“Kam, I’m not trying to patronize you. I’m trying to help.”

“I know that, and you will,” he said so earnestly he took her off guard. “But what I want to do right now is take you to lunch. Please?” he prodded, probably sensing her crumbling resistance.

She hesitated.

“I don’t want Ian to know. Or Francesca. Or anyone,” she stated finally.

“About today?”

“I haven’t done anything regrettable today with you, except for lose my temper in Ian’s office.” Not yet, you haven’t, a knowing voice in her head sneered. She suppressed it with effort. “I meant I don’t want you making Monday night public.”

“Because Ian is your boss?”

“Because I don’t want him to know,” she repeated.

He shrugged in that insouciant way of his. “Fine. It makes no difference to me. Ian isn’t my concern. Not at the moment, he isn’t.”

She hesitated but then noticed his small smile. A thrill prickled through her. That grin was piratical, yes, and daring, but there it was . . . that hint of shyness. She shouldn’t, but that smile told her she would.

“I have a feeling I’m going to regret this,” she said in a hushed tone.

“Sometimes the risk is the only thing that makes something worthwhile.”

Before she could respond, he’d taken her hand in his and was leading her to the curb to hail a cab.

•   •   •

“I read about it in a travel magazine while I was at school in London and always wanted to come,” Kam said by way of explanation when they pulled up to a restaurant and Lin stared out the window in amazement. She glanced around curiously when Kam held the cab door open for her and helped her alight onto the sidewalk. They were in the midst of an established North Side neighborhood. Kids played in the schoolyard across the way. Neat brick row houses lined the street for blocks.

“Lou’s Ribs and Pizza,” she read the sign in the window. The building looked like it’d gone through its share of years and renovations. It was a hodgepodge of materials from different eras.

“You’ve never been here?” Kam said as he walked ahead of her and opened the door.

“No,” Lin admitted. She followed him into a surprisingly crowded bar and eating area. A jukebox played a muted pop classic, and people chatted at booths and tables. Everyone’s conversation automatically went up in volume when someone turned on a blender behind the bar, as if the crowd was accustomed to the sound. “It’s doing a good business for weekday lunch. How in the world did you know about a neighborhood place like this?”

“I told you, I read about it when I was in college. It’s known for ribs and deep-dish pizza and incredible milk shakes. It’s been around forever. Frank Sinatra used to come here with his buddies. It’s crowded today because there’s a Cubs game at three. You grew up in Chicago and never heard of Lou’s?”

She shrugged apologetically. “I guess it took a Frenchman to introduce me to something in my own hometown. Besides, my grandmother was a vegetarian. She was very selective about where we ate.”

“You’re more used to places like Savaur or one of Lucien’s restaurants, but it wouldn’t hurt you to step out a little.” A flicker of irritation went through her at his smug certainty, but she quashed it as she glanced around at the homey restaurant. Maybe he was right. Maybe she should expand the boundaries of her world a little.

A stocky woman wearing an apron over stretchy polyester pants approached them. “We’re full at the moment. Give me fifteen minutes?”

“What about those two?” Kam asked, pointing at two empty stools at the bar. The woman looked doubtfully at Lin’s high heels and lightweight tailored coat, then more appreciatively at Kam. Again, Lin had chosen Kam’s clothing: a pair of jeans, a white shirt that set off swarthy skin, and a rugged gray overshirt that doubled as a jacket for the pleasantly cool fall weather. He fit in here. The waitress’s glance told her clearly she did not.

“They’re yours if you want them,” the woman conceded with a shrug.

Lin smiled at Kam and nodded. He took her coat and hung it on a coat rack at the front of the bar.

“Belly up to the bar yet again,” he said quietly when he returned and sat next to her, leaning his elbows on the scarred, yet gleaming walnut bar.

Lin glanced away, unsure what to say to that. She was strangely happy to be there with Kam in the bustling restaurant, but she was torn by that happiness. He’d been very rude to her Monday night, but she’d believed his apology. She’d actually been touched by his admission of vulnerability. That wasn’t what was bothering her.

“You mentioned earlier that Ian was upset by what happened in his office this morning?” she asked with forced casualness.

“Not upset. No,” Kam said, his gaze running over her face. She schooled her features into a neutral expression. “He was more surprised. I’ve only seen Ian riled a few times. Even when he got shot, Ian was calm,” Kam mused, referring to a horrifying event that had occurred earlier this year when Ian’s cousin Gerard Sinoit betrayed Ian and shot him in the shoulder. Kam had saved Ian and Francesca on that occasion. “He was just put-off, ” Kam explained presently. “I got the impression he’s not used to seeing you rattled.”

“I wasn’t rattled. I was . . .”

“Pissed off and good,” he finished for her.

“Thank you,” Lin said to the bartender when he set down two ice waters and a menu before them. “What did Ian say, exactly?”

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