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It was only going to be dinner.

It was only going to be dinner because she liked him, a lot, and they’d only known each other for two days – two days! She’d done the falling into bed on a first date thing and then never calling the guy back. She’d done a month of great sex that just fizzled out and left them with nothing to talk about and she was honestly relieved when that guy stopped returning her calls. And there was one guy who didn’t stay the night and cut her dead next time she saw him, like it was fine for him but she was some kind of fallen women for having sex with him.

She was pretty sure Ray Vecchio wasn’t like that, but then she’d been sure the other guy wasn’t like that too.

Mostly though, she’d compensated for her married twenties by enjoying her divorced thirties. Judging by what her girlfriends told her, she’d got the better end of the deal, doing it this way round. Dating at 35 was better. You went to better restaurants; drank nicer wine; the guys knew what they were doing. Stella knew what she was doing. She knew what she liked and how to ask for it, and she was old enough to know you didn’t have to feel guilty about doing what made you feel good, whatever that jerk thought. Not like they told you when you were 16.

There was a field, she had played it, it had been fun. Nothing serious, nothing intense.

 

That wasn’t what this felt like. Ray Vecchio, the real Ray Vecchio, didn’t feel like fun. He was like something on the horizon, coming to change everything. Like her ex-husband going undercover as this man had been a sign or something, only she didn’t believe in signs. Nothing was written in the stars, the universe didn’t send you clues. She didn’t believe in love at first sight, either. It was ridiculous – relationships were built on trust and compatibility and shared interests and common goals, and if you didn’t have that, if you didn’t want the same things out of life, then you might as well not even start. And if she’d known that when she was 20, her life might look a whole lot different now.

But she hadn’t, because nobody does. Nobody knows, when they’re 20, that the guy who makes you go weak in the knees with wanting him will have you gritting your teeth and rolling your eyes over the phone when you’re 30.

 

So she was going to do this slowly, and be sure. Start with dinner, get to know each other, wait and see.

 

 

Stella picked the restaurant. He’d been out of town, it made sense. She went out with a guy last year who had to be the one to pick the restaurant. He had to choose the wine, he had to recommend something she should order and pull a face if she didn’t order it, and then he had to pay. Stella was pretty sure she earned more than him. When he asked her out a fourth time, she said no.

When she suggested the French place on 75th, Ray Vecchio said he’d meet her there at 8 o’clock and he walked out the bullpen backwards so he could keep on smiling at her.

 

She didn’t even get time to go home to change. At 7.30 she was still at the office, touching up her makeup in the ladies room. It took three tries to get her eyeliner right and the front of her jacket got wet from leaning against the sink to see in the mirror. But she was going to be late if she fussed any longer, so she ran a comb through her hair and refused to look at herself any more. She looked fine.

She passed a drugstore on the way to hail a cab, walking fast. It crossed her mind, that she could buy condoms. But she was running late, and there was a taxi with its light on, so she sped up to flag it down.

It didn’t matter. It was just going to be dinner anyway.

 

 

It wasn’t just dinner.

Ray was already there when she walked in, 10 minutes late and more flustered than she remembered being for a date in years. Maybe ever.

She saw his face light up as she approached the table, like maybe those 10 minutes had been long enough for him to think she wasn’t coming, and that made her feel better somehow. He stood up and kissed her on the cheek in greeting: she had a second to register tall, nice-smelling, close shaven, a smile that reached his eyes, his hand on her arm, before he stepped back again. He had changed clothes - another jacket that set off his shoulders, a dark sweater that made his eyes look very green.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” she said. “The DA’s gone crazy, trying to get Muldoon extradited back here, we’re up to our eyes in depositions. Did I keep you waiting long?”

“Hey, no, I’ve only been here a minute,” he said, but the shredded bread roll and glass with nothing but the slice of lemon left in it told another story. “But I’d wait all night for you.”

From someone else it would have sounded like a line, but from him somehow it didn’t. She found herself blushing and smiling and looking right into his eyes and there was the same expression on his face too.

 

“I don’t know French wine. You wanna pick something?” he said when the waiter came. And “The lady will try it,” when the guy still tried to get Ray to taste it before he poured. He wasn’t being rude - he was just saying.

 

Halfway through the main course, he said, “This place is great. They don’t know how to make food like this in Vegas. It’s either greasy tacos or minestrone with $100 dollar bills floating in it, you know?”

“I’ve never been to Vegas.”

“Yeah, you’re not missing anything, trust me,” he said, and looked away. She only noticed because it was the first time he’d taken his eyes off her all evening.

 

They were holding hands across the table by dessert. He had beautiful hands - long, elegant fingers, like a pianist. She couldn’t remember ever holding hands in a restaurant before.

She’d never told anyone her life story on a date before either. A couple guys had tried to tell her theirs - or the parts where they earned a lot of money and played the bigshot, anyway - but not like Ray Vecchio did, like he cared what she thought of him, but was going to tell her the times he’d screwed up anyway. And she couldn’t remember anyone listening to her like he was, to what she actually said, leaning forward over the table towards her as she told him about passing the bar and leaving Ray Kowalski and prosecuting Warfield and everything. Her coffee went cold, talking to him.

 

They were the last people in the restaurant.

When she put her credit card down next to his to split the check, the waiter rolled his eyes but Ray Vecchio looked at her and said, “Ok, yeah. Thanks.”

 

She let him help her into her coat. She stood nearer than she needed to and didn’t step away, and he put his arm lightly round her as they left.

 

 

It turned out they lived the same side of town, so it made sense to share a taxi, close together in the dark backseat.

When they were still 10 blocks from her place, Stella asked him to come in for a drink.

She didn’t even get time to kick herself for it, because the look on his face said he was as blown out of the water by this as she was.

He swallowed – she saw him swallow in the light from the streetlamps – and he said,

“Yeah. I’d really like that.”

 

 

She did give him a drink, but he never drank it.

He didn’t kiss her and she didn’t kiss him. One moment they were side by side on her couch, looking at each other, and then they were in each other’s arms like it was just inevitable. Neither of them needed to move to make it happen, it just did. There was no such thing as love at first sight. There wasn’t.

 

 

After they reached the bedroom but before all their clothes came off, Stella said,

“Ray, have you – oh…”

He was licking at her nipple through the lace of her bra. She could feel it in her whole body, like winding a spring, she was thrumming with it.

“Yeah?” he panted.

“Have you got condoms? I haven’t got condoms.”

For a second he didn’t even seem to understand the question. Then he gave her a wild-eyed look of despair.

“Dammit, no. I didn’t – you know, I didn’t expect – God, you’re beautiful…” and they were kissing again.

“Stella…” he said into her mouth.

“Yes.”

He was breathing hard. “We can’t…”

“I know. Fuck.

Couldn’t they? Really? It had started already, she couldn’t stop it now. She was falling off a cliff with Ray Vecchio, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Definitely not tonight, when she wanted to and now they couldn’t. For a dizzying second she thought of saying, I don’t care, let’s do it anyway – she couldn’t remember the last time she’d wanted anybody this badly.

He pulled back a little to see her face, still breathing hard like it was all he could do to keep under control. But he still asked, “Should we stop?”

His thigh was pressed between her legs and she couldn’t help moving against him.

“No,” she panted. “Just, not - ”

“Yeah. We don’t have to - ”

His hand was hot on her hip, then stroking over her panties. He must be able to feel how wet she was, like she could feel him hard through his pants.

To hell with it. She wasn’t going to play the blushing virgin. Stella wriggled out of her panties and put his hand where she wanted it, but it was Ray who moaned when he started to touch her. She wasn’t going to pretend she didn’t want it, with him watching her open-mouthed and hot-eyed, thrusting against her hip like he couldn’t help it.

“Take these off,” she managed, and he scrambled out of his pants as if he’d just been waiting for her permission.

Then he was back, pressed against her, his cock hot and so hard as he rubbed against her hip, still looking at her like he was afraid he was going to wake up. Or she was.

She wanted to tell him, I know exactly what I’m doing, just to reassure him, even though it wasn’t true. She was in over her head, but she was way past second thoughts now – if he turned out to be one of those jerks in the morning, she would just damn well live with it because this was worth it. His hands on her were just right, exactly right. She wanted it to last but she was right there, and when her orgasm hit she heard herself cry out his name.

“Oh, Stella…” he gasped out, moving harder and faster against her, breathing harsh in her ear, until he froze and came in a hot streak all over her ribs and all the way up into her hair.

 

 

She knew she hadn’t made a mistake when he lay with his arms around her for a minute before reaching for the Kleenex and wiping come off her like she was a work of art.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a rueful smile. “If I say I was hoping to impress you, that’s just gonna make this look even worse, isn’t it?”

Stella smiled back at him. “Hey, I’m impressed,” she said, pointing to a spot of come in her hair, and they both collapsed with laughter.

 

 

When they’d calmed down she said, “I’m sorry too – I didn’t mean to invite you back here on false pretences. I thought we should take our time, and then…”

“No way, I didn’t see any pretences. A beautiful woman invites me home for a drink and takes me to bed, I’m the luckiest guy alive.”

And that was another one that should have sounded like a line, it really should. But with those big green eyes gazing at her and his arms tight around her, it felt like he meant it.

“Yeah, but you didn’t get to drink your drink,” she objected. “I promised you a drink.”

“You gave me a drink. And if I was a moron, I coulda said, no, don’t kiss me, I wanna drink this wine.”

“It is very good wine.”

“I bet it is,” he said, and she kissed him again.

 

 

Later, entwined and half asleep, both of them still naked in her bed, he asked, “Should I go home?” and she laughed at him.

“Yeah, this is what I do when I want people to leave, Ray.”

But he was suddenly serious. “I don’t want to be pushy. I wanna get this right.”

“Yeah,” she breathed. “Me too.”

“Cause I feel like I know you, but I know I don’t, really. I don’t wanna do something dumb, cause I made assumptions…”

“You won’t. I’ll tell you.” She held him tighter and his arms tightened around her in return.

“Promise?”

“I won’t need to tell you anything, but yes.”

“'Cause I’ve been – away, and this feels like I woke up in a fairy tale, and I want it to be one of those good ones, you know?”

 

 

She was nearly asleep, head on his shoulder, when he whispered,

“You believe in signs? Like, when people are right for each other?”

“I used to, I guess,” she whispered back.

“Yeah, me too. But two weeks ago, I’da said no, no way. That’s kid stuff.” He turned his head in the dark so he could see her face.  “Only now…”

She pulled him close and kissed him helplessly, desperately.

 

Of course it wasn’t just dinner.