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Authors: Tiffany Ashley

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BOOK: Beyond the Velvet Rope
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Chapter Twenty

T
handie, Len, Raja and Victoria hovered over the dining room table. They were staring down at a detailed diagram the set designer had rendered for the fashion show. The show was already draining more resources than Thandie had anticipated. However, after the disastrous Pussy Cat production, Thandie was determined to make Victoria’s show a success.

Thandie was not the only one who would not soon forget the Pussy Cat performance that had ended so abruptly. Mira Dietrich was reveling in the debacle.

She’d taken Thandie’s absence at their luncheon as a personal insult. And judging by the latest issue of
Look,
Mira was not the forgiving type. That week the cover story showed a close-up of Thandie wrapped around a pole. Above the picture read “Randall’s lover fails to please.”

The article went on to detail how Thandie took part in a failed pole dancing routine that ended badly, leaving a dissatisfied audience. The story was reported so accurately, the reporter must have been there. However, some of the minor details were so outlandishly false they overshadowed everything.

Followed by pictures of Thandie and Celeste on stage, and unrelated to the incident, pictures of Ruark Randall boarding an airplane. It was still unclear to Thandie exactly what Ruark’s pictures were supposed to imply. However, the article showed Thandie as an out of control party girl whose wild behavior was embarrassing her movie star boyfriend.

Recognizing the jab for what it was, Thandie tried to ignore the article. Nevertheless, it needled her to have her failed venture publicized. Being linked to Ruark was an added insult. Thandie figured she would give Mira a few days to calm down before calling her. Until then, she had a fashion show to help coordinate.

“You need a scientist to figure out this diagram,” Len complained.

Thandie nodded. The intricate lines that crisscrossed the artist’s drawing of the Babylon arena floor were dotted with measurements and illegible handwritten notes. It was confusing to look at, and impossible to understand.

From her perch on the dining room table, where she could swing her legs lazily from side-to-side, Victoria frowned and said, “I can’t make heads or tails out of any of this stuff, and I make designs for a living.” As always, Victoria was dressed in one of her unusual outfits, a ruffled shorts-set with a leopard print camisole draped over her shoulders. Her wrists were loaded with chunky gold bangles. “Didn’t we already decide on white benches in lieu of chairs?” Her many bracelets clinked loudly against one another as she pointed out the error on the sketch. “Won’t that throw off the seating arrangement?”

“She’s right,” Raja said with a lazy yawn. “We’ve been at this for hours. I say we take a break.”

Thandie checked the time. Raja had not been exaggerating. They’d been laboring over the layout for a while. “A brief break,” Thandie conceded. “We still need to discuss the sound equipment.”

No sooner had the words left her mouth, than she heard the front door open. Thandie’s breath hitched in her chest. She had the sinking feeling it was Elliot returning home. She was not certain how she and he were supposed to behave around each other.

After having sex in his bedroom the night before, they hadn’t so much as said a passing word to each other. True, she hadn’t stuck around the club much longer. She was frustrated by the desire to study him from across the room. Although she hadn’t seen him disappear into his office with anyone, she’d grown tired watching women cue up to talk to him, smile up at him with glossy lips and flirtatious eyes. It rubbed her wrong way. She’d waited half an hour before taking her leave. She doubted he’d noticed.

And now she could hear heavy footfalls in the foyer, her stomach muscles tightened. There was a pause before Romero’s dark head emerged from the hall. He was alone, but not empty handed. He was carrying a bulky black box. From his easy handling of the box, it appeared to be lightweight.

Romero saw the women surrounding the table and joined them. “Ladies,” he said in a flat tone. Thandie gave him a slight nod in greeting while Day made a lax salute motion. Raja and Len seemed incapable of feigning politeness. In unison, they crossed their arms and smirked at him.

Nonplussed by their reaction to him, Romero addressed Thandie. “I have something for you,” he said.

“For me?” Thandie asked.

Romero placed the large box on the table before handing her an envelope. Cautiously, she accepted the paper, aware everyone was watching her. Unsure what might be inside, she took a step back, just far enough so no one could read over her shoulder, and opened the envelope. Inside was a single sheet of stationary paper. In the center was a short note. “6:00 p.m. tonight. Wear nothing else. —E.”

She read the note three more time before slipping it back into the envelope. Thandie could feel four pairs of eyes trained on her, but she focused on the box. “What is it?” she asked, glancing at Romero.

“See for yourself,” he gently urged.

Thandie lifted the lid and pushed aside the layers of tissue paper. She gasped as she pulled out a beautiful evening gown. It was made of gray lace and had delicate beading. A long chiffon train spilled onto the floor. It was breathtaking.

Raja gasped. Len squealed. Victoria became teary-eyed.

“Shall I confirm you will be available this evening?” Romero asked, apparently the only person in the room capable of speaking.

Thandie nodded weakly, unable to tear her eyes away from the gown. Afterward, none of the women could remember exactly when Romero had taken his exit, or if he’d said anything in the form of a farewell.

* * *

Ten minutes to six o’clock, Thandie studied her reflection in the mirror as she affixed her earrings. When she was finished, she stepped back to examine her figure. The dress. It really was a work of art. The plunging neckline was offset by lovely lacework that covered bodice and sleeves. A length of pale silk wrapped delicately around her waist before cascading to the floor like a ribbon of water. The length of the train contrasted wonderfully with the short hem. It perfectly balanced elegance and sensuality. And the fit was perfect.

She recalled Elliot’s message instructing her to not “wear anything else.” She doubted that would have been possible. The dress was so lightweight, she felt naked. Wearing a bra had been quickly ruled out. The thong she was wearing was slightly noticeable, but she refused to take it off.

“So exactly where are you going?”

Thandie looked over her shoulder toward the bed, where Len and Raja lounged. Day had been forced to leave an hour earlier to attend a model casting call for her show. Since then, the girls had been helping Thandie select accessories and offering up useless comments.

“I’m not sure,” Thandie said in answer to Raja’s question. “The note didn’t say.”

“Is this a date?” Len asked.

This was not the first time this question had been asked. It would not be the last time Thandie ignored it. In truth, she couldn’t answer the question. She had no idea what Elliot had in mind. It would be dicey to assume anything. For all she knew, this could be a business event.

She checked the time. It was six. She checked her makeup one last time, before gathering a tiny clutch purse. “Wish me luck,” she said.

“Luck?” Raja snorted. “You won’t need luck in that dress.”

Thandie laughed as she walked down the hall. Len and Raja followed close behind. Just as Thandie reached the top of the staircase, she came up short. Standing in the middle of the foyer was Elliot, wearing an exquisitely cut dark suit, black dress shirt, no tie. His hands were in the pockets of his slacks, a posture she’d come to recognize as his “thinking” stance.

He looked up and spotted her. For a moment Thandie was struck mute by how handsome he was. Elliot truly had to be one of the most attractive men she’d ever met. And the way he was looking at her now...brought erotic memories to mind.

Thandie carefully made her way down the steps, aware Elliot’s eyes followed her every move. When she was within reach, he placed his hand on her hip and kissed her cheek. “You look breathtaking,” he said against her ear.

His whispered words made the hair on the back of her neck and arms stand straight up. “Thank you for the dress. It’s lovely.”

Elliot looked her over slowly and gave a small smile. “I’m glad you like it.”

Their eyes met and the air around them seemed to heat up. The moment was lost when the sound of girlish giggles could be heard.

Without taking his eyes off her, Elliot said, “Hello, ladies.”

“Hi, Elliot,” two voices chorused.

Not breaking eye contact with her, Elliot placed his hand on Thandie’s lower back and guided her toward the front door. He led her to the Aston Martin and helped her inside. Thandie had never been a car enthusiast, nor had she ever sat inside a car valued over a million dollars. She was quickly beginning to understand why people drooled over these luxury vehicles. Elliot hadn’t even started the engine and Thandie could feel the opulence.

He slid into the driver’s seat beside her and revved the engine. The car purred with life. He turned his head and admired at her body. The hem of the skirt snaked high up her leg, revealing a lot of thigh.

Making some inaudible sound, he put the car in Drive. They sped out of the neighborhood at breakneck speed. Thandie was thankful for her seatbelt.

They’d been riding for nearly ten minutes when Thandie broke the silence. “Elliot, I need to talk to you about something important.”

“I need to talk to you as well.”

“You do?”

He gave a solemn nod of his head. “I realize I’ve been careless with you,” he began. “We haven’t used protection during the times we’ve been together. I’m clean, though, I’m normally more cautious, but I find my eagerness to have you clouds my judgment. For that, I apologize.”

Thandie was stunned into silence. He’d gotten right to the heart of the matter. She was thankful for that.

“Thandie, is there something you’d like to contribute to the conversation?”

“I’m on birth control.”

“The pill?”

“No, I take shots.”

“And you’re on schedule?”

“Yes,” she confirmed. “I took my last shot just before leaving New York.” After another long pause, Thandie asked. “Where are we going?”

Elliot took his time answering. “A movie.”

Thandie’s brows hiked up in surprise. “We’re going to a movie? What kind of movie?”

He grinned. “I’m not exactly certain. I believe it’s an action film.”

“You don’t know for certain?” she asked, suspiciously.

“The tickets were sort of a gift.”

“From whom?”

“Would it matter?”

“I suppose not,” she admitted. She was quiet for a minute and then, unable to stop herself, she stated the obvious. “We’re overdressed.”

“Are we?” he asked with a grin.

Thandie liked the sight of his smile. She smiled too, and then she yelped. Elliot swerved the car sharply to the right, and came to an abrupt stop in the emergency lane.

Thandie looked out the window, searching for the potential problem. “What’s wrong?”

“This.” Elliot reached over the console, placed his hands on her knees and pushed her thighs apart. Before Thandie could slap his hands away, he’d hiked her dress up and until the crotch of her panties was visible.

“Are you insane?” She shoved his hands away and tried to pull her dress down.

Elliot held her dress up, preventing her efforts. “I thought my note was quite clear,” he reasoned.

“I’m wearing them,” she told him.

“Take them off.”

“No.”

“Take them off, or I will rip them off.”

“You better not. I just bought—ah!” Hooking his fingers on either side of the thin elastic strips, he yanked. The fabric snapped as if made of smoke. To the sound of Thandie’s curses, Elliot tucked the panties into his suit jacket.

“There,” he said pleasantly. “Don’t you feel better?”

“I—can’t—believe—you—did—that!”

“Follow the rules next time.”

Thandie scowled at him. “You...you...”

“Keep your legs open please. I want to smell you.”

Scowling, Thandie pressed her thighs firmly together.

Elliot chuckled. “You’re cute when you’re upset with me. But try to curb your anger for a spell. We’re here.”

Thandie looked up and, for the first time, noticed the traffic. A line of chauffeured cars was pressing into one lane. Less than half a mile ahead, crowds of screaming fans could be heard. Forgetting to be upset with Elliot, Thandie asked, “We’re going to a movie premiere?”

“I believe it’s more of a private screening.”

“What’s the movie?”

Elliot looked thoughtful, and then flipped open the console and pulled out a glossy folder. Inside were two tickets for
Dread Commission: Ghost File
starring Paris St. John. Thandie gaped at the tickets. Dread was a highly anticipated movie for the summer and Paris St. John was Hollywood’s golden child. Access to
Dread
tickets would be hard to come by.

“These were a gift?” she mused aloud.

He gave a lift of his shoulders. “I receive a lot of invites to attend events in the city. I typically don’t go.”

“Why are you going tonight?”

A sexy smile slid across his lips. “And miss an opportunity to see you in that dress?” He tsked. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

Thandie smiled and turned to look out the window to hide her blush. She was both pleased by his answer and uncertain. Was this a date? Or was this business? She was still unclear.

Fifteen minute later, they were checking in with the name board. Ten minutes after that, Elliot had rolled to a stop in front of the theater. Red carpet covered the sidewalk, photographers readied their cameras and eager fans craned their necks. Thandie sucked in a breath as Elliot got out to open her door. A gust of warm air brushed over her skin as the passenger door opened. Elliot smiled down at her, looking every bit a movie star himself. He held out his hand to her. “Shall we?”

* * *

Attending a movie with Elliot was amazing. As soon as they’d stepped onto the red carpet, they were barraged by camera flashes. Thandie had been to movie showings in the past, however she’d always been on the outskirts of the fanfare, never the center of attention. Elliot took everything in stride. He held her close as they posed for pictures, guided her through the crush and applied the slightest pressure to her hip every so often. Multiple times, local journalists stopped to ask him for an interview. He declined them all with a suave sophistication that was enviable.

BOOK: Beyond the Velvet Rope
12.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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