I never believed in psychics or their predictions until that crisp October night. After what fate delivered into my hands, I realized that some things just have their own way of working out for the best. Destiny really can surprise you when you least expect it!
“Don’t worry! You’re going to have fun tonight. You need to meet some new people, and have a sense of adventure. You’re too boring, Winnie,” Mallory snapped.
I watched my “friend” strut toward the two-story house, her spiked heels clicking along the stone pathway. I pursed my lips and shook my head. I couldn’t believe I’d just heard that. Some friend Mallory was turning out to be! I’d only met her three weeks ago in a jewelry-making class and didn’t know her that well. In fact, the more I got to know her, the less I liked her. Mallory had seemed friendly enough at first, but now, her snide comments and obnoxious attitude were grating on my nerves.
I followed Mallory onto the wooden porch. Loud music blared from inside the house. I felt my stomach drop. The last thing I wanted to do tonight was go to a party where I didn’t know a soul. But, deep down, I knew I shouldn’t refuse the invitation. I was surprised when Mallory invited me to her friend’s Halloween party. At the time, it sounded like fun. But now that I was here, all I wanted to do was go home and curl up on the couch with a glass of red wine and a good book.
“I wouldn’t mention what you told me to anyone here. They’ll think you’re a nut. Nobody believes in psychics!” Mallory laughed.
I let out a deep sigh. How had I gotten myself into this? Mallory and I had been talking about horoscopes, and then we’d gotten onto the topic of psychics. I had innocently mentioned my visit to the fortuneteller a few weeks ago, and that had set Mallory off.
“I’m not a nut; I just said it was intriguing, Mallory.”
I didn’t disguise the bitterness in my voice. The trip to the psychic had been interesting. I went in expecting to see an older woman dressed like a gypsy staring into a crystal ball. I’d been skeptical, and I made sure not to give her any hints or clues about my life or my present situation. To my surprise, though, the middle-aged woman who read my tarot cards seemed to know all about me. It was almost spooky. She told me things that nobody else could possibly have known.
Mallory turned, and her red devil costume billowed up around her thighs. “Someone from your past will enter your life? Ha!” She knocked on the door. “You can’t really believe that nonsense, Winnie.”
“Well, that’s what the woman said,” I replied. “She was right about a lot of other things. Analisa even knew that my real . . . oh, never mind,” I muttered. I was sorry I ever told Mallory about the psychic, and I hoped that she’d let the subject drop. I didn’t need to be teased about it all night.
I busied myself by adjusting the top of my harem dancer outfit. The dark, sheer skirt and low-cut sequined top exposed my stomach and left me feeling chilly in the night air. Although the costume fit fine, I thought I looked ridiculous. I’d never worn anything so flashy before, but the get-up was all that was left at the Halloween store. Compared to Mallory’s revealing dress, though, I might as well have been wearing flannel pajamas.
The grim reaper answered the door and beckoned us inside. Mallory paraded me through the crowded living room filled with an assortment of clowns, cowboys, and pirates. The interior of the house was decorated with orange and black streamers and balloons.
I tried to ignore the stares and raised eyebrows I got as I passed by in my seductive costume. Someone let out a whistle, and I cringed. My ensemble made me feel exposed—like I was on the prowl for a one-night stand or something. My skin prickled, and I tried to ignore the obvious leering glances as I followed Mallory through the lower half of the house. She seemed to know all the men there . . . and I wasn’t surprised.
“You mingle around, Winnie. I’m going to find the bar.” Mallory vanished into the sea of costumed people without another word.
I shook my head. This was just great. I should have known better than to get mixed up with Mallory. We were like night and day. Seeing her in jewelry class was one thing, and she was okay to talk to twice a week, but we hadn’t socialized much outside of class before tonight and right now I doubted that I’d even speak to her after the party.
I inwardly cursed myself for letting Mallory drive me. I could be stranded—bored to tears—until she decided that it was time to go home. And who knew when that was going to be?
I looked around the living room, hoping to spot someone who appeared friendly. Everyone seemed to know each other. That only added to my insecurity. I’d never been good at big parties. I liked more quiet, sedate settings, or small, friendly gatherings. It also didn’t help that I felt naked in my skimpy outfit.
I helped myself to a cup of punch from the dining room table and retreated into a dimly lit section of the kitchen hallway. I leaned against the wall and replayed last week’s visit to the psychic. It had only cost fifty dollars, and I hadn’t seen any harm in it. I’d asked Analisa about my job, and of course, my love life, such that it was. Analisa gazed at the tarot cards for a moment, and then said that someone from my past would soon reenter my life.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but Analisa had been right about a lot of things that she couldn’t have possibly known about. She talked about me getting married and moving, and ending up with three children. I was more skeptical about that than anything else.
Before I left, she had advised me not to refuse any invitations for the next two months. That didn’t seem too hard. This was the only party I’d been invited to in ages. But despite Analisa’s advice, I regretted coming, anyway. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to get out and socialize yet.
My psychic reading wasn’t the only reason I went to the party. I felt that I needed to start getting out more. Taking the jewelry class had been my first step toward building a new life for myself. The breakup with John two months ago had been hard to get over, but now I felt like I was ready to start fresh. Unfortunately, I hadn’t come across any good dating prospects at work or anywhere else.
I sipped my drink and stared down at my purple toenails. Maybe I should go back to the living room and socialize a little, I thought. At least it would pass the time.
The deep voice startled me. I whirled around and sloshed half of my punch onto my chest. Gwyneth? Nobody had called me that in years! Hardly anyone even knew my real name.
I turned and gazed up into the handsome face of Count Dracula.
“I’m so sorry, Winnie; I. . . .” the count mumbled and smiled, displaying his fangs. “Hang on.” He removed the plastic teeth and put them in his pocket. “It’s hard to talk with those in. I didn’t mean to scare you. Well, I mean, I did, but I didn’t want you to spill your drink.” He chuckled.
I stared at him, trying to figure out who he was. He had to be someone I knew pretty well. I never told casual acquaintances my real name. Analisa had known, though. That’s why I’d believed her about the other things.
I studied Dracula for a moment. His white face makeup distorted his features, but the rumbling voice sounded so familiar. Under the makeup and without his black hair slicked back . . . could it be? “Ace? Is that you?” I exclaimed.
He grinned and nodded. “Yes. It’s me. Surprise! Happy Halloween!”
My heart skipped a beat. Ace looked even sexier now than when I’d last seen him three years ago. He still had the same hazel-green eyes, strong jawline, and dark hair I’d dreamt about running my fingers through. But for some reason, he seemed taller than I knew him to be. Something was different about his shoulders, too. He had filled out or bulked up, or something. . . .
Lust-filled memories of the past washed over me, and I tried to keep my composure. “Where did you come from?” I looked into his eyes and caught him staring at my exposed midriff.
Ace glanced up, and a guilty grin spread across his face. “You spilled your drink.”
Ace pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket, dipped it in his club soda, and gently wiped the sticky punch off my collarbone. I gasped as a rivulet of cold liquid trickled down my chest. Ace’s actions sent a familiar ripple of desire coursing through me. Time hadn’t erased my feelings for him. He still had the same effect on my mind and body.
Ace stepped back and shook his head. “I’m sorry. That was so forward of me. I haven’t seen you in three years and I . . . I was watching you from the corner and I couldn’t believe my eyes. What are you doing here? Do you work with Sal?”
“No.” I shook my head, and the bells braided into my long hair jingled. “I’m not sure what I’m doing here.” I shrugged. “A woman I met in a class invited me, then abandoned me the second we got here. This was sort of something to do to get me out of the house. I don’t know anyone here at all.”
Ace and I had been good friends and had shared so much at one point; I knew that he’d understand my dilemma. “You know how I am, Ace. I’m not very good at big parties.” I swirled the ice in my drink and tried to calm my rapidly beating heart.
“Well, you know me—that’s more than enough.” Ace smiled.
Ace draped his black cape around my shoulders. The cool satin caressed my bare skin, and my body tingled with excitement. Never in all the years we’d worked together had he gotten so close—no matter how many times I’d wished for it.
Even though there was an undeniable, mutual attraction between us years ago, neither one of us had ever acted on it, or even acknowledged it. It just seemed better that way. At the time, Ace had a girlfriend, and despite all my longings and hopes, I accepted the fact that we would just remain friends. I relaxed under his touch and tried to act casual. “So, what have you been doing all this time, Ace?”
“Let’s see . . . after I left Karos Printing, I got engaged to Leah.” He arched his left eyebrow. “And then I got dumped two months before the wedding. I was pretty miserable, so I went to Arizona for three years. I just moved back here last month. Now I work with Sal, running phone lines and wiring for his office.”
Engaged? Dumped? My pulse quickened. Did this mean that Ace was single? What had happened between him and Leah? They’d seemed so happy together. Ace always used to talk about her. The one time Ace had introduced me to Leah, she hadn’t looked too happy to meet me. Had she been jealous of our relationship?
Everyone in the office knew that Ace and I were good friends, but that was as far as it went. Although, so much time had passed over the years, it hadn’t lessened my attraction to him.
I was about to suggest that we exchange phone numbers and get caught up sometime, when Ace cleared his throat and leaned close to me. He started playing with the bells in my hair. I caught a whiff of his exotic, spicy-scented cologne. It invited me to get closer.
“What have you been doing? Is there anyone special in your life?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No; not at all.” Ace’s hinting wasn’t lost on me for a second, and I was elated. “I got a new job last year, and I’ve been keeping busy with night classes and traveling.” I sipped my punch and stared into his dazzling eyes.
“You know, instead of moving away, I should’ve called you, Winnie. I always wondered what it would have been like if we went out. We had great times at the office.”
I almost choked on my punch. “What?”
Ace toyed with the nylon veil hanging from my waist. His fingers touched my skin, and an electric tingle raced through me.
“You heard me, Win. We always had lots of fun together. You and I were more compatible than Leah and I ever were.” Ace sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know why I didn’t realize it at the time. I guess it always was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t want to take the risk. But that was the old me. Now, I’m more adventurous, more bold.”
Ace sipped his club soda and gestured toward my harem girl outfit. “This is an interesting costume,” he said, slipping his arm around my waist.
My heart raced as his warm hand stroked my stomach. Ace had been an unobtainable fantasy that got me through many boring days stuck behind my desk at the office. When we’d worked together, we’d both go out of our way to visit each other’s cubicles several times a day. Had Ace ever sat at his desk and fantasized about me, too?
“I’m glad you like it,” I replied. The costume that had previously left me feeling vulnerable and exposed now allowed me to be playful, and sexy. I trailed my fingers along the back of Ace’s wide hand and batted my lashes at him. “You look very elegant. You’re not a spooky kind of vampire.”
I found his choice of costume rather appropriate, actually. After all, vampires were famous for their ability to mesmerize and seduce helpless women. I felt myself falling under Ace’s spell. I was helpless to fight it—and I didn’t want to.
Ace pulled me up against his chest. “Yes. We vampires all have one thing in common: We always go for the neck.”
I giggled as he draped his cape over us. All of a sudden, Ace’s warm, sexy lips nuzzled my throat. I gasped and wrapped my arms around his broad back. I let out a throaty moan as he trailed tiny kisses down my neck, and ignited a fire deep within me. Talk about tension. . . .
Ace pulled away and I gazed into his eyes. “Does this mean that I’m your helpless victim?” I whispered.
“If you want to be.”
“Absolutely,” I answered.
Ace’s mouth covered mine, and he kissed me down to my soul. I melted in his arms. I had waited years for this moment, and I couldn’t believe it was actually happening.
Several minutes later, we broke our passionate embrace. “I love this costume on you, Winnie. It’s so sexy,” Ace said, as he stroked my back. He nibbled my earlobe, and I pressed myself closer to him.
“Do you still like jazz, Winnie?” he asked.
I nodded. After all these years, he remembered. “Of course.”
Ace played with the veil hanging off my waist again. It seemed like he couldn’t keep his hands off of me; I didn’t mind one bit. “Why don’t we get out of here? I read in the paper that a little jazz club just opened up over in Cortland. We can relive our old memories and maybe make a few new ones.” Ace paused and licked his lips. “I’d be more than happy to drive you home afterward, Gwyneth.”
I grinned. From the look in Ace’s eyes, I had a feeling that we wouldn’t be at the jazz club for too long. He might have been driving me home, but I anticipated him waking up in my bed in the morning. I prayed that my pent-up fantasies about him would all be realized.
I leaned forward and kissed the side of his neck. “I’d love to. I’d go anywhere with you, Count.”
I turned and saw Mallory standing in the hallway. She had a puzzled expression on her face. In all the excitement of meeting up with Ace again, I had forgotten all about her. I rested my head on Ace’s shoulder and smirked. “Oh, Mallory—here’s someone from my past I’d like you to meet.” Analisa had been right about so much. The party, meeting the person from my past, and even the part I hadn’t dared to tell anyone about—the wedding! She had predicted that I’d be a June bride.
Ace and I were married on June 10th last year, and we couldn’t be happier. Fate delivered me my true love!