Authors: Carrie Alexander
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Love Stories, #Category, #Baseball, #Sports & Recreation, #Martini Dares, #Boston (Mass.)
Brooke Winfield glanced at the featureless bulge between his legs, reminded of playing dolls with her sisters. Joey was always the first to strip the Ken figurine to his plastic skin and make indecent overtures to the girl dolls, while Katie held disco parties for hers. Brooke didn’t actually play at all.
She’d been more concerned with designing the dolls’ wardrobes and staging elaborate scenarios in their dream house.
“Thirty years old and I’m still dressing dolls,” she said to the nude male mannequin while she folded the jeans. With his boyish chest and aquiline nose, he was too high-fashion to make a believable biker dude. A leather bandanna and the tattoos she’d painted on his slender forearms were only surface dressing.
Brooke caught a glance of herself in the mirror on the back wall of the display area. The surface was what people noticed. Her surface, as usual, read ninety percent Boston conservative and ten percent creative—today, signified by the jangly tin fish earrings she’d bought last year at the Bazaar Bizarre, a punk-rock arts-and-crafts fair.
Ten percent. Brooke knew that it was time to flip those numbers. Recently, she’d decided that she was finished with conforming to the Winfield rules and expectations. She didn’t want to wind up like her deceased mother, who’d hidden the truth about her previous life right up to the end to fit in with her conservative in-laws.
With a sigh, Brooke returned to dismantling the window. It, at least, had caused a splash, even though the display sold only the illusion of rebellion.
Three-hundred-dollar jeans weren’t changing anyone’s world. Certainly not the trendy Bostonians who thought nothing of slapping down the plastic to buy a fashionable garment they might wear only once.
She unscrewed the mannequin and lifted the torso and limbs onto the trolley, then climbed back inside the window display. O.M. Worthington was an historic, ultra-exclusive department store on Newbury Street. It catered to longtime customers, with personal services and the promise of remaining unchanged since the Mayflower.
Alyce Simmons, the head fashion buyer, had enlisted Brooke’s help to push the stodgy store into a more profitable era. Their first collaboration, the leather-heavy Gaultier window display, had caused a few raised eyebrows among the staff, as well as the store’s clientele. The only reason they’d gotten away with it was that Old Man Worthington himself had approved the concept. Even an octogenarian could see that the store must boost their youth appeal or they’d never make it to their third century.
Brooke stripped the female mannequin next, starting with a Cruella-meets-Anna-Wintour wig. She paused to twirl the sleek ebony bob on her finger. Her impulse was to pop the wig over her own bland, brown hair, which remained scraped into a tidy bun after twelve hours at work. She wasn’t the kind of woman who had wild, untamable hair. She didn’t even have tendrils.
Nor did she follow her impulses.
Except for the security guard, she was alone in the store. Tall curtains had been drawn across the street window, enclosing the display area in complete privacy. She could do anything she liked and no one would know.
Normally, what she liked was to complete her work as efficiently as possible.
After every task had been check marked on her clipboard list, she’d go home to a comfy evening of hot chocolate, L.L. Bean goose-down slippers, and an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. If she was feeling restless, she might break out her watercolors and work on a pretty landscape or floral still life.
“So why not?” She patted her hair. Do the unexpected, for once in your life.
The past few months had been rocky. Her mother had passed away after a lingering illness. Her sister, Katie, had fallen in love with a man that Brooke had once dated. She’d turned thirty and had suddenly realized that her life was not challenging or exciting or even fresh.
Thus, she came to the decision to indulge herself a little, to try new experiences, maybe meet a few men who didn’t look as though they’d stepped directly out of the pages of Young Bostonian. But all she’d done up to now was buy a tank of tropical fish, say a firm, “No, thank you,” when her Great Aunt Josephine had asked her to chair a Ladies’ League clothing drive and reluctantly agree to become a member of Martinis and Bikinis, a somewhat scandalous social club for women.
Katie had joined the group first, after all three Winfield sisters had received invitations in the mail. She’d become enthusiastic about the Martinis and Bikinis directive of challenging women to step out of the box by issuing them dares—wild tasks such as finally telling off your sexist boss or riding in a convertible with your own top down. After Katie’s rousing success with the club, she’d encouraged her sisters to step up and discover their own inner wild woman.
She claimed that the experience was the cathartic release they needed.
Only the extensive martini menu had enticed Brooke. Her wild woman remained on snooze alarm.
She frowned. “Time’s up, sister. Tonight you live up to your Martinis and Bikinis membership pledge.”
She plopped the wig onto her head, tugged it into place, then bent to study herself in the mirror she’d shattered to create an urban mosaic for the display.
Her reflection in the jagged shards was different, but the change wasn’t radical. She still wore her professional armor—a cashmere-knit top, tailored pants and low-heeled leather pumps.
Brooke’s eyes went to the bald female mannequin, frozen in a naughty pose with an upthrust derriere, hands spread on the section of the wall that had been bricked with styrofoam and sprayed with graffiti. A minidress rode high across its thighs. The bodice was about exposure, not coverage, with narrow bands of leather that crisscrossed the figurine’s slim torso and flat, hard breasts.
An altogether outrageous dress.
Brooke contemplated. Did she dare go for it?
She’d fantasized about twirling around the store at night in a borrowed Dior gown and satin slippers, but that scenario wasn’t far outside her comfort zone.
She’d been to scores of charity events that required dressing to the nines.
But a leather minidress? That was worthy of the Martinis and Bikinis club.
“I won’t buy it,” she said to her reflection. “I’ll only try it on.”
She stripped the mannequin in no time. But then the thought of revealing herself hit home, and she froze. Nudity was out of her comfort zone.
Don’t be a wimp. She kicked off her shoes. Slowly unzipped her pants. As the garment slid down her thighs, she comforted herself with the knowledge that no one was watching except the blank-eyed mannequin.
The Martinis and Bikinis mantra spurred her on. She stepped free of the trousers and stood shivering in her bikini underpants. I can do it. I can dare.
Katie had transformed her life in the month since she’d jumped headfirst into the Martinis and Bikinis experience. Brooke wanted to take the same leap.
“I’m trying,” she murmured. Granted, dressing up in secret was minor by comparison. But it was a start, especially for her. She’d been holed up in the family home in the suburbs since her mother’s death three months ago. She’d needed time. Time to adjust to the loss, the loneliness…and the stunning revelation that her mother had given a baby up for adoption before Brooke and her sisters were born.
The discovery that Lindsay Beckham was her half-sister had hit Brooke like a thunderbolt. She was still dealing with the aftereffects, including sorting out what it meant to her identity as the eldest Winfield sister—the responsible one, who had always done her best to follow her mother’s example and live up to the high expectations of the rest of the family.
Resolutely, she put all that out of her mind and doffed her sweater. Prickling with goose flesh, she pulled the minidress over her head. The wig slipped down over her eyes and she pushed it back, skinned the dress past her hips, then peered into the fractured mirror.
She looked ridiculous. The Gaultier dress wasn’t designed to be worn with socks, a bra and any type of underwear that offered more coverage than a thong. She’d thought she could go halfway in the transformation, but to get the full effect, she would have to take everything off.
A quick peek through the drapes at Newbury Street reassured her. The high-end shops and chichi galleries were shut down. A nightclub and a couple of restaurants were doing business in the adjacent blocks, but at this hour, none of their customers were likely to linger near the Worthington windows.
Brooke was safe, she was secure, she was alone. “And something tells me that you’re missing the point,” she muttered. Ah, well. Baby steps.
She eyed the mannequin’s stilettos. Baby steps were the only way for her to walk in five-inch heels.
With her undergarments and socks off and the shoes on, she returned to the mosaic mirror to examine her reflection. Much better. She adjusted the leather straps. The dress was a standard sample size six, which should have fit. Either she’d been sucking down too many hot chocolates or the dress was designed to make even a slender shape like hers appear voluptuous. Her modest breasts were mashed together, cleavage bulging out in every direction. And her legs—oh, my.
She’d always been the tall one of the family, but in the towering stilettos, her legs were a mile long.
She pouted at her reflection. “Yeah, baby. You’re sex on stilts.”
Pah. Brooke yanked off the wig. Absurd. She hadn’t had sex since she’d moved back home. And as long as truths were being told, if only to herself, she could admit that from her scalp to her toes she dreaded the day when it was her turn to take a Martinis and Bikinis club dare.
The blast of an engine and the screech of tires in the street ripped Brooke’s attention from the mirror. She stuck her head through the opening in the drapes in time to see a speeding red and black motorcycle completing a sharp U-turn on Newbury. Luckily, the street was nearly empty.
The bike shot past the store, its back end slewing out of control. The driver cut the front wheel into the skid—too late. The motorcycle slid across the pavement and into a lamppost. The driver hit the sidewalk like a bag of wet cement. His helmet flew off, bounced hard a couple of times and rolled to a stop in the gutter.
For a couple of seconds, Brooke was too stunned to move. Neither did the driver.
Then his hand lifted off the sidewalk and waved for help, before flopping flat again.
She whirled and made a balletic leap out of the elevated window display, forgetting the stilettos until she landed with a jar to both ankles, sharp enough to bring her to her knees.
“Gus!” She staggered up, waving at the security cameras as she sprinted past the floor displays to the front doors. If the night watchman was making rounds, he might hear her calling. “Gus! I need help. There’s been an accident.”
She slammed into the doors. They were shatterproof glass, mullioned, with heavy, ornate latches. Locked, of course, and she didn’t have the key since she came and went through the service entrance around back.
The ancient cage elevator churned toward the first floor. Gus must be on his way, bless his heart.
Brooke rattled the latches, then cupped her hands around her eyes and tried to see down the street. A taxicab drove by, slowing as it approached the scene of the accident. Thank God. Help had arrived.
The elevator ground to a stop and Gus pushed back the grate. “Please hurry,”
Brooke urged as the older man scurried across the gleaming terrazzo. “A motorbike crashed on the street. Unlock the doors for me, then call nine-one-one for an ambulance.”
“Yes, Miss Winfield.” Gus gave her a funny look as he juggled through his keys.
The dress. She crossed her arms and tucked her hands into her armpits. There wasn’t time to worry about the skimpy garment now. Fortunately, Gus was a good egg. He wouldn’t tell on her.
He shoved the door open. She raced outside, her heels tapping on the wide stone steps of the main entrance as she trotted down them. The cab had stopped at the curb. Its driver knelt beside the injured man, who was trying to sit up. “I’m fine,” he insisted. His arms flailed. “Let me be.”
Brooke dropped to her knees. “You’re disoriented,” she soothed, reaching for his shoulder to cajole him into staying down. “Keep still. You’ve been injured.”
He roughly pushed her hand away. His hair was dark, shaggy and disheveled, his face bloody.
“Nine-one-one’s busy,” Gus called from inside the store. “I’m on hold.”
The accident victim’s wild eyes settled on Brooke. “Get me out of here,” he pleaded.
“Of course,” she said evenly. The poor guy was out of his mind. “An ambulance will be on its way very soon.”
A couple of vehicles cruised by, the drivers gawking at the scene. Each time, the motorcycle driver flinched. He raised a shaking hand to shield his face from the curious stares. “Just help me stand up,” he begged.
“That’s not a good—” His jarring weight snapped Brooke’s mouth shut. He’d leaned heavily on her shoulder as he got to his feet. She rose with him, wrapping her arms around his denim jacket and solid body as he staggered. “Please sit down. You’re not thinking clearly. You have to see a doctor.”