Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nine Nights in New Orleans-- No Beignet Left Behind

No Beignet Left Behind
by
Erin Nicholas




“If you don’t show up, I’m not returning your copy of Mama Mia or your dress and I’m taking your red Gucci shoes home to Houston with me.”

Kara couldn’t believe she was being stood up.  By the hot brunette she’d been looking forward to seeing for weeks.  Ellen Bossard, her best friend from high school, laughed on the other end of the phone. 

“I’ll be there.  Just later than I’d planned.  I can’t help the weather.”

Kara wasn’t sure she believed that.  The Bossard’s had a lot of power.  It wouldn’t have surprised her if they could influence the weather.  Plus there was the legend of their great-great-grandmother being some kind of magical voodoo priestess or something.  Ellen had always loved that piece of family history.

“I’m literally already in the cab, dressed, curled, the whole bit,” Kara said.

“So, go.  It’s not a big deal.  I’ll see you there.”

It was a big deal, though.  She was going to crash Ellen’s mom and dad’s anniversary party?  No way.

“I’ll just see you at the apartment,” she told Ellen, feeling the crush of disappointment as she looked down at the emerald silk dress and glittering silver shoes.  She never dressed like this unless she was with Ellen in New Orleans.  But she did love it.  Feeling like a princess for a night—there was nothing like it.

“I’m going to have to go straight to the party,” Ellen said.  “And you have to meet your ride by midnight, right?”

“Yeah.”  Kara slumped in her seat in the back of the cab.  “This sucks.”

“Just go to the party.  I’ll be there as soon as I can and we’ll have a little time before you have to leave.”

Kara and Ellen were like sisters, but they hadn’t seen each other in months.  Kara had taken a job in Texas while Ellen’s life had taken her overseas.  Kara missed her friend and had arranged this trip specifically to coincide with Ellen’s trip home for her parents’ anniversary.  But she couldn’t afford to be away from work for too long.  Hence the ride-sharing with a friend of a friend’s cousin to New Orleans and back in the span of forty-eight hours.  The girl driving back wanted to leave by midnight so she could be home in time to shower and get to work.

Her ride, Brittney, was a friendly girl and they’d gotten along fine on the five and a half hour drive, but Kara didn’t think for a minute that Brittney wouldn’t leave her if she was late.

“I’m going to show up at your mom and dad’s house without an invitation?” Kara asked.  “I don’t think so.”

“They’ll be thrilled,” Ellen said.  “They love you and haven’t seen you in forever.”

That might be true.  She’d spent plenty of time with Ellen’s family growing up.  But Marianne and Raymond Bossard were intimidating people even over a casual family dinner—not that their definition of casual was quite the same as Kara’s—and at a lavish masquerade party at their mansion with all of their friends and business acquaintances?  Yeah, her palms were already sweating.

“I won’t know anyone.” 

“Which makes the masquerade thing perfect,” Ellen said.

Kara looked down at the mask in her lap.

She really did love the mask.  She’d gone shopping as soon as she’d seen the gown Ellen had hanging in the closet of the apartment she used when she was in New Orleans.  She’s safety pinned a big K to it with a lip print in red lipstick in the corner. 

Having a best friend with money always had and always would rock. 

The Bossard mansion was one of the biggest in the Garden District.  The Queen Anne style house always made Kara feel like she was stepping into a fairy tale.  Ellen had grown up in the lap of luxury. 

Kara had not.

But her grandparents had saved since the day she was born to send her to the exclusive private girls school where she met Ellen.  They’d been best friends since the first day of kindergarten and through Ellen, Kara had experienced extravagant parties, exquisite gowns and shoes and accessories—the works.  She had also learned poise and sophistication and manners.  She could cover up her blue collar roots so convincingly that everyone who hired her interior decorating company, or who recommended her or who interviewed her or who invited her anywhere in Houston, assumed she came from big money.  Big old Southern money. 

Kara ran her finger along the glittery edge of the mask.  She hadn’t been to a good masquerade in a long time. And no one threw them like the Bossards.  There would be a live band and real old-fashioned ballroom dancing and an unbelievable spread of food. 
 
And, of course, the mask. A girl couldn’t just wear a mask around every day, so it was hard to pass up an opportunity like this.  The mask, like the gown, was a deep gorgeous green.  It was trimmed in silver and had silver swirls looping around the eyes and across the nose, with a silk ribbon to hold it over her eyes. 

Maybe she could do it.  She’d been faking her background for so long that she had no reason to believe she couldn’t do it with the Bossard’s friends and colleagues.  Maybe she could even make some business contacts. 

“There will be beignets.”


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Four words.  But they were the four words to get her into that party.  Kara groaned.  Ellen knew her too well.  “You play dirty.”

Ellen laughed.  “You’re just easy.”

It was true.  There weren’t many things in the world that Kara couldn’t resist.  But the beignets that the Bossard’s long-time cook, Gloria, made were number one on the list. 

They were the beignets God would make if He got a craving.  They were even better than the ones at Café Du Monde, the place for beignets in New Orleans.  And Kara had eaten plenty of those in her life.

Kara’s stomach growled.  Eating prior to a Bossard party was a stupid thing to do.  There was always an excessive spread of the best of everything so she’d been fasting since breakfast.

The cab turned on to St. Charles Street and Kara resigned herself to going to the party alone.  At least there would probably be an open bar.  She liked Hurricanes almost as much as she liked beignets.

“Fine, I’m here.”

“Great.  See you soon.  Have fun!” 

Ellen disconnected and Kara took a deep breath as the cab pulled to a stop.  She wasn’t actually worried about arriving at their party uninvited.  But she was worried about tripping over her words… or the hem of her dress.  For some reason, in front of the Bossard’s she was a clumsy, klutzy mess.   

As she got out of the cab and smoothed the front of her dress, she looked up at the mansion. The butterflies in her stomach kicked their swooping into high gear.  Kara took a deep breath, then let it out through her lips in a little puff.    The cab pulled away, leaving her there at the end of the long softly lit stone path that led to the front of the house.

And she could no longer ignore the real reason she was nervous.

Thomas was in there.

Thomas Bossard, Ellen’s older brother.  Ellen’s very hot, successful, charming older brother.  Who Kara had been in love with from afar since the first summer he’d come home from college.
Which would have been fine.  If she hadn’t told him she was in love with him the last time they’d seen one another.

Kara pressed her hand over her stomach where the butterflies seemed to multiply. 

Of course, Thomas would be here.  But with Ellen by her side, he wouldn’t dare bring up the last time they’d seen each other.

Ellen would definitely not approve of her brother spending time with Kara.  Not because of Kara, but because Thomas was an infamous playboy.  Ellen would want to protect her friend from his womanizing ways.  But she had no idea that Kara was completely head over heels for Thomas.

When he’d e-mailed her that he would be in Houston for business and invited her to dinner, Kara had been unable to resist.  He was an old friend, she reasoned.  Of course, she should see him if he was in town.  She’d been in Houston with the interior design company for only a year and she was admittedly a bit homesick.

She’d hoped to eventually go home to New Orleans and open her own design company, but she knew she needed some experience and a chance to truly learn the business.  So she planned to stay in Houston a little longer.  Seeing someone from home was too tempting to pass up.

Especially when it was Thomas Bossard.

Thomas was tall—six-four—and broad through the shoulders, but trim.  He kept in shape by running and playing racquetball.  He had dark hair and deep brown eyes that always seemed to have a mischievous crinkle at the corners.  He also had a killer smile.  At least, the one he aimed at her had always made her heart threaten to stutter to a stop. 

The guy oozed charm.  He was intelligent and witty and polished and charming.  He was exactly what her young heart had imagined a fairy-tale prince would be like and she ultimately compared all men to him.  Not just the men she dated—though they definitely got measured next to the Thomas-Bossard-ruler but also the men she encountered at work, the men her friends dated and even her college professors.

No one had ever outshone Thomas.

But he was out of reach.  He was from a whole other world, ran in a completely different circle.  What did she have to offer to a man like that?  A man who could have any woman in the world—and had, reportedly, had many of them during his travels.

He barely knew her name.

So when he’d e-mailed she’d been thrilled.  And when he’d suggested going back to his hotel suite for a drink, she’d been amazed.  And when he’d asked if he could kiss her, she’d nearly fallen at his feet.  And when he’d asked her to spend the night, she’d… done it. 

And after three earth-shaking orgasms, she told him she was in love with him.

And when she’d awakened in the morning before he had, she’d snuck out.

Kara worked on breathing again.  The breath in was good and deep and she let it out slowly, hoping to calm her heart and her stomach.

Making love with Thomas was the epitome of everything for her.  And she’d snuck out quickly in the morning to avoid any awkward morning after routines or excuses or explanations.  She didn’t want a thing to mar the perfect memory—even the delicacy of waking up in his arms.

And now she was standing on his front walk.  After not responding to any of his calls or texts.  Or the five dozen roses he’d sent.  Or the six dozen lilies he’d sent.  Or the seven dozen rare tropical Crown flowers he’d sent.

Seven dozen rare flowers?  Who did that? 

A very rich man. 

Okay, Kara amended, a very romantic rich man. 

But still… each petal had just served to further illustrate how far apart their worlds really were.  She’d never gotten roses.  And she’d never dated a man who could afford two hundred and sixteen of them. 

She was embarrassed that she’d thought for even a moment it could be anything more than sex between them.

Okay, she was either going in or not. 

Ellen would be there soon.  She’d be fine for an hour or so.  She’d put her mask on, blend in and find the beignets.  How much trouble could she get into that way?

# # #

Thomas Bossard was bored.  The kind of bored that even pretty girls in fancy dresses couldn’t cure.  He would have left a long time ago if it wasn’t his parents’ anniversary.

He checked his phone.  Maybe there would be a business emergency.  Unlikely since most, if not all, of the family’s business contacts were here tonight, but he was hopeful for a diversion.

Or maybe his sister would have at least texted.  It was also unlikely she’d need a ride from the airport—their limo was probably already waiting outside the terminal—but he could hope for a flat or something, couldn’t he?

He strolled into the area off the main room where the food was on display and being served.  He’d already sampled the prime rib, the jumbo shrimp, the asparagus spears, the breads and the dozens of other dishes his mother had, predictably, gone overboard in adding.  Now he was headed for the desserts.

But it wasn’t the cheesecake or the crème brulee or even the beignets that got his immediate attention.  It was the brunette in the emerald green gown and mask that he noticed first.

On first glance, she didn’t seem that different from all the other beauties of the ball, but there was something about how curls were escaping her updo, and the streak of dust on the hem of the dress, and most especially the way she was wrapping a beignet in a paper napkin—and putting it in her purse—that made it impossible for him to look away.  When she added a second beignet, he was intrigued.  When her purse wouldn’t zip completely shut over the contents, he was smitten.

Thomas propped a shoulder against the arched doorway and decided to watch.  This was more entertaining than anything else going on so far. And he loved the curve of her neck.  And the way she was smiling to herself as she pilfered beignets.

He hadn’t looked at a woman as attractive or with any physical interest in two months.  Seven weeks, four days and two hours to be exact.  Not since he’d picked Kara Jennings up in front of her apartment building in Houston for dinner.

He’d always found Kara to be beautiful and sweet if a bit quiet—though next to his sister, everyone was quiet.  He’d met her a handful of times, but hadn’t paid much attention to his little sister’s school friend.  Until that summer he’d come home from Italy.  Kara had been over for dinner with his family and he’d been struck speechless when she walked into the room.

She’d blossomed over the months since he’d last seen her. She had gone from beautiful to stunning and while she still seemed sweet, she’d also gained some confidence that made her speak up and share her opinion during conversation and even laugh out loud when something amused her.  He’d found her completely enchanting and himself in a very unusual situation—he hadn’t known what to do.

She was only nineteen, just finishing high school, while he was twenty-five and just moving into his new position as Vice President for his family’s company.  They were not only far apart in age, but also in completely different places in their lives.

He couldn’t date her.  He couldn’t even flirt with her.  He certainly couldn’t take her to bed.  All of those things would mean something very different to a young girl than it would to him.

And she was his sister’s friend. 

So, Thomas had squelched all his desires for Kara repeatedly over that summer when she seemed to spend more time at their house—and by their pool in her bikini—than she did anywhere else.

When she’d finally left for school in the fall, he hadn’t seen her again.

Until she’d come home for Ellen’s college graduation.  Again, the years had been more than kind.  And when he’d finally decided to risk a conversation with her, he’d found her warm and intelligent and amusing. 

He’d wanted her and had determined that, eventually, he would have her.  She was the one.

When work at taken him to Houston a year after she’d moved there, Thomas didn’t hesitate to contact her about getting together for dinner.  He’d been thrilled, if not completely surprised, when she’d accepted.

And when she’d stepped out of the elevator in her building to meet him in the lobby, he’d been lost.   

She was gorgeous, with the same sweet smile that always made his heart trip.

It was that smile that convinced him now that he knew exactly who he was watching stuff beignets in her purse.

Kara Jennings had come to his parents’ party. 

There was no way she was going to ignore him now.

Realizing she was not going to get her evening bag zipped, Kara muttered something under her breath, then reached to pull one corner off the top beignet to make it smaller.  But Gloria’s beignets were—as God intended them to be—covered with enough powdered sugar to choke a horse.  A little cloud of sugar puffed up out of her purse then settled on the bodice of her dress.  The dark green dress that showed every speck of white.

“For the love of Pete!” Kara exclaimed.  She stuffed the corner of the beignet into her mouth, zipped the purse half way shut with a good yank, then turned.

Thomas assumed she was on her way to find the washroom.  But she pulled up short at the sight of him in the doorway.

She fumbled with her purse, then lifted her hand to her face before remembering the mask that hid her identity.  Supposedly.

She chewed furiously, swallowed, wiped her lips with her finger and put on a charming smile.  “Good evening,” she greeted him calmly.

“Good evening.”  He gave her a half smile.  “You’re fond of the beignets.”

Even with the mask in place he could see her cheeks get red.

“They’re the best in New Orleans,” she finally replied.

His smile grew.  “You’ve had them before then?”

He could read in her eyes that she regretted the slip.  Well, she wasn’t going to regret anything else about this night if he had anything to say about it.

“I sampled them earlier,” she lied coolly a moment later.

Why didn’t she want him to recognize her?  Because she’d been avoiding his calls and gifts for almost two months?  Because she’d slipped from his bed before dawn like she felt guilty or embarrassed about their night together?  She was in love with him.  She’d said so herself.  This was ridiculous.

Thomas felt his eyebrows pull together and had to work to smooth his expression.  He’d been stunned by the sense of loss he’d felt when he awakened alone.  It was followed quickly by anger, then frustration when she completely ignored him.  He’d been in Hong Kong for the past two months, preventing him from flying to Houston and camping on her doorstep until she talked to him.  But even with the distance, he’d wanted her to know he was thinking of her and wanted to see her again when he was back in the States.  In fact, he was quite afraid that she was the only woman he’d ever want to see again.  He’d tried to be sweet and romantic.  He’d sent flowers, cards, gifts.  He’d called, e-mailed and texted. 

Well, if sweet and romantic wasn’t going to work, then he could be direct and aggressive.  He made his living being direct and aggressive. 

She wanted him.  There had been two of them there that night.  He hadn’t had the best sex of his entire life and fallen most of the way in love without some major participation on her part.

She wasn’t getting away as easily tonight.

“Dance with me,” he said simply, holding out his hand.

Her eyes widened.  “Wh—what?”

“Dance.  With me,” he repeated.  Once he touched her, once he had her in his arms again, he’d remind her of everything they’d shared.  He wouldn’t let go until she told him why she’d run.
She stared at him.  “Dance?”

“Yes.  You know how to waltz?”

She did. He knew she did.  She’d learned in that very ballroom. 

“Um, yes.”

“Then, shall we?”  He reached out and grasped her hand before she could answer.

“I—” She swallowed hard.  “Yes.  Alright.”

“Very good.”  And it was.  It was very good. 

Thomas tugged her through the doorway, her beignet filled purse bumping against his leg, another small cloud of white puffing from where the zipper hadn’t closed completely. He stifled a grin.

“I got sugar on your pants,” she said as he stepped onto the dance floor, turned and pulled her up against him.

“I don’t mind,” he told her huskily.  He intended to make love to her after covering her in powdered sugar later that night.

He lifted a finger and touched the corner of her mouth.  Taking a smudge of sugar from her lips, he lifted his finger to his mouth and sucked it clean.  And relished her quick intake of air.

 Then they began to move.  The music was as perfect as she was.  She looked like she belonged here, like lavish parties and expensive gowns were everyday occurrences for her.  But there was a wonder in her eyes as she looked around, a practiced feel to her dance steps that said they weren’t quite as natural as she’d like, and every time her bag bumped against his back, he had to fight a smile.  She was the only woman in the room with beignets in her handbag—of that he was certain.

They danced without speaking for two waltzes.  Thomas just enjoyed the feel of her again, the smell of her hair, the way her hand fit in his. 

Oh, yes, there was no way the sun was going to come up tomorrow without her in his bed.

“Let’s go to the terrace,” he finally said, dropping the dance pose and taking her hand.

She held back. “I shouldn’t.  I’m… waiting for someone.”

He turned back with a frown he couldn’t help.  “A man?”

She looked startled at his fierce expression and tone.  “N—No.  Not a man.”

“Who then?”

“Ellen,” she replied.  “Your sister.”

Ah, his sister.  Dammit.  Ellen wouldn’t like this.  He hadn’t told her how he felt about Kara, knowing that Ellen would assume her friend was simply another conquest.  He hadn’t had time to convince her that he’d changed.  That he’d fallen in love.

“Then it’s even more important that I speak with you now,” he said.  “Before she arrives.”

Kara pulled her hand from his.  “No, I can’t.  I’m sorry.”

“Kara, I—”

Her mouth dropped open and she covered it with her hand quickly as she realized he knew her.

“No.”  She started shaking her head and backing away from him.  “Oh, no.”

He followed her, not caring that they were making a spectacle of themselves in front of all of his parents’ friends and acquaintances.  “Did you really think after our night together that I wouldn’t recognize you simply because you wore a mask?” he asked. “That I wouldn’t know the exact four shades of brown in your hair, that I wouldn’t remember the freckle on your chin, that I would have forgotten the shape of your mouth after all of the things you did with it?”

Her mouth opened further and she made a little squeaking noise.  But she kept retreating, backwards across the dance floor, with him in pursuit.

“You didn’t realize that I’d lain awake stroking your hands with mine so that I know every inch.”

Kara glanced down at her hands, then back to him.

“You don’t know that I can close my eyes and recreate the scent of your skin, or that I can still feel how soft your hair is when I run my fingers through it, or that I can still recall exactly the sound of your sighs when I kiss your neck.”

Her expression had gone from shocked to almost confused.  And just a little bit… hopeful. 

“You don’t tell a man you love him and then sneak out of his bed in the morning, Kara,” he said evenly. 

She stopped backing up.  She even opened her mouth as if to speak.

But just then Thomas’ father pushed his way between them.  His eyes were stormy as he faced Thomas.  “Stop this right now.  This isn’t appropriate.  This isn’t the time or place.”

Thomas started to reply when over his father’s shoulder he saw Kara turn, pick up her skirts and run toward the door.  He moved to follow her, but his father stepped to block him and put a heavy hand on his shoulder.  “Let her go.  You… acted without thinking.”

Thomas became aware that the room was silent.  The music had stopped, the dancing had stopped and everyone stood staring.  He found his mother at the edge of the crowd.  She looked stunned.

Well, he was feeling a bit flummoxed himself.

“I’m in love with her,” he told his father gruffly.

His father looked him directly in the eyes.  “She’s not just some girl.”

“No.”  Thomas shook his head.  “No, she’s not.”

Raymond just looked at him for another moment.  Then his father gave him a single nod and moved to the side.  But just as Thomas started for the doors again, Ellen swooped into the room from the back of the house. 

“Hey, everyone.”  Her big smile dropped as she looked around the room.  “What did I miss?”

She’d just missed her best friend running away from her brother.

Thomas ran toward her.  “Where is Kara staying?” he asked in a rush.

Ellen’s eyebrows rose, but she didn’t ask any questions.  “My place.”

“For how long?”

“Just tonight.  She’s catching a ride back to Houston at midnight.”

Thomas glanced at his mother’s prized grandfather clock.  It was eleven forty-two.

Ellen gripped his sleeve as he started for the door.  “She’s…”

“Everything,” Thomas told her.

Ellen looked surprised, then she gave him a huge smile.  “Go get her.”

Thomas ran, finally succeeding in reaching the door, and tore it open with a flourish.  “Kara!”

But there was no one on the porch or the front walk.  He looked from side to side, but there was no sight of an emerald dress.  He started down the steps, and almost stepped on a tube of lipstick, two sticks of gum and an ink pen. Almost as if someone had dropped her purse and spilled some of the contents.

He grinned and scooped the items up, pocketing them as he continued down the steps. 

At the bottom, his grin grew.  Lying on the stones was a beignet surrounded by a circle of powdered sugar.

Kara had definitely come this way.

He headed for the front gate.  Surely she hadn’t been able to get a cab that quickly.

But there was no sign of her as he looked up and down the sidewalk.

“Come on!”

He turned to see his sister jogging toward him.

“Clarence hasn’t even put the car away yet.”

Sure enough, their limo driver was having a cigarette before storing the car. 

Within minutes they were on their way to Ellen’s apartment.

“We only have ten minutes,” Thomas groaned.

If she got in that car headed back to Houston, he would just have to keep following her.  Whether it was when they stopped for gas, or a burger, or even if they didn’t stop until Houston, he was going to tell Kara how he felt.

“It’ll be okay,” Ellen assured him. 

Finally, they pulled up in front of the building.  Thomas bolted from the car and headed down the short alley to the set of steps that led to Ellen’s front door.

He started up the steps, two at a time, but stopped half way up.  His heart was pounding, but he was still able to smile when he saw a hair clip, a quarter and a cough drop that had clearly fallen from Kara’s bag when she’d dropped it again.  Because right in the midst of everything was the second beignet.

Thomas scooped it up and ran up the final six steps.  He banged on the door to Ellen’s apartment. A few seconds later, the door swung open and Kara stood on the other side staring up at him.

“You followed me?”

She no longer wore the mask or the gown.  She’d changed into jeans and a t-shirt.  There was a small suitcase sitting to one side of the door.

“And I intend to keep following you,” he said, stepping into the apartment and pushing the door shut behind him.  “But I’d love it if you decided to stop running away.”

“I just…”

“I know.”  He took a step forward.

She took a step back. “I’m not…”

“Yes, you are.”  He stepped forward again.

“You don’t…”

She stepped back again, but came up against the wall.

“Oh, I most definitely do,” he said gruffly, pressing close.

She stopped and sighed.  “I just really…”

“I know.  Me too.”

Her eyes widened.  “Really?”

“Really.”

She smiled then.  “Oh, good.”

“Stay?”

She sighed.  “That sounds really nice.”

“It will be very nice.”  He lifted the beignet.  “You left this behind.”

Kara looked at it, then smiled a small sexy smile.  “I really do love powdered sugar.”

Thomas felt his heart expand and knew that he was exactly where he was supposed to be, with the only woman he would ever love. 

After they kissed for what seemed like a year and a half, Thomas reached for the snap on her jeans.   
“I should probably tell you that I happen to have a powdered sugar fantasy.”

Kara began unbuttoning his shirt and pulling his tie loose.  “Really?  Tell me more.”

“I intend to show you more.  Does Ellen have any in the house?” he asked, unbuckling his belt and toeing off his shoes.

“Yes.  But sadly no beignets to put it on.”  She gave him a wink.

That wink made him groan.  “Prepare yourself.  This could get really sticky.” 

Kara wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close to whisper against his lips, “But sweet.  Very, very sweet.” 


Be sure to stop by next week for the 3rd night in New Orleans with Meg Benjamin's, Ash Wednesday!

2 comments:

Kelly Jamieson said...

Mmmm. Now I want beignets. Great story!!

Meg Benjamin said...

Awwwww. Very sweet.