Authors: Laurie Leclair
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Humor & Satire, #Humorous, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #General Humor
Waking Sleeping Beauty
Copyright 2013 by Laurie LeClair
All rights reserved. This work is not transferrable. Any reproduction of this work is prohibited without the permission of the author due to the infringement on the copyright. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the creation of the author or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or people, living or dead, is coincidental.
As always, to my husband, Jim. Thanks for all your love and support.
“Wake up, will ya!”
Francine King bolted upright in the tiny enclosure. She blinked several times, trying to recall where she was. Looking down at the satin and lace dress with hundreds of tiny crystals sparkling under the lights, she landed back to earth with a dull thud. “Rico?”
“Of course, it’s me, silly. Who else would it be?”
She sighed with relief. “Sorry. I’m just jumpy.”
“And sleepy,” he muttered. “No rest for the new independent woman, now is there?”
“Did you get them?” She stood, sweeping layers of fabric in a neater array. “I’m decent. You can come in now.”
He shoved aside the curtain to the dressing room and produced the two-carat, tear-drop diamond earrings. “Voila!” He swung the sparkling pair under her nose. “Do I deliver or do I de—”He stopped in midstream, his mouth hanging open. “Shut up!”
Heat crawled into her cheeks. Pressing her hands to her face, she asked, “Is that a good shut up or a bad shut up?”
“O-M-G, you look fab-u-loicous, girl.” His eyes nearly popped out of his head.
“I take that as good.” She smiled now, fingering the delicate lace bodice on the wedding dress. “It’s not too much. Or should I say too little?” she asked, splaying her hand over the deep V neckline.
“You have bubbies.”
Another sweep of heat seared her cheeks. “You sound like that’s a question, not a statement.” Looking down, she noted the miraculous way the dress pushed her together to create a definite cleavage.
“Come out, come out, let me see more.”
Poking her head out of the dressing room, she looked down the aisle. “Is the coast clear?”
“Everyone’s gone for the night or we wouldn’t be here, you know that.”
“No one followed you? No guards? No manager? You know she doesn’t like me.”
He sighed heavily. “Now who does?”
A stab of hurt lanced through her. “Rico!”
Pursing his lips together, he murmured, “It’s true.”
This time she was the one to sigh. She marched out of the cubicle, down the hallway and into the display room. Her so-called new friend didn’t mince words and she’d be forever grateful for that. But the truth did hurt. She stepped up onto the pedestal and gazed unseeingly into her reflection in the full-length mirror opposite her.
“Here, let me do the back up all the way,” he clucked, delicately handing over the precious jewelry. He tugged at the satin strings, pulling the wedding dress even tighter.
“I didn’t do anything…” she whispered, slipping on the earrings. “I’m not my mother. I’m not mean or vain or pushy—”
”Well…” He coughed a few times. “You can be pushy, but, like me, it’s for a good cause. You’re just trying to help out around the store,” he waved a hand, “helping the salespeople with their customers. I swear some people don’t have a lick of common sense when dealing with the public.”
She forced herself to grin. “Not like us, right?” Being a hairdresser in King’s Department Store salon allowed Rico to judge the wisdom of his clients’ choices. He expressed his opinion on more than just hair and makeup and clothes. Nine times out of ten, he nailed it on the head.
And she, the stepdaughter to the late, great Charles King, enjoyed the breath of fresh air Rico brought to the legendary store. Taking a cue from him, she didn’t hold back on her suggestions for the brides who shopped there. After all, if anyone knew about weddings, she did. Francine lived and breathed weddings. She considered herself an amateur expert on the subject; she pored through bridal magazines and collected pictures in her three-ring wedding binder for decades now. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of her dream wedding.
Only there were a few things wrong with the picture.
Even after all these years, she still couldn’t decide on a dress. She couldn’t have a perfect wedding without the perfect wedding dress, now could she?
She’d never be able to afford her picturesque day now that her mother had cut off her trust fund. How long would it take to save for the lavish affair? Two years? Three? More?
And last, but not least, she faced another, even larger, dilemma.
It was just too bad she’d never dated anyone in her entire life.
No groom. Now that could be a big sticking point.
“Francie, don’t slouch.” He smacked her lightly on her bottom.
She sucked in a breath and twirled to him.
“It was just a pat,” he soothed. “Pay attention. Now turn around and behave.”
Folding her arms over her chest, she asked, “Me?”
“Look, face it, you’re not Miss Popularity around here. That award goes to Charlie.”
She should be offended, but she wasn’t. She smiled now. Her older stepsister was the heir apparent and had worked in the store for years, gaining the love and trust of the employees. Francie and her younger sister, Priscilla, had only joined King’s a few weeks ago when they’d abruptly walked out on their demanding, controlling mother. Her smile faded quickly at the thought of the woman who’d she’d never really known, but had listened to and blindly obeyed all these years.
“I know, Rico, it’s not that. They brand me with the same brush they use for my mother,” she choked out the last.
He shivered in revulsion. “No offense, but that woman gives me the willies. Just one look from her and she’d knock off her enemy. Thank God she’s greedy and sold off the store to your new brother-in-law.”
“At least Charlie and he saved the store from closing.”
“Ah, I hear it ain’t a sure thing.”
“What?!” Immersed in trying to stand on her own two feet, working long extra hours to just survive and keep a stern watch over her younger sister, Francie hadn’t the time to sit down with Charlie to discuss the store’s numbers.
“The holidays will either make or break the store.”
Her heart sunk. Fear slithered in, cold and dark. What in the world would her family do if the store closed? This was her stepfather’s dream. Charlie had kept it going with her brilliant ad campaigns lately. And she and Priscilla were not adept at anything, not even being a salesperson. They’d only gotten their jobs at the store thanks to Charlie and being family.
“Quit frowning. Look, all done up.” He stood back. “Lovely.”
Jerked back to the moment, Francie came to attention. She fingered her blonde bob into place, and then, not liking the look, pulled her hair up off her neck. “Better, don’t you think?”
“Much,” he agreed.
Suddenly, the lights flickered off and on and off and on again.
“Oh no, that’s the guards. The last warning for the employees.”
Rico jumped. “Oh my God, I’ve got to get the earrings back in the vault.”
“You took them from the vault?”
“I figured you could use some bling when you tried on the latest arrival.” He waved a hand at her designer wedding dress.
“But I thought you asked Charlie’s permission.”
He looked away. “Ah, I sorta, ah, didn’t.”
“Holy moly, Rico.” She yanked the earrings from her lobes as if they were on fire. Hurriedly, she wiped them on his sleeve. “Fingerprints,” she muttered. “Hold out your hands.” When he obeyed, she dropped them in his palms like they were hot potatoes. “Run, Rico!” She shoved him toward the door.
“But, I was just trying to help—” he cried, gone in a flash.
Francie sank down in a heap, the beautiful satin and lace material crumpling around her ankles and billowing up to her waist. The corset-like top dug into her ribs.
She groaned, dropping her head into her hands. “Please, let him put them back in time.”
Her mind swirled with the punishment if he didn’t. Not only would he suffer the consequences, but, no doubt, everyone would discover she was in on it, too. Rico would not take it lightly and would ultimately blab the truth about her involvement.
It would be one more thing the employees would hate her for and maybe even try to get rid of her and her pesky, inexperienced sister, Priscilla. She’d had a feeling they were just looking for an opportunity to show them in a bad light and toss them out the door.
She cringed inwardly at the knowledge that her sister and she probably deserved it, too. With no skills to speak of, they’d bumbled through more than one chance and brought more ire their way. Charlie had kept them on, comforting the other employees. King’s would give them a chance, just like King’s had given every hard working employee an opportunity to prove themselves. How many more chances could she get, though?
With a huge sigh, Francie forced herself up to her feet and back into the dressing room. The first tug on the binds that squished her together didn’t budge. “Huh?” She tried to snake one arm around her back and skimmed the tail end of the bow. “Why did he tie it like this?” Reaching over her back with the other hand, she attempted to grab the ties that way. Her fingers missed, not able to latch on. She wrestled with it for some time, turning and twisting, even rubbing her back against the wall to try to dislodge the knot.
Beads of sweat clung to her forehead. She dashed those away only to have more form as she contorted again. “Rico, what in the world did you do to me?” she asked between gritted teeth.
Finally, with her arms aching from the effort, she gave up. She needed help. Now she longed for the cell phone she couldn’t afford.
“I can do this,” she whispered her new mantra again.
Blowing out a breath and a strand of hair out of her vision, she set her jaw and lifted her chin, slowly exiting the dressing area. “Please let me find Rico before anyone else finds me.”
Marcus Goode strode across the marble floor of King’s Department Store. Stillness surrounded him. Looking up, he spotted a familiar face. “Bruno, my man, how have you been doing?”
He grasped the security guard’s hand and they clapped each other on the back.
“Mr. Marcus, you’re a sight for sore eyes. What’s it been? Ten years?”
“Maybe more. I thought you’d be long gone by now.”
“Me? Hah! I love this place. Come on, Miss Charlie’s waiting for you.”
Bruno punched in the code for the executive elevator and ushered Marcus in when it arrived.
“Not coming up?”
“Nah, got rounds to do. Make sure no one’s lurking about. Then we can shut this baby up tight for the night.”
“Fifth floor, right?”
“Yes, sir, never changed that, but there’s been a whole lot of changes in the last few weeks. I hear you’re going to be another one.”
change.” Marcus emphasized the first word.
“That’s what they all say.” Before the doors closed, Bruno said, “Now Marcus B. Goode, you hear?”
Marcus chuckled at the old joke. Alone now in the enclosed muted gold compartment, he shook his head. His mother had named him Marcus B. Goode as a lifelong reminder to be good. Most people never knew his middle name was just an initial. Luckily, he’d never had to cope with their reactions when they found out. But some of his old childhood friends, including Bruno, always knew and ribbed him about it.
It reminded him of how much he missed the people in his life. Just like when he saw his mother earlier today at the nursing facility. When had she gotten so old and so weak? Was it just since she’d broken her hip and been in rehabilitation to mend it?
Years ago, he’d struck out in business on his own. She’d had several husbands along the way and, for the most part, she’d been happy. But after each divorce, Marcus would return to clean up any messes, make certain she had a nice place to live, support her, and did what any only son would do and take care of her. After all, it was his duty.
He’d promised his late father. And he never broke his promise.
Even if that meant keeping secrets from his mother to protect her.
The doors dinged open and he came back to the present.
A tall, model-thin lady with a wide smile greeted him. In one arm, she cradled a clipboard. She stuck out her hand. “I’m Peg Newbury, your assistant.”
He returned the surprisingly firm handshake. “Peg, nice to meet you. I’m Marcus.”
That made him chuckle. She joined him. “Come on, Superstar, Charlie’s just finishing up and will meet us in your new office.”
“Temporary office,” he corrected.