Calvin was almost certain Ana was going to take him up on the dessert offer, and he bit his lip to hide a smile. He was far too pleased with the prospect of getting another few moments with her.
But just before they could discuss the menu, her phone rang, and she gave Cal a shrug before answering it. Cal busies himself with studying the dessert menu himself, but he’s almost certain he hears a male voice coming through her phone. Of course. It would have been foolish for Cal to assume he was the only prospect she had — if she even saw him that way to begin with. The way she looked, plus the sharp wit and intelligence, she probably had suitors lining up. He was going to have to step up his game if he wanted to make any impression. He hoped the phone number he’d slipped her would present him with that opportunity; otherwise, he’d have to find some other way of tracking her down.
Ana looked concerned, and Cal got the creeping feeling that their little lunch date was about to come to an untimely end. Before he knew it, she was standing, looking apologetic. She explained her reasoning and Cal beamed at her, standing as well. “I totally understand, do what you need to do. I’ll cash in that rain check sooner or later.”
He’d started to reach out his hand for a polite good-bye handshake, but was met instead with a kiss to the cheek. The stupid grin on his face couldn’t be hidden if he’d tried. “Until next time,” he said softly, watching her as she left. She stopped to pay for her food and Cal nearly called out in protest — it’s not really treating her to lunch if she’s paying for her portion, is it? — but decided against it. And then she was gone, Mishka trotting by her side, the rain pelting them both. Cal wished he’d thought to have an umbrella on hand he could have given her — but couldn’t help but notice, through the window, that it wouldn’t be a problem, considering she was getting awfully cozy in a hug with some redhead guy.
Cal’s jaw hurt, and he realized he’d been clenching his teeth. Stella whined at his feet, perhaps despondent that her new friend had left so soon. He paid for his meal, boxing the rest of the salmon to give to the dog later. “Well, girl, it looks like it’s just you and me again,” he said, scratching her ears affectionately. “Hope you don’t mind a little rain.”
The two stepped out and made their way back to his car, still parked at the Humane Society. Stella seemed perfectly content to take her time, splashing in puddles as they went. When they’d gotten out of the rain and into the BMW, she shook herself off, sending bits of water flying everywhere. Cal chuckled, using his hands to shake the water out of his own hair. This leather interior was going to be a problem if Stella was going to be coming with him everywhere. He decided he’d have to switch up his daily driver to something with a more forgiving material.
He pulled out of the parking lot, driving carefully as they made their way through town, unwilling to take any chances with the apparent loss of common sense among other LA drivers the second there was any precipitation. Cal had decided he would return home that night — one of many, but he considered his house just outside the city to be his primary base. The high-rises were disappearing in the rear-view mirror when he finally stopped at a pet store. The two of them walked the aisles, and Cal added every toy that Stella sniffed to their basket, as well as some large bags of food, bowls, treats, special shampoo for pit bulls’ sensitive skin, and a pretty new collar. He had a tag engraved with her name, as well as his phone number on the back, and then they were on their way once more.
When they reached the house, Stella set off to smell all her new surroundings, tail waving happily. “Welcome home,” Cal said, sighing as the words fell into the empty room. He set about arranging all their new things, filling her food and water bowls, arranging her toys into a basket in the living room, and finally slumping onto the couch.
Before long, Stella returned, hopping up onto the couch to curl up beside him, her head in his lap. “Yeah, I know. Just you and me. It’s a pretty big house for just the two of us,” he said, trailing a finger up the soft fur above her nose. “What’d you think of Ana?” he asked, tilting his head as if honestly waiting for Stella to answer. “You and Mishka seemed to get along well enough. It would be terrible if you never got to see your first friend again. We’ll have to make sure that’s not the case. You know, for your sake.”
Stella licked Cal’s hand, and just as he was about to continue, his phone began to buzz in his pocket. He fished it out, and the screen, again, showed an unknown number. Cal’s brow furrowed. The previous time the number had called, no voicemail was left. It was probably just some sales call. He swiped to answer.”
“Look, whatever you’re selling, I don’t want any of it.”
“Boss, hang up!” Cal heard, though distantly.
He stood immediately, alarmed. “Marcus? What’s going on?”
There were rustling noises on the other end, as if the phone were exchanging hands. Then, a new voice: “Hello, Calvin. Long time. Your friend here is a tough cookie to crack. It’s a good thing he had your number in his phone — I may have had to resort to more creative ways to get him talking.”
The voice was vaguely familiar, but Cal couldn’t place it. “Who is this?” His voice was hard, and he looked around the room, as if expecting to see the guy outside one of the windows. “If you lay a finger on Marcus, I swear to God, you’ll never see the light of day ag—”
“None of that,” the voice chided in an amused tone. “Unlike you, I’m not one to want blood on my hands. It’s all just so messy. I don’t like messes. Which brings me to why I’m calling you. Let’s call it cleaning up a mess, tying up a loose end.” The voice paused, as if expecting some sort of response. Cal waited. “You really have no idea who I am, do you? How typical. Always so self absorbed, Calvin Crawford. We’re at 2089 Sunset. You show up, your friend leaves unharmed. Scout’s Honor. You have one hour.”
The call disconnected. “*FUCK!”* Cal screamed, nearly chucking his phone across the room. Immediately, he made his way up the stairs and into the bedroom closet, where he entered a safe code to reveal an array of firearms and other weapons. He holstered a .40 S&W, checking the magazine to make sure it was loaded, and stowed another in his pocket just in case. A knife went into his other pocket.
He rushed back down the stairs, taking them two at a time. Stella was sitting up on the couch, whining, her ears low. “You have to stay here, sweetheart,” he said, cupping her face reassuringly. “I’ll be back. I promise. Hold down the fort.”
In his car once more, he ripped it out of the driveway, nearly taking out the mailbox in the process. As he sped toward the highway, his mind reeled, trying to place the voice that had been on the other end of the line. Whoever it was, they clearly knew how to get under Cal’s skin — they’d gone right for his best friend. That wasn’t going to fly with Cal. If Marcus had so much as a bruise, this guy was as good as dead.
The pistol felt heavy on his hip. Of all the things that went on in his odd and complicated life, this was certainly his least favorite.