Table of Contents [Report This]
Chapter or Story Chapter or Story
1) Paper Snowflakes (the original, isn't a sequel)
2) To Dance In An English Garden
3) A Night To Remember
4) The Trick Is To Keep Breathing
5) Life In A Heartbeart
6) With Me (the last in the series)
WARNING: Sequels can be hazardous to your health. Read on at your own risk.
*Disclaimer: I don't own "The Pretender" or any of its characters. Thanx for not suing! ~Oriana
Parker smoothed a nonexistent wrinkle from her gown, and looked over at Broots, who sat fiddling with his bow tie. Anyone else would've laughed at the sight--Miss Parker just narrowed her eyes in annoyment, and looked back out the window. Sydney, sitting across from them, simply gave his usual patient smile.
The limo they rode in continued on down the long avenue to Ambassador Carlisle's home.
Finally, unable to stand his fidgeting anymore, Parker leaned over and, in three quick steps, tied his black bow tie perfectly. He smiled his thanks, then frowned as he noticed a spot on his shoe. She gave a sigh, and looked over at Syd, who just shrugged.
Broots caught the silent communication between the two."Well, this is my first big time formal engagement," he said defensively, then went back to polishing the shoe with his hand.
Sydney chuckled and shook his head; Parker just rolled eyes. "Formal or not, remember that we're not here for fun. Arthur Keiller is one of the Centre's biggest clients, has been for years. He and the ambassador worked on some project or another together, which is why he got invited to this thing. And it's only because of the extra tickets he had that we were asked to come--Keiller is not a man you say no to." The limo pulled up to the front entrance; a valet instantly appeared to open the door, and offered Miss Parker a hand, which she ignored, easily stepping out on her own.
Waiting for the other two to get out, a few of the other guests standing about stopped chatting to take in the woman standing next to the limo. Parker did look exceptionally beautiful: a strapless gown fit her like a second skin, the beaded silk beginning as black around her chest, and slowly fading to misty gray at the ankles; a generous slit revealed creamy white leg, and elegant black heels with thin straps; her hair fell softly on her shoulders, curled into gentle waves; add to that perfectly-done makeup, black pearl earrings, and a very detail -very expensive- black beaded choker, and there was no doubt that Miss Parker was going to be one of the belles of tonight ball.
Finally, the limo pulled away, and they headed up the red-carpeted steps to the open doors, handing the butler their invitations. It was only Parker's quick hands that stopped Broots from falling on his face when the balding man tripped on the carpet.
"Relax, and you won't make such an idiot out of yourself tonight," she whispered advisingly. Then, smiling, she added, "And Broots, you look quite handsome tonight." He beamed at the unexpected praise.
It'd been 20 minutes, and still none of them had been able to spot Keiller. "I swear," Parker muttered to Syd, "if we went through all this trouble, and he doesn't even show, someone's gonna be shot."
"Lyle?" Sydney smiled.
"He was the one that insisted we go instead of him," she grinned menacingly. Reaching into her beaded bag, she pulled out her cell phone. "Speaking of the serial sibling, I'm gonna call him up. It's about eleven here in Seattle, so that'd make it three in the morning in Blue Cove." She headed to the balcony, while Syd stayed where he was, looking around expectantly for Broots, who'd gone off for wine (which Miss Parker declined-- "Not strong enough for this kinda night.") Finally, he spotted him, hurrying up to him, barely keeping the deep red liquid from spilling everywhere.
"You're not gonna believe who just arrived," Broots hissed, handing Sydney one of the glasses. Syd raised an eyebrow in question, and Broots gave a nod towards the door.
Looking to the entrance, Sydney nearly choked on his wine as he saw Jarod enter the ballroom, a beautiful woman on his arm. After a handful of guests eagerly greeted the two, thewoman was led to another group of people, leaving Jarod on his own. Seeing the opportunity, he moved forward, dragging a very reluctant Broots along with him.
"Good evening, Jarod." The pretender froze, then slowly turned towards the familiar voice.
"Why hello, Syd, Broots." He had the usual warm, lopsided grin, but Sydney saw his antsy eyes.
"She's out on the balcony phoning her brother," he explained.
"How did you track me here?"
"We didn't," replied the glum Broots. "It's the usual Centre customer kiss ass duty." Jarod laughed at the other man's reluctance, as his eyes scanned the large balcony, filled with people, for one woman in particular.
"You don't have to worry," Sydney assured him. "She didn't bring her gun."
"Not that she didn't try," added Broots. "But her bag was too small, and she didn't have time to shop for another one." Jarod visibly relaxed.
"So, who's your lovely companion?" Syd asked, to change the subject. Brightening, Jarod looked over at the woman in question, who stood chatting and laughing with a few other ladies. She was dressed in a strapless ballroom gown of baby blue, the first layer of clear blue taffeta revealing the blue silk beneath. Here and there along the waist were blue silk roses, and her dark hair, done up in a simple French twist, was decorated with a scattering of small, real blue roses.
"She does look wonderful tonight, doesn't she? Her name's Julia. I met her--" He stopped, and gave an uncomfortable cough. "Never mind, long story." His eyes -still scanning the balcony- suddenly locked onto someone, and he stopped talking. Looking to see what he had spotted, the other two men saw that Parker had appeared, weaving through the numerous conversing couples on the balcony, and was walking ahead with a pleased grin on her face.
Quite happy with her conversation with Lyle -who had indeed been asleep- Parker looked around expectantly for her two companions, but froze as she saw who stood with them. Grabbing a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, Jarod waved cheerfully at her. Taking a few deep breaths to compose herself after such a surprise, she sauntered confidently towards the three men.
"You look exquisite," he said earnestly by way of a greeting; he was feeling a bit short of breath, and couldn't figure out why.
She could've said something similar -the same black-tie outfit the other men wore seemed to fit him perfectly- but instead just smiled thanks. Her smile, however, vanished momentarily as a woman strolled up to them and slipped her arm through Jarod's--catching herself, Parker pasted on another smile, though it was clearly one of politeness.
"Hello," the other brunette smiled, offering Parker a hand, "I'm Julia Hawes. Are you friends of Jarod?" Parker nodded, and shook her hand, while the Sydney introduced them all. Looking back to Parker, Julia commented, "I love your dress. Italian?"
"The jewelry is. The gown's by JeMatadi."
"Of course. A wonderful designer."
Going along with topic, Parker replied, "Yours is wonderful, too. American?"
"Yes, Jessica McClintock. I'm glad you like it--it is one of my favorites." Turning her attention to Jarod, she added, "The orchestra will begin shortly. Dance with me?"
"Of course." With a nod to Parker, he led Julia to the center, where other couples had gathered, just as the music began. The three stood for a moment, watching the couple dance. Jarod grinned, whispered something into Julia's ear, and she laughed.
"Oh brother," Parker muttered.
Catching onto her tone, Sydney turned her and Broots, and asked, "So what do you think of Jarod's acquaintance?"
"She's nice," Broots said. "And that old-fashioned gown is really great."
"Yeah," Parker added sarcastically, "if you're Tinkerbell." Much as she hated to admit it, the truth was that she did look beautiful. Julia laughed at another joke by Jarod, and Parker averted her eyes with a sound of disgust. "I need a drink." She hurried off towards the bar, seething.
Clicking her manicured nails impatiently on the polished wooden top of the bar, Parker kept her back to the dance floor as she waited for the bartender to fill her vodka order. The conversation of two foreign men standing close by, with their backs to her, caught her attention.
"Miss Parker was the name her companions gave her, was it not? In the slim black and gray dress, undoubtedly she is the loveliest here tonight."
"Perhaps," the other agreed, "but have you noticed the beauty in the blue silk. She's over there now, dancing."
"Ah, yes, Miss Hawes. I saw her arrive. Indeed, quite breathtaking. I suppose that they are both arguably the most fetching tonight."
"Yes, yes. However, when pressed, I'm afraid I would have to side with Miss Hawes."
"Though Miss Parker shows a very agreeable amount of leg, surely you have noticed that of the two, Miss Hawes's gown allows for the sight of more cleavage."
The bartender arrived with her order--Parker grabbed it off the tray and stomped off, pausing just long enough to give the second man's back a solid whack with her bag.
He gave a shout of surprise and indignation, but by the time he turned around, she had already melted in with the rest of the crowd. Avoiding the dance floor, she pressed through the people on the sides, thankfully reaching a door before she really regretted not bringing her gun. After a moment a wandering through the large halls, she spotted a few gossiping ladies exit one room, and headed inside, relieved to find herself in a washroom.
Downing the vodka in two quick gulps, she reached into her beaded bag and withdrew a watch, sighing at the time: 11:17. Too early to leave. "Damn," she sighed.
A squeak echoed in the room as the door opened, then closed. She didn't bother turning around, assuming it was just another another woman taking a break, until a deep accented voice spoke up, "Miss Parker, I presume."
Before her was an unfamiliar gentleman, dressed the same as every other guy here tonight, but with a look about him that reminded her distinctly of the Centre sweeper team.
"And you would be?" she asked emotionlessly.
"An employee of Mr. Keiller."
"I believe 'thug' is the correct term."
He smiled. "A Centre associate with a sense of humor. A rarity."
"Look," she said boredly, "say what you came to say, and get out. I'm not in the mood for chit-chat." She turned back around to get her bag, and heard the click of a gun cocking.
"Actually, it's a small piece of business that needs to be wrapped up." Every muscle tight with anticipation, she turned slowly, coming face to face with a gun barrel.
"You're not with Keiller, are you?"
He nodded, and gave a malicious grin. "Very good. No, in fact, I am not. Dear Mr. Keiller is at this moment in the woods behind this very house. Dead by now, most likely, though I can't be entirely sure--I slit his throat, but didn't have time for the pleasure of watching him bleed to death." He pressed the barrel to her temple. "I knew you wouldn't be very eager to stay around too long, not once you realized Keiller wasn't showing. And I certainly didn't feel like having to follow you all the way back to your hotel."
"So you're not with Keiller," she said coolly, while her mind raced for a solution, any solution. "Who then?"
"I'm here on behalf of the dearly departed."
"Since when does the Grim Reaper need a .9mm?"
"You give me too much credit," he smiled. "Indeed, I'm nothing more than mere human, with my purpose no greater than that of revenge."
"Revenge?" Right, like that helped her. People she'd ticked off easily made a list of hundreds. "For what?"
His eyes clouded. "You were the ruin of him. Such a good man. He meant well...It was seeing you that brought around his downfall."
"What are you talking about?" she demanded, irritated.
His eyes got a far-off look. "He was capable of such great things--"
"Enough of the soliloquy!" she interrupted sharply. "Who the hell are you talking about?"
"His name," he growled, "was Nathan Crawford."