Midnight Bayou Page 32

Another bottle of champagne arrived seconds after they were seated, telling her he'd prearranged it. And possibly a great deal more.

"I'm told the food is memorable here. The house is early twentieth century," he continued. "Georgian Colonial Revival, and belonged to an artist. A private home until about thirty years ago.”

"Do you always research your restaurant's history?”

"Ambience matters. Especially in New Orleans. So does cuisine. They tell me the caneton a l'Orange is a house specialty.”

"Then one of us should have it." Intrigued, she set her menu aside. He wasn't just fun, she thought. He wasn't just sexy and smart. He was interesting. "You choose. This time.”

He ordered straight through from appetizers to chocolate souffli with the ease of a man accustomed to fine dining in exclusive restaurants.

"You have good French, at least for ordering food. Do you speak it otherwise?”

"Yes, but Cajun French can still throw me.”

"Have you been to Paris?”

"Yes.”

She leaned forward in that way she had, her arms folded on the edge of the table, her gaze fastened to his. "Is it wonderful?”

"It is.”

"One day I'd like to go. To Paris and Florence, to Barcelona and Athens." They were hot, colorful dreams of hers, and the anticipation of them as exciting as the wish. "You've been to those places.”

"Not Athens. Yet. My mother liked to travel, so we went to Europe every year when I was growing up. Every other to Ireland. We still have family there.”

"And what's your favorite?" She rested her elbows on the table and her chin in her laced fingers. "Of all the places you've been.”

"Hard to say. The west coast of Ireland, the hills in Tuscany, a sidewalk cafi in Paris. But at the moment, right here is my favorite place.”

"There's that silky tongue again. All right then, tell me about Boston.”

"It's a New England harbor city of great historical importance." When she laughed, he sat back and soaked it in. "Oh, that's not what you meant.”

"Tell me about your family. You have brothers, sisters?”

"Two brothers, one sister.”

"Big family.”

"Are you kidding? My parents were pikers in the go-forth-and-multiply area. Mom has six brothers and sisters, my father comes from a family of eight. None of their siblings had less than five kids. We are legion.”

"You miss them.”

"I do? Okay, I do," he admitted reluctantly. "From this nice, safe distance, I've realized I actually like my family.”

"They'll come visit you?”

"Eventually. Everyone will wait for my mother to start actually speaking to me again. In our house if it's not one thing, it's your mother.”

She sampled the appetizer he'd ordered for her. She wore no rings, and he wondered why. She had lovely hands, slim, elegant, delicate. The silver key rested against that smooth, dusky skin, and there was a glint of silver at her ears. But her fingers, her wrists were bare. Beautifully bare, he realized, and wondered if the lack of ornamentation was some sort of female ploy to make a man notice every line, every curve, every sweep of her.

It was sure as hell working that way on him.

"You think she's mad at you? Your mama?”

He had to blink himself back to the threads of conversation. "Not mad. Irritated, annoyed, baffled. If she was really angry, she'd be down here in my face, chipping away until I crumbled to her terrifying will.”

"Does she want you to be happy?”

"Yes. We love each other like idiots. She'd just be more satisfied if my happiness aligned with her point of view.”

Her head angled, and again he caught that wink of silver through the thick, dark curls of her hair. "Why don't you let her know she hurts your feelings?”

"What?”

"If you don't let her know she hurts them, how is she going to stop?”

"I let them down.”

"Oh, you did not," she replied, with a kind of impatient sympathy. "You think your family wants you to be miserable and unfulfilled? Married to a woman you don't love, working at a career that you don't want?”

"Yes. No," he answered. "I don't honestly know.”

"Then it seems to me you ought to ask them.”

"Do you have any siblings?”

"No. And tonight we're going to talk about you.

We'll save me for another time. Did you find what you wanted at your antique shops?”

"And then some." More comfortable talking about acquisitions than family, he gave her a blow-by-blow that took them into the main course.

"How do you know what you want before you have the room done?”

"I just do." He moved his shoulders. "I can't explain it. I've got this great davenport on hold for the upriver parlor. That's where I'm starting next, and it's not nearly as big a job as the kitchen. Walls and floors mostly. I want to get a good start on the interiors so I can concentrate on the galleries, the double stairs, have the place painted starting in April, if I'm lucky. That way, we should be able to shift back inside before the summer heat.”

"Why are you pushing so hard? The house isn't going anywhere.”

"Remember the single-minded, competitive nature I told you about?”

"Doesn't mean you can't relax a bit. How many hours are you putting in in a week?”

"I don't know. Ten, twelve a day generally." Then he grinned and reached for her hand.

"You worried about me? I'll take more time off if you'll spend it with me.”

"I'm not that worried about you." But she left her hand in his, let it be held against that hard, calloused palm. "Still, Mardi Gras's coming. If you don't take some time to enjoy that, you might as well be in Boston." She looked at the double souffli their waiter set in the middle of the table. "Oh my. My, my." She leaned forward, closed her eyes, and sniffed. And was laughing when she opened them again. "Where's yours?”

He took her dancing. He'd found a club that played the slow fox-trots and jazzy swings of the thirties, and surprised her by whirling her around the floor until her legs were weak.

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