Authors: Lass Small
Peter believed in style not fad, and he said, “You’re lucky you can wear your hair any way you choose and forget it. You have enough hair, your head shape is good and your features are well placed. Ears can be a bore. Yours aren’t bad.” From Peter that was accolades only to her luck. He had meant nothing personal.
* * *
Below Amy’s balcony, down on the pedestrian walkway, a group of wedding guests strolled along in the misty evening, laughing. Even from two floors up, Amy could clearly hear, “But who else will come?”
“Who knows? It’ll be interesting to see.”
How carelessly those elegantly, casually clothed people chatted. Anyone listening closely could intrude and pretend to be one of them.
Being oblivious to listeners was the way with any specialty group whether it was business, politics, travelers or, as in this case, monied people.
It never occurred to them they were overheard and someone could carefully listen. Look at the information she’d gleaned just in the lobby, the elevator and just now. They didn’t actually know who all would be there at the wedding of Sally and Tad.
Even Amy, who had no ulterior motives, could go to any of them and say, “Well, hello! I’m a descendant of your Aunt...” Was it Tilly? No, not Tilly. It had been Trilby. “I’m your long lost cousin, Amy Abbott!”
She could say that quite easily. They didn’t know all of their relations. Even those they knew weren’t in touch with the others. She could fake being related.
And they would accept her. After a certain strata in life, people were no longer snobbish. They would include her quite nicely, for a time, just for the novelty if for no other reason.
All Amy had to do was take advantage of their careless tongues. She could do it. And if she did...she could meet Chas! Ah, yes. Did Chas know he was a carrot to her goatish...uh...ewe-ish desires?
If she did pretend to be related to them, it
give her the opportunity to find out what kind of man he really was. She would learn if he was solid or hollow. She could do it as a test of her father’s schooling. An independent study. Test her skill of summation. What a neat cover-up for lust.
Lust? She? Of course not! It was simply... curiosity.
However, it would be interesting to have an affair with him. To have him look at
with that sinfully lazy smile. To have him bend his head down to hear her and watch her mouth as she spoke. To be the object of his attention.
She might be able to do that, too, with complete immunity. Not only could Amy Abbott Allen invade their celebration, but she could contrive to have an affair with the dominant male wolf.
They were all strangers, she wasn’t native around there. She could very easily perpetrate such a masquerade...and get away with it.
She did pause. Again. It was another threshold. Was it the one she’d sensed as she’d entered the suite?
She was contemplating a very rash thing here. Strange behavior for the puritan Amy Abbott Allen. It was one thing to fake an acquaintance and invade a private gathering just to see if she could, but it was another thing entirely for a woman of her upbringing to even think about plotting an affair.
An affair with a stranger she’d only glimpsed in a hotel lobby? Insane! She’d been working too hard. She was alone too much. Her male contacts called it burnout or nerves or relaxation or distraction or almost any other word. She’d always sneered and called the affairs predatory usage.
Could it be she was no better than any prowling male? Women did do this sort of thing. Amy knew they did, but she’d always thought they were a different kind of woman.
Perhaps Amy’s interest now was only because she’d never before seen a man she wanted.
Amy did want to try for him.
With the decision, she spent a long time listening to a wild, shocked debate inside her head— all of which she realized she’d heard before! Had she only been thwarted from seduction by her conscience? Was she a victim of Victorian morals?
She was not! While not quite past this one, she was a Twenty-first Century Woman!
She could live like any man. She could take her pleasures as she found them and enjoy the freedom of choice. She could.
She could stand on her back legs and howl just like any others of the wolf pack. She could go right ahead and have an affair, right there, with Chas...if she could entice him.
What if he wasn’t interested? Well, there were others in the party. She could... No. She could look them over again, but she hadn’t seen any of the others who’d rated a third glance.
It was to Chas that her eyes had clung. It was
whose body spoke to hers. She wanted him.
And of course, she had the advantage of being unknown. She could vanish into the night, like a highwaym— highwaywoman.
* * *
Lochinvar had carried off the bride. Amy would be a female Lochinvar. One who carried off a man from a wedding celebration. It was an omen.
He’d be something to try to carry off since he was so big. And she only wanted the affair. It would be an affair of mystery for she would vanish. Would he pine for her? Search?
Her mind made up all sorts of tales of his search. He’d stand on the outer edges of her life, she would at last recognize him and she would be kind.
No, that would never do. When she left, it would be finished. She couldn’t have old lovers turn up here and there. That would make her life too cluttered.
The affair would stay an interlude of enchantment. And he would never know who she really was.
Of course, once she met him, there was the chance that she might not be interested. He could well be hollow. But the opportunity was there for her to find out if he was a solid man.
She didn’t have to languish through the days of simply catching glimpses of him around the hotel. She could get to know him, and she could judge whether or not she wanted to know him...better.
Wasn’t that the word men used? “I’d like to know you...better.” All she had to do would be to enter their group,
and reveal herself as a long-lost cousin!
Having that distraction from boredom, the affair would entertain her. She had to have something to do until Peck and Mitzie left her parents’ house. She could read up on the campaign of Harry Albert Habbison, who was running for a State Senator’s job in Illinois.
H.A.H. seemed so relaxed and easy, but he was about the shrewdest hayseed she’d ever met. He was going to use the State Senator’s position to campaign statewide, and he’d then become a U.S. Senator or he’d have scalps.
Amy was curious what her father would do with her notes in working up a rough on Harry’s campaign. Harry had a good chance of winning his district. And in a sampling in the state, people didn’t yet know of him.
That was good. If they had no opinion of the unknown, there was nothing to counteract.
In Illinois, the Republicans had always ruled the state while the Democrats held Chicago. But that was changing. Could a Republican hayseed make it? Harry thought so. How would her dad advise on that, and what would be his comments on her notes? It would be interesting.
Amy’s father was considered one of the country’s most brilliant campaign advisors. A lot of gimmicks were attributed to him. The handwritten notes whose ink actually smeared. The shirtsleeves and loosened tie with suit coat carried over one shoulder with the left fingers holding it— leaving the right hand free to shake any hand.
The coat over the shoulder was attributed to Sinatra’s long-ago album cover, as Mr. Allen pointed out. Although, before then, his candidates had used it— for a time.
By now the folksy, shirtsleeved bit had been so overused, and used so awkwardly and with such calculation, that no Allen-advised candidate touched such a cliché.
Any Allen campaign pattern was so quickly copied that he allowed others to take credit for them, because by then he’d gone on to better ideas. The senior Allen didn’t like to be coupled with ideas that were past their time. The only thing he pointed to— with clients— was who had used him and how many had won.
So, naturally, there was the question as to how many of those who won had beaten better men? Whose side to take was faced with every potential client.
The preliminaries for the decision was Amy’s job. It turned on who was the client, his reputation and how he reacted to her.
She probed as to what sort of people were around the candidate and what were his goals.
There had been potential clients who’d been turned down who had won. And there were good men Allen had accepted as clients who’d lost. No one won them all.
So what would her dad do with Harry A. Habbison? Something ought to be done with that double
Her father might shun such a gimmick. Honest And Honest? Double
for double Honor?
The man was honorable. She’d stake her judgment on that one, but he was peculiarly unpalatable. However, the H.A.H. might be used by the opposition as the derisive sound,
Maybe they shouldn’t draw attention to his initials.
What was Chas’s full name? Now there was a man who would tempt any woman to vote for him. Chas, the dominant male wolf.
A woman always wants the best man around. And there was the warrior in Chas which would inspire men to believe in him. Ah, to have Chas for a candidate client. All they would have to do would be to put him on television and ask him to say his name and what he wanted.
Amy really didn’t care what he wanted. She wanted him. She wanted to talk to him, and have him look at her, smile at her, to reach out, put his hand on her nape and draw her to him. Yes.
It was getting quite cool with her balcony door open. Why would she stand there, in the cool wet darkness, dreaming about a man who hadn’t even looked at her?
He was probably a loyal husband with six kids. Any wife of his would willingly have six kids for that man. She...well, no, she wasn’t having his children. She simply wanted an affair, if he was single.
She was going to try. Tomorrow she would contrive to meet Sally and introduce herself as a long-lost cousin. And after that, it would only be a matter of time before she met Chas. The impulse was a little heady, and she felt a strong recklessness. It would be an adventure.
my had gone to bed so early that she wakened at a completely uncivilized time on Thursday. The morning’s gray sky was still dripping. With the balcony door open, the air smelled fresh and cool like San Francisco’s fog.
Instead of using one of the beds in the bedroom, Amy had opened out the sleeper sofa in the living room and slept there, snug and warm under a fleecy blanket.
She stretched and stretched and yawned before she lay peacefully in an unusual indulgence. She’d heard there were actually people who wakened before they got up. She could get used to it.
Her empty stomach indicated it was hungry. She could easily eat there in her suite, from her stocked supplies. However, the time factor made utilization of The Relative Plan rather urgent.
It would be wiser to go down to one of the dining rooms for breakfast in order to begin her deception. Did they serve this early? Would any of the wedding party even be up?
Amy sat up and swung her legs off the sofa bed, then stood and stretched as she enjoyed just doing that. Going down the suite’s hall into the bedroom, she looked at her wardrobe. She’d have to get some more things from her car.
She flicked through the few things hanging there and pulled out a shockingly expensive jogging suit. She’d bought it because the color matched her blue eyes exactly, and it beat utilitarian gray bulk all hollow.
Amy surveyed herself. She did not look like a serious athlete.
Her headband was an old one from her father. It bore the label McMahon, for the ex-quarterback of the Chicago Bears. She picked up a purple-hooded sweat jacket, put her door card in the back pocket of her pants and went down to the breakfast room.
Quite a few people were there! What were all these people doing up at such an ungodly hour?
There was a hum of conversation in the room, and the waiters moved around. There was the clink of plates and rustle of people.
Then Amy realized most of the diners were wedding guests. In her quick scan, she didn’t see Chas. But she did see those present were dressed in a wide range of casual sports clothing, and her impulsive sports buy wasn’t beyond reason.
She chose a seat within earshot of Sally, the redheaded bride-to-be, in order to pick up on any mention of their Aunt...was it Tilly? No, it was Trilby. Their “relative in common.”
Amy noted that Sally wore a deliciously baggy old gray utilitarian sweat suit. Sally could wear a barrel and still be a knockout. Amy was glad Sally was getting married. Chas’s cousin or not, Amy wanted Sally out of the way.
Looking over the menu, Amy threw caution to the wind and ordered a monster breakfast. Eggs with an
pancakes, trout, bacon, strawberries and tea. And she ate it as she listened only to the table next to hers.
The bride said, “The dresses haven’t arrived.”
The woman with Sally soothed her. “They’ll get here. Don’t panic.”
“The wedding is
The day after
I don’t want to get married in this sweat suit.”
“You have that green dress.”
“I used to wear it with Frank.”
“Every time I wear that dress, I think of Frank, and even you will have to admit I can’t marry Tad while I’m thinking about Frank.”
“Why don’t you give it to the League’s Second Chance Boutique?”
“It looks terrific on me.” Sally’s voice was deliberately mild in her acceptance of looking great.
“I have to agree to that. Did I ever tell you I once stole it? But when I put it on, it looked like a dishrag on me, so I put it back.”
“The color is wrong for you. You have a great figure.”
“It was too tight.”
“So that’s when it happened! Do you know
had to mend that seam?”
“Old Simmy would have been proud of you!” Sally’s companion exclaimed as she laughed. Then she asked, “Where is Tad?”
“He and Chas went on a soggy jog.”
“Chas is probably having to tell Tad what marriage means.”
The other woman chuckled in a very amused way.
Then Sally said, “There she is!” And from the corner of her eyes, Amy saw Sally straighten and lift a hand up just above her head. She rose in welcome as another woman, in a traveling suit, came to the table to be hugged. Then she was greeted by others of the wedding guests before she was settled at Sally’s table.
“Matt will be glad you got here. He was sweating it. He wasn’t sure you’d come. I told him you’d have to be here to witness me actually getting married.”
Matt? Amy tried to remember what she’d heard about a Matt. Someone had said something about a Matt last night. Moving in with...
“Connie, do you care for him at all?”
Connie. Matt wanted to live with Connie, who apparently was reluctant. And Amy waited like a soap-opera fan to see what Connie would say.
Instead of answering, Connie asked, “Have the dresses arrived?”
Impatiently, Sally told her, “No! Your asking that means you’re not going to tell me about Matt.”
Quite primly Connie’s voice replied, “You’re not involved.”
In a teasing way of old friends and cousins, Sally pushed it, “I ought to get some sort of reply. Here we got up at this
hour to welcome you! And anyway, you’re my maid of honor. You owe me.”
“I did come.” Connie was still formal and withdrawing. “Did you find any of Trilby’s bunch?”
“Who would dream any of Trilby Winsome’s winsome offspring could be so elusive. No one can find anything about five of the daughters. Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence and Ellen. They’ve vanished into...”
With opportunity knocking, Amy interrupted from her table to say, “I beg your pardon. I couldn’t help overhearing. This is a very strange coincidence, but my grandmother was Charity Winsome...Abbott.”
For an endless minute, the three women at the other table stared at Amy, then Sally smiled and questioned, “Really? Well, hello, cousin!” And the other two laughed and echoed the greeting.
Amy smiled, and with applaudable restraint, she returned to her meal. She was aware the other three women exchanged questioning looks and minute shrugs. But after that they talked more softly among themselves, more privately.
Having finished eating, Amy signed her bill. She rose from her chair, smiled at the other women, who smiled back, and left the dining room. She had planted the seed. What an interesting thing to see if it would germinate. She felt she had handled it perfectly.
As she left the morning room, Chas and...Tad, the bridegroom, came inside. Chas looked right through Amy. He didn’t even see her.
But as she went through it, she caught her arm on the door and stumbled as she looked back. She saw that he’d turned to watch her. She looked away immediately.
He wasn’t so indifferent to her, after all. Hah! If Chas only knew it, the preliminaries to their affair were progressing splendidly.
On her way through the quadrangle toward the beach, Amy went by the glass windows outside the morning room. She looked into the room from the slitted corners of her eyes.
She saw Tad was leaning over Sally, as Chas was moving Amy’s vacated table next to Sally’s, while Connie and Sally were talking and indicating Amy to the men. Amy walked on. With her last discreet glance, she could see both of the men had looked up through the windows at her.
Walking away, she smiled inside, with an odd lick in her lower stomach. If Chas only knew what she had planned for him! Ah, yes. Would he tremble in his Nikes? He had probably had affairs with every woman who caught his attention.
That would be the trick! She would have to catch his attention. Then she would lure him into bed the way men did women. She would use him for her entertainment.
But for now, she would have to wait.
The wedding party bunch were good-looking people. It would be nice to really be kin to them. Being an only child, Amy had always longed for a big family. Would they approach her?
She would be discreetly available if one of them did. They were so curious about Trilby’s children that Amy doubted if they could resist at least questioning her.
Since they knew nothing of that branch of their family, Amy could be quite easy about her replies. It’s too hard to remember lies. While keeping her own identity secret, she would tell the truth as nearly as possible.
With that premise to entertain her, Amy went out on the beach and walked leisurely south, down toward the pink palace. She found some sand dollars and was disgusted with herself for collecting two handfuls of shells. She had
Collecting shells was like drinking beer. There is more beer in the world than anyone can drink so no one should try to drink it all.
There were also more creatures in the sea making shells than she could ever collect, and she ought to quit picking them up. Even as she thought of that, she stooped over and picked up another one! But it was another perfect one.
Trudging in the spent waves, Amy wondered what color were his eyes? Blue? With his hair that dark, they would probably be brown. He was beautiful. Formidable. She nervously licked her lips. Maybe she ought to just move to another hotel and forget this whole thing.
The plan was reckless. Were men this strained in the planning of a seduction? Or did they just take women as they came along without any qualms at all?
If men could manage, then she could handle it. Out of bed, anything men could do, she could do. Equality. By George, she wouldn’t be a quitter. She’d see the seduction through. She’d planted the seed of curiosity and it ought to grow.
By the time she arrived at the pink palace, sitting flauntingly on the beach south of the Trade Winds, Amy was experiencing a fresh feeling of determination. She turned back to retrace her steps along the beach.
She ruthlessly shoved her shells into her clean purple jacket’s pockets, washed the sand from her hands in the swirl of the waves, getting her sneakers wet. She squished along, her head bent to the mist. The lumps of shells in her pockets bumped in soft clinks against her thighs.
Besides Amy, there were other idiots walking the beach. However sparsely, there were others out. Therefore when a man’s muscular, gray sweat-panted legs came along in front of her, she moved to her right, but he matched her move and his Nikes stopped.
She looked up and...it was Chas! My God. His eyes were green! Very green. She simply stared.
“Hello, Amy Abbott. Or should I say ‘Cousin’?”
He was so cool. So adult. He was not one that any idiot would trick. This was the man she was going to trick? Uh huh. This one. She questioned, “Cousin?”
“You told Sally, Elaine and Connie that you’re one of Trilby’s issue.”
“No. I said my grandmother’s name was Charity Winsome. I only know that. I have no idea what Charity’s mother’s name was.” She watched as he smiled faintly. He knew she lied? She contrived to look honest and straightened her spine. A straight spine is always honest.
“Your eyes are blue.”
She nodded, admitting that.
His husky, deep voice said softly, “With your being a third cousin, that makes us kissing cousins.”
Her eyes became enormous over the idea of being kissing cousins with Chas. She was so bemused by it that she watched his head block out the rainy sky as he leaned forward and kissed her simpleton mouth. She simply allowed the opportunity to pass without doing anything!
Good grief! She stood there as if she was fourteen again and it was her first non-party kiss, for God’s sake. He lifted his head and smiled at her; and he had creases at the corners of his eyes that were enormously attractive. She took an unsteady breath as a part of her mind said: Hmm, this might be very, very nice!
“If your Charity is part of our family, her mother was Trilby Cougar Winsome. Trilby was my great-great-aunt. Apparently— from the stories— she was a pistol. Unpredictable. Are you that way, too?”
He knew! “No.” Her voice was thin. He couldn’t possibly know.
“I’m Charles Cougar. My friends call me Chas. So do cousins, Cousin Amy.”
“Cougar? Are you kin to Indiana’s John Cougar Mellencamp?”
“Cougar isn’t John Mellencamp’s real name. When he first started, his record company named him John Cougar. Our name comes down three hundred years from Billy Cougar. He was a hunter in the Appalachian system. He wore a cougar’s skin on his back with the cat’s head on his head. That’s how he got his name.
“We know he was a Brit. An Englishman. But we have no idea if he was a younger son come here to the New World to make his way, or if he was deported.” He grinned at her. “But he was a hunter, a trader and an organizer.”
“Yes.” She was still not working on all cylinders. She was distracted by the fact that she was trying to figure out a way to get another chance at a cousinly kiss. “How did you know my name?”
“I was in back of you when you registered.”
“Oh.” She wasn’t being too swift at conversational allure. If she planned to entice this man, she needed to be a great deal more sparkling and interesting. She inquired politely, “Did your wife come with you?”
He couldn’t prevent a laugh. He controlled it quickly, but he had laughed. He replied nicely, “I’m not married, are you?”
She solemnly shook her head, her eyes never leaving his. Why was he so amused?
“Let’s go back to the hotel,” he suggested. “It’s getting a little wet out here.” He took her arm, and they went on back.
The shells bumped against her thighs as she lengthened her stride to keep up. She felt like a fool. She ought to tell him right now she was a sham. Yes. She took a breath and said, “Ah...”
“You will come to the wedding? It’s going to be in those rooms off the lobby. With the fountains? Have you seen them? If it’s still raining, they’ll cover the roof so it’ll be warm enough. You will come?”
She nodded, still very serious, but she realized just how fragile this opportunity was. She needed to take hold and use it. No man would be tongue-tied and silent. He’d flirt a little and smile. Did men have to work this hard?
She stretched her mouth incredibly and managed a small grin. Then the whole ridiculous situation hit her funny bone, and she laughed. She boldly took his hand and pushed back her hood enough so that she could look up at him, striding along beside her, and she actually swung his hand a little as she laughed again.