The Elk Horn was a fairly up-scale restaurant with an eclectic menu offering exotic meats like venison, moose, caribou, and, of course, elk. The wine menu was extensive and worldly, and the liquor was top-shelf. To put it mildly, it wasn’t cheap. It was, in fact, a good location for a business meal…or a romantic date.
But I wasn’t there on business, or a romantic date. I was a little uncomfortable with Dominic spending that kind of money on taking me to lunch. This was supposed to be a friendly meeting, not a date. Well, he did say he would take what he could get, I thought as we walked to the door. Maybe he’s gonna try to woo me with extravagance.
The maitre-d opened the door and greeted us as we approached. “Good Afternoon, Mr. Sterling. Mrs. Boothe.”
“Afternoon, Charles,” Dominic replied. I glanced over at him. How does he know Charles?
“Charles,” I said, nodding to him. He beamed at me as I walked through the door.
“We have a table reserved for you on the balcony, as you requested, Mr. Sterling.” He led the way across the fairly empty restaurant to the French doors that stood open to the balcony overlooking the valley. Outside he crossed to a table that sat apart from the others. It was in the far corner next to the railing—best view in the whole of the Elk Horn.
Charles went to pull my chair out for me, but Dominic stepped in. “I’ll take care of Ella. Thank you, Charles.” And he helped to seat me as the maitre-d placed the menus on the table. I noticed an odd look flash across the waiter’s face as he bowed out. Was it curiosity, satisfaction? Surely it was simple curiosity at seeing me here with another man.
Michael and I had be regulars at the Elk Horn for years before the accident. Since then, Allison and I had continued going, though less frequently. Charles had questioned me about finding another male companion.
And, about that, how in the world was Dominic familiar with the staff here? I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Since we were virtually the only people in the place, they probably knew who he was by the time of our arrival. And knowing Charles’ name? Dominic had always been good with names. He probably remembered it from when he called to make the reservation. I decided not to ask because it didn’t matter.
I picked up my menu and browsed the lighter fare. Dominic was perusing the wine list. After deciding on a soup and salad meal, I closed the menu and turned to gaze out over the valley.
My mind felt simultaneously foggy and extremely clear. I was vaguely aware that someone else was at the table with me as I breathed in the clear mountain air. It went deep into my lungs and penetrated my soul—always the cleanser of my spirit. My eyes followed the small flocks of birds darting from the canopy only to dive back in. It felt good to be up here, above everything that was cumbersome in my life.
An odd sensation began to infiltrate my peaceful little bubble. It was warm to the point of almost creating real heat. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and focused on it, turning my head in the direction from which it seemed to emanate.
When my eyes opened, I was taken captive by the deep green pools that were
Dominic’s eyes. We sat there, lost in each other, for what seemed like an eternity. Yet it wasn’t long enough. It could never be long enough.
“You are so beautiful,” he said in an almost dreamy voice. He reached across the table and took my paralyzed hands in his. “I could watch you all day. Every day.”
I pulled my hands free, though with some mental effort, and dropped my head. “I wish you wouldn’t talk like that. I mean, thank you, but really. It’s not fair to either of us.” I looked back up at him.
Who was I kidding? The only thing that kept me from jumping him right then and there was Michael. I loved Michael, but that wasn’t what held me back. Loyalty and honor held me back. And, let me tell you, that was some powerful loyalty and honor to keep me from him. I wanted him like nothing I had ever wanted before. And I knew he could see it.
“Ella, I told you before. Just to have you in my life is enough. I won’t try anything. I’ll deal with any urges you may arouse.” He flashed that sexy, mischievous grin.
Wow. That stung. Images of him and Lynnette… I decided to play the game. “Deal with them however you wish,” I said in smug tone.
He curled his finger at me in a “come hither” gesture. I leaned forward across the table, and he met me half-way. He looked right into my eyes and, in a voice dripping with sexuality, said, “The way I wish has just been denied to me.” Then he puckered his lips at me in a quick gesture that had me melting.
I sat back in my chair. “I have to go back to work, you know.”
“What are you saying? That you’d be willing to help me deal with my urges otherwise?”
Our waitress approached the table then. Dominic turned his charm onto the young woman, causing roses to bloom on her round cheeks and girlish giddiness to tinkle in her laugh. I enjoyed watching him practically bring the girl to her knees.
We gave our orders, choosing the same meal with iced-tea to drink.
Once the waitress had gone, I looked at Dominic. “You’re something else. You know that?”
He looked at me innocently and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do. That waitress was all but falling over herself because of you.” I watched that smile of his spread slowly across his face. “See. You know what I mean. You turn on that charm of yours, and you can have anything you want.”
“Not anything,” he said with a serious tone. “I can’t have you.”
“A minor technicality. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. It’s better that way.”
He sat back in his chair, a puzzled look on his face. “What does that mean? Does that mean I could have you if I went about it the right way?”
I shook my head, knowing this was killing both of us. “It means that no matter what I may feel toward you, nothing will ever happen. I would never cheat on Michael. Never. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances.”
It was his turn to shake his head. “I’m not asking that of you. I keep telling you that.” He paused and looked me in the eyes. “Maybe you’re just trying to convince yourself that you won’t cheat. Maybe you’re afraid of your own feelings for me.”
I looked away. It felt like he had pried my darkest fear from the depths of my sub-conscience, and I hadn’t realized it until just then. Maybe he was right. Maybe I was trying to convince myself that I would never cheat on Michael. The fact was, I was lonely. Michael was a wonderful husband, but he could only give me so much. I needed adult companionship. I needed conversation. I needed—or wanted—a sexual relationship. I was only human, after all. Until Dominic reappeared in my life, I didn’t know I was missing all of that.
He took my chin and tilted my head up to face him. “I’m not going to push you, Ella. If you come to me I won’t turn you away, but I won’t push you to that.”
Just then I saw the waitress coming with our drinks and salads. Saved by the server! I thought as I pulled away from him.
We both leaned back so she could put our plates and drinks on the table. I watched as she served Dominic. He smiled up at her, and her cheek-roses bloomed again. “Can I get you anything else?” She asked Dominic directly, as if he was sitting alone.
“Nothing for me, darling,” he smiled at her. Then he turned to me. “Ella, do you need anything else?”
The waitress stepped back half a step and looked at me. I smiled up at her, secretly admiring how smooth Dominic had been in reminding her that I was there, too. “No, thank you.”
She nodded her head, and took her exit. It was a practiced move, utilized by all of the servers at the Elk Horn.
When she was back inside the still-empty restaurant, I looked at Dominic. Then I laughed.