Teresa stopped midway down the steps as eyes turned to her. Her gown, befitting her circumstances, was black. However, that was where the austerity ended. Its black beaded bodice hugged her curves down to her hips, forming a medieval girdle peak, which ended in a black jeweled dagger, below which a black silk organza skirt swirled against her legs as she walked. A short demi-jacket of a single thickness of the same material barely covered her arms and shoulders. By far, it was the most magnificent, and sensuous, gown she’d ever worn. A mask of black sequins and black feathers, barely hinting at shimmers of purple and green, covered her eyes.
If those staring at her were amazed by her appearance, she, in turn, was stunned by the change to her bed and breakfast. Before her, the Abbott Bed and Breakfast has been transformed into a splendid, glittering, glistening Mardi Gras Ball extravaganza of golds, purples, and greens. Every surface dripped in beads, pearls, feathers, and sparkling coins. Gossamer folds of material draped, hung, covered, and swagged, shimmering in the light. Pillows, chairs, and couches had been slip-covered in purple, green, or gold. Even the chandelier had been given a festive sheen with harlequin mini lampshades.
In the center of the lobby, atop the grand carved circular walnut table, sat the largest punch bowl she’d ever seen, already filled with the special punch the sisters, Miss Alice and Miss Grace, had concocted for this special occasion. Dry ice created a whirling fog that hovered just above a fizzing, sparkling green. Purple ice cubes bobbed about each time the silver ladle scooped liquid to be poured into a cup. The old girls had outdone themselves.
It was, after all, their occasion. They had gone down to New Orleans the year before, a very rare trip away from home, much less Ruthorford, and had been nagging the committee to throw an extravagant Mardi Gras Ball. The committee, never missing an opportunity to celebrate, had jumped at the occasion. When Bill had gotten ill, they had offered to cancel, but Bill would have none of it. One of his last wishes was that she go through with the ball, telling her to let it be a celebration of life. Although she wasn’t in the mood, she’d agreed and, by all that was Ruthorford and descendant, it would be a magnificent tribute to Bill Ruthorford. The committee, and the sisters in particular, had taken over. Guests were rescheduled for that weekend and she was forbidden to step foot on the main floor, entering and leaving by a private, seldom used, side entrance.
It had been agony, letting others take over her home and business, but looking around as she descended the stairs, she needn’t have worried. It was truly as grand as anything Bill could have concocted, and he did have a way of coming up with some grandiose schemes. She stepped into the lobby and turned, letting the music and the happy voices surround her. The 12-foot-tall pocket doors that normally remained closed, separating the front parlor from the back parlor and the sun porch, were pushed into their walls, turning the space into a grand ballroom, its wood floors polished to a dark gleam. The ballroom was as fantastically adorned as the rest of the place. Even the dining room had undergone a Mardi Gras makeover, tables and chairs in coordinating colors, swags of beads twinkling in the light.
She spotted Morgan immediately, in an emerald green gown. Ten to one, the pirate in black and gold at her side was Dorian. Jasmine and Eryk were probably the couple in the complete purple and gold Venetian costume. For everyone else, she found herself speculating on their identities. The costumes were magnificent and the masks and headdresses covered their heads, completely hiding their features, except for the old sisters, who were garbed as either fairy godmothers or witches. She couldn’t be sure which, and she struggled not to chuckle. Short little things that they were, they reminded her of Flora and Fauna—or was it Merriweather—from Sleeping Beauty.
She wound her way through the throng, being handed a cup of punch by a waiter she passed, and took her position at the far end, away from the crowd, where she could watch the tribute to her dead husband. He would have loved it. He would, however, have stayed in the kitchen, away from the crowd. The music swelled and she watched the dancers move in a waltz about the room. As she took a sip of her punch, its fizz dancing across her tongue, a hand reached out and took the cup. She looked up into the mask of man standing in front of her. He set he cup aside and held out his hand.
“Oh, no. I don’t think so.” She pondered his mask. “Do I know you?” She let a smile play across her lips.
His gloved finger touched her lips, silencing her, and she felt a tingle move across her skin, as had happened when Bill had touched her.
The man took her hand and backed onto the floor drawing her into his arms. They moved into the rhythm of the waltz, swirling about the room. She felt his hand caress hers, sending fire up her arm. The warmth of his other hand sent a hot blaze against her waist. As long as the music continued, she could enjoy the surge of power she’d missed for so long. The power of one descendant pulled toward another in a dance as old as time.
The music played on and they moved in harmony, their bodies never touching, yet she felt the energy wrapping them in a sensual cocoon of desire.
When the music stopped, the man led her back to her position, once again handing her the cup. He bowed before her, his eyes drilling into hers. She gasped, but said nothing. Without a word, he turned and moved away, leaving her with a longing she found she’d missed.
She tried to watch him but was distracted when her name was mentioned. One of the sisters, Miss Alice, she suspected, was talking.
“Thank you, Teresa, for providing the magnificent setting for this Mardi Gras Ball. I know it’s difficult, with Bill’s passing so recently, so we are doubly grateful. You are a wonderful hostess.” She raised her glass. “Please, everyone, have a cup of punch—the waiters are passing it out—so we can pay tribute to the wonderful man who couldn’t be here tonight.” She waited a few moments as glasses were passed out before continuing.
“To Bill Ruthorford. May your legacy show us the way and lead us in all of our endeavors.” She raised her cup and everyone raised theirs high in tribute before taking a sip. “I will turn the show over to my sister, so listen well. You know how she gets when she’s ignored.”
While everyone laughed, Miss Alice leaned toward her sister’s ear. “It is done, dear sister…and they will remember nil.”
Grace addressed the crowd, finishing with “…let the music play and the food be consumed. Make merry, descendants, you are what you are and will furthermore be, GateKeepers all.”
The music swirled, as did the crowd, round and round, laughter filling the night, as the descendants enjoyed their Mardi Gras Ball and the tribute to Bill Ruthorford.
On the side street, across from the bed and breakfast, deep in the shadows, a lone figure watched, waiting, as the huge old Victorian glowed in an aura of purple and green.
“Teresa.” The tapping got louder. “Teresa, it’s eight o’clock. I told you I’d wake you at eight.”
Teresa blinked, looking around the room, momentarily confused, fragments of the dream still lingering in her mind. This was the third or fourth time she’d had this dream, and about the stranger who had danced with her. She smiled for she knew if Sandra hadn’t knocked, that dream would have gotten a whole lot better, for, although she could never remember what happened, she knew she woke happy. She also knew, as soon as she was up, the details of the dream would disappear.