Want to start at the beginning?
Dan coughed. “Um, Colleen?” He reached over and took her hand again. “Are you sure you want to do this? You don’t have to feel obligated just because of Laura. I understand.”
“It’s not that. I can be pretty blunt.” She sniffed and turned toward him. She was a fool to think about David at all. “If I didn’t want to be here I wouldn’t be. No matter how pushy my cousin can be. I’m used to her. I can resist when I want to.” She smiled. His hand felt warm and steady around hers.
“Good. Because I am liking having you here.” He withdrew his hand again and turned the car into a parking lot.
She hopped out as soon as the car stopped, still trying to breathe. Between his proximity and her outburst, she felt a little uneven. He paused long enough to slip on his jacket before he joined her at her side of the car.
“You and Laura must have been a handful when you were kids,” he said.
It sounded like a deliberate attempt to start fresh and Colleen was very glad for it. “We were. We’re only a month apart and our parents thought it would be nice if we were friends. Little did they know.”
“Frogs in the bath tub, tunnels to China.”
“That’s not the half of it. After kindergarten the school learned that we had to be in different classes or nothing would get done.”
“I have a hard time thinking of Laura as a holy terror.”
“We didn’t mean to be bad.” Colleen paused while Dan opened the restaurant door for her. “We were just very active and very creative. Jimmy is a lot like his mom. I’m afraid he’s going to fulfill my aunt’s threat.”
“’I hope you have kids that are just like you.’ I’m afraid to see what mine turn out like. I was usually the ring leader.”
The maitre’d looked up from his desk. “Mr. O’Neill, so nice to see you. Would you like the usual table?”
“Yes, thank you.”
The maitre’d led them to a corner table and pulled out a chair for Colleen. The place was a little dim with a lit candle in the middle of the table supplying half the light. She and David had not been able to afford these kind of restaurants. Dan was known to the staff. He had a usual table. She knew how much a cop’s pay was, and if he wasn’t supporting a family, he would be able to afford this weekly. She hid behind her menu, feeling a little bit mercenary toting up his earning power on their first date. Standard American fare. She chose a dish and closed her menu.
“What do you like?” he asked.
“I think the chicken with mushrooms looks good.”
“It is. Would you like wine?”
Colleen licked her lips. Wine. There were rules for wine. Why did she feel stupid telling Dan she didn’t know how to order wine when she hadn’t had a single qualm about telling Mike she’d never eaten Korean, she didn’t know how to pronounce the name of her order, and she didn’t know how to hold her chopsticks? What exactly did she have to prove to big, bad Dan O’Neill? “I’ve never had any. I don’t drink,” she admitted.
“Would you like to try it? We can order by the glass.”
She shrugged. “Okay. I’ll try anything once.”
The waiter appeared at the table and Dan ordered for them including the wine. This having her dinner ordered for her was going to take practice. She and David had gone out to dinner very, very rarely and when they did it was fast food because they couldn’t afford much more. She still hadn’t gotten used to the idea of having extra money left over at the end of the month, but since she’d only been paying for herself life was much cheaper.
“So you plan on getting married and having kids,” Dan said.
“I guess so. I always assumed I would anyway. What about you?”
He shrugged. “Someday. Spend enough time with Scott and Laura and that kind of thing starts to look good.”
“Yeah. She was really lucky to meet him. Guys like Scott don’t come along everyday.” Colleen unfolded her napkin and laid it across her lap. “But then Laura always wanted to settle down and have a family.”
“And you didn’t?”
“There was a little while in college when I decided I was a feminist and I needed a man in my life like a fish needs a bicycle.” She grinned. He looked slightly horrified, but he obviously hadn’t caught her reference. “You know, that’s the same look my mother gave me when I told her.”
“So what changed your mind?”
Colleen shrugged. “I met a man. I’m pretty sure Gloria Steinem would have had me shot.”
“Well, you must not have felt that strongly about it if you let one relationship change your mind.”
The waiter brought their wine. Colleen eyed the slender glass too concerned with the drink to think about what she was saying. “It wasn’t the one relationship, it was the three years we were engaged that changed my mind.”
Colleen picked up the glass and realized what she’d said. She sipped, considering the taste and trying to think of an escape from her own mouth. She could see him doing the math and coming up with the answer to the question about her plans. “This is tasty. Good choice. What about you? How does a handsome policeman like yourself stay single all this time? Especially so close to my matchmaker cousin.”
He shrugged. “I guess I haven’t found anyone I liked enough. Or disliked enough. It’s not easy being married to a policeman.”
“Yeah, Laura seems to handle it pretty well, but I remember getting a couple of pretty hysterical letters from her. Once she called me in the middle of the night because of some sniper that was hunting Scott.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“Yeah, it was. But at the time, she was just crazy with worry and she wanted to be there with him.”
“Good thing she wasn’t. If she had been home when we caught the guy she might have been caught in the crossfire.”
Colleen folded her hands under her chin. “Tell me something. Would you have believed it if the perp had succeeded and made it look like suicide?”
Dan peered into his glass. He didn’t speak for a few minutes. “No. Scott isn’t the kind. I’d have believed it if he shot a neighbor’s dog because he heard something outside and panicked, but he wouldn’t kill himself.”
“Just ruin himself.” Colleen studied Dan’s face. He was weighing his answer. He seemed to weigh everything.
“Possibly. He was very tightly wound during that time.”
“He told me. He said he nearly fired on some wino because he thought the guy was reaching for a gun.”
“Sometimes in our line of work, all the shadows have weapons.”
Colleen sat up. “How poetic. I’m impressed.”
He looked at her narrowly for a moment before he realized she was serious. “That’s just the way it feels sometimes.” He shifted in his chair.
The waiter brought their dinner with a flourish. Colleen turned to her meal, reconsidering Dan O’Neill.
He’d seemed bland, then she’d discovered that passionate core. During their conversation he’d seemed almost professional. He had managed to make her reveal the one thing she’d purposely kept hidden from him. Laura knew about her breaking off the engagement, but she didn’t know why. Scott only knew that she had once been engaged, but not that it had anything to do with her move west. Dan now knew that the end of the engagement was key in her decision.
But he had let something slip too. He had let her see that his passionate core wasn’t just one sided. If she found her way under his shell, she would have to take care not to hurt him. He had a soft underbelly.