South Beach: Bridge Street Diner, 8 PM
The door was locked and Linnet was pretty sure, not positively one hundred percent sure she'd turned off the OPEN sign, but it didn't matter much because no one was allowed in and the door was definitely locked. It was a private party. She remembered to turn off the TV and the juke box and locked the back door to the dumpster. And there he was, sitting there, in a booth she probably hadn't really cleaned all that thoroughly. And her sister was annoyed.
"You've known him since he was ten, quit staring at him." Jean always did that, reminded her of everything she should know but didn't. This time she could keep saying it. That was Cooper sitting there.
"You've known him since he was ten. I wasn't born yet when he was ten, remember? He's really hot isn't he?"
Her sister smiled. "He's really not interested. Here, give him his burger. Try not to drool on it; he'll notice and I don't want to have to cook another one."
He was leaning back in the booth, his attention focused somewhere about a foot above the woman's head, dark circles under his eyes and fine tension lines around his mouth. You're not having a good time, Linnet thought sympathetically. Poor bored unhappy smoking hot rock star.
"Here's your food, Cooper. Can I get you anything else?"
He swung his gaze up at her, held it, and unexpectedly smiled. It was so cute; it was sexy and cute and it came with a quick wink as he sat up straighter. "Thanks. I'm good."
The woman with him flipped her hair off one shoulder and tapped long nails on the table. She was like an Aztec woman with those black straight cut bangs across the forehead and that long nose; all she needed was the huge gold necklace and the knife. Linnet imagined her standing on top of a stone pyramid with a knife in her hand and -- "You will remember to put the dressing on the side and no onions not one single onion. Or croutons I don't want any croutons you're going to remember that aren't you?"
Linnet shook off the really weird image. Although they didn't get many salad eaters, it wasn't an unusual request and she wasn't sure why it freaked her out so much. "Not a single one. I'll be right back with it."
Jean handed her the tray with the bowl of salad and the little jar of ranch dressing, which the woman probably wouldn't like, and gave her a warning glance. "Don't mess with her," she whispered. "I mean it. Do not do that. I'll explain who she is later."
She didn't need to explain. "Oh I won't, not me, not one mess, not a single one." Linnet hesitated, adding dryly, "She's not going to need a knife with that salad, is she?"
"This date is not how it was described in the catalog because I remember very clearly that it was an evening at the White Dolphin. Who changed it and look at me I'm wearing the wrong clothes."
Cooper had spent a good ten minutes standing in the parking lot aiming a frozen grin at the charity photographers while Camilla offered her profile and her rack and somehow managed to keep her mouth shut until they walked in and sat down. The place was empty. Jean Carpenter suggested shutting it down for this particular event. He dropped by frequently, and usually attracted no attention, but he didn't want to deal with both Cam and curious fans so he'd gratefully accepted. He'd hoped he could get Camilla to stay relatively quiet for an hour...yeah, right. Never going to happen.
"I changed it. You've been there anyway."
Cam leaned forward across the table. "That's not the point because I said I am wearing the wrong clothes and I know you heard me. There's something I want to talk to you about and not only am I going to look like an idiot dressed like this but there's no privacy because it is a diner, Cooper. A diner."
Jean scraped the grill while Linnet moved the bar stools around, trying to stay close, and Cooper suppressed a smile. Jean wasn't impressed, but her little sister was hanging all over him. He dragged his attention back to Camilla, wondering again how in hell Heydon put up with her. "I know what it is. Your image isn't my problem, and look around, it's just you and me. I don't want to hear anything from you that could be considered private anyway. Eat your lettuce."
She ignored him, casting a glance at the younger of the two sisters who was perched on a bar stool watching them, then forging right on ahead. "You're not even dating are you? You're doing nothing but moping one big mope mope mope because that woman you married went off with Blade and I told you something like that would happen but no, you wouldn't listen and now look at you. You're worse than Tony at least he went back to what's her name the redhead and are you listening to me? I mean, no one ever listens to me except Gabe, and he's probably dead, and Rafe but only when he thinks he has to. But Coop what are you doing?"
If he could leap right over the table at Cammie and throttle her, if he could find a fork and stab her, if he could find a way back, if he knew where she was tonight, if he could find her and tell her everything he'd always wanted to say, if he had an engine big enough to move the world, if he could get that damned woman to shut up, could anyone do that?
He slammed the can of soda across the table, a long slide against mustard and ketchup bang up against all of them, getting in her face, watching her watching him. This one time she was going to back off.
"Shut. The. Fuck. Up."
South Beach: Clock Tower - 10 PM
They'd gotten through an almost silent meal neither of them enjoyed, refusing the dessert, although Beth Stanfield ordered three extra large margaritas and downed them with a kind of grim precision. The charity photographer got the obligatory shots, they smiled, they stopped smiling, and now they stood on the sidewalk avoiding each other.
"Well that was pleasant," she said, not veiling the sarcasm. "I need to call a cab."
Rob knew he should offer to drive her home. He had spent the last two days trying to talk to Alex, who was morose; trying to talk to Duff, who was unexpectedly and ominously obsessed with this damn woman's daughter; and trying not to think about Syd. He couldn't find a way to blame Cooper's wife for Syd, but the parallels were there and the ache went deep, the long raw path was there. It hurt and he was tired of stepping around her. Not that he thought she was capable of responding, but Rob put it out there. "I'm assuming your decision to bid for me was a statement of some sort."
She looked surprised. She stood in the light and put a hand on her hip and looked at him. She'd done something with her hair, she'd put it up, and it was a tell. Maybe she was too old, maybe she didn't know what she wanted. She was pretty good though. She let him stand there and he could clock 60 seconds before she said anything. "I didn't appreciate being put in the middle."
Somebody parked a car behind him, slammed a door, it was cold for this time of year and Cooper Stanfield's bitch wife was telling him she didn't like being in the middle.
"Yet that's what you did to me."
A couple leaving the restaurant paused by the fountain, laughing and flirting, glancing at them. The woman seemed to recognize him and grabbed her companion's arm and pointed. Beth noticed and stepped closer before she whipped a retort back at him. "Excuse me? I purchased a charity date, the same as anyone else who was bidding on it. How have I put you in the middle?"
Either she was oblivious or she was stupid or she was malevolent, and Rob didn't believe she was stupid. It was a stretch to consider her oblivious. He crossed his arms, shivering and trying not to show it since she sure as hell wasn't giving him anything to work with. Bitch, no way she didn't know what she was doing and he was tired and worn down. "Lady, if you're not serious about Alex, leave him the hell alone. Go back to Stanfield, or go back to your bodyguard, you do remember him. Or go home."
Rob heard them before he saw them, and there was no way to fail to know who they were. Camilla and Cooper. Cooper wasn't saying a damn thing, striding down the sidewalk maybe a foot or two ahead of her while she talked, and talked, and talked some more. Once, years ago, he'd had a close encounter with Camilla; she wasn't stupid. She was terrifyingly present and she brought that long and dark family right along with her and used it.
"You could have gone anywhere but that place and even that place would have worked if you had called even an hour maybe not an hour but two hours ahead of time and let me know are you trying to run away from me?"
Beth Stanfield paused in her outrage, turning, stumbling a little on her high heel, maybe those three drinks or maybe she was simply surprised to see Cooper. Camilla looked at her and looked at Cooper and looked at Rob, eyes narrowing as if she suspected somebody had set this up and there would be hell to pay when she figured out who it was. Why? Why ask why, she was another incomprehensible woman.
Cooper grinned and strode forward, long shadow following him, the woman he should have dumped years ago smiling and waiting and looking up at him.. Neither of them said anything, standing under the streetlight and looking at each other until she finally said, "Hi."
He may as well have been invisible. Cooper ignored him. He'd been there once, the woman who was the only damn thing you wanted and needed in the whole wide world. Uncomfortable, Rob walked down the sidewalk, giving them a little space before he looked back at them.
"Hi yourself. Having a good time?"
"Want to go somewhere else?"
"Is it far?"
"Not if you know the way."
Rob saw him lace his fingers through hers, saw her return the clasp, a small and intimate and telling gesture, and that exchange must be some kind of code since they both continued to smile at each other although she dropped it pretty damned quick. Not going to get into it tonight, Coop; but he was getting close. Is that all it took? A bad date, a few strong drinks, a couple of insults, Stanfield riding up on his white horse?
Maybe so. He was burned out, past giving a shit, let Alex blow up let it all fall apart. Cooper finally acknowledged him with a nod and a strange long stare Rob didn't understand; he didn't like to admit that the man intimidated him. "I'll see you around."
"Sure. Yeah. Great." And there was the fucking woman from hell descending upon him, fire in her eyes, smoke coming out of her nose. Rob felt uneasily for his car keys. "What about her?"
Cooper leaned toward him, and in a low voice said, "Run."