Vanishing Point (Circle of Spies Novella) (3 page)

BOOK: Vanishing Point (Circle of Spies Novella)
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Will leaned over. “Would you like some champagne?”
 

Before she could answer, he snapped his fingers and an attendant walked over with a tray. His nametag read George. His black greasy hair was slicked to the side and matched his droopy mustache. In fact, his whole body, what there was to it because the man was like a toothpick, seemed to droop. He didn’t look suspicious.

“Sure. Anything.” She chose one of the fluted glasses and sipped. The tingly drink slid down her throat easily and due to nerves she kept sipping. “But what I really need is some nourishment. You know? Food? Or don’t assassins eat anything?”

Will snapped his fingers again. George seemed to know exactly what she needed and he carried over a tray with crackers, cheese, and olives. She nibbled. The corset thing flattening her stomach didn’t leave much room. After nibbling and sipping some more, she gathered her courage and poked Will in the arm.
 

“So what did this Edward fellow do that’s so wrong?”
 

Will chose not to answer, studying his fancy phone. Marisa never had been one to sit back and let others boss her around. That was half of the problem with her and Savvy. They constantly saw things completely different and no matter how much Marisa tried to be flexible, often, their conversations turned to arguments until Stephen broke in and found a happy middle. Will seemed just as stubborn.
 

She’d keep quiet. For now.

Three

The limo drove up the extremely long and winding drive. Marisa had always daydreamed about seeing the English countryside, but the trees and fields had passed with her barely noticing. She clasped and unclasped her hands in her lap. Will stared ahead. He looked dashing in his tux, the typical tall, dark and handsome, the way the white shirt stretched across his chest and how the coat was tailored to a perfect fit.
 

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

He closed his eyes a moment as if needing a Calgon moment in order to deal with her. “No. I don’t.”

“Would you tell me even if you did?”

“No. I wouldn’t.”

Marissa tapped her fingernails against the door. So much for small talk. “No wonder if this is the way you treat all females.”

He declined to answer but Marisa noticed a pulse on his cheek where he clenched his jaw. His earlier words repeated in her head like a tape recorder.
 

Keep Rottingham entertained
.
 

He wasn’t here to assassinate, just to investigate
.

Her heart thrummed in her chest, while the butterflies roamed her stomach. The slight hint of a headache was coming on, probably from lack of food. She’d barely eaten today. The idea of mingling with a posh society felt wrong. She couldn’t help but feel like the country mouse visiting her cousin in the city. Did she believe Will?

Not really.

Just the way he smoothed out his pants so they wouldn’t wrinkle showed he was nervous; either that or he was such a perfectionist he couldn’t handle the slightest imperfection. But what would he have to be nervous about? He was obviously part of this scene. That must mean that he possibly was here to assassinate, and the real test was to see if she’d intervene or not.

The limo crested the top of a hill. Marisa clutched her chest. “Holy brie cheese on a cracker.”
 

A mansion. More like a small castle really. A line of magnificent stone pillars stretched across the front of the building. Ivy crept up the sides leading to towers that peaked on both sides of the house.
 

Quickly, she opened her small purse decorated with rhinestones and pulled out a compact Janelle had given her. She powdered her nose and brushed up on her lipstick, taking pause to note that she still didn’t recognize the beauty looking back at her even with her make-up a tad bit smudged after traveling.

They pulled up to the front of the house as if they were riding a horse and carriage. “Try not to embarrass yourself and don’t expect me to hold your hand.”

“Surely you can’t leave me alone?”

 
“I have my mission. You have yours.” His words, his cold tone of voice and uncaring nature caused her chest to deflate.

One thought inspired her and filled her with courage. Her years of reading romance would finally pay off. She’d pretend she was a main character from the Regency romances she loved so dearly. Those heroines always came out on top.

***

Marisa lost her breath as they swept through the doorway, her heels clicking on the marble flooring. The ceiling—was that gold? And who painted the mural on the wall—Leonardo? Heady perfume enveloped her and flashes of mink and fur coats blurred as servants welcomed guests and took their belongings. Marisa clutched her purse. She’d keep this and her cell phone inside. If only she’d figured out how to take a picture with the damn thing.
 

They followed a crowd into a humongous great room where hundreds of people already mixed. An orchestra in the corner played elegant classical music and some of her nerves faded. A variety of languages floated in the air and she wished she’d paid attention in French class back in high school. Will shook hands, smiled, and charmed every person he talked to.
 

Would he introduce her to Rottingham or point him out? Obviously not, because he completely ignored her like she was some barnacle he couldn’t pluck off and throw away.
 

His cold, callous, unfriendly demeanor disappeared with the rounds of champagne and tiny pieces of gourmet food being offered. As he got swept into the crowd, Marisa soon realized she was quite alone. He meant what he’d said.
 

She drifted through the posh society people as if she were invisible, holding onto her glass of champagne. She nibbled here and there but really would rather not have a piece of spinach stuck between her teeth if some duchess or duke talked to her. Did people still go by those titles? What did Rottingham look like? Tall and distinguished? Or a young rebel. She tried to break into conversations here and there and ask about Edward, but she could never get past the introductions before the group returned to their original conversation.

She approached a servant to switch out for a full glass of champagne. Already, it was having the desired effect. The snobbish looks of rich fancily dressed ladies and gents no longer bothered her. After drifting through the crowd and counting the number of gems worth more than two hundred dollars, she found Will talking with a group of men. She’d love to hear their conversation. They stood near the end of a buffet table filled with gorgeous entrees.
 

Enough dilly-dallying.
 

After lingering near the opposite end of the long table and glancing around to make sure no one was watching and after envisioning herself as some daring spy from the last romance novel she read, which was actually quite good, Marisa ducked between the table and the wall.
 

Now what?
 

She crawled the length of it until she reached the other end. Will’s rich, sexy voice was audible but she couldn’t quite pick out the words over the roar of the people who were sure to be getting tipsy.
 

She had to move closer. Somehow.

The long white tablecloth skimmed the floor next to her. Not just any white tablecloth one could pick up from Walmart but a fancy hand-stitched one that probably cost more than a few bucks. Should she slip under it to get closer to Will and his chums? What if she got caught?

“Excuse me, Ma’am, are you in need of assistance?”

Marisa jumped and glanced up at an older gent with silver at his temples and a neatly trimmed goat-tee. Hot dog! Could she say gorgeous? Then she realized how foolish she looked on her hands and knees in a satin emerald dress next to the food table, like she was scrounging for crumbs.
 

“Oh, um, I lost my earring.”
 

He kneeled beside her. “Are they diamonds or perhaps emeralds to match your dress and your eyes? I never leave a lady in distress.”
 

Marisa’s cheeks burned but she hid her face. She had to make up some lie before he drew more attention to them and Will noticed. He would see right through it and know her real intent. She slapped her hand to her forehead as she stood.
 

“How could I forget? I left them in my room tonight. My ears have been a bit swollen. Possibly an allergic reaction.”
 

He raised an eyebrow as if wondering what could possibly cause that kind of allergic.
 

“Thanks so much. You’ve been a dear.” Then with teetering dainty steps, she moved away, but she only reached the far end and was about to grab another glass of champagne when she felt a light touch on her forearm and the small of her back. The man had followed in her wake.
 

“Would the lady like to dance?”

Dance? She hadn’t danced with anyone but her husband since forever, and the last time she’d danced with him was years ago at a friend’s second wedding. Jeez. They were lame. When had the romance left their marriage? They used to nibble on each other’s ears for breakfast and dance with abandon on the patio under the twinkling stars. How did it all slip away?

“I won’t take no for an answer.” He stopped leading her toward the dance floor where several couples waltzed, their spinning creating the same effect in Marisa’s stomach. “Unless you have a date?”

Marisa thought of Stephen. She’d give anything for him to walk through the doors and rescue her. What a great date night this would be. “Um, no…no date.” Will really hadn’t given her any kind of cover story. Was she supposed to share her name? Or talk about her husband and daughter? Or where she lived? Better not. Things like that always came around to bite you in the butt.

 
The gentleman cleared his throat, a gentle reminder that he was waiting for her answer.
 

“I would be honored for a dance.” Marisa smiled, thanking God she hadn’t eaten the cream cheese and spinach finger sandwiches, and nodded toward the dance floor. Maybe this fellow could point out Rottingham. “I’m just warning you, I haven’t danced in years.”

“That’s a shame. No time like the present then. I promise, I won’t cry out if you step on my toes.”

Marisa giggled. Was she flirting? She certainly didn’t mean to be. She loved Stephen. Yet, this dance, this party, felt like a different world, like she was a different person. A flattering sexy dress hugged her body. When was the last time she felt beautiful? Or sexy?
 

The man was indeed a supreme dancer. He led with grace, shielding her from bumps into other couples, and practically guiding her through the steps. She had watched plenty of Dancing with the Stars so that must be playing into her performance too. She tilted her head in just the right position like the judges liked and made sure her arm was in line with her body. The judges would certainly award her top scores.

“Do you have a crick in your neck?” the man graciously asked. “We can stop if need be.”

Marisa relaxed her neck and fake-laughed to cover her humiliation. “Why no, not at all.”

After several swirls across the floor, exhilaration filled her. Tonight she was Cinderella. The music. The dancing. The beautiful dress.

“You are an outstanding dancer,” the gentleman whispered in her ear. “Now that we have been acquainted, you must tell me your name.”

Name? She gulped. She didn’t dare give out her real name. She needed an alibi, a fake name, complete with history and background, but she didn’t have time to brainstorm. This kind of thing would take her weeks. Who did she want to be? The name from her latest romance popped into mind and spilled out her mouth before she could stop them. “DeWilflower. Beatrice DeWilflower.”

“What a lovely name, Ms. DeWilflower. Do you live in the area?”

Damn. She needed to extricate herself from this situation and find Rottingham. Fast! “Not too far away.” She had to gain control and ask him the questions. “What is your name if I so may ask?” Ugh. Did she really just talk like that?

A smile played on his lips. “You may. Edward Rottingham the Second.”
 

She couldn’t help but gasp. Edward Rottingham. She’d found him without even trying. She threw questions at him in an attempt to keep him entertained just like Will told her to do. Where did he live? What did he do? What was his favorite color and dessert? The song ended and Edward Rottingham the Second excused himself and mingled with the crowd. She let him go with the plans to engage him in conversation later. For now, she wouldn’t let him out of her sight. If only she could do a little eavesdropping on Will too.
 

It was right at that moment that good fortune lent a swift and gentle hand to Marisa. An extremely tall and well-endowed woman of importance strutted past toward Will. Marisa thought about hiding behind the woman’s dress and large hat with drooping feathers. The woman of importance stood close to Will chatting with another woman of probably greater importance. Marisa finally could have listened to Will’s conversation.
 

Except after drinking more than her fair share of champagne and dancing like a star, Marisa had to pee. In fact, she couldn’t wait one more second. Will’s conversation would have to wait.
 

Minutes later, roaming long hallway after long hallway, stopping and crossing her legs every few steps, Marisa realized there would be no door with a picture of a female on it.
 

This wasn’t McDonalds.
 

She absolutely could not find a rest room in the mansion so she opened the door to yet another large and seemingly useless room. This one was absolutely gorgeous, with money practically dripping from the window shades and lining the soft Persian carpet. The large ferns emitted wealth. The grand piano in the back of the room was rather grand, and Marisa felt smarter just studying the number of books on the shelves.
 

She had to enter and breathe in her surroundings. Peeing would have to wait a couple more minutes because she might never get this chance again.

BOOK: Vanishing Point (Circle of Spies Novella)
11.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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