Carmel-by-the-Sea, California 1986
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”
Pam Howard planted her feet firmly on the floor as Maisie continued stuffing the belly of her costume with more padding.
It was bad enough she was being forced to dress as a man, but the costume came complete with funny pants, stockings and garters, a hideous powdered wig.
“Don’t be such a stick in the mud,” said Maisie, tugging at the waistcoat to fasten the button. “Stand up straight and let’s get this garrick coat on you.”
Pam suppressed a groan as she allowed Maisie to help her on with the huge overcoat that more resembled a wool blanket than a regal garment.
“Really, Maisie. Why can’t I dress as Marie Antoinette? I would rather have been dressed as her poodle than Louis XVI.” Pam continued grousing fell on deaf ears. “Tell me again why you and Jake didn’t sign up for this. Why me?”
A moment later, when Maisie finished tucking, fluffing, and draping, she finally looked up. “I seriously doubt Louis ever carried a child other than in his arms.” Maisie stepped back and waved both hands in the direction of her enormous belly. “Besides, Jake doesn’t have the legs for it.”
Pam just gave her a look that said yeah, right. They both knew Jake had amazing legs from years of surfing. “You could have at least introduced me to Marie Antoinette. Even the real Louis got to meet his bride before the wedding.”
“We would have, but Hank didn’t arrive until late last night and there wasn’t time this morning.”
“No excuse. You’ve known about this competition for weeks.”
It didn’t slip Pam’s notice how Maisie wouldn’t look her in the eye and she wondered what her friend was up to.
“When we signed up for the competition, I had no idea I was pregnant, and now I’m too far along,” Maisie explained.
If Pam were anyone else, that excuse would have made sense. “You’re not a very good liar. Being pregnant is perfect for this costume.” She patted her padded belly to prove her point but her friend didn’t reply. “Maisie.” Pam couldn’t help the rise in her voice.
Maisie looked up then. “You’re almost ready, hon. When you are, we’ll find Hank and I’ll introduce him personally.”
“But, Maisie . . .”
“You’ll like him. He’s a real sweetheart.”
Pam wasn’t convinced this would work.
The competition itself was simple. The event was being staged in the gardens of La Playa Hotel in Carmel, and each contestant had been given a suite in which to get ready, which was where Pam and Maisie were now. Each couple dressed as a famous romantic couple in history. The twist was that each couple had to wear the other’s costume. Each couple would parade up and down a runway and play up to their chosen characters. The audience would vote by donation for their favorite couple. The couple with the highest donations would win the competition and receive a token prize. All donations were going to each couple’s chosen charity.
Win-win for everyone.
But Pam couldn’t remember ever being so nervous. Normally, she enjoyed crazy stunts like this. She could be a bit of a clown at times, and the competition was for charity. So why did she feel she was the only one not winning here?
The thing bothering her, though she couldn’t say why, was she had never heard about Hank Delacriox until a few days ago. She and Maisie were close friends, which meant Jake was her friend now too. She’d met a lot of their friends, so why hadn’t she ever met this Hank before? Or heard of him, for that matter.
The last time she’d heard the name Hank was five years ago when she’d kicked Hank Higgins’ sorry butt out of her apartment. She’d left San Francisco soon after that and never heard from him again. She knew nothing about this new Hank, but she was certain there was more than one man with that name in the world.
So why didn’t this feel right?
And that there hadn’t been enough time to meet this Hank and build some kind of rapport she could play off while they were on the runway also bothered her.
What if he didn’t appreciate her clowning around?
What if he was too serious?
“Don’t look so glum.” Maisie’s voice cut through the fog in Pam’s mind. “It’ll be over in a couple hours.”
Maisie just laughed again, handing her the walking stick. “Yes, says me. Now, turn around and look in the mirror.”
Pam did as she was told. She thought her heart stopped beating. Her breath stuck in her throat. The image staring back at her was eerily male—eerily overstuffed, frou-froued, and pompously male. She’d always thought her features were feminine, but now she wasn’t so sure. She couldn’t remember the last time she wore so much satin and lace.