Of Recon and Romance: The Mis-Laid Plans of Arabella Schnabel
One of the reasons that I started Whiskers on Kittens is because I love to read, and, just as importantly, I love to write. I do quite a lot of writing outside the blog- I have a full manuscript which is on the editing board as we speak (see this post) and I'm hard at work on my second book, too, doing lots of research which has taken me down a lot of rabbit holes and led to some interesting discoveries, some of which I've chronicled here on the blog (such as this, that, and the other one). However, at the behest of one of my readers, and she knows who she is, I've decided to share one of my short stories with you. I hope you enjoy this little bit of fun and frippery as we head into the weekend. Happy Friday!
Of Recon and Romance: The Mis-Laid Plans of Arabella Schnabel
Arabella Schnabel was a wretched sleuth. How had she let her sister talk her into this? Breaking and entering was against the law, and Arabella had never been one to flout such an unmerciful institution.
But Constance had implored her in such earnestness. She couldn’t say no. So, here she was, tiptoeing through Connie’s current crush’s apartment, guided by the meager light of an iPhone. All for a letter. Connie was good for something like this- writing a mawkish love letter, shoving it into her crush’s briefcase, and then thinking better of the whole scheme.
“After all, I work with him. I mean, if he doesn’t reciprocate, it’ll be a huge embarrassment. I’ll have to see him everyday. You know, it’s not easy finding a job in today’s economy. And I really do like the short commute. Plus, I don’t want to move again…”
Connie had prattled on and on, augmenting the many reasons why she needed to break into his apartment and find that letter before he read it. Arabella wasn’t sure whether she agreed to help because her sister wanted help or because she wanted her to shut up.
The apartment was huge. Exquisite, modern lines- clean, smooth, sophisticated. Just the sort of interior that sent her heart racing. There was even a Barcelona chair. Arabella adored Barcelona chairs.
Perhaps Constance’s taste in men had improved. Certainly her impetuosity hadn’t, but didn’t miracles come in small packages? Or was that good things? And wasn’t it all synonymous? Arabella would ask Mr. Suja on Monday when she reported for work at the library. He knew all those little idiom idiosyncrasies.
She would ask, of course, if she wasn’t moldering in some prison cell somewhere dark and dank and dungeon-like for- for all intents and purposes- burglary. The letter, after all, was in the crush’s possession, thereby belonging to him. She should have asked Connie what his name was. Not that it mattered. Connie’s crushes never lasted long.
Loath to draw attention to their illegal presence, they didn't risk turning on the lights. Stealthily, they made their way down the hallway left of the vast living area.
Fours doors. One on the left, two on the right, one straight ahead.
“Does he have a roommate?” Arabella asked in a whisper.
“I don’t know,” replied Constance, her volume normal, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be in a stranger’s home, rifling through his belongings.
Arabella opened the first door on her right. The room beyond was a slovenly mess. Clothes strewn on the ground, overflowing dresser drawers, hanging from the bedposts, the bed unmade, the floor an obstacle course. A particularly acrid scent assaulted her nose, bespeaking of some sort of food long forgotten and molding. She pulled the door closed again, every meticulous molecule in her body affronted.
“What’s in there?” Constance asked, leaning over her shoulder.
“Chaos and disorder.”
“You’re ridiculous. Here, let me.”
Constance pushed past her into the room. Arabella left her to it, moving down the hallway. Next was a spare room- a bed frame, naked mattress, and set of drawers, containing folded sheets and nothing more. The order calmed her, even if it was Spartan. The door at the end of the hall was a linen closet which she shut after a cursory perusal- she didn’t see a briefcase and she wasn’t about to touch crumpled towels and sheets and what she could only assume was an improperly stored tent, poles jutting out like boobytraps in an Indiana Jones film. The final door concealed a dirty bathroom- towels puddled on the floor, shower curtain torn, dingy grouted tiles, counter covered with open bottles, hair clippings, four empty toothpaste tubes, and a confetti of talcum powder. And the toilet seat was up. Surprise, surprise. How did this untidy individual coexist with the immaculate living area?
She shut the door and snuck across the living room, taking a moment to let the cleanliness sooth her. The right hallway had a single door.
She paused, her hand on the knob. A premonition seized her. Somehow, she knew, if she opened this door, it would forever change her life- like Lucy through the wardrobe or Alice down the rabbit hole.
But then she heard a key sheath in the front door, followed by the laughing voices of a man and woman. She was left with no other recourse, no other escape than to enter.
Quickly, she slipped into the dark room and shut the door to a sliver to keep tabs on the couple. Lights illuminated. The living room was even more ethereal lit.
Arabella held her breath, watching the couple stumble into the room, pawing at each other. They descended onto the couch, but ended up rolling onto the floor, the man chuckling wickedly as he sat up and discarded his suit shirt.
Arabella closed her eyes and tried to remember what logic Constance had employed to convince her this was a good idea. She couldn’t remember any of it. All she could think about was the rapidly undressing couple in the exquisite living room.
“Vinnie, wait. Stop.” The woman’s voice was breathy. “What about Seb?”
“What about him?” Her voice dropped a decibel. “He could walk in.”
“Vinnie, I don’t know if this is such a good idea.”
“Sandra,” Vinnie murmured, “I love you. I want to marry you.”
“Marry me? But, Vinnie…”
Her protestation dissolved in another kiss. A long, noisy kiss. Arabella peeked, then closed her eyes again. She really wanted to go home.
“Come on, Sandra, I want to marry you. So that makes it okay.”
Oh Lord, she was never going to get out of here. A marriage proposal- if that was really what you could call Vinnie’s proposition; it felt more like entrapment- usually spoke of permanency, and at the moment, permanency spoke of her spending the night in this Vinnie’s apartment.
“Well, that was unexpected.”
Breath caressed her neck. Immediately she was aware of heat behind her. Heat that could only come from a human body. A male human body.
Arabella didn’t hear Sandra’s reply or anything else for that matter- just the man’s breathing behind her. Mustering every shred of plucky courage she could, she turned around. She couldn’t make out his features, only his eyes, glinting amusement as they looked at her.
“This may seem impertinent, but who are you?” He had an accent. She couldn’t determine where from. Russia?
“Arabella,” she whispered hoarsely. “Arabella Olive Schnabel.”
She had no idea why she gave him her middle name.
“Good evening, Ms. Schnabel.” He extended his hand. “Sebastian Maximilian Volkov.”
At a loss, she shook his hand. Then he flicked the light switch, blinding her with brightness. She blinked until the room came into focus, and when it did, its beauty enthralled her. Again, all modern, all sleek, all everything she adored- a floating bed frame, a Le Corbusier lounger, clean lines, low profiles. To say nothing of the wall of windows overlooking the city.
“Oh! How magnificent!”
“I’m glad you approve.”
Remembering her mortifyingly embarrassing circumstance, she shifted her attention to the man. And what a man! Apollo came to mind, gilded and glorious. He stood well over six feet, his auriferous hair mussed, his blue eyes crystalline and laughing. He looked tailor-made for the room- cool, sophisticated, debonair. And almost naked, just silk pajama pants.
Dropping her gaze, she squeaked, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be…”
“Do not apologize. You’re the most enjoyable interruption I’ve had in a very long time.”
He moved authoritatively around the room, slipping a silk robe over his tawny broad shoulders, pouring himself a scotch from a cut-crystal decanter, sitting to face her in a Barcelona chair. When he crossed his legs, silk whispering against skin, Arabella was struck with the intimacy of it all- alone in his room, the sheets still warm from his body. Now that was a tantalizing image. She could happily wonder down that road for a while, but he was smiling a knowing smile, so she reined herself in.
“You are one of Vinnie’s women?”
“No.” She spoke resolutely, with utmost disgust. After all, if this room so obviously belonged to Sebastian, than that den of mayhem and malodor belonged to Vinnie.
Sebastian laughed and sipped his scotch. Arabella blushed. This was entirely too strange for her staid tastes.
“Well, if you are not here for Vinnie, and you’re not here for me, much as I would love to claim you, why are you here?”
Arabella swallowed. Hard. Twice.
Understanding dawned, which seemed appropriate as he did appear to glow. Radiantly. Apollo, indeed.
“Oh. She is one of Vinnie’s women.”
“God, I hope not, but he's obviously the sort of slime ball she'd go for.”
Sebastian snorted. Scotch came out of his nose. Damn him, even that was alluring.
“Your sister? She is Sandra?”
His full mouth curved in a lopsided smile.
“Very mysterious. Have a seat. I do not bite.”
“Would it be too much of an imposition to ask you to let me sit in the Barcelona chair?”
Yes, it was forward. Yes, it was bold. But all decorum and gentility had been abandoned the moment she broke into this man’s home and awakened him by sneaking into his bedroom. What did she have to lose?
Sebastian’s brow crinkled, but his eyes flashed with humor. He stood and bowed, inviting her to sit with a wave of his hand. And sit she did, luxuriating in the way the chair enveloped her in its leathery embrace. She may have gasped with pleasure, she couldn’t be sure, but she did hear Sebastian’s low chuckle as he settled himself on the edge of the bed.
“Now that you are more comfortable, tell me, what brings you to my humble home.”
His home was not humble. Her sixth floor walk-up studio apartment was humble. This was palatial- the poshest of the posh, the swankiest of the swank.
Sebastian seemed to read her thoughts, a smile dazzling his countenance as he waited.
To hell with it. It couldn’t possibly get anymore ignominious. So, Arabella told him how her ordinary, boring evening had turning into a Nancy Drew farce- all about Connie’s predilection of falling for the wrong men, throwing herself at said men, then thinking better of it.
“The last fellow rejected her so entirely, she moved cities. That’s why she’s living with me. She likes her job. The work is a stabilizing influence. She needs that. Besides, she can’t go back to jail. My parents couldn’t handle that. Not that they know. We didn’t tell them, but we’d have to if she got in trouble again. I can’t swing bail again.”
Arabella worried her lip. That had been a particularly stressful three months.
“Is Connie here?”
Arabella colored and nodded her head.
“I left her in that hovel, sorting through the detritus of Vinnie’s inner sanctum.” She covered her face, leaning forward. “I have no idea how we’re going to get out of here.”
Another chuckle from Sebastian. Then he stood, setting his empty glass on his nightstand. He didn’t approach her, but she felt his gaze as firm as any touch.
“I have an idea.” He smiled when she looked at him. “But you must do exactly as I say.”
Since she was at such a loss for what to do, his notions- however outlandish or absurd they might be- seemed the most promising. She nodded her head.
“Take your hair out of that bun and mess it.” He pantomimed with his own hands through his hair. Arabella watched as he disheveled himself into more sexiness. When she didn’t follow his instruction, he took the liberty, pulling out the six long bobby pins from her hair and combing disarray into it with his fingers. Was the smile he sent her rapscallion? She’d only ever read about that, but, from what she’d read, it definitely fit the bill. “Then you do this.” He mussed his finger over her glossed lips, dulling them, and under her eyes, smudging them. He stepped back, took her in, and nodded his head, content with what he saw. “Good. Now you are just right.”
Then he loosened his robe, sending her wink. He stopped at his glass desk, rifled through some papers, and then crossed the room, grabbed her hand, and led her to the door. He peeked out first, before grinning.
“They are presentable.”
Then they were in the living room, his arm around her waist. Sebastian nodded to Vinnie, sitting beside Sandra on the couch, looking petulant and disappointed. Sandra looked confused. Overall, they weren’t the boisterous, giddy couple of twenty minutes ago. Coercion, discomfort, and deprivation could do that.
Vinnie’s forehead crinkled when he took in Sebastian, so obviously just out of bed, his arm around Arabella, newly disheveled- contrived as it was. Sebastian took it all in stride, quite literally. She had to practically sprint to keep up with his long steps to the front door.
“Thank you for a most pleasurable evening,” Sebastian said, winking at her in the open doorway. He stepped closer, his arm twining around her. Arabella looked up. His lips descended perilously close to her own. But, he didn’t kiss her. From the flip-flop of her belly, she wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or relieved. “Tomorrow night,” he whispered, his breath tickling sensations through her, “meet me at Le Mare at eight. It is only right that we get to know each other a little better.” He smiled. She didn’t see it; she felt his mouth curving against her. Then he kissed her.
What a kiss! It thrilled her from the top of her messy haired head to the soles of her sensible Oxfords. Perhaps his kiss didn't possess such verve, but it was the most spine-tingling kiss she'd ever experienced outside of a book.
He walked her to the elevator, depressed the button, and then turned to her. The wattage of his grin rivaled the sun, or maybe she was just dazed.
“I’ve never been cast in a salacious role before,” she said, not quite meeting his eyes.
With a chuckle, he answered, “It would seem more in your sister’s line.” Arabella blushed but did not disagree. The door slid open with a ding. Sebastian ushered her in and kissed her again. Zing! Bang-Zoom!
“Eight o’clock. Do not be late.”
He shoved paper into her hand and stepped out of the elevator. Arabella looked down at Constance’s familiar looping scrawl.
Wide-eyed, she gaped at him.
Sebastian’s laughing face was all she saw before the doors closed. Only then did she remember Constance, abandoned in the befouled bedroom. Arabella Schnabel was a wretched sleuth.
I love to laugh, and I hope that this short story put a smile on your face as you head into the weekend. Are there any short stories/novellas that you break out because you know they'll put a smile on your face?