Chapter Four

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Natalie quickly scanned the final page of copy, highlighting several changes before handing it back to Noah.

"Now you're sure you got this?"

"Have I ever given you reason to doubt me?"

"Time check?" She asked nervously, pulling a red, full length taffeta coat up on her shoulders.

"Your cab is waiting and you're right on schedule." The young man replied. "According to my calculations, based on traffic and two other events in the same area, you should arrive about thirty-seven minutes prior to the dinner seating. Right at the height of the cocktail hour. Fashionably late, but still enough to see and be seen."

"And have a drink?"

"Maybe even two." He gave a confident nod.

"I'll be the only one there without an escort." She sighed.

"And whose fault is that?" He shot her a look.

"I know, I know." She sighed.

"Listen, just because you're arriving by yourself doesn't necessarily mean you'll exit that way."

"How do I look? Presentable?"

She twirled around one time, looking more like the editor of a top fashion magazine than a news publication. The beaded white dress fit her like a glove, highlighting all her best assets. She and Noah had argued about the cut--she'd been adamant about not showing too much skin. But as was the case more times than not, Noah won. Well, they'd compromised in a sense. And she had to admit, she felt pretty spectacular in the forties-inspired, off the shoulder gown.

"Why must you always ask me that?" He raised an eyebrow.

"I want to see if you're going to give me the same answer." She winked. "And I'm extremely self-conscious."

"Self-conscious my ass. You are flawless, Nat. Absolutely flawless. All you need is the cherry on top." Carefully Noah unwrapped an elaborately detailed mask from layers of tissue paper.

"Oh god," She rolled her eyes. "Do I really have to wear that? It ruins the whole look."

"You're kidding, right?" He gave her a look. "It's a masquerade ball. The mask is non-negotiable. And just riddle me this...who else will be wearing a mask this fabulous? One designed by a Tony award-winning costumer? My friend worked his ass off on that mask. You are going to wear it and you are going to love it." He stated firmly.

"Not in the cab though." She ran her hand across the the tall, intricately beaded ears, smirking at the stylized tip of one ear, playfully bent forward.

"Are you kidding? You absolutely have to wear it in the cab. Think of the stir you'll create when you step out in front of Lincoln Center? You, in that show-stopper of a dress, the mysterious white rabbit, with the fountains in the background?" He framed her with his hands, as if preparing to capture her photo.

"It practically covers my entire face. I can barely breathe." She secured the mask in place and checked her reflection in the powder room mirror just off her office.

"There are times when sacrifices must be made."

"Why am I doing this again?"

"Because I'm tired of making excuses. She's stepped out. She's unavailable at the moment. She's out of the office. She's out of the country..."

"C'mon, you make it sound as though--"

"Dozens of New York's hottest bachelors are knocking down the doors of this office?" He fussed with her hair for a moment, then grinned and pushed a small beaded clutch bag into her hands.

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