Today, I’m looking back at Dante and Charlie’s first date in All In, book two in my Firsts and Forever Series. It’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever written. I always loved this couple, and I was so glad I got to revisit them in Armor, the novella I published earlier this year. This scene doesn’t need a lot of explanation, except to say Dante’s obviously not serious about wanting to shoot the dog. Enjoy!
He’d totally thought I was kidding.
I met him in front of my apartment that evening at seven sharp and he started to escort me to his car, but I said, “I’ll drive. We’re going to need my truck for this.”
“For the breaking and entering. Or you know, the part of breaking and entering where we haul away our bounty. Your BMW is too small for the job.”
“So, you were actually serious about that?” Dante stared at me incredulously.
“I never kid about committing felonies,” I told him with mock-seriousness, then swung open the passenger door of my truck for him.
Instead of getting in, he paused right in front of me. He was fighting back a smile, and tried to look grave as he said, “Have you committed a lot of felonies?”
“Nope, this is my first. But I’m highly prepared. I Googled breaking and entering and found out everything I need to know. Plus, now I have you along as a crime consultant.” I flashed a big, toothy grin at him.
“So you know what I do for a living.”
“Yes. Granted, bringing you along for this is kind of like bringing a tank into a knife fight. But still, I’ll bet your expertise will come in handy. For one thing, you might know how to work these.” I pulled a little black and white case out of the pocket of my jeans and held it up.
“What is that?”
“It’s a lock picking kit.”
“Is that…my God, it is. It’s got Hello Kitty on it.” He burst out laughing.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I know it’s not the big, manly lock picking set you’re probably used to in your line of work. But this one was half as much as any of the others.”
“Where does one even find a Hello Kitty lock picking kit?” Dante asked with a raised eyebrow and a huge smile.
“eBay, of course. You can find anything on eBay.”
“Get in,” I said, “We’re burning moonlight.”
He plucked the little case from my hand and got in the truck. I slammed his door (three times, because it had a tendency to swing open unexpectedly if you didn’t close it just right), and then went around and got behind the wheel. As I fired up the engine and pulled away from the curb, Dante unzipped the kit and pulled out a couple slender tools.
“These seem pretty flimsy,” he pointed out, bending one of the tools slightly with his thumb. “They probably wouldn’t pick anything sturdier than a typical residential lock.”
“Well, then it’s a damn good thing we’re not headed to the Wells Fargo Bank right now.”
“No? That’s too bad. I haven’t pulled a good bank job in weeks.” I glanced over at him and he grinned and said, “Kidding.” He turned around in his seat a bit and studied my profile as he asked, “Are you actually okay with my job? You seem to be taking it in stride, far better than I would have anticipated.”
The mafia thing was utterly bizarre to me, something so far removed from the world I lived in that I couldn’t even sort of come to grips with it. So I’d compartmentalized it and tucked it away for later analysis. Instead of trying to explain that, I answered with another question. “Are you really okay with me taking you to commit a felony on our first date? Because most people would find that odd.”
“Oh, I find it incredibly odd,” he said, “and also completely entertaining. I don’t date a lot, but I’m pretty sure this first date is already totally off the charts in terms of overall bizarreness.”
“Don’t worry, there will be time for a normal date after the breaking and entering. We can grab some dinner if you want, and then go back to my apartment for loads of wild monkey sex.” I had to say that humorously, because if I’d said it any other way, I might have induced a panic attack in myself.
“Works for me,” he said cheerfully, and rested his big hand on my right thigh.
A couple minutes later, I parked the car on a quiet residential street in the Richmond and took a deep breath. I’d been trying to keep this little excursion light and upbeat, but my nerves surfaced now and I gripped the steering wheel tightly. I stalled for a long moment, leaning forward to look at a white house up the street. If I hadn’t brought a date, I really might have bailed on this whole thing and gone back home. But having Dante along made me feel a little more confident about this whole endeavor, for some reason.
I took another deep breath, then swung the door open. “Please grab that white bag by your feet and bring it along,” I said as I got out of the truck.
He did as I asked, peeking into the fast food sack he carried as we walked down the sidewalk. “What’s this for?”
“It’s to distract Peaches.”
“You’ll see.” I jogged across the street with Dante right behind me, then hesitated at the foot of the staircase leading up to the simple, white, row house. I sighed and said as I looked up at the front door, “This is going to be pretty anticlimactic if they’re home.”
“Want me to go up and knock on the door?” Dante asked.
“That’s a good idea. I’ll wait over here,” I said, and ducked around the side of the staircase.
He jogged up the stairs and knocked on the front door, which instantly triggered a barking frenzy inside the house. After a few moments he tried the bell, and the barking grew even louder. But no one came to the door.
“Looks like we’re good to go.” I climbed the stairs, took my lock picking kit from Dante, and crouched down as I said, “You be the lookout. I watched a YouTube video on how to do this. It should only take a minute.” I unzipped the case and removed two of the tools.
“Are you ever going to tell me whose house this is?” Dante asked, turning his back to the door and watching the street.
“Walter and Ida Connolly’s,” I said.
“And who are Walter and Ida Connolly?”
“We’re robbing your parents?”
“Noooo. That’d be nuts. We’re just going to get some of my stuff. We’re leaving their stuff alone.”
“I don’t understand. Why is your stuff locked up in your parents’ house, and why do we need to break in to get it?”
I jiggled the tools in the shiny new lock as I said, “Up until last week, I lived here. Then I came out to my parents, and was disowned on the spot. That of course also included getting kicked out. I’d only had the foresight to pack up some clothes beforehand and stash them in my truck. I just thought I’d have to clear out for a couple days until they calmed down a bit. I totally underestimated the full extent of their rabid, Bible-thumping bigotry.”
“I’m sorry, Charlie.”
I sighed and said, “It is what it is. I should have anticipated this and planned ahead. But instead, stupidly, I gave them more credit than they deserved. Damn, this lock picking kit isn’t working.”
“Do you want me to try?”
“Sure.” We traded places, and I took over the job of lookout.
While Dante went to work on the lock, I said, “I tried to come back home toward the end of last week, which was when I realized they’d changed the locks. My father swore at me through the door and told me I wasn’t welcome here anymore. He told me never to come back. That’s fine with me, except for the fact that everything I own is locked up in that house, and I’d like at least some of it back.” I fought to keep my voice steady through that, mustering all my bravado.
“What if they got rid of your stuff?” Dante was still working diligently on the lock.
“I guess that’s a possibility. I would have come sooner, but they’re always home. This is the one night of the week I knew they’d be gone, because this is when they play bridge with the Sullivans.” I turned to see how Dante was doing, and told him, “They’ll be home in less than two hours, so could you step it up a bit?”
Dante stood up and said, “Yeah, I totally can’t pick that lock.”
“How is that even possible?” I asked him.
He smirked at me and put the lock picking kit in my hand. “I’ve never picked a lock in my life.”
“Why would I have done this?”
“Um, because you’re in the mafia?”
“I’m in the real mafia, not the Kindergarten mafia. If you want me to shoot the lock out, that I can do.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you armed right now?”
“Do you want me to shoot the lock?”
“Hell no! Attracting the attention of the whole neighborhood with gunfire would be highly counterproductive. So does that mean you are armed right now?”
“Do you really want to know?” He was grinning at me, his dark eyes sparkling.
I thought about it for a moment, then said, “No. Come on, let’s try the back door.”
As we walked around the block to get to the alley behind my parents’ house, Dante took my hand. I visibly flinched a little when he did that, so he asked, “Are you okay with holding hands?”
“Yeah. I mean, I’m not really used to public displays of affection. I only came out last week, remember? Before that, I was way, way in the closet. Like, back there with the winter coats and old prom dresses. But, you know, I need to get used to being out.”
“If it makes you uncomfortable, you can always let go of me,” he said, giving my hand a gentle squeeze.
I tightened my grip on him and said, “No thank you.”
When we got to the alley, I jiggled the back gate and found it locked as usual. I paused for a moment and regarded the seven foot high wooden fence with my hands on my hips. Then I dragged over a lidded trash can, climbed on top of it, and looked down at Dante. “I can’t believe you wore a three thousand dollar suit tonight. Didn’t I tell you we’d be breaking and entering?”
He grinned up at me. “You did. I didn’t believe you.”
I hopped onto the top of the fence and sat on it for a moment. “You can wait there if you want. It’d be a shame to mess up a suit that cost more than my truck.”
“No way am I sitting this out,” Dante said, removing his suit jacket and slinging it onto the top of the fence beside me. He rolled back his sleeves as he said, “Speaking of that piece of shit you drive, would you be offended if I bought you a new car?”
He got up on the trash can and I jumped into the yard. He then climbed onto the top of the fence somewhat awkwardly and balanced precariously for a moment. Finally he caught his balance and leapt into the yard, landing right in front of me. “This is fun,” he said. “I don’t remember the last time I hopped a fence.”
I grinned at that. “Probably because you’re not in the Kindergarten mafia.”
“Probably.” He smiled at me, and drew me into his arms.
“What are you doing?”
“Thinking about kissing you.”
“Why?” He echoed incredulously.
“I mean, why now? Did hopping a fence make you randy?”
He laughed at that. “No. Well…kind of. Do you really call it being randy?”
“The word ‘horny’ is kinda gross if you think about it. I immediately picture a big frog with horns on its head. You know, like a horny toad? Either that, or I think of Austin Powers, saying, do I make you hoooorny?” I’d said that last part with a British accent, of course. Then I added, “Ew.”
“God, you’re bizarre,” Dante said with a big smile, still holding me in his arms. It was pretty dark in the backyard, but his amused expression was unmistakable.
“But don’t you agree that horny is kind of a gross word?”
“No. Are you rambling like this because the thought of kissing me makes you nervous?”
“Thought so,” he said, before brushing his lips to mine.
I wrapped my arms around him and held on tight as the kiss deepened and my lips parted under his. My entire body responded as the kiss became passionate, insistent, his tongue claiming my mouth, his big hands crushing me against him. Everything else fell away, besides Dante, and me, and that epic kiss.
Then the dog started barking inside the house, bringing me back to the here and now. It brought Dante back to earth, too. He picked up my hand and we went around to the kitchen door on the right side of the building.
I crouched down and went to work on the lock. There was a little light coming from the neighbor’s house, just enough to see by. Dante pulled his phone out of his pocket, and as he flipped through a few screens he said, “Randy is far worse than horny. Unless you’re British, I suppose. But since I’m not British, the word Randy immediately conjures images of a guy with a big belt buckle who drives a truck.”
“Truck drivers with big belt buckles make you randy?”
“No! Truck drivers with big belt buckles would be called Randy. The proper noun, not the adjective you’re trying to make it into.”
“It’s an adjective? Not a verb?”
“Why would randy be a verb?” Dante asked as he crouched down beside me.
“I dunno. Seems like an action word.”
He chuckled at that and held up his phone, then tapped the screen. A YouTube video on lock picking started to play. I studied the video, then concentrated on the lock. Fifteen minutes later, I sat back on my heels and sighed. “I suck at this.”
“Here, let me try,” Dante said, and we traded places. I played the video for him again and he watched closely, then went to work on the lock.
“Maybe I should have spent more money and not gone with the Hello Kitty lock pick set,” I said after a while.
“So maybe we should come back same time next week with some better tools.”
“Oh, there’s nothing wrong with these tools,” Dante said, his brow knit in concentration as he worked the lock. “You just shouldn’t have gotten the Hello Kitty set because you’re a grown man, and not a five-year-old girl.”
I laughed at that. “What kind of a psychotic company would make a lock pick set for a five-year-old girl?”
“What, do you think you’re the target market for that product?”
“Apparently, since I actually bought it.”
“Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that kit isn’t a licensed Sanrio product,” he informed me. “The cat doesn’t look quite right. Its head is kind of square. It’s probably some sort of cheap, trademark violating knockoff. Not so much Hello Kitty as Hell No Kitty.”
I laughed at that. “Well, I’ll be sure to turn ‘em in to the Hello Kitty police. Why do you know that the company that makes Hello Kitty is Sanrio?”
“Everyone knows that. Come here and help me.”
I crouched down beside him. “What do you want me to do?”
“Kiss me,” he said, and leaned over and planted a big smooch on my lips. He smiled at me and added, “Now hold this bottom tool in place while I work the top one.”
After a couple minutes with both of us working on it, we heard a clicking sound and looked at each other with wide eyes. Dante reached up and turned the door handle. “It’s unlocked,” he said with a huge smile.
“We did it!”
“Well, either that or it was unlocked the whole time. I don’t think we actually checked it before we started working on it.”
“No, think positive,” I said, straightening up. “We’re awesome. We totally picked the hell out of that lock.”
Dante straightened up too, and we gave each other a high-five. He reached for the door handle, and I said, “Get the hamburgers ready.”
“The hamburgers. Wait, what did you do with the fast food bag?”
“Shit. I must have left it on the front porch.”
“Oh man! How are you even a criminal? I’m a better criminal than you are!”
Dante chuckled at that. “Want me to go back over the fence and around to the front of the house and grab the bag?”
“No. It’ll take way too long, and this has already taken forever. We’re going in, just stay behind me. I’m going to go straight through to the front door and grab the burgers, and then when we’ve used them to distract Peaches we can run upstairs to my room and get my stuff. We’re not going to try to take everything, just a few clothes and a couple things that have sentimental value,” I told him. Then I flung the kitchen door open.
We were greeted by a small, brownish-black spiky mess of fur with big sharp teeth and a tremendous underbite. It growled and lunged and snapped viciously. “My God, what is that?” Dante asked, slipping into the kitchen and closing the door behind us. He really did stay behind me, using me as a human shield. Chicken.
“But…what is it?”
“It’s a dog.”
“That’s not a dog,” Dante said as he leapt back a few inches, out of snapping underbite range.
“Sure it is. What else would it be?” I asked as I carefully eased around the crazed canine.
“A rabid, reanimated Muppet, maybe? What the hell kind of dog is it?”
“He’s an Affenpinscher. Mostly.”
“That’s not a real breed,” Dante said, hugging the wall behind me as I guided us through the kitchen and down the hall.
“Of course it is.” The dog continued to snarl and jump at us. He made up for the fact that he was only a foot tall by his hell-bent determination to kill us.
“Wait! You lived here, up until a week ago. Why is it attacking you?”
“Peaches has always hated me.” We’d finally reached the front door, and I swung it open carefully, holding the dog back with my foot. “Actually, he hates everyone, except for my mom and dad.”
The dog growled and latched onto the cuff of my jeans, shaking his head violently, as if he was trying to kill my foot like a rat. “Oh shit,” Dante exclaimed. “It’s got you. Want me to shoot it?”
“Hell no, I don’t want you to shoot my parents’ dog! Though if you’d remembered the hamburgers, that would have been helpful.”
“You didn’t remember them either.”
“You were carrying the bag. It was your responsibility,” I said as I hopped up and down on one foot, the eleven-pound dog trying his damnedest to pull me off balance, and reached outside the door and grabbed the white paper bag.
I thrust the sack at Dante. “Throw him a hamburger. That’ll distract him.” The dog was still shaking my pant leg violently, and Dante grabbed a burger, pulled off the paper, and started to throw it to Peaches. “Not the bun,” I told him, holding onto the doorframe with both hands to keep from tipping over.
“Why not?” he asked as he shook the patty onto the floor. Immediately, the dog let go of my leg and started scarfing down the meat.
I stood upright and pushed my hair off my forehead as I said, “Because Peaches has a gluten intolerance. If he eats bread, he’ll have diarrhea for a week.”
Dante stared at me for a long moment with one eyebrow raised, as if I was totally insane. Then, while still maintaining eye contact with me, he tossed the bun to the dog. Peaches caught it and wolfed it down.
Thanks for reading!