Marianne leans up and smacks Adrian on the shoulder.
“You know what I mean, you rascal. A street-sweeper bowls over everything in its path, much like you do.” And she smiles again. “Let me show you to a table. I’m happy that you will be here to keep Eva company. As long as you behave yourself, that is.”
And she turns to show us to our table and Adrian leans toward me.
“I see you have a fan club already.”
I shrug. “People like me.”
He grins and I grin back.
“I’m kidding. She’s a very nice lady. She felt sorry for me last night since I was in here alone. She doesn’t realize that where I’m from, that’s very normal. A woman can eat alone and it’s not a tragedy.”
Adrian shakes his head. “Not true. Anytime you are eating alone, it is a tragedy for mankind. You should never be alone. There should always be someone with you to appreciate your beauty.”
I have to shake my head again at his blatant and sugary flirting and I can see what Marianne means. I’m quite positive that Adrian has broken more hearts than he knows what to do with and probably completely by accident. Thankfully, I know that I’m not interested in a relationship with him. I know that because when I am ready, it will be with someone who turns my heart inside out.
Someone like Luca Minaldi.
The thought pops unbidden into my head, just as thoughts of him have been springing up right and left since I met him. I shake them away. This is ridiculous. I’m here with a handsome and charming man. I’m going to enjoy it, not spend it thinking of Luca Minaldi.
So I do.
We talk and sip at wine for hours.
I eat more breadsticks than I know what to do with. Adrian laughs because I’m so skinny but can apparently eat my weight in bread.
“I don’t know where you put it all, Eve,” he tells me, his eyes sparkling.
“My name isn’t Eve,” I tell him. “It’s Eva.”
“I know,” he answers. “But you are beautiful enough that you could tempt me into anything, even eating from the Tree of Life. So to me, you will always be Eve.”
“I don’t know if that’s a compliment,” I tell him and I know my cheeks are flushed from the wine. “You’re comparing me to someone who was the fall of mankind.”
He laughs and lifts his wineglass. “Here’s to temptation.”
And I laugh and toast with him, but honestly, this conversation makes me a little uneasy. I feel a strange pressure now to return the admiration that he feels for me. And honestly, I just don’t.
And it’s not that I don’t think he’s attractive. Clearly, he is attractive. And he’s charming and sweet. And I like him. But when I think of him, I think of a golden retriever. Happy, loyal, not too deep. I think I need a man with substance.
Like Luca Minaldi.
Ugh. There he is again. My thoughts are not safe from him, night or day. I dreamed of him last night and today he has been running rampant in there. I once again put him out of my mind as I make polite small talk with Adrian.
I feel suddenly rude, suddenly fake.
I hope that Adrian hasn’t noticed that I am not as engaged in our conversation now as I was. I can’t help it. I can’t help what I feel, but I can help how I act. So I smile brightly as Adrian tells me about growing up in Malta.
“It was a lovely childhood,” he tells me. “I grew up on an estate outside of town. It was peaceful and very quiet and I had the full run of the place. But it was a little too quiet, you know? I like city life.”
“See, I’m just the opposite,” I answer. “I love the country and the quiet. I love people, but I like to return to my empty house at the end of the night and re-charge. I guess I’m an introvert in that way. You’re an extrovert through and through. Being with people feeds your energy.”
“You are right on the money with that,” Adrian laughs. “I do love to be with people. My boss, who happens to have been a childhood friend, is just the opposite. He would never come out if he can help it, a total introvert. I don’t really understand it.”
Marianne comes back to our table with another bottle of wine, but I stop her before she can open it.
“I can’t,” I tell her, as I look at my watch. “I’ve still got work to do tonight and I need to get up early tomorrow. I really should go.”
She smiles. “Will I see you tomorrow, sweet? I’ll save you a table.”
I nod. “Of course. I can’t eat my own cooking, trust me. I’ll be here for dinner.”
She kisses me and I marvel in the fact that she has accepted me so quickly. It’s refreshing. People back home are slightly more suspicious and hardened toward strangers and I know that that is a cultural thing on both counts.
Adrian picks up the check, even though I try to insist that I would like to buy my own. But he is insistent, so I allow it this time. Once he pays it, we are once again out in the night breeze.
“I love this,” I say as I sniff at the brisk and salty sea air. “I could breathe this for the rest of my life. It makes for such a good night’s sleep.”
“True,” Adrian answers as he slips an arm around my shoulders. “And it makes for intimate date nights, too.”
I look at him and shake my head, but I don’t remove his arm. The breeze is chilly and his arm is warm.
“You’re not getting into my pants tonight,” I tell him bluntly. “Just so you know.”
He laughs. “You Americans. You’re always right to the point.”
I smile. “I suppose. You should just know that my heart isn’t going to be broken by you and left behind your steam-roller.”
He laughs again. “I think you mean street-sweeper.”
We round the corner and step onto my drive and I stop short. A shiny black Jaguar is parked in front of my cottage. And Luca Minaldi is sitting on my porch steps. His dark eyes briefly flicker over my face, over Adrian’s arm that is wrapped loosely around my shoulders, over the entire scene. I wonder what it looks like to him, but don’t take the time to dwell on it.