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Make Me a Match
By Diana Holquist
WARNER FOREVERCopyright © 2006 Diana Holquist
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCecelia? Did you hire a fortune-teller?" Jack asked.
Cecelia was glad she was sitting because if she weren't, she would have fallen into the artichoke dip.
"A gypsy?" Jack tried again, as Cecelia hadn't yet managed to speak.
Amy is here. Here, in her apartment, at her engagement party. Cecelia knew it as surely as she knew that she was going to vomit into the vase of black tulips if she didn't get a hold of herself.
Okay. She had to calm down. Maybe it wasn't Amy.
The lights of Baltimore's Inner Harbor twinkled thirty stories below. Jack, Cecelia's fiancé, knelt in front of her, his face blank and innocent. Behind him, their living room was packed with distinguished doctors (her hospital) and lawyers (Jack's firm) sipping champagne and nibbling stinky cheeses. Everything was okay. Okay, except, of course, for the fact that she had gone numb with shock.
Jack was waiting for an answer.
She took a deep breath. "No, of course I didn't, hon. A fortune-teller! Why do you ask?"
"There's a gypsy at the buffet. With no shoes." Jack leaned in and lowered his voice. "She's eating caviar out of the serving bowl." He looked around to make sure no one was within earshot. "With her index finger."
"Amy." The nameslipped out before Cecelia could stop it. Cecelia shivered. Okay, there were only two reasons Amy would come back after ten years: she was broke, or someone was dead.
Cecelia prayed it was death. A distant cousin maybe. A long-forgotten aunt. After all, death was final. Amy appearing out of the blue with a mouth full of fish eggs meant trouble.
Jack looked over Cecelia's left shoulder. "Cel, she looks just like you only-" He paused.
"-only dressed up for Halloween?" she tried.
"Well, dressed up for something."
Cecelia swatted his shoulder. She knew Jack well enough to know when he was talking about sex. All right, so Amy crashed her engagement party and she was sexy as ever. Worse yet, Jack had noticed. Cecelia was starting to feel her fingers and toes again. She had to take control immediately. After all, she had been preparing for this moment for ten years. She could handle Amy.
"So, who is she?" Jack asked.
Cecelia still hadn't looked behind her to the buffet. Her voice was flat but firm-the voice she used to deliver a dire prognosis to her patients. "She's the one with twenty dinner rolls stuffed in her purse."
Jack looked past Cecelia again. "Her purse is huge!"
"She's the one who swiped all the silverware."
"The spoons! They're gone!" Jack looked as if he might draw a sword. Cecelia put her hand on her valiant knight's arm. Jack may have been second in his class at Harvard Law, the captain of his undergrad crew team at Yale, the best-looking man in the room by a long shot, but he didn't have a chance against Amy.
Cecelia took a deep breath. "She's the one who ruined my life." She spun around and looked right at her little sister.
A rush of affection and joy welled up inside her.
Damn, that was definitely not a good sign.
"Put down the quail egg and step away from the buffet," Cecelia said in her best bad-cop deadpan. "Celia!" Amy cried. She licked each of her fingers, then wiped them on her burgundy peasant skirt. "Hell, Sis, you look old."
"You too." Cecelia tried not to stare at the tiny lines that etched her sister's face. Ten years made Amy twenty-eight to Cecelia's thirty-two. It didn't seem possible.
The two sisters embraced awkwardly, then stepped back to stare, each shaking her head in disbelief.
No wonder Jack had thought Amy was a gypsy. From her silver toe rings to her embroidered, belly-baring shirt, to her kohl-lined eyes, Amy dressed the part. All she needed was a tambourine. Actually, she didn't even need that as her silver jewelry jangled and clinked with her every move.
Of course, Amy was part gypsy. Cecelia was part gypsy too; one-quarter gypsy, three-quarters anti-gypsy, Amy used to say. Cecelia spread her gypsy thin, until it was barely detectable: a hint of the exotic in her almond eyes; a touch of the old country in the grace of her fingers; a shade of something mysterious in her olive skin. But with her black shift, her shiny black hair imprisoned in a French twist, and her understated gold jewelry, her ethnicity was interpreted as Italian or Greek or Jewish. No one would ever mistake Cecelia for a party entertainer.
Cecelia inhaled the familiar scent of cinnamon and cloves that surrounded Amy like a cloud. "What are you doing here?" Cecelia asked, shaking off a bout of nostalgia.
"Nice to see you too." Amy touched the exquisite silk of Cecelia's dress and nodded appreciatively. "I had no idea you were having a party." Amy turned back to the buffet and scooped a finger of caviar into her mouth.
"I would have invited you if you hadn't disappeared off the face of the earth for ten years," Cecelia said.
"No you wouldn't have."
Cecelia paused. "No, I wouldn't have." An odd pressure built in her fingertips. She rubbed her hands together, trying to halt the tingling. Oh, hell. Too late, she stilled her hands. The hand-rubbing was her only tell-the one unconscious movement she made when she held lousy cards. And Amy was the one person on earth who knew it.
Amy watched Cecelia's hands with a raised eyebrow, then she looked to either side, leaned forward, and whispered triumphantly, "I came to tell you something."
Cecelia's fingers started up again. She willed them not to move but the pressure of the effort raced up her arms to stiffen her entire body. "Oh, no," Cecelia said. "This is my engagement party."
"Engagement! Excellent!" Amy put her knuckles on her hips and licked her lips. "Then I'm not too late!"
Ah, Amy's tell-the lips! The tingling in Cecelia's fingertips drained away, and all the pressure with it. Amy hadn't known about the engagement. Cecelia began to breathe again. "Don't try to stop this," Cecelia said.
"Why would I try to stop anything?" Amy rummaged in her bag and pulled out a tiny crystal giraffe covered with crumbs of bread. She presented it to Cecelia. "Happy engagement! So, are there gonna be strippers?"
"No!" Cecelia grabbed the giraffe. How did Amy recover so fast? Her ability to think on her feet was legendary in certain circles-circles that Cecelia wanted nothing to do with ever again. Cecelia watched her closely. "Strippers come to the bachelorette, not the engagement party. You stole this giraffe from my foyer." They were drawing curious stares, but there was a two-foot, invisible moat around them, growing larger and deeper every second, that no one dared cross.
"Hey, it's the thought that counts. So when's the bachelorette?" Amy wiggled her hips. The music of Amy's jangling jewelry made Cecelia aware how quiet her guests were growing around her.
"I'm not having a bachelorette." Cecelia crossed her long arms. They looked naked next to Amy's, which were adorned with silver bangles, a yin-yang tattoo, and a gold snake curled around her bicep.
"What about the strippers?"
"There aren't going to be strippers."
"But you said they're coming to the-"
"There's no bachelorette! No strippers!"
Betty Wagner, the wife of the head of cardiac surgery, stopped ladling punch to gape openly. Cecelia had the urge to wink at her and say, Unless you want some beefcake, Betty. My God, she was thinking like her old self. That was bad. Well, at least she wasn't acting like her old self. Yet. She smiled at Betty sweetly and tried to force that awful pressure in her hands into oblivion.
"No real friends, huh?" Amy said. "Still the same old Cel. Don't worry, hon. I'll throw you a party. The maid of honor needs a job."
Maid of honor? Mistress of destruction was more like it. Cecelia grabbed Amy's arm and said loudly and cheerfully, "I want to show you my home!"
The eyes of the crowd followed them as they moved through the vaulted living room. Cecelia was used to admiring stares, approving of her lean, elegant grace. Now, the stares were amused, curious. She had to get Amy to the bedroom, slam the door, and strangle the truth out of her.
"Hey! A gypsy!" A young surgeon, Lance Crane, stepped into their path. "Read my fortune!"
Cecelia moaned. Lance was a consummate cardiac surgeon and womanizer. She prayed he wouldn't notice that her and Amy's eyes were an identical shade of espresso brown, or that their hairlines framed their faces into matching storybook hearts.
She didn't have to worry. Lance was staring at Amy's cleavage.
"No. Absolutely no fortunes!" Cecelia said.
"Yes. Absolutely fortunes!" Amy put her hand on Lance's shoulder and winked.
Cecelia swatted Amy's hand away in terror, but Amy's lightning reflexes caused Cecelia to miss, and the blow landed on Lance, whose eyes grew wide with amazement.
The pleasure of smacking him thrilled through Cecelia, and her terror at Amy's appearance was replaced by a new terror. How many times on the ward had she wanted to backhand Sir Lance-a-lot (Lance had a nasty habit of performing what might be interpreted as unnecessary surgery, hence his nickname)? But she was a doctor. She did not hit colleagues. And if she did, inadvertently, by mistake, bump an esteemed fellow, it certainly shouldn't please her. She turned to Amy, who flashed her a discreet thumbs-up.
"No fortunes," Cecelia said.
"Oh, come on, Dr. Burns, let's have a little fun!" Lance spoke the last words with enough venom to halt every conversation that her sucker-punch hadn't already stopped. That Lance hated Cecelia was a given. After all, she was a cardiologist, three months off her boards and already swamped with patients she could treat with the new miracle drugs and no-operation stents. Lance had to fight for few-and-far-between surgery cases like a jackal.
"I don't exactly tell fortunes," Amy said loud enough to reach the far corners of the room. The crowd, which was rapidly forming around Lance, Amy, and Cecelia, leaned in. "My power is limited. I can only tell you one thing."
"I sure as hell hope it's about the stock market." Lance laughed.
Amy shot him a withering look. He shut up.
"I can tell you a name. The Name."
Cecelia had to hand it to Amy, she still had her touch. Lance and the rapidly growing crowd were hooked. The change in the room felt physical, as if someone had lowered the lights. Cecelia's heart pounded in the growing silence. In less than a minute, every guest had transformed into a willing member of Amy's audience.
"The name?" Lance asked, his voice dripping with skepticism.
Cecelia put her hands behind her back, trying to still her dancing fingers against her wrist. Pulse rate seventy-one and rising. Well, if she were going to have a heart attack, a room full of doctors would be the place to do it.
Amy addressed her audience. "You have on this earth only One True Love. A person assigned by Destiny. One person who is The One. Only that person can grant you the ultimate in life-True Love. A love like you've never experienced before." Amy paused to let the possibilities sink in.
Cecelia backed out of Amy's spotlight. Maybe she could fake a heart attack. But then, Lance might launch into overzealous CPR. No, he wouldn't dare. Too many lawyers around. She spotted a half-empty champagne flute on a side table and guzzled it.
Amy looked directly at Lance, her eyes dark and flashing. She slowly raised one arm, her bangles cascading down her arm like water. She pointed at his heart. "I can hear her Name as clear as day. The Name of your One and Only as Destined by Fate! Do you want to know who she is?"
Lance shifted from foot to foot. Something like a smile emerged, then retreated across his lips. Lance was decisive about everything. But now, under the power of Amy's gaze, he was frozen. Cecelia smiled; obviously, the guy was currently sleeping with at least two women in the room.
Then his smirk returned.
Cecelia's skin went cold. She sank back into the crowd.
"Hell, Desdemona," Lance said. "No one cares about my True Love. What everyone in this room wants to know is should Cecelia marry Jack? It's their engagement party. Let's hear it! Jack and Cecelia: are they each other's One True Love?"
The room exploded.
One hundred and twenty-seven guests clapped and cried their assent. Two of Jack's lawyer buddies pushed him forward, shouting encouragement. Jack looked sheepish, but game. He wasn't sure what kind of prank this was, but he was a good sport and would play along. Cecelia stepped gracefully into the circle. She knew she looked calm, but that was only because eight years of medical training had taught her to mask terror when she felt it.
"This is great, Cel," Jack whispered, coming to Cecelia's side. "Where did you find her?"
"Under a rock."
"Hi." Amy reached out her hand. "Amy Burns. Cecelia's little sister."
A murmur raced through the crowd. Great. Now whenever any of these people saw her, they wouldn't see a successful, serious medical professional, but a stomach-bared, gyrating, kohl-eyed gypsy with a doctor's name tag pinned to her sparkling halter top.
Jack shook Amy's hand. "No kidding. This is your sister? But I thought-"
Cecelia felt her stomach curl in on itself. He thought that her family were all practicing Sufis in India, following their guru, wearing saris, living in a commune, unable to participate in worldly things like engagement parties in Baltimore to non-believers. This was only partly untrue. Her family was certainly a sect unto themselves. Not anything as normal as Sufism, though, but followers of the religion of True Love. Their guru was standing before them now-Amy, leader of fools.
"My little sister is an actress. She loves to pretend. Make a scene. This is a good one, Ames. Very funny."
Amy turned to Jack, pointedly ignoring Cecelia. "Do you believe?"
"Does the magic only work if I believe?" Jack asked.
He sounded so sincere, Cecelia thought he was serious. But that wasn't possible. Not Jack. He was a respected trial lawyer, an expert in international tax code. He didn't believe in communications from the spirit world.
"Psychic powers have nothing to do with magic," Amy said, scorn radiating from her narrowed eyes. "I won't do it if you don't believe."
"Amy, no one in this room believes-" Cecelia began.
"Silence!" Amy approached Jack. She walked around him slowly, separating him from Cecelia. "Ordinary love is born of convenience, familiarity, comfort. But True Love draws from the deepest yearnings of the heart-"
"I can cut those out if you like," Lance called.
The crowd laughed but Amy ignored everyone but Jack. "Yearnings that might go against society, against your own best interest, against the interests of the people you think you love." She stopped circling Jack. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. "You believe."
Jack nodded. "Sure. I believe. I love your sister. I'm going to marry her." He moved to Cecelia and put his arm around her. Cecelia was aware of the striking couple they made-both thin, dark, tall, elegant.
"What if she isn't your One True Love?" Amy leaned close to him, her nose just inches from his.
Excerpted from Make Me a Match by Diana Holquist Copyright © 2006 by Diana Holquist. Excerpted by permission.
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