Okay so I was more tired last night than I thought and loaded the unedited version of this chapter. So here it is again. Info the same but reads a lot more smoothly. Sorry bout that enjoy...
Steve showed up with a laptop, a sketch book, fabric samples and books of photos. So much...stuff. She just stared at it all spread out on the coffee table.
Surprisingly though, it wasn't bad at all. Steve and Jose' guided her through the process so that she actually enjoyed it. Asking all the right questions and somehow making sense of her rambling preferences and suggestions. The only hitch in the road being when she asked if they really needed to have a big wedding at the Fairmont and wouldn't it be nice to do something small and intimate. Steve looked at her like she'd sprouted tentacles and threatened to boil puppies in oil.
Jose' though, surprised her, Taking one of her hands in both of his, "Annie, I know this is a lot to take in and honestly Grace and I discussed the idea of a more intimate affair. She even offered up their back yard, and I have to tell you it is a stunning venue. I've seen pictures in Vanity Fair. She has a couple of charity events there during the year. I'm certainly not opposed to it, but your Sugar-Buns squashed that idea."
"What why?" And when? She was getting perturbed at being left out of decisions that so greatly impacted her own life.
Jose' released her and picked up a fabric sample waving it around, "Something about a plan, safety, shining a spotlight on you, too big of a target, blah, blah, blah... But I don't see him budging."
No, when it came to her safety Adonis went overboard.
So she should have expected the call she got right as she and Kate were preparing to leave for Sara Mackie's.
After assuring her that her wedding would be a beautiful celebration. Steve and Jose headed down to the apartment. Saying something about closets and orgasms. Ana turned a deaf ear.
She was following Kate into the foyer when she got the call. She'd no sooner put the phone to her ear...
"What is this about you going to visit Sara Mackie." No hello, no how are you, nothing. Just a demand. A curt, sharp, barky demand.
Oh no, not acceptable. Ana adopted her sweetest, polite, southern upbringing voice, "Adonis is that you?"
A moment of silence and then, "Yes, who else would it be?" puzzled, a little indignant and barky, very barky.
She toned down the sweet and added a dash of cool to her polite, "Well, I wasn't sure, since you didn't say hello."
Oh, he wished he was in the room with her. He knew that prissy voice came with a hand on her hip and her pert little nose in the air. He wanted to reach through the phone drag her to him, smack her ass pink and fuck her silly. Leaning on the edge of the conference table from which he'd just dismissed thirteen men with a curt "We're taking a break", he settled for smiling into the phone like an idiot, "No, I didn't did I?"
"No, and you were very barky. Are you having a bad day?"
Damn, when was the last time anyone asked him about his day? The tension left his shoulders like magic, warmth filled his chest. Shit, she'd handed him his ass, and made him enjoy it."Yes, I'm having a very bad day. I'm in a boring meeting with a bunch windbags when I want to be in you." He heard a little gasp, and knew her mouth had just dropped open in that little...
"So yes, kitten, I am having a very bad day."
Two little words. Two short, simple, little words, but they laid him flat. He closed his eyes and savored something he couldn't name, but it wrapped him in warmth even as it ripped him raw.
It took a few moments before he trusted his voice, "And I'm sorry about my barky tone. I'm concerned. Sawyer texted me saying he was taking you to meet Sara Mackie."
"Kate's going to talk to her..."
"Does Elliot' know?" If he could get Elliot to put the kabosh on it...
"Oh, um I don't think so," His kittens voice dropped to a whisper, "After the party, they had another blow up over Thomas Reynolds. Elliot used the "F" word"
"Fuck?" Kate didn't seem like one to get upset about cursing
Yes, he could definitely see that word being a problem. Damn, Elliot was an idiot, even he had more finesse than that.
"Kate told me she told him to shove it, and if he couldn't see how important this was to her then he was a shit-headed idiot she didn't have time for."
"So Elliot got his balls busted." And went up in flames. What was wrong with his brother? Normally, the guy oozed charm. Could talk a woman out of or in to whatever he wanted with a sly wink and a cheesy smile, but when it came to Kathryn Kavanaugh he was reduced to a club wielding cave-man. And yes, he was aware of the pot/kettle dynamic.
"Yes, and Adonis just in case you were planning on saying something similar," his kitten proceeded to warn him, her voice sweet as honey, "Kate's my friend and she needs me. This is important to her, so it's important to me "
"It's not safe." A fact. He'd lay out the facts and talk her around. He did it with CEO's all the time.
"We're taking Sawyer and Bruce. Sara Mackie is a five foot two design major.
"It's a bad neighborhood. A known drug trafficking area." Indisputable facts
Hold on? No one told him to hold on. His reflection in the window grinned back at him.
"Adonis, Bruce says he's a former Navy Seal and he was on SWAT in L.A."
"Yes kitten, I'm aware." Holy Shit, was she using his own tactic against him?
"And Sawyer used to work for…um hold on again..."
"Oh, he says he can't say, but he was a top-secret bad ass."
"Was he?" He knew exactly what Sawyer was. And yes she was using his own tactic, and damn effectively too His grinning reflection in the window glass turned goofy. Damn, he looked like a love-struck sap.
"Yes, and he says that Maurice has got multiple eyes on the house."
"Does he?" This conversation had gone completely off the rails, and all he felt was giddy warm happy...
"Um, yes Sawyer says they're the best." Shit, it was hopeless. He was a love-struck sap.
"Just whose side is Sawyer on?" He turned away from his giddy, goofy, hopelessly love-struck, reflection.
"Do you want me to ask him?"
"No, kitten. I'm a half-afraid he'd tell me and then I'd have to let him go."
"Right, so we'll be careful. And do exactly what they say." And she'd done it again. Not only had she talked him around, but somehow she'd made him happy as a fucking clam about it.
"Call me when you get there and after you leave." So he could know she was safe and get goofy again.
"Okay, and Adonis?"
"Yes?" Damn he didn't want to hang up the phone and go back to that meeting...
"Thank-you for being so understanding." His kitten's voice dropped to an intimate whisper that slid over his body and into his chest, "I know this isn't easy for you and I love you for it."
Shit! Oh shit! His chest felt tight his eyes stung. With a "Be careful Kitten," that he hoped sounded soft and tender instead of weepy and needy, he disconnected before he embarrassed himself by either breaking into tears or bursting out in song.
"So explain to me again why I'm not supposed to mention Maurice to Sara."
Kate leaned forward from the backseat of the SUV. She'd been throwing one question after another at Sawyer the entire drive.
"It's two-fold," Sawyer explained, turning onto Sara Mackie's street. He'd been remarkably patient, but then after Jose's...uh... enthusiasm, Kate's questions probably weren't so bad."One, we're honestly not sure what to tell her. Mckenna herself said she didn't know. And two, if there is someone else out there watching with intent to harm, we don't want to scare them underground.
"Mckenna said Maurice owed her. What was that about?" Kate asked a question that had been running around in Ana's own head.
Sawyer shot them a look in the rear-view, "Miss Kavanaugh not only do I not know, I don't want to."
"Huh, okay so don't mention Maurice. Got it. What's he doing? Hiding in trees? Skulking in alleys?"
"No," Sawyers eyes in the rear-view crinkled with his smile, "I think it's a little more high tech than that. Maurice knows what he's doing. He's had eyes on her twenty-four/seven ever since Mckenna asked him to protect her."
Sawyer slid the SUV up to the curve behind its twin. Bruce had already arrived. The large man hopped out and joined them on the sidewalk, his eyes moving to the house they were approaching, "Doesn't look like much"
That was the truth. The small white house sat in an overgrown lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. The few windows on the front were hung with faded blue shutters that had seen better days.
"Not a great neighborhood either. Lot of drug trafficking." Bruce added, stepping back so he was behind Kate and Ana with Sawyer in the lead. Both men's eyes were in constant motion.
They made their way across small slate stones that served as a walkway and up to the chipped steps of a cement porch. The black metal railing nearly rusted through.
Kate knocked. There was no bell.
Shouting from inside and the door swung open, "Hi!" All four of them looked down.
Ana met big, brown, guileless eyes. A little girl, maybe be four or five years old, grinned up at them. Straight dark hair cut in a page-boy framed an impish face. She wore a red apron that was ten sizes too big and had an abundance of something that looked like chocolate smeared around her smiling mouth,"We're making cupcakes."
"Are you?" Kate asked, bending low, her voice excited, "They wouldn't be chocolate by any chance?"
The child's nose wrinkled, taking her from cute to off the chart adorable."How'd you know?"
"Sophie, what have I told you about opening the door to strangers." A woman ran to the door and pulled the girl back, eyes very much like the child's studied them, landing on Kate, "You must be Kate."
"Yes, and this is my friend, Ana."
Sara Mackie's eyes shifted to her, and though they were the same color as the child's, there the similarity ended. These eyes were guarded... wary, "We were in lit together."
The wary gaze lifted to a place over Ana's shoulder. The girl's face went white as bone.
"I'm sorry these are my body guards." She hurried to explain.
"My names, Bruce ma'am. Bruce Richards and this is Luke Sawyer." Bruce introduced them both, smiling like he was at a church social, "We work for Mr. Grey. He gets worried 'bout his girl you see. If it's alright with you, we'll just wait right here on the porch."
"Of course, that makes sense, I guess with him being a billionaire..." Sara's eyes lost some of their fear, she stepped back, "Please, com in."
Ana's mouth dropped open as soon as she crossed the threshold. Fortunately Sara was busy wiping the chocolate from Sophie's mouth so she didn't notice.
Unlike the outside the inside was tidy. The furnishings were old, probably thrift store finds, but were painted a clean, bright white. Light colored fabrics and slipcovers made the most of the light coming through the two front windows, hung with white sheers. All of it popped cheerfully against clear, pale, apple green walls. At the end of the room was a small fire-place, the hearth and mantle painted that same bright white, as was the old fashioned rocker that sat beside it. Their heels clicked on an old but gleaming oak floor. Someone cared very much about making this house a home.
Sara took the little girl's hand,"Give me just a second."
"Sure." Kate nodded, stepping further into the living room.
Sara led the young girl back through a door Ana could see led to the kitchen.
"Shit!" Kate's whispered exclamation caught her attention. She was staring at a series of photographs on the wall over the mantle
"What is it?"
"Who?" peering over Kate's shoulder, she saw a photograph of a teenage boy in a football uniform, kneeling, his helmet in his hand. It was a standard school picture pose.
"Brian Mackie, he was a hell of a ball player, won a full scholarship to PSU. He died in a car accident the summer after he graduated high school. I had no idea..."
"That he was my brother."
They both spun around at Sara's voice. She stood in the middle of the room in jeans and an oversized t-shirt that hung off of a painfully thin frame. The weak sunlight pooling around her revealed weary smudges under dark eyes filled with shadows. To Ana, she looked strangely isolated... adrift.
"People don't make the connection. We looked nothing alike. He looked like mom. Sophie and I got Dad's coloring."
"I'm so sorry. I didn't know..." Kate, rarely at a loss, stumbled over the words.
"It's okay." Sara's eyes darted to the photos behind them, a smile that was fond and sad at once, briefly graced her face, "It was six years ago, now " She perched on the edge of a chair, her back to the windows, "They were friends, you know, Brian and Ron."
"Ron Jeffries," Kate fell onto the sofa across from her, wide eyes reflecting her own shock. Ana sat in the white rocker by the hearth, giving the two some distance.
"They lived next door to us when we were little. We moved here after...well.." Sara shrugged one tiny shoulder.
"I'm so sorry Sara, so sorry." Kate's words were heavy with emotion that Ana knew was about more than the death of Brian Mackie.
So, apparently, did Sara. She went very still, her eyes searching Kate's. Then, her head falling forward, she wrapped her arms around herself. If she were laying on her side instead of sitting in a chair, she would be curled into the fetal position. It made her look impossibly small.
Hollow silence filled the room. The ticking of an old-fashioned clock on the mantel the only sound. It seemed to grow louder as the seconds stretched, echoing in the space, until finally Sara looked up, "You know." It wasn't a question.
"About the dinner you went to in my place? Yes," Kate dropped her voice, "You were hurt."
Dark eyes darted to the kitchen, affirming her sister couldn't hear, Sara's voice dropped even further,"Yes."
"God, I'm so sorry." Kate leaned forward, dropping her voice to match Sara's whisper,"It should have been me."
"No." the swift denial was shaky but emphatic, "No, it was for the best. I understand Ron. That's why I left. I didn't want him to get in trouble. It wasn't his fault."
Holy Shit! Ana bit her tongue.
Kate's eyes blazed. It took several seconds, but her friend beat back her rage, so the words, when thy came were carefully, deliberately neutral "Sara, he hurt you. He beat you up."
"No," Straight dark hair cut very much like her sister's swung around the girl's face with her vehement head shake, "that wasn't Ron."
"Someone else beat you?"
"No, but I've known Ron my whole life. We grew up together. He's one of the gentlest people I've ever known. He would never hurt a woman. Especially with the way his dad..." her voice trailed off, she shook her head, "Trust me he wouldn't."
"But he did hurt you. And the rumors about him being violent."
"Something's happening to him. His mind's not right." Sara's voice, while still low, gained strength, "The night of the dinner. Ron was agitated. He drank a lot. His Dad got angry, wanted me to leave. He called me a cab. I tried to get Ron to leave with me. I wanted to take him to the hospital. His pupils were dilated, and his words were scrambled.
"Scrambled?" Ana could see Kate's sharp mind at work, sorting through facts.
"Yes, like instead of saying 'have a seat' he would say 'Seat a have' or 'have seat a', but it was more than that. They were slurred. I thought he might be having a stroke. I grabbed his arm to try and get him to look at me and he went crazy. I don't remember much after that. He" Sara closed her eyes briefly, her hands gripped the arms of the chair, her next words weren't so much sound as hoarse rasps of air, "Hit me...hard. More than once." She opened her eyes, sat up, gathering strength from nothing more than grim determination, her small hands still gripping the chair, "There was yelling. Glass breaking. I ended up on the other side of the room on the floor. I don't know if they moved me there or if Ron threw me. The room had french doors. I got out while everybody was distracted trying to control Ron. The cab got there just as I made it to the curb. I remember getting in it, but then I must have blacked out. I woke up in the hospital."
"Shit," Kate's eyes darted to her, the same question in them Ana had screaming in her brain.
What. The. Fuck?
Sara must have recognized the look, because her voice turned earnest, pleading, "I know it sounds crazy, but there's something wrong. It's like he's a whole different person."
"Sara," Kate used her carefully neutral voice again, "We think he's on some type of performance enhancing drug."
More silence as a series of emotions rolled across Sara's face, her eyes darting between them. Then she leaned forward, her tiny body so tense Ana half way expected her to snap in two, and in a voice as carefully neutral as Kate's, "Ron would never knowingly take a drug like that."
What the hell? Not knowingly? What did that mean...Someone was slipping Ron Jeffries drugs...but who? Her mind wrestled with the only real answer...Oh sh..
"Shit!" Kate jumped off the sofa, paced a couple of times and faced Sara, who in contrast, was so still she looked to be suspended in time, "You think Everette Jeffries is experimenting on his own son?"
"I didn't say that." Careful, neutral, deliberate. Sara wasn't saying it, but she sure as hell believed it.
The knowledge was all over her face and with it fear.
Sara Mackie was terrified of Everette Jeffries.
The shrill ringing of a cell phone cut into the room. Sara jumped up, and went over to a small table by the front door, grabbed a phone older than Ana's, checked the number, "I'm sorry this is Sophie's mother I've got to take it."
"Sure." Kate nodded a little absently, her mind still processing
Sara stepped away, but instead of going into the kitchen, she shot down the hall. Shutting herself in one of the rooms.
"Sophie's mother?" Ana rose, rubbing her arms against a chill that had nothing to do with being cold.
"Her mother died in the same car accident. Her dad must have re-married."
"Oh God, that's horrible," pain filled Ana's chest. The poor girl had been through hell and back, then nearly got beaten to death. Anger pounded, a drumbeat in her blood. She didn't care what Ron Jefferies was on, she wanted to hunt him down and kick his man parts all the way into his throat. She vocalized none of this however, because one look at Kate's face told her that not only was she burning with the same anger, she was also carrying a truck load of guilt.
"Do you really think Jeffries is dosing his own son?" She asked instead, hoping to distract her.
I don't know," Kate turned to her with angry eyes, running a shaking hand through her tousled hair, "But if Everette Jeffries is enough of a bastard to experiment on his own son. It's no wonder she's terrified."
So Kate had noticed too. Of course she did. Kate had amazing instincts, she was going to make a hell of a journalist.
"Shit, I don't know what to think, we need to talk to..." Kate cut her words short when Sara came back down the hall. Her face gone so white she looked translucent, "I'm sorry, I um have to take care of something. If you need anything more you can give me a call." She walked to the door, opening it for them.
Kate didn't budge, "Sara, are you in trouble? Do you need help?"
"What?" the girl's shoulders jerked, panic flickered briefly in her eyes. Then, Sara Mackie tried to smile. It was small and sad and so full of pride, it made Ana's heart ache. "No, no, I'm sorry. I just need to pick up my step-mother from work."
Ana didn't need Kate's instincts to see that for big, fat, whopping lie it was.
"Alright, we'll go." Kate reached out and grabbed Sara's phone, "I'm putting my number in here." she shut down the other girl's protest before she could vocalize it, making short work of putting her number in before handing it back, "If you need anything you call me."
"Yes, alright. Thank-you." Sara sagged with relief when they moved to the door. She wanted them out of the house.
As soon as the door closed behind them Kate turned on Sawyer, "Where the fuck is Maurice? That girl is scared shitless." She hissed, mindful of keeping her voice low, but there was no mistaking her rage. Poor Sawyer took a couple steps back, looking scared shitless himself.
Bruce, used to Kate's flash flood temper, stepped between them, "Now, Miss Kate, we just talked to him. He's not going to let anything happen to that girl." With that easy way of his, he tucked her arm in his own set about escorting her to the SUV, "He knows what he's doing."
"Not good enough." Kate snapped, but allowed herself to be led, "That girl is terrified, and she's been through hell..." the words trembled and died. Ana knew no matter how many times she told Kate it wasn't her fault, her friend would carry the burden of Sara Mackie's pain for a very long time.
"We have to trust Maurice, Kate. He's the best." Ana took her other arm giving it a little squeeze.
"But..." Kate froze in the middle of the sidewalk. Ana followed her gaze across the street.
There, leaning against a sporty but very sophisticated car, his feet crossed at his ankles, arms crossed loosely over his chest, was Elliot. Casually dressed in jeans and a plain white short sleeve shirt revealing golden skin, with the sunlight glinting on his blond hair, his lips kicked up in a secret smile, he really was Apollo.
"Elliot?" A barely audible whisper, vulnerable, and hollow with pain and aching hope. Then Kate was running. She flew across the street and collapsed into him, her arms going around his neck, her shoulders shaking.
Elliot wrapped her in his arms, bending low, so his body covered hers in an embrace that was as gentle as it was strong, and though it was a whisper his deep voice carried, "Hey, Katie-Girl."
Hearing those words, heartbreaking with tenderness, Ana climbed into the SUV.
Kate was in good hands.
She made it to Seattle Papers with three minutes to spare. Sawyer pulled up to the door and noting Jose and Vince in front of the old brick building, dropped her off and went to park the SUV. Downtown was so much simpler when you didn't have to worry about parking. Jose' promptly handed her her favorite Naked Pineapple Mango Juice and a little bag of trail mix with a peck on the cheek and a, "We need to keep your strength up."
The tinkle of an old fashioned bell over their heads welcomed them inside. It was a small space. One long white Formica counter along the back wall. A few tables and chairs on the right and the walls were a variety of pastel colors. It took her a minute. "It's wall paper..."
"Made out of paper. I know isn't it genius. A woman came out of the back, catching sight of Jose' she smiled a big happy smile, "Hey, Jose' I've already got everything laid out."
"Thank-you Bridget, we are so grateful you could work us in." Jose introduced her to Bridget who along with her husband Juan, did amazing things with paper. A-ma-zing!
Vince nodded a silent hello from his station by the front door.
Bridget beamed. Jose' told her to go on with whatever brilliant things she was doing.
"We can look through this and call you when we need you."
Jose' led Ana to one of the tables where four huge flip books were laid out. Holy Shit! She plopped down in a chair, very willing to let Jose' take the lead, as he was already flipping through the samples with the look of someone who knew exactly what he was doing. She cracked her juice open and let him have at it.
It was after her second sip of juice and her first hand-full of trail mix that she got the craziest idea, "Jose' ….."
Jose' kept flipping with a "Hmmm," Oh she was onto something. That innocent "hmm" was a dead give away.
"Adonis told you to make sure I ate."
"I don't know what your talking about," Jose' looked down at his sleeve, his opposite arm rose. He jerked it back..
"I saw that." she flung a hand at the arm that was now furiously flipping pages of paper, "Lint. Tell. Talk."
"Now Annie, It wasn't like that," Jose' popped opened the rings and pulled out a page of white paper and envelopes, setting it aside, "Sugar-buns saw how exhausted you were after our shopping trip. We had a little chat. I promised I would make sure you didn't get run down with all the wedding prep." He moved on to another book.
"And he said to make sure I eat."
"Proper nutrition is an important part of keeping your energy level up. And you know you forget to eat when your busy." He popped out another sheet, this one with cream paper.
"Sweetie, we only have an hour, and I'm right and you know it." He paused over another sheet, mumbled something about too casual and kept flipping.
She took another sip of juice, "You don't understand, he's managing my life."
"No, he's doing things to make your life easier because he is in LOVE. And I mean gorgeous head over sexy heels...oooh..I'll bet he has some sexy feet..."
Well, yes Adonis did have sexy feet, but feet weren't the point.
"in L - O -V - E Looooooove." Jose' spelled it out and then gave the word six syllables.
"No interrupting when I'm busy being right. Oh this one's nice." He pulled a sheet with a pearl gray envelop and matching card, "And if I'm not wrong and I don't think I am. This is his first relationship without cracking the ...uh... " Jose's eyes darted around. His hand came up and made a forward and back snapping motion, "If you know what I mean."
Oh, honestly. Her eyes rolled back in her head.
"This is scary for him. He's going to want to..." Jose' did his word search hand flip, and as he was holding another sheet of paper, she had to lean away to keep from getting slapped in the face. Finally, with a little nod and a tap of the sample to his chin, he settled on "help."
He laid the sample aside with the pearl gray and resumed flipping
"Now, these little helpful things he does might seem a tad... oh, let's just say... manipulative, but you'll have to be patient, because he's going to screw up." He pulled out another sheet, this one with plain white paper, "You need to let the little things go. Save your mad for the big ones, and tell him exactly how, when, and where he went wrong." Holding the sheet up, he turned it this way and that, while continuing dole out advice, "Speak clearly and use small words so he's sure to understand." Finally the sheet got a nod of approval and joined the others. "I'd also avoid complex sentences. Your hunk-a-boo is intelligent, but testosterone surges interfere with higher brain function." Jose' went back to flipping, "I mean really Annie, all straight boys need a little training. But Miss Thing, you can write this down, put it in the bank, cash it, and shop til you drop. - Sugar-Buns is worth it."
He fanned the sheets he'd chosen out in front of her.
She didn't hesitate, "The gray."