To read from the first episode and catch up click here: Episode 1
It was time for them to leave, but Stephen really didn’t want to move. He was too absorbed by Lorelei’s face, her hair, the feel of her soft, warm body in his arms as she chatted about… well, he was too busy listening to her voice to take in the words. For all he cared she could be reciting train timetables, he’d still be as enchanted as he’d been when they first met. Tonight was their twenty-third date and they were going to celebrate with a candlelit dinner in his favourite place, a small and intimate Italian trattoria, just around the corner from his apartment.
“We need to go, Lorelei,” he said with reluctance. “The table’s booked for 7.30.”
Lorelei leaned into him, but after allowing himself the pleasure of just a brief kiss, Stephen sighed and pulled himself away. “If we don’t move right now, we’ll never get out of here. We’re going to be late as it is. Come on, let’s go and eat and then we’ll come back here and …” He waggled his eyebrows and did a lewd little jiggle with his hips, making Lorelei giggle.
“Do you think we’ll get to eat dessert this time? Maybe we should share one.”
It was a private joke between them that they’d never managed to stay for a pudding. From the moment they sat down, the heat between them would start to build, rising by the minute until it simply get too hot for them to eat anything else. Stephen, in a strangled voice, would ask for the bill, and they’d be out of the restaurant and entwined in each other’s arms like lovesick teenagers. The last time this had happened, a passer-by had muttered, “Get a room, why don’t you!”
Stephen held out her soft woollen wrap and kissed the tip of her freckled nose once it was settled around her shoulders. They made the short walk as if joined together from shoulder to hip.
They arrived twenty minutes after the time he had booked for, but it didn’t matter, they were greeted warmly and led to a table in the corner.
The waiter handed them a menu each, took their drinks orders, and with a flourish lit the stubby candle in the wax-covered Chianti bottle. Lorelei looked so beautiful, Stephen began to wonder if they’d manage to get beyond the starter, let alone make it to a shared dessert. He fingered the box in his pocket and wondered when would be the best time to-
His thoughts were interrupted by a chocolate-brown voice drawling, “Good evening, Miss Dove.”
Stephen blinked at the tall figure staring down at Lorelei as if he’d like to devour her. Slightly alarmed, he racked his memory … yes, it was one of the De Angelo brothers; he’d seen them once in The Blacksmith’s Anvil and Lorelei had told him who they were. At first he thought the man was alone, but then saw that behind him was the other one, the brother, looking as if he was trying to hide.
Stephen blinked some more, and then, remembering his manners, raised his bottom a couple of inches off his chair and held out his hand. “Hello, I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced? You obviously know Lorelei, and I’m Stephen George.”
“Nick De Angelo,” replied the man, giving Stephen’s hand a brief but bone-crunching shake. “And this is my brother, Gabe.”
The one called Gabe stepped forward with a shy smile and gave Stephen the merest nod of his head. He then took Lorelei’s hand, raising it and grazing her knuckles with his lips and gazing deep into her eyes. When he let go, Lorelei seemed momentarily startled, and Stephen saw such a sorrowful expression on Gabe’s face that he wondered if he’d recently had some very bad news.
There was an awkward silence as Stephen waited for the two interlopers to go to their own table and leave them alone before the romantic mood was completely broken. And he wanted tonight to be very romantic, more than any other night they’d spent together.
But Nick, directing a slightly malicious grin in his direction, rubbed his hands together, and said, “Well, isn’t this nice. Hey! Why don’t we all sit together?”
Before anyone could object – and everyone except Nick looked as if they really wanted to – he had ordered that two tables be joined up so the four of them could sit together.
Stephen was too stunned and too polite to do anything other than pretend it was what he’d wanted all along. Perhaps Lorelei was better acquainted with the De Angelos than he’d thought and she was happy for them to share their table? But as Gabe took the seat next to her, his cheeks flushed and his eyes downcast, he could see that Lorelei was as taken aback by this turn of events as he was. Of the four of them, then, only Nick De Angelo seemed totally relaxed, and Stephen felt a resentful dislike for the man start to build.
The evening that followed were utterly surreal as far as Stephen was concerned. The velvet ring box could not possibly be brought from his inside pocket and presented to Lorelei under these circumstances, even if the De Angelo brothers were to leave them alone after the meal. Maybe it was a sign, for Stephen believed in such things, that it was too soon to be thinking of marriage? They hadn’t been together other all that long, after all – but no… he had known she was the one for him since their first date in The White Lion. And Lorelei constantly declared her love for him. She’d even told him that he had a wonderful aura, and had been surprised and delighted that he’d known exactly what she’d meant.
“You’ll love my sister,” Stephen had responded, “She’s a family counsellor, but she does astrology for a hobby. She loves angel cards and psychic fairs, all that kind of thing.”
“And you don’t think it’s silly?” Her green eyes had looked worriedly into his brown ones.
“No, Lorelei, I don’t think it’s silly. My sister is one of the smartest and most sensible people I know, and her astrological readings have sometimes been of great help to me. She’s longing to meet you.”
Now he wanted to marry Lorelei as soon as possible. He’d told Stella, who had become very fond of Lorelei, that he planned to have the ring secretly placed in a glass of champagne and presented to his beloved, but she had replied, “That’s very romantic, Stephen, but fraught with danger, bearing in mind you both go all to pieces when you’re together. You’d have to hope she didn’t knock her glass over or just gulp it down and choke on it! But, really dear, Lorelei strikes me as a woman who would prefer you go down on one knee and present the ring in the traditional manner.”
So that’s what he’d planned to do, right here in this restaurant, but now he could only sit, fuming in silent frustration, as Nick De Angelo dominated the conversation. The subjects ranged from the narrow confines of village life to the political situation in Brazil and back again. Nick ate heartily, sometimes talking with his mouth full, but Stephen, Lorelei and Gabe merely picked at their food. He hoped they could make their escape after the main course, but when he tried to say that they had had enough to eat, Nick called for the dessert menu.
A waiter brought over a blackboard with the desserts neatly chalked on it and left it on the table so they could take their time. Gabe, who’d hardly spoken a word, didn’t even glance at it, muttering that he didn’t want anything.
“Would you please excuse us for a moment?” said Nick, “I just need a quick word with my brother.”
They left the table and Stephen watched in amazement as they walked out of the restaurant. Were they leaving him with the bill? But no, he could see them through the window, and they seemed to be arguing. Well, Nick was talking urgently and waving his hands about, a look of fury on his face, but Gabe was standing with his head down and his hands shoved in his pockets, looking like a schoolboy being admonished by the head master. Stephen looked ruefully at Lorelei , “I’m so sorry about this. I should have insisted at the start that we wanted to be alone.”
Lorelei smiled at him, “No need to apologise. You were being polite and I rather think Nick wouldn’t have taken no for an answer.”
“They’re a bit strange, though, aren’t they? Nick doesn’t stop talking!”
“Mm, and Gabe doesn’t say much at all. Oh, shh, they’re coming back. Let’s say we’re finished and need to leave.”
The brothers sat down, Nick grinning as he laid his napkin once more across his lap, Gabe looking for all the world as if he was holding back tears as he did the same.
“Lorelei,” he said, his shoulders still slightly slumped as he reached for the blackboard, “I do hope you are going to join me in having a dessert?”
“Er, no, thank you.” She patted her stomach, “I’m far too full.”
“Oh you can’t be,” said Gabe, his cheeks flaming for some unfathomable, “You hardly ate a thing! Now, how about chocolate mousse?”
Lorelei held up her hand, “No, really. I don’t want anything.”
“Raspberry roulade? Profiteroles? Crème Caramel? ”
Gabe sounded a bit desperate and Stephen wondered why he trying to force a Lorelei into choosing a dessert. He decided to take charge, and tried to attract the attention of a waiter, saying, “I’m sorry, but we really do have to leave now. I’ll get the bill.”
Gabe implored, “How about ice cream? Gosh, says here they have eight flavours.”
Lorelei shook her head, and reached behind her to take her wrap from the back of her chair.
Nick, looking highly amused, said, “So… no desserts, then.”
Gabe dropped his head, whether with frustration or relief Stephen couldn’t tell, until he caught a smile that Gabe was trying to hide. What on earth was going on here?
What happened next was so astounding Stephen would later believe he’d hallucinated the scene. As Nick leaned forward and made to touch Lorelei’s arm, Gabe gave a strangled cry and, to Stephen’s mind, deliberately knocked over his nearly-full glass of wine. The liquid appeared to leave the glass in a solid burgundy ball which skimmed across the surface of the crisp white tablecloth before hurling itself at Nick, spattering the front of his pale blue shirt, his red silk tie, and the lapels of his jacket. Not a speck of wine landed anywhere else.
There was a stunned silence and nobody moved until two waiters converged on their table with napkins and started to dab at Nick’s clothes. His face a picture of controlled fury, Nick pushed them away and told them not to trouble, then he calmly asked for the bill.
He insisted on paying. “After all, it was my idea that we all dine together.” He ordered Stephen to put his wallet away when Stephen tried to contribute.
The bill was settled with a large pile of new twenty-pound notes and the brothers said their goodbyes. Stephen caught Gabe, who’d spoken not a word since knocking over his wine, cast a very strange look at Lorelei as he rose from his chair, one of profound sadness, and wondered what it meant. They really were a pair of odd fellows.
But that was forgotten as with much relief, Stephen gently escorted Lorelei away from the trattoria in case the dreadful Nick De Angelo, despite his wine-stained suit, reappeared and insisted on dragging them to a nightclub or something.
Finally alone back at his apartment, they discussed what had happened. Stephen asked if she’d noticed anything odd about the wine-spilling incident, but she said her eyes had been on him so she hadn’t seen anything.
“I can’t explain why,” she mused, “but I really didn’t like Nick, there’s something about him…”
He held up his hand to stop her speaking further. “Shh! No more talk of them or anyone else!” He slid down onto one knee in front her, took her left hand in both of his. “Lorelei, my darling, sweet Lorelei, will you marry me?”
Her eyes widened and she gasped, “Stephen, I-”
“I know it’s early days for us, but I don’t care! I love you, Lorelei, I know you are the one for me, and I want you to be my wife.” He pulled out the velvet box and lifted the lid, revealing a delicate ring set with a round purple stone, two small diamonds sparkling either side. “Please say yes.”
“Oh, Stephen!” she gasped, “It’s beautiful! Is that amethyst?”
He nodded. “I had it specially made. I couldn’t think you’d want any other stone.” He removed it from its snug velvet bed and held it up to her. “It’ll fit you, my love. I borrowed a ring-sizer from the jeweller and measured that silver ring you sometimes wear. But, Lorelei, you haven’t answered my question.”
She threw herself at him, knocking him flat on his back, crying, “Oh Stephen, the answer’s yes! Yes please! Yes, yes, YES!”
“So what the hell was that about? If you wanted to stop me touching Lorelei and resetting the scene you shouldn’t have done it that way! I’m sure Stephen George noticed the trajectory of that wine!” Nick waved his hands in front of himself in a downward motion, chin to hips. The red wine stains disappeared.
“Of course he didn’t! Humans see magic all the time but they brush it away. I didn’t want you resetting the scene, Nick. I just couldn’t do it, not tonight.” Gabe narrowed his eyes at his brother, “You do know what Stephen was intending to do, don’t you?”
“No I do not know and I don’t care! Unlike you, I was concentrating on the job in hand, not using telepathy to go prying into his mind.”
“He was going to propose, Nick! I just couldn’t do it to them, not tonight.”
Nick’s grey eyes narrowed and darkened to obsidian and he spoke through gritted teeth: “As you’ve so recently pointed out, it is only in your interest that neither Lorelei nor Violet succumb to temptation.” He stabbed his finger into Gabe’s chest, and continued to jab with each word while Gabe tried to back away, “So you can be sure, brother, that I shall be watching you very carefully from now on.”
Nick stalked off, leaving Gabe gazing miserably into his empty coffee cup.
Nick was right, of course. He, Gabe, didn’t want the changeover to happen, not now, not ever. But a promise was a promise, especially when it was with a capital P and made by archangels, so he had no choice.
He resolved to try harder next time, and maybe it would be easier because, surely, the engagement would have taken place. But then there’d be the wedding! Bottom lip wobbling, he dropped his head into his hands.
What an evening! And he hadn’t even had the chance to sample just one of those eight ice cream flavours!