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Rossi sniffed the air and grinned. "Smells great in here. Chip's secret sauce?"
I nodded, watching his reaction, waiting for more.
"Looks great too," he said glancing around. "You did a wonderful job."
Perfect. I threw my arms around him and hugged him tight. My friend Chip's restaurant, La Cucina, was the first commercial space I ever designed, and to be honest, I needed a little reassurance.
As we strolled into the dining room, a server sprang to attention and led the way to an intimate, white-topped table. He unfolded our napkins and placed them on our laps. "I'm Enzo. Chip sends his apologies for not greeting you personally but" he winked, "he's going crazy in the kitchen."
"We understand," I said. Before opening his doors to the public tonight, Chip had invited Rossi and me to an early private dinner. That he was now backstage making sure everything would be perfect for showtime wasn't surprising.
Enzo held up a bottle of pinot noir for our inspection. "With the chef's compliments."
We nodded and in no time at all, Rossi and I were clinking glasses. His eyes, all liquid Italian fire, did what they always did when he looked at me. They tuned out everything else within range. At the moment that included the menu, and with the aroma of secret sauce in the air, no easy feat.
I used to think Rossi's habit of concentrating solely on the object of his attention was a detective's ruse for gaining something. I still did. He used those penetrating eyes of his like a secret weapon to squeeze out the truth. For sure, I had never been able to lie to him about a thing. Damn it.
He raised his glass. And an eyebrow. "To Deva Dunne, the best interior designer east of the Rockies. West of them too." He took a celebratory sip before adding, "Seriously, the place looks terrific."
"You really like it?" I guess I needed to keep the compliments coming.
"Yeah." He grinned, showing me a flash of even white teeth.
Damn. Rossi always knew what I was thinking, what I needed. A trait that made him maddening, not to mention rather irresistible at times.
I blew out an exasperated breath and hoisted my wineglass. As I sipped, I glanced around, enjoying the view all over again. To tempt the appetite of anybody who strolled in, I'd painted the dining room Tuscan tomato and the bar area merlot. Striped carpeting in merlot, tomato and taupe echoed the wall colors. For drama and bling, I'd filled ornate gold frames with black and white photographs of Italian street scenes and hung them everywhere. And to enhance the photo colors, black Chiavari chairs surrounded tables draped in white linen. No checkered cloths for La Cucina.
Startup costs had been high, so I insisted Chip pay me only when he could. If that never happened, it would be okay. We were friends, and besides, I owed him for giving me such a high-profile project to add to my design portfolio.
Rossi picked up one of the brand new menus and handed it to me. "Food? Red walls make me hungry."
"That's the whole idea." Pleased, I took the menu from him and leaned in closer. "You know something?"
He flashed a wicked smile. "Yeah, your neckline looks great when you do that."
I sat up straighter. "This is like being on a date with a Mafia don."
He frowned. "Why's that?"