Brittany was just getting to the point where she sometimes didn't feel like an impostor in a dress, but a pink taffeta bridesmaid's gown was another story entirely.
Then again, she reminded herself, this time she really was an impostor.
Doing her best to forget how silly she felt in the garish gown, Brittany sipped her ginger ale (after Switzerland, she'd sworn off alcohol on the job in favour of always staying in control) and admired the suburban Denver springtime out on the country club grounds. She'd never been to Colorado before, and in prison it was one of the idyllic locales she had often read up on, and seeing it in person was a thrill even if she was on the job.
"Can you believe Annie got married so quickly?" came the voice of a fellow bridesmaid, and Brittany turned to see the chubby blonde she'd hit it off with at the rehearsal. "You think she's pregnant?"
"None of my business, but that'd be my guess." Brittany could only wonder who thought it was a real wedding and who knew the truth, and she was under orders to trust no one.
"How do you know her again?" asked the blonde, who had told Brittany her name but Brittany had forgotten it in the crush of names and faces.
"I'm a longtime client of hers," Brittany said, having memorized her briefing as always; Annie's cover occupation was as a travel agent. "We've gotten to know each other pretty well over plans for me to go to Europe the past couple of summers."
"Really," said the blonde. "Because she told me you were sorority sisters."
Brittany kept her cool, and could only hope Angie and Joseph had heard that on the microphone pinned to her bra. Their hot new recruit had used the wrong cover story! "Well," she said, "If you know Annie, you know she's a storyteller. I was never even in a sorority." Her new friend did not need to know just where Brittany had spent a couple of years living in close quarters with lots of other women.
"Mmm, I've never found that, actually," said the blonde. "I've known her since the fourth grade and she was always honest as far as I could see. Look, I'll level with you...Erika, is it?"
"I think something's up here. Annie's a sensible gal, not at all the type to rush into things, and this Richard guy -- I don't know, something about him really doesn't smell right. Too perfect, and not really Annie's style, either."
"An investment banker can afford to be any woman's style," Brittany offered with a grin.
But her new friend wasn't convinced. "If you believe that, you really don't know Annie at all. Look, she's my best friend from way, way back and I just don't want to see her hurt. If you know what's really going on, I've got a right to know. And we can start with, just how did you become maid of honor when you barely know her?"
"If you want to know the truth of it, Sarah," Brittany said, having finally recalled her new friend's name, "Annie told me it's because she knew how you tend to get worked up about things like this and she wanted someone more clearheaded in charge."
"Excuse me?!" Sarah slammed her champagne glass down on the nearest table, hard enough to surprise Brittany when it didn't break.
"We can argue about it later, I promise," Brittany said. "Right now, I've got the collection to take care of."
"Bitch didn't trust me with her presents," Sarah whined. "And where does an investment banker get off asking for cash gifts anyway?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," Brittany said, thanking her lucky stars that Annie had at least gotten one part of the script right: just on time, she tapped a spoon against her glass and rang the party to silence. She took up her spot at Annie's right, and flashed her practiced smile at everyone.
"Thank you all for a lovely wedding day!" Annie called out. "As Richard and I told you all, we're both old enough to have all the kitchen utensils we need. What we do need is a fresh start on our home, so your cash gifts are appreciated." This brought on a round of groans that Brittany privately agreed with, even though she knew the real purpose of the "gifts". "I know it's not the most personal of gifts, but it's what we need, and we appreciate everything you can spare. You'll have found the red envelopes in your programs today. Now Erika here will be coming around to collect them, and you have our word she'll be discreet about it all. Thanks, everyone!"
Richard, the groom, tried to start a round of applause, but it got only the most tepid response. Once again Brittany was dying to know who knew what among the crowd, but she had no need to know.
In fact, she reflected as she set about collecting the red envelopes filled with cash from the guests, it was far better that she did not know. The more she could pass as the hapless young lady with the day's most distasteful task, the better.
"I'll double this if you give me your phone number!" offered one man as he handed her his envelope.
"Dream on," Brittany grumbled, drawing a round of laughs from the man's friends, who were smart enough to hand over their envelopes and say nothing else.
"Do you find this appropriate, dear?" asked one older woman as she handed Brittany her envelope.
"I wouldn't do it at my wedding," Brittany allowed.
"Bless your heart," the woman grumbled. Brittany longed to reassure her that she agreed completely, but there was no telling who really thought it was just a wedding and who knew the truth.
Annie did manage to get one other thing right: as Brittany completed her circuit of the room and had her satchel full of red envelopes, the bride took her cue and kissed Richard on the lips, drawing hoots and hollers from all their friends and setting the coast clear for Brittany to slip out the rear exit. No one noticed.
No one except Brittany's new friend Sarah, in any case. To her horror, as soon as Brittany was out in the crisp spring air, she heard Sarah calling, "Wait! Erika!" A furtive look revealed that Sarah had caught the attention of a few other guests, who now turned to see her leaving with the cash.
The plan had been for Brittany to stroll down the driveway to the curb, where Angie was waiting in a limousine identical to the bridal one, and for Brittany to simply explain she was taking the money back to the hotel for safekeeping if anyone asked. But the plan hadn't accounted for a busybody like Sarah, who was now out the door herself and rushing after Brittany.
She had only one option left, and that was to outrun Sarah. Fortunately, Brittany the dancer and former soccer star was more than capable of that. She gathered up her skirt and broke into a sprint, hoping Angie would see what was going on and open the car door for her to dive in. To her immense relief, she did. Sarah wasn't even halfway down the driveway when Brittany leapt into the car and landed sprawling on the bench seat across from Angie, who yelled, "Step on it!" at the driver. They were off before Brittany could sit up or Angie could get the door shut, but not before they could see Sarah had attracted several other guests.
"Excellent work, Brittany," Angie said once they were safely on their way, the limo roaring through the suburban streets as quickly as the driver could go safely.
"I can't believe Annie got the backstories wrong!" Brittany snapped, as she fastened her seatbelt and handed over the cash.
"We'll have words with her on that, believe me," Angie said. "But the important thing is, we got the money and, with the serial numbers on the envelopes, we'll know who gave what." Angie pulled an envelope out of the bag at random to make sure the tiny numbers in the corner were present and legible.
"We've still got to get away," Brittany said. She looked behind her, but couldn't make out anything in the limo's rear window.
"Don't worry," Angie said. "They'll be looking for us at the Hilton, and --"
"Angie, quiet!" came Joseph's voice in both their earpieces.
Angie complied, and the two women exchanged knowing glances. No need to say what they both knew -- the "groom" and his fellow Mansfield Consulting goons had a line on them, and now they knew the limo wasn't bound for the Hilton, where the wedding party had stayed the night before. Now Brittany could only hope they wouldn't guess Angie and her team had been hiding right under their noses, around the corner at the Marriott.
As the limo made its way through the downtown traffic and drew to a stop just off the Sixteenth Street Mall, Brittany longed to hear Joseph give the all clear. He didn't, and they both knew what that meant. Angie nodded with a concerned look, and opened the limo door.
Brittany did her best to make the satchel full of cash look like just another pocketbook as she stepped out of the car. She didn't dare look back as they stepped up to the hotel entrance, but Angie did whisper that there was no sign of anyone following them. She had, in her few days in Denver, gotten to know Sixteenth Street well enough to know she would only stand out so much even in a bridesmaid's dress, and had no trouble shrugging off what attention she did get.
The lobby offered no clues that anyone might be spying on them, but Brittany knew well enough by now to assume someone was. She was ready to hike up her dress again and kickbox anyone who accosted her, but that proved unnecessary as they made it to the elevator unmolested. Once there, Angie pressed the third-floor button and slipped a key card into Brittany's hand.
As the elevator opened on the third floor, Angie held up her hand to signal Brittany to stay where she was, and scoped out the hallway. It was empty, and Angie beckoned for Brittany to follow her down the hall. Once they were safe in the luxurious room with its two queen size beds, Brittany let out a sigh of relief. "That was close!" she said.
"Shhhh!" Angie held her finger to her lips, and looked more than a bit angry with Brittany, who realized her mistake now -- if the Mansfield guys hadn't known where they'd gone, now they would. Brittany felt like slapping herself silly, but she contented herself with leaning back against the door while Angie took the envelopes and stuffed them into the safe in the wardrobe.
Once she had the money secured, Angie grabbed up a notepad from the desk and wrote on it, "Not a word until Joseph gives the all clear!"
Brittany nodded, and watched as Angie stuffed the satchel under the mattress of one of the beds, and wished Joseph would say something.
A moment later, he did, but it was not what Brittany was hoping for. "They're on to you, ladies," he said. "Two guys in the elevator now. I've alerted the cops, but your visitors are going to get there first."
"I have an idea," Brittany said.
"What?" Angie asked. She saw the answer to her question immediately, as Brittany was pulling the detested pink dress over her head. "Here, hide this in the bathtub or something," she said, handing it to Angie.
"What on earth are you...oh, good God, no!" Angie didn't dare even use Brittany's code name as she realized what Brittany was up to. But she could see Brittany wasn't going to be dissuaded as she hurried off her bra and panties as well. Defeated, Angie let out a nervous laugh as she took Brittany's underwear and retreated to the bathroom. It just might work, she had to admit.
When the knock came at the door, Brittany was wearing a confident smile and absolutely nothing else. Though her whole body felt on fire with humiliation, she feigned utter comfort as she opened the door. "Yes?" she said to the two men in tuxedos, doing her best to sound and act like she was as fully clothed as they were.
"Uh..." They were both speechless -- only for a moment, but it bought precious time.
"Where's the....the envelopes?" one of them finally managed to spit out, although he said it to Brittany's breasts rather than her face.
"Does it look like I've got anywhere to hide them?" Brittany looked down at her body, and even lifted up both of her breasts with a sarcastic flair. "Besides, what envelopes?"
"You know damn well!" Having regained their composure by then, both men stepped into the room; but Brittany managed to keep her hand glued to the doorknob and her foot against the door to keep it open.
"Hey, did I say you could come in?!" Brittany said. To her delight, she heard a door opening out in the hallway. One of the men did his best to wrench the door shut while the other tried to block the view, but it was no use. A man stepped past the doorway and saw everything, and Brittany had no trouble giving him a damsel-in-distress look.
"Hey!" the man exclaimed. "What are you guys doing?"
"Get out of here, fella!" ordered one of the men, and he lunged at him.
But the man was able to step out of the way and send him hurtling into the door across the hall, and he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. "I'm calling 9-1-1, ma'am!"
"Thanks!" Brittany said, still fighting off the other man who was trying to shut the door. Seeing what he was up to, the man with the phone shoved him out of the way and stood in the doorway himself, giving Brittany a chance to grab up a bathrobe from the wardrobe and put it on.
The two Mansfield guys were soon back on their feet and wrestling the third man to the floor, but once Brittany had the robe on, she was able to pull one of them off him and get him pinned to the floor herself. She could overhear an emergency dispatcher on the man's phone, and she called out the room number and hotel name. One of the Mansfield guys managed to get a hold of the phone and hang it up, but Brittany heard the elevator doors swooping open down the hall even as he did.
Angie appeared from the bathroom just as the cops got to the doorway. In the scuffle that ensued, Brittany's good Samaritan found himself thrown against the wall and nearly handcuffed, but Angie was able to stop them. "He's on our side!" she reassured the officers. "Thank you, sir."
"We'll still need a word with him," said the officer in charge as he nodded for his colleagues to cart the other two off to the elevator.
"So will I," said Angie, flashing her credentials.
"Feds?" the cop said to Angie. "You too?" he asked Brittany.
"Yes," Angie said. "Erika, have a seat on the bed, huh?"
It took the better part of half an hour for the officer to get all he needed from the three of them, during which time Brittany learned her savior's name was Mark Conklin and he was on a business trip from San Diego. "You don't expect this kind of thing in the Rockies!" he guffawed at one point.
"No kidding," Brittany pretended to agree, once again wondering if she would ever get to complete a mission without numerous strangers seeing her naked. But once again she found she had rather enjoyed it.
Once the officer had taken his leave and Angie had bribed Mark into silence with the promise of a free trip to Disney World if he kept his mouth shut for six months, Brittany steeled herself for a lecture as soon as they were alone. She pulled the sash of her bathrobe tighter as she watched Angie shut the door, and held her breath in uncomfortable anticipation.
Instead, Angie locked the deadbolt, turned around, and burst out laughing. "You enjoyed that, didn't you?" she demanded between gales of laughter.
"Well, what if I did, Angie?" Brittany asked. "It got the job done, didn't it?"
"Do I sound angry, Erika?" Angie winked at the name, a reminder that they still couldn't be sure someone wasn't listening.
"Well, no," Brittany said, standing up gingerly. "I guess I was just so sure you would be."
"It's not something I would have done," Angie said. "But I realized quite a while ago, you do it well and you also seem to enjoy it. You're an exhibitionist, aren't you?"
"Well..." Brittany reminded herself that Angie was a friend as much as a boss, and she knew far more intimate details than this. "Yes, I guess I do. In prison, you know, you can't even go to the bathroom in privacy. So I guess I learned to enjoy it because that was the only way to cope with it." She opened her robe and patted her big bush. "You know, that's why I wouldn't let Winnie get rid of this. It's the one tiny bit of privacy I had, and I got teased about it by some of the other ladies -- you know, 'Bushy Brittany' and worse -- but that just made me cling to it all the more."
"That makes sense," Angie said. "Joseph," she said, gazing on Brittany's once-again bare body as she stood by the bed and shrugged off the robe, "Are we done?"
"We've got the lobby secured, and you can send the team upstairs to collect the cash whenever you're ready," Joseph said. "Good job, both of you."
"Erika can't answer you, but she says thanks," Angie said with a knowing grin at Brittany, whose microphone was in the bathtub with all her clothes.
"Do I even want to know why she can't answer?" Joseph asked.
"Probably not," Angie said. "Can we have an hour or so to clean up and relax?"
"Sure. The guys are downstairs when you're ready."
"Thanks," Angie said, and she pulled the wire out of her blazer and popped the battery out. Turning back to Brittany, she said, "Now then, dear, you've got to stop getting an old lady so hot and bothered when I can't do anything about it!"
"Who says you can't?" Brittany opened her arms, and Angie eagerly tore off her blazer and floated into them. She was wearing a blouse that buttoned in the back, and she welcomed the sensation of Brittany unbuttoning it as they kissed.
"You know, you were beautiful in that dress, no matter how much you hated it," Angie whispered as she ran her fingers through Brittany's bush. "I was hoping I might help you out of it."
"Sorry you didn't get the pleasure," Brittany said, pulling Angie's blouse out of her slacks and pushing it up over her head; Angie raised her arms and they soon had it on the floor. "Maybe next time."
"I sure hope so!" Angie hurriedly reached back to undo her bra, welcoming Brittany's hands on the button of her pants.
She more than willingly let Brittany relieve her of her slacks and panties, but she didn't make it easy for Brittany to concentrate on that or anything else. "Oh, that feels wonderful!" Brittany said, her eyes wide, as her boss slipped a finger inside her."
"I was dying to know just how wet you were when you opened the door!" Angie laughed. "Because I certainly was!"
"Were you, now?" Brittany feigned surprise, returning the favour on Angie with two fingers -- by now she knew what the older woman liked. And like it she did, Brittany saw in no uncertain terms as she stroked Angie's inner flesh with her two fingers and teased her clit with her thumb. The absurdity of it all still made Brittany want to laugh every time they did it, but there was no denying Angie's lovely touch or the joy of returning the favour in a way no man would ever be able to offer.
She leaned in, and she and Angie kissed passionately, the silence broken only by their harmonious moans as they got one another off in a matter of minutes.
Once she was sure Angie had come, Brittany pulled her fingers out and took her in a fierce embrace, well aware as ever of the horrible sacrifice Angie had made and the void she herself had been left to fill, and utterly happy to be able to fill it as best she could. "Beautiful as always, Angie," she whispered, and she began to pull back.
"Not so fast, dear," Angie whispered, and she gave Brittany a gentle prod and she tumbled back onto the bed. "I wanted so much to do this in Hawai'i, but we couldn't risk being overheard."
"Can we risk it now?"
"Our mission is accomplished now." Angie grinned down at Brittany, who had her legs spread wide for her. "But my next one is just beginning." She grabbed at Brittany's legs with each hand, and set about kissing and nibbling her inner right thigh. Brittany laughed with sensation and anticipation, which of course only encouraged Angie.