Again, from Lies That Bind. This scene was taking the story through another step in the entire process. There were things I loved going this direction, but critiques convinced me the step was unnecessary.
“That was delicious. I was starving.” Gwen patted her napkin over plump lips. “So tell me, where are you going to look for a dress? This is for the reception tomorrow, right?”
“Yes,” Kelly scowled. “I need one for dinner tonight, too.”
“We should go to Neiman’s.”
“Good lord, I can’t shop there. They cost a fortune.”
“Are you kidding? You’re married to Alex Gentry. CEO of Gentry Mergers and Acquisitions. Money is no object. Come on, I’ll help.” Kelly let Gwen tug her arm. What did it matter? She could use the advice.
Fifteen minutes later Kelly found Gwen had no problem spending Alex’s money. Gwen inundated her with dresses from Donna Karan, Yoana Baraschi, Phoebe Couture and Halston.
“This is the one,” Gwen breathed.
“It’s not black,” Kelly said faintly.
“Of course it’s not black. This is the Christmas season. And the reception is in the afternoon. Red is perfect.”
Kelly cast her a confused glance. “How did you know the reception was in the afternoon?”
“The newspaper, I told you. I’ve been following it, because I knew you. Living my life through you, vicariously.” Gwen gave an infectious laugh, drawing a quick one from Kelly.
Gwen held out the dress giving it a critical once-over. “This is perfect, Kel. The bateau neckline and natural waist? With your black hair, you’ll knock them dead.”
Kelly lifted the tag and stared, dumbfounded by the price. “It’s nineteen hundred dollars,” she squeaked. And she needed shoes.
“So. Look at the back,” Gwen went on. “A deep V. For very sexy,” she winked.
“Elena can’t complain that it won’t be appropriate,” Kelly muttered.
“Come on, try it on.”
It was perfect, of course. Just as Gwen said. Kelly turned it to view the back. If Alex threw too big of a fit she could always use her own money. Money she’d earned from him. She grinned. Why not? Lucky for her, she’d gone with red polish for the man- and ped-cures.
“Did you ever marry?” Kelly asked Gwen as they ruffled through another rack of fabulous dresses.
“Yes,” Gwen sighed. “It’s not going so well, though. He’s in jail at the moment.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” Kelly didn’t know what to say to that. “Ooh, look at this.” She pulled out a slim black cocktail dress.
Gwen’s grimace was quite apparent.
“What’s wrong with it?” Kelly frowned.
“Too busy around the neckline with all those ruffles.”
“Oh.” Kelly plunked it back on the rack.
“Here’s one.” Gwen held up. “The empire waist is flattering, and the chiffon skirt makes it really flirty.”
“Hmm. And it’s only four-fifty.” Kelly hardly even choked when she said it. “I’d better try it on. Then I’d better find shoes and get out of here. Surely, I’m running out of money.”
“Yeah, right.” The subtle sarcasm struck Kelly as a little inappropriate.
Kelly made a show of looking at her watch. “I know I’m running out of time. We’re meeting friends from out of town at four. I probably need to scoot.”
“Did you have an affair with Sam Eckert?”
Gwen’s question came out of the blue. Stunned, Kelly just stared at her. But Gwen continued her perusal through another rack of dresses. Ignoring Kelly’s comment about leaving.
“Of course not,” Kelly snapped.
“It was all over the company that you were, you know.” Gwen’s calm, demure attitude infuriated her. What did Gwen know? What did anyone know? Nothing. People were so blind. And stupid. People were stupid.
Jaw clenched and lips pressed together, Kelly headed to the register to make her purchases. From the corner of her eye she watched Gwen follow at a more leisurely pace. “Regardless of what everyone at the company thought, we weren’t,” Kelly bit out.
She thought she saw a whiff of sympathy in Gwen’s eye. Kelly let out a slow breath. “Sorry. I guess I’m a little sensitive about the subject.”
“No offense taken,” Gwen returned with a bright infectious smile. “Why don’t we find you those shoes, and I’ll run you home.”
“I appreciate it, thanks, but I have my car.”
Two Hours Later
Alex stood in the plush lobby of The Ritz near an elaborate fountain in a dark suit and cast an appraising glance over his young date.
The transformation in the child’s hair alone had him worried Kelly would kill his mother. Her dress was not quite white with a full black skirt and a big shiny bow at the back. He wasn’t sure, but he could swear the fabric was silk. Topped by a sweater he knew was wool.
“Where did you get that dress?” he asked her.
Taylor spun around on flat black shoes creating a tent effect with the full skirt.
“A place called Boomingtales.”
“You mean Bloomingdales?”
She scrunched her nose up, thinking hard. Then flashed him a quick grin. “Maybe.”
“I hate to even ask how much,” he said under his breath.
“A hundred forty-eight,” she informed him. “But I like it. My shoes were forty,” she added, pointing one toe in an excellent imitation of a prima ballerina.
Maybe they should consider dance lessons for her. “It definitely looks good. I suppose she bought you something for tomorrow too?”
“Oh, yes. It’s black velvet. You can’t go wrong with black.”
“Of course not. How did you get your hair like that?”
“We went to the salon, a-course.” Then she whispered, “The man who did it said a couple of bad words.” She thrust a thumb in her chest. “I didn’t tell on him either.”
“Mother, didn’t hear him, but I did,” Emily chimed in, grinning.
“That’s unusual. I thought she heard everything,” Alex murmured. He seemed to remember trouble following him as a kid when he’d moved his lips, swearing he hadn’t made a sound.
“Well.” Taylor looked around as if his mother might still be in the immediate vicinity which had him glancing around too.
Emily gave him a knowing smile. And a sudden urge came over him. He dropped an arm around Emily’s shoulders and gave a quick squeeze.
She dashed a quick tear away. Funny. He felt the same. And swallowed a strange lump that came up out of nowhere.
His eyes caught the sudden move of a rolling blob of purple toddling toward them. Babbling. “Tay-wur, Tay-wur, Tay-wur.”
Taylor spun around at the gibberish.
“Betina.” Taylor’s outstretched arms caught her but almost tumbled her back, if Alex hadn’t steadied them with a quick hand.
The child was followed by Genna who wore a winter white wool dress with pumps to match, her black glasses, conspicuously absent. Alex almost didn’t recognize her.
“Have you been a crybaby, Betina? I hope you got some sleep. This is a grown-up dinner, you know?” Taylor informed her.
Betina’s response came back in a series of clapping hands and slobbering burbles.
Alex hoped the same for Taylor. He smiled all the same, dropping a handkerchief in Taylor’s grateful hands.
“Rick, good to see you.” Alex threw out his hand for a quick handshake. Kenny walked up.
“Kenny.” Genna threw her arms around his neck.
A slight tightness appeared around Rick’s mouth, but to his credit he refrained from comment. The same with Emily’s subtle bristle.
“Where’s Kelly?” Genna asked.
“She should be here any minute.”
“Oh, there’s Lorianne,” Taylor said. “Where’s the baby?”
“Hi, Ash,” Alex smiled. “Taylor wants to know where the baby is.”
“She’s up in the room with Lorianne’s grandmother. Annie came along to baby-sit.”
“Oh,” Taylor frowned.
“We’ll go see him a little bit. Would that be okay, Taylor?” Genna asked her. But Taylor did not have an opportunity to answer. Betina was not to be denied.
“Taywur, Taywur, Taywur.”
“I hear you, Betina.” Taylor sighed, taking her hand. Then Taylor’s breath caught. “Oh, Mommy.”
It snagged Alex’s attention.
Alex followed the direction of Taylor’s gaze. His wife was decked out in a black number that stopped just above her knees, the filmy skirt billowing behind her as she moved with a confident stride. Her slim legs were enhanced by black pumps with tall, skinny heels that had him wishing he could hustle her back home and into the bedroom.
He swallowed at the sight of her. Her black hair, swept up in a simple twist, displayed her long graceful neck.
“You look beautiful, Mom.”
Kelly leaned in to drop a kiss on Taylor’s forehead. “You can’t wrong with black.”
Alex took her elbow and whispered in her ear, “You sure can’t.” He grinned at her pink face. “I think everyone is here. Shall we go in?” He led them around the fountain to The Café where the maitre d’ waited with an understated grace.
The elegant dinner had the desired effect Alex had hoped for. His wife relaxing in the company of her closest friends. He couldn’t help being proud of both his girls. He hadn’t quite given up his notion regarding little kids, but Taylor…well, Taylor was different.
“I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in years,” Kelly said. “Reese Wiley’s admin assistant from Wildcat.”
“Where did you run into her?” Alex caught Kenny’s arched brow.
A smile lifted her lips. “When I was getting my…uh…manicure.” Her cheeks flamed when she stumbled over the word. He shot her a quick wink. “We…we had lunch and she handed out some excellent advice on the dress I’m wearing tonight.”
Alex couldn’t argue with that statement and gave her an outright grin.
“What’s she been up to?” Kenny asked.
“Well, she said she married but…that…things weren’t working out so well. I got the impression they were on their way to a permanent split.”
“That’s too bad,” Kenny murmured.
“Who’s this?” Lorianne said.
“Someone I used to work with some years back in Rockford. I felt kind of sorry for her. She seems to be kind of down on her luck.”
“So how many people will be at this shin-dig tomorrow afternoon?” Lorianne asked.
Alex wasn’t sure why he welcomed the change of topic, but he was.
“Two hundred and fifty,” he grinned with a glance toward Kelly.
A dark frown colored her face.
“Of our closest friends and family,” Taylor chimed in.
“You just need to look at the bright side,” Genna said. “Albert Einstein suggests, ‘In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.’”
“There is that,” Lorianne agreed.
“I don’t get it,” Taylor said scrunching up her nose.
“You’re only five, you’re not supposed to get everything,” Kelly retorted. “I already told you that.”
“You want to see the baby, Taylor?” Lorianne interrupted.
“Great idea. This one needs to go to bed soon,” Genna added.
“Are we up for a little dancing tonight?” Ash threw out.
Alex could think of nothing he’d like better. Well, he could think of one thing, but he rather thought Kelly might enjoy the dancing. He met Kelly’s eyes, asking her the silent question.
“Taylor, what do you say you and Annie watch a movie together? She’s going to be really bored with the two babies asleep.” Lorianne asked her.
“We’ll meet you in the bar,” Alex told them.
Kelly nodded and followed Lorianne and Genna. Alex watched her take Taylor’s hand as they made their way out of The Café to the elevators.
“Well, babies do need their sleep…” He heard Taylor say.
Alex signed off on the check and said, “Let’s go.” He gestured for Emily, Ash and Rick to precede him but pulled Kenny aside. “You’re going to have your hands full with my little sister,” he smirked.
“Your sister would do wise to stay clear,” he frowned. “She was not part of my job description.”
“No doubt,” Alex laughed. “But, everyone knows I don’t nor can control Emily.” He shrugged his shoulders in dismissal. “I look forward to the entertainment value, however. I’m not sure who to feel sorrier for.”
“What do you think about Kelly running into Gwen? A bit of a coincidence?” The shift from Kenny’s light demeanor to grim surprised Alex and he studied him for a moment.
“I would have said so. I mean the company was in Rockford. And Gwen would still be in the area in all probabilities,” Alex said slowly. “More than likely, it’s just as Kelly said. But if it makes you feel any better, do some checking in the morning before the reception.”
“I think I will. If anything, it will keep your sister out of my hair.”
“Don’t count on it,” Alex muttered, casting a glance toward Emily who was watching the two of them, her expression unreadable.