“Why are you blushing?” Kendra asked with a fascinated expression on her round, earnest face.
Niall rolled her eyes and resumed walking to her office. “I am not blushing.”
“Sure looked like you were,” she heard Kendra say thoughtfully before Niall shut the door to her office.
She glanced into an antique mirror mounted on the wall. Kendra had been right. Her cheeks were bright red. In fact, the utterly foreign thought struck Niall at that moment that she looked like a very sexy, desirable woman.
All that, merely because when Kendra had talked about Vic’s plays, it had occurred to Niall that he wrote the way he made love.
Vic called her a few minutes after eight and said that he was running behind.
“Would it be all right with you if we just met downstairs at Louie’s, say at around nine thirty?” he asked.
“Of course,” Niall agreed as she eyed the outfit she’d laid out on the bed to wear on their date. “I’m actually relieved. I can just throw on some jeans.”
“I was going to be wearing jeans whether we went to Louie’s or Everest,” he said under his breath, humor lacing his tone as he referred to the famous Chicago restaurant.
Niall laughed. “I’m sure Everest would be happy to have your business, jeans or no. Everest caters to the pretheater crowd, you know. It’d be a feather in their cap if you showed up in swim trunks and a T-shirt, no doubt.”
“You know what I do for a living?” he asked.
“Oh . . . yes. My friend Anne—the woman I was with last night in the restaurant—told me that you’re a playwright.”
He laughed shortly. “Well, I know for a fact that Louie couldn’t give a shit about what I’m wearing as long as my ass is covered, so let’s stick with that. Besides, I hate French food.”
Niall smiled. His proclamation hadn’t particularly surprised her.
When she arrived at Louie’s, she immediately saw Vic in a booth near the bar, chatting with Louie himself. He was wearing a fitted, dark blue, Western-style shirt that accentuated his long, lean torso and broad shoulders. The shadow of a beard darkened his jaw. Heat flooded Niall’s lower belly when she recalled how his whiskers had erotically abraded her sensitive skin during their lovemaking.
Vic looked up and held her gaze as she approached, even though he continued to chat with Louie. His eyes lowered over her in leisurely appreciation before he stood as she greeted both men.
Vic caught her hand when she began to move to the opposite side of the booth from where he’d been sitting.
Louie grinned broadly as he watched the exchange. He nodded his head once in obvious approval when Niall assented to Vic’s terse request and slid into the seat before he sat down next to her.
“Let me see here—a glass of chardonnay and the salmon for the lady, and a beer and a medium-rare steak for the gentleman. Am I right?” Louie asked, amusement and his rich Chicago South Side accent flavoring his tone.
“On the nose for me.” Niall grinned. Her eyes widened when she realized that Vic had turned and was looking at her.
“Sounds good, Louie,” Vic murmured, never taking his eyes off Niall.
“I guess neither one of us has to worry about cleaning our ovens when we’ve got Louie downstairs,” she teased. Her breath stuck painfully in her lungs when Vic reached up and grabbed a wavy tendril of her hair between his thumb and first two fingers.
“Do you like to cook?” he asked absentmindedly as he rubbed the golden curl between his fingers.
“Yes,” Niall replied. She inhaled unsteadily and caught a whiff of Vic’s clean, spicy cologne. It brought back myriad sensations and images from the night in his apartment, increasing her sense of mixed anxiety and excitement. “But not here at Riverview Towers. All of my cooking utensils are packed away. I can’t wait to get them all out for my new kitchen. What about you? Do you like to cook?”
“Nope. But I like to eat, which means that I do it. We usually take turns cooking whenever I’m on the farm.” He studied her face before he released her hair. “You’re nervous, aren’t you? There’s no need to be.”
Laughter burst out of her throat. “Easy for you to say.”
She paused when that dead-sexy grin abruptly curved his lips. Jeez, talk about an unfair advantage. A woman couldn’t think straight when Vic resorted to using that weapon. The deep lines around his mouth said that despite his typical stony expression, he did his fair share of grinning. He could probably turn a woman to sex jelly at a distance of fifty feet with that smile. Never mind what it could do to you when you sat so close to him that you could breathe his rich, male scent and he casually reached behind you to stroke your shoulder with his long fingers.
“It is pretty easy for me to say. Why should you be nervous? It’s not like we haven’t already had sex.”
Her mouth gaped open at his calm statement. Luckily, Louie chose that moment to interrupt as he set down their drinks.
“What’s wrong?” Vic asked once Louie had left. He took a sip of his beer with the hand that wasn’t stroking her shoulder. His touch on her was seemingly casual enough, but Niall felt like every fiber of her consciousness was focused on the tiny patch of her body where he gently molded and massaged her muscle. “You didn’t forget about us having sex together, did you?”
Heat flooded her cheeks. “Hardly,” she answered drolly, borrowing his habit of charged laconism.
His gray eyes locked on hers. He started to laugh, low and heartfelt. Niall found that she couldn’t remain anxious in the presence of his deep laughter. She shook her head in mock exasperation before she started to laugh right along with him.