“So, tell me dear, what is it you do?”
The host himself, who was seated in the same table as them, asked Miley just as the main course, steak with a red wine sauce, was being placed before them.
The ballroom they were in was ten times bigger than the place she worked, and it all sparkled with Christmas here and there. From the humongous tree that had been set up at the entrance lobby, to the beautiful poinsettias in the flower arrangements in all the tables, to the way the dance floor looked like a winter wonderland, the live band on a stage that resembled a sled, and white smoke floating over the dance floor. And mistletoe hanging from the huge chandeliers in the center of the room.
“I work at Skyline.” Miley said, not sure if Rick wanted her to act the part of the socialite or just be herself. So far, the conversation at the table had revolved around business, and the women had either gone to the powder room or simply laughed when either Rick or their host, Angelo Carrini, veered off the business talk and mentioned some fun anecdote about a previous function.
It was hard for Miley to believe she was with the same man who had not so much as blinked when he had asked her to come here tonight. Quite surprisingly, Rick could be at ease too, and not always that serious, impatient business man.
“The department store? Oh, I went there the other day and was quite impressed by this year’s Christmas decorations. I think it’s beautiful when the whole city does the same. It makes New York even more magical than it already is.”
Miley couldn’t believe a business man like Angelo Carrini could have such a soft spot for the holidays, especially when she knew of another business man who couldn’t care less.
“Oh, we outdid ourselves this year, I think. And there’s nothing I like more than strolling down the streets of Manhattan this time of year.” Miley smiled sincerely at their host, and was rewarded by a warm smile and a lift of his wine glass her way.
After dinner, most people sitting at their table got up and either joined others at their tables or went to the dance floor. Miley returned from the ladies’ room and sat at the empty table. Rick was nowhere to be found. A waiter came by and refilled her glass of wine, when Mr. Carrini’s date sat next to Miley.
“So, you’re Rick’s newest flavor of the month?” She smiled at her, but in a cold, bitter way, her eyes as hard as the crystals from the chandeliers but with no light whatsoever.
“Trust me, there’s nothing going on between us.” As if it was Miley’s job to reassure the woman who was clearly jealous, even though she had come with another man.
“Maybe not for him but clearly for you. You couldn’t help but look all starry-eyed anytime he said something. Only, I’m confused as to what he saw in you. I mean,” she leaned back on the chair and gave her another long measuring look, “it’s clear you don’t belong here. You’re probably after his money, like all the others.”
Miley was not one to seek confrontation but she was damned is she was going to be insulted and treated like she was less than anyone else in this room. And maybe she could never, in a million years, afford the dress she wore or the jewelry sparkling from this woman’s neck and earlobes, but she didn’t need money nor to be a bully to know who she really was.
“Oh, really?” Miley batted her eyelashes and said in her sweetest tone possible, “is that why he dumped you, then?”
“Angelica, that’s enough.” Rick’s voice had both women turning to see him standing behind them, one hand on the edge of Miley’s chair. Angelica looked beyond herself that Rick had come in Miley’s defense and not hers. Poor woman, Miley thought, behind that mask of anger, she could see the way she longed for Rick’s attention to be all for her. Clearly, money didn’t get you exactly what you wanted in life.
“Angelo is looking for you.” Rick’s voice made Miley shudder. There was no trace of warmth for the woman he had most certainly dated at some point. Maybe one of those persons who had proved his point that everyone wanted something from him.
Without a word, Angelica stood up, looked Miley up and down with disdain, and left. Miley noticed she had her hands clenched on her lap, and tried to move her fingers to shake away the numbness.
“Thanks.” She turned her head to look at Rick who remained standing behind her chair.
“You were right. That was why I ended it with her. Poor Angelo, I hope he sees it in time.”
The band started playing an old Frank Sinatra ballad, and couples gathered in the center of the ballroom. As they danced, the white smoke laced around their moving feet. Some were even looking up at the mistletoe hanging from the chandeliers and were doing what you were supposed to do in those cases.
She was wondering if maybe she should make up another trip to the ladies’ room so this wouldn’t be so awkward, when Rick appeared in her line of vision and said. “Care to dance?”
“I……..sure, if you want to, I mean. We don’t have to, you know, if you don’t want to.”
He extended his hand and when she took it and stood up, he whispered, his face inches away from hers.
“Trust me, I never do anything I don’t want to.”
She would have had to be death not to feel the awareness of her hand tucked in his, as it tinkled up and down her arm and then took over her entire body. Or she would have to be stupid not to admit she wanted to dance with him. That she wanted to know what it would feel like to be close to him, to see if he let his walls down and let her in, even if it was for just a peek.
The soft music enveloped her, but it was his arms that did the same to her body, that had her swallowing, and then staring up at him. Miley wondered if he knew she was getting more out of this than he probably was. To be able to be so close to him and feel his hard chest against her own chest, rising and falling, to get lost in that endless sea of green, as he didn’t lift his eyes off of her.
She had never been in love, but one night in the company of a man she had never seen before, and she was pretty sure this feeling of floating on clouds, of soaring up in the sky, was that. She was falling in love with Richard Hudson.
But would Santa bring him to her?