“So this is over-the-top.” Janice, the food bank’s volunteer coordinator, tipped back her Cosmo and giggled rather inappropriately.
Carole had to agree. The costume ball supporting the charity was supposed to be fun and elegant, and even though she was a lawyer, not an event planner, she had done her job well. The overflowing, masked crowd of very well-heeled donors were finding amusement in identifying each other as well as indulging in a little subtle networking over the hors d’oeuvres and drinks.
She’d worked 24/7 to pull this off, a silver lining that law school had sucked up all her personal life. Carole ached to let loose…discreetly, of course. Drunk and disorderly staff would disgust the guests, and these guests wrote the checks that would feed hundreds of families. It wouldn’t go over too well with her law firm either. Merrick, Merrick and Richardson had made part of its donation by loaning her, a newly hired, very junior associate with a specialty in public service law, to organize the event.
She’d done her best to network, but most of the crowd here liked to flirt with the big guns, not the newbie on staff. Arrangements of course had mostly been made with their secretaries or PAs so Carole doubted if these guests were even aware of her name. Nothing new. She still hadn’t met most of the senior people in her own firm yet. The brother and sister team of the Merricks, along with their great-uncle Richardson, were on the A-list in the city, probably the country, for high-powered law and serious philanthropy. They didn’t hang out with the dozens of junior lawyers their firm hired.
Carole lingered by the buffet, supposedly choosing a few nibblies, but mostly trying to look at ease. The office had paid for her magnificent Renaissance gown rental, so she knew she looked great. She wished she’d had a boyfriend to bring as a plus-one though; Janice, the only other person she’d worked with directly, was going to have a serious hang-over in the morning, and Carole didn’t want to get sucked into her overly-lubricated hilarity.
Carole scanned the room again. The other junior associates were not invited; the guests wouldn’t be interested in her. Monday she would be reintroduced to the mounds of paperwork that were the core of legal work. But tonight, her efforts really had paid off for the community.
The room was hot and her heavy brocade gown itched, so Carole discreetly edged out a French door to the venue’s flagstone patio and garden. Out here, the breeze was fresh and the silence as pleasant as a tropical night. Carole leaned on the stone balustrade and looked out over the night blooming flowers, inhaling their scent, dreaming of the vacation she hoped to afford someday.
“A sight to behold, fair maiden.”
She jumped slightly. A masked man in a Tudor doublet stood a few feet away. Moonlight glinted on his hair and the slashes of gold in his costume.
Carole laughed, and dropped into the curtsey she had practiced.
“Thank you, kind sir.”
That was about the extent of her Renaissance small talk, so she straightened and tried to size him up. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t recognize him – he could be a very rich guest or even one of the senior lawyers in the firm. Regardless, she had better do her best to charm him.
That was her mistake. She’d never done charm well – hard work, yes; charm, no.
“Um…methinks thoust needs a drinkie-poo…I mean libation…” Drinkie-poo? Thank heavens she was masked!
“I’m good,” the stranger replied. “Dost thou require a…a…”
“Don’t say it,” Carole interrupted. “My Renaissance English is rusty. I might start on Pig Latin next.”
He grinned, the moonlight highlighting the strong contours of his lower face. Carole felt an answering grin spreading across her own face.
The stranger leaned on the balustrade beside her. “This is quite the party,” he said.
“Thanks,” Carole replied, returning to her own relaxed position. “I was allowed to run it. I think it’s going well?” She glanced at him for confirmation.
“I saw a lot of checks being written.”
“That’s the point,” Carole said, satisfaction warming her. “There were a few times a while back my mom and I had dinner courtesy of a food bank.”
She probably shouldn’t be sharing her less than fabulous circumstances, but the mask gave her some anonymity and she realized she was trying to connect the dots between her single mom’s struggle to raise her well, the scholarships she’d worked so hard for, and now this…attending a party for the rich and wildly successful. Her mom had been ecstatic when Carole had told her.
The stranger continued to lounge against the wall, leaning on an elbow. “This took a lot of work.” He nodded toward the ballroom where the music filled the air and the guests whirled by in bursts of rich color. “Are you angling for the professional credit? A chance to impress your bosses?”
Carole watched the movement and then smiled ruefully. “I haven’t even met my bosses. A big firm like Merrick, Merrick and Richardson has a huge staff. I’m the brand new junior associate. My first assignment and I think they’d only notice if the event was a disaster.”
“So all this work doesn’t get you a thing?” the stranger asked.
Carole paused. “Nothing professionally.” She smiled suddenly, feeling the dots in her life all connect. “But it’s good to give back.” She shrugged. “That’s why I went into law, to offer help just like I was lucky enough to get.”
She felt her face heat up. “Sorry. Over-sharing. It’s something about being masked.” Standing straight, she pulled off the satin mask hiding her face. She laughed softly as the cool breeze tickled her face.
The stranger stood up too, and slid off his mask. The moonlight reflected from his eyes and Carole could have sworn she felt the heat from his body. Her heart fluttered. She saw the invitation in his eyes, and unable to help herself, leaned forward slightly.
He dipped his head and his lips brushed hers, soft and gentle. The kiss of a soul that matched her own.
Carole sighed in relief and release. His kiss deepened and she responded. It was a heavenly kiss, gentle, firm, everything she had ever imagined a kiss could be.
At last he stepped back and Carole sighed again, happy in the moment. Without comment, she returned his smile and simply watched him walk away.
So she did get something out of this event – a perfect kiss.
A moment later, Janice shimmied up, her balance only a little off.
“What are you doing, girl?” she demanded.
Carole laughed. “Enjoying the magic of the night.”
“Some magic,” Janice snorted. “There isn’t a woman here, and maybe a few of the men, who wouldn’t want to be kissing Rob Merrick.”
Carole briefly closed her eyes. When she looked back to the ballroom, she saw him, the stranger. Senior partner, Rob Merrick smiled across the crowd at her. And she smiled back.
Once again, she felt the warmth of a friend found rising in her. It was a beautiful, perfect night.
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