Tess glided home on a haze of proud euphoria. She’d done it. After four years of attending the university she’d obtained her goal. Clutched in her hand was a copy of the magazine featuring her article about her favorite author, the epic John Steinbeck.
At lunch Robin Deal, her roommate, declared a celebration was in order and purchased box seats for them to attend a Russian ballet. Granted Robin had to write a report about the troupe for a recreation class.
The ballet would provide her an opportunity to wear her grandmother’s mink wrap. A hand-me-down, the brown sable had a perfect blending of fur and silk. The worn patches of lining didn’t bother her one bit. Possible comments from animal activist might shake her, but she’d watched Gram dress in her finest clothing and attend social events. Those memories would be worth the trash-talk.
She picked up speed and took the alley leading to their apartment near campus. A few minutes later she rushed walked into their bungalow. “Hello?”
The shower was running in Robin’s suite, so Tess went into her room and striped. Showered, lubed-up with her favorite honeysuckle-scented lotion, and dress as Gram would say, “to the nines”. she selected an A-line gold dress, slipped on dark brown and forced her toes into clacker-heels. To top off the outfit, she swept her hair into a French Twist. A few days before, she’d watched a documentary on Audrey Hepburn and wanted to imitate her look. Over the top—maybe—but she so wanted to wear the mink.
“Well don’t you look like a princess?” Robin appeared in the mirror’s reflection. She rested her arm on Tess’s shoulder and rubbed the fur.
Robin wore a Caribbean-blue tight blouse and a lime green short skirt. Her floral perfume matched the outfit, spicy pungent and striking. They looked like the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon characters, Boris and Natasha. With flats, Robin stood a foot taller than Tess.
“Thanks, I think Gram would be pleased.” She evaluated herself a second time. Scruffy student had disappeared and sophistication remained. The gold in the dress highlighted her reddish-brown hair. She reapplied her lipstick, downplaying the peaks on her lips, then slipped on white above the elbow-length gloves. “You’re not dressing for the occasion?”
Robin snickered. “Ah, no. But I think you should wear my mother’s ring.” She ran into her bedroom. The clap of wood hitting wood sounded through the space. Her shoes thumped on the hard floor as she reentered the room. “Here, it is. It’s rather large.” She opened her palm to reveal a large, square-cut, green jewel. “You might want to wear the emerald on top of the glove.”
Not the type of person to wear such a grandiose piece, she hesitated. “It’s so pretty.”
“Yeah, the stone matches your eyes. Put it on.” Robin smiled.
Tess slipped the ring on her middle finger. “It looks so valuable.”
“Yep, the emerald is irreplaceable, so don’t lose it. Let’s go, we’re already late.”
Tess swallowed, wanting to give the ring back. What if it slipped off? Robin sat behind the steering wheel of her roadster and Tess sluggishly dropped into the second seat.
Robin circled the theatre building three times and finally illegally parked near a red door, marked private. “Got to hurry.”
Robin jumped from the car and ran toward the obviously restricted entrance. She threw open the metal door and flagged Tess.
Tess cautiously crossed the threshold. The dark hallway momentarily blinded her. “I’m not sure about this.”
Robin pulled the door shut and slid around Tess. “Come on.”
“Ah, there you are, coming in the backdoor. We thought perhaps you’d changed your mind about attending the ballet tonight. I’m Andre.” The young man wore a tux, and his hair was shinier than the brown heels pinching Tess’ toes. “Where’s your security?”
Tess glanced behind her to see if perhaps someone else had entered the theatre with them. Nope. She shot a look at Robin.
“They’re parking the car.” Robin smiled and smoothed a curl behind her ear. “We didn’t want to miss a moment of the performance with world renown Russian dancers.”
“Please allow me.” He held out his arm, elbow kinked and stared at Tess. “Baroness Oxonya?”
Baroness? Was he kidding? Despite not having a clue as to whom he was referring, Tess straightened her back and elevated her chin. She’d deny the mistaken identity, with dignity, and admit the confusion.
“Yes, and I’m her assistant.” Robin’s eyes glittered. She loved intrigue and breaking the rules.
Tess sucked in a breath and glanced at Robin.
“That’s pronounced, Ox-ann-ya,” she spouted.
Damn, she’d known all along. Robin always liked to test the gray area, trying to get special treatment. “Robin.” Exasperation seethed with the intonation.
Andre’s attention went toward Robin. “Ms. Paonce?” After a moment of dead air, he dropped his arm and took a step backward.
“You can call me Robin. We better get moving, the band’s playing.”
He bobbed his head and pirouetted. His stiff posture didn’t relax as he led them along the shadowed hallway.
Tess grabbed her roommate’s hand and tugged her hard enough Robin jerked to a stop. “I’m not Baroness’a anything. What happens when she shows up?”
“She won’t. It’s a small production, at a university in Indiana. Think about it. We’ll get great seats, maybe champagne.” Her eyes glowed. “Snacks. Good snacks.”
“It’s a Russian ballet company, and I don’t speak the language.”
They had reached an elevator and Andre had his hand braced on the door, preventing the panels from closing. “Baroness?”
Tess couldn’t say anything. To deny the mistaken identity now would be an embarrassment and possibly an arrest. Her throat numbed. She pressed her fingers to her gullet, massaging the muscles, urging the words to come forth. Tell him, before this goes any farther.
Andre’s eyes widened. The enormous green rock reflected in his brown irises. Crap.
Tess swallowed and entered the elevator. She kept her head lowered as the elevator rose two levels. She exited and entered what she’d come to think of as her own personal night of doom. Several twists and turns later Andre opened a door. With an overacted flair he flagged them forward.
“Please be a private box,” she whispered. An exclusive box would be helpful when the true royalty showed up. Tess would say oops, sorry, and run like Pegasus.
Robin slithered in front of her, moving to a table boasting shining crystal flutes and dark labeled wine bottles. Straight ahead, two other figures were outlined, one small wearing a hat with plumes extending from the band. Tess glanced at the tall shadow and wide male shoulders solidified.
“Baroness Oxonya, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I apologize for the Senator, he had a situation to handle and couldn’t make it. I’m his assistant, Murdock…Murdock Jameson, and this is my Grandmother, Julia Jameson.” He had chiseled cheeks, and a broad smile; a smile that didn’t just appear on his perfectly shaped lips but highlighted his sea blue eyes.
Tess’s heart pounded. “Sea warrior.” Her voice gurgled in her throat, making her sound foreign. She didn’t recognize the slight accent filtering through.
“Yes, Murdock is Gaelic for sea warrior. My grandson is all that and more.” The woman’s aged blue eyes, so like her grandson’s pierced Tess.
Tess’ heart pounded harder, because of a sudden and inexplicable lust for a stranger. Heated because of impersonation guilt, she shrugged the fur lower on her shoulders. She extended her gloved hand with the green jewel glimmering in the dim lights. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Jameson.” The older woman barely touched Tess’ fingers.
Tess extended her hand toward the hot guy. “And Mr. Jameson.”
He held tight. She squirmed, and he released the hold.
“Please call me Murdock.” He curved his hand under her arm, and took his grandmother’s hand, and escorted them to the four seats near the front of the alcove.
Robin had already sat on the second seat. Her small skirt, suddenly shorter, exposed most of her thighs. She clutched the stem of a wine glass. She patted the chair beside her. “Senator, sit here, beside me. I’m Robin.”
“”I’m his assistant. Murdock and Julia Jameson.” His voice tone resounded in time to the string section strumming in the pit.
Murdock assisted his grandmother onto the seat next to Robin. Tess sat beside Mrs. Jameson, and Murdock occupied the remaining chair. Sandwiched between these good people she felt more like a lying imposter. Her pits grew wet.
Tess slipped out of the fur coat. One of her gloves rolled down, bunching at her wrist. A slip of parchment paper fluttered to the floor. She gripped the armrest and leaned forward to retrieve the scrap of paper. The theatre lights went dark, cloaking her in darkness. She inhaled; maybe they’d get away with the ruse.
Murdock placed his hand on top of hers. The warmth of his skin relaxed her. Forgetting the document on the floor, she snuggled into the padding of the seat.
“The blackout took me by surprise.” How stupid. She sounded as if she’d never attended a production at a theatre before.
He leaned close. “Your voice is so soft I didn’t hear you.” His breath tickled her skin.
She inhaled the spicy scent of his cologne, then exhaled. She stared into his deep blue eyes. “I…”
His perfect mouth touched her earlobe. She had the strongest desire to turn her head a few inches, so her lips could connect with his. “Baroness Oxonya, I’d like to ask—”
“I’m not…” His hand lingered on top of hers. Desire, or fear of being caught, heated her. She had to get out of there.
“After the ballet, would you…and your friend be interested in going to dinner with my grandmother and me?”
The orchestra played louder. Stages lights shone on the main character tiptoeing across center stage.
She lifted her glance. Her mouth, a fraction of an inch from his, begged for a brief touch. A soft kiss and her romantic fantasy would be complete.
“I des not cares who you says entered. I am ‘ese Baroness Oxonya.” A heavily accented voice drowned out the bewitching orchestra music.
“Time to leave!” Robin, shot off her seat and clutched Tess’s arm.
“I’m sorry.” Tess slid her hand from under his and grabbed her coat. “It was a pleasure to meet you.”
Murdock stood. His confused expression would certainly change once the real Baroness came through the door.
Robin dragged Tesss toward the glow of light through the now open door.
A crow-headed harridan with a ferocious look on her face argued with Andre.
Tess didn’t want to leave, yet her heart pattered in fear. She could take a stand and apologize for the confusion and start fresh.
Robin shoved the angry woman aside and dragged Tess across the threshold. At a run Robin flung open the stairwell door and pushed her. “Move.”
Tess clackity-clacked all the way down two flights. She stopped at the bottom and slid her arms through the coat sleeves. “I’ve lost a glove.”
“Forget it.” Robin, with keys in hand, pressed the lever of the exit, and pointed to the car. “My car hasn’t been towed. Let’s go.”
Tess plopped onto the next to the last stair and grabbed the rail with her gloved hand.
“What the hell are you doing? Get up.” Robin waved her free hand. “We’re going to get caught.”
“I’m not leaving. I’d rather stay and―”
“So help me, Tess, if you say face the music I’m really going to leave your perfect little ass here,” Robin screeched. By the snarl on her face, she wasn’t kidding.
“Just as well, because I’m not going to run.” She pressed her hot face against the cool iron rail.
Robin shoved the door. “F’ing fantastic. I’ll look forward to seeing your face in a different sort of print tomorrow.”
Humm, student arrested instead of student honored―definitely bad print. Tess found her dark side and lifted the finger she’d been dying to use since the emerald ring embellished the glove.
From above her seat on the stoop, the squeak of a door opening and closing rang through the stairwell.
Robin ran outside.
Heavy footsteps trod on the stairs. Tess tilted her head to glance up. A man in blue, but not one sporting a shield. She rested her cheek against the rail again, waiting for the set down.
“Tess?” Murdock said her true name.
Lack of oxygen must have made her hallucinate the kindness in his tone.
In her peripheral vision she glimpsed a pair of shiny ebony shoes and crisply pressed black pants. She closed her eyes, wishing the night would have ended as sweet as her day had started.
A feather-like touch of silk brushed against her face. She opened her eyes and glanced at Murdock. He held her glove in his hand, a glimmer of mirth in his eyes.
“Yes, but my name isn’t sewed into all of my clothing.” Her voice sounded normal. No squeak, no odd accent, just simply Tess.
Murdock settled beside her and handed her the glove with the tag exposed, her name brilliant in its calligraphy text.
“My grandmother was a fashion designer. I was named after her and have inherited much of her signature clothing.” She flipped the tag inside the glove. “Not really current for the times, but I like her style. Wearing this,” she tugged the fur, “reminds me of her.” Okay, babbling. First she couldn’t get two words to hang together and now she couldn’t stop them from rolling off her tongue.
“Why did you pretend to be Russian royalty?” His baritone voice soothed her heated soul more than the cool touch of the iron rail.
She rolled the glove onto her fingers and up her arm. “I’m not sure. It’s not something I’ve ever done before.” She glanced into his handsome face. “The spirit of adventure. Maybe.”
“More than likely it was because of that skank you arrived with. Where did she go?” He glanced around Tess, touching her as he looked into the dark corner to her right. His closeness reawakened her desire to be near him.
“She left. She’s not really a skank, just a lover of a good time.” Tess used the rail to pull herself to a stand. She glanced at Robin’s exit site. “I’m ready to talk to the police.”
“Why? Did she steal your car?” He took her arm into his. They ascended the stairs, but stopped outside a door marked second floor.
She glanced into his face. His questioning expression conflicted with the humor rippling across his eyes. “No. Ah, impersonation, although it was mistaken. I’ll talk to the men in blue and the Russian Baroness to apologize if necessary.”
“Ah.” His lips were mere inch away from hers.
If she had a fairy godmother, now was the time to intercede. Going with the illogical happily ever after idea, she’d hope for a kiss instead of a lecture on morality. Her heart pounded with such intensity surely he could hear the beat.
“The police were never called. We assumed it was a mistake. Baroness Oxonya huffed away the minute Andre gave the obvious explanation. She didn’t want to attend, and I imagine she would thank you for providing her a reason to leave.”
He cusped her cheek, running his thumb slowly ran around the curves of her mouth. She leaned into him and half-closed her eyes.
“If you’re willing, we could finish the ballet and attend dinner with my grandmother.” He lowered the thumb to rest under her chin, then lifted her face to meet his gaze.
Not fighting the magic, Tess licked her lips and blessed her fairy godmother for giving her this boon. “I’m quite excited about the ballet, and I’d enjoy talking with your grandmother at dinner.”
Murdock lowered his lips to hers. She let the enchantment surround her.
Maybe the original Tess Kelour gave her more than labeled clothing.
ALL RIGHTS RSERVED JJ KELLER
THE TAROT CARD
ISBN 13: 9781601544377
A stalled elevator.
A sexy gypsy.
A straight-laced CEO.
Fate has a sense of humor.
Kerry McClure must secure her future as head of her father’s corporation. She simply needs to sign a contract with Rune Technologies to ward off a hostile takeover.
When Kerry’s mistaken for a gypsy fortuneteller, she plays along, but could one night of fun jeopardize her CEO confirmation?
Stein Laxdale needs the business deal with McClure Ventures or he’ll lose control of Rune Technologies. He must decide if Kerry is his biggest threat or his greatest hope for a happily ever after.
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjtQV83j4X8 The Tarot Card
jj Keller: Fantasies with spice and humor. http://www.jj-keller.com(All Rights Reserved)
By jj Keller
Robin’s hand pressed against the lever of an emergency door, with a large sign declaring an alarm would sound if opened.