Authors: Sally Falcon
“Rub my ears, and I’d follow you anywhere, sugar.”
The smooth masculine drawl homed in on the base of Jessie DeLord’s spine, then sidled upward to come to rest between her shoulder blades. Without any outward sign of the sudden lack of oxygen to her brain, she blinked dispassionately at the six-foot rabbit that had suddenly materialized next to her. He was a strange apparition, even at a costume party celebrating Harry Houdini’s birthday.
“Hi, darlin’, I’d sure like to be your bunny for the rest of the night,” he continued, his inflection making it clear he’d like to spend their time together in a horizontal position.
“I beg your pardon?” she managed in a breathless voice that was supposed to have been haughty and highly offended. Why had she allowed Gina to talk her into wearing this ridiculous abbreviated magician’s assistant costume to the Bushes’ party? She wasn’t the type for black fish-net stockings and scarlet satin trimmed in black lace ruffles.
“Darlin’, you aren’t goin’ ta break ole Trevor’s heart so soon? You wound me.” He punctuated the declaration by clasping his hand over his heart, his drawl more exaggerated with each syllable. A thoroughly masculine inspection, beginning at her feet and sweeping upward over the sixty-six inches of her paralyzed frame, counteracted his crestfallen expression. Jessie’s gaze was drawn inexorably to a well-toned example of the Southern male chest, since he was wearing only a white vest on his upper torso.
“Aren’t you late for a very important date?” The words tripped out before she could stop herself. He didn’t need any encouragement, so she redoubled her effort without regard to the manners her mother had drilled into her throughout her childhood. “Who
“I’m Trevor.” A slanted smile accompanied the singular announcement. To preserve her sanity she raised her eyes to the pair of three-foot pink-and-white ears that flopped in the air above his thick brown hair. “I want to take you away from all this nonsense.”
She closed her eyes, counting to twenty for good measure. Maybe she was hallucinating and he would be gone when she opened her eyes again. Daring to raise one eyelid, she discovered that he was still there, his head cocked slightly, to one side as he waited patiently for her to respond. With a sigh of resignation, she opened both eyes in complete empathy with Alice’s confusing experience with her own white rabbit.
“Did Gina Caryle put you up to this?” There had to be a reason he was hitting on her, probably one of her devious best friend and business partner’s machinations; this usually didn’t happen to Jessie. Normally she was buttonholed by someone’s grandfather or elderly uncle, not a predatory male who could have his choice of any available, or unavailable, woman in the room. Not that she would want anything to do with that type of male. Since he seemed to be a lunatic, maybe her luck was running true to form.
“Sorry, I don’t know her, but she couldn’t be as gorgeous as you. Now, about later tonight. I promise to show you all the best places in Wonderland,” he stated firmly, moving closer to occupy her personal space. The warmth of his body and an alluring whiff of British Sterling cologne only added to her bemused state of mind.
“Here’s your mineral water, Jessica. Do you believe the crush of people at this party?” Connor MacMurray asked, seeming to have appeared from nowhere. He gave the man standing next to her only a cursory look, though Trevor’s genial grin had disappeared.
“I was just beginning to wonder if you’d disappeared, Connor,” Jessie murmured in relief, giving her date a slight smile. It was the most she’d said to him since he arrived on her doorstep; they’d discussed the weather then. She had met him only recently, when Abby Bush had introduced them during an intermission at the Rep two weeks earlier, and now she was finding this first date heavy going. The attorney had seemed to step off her prime candidate’s list for the ideal husband—late thirties, an established job, responsible demeanor, and no visible faults. Characteristics that probably weren’t shared by a rabbit named Trevor, despite his conversational talents.
“There was a mob of people around the bar, which Gary set up in the kitchen,” Connor continued, seeming impervious to Trevor’s now glowering presence. “People always congregate in the kitchen, so why put the bar in there? Not good planning.”
Jessie took the glass he held out, her smile fixed in place. If Connor continued to complain, she didn’t think she was going to get Trevor to go away without saying something outrageous. Though she’d only known the amorous rabbit a few minutes, she was sure he wasn’t intimidated by many situations or people. Fortunately he seemed content with the awkward silence that descended among the three of them.
A sharp whistle cut through the noisy chatter of the crowd, and Jessie purposefully centered her attention on her hostess at the far end of the crowded game room. Becoming engrossed in the evening’s entertainment was just the diversion she needed.
So how can you consider Connor a potential husband if you can’t even talk to him?
The taunting voice in her head sounded suspiciously like Gina’s. Surreptitiously she studied the two men. Both were about six feet tall, a comfortable six inches taller than she. While Trevor’s whipcord leanness looked natural in the white chinos and vest, Connor’s stocky figure resembled a taxidermist’s dream in his rented tux. She knew Connor was her own age, but she wasn’t sure which side of thirty-five to place Trevor. There was a boyish air to his ear-bedecked brown hair as well as the mischievous twinkle in his almond-shaped brown eyes; Connor was the epitome of conservatism from his closely cropped blond hair to his serviceable wing tips. Trevor’s slightly crooked nose gave him the ideal look for a Bad-Boys-‘R’-Us poster next to Connor’s impersonation of a Young Republican recruiter.
Unconsciously sighing in regret, Jessie wondered just how long it would take her to find the ideal husband and, more important, a potential father candidate. At thirty-eight, she knew that the last few grains of sand were slipping through the maternity hourglass. She was looking for the solid conservative type, because she knew from years of experience that charming, flirtatious men simply were not dependable.
“Can I have y’all’s attention?
At Abby Bush’s exasperated plea from her perch on a makeshift platform, Jessie redoubled her efforts to focus her attention. Her hostess flapped her black silk cape to capture the rest of her guests’ wandering attention. “The food is just about ready, so it’s show time.”
A good-natured groan went up from the crowd, which didn’t deter her. “You know the rules: Those that wants ta eat has ta perform.” The expected announcement was met by catcalls and a few Bronx cheers. “Come on, y’all, magic tricks are much easier than last year for the Mozart birthday bash. Nobody has to murder a minuet this time.” The crowd cheered. “Now, if I can just find my master of ceremonies, we’ll get started.”
“I guess that’s my cue,” Trevor announced, unfortunately bringing Jessie’s awareness back to him.
“You’re the master of ceremonies?” She grasped at anything to ignore the sexy glint in his eyes, one that seemed to say they shared an illicit secret. Without being aware of it, she moved closer to Connor.
“Sure thing, darlin’. That way I don’t have to perform any magic tricks,” he replied easily, seeming impervious to her attempt to look indifferent. “Once I do my duty, we can get back to our earlier conversation.”
Giving her a broad wink, he sauntered away to make his presence known to his hostess. The other guests greeted his approach with amiable contempt, and his complacent handling of each insult fascinated Jessie against her will.
“Jessica, who was
Connor’s outraged question saved her from her own traitorous thoughts about the rabbit tail fixed tantalizingly to the seat of Trevor’s chinos. Shaking her head to clear the last remnant of the white rabbit’s smile from her subconscious, Jess turned her attention to her companion.
This is the man you’re spending the evening with, Jessica Marie,
she told herself sternly for good measure.
You have an important goal, and you can’t achieve it if you’re so easily distracted.
last look over her shoulder at the master of ceremonies’ smiling face, she took a deep breath and resolutely said, “So, Connor, tell me about your current caseload.”
Two hours later, Jessie tried to ignore the throbbing pain in her left temple.
“Can you believe the woman actually took an ax to the man’s Mercedes? I’ve handled some tricky property settlements before, but this was downright incredible.” Connor was now into the details of his seventh divorce case. Jessie regretted that she’d mentioned his work, even if it was standard dating etiquette. The man not only sided with every male client, he thought all his clients were fools to be married in the first place.
“She said if she couldn’t have the car, then no one was—”
“Connor!” She almost smiled in satisfaction at the startled look on his face at her slightly shrill tone. Apparently Connor MacMurray was not accustomed to being interrupted. “Connor, I’ve developed a dreadful headache. Would you mind taking me home now?”
“Yes, I can see how all this noise would bring one on,” he agreed with a superior look at the boisterous people around them, oblivious to the fact that he was the cause of her migraine. “I’ll get our coats and see if I can find our host in this madhouse.”
Jessie breathed a sigh of relief, noticing that her headache began to diminish immediately. Stepping back near the wall, she was glad for the potted fig tree next to her that shielded her from the other guests. Unlike Connor, she had enjoyed the rowdy crowd, but she needed a few minutes to herself. She closed her eyes and tipped back her head to rest against the cool surface behind her. How was she quickly going to dismiss Connor and his oversized ego once they arrived at her house?
“Logan, are you sure you haven’t seen her? She’s about five-six, has black hair and the face of a princess?”
Jessie didn’t have to open her eyes to know
voice, but she did. Turning her head slightly to one side, she held her breath at the sight of white ears peeking through the leaves of the fig tree. Although Trevor had his back to her, his companion was staring right at her. His angular face gave no sign of recognition.
“Trevor, that describes about half the women in the room,” the man stated evenly as he watched Jessie start to back away shaking her head from side to side.
“She’s in a cute little red outfit and has legs that go on forever. Does that help?”
“Well, that narrows it down to one or two, including that woman you grabbed from behind a few minutes ago and whose husband almost decked you,” his friend responded just as Jessie turned away and hurried in the opposite direction.
She didn’t bother to look back, keeping her gaze trained directly in front of her. Though she had seen Trevor several times during the evening, this was the first time he hadn’t been across the room with a woman practically attached to his hip. She was surprised Button Mainwairing had let the precocious rabbit out of her snare. He was undoubtedly the rapacious woman’s type; Button had already worked her way through two husbands and, according to the latest rumor, was almost through with number three. She, however, had had some competition for the wily rabbit’s attention from an attractive brunette in a turquoise jumpsuit. Not that Trevor’s conquests were any of Jessie’s business.
“Jessie, there you are. I’ve been searching all over for you.”
She relaxed when she recognized the voice of her hostess. “Abby, I was just looking for you to say good-night,” she exclaimed, smiling at the petite blonde. “I had a terrific time.”
“Then why are you leaving so soon? I promise there won’t be any more magic tricks,” Abby added quickly, a perpetual twinkle of amusement in her eyes. Her optimistic attitude and forthright nature ensured that Abby had a large circle of friends.
“That was fun, but I have a full day tomorrow. Gina and I have a major presentation for T.L. Planchet coming up,” she explained, not wanting Abby to know she thought Connor was a blockhead. “This is Aesthetics, Ltd.’s big break into the corporate sector. Quite a step up from redecorating a three-room real estate office.”
“Then don’t rush off before I introduce you to—”
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” two male voices broke in simultaneously. Both Jessie and Abby looked in confusion from the frowning rabbit to the scowling man at his side. Jessie wanted to sink through the floor as her headache returned full force. She’d almost made a clean getaway.