My unending gratitude to the brilliant Laurelin thepale for guiding this newbie with both intelligence and kindness.
Beth did not want to leave her bed, knowing that when she did, it meant she was on her way home. She sighed, aware that each of her vacations ended this way, someone physically dragging her back to reality, she mentally kicking and screaming all the way. Especially this time. Not only was she unsure about the new job, she also knew she had unresolved issues with Josef that would never be addressed in L.A., in real life. Hoping there was a way to work it out, she threw off the covers and headed for the shower.
Josef entered the room with pure glee in his heart. "Mick!" He screamed as he bashed his fist on the top of the freezer. "Wake up, Romeo!" He grinned through the glass at Mick's blinking eyes, and bashed again.
"Alright!" Mick bellowed back at him, "I'm awake, knock it off." He so would have liked to have punched Josef right in his grinning face just then, but sensing that, Josef leaned heavily on the top. "What is it with you? Open the damn door!"
Smiling, Josef flicked the lid open. "Mick, I do realize that no one needs his beauty sleep more than you, and for Beth's sake I hate to interrupt, but you were anxious to get home and I was able to get you a ten o'clock clearance." Josef threw him his robe, adding, "And cover up Mr. Happy, show some respect for my delicate constitution."
Mick rolled his eyes, but threw the robe over his shoulders as he stood. "What time is it?" he asked blearily, "and why are you wearing a tuxedo?"
"It's just past seven-thirty, so you've got a whole hour to get ready. And you and I have already discussed the importance of appearance."
"Yeah, well, you'll still have to buy me dinner if you want to do me, Josef."
Josef ignored him, anxious to tell his tale. "I just got in, actually. I won an extraordinary amount of money last night, my friend, so you not only get your regular fee," he said, "but I've got a very tasty bonus in mind."
"How much is an extraordinary amount?" Mick asked, not sure is he was prepared for the answer.
"Everything being relative…a lot," he said, his grin widening. "Oh, and a small island near Anguilla. I'm going to rename it Kostan's Cove, just to annoy the hell out of the guy I won it from. It was his pride and joy. God, is there anything better than taking an idiot for his treasures? His wife loves that island. He is such a dead man." Looking at him, Mick was sure his face would split. He'd ask for the details later. "Oh, and you'd better go wake Juliet. I didn't want to be indiscrete," Josef added as he left he room, humming.
One of the good things about being a vampire, Mick thought, was speed. He was showered, dressed and packed in minutes, and he'd have time for a leisurely breakfast and a stop at Owen's before it was time to go. He'd heard Beth padding down the stairs moments before, and wished there were a couple more hours before he had to leave. More than the fact that he'd completely forgotten how a human woman felt, he realized last night that he'd forgotten how love felt. How he wished he could tuck Beth in at his side and hold her there forever. But first, he knew, he had to let her go.
Beth thought again how much she'd miss this, bizarre as it would seem to most. She was enjoying her plate full of eggs, bacon, tatties, tomato, mushrooms, a full English breakfast just the thing after the workout she'd gotten last night, while she watched Josef enjoy his breakfast of fresh blood. Mick joined them, kissing her lightly before pulling Lisa into his lap for his morning meal. A very unusual dining experience, to be sure, and not likely to show up in a sitcom, but she loved their easy familiarity, and wished it didn't have to end. "Gentlemen, you'll have to excuse me," she said reluctantly. "I need to finish packing right now if there's a chance to see Owen before we leave."
"Leave it. I'll have someone pack it up and send it to you," Josef assured her. "Charles will be here in a few minutes." Kissing his meal lightly on her cheek before dismissing her, he added, "I'll say my goodbyes then."
"Josef, wait," Mick said. "Beth wants to go to Scotland with you." There, he'd said it.
"Do you?" Josef asked her, hoping for and dreading her answer at the same time.
Beth looked at him with eyes unwavering. "Yes. I have to be back in L.A. no later than Sunday, new job Monday and all, but I can catch a flight if you're not ready to leave by then." She hoped she sounded more confident than she felt, as she hoped Mick had meant what he'd said.
Josef smiled, trying not to betray his turmoil. "So be it." Beth hurried from the room when she heard Charles at the door.
"Mick?" Josef wanted his approval, and he had to know that Mick was his friend on the other side of whatever might happen.
Mick offered a faint smile. "Josef, we are always brothers, no matter what. Just do not hurt her." With that, they followed Beth out the door.
Owen was sleeping when they arrived, but Tara was glad for the company and touched that they would come. Beth touched Owen's hand, willing him to be well. He looked awful, and certainly like he needed rest, so Beth shooed everyone into the hallway to say goodbye.
"I am going to miss you so much," Beth said as she hugged Tara tightly. "We'll call, and email, and you'll come to L.A. and see me when Owen's up to it, right?" She realized she sounded slightly desperate, but she didn't have lots of girlfriends and she was sure Tara would become a good one.
Tara opened her mouth to reply, but Josef interrupted. "Brilliant as usual, Beth. Tara, as soon as Owen is up to it, I'll send the plane for you. L.A. is the perfect place to recuperate, you can stay at my house for a couple of months."
Tara hugged him, tears in her eyes. "Josef, you are so sweet."
Josef grinned at Mick over Tara's shoulder, mouthing, "See? I'm sweet," at his less-than-convinced friend.
"It's my pleasure, and the least I can do. The most I can do is this." He handed her a check for a half-million, and watched it flutter to the floor.
"Josef, this is too much," she said as he picked it up and handed it back to her.
"It's just the right bonus for all you've both done this week. We've got to go, plane to catch, but I'll be in touch."
Josef instructed Charles to drop him off at the house. He was not about to inflict what was sure to be a drawn out, tearful good-bye on himself. He was too tired, and said so as Mick followed him inside.
"I deposited your fee directly into your bank account, along with a bonus," Josef said wearily. "Someone will pick you up at the airport. I'll see you Sunday."
Mick was relieved at that. "I'm glad you're bringing Beth back."
"I only booked three nights in Edinburgh. If I can't find a place in that time, it wasn't meant to be. But I promise, I would not have let her go commercial, and certainly not alone. Not until I hear from the Cleaners. We'll decide what to do to protect Beth when I get back. In the meantime, she'll be safe enough with me. Now go. Have a good trip."
They rode to the airport in virtual silence, Beth afraid she'd start crying and not stop until his plane disappeared into the clouds, Mick clutching her hand as if to save himself. The tears came anyway, and by the time they pulled up to the hangar at Gatwick airport, they flowed steadily down her cheeks.
"I'm pretty sure I don't want you to go," she tried to joke, but her closing throat betrayed her.
Encircling her with his arms, Mick replied, "I'm pretty sure I'd rather be here with you, too." He sighed, she felt so very good right there against him, he wanted her on that plane, wanted her to decide right then that he was the only one for her, and wondered if he was making the biggest mistake of his life, handing her over to Josef like this. Her hot tears led him to believe he knew what the outcome would be, and the way she clutched at him reassured him further.
"Mr. St. John?" A man in a pilot's uniform man addressed him, "You'll have to board the plane now, we're leaning in ten minutes." Beth's tears flowed freely as Mick held her face in his hands, kissing her, looking deeply into her eyes, kissing her again.
"I love you," she croaked out through her tears.
"Yeah. Me too." He turned and walked up the steps into the plane, feeling like the world's loneliest fool.
Beth wondered why London had to have so many airports, though judging by the congestion she'd witnessed at the ones she'd seen, she probably shouldn't ask. The traffic was thick as her head felt, and she glanced at her watch, hoping they'd make it to Stanstead in time for the flight. Taking her mirror from her purse, she decided that the best thing was to just wash her face, there was no hope of repairing her makeup at this point, when she wasn't sure if another round of lonely tears would assault her at any minute. And looking at herself, she saw someone she was no longer sure she liked. She should be on that plane with Mick. But she'd been so spoiled this past week or so, having everything so readily at her disposal, that she'd let herself think she somehow had the right to love Mick and lust after Josef. A spoiled, selfish princess who didn't care about anything but her own pleasure, her own desires. She didn't deserve either of them and it would serve her right if they both washed their hands of her.
"I was beginning to think you'd gone back to L.A. Then I remembered that I have your passport," Josef said as he waved it at her, smiling gently. Her eyes were glassy red and swollen, and he knew he'd been right to leave them alone with their goodbyes. "Come on, sweetie, Andrew has a very nice little plane, and when you see Edinburgh, you'll be glad you stayed on." He put an arm around her shoulder as they walked across the tarp to the plane that would carry him another step further from the life he'd been living in L.A.
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