“Okay, uh I think it’s this one.” Andie gripped the box of cupcakes and gazed up at the white building. Elegant that was the word. Being Old Town there were lots of older buildings. Thus the name, but some stood out. This one always had to her.
“Yes, that’s the Monroe Building.” Jose said, expertly navigating the Prius through the busy narrow streets. He had a shoot in the area so he was dropping her off, “Drake bought it three years ago. Got it for a song.”
“He and his brother have been snatching up property for years.”
“Yes, it’s a hobby. His brother has a love of architecture and Drake…” Jose hesitated
“Likes to possess things.” She finished for him.
“You said it. Are you sure you don’t want me to wait?”
“No, you’re pressed for time. I can take the metro back to school.” The shoot was only a couple blocks over but it was DC. It would at least take fifteen minutes.
“I still say you should have changed clothes.” Jose pulled into the semi-circle of white stones that made the drive way, spun in his seat and began fluffing her hair, “At least get rid of the chef’s coat. Honey, work with me.”
Honestly she’d like to, but there’d been an incident with a mixer and chocolate frosting before she’d gotten it on this morning and her top was ruined so it was the chef’s coat or nothing.
Andie got out with her dozen cupcakes boxed in white cardboard and tied with twine, started up the steps. Jose was right, the official pastry chef uniform was not a flattering look on her. She was so short, she looked like a white box with stubby little checkered legs. At least she didn’t have her tall hat on, but since she’d gathered her hair up in a hurry and shoved two long wooden shish-kabob skewers through it, the absence of the hat was nothing to celebrate. And here she stood in front of one of the most expensive properties in Old Town looking like a life-sized female version of the Swedish Chef. Oh boy. Following two men dressed in snazzy had to be expensive suits up the whide white steps, she tried to keep her eyes of any reflective surfaces. One of the men must have seen her reflection. He turned and held the door for her.
She gave him a polite smile, “Thank-you.”
“My pleasure.” He flashed her that smile you saw a lot of in DC. Practiced and perfect.That smile bought and sold loyalties, “What have you got there?”
“Cupcakes.” Andie answered, aware that though he held the door, he was still blocking her entry.
“Mmm, is that what I’m smelling?” And still he blocked her way.
How the devil should she know what he was smelling, and why wasn he still in the way? Andie dropped the smile, “If you’ll excuse me?”
“Oh, right. Sorry.”
Not sounding a bit sorry, he moved out of her way, but as soon as she cleared the door he was right behind her, breathing down her neck. She picked up her pace, not paying attention to where she was going, just wanting to get away from him.
The other man called out, his impatience evident. She moved in in the opposite direction of that voice. The steps behind her hesitated, but then, much to her relief, moved away. Sheesh, the man must be desperate if he wanted Swedish Chef Girl.
After a few deep breaths she took note of her surroundings and boy, her parents would freak. Marble floors, crown moldings a wide staircase of wrought iron and marble that led to a second floor mezzanine. If it wasn’t all original it was beautifully restored. Even the on the walls the old gas lamps had been wired for electricity. Andie spun in a circle.
She stopped spinning. An impeccably dressed woman sat behind a desk, watching her with a politely bland expression professionals used.
“Hi, um I have a delivery for Mr. Drake.”
“Certainly. You can leave it with me.”
“Okay.” Andie breathed a sigh of relief. She’d been hoping this would work out. Drop off and get out. Crossing the marble floors, she laid the box on the woman’s desk.
The impeccably bland receptionist stared at it, “Cupcakes?”
She still stared at them, her veil of professionalism thinning. You’d think she’d never seen a cupcake before. “Uh…Mr. Drake is having dinner with his family and wanted to take them.”
“Oh.” Slipping her bland back in place, she handed Andie a pen.“If you’ll just sign here that you left them.”
She signed the log. Ignoring the sinking feeling in her chest. This was working out perfectly. Avoiding Damien Drake was for the best. He was nothing but trouble of the most heart wrenching kind. She made it to the door.
So close. She turned to see the impeccable woman on her feet, “Yes?”
“You’re Andie Chase?”
“Oh.” The veil fell completely, revealing shock, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize.”
“Uh…it’s okay.” Andie said automatically, used to people thinking she was male until she showed up. Although with the “ie” instead of the “y”…
“Please come with me.” The receptionist handed her back the cupcakes.
“But…” Andie protested to the woman’s elegant back. She was already halfway to the other end of the building.
Not seeing a choice, she followed, catching up to her when the woman stopped in front of the large desk between the two elevators. A man sat behind it. Andie guessed he was Security. Taking note of the his bulk barely contained in the dark suit he wore, she had to think this building was plenty secure.
“Carl, this is Andie Chase.”
Carl sat back. His eyebrows shot up, the eyes under them scanning her from the top of her head to her feet and back again. His mouth snapped shut, “Seriously?”
What the hell was that supposed to mean? Okay, so she was a girl. And yes, she was in a chef’s coat and yes she was holding cupcakes. Sheesh, it’s not like her skin was hanging off her face and she was gnawing on the receptionist’s arm.
“Yes,” The woman beside her said in that significant way that meant, “Get it together, your zombie-shock is showing”.
“Right.” The man’s eyebrows came down, he did a little throat clearing, “Okay. Yeah. I’ll uh make a note.”
Make a note of what?
The woman hit the elevator button. The brass doors slid open, “Mr. Drake is on four. I’ll call Abbot and let him know you’re coming.”
“Uh…okay.” She stepped on the elevator and hit the button. Only four floors. Made sense, none of the buildings in DC were very tall. It was nice that one thing made sense amid the Zombie apocalypse stares. The doors slid closed. Andie checked her face in the reflective surface. Nope, no skin hanging off. She’d get off the elevator and hand the cupcakes to Abbot and haul her Swedish Chef self out of here.
She stepped out onto the fourth floor, more marble floors clicked under her loafers. More classic architechture and the beauty of form meeting function. Black and white tile on the edges in a keyhole pattern that was reflected in the moldings and even the heavy doors. She’d guress the building was turn of the century. The reception space had several doors and one glassed off area – a long window of opaque milk glass on one wall. Probably a conference room. She ran her fingers over the glass, slightly rough under her fingers.
“Excuse me, miss?”
Oh crap. She’d done it again. She spun around to see yet another elegant woman sitting behind a large desk, “May I help you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry the building distracted me.”
The woman gave her that same distant polite smile. Andie wondered if it was part of their training program.
“I have a delivery for Damien Drake. I was told to see Abbott.”
“Abbott’s at lunch and Mr. Drake is in a meeting. I can take them.”
Whew! She went to lay the cupcakes on the woman’s desk. Her phone bleeped. A cool voice Andie identified as the woman downstairs came through it, “Stacy.”
Stacy picked up the phone. Andie wasn’t eavesdropping but she was standing right there.
“But he’s in with The Majority Leader.” Stacy’s eyes darted to her, “I don’t think….”
She stopped speaking, a dull flush spreading over her cheeks as she stammered, “Of course. Yes. I understand.”
She hung up the phone and once again, Andie was handed the box of cupcakes back, “Miss Chase, if you’ll wait here, please.”
Stacy went to wrought iron framed doors and tapped the glass. Andie had no problem hearing the tight, clipped, and highly irritated, “Enter.”
Stacy looked petrified, but she opened the door to a terse, “I asked not to be disturbed.”
“Yes sir, but Andie Chase is here and….”
“Excuse me, gentlemen.”
And there he was, gorgeous as ever, in a dark gray mega-mogul suit, white shirt, silver gray tie. The only color his eyes that locked on her and stayed, “Andie, I wasn’t expecting you.”
And shit, he did not looked pleased.
“Oh well,” She held the box up. “I just wanted to drop off your cupcakes.”
“I told you I’d pick them up.” He strode over to her, looking downright displeased and still he looked good.
“I’m sorry. I asked them not to interrupt you.”
“You didn’t interrupt me.” He denied, taking the hand that wasn’t holding the cupcakes and just…. holding it.
Uh..okay. Andie didn’t understand how Adonis leaving his meeting when he’d said he didn’t want to be interrupted wasn’t an interruption. Maybe Demi-Gods had different rules about space/time. She’d have to watch for that on the upcoming season of Through the Wormhole. “I know you’re busy, but I had to come this way anyway,” That was a lie, but it was a little one, “And I thought you might be pressed for time.” And that part was true. She shrugged.
“Pressed for time?” His displeasure evaporated to make way for puzzled. That looked good on him too.
“Dinner with your mother.” She explained, “The traffic is so bad on Fridays.”
“Drake, we need to finish this….” The man who’d held the door for her earlier slithered out of the conference room saw her and smiled, “Hello again.”
Drake’s eyes narrowed, “Again?”
And we were back to displeased.
“We met downstairs.” The man explained, his eyes still traveling over her. It felt like ants were crawling all over her body.
“Did you?” Adonis’ eyes narrowed to slits.
Displeased to the tenth power.
“Yes.” The slitherer smiled a greasy smile in her direction. It made her want to go home and take a shower, a hot one, scalding with a case of antibacterial Dial and follow it up with a gallon jug of purrell, maybe scrub herself with a Brillo pad….
Another man appeared in the door, distracting her from her ritualistic mental cleansing. She recognized this one. The portly man and his newly capped bright white teeth had been all over the television. His new smile was discussed on all the late night talk shows and the news chanels. It was a little ridiculous, but seeing it up close she had to admit, the Senate Majority Leader’s smile was blindingly white. Oh, and that would be the United States Senate.
“Um, well I should let you get back to your meeting…” She tugged on her hand, but Adonis wasn’t surrendering. He held on.
“Drake, what’s going on?” The Majority Leader looked between the two of them, “I’ve got to get back.”
Yes, Andie imagined running the country could be time consuming.
“Go on.” The Adonis dismissed him without so much as a glance, “We’re done.”
“But…what?” You called this meeting.” The room dimmed when the Senator’s smile disapeared.
But Demi-Gods couldn’t be bothered with the emotional states of mere mortals, “And now I’m ending it.” Taking the cupcakes from her, he handed them to elegant Stacy, “Put these somewhere safe.”
“Yes, sir.” Stacy said as if on auto-pilot. She was staring too.
Demi-Gods are used to that. He took Andie’s hand, tucked her into his side. One hand on her lower back and propelled her towards the elevator. Andie looked back over her shoulder to see other men appearing in the doorway. All faces she recognized, but couldn’t quite place and every one of them staring at Damien Drake like he’d sprouted another head. A fire breathing head with horns. What was that thing from Greek Mythology called….
“What are you talking about?” The Majority Leader croaked.
“I’ll not be contributing to your campaign this year. We’re done.”
“What the hell, Drake?”
A Hydra. That’s right. If you cut off one head, two grew back. She could understand all the staring. Hydras were rare these days. Then of course there was the Zombie Swedish chef beside him.
“Where are we going?” She asked.
But Hydra Demi-Gods didn’t pay much attention to Zombie Chefs. They just went about making their plans on their fancy phones, “Simon, meet me around front. We’re taking Miss Chase back to the Institute.”
“Um, that’s not nessesary.” She protested, but Demi-Gods weren’t big on listening either. The elevator doors slid open and he ushered her inside.
“Drake what are you doing?” That was the Senate Majority Leader. His croaking had gone up an octave and was approaching wild with panic territory.
“Leaving.” Adonis’ index finger punched the “L” button. “You want to talk about another six years, get rid of your chief of staff.”
Oh, and Demi-Gods don’t explain themselves. Andie noted as the elevator doors closed on half a dozen shocked faces.
Holy Shitty shitty shit! What just happened?
“Did he say anything to you?”
“Did the chief of staff say anything to you?” Impatiant clipped. So Demi-Gods weren’t big on giving explantations, but they sure did like to get them.
“Uh…you mean the slitherer with the sleezy smile?”
“An accurate desription, yes, the slitherer.”
“No.” She shook her head, and suspecting Demis didn’t care for the one one word variety, “He held the door and asked about the cupcakes. And then I went one way and he went the other.” Yes, he’d followed her at first, but one look at Adonis’ face told her it would be best to keep that to herself. She didn’t see him holding a lightning bolt, but decided to play it safe.
And they were suspicious. And downright annoying.
She took a frustrated breath…and…crap they smelled really good while being impatient, suspicious, annoying…a lock of silky hair fell onto his forehead. Oh… well… “Fudge.”
“You said fudge.”
The doors slid open. “Mr. Drake, sir?”
Carl was on his feet. Looking between the two of them with that Zombie Apocalypse stare.
Andie had half a mind to check her cheek for rotting flesh.
“Carl, I’m escorting Miss Drake back to the Culinary Institute.
“Right. Okay, then.” He sat back down, but still hadn’t blinked.
Oh, to hell with it. She pressed her hands to her cheeks.
Adonis quirked a brow at her. Demi-Gods didn’t miss much. “You checking for flour?”
“No, rotting skin.”
“Ever since I got here people have been giving me the Zombie Apocalypse stare.” She explained, walking through the door he’d opened for her. She hugged herself against the chill. It was a sunny day, but cool. She should have worn a coat since she’d had to remove her shirt to soak it.
Fortunately the car was right in front of them Simon standing beside the open door of a sleek black sedan. It didn’t scream money. Oh no, the elegantly simple lines had no need to scream. It sat there and purred wealth.
“Everybody in your building was staring at me like I was some freak of nature.”
“Ah,” Drake paused where he stood.
Simon ducked his head and made a choking noise, but she couldn’t get a good look at his face because the Adonis beside her was suddenly ushering her into the car.
“I don’t normally have sweets delivered to the office.” He explained, walking around to the other side of the car.
Simon had recovered from his choking cough that had sounded suspiciously like suppressed laughter, leaning down as he shut the door, “Yeah, that’s probably the reason.
Andie would have wondered just what it was she was missing, but sinking into supple soft leather distracted her. Her head fell back. Her eyes slid closed. Maybe a ride to the Institute wasn’t such a bad idea.
“So he just held the door for you?”
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
She turned her head to see the Demi-God still in inquisition mode. His body turned toward her, one arm on laying on the back of the seat behind her head. It was like the car shrunk in half.
“Of course that’s all.” She turned to face him and used the move to push herself back against the door, the slight narrowing of his eyes said he noticed, but he didn’t move any closer, “Do you think he’d ravish me in the Lobby?”
Another muscle tick this time the left cheek, “I wouldn’t put it past him.”
“Honestly, unless the man has a Swedish Chef fetish…”
Two perfect eyebrows shot up. “A what fetish?”
“Swedish Chef.” She repeated, but the eyebrows stayed up. She waved her hand to indicate her clothes, “I’m dressed like him.”
“Does he have a cooking show?” It was a polite query.
He couldn’t be serious, “You’re kidding, right?”
“No,” He shook his beautiful head, “I don’t watch much television.”
Holy Crap. He was serious. “The Swedish Chef is a Muppet.”
He stared at her in beautiful, baffled glory
“You know, Kermit and Miss Piggy?”
“Like Sesame Street?” Still baffled and still beautiful.
“Like The Muppet Show.”
And..nothing. No dawning comprehension on those magnificent features. There was no Muppet Show on Mt. Olympus. That was kind of sad and…. hold on just a Holy Mt. Olympus minute, “You didn’t.”
“Didn’t what?” Beautifully baffled became carefully guarded.
“Please tell me you didn’t blow off the Majority Leader of the United States Senate because his chief of staff held a door open for me.”
“Of course not.” The ass damn well should have held the door for her. She’d had her hands full of his cupcakes, but the way that fucker had stood there in Drake’s own office and run his eyes over her like he wanted to lick her head to toe? Yeah, he knew exactly what he’d been thinking because he’d thought of little else for days now, and fuck no.
But the way she was pressed up against the door, told him she was already skittish. He went with a partial truth, “It doesn’t matter to me who the majority leader is and his chief of staff is a liability.”
“Why don’t I believe you?”
Because she had good instincts. And holy shit, but he was losing his mind. Women had been throwing themselves at him for over half his life and never had one of them undone him the way this tiny slip of a girl had. She sat pressed up against that door in her white chef’s coat. That copper hair slapped up in a messy bun. Not a speck of make-up that he could see and a brown smear under her chin…
“You’ve got something under your chin.”
“What?” Aqua eyes blinked at him.
“Here.” He touched the spot and came away with…
“Oh, it’s chocolate. She rubbed the spot he’d touched. A good thing since he’d been about to lean over and lick it off. He licked it from his own finger instead. Rich, dark. He had a vision of her nude, chocolate sliding over creamy flesh, His dick swelled.
“I must have missed a spot.”
“A spot. We had an accident with the mixer. I had chocolate all over me.”
“You had chocolate…”
His dick kept swelling. He needed to change the subject. Like fuck he would. “Does this happen often?”
“All the time.” She did that cute snort thing.
“You don’t say.” His dick jumped and swelled some more. The damn thing was practically doing a jig.
“I’ve gone home covered in chocolate ganache,” With a roll of her blue eyes she started counting off on her fingers, “Vanilla buttercream, Crème Brule, Karo syrup – light and dark, of course you know about the pumpkin mousse.”
Holy shit, he was sweating.
“But the worst by far is just plain old confectioner’s sugar.”
“Sugar?” He caught Simon’s laughing gaze in the rearview. The ass. If he wasn’t so good at his job he’d toss him out on his…
“The night of the interview I was covered in it.”
He was hard as granite.
“Um that’s why… uh well…you know.” She bit down on her lip and…. stopped talking.
Oh no, she couldn’t stop now. He cleared his throat, “Why what?”
“Um well, It’s just you know… when you said…” Her face turned flaming red, her eyes darted to Simon, “Oh never mind.”
Oh hell no. He’d mind all right. Whatever had her that red was something he had to know. “I said what?”
With a last nervous glance at Simon, she leaned closer. And ah fuck, but she smelled good. He filled his lungs with her. His head swimming, hair tickled his cheek, her breath fanned his neck, she whispered, “You said I tasted sweet… and I was covered in sugar.”
Every blood cell in his body went south. His granite hard dick pulsing like a son of a bitch.
She sat back, her face flushed and said something he couldn’t hear over the blood rush, hell, the sugar rush pounding in his ears. The door opened. What the fuck? Where was she going?
Drake blinked. They’d pulled in front of the building. Simon had stopped the car and gotten out and he hadn’t noticed a damn thing.
“Thank-you for the ride.” She said, a sincere smile of gratitude curling her mouth, “I hope your family enjoys the cupcakes.”
Fuck, what the fuck was he supposed to do? His dick was screaming. His brain had shut down and he was so hot he was sweating. And she stood there in her chef’s coat thanking him like he was some random guy giving her a lift. And fuck if that didn’t piss him off. He choked out something about it being his pleasure and fuck, but that was the single biggest lie of his life. He was in agony.
Watching her walk away was a pure exercise of will.
“Sir, are we returning to the office?”
The office? He watched Andie until she disappeared into the building. Hell no, he didn’t want to go back to the office he wanted to grab Andie and find the nearest flat surface.
Not trusting himself to form words, he nodded. Why the hell not? He had a shower at his office.
“Sir, I know you don’t care for limousines, but there are sedans with privacy glass.”
His driver seemed to expect a response. He grunted.
“It might be something to consider, you might want some privacy sometime when your in the car….”
The words privacy and car penetrated his lust fogged brain.
“Glass. Yes sir, and opaque tinted windows as well. If you’d like, I can request a model for you to review.”
“Very good. I can call tomorrow…”
“No, we’ll do it now.”
“So we’re not going back to the office?”
After the explosive end to her week. Andie had gone straight home and slept like the dead. Saturday was spent creating lesson plans for the next week and an early night. She also spent lots of time mooning. Mooning over an arrogant Demi-God with midnight eyes and silky hair who messed with her hormones and loved her cupcakes. This was not a healthy way to spend her time. Andie went to bed Saturday night determined to start the new week with an Adonis-free mind.
So maybe she should have been grateful that first thing Sunday morning she was pulled from dreams of whispered words and sensual touches by the wails of what had to be an enraged water buffalo. She peeked out from under the covers. Sunlight streaming through lace curtains gave enough light for a quick survey. Buttery yellow walls – fine. Desk she’d picked up at an estate sale for ten bucks and painted white – still there. The boudoir chair in pale rose damask that had been her Grandmother’s. Okay. Various photos and art still on the walls – right. White iron bed and the comforter she was snuggled under in that same rose silk – another gift from her grandmother. All Good. And no rampaging horned beasts – even better. Then her eyes landed on the “Pastries of the Month” calendar over her desk. She looked below the mouthwatering image of napoleon pastries smothered in pink fondant down to the last week of November…. and saw the big red block letters.
Oh shit! It was here.
She’d known it was coming, but getting drugged, seduced by an Adonis, and spending the night on Mt. Olympus had pushed it from her mind. The Screeching Fury coming from somewhere beyond her bedroom door however, shoved it right back to the forefront. Throwing back the covers, she crept across the floor, the hard wood chilling her bare feet, and opened the door a crack to peek down the hall in the direction of the kitchen where the screeches were coming from.
“Shit! Shit! Just shit mother fucking shit! I’m going to kill that fucking Bimbette…..” The screeches dropped to indecipherable snarls.
Across the hall, Jose’s bed-head poked out of his door, “What’s going on with the She-Devil?” He asked, using his pet name for their roommate. Layla had a hell of a temper.
“I don’t know.” Not quite true, but these were desperate times. It was every roommate for him or herself.
Jose took a deep breath through his nose, “Do you think she’s trying to cook something?”
“The smoke alarm’s not going off.”
“True.” he pinned her with bleary eyes, “Go see what’s going on and get us coffee.”
No way in hell, “Why me?”
“Right.” Andie put her fist out the door, “Paper, rock, scissors.”
Jose gave her a puffy eye roll, but stuck his hand out, “On three.”
“One…two…. “ Andie extended her hand for paper.
Jose waved his scissors around in triumph and shut himself back in his room, calling out his “No cream. Lots of sugar.” From behind the safety of his closed door.
Andie padded down the hall and around the corner to the great room, scoping out the territory. The living space was clear. If a little cluttered. The old parquet floors a tad dusty and the area rugs a little in need of vacuuming. Her eyes swung to the kitchen.
Houston we have a problem.
It was a galley kitchen. Sink, stove, and refrigerator on one side and the breakfast bar on the other, separating it from the living space. There was no conceivable way to get to the coffee without running into the wild-headed fury in flannel pacing back and forth while issuing dire threats to Bimbos and Bimbettes unknown.
Andie instinctively hunched her shoulders, making herself as small as possible and timed her entry to coincide with Layla’s turned back. She got to the coffee pot and grabbed two coffee cups from the open shelving above it, keeping one eye on Layla who was too busy staring down at her phone and screaming obscenities to notice.
She lifted the pot, grateful for the auto brew select that meant it was already full of fresh coffee. She managed to pour the two cups and add the sugar without being seen. Now just the cream…oh, this would be tricky. Layla was still facing away from her, but she was between Andie and the fridge. Sucking her tummy in, she pressed up against the counter and shuffled over to the fridge, doing her best to stay out of the enemy’s line of sight. Reaching out, she pulled the door open a crack, the half and half was always right in the front….
Crap. The door swung shut on her cream.
“Do I look stupid to you?”
“Uh…” Looking up to see Layla looking back at her, Andie wondered if that was a rhetorical question.
Must have been, because Layla tapped her temple with her HTC One and kept talking, “At any time in the last month did you see my brain drain out of my ears?”
“Uh…” Now that one probably was rhetorical.
“Did I acquire bleached, blow-out hair?”
And that one.
“Fake tits and a fake tan?”
Most definitely that one.
“Do my lips look turned inside out?”
She didn’t even know what that one meant.
“I can answer that.” She-Devil slapped her phone down on the counter. Wow, she must be mad. Layla adored her HTC. “No. No, I did not. So why does that fucking bitch think I don’t know what she’s up to?”
“Uh….” Rhetorical. Absolutely and most definitely.
“I’m going to fillet that bitch’s fake tan off her silicone injected ass.”
That one was gory. And graphic. And not a question. And boy, did Layla have some unresolved anger issues.
“Oooo who are we killing?” A golden brown arm reached around Andie and grabbed one of the cups from her hand. Jose’s desire for gossip and caffeine overriding his primal fear of the She-Devil.
Layla grabbed her own mug from the shelf and slammed it down next to her phone, “That fucking bimbette and her fucking fake tits.”
Okay. Andie tried to remember which fake-titted bimbette her friend was dealing with currently.
Layla was one of the driving forces behind The Women’s Trust so she dealt with what Andie thought of as “high society” types. Layla had much more colorful labels.
“Which one?” Jose asked.
“That Chaylene bitch.” Layla waved the giant mug in a giant arc, narrowly missing Jose’s head.
Jose backed out of the kitchen, “You want to me to get a shovel or are we going with the weight and water body dump?”
Layla snorted, filled her giant mug with coffee, and started pacing again.
Andie decided she could make do without cream. Grabbing her coffee, she circled out of the kitchen. Joining Jose on living room side of the breakfast bar, she whispered, “Who’s Chaylene?”
“Hell if I know.” Jose whispered back.
Layla heard them. “She’s the special event coordinator at The Fugue.”
Coffee flew out of Jose’s mouth in a giant spray. Coughing and hacking, gasping for air, Jose still managed to jump off the stool and back away towards the front door. All the while sputtering out various dire predictions and pleas for mercy. Andie heard an “oh no” and “Hell week”, and she may have heard, “I’m too pretty to….” Something she couldn’t make out and finally, “Coco Save us.”
Holy Shit. Jose was going straight to the top and invoking the spirit of Chanel. He was freaked.
Andie settled for crossing her fingers and followed him to the door. She had no idea where he was headed, but figured it would be safer than here.
The Fugue was one of the most exclusive hotels in the area. It also happened to be the location for The Women’s Trust Charity Ball. The Ball of Balls. The Ball to which all others balls were compared and the official launch of the Holiday Season in Washington D C. It was also the bane of Layla’s existence from September until the Saturday before Thanksgiving when in her words she “Shoved the last drunk asshole and his simpering bimbo” out the door.
Layla planned, ran, and executed the entire thing and she hated it with an unholy passion. It was officially now a week away. Jose had named this Hell Week. Saying Frat-boys and their deadly dares had nothing on Layla. From here on out it would be like living with a deranged, demon possessed drill sergeant in designer shoes.
“That bitch is trying to take over.” Layla’s snarls rose steadily in volume, “Trying to change the menu. THE FUCKING MENU at the last goddamn minute. Like she has any say in how I run my Goddamn Ball.”
Shit! She was going to blow. Andie peeked over her shoulder. They were almost to the door.
“Empty headed bimbos and their greedy-ass pimps.” The She-Devil kept up her usual tirade, “They can’t just write a check. Oh no, they have to show off and have their egos stroked, the prickless wonders.”
Andie’s back hit the door. She heard Jose turning the knob.
“You two,” Layla punched her coffee cup straight out in their direction, “Get dressed. You’re with me. That bitch thinks she can take control of my ball. We’re going to go down there and choke her.”
Maybe it was a trick of the light, but Andie swore Layla’s eyes flashed blood red. “Oh God…” She jerked on Jose’s arm, “Do something.” She did not want to be a witness for the prosecution.
“Okay, okay don’t panic.” Jose hissed back, “I have an idea.”
“It better be a good one.”
Jose handed her his coffee and smoothed his bed-head, “I’m going in.” Straightening his shoulders, he sashayed back across the room and into the kitchen. That was a good sign. Jose did some of his best work while sashaying. “Honey,” He stopped in front of Layla, laying his hands on her shoulders, “You need to breathe.”
“Jose, I don’t have time for your Zen shit.” Layla slung her coffee cup up. Jose ducked down. Dark liquid sloshed out and flew across the kitchen splattering the refrigerator.
Layla didn’t notice, “I have to get dressed and go murder that bitch.”
“Layla Delsi Singhja Markham,” Jose threw his hands on his hips, “I won’t have you sloshing liquid gold all over the kitchen. That coffee is fifteen dollars a pound.”
That stopped her. Layla had a fierce respect for good coffee. She peered down into her mug, “No shit?”
She took a sip, “Damn, it’s really good.” Layla’s eyes lost their maniacal gleam, “Sorry.”
“I know,” Jose led her to a barstool, “Layla honey, you’re a Markham. This is a Markham event. All you have to do is send the Bimbette an E-mail with your father’s letterhead saying that the order of events, the food, and everything else is decided by the representative chosen by The Markham Trust and that is not her. Sweetheart, that’s you.”
She blinked once, “Oh….yeah….right.”
Layla distanced herself so much from her family’s wealth and influence sometimes she forgot the power that came with her name, but more than that, Layla had a hell of a temper. When she lost it, she lost everything. Kind of like the Incredible Hulk, if he were a five foot ten supermodel.
Flopping back against the breakfast bar, she took a single deep breath and blew it out before admitting, “Okay, I’m a little frazzled.”
“Understandable, it’s a lot to take on.” Jose said, “And you’re in the final stretch. What you need to remember is you’re not alone. I’m here to help. So is Andie. But honey, we draw the line at premeditated murder.”
Layla gave them both a weak smile, “Sorry.”
Then Jose raised his hand in a dramatic single finger snap, “You know what will make us feel better?”
“Oh, yeah. Yeah, that would do it.” Layla agreed and both her roommates turned identical, pleading, puppy dog eyes on her. How they did this, she didn’t know. They looked nothing alike. Andie suspected they practiced in one of the five full length mirrors Jose placed strategically around the apartment.
Knowing it was useless, she voiced her usual protest, “You guys, those cinnamon buns are a lot of work. Can’t we go to Cinn-a-bon.”
“Hell no.” Layla stuck her finger in her mouth and made gagging noises.
“They can’t touch yours and you know it.” Jose went with flattery, but added a significant head toss in Layla’s direction, “It’s a great idea.”
This was his idea? To put her to work?
“Please!” Layla dropped to her knees, clasping her hands together in supplication, “Oh please pleeeeeze. Your cinnamon rolls make everything better.”
Jose chose to remain seated, “And it is hell week…”
“Yeah…yeah…it’s hell week.” Layla’s head bobbled up and down in desperate agreement, “I’m in hell. I need suuuuuugaaaaaaar.” She stretched out the last word, probably going for desperate, but it came out low and guttural. It reminded Andie of that girl who vomited green gook on the priest in “The Exorcist”.
“Fine.” Andie agreed before She-Devil vomit was spattered all over the apartment.
“You’re the best.” Jose jumped up and kissed her cheek, “I’ll go call Tommy. He can make his fabulous scrambled eggs. Oh, and you should probably make a triple batch.”
“Hmm,” Jose paused on his way back down the hall, “You’re right, make that quadruple.”
“Andie Chase, you know as soon as that cinnamon wafts through the building the hungry masses will descend.”
Meanwhile, Layla jumped up and grabbed a random pot hanging from the rack over the stove, “I’ll start the water boiling.”
Andie’s eyes hit the ceiling. Layla thought any and everything done in the kitchen started with boiling water. She grabbed the pot out of her friend’s hand before she set the building on fire, again. “How about you go send the Bimbette that e-mail.”
“Right.” Layla scooted out of the kitchen, “I’ll get right on that.”
“So Bro what are we doing here?”
“I’m here to talk to Ted Lewis. I don’t know why you’re here.”
“Nothin’ better to do on a Sunday morning.”
“You expect me to believe that?” The man lived at the Marina. If there was sunshine Nathan would be working on or taking out a boat. And it was an unseasonably warm, 59 degrees. The man should be up to his elbows in water.
Nate shrugged, “There’s something going on with you.”
“There is?” Damn, his brother was a nosy bastard.
“Yeah, and I mean other than the usual. Speaking of, he’s back.”
“He won’t let it go.” Nate was suddenly serious, “He’s desperate. That makes him dangerous.”
“Again, I know.” He knew exactly how dangerous Drake men were when boxed in.
“He won’t stop looking.”
“He can look all he wants.” It was his turn to shrug, “He won’t find shit.”
“Okay,” Nate slid a sly look his way, “So we’re back to the something else that’s up with you.”
“Nothing.” He slid into a space across from Lewis’s building.
“Uh-huh.” Nate got out. Damien was granted a moment of reprieve as his brother studied the building “Nice. Great lines. Looks like early nineteen hundreds.”
“How many apartments?”
“The arched windows are original.”
“Yes, I believe so.”
“Do you think he’d be interested in selling?”
“I already approached him.” Yesterday morning when he’d walked into his kitchen and stared at his empty cake dome, “He wasn’t interested.”
“Let me have a crack at it.”
He shrugged, “If you think you can. He runs The Old Town Crier out of the basement. You know how serious he is about that paper.”
“He could still do it. We’d write the contract that way. He manages the building, keeps the basement for the paper, unloads the extra responsibility, and makes a truckload of cash. Win. Win.”
Yes, he’d been thinking the same thing. Nate was the salesman though, and every buy was also a sale. You sell the seller on what you’re offering. They’d been quietly acquiring property for the last ten years. Nate was the warm up and he was the closer. As annoying as his brother could be, his easy charm made him a hell of a salesman.
Drake pulled glass outer doors open and the mouthwatering scent of cinnamon filled his head.
Beside him his brother stopped and inhaled, “Ah, man do you smell that?”
Yes he did. “What?”
“Ah man it smells like,” His brother took another deep breath, “Cinnamon.”
“Somebody’s baking cinnamon rolls,” His brother spun in a circle, sniffing in every direction, “I wonder which apartment?”
He knew exactly who it was and the apartment number, “Nate focus. We’re here to talk to Ted.”
“Right….right.” Nate took one last sniff and faced him, “And what the hell are you going to tell him?”
“The truth, just not all of it. He’s getting the story and he’s involved with the shelter. His wife is a nurse and donates her time. Ted himself has provided temporary housing in this very building. He understands the need for secrecy.” Which is why he chose him to carry the story.
They exited the vestibule to the building’s inner courtyard with its small community gardens.
“Oh nice,” Nate took it all in, “You get some earth with your apartment.”
“Yes, and it’s secure. The building is shapd like a square around it.” They cut down one of the pebbled paths running between the twelve plots circling a central water feature.
Nate inspected the fountain with a knowing eye, “This is a natural spring. Damn, there’s the water for your garden.”
“What’s the rent start at 3500?”
“No, that’s another thing. The people living here work on the paper and in return get a break on rent.”
“Yes, Ted says he makes it up in advertising. Everybody reads The Crier.”
“True enough.” Nate agreed, scanning the interior with a knowing eye and Drake knew the apartment complex was as good as theirs. Once his brother fell in love with a building, it was over.
They crossed to the opposite side of the courtyard and stopped in front of a ground floor apartment. He rapped twice and the door flung open with excited words, “Are they ready?” Recognition had Ted’s face falling, “Oh, it’s you.”
Not the reaction he’d been expecting, “We had set the time for 11:00 am. Correct?”
“Yeah…yeah…uh…” Ted backed up, “Come on in.”
They stepped into a large traditional great room furnished with comfort and durability in mind.
Ted waved at them to have a seat when there was a shout from somewhere down a hallway, “Dad, are they ready?” A gangly boy came running out of the hall, he took them in and the hope fell from his face, “Oh…oh guess not.”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Nate looked between the two, “Is what ready.”
“Cinnamon rolls.” The boy said, his eyes glazing over.
“Is that what we’re smelling?” Nate asked innocently.
He threw him a warning glare. As usual, it had no effect.
“Yeah, man they are the best….Uh…I’m going on up.” The boy grabbed bag of some kind of chip off the counter.
“What are you doing?” Ted demanded.
“Mom said I should take something.”
“Not chips.” Ted shook his head and headed to the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets before pulling out a can of coffee and tossing it at his son, “Here take this. Make sure to set one aside for your mother.”
“Okay yeah, good idea.” The kid caught it and took off, flying out the door.
Ted turned back to him a dull red flush staining his face, “Uh, you’ve met Andie.”
“Yes…” He answered only to be interrupted.
Damn, Nate was a nosy bastard.
“She’s a pastry chef.” Ted said, his face flaming now.
“I’m aware.” He said. Attempting to cut the conversation off before his brother caught the scent.
Too late. Nate locked on to the detail like the damn big nosed bloodhound he was,”SHE?”
“That was a terrible thing that happened to her.” Ted was looking down so he missed Drake’s significant glare.
“What was?” Nate swung his head back and forth between them.
“She was slipped a roofie.” Ted continued to give up information, “Damien took care of her.”
“He what?” Nate’s eyes looked ready to pop out of his head.
He set his face in a neutral mask, “I’m just glad I was able to help.”
Shit, what kind of an ass did his brother think he was? “Nate, the girl was drugged.” He sent him a frustrated scowl, “It could have ended badly. It didn’t. Enough.
“Holy Shit.” Nate stepped back, his eyes bugging, his arm extended and pointing, “You like her. You like the pastry chef.” He got out his phone, “I’m calling Mom. She’s going to love this.”
Damn. Damn. Dammit to hell. Nate would do it. He was the epitome of the Mama’s boy. And shit, if his Mom got wind of him and a girl it would only be seconds before his Aunt found out. Then it would get to his cousin Janice and then…oh holy shit he had to cut this off. Drake had no sisters, but his cousins more than made up for the lack. His mother’s sister had seven children six girls in a row and then finally gave birth to a boy. As soon as he’d turned eighteen Colt had run away and joined the army. Having no one else to focus on, his six cousins, all local DC residents, had decided to run his and Nate’s lives. Keeping those women at bay was near impossible with no information. If they got wind of this, his life would become a circus. He grabbed the phone out of his brother’s hand, “No, you are not.”
“Uh…dude, you know you’re not the boss of me, right.”
“Call her, and I’ll tell Janice you like that friend of hers.”
“Which friend?” His brother’s brow wrinkled as if trying to figure out which friend to run from.
“Damn, you fight dirty.”
“Well like I said we’re having brunch so…” Damn if Ted wasn’t trying to get rid of them.
“How about we tag along?” Nate grabbed his phone back.
“I guess that’s okay. She’s making four dozen. There should be enough to go around.”
“Holy hotness, who is that?”
“Oh, oh he is scrumptious.”
Andie looked up from the bowl of icing she was whipping up for the rolls. Both her room-mates were up against the sliding glass doors to the balcony with their noses pressed to the glass. Mildly curious, she walked over, bowl and whisk in hand and peeked out to see two men walking through the courtyard. Both tall both in jeans and casual shirts that fit them beautifully one with blond hair and the other inky black, “Oh no.”
“That’s Damien Drake.” Jose needlessly pointed out.
“Who’s the hot thing with him?” Layla leaned over the balcony.
“The father of my children.” Jose sighed.
“Like hell,” Layla elbowed him out of her way, “That man is my baby daddy.”
Similar build and the way they both carried themselves led Andie to say, “I think that’s his brother.”
“Oh…oh damn.” Jose slid the Balcony doors open and ran out leaning over to keep them in sight as they got too far under them to see, “Oh damn that ass is bitable.”
“They’re coming in the building.” Layla followed him out and shoved him out of the way, “Shit, Andie do you think they’re coming up here?”
Andie had no idea. She kind of hoped not and at the same time desperately hoped they would.
Okay, she’d gone off the rails, flipped and rolled, and landed in the gully. Train. Wreck.
Layla didn’t wait for an answer, “Of course they are. Why else would they be here?” She looked down at her bright pink p.j.s dotted with neon yellow cupcakes, “Oh God. The gag pants.”
That was Layla’s little joke. Andie had given her friend the pajamas as a gag gift. Layla doubled the fun by insisting they were gag inducing.
In a blur of dark hair and neon pink Layla ran for the balcony door only to be cut off by Jose’s tangled head in plaid flannel. Coincidentally, he was in his gag pants as well. They both jetted through the great room and down the hall Andie heard the slam slam of two bedroom doors.
“They’re not that bad!” Sheesh. It was good thing she wasn’t sensitive.
“What about this?”
“Yeah, you’re right too obvious. Okay okay…this one.”
“No, shit no. I look like hell in yellow.” And another top was added to the pile Layla was creating on the bed. “Toss me my brush.”
Andie grabbed the brush from the dresser and threw it her way. The She-Devil caught it one handed while mercilessly yanking the banana clip from her hair with the other. Her hair had barely hit her back when she began raking the brush through it. “Toothbrush.”
“Andie, I need my toothbrush loaded with Colgate Super-white.”
“Right. Okay.” She ran out of the room to the hall bath and collided with Jose who had his phone at his ear, “No, the black is too much for brunch. Justin, put Tommy on the phone…. So go stir the eggs. This is an emergency….” Jose mumbled around a mouth full of toothpaste, ran by her and she heard another door slam.
She grabbed Layla’s toothbrush loaded it up and ran back in her room, “I’ve got to check the buns.”
Layla grabbed the brush stuffed it in her mouth and grabbed two long sleeved thermal v-neck tees, a black and a red.
“Red.” Andie said, “You look great in red.”
Layla said something around her toothbrush. Maybe a yes or a true or a thanks or she was possibly cursing in Mandarin or Farsi or that weird South American Pigmy dialect. Layla learned to curse in six languages growing up so she could curse her piano teacher and her Latin tutor and her Gymnastics coach. She’d carried this practice into her adult life.
Andie spun out of the room while Layla was still mumbling around the foam in her mouth. Running to the kitchen, she checked the first batch of cinnamon buns. Done. Grabbing the pot holder, she was pulling them out of the oven when there was a tap on the front door, “Knock knock,” Justin’s pale brown skin and wire rimmed spectacles popped in the door followed by the rest of him. Average height, average build. He looked average all over until you looked in his eyes. Justin’s keen intelligence and humor shone in those eyes. A staff writer at the Washington Post, Ted had practically done back flips when he and his partner Tommy applied for the apartment last year.
Tommy followed him, the phone glued to his ear and a Pyrex dish in hand. Tall and fair with straight black hair, and a flair for period dressing, he owned a string of consignment shops in Virginia and Maryland. “Hey sweets,” He waltzed into the kitchen, gave her a peck on the cheek and inhaled, “Mmmm, Chubby-buns…”
Two identical shrieks assaulted their ears, one coming from Tommy’s phone the other from Jose’s bedroom.
“Not your buns, calm down. I’m on the way back” Tommy rolled his eyes, placing the dish he carried on the counter, “Three cheese scrambled eggs as promised. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go oversee wardrobe selection.” He headed back out of the kitchen and down the hall, “No. No leather. It’s casual Sunday brunch not boy’s night at Bar Code. Wear jeans and a tee-shirt.” She heard a door slam. Jose was pulling in the big gun.
“So…what’s up?” Justin asked.
“Uh…we’re having a couple of extra people for brunch.”
Still a train wreck.
She slid the other two pans of rolls in the oven. Since she only had one oven. Not double ovens.
“Is one of them single and gay?” Justin asked at the same moment Layla came running out of the back fluffing her hair, her phone at her ear.
She was stunning. The red shirt clung to her body and tucked into retro bell bottom jeans that showed off her pert rear and long legs. On her feet were little red sneakers. Andie knew she was wearing makeup only because she’d seen this look before. She looked like she’d just rolled out of bed and thrown on the first thing she found. It was brilliant.
“Chandra says Ted’s with them. They passed her apartment Oh shit. Mrs. Hennesey stopped them.”
Oh shit, was right. Mrs. Hennesey knew her grandmother.
Still fluffing, Layla parked herself near the front door in front one of the five mirrors cleverly disguised as a hall tree, “That old crab will keep them talking forever.”
Also true. Mrs. Hennesey was in her eighties and obsessed with security. Personally, Andie thought she’d watched one too many Perry Mason reruns on Classic TV. She stopped any stranger in the building, demanding information in “who what where when and why” format.
“Oh…shit…no fucking way. Seriously? Chandra says Mrs. Hennesy is blushing and …no …giggling? No…Fuck me. You’re lying. Can you film and talk at the same…oh okay. Oh oh the blond broke off and is heading this way. No! No, shit no, don’t follow him. I’ll call Greg.”
Layla jabbed at her phone and started dialing again.
“What are you doing?” Andie asked.
“Tracking.” Layla said without bothering to look up.
Justin snapped his mouth shut only to open it again, “You straight girls are crazy.”
And that’s when Jose came bounding out, his phone at his ear, “Gypsy says he’s on our floor. He’s coming this way. Gypsy said Chandra said Mrs. Hennessey said they asked about the cinnamon smell.”
She quirked a brow at Justin who sighed before admitting, “Okay, there’s plenty of crazy to go around.”
Jose shoved his phone in his pocket, “It’s easy to be superior when you have somebody warming your bed at night.”
“Jose, I don’t think he’s gay.” She felt it was unfair to let him get his hopes too high.
“Andie Chase don’t you dare crush my dream before he walks through the door.” Jose scolded her and smacked his rear end, “I happen to know my butt in these jeans has been responsible for more than one man changing teams in the middle of the game.”
The two seconds it took Jose´ to respond gave Layla the advantage of beating him to the front door. She stood with one hand on the handle, and stretched out as far as she could to still see in the mirror. That is until Jose hip bumped her out of the way, jumping this way and that to check his game changing butt from every angle.
Andie was so engrossed in watching her friend’s antics she jumped at the knock on the door.
But her reaction was nothing compared to her roommates. Jose´ dashed across the room, grabbed an Architectural Digest off the coffee table, slapped it on the breakfast bar, opened it up and casually began flipping through it, his back and butt facing the door.
Layla remained completely motionless, continuing to stand there with her hand on the knob of the still closed door.
“Layla,” Andie hissed, “Are you going to open the door?”
She shook her head and put a shushing finger to her lips.
“Oh honey, you are a naive one,” Jose´ whispered, looking up from his magazine, “Never answer the door immediately. It makes you look eager. I always go for a count of ten. Layla swears by fifteen, but I think that borders on bitchy.”
“Uh-huh.” Andie’s eyes darted between her friends. Where did they get this stuff?
Justin left them, saying something about checking the rolls. She shot a glance at Tommy.
“Don’t look at me. That’s not a gay thing.” He said joining Justin in the kitchen where they gathered plates and muttered about the lack of regular sex linked to possible brain damage. Jose threatened to confiscate their buns.
She watched Layla take three steps back from the door, grab her purse from the hook on the hall tree, and call out, “I’ve got it, Andie, I’m going down to Chandra’s anyway. She’s lost her keys again.”
Layla pulled the door open to reveal Tall, Blond, and Beautiful and wow, he was even more impressive up close. Sporting a golden tan and tousled blond hair brightened by the sun, a mouth that smiled easily, as he was doing now. His broad shoulders and hard body showed off by the faded tee-shirt he wore with equally well-worn jeans, but what put him over the top was the mischief dancing in laughing eyes of midnight blue.
Not that Layla noticed. Her head down, she was rummaging through her purse with one hand, “Oh man, I hope I didn’t lose them. Gypsy, do you have your extra set?”
“Gypsy?” He repeated and Andie decided sexy ran in the family. That one word rumbled and danced like aged whiskey tumbling over ice. As soon as it faded away you wanted to hear him say it again, just for the pleasure of it sliding across your ear. Deep, smooth and jovial.
Layla’s head shot up on a gasp, “Oh.” She backed up, blinking wide surprised eyes, one hand tucking her hair behind her ear, “I’m sorry…um…we were expecting someone…else.”
Man, she was good.
The embodiment of charm blinked a couple of times, then oh holy moly, what a smile – slow, sexy, devastating. Layla might have met her match with this one, “I’m guessing Gypsy?”
“Yes, um, it’s a stage name.” She pushed her hair off her face in a distracted manner. “She has Chandra’s spare spare set of keys.
“Spare spare?” The smile turned to equally sexy grin.
“I know. She’s hopeless.” Andie saw Layla scrunch her nose in the hall tree’s reflection. That was her cute look. Guys loved it when she did that. “Half the people in the building have spares…Oh oh you must be Paul.”
Paul? Who the heck was Paul?
Layla grabbed the charmer by his hand and dragged him inside, “Everybody this is Chandra’s brother, Paul.”
Oh, that Paul. The one who didn’t exist. Chandra was an only child.
“Actually, I’m Nathan, Nathan Drake.” Tall Blond and beautiful lifted her hand bowed and…wow.. kissed it, releasing it with a wink, “But you can call me Nate.”
“Oh.” Holy Shit. Layla was breathy and blushing, “Hello.”
“Pleasure to meet you. You’re Layla Right? Layla Markham?”
“Mom’s got a picture of you on her piano.”
“She Does?” Now it was Layla’s turn to blink.
“You’re all decked out like a super-model.”
“Oh?” Layla’s fluster was becoming more authentic by the second and it wasn’t looking good for Jose’s team.
“Gotta say, it doesn’t do you justice.”
Andie watched as Layla regrouped. She could see the mental slap in the face she gave herself, “Oh…Oh God…I’m so sorry. You must think I’m an idiot. It’s just Chandra said Paul was visiting and she lost her keys and we’re having brunch…..” .
“Yes, my roommate is a pastry chef. Her cinnamon buns are pure sin. You should stay. The whole building will be here.”
“Well,” Nate leaned forward, “I can’t turn down pure sin, now can I?”
Oh, that was all sorts of naughty. That ability must run in the family as well.
“Okay, I’ll go take Chandra her keys.” Layla was already moving to the door. Andie got the feeling she was running away, but right as she got to the door, she dropped the keys she’d been wrangling with on the floor.
Oh, good one Layla.
And here it was the moment of truth. Jose´’s butt in one direction, Layla’s in the other.
And the winner is….
Layla’s butt by a landslide. Nathan Drake’s eyes honed in on her perfectly pert rear like twin heat seeking missiles. Andie heard Jose´’s little huff and shot him a sympathetic smile. While not a surprising outcome, it was a disappointing loss all the same.
“Um yeah,” Ted Lewis’ balding head popped into the room, “About that? Do you think we have enough food for two more?”
Male beauty filled the doorway. Inky hair, dark eyes, broad shoulders in a button down shirt of palest gray and on the Adonis’ arm…
“’Course we have enough,” Mrs. Hennessy strode forward her cane in one hand and the other attached to Adonis, “Can’t throw out guests. Andie was raised better. I know her Grandmother.”
“Do you?” The Adonis on Mrs. Hennesy’s arm asked.
“Sure do. Carolyn is a good woman. Raised our Andie right what with her mama and daddy trottin all over the globe digging up bones.”
“Digging up Bones?” Adonis kept prompting.
Not that Mrs. Hennessey needed any, “Crazy hippies. Hell, the girl was almost born in the dirt.”
“Really?” Secret amusement danced behind his eyes.
“Parents digging around on some remote island in the Bermuda Triangle.”
“Greece. The Isle of Crete. And I was a month early.” Andie corrected for the record.
“That’s how she got that crazy name. Carolyn about had a cow.”
“Crazy name?” Adonis’ lips were twitching like he had some kind of…twitch.
“Andromeda.” Jose volunteered.
She zinged him with her most withering stare. He shrugged and kept talking, “Andie’s mom went into labor while they were on Crete.”
“Crete? Thus Andromeda.” The laughing eyes slid in her direction, “Makes sense.”
Mrs. Hennessey slapped his arm, “Didn’t make a damn bit of sense.”
“No ma’am.” Adonis knew when he was bested.
Andie sent up a prayer for a distraction and wonder of wonders one appeared in the doorway.
“Hey all!” Gypsy flowed into the room in a flurry of red and purple silk and tinkling gold coins, “I smell cinnamon. Are they done? I have to dash. I’m doing the Brunch show at Dame’s…”
Gypsy’s eyes landed on The Drake Boys and she froze. Her colorful skirts swirling to a stop. Her long fake lashes blinked once, “Oh, please be my early Christmas present from Santa. I was extra good this year.”
The Greek God bookends stood there looking flummoxed. Andie couldn’t hold it against them. Gypsy was in full drag.
“Hey kids!” Marla, their next door neighbor sauntered in. Tall, full figured, and perpetually elegant, she had her brown hair tied up in a scarlet scarf and her jeans rolled up with old fashioned black and white saddle shoes on her feet. She did a lot of shopping with Tommy. This was her Fifty’s sock-hop look.
“I brought alcohol…oh….” She froze right beside Gypsy, holding up the bottle of vodka in one hand and tomato juice in the other. Wide eyes rolled over The Drake Brothers then looked around the room, then closed, “Somebody pinch me.”
Tommy reached out and obliged.
Marla opened her eyes and stared. The Drake Boys stood still and silent. Andie’d heard shock could do that.
“Okay, I’m awake,” Marla looked Andie’s way, “Tell me you see them.”
She nodded, not trusting herself to open her mouth without cracking up.
“Oh thank goodness.” Lowering the bottles, Marla resumed sauntering, plopping the bottles down on the counter and reaching for a glass, “I thought I was having a sex-starvation hallucination.”
That got a reaction Nate opened his mouth and shut it again. Adonis blinked – once.
Wow, they were in for it. Marla was mild compared to….
“Alright,” Coins tinkled in a flash of gold as broad hands with flame tipped fingers pointed to everyone in the room, “I’m going on record. If any one of you wakes me before I get to see those super-studs naked and sweaty I. Will. Cut. A. Bitch.”
…. Gypsy. Marla was mild compared to Gypsy.
All traces of mischief had fled from “You can call me Nate.” He took a couple of hesitating steps towards the door. Adonis well, his expression was hard to define. He’d passed wooden with shock a couple of comments ago and was comfortably in the frozen with fear zone, possibly moving on towards Pasty with panic.
Andie ducked her head and pressed her lips together. Poor Adonis had gone from a Demi–God on Mt. Olympus to a sweat slicked, wet dream super-stud.
Oh, how the mighty had fallen. Her giggle popped out.
Midnight eyes narrowed and honed in on her. The shocked stare vanished and was replaced with….uh-oh. The frozen and pasty was now feral and hungry.
“I’ve got to check the rolls.” She ran to the kitchen and grabbed the icing bowl and a whisk. When in doubt, retreat.
“Girlfriend, you are running in the wrong direction.” Marla hip bumped her, grabbing the Tabasco for her signature Extra Bloody Mary. “If that man sent that look my way, I’d jump him.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Oh baby, it’s like that and then some.”
Yes, well, there was that whole Dom thing and Damien Drake didn’t strike Andie as a long term relationship guy. Some inner feminine instinct told her if she gave in to whatever was happening between them she’d get hurt. And not just a little hurt. Damien Drake had the power to brutally rip her to shreds.
“Hey everybody!” A group of four entered the apartment. First floor neighbors all. A couple of newlyweds. Jack and Amber. She didn’t know them well. Then Stephen, a quiet guy who looked just like the computer programmer he was, and Shellie holding a large round covered fry pan.
“I brought hash browns…Oh Sweet Jesus!” Shellie froze in the exact same spot Gypsy and then Marla had. Her dark eyes locked on the Drake boys. “Okay” She said slowly, “Okay…Right.” She set the hash browns down on the coffee table. Then straightened, clearing her throat, “Alright everybody, I just now officially became bi-sexual.” Her eyes sought Andie’s “Please tell me they’re taking their clothes off.”
This was one comment too many for Mrs. Hennessy, “Young lady,” Lifting her cane off the floor, she tapped Shellie’s behind, “Behave.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Shellie looked appropriately apologetic, but as soon as she got out of the woman’s line of sight she rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue. When she got to Andie she mocked hissed, “So they’re not strippers?”
Andie couldn’t answer. She was too busy pressing her lips together to keep from laughing.
Fortunately Marla still retained the power of speech, “No.”
“I know, right?” Marla stirred her Bloody Mary with a giant celery stick, and studied the Greek Demi God Duo, “Maybe if we get them drunk they’ll take off their clothes, like the song.”
“What song?” Gypsy jumped on that.
Golden boy looked ready to run. Adonis’ face was frozen in neutral. Andie thought this might be an instinctive fear response.
“Tequila Makes Her Clothes Come Off.” Marla pointed at him with a celery stalk, “Sis, does a great version in her show. Speaking of. Gypsy…” Marla tapped her watch.
“I know. I know. I’ve got to run.” Gypsy dug around in her skirts and produced her phone, “Here.” She handed it to Jose. Who had been unusually quiet. Jose had a tendency to pout when good looking men proved to be straight.
Gypsy more than made up for his unusual silence. She squeezed between the Drake boys, “Smile Boys.”
“I don’t think…” The ebony haired Adonis attempted a weak protest.
“Oh now, don’t be a spoil sport.” Gypsy chided. Holding her hands up like a Prayer Goddess from a Sinbad movie, cupping each of the men’s faces in her hands. That shut Adonis up.
“Oh that’s darling.” Marla leaped around the counter, “It’s like a Hindu love shrine.”
Layla came back through the door on that one. Stopped, tilted her head assessingly, “Not that I’m an expert, but I don’t remember that pose anywhere in Mom’s book of Hindu Fables.”
“More likely to be in the Kama Sutra.” Shellie had her own phone out, snapping shots.
“Oh yeah,” Marla stirred her Bloody Mary and devoured the men with her eyes, “Under Menage-a-Mmm-Mmmm-Good.”
“Alright now, ready?” Gypsy fluttered her lashes, “One… two… everybody say, ‘I’m-a-dirty-boy’.
Oh. Oh no. Oh God. Adonis’ face was priceless. Andie couldn’t hold it back one second longer. She set the bowl of icing on the counter, slid to the kitchen floor, covered her face, and lost it.
“Andie, you okay down there?”
She peered through tears to see Marla and Jose standing over her. She nodded, waved them off and struggled to pull in air.
Then behind them and over their shoulders Adonis appeared. Lips twitching one eyebrow raised, “Are you laughing at me Miss Chase?”
She pressed her lips together shook her head, but ruined her denial when the laughter pushed through her lips resulting in a loud, lip vibrating raspberry. Then she was cackling again.
“Uh….I’m just going to grab these buns and take them….uh…” Marla stumbled.
“Back to your place.” Jose finished for her, turning his back and delivering his double clap, “Okay people change of plans. Everybody grab something. We’re moving this party next door.
She heard feet moving and some comments. Someone said something about the buns in the oven and shouldn’t someone stay to make sure they didn’t burn.
“Good idea. Here.” Through her tears she saw Jose hand Drake an oven mitt, “Check them in…uh…” Andie held up one hand.
“Five minutes. Toodles.”
And it was just her and the Super-stud.
“I had no idea I was so entertaining.”
Andie gulped in air and managed to squeeze out a squeaking, “Your face.”
She nodded and dragged in one more deep breath and got out, “Sweaty…Cut a bitch” On a laughing howl and just fell over.