(Missed some? Read chapter 1, 2, 3, 4.)
Q: Why do you have to go to bed at night?
A: Because the bed won't come to you.
— Laffy Taffy Joke #195
Sleeping arrangements were easily dealt with; Phelps slept on the floor with the caveat that he had to be up before anyone might come to wake us.
I was a little concerned that he had much more depth than Fiona led me to believe. My dreams that night were of a Jacuzzi tub full of Hot Tamales, Phelps, and me. And let me tell you, the heat was not coming from the candy.
At one point I bolted up in bed, shocked by the throbbing between my legs and certain that he must have heard me moaning in my sleep.
But when I peered over the edge, he lay soundly asleep on the floor, his expression angelic.
I collapsed back into the bed and slept peacefully throughout the rest of the night.
Breakfast harkened the arrival of Gavin.
We were on the back deck, plates of eggs benedict and exotic fruit perched on our knees, when I heard the melodious tenor of his voice.
I dropped my plate.
"Good morning, Lydia," he crooned, as I knelt to clean up my mess. Dubble Bubble Damn, why did his first sight have to be me on my hands and knees at his feet. Just where he wanted me, I'm sure.
"Gavin." I nodded my head in the barest tilt of polite acknowledgment.
Then my prince stepped in.
"Hey, you’re the ex!" Phelps thrust out his hand, forcibly taking Gavin's in return and pumping it enthusiastically. "Can't thank you enough for being such an ass. Lyd's the best thing that ever happened to me."
I might have been mortified, but for the look of utter aghast on Gavin's pretty boy face.
"Um, your welcome."
Gavin. At a loss for words? Priceless.
"If you hadn't boinked your secretary, then where would we be?"
Fiona must have told him more than just the particulars.
Gavin turned bright red—I had never thought to see Gavin Fairchild embarrassed—and could not come up with a single thing to say.
But I could.
"I don't know about you, Sweet Tooth, but I'd be married to a louse who dropped his pants for anything dumb enough to put out." I stood, setting my plate on the bench behind me, and settled in at Phelps' side. "I'm much happier where I am."
Phelps grinned at me and I did the most startling thing; I kissed him. Right there in front of God, Gavin, and everybody.
Just a quick peck, but enough to send Gavin stalking back into the house with a vengeance.
"Bravo," Phelps whispered as he gave me a return peck on the ear.
Someone started clapping. I turned to find Alberto applauding my brilliant set-down, and several female—recently divorced—guests joined him.
Alberto stepped forward and patted me on the shoulder. "That was a very pretty thing. For you." He inclined his head to Ferrero, walking this way from the other end of the deck. "Just remember who your audience is."
With that, he disappeared, leaving me alone with Phelps to face the approaching Ferrero.
While I was proud of myself for putting Gavin in his place, I knew that kind of outburst was unprofessional and could not be repeated.
"That was great," I whispered hurriedly before Ferrero arrived, "but we can't do that again. I need to maintain my professional image."
"Got it." If he smiled that cocky grin one more time, so help me— he grinned. And made good his exit. "I'll just leave you to face the letch alone."
"Good morning, beautiful Olivia," Ferrero greeted.
So much for my lasting impression.
"Actually Mr. Ferrero, it's Lydia," I reminded.
"Of course, but I asked you to call me Franco."
He smiled, his white teeth a perfect match to his white hair and white linen shirt. The shirt hit mid-thigh, and a far as I could tell he had nothing on underneath. Great Mr. Goodbar.
"Since you have disobeyed, you must join me in the bubble tub." He frowned, searching for the English word. "The hot tub."
I hid my scowl, pretty sure I detected the teeniest bit of Jersey in his accent.
"I don't have my suit on," I objected.
"Nonsense. Who needs a suit?" At my look of horror, he added, "I only tease. Go. Fetch your suit." He waved me away. "And that man of yours."
As he turned and walked off in the direction of the hot tub—it's very existence a mystery to me since the ocean was only steps away—this time I openly scowled. His eyes had nearly glowed at the mention of Phelps.
Maybe Marlene's rumor about the flesh was off by a gender.
Phelps in swim trunks was a sight to behold.
Tall, six-one or six-two. Broad-shouldered and muscular—like he played a little football in the park on weekends. Only he probably didn't since any injuries might conflict with his modeling career.
Then again, the man climbed the Andes for fun, so what did I know about his career conflicts.
But I did know a mighty fine ass when I saw one. And the ass emerging from our en suite bathroom, encased in gray nylon with white piping, definitely qualified.
Sweet Saltwater Taffy.
"Ready to hit the bubbles?" He cocked a brow and tucked two fluffy white towels beneath his arm.
"Yes," I said, tugging the belt of my French terry cover-up tighter around my waist. "But first we need to have a little talk about rules of conduct."
"Rules of conduct?"
I had been mentally reliving the interchange with Gavin for the past twenty minutes. And while I gloried at the flustered look on his pretty face, my behavior had been less than professional.
"Remember that the primary reason for this weekend—and your presence here—is my job." I grabbed my Havaiana flip flops and dropped them to the floor. "As much as I will always adore you for that brilliant shut down of my late-fiancé, we have to keep the rest of the weekend on a more mature level."
Phelps casually tugged his waistband into place. "You want me to act like a grown-up, then?"
"If you please."
He tossed a towel my direction, which I caught with a scowl. Nothing in his demeanor to this point suggested a capacity to act like an adult.
I dug my hands into my pockets, seriously wondering whether he could rise to the occasion. Oooh, my fingers curled around a paper-wrapped square. A mango tropical Starburst. Fumbling with the waxy paper, I unwrapped the treat and slipped it between my lips. But even mango sugar couldn't dispel my concerns.
"Relax, Chicken Little. I can do adult."
And he managed to say it with a straight face.
I stepped into my flip flops and headed for the door. As I passed in front of Phelps, he pinched my backside.
Before I could turn to argue, he grabbed my shoulders and pushed me out into the hall.
"Just getting it out of my system."
As I lowered my bathing suit-clad body into the bubbling water of Jawbreaker's hot tub, I felt one step closer to heaven. Even in the humid August air, the enveloping heat felt blissful.
Unfortunately, Phelps and I were not the only guests Ferrero had invited into the bubble tub.
I sat wedged between Geoffrey Hildebrandt, retired men's accessories designer at Fendi, and Brant something-or-other, one of Jawbreaker's Southampton neighbors.
Geoff, whom I had met at several cocktail mixers, was gayer than the whole gang on that gay makeover show put together. He was a sweet man with an eye for leather goods and handsome young men.
Brant, on the other hand, was one of those old money, lacrosse-playing, sailing types. He was too tan, too smiley, and too blonde. He also happened to be too handsy. Before I could even settle into the bench seat, his hand slipped beneath my swimsuit-clad ass and wiggled. Rather than draw attention to his appalling-but-not-unexpected behavior, I smiled sweetly.
"Such a tight squeeze in here," I said as I gouged a set of crescents into the flesh of his palm. "Good thing I'm surrounded by such polite gentlemen."
My subtlety had no effect. Brant openly drooled over my breasts, thrust into deceptively lush cleavage by a simple black Anne Cole suit with a silver buckle across the chest.
Removing his hand from my bottom, I forcibly placed it in his lap before grabbing an inch of tender flesh on his inner thigh and pinching with all my heart.
No one else even noticed his silent scream.
"Ah-hem, excuse me," he sputtered as he climbed out onto the teak deck. "Just remembered, um, have to get, er, something in my room."
He turned and ran for the house. I could see the darkening smudge of a delightfully placed bruise forming.
"Hurry back, Brant," I called after his retreating form.
Relaxing into the now ample space, I spread my arms along the edge and surveyed the rest of the tub. Phelps, directly across from me between a pair of exec's wives, winked.
And I was in such a state of bliss I couldn't even scowl.
"I hope there's room for us in there."
I cringed at the high-pitched squeal. My bliss shattered. Without looking, I knew Kelly stood behind me on the deck, sporting some teeny bikini as concealing as a trio of Necco Wafers, with Gavin in tow.
What was up with my run of luck this past week? All my fortune had fled to Palm Beach for the winter.
Maybe if I kept my eyes closed tightly enough, it would all go away.
"Always room for two more," Phelps boomed.
I briefly pondered the penalty for homicide of an infuriating hire-a-date. Surely with my family connections and money I could get off with probation. And there are extenuating circumstances.
Mental Post-it: put criminal attorney on retainer.
Someone grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me forcibly through the water. As Phelps turned me and plunked me on his lap, he said, "Lyd and I can share."
Grrr, I growled.
Only Phelps heard me.
"Thought you wouldn't want to cause a scene," he whispered. "Besides, now you can schmooze the boss."
I turned, scowling, and found Ferrero sitting to my right. Maybe Phelps was a little more business savvy than I—or Fiona—gave him credit for.
Kelly and Gavin made their way into the spots Brant and I had occupied. I was right, Kelly wore a barely-there, cherry red bikini I had seen in the last Victoria's Secret catalog. Gavin handed her down, following in his matching red swimming briefs. He eyed me warily, as if expecting me to do something outrageous and emotional and totally deserved.
I was above such petty behavior. Especially when he was getting everything he deserved with Kelly. If he thought he could cheat on her without becoming the next John Wayne Bobbit, then he was dearly mistaken.
Letting all the other nonsense fade into the background, I tapped Ferrero on the arm. "Fe— Franco, you wished to discuss more about my designs today." I pinched my earlobes, tugging the pearl-dotted spirals into view. "These are my latest."
Franco leaned in to examine the silver pieces, and I could almost hear the steam shooting out of Kelly's ears from across the Jacuzzi.
When Jawbreaker came to inform us of a sightseeing trip into the thriving metropolis of Southampton, nearly everyone in the tub clamored to go. Only Ferrero appeared uninterested. Even Phelps decided to go, swiftly whispering that I should "take a golden opportunity when it punches me in the face" before lifting me off his lap and following everyone else into the house.
Left alone with Ferrero and his rapt interest in my jewelry designs, I knew this was my chance to make the most important impression of all.
"Franco," I started.
"Dear Lyvia," he interrupted—I chose not to correct him since this was his closest guess by far—and placed his soft hand dramatically on my forearm, "I have been seeking for so long to find a woman of spirit, of imagination, of—" He paused dramatically. "—passion."
His pale blue eyes glowed and his grip on my arm tightened. A quick glance around told me the deck was deserted. We were alone.
And I was pretty sure I wouldn't like where this conversation was heading—although it had to be better than any conversation about Gavin.
"My creativity is, you see, a very fragile creature." He gazed wistfully at the sky above. "It requires much petting and great care. In short," he grabbed me by both shoulders and stared directly into my eyes, "it needs a muse."
"Muse?" I repeated.
Now that was not what I had expected him to say. And I can't say I was any relieved to hear it.
He nodded emphatically. "Yes, a muse. An inspiration, like the tales of Greek mythology. Like Jacqueline Bouvier. Like Princess Grace. And you shall be mine."
"But Mr. Ferrero," I argued, reverting to a polite distance, "I don't know anything about being a muse. I'm an account manager. I handle sales accounts, for Good&Plenty's sake. What do I know about being a muse?"
This whole thing was ridiculous.
"You already are, my dear." He smoothed his hand over my hair, along my ear, and cupped my earring. "You have creativity," he said. He dropped his hand beneath the water and lifted mine to his mouth. "You have spirit." He cupped my cheek. "You have passion." He grinned. "You are already my muse."
Whoa there, Twizzler.
This exciting, spirited, passionate woman he described was not me. "I have some creativity, I'll grant you," I acceded, thinking of my jewelry designs. "But I'm not spirited."
I was so not spirited that when I found Gavin pressing flesh with another woman, all I thought was Guess I'll have to return the ring.
"Nonsense." Ferrero waved a dismissive hand in my direction. "I have eyes to see the wildcat sharpen her claws."
Great Gobstoppers, did he mean on Gavin or that toad Brant? I had to admit I had been feeling a little spirited so far this weekend. But that wasn't the usual me.
"Fine, but I'm not passionate, either."
I was so not passionate that Gavin had to go to another woman—probably several other women, in fact—to satisfy his, um, needs.
"Ah, chica," he tsked, the Spanish endearment sounding peculiar with his Jersey-tinted Italian accent, "no one could fail to see the passion between you and your young man. Fireworks were not the only thing lighting up the dark last night."
Now there was no way I could tell him how fake that was. He had to see reason, to realize that I was not muse material. I had a promotion to garner, and I didn't think sitting around inspiring Ferrero or whatever being a muse entailed was going to accomplish that.
"Enough," he commanded, rising from the tub and tugging me out behind him, "you will be my muse for next Spring's couture line. Your jewelry will accentuate every piece."
He didn't acknowledge my stammering, instead held out both hands expectantly. In a daze, I grabbed a pair of towels from a nearby bench and handed him one. I wrapped the other around my waist as I pictured my jewelry accessorizing the Spring line on the Ferrero runway.
That was an opportunity I could not pass up.
Ferrero walked toward the house, toweling his snowy hair as he moved, and I blindly followed.
"And your young man," he decreed as he draped the towel around his neck rather than cover his wet, white—and obviously unlined—Speedo, "will be my muse for the menswear line."
I tripped over the negligible door jamb, righting myself just as Ferrero turned to say, "This will be my most inspired collection ever."