Although there were a number of civilian employees present, the majority of the crowd was in uniform, and for better or worse, Hartmann’s reputation preceded him; a number of curious glances were cast their way as they were shown across the restaurant to their table, and he met them with a roguish grin.
Carol’s new role as pilot was classified, and consequently, Hartmann’s humiliation as well. Had it been well known that he had been ousted from the Suit, he would have never allowed himself to be seen in public with the cleaning lady. But as it was, he could relax and enjoy himself, all the while playing it up for the mystery.
He had chosen an Italian themed restaurant on a whim, and the three of them settled into their seats as a basket of breadsticks was placed on the table along with the menus. He immediately picked one up and tapped Carol on the nose with it.
“You should eat this,” he said. “You are far too skinny.”
“I wish everyone would stop nagging me about that,” she muttered, but she took the breadstick and pulled off a small bit to put in her mouth, chewing slowly as she picked up the menu. Hartmann grabbed another, and this time used it to tap her cheek.
“They say garlic is quite healthy for you, so it might help with your complexion. Unless it’s too flavorful for you.” Hartmann grinned.
Carol narrowed her eyes at him and pushed the second breadstick away. “I’m not that boring, master sergeant.”
“Oh?” He leaned towards her, a mischievous look in his eyes. “What sorts of exciting things have you been up to lately?”
“Well …” A small smile crossed her lips. “I took over your job of piloting a badass mecha suit.”
Hartmann forced a laugh and willed himself to brush the comment off. “Touche.” He hadn’t expected her to push back in such a manner, and from the pleased yet anxious expression on her face, she wasn’t accustomed to behaving in such a manner either. Funny enough, however, it was her own words that threw her off balance far worse than anything he could have done. Her hands shook at she held the menu, and from the way her eyes were unfocused, he could tell that she wasn’t reading the words.
When the waiter arrived to take their order, Carol blurted out “spaghetti.” After the other two entrees were ordered, Hartmann added, “A bottle of white wine as well,” then grinned devilishly at Carol as he lowered his voice and purred, “You need something grown up to balance out that spaghetti.”
“Oh hush!” Carol snapped back. “I like spaghetti.”
“Toddlers do too, or so I’ve heard.” Hartmann gently touched her leg with the toe of his boot. “Don’t worry though, I’ll make a woman out of you sooner or later.”
Carol’s face turned bright red, and she focused her gaze down at the table as she took another breadstick and began eating it, deliberately ignoring him. Hartmann took that as a sign that it was time to back down, and instead engaged in small-talk with Holmes, asking a series of routine questions about the corporal’s life before the military, and chipping in small anecdotes from his own early years. Once the waiter arrived with their food, all conversation stopped, and when Hartmann placed the glass of wine in front of Carol, she immediately took a drink.
An idea popped suddenly in Hartmann’s head, when near the end of the meal, Holmes leaned over and whispered that he needed to take a break in the restroom. “Go on,” he replied. “You can trust that she’ll be safe in my company.” He watched the corporal walk away towards the back of the restaurant, then pulled out his wallet and counted a number of bills that he dropped onto the center of the table and stood.
“Come. Quickly,” he said, taking Carol’s arm and boosting her up to her feet. She didn’t resist, but silently followed as he whisked her through the restaurant, and he was grateful for her compliance. Once out the door, he quickly pulled her around to the side of the building, then pushed her up against the brick to minimize their presence as he watched the front entrance, waiting. A minute later, Holmes appeared, looked around, then ran towards where Hartmann had parked his car.
“Looks like we’ve escaped,” he muttered with a chuckle, and looked down at Carol. It was then that he realized he had her against the wall, staring up at him with wide eyes and trembling lips, her feminine contours pressing into him and reminding him vividly of his own masculinity. Purely on impulse, he pressed his mouth against her.
Carol didn’t move. She was frozen, doing nothing to either reciprocate or to pull away, but Hartmann knew her well enough to expect her non-reaction. To avoid overwhelming her, he moved slowly and lightly, more tickling her lips with his own, though the urge to claim more of her surged through him stronger than ever. A small whimper sounded in her throat, and snapped him back to reality. He released her and pulled away.
“I, uh …” His mind was blank.
“Master sergeant.” Her voice sounded small.
“I violated protocol …” Dammit, why did his brain turn off the moment he needed it most?