Love and Crime in Rome

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 3 (v.1)

Submitted: September 10, 2014

Reads: 141

Comments: 1

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Submitted: September 10, 2014

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As it happened, she did see him again the following afternoon. Evangeline was just ringing up a suit for an old customer when the tall Russian walked into her shop again.

"I’ll be right with you," she called to him while she completed the elderly man's transaction. He was a very kind old friend of Vitali's from his home town, and always took the opportunity to tease her. This time he turned to the newcomer and said, "This beautiful girl is still single, you know. If I was a young man like you, I'd jump at the chance to take her out to dinner tonight."

Her face reddened, but she replied nonchalantly, "Oh, I couldn't possibly go. Tonight is the night I planned to dust my thesaurus.”

"I didn't even know you liked plants," the older gentleman replied, and she nodded solemnly. "Well, don't let your youth go to waste. A lovely girl like you needs a husband and many children," he collected his things and departed as she smiled at him.

After she closed the door behind him, she turned back to the tall man and they collapsed into laughter together across the counter.

When she was finally able to speak, she giggled “I wonder what kind of plant he thought a thesaurus is?” and he replied, “At least he knew it wasn’t a dinosaur.” And that set them both off again.

When Evangeline had calmed down enough to talk she thanked him for waiting, found his order on the rack, and rang up his transaction.

"I was already going to invite you to dinner tonight," he said shyly as he admired his new shirts, "but now I feel like you might think that the old man put the idea in my head."

She considered his invitation while she rang up his purchase, and then decided to go for it. "Thank you for the kind offer. I would like to accept, on one condition," she smiled at him.

"Anything," he replied seriously.

She looked coyly into his eyes. "Anything?  That’s a brave offer. However, I would just like to know your name first."

His dark blue eyes opened wide with surprise and he raised his fair eyebrows at her. "Sorry. I had assumed that Vitali told you the other day. My name is Nikolai Alkaev. Please call me Niki. What time do I pick you up tonight?"

They agreed on a time for later that evening and he left the store.

Back at the apartment, as the three girls munched on grilled cheese sandwiches around the old coffee table in their small living room, Evangeline made sure to let Pam and Erin know that she was going out that night.

“I’ll be sure to write down his license plate number, just in case. And don’t drink too much. Stay vigilant, Evie,” Erin nodded her dark head so sternly her heavily sprayed hair spikes swayed forward and then back again.

"Do you really feel like I shouldn't go," Evangeline met Pam’s green eyes with concern. "You're right. I don't know anything about him."

Pam’s tall, lean figure flopped onto their battered couch, licking crumbs off her fingers, as she reassured a nervous Evangeline. "Don't be silly. I'm sure it's fine. Just keep your phone with you and I’ll loan you some extra money. If things don't go well, just hop into a cab," she added practically.

--

Evangeline spent a lot of time later that evening trying to decide what to wear. She made her own clothes so she had a lot of choices. Her hourglass figure was petite but full; she wasn't a standard size which was why she had taught herself to sew in the first place. It was easier to make her own things than to keep buying shirts that gapped over her chest and pants that were too long for her short legs.

But, even with so much choice, she hesitated. You never knew what kind of place you might end up at with a new date, so it was hard judging how formal or casual to be, she thought. At least the weather was warm and dry. She didn't have an evening coat, so she chose a dress that matched her shawl.

It was her forest green velvet that she'd sewn herself; tea length and low cut at the chest, with twisted straps of the same fabric around her shoulders and slender waist, and a flowing skirt. It was just right for bistro dinning, and with the right jewellery it looked very dressy too, without being to fussy. She didn't wear a lot of make up, but used some mascara to darken her light eyelashes, along with a little eye shadow in neutral shades to bring some colour to her grey eyes. She didn't like heavy lipstick. She bit her lips sometimes, and if she forgot and did it tonight lip stick would smear all over. So she was limited to the colours of lip balm she had and chose a light plum.

She didn't need to add blush as she was already a little flushed from the heat of the bathroom and her nervousness. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been on a date, except for lunch the other day.

She was still closing the buckles on her black strappy platform sandals, feeling thankful that her toenail polish remained un-chipped, when the door bell rang. Pam let Niki into their small front room where she and Erin were watching TV.

She heard him introduce himself to the girls while she grabbed her evening purse and made sure it held her wallet, money and phone. He smiled warmly when he saw her enter the room.

"You look great. I hope you like French food. Are you hungry?" he asked her. The tall Russian looked very handsome in his dark suit with a shirt and tie in her favourite shade of deep blue.  His light brown hair was slicked back from his forehead again with gel and he wore a large silver ring on one hand.

"Yes, I can't wait." She slipped her fringed shawl around her shoulders and said goodbye to the girls.

Pam flipped her long red hair over her shoulder and walked them to the door with authority. "What restaurant are you going to tonight, and what time will you be home?" she addressed her questions to Evangeline, but Niki answered for her.

"We have reservations at Chez _ for eight o'clock. I’ll return her to you before midnight," he smiled at her in a friendly way.

Evangeline added, "If we get delayed, I'll call you so you don't wait up."

They said their goodbyes and walked down the stairs to his car. It was a model she didn't recognize; four-doored and black, with dark windows. He opened the front passenger door for her and she sank down into the comfortable black leather seat. While he walked around the door to the driver's side she wondered if it was his car or a rental. She didn't even know if he lived in the city or was only visiting.

He started the car and pulled smoothly out into traffic. It was dark already and the sidewalks were filled with families going to dinner and street venders selling their wares. She noticed that he smelled great but she didn't recognize the cologne.

She cast around her mind for a conversational opener. "I've never been to this restaurant. Is it far from here?" she tried a neutral topic.

"Not far. Twenty minutes, depending on the traffic." He kept his eyes on the road, and she noticed his hands again as they rested on the steering wheel; finely shaped despite their large size. He seemed like a very calm and confident driver. Evangeline admired that because she was a very nervous driver herself. She had to mentally walk herself through new routes before she started, and she avoided driving if she could. Of course, here in the city she didn't even have a car; taking the metro or buses everywhere instead. It was often faster than fighting the traffic, but right now it was a novelty to be in a car again.

"This is a very comfortable car." She tried again, and he nodded to her.

"Just bought it. I wasn't expecting to need a car in the city, but it turns out that I’ll be here longer than I thought," he replied, keeping his eyes on the busy road ahead.

"What do you do here? Do you work in the city?"

"I work for an importer based in Russia. Art dealer."

"That must be interesting work. Do you know much about art?" she kept the conversation going.

"Not really, but I get good advice." He pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant and drove up to the door. The valet opened her door for her, and she waited for Niki to join her on the sidewalk. He handed his keys to the valet and escorted her inside, a warm hand under her elbow.

She was glad that she'd worn her more formal dress. This was obviously a very nice place, with the usual cloth napkins, miles of silverware and crystal glasses, and well trained staff. She hoped that they made the salad at the table side. She'd never seen that done before.

They were seated at a cosy table near the window. She could see the lights of the city in the distance. Their server checked her shawl and then took their drink orders. She wasn't sure what to choose so she asked him to suggest something that was good there. He recommended delicious champagne that she fell in love with at the first sip.

"This is so good. Please don't let me have too much." She told him.

"When the great food comes your stomach will be too full to get drunk," he replied, his eyes glinting cheerfully at her.

He made wonderful suggestions on what food to order, and she did order the salad to start. It was neat to see their waiter make it right there in front of them. She liked to cook, but not in front of an audience. As Julia Child said, it's easier to fix a mistake, or pick a turkey up off the floor, if the kitchen door is closed.

They talked for a long time about so many different subjects; their childhoods, hers in a small town on the west coast of Canada, and his in a tough neighbourhood in downtown Moscow and then later in the UK. He still remembered life under communism and she was fascinated to learn more about the experience from someone who'd lived it.

Finally, after desert, he suggested a walk in the gardens of the hotel next door before returning home. She felt so full and thought that was a great idea. The champagne had settled but she was still feeling light and happy. She had wanted to get a closer look at the water plants in the pond that she could see through the window. Botany was a hobby of hers that she didn’t get to enjoy very often, living in a large, urban setting.

They collected her wrap at the door and stepped out into the cooler breeze of the dark night, following the gravel path lit by fairy lights on either side. He took her small hand and tucked it around his broad arm as they walked together.  He was very warm when she brushed against him.

"Cold? Want to borrow my jacket? Or go back to the car?" he asked her with concern.

"No, thanks. I'm fine. I like this weather. It reminds me a bit of home when the wind changes and you could feel the rain coming in off the ocean." She often missed her rainforest home town and the smell of wet forests.

"I don’t miss the cold Moscow winters at all, or London winters either, for that matter," he grinned down at her as they circled the garden.

"Is it like you see in the movies? All blizzards and fur coats?" she asked him, stepping carefully along the gravel path in her good heels.

"Pretty much," he laughed. "But the summers are nice."

They walked slowly arm in arm around the large botanical garden. She stopped and sat on a stone bench to have a closer look at the plants growing out of the water. They looked like lily pads. She'd read that Kew Gardens in England used to have lily pads large enough for a person to stand on in the Victoria era.

Niki sat down beside her, his chest at her eye level. She noticed his blue tie had comic book characters on it in a subtle pattern. "Do you think you'll stay in Rome?" Niki asked as he moved a strand of her pale hair back from her cheek.

Evangeline looked into his eyes and then down again; her fingers fiddling with her little beaded purse in her lap. "I don't know. I don't really have any set plans. I'm happy here for now."

He tilted her face up to his and kissed her lips softly. His mouth was warm and she leaned towards him and instinctively parted her lips around his. He pulled her close to his chest and kissed her deeper. The champagne in her system and his hands on her bare back sent pleasant signals down her body.

As he ran his strong hands over her shoulders and stroked her neck she wished for a moment that they weren't on an uncomfortable bench in a public place. Finally she pulled slowly away.

"I've had such a nice time tonight. I think I should be getting back now," she said to her hands clasped in front of her.

"Sure. It's late. Maybe you should let your friends know that we're on our way back."

She called Pam and Erin as they waited for the valet to bring the car around. The ride back was a quiet one. Niki walked her to the door, but made no move to kiss her again and she was disappointed. As he turned to go, she lifted up on her toes to kiss his clean-shaven cheek, and then stepped quickly inside.

She went to bed that night wondering if she'd ever see him again, and hoping that she would.


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