The Secret Baby, page 3
I try to look over my shoulder without the man noticing. I don’t want to lose track of the woman again, but if there’s a chance of him recognizing me, I don’t want to create a scene. The last thing I need is him thinking I’m being rude.
“From what I’ve seen so far, I like it,” I tell him. “But it’s only my first day.”
“I thought so. You’ve got that tourist look about you.”
Perfect. He doesn’t know who I am. He’s just part of the welcome wagon.
“Yep, that’s me.” I pat him on the shoulder. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to keep looking around. Maybe grab a drink.”
He nods and starts to say something, but before he gets his mouth open, I turn and slip between people in the direction of the last place I spotted the young woman. Yet again, she has disappeared. This is starting to feel like a hunt, and I’m determined to find my treasure.
Finally, I see her through the crowd. Her sweet red lips are no longer smiling. Instead, they are drawn down at the corners in a tense frown. One arm is behind her, and when a large man wearing a vibrant yellow, feathered mask steps out of the way, I see it’s because someone has hold of her.
The man has a tight grip on her wrist and seems to be trying to pull her to him. His mouth is moving, but the sounds of the ball absorb his words, so I can’t tell what he’s saying to her. He doesn’t relent when she snaps back at him, and a protective instinct rushes up inside me. I force my way across the floor toward them. She’s managed to pull her arm free of him by the time I get close, but the other man isn’t giving up.
Putting myself in between them, I face the man, squaring my chest to him and blocking his way to her. She steps behind me, seemingly relieved to be out of his line of vision. I don’t understand why she’s alone. I thought she was standing with other people when I first saw her, but now she’s on her own.
Not wanting to make her any more uncomfortable than she obviously already is, I resist the urge to pick the man up, throw him over my shoulder, and toss him out the door. Instead, I lean closer to him.
“Leave,” I say in a low tone, just loud enough for him to hear the seriousness in my voice, but not so loud that others will notice.
He doesn’t resist, but rather tries to look around me in hopes of seeing the woman. I glare at him like I mean business, and it causes him to immediately back away. I wait until he slinks out of sight before turning back around to her. She isn’t right behind me, but thankfully, I don’t have to go on a long search for her this time. I find her a few steps away, standing by the edge of a refreshment table.
One of her hands rests on the edge of the table as if to stabilize herself, while the other hand lifts a glass to her lips. She turns around and lowers the glass without taking a sip. Her eyes meet mine, and heat smolders between us. My body wants hers. I’ve never heard her voice. I don’t know her name. But it doesn’t matter. The draw I feel to her is an intense, primal craving that I need to fulfill.
Her fingers relent easily as I take the glass from them. Not taking my eyes off her, I bring the glass to my lips and let some of the effervescent champagne glide across my tongue. I dip my fingers into the glass and withdraw one of the plump red pomegranate seeds dancing in the bubbles.
Her lips part as I bring it closer to her mouth, letting me slip the seed onto her tongue. Setting the glass on a waiter’s tray as he passes, I offer her my hand. Her long, slender fingers are cool and soft as they rest on my palm so I can guide her to the dance floor.
We melt into the midst of dozens of others dancing, and although we’re surrounded by people, my focus is totally on her. I rest her hand on my shoulder and let my fingertips glide down her arm, continuing down her body and along the sides of her ribs. My hand comes to rest on the small of her back, and I draw her closer to me so that the front of her body just grazes mine.
My other hand takes hers, and I guide us in a dance.
I don't know how I got here, but I'm not arguing with it. Even if I wanted to, I don't think I have it in me to pull away. From the moment the man in the red mask stepped into the room, he was all I could think about. He has transfixed me, and I can't help but be drawn to him. Without a word, he has me captivated, and I'm fully under his spell.
This is exactly where I want to be. His strong hands hold me close to him with the same confidence and strength that sent Chad retreating like a scared little boy, and I feel safe and unguarded even though I don’t know who he is.
My mind has already given up trying to identify him, but then his fingertips touch my lips, and the sweetness of the pomegranate seed bursts like a sinful promise on my tongue. It doesn’t matter who he is. His mask shrouds him in mystery, entangling me in a way where I can’t bring myself to step away. The music that has been drifting through the space no longer seems like its own entity. Instead, the melodies respond to the man holding me in his arms, the movements of his body creating the notes as he glides me effortlessly across the floor.
My heart pounds in response to his hand holding mine, and his touch on my back is beyond exhilarating. His fingertips slide up just far enough to slip over the back of my dress and brush my skin. It sends a shiver along my body, and my belly tightens. I’ve never felt my body respond this way, and his touch is intoxicating.
His head lowers very slowly, and suddenly, his lips settle on the side of my neck. I lose myself in the sultry music, the sway of his body, and the touch of his kiss melding into sheer, visceral pleasure. There’s only one neglected sense, but he soon completes the immersion, dipping the tip of his tongue between my lips. He does so just far enough to sweep the tip of his tongue over my top lip, like he’s sampling my taste.
He closes the space between us even more, and he catches my bottom lip in his teeth, scraping them over the delicate skin just enough for the sensation to draw me out of a velvety fog. His hand slides up and along my spine. From there, it passes between my bare shoulder blades and ultimately rests on the back of my neck. Cupping it firmly, he tilts my head back to kiss the front of my throat, followed by a soft peck on the tender underside of my chin, bringing his mouth back to my lips. His mouth hovers just close enough for his breath to slip between my lips, so it feels like I’m drawing it into mine with every breath I take.
I’m aware of the people around us. Most of Vidalia Isle is here on the dance floor with us, but I don’t care. I’m too hungry for more of the sweet champagne taste of his mouth, as well as the shivery, uncontrollable rush of this need for him, to care if people are watching us. I’ll hide behind my mask and soak in the indulgence of pretending I’m someone else, if only for the evening.
The man’s mouth hovers at a distance just far enough away from kissing me—for a torturous second, I think he'll step closer, but that's right before he steps back. One of his hands lets go of my neck, but the other stays entwined with mine so he can guide me with him through the other guests and toward the back door of the barn. The crowd thins the farther back we go, becoming only a few scattered people behind the building.
The couples are lost in each other, letting us move past them without them taking any notice, and we disappear into the shadows of the building. As we rush toward an enclosed gazebo, the man turns and sweeps me up against him. The movement takes me off my feet as he spins us, and in the same motion of him lowering me to my feet, his mouth catches mine.
Our lips press against each other', my tongue reaching toward his, and they tangle hungrily. We’re seeking something, but the kiss is not enough. He pulls his mouth away from mine, and we continue toward the gazebo. My mind is spinning, my thoughts too fast and fractured to follow them. How many drinks did I sip my way through?
They were deceptive. All the dizzying alcohol had dressed up in its own costume of playful bubbles and delicious approachability. From the frothy blue cocktail, to the creamy something-or-other that tasted like pumpkin pie dissolved in bourbon, and the sexy, elegant drink with
The gazebo creates a barrier between us and the party. It gives us just enough of an illusion of privacy that the thought of protesting doesn’t cross my mind when he guides me down onto one of the benches lining the inside of the gazebo walls. He kneels down in front of me and kisses me again as his hands push my skirt up to my hips, exposing my thighs to the cool of the air.
It’s still warm enough that I’m comfortable, but the slight dip in temperature creates another layer of sensation that feels primal and intense, like it has broken free from somewhere held tight within me. All I know is that this feeling won’t relent, and I’ve never felt this way with Chad.
His fingers run up my thighs possessively until he finds my panties. I know he can feel how wet they are, and his growl confirms it. Without hesitation, his fingers pull the damp cloth aside, and I cry out as his fingers start to circle my center. I arch my back, and my thighs open that much further as he plunders my mouth with his tongue.
I’m already teetering on the edge, but he doesn’t let me topple over yet. Instead, he pushes back and takes me by my hands, pulling me to my feet. Pushing me back against the wall, he crushes his mouth over mine again. His hand sweeps down over my hip and grabs the back of my thigh so he can lift it to his side. My knee bends at his hip, and I hook my leg around his. The pressure of his cock nudges against my throbbing pussy, and I bite down into his bottom lip, digging my fingers into his thick head of hair.
I’m still riding the incredible high of what I just experienced when nearby laughter makes his mouth quickly pull away from where it was just playing languidly against mine. Our heads snap toward the voices.
“I love this gazebo,” a woman giggles. “It’s adorable. So old-timey with the twinkling lights and ivy.”
“Have you ever been in there?” a man asks in a voice that says he’s thinking about anything but benches lining the walls.
Footsteps on the gravel surrounding the gazebo spur me into action. Scrambling away from the masked man who is decidedly not a stranger any longer, I adjust my gown as reality starts sinking in faster than anything.
The people coming toward us might be tourists who will never show their faces in Vidalia Isle again, but they may also be inhabitants of the village who will likely notice. If so, I'll never be able to make eye contact with them again. I take one last look at my companion and run back toward the barn.
“Where the hell did you go?”
Sebastian’s voice startles me as I slip back in through the door. The lights seem brighter against my eyes now that they had adjusted to the darkness, and the music and voices seem much louder. Everything is more vibrant and real now that all the cloudiness is gone from my mind.
“I stepped outside for some fresh air,” I tell him. “Where did you go?”
“Sky and I went to dance, remember? You said you didn’t want to, but Skylar has been practicing for weeks, and I couldn’t let her down. We came back for you, but you disappeared.”
“Yeah… I ran into Chad.”
His face falls, and I take it as an opportunity to pull him away from the door. I don’t want to be standing there when the masked man comes back inside.
“Chad?” Seb asks. “He’s actually here? I hadn’t seen him, so I thought he wised up and stayed away.”
“What did he say?”
“Just more of the same. Life is empty without me. His world is a bleak and miserable place. I complete him, and there’s a piece missing that will never be filled by anyone else.” My eyes flicker to the door and back to Seb. “Can we go?”
“Are you okay?”
I nod with perhaps a tad too much enthusiasm.
“Yep. Fine. I just feel like I’ve had my fill of the ball. It was great, really. I just need to get back to the bed-and-breakfast.”
“I’m still really sorry about that whole not-knowing-his-name thing,” Seb says regretfully.
I really don’t have any room to talk on the whole don’t-know-his-name front anymore.
“Well, Skylar is trying to manipulate sweet Miss Betty into giving up her pumpkin pie recipe so she can steal it for Thanksgiving this year, so she’s probably still over near the refreshment table.”
“I didn’t know she was close enough to pinch a recipe from her.”
“She’s not,” Sebastian says. “But according to her, since her cousin, Carla, is dating Joel, whose brother, Andrew, is married to Miss Betty’s niece, Julie, they are practically family, so she should be allowed.”
I’m still working on connecting the dots when we finally make it to the tables. Miss Betty isn’t around, but Skylar seems to have transferred her attention to Julie.
“She hasn’t mentioned it? Not even once? Over knitting or Thanksgiving dinner or anything?” Skylar asks.
“I’m sorry,” Julie says. “Aunt Betty is very protective of her pumpkin pie recipe.
“But she has to have—”
“Skylar!” Seb calls out in an overly cheerful voice. “Time to go.”
“Tell Miss Betty I’ll see her at the next family reunion,” Skylar says before making her way around the side of the table to us. “What’s wrong?” she asks.
“It’s just time to go,” Seb says, looping his arm through hers.
“Knitting or Thanksgiving Dinner?” I ask.
“It’s what they do, Avery.” She looks at Seb. “Why are we leaving so fast?”
“Avery is tired and wants to get back to the B&B to check on her new guest.”
Skylar eyes me up and down. “Avery met someone.”
We stop in our tracks.
“What?” Seb asks.
“Why would you say that?” I ask. I’m hoping my voice sounds scandalized and convincing, but it comes out leaning more toward Minnie Mouse.
“Am I wrong?” she asks.
“Alright, we’re just going to keep on moving,” Seb says. “That woman who keeps trying to start a society page in the newspaper is listening, and I just saw her take out her pen.”
Oh, dear lord. Seb always said it was going to happen and now it is. My love life is going to be front-page news.
We scurry out of the barn and notice a line of wagons lined up in front to offer hayrides back into the village. The night is beautiful, and usually, I wouldn’t mind the stroll back to Hometown Bed And Breakfast, but tonight, I want to minimize the time spent with my two best friends. I need some time to think through the events of this evening before I have to tell them about it.
Fortunately, two couples climb into the nearest hayride with us, so Sebastian and Skylar can’t continue the conversation. Sitting in between the two of them, I can feel them staring at me as if they hope we’ll spontaneously develop the ability to communicate with our minds. When we get to the bed-and-breakfast without the telepathy setting in, I say goodnight and run into the house as fast as my spiked heels will let me.
The house is quiet. My last guest checked out yesterday so I could have extra time to prepare for future guests, but with the arrival of the mystery guest, I’m not as alone as I initially prepared to be. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, I have a quick debate with myself. A gown and peacock feathers in my hair isn’t exactly the way I want the blogger to encounter me for the first time. At the same time, not being greeted by the owner on the night of arrival sounds like something he’d want to splash all over a review.
I could go check the information Sebastian put into the computer when he checked him in, but it really wouldn’t do me much good. The Traveler’s True GPS, besides having a terrible name, is written anonymously. I wouldn’t recognize his name, even if I did see it, but it seems too convenient for this man to show up unexpectedly, not to mention immediately after the rumors began to swirl about GPS traveling through this area. This guest has to be him, which
Taking off my mask and smoothing my dress, I make my way to the door of the room the new guest is using. There’s no Do Not Disturb sign hanging on the knob, so I knock. After a few seconds without any response, I knock a little harder. There’s still no response, and I glance down to see that there isn't any light shining from the gap under the door. It’s not an exact science, but a lifetime of helping my grandparents run this place has taught me a few tricks, and one of them is that people hate being in the dark in unfamiliar places. Even sweet little bed-and-breakfasts. They’ll do anything they can to sneak a little extra light into the room, even if they are sleeping.
It's always one thing or another. The bathroom door stays open. A lamp stays lit. Some even occasionally bring along their own nightlight — anything it takes to not force them to be in total darkness in the unfamiliar space. If there is absolutely no light coming from a room, it is most likely because no one is there.
I guess he was serious when he said he’d be out for the night. I’m not sure what to think of that. He’s supposed to be here reviewing Hometown Bed And Breakfast. Why would he swing in long enough to drop his stuff, only to disappear out into Vidalia Isle? Some of his reviews include suggestions for what to do in the area, usually as an alternative to spending extra time in the inns he considers so abysmal, but he didn’t even have a chance to look around my B&B. He couldn’t possibly already think so low of it that he’s searching for how to get out of it. But, it's either that, or I’m just the unlucky one who caught him in a bad mood.
Giving up, I head upstairs to my room and reluctantly take off the gown, feeling like the clock has struck midnight. At least I get to keep both shoes.
I climb into bed after a hot shower with the masked man on my mind. The feeling of his body near mine, and against mine hasn’t faded, but the passionate heat and lingering drinks that took away my ability to think clearly have. I fall asleep wondering who the man was… and if I really want to know. Maybe he should just remain the stranger with the mask.