The preparations for the night ahead were in full swing as Celia roamed the dark corridors of the medieval Krügerner Castle in search of someone who could lend her a blow-dryer. All doors were open, airing the spacious guestrooms that were decorated with lavish fabrics and wallpapers, and filled with antique furniture. Maids in traditional black and white uniforms were rushing in and out with towels and linens, preparing the rooms for the annual summer ball.
Coming here was like going back in time. Celia liked the smell of damp in the old walls, and the sound of the floorboards creaking under her feet when it was quiet at night. Many would find it creepy, but this place was her home away from home, and she was genuinely excited to be back again. Although the winters here were spectacular, with snow-covered mountains and crisp air, summer was her favorite time of the year in Switzerland. It smelled fresh and green, and the lake that stretched along the back yard lay still, shimmering in the sun. The white roses that grew up against the walls gave the castle a romantic touch, and especially at night, it looked spectacular when the facade was lit up by spotlights.
The impressive property in Lucerne, Switzerland, was owned by her uncle, an eccentric aristocrat who despite being semi-retired, also happened to be one of the biggest art dealers in the world. Since Celia was family, she was one of the lucky few who always had a room waiting for her, and after visiting since her childhood, she knew the castle inside out. The interior hadn’t changed much over the past twenty years, as Dieter Krügerner liked everything to be original, down to the smallest details. Sometimes that meant comfort had to give a little. There was no central heating in the hallways or corridors, and it was cool inside, even in the midst of summer.
Celia buried her hands deep in the pockets of the black velvet robe, her family crest embroidered in a dazzling gold thread over the left side of her chest. Her hair was wrapped in a towel as she’d just come out of the shower, and she was barefoot, allowing the deep red nail polish on her toes to dry. She was still recovering from jet lag, after arriving from New York yesterday, but the two-hour nap had perked her up a little, and she was excited for the night ahead and keen to get ready.
“Can I help you, Frau Krügerner?” One of the maids asked her.
Celia pointed to the trolley that the maid was pushing toward the next room, holding appliances and a variety of toiletries. “Yes please, Lina. Can I take one of those blow-dryers?”
“Of course.” Lina handed her one. “Do you need anything else?”
“No, thank you, I have everything in my room.” Celia smiled at her. “Have any of the other guests arrived yet?”
“Not yet.” It wasn’t the maid who answered, but her uncle who had snuck up on them. He was wearing a velvet robe too; his, a deep green that matched his padded slippers.
“Uncle Dieter!” Celia flew around his neck and gave him a long hug. “It’s so good to see you again. Sorry I missed you last night; my flight was delayed.”
“Good to see you too, kiddo.” He squeezed Celia so hard that she could barely breathe. “You should have come a couple of days earlier like I asked you to. Her ladyship will be here soon, so the peace will be short-lived.” The cheeky undertone in his voice as he referred to his sister-in-law—Celia’s mother—hadn’t gone unnoticed, and they both laughed.
“Believe me, I wanted to, but I had a problem with one of my shipments and I wanted to solve the issue so I could relax while I was here.” Celia only saw her mother a couple of times a year, and the summer ball was one of the occasions she had to put up with her demanding and irrational behavior. The woman was simply impossible, and so was her brother, who was always at her heel. “I heard she’s bringing a date,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Poor man. Or perhaps I should say poor boy, as I doubt he’s a day older than twenty-five; that seems to be her limit these days.”
“I’m sure the poor boy knows what he’s getting himself into.” Her uncle narrowed his eyes as he looked at her. “But speaking of dates, I see you’ve come alone this year, and that’s a first.”
“I didn’t feel like company.”
“Or maybe you were hoping to reacquaint yourself with someone here?” He paused. “Erin, perhaps? She’s confirmed her attendance.”
Heat rose to Celia’s cheeks just at the mention of Erin. Her uncle was right; the woman she’d met here last year had been on her mind ever since, and Celia was secretly hoping she’d see her again. Nothing had happened between them, as they’d both brought a date, but that one dance they’d shared had stayed with her like it was yesterday. The way Erin had held her; tight and possessively… She’d never been held like that. Even after the song had finished, they’d lingered in the middle of the dance floor until Erin’s girlfriend had pulled her away for the next dance. Celia suspected she’d spotted the instant attraction that had sparked between them that night, no doubt aware of the way Erin’s fingers were caressing her back, and how her hands had lowered to pull her in closer.
“No. I’m genuinely happy with my own company,” Celia lied after a passing maid pulled her out of her thoughts, and she chuckled when her uncle’s lips stretch into a knowing smile. “Besides, the last time I saw Erin she had a girlfriend. A very beautiful girlfriend,” she added, thinking of the cute blonde who had been on Erin’s arm. Not only was she tall and stunning, Celia had also learned that she was a civil rights lawyer in the brief conversation they’d had, and there was no way she could compete with that.
“I don’t think it was very serious between them,” her uncle said casually.
“Really?” Celia nervously fiddled with the buttons on the blow-dryer. “Do you mean she’s single now?”
“I knew it. You were smitten then and you still are; I can see it all over your face. You never could hide anything from me.” Her uncle laughed, holding onto his belly. Extravert, overweight, bald, and with a rugged, white beard, he was larger than life in all senses, but for the first time in decades, he was looking slimmer and his face even looked a little gaunt. “I’m not sure about her current status. I guess you’ll just have to wait and find out.” He scratched his shiny scalp and shot her a challenging grin, knowing he was driving her crazy with his relentless teasing. Erin and her uncle were good friends, and there was no way he wasn’t informed about her dating life.
“Okay, I confess, I might have found her somewhat attractive,” Celia admitted with a smirk. She looked him up and down, now noticing he really did look significantly different. “Have you lost weight?”
“I have, can you tell? I stopped dieting altogether and guess what? The weight just started dropping off.” He spread his arms and shrugged. “Anyway, it’s a beautiful day, so let’s not linger here in the dark. Care to join me for breakfast by the lake?”
Erin dropped her weekend bag on the floor and hung up her suit before she opened a beer from the minibar in her hotel room, tired after the journey. An eleven-day journey, to be precise. But it had been a fabulous eleven days on her yacht, and she’d gotten a lot of work done while sitting at the covered seating area on the upper deck, enjoying the view over the Atlantic. Her tan was deep now, and even with her short hair, she looked like her mother, she thought as she stared at her reflection in the mirror.
Sipping her beer, Erin took in the room. It was a little over the top and she didn’t like the design, but it was practical for a couple of nights until she headed back to France, where her yacht was moored. The view from her corner suite, however, was exquisite. Endless green mountains with grazing cows dotted around stretched out in front of her. The charming old city of Lucerne lay below stretching along the large lake. She could see Krügerner Castle, her destination, on the other side of the lake, and the sight sent a flutter to her belly.
It would be her second year attending Dieter Krügerner’s summer ball—a widely anticipated event held in June—with invitations so sought after, they were like gold dust. She’d met Dieter a couple of years back through mutual friends when she was in California visiting her parents, and a wonderful, tight friendship had developed, despite their age-gap and their backgrounds that couldn’t have been more different.
Erin was looking forward to seeing her lovely, fun friend again, but the main reason she’d been a little nervous over the course of her journey, was the thought of seeing Dieter’s niece, Celia. They’d only shared one dance last year, nothing more, but she remembered every moment of those brief five minutes. The way Celia smelled as she held her; fruity and sweet. Her long, dark hair that tempted her to run her fingers through it, her big, brown eyes and her beautiful smile… Her voice and her enchanting laugh, so delicate in her ear. Erin could still recall how her hand felt in hers, how they’d moved, like they’d danced together for years. But even after replaying that dance over and over, there wasn’t one specific thing she could pinpoint that had drawn her in the minute they’d been introduced to each other. What had slayed her was the invisible force that seemed to radiate around them; one she couldn’t name or explain it if she tried. Chemistry just wasn’t a strong enough word.
The instant attraction had come as a shock to her because frankly, it was unheard of for her to fall for someone she didn’t know. Just one glance was all it had taken, one second of eye contact and she’d wanted Celia like she’d never wanted anyone before. She’d seen a twinkle in Celia’s eyes too, and looking back, that made sense because something as powerful as the pull she’d felt couldn’t be entirely one-sided.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple. She’d brought a date to the ball last year, and Celia had brought her girlfriend, Darcy. Darcy was the polar opposite to Erin; feminine, elegant, sophisticated, and frankly, she’d been surprised when Celia had asked her to dance while Darcy was distracted.
Her own date had been nothing but a brief affair. The woman was stunning, intelligent and sweet. Erin had even entertained the idea that it could grow into something more serious, but after meeting Celia, she just wasn’t feeling it anymore, and she’d been comparing women to her ever since.
It was only ever one dance and Erin had told herself many times to forget about it, to put the woman out of her mind. Celia came from aristocracy. It wasn’t just the gold signet ring she wore with the family’s crest that gave that away; it was apparent in her poise and the way she moved and spoke, the way she held herself in conversations; polite but with a certain distance. She belonged in a whole different league, quite possibly darting through life like a princess and no doubt running in high circles. Erin herself was wealthy, but she was self-made and came from a working-class background. Having worked her ass off for everything she owned, the last thing she needed was a high-maintenance woman by her side who took everything in life for granted.
Still, Erin longed to kiss her, even a year later, and that was the reason she’d come alone tonight. She wasn’t short of women in her life—in fact, she was very, very popular with the ladies in Bermuda—but she knew it wouldn’t be fair to bring a date to the ball if her focus was on someone else. Women sensed things like that, just like they always sensed Erin wasn’t long-term relationship material.
She zipped open the bag she’d hung on one of the clothes hooks, her mouth tugging into a smile as she studied the custom-made tuxedo. Just like last year, she’d certainly stand out as the only woman wearing a tux, but Erin hadn’t worn a dress since she’d last visited her grandmother in Morocco at the age of fifteen, and anything other than a suit simply wasn’t an option. Attending a ball solo was kind of frowned upon too, but Dieter was a good friend, and she knew he didn’t care about etiquette and appearances like the rest of his family. Besides, she was donating a significant lot to the charity auction that would be held over dinner, so that should impress his guests.
Stripping off her clothes and grabbing a towel, another rush of excitement coursed through her at the hope of seeing Celia in a couple of hours. It was likely she’d bring a date, or perhaps she was still with the same woman. Erin had tried to find out, but Celia’s social profiles were set to private, and she knew Dieter and Celia were close, so she hadn’t dared to ask him about her love life either.
Erin finished her beer and headed for the shower. Date or no date, she was planning on making a lasting impression on the woman who had been on her mind since last summer. And if for some serendipitous reason Celia came alone, well, then she’d do everything in her ability to charm the hell out of her. If there was something Erin wasn’t short of, it was confidence.
Celia let the satin fabric of her red gown fall down over her stiletto heels, then adjusted her thin shoulder straps in the mirror. It fitted her like a glove and was the perfect dress for the occasion; elegant and sexy but not revealing enough to be considered vulgar. The bias-cut fabric emphasized her slim waist, modest curves and full breasts, and although the low back didn’t allow for a bra, she could still get away with not wearing one at thirty-eight. Besides, she was in the mood to seduce tonight and showing a little skin would only help in that department. Her long, brown hair fell over her shoulders in loose waves, and apart from mascara and the bright-red kiss-proof lipstick that claimed not to smudge or wear off, she was wearing little makeup. She smiled at herself in the mirror, feeling satisfied with how she looked.
An unexpected knock on the door made her jump, and she rushed over to open it. Letting out a dramatic cry, she gave her mother a hug and told her all the things she wanted to hear; that it was great to see her again, that she’d missed her, and that she looked beautiful and ten years younger than the last time she’d seen her.
“Thank you, dear. I paid Dr. Sebastian a visit last week, and he agrees that I look ten years younger, too.” Her mother stroked the fabric of her silver ballgown, then looked Celia over while she pointed at her dress. “It’s red,” was all she said before her big lips pulled into a straight line of disappointment.
“Yes, it is.” Celia raised her brows questioningly and waited for her to elaborate, but she didn’t. Her mother never let a chance pass to take a compliment whilst subtly offending another woman over her appearance, and that included her own daughter. It didn’t sting; Celia was used to it and she’d decided a long time ago that she couldn’t care less what her mother thought of her. “Where is your chaperone?”
“Leopold is coming.” Her mother looked over her shoulder. “Leopold, hurry up for God’s sake! I need my purse.”
Celia’s heart went out to the man who joined her mother in the doorway and handed her a silver pouch. He was older than she’d expected; probably her age, which was an improvement from the last string of boyfriends, and he shot her a sweet smile as he held out his hand to shake hers. “Leo. Nice to meet you.”
“Leopold,” her mother corrected him. “He goes by Leopold.” Celia doubted anyone of his age still went by that name, and the absurd idea of her mother insisting he presented himself as such, almost made her laugh.
“Hi. I’m Celia. It’s really nice to meet you too.” She was about to engage in small talk with him, but her mother interrupted them.
“Have you seen the table plan, dear? They’ve just put the board with the table plan up by the ballroom entrance and I saw that you’re not even seated at the family table. It’s simply unheard of; I’m going to speak to your uncle about it right away.”
That news was like music to Celia’s ears and she swiftly put a hand on her mother’s arm and smiled in an attempt to calm her down. Apart from her uncle, there were very few relatives she enjoyed spending time with, so she’d be the last person to feel insulted or complain about not sitting with them. “It’s fine, Mom. Please don’t bother him right now, he’s a little stressed today.” Another lie had slipped from her tongue. Uncle Dieter was rarely stressed, and he’d been nothing but chirpy since breakfast. Her mother was right though; it was unusual, and it might even spark rumors about a family feud, but she was sure he’d done it for a reason. A tingling sensation spread through her core as she speculated what the reason for the curious arrangements might be. “It’s okay, really. We’ll have plenty of time to catch up tomorrow.”
‘Her ladyship’ looked bitter at being thwarted and drew in her lips as if she’d sucked on a very sour lemon. “All right. But he has to know that it is unacceptable. I don’t even know the people you’re sitting next to. Brian Prendergast and Erik something…”
“Erin?” Celia asked hopefully.
“Could be. I didn’t pay attention as the surname didn’t ring a bell. Something foreign.” Her mother let out a deep sigh. “Basically a nobody.”
Celia’s face flushed, and her pulse started racing. Good old Uncle Dieter. He’s made me a very happy woman. “I really don’t care, so let’s not make a fuss. Please,” she begged, until she finally saw her mother relax a little. “How about we have an aperitive together? I’d love to get to know Leo better.” She turned to him and winked. “Apologies, I meant Leopold.”
“Fine.” Her mother turned on her heel. “We’ll see you in the entrance hall in ten minutes. Your brother and his girlfriend should be there, too.”
“Wait… Girlfriend?” Celia was talking to herself now as her mother had already disappeared. She let out a silent groan as she closed the door. Her pompous brother Fabian was quite possibly her least favorite member of the family but luckily, he had just as little interest in her. He had her mother wrapped around his little finger, leeched off her, and he hadn’t worked a day in his life. Frankly, she had zero respect for him.
Coming from old money in a long bloodline of Swiss bankers, of which most moved to the US two generations back and started investing there, the small fortune Celia had inherited from her father was enough for her to do the same. She liked to work though, and she felt good about herself when she accomplished things on her own.
Unlike her relatives, she lived in a modest three-bedroom apartment that she’d bought a couple of years back, and she didn’t waste money on expensive cars, women or drugs. Instead, she ran a compact business that exported organic baby food to China because she’d seen an opportunity there seven years ago. It had become very successful and what she liked about it was the simplicity. Apart from one middleman in Beijing and an assistant and an accountant in New York, she had no staff, and that gave her the freedom to take time off, or to go away whenever she wanted.
Despite her easy lifestyle, Celia didn’t date much. Burned by numerous women in the past—who turned out to be more interested in Celia’s family fortune than in her—relationships had taken a backseat, but the lack of intimacy didn’t bother her. She liked her own company, she was popular in the casual dating department and all in all, she was comfortable in her life. Sometimes, she longed for something more, but it was hard to find a woman she both trusted and liked, especially if she took the very important factor of chemistry into account. Chemistry was rare, at least for her, and as much as she’d like to lose herself in passion, that wasn’t in the cards for her right now. Or maybe it is, the little voice in the back of her mind told her as she grabbed her purse and headed out the door. Her head was spinning just at the thought of seeing Erin again.
Did you like the sample? ‘Blue’ will be out on 11/02/20211, and it’s available for pre-order here: https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Lise-Gold-ebook/dp/B08TVZ1QGC/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=lise+gold&qid=1612894377&sr=8-1