I have a confession. I am in love with my boss.
If you knew him, you’d understand. Andrew’s a charmer. I’ve been his personal assistant for six years and every morning he’s in with a smile, blue eyes sparkling, greeting everyone by name. On Fridays he treats the whole office to coffee and pastries. I suppose it only makes sense: he’s a senator, after all. It’s practically his job to be charismatic and approachable. Even so, I can’t help it… I’ve fallen under his spell.
It doesn’t help that he’s terrifically handsome, to boot. He’s in his mid-forties—which, I admit, is young for a senator—but you’d never imagine it. The man is tan and athletic, really keeps himself in shape. His sandy brown-blonde hair is short and tousled, and even though I know he does it purposely to seem more accessible to his constituents, I find it adorable. He hasn’t even started getting crinkles around his eyes yet, but he laughs a lot. I think that’s the secret to his youth. He lives life with a winning grin on his face and a healthy dose of good humor.
I’m not the only woman to notice, of course, not by a long shot. There’s a line of eligible socialites waiting for a spot on his dance card. He’s like Bruce Wayne, for goodness sakes—only without the dark past and habit of dressing up in black, form-fitting rubber. As far as I know.
The thing is, those eligible socialites have several terrific qualities that I somehow missed out on. Mostly oodles of money, fancy town cars, custom-tailored designer clothes… you get my drift. Andrew pays me well, certainly, but I drive a Camry. It’s a nice Camry,but a Camry, nonetheless. I’m not the sort to dress up in Dolce and Gabbana or Dior on a daily basis. While I’ll dress in my classiest for big events or public appearances, mostly I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, and you can always tell those girls in a line-up against the debutantes who were born in custom Vera Wang diapers.
Those aren’t the only reasons Andrew hasn’t picked up on my feelings, though. I know I could probably get his attention even in a jeans and t-shirt and even waving at him from the driver’s side of my tidy little Toyota. The rich ladies intimidate me, sure. But the real problem is, I’m terminally shy.
Six years I’ve worked for him, and not once have I given him even an inkling that I find him attractive.
Today, I resolved to change that.
A week ago, Andrew received his invitation to the local women’s society annual charity gala: a masquerade ball. While opening his mail, I came across the invitation, and the flashy harlequin mask emblazoned on the front sparkled and winked at me, and—though I wouldn’t think of it until later—the first seed of my plan took root.
A masquerade party. Could there be anything more perfect?
I scanned the invitation, tapping the envelope against my lips as I read. A small, hand-scripted fold of stationary invited Andrew to participate in one of those bachelor auctions for the fund-raiser. I knew he would accept, and for a split-second my seed of hope almost died before it could bloom. The women who attended these events and participated in these auctions were the same women who could spin out and pick themselves up a brand new Tiffany diamond tiara at the drop of hat. A bachelor like Andrew would be auctioned off at a price that was far above my pay-grade. A tiny, giddy part of me wondered if I should ask for a raise as I set the invitation down on his desk, but of course that thought was immediately quashed. What better way to make my schoolgirl crush painfully obvious and momentously awkward at the same time?
I put the invitation down and gathered together the rest of the mail, sorting it and dividing it, tossing the adverts and junk magazines and organizing the official correspondence as usual. As I gathered the final collection up to deliver to Andrew’s desk, I slipped the masquerade invite right on top. I imagined striding into his office, dropping off the stack of letters and agendas, and whipping the invitation up with a grin. Need a date? I would ask. There was no way that was how it would play out.
I slipped into his office without knocking—I never needed to knock. Andrew was on his phone but he flashed me a grin as I entered, giving me the come right on in wave of his hand. I gave him a polite nod as I dropped off his mail, and then, I hesitated.
The mask stared back at me from the top of the pile of mail, glinting and glittering, laughing merrily. I smirked at it, then back and Andrew—I would ask him. This would be the day I did.
He had turned his back to me, engrossed in his conversation. A tiny, awkward heat rose to my cheeks. Without saying anything, I backed away from the desk and then snuck out of the room.
He probably already had a date, anyway.
Over the next few days, I mulled over the smiling mask on the charity invite, and the flirty, tenacious way its image kept nagging at me. Andrew dropped it back on my desk the day after I delivered it to him, catching me by surprise—I'd been lost in thoughts of it already—and he instructed me to send an RSVP right away, with a hearty appreciation for being invited and a very enthusiastic YES to the auction request. He had to ask me twice, since the sudden reappearance of the mask shook me so unexpectedly out of my thoughts that for a moment I didn’t hear him.
“Sorry, of course, Senator,” I murmured after the second request.
“Liz,” he chided. “I’ve told you before, it’s Andrew.”
He gave me a wink. “And as long as you don’t call me Andy I’ll never call you Billy.”
“Nobody calls an Elizabeth ‘Billy’,” I sighed, which only made him laugh.
“Finish up your paperwork, we’ll be late for our luncheon at the university.”
I tucked the masquerade invite in my to-do tray, scribbled RSVP Charity Gala on my calendar, and straightened up the last of my files. Just before leaving, though, I gave one last glace at that mask.
That's when I got my idea.
A friend of mine involved in the local community theater suggested Dottiez Costumes and Party Favors when I mentioned my plan. I'd meant to drop by the nearest Party City for some cheap and easy supply and frankly, that’s what I expected at the store she recommended. To my surprise, Dottiez wasn't anything like a Party City.
The front windows were reminiscent of an antique’s shop: heavy, weathered wooden furniture dominated the displays, occupied by opulently dressed mannequins in distant, nonchalant poses. A curtain of fabric and hanging theater paraphernalia—black rubber Halloween bats, lacy strips of dusty white fabric, even various brands of old toy model airplanes—draped down over the rear of the displays, giving only a small glimpse of the dimly lit floor within. Huddled clothing racks featuring all manner of costumes stood beyond, waiting patiently.
When I stepped in the door, a hysterical cartoon shriek made me jump. Looking down, I saw I'd stepped on one of those Halloween door mats, with a green-faced witch in a black hat laughing up at me. When I looked up again to behold the older lady smiling at me from behind the counter, for just a second I was sure it was the same old witch.
Perhaps that wasn’t fair. The woman didn’t look like a warty old witch, and she certainly wasn't green. She was just… eccentric. The kind of eccentric you can see with the naked eye: an older woman with her short hair done in straight, wispy spikes, the color of deep, dark rubies highlighted with hot fuchsia. Though her face was lined with age her puppy-brown eyes sparkled with humor. She wore a black dress lined at the collar and cuffs with bird’s feathers, and a big fluffy boa in white and silver around her shoulders.
I realized then why my theater friend had recommended the place.
“Hello!” the lady greeted me. “Haven’t seen you in here before!”
“No, I’m new,” I said. “A friend suggested I come by to look for a costume.”
I took a moment to look around myself, flanked on either side by mismatched clothing racks, some of them sporting the current crop of brightly colored name-brand Halloween Costumes—their plastic hanging pouches in no particular organization—and some sporting period costumes in no packaging at all, also in no particular order. Many sections had them mixed together, a detailed 19th Century Confederate soldier’s uniform hanging right beside a bright red Little Ladybug affair in nylon and foam rubber, for your seven-year-old to wear to her school’s costume parade.
Along the winding walls through the misshapen shop, there were whole collections of strange prop paraphernalia: cheap party pranks like fake dog poo and a fly stuck in an ice cube, garlic gum and itching powder; fake plastic gladiator chests, celebrity bums and Playboy bunny busts; hats, hats, hats. The whole room smelled of their unique, nostalgically familiar scent, mingled with the drifting fingers of rosy, exotic incense in tins on the shelf. There were fake weapons along the back wall practically hidden under a wave of feathery boas like the one the shopkeeper wore, and an old antique mirror propped up in a corner behind makeshift changing closets. Around the counter itself—which was in the very center of the room—there were display cases filled with aged-looking pins and hatpins, earrings and bracelets, next to spasmodically flashing party favors for ravers and club-goers. Right beside the woman’s cash register was a stand of bright, electric hairsprays and costume makeup.
“Wow,” I said, agog. “You’re…well-stocked.”
She chuckled and leaned on the counter with a nod. “What’s the costume for?”
“A charity event,” I said. “Very high profile. Lots of well-to-do VIPs."
I threw a glance at a maid's costume with fake hands attached to seem as though they were groping the wearer’s naked breasts. “So not that.”
Again, she laughed, and came out from behind her cash register, guiding me over to a section of mismatched paraphernalia. I have no idea what possessed her to choose that section since there seemed to be no way of knowing what went where, but she quickly began pulling hangers off the rack and putting aside possible outfits.
“Little Bo Peep?” she asked, pulling out one of the period dresses with dusky blue satin over a fluffy, lacy crinoline. “I can give you a wig for bouncing golden curls to go with it.”
“No, thanks,” I muttered, self-consciously bringing a hand up to fiddle with the ends of my natural dishwater-blonde hair.
“Catwoman?” she asked, pulling out two costumes, one reminiscent of the old 60’s TV show and one that was little more than leather belting and slashed rubber pants.
“No,” I said right away.
“Fancy Southern Belle? Pirate Wench? Fresh-faced geisha girl?”
I shook my head at each costume she produced, slowly becoming less and less enthused at my plot. Finally, as she pulled out on last-ditch effort to win me over—a Savage Cavewoman two-piece—I shrugged my shoulders and sighed, giving up.
“I don’t see anything here that will work,” I said glumly. “But thank you.”
She gave me a sad smile. “Really, sweetie?”
“Really,” I said.
Her face fell, and she shrugged, turning away from me to shuffle the cavewoman back into the menagerie. While she did, I idly perused the stands closest to me, thinking perhaps it had been silly of me anyway. I’d find some reasonable suitable costume to meet the theme of the party—there was a decent Wicked Witch of the West costume in the Party City insert in yesterday’s mail—and do my job keeping Andrew’s social calendar straight and managing his contacts as he networked, hobnobbed and canoodled.
As my mind wandered lazily along those lines, my hand slipped across a smooth layer of satin. It was cool and slithery under my fingertips, iridescent and rich, noble red. Curious, I pulled the article of clothing from its rack and looked it over.
It was some sort of whimsical clown design, I thought at first. The satin red I had run my hands over was part of a mantle, short, petal-like sections covering the shoulders and neckline, with two longer, flowing tails falling halfway down the back. At the ends of these tails were two round golden bells tied on with long, thin, satiny black ribbon. The top of the outfit was a pattern of the same noble red flanked by long lengths of ebony black; two rows of small gold stars paraded down the front in smart lines following the seams of the changing colors.
It wasn’t a clown’s outfit, I realized. It was a harlequin’s outfit. Although much sexier than any harlequin I’d ever seen—instead of a single one-piece design repeating chessboard squares of bright colors all the way down to the ankles, the bodice of the costume fit like a long-sleeved leotard, leaving the legs covered instead by the sheer, billowing material of Turkish harem pants. Red gloves and ankle boots came hanging in a little plastic sleeve attached to the hanger; so did an elaborate red hood that framed the face in a heart shape, with two drooping extensions like small ram’s horns coiling back over the ears. Another round bell was attached at the end of each of these.
As I held it in my hands, I knew this costume was perfect. Half jester, half dancer, it was flirty and full of mysterious possibility. It would absolutely wow the whole gala.
There was just one thing missing.
I looked up, glancing again at the mismatched paraphernalia along the walls, the pranks and the hats and the boas. I knew this lady would have the exact thing I was looking for now.
Then, yes, I saw them, dangling above the feathers and fluff of the boas, glittering and winking in the strangely antique light.
Masks. Brightly colored, sequined and beribboned, devilishly smiling masks.
On the night of the charity gala, I called Andrew and told him there had been a delay, and I would have to meet him at the party later. As I hung up, I caught a glance of myself in the mirror.
On any regular day, I’m a skinny, mousy wallflower. Sure, I can juggle an appointment book, a Blackberry, a stack of files and folders and a cell phone while typing over a hundred words per minute, and no, I don’t wear glasses or hide my face behind my hair or shrink down into frumpy oversized college sweatshirts. I’d never been elegant in any sort of way, though. I was a beanpole with long legs and a pert, professional demeanor, hair in a bun, wearing a smart business suit with a pencil skirt.
In the harlequin costume, I saw a side of myself I’d never seen before. Beneath the dark, gauzy harem pants my long legs were graceful, poised—like a ballerina’s. The alternating panels of satin black and red created a shapely silhouette, accentuating the smooth and subtle curves of my figure, usually lost under my suit jackets and button-up shirts. The tails of the mantle dangled playfully behind my shoulder, bells jingling coyly as I turned side to side, inspecting myself in the reflection.
Suddenly, a new image flashed through my mind. Half-dressed, without the jester’s hood and mask, my short, straight hair hanging unassumingly to my shoulders and no makeup on—I wondered if Andrew would enjoy the sight, if he were standing behind me, watching me in the mirror. Watching me take the costume off, instead of putting it on.
I giggled despite myself and reached for the hood. I pulled it on, tucking my hair underneath, and attached it to the mantle with little button-hooks. I took another moment to assess myself. I normally wore simple nudes and pinks when it came to lip gloss, and rarely any actual lipstick, but for the costume party I’d found myself a dark, wine-colored shade to go with the very courtly colors of my outfit. I applied it in a more accentuated style than normal, outlining a coy little pout. I did my eyes in dark, smoky colors, before finally adding the last touch.
I'd picked out a black mask, embellished with scrolling gold designs and a sequined silver trim. I’d rejected the ones ornamented with feathers and plumes for a simple decoration of gold-and-silver ribbon arranged into a flirty along one sweeping curve. With the mask on, I became utterly transformed: there was nothing left of the mousy wallflower. The creature staring back at me was sexy, enigmatic… even a little bit dangerous.
Andrew would never see me coming.
I took a cab across town. It was worth the double-take I got from the cabbie as I slipped into the backseat, giving him a smile but offering no explanation. Behind the mask it didn’t matter what the driver thought of me or the sexy show I put on. I was free from the blush that might have risen to my face if I had stepped out in a Wicked Witch’s cloak. Who knew what he thought? He might see me as pretty or pretty crazy… and both gave me an unexpectedly pleasant little flutter of butterflies in the stomach.
The thought made me laugh quietly behind my hand. The bells of my jester’s cap tinkled merrily with me.
“Airport Hilton Hotel,” I instructed. He started the cab, staring dutifully forward and occasionally sneaking puzzled glances at me when he could.
“You going to some sorta costume ball?” he finally said. I grinned at him, trying again to hide the giggle that rose in my chest.
Perhaps I was trying to protect the costume’s beautiful satin with instinctive caution, but I even seemed to be moving with a new level of jaunty grace. As we pulled up in front of the Hilton—fashionably late, as had been my plan—I handed over my fare and stepped out of the cab, moving with a prescient self-awareness that extended through my limbs and even into the tails of my mantle, the peaks of my jester’s cap, the pointed toes of my slippers. A bright and wistful amusement filled me as I caught at the sight of the harlequin slipping across the reflective tinted windows of limousines and shuttles pulling up in front of the doors.
I knew Andrew would be easy to find. I’d helped him pick his costume: a prohibition-era mobster. I almost advised against it—thought it might be a bit tongue-in-cheek for a politician—but ultimately I’d been unable to say no to the idea of him in a smart pin-striped suit and a fedora cocked over his brow. I’d picked his mask, selecting a simple broad checkerboard design with bold arcs and just a bit of black-and-silver trim around the edges and the left eye. He’d be easy to identify, even in the crowd.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the ballroom was the untold number of fluffy Victorian skirts and swishing crinolines, more than a dozen Bo-Peeps and even more Cinderellas and Red Riding Hoods. Sprinkled among them were the skintight Catwomen and the generic pirate wenches, cavewomen and all manner of Wicked Witches. But I didn’t see even one checkered leotard or Venetian jester in the bunch.
I spotted Andrew right away. He stood among a group of flashy businessmen and socialites—at least, I assumed, since they were all dressed up like so many poodle-skirted teeny-boppers, Elvis impersonators and vintage Vegas headliners. Glass of champagne in one hand, Andrew was regaling them with some animated tale, perhaps the latest news from the capitol or humorous recounts of the most recent baseball season. His team had gone down early and hard, and it had been the subject of many a loud and uproarious office rant. I snagged my own flute of champagne and drifted through the party-goers to see him.
Any other day, in any other get-up, this would have been where shy wallflower Liz took over, skirting away from the group, dutifully taking down notes or phone numbers or email addresses as the Senator shook hands and made friends. If I were wearing the costume he thought I’d be wearing—a slightly more feminine version of his, a loyal mob hand—I’d have been part of his staff, just like I was everywhere else. Tonight I wasn’t Liz the Assistant, Liz the Staffer. Tonight I was someone entirely different.
With that thought in mind, I sauntered up to the group and gave my unsuspecting boss a self-assured smirk.
“Absolutely fascinating, Senator,” I purred, having no idea what conversation I had just interrupted. “But what I really want to know is… how well do you dance?”
I made an impression, that was clear. Andrew and his audience fell silent. They were a sea of approving grins as they took in my sparkle and satin. If the charming senator ever suspected the pretty creature in front of him was the same practical, efficient, no-nonsense woman who held down the desk outside his door, he gave no indication. Instead, he gave his usual campaign-winning grin—God, it was even sexier behind the tuxedo pattern of his mask—and tipped his glass to me.
“Well, I’ve been told my dancing skills are up to par,” he chuckled. “Of course, I’ve never had the opportunity to measure them against a Cirque du Soliel star before.”
“Maybe someday you’ll have that opportunity,” I returned. “Until then, though, will you take the chance with me?”
“Absolutely,” he said, clinking his champagne flute against mine and finishing the last of his drink with a courageous swig. Taking both our glasses and dropping them on a passing tray of empties, he took my hand and led me onto the floor.
As as he slipped an arm around my waist those familiar giddy butterflies fluttered up in my chest. His embrace was firm but gentle, and joyfully, comfortably warm. I could barely settle into his arms, I was so electric with bubbly glee.
“You dance very well,” Andrew complimented. “Miss….?”
“Oh, no, Senator,” I chided. “It’s a masquerade party. No names until the masks come off at midnight!”
I knew he was only being charming. I certainly wasn’t tripping over my feet but I was just following his lead, my cheery bells jingling as he waltzed me around the floor. That was fine by me. This close, I could have nuzzled the hint of five o’clock shadow along his handsome jaw, or run my hand through his sandy hair. I didn’t, but being near enough to do so gave me a serene contentment. The scent of his cologne—L’Eau D’Issey, musky and rich with the sweet scent of wood and amber—was heaven.
I didn’t think I’d ever been so close to Andrew before. Or perhaps I had, leaning over his desk to get his signature or go over a proposal or help him figure out new computer hardware. I’d never been this intimately close to him, though… it was an incredible feeling.
“I hear you’re up for auction later,” I teased.
“You’ve heard right,” he replied. “Can I expect you to be among the bidders?”
“Maybe. Of course, if I did bid on you and I did win,” I mused. “I’d have you for… what? A pleasant photo-op of a lunch, a chance to bend your ear about the charities I support or the event I’d like your help to arrange. That’s all well and good, but if I was looking for a date with you I’d like something a little more… genuine.”
It earned me another gorgeous smile. “How candid of you. Should my feelings be hurt? You make it sound as though you’re decidedly not interested in a date.”
I dropped him a wink. “I got a dance. I can be happy with that.”
He spun me, sending the jester’s bells a-ringing. As I twirled back into his arms, I could swear he was holding me a little bit closer.
“You’re a very mercurial woman, aren’t you?” he asked.
“I’m just enjoying my moment,” I said.
“Well,” he replied as the song came to an end. He lifted my hand, giving it a kiss. “To many more moments, hm?”
“One can hope.”
As he led me from the floor, he reached out and one of the waiters whisked by to offer us another glass of champagne. Andrew took both proffered flutes and handed one to me.
“Join me for a walk on the grounds? Maybe I can convince you to invest a little money in the auction.”
“Be my guest,” I replied, and he took my arm to lead me out.
We enjoyed a stroll through the hotel’s extraordinary landscaped gardens, but surprisingly enough he said very little. Once we were out of sight of the party-goers on the balcony, he let his hand drift to my lower back, pressing his fingers ever-so-lightly there while we meandered along the lawns and the pseudo-Greek garden architecture. I tilted my head to admire the lights on the surfaces of the hotel’s elegant fountains as they sang pretty sprays of water into the sky.
“Your costume is stunning,” he said as we reached a quiet colonnade open on one side to a calm reflecting pool. I smiled in thanks, and quietly slipped away from him to stand by one of the columns and admire the water. Again I marveled at the playful creature looking back up at me. Where had she been all my life?
Andrew cozied up beside me. “So, about that auction—”
“You’ll fetch a very handsome price, I’m sure,” I said. “Probably from the head of the Women’s Society, though I’d be careful with her. I’m sure she’d love to get her hooks into a handsome senator, and for more than just a little PR date.”
“Well, then, wouldn’t it be better if somebody else won?” he muttered, leaning close and resting his head near to my shoulder. I was thrilled by his nearness, my heart picking up its rhythm as the invigorating scent of L’Eau D’Issey soothed and stirred me.
“It’s all for charity, now, remember,” I teased.
“Are you sure I can’t convince you to bid?” he asked. His voice was lower now, right by my ear. I turned towards him and our bodies pressed more closely together.
“There’s not much chance I could afford a luxury like you,” I whispered.
“Better chance than if you don’t try at all,” he murmured back. “And if you were to make the final bid, I think I might be the one who wins.”
Before I could return another measure of the playful banter, his lips were on mine, warm and pleasing. His right hand dropped gently to my hip, while his left snuck around my shoulders to press me against him. The little bells on my cap shivered and jingled; I shut my eyes with a quiet sound of happiness.
We kissed for several long seconds, his arms tightening around me.
“Do you always make friends this fast, Senator?” I murmured as our lips parted. The champagne had made me dizzy...or maybe it wasn't the champagne at all.
“Usually not,” he replied, still holding me close. “This is… a unique circumstance.”
He leaned in for another kiss, stroking my satin-clad hip. I reached my arms around his neck and let myself drift away on the ardent satisfaction, the sweet, tingling affection stirring up in my belly and under my skin where his hands rested on me. Then Andrew swayed me a little closer, sliding his hand under my thigh—the sensation of his fingertips through the gauzy harem pants sent a quick shiver up my spine. I laughed quietly, breaking the kiss, and he eased me up against the column, guiding my thigh around his hip before returning his hand to my side.
“Senator,” I whispered. “I didn’t realize you were so passionate about your causes.”
“I can be passionate about many things,” he said, tracing his kisses in a line down to my throat, kissing me through the satin of my bright red mantle. “Especially a pretty girl with a secret.”
His lips brought a flush of heat to my skin, filling me with excitement. My head spun, full of sparkling champagne bubbles and glittery gold sequins as I pressed my full body against his.
“Senator!” I murmured, nuzzling my face into his hair, inhaling the clean scent of his shampoo.
“Please,” he whispered. “Call me Andrew.”
“No names until the masks come off!” I giggled.
“That's hardly fair,” he breathed. “You knew who I was before you asked me to dance. Just what am I supposed to call you while I’m stripping this lovely costume off of you and laying you down on that park bench over there?”
I slapped him lightly on the chest. “You wouldn’t dare.”
He had me backed against the colonnade and practically suspended between it and him. His hands ran down my sides and back up the front of my costume—the warmth of his palms slipped over the curves of my breasts, and another thrilling tickle ran through me.
My hands tangled in his hair as I kissed his brow, the crown of his head, his ear. My mind was a whirl of racing emotions. Was this really me? Really Andrew? How had we come to be here, so quickly entangled in each other’s arms? Every movement accentuated by the slither of material, tracing arcs of pleasure along my skin. The jester’s cap jingled as I rolled my head back in pleasure.
Andrew tilted his head up again and we were kissing again, trading fervent pecks and deep, zealous lip-locks, no longer able to find words.
It all became too beautifully intense. His kisses, so sweet and so fulfilling. Soon, though, I knew we were out of time. With a final, soft sound of pleasure, I forced myself to break away.
“You’ll have to be getting back for that auction,” I whispered. “It starts in ten minutes.”
“What a spoilsport you are,” he whispered with a smile. “I can skip it. They’ve got plenty of eligible bastards in there to go up on the sales block and flaunt. They’ll never miss me.”
“You promised them," I insisted.
“You’ll be in there to bid on me, little harlequin?” he asked. “Because otherwise I won’t go. I’ve got far more interesting business right here.”
“You are determined!”
“Indeed I am.”
He kissed me deeply again. Both hands cradled my face, pulling me close as his tongue slipped into a flirting tangle with my own. I moaned under him, and one of his hands dropped down to caress my thigh again.
“I'm determined to see you without your cute little mask on,” he whispered. “And without that cute little outfit on.”
I laughed out loud. Oh, how I would have loved to let Andrew take me home, oh I would have loved to feel him strip away the tight satin and slide his hands along the flesh of my naked thighs. Even the thought of him taking me to his big, beautiful bed—a bed I had dreamed of for years—made me giddy.
I should have. Maybe I would have. The naughty harlequin in me thought stealing away from the costume ball was the only way this night could end.
But the careful professional in me, who had been quiet all of the night, letting me enjoy my little game, ticked off the minutes in my mind. Andrew had to get back for the bachelor auction, and soon enough, it would be time to remove the masks and reveal the faces underneath. Then I would be shy little Liz again. Shy little Liz in a too-sexy jester’s outfit, in a wilting illusion of glitter and gold.
I'd had my fun. I’d danced my dance, enjoyed my moment. I’d tasted his kiss and even felt his perfect hands stroking my skin. The night had to come to an end, though. The harlequin had to beat her hasty retreat, before the truth behind her pretty tricks was revealed.
“Go,” I told him between kisses, even as he continued his passionate attention. “I’ll see you on the auction block.”
“Am I to take that as a promise you’ll be bidding for me?”
“Take it however you like,” I said. “But go check in before they put some local college lacrosse star in your place.”
He didn’t give up right away. His hands kept searching my body, looking for the zipper, while his lips kept up their wonderful attentions on my lips and down my throat. Finally, though, I put up my hands between us, and nudged him away.
“Go,” I insisted. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“Why not come with?” he invited.
“And have us both show up, breathless and flushed, with my makeup smeared and my costume awry?” I gave him a playful shove. “Go, Andrew.”
He grinned wryly, eyes sparkling behind his mask. Leaning in for one last kiss, he turned to go back to the ballroom.
“Come,” he told me. “Win me.”
I smiled and tipped him a nod.
As soon as he'd disappeared down the colonnade, I sat on one of the benches beside the reflecting pool, and smiled at my reflection. Lipstick smeared, a lock of hair escaping the jester’s cap here and there, a bright flush reddening my cheeks—still, in the eyes of the mirror me I could see the bright pleasure of a woman deliriously happy.
Though it had been only a few short, stolen moments… it had been everything I wanted it to be.
I didn’t return to watch the auction. I slipped away, hailing another cab and riding home in silence. Removing my mask and jester’s cap, I sunk into the backseat thinking of Andrew’s affectionate hands, his warm, perfect lips.
When I got home I stripped off my costume and hung it up neatly. I took one last moment to admire the satin and ribbons and bells. Then I stared at myself in the mirror for long, long moments.
I was Liz again. Tidy, organized, mousy little Liz, with a little smeared makeup and a big stupid grin on her face.
I smirked. Then I climbed into a shower and got ready for bed.
It was nothing but pleasant dreams.
I was awoken by a smart rapping at my door. It was still early—earlier than I wanted to be up on a weekend—and for long moments I stayed in bed, wondering who would be knocking and when they would give up and leave. After several minutes, though, they still hadn’t, so I got up, pulling on my pajamas, and heading for the door.
I was stunned when it was Andrew standing in the hallway of my apartment building. He leaned in the doorway, his eyes narrowed and a smirk on his face.
“So you never did show up last night, Liz,” he prodded.
I didn’t answer. I was still too puzzled to even understand. Stammering, I invited him in and retreated to the kitchen to pour coffee for us.
“Why didn’t you come?” he asked, taking a seat at the counter.
“I’m sorry,” I said quietly. “My car wouldn’t start and I was here for hours waiting for the guy from roadside assistance. It was a nightmare, Andrew.”
“Mm-hmm,” he said. “I’ll bet it was.”
“Are you angry?” I asked, pausing in my search for mugs.
“No,” he shrugged. “Although I hope it won’t become a habit, you missing important events like this.”
“It won’t,” I promised, hoping he couldn’t see my blush as I pretended to still be searching, even though there were two perfectly good mugs right in front of my hand.
Finally I plunked down the cups and started pouring the coffee. I popped two sugars into his and a dollop of cream in both, turning around to join him at the counter.
“Good,” he said. “Because we’ve got another important event tonight.”
“Tonight?” I said. “There’s nothing on the calendar for tonight.”
“Just added it,” he replied. “Very important meeting. At the Courtyard Steak House, downtown.”
“That’s a very fancy place,” I said, reaching for the small notepad I kept by my phone. “What time?”
“Seven,” he said. I guessed one of the more prominent ladies must have won the auction last night. “And be sure to wear something nice, of course.”
“Of course,” I said, dashing off the information.
“Like an evening gown.”
“This is a business meeting?” I asked, puzzled.
“Business of a sort,” he said. I stared at him for several long moments. A creeping suspicion bloomed in my chest.
“I see,” I said quietly, laying down the pen.
In one more gulp he had finished his coffee and was up, helping himself to the sink to rinse the cup and plop it on the drying rack. Then he turned and headed for the door, as if the only reason he had come all the way here was to inform me of this appointment. I hopped up to show him out, acting almost entirely on instinct, still confused.
“Liz,” he said, spinning to face me again. “Promise you’ll make it this time?”
“Yes, Andrew,” I said.
“Promise?” he insisted, dropping me a wink.
“Yes, I promise. I will be there.”
Then, he leaned forward, kissing me on the lips before I even realized it.
“Be there with bells on
About the Author
When she isn't visiting the worlds of immortals, demons, dragons and goblins, Brantwijn fills her time with artistic endeavors: sketching, painting, customizing My Little Ponies and sewing plushies for friends. She can't handle coffee unless there's enough cream and sugar to make it a milkshake, but try and sweeten her tea and she will never forgive you. She moonlights as a futon for four lazy cats, loves tabletop role-play games, and can spend hours watching Futurama, Claymore or Buffy the Vampire Slayer while she writes or draws.
In addition to her novels, Brantwijn has had several stories published in anthologies by Breathless Press, including the 2013 Crimson Anthology and 2014 Ravaged Anthology. She's also had a short story published in the Cleiss Press Big Book of Orgasm and the anthology Coming Together Through The Storm. She hopes to have several more tales to tell as time goes on. She has author pages on GoodReads and Amazon, and loves to see reader comments on her work. Her short stories occasionally pop up at Foreplay and Fangs, her blog at http://brantwijn.blogspot.com.