Charity Begins At Home

4/27/02

Rated R: It's a romantic comedy.  How bad could it be?  Just ask my red-faced beta reader…Blue Raven—I love you, girl friend!

Time Frame: Somewhere in Season 2 – After time has been turned back and everyone is infused with a sense of humor and the pheromones are in the air.

Disclaimer:  All rights to Witchblade and its characters belong to Top Cow and TNT.  I am just an admirer of the cryptic yet 'totally hot' character of Ian Nottingham as portrayed by Eric Etebari.

Synopsis:  A mysterious woman from Kenneth Irons' past persuasively compels him to give charitably of his time to a Bachelor's Auction, along with some of New York's finest.  The men of Witchblade are drawn into this farce, contrived to take a little revenge on Irons, while allowing nature to take its course for Sara and Ian on a remote tropical island.

Chapter One – Contrivance

The Estrella del Mar Estate near Sao Paulo, Brazil had stood atop the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean for over one hundred years.  It had belonged to the Eschobar family for most of that time.  The heat and humidity was formidable today, but Marisa Quintanilla Eschobar had taken to a lounge chair alongside the olympic-sized swimming pool, the sunlight casting its shimmering reflection off her flawless skin.  Through her designer shades, she was mesmerized by the undulating waves of the ocean, having a panoramic view of the emerald waters of the Atlantic Ocean from her vantagepoint.  The sky was cloudless and a beautiful shade of pale blue. 

For her age of forty-six years, Marisa Eschobar was in remarkable shape.  Her body was that of a woman half her age.  She had worked hard to keep it that way, and spent her money to insure such a youthful appearance.  Her hair was raven black and shoulder length.  Only her hairdresser knew if it was natural.  Her creamy complexion was definitely the best that money could buy.  With dark brown eyes flecked with gold, she could warm a man's soul or cut him in half, depending upon her intent.  Her bountiful lips could gain advantage in any negotiation whether for business or pleasure.  She took great pride in her appearance as she lay poolside in a two piece bathing suit few women of any age would contemplate wearing.

Relaxing into an almost meditative state, it took her awhile to hear the clicking sound of some very familiar heels.  Her administrative assistant Sophia Hernandez was headed her way committed to keeping her informed of the day's activities, even if she herself would have preferred otherwise.

"Thought you could escape your responsibilities by basking in the sun like a chameleon?"  Sophia chided in good humor, referring to a delightfully entertaining lizard that was plentiful in Brazil…a creature that could disguise itself with coloring suitable for any occasion.  The likening was most fitting, Sophia thought.

"Sophia…you never give me a moment's rest."  Marisa smiled under her dark glasses.

"Don't place the blame on me…It is you who are the richest woman in the world.  With that title comes obligations."  She reminded, as she had done on many such occasions when Marisa wished to be more unrenowned.

"What is on my plate today…besides sour grapes?"  Marisa joked.

Sophia outlined her many appointments and items of importance she was obliged to do today, not the least of which was her monthly luncheon appointment with Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a close friend of her family.  He and her family had formed an alliance to help promote an innovative economically integrated continent with firm democratic roots, reducing the friction between landowners and the landless.  It had been a mutually agreeable relationship.  Marisa was thinking of Cardoso and almost missed what Sophia had said next.

"What was that again, Sophia?  I missed that."

"It is because I have only gone over this twice before…I guess the third time is the charm."  She teased with a chuckle and repeated her last report item.

"Your Ninos del Mundo Foundation is in its final planning stages for the Bachelor's Auction it will be holding in New York City in two weeks.  They are expecting a big turnout this year."  Her administrative assistant reiterated.

"Any bachelors of note?"  Marisa asked.

"Not particularly…not by your standards, at least.  There will the usual list of local politicians, civil servants, and the usual celebs.  Do you need me to get you a list of the participants?"  Sophia was confused by Marisa's line of questioning for her employer had never asked for this much detail before for this event.  The mischievous look on Marisa's face made Sophia shake her head.

"What are you up to?"  She had known Marisa for many years, but when she got this look on her face, she knew there was no stopping her.

"I may know someone I can add to that list…someone that may put this year's fund raising over the top…and bring an added bonus to me.  Please bring me a phone, Sophia…and leave your notepad and pen with me.  I will be needing some privacy."  Marisa had politely dismissed her loyal assistant, not wanting any further distraction from her mission.

*****

The servant that had answered the phone did not seem pleased at the hour, but Marisa's insistence had sent the man scurrying to find the lord of the manor.  Her name had been recognized apparently.  She only had to wait five minutes before she heard his voice on the phone.  From personal experience, she knew he was not a morning person.

"Marisa…to what do I owe this pleasure?  I can not think of a more delightful way to start my day than to hear your voice…well, maybe I could think of perhaps one other way that would please us both."  His voice was soft and sensual.  Kenneth Irons always did think he was the Almighty's gift to females of the world, she thought.

"Kenneth…there is always the devil in you."  She teased.  She could dish out the charm at will.  Implementing her plan would take finesse…but her scheme promised to be well worth her trouble.

"I would love to see you, my dear."  Bare chested, Irons was sitting in bed, clad only in his black silk pajama bottoms.  With barely a hair out of place, his Nordic good looks were always apparent, even after a long night's sleep.  As he spoke to Marisa, he stroked the bare buttocks that lay next to him, belonging to a young Swedish model he had brought in for a few days.

"You have spoiled my surprise, Kenneth.  I am planning on visiting your city in two weeks."  She had learned long ago to tease him with the facts, never allowing herself to be an open book for his enjoyment.

"I can't remember when you last graced our fair city with your presence.  To what do we owe the pleasure?"  He loved her sense of mystery.  The thought of her aroused him.  His face grew warm with his memories of her.  Even more titillating was the thought of their two empires merging.  Their wealth would be unimaginable.

The warm and supple body lying next to him began to stir, tugging at his pajama bottoms as he tried to maintain his composure with Marisa on the phone.

"I am planning to personally attend a charity bachelor auction my Ninos del Mundo Foundation is hosting.  It's a charity to feed the starving children of the world.  A worthwhile cause wouldn't you say, Kenneth?"

Irons' overnight guest knew what he liked…and what to do with her pouting mouth.  There were times when Kenneth Irons was an early morning riser.

"Oh, yes…YES, my dear.  I may have something sizeable to give you, of course."

"Your donation would be most appreciated, but actually, I was hoping to garner something more from you."

"Oh…Naughty girl…" Irons grabbed the silken white blond hair of the young woman, whose mouth was greedily demanding his attention with an ever quickening pace, slowing her down to prolong the ecstasy.

"Yes…that's it…you have piqued my interest, Marisa."

"I had planned on making a considerable donation myself, but did not want to pledge the amount for a local politician or someone equally as inferior."  She personally did not feel this way, but if she knew Irons, he would rise to the bait.  She had no idea that he had not only risen to the bait, he now watched it being swallowed…hook, line, and sinker.

A moment of silence fell between them.  Marisa had learned long ago that silence was a powerful tool in negotiations.  She let him draw his own conclusions…or so she thought.  Irons was in the midst of closing on his own negotiation with a powerful tool he was quite fond of himself. 

After his house guest had finished her 'morning duties', Irons distractedly watched her leave his bed for the shower, without benefit of a robe.  Feeling satiated, he resumed his conversation with Marisa.

"It appears I may have to rescue you from boredom, my dearest.  Would it benefit your foundation if I offered to be one of your bachelors for auction?  You could make your sizeable donation…winning the bachelor of your choice…namely me.  We could both get what we want."

"That is a remarkable overture…and so generous, my dear Kenneth.  You are a true gentleman.  I will take your generous offer.  I look forward to our next visit." She sounded cordial enough but it had all been an act.  She had a score to settle with him and it was reflected in the expression on her face.

"You will, of course, stay with me at my estate while you are in New York.  I will ensure you the privacy you require…and make my security staff available to your personnel.  We are a match made in heaven, my darling."  Even though it was warm by the pool, Marisa felt a cold chill roll across her body.

"That would be lovely.  I will let you know of my arrangements, Kenneth.  I am counting the days…" Phase one of her plan had been accomplished.  She wanted to enjoy every moment of this.

"No more than I, my dear…" Hanging up the phone, Irons was pleased with the fortuitous opportunities that had fallen squarely into his lap this morning...on both counts.  He must be living right.  Seducing Marisa would be a challenge, but not an insurmountable one for someone of his obvious skills.

*****

Captain Bruno Dante had received the memo from the Mayor, requesting full cooperation for the event.  He was sure this did not mean security details.  The Mayor had personally asked for his participation.  Being a single man, after his recent divorce, he was coerced into pledging himself for this ridiculous charity bachelor auction.  If he were going down in flames, he would not go alone. 

Within his department, Orlinski and McCarty were single…and Petzini would not go unscathed.  She would be forced to assist by either obtaining another single and eligible guy or making sure she pledged money, making a donation for the event.

Dante's secretary had gathered the troops outside his office.  The members of his department filled the small quarters, standing along the narrow aisles or sitting on desktops.  If he expected their cooperation, he did not want to show his true feelings regarding this ludicrous affair.

"I have been asked by the Mayor's office to personally select a few very special officers for a unique assignment."  Their faces were attentive.  The talk of a special assignment usually meant overtime hours and more money.  Having their undivided attention, he continued.

"Are you up for the challenge, McCarty and Orlinski?"  He asked.  The two handpicked detectives looked questioningly at each other before Jake McCarty spoke up.

"What do we have to do, Captain?"  Jake's surfer boy good looks would be a draw for this duty but Orlinski was another story, Dante thought to himself.  Orlinski might have to pay someone to bid on him.  Being in denial, he refused to associate his own situation with that of Orlinski's.

"Before I go into the details of your special assignment, I would like to say that I have personally offered my own time for this worthwhile endeavor."  McCarty and Orlinski were beginning to get suspicious of his evasive behavior.

"The three of us will be representing the Eleventh Precinct at the Ninos del Mundo Foundation's Charity Bachelor Auction to be held next Saturday."  His last few words were nearly drowned out by the moans and laughter spreading across the room.

"The Mayor has asked for our full cooperation for this event.  Those of you who are not single…you poor sorry bastards…will be asked to make a donation...or recruit an eligible bachelor for the function.  See my secretary to make your donations or provide your recruit names."  The laughter died but the groaning intensified.

"And Petzini…you being the only female detective in this department…this does not let you off the hook.  You either provide a name or money.  Dismissed!"  He ordered, then slammed the door to his office, sending the message he did not want to be interrupted.

Sara Pezzini was not surprised to be singled out by her Captain.  He had little respect for her father James Pezzini, murdered in the line of duty as one of New York's finest, hence the mispronounced name.  Her long dark hair was pulled off her face, braided down the back.  Her green eyes flashed anger at being singled out yet again. 

She did not have the money to make a donation except to herself.  Reaching into her jean pocket for her stash of cash, she stopped suddenly.  She could save herself some dough if she could recruit an eligible bachelor…and she knew just who to conscript.  As she got to the head of the line, in front of Dante's secretary's desk, she choose to leave a message for her partner Danny Woo instead.  He was out running a personal errand over the lunch hour.

"Tell Danny I've gone to relive the seventies with an old friend.  I'll be back after lunch."  Sara dashed from the precinct, hoping she could convince her guardian angel to help her retain her hard-earned cash.

*****

The front door to Talismaniac was slightly ajar.  In his early 20s, Gabriel Bowman was a collector and authority on mystical artifacts and rare collectibles.  His store reflected his unusual taste in art.  Sara had been hearing the sounds of ABBA even before she rounded the corner of his hallway.  Her friend Gabe had been born more than a decade too late for his taste in clothes and music.

Pushing open the door, she could see her friend crouching near the bottom shelf of one of his glass display cases, inserting a new collection of shrunken heads that had just arrived today.  He had on a paisley textured, maroon Nero jacket, which complemented his dark, short wavy hair and pale complexion.  Dangling from his neck was a thin, gold chain with a small, gold peace sign attached.  His faded blue jeans flared at the bottom.  He looked very…retro, she thought.  He looked up and grinned as he saw her.

"Hey, Chief.  What brings you here in the middle of the day?"  Gabe was always pleased to see her, having a bit of a crush on Sara.  She had always treated him like a brother.  He knew he had little hope of changing her perspective on that point, but he could always hope she would come to her senses one day.

"I was in the area…felt like having a retro moment back to the 70s…and thought I would see what you were doing for lunch."  Sara replied, gazing around his shop, not looking him directly in the eye.  Gabe was suspicious.  It was not in her nature to stop by to chat…or 'do' lunch.

"No way…What do you need?  I don't buy the 'let's do lunch' gig, Pez."  Sara loved her friend's perceptive nature in most instances…except when she was trying to be subtle in asking him a favor.

"Trust me, Gabe.  You're going to at least want a free lunch out of this when you hear what I'm going to ask you to do, my friend.  Big favor…the biggest."  She wrapped her right arm around his shoulder, leading him to the door.

"Maybe you're right…sounds like I'd better get a meal out of this…before I get screwed."  Gabe reached into his jean pocket for his keys.  "You are going to respect me in the morning, aren't you?"

"I don't respect you now…why wait 'til morning."  Sara joked as she squeezed his neck with her right hand.

Sara knew it would take a great deal of her persuasive abilities over lunch to convince him he should donate his time to this worthwhile cause…starving children…and her pocket book.  She was confident he would accept this challenge, but knew she would owe him big time.


Chapter Two – Indulgence

Marisa Eschobar and her entourage arrived the day prior to the big event.  Sophia Hernandez had organized their trip, bringing five of their top security personnel.  The rest of her support staff would stay at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel where the charitable event would be held.  Kenneth Irons, along with some of his household staff, was outside the front door to his mansion waiting for her stretch limousine to come to a stop.

Irons thought she was a vision to behold, dressed in a form fitting black suit and black and white, wide brimmed hat, accessorized by gold jewelry and tastefully matching shoes.  She approached him with open arms; her perfume was intoxicating.

"Kenneth…You look as handsome as I remembered."  She allowed him to kiss both her cheeks, as was customary in her country.

"And you are a vision, my dear.  The fountain of youth must surely be located in your beautiful country, Marisa."  The heiress thought it was a pity that such a good looking man had such a despicable character, but her demeanor never reflected her true feelings for him.  After all, she remembered, 'Revenge is a dish that is best served cold.'

Sophia made sure her employer's baggage was delivered to the guest quarters they had been assigned.  Irons' staff escorted them to their rooms so they could freshen up and settle in before dinner.  Marisa remained alongside her host.

"Benjamin…please inform Mr. Nottingham that our guests have arrived and will be wanting a tour of the security features for the grounds and the estate.  Have him join us in the Great Room."  Irons' servant quickly departed on his mission.

The Great Room was aptly named, containing an extensive library upstairs, rare artwork and collectibles, and a massive, stone fireplace with an inviting seating area in front of the blazing fire.

"Sherry, my dear?"  Irons began to fill the cut crystal glass without waiting for her reply.

"Why thank you, Kenneth.  You are a most gracious host.  Have I thanked you lately for your generosity."  She accepted his offering.

"More than I deserve, Marisa."  She chose the leather wingback chair…on purpose, presuming it to be his favorite.  He stood awkwardly for only a moment, not expecting her to select his chair, then proceeded to the love seat positioned closest to her.

They chatted about her trip and the upcoming gala affair.  It was the talk of New York City, Irons had informed her, which was a feat in and of itself.  Due in no small part to his recent addition to the bachelor's list, he presumed.  By way of introduction to his security plans for her stay, Irons prefaced the conversation by telling her a bit about his servant and bodyguard Ian Nottingham.  She appeared most impressed by his credentials.  It was then that she observed a tall and darkly handsome creature enter the room, quietly assuming his position by Irons' side.

"Marisa Eschobar…Ian Nottingham."  Irons was deliberately brief, wanting to stay the center of attention.

"Ian…You will make yourself available to Ms. Eschobar and her security staff…ignoring your other duties until further notice."  Marisa noticed Irons' servant quickly glanced his way, disturbed by something Irons had just said.

Nottingham knew Irons had just subtly demanded him to forego his duties of watching over NYPD Detective Sara Pezzini.  His employer had previously ordered Nottingham to stalk her every move as the wielder of an ancient weapon called the Witchblade, reputed to be worn only by powerful women throughout history.  The blade resembled a striking bejeweled bracelet until its wielder or the weapon itself altered its form into medieval armament replete with sword, granting powers to its bearer.  It had belonged to Irons until the fateful day when the blade had chosen Sara as its next wielder, leaping from the display case at the Midtown Museum during a police altercation and onto the wrist of the perplexed detective.  From that point on, Sara had become the obsession of the ruthless and criminal Kenneth Irons, and by default, his bodyguard and henchman Ian Nottingham.

Having just watched Nottingham move across the room and stand behind Irons, Marisa noticed he had bowed his head in deference to his 'superior'.  Although his eyes were downcast, she had no doubt he was aware of all aspects of the room and could move with the skill of an experienced panther on the prowl.  With long, dark wavy hair and dark eyes, his good looks were captivating enough, but his fluid motion and his extraordinary physique, even apparent under his loose fitting attire, made him irresistible to her.  She had always preferred the strong, dark and silent type.  Irons had shifted gears and had been asking her where they would be going on their date…or some other nonsense.  She had long since lost interest in their dialogue.

"I plan to take us to my private island, Kenneth.  It is called Isla de Desiertos Justos.  It has been in my family for many decades."  She offered, keeping her eyes on Ian.  She noticed a slight smile on his face, almost indiscernible.  The island name was Island of Just Deserts.  She thought this fitting for her retribution with Irons.  She knew that Kenneth did not speak her language, but she ventured Nottingham did.

"Asi pues, hablas mi lengua?"  'So, you speak my language?' She asked him.

Nottingham had been surprised by her attention and looked immediately towards her with his head bowed respectfully, glancing to Irons for approval to speak.  Irons nodded his head imperceptibly, sending a clear message to his servant to be brief.

"Entiendo un poco…bastante para ser peligroso."  Wonderful!  He 'understood a little…enough to be dangerous.'  How charming, she thought…and so perfectly spoken.

"Le imaginaria soy mas que apenas un poco peligroso, mi amigo." 'I would imagine you are more than just a little dangerous, my friend', she responded to him with a wicked smile.  Ian diverted his gaze.  He was confused by the double entendre meant solely for him.

By this time, Irons was beginning to squirm uncomfortably in his chair.  He was not the center of attention any longer. If it had not been for Marisa keeping the conversation going, he would have ended it by now.

"Lo tomo que prefieres hablar en ingles?" She surmised he preferred to converse in English so she offered this.

"Seria mi preferencia, pero hare que le satisface."  Did he actually say that, she thought?  Did he say 'English would be his preference but he would do what pleases her?'  In other men, she would have assumed they were flirting with her, but his innocent look confused her.  His eyes were so expressive.  A woman could get lost in them for weeks.  This one was utterly charming without trying to be.

"Si solamente eso era verdad, amante."  'If only that were true, lover.'  The surprised look on his face indicated he knew exactly what she had said…and what she had meant.  He lowered his eyes again.  She would have to find some time with him alone. 

"I was just asking your man if you could be trusted with my affections.  He is a most loyal servant, Kenneth, but I suppose I will have to determine if you are trustworthy on my own."  She smiled coyly. 

Irons returned her smile with a touch of his own wickedness.  His ego would keep him from grilling Nottingham on their private conversation for he had not a single doubt that it had been about him.

Sneaking a glance at Mr. Tall, Dark and Deadly Handsome, Marisa noticed a slight blush to those lightly, bearded cheeks.  This trip to see Irons would not be as boring as she had originally thought.

*****

Marisa was an early riser by nature, but the New York time forced her out of the comfortable bed earlier than the rest of the household.  She had played coy with Kenneth when he tried to seduce her into sleeping with him on her first night at the Irons' estate.  He was more assertive than she has expected.  Fending him off until their "date" was going to be more difficult than she had imagined.  She pulled on her pink silken robe, drawing the sash around her thin waist as she padded barefoot out the balcony connected to her room.  The sun was just a sliver of orange light near the horizon.  She crossed her arms in front of her, trying to retain the little warmth remaining on her body from the warm comforter. 

A dark figure stopped at the guardhouse near the front of the grounds.  By the security lights still ablaze, she noticed it was Irons' attractive body guard Ian Nottingham.  He evidently was an early riser as well, having been out for a morning run.  Clad in dark sweats and a hooded sweatshirt, she wished it were later in the season.  She might have caught him in running shorts. 

As he walked into the front door of the mansion, she decided to hurriedly dress for the morning, in her workout clothes.  Maybe he was headed for the exercise area she had noticed on the tour of the estate Irons had been kind enough to take her on yesterday.  Exercise area was not the proper word.  Irons called it the War Room, more aptly named for the ancient weaponry displayed and the specially designed room used for training and combat exercises.  She had the feeling Ian used this area more than any other part of the manor.  Adjoining the War Room was a general fitness room equipped with free weights and sundry exercise equipment, probably used more by Kenneth.  She had noticed an observation room was available for viewing the activity in the War Room unnoticed by the room's inhabitants.  This would be perfect for her intentions.

Wearing black shorts with a matching sleeveless tank top, her physique was a marvel to behold.  She had french braided her hair, showing off her remarkable cheekbones, inherited from her mother.  As she entered the exercise room, she could hear a steady thumping sound coming from the War Room.  Opening the small door to the observation area, she slid into the room, leaving the lights off.  With the darkness, it seemed less voyeuristic.  She needn't have worried for the two-way mirror would have guarded against him seeing her.  As she suspected, Ian was working up a sweat as he pummeled a punching bag, without gloves.

He had removed his sweatshirt and was clad in just his sweat pants.  The spinning kicks and combination punches were a marvelous demonstration of his natural footwork and powerfully deadly technique.  The sweat streamed down his back and chest, glistening off every sinew.  His broad chest and stomach muscles were finely chiseled and his biceps were tantalizing.  As she drew near the glass, her breathing elevated at the sight of his body in action up close.  His forceful moves and muscled body would probably keep her up nights…if she played her cards right.  He continued to inflict abuse onto the punching bag, his intense brown eyes never straying from their target.  The strength of his jabs echoed eerily in the larger chamber and vibrated the glass of the observation room.  She knew that any one of his punches could inflict serious damage to the human body.  She had seen many hired bodyguards in her lifetime, but Kenneth Irons was right to be proud of Ian Nottingham.

Distractedly, Marisa began to wonder if there was an observation room looking into the showers.  A woman could only hope.  Without her noticing, Ian grabbed his nearby towel and walked through the door leading out of the War Room…and right into Marisa.  She hadn't thought she would be discovered sneaking a peek, but of course, she had forgotten this was the only way out of the War Room.  She was caught in the act…with her hand in the goodie jar…and she had not even taken a bite yet.

"Oh…I'm sorry.  I must have gotten lost.  I was looking for the exercise room."  She tried her best to seem sincere.  He stepped back in his embarrassment, having intruded on the privacy of a guest.

"Allow me to show you the way, Ms. Eschobar.  I do not wish to disturb your morning."  He politely replied. 

There is nothing I would want more than for you to disturb my mornings...and my nights, she thought to herself.

He quickly walked past her, leading her to the exercise room around the corner as he toweled the sweat from his face.  His eyes were cast to the floor, never once looking directly at her.  In all her life, living in luxury and being waited on hand and foot, she had never seen such subservience.  What had Irons done to make this man act this way?

Her question was partially answered when she saw the scars along his back.  Nottingham had been beaten…or whipped.  Could Kenneth Irons have been responsible for this abuse?  Trying to hide her shock, she acted like she had not seen the old wounds, asking a natural question.

"How long have you worked for Mr. Irons?" She asked simply as she sat on one of the weight benches.  She directed him to sit on the next bench, but he looked to the floor and remained standing, ignoring her gesture.

"I have been with him since I was eight years old."  Eight years old? How unusual.  She thought.  If Nottingham had been with Irons since he was a small boy, the odds were great that he had been Ian's abuser.  As she pondered this, Ian was growing more uncomfortable not only talking about his master but also standing in front of a guest half dressed.  With a slight bow, he started to back away slowly.

"Please…keep me company.  I promise I will behave myself…at least for a while." She smiled, trying to disguise her growing contempt for Irons and her equally burgeoning fondness for Nottingham.

"He would not approve.  You are a guest of the estate."  He was quick to reply.  No eye contact.

"Are you uncomfortable around all women or is it just me?"  She asked truthfully.

Still not looking up, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  It was true he had no idea how to act around women.  Give him a sniper rifle or a sword and he would know what to do.  He was unsure how to respond to this woman, but finally thought honesty would be best.

"All women…Ms. Eschobar.  I would not single you out in this regard."  What the hell had he just said?  He thought.  He fidgeted uncomfortably, something she had not failed to notice.  Ignoring his awkward response, declaring her to be comparable to every other woman, she smiled and continued.

"You mean there is not one woman you have felt comfortable with?"  She questioned as she walked slowly toward him. 

Blushing, his breathing escalated and he glanced nervously from side to side with her every step, yet he did not retreat.  When he did not answer right away, Marisa suspected she had discovered a secret of his.

"There is someone special, isn't there Ian?"  For a split second, Ian had looked directly into her eyes in surprise, then resumed his usual gaze downward.  Marisa knew she had struck upon the truth…and got to see those beautiful brown eyes up close.

"Don't worry.  Your secret is safe with me.  We can keep it between us."  Marisa touched his right arm, noticing he flinched with the intimacy.  "It's okay, Ian.  I want to be your friend.  I hope you will allow it." 

All kidding aside, she suspected Irons had played his part in the recoil she had just witnessed.   It had been a game to her to see if she could tempt him to her bed under Irons' nose, but looking into his eyes, she knew he did not know how to play such games.

"I would be honored, Ms. Eschobar." 

He was obviously perplexed by her willingness to befriend him but accepted the honor graciously and without question.  Besides, he most probably doubted her intentions and just wanted to find a quick escape.  She would allow his retreat now.  Information is power she had learned.  Even something as seemingly insignificant as Ian having an object for his affection might prove useful for her plan.  Anything Kenneth Irons had deprived of Ian Nottingham might be just the thing to cultivate and grow in her garden of retribution.

It piqued her interest…as did Ian Nottingham.


Chapter Three – Charity Case

After an elaborate breakfast, specifically planned for Marisa's visit by Irons himself, Marisa was wishing she had worked out a little longer in the exercise room earlier this morning.  The tall and dark distraction she had encountered in the War Room had kept her from focusing on a good workout.  The charity bachelor auction was to take place in less than three hours.  Although Irons had thought he would be bid on and won by Marisa, it still did not limit him from taking over two hours to bathe and groom himself for his public appearance.

As he arrived in the Great Room, he touched a remote control button revealing a big screen television hidden behind cherry wood panels across the room, nearer the library.  He preferred his own station VCN, the Vorschlag Cable Network, to any other channel.  With his personal involvement, the coverage had been almost constant for the last week.  The blond VCN reporter was interviewing Matt Damon on the red carpet outside the Waldorf Astoria.

"…a very worthwhile event.  I just hope my mother doesn't bid on me.  I took her to the Oscars already.  It'd be nice if I could get a real date for a change."  Damon said with a broad smile.  "Hi, Mom!"

"Is your buddy Ben Affleck going to be joining you as one of the bachelors to be auctioned?"  The reporter queried.  With a concerned look on his face, Damon answered.

"Why does everyone think we are connected at the hip?  He's just a friend…there's no truth to the rumor that we are an item…I just want to clear that up, right now."  The VCN reporter smiled nervously at his response, looking down the red carpet for any excuse to move on to another guest.

"Well…thank you for your time, Matt.  I think I see the famous clothes designer Isaac Mizrahi with his long time friend and music icon Elton John.  Gentlemen…you look fabulous.  Are you going to be making a contribution to this very worthy cause?"  She asked, holding the VCN microphone closely to their faces.

"We may be bidding against each other…We seem to have the same taste…for things."  They both laughed.

"I just want to say that we think it is fabulous that Kenneth Irons is one of the bachelors being auctioned.  I just hope he is wearing one of my suits."  Mizrahi said with a wink toward the camera.

"Actually, what he meant to say was that he hoped Irons would get into one of his suits…preferably with Isaac in it at the time."  They both laughed again and walked down the carpet into the hotel.  The reporter smiled brightly to the camera, acting as if nothing had just happened.

Marisa had stepped into the room and had been watching Irons as he listened to the newscast.  She found it hard to suppress a giggle, enjoying every moment.

"Are you ready, Kenneth?  My…aren't you dashing."  She said as she pretended to have just entered the room.  Kenneth always did have a physique for the well-tailored tuxedo.

Irons turned off the television just as he heard Ivana Trump say, "…I am just looking for something cute and blond to put on my mantle." 

It was going to be a zoo.  As his contingent slid into the two limos in the driveway, he found himself thankful they had made arrangements to sneak him into the hotel and keep him sequestered until he was to make his way down the ramp to be auctioned.

*****

Sara had to fight her way into the huge ballroom.  Blinded more than once by an errant flash bulb, she noticed the media was out in force and the security to enter was incredibly tight.  Luckily, there were NYPD tables reserved for the brass and the working class…without the high price of admission.  She spotted Danny sitting at one of the tables.

"What have I missed?"  She asked.

"I've not seen so many celebrities since the 'We are the World' music video." Danny quipped.  "Even Kato Kailin asked me if he could stay with me while he was in town…too much."  He continued.

"They had all the political speeches.  Seems like a worthwhile charity.  Five bachelors have already come and gone.  Here's the program."  As Sara read through the program for Gabe's bio and his place in the lineup, Danny continued with his monologue.

"You missed all the commotion.  Seems someone just tried to send over a couple of alcoholic beverages to President Bush's daughters.  I can hardly wait for them to be of legal drinking age."  This drew a suppressed chuckle from Sara.  She tried not to encourage him.

Every one of the bachelors was dressed in a tuxedo and was carrying a long stemmed red rose, presumably as a token for the winning bidder.  Of course, the tux did little to enhance Orlinski's appearance.  Next on the runway, the announcer tried hard to make this middle aged NYPD Detective seem appealing but the bidding was slow in coming.

"Can we start the bidding at $200?  I am sure this hard working detective could regale you with exciting police stories.  Anyone?"  The voice over the PA system pleaded subtly.  Still, no response came from the floor.

"Man…remind me how lucky I am to be married."  Danny could feel Orlinski's pain.  He did not like the man much, but he would not wish this embarrassment on anyone.

"$1,000!"  Came the bid from the back.

The crowd turned around to see who had bid so much.  RuPaul, drag queen and supermodel, rose to her nearly seven-foot height with her numbered paddle in hand.  Wearing a blond, Tina Turner wig, a tight red, white and blue spandex body suit, and five-inch glittered red spiked heels, RuPaul was a patriotic nightmare.  The expression on Orlinski's face was a mix of relief and sheer horror.

"Going, Going, Gone!  Bidder number 69 in the back."  The announcer slammed the gavel as quickly as possible to close the deal.  As was customary, the bachelor handed his rose to the winning bidder.  RuPaul took Orlinski's rose and began to pull off each rose petal with her teeth and stuff every one down the front of her spandex ensemble, gazing longingly at her latest purchase, daring him to retrieve them.

Danny and Sara tried hard not to look at each other, but could not resist.  When they finally did, they burst out in laughter.

"I think Orlinski is going to be happy to be carrying a concealed weapon on their date."  Danny joked.

"Yeah but his date will be packing a piece, too."  They broke down again laughing until tears came.  "At least, with any luck, and for Orlinski's sake, that piece will stay concealed."

A few more bachelors strutted down the runway, garnering respectable donations, but then it was Captain Dante's turn.  Walking with a bit of a swagger, it was obvious the Captain thought he was eye candy for the women of the room.  Most of the women would have preferred a sharp stick thrust in their eyes, Sara speculated.

"$500 to start the bidding for one of New York's finest police Captains.  Do I have a bid?"  The commentator solicited.  A paddle was raised in the back of the room.

"We have $500 bid.  Do I hear $600?"  The announcer tried not to act too surprised to have received the initial bid.

Dante was relieved to hear the initial bid until he caught a glimpse of the bidder.  Stopping dead in his tracks, the scowl was hard to keep off his face.

Danny turned his head to see who had bid the $500.  He started to laugh.

"What is it?" Sara asked of her partner.

"That's his ex-wife.  She told me she was planning to bid on him using his alimony payments, then get the tax donation write-off."  Danny replied with a grin.

"Yeah…but she still has to go out on a date with him.  It's not worth it."  Sara shook her head.

"What date?  She was going to get him to paint her house."  As they started to laugh again, another bid was announced from the left side of the runway.

"$600."  Paddle 126 was raised. 

The paddle belonged to Chynna of the World Wrestling Federation.  The infamous raven-haired wrestler was dressed in a sleeveless, black, form fitting muscle shirt that displayed her myriad of tattoos.  She wore silver studded black leather chaps over her blue jeans, leaving no doubt she had probably arrived on her Harley Davidson motorcycle especially for this occasion.

It looked for a moment that Dante's ex-wife was considering just how badly she wanted her house painted, then a slow smile spread across her face.  She tucked her paddle under her coat.  Maybe she would bid on a 'boy toy' instead…to hell with the house, she thought.

The Captain stood alone on the top of the runway.  He knew that no matter what his ex had planned, it would have been preferable to a date with a woman who had biceps bigger than his chest.  At least he would not have to check for an Adam's Apple, like Orlinski.

"Hearing no other bids…Captain Dante is sold to bidder 126 for $600."  The gavel slammed down, sealing his fate.  Handing his rose to Chynna, Dante noticed she tore off the rose petals and leaves, keeping only the stem of thorns.  Holy Shit, he thought to himself.

"Wonder if Dante is 'Ready to Rumble'."  Recognizing Chynna, Danny impersonated a wrestling announcer.  Sara just shook her head.

"Dante's Inferno…cause he's going down in flames."  Sara smirked.  A drag queen and a WWF wrestler for her two favorites…priceless, she thought.

Danny and Sara continued to speculate on the endless possibilities for Orlinski's and Dante's dates while several bachelors were bid for and won.

"Gabriel Bowman…owner of Talismaniac…" Sara almost missed her friend Gabe's entrance.  Sara thought he looked adorable in his tuxedo.  A murmur spread around the room, it was obvious others had thought the same.

"Let's start the bidding at $500."  Two paddles went up.  The commentator selected one bidder.  "Do I hear $1,000?"  Another paddle was selected.  An NYU Sorority House was actively pursuing the services of Gabriel as their homecoming date.  The bevy of beauties were winking and playing with their paddles, embarrassing the already blushing Mr. Bowman.  Bidding was soon up to $2,500 when two tables across the ballroom combined their monies to bid $3,000.

"$3,000 to paddle 201.  Do I hear $3,500?  $3,500 anyone?"  The announcer was pleased as the gavel was brought down.

"Gabriel Bowman sold to paddle 201, the New York Jets Cheerleaders, for $3,000."

Gabe had hit the mother load!  Grinning shyly, his cheeks the color of his rose, he tossed the flower atop the table of the cheerleaders who blew kisses in return.  He would have to find some way to thank Sara…but nothing befitting came immediately to mind.  Nothing was ever going to be befitting, he thought.  It just doesn't get any better than this.

Sara whooped and laughed for her friend, whistling as if she were hailing a taxi.  Danny knew the pressure was off.  Sara was worried that she might have solicited her friend to endure something agonizing and traumatic…perhaps one requiring a therapist when it was over.

"A whole cheerleading squad…your friend Gabe is gonna be livin' large."  Danny shook his head and smiled.  "Remind me again how much I love my wife."

"You love your wife, Danny."  She poked him with her elbow.

"Your friend is at that age when he can stay up all night and still function the next day."  Danny reminded himself of Gabe's youth.

"No man can do that."  Sara teased, sneaking a peek to see if her partner got the joke.  It was his turn to poke her back.

The last of the NYPD's Eleventh Precinct bachelors came before too long.  Jake McCarty looked rather dashing in his tuxedo…in drastic need of a comb.  With the flurry of activity in the ballroom, it looked as if Jake would garner a sizeable sum.  His reputation had preceded him as a surfing champion from California.

"I'd like to start the bidding at $1,000.  Do I hear a bid?"  The announcer could not keep up with the paddles being raised.  The bidding had grown to $5,000 when it became apparent that two bidders were vying for the same prize. 

Sitting side by side, Elton John and Isaac Mizrahi were in a bidding war.  Much to Jake's horror, the women who had been bidding before had dropped out thinking Jake may be gay.  The two men kept bidding in good humor until it became obvious neither was giving up gracefully.  Isaac reached into his pocket.

"Flip you for him."  Laughter echoed across the room as the fashion designer tossed the quarter in the air.

"Heads."  Elton ventured.

"I'm a tails man myself." Isaac joked, as he grabbed the coin, slapping it to the back of his left hand.

"Tails! Damn it!  You win, Isaac."  Elton conceded magnanimously.  The crowd applauded their good-natured banter.

"NYPD Detective Jake McCarty sold to Isaac Mizrahi, paddle number 53, for $25,000."  The gavel sounded.

Jake tried to smile but failed as he handed his rose to Mizrahi.  Handing the flower to his friend and runner up Elton John, Isaac made the comment.

"Don't worry, honey…I was just looking to find a Ken for my Barbie."  Oh my god, Jake thought, I am gonna kill Dante if his date doesn't first.

Danny and Sara were sipping coffee as Jake's ordeal had ended.

"Well…maybe Jake will get a nice suit out of the deal."  Danny chuckled.

"Maybe a law suit…'cause Jake's gonna pummel the guy if he gets too close to his inseam."  Sara speculated, taking advantage of the pun.

A short recess was announced over the PA system.  The Press and other media were pushing their way nearer the runway in anticipation of the unprecedented auction of billionaire Kenneth Irons.  The big finale was soon to begin.

*****

Via closed circuit monitoring, Ian Nottingham had been watching the activities outside the waiting room where Irons and his entourage were gathered.  A very faint smile had crossed his face when Orlinski and Dante had been auctioned, but his smile could hardly be suppressed when Jake met his fate.  The look on the detective's face had been worth the wait. 

When he learned of Jake's involvement in the auction, as he did his security check for Irons, it had not taken him long to come up with the idea.  Isaac Mizrahi was a close personal friend to one of Irons' favorite clothes designers.  Ian had used his connection to Irons to arrange for the favor.  It had been worth the risk of being discovered by his master.

"You look like the cat that has eaten the proverbial canary."  Marisa had come alongside Nottingham.  He bowed his head as she spoke.  She had been in and out of the room all the while, taking care of her other duties for the charity.

"Desiertos Justos…I was just thinking about 'Just Deserts', Ms. Eschobar."  Nottingham replied politely.

Crossing her arms in front of her, she smiled at him, knowing he would not tell her the complete truth of what he had been thinking.

"Yes…I understand.  Perhaps more than you will know."  She replied sheepishly.  Now it was his turn to wonder about her meaning. 

Stepping back toward Irons, Marisa grabbed his closest elbow, leading him to the door for his debut.

"Come now, Kenneth.  It is our time to create a stir."  She offered with a brilliant smile.

Nottingham followed closely behind.  He could hear the announcer building up the tension for Irons' walk down the runway.  He would remain off stage but close enough to act should it be necessary.  Protecting his flash sensitive eyes from the cameras he knew would be clicking away, he slipped on a very dark pair of sunglasses and stood on the fringes of the limelight as his master proceeded down the runway with his usual grace and poise.

"Do I hear $50,000 to start?"  The announcer's voice was shaking with the suspense of who would be the first bidder.  A paddle was raised immediately.

"$50,000 bid from paddle number 175. Do I hear $60,000?"  Paddle number 175 belonged to Madonna.  The Material Girl smiled as Irons looked her way, returning her greeting. 

"$75,000!"  Paddle number 205 was recognized, belonging to Marilyn Manson.  The heavily made-up rocker was smirking as Irons turned his way.  A cold stare was Irons' only response.  Manson sat back down immediately.

Several other bidders raised the ante to $250,000 effortlessly.  Irons was beginning to think Marisa had left the room since she had not bid yet.  As if reading his thoughts, he could hear her voice from the back of the room.

"One million dollars."  She raised her paddle marked number 1. 

Cameras flashed as the room burst into applause at her generosity.  The drama of this year's event had been unparalleled.  Relieved, Irons stood at the end of the runway, enjoying the sweet and pungent smell of the single red rose he held to his nose as he gazed longingly at Marisa across the room.  Without soliciting another bid, the gavel came down, and Marisa Eschobar had won Kenneth Irons.

Let the games begin.




Chapter Four – Haven's Journey

Marisa Eschobar had planned a special reception for Kenneth Irons after the auction in one of the small meeting rooms at the hotel.  Champagne flowed freely along with mountains of caviar and other delectable treats, all of them were Irons' favorites.  A classical string quartet played melodiously in the background.  Fresh flowers adorned the ballroom, wafting their sweet scent in the air.  Tuxedo clad servants proffered fine crystal flutes of champagne and the featured appetizers for the evening, displayed on elaborate silver trays.

Marisa watched Kenneth, the center of attention.  He was truly in his element.  In a near corner of the room, Nottingham had caught her eye, his head bowed but attentive.  Dressed in a solid black suit ensemble, his eyes were ever roaming, looking for anything out of the ordinary.  His long dark hair was pulled back.  She thought he looked quite elegant, yet he appeared as if he felt out of place in this social setting, preferring to be more anonymously invisible…until she walked into the room.

Marisa did not know who she was, but Kenneth Irons had spotted her in the crowd earlier and asked that she be invited.  She had long dark hair and beautiful green eyes, every bit as captivating and striking as Ian's brown ones.  She looked as if she felt out of place as well.  It did not go unnoticed by Marisa that Ian knew the minute this woman walked into the room for he rushed immediately to her side.  So…this is Ian's special woman, she thought.

"Detective Pezzini…How nice of you to join us."  Ian bowed slightly, using the guise of host to speak to her.  Socially, he was out of his element, but he thought it worth the risk of sounding inept for a moment alone with her.

"Hey Nottingham…Haven't seen you lately.  How's my favorite stalker?"  She teased with a smile.  Seeing him up close again made her heart race.  She had not realized just how much she had actually missed him.

Marisa observed the two very carefully, staying within earshot of their conversation.  Whether either would admit it, there was chemistry between them.

"My Master has other duties for me while we have guests at the estate."  He ignored the 'stalker' reference. 

Nottingham's normal duties, where the wielder was concerned, rarely got him close enough to smell her perfume or look into her jade colored eyes.  He had felt restless over the last couple of days.  He was beginning to understand this was due in large part to the absence of Sara in his daily routine.  He had truly missed her.

Now Marisa understood why Nottingham had a reaction to Kenneth's change in orders, for 'his master' had asked him to forego what duties he had with this woman…presumably an NYPD Detective.  Interesting, she thought.

"Welcome to our little party…so nice of you to come.  My name is Marisa Eschobar."  Marisa was the gracious host, extending her hand to welcome Sara. 

It was as if Sara and Ian had been alone in the room before Marisa had approached.  The chemistry that had been readily apparent between them was now broken as they both resumed their uneasy posture in this social setting.  Nottingham had reverted to being a servant with downcast eyes and Sara was relegated to being a social outcast as she addressed one of the wealthiest women in the world.  Marisa had seen this before.  She would need to make them both feel more comfortable around her.

"Oh…I know who you are, Ms. Eschobar.  My name is Detective Sara Pezzini."  Sara returned the handshake with a shy smile.

"Detective?  With the NYPD?"  Marisa asked, trying to learn more about what possible involvement Nottingham and Irons would have with this woman.  She knew this information would not come from Nottingham due to his strong loyalty to Irons.

"Yes, Ms. Eschobar.  Homicide."  Sara did not know if this admission would get her booted from the extravagant reception.  After all, she was blue collar rather than blue blood.

"That's remarkable, Sara.  May I call you Sara?" Marisa touched Sara's arm in a reassuring manner.

"Yes…sure.  I would be honored."  Sara replied.

"No…it is my honor, Sara.  What you do everyday is a very brave thing.  You must have worked hard to become a Detective…and you are such a very attractive woman as well.  Wouldn't you agree, Ian?"  Marisa's last remark had brought color to the cheeks of both Ian and Sara.

Nottingham's eyes flashed from the floor to Marisa's in record time, then to Sara's.  His cheeks flushed with color.  He was in service to the wielder and did not feel comfortable commenting on her appearance, even if he agreed wholeheartedly with Marisa's assessment.  Marisa's eyes were on him, waiting for his response.

"Yes, I would." He nodded, not able to draw his eyes to Sara's.

Sara was taken back by Marisa's forwardness, forcing the comment from Ian as she had done.  Did he actually feel this way or was he only compelled to politely respond to Marisa?  She was not sure how she felt about it, yet her heart leapt into her throat while she awaited his response.  It had been important to her…how he felt.  Grappling with her feelings, she had not noticed Irons' approach.

"Fair Sara…How lovely of you to grace us with your beauty."  Kenneth Irons joined the circle, bringing a chill to the air.  He handed her a flute of champagne, which she refused.

"No thanks, Mr. Irons…not a champagne drinker."  Sara would have probably refused anything he had offered.  Even though Irons had invited her, if she were honest with herself at that moment, she would have admitted that she had missed Ian more than she had realized…and that he had been the true reason she had accepted the invitation.

"Ian…please find something our most honored guest would prefer."  Irons seemingly dismissed Ian with no more regard than a waiter.  Ian's already downcast eyes were lowered further with his resignation.

"No, Ian.  You don't have to wait on me.   I presume you have other duties."  Sara was angered with Irons' audacity.  Marisa had smiled discreetly, admiring Sara's spunk.

"I would be most happy to serve you, my lady."  Ian quickly glanced into Sara's eyes for only a moment, reassuring her he would comply with Irons' request. 

Marisa had thought the knight errant courtly manners of Nottingham were charming.  She did not know that his sole mission in life was to serve his Lady Sara and that his courtly charm was far from a pretense.

"I'll come with you then.  Lead the way.  If you'll excuse me, Mr. Irons…Ms. Eschobar."  Sara quickly grabbed the arm of the surprised Ian Nottingham before Irons could interject.  Ian took a quick glance towards his master, who dismissed him with an abrupt wave of his hand, so as to avoid a scene in front of Marisa.

"They make a very attractive couple, Kenneth.  Don't you think?"  Marisa was bound and determined to twist the knife she was starting to see in all of this, watching Irons' expression with interest.

Trying to hide his true feelings of rage and jealously, Irons took a deep breath, attempting to control his response to Marisa.  Sara so closely resembled the love of his life Elizabeth Bronte that it was hard for him to strip away his feelings for Elizabeth to acknowledge Sara as the current wielder.  In his mind, Sara was Elizabeth.

"They are not a couple, Marisa.  Nottingham is a servant, nothing more.  He has never even been with a woman before.  Such activity would interfere with his training…and his obligation to serve me."  Irons replied with an arrogance that left Marisa at a loss for words.

It has never occurred to Marisa that Nottingham might be a virgin.  Now she understood his hesitancy and the innocence she mistook for flirtatious charm.  Marisa had stumbled upon an Achilles heel for Kenneth Irons.  With what she had planned for him, she would have to devise a way to add icing to her cake, gaining further advantage over the arrogant bastard. 

Fortunately, she was a woman, and this would not prove to be a very difficult task.

*****

While still at the reception, a plan promptly formed in Marisa's head.  She quickly consulted with her administrative assistant Sophia Hernandez before proceeding, giving her specific instructions to be carried out as soon as possible.  Sophia shook her head, not questioning Marisa.  She had learned this long ago.

It was apparent that Sara did not know anyone else at the reception.  She looked as if she were going to make a hasty retreat in stealth mode.  Cornering Sara Pezzini before she departed the party, Marisa made her unusual request.

"Sara.  I was wondering if you would do me the honor of joining me at my private island over the next few days.  I am in need of some added security at my estate there…I would be most happy to pay you for your time."  Marisa offered, noting the surprised look on the Detective's face.

"That is really not my area of expertise…security, I mean."

"To be honest…you intrigue me.  I would like to get to know you better…and like I said, I would be most generous.  Think of it as a short vacation with pay…and you would be doing me a great favor.  With my transition to the United States, I found myself short of my usual complement of security staff."  Marisa was most persuasive.  If she could convince Sara, Nottingham would be easy, she surmised.

"When would you be needing me?"  Sara asked, giving Marisa's proposal a great deal of consideration.

"Tomorrow I'm afraid…you see why I need to find someone quickly…someone I can trust."  Marisa replied, noticing Sara's hesitancy.  Grabbing both of Sara's hands, noting the unusual bracelet she wore, Marisa gave it one more try.

"Please…Please join me.  I think you could use some R & R…and you would be doing me a big favor."  Marisa smiled, knowing that Sara had made up her mind.

"Kenneth Irons will be there, right?"  Sara winced. 

"Don't worry about him.  I plan on keeping him very busy.  I would venture to say you may never see him while you are there, Sara."  After a long moment's hesitation, Sara gave her answer.

"Sure…I'll do it."  Sara returned her smile.  Who would turn down such an offer? Sara thought.  Marisa squeezed Sara's hands once more and continued.

"Thank you, Sara.  This is most gracious of you.  You will not regret it.  By the way, you don't have to worry about what to wear.  My estate has a closet full of wonderful clothes just waiting for you, my dear.   Just bring what you need and we can have fun with the rest."  Marisa teased with a wink.

As Marisa walked away, cordially greeting other guests, Sara was astounded by her good fortune.  The guys at the office were not going to believe this.  But, then again, McCarty had a date with a man, Orlinski was off to the Drag Races with RuPaul, Captain Dante was going to be taken down by the WWF, and Gabe had a date with the New York Jets Cheerleaders. 

What's not to believe?

*****

Scanning the room for her favorite 'body to guard', Marisa noticed Nottingham in a remote corner of the room, assuming his usual subservient position.  Grabbing two flutes of champagne, she strolled his way.  She had to keep reminding herself that this gorgeous man had the sexual experience of an innocent child.  Patience would be key.

"Would you care to join me, Ian?"  She offered him one of the glasses.  As she had figured, Nottingham refused the alcohol.

"I am on duty, Ms. Eschobar.  But thank you…" He politely refused.

"You don't drink, do you Ian?  Have never had alcohol, correct?"  Marisa guessed.

"No.  It would interfere in my duties for my mast…for Mr. Irons."  His head remained bowed.  No eye contact.

"You are a most loyal servant, Nottingham.  You have dedicated your life to him, haven't you?"

"Yes, I have.  Gladly."  Ian responded without hesitation. 

Marisa thought Irons did not deserve such loyalty.  She was reminded of the scars on Ian's back that she had seen earlier today and that he had been with Irons since he was eight years old.  She began to better understand this relationship between Irons and Nottingham, an abusive father to his abused son.  If it were within her power to take him from his cruel master, she would have done so.  Even the wealthiest woman in the world could not accomplish this feat without Nottingham's acceptance.  He would have to be willing to sever the ties with Irons.  Sadly, she continued.

"Then you should be willing to help me secure the island for Kenneth's and my arrival.  I will need you to leave tomorrow to precede our visit, make sure all is safe.  You can confirm this with Mr. Irons yourself."  Marisa requested. 

She had represented her request as a work assignment, knowing he would not understand a trip merely for his own pleasure.  She was sure Irons' employment benefits for Nottingham did not include a vacation package.

"No need to confirm, Ms. Eschobar.  I would be happy to do this at your request."  Ian had already discussed this with Irons before Marisa had brought it up.  After all, his first loyalty was to him.  If he appeared gracious to Ms. Eschobar, then so much the better.

"Thank you, Ian.  Oh, and by the way, do you have clothes suitable for the hot tropics?"  She had a suspicion he did not.  As she thought, he looked down at the clothes he had on and was reminded he had a closet full of such garments at the estate, none of which would be suitable.  Seeing his reaction, Marisa tried to suppress a smile.

"Don't worry.  Your guest room has a full complement of appropriate clothing…and plenty in your size."  Smiling broadly, she turned to depart.

"How do you know what size I wear?" He asked before he realized he was second-guessing a guest of his master's.  His face reddened as he looked away quickly.

"Why, Mr. Nottingham…I have a wide range of experiences that should make me an expert in this arena."  She winked and slowly grabbed one of his gloved hands with a raised eyebrow.  "Although you won't be needing them, you can furnish the gloves, Ian…if you wish it." Nottingham watched her leave.  He did not lower his eyes this time.

With any luck, whether Sara graciously obliges or Marisa is the fortunate woman, she was committed.  Nottingham would not be leaving her island as a virgin.  This she vowed.  Walking towards Kenneth Irons, she smiled wickedly.

Her plan was set.  'Just Deserts' it would be.


Chapter Five – Dating and Justice

There is no justice, Jake thought to himself.  This date thing was for charity…feeding starving children, for crying out loud.  He tried to live his life right.  Ate a good breakfast.  Called his mother once a week.  Made his annual donation to the NYPD Widows and Orphans Fund.  Put the toilet seat down when he had an overnight visitor, preferably of the female persuasion.  And yet, here he stood with a man kneeling before him, this stranger's hand about to close in on his favorite hand tool. 

"Hey…What the hell are you doing?"  Jake sniped. 

Isaac Mizrahi's idea of a date was to give Jake a very private fitting for a new suit.  They were alone in his design studio, an elaborate flat in the clothing warehouse district of New York City.  Isaac had been measuring his inseam, making himself a little too familiar with Jake's private collection.

"I need to take this measurement.  Stand still."  The famous designer chuckled.

Isaac was not dissuaded by Jake's behavior.  In fact, he was challenged by it.  Trying to get a rise out of him, so to speak, he wanted to be rewarded with the flash of anger from Jake's adorable eyes…so he added.

"Just trying to see how long it is."  Isaac smirked.

*****

"Big enough to do the job…Want to see it?" 

At her hotel suite, RuPaul had been admiring Orlinski's 45 Magnum from a distance.  And the Detective was determined to keep her at a distance the entire evening.  They had agreed to meet at her hotel room, then she would surprise him from there.  Wanting to establish some ground rules, it did not hurt to let her know he had brought his weapon…in case things got out of hand.

"Do you always carry a weapon on your dates, Detective?"  The cross dressing celebrity asked, with a flirtatious bat of her eyelashes. 

It had been so long since the Detective had been on a date, he could not remember.  Yet Orlinski had to admit that in dark lighting…very dark lighting…and with well-applied makeup and long, blond wig, RuPaul looked pretty good.  Of course, he was on his third beer…and everyone knows that good looks have a direct correlation to the amount of alcohol consumed. 

"A guy's gotta protect himself."  The Detective replied.  "Where are we going on our date?  You haven't said."

"The Drag Races."  Came the reply.

All right, Orlinski thought.  He hadn't seen a drag race in a long while.  He especially liked formula cars.  Maybe this won't be so bad after all.  Two guys at the drag races, hanging out.  It wasn't too cool that one of the guys was in a dress, but maybe he could stand it for one evening.  Downing his third beer, he replied, "Great.  Let's go."

RuPaul had hired a limo service for the evening.  Beer, champagne, and other alcoholic beverages were plentiful in the back of the long black luxurious vehicle.  Orlinski had never been treated so well.  Moving on to scotch, his favorite libation, he took advantage of the free liquor.  After all, it wasn't everyday he got to hang out with a celebrity…going to the drag races. Remembering how he walked out of the hotel and into the waiting limo with RuPaul, Orlinski had felt like a celebrity himself…and he liked the feeling. She has pretty eyes, he thought.

The limo pulled up to the curb and the driver rushed to open the door.  They had arrived.  Had the Detective not been drinking and had his wits about him, he would have realized that he had not heard the sound of roaring engines or smelled burning rubber.  In her spiked heels and red glittered dress, RuPaul left the vehicle with her arms outstretched, greeting the small group of women standing in line at the entrance to the bar with hugs and kisses.  Upon a closer inspection, he realized they were not women at all. 

A banner stretched across the wall of the building.  Even numb with alcohol, he knew this night was never going to end.  The banner read…

Drag Races

She had taken him to the drag races all right…the Drag Queen Races.  Holy Shit, he thought.  His jaw dropped.  Noticing this, RuPaul flashed a gleaming smile and grabbed his arm ushering him inside.

"Just close your eyes, honey…and let Momma rock your world."  She was anxious for a sample of New York's finest, so she placed her right hand on his butt and squeezed.

"Hold it right there, sister.  Keep your hands off my…"

*****

"…ASS.  Let go of my ass or I'm gonna have to get rough with you."  He complained loudly.

She had abruptly grabbed his ass as she held him firmly in a reverse chokehold.  Flipping him to the carpet in a single, fluid motion, she had pinned him to the floor for an eight count.  Her body sprawled across his shoulders, steadfastly holding him down.

Chynna, the top female wrestler of the WWF, had effortlessly brought Bruno Dante to the floor of her condo after he had arrogantly expounded on his views of the legitimacy of the sport of wrestling.

"Okay…you proved your point.  Now let me up."  Dante pleaded, trying to maintain some dignity.

Rotating her body without releasing the hold, she now had positioned herself face-to-face with the prone Police Captain, pinning his hands to the carpet.  Her raven black hair dangling in his face.  Her dark eyes flashing her mock anger, a pose she had honed in front of the camera in her profession.

"Apologize first.  You owe me that much.  Besides, I kind of like this."  Chynna did like it rough.  Most men could not take her brand of foreplay.

Dante had never been so manhandled on a date in his life.  He would be bruised like an overripe banana.  Yet, up close, if he didn't have to notice her biceps were bigger than his head, she was an attractive woman.  Her muscle tone was incredible.  And in all honesty, her hand on his ass had turned him on. 

"Okay…you're right.  I apologize.  Wrestling is a real sport…and the fights are not staged for television."  Dante was a sincere as he would ever be, but he was not sure he wanted her to move a muscle. 

"Why, Captain…Is that a concealed weapon you're carrying or are you just happy to see me?"  Chynna smiled, feeling Dante's enthusiasm.

"One like mine…in New York…you need a permit to carry."  He bragged, a little double entendre thrown in for good measure.

"This I have to see.  I hope you don't mind me taking charge like this.  I like being in control."  She firmly kissed his lips before he replied…and before she headed south of the border.

*****

"I prefer to be on top…if that's okay."  His face was flush with his arousal.

Her shapely body entangled with his, she allowed him to pull up behind her, positioning his warm body atop hers, as he put his hand on his target. 

"I'm spinning again."  Came the announcement.

"Left hand…Green."  The attractive blond said again, with a squeal of excitement.

The New York Jets Cheerleaders had made a specially designed Twister Board especially for their enjoyment on Gabe's date.  Large colored spots were placed symmetrically onto a white padded background.  It was big enough to accommodate most of the squad who were still single.  As some of the members lost their positioning and were disqualified, others replaced them, much to Gabe's pleasure.  Brunettes, blondes, redheads…there was a smorgasbord of female delights.  If he toppled over, they fought over where he would start next and kept him on the board.  Everyone who had lost his or her balance was penalized a shot of Tequila.  Needless to say, balance was getting harder to maintain as the evening wore on.  Gabriel's cheeks were now a constant shade of red.  Everywhere he turned was a magnificent view.  The female anatomy was a wonder to behold, he thought.  His friend Sara had risen to godlike status in his mind, for he would never be able to repay her for his glimpse of heaven on earth.

"Right hand…Yellow, everyone."  The next color was announced.

Gabe had stretched himself atop a cute brunette; snuggled in so tight he could barely move a muscle…well, almost any muscle.  She tried to control herself but started to giggle as she felt his persistence.  He was trying to determine if he should acknowledge his lack of control with an apology to the young girl beneath him when a beautiful redhead reached for the closest yellow spot…under Gabe's stomach between his legs.  The redhead was successful…in more ways than one.  She got a rise out of Gabriel, as he exclaimed.

"Oh my God…You're touching my…"

*****

"ASS!  You expect me to ride your ass all the way down there?"  The dark faced man stared blankly at the irate gringo who was throwing a tirade in his face.  The servant did not understand a word, but he did get their meaning.

Irons was livid.  He had been used to many more luxurious means of travel in his pampered lifetime.  The outdoors, without extreme comforts, was unbearable.  Now this servant, who could not speak English, was apparently asking him to ride this jackass down a narrow mountain path towards Marisa's hacienda on this desolate island.

The small plane had just arrived at the hilltop runway less than a half-hour ago.  Irons' bags were offloaded and were being tied onto another beast of burden.  The plane departed soon after his bags were removed.  He was left alone with this menial and the two floppy-eared, long-faced beasts.  He had expected a much more tropical locale from Marisa's description.  Maybe the hacienda would be more inviting.

Why wasn't Nottingham or Marisa here to greet him?  They had left a day before him to prepare for his arrival.  He was so sure Marisa was going to surprise him.  Well…this was a surprise all right.  A surprise indeed.

Just then, the wind atop the plateau whipped up in a swirl, catching a mound of dirt in front of him, blowing the dust in his face.  Grit lodged into every nook and cranny of his body…his hair…his teeth…his eyes and ears.  His neatly pressed khaki shirt and pants were now soiled.  All he could think about was the hot bath he would take tonight.  Perhaps Marisa would join him…by way of an apology.

He moved reluctantly toward the jackass, raising one foot to allow the native servant to hoist him atop the animal.  Evidently, this was not the custom here on the island for the man ignored him, grabbing the reins of the other jackass that was carrying the luggage, leading it down the narrow, rocky path.

Irons huffed his disapproval.  He would have this man's job when he spoke to Marisa.  This treatment was unacceptable.  He mounted his own ass and jabbed the stubborn animal in the ribs to get it moving.

"A jackass…a real jackass."  Irons shook his head.

*****

"Yes, he is.  Mr. Irons has been one most of his life."

Marisa had been talking to Nottingham about Irons' status as a chess master.  Irons' loyal servant had just answered her question about his ability to play, asking if he had achieved master status, as she knew he had.  You don't get to be the clever man Irons was without being a master of the intriguing game.  Marisa knew Ian would feel more comfortable talking about his master than about himself, so she kept him talking.  They sat across from each other in wide, leather seats with extra space between them to accommodate Nottingham's long legs.  Being used to a servant's status, Ian was uneasy having his master's guest sitting across from him.  He fidgeted in his seat with every word spoken between them.

Marisa not only wanted to pass the time aboard her Lear jet as they made their way to her tropical island, but she enjoyed watching his mannerisms, hearing his soft spoken voice, and staring into those beautiful eyes when he permitted her the honor.  A moment of silence between them was filled with the drone of the engines.  She felt comfortable in his presence, even in silence.

Marisa had sent Sara Pezzini ahead to the island on another jet, wanting to surprise Nottingham later in the evening.  She had it all planned, thanks to the efforts of her assistant Sophia.  It took all of her control to suppress the smile she felt as she thought of Kenneth Irons having landed on the other island that was a part of her vast property holdings.  It was a dusty rock…barely suitable for reptiles.  Maybe the reptiles on the island would be thinking 'There goes the neighborhood' when they saw him for the first time.

It was her plan to place Sara and Ian in the most romantic setting possible…then let nature take its course…with only a modicum of encouragement from her, if necessary.  She would give Sara a head start.  If Sara would not take advantage of the opportunity she would be handed, then Marisa would seize it…and him.  Either way, Nottingham would be leaving the island a remade man. The young, inexperienced boy inside this luscious male body would be forever changed.  Nottingham deserved something better than all the physical and mental abuse that had been doled out generously by Kenneth Irons and heaped onto his loyal servant. 

Nottingham would be her 'icing on the cake'.  How delectably sweet, she thought.


Chapter Six – Asylum

After the rather lengthy plane ride, Marisa should have been tired, yet she was anxious for her plan to take shape.  Sophia had greeted her at the private runway with several servants to take Marisa's luggage and Nottingham's small carry-on bag to the estate.  The limousine made its way along the private drive onto the grounds.  Lush, tropical trees and plants hung like a dense canopy over the road, allowing only faint glimpses of the brilliant sun to cast its sparkle to the ground below, dancing points of light as the cool breeze moved through the bowers overhead. 

They rode in silence, as if in a church.  Marisa knew just how Nottingham must have felt at this moment.  For she had never gotten complacent about the beauty here.  It was true Ian had grown quite still, enjoying the play of light across his face and the magnificence of the lush setting as he looked out the limousine window.  He had never felt such serenity…such inner peace.  Surely, this must be the most beautiful place on earth.

The estate loomed on the horizon as they rounded the last bend.  The white pillars and tiled walkways were incorporated into its surroundings as if nature had always intended it to be here.  Marisa smiled as she observed Nottingham, knowing he was drinking it all in and truly appreciating her favorite hideaway.  His wide-eyed exuberance was apparent.

"Follow me, Ian.  I will show you to your room."  Marisa grabbed his left arm, noticing he had not jumped when she did so.  The island magic was beginning to cast its spell on him.

Nottingham did not expect Marisa to be escorting him to his quarters herself.  He had thought one of the servants would do that.  Arm in arm, they climbed the wide staircase, the focal point of the entrance to the manor.  This familiarity would have normally made him anxious, but the beauty of the estate distracted him.  The foyer was full of light from the many windows throughout the elegant entry.  Extravagant tapestries and vivid oil paintings caught his eye as they reached the top of the stairs and turned down the wing to the right.  He also had not expected to be in such a lavish wing of the estate, anticipating a servant's quarters instead.

At the end of the hall were his accommodations, the double doors to the suite were opened.  The room was bright and airy, colored in cool pastels with high ceilings and windows everywhere.  He had a panoramic view of the ocean from his room.  Tossing his bag on the oversized bed, complete with an overhead canopy draped with opaque white silk, he could not help wandering toward the balcony to his left.  The double, cut glass french doors were open and inviting.  The breeze off the ocean wafted through his long, dark hair as it fluttered his black, long-sleeved shirt.  He grabbed the elaborate white railing with his gloved hands, taking a deep breath.  He had not heard Marisa join him on the balcony.

"This is my favorite hideaway."  She said simply as she watched him intently.

"You are truly a lucky woman, Ms. Eschobar."  Ian replied, not taking his eyes off the ocean as it undulated below him.

"Please…while you are my guest, you must call me Marisa.  I insist."  She smiled.

"Irons would not approve."  With downcast eyes, he turned toward her now as he leaned against the railing.

"How about this…as a compromise.  You call me Marisa when Kenneth is not around.  Do we have a deal, Ian?"  She walked towards him slowly, her eyes on his.  She knew Irons would not be joining them on this island, so she did not expect to hear him call her Ms. Eschobar over the next couple of days.

"Yes…Marisa.  When may I take a look at the security features of the island…and talk to your staff?"  Nottingham had to remind himself he was here to work, in preparation for his master's arrival.

"Not today.  Today is for you to enjoy the estate as my guest.  There is plenty of time to work tomorrow."  Marisa had blocked the use of his cell phone so she knew he would not be contacting Kenneth…or be getting any calls from his cruel and demanding master.

"Come.  Let me entice you out of your clothes."  Marisa teased, expecting the surprised look she got from Nottingham, complete with an appealing blush.  She laughed and continued.

"What I meant to say is that you must be warm in those clothes.  They were not intended for our climate.  Follow me."  Marisa beckoned him toward his own personal dressing area.  Sophia had stocked the room adjourning his chambers with all varieties of attire, including formal wear, all in his size.

"My servants have already started your bath.  Take your time getting ready.  I will meet you on the veranda when you are done."  She stepped toward him and reached for his gloved right hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.  "I don't think you'll be needing these, Ian."  She smiled as she closed the doors to his suite behind her, giving him privacy.

As promised, Marisa's servants had drawn his bath complete with exotic bath oils and a dense show of bubbles floating atop the warm water.  The bath area was a brilliant display of chrome and mirrors, glistening in reflected light.  Peeling off his sweat soaked clothing and removing his gloves, he submerged his naked body into the warm bath.  The bath oils and suds caressed his skin, absorbing into his body with much needed moisture after the New York winter.  He had never felt so pampered.  Feeling more content than he had in a long while, he closed his eyes to immerse himself in the experience.  The only thing missing was his beloved Sara.  His thoughts and images of her would have to suffice for now, until he could see her again.

*****

Marisa left Ian in his quarters and joined Sara in her room down the hallway.  She was amused with the fact they were so closely situated, yet neither knew the other was on the island as yet.

"How are you settling in, Sara?"  Marisa asked after greeting Sara warmly at the door to her suite.

"I have never seen anything as beautiful as this estate, Ms. Eschobar.  I did not expect all this.  I know I'm supposed to be working, but this feels more like a vacation…a vacation for the rich and famous."  Sara said, as Marisa walked into her room, sitting in a cozy area to her right near another breathtaking view of the ocean.

"Please…call me Marisa.  I knew you would like it here.  I am so pleased you decided to come with me."  Marisa responded.

"And the clothes…they are all my size.  And I felt I could have died and gone to heaven with that incredible bath.  Did you plan all this?  I feel like this is a wonderful dream."  Sara was overwhelmed with Marisa's generosity.

"You look beautiful in that bathing suit and wrap…just as I knew you would.  Red becomes you, my dear."  Marisa commented with delight.  It was true.  The red and black one-piece bathing suit with matching cover up brought out the color in Sara's cheeks.

"I was hoping to see the beach before I get to work.  I hope you don't mind, Marisa."  Sara replied.

"There is no work today.  You are my guest.  I will show you the path down to the beach.  My servants have already prepared the beach for your arrival.  You will see."  Marisa smiled conspiratorially. 

Marisa was not sure how long Ian would relax in his bath, but she wanted to send Sara to the private beach below.  You could not ask for a more romantic location to romp with your lover.  This she knew from experience.

As she watched Sara make her way down the path to the beach from the veranda, her thoughts turned to her more remote guest.  The one stranded but not forgotten.  Kenneth Irons should be seething right about now.  She would have front row seats to his turmoil with the strategically placed surveillance cameras positioned throughout the 'hacienda' on the island.  Her Spanish-speaking servants were probably ready to vote him off the island, she surmised with a chuckle.

*****

Kenneth Irons was indeed ready to be voted off the island by the few servants whose responsibility it was to make his life a living hell.  The 'hacienda' on the desolate, dust-filled rock was nothing more than an adobe structure open to the elements outside.  He stood in the middle of a room he had been shown, presumably his 'quarters'.  Thinking there was an inch of dust on the floor, he scraped a section with his foot, kicking up dust and dirt until he started to sneeze.  It was a dirt floor, for crying out loud.  There were no windows…no air-conditioning…no running water.  There was NOTHING!!!

He was especially taking it out on any servant within earshot, even though none of them could speak English.  The flies and mosquitoes were beginning to eat him up.  He had welts on his skin from the invasion.  Sweat trailed down his back, his clothes were soaked.  The hot bath he had dreamed about was non-existent since there was no running water.  If he wanted to freshen up, a wooden bucket had been filled from a stale well out back and brought in to him.  He swore he had seen something move just under the surface of the water.  His stomach growled with hunger, but he was afraid to eat anything that might be prepared with the water.  He would pay for that mistake for weeks to come.  This must be what hell was like, he thought.

Where the hell were Marisa and Nottingham?  Ian would not let this happen…not to his beloved master.  Blasted cell phone service did not work in this hellhole.  What else could he expect?

Swat…he killed another one.  Little blood sucker!

*****

Ian joined Marisa on the veranda that overlooked the ocean and a section of the white sand beach below.  He had chosen an ensemble of white, making his skin look darker and more tanned.  His white oversized shirt wafted in the breeze, gently buffeting his skin.  His dark wavy hair was worn loose to his shoulders.  Looking as if he had stepped off the cover of a romance novel, his hair and skin smelled of sweet herbs and a hint of vanilla, good enough to eat, she thought.

"Join me, Ian."  She beckoned.  A pitcher of iced juices with floating fruit slices looked enticing.  She poured him a glass as he sat beside her.

"What is this?"  He asked, as he took a sip of the refreshing liquid.

"It's a specialty of the house…on the island.  Fruit juices and other magical concoctions that were grown on this island."  She answered, leaving out the alcoholic content of the mixture.  The fruit in the libation disguised the alcohol quite nicely.  She chose this mixture for that purpose, knowing he would not drink it if it tasted of liquor.

"It is refreshing.  Very good."  He almost drained the glass.  Marisa poured him another.

Marisa thought the alcohol would merely lessen Ian's defenses, making him more susceptible to female persuasion, but she had no idea that Ian had a legitimate reason for avoiding liquor.  In his chemically enhanced brain, the limbic system had been expanded, far more than the average human brain structure.  His R-brain controlling the four-Fs of behavior, namely fighting, fleeing, feeding, and mating, had been supercharged.  Having never partaken in drinking liquor, he had no idea what impact it would ever have on his system.  Irons and his legion of doctors had only advised not to drink it without giving him a reason.  He just blindly obeyed his master's command on the subject.  Marisa could not have known this.  Without Marisa or Nottingham's knowledge, a little experiment had been initiated.

"Can I pour you another one, Ian?"  She asked, as he handed her his glass.


Chapter Seven – Appetites

The fruit punch had quenched his thirst after traveling most of the day…and was particularly refreshing after the hot bath.  Ian was beginning to miss some of Marisa's conversation.  Things were slightly…a blur.  It was beautiful here…no doubt. Marisa was making him laugh…when he could not recall the last time he had done so.  Why was his face going numb?  His thoughts were jumbled in his head.  Yet one thought kept recurring through the haze, his beloved Sara…he missed Sara.

Marisa watched the transformation take place before her eyes.  The punch had taken effect more quickly than she would have imagined.  She had even gotten him laughing…with little effort.  His laugh was as charming as he was.  His smile was brilliant and as captivating as she had expected it would be.  She decided it was time to broach the subject.

"Sara Pezzini is most attractive…Don't you think, Ian?  I suspect she is the woman you feel most comfortable around…as we discussed the other day.  Am I right?"  Marisa watched attentively for his reaction. 

She was aware that the sun would be setting within the hour and that she wanted Ian and Sara to experience it together.  Staring off at the horizon, a softened expression came over his handsome face as he replied.

"Most attractive, Marisa.  She is beyond…words."  He answered without thinking.  Embarrassed by his lack of discretion, he sat upright in his chair.  He had not spoken these words to himself much less out loud to another living soul.

"I am sorry.  I should not be…talking of her…in this manner.  It is not…my place."  He stammered awkwardly.  The old Ian was not far from the surface.

"Nonsense.  I saw the two of you together at Kenneth's reception in New York.  You two have chemistry together."  She smiled, noticing his quick eye contact filled with hope, but his words were full of his doubt.

"You see things that are not there…no disrespect intended.  She thinks I am…some kind of…freak."  Ian spoke softly, almost under his breath.

"You are a very attractive man, Ian Nottingham.  Don't sell yourself short, my friend.  A woman would be honored to call you her own.  I know I would be."  Marisa softened her words, remembering his lack of sexual experience.  She knew he just lacked confidence…and the expertise.  He graced her with an innocent look from his gorgeous brown eyes, then blushed with her last comment.

"There are things you do not know…about me.  I have been…different…my whole life.  I have nothing to offer her."  He took another sip of his drink, closing his eyes, then looking toward the horizon again.  Before this moment, he was resigned to the fact he would serve Sara, having nothing else to offer her but his loyalty and complete subservience.  He had been trained to serve the wielder, nothing else.  He was different.  He thought he had accepted this long ago.  For whatever reason, at this moment, it was not good enough.  It was impossible that he wanted something he was powerless to give or attain.  Impossible!

Marisa rose from her seat and walked to his, sitting on his lap.  He was shocked by this behavior as she took his face in her hands.

"You have yourself to offer her.  This is more than enough…if she is the right woman, Ian."  She wanted to kiss him at that moment. 

His full lips beckoned her, but she had promised herself that Sara would be afforded the opportunity first.  She kissed him on the forehead in a sisterly fashion, with much tenderness.  A woman would be a fool to let this one walk away.  She knew Sara was no fool…so a part of Marisa knew this may be the last time she would have this intimate moment with Ian.  It made her yearn for something more than what she had…the wealthiest woman in the world wanted to be loved by someone special just like Sara Pezzini was loved…by Ian.

"I think you need to see the beautiful sunset…on the beach.  When you have had your fill of nature's finest light show, come back to the veranda where dinner will be waiting for you." Marisa rose from his lap and directed him to the path to the private beach…where his beloved Sara was waiting.  She would have loved to bear witness to the moment they saw each other, but this was a private moment between them.  She hid the tear that rolled down her face…for chances missed…but mostly for longing anew.  She envied Sara this moment.

As he rose, the dizziness overtook him.  As he regained his composure, he attributed his faintness to the heat perhaps, yet he felt freer than he had his whole life.  Leaving his sandals on the veranda, he walked down the path she had shown him.  His bare feet in the sand were a new sensation.  He yearned for new sensations at this moment.  Under Irons' complete domination and his extreme training to serve the wielder, he was deprived of sensations of any kind, keeping his focus on his work at all times.  The feeling of isolation he now felt also awakened something in him, something he had never felt before.  Is this what freedom feels like? He thought.  Knowing he would be alone on the beach, as Marisa had promised, he removed his shirt, discarding it on the pathway down.  Something ancient and primal stirred in his chest, remembrances of the many lives he had shared…with her.

The wind through his hair…the feel of the evening breeze on his bare chest…made him long for her.  Sara was an ancient soul that he could feel in every aspect of his life.  He could feel her deep inside him, not knowing where she began and he ended.  She was a part of him…and a part of nature itself.  Every gentle breeze could have been her soft caress against his skin.  His heart longed to know such a touch from her…he ached to see her now…knowing she would not be there.  He would have to watch the sunset on his own.  Seeing the blue green waves roll to shore, he knew what he wanted to feel next.  Forgetting he still had on his pants, he ran for the surging breakers.

*****

Sara had enjoyed her afternoon on the beach alone.  Marisa had been right; her servants had set up for her nicely.  A comfortable lounge chair with an oversized umbrella had awaited her.  She had a pitcher of an iced fruit punch concoction on a nearby table and a perfect view of the sunset about to take place. It was then that she saw the man.

In the glare of the sun hanging along the horizon, she was blinded from a clear view of a very attractive young man.  His body was truly amazing but she could not clearly see his face.  She had been told she would be alone on the beach, but she did not mind this distraction.  It only reminded her of him.

Sara's thoughts had drifted to Ian the whole afternoon.  Just when she thought she had dismissed such ideas, there he would be again…in the back of her mind.  His eyes would flash into her memory…the image never really far away. 

…The wave of his long, dark hair…

…The muscles under the loose fitting clothing…

…His soft voice…

…The tenderness with which he would speak her name…

All of these memories came to the surface as she watched the young man on the beach lunge for the water and come up drenched…clothes and all.  He appeared totally uninhibited…either that or he did not know she was there.  At times, she had wished her Ian were more like this.  His lifetime of abuse from his master would never have allowed such behavior, she thought.  The young man was coming her way…but in the glare, she still could not see him…only his silhouette.

Ian had thought he was alone…so when he saw the young woman down the beach, he was curious who she was.  She had on dark sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat.  Her hand was blocking the glare.  Something he did not understand, but trusted, drew him to the woman.  Letting down the last of his inhibitions, he walked her way.  Were his eyes playing tricks on him?  She looked familiar.  As he approached, his heart leaped into his throat.

Sara marveled at the physique of the young man as he walked her way…yet her thoughts were of her stalker…her shadow.  As the man stood in front of the sun, his face became clearer.  Was she dreaming?  She wanted to pinch herself…to make sure she was awake.

"Ian…How did you…What are you doing…here?"  She was so glad to see him that her eyes welled with tears. She was thankful to be wearing the sunglasses.

"It is you…Lady Sara.  You are…here." He wanted to say 'You are so beautiful,' but the words would not come.   His mouth would not say what was clamoring from his heart.

He sat in the lounge chair next to her with a bright smile on his beautiful face.  So taken back by seeing Sara, and fortified by the 'fruit punch', he was not at all self-conscious that he wore no shirt and that his wet pants clung to his muscled legs.

Sara sat upright in her chair as they sat knees to knees.  She had never seen him like this.  He was…different somehow.  She wanted to touch him…run her fingers through his wet hair.  She settled for holding his hands…that were ungloved.  She looked into his eyes as the sun started to set, which was a most befitting backdrop for his handsome visage.

"Come." He said simply, as he held her hand, gesturing for her to follow.  For the first time, his skin had touched hers, without the barrier of his gloves.  The sensation was rousing yet frightening at the same time.  His brain was finding it difficult to fathom the range of feelings he was experiencing all at once.

Hand in hand, they walked the stretch of beach before them, towards the setting sun.  The sky was ablaze with color.  With the sound of the waves, the smell of the air, the feel of the sand between their toes, they found a better spot to sit side by side.  For one brief moment, Ian let himself understand true freedom and happiness as he sat next to his beloved Sara watching Mother Nature's best.  Yet, a nagging thought gnawed at him as she looked expectantly into his eyes…he was expected to know what to do…as a man. 

Sara wanted for him to hold her in his arms, but he kept his distance, in deference to the wielder he served.  She wanted him to treat her as a woman…and he yearned for her to look upon him as a man.  All of this transpired in a fleeting moment, as the sun dipped below the horizon, ending another day in paradise.  Perhaps there was a moment when they both willed the sun to reappear so they could have that moment back. 

But no one can turn back time, they both thought. 

As the chill came upon them, they rose to climb the path back to the veranda.  They still held hands, yet there was a distance between them.  They made their way back in silence, feeling almost comfortable in one another's presence.  Each had hoped that it was enough they were together…yet there was something amiss.  Ian awkwardly avoided Sara's gaze now as they crested the hill.

Something aromatic hit them as they reached the summit…and sweet music could be heard carried faintly in the air.  As Marisa had promised, dinner would be awaiting them.  Ian tucked his shirt back into his pants.  He had thought to freshen up inside, but Marisa's servants were holding their chairs out for them, waiting to serve them.  Neither of them thought they were hungry until the delicate flavor of sautéed Sea Bass and grilled vegetables hit their senses.  Wine was to be served with dinner and Sara's wineglass was filled.  Remembering his instruction on alcohol, Nottingham asked for the fruit punch instead, thinking it to be free of liquor.  The waiter poured him a glass of the island concoction.

"I have never been treated to such a feast…or such a beautiful place as this."  Sara began.

"Seeing you…" He blushed, not able to complete his thought.  Sara was not sure what he had intended to say, but she wanted to hear him say it.  Being a man of few words, she wanted to hear him speak every one with his gentle voice.

"What, Ian?  Please tell me…" She pleaded with him.  Her green eyes making him forget his inhibitions.

"Seeing you…was my treat.  I missed you, Sara."  He could not look her in the eye.  He did not know where he had gotten the courage to say this.  He had taken a great risk to say what was in his heart.  She did not have to return his sentiments.  Perhaps it had been enough for him to say them.

"I missed you, too, Ian…very much."  She reached for his hand.  He looked into her eyes, surprised by her actions.  Setting down his idle fork, he asked.

"Would you care to dance, Lady Sara?  I do not know how…but I would consider it an honor if you would be my first…dance."  He smiled timidly, his cheeks flush with what he had really wanted to ask her.  Taking his words at face value, Sara returned his expression in the form of a grin.

"I've got two left feet when it comes to this, but I will try if you want to."  She replied, squeezing his hand in reassurance.  "I remember my first time, Ian."  Ian was taken back by her last comment, but decided he had only heard what his heart had wanted to hear…nothing more.

The music was piped in from speakers strategically placed around the patio.  A beautiful solo violin played sweetly as they walked to the empty spot on the veranda.  Standing face to face, they stepped closer to each other, nervously trying to determine the best hand placement.  It was enough for them to touch one another, in this intimate display called dancing.  Keeping it simple, they swayed side to side, enfolding each other in a loving embrace.

Her hair and skin smelled of rare and exotic herbs.  Her skin was as soft as fine silk.  She fit his body perfectly as they entwined.  He did not want the song to end.  His skin…his senses…and his heart…all yearned for her touch.

She nuzzled comfortably into his shoulder, as if she had done this a thousand times before.  Her lips brushed his bare neck.  As her lips touched his neck, she could feel his body shiver enticingly.  His hair and skin were warm to the touch, smelling faintly of vanilla.  His hands were commanding as he held her closely.

By the dim candle light at the table and the faint glow of the moonlight overhead, she looked into his loving eyes.  Her heart began to race as she yearned for him to kiss her.  The love was there…in his eyes.  She knew this instinctively…just as she knew they had lived and loved many lifetimes together.

Sara looked into his eyes, melting his heart.  The moonlight cast an aura around her.  With every beat of his heart, he wanted to press his lips to hers.  Would she allow him to take such liberties?  Should he do so?  He had been in training his whole life to serve her.  As she stood next to him…in this embrace…he only wanted to be an ordinary man.  He desperately wanted to belong to her.  Perhaps he already did…for he could not imagine loving anyone else…in this lifetime or the next…or the next.

He wrapped his left arm around her, drawing her body to his.  He touched her cheek tenderly with his right hand and raised her chin towards him.   He began to lower his lips to hers, unsure where his nose should go at first.  He knew her warmth…knew the smell of her skin…he wanted to quench his fire with her lips.

CRASH…the plate broke into a thousand pieces.  One of the servants had tried to discreetly clear the table, not realizing the intimacy or the significance of the moment.

"Lo siento, senor y senorita."  He apologized profusely as he bent down to pick up the larger pieces.

Startled by the loud noise, Ian and Sara pulled away from one another.  The magic of the moment had been broken along with the plate.

Ian looked at Sara in complete disappointment.  Perhaps it had been for the best, he thought.  Perhaps this was a sign that this was not meant to happen.  He cast his eyes downward and Sara knew it was over.  She had lost him…for now.

Marisa had heard the loud noise from her balcony on this side of the house.  Running to the railing, she knew what had happened, without having actually seen it.  She pulled on her robe, knowing she would have to come to the rescue. She and Sara were going to have a talk.

Ian and Sara tried to act as if nothing had happened, as if they had not almost taken their relationship to another level.  They spoke awkwardly for a while, but eventually, Ian pulled away from her emotionally, resorting to being in service to her as the wielder.  He had left her alone in her thoughts, calling it a night, retreating to his room.  The broken dish had been swept away but the shambles of their evening was still there…hanging heavily in the air.

"You look disappointed, Sara."  Sara turned to see Marisa standing behind her holding a bottle of white wine and two glasses.

"You could say that."  Sara was not sure she wanted to discuss this with Marisa, even though she had felt very much at home here with her cordial and most accommodating hostess.

"I might be able to shed some light on the subject of Ian Nottingham…that is if you care to listen."  Marisa's gentle voice compelled Sara to a nearby chair.  Sara was intrigued by what she had to say…it could not make things any worse, Sara thought.

*****

He had left Sara just a short while ago…yet it had felt like an eternity.  He was failing her…as a servant…and as a man.  Nottingham was in turmoil, torn between wanting to fulfill his life's mission to serve the wielder and his desire to love his beloved Sara as a woman.  He directed his anger towards himself, yet wanted to strike out at anything.  He stripped the shirt from his back, throwing it to the floor uncharacteristically.  The clothes against his skin felt confining.  He had a taste of freedom.  How could he go back to the way things had been? 

Back at the Irons' estate, he would have spent many hours in the war room, punching a bag until he was completely exhausted…or his hands were pounded into bloody pulp.  As he paced his room now, his mind was noticeably in chaos.  He punched the air forcibly, striking out at an imaginary foe, trying to release something deep inside him.  He did not, or could not associate the introduction of alcohol into the equation as the reason for his emotions being so raw.  All he understood was that he was divided between wanting to run from Sara and wanting to make passionate love to her…if he only knew what to do.  His inadequacies in this area had grown to be an insurmountable obstacle between them.  He had tried to justify his lack of experience as a requirement to serve the wielder in order to sustain his focus.  Yet his failure to keep his distance from her was the very reason he had grown so frustrated and angry at this feeble excuse to justify his own weakness.

Trying to restore his inner stillness, he walked to the balcony, taking deep breaths of the pure ocean air as he closed his eyes.  Tears started to well up in his eyes, for all he saw as he closed them was her face.  This was normally all he had ever wanted to see when he shut his eyes, but tonight, her eyes only reminded him of his deficiency…his complete and utter failure.

*****

Sara quietly entered her room, closing the door behind her.  Marisa's words played through her head, which was spinning a bit from the wine.  Sara knew Ian was different somehow, but had no idea just how special he was.  Marisa had confided in her that Ian had apparently suffered under Irons' tutelage for most of his life…with Marisa having seen the scars herself. 

Ian had always had a certain innocent quality in the way he spoke to her.  His shyness was a direct contradiction to his masculine body and good looks.  Now she knew why.  In Irons' zeal to keep his minion devoid of any distracting sensations, he had deprived him of a very basic human need. 

Nottingham had never made love to a woman. 

Irons' cruelty knew no bounds, she thought.  Knowing what she knew about the Witchblade and Nottingham's service to the wielder, she now surmised he must be in conflict over how to best serve her…as a servant…or as a man.  She knew what her choice would be…but his decision may not be so clear.  He would have to overcome years of abusive training.  Perhaps he would need a nudge in the right direction from the wielder herself.

Opening the door to her suite and entering the hallway, she noticed a faint glow could be seen at the base of his door.  She walked cautiously towards the light, knowing there would be no turning back once she entered.  Ian was on the other side…awaiting her love…and hopefully willing to accept her instruction.

She turned the doorknob slowly…


Chapter Eight – Yearnings

As Sara entered his room, Ian was no where to be found.  A dim light from his bedside faintly illuminated the chamber.  The bath to her right was dark.  The draperies on the windows were still open from the day, casting shadows into the room from the moon hanging majestically in a cloudless sky.  A slight movement to her right caught her attention.  The french doors leading to the balcony were opened and a cool breeze drifted into the room, gently moving the crème colored silk hanging over the bed's canopy.  She then noticed the dark figure silhouetted against a star filled sky.

She reminded herself…there is no going back from here.  She knew that there was risk in what she intended to do.  She continued walking towards him.  What if he did not want to take their relationship to any other level but where it stood?  What kind of future could they realistically have together…an assassin and a police detective?  Taking a few more steps towards the balcony, her head was swimming from the alcohol but was more confounded by her rational thoughts.  He still had not heard her approach as she stood at the doorway.

Countless points of light shown brightly amid the sky of a full moon, yet Ian was beyond their influence.  His feelings of inadequacy as a man were new to him.  Tears of frustration washed his face yet could not purge away his darkened mood.  He was finding it nearly impossible to be content with his role of servant to the wielder for he loved his beloved Sara.

"Ian?"  Her voice was soft, as if it had come to him in a dream.  She had to repeat herself.  "Ian?"

Turning suddenly to his right, he thought he had been dreaming.  She was awash in the light of a million stars and never looked more radiant.

Sara caught the light reflecting off his tears as they glistened in the moonlight.  Her breath caught in her throat.  Looking more like an apparition, dressed in white, she thought he never looked more beautiful.   Not hiding his tears, his eyes followed hers as she stepped up to him.  She gently laid her hands on his chest and felt his body shiver with her touch.

"Sara…I've never…" A new tear rolled its way down his cheek as she touched a finger to his lips.

"I understand…I want this…so much, Ian."  She began to slowly unbutton his shirt.  He swallowed hard as she reached his waist. "Please let me show you…just how much."

Ian shook with anticipation…he gasped as she gently slid his shirt off his broad shoulders, dropping it at his feet.  She ran her fingers across his chest and down his muscled stomach, reaching for his belt buckle.  Every sinew of his body was on fire.  She could feel it in her fingertips.  His long dark hair blew quietly in the breeze…his eyes never leaving hers.

Ian was startled by her forwardness, especially as she stepped close enough for him to feel the heat from her skin.  Her eyes were more beautiful up close in the moonlight, if that were even possible.  He had been so eager for this to happen, yet now, as she stood before him, he was shaking with his uncertainty.  Her fingers moving over his skin sent chills through his body, shocking his system like an electrical current.

Almost having to stand on tiptoe, she held his face in her hands as she quenched her thirst with his lips.  She could feel his innocence as he let her take control, giving in to her desire.  It soon became apparent to her that any tactile sensation was foreign to him.  Gestures and movements so readily accepted by other lovers were all new to Ian…and his appreciation was not unlike a child's reaction to their first Christmas.

Gasping with the first touch of her lips to his, he was astonished at the sensation of the tip of her tongue parting his lips gently. Wrapping his arms around her, he did not know where to put his hands, anxious that he might harm her in his eagerness.  He drew her to his chest only to find her body fit perfectly into his.  Chills shot through his body as their tongues intertwined.  He gained more confidence as she reacted to his growing desire.   He never wanted this moment to end.

Sara could sense Ian's innocence, but he was a very quick study.  His passion overwhelmed her.  She had not realized before this moment just how much she had wanted this to happen.  Their hearts beat as one.  Trying to catch her breath, Sara pulled away wrapping her arms around his waist, beckoning him into the room.  Standing alongside the bed, she kept her eyes on his as she unbuttoned and unzipped his pants, letting them fall to the floor, along with the last of her inhibitions.

Those beautiful, mocha-colored eyes framed in dark feathery lashes gazed trustingly into hers as she slid off his white silk boxers, filling her hands with his firm buttocks.  His full lips trembled slightly as he stood naked before her.  She held his right hand, caressing it lightly, guiding it to her swim suit cover up.  As he undressed her, he gently bent down to kiss her neck.  Kneeling before her, he pulled down her swimsuit as his lips moved down her body, telling her just how much he had wanted this as well.  Standing naked before him, Sara's nipples hardened as she could feel his warm tongue on her skin, fueling her desire.  Drawing her fingers through his dark, wavy locks, she pulled him to his feet.

Luring him to bed, she pressed her lips to one of his nipples, encircling it with her tongue.  Shock waves hit Ian's senses as they collapsed onto the mattress.  He drew her smaller frame on top of his as he covered her warm mouth with his, her long brown hair falling across his face.  Sara pulled back and gazed into his eyes once more, as if to say, let me show you what to do.

Straddling his waist, she pulled his arms above his head, sending him the message she was in control now.  She nuzzled his neck with kisses, then ran her tongue down his muscled chest and stomach, taking leisurely detours around his ear lobes and nipples.  He groaned with his pleasure, closing his eyes at the peak of his desire.

Sara's eager mouth was learning every nuance of his body…where he liked to be touched…which spot gave him the most pleasure…his reactions reflected this quite clearly.  Every movement of her tongue, every touch of her teeth made him shudder, her lips firmly stroking the length of him.  He writhed in uncontrollable ecstasy.  The sound of her moans reverberating against his skin, sent chills through his stomach.

Not being able to control himself any longer, Ian rolled over on one elbow, plunging his tongue into Sara's warm mouth.  He was concerned his weight would crush her, but she pulled him atop her to reassure him that his instincts had been right.  She could feel the weight of his body on hers.  She could feel his erection against her leg.  Speaking to him in hushed tones, she gently told him what to do.  Her body exploded with pleasure as he pushed into her for the first time.  He thought he had hurt her and wanted to stop but Sara encouraged him with her deep, passionate kisses. 

She knew the smell of his skin, could hear his groans of pleasure as he thrust deeply into her.  His lips covered her own as their tongues joined.  The warmth of his hands could be felt along her neck and on her breasts.  Sara guided his hands under her hips as he plunged deeply into her, heightening her pleasure.  He was so deep inside her.

Sara wrapped her legs around him, her hands clutching his back as she tilted her hips to intensify the feel of him swelling inside her.  Her orgasm rippled through her in powerful waves, time and time again.  As she screamed her release, she imagined Ian could feel her pleasure for he could not control himself any longer.  He heralded his climax, crying out his ecstasy, arching his back, then shuddering in his exhaustion.  Sweat glistening off their skin, they collapsed against one another, depleted of their strength.

Ian caressed Sara's hair with his right hand as she lay on his shoulder.  The beating of their hearts and their ragged breaths were the only sounds in the room.  He tenderly kissed the top of her head.  Sara had never felt so safe in all her life.  Soon, his body began to shudder and she could hear a sound coming from deep within his chest.  Ian had started to laugh.  He was laughing.

Sara raised herself on one elbow as she looked into his joyous eyes and beautiful smile.  She noticed a new set of tears running down his cheeks as he laughed aloud.  She touched his chest with her right hand.

"What's so funny…honey?"  She teased.

"I am just…so happy, Sara.  So happy."  Ian raised himself as he faced Sara, brushing back a strand of her hair, kissing her forehead and her cheeks.

"Don't tell me you're ready to go again."  She joked at first, but Ian's coy expression provided his answer, mirrored in his soft brown eyes.

"Enhanced genetics has so many side benefits, Sara."  Now it was Sara's turn to laugh.

"I'll be right back."  Sara scooted off the bed towards the bathroom.  Ian watched her leave, admiring the way her body bounced enticingly.

He could hear the bath water running.  Within ten minutes, Sara was ready for him, summoning him with her index finger.  He rose off the bed, his naked body arousing her again.  Every sinew glistening as he walked languidly toward her.

As he entered the bathroom, he noticed Sara had arranged for a steamy hot bubble bath just for two.  Candles cast a romantic glow shimmering across the room and reflecting from the mirrors that surrounded them.   Ian helped Sara into the tub, then joined her.  Facing him, she straddled his lap as the frothy water embraced their bodies with its warmth.  Ian found it hard to keep the smile off his face.  He would know what to do this time…and maybe improvise a little. 

He hoped Sara wouldn't mind.

*****

Improvise…he would have to improvise. 

Kenneth Irons was staring at the meager meal that had been brought to him on a plate that looked like it had old food encrusted on it.  The rice and beans appeared edible on the surface until he thought he had seen one of the beans move.  The grilled carcass on the plate looked like some unidentified rodent.  He would have thrust it onto the dirt floor but was afraid to encourage unwanted houseguests during the night.  Enough of those unwanted guests were entering the opened windows, winging their way to his exposed skin.  He had welts from head to toe with some under his clothes.  How they got there, he did not want to know.

He would improvise by eating only the flour tortillas given him.  They were bland but he needed to eat something.  The growling of his stomach was getting quite annoying.  He lit a candle by his bedside since the sun was going down.  The only servant he had found had removed his untouched plate of food, bidding him good night in Spanish he presumed.

Irons lay down on the hard bed staring at the ceiling.  Dust from the old mattress escaped into the air as he collapsed onto it.  Sneezing uncontrollably for a few minutes, he tried to lie very still so as not to disturb the dust demons again.  It had been a very long day.

Swat!  Damned mosquitoes.  He had scratched his skin raw and it had started to bleed in some spots. 

Nodding off, he dozed for a few restless hours engaging in intermittent battles with his swarming enemy…the mosquito.  A rumbling could be heard in the distance of this god- forsaken place.  It did not register until it was too late that a storm was brewing.

A loud crack of thunder jolted him upright in his bed.  The accompanying flash of light nearly blinded him.  The night skies deluged the small adobe structure with its heavy rains.  First he had felt a small drop or two on his head, then it had become a steady stream.  No matter where he moved, the leak seemed to follow him.  Plopping himself down at the small wooden table, his hair was drenched.  He screamed his anger knowing no one would hear him. 

Where the hell was Nottingham?  What he would not give to be back at his estate in a warm bath!

*****

Warm water and bubbles caressed their skin as Sara traced Ian's lips with her fingers.  She could feel his arousal under her.  By his shy expression, she knew he had something to ask her.

"Teach me…teach me how to…please you…Sara."  He gently stroked her hair with his right hand, awaiting her response.  "What you have given me…is beyond value.  I want…" He found it difficult to find the right words…but Sara thought he was perfection personified.

Raising herself up, she offered her breast to his eager lips, softly instructing him on the female anatomy…particularly hers.  He held her firmly with both of his strong hands just under her shoulder blades, pressing her to him.  She gasped as he surprised her with his enthusiasm.  Just as she was about to pass out, she held his face in her hands.  His beautiful brown eyes were awaiting her instruction.

Sitting on the tub ledge, glistening bubbles rolling down her body, she positioned him kneeling in front of her, tenderly tutoring him on the many uses of the tongue.  Ian held her hips firmly as he went to the head of the class.  Sara's body writhed uncontrollably as she climaxed with Ian holding her close to his chest, fearing he had hurt her.  She reassured him sweetly as she wrapped her legs around him in ecstasy, not wanting this moment to end.

Even though Sara had assured him, her reaction was so strong, he was sure she was in pain.  He grabbed her to his body, never wanting to let go.  After her spasms ebbed, he lowered them both under the warm water with Sara once again straddling his lap, his anatomy nudging her with urgency.  Pulling back and looking into his eyes, Sara asked an odd question.

"How long can you hold your breath under water, Ian?"  Her wicked smile made him tilt his head to one side and smile crookedly.

"I am not sure, Sara.  Is this a skill that would be required?"  He teased, not sure if she was joking or not.

"Not particularly…but this skill is…" With that, Sara's face slowly sank under the water, leaving Ian wondering…

Oh my God…No need to wonder any more.  Ian could feel her mouth return the favor he had just bestowed on her.  He gasped as she devoured him…until he too succumbed to the sudsy water, slowly sinking into oblivion.

Gurgle…gurgle…glub…glub…Heaven.


Chapter Nine – Reality

Marisa Eschobar had awoken early, well before her staff had started their day at the estate.  She had hoped Sara and Ian had found a way to touch one another as she thought they had deserved.  Throwing a silken robe around her, she walked to her balcony to catch a glimpse of paradise as she did every morning. Movement to her right caught her attention...the path from her private beach.

Through the lush foliage, she spotted Ian and Sara strolling up the trail, each finding it difficult to keep their hands off one another.  The affection was a sharp contrast to the way this trip had started.  Ian had selected a white sleeveless tank with jeans, showing his muscular biceps and tanned skin.  Sara wore a royal blue one piece swimsuit with an oversized white cover up, looking as spectacular as Marisa had hoped when her assistant Sophia had described it.  A broad smile warmed Marisa's heart as she crossed her arms in front of her.  She would not have to guess any longer.  Ian Nottingham was no longer a virgin.  She wanted to shout her victory but settled for watching their love blossom before her very eyes.

"Here…this one."  Ian spoke in hushed tones, only to her.

He had been searching for just the right color tropical orchid to place in Sara's hair.  The flowers grew wild on the island.  The soft velvety petals reminded him of Sara's skin. His hands were gentle as he tucked the colorful blossom behind Sara's left ear.  She surprised him with an orchid of her own.

"This one…it's for you, Ian."  Sara was uncharacteristically shy at this moment. 

Touching him sent shivers down her spine, reminding her of the unbelievable night they had spent together.  Neither could sleep so they wandered down to the beach in the wee hours of the morning and watched the sun rise together.  They held one another, as they should have the day before, making up for lost time.  Ian kissed her neck as the orange color shot across the sky.  She felt secure wrapped in his arms.

Now as they walked up the path back to the veranda and the rest of the waking world, they held each other snugly, not wanting to let go.  Nearing the estate, however, reminded them of the reality of the situation.  Irons would be coming in today and they would both have to get to work.  At the top of the path, without another intimate word, they gazed longingly into one another's eyes, knowing they needed to be more discreet.  Ian resumed his normal pose with downcast eyes and hands locked behind his back.  Sara walked alongside him, a few feet away. 

They took solace in one thing.  No one could take away their night…or the intimacy of their first sunrise together.

*****

Before venturing downstairs for breakfast, Marisa stopped by the security surveillance room to see just how Kenneth had spent his time on his own private island, an island particularly suited for him. She snickered at the night he had spent, drenched by Mother Nature.  This was humorous enough, but he had now fallen asleep outside the hacienda.  Exhausted from his lack of sleep, he was now lying on a lounge chair in the blazing morning sun with his sunglasses on.  If he did not awaken soon, this could prove to be very interesting.  His exceedingly pale New York skin would not stand the abuse.  The sun in the tropics was more cruel than usual to the unwary.  She had seen many a newcomer suffer from heat rash and other skin abnormalities from a bad burn. Shaking her head, she headed to the veranda and breakfast with the world's latest lovers.

*****

"Oh…my head…" The pain felt like his head was going to implode.

Lying face down on the pillow, in his own drool, Orlinski opened a solitary eye to peer around the room.  It took him a moment to realize he was in his own place, not remembering how he had gotten there.  It took him a moment to remember his date.

The drag races…

Flashes of memory invaded his reality as he fought to free himself from his own sheets.  A flash of color caught his eye.  Was he bleeding?  A vividly red mark was displayed prominently on his right arm near his wrist.  Raising up on his elbows, he located another such mark on his chest…his stomach.  Upon closer inspection, the mark was bright red and could be removed and smudged with his fingers…scented too.  Lipstick?

Oh Shit!

Sitting bolt upright in bed, with sheets to his waist, Orlinski began to realize that not only did the lipstick appear to be liberally placed all over his body, but he seemed to be wearing something…something under the sheets.  Following the lipstick on his body, which led him under his white sheets, he took a slow…deliberate look…not sure he wanted to know…the truth.

Orlinski was sporting…a thong?

Most men would have been racking their brains to remember…hoping to deny the truth that was clearly evident.  Flashes of memory spilled from the fog in his brain…Glancing to the nightstand, he noticed a note, presumably from his date RuPaul.

Thanks for the incredible night…

You are truly one of New York's Finest…

Your concealed weapon was most impressive...

As he read the note for the third time, Jerry Orlinski began to smile…a slow, sly smile.

*****

The smile on his face would be difficult to remove.  He had never thought it could be this good.

Jake McCarty awoke the next morning, comforted by the warm sheets and comforter that wrapped his athletic and muscular body.  His blond hair was in disarray, but with his style of cut, no one would be able to tell.  Stretching his arms above his head, he vaguely remembered the previous night with Isaac Mizrahi.  The famous designer had flirted and teased unmercifully as he fitted Jake for a new suit, getting a little too up close and personal with his inseam. 

He smiled at the memory.

Just as he was yawning and stretching for the second time, a warm body squirmed under the sheets near his feet.  A hand reached for him, teasing him with the most intimate of touches.  Jake was reminded of the wild and unbridled sex that he had enjoyed the night before.  His world had been severely rocked…and he wanted more of the same this morning.  A pair of hungry lips helped him rise to the occasion.  Jake moaned and writhed in ecstasy as the head bobbed under the covers.

"Yes…Yes…Oh my god!"  Jake exploded with pleasure, exhausted of all his strength.  Gentle nudges under the sheets held him as he shuddered in climax.  Pulling back the covers, McCarty greeted his overnight guest.

"I have never…you are truly amazing."  Jake exclaimed, brushing back the blond hair of the most beautiful blue eyed blond he had ever seen. 

Her full lips gave him chills and curled his toes, just thinking about them.  Heidi could not speak English but could communicate with the best of them, Jake thought.  Isaac had arranged for his date to conclude with an introduction to one of his favorite supermodels, much to the relief of Detective McCarty.

By next Tuesday, Jake would be the proud recipient of an exclusively made suit by Isaac Mizrahi.  Isaac had teased that his main reason for making the suit for Jake would be to have the last laugh.  One way or the other, through the suit he had made, Isaac would be next to Jake's skin…in every nook and cranny.  McCarty had looked like a deer in the headlights when Mizrahi had said this, but soon burst into laughter, realizing or perhaps hoping the man was joking to get the reaction he had just gotten.  Isaac wasn't so bad after all.

Either way, Jake had plunged into the date with Isaac head first, not knowing what to expect.  In retrospect, McCarty thought he could afford to be philosophical about the whole ordeal.

…Because there was nothing like a little head first.

*****

"Wait 'til you put a lip lock on this…" It was an angel's voice.  He was certain of it.

"Gabriel…Wake up…Gabriel."  The voices were from God, he thought.  He had died and gone to heaven…did not pass GO…to hell with collecting $200.  Gabe must be in heaven.

His angelic face was cradled in the soft breasts of a beautiful brunette who held him as he slept.  As he began to stir, he realized his bare skin was warm from a body spooning him from behind.   He settled in again, not wanting for the moment of serenity to end.

The smell of toast…bacon…coffee…and something sweet…wafted through to his senses.  After the evening's strenuous exercise, he was starving but much preferred to stay put.  As far as he was concerned, he could die here.

The blond snuggled behind him walked her fingers up his stomach and across his chest, tickling him.  He began to squirm and snicker as the gentle teasing brought chills to his bare skin. His dark hair hung over his eyes as his long lashes opened for the first time this morning.

"Breakfast…Gabriel.  You need your strength."  They giggled.

Two other members of the New York Jets Cheerleading Squad were dressed in robes and short nightgowns.  With bright smiles, they held a silver tray filled with all types of morning enticements…not the least of which were the two women he was sandwiched between.

Remembering the date, Gabe had concluded the two women in bed had won the pleasure of his company by surviving a mad game of twister and let the outcome be decided by the flip of a coin.  He supposed he should have felt used…like a piece of meat…Well, Baloney.  Use me and abuse me, he thought.

Laying the tray on the nightstand, the two 'servants' left the room envious of the blond and brunette in Gabriel's company.  Reaching over to the tray, the blond grabbed a plumb, juicy strawberry, swirling and then dipping it in whipped cream.  Holding it stem side between her teeth, she offered a bite to Gabriel.  He devoured the fruit, letting the juices run down their chins and necks.  Swallowing the prize, he covered her eager mouth with his own full lips, letting his tongue intertwine with hers.  She began to lap up the juices on his chin and neck with a gentle swirling motion of her enthusiastic tongue with Gabe following suit.  The brunette, wanting a piece of the action, took the bowl of whipped cream and disappeared under the sheets.

Oh My God!  Angel Gabriel truly was in heaven…

*****

Hog heaven…that's where he was…hog heaven.

Dante had his legs wrapped around a monster.  The vibration between his legs had given him a powerful…reaction.  He held her from behind, not wanting to let her go…riding for all he was worth.

His arms were wrapped tightly around Chynna, the Queen of the WWF, as she rode her Harley back to his place.  She had taken command of the date and he would have been content for her to do likewise with the rest of his life.  The sex had been incredible…even when she had hit him over the head with the folding chair and slammed him to the floor of her apartment after lifting him overhead in a spin move. 

What a woman!

"I hope you don't regret getting our little momento…a remembrance of our evening together.  Sometimes people have regrets afterwards."  Chynna asked demurely as she lifted him off her bike and planted a really passionate kiss on his lips.

"A tattoo would have been too easy…This…I'll be reminded every time I…" Before he could finish the thought, she pulled him to her, tickling his tonsils with her skilled tongue.  Her right hand slid into the front of his pants, playfully nudging the new gold ring pierced to his most prized possession.

"You've accepted my ring…Does this mean we are going steady?"  She teased, as he demonstrated her command of the situation with a reflex reaction to her exploration.

"Ohhhh…You are happy to see me."  Chynna laughed as she lifted him into her arms, carrying him over the threshold and into his apartment with little effort.

*****

"Thought you'd be happier to see me." 

The pilot tried a little levity but Irons was having none of it.  It was hard not to find humor in this situation for the world-renowned billionaire looked completely disheveled.  His hair was in total disarray along with his clothes that looked as if they had been slept in.  Every bit of his exposed skin was burnt an angry, bright red and looked ready to blister.  As Irons had removed his sunglasses inside the jet, the pilot had to pretend a cough to cover up a chuckle that could not be disguised.  Evidently, Irons had fallen asleep under the hot tropical sun wearing his sunglasses because he now looked like a red and white raccoon.

Irons fidgeted in spasms due to a combination of bug bites, which were now bleeding in spots, and a prickly skin rash that was spreading across his arms and legs.  Irons' stomach was growling so badly that the pilot thought it might interfere with his radio dispatching.  The billionaire looked as if he had another male affliction called jock itch or jungle rot.  He was grabbing himself more than in a Michael Jackson video.

With Irons' baggage loaded on the jet, the pilot was ready to make his departure, radioing his employer Marisa Eschobar for further instructions.  He had been told to take Irons back to New York as soon as possible, then pick up Marisa's two other guests on her residence island for a similar journey.

It was time to return to reality for everyone…for everyone with the exception of Kenneth Irons.


Epilogue – Truth

Kenneth Irons would have loved nothing more than to have taken a long hot bath in his spa but the heat of the water would have felt scalding to his already damaged skin.  The heat rash felt like a billion pinpricks on his skin.  The bug bites looked as if they had gotten infected since he could not stop himself from scratching all night.  How the abhorrent little creatures had gotten onto every part of his anatomy he would never know.  He had to satisfy himself with an ice cold shower instead, gasping with the shock of the chilling water on his inflamed skin.  If Irons had a heart, it would have been jolted with the trauma.

He gently toweled off his blistered skin.  Catching a glimpse of his ravaged body in the mirror, he was horrified by his appearance…revolted was more like it.  He would need to enlist the aid of countless specialists to restore his remarkably good looks, he thought.

Wrapping himself in a soft white robe, he lay atop his immensely comfortable bed in his private chambers, sipping a brandy from a crystal snifter.  The horror of the last two days was beginning to wane as he was once again amidst his own luxurious lifestyle. 

Now this was reality, he thought to himself.

Marisa Eschobar…what had been the point of this exercise, he wondered.  He was certain he had been set up deliberately, but why?  Propping himself up on his silken pillows, his thoughts wandered to memories of her.  She had been enticingly sensual in bed while they had been together, but this had all stopped abruptly after he had been introduced to her family.  He was getting hard just thinking about what his future might have been if he had married her…the untold wealth and power of their two dynasties would have been staggering.  A quiet knock on the door brought him back from his trip down memory lane.

"Come in…" This had better be good.  Who had the audacity to interrupt him in his private quarters? Irons thought.

Nottingham slipped quietly into the room, dressed in a black knit sweater and black pants.  With downcast eyes, he stood just inside the door until he would be summoned closer.

"And where have you been, young Nottingham?"  Irons was not sure if he should be annoyed at his normally loyal servant.  Perhaps Marisa had planned to separate the two of them, knowing of Ian's faithfulness. Confused by Irons' inquiry, Nottingham glanced briefly towards the bed and the reclining billionaire.  With a double take, he seemed truly surprised by his master's appearance, giving credence to Irons' assumption of Marisa's plot to keep them apart.

"Father…What has happened?  Are you all right?"  Ian rushed to his bedside, kneeling as he drew closer.  "Your face…Your skin.  Is there anything I can do?" The look in his eyes revealed his concern.  Irons tenderly stroked Nottingham's dark hair with his left hand.

"I am fine now, Ian.  I know you would not have allowed this to happen if you had been aware of Marisa's plot on me."  He took another sip of brandy and continued. "I must admit that I have failed to understand why she apparently sought revenge…and with such enthusiasm.  Our past would not have warranted it, I assure you."

Still kneeling, Nottingham raised his gloved hand to personally deliver a sealed message from Marisa to Irons.  Once again, Ian lowered his head in deference to his superior.

"Perhaps this will explain it, sir."  He remained at the bedside of his master until he was dismissed. 

Irons took the envelope and sniffed at it.  Her perfume was intoxicating.  Even in the throes of her retribution, she could still get a rise out of him as a woman.

"You are dismissed, Ian."  As Irons opened the message, he absentmindedly called after his servant as he walked toward his bedroom door to leave.  "Oh…and by the way.  Nice tan, young Nottingham."  Ian looked back towards his master in surprise, replacing the look with a shy smile as he departed.

Once he was alone with Marisa's message, Irons could hear her soft voice in his head as he read her note.

My Dearest Kenneth,

By now you have surmised that I had an ulterior motive in beckoning you to my island.  My mother sends her regards by the way.  You remember my mother, don't you, Kenneth?  She most definitely remembers you.  After she had become aware of our intimacy, she was painfully forced to reveal a very well kept secret to her daughter.  Suffice it to say that every Father's Day, I have been tempted to send you a card sharing my true feelings for you.  Instead, I chose a very different means to communicate them.

You will not be hearing from me…for any reason…in the future.  Do not attempt to contact me.  I will not be so kind as I have been with you over the last couple of days.  You have teased me that I am in possession of the fountain of youth…well, we both know who has it, don't we.

Marisa

Irons dropped his hand with Marisa's note on his lap, his mouth agape.  It was no wonder she had sought retribution on him.  Most men would have been astounded by this revelation.  But most men were not like Kenneth Irons.

A slow, wicked smile spread across his face.

*****

Sara had just unpacked the countless new clothes that Marisa had so generously given her, along with a new set of luggage in which to transport them.  The woman was one of a kind, she thought.  Her answering machine light had been blinking and beeping unceremoniously when she had entered her loft.  She could not stop laughing to herself.  All the messages were from Gabriel, thanking her again and again…and again.

She donned her old comfortable pair of jeans and a navy NYPD T-shirt.  Brushing her hair, she was reminded of his touch.  Thinking of Ian Nottingham sent chills across her skin…she wanted to feel him lying beside her once again.  Shaking it off, she walked toward her kitchen.  A movement to her right caught her eye.  A dark form sat with his back toward her on her fire escape.  Dressed in black, she knew who it was.  Raising her window, she spoke to him.

"Hey, Nottingham…" She smiled, reaching for his hand.

"Hey, Sara…" He had removed his gloves and pulled her towards him. From behind his back, he held an exquisite and rare, velvety black orchid.

She knelt before him, positioned between his knees, with her arms atop his muscular thighs.  Face to face, he gently placed the orchid in her hair, as he had done so in what seemed to be an eternity ago.  His beautiful, mocha-colored eyes gazed lovingly upon her as he tenderly stroked her hair.

A single tear rolled down his cheek.  He knew Sara may have mistaken this for a sorrowful expression, but he was just so happy.  No words could describe how he had felt at this moment.  She had given him a gift beyond measure. 

He was hers forever…if she wanted it so.

Sara wiped away his tear with her kisses, as she cupped his face in her hands.  Her eyes welled with her own tears for she knew just how beautiful his soul was now.  She could be content to gaze upon him the rest of her life…and hopefully share a little intimacy along the way as they had on the island.  She would not object to that, she thought.

Sara was silhouetted in a blazing display of fiery orange, blinding yellow and vivid blue as the sun began to set.  Ian wrapped Sara in his embrace as he turned her toward Mother Nature's show.  For a brief moment, they were back on the island, as they blocked out the sounds of traffic and the New York skyline to watch the sun go down, enfolded in one another's arms.  As he held his beloved Sara in his arms, he recalled the intimate words of Marisa Eschobar's note that she had given to him alone.


My Dearest Ian,

If there is anything better than to be loved, it is loving.  You have reminded me of this.  Thank you for this most precious gift.  I have been privileged with such bounty in my life, yet I find myself curiously lacking the truly unique gift now shared between you and Sara.  Don't lose sight of this, my friend.  Take it from one who knows.

Affectionately,

Marisa

Ian snuggled Sara to his chest as the sun dropped below the horizon.  He knew he was truly blessed…He had all the fortune there was in his arms.

The End