Friday morning I told Robert about my lunch date. I explained the story using enough vague details to keep suspicion and questions to a minimum. I told him who Dominic was, professionally, and what he wanted me to do. I also explained to him that I was doing it off bank-time and making no extra money for my consultation. He seemed all right with it.
Cassie was the next problem. She wanted to go to lunch so she could try to dig more details out of me about this mystery man. Lunch at Mo’s was always her favorite place to get the good dishes on what was going on. So, I was left with the task of letting her know that the mystery man was taking me to lunch, and she would have to wait for any juicy tidbits.
I also had to do this without the ears on the walls hearing me. It’s funny how word travels so quickly through a company. In no time I could go from a simple business lunch with a private client to having a secret meeting with a company that wanted to hire me, or worse, to having an affair.
That was the problem with working with mostly women. They can’t seem to mind their own business. And if they happen upon some information, it gets told to everyone they see, and the story grows taller and more twisted the farther it gets.
So I told Cassie as soon as she suggested lunch, which was the moment she saw me. I stood and walked around my desk to close my office door. Then I turned and faced her.
“We can’t have lunch today, Cassie. I know you want more info, but not today. OK?”
She looked at me for a moment, studying my face as if she were trying to read my mind. Then her school-girl giddiness began to bubble. Her eyes grew round as a smile spread across her face. “You’re having lunch with him.” It wasn’t a question. “Oh my God. You’re having lunch with him. Does anyone else know?”
“Robert knows, but as far as he’s concerned it’s a private business client seeking an outside opinion. I’d like to keep it that way.”
“So, am I gonna get to meet him?” The enthusiasm she exhibited was almost contagious. I had to struggle to keep my composure in the face of the young girl trying to burst through my friend’s skin.
I smiled a smile that felt like it would split my face in two. “Yes, you’ll get to meet him. But please try to keep it professional. OK? I don’t want anyone else sticking their noses in. This is complicated enough without gossips fabricating their own versions of the truth.” I knew when it came down to it I could count on Cassie.
If there hadn’t been a problem with the server, that morning would have been the longest on record. As it was, the server kept my morning going. First it went down, but that was thankfully before the bank opened. Then, it decided to lock out certain computer stations so that we could only have two tellers open. On a Friday, that’s not a good thing.
But those problems were minor compared to the adrenaline that started pumping through my system around quarter after eleven. Every time I heard the door open I was looking through my office window into the lobby. And with every minute that passed, my anxiety grew. You would’ve thought I was going on a hot date with Johnny Depp, or something.
I pulled my hand mirror out of my desk drawer and checked my hair and make-up. Cassie caught me doing it and closed the door on us.
“You need to chill out, Ella. You’re getting yourself all worked up. It shows.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I know, I know. I can’t help it, though. Oh my God, Cassie. If you only knew what this man does to me.”
“I’d like to know, but you’re not telling.” She stopped talking when my eyes went to the window as the door opened again. My expression must have shown that Dominic had just walked in, because she turned to look, too.
If I was on an adrenaline rush before he walked in, then the sight of him sent me into an overdose. I got so hot—like a hot-flash. I was suddenly very nervous as I turned Cassie to me and asked in an almost panicked voice, “How do I look? Do I look okay?”
She took me by the shoulders and pushed me down in my leather chair. “You look beautiful, as always. Now chill out before you hyperventilate. I’ll let the man in when he asks for you.”
I could see a teller pointing toward my office when Dominic spoke to her. I also noticed how she watched him as he crossed the lobby. So did the other tellers. But it wasn’t suspicion I saw in their eyes. It was lust.
Cassie had already left my office and taken her seat at her desk just outside. When Dominic approached her and spoke, he gave her his warmest, most winning smile. He held out his hand to shake hers, and she obliged, standing so as to be more professional. Then she turned and came to the door with Dominic on her heals.
I took a deep breath as the door opened. Cassie, in her infinite wisdom, took her time with the process. She also stepped in first and introduced him before letting Dominic enter. She was giving me the time I needed for a few more breaths.
As Dominic walked in, smiling his I’m-gonna-melt-you-to-the-core smile, Cassie backed out waving her hand as if to fan herself from extreme heat. I couldn’t respond because I was too enthralled with the man standing before me.
I had decided to make it a professional meeting within the walls of the bank. I stood, walked around my desk, and held out my hand to shake Dominic’s. “Nice to see you again, Mr. Sterling.”
His eyes flickered, but he didn’t miss a beat. “And you, too, Ms. Boothe.”
He took my hand to shake it. I all but melted at his touch. We had to get out of the bank, quick. If we didn’t, people would know this wasn’t as innocent as it seemed. I could feel it.
“Shall we have lunch?” he asked in that subtly sexy tone.
I slipped into my jacket and grabbed my purse. Dominic opened the door for me and we walked out together. I could feel the eyes of every bank employee on me as we left.
We walked to his car. The Mustang couldn’t be his only car. He had to have a practical one as well, but there sat the smooth sex-appeal of the muscle car. I had the impression he brought it because he knew what it did to me. I walked around to the passenger side, but when I reached for the door, he smoothly slipped in front and opened it for me. He waited until I was seated and closed the door.
He slid in behind the wheel and turned to me with that smile. “You ready to go for a ride?”
I tried to be indifferent by shrugging my shoulders a little and saying, “Sure.”
Sliding the key into the ignition, he turned it and let the engine roar with a slight press of the accelerator. I felt the smile. Mine and his.
I heard the soft bump as he put the car in gear. Being the ever-so-professional businessman, he left the bank lot at a respectable speed. When he pulled up to the red light at the end of the street, I turned to look at him.
He wore dark sunglasses, but I could tell by the set of his jaw what was on his mind. And it wasn’t lunch. I turned back to the windshield and pressed my head lightly against the headrest.
The opposing light turned yellow, then red. Dominic slid the Mustang into first. I waited.
I barely saw the light change to green before he dropped the clutch. The car banged into second, chirping the tires as they tried to grip the road with the gaining speed. Third, fourth, fifth. In less than ten seconds we were flying down the road at eighty miles an hour.
I closed my eyes and let the speed carry me away. As the speed sank into my bones and the music invaded my consciousness, I felt all my problems being swept behind me.
Dominic drove for a while with nothing but the music for company. He seemed to realize just what I needed—even if I didn’t—and he gave it to me freely. No questions asked. I had always loved him for that.
When he started slowing down, I opened my eyes. We were climbing the winding road that led to the top of Elk Mountain. The trees were budding tiny shoots of vibrant greens and yellows. I hit the button for the window and breathed in the mountain air. It was so fresh and clean. I laid my head back again and just let the air whip around me as we climbed. It was a beautiful ride to the top.
Just before we reached the summit, I turned to look out Dominic’s window. There was a spectacular view of the valley below, aptly named “Lookout Point.” I never saw the view. My eyes came to rest on the man sitting next to me.
At one point in my life, he had been my world. I would have gone into the depths of Hell and back for him. Now he was back, and it was like we never skipped a beat. The chemistry between us caused fireworks for everyone to see. I longed to feel his lips on mine again, to drown in the depths of his beautiful green eyes. Most of all, I needed him to wrap me in his arms and tell me everything would be all right.
I watched him as he brought the car over the last rise and into the parking lot of the Elk Horn Restaurant. I watched him as he pulled the emergency brake and turned off the engine. I watched him as he turned to me, taking off his glasses to reveal his most deadly weapon.
Our eyes locked, and in the confines of the car the air began to grow thick. We sat there gazing at each other in perfect silence. Then something changed within those green depths, and he smiled and took a deep breath.
I thanked God for small favors as he climbed out and shut his door, taking the brief moment alone to beat at the mental stardust clouding my mind. When he opened my door, he offered his hand to assist me. I took it, relishing the instant melding that was at once strong and gentle.