She was nervous.
“You’re being ridiculous,” she muttered to herself. “Stop it.” Unfortunately, knowing such nervousness was ridiculous didn’t make it miraculously disappear. And when one began talking to one’s self, things had come to a sad pass.
Her clammy hands shook as she locked the car door behind her and tucked the eelskin purse under her arm. She ran one of those damp, trembling hands over her golden hair. It had been wound into a chic, tight chignon at the nape of her neck. If only her anxiety could be as easily controlled as her hair.
Taking one last deep breath, she followed the sidewalk to the Elks Lodge. Music popular a decade ago was blaring from the building. She went through the door which had been propped open to prevent a bottleneck. The bass percussion of the music hit her like a soft blow to the chest. Brilliant beams of light struck her eyes as the spotlighted mirrored ball rotated overhead. Laughter and noisy conversation rippled over her in palpable waves. Her senses were stimulated by the very vibrancy of the party, yet she stood uncertainly just inside the door.
“Dani! Oh, my heavens, it’s Dani! Dani Quinn!”
The woman sitting behind the table that served as a registration desk jumped from her post and rounded the table with her arms spread wide. Dani was enclosed in a vigorous hug against breasts that were even more pillowy than they had been ten years ago. At that time those breasts had been the envy of every girl in the class; indeed, in the school.
The bearer of the enviable bosom pushed Dani back and gave her a long, thorough once-over. Disgust registered on her animated face. “I swear to God, I hate you. You haven’t gained one damn pound in ten years! You’re gorgeous. Gorgeous!”
Dani laughed. “Hello, Spud . . . I mean Rebecca.”
“Hell, it’s still Spud!” the woman shouted on a raucous laugh.
“You mean you still like french fries?”
Spud patted hips that had finally caught up to the proportions of her chest, possibly even exceeded them. “Can’t you tell?”
The women laughed and hugged each other again. “You’ll never change, Spud. It’s so good to see you.”
“And you, though we see you in the Dallas papers all the time. I was hoping that up close I would be able to see signs of age or at least detect telltale scars.” She inspected Dani’s hairline closely. “No face-lift. Just naturally beautiful and ageless, dammit. Stay away from Jerry,” she growled.
“You and Jerry are still together?”
“Hell, yes. Who else would put up with me?”
Jerry and Spud had gone together since their sophomore year in high school. Dani envied them their uncomplicated life together. “Children?”
“Four. Heathens all. But they’re with a sitter tonight and I’ve forgotten them for several blessed hours in which I plan to get downright tipsy.” She turned back to the table. “Here’s your name tag, not that anyone will have forgotten you. Most beautiful girl in the class.”
Spud yanked the back off the sticky side of the name tag and maternally attached it to Dani’s raw silk sheath. “You put us hicks to shame, Dani. Just look at this dress.” She ran her friendly gaze over Dani’s svelte figure, took in the wide, braided belt with its overlarge brass buckle, the eelskin pumps that matched her handbag. “Neiman-Marcus? But then you always did make the rest of us look like we should go home and start over.”
“Should I have worn jeans?”
Spud patted her arm. “Honey, class has nothing to do with clothes. You’d look just as good in a toesack.” She lowered her voice and leaned closer. “Have you seen him yet?”
Dani wet her lips and averted her eyes. “Who?”
“Ah, hell, Dani. You know who. Logan.”
There. It was over. Now she didn’t have to dread it anymore.
For weeks, ever since she had received the photocopied letter from Spud informing her of the ten-year class reunion, she had dreaded hearing his name spoken for the first time. Well, she had survived. Her vital organs played musical chairs before they found their way back to their proper places, but she was still standing, still breathing. Admittedly, she was breathing erratically, but she was still breathing.
“Logan? No, I haven’t seen him since . . . Well, let’s see . . . it’s been ten years. Is he coming?”
“Our class president? Varsity star? Of course he’s coming. He’s into everything that goes on in Hardwick. A regular pillar of the community. He helped me notify everyone about the reunion.”
Dani’s trembling hand found its way to the hammered gold medallion suspended around her neck from a strand of chunky malachite stones. “How is he?” She didn’t think her air of indifference fooled Spud.
“Do you mean how does he look?” Spud laughed lustily. “Let’s put it this way. I’ve warned Jerry that there are three men in the world I’d risk ten happy years of marriage for one night with. Robert Redford and Richard Gere are two of them.”
“Unfortunately, Logan’s always considered me his good buddy.” Spud grasped Dani’s arm and pushed her toward the throng. “What am I holding you here for? Go! Mix, mingle, get something to drink. A lot of people want to see you. We’ll catch up on all the rest later.”
Shyly at first, then, as she recognized more of her former classmates, with more enthusiasm, Dani got caught up in the party. She renewed acquaintances, met spouses, listened to capsuled versions of the last ten years. The class Romeo, who had always been on the make and after three unsuccessful marriages and six children was still on the make, took Dani under his wing.
“Dani, baby, are you thirsty? Name your poison.”
His eyes widened in delighted surprise. “Our Dani has finally shed her scruples! I’ve heard that Greenville Avenue of Dallas really knows how to swing. Care to teach your old buddies some new tricks?”
“Coke as in Coca-Cola, Al. On the rocks, please.”
“Oh,” he said, crestfallen. “Well, sure, wait right here.”
Laughing to herself, she glanced down at the ballot someone had shoved into her hand. Later in the evening, when everyone had had a chance to see everyone else, they were going to award white elephant prizes for the baldest, the most changed, the one who had fathered or mothered the most children, the one who had come the farthest for the reunion, and other such categories.
“Who gets your vote?”
It had been ten years, yet she knew his voice immediately. It was deeper, more mellow. But since he was two years older than the rest of the class, by the time they’d graduated, his voice had already matured to that low timbre. It was achingly familiar and straight out of her dreams.
She raised her head and looked at him. Everything inside her stilled.
He was more handsome, more magnetic, than she remembered. With no more power than a leaf in a whirlpool, she was swept into that magic aura that surrounded him, that made him appealing to men and women alike.
Straight off a Scandinavian travel poster, his face had borne the last ten years well. Indeed, the lines faintly etched around his eyes and along either side of his mouth only added another dimension to his attractiveness.
Excerpted from In a Class by Itself by Sandra Brown. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.