The hag glared at her, then shifted her narrowed stare to JT. “I have guests to take care of, baby brother. This is your mess to clean up. Come here, darling Mina.” She reached for the cat with hands that looked pampered and manicured. “We have people to entertain.” The hag’s face softened as she cuddled the winged cat. “You are going to be a hit in your costume.”
Without another word, the hag turned her back and marched down the hall.
JT’s heavy sigh brought Ellie’s attention back to her rescuer. He shook his head, turning to her with a lopsided smile. His mesmerizing eyes looked a bit sad. “Sorry about that. Tracye is having a hard time letting Mandy go.”
She clapped a hand against her chest, sad for him. “I’m so sorry. Was she your—“
JT chuckled. “She’s not dead or anything. Just out of Tracye’s control. Darn girl had the nerve to grow up and get her own brain.” He flipped his cape over his shoulder, took her hand, and headed down the same hall where the hag had disappeared.
Turning the corner, she stopped, awed. A winding staircase straight out of Gone with the Wind appeared before them. She glanced at him as he paused and looked back at her.
She pulled some words from her head. “Wow, it’s beautiful.” Okay, so not the most articulate thing to say.
He nodded and looked up toward the high ceilings. “When I saw it, I knew this was the house for me. And the sellers wanted to unload it, so I got it for a steal. Tracye’s still mad about it. It’s big, and not really all that practical, but it’s home.” He laughed, tugging on her hand. “Come on, we need to get to the shoes before they go on display.”
Watching his cape billow behind him, Ellie followed. His long fingers surrounded hers, warming her chilled hand. She lightly touched the smooth railing as they climbed the magnificent flight of steps. This was why she had wanted to be here at this party. She’d spent her whole childhood dreaming of what the big house on the hill looked like inside. Now he was leading her to a closet full of shoes in her dream home.
“Wait. The shoes are going on display? Why? If they’re collector items, maybe I shouldn’t –“
“No, no. Mandy has dedicated her life to the Peace Corps now and wants the shoes to be auctioned off. She’s asked that the money go to kids in Appalachia for shoes, clothes, books.” He winked at her. “You know, the necessities of life.”
A man that thought shoes and books were necessities of life. Her heart melted.
He stopped in front of a door and opened it. Stepping to the side, he invited her into the largest collection of shoes she had ever seen outside of Neiman Marcus.
As she stood in awe, JT brushed past her and walked along the shoes all lined up like beautiful chorus girls waiting to perform.
“What about these?” He turned, holding a pair of shining red stilettos. The light caught them, and they sparkled like rubies.
Her heart leapt in her chest. “Yes.” She thought she said it out loud but couldn’t be certain.
He knelt in front of a winged back chair, waiting for her.
She tucked her rain-soaked party dress beneath her and sat. He took a silk handkerchief from his pocket and wiped off the bottom of her tights. His warm hand supported one ankle, then the other as he slipped ruby heels onto her feet.
Oh, she was home.
Gazing up at her, he smiled. “There’s no place like home.”
She gasped. Had he read her mind?