The small box, wrapped in brown paper tied with twine, sat on the foyer table—waiting for me when I returned from a late lunch with friends. They left with promises to return later and ruin the party for me. Such good friends I had then. The quicker they raided Evangeline’s special plans, the quicker I could start my new life.
I called out to tell her I was home, but she was either soaking her brain in absinthe or sleeping off an earlier drunk. Servants scurried around the place, preparing. Somewhere deeper in the apartment, duck and pheasant and veal waited to be consumed. My stomach rumbled. Too bad for it my curiosity overwhelmed my appetite.
Grabbing Reggie’s gift, I raced up the grand staircase to my room. I kicked off my Mary Janes and flopped onto the impossibly-girly canopy bed my mother thought proper for a female child. Unconcerned with any black smudges the box left, I pushed it across the silk bedspread Reggie sent from the Orient as last year’s gift and wrestled the twine free. The paper tore away to lay forgotten on a goose-down pillow. Packing material tumbled from the upended box along with a beige envelope.
Reggie’s bold strokes graced the front: To my dearest Daughter. I pushed it aside. Time enough later for his birthday wishes. I took comfort in the certainty his note only contained professions of a father’s love—perhaps along with when he would be home again. I knew he loved me. Whether he actually made it home according to his schedule was a crapshoot.
My eyes centered again on the package’s contents. Peeking hesitantly from the remaining shreds of paper, lay a rosewood box. I didn’t have Reggie’s knowledge of antiques, but I knew a prized piece when I saw it. The carvings were intricate, if a little primitive. The inlays centered in each delicate flower had to be ivory.
I lay there devouring every nook and cranny of its beauty. My fingers itched to trace the designs, but I held back, savoring the visual meal before allowing myself to dive in. I held onto the delicious delay as long as I could, teasing my innate impatience until I couldn’t stand myself anymore. I reached out, caressing the silky wood the way a loving hand might slip tenderly over its lady’s cheek.
A gentle breeze ruffled the bangs across my forehead as I lifted the lid. I stifled my disappointment when I realized the box itself had been my only present. Not that it wasn’t a really lovely gift, I’d just hoped to find at least a necklace nestled in a velvet interior.
“Expecting baubles perhaps, my young Master?” said a voice from behind me. No sooner had the words hit my ears then the box filled with a rainbow’s worth of light and color. I flung the possessed thing away, scattering gems of every size and shape across my bed. A single emerald the size of a walnut teetered on the edge for a second and then dropped, clattering on the floor below.
For an instant I felt torn between lunging for the jewel and seeing who’d entered my bedroom without permission. Self-preservation won out, but it was close. When I eased myself around, a gorgeous boy sat on top of my dressing table. He wasn’t even as old as the boys I played at romancing, so he couldn’t have been a guest—even if the dusky-skinned Mediterranean could’ve made it past my mother’s prejudices.
I narrowed my eyes. “Is this some sort of prank?”
His dark hair fell across his forehead. His darker eyes twinkled in amusement. “Not any I would know of,” he said. Except for a braided vest, he sat before me unclothed from the waist up, giving lie to my earlier impression. He was nothing if not a man. Ebony hair graced muscles I’d only ever read about in dimestore tawdries.
“What are you doing here if this isn’t a joke?”
“I am the surprise you were hoping for when you opened your gift.” He snapped his fingers. All at once my room turned from Victorian virgin to Art Deco dream. “A palace more suited to a woman such as yourself, is it not?”
I scrubbed at my eyes as I wondered whether that scoundrel Wally slipped something into my drink at lunch. The chubby-cheeked bastard fancied himself a regular W.C. Fields. Lord knew he had the girth and the nose for it, but he never was very funny. The more I thought about it, though, the more that I realized, other than these odd hallucinations, I felt fine. Carefully I opened one eye. Everything appeared unchanged.
“Who… What are you?”
His mouth spread into a smile, each tooth an ivory example of perfection. “At least you have brains enough under your silly haircut to ask the right questions.”
Have a gorgeous day, wherever you are. =o)