|Like mother, like daughter... but if her mom is Zoë Malvison... look out!|
M. J. Cogburn and C. E. Krawiec
Amy, Sharla and Karen stood and started to where Quinton was sitting, Tala
bit her lip, wondering if her friends were going to bother Quinton during
his first meal. When they
didn't, just walking by, Tala slid a look toward him as he took a bite of
the chicken fried steak and looked up at her.
Seeing him nod with a slight grin, Tala smiled back at him and
nodded back to him. As she
turned to follow her friends, she turned back to look at Quinton to see
him take another bite of his dinner and closing his eyes to savor the
taste. 'Thank you,' she
thought to him gratefully as she followed her friends out of the
finishing breakfast, during which he had given careful thought as to how
to best spend the unexpected free day, Max surprised himself when he chose
to spend it outside. Returning
to his quarters, he had changed from the casual attire into sturdier
attire, thick socks and boots suitable to the cold, damp weather. Grabbing
his heavy winter coat, knit cap and gloves, the young Englishman had
headed out. He didn't bother
with taking something to eat, only a small Thermos bottle of coffee.
up at his Aunt Josephine's house in the English countryside, Max had
learned to love the outdoors which had, in turn, led him to discover his
innate ability with plants which, ultimately, led him to his chosen
profession as a gardener. Even
during the coldest of winters, Max enjoyed tramping through the woods or
long walks across the fields. When
he came to the island, it hadn't taken him long to get back into the habit
of long walks, though he had to content himself with the confines of
limitations of the small island. In
the end, it hadn't mattered; the walks gave him what he needed most at
those times, namely freedom from the confines of the complex proper, even
if only for a few hours. A
little cold weather wasn't enough to prevent him the chance of getting
away from everyone for a little while.
had spent the greater part of the afternoon following his favorite path of
the several he had memorized. The
terrain was mildly challenging and he had reached one of the island's
three small beaches about a half hour after 'taking the hard way' to get
there. It turned out to be the
beach most exposed to the weather and he had walked in the hard blustering
wind just thinking and looking out over the water.
four-thirty Max had returned to the complex, feeling refreshed and
invigorated and thoroughly worked out.
A hot shower and a nap followed his return, both of which had him
in a right good to mingle with the masses on Level Two.
was after eight o'clock when Max and couple of acquaintances he'd bumped
into in the restaurant exited the establishment.
One of his friends, Hal Gaiters, tried to get Max to join him and
Dan Carlyle for the rest of the evening.
Max was wavering and about to agree to joining them when he
happened to look around and see a sight that dismissed his friends'
attempts to get him to join them.
guys," Max told them, a gleam coming into his eyes at the sight of a
certain familiar -and at the moment solitary--redhead. "I've just
acquired another engagement. And don't take this wrong, guys, but I'd way
rather spend time with her than you two."
He just grinned when Marty Smith had come back with, "What's
she got that three of you best buds don't have?"
had only grinned as he started in the direction of one Tala Lothoman.
"Well, for starters, she's a lot prettier to look at than any of you
chaps." He hadn't looked
back once, just grinning wider to himself at the few comments that
followed him as he smoothly wended his way amongst the evening crowds.
seemed to be on Max's side as he managed to approach Tala, standing for a
moment and talking with, he supposed, a friend, without her catching sight
of him. He was within a few
feet of her when she turned and, when she saw him, Max turned on the charm
as he came close to her.
"Good evening, Miss Tala," he greeted her
warmly. "What a lovely
surprise to find you here this evening."
smiled as Max walked up to her even though inwardly she groaned.
She didn't want to appear as if she didn't want to be
Max." She turned back
toward her friend to see that Janet had mysteriously vanished from her
side. 'Great, just leave me
alone, Janet. Wait until I see
turned back around to Maxwell Robinson.
"How are you doing this evening?" she asked pleasantly as
she took a few steps away from the shop that she had just come out of.
doing just great. I had the
most relaxing day. This
unexpected day off gave me a chance to do some thinking."
Tala questioned as they started to walk down the breezeway of the second
level between the shopping areas.
wanted to talk with you about..."
Tala?" Another masculine
tone rang in the air and Tala turned to see Andrew Stockard coming up the
way that they had just come. She
stopped as she watched the gardener slightly jog up toward her.
had thought that it was luck when he had seen the auburn hair beauty
walking down the breezeway. He
had been wanting to spend a few quality minutes with the lovely redhead,
but he hadn't had the opportunity throughout the day -- except when he had
seen her earlier. He had
wanted some alone time with her and when she turned as well as her
companion -- Maxwell Robinson -- he wasn't going to let the Englishman
have the young beauty for himself.
your day been since I saw you earlier in the day?" Andy asked
Tala glanced over at Max then back to Andy.
"It's been good, thanks Andy.
Having a girls day out, is fun -- and much needed."
nodded to her comment. "Sometimes
spending a day with friends and not doing much of anything is good,"
he offered, his tone light. "Gives
you a chance to blow off steam from the work week."
He noticed how one of Tala's eyebrows quirked higher at the
comment. He took as a sign
that she understood what he meant, rather than what was actually running
through Tala Lothoman's mind as she stood there, framed between him and
week? Try just the last three
days! Practically EVERY time
I've turned around...there stands one of you! The words
that actually came out of Tala's mouth instead were carefully chosen, but
not as carefully as Tala schooled her tone to keep it generally pleasant.
true," she replied. "This
week has been *especially* trying, I can tell you," she said,
dividing a look between the two young men.
She hoped one or the other...preferably both
of them would catch the hint. Neither
had held his tongue when he'd heard his friend call out to Tala a moment
earlier. ‘Dammit!’ he fumed silently as he'd mirrored Tala as
she turned back to acknowledge Andy Stockard's presence. ‘Andy,
pal,’ he thought, nodding briefly to the other man. ‘Friendship
is all well and good, but this business of you showing up every time I get
near Tala is getting old and fast!’
It was hearing Tala's last, to Max's way of thinking, less than
subtly disguised hint in her comment, that decided for Max Robinson that
it was time to speak up.
me, Andy," Max said, moving to Tala's side in such a way that left no
doubt where his mind was set. "I'm sure we're glad to know you've had
a great day off, but," now Max took the liberty of casually sliding
one arm behind Tala's waist and holding her lightly to his side. "In
case you hadn't notice, Miss Tala and I were having a conversation."
Fixing his friend with a pointed look - that was returned in equal
accessing measure-- Max missed seeing the way Tala's lips pursed tightly
as she rolled her eyes.
hadn't missed her reaction; instead, he misread the clear signs that a
temper was starting to brew and it wasn't his nor his friends.
slightly with his head toward Tala, Andy refused to take the dismissal Max
was handing him. "Doesn't look to me like she agrees with you."
Max turned quickly to Tala and, seeing what Andy
mentioned, he put a different spin on the situation.
Turning back to the other man, he said impatiently, "You're a
great gardener, Andrew, but when it comes to taking subtle cues on when to
back off when a guy's trying to have some time alone with a girl, you're
as dense as they come!" He
tightened his hold on Tala's waist, his gaze still fixed hard on Andy.
"In that case, I'll spell it out for you, pal.
Get lost. The lady and
lost?!" Andy Stockard said a bit more heatedly than he meant to.
He couldn't believe what his friend and co-worker was telling him.
He took a step toward the man to see Max’s arm drop from behind
Tala and flex slightly at his side.
Andy met Max's gaze knowing exactly what he wanted
to do to the man before him, but a recent memory of the beach with Maxwell
Robinson and Quinton Sylvane was enough to stop the young man from even
thinking about throwing a punch, so he'd settle with a verbal assault.
"If Ms. Tala wants to go with you, I don't have a qualm about
it, Max, but it's totally up to her if you are who she
wants to spend the evening with."
Breaking his gaze with Maxwell as he turned slightly to Tala, Andy
saw Max take a step toward him and he stayed put, wanting to show Tala
that he wasn't afraid of the man before him.
"Tala, if you'd like to see a movie, I have an extra ticket to
one of the best films out. I'd
gladly share it with you."
of any duration, are bound to fall into disagreements from time to time,
some more than others. Andy Stockard and Max Robinson hadn't been any
exception to that given, though most of their disagreements and arguments
rarely went beyond "one-upping" each other. Those arguments
eventually ended without rancour. That,
however, wasn't the case at this moment. Right this moment, Max's
generally unpushable buttons were being jammed by the one person he'd
never thought would do so.
you think that's kind of tacky?" Max asked bluntly.
His gaze didn't flinch when Andy Stockard pivoted to face him.
do mean by that?" Andy responded, keeping his voice level.
He had no intention of making a scene in the middle of mall
stepped up to his friend, raking the other man up and down with an
assessing gaze then looked into his eyes again.
"Do you always walk around with "an extra ticket" in
your pocket for just such occasions?"
Stockard's face began to darken, drawing himself up straight, his chin
tilting a bit in reaction to the sting of the question.
"Not that it's any of your business, Max, but no, I
don't. I just happened to get
pick up the tickets earlier this afternoon. Just never got around to
stopping at my place to drop them off."
The tone of the other man's expression was the last straw.
"Whatever you've got to say, Max, say it or just shut up and leave
Ms. Tala alone. She'll make up her own mind."
‘Leave it alone?’ Not
so long as there was a drop of blood in Maxwell Robinson's veins he
refused to be patronized. "Me?!"
Now Max took one more step into Andy Stockard's face and his space,
pushing his face at him. "If
you'll back up my friend rethink, you're the one who horned
in." He didn't know that as the words left his mouth, he was taking
his first steps along a path of his heritage.
"Ms. Tala and I were enjoying a conversation that...who
knows...might have led to us having a nice evening together.
Face it, Andy, she was with the man she wanted to be with
tonight until you came along."
was a side of his friend that he had never seen before, but it wasn't
about to cow Andrew Stockard into slinking away with his tail between his
legs. "Are you sure she
wasn't just being polite?"
temper reading continued to rise. "I
don't know how you were raised, Mister Stockard, but I was brought
up to recognize when a lady prefers not to share company with me.
I was also taught that it's ill manners to barge into a private
conversation, and I can tell you that before you stuck your nose into the
conversation, Tala and I were very likely headed to a pleasant
pompous prig!" Andy shot back, planting his hands on Max's chest and
shoving him hard. "How
could she possibly have a good evening with a bull-headed jackass that
doesn't know when to stop braying because nobody's listening to him in the
either Max or Andy paused for a moment to look around, both would have
been surprised to discover that their unexpected confrontation did, in
fact, have a good number of listeners.
A dozen or more people had drawn closer, unwittingly forming a sort
of circle around the two men. Most
watched with amusement, some just shook their heads but were to interested
to leave without seeing how the "spat" was going to turn out.
However, the pretty redhead trapped by the circle of people ooing
and awing, had come to a conclusion about the infuriating, utterly
exasperating situation of which she knew she was the Constantly being
politely accosted by one or the other or both of them for the last three
days had tried her temper sorely, yet she'd managed...just barely...to
keep a tight hold on it...but no longer.
As the seconds passed and it looking like her two most persistent
suitors were about to come to blows, Tala Lothoman let go of her reined in
temper. Yet it wasn't in the
way most would have thought. What
she didn't realize was that she was mirroring the mother she'd never known
until recently. It was like
putting on a familiar glove and it fit perfectly!
Lothoman felt the fury bubble up from within and she dropped her head
forward for a moment before she pushed between the two men who looked like
they were about to hit each other. She
didn't care that it was a stupid move.
She couldn't take it anymore.
she said hotly as she pushed them apart, keeping them a perfect arms
length from her with her in the very middle of the circle. She looked
between the two; Andy looking satisfied that she had taken his side and
Max looking at her open mouthed.
up, Andy!" she shouted at him.
you aren't eith..."
up, Max!" she returned to him as well.
"Here I am standing in the middle of two braying jackasses.
It's just a bunch of damn noise, letting all of these bystanders
wonder what the hell is going on!"
It was at that point that she saw how both men began to glance
around at who had circled them. "I've
had it! I've had enough of
this obvious competition! I’m
not a prize to be won! For the
past three days, I've done by best to be patient, to be kind, but you two
are just too damn much. So,
you know what?! You two can go
to eat dinner! You two can go
to the movies! I'm not
was in that moment that the elevator chimed and opened and Tala saw the
third suitor come out, frown and start toward the crowd that was already
around them. She was about to
throw up her hands in despair when she remembered how Quinton had acted
the other day with his meal, and how she could easily get out of her
I was," Max started.
Tala, please, I didn't mean," Andy began.
looked at both of them with a glare that stopped them from saying anything
else. "Did you not hear
what I said?" It was in
that moment that Quinton stepped up to the circle and Tala met his eyes.
he'd made eye contact with Tala Lothoman for a moment as she and her
friends departed the cafeteria, Quint Sylvane's thoughts had wandered but
only for a moment. Nodding
politely to her, he had resumed leisurely enjoying his food.
Later, true to what he'd told the cashier, not a single bite on his
loaded tray went wasted. So
true was that, that when Quint eventually got up from the table, he'd just
grinned sheepishly when a large belch escaped him, causing the busboy who
had arrived to clear the table laughed.
about that," he began then recanted his words.
"No, I'm not either sorry.
It's been too long since the last time I was able to do that."
even the sound of a grandmotherly appearing woman saying bluntly,
"Apparently not long enough ago that you remember to pardon
ma'am," was all he'd said before strolling out of the cafeteria
feeling nicely stuffed, his only plan being a quiet evening in his
quarters. That plan had been
waylayed when he'd encountered some other work cohorts and allowed them to
drag him off for a couple of hours at one of the few bars in the complex.
come on, Quint," David Cesar had ragged him.
"You turning into an old fogey?
It's barely eight-thirty." He nudge another guy, adding with a
grin, "Whatsa matter, "gramps"?
You afraid you're gonna miss your bedtime milk and cookies if you
don't get home before ten?"
gave David a shove, amidst a chorus of laughter from the bar's patrons who
had been watching them shoot pool.
never know one way or the other, man," Quint had returned in like
kind as he headed for the door. "Besides,
there's milk and cookies and then there is "milk and cookies."
departed the bar on a wave of laughter, his own included, and headed down
the walkway that intersected with the main concourse.
He really did want to turn in early but David's teasing had lit the
fuse on a certain thought in Quint's mind.
A fuse that his stomach wasn't sure of but his tastebuds were oh so
ready to indulge.
the heck," he murmured under his breath as he reached the
intersection with the main concourse and turned right.
"The ice cream shop is close to the elevators.
Maybe just one scoop of
duty or no, Quint's security training kicked in and he rushed forward,
pushing his way through the people to reach the interior of the circle.
His gaze fell first upon Maxwell Robinson and Quint's temper
started to rise, but he clamped down on it.
He was more than a bit surprised to see Max's opponent was Andy
got one friend in the whole complex and now you're fightin' him?’
the thought darted through Quint's mind.
‘If you...’ whatever else had been about to cross his
mind vanished when he heard his name called, loud and clear.
scanned the crowd around him then looked to the three people who were the
center of attention. His
eyebrows arched high when, this time, he knew whom had summoned him.
"Uhm...yes, ma'am?" he queried carefully.
"Can I help you, Ms. Tala?"
What are you doing?"
Quinton, what are you doing?" she questioned him as she started
toward him, slightly pushing away Max and Andy's arms in the process.
gaze flickered to the two men standing there looking at him irritatedly
but his gaze quickly went to the woman approaching him.
"I was about to go get some ice cream, Ms. Tala."
head slightly tilted at the idea of ice cream.
"What kind were you thinking of getting?" she asked her
voice softer, silkier as she made it to his side.
Fudge Swirl," he said simply as he smiled at her.
"It's my favorite." A
tittering whisper began running through the crowd around them and Tala
purposefully ignored it.
smiled back up at him. "That
sounds so good, Quinton. Tell
me, is my raincheck for dessert still open?"
you want it Ms. Tala, it's yours," he said simply as he glanced back
up to the two men who were now standing there with their mouths slightly
open staring at what they were seeing playing out before them.
didn't even bother looking at Maxwell Robinson and Andrew Stockard.
She locked her eyes on Quinton's and muttered softly,
"Delicious. How about we
have some Carmel Fudge Swirl... just the two of us?
Would you mind or do you have other plans?"
smiled down at Tala, tightening his arm against his side, holding her in
place, her arm twined with his. "Oh,
no ma'am. No other plans.
I'd be delighted to share with you," Quinton said, his voice
dipping lower slightly.
"Lead the way, Quint," Tala said softly as
she put her other hand on his arm and they started away.
Turning carefully, Quinton guided Tala out of the
whispering amused circle of avoided mayhem and, as it turned out right
past the staring and annoyed Andy and Max.
At the last moment as he allowed Tala to precede him, Quinton
couldn't resist the temptation. Turning just enough to make eye contact
with the two men still staring disbelievingly after them he said softly
yet loud enough to reach them, "Yes, ma'am, Ms. Tala.
After all, a gentlemen never argues with a lady."