Blane’s Story – Chapter 2, Part One
The girl’s face was white as the tablecloth, her eyes fixed at something over Blane’s shoulder. He glanced that way and saw a small group of suit-clad men. He recognized a couple of them and had no idea why they’d upset Anne, but it was obvious she was about to bolt.
“I-I…” she stammered.
Blane slid off the barstool and took her elbow. “This way.”
He steered her towards the back and away from the entrance, moving fast and shielding her with his body so she wouldn’t be spotted by whomever had frightened her. She didn’t fight him, letting him take her all the way past the kitchen to the rear exit and out the door.
The brisk October air hit and he felt a shiver run through her. Thanks to never relying on a valet with his jag, he didn’t have to go far to get his car. With a flick of the keybob, it unlocked. He held the passenger door open for her.
She seemed to come to her senses then, putting on the brakes and looking up at him. “What are you doing?”
“Saving a damsel in distress.” Obviously.
Her eyebrows climbed. “I wasn’t aware I needed saving.”
Blane leaned closer, bracing a hand on the roof of the car and caging her between his body and the open door.
“I have a sixth sense. Get in the car. You’re cold.”
“I have to go back to work,” she protested.
“I’m your work, remember?”
That got a reaction. Her eyes narrowed and her lips pressed together. She was pissed, which was so damn cute.
“Get in the car, Anne.”
She did, but with an attitude. Blane shut the door and rounded the car to slide behind the wheel. The engine purred to life and he shot down the street.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
Blane glanced to the side and saw her arms crossed over her chest. His gaze lingered. She had the kind of curves that Blane liked. Not too thin. The women who obsessed over their weight until a stiff wind would blow them over also looked as if he’d break them if he took them to bed. Not an attractive quality.
“I’m hungry. Still haven’t had lunch, remember?”
“You can drop me off at the next Metro station.”
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“Why does it matter?”
“You can save me from having to eat alone.”
“In this town, no senator will eat alone unless it’s by choice.” Her wry cynicism made Blane smile.
“Well, today I choose to eat with you.”
“Do I get a choice?”
Blane eased the car to a stop at a red light and met her gaze. “You always have a choice. Anne, would you please join me for lunch?”
Her lips lifted in a ghost of a smile. “I’d be delighted, senator.”
“Call me Blane.”
Anne felt butterflies take flight in her stomach. The way he was looking at her…the timbre of his voice… She took a breath.
“I’d be delighted…Blane.”
The light turned and he gunned it through the intersection. The car was as smooth as silk, the engine a barely felt purr through the soles of her feet.
This was a foreign situation for her. All her previous dates were carefully screened for pedigree and lineage before being allowed to take her out. She’d not bothered to try to date since moving out of her parents’ home. She’d been too busy making ends meet, just the same as so many millions of everyday American people.
Now a man had essentially blackmailed her into coming with him. And not just any man. A powerful politician. An American senator. One who had the background of a warrior, and the looks of a movie star. Anne couldn’t fathom why he was still single. He had to be a serial womanizer. That was the only explanation. A Lothario, love-‘em-and-leave-‘em type. Now that, she could see.
Her fingers twisted the edge of her waist apron…she’d forgotten she was even wearing the damn thing. She tugged the strings of the tie and pulled it off. It was bad enough she felt like the proverbial Help. She didn’t need the additional accoutrements of the role.
“You like barbeque?” he asked.
“Um, yeah, sure.” She’d never had barbeque in her life. Her mother didn’t approve of food you ate with your hands.
A few minutes later, they were parking outside what looked like a shack with little more than a placard to display the restaurant’s (she was being generous) name: Johnny’s BBQ.
Senator Kirk…Blane…took her hand as they walked up the curb to the entrance. Her palm felt too wet, too small, in his grip. She wanted to pull away, but that would give away her weakness. And she wasn’t one hundred percent sure she wanted to let go. For some reason, his grip conveyed security, assurance, and safety.
They entered the restaurant without fanfare and found a less than half-filled room with patrons intent on their lunch…not on the newcomers…scattered on rough wooden benches surrounding tables made smooth by years of use. There was a low hum of conversation and a thick aroma of smoked meat in the air. The room itself wasn’t large and couldn’t have been more than twenty by twenty feet, if that. Noise came from the kitchen in the back—plates clattering and the sizzle of fat frying. The faint strains of country western music on a radio somewhere.
A man the size of linebacker emerged from the back, a stained white apron covering his ample chest, wiping his hands on a worn towel. His gaze landed on Blane and his eyes lit up, a smile made nearly blinding against the coal of his skin spread across his face.
“Well, lookey who we got heah,” he cackled, heading toward us. “Been a while since I seen you. Thought mebbe you’d forgot all about ol’ Johnny.” His accent was eighty percent Louisiana backwoods, and the rest circa 1963.
“Never,” Blane said, a genuine smile on his face now. He turned. “Johnny makes the best barbecue this side of the Mason Dixon line.”
“Aww,” Johnny grimaced. “I figured a man like you wouldn’t insult me like ‘at.”
“My apologies. The best barbecue. Period.”
Johnny’s grin split his face again. “Who we got here?” he asked. “You donna usually bring guests by ol’ Johnny’s.”
“Because I want to keep this place a secret for myself. If word got out, there’ be a line around the block and I’d never get in.”
“I always have your table ready,” Johnny said, gesturing to an empty table in the far corner, furthest from the kitchen. “You be having your usual?”
“You bet,” Blane replied.
“And for the lady?” Johnny turned his gaze toward Anne.
“Um…I’ll have what he’s having.”
Johnny nodded sagely. “A wise woman, that one is. The senator only gets the best that I save for him. I be right back.” He hustled back to the kitchen.
Blane led the way to the table, standing until Anne had settled herself daintily onto the bench. Though old, everything looked clean, so that was good. Her mother would faint dead away if she saw Anne in a place like this. The senator looked perfectly at ease, despite wearing a suit that cost more than some of the people in the place made in a month.
“I’ve never heard about this place,” Anne said, just to say something.
“It’s a well-kept secret,” Blane replied. “The barbecue will melt in your mouth.”
On cue, Johnny returned, carrying two plates laden to overflowing. Anne’s eyes widened as he set one in front of her.
“Enjoy!” he said proudly, handing each of them a literal hand towel wrapped around utensils.
Another worker who’d cleared a table nearby sat two full glasses of ice water down. Blane unwrapped his silverware, spread the towel on his lap, tucked his tie into his shirt, and dug in.
Anne wasn’t sure where to start. There was a pile of meat, a mountain of fries, and a big puddle of baked beans scattered through with chunks of meat. The aroma made her saliva glands pinch and her mouth watered. Her stomach rumbled.
“What am I eating, exactly?” she asked.
“Burnt-ends. Brisket. They’re the best.”
“The points of a brisket. Trust me. They’re amazing.” He took a bite and his eyes slid closed in appreciation and Anne’s thoughts drifted where they shouldn’t. She hastily looked down at her plate.
Tentatively, she sliced a bite and put it in her mouth. The sweetness of the sauce hit her tongue as she chewed, the meat was so tender and full of flavor, and unlike anything she’d had before. Hastily, she took another bit—a bigger one this time.
Neither spoke while they ate, and Anne was a bit embarrassed at how much she polished off and how quickly. The scrambled egg white she’d had for breakfast hadn’t gone very far.
She put down her fork and knife, setting them across the plate, pointing to the three o’clock position, then put her napkin to the left of her plate. Her stomach ached, she was so full, and she let out a satisfied sigh. Glancing up at Blane, she saw his gaze resting thoughtfully on her plate.
“That was excellent,” she said. “I’ve never had anything like it. Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” he said, blotting his lips with his own napkin. “Johnny is a wonder with a smoker and a side of beef. He butchers his own cuts, too. Once told me he learned at his grandad’s knee in a parish somewhere between New Orleans and Shreveport.” He paused. “So who was that man?”
Anne feigned ignorance. “What man?”
Blane fixed her with a look that made her want to squirm. She’d heard he’d been a formidable attorney before going into politics. She could see why.
“It was just someone I…wasn’t prepared to run in to,” she said at last, hoping he’d leave it at that.
He frowned. “Did he do something to you?” Blane’s tone made it sound as though if she said yes, he would take it very personally on her behalf.
“No, no, of course not,” she hastened to say. “Nothing like that. Can we just drop it, please?” She glanced at her watch. It was well after one o’clock and she had a meeting back at work in thirty minutes. Damn.
Anne got to her feet. Blane stood as well.
“I need to go,” she said. “But I appreciate the impromptu…rescue. And lunch. Thank you.” She headed for the door, seeing Blane hastily drop some money onto the table from his wallet before following her.
He grasped her arm just as she stepped outside. She took a deep breath of the chill air.
“I’ll drop you back at the restaurant,” he said, assuming she had to get back to that job. Anne had no wish to correct him.
She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“I’d like to see you again.”
Anne was momentarily taken aback. “I’m not sure where you think this is going, senator, but I’ll go ahead and end the suspense. I’m not available.”
His eyes were that stormy gray again and he smiled. It wasn’t the smile he’d given Johnny. This was that smooth politician’s smile that oozed charm and you-can-trust-me vibes.
“Not even for dinner? Tomorrow night? I promise we’ll go somewhere where you won’t smell like you’ve worked a shift there afterwards.”
His bluntness surprised a laugh out of her. He was right. She was going to smell like barbecue all afternoon.
“Thank you, but no.”
“You have a boyfriend? Husband?”
Anne hesitated. “Neither, but that’s not really the issue.” Tugging her arm free, she shoved her hands into her pockets to keep them warm. “Have a good day, Blane.” She’d spotted a Metro station earlier and headed toward it. She’d taken two steps when she felt his hands land on her shoulders, stilling her.
“I don’t give up easily. And I love the chase.”
His voice was a warm whisper in her ear and she shivered. She could feel the nearness of his body behind her, providing a warm shield against the wind. His cologne—untouched by the aroma of Johnny’s—cocooned around her. She forgot to breathe.
His hands dropped from her shoulders. Anne sucked in a steadying breath, hurrying away without another word. She lasted a dozen steps before giving in to the overwhelming temptation and glancing behind her.
Blane stood on the sidewalk, the wind tossing the lines of his jacket, as he remained utterly still, his gaze steady, watching her with an intensity that should have frightened her.
Another shiver seized Anne, and she chose to blame the cold and not the twist of anticipation in the pit of her stomach. The Metro entrance loomed and she hurried inside.