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Cutting room the, p.2
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       CUTTING ROOM -THE-, p.2

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘Accounting … ooh. Sooo not what I pegged you for and sooo not my strong suit. I’m good with my money — not so sure I’d be good handling other people’s. I might get jealous.’

  ‘You don’t actually get to touch it, which takes away some of the temptation.’ Gabby sipped her drink. ‘Interesting. What did you peg me for?’

  ‘Oh, I don’t know … an astronaut? A rocket scientist? A nuclear physicist?’

  ‘Do I look that smart? It’s the suit, I tell ya.’

  ‘Nah. I really thought that you might be a lawyer or a paralegal. Something with the law. Maybe an FBI agent or a cop or maybe a spy. Just a wild guess. You look too fun to be an accountant.’

  ‘Accountants can be a lively bunch. The life of the party. Especially on April sixteenth.’

  ‘Really? Mine’s named Sy, he works for H&R Block, and I don’t think he’s been to a party in a few decades. So tell me, what do you like about it, Gabby? Accounting?’

  ‘Hmmm … good question. Let me think. Well, for starters it’s not subjective, like a lot of careers are. My friend’s a writer and I could never do what she does, because she never knows if it’s good. I mean, there’s always someone telling her what she wrote sucked, even if a hundred other people tell her she’s the bomb. It makes no sense. She ends up banging her head against the wall. Same for my friend who’s a publicist. Someone always second-guesses what she did. Claims they could have done it better. And that they would’ve had a better result: more people at a premiere, a better photo from a better model, whatever. But accounting, you know, is predictable. It always works out, if you do it right. And if you really do it right, you can make people very happy. Numbers don’t lie and they don’t care what other people think of them.’

  ‘Interesting …’

  Gabby had never had to explain why she liked accounting to a guy before. She wondered if she’d given the ‘right’ answer. No matter how you phrased it, accounting never sounded thrilling. ‘What do you do, Reid?’ she asked.

  ‘I’m a filmmaker.’

  Gabby’s heartbeat sped up a bit. Filmmaker was up there with surgeon in both the excitement and good-catch departments. ‘That’s really cool,’ she said.

  ‘Well, I’m working at it. It’s not an easy profession to crack. Lots of competition. You have to be real original to stand out.’

  ‘What kind of films do you make?’

  ‘Okay, now don’t get too excited, because you’re not talking up the next James Cameron. I, well … I make documentaries.’

  ‘I still think that’s exciting.’

  He smiled. ‘I do, too. I think real life is much more interesting than make-believe, actually. Real people having real reactions, expressing real emotions. It’s capturing those moments on film that can be difficult. But … well, it doesn’t bring in much money, unless your name’s Michael Moore.’

  ‘I still think it’s exciting. Money isn’t everything, you know.’

  ‘Hmmm … didn’t you say you were an accountant?’

  Gabby laughed. ‘I’ve done taxes for a lot of people that make a lot of money, but their lives are still a mess and they’re not happy. No, money isn’t everything.’

  ‘I agree. There’s a lot more to life.’

  Gabby gestured to her ear. It was getting really loud.

  Reid leaned in closer, placed his hand firmly on her back and whispered in her ear. She felt his warm breath on her neck and it gave her a shiver, as his strong hand massaged her lower spine. ‘So tell me more about yourself, Gabriella. I wanna know more about you.’

  She smiled coquettishly. To think she had almost walked out and gone home all alone again to her cat and a bad movie on Lifetime. Her luck was definitely changing; she could feel it. And so over two lemon-drop martinis, as he stroked her back and played with the ends of her hair, she told him everything he wanted to know.

  3

  God, she liked the way he said her name. Gabriella. And she liked that after a few drinks, a lot of meaningless conversation and, perhaps most importantly, after a few more short-skirted, long-legged stiletto packs had wandered by en route to the Ladies’ room, that he still remembered it.

  Reid moved a strand of hair off her face and leaned in close. ‘Listen,’ he whispered, his mouth on her ear. ‘I don’t normally ask girls back to my place. I don’t, but …’

  She nodded. ‘Yes.’ The room was spinning.

  ‘Yes?’

  ‘Yes, I’d like to go home with you. You don’t normally ask, and I don’t normally say yes, but here we are. Yes.’

  He smiled. ‘Great. I don’t live too far.’

  ‘Great.’ Gabby reached for her purse under the table and the world went belly-up. She put her hands on her head to get it to stop spinning. And she said a prayer that her stomach would settle back down. She definitely shouldn’t have had that fourth martini. That was what put her over the edge. And that’s why she was making such an impetuous, crazy-ass decision to go home with a total stranger. It was the alcohol; it had definitely made her horny and her overactive pheromones weren’t helping the decision-making process. What was worse was that she was still sober enough to recognize what she was doing was stupid but she was gonna do it anyway. Damn … She was definitely missing sex, no doubt about it; it’d been almost a year since she’d been with anyone. And it had been three years since she’d had anyone serious in her life. It wasn’t like she was thinking Reid was ‘the one’ or anything, or even that this relationship might go someplace past tonight — no, that would require lucid thinking. On the other hand, he did have a great smile and he made freaking movies for a living, which was a total turn-on. Plus, when his hand had traveled up her skirt underneath the table it had given her tingles in all the right places. Perhaps saying yes was a much easier decision than it should’ve been, but, as Daisy would say if she were here, ‘You only live once …’

  Thankfully, her legs worked when she stood up. Reid put his arm around her and led her protectively by the elbow past the tightly packed bodies that surrounded the dance floor and the bar and out of the club. On the sidewalk outside, a chattering line of minimally dressed people had formed and was wrapping around the side of the building. For them, the night was just beginning. It would end only when the sun came up.

  The cold, damp, night air was refreshing. It sobered her up a bit and slowed down the spinning, which was good, but the quiet was almost deafening. Her head was still pulsing to Britney.

  ‘You okay?’ he asked as he opened the door to a car and slid her into the front seat.

  ‘Oh sure,’ she lied. ‘I’m fine. How close is your place?’

  ‘Not far,’ he said as he got behind the wheel.

  ‘Are you in Manhattan?’

  ‘Who can afford Manhattan?’ he replied with a laugh, pulling away from the curb.

  ‘True. Tha’s true. Iss so damn expensive. Everything is so s’pensive.’ Did she just slur expensive? Damn. He reached over and touched her thigh, tracing it with his finger, moving up and under her skirt. She rubbed his hand, watching as the halos above the streetlights blurred together into long streaks of white as the car slipped under what looked like the Midtown Tunnel. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Then she drifted off to sleep.

  ‘Okay, Sleepyhead, we’re here.’

  Gabby opened her eyes. The passenger door was open and Reid was leaning in. There were no bright lights, no skyscrapers, no double-parked cars or beeping taxis. They were in front of a two-story house on a quiet, deserted street. Gabby wasn’t sure where she was, but it definitely wasn’t any of the boroughs of New York. At the end of the block she saw a red light, only there were no cars stopped at it. In fact, there were no cars anywhere. Though the neighborhood didn’t look completely residential, the couple of restaurants she did see were closed for the night. What time was it? She tried to check her watch, but couldn’t make out the dial; it was too dark and she was too drunk. She fumbled to find her heels on the floorboard, and with them in
hand, stepped on to the sidewalk. The world was spinning again. It would be so embarrassing if she fell on her ass. Where was she? Then her stockinged feet stepped in an ice-cold, freaking puddle. Gabby looked down. The sidewalk glistened. ‘Did it rain?’ she asked.

  ‘Did it rain?’ he answered with a laugh. ‘It poured. Cats and dogs. You slept through the whole thing. Even the traffic jam. You might want to put your shoes on — the walk can flood sometimes.’

  ‘I definitely should not have had that lass’ martini,’ she said as she slipped on her pumps, holding on to his arm for support.

  ‘Don’t worry; I’ll warm you up when we get inside.’

  ‘Sounds fun …’

  His arm around her waist, Reid led her along the side of the old Victorian with the cute front porch. A broken brick path twisted through a dead winter garden toward a cement staircase that led down below the house, like a crypt. But for a light coming from the basement on the opposite side of the yard, the old house was completely dark.

  ‘Is this yours?’ Gabby asked.

  ‘Nah. I rent the apartment in the back.’

  ‘Downstairs?’

  ‘That’s the one.’

  ‘Iss a pretty house.’

  ‘Yeah, well, I hope you don’t spook easy. It’s actually a funeral home.’

  Gabby stopped walking. ‘Wha?’

  ‘Not where I live, obviously. The main house upstairs is the business, you know, where people have wakes and stuff. I guess they do other funeral parlor things on the other side of the basement, but I’ve never heard or seen anything. Promise.’

  ‘You mean there are dead people in there?’

  ‘I don’t know about right now. Listen, it took me a while to get used to it, but you do. My friends think it’s kind of funny, actually. And I get a great rate on the rent. Come on,’ he said, pulling her along by the hand, ‘I’ll make sure the ghouls don’t get you.’

  ‘A funeral home … Damn, tha’s fucked up.’ But she found herself following him anyway as he led her to the staircase. ‘Where the hell are we?’

  ‘Paradise,’ he returned with a smile.

  At the top of the staircase she hesitated. ‘A funeral home … I dunno, Reid …’ Every instinct in her body told her not to go down.

  He rubbed her hand and moved to kiss her on the lips. ‘I’ll take care of you. Promise,’ he whispered, his mouth moving over her ear. ‘You trust me, right? If I was a real bad guy I never would have told you about the funeral parlor. Only a stand-up guy would be honest about something like that when he’s taking a girl home and trying to seduce her.’

  ‘Or a fool,’ Gabby replied with a laugh.

  ‘Or a fool,’ he conceded with a shrug. He kissed her then, a long and wet and lingering kiss. His warm tongue probed the inside of her mouth. And his hands ran over her ass.

  That was enough for Gabby.

  Her hand in his, he led her down the steps and into the pure darkness.

  ‘Is there a light? Jesus, I … I can’t see a thing, Reid. These stupid heels … I’m gonna break my damn neck …’ she whispered with a nervous giggle. She wondered why she was whispering.

  ‘The light’s broken. I keep meaning to fix it, but I always forget. Hold my hand and the railing; the stairs are real steep, Gabby. There we go. We’re almost there.’

  When they’d reached the bottom she heard the jingle of a key as she looked around. The moon was hidden behind thick clouds and there was no light. She wondered how he could see the lock, because she couldn’t see a thing. It made her more than a little uneasy, enclosed in the darkness, encased in cement, a flight of stairs away from the rest of the world, right below a funeral home. Even putting the funeral parlor thing aside, she had never been a fan of basements. In the eighteen years she’d lived at home with her parents, she could count the number of times she’d ventured down into the root cellar. Bad things live down there, her sister would warn with a smug smile whenever their mom sent Gabby down to retrieve some jar of homemade pickles or canned fruit. Bad things that don’t like the living …

  ‘Careful,’ he said as he led her inside. ‘I’ll get the lights.’

  After a second or two he flicked on a light and she was relieved to see they were standing in a bright, white galley kitchen, which led into what appeared to be a small studio apartment. There were no metal gurneys with bodies on them, waiting their turn to be taken upstairs. No caskets pushed up against the walls. A loveseat, coffee table and television defined a living room. A breakfast table with two chairs made for a dining area. And off in the corner, partially blocked from view by floor-to-ceiling black drapes, was the bedroom. One of the drapes was pulled back a few inches and Gabby spotted a queen-sized bed.

  He was behind her again. He moved quick, like a vampire. It was a little unsettling, especially given where they were. She shook the cobwebs from her head. Of course, that was the alcohol thinking.

  ‘Another drink?’ he asked, sliding her coat off her shoulders and tossing it on the couch in the living room. Her suit jacket followed.

  ‘Where are we? Long Island? Jersey?’ Despite the drunken stupor, a slight panic was beginning to set in. She ran a hand through her hair. ‘I thought you lived close to Jezzie’s. How am I gonna get home?’

  ‘Don’t worry about that; I’ll take you in the morning, or whenever you want to go. You shouldn’t be driving, anyway. Have another drink and relax.’ He put his hands on her shoulders and caressed them. His soft lips traced the back of her neck, sending shivers down her spine. ‘You smell so good,’ he murmured.

  ‘Damn … You feel good,’ she whispered. Pushed up against her, she felt him now, his hard penis pressing into her buttocks. His hands moved off her shoulders and down her arms, working their way over her hips. ‘I really shouldn’t have another; I’ve had a lot to drink.’

  ‘It’ll help you relax.’

  She shrugged. ‘Okay. Although I don’t usually drink this much, you know.’ Even while she said it, she couldn’t help but think her excuse for being three sheets to the wind in a strange guy’s house, a couple steps from his bed, was lame. ‘I want you to know,’ she started as he went to the kitchen. ‘Not that you’ll believe me, but … well, I don’t go home with guys I jus’ met. In fact, well, besize this one guy in college who was not a stranger — I actually knew him from my Calc class — I, I don’t do this. I don’t.’ She was slurring, wasn’t she? She took a deep breath. ‘I’m not a ho’, is all I’m sayin’.’

  Perhaps it was her imagination, but she thought the room had a funny odor. It smelled like one of the Glade plug-in air fresheners that she used in her apartment to cover up the smell of mildew that was growing underneath her kitchen sink from a dishwasher leak that had gone undetected for too long. But then there was an undertone of something else. Something else the air freshener was covering up. It had the faint hint of a … medicinal smell? Like a hospital or nursing home. Or funeral parlor, maybe? Whatever the hell that smelled like … She pushed the thought out of her head. The apartment was, for a guy’s place, really neat. And with the dramatic black curtains surrounding the bedroom, kind of sexy. God, what was she doing here?

  He came back over and handed her a vodka and OJ, watching while she sipped it. ‘Well, I’m glad you made an exception. Let me be honest here, too — I’m not a player. I rarely take home girls, Gabby. And when I do, well, they’re special. Different. Unique. Like you. I think you’re special. You’re not like those girls in the bar. Those girls — they don’t know what they want, they don’t know who they are. But you do, Gabriella. I think you know what you want, and you’re not afraid to go for it. I may be crazy, but I felt this connection between us, even from across the bar.’ He ran his hand through her hair, tracing her chin and then down her throat to where her blouse was buttoned. His eyes moved over her. ‘And I can’t wait to see more of you.’

  Maybe it was all just words, but they were certainly the ones she wanted to hear. Reid grasped the back of her neck, pulling
her body to his. She could feel his heartbeat through his dress shirt. He smelled clean, like soap and a crisp, citrusy cologne. Versace, perhaps? Aqua di Gio? But as she stretched her head up to finally kiss him he leaned away and with a teasing smile, reached behind him and pulled out a long, black silk scarf. He dangled it in front of her.

  ‘Ooh,’ Gabby said, sucking in a breath. ‘Whass that for?’

  ‘Let’s find out,’ he whispered, taking her by the hand and leading her past the open curtain and into the bedroom area. Gabby’s heart began to race. Bondage with a stranger — Daisy would be so impressed. Gabby took a final long sip of her drink before he gently took it from her lips and placed it on the side table. Then, with one hand underneath her chin, he lifted her mouth to his and kissed her. His tongue was thick and warm and probing, reaching all the way to the back of her throat. Gabby could feel herself getting wet for him. It had been so long since she’d been with a man. So many thoughts tumbled through the thick fog in her brain. She wondered if he was a good lover, or if she would know what a good lover was, given the state she was in. She wondered if he would think she was a good lover. What does someone who is into bondage expect from a girl? What other tricks might he have hiding in his closet or behind those sleek black curtains? If the scarf was any indicator, Gabby figured he would probably take his time with her. And that got her even more excited. She closed her eyes and tried to drive out the jitters and second thoughts. If she was going to be a cheap ho’ and have a one-night stand, she could only hope it would involve Tantric sex with a guy who could go for hours, then wake her up and ask for more.

 
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