“And then he pulled her back….”

“Oooh sexxxy.”

“I know, right….and he said, “I’ll come find you.”

“Oh. My. God.”

“Oh Holy Shit!”

Oh for fuck’s sake. Andie stuffed her deep dish tortilla with guacamole and shoved it her mouth. On the drive home Jose had been relentless, pumping her for every detail and was now shouting it from the rooftops or countertops as it were. They were gathered in the apartment Jose, Layla, Tommy and Justin. Supposedly to pick out gowns for the Ball, but it had become a gossip fest

“Do you think he’ll be at the ball?” Tommy asked, unwrapping one of the dozen or so gowns he’d brought over from his consignment shop. Tommy had a superior vintage designer collection and had been written up in several fashion mags including Vogue.

“I don’t know.” Layla said from her perch on the arm of the sofa, a giant glass of merlot cupped in her hand. “He’s not a regular. This is his mother’s charity. The last time he attended Felicia pounced on him.” Layla’s face contorted in disgust. Felicia was Layla’s step-sister. And she was a piece of work.  Layla’s pet name for her was feces. “Bitch chased him all night.”

“Ew! Tacky.” Jose wrinkled his nose and reached for more queso dip. He sat beside Layla on the couch,  right infront of the nibble tray. Jose loved nibbles.

“According to my sources, she’s looking for husband number three.” Tommy informed them, sagely, and his sources were impeccable. Since he was the consignment king of the east coast, he knew everybody. Stylists, makeup artists, and interior decorators and those people heard everything. If Tommy didn’t know about it. It wasn’t happening.

“Yeah,” Layla grabbed a chip and filled it to the top with queso, “But at the time she was still with number two.”

“Double ew and tacky times two.” Jose looked thoroughly disgusted.

“Why’s she bothering?” Tommy pulled the final bag off the last of the dresses and began fluffing them out, “You’re rich as Midas.”

“Daddy cut her off.”

Andie’s what was overrun by Jose’s you’re shitting me, But Tommy’s chest clutching, shocked “NO!” Dtowned them all out.

Layla had hit upon  gossip Tommy didn’t already know, “When?” He demanded, retrieving the gown he’d dropped on the floor when he’d clutched his chest.

“Three months ago.”

“No, no way. I would have known.”

“I’m telling you.”

“Well, she’s getting money from somewhere because there hhas been zero change in her spending.”

“Probably running up all her cards and stealing from whoever she’s shagging.” Justin said.

“Yeah, that sounds like her.”

“Hmmm it sounds fishy to me.” Tommy grew thoughtful, “Do you think she’s gone high end?”


“You know, the Mayflower Madame thing.”

“Huh, you know I wouldn’t ut it past her.

“About damn time.” Jose sniffed. Andie had never met Felicia, but Jose had once. He’d been referring to her as Cruella ever since, saying that she’d be just the type to drown puppies and make herself a coat.

“I don’t understand it,” Andie finally weighed in, she usually stayed quiet on the gossip front as she didn’t have any, “Tessa is so sweet.”

“I know,” Layla smiled fondly at the mention of her step-mother. Her Mom and Dad had split years ago. Tessa, his second wife was lovely, beautiful, classy and smart. The woman was a theoretical physicist. Andie didn’t understand half of what she said, but she was a real sweetheart and adored Layla.

“Well, if she’s got her sights set on Damien Drake she needs to aim lower. Jose scoffed, reaching over Andie and scooping up a huge glump of guacamole, “He might take her up on a quickie in the coat closet, but that’s all that money-grubbing barracuda will ever get.”


Layla refocused on Andie, “I still say you should stay away from him.”

“Layla,” Jose gave her a hefty shove, “Stay out of Andie’s love life.”

“Really?” Layla extended one long leg in its spike heeled boot, bracing it against the floor to keep her balance, “Who’s the one telling her to lose her v-card.”

“That’s different.” Jose sniffed.

“Wait, hold on. Full stop.” Tommy set his wine down and made a “T” with his hands “Are you saying you still have your v-card?”

Double Dutch Damn. Her Two bestest buds had no filter when arguing over how Andie should live her life. “No, that’s not what they’re saying,” She gave them both the glare of death by dismemberment. They had the decency to look ashamed for all the good it did now. “And I would like a subject change please.”
As it turned out the fates were with her. Jose’s eyes narrowed on the dresses, “Oh My God.” He leaped up and joined Tommy at the rack of gowns, “This is Chanel….” He pulled a jade green gown out and flipped it around.

Oh boy, knowing it was a futile effort Andie crossed her fingers and gave it a try, “I was thinking I’d just cater, you know, man the dessert table like last year.”

Oh hell no!” Layla was up off the couch and facing her, “Don’t even think about it. If I have to go, so do you.”


No! No buts. No way. No Ma’am.” Layla cut her off with a wave of her wine glass, slosing the Merlot dangeroulsy close to the rim, “Making snide remarks about the richy-riches…”

“You know you are one, right?” Justin poked at the She-devil with a stick. Either he was drunk or had a death wish.

“Not. The. Point.” Layla shot him the She-Devil stare of death at which point he said something about more wine and ran to the kitchen. So, no death wish.  “The point is that being snide and bitchy is the only thing that makes the night bearable and for that I have to have an audience. Last year you were in the kitchen the entire night having a whale of a time eating cheese out of the package….”

“What are you talking about?”

The wine sloshed again, “I know that’s what people do.”

“Okay.” Andie let her have that one because, well, she had eaten the chunks of cheese out of the package….

You had all the fun and I was in hell.” Slosh, shlosh, slosh, “This year you are going to be in hell with me. That’s what friends do.”

“Jose will be there.” Andie pointed out, watching the wine.

“Oh please,” Layla drank and sloshed again, “He spends all night shakin’ his groove thing.”

“It’s a party,” Jose tugged her out of her chair and held the gown up to her, “This will be stunning with your hair.

“I don’t know, it’s awfully low cut.”

“Andie Chase, this is perfectly gorgeous.” He held the gown up to her. Andie looked down and agreed. It was beautiful. And though the sleeveless v-neck was elaborately beaded the simply cut wouldn’t overwhelm her petite frame, “How in the world did you become such a prude at twenty-three.”

“You have met Grandmother Chase, right?” Layla sat her wine glass down, to Andie’s relief, wine stains had a tendency to be permanant, and began flipping through the gowns.

“Honey, I lived next door to her for ten years.” Jose fingered the beading on the gown.

“Grandmamma was strict.” Andie agreed relunctantly. Somehow she felt like her Grandmother would hear any negative comments.

Strict?” Jose’s eyes rolled around in his head, “I distinctly remember that woman threatening every boy who ever so much as glanced your way with a meat cleaver to the pecker.”

Tommy winced. Justin choked on his chardonnay

“She’s a good woman. Old School.” Layla grabbed her glass, toasted Granny with the last of her Merlot, and tossed it back like a shot.

“Right.” Tommy crossed his legs, “Old School.”

“I’m wearing this one.” Layla pulled a gown of deep burgundy velvet.

“Oooooh that is spectaclular.” Jose nodded

“Oh yes, that dress is lethal.” Tommy uncrossed his legs and jumped up, grabbing the dress and holding it up to her, “And this neckline,” He traced the silver metallic threads with the true respect, “The scallops off the shoulder, “Va-va-va-vooom.”

“Good it’s settled then.” Layla grabbed both dresses, “I’ll just go hang these up.”

“Oh, come on,” Andie gave it one more try. “I promise I won’t hang out in the kitchen.”

“Damn right you won’t.” Layla threw over her shoulder, “You’ll be too busy standing beside me in a dress and heels listening to me bitch.”



“Andie Chase are you listening to me?”

“Huh?” Andie peered up at Jose, standing above her on  the ladder she was currently leaning on.

“Honey, go ahead and guzzle that coffee before you fall into the ladder and we both go flying. If  we get put out of commission there will be no one to stop Layla from murdering the Bimbette.”

True. Layla had been escalating all week. Now, Saturday, the morning of the ball the She-Devil had taken over and was taking no shit. Andie took some large gulps of her mocha, waiting for  two extra shots of esspresso to kick in. Between the final week of classes, packing for her trip to Richmond, 8 dozen cupcakes she’d baked over the last three days. A last minute addition to the Ball’s menu, not to mention that whole, “I’ll come find you” thing. She was exhausted, her nerves were shot, and it was crunch time.

Being that the ball launched the holiday season, the decor was a big deal. It was kept top secret. And gossip in DC being what it was. The final decorating was held off until the morning of the ball itself.

Andie loved Christmas, but decorating for a twenty thousand dollar a plate dinner was just not the same. So here they all were. Andie and half her neighbors decorating like half- drunk elves on a caffiene high.

“I think we should add some more greenery,” Jose reached down from the top of the ladder, “Andie hand me the lemon leaves.”

She reached into one of the dozen or so large boxes surrounding her, overflowing fresh greens and handed Jose a bundle of the broad flat leaves which he deftly attached to the large clear glass ornament hanging from the ceiling by silver metallic ribbon.

“It’s beautiful Jose.”

“You think?” He swept a critical gaze over the Grand Ballroom and the over two hundred clear glass ornaments hanging from the ceiling, “I think we could use a little more color. You know they have these same ornaments in frosted white, gold, and silver…” Leaping from the ladder, he walked over and grabbed his coffee from a nearby table, sipping it and studying the room with a critical eye..

“It’s gorgeous.” Marla said through the pins she had in her mouth. She sat under the massive tree that stood in the center of the room, wrapping large boxes with varieties of glittering paper and huge shiny bows. She had gotten into the spirit of the day with a red santa hat and a bright green turtlneck sweater, saying she was going to build lots of new postitive experiences since her divorce.

“Ditto.” Tommy said from his perch above Marla’s head where he was working on the topper for the tree, “Jose toss me a holly cluster.”

Jose grabbed two and some cedar and headed over.

The two men were a decorating dynamic duo, reading each other’s minds. They had designed the room in crystal and white. The only color coming from the evergreens and holly.  Frasier Firs twinkling with white lights dotted the walls and filled the room with the scent of Christmas.  It was simple and elegant. And with the two  exterior walls of the ballroom being solid glass, when night fell it would be magical, like an enchanted forest. It was beautiful and they had been working seemlesly in spite of everyone being down to their last dregs of energy. The morning would have been going perfectly if not for the Bimbette herd.

Layla so named the group of women from the Trust’s board who showed up every year supposedly to help in the final preparations. In reality it was nothing more than a photo op. And this year had been especially awful for the simple reason that the twenty or so women weren’t leaving. They’d been stampeding around for over an hour. Dolled up and tricked out in their designer shoes and full makeup, holding up ornaments and holly clusters  posing all over the room for the professional photographer who’d been snapping away. The photos to appear in the society pages in Sunday Mornings washington Post. Somehow they got all of an hour in before Layla blew. The head Bimbette demanded Tommy stop decorating the center tree so they could gather around it for group photo. The She-Devil went ballistic. Waving a giant meat fork, she threatened to skewer the next silly girl in her silly shoes who got in her way.

The group had retreated to the refreshment table in the far corner and hadn’t moved since. Sipping on Mimosas and shooting dirty, if terrified, looks Layla’s way. But they hadn’t left. Usually they were only around for half hour tops, but they were already over an hour and didn’t look in any hurry to leave.  And they were a much younger crowd this year, most of them around Andie’s age.

“Maybe we should string a few more lights.” Jose said.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Jose. It looks great.” Layla’s raspy, scratched, and weary voice came from under that table. She’d been crawling around under them for the last fifteen minutes, cursing non-stop.

“Um, what is it you’re looking for again?” She asked.

“The fucking box with the stupid fucking award shit.” The table cloth waved and bunched with Layla’s scrounging.

“Honey, the Hand and Heart trophy is on the podium.” Jose said gently, as if Layla were some crazy woman waving a butcher knife.

He wasn’t far wrong. Considering she’d been waving a meat fork not fifteen minutes ago, the butcher knife had to be nearby.

One of the white table cloths flipped up and Layla’s head popped out, “Not the Hand and Heart. That’s our volunteer award.”

“Okaaaay.” Jose agreed and nodded.

Layla turned around and crawled under the table again, “We’ve got a bunch of fucking plaques for the biggest donors – the assholes. Fuckers always have to be recognized. Can’t help a cause for its own sake. Oh no, they have to be schmoozed.” And the usual rant began.

“Um…I can go look under the other tables.” Andie volunteered.

“Yeah, okay…shit,” Layla backed out from under one table and crawled to another one, “What the fuck they’re stowing shit under the tables for, I don’t know. Fucking things are all wrong, anyway.” There was some more cursing then something about lines and circles. Then the cursing degraded to Mandarin, never a good sign.

They’d been confronted with the table problem as soon as they walked in. They were supposed to be in three distinct semi-circles surrounding the tree on three sides, creating the circular space around the tree for dancing. At the the moment were lined up along the walls. The She-Devil had not been pleased.

“Uh, sugar” Jose bent down lifted the cloth, “Maybe you should take a break.”

The cursing switched to English for two words, “Fuck that.” And right back to Mandarin.

“Now Honey, you can’t keep this up.” Jose threw a significant look Andie’s way, “Go get our girl one of your nice Key Lime cupcakes from the kitchen.”

Under the table, the cursing stopped. Layla’s head popped out, “Key Lime?”

Layla loved Key Lime. Andie nodded, “Yes, I made Key Lime, Chai Spice and Mocha for the ball.”

“Okay, I’ll stop for Key Lime.” She disappeared back under the table.

“Go.” Jose shoved Andie towards the kitchen. “Go now. We’ve got to head this off. If she keeps escalating we’ll have to sacrifice one of those society twits to soothe the wrath of the She-Demon.” Andie ran the distance of the entire ballroom to the attached kitchen in the back, grabbing a dozen box of key lime. She’d made an extras for just such an emergency.

Heading back across the ballroom she noticed the society bitches were gathering. They’d left the food table and wandered closer to the middle of the room. In the lead was a tall woman, her perfect blond bob framing her perfectly made face her perfect winter white suit fitting her perfectly. Okay, so the woman was perfect. She wouldn’t stay that way. If she so much as said boo to Layla, that perfect suit was going to get perfectly ruined. Blood stains were a bitch to get out.

Andie broke into a run, cutting across the group to get the cupcakes to Layla before hell was unleashed.

“Excuse me.” Miss Perfect stepped in front of her.

Andie stopped short. It was that or ram the woman,  “Yes?”

“Where are the masks?” She asked flipping her hand in the air as if she expected masks to be floating around her.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know…”

“The masks.” The woman repeated. And while not blatantly rude, she managed condescending well enough, “They’re supposed to be hanging from the ceiling. This is a masked ball.”

“Uh….” Masks?   Andie didn’t know why the woman expected masks. Layla had sworn off masked balls two years ago when a senator from California had a little too much to drink and grabbed the wrong woman for his late night rendezvous. The woman, niether his wife nor his mistress, turned out to be the current president of the N.OW.  Whether the senator would be able to father future children was still in doubt.

“This is not what I had outlined.” The woman said as if that was supposed to mean something.

“Uh….” It didn’t mean anything to Andie.

“And what are those?” A shiny red nail pointed to the box of cupcakes in her hand.


“We most certainly are not serving cupcakes at the Drake Trust Ball. Did you not get the memo I sent out detailing the new menu?”

Since the cupcakes had been a last minute addition requested by Mrs. Drake herself, Andie thought, perchance, Miss Perfect was the one who didn’t get the memo. And Drake Trust? Since when had it become the Drake Trust Ball?

Andie’s continued silence was, apparently, unacceptable to Miss Perfect. The woman made an impatient sound and threw her hands on her hips, “Can you speak or do I need to throw you a treat?”

That earned snickers from the Bimbette Gallery and Andie was done being polite, “Oh, I can speak. I just don’t see any reason to speak to you.”

A perfectly shocked mouth dropped open. She must have thought Andie would eat her shit politely. Screw that, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, those of us who are actually working have a lot of work left to do.” She threw a disgusted glance the bimbettes way. The snickers dried right up. Damn right they did. The south was full of that passive-aggressive polite/nasty garbage. Her Grandmother had taught her early on the best way to end that nonsense was to cut right through it.

She walked around Miss Perfect, who didn’t like being dismissed. She took hold of Andie’s arm, “I’m still talking.”

Okay, Miss Perfect just got downgraded to Miss Bitchy-Pants, “Talk away, but I’m done listening. Now, take your hand off me or that perfect suit is going to be wearing these cupcakes.”

The woman’s face contorted, “Not before I have you removed from this hotel.”

Oh for fuck’s sake.


Oh no.

Andie pondered the woman in front of her. She was obnoxious and rude and a right haughty bitch, but that didn’t warrant a death sentence, “Can you Disapparate?”

Since the woman was still standing there Andie supposed not.

The She-Devil spontaneously appeared from under a table and leaped in front of the other woman, eyes flashing red and waving around the plaques she’d finally found. Layla was pissed and had a blunt heavy object in each hand. Not good. Andie looked around for something to staunch the blood flow. Her eyes caught on the pristine white table clothes. That’d work.

“What in the fuck are you doing in here?” She-Devil snarled.

The woman had the sense to step away from her but not enough to run, “I’m the events coordinator….”

“I didn’t ask who you were.” Arms waved. Plaques flew, fortunately, not at the  woman’s head.  “I know who you are. I asked what the hell you were doing In. Here.”

Miss Bitchy P. still didn’t have sense enough to back down, “I made changes. They have not been implemented. I have a responsibility hold the Drake Trust Charity ball to a certain standard of excellence.”

Layla’s eyes flashed, “You’ve got the wrong ball. This is The Women’s Trust Charity Ball. It is run by the Women’s Trust a joint endeavor of the Markham/Drake Trust for women.”

“Be that as it may,” Bitchy-Pants raised her perfectly bobbed head, “The Fugue is A Drake Hotel. As Event Coordinator I have a responsibility to this hotel and to Damien.” There was enough innuendo packed in the word Damien, she might as well have said the man who gets in my panties.

“Responsibility, my ass.” Jose hissed in her ear, “Miss Thing over there wants to build a resume. If she can take credit for this ball she can get a job anywhere. And Damien?” Jose snorted, “If that woman is on a first name basis with Damien Drake, I’ll eat my Gucci Man-bag.”

Oh, now it made sense. The woman was an idiot for taking on Layla, though. There had to be ways to pad a resume that didn’t involve an extended hospital stay. As for the other, Andie was with Jose. Bitchy was beautiful, but Damien Drake didn’t strike her as someone to diddle the help.

“I don’t know where you came up with that crazy shit,” Layla waved and snarled, “But your only responsibility is to stay out of my way.”

Jose stepped around the She-Devil, “Miss Chaylene Abbingdon may I present Miss Layla Markham.”

“Oh…”  Surprise flashed in the Miss Bitch’s eyes. She probably didn’t expect a Markham to be here in jeans crawling all over the floor. She squared her shoulders and stood firm. She really wasn’t very bright, “Perhaps you didn’t receive my E-mails….”

“Oh, I received them,” Layla kept waving plaques around, “And I ignored them. You have nothing to do with my ball.”

And still Miss Bitchy-Pants hung on, probably didn’t want to lose face in front of her Bimbettes. Andie wondered if they’d hang around long enough to drive her to the E.R. “As I said this is a Drake hotel. When you couldn’t be bothered to respond I reached out to your sister. She approved the changes as did Mr. Drake.”

Oh. Shit.

Oh shitty shitty SHAH-ITTY shit.

Layla went completely still. Just stopped. Plaques frozen in mid-air.

Andie traded a look with Jose. Both his hands were pasted to his horrified face. On the ladder, Tommy had frozen in the middle of reaching for greenery from Marla, who looked like some strange version of a Christmas Elf, motionless, one arm extended, holding sprigs of holly and staring, wide-eyed, at Layla. Even the Bimbettes cringed.

But not Miss Bitchy-Pants, Andie was beginning to think she was clinically brain-dead because she kept on talking, “Felicia is a friend and she said….”

Layla moved. Slow, deliberate steps right up to the woman who was about to bleed all over the ballroom. And Miss Chaylene Abbingdon finally seemed to understand her perilous state because she shut her mouth. Layla’s poisonous hiss of, “I don’t have a sister.” Slithered around the room.  “Felicia has nothing to do with The Woman’s Trust or my Ball.”

“Holy shit!” Jose grabbed her arm, “She’s going to beat that woman to death with the  rich asshole awards.”

It sure looked like it. “Do something.”

“What? Why am I the one who always has to avert disaster?”

“I made the cinnamon rolls.”

“Good point. Okay, okay….give me a second.” Jose looked all around the ballroom, “We need to neutralize Blondie because there’s no reasoning with demonic forces.” His head swung left, “We can’t knock her out and stuff her under a table,” And right, “Too many witnesses.” And left again, “We need a distraction…”  Jose stopped swinging, both hands grabbing and mussing his hair. A sign that he was fast approaching panic, “Dammit, where’s Magic Mike when you need him?”

Andie was calculating how much bail money she was going to need when Jose, “Ah-Ha’d!” And clutched her arm, “I’ve got it. Follow my lead.”

“Wait…what?” Oh no, she didn’t like that. Jose’s ‘follow my lead’ plans invariably involved her and stuff she’d rather not do.

She grabbed for him, but he was already sashaying into action, runway walking right up to the two women. And as he was in vintage Missoni, by the time he reached them he had the room, “Ladies, we do not have time for this. Call him. Call Mr. Drake.”

Damien is a very busy man…” Chaylene informed them all, “He doesn’t have time…”

“Oh honey, I wasn’t talking to you.” Jose cut her off and turned, facing Andie and presenting his dismissive back to Miss Bitchy Pants, “Call your Sweetie, sweetie.”

“Uh….”  Yep, didn’t want to do it. Luckily, she couldn’t do it, “I don’t have his number.”

Miss Bitchy Pants started laughing, all fake and snarky. The back-up bimbettes twittered.

“Sure you do. He programed his number in your phone when he came for brunch Sunday.”

And the snarky laughter died a sudden death while the back-up bimbettes gasped in unison.

“Uh…right.” Andie pulled her phone from her back pocket, scanned down and sure enough Damien Drake was there. She dialed and held her breath. Maybe he wouldn’t answer…

It didn’t even ring, “Andie?”


“Hello.” The two syllables slid over her like warm silk.

Jose stuck his nose over her shoulder, “Put him on speaker.”

“Who’s that?” And the silk was gone. Those two words cut the air like a whip.

“That’s Jose. Andie shoved at her friend’s head, but he had a strong neck and stayed stubbornly in place, “We’re um…at The Fugue.”

“Are you now?” And the silk was back.

“May I put you on speaker?”

“Of course.”

“Okay,” She held the phone away, “Can you hear me?”

“I can.”

“Right then, I’m here with Layla and Jose and Chaylene uh…Abbingdon.”

“I see.” Two more syllables, still silk, but Andie knew, knew he was doing that almost smile. The one that meant he found her secretly amusing.

“And well, Miss Abbingdon says we’re supposed to have masks hanging around”

“Masks?” He repeated, and oh yes, he was laughing alright.


“Hanging?” More of that silent laughter.


“Around?” Silent and sly.


“Around where?” Silent and sly and sexy.

“The ballroom, I guess.”

“The ballroom. Are they going to be at eye-level?” Silent and sly and sex-me-up, sexy.

“I guess. She said you approved it.”

“Did I?” His low chuckle tickled her in private girlie places. He wouldn’t find it so sex-me-up funny when blood stains splashed all over his hotel’s crisp white tablecloths.

“Yes, and um well you might not know, since this is the first time we’ve used The Fugue, but there was a masked ball a few years ago…”

“Ah, right I seem to recall my mother mentioning an unfortunate incident involving a Senator and the president of the N.O.W.”

“Um…right, anyway,” Oh this was embarrassing, she whispered into the phone, “Miss Abbingdon also says that you don’t want my cupcakes served.”

There was an extended silence and then, “Did she?”



No laughing now. Nope. Not a bit. Not sexy or silent or even sly. What there was, was frost. Cold. So perfectly cold .The kind of cold that chilled you down deep – to your bones. Andie fully expected ice crystals to form on her phone. She caught sight of Miss Abbingdon. There wasn’t a bit of haughty left on that face. It was stark white terror.

The twittering had gone stone cold silent.

Layla, however, was done with silence. Stomping over, she shoved Jose’s head out of her way, “Drake, get over here and get your bitch before I kill her. I don’t have time to dump a body.”

“As it so happens, I’m already here.”

Andie heard that in stereo. Coming from the phone and behind her.

She spun around.

He came striding through the open arched doorway and across the ballroom. Perfection in jeans and a long sleeved white dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up, and the top buttons open. Andie thought that “V” of male flesh might just rank as the eighth wonder of the world. She jerked her eyes up and even with the whole distance of the ballroom between them she felt his stare, a banked inferno burning her with single minded focus.

“Damien…” Miss Bitchy-Pants opened her mouth only to clamp it shut when Damien Drake walked right by her without so much as a flicker of a glance in her direction.

In fact, he didn’t look at anyone… except her. His eyes on locked her, he kept walking until he stood directly in front of her, well within her three foot of personal space. Reaching out, he took her hand in his own.

Andie stood there star-struck as he lifted that hand to his mouth, pressing a quick kiss to her knuckles. It warmed her all the way to her toes. He lowered her hand, but held it, his thumb brushing over flesh still tingling from his kiss, “What can I do for you, Kitten?”

She was shocked so many times over complete sentences were out, “Huh?’

Layla had no such problems, “You can get the Bimbo out of here.”

“Shay. Go.” He bit out the words without taking his eyes from her face.

“Damien, if you remember….” The woman began a rattling explanation, confirming Andie’s clinically brain-dead theory. If Damien Drake had used that frigid tone with her she’d be in the next state.


That did it. Bimbo clamped her mouth shut and stalked off, throwing a poisonous look Layla’s way as she passed.

Layla dismissed her with an eye roll and a careless, “Not on your best day, Sweets.”

“So,” Adonis still held her hand, his thumb drawing shivery circles on the underside of her wrist. “Anything else you need?”

“Uh…” She looked Layla’s way. Now that the She-Devil had been calmed, her friend was watching the two of them with open curiosity and a healthy dose of shock.

So it wasn’t just her then.

“You could get them out of here.” Layla tossed her head in the bimbettes’ direction,

“Ladies, the party is over.” He addressed his adoring fans without ever looking in their direction. That was kind of sad since they all looked so nice, “You need to gather your things and leave.”

There were some gasps and shocked twitters, but they must have heard the same steel under the polite words. In a stampede of designer shoes, they began collecting their designer handbags, albeit very slowly, avidly watching Adonis hold her hand.

“Anything else?” One perfect brow arched.

Andie didn’t have a clue what else. With him standing so close and smelling so good, making those shivery circles on her hand she was feeling slightly stupid, maybe a little drunk. His head dipped and tilted to the side and somehow he gave the impression of smiling though his lips never moved. How’d he do that?

It occurred to her she was standing there staring at him like a love drunk ninny. She opened her mouth, only problem was she couldn’t actually form words, “Uh….um…I…um…”

“Some extra hands to move these tables.”

Thank you Layla!!!

“Done.” For the first time since he entered the ballroom his eyes left her face, dropping to the cupcakes in her hand, “Cupcakes.” The word rolled from his mouth, low, slow, and decadently sinful.

Not trusting her voice, she nodded. Once. And it was more of a jerk, but sheesh, the man should have an ‘x’ rating stamped on his perfect forehead.

“What kind?”

“Key…” Her voice cracked, she swallowed, “Lime.”

He reached in and grabbed one with his free hand, but his eyes were back on her. Holding her in his sensual thrall, he lifted it to his mouth and licked the top most peak of icing.

Oh…oh wow…that was… triple ‘x’

Andie watched him savor her cupcake with male groan and a velvet rasp of,  “So good.”

“Thanks.” She was so proud of that one single word.

Then that perfect face came closer, lips brushed her cheek as a rough whisper caressed her ear, “Save me a dance, Kitten.”

He straightened, winked, and turned, taking in the room in one sweeping glance, “Nice job, Jose, Tommy. Marla,” He nodded the girl’s way, “Thank you for your help.”

Thanks.” Two voices in shocked unison and one female squeak.

He then turned fully to Layla, “Extraordinary as always Miss Markham, you do your Grandmother proud.”

Layla actually blushed, but her voice was strong, “Thank-you, that means a lot.”

Then the entire room, Bimbettes and all, silently stood and watched Adonis stroll from the room in all his Demi-God glory.

Little gray dots danced in front of Andie’s eyes. Right. Oxygen. Mere mortals needed that stuff. She sucked in a giant gulp.

“What the…” Fanning herself with the asshole awards, Layla turned wide shocked eyes on Andie, “Girl, He…you…I mean…DAMN.”

Marla pulled the pins from her mouth, “I need a cigarette.”

Jose blinked once, shook himself, then strode over to her and grabbed her hand, “Come on.”

What…wait… “Huh?”

But Jose was already double-timing it to the door, dragging her behind him, “Layla, you’re on your own. Tommy, we need you.”

“Yeah, okay.” Layla was still fanning herself, “I’ve got this.”

Tommy descended from the ladder and handed the bunch of holly to Marla, “Shellie’s got Marlboro Lights.”

Andie stumbled after Jose, “Where are we going?”

“To get you ready.”

“For what?” It wasn’t even 1100 am the ball didn’t start until 8:00…

Jose kept tugging, “Your deflowering.”