"Everything all right?" Helen asked, knowing full well it wasn't. She'd been handing Mr. and Mrs. Palmer menus when she'd seen Nick storm over to the table where Selena and Biff were sitting. Whatever Nick had said to their daughter and her date had caused them to get up and leave without even touching their drinks. Now Nick stood beside the empty table looking as if he was half a second away from a king-sized temper tantrum.
Nick glowered down at her. "When the hell did that Monroe kid come back to town? I thought he was gone for good."
"He's been back for a couple of weeks," Helen answered casually. Just to push him, she added, "What did you say to those two? You know it looks really bad when people walk out of here like that."
"I don't want him around our daughter," Nick replied.
"Selena's twenty-two; you can't tell her who she can see and not see anymore."
"I can in my own restaurant. And Monroe is no good."
"You're overreacting. Biff might have been a little wild as a kid, but that was years ago."
"Yeah, well, he comes from bad stock. Everyone knows Claire Monroe is a slut."
"Nick, watch what you say. We're in public." Helen glanced nervously around the roomful of diners, but no one seemed to be taking note of their conversation. "And as far as I can tell, Claire is a lovely person who made one mistake when she was young. And that was so long ago, you have to be the only person in town who ever gives it a thought."
"Not true." Nick Kallias gave his wife a look of annoyance. "You didn't grow up here, so you don't know. I don't want that fellow within ten miles of Selena."
"This isn't the time or place to discuss this," Helen replied. She turned away, heading toward the party of six that had just come through the front door.
In the time it took her to get the newcomers seated, Nick disappeared. He was probably in the kitchen venting his rage on some hapless busboy. Helen had been married to him nearly twenty-five years, and she knew his temper. He was the stereotypical fiery Mediterranean, quick to anger, quick to love. Bossy, controlling, chauvinistic. Loyal, protective, and passionate. He could be a total pain in the ass, but Helen loved him. Over the years, he'd put that love to the test a few times, but Helen had never wavered.
If other men found her attractive (and she'd been offered a few opportunities to play around), she wouldn't dream of being unfaithful. Helen knew that underneath the rough facade, her husband was as emotionally vulnerable as s child, and she could never bring herself to hurt him. Still, she didn't understand his unreasonable dislike of Claire Monroe and her son, Biff. Nick's insistence that Claire and Biff were trash didn't ring true. Most people in town regraded Claire as a kind and thoughtful person. If she had steadfastly refused to tell anyone, including her son, who his father was, well, that was her business.