It was a lame excuse. It sounded lame to his own ears, but he couldn’t do anything about it. There was no way he could look at Natalie, to see her in that dress looking like the most beautiful creature he’d ever set his eyes on, and then let her just get in her car and go home. It no longer mattered if they were incompatible or had no future. The taste of her already lingered on his lips, the heat of her hummed through his veins. He wanted her. End of story.
Natalie stopped and swung her purse strap up onto her shoulder. “Dinner? Not a date?”
This again. You’d think after their kiss, and after the intense moment they’d just shared in the salon, that she wouldn’t be so picky about the details. “No, it’s not a date, it’s a thank-you. I believe that I have yet to meet your stringent qualifications for a date.”
Natalie’s lips curled into a smile of amusement. He expected her to make an excuse and go home, but instead she nodded. “Dinner sounds great.”
Colin opened the door of his truck and hung the gown bag up inside. “How about the Italian place on the corner?”
He closed up the truck and they walked down the sidewalk together to the restaurant. Colin had eaten at Moretti’s a couple of times and it had always been good. It was rustic Italian cuisine, with a Tuscan feel inside. The walls were a rusty brown with exposed brick, worn wood shelves and tables, warm gold lighting and an entire wall on the far end that was covered in hundreds of wine bottles. It wasn’t the fanciest place, but it was a good restaurant for a casual dinner date, or a thank-you dinner as the case was here.
It was a pretty popular place to eat in this area. Typically, Moretti’s was super busy, but coming later on a Monday night the restaurant was pretty quiet. There were about a dozen tables with customers when they arrived and no waiting list.
The hostess immediately escorted them to a booth for two near the roaring fireplace. Nashville didn’t get very cold in the winter, but with the icy December wind, it was cold enough that the fire would feel amazing after their walk down the street. Colin helped Natalie out of her coat, hanging it on one of the brass hooks mounted to the side of the booth.
The waiter arrived just as they’d settled into their seats, bringing water and warm bread with olive oil. He offered them the daily menus and left them alone to make their choices. After a bit of deliberation, Natalie chose the angel-hair primavera and Colin, the chicken parmesan. They selected a bottle of cabernet to share and the waiter returned with that immediately.
The first sip immediately warmed Colin’s belly and cheeks, reminding him to go slow until he ate some bread. He’d had a quick sandwich around eleven, but he was starving now and wine on an empty stomach might make him say or do something he’d regret, like kissing Natalie again. Or maybe he’d do something he wouldn’t regret, but shouldn’t do. At the moment, Lily’s suggestion that he indulge himself in something casual with Natalie was sounding pretty good. He took a bite of bread as a precaution.
“Well, this is certainly not how I envisioned this evening going,” Natalie noted as she tore her own chunk of bread from the loaf.
“It’s not bad, is it?”
“No,” she admitted. “But when I woke up this morning, I didn’t figure I’d be trying on wedding dresses and having dinner with you.”
It hadn’t been on his radar either, but he was happy with the turn of events. There was something about spending an evening with Natalie that relaxed him after a stressful day. “Did you have plans for tonight that I ruined?”
“Not real plans. I’d anticipated a frozen dinner and a couple chapters of a new book I downloaded.”
“I was going to grab takeout and catch up on my DVR. We’re an exciting pair. Are you off tomorrow?”
Natalie shrugged, confusing him with her response to a simple question. “Technically,” she clarified. “The chapel is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I usually go in.”
“That means you don’t get any days off.”
“I don’t usually work a full day. And I only work half of Sunday to clean up.”
Colin shook his head. “You sound as bad as I used to be when I took over Dad’s business. I worked eighteen-hour days, seven days a week trying to keep afloat. Is that why you put in so many hours? How’s the wedding business?”
If the bill he’d received for the upcoming wedding was any indication, they were doing very well. He’d told her money was no object and she’d believed him. It was well worth it for Lily, but he’d been surprised to see so many digits on the invoice.