“I hope you don’t mind. I took the liberty of selecting a wine to go with our steak tonight,” Lee grabbed the wine bottle then reached into his pants pocket and retrieved a Swiss Army knife. “This 2010 Argentinian Malbec was a gift from a buddy on the second floor that just returned from a trip through South America. He told me he stumbled upon Trapiche,” Lee had a unique storytelling gift that transformed even the most mundane incident into a mystic folktale.
Perhaps it was his thick East London accent? Or maybe it was the way the word Trapiche rolled off his lips? Either way, Rosa and Adriano listened on with great interest.
Lee continued. “This winery was in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in the Mendoza region of Argentina, and it was the specifics of the altitude that give its wines the ripe blackberry and plum notes you’ll be tasting tonight.” He let the word tasting linger a while.
“Geography lesson aside, this full-bodied red is the perfect match for Lee’s bloody filet,” Cassandra slid past her husband and snatched the uncorked bottle from him to poured four glasses before sliding into the booth. “Okay L, you’re on,” she lapped his ass again—his cue to make his way back to the kitchen and fire up the steaks.
“Medium rare, good for everybody?” Lee verified.
The others hummed in the affirmative then Lee lifted his glass for a toast, “Here’s to good wine, rare meats, and new friendships.”
Their glasses clinked and Cassandra laughed and turned to the Blakes who had slid into the booth on either side of her, “And now we get to play Twenty Questions. Expect my version is more like Twenty Personal Questions. You guys get to ask us anything you want to know. No question is too personal. That way we can cut through the bullshit and really get to know each other.”
“Okay?” Adriano was surprised to be the first to comment, “But shouldn’t we wait for Lee?”
“I’ll field your first twenty. Then he and I will take turns asking you questions later. I can tell you all there is to know about us,” Cassandra broke a dinner roll in half, smeared it with butter and took a bite before challenging the Blakes, “C’mon, shoot.”
Rosa was happy that Cassandra was a real person. It was refreshing to see someone who looked like her and was worth so much, shedding all pretentious bullshit aside. Rosa had expected Cassandra to be hiding under layers of formality and snobbery like a pearl onion. Instead, she had turned out to be an ass-slapping, no-bullshit, bartending, saxophone-loving, foodie with a free spirit, a great set of tits and a hunk of a husband.
I’d do her, Rosa thought as Cassandra waited for the games to begin.
“Well? Um…” Adriano couldn’t figure out what he should ask first. There were some many questions floating through his mind. But he desperately needed to know the secret behind their ass-slapping, dinner-partying, hot-tubbing marriage.
“Oh c’mon. Just ask me the first thing that pops into your head,” Cassandra’s left foot tapped.
“Okay, how did you guys meet?” Rosa finally asked.
“He was president of my father’s London office. But that’s a boring question. Ask me something unexpected.” Cassandra looked toward the kitchen and saw that Lee was almost done plating. “C’mon, something weird, funny, rude but not boring. Anything’s better than boring.”
Rosa accepted the challenge, “Fine. Why the private party for four? The truth.”
Cassandra smiled, “I like the pair on her,” she leaned over Adriano, “Truth is Lee and I are suckers for real connections. After our elevator encounter it was hard to deny. He and I agreed we all shared this special je ne sais quoi that should be explored,” Cassandra leaned toward Rosalia and put a hand on Rosa’s lap.
Rosalia did not move away. She did not mind the bold punctuation to Cassandra’s answer, and she admired her brutal honesty. She added Cassandra’s warm touch on her thigh to her list of self-discoveries. Rosa had almost forgotten how arousing flirtation could be. She and Adriano never had time for foreplay. Their schedules and lack of privacy destroyed any chance of romantic interludes or erotic escapades. They were lucky if they got in a few kisses before their ultra-quiet quickies. The Crawfords were setting the stage for something neither Blake had ever experienced as evidenced by the look on Adriano’s face and the unexpected tightness in his pants as Cassandra’s hand lingered on his wife’s thigh.
Cassandra knew how to break the awkward silence and disguised more provocative conversation with food talk, “Smells like dinner’s almost ready. Lee’s trying a new Steak Au Poivre recipe for you tonight. We can make a game out of it. In case you didn’t notice, I love games. I will bet you can’t guess the secret ingredient in his peppercorn sauce. If you win, we follow your lead after dinner. If you guys lose, we go skinny-dipping in the hot tub. Whatta you say?”
Adriano had lost his excitement at the thought of Lee-chef-extraordinaire outdoing himself on one of Rosalia’s favorite dishes. He became terrified about the prospect of going head-to-head against Lee in a Blake versus Crawford bares-all game in the hot tub despite the promising idea of a boob-fest.
Before Adriano could even wrap his head around how to respond to this new game Cassandra had introduced, Rosa jumped in and answered, “We’re game.”
“By the way, I meant to compliment you on your haircut earlier,” Cassandra pivoted and put her hand under Rosa’s hair at the nape of her neck and felt the softness of the short curls, “I wish I had the balls to go this short. It’s so cute. Lee’s been pushing for years. He likes shorter hair. I’m just not convinced it’s me. But you are rocking this look.”
Rosa was accidently aroused. The nape of her neck was a pleasure point only Adriano had access to and here was this sultry, gorgeous woman caressing her spot. She had to concentrate. She wanted to close her eyes and surrender to a night that would take Rosalia into unknown and dangerous territory. She forced her eyes to remain open, but she lost track of the conversation. She sat paralyzed by sensations she was not ready to give into. And so, the three of them sat back against the cold leather of the booth and sipped their Malbec waiting for Lee to approach with two dinner plates.
They knew with the first bite that dinner packed a flavor punch that should be envied in top chef kitchen across the world. The simplicity of his presentation contrasted with the complexities of his appetizers like an intentional crescendo in reverse. As if he was easing into an effortless finale. The French cut beans were crunchy and vibrant green against the white ceramic of the square plate. The potato was twice baked and dripped with its butter, sour cream, real bacon bits and chives. And the steak was perfectly raw and drowning in Lee’s special pepper sauce.
“Rosemary!” Rosa guessed the secret ingredient in less than two bites because she hated rosemary.
Yes, she won! Adriano celebrated. We don’t have to go skinny-dipping, he celebrated.
“How did you…” Lee, who sat next to Rosa, put an inquisitive hand on hers, “…do it?”
Adriano locked eyes on Lee’s hand on his wife’s. He heat on his face raged. Another man was touching his wife. This was not a scenario Adriano had ever prepared for. His fists clinched tight around his knife and fork. The violence he felt under his skin was not unlike the heart-pounding and blood-rushing emotions of sex. His head was spinning. Adriano didn’t know whether to choke Lee with his bare hands or put his steak knife to good use. His only conciliation was that Rosalia had the upper hand since discovering his stupid secret ingredient. This would provide the escape they needed. Adriano sat back and waited for his wife to present the Crawfords with some excuse to justify their premature exit.
“Fair’s fair. You won so you decide what we do after dinner.” Cassandra began cutting into her potato with relative ease.
“I guess we’re going skinny-dipping then,” Rosalia’s answer shocked everyone but no one more than her husband—Adriano felt betrayed.
What?! Adriano’s inner voice screamed. He was blinded by his newfound jealousy and rage. He did not recognize his wife either. Rosalia was different inside not just out. He had welcomed the breath-taking makeover and had spent much of the night daydreaming about doing things to her after dinner—nice things, dirty things, intimate things. But to see his wife transform into this sexually curious and completely inappropriate temptress was not his idea of a new start for them. For Adriano the answer was simple: intimacy was synonymous with the number two. He hated the idea of Rosa flirting the night away with the Crawfords.
No one took notice of Adriano’s tense body language. All the attention was on Rosalia as she struggled to mash her potato. Her short curls bounced with each attempt. The sexsophone played George Michael’s Careless Whispers through loud hidden speakers and the candles dimmed in tandem like a calculated conspiracy. Lee said something to Rosa that Adriano couldn’t make out. Rosa laughed and looked over at Cassandra who was smiling too and swaying to the music with a glass of red wine in one hand and the other on Rosa’s thigh again. When Cassandra finally turned to Adriano to share a joke, his jealousy had rendered him deaf—he couldn’t hear over the pounding of his heartbeat.
“Don’t laugh,” Rosa nudged Lee, “I hated fixing my own potato.”
“Why didn’t you say so,” Lee moved to grab her knife and fork.
Adriano got up, marched around Lee’s chair and spoke in a tone everyone understood, “I’ll butter my wife’s potato! That’s my job,” He mashed, carved and mushed until the potato was to her liking, “and can we please turn down the music. I had too much wine. My head’s pounding!”
Rosalia was at once embarrassed and aroused by her husband’s chivalrous response. She was comfortable playing the damsel in potato-distress that he had walked around the table to safe. She also thought that jealousy was a good color on him. It let Rosa know her husband was actually still in there somewhere. Sure, he was angry and jealous, but alive.