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Authors: Ann Cristy

Mystique

BOOK: Mystique
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MYSTIQUE - ANN CRISTY

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Misty Carver, known professionally as
Mystique, enjoyed playing the piano in the Edwardian Room of Manhattan's
Terrace Hotel, but she didn't like playing for private parties there,
especially during the Christmas season. In the eight months since she'd begun
working at the posh midtown hotel, she had discovered that private audiences
tended to be more boisterous and undisciplined than regular guests. Tonight was
the third party she had played for that week, and she was exhausted.

During her break, Willis, the maitre d',
told her, "The Manhattan Stuyvesant Bank always holds its employee
Christmas party here. One of the directors of the bank is part owner of the
hotel."

"Really?" Misty asked with mild
interest, rising from the piano bench.

Willis placed a hand on her arm to stop
her and spoke in a hushed voice. "Well, what do you know? The man himself
is here."

Flexing her tired hands and arching her
aching back, Misty followed Willis's gaze around the richly decorated room hung
with maroon velvet draperies and bordered with oak wainscoting.
"Who?"

"Lucas Stuyvesant Harrison, director
of the Manhattan Stuyvesant Bank and part owner of this hotel... and half of
the real estate on this island," Willis added under his breath.

"By island, do you mean Manhattan?" Misty asked. Willis nodded, and they followed Luc Harrison's tall,
elegantly dressed figure as he threaded his way past tables clustered around
the small dance floor. Pausing in the doorway, Misty watched the striking man
stride into the opulent lobby.

As Willis turned to a newly arrived
couple and asked to see their invitations, Misty took a deep breath and
proceeded down the wide corridor past the powder room to the Elm Bar, where she
often had a drink between sets. She had just reached the bar when a rich
baritone voice coming from behind her sent a shiver up her spine.
"Mystique?"

She fixed a smile on her face and turned.
"I'm sorry, I'm in rather a hurry. I'm..." Her voice trailed off as
her eyes traveled up Luc Harrison's tall, masculine form and encountered a pair
of deep brown eyes.

"I know. You're taking a break. I've
been waiting for a chance to speak with you. I'm Luc Harrison, and I wondered
if you would join me at my table for a drink."

His hair was ash blond, almost silver.
The short, tousled locks fell with a casual artistry that could have been
achieved only by a master barber. His tuxedo was of dark brown silk. The pleats
of his cream silk shirt had been sewn with matching brown thread. His eyes
roved over her, lazy, calm, self-assured.

Anger rose unbidden in her at his slow
perusal. Luc Harrison oozed arrogant male confidence. Obviously few women ever
turned him down. But Misty had promised herself seven months ago never to let
herself be a shadow in any man's life. No more giving herself away to greedy
takers. She was her own woman now, and she liked it that way.

"Sorry. I'm on my way to the ladies'
room." She flashed her most professional smile, whirled away, and strode
back down the hall, nodding to staff members who greeted her and listening with
half an ear to the hum of conversation coming from the nearby Terrace
Restaurant.

Misty used the bathroom, washed her
hands, and began to repair her makeup in front of the wide mirror. She paused
after glossing her lips and stared at herself. "My, my, wasn't Mr.
Harrison impressive?" she asked her mirror image, noting casually that
her long red-gold hair was properly tousled and that the skintight green satin
dress clung to every curve.

She never needed to wear heavy clothing
when she was working. Energy and excitement bubbled through her, warming her,
allowing her to lose herself in the music and forget for a time the emptiness
of her life. There was no way she'd take on a man like him again, Misty told
herself silently. She'd had enough of them. She was just beginning to climb out
of the pit. She glanced up as another woman entered the powder room.

The woman flicked her a nervous smile.
"You're Mystique, aren't you?" Misty nodded and smiled. "You
play so well."

"Thank you." Misty smiled
again, pleased by the compliment. It gave her a lift to know that her music,
which meant so much to her, also gave enjoyment to other people. Music was her
lifeline, the one thing that could chase away the shadows.

Misty left the powder room and headed
back toward the Elm Bar. Suddenly she felt a hand cup her elbow. She stiffened
and turned, her eyes widening at the sight of Luc Harrison. His eyes pinned her
sharply. A muscle tightened in his jaw. "Mr. Harrison, if you'll excuse
me," she said coolly. "I only have a few minutes."

"Of course." He released her,
but his voice and eyes remained cold.

She entered the Elm Bar and went at once
to a stool at the very end of the bar next to the pickup station for the
cocktail waitresses. "Hi, Steve."

"Hello, Mystique. The usual?"
When she nodded, Steve plunked down in front of her an icy cold glass of
mineral water and lime juice.

"I'll have an Irish whisky on the
rocks," said a deep voice behind her.

Without acknowledging Luc Harrison's presence,
she sipped her drink and watched his silk-covered arm lift the glass of dark
liquid and glistening ice. All at once, without reason, she felt a frisson of
panic—as though someone had brandished a weapon under her nose. She shivered.

"Cold, darling?" The soft query
shot through her, stiffening her spine.

She set the glass down on the bar, making
sure it was dead center on the cocktail napkin, and swung off the stool to her
feet.

"Stay. You haven't finished your
drink," Luc Harrison said.

"I've had enough."

The muscle in his jaw jumped again. His
mouth tightened into a thin, hard line. "As you wish."

A shudder ran through her as she wended
her way past small tables crowded with people, many of whom recognized and
spoke to her. Moments later, she was back at her piano in the Edwardian Room.

For the rest of the evening; as the staff
of the Manhattan Stuyvesant Bank danced, drank, and laughed, Misty played the
piano like an automaton, aware the whole time of Luc Harrison's cool dark eyes
riveted on her.

The party began to break up at three in
the morning. As Misty watched a man stagger out to the lobby, Willis leaned
toward her and said, "The big boss has arranged for all his people to be
sent home in taxis."

"That's a blessing." Misty
tried to smile, but her face felt stiff with tension and fatigue. At least Luc
Harrison hadn't made any attempt to approach her again.

Once the crowd had dispersed, she shot a
quick glance around the room. Luc was gone. Relief... and disappointment ...
flooded through her.

Soon she was stepping out into the chill
December night and inhaling the clear, frosty air. The doorman waved down a cab
for her. "Thank you, Frank," she called, slipping inside.

"See you tomorrow night,
Mystique."

Relaxing against the seat cushions as the
cab shot forward, she sighed deeply, welcoming her weariness. Only when she
was deeply tired did sleep come easily to her.

As she closed her eyes, Richard and
Leonard appeared like ghosts in her thoughts. She knew she was remembering them
because of her encounter with Luc Harrison that evening.

Richard Lentz had come into her life
during her last year at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. A shared love
of music had drawn them together. Richard had been majoring in clarinet. She'd
attended school on a piano scholarship.

At first they had talked for hours about
their music, the subject uppermost in both their minds. Misty had been delighted
to meet someone with the same consuming desire to excel. Music had deepened
their interest in each other and formed the primary bond that tied their lives
together.

During their last semester at school,
when they had become inseparable companions, though not lovers, Richard had
said, "I'm amazed that you don't live at home and commute to school,
Misty. It would be so much cheaper."

"I just prefer to live near the
school," she had said, hedging. "It's more convenient." She had
hesitated to tell Richard that she was glad to be away from home, away from her
parents. How could she explain that, after her happy childhood, her parents'
attitude toward her had subtly but dramatically changed? She prayed she would
never again feel about herself the way she had during the last few years she
had lived with them.

Not until just before graduation had she
told Richard that she lived with her aunt and uncle, not with her parents.
"When I was sixteen I asked if I could live with Aunt Lizabeth and Uncle
Charles, and they said yes."

"Didn't your parents mind?"

"No, not really. They have three
other children to raise, and my aunt and uncle don't have any." Misty had
smiled as she'd remembered the loving, strictly disciplined life she'd lived
with her aunt and uncle before going to the Eastman School.

"Oh, I see. You did it to make them
happy." Richard hadn't seemed to notice that she didn't actually agree
with him. Nor had he questioned her further.

After graduation she and Richard had
decided to move to New York, live together, and look for work in their chosen
field. Their determination to succeed had been fired by mutual enthusiasm. They
were sure that plum jobs would fall into their laps. Misty had been relieved
when Richard had informed her he wasn't interested in getting married or
starting a family. When she'd left her parents' home, she'd made a firm promise
to herself never to have children. The fear that she might treat her own
offspring as her parents had treated her gnawed constantly at her.

Misty's initiation into physical love
with Richard had been a somewhat painful and disillusioning experience, but
she'd hidden her feelings and told him she was content. Occasionally, she'd had
the uncomfortable feeling that their relationship should be based on more than
a shared interest in music, but she'd shrugged her doubts away.

Misty had found a job at a piano bar
almost immediately, but Richard had held out for orchestral work and remained
unemployed. Sometimes it had irked her to come home from work to find that he
hadn't even made the bed or washed the breakfast dishes.

"You're just feeling superior
because you have a job and I don't," he had stormed at her, his slight
frame quivering with rage, his horn-rimmed glasses falling askew on his nose.
"Well, let me tell you, Misty, I'll never waste my classical training by
playing in a bar."

"It beats starving," Misty had
shot back, furious.

Afterward, she'd spent an hour
apologizing to him.

When Richard had finally landed a job,
he'd helped out even less in their apartment. They'd quarreled about it.

"You never stop denigrating what I
do," Misty had argued, "but you don't mind using my money to buy
concert tickets for you and your friends."

"Concerts are an important part of a
musician's education," Richard had retorted.

"I'm a musician. Why didn't you get
a ticket for me?"

BOOK: Mystique
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ads

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