Chapter 4

Bright sunlight poured through the large bay windows of the aptly named Sun Room, casting a warm glow on the Rosewood dining table and its occupants. Emily preferred the understated elegance of the room to that of the more ornate dining hall or the parlor where she normally received guests. Of course, Crystal wasn't a guest—more like an oft-absent co-owner—and Emily had high hopes that that particular situation would change soon.

"Thank you, Margaret. That will be all."

The young maid just barely kept herself from dipping a curtsy toward the gorgeous twins, settling instead on nodding and giving them a shy smile before turning and leaving the room. Emily shook her head and sighed as she watched the blushing woman walk away. "You're incorrigible," she said fondly.

Crystal grinned and turned her wandering gaze back to her sister. "It's not my fault you insist on hiring cute women to work for you." Amber eyes twinkled devilishly. "And you were looking, too, so don't go calling me names. You're supposed to be a happily married woman."

Emily chuckled softly and then there was silence as the two women concentrated on their lunch. Crystal was off gallivanting about the globe more often than she was home and, despite the slightly rocky beginning, Emily was happy to have her back again. With any luck, her chance meeting with the young cashier would lead to her sister staying awhile.

"I’ve never gone out with anyone who actually had to work for a living," Crystal noted idly, eyes trained on the bare limbs of the trees outside but not seeing them.

Emily snorted and a few more minutes passed while Crystal pounded her on the back in an overenthusiastic attempt to clear her windpipe. "You’ve never gone out with anyone period!" she finally exclaimed.

"Whatever." Long, slender fingers waved in the air dismissively. "It can’t be all that difficult." Amber eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Do we still have the car?"

"Of course we do. There are some functions where it’s just not done to arrive in your personal vehicle."

"Why does Michael have an SUV?" Crystal asked suddenly, then put her hand up again. "Nevermind. Boys and their toys."

The sisters grinned at each other, both visualizing the immense train set in the Rec room downstairs. Crystal had set up a spectacular derailment the previous summer, and Michael still hadn’t forgiven her. It had taken him weeks to untangle the wreckage.

When she had her chuckles under control, Crystal picked up the house phone and issued a few terse instructions. Her eyes twinkled merrily as she glanced at Emily. "It’s going to be a good day," she predicted smugly. Emily just shook her head and laughed.


Stacy checked her watch surreptitiously, glumly noting that she still had ten more minutes before her shift was over. Usually she didn’t mind the longer shifts, and often volunteered to stay when someone called in sick, but today she was too aware of a certain dark haired woman who was waiting for her phone call. She watched with no little dismay as six shoppers herded their overflowing carts into her line.

"Figures," she muttered quietly, then pasted on a pleasant smile and began ringing up the merchandise as quickly as possible.

An eternity later, she got the signal from her supervisor, Peggy, to shut her light off and close down for the day. The blonde heaved a sigh of relief as she practically ran to the Service Desk to turn in her till, not noticing the curious looks until she’d completely signed off.

"What? Did I forget something?" she asked Peggy impatiently.

The older woman’s eyes widened in surprise at Stacy’s tone before glancing across the counter. "No, but there’s someone here who said he was told to wait for you. You have anything you might want to tell us?" the supervisor added with an encouraging grin.

The man was a chauffeur, that much was obvious by his uniform. Without conscious thought, Stacy’s eyes went past him looking for a certain tall woman, but she was nowhere in sight. "Can I help you?" she asked, regarding the man with a quizzical smile.

"I was instructed to drive you home, Miss McAllister." A black-gloved hand thrust toward her and Stacy looked over the driver’s credentials.

"I see," she murmured softly, then quirked a sandy brow at him. "I should have guessed that your name would be James."

The chauffeur’s lips almost twitched into a smile. "Regulations, ma’am," he intoned solemnly. "As soon as you receive your license, you’re required to change your first name."

Stacy and Peggy both laughed, then Stacy excused herself to go clock out for the day. On her way back to the desk she heard several of her coworkers exclaiming over the immense black limousine parked by the entrance. It was all she could do not to tell them the luxurious vehicle was there for her. That would cause too many questions and make her late for her phone call.

"I’m ready!" she announced, fairly bouncing in her excitement. The blonde tilted her head and assumed a regal stance. "Take me home, James," then promptly burst into giggles. "Sorry…sorry. Couldn’t resist."

That got a definite smile out of the professional driver, and he executed a slight bow as he swept his arm toward the exit. "After you, Miss."

Stacy hardly had time to enjoy the ride. What was normally a half hour walk took only minutes to drive and, before she knew it, she was standing in front of her building thanking James for bringing her home. She hit the stairs in a dignified run and pelted into her apartment, tossing her jacket and her gloves onto the couch before digging frantically through her purse for the Brandts’ business card.

"I need a smaller purse," she mumbled, then crowed when she finally found the elusive paper. The cordless phone flipped through the air twice in her haste, and she watched in dismay as it hit the floor and bounced in several pieces. "Crap!"

Off to the kitchen, where she used a bit more care and managed to dial the phone safely. Her heart was beating a mile a minute and she took a few deep, calming breaths before the line was picked up on the other end. "Beaumont–Brandt Residence. May I help you?"

"Umm…may I speak with Crystal Beaumont, please?" God, she had forgotten that they probably didn’t answer their own phones.

"May I ask who’s calling?"

Stacy told the woman her name and began to pace when she was put on hold. Yet another reason she and Crystal were doomed from the start—how many more reasons would there be before Crystal sat her down and calmly informed her that there was no way she could be involved with some peon from the lower classes?

"Stacy! Hi…how was your day? Everything go all right?" Crystal’s voice was warm and a notch on the over-excited side.

Stacy smiled just hearing it.

"It was okay…too long as usual, but okay. How ‘bout you?" The blonde sighed out of Crystal’s hearing at the lameness of her own response. She didn’t have a clue as to what she should say to the woman now that she had her on the phone…she just wanted to hear her voice and keep whatever connection she could as long as she could.

"Oh, just got caught up on some paperwork Michael needed to go over with me. Pretty boring stuff, actually. I’m glad he finds it so interesting…I think the man was born with the Wall Street Journal in his hands instead of a silver spoon in his mouth," Crystal laughed.

There was an awkward silence for a few moments as Crystal played with her phone cord and Stacy busied herself with making a cup of cocoa. Regardless of what had happened between them, they were still pretty much strangers, and Stacy felt tears spark in her eyes as she felt the gulf widening.

"Hey, look," Crystal started again hesitantly. "Maybe you’d like to come over? I mean, we’ve got a killer TV in the entertainment room and there’s a new movie I’ve been wanting to check out," she rushed on. "We could watch it together."

Stacy’s heart leapt into her throat and she almost agreed without thinking about anything else. Like the fact she didn’t own a car and she really couldn’t afford to pay a taxi to cart her outside the city and back again. Not and still eat for the rest of the week. "I’d like that, but I don’t…"

"Hold on a sec, baby, okay?"

She felt a rush of warmth that had nothing to do with the piping hot mug of chocolate and everything to do with the fact Crystal had just called her baby. Stacy hugged herself giddily and let herself dream until Crystal came back on the line.

"James is still outside, so all you have to do is pack up whatever you’ll need for tonight and he’ll bring you over, okay?"

"Wait a minute. He’s still out front?" Stacy asked incredulously. "Did you have this all planned?"

"Well, yeah…I mean no," Crystal stumbled. "I mean, well, I hoped you’d want to come over, but I didn’t really plan anything." Another brief pause where the only sounds were of the two women breathing. "You don’t want to come over?"

Stacy couldn’t tell what exactly that note was in Crystal’s voice, but she knew she didn’t want to hear it again. It broke her heart just hearing it the first time. "Of course I want to come over, Crystal. It’s just that I can’t stay late…I have to work tomorrow."

"That’s why I said to pack up whatever you need. I’ll bring you back tomorrow first thing. Umm…" Crystal abruptly realized how presumptuous she was being and slapped herself on the head. "You know…just in case it gets too late or something and you decide to stay here. We’ve…ah…got plenty of guestrooms. You can pick out whichever one you want."

Stacy laughed helplessly and shook her head. "Oh, Crystal…what am I going to do with you?"

Crystal grinned broadly at the phone. "I’m game for just about anything, sweetheart," she purred. "So, you’ll come?"

"I sincerely hope so," the blonde retorted wickedly, then hurriedly said her good byes to the stunned woman on the other end. Her smug smile stayed with her while she changed and got her things together for an overnight visit. She lived a fairly placid life, but there was just something about Crystal Beaumont that brought out the wanton hussy in her…and she found she really liked it.


TBC (unlikely to be finished per the author)

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