Excerpt: The Wild One
“You’re welcome." Lee answered Jess, "but I’m not leaving you here. Would Cinderella’s prince abandon her on the street?”
A twitching of those perfect red lips. “As I recall, he abandoned her in his castle.”
He laughed, took her hand and led her through the door and up the stairs, saying, “I’ll walk you to your door at any rate. And, for the record, Cinderella abandoned the prince, leaving behind that idiotic glass slipper, which always annoyed me. Just exactly how do you make a glass slipper, why would you wear it, and what do you do if it breaks? I think it’d be damned uncomfortable.”
“It sounds quite grand to me.”
“Glass is inflexible. It’d give you blisters after one dance. And if the prince was a poor dancer, he’d step on your toes, crush the glass and cut the hell out of your foot, thus rendering the stroke-of-midnight scene pointless. You can’t run down steps with glass stuck in your foot,” he finished, stopping outside her door.
“You’re not very romantic, are you, Lee?” Jess asked as she reached for the knob.
Without thinking, he covered her hand with his. Her soft-sweet fragrance drifted off her hair and with an excited leap of his heart, he said, “Not yet.”
She glanced up, a puzzle between her brows. Her eyes—damn—her eyes glowed in the light from the hall lamp.
He lowered his voice as his blood warmed. “I’m very romantic. In fact I’m quite attached to the part,” he said, taking her arm and gently turning her to him, “where the prince kisses Cinderella.”
“Kiss? But I don’t recall…” she hesitated, her throat working, then continued in a light, thready tone, “I thought you were the footman.”
“No, sweetheart. I am the prince. I am most decidedly the prince.” Her eyes widened—and darkened. “And I am going to kiss you.”
In response, her eyelids drooped slightly and, heart battering his chest, he leaned over and touched her lips. Exercising all the restraint he could muster, he moved his mouth slowly over hers, letting her become used to the feel of him. He felt her muscles relax, and he brushed her lips with his tongue, requesting entrance. When she granted it, he slid inside to sweep her mouth, touching, exploring, savoring the taste of sugar-sweetened champagne. . .
As the footmen attended their outer clothing, Jess surveyed her surroundings, reminding herself to breathe, for the hall alone was larger than all three rooms she and Michelle shared. Two stories high, it was paneled in gleaming oak with an enormous oak staircase carpeted in crimson sweeping upward and parting at the first landing, where it formed a double staircase. Above them a monstrous gold chandelier held back the night trying to enter through three enormous half- moon windows. And everywhere there was black-veined marble: marble statues, marble floor, marble pillars flanking the stairway. Jess’s heart raced as Lee took her arm and they followed a footman along a two- story high corridor hung with life-size portraits.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” Lee whispered in her ear. “They don’t bite. At least, I don’t think they do.” The music grew louder with each step. Then the footman bowed and swept his arm toward a huge room with two sets of open double doors. They entered, stopping just inside.
Gold. Lord almighty, everywhere gold—enormous, sparkling chandeliers, paneling, wainscoting, everything covered in gold leaf. The floor-to-ceiling windows, hung with delicate lace, were trimmed in gold. The marble fireplace and the huge mirror over it, trimmed in gold. Even the sky-and-cloud-painted ceiling was all but lost in gold-squared trimming.
And flowers, hundreds, thousands of flowers. The scent almost knocked her over. “Good gracious, Lee,” Jess gasped. “I didn’t know the world contained that much gold leaf! Do they own a hothouse, too?”
Lee, scanning the crowd, grimaced. “Awful, isn’t it? It’s Bernadette’s doing. Hathaway’s a Yank; you’d never see this sort of ostentation in Boston. I see we’re late enough to have successfully avoided the reception line and the Grande Marche, which, believe me, is for the better,” he said smugly. “Let us see about finding you a seat while I locate—ah, there’s Michael. Ah hell, he’s with Greenway and Eleanor.”
Blinded by grandeur, Jess only then noticed the people, some dancing to the strains of an orchestra hidden behind a row of palms, some sitting on cream silk settees and chairs, while still others stood talking in groups.
Then the names sank in. “Greenway?” Jess repeated, in yet another shock to her reeling mind. Over and over again she tried to swallow the lump in her throat, barely controlling the urge to flee. “Ned Greenway?” Dear God, and Eleanor Martin, the queen of San Francisco society. Jess had only read about her in the society pages. Oh no, she would not meet her, she’d rather sink through the gold-parquet floor, turn into a bird and fly through the heaven-painted ceiling. To be anywhere but here, completely, entirely out of her realm.
And A Body:
Lee stepped off the boardwalk and strode across the street. He patted his empty vest pocket, absentmindedly searching for the cigar he smoked earlier.
“Lee. . . “
Lee stopped at the sound of his name, whispered from somewhere behind him. Frowning, he turned, searching for the source and spotted a figure standing next to the hotel. It took a moment to recognize Jess, who stood still, first regarding him, then her hands and then back again. Lee looked at her hands to see what she found so fascinating. Something black and oily drizzled off them. Something, he thought with a tightening of his throat, something that resembled blood.
He was in front of her in three long strides.
“Jess? Jess, sweetheart, what is that?” he asked, wrapping his fingers around her wrists to lift her hands toward the moon’s light. “Did you hurt yourself?”
“It’s blood. He’s. . .he’s dead, Lee, and now I have his blood on my hands.”
“Dead?” Lee asked bringing her hands down once more. Fear coiled in his stomach like a rattler, ready to strike. “Who’s dead?”
“Robert. I went to see him. Jon told me he was gambling my money away. I went to tell him. . .to tell him. . .and then, there he was. His neck—there’s blood all over the floor. "
Copyright © 2008 by Denise Eagan. All rights reserved