The music was so loud, Noah was not certain he had heard her name correctly. Was it her name? Or had she said she wanted to remain a mystery? Did it really matter?
"Mystery it is," he said, raising his glass of champagne to her.
It suited her perfectly, really. Noah had initially lumped her in with the kind of woman who liked to be fashionably late, who was beautifully dressed, and who could afford tickets in the VIP section, and yet there was something about her—the blush, the hesitation—that was not lining up with that initial impression.
The sound of the music jacked up around them. The crowd roared their approval as Carlene shifted gears. Noah had never been to a Carlene concert, and wouldn't be here now except that he'd had business in Copenhagen this week, and Manda had begged him to get tickets.
Now, it sounded as if Carlene was yelling be-bop, be-bop,and the crowd went wild. It was more like a giant party than a concert. Everyone was standing up, clapping, singing, yelling be-bop along with her.
Mystery stood there for a moment, as if frozen. He sensed a discomfort in her that was at odds with the way she was dressed. She actually closed her eyes, as if she was marshalling something in herself.
"Everyone dance!" Carlene shouted from the stage.
When Mystery opened her eyes, she had obviously made a decision. She began to sway. And then she was facing him, arms in the air, head thrown back, hips doing something straight out of a scene from 1001 Arabian Nights. He'd seen the gypsy in her in that first glance, but had not really been prepared for the power of it, unleashed.
Now he felt as if an innocent game of let's pretend, where frankly he had intended to make all the rules, was moving dangerously out of his control.
Fun. Sadly, Paula could not even remember the last time she'd had fun. Or at least not grown-up fun, though come to think of it, it had even been a long time since her children had even wanted to play board games with her.
The Carlene concert was absolutely magical. Something in Paula, for the first time in a very long time, simply let go. And it wasn't just the champagne, which was flowing quite freely, it was the fact that she had given herself permission to pretend. To be carefree. And sensual. To embrace the unexpected and utter enchantment of the moment.
Laughter between her and Noah bubbled up out of nowhere. Every accidental touch was electrical. Some delighted awareness of what it was to be a woman tingled inside of Paula.
There was no need to try and think of things to say to Noah. He was gorgeous and sexy and confident. He would do the most ridiculous dance move, and then wink at her. So she would do one back, and then they would both be doubled up with laughter, holding each other up, so they didn't roll on the bleacher floor, holding their stomachs with the hilarity of it all.
The music was so loud. The few words they said to each other had to be shouted over it. If Paula spoke more than a few words, it would be over, anyway. He would know that she wasn't any of the things she was pretending to be. Not given to letting go or laughter. Not carefree. Certainly not spontaneous or sensual.
The only part of the evening that wasn't really pretend, was the part about liking him. She did like him. She didn't have to pretend that part at all.
She wasn't sure how you could like a person so much that you had barely spoken to, but there was something about him. A lovely self-assuredness radiated from him. A light danced in his dark eyes, his smile was so genuine and engaging, he seemed to have forgotten totally about the photographer and was, as she was, just giving himself over to this moment.
The night didn't so much go by, as it evaporated, gone as quickly as the bubbles that lifted off the champagne. It had been an enchantment.
Carlene announced her last song. Unlike most of her music, it was a slow ballad, a love song.
Paula went into Noah's arms as if it was the most natural thing in the world, as if she had been looking for a place to belong and this was it.
He gazed down at her. He moved a tendril of hair off her brow. And then he pulled her close, and they swayed together. She fit perfectly with him, his chin resting on the top of her head, his arms resting in on the curves of her hips, his hands linking at the small of her back, pulling her in yet closer.
Paula felt beautiful. She felt protected. She felt alive. She felt connected.
The song ended. There was a complete and reverent silence from those thousands and thousands of people.
"Show each other the love," Carlene cooed.
Noah pulled back from her just enough to look at her uptilted face. He dropped his lips over hers.
The fireworks that were the finale of the show seemed dull in comparison to what happened inside of Paula.
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