Their deception was much harder to pull off than that of the wedding interlopers, forever immortalized in that annoyingly realistic movie which made the business of crashing a formal event that much harder to accomplish, and, though the film scared some professional impostors away from the ruse, they didn't panic very easily. In fact, if anything happened because of the notoriety which came to their kind, they had become better at the game, more skilled and harder to detect. After all, it wasn't just anyone who could waltz their way into a funeral, blend into their surroundings, and manage to walk away with another unknown notch on their belt; it wasn't just anyone who could be a funeral interloper.
Those who went to weddings could be merry. They could laugh, and dance, and party their night away, attracting their mate for the evening by making them feel alive and on top of the world. Those who went to funerals though had to act decorously. There was a proper etiquette one had to follow, and, if you didn't, you would find yourself outside of the festivities, alone, and unsuccessful. One had to be polite, restrained, and, above all else, extremely surreptitious. If a wedding crasher had to maintain his anonymity, then a funeral interloper had to be invisible.
Dressing for a funeral was much more difficult as well. There were only three rules for wedding attire. One, do not wear white, for that honor was reserved for the bride only, two, wear clothes appropriate for the style and the status of the nuptials, and, three, make sure that you do not let the goods hang out. It was always a sound idea to maintain some mystery…not to mention modesty. However, when one was an imposter at calling hours, your wardrobe was decidedly limited to only certain choices, and those choices all had to be black or in the dark color family. Clothes had to be considerate of the event, deferential, and modest. Hair had to be styled in a calm, reverent manner, nothing flashy, and accessories, if one felt compelled to wear any, had to be respectful. It was not an easy thing to accomplish especially when one was young. Plus, it made attracting the unknown notch that much harder.
Conversations were limited at funerals, so you could only attract your fling through physical attraction and a few well-mannered, softly spoken platitudes. There were fewer locations one could use for their indecent actions in a funeral parlor, especially if one did not appreciate the company of a corpse, and all sounds of corporeal enjoyment had to be stifled one way or another. During quiet calling hours, it was just too easy for the other guests to hear a lustful moan or a passionate whimper of pleasure. Plus, if nothing else, even if you failed in your task at a wedding, you at least went home with a full stomach, lots of alcohol flowing through your blood stream, and, sometimes, a party favor; funerals gave you jack. However, if one liked a challenge, if one liked a test, funerals were much more gratifying, but it was also important to remember that only the crème de la crème succeeded at such a complicated deception.
Good thing they were the best.
Ryan Atwood was not sure how he was supposed to feel about his mentor's death. While, granted, the man had, in his own way, made the younger entrepreneur a better person, he had also been a ruthless cutthroat with little patience, an always ready harsh word, and a temper on par with that of an erupting volcano. Ryan had not respected him as a man, as a family man, and, in fact, he didn't even respect him as a business man, and that's how he had known him. Despite the fact that Caleb Nichol had taken him out of his destitute existence after seeing potential in him, put him through college, and trained him in the ways of residential and commercial real estate development, he wasn't sure if he would be able to mourn the older capitalist. If truth be told, he probably wouldn't have even gone to the funeral if he didn't respect Caleb's family as much as he did.
When he was brought into the Newport Group, he found friends in his boss' daughter, her husband, and their son. The Cohens had taken the young, ambitious architect into their group fold, including him in holiday events and spending time with him to help him adjust to life in their beachside community, no easy feat in and of itself. As time wore on, the only reason Ryan actually remained with the company was because of Caleb's family. If it hadn't of been for them, he would have quit, cut his losses, and walked away from the man who had pulled him by the ear, kicking and screaming away from his former life.
According to the older man's version of the story, as a businessman with his thumb in every slice of pie at the Newport Group, he had started to look for future design talent during Ryan's junior year of high school, a year he had spent in prison. The younger man's test scores and aptitude test results had spoke for themselves, and Caleb immediately pounced, procuring him for the Newport Group so that no other real estate firm could find him. He had been known to say that the petty investment of four years' college tuition was nothing compared to the amount of revenue an accomplished and edgy architect could make his company, so Caleb had taken the risk, sent him to his university of choice on the west coast (the younger man needed to be on a tight enough leash that he could still be watched closely and controlled), and reaped the rewards.
Five years after graduating from college, Ryan had become one of the most sought after young designers in Southern California, the Newport Group more than recouping its investment, and he and his mentor had been arguing over everything from work place attire to professional morals up until the day the older man had died – of a heart attack, stress induced. Nobody had seen that one coming.
Caleb had passed away three days prior to his funeral, and, in those three days, his protégé's life had changed drastically. Ryan had gone from actively looking for another job, far, far away from Newport Beach, to holding a position of power at the Newport Group, second in command just under his former boss' daughter, and Kirsten was a much better person to work for and under. She, unlike her father, had scruples, had ethics, and she conducted herself under the guidance of a strong set of principles. Plus, besides their professional relationship being much more productive than the one Ryan had shared with Caleb, they were also friends, and that made the work place that much more enjoyable.
However, that still didn't solve the young man's dilemma. Just what exactly was he supposed to feel towards his dead mentor as he made small talk and smiled appreciatively at the various other fellow mourners? Although he was grateful at the opportunity the deceased had given him, a choice in the matter would have been nice. Although he was thankful for the very small role Caleb had played in making and molding Kirsten, he was sure that her mother had been the better and bigger influence in her life. How else had she turned out so compassionate? So, while there were ways in which he could imagine mourning Caleb Nichol, Ryan wasn't sure they were worth the effort.
So, instead of pretending to be sad or distressed, he was going to be stoic, act as if he was the strong and silent type, hiding his emotions and holding in his grief. He would share pleasantries with the other businessmen, support Kirsten, listen to Seth's rambles, and allow Sandy to…
…stare at the blonde who had just walked in the door. He didn't know who she was, why she was there, how she knew Caleb, or when she had arrived, but, if nothing else, watching her was going to make his time at the funeral so much more enjoyable.
"Hey, Man," his mentor's grandson greeted him. Despite the day's events, the curly haired brunette had a dopey grin on his face. "Do you have your cell phone on you? Mine died."
"Yeah, but it's off. Why?"
The blonde was tall, probably his height without her heels, and she had legs that were made to be wrapped around a man's waist as he drove them both over the edge and to completion. Around his waist.
"Oh, I was in the middle of this really competitive video game when we got here, and, of course, I couldn't quit while still in the throes of it. I won," Seth reassured him, as if that question was the one plaguing Ryan's mind, "but now the juice is at zero on the electronic leash."
"No," the architect corrected his friend. "Why do you need to see my cell phone? I'm not giving it to you so you can play another game. We're at your grandfather's funeral? Aren't you supposed to be… miserable or something?"
"Nah, Gramps was old, and he had a temper. We knew he'd kick the bucket sooner rather than later. I'm just glad it was this week and not next. I'd really hate to miss Comicon."
The mystery woman had tan, flawless skin, but, even from his side of the room, opposite of hers, Ryan could tell that she had a generous sprinkling of freckles over her cheeks and across the bridge of her nose. He wanted to lick them and see if they tasted as sweet as they looked.
"Anywho," the lovable nerd beside him interrupted his fantasies, "Anna's flying in this afternoon for the service tomorrow, and I'm supposed to pick her up from the airport, but she was going to call when her plane got in, because it was delayed."
Anna was Seth's girlfriend…fiancé…girlfriend? Ryan wasn't sure. The two had been dating since high school, but they both seemed to be slightly commitment phobic. Plus, the fact that she was finishing up law school on the east coast while Seth mooched off his parents and lived in their poolhouse while developing his own comic didn't help matters.
"But you said that you were playing a video game on the way here," the more mature of the two men pointed out. "Doesn't that mean that you rode with your parents? How are you supposed to pick Anna up if you don't have a car?"
Seth's countenance fell and his shoulders drooped. "Oh shit. I'm in trouble."
And so was Ryan. The blonde had turned around so that their gazes could meet, her deep, indigo eyes locking on his lighter baby blues, and instant attraction surged through him, setting every nerve ending in his body on fire. He wanted to look into those mesmerizing, indigo eyes as their owner orgasmed in his arms.
"Dude, do you think that I could borrow your car?"
"You're not touching my car," the architect immediately denied his friend. "I've seen you drive before, and my car's brand new. Find another sucker."
Seth sidled up closer to him, and slung his left arm around Ryan's shoulder. "Or, perhaps, you'd be willing to drive me to the airport. You know, it could be like a mini road trip. You've always refused to go on vacation with Anna and I, but this'll be fun."
"Listen, just ask your parents if you can borrow their car," he suggested. "Let them know that I'll stick around until calling hours are over, and, if you're not back yet, I'll give them a lift home."
The mystery woman was smiling at someone, and, with the gesture, her whole appearance seemed to light up, making Ryan wonder if anything else could accomplish that brilliant sparkle in her, a sparkle that whispered of a secret. He wanted to know what her secret was. Hell, he wanted to be her secret.
"You'd do that for me," Seth's emotional, rhetorical question snapped the blonde out of his fantasy. He felt the other man's arms circle around him as the maybe future comic book author embraced him in a hug. "Dude, that's wicked cool of you."
"Seth, don't say wicked."
The man in question pulled away and grinned. "It doesn't work? Really? I thought I'd try to spice up the vocab, relearn the hip lingo, become one, at least lexicon wise, with the local surfers."
"Do you surf?"
"Are you ever going to?"
"Seth Cohen…an athlete? Man, what are you smokin', and do you have any more to share?"
Ryan simply ignored the grass reference. "Finally, how many surfers do you think incorporate the word lexicon into their daily conversations?"
Needing a break from Seth, the architect looked around the room and almost missed her as she slipped into the foyer and disappeared into a crowd of newcomers. She couldn't leave yet, not when he didn't know anything about her, not when he hadn't made sure he'd be able to see her again.
He was just about to go after her when his friend's voice stopped him. "Speaking of G.P., do you have any Good n' Plenty's?"
"What?" Narrowing his eyes and shaking his head in confusion, he regarded the other man carefully, completely at a loss for how the brunette's mind worked. "What are you? Four? Why would I have candy on me?"
"Actually, I'm not too particular. I'll eat pretty much anything you can pull out of your pockets…except lint. I tried it once, out of desperation, and I got sick afterwards, made a real mess out of the church's bathroom."
"You ate your own lint when you were in a… Never mind, I don't want to know. Look, there's someone that I need to speak with. Will you be alright here if I leave you alone? You're not going to jump an old lady for the contents of her purse or have a diabetic seizure on me, are you?"
"Nah, I'll be fine; I'll just raid the secret stash of goldfish I hid in the casket when we first got here." Ryan stared at him for several seconds before simply turning around to walk away, but, before he could escape and find the blonde who had bewitched him earlier, Seth's skinny arm shot out and held him in place. "Dude, where's the phone?" When he stood there not moving, the curly haired man pressed by naming clues that did not fit together in a logic order. "Alexander Graham Bell, 'Can you here me now?,' scary, angry girlfriend with the pixie haircut, LAX, I have to pick her up so she doesn't chop off my balls and feed them to her pet snake, ring-a-ding-ding. Just give me your damn phone already."
"Fine, but do not run my battery down, and," Ryan looked around the room, glancing both to his right and to his left while withholding his mobile, "whatever you do, stay here. Do not come looking for me."
"Oh, hide and go seek in a funeral parlor – slightly creepy but probably quite entertaining. Why can't we play?"
"Either do what I say or you'll be left to Anna's mercy."
"You strike a hard bargain; Gramps taught you well, but I agree to your demands."
Without saying anything else, Ryan handed his phone over and practically ran out of the room before Seth could stop him again. He was on a mission, and, if there was one thing he could appreciate from his training, it was the fact that Caleb had instructed him to never surrender. When it came to finding the mystery woman who had been taunting him all afternoon, he was beyond determined; he was resolute and unwavering, his thoughts single-minded and focused upon the blonde he just had to know, the blonde he just had to have.
Five minutes after disappearing from the main viewing room, Marissa saw him emerge into the foyer of the funeral parlor, his cool blue eyes snapping back and forth as he searched through the crowd for her. It didn't take him long to find her lounging against the entrance to a hallway on the opposite side of the narrow room. While her demeanor seemed relaxed, her pulse was racing and her breathing was already heightened due to anticipation. Their gazes locked, smoldered, singed away everything else surrounding them until they were the only two people there. With several long, quick strides, he was across the space and nearing her side, but they couldn't stop yet; they needed much more privacy. Laughing softly, her voice light and melodic even to her own ears, Marissa turned and sauntered down the hallway, disappearing around a corner and waiting there until the stranger joined her. Once he was there, she opened the first door they encountered, grabbed him by the tie, and pulled him into the room after her. As easy as that, the stage was set.
"Where are we?"
"Did I say that you could talk," she questioned him, shoving against his chest until he stumbled and fell to the ground, catching himself with his hands. "Shut up; don't say a thing. If you want this, we're doing it my way."
With a satisfied smirk on her face, Marissa watched as the already hot and bothered man before her swallowed visibly three times before he shook his head and silently agreed.
"Good. I knew I chose wisely. Now, lay down," she instructed him while opening her large, black purse, "and spread your arms out wide beside you." He followed her directions and did what he was told. Lowering herself to the ground beside him, she pulled out two pairs of pantyhose and a piece of duct tape. Wickedly, Marissa teased, "this might hurt a little, but I promise you the pain will be worth it in the long run. Do you still want to play?"
"Oh, you're not only cute but smart, too. Aren't I a lucky girl?" Bending down, she rewarded him with a slow, decadent kiss, and, by the time she separated their lips, her tongue slipping out to lick his before she pulled away completely, he was moaning. "That's exactly why I have to tape your mouth shut. "We don't want anyone finding us. Trust me." With that, she bit off a piece of the duct tape, gently placed it over his mouth, and then moved on to his arms. "It is a shame, too, because I like the way you taste, but a girl has to have her priorities. Now, as for these restraints, they're just for fun." With a playful wiggle of her finely sculpted eyebrows, Marissa finished tying the stranger's arms to a desk and stood up.
"I don't do this a lot," she reassured him, unbuttoning her cardigan as she talked. "I'm not all those things you're calling me right now in your mind. I'm not a slut, I'm not a nympho, and I'm not going to hurt you…well, at least, not that much. I work too many hours to actually date, and I'm not about to sacrifice my career for a normal social life, but I'm also a woman, and, every so often, just like a man, I get an itch that needs to be scratched, and I find this is much less complicated and more erotic than going out to a bar, getting smashed, and taking home the first drunk guy who hits on me. I'm safe; I have no diseases, and we're using a condom. Do you have any questions?"
Because his mouth was taped shut, the blonde haired man could do nothing but nod his head no. However, that was enough to satisfy Marissa. "Perfect," she purred, reaching behind her to unzip her dress and letting it fall to the floor, revealing her lingerie clad body. With just her vicious, man-eater stilettos, red lace boyshorts, and matching, strapless bra on, the sex kitten moved closer to her prey until she was standing over the top of him, her feet parted on either side of his waist. He was reacting well to her little striptease, the bulge in his dress pants alerting her to the fact that he was almost ready for her. Just a few more choreographed, finely hued moves and he would be velvet steel in her hands as soon as she unzipped his trousers and released him to her greedy eyes, insatiable fingers, thirsty mouth, and drenched core. She didn't know if it was the deception of her ruse or the man quivering with need and desire beneath her, but, whatever it was, as Marissa lowered herself onto the stranger's rock hard erection minutes later, she realized she had never before in her life been more turned on.
As Ryan was resituating himself, tucking his shirt back into his pants, and hoping that it wouldn't be obvious that he had just had mind blowing sex when he returned to the calling hours, a satisfied, cocky grin spread across his face, and he looked across the room and let his eyes run over and linger upon the naked woman still sprawled out on the floor. Her face was flushed, her chest was moving up and down at a violently erratic pace, and her limbs had that pleasant, post-orgasm looseness to them that made him want to strip his clothes back off and take her just as she had taken him. He felt his body stirring at the thought, at the instinct to bury himself deeply inside the mystery woman over and over again, but, before he could throw caution to the wind and let his libido lead him, realization set in.
"You're a funeral crasher."
At the whispered accusation, her heavy eyelids fluttered open, and she regarded him warily. "Excuse me?"
"I've known Caleb Nichol for almost ten years; I've worked with him for five, and never during that time did I meet you. You don't belong here, because, if you did, I would already know you, and, trust me, you're not someone I would forget. So, that only leaves one other option: you crashed these calling hours."
"If you must know," she responded while standing up and slipping her bra and panties back on, "I prefer to be called an interloper. Isn't it always better to be defined by an identity and not by an action?"
"So you admit it?"
"What's the point of contesting your claims? You have me in a very compromising position right now, so I don't think it would be a good idea for me to put up a fight, do you? I think what's more important here is you do you want?"
That he had not been expecting. "What do you mean?"
"What do I have to do to keep you quiet? Ambling towards him, the blonde beauty ran her tongue across her lips before allowing her hands to reach for his belt. "A repeat performance, perhaps?"
"As much as I'd love to take you up on your offer, I have to get back. Plus, I want more from you than sex."
She scoffed. "Were you not listening earlier? I don't do relationships."
"Answer five questions for me, honestly, and I'll keep your little secret," Ryan bargained, granting himself the pleasure of running the tip of his right index finger from her swollen bottom lip to the edge of her lace boyshorts where he stopped and let the digit dip underneath the material to tickle the impossibly smooth skin of her lower abdomen. Looking into her indigo eyes, he saw her hesitation. "So, what's it going to be?"
"I won't give you my address or my phone number, so don't even try to get them."
"Done," he agreed, sealing their deal with a lingering kiss. Needing fresh air, he separated their bodies, keeping his index finger inside of her panties while he asked his first question. "What is this big, important career that keeps you too busy to date?"
"I'm a movie director." Without any embarrassment or shame, she continued. "I started out in the adult film industry, working my way up from errand girl to director, all without a college degree, and now I work for a moderately sized production company in Hollywood. Not bad for a girl who grew up in a trailer, right?"
Reusing her own words to tease her, Ryan replied, "cute and smart? Aren't I a lucky boy?" Tucking a loose strand of her honey blonde hair behind her ear, he moved on to his second question. "What about your family? How many are there, and are you close with them?"
"Technically, that's three questions, but, by looking at your suit alone, I can tell you're not an accountant, so I'll let it slide. My family consists of me and my Mom, and we're close. My Dad knocked her up at eighteen and then split. She hasn't seen him since, and I've never met him. I have no siblings, my grandparents are dead, and my Mom does not get along with her sisters. The holidays are so peaceful in my house."
"You're also sarcastic as well. For some reason," he mused, narrowing his eyes in a playful manner, "that doesn't surprise me. How about this though – what kind of family do you want/envision for yourself? Marriage? Kids?"
"Unlike most women, I don't have a life plan," the mystery woman revealed. "The only thing I wanted growing up was to get myself and my Mom out of the trailer park. I did that. Whatever else happens, it'll be gravy, and I'll enjoy every moment of it."
"What's your idea of the perfect first date?"
The temptress before him smirked before answering. "Good food, good conversation, and good sex."
"Sex on a first date," Ryan queried, studying her. "I like that."
"Why waste your time trying to form a relationship when, if the sex's bad, it's doomed to fail anyway? I like to sample before I buy."
He chuckled, finding her attitude both refreshing and compelling. "Last question, huh? Guess I should make it a good one."
"Or you could take me up on my offer for a repeat performance," she offered. "It's not too late?"
Leaning against her forehead, Ryan confessed, "I wish I could, but I can't. Just tell me this," he asked, moving away from her and towards the door so he could go back to the funeral. "What's your name?"
"It's Marissa, Marissa Flannigan."
And, with that, he disappeared from the funeral parlor office, her name ringing through his mind, her lingerie clad form dancing across his vision, and her unique, sensual scent of mandarin and spice lingering on his form. No matter what, he would see her again. He had to. Thirty minutes in her company was not near enough time to quench his thirst for the mystery woman. In fact, Ryan wasn't sure if a lifetime would be enough time with her, but he was determined to somehow find out.
Six months. It had taken him six months, 51 funerals, and 182 days to find her again, and he knew as soon as he laid eyes on her that all his trouble and efforts were worth it. She was standing in the line of mourners, her eyes downcast. Dressed in a fitted, knee length, charcoal grey tulip skirt and darted, black oxford shirt that was tucked in, her hair tied back in a chignon, her makeup light, and her shoes a wicked pair of sinful sling backs, to Ryan, she looked good enough to eat…which was something he had been imagining since the moment she had stood above him in nothing but her red lace lingerie. Thinking back to the day she had seduced him six months before, he couldn't help but wonder what color her panties and bra would be that day. He had imagined them in all the various styles, too, and his favorite current favorite was sheer and plum.
Not able to take the torture of being so close to her and not touching her any longer, he politely pushed his way through the gathered guests and sidled up close to her. Before she realized who he was, he leaned over and whispered in her ear, "Fancy meeting you here, Flannigan." Her surprised gasp was music to his ears, and it immediately sent the blood racing straight towards his stirring groin. "Be a good girl and follow me," he instructed, looping his left arm through her right and pulling her into a corridor off to the far side. Without another word, he guided her down the passageway until they came upon the room he had scooped out earlier during the calling hours and prepared for her possible arrival. Just as he had for the previous fifty funerals he had attended searching for her, Ryan had brought supplies with him.
Just like before, he showed her into an office, locking the door behind them. Luckily, there was enough light filtering in through the closed blinds to illuminate the room, because there was no way he was risking turning on a lamp.
"What's all this," Marissa asked as she glanced around the room at what he had set up. Turning back to gaze at him, she pressed, "what exactly are you up to?"
"This is our first date," the architect answered, taking her hand and helping her sit down on a cushion in the middle of the floor and joining her. "When we met, I asked you what your idea of the perfect first date would be. Well, here's the good food," he said, motioning towards the Tai takeout. "I've been brushing up on my current affairs, pop culture, and politics, so I should be fully capable of fulfilling your wish for good conversation, and I think we both already know just how great together we are in bed…or on the floor of a funeral parlor. However, if you're willing and wanting, I'd love to refresh your memory."
Shaking her head out of incredulity, Marissa exclaimed on a breathless whisper, "I can't believe you did all of this."
Just like he did during their first conversation, Ryan reused one of her expressions. "Because I've always wanted a woman who is defined by an identity and not by an action." Too impatient to allow her time to fully smile, he bridged the distance between them and took her mouth in a deep, sensual kiss, savoring her taste and memorizing it until he could experience it again, even if their next embrace occurred in a matter of mere seconds. "By the way," he gasped, untangling their lips, "my name's Ryan, Ryan Atwood." With a mischievous grin, he added, "and I'm now a funeral interloper, too."