She sighed, unable to get her hair to cooperate. She’d seen the style in a magazine. It was simple, but very classy. She’d parted her hair on the side and started French braiding it from the part; then used a rubber band to hold the end together. She pulled the rest of her hair into a knot at the back of her head and wrapped the end of the braid around it. It looked pretty, like something women wore in Greek or Roman times; but there were loose wisps of hair and tendrils curling out from the back. She went to retrieve the magazine. The model had the same problem. She supposed it would be okay.
Sylvie’s heart was pounding like a triphammer. It was four weeks tonight since she’d seen Connor. In all that time, he hadn’t responded to a single email, text, or voicemail unless it was related to work. Unbeknownst to him or anyone at Hudson Publishing, she’d finished editing the last three chapters of the new book. She’d worked till the wee hours of the morning every night for the last week but she’d finally finished it. She was done!
She stared at the dress lying on the bed. She intended to knock Connor’s socks off with it. She’d lost out on two of the eBay auctions she’d wanted, but then she’d found this. It was a peach colored, silk charmeuse slip dress. She paid $225 for it, but it came with a matching crocheted shawl. The wrap was made of soft, very fuzzy yarn shot with flecks of gold. It was quite elegant. The seller had also thrown in a small beaded handbag that matched perfectly and a hair comb with peach satin ribbons and clusters of tiny peach and white baby’s breath. The dress fit like a glove. Sylvie couldn’t wear a bra with it. The straps were much too thin. She thought about buying one of those silicone stick on bras, but she really didn’t need one. For once in her life it didn’t matter that she had small boobs. The deep V neck and the way the material draped made her bust look fuller and perkier than it actually was. The only thing she was worried about was keeping her high beams under control when she laid eyes on Connor again.
She had an hour till the limo came for her. She wasn’t going to get dressed yet. She was nervous and sweating bullets. She needed to cool down before she put on the dress. The last thing she wanted was to go to this party with wet pits. She opened her laptop and started reading emails. She opened the first one from Roger Pearly, saw the pictures of the rebuilt cottage, and gasped. Holy cow! It looked so different. Four weeks ago it had been disaster; now it was beautiful. She couldn’t believe they’d transformed the place in so little time. It didn’t look like Aunt Tizzy’s any more. It was neat as a pin. The interior light and airy. The exterior looking like a perfect woodland home with its brown roof, textured metal siding that resembled stained wood, and brown shutters and front door. She was in awe of Roger Pearly. He was totally amazing; no detail had escaped him or the crews he’d hired. The man was a fixer!
Roger had come to see her two weeks ago. The guards had refused to admit him to the building. Miss Jenkins was not receiving visitors they’d told him. He’d called her from the front door to let her know he’d arrived, but wasn’t being allowed in. Sylvie had called security and pitched a fit. Even so, he’d had to endure a lengthy interrogation regarding the nature of his visit, sign in giving his name, address, phone number, profession, and the expected duration of his visit. They’d even made him show them two forms of ID. After a flurry of calls were made, presumably to Connor and people higher up the security food chain, he was taken up to the penthouse.
Roger Pearly, Esq. was not what she’d expected. He was in his late 30s, tall, well-built, and quite handsome. She didn’t know why, but she’d always assumed he was in his late 50s or early 60s, closer to her aunt’s vintage than her’s. Maybe it was his voice. He always sounded so calm, cool, and in charge. Nothing seemed to faze him.
He’d had her sign a slew of signature cards for the various bank accounts he’d had transferred over to her name, insurance papers, contracts for the house repair, deeds, tax forms; you name it she’d signed it.
He’d also brought her the keys to the jeep. That was a surprise. She’d mentioned to him that she really wanted to see the remodeled cottage before the snow, but getting there was a problem without a vehicle. That was bullshit, but he didn’t know it. She was embarrassed to admit that she’d dumped all the responsibility for repairing the house on him. It was an excuse for why she hadn’t gone up there to oversee the work herself. The real excuse was that there was no way in hell security was going to let her leave the building; not without Connor’s say so, and certainly not by herself. But she couldn’t tell him that. It so happened that a guy Pearly knew had an elderly mother who lived in the Eastchester section of the Bronx. She had a driveway, but no car, so Pearly arranged to have Sylvie’s car parked there for $150 a month. The old lady was on a fixed income so she welcomed the extra money. It was a safe neighborhood, not far from the subway line, so Sylvie could come and go any hour of the day or night with no problem. That way, if she wanted to get away for a weekend she could just grab the car and go. He’d given her the woman’s address, phone number, and directions how to get there.
He stayed for lunch and they had a nice chat, mostly about Tiz. She was a little surprised by the behavior of the staff during his visit. They were cordial, but definitely not friendly or welcoming to her guest. Security had escorted him up to the penthouse and then stood guard outside the front door as though they were afraid he was going to abscond with the silverware. He must have thought it peculiar when she brought him into her bedroom to sign all the papers. That was the only room in the house where she knew cameras wouldn’t be trained on them. She’d covered the lenses with sticky purple tack and taped several thicknesses of paper on top of that in case the cameras were wired for sound. She suspected there might be recording devices planted around the place, but she was pretty sure there weren’t any in her bedroom. She’d been paranoid when she found the cameras and tore her room apart looking for a bug, but hadn’t found any. But she wasn’t all that tech-savvy, so for all she knew it might have been small enough that she’d missed it. Connor was into all that cutting-edge electronic surveillance stuff. Who knows what he had installed here?
Their conversation during lunch was mostly spoken in whispers when they got to a topic she didn’t want Connor to find out about. TJ and Mrs. Haver had hovered around them all during the meal. And if they weren’t standing right over them, they were just off to the side, hiding behind a doorway, or peeking around a wall. They were seldom out of earshot. It was obvious that they were trying to eavesdrop on the conversation. She had no doubt they’d give Connor a blow-by-blow of everything that was said.
From the quizzical look on his face, she could tell Pearly had questions about her opulent living arrangements. What she was doing in a multimillion dollar penthouse on Park Ave. with servants waiting on her and an overly aggressive security detail? But he was too much of a gentleman to ask. Sylvie explained to him about her job and that she was living here while she edited Connor’s new book series. She told him she was working out of the apartment, and also out of the New York office of his publishing house. Room and board, she explained, were part of her employment agreement. Sylvie didn’t think he was buying it. He probably thought she was some rich man’s mistress…except she didn’t look the part in her ratty, baggy Wranglers and faded, smiley-face tee shirt.
She’d half-expected to receive an irate call from Connor demanding to know who the man visiting her was and what he was doing in his house, but the call never came. Either his cadre of informants hadn’t told him yet or he didn’t care.
They’d spent a pleasant hour or so together over a Salad Nicoise Mrs. Haver had whipped up for them. It was made with either butter or Bibb lettuce, she didn’t know which, green beans, little potatoes, grape tomatoes, canned tuna, hard-boiled eggs, black olives, and anchovies; all drizzled with a lemon-basil dressing. It was good, but she only ate a couple of forkfuls. Roger must have been famished because he devoured everything on his plate and then most of what was left on hers. He had to be in Ellenville in time to pick up his little girl from ballet class so he left right after they finished eating.
He’d done something that struck her as odd when he was leaving. He’d looked around the room, then at the guards waiting to escort him down, then at Sylvie. His face showed concern, like he was uneasy, bothered by something. ‘If you need help, I want you to call me. Don’t hesitate. I’m here for you.’
He was a nice man. She liked him. He must have sensed that she was disheartened and depressed. Realized that she was being watched and monitored and didn’t like it. He was sweet to offer help, but there was nothing he could do to fix her situation. She had to do it herself. She needed to man up! And until she did, nothing would change.
Sylvie looked through the pictures and couldn’t believe her eyes. Except for the risqué pottery there was nothing left from Tizzy. Them and the cobalt blue urn. It had been placed on one of the shelves in the living room. She hoped the old girl approved of the changes. Looking at the pictures, Sylvie decided she should have paid more attention when they’d asked what colors she wanted. Actually, there weren’t any colors, save for the terracotta hue of the figurines and the blue of the urn. Everything else was either beige or stark white. They’d replaced two of the damaged hanging kitchen cabinets with some they’d found online; then took them all to a body shop owned by a friend of a friend of the contractor who spray painted them all stark white. Blindingly so! The counter tops were beige marble or maybe granite. Whatever it was it matched the floors. The appliances were all white except for the black doors on the oven, dishwasher, and microwave. That was fine with her since they matched the new, black wooden table and chairs.
The bathroom was so white it looked like you could perform surgery on top of the commode. She’d given Roxanna, the shopper they’d hired, free reign and told her to buy whatever she thought best. Clearly, Roxanna liked white.
There was an oak desk and chair in the spare room where Sylvie used to sleep on her visits. That was it. Very Spartan.
A new mattress covered with white sheets, pillows, and comforter sat atop the mini-arsenal in the bedroom. The dressers and nightstands Roxanna had purchased were oak and looked to be the same color as the desk. Maybe they were part of a matched set?
The upholsterer had done a nice job refinishing the couch, chairs, and coffee table. He’d covered the cushions in what looked like beige canvas. There was even a new TV. It wasn’t big by today’s standards; she was guessing it was 24 inches or so. It would be nice to have if she ever got up there.
She couldn’t get over how different it looked. The white, six-panel interior doors, the new fancy window frames with their extra wide sills. The contractor was right: you couldn’t tell the walls were concrete. They looked fabulous. She was having a hard time believing that all this was hers. That she actually owned it.
According to the lawyer’s email, everything was done except the kitchen door. That hadn’t come in yet. They’d nailed it shut but the wood was split and splintered so a good push would take it down. The contractor had assured him the new door would arrive soon. Pearly told her that the electricity and phone were back on and that the propane was turned on for the stove. Unfortunately there was no cable TV or broadband internet at the cottage, but they’d hooked the TV up to a new antenna they’d installed on top of the shed roof. The old one on the back porch roof had been crushed. She’d be able to get some local channels; and as for the Internet, there was always dial-up service. Just in case she wanted to come up and take a peek at the place, see the changes for herself, he’d left a key taped to the underside of the front porch swing.
Sylvie needed to do something special for him, for all of them. Maybe gift baskets or flowers, something to show her appreciation for all they’d done for her. She quickly wrote Roger a heartfelt ‘thank you.’
There was another email from him written about an hour after he’d sent the first. The buyer was pressing him about the figurines and wanted to come up early next week to see what she had available. The woman had several people willing to take the pieces off her hands. Since he didn’t know which figurines Sylvie wanted to keep and which she was willing to part with, he didn’t feel comfortable handling this without her input.
She’d have to decide what to do about the figurines soon. She glanced at the clock and decided she had time to check the sales reports.
Sylvie had been in a snit when she uploaded the book. It was the equivalent of stamping her feet and throwing a temper tantrum. She had every intention of unpublishing it as soon as she calmed down. But she didn’t. Thing was, she hadn’t really thought anyone would buy it. But she was wrong. It had only been two weeks, but she’d already sold nearly 100 books! She kept telling herself that she should take it down before Connor got wind of it. If he found out about it, there’d be hell to pay. He’d never forgive her for violating his privacy. That would be the final nail in the coffin as far as their relationship was concerned. But then again, it wasn’t much of a relationship by anyone’s standards. She started with Kindle. She’d sold six books so far today and it was only 6:30. There were two sales at Nook, one at Smashwords, and four at iTunes. Somebody was reading it!
Her cell was ringing. She picked it up, but didn’t recognize the number. She answered the phone and was immediately greeted by an exuberant ‘Guess what? Guess what?’ and the sound of roaring engines, like jet planes.
‘Meagan is that you? Where are you?’ She hadn’t talked to her in weeks. She had no idea why she was calling but she sounded like she was over the moon.
‘I’m in Las Vegas.’
‘What in God’s name are you doing in Vegas?’
‘I got married!’ she shrieked happily. ‘Can you believe it? I actually got married!’
Sylvie’s jaw dropped. ‘Are you kidding me?’ She was sure this had to be a joke. Meagan wasn’t the marrying kind! Was she?
‘I wanted you to be the first to know since you’re the one who brought us together.’
‘I brought you together?’ she asked incredulously. ‘How did I…? Oh my God! You married the guy from the party? The investment banker? Meagan, you can’t be serious! You’ve only known him, for what, four weeks now?’
‘Yes. I know it doesn’t sound like very long; but Sylvie, he’s absolutely wonderful! His name is Brandon Holmes.’
Sylvie shook her head. This couldn’t be happening. Talk about changing your standards. Brandon was a clean-cut, boring corporate type. That wasn’t the kind of man Meagan was attracted to. Was he hiding tattoos under that tuxedo he’d been wearing? That’s the only way this would make sense; and even then…
‘Aren’t you happy for me?’ Meagan sounded hurt.
‘Well of course I’m happy for you! It’s just that this is so sudden. It must have been a whirlwind romance. What’s his name, Brandon, must have swept you right off your feet.’
‘Oh he did! He did! I’ve kissed a lot of frogs in my time, but I finally found my prince. When he told me he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, it was like I finally knew where I belonged…with him. I love him so much, Sylvie. We’re so perfect together. It’s like he’s my soulmate. Wait till you meet him. He’s sweet, and kind, and caring. And guess what? He’s taking me to Bora Bora for our honeymoon! Remember the place we saw in that magazine a couple of years ago? The place we loved with the bungalows on stilts over a tropical blue lagoon? Well that’s where we’re going! Can you believe it? Our plane leaves in an hour. I’ve got to call my parents next. They’ll be in shock. I wish I could see their faces. As soon as we get back to the city, I’ll be in touch, I promise. We’ll have you over. You’re gonna love him. But before I hang up, I’ve got to ask you…how goes it with the prince of darkness?’
‘Prince of…? Oh you mean Connor? Same old same old.’
‘A word of advice from someone who’s been around the block a few times…you don’t need to be with a man who makes you miserable. Screw his money! You deserve better!’ There was a long pause and then Sylvie heard Meagan talking to someone else. ‘Is that us? Our plane? We’re boarding already? Oh. Okay. I’m right behind you.’ Another short pause and then ‘Look Sylvie I really gotta go. Love ya!’ She hung up, leaving Sylvie staring in disbelief at the cell phone.
What the hell just happened? Sylvie was in a daze. She plopped down on the bed. Meagan getting married and settling down? She was having a hard time processing that. It was certainly unexpected. Sylvie was thinking that she had her doubts about this working out when she suddenly stopped herself. Was this envy rearing its ugly head? Was she jealous of her cousin’s happiness? ‘Be happy for her,’ she chided herself. She needed to get over her misgivings and truly wish her cousin well. They had all they’d need for a lifetime of happiness: he loved her and she loved him. That was the way it was supposed to be. At least one of the Jenkins girls was going to get her happy ending.
She stood up and looked at the clock. She better hurry up and get dressed. The limo would be here in less than 20 minutes.
She did her makeup first. She glared at the freckles. She hadn’t been out in the sun in months now, yet it looked like they were multiplying. How was that possible? She toyed with the idea of using one of the little sample packets of foundation she’d found in the fashion magazines. But since she couldn’t be sure the colors would match her own skin tone, she opted to take her freckles to the party. She put navy blue eyeliner on her lower lid and then stroked on mascara. When she finished she brushed on some peach blush.
She slipped on her shoes. They were supposed to be pale bone, but they had a pinkish cast to them. With the dress on they looked peach.
She stared at her panties in the mirror, wondering if she should take them off. She’d tried the dress on with every pair of underwear she owned. You could see a panty line with all of them. She’d been thinking about going commando, but didn’t have the nerve. Truth was, she had no idea how to keep the dress out of her butt crack should she decide to sit down. Picking a wedgie at a black tie affair would not only be unseemly, but the height of bad taste. That’s why panties were invented…to keep stuff out of there!
She took a deep breath, grabbed the dress, and slipped it on. She smiled at her reflection. The hair, the dress, the makeup. She looked really nice. She hoped Connor would be pleased.