Chapter 15 & 16
Once they were seated, Meaghan picked up the menu. She had been here several times, and enjoyed the western fusion choices and the relatively low price. Still, she wanted to hide behind the menu as she thought about this evening.
Although he appeared to be oblivious, as they were walking into the restaurant, she could see the interested stares of the females in the lounge area. She peeked over the top of her card stock to find him looking at his own menu. She took a moment to look at his features, trying to ascertain why the attraction. He was the epitome of the strong male, and she wondered again why they kept meeting when it was obvious they were in two different spheres.
Rickie glanced up from his menu, only to see those beautiful chocolate eyes quickly skitter away. He put the menu down and steepled his hands on the table.
“I’m glad you chose a restaurant that one of my favorites; I like that we share the same taste. What do you plan to eat?”
“Uh, I’ll have the lemongrass chicken.” Meaghan cursed at how breathless she sounded, then cleared her throat and turned to the brightly-dressed girl next to her. “Leaf, what do you want?”
“I’ll have the small lamb cutlet, please, no bread. I want to save room for dessert!” Rickie chuckled, a sound that sent a frisson up Meaghan’s spine.
“And I’ll have the sea bass.” Rickie waved a hand, and immediately a young waiter arrived to take their food and drink orders.
Leaf sighed as the boy walked away, “That’s why I like to come here.”
While waiting for the meal, the trio stuck to safe topics: Tina’s school and classmates, local politics, entertainment news. Meaghan was awed that he could easily keep up with her younger sister’s quicksilver subject changes, and she gradually relaxed for the first time since Rickie showed up at her house this afternoon.
When the steaming dishes arrived, she sniffed appreciatively at her chicken, and then dug in. After a few minutes, Meaghan looked at her sister. She was still dreamingly following their waiter as he handled his other tables.
“How are your plates?” Rickie asked, as he sampled his wild rice. Leaf nodded and gave a thumbs up, her mouth already filled with spaghetti. Meaghan stated, “This is one of my favorites here at this restaurant.”
The meal settled down into a companionable silence as they applied themselves to their dinner, and Meaghan felt herself relax in his easy company. Once, when she returned from the bathroom, she saw Rickie and her sister in earnest conversation, but they broke apart when she reached the table.
“What were you two up to?” Meaghan asked suspiciously, only to be met by two overly-innocent looks. Rickie spoke up, “She was asking if she could have the Moroccan date tart for dessert.” Meaghan didn’t believe them, but the evening was going well, so she didn’t argue.
Later, replete from the meal, the drive back to Meaghan’s was quiet, as Rickie stopped at the front of their terrace house.
However, as soon as he alighted from his truck, Rickie felt a tingling sensation between his shoulder blades and quickly scanned the area by the house. His instincts were telling him they were being watched, but he was unable to determine where the lurker was. The malevolence in the air made it seem almost metallic, and he wanted to get Meaghan and her sister inside as soon as possible. Quickly walking around to the passenger side, he handed out first one girl, then the other, then hustled them towards their door. Meaghan must have felt the urgency; she didn’t protest as he practically pushed her to the door.
He didn’t take a deep breath until Meaghan had unlocked and opened the front door, and Leaf had slipped inside.
Meaghan turned and looked at Rickie, who was distractedly looking around her front yard. She hesitantly touched his arm, feeling the warmth of his skin. He turned and focused on her, those points of blue staring into her eyes.
“Thank you for this evening, En Ahmad. My sister appreciated it, too.”
“Rickie. I’d like you call me Rickie, and I had a good time, too.” He placed a hand over the one Meaghan had on his arm. Suddenly self-conscious, she tried to pull away, but he had her hand trapped. He gave it a slight squeeze and released it. Meaghan could feel the hairs of his arm as she removed her hand, and stopped herself from wiping it on her skirt to try and stop the tingling. She nodded, quickly went through her door, and closed it behind her. But not before she looked at his face a final time.
Rickie felt a moment of triumph; Meaghan was no longer avoiding eye contact or keeping her head down. The moment was short-lived when he remembered the feeling he had when they drove up to the house. He stared into in the dark shadows along the road, but could not discern any movement. The feeling of evil had faded, leaving nothing more than a bitter tang in the air. Rickie glanced one more time at the front door, and walked back to his truck.
Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur, as the second busiest airport in France, normally teamed with passengers hurrying to one of two terminals to travel all over the world. On a late Sunday night, however, there were few people roaming the glass rotunda of Terminal 2.
A tall figure, muffled in a long grey coat and kinte-cloth scarf, paced nervously by the Qatar Airways ticket booth, stopping occasionally to look out the windows past the quiet runways to the fathomless black expanse of the Mediterranean Sea beyond.
Finally, she sat down at a café-style table, by a closed lounge. She unwound the colourful scarf, revealing the dark skin and high cheekbones of central Africa, with short, curly black hair. Reaching into a large overnight bag in burberry print, she pulled out a laptop computer, and opened it up in front of her. As it hummed to life, she chewed her lower lip a bit, then, going into an email program, began quickly typing. A silver and bronze bangled bracelet quietly chimed against the table as her fingers flew over the keyboard.
After a few minutes, she turned off the device, stored it back in the bag, and resumed pacing as the sky lightened over the water.
The ringing of the doorbell startled Meaghan as she straightened up the living room.
Opening it, she found Shel, holding a half of durian in her hands. “I just bought one, and I know how much you like its buttery pungent goodness, so I brought you some. So who was the guy that took you and your sister out last night?” She bustled in, heading for the kitchen.
Meaghan followed her neighbour into the kitchen and sat down on one of the chairs. “Remember the guy I mentioned a week or so ago? He invited Tina and me to dinner last night. We went to Jambu’s, and he apparently knows the owner. We had a nice time.”
“So tell me about him. What’s his name, what does he do, all the particulars. You know I worry about you going out with strange men.” Shel expertly scooped the custard-like flesh into a bowl, discarding the sharp rind in the sink. After wiping her hands on a towel, she turned and accepted the business card from Meaghan.
“I’ve heard of this company. I remember something in the news that they were having some sort of dispute over the ownership of their oil fields. Did he talk about that at all? What did he say about his businesses?” Meaghan thought for a moment, but couldn’t answer her neighbour’s questions.
“I don’t really remember talking about any business related topics. We mostly talked about music, television, Tina’s classes, things like that. Why?”
Shel shrugged. “Unless he has something to do with your company, I don’t see why he would ask you out, especially under the circumstances that you met. It just seems odd.” Meaghan privately agreed.
“Well, I don’t believe you’ll see him again here, unless he’s still looking for properties. So, Shel,” Meaghan smiled, “tell me about the guy you’ve been flirting with on the Internet.” Shel had always lived in her home alone, so Meaghan was curious about what kind of man Shel was attracted to. As they dug into their bowls of durian, Shel began talking.
“Well, his name is Sam, and we’ve been talking for a couple of weeks now…”
Rickie was in his office, reviewing a contract to supply a French firm with palm oil, when there was a perfunctory knock on his door, and his father’s assistant breezed in.
“It’s the end of the day, and I figured you were still here going over the Pomme Verte proposal. What do you think of it?” Rickie looked up at JoAnne.
“Is that really why you came to my office?” He raised his left eyebrow. JoAnne grinned back.
“No, I just wanted to talk you. Alright, to interrogate you. You came into work in a remarkably chipper mood, and I wanted to pump you for any juicy information. Is it the somebody that you met at that birthday party and won’t talk about?”
Rickie asked, “Why, am I sparkling? It’s nothing. I went to dinner last night with a couple of people I know. There were three of us, if you must know.”
“Oh,” said JoAnne, deflating, “I had hoped you love life was getting a kickstart. Anyway, before you leave, I wanted to give you the latest update on our talks with the Chen Dong group for the Balai oilfield exploration. They rejected our first offer, and plan to send us a counteroffer tomorrow. I just wanted to give you a head’s up.”
“What does my father think?”
“En Ahmad believes they want to formally dispute our rights to explore those fields under Chinese law, and are using this as proof that we weren’t willing to negotiate properly in order to press their claim.”
Rickie thought for a moment, and then nodded. “Okay, we’ll see what they come up with tomorrow. Tell my father I’ll talk to him once I review their proposal.”
“And you’ll tell me if you find that perfect girl, right? I have to meet and approve her. I know,” JoAnne acknowledged his silence with a gesture, “my first love is Rain, but I still want to make sure she’s good enough for you.” And with a smile and a nod, JoAnne walked out, shutting the door behind her.
After she left, Rickie thought about last night’s dinner. With her lively sister acting as a chaperone, the conversation was safe, but Rickie still felt it was a success, seeing several fleeting smiles on Meaghan’s lovely face, her warm brown eyes crinkling up at the corners. He caught himself reaching for his phone; he balled his fists to resist calling her. He didn’t want to seem too eager, even though he wanted to see her again. He stood up, slid the rest of the papers into his correspondence basket, and gathered up his things to go home.