She gave him a blank, wide-eyed look that made him feel like putting on a dunce cap and going to sit in the back of the classroom. All he could do was look back at her, for the moment wishing his friend all kind of harm as long as it didn’t hurt.
She was a study in over-the-top sex appeal. Black high-heeled boots, black leather jeans hugging expansive hips. Bare, narrow waist. Black leather halter top that she somehow managed not to spill completely out of. “Good work, dummy.”
“You are so supportive. In this, my time of…of…needing a break.”
“Poor baby,” she facetiously whined. “According to your boys, she seemed crazy about you, too. How’d you managed to mess that up?”
“This is going to be a short dinner.” As if on cue, a waiter brought bread and took their drink orders. Otherwise, Keith might’ve called the meeting off and gone to get soused.
Helen shook her head. “You’re too much of a gentleman to leave a lady sitting alone at the table.” She had him there. And clearly intended to grill him like a well-done steak.
With a small frown, he stayed put. “Helen, she left so fast — walked right out the damned door just like that. I’m not sure what even happened.”
“You fouled up is what happened. Question is, how? And why?”
“I gotta go to the john,” he lied. And gave thought to ducking out the rear door, into the alley, past the pit bull the maitre d’ kept out there as a deterrent to burglars.
“”So? Go.” She grinned, looking for all the world like a shark. A very attractive, extremely sexy shark but with straight, sparkling white teeth. “Y’ gotta come back.”
Her expression warmed, now an innocently sweet smile. The husband, if she had one, didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell. Helen St. James was a marvelous combination of seething sensuality and hard-nosed pragmatism. With a good heart. Any mortal man was overmatched by this woman.
One of these days, whether she was married or not (there wasn’t any ring), business or no business, he was going to take a run at her. Not tonight, though. Defintely not this night. It was too soon to be catting around. Way too soon.
Their wine arrived. They clinked glasses. She pressed him: “Talk to me.” He leaned over the menu. She sat there staring at him. There were few things more unnerving than Helen St. James giving you one of her good, long stares. A rattlesnake blinks more often.
The waiter returned. She closed her menu and Keith’s too. “Spaghetti and meatballs, twice. Please, do not let the wine run out.”
“Understood.” As the waiter left, Helen looked after, appraising the guy’s behind, nodding approval. When he disappeared into the kitchen, she returned her attention to Keith. He wouldn’t’ve minded one bit had she spotted another waiter’s butt to distract her.
“I wish the hell you’d quit staring at me.” She arched an eyebrow. Speak, she may as well have said, and I’ll leave you in peace. Keith couldn’t help chuckling. It felt good to have a friend this stubbornly caring. Felt good, but didn’t do a damned thing about the pain.
He took a healthy swallow of wine, glanced frustrated about the room and had to keep himself from picking up and throwing the table through the nearest window. Then he said, “Hard as it is to believe, I may not have been at fault.”
“You’re a man”, she said without missing a beat. “It’s always your fault. Even when it isn’t.” That was Helen, all right. For all he knew, she was being perfectly serious.
He changed subjects. “Heard y’ got married. How’s the poor bastard doing?” Helen simply grinned. There was, he realized, no getting off the hot seat. He threw in the towel.
“I was never so in love in all my life,” he heard himself say. Helen’s eyes grew wide. “But, she’s got a temper so bad her shadow’s afraid to follow her around.”
“Well, so, you at least thought you had a reason. May not be a case of complete stupidity after all. You tell her?”
Helen chuckled. “Scaredy cat.”
His voiced jumped. “It’s not like I didn’t want to!” People at other tables looked over. He toned it down. “The time was never right. Especially when she got mad about something.”
“Well.” She favored him with a friendly, pitying look. “It might not be the end of the world.”
Next week: Helen and Keith make a deal.
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