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Lasting Impressions

Chapter One

Red would never do. Sure, it was the finest dress in her collection. Of course, it accentuated what she considered her best features: her long legs, thick black tresses and dark complexion. Granted, she wouldn't fade into the background in the restaurant's dim lighting. Okay, a bright dress would make her unforgettable.

However, it simply wasn't done. One did not wear a red, chiffon sheath to a business dinner. Unless, one worked in the "world's oldest profession," and even in direst of circumstances, her stern Bostonian upbringing wouldn't allow her to even consider that.

Michelle closed her dark walnut eyes and concentrated. Her ebony eyelashes brushed her tawny cheeks as black, thin eyebrows furrowed in concentration. Long, well-manicured, crimson fingernails pressed her temples. Clad only in panties, hose and bra, Michelle stood in the middle of a pile of discarded frocks in the center of her small, cramped bedroom.

"Oh, poo," she snorted. Carefully stepping over the mess she'd created, Michelle walked over to the bureau and retrieved the letter, buried beneath the tangled contents of her jewelry box. She lifted it, running a finger across the embossed letterhead. In bold, black letters, the name Randall Forrester seemed almost daunting. She tried to receive an impression of just what kind of man he was. No luck. Obviously, no impression here, he was casual in his business conduct. Who ever expected getting this kind of response from merely sending out a resume?

She glanced at the letter. Handwritten with a strong, clear flair, it simply said, "Your proposition sounds intriguing-and I love a woman with intrigue. Meet me at Fernando's at eight, Friday night. We'll see how we can fill each other's needs. Yours truly, Randall."

Michelle pressed the letter against her breasts. Taking a deep breath, she concentrated again. No, she was definitely not getting any impressions that could help her decide if the red frock was appropriate to the occasion. Fine time for her to lose her psychic abilities. Here she was about to go meet the man who might change her life-lifting her from the nameless ranks of thousands of other psychics tethered to a telephone line and unable to divine anything at all.

"Oh, poo," she repeated, carefully folding the letter and inserting it into her black evening purse. If she couldn't divine an impression, she decided she'd at least make one. She sorted through the pastels and prints at her feet and picked up the red sheath. Sliding it over her head and down around her hips, Michelle glanced in the mirror. Fluffing the midnight cape of hair around her head, she flipped it back over her shoulders where it swayed down to the middle of her back. No hiding her gypsy heritage even if she'd wanted to do so. She remembered how Grandmama had whispered that vital piece of information to her when she was just a child. She warned Michelle not to discuss it with her mother, Cecile, who found her heritage distasteful. Grandmama later amended her warning beyond her mother to the world in general.

"Always, my dumpling, leave people wondering just a bit," Grandmama shook her finger at the wide-eyed child, the tinkling of her many bracelets accompanying her words like wind through chimes. "It will keep them coming back. It will keep you ahead of them."

Michelle smiled at the memory as she grabbed Grandmama's gold hoop earrings from the bureau and inserted them in place, added a gold bracelet and thick, gold choker. Impulsively, she grabbed her black shawl splashed with red roses and vivid greenery, tying it around her hips. She nodded her approval in the mirror before spinning on her heel and heading from the bedroom.

A moment later, mumbling curses, she returned for her shoes-solid black flats, just like her Bostonian banker mother favored.

Randall Forrester rolled the huge Havana cigar between his thumb and fingers happily reflecting on his uncanny luck. The cigar was a recent affectation. While he enjoyed the sophisticated air he believed it gave him, he hadn't quite become acclimated to the rich, heavy smoke watering his eyes and tickling his throat. So, it remained unlit, just as the snifter of expensive cognac remained unsipped.

What lucky star had smiled on him? What quirk of fate moved Tiffany Smythe-Adams to respond to his impromptu suggestion to turn her notoriety into a profitable undertaking for them both? Others, no doubt, had tempted her with offers far exceeding that which he could afford. Yet, it was his offer she answered.

Calm down. It wasn't a done deal yet. Randall carefully dropped the cigar in the crystal ashtray, accidentally knocking over the salt shaker. Glancing around quickly, Randall pinched a bit up between his thumb and finger. He tossed it over his left shoulder, then ran his hand down his lapel-disguising his superstition.

Randall glanced at his watch. Still a quarter to eight. In his gleeful anticipation of this meeting, he'd arrived at Fernando's a full hour early. That was unusual. Normally, he kept people waiting for him. It wasn't that he was rude. It was more that he was forgetful. Reggie, his assistant extraordinaire, was forever slapping post-it notes on his desk, his papers, his telephone, his briefcase and, once even, his forehead. Yet, this was one meeting that he so anticipated not even his usual forgetfulness would interfere.

Tiffany. Running fingers through his long, mahogany hair, Randall straightened his royal blue tie with his other hand. Sitting up erect in the dimly lit corner booth, Randall imagined what the great Tiffany would look like close up. She had to be a knock-out, fifteen on a scale of ten. Sure, he'd seen her picture before-flashes of her being led to jail, handcuffed wrists flung protectively in front of her face. There was the mug shot, but who really looked like they really looked in one of those? She'd kept her face well camouflaged beneath wide-brimmed hats and veils in all the other pictures.

When he'd received the note-scribed in precise, tiny script-accepting his offer to discuss writing a column on her exploits for the Herald, Randall dug through the picture files. Even with a magnifying glass on a light table, it was difficult to actual see what he knew had to be real beauty. His imagination filled in the gaps. Soon he'd know if that combination Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Kim Bassinger, Meg Ryan concoction he'd created was close or would dim in the glow of her beauty.

Her trial on charges of tax evasion, solicitation, pandering and procuring services for prostitution had dominated the front pages of the Herald for weeks. The wire services were flooded with accounts of politicians, movie stars, society scions and some of the country's wealthiest businessmen commanded by federal prosecutors to testify their use of her business. "Typhoon Tiffany"-the press dubbed her because she'd blow into a city, set up an organization and blow right back out before the authorities caught on to her activities. Yet, they caught up with her anyway.

According to her autobiography, penned while detained at a posh federal women's prison, she'd been born to an upper crust New England banking family. Tiffany wrote that she'd rebelled against the dictates of society and to the notion that men controlled the world while women controlled the nursery. She said she sought control over that which man had no control-his animal lust.

Tiffany bragged that her stable of fillies could quench any man's thirst, though she never allowed herself to be taken for a ride. She was the comptroller, the business manager, the investments analyst. She scorned those who would refer to her as a mere madam.

Randall glanced at his watch. It was nearly the designated hour of their assignation. He grabbed the cigar and leaned back against the booth. He carefully picked up the snifter of cognac, rolling the amber liquid slowly. Silently, he prayed he would look more like a big city aristocrat than the knee-shaking rural kid he'd been.

Michelle took a deep breath before pushing open Fernando's front door and stepping inside. She walked up to the maitre d's station and waited while he dug around the top of the station.

"It's in the second drawer down, to the back," she smiled.

"I beg your pardon, senorita," he looked up at her.

"The bottle of aspirin you're looking for-second drawer down at the back," Michelle said, peering past him into the restaurant.

"How did you…" the maitre d began curiously as he looked down and retrieved the bottle-exactly where Michelle had indicated it would be. She tried to place the accent. Was it French? Italian? Spanish? "Amazing."

"Not really. Happens all the time," she commented, rising on tiptoes to see over the crowd. "I'm here to meet Mr. Forrester. Is he here yet?"

"Yes, ma'am. Right this way."

Following the maitre d, Michelle raised her head high, hoping that she was proceeding with more dignity than the butterflies in her stomach betrayed. She clutched her purse tightly to her bosom, willing her breathing to return to an even pattern.

It was crowded in the restaurant. The maitre d walked with confidence between the tables toward the back of the restaurant. The animated chittering of conversation mixed with the clinking of dinnerware distracted Michelle as she valiantly attempted to hold on to her false air of nonchalance. There were so many impressions assailing her brain as she tried to concentrate on the purpose of this meeting.

She didn't see the portly gentleman slide back from the table directly in her path until she was looking down at the intricate carpet. Pushing herself up from his lap where she'd landed, she glanced into his startled face. Regaining her feet, she smoothed down her dress and smiled at him.

"Don't worry," she commented, watching the maitre d glance around for her. She stepped around the chair, then turned back. "You fed the parking meter. You won't get a ticket. Enjoy your dinner."

She walked briskly to catch up-this time carefully watching the path in front of her. The closer she neared the booths at the back of the restaurant, the quieter the voices in her head became. Normally, the buzz didn't bother her unless she was attempting to concentrate on something important. This dinner was really important to her future. Michelle was happy the voices were listening to her internal plea for silence.

As she neared the corner booth, she stopped dead. The maitre d pulled the booth out as the most handsome man she'd ever seen stood to greet her. Tall…he was the tallest man she'd ever met. Drop dead gorgeous, he was a combination of Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Cary Grant with a touch of Tyrone Power. His eyes were magnificent-like two blue pools of clear water on a sandy beach. His smile turned the dimness of the room into midday's blazing sun.

Hesitantly, she summoned all of her powers to fathom this man. Nothing. There was absolutely nothing there. Fine time for her psychic ability to fail, just when she needed every faculty she possessed to walk the few feet forward to meet Randall Forrester. She gulped. Extend your hand, she willed her frozen body to comply.

Dropping the snifter and cigar, his large warm hands engulfed hers. As the maitre d swore in Spanish and snapped his fingers for a busboy to clean up the spilled cognac, he stepped forward drawing her close to him. He lifted her hand to his lips, brushing it with the most tender of kisses.

"I'm Randall…Randall Forrester…and of course, you need no introduction," he murmured, his voice low and resonant.

The concept of swooning was alien to Michelle. She'd read about ladies swooning in romance novels. She'd seen the effect in the old movies of the 30s and 40s which she adored. Yet, until this moment, she'd never been closer to swooning herself. She raised her unencumbered hand to her forehead-slapping herself with her purse in the process. Through the gauze of sudden pain, Michelle's knees buckled, stomach flip-flopped, head lightened and spine collapsed. She leaned into Randall Forrester-as bells chimed merrily in her head.

Regaining her senses quickly, Michelle attempted to pull away from this magnet, but found she couldn't.

"I believe your earring is hooked on my lapel," Randall's voice embraced her.

"It…what??" she looked up at him from her position against his hard, muscular chest. Even his nostril hairs were arranged attractively.

"Your earring-it's caught on my lapel," he responded.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Michelle sighed, dropping her purse to dislodge the earring. His hand still held her other hand. No way was she going to retrieve it from its new happy, warm place. She envied her hand, wishing it was her entire body clasped securely in his strong hand.

"Here, allow me," Randall smiled broadly at her, dropping to one knee to retrieve the fallen purse. On his way back up, his cuff link caught in the fringe of her shawl ripping it from her torso. As Michelle spun around, Randall's hand with the suspended shawl flew out and hit the maitre d in the back. The maitre d shot forward upsetting the freshly set table. China clattered as the two crystal glasses tipped over sending a torrent of ice and water over the clean tablecloth. He shook his head and snapped his fingers-summoning the busboy to reset the table.

"I'm so sorry," Randall apologized. He tried to extricate the fringe from his gold cuff link, but succeeded only in binding it more tightly. "I'm usually not this clumsy."

"That's okay," Michelle blushed, smoothing the tight dress down in place. "Neither am I…usually. Here, let me. Boy, this is really stuck…maybe if I just pull on it. Well, maybe a little harder…"

As the fringe finally released its grip, Randall's cuff link flew from his wrist. Randall and Michelle followed its flight into the air before it arced and began its descent. Plunk. It hit the maitre d, who was just turning from the reset table back to the couple, in the eye. He grabbed his eye and stumbled back onto the table that collapsed under his weight.

"Perhaps the senor and senorita would care to dine at a different table?" the maitre d asked wearily from his seat among the broken china and crystal on the floor. He snapped his fingers to summon a waiter. All trace of accent retreated from his weary voice. "Eddie, can you show these people over to table 13?"

Safely ensconced in another booth, Michelle shyly played with her fingers while Randall scanned the menu. She tried to divine what he planned on ordering them, but the voice in her head remained silent. That was strange, but then so far it had been a strange evening. She hoped he'd take his time deciding, enjoying the opportunity to study his face closely without detection. It was time to pull herself together and stop acting like a school girl on a first date.

Date? This wasn't a date. This was a business meeting. Her future depended on the next hour or so. Time to straighten up and act like a professional. Forget the fact that his masculine aura drove spikes of pleasure up and down her spine. She desperately wanted this job. Ignore those tiny electric sparks of pleasure titillating the most unmentionable places. This would be a wonderful opportunity to share her gift with the world. Disregard those toes curling in her shoes from the delightful thought of those fingers lightly holding the menu suddenly holding her close.

"No more telephones," she murmured.

"Beg pardon? What about telephones?" he asked, glancing over the top of the menu.

"I'm sorry, just thinking out loud," Michelle said, looking down self-consciously. "It's just that I spent a lot of time on the telephone in my former position. I'm looking forward to using my skills in a different manner in the future."

"I would imagine that's how your business-at least your part of it-would be conducted," Randall smiled, laying down the menu. "Well, let's just hope that that experience will simply enhance your future at the Herald. I can't tell you how excited I am about this-excuse the pun-proposition."

"Proposition?" Michelle asked. Okay, he's gorgeous. That doesn't mean he's overly intelligent. Where's the pun?

"Yes, I see great things ahead. Your column is really going to put the Herald on the map-journalistically, of course. I know, I know-it is a bit unorthodox. I've already heard from my editor that he believes I'm turning the Herald into some supermarket tabloid, but he's wrong."

"I am so glad to hear you say that. You know, I believe that if people just had a better understanding of my profession-people wouldn't be so…so skeptical that it's truly an art," Michelle agreed happily. "Not just everybody can do it you know. Though there are a lot of people who think they can-and just botch things up. Make it truly awful for the rest of us."

"Well, I think every woman has the…the…necessary equipment to do it, but I don't think we're ever going to live in a world where all women will enjoy doing…doing what you've done," Randall stuttered, picking up his water glass.

"Oh no, not every woman can do it-not every man can do it either," Michelle clarified. "I tell you, it's a gift from God. And, we who have been blessed with it must be extremely careful in its use."

"A gift from God?" Randall choked on water, spewing it across the table. He picked up a napkin and wiped his mouth. "I'm not so sure I'd go that far."

"Oh, but it truly, truly is. Only very special people can reach out and touch so many-help them in their struggles. Help them reach the highest of their potentials. If that isn't a gift from God, what is it?"

Michelle waited for Randall to respond, but he simply sat there, slack jawed. The waiter came up to the table, ticket book in hand. Michelle smiled up at him.

"It's in your right back pocket," she commented, before turning back to Randall. "I really am so glad that you're liberal minded enough to discuss this proposition-as you call it. Perhaps if I could show you personally how a life can be positively affected, it would help you understand even more. Can I show you now?"

Randall continued to stare at her. He shook his head and glanced up at the waiter, who was busily patting his shirt pockets. Michelle followed his gaze.

"Really, I told you," she said to the waiter. "Your pen is in you right back pocket. Now, Mr. Forrester…Mr. Forrester?"

"Found it," the waiter smiled, pulling his pen from his right rear pocket. "Now, what will we be eating tonight?"

"You…you want to show me right here?" Randall stammered, looking around uncomfortably. He straightened his tie, gulping deeply for air. "Don't get me wrong. I think it's wonderful that you're so generous to show me your 'gift,' but I hardly think in the middle of a restaurant is actually the best place…"

"Oh, the place doesn't matter," Michelle laughed. "Heavens, I've done it all over-on the street, on a bus, in a store, once I even did it at a football game-on the fifty-yard line. Mostly though, I've done it from my apartment."

"And, we'll be eating…," the waiter interjected softly. He seemed to be enjoying the conversation.

"Don't your clients…I mean didn't your clients prefer a more private location?" Randall asked.

"No. Truly they didn't care where it was as long as I delivered. It didn't matter when or where as long as they got what they wanted," Michelle stated confidently. "And, I've never had a complaint yet."

"Wow," Randall exclaimed. "No wonder they called you Typhoon Tiffany-you certainly have blown me away."

"You…you're Typhoon Tiffany," the waiter exclaimed, clutching his pen and ticket book. "Can I have your autograph?"

"What? Who?" Michelle asked. "Who's Typhoon Tiffany? Typhoon Tiffany! Typhoon Tiffany! You think I'm a madam? You think I'm a prostitute?"

Michelle jumped up from the table in shock bumping the table. The table teetered back and forth causing the crystal water goblet to overturn spilling its icy water directly into Randall's lap. Shocked by the icy splash, Randall jumped up knocking the table over. Silverware and china clattered to the floor as Randall pulled cold, wet wool from his skin.

The waiter looked down at the mess at his feet. He rolled his eyes heavenward, raised his hand and snapped his fingers.

"Eddie, do we have another table for these people?"

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