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Aaron looked up at the sound of someone knocking on his door. David stood in the doorway. The other man glanced at his watch then gave him a pointed look.
"I just need to finish up a few reports then we can go."
The other man's exaggerated sigh brought a hint of a smile to Hotch's lips. Less than thirty seconds later, David followed it up with another sigh and by clearing his throat a little too loudly.
Hotch looked up from the report. "What?"
"I promised to take you to dinner for your birthday, so why are we still here?"
Aaron arched a brow. "Because I have reports to complete?"
"Can't they wait until tomorrow or even Monday?"
"You know the answer to that, Dave." Aaron struggled to fight back a grin at his friend's obvious impatience. "Why are you so anxious about this? I told you Jack is with Jessie and his cousins so I don't have to be home by any particular time."
David sighed again. "Yes, I know that, but did it occur to you that I might have a birthday surprise planned?"
Aaron set his pen down. "Dave, please tell me you didn't hire strippers."
The other man smiled. "I didn't hire strippers."
"From that mischievous gleam in your eye, whatever it is, it's a close second." Aaron glanced at the report then closed the file. "Fine. We'll go now." He couldn't help himself this time; he smiled at his friend's gleeful grin.
"You are going to love this place. They have such delicious food. The atmosphere is relaxing and the service is close to perfect."
"And?" Aaron cast a quick glance at his friend then stepped around his desk.
"What do you mean, 'and?'" David's attempt at an innocent expression elicited a laugh from his friend.
"Dave, I know you well enough to know there's more to this place than delicious food, a relaxing atmosphere and good service. From the gleam in your eyes, there are women involved."
The two men strode through the nearly empty office.
"Perhaps, but there are no strippers. I promise."
Hotch glanced at the other man again and nodded. "If you say so."
David's choice of restaurants took Aaron by surprise. He knew the other man enjoyed good food, but the Cafe Mediterranean looked like a hole-in-the-wall from the outside. When they stepped through the door, Aaron realized just how deceiving the exterior appearance was. Dim lighting but not so dark that you couldn't see your food. Soft music played in the background. Each table had a linen tablecloth and a thick candle. There were also a few alcoves with curtains draped over them to resemble tents. He smiled when a gray-haired man greeted David with a kiss on each cheek then began chattering away about the evening's specials. Aaron stopped short when he heard the man mention belly dancers. He arched a brow at David.
"How was I to know they have belly dancers on Thursday night?" David murmured.
"Dave, you know we have dancers here Thursday through Saturday," the older man said to David.
Aaron chuckled as a blush crept from David's cheeks to his neck. "Busted," Hotch muttered under his breath. He knew his friend well enough to know that the Italian considered beautiful women as essential to a good meal as delicious food and fine wine.
"Wait until you see the beautiful dancer performing tonight. She is talented and even though she has only been here a few times, she has become one of our most popular dancers." A smile wreathed the host's face as he described the dancer. "She is not one you've seen before, Dave. Lots of curves, talented hips and a smile that lights up the room. That's Sahra."
David nodded at the man then looked at Aaron. His sheepish expression elicited a chuckle from Aaron.
"You are busted, Rossi," he muttered to David.
"Yeah. I know."
They were seated in one of the alcoves and Aaron let David order for them. He trusted his friend's obvious familiarity with the restaurant and knew the other man would select good food.
Always mindful of his surroundings, Hotch noted potential exit routes and scanned the faces of the other patrons. He almost wished he didn't do that but he chalked it up to one of the hazards of the job. He looked at his friend. "So, just how often do you frequent this restaurant that they know you by name and you know they have belly dancers three nights a week?"
David's sheepish grin almost answered his questions - almost. The other man shrugged. "I'm here at least once a month or maybe every three weeks or so."
Aaron gave a shake of his head and let out a chuckle. "This is why it had to be the day before or the day after my birthday since you knew the actual day was off limits as time with Jack?"
David nodded then smiled. "But there are no strippers, just like I promised."
"Isn't this a close second?" Aaron furrowed his brow.
The other man shook his head more vehemently than Aaron expected. "No, but I'll admit I thought the same thing the first time I showed up on a night they featured dancers. I don't know how to describe it, but... Just watch; you'll see what I mean."
Aaron nodded. "I've trusted you on the food selection, so I'll trust you on this."
"You won't regret any of it. The food, the wine, the dancing." David smiled and Aaron chuckled at the gleam of anticipation in his friend's eyes.
The music grew louder and the glee with which David rubbed his hands amused Hotch.
The other man's comment – "Bring on the dancing girl" – elicited a soft chuckle from him.
Other patrons began clapping in time to the music and a curvaceous blonde dressed in bright pink twirled past them. She held a silky veil above her head and it fluttered as she spun in the opposite direction. Her hips moved from side to side then dipped, first to the left then to the right. The beads on the fringe of her hip belt captured the light and accentuated each move she made with her hips.
She spun around to face them and Aaron noted the almost imperceptible pause in her movements. He lifted his gaze from her hips, pausing to admire her ample cleavage, before looking at her face. He sucked in a sharp breath when he gazed into the eyes of one Penelope Garcia.
Aaron glanced in David's direction. The other man's jaw hung open. Who knew their Garcia had this talent? Hotch returned his gaze to Garcia and swallowed. She had never looked more beguiling and he responded like a typical male, much to his chagrin.
Penelope smiled at him then spun away and continued dancing. The movements of her hips mesmerized him. He found himself falling more and more under her sensual spell.
"Wow." David's whisper tore his attention away from Garcia. "That's our Garcia, right?"
Hotch nodded. "Yes. It is."
"Wow," the other man murmured a second time. "She's really good."
Aaron stared at the blonde dancing between and around tables. "Yes, she is." He nodded absently, most of his attention focused on Garcia and the way her hips moved. When she moved toward them again, he lifted his gaze. Their eyes met and he noticed something he'd not noticed before. How had he missed this innate sensuality? More to the point, how was he going to ignore it now that he'd seen it? He admitted to himself this was not the first time he'd noticed the sway of her hips, but this was different. Hotch took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
From the corner of his eye, he noticed David taking a long sip of his wine. Evidently, he was not the only one stunned by this revelation. The brush of something silky against his cheek caught his attention and he looked at Garcia again. She moved closer then turned to face away from him. He watched her bend back until he was looking into her eyes again. Her smile elicited one from him. In a word, he was captivated by her. The music ended and his reverie was broken by the sound of clapping.
She twirled away, moving toward the center of the restaurant. "It has come to my attention that we have a few birthday girls and boys here tonight. Join me in wishing them a happy birthday." Music started and she danced toward a couple seated across the restaurant.
Aaron let out the breath he didn't even realize he'd been holding.
"Well, this is certainly a surprise," David muttered. "When I planned this, this was definitely not what I expected."
Hotch nodded in reply; his gaze remained on Garcia. She had tugged the woman up from her seat, tied her veil around the woman's waist and was showing the woman a few moves. Garcia shimmied her hips then shimmied her shoulders. The woman imitated her, albeit with less rhythm. He cast a quick glance at Rossi and chuckled softly. The other man seemed as captivated by Garcia as he was. Returning his gaze to the dancer and the birthday celebrant, he smiled then furrowed his brow. The thought of Garcia dancing over to him and attempting to show him dance moves left him wary. He was an okay dancer but he couldn't quite remember the last time he'd danced.
His apprehension fled when Penelope turned to face them. She'd seemed to magically whisk her veil from the woman's hips then danced toward their table. He swallowed; his gaze fixed on her face. Mischief lurked in her eyes and he swallowed again. She sashayed toward them then leaned in once she stood in front of him. She wrapped the veil around his head, creating a makeshift turban with the silken fabric.
For the next few minutes, Aaron let his gaze wander over Penelope. From her face to her hips to her cleavage to her hips again. His pulse raced. He looked up into her eyes. He'd never wanted to kiss anyone the way he wanted to kiss his co-worker at this moment. When the music ended, Hotch bit back a groan of disappointment.
Another song started and she twirled away from their table, leaving her veil wrapped around his head. This new song had a faster rhythm and used the music to showcase how she could move her body. The fringe on her hip belt and on her bra swayed to the music, accentuating each move. The sly glances she cast in his direction left Aaron feeling as though she danced for him and for him alone.
The sound of clapping around him caught his attention and he realized the music had stopped and Garcia was curtseying to the crowd in the restaurant. She made her way across the restaurant and pulled out a vacant chair at the table.
"Well, this is a surprise," David said.
Garcia nodded. "One I hope we can keep between us. Unlike my acting." She gave Hotch a pointed look and a smile.
Hotch nodded and offered her a sheepish grin. He felt a bit like a lovestruck teenager, sitting this close to Penelope dressed in her revealing costume. He tried to keep his gaze from her cleavage but the temptation proved too great. The maroon bra lifted her breasts and created the perfect valley of cleavage.
Rossi cleared his throat and Hotch felt his cheeks grow hot. Now he'd been busted. Aaron lifted his gaze and offered a hint of a smile to his co-workers.
"So, when did you start belly dancing?" David asked the question Aaron desperately wanted to.
Penelope dropped her gaze to her hands. "After I was shot, I realized there were things I wanted to do or learn that I was putting off to a more convenient time. A brush with death like that…" She shrugged. "It makes you rearrange your priorities."
Her gaze locked with Aaron's and he nodded. He started to reach for her hand then stopped himself. He might have followed through but they were under the watchful eye of David Rossi. "So, you wanted to learn how to dance?" Hotch asked.
Penelope nodded. "An acting friend told me about this particular teacher and suggested the dancing might improve my confidence level when performing. It was on my list of things to do, so I decided to follow through." She held out her hands. "So, here I am a few years later, spending a few nights a month dancing at a restaurant."
David smiled at her. "And what a pleasant surprise it is." He tilted his head in Aaron's direction. "When I planned his birthday surprise, I wasn't expecting anything like this." His smile spread into a grin.
Garcia laughed. "I'm not sure whose expression I liked better – yours or his." She pointed between the men. "Although I'm sure mine was priceless too."
Both men nodded. Just as Rossi started to say something else, the waiter arrived with the food. Penelope stood. She waggled her fingers at them. "Enjoy your food. I'm sure I'll see you later." She strolled away and Aaron indulged in the temptation to watch her hips.
"Are you going to sit there all night staring at her ass and wearing that turban?" Rossi chuckled.
Aaron hastily reached for the veil, unwrapped the fabric and tucked it into his lap. "As if you weren't watching her too," he muttered under his breath.
"I'm known for ogling beautiful women. You're the one with the Mr. Stoic reputation to maintain." David grinned at him.
"Let's chalk it up to your bad influence." Aaron returned the grin.
David laughed then scooped food onto a plate and handed it to Hotch. "Just don't get caught doing anything I wouldn't do."
Aaron chuckled. "Well, that leaves me plenty of wiggle room."
The following morning Hotch strode into his office then stopped at the sight of a small cake stand on his desk. Taped to the lid was a little notecard. He lifted the notecard and smiled. Cursive handwriting with a few extra flourishes that could only be one person's writing – Penelope Garcia's. A birthday cake for you to share with Jack. Happy Birthday, Hotch! The smiley face that followed her signature elicited a smile from him. German chocolate cake. His favorite. How did she know that? He'd long ago stop trying to figure out how she seemed to know this kind of trivial information about team members.
He opened his briefcase and pulled the pink veil out. Opening the upper desk drawer, he tucked it in then shut the drawer. He'd return the veil when he returned the cake plate.