After the hysteria over The Masked Mistress died down a few weeks later, Gretchen and Orlando had their first date. It had been a very clandestine affair, taking place in the private seclusion of Gretchen’s older sister Jessica’s house. As the tabloids wove tales of romances among others, Gretchen and Orlando had bonded over chicken fettuccine and a bottle of Jessica’s coveted wine under their noses. (She had been charitable enough to donate one for the occasion.)
As he walked to the posh Manhattan digs of his new agent Miranda Willard a week after his first date with Gretchen, Orlando couldn’t help thinking about her. He realized that he was wearing a sort of silly grin that he couldn’t quite suppress on his face, and that he probably appeared to be slightly deranged, but underneath the mildly glassy look, Orlando Jonathan Blanchard Bloom was, well… He was happy.
Orlando pulled out the piece of paper on which he had written Miranda’s name and address to look at it again. He then looked at the building to see which number it was. As he moved forward, hoping to get a better look, he found himself bumping into a lithe figure.
“Oh damn—look, I’m—” The apology got stuck in his throat when he realized into whom he had ran. He relaxed a bit, tilted his head quizzically as confusion quickly conquered contrition. “Sienna? What are you doing here?”
Sienna, clad in a vibrant magenta shirt that made her deep blue eyes stand out, dark blue jeans, and stylish boots, chuckled, not at all ruffled even though Orlando had nearly knocked her over. “Well, I was walking until you nearly sent me careening to the pavement.”
Orlando rolled his eyes, but he still couldn’t help being both mildly amused and mildly embarrassed at the same time. “I meant what are you doing right here, Sienna.”
“I knew that, Orlando.” She gestured to the building behind her. “If you must know, a good mate of mine lives here.” She paused a moment, staring at him searchingly with her perfectly formed eyebrows arched. “And what are you doing here, might I ask? Do you know someone who lives here?”
“I do, actually. Well, sort of.” Sienna kept gazing at him, wondering what he was going to say next. “I’m meeting with Miranda Willard—”
Sienna’s eyes widened a bit, and a sort of delighted shock filled them. “You know Randa?”
Orlando frowned at the use of the nickname. “Well, not on a personal basis really. She’s my new agent.”
“Oh! Well, what a small world it is, then. She’s a friend of mine. We used to model for print ads together, ages ago. You’ll definitely like her but…” Sienna suddenly looked anxious and glanced at her watch. “Well, she’s out of her apartment right now. You and I both just missed her. She suddenly had to run out and pick up a friend at the airport—”
At that exact moment, Orlando’s phone buzzed, as it had been on vibrate, signaling that he had a new voicemail.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that was her,” Sienna remarked as Orlando brought the phone to his ear to listen to the message.
Hey Orlando, it’s Miranda Willard. Listen, I’m sorry that I didn’t call you earlier, but I had a sudden emergency come up and I had to leave unexpectedly. Hopefully things will be straightened out by Friday. I apologize again. I will call you and set up another appointment. I have some scripts that I think you would definitely be interested in. Talk you later, Orlando. Bye.
Orlando sighed and ended the call to his voicemail box. He shook his head and put his phone away. “Well. I suppose I have a bit of time free now that my meeting with Miranda has been canceled.”
“And as it happens, so do I.” Sienna linked arms with him.
Orlando glanced down at the top of Sienna’s tawny head and couldn’t help but smile a little as he fell into step with her. To the casual observer, they might have looked like slightly bashful lovers. But to others who knew them they looked like what they were: friends. So perplexed was he that he didn’t even think about the consequences of someone spotting him and Sienna together like this.
“So do you know much about this mate that she had to go pick up at the airport? I suppose it was a close friend if she had to ditch a client.”
Sienna chuckled again as they made their way down the sidewalk. “Oh yeah. It was definitely a close friend. A best friend.” She tilted her head up at him again. “You mean you don’t know about Miranda Willard’s best friend?”
Sienna shook her head in disbelief. “Orlando. Dear, sweet, guileless Orlando. You are seriously out of the loop, my friend.” She glanced over her shoulder and saw they were near a newsstand. She disentangled herself for a moment and bought the newest issue of Vogue magazine that boasted a multi-page spread featuring the raven-haired, violet-eyed stunner on its cover. She paid the vendor with a beguiling smile, then sauntered back to Orlando with the mag in hand.
“That, my love, is Miranda Willard’s best friend,” Sienna informed him as he took the magazine.
When he saw who it was on the cover, he got a jolt.
She was tall with long, flowing black hair, and a flowing lavender dress brought out the color of her eyes. Exquisitely applied make-up made her appear ethereal. The gleam in her eyes hinted at an inner insouciance. The eyes seemed different, but the face was very familiar. It was the face of the woman he’d been thinking about all day.
“Gretchen?” he found himself saying aloud.
Sienna quizzically gazed at him sidelong at the sound of the one word. “Gretchen? Oh no, dear, that’s not Gretchen. That’s her sister Danie. They look very much alike don’t they?”
“They do,” Orlando admitted absently, still reeling over the staggering resemblance to Gretchen. “I knew that Gretchen had sisters, but I didn’t think…”
“That they looked so much alike? I know. But Danie is so gorgeous…” Suddenly Sienna stopped and looked at him, a sudden understanding in her eyes. “Oh Orlando…are you and Gretchen…?”
In the middle of a Manhattan sidewalk, amid the hustle and bustle where he was as normal as the people rushing to work around him, Orlando merely smiled meaningfully, making Sienna squeal in delight. She enveloped him in a tackling hug, making some people stare at them in bewilderment, some in irritation. Orlando was so stunned that he didn’t move to stop her. He just breathed in her scent and decided to wait until she was done.
* * *
Meanwhile, some yards away, Irene Thomas-Wolfe saw Sienna hugging Orlando tightly and frowned.
She was having a nice lunch with her husband at their favorite restaurant when the sight of Orlando Bloom and Sienna Miller together crossed her vision. She knew little about the slender blonde who had caught the eye of the comely Jude Law—only to be betrayed by him later—and despite the reasoning that you could not judge a book by its chic, brightly-hued cover Irene could not think of her agreeably.
Sienna bounced away from him, her eyes glittering with mirth, and there was more touching and affectionate squeezing. Yes, Irene Thomas Wolfe was part of the persuasion who could easily mistake Sienna Miller and Orlando Bloom for a couple. And the fact didn’t make her feel any better.
She had heard the rumblings. Apparently her daughter was going out with Orlando Bloom, and their relationship was in its early stages. Gretchen had not spoken to her since The Masked Mistress had premiered and she had to finish promotion on the film. So she had no say in the budding romance that she candidly frowned upon.
At the moment, David Wolfe was in the bathroom, and Irene was on her own. She had no one to discuss this with, had no one with whom she could share her misgivings. Because she had to be her own counsel, she did the first thing to come to mind.
She took out her phone, a nifty contraption with a built-in camera that her son had brought her for Christmas, pointed it in the direction of the dark-haired man and his blonde companion, and pushed the ok button.
A sound emulating a shutter opening and closing told her that the picture had been successfully taken.
Irene snapped her phone shut as her husband came back to the table. Noticing that she was distracted by the set of her shoulders, David came up behind her and massaged her shoulders.
“Irene, darling?” David inquired. “Is there something wrong?”
He was her husband. He was the father of four of her children. They had vowed to spend the rest of their lives together, through sickness and health, for better or for worse. However, Irene decided that she would keep this to herself…
Herself…and eventually her daughter…
Irene tilted her head to look at him. “Oh, no. I’m fine.” A smile curved her lips. “Quite well actually…”
* * *
Several nights later, Gretchen dabbed perfume behind her ears and sighed.
She couldn’t help it, but she was a little bit nervous. Even though she had talked to him almost every single night, she hadn’t seen Orlando in nearly a week, and she felt the butterflies of anticipation flitting around in her belly as she showered and dressed for her date with him. Of course, she also felt a bit nervous because of the decision she had come to earlier that day.
Orlando Bloom was going to be the first man she ever made love to.
She hadn’t told anyone about this. Not Jessica, not Emma or Melanie, and certainly not her mother. She hadn’t even told Orlando that she had made her decision; they had discussed it at length, and Orlando was willing to wait until she was ready. She wanted to keep it to herself because she didn’t feel like hearing the ridicule of others. You’re going too fast. Do you know what you’re doing? You are not really in love with him! He will take your innocence and run!
Shaking her head of those thoughts and stepping away from the mirror, the robe-clad Gretchen padded to her bedroom where her outfit lay draped on her bed. It wasn’t too provocative, just a nice pair of jeans and a pinstripe ruffled front blouse in black. She had decided not to blow dry her hair and let it form into the sexy ringlets she rarely wore. She hoped Orlando would like it.
That…along with the sexy underwear she’d dropped almost a hundred dollars on at Victoria’s Secret…
Thinking about the idea of Orlando’s approval when he would start the unpeeling process made her stomach jitter. Half of her was so nervous that she wanted to call Orlando right that moment and cancel the date. But then the other part…
The other part of her wanted to go through with it. That part of her wanted nothing more to make love with Orlando, to feel his bare skin against hers. That part of her imagined the bliss in the afterglow and craved it more than she had anything in her life. So she walked to her stereo and slid in a collection of songs that she knew would get her in the right frame of mind.
As music flowed from her speakers, Gretchen let the robe slide from her body. She picked up the lingerie and donned it carefully, liking the sensation of satin and lace. She sang along with Lisa Stansfield idly, finding that her apprehension abated a bit more with every passing moment.
I’ve got to keep you pleased in every way I can
Gonna give you all of me, as much as you can stand
Make love to you right now, that’s all I want to do
I know you need it boy and you know
I need it too, ‘cause
I’ve found what the world is searchin’ for
Here, right here my dear I don’t have to look no more
And all of my days I hoped and I prayed
For someone just like you who makes me feel the way you do
She carefully rubbed creamy lotion into her skin, a curve to her lips as she swung her hips to the music. Was this how all girls felt when they knew? When they knew they had met that special person with whom they could share the most intimate part of themselves? She hoped that all the girls in the world got experience this loveliness, this strange mix of anxiety and assurance that made them feel human. No—like a woman. Even though she was twenty-six years old, tonight, she would fully become a woman. She would be part of that exclusive club that she had been denied access to all her adult life.
Never, never gonna give you up,
I’m never ever gonna stop
Not the way I feel about you babe
I just can’t live without you
I’m never ever gonna quit ‘cause quitting just ain’t my shtick
I’m gonna lay right here with you and do all the
things you want me to
She had just pulled on her jeans and started to button up her blouse when her phone vibrated. Frowning, Gretchen stepped over the cat, who had just decided to emerge from the depths of Gretchen’s bed and show herself, and walked to her phone on the nightstand. She wondered who that could be…
I hope it’s not Orlando, she mused, nerves coming back in full force again. I mean, if he’s canceling the date, that is. Nervously she stared at the screen, finding that she had a new text message instead of a new call.
“A text? But who…?” Then she made a face when she saw who had sent her the message. “Mama? What in the…?” Shaking her head, she opened it, wondering what her mom possibly could have to say.
Mija I hate for you to have to find out this way. Better than seeing it in the tabs. Love you. Call me if you need anything.
“What is she talking about?” Gretchen muttered aloud, her heart lurching. In the back of her mind, she heard a voice telling her to put the phone away and look at the damned message later. Unfortunately, her interest was piqued and she couldn’t help herself. When she scrolled down in the message more, she saw it. What her mother had warned her about.
It was a picture of Orlando while he was in Manhattan. She knew this because recognized the scenery behind him.
She also knew that he was not alone. He was with Sienna Miller in this photo…and they were hugging and laughing. There was a familiarity in this scene that made Gretchen believe in the worst. She knew that they had dated in the past—at this point, who didn’t—and the fact did nothing to reassure her.
Her heart had stopped cold. Gone were the butterflies; they lay dead at the bottom of her stomach in a heavy lump. She suddenly felt sick, and she swallowed the bile that had been making its way up the back of her throat. Had I been about to…? “Oh God,” she uttered aloud. “This…this can’t…”
Torn in-between disbelief and anger, Gretchen grabbed her keys and her purse on her way out the door. There was a certain man she had to confront.
* * *
Orlando sat in a private corner at the swanky restaurant he and Gretchen were going to have their date. He had been there for almost half-an-hour alone, and his concern for Gretchen grew more and more as the seconds ticked by. He glanced at his watch again, wondering if he had misunderstood the time they were supposed to meet. Or had she? Why hadn’t she called? And where could she be?
They had spoken just the evening before, and then things sounded fine. Gretchen did sound like something was weighing on her mind, and she hadn’t opened up when prodded about it, but she’d assured him that nothing was wrong. She’d said that she couldn’t wait to see him the following evening. Did she get cold feet for some odd reason?
Maybe I’m overreacting, Orlando said to himself as he glanced around the dining room for any sight of her. After all, I did come a little early. But then again, she hadn’t called him or anything, so maybe she was running a bit late. Nothing out of the ordinary. Right?
But Orlando slipped his phone from his blazer pocket, just in case. Nope. No new messages, no missed calls.
Uttering a sigh of frustration because he was giving in to worry, Orlando dialed Gretchen’s cell phone number and listened as it rang five times before going to voicemail.
“Bloody hell,” Orlando swore under his breath as he listened to Gretchen’s bright voice telling him to leave his name and number and she would get back to him. When he heard the beep, he merely said, “Gretchen, love? It’s Orlando. Where are you? Is everything alright? Call me as soon as you can. Bye.”
He ended the call and scanned the dining room again. Even though no one had really noticed him, he felt awfully conspicuous sitting here by himself. He hadn’t counted on sitting thirty minutes at a table made for two all alone.
As if some sort of higher power had sensed his loneliness and confusion, a female voice rang out over all the others at that moment: “Orlando!”
The sound of it was vaguely familiar. He had heard this voice somewhere, and that one fact somehow amplified his hopes. He stood abruptly, automatically, before he could tell his legs to calm themselves. He looked in the direction of the sound of the voice and found a familiar face. But it was not the one he was expecting.
“Sienna,” Orlando found himself saying as his hopes were dashed a bit. Then his eyes shifted to the attractive woman next to her. “And Miranda…”
Miranda Willard was a statuesque brunette with honey-colored skin and shrewd brown eyes. While she could easily slip into the skin of a seasoned businesswoman with the wardrobe to match, tonight she was dressed for a carefree night out on the town with her girlfriends. A satiny off-the-shoulder top in black and white paired with a black skirt and vibrant red heels completed the carefree look. When she met his gaze, her smile was as easy as it was friendly.
“Hello, ladies,” he greeted them, trying not to reveal his prior anxiety about Gretchen show. “I just have to say, the both of you look absolutely smashing tonight.”
“Well, thank you, Orlando,” Sienna responded. Her eyes flickered over Orlando’s table and Orlando barely suppressed a wince as she tilted her head and inquired, “So…are you meeting someone here, Orlando? You look awfully lonely here by yourself.”
Orlando laughed, but it came out a bit nervously despite him. He averted their eyes and scratched the back of his head as he thought of an adequate response. This had to be worse than the Spanish Inquisition. Had to be. “I’m meeting someone here…”
“That’s obvious, silly. Who is it?” Sienna pressed.
And the same higher power that had sent Miranda and Sienna over in his direction (a blessing? A curse? You decide) suddenly perhaps wanted to spare him some major discomfort and sent him a diversion in the form of the person he least expected to encounter that night.
Miranda, as Sienna had started to grill Orlando, had been scanning the room for a familiar face herself. Upon her eyes settling upon aforementioned face, she waved and yelled, “Chica! ¡Estamos aquí!”
Meanwhile, Sienna was expecting the answer of her question and was looking at Orlando with those piercing dark blue eyes. To kill some time, Orlando let his eyes drift to the exchange between Miranda and the mysterious woman to whom she’d been calling.
She was tall with long raven hair pulled back to reveal her striking face. The dark lavender halter top and white skirt that she wore were a nice contrast to her olive skin, and the shirt brought out her amazing eyes. As she came closer and her face became clearer, Orlando found himself shifting, his casual veneer slipping. He was thoroughly and utterly flummoxed.
That’s…! She looks like…!
“Orlando?” Sienna asked.
Miranda and the woman spoke in rapid tones, and it took him a full ten seconds to realize it was not in English. He looked away, thinking he was crazy. This whole getting stood up business—he hated to admit it, but that was what it was—was making him into a complete nutter.
When she broke her gaze from Miranda’s face and looked at him, a twinkle in her eye appeared, and he recognized it as interest. It awed him that she looked so much like, well, her, that he swallowed under her gaze…
“This is Orlando,” Miranda said to the woman after noticing the shift, breaking though Orlando’s reverie. “¿Recuerdas cuando te dije sobre el? El otro día?”
“Oh sí, sí,” she recalled, nodding. She then looked to Orlando. “Hi, Orlando. Nice to meet you,” she said, smiling. Then, with two words, she changed the rest of his life. The rest of their lives. “I’m Danie.”
* * *
An hour later, Gretchen finally arrived at the scene of her supposed date with Orlando. The scents of the lotions and the perfumes she had so lovingly, carefully applied were overwhelmed with the stench of outdoors. She had pulled her hair back because it was a curly mess, and the knees of her jeans had grass stains on them.
She was tired. She was through with being mad for the moment. She was even willing to call herself an idiot for rushing out of her house the way she did and busting one of her tires on the way to Orlando’s. It was a lucky thing that she knew how to replace a tire since her phone had decided it was not going to work for her. Of course, that was just another entry on the list of things that made this a fucked up night.
Gretchen walked up to the hostess stand, knowing that she would get a look of disdain due to her appearance and smell. Instead, the petite redhead standing there looked at her politely and asked, “What can I do for you?”
Gretchen surreptitiously brushed a lock of hair behind her ear as she thought of the best way to vocalize her response. “Well,” she began, “I was supposed to meet a friend of mine here and I had a flat tire on the way. It was just my luck I ended up smashing my cell phone with a tire iron.” The hostess raised an eyebrow. “It wasn’t getting any service and I was really, really frustrated with it. I ah…”
The hostess smiled and cut through Gretchen’s barrage of words with, “Who was the person you were supposed to meet?”
Figuring she wouldn’t get star struck as she looked like she saw celebrities every day, Gretchen replied, “Orlando Bloom.”
The hostess nodded calmly. She wasn’t fazed at all. “Alright, ma’am. Give me one second while I find out.”
Gretchen leaned against the host stand, feeling conspicuous in her dirty clothes and mussed hair. The hostess stepped away and flagged down a guy with an apron tied around his waist. She asked him a question Gretchen couldn’t hear, then Gretchen’s heart sank when she heard the words he left with. And Gretchen was relieved of the dilemma of what exactly she was going to say to him for the moment.
Orlando left? Gretchen mused, frowning. With whom?
The hostess came back over looking mildly apologetic. “I just spoke with Mr. Bloom’s server and he said that Mr. Bloom left about thirty minutes ago. He was with his agent and her best friend and…” The hostess frowned as she tried to recall the name. “I forget her name. What’s her name? The really pretty blonde that used to date Jude Law?”
A flash of anger seared Gretchen’s veins. Somehow she found the calm to merely say without shouting or shredding the host stand to bits with her bare hands, “Sienna Miller.”
“Oh yes! That’s her name. Sienna Miller. Yeah, they all left together.” The hostess, now realizing what this meant, started to placate Gretchen. “I’m sorry, ma’am that—”
Gretchen shook her head as the anger drained out of her and left her with immense exhaustion. “It’s fine. It’s not your fault.” She mustered up a small smile. “Thank you for your help.”
Without waiting for a response, Gretchen turned and walked out, thinking about her down pillow and her copy of Continuum. Her cell phone was a mass of broken plastic and circuits, her perfect date night had been ruined, and, honestly, she didn’t want to think about it anymore. She was going to go home, wallow in her despondence, and work it out in the morning. Or the next day. Or after Christmas.