(See the first chapter for disclaimer, notes, spoiler, etc.)
Chapter Eleven: "Baci"
Thomas tucked a stack of depositions beneath his arm and walked down the quiet hallway. Conversation bubbled out from the offices he passed, interspersed with the clicking sounds of keyboards. In the weeks he had interned there, he learned the law firm of Erickson Vickers never knew a dull moment. He turned the corner and stepped into Gregory's reception area. His secretary, Josephine, looked up, an indulgent smile coming to her face. "Good morning, Thomas," she said.
"Ah, the lovely Josephine," he sighed, grinning. "My morning is suddenly brighter, basking in the sunlight of your smile."
She shook her head, watching him. "Young man, you have more charm than you know what to do with."
He chuckled, leaning in with a playful grin. "But, you admit I have charmed you?"
The older woman sighed, her glasses slipping down her nose. "I plead the Fifth," she said, making him groan.
"Oh, poor form." He stood, glancing to the closed door that led to Gregory's office. "Can I leave these depositions for Mr. Richards?"
"Actually, he asked that you bring them in right away. Go on."
"Until tomorrow then, my lady," he said, bowing gallantly before he turned for the door.
Josephine shook her head, an amused smile dancing on her lips. "Too much charm," she murmured, turning back to her computer monitor.
Thomas rapped on the door, waiting until he heard Gregory call him in. He pushed it open and stepped quietly into the spacious office. Gregory was standing by his desk, swinging a wooden baseball bat as he listened to the voice on the speaker phone. "No, no," Gregory said, "she's had ample time to prove herself. She's just not Partner material and I can't recommend her." He ended the call and looked up, the bat dangling over his shoulder. "Depositions?"
He held them out, watching as the lawyer immediately flipped through them. "I already logged the copies in the file room," he said quietly, causing Gregory to glance up.
"Good," he said, putting them aside. He leaned against his desk and gestured the younger man to sit. When he did, he asked, "What do you think of the father's statement?"
"Honestly?" He waited until Gregory nodded before he said, "It's…flimsy."
Thomas nodded and sat forward. "Contradictory…almost like he's holding something back." He watched Gregory's face, admiring the blank expression. It would be something to oppose him in court. "May I?" he asked, reaching for the deposition. When the older man nodded, he picked it up and flipped several pages in. "He says that he heard noises outside and went to investigate."
"Well, wouldn't he have noticed the screen of his daughter's window kicked out and on the lawn?"
"It was dark, Thomas." He watched, amused as the younger man shook his head and flipped back to the beginning of the deposition.
"Not that night. It was a full moon. Also, he had motion-sensor security lights mounted from the back corner of the roof." He handed the bound document back to Gregory and said, "I don't think he went outside at all."
Gregory nodded, impressed. "Very good, Thomas." The younger man beamed as he continued, "You'll make a criminal defense attorney yet."
"Well, I don't know," he said, watching as he turned back to the depositions. "Maybe prosecutor."
Gregory grimaced as he laid the baseball bat back in its holder. "You've got too much potential to be wasted like that."
"Except that I could help people and punish the criminals."
"Yes, but not every accused criminal is actually guilty."
He nodded and glanced around the office as Gregory sat behind his desk. "I imagine a prosecutor's office isn't as nice as this."
"Definitely not," Gregory chuckled as he looked back to the stack of documents. He heard the leather seat hiss as Thomas stood, wandering over to the bookcase. A moment later, he heard the young man sigh and he looked up. "Something wrong?"
Thomas turned slowly, shaking his head. "Not really." He sighed, his hands in his pockets as he crossed the room to the desk. He watched Gregory, leaning back in his chair as he waited. "I just wanted to thank you for the kindness you showed my family." The other man was silent, watching him with eyes that narrowed and hardened slightly as he continued, "And to my mother especially."
Somewhere, a window opened, allowing ice-cold realization to flood through Gregory. In an instant, he realized that Thomas knew about him and Olivia. He sat up slowly, eyeing the young man sternly. "Thomas-," he began.
"Did you know my mother is an alcoholic?" Thomas asked softly. He waited until Gregory nodded and he sighed deeply. "She thinks she hides it well, but she's been one for as long as I can remember. It wasn't until I was older that I realized it was because she was desperately unhappy." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the red tie, returning to Gregory. "She doesn't know that I know about you and her," he admitted. "Neither does Louise." He sat back, meeting Gregory's eyes as he continued, "I could ask you what your intentions are, but that would be far too presumptuous."
"I see," he replied coolly, watching as Thomas leaned in.
"Just...don't hurt her. My father did that for over two decades and she deserved better. And as for me, I'll stay quiet."
"Until?" Thomas cocked his head as Gregory explained, "That sounded like an ultimatum."
The young man grinned, his eyes sparkling as he chuckled. "Well, then. Maybe I'll make a defense attorney after all."
Sean exhaled tiredly as he turned onto his street. The wipers sloshed across the windshield, clearing the glass before a fine but steady rainfall reappeared. He leaned forward, squinting his eyes as he noticed the slight figure running down the street. The long brown ponytail bounced and as he got closer, he nodded with recognition. He slowed to a stop, the automatic window rolling down. "Hey, Louise…you want a ride?"
The young girl glanced over, her clothes drenched as she nodded. She came around and got in, sliding into the passenger seat. "Thanks," she sighed, loosening her grip on the small dog in her arms. "I was walking her and the rain just came out of nowhere."
"Here," he said, reaching out to switch on the car's heater. He accelerated slowly as he watched her out the corner of his eye. She let the dog lick her face as she unwrapped it from her sweater and used the fabric to pat her face dry. "So…you let the dog have the jacket?"
She nodded, giggling as she glanced over. "Baci's so little. I didn't want her to be cold and wet."
He couldn't help but laugh as he pulled into the driveway of her house. He parked and leaned back as Louise turned to him. "Baci, huh? Does that mean something?"
"It's the Italian word for kisses." She looked down, running her hand over the dog's chestnut-red coat. "I figured it was a good name because she's so friendly and affectionate."
He reached out tentatively, holding out his palm. Within moments, the Irish Setter leaned in, sniffing his fingertips before she licked them. They chuckled and Baci looked up at them, watching silently with unblinking brown eyes. "She's a cute puppy," he said, gently scratching the dog's neck. "You just get her?"
"Probably a good thing. If you were still living at Haven, Dad wouldn't have let her in the front door. He's got a bad allergy to dogs."
"Oh," she said, letting the dog curl up in her lap. "I guess that is good."
He looked at the window, watching the house though the falling rain. "Your new place is nice," he said, admiring the Mediterranean architecture that was in stark contrast to the modern design of Haven. "You like it?"
She giggled, stretching out her legs. "It's fine. There's still a lot of boxes we have left to unpack. So, it's a home in progress."
"It's still new, right?" She nodded and he glanced over, resting back on the head rest. "It'll feel like home soon."
Louise shrugged, letting the patter of the rain fill the silence between the them. She absently ran her hand over Baci's coat as she quietly asked, "Do you mean the house or town?"
"Both, I guess." She sighed, as if she were deeply troubled, and he frowned. "School ok?" he finally asked.
"But, you've made friends?" After a long moment, she shook her head slowly. A wealth of pity rose within him as he turned to her, watching as her trembling hand rested on the dog's head. "Seriously? None at all?"
She shrugged, turning to him with a sad smile. "No one wants to be friends with the girl whose father was murdered. I suppose it's more fun to gossip about me behind my back," she said softly.
Sean sighed. "You know," he said after several moments of silence, "Caitlin always told me that teenage girls were real bitches."
She giggled as she leaned back in the leather seat. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"Kinda," he answered, returning her smile.
"Well…it kinda worked. Thanks." They turned forward, looking through the rain spattered windshield. "It is nice of you to try, especially since you weren't thrilled my mom, Tom and I were staying at your house at first."
She glanced sideways at him and he blushed, embarrassed before he nodded. "Yeah…sorry about that," he began quietly. "You know...that really didn't have anything to do with you - or your family. I…well, Dad and I weren't on the best of terms when I came back from Holston."
"But, things are better now?" With a smile, he nodded slowly. "That's good," she sighed. "My father and Thomas were the same way. Dad always said Thomas was too headstrong for his own good and Thomas said Dad didn't understand him."
He sat up when she looked away abruptly, hiding her face as she looked out the passenger window. "Hey…are you ok?" he asked, putting his hand on her shoulder when she shuddered and stifled a sob.
She nodded, turning back to him as she brushed tears from her cheeks, a sad smile dancing on her lips. Her blue eyes were sparkling with unshed tears and he recognized the grief swirling in her irises, the longing for that which could never be. She was just a girl who missed her father, the same way he missed his mother. He squeezed her shoulder, getting her attention as his brow furrowed. "It stops hurting so much after awhile," he whispered.
A lump of angry sadness welled in her throat. "When?"
He faltered when she met his eyes, her expression churning with pain. "A little bit each day," he finally said as the rain slowed. The clouds separated, revealing a patch of fading sunlight.
She sighed deeply, her cheeks puffed out. Baci perked her head up, sighing to mirror her mistress before licking her bare arms. She leaned down, kissing the dog's head. "I should go," she said softly.
He nodded, the automatic locks clicking as he unlocked the doors. She got out, carefully setting Baci on the stone driveway before she turned back. She leaned into the interior of the car, whispering, "Thanks, Sean. For the ride…and the talk."
"Would you like to see the wine list?"
Olivia looked up after a long moment, shaking her head. "No, thank you. I don't think so."
"Shall I leave it for your husband?" he asked, gesturing to the recently abandoned seat.
Her lips parted, an admonition on her lips before she nodded slowly. He placed the leather bound list on Gregory's plate and turned on his heel. Olivia turned back to her plate, her finger tracing the stem of her water glass. She leaned back in her chair, sighing deeply. "What are we?" she whispered to herself, grateful their table was in a quiet corner of Grenadine's.
Friends. Business partners. Lovers.
All of the above, she thought to herself as she brought the glass to her lips. Her mind wandered, drifting to Del's video will. She can't stand a cold bed for too long, her late husband explained. The ice water ran down her throat and she shivered. Did he suspect it would be Gregory?
Probably, she mused.
The kidnapping of Elaine's son always lingered between them, particularly Olivia's motivation for participating in the crime. Oh, and how Del held that morsel of information over her. She sighed, looking back to Gregory's empty seat. He still thought it was an accident he had missed seeing her and Del all these years, communicating only through letters and the occasional phone call. Her lips disappeared into a tense line, her fingers twitching as she wondered if he would ever figure out the truth. If she would have the courage to speak of it.
A shadow moved over her place setting and she forced a smile, looking up and expecting to find Gregory. "Bon soir, Madame Douglas," Cole said pleasantly, watching as the smile fell from her face.
"Mr. St. John," she said coldly, reluctantly taking his outstretched hand. Instead of shaking it though, he bent slightly and brought it to his lips. Her hand trembled and she pulled it back abruptly as she said, "I thought you would have returned to Paris by now."
"Alas, no," he answered as he gestured to the empty seat across from her. "May I?" She watched as he sank into Gregory's chair, barely giving her a chance to object. "I decided to extend my stay and take a little holiday," he explained, blooming in her wary gaze. "This is such a charming little town."
"Is it everything you hoped?" she murmured, folding her shaking hands in her lap. His dark eyes moved over her, examining every inch of her face before ultimately lingering on the rope of pearls and diamonds at the base of her throat. She cringed and glanced away, looking for Gregory.
"For my holiday, yes. But, for my business...," he sighed, shaking his head regretfully. "I don't suppose you've reconsidered my request to-"
"I have not," Olivia snapped. She watched Cole sigh and lower his head. When he raised it, his eyes were turned up to her, menacing before a calm smile overtook his expression. Her heart leapt into her throat as a chord of familiarity went through her and she leaned in slightly, trying to place it. She watched him stand, looming over her with that oddly calm expression.
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said, his tone cold and detached. Her stomach churned, ice running through her veins as he leaned down, his face inches from hers. He reached out, his knuckles grazing her cheek as he whispered, "So very sorry."
"What's going on here?"
Olivia jumped as she swallowed a wave of revulsion and watched as Cole slowly straightened up. Gregory came to her side, his hand gentle on her shoulder as she stammered, "N- nothing."
Cole watched, amused, as Gregory turned to him, angry suspicion brewing in his eyes. "Are you sure?" he asked her, even as he stared the younger man down. A thought whispered from the back of Cole's mind and he looked from Gregory to Olivia, instantly understanding. He bit back a smile and stepped away from the table.
She nodded, covering his hand with hers as she looked up at him. "Yes."
Gregory looked down when he felt her touch, her lips quivering as she continued to nod. He turned back to Cole, glaring as he said sternly, "I'm quite certain that since Mrs. Douglas hasn't changed her mind about exhibiting the jewels, we can say this is the last we will see of you."
Cole nodded, looking down at her as he said softly, "Au revoir, Olivia."
Gregory watched him leave and turned back to Olivia. Her face was pale and she reached for her water glass, her hand trembling. "Persistent, isn't he?" he asked simply as he sat across from her.
She watched him over the rim of the glass, collapsing against the high-back of the chair. Her breath was shaky and she struggled against the rising unease creeping over her. Her lips parted to reply, but her throat constricted and she looked away, shaking her head. He sighed and leaned in, concerned as her eyes closed. "But, I suppose you'll tell me nothing's wrong?"
A sad smile graced her lips, disappearing as quickly as it appeared. With a sigh, she opened her eyes slowly, gazing blankly across the table to him. The candle in the center of the table flickered on his face, catching the worry and she frowned. "Does it even matter?" she murmured, reaching up to grab the passing waiter's arm. "I'd like a vodka on the rocks." He watched the waiter nod and turn away as Olivia sat up, rubbing her hands together. She chuckled to herself and looked up, sadness oozing from the core of her soul. "You know, I think this is exactly what Del wanted to happen."
"What's that?" he murmured, reaching out to catch her hand. He squeezed it gently, waiting as she sighed, her throat working.
"Me. Miserable and alone...and cleaning up his mess." She exhaled deeply, her head spinning as she murmured, "Atoning for our sins."
He frowned, his thumb rubbing over her knuckles. "You're not alone," he said softly, watching her carefully. "And, I told you: I will protect you."
A sob rose in her throat, threatening to overtake her as she shook her head. Tears glittered in her eyes and she lowered her head, wiping them away. "I don't think that would've surprised Del either," she said, gesturing halfheartedly between them. She watched his face turn as she reluctantly pulled her hand back, explaining as she pressed her palms to her cheeks, "He always knew."
"Knew what?" he asked after several moments of silence. But she only sighed, her lips pursed as she looked away. "Olivia?"
"That man reminds me of someone," she murmured, glancing up and looking again for Cole. "I wasn't sure the first time I met him, but now I'm almost convinced of it."
"Olivia, look at me." Gregory frowned when she turned back, her blue eyes glazed over with confusion. She sighed and looked down, a shudder going through her. "Let me help," he said softly, taking her hand.
Her lips parted as she looked up, feeling his reassuring squeeze. The truth rose in her throat and she leaned in, anguish contorting her face. He waited patiently, watching her struggle against the burden weighing down her slim frame. "I- I'm...afraid," she finally sighed, letting his hand warm her icy flesh.
"You," she admitted after a long moment as a ribbon of honesty spiraled out of control. "Of what you'll think of me if you know the truth."
He watched her for a long moment, her flesh deathly pale. As he cocked his head, he said simply, "Trust me."
She frowned, her chin quivering. "I-" she began as the waiter reappeared, placing a crystal tumbler of vodka before her. She jumped back, ripping her hand free from Gregory's as she retreated to the solitary safety of her chair. Her hand shot out, reaching for the glass and she raised it to her lips, watching him over the rim.
Where she got the very distinct impression that she had somehow hurt him.