The waiter placed Nick’s entree in front of him; the aroma filling his senses. He smiled as the waiter walked away. Everyone knew he was Aunt Maggie’s nephew and that he could order whatever he liked off the menu, but he really tried not to take advantage if he could help it. Ordering food that he didn’t have to pay for always felt like freeloading. However, today Nick wanted to celebrate. He and Max had made a breakthrough at the university and he just felt like splurging. Max had invited him to celebrate with he and Stephanie, but Nick declined. He appreciated how Stephanie and Max were supporting him now that Chelsea was officially dating Daniel, but he sometimes felt like a third wheel. Tonight he decided to go alone.
As he dived into dinner, he heard a commotion and looked over to see Philip Kiriakis arguing with a blond woman at the bar. Once he saw her profile, he recognized her as the infamous Nicole Walker. Nick turned around, not really interested in watching someone else’s business play out in front if him.
A few minutes later, Nick heard someone call his name. He turned and saw Philip was standing behind him. Actually it was more like looming over him. Nick was always astounded at the presence Victor’s son could have in person.
“Hi, Philip,” Nick said, realizing he did a lousy job of disguising his own surprise.
“Nick,” the older man responded, “sorry to bother you but I wondered if I could sit down? I’ve got a proposition.”
Nick nodded and Philip pulled up a chair. “I know it’s odd, me stopping by like this, but I wanted to ask how the grant is coming along?”
“Oh, yes,” Nick replied, thrilled someone was asking about it. “Now that I have Max working with me, and Dean Robbins overseeing our results, we’ve made excellent progress. Today we even had a breakthrough!”
Philip smiled. That was what he wanted to hear. “Good, last night Trent and I had dinner together. He’s an old friend of my father’s. He couldn’t stop singing your praises and how this engine could really take the world by storm!”
Blushing, Nick shrugged, “Well, that’s good to hear but I’m afraid we still have a long way to go. It’s just the three of us, Max, Dean Robbin’s assistant and me, who do the daily work. With my classes, and some of the red tape to get approval for certain tests, it can be a very tedious process.”
“But you are certain you’ll succeed?”
Nick was struck by the question. He wanted to succeed but as a scientist he never liked to presume the outcome of any project, no matter how desired certain results could be. “Philip, why are you so interested?”
Philip laughed. He didn’t know Nick that well but he liked him a great deal if for any reason then his logical questioning. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“That’s because I’m not certain of anything right now. We’ve got to get past probably a hundred variables before success can even be something I would consider saying out loud. Right now we are on variable number seven.”
“That’s what I like about you, Nick, you are very honest. Probably the most honest man in Salem.”
“And now you can answer my question. Why are you so interested?”
Nick watched as Philip sat up straighter, recognizing the Kiriakis business demeanor. “I’m interested because I can foresee a future with this engine and I want to take my family’s business out of just the shipping industry and regular business and into production. With all the publicity of how everything is turning green right now, I think it’s time we get in on something that has a real future.”
“Philip, are you suggesting you want to… contribute to our work?” The smile that came across his face told Nick the answer. Sighing, Nick leaned back in his chair, choosing his words carefully. Philip Kiriakis was the last man he wanted to insult. “I appreciate the interest and am very flattered. But right now I prefer to keep this particular project as an… independent study.”
Philip frowned, “You’re saying you don’t trust me or my company?”
“No, no, Philip, not at all. But this project is very near and dear to my heart. I actually thought of this several years ago while working part time in high school. I have carried around notes with me for years. When I began working at Salem U., it finally dawned on me I could apply for funding and get started on something that could make a real difference to the world. But I was careful. I didn’t rush into it. I didn’t propose it until the first of the year when I was sure I was ready professionally.” Nick felt a lump in his throat as he thought of where his life was when he did decide to pursue it. He never thought his social life would have changed and he’d be single again.
“What does that have to do…”
Nick interrupted, “Philip, please understand, if you guys contribute funding then the project stops being an independent study and turns into the Kiriakis study. When you have a large scale contributor, the priority can shift all too easily. I am not saying that this would happen, but it’s possible and it’s a risk I’m not willing to take.”
Nick sat staring at Philip whose face was unreadable. Beginning to feel uncomfortable, Nick added, “I hope you can understand. And I do appreciate the offer. You have no idea how flattering it is that you would have any interest.”
Philip stood up, “Well, I tried. I do think this is an opportunity for both my company and yourself in the future. If we work together, there are endless possibilities for money, notoriety and of course, saving the earth.”
Nick reached out to shake his hand, “I’m not in it for money or fame, Philip, I just want to help the environment. Now if we do make it a complete success, I promise you I would give your company a first crack at using the technology.”
This statement seemed to relax Philip, Nick deduced that’s probably all he wanted was to make sure he got in at the early stages before anyone else. Of course Nick also guessed that Philip wanted to make it exclusive to his organization which was something Nick couldn’t commit to. The whole point was for the whole world to improve in their fuel efficiency. Both men said their goodbyes and Philip walked away as Nick turned back to his meal.
Nicole sat at the bar watching Philip sit and talk to someone she didn’t know. Earlier she had been sitting at the bar minding her own business when he walked in, accusing her of doing something to Chloe. Really, Nicole hadn’t thought much about Chloe since she decided Philip wasn’t worth trying to chase down, not with yummy EJ looking to make Sami jealous. Of course, it did make Sami jealous and now Nicole was alone yet again. Being alone did have its down sides but it had good ones too, like sitting in a bar and drinking as much as she wanted without getting interrupted. Sadly, Philip ruined that.
Luckily, someone caught his eye and he wandered away. Nicole was shocked to see it was a young guy with bad hair sitting alone at a table that distracted him. Too nosy to ignore, she managed to seat herself closer to them so she could try to eavesdrop. She caught words like grant, project, and success but most of it wasn’t discernible.
The bartender refilled Nicole’s glass and she asked him who the guy was that Philip was talking to. He told her he was Nick Fallon, Maggie and Mickey’s nephew, a science professor at Salem University. He went on to say Nick had been busy working on a new grant which would help the environment.
Realizing there were still Hortons in town, in fact young ones, Nicole turned back around and took a good look for herself. He was young, couldn’t be more than twenty-five, which honestly was a good thing. Young meant they weren’t yet distrustful of women suddenly showing interest in them, and even if they did guess a hot woman had an ulterior motive, they were fine with it as long as they got their needs met too. Nicole kept staring; the guy had a whole Dudley Do-Right thing going on which had to be part of his professor image. As she studied him, Nicole zeroed in on his features. After years of using men like Kleenex, Nicole could take one look at any man and dissect him physically in about five seconds. All men are built differently, and though Nicole could appreciate a hunk as much as the next heterosexual gal, she found guys with too much physical beauty were used to be treated specially and sometimes could get downright lazy. Not all men of course, as Nicole remembered her most recent romp with EJ, but it did seem to be the way most of the time. The fact this guy was simply average appealed to her.
As she stared at Nick, she saw he was rather on the thin side and he needed a new style for his hair, this one wasn’t really all that flattering. His dress did nothing for him either, though again, it probably fit his professor image. However, Nicole could see from where she was sitting he had great lips. Actually fabulous lips; a guy with lips like that could kiss easily and if he wanted to kiss you, well watch out.
As she watched them wrap things up, she heard Philip mention about money and notoriety and Nicole could feel her heart skip a beat. She racked her mind to think what else the bartender said, that Nick was working on some kind of environmental project which had recently been funded by the university. Smiling, she had her in. If he was as naive as he looked, this should be a piece of cake.
Taking her drink, she walked over to where he was sitting. Philip had left the chair he used at the table, so she reached out and seated herself. Nick’s look of surprise was exactly what she counted on. Setting her drink down, she introduced herself, “Hello, I’m Nicole Walker.”
Nick wasn’t just surprised, he was shocked. Never in a million years did he ever expect this woman to plop down at his table and introduce herself. It took him a beat to recover, but finally he extended his hand and said warily, “I know who you are.”
“Oh,” Nicole grinned. “My fame precedes me.”
Nick kept his face in check, “Something like that.”
For a few seconds there was silence and Nicole had noticed Nick’s stare was fairly intense. This wasn’t unusual for a first time meeting but at the bar she hadn’t realized he had such vivid eyes. She smiled, adding another item to the list of his physical assets.
“I know it’s none of my business, but I couldn’t help but overhear part of your conversation with Philip…”
“You mean from way over there at the bar where drinks are being poured, glasses clinked and people talking you could easily pick up our conversation?” Nick said. He somehow doubted that.
Nicole took a breath. Damn alcohol, she clearly had misjudged Nick. Changing tactics, she shrugged, “Okay, I listened in.”
“I just thought, maybe you and I could….”
Nick didn’t know what she was getting at, “Could what?”
“Go out to dinner. Share a meal.”
Never had Nick had so many astonishing moments while having his lunch. Philip tries to make him an offer to invest, Nicole coming up and introducing herself and now she was asking him out. He glanced around the restaurant quickly to see if anyone was staring. Clearly this had to be a joke. From what he knew about Nicole, he’d be the last person she would be interested in. “I’m sorry, you want to share a meal with me?”
Nicole smiled at his innocent look which she was convinced was a put on. She wondered how many women fell for this act. “Yes, I’m asking you on a date.”
“You don’t even know me.”
Nicole took a sip of her drink, “Well, that’s the point of a date isn’t it? To get to know you.”
Nick still couldn’t believe what was going on, what was she up to? “You are telling me you saw me sitting here alone, and decided you wanted to hit on me?”
“Hasn’t that ever happened to you before?” Nicole laughed.
‘Actually no’, Nick thought. And he couldn’t believe it was happening now. Looking around, Nick cleared his throat, “Nicole, I don’t know what you are up to, but I think its best we just don’t…”
“Why not?” Nicole was now shocked. He was turning her down? “Are you seeing someone?”
Nick felt a pain in his heart at the question. “No. No, I’m not. Not anymore.”
“Ah, she dumped you?” Nicole asked, instantly catching on to the fire that lit his eyes and knew she had guessed right.
“Chelsea didn’t exactly…I mean…”
“Chelsea… Brady? My former step granddaughter?” That also surprised Nicole. Nick didn’t look like her type. She was dating that hunky doctor now, which she gave about three months tops before he cut her loose.
Nick had had enough of this conversation. He wasn’t interested in dating anyway, much less someone like her. “Nicole, sorry, I’m not interested. Thank you for asking though.”
Nicole didn’t give up so easily, “Why not? What could it hurt?”
Nick glared at her, “Look, from what I know about you, I’m sure…”
“Oh, this is based on what you have heard about me,” Nicole said, angling for some pity. “I’m sorry, I thought you looked like a guy who liked to get all the facts before making his decisions. I mean, you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Nick tried not to roll his eyes. He was just about to make it very clear to her he was NOT interested, when a figure caught his eye in the corner. Glancing over, it was Chelsea on the arm of Daniel. His mouth fell open that they would come here, of all places, for a date. Chelsea was practically draped over him. Daniel said something in her ear and she giggled. Nick felt his heart crash down to the pit of his stomach.
Tearing his eyes away, he looked at Nicole and realized here was a beautiful, no actually gorgeous, woman hitting on him. What was the harm in taking her up on it? How bad could the evening go? And maybe he might have some fun.
Forcing a smile on his face, Nick said, “You know what, that’s a great idea. Would you care to meet up here at 7 pm?”
Nicole smiled. She didn’t have to look around to see what had changed his mind, Chez Rouge had enough mirrors that she caught Chelsea entering. She nodded and told him she looked forward to it. Suddenly, Nick got up and left some money on the table, saying he had to get back to class. Nicole watched him go, and took another sip of her drink. Obviously he was still very much in love with his old girlfriend. That could very well work to Nicole’s advantage.