A Wicked Stepfather Pt. 01byEgmont0409©
A FORMER investigative journalist well versed in analytical financial reporting and currently adrift from female interaction, is recruited to gather evidence that the chairman's husband is ripping off the failing evening newspaper company. Eliot finds the chairman's daughter is an A-list babe who perhaps conveniently for him is between dates. They come together passionately and it's unclear which of them is the seducer and whether their lusty liaison will adversely impinge on the investigation and inflame the ire of the suspected fraudster, Jenna's stepfather.
Adjusting the collar of his knitted jacket, Eliot Nephew entered the café and sat at a table away from office-dressed people eating breakfast like lovers while others had the body language of couples on the verge of a break-up. Among them were lonely singles staring into space beyond the grimy windows or hunched over a newspaper or paperback reading into splendid isolation.
A gum-chewing server with a skirt short enough to highlight knobby knees sauntered over with a coffee pot and asked disinterestedly, "Coffee?"
"Coffee is fine," Eliot smiled, enjoying his first conversation of the day. He looked at the bored cashier leaning over her magazine and said to the server, "What's the name of the cashier?"
"When you return to your station say to Kate I want to see her."
The server moved around topping up coffee cups and Eliot was watching a fat woman make three attempts to lift off her chair when a voice at his elbow said, "Yes?"
"Oh Kate, sorry. I was in a dream. What time is your lunch break?"
"From 11:15 to 11:45."
"Great, have lunch with me."
"Kate, my name is Eliot Nephew, I arrived in this city after dark last night not knowing a soul and today is Friday and I don't wish to spend it all alone. I'd like to invite you to lunch to seek information."
"So? I was thinking lunch not adultery."
"No thank you. I have a customer, goodbye."
Eliot took her withering look without losing his soft smile and watched her trim butt as she strode off and noticed she was a fan of seamed stockings. So was he.
When Eliot went to pay for his breakfast Kate looked up and said, "Oh, it's you," as if the Unpopular Customer of the Week had arrived for service.
"Yes and I left a tip for the server and have booked a table for two for early lunch beside the pool at the Marriott where I am staying. If you don't turn up it will mean I eat alone for the second time today."
Eliot interrupted smoothly. "Please don't complete that sentence, as I suspect it is in the negative. Approaching lunchtime perhaps hunger could have softened your soul."
The surprised woman almost smiled. Eliot took his change, nodded and left.
Three hours and ten minutes later he was only half surprised to see her coming to his table. He stood and held out his hand in greeting and she looked at it nervously so he kissed her cheek. She sat down abruptly.
"You are very forward and that rather confirms you don't come from this city. What do you want? Remember, I have told you I'm married."
"Do you mean alcohol?"
"Order whatever you wish."
Kate said coffee so Eliot ordered two white wines and as she opened her mouth to protest he said he'd ordered what he thought she really had wanted.
A little more relaxed after half a glass of wine and starting into her salmon salad, Kate said her name was Kate Mitchell and she was twenty-eight and lived on Parkland's estate. Her husband Thomas was a long distance courier driver.
"So you'll be lonely tonight?"
She smiled and said no, Thomas would be home around 7:30.
"What time do you finish work today?"
Kate continued chatting as if she'd not heard the question. She learned Eliot had come to Clouston City to become news editor at the Clouston Evening Clarion and would take up the position on Monday.
"I decided to come in early and find an attractive and intelligent local woman who could suggest where I should locate, what golf club and gym to join and tell me what she likes and dislikes about the city's failing evening newspaper and short-list for me some of the youngish, attractive and eligible women around town."
"Eligible as in marriage?"
"Well as a starting point in the sense of being available."
"God, you have a nerve expecting to quickly locate a loud mouth and indiscriminate woman to perform that role."
He replied slyly, "Yes, I suppose I am. Please be kind to me and tell me what I want to know."
"I don't play golf but I know the Marshlands Country Club operates the premier golf course in this region, the place to live if you are without pets or children and are well-heeled is Twin Towers Apartments overlooking the Lakeside Marina. You'll find unattached women galore at the restaurants fronting the marina. Two of the most eligible women in the city, Gloria Fields and Rachel Somerset, have penthouse apartments at Twin Towers. I have a friend Jenna Wynn who's just ditched her under-performing guy. She owns European Lingerie at Clouston Mall but please don't even hint that I recommended her to you."
"Agreed. I won't invite you to have more wine because you'll be working with money and management may have rules about drinking liquor during work hours. What time are you due back?"
"Nine minutes from now."
"Well then, finish your salad in peace. Thank you for that valuable information."
They chatted about films and books until Kate pushed her plate away and dabbed at her mouth with the starched napkin and stood.
"Thank you for lunching with me Kate. I found it a real pleasure."
They kissed politely and as she turned to walk away Eliot said, "Your seams are remarkably straight." She waved with a hand behind her back.
Ordering another glass of wine Eliot wondered in what sense had Jenna's boyfriend been 'under-performing'. He thought the comment might relate to sexual performance or failing to win a salary rise but with a woman it could mean he had failed to propose marriage. And why had Kate specifically mentioned Jenna? Very interesting.
Eliot called for the number of European Lingerie and used it, asking to speak to the store owner.
A new voice came to the phone. "Jenna Wynn."
"Ah, Miss Wynn. I am Eliot Nephew and have been referred to you by an acquaintance of yours who shall remain nameless. I am new to the city and begin my new job on Monday and invite you to join me for dine tonight at the restaurant of your choice. This invitation may sound presumptuous..."
"It certainly is. What reply do you expect?"
"An outright refusal. At worst a 'No' shouted into my ear and the connection cut."
There was a pause and Eliot could hear the woman breathing, a little heavier than perhaps one would expect. That told him he was in with a chance. He must be careful.
"And why am I not doing that Mr Nephew?"
Eliot breathed out, intending her to hear that and hoping it might relax her a little.
"You sense I'm genuine because nobody would make up Eliot Nephew as an alias. Your mind is bursting with curiosity about three things: why you and who is the person who gave me your name."
"That's two things."
"Ah, that tells me you are sharp or intelligent or probably both Miss Wynn. It also tells you I am creative and interesting and already pose less of a threat to you than when this conversation started. You still remain vigilant wondering whether it's worth a blind date or should you insulate yourself to remain comfortable in yet another boring evening and thus avoid being drawn into a relationship that could go just anywhere."
"Let's skip the psychology Mr Nephew and I don't doubt that is your name. "What is the third thing?"
"Your instinct is to take up the challenge to find if this blind date totally out of the blue could end up turning into a good night out."
"You have a nerve."
Eliot smiled to help make his voice sound light and reassuring. "And that explains why I am calling Miss Wynn. I am confident about myself and assume that you being in business on your own account have a similar belief in yourself."
"I know nothing about you Mr Nephew and as you have decided not to reveal the person who told you some things about me that gives you an edge."
"My informant was asked to name any eligible youngish, attractive and available woman and the names she gave me were Gloria Fields, Rachel Somerset and you."
"Why me... those other two females are social high fliers?"
"My informant did not elaborate about them but did say you recently dumped your current boyfriend. I immediately thought that suggests you might be available tonight to brief me about this city and its peculiarities."
There was a long pause that ended with a sharp intake of breath. "Look Mr Nephew, you apparently know little about me which places us roughly on equal footing. This conversation could go on for an hour of more. You could be taking a risk yourself as you have no image of me."
"Correct but although I know little about lingerie business I have yet to see a short, fat and ugly woman in charge and I can say I am not short, fat and ugly. Please just agree to meet me at a restaurant and nominate the time."
"Leonardo's overlooking Lakeside Marina. It is late night for me so 9:30 would be fine. I'll book."
"That's late dining and you might be uncomfortable about that. Let's meet for lunch tomorrow?"
Jenna said no, 9:30 at Leonardo's was fine. She cut the call.
While Eliot swam twenty laps in hotel pool before taking a nap, five miles away Jenna completed checking incoming stock against invoices and meanwhile had given up attempting to guess which one of her friends or acquaintances had irresponsibly given Eliot Nephew her name and private details. After listing five names out of first seven that came to mind, Jenna realized it was futile to continue because she had nothing to go on. Miss or Mrs Big Mouth would doubtless reveal herself eventually.
The 27-year-old brunette with straight hair and ragged cut fringe wondered if Mr Nephew was one of those guys who expected sex on the first date. She smiled and sighed. Men!
Reception buzzed Eliot at his requested wake-up time of 8:00 and he showered, shaved and dressed in a blue linen checked shirt, darker blue Italian cut suit and shiny black shoes, the socks two tones darker than his suit. He wanted to make a good impression even if Miss Wynn turned out to be forty-five and almost short, fat and ugly.
For a moment the maitre d' looked at Eliot's neck and Eliot thought there would be an issue over him not wearing a tie so he squared his shoulders and smiled and asked for Miss Wynn's table.
She'd not booked.
Eliot said she may have booked under the name of Nephew and the maitre d' nodded and smiled, taking Eliot to a premium table.
Three single women entered separately and the two blonde's caught Eliot's attention but were taken to other tables. The conversation noise died at he looked at the entrance to see the maitre d' making rather a fuss over a brunette who appeared to be about six-two -- almost as tall as Eliot. She was in a knee-length white dress with a bright red throat scarf and had a face and figure good enough to stop many diners from talking as they took in the arrival of this A-class babe. Eliot's instinct told him it had to be his date but then his instinct was not infallible.
He stood anyway and she followed the maitre d' and smiled at Eliot; he hoped that it was an approving smile. His hands curled into fists and then relaxed as he waited nervously.
* * *
Jenna arrived at the restaurant to be met by owner Leonardo Calvano who acted as maitre d' because it allowed him to befriend regular customers and to keep his finger on virtually everything. Leonardo greeted Jenna, one of his favorite customers, kissing her on both cheeks. He'd known her since she was ten when her parents first came to his late father's restaurant that he now owned.
"Your man awaits you," he said in faultless English, having been born in America as where his parents.
"Ah yes and how do you rate this one Leonardo?"
"This man rates highest on first impressions of any man you have been with in this restaurant outside of your family," he answered. Jenna who'd long learned to value the restaurateur's opinion raised an eyebrow and Leonardo smiled. He turned to lead her to the table and murmured, "See he is a couth man, and stands and waits for you, unlike that last cretin you brought here."
Jenna was almost knocked out of her red velvet 4.5in sling-backs at the sight of Mr Nephew. Ohmigod, she thought, when a quick look revealed he came close to being her dream man possessing a well covered head of shaggy tight brown curls that were sun-bleached near the tips, wide shoulders and yet at a guess a lightly muscled frame. She then sighed recklessly, in a whisper not even Leonardo would hear, "Welcome to my boudoir Mr Nephew."
Closer up Jenna confirmed he was indeed almost handsome with a firm jaw line and she then almost lost her footing when she could see the intense green of his smiling eyes. Her mind careered out of orbit and she imagined her nipples were already firming. Where was her mental discipline? God, she was aware she was attracted to him already and that's without knowing if he possessed tenderness, could be trusted, knew how to talk to a woman and would stay beside her patiently when she shopped. And those points were only the starters from her wish list.
"Good evening Miss Wynn."
"Good evening Mr Nephew."
Then Leonardo had to butt in. "Oh no, please no, enough of such stilted formality in my restaurant when you two are destined to become known to each other."
He pulled out Jenna's chair and seated her. "Mr Nephew, this is my dear friend Jenna and you are..."
"There Jenna, say I am pleased to meet you Eliot, please call me Jenna."
"Run along Leonardo," Jenna laughed.
Leonardo pushed down both her shoulders. "Jenna, I must insist that..."
"Oh, all right. Welcome to Clouston Eliot. Please call me Jenna."
Eliot said thank you and then eyed Leonardo. "I take it you are the Leonardo of this restaurant?"
"Yes and no. My late father established this restaurant as Leonardo's and I was named after him and became sole owner on his death, buying out the interests of my mother and my two sisters."
Eliot smiled and said, "Leonardo, my name is Eliot Nephew. Please call me Eliot. It is impressive to see a restaurateur take an upfront role in his establishment. Although I have yet to eat and drink here it gives me confidence at seeing you prominently in charge."
Leonardo beamed and excused himself to service new arrivals.
Jenna waited like a cat ready to pounce but when Eliot just smiled at her she knew she was expected to speak next. "So you are not just charming to women?"
"When I'm out formally I do try to be on my best behavior, more so when in the company of a beautiful woman."
Jenna smiled through her blush, thinking this guy could prove to be quite a handful. She accepted the challenge to display some style herself. "You have done very well as a new arrival Eliot, dining in what is unquestionably the best Italian restaurant in this city and, as you suggest, dining with a beautiful woman."
"You speak as eloquently as you dress, Jenna. I have difficulty accepting you can work a long day and come out to dine late and look as good as a freshly picked orchid. Even so, I look forward to seeing your rougher side as you have a touch of steel in your eyes and hold your back aggressively."
"Oh my, is that bedroom talk?"
Her challenger smiled smoothly and said not at all. "You play tennis and are trained in self-defense possibly and are almost certainly to be one of the prettiest fitness center bunnies in this city."
A waiter arrived and showed the label of a bottle of champagne to Eliot, stating it was with the compliments of Leonardo.
Jenna watched intently.
"That is most generous of him but this is a classy French wine with a international reputation. Do you think Leonardo would be offended if I exchanged this offer for an Italian wine, perhaps Masi Masianco Pinot Grigio/Verduzzo, providing my companion agrees?"
"Whatever you order will be fine by me," Jenna smiled.
"Yes, and a glass each of the Masi Pinot Grigio and would you prepare a bottle of Masi Costasera if available?"
"Yes we have that sir."
When the waiter left Jenna asked was Eliot aiming to get her drunk.
"Are you driving?"
"No, I'll be fine."
"Then I suggest you have the glass of white and two glasses of red and you should be okay unless you are a one-glass imbiber?"
She said three glasses sounded right but he should not allow her to have more. "Why did you turn down the champagne?"
"It was exceedingly generous of Leonardo, over valuing me but what price he puts on you I don't know. I shall dine here frequently and so he'll remember me as the guy who drinks Italian wine with Italian food."
"That's impressive. It suggests you are not an outright taker as so many people seem to be these days."
Eliot tilted his head slightly, "Thank you for that compliment and I hope you never become disappointed in me."
Jenna's gray eyes held Eliot's gaze. "Oh really, and why is that?"
Again he did not answer directly. "How often do you eat here?"
"At least once a week."
"Then that explains my wish to have you look upon me favorably because I would like to dine here with you again. In fact I am eager to win your friendship so that you may be encouraged to do some things with me."
Jenna's expression tightened. "What kind of things?"
Eliot continued calmly. "The occasional movie, to meet at a bar now and then and for you to introduce me to your community, for example the art gallery, your fitness center."
"I only know two people in this city. Give me a break Jenna."
She frowned and said of course and apologized for her rudeness. "But the other person you know is a friend of mine, a woman, and I am female. Why haven't you sought a buddy?"
"Good question. The answer is I prefer to socialize with females and don't believe I'm alone in that. At the moment the only two things you and I appear to have in common is we like this restaurant and we both are between a relationship so that's sufficient for a great start to develop a friendship. So as a stranger in town I am very much in need of your goodwill."
Jenna said deliberately. "I would be dishonest if I avoided saying there also appears to be deep down a suggestion of sexual attraction between us. I know because I feel it."
"Then if that disturbs you let's bury it."
"No, there is no need to do that. What has brought you to our city?"
She saw Eliot hesitate and that deepened her interest in him.
"Can I trust you to keep the reason confidential?"
"I trusted you enough to meet you here this evening after the oddest phone call I have received since my teenage years."
Eliot scratched behind his ear and said ouch, just as their entrees arrived.
When the server left them he said, "Do I have your assurance...?"
"Of confidentiality? Yes, absolutely."
He looked around carefully and leaned forward. "I have been recruited by what I would describe as a few reputable and very concerned people to fill a vacancy on the Clouston Evening Clarion as a potential whistle-blower on suspected corruption. The severity of that challenge must surely convince you of the trust I have placed in you to say nothing about this."
If Eliot expected a banal response he was in for a surprise, In fact there was no reply because Jenna was looking at him, mouth open in disbelief. Her forehead exhibited a curled frown and she just stared at him intensely. Eliot shifted in his chair uncomfortably.