosemary Chicken, which we know is my specialty.” Rico popped the collar on his jacket with a smug look on his face, before he burst into another grin.

Nic watched the proceedings between the two men with interest, finding the very apparent camaraderie and subsequent enthusiasm refreshing. Des hardly showed any expression at the dojo, preferring to be the cold and distant sensei. And, other than the bouts of desire he had shown for her, Nic had wondered if Des ever relaxed.

Before Nic had any time to contemplate this new side of Des, she found herself the object of attention. Rico, glancing at his friend’s dinner guest, now swept Nic’s hand from the table and placed upon it a light, flirtatious kiss. Glancing up at her while still bent over her hand, he smiled in an exaggerated form of seduction and waggled his eyebrows. Nic took an immediate liking to his obvious teasing and the expression of good-natured fun that glowed on his happy face.

“And, what do we have here? Tell me it isn’t so. Tell me my good friend has not brought such a gem into my fine eating establishment without introducing her.” Rico looked back at Des with what could only be described as outrage at such tawdry behavior. At least, the dramatic inflection in his voice implied that. However, the glint in his eye gave away the curiosity he felt at this unexpected turn of events. Des had mentioned nothing about a woman in his life.

Shaking his head and rolling his eyes at Rico’s antics, Des returned to his seat before turning to Nic.

“Nic Desmond, Rico Alvarez. Don’t believe a word he says,” remarked Des as he noticed that his friend had yet to relinquish Nic’s hand. It wasn’t that he was jealous or anything as ridiculous as that. He just thought Rico’s antics were a bit extreme, even for him. It was common knowledge that Rico liked to flirt with the ladies a bit, but the whole besotted knight routine was going slightly overboard.

“I’m wounded,” Rico replied, drawing Nic’s hand to his chest with a hang dog look upon his face. “To think that you would say such a thing to someone who has been your friend for over twenty years.”

“And I’m only now beginning to think that was twenty years too long,” Des growled, as he glared pointedly at Nic and Rico’s clasped hands.

“You don’t mean that. And, I’m sure your companion will not let your lies about my character color her judgment of me,” replied Rico as he reluctantly released Nic’s hand and gave her a quick wink.

“I think I’ll reserve my opinion of you until after I’ve tasted your cuisine,” Nic said, as she graced both men with an amused expression. “If the food is anything like the chef, it should be quite an interesting meal.”

“A woman with good sense…I like you already,” said Rico, his smile getting impossibly wider and more cheerful. “Seeing that I definitely want to make a good impression, I’ll have to oversee your meal myself. And, since we aim to please here at the Fifth Course, I can guarantee that your opinion of me will be a positive one by the end of the night.”

“Well, I look forward to it,” replied Nic, as Rico continued to hover around the table. She was now almost completely certain that he was sticking around just to get a rise out of Des. And if the stony look on Des’ face was any indication, it was working.

“So,” said Des, speaking before Rico could get in a word. “How’s Janie’s pregnancy coming along? She should be what…about five months? You must be starting to look forward to being a father.” Des sat back in the booth, a little smirk on his face as he mentioned Rico’s wife and co-owner of Fifth Course, in an obvious effort to get his friend to stop lingering around his date

In response, Rico raised an eyebrow at Des’ behavior, never having known him to take a little light flirting so seriously. He could tell that Des was, on the surface, just trying to equal his own joking; but, he had never cared enough about any woman he was dating to express even a slight need to infer possession. Who was this woman? And what spell had she cast over Des to make him act so…like a boyfriend?

Rico snapped his fingers and sighed in a very good impression of disappointment. “Well, there go my chances of stealing your date out from under you. The cat’s been let out of the bag.” But, even as he made that declaration, a smile pulled at Rico’s mouth as his eyes strayed to the door to the kitchens. This smile, unlike the earlier grins of amusement and mischief, was soft and adoring. His face took on a glow that only a man truly in love could ever achieve.

“Janie’s doing really well,” Rico said, forcing his eyes back to the table. “She refuses kocaeli escort to slow down no matter how much I threaten to hide her favorite cooking set. But, the doctor says both her and the baby are coming along nicely, and that the birth should be without complications.”

“That’s great news,” said Des, while a genuine smile lit up his eyes. “I’m happy for you man. I never really thought Janie would catch you but, I’m glad she did. The whole married life really suits you.”

“Yeah, who would have thought that, huh?” A sheepish grin bounced into place as Rico swept a hand through his curly hair. Nic could tell both he and Des were remembering their shared past and what could only have been the trouble they had gotten into. It made her wonder again about her date, and what he would have been like as a child. Would he have been serious and quiet as the adult he had grown into, or had there been another more fun-loving side to him.

“Well, I’d better get back there and work my magic,” said Rico, interrupting Nic’s contemplation. “I’ll stop by with Janie later, so she can say, hi.”

“Great, thanks,” replied Des as Rico waved and quickly made his way back towards the double doors which led to the hidden interior of the restaurant. With a swing of the doors he had disappeared and silence had once again settled on the table. Rico had blown in like a refreshing breeze, managing to distract from the nerves and uncertainty of the night. Now that he had left, all of the previous emotions rushed back in, leaving both diners unsure of what to say.

“So, you and Rico are pretty close, huh?” Nic asked, tearing her eyes away from the table.

“I guess you could say that,” replied Des, a small smile playing across his lips. “He probably knows more about me than anyone else, other than my sister. And, he was single-handedly responsible for most of the trouble I got into when I was younger.” Des paused, his eyes becoming slightly unfocused as his mind was flooded with old memories.

Nic watched as the smile which graced his face went from soft to hard. It was an almost imperceptible change that most people probably would not have caught. Instinctively Nic knew, without a shadow of a doubt that quite a bit of his past had not always been pleasant. She wanted to ask him about what he was thinking of but, felt it was not the right time to be quite that personal. This was a first date after all.

Grasping at the last comments Des had made, Nic found a topic that was relatively light.

“Was it just you and your sister or, do you have other siblings?” Nic asked, hoping to bring Des back from wherever he had gone. She was relieved when his eyes focused on her once again and the tightness around his jaw eased.

“No, it was just me and Mia. Well, that’s not exactly true. Rico was around us enough that he was just about family so, it was almost like I had a brother, too. Which Mia probably would have preferred not to have since we were both kind of…over-protective.”

“Your sister’s younger?”

“Yes. How did you know?” Des asked, as the question had seemed more like a statement.

“Just the way you talk about her. The way you struggled for a way to say you were a typical complete nightmare of an older brother,” Nic replied, laughing to herself.

“I wouldn’t say I was a complete nightmare,” said Des, as their waiter approached with some fresh rolls and butter. “Though, I will admit to being a bit overbearing.”

“Only a bit, huh?” Nic asked, raising an eyebrow at her date. She was very obviously referring to how he acted in the dojo, and how he’d treated her in the past few months. “Overbearing” was far too kind a word for the hell he had put her through.

Des laughed at the sarcasm in her statement and shrugged his shoulders, in a most charming way. He couldn’t deny that she was exactly right about him. He did find it rather easy to be an asshole when the need arose. But, it was almost always for a good reason.

“Okay, maybe more than just a bit,” he said, conceding defeat on that subject. “Although, with Mia I felt the need to…look out for her. She didn’t have the easiest childhood. She was born prematurely and had a lot of health problems for the first few years of her life. But, she’s always had a really strong spirit and sense of self. All she ever really needed was a little push when she got down on herself, which I took the responsibility of providing.”

“So you’re one of the few good big brothers?” Nic asked after a short pause. She’d had to stop herself from asking why his parents had not taken on such a large task but, a sudden image of Des as he had thought about his past just a few moments ago had crossed her mind. She had bit her tongue at the last minute, feeling again that that was ground she did not want to tread upon.

“I have my moments. It wasn’t hard looking out for her…she was, and is, a pretty likeable kid.”

“You talk about her like she’s only seven.”

“She’d probably agree with you there. She insists samsun escort I still don’t know that she ever got past the 5th grade.” Des laughed softly to himself, and Nic couldn’t help but join in. His smile was contagious. His whole face softened and his eyes seemed to deepen. It made her feel that he was smiling just for her, as if they were sharing a private connection instead of just a simple conversation. Good thing he never smiled at me before, I would have fallen head over heels ages ago.

“What about you? Do you have any siblings?”

“No, it’s just me,” said Nic, shaking her head softly. “Although, I also have a best friend that’s more like a sibling. Lila and I met as roommates our freshman year in college and have pretty much been inseparable ever since. It’s like we both found the sister we never had.”

“And what was it like being an only child…, pretty quiet?”

“I’m not sure you could say it was quiet. I have millions of cousins that were just like siblings and often visited. And, my family is kind of naturally loud and overwhelming. The only part of being an only child that I benefited from was probably being a bit more spoiled than the typical kid. I didn’t get everything I wanted but, my mother has always said I’ve got her and my father wrapped around my finger.”

Nic rolled her eyes at that, knowing quite well that although she had been given more than her fair share of all the toys, clothes, and other miscellaneous entrapments of young girls, she had always been taught to respect her elders. She could easily recall times when she was quickly corrected if she ever overstepped her bounds with her parents. But, she could never fault them for their discipline. The last thing she wanted was to become one of those children who looked at their parents as a personal bank account.

Des examined Nic as she talked about her family and childhood. He tried to picture her as she would have been then. What came to mind was a little brown-skinned girl with scraped knees, hair in pig-tails, and an air of confidence. If she was anything then as she was now, she had probably been fearless. That one girl in every neighborhood who could run, jump, bike, and play as hard as any of the boys.

It was a good picture. Somehow it just seemed to fit. The little girl and the woman she had become. In essence, she was the same person, just wiser and more confident as time went on. He would have liked to have known her when she was younger. He wondered if he would have been very different if they had known each other for years instead of only months.

Des’ eyes flickered to Nic’s hand as she pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. He thought it amazing that Nic seemed to have no idea of her own attractiveness. Admittedly, she did not have the modern day idea of beauty. Most people would probably have considered her plain, however… Des wasn’t really sure what it was about her. Or perhaps it was that there wasn’t just one portion of her that was alluring but, everything combined.

The dinner continued along these same lines as Des continued to contemplate the woman sitting across from him. Their conversation was easy and flowed smoothly. Music and books, work, hobbies and a variety of other topics graced the table along with the meal that was leisurely consumed. And throughout it all Des could hardly take his eyes away from Nic’s face. He felt entranced by the light and color of her eyes, the tilt of her head, and the lushness of her mouth. He had an unbearably hard time restraining himself from touching her, drawn as he was to the warmth of her skin.

Although he responded to all of her questions and kept up with the stream of their banter, he knew that he was staring at Nic more than anything else. Even when Rico came back out with Janie to say hello, he was far more focused on Nic than anyone else. He enjoyed the way her eyes would catch his whenever she looked away from her plate. Des was almost positive that she was nervous by the way she bit her lip and would never hold his gaze. If they didn’t leave soon, he was afraid he would do something drastic, like dragging her across the table to have his first taste of the dessert he’d been craving for the past three months.

Nic took another bite of the decadent chocolate cake in front of her and tried, unsuccessfully, to tamp down the nerves that had flared in her stomach. She would have laughed if only her situation hadn’t seemed so pathetic. Never had Nic thought she would be so sprung over a guy. It just wasn’t in her nature to be hung up over a man; especially a man that had the ability to be both overwhelmingly irritating and devastatingly sexy. And yet, here she was, battling her ricocheting emotions and altogether out of control body.

Nic couldn’t be sure when the change had occurred, but the atmosphere at the table had definitely shifted. Somewhere between talking about their lives and eating what had to be one of the best meals Nic had ever had, Des had begun to look at her with more than just a polite interest. Her mind replayed again and again the ways Des had looked at her in the past: his barely restrained gaze in the changing room, his hungry glare after the kiss they’d shared in her kitchen, and the cool lust he had shown in the dojo. But, when thinking about him then in comparison to now, Nic knew she had had no idea of just how much Des wanted her.

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