Damn, it sucks being the dependable one, Kaylee Daniels thought while sitting at 'their' table at Luciano's. Fingering her caramel colored braids she people watched while waiting for her compulsively late friends, Tabby and Bri to arrive. The hustle and bustle of workers and patrons helped her bide her time. Sitting in the high-class, San Francisco restaurant alone for half an hour could put a serious dent in a girl's ego. A few new faces stared at her. Luckily the regulars knew she was waiting for her tardy friends. Why couldn't Tabby and Bri be on time at least once? Being late was their trademark.
Kaylee could either take it or leave it. And after all they'd been through together, she'd much rather take it. Her two crazy friends were always there when the shit hit the fan. In Kaylee's life, there had been a lot of shit, and one of those enormous wind machine fans. Duck and cover was her motto. As an adult, Kaylee learned to do a whole lot of ducking and covering to keep her life from being overtaken with the 'mess' that had been hurled her way. As a child, she had to live in it. Not anymore.
At the next table Kaylee watched as a pair of lovers held hands across the deep red tablecloth. A bottle of wine sat next to the three burning candles at the center of their table. They looked to be around her own twenty-eight years. The brunette woman's smile lit the room as she looked into the eyes of her date. Kaylee's heart thumped wildly against her chest as the man pulled out a ring and placed it on the woman's finger.
Lucky lady, she thought. No, scratch that, run while you can girl, is more like it. The Daniels women were cursed in love, at least that's what her mom always said. Kaylee didn't know for sure about any curses, but what she did know about love made her steer clear. It looked about as fun as getting teeth pulled without the pain medication. There aren't any shots to numb your heart. Her mom had been in 'love' enough times in her life for the both of them. After witnessing all of her heart aches Kaylee kept her distance from love.
Unfortunately steering clear of love meant she usually kept her distance from men. No men meant no sex. Damn I miss sex.
The sweet smell of basil tickled her senses. She savored the delicious scent while she continued to glance about the restaurant. Over each red-clothed table hung small crystal chandeliers. They looked elegant, yet contemporary. The lights were dimmed to perfection. Luciano's was the best place to bring a date, not that she'd know. But it was also a hip place for people to just hang out.
A spur of the moment decision six months ago transpired into what is now known as Friday's at Luciano's. Who wanted to wait for a man to take a girl out to a nice dinner? Not in this century. Girl's night out beat a manfest any day. That was until Luciano Valenti walked his fine self into the picture. The man himself said yummy better than the gourmet Italian food he sold in his restaurant. Not that the food was-n't great, he was just better. Everything about him set her body cooking. The man sizzled.
Luciano threw all Kaylee's "stay away from men" rules right out the window. He made her want to attack him like a sex-crazed lunatic. Kaylee didn't do sex-crazed lunatic, at least she hadn't until she met Luciano.
As long as he didn't come within touching distance she could handle it. The first two months were a breeze. Then, Nico, Luciano's cousin and head chef noticed Tabby. A flirt and a half, he started spending more and more time around their table; chatting, winking and smiling at Tabby every chance he got. Then Luciano joined in the visiting sessions and things were never the same.
What started out as a little extra dessert or appetizer here and there turned into Nico bringing out whatever new recipe he had in the works. Kaylee, Bri, and Tabby would try it out and give him their opinion. While they ate their food, Nico and Luciano pulled up their own chairs and joined them.
You'd think spending time around the object of your attraction would be a good thing. Nope, not with Kaylee.
Each time Luciano approached the table, he seemed so intense. His mysterious dark eyes zeroed in on her. When Luciano made an appearance she went into lust overdrive, and became a stammering klutz. She couldn't get within a couple feet of Luciano without spilling, dropping, or hitting something.
The Daniels' curse strikes again. All she wanted was a chance to chill with the guy and admire that fine physique of his. She may not be able to touch but she sure as hell could ogle. The man won the award for San Francisco's finest, hands down. After a hard day at her bookstore, Kaylee deserved to do a little looking.
The bell over the door jingled. Kaylee looked across the packed restaurant to see if her friends had arrived. Of course not, that would only make them twenty minutes late.
She watched as the hostess sat the elderly couple who just entered when suddenly she got the feeling. Luciano must be near by. Goose bumps spread across her already tingling skin. Her heart started beating double time.
She didn't see Luciano yet. But she heard him making rounds like he did every night, greeting his customers in that sexy, baritone voice.
Turning to the left, her hand slid across the table. Just as he approached her, Kaylee did what she always did when he was around, something stupid. As her water glass tipped over creating a small pool on her table, she fought the overwhelming urge to crawl under that same table and hide. He must think I'm the world's biggest klutz!
"I'll get that for you," Luciano said as he cleaned the small amount of water with one hand and a napkin. "Luckily you drank most of it already."
His rich, smooth tone wrapped around her making her dizzy. Or maybe that was from the lack of oxygen getting to her brain. Something about being around this man severed all her control over her body. The only connection that never failed was the one to her raging hormones.
"Yeah, lucky me," Kaylee mumbled as she ran her hand up her arm. The heat from his closeness snaked across her bare skin.
"Nico sent out another dessert for you to try while you're waiting for your friends." Luciano set a plate with three pieces of chocolate cake on the table. They looked almost as yummy as Luciano himself.
Taking another quick glance towards Luciano, Kaylee tried to respond but couldn't raise her eyes to look the man in the face. She was nearly eye level with his crotch and couldn't for the life of her turn away. He obviously packed a pretty big bulge beneath his black slacks. Damned if her tongue didn't have a mind of its own and slowly licked her lips. Get a grip, girl. You're staring at the man's crotch. Look up. Come on, you can do it.
The view on the way up was just as dangerous as the one below his belt. Flat stomach, keep going, broad chest, you're almost there, square jaw, knowing smile, and near black colored eyes, exhale breath, you made it. Wait, knowing smile? Damn, he knows I'm checking him out!
"Look good?" Luciano said his smile growing.
Kaylee couldn't breathe, much less speak, so she did what she did best when Luciano was around, she stared.
"The dessert," he said. "Does it look good?"
Dessert? What dessert? "Yes. It looks wonderful."
"I'll be sure to tell Nico you said so. We'll be out later with dinner."
He stood there, locking eyes with her, in the process, stopping the beat of her heart a few seconds longer. Then he turned and walked away. She'd need a big dose of Nico's chocolate to jump start her heart.
Kaylee watched Luciano's really tight back side saunter from the room. Good God, the man probably thought she had some serious problems with all the staring and spilling things she did when he was around. But how could a girl stop? With his rich, olive skin and raven hair, he mesmerized her. Pre-Luciano, men with long hair didn't do it for her. The way his black, shiny hair rested on his collar made her imagine how it would feel to run her fingers through it. Many a night in her dreams she'd wrapped the strands around her fingers. His dark hair looked beautiful against her mocha skin.
He towered over her with a long, lean physique that went on for days. None of those things compared to his eyes, nothing beat what those eyes did to her. She got lost in their almost black depths every time. They were dark as night but every so often she noticed a twinkle in them like the first star in the evening sky. You are seriously losing it, girlfriend.
Kaylee glanced at the silver watch on her wrist. 7:28. The girls should be here any minute which is exactly what she needed; a little something to get her mind off her Italian dream. Remembering the dessert Luciano brought out for her, she picked up the small square and took a bite. Chocolate, and damn it tasted good. Just like everything Nico made. He could cook like nobody's business.
The bell over the restaurant door jingled, jarring Kaylee from her near chocolate induced orgasm. Following the sound of loud, joyful laughter, Kaylee looked toward her friends.
Though Bri wasn't a typical beauty, she commanded attention. She stood shorter than herself or Tabby, at about 5 foot 3 inches. She kept her hair natural and trimmed in a perfectly rounded afro. Everyone noticed when she walked into a room, and she reveled in that attention. She was the party girl of the group, hated commitment and swore never to settle down until she was too old to keep up with her current pace. Brianna was in the process of buying a coffee shop. The chick could drink caffeine 24/7.
Tabby was the beauty of the group, tall, leggy and trim. Her hair, permed on a regular basis was long and shiny. She always wore the latest styles. Being such a beauty, she was asked out all the time, but mostly by men who thought with their dicks rather than their brains. Her man-picker was broken and had been for a long time. Despite all the pain Tabby continued to look for love. A romantic at heart, she wanted nothing more than to settle down with her knight in shining armor. Tabby was an interior decorator.
"Hey, Kay. Are you sitting there dreaming about the Italian Stud again?" Brianna smiled and nudged Tabby with her elbow. "You hear that? Hey, Kay. I'm a poet and I didn't know it."
She again laughed her contagious laugh. But today, Kaylee was immune. "Shh," Kaylee said, "For God's sake, Bri, could you speak a little louder? I don't think he heard you!"
"Calm down, Kay." Tabby pulled out her chair to sit down. "He isn't even in the room."
"That's not the point. Other people could have heard." Kaylee grabbed for her friend's glass of water and took a drink.
"And they would automatically know who I'm talking about?" Brianna asked. "Give me back my water. If you're going to be all grumpy on me, I'm not going to share."
Kaylee and Tabby both giggled before Kaylee said, "It's impossible to stay mad at you, you know that, Bri?"
"That's just because you love me so much, Kay. Well, that and my undeniable charm," Bri replied.
"Hmm. I somehow missed your charm. I'm glad you guys finally showed up though." Kaylee looked at her two friends.
"You know we'll be late, Kay, so why do you still come so early?" Brianna asked. Before Kaylee had the chance to reply Brianna added, "Never mind, I know you come early so you have more time to ogle Luciano the Italian Stud."
Kaylee would have been irate but Bri had dropped her tone to a whisper so no one would hear her. Plus, she was right. Kaylee came early so she'd have more time to gawk at Luciano. How pathetic was that? Better not admit to that sour truth. "Because that's what I do, Bri. If I'm supposed to meet someone at 7:00, I'm there at 7:00." Then remembering what else Bri said, she added, "Where the hell do you come up with these names, anyway?"
"Girl, you know that's what you think of him, isn't it?" Tabby added. "The Italian stud?"
"No. Well, maybe."
All three girls laughed together. Thank God it's Friday. With the busy schedule Kaylee kept at her bookstore, Friday was the only night she allowed herself to let loose and actually leave Bookends on time. Other than her girl's night out, she dedicated her life to her store.
A moment later the waiter brought the three girls their martinis. Having the waiter bring out a drink without taking the order told Kaylee she spent too much time at Luciano's. Why break the habit now?
They had a routine, one drink, girl talk, and then Nico and Luciano usually made their way out with their food. The girl talk was always her favorite. They each drank their apple martini and talked about their day while waiting for Nico to bring out tonight's masterpiece.
"Did you go on a date with what's-his-butt?" Bri asked but quickly changed her wording because of the immediate scowl she received from Tabby. "I mean Michael."
"Yeah, the date started out great. He took me to a fantastic restaurant and was a complete gentleman the entire time. We went out for ice-cream then a walk in the park. I really thought he could be the one. Then he brought me home and I figured he deserved a nice little kiss.
"I guess he had something else in mind. The kiss went from zero to sixty in about five seconds. If I had been a car, it might be okay, but he just couldn't keep his hands off me. I told him it was time to call it a night and he said, and I quote "Too bad women like you waste the beautiful body God gave you." Can you believe that?"
Poor Tabby, Kaylee thought. Looking for love always seemed to get her into trouble.
"Yeah," Bri scolded her. "If you're thinking a guy is "the one" during the first date, something is bound to go wrong. It's about time you learned that."
"Bri! Lay-off, would ya?" Kaylee said before turning her attention back to her other friend. "Ignore her, Tab."
"Good evening ladies," a man's voice said. "How's your night going so far?"
Tabby and Bri both looked at Kaylee waiting for her to reply. After a few seconds she realized they weren't going to answer him, and replied, "It's been great. Thank you." Not too bad. I actually formed an intelligent sentence.
"I see Nico hasn't been out with your food yet. I thought I was running late."
"You mean Nico hasn't been out to flirt with Tabby yet." Leave it to Bri to say the first thing that popped into her mind Kaylee thought.
"Flirting's Nico's nature," Luciano said. "He flirts with all women; but Tabby is his favorite."