Six hours and one sadistic spa experience later, Andie was in one of Tommy’s consignment shops standing on a platform being stuffed and fluffed after being plucked, waxed, buffed and polished. Surrounded by three way mirrors.
“Oh, baby, you look all kinds of fuckable. You’ll never make it out of the hotel. He’ll drag you in one of those rooms and ravish you.”
She’d have been shocked by Jose’s declaration if she didn’t wholeheartedly agree, and well… “I don’t know….”
“Yes, we all know that, sweetie. Fashion is not your area.” Tommy produced art deco drop earrings and a matching bracelet, sparkling under the lights with what she hoped were faux diamonds and emeralds. They matched the combs and pins tipped with the same sparkle sweeping her hair to one side.
“But we love you just as you are,” Jose assured her, pulling a pair of black peep-toes with heels like stilts out of a box “Now be a good little fag-hag and listen to your better half.”
Andie barely heard him, she was too busy picturing herself falling on her ass,“Can’t we find shoes that aren’t quite so high…”
“No. No, absolutely not.” Jose planted himself in front of her, a shoe in each hand, “Andie Chase, this is Chanel. You are wearing Chanel.”
Uh-oh. Coco rant coming. Andie put one hand behind her back, fingers at the ready.
“You, my darling girl have a date with destiny.”
“You will soar through the night, both classy and fabulous.”
“You will be gorgeous charming, and irresistible.”
Somewhat of a para, but it had the key words so…quote three.
“You will be impeccable. You will be remembered.”
“You will glide into that ballroom, unforgettable. Elegant, as beautiful on the outside as you are inside…
“What you will not do is clomp around in some kitten-heeled knockoff.” Jose placed the beautiful instruments of torture in front of her, “Now slip your feet in the fabulous shoes and be unique.”
That was sort of six.
She put the shoes on, and cut off a possible seven, “Uh Jose, I’ll certainly be unforgettable in this.”
She was still wearing the terry robe they had wrapped her in to do her hair.
“Don’t snark. We’re waiting until we get to the hotel to put the dress on you.
“What? No…” She didn’t like that idea. Nope. Not even a little.
“Andie honey, you’re going to want to check on your desserts and you can’t do that in the dress. After you’ve done your catering bit, you can slip the dress on and make your entrance.
“Uh, I’d still like to see the dress.”
“I saw it on you, yesterday. It fits perfectly.”
She hadn’t seen it. The mirrors in Tommy’s shop had been conspicuously covered for her final fitting. “But it’s so low cut. I don’t know if this is the message I want to send.”
“Well, I do.” Jose dismissed her concerns, “Andie, the kind of chemistry between you and Sugar-buns doesn’t happen every day.”
Andie didn’t hear a word he’d said after, “Sugar-Buns?”
“Oh, please, you saw his butt in those jeans, that is one sweet piece of ass, and no distracting me when I’m busy being right. The electricity zinging between you two was so strong in that ballroom my hair stood up on end.”
She had no argument for that. The man affected her in a way that was both powerful and foreign. Could she turn her back on it, and if she did, would she regret it? Yes! was a neon sign flashing in her mind, but there was that whole Dominant thing. The neon sign went out and images of being tied up at Adonis’ mercy flashed instead. Instantly, her new lacy panties were wet.
She was in over her head and everybody, including her own coochie-delight, wanted her to drown.
She was on her own, “But…”
“Nope, no buts.” Jose moved around her, fluffing her hair, “Do I tell you how to make cupcakes? No. No I do not. Fashion is my area.”
“Honey, trust me.” Jose finished fluffing to stand in front of her, one hand pressed over his heart, “Would I lead you astray?”
“I cannot go out there like this.”
“You can. You will.”
Andie stood in front of a full length mirror and saw flesh.
Lots of flesh.
Lots and lots of flesh.
A whole lot of lots and lots of flesh.
So trusting the man who wanted to get her laid with her wardrobe selection probably, in hind sight was probably a mistake. She tugged the strips of fabric halfway covering her breasts
“Stop that.” Competent hands took a break from smoothing her skirt to smack her fumbling ones.
“This neckline plunges to my waist. She made another grab and got slapped again.
“It’s a very narrow strip of flesh. It’s lovely – sexy and classy.”
Well, yes if she forgot about it being her flesh she had to agree. Her hair, swept to one side and anchored with the jeweled hair clips, was a river of molten copper running down one shoulder. Jose gave her what he called barely-there, sexy makeup. Pale grey smoky eyes and a pale pink lip. The earrings and bracelet sparkled but her throat was bare. Jose said a bare neck was sexy.
Like the dress needed any help with the ‘sexy’. The classy plunge revealing the inner swells of her breasts took care of that one. Her bare breasts since there was no way to wear a bra with the dress.
Then if you turned around…which she did, “Jose, there is no back to this dress.”
“It’s from the thirties.” Jose said, like that made it okay.
In Andie’s book walking half- naked into a large room filled with people was not okay.
Her entire back was bare all the way down to the dimples just above rear. Hell, you could see the dimples if she moved the wrong way. The draping in the back of the dress flowing to reveal the little indents as she moved.
“It all had to do with the Hollywood censors, you know.” Jose tried to distract her with Hollywood trivia while shoving her to the door leading to the ballroom, “They had strict limits on the amount of flesh shown in the front, but said nothing about the back.
Now come on. Layla has been screaming in my ear every other second.” Just then he jerked the little communicator do-hickey thing from his ear. Even Andie could hear Layla’s “Where the fuck are you?” followed by “I’m going to kill that fucking slut.”
“Don’t get your thong in a twist. We’re coming.” Jose fell behind her, his eyes on her lower back, “We just have one final wardrobe adjustment to make.”
“No. I can’t.” Andie froze in the arched doorway. The ballroom lay before them. A sparkling Christmas wonderland.
The small part of her that wasn’t terrified was proud of what Layla and Jose had accomplished. The clear glass ornaments hung from the ceiling, so thin and delicate they looked like bubbles floating in the air. The fir trees sparkled with crystals and lights, their evergreen scent filling the air. It was a beautiful backdrop for the guests. The ladies glittering like exotic jewels and the men no less impressive in black and white. But as beautiful as it was, she couldn’t bring herself to join in. She felt naked. Exposed. Hell, she was exposed.
Really very exposed.
“Andie Chase, you get your cute little hiney moving. Your Greek God is out there somewhere looking for his Goddess.”
Oh shit. Oh shitty shit. That had her spinning around and heading back the way they’d come. She got maybe half a foot. Jose grabbed her shoulders and spun her back around.
“What the hell is taking so long?” Layla stormed up to them, “I’m having to snark to myself out there.”
Wow. Va-va-va-voom was right. The long sleeved red velvet slid over Layla’s body like a second skin, the off shoulder style baring her neck and shoulders. If Andie wanted to stay anonymous in this crowd all she’d have to do is stand beside Layla. She wouldn’t get so much as a blink.
“Andie” Layla grabbed her hands and held them out, “You are hot. Drake is going to swallow his tongue.”
Right, Drake. “I don’t know if this is the message I want to send.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Layla started dragging her into the ballroom, “What message? You’re gorgeous. End of story. Now, come on.”
“….this extra sharp English cheddar with fig spread…damn it’s good.”
Andie stood beside the dessert table her back to the wall listened to Shellie extol the food she’d been snitching in the kitchens. She was catering in Andie’s stead so….
“….I thought you were lying about all the good food back there, but honey anytime you want to put a fancy dress on, you call me and I’ll come running. It’s awesome back there. I’m having to resort to threats to protect your cupcakes.”
Andie refused to pout as that wasn’t lady-like and as long as her back stayed to the wall she could pass for a lady.
Jose had gotten an emergency summons on his ear thingy. Shoving a glass of champagne in her hand with the order to “Drink up” and promising he’d be back in a smidge, he abandoned her to prevent Layla from stabbing Chaylene Abbingdon a.k.a Miss Bitchy-Pants.
She’d guzzled her champagne and was now up to two smidges with a couple minutes left over and he was nowhere in sight. Neither was anyone one else. No Demi-God. Nope. ‘Save me a dance, kitten’ Hah. The liar. Not that she cared. It was for the best.
“Alright,” Shellie rounded on her, “Spill it.”
“You look like somebody pissed in your Wheaties.”
A single snort shot from her.
Shellie grinned, “Knew that would get you.”
She elbowed her in the ribs, “Pissed in my Wheaties? What are you? Twelve?”
“Hey, if the glass slipper fits. What the hell are you doing up against the wall? You see the kind of looks you’re getting? You could have your pick of the men tonight.”
Oh, she saw the looks. That’s why her back was against the wall.
“Well damn.” Shellie cocked her head at her, thoughtful.
“It makes you uncomfortable.”
“Men. Men paying attention to you, I mean. You don’t like it.”
Very very true and not something she wanted to discuss. “I just don’t like being in crowds.”
“Because you can’t be anonymous in a crowd.” Shellie went on with her psycho analysis, “Honey, you’re sexy – that red hair, those eyes, and your skin is like cream… lickable.”
“Don’t get all uncomfortable.” Shellie said, consolidating the cupcakes, “Not saying I lust or anything, but I like girls. I notice.” She picked up the tray she’d emptied, “I think we could use more Key Lime,” She headed back in the kitchen, sending her a lip smack over her shoulder, “But if you were of my persuasion, I’d do you dirty.”
Andie found herself laughing, “Thanks, I’d do you, too.”
Shellie disappeared behind the door at the same time a cluster of ladies landed on the table like a flutter of tropical birds.
“Oooh cupcakes. How fun.” One of the women who looked to be a little older than Andie maybe in her early thirties, dressed in black and dripping in diamonds, paused at the table, “What flavors are they?”
Andie answered out of habit, pointing to the various trays, “Key Lime. Mocha. Mulled Spice…and… she looked around, “There should be some Vanilla, but I guess they’re gone.”
“Oh, they’re gone alright” Shellie came back through the door with a tray of cupcakes and settled them on the table. “Your man, Damien Drake was not happy when he saw them. He grabbed the entire tray and ran off.”
Andie’s “Huh?” was drowned out by the Diamond Dripper’s shocked, “Damien?” The woman raised both beautifully plucked brows, “I can’t imagine.”
“Oh yeah,” Shellie’s braids bobbed, “Seems vanilla is his favorite.”
“What?” Andie asked, forgetting about the audience of diamond drippers, “You mean he took them off to eat them?”
“I guess,” Shellie shrugged.
“Dear God, I took him two dozen on Tuesday. He’ll make himself sick.”
“You did?” The Diamond Dripper’s eyes swung to Andie and she found herself, for the second time in one day, scanned from head to toe by a perfectly coiffed bitch and found lacking, “Really?”
Tired of the bitch routine, she was about to implement her Grandmother’s superior bitch beheading plan, but Shellie beat her to the chopping block.
“Oh yeah, he loves Andie’s cupcakes. I heard he about had sex with a Key Lime this morning. I reckon when he eats the Vanilla it’s straight up Porno. Now that would be something to see.” Shellie licked her lips and disappeared through the door again.
Andie had to throw her hand over her mouth, press her lips together, and bite her cheek. The diamond dripper stood there staring at the door, dripping in shocked silence.
It was no use. Andie’s lips popped open. The giggle burst free. Then a snort and a cackle. That she attempted to hide behind her hand over her mouth.
Perfectly smoked ice green eyes landed on her with what you could call venom.
“So, you made the cupcakes?”
Andie nodded. She couldn’t open her mouth. If she did, it would be over.
Translation: How beneath me you are, little peasant. Be gone from my sight.
“Sweet. That’s the word for our Andie.” The deep masculine rumble had every one of the women spinning around, including her to see a giant in a tuxedo. A very good looking giant with sandy hair and hazel eyes.
“Stan?” Wow, he cleaned up good.
“Stanford.” The diamond dripper slinked by her and dripped all over him, doing that kiss-kiss cheek thing.
The warmth in Stan’s eyes turned to frost, “Felicia.”
Holy Shit! The Diamond dripper was Layla’s evil Step-Sister.
“Oh now, don’t be like that.” Felicia simpered, her bottom lip popping out in one of those sexy pouts you read about in romance novels.
Double-blecchhhe times two.
“Like what?” Stan asked at the same time he reached around her and grasped Andie’s hand, tugging her toward him, “Make my night and dance with me, Sweetheart.”
“Oh…um…I’m not much of a dancer…” Andie stuttered as he pulled her past a venomous Felicia.
“Sweetheart, men never ask a pretty lady to dance, because they actually want to dance.” Stan led her to the floor, “It’s just an excuse to…” The smooth words broke on a crack at the exact moment Stan’s hand landed on her lower back, “Uh honey, I think you might have a wardrobe malfunction.”
Oh boy. “No… it’s… um…the style.”
Stan’s eyes went glassy, “Say what?”
“It’s the style of the dress.”
Stan shook his head, the glassy eyes heating with male interest and a good bit of mischief, “Well, this I gotta see.”
And before Andie could say “boo” she’d been turned in an elegant spin and somehow her back ended up against Stan’s front. She looked over her shoulder to see him, back up and look down…
“Holy. Shit! What kind of dress is this?”
Oh honestly. She spun around, “It’s from the thirties.”
If possible, Stan’s gaping shock grew, “The thirties? Like the 1930’s?”
“Yes.” Seriously? Was it that bad? Her own discomfort aside, she was hardly the only woman in history to walk around in a backless dress.
“Well, shit.” Stan took another step back, looking her up and down, his slow wicked grin returning, “I do believe I’m livin’ in the wrong decade.”
“Uh, Stan if we’re not going to dance can we at least get off the floor. People are staring.”
“Oh, right,” He pulled her back into his arms and swept her effortlessly back onto the floor, his hand warm on her bare skin, but as it blocked the eyes she could feel scanning her, she was grateful, “Sorry about that Sugar, I was shocked.”
“You. Shocked. Really?” The man owned the naked, collar-wearing, kinky club and a bare back shocked him?
“Ahh, yeah, I suppose that is surprising.” A low self-deprecating laugh rolled around in his chest, “Surprised the hell out of me.”
“Obviously.” She allowed herself an eye roll.
“So, you’ve been standin’ against the wall all night. That explains why there hasn’t been blood-shed.” Heat fired in his eyes, “This dress is dangerous, darlin’.”
Whatever. “I’m not… Jose picked this out and…. I mean…. I don’t dress up a lot.” Oh, she was a disaster.Her shoulders drooped, “And honestly Stan, I’d really like to get back against the wall.”
The heat dissipated and that same reassuring smile she’d seen at the club creased Stan’s cheeks, “Ah, okay sweetheart, how bout I dance you across the room to those trees over there.”
“That would be wonderful. Thanks.”
“Gotta say though.” Stan swept her effortlessly across the room, “You look good enough to eat.”
Yes, so she’d been told.
Damien stood in The Fugue’s security office watching the feed. His mother’s ball was a roaring success – as always.
“You can see we have all exits and entrances covered.” Caine Lawrence, his new head of security informed him.
“You think he’ll make an appearance?” Maurice’s well-trained eyes flicked rapidly, scanning the numerous monitors.
“Yes.” He wouldn’t be able to stay away. It would be admitting defeat. The Drake men never went down easy.
The other man nodded. His eyes expertly scanning the wall of flat screen monitors – fifteen total. Each connected to numerous cameras throughout the hotel and parking deck and surrounding streets.
The first thing Drake had done when he’d taken over the hotel was bring Maurice in to evaluate the security. It had failed. Drake brought in a new staff and state of the art surveillance. Some of the most powerful people in the world stayed at this hotel. Safety had to be his top priority.
It was the reason he was still in this cramped office when for the first time in his life he’d rather be on that dance floor. He scanned the bottom row of monitors all of which were focused on the ballroom and surrounding areas, looking for a crown of copper hair. So far, she’d yet to make an appearance, though he knew she was in the building. She’d met with the caterers upon arrival, checking on the cupcakes. Some of which were Vanilla and hell no. He’d gotten those out and boxed up. They were, even now, safely locked up in his private suite of rooms.
“Aw man, who’s that?” One of the men on the cameras zoomed in on a tall woman in skin-tight red velvet and a sleek curtain of straight dark hair.
“Layla Markham, she’s running the ball. You should know who she is.” Drake detested incompetence and in a security team it was dangerous.
“Not her, we all know who she is, and I don’t mid telling you we’re scared shitless of her. That woman is psycho. I knocked over a pile of napkins earlier. She flipped. I lightening shot out of her eyes.” The man shivered, shaking off the memory,“I’m talking about her.”
He pointed to a lower screen his body had been blocking. A group of women clustered around it and off to the side stood a woman in profile, copper hair gleaming under the lights, her creamy arm bare.
“Damn, she’s sweet.” The camera zoomed, “Turn back around sweetheart and give us another look at those perfect tits.”
The next second Drake had the guard shoved against the opposite wall his hand at his throat, “One more word and not only will you be out of a job, but physically unable search for another one.”
The guard wheezed, grabbing at his throat. His face darkening to a gratifying purple.
“Uh… Drake, buddy.” Maurice was behind him, “I don’t think you should be choking your employees.”
Probably not and he didn’t give a shit. He bent down so he was eye to eye with the purple face, “I don’t know how things went in the past, but using the cameras to ogle our guests will not be tolerated.”
The guard kept grappling at his throat.
“Killing your staff probably won’t be tolerated either.”
Maurice again. Drake sent him a look of warning.
“Just sayin.’” The other man threw his hands up and backed away.
“Mr. Drake, sir,” Lawrence spoke, still reclined against the table, “I’m certain if you let go of Chance’s throat, he’ll apologize.” He switched his attention downward, supremely unconcerned about his man being choked to death, “Won’t you Chance?”
The younger man nodded, his eyes bugging.
It took more discipline than he’d had to muster in years, but he unfolded his hand and shoved the little shit away.
Wheezing, coughing and gasping, the man none-the-less tried to offer an apology “I’m sorry. I swear, I don’t normally. She just… I mean. I’m sorry.”
Drake ignored him, turning to Lawrence, “Make sure this is communicated clearly.”
“Yeah, I’ll get right on that.” Lawrence snorted, “But I think you made the point already.”
But Damien had already dismissed him, grabbing the controls and following that copper silk gleaming under the lights.
Holy shit! What the hell was she wearing?
“Oh man, she’s something.”
That was Maurice. He’d kill him later. He zoomed the camera in on that dress plunging all the way down to her waist. Her hair was pulled over to one shoulder revealing her creamy throat. He could see the curves of her breasts and holy shit more freckles.
“Hey, is that Stan Wyatt?”
“What?” He pulled his eyes off Andie to see Stan Wyatt and his smarmy grin. He heard somebody say something about Felicia. Yeah, that was her. Distantly it registered that he didn’t want her near Andie, but Stan pulling her out to the dance floor was clouding his thinking…. “What the FUCK?”
Every man in the room either cursed or groaned when Andie turned around. Her entire back was bare all the way down to her ass and holy shit! He could see the dimples and sure enough a smattering of freckles.
“Oh man…” The guy he’d strangled, breathed in awe. He shot Lawrence a look that said, “He’s fired.” Lawrence rolled his eyes and acquiesed with a resigned nod.
Chance, the soon to be unemployed, then proved he was too stupid to live by asking, “Who is she?”
“Andie Chase,” He bit out through clenched teeth, “And she’s….” What? His date? His girlfriend? The woman who’d be screaming his name within the hour? “Mine.” He said, the truth of the single word filling him, “She’s mine.”
“Then brother,” Maurice pointed at Stan’s face, “You better get out there and claim her, because Stan is doing his damnedest to make her his.”
“Like Hell.” He bolted from the room.
“Dammit Drake” Maurice called after him, “You can’t kill the man at your Mom’s ball…”
Sure he could. It was his hotel.
Stan snagged two Champagne flutes from a passing server, handing one to her.
“So Andie, sweetheart, what were you doing all by yourself in the middle of those barracudas.”
Barracuda. Andie thought, sipping on the champagne Stan had snagged for her. Oh, that was perfect. That woman was a barracuda.
“Well, um..Layla was about to kill the Bimbette so Jose had to go…” Was she babbling? It sounded like babble. She took another couple of gulps of Champagne. Not smart as she hadn’t eaten, but she was nervous.
“Whoa. Wait. Hold up.” And that gaze was back on her times ten, “You’re not here with Damien?”
Andie took a step back and hit the wall behind her.
“No. I’m here with my friends. Layla has to be here, you see, and she hates these things and usually I don’t dress up because I always cater, but Layla’s having a bad week and wanted somebody to snark with…” Oh God, she was super-babbling.
“So…” Stan suddenly seemed closer though she hadn’t seen him move, “You’re not here with Drake?”
“No, I’m not…he’s not…we’re not…”
“Uh-huh,” Stan tilted his head to the side, “I’m not so sure you two are on the same page with that one. In fact, I’m surprised I’m still breathing.”
“But just to be sure, you’re not with anyone.”
“You mean like a date?”
“Yeah,” Stan smiled, leaning down and in a conspiratorial whisper, “Like a date.”
“Um…no,” Oh boy, now he was definitely closer, and it was flattering, but a little nerve wracking and she was feeling a tad dizzy. She ducked around him so she wasn’t trapped between him and the wall.
“Hey,” The heat left his eyes, “I didn’t mean to crowd you.”
“You didn’t…” Well he kinda’ did, but she knew Stan would never do anything she didn’t want him to, “It’s just I’m a little…” She shook her head. Jose’s glass of champagne in lieu of valium idea wasn’t working. She was still nervous and now she was dizzy.
“Shit…” Stan was beside her, his hand a warm and reassuring presence on her naked back, “How much have you had to drink?”
“Not much,” Of course it didn’t take much for her and she hadn’t eaten.
“Uh-huh…” Stan was looking around the room, “Where the hell is that fucker?”
“What fucker?” She repeated automatically and slapped a hand over her mouth. Her Grandmother would be horrified. Ladies did not curse at formal events. She set the half empty champagne glass down on the windowsill. If random fucks were coming out of her mouth, she’d had more than enough.
“We need to get you some air, sweetheart.”
“Okay.” Air sounded good.
“Dammit, they need to put off that announcement.”
Then music that had been the backdrop to her swaying head stopped.
“Shit. Too late.”
“Damien? What on earth are you doing? I had no idea you were here.”
Damien forced himself to stop. Turning to face the elegant woman seated beside the stage. He’d made it half-way across the ballroom with bare nods. His thunderous expression kept people at bay, but his mother wasn’t one to be intimidated by Drake men, having faced the worst of their dark side years ago.
“Hello, mother.” He leaned down to kiss his mother’s cool cheek, picking up the faint floral scent of the fragrance she’d worn as long as he remembered.
“Yeah, bro where you off to in such a hurry?”
He ignored his brother. “Everything is perfect as always.”
“Thank-you and you will not distract me. What are you doing here?”
“I had to meet with security.” That was the truth, just not all of it.
His mother’s eyes clouded, “Do you think he’ll try something?”
“The probability is low, but he’s desperate and we’re dangling the bait. We can’t assume he won’t nibble.”
“You left him with nothing.”
“He’s breathing.” Which was more than the man deserved.
His mother reached up. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to reach him, he leaned down to her so her hand cupped his cheek, “How long will this go on, son?”
He took his mother’s hand in his own, kissed her knuckles and gave her another truth, “As long as it takes.”
The hand he held squeezed his, “You deserve to be happy.”
And she deserved to walk onto that podium, but that wasn’t happening either.
“Mom, you’re up.” Nate got behind his mother.
“I have to go present the award, son.”
“Mom said Andie Chase, the pastry chef is getting it this year. You’ve met her right?”
He refrained from clopping his brother on the back of the head and scanned the ballroom for the tiny temptation making him crazier by the minute instead. There. Still between those fir trees and Stan was still there… Shit!
Blood rage fell over his eyes as Stan’s hand fell on Andie’s lower back.
He turned his most charming smile on his mother, “Mother, if you don’t mind. Andie is a… friend. I’d like the honors.”
When his mother’s shocked and elated, “Of course dear,” fell behind him as he leaped to the stage he knew his numerous threats to Nate had worked, not that it mattered. He also knew what he was doing was impulsive and reckless to the point of demented. And finally, he knew that he didn’t give a flying fuck about any of it, because by God he was going to make it known to every horny bastard in the greater DC area that every succulent inch of Miss Andromeda Adrianna Chase was exclusively his and his alone. Hell, maybe after he buried himself in her a few dozen times he’d be able to get enough blood flow back to his brain to find just where the hell his mind had gone because he sure as shit had lost it.
“Ladies and Gentlemen every year we honor a volunteer,” Layla’s familiar throaty voice came through the sound system.
“What the fuck is he doing?” Stan was facing the stage.
Andie followed Stan’s gaze to see a demon in black leap onto the stage and march to the podium. Eyes glinting black under the lights, searched the room and locked on… her.
Layla looked over his shoulder to someone off the stage. Then back at the Demon, then leaned into the mic. “Here to make the presentation this year is Mr. Damien Drake the Third.”
Andie caught the bite in those words. This hadn’t been planned and Layla was pissed.
“Thank-you Miss Markham,” The Adonis was smooth as ever, “And without any further delay allow me to have the honor of announcing this year’s recipient of the Hand and Heart award. Miss Andromeda…”
Applause thundered in her ears. Stan cursed at her back and a spotlight blinded her. And over all of this a silken request that was no request at all, “Andie, please join me on the podium.”
“Well shit, that’s one way to stake a claim.” Stan’s low curse invaded her shock, “Come on sweetheart,” He tucked her hand in his arm, “Let’s get you up there.”
Up there? Up there there? Oh No. No, that was not the direction she wanted to go. Her feet sloshed in leaden stumping steps. Stan’s firm hold around her waist the only thing keeping her moving. Faces slid by her, some smiling others frowning.
“God, honey. I’m so sorry.” Layla took Stan’s place beside her, “I was going to tell you, then that Chaylene Bimbette tried to pull some crazy shit.
What the fuck,” Layla actually shoved the Diamond Dripping Barracuda who’d slithered into their path, “Don’t mess with me Feces. I’ll take you out.”
Feces paled and backed away, but Andie felt poisonous green eyes stabbing her in the back. Anything that woman handed her to eat would taste like almonds. Noted.
“Then Drake just jumped up there.” Threat eliminated, Layla returned to her explanation, I don’t know what’s up with that. Just hang in there until it’s over, okay. I know you don’t like to be center stage. That’s why we didn’t tell you.” Layla kept talking as the stage got closer, “I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.” Then she was muttering about the bimbette and the various and horrible things she would to the stupid…Andie bleeped that word in her head and oh shit, if Layla pulled out the ‘c’ word the Bimbette would be lucky to last the night.
They stopped walking and Jose took her arm, “Come on Sweetheart. We’re just going right up these steps.”
What? Steps? Andie blinked. She was at the edge of the stage and Jose wanted her to go up those steps and onto that stage where she’d be standing in front of all those people.
No. Her feet froze. Just stopped moving. She wanted them to move, but nope, no moving. Social Anxiety. That’s what the experts called it. The ones her parents had sent her to when she took to hiding under the bed so she wouldn’t have to go to school. She called it good old fashioned scared. Andie did not want to get on that stage. Her lungs filled with cement. She shook her head.
“Honey, look at me.” Jose put his hands on either side of her face so she was looking straight at him. “You can do this. You’re wearing Chanel, remember.”
Her feet. She was wearing the peep-toes.
“You have a date with destiny. You will glide across that stage on the history and artistry that is Chanel.”
Right. History. Artistry. Okay. She lifted her foot.
“Good girl. That’s great.” He led her up five steps. She counted. Then there were five more steps and then she was looking up at the Devil in black.
“Thank-you, Jose.” The Demon’s voice was a stroke of velvet along her spine but his eyes were a turbulent storm.
“When my mother informed me that Adrianna Chase would be receiving the Heart and Hand award this year, I asked to be allowed to make the presentation. Andie is a…friend.”
Oh. Shit. Panic burned off her alcohol haze and Andie was figuring some things out – fast.
One: She was getting the Heart and Hand award.
Two: That’s why she had to dress up and actually attend the ball as a guest.
Three: Something had gone haywire with the presentation, because no way would her friends spring this on her with no warning because…
Four: They knew getting on the stage in front of all those people would freak her out and
And Five: The Demi-God had lost his ever-loving Beautiful Mind.
He’d packed enough innuendo in the word ‘friend’ he might as well have bent her backwards and given her one of those Life Magazine kisses. And shit, he must be a mind-reader because holy shit, he lifted her hand to his mouth and holy shitty shit, kissed it. The banked inferno smoldering in his eyes scorching her to her toes. Out in the crowd there were murmurs and shocked gasps.
Of course there were. He’d just told every-important-body in DC they were doing it.
On the bright side, her stage fright was buried under her shock.
“Her kindness and generous heart have been a comfort to many who’ve come through our program. But they can tell you much better than I…”
The Demi-God nodded to someone off stage and the lights went down. The hand still holding hers tugged. She followed until they were off to the side of the stage, hidden behind a giant fir tree. He moved around to her back, warm hands gripped her hips and pulled her against him, her back to his front. Arms came around her, his hands taking hers and wrapping them around her. His arms covering her own and resting around her waist. She was surrounded, wrapped up like a package. She couldn’t think. She could barely breathe. So many questions rolled and bounced and bumped around in her head, finally one popped out of her mouth.
“What are you doing?”
“Warming you,” The whisper hissed in her ear, “You must be cold. You’re practically naked.”
Oh for fuck’s sake. So far this dress had brought her nothing but grief. “Lodge a complaint with the FCC.”
Silence over her head and then a puzzled perplexed, “I’m..sorry..what?”
She tilted her head back and up. His face illuminated by the lights on the tree, brow wrinkled, his lips turning down. Confusion. That’s what that was. Fashion trends of the thirties had stumped the Demi-God. It was kind of funny and oh, he was cute when confused. She pressed her lips together. She would not smile. She wouldn’t. His brow popped up at her. Her smile popped out accompanied by a tiny sound that possibly could conceivably be construed as…
He lowered his head, “Was that a giggle?”
She shook her head, but kept her lips tightly pressed together.
“I believe it was.”
She risked opening her mouth, “Since you’re suffering from delusions I wouldn’t trust your perceptions at the moment.”
“Like you don’t know.” She turned back around, and may have snorted when she said, “Friends.”
“Oh, I’m under no delusions, kitten.” Hot breath tickled her ear. The hands at her waist tightened, “We’re not friends….”
Air left her lungs as his mouth fluttered down her throat to her shoulder, lips brushing back and forth over the place her pulse fluttered in a wild erratic beat, “But we will be lovers.”
“Ssshh.” The reprimand came with a light bite of teeth to flesh he’d made ultra-sensitive, “Watch the video.”
Watch the video? Seriously? But then she saw faces she recognized. Layla and Jose talked about her skill in the kitchen and how when she showed up everybody’s mood improved no matter what was going on. Because as Jose said, “Sugar is good for what ails you.” Then women who’d come through the shelter spoke about experiences in the kitchen. One woman, Jane, broke down talking about eating cookie dough from the bowl. That’s when a handkerchief appeared in her line of sight. She grabbed it wordlessly and it was a good thing because then the children came on and her trickle of tears became a steady rain.
The last of the testimonials came from boy who looked to be pre-teen. He’d grown so much it was the little girl at his side she recognized first. Holly and her brother Stephen. They’d been some of the first children to come in after she started volunteering.
“The night we got there…well Mom was hurt bad and the Doctor gave her something to make her sleep.” Stephen spoke in that cracking scratch of a boy’s changing voice.
Andie’s heart was bursting, “Oh, he’s grown so much.”
“Holly was scared. Andie, she took us in the kitchen and said we could make something for Mom. Whatever we wanted. The only thing I could think of were cookies. How we used to decorate them at Christmas… before…” He paused, sniffing the way boys do when they don’t want to be seen crying, “She got out a mixing bowl and we made them right then. She held Holly on her lap and helped her decorate. It was June. Nowhere close to Christmas. Andie said it didn’t matter. Christmas cookies were fun anytime,” He broke off looking away, blinking rapidly. When he turned back to the camera, a fierce light blazed in his eyes, “She’s a really good person. She deserves a hundred awards.”
“Hundreds and Hundreds.” Little Holly exclaimed, bouncing up and down, her blond curls bouncing with her, “She makes cookies!”
Andie kept the handkerchief under her eyes so her makeup wouldn’t run. The video ended with Mrs. Eleanor Drake. The elegant woman explaining that when they made the video so many people raved for so long that they’d had hours of footage. “Whittling it down to seven minutes was an immense job and a true joy. Adrianna Chase is who we are at our best. A loving heart and a giving soul. I am so happy to name her this year’s recipient of the Heart and Hand Award.”
The video ended. The lights came up. People applauded. And just like that Andie’s panic came back. She saw Mrs. Drake was now on stage holding the award. She guessed she was supposed to walk out there and get it and maybe say something. Not happening. Her feet were stuck.
God, this was so stupid.
Just lift your foot, Andie. Pick it up and put it back down. And oh yeah, breathe.
Then a big warm body was between her and the crowd. A kiss was pressed to her forehead, “Come on, sweetheart, we’re just going to get your trophy from Mom and we’ll get you off this stage.”
Oh, that sounded good. She picked up her foot.
It all happened in a blur of color and sound. An elegant woman in a wheelchair handed her a golden statue.
And then she was off the stage. Jose was in front of her dabbing under her eyes and smearing gook under them. “Just a little touch up.” He said
Layla was at the mic, saying something about her best friend being overwhelmed.
Oh, okay that would be her.
Then another voice came through the sound system, smooth as aged whisky, he thanked his mother for indulging him and, “Now, if the band will indulge me further and play us something slow, I’d like to dance with my girl.
More gasps and twitters and Jose slapped his hand over his mouth, then pulled it down and grabbed her, “Holy! Shit! Andie Chase you’ve been holding out on me.”
No really, she hadn’t.
But then Jose was gone and an Adonis was in front of her stripping off his jacket. “Here.” He held it up.
“Uh…what?” She looked into his face to see a muscle twitch in his perfectly chiseled jaw. “Andie, put your arms in the sleeves.”
Okay. What the heck? She’d bite. She slipped her arms in the sleeves of his tuxedo jacket, covering herself in the heat and scent of his body… Oh, covering her.
She couldn’t decide if she was grateful or pissed. Of all the high-handed Demi-Goddery this was over the top. But before she could decide on a response, she was being led to floor amid snickers and laughter, gasps and whispers. So she just rolled with it, in the scheme of things, the jacket wasn’t all that big of a deal.
“Mmm-hmm.” He pulled her closer, a warm hand slid around her waist to rest on her back. She stumbled. He maneuvered and led her back into the rhythm in a seamless feat of Demi-Goddery.
And speaking of Demi-Gods and their feats, “Of course they’re watching, you announced to the world we’re doing it.”
“Did I?” He asked, all urbane charm, “I don’t remember saying that.”
“Right.” He smiled at that. A self-satisfied, pleased as punch, smug as hell, and dang it, beautiful as all get out smile, “I guess I did.”
“You guess? You guess?” Andie sniffed the air, “Are you drunk?” Maybe she wasn’t the only light-weight in the room.
“Ah, the photographer. Hold on, Kitten”.
And she was spinning, the ballroom whirling in a dizzying kaleidoscope of color and light as, in a classic dance maneuver, Damien Drake twirled her down the length of his arm until she came to a stop, her arm fully extended, her hand held a firm grip. Andie glimpsed a sea of shocked and smiling faces, before being blinded by flashing lights and, with a tug, was reeled back in, landing up against a hard body.
Somewhere beyond the white flare she saw a handsome face wearing a dazzling smile, “Dip?”
This time the room tilted, topsy-turvy. She went back, back, and back some more. Adonis bent over her. More lights flashed and she was spun clockwise, a quarter turn, before being brought back up. The world righted and they twirled away, melting into the other dancers circling the floor.
Andie pushed at the chest of iron in front of her, blinking to rid herself of the white spots in her eyes, and there he was, Damien Drake, Demi-God and twinkle-toed wonder of the ballroom, “What the Sam-Hill was that?”
“Society pages.” He replied easily, one hand still holding hers, the other resting on her back, the heat of his palm singeing her through the borrowed coat
“Pages.” The hand on her back guided her into a quick turn, avoiding a collision with an energetic elderly couple fox-trotting around the room. “Yes. You’re repeating everything I say.”
Oh for crying the fuck out loud…“Have you lost your mind?”
“My mind.” He repeated with a full grin, “I lost it.”
“Oh.” Somehow, she didn’t expect such a hearty happy agreement to that one.
“It disappeared between 8:15 and 8:30 on the 14th.”
“Yes, remember? You were up against the wall.” He swept her out of the circle of dancers, slowing their pace, “I was up against you….”
“The wall? What wall?” Oh, that wall. “Can we get back to the Your Girl comment?” She was not comfortable discussing her orgasm up against the wall at the kinky sex club while waltzing at the ritzy charity ball. If that made her a prude, so be it.
“If you’d like.” The hand left her back. Both his hands gliding down her arms taking her hands and lifting them, placing them behind his neck, “Keep them there.”
“Sure,” She liked to touch his hair, anyway. But her careless, “Whatever” lost some of its panache with her surprised oomph. When both his hands slid under the coat and brought her up against the length of his body.
“Much better.” His low murmur a caress of heated silk, he rested one hand on her mid-back holding her to him and the other…. moved, sliding down and up again ever-elongating strokes all the way down past the dip of the dress and skilled fingers did their own dancing, “I like these dimples.”
Andie’s mind blanked, delicious shivers radiating from his barely there touches. They swayed in a slow stationary rhythm that could only, by the most generous standards, be called dancing
“Now, what are your objections?”
“Objections?” Andie shook her head in a useless attempt to clear it. Barely a breath separated their bodies, his heat permeating her gown and oh he smelled so good.
The champagne had nothing on Damien Drake.
“To being my girl”
“Why can’t you be mine?”
“Uh…” His? His what?
“Do you already have a lover?”
“No….” Oh, his that.
“Do you find me abhorrent?”
“What?” He was drunk. Had to be.
“Ugly, unattractive, obnoxious …”
“No…” But bat-shit crazy was working its way up the charts.
“Have you taken a vow of celibacy?”
“Celibacy?” Maybe that Ambrosia God-food had side effects.
“Yes, you know, like a nun.”
“No.” Andie searched his eyes for signs of intoxication.
“Then I don’t see a problem.”
“You don’t see a problem?” They looked perfect. Deep and dark and blue. Soooo pretty.
“You’re repeating again.”
“You’re crazy.” But, wow, did he wear it well.
“Yes, we already covered that, but I don’t believe my lack of sanity, in and of itself, should be a deterrent. Once I’m inside you and you’re screaming my name I’m confident my brain will return to full capacity.”
She stumbled. “What?” As soon as the word was out she regretted it. She did not want him repeating what he just said in the middle of the ritzy-ritzy ball. But she needn’t have worried as the hand that had been driving her crazy with exploring touches – slipped. It wasn’t much of a slip, but it was enough.
And Damien Drake, Mega Mogul and unflappable Demi-God, froze, his hand on her bare ass. Her bare, naked as a jay-bird, sans-panties ass.
Oh shitty shitty SHAH-ITTY shit.
He blinked once very slowly. His mouth dropped open and then clamped shut. He came out of the dep freeze, his hand sliding rapidly over her butt, searching, she knew, for the scrap of lace that was not there.
She peeked up through her lashes to see midnight eyes blazing as she was jerked roughly into his body so she was plastered to him breast to thigh. His head lowered. Lips brushed her ear in an angry hiss, “Andromeda Adrianna Chase, where are your panties?”