There was a distinct and frosty chill in the late fall evening as Abigail made her way to the small Italian restaurant called La Pasta. The rustic, multi-colored leaves whispered in the breeze, blowing and scattering everywhere as her black heels clicked methodically with each step she took on the narrow sidewalk. Reaching up, she attempted to push back the loose wisps of russet-colored hair that flew about her face, but it was a futile endeavor. This evening, despite her best attempts to tame the thick, lustrous curls, her hair had a mind of its own, and there was no luck at hand with escaping the force of a wind that lent it new life. She mused to herself that she would likely look like Medusa once she arrived at her destination, but alas, it was what it was. Whomever she was meeting on this blind date would need to like her for who she was, including her wild, rebellious, and yes, scary hair. As the wind whipped about her legs, she wished she’d had the foresight to take a taxi in lieu of making the short walk to the restaurant. Well, even if she ended up looking like Medusa, she hoped this date was made of sterner stuff and could endure the disheveled sight of her.
It had been against her better judgement, but Abigail had allowed her friends to set her up on this blind date with someone about whom she knew absolutely nothing. They had insisted, however, that it was a match meant to be, akin to the likes of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony or Romeo and Juliet. As she approached the restaurant, Abigail rolled her eyes at the comparison; after all, everyone knew exactly how those famous matches had ended: tragically. “Just my luck,” she thought to herself with wry amusement. “As though I have not had enough failures of late in the realm of love.”
She was nearly an hour early for the arranged date, but she much preferred it that way. Arriving early meant that she was able to acclimate to her surroundings and be sure that she was comfortable in every aspect before meeting her date for the first time. It also meant that she could have a drink and relax a bit before she met…. “What is his name?” she thought. “Didn’t they say it was Luca? Luca de Rose? Well, at least he has one thing in his favor: a nice, strong Italian name. Let’s hope that’s a good sign.” Wondering if Luca was short for Luciano, she opened the door of the small establishment and stepped inside its warmth and out of the wind. Yes, it would be inherently pleasant to meet someone whom she found attractive and with whom she could carry on an intelligent conversation instead of stilted gibberish all night long.
Entering La Pasta, a rare and unknown world welcomed her. The warmth and ambience of the restaurant felt like pure magic, transporting her to Italy in the skip of a heartbeat. A beautiful fire blazed from the stone fireplace situated across the room. Small, intimate tables filled the room, covered with crisp, white tablecloths upon which sat shimmering candles, small crystal vases of purple and yellow flowers, and gleaming silverware. “This place is enchanting,” she thought, wondering how she had missed it in all the years she had lived in Charleston. A small bar ran the length of one side of the room, so Abigail quickly made her way over to it and took a seat on a vacant stool. Despite the charming, inviting atmosphere, the restaurant was eerily quiet, with the exception of the soft strains of Italian music playing in the background. It appeared she was one of only a few patrons. Still, everything combined to lend her an ease of comfortableness as she took a seat and settled herself on the high stool at the end of the bar.
The bartender approached. “Buona serata, signorina,” he said with a welcoming smile. “What would you like to drink this evening?”
Abigail returned his smile. “What do you recommend?”
“We have a new Merlot from the region of Tuscany. It is the best,” the bartender replied in a thick Italian accent. “Rich and aromatic.”
“Excellent. I would like a glass, please.”
Leaving for only a moment, he returned with a bottle of the wine he had recommended. Setting a lovely crystal glass before her, he poured a small portion of the burgundy wine into it, waiting for her to taste of its richness. Abigail slowly lifted the glass and inhaled of the sweet fragrance before softly swirling the wine in the glass and sipping it. After tasting it, she eagerly nodded for him to fill her glass. The wine was perfect and a delicious warmth filled her with each taste of it. She had always found Merlot to be a soft, sensual, and fully bodied wine. It was a favorite and perfect to help ease the tension she felt as she awaited Luca’s arrival.
She heard the light tinkle of the bell at the door but glancing at her watch, she realized it was still far too early for her mysterious date of the night. She had generously given herself a full hour prior to the scheduled time to allow ample course to partake of a drink and familiarize herself with the surroundings and much of that time frame remained. If she did this small thing, it would allow her a level of comfort with the evening that she was sure she otherwise would not achieve. No, this assuredly was not her date arriving so early.
As she continued to sip the glass of Merlot, a man settled himself on the bar stool which was situated two seats away from where she sat. Lightly strumming the stem of her wine glass with slender fingers, she eventually turned, and in pretense, glanced about the room as if searching for someone. As her glance came full circle to land upon the man seated on the nearby stool, she nearly gasped aloud. His crystal blue eyes watched her with deep intensity, never wavering in their regard despite the fact that she had caught him staring. In response, his brow cocked slightly above his left eye, and then ever so slightly, his lips rose into a semblance of a smile as he nodded his head in greeting, the barest hint of a dimple peeking from his left cheek. Mesmerized by his blue gaze, she managed to respond with a slight smile and nod.
She feigned disinterest but listened as he ordered a glass of Merlot. Unnerved a bit by the unwavering regard for her he had displayed, she continued to sip her drink, allowing the warmth embodied therein to relax her a bit more. She was musing that she had never seen such ice blue eyes as his when he interrupted her thoughts.
“May I join you?”
His voice was deep and strangely melodic. She turned to watch as he stood and saw just how brutally handsome he was upon closer inspection. Moreover, quite possibly, it was not the color of his vivid blue gaze that was so different, but the intensity therein instead. He was tall and lean with dark hair to contrast against the ice blue of his eyes. He was dressed immaculately in a black cashmere sweater, a crisp white shirt beneath, tailored, charcoal grey slacks, and fine Italian leather shoes. Indeed, she was sorely tempted to abandon her blind date as she studied him but knew she could never do such a thing.
“I’m meeting someone in just a short while,” she said, more so to remind herself of the obligation than to advise him of such.
“Ah, well, just for a bit then,” he responded with a bit more of an evident smile as he slipped into the seat beside her. Although surprised by his boldness, she was admittedly curious as to what conversation he might strike up. She promised herself that she would leave and get a table prior to the arrival of her blind date.
As the stranger settled in the seat beside her, she was suddenly very self-conscious of the short black dress she had chosen to wear this evening. It was as if she felt the nearness of him with her entire being. She conspicuously pulled at the hem of the dress, ensuring it covered as much as possible of her long legs. She wound her hands through the emerald green shawl, securely pulling it through across her chest as though it was a shield offering protection from the intensity of his gaze. He continued to watch her, and she wondered, strangely enough, if he knew what she would do before she did it. His eyes were beautiful, and it felt as though they penetrated to the depths of her soul and knew all her secrets.
He took a sip of his wine before glancing up and leaning toward her ever so slightly.“Lavender,” he said. His tone, though soft in timbre, was as penetrating as his blue gaze.
Abigail was perplexed. “Excuse…me,” she stammered.
He watched her closely for a moment before saying, “Your skin. It smells of lavender.”
The faintest trace of a confident smile crossed his handsome visage with the spoken words. Further confusion filled Abigail's mind and a multitude of questions swept through it like particles of sand in a windstorm. Who was this man? Did he really just say that her skin smelled of lavender? Really? Lavender! This night, she wore no lavender scented oil or perfume. But how could he possibly know that she had bathed the previous evening in lavender scented bathwater? Her mind raced and then quickly drifted to the memory of the rosemary and mint shampoo she had also used. Curious, she wondered…
Before she could form another thought, and as if he had read her mind, he reached out his hand, lightly touching a wisp of a russet curl against her neck. “But here, right here, there is the faintest hint of rosemary and mint.” He spoke slowly and deliberately, as if knowing the affect his voice and its low timbre would have on her. He was still lightly touching the wisp of hair as he watched a myriad of questions flood her face.
“How….do you… could you?” She could struggled to form a coherent thought in response to what he said.
The look in his blue eyes shifted to her neck and rested there for long moments before he dropped his hand. He turned away and looked down into his glass of Merlot. With a nonchalant smile, he said, “I have a keen sense of smell. A hidden talent of sorts.”
A keen sense of smell? A hidden talent? What the devil? But he had been inexplicably right. She would not tell him she was impressed, but she was. She also had to admit that he had a pickup line like none other she had ever encountered. She attempted, although in vain, to act nonchalant, as if this sort of thing happened every day. However, the truth was that she found this stranger intriguing and wanted to know more about him – more about his hidden talents. Where was he from? What was his name? Moreover, where did one get a super talent like a keen sense of smell? Inexplicably, he interested her, making her feel as though she already knew him in ways she did not understand. In addition, why did she feel as if he had secrets she needed to uncover or that he yearned to divulge to her?
Abigail sighed, resignation and a measure of disappointment filling her being. She reminded herself that she needed to be respectful of the impending arrival of her date. Luca de Rose would walk through the doors of La Pasta at any moment, and it would not do for him to find her seated at the bar with another man, no matter what attraction the man held for her. She eyed the mysterious stranger seated beside her and then reluctantly stood.
“As intrigued as I am, I apologize, but I cannot stay. I really am expecting someone,” she said. She fought the urge to remain in her seat and focus solely on this man.
He stood as she did the same and nodded. “Of course,” he said and then watched as she walked across the room, where the waiter seated her at a cozy table near the fireplace.
Slowly, the stranger resumed his seat, drinking from the glass of Merlot. He wanted to turn around in his seat and continue to study her from where he sat but resisted the urge. She was much lovelier than he had imagined she would be. Indeed, she was perfect, and he was looking forward to knowing more about her. Moreover, he was sure she wanted to know more about him as well. It was strange, but he was wondering why it had taken so long for their worlds to collide. If he was sure of anything, it was that tonight was predestined, a fated meeting that was long overdue.
After a short while, he stood and ran a hand through the dark, thick waves of his hair. Picking up his glass, he finished the remainder of the wine and carefully placed the glass on the bar. He slowly turned and then with deliberation made his way to the table where she sat waiting. As he approached, she looked up, confusion etched across her lovely face.
With purpose, he extended his hand. “Hello, Abigail,” he murmured, smiling. “I am Luca de Rose. It is very nice to meet you.”