Once the meal was consumed, events ran faster than either expected. The rear-guard contingent of pixies had orbited Alexia all through dinner, powdering her cascade of blond-alder hair and her green dress with the magic of physical romance; and when Ross blew out the candles and impulsively drew her tight for a kiss, her response was equally warm. As the pair moved from an awkward dining-table embrace to the freedom of Alexia's bed, the pixies celebrated their victory with such enthusiasm that poor Hanover abandoned his pillow in the kitchen to seek respite in the living room.
Their difficult three-level job successfully completed, the pixies arose from the Green Street house and flitted to their next assignment, a couple with a nine year-old who wanted another baby most desperately.
Whether it was the fairies' absence or some deeper turn of Fate, no one can know, but certain instabilities which had lain undisturbed below the surface of the home's inhabitants began rumbling discontentedly. Half-truths, omissions and complicated plans may self-assemble into a seemingly durable structure, but when the tectonic tension finally snaps, the contraption can collapse as rapidly as a sand castle swept away by an onrushing tide.
It was a small courtesy, Alexia reckoned, to notify Robin that she was home earlier than expected. And so while Ross enjoyed a post-passion shower, she drew the comforter round her and called her downstairs neighbor.
Robin and Kylie were similarly sited in bed sans clothing, and it was fortunate Alexia could not see the effect her call had on Robin's youthful features, for his expression of consternation was very nearly comic-book in its exaggeration.
His voice protectively flat, Robin clicked off the phone and whispered to Kylie in a stunned voice, "Alexia's been home since Friday night. Her friend's dog suddenly died, and the house-sitting was cancelled."
Kylie sat up with a start. "Did she say anything about Ross?"
"Not a word."
"Do you think she kicked him out?"
Frowning, Robin shook his head and said, "No, he would have called you, begging for a place to stay."
"So the ruse is still working."
"I have to tell him." Her urgent sense of duty overwhelming her modesty, Kylie tossed aside the comforter and clambered off the bed to reach the phone in her purse.
"Wait," Robin cautioned. "Maybe it's better that he doesn't know."
"And hope she doesn't guess first? No, he needs to know he's in Alexia's house."
Brushing aside Robin's anxious protests, Kylie swept her long dark locks over her bare shoulder and clicked the auto-dial to Ross's number.
Having just exited the shower, Ross heard the ring and rushed into the bedroom, hastily wrapping a towel round his midriff.
Glancing at the incoming call's number, he drawled, "Hello, stranger."
"I know this is going to be a shock," Alexia whispered harshly, "but you're in GreenDollGal's house. Robin hid it from you because there was no other place for you to stay, and he didn't expect her home for two weeks. But 'A.R.' is Alexia."
Ross glanced nervously at the open door, and then relaxed as he heard Alexia showering in her bathroom. "That explains the dolls and shoes and movie posters."
In a tone of urgent worry, Kylie asked, "How are you getting along with her?"
"Strangely enough, just fine," Ross replied, and Kylie noted the guarded hush in his voice. "Are you alone? Can she hear you?"
"No, she's showering," Ross reported.
"Just be careful," Kylie murmured sternly.
"You mean to hide my stuff so she doesn't suspect me?"
"That too, but remember she takes guys to the sofa just to thank them for a favor—or for an envelope of cash."
Ross paused in disbelief. "Do you really expect a lonely bachelor who hasn't touched a woman in years to find that appalling?"
"Oh good golly," Kylie gasped. "She's already seduced you."
"And I thought it was vice versa," Ross murmured, and then exhaled heavily. "Since it's revelation time, here's another sordid little secret. I hate to be the one to tell you, but your pal Robin was thanking somebody last night, and he seemed very, very grateful."
"I know," Kylie replied in a small voice.
"That's awfully broadminded of you."
In a barely audible tone Kylie said, "No, that was me."
"I see," Ross huffed. "So instead of joining me for dinner, you let yourself be lured into his lair."
"I'm sorry I didn't call you, but one thing led to another."
"You could say the same thing happened up here," he replied. "Great Jupiter, what a pickle."
In a voice tinged with frustration Kylie asked, "Why didn't you tell me she came home early?"
"There was no point in worrying you," Ross replied, though the truth was less admirable: he'd been so enamored of A.R. that it hadn't occurred to him to notify his neighbor.
"If she hasn't tossed you out yet, then there's no reason you can't stay put until you find a new place," Kylie said.
Unable to say that he'd already found where he wanted to live, Ross sighed, "Thank you for the vote of confidence," and rung off in a chaotic confusion of emotions: shock joined fear of discovery and then bounced off the jagged edge of jealousy of Alexia's sofa clients and an unpretty urge to flee before tripping on a messy bundle of lust and romantic hope.
To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.
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