Maggie's Hunt, page 3
His college degree had been in business administration and accounting. Armed with a handful of relatively new licenses for different investment areas, Chuck was now occupied in managing his own investments as well as Natty’s substantial trust fund.
In spite of his rough and tough exterior, Chuck was an intelligent, kind, and generous man who loved his gentle wife to distraction. Maggie had often thought that if Natty had not gotten him first, that she would have liked to have had a chance to get close to him. But, he was her best friend’s husband, which automatically placed him into the ‘absolutely unavailable’ category.
“It’s been too long, Maggie. You really should not work yourself so hard. You’re missing out on the good things by keeping that pretty little nose to the grindstone,” Chuck said warmly just before he kissed her.
Startled at the unfamiliar intimacy, Maggie began to push him away, but he directed her attention to the mistletoe hanging directly above her head.
She laughed and shook her head. “You are a nut case, Chuckles. An absolute nut case.”
“It takes one to know one, friend,” he replied as he lowered her back to the floor.
Natalie walked up behind her. “And just what do you think you are doing with my husband, hussy?” Natalie said in a mock menacing tone.
Maggie turned to face her friend.
Natalie was always so beautiful with her perfect complexion, trim figure, periwinkle eyes and honey blond hair that fell to her knees, but tonight, she looked especially lovely.
“Natty, if you only hadn’t seen him first . . .” Maggie replied automatically in this almost ritual response before she threw her arms around Natalie and kissed her cheek. “You should have told me that you have a party going on tonight, I would have come up tomorrow as I had planned. But, I just had to get out of the City.”
“Nonsense. You know that you are always welcome here, Magpie. Now, you just run up and change into something suitable. I know you’ve brought something to wear. Chuck will show you to your room,” Natalie replied warmly. “Oh, by the way, if Chuck isn’t down here in five minutes, I’m coming after him,” she added with a mischievous chuckle.
“Five minutes?” Maggie responded in the same teasing tone. “Shucks, Natty, you’re no fun at all.”
Natalie laughed, throwing her long honey blond hair back over her shoulders. “I’m not going to give you a chance to make him see what a fool he was to marry me. No way, you’ve got five minutes, then I come up,” she teased.
Chuck laughed heartily. “Not a chance, sweetheart,” he said gently, “Marrying you was the single best thing that I ever did.”
“I’m glad that the two of you are happy together,” Maggie replied with a smile.
“Oh, we’re all three very happy,” Chuck said softly.
“Three? Oh, Natty . . . How wonderful!” Maggie replied warmly. “When are you going to make me a godmother?”
“Sometime in July,” the other woman replied happily.
All three of them were laughing and hugging, unaware that a pair of slate gray eyes were observing the whole exchange with a degree of amusement.
Natalie dismissed them with a terse, “Just go change. There are some interesting people here tonight. Real potential husband material for you, Magpie.”
“Husband material?” Maggie asked, just before she mockingly hit her forehead with an open palm. “That’s what I’ve been doing wrong all these years. I didn’t know that prospective husbands came unassembled like a kit. Tell me, Natty, is it a difficult task putting one together? It can’t be too difficult, since you seem to have done a good enough job with Chuckles, here. And we all know how little mechanical aptitude that you have,” she quipped.
Natalie and Chuck both groaned at the poor attempt at humor.
“There are several eligible bachelors here tonight,” Natalie said bluntly.
“Bully for them. I hope that they have a good time. But, if you’re waiting for me to take one of them out of circulation, you’re going to have a long wait. I have no interest in marrying anyone. I’m strictly a career woman, remember?” Maggie countered gently.
“You could do worse than settle down with one of my friends,” Chuck added lightly.
“I know . . .” Maggie replied mischievously. “I could find that my broker had absconded with my portfolio. I could find rats in my apartment. Or worse, I could find that the rats were all gone, thanks to the infestation of snakes. I could wake up bald . . . .”
Natty and Chuck both wore long-suffering looks.
“Magpie . . . .” Natty warned softly.
“For pity’s sake, would you please stop trying to marry me off. You are getting as bad about it as Michael used to be,” Maggie said softly, with affection, and pain, in her voice.
“Aren’t you ever tempted to go back home to Michael, Magpie?” Natty asked gently. “I know that he misses you. And right now, it might be a good idea. He could use your help with the election coming up.”
“Just lay off, Natty, please? I wouldn’t crawl back to Michael’s house if I were destitute and naked in a snow bank during the worst blizzard of the century,” Maggie answered softly with an edge of ancient bitterness to her voice. She often told herself that there was no way that she would ever darken his doorstep again, voluntarily, that is. And she couldn’t envision a circumstance in which she would go involuntarily without being either subdued or sedated.
“We all want you to be happy, Margaret Mary O’Shay,” Natalie countered quietly, firmly. “There is no need to take that tone with me.”
“Have you considered that I might just be happy as the career woman type?” Maggie queried.
Chuck cleared his throat, then spoke derisively, “Yeah, a career woman without a career.”
“Bad news travels fast,” Maggie replied quietly.
“Doesn’t it, though?” Natalie replied quietly.
“Did Guy call you?” Maggie asked.
“What are your plans, now, Magpie?” Natalie asked gently.
“I don’t know. The only thing that I do know is that I need some time to get my head together and to decide which way that I want my life to go. I have several options which I ought to explore,” she replied softly. “From what I’ve heard, the job market is pretty tight just now. I thought that I might go back to school. Maybe, I’ll take a Master’s degree in Marketing or Accountancy. A friend of mine in LA offered me a job a couple of years ago as an A and R person for his record label. He said that I could have a job whenever I needed one. I just don’t know, at this point. Besides, it is not inconceivable that Guy will come to his senses, see that I have an excellent case against the corporation, and offer me the job.”
“And maybe Santa Claus is real,” Chuck said.
“It’s still possible that I’ll have my job back before the first of the year. As soon as Guy calms down, he’ll realize that I have a good sexual discrimination case against him. The bozo that they put in that management position isn’t nearly as qualified for it as I am.”
“You wouldn’t really sue Guy, Maggie?” Chuck asked incredulously.
“Let’s just say that I’m keeping my options open,” Maggie replied guardedly. “And the suit would be against the company, not against Guy personally. I have no hard feelings against Guy.”
“Marriage is always an option, Magpie,” Natalie urged gently.
“I’m not even sure that I have a heart to offer, anymore,” Maggie said very softly, tightly. “You’ve made marriage your career, Natty. But, I don’t think that is a path I would be happy following. I don’t know that there is a man living whom I could trust that far.”
“Jarod’s been dead for almost eight years,” Chuck stated firmly. “You were little more than a child when you and he were engaged. It’s time that you stopped mourning him. It’s not good for you to be alone like you are.”
“I stopped mourning Jarod years ago,” Maggie replied quietly. “That doesn’t mean that I have any intention of leaving
“I would never use the word, ‘Coward’, to describe you, Maggie,” Chuck informed her.
“I don’t know what else to call it.”
Natty shook her head in frustration. “You’re impossible, Magpie. Go. And remember, five minutes.” Natty looked at her watch. “Starting now.”
Nine minutes later, Maggie was descending the stairs wearing a black silk evening gown, cut on simple lines, with a bateau neckline in front which gave way to a wide vee in the back that came to a point at her waist, long straight sleeves and full, gathered, skirt that fell to the floor. She felt incredibly alluring wearing the gown. Along with the dress, she wore several lengths of braided silver chain. A pair of strappy spike-heeled silver sandals completed the outfit. Her auburn hair gleamed as it streamed over her shoulders and down her back. The barest hint of all of the exposed skin on her back was visible as her hair shifted when she walked.
She took a glass of champagne from a circulating waiter and began to mix with the crowd. Natty had been correct, all sorts of interesting people were present. She was enjoying talking with some old friends and meeting a few new people. She normally avoided parties, except on business occasions, but she definitely was enjoying this one. As she circulated about the room, drinking far more champagne than was actually good for her, she became aware of a pair of slate gray eyes watching her every move.
She carefully sized up the owner of the eyes. He was a tall, powerfully built, man. He had heavy-lidded slate gray eyes, coal-black hair with the barest of hints of gray at the temples, a high bridged nose, a square chin which was softened slightly by a cleft right in the middle.
There were no two ways about it. The man was unbelievably, heart stoppingly gorgeous! A line from Steven Spielberg’s film Always came to her mind: “Twisted steel and sex appeal.” For this man, Maggie thought, it applied.
She couldn’t deny that he was simply one of the most handsome men whom she had ever seen. Maggie’s thoughts alternated between “I’ve got to meet this guy” and “Sure, he’s handsome. But, I bet that he knows it. No man can be that good looking without being conceited as the Devil himself.”
Several times during the evening, she attempted to approach him, but on the way, each time, became sidetracked in various conversations as old friends whom she hadn’t seen for some time stopped her.
Well into the evening, one of the Chuck’s former team-mates swatted her strongly on the derrière as she walked past him. Without a moment’s hesitation, even though the blonde giant of a man outweighed her by a good hundred and thirty pounds and was a good foot taller than she, Maggie had set her glass of champagne down on the mantle and turned to face the big man, fire in her eyes.
The big, brown-eyed, blonde man smiled the kind of big toothed grin that reminded her of a wild predatory animal bearing its fangs, prior to an attack.
“Whatsa matter baby, doncha like bein’ touched? A pretty filly like you should like to be touched,” he drawled, derisively and slightly drunkenly, both coupled with an unmistakable Texan accent.
Chuck, who had been making his way across the room with the gray eyed man, increased his speed until he came to stand near Maggie and the big blonde. “Bill, you don’t want to antagonize that lady. Believe me, Billy boy. Apologize, please.”
The gray-eyed man stood beside Chuck.
The man called Bill laughed manner before he placed his hands on Maggie’s waist and lifted her a good three feet off the floor. “Such a pretty littl’ thing. Doncha think that she belongs on a ped’stal? Think that I’ll put’er on one.”
Maggie’s green eyes flashed with anger, as she kicked off her sandals. “What you will do is to put me down, right now.”
“Maggie, please,” Chuck pleaded. “He was retired with a bad knee. Be careful. You could put him into a chair, or worse, for a long time. Be careful. For God’s sake.”
“I’ll try not to hurt him, seriously,” Maggie assured Chuck quietly, with a confidence in her voice that obviously sent chills down the spines of several of the people surrounding them.
Bill simply laughed. His smile, like his laugh, was thoroughly obnoxious. He looked over at Chuck. “This filly couldn’t hurt a fly.”
“Put me down, now,” Maggie replied firmly, “And you will never have to find out just how wrong you were about that.”
“You ain’t in no position to demand nuthin’, little darlin’,” the man called Bill drawled quietly.
“I’m not your darling, little or otherwise,” Maggie replied sharply. “Please put me down.”
Bill’s hands tightened painfully around her waist. “Good. Never liked ‘em little,” Bill replied. “You’re jus’ ‘bout right.”
“Am I now?” Maggie replied tightly, with the barest hint of amusement in her voice. “Put me down, big man. This is your last warning.”
Bill laughed loudly. “Or what?”
“Or I will put you down,” Maggie said.
Bill simply laughed.
Maggie placed her bare feet on his thighs, pinched him hard on the pressure points on the base of his thumbs, and sprang backwards out of his pain-loosened grasp in a series of moves too quick for most people to follow. She landed on the balls of her feet with her feet apart, in a battle stance, as Bill yelped in pain.
Bill held his hurting hands gingerly. He cursed. “You broke my hands!”
“No. Your hands aren’t broken. But, I could have broken them, if I had wanted to. You will be all right in a few moments. Now, you owe me an apology, big man. And you owe me one, now.”
Bill looked at his hands. Then he looked at her, with pure rage in his eyes. He charged at her. She didn’t have time to think. So, she simply reacted. Using his own momentum against him, she grabbed both his wrist and his suit lapel and pivoted, sending the man down to the floor with a perfectly executed floating hip throw. But, she followed through to make certain he didn’t injure himself badly in the landing.
He shouted curses as he went down.
“The bigger they are,” Maggie said tightly, as she quickly stepped back out of the man’s reach, “The harder they fall.”
Several people laughed, but it was a nervous sort of laughter.
“Magpie,” Natty asked softly, “Was that really necessary?”
Maggie turned to her friend. She smiled sheepishly. “Maybe not, but it got my message across. And, after the day I’ve had, that felt good. Sorry, Natty.”
Natalie shook her head. “You certainly know how to liven up a party.”
“Don’t I though?” Maggie responded dryly. “Just the life of the party. One of my many undeniable talents.”
Chuck helped his former team-mate to his feet. “Now, Bill, you owe Maggie an apology, I believe.”
“Sorry if I offended your del’cat sense . . . abilities, ma’am,” Bill drawled.
Maggie’s eyes narrowed as she looked at the big man. He was no more sorry than she was the Queen of Sheba. Maggie made a mental note not to turn her back on the big man, especially if he was holding anything sharper than a wooden spoon. “You certainly like to live dangerously, don’t you, big man?”
He smiled. “S’only way to live. The adren’lin high says you’re alive.”
Maggie returned the smile. She picked up her champagne from the mantle. “May you never regret that philosophy,” she toasted him. “To your continued good health. And to the return of gentlemanly behavior.”
Maggie felt the gray-eyed man’s appraising and approving glance.
“Well, Magpie,” Natalie said dryly. “Now that you’ve called attention to yourself. Why don’t you play for us?”
Maggie laughed as she scooped up her sandals and walked over, still barefoot, to the grand piano. “Is this thing in tune?” she asked quietly.
Natalie laughed. “No. It is a full step out of tune, some of the strings are missing about ever
“What do you want to hear?”
“A collection of Chopin waltzes,” Natalie replied softly.
“Are you sure?”
“Humor a pregnant woman,” Natty suggested with a smile.
“I’m not sure that I would be doing you any favors,” Maggie replied. “It’s been some time since I’ve played for more than my own amusement.”
Her arms felt tired. But, it was weariness borne of her mental, not physical state. Maggie hadn’t played those waltzes for anyone since she had played them in competition. She hadn’t played them at all since her mother had died. Chopin waltzes had been her mother’s favorite music. Frankly, after thirteen years of not playing them, Maggie was surprised that she even remembered the pieces. She was stunned that she had managed to get through them without making horrendous mistakes. There were times that Maggie wondered if she had done the right thing by back-burnering her music.
But, nothing could be gained by questioning past decisions, she told herself.
She went over to the bar to get a drink. Then she met the gray-eyed man whom she had seen earlier.
“That was some move that you put on Bill,” were his first words to her.
She laughed softly. “It was more civilized than the move he put on me.”
“Probably,” Hunt agreed. “Bill has never been known for any degree of finesse in dealing with the ladies.”
“His style is more Neanderthal, than anything else,” she said.
“Well, the Neanderthals did eventually die out,” Hunt said.
“Did they? Well, maybe. But, seeing Bill, I very much doubt it. That man appears to be a case of genetic recidivism. Evolutionists around the world would have a field day with him.”
“I’ve heard of getting picked up, but, that was ridiculous!” she continued with a slight laugh.