The drizzle had stopped, which was fortunate since the only umbrella Paisley owned was both covered in bright turquoise starfish that would most definitely not compliment her outfit and it was buried so deeply among the piles of clothes in her apartment that it would likely take a fully-funded archeological team three weeks to unearth it. Since she didn’t have three weeks or a team of archeologists at her disposal—and since she was running really and truly late now—she would just have to hope that the rain was done for the evening. Spotting the approaching city bus up ahead, she skirted a puddle in her path and all but ran to reach the bus stop in time.
Pasta Delizie. When was the last time she’d eaten there? Come to think of it, when was the last time she’d eaten anywhere outside her apartment? Unless brown-bagging it in the park counted, and she seriously doubted that it did. Not that she’d even done that in a while. Good grief, was she really turning into that much of a hermit? Maybe Mabel had the right idea after all. Not about matching Paisley up with somebody, since she still couldn’t fathom how to squeeze a relationship with anything more than a potted plant into her busy life right now, but a little more human contact might not be a bad thing.
And since she remembered now that the last potted plant she’d had went belly-up a few months ago when she’d forgotten to water it for, oh, about seven or eight weeks, maybe she’d be wiser to start with something less fragile than even plant-life for now. Say, a pet rock perhaps.
And considering that it would be a long time before she had another night out, she’d better make the most of this one.
So despite the fact that she’d been maneuvered none too willingly into this whole evening, Paisley smoothed her hair with one hand, checked her reflection in the window of the restaurant, and plastered a smile on her face as she stepped inside.
Her eyes scanned the room as they adjusted to the dim lighting; not the fanciest eatery in the world, Pasta Delizie was still apparently trying for a certain amount of candlelit atmosphere that was somewhat undermined by the cartoonish mustached chef that was painted on one wall alongside smiling vegetables with googly eyes. But the smells of the food that drifted out from the kitchen… Ahhh. Well, that was more than enough to make a person forgive the décor.
Her mouth began watering, and she tried not to notice the way her stomach growled as she turned her attention away from the thought of food that wasn’t ramen-based and searched for her mystery man.
Not the guy in the red t-shirt, she decided. Too short. She knew little about this Joe guy other than that he was a mechanic, but Mabel had said that he was a good six feet tall. And he couldn’t be the man over in the corner booth, because he stood up to kiss the cheek of a redhead who then slid in next to him. Other than them, most everyone else in this place already had a dinner companion sitting at their table. Was she really so late that he’d given up on her and left? Or worse, stood her up altogether?
Then her gaze landed on a man at the other end of the room. His back was to her, but he looked like he could be about the right age, and he was certainly tall. Even sitting down, that much was obvious. Good build, too, if his shoulders were anything to go by, and the way the dark dress shirt fell across them, it certainly wasn’t doing them any harm.
Well, well. Maybe she should trust Mabel with the running of her social life more often. That was, if she actually started to develop one.
Rearranging the delicate shawl just so across her bare shoulders, Paisley approached the table and came to a stop beside it. “Hi, I’m so sorry that I’m a little late. I’m Paisley, and you must be—”
The last word of her sentence froze on her lips as the dark-haired stranger looked up at her, and she saw that he wasn’t quite a stranger after all. Unfortunately.
“Joe,” she finished flatly, staring into the familiar eyes of the man who’d collided with her in the street only last week.
Son of a…
* * *
Joe started to rise from his seat out of habit—not all of the manners his mother had tried to instill in her boys over the years had stuck, but some had—only to meet the rather disgruntled gaze of a pretty blonde who looked vaguely familiar. From the shop maybe? Or did he know her from somewhere else? Maybe from the—
Her lips pressed together in a thin line, and something clicked.
It was the straight hair that had thrown him. Last time she’d had it all done up in curls. Big retro things that could have come from the nineteen-forties. But that sour look of disapproval—Oh, yes. He remembered that look, and all too well. “You’re…”
“Paisley,” she finished for him coolly.
And then although it probably wasn’t the most intelligent thing to say just then, all Joe could do was repeat, “You’re Paisley?” What kind of cosmic joke was this?
“Yes. And saying it more than once won’t change it. But by all means, keep trying.” And then either because of the curious looks she was attracting from nearby diners or because a waitress was trying to get past her with a tray of food, the blonde slid into the chair across from Joe as stiffly as if there was an iron rod in the place where her spine should have been. Or possibly stuck up a certain other part of her anatomy, which would have been perfectly in keeping with her attitude last week.
“Mabel’s friend Paisley?” he persisted, still finding it next to impossible to reconcile the woman across from him with the adorable sweetheart that Mabel had described.
She frowned. “No, Elmo’s friend Paisley. Of course, Mabel’s friend! How many Paisleys do you think are running around Pasta Delizie tonight looking to meet up with a blind date?”
If there’s a God in heaven, there’ll be at least one more, Joe thought, but he was smart enough to keep that particular thought to himself.