Original fic: Trouble Wears Pearls
Trouble Wears Pearls
by jennickels (aka Jen Connelly)
Nick is an out of work actor (unless you count his self-produced online shorts). Karen is the mother of a budding actress that appeared in his last movie (self-produced, of course). They’ve been friends for a year while Karen helps him write his next movie. And then Nick unintentionally throws a wrench into the works—dinner and dancing. He’s not sure things will survive his impromptu invitation.
This hadn’t been part of the plan. Not that there had actually been a plan. Other than coming up to Portland to have a few business meetings, including a few lunches with Karen. Really, there wasn’t a plan. Well, if Nick was absolutely honest with himself…
But this—tonight—was definitely not in the plans. He’d just blurted out the invitation without thinking, caught up in the fantastic day he’d been having with Karen. He knew he was in trouble as soon as he rang her bell. The kids all greeted him with mischievous looks on their faces. And then Karen had appeared from the hall looking drop-dead gorgeous in a black dress, her hair done up and pearls in her ears. It was so unlike the Karen he’d met a year before, he’d been caught completely off-guard. ‘Took his breath away,’ was an apt description. That’s when he realized his mistake. Or, actually admitted it to himself. Until that moment he thought he could brush off the offer of dinner as just two friends going out to celebrate their business deal. Yeah, right.
Nick fidgeted as he waited for the maitre d’ to seat them. Tonight was so out of the plans he wasn’t sure what to do. He glanced sideways at Karen to find her looking equally uneasy. If the way she played with her bracelet was any indication. Nick, flipped the change in his pockets over and over. What the hell had he been thinking?
It was James’ fault. If he hadn’t put the idea of this place in Nick’s head none of this would have happened. Yeah, that was it. All James’ fault. He’d talk to that sneaky, rat bastard of an agent when he got back to LA. But for now he was stuck with his own bad decisions.
The maitre d’, a young woman with a stunning smile, guided them to a table on a level above the dance floor. Nick’s instinct kicked in, pulling a chair out for Karen before she could get close to the table. She diverted her eyes as she sat. Nick swallowed hard.
They ordered drinks and were left alone. Alone as you can be in a popular restaurant.
“So, um,” Karen began, flushing slightly. She unfolded her napkin, sliding it onto her lap. Nick tried to ignore the way her eyes darted around looking at anything but him. “How’d you hear about this place?”
Nick’s throat had long since gone dry. He reached for the water glass, nearly knocking the vase of flowers over. Karen reached for it the same time he did, their fingers tangling for a moment. Karen pulled away first and let her hands fall into her lap. Her eyes were now focused on the empty plate in front of her.
“I, um…” Nick sipped at the water, hoping Karen didn’t notice the way his hand trembled slightly. “My agent. He, uh, suggested it.”
Karen nodded, her gaze now looking out over the dance floor. The band was playing something soft and soothing, not too loud to drown out conversations at the nearest tables. Nick was pondering the acoustics when Karen started speaking again.
“How come your agent suggested this place?”
Nick coughed then sipped at his water again. “Excuse me?”
Karen shrugged. God, she looked uncomfortable. Which was exactly how Nick was feeling at the moment so he could sympathize. “Just, it’s pretty fancy. I thought you were up here for business meetings.”
“I was. Am. I have no idea why James suggested this place. I stopped trying to figure him out years ago. His logic is not Earth logic.”
“Then why keep him around?”
It was Nick’s turn to shrug. “He gets me work-”
“Really, ’cause I can’t remember the last thing you were in that you didn’t write and produce yourself.”
Nick frowned at her over his water glass. Then frowned at the water, putting it gently back on the table. His drinking was becoming a tic. “I’ve been in… stuff.”
“B movies on the science fiction channel don’t count.”
Karen chuckled. “You know I’m just teasing, right?”
Nick rolled his eyes, his nerves finally relaxing a little. Enough that he could breathe again. “You liked my last movie.”
“Movie? It was a twenty minute short released online.”
“And you liked it. Actually, I think your words were, ‘loved it, you should do more,'” he said, giving her a lopsided grin.
She blushed again. “That was before I got to know you and realized how big your ego is.”
Nick snorted. “Whatever. You still said you loved it and you can’t deny it.”
“Oh, I can and I will.”
Karen looked down at the dance floor again but she couldn’t hide the grin pulling at the corners of her mouth. Nick’s cheeks were starting to hurt as he fought to keep his own smile under control. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad. It wasn’t in the plans but Karen was a lot like him—go with the flow kind of people. They could adapt their friendship. Dinner at a nice restaurant wasn’t going to change things at all.
Karen shifted in her chair so she could see the band better. Nick’s eyes never left the expanse of neck that was exposed now that her hair was pulled up. The simple pearls and modest neckline of her dress actually added to the appeal. He licked his lips but couldn’t tear his gaze from her. Up her neck to her jawline, feminine but not overly thin like the models he was used to seeing around LA. Her earlobe that was connected instead of dangling, and the little mole peeking out from the tendrils of hair. The freckles dotting her cheeks and nose; the way she was biting her lower lip; the way her nose scrunched up when she concentrated… God, she looked so damn beautiful. Nick closed his eyes and tried to get his breathing under control.
This dinner wasn’t going to change anything. Nothing. They were friends before and they’d be friends after.
And he was in complete and utter denial. He could admit that to himself. Or, maybe not. He was constantly amazed at how Karen could get his head spinning without even trying. He wondered if she’d chosen that dress just to drive him insane. Maybe payback for inviting her in the first place and throwing their comfortable friendship off kilter. He could picture her doing that, an evil glint in her eye. Then again, it didn’t take much for her to his heart tripping, his stomach twisting. He’d noticed the first time he met her.
He swallowed hard when Karen’s eyes met his. He was pretty sure it was the first time that night. And when she batted those lashes at him he felt a tingle start at his toes and work it’s way up, leaving his body warm, his face flushed. And his hands trembling again. He gripped the stem of his water glass to hide it.
This was not in the plans. Nick wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. At least not yet. If only he knew what Karen was thinking.
She ducked her head again, biting on her lips. He could see her face growing redder. Her shoulders, too. And that just caused his heart to skip another beat. He slowly brought his glass to his lips again. God, he was in so much trouble.