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“Oh my god! That car nearly hit a cab!” Someone by the windows yelled, obviously a tourist. The natives merely raised the volume on their conversations to be heard over the horns and yelling.

“Probably just Kenna Duck Dodgering through traffic.” Candace said, craning her head around just in case it was an actual incident.

“You taught her that move,” Frankie said.

“Me? That is all you. Cutting between cars without getting splashed or swiped or without breaking a heel.” Candace mimicked Frankie, “Pedestrians win. Just smile and wave.”

Kenna burst through the doors, panting when she reached their table. “He’s here. Be nice.”

“Be nice?” They asked in unison. Kenna made a frantic pointing gesture at her chest, contorted her face and ground her teeth. Their curious, pretty faces peered around her to see the crowd parting for Lucius Chaerea.

From across the restaurant a woman’s voice rang out. “Kenna!  Kenna dear, you must come over and meet my latest protege. He makes the most amazing collages.”

Daphne Dillingham. Widow of a semi-successful real estate developer and challenger to Joan Rivers for most cosmetic surgeries. She was even beginning to look a bit like Rivers, Kenna noticed, except for the jet black pixie spiked hair and new lotus blossom tattoo on her new breasts.

Kenna sighed and waved. She didn’t want to met the “protege” and he didn’t want to be met. None of them ever did. Every few months Dee Dee acquired a new one. Starving artists willing to do anything – anything for their art, until they discovered the diamonds on their patroness’s hands were spectacularly mounted and polished cubic zirconium, and Kenna was the only gallery curator who would entertain Daphne’s fantasy of discovering the next great talent.

“I’ll be right back,” she said as she dashed off before introductions.

Being rude was better than having DeeDee drag her boy-toy over to their table. There was always a chance she might actually find a hidden gem, and in between her discoveries, she was reliable for hosting exhibits or displaying new pieces in the commercial properties the late Mr. Dillingham had left her.

Candace and Frankie were left staring up at Luc.

“Ladies.” He offered a slight nod and took the seat obviously intended for Kenna. “Forgive my intrusion, I won’t stay long. Coffee.” He shot over his shoulder to the waiter who had appeared instantly. “I thought as The Accomplices and Research Team we should meet,” his tone clearly indicated that was the title he’d given them. He offered his hand, “Lucius Chaerea.”

They looked at each other and shared a non-verbal shrug. Frankie took the offering first. “A pleasure, Colonel,” using Kenna’s preferred moniker. “Frankie Winslow.”

“Miss Fisher.” Luc smiled at Candace.

“I think you give us too much credit as a Research Team Mr. Chaerea. There isn’t much to search, but you know that of course.”

Luc leaned back as the waiter sat the coffee in front of him. Every move smooth and deliberate he crossed his legs, lifted the cup and smiled over the rim before sipping. “Of course. What would you like to know?”

“Isn’t this a conversation you should be having with Kenna?” Frankie asked.

“It is. And I intend to, and many more. However, my intentions matter little when faced with such lovely and devoted guardians. May I suggest we hurry, I doubt she will be distracted long enough for us to indulge in small talk.”

“Out of curiosity Mr. Chaerea.” Candace said. “Why hand-delivered notes? Why not call her or text her or use email?”

“Call it a touch of romance.” He made a small gesture with his hand, the corners of his turning down briefly.

That was the correct answer. The one Kenna wanted and the one they wanted for her, but as they fully absorbed the implications of the question Frankie and Candace leaned closer.

“Or, it could mean you don’t want her replying or star sixty-nineing you where someone else might see,” Frankie watched the granite veil drop over his features.

“Are you married or living a double life Lucius?” Candace struck, surprising him by dropping the “Mr. Chaerea”.

“You know I’m widowed.” Their silken wall of protection only made him want their approval more. “My communication served two purposes. First and foremost, I thought she would like them. Second, I could ensure consistent delivery. Something not always possible with travel. My intentions toward Kenna include neither secrecy nor deception. She is…a light.” This last he spoke low, reverently and his face brightened when he saw Kenna approach.

“Sorry, she’s a mess. Didn’t you order the croissants?” She looked at the food-less table like a child opening socks for her birthday.

Luc stood. “I believe your breakfast approaches. And I must leave you for now. Miss Fisher, Miss Winslow, it has been a pleasure.” He cupped Kenna’s cheek and kissed the opposite one. “I will call you about our dinner.”

Under the table Candace nudged Frankie with her toe and mouthed “Museum” while not too subtly jerking her head towards Lucius.

“Ken likes to go to the museum on Sunday afternoons.” Frankie blurted out.

Kenna’s head whipped around at the lie. What she liked was to lay around reading trashy vampire romances, watching old movies and ordering Mr. Pings before falling asleep by ten.

“Well that was subtle,” she drawled. “Luc?” The saccharine sweetness singsong way she drew out his name fooled no one. “Would you like to join me?”

He smiled appreciatively over the top of her head. “I’m nothing if not opportunistic, and don’t wish to intrude further on your brunch.” Or deny the three of you time to thoroughly discuss. “Shall I return after, or would you prefer to meet there?”

“Meet.” “Return.” “Come back.” Kenna, Frankie and Candace spoke in unison.

Kenna smiled through gritted teeth over her shoulder, only to be met with pastry filled grins from the table. “I got this, thank you.”

“No problem,” Frankie muffled around a mouthful.

When she looked back up Lucius was grinning. “You look like the Cheshire cat,” trying to sound irritated at the lot of them. “The Met at two. We’ll find out what you like.”

“Until two then. Ladies,” he winked and was gone.

Kenna plopped into her chair. “The Hell? Frank are you blushing.”

Candace burst out laughing at them both. She pointed her fork at Kenna and said, “Hope you shaved your legs this morning.”

“I didn’t, thank God. He’s pretty great and I’d like to get some quality time in before I ruin it with sex.”

“A little fuzz never ruined hot monkey sex.” Frankie wiggled her brows.

“I’ll bet your Colonel could do hot monkey sex,” Candace mused as she slathered jam on her croissant.

“Here Cheeta. Have a banana,” Frankie laughed.

“Stop saying hot monkey sex!” The nearby tables went dead quiet. Kenna rubbed her face with both hands.

“Stop that.” Candace yanked one hand away. “You’ll smudge your make-up.”

“What are you so worried about? He likes you,” Frankie said. “Sally Field at the Oscars likes you. Sex with him won’t ruin anything but your lipstick and hair.”

“He might turn gay…or…or…or start crying because he’s decided to go back to his wife. Or?” Kenna shuddered and swallowed the bile in her throat as she contemplated the dire possibilities. “Never mind.”

Candace grabbed the seat of her chair and turned to face her friend. “First, you don’t have the magic wand to turn anyone gay, and that waiter slash actor? The only thing straight about him to begin with was his teeth.”

“Second,” it was Frankie’s turn. “You knew the po-lice man was a temp anyway. He was cute, carried a gun and had a hero complex. Box one, two and three, check check check. And Or is history. So don’t be doomed to repeat it.”

“You just come up with that?” Candace nudged Frankie’s elbow, “I like it.”

“Nah, it’s been cooking. Did it sound profound?”

“We need drinks,” Kenna said and three arms shot in the air to signal their favorite tall, dark and he-should-be-an-underwear-model bartender.

 

 

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