“Why the opera? Can't we go somewhere else? Anywhere else?”
“Because it’s a charity event and you need to be there.” Tony shifted restlessly as Pepper tied his tie. Although she wasn’t his assistant any longer, she still enjoyed some of the duties. Tony smelled good and she loved running her fingers along the soft skin of his throat. It had been a secret, guilty pleasure that she could now enjoy openly.
“Just send them a check. Why do I have to be there?” He knew that he was interfering with what Pepper was doing, but he liked her standing so close. “All that screeching and the women are huge – which would be okay, but they’re ugly, too.”
“Because you’re the face of – “
“Stark Industries. I know, I know.” If he had a dollar bill for every time he’d heard that he’d have a pile of money up to his ass.
“I was going to say the Maria Stark Foundation, but that works, too.” Finishing with his tie, despite his movements, Pepper stepped back. “Your mother loved opera, remember? Her foundation is the biggest supporter of this event.”
“I know, I know.” Of course he knew about it, he was the executor. “Mom loved all the screeching and caterwauling.” He looked over the box of cufflinks and selected a pair that were understated and would work with his watch and his Brass Rat. “Mom loved it – dad hated it. I remember some great arguments about it. Mom always won, in case you’re curious.”
Only Tony would classify an argument as ‘great’. Pepper assumed that it hadn’t truly been an argument. She selected the tux jacket that went with his pants and hung it on the back of the dressing room door.
“Dad would say he hated listening to the fat clowns and heifers, and Mom would say – “
“Heifers?” Pepper interrupted.
“My father wasn’t from Long Island originally, you know.” He grinned at her. “He went anyway – to the opera, I mean.”
“I’m sure your mother made it worth his while.” She’d seen photos of Howard and Maria at various events and they’d always been holding hands or at the very least had a hand on the other’s arm or shoulder. Always in contact with one another, obviously in love.
“Oh… I’m sure she did.” He winked at her. “She was passionate. Passionate about everything she did. I get that from her. And from lots of her Italian ancestors.”
“What was your father – his ethnic background?” Howard Stark looked like an average American as far as Pepper could tell. Tony had obviously gotten his looks from his mother. Maria was Italian, with the typical dark hair, dark eyes, and dusky skin – and had genetically dominated Howard’s in the looks department. His genes had undoubtedly been too busy ramping up the size of Tony’s brain.
“Scottish, Irish, and I think some Welsh. Not too sure on the last. He didn’t talk about his family.” Tony frowned. “At all. I got the feeling there were some bad things about his childhood.”
Pepper nodded. She knew Howard had grown up during the Great Depression and there were a lot of children who’d been orphaned and abandoned during that time. It was entirely possible he was one of them. For such a well known figure, a great deal of Howard Stark’s life before his sudden explosive entrance onto the public scene was surprisingly unknown.
“Sometimes it’s for the best.” Her own childhood wasn’t something Hallmark would write cards about anytime soon. It hadn’t been horrible, but it could have been better.
“Are you sure you can’t go – do whatever – “ Tony waved a hand in the air to indicate whatever that whatever might be. “You’re the CEO. I’m just the face.”
Pepper didn’t answer, waiting instead on the inevitable follow up.
“Sexy, handsome face – and body.” He preened as he looked in the full length mirror. “God, Armani loves me.”
“Of course he does. You’ve put his great-grandchildren through college at this point.” There were many designers out there, but Tony stayed true to Armani. She had to admit, there was an art to making Tony look taller without appearing ridiculous and somehow even sexier than he normally was. Armani was an expert in that art.
“You love me, too, right?” Tony looked over his shoulder at her. “Right?”
“Right.” At least fifteen times a day Tony would ask if she loved him. He was as insecure as he was sexy. After she’d admitted to him that she loved him, Pepper had had to limit him to hearing it once a day.
One time each day she would say, “I love you”. After that she would only agree to his question. Right, yes, sure, okay – whatever he asked, she agreed with. At least in regards to this particular question.
“What the hell are you wearing, anyway?” Tony frowned as Pepper stepped in front of him, blocking his view of himself.
She leaned toward the mirror, checking her makeup. “A dress. Vera Wang.” Straightening, she ran a hand over the high waisted blue gown. “I like it.”
He didn’t. It didn’t hug her curves enough. Not that she looked bad, Pepper never looked bad, but she didn’t look smoking hot either. Lately, she had been wearing some extremely conservative – in his opinion – clothing when they went out.
“The only nice thing about this dress is the top.” Tony ran a fingertip over the tops of her breasts, which were plumped up at the top of the square cut neckline. “You look… bigger. I like it. You didn’t get implants did you? You know I don’t like those.”
“Tony, honestly. When would I have the time?” She tugged at the top of the dress to make sure it wasn’t going anywhere. “Wonderbra.”
“Oh. I like those.” He smiled at a fond memory. “Though they do lie about what lies beneath – hey, that was funny.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Taking his hand, she led him toward the door. “Let’s go. I don’t want to be late.”
“Why don’t we stay here? Come on, if you want a musical we can watch Hairspray. Travolta’s a fat chick in that one – and he’s not that bad looking.”
“How about Grease?”
“Travolta the problem? How about a classic? Singing In the Rain?” He did a respectable soft shoe the last few steps to the door. “Everybody loves that one.”
Pepper paused to take the cape that matched her dress from Happy as she pulled Tony outside. “Get in the car, Tony.”
“What the hell?” His eyes widened as she put the cape on. “Who designed that? Batman?”
“Capes are very much in style this season.” She gave him a shove toward the limo.
“You look like you’re about to go out shoplifting!” Tony scooted across the seat and eyed the cape warily. “There could be a watermelon under that thing – anything – God knows what you could conceal.”
“How about a club to knock you in the head?” Settling on the seat next to him, she sighed. “Just behave.”
“Give me a reason.”
He’d moved closer to her and his breath fanned her neck, making her shiver. “Because I’ll kill you?”
His mouth grazed her ear. “No you won’t…”
“I’ll give you one more I love you.”
“Nice, but…” Tony trailed his tongue along her earlobe. “I really, really hate opera…”
She put a hand on his chest and shoved him back onto his own side of the car. Her heart was hammering and it was suddenly too warm.“Be a good boy and we’ll make out on the way home.”
His eyes lit up. “I’ll be a very good boy!”
“No sex – no hands in pants – first base – no more.”
“Oh, come on! You got to at least give me second base – wait, that’s bare tit, right? I’ve had that before, no reason to cock block me now.”
“Okay, okay!” She pointed a finger at him. “But one loud fart, one inappropriate comment, laughing at the wrong time – you embarrass me and – “
“I just said I’d be a good boy!” He grabbed her hand and slid her finger into his mouth, sucking it until she pulled it back.
Giving him a light slap on the cheek, Pepper sat back and ignored the tingling between her legs. “You’d better be.”
True to his word, Tony managed to behave himself, despite the many opportunities to make snarky comments and giggle at the huge diva prancing around in what was supposed to be a harem outfit. If harem outfits came in size double double huge.
To help block the sound he had an ear bud in one ear – the one on the side away from Pepper – so he could listen to his iPod. Normally, he’d note his favorites on his phone for Jarvis, but she’d break his fingers if he got his phone out. He’d have to do it the old fashioned way and memorize the titles. God, life was so hard sometimes.
The only thing making the night tolerable was that Pepper had taken off her Batman cape and laid it in her lap giving him a good view of her cleavage. He couldn’t quite see down the front of the dress, but he was able to see – and appreciate – the rounded tops of her breasts. He’d ogled as much as possible and had trailed his fingertips over them until she elbowed him.
At intermission, there was a ceremony involving a large cardboard check, speeches, and lots of cameras. He’d signed the check with a flourish and handed it over, said a quick bit about how much his mother had loved opera and the arts, smiled for the cameras, and then bolted as quickly as he could.
There was a private room set aside for celebrities and big name donors, Tony guided Pepper inside and shut the door. Thankfully, the room was empty. He needed some space from the crowd.
“My head is killing me.” Picking up a glass of champagne, he sipped it and grimaced. “Last week was not a good year.” He offered her a glass and she shook her head. “No? Well, you’re not missing much.”
He set the glass down and looked over the buffet that was laid out. Caviar, fruit, cold cuts, crackers. Typical fundraiser spread. “Hey, want a sandwich? I think I can build some out of the crackers and lunch meat. I’m starving.”
“If I say I want caviar am I a cliché?” Pepper unbuttoned the cape and pulled it off. It was hot and she hated it but it was another part of her plan. A smile curved her lips. My fiendishly evil plan, maybe I should cackle and rub my hands together?
“There’s a metal spoon in it – “ Tony raised his eyebrows at the expression on her face. It was the look she got before she found something for him to do that he didn’t want to do. “Pepper?”
“Hmm? Oh, no. Never mind. Do they have water?”
“Bottled water… yes.” He held up a bottle. “Fancy, too. They should have saved their money and bought better champagne. Plopping on the sofa next to her, he handed opened it and handed it to her. “Can we go now?”
“The opera isn’t over yet.”
“I’ve already given them the big check. Aren’t you CEO? Wasn’t that your job? “
“You still needed to sign it.”
“Why? It’s not like they can carry it into the bank and cash it.” He looked up as someone entered the room. No, no, no! It was a douche bag from one of the companies that supplied SI with materials. The guy was plain looking and if he ever cracked a smile, his face would probably break. Tony had absolutely no clue what the guy’s name was.
“Nevin, how nice to see you.” Pepper stood and held her hand out.
“Ms. Potts, Mr. Stark.” Plainface shook her hand and then turned to Tony, extending his hand to him.
Is this part of being good? Tony raised his eyebrows at Pepper. She shot back a look that promised dismemberment. Obediently, he took Plainface’s hand and gave it a firm, brief shake.
Going to the buffet, Plainface dipped up a small amount of the caviar and put it on a plate. “I really enjoy the opera, don’t you?”
“My mother did.” Maybe he could talk Pepper into going back to their box and making out before the screeching started back up.
“I haven’t had a lot of time to enjoy the opera. SI keeps me pretty busy.” Pepper sat down next to Tony again and put her hand on his leg. When he tried to get up, she dug her fingernails in. He winced and sat back.
“I think we’ve got a handle on the problems with that thirty gauge wire we’re bringing in. We had to switch to a company out of Canada for the raw metals.” Plainface sat down across from them and dug a cracker into his caviar. “The company in Mexico has really let their quality go downhill in the last year – I think it’s NAFTA catching up to us.”
NAFTA? Tony tried to put together something fun with the acronym. National Actresses fucking Tony always? That was pretty good. Nimble Actresses fucking – Pepper’s nails dug deeper into his skin. Damn! Was she psychic?
“Sometimes you have to shake things up.” Pepper agreed. “Right, Tony?”
“Right.” He said automatically. They were not going to talk business! He’d take the spoon out of the caviar and carve his heart out with it first.
“I’m going to get some grapes.” He popped up before Pepper could stop him. Using the buffet table as cover, Tony pulled his phone out of his pocket and sent a command to Jarvis. Nonchalantly, he strolled back to the sofa and sat back down.
“Where’s the grapes?” She raised an eyebrow. He was up to something.
“They didn’t look fresh.” He lied.
“As I was saying, we’re pretty happy with the new wire – “ Plainface stopped as his phone beeped. “I’m sorry, if you’ll excuse me.”
“No problem. You probably want to take that.” Tony nodded.
“What? They’re towing my car? Why would they be towing it? I’ll be right down.” Plainface shut his phone and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sorry to run like this, but there’s been some kind of mix up at the parking garage.”
“Sure, see you later.” Tony smiled. Hopefully not.
“What did you do?” Pepper whirled around to glare at him. “Did you have his car towed?”
“No. He just thinks it’s being towed.” Possibly. Who knew how Jarvis had interpreted his text for help? “I just wanted him out of here. I don’t want to talk business.”
“Like you ever talk business.” She scoffed. “You’re too busy trying to look down my dress.”
“How is that a bad thing?” Trying to peek at Pepper’s breasts was on his list of things to do every day. “You need to lighten up.”
“And you need to be more serious.”
Tony stood and picked up one of the ugly decorative pillows he’d been sitting on. He weighed it carefully, calculated the trajectory, and swung it at Pepper’s head. It hit her with a loud thwap.
“That’s so childish.” She tried to duck out of the way as he swung it at her again, but it managed to clip her shoulder.
She got up, and Tony danced back out of reach. He loved the determined light in her eyes, the way they’d narrowed, and how her jaw clenched. When Pepper picked up a pillow, he knew the fight was on. “Come on, Potts, let’s see what you got.”
“You’re going down, Stark.”
They whacked at each other, laughing and giggling. She managed to maneuver him against the sofa until he lost his balance and fell back on it. Pepper rained blows on his head until he reached out and pulled her down on his lap. He jerked the pillow out of her hand and tossed it across the room.
Pressing his mouth to hers, Tony kissed her between giggles. She returned the kisses, wrapping her arms around his shoulders to hold him close. His tongue teased along her lips and she parted them, sucking his tongue into her mouth. He groaned and she giggled again.
“You wrecked my hair.” She said when his lips moved to her throat.
“I’ll buy you new hair.” Nuzzling along her throat, Tony found himself at her breasts – what a coincidence – and began licking along the exposed creamy flesh.
“Whoa!” It felt good, but they were in a public place. Pepper grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled his head back up. “Not here.”
“Let’s leave here.” He panted against her lips, arching up into her so she could feel how hard he was. “Let’s go there.”
“We can’t – “It was her turn to moan as he nipped at her bottom lip. “We can’t just leave. The opera isn’t over yet.”
“Who gives – “ Tony kissed a path up her jaw to her ear. “ – a fuck?”
“We did give – oh – “ He’d hit that extra sensitive spot below her ear and was licking at it. She couldn’t stop herself from grinding down on him. “ – the check – so – yeah – “
“Yeah?” He sucked on her earlobe.
“Yeah – let’s – ” They both jumped as the door opened. Tony moaned as the movement pushed Pepper’s ass down against his erection in a way that was both good and bad.
“Uh… “ A well dressed couple stood in the doorway gaping at them.
“I think intermission is about over, darling.” Tony helped Pepper to her feet and stood up, using her cape as camouflage. Armani cut his pants tight enough that there was nowhere to hide his hard-on. Taking her hand, he led her from the room.
“Good to see you.” He waved a hand over his shoulder as they left.
“Oh, my God.” Pepper covered her face with one hand. She knew she was blushing, her cheeks were so hot it felt like she’d stuck her head in an oven.
Tony stopped at the door to the ladies room. “Go fix your hair. Everything’s okay, Pep, they didn’t see anything. We weren’t doing anything, just kissing”
Tony could be the biggest jerk in the world, but he could also be the sweetest. She pressed a kiss to his cheek and fled into the bathroom to fix her hair and splash cold water on her face.
He waited outside, holding the ugly cape in front of himself. If it wasn’t for the hard-on he was still sporting, he’d ditch the damn thing. When she came out, hair once again in a neat chignon and her cheeks only slightly pink, he offered his arm. “Hello, beautiful, let’s ditch this joint.”
“Pepperony was out on the town last night and they were caught going at it hot and heavy! According to my sources, they were taking advantage of the empty hospitality room at the Los Angeles Music Center – clearly enjoying each other’s hospitality! These two just can’t keep their hands off each other!”
“Mute.” Pepper stepped out onto the patio next to the pool.
“I was listening to that.” Tony protested. “Apparently I got lucky last night.”
“No one got lucky. We had our clothes on, Tony”. Sitting in the deck chair next to him, safely under the protection of the awning, she opened her laptop and surfed through various celebrity sites. All of them had similar stories. She and Tony had supposedly been caught doing everything from kissing to having sex depending on which site was doing the reporting. There were plenty of pictures of the two them entering the event as well as posing with the big check.
“I noticed that. My arms are going to be abnormally strong soon – think anybody will care?”
“Not as long as your ego is in the room.” She shot him a grin.
“If you want, I can call them and let them know that no clothes came off. Not even in the limo on the way home.”
“Please don’t.” Tony calling the press – Pepper shuddered.
Only one site had gotten pictures of them as they left the Music Center. TMZ was happy to note that they’d left early and both looked flushed. Her lips quirked up. They had a photo of Tony holding her cape in front of his crotch with a caption under it wondering if he was hiding ‘something’.
Tony hadn’t tried to get her clothes off on the way home, he’d stuck to their agreement and stayed on second base. Though the things he could do while at second had nearly made her signal for him to steal home.
Pepper looked away from her laptop to where Tony was stretched on a deck chair next to her, ear bud in one ear as he listened to his iPod – his significantly upgraded iPod, no doubt. He had his shades on and little else, just short swim trunks and a folded towel over the RT, and his head was tipped back to catch maximum rays. If she did that, she’d be a lobster.
Movement from the screen hanging over the pool caught her eye. The celebrity gossipmonger was still talking, waving his hands wildly. Underneath him scrolled “Is Pepper preggers? A new pepper in the pepper patch?”
“That’s just… wrong.” She made a face. “What is this, high school? Sound, Jarvis. What’s this moron saying?”
“ – hiding a baby bump? That dress was fab, but it looks like one my mother would wear to cover up her middle aged spread – and that’s not something that’s going to keep Tony Stark’s attention. Tony likes to see skin and lots of it.”
“Amen!” Tony agreed.
“Pepper has put on a few pounds since that little vacay to Long Island, and lately she’s wearing baggy clothes and covering up – “ The talking head leaned closer to the camera and winked. “Between you and me, I think there’s a little Stark on the way.”
“I hate how they can just say anything they want. I don’t know how it doesn’t it bother you. Tony?” She turned to look at him. “Are you listening to me?”
“Why are you letting it bother you? Jarvis, kill the TV and the ‘net.”
“Yes, sir.” The AI answered.
The screen over the pool vanished and a warning popped up on Pepper’s laptop screen that she was no longer connected to the internet. “Hey! I have work to do!”
Sighing, Tony reached over and took her laptop out of her hands. “Will you relax?”
He lifted it up as if to toss it in the pool, thought better of it and set it down beside him. He’d just end up being the one to fix it. “Relax.”
“Relax? Sure. You’re not the one they’re calling fat.” She let her bottom lip stick out. Granted, she had put on a few pounds – less than ten – but she was hardly fat.
“I think you look better.” Tony hadn’t realized until Pepper added those few pounds that she’d been a little too skinny. “A little more meat on your bones is nice.”
“If I was a cow maybe.”
He snickered. “You’d be a pretty cow. One of those red ones with lots of patches.”
“And you’d be a jackass.” She said sweetly.
“I don’t know who decided women should be all thin and bony. Marilyn Monroe wasn’t skinny and I’d do her in a second.” He reached out for her hand. “Come on, it’s a beautiful SoCal day, relax and enjoy it. Look up at the clouds or something. They’re beautiful.”
She took his hand, threaded her fingers through his. “They’re just clouds, Tony. Big balls of condensation.”
“Say big balls again. Ouch!” He winced as she squeezed his fingers with more force than was necessary. “You know, my mother said mediation was good for you. Look up at the clouds and try to meditate.”
“Sure. Meditate.” Closing her eyes, Pepper tried to relax. Part of what was happening was in her plans, but it was painful being in the public eye constantly. She liked being anonymous. Nobody had paid any attention to Pepper Potts the PA. Those days were over.
“Do you want to get closer? I can get the suit and take you up.”
She opened her eyes and turned to look at him. Tony had sprawled out on his chair once again. His chest and stomach were bare except for the towel covering the RT, and she let her gaze drift down to the line of dark hair running from his navel and disappearing into the low slung shorts. “No, I’ve got the perfect view, right here.”
There was a gauntlet of press they had to move through to get to the restaurant doors. Tony was a pro, smiling and waving, giving them time to snap pictures. Vultures. He kept that thought to himself, the press was a necessary evil and he had to keep them on his side. Especially now.
Tucking Pepper’s hand into the crook of his arm, he kept her close to his side as they moved up the narrow path to the door. He ignored most of the shouted questions that were thrown his way. Occasionally responding to those about Iron Man with “I love America and I’m keeping her safe” and to shouts of love from his adoring crowd with kisses blown their way.
One question stopped him in his tracks. “Hey, Tony, is it true that she’s pregnant?”
His skin crawled and he knew the back of his neck was turning red. “Who – “
Pepper stepped in front of Tony. “I am not pregnant. Can’t a girl put on a few pounds in this town?”
Relief washed over him as he realized the reporter had meant Pepper – not Sunset. He'd forgotten there were rumors swirling about Pepperony having a baby, new ones popped up as soon as Pepper squashed them.
“She’s right.” Tony slid his arm around Pepper’s waist and pulled her against his side. “I like a woman with a little meat on her bones.” He winked and the crowd hooted in laughter.
She kept the smile plastered to her face. “Oh. My. God.” Came through clenched teeth.
“What? Not my fault if they have dirty minds.” With one last wave to the press, Tony guided her through the open door of the restaurant.
“I am so sorry, Mr. Stark.” The maitre d’ apologized. “Unfortunately, we can’t keep them off the sidewalk. The law won’t allow us to.”
“Quite all right.” Tony let the fussy man lead them to their table. He knew where it was, this was Pepper’s favorite restaurant and he had set this evening up all by himself. Jarvis had helped, but since he had programmed Jarvis – that meant technically he’d still done it himself.
The center of the dining room floor had been cleared and tables were grouped around it. Pepper hesitated, almost stumbled as Tony bumped into her. “Tony, it looks like there’s an event of some kind. Somebody’s wedding or something. Maybe we should go somewhere else.”
“No, this is perfect.” He waved the maitre d’ away, seating Pepper himself. He’d spent six months planning it, it had better be perfect. Relax, Tony, of course it’s perfect, you planned it, there’s no gunpowder involved, what could possibly go wrong? Oh, god why did I think that?
He sat across from her and relaxed as wait staff appeared. One opened a bottle of wine and poured a small sample in a glass for Tony. He swirled it and tasted before nodding. The sommelier poured more into Tony’s glass before pouring a glass for Pepper.
She eyed it. “I’m not sure…”
“It’s okay.” He frowned. Since their return from Long Island, the most he’d indulged in had been a glass or two, and only at social functions. “I promise not to get shitfaced.”
“It’s not that, lately wine makes my stomach upset.” As good excuse as any.
“Oh.” He snapped his fingers and the sommelier reappeared. “The lady isn’t in the mood for wine. Please bring us ice water.”
“Is there something wrong with the wine?” The man appeared offended.
“No, it’s my stomach.” She patted it. “Alcohol isn’t agreeing with me lately.”
“Ah, of course. I understand.” He didn’t, but he picked up the glasses and the wine and vanished. Another waiter quickly set two glasses of ice water on the table then likewise vanished.
“Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts.” Their waiter was familiar with them, she waited on them nearly every time they came in. “We have wild salmon tonight, flown in from Washington state, applewood smoked – it’s very good.” She saw Tony’s eyes light up, he was easy, he would try anything. Pepper was a little more cautious.
Catching the slight wrinkling of Pepper’s eyebrows and remembering that Stephen, the sommelier, had bitched about people who went out to eat with upset stomachs, she shifted to another selection. “And we also have Kobe beef simmered in brown sugar, date aioli with bacon, served with melted brie, and white truffle fries.”
“That sounds good. I’ll have that.” Tony looked at Pepper; she nodded. “The lady will, as well.”
“As a starter may I recommend the pressed foie gras and Scottish venison, ceps bouchons, Périgord truffle, roasted fig and raspberries?”
Tony smiled as Pepper nodded again. “I think you had the lady at foie gras. Do you still have the lobster, oyster, and crab in that fantastic bouillabaisse sauce?”
“Yes, sir, that’s one of the chef’s specialties.” She smiled at him. Tony Stark wasn’t necessarily what the press would term a “foodie”, but the man knew how to eat. “Is there anything else I can get for you right now?”
Tony shook his head. “We’re fine, thank you.”
She hurried away to put his order in. Tonight was probably – no, it was definitely going to be crazy – and she wanted their order in a.s.a.p.
Reaching across the table, Tony took Pepper’s hands in his. “You’re beautiful tonight. Well – not just tonight – all the time. Just especially tonight.”
“Smooth.” She squeezed his hands.
“I can’t use lines with you. You know me too well.”
“True.” There were musicians setting up across the room. “Wait – they don’t have a band here. Since when do they have a band here?”
“They have one tonight.”
“They – oh, Tony – “
He smiled, waiting for praise to be heaped upon him.
“What have you done?”
That didn’t sound like praise. He frowned. “What do you mean what have I done? I’m going for romantic. Romantic requires music.”
“Please don’t tell me they’re going to sing AC/DC.” Tony’s favorite music was head banging and loud.
“No. Give me some credit.” Tony was offended. How could she think he couldn’t tell metal from romantic?
The music started and Pepper recognized ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ and relaxed. “I’m sorry. I forget that you can be sweet and sensitive when you want to be.”
“Thank you.” He frowned again. “I think.”
The waiter brought their starters and they spent the next several minutes enjoying the food and the romantic songs being played. They shared bites, even though there were bound to be frowns from some of the other diners at their lack of manners.
Pepper didn’t care what they thought. She glanced to one side and started. The person at the next table was someone she knew. Bambi Arbogast, her secretary. Bambi and her husband were sharing a table with two other people from her personal staff.
Something was going on. Bambi had worked for SI for years, and made more than your average secretary by far, but Pepper knew this restaurant was not within her budget. Looking around, she spotted other SI employees, friends, and there was Rhodey sitting with Happy two tables away.
“Tony…” She turned back to him. “What’s going on?”
“What? Can’t a guy take his girlfriend out to a dinner? With a few friends?” He put on what he hoped was an innocent look.
“Tony, everybody in here is someone we know. Everybody .”
“What a coincidence.” He pushed his chair back as another song started. “This one’s my favorite. Dance with me?” He held his hand out to her.
“Dance? There’s no dance floor.” Confused, she put her hand into his and let him pull her to her feet. “There’s – “
“There is tonight.” He led her to the center of the floor and pulled her against him. Close but not too close. He was going for romantic, not bump and grind. “I wish you’d worn that blue dress – the backless one.”
“It’s a little tight.” She confessed. Because she’d put on a little weight as part of her plan which was also why she was wearing a loose dress designed to conceal her shape.
“Probably would look that much better.” Tony rested his cheek against hers. “Listen. Do you like this song?”
What was with him and this song? Pepper listened for a moment.
Longer than there’ve been stars
Up in the heavens
I’ve been in love with you
A smile curved her lips. She knew this song, it was an old one, but it fit the two of them perfectly. “Yes, I like it.”
“Pepper – ” Tony pulled back enough so he could look into her eyes. They were the perfect shade of cool blue, just what he wanted to look at the rest of his life. “Pepper Potts, I love you.”
Pepper felt tears burn her eyes and she bit her lip in an effort to keep them from spilling over. “Oh, Tony – “
“Uh oh… ” Had he screwed up? Romantic songs, good food, friends – all good, right? “Was this not romantic enough?”
“I love you.” She kissed him, softly and gently. “You didn’t have to do all this.”
“I told you there’d be a big production, remember?” He smiled against her lips. “I’ve got my image to maintain.”
“I’d forgotten for a minute that this was a threesome.” At his startled look, Pepper laughed. “You, me, and your ego.”
Throwing back his head, he laughed raucously. “You’re perfect, Potts – absolutely perfect.”
The song ended and before the band could start another one, Tony spun her around and stepped back. He swept his arm out in a flourish. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here tonight. I want to tell you – tell everyone – that I love this woman.”
Pepper flushed as they applauded and cheered. “Tony, that’s good – that’s enough – “
“I love Pepper Potts.” He pulled her to him and kissed her hard, dipping her back so that she curved into his body.
There were whistles and hoots from their friends, and Pepper distinctly heard Rhodey holler out that it was about time. When Tony lifted his lips from hers, she was torn between kissing him again or slapping him. Luckily for him, she settled on the former.
She kissed him, a great deal more gently than he had just kissed her, but with a tenderness that seemed to make the coffee brown eyes suspiciously bright. “And I love Tony Stark.”
Pulling Pepper against him, Tony rested his cheek against hers once more as the band began playing another soft love song. Other couples began to join them on the makeshift dance floor as well.
All of the songs, Pepper realized, had a similar theme. Someone who didn’t believe they’d ever find love, or deserve it, didn’t think there was anyone for them, realizing finally that love was right in front of them – all of them fit Tony. And herself if she were being honest. She brushed a kiss across his cheek. “Did you pick these songs?”
“I did. Well, I had Jarvis search for me – but I gave him the parameters. Certain phrases and themes – plus, no AC/DC or Black Sabbath.” He laughed softly in her ear. “Though there is one Aerosmith song.”
“The one from the Bruce Willis movie?” He usually fast forwarded past that part of the movie unless she had the remote.
“No, not that one. Angel. I like that one and it’s quiet. For Aerosmith. Jarvis put all of them on that iPod I bought – you wouldn’t believe the work I had to do to that thing to get it to do what I wanted. We need to design our own – I can make one a hundred times better.”
“Microsoft already tried that. Apple has the market pretty well tied up.”
“Please.” He pulled back to look into her eyes again. “Like Bill Gates has a clue.” Tony lowered his lips to her shoulder. “I listened to all the songs and picked the ones I thought fit me – and us – best.”
“That’s why you’ve been listening to that thing instead of blasting it on the house speakers – here I thought you were finally being considerate.”
“I’m always considerate. I turn my music up so you can hear it, too.”
“Sure you are.” She nipped his ear, giggling when he yelped.
After a few more dances, they returned to their table and the waiter immediately brought their food. The chef had been pitching cat fits because he had to wait on them before he could fire their entrees, but she thought the whole thing was incredibly romantic.
Pepper giggled as she looked at their entrees. “Leave it to you to find an upscale cheeseburger.”
“Seriously, you didn’t realize what we were getting? Beef and cheese and bacon?” He cut into the Kobe beef and lifted a bite to his mouth. It was heaven and he moaned appreciatively. “Don’t tell In-n-Out I’m cheating on them.”
“Your secret is safe with me.” Just like all the others. Looking across the room, she met Happy’s gaze. He nodded slightly and she smiled at him.
Tomorrow there would be a flood of stories about tonight in the tabloids and at least one “exclusive and intimate” picture of the two of them. Another item on her agenda had been marked off. Hopefully, when Tony found out, he’d understand. If not – well, she could go back to wearing tighter clothes.