He pulled out the chair courteously, letting her take her seat before he walked round the table to take his own. There was a certain prowl to his movements that she did not quite like, but she waited patiently as he rang the bell.
“Hors d’oeuvres” he said, drawing the word out as two waiters came in silently, placing china in front of them. The second proffered a bottle of wine. He nodded to the red, letting the drinks get poured, and she watched, a little intimidated, until they left.
“So a small room at the back is the best seat?” she asked quietly.
“Have you never heard of the chef’s table?”
“I think so,” she said, a little uncertain. Her halter-necked sundress had seemed sadly underdressed as they’d been shown through the more formal dining area. Now, seated at a mahogany table with a floor-to-ceiling mirror on one wall, she just felt out of place.
“Well, after you,” she tried, gesturing to the plate and hoping he would take the lead.
“Ladies first,” he reproved almost gently, but there was amusement in his voice. Pulling her foot back in case he had a nasty surprise planned and she had to kick him under the table, she lifted the china cover. Melon slices, artfully carved into a rising fan, the two shallow arcs joined at the ends as they rose from the plate. In the centre, on a small oval of sorbet, a single strawberry nestled. She looked at it, struggling to keep her face straight as she tried not to think of what it looked like. Satisfied her face was straight she looked at him, only to see him calmly pouring cream over his. Pausing, he offered the jug to her politely.
“Cream?” She looked at her plate, looked at his, and her lips pursed.
“Subtle,” she said, trying not to laugh.
“Always,” he replied suavely. He put the jug down and shrugged. “Well, you might change your mind later on.”
“And what makes you think there will be a later on?” she demanded, half-teasing, and his smile darkened.
“Because, my dear, you still have to pay for your dinner.” There was a hint of mockery, cruelty, in his voice and it thrilled her.
“I forgot my purse,” she said, entirely untruthfully, and he leaned back, running an appraising eye over her.
“Then I’m sure there’s something else I can take.” His eyes focused on hers, his tone suggestive, and she shivered.
“Perhaps I should stop now-“
“Eat.” His voice was light, but commanding. “The least you can do is provide me with the pleasure of your company while I consider the issue of your…compensation.” She could feel her pulse racing. He picked up his fork, turning it in his fingers, and speared the strawberry without looking. She swallowed, crossing her legs under the table, as he lifted the strawberry turning it, letting the cream run over it, and ate it in two bites. His gaze never left hers. Still looking at her, he smiled, pointing the fork at her plate.
“I hope you haven’t lost your appetite,” he said calmly, and she hastily carved part of the melon off and ate it.
“This is very good,” she said surprised, even as she wondered if she should have tried something with her own strawberry. To her relief he echoed her movements, dipping the melon in the sorbet before eating it.
“Oh yes, this is definitely a good place to eat out.” She looked up sharply, wondering if she had imagined the hint of double entendre, and then decided she was going to ignore it anyway.
“How did you find it?”
“I have connections,” he said smoothly. “I know the chef.”
“Won’t he be upset if we make a mess in here?” she asked, wondering to herself how far he intended to go. Was this a date or a scene? She couldn’t quite bring herself to ask outright.
“Hardly. It would not be the first time.” And that left her unasked question unanswered, deliberately, she was sure. She ate the last bite of her starter, and twitched the cutlery together on the plate. Almost immediately a gloved hand picked it up, and she jumped, taken aback by the silent, efficient service. The waiter exchanged a few words with her date, her schoolgirl French unable to keep up, as the table was efficiently stripped and relaid. She watched them in the mirror as they moved, gliding round each other as side plates and dishes appeared, and finally the main course. A plate of raw cubed meat and an ornate pot were placed in the centre of the table. Wooden handled metal forks appeared by their plates and then the waiters were gone.
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