Other than it being extremely hectic, the week passed uneventfully. Joanie, of course, was more organized than she realized. The white stitching on the navy pantsuit looked classy, and the beadwork on the emerald evening dress, chic. All her other designs; the black, zip-up Lycra pantsuit, the brown and taupe striped bomber jacket with matching stretch mini-skirt, the black sequin bolero over a flaming red strapless silk midi, were in the final stages of completion before the pre-rehearsal fitting later that afternoon. And of course the body-hugging, toffee-toned cocktail dress with layered chiffon overlay in lavender, the event favorite, was being fussed-over by Allan, Joanie’s personal design assistant, who recently came on-board to help Sara and Brandy out. All her favorite models, those who Joanie had used many times in the past, were at the ready. Hair and make-up were lined up.
Joanie took a gulp of coffee and set the mug down beside her laptop, careful to place it on a stable surface. She didn’t need a spill and computer meltdown now.
“Wow, Jo Jo, this is the first time in weeks I’ve seen you stationary, and drinking your coffee while it’s still hot.” Ruth plopped herself down in the chair beside her friend. Joanie laughed.
“And it’s the first time I’ve seen you laugh out-loud in ages too. Good lord, what’s next?”
“C’mon Ruthie, give me a break. You’d be just the same way if you were in my shoes.”
“No. I’d be worse. So, what’s the deal for tomorrow? Is Mr. Perfect bringing you down here with his driver? You know, you’re not allowed to be here until show-time. Bad luck, or something.”
“His name is Jake, and yes, he’s bringing me. We probably won’t show up till just after seven. I want to wait until the place fills up a little.”
“Good idea. Be a little mysterious.”
The next morning Joanie awoke to grey skies and a light drizzle. She picked up the phone and dialed.
“I hope this weather isn’t an omen for how the evening is going to go,” Joanie said into the receiver.
“Now, what kind of attitude is that for a professional fashion designer to have on the day of the big event?” Jake reprimanded jokingly. “I like to think a black cat running across the road, or a person walking under a ladder is good luck, so a few clouds and a little rain should be considered excellent.”
“God, Jake. Are you ever a rotten person?” Joanie teased back.
“Ha ha. So, you know today is your last day operating solo for a while – I hope a long while. Enjoy yourself.”
“I plan to. Everything is ready. I don’t want to know if something goes wrong today. My team can deal with it.”
“Atta girl,” Jake replied jovially.
“I’m off to the spa, then to get my hair done, and time’s a wasting. I better get a move-on. See you at six?”
At five p.m. Joanie’s phone rang. Dabs of face cream sat upon her cheeks and forehead, and her hair was loosely wrapped around several large, foam rollers that bobbled when she moved her head. She was naked except for a damp, white towel secured over of her breasts.
“Hello? Hello?” It was quiet on the other end, then she heard a click.
At five-thirty her phone rang again.
“Shit,” she mumbled, as she ran to answer it. Her dress was pulled halfway up her body. One sheer black nylon stocking was on and attached to a garter, while the other one sat puddled around her ankle.
“Hello? Hello? Who’s there?” Again, no one spoke, and after a few seconds Joanie heard the familiar click of a phone being hung-up.
“I’d dial *69 to find out who’s pulling this stunt, but I don’t have the time,” Joanie said aloud to no one. “Damn them.”
She finished dressing, other than the back zipper and clasp that she needed Jake to do-up for her, and slipped on her Jimmy Choo’s buckling the thin gold strap. She touched up her make-up and applied fresh lipstick, running her lips carefully down her index finger to remove any color residue, then wiped her front teeth with a cotton pad. As she blotted, the phone rang again.
“Who is this? Why do you keep calling?”
“Hey babe, it’s me. I’m downstairs. Are you okay?” Hearing Jake’s voice, Joanie relaxed.
“Sorry, Jake. It’s just someone has been calling and hanging up. I thought that’s who it was again now. I really hate that, and I’m not in the mood for pranks tonight.”
“I don’t blame you. This is your night, babe. So, are you ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be. I’ll be right down.”
Joanie took one more look in the mirror, put her compact, lipstick and small perfume bottle into her clutch, carefully draped her faux-fox over her shoulders and stepped out of her apartment and into the elevator. On opening the double doors from the apartment lobby to the street outside, she was greeted by Jon, Jake’s chauffeur, looking smart in top hat and tails.
“Ms. Scott,” he greeted, bowing his head and gesturing with the sweep of his arm. He held the door of the white limousine open for Joanie to climb in. When she did, there sat Jake, all smiles, wearing nothing but a black bowtie, holding out a glass of chilled champagne. In his lap, covering just enough to matter, sat a silver ice bucket with a bottle of Moët & Chandon sticking out. He looked cold.
Joanie howled, took the glass from his hand and sipped. Bubbles tickled her nose and burned down her throat. It was delicious.
“This is scrumptious, and I’m not talking about the champagne.”
“Glad you approve but, despite the fun-factor, this is to be continued after our evening.” “Can we just have a little playtime?”
“Ha.” Jake placed the ice bucket on the mini-bar, revealing a frigid, limp non-erection. “Sorry to disappoint,” he said, looking dismally down between his legs. “But for now, if you don’t mind, I need to get dressed. I’m freezing.” Nonetheless, he leaned toward Joanie, burrowed his face into her neck and softly inhaled her scent. He felt the arousal instantly.
They arrived at the hotel as planned, just past seven. Now dressed in a classic black tux with satin waistband, Jake looked sexier than ever. He opened the black divider that separated the cab of the limo from the back seats.
“Give us a minute, will you Jon?” Then he discreetly closed it again. He pulled two boxes, tied with taupe satin ribbon, from the mini-bar fridge. One held a cream-colored rose wrist corsage, the other, a boutonnière of the same color.
“This is a very special day for you, Ms. Scott, and I am honored to share it with you.” He gently attached the wristlet around Joanie’s left wrist, picked up her hand and kissed it.
“I didn’t want to poke pin-holes into your gorgeous dress, or mess with your lipstick, so I’ll be kissing your hand a lot tonight. But just wait till the festivities are over, my pretty…”
Joanie hoisted the fitted floor-length gown up above her slender thighs to reveal black-seamed stockings held up by a red and black lace garter. She took his hand and ran it up and down her stockinged leg.
“I will be waiting, don’t you worry about that.” Jake bent down and kissed the warm, soft skin of her inner thigh, just below the lace garter, then sat back up. He composed himself, picked up their two champagne glasses and handed Joanie hers.
“Congratulations, to my shining star.” They clinked.
“I haven’t won anything you know, and I don’t know if I will. I’m up against stiff competition.”
“Do I care whether you win or lose? You’re still my shining star. Besides, you’ve won me, and I’ve won you. That’s all that matters to me.”
“Oh, to heck with the lipstick.” Joanie hiked-up her dress past her thighs, climbed onto Jake’s lap straddling him, and planted her lips on his. They kissed, long and hard. She could feel him getting aroused again so she continued, teasing just enough until he eased her away.
“Whoa there hot stuff. I’d love to keep going and forget we had an engagement tonight but…”
Jake leaned in for one final peck, while Joanie slithered off his lap and onto the leather seat. “All in good time, my pretty, all in good time.”
They arrived to a crowd of people milling around outside the hotel. Joanie was nervous. Jake had done a good job distracting her on the drive to the event, but now butterflies were fluttering in the pit of her stomach. Jake took her arm in his as they exited the limo, and proudly escorted her past the throngs into the front foyer of the grand Mark II. Once inside, it was all kisses and handshakes from the design team, waiting by the door. Ruth and Carlyle were there too, as was the press, anxious for an interview with the hottest new designer in this year’s awards ceremony – Joanie Scott.
Jake stood by her side at all times, shooing away the riff-raff, protecting his newest protégé. But it wasn’t just that. Jake was falling in love. He couldn’t yet admit it to Joanie, and now was certainly not the time, but Joanie had done something to him, and when he least expected it. He had realized weeks earlier that it wasn’t about the fashion anymore, or the prestige of discovering the newest designer bound for fame. He had realized she was something special, and he hadn’t even been looking. In fact, in all his years of being the aloof, man-about-town, keeping a safe distance from attachment or commitment or love, here he was, buckling under the spell of one dynamic, charming, beautiful temptress with a heart of gold. And he was not about to let her go.
“Ms Scott,” a woman’s voice called from behind. Joanie turned around to see a gigantic bouquet of at least two dozen white roses and a dozen lilies. She turned to Jake and smiled. Jake looked stunned.
“I wish I could take credit, darlin’, but I can’t. Is there a card?” Joanie looked and saw a small cardboard square attached to a plastic stick that poked out from among the flowers. She reached up to grab it, while Jake moved in closer so he could read it with her. Allan, Ruth and Carlyle squeezed in to close their tight circle off from the growing number of press that had descended on the group. Flustered and excited, Joanie read the card aloud:
To my Jo Jo. I’m so proud of you! Break a leg. I love you. xo
...Stay tuned...Chapter 11 will be posted next Tuesday, May 31.