He sipped his coffee and glanced at his watch again. The pane landed nearly three hours ago, even allowing for traffic she should be here by now. Sighing in frustration he slammed the mug down on the table and marched out to the reception area. His secretary looked up as he came down the steps two at a time. "Chris..?"
She smiled slightly and shook her head. " Sorry Houston, not a word from her yet!"
"She was on the plane right?"
Again Chris smiled. "Yes Houston, for the tenth time, she was on the plane. And yes, it did land safely, and no there have been no accidents on the freeway!" She stood and walked over to him. "Maybe she just wanted to go home before coming in to the office"
Houston patted her arm and nodded. "Maybe Chris, just not like her, that's all"
"I know Houston, but a lot has changed since…" Chris stopped as the elevator chimed behind her. Houston stepped nearer and Chris came to stand behind him, she saw him swallow and wipe his palms on the side of his trousers. The doors slid open to reveal CJ, locked in a deep embrace with a tall, and from what Chris could see, good looking stranger.
Houston felt the air leave his lungs, the world seemed to tilt. He didn't know how long he was standing there staring, the world seemed to have ground to a halt. CJ seemed oblivious to the fact the doors were open, so engrossed in what she was doing. It was Chris who broke the spell by giggling
CJ heard, and jumped slightly, breaking the kiss and blushing as she looked from the guy to her friends. "Oops!" she muttered as with a big grin she stepped forward, suddenly engulfed in a hug from Chris. "Oh ho, good to see you to!" she laughed as Chris finally let her go and stepped back.
CJ looked over to Houston and with a slow smile stepped towards him. Suddenly finding the spell broken he stepped forward to meet her and sweep her up in his arms, burying his head in her shoulder and whispering, "God I missed you slick!" As he gently put her back on her feet she reached out her hand to stroke his cheek. "Missed you to boss!" shed whispered back, as the two of them gazed onto each others eyes for several seconds. Again, it was Chris that broke the spell when she said "It's so good to have you home CJ, and see you brought a souvenir!"
CJ laughed and walked out of Houstons arms and into the arms of the tall man, who smiled down at her and kissed her cheek. "Houston, Chris...I'd like you to meet…my fiancé.!" Her smile widened as she saw the shocked look on her friends faces. "Steve, I'd like you to meet Chris Wright, and Matlock Houston"
Steve reached out his hand to Chris and smiled as he said "How do you do!" and shook her hand, before turning to Houston and shaking his hand as he said "I have heard a LOT About you sir, CJ talks about you like a brother, an honour to finally meet you!"
"Well uh, thanks!" Houston stammered, forcing himself to smile as he shook Steves hand, "I uh, well I'm sorry, CJ hasn't told us a whole lot about you, you have the advantage!"
CJ blushed and looked at the floor as Steve stepped back and wrapped his arm around her waist, making Houston swallow hard. "It doesn't surprise me Mr Houston, CJ did tell me that she hadn't had a chance to say anything, that she wanted to tell you in person…of course I thought she meant about our engagement, not abut me in general!" he said good naturedly.
Again CJ laughed. "I was…getting around to it!"
"Getting around to it aye? So if I hadn't insisted on coming to LA with you, it could well have been that Houston and I met for the first time as he walked you down the aisle at our wedding!"
The four of them turned as the elevator bell rang out again. CJ gasped in delight as a familiar face stepped out of the doors and opened his arms for her. "Uncle Roy!" she cried out as she ran to him ad hugged him tightly. "Oh you look wonderful!"
"Retirement suits me!" he said with a chuckle as he stepped back and studied her closely. "And London suits you, you're glowing!"
But CJ was looking at him with a puzzled expression. " Retirement? Roy?"
Houston coughed slightly and CJ looked across, sensing a tension between the two men. "Good to see you Matt" Roy said politely
Houston just nodded before pointing at Steve and telling him "This is Steve...uh, sorry, didn't get your full name, but he is, well he is CJs fiancé!"
Roys face lit up as he quickly turned to the newcomer, and warmly shook his hand as he patted his shoulder. "Well, fiancé aye? Good for you. Congratulations! You got a real good woman there y'know!"
"Yes sir" Steve replied smiling broadly, "I know that. I am a very lucky man!" He cleared his throat a fraction before adding "And my full name is Lord Benedict Stephen Thomas Waldon-Coombs, a bit of a mouthful, so everyone calls me Stephen Combs, just Steve to my friends!"
"Not Ben or Benny?" Houston asked with a smirk
"Uh no" Steve gave a shy smile. "Benedict is the family name, and everyone calls my father Ben, so I have always been known by my second name!"
"You're a Lord?" Chris gasped
Chris turned to CJ. "So, you're gonna be a Lady?!"
CJ shrugged and grinned. "I guess!"
The phone rang and Chris went to answer it. CJ saw her friends body language change as soon as she heard the voice on the line, and she was surprised when Chris said, "MR Houston, it is your wife calling, line one. She couldn't get through on your personal line!"
Houston looked quickly at CJ before saying "Excuse me, Chris, can you transfer her through? Thanks"
CJ watched as Houston rushed up the steps before turning to Roy and Chris, seeing the look on their faces she sighed and asked. "Some one wanna tell me what's goin' on here?"
"But honey" Houston was saying down the phone, "I wasn't ignoring your call. CJ has only just got here and… No honey, CJ isn't more important to me than…Elizabeth…Elizabeth, calm down will ya! CJ has been in London for nine months now, this is the first time she has been home and yes, I am glad to see her, she is my oldest friend, but you're my wife Elizabeth, ok, you!" He sighed and rubbed at the ache between his eyes, nodding as his wife continued her tirade down the phone. It was a familiar speech, and a familiar pattern. First she would shout at something he was supposed to have done…looked at another woman, spoken in a flirtatious way with a salesgirl, got home late which meant he was having an affair…then she would cry say he didn't love her, that he only loved CJ and had only married her because CJ didn't want him, and now this last bit…when she would be grovelling an apology for shouting and it was only cos she loved him so much…etc, etc, etc. "Well honey, it's ok, I'm not mad" he said automatically, "and no I won't be late home tonight as I won't be spending any time alone with CJ, not today…we have business to discuss but that's tomorrow, today well, I will be home about six because we have dinner reservations remember? At Salamanders, but you'd best ring them and ask them to change the booking to four people…yes darlin' for four…CJ has brought her fiancé with her!"
CJ stood just inside the door way and looked around. The hot tub was gone, and the sunken lounge area. In its place was a large desk, and a water feature! The bar was still there, but had a larger coffee maker on it than before and very little alcohol! Gone were the photos of Houstons sporting history, and of him and CJ at the ranch or various stages of their careers building the company, in their place were prints of old newspapers from the 1800s. Nice calligraphy, very tasteful, and very bland thought CJ as she walked across to sit on one of the chairs positioned opposite the large upholstered office chair, sitting down she looked around, same office, different feel. She glanced towards the closed door of what was her office and wondered if the new decorator had been let loose in there to.
"Don't worry!" Houston said as he hung up the phone and saw her looking at her office, "I didn't let Elizabeth loose in there, that's yours, not mine!"
CJ raised an eyebrow and looked at him. "From what I've heard she wouldn't have liked that!"
Houston sat down opposite her and took a deep breath. "No" he replied softly, "she didn't"
"Just like she didn't like the Hot tub, or the sofa? The desk I guess was her idea to?"
"Well CJ, ya know, now I'm back in the business world and not an investigator any more it was time to have a more professional profile! Having a hot tub in your office isn't exactly a good first impression for a serious business mogul"
" Worked just fine for you all these years!"
Again Houston sighed. "I was a younger man then CJ, it was ok to be quirky. But now, well now I have to be more…"
"Grown up? Does that include forcing your Uncle to retire because he doesn't suit the company image?" she asked with a slightly bitter smirk. Seeing his discomfort she decided to change the subject. "So, did I hear right, dinner at Salamanders? Classy!"
"Yeah, Elizabeth wanted you to welcome you home!" He smiled up at her as she muttered "I'll bet under her breath
"And so did I! I've missed you around here" he told her as he leaned forward and reached for her hand across the desk
CJ shook his hand briefly before sitting back and crossing her arms across her chest. "Well, if you wanna make feel back at home you'd extend the booking to include Roy, and Chris…ohh, and Murray! Haven't seen him for a while!"
Houston shifted in his seat. "Can't do that CJ, Elizabeth, well she doesn't get on with Roy right now…and she wouldn't want Chris & Murray there, she doesn't believe in fraternising with the staff!"
CJs nostrils flared slightly and her eyes widened. "Oh doesn't she! Shouldn't that include me!?I'm staff! And what about you Houston, last I checked it was your company! You can fraternise with the staff if you want! Seems to me you don't WANT! Had you figured for many things pal, but not a snob, and not a coward!"
"Now look CJ…"
"No Houston, you look! When you got married you told me that nothing would change between us but it did, it changed so much. And whether you noticed it or not Elizabeth sure didn't want me around any more, so I took the hint and I left to take charge of our European Operations, and I kept busy and kept my head down hoping that whilst I was gone things would settle down again, get back to some sorta normal. Instead I come back to find everything changed, and not for the better! The character has gone from our office, the staff are apparently leaving in droves, your uncle has been tossed on the scrap heap, Chris has been demoted to personal secretary and you...YOU… you just sit here behind your big fancy new desk and bury your head in the sand!"
Houston stood up and glared at her, but couldn't find the words to argue, words hurt, truth hurt more. Instead he took in two deep breaths and slowly sat down. "You don't understand" he said softly, "Elizabeth, she has…well she has some problems, I married her CJ, she is my responsibility, I have to keep her safe, have to keep her happy!"
CJ closed her eyes and asked "Even if it means alienating everyone who cares about you, everyone who loves you?"
"If that's what it takes! " she heard his barely whispered reply and opened her eyes to look at him before telling him "Then perhaps it's a good thing that I will be living in London after I get married, because I don't think I can stand by and watch you destroy yourself, destroy everything… for her!"
"She's my wife!" he said simply, "I have to stand by her!"
"And do you love her?" CJ asked as she stood up
He didn't reply, just looked up in to her eyes. The pain she saw there was her answer, but even though her heart was breaking for her friend she still turned and walked away.
"So Lord Stephen!" Elizabeth gushed "what do your family think of you marrying a commoner? An American at that!"
Stephen merely smiled as he looked at CJ "My mother is an American Mrs Houston and was, as you say, a commoner! It makes no difference, Britain is out of the dark ages , we even have electricity in all our houses now!"
CJ giggled and Houston grinned, Elizabeth looked puzzled until she realised it had been a joke. Glaring at her husband she pouted and slammed her glass back down on the table. CJ swallowed and reached for Stephens hand under the table. "So, Elizabeth, I saw your redecorating in Houstons office, very…uhm, professional!"
Elizabeth gave her a small forced smile. "You really liked it?"
"I thought it made the office so much more, business like!" CJ reached for her glass of wine and took a steading sip
Again Elizabeth forced a smile. "I'm glad you think so, I was hoping to persuade you to allow me to re-do your office!"
CJs eyebrow went up a fraction as she quickly swallowed her sip of wine "Oh I wouldn't want you to go to all that trouble Elizabeth, but thank you! You see, I won't be using my office all that much once I'm married, I'll be moving to London"
This time the smile from Elizabeth was genuine as she gasped, "Oh how wonderful! London! Will you carry on working for Houston Industries?"
"Well I am Vice President Elizabeth, unless Houston wants to tell me differently?" It was almost a challenge the way she had said it and she knew, she hadn't meant it to come out like that, but Houston had barely spoken to her all night, barely looked at her. She knew that walking out on him this afternoon had hurt him, but he had to understand why she did it? And at least she had tried, she was here at the dinner wasn't she? "I am still VP aint I boss?" she asked again, this time in a softer voice.
"Course y'are CJ" he said softly, not even looking up, but his hand reached over and softly held hers for a moment, "And always will be, no matter where you live. I'm always gonna need you, ya know that!"
CJ quickly squeezed his hand back, but saw the way Elizabeths eyes narrowed so quickly withdrew her hand before looking back at the menu and sitting back in her seat. "Gosh guys, I'm full! I just don't think I could manage dessert!"
"Me either!" Stephen said quickly, looking at her and nodding a fraction, "In fact I hate to confess this but I am so tired right now I could possibly fall asleep at this very table! Is it a sign of old age that jet lag seems to creep in so much more quickly these days?"
Elizabeth laughed and looked at Houston. "Darling, perhaps we should call it a night, let CJ and Lord Waldon-Coombs get some rest!"
"It's Steve, or Stephen please…the title is only there for more formal occasions, not amongst friends!"
"And we are friends aren't we Stephen darling?" Elizabeth purred as she reached up to stroke his cheek
Stephen jumped a fraction but smiled politely, CJ tilted her head a fraction and pursed her lips before muttering "Oh yeah, real good friends!"
"I'm sorry CJ, did you say something?" Elizabeth asked as she brought her hand to rest on Stephens shoulder
CJ looked at the hand and saw the look on her fiancés face. "I said it's good to be with friends, isn't it Houston!"
For the first time that night Houston actually looked at her, straight at her, his warm brown eyes soft and sad as he whispered. "Yeah, the best of friends"
CJ had swallowed slightly, then jumped a fraction as Stephen suddenly sprang to his feet, glancing quickly at Elizabeth to make sure she wasn't joining him. "I'll er, get our coats darling, and sort out a taxi, uhm…cab! Houston, thank you for a very, uhm, interesting evening! I'm sure I'll see you again before I fly to New York" and he quickly turned and walked away
"You're going on another trip!" Elizabeth exclaimed and looked at CJ
"Stephen has business in New York that he is going to attend to whilst I go over some paperwork here in LA and wait for Pip to join us!"
"Pip?" Elizabeth asked
"My soon to be sister in law, Phillippa, but everyone calls her Pip or Pippa"
"So, she has a title to right, like a Lady or something?"
"Uh huh, she is Lady Phillippa Victoria Waldon-Coombs" CJ said as she started to stand and go to join her fiancé. "See you tomorrow Houston!" she said softly as she started to walk away, "and thank you, Elizabeth, for the lovely welcome home!"
As soon as CJ was out of earshot Elizabeth turned to Houston and hissed "I just don't understand, what does he see in her?!"
CJ frowned as she read the report in front of her again. "Chris!" she called in to her intercom, "can you come in here please?"
Chris walked in almost immediately, and set down two cups of coffee. "Was already on my way in!" she grinned as CJ smiled back and took a quick sip of the hot drink
CJ looked at the paperwork again before asking. "Who signed off on this merger Chris?"
The blonde woman reached out and took the report, handing it almost straight back. "That will be Gregsons work"
"Gregson? Who is Gregson" CJ asked as she read a few more pages, shaking her head in exasperation
"Gregson is the liaison administrator between Houston Industries, Sheridan Inc and the new company they set up, M.E.H Imports" Chris explained, sitting down opposite her boss and sipping her own coffee"
"The what? Between who? What new company? Houston already has an import group! Chris?"
Chris grinned. "Well, seems when Houston and Elizabeth married a certain lawyer drew up a cast iron pre-nup, but she also threw quite a protective ring around Houstons company! Seems a certain Ms Parsons made sure that here could be no merger between the companies and no way for Elizabeth to be brought in to work here…so the only way Elizabeth could wangle it was to get Houston to set up a separate company, with both her and Matt running it and Gregson as their CEO!"
"So it is nothing to do with Houston Industries?"
"Nope! Well, not exactly! Houston Industries hires M.E.H Import to support his own company"
"So why is this paperwork in here with this merger requisition note? If I authorise this I am using our company money to pay a finders fee to a company that Houston is a board member of! Chris, that's illegal! And this company they want us to buy, it's a diamond company! We don't trade in diamonds, not ones that could be blood diamonds!"
Chris sighed. "Murray tried to tell him the same thing, he is now working in the office in Houston , running Matts daddies old firm and away from Elizabeth and Gregson!"
"I'd like a chat with this Gregson…right now!"
Chris shook her head. "He booked a holiday, pretty much the day he heard you were comin' back!"
"Then get me Houston, this stops…NOW!" CJ hissed as she threw the paperwork on her desk in disgust
Three hours later and CJ and Houston had looked at another twelve merger requisitions that Gregson and Elizabeth had put through Houston industries, all of them had proved illegal, and all of them had made a huge profit for Elizabeth and her company. Houston sat back in his seat and sighed deeply. "What do I do CJ" he asked sadly
"You cover yourself!" she shot back immediately, "You cover yourself and you come clean to the board of trade today…tell them it was an oversight, offer them Gregson as the culprit and pay the fine, cos if you don't you have more than money to lose Houston, you could go to jail!"
"Maybe she knew, maybe she didn't. I don't care Houston!" CJ told him coldly, "I only care about you, and this company we built together. Please Houston, call them now…I'm here and I will sort this out with you! Ok? You know I'm right!"
It had been two weeks since CJ had discovered the illegal mergers, and today she and Houston had been in court. Because he was the one who had reported it, and he had been the one who willingly handed all the paperwork over Houston was found not guilty of illegal trading. He was fined, but only $250,000, and given a warning not to be so negligent in his business dealings. A warrant was issued for Gregsons arrest, and more upsetting for Houston a warrant was also issued for Elizabeth. CJ asked him where she was, and at that point Houston closed his eyes and whispered he didn't know.
As soon as he had told her that he knew about the business deals she had begged him to withdraw his complaint, to ignore it and be a good husband, not to be manipulated by that bitch CJ….and finally Houston had had enough. All the anger, all the resentment that had been bubbling along in the nine months since they had married had risen to the surface, and he had told her he had no intention of backing down this time, that he was finished with being told what to do, finished with putting her first all the time, finished listening to her complain and whine, finished listening to her destroy his family and friends. He was finished. He wanted a divorce
They had left the courthouse and gone to CJs house to talk and for Houston to calm down
CJs mouth had dropped open as he told her, she watched as he drew in a shaky breath and listened as he described the way she had screamed at him like a Banshee, how she had thrown things across the room at him, threatened him, threatened CJ, threatened to kill herself. "She was like a woman possessed CJ" he whispered, "Aint never seen anything like it!"
CJ stroked his arm and shook her head. "It's not your fault Houston, you couldn't have known what she was like, you only knew her a short time before getting married!"
"Unlike you and Steve huh? How long the two of you been together anyway?" he asked quietly
"We met the first week I was in London" she told him, a soft smile playing across her lips, "but we didn't start dating until a month later! We just kept bumping into each other at social events or business meetings, we both decided fate was trying to tell us something!"
"Do you love him?"
"Yes I do, very much"
Houston nodded. "Then I am happy for you CJ, I wish you both all the best in the world". He wanted to say so much more but just then CJs front door burst open and a young woman came bounding in
"Oh, sorry, didn't think you'd be back yet!" She looked at CJ and Houston before asking "How did it go?"
CJ stood up and patted the new comers arm. "It went, enough said!"
"Oh, sorry!" the younger woman gave a half smile, "well traditionally we Brits should be putting the kettle on and asking if anyone fancies a cup of tea, but, I think in this case it looks like you both need something stronger!"
Houston looked at CJ before nodding and mumbling "Yeah, thanks!"
CJ grinned. "Sorry Houston, where are my manners, this is Pip…Steves sister!"
Pip giggled, "At least you didn't say kid sister this time, I swear Roy was expecting a twelve year old!"
"You've met Roy?" Houston asked, his eyebrows raised
"Oh, yeah…he uh…oops!" Pip blushed as she put a glass down in front of him and looked over at CJ for help
"Roy wanted to know you were ok Houston, he still loves you like a son, you call him and he'd be here in a shot, you must know that!" CJ said softly
"Not that easy CJ!" Houston muttered
Pip gave a small laugh "I'm not one to interfere, but as a stranger to all this I can tell you that Roy misses you, and would love to talk to you, especially as you're both going to be at CJs wedding next month, I think this family needs to patch things up!"
"Pip, Houston has had a rough day, don't pick on him!" CJ laughed as she walked over and sat next to him and reached over to take his hand
Pip grinned back, "Sorry Mr Houston, I tend to be a bit forward with my opinions sometimes, gets me into no end of trouble! Especially with my boss!"
"Former boss!" CJ added with a smirk, "Telling a Chief Superintendent that he was a pompous arrogant ignoramus was probably not the smartest career move for a police detective!"
"Probably not!" Pip laughed, "but it was true! Besides, I'd already handed in my resignation! Stuck to the deal, I served six years in the force, and now I am stepping up to help in the family business…especially now it seems my favourite big brother is getting married and planning to take a long honeymoon!"
"You were a police officer?!" Houston looked shocked. Pip barely looked out of her teens, "For six years!" he shook his head
"Pip was home educated Houston, went to Uni at 16 and got her degree early her LAW degree! She worked for the family company until she was 21 then joined the police force to have some fun. One of the youngest detectives to go straight in to the Special Investigations Unit!" CJ said proudly
"Wow!" gasped Houston, again shaking his head in amazement
CJs phone rang and she reached over to take it, smiling broadly as she whispered "And hello to you handsome!"
Houston watched as she stood up to talk in private, his stomach doing a little flip as he watched her, he looked up and saw Pip watching him. Silently she gave him a slow smile and raised her glass slightly, nodding as she acknowledged Houstons reactions, letting him know that she could see clearly, the one thing he had kept hidden all these years. He loved CJ, and his heart was breaking at letting her go.