“Cam? He’s back.”
The waiter looked up from the bottle of wine he was corking. “He?”
Miri Taylor rolled her expressive eyes and tipped her head to one side, sending the long blonde tail of hair off her shoulder. “Yes. He. You know; tall, dark, devastatingly handsome, always comes alone on Tuesday nights, always writing in the little notepad—”
“Always orders the special and no dessert. Yes, I remember,” Cameron Jacobs answered hastily, going back to the bottle in an effort to hide the little jump in his nerves.
“Well, Mr. Nichols put him in your section again,” Miri informed him with a smirk. “Did you ask for him to be seated in your section? That’s like six times in a row!”
“Is it?” Cameron asked nonchalantly, although for the past month and a half he had looked forward to Tuesday nights like nothing else for that very reason. “I hadn’t really thought about it,” he lied. “I do work sixty-plus hours a week, you know,” he reminded her. “I don’t always remember everyone.”
“Yes, you do,” Miri argued.
Cameron gave her a sideways glance and tried not to smile.
“Well, you’d better get out there,” she urged as she glanced through the slats of the fashionable wooden shutters that hid the service area from the rest of the restaurant. “That man is so fine,” she muttered to herself.
Cameron stifled a laugh. He finished with the bottle and took a deep breath to calm the sudden racing of his heart. “Put this back in the cooler, would you?” he requested as he handed Miri the bottle and headed out to the floor.
Carefully recessed lights, candles on every table, and tiny, twinkling lights reflecting off the soaring glass ceiling lit the dining room. Large, clear windows along one wall offered a look at Chicago’s sparkling skyline, and tables dressed with fine linen, crystal, and china were spread about the ample space on varying levels. Soft jazz filled the air, just under the quiet buzz of voices highlighted by the clinks of utensils on plates and the scratch of chairs moving on the floor. Keri, the restaurant’s chief hostess, escorted a couple from the full waiting area to a solitary open table while many other patrons waited patiently, plied with champagne and light hors d’oeuvres.
Because at the four-star restaurant named Tuesdays, the food and service were said to be impeccable.
Cameron moved silently through the tables, his slight frame ghosting along in the all-black wait staff uniform. He wasn’t the type of man one tended to notice right off; he was trim and a little wiry, of average height and build, and he kept his brown hair cut short and neat. His quiet personality and tendency toward introversion made him naturally discreet while working, and his pleasant but unremarkable appearance made him perfect for scooting behind chairs and reaching around people with plates, coming and going without garnering attention or interrupting a patron’s meal.
He was perfect for what he did, and he enjoyed it. But tonight there was a little more to it.
Pausing near a burbling fountain, Cameron looked across the room at his goal: a quiet alcove for two, where one man sat alone.
He’d been coming to the restaurant sporadically since it had opened eight years ago, but in the past year or so he’d become a regular. Met at the door of Tuesdays by the restaurant’s owner every time he came to eat, he always sat at the same table. He was there once a week, always on a Tuesday, whether by design Cameron couldn’t have guessed. He always ordered the special—without looking at what it might be that day—and the house wine, but declined dessert.
Cameron knew these details like he knew hundreds of other tidbits about his regular patrons, people who frequented the fine restaurant and valued the renowned service. It was one of the many traits that made him excellent at his job.
His competence gave him confidence he wouldn’t otherwise have had. Here at Tuesdays, he could handle these repeated encounters with the mysterious him.
Cameron came to a silent halt at the table and spoke softly. “Good evening, sir. The evening special and house wine?” he offered knowingly. It was the same thing he asked every week. He’d stopped introducing himself several months ago.
The dark man looked up at Cameron’s approach and nodded wordlessly. Cameron bowed slightly and collected the untouched menu. The patron had always been this way. The first night Cameron had served him, a long finger had jabbed at the specials card and the house wine listing. He had never said a word then or since—at least not to Cameron—only nodding or shaking his head. Cameron never pressed him, and he’d started making an effort to ask questions in a way the man could answer without much trouble. He’d wondered more than once if the man could speak at all.
“Bring an extra glass, please,” the man asked abruptly as Cameron turned away. His voice was barely there, much quieter than his large frame and dark, slightly ominous looks suggested it would be. It was as if it had wilted from disuse.
Cameron turned back, eyes a little wider than usual. “Of course,” he said, hoping the surprise didn’t show. “Anything else?” he asked before inwardly berating himself for sounding like an idiot as he stared at his normally silent customer.
The man shook his head curtly, the motion one sharp jerk of his chin to the left.
“Yes, sir,” Cameron murmured, and he went on his way.
The man’s voice, hoarse and raspy, echoed in his head. Cameron was sure he’d never forget the sound of it. And another glass? The enigmatic customer was one of the staff’s favorite mysteries and thus a near endless source of gossip and intrigue. Each person had a theory, fantasy, or story about him. If anyone had seen the man speak to him, it would send the entire wait staff into a tizzy. Every little tidbit they could glean simply fueled their interest.
Cameron’s heart beat a little faster as he thought about the extra glass, and he wasn’t quite sure why. He collected the wine and the glasses from the bar, checked to make sure there were no smudges on the crystal, and returned to the table, the whole time telling himself to be cool. There was nothing to get excited about, he repeated silently as he deftly set down the glasses and started uncorking the wine.
The patron’s eyes followed his movements unerringly. “I’ll do that tonight,” he said, his voice low, though a bit stronger than before. “Thank you,” he added as he raised his head and looked at Cameron with dark, shadowed eyes. They reflected the candlelight like polished obsidian.
Cameron’s hands stilled, and after a moment spent caught in the man’s gaze, he offered the linen-wrapped bottle.
The man took it and nodded. “Thank you, Cameron,” he said softly. There was a hint of a polite dismissal in the words.
Cameron stared for a moment before snapping out of it. “You’re welcome,” he said as he placed the corkscrew within reach before stepping away. Hearing his name on the man’s lips made him shiver. It was… seductive. Without ever meaning to be, Cameron was sure.
The man waited until Cameron moved away before he deftly uncorked the bottle and poured himself an unseemly full glass. He looked up at the empty glass on the other side of the table for a long, motionless moment, then leaned over and poured a dainty glassful for the absent person who would sit across from him.
“Cam, what’s he doing?” Miri demanded curiously as soon as Cameron returned to the service area.
Cameron deliberately avoided looking out into the dining area, instead going to work on filling a bread-basket. “What do you mean?” he asked, feigning ignorance in the hope that his own curiosity wouldn’t show.
“He’s got two glasses tonight. Is he meeting someone? Was he talking to you? What’d he say?” Miri asked excitedly.
“Don’t you have work to do?” Cameron coaxed. He didn’t want her to know that as soon as he’d heard the mystery man’s voice, he’d fallen just a little more for him. It had been a long time coming, he knew. It was embarrassing enough to have a crush on a patron. It was worse to have a crush on someone who’d never actually spoken to you before.
Miri huffed and crossed her arms. “Well, it’s a slow night. You could share a little, you know? That guy is the biggest mystery most of us have going! Let me live vicariously!”
Cameron wouldn’t admit he felt the same way. He prided himself on his professionalism, and gossiping about patrons was not something he did or intended to start doing. “There’s nothing to share,” he insisted. “He asked for an extra glass; that’s all.”
Miri puffed her bottom lip out petulantly and turned to look out into the dining room. At the mostly hidden table for two in the far alcove, the mysterious man lifted his glass, toasted the one across from him, and then took a genteel sip of the expensive wine.
“That’s really weird,” Miri muttered as she watched.
“I’ve got work to do,” Cameron said quickly before he could cave and go to look. He lifted a crystal water pitcher in one hand and the bread basket in the other and then fled the prep area to the floor, filling water glasses and making inquiries as he slowly worked his way toward the man who sat alone with his two glasses of wine.
Upon arrival, Cameron set down the basket and filled the water glasses. Both of them.
No matter how much he wanted to, Cameron couldn’t come up with a question to ask in hopes the man would speak again. He’d seen other servers try to engage him in conversation, and it always made the dark man look annoyed or frustrated. Perhaps that was why he stayed in Cameron’s sections now, because Cameron never pressed him.
Cameron turned to leave, giving the man his privacy once more.
“How long have you worked here?” the man asked suddenly.
Arrested, Cameron turned to face him, trying not to show his continuing surprise. “Since Tuesdays opened eight years ago,” he replied warily, wondering why the man would ask.
The dark man looked at him steadily, his face expressionless and shadowed by the low mood lighting. “Do you enjoy what you do?” he asked.
Cameron felt unable to escape, pinned by those black eyes. He tried to avert his gaze by studying the man’s face instead, something he had never allowed himself to do at such proximity. It was all hard lines: a high forehead, triangular jaw, sharp cheekbones. This close, he was even more handsome than Cameron had thought. His close-cropped dark hair was just barely graying at the temples, and his neatly trimmed mustache and beard were impeccable. He always wore dark clothing, blacks and charcoal grays, which did little to disguise his tall, muscular body once he shed his heavy winter coat. That color—or lack thereof—suited him in a way Cameron couldn’t quite identify.
He was like a dark angel, to Cameron’s mind.
After a moment, Cameron focused on answering the question. “Yes,” he said. “I do enjoy it. Why else stay so long?”
The man’s eyes slid away, and he turned to look back at the untouched wine glass. “Why, indeed,” he agreed, the words clearly signaling the end of the conversation.
Cameron glanced to the second wine glass and back to the man. When dining here, the man had always been silent and polite, but surprisingly approachable in his own way, once Cameron got used to him. Tonight he just seemed… off. The fact he was speaking at all made this evening an unusual thrill. But the change in the man’s routine also worried him.
“Are you… is everything all right?” Cameron ventured in a hushed voice.
The man looked back at him as if surprised to see Cameron still standing there. He answered with a curt nod and looked away once more. This time the dismissal was clear.
Disappointed but not offended, Cameron moved away, only casting one look over his shoulder as he stopped several tables away to fill more water glasses. The man in the alcove didn’t look to have moved; he was still staring at the wine glass. The only movements he made were to bring his glass of wine to his lips and set it back down again. His eyes rarely strayed from the glass across from him as he waited for his dinner.
Cameron couldn’t help but wonder about him. What was he doing? And more importantly, why was he doing it? What was different about tonight? It was obvious that no one would be joining him, so who was the glass for? With a quiet sigh, Cameron shrugged off the questions and headed to the kitchen to check on the special.
It was about ten minutes after leaving him that Cameron arrived back at the table with the tray, setting it on a stand and serving, trying not to let his eyes settle on the man despite the urge to study him up close again.
As Cameron placed the plate in front of him, the man’s suit coat emitted a discreet dinging sound. He reached into his inner pocket and withdrew a cell phone, looked at the display briefly, and then looked up at Cameron.
“Could you bring the check, please?” he requested with a sigh of what might have been annoyance. It was, perhaps, the first hint of emotion he’d ever displayed to Cameron.
Cameron raised an eyebrow and nodded. “I can box this for you,” he offered.
“No, thank you,” the man responded as he replaced his phone. “Just the check. Quickly, please.”
“Yes, sir,” Cameron said, gathering the empty tray and leaving the dining room to fetch the requested item. He was back with it in only a few minutes, and he offered the black leather folder silently.
The glass across the table from the dark man sat undisturbed, a third full. His own glass was empty, and his food only slightly touched. He had obviously eaten what he could as he waited. He took the check with a nod.
Cameron stepped back to wait so he could complete the transaction as quickly as possible. He watched silently as the man reached into his suit jacket and removed a leather billfold. He withdrew three bills, slid them into the folder, and handed it back to Cameron.
“I won’t be needing any change,” he said. Cameron could barely hear his voice even though the background noise was slight. “Thank you for the advice,” the man said as he stood and reached for his overcoat.
Cameron had never been this close to him when he was on his feet. He guessed the man was taller by at least four inches, perhaps even more. As he shrugged into his heavy overcoat, the black wool had the effect of making him appear even larger than he already was, and the overall impression was that he simply towered over Cameron.
Confused and slightly distracted by his physical presence, Cameron just nodded. He had no idea what advice he may have given the man, but he wasn’t about to question him. He actually had to tip his head back a little to look up at him. “Have a good night,” he offered. His voice was flustered.
The man gathered his belongings. He nodded at Cameron as he buttoned his overcoat. “Tuesdays are always good nights,” he murmured.
Cameron tipped his head to one side, even more confused, but he knew better than to say anything else. He wasn’t sure his tongue could actually form any more words anyway.
With a last nod, the man walked away from the table and Cameron, who watched until he was out the door.
Out of sorts, Cameron shook his head and cleared the table, the folder securely at the small of his back. Once he finished with the dishes, he went to settle the receipt and found three hundred dollars. One hundred would have covered the dinner, wine, and a pleasant tip. Cameron stood there looking at the money, wondering just what had happened tonight.
Cameron spoke pleasantly with an older couple that dined at Tuesdays a few times a month before turning to head out of the dining room. The dinner crowd had thinned to almost nothing around nine, and business had slowed accordingly. Although the restaurant stayed open until midnight, Cameron knew it wouldn’t pick up again. He had time now to work on his receipts. But that just meant he had time to think, as well.
It was Tuesday night, and he kept thinking about the Tuesday night two weeks ago that had rocked his world. He’d gone over it in his mind, closing his eyes to hear the dark rasp of the man’s voice. When he hadn’t come to dinner last week, breaking a months’-long streak, Cameron was terribly disappointed.
He still wondered what had happened to the mysterious patron and if he would see him again. All Cameron knew for sure was that he would’ve liked to have heard his voice again.
Now it seemed another Tuesday had passed without him.
Him. He of the tall, dark, and handsome variety, who stuck in Cameron’s head like some sort of brooding fantasy. Cameron sighed. Fantasy. A man like that was certainly nothing but a fantasy to Cameron, someone who was too far out of his league in every way.
As he pondered, he heard Keri greet a new guest, followed instantly by the distinct voice of Blake Nichols, the owner of Tuesdays, greeting the same person warmly. When Cameron moved to peer through the fronds of the large plant next to him, he saw Blake shaking the guest’s hand and directing Keri to lead him to an alcove table.
It took Cameron a long moment to actually realize who he was seeing. It was him.
Cameron stared for a long moment, unable to make himself move as his heart rate picked up. After a few frozen moments, he shook himself, entered the prep area, and picked up a bottle of house wine and a clean glass before moving to the table.
As he got closer, he could see that the man wasn’t quite himself tonight. There was a tight line of stitches above his left eye and his right arm was in a sling. He was carefully shrugging out of the restrictive brace when Cameron approached the table.
Cameron took a few quicker steps and set down the bottle and glass. “Let me help,” he requested before thinking about it. He lifted the strap that was catching on the man’s jacket. He took a steady breath to ease his nerves over the liberties he was taking, and in so doing got a brief whiff of the man’s subtle cologne. He shivered and tried not to react to the intoxicating scent.
The man froze as Cameron touched him, but he relaxed quickly and lowered his head, allowing Cameron to help him out of the sling before he sat down. Cameron carefully pulled the fabric straps free and stepped back, simultaneously exhilarated by the contact and relieved to be moving away. He folded the sling and laid it in the chair opposite where the man settled.
The big man rolled his shoulder carefully and looked up at Cameron with dark, unreadable eyes. “Thank you,” he said. His voice was low again, the words barely audible.
Cameron’s polite reply was totally forgotten as he looked over the man’s face critically, taking in the stitches and fading bruises before meeting his eyes. “Are you okay?” he asked instead.
The man gave the customary jerk of his head in answer without moving his eyes from Cameron. Then he smiled slowly, one side of his mouth curling upward into a slight smirk. It made his face far less severe and foreboding, and if possible, even more handsome. “I’m fine,” he answered, sounding bemused. “Thank you,” he repeated.
Cameron nodded slowly, entranced by that slight curve of the man’s lips. “You’re welcome.” He blinked several times and finally recovered. “The evening special and house wine?” he asked awkwardly, gesturing to the bottle he’d set on the table.
“What do you recommend for dessert?” the man asked him in response.
Cameron’s brows jumped, and he had to grasp for something to say. He wasn’t accustomed to being so off-balance when taking someone’s order. The process was generally pretty cut and dry. “Ah. The praline cheesecake has been popular this evening,” he managed.
The man’s gaze didn’t waver. “What do you recommend?” he repeated slowly.
Cameron swallowed, feeling a little warm as the man kept his eyes and attention focused solely on him. “The pistachio crème brûlée.” Why he was unnerved, he didn’t know. He gave recommendations all night. But for this man to ask for his own favorite, it made his entire body warm.
“That’s what I’ll be having then,” the man responded with a slight twitch of his lips that might have been another smile.
Cameron wondered if the man noticed how his waiter stared at him. Probably. He seemed like the type of man who noticed a lot. Cameron’s cheeks heated, and he licked his lips nervously. “After dinner?” he asked.
“For dinner, if you please,” the man answered with that ghost of a smile and even an amused light in his eyes. He obviously enjoyed how disconcerted Cameron was.
“Ah. Okay,” Cameron said. He sighed as he realized the man knew he was embarrassed. “Do you want the wine?” he asked clumsily.
The man’s black eyes drifted over the bottle and then back to Cameron slowly. “I do,” he answered gently.
The nonthreatening tone helped Cameron find his composure, and he took shelter in the familiar movements, pulling the corkscrew out of his back pocket and picking up the bottle to open it. The man watched him the entire time, his eyes intent and shadowed. Cameron pulled the cork free and offered it to him, his other hand tight on the bottle. He felt the unusual nerves easing, and he was able to straighten his shoulders and recover his usual poise, even though he could feel those black eyes following his movements.
The man nodded at the cork and met Cameron’s eyes. “Do you still enjoy what you do?” he asked out of the blue, his voice gruff and somehow intimate in the way he kept it at a whisper.
Cameron swallowed as the sound of it sent awareness zipping through him. Just like the first time, Cameron nodded. “Yes.” But this time he asked, “Why?”
“Because you appear content,” the man answered immediately.
Cameron blinked and then gave him an open and honest smile. “Yes. I suppose I am.” He placed the cork on the table and poured a couple swallows into a glass for him to approve. “I’m good at it,” he said with a shrug.
“Yes,” the man murmured as he picked up the glass. He sampled the wine and nodded his head in approval. “Being good at what you do does help. Thank you, Cameron,” he said softly.
“You’re welcome,” Cameron said. “Your dessert will be out shortly.” He put down the bottle and left the table, taking the corkscrew with him and fighting back the fluttering in his chest.
“You know, I think he likes you,” Miri asserted with a slight smile as soon as Cameron stepped into the service area.
“For God’s sake, Miri,” Cameron muttered as he blushed deeply.
“He likes you, and you are totally missing it. Would you even know what to do about it?” she challenged slyly.
Cameron made an aggravated sound and deliberately ignored her question. “How in the world is this either relevant or remotely appro