Shaun entered Becco’s and removed her Chanel sunglasses, letting her eyes adjust to the lack of sunlight inside. She inspected the waiting area seats for Cole, but there was no sign of him. She glanced down at her watch, five to noon. Please don’t let this be a repeat of this morning.
Before she could continue her search, the hostess acknowledged her arrival; A slender redhead who looked no more than nineteen. “May I help you?”
“Yes, reservations for Wright.” Maybe he was already seated, she thought to herself.
“Is your party here yet?”
Shit. She glanced around once again, desperate and on edge. She hoped to be here a bit earlier herself to debrief with Cole before Jasper arrived, but instead was forced into a conference call Robert apparently bailed on. “I don’t think so.”
“Shaun.” On the far side of the restaurant bar, Cole dismounted a stool with a bottle of Samuel Adams in his hand.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Shaun smiled and turned to the hostess. “Looks like we are just waiting on the one, but you can seat us.”
The young woman grabbed three menus and started for the main dining area. “Right this way then.”
Cole caught up and they both followed the hostess to their table. Shaun set her handbag down on the fourth seat and began to pull her chair out. “Allow me.” Cole finished what she started and when she sat, he helped inch her back towards the table. “Thank you.”
The server appeared, an older balding man who Shaun had seen here before once or twice. “My name is Paul and I will be your server this afternoon. Can I start you off with a drink?”
“A Pelligrino with lime for me, thank you.”
Cole held up his beer. “I’m all set, thanks.” He plopped down into his chair and Paul headed off to retrieve her drink. “Funny, I would have taken you for a mid-day martini kind of woman?”
“I don’t drink during business meetings.” She pulled out Jasper’s client file from her black, oversize Dolce handbag and placed it on the table in front of the empty chair.
Cole snorted. “You have a lot of don’ts. Any dos that I might find particularly interesting?” He smirked and took a swig from his bottle.
She flipped open the folder. “Well, I do think we have the potential to create something great for Jasper.” Shaun gave a coy smirk of her own as Paul returned with her Pelligrino.
“How about an appetizer while you wait for the third member of your party?”
Cole picked up his menu and began to scan. “Um…”
“Do you like calamari?” she asked.
He glanced over at her. “Cala what?”
Clearing her throat, she shook her head and smiled at Paul. “Please give us a few minutes.”
The server left to attend to another table and Cole barked out a loud chuckle. “I know what calamari is? I honestly just wanted to see your reaction. Priceless.”
Completely out of professional character, Shaun discreetly gave Cole the one finger salute and continued looking over her menu.
He grabbed his beer and took a pull. “Wow, so you aren’t just a robot. I was beginning to wonder if there was actual warm blood flowing through those veins or ice water.”
Shaun slammed her hand down on the table. “You seem to have all these preconceived ideas of me, don’t you?” She closed her menu and tossed it to the side, annoyed and somewhat hurt. “What? Because I’m a woman I need to be all doe-eyed and weak-kneed around a moderately handsome male employee. Get over yourself.”
“So, you think I’m handsome? Wait, not just handsome, but moderately handsome?” His grin widened.
She squeezed the lime over her Pelligrino and dropped the fruit slice into her glass. “Fuck you.”
His brows furrowed and full, kissable lips curved downward. “Wait… Shaun I…”
She let out a sigh, holding her palm out to stop his floundering. “Don’t bother. Let’s just get through this meeting, okay?” When her phone vibrated, Shaun glanced down at the screen. She pressed answer and lifted the device to her ear. Jasper’s assistant, Charles apologized and informed her that his boss would not be able to make lunch and would reschedule. “Great.” She sat back in her chair after hanging up. Hailing Paul over with a hand in the air, Shaun ordered herself a Hendrick’s martini.
“Looks like it’s just you and me for lunch.” Returning after a few silent minutes, Paul set her much needed drink down in front of her. “Thank you.” She swirled the toothpick with three olives around her glass and took a sip.
“I’m sorry.” He reached out and squeezed her hand, releasing it just as quick. “Let’s forget about business for a little while? I’m tired of coming off as a complete dick around you. So tell me, how does a young, beautiful woman become business partners with my asshole uncle?”
Shaun laughed. “Well..”
Shaun talked and surprisingly Cole listened. He listened without any interest in what it was like to grow up as the daughter of Preston Wentworth-Wright. Something Shaun hadn’t experienced in a long time. They ordered calamari and shared a family portion of penne in a fresh basil tomato sauce. The food was delicious and the company, better than she expected.
When Paul asked if they wanted to order dessert, Shaun declined but Cole requested the menu. “I’m not ready to let you off the hook just yet.” His light blue eyes sparkled in the restaurant candlelight.
“Oh really?” Shaun laughed. “How about you tell me a bit about yourself now? You don’t seem to like your uncle very much, so why come work for him?”
Cole hesitated and Shaun wondered if he intended to answer. He ordered the chocolate mousse cake with cherries and chocolate sauce. Her favorite. Voice low, he responded, “my father died my senior year in high school.”
“I’m sorry.” Shaun didn’t know what to say. She felt like an intruder, forcing him to share something so painful. She lost her grandfather when she was thirteen and never truly recovered, he having been more of a father to her than her real one.
“Yeah, me too.” Cole drained the last of his beer. “Well, he left a business behind. A lumber company and I was ready to ditch college and take over. However, good ol’ Robert swooped in to save the day so long as I promised to return the favor somewhere down the line.”
Shaun kept her comment to herself. She always saw Robert as a worm, she just never imagined how low he would sink to get what he wanted. “So, working for him was the favor?”
There was a long pause fueling Shaun’s curiosity further. “…Yeah.” Paul came back and set the exquisite dessert between them both with two spoons. “Please, don’t make me eat this alone.” Cole smiled and her heart summersaulted in her chest. God, he was handsome and genuinely charming. One hell of a dangerous combination.
Shaun grabbed a spoon and portioned off a small piece for herself. “You’re very talented.”
He ate a bite of the cake himself. “Thanks. I prefer smaller scale stuff like furniture but as long as I’m here…” He shrugged.
“I know. I remember your drawings.”
“You mean when I thought you were a guy.”
They both laughed at the memory this time. “I almost forgot about that.”
After devouring a 1/4 of the cake slice, Shaun waved the flag of surrender, dropping her spoon onto the plate. “I couldn’t eat another bite if I wanted to.”
“You did good. Not bad for a girl.” He pointed to her glass of Pellegrino. “Mind?”
“Oh, no. Go ahead.” She pushed the sparkling water to him and he drank the rest while she finished her third martini.
Paul reappeared right on time. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Just the check please.”
The server dropped the leather folder onto the table. “Thank you, and I will take that whenever you’re ready.”
Shaun reached for her handbag, but Cole scooped up the check. “I can’t let you pay.”
“Oh, not this again.” She smiled and snatched the folder from his hand. “Cole this was a business lunch. Think of it as your uncle paying for it.”
He laughed and nodded. “Okay. But, just this once. Next time I’m taking you out.”
She froze, words completely vacating her martini-clouded mind. Was he asking her out on a date? She slid the company American Express into the folder and handed it to Paul when he strode by. “I… really… don’t…”
“Would it be so bad to go out with me?”
Snippet of Chapter 8 Part 2:
Cole slammed the back of his fist against the emergency stop button and the elevator car jerked to a stop.
“What the…!” Shaun exclaimed, alarm buzzer going off in the background as he stalked towards her…