The Billionaire and the Matchmake(9)

By: Lacy Andersen

They spent the next few moments immersed in awkward small talk about traffic and the weather. Emily kept glancing at the exit as if planning to bolt for it. He kept his answers light and cheery, not wanting to scare her away. She had a quick wit and a ready sense of humor. Even small talk with her was entertaining.

“Ah, Miss Emily.” A short, round man with a thick Italian accent came rushing toward them, interrupting the conversation. He grabbed Emily’s hand and kissed it swiftly on the top. “What can I get for you this evening?” He beamed down at her as if she were his own daughter.

“Lorenzo, you didn’t have to come out here to wait on us.” Emily smiled up at him, her blue eyes softening. “I know you’re a busy man.”

“I always have a minute to spare for my best customer.” Lorenzo crossed his thick arms across his round belly and over his black suit. “And your mama would be disappointed in me if I didn’t get a good look at your date. He is very handsome, no?”

Her eyes darted in Michael’s direction and she squirmed in her seat. Michael tried not to grin at her discomfort. He could feel their immediate attraction as much as her reluctance to admit it. It almost felt like a challenge. See who gave in first.

“Yes, I suppose you could say that. This is Michael Knight.”

Lorenzo shook his hand warmly. “Welcome to my restaurant. Anything this pretty lady wants, she gets.” He leaned in close, smelling of red wine and aftershave. “Including my protection. You hurt her, you answer to me and my boys.”

A jolt went through Michael and he gazed up at the bubbly man to see if he was serious.

His smile didn’t falter. “What shall I bring the two love birds tonight? Maybe our special?”

“That would be lovely.” Emily handed over her menu and looked at Michael expectantly.

“Um, yes, the same for me.” He also handed over his menu, still trying to make sense of what had happened. Surely, Emily Sevenson wasn’t connected to the Italian mob in some way. That would really be the cherry on top of this latest investment project.

“Sorry about that,” Emily said as Lorenzo walked away. She watched the man go, fondness clear in her eyes. “I’ve been coming to this restaurant since I was in pigtails. Lorenzo is like a father to me. My mom and I ate here every week until she got sick.”

“He’s protective of you.” Michael cocked his head to one side and studied her. “It’s nice to have people like that surrounding you. And I’m sorry to hear about your mother.”

“Thank you.” Her eyes misted over and she blinked rapidly. “She passed six months ago. I’m afraid I’m learning how to live all over again. It’s strange, picking up the phone to call her and realizing she’s no longer there. I’m in the middle of going through her stuff and getting her house ready to sell. I never realized how badly it was going to hurt. Like I’m losing her all over again.”

He wanted to reach across the table and cover her hand with his own. There was so much pain in her voice, he couldn’t stand it. But he had to remind himself not to get too invested. This was just a business transaction, after all.

“I’m so sorry.” She dabbed at her eyes with a linen napkin and gave him a sad smile. “I barely know you. You don’t need to hear my sob story. Lydia would kill me if she knew I was talking about this on a first date. You’re probably already thinking of your escape plan.”

“That was the last thing on my mind,” he said. And strangely, that was the truth. He leaned forward, his gaze intense. “You have no idea how refreshing it is to talk about real things with a woman. I am tired of the superficial. Life is full of ups and downs. We should be free to talk about them. And I am very sorry for your loss. It’s obvious your mother meant a great deal to you.”

Surprise lit up her eyes. She returned his gaze, her chest rising and falling in steady breaths. “Thank you. You have no idea how nervous I was about tonight. When I’m nervous, I tend to ramble, as you witnessed since the beginning of our date. I really had no idea I was so passionate about the weather.”

He regarded her with a frown. “There does seem to be a lot of pressure in a situation like this, doesn’t it? I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I last did this.”

“Now, I find that surprising.” The left side of her mouth pulled into a teasing grin. “I imagine a guy like you never lacks in dates. The women must line up down the street.”

“Yes, it’s all very tiresome,” he replied, his frown deepening. “My landlord nearly kicked me out of my last apartment for disrupting traffic. The ladies just won’t leave me alone.”