Cinda isn’t ready to become a glorious butterfly. She’s still in the caterpillar stage with her generous curves. All she really wants is for a man to appreciate who she is. The way Jack did when they met at the airport. They shared a romantic day as they both waited for their flights. He kissed her goodbye and tucked his card in her suit pocket with instructions to call. It figures she’d lose his card. Luck never dealt her a romantic winning hand, but it’s time to reshuffle the cards.
Six months fantasizing about Jack was enough. Raven determines not only to help her friend to become the butterfly she is, but also to give her friend a gift she’ll never forget. Cinda voices her doubts about attending the masquerade ball. Raven reveals that Santa left her special gift at the ball. Her job is to retrieve it.
The heading read Sex with a Perfect Stranger. It made Cinda chuckle at its very cliché-ness. Her best friend, Raven, in front of the bathroom mirror putting the final touches on her makeup, called out, “What’s so funny?”
“This book I downloaded for free. I thought it would be fun. Besides it didn’t cost me anything.” Her eyes traveled down the paragraph, causing a tiny spark in the back of her mind with an idea so ludicrous she attempted to stamp it out before it could even grow into a fantasy. When she did fantasize, every man evolved into Jack.
Raven poked her head out of the open doorway. “What’s it called?”
Now I’ve done it. Raven had been her best friend since they both wore braces and glasses at the same grueling awkward time in sixth grade. It seemed fitting they formed a bond since some of the more popular girls nicknamed them Team Ugly.
Cinda smiled at her strikingly gorgeous friend. She certainly had her revenge on those petty females by becoming an unconventional beauty with her coal black hair and vivid blue eyes. Maybe her transformation gave her the confidence to say whatever she thought. Nah, it was always there. Lately, she seemed to be overly concerned with Cinda’s love life or, rightly put, lack of one.
She’d have to tell her the name of the book. The woman would hound her like a dog after a steak bone. “‘Sex with a Perfect Stranger’”
Her friend snorted and stepped all the way out of the bathroom, fixing her with a direct gaze. Placing both hands on her hips, she twisted her mouth in what Cinda termed her considering expression, which sometimes didn’t bode well for the person she was considering.
“Mmm, doesn’t sex usually involve a man.” She paused and winked before continuing. “Or two?”
Cinda’s face flushed with the image of two men smiling seductively at her, not that she wanted two. Never mind. She tabled the thought, knowing she’d opened the topic she tried to avoid.
Her friend cocked her head and gave her a saucy grin. “It’s been so long since you’ve been in a relationship, I doubt you know what to do with a man if you had one.”
Even though she knew her friend was teasing, it didn’t stop the hurt. The words reflected her musings to a certain extent. “Use it unless you want to lose it,” her free-spirited friend would remind her, once again.
“I would know.” She rushed to assure. “Besides, not everyone can be like you, drop dead beautiful and have any man she wants with a slight nod of her head.”
Raven burst into paroxysm of snorting pig laughter. It always amazed her that her friend never lost her awkward laugh. Maybe she couldn’t. After all, she never totally lost her country accent. Even the elocution lesson didn’t totally wipe out the down-home twang.
“Cinda, Cinda, the other side always look better. I don’t have anything you don’t have. The only difference is you refuse to display your attributes. You’ve never been a woman to use what the good Lord gave you. After Keith left you, you hid yourself behind business frump attire.”
Cinda dropped her friend’s hand, well aware that her chaperoning duties were probably finished for the night. She’d find a flute of champagne and a seat in an out of way place. Only there seemed to be all these men in her way. She tried to squeeze by one broad shouldered man dressed like a pirate only to have him catch her hand and kiss it.
The pirate placed her hand on his heart, declaring, “The Lady Emeraude has captured my heart.”
A Roman Centurion with a strong chin jostled the pirate, making him release her hand. “I saw her first. You only managed to get here quicker because of your rapier. I was forced to use manners.”
A vampire headed her way. Grinning and, showing his fangs. Was this what it was like to be glamorous? She felt a bit like a greased pig all the kids ran after at the end of the rodeo. On her other side was Romeo, who waved at her with a lace handkerchief. Her eyes cast around the room looking for some sort of rescue.
A man stood in profile near a tall floral arrangement in a business suit, no mask, hands in pockets, and a somewhat bored expression. He looked nice, a little familiar, then he turned and looked straight at her.
“Jack!” The word popped out of her mouth before she fully recognized him. His head came up. The vampire reached her side, introducing himself. “They call me Count Dracula, but you may call me Vlad.”
Sheesh. Costumed men don’t give up easy. She turned in the direction of where Jack stood looking confused. He took a few steps in her direction, but stopped, warned off by the look of death from the ghoul beside her. “Gee, Drac, I need to say hello to my husband, Jack.” He stepped back at the mention of a husband, melting back in the crowd.
Taking four determined steps, she reached Jack’s side. He had a nametag on his lapel that read ‘Hello, I’m a conventioneer’. “Jack,” she whispered, startling him. Placing a hand on his shoulder, she leaned into him and kissed him on the cheek. “Sorry, I had to do that.”
He smiled. “I’m not sorry, but why did you have to do that.”
“Could you pretend to be my husband? I’ll explain.” She tucked her arm through his to cruise the perimeter of the room where noise level was a little less. “Well, ah, that vampire was practically drooling on me. I had to get rid of him, saw you, and…” She coughed a little in her embarrassment. What seemed like a good spur of the moment plan just seemed odd now. “I said we were married,” she finished in a rush.
“Okay.” He patted her hand tucked in the angle of his bent arm. “Are we happily married or should I pick a fight?”
“We are very happily married, even newlyweds,” she teased back.
The band broke into a swing number as the singer crooned about flying away. Jack led her onto the dance floor. “It is only fitting that I dance with my wife, especially being newlyweds.” He winked as he took her hand.
They twirled around the floor past Raven and Jeb, who only had eyes for one another. Jack could dance, but he always could in her fantasies.