Jennifer sat at the vanity in front of the mirror and skimmed her fingers along the length of the raised scar on her cheek.
For a second she was transported from her hotel room, back in time to a dark night and a rain-slicked road. The metallic taste of blood, the smell of smoke and gasoline and fear flooded her senses as if the accident had happened minutes ago instead of months before. She felt the warm, thick blood drip into her eyes, blurring the chaos around her, the same as she had felt it that night. Tires squealed and people screamed. Sirens echoed in her mind, too far away to offer any comfort whatsoever.
Coming to her senses, she whispered, “I can’t do it.” Jennifer snatched her hand away from the ghastly scar as if the gash burned her fingertips. The long curl of dark hair flopped back into place to hide the jagged mar across her otherwise perfect features. “I can’t go through with it.”
“You can,” said her sister Marlene, the practical and rational voice of reason. “And you will.” She also leaned toward being bossy.
Taking after their father’s side of the family tree, Marlene had come to grips with her plain appearance long ago, actually embracing her ordinary looks. Instead of dabbling in the finer points of makeup application like Jennifer, Marlene focused on her education and interpersonal skills, sort of how a blind man develops a heightened sense of smell and hearing. Not that their father wasn’t an attractive man. The handsome features and large bone structure simply didn’t translate as well on the face and body of a woman. What Marlene lacked in striking beauty she made up for by being chatty and opinionated and amusing. Also like Dad.
Jennifer took after their mother, a beauty icon in their circle of friends. Fashion forward. A lover of fine footwear and trendy eateries. Jennifer was like the Macgyver of accessorizing. Give her a couple of hair pins, a silk scarf and a skinny belt and she’d give you glamour.
Finger-combing the curl of hair for maximum coverage, Jennifer asked, “What if people are horrified?”
“Then they’re dirt bags who aren’t worth your time or a second thought,” Marlene replied with a wave of her hand.
Jennifer snorted a laugh.
Easy for you to say. Jennifer’s fingers glided over the embossed invitation to the Forty-seventh Annual Volunteer Appreciation Masquerade Ball. A yearly excuse for adults to dress in costume, drink to excess and pat each other on the back for their charitable endeavors. She’d been attending all her adult life. Her mother too. Her Grandmother before that. Goodwin gals came from a long line of volunteers. Each year the celebration grew bigger, the decorations more elaborate, the invitations more expensive. Why was a pressed invitation with gilded lettering a beautiful thing and her raised scar triggered double-takes and gasps? It wasn’t fair. On a man a scar added character. Intrigue. Danger. On a woman, it overshadowed all else.
“I can’t take one more sympathetic comment or pitying look,” Jennifer said, her voice cracking with emotion. Suck it up. Be strong.
“I dare anyone to be so stupid,” Marlene said. “My advice, Jenny—forget about the scar. If you do, everyone else will. Swear to God, I don’t even notice it anymore. Focus on having fun. If it makes it easier, leave the mask on. Get hammered. Be mysterious. Flirt with every hot guy. Get laid.”
Get laid! Nothing could be further from her mind. She hadn’t flirted since way before she’d broken up with Gage, her Marine pen pal turned love interest. Her intention had been to brighten the life of one Marine in Afghanistan with care packages and cheery news from home. Soon she’d been in love with Gage. Yes, in love with a man she’d not yet met. They’d never said the word—love—but she’d felt it stronger than any force of man or nature.
Jennifer had wanted to save her declaration for when she met him face to face. Shortly after the car accident, she’d broken his heart. Hers too. No explanation. She’d decided it was better that way.
Marlene had pulled no punches at the time and had called her a moron.
Jennifer turned to Marlene and couldn’t manage to stifle a burst of laughter. Her sister, dressed like Rhett Butler, mustache and all, cracked her up every time she laid eyes on her. It would never get old. Her husband was somewhere in the hotel dressed as Scarlett O’Hara, wearing a hoop skirt and a wig with corkscrew curls.
“How do I look?” Jennifer asked.
Wearing a white peasant blouse and a multi-colored flowing tiered skirt she’d made herself—no rental costume for her—Jennifer decided to embrace the mystical Gypsy deep inside and take her sister’s advice. Well, some of it, anyhow. She could get on board with being mysterious, drinking, flirting and possibly some fun.
“Gorgeous,” Marlene said, twisting the upturned ends of her fake mustache. She handed Jennifer a colorful, glittery mask adorned with peacock feathers.
Maybe it would be a magical night after all.
Saturday, September 1, 2012
A Taste to Wet Your...Er...Appetite
And the release date is *drum roll, please* September 28. Here's an excerpt.