Savored Innocence Bonus Prologue
“Ready?” Logan, my date, asks from over the edge of his menu as our waitress heads toward our table. We’re in a small bistro in the heart of downtown Boston. Reservations aren’t easy to come by, but Logan worked on the remodel last year, so it’s not so hard for him.
“Sure.” I smile and put my menu down as the waitress arrives.
The place has a dark, romantic ambiance with dim lighting and small oil lamps on the tables. A wood-burning fireplace burns bright in the back of the room.
Logan orders his steak and potatoes. He has a strong jawline. I lower my gaze. He’s a contractor, and he definitely has the hands for it; thick, long fingers. How hard are his hands, I wonder? Does he have a strong swing?
“Billie?” Logan’s voice breaks through my inspection.
“Hmm?” I swallow back my embarrassment at being caught staring at his hands.
He laughs. It’s a low, soft chuckle. “Do you know what you want?”
“Oh, yes.” I pick up the menu and point to the dish. “The chicken cardinale and rotolo please.”
“Good choice.” He smiles at me, bringing his diamond blue eyes to mine. I hold my breath for a second, waiting for the spark to jumpstart my pulse.
“I’ve never had it before, but it sounds good.” I hand the menu back to the waitress.
Logan is a great guy. He’s funny, he’s talented in his work, and he’s handsome as hell. But still, there’s no spark. Something’s definitely wrong with me.
“Do you want another cup of coffee?” Logan asks, noticing I’ve finished the cup I ordered when we sat down.
“No, thanks.” I finger the cutlery on the table. “I think maybe I’ll get a glass of wine when the food comes out,” I say.
“How’s your project going? You’re renovating the Markus and Richard’s resort, right?” I’m horrible at first dates. It doesn’t help that this is a fix-up, and I have no idea if Logan has any real interest in me or if he’s just doing this as a favor.
“Yeah. It’s going pretty well.” He leans his forearms against the edge of the table. “Should be done soon. I have a great crew.”
“Well, you did a great job here.” I gesture and sweep my gaze across the room. My breath catches. He is standing near the fireplace. Roman Romanov. He’s holding a drink in his left hand and talking with another man nearly as tall as him. What the hell is he doing in this small Italian restaurant?
“Thanks.” Logan leans back again. “That fireplace was the hardest part.” He turns slightly to his left to point to it. “They wanted very specific colored stones.”
“Well, it was worth it. Looks great.” I grab my glass of water and down a few gulps. Quickly, I flick my gaze back toward the fireplace. Roman’s gone. I let out a breath. My heart hits my ribs and I realize I’d been holding my breath.
“Billie.” My name drops onto our table like an anchor. I move my hands to my lap and curl my fingers into my palm before I slowly turn my head up and find Roman standing over us.
“Roman.” I try to keep my voice flat, but I’m sure there’s a tilt to it.
“What are you doing here?” He asks giving me a hard look. “It’s late.”
“Late?” I laugh. “Roman, it’s eight.”
Logan clears his throat.
“Oh!” My face heats. “Logan.” I gesture to the large Russian man glaring down at me. “This is Roman Romanov. A friend.”
Logan stands up and offers his hand. Roman moves his stare to Logan, sweeping it up and down him before turning back to me. Logan drops his hand to his side but remains standing.
“Logan’s my date.” I say more tersely. Why is Roman being an ass? Just say hello and walk away. “Otherwise, I’d ask you to join us …” I try to urge him to go away before I say something, do something that might show how his being here is actually affecting me. If he could see my pulse, he’d see how his presence has quickened it.
“You’re on a date.” He raises an eyebrow and turns to Logan. “You’re her date?”
Logan glances at me before answering. “I am.”
Roman’s eyes narrow. “Did you bring her here, or did she meet you?”
“Roman.” I keep my tone level, but inside I’m groaning.
“She met me.” Logan looks at me again. “Are you two involved? I don’t want to step on any toes.”
“No.” I insist. “I promise. Roman’s just a friend.” I emphasize this for Roman’s benefit, but he doesn’t take the hint. I haven’t heard one word from this man since seeing him at a social event months ago. Why is he acting so damn territorial?
“Hmmm.” Roman looks down at the table. His stare pauses on my empty coffee cup; his jaw tightens. “Your dinner hasn’t arrived yet?”
“We just ordered,” I say. “Roman, I’m sure your friends are waiting for you.” I look around the room, trying to find his group. There are two men in suits standing near the fireplace, watching us. They’re waiting for him. I was right.
“What do you do for a living?” Roman continues his interrogation.
“Oh my god.” I drop my head into my hands. “Logan, you don’t have to answer that.”
“It’s okay,” he says. “I’m a contractor. What about you, what do you do?”
“Roman, can I talk with you for a minute?” I shove up out of my chair, nearly knocking it over. “Logan, I’m sorry. I’ll be right back.”
“Sure, Billie. Right this way.” Roman steps back from the table and gestures me toward the corner of the room. I tighten my hands into fists and march to where he’s pointing, gearing up to have a full on fit. But when I turn back to him, I can see the dare in his eyes. He wants me to have a temper with him, but why?
“Why are you ruining this for me?” I ask with as much control I can muster.
He lifts a shoulder. “What are you talking about? I only stopped to say hello.”
“Bullshit.” I hiss.
The full, dark eyebrow over his left eye arches into a sharp peak. “Such an ugly word for such a pretty mouth.”
I’m stunned into silence. Why does he say things like this?
“Roman. I’m here on a date. I’m not sure why you wanted to make him uncomfortable, but you did. So please, just leave us alone.” It hurts, saying these words, because in reality, I don’t want him to leave me alone. I want him to sit across the table from me instead of Logan. But there’s no way in hell I’m saying those words.
“Do you have another coat besides that thin thing you had on your chair?” He asks referencing the spring jacket I wore to the restaurant. It’s too thin for the fall chill tonight, but it was the only jacket that matched my navy-blue dress.
“I’m fine. I took a cab. It’s fine.” I shake my head. “Don’t change the subject.”
“What subject? Your jacket?” The smile he flashes sends a shiver through me. Dammit. I want this spark with Logan, not Roman. Roman is off limits. Completely out of my reach.
I take a deep breath. “I’m going back to my date, and you’re going to meet your friends for dinner. I appreciate you stopping to say hello, but I think you should just stick with your friends.”
He regards me for a long time with a dark stare. “You can have your date.” He puts up a finger. “Tonight.”
I grit my teeth, willing myself not to groan out loud. Every time we run into each other he gets more and more overbearing. But without any sort of sign that he wants anything more than to annoy me.
“What does that even mean?” I ask, against my better judgement.
“It means, malyshka, a time will come soon where you won’t need these boys you keep dating.”
“I’m going back to my date.”
“If he won’t drive you home, I expect you to come to my table. I’ll be in the small private room in the back here. I will drive you home myself.”
My fingernails dig into my palm. There’s no sense in fighting with him, but there’s no way I would do that.
“Fine. Goodbye, Roman.”
“See you soon, Billie,” he says as I step around him. I don’t stop, I keep walking back to my table where Logan has been watching our entire exchange.
“I’m so sorry,” I say as I swing myself back into my seat. Our dinners have arrived, so I grab my napkin and place it on my lap. “My best friend is married to his cousin; he gets a little overprotective sometimes.”
Logan forces a smile. “Romanov. I know that name.” He picks up his knife and fork.
“He owns a bunch of real estate in town.” I help him, hoping that’s where he’s seen his name before.
“That must be it.” He concentrates on his steak. “He seems really interested in you though.”
“No, no.” I insist. “Just friends, I swear it, Logan.”
He doesn’t look the least bit convinced.
“So.” I cut into my chicken. “You mentioned earlier that you’d gone to a concert last weekend. How was it? What band was it again?” I smile as I slip my chicken into my mouth.
He launches into a retelling of his night with his friends. I already have forgotten the band name, and only every other sentence registers with me. Roman has finished talking to his friends and they move into the private room.
“…backstage…” Logan continues talking, but my mind is million miles away.
Or rather twenty feet away.
In the private room in the back of the restaurant.
With Roman Romanov.