Zlatko caught up with her near the end of her shift. He did not touch her again, but he did lean in again to whisper of an exclusive party at Monvi's huge disco. In the Mediterranean fashion, it didn't get rolling until after midnight, so Nicole had time to go home and shimmy into an LBD. She felt giddy.
The opening of Monvi heralded the true ending of Rovinj's hibernation. It sat deep in the woods on the way to Zlatni Rt, with trees on one side and a tennis club on the other. The sprawling entertainment complex featured two rows of themed bars facing off across a wide promenade. Crowning the apex of the promenade, a towering, three-story disco presided over the revelries like a trendy monarch. Crowds flocked to its throne like so many courtesans.
That night Zlatko escorted Nicole down the promenade. Though she was the one who lived in Rovinj, it was Zlatko who greeted someone at every turn: "Ciao. Bok. Šta mi radiš, ljubavi?" They didn't stop, though, at any of the lesser bars; they strolled right up to the disco. A line of people waiting to get in snaked around the building, but, as expected from one so well-connected, Zlatko led her right to the front. The bouncer greeted him with deference, and, after an exchange of pleasantries, they went in.
Though Monvi's disco stood as Rovinj's crowning glory, it wasn't so very different from other large dance clubs – dark, smoky, flashing lights. And the necessary ingredient to any trendy night spot: people wanting to see and be seen. Dress to impress.
Nicole, a big-city girl, knew an LBD was appropriate for any night out. But Zlatko had it in the details: a turned up cuff, a polished shoe, a flashing earring. And, of course, he wore the best accessory of all: confidence.
People greeted Zlatko as soon as they entered. A "who's-who" of Istria invited them to their table. They shared a round of drinks and conversation – most of which went over Nicole's head due to the loud music and hyper-fast Croatian – before Zlatko escorted her along. His lips hovered near her ear again as he explained, "You Americans have a word for this thing we are doing – networking. It is necessary for my business." Then he kissed her temple. Thrills ran up her spine, exploding all through her body. She gazed up at him.
Similar scenes to the "who's-who" of Istria continued to play out, with Zlatko's attending to Nicole in between networking sessions. The hours passed in a blur of techno music, snippets of conversation, and glass after glass of alcohol. Zlatko continued to keep his physical contact casual: a light touch in the small of her back, more brief kisses at her temple. Yet Nicole's nerve endings sizzled with each caress.
They finally left the party in the wee hours of the morning, with the sun just making a weak attempt at lightening the night sky. Once they'd exited the complex and were in the relative privacy of the woods, Zlatko slipped his arm around Nicole's shoulders. His fingers tapped a beat on her bare arm.
This is seduction, she thought. A whole different game of seduction, not like the awkward fumblings at loud keggers...
No sooner had the thought entered her mind than Zlatko pulled her off the path. With her body close to his but not quite touching, he kissed the tip of her nose then rested his forehead against hers. He asked, "How old are you?"
Guilessly she answered, "I just turned 23."
He smirked, his eyelid dropping in a lazy wink. "Hmm, so young." He kissed the tip of her nose again. His fingers took up their sultry beat on her back.
"I'm not so young," she whispered. Her heart pounded.
"No?" Another kiss on her nose. "I am almost twice your age."
Before Nicole could react, he kissed her. The real thing, with his firm lips pressed to hers, urging them open. A lingering, penetrating, thought-scattering kiss. Nicole's whole body reacted, and without her volition, she was pressing against him. She stood on tip-toes, straining to maintain the kiss. By the time he drew back, she'd forgotten his revelation.
Forehead to forehead again, he grinned down at her. "And?"
"Mmm." Her fingers were entwined in his white shirt. A thought penetrated the haze in her mind. "Hmm, what did you say?"
He whispered, "I am almost twice your age – 45."
"Oh?" Her thoughts refused to coalesce.
"Yes." And again he kissed her. Just like that, he had her surrender.
Ljubav, the word that Luka had first taught her in Croatian. Love. He'd promised her fireworks that night, tricky Romeo, knowing the town would set them off at midnight for Rovinj Night. Their kiss had not been without merit, but nothing in Nicole's relatively brief romantic history could prepare her for Zlatko. Ljubav.