Phil let Tess in the front door of his small 1940’s sandbox-type house. It was a square with the front room, a kitchen behind it, a bathroom in the middle, and two side-by-side bedrooms in the back. He lived there with his Labrador he named Vanilla Ice that was now 12-years-old and slept in a dog bed shoved by the backdoor. The front room had a white-mantled fireplace that he used all winter long, with wood chips and splintered debris on a brown indoor-outdoor carpet that also had wood stacked on top of it. A well-worn brown leather loveseat sat across from a full-sized sofa pushed under the window. The place had a well-lived-in appearance, and magazines Outdoor, Travel and Leisure and Sports Illustrated sat on the coffee table.
“You want a glass of wine?” he asked Tess who he observed was wearing a more low-key outfit – classic Levy blue jeans and a brighter lavender stretch T-shirt that clung to her (in Phil’s estimation) perfect breasts.
Phil chuckled, “Like I have a wine list.”
“Oh, um, do you have it, chardonnay?” Tess stumbled with her words and felt presumptuous.
Phil nodded and headed through the doorway to the kitchen where Tess observed him open a cupboard, take out two large wine glasses, and go to the fridge. She glanced at the coffee table and magazines and rolled her eyes at the Sports Illustrated that was the classic swimsuit issue. She thought, “Typical,” but kept her thoughts to herself. Phil arrived back and handed her the glass of wine, which she briefly stuck her nose in to smell and then took a sip. She noted the fruity but also spicy scent. Then Phil went to the fireplace and got on one knee to light it.
Tess grinned at him, took another sip of wine, and spoke, “You trying to seduce me?”
This question elicited a hearty laugh, “If I was trying to do that, believe me, you would know.” He glanced at the embarrassed look on her face and continued, “No, I like a good fire, and my heater is one of those ancient floor furnaces. This place doesn’t heat up much.”
Tess glanced out the window at the fog setting in. Fog always made her cold to the bone, and she hated it. She felt depressed with each gloomy day. They called that “Seasonal Affect Disorder,” which she thought was a politically correct way of saying, “I’m depressed in winter, especially on foggy days.”
She sat down on the loveseat and waited for Phil, who now had the fire roaring with a bright orange glow. He stoked the wood for a second and pushed the newspaper tighter under the logs. His attention then shifted toward her. He thought she looked rosy-cheeked and fresh with her strawberry blonde curls hanging loosely around her fair-skinned face. She was appealing, and he felt a twinge of lust, which had hit him often with her. He wasn’t quite prepared to seduce her, as she suggested, but the mere fact she mentioned it indicated it was on her mind, too.
“I have a story,” he said to her and sat down on the black-speckled ratty carpet in front of the fire. He held his knee upright and his other leg bent for comfort. “You want to hear it?”
Tess slid forward, “Yes.”
“It’s about a successful CEO of a marketing company who somehow falls for this guy named Evan Garner, tries to divorce her husband, and ends up disappearing. You want to hear what I know?”
“Evan was the love of her life.”
Phil perked up and stared at her. “Your psychic guides tell you that?”
Mia felt miserable about her building desire. On that same hand she could feel her wedding ring slide inward, which she adjusted with her fingers. As Evan led the way toward a big conference room, Mia began to sweat in discomfort. Her desire and embarrassment over the need for this man was getting to her. They walked into the conference room, and three other partners all of them blonde clones of each other stood up. They were triplets. Mia marveled at the three gorgeous men wearing the same-colored navy blue suits with a red, yellow and blue tie respectively around each neck. Mia couldn’t help but gawk, but the men were used to it.
“Mia, these are my older brothers, Tim, Ted and Tom … in that order,” he laughed.
Mia’s eyes locked with his – and just then the receptionist walked in and looked at the two of them.
She smiled, “Mr. Dickson is on line one.”
“Thank you, Fern,” Evan responded and got up. He kept his eyes locked on Mia and said; “Don’t go anywhere I intend to take you to dinner to celebrate.”
“There’s nothing to celebrate yet,” retorted Mia.
Evan grinned, “There will be.”
Mia sat back in her chair amazed at his confidence. The trio of brothers just stared at her. She wasn’t sure what to make of them.
Tess was riveted by the story and said, “They were triplets?”
Phil took a swig of wine from his glass and replied, “Yes, they were partners in the company their father, a Scandinavian furniture designer started back in the 1980’s when the boys were 10 and 12 respectively.”
“How did you find out about them?”
“Erica, Mia’s best friend told me about Evan, and I made some calls. Want to know what else I found out?”
“Evan and his brother Tim are both missing. My partner and I are going to fly out to talk to the two remaining brothers tomorrow.”
“Can I come?” Tess asked.
Phil frowned and shook his head, “No, it’s official police business.”
“Unofficially then? Besides the brothers sound hot. I need to get laid,” she groaned and laughed.
Phil eyed her for a moment, “When was the last time?” he boldly asked.
“Too long,” she replied.
Tess looked at Phil curiously, put the wine glass to her mouth, licked the fruity-almost-bitter taste from the rim, and grinned, “How long for you?”
“Since my ex ripped my heart out.”
“Ah, poor baby,” she playfully winked at him.
She sized him up and wondered if he might move on her. Phil was in a stalemate and unflinchingly held the upper ground with no hint of desire toward her. He had a controlled nature and held his emotions in-check. She contemplated a seduction, but last time she did that move the guy had screwed her, got up, and left afterward.
Breaking the uncomfortable silence, Phil said, “You play chess?”
“Checkers,” she said.
“Checkers? That’s for wimps!”
He got up, grabbed the chessboard from the fireplace mantle that held it, and placed it on the coffee table in a bare place.
“Do I need to teach you?” he asked.
“How about Skip-Bo?”
“Skip … what? Come on I’ll teach you.”
“But you’ll win,” she protested.
“Do you need to win?”
“Always,” she winked and decided to go along with the game.
Phil set up the board. When he was done, he smiled at her and began to explain the “rules of engagement” as he called it. On the other hand, Tess found her eyes roaming to what appeared to be a sizable package he had hidden in his jeans. His slight bulge indicated he was somewhat aroused, which made her think maybe he would someday make a move on her, but apparently not tonight … not yet.