“I hope so.” Jodie shook away the melancholy and handed Reyna a wrapped gift. “I wanted to give this to you myself.”
“Jodie! You didn’t have to get me anything!” Reyna said. She took it from her and peeled the red paper back. Inside were two books—a slim copy of the Complete Works of John Keats and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
“They, uh, got me through some dark times. I thought, if anyone would understand, you would.”
“I do. I can’t wait to start them.” Reyna pressed them to her chest.
“Books keep me sane. They transport me to a thousand new worlds. They let me escape into a different reality. A better reality than my own.”
“Sometimes we all need to escape.”
Jodie nodded, an understanding passed between them.
Reyna placed the books down next to the camera Beckham had gotten her. She linked her arm with Jodie’s and drew her out of the room. She couldn’t imagine that Christmas had been a pleasant time for Jodie inside Visage. She hoped that today, with presents and a big meal and the wedding, it would maybe start to feel like home for the both of them.
* * *
When Reyna returned to her room to get ready for the wedding, she was surprised to find a long black bag hanging in her closet. For a second her mind returned to that time Harrington had sent her a dress to wear to Penelope’s mayoral ball. The shadows lengthened in the room. Her mind felt fuzzy. A box closed around her, slowly constricting her breathing and narrowing her focus. She felt queasy, unsure if she was going to vomit or not.
She closed her eyes against the pain of the memory. This wasn’t real. She took deep breaths in through her nose and slowly released them out of her mouth. There was no box or shadows or monsters lurking in the darkness. There was no Harrington, no B, no insanity waiting. She was fine. She was safe. He couldn’t get her here.
When she opened her eyes again, the shadows had disappeared from the room. It was the same as it had ever been. She loosed a shallow breath and crossed to the closet. There was a note pinned to the bag.
You are my greatest temptation.
She grinned despite herself then slid the zipper to the floor. She opened the bag to reveal a blood-red floor-length gown. She salivated at the sight of the gorgeous dress. It was silky and stunning. But as much as she liked it, she worried that she would look way overdressed for the occasion. Everyone else she knew was going in clothes they had here. Meghan had gotten Jodie a dress for Christmas for it. Reyna had been planning to wear the stray dress in her closet. The boys were wearing jeans and button-downs. This was too much.
She ran her hands over the fabric once more and then zipped the dress back up. She wouldn’t wear it. She couldn’t.
Retreating to her bathroom, she took her time getting ready. She had just finished her hair and makeup and slipped into some unmentionables when she heard the door click in her room. “Hello?”
Beckham appeared in the doorway to the bathroom. His eyes crawled the length of her nearly naked body. “Hello, Little One.”
She choked on her reply. He was in a tuxedo. Crisp and black and fitted to perfection. He looked like a god walking among mere mortals.
“You’re early,” she finally stammered.
“I believe I am right on time.”
They stood there staring at each other. Completely enraptured by the sight. She felt like at any second they were both about to tear each other’s clothes off and go wild.
“I should probably…get dressed.”
But Beckham blocked the doorway. She stepped into his space and he reached out, running his hands down both of her sides.
“Or you could stay like this.”
She laughed breathily. “You can have your dessert after dinner.”
“Rules were meant to be broken.”
“Is that so?”
“You’re wearing lingerie.”
“You bought it for me,” she said with a grin.
“Remind me to buy you more, because I’m tearing this off of you tonight.”
She shivered with excitement at his words. A promise for later.
He moved to the closet and reappeared a minute later with the black bag. “Your dress,” he said, opening the bag for her. “Put it on before I change my mind.”
“I…can’t wear that.”
“You don’t like it?”
“It’s just…extravagant for the occasion.”
He slipped the straps of the beautiful dress off of the hanger and passed it to her. “Wear it.”
“I took care of it, Reyna.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why don’t you put it on and find out.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. What had he done? He was so sneaky. Was this attention to detail one of the reasons he’d been so successful in life? Part of his charm.
She vacillated only a second longer before taking the dress out of his hand. She slid it over her head and sighed with satisfaction. It felt like water on her skin and it hugged her figure like a dream. The bodice was V-cut with straps that crossed at the nape of her neck. It had a fully open back, which meant she’d had to remove her bra, but the rippling of the material made it less noticeable. The only issue was that it was about four or five inches too long and she only owned Converse.