- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
Men did not dump Lena Caprell. She dumped them. That was how it went. That was how it always went.
Yet here she was, walking out of her lover's ridiculous club and into the night, no limo waiting, no private room and dinner at Baleen in the Grove, no elevator ride to the penthouse suite that she had already started redecorating in her head. No long hours of flickering candles or dark wine or orgasms she didn't have to fake.
What had he said? You're good, darling, but I'm not. It's time we saw other people.
No, no, no. This was not how it was supposed to work. Not after only three dates. She was too good for this.
She'd let him cool off for two weeks after he'd told her it was over, but enough was enough. Today she'd gotten serious. Three hundred at Galleria for the new dress, then two hundred at the stylist's for hair and nails and a Brazilian wax. Esme had squeezed her in, too, so an extra fifty for the tip. Almost six hundred dollars. She'd never spent so much for a man, not even that commercial director who'd gotten her a reading for the Polio Tropical people.
She thought it had been worth it. By the time she'd given herself a finishing spritz of Glow before leaving the condo, every inch of her had glowed, delicious and wicked and ready for love.
She'd gone early, but they'd made her wait. When she finally got in she didn't make a scene. No. She'd impressed the bartender with a cherry stem, and then as soon as he showed up she'd hurried over to give him a big, wet kiss. In front of everyone, yes, so they wouldn't make her hang around next time, but also because she couldn't wait. He was like a fat line of coke in a guest bathroom; she had to have him.
Only no kiss, no hug, no nothing. He'd pulled her off him as if she were some kind of groupie and told her to leave. I'll order a cab to take you home. Just like that.
Hadn't she cried—real tears? Hadn't she confessed how much she loved being with him? So much that she would have even settled for one more date. It hadn't been a lie.
You're beautiful when you're determined, darling, he had murmured, but one more night with me might be the death of you.
The death of her. The bastard had no idea. Lena wished she carried a gun, so she could go back in and shoot his balls off. How dared he do this to her.
"No." She stared at the cab pulling up to the curb, unwilling to accept that he had called it for her. "He can't do this. Not to me."
"Oye, lady, need a ride?" the young Cuban driver yelled out over Ricky Martin's latest hit.
To get in the cab would be the same as accepting the fact that she had been permanently, solidly, irreversibly dumped. Which was not happening to her, oh, no. Lena shook her head and strode off, the spike heels of her favorite Manolos hammering the pavement.
Why had he sent her away? Not that she had done anything wrong, but what had she done? What had she had time to do?
I shouldn't have gone to bed with him that first night, she told herself. I should have made him wait.
That was such an old rule with her that the morning after she'd been astounded that she had broken it. Too much champagne, probably—or too many nights alone. It has been so long since she had met anyone tempting that she'd had to change the batteries on her vibrator twice.
Maybe it was the sex. The chemistry between them had been like spontaneous combustion—one minute they were flirting; the next he had her on her back. She shivered, thinking about the things she'd let him do to her. He hadn't gotten rough, exactly, but he'd pushed her past hot and hungry right into wild and kinky.
Lena pressed a hand to the flawless skin on the side of her neck. He'd regret dumping her. She knew how much she was worth. Did he think high-quality, well-maintained, gorgeous women walked into that dreary freak club of his every day? Lena had gone in only by mistake, thinking it might be a new salsa place. The cute bartender she'd stayed to flirt with had told her about the new owner—handsome, British, filthy rich—and that he hardly ever left the place.
Lena shivered as she remembered when she first saw him. He'd taken one look and smiled across the room, and she'd forgotten all about the freaks and the bartender and salsa dancing.
Come with me, he'd bent down and whispered against her hair. It's so much better than coming alone.
No, this wouldn't do. At all. She'd go down and have a cup of coffee at Casablanca's, and maybe a tiny slice of their fabulous house cheesecake, and calm down. What she needed was to think of an excuse to go back, and talk to him, and make him see how wrong this was. Something to make him feel sorry for being such an ass to her.
"Excuse me, young lady," someone said from behind her. "Did you drop this?"
Lena glanced back and stopped at the sight of the cross. God, it was a nasty thing, a crucifix covered in muck, big enough to hang over a door. "No."
"Are you certain?"
The glitter of yellow metal under the dirt caught Lena's eye. Probably gold plate, she thought as she took a step toward it, but maybe not. The dirt she could scour off. "Where did you find it?"
"Just behind you, here," the man holding it said, gesturing to the sidewalk. "Do you recognize it?"
The gold was flashing in her eyes, distracting her from what he was saying. Under the grime was something round and glittering—rhinestones? Jewels? Lena reached out her hand, and he placed it on her palm. It felt heavy and cold, and if the big dark cabochons were fake she'd eat her purse, tortoiseshell handles and all.
She turned it over, saw what was on the back, and smiled. "No, it's not mine, but I know who it belongs to." She closed her fingers over it. "I'll take it to him."
"I thought it was an unusual name." He smiled at her. "Is this man a friend?"
"He's my boyfriend." She preened, feeling the pretty cross growing warm against her skin. All it needed was a little cleaning, which she could do in the ladies' room at the club. "Thank you."
He stepped closer. "You are most welcome."
Lena would have turned and kept walking on to Casablanca's, because it was getting cold, but that would mean moving out of the streetlight, and the cross would stop shining. A beautiful piece like this was meant to be seen—just like her.
"Allow me to give you a ride, young lady." He took her arm and guided her over to a long, dark car sitting at the curb.
Lena wanted to explain that she didn't need a ride, but the gorgeous, glittering cross absorbed her. She rubbed off some of the dust with her thumb and counted seven dark jewels on it, like red and black sapphires, if there were such things.
What if they're real? Does he have that kind of money?
"You like it, don't you?" the man said as he walked her to the curb.
"Yes." Lena climbed into the back of the dark car, feeling very grateful that the nice man had found the cross. He had given it to her without any fuss, too, and that was how it should be. Beautiful women deserved to be showered with pretty things.
The man chatted with her about nothing in particular as they rode slowly through downtown. Lena had to smother a yawn a few times—she was so sleepy—but nodded and listened absently as she fingered the filigree gold settings around the red and black gems in the cross. Almost all the dirt had come off, and she felt sure it was museum quality, or at least the only one of its kind.
She pressed it against her heart, gratified to know no other woman in the world would have one like it. Fitting, too, because only she had the style to carry off wearing it.
Why her new friend brought her to a church instead of Casablanca's, she didn't know. She hadn't been to Mass in ages. But he insisted she go in with him, and once inside showed her how lovely the stained-glass windows were. Lena thought they looked chintzy compared to the radiant colors of her cross, but was too polite to say so.
The inside of the church was peaceful, though, from the holy water in the large white marble baptismal font at the side of the altar to the racks of votive candles, all lit tonight and throwing out a rosy glow from their fluted crimson glass holders.
Lena caught her breath, surprised how quickly sadness had extinguished her happy mood. Standing there before the altar made her feel worse than opening her credit card statements. She should have come to church more often than simply for Christmas, Easter, and her mother's weddings. How many years had it been since her last confession? She couldn't remember. Too many. Far, far too many.
"You seem so unhappy," her new friend said, patting her shoulder. "Go and light a candle and pray, my dear. It will make you feel better."
Lena nodded and went to kneel on the little padded step in front of the votive candles. She didn't want to set aside her cross, so she carefully eased the thong over her hair and let it rest against her heart. There. It hung too long for the neckline of her dress, but she could change when she went home.
She picked up a taper and touched it to a candle's flame, but the weight of her sorrow doubled. Terrible, really, how many of the candles were lit. So many broken hearts in the world. They came here to pray for those who didn't love them. The ones who didn't deserve to be loved.
Now Lena could see how it was her own fault that she'd been dumped. If she had been prettier or younger or better in bed, he wouldn't have pushed her away. He'd seen through her. He'd kicked her out because she'd acted like a whore. A cheap, common whore out to get his money.
Tears streamed down her face as she gripped the cross in her hand. "Forgive me. Forgive me."
Her new friend came to stand over her. He seemed to understand why she was crying. "You paint your face and dress like a harlot, and that is how men will treat you."
Lena looked up at him and took in a sobbing breath. "What can I do?"
He smiled and gestured toward the font. "Wash yourself in the holy water, my dear. Cleansing yourself of sin is the only way to know true absolution."
Lena was so grateful that she sobbed all the way to the font. She paused only long enough to remove her shoes, so they wouldn't get wet. She planned to return them to Galleria tomorrow and buy something humbler, more befitting a modest woman.