"I'm sorry, Mr. Calhoun. I don't seem to have a reservation in your name."
Timothy closed his eyes briefly and took a calming breath. "It's Callahan," he said, for the second time. "Look, I'm supposed to be meeting someone. It's possible that the reservation is in his name."
"And his name is?"
"I don't know," Timothy confessed. "It's a blind date, set up by a friend."
The hostess smiled widely. "Ah! That explains everything. Mr. Strachey is waiting in the bar, if you'd like to join him."
Right now, a drink sounded like a good idea, so Timothy nodded and followed the hostess into the bar area. He was surprised by the man she led him to - not that he wasn't an attractive man, because he was, but also a little rough around the edges. This was not at all the kind of man Sylvia had tried to set him up with in the past, which was a hopeful sign because he'd always been bored stiff before the main course even arrived.
"Timothy Callahan," he said, holding his hand out as the man on the barstool turned toward him.
"About time," the man said, obvious irritation in his voice. "I thought you weren't going to show. Didn't Pete tell you how important this is?"
Timothy blinked. "I'm sorry but - "
"That's all right," the man said, giving him a quick once-over. "Pete really came through for once. You're incredibly easy on the eyes, Timmy; that'll make this whole thing easier."
Timothy frowned. What on earth had Sylvia told this man, and who was Pete? "I'm afraid you have the wrong idea, Mr...Strachey, is it?"
"Donald," the man said, waving his hand in dismissal. "And Pete made it very clear that this was dinner only, no sex. Which reminds me..." He took Timothy's right hand in his, slipping a plain gold wedding band on his ring finger. "Now, I don't know how much Pete told you, but we're meeting Michael and his mother here, and it's vital that we make a good first impression. The old lady has a real soft spot for gay couples, especially newly-weds."
Timothy had been getting increasingly more bewildered as Donald talked, and now he held up a hand. "Look, I don't know who you are but - "
"Just don't let on to Michael's mother," Donald said, and then abruptly straightened. "Here's Michael. Come on!"
Timothy found his hand grabbed and he was pulled along behind a man he was fast becoming convinced was a raving lunatic. Before he could do something undignified like yelling for help, however, he was released so that `Donald' could shake hands with a stunning young man who looked vaguely familiar.
"Michael," Donald said as they clasped hands. "You look good. Is your mother here?"
Michael nodded. "She's grilling the valet but she'll be right in." He leaned forward and, in a low voice, added, "There's been another."
Donald frowned. "Did you bring it with you?" Michael nodded and surreptitiously slipped him a piece of paper which Donald slid into his pocket just as a matronly woman entered the restaurant. One whom Timothy was all too familiar with, he realized with alarm as Michael turned to her with a smile.
"Mother, look who I ran into! This is my old college friend, Donald Strachey."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Kerrigan," Donald said smoothly, extending his hand. "Michael mentioned you often. May I introduce my husband - "
"Timothy!" Mrs. Kerrigan said, a broad smile creasing her face. "My dear boy! I was telling your mother at the Dellaroy's cocktail party that it's been far too long since we'd seen you."
Numbly, Timothy said, "They've been keeping me pretty busy at work."
"Not too busy, I see," Mrs. Kerrigan said, a twinkle in her eye as she looked between him and Donald. "Are you dining here as well?"
"We were," Donald said, giving her what Timothy had to admit was a charming smile, layered with chagrin. "I forgot to make reservations and with the Sunday crowd..." He shrugged. "Guess we'll just head home and heat up left-overs. We still have that Chinese take-out from last night, don't we, sweetheart?"
Mrs. Kerrigan made a disapproving noise. "You young men and your eating habits! You'll dine with us." Donald started to protest but she held up her hand. "I won't take no for an answer. This way, Tim, you can tell me all about you and your lovely young man."
Timothy grabbed Donald's arm, hard, and Donald gave him a brief look before smiling at Mrs. Kerrigan. "Can you give us just a moment? I'm afraid I'm in disgrace with Timmy and I need to apologize."
"Of course," she said, tucking her hand in her son's arm. "We'll just get the table."
Once they had turned away, Timothy dragged Donald around the corner to the men's room. Donald smirked at him as the door closed behind them.
"I thought you said no sex - hey wait!" Donald's eyes widened as Timothy pushed him up against a wall.
"What in hell are you up to?" Timothy demanded. "Never mind - I can pretty well guess, and I won't be any part of a scheme to swindle that sweet old lady! Who, by the way, has known me since I was a child?"
Donald held up his hands. "Easy, Timmy. I'm a private investigator, hired by Michael Kerrigan. You can check the I.D. in my pocket if you don't believe me."
Timothy studied his face for a moment but he didn't seem to be lying, so he let the man go. "Why did Michael hire a private investigator? Is he - is she - in trouble?"
"Not exactly." Donald straightened his suit and tie. "If you know Mrs. Kerrigan, then you know she gives a party for her son's birthday every year. Ever since he came out, she's made it a point to invite the best and brightest among gay Albany."
Timothy nodded; he'd been invited a few times himself, although he'd never been able to attend because of other obligations.
"For the past month, she's been receiving threatening letters, saying that if she holds the party, something bad is going to happen. She refuses to cancel or go to the police, or hire protection - in fact, she's decided to make a full weekend of it. So Michael came to me. We have, um, mutual friends, and he asked me if I could come to the party, to keep an eye on things. Only if I just show up, his mother might get suspicious - and whoever is doing this as well. So we came up with this idea and, as I said earlier, she has a soft spot for newly-weds, so that's why I hired you." Donald frowned. "You are Pete's actor friend, aren't you?"
"I don't know anyone named Pete, and no, I'm not an actor," Timothy said dryly. "I was supposed to meet someone here, a blind date set up by a friend."
Donald scowled. "Well, damn. It looks like my actor stood me up after all. I'm screwed. Unless..." He gave Timothy a hopeful look, and he relentlessly squashed the thought that it was rather endearing. "You wouldn't be willing to play along, just for tonight? I was planning to come up with an excuse to go alone next weekend, so this won't take more than a couple hours of your time, and you'd at least get dinner out of it."
Timothy hesitated; his date hadn't shown up, after all. "Well...."
Donald smiled at him, a brilliant smile that made Timothy blink even as his heartbeat quickened in reaction. "Thanks. Oh, and just how do you know Mrs. Kerrigan?"
"It's my parents, actually," Timothy admitted. "My father's a state senator, as was her late husband although they were on opposite sides of the aisle, so they run in the same social circles. I saw the Kerrigans at the occasional political fundraiser, and family events at Christmas and Easter."
Donald appeared to digest this for a moment. "Do your parents know? About you and...?" He made a vague circular hand motion. "This isn't going to get you into trouble, is it?"
Timothy shook his head. "I told them years ago." He took a deep breath. "All right. I'll do it. Just for tonight, though."
The Kerrigans were already seated when they returned to the dining room. The waiter came to get their drink order and they both said, "Martini," at the same time, and then smiled at each other.
"So Timothy," Mrs. Kerrigan said, a twinkle in her eye as she studied the two of them. "I had no idea you were dating anyone, much less that you were this serious. Married!"
"It was a surprise for me as well," Timothy said dryly. "I suppose you could say that Donald swept me off my feet."
"What can I say?" Donald said, propping his head on his hand and smirking at Timothy. "Timmy was hard to resist. I didn't even try."
"So long have you been married?"
"Four - " Donald began.
"Two weeks," Timothy interjected smoothly. "We've been dating four months, and two weeks ago we decided we were serious, so we had a private commitment ceremony." He held up his right hand, flashing his ring. "I haven't told Mom and Dad yet; I want them to meet Donald first, when they get back from Paris."
"Yes, they said they were taking a second honeymoon over the recess when I saw them at Senator Wright's party last month," she said with a nod.
"I know they'll love Donald as much as I do."
"Of course they will," Mrs. Kerrigan said warmly. "In the meantime, do you have any plans for next weekend?"
Timothy released his hand as Donald said, with a shrug, "Just the usual housework and shopping."
"It's Michael's birthday and I always host a party at my place in Saratoga. This year we're making a full weekend of it, and I think it would be great fun if you could come." Her eyes twinkled at Timothy. "I've been trying to get this young man to come for years, but he's such a busy boy."
Donald appeared to mull it over. "I don't know. It would be nice to have a chance to catch up with Michael but....Timmy, what do you think? Is there anything we have to do this weekend?"
Timothy managed to refrain from rolling his eyes. If anyone was cut out to be an actor, it was Donald. "Nothing we can't put off for another week." He smiled at Mrs. Kerrigan. "We'd love to come for the weekend."
"Then it's settled," Mrs. Kerrigan said briskly. "Now - what is everyone going to order?"
They watched the Kerrigans drive off and then Donald turned to Timothy, holding out his hand. "Thanks for your help, Timmy. I really appreciate it."
Timothy shook his head. "You won't be able to do it alone. Any excuse you come up with for going alone is going to look suspicious. Even if we claim that I have to work, you'll look like a heel for going to a weekend party without me."
Donald dropped his hand, cocked his head, and looked up at Timothy curiously. "Are you volunteering to come along to maintain my cover?"
Timothy bit his lip, wondering if he was crazy for contemplating just that. "Will it be dangerous?"
Donald appeared to consider that for a moment, then jerked his thumb in the direction of a beat-up looking car. "It's probably less dangerous than going for a drive in this city."
Timothy raised an eyebrow. "In that car? I would definitely say that's more life-threatening."
"Then you don't want a lift home? Or did you bring your own car?"
"I don't have one at present," Timothy admitted. "I'll just get a cab."
Donald walked over to the car and opened the door. "Or you could just accept a lift. I promised that I wouldn't make any untoward advances, so you don't need to worry about your virtue."
"I'm not. I'm worried about riding in that death trap."
"Sissy," Donald teased. Timothy gave him a dark look but got into the car, wincing as Donald slammed the door with what seemed unnecessary force.
Donald got in and, after getting Timothy's address, he finally replied to Timothy's earlier question. "I don't know if this is dangerous," he said frankly. "It depends on whoever is threatening Mrs. Kerrigan and why. And on whether I catch him or her."
"And do you think you will? Just how good a private investigator are you?"
Donald gave him an amused half-smile. "Damn good. I've been in business for myself for over a year and I haven't lost a case." He pulled up in front of Timothy's apartment building and half-turned in the seat. "Look, why don't you think about it for a couple days? We can meet for dinner Tuesday night, talk about it a little more, and you can make your mind up then."
Timothy hesitated for a moment, then nodded. He should definitely take some time to think this over, calmly, sensibly, and away from Donald. "All right."
Donald gave him another of his brilliant smiles and, as he drove off, Timothy stood on the sidewalk and watched him, thinking, my God, he is hot.