For once, I trusted my little sister’s idea wouldn’t lead me into the debauchery she thrived on.
“Here, Ryan,” Quinn chirped, shoving more champagne into my hand. Without releasing the golden bottle, she wrapped my fingers around the neck, kept her hand over mine, and guided the rim to my mouth. “Drink.”
Blinking, I looked at her and giggled at how huge the ‘A’ enclosed within the spade seemed.
“Drink,” she ordered.
“Where’d you get this bottle from?” I asked, happy and bubbly and drunk. “You already swiped one.” I sniffed. “Without glasses to drink from.”
“Damn it, girl, drink,” she growled. “Goddamn, you can’t even be a good drunk. You always have to mommy my ass.”
She shoved the rim between my lips and tilted the bottle. The bubbly liquid would’ve rained on my rented ballgown if I hadn’t tipped my head back and swallowed.
Satisfied, she pulled the bottle away and swigged the champagne.
“I didn’t steal either bottle. We’re guests here. Remember?” She waved her hand. “Never mind, I’ll ask you when you’re sober.”
“No! I want to forget this day. I don’t want to hear about it again.”
It didn’t matter how much I drank; I couldn’t forget I’d lost my job at T.S. Marketing earlier today. I hadn’t seen the termination coming. Worst of all, I’d gotten the ‘it isn’t you, it’s me’ from Trent Smith, my boss—well, former boss. He’d let me go because of the company’s financial problems, not over crappy work or insubordination. So it had been the luck of the draw, and I got the short end of the stick.
Quinn pushed the bottle against my lips again.
“Yo, I didn’t use my plus one on you for it to go to waste. Drink like there’s no tomorrow. Who’s going to know? Your mask covers half your fucking face.”
After another deep swallow and handing the bottle back to her, I made a face at my little sister.
“Even though I decided against a recreation of one of her gowns, I still fancy myself Empress Josephine,” she announced out of nowhere. Sighing, she raised her hand before I responded. “I know, not PC, but the clothes the chick wore was sick, Ry. You got to admit she had excellent taste and style.”
“You’re right,” I said gravely. “So do you. I prefer this gown anyway. We’re at a ball, not a coronation. The dress and mantle you chose at first would’ve been out of place.”
The pink ball gown and crystal and lace mask enhanced her beauty. Her sparkling bodice matched the tiara on her pink hair. She was two inches taller than me in bare feet, but tonight in her clear, Cinderella-like pumps with thin, high heels, she towered over me. At some point, I’d taken my shoes off, and I couldn’t remember where I’d placed them.
“There you are.” The pleasant drawl drew our attention to the doorway.
We’d escaped the masquerade ball a while ago and found this elegant sitting room in a 5th Avenue mansion on the cusp of Central Park.
My sister’s date hadn’t walked entirely into the large room, but despite his full-face mask and their distance, sexual tension buzzed between them. Though I’d seen many fancy costumes tonight, his remained the most flamboyant.
She smiled and set the champagne on the mantle of an impressive fireplace, then curtsied as if she’d stepped from the pages of a historical romance. He swept into the room, her own musketeer of the guard, even if I was too tipsy to decide whether he was Athos, Porthos, or Aramis. Hell, who knows? He might’ve even been the erstwhile D’Artagnan.
My sister and her masked man moved in unison, meeting in the middle of the room, the dull light gleaming on his blond head. He offered her a courtly bow, stood to his full height, and whispered in her ear. She nodded eagerly and stepped into his arms. Together, they walked to the door, where she forced him to stop.
She turned to me. “We can stay with you if you’d like,” she offered.
“Enjoy yourself, baby,” I told her. I hadn’t wanted to come in the first place, and I knew the way to my apartment. “I’ll be fine. I’ll call you in the morning.”
“Ry…” She heaved and started over. Anonymity for the evening was a strict attendance rule. “You can’t leave by yourself in your condition.”
I rolled my eyes and grinned. “Indeed, I can. I’m not driving.”
She glanced at the silent man beside her. I gave him props for allowing her to fuss over me.
“Why don’t we escort her to a bedroom,” he suggested. “She can rest while we enjoy ourselves.” Once again, he whispered in her ear. “She’ll relax, and she won’t be far from us.”
“You’re right, sir,” she said, breaking away from him to return to my side. She grabbed the bottle of champagne, then dragged me to where he stood waiting. “Nothing too strong,” she ordered, handing him the bottle. “Just something to relax her after her long day.”
“She can join us.”
“That’ll be the day,” Quinn said with a hearty laugh. “She doesn’t have my joie de vivre.”
“Then I’m lucky to have you.”
“That you are, sir,” she said merrily, grabbing my hand again and urging me forward. “That you are.”
She held onto me as he led us down a long hallway that opened onto a central foyer with a grand staircase. His foot touched the first stair.
Quinn clutched my shoulders. “Up,” she said. “And be careful. If you fall backward, I’m tumbling down too.”
The mysterious man took my hand before continuing. His hand, big and warm, held me as tightly as Quinn gripped my shoulders. He placed his hands on my waist at the landing, lifted me, and plopped me beside him.
“Good thinking. She might’ve tripped on that last stair.”
I ignored Quinn’s comment and squinted at the massive chandelier centering the ceiling. Had I not imbibed so heartily, I would’ve enjoyed the mansion, styled after a Venetian palazzo, with soaring ceilings, an intricate balustrade, heavy doors marching down the center hallway, and too many other exquisite details to count.
He handed the champagne bottle back to Quinn. In turn, she held it out to me. “Drink,” she commanded for the hundredth time tonight.
“You aren’t supposed to drink when you’re sad,” I protested blearily. “It makes you more depressed.”
“Are you depressed?” she asked in exasperation.
“Nope. But it’s the principal.”
“Fuck principals. They get you nowhere.” Her voice had hardened, and hearing the tone upset me even in my drunken state. “You love champagne. You have the chance to drink an excellent vintage. Stop worrying about everything and everyone, and live a little, damn it.”
“I won’t be alive if I starve to death because I can’t afford to buy food.”
Quinn growled, then pressed the rim to my lips and tipped the bottle, forcing me to drink. “You’re not going to starve,” she snapped, not relenting with the flow of liquid. “You just lost your fucking job today. And you know what? I’m so fucking happy you did. You had a birthday three months ago.” She snatched the now-empty bottle away. “Did you celebrate? Nope. Why? Because you were working.” She spat the word as if it was the dirtiest sound in the English language. “You worked in high school. You worked in college. You work all the fucking time!”
Ordinarily, her snideness might’ve offended me. Instead, that last taste of champagne left me giddy and removed whatever fucks left to give. I could’ve stripped off my mask and gown and run naked through the house.
“Hey?” Quinn snapped her fingers in front of my face. “What’s wrong with you, dude?”
The question struck me as funny, and I guffawed.
“She’ll be fine. She might find a walk on the wild side,” the musketeer said.
“Ryan?” Quinn snorted in amusement. “A walk on the wild side?”
“I can be wild when I want to!” I protested, wondering why her calling my name bothered me. I couldn’t remember, but it felt good not to have worries weighing me down.
“We’ll collect her when we’re done.”
Wrinkling her brow, Quinn studied me.
“I’m fine,” I said in a sing-song voice because I hadn’t felt so free and unencumbered in…well, I didn’t know how long, but it felt like forever.
“Okay, then.” Once again, Quinn tugged me forward. “Let the debauchery commence.”