NOTE: This is the final chapter of this story. As always, thank you so much for reading and reviewing!
(See the first chapter for disclaimer, notes, spoiler, etc.)
Chapter 6: "Overture"
The door creaked open, disturbing the silence of the master bedroom with noise from the party downstairs. The thumping music reverberated in Olivia's chest, consuming her. She slammed the door behind her and collapsed against the thick wood, her hands clasped to her chest. Her breath came fast, her throat working as her eyes danced wildly around Bette's room. A mountain of coats and handbags were piled on the bed, obscuring the jungle print bedspread.
She squeezed her eyes shut and surrendered to the silence. Her legs trembled, her muscles quickening to jelly and she gripped the doorknob for support. She gasped, her blood running cold as an angry voice shouted from the dark corner of her mind: HE DIDN'T EVEN NOTICE YOU!
Olivia's eyes flew open, her hands cupping her flaming cheeks. Her chest tightened, swelling to a painful wave as a tortured sigh escaped her lips. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" she muttered, filled with disgust. She stomped her foot, causing the delicate heel of the Italian shoes to promptly snap. "Oh, damn!"
She bent down, cradling the broken shoe in her hand like it was a wounded bird. The ridiculously high price of the shoes echoed in her mind and her eyes narrowed as she hurled it across the room. It flew out the open balcony doors and she saw it, suspended briefly in the silver moonlight, before it fell into the night. She kicked her other shoe off, not caring to note where it landed, as she stalked around the room.
"You have done some stupid things before, Olivia Blake, but this absolutely beats all!" she hissed to herself, her fist blindly striking the side of her thigh. "How on God's green Earth did you ever convince yourself that you could possibly get Gregory Richards to notice you?"
She fell into the bureau, barely flinching as her hip painfully jutted against the edge. She looked down, ruefully shaking her head at the expensive dress. Her head hung, recalling the way she brimmed with anticipation as she dressed for tonight. The delicate folds of material clung to her body, creating just the look she needed to catch Gregory's eye. Or so she thought.
With another sigh, she crossed her arms over her chest and reveled in her own pity. The whole evening had imploded in a single moment, all of her carefully laid plans going to the wind. She knew he would be there. No one turned down an invitation to one of Bette's parties, especially one that she threw in celebration of her recent divorce.
The music was blaring, liquor flowing freely when she followed Del into the home at the start of the party. A filmy veil of cigar smoke made her blink rapidly, Del's breath hot against her neck as he pulled her closer to him. Looking through crowded, dark living room, she had already noticed what he was shouting over the music: Gregory hadn't arrived yet. She took the glass of champagne that he pressed into her hand, content to wait as she fluffed her hair.
With a small turn, Olivia eyed the room from corner to corner, raising the crystal flute to her lips. As she rotated back around, she saw a tiny blonde walk in the front door. She looked past her, already turning away with disinterest, when she saw who was on the blonde's arm. Time slowed to a frozen heartbeat, her fingers tightening around the glass as Gregory flashed his date a small smile and glanced up. She stood, heartbroken as she felt his eyes move over her, barely pausing. Instead, she watched as he and his date crossed the room to commence their court in the corner by the patio. People would gravitate to Gregory in no time. They always did.
She downed her champagne, the sweet liquid going right to her head as she passed Del her empty glass. "I think I'm going to need something stronger," she said into this ear, not caring whether or not he heard her over the cacophony.
"Huh?" he shouted back, leaning close. She rolled her eyes as he looked past her, a grin lighting up his face. "Hey, doll - show time! Prince Gregory has arrived!" as he began pushing through the crowd.
Olivia struggled against him, trying in vain to pry his iron grip from her wrist. "No! Del, stop!" But the loud music and boisterous crowd swallowed her plea.
From across the room, the distance between herself and Gregory decreased until she was forcefully presented to him. "Greg!" she heard Del exclaim, unable to rip her eyes from his face. His chiseled expression broke long enough for a smile, leaning in to listen to Del before he looked up at her. "-Bette's friend, Olivia."
Their eyes met, brown on blue for a long moment before Gregory nodded. "I've seen you around with AJ Deschanel."
She nodded lamely, feeling the flush of disappointment sweep up from her neck as the little blonde put her arm around Gregory's waist. She looked pointedly at Olivia, marking her territory as Gregory turned back to Del.
Olivia groaned and covered her face with her hands. And now, everything was blown to Hell! Everything she had done these past months, in the name of Gregory, was in vain. Months of work, over and done with in an instant. Her hands fell slowly from her face, the threat of tears burning her blue eyes. Now, there would be nothing to console her when that night on the maternity floor of the hospital came back to haunt her. Del's unholy plan, her reluctant agreement and Elaine's devastated cry. Gregory was her salvation, the mantra that she whispered to herself to keep the demons at bay. What kept her going during the nights when her own self-hatred brimmed to the surface, threatening her very sanity.
Suddenly, the door banged open, music from downstairs spilling in. She whirled around, her eyes blazing until she saw who stood in the doorway. "Oh," she gasped, the breath dying in her throat.
Gregory's smile was tinged with confusion, his head titled slightly as he stepped into the room. He closed the door softly, turning back to her with an intense gaze that nearly took her breath away. "Are you alright?" he asked softly, tucking his hands into his pockets.
She nodded, leaning back and gripping the edge of the bureau for support. She watched, fascinated, as he slowly ambled around the king-sized bed. "I hope I didn't startle you."
"With the door?" Gregory knocked his head back and shrugged. "It was stuck, like someone closed it too hard."
"Oh." Olivia looked down, cringing at her bare feet before she forced herself to meet his eyes. "The wind must have blown it shut," she stammered, gesturing to the open balcony doors.
"Maybe," he said simply, turning back to the bed. "Regardless, I was asked to come up and fetch a black silk bolero." He met her eyes for a long moment, smiling infectiously. "Whatever the hell that is."
She grinned, matching his as she stepped closer to him. "Shame on you," she chided as she leaned over the bed and began sorting through the pile, "for not being up on the latest fashions."
"Well, it was either that or law." She looked up, her eyes mere inches from his as their hands brushed together. "I chose law," he whispered, taking her hand in his and rubbing his thumb across her knuckles. Her lips parted, watching as he considered her thin wrist for a long moment. "So, first AJ Deschanel, now Del." He looked up, an amused grin lighting up his eyes. "You're in demand."
The embarrassed giggle of a little girl rose in her throat as a nervous feeling fluttered in her stomach. She shrugged as she whispered, "I'm not, not really."
"Ah, so the lovely English girl is modest, in addition to being mysterious?" Her hand twitched, causing him to tighten his grip. He chuckled to himself, watching as the color drained from her face. "Do I make you nervous?" he asked.
She cocked her head, seeing the mischievous glint in his eyes. "Why would you think that?" she countered, lifting one leg to kneel against the bed. The hem of her dress rose, flirting with her kneecap.
Gregory narrowed his eyes, watching her in thought for a long moment. "No, it's not nerves." He watched with seeming fascination as she dug through the pile of coats with one hand, searching for the one he sought. "It's something else."
"Like what?" Olivia glanced up suddenly, interested. Had he been thinking about her before tonight? By now, the feeling of his hand around hers was comfortable and she surrendered to it, staring him down.
He grinned, pulling her hand to him. "So, you've got some fight in you too."
"I might," she smirked, pulling her hand back. With both hands free, she made quick work of the coats, finally pulling free the one he came for. "I believe you ordered the silk bolero." When he reached for it, she jerked it away and held it just beyond his grasp. "You were saying that it wasn't nerves?"
"So I was." With a speed that surprised her, he grabbed the silk jacket and tossed it aside. In an instant, she was in his arms, her chest pressed flat against his. His lips hovered above hers, his breath warm and rich with the faint scent of a single-malt scotch. "You've been dancing around me for months," he whispered, "yet always just beyond my reach."
She bit her lip, her body humming with the anticipation she thought was lost. His hands followed the curve of her spine to rest in the shallow dip of her back. Her breath caught in her throat as a warm feeling ebbed through her. "I seem to be quite within your reach now."
Gregory sent her a crooked smile, his eyes warm as they met hers. "Definitely not nerves," he concluded softly, his eyes moving over her face. "Just seemingly…unattainable. Like the oasis mirage in the middle of a barren desert."
She licked her lips, her mind racing. Could he hear her heart thundering in her chest? Was this her chance? Her only chance? Sink or swim. With a quick inhale to cover her fear, she leaned in and let her lips brush his as she whispered with more confidence than she felt: "If you're thirsty, take a sip."
He chuckled against her mouth, the taste of her nearly on the tip of his tongue. She reached up, pressing her palms flat against his chest as she moved her head, his lips just missing hers. He tried again, only to have her shift her face in the opposite direction. With a sigh that barely managed to cover his frustrated groan, he nuzzled his face into her hair and inhaled deeply. "Still beyond my reach," he whispered, bringing a smile to her face.
"From what I saw downstairs, a little blonde was currently occupying your reach."
He looked up, his gaze bearing into her as he reached to cup her face with both hands. "Well." He leaned in and she closed her eyes, her lips parted expectantly. Instead, she was surprised when he held her gently and placed the softest of kisses on her forehead. "Not for long."
She opened her eyes slowly, a small smile curling her untouched lips as his hands fell to her shoulders. A new feeling began to grow in the pit of her stomach, replacing the anxiety of moments ago. It was the sweet comfort of victory. She sighed, arching one shoulder so that her lips could graze the hand resting on it. "Does she know that?"
Gregory shrugged, disinterested. "She'll figure it out, sooner or later. Though…" He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, lingering on her lobe for a moment. "Hopefully sooner than later."
"I should hope so," she whispered, reluctantly slipping from his embrace and turning away. Her head spun and her heart thundered, sheer nerves driving her on. "As you said, I'm in demand. Why don't you find me when she does figure it out?"
His lips twitched as he fought the urge to grin. She sucked in her breath and turned back, surrendering to the dizzy pull of his gaze. Her fingers twitched nervously and she concentrated on the fine line of his jaw, looking anywhere but into his intoxicating eyes. "What if I can't find you?" he asked, feigning innocence.
With a coy smirk, Olivia walked away from him, lingering just long enough for him to wonder about the sway of her hips. She reached for the door and pulled it open, resisting the urge to skip back to what she knew would be his passionate embrace. But that would be too easy. Months of studiously avoiding him until now had paid off. Instead, she glanced over her shoulder, watching the unbridled fascination sweep across his face as she replied, "Something tells me you'll manage."
"And when I do," he called out as she turned to leave, "you'll tell me all about why you aren't wearing any shoes tonight?"
She turned back slowly, a mysterious look glowing in her eyes as her bare toes curled. "Maybe," she said sweetly, struggling to keep the delirious excitement from her voice. "Then again, maybe not."
Then, before he utterly decimated her remaining willpower, she assumed a confident stride and left the bedroom. She pressed her hands to her cheeks and breathed deeply, her mind reeling. The anxiety of earlier fell to the wayside, replaced with the bubbly knowledge that he would find her.
And, like he said, sooner rather than later.