Home > Cole(8)

Author: Tijan

When the hostess came back over with a server right behind her, I sat back and watched my friend work. Sia was sparkling, sophisticated, and mesmerizing. The hostess didn’t blink an eye as she charmed Sia right back. By the time the two bottles had been set up on the table, chilling in ice buckets, and our glasses set before us, the ladies had exchanged cards. As the hostess and server left, Sia sat back and sipped her chardonnay.

She wiggled her eyebrows at me. “We should come here more often. Forget noon lunch. Late-night dinner is the way to go.”

I shook my head. “You amaze me, and you always exhaust me. I couldn’t do that, flip it on like you just did.”

“You get used to it. It makes life fun and interesting.” She set her glass down, resting her fingers on the base. She toyed with it, biting down on her lip before asking, “I know my job isn’t your style, but what are you going to do now?”

I sat back and tensed.

“You moved to Chicago because of his job, and I know you had a column in an online magazine, but what now? You haven’t written anything for a while.”

I hadn’t realized she was checking.

“I subscribed to your column. I haven’t gotten any alerts.” She leaned forward. “I’m not trying to be a pushy best friend, but I am trying to be encouraging at the pace you need. I feel like you need it now. Moving out was a good thing. Writing is a good thing, too. Are you going to start doing that again?”

Was I going to start writing? Even just thinking about it, some of the heaviness returned to my chest. I shook my head, letting out a breath of air. I read, and I went on walks, and I watched movies. I did anything to clear my mind, and that meant no writing. “I don’t know. Maybe. One thing at a time right now. Moving is a big deal. I already feel like I’ve betrayed Liam once.”

“Oh.” She straightened back in her seat. “I’m sorry. Sometimes I don’t think of it from your perspective. I know moving is a big deal. And you don’t have to write. I mean, you’re set with money, so that’s good. You don’t have to worry. But I think it’ll help you, even if you just do it for yourself. You’re right. One thing at a time.” She paused and then looked deeply into my eyes. “For what it’s worth, Liam was a really great guy. He loved you more than anything. I know he’d be proud that you’re moving forward.”

My throat closed up. I could feel the tears coming, so I looked down. I didn’t want to cry, not again. Reaching for my wine, I murmured, hoarsely, “Thank you.” The mere mention of him, the thought that I might be betraying him—my insides burned. The hole that had been in my chest since Liam died opened wide again. I groaned and took a few sips of my wine more quickly than normal. Fuck it. I threw the whole glass back, and when I set it down, Sia had a stupid grin on her face.

She beamed at me. “There she is. I love this Addison. Let’s get drunk tonight!”

I managed a smile. “Sounds good to me.”

She was waving the server down for a second glass before the words left me.

The next glass went down faster than the first, and so did the third. I paused on the fourth and let the food soak up the first three. The meal was delicious, but that could’ve been the wine talking. Everything about the restaurant was fun. Late night dinner might be my new favorite way of eating, too.

Today had been a hard day—hard but satisfying. It was time to relax and let some tension go, and so we did. A couple hours later we were in the process of having our food boxed up, as well as the two bottles of wine, when a group of men entered the restaurant.

They came in suddenly and walked straight through toward the back. The atmosphere around us shifted. Their presence brought the undercurrent of tension I’d been feeling to the forefront. Everyone could sense it now, even Sia. I was intrigued by the pack of visitors, and I heard her swift intake of breath.

The men were all tall, all over six feet, with broad shoulders. They looked muscular, like they could’ve been MMA fighters, and most had hard jawlines. It wasn’t necessarily their appearances that drew them attention, it was how they walked, their strong and confident presence together. They seemed to have one mission, and they didn’t waver from it. None of them smiled. None of them looked around the restaurant, but they were clearly familiar with it. The hostess and server quieted, but didn’t approach them. They seemed used to their presence as well.

The men didn’t walk past our booth—we were too far in the corner—but they came toward us, then turned left. As they did, I watched them. The guy in the middle was different. He was startlingly beautiful. His hair was dark, almost black, and cut short. He had chiseled cheekbones and dark eyes that weren’t like the others’. The other men had dead eyes. They were there to take orders, and this was the guy who gave them. He was the leader.

Authority and confidence emanated from him, along with an aura of danger.

I could find no outward indication to prove my gut feeling, but I was sure of it. The others were well above six feet, whereas this guy was either six feet or an inch above. He moved with a grace the others didn’t have. He was lean, with broad shoulders and a slender waist, but he wasn’t skinny. The others walked, but he stalked in a sensual way. He moved like a predator.

I licked my lips, then realized what I had done and pulled my gaze away. When the group reached the rear of the restaurant, instead of pushing through the door into the kitchen, they turned. I hadn’t noticed before, but I saw a set of stairs. I counted as eight of them went up, leaving two behind. They took position with their backs to the stairs and hands folded in front. They were the guard dogs.

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