Dr. Kauz said, “Ms. Hess, if you would be so good as to be seated in the Venus Apparat.”
Jewel sat in the green velvet chair. “This had better work.”
Dr. Kauz moved her feet. “Don’t vorry. Be happy.” He strapped her ankles in.
Virgil moved her head. “Try to envision a complete cure. We’re not convinced this isn’t placebo effect. Here—” He lowered a metal cap over her head.
She rolled her eyes up at the cap. “Did we do all this last night? Because I don’t remember any straps.”
“You were in a pretty good mood last night,” Clay murmured.
Virgil strapped her wrists down. Then he took her pulse. Then he peeled back her right eyelid. “Hm. Aura still green.”
By now Jewel was rigid.
Randy stepped forward and laid his hand on one of her fettered wrists. “Are you certain this is what you wish?”
“Yes, I’m certain.”
He glanced from Virgil to Clay to Kauz. “You cannot know what is in their minds.”
She let her eyes glitter up at him. He was so transparent. Flirts with Sovay and then tells me what to do. “Maybe I can.”
Randy heaved a sigh and walked over to Sovay. “I can’t watch this.”
Dr. Kauz struck a pose at the big knifeswitch. “Stand back, everyone, please! Now, Ms. Hess, you must relax. Think of something beautiful. Are you readyyy? Oops! No, wait.” Jewel groaned. He twiddled with her straps. “Okay, now we are ready. Relaaaaaxinnnnng—” Out of the corner of her eye she saw him throw the switch.
“Vonderful!” Dr. Kauz seemed delighted.
Jewel felt a little tingle in her scalp. It was sort of like the tingle she got when she found Randy hiding invisibly in a bed.
She looked around for Randy and saw him leaning over Sovay.
“Okay, let’s see the aura,” Virgil said. “Both ways.”
“Uh, wait a minute, guys,” Jewel began, “I think something’s happening,” and the tingle turned into a buzz and the buzz spread over her body and then became a roar that rattled her teeth and shook her fingerprints loose. “Yeeeee-OW!”
Dr. Kauz hurried to pull the cap off and unstrap her.
“You all right?” Clay said.
She shook her head, trying to clear it. “I think so.”
“I don’t think it worked,” Griffy said with motherly concern.
“She still has a certain glow,” Virgil said.
“I never saw a difference before,” Sovay said, patting a yawn, “but now she looks much worse. It could be her hair.”
“Any pain?” Dr. Kauz said. “Odd sensation in the extremities? Nausea? Dizziness? Double vision?”
“That’s enough!” Jewel struggled out of the machine. “Leave me alone!”
“Natürlich. As soon as we perform colorimetry.”
She thrust him away. “Just because I made a mistake and let you do that Venus Machine thing to me, it doesn’t mean I buy into your bogus ideas.”
Shaken, she elbowed a path to the cart and poured herself a drink with trembling hands.
Clay put his arm around her. “You don’t look so good.”
“That’s right, rub it in.” She drank Scotch, feeling its fire spread, and leaned into him. “Do me a favor and don’t let me get drunk here again. This all started last night when I let Virgil make me drink and play poker.”
“Uh, shouldn’t that be coffee, then?”
“Oh.” She handed him her glass. “Yeah. Would it,” she whispered, “be out of character for you to take me to my room?”
He pursed his lips at her. “A little nap before dinner?”
She peered into his eyes.
And saw a split-level Colonial style house with a white picket fence and a golden retriever frolicking on the lawn. What the heck? She blinked.
“A nap alone, of course,” he murmured. The picture faded.
I must be drunk again. Already.
Randy wandered over to the workbench. Sovay stood at his elbow, handing him tools, touching him, smiling at him. Randy smiled back, looking suave and dangerous.
Griffy was looking at the Venus Machine, biting her lower lip.
Jewel said, “Listen, I don’t know if I’d recommend you try this. They’ve done something to it. I don’t remember much of last night, but I’m positive it didn’t zap me that way before.”
“I can’t afford not to.” Griffy gulped. “I told you, he won’t change. I’ll have to change. Or Sovay will get him.”
Jewel bit her tongue. “Then you’d better jump now, if you want this.”
“I want it.”
Jewel towed her to the green velvet chair, strapped her in, and set the cap on her head. The poor sweet dumb-ass. Nicest person in the world, but she was looking for the wrong thing if she hoped to get that old turtle to stop smirking at Sovay.
The last buckle clicked. Jewel stuck her thumb in the air.
Griffy smiled tremulously and jerked up her thumb.
“Griffy, you idiot,” Virgil called from the workbench. “That’s not for you!”
Griffy scowled at him. “Do it,” she told Jewel.
Jewel threw the switch with a clunk.
For a long moment Griffy sat there. “Am I supposed to feel anything?” There was a new sparkle in her eye.
Clay appeared at Jewel’s elbow. “Girlfriend,” he said with extra warmth in his voice. Jewel turned toward him. He was holding out his hand and looking past her at Griffy.
Griffy took the metal cap off her head. “Did it muss my hair?” She let Clay hand her out of the velvet chair.
Jewel was reminded of Lady Diana exiting a limo. Clay lifted Griffy’s hand into the air, wolf-whistling, and she pirouetted for him.
The butler, clearing away dirty coffeecups, looked up at his mistress and let a spoon slide tinkling to the floor.
“Your hair’s fine,” Jewel said.
In fact Griffy looked dynamite. In her going-to-spa clothes and all her jewels, she looked like a movie star. She seemed younger. All her movements slowed down somehow, so you could notice how everything about her was perfect.
Dr. Kauz came away from the workbench like a sleepwalker.
Virgil followed, looking thunderous.
Sovay took one look, seized Randy by the arm, and swanned out of the room with her nose in a sling.
Griffy turned under Clay’s hand like a ballerina on a music box, and Jewel realized that behind all that niceness and self-effacement was a beautiful woman. She smiled on everyone as she turned, and the air smelled sweeter.
Clay bowed to Griffy. She curtseyed to him. In silence, they started waltzing.
It didn’t look silly at all.
Kauz, the butler, and even Virgil stared as if dumbstruck.
Jewel swallowed a lump. Watching Griffy, she realized how dangerous people like Clay and Dr. Kauz were. They knew what suggestion could do. And Randy, hell, he must be better at it than any of them, after two hundred years with a demonic ability to read thoughts, and the impossible goal of learning what women really want.
This, Jewel thought, watching Griffy. We want this. To be loved, to feel lovable.
Jennifer Stevenson loved writing The Hinky Velvet Chair. “It’s my Wodehousian house party farce. Everyone has two identities, everyone’s in a scam, and—almost—everyone is in love and lying about it.”
Fraud cop Jewel has too much of a good thing. A hot con artist is her new partner and a bossy sex demon is her new booty slave. Now she’s undercover, investigating the Venus Machine, which makes one irresistibly desirable! With four con artists vying to own it, it must work, right? Jewel sits in the velvet chair to prove it’s all flimflam. Looks like she’s wrong…