Selene Devore painstakingly applied too much makeup to her eyes and lips as she stared at her reflection. It was her opinion that less was more, that the fine line between smoky eye and raccoon was only three strokes away. But her reflection demanded more.
“The darker the liner, the more your eye color pops.”
Her eyes were already a deep brown. Still, the shadow did give them a different dimension, and the dark long lashes glued to her lids added some flair.
She stood up in a shimmering red dress that fell in all the right places and thankfully didn’t bunch up in the wrong ones. It sloped between her breasts and showed an unbridled amount of cleavage, hugging her body to mid-thigh. She hadn’t put on the stilettos yet; they would be last.
Turning back to her reflection, they matched in every way; average height, smooth complexion, full lips, brown eyes, and hair that fell in shoulder-length curls. Their breasts were only a half inch off since the last time they checked, but that wouldn’t matter.
“Can we do a belt for this dress or pumps instead of four-inch heels?” Selene asked.
“Selene, how are you going to look like me with a belt or pumps?” her sister Chandra replied impatiently. “Anyone who knows me will know that this dress needs no ornament. And pumps? Sis, we’re not going to church.”
“I’m not completely positive that we need to do this,” Selene said.
They hadn’t played bait and switch since…well six months ago. But that time had been more important—with extenuating circumstances.
“How will I get Pierre’s attention if I miss him? This way whether he’s at Titans or Rochelle’s, it’s a win-win.”
Pierre Broussard was Chandra’s on-again off-again. A debonair French man who didn’t need anyone to tell him he was the cat’s meow.
“Then why are you going to Titans?” Selene mocked offense. “I could just as well dance the night away than sit at some stuffy party and smile till my lips fall off for a bunch of people I care nothing about.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Chandra primped her hair. “What would you do with a man like Pierre at a nightclub?” She laughed. “Look. If he’s at the club then we will certainly dance the night away. And if he’s at Rochelle’s dinner, then he will be perfectly happy talking about mundane things until we swap out. Either way, I plan to be rolling under the Eiffel Tower tonight.”
Selene sat on Chandra’s oversized bed to slip on the four-inch heels. “But what if I see him and he doesn’t want to have meaningless conversation? What if he wants to take me home before we swap, whatever shall I do?” she asked tonelessly.
Chandra gave her a wicked smile. “Go with him if you like. He certainly has more staying power than Smithfield. And it would do wonders for the drought you’re in.”
Selene rolled her eyes. Chandra knew there was no way that she would go home with Pierre. They hadn’t even had to make a pact about it. It was apparent early on that they were just attracted to different types of men. While Pierre could sweep any girl off her feet, Selene thought the flash was way too over the top. Like Chandra’s type, he was so good-looking and sought after that men like him wouldn’t look twice in her direction. Carefree was perfect for Chandra but Selene needed a man in the other arena. She had thought Lionel Smithfield was that guy, but in the end he was fast, fun, and not much else.
“Okay, snap out of it. I’m sorry I brought him up. We’ve got to go.” Chandra said, rushing them down the winding staircase, taking each step like a pro. Selene gripped the railing for fear of falling on her unsteady heels as they rounded the corner into William Devore’s study.
“Daddy, we’re going to Rochelle’s party now.” Chandra said innocently.
“Okay, you girls be careful. Tell Senator Locke I send my regards.” Their father gave them a level look over his square reading glasses. “And make sure the driver drops you off at the front door. You are not to be walking the streets.”
“We’ll be careful, Daddy. Love you.” Chandra piped sweetly.
Selene followed in Chandra’s wake as her sister backed out of the room and headed for the front doors with a grace that she could only hope to emulate.
Selene found the bar as fast as she could. She steadied her hands on the smooth leather border and fought desperately to keep her composure. Her hope had been that no one noticed her frantic entrance, but she wore the only bold red dress in the room, and it shimmered like rubies held up to light.
She almost wilted when her behind slid over a stool, taking the pressure off her feet. How often did they do this? If she counted, it would be a pretty high number, including adolescence. Recently, though it hadn’t been an issue. That is, until her need to break from Lionel Smithfield, and now her sister’s revived obsession with Pierre.
Selene fretted and ran a shaky hand over her frame. Obviously, the dress was supposed to catch Pierre’s eye, but did it have to catch everyone’s? Selene was reclusive and cautious by nature; Chandra was the one more fitted for the meet-and-greet atmosphere.
She had passed thru the dining room and tried not to appear the virgin event-goer. Her attention swayed with the room, so alive with conversation and music that she almost forgot to acknowledge Chandra’s friends holding champagne glasses to their lips and probably analyzing everyone in the room.
“What can I get for you, Red?”
Selene’s eyes flew to the bartender as he smiled appreciatively.
“An apple martini, please,” she replied, flattered.
He moved away, taking her gaze with him and Selene knew it would be a long night. This outfit—Chandra’s outfit, from the dress’ color and revealing neckline, to the makeup and shoes—screamed ready and willing. It was no wonder that she piqued the bartender’s interest.
Selene resolved not to get worked up by him. She wasn’t herself, and any attention or interest he bestowed would be complimentary to Chandra. Had she been herself, there wouldn’t have been a second look.
The bartender returned with the wide-brimmed glass and when he opened his mouth, all Selene heard was, “You do know how to make a statement.”
She closed her eyes, thankful that the voice wasn’t masculine.
Rochelle Locke slid over a stool and motioned for the bartender to get her a drink as well. Rochelle was Chandra’s best friend and daughter to Senator Locke. The stakes had just gotten higher. Selene could look like Chandra in her sleep. They were identical twins, split from the same egg and nurtured in the same womb. It was the poise and utter confidence Chandra wore like second skin that Selene could not emulate.
Selene curled her lips playfully and spoke with more confidence than she felt. “What can I say? I don’t want to be missed.”
“Girl, if Pierre misses you in that number, he’s blind. He will definitely want to get you home and out of that dress as soon as he gets here.”
Selene watched the bartender set a martini in front of Rochelle and prayed she wouldn’t have to subject herself to compliments meant for her sister. She didn’t even wish she had a guy like Pierre to go home with. In a room full of strutting tuxedos with one hand in their pockets and a glass of silky brown liquid in the other, she was stealing looks at the bartender!
“Anyway.” Rochelle reclaimed her attention. “We had a good turnout. Don’t you think? Daddy is really pleased.”
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said saucily. “Especially if a certain Frenchman appears.”
“You catch all the breaks.” Rochelle bumped her shoulder. “Anyway, I think it’s cool you came out…you know, this reminding you of your mother and all.”
Selene shrugged and sipped her drink. She couldn’t bring herself to copy what Chandra would do with that statement.
“Four o’clock and don’t look obvious,” Rochelle whispered.
Selene scanned to the right of the room. To her relief it wasn’t Pierre. The man Rochelle alluded to was very…well…damn, with short-cropped hair and barely-there goatee. He had to be taller than she was in heels with broad shoulders that just anchored the package. He could have been sleeping for all the attention he gave to the room as he stood against the wall.
“Daddy bought him for me,” Rochelle bragged.
“He did what?” Selene whipped around slack-jawed.
“Not like that. Well, not yet. He’s here to help our security people. Isn’t he simply divine? He could definitely give your Pierre a run for his money.”
Selene was taken back that Rochelle referred to him like a side of steak. She looked forward and caught his form out the corner of her eye. He had lazy dark eyes, a strong chin, and chest that filled out his tux impeccably. He blended, almost. Where Pierre had a soft debonair flair, this man had an edge that was definitely hard and probably all over. And also unlike Pierre’s long frame, his was thicker, with more muscle. Selene let out a little bubble of laughter despite trying to remain cool. She was just as bad as Rochelle.
“So what are you going to do with him?”
There was no mistaking the predatory smile. “Seduce him, of course.”
“Well, good luck. He looks all business.”
“He is. It’s going to take all my tricks to land that one.” Rochelle sucked in her bottom lip.
Against her usual monogamous sensibilities, Selene could see why Rochelle wanted just a night or two with him. His body, if nothing else, was superb. Wow…she needed to stop drinking.
Selene swirled her martini glass and changed the subject. “I’m in a seductive mood myself.”
“I haven’t seen Pierre. Did you know there were rumors of him going to Titans tonight?”
“Yeah, I’m hedging my bets here though.”
“Well, if he doesn’t show in the next couple minutes, go to Titans and I’ll text you if he turns up.”
“Thanks.” Selene said.
Rochelle looked up sharply and cursed. “I see Anna Rexi. Let me go say hi and make sure she doesn’t end up getting thin in my bathroom. There were rumors at Alita’s father’s party and it was scandalous.”
Selene held her snort as Rochelle hopped off the stool with her usual refined grace.
Once again, Selene scanned the room for Pierre, and was relieved she didn’t have to play the seductive yet aloof female until her sister showed up. Even though Pierre could charm any woman out of her hose, she wasn’t desperate enough to roll in compliments meant for Chandra.
Unintentionally, her focus narrowed on the dark figure against the wall. He wasn’t moving—he could very well not be breathing for how still he appeared—until she found herself being swallowed up in his lazy browns. Those eyes warmed her insides faster than a struck match. For seconds, maybe minutes, his gaze seemed intent on her until she turned back to the bar, hiding the blush in her cheeks. While his body and skin rivaled Pierre, the cut of his cheeks and the hard lines of his face made him appear the most dangerous man. Literally and figuratively.
“Anything else for you, Red?” the bartender asked.
“Oh, no. Thanks. Losing your inhibitions in this crowd would be social suicide.” She smiled, watching him take her glass. She must have really consumed a lot because the bartender still looked intriguing, yet the attraction she felt at first had been serendipitously transferred to the warm dark eyes she felt at her back from the corner of the room.
“This is for you.” He slid a card to her. “If you ever want to go for that second drink.”
Selene smiled and slipped the card in her clutch. She had no intention of calling him, when her phone chimed.
Found my man. Thanks Sis. Ooh la la.
Relief that Selene hadn’t felt all evening washed over her. The night was over and she could get back to normal. The party had thinned out anyway. One quick stop to the restroom on the second floor and she would be ten steps from the front door. Ten steps to freedom.
Having been in the Locke’s home a few times before Selene didn’t need to ask where the restrooms were. In fact, since she was Chandra, she wouldn’t use the room designated for the festivities. Chandra would use one on the second floor.
Minutes later, back on the foyer floor, Selene noticed that the jovial sounds of the party had died down. She flicked her cell, to check the time, and looked up.
The back of her hand went to her mouth before she could scream.
Selene crouched low behind the arched wall between the foyer and dining room. A dark bodybuilder-sized man and the bartender, both wielding guns, held the party hostage; gathering what was left of the crowd into one area.
The big one spoke in a voice befitting his stature. “My name is Bear. This is Sin.” He motioned to the bartender. “We just need to ask you good folks a couple questions and most of you will be on your way.”
Briefly Selene wondered why they didn’t wear masks to hide their identity as the small crowd formed a single-file line. The windows were open, the curtains were drawn, and everything was in plain sight. It made no sense.
Her best option would be to somehow get out the front door undetected. It was only a few feet from the stairwell; she just had to get across the doorway without being noticed.
But there was no way she could get to the front door without making a sound. As quietly as she could, Selene slipped off her heels and shrank back against the wall.
She should have run back up the stairs in the beginning to call 911 but it was too late. The massive man, with forearms twice the size of her legs, backed out the doorway, leading the procession. Panicked, Selene reached into her clutch and pulled out a miniature can of mace. It was old, probably expired, but she carried it anyway.
When they had turned twenty-one, their father had bought each of them a small canister when he realized Chandra was often out well into the early morning. It would have been prudent to tell him that her partying had begun four years earlier, but that was neither here nor there.
Three deep breaths later, she waited for the big man to back out behind the wall a little more. She had the element of surprise, plus the bartender wasn’t close enough to catch her. She would use the big man’s body as a shield. It could work. By the time they figured out what was going on she would be able to get beyond the front doors and gain a limo driver’s attention.
Selene took a step and the body builder’s head turned in her direction. She panicked and sprayed blindly at his massive form. He growled and blinked against the opaque mist but didn’t move. Her window of opportunity shrank as she rushed past him for the door. Gold door handles narrowed with her vision as she got closer. Her fingers grazed the polished metal, then she was lifted off the ground and crushed between a hard chest and two beefy arms.
The pressure on her ribs made white stars glitter behind her eyelids. Panic welled and she couldn’t even scream.
“Turn her loose.”
Selene heard the order but didn’t recognize the dark-hued voice that reverberated throughout the room. The pressure ceased. If she weren’t then grasped into equally strong yet smaller arms, she would have collapsed to the floor.
Panic rose again.
She was no longer being restrained. As she panted, replacing the lost air in her lungs, the arms around her lessened by degrees. She could move. Selene carefully regained her balance and opened her eyes to a solid chest before glancing up into lazy brown eyes. Minutes ago he was a shadow, and even now he didn’t move, just held her close.
Suddenly a faint sound of clapping echoed beyond the wall and then rose into a little roar. Confused, Selene twirled in his arms to see what was left of those striking tuxedos and sophisticated women giving her a standing ovation.