After everything was said and done, Madison was in heaven.
The dessert table looked scrumptious. Every type of chocolate delicacy known to women had to be on this table and it was all she could do not to fill a plate. The chocolate aroma in and of itself was enough to…
“Oh, just take one. You know you want it,” a male voice teased her.
Madison jumped, startled, and hugged her small notebook close to her chest. Her assistant, Josh Brown, smirked as he reached to steal a piece of heaven from the table.
“Don’t you dare, there’re too many guests around.” She slapped his hand and forced her lips into mock frown.
“Honey, they all think I’m a guest anyway,” Josh shrugged his small shoulders and peered up at her under his black framed glasses. A sneaky smile spread across his face as he grabbed a mini chocolate cream puff and popped it into his mouth.
“Have you found our elusive host yet? Who is this guy anyway?” Josh licked tidbits of cream off his fingers as he glanced around the room.
“No. I’ve asked some of the staff he provided, but they only said he would make himself available when the timing was right. Whatever that means?” She shrugged her shoulders. She’d dealt with plenty of strange customers in the past, but this one cut the cake. Never had she had a host so adamant to remain in the background as this one.
“As long as he signs the necessary papers and gives me a moment to speak to him, it doesn’t really matter. I would like to thank him though. Without this location…” She angled her body so she could look out over the crowd behind them.
“See that delicious snack over there?” Josh motioned to a man who leaned against the wall and watched them. “If he looks me over one more time, these tights won’t contain me any longer. They barely contain him,” he licked his lips and winked.
Madison groaned. “Please tell me you didn’t suggest anything to him while you are working?”
“You know me better than that,” Josh shrugged. “I never mix play with work. Although, I did tell him what time I was off the clock.”
“I’ve never had a guest list double in size at the last minute and the booked venue not only suggests another location but waive their cancellation fee as well. All it takes is one event to ruin you, and this could have been it for us.” Madison licked her lips as she glanced over her shoulder to the dessert table.
“I’m just amazed this location was available and that it’s a virgin,” Josh covered his heart with one hand and sighed. “There’s nothing better than a virgin location that’s never been showcased before. To be the first designer…there’s no better foreplay.”
Madison nudged him with her elbow and frowned. “Shhh. Not so loud.”
She shook her head at her much-too-cute gay assistant with his tanned skin, messy hair and gorgeous grin before she glanced around the large ballroom. She’d never felt so undressed in her life. While she wore a simple black dress that caressed her body, Josh went with the theme of the evening and wore dark grey tights with a navy blue stripped waistcoat with rows of large buttons and a frilly neck smock. He openly mocked her rules whenever he could, including Rule Number Four—never dress as a guest.
She smiled with satisfaction. They’d pulled it off. After all the hours and stress of dotting her i’s and crossing her t’s, the costume ball was a success. If it hadn’t been for Josh, she would have drowned her sorrows in cosmos and eaten her way to a size ten weeks ago.
“We did it,” she whispered.
“If it wasn’t for this location literally dropping into our lap last minute, we wouldn’t have,” Josh mumbled as he touched her elbow and motioned her away from the table. A few guests made their way over to the delicious fare and Madison was thankful they didn’t hear him.
“Seriously, Maddie, I only wish we could have retained an exclusive clause on this place. Have you noticed the lines, the shapes and don’t forget the window candy? The decor is enough to turn my balls blue.”
“What? I know you like it when I talk that way, despite all your dirty glances and shocked expressions. Girlfriend, there’s a kinky woman deep down who is desperate to escape her business suits and natural makeup,” Josh wiggled his fingers at her. “Don’t you think I don’t know you have a thing for lingerie? I see those packages you whisk away to the back when you think I’m not looking. Just tell me our friend Mike hasn’t seen it too, that’s all I ask.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Madison angled her body away from him.
Josh only laughed at her. He called her his Ice Queen, while she quietly labelled him her Design Whore. When Josh first besieged her for a job, she’d turned him down flat. The last thing she needed was another gay man with a flair for the creative to take over her company with his hip designs and greedy ambition. She’d been burned once and refused to play with that fire again. But after her latest assistant quit, she’d been desperate. After the fifth box of Godiva chocolates, Madison gave in and agreed to a one-event trial period. That was three years and one hundred fifty events later. The best decision she’d ever made. Business wise at least.
“Keep it that way. My gaydar is never wrong and it’s reading a weird vibe with that man. He’s not who he pretends to be,” Josh pinched his lips together.
“No one is. It’s possible you’re wrong about him.”
“Possible, but unlikely. I am glad you took my advice. Your tousled hair and perky breasts need to be shown off more often.” As he eyed her dress, Josh’s eyebrows quirked above his horned-rimmed glasses.
She knew he waited for her to disagree. Josh thought he knew everything about her, but he only knew what she let him see.
“Why don’t you go check on the caterer and keep out of trouble while I see if I can find our host? He has to be around here someplace.” Madison placed her hand on his arm and gave a slight push.
“Try to talk him into that exclusivity clause if you find him. Once word gets out about this event, all our competition will be vying to hold their venues here. If we could beat them to the punch, we’d be set.” Josh grabbed a glass of water off a waiter’s tray before he took off in the direction of the kitchens.
He was right. If Madison could obtain that clause, they’d be set. Clients would flock to Choco Chic Events and Madison wouldn’t have to worry about keeping their edge on the event planning industry anymore.
She wove her way through to the main room and studied the guests around her. The room glistened with sparkling chandeliers and gossamer wall hangings dotted with glittering gems that reflected the lights around the room. Around the floor, dozens of soft grey linen covered round bar tables held simplistic flower arrangements and small plates of chocolate. Guests dressed in Eighteenth Century outfits, mingled around with champagne flutes in hand to the soft sounds of Bach and Mozart played by a stringed quartet in the far corner.
He watched her as she wove her way amongst the crowd. God she was beautiful. While everyone else looked like complete fools, she stood out, an elegant flower in a room full of weeds. He rubbed his hands down his thighs. Without a camera, they felt empty, useless. If he could, he would immortalize her, like this. Elegant. Sexy. His. All his.
Anderson backed out of the ballroom. It wasn’t time for them to meet. Not yet. He turned down the hallway toward his study. It wasn’t ready yet. A few more touches and she would know it was him with just one glance. His butler stood in the hall looking bloody ridiculous dressed to the gills in a traditional butler get up and blocked his path. Anderson frowned at the man. After all these years, he still insisted in playing the part. Damn English pride.
When he noticed Mike Patterson, he understood why Harold stood in the middle of the hall. Anderson turned down another corridor and hid behind one of thousands of pillars in his new home. He couldn’t wait for construction to begin on this place. The damn house resembled an English castle with all its pillars, hidden doors and servant quarters. What the former owners were thinking, he’d never know.
“Yeah, I’ll be there.” Mike’s voice drifted towards him. The steady tap of shoes approached Anderson, where he hid, out of sight. “Might even have a guest with me. We’ll see how the evening turns out. God knows I’ve waited too long for this bitch to let me in her…yeah, the whips will be good. Make sure there are a few sluts there tonight in case I come alone.”
Anderson waited until Mike ended the call, then stepped out of the shadows and tapped him on the back.
“Shit, Andy. Don’t scare a guy like that,” Mike slapped him on the shoulder before he pocketed his phone.
“Still hanging with the old crowd?” It took a lot of strength not to slug the worm right then and there. He knew the bitch Mike talked about on the phone was Madison.
“It has its benefits,” Mike shrugged his skinny shoulders before he licked his lips.
What Madison found attractive in the weasel, Anderson couldn’t figure out, but he wasn’t about to let that attraction grow. He knew what she was in for if she went home with Mike tonight.
“You’re not planning on taking Ms. Pearce with you, are you?” Anderson pitched his voice lower than normal.
“What’s it to you?” Mike crossed his arms and smirked. “Wait, do you want to join us? For old times’ sake?”
Anderson wanted to wipe that smirk on his face, but there were too many guests loitering about.
“Ms. Pearce won’t be able to join you tonight.”
Mike stepped back and glanced around. He pulled his phone out and held it up.
“Oh, really? Why don’t we let Madison decide that for herself?”
Anderson clenched his fists and took a step forward.
“Master, I don’t believe this is the time,” Harold appeared out of nowhere and stood between him and Mike.
Anderson lowered his fists and straightened. Harold was right. Now was not the time. Mike would be dealt with later.
He pushed past Mike and headed to his study. The steady taps of Harold’s shoes on the tiled floor echoed behind him.
“I need you to deliver a few notes for me.”
In his study, Anderson sat at his desk and pulled out two pieces of stationary. The first one took no thought. It had been a mistake to think he could use Mike without it backfiring in his face. He should have contacted Madison years ago instead of waiting for her like the fool he was. He only hoped he wasn’t too late.
* * * *
She heard her name but couldn’t see who called out to her amongst the crowd. She searched in vain through the guests to find a familiar face, until a warm hand touched her arm.
“There you are. I’ve been searching all over for you.”
Madison glanced up and knew the grin on her face sparkled when she smiled. If there were anyone she wanted to search for her, it would be this man. Mike Patterson, God personified in the flesh. He was the company representative she’d met months ago when first approached to coordinate this event. So what if Josh didn’t like him.
“I’m not that hard to find, Mike. Plus you do have my phone number, you could have called.” It wouldn’t have been the first, and hopefully not the last, time he called her.
“I did. There’s something I want to talk to you about,” a slight frown settled on Mike’s angular face as he held up his phone.
Madison bit her lip as she glanced down at the notebook she held in her hand. There was a placeholder inside the book for her iPhone and when she peeked inside, she noticed three missed calls.
“What happened to the girl who never turns her phone off?” A shadow flashed across his face before she noticed the teasing glint in Mike eyes. She must have imagined it.
“The chocolate was calling to me,” she glanced behind her to the table of chocolates.
“I told you their catering was the best. I can’t believe you’ve never used them before,” Mike settled his hand on her back, guided her through the ballroom and out into the hallway.
“I will now, thanks to you, I already have them booked for three more events.”
She took the champagne flute Mike held out to her. She had a policy not to drink while working an event, but the evening was winding down and she could use a few sips.
She set her glass down on the circular marble table and lifted her foot. She didn’t like to wear stilettos on a normal day and her feet were killing her. She should have worn her Sofft heels like planned, but when she saw these silver Jonathan Kayne’s in the store window, she knew they were perfect to go with her dress.
“This night has been perfect. Everything we discussed and more. I can’t tell you how happy the committee is, Madison. They have already agreed to have you plan our next conference, not just the finale night,” Mike cleared his throat and took a step closer to her.
She laid her notebook down on the table and did a double take. A vase sat in the middle of the table with a single rose. The rose itself wasn’t unique, fire and ice, but it was the vase that caught her attention. She used to have one, just like it. Almost a lifetime ago. A gift from…
Madison gave her head a slight shake. She wouldn’t think about him, not now, not here, and especially not while Mike stood in front of her.
She focused on his words and realized what he’d just said.
“That’s fantastic, Mike, I would love to work with you again.”
“Well, see, I don’t think that will be possible,” Mike hedged.
Madison searched his eyes. She couldn’t have heard him right. They’d gotten along so well these past few months. They’d spent a lot of extra hours together, afternoons that turned into evenings while setting details, going over every little suggestion put forth from the committee. It was hard to consider not working with him again.
“I don’t understand?”
“You never considered any of our dinners or late nights as dates, did you?”
Mike stepped closer and Madison found herself staring into his chocolate-coloured eyes. Eyes she could drown in and come back to life in. She allowed him to take her hand and marvelled at how warm he was.
“I don’t date those I work with,” she whispered.
“I know. That is why I pulled myself off of the planning committee.”
Madison smiled as a shiver of anticipation flowed through her body.
“And if I read my watch correctly, that will take into effect in oh…” Mike glanced down at his wrist, “an hour or two.”
Madison was unable to tear her gaze away from the lips that were mere inches away from her face. Why wasn’t he kissing her?
“Is that so?”
“Which would mean that I can do this without you telling me no,” Mike leaned down and Madison’s stomach twisted. She’d dreamed about this moment, waited for it, hoped it would happen. One single kiss would wash away the loneliness of the past few years. One solid, amazing, scorching kiss…
“There you are!”
Madison’s head whipped back as Mike’s head rose. She closed her eyes and her shoulders slumped as the sweet promise of a kiss was swept away.
Madison groaned and shook her head at Josh when she turned toward him. “You couldn’t have waited a few more minutes?”
“Sorry,” Josh shrugged, but Madison knew by the look on his face that he really wasn’t. He didn’t approve of Mike, swore he radiated bad vibes, or something like that. Madison just shrugged him off. He’d never approved of any guy she dated.
“The caterer needs to give you his summary and the musicians want to know if you need them to play for another hour. Oh, and I have this note,” he waved a piece of paper between them.
She threw Mike an apologetic smile before she picked up her notebook and held out her hand.
“Did you by chance find our host? If the musicians are to play longer, I will need his permission. We have a midnight deadline.”
Josh shook his head. “No one seems to know where he is. And the note is for Mike,” he reached past her and waited for Mike to take the paper.
“Well then, on that note, I should get back to work,” Madison picked up her champagne glass, handed it to Josh, and watched as he guzzled it back in one gulp.
“I’ll find you when I’m done,” she promised Mike. A myriad of emotions filtered across his face before he crumpled up the note he’d just read in his hand.
“Madison, we weren’t done. Don’t…you can’t walk away from me right now,” Mike’s lips flattened into a straight line and his face clouded over with what she thought was rage, but had to be mistaken. He was always laid-back, with an easy smile and never seemed to get angry.
“We’ll have plenty of time to finish our discussion, Mike. I’ll see you in a bit.”
As she walked away, she knew Mike watched her, felt his gaze on her back. She emphasized the sway of her hips and didn’t bother to hold back a grin. She knew how the dress looked on her and she couldn’t wait for Mike’s reaction to what she wore underneath.
Josh thought he knew what was in those packages, but he had no idea.
On that note, she had no idea where her elusive host had disappeared to as well.
© Anya Winter
Author: Anya Winter
Publisher: Liquid Silver Publishing
A semi-naked photo, taken almost ten years, almost ruins everything for Madison Pearce. With a glass of champagne in hand, Madison is about to call her recent job a success, until she is pulled her into a private room and a secret, one from her past, resurfaces.
Along with the lover, she never expected to see again…