Bittersweet Love(8)

By: Cathy Williams

Great company I’m going to be tonight, she thought with a grimace. A regular barrel of laughs.

She had arranged to meet her friend Claire and Claire’s brother at a restaurant near Covent Garden, a new place which specialised in Swiss food. Personally, she couldn’t think what food the Swiss had to call their own, but she was game.

She had known Claire since she was a teenager and the company would be good. Eric, from what she vaguely remembered when she had last met him years ago, was good fun, and after the tension of today it would probably be just what the doctor ordered.

They were waiting for her when she arrived at the restaurant one hour later.

Natalie looked around her briefly, scanning the place with interest. It was small, tastefully decorated in cool creams and pinks, and had the eager atmosphere of somewhere very new and still keen to impress. Not that she could see much need for that, since the place was already quite busy, most of the tables taken with a se-lection of well-dressed women and their similiarly well-dressed counterparts. It was all very muted and in terribly good taste, but pleasing nevertheless. Natalie looked across to her friend and waved, hurrying across to their table.

Claire was a petite redhead, bubbly and vivacious, and her brother, whom Natalie recalled as work-shy and good-natured, had, she discovered with wry amusement, become a qualified accountant and was now deeply conservative.

‘I never thought I’d see you in a navy blue suit, Eric,’ she said with a smile, when Claire had excused herself to go to the ladies’ room. ‘In fact, I never thought I’d see you in a suit at all. What’s the world coming to when you can’t rely on people not to remain the same?’

They laughed and he parried with a few remarks of his own on how much she had changed, his eyes in-forming her that he appreciated the changes. He was comfortable company. Amusing, intelligent and undemanding. Natalie was in exactly the right mood for un-demanding company. It relaxed her and she felt as though she needed relaxing.

She was leaning forward, laughing at something he had said, when a familiar deep voice spoke from behind her.

‘What a surprise. I had no idea this sort of place was your cup of tea.’

Natalie swivelled around and watched in alarm as Kane moved around to face her. What on earth was he doing here? He wasn’t going to stay and chat, was he? She sincerely hoped not.

Her eyes slid across to his companion, a tall blonde with an amazing figure. Natalie recognised her instantly. She had been seeing Kane before he left for the Far East. From the way she was clinging to his arm, it was obvious that his six-month absence had done nothing to staunch her ardour. Her name was Anna, and in the past she had barely managed to mutter a few words to Natalie, never mind glance in her direction. Now, however, her emerald-green eyes were narrowed into slits.

‘Are you the same girl who worked for Kane?’ she asked, without the slightest hint of embarrassment. ‘Robin something? Or was it something Robin?’ She laughed but her eyes remained hard and assessing.

Natalie looked at her calmly. ‘Yes, I am.’

Anna threw her a look of stunned disbelief, and then issued a sharp smile to Claire, who was surveying the interchange with interest, and to Eric who was rather more embarrassed than interested.

‘Hasn’t she changed?’

‘Hasn’t she,’ Natalie replied drily, sparing her friends the necessity of trying to find a response to that one.

‘Natalie’s been on some kind of health kick in my absence,’ Kane interjected, his eyes resting on her face with the merest shadow of accusation. He looked across to Eric and raised one eyebrow imperceptibly, just enough for Natalie to realise what he was thinking. She ignored the questioning gleam in his eyes and plastered a blank smile on her face.

‘Has she?’ Anna exclaimed. She nestled against Kane possessively.

What does he see in them? Natalie asked herself with a sharp pang of jealousy. Stupid question. Their bodies of course. Kane had all the mental stimulation he could handle at work. Every woman he had ever been out with, and there had been no shortage of them over the years, had been a physical work of art. Leggy, seductive. Everything I’m not, Natalie admitted with honesty. Even with my new improved shape and daring hairstyle I’ll never have that sort of feline, vampish grace that attracts him.

She gave Eric a warm smile, a subconscious desire to remind Kane and herself that he wasn’t the only man in the world, and he looked momentarily dazzled.

‘I’ve often wanted to go on a health kick,’ Anna was saying with a flirtatious smile that expertly managed to include both men and neither of the women. ‘Of course, I haven’t got the incentive that you had.’ She addressed her observation to Natalie. ‘ When you’re overweight it’ s so much more motivating to do that sort of thing, isn’t it?’