A short story featuring characters from The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries. In this story, Belinda’s infamous leopard print dress resurfaces.
Belinda knew it was pure evil that she’d worn the leopard print dress from the night of the drive-by shooting. It was pure evil that she’d slipped into the black high heels from the same night and put up her blonde waves to show off the lines of her neck and back. And she also knew it was especially evil because she and Bennett were about to go have dinner with Alexa Dupuis and her fiancé, and it was thanks to Belinda.
Despite how evil she felt, Belinda still relished every second when she came downstairs. She paused on the first landing to give him a top-to-bottom picture. Bennett leaned against the counter in the kitchen, drinking some water. He looked up and started sputtering and choking, leaning over the sink while he coughed.
She’d loved the shape of the dress so much that she’d held onto it, though she never imagined she’d have the courage to wear it out again–as herself and not Maya the Rebel Wonder. But it had been surprisingly easy to talk herself into wearing it that night.
Especially knowing that Bennett would have to suck it up and not complain about going. How could he when she looked like that? But Belinda had another motive. She really, really wanted to outshine Alexa. Not that she needed to; she knew Bennett was hers. And Belinda did appreciate Alexa’s recent help, and she believed she was a more genuine person now. But when she fell asleep that night, it would be nice to feel certain Alexa didn’t command any of Bennett’s attention.
She came down the stairs, twirling so he could see the rest of her. When Bennett could finally talk, Belinda was relieved to realize her confidence wasn’t misplaced. “You look really hot.”
Belinda smiled. She figured that’s what he thought sometimes, especially when they went to the beach, but it was nice to hear him say so aloud. “Well, you can thank Victoria later.”
Bennett raised his almost-black eyebrows while Belinda dabbed at a water droplet on his tie. “Why would I thank Victoria?” Bennett said.
“Because that entire getup was her doing.”
A smile crinkled up the corners of Bennett’s gray eyes. “She’s a bad influence on you.”
Belinda bit her bottom lip to keep from smiling. “Victoria provided the inspiration, and I was left to provide the persona.”
“You played it well, Kittridge.”
Bennett pulled her in close, and he smelled like a tropical sunset just like he did at her cousin’s wedding. Only this time she could enjoy it without reserve. No one was watching.
“You fooled me,” he said.
“I did?” Belinda thought he’d recognized her after the drive-by.
“Well, not exactly.”
Belinda scrunched up her nose. He laughed.
“You surprised me,” he said. “But as soon as I looked into your eyes, I knew it was you.”
Great. Belinda guessed she should hang up her dreams of being in the CIA. Not that she’d ever had any such dreams, but if she did….
“But,” he went on, “I don’t think anyone else would’ve known it was you.”
“Are you saying no one else there was as smart as you?”
Bennett glanced up at the ceiling as if considering it. “I’m saying no one else there knows your fawn eyes like I do.”
“Good answer. I see you’re learning.”
Bennett rested his forehead on hers. “I have a good teacher.”
“Well, I try.”
“Not you. Dan.”
“Dan?” Victoria’s husband was not the person she had in mind for that.
“You’d be surprised. Dan knows his stuff about the two of you.”
“Two of us?”
“Yeah.” Bennett scratched his chin. He was clean shaven that night, a far cry from his movie glam beard the night of the drive-by. “He had some interesting insights when we talked at the wedding.”
Belinda narrowed her eyes. That was a dangerous conversation. Dan had known her since college because that’s when he met Victoria. And that meant he knew a lot about her. Probably more than he should. “Like what?”
Bennett’s eyes glinted. He might have a slight upper hand now, but just wait until they got to dinner with Alexa and the fiancé. “You know, I can’t remember.”
Belinda pinched his arm. It really didn’t produce much of an effect on Bennett, but it made her feel better.
“Let’s just say, from what he said, I don’t think he’d be friends with you if he didn’t hold you in some esteem.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means, while he’s seen a lot, he still had good things to say about you.”
Belinda didn’t like the “still had good things” part of that sentence. “I could tell you a few things about him, too.”
“I’m sure you could.”
“He nearly lost Victoria.”
“So he told me.”
“That would’ve been a huge mistake.”
“That’s what he said.”
Belinda paused. “He told you that?”
“He gave a summary. Enough to get the picture.”
“And what did you have to say to all that?”
“I told him I thought Victoria was worth the effort to win over.”
“Of course she is.”
“And that I knew you were worth the effort, too.”
Their eyes met and there was no teasing in his at that moment. He was dead serious. “That’s also a good answer.”
Bennett kissed her. “I told you. I’m learning.”
Well, as long as he kept learning like that, Belinda supposed he could talk to Dan all he liked.
But he still had to go that night.
~ * ~
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