Into the Spider's Web Part IV
If I’d had a fan, I would have giggled girlishly behind it and tossed out a quick “Fiddle-dee-dee”, but I didn’t. Not like it would have gone with the costume anyway. That would be Scarlett O’Hara, not Cleopatra. So I did the next best thing. Staying in character, I gave the object of our surveillance a regal smile, and managed a breathy, “I’ll get back to you on that, sir.”
Well, didn’t my offhand remark have an immediate effect? I was surprised to feel Ethan stiffen beside me—and not in a good way—and for once he didn’t make a smart-ass reply.
Well, well, well, Mr. Thorne does have a jealous bone, doesn’t he?
Meanwhile, the wife’s face had become mottled with very unbecoming red blotches, and she seemed in imminent danger of blowing a head gasket.
I wondered if she’d be angrier or relieved if she knew her husband was actually hitting on a guy wearing a dress?
Ethan, in the meantime, had managed to recover his equilibrium and turned back into his normal charming self. “Thank you so much for inviting my fiancé and me, Mr. and Mrs. Geist. You have a very lovely home.”
If looks could kill, I think Ethan would be dead, judging by the expression on Spider’s face. So would I, for that matter, considering the lasers that beamed at me from Mrs. G’s eyes. I quickly averted my gaze.
Two cauldrons filled with gift bags sat beside Spider. I’d noticed that he’d given something to everyone who’d been ahead of us in line, either from one cauldron or the other. We each received a small novelty bag. I wondered what was the difference between the two? Maybe one was for preferred guests and held a better class of gifts, while the other was for B-listers like us.
Time to blend into the woodwork and take stock of the situation.
“We’re very glad you could attend,” Mrs. Spider was saying in a voice so sharp you could cut yourself on it. We quickly made our excuses and hurried away, allowing other guests to run the gauntlet.
The main event was taking place in a room that could have passed as an airplane hangar. It contained a variety of seating for those guests who preferred not to stand, as well as plenty of room for everyone else to mingle and tangle or whatever you might choose to do in such a crowd. There was even a decent-sized dance floor, and a live, honest-to-goodness band and not a DJ. When these people threw a party, they went all out, apparently. When you lived in La La Land, I guess you had to keep up appearances.
Tables filled with refreshments took up one side of the room, and a bar was set up in the corner. I half expected to see liveried footman in powdered wigs making their appointed rounds. Maybe they had the night off.
Ethan and I stood together, away from everyone. Not that I thought we could be overheard over the music, or the general hubbub of conversation.
A couple passed by us, fluted champagne glasses in hand. I took a second look. There was something very familiar about the guy. I frowned as I tried to think where I might know him from.
“Hey, Wolfy.” I lightly nudged Ethan’s side.
“Yes, Lotta?” he quipped.
“That guy who just walked by us, do you recognize him from anywhere?”
Ethan gave a subtle glance toward the man in question. Luckily, he’d stopped not far away to speak to someone and his profile was turned in our direction.
“You mean the guy with the winning smile talking to the short bald guy?”
I tried not to scowl too much at Ethan’s description. “Yeah, him.”
“Of course I recognize him. His face is all over the tabloids, every time we go to the store. Plus we saw his last movie. You know, the one about the CIA?”
Oh yeah and duh. Damn, I should have realized. It suddenly dawned on me there were a lot of people from the film industry here. Not surprising, considering where we were and who Spider was. Movie stars and criminals seemed to go hand in hand.
“Think any of them are part of what’s going on?”
“Naw, I doubt it. I think they’re just here to hobnob with the criminal element, you know?”
Yeah, I knew what he meant.
Some of Tinseltown’s most famous faces were represented. I tried not to stare. Pretend I wasn’t as impressed as I was. Resist the urge to ask for someone’s autograph.
“Want a drink?” Ethan asked.
I wrinkled my nose. “Probably not a good idea.”
“Afraid Spider might start looking good to you?”
I rolled my eyes and didn’t deign to answer his ridiculous question. “I don’t think it’s likely we’ll see him again, anyway. Not with all the guests he has, and considering we’re the least among them.”
“Oh yeah? Then why is he headed in this direction with that I-want-to-dance look in his eyes.”
“Oh hell and shitfire!” I swore. “Ethan, quick, take me out on the dance floor. Right now!”
“Yes, my queen,” he intoned and I had to refrain from kicking him in the shins—if not a higher location—as that would entirely defeat my purpose. He took me by the hand and we almost raced toward where the other couples were moving and grooving to the beat of the music the band was producing, losing ourselves in their midst. I breathed more easily as we fell into step together.
“You know what I’m thinking? Maybe you should cozy up to Spider a little bit?” Ethan suggested.
I gave him a horrified look. We were doing a two-step to something slow and romantic, and I gazed up into his eyes.
“Maybe he has loose lips? Just a thought, baby.”
Damn, he had a point. “Let’s look around first, see what we can see,” I said, wanting to postpone what appeared to be the inevitable.
“Good idea.” He pulled me closer, our thighs meeting harmoniously as we swayed back and forth. His hands caressed my lower back, and his touch felt so good I had to remind myself we were working.
“Dance over this way a little bit.” Ethan nodded toward one side of the dance floor, the side which was closest to where we’d come in.
“I want to see something. I have a theory.”
I had no choice but to acquiesce to his request, and we two-stepped our way through the rest of the dancers, keeping a wary eye out for Spider, before taking up our new position.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“I just want to see if I can tell any difference between who gets which cauldron.”
“You don’t think it’s a matter of importance? Famous people versus nobodies?”
“I don’t think so. I think there’s more method than that to this madness.”
Since I couldn’t see out of the back of my head, I let Ethan play observer, and I just melted into his arms and enjoyed the dance. All too soon, of course, it ended.
“C’mon, something’s really fishy,” he said. “Let’s head toward the refreshment table, and maybe we can see more from there.” He took my arm in his and escorted me across the floor. I gawked about me as we dove through the throng. Wow, Spider sure knew a whole lot of celebrities.
The refreshment table was stocked with enough food to feed a starving nation. Hot food, cold food, finger food, forked food… Caviar and canapés, an array of different kinds of meat and fish, as well as a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables, pastas and soufflés, and things I couldn’t even begin to identify. I debated whether I should get something to eat just to fit in then decided I didn’t really want anything. I was too keyed up with the adrenaline of being on the job to consider eating.
“Mind if I leave you here for a minute?” Ethan asked. “I think I’ll be less conspicuous by myself. You can distract people with your great beauty from over here.”
Such a smooth talker. “Go ahead,” I encouraged him. “See what you can see.”
He kissed me softly. “My pretty queen,” he murmured, and before I could say anything about not being a queen, he’d already gone.
I continued to scan the selection of foods on the table nearest to where I stood. I didn’t want to stare after Ethan, and maybe draw attention to him, and there was really nothing else to do. Lost in contemplation of the cornucopia before me, I was surprised by a voice that came from beside me. I knew it wasn’t Ethan—this voice was feminine.
“I love your costume. Doesn’t that wig weigh a ton? I know mine usually do.”
I glanced at the speaker. She stood a little shorter than me and had the most gorgeous red hair with golden highlights which glittered in the light from the ginormous chandeliers which hung above us. She had beautiful emerald eyes, which sparkled with humor, and well-sculpted ruby lips, which were smiling at me.
Sudden recognition washed over me. This was Caroline St. Clair. The Caroline St. Clair. Ethan and I were huge fans of her work. And here she was standing right next to me.
It took me a minute to process what she’d said. My brain just wasn’t cooperating. Neither was my tongue. I imagined she was used to such a reaction when she went out in public. I tried to remove the deer-in-the-headlights look from my eyes and manage something at least halfway intelligible. Plus I needed to remember I was supposed to be a lady, so I had to try and keep my voice from dropping into more masculine registers.
“Thank you,” I managed, finally. “It is pretty heavy, I admit. But it came with the costume.” I shrugged, as if to say what could I do? “Your costume is beautiful,” I added, actually looking at it for the first time.
The actress was dressed in a sexy green outfit which clung to her curves like a second skin. It was covered in matching leaves, and had a corset top which overflowed with her half-bared bosom. Green satin gloves ran from her fingers to her upper arm, and her thigh-high boots would have been the envy of any dominatrix. I was drawing blanks as to whom she was meant to be, sadly.
“Poison Ivy,” she supplied the name. Duh. I should have known. “And thank you. Are you enjoying yourself?”
“Oh yes, very much,” I lied through my teeth. “You?”
She shrugged. For just a moment, the corner of her mouth went down, and I saw an expression of sadness in her eyes. But then it was gone. I must have imagined it. I tried to remember what I’d read about her recently, something about an engagement? A quick glance at her hand confirmed this in the form of a large diamond ring. The kind I’d probably never be able to afford in this lifetime or the next.
She must have noticed I’d spotted her ring. “My fiancé couldn’t come,” she explained. “What about you? Are you stag tonight too?”
I was surprised her studio hadn’t supplied her with an escort. I was about to respond to her question when her gaze went past me. “Wow, that Marc Antony is very sexy. By any chance, does he belong to you?”
I turned to look behind me. “Oh yes, he’s mine,” I informed her, hoping I didn’t come off as possessive as I thought I did. He was headed our way, and I could just tell he had information to share. He had that certain gleam in his eye which I was more than familiar with.
“You’re so lucky,” Miss St. Clair said, and I knew I wasn’t imagining it this time—there was a wistful quality in her voice.
“I know it,” I said, honestly.
As Ethan approached and recognized who I was talking to, I saw his eyes grow a little wide, but he had the couth to hide it better than I had. “Well, well, the two loveliest ladies at the party, how lucky can a guy get?”
Miss St. Clair giggled, and I refrained from rolling my eyes as he dropped to his knees at my feet. “My queen,” he said, in a voice that was too reminiscent of Spider’s. I stamped my foot, and he wisely took that as a sign to rise.
“Good evening,” he greeted my companion. “That’s a very lovely costume. Almost as lovely as the lady wearing it.”
O good Lord…
to be continued