I’ve decided to put up the first chapter of the new book I’m working on – ‘Dangerous To Know’, which continues the story of Aidan McRaney. As it’s a work in progress, it’s all subject to change, but I was excited about sharing it.
Tonight, it is my intention to both enjoy myself and be the most attentive husband I can be to the beautiful woman I married. If only the couple seated opposite would desist in throwing small, but surreptitious glances in our direction. I find nothing more disconcerting than being stared at. Whenever I return my attention to my wife, I’m ultimately conscious of their scrutiny.
A recalcitrant thatch of leonine blond hair sweeps from a particularly high forehead. The inordinately polished features are sun-bronzed, classical, and as if he has recently returned from holiday. The perfect curve of full lips accentuate a handsome face. The man is as elegantly cut as the grey linen suit he sports, with matching tie and white shirt. Unlike myself, he’s wearing no off the peg job.
His companion, whom I judge to be somewhere into her late thirties, is the perfect accompaniment. Her features are small, almost delicate. Yet the mouth hints of a defined twist, that might border on the cruel. The assumption is further embellished by the deepest set of flinty grey eyes.
She wears a sapphire blue dress. The dress is fitted, and does precious little to conceal the protuberant bulge of flesh in evidence beneath her arms. Her hair, like the man’s, is blonde. Boyishly cut short, her hair is baby-fine. Darker roots tinge the blonde. Numerous bracelets slither to elegant wrists, when she lowers her arms to the table, in order to pay attention to the man.
“You haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you, Aidan? You checking out that woman?”
My wife is a discordant buzz in the distant reaches of my subconscious. I regard her incredulously. “God no! But they have been checking us out practically since we arrived.” Caitlan snaps her eyes and clucks her tongue, descending a braceleted wrist over mine. “You’re just being paranoid. You haven’t been the same since you returned from that last job. Always looking over your shoulder. I find it unnerving at times.”
“I’m sorry. After what happened, do you blame me? Anyway, you know it’s over.”
“I hope so, because we need to move on. We have this now. It has to be over.”
I cast a cursory glance at the couple. Their meal has arrived. They appear to be more interested in that event. Caitlan is right. I should relinquish the paranoia. Especially tonight. We have been married two years. Our special occasion. Where else could I have taken the most beautiful woman in London? At least in my considered opinion. Sargents just happens to be one of the most select restaurants in the West End. The prices are extortionate, but no expense has been spared.
Wearing a green satin dress, caught into the slender proportions of her tiny waist, who would remotely suspect that she has recently given birth? Our daughter is barely eighteen months old. Now the familiar emerald eyes snap wide again. She embraces my own with such love, but with an admix of the concern I can’t help but interpret in their depths.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to unnerve you. There won’t be anymore of those jobs, I promise.” I sip from the glass of Sancerre at my elbow. I make a face. I would have preferred a Scotch. I promised my wife that I wouldn’t drink so much. She hates the whisky and admonishes me about breathing alcohol fumes over our daughter. “I’m trying to get this landscape business up and running.”
We wait for our meal to arrive. It seems to take forever. I realise that I’ve managed to polish off most of the wine. I’m about to pour the final dregs into my glass when Caitlan says, “The thing is we never seem to talk anymore.”
I stare at her amazed. “What are we doing now then?”
“I mean…” Her hesitation is almost painful. Her white throat undulates beneath the string of emeralds. “Your sister…” she attempts to explain.
“What about my sister?” I drain the last drop of Sancerre, whereas Caitlan still nurses her first.
“She’s always there, at our flat. Always inviting us over, and you never refuse. I know she means well.”
“Sure she means well. An unpaid babysitter. What more do you want? She’s someone we can trust. I thought you and Bridget got on okay.”
“We do. But the way she idolises you and worries about you, it’s as if you were her son rather than her brother.”
“That’s ridiculous.” I endeavour to suppress a rise of laughter. “Listen to yourself. I suppose it stems from when I was a kid. After Mum died, Brid sort of took over the motherly role with us.”
“Well you’re not a kid anymore. You’re thirty one years old. So there’s no reason for her to interfere is there?”
“Brid doesn’t interfere. Come on, this is our anniversary. Do we have to discuss this shit right now, babe?”
I reach for her hand. A thin stemmed vase separates us. The vase contains the six red roses that I had ordered to be placed at our table. After all it is St Valentines. The candlelight bathes her features, suffusing them with colour. Her long dark hair is coiled into a plait atop her head, which had been perfectly coiffured by my sister.
Bridget often tells us that it’s a pleasure to do things for her brother and his lovely wife, as Caitlan has changed my life for the better. Now Caitlan boasts some unwarranted bee in her bonnet concerning my sister’s alleged shortcomings.
“Why is it, whenever we need to have a serious discussion, you always call it shit?”
“Because, right now, we don’t need to have a discussion about anything. We’ll talk when we get home.” I’m compelled to let my words trail because Sapphire Dress, a forkful of steak en route to her mouth, has those rather expressive sculpted eyebrows arched with interest. It’s as if her intention is to savour the argument she believes is about to ensue.
“Your sister will be there.”
“She’s babysitting Catie. If she’s not there I’ll be just a wee bit concerned, don’t you think?”
I hadn’t intended sarcasm, but tonight, when I wish for everything to be perfect, Caitlan appears to be in an argumentative mood. She’s invariably delicate, quietly spoken. A persona complimentary to the beautiful dress she wears. “So come on, sweetheart. If you have something to say, please say it. Let’s get this, whatever this is, over with. Our meal should be here soon. You and Brid have a row?”
“No, we haven’t had a row. It’s-it’s just…”
“Just what?” I bring her hand up to my lips.”I need to know so that we can get it sorted. I don’t want you to be unhappy. If it’s something to do with my sister, then I’ll have a word. I know she likes to mother us all. Maybe it’s the age difference between you. All I’ve seen is Brid going out of her way to help with Catie, so we can have a night out, and I notice that you rely on her too.”
“Not as much as you do.”
“Okay. Sure I’ll admit it, I do rely on her. She’s that kind of woman, everyone cries on her shoulder. What’s all this about?”
If only Sapphire Dress would cease her indefatigable staring. I’ll have to say something. Risk a scene. I’m beginning to find that flirty stare distinctly unnerving. While the throbbing pain searing through my left shoulder serves to remind me of a past I’d prefer to forget.
“We have each other. I want it to be just us.”
“You know I want that too. I want you all the time, but I still don’t see…”
“I know you and Brid are close, but does she have to hug you all the time?”
I fail to suppress a grin at what she intimates. “She’s been like that ever since I came out of prison. As if she’s scared of letting me out of her sight. You make it sound as if we’re having some wild incestuous affair. That would be just plain weird.”
“No, of course not.” Colour flames her face again. It’s conducive to making me wish that I could make love to her right here and now. If only she’d refrain from behaving quite as shrewish. Regardless of her disapproving glances, I’ve practically polished off the remainder of the Sancerre, and the meal hasn’t yet arrived.
The smoothly shaven blond guy across from us toasts Sapphire Dress with entwined hands and a glass of Riesling. Maybe it’s their anniversary too, or they are simply displaying a friendly affinity. So perfectly innocent, as Caitlan suggest, and I’m being my old paranoid self. There’s no law against staring is there? It’s just that I don’t like people staring at me when I feel as if they have an ulterior motive.
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Caitlan exclaims so sharply, it now seems that everyone in the restaurant is staring at us, no doubt anticipating an argument. One I’m determined to suppress. I have no desire to continue this ridiculous discussion.
“Jesus, Caitlan, keep your voice down,” I hiss with embarrassment. “Go on, get this over with. Whatever it is has obviously upset you. No, Bridget and me are not having an affair.”
“When you’re at work she comes to see if I’m okay.”
“What’s wrong with that? It’s the kind of caring person that she is.”
“I know, but she’s always looking about the flat. I can’t help it if I’m untidy. Catie takes up most of my time. She has kids. She knows what it’s like. She also expects me to go to Mass with her every week, when I just want to spend some time with my husband.”
“So that’s what it’s all about. You going to Mass. Don ‘t look at me. I get enough disapproving looks from Father Anselm. Like I said, we’ll discuss this when we get home. If you don’t want Brid to come around, or take you to Mass, then I’ll tell her. Or better still you can.”
“When we’re all together,you seem to talk to Bridget more than you talk to me.”
“Caitlan.” I smooth a hand over my beard with exasperation. “Don ‘t tell me you’re jealous of my sister. I know you don’t like me looking at other women. Maybe we should live on a female-free desert island somewhere.”
Not only do I relish the taste of a double Scotch right now, I could also use a cigarette. I have planned this night, with my sister’s help, to be so perfect. Even the once blooming red roses are beginning to wilt in the heat of the crowded restaurant.
Waiters, bedecked in red shirts and black trousers, move through the various tables, trays of steaming hot food borne aloft.
Flicking a glance to my watch, I can’t help but complain to my wife over the late arrival of our meal.
“I just want to be alone with you so much,” Caitlan says.
I want to remind her that I’m alone with her now. Well sort of.
The waiter, a pimply faced individual, deposits our food before us. “Your order, Sir,” he declares. “Sorry about keeping you waiting,” he adds by way of apology.
When Caitlan interjects, “We’re going to have another baby, Aidan.”