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Authors: Colette Moody

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BOOK: Seduction of Moxie
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“I only wish it were,” Violet replied as Fred arrived with the champagne glass. He set it in front of Moxie and filled it for her.

“Thank you, darling,” Wil cooed. “You poured that like only a real man could.”

Fred blushed again, replaced the bottle in the bucket, and sped away.

“So, Moxie.” Violet eyed her appreciatively, filling Moxie with a combination of discomfort and warmth. “Perhaps you can convince Wil that she may not be Fred’s type.”

Moxie picked up her champagne glass and took a sip. It tasted far better than she thought it would. She had tried to steer clear of indulging in anything that might impair her ever-present prudence. “Well, Fred is—”

“You can go ahead and say it, dear,” Julian said with obvious sympathy.

“Fred is what?” Wil asked. “A snappy dresser? A mean cribbage player? A large potato bug?”

Violet laughed and patted Moxie’s hand. “You don’t have to expose him as a potato bug if you don’t want to, sweetie. After all, that’s nobody’s business but his and the farmer whose crops he destroys.” She took another sip of champagne.

“But does he have an affinity for penises?” Julian blurted out. “Because crop damage or not, I think that might be a deal breaker.”

Moxie gasped as she inhaled a small amount of champagne into her lungs, and she began to cough violently. Violet patted her on the back helpfully, and before Moxie knew it, Violet was rubbing it in soft circles. She was surprised both by how nice it felt and the inexplicable absence of her natural aversion to physical contact with others.

“Now why did you have to go and use that word, Julian? You startled the poor girl,” Violet said.

He polished off his gin rickey and set the glass on the table forcefully. “You act as though she’s some fawn in the woods. Just because ‘penis’ is your least favorite word, darling, doesn’t mean that everyone else can’t stomach it.”

“Sorry.” Violet had a wry expression on her face. “When you say ‘stomach it,’ what exactly do you mean?”

Wil laughed loudly, then polished off her champagne and grabbed the bottle aggressively by the neck. “Damn, doll face. I’m going to miss you,” she said as she refilled her glass. She looked up from her drink. “Oh, I suppose I’ll miss you too, Violet.”

Julian gestured to Fred to bring him another round.

Moxie’s coughing had abated, but she still sat agog, wondering what these people would say next. They seemed not only candid to the point of mental illness, but they were all decidedly oversexed, and therefore potentially a menace to others. She had never known anyone who bandied about genitalia as they did. Wait, that sounded much worse in her mind than she had intended.

“So, what kind of a name is Moxie?” Violet propped her chin on her fist and adopted an expression that implied she was actually interested in what Moxie had to say.

Thank God, Moxie thought, a normal question. “Apparently I was a rather strong-willed child.”

“Your mother has a sense of humor.”

“She did, yes. She passed on about ten years ago.”

“I’m so sorry. She must have been a beautiful woman, because you are terribly striking.”

Moxie dropped her gaze. “Thank you.” While she was used to that kind of comment from men and could readily brush it aside as so much phony flattery, coming from a woman, a famous one to boot, it somehow seemed more sincere.

“Raised by your father?” Violet asked.

Moxie shrugged. “Mostly raised by myself.”

Violet’s eyebrows arched. “You don’t say.”

“Pop passed away just two years after Mom, so then it was just me.”

“Brothers or sisters? Grandparents or aunts?”

Moxie shook her head, feeling ill at ease talking about her past. She took another drink of champagne.

Violet’s eyes warmed. “I’m guessing your childhood wasn’t all nosegays and lollipops.”

Moxie smiled in tacit agreement. “Well, I managed to stay out of the orphanage, and I learned how to fend for myself, so I really can’t complain. I had it better than a lot of others.”

“Okay, I’ll bite.” Violet was clearly interested in what Moxie was telling her. “How’d you avoid the orphanage?”

“I took jobs cooking, cleaning, singing—whatever I could get. I lied about my age until I didn’t need to anymore and just generally kept to myself.”

Violet whistled descending notes of astonishment. “That sounds like an invitation for every bindle stiff and grifter in town to take you for a ride.”

Moxie’s finger traced the rim of her glass. “I’m not saying they didn’t
try,
just that they didn’t succeed.”

“Clearly you’re not from New York.”

“How can you tell?”

“Because your soul hasn’t been consumed yet.” Violet’s tone was lighthearted.

“Well, it’s nice to know that I still have that to look forward to,” she joked, taking another sip of her drink. “You know, this is really quite good.”

“I take it you haven’t seen much of the nightlife in New York unless you’ve been the entertainment?”

“No, I try not to participate too much in it. I figure if the cops bust in and raid the place, they’ll let the sober people go.”

Wil smiled. “Well, aren’t you just adorable? Thinking that cops let people who aren’t political officials go.”

“Adorable is a very good assessment,” Violet said softly, looking into Moxie’s eyes for what felt like a prolonged period of time.

Moxie panicked. Was this woman—a celebrity, no less—making advances toward her? If so, this was certainly a first. But New York seemed full of firsts for her. “My husband uses that word to describe me sometimes too,” she lied.

Violet’s gaze narrowed, as though she was scrutinizing Moxie. “Well, your husband’s correct. You’re just as cute as a box of kittens.”

As Fred returned to the table with another gin rickey for Julian, Violet raised her glass. “Let’s toast, everyone.” They all held their glass to the center of the table. “To continued success.” Glasses clinked together and everyone drank.

“I hope you don’t have to sing any more tonight,” Wil said.

“Oh, no. I only have two sets a night, so far. And that was my second.”

“So you might get more?” Julian poured more champagne for all of them.

Moxie was too polite to refuse. “If I start really packing them in, yes. And of course the more sets I play a night, the more money I make.”

“How long have you been in New York?” Violet fed another piece of bread to Clitty.

“Only six months.” She took a longer sip of bubbly.

“What of the city have you really seen?” Wil asked.

Feeling suddenly embarrassed, Moxie gazed at the ceiling. “Um…I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler Building. And I went down to Fifth Avenue to see that brand-new skyscraper that’s even taller, the Empire State Building. It’s massive.”

Violet looked disappointed. “But those are things for tourists. You
live
here now.”

“I know. I just don’t get out much. By the time I get off work, I don’t want to do anything but crawl home and sleep.”

“Wil here can give you a tour of the underside of every table in every gin joint in town,” Julian said in mock helpfulness.

Wil cleared her throat indignantly. “Excuse me,” she said, “but I believe you mean the underside of only the
finest
tables in every gin joint in town.”

He laughed. “You’re right, darling. How stupid of me.”

Moxie chuckled at their teasing and enjoyed the bubbles in the champagne a little more.

“Then you should see the city with us tonight,” Violet said. “Visit the places only the locals can take you.”

She was hesitant. “I don’t know—” All the mental alarms in Moxie’s head were still clanging away, but somehow she was becoming increasingly acclimated to their tones of danger. Whether it was the booze or the easy laughter, what had started out as sirens now sounded more like a jazzman on the vibraphone.

“Vi is right,” Wil announced. “You absolutely should come out with us. One night with us and you can stay in for the rest of the year and still feel like you’ve sowed your oats.”

“I’d like to hang on to my oats, if that’s all right.”

Violet looked amused. “Fair enough, doll. You keep a tight hold on your oats and just try to look the other way when Wil starts pelting strangers with hers.”

Everyone howled, including Moxie. She didn’t feel threatened by this trio, she supposed, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d enjoyed herself so much. She really had been meaning to see the rest of New York, though she internally vowed to keep her wits about her at all times and leave at the first sign of trouble. “Well, I guess I could join you for a bit.”

“Excellent. I’ll wager you’ll see a thing or two you’ve never seen before the night is over.”

 

*

 

12:15 a.m.

 

Moxie decided—after several glasses of champagne—that not only were these folks not a bad sort, but that they were absolutely hysterical. Though they were, without question, easily the oddest people she had ever met, they were also, at least to some degree, well connected in show business, not to mention astoundingly clever. Moxie personally challenged herself to keep up with all their quips and asides, though she discovered the task was particularly taxing now that she was not completely clearheaded.

At midnight, the group determined that they wanted to head to Swing Street, though she had never heard of such a place, and they all gleefully jammed their bodies into a single taxi. Moxie almost couldn’t wait to get back to her apartment and tell her roommate Irene how she had spent her evening. She doubted Irene would even believe her.

“Um, are you from New York originally?” Moxie asked Violet in a thinly veiled attempt to use pleasantries to mask the awkwardness of sitting on Violet’s lap. She silently marveled at how Violet seemed to so coolly take everything in stride. She didn’t appear to find the arrangement in the cab uncomfortable in the least.

“Baltimore,” Violet replied, shaking her head.

“How long have you lived here?”

Violet’s eyes took on a wistful glint. “Six years. I came to town on my twenty-first birthday, determined to show everyone else that I really could live my life as a woman of independent means.”

Wil chortled. “Darling, don’t sell yourself short. Anyone who jacks people off in back alleys can be a woman of independent means.”

Julian cleared his throat. “Let us not malign back-alley jack-offs. Those have been some of my fondest times. It’s a dying art.”

“You’re such a purist, Julian,” Violet said.

“Well, you know the old wives’ tale,” he replied, picking up Clitty and moving him slightly to the right of his lap. “Why can’t this dog’s pointy elbows stop gouging my scrotum?”

Violet scoffed. “That is a very obscure old wives’ tale. So what does it mean? A scrotum gouge means good luck is coming your way?”

Julian sniffed. “It means if it continues, I will openly weep.”

“Those old wives were all dirty whores,” Wil said gravely.

“So it’s really an old whores’ tale,” Violet said.

Wil checked her makeup in her compact. “I would think those would be slightly less reliable, darling.”

“Here we are,” the taxi driver droned, pulling the car to an abrupt stop on Fifty-second Street. As Moxie was catapulted toward the front seat, Violet agilely grabbed her around the waist and stopped her forward progress.

“Whew! You okay, tomato?” Violet didn’t move her hands from Moxie’s hips.

Moxie, who had entered the cab somewhat disoriented, was certainly no better off now, feeling as though she had nearly been launched like a cannonball. She stared dumbly into Violet’s gray eyes.

The door opened and they all spilled out into the balmy evening as Julian paid the driver.

“And where are we again?” Moxie asked, surveying her surroundings for some sign or landmark.

“The Twenty-one Club,” Violet answered. “Ever been before?”

Moxie shook her head as they walked through the large cast-iron gates and down the steps to the front door. “I’m starting to think I haven’t ever been anywhere.”

Violet laughed as Julian and Wil began to sweet-talk the doorman. Moxie felt rather eager when he finally ushered them inside.

“Well, now you’re in New York, doll,” Violet assured her. “So hang on to your bloomers.” She tugged Moxie by the elbow while still carrying her terrier protectively.

The inside of the 21 Club
was something that Moxie could never have imagined. The glimpses she got through the haze of smoke were of leather, brass, and dark, deeply stained wood. The place was a lot bigger inside than the outside implied, and people were everywhere—seated at tables, standing at the bar, and milling back and forth between the two.

They were led straight back to a table for four, though Violet stopped when she saw a woman seated a few tables away on the left. “Well, I’ll be damned,” she muttered, setting Clitty down on her chair.

“Who’s that?” Moxie whispered to Julian, sensing that this was not a happy reunion.

Julian eyed the petite brunette across from them. “Oh, that’s Dorothy Parker, critic for
The New Yorker.
Vi’s probably a little upset at the review she gave both
Scandals and Lies
and Vi personally. It was not flattering. I think she used the word
puke.

“Well.” Violet approached the critic’s table. Dorothy Parker was drinking alone and looked as though she wanted to remain that way. “Mrs. Parker, as I live and breathe.”

Mrs. Parker looked up from what she was busily writing on a pad of paper. “Ordinarily, I’m not one to be a spoiler. But rumor has it, if you stop doing either one of those things, you tend to end badly.” She took another sip of her martini.

Wil looked angry as she began to peel off her gloves. “It’s a pity you aren’t speaking from experience.”

Mrs. Parker appeared both tipsy and indifferent. “I am. I learned it from most of your audience at your last matinee. Luckily, it consisted of only me, two hobos, and a party of cockroaches. So no real damage was done.”

Violet raised an eyebrow. “No wonder I didn’t see you there. I must have assumed you were part of the cockroach party. Next time just tell us you’re coming beforehand, darling, and avoid the confusion. I’d hate for someone to callously step on you.”

BOOK: Seduction of Moxie
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