Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

A Chapter by Joan*Eckhart

Finally! It's the night of the Gala, and there are plenty of surprises in store.


Juliet! Juliet! Your car has arrived!” Rachael ran into my bedroom so fast her feet slid over the floor. “It's time to go!”

This was it. This was the moment that filled me with dread, but excited me a little also.

Wow, Julie.” Rachael's mouth kept dropping open when she saw me, even though I'd been ready for over an hour. “You look...just stunning.” Her voice broke so I didn't look at her. I could not afford to cry right now. “Heavens missing an angel right now, and all that.”

I snorted in spite of the tsunami of nerves that I was drowning in. “That's really cheesy.”

She laughed. “I know, but I'm so happy right now. You look so beautiful.”

I had been staring at my reflection in the mirror for over ten minutes, trying to convince myself it was actually me looking back and not an imposter. It had taken me a long time to gather the courage to do so. I'd been afraid, but I wasn't sure why.

Rachael had outdone herself this time. Before me stood a movie star of yesteryear. My hair was parted on the side and glossy curls fell over one shoulder. It was all held in place with an alarming amount of hair product. My make-up was subtle over my eyes, but my lips were a deep red. I fought against it as I'd never worn the colour before and felt it was too brash, but she'd been adamant and I'd relented.

She forced me to shave my legs twice and even inspected my armpits which I found hilarious. When she moved to inspect another more intimate area I'd had to push her away. My sister knew no boundaries sometimes.

I patted my stomach and turned to the side. The gown clung to me in all the right places-thanks to Marifilwe who'd had it adjusted, here and there, and the shoes elongated and slimmed my legs to the extent that I appeared to fill the entire room like some midnight blue goddess.

Even I could see how amazing I looked, but my eyes kept darting to the neckline, which was risque. Rachael had gone mad with the provided tape that helped to avoid any mishaps. It had been torture when she tried to put it in place as I was notoriously ticklish. I'd ended up doing it myself.

Breath, Juliet,” she instructed. “Keep breathing, keep calm. You can do this.” Rachael repeated this over and over again as she helped me out the door.

We made it outside without bumping into any other residents, which was unusual, as you could be sure to see someone or other loafing about. But tonight the place appeared deserted.

Rachael opened the metal doors for me and I stepped into the night. A warm breeze was in the air and I was grateful because it meant I didn't need a coat. I didn't have one fancy enough to go with the outfit.

Wow.” Rachael and I spoke together when we spotted it.

In front of our building, underneath the dimly lit street lamps, on the nearly deserted street sat a stretch limousine. It was so black it nearly blended into the night.

I've never seen one in real life before,” said Rachael softly.

Miss. Beaumont?” A man appeared from the shadows and opened the door for me. He had an adorable English accent, which was rough around the edges.

Oh!” My feet had planted themselves on the concrete.

Rachael took me firmly by the arm and escorted me in to the limo. She beamed at the driver, who's face remained concealed by darkness, after she'd tossed me a little roughly inside.

Inside the limo was just as spectacular as outside. The cream seats were smooth and the interior smelled of clean leather. There was a champagne bottle chilling on ice and a small refrigerator, which I was tempted to open just to check what was inside.

Rachael popped her head in. “This is neat.”

I nodded dumbly. It was actually happening now. Soon I'd arrive at the hotel and people would see I was

dressed as a floozy.

Oh, for goodness sake, shut up, Beaumont.

I began to giggle. It started off as a nervous hiccup then gradually became a near hysterical shriek. All the while Rachael watched me with a I-knew-it look on her face.

Get it together, Juliet.” She furrowed her brows until worry lines appeared on her forehead. Now she looked like the elder sister. “Just breathe.”

I closed my eyes and inhaled, counted to fifty, then exhaled. “I'm good.”

We don't want Mr. Hunter to know you're crazy. He can find that out in his own time.”

Excuse me Ma'am.” The driver interrupted us. “But we must be gettin' on.”

Rachael gave me a light peck on the cheek and was gone. I leaned back in my seat and watched as the driver slammed the door shut. I could see her waving at me through the black tinted windows, and I felt sad that she was not joining me tonight.

I could at least try to have fun for both our sakes, couldn't I?

The driver eased off the kerb and onto the road. Rachael was still waving at me. I waved back, not certain whether she could see me or not. I wanted to roll down the windows but had no clue how to do it.

Soon I had left her behind.

Mr. Hunter will meet you at the hotel, Ma'am,” said the driver politely.

He's arriving separately? But...” I stopped myself from speaking further, and realized that I had been nursing the hope that we would arrive together. I could not believe myself. What was becoming of me? Where were these secrets desires springing from? And where did they hide?

Mr. Hunter is escorting a lady friend tonight to the hotel,” said the driver. “They were detained for a little while, but will arrive later.”

I fell back onto the seat as if life itself had abandoned me. Of course! How foolish of me. He was bringing a date tonight.

My heart plummeted to the ground.

What's your name, sir?” I asked the driver softly.

Me?” He seemed surprised. “My name's Jake, Ma'am.”

I'm Juliet.”

How do you do, Ma'am?” Jake was pleasant.

I'm fine, thank you.” My voice was monotone. Why did I feel weak all of a sudden?

I could not muster the will to speak further so we lapsed into silence. My mind raced ahead torturously with unpleasant thoughts that I did not want of Mr. Hunter and his date. Was she his girlfriend? Were they lovers?

What concern is it of yours?

A frustrated sigh escaped me. What concern, indeed.

Beep, beep, beep.

I jumped at the tiny sound. Looking around I saw it came from a small black square shaped object which sat on the adjoining seat. When I picked it up I realized it was a Blackberry Z10.

Oh, my God.” These phones weren't even on the market yet. Rachael and I had drooled over them when the Tribune had published an in-depth review of the gadget.

I had one new message.

This is your new phone. Keep it with you at all times. JH

Holy cow.” I put it safely in my purse. The phone did not bother me as much as everything else. In fact, I thought it practical. But trust him to give me a phone that no-one else had yet.

As I rummaged around for my compact mirror the American Express Card nearly fell out. I buried it beneath the phone. I had had no choice but to bring it along with me as Rachael had the habit of going through my things when she was bored and I was absent. I could not risk her finding it.

We're here, Ma'am,” Jake informed me.

He pulled up outside the Waldorf Astoria. I just stared. I was here. I was actually going to go inside for once instead of walking by.

Wow.” I breathed in deeply again to calm my nerves.

Jake hurried around the side of the car to open the door for me. A line of assorted limo's and Rolls Royce's was forming behind us. Without further thought I stepped out and onto a red carpet.

I was a movie star. The thought made me want to smile.

The Waldorf Astoria looked more like a fancy mansion than a hotel, with a white coloured exterior, black doors, and a glass archway over the entrance.

Thanks.” Jake and I exchanged smiles. I saw he was even younger than me, with short sandy blond hair and twinkling blue eyes.

Have fun, Ma'am,” he said, and gave me a cheeky wink.

I'll try.” I smiled goodbye to him.

I joined a small group of extremely well dressed people heading to the entrance, keeping a few paces behind them. This way I did not feel so alone.

Well, Hunter always throws the best parties, right?” drawled the man leading the group.

Lord knows he has enough cash for that, Bill,” giggled his date, who clung to his arm.

I wonder who he'll bring tonight?” said another impeccably attired man.

Some model, perhaps?” replied his date lazily. “Some actress? Another socialite?”

Two doormen stood adjacent to each other while they held open the doors for the guests. Even they were well heeled, wearing sharp black tail coats and top hats, which made me want to giggle.

Good evening, Madam.” The man I passed startled me when he bowed.

Was I supposed to courtesy? The group in front of me barely glanced at them, so I smiled politely as I walked past. Even doing that felt rude.

As soon as I placed my feet inside the building I was transported into another world where everywhere I looked there was beauty. The Waldorf surpassed even itself in grandeur and magnificence with it's Parisian décor and marble floors. A large crystal chandelier hung in the center of the lobby that reflected light in such a way as if to seem it were showering diamonds on those that passed below. I was lost for words.

There were two golden busts of lions by the winding staircase which I felt where a tad over the top, but the Waldorf's old-school mystic managed to pull it off. I was so busy staring at everything at once that I failed to see Roman waving at me at the bar.

Hey! Juliet!”

When I finally dragged my eyes away from the silk wallpaper, I saw he was laughing, probably at my mouth which was hanging open.

Hey there.” He stood before me with a huge smile on his face. He was even more handsome than I remembered.

Hello,” I said shyly, rubbing my arm self-consciously.

Wow, Juliet.” He took in my appearance. It was not in a lascivious way, but with respectful admiration. “You look stunning.”

I blushed and didn't know what to say, but, I was flattered to be complimented so sincerely by such an attractive man. “Thank you.”

How do I look?” He held the lapels of his dinner jacket open. “Not so bad, right?”

He had a sweet, boyish charm that eased my nerves, as well as having the air of the well-mannered about him.

“You look great,” I said, with a smile.

Not as great as you though.” He took me by my arm courteously, and led me to the bar. “Really, Juliet. You look amazing.”

I was too busy floundering at the fact he was touching me to really absorb what he was saying. Luckily Roman continued chatting about people who I did not know and their antics.

This was it; the beginning of my sort-of secret date with Roman. Now all I had to do was spend some time with him, not get caught by Mr. Hunter, and also be available to do Mr. Hunter's bidding.

What was there to worry about?

Let's get a drink, shall we?” he suggested, helping me onto a stool.

I smiled warmly up at him. He was so being so polite. It was such a rarity these days to find someone who's kindness was genuine and not an action they performed to deceive you.

By the time the drinks arrived for us I was strangely calm. This could only be the effect Roman was having on me.

This place is really something,” I said. My voice trembled only a little, not enough for him to notice, I hoped.

Yeah,” he nodded. “It has a real charm to it.”

I wracked my brains, trying to think of something to say to him as he sipped his drink, but I couldn't think of anything. “Have you stayed here before?” It was the best I could come up with.

All the time,” he enthused.

Oh.” Why was I so awful at small talk?

He put his glass down and leaned in towards me. “Can I tell you a secret?” He was so close I could smell his aftershave. It was strong and over-powering.

My nose twitched. “I guess so.”

I wasn't invited to this event tonight.” He chuckled softly as my eyes grew wide. “That's right, Juliet. I'm not supposed to be here,” he said in a sing-song voice.

Then why?” I didn't understand.

He took a final swig of his drink. “I like to crash the party, you know? Have a little fun. Plus Hunter is so easy to rile.” His lips curled into a mischievous smile. “It's too enjoyable an opportunity to pass up.”

I was startled to say the least. “You know Mr. Hunter?”

Roman laughed out loud. It was an unusual reaction to my question “Yes, I know him. We go way back, but, alas, not in a friendly way.”

My curiosity had been ignited. I so wanted to know more, much more. Why didn't he get along with Mr. Hunter? I asked him.

Really, Juliet?” He shook his head. “How can anyone get along with that man? He's not the mellow, easy-going type.”

Of course, my face flushed. I had already deduced Mr. Hunter did not make friends easily-not with that sharp a tongue. No doubt Mr. Hunter and Roman must have gotten into an altercation in the past.

Forget Hunter,” said Roman suddenly. “Let's talk about a more interesting subject: you.”

I clutched my glass which was still half full. I did not

enjoy alcohol, not when it's effects had imprinted themselves so harshly in my memories. “Erm, okay.”

He touched my shoulder lightly. “Relax, Juliet. I really want to enjoy this evening with you. I want to get to know you.”

What about Mr. Hunter? He expects me to work tonight.”

I'm not going to let him get in our way to tonight,” said Roman silkily. He put down his glass and moved closer to me, his eyes taking on a darker sheen. “You are so beautiful, Juliet,” he said softly. “Do you know that?”

I was anything but relaxed as his hand caressed my bare skin, but I managed to keep my face impassive.

I opened and closed my mouth. “Well...”

He chuckled. “That's why, right there.” He hit his palm on the counter with a soft thud. “It's because you have no idea, and I imagine even if you did, you really wouldn't give a damn.”

I think people have become obsessed with it.” I spoke quietly at first, but when I saw that Roman listened attentively, the courage to speak my mind increased.

With being beautiful, I mean,” I continued. “We dwell on it far too much now. It alienates us from what lies beneath.”

Roman signalled the bar man for another drink. “True,” he said. “But look around you, Juliet. Beauty is all around us. Some of them were born that way, and the one's that weren't, paid someone a pretty penny to make them so.”

I surveyed the room. He was right. Everywhere I looked I saw tall, slim, and extremely well groomed people lounging in chairs, sitting at tables, or standing around. They were similarly attired in the most expensive gowns and suits. To my entertainment, I spotted many an expression of boredom on quite a few handsome faces. They were like robots; listless, all alike, but somehow different.

Roman followed my gaze. “When everyone around you is beautiful you stop noticing it, trust me. All this,” he waved his hand in the air, “loses it's shine very quickly. You find yourself searching for more, but in this world-this world that I live in-you rarely find it.”

Is that why so many people here look bored silly?” I sipped my drink carefully.

He laughed aloud. “Yes. They've got nothing interesting to do, nothing important to say, and nothing to look forward to. They're got more money than they'll ever need and nothing to spend it on because they already bought it.”

Having money is better than not having any at all,” I

said firmly. And didn't I know it.

He mulled over my words carefully. A loud beep sounded from his jacket pocket. “Hold that thought,” he murmured as he checked his phone.

I watched a lady wearing a metallic gold plunging-neck evening gown-which revealed so much flesh it made me want to turn away-saunter into the bar. She had high cheekbones, electric green eyes and red hair, which was done up in a fashionable chignon bun. Like all the others around her, she was beautiful.

She waved flirtatiously at Roman, who barely acknowledged her as he was too busy distracted by his phone. The woman, apparently disregarded and clearly not used to being so, turned and stomped off in another direction.

I decided not to say anything as I felt it was not my place. After all, I was only beginning to get acquainted with Roman. But I was curious.

Roman was tucking his phone back into his jacket pocket when I spotted someone I knew from across the room.

“Jake!” I cried, a little too loudly.

He was chatting to a pretty young woman with bobbed blond hair. When he heard my voice, as a lot of people did, he waved enthusiastically at me. “Hey, Juliet!”

You know him?” asked Roman, eyeing him as he weaved past tables to make his way to us. The blond was left behind wearing a scowl on her pretty face.

He works at PhysTech,” I replied, noting the subtle tone

of displeasure in Roman's voice.

Jake stopped and his jaw practically hit the ground when

he caught sight of me. “Wow, Juliet.” His eyes were as wide as saucers. “You”

I wanted to giggle at the expression of awe on his face, but, of course, that would have been quite rude. “You look pretty fine yourself,” I said, with a smile. I was growing fond of him, but in the friendliest way.

Two small red spots appeared on his cheeks. “Uh, thanks,” he mumbled.

Roman discreetly cleared his throat. “Oh!” I jumped. “Sorry. Roman this is Jake. Jake this is Roman Keir.” The two men shook hands without either uttering a word.

I watched them size each other up silently and realized that there was little difference between the sexes, as women were also likely to judge one another to see whether a threat were present.

This place is nice, isn't it?” I remarked cheerily, attempting to lead things down a warmer path as the atmosphere between the two men was positively arctic.

Sure,” said Jake tersely.

“Why don't you have a seat?” I suggested. Unfortunately there were none available.

Yeah, why don't you join us?” added Roman flatly.

Jake seemed to come out of his testosterone induced reverie, as he straightened up and suddenly looked nervous. He peered over his shoulder then back to me, as if someone were there that he didn't like. “I can't, Juliet,” he said, addressing only me. “I've actually gotta run.” He gave me a smile, which I saw, had a hint of sadness to it, then left, leaving me a little confused.

What was that all about?

Well that was odd,” said Roman, glaring at Jake's retreating back.

I sipped my drink, being careful not to spill a drop.

Roman's phone beeped again. He rolled his eyes but ignored it. “You're popular,” I joked.

He sighed. “And 'aint it grand?”

There was a tall, elderly man with snow white hair standing in the corner of the bar nursing a drink. He watched me with interest, had been doing so for some time now. The signification in his gaze upset me a little. He did not watch me with respect.

I shifted in my chair so my back was to him. “Where is this gala being held anyway?” I asked.

On the fifth floor,” replied Roman, handing the grateful bartender a generous tip. “Shall we get out of here? I think that old guy needs a break from all that staring he's doing. He might pull a muscle. Or lose an eye.” There was a jagged edge to his tone that was unsettling.

We left the bar with him casually slinging an arm around my waist. It was a more intimate gesture that hinted at a possessive streak he may harbour.

We stopped underneath the chandelier and I raised my head so I could see it better. Little droplets of diamonds hung from the spidery web of glass in the centre. I wanted to reach out and pluck one like an apple.

Hey, Joshua.” Roman waved at someone by the entrance.

More guests arrived every minute and were ushered to the elevators by the concierge who guided them to the fifth floor. While Roman was busy greeting his friends I took the opportunity to check my phone. Luckily I had no more messages from Mr. Hunter. Perhaps he would be arriving later than previously assumed?

Hey, Juliet.” Roman turned to me with an apologetic smile on his face. “Do you mind if I leave you alone for just a minute? I have some business to take care of.”

Of course.” I nodded, feeling a little panicked at the thought of being alone amidst all these well-to-do people, but hiding it. “Go ahead.”

He stepped closer to me and gazed into my eyes. “I won't

be long, I promise,” he said, and took off, slipping easily into the crowd.

I backed myself into a corner by a gold antique grandfather clock. I had never seen such a glamorous gathering in my life, not even on TV. They all strutted about with enviable confidence, certain of their place and worth in this world. There were looks of derision pasted on some faces, and some ignored the bellhops who were only trying to help.

I saw one women completely disregard a young maid who picked up her purse after it slipped from her hands. I was amazed and appalled in equal measure. This was the world in which Mr. Hunter resided.

Hello, there,” said a friendly voice next to my ear.

I turned my head to see Marifilwe standing beside me

Marifilwe!” I beamed. She surprised me by giving me a little hug.

She looked me up and down with a delighted smiled.

“You look wonderful, Juliet.” She was positively giddy with pleasure.

So do you,” I said. “You look great.”

She was wearing a striking turquoise sheer lace overlay gown that gave her a wonderful silhouette and complimented her skin tone. Her hair was curled and fell naturally down her back.

Thanks. It's a Monique Lhuillier,” she told me.

Wow.” I had no idea who that was, but it was stunning.

Where's Mr. Hunter,” she asked, a little apprehensively.

Oh, he's going to be late.”

Late to his own party, huh?” she chuckled.

You know, I've forgotten what this gala is actually for,” I confessed sheepishly.

She laughed lightly. “It's to raise awareness and funds for the Art Institute of Chicago.”

Images of the morbid paintings in his office flashed in my mind. “Of course.”

You'll see that many wealthy people around these parts spend the majority of their time at charity events-dressed to the nines obviously.”

How selfless of them,” I said playfully, eyeing the opulent surroundings. When the rich decided to take care of the less fortunate, they did it in style.

Marifilwe linked arms with mine. “It's good to meet someone who thinks like me for a change,” she laughed.

Are you here alone?”

Her smile faltered a little. “No...I have a date.”

Oh.” Her reaction told me not to press matters further, but I wondered why she always behaved skittishly whenever I questioned her about her date.

I was just about to tell her about Roman when their was a flurry of movement by the entrance. Marifilwe and I glanced at each other then moved forward to see what all the fuss was about.

He's finally arrived,” hissed a short stumpy woman dripping in diamonds and pearls, to her equally short friend.

And look who he's brought along with him!” Her friend screeched.

Marifilwe giggled but I found I could not. It was obvious who they were talking about. “It's like the king of the realm has arrived,” Marifilwe whispered.

I muttered something monosyllabic to her and craned my neck to get a better view of him-and this woman. My heart was thudding in my chest the way it did when I had discovered something unpleasant.

And there he stood, clothed in the finest apparel, surrounded by a fawning audience and accompanied by, frankly, what had to be the most physically stunning woman I had ever laid eyes on. When guests realized he'd arrived they swarmed him, like bees to a honey pot.

That's Faviana Dubois!” exclaimed Marifilwe.

Who's that?” I asked. Oddly, there was no life in my voice.

Only the most famous model on the planet!” Marifilwe was clearly impressed. “Gosh! she's so pretty.”

Everyone around us seemed to agree. Men stared openly at her arduously, and women with envy.

With hair the colour of leaves that fell from a tree in Autumn, and eyes a vivid green, she was the sort of woman who made you ashamed to be in her presence. She held her chin high with pride, as if she knew her stature and had no qualms about showing it.

I could not deny they made an alluring couple.

Well he knows how to make an entrance,” I said weakly.

Look at her dress!” Marifilwe tapped my shoulder to get my attention. As if I had been looking elsewhere. “That's Marchesa!”

I tore my eyes from her face so I could see what had Marifilwe all excited. Faviana was wearing a white strapless gown with an embroidered bodice. From her ears hung long diamond chandelier earrings. I found myself wondering whether they were a gift from Mr. Hunter.

It's not even available yet!” sniffed the woman in front of us to her friend.

She can get her hands on anything out of reach,” said her friend gleefully. “Even James Hunter!”

I heard he's brought her a penthouse apartment on North Michigan Avenue! Right next to all the good department stores!”

A woman like that can get a man to do anything she wants!”

I fervently wished the women would go away as their voices grated on my nerves. I felt deflated and wished I was alone. Even Marifilwe's excitement bothered me.

Shall we make a move to the fifth floor?” I proposed, keeping the desperation I felt concealed. I had to get away.

Yes,” said Marifilwe. “Let's get out of here. Mr. Hunter could be here for a while. He has to wade through an entire sea of people attempting to kiss his backside.”

Arm in arm we set off for the elevators where we were guided to the fifth floor with the help of the concierge.

The gala for the Art Institute of Chicago was held in a huge ballroom located on the fifth floor of the Waldorf Astoria. The walls were covered in silk, the ceiling was coffered and from there hung hand-blown crystal chandeliers. The floor-to-ceiling windows were framed with chic custom-made drapery, and there was even an intimate terrace.

Guests were already seated at their tables and were being serenaded by a famous singer who's name had slipped my mind.

My phone beeped in my purse. It was him.

Where are you? Why did you leave the lobby without me?

I stared at the screen in stunned surprise.

He had seen me? Had he really? Had he actually spotted me amongst the small throng of people that surrounded him?

That fact pleased me more than I liked to admit.

You look cheerful,” commented Marifilwe.

Oh, it's nothing,” I said, as I hastily stashed the phone back into my purse.

We were led to a table on the edge of the dancefloor and I took a seat. Marifilwe pulled out a compact mirror and engrossed herself in checking her make-up which gave me time to think.

I had to pull myself together. Lately I was experiencing feelings, and thinking thoughts that had never bothered me before.

I was here to work. I had to focus. This was my job, and I could not lose it. And hadn't I decided to make Mr. Hunter eat his words? I couldn't accomplish that if I was distracted by the silliest things.

Maybe you disregard your feelings too easily?

What feelings? I was having none. I nodded vigorously at that thought and Marifilwe looked at me sideways.

I smiled widely at her and pretended to be bobbing my head to the music, which was too schmaltzy for my taste. Who wanted to hear about the perils of falling in love anyway?

Lame entertainment, right?” Marifilwe pursed her lips.

Definitely,” I agreed.

I heard the Kings of Leon are going to be performing later.”

Really?” I sat up straighter. “I love them!”

Me too!”

Maybe this night wouldn't be so bad after all.

© 2013 Joan*Eckhart

Author's Note

When I wrote this chapter the cell phone mentioned hadn't been released yet, so...there you go.

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Added on July 14, 2013
Last Updated on July 14, 2013
Tags: Love, Romance, Betrayal, Secrets, Obsession, Power, Glamour, Danger



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Chapter One Chapter One

A Chapter by Joan*Eckhart