Without her coat on, Dante had an unblocked view of Maria’s shapely legs beneath a straight black skirt and a curvy chest pushing at her T-shirt. Her breasts jutted out seductively, like they were introducing themselves to his gaze.
Hello, he thought. Very pleased to meet you both.
“There were a bunch of cabs outside when I came here tonight,” she said. Her voice had the slight tinge of an Italian accent, telling him she’d grown up in a family that interspersed English with the colorful native tongue.
He pointed over his shoulder at Vita, the only business open after eight on the small North End side street. “No customers, no cabs.”
“No customers? Did you file bankruptcy between dinner and dessert?”
He laughed, but the sound of it was a bit too bitter to be funny. “No, we just had a small fire.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Fire?”
“Oh.” He could see she wanted to ask, but didn’t. Someday, over drinks maybe, he’d tell her. Hell, with a face and a body like that, he’d tell her his credit card account numbers, too.
They stood there a minute, in the uncomfortable silence of strangers who didn’t quite know where to take the conversation next. Dante glanced again at her, standing in the soft pool of light across the street. His gaze traveled back down to his two new acquaintances.
He figured he better make a move before some Red Top made him into a liar and came cruising down the street, taking her away and leaving him with a bunch of regrets and an empty shot glass. He crossed the street, noting how her eyes widened when he approached. Yet, she didn’t move, not so much as a flinch. One tough cookie. “You hungry?”
She shook her head. “No. No, not at all. Really.”
He grinned. “Are you trying to convince me? Or you?”
Her face reddened and she paused a minute before speaking again. “Me, mostly. I’m on a diet.”
She gave him an are-you-crazy look. “I think that’s pretty obvious.” She spread her arms wide.
Now that he was standing a foot away, he took his time perusing her voluptuous form. Much better close up. “Maybe you need a new mirror, because you look pretty damned good to me.”
“Maybe you need glasses.”
“Let me guess.” He waved a hand toward the church behind her. “Chubby Chums support group?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“They meet every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night from seven to nine. After the others have gone home, a couple of them head over to the restaurant for the all-you-can-eat pasta special.”
“You’re kidding me! Geez, and they bashed me for having manicotti for lunch.”
“Ah, the food of the gods, isn’t it?”
“Oh yeah.” Her eyes rolled back and she smiled a contented smile that said the manicotti had been very, very good.
He hoped his was better. A lot better. Because he definitely wanted to see her smile that way after eating one of his meals. He gestured toward Vita. “Come on, I know the owner. He’ll fix you something nice. I promise.”
She shifted and turned on her high heels, causing her calf muscles to flex into little hearts, then release. Lord in heaven.
“I…I really shouldn’t,” she said.
He took a step closer. “I really think you should. You look like you’ve had a bad day.”
Her lips, full and glossed with cranberry, curved into a smile. “A bad life is more like it. But…” she glanced over at the restaurant, then back at him. She slid her coat on. “No. Thank you.”
“How about a salad? That counts as diet food.”
She swallowed and he could see the longing in her eyes, like a child spying a new bike in a department store window. “What kind?”
“Whatever you want. The chef will take care of you, even custom-make something if you don’t like what you see.” He grinned. “On the menu, I mean.”
Her smile turned flirtatious. “How can you be so sure?”
“I don’t even know you.”
He put out a hand. “Dante Del Rosso.”
She hesitated only a second, then took his hand. Her fingers were long and delicate, yet strong in their grip. Despite his better sense, he pictured her fingers grasping a very different part of his anatomy. His body temperature spiked like an August heat wave.
He didn’t let go right away. “Have a salad with me, Maria Pagliano. I’ve had a hell of a day, too.”
She tilted her head, considering.
“Listen, I don’t bite, my shots are up to date, and if you want a reference, my sixth grade teacher is listed in the phone book.”
Maria laughed, a full, hearty sound that seemed to come from some well deep within her. “Okay.”
As they crossed the street, the lights over Deliziosa came on again. Dante took that as a sign.
Actually, a damned good sign. Maybe his luck was about to change. As long as he kept Vinny away from anything flammable, things were bound to improve.
Dante glanced at Maria and decided they already had.