Monday, May 26, 2014
The hours completely escape me when I’m lost in my lab. The last time I checked my watch it was only 8:00 p.m. and now, it’s already 11:25 p.m. I had promised Lil that I’d be home over three hours ago. This tardiness will not help our situation any. Owen drops me off at the front entrance, and ensures that I enter the building safely before pulling away. I wait impatiently for the elevator doors to open with my right foot tapping over a flower print in the carpet. When they finally do, I see Stewart and Andrew holding hands and flirting.
“Hello, Carson,” Andrew greets in a chirpy tone. Where does he find his sunshine? He appears to be content every time I see him. What are the crazy chances of me continuingly running into these two? I can’t get over it because this building is enormous.
“Good evening,” I reply briefly as I notice Stewart giving me the familiar hateful glare as he often does.
“Is Lillian visiting soon?” Andrew inquires with beaming bright eyes? “I miss her and would love to make some dinner plans,” he insists.
My impatient expression shifts to grieving as I lie to Andrew with purpose. “Lillian was in a car accident in St. Croix. She didn’t make it,” I express solemnly in a low voice as my eyes drop to my feet.
“Oh my god! I’m sorry to hear that. That’s so tragic!” Andrew whimpers as he places his hand across his mournful face. Stewart’s glare softens and turns sympathetic. I almost feel bad for lying to him after seeing how distraught he is from my news. I guess I didn’t realize how much he cared for Lily, but then who doesn’t? Her beautiful personality makes her irresistible and lovable.
“Can I do anything for you? When’s the funeral?” Andrew sincerely offers.
“Thank you for the offer. Lil’s body was never retrieved from the explosion, so her mother is opting for a small, private funeral,” I continue to fib.
My eyes actually start to water as I recognize this could’ve been Lil’s fate had she not fled from that SUV in time. Immediately, I have this desperate need to rush to the penthouse so I can wrap my arms securely around Lil to keep her safe.
“Thank you for offering, Andrew. I know that she was very fond of you.”
“Please, let us know if you need anything, Carson.” Andrew extends his hand out to squeeze the top of my shoulder. I nod and step into the elevator as they both walk out. Andrew appears as if he’s on the verge of crying, making me feel like a real jerk for lying to him.
I had to. It was for Lil’s protection, I justify.
The elevator couldn’t take me up fast enough as I tap my fingers on the metal railing that I’m leaning against. The second the doors open, I dash to my penthouse.
Luke greets me at the entrance, “Good evening, sir. Miss Ly is sleeping in the bedroom.”
“Thank you, Luke. I’ll see you tomorrow,” I acknowledge him quickly as I charge down the hallway, not giving him a chance to say anything else.
A painful twinge weighs heavy on my chest when I glance across the semi-lit room to see Lil hugging the stuff giraffe she bought for me to remind me of our baby. Where did she find it? I thought the housekeeper had removed all the maternity clothes and baby items. She must’ve missed it somehow. Damn it! Yes, I’m a real asshole for having her wait for me—three hours over what I had promised her. I’m positive she probably cried herself to sleep after seeing it, and I wasn’t here to console her. I’ve failed her again. Every day I keep digging a deeper pit for myself, and I can’t seem to find my way out of it.
Not bothering to get out of my suit, I pace over to the bed to lie down next to Lil. I cradle one arm around her arm and chest, wrapping my heart around her. I was right. I can feel the dampness of Lil’s tears on top of the stuff giraffe’s head. Sadness subdues all my senses, but hurt. My heart hurts for every drop of tear I’ve caused her. Leaning into her cheek I leave her a kiss, and it wakes her. She doesn’t say anything, but turns her body to face me. Her head tilts up so our eyes meet. Her eyes tell me that she’s tired and defeated. Finally, she’s ready to surrender her struggles to me. She nuzzles her body against my chest and closes her eyes to rest in my arms.
“I love you,” I whisper into her forehead. I want to say more like she defines my purpose for endeavoring every day since she came into my life, but I don’t. I respect her silence instead.
After Lil fell asleep last night, I paced around the room and fretted about how I’ll be able to get her life back to normalcy. My severe case of insomnia kept me up passed 2:00 a.m. before I changed into my pajamas and finally submitted to my fatigue. I slipped back into bed and curled my arms around Lil again. It felt good to be able to hold her without rejection.
The bright glaring sun screams at me through the ceiling to floor windows, disturbing my short hours of slumber. I open my tired eyes to find Lil missing from her side of the bed. My heart races swiftly as I panic and fear the worse.
“Lil,” I holler out. “Where are you?”
Throwing the sheet off my body, I hurry out of the bedroom to find her. My heart settles immediately when I see Lil in the kitchen making pancakes and wearing nothing but my white t-shirt.
“Good morning, handsome,” she greets me with smiling eyes. She’s acting like last night never happened. I’m not sure if this is a dream I’m having, but something doesn’t seem right. “Are you hungry for pancakes?” she asks with my favorite smile.
“Yes, I’d love some pancakes. I’m sorry about last night,” I reply and then kiss her forehead.
“No worries, I had Belle and Luke to keep me company,” she answers without mentioning Sugar as she takes four plates from the cabinet and hands them to me. “I made enough for Luke and Owen, too,” she adds. “Do you mind setting out the plates?”
“No, not at all. And what did we do to deserve this special treatment?” I inquire as I place the plates down on the table. She shrugs her shoulders in response and then hands me napkins and utensils. I thought for sure that we had come to some kind of understanding after our wordless conversation from last night, but I guess I was wrong. I won’t push it because her mood is at its all-time highest since we’ve been back to Boston.
“Eat up or your hotcakes will be coldcakes,” she teases as she flips two onto my plate and pours syrup generously over them. “Well…now that you mentioned it, I have a favor to ask you,” she begins as she sits down facing me. “Emi is getting married in two weeks. I want to be there for her.”
Bingo, I knew it was too good to be true. She was buttering me up to persuade me to let her go to Indiana. “That’s not possible, Lil,” I reply firmly.
Her beautiful smile flips into a frown instantly. “And why not? You can’t keep me from going!” she snaps. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but I’ll be there with or without you. I’m not a prisoner!”
“Lily, for god’s sake, we’ve gone through this already,” I exhale. “Your safety is the only thing that matters to me. I can’t risk having you seen in public until I figure out who has my two researchers. I don’t know why you can’t understand this,” I retort.
Standing straight up, she narrows her heated eyes down at me and strides away. “I have nothing more to say to you then,” she grumbles.
This is not how I want to start my mornings every day—no coffee and a heated argument with the woman I love. I’m frustrated. I’ve never had to yield to a woman before, and it’s wearing my patience thin. I don’t know why she can’t see that I’m doing all of this for her, to keep her safe. I decide to give her time to calm down before chasing after her.
Owen and Luke both come through the private entrance to find me stooped over my breakfast in my pajamas still. Their eyes scurry away from mine, seeing that my morning is already off to a shitty start. “Miss Ly made breakfast for you both. Help yourselves to it while I get dressed,” I tell them before heading down to my room.
Lil isn’t in the bedroom when I enter. I jump into the shower, shave and dress before pursuing after her. Peering into several of the extra bedrooms, I couldn’t seem to find her. Panic strikes me again, fearing that she has somehow escaped the penthouse. Her unrelenting stubbornness makes me believe that she’s capable of anything. I immediately rush out to the kitchen to alarm Luke and find her sitting casually with them eating pancakes instead. She ignores my presence.
“Lil, we need to talk,” I emphasize. She continues to cut into her pancakes while disregarding my plea. Owen and Luke both stand up to give us some privacy, but she grips their wrists to detain them. I can feel hot steam rising from underneath my shirt and jacket. She’s really testing my patience. Under any other circumstances with anyone else, I’d be ready to chew that person down to a stump.
“What about?” she asks. “I thought you already made up your mind,” she continues. Owen and Luke are once again wedged in the middle of our heat. I decide to spare them the awkwardness and drop the conversation. Damn, she is feistier and more headstrong than I pegged her to be. I have my hands full with this live one, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s what I need to balance my arrogance and authority over others as much as I hate to admit it.
“Owen, are you ready to go?” I ask. At this point, I don’t see us coming to any resolution, so I avoid pushing the subject any further. Leaning into her forehead, I leave a tender kiss before walking away. I can feel the weight of her glowering eyes on me, and yes, I probably deserve it. I hate to start our second day like this, but she has left me no choice. I’ll compromise, but I won’t yield to her every demand.
After the rundown of my schedule, Owen remains silent for the entire ride until my guilty conscience goads me to ask him, “Owen, what do you think about my harshness with Lily? Was I being too unreasonable?” This is highly unusual of me to divulge my personal matters to Owen as well as seeking for his advice.
“Sir, if I may be frank, I think Lily has been through enough grief. Allowing Lily to be with her best friend on her wedding day might be the thing to cheer her up and erase some of those bad memories,” he replies logically and with so much depth that it makes me believe he’s been pondering my decision all along.
“You might be right, but how do we do this without exposing her to the media and risking her safety?” I ask with concern.
“Let me work on it, and I will give you an answer later this week,” Owen consoles me.
“I’ve already put too much on your plate. Are you sure?”
“Yes, Mr. Bradley,” he replies. “It would be my pleasure to put a smile on Lily’s face again.” He grins.
“Thanks, Owen.” I was right. Owen has been a fan of Lily all along.
The limo driver drops us off underground this time. From now until we find Paul and David, we’ll be taking a different route to the office and home every day to throw off any tailgaters, another precaution per Owen and Alpha. The obstruction to my daily routine is a royal pain in my ass. I look forward to putting this all behind me as soon as possible.
I spent a good part of yesterday scouring through Paul’s office. I eventually found his hidden clue tucked inside an autographed Danica Patrick model race car. He’s a huge fan of her, so it wasn’t difficult to figure out his hiding place. Today I plan on raking through David’s office to find his clue. This will be a tougher challenge because David is more quiet and reserved. Besides for his love of plants and computer games, I have nothing else to go on.
Neglecting to stop at my office to get my much needed coffee from Evelyn, I march directly to David’s. I’m on a mission to find the last clue. First, I sort through his notes lying on top of his desk—nothing. I go through all his drawers and lab coat pockets—nothing again. I plop down on his chair to sort my thoughts. David’s bonsai plant lures my eyes to admire its beautiful fuchsia blooms. I remember him occasionally speaking fondly of his bonsai plant while working in the lab. The other researchers used to tease that he loved his plant more than his girlfriend. He even mentioned that if anything ever happens to him, one of us needs to make sure his bonsai finds a good home. I reach for the plant, firmly grip my hand around the thick bark base and pull it out of the porcelain container. A note sealed inside a plastic bag is securely tucked underneath it. I’m immediately overjoyed as I celebrate my finding. Unfortunately, my celebration comes to a quick halt as soon as I discover that his clue is another clue to the real source. David left an address to Hong Kong and a contact name, Marcus Ly. Damn it! I’m so close and yet so far from the answer. It appears that I will be making an unplanned trip to China. Shaking my head, I think how coincidental it is that this contact person has the same surname as Lily. Do I believe in the idea of six degrees of separation? It’s possible, but very unlikely.
Mentioning Lil’s last name spurs me to make a call to her. I felt awful leaving her so angry this morning, but I didn’t want to facilitate her outbursts, especially in front of Owen and Luke. I have an image to uphold. I know we’re both stubborn and this is an issue we’ll eventually have to work through together, but it should be done in private. I attempt several times, but she doesn’t pick up. It appears that she’s going to stick to her guns with the silent treatment until I surrender to her demands. I’ll lay low for now to give her room to rant and be pissed off at me until Owen finds a solution. I dial Luke’s digits instead to get a report from him. He’s my trustworthy backup plan if all else fails.
“Hello, sir,” Luke answers.
“What is Miss Ly up to? She’s not picking up her phone,” I fume indirectly at him.
“After you left, she disappeared into your bedroom, sir,” Luke replies.
“She’ll be fine,” I reply. “Luke, it looks like we’ll have to make a quick trip to Hong Kong. Will this be a problem for you?” I inquire.
“No, not at all, sir. I can leave whenever you need to. May I ask why?”
“I need to collect the last clue for the Oss-Meta drug. Miss Ly will also be coming with us. I’ll let her know when I come home this evening.” I end the call with Luke, push my concerns for Lil aside and enter the lab for another daunting day of research. I have my work cut out for me.
Without Carson’s knowledge, I’ve been checking for flights and bus routes to Fort Wayne for the past few hours. He’s not going to dictate whether I can be at my best friend’s wedding or not. The tricky part is sneaking away from Luke and paying for it. I don’t have any credit cards or forms of identifications because of the accident. Belle will have to spot me for now. I plan on asking her when she comes over tomorrow after she completes her photo shoot with some guy named Edison. She mentioned him yesterday and how cute, personable and fun he is. “He would’ve been a great catch for Emi, and then the three of us could live out our big city dream together. But unfortunately, Emi is already knocked up and will be hitched soon,” she disappointedly told me.
Time just flies by when you’re preoccupied with plotting an escape plan. It’s already way past lunch time and my stomach is grumbling at me to get some food. I end my scheming and head to the kitchen to satiate my hunger. Luke is fixed in his corner as I walk past him and then turn back to wave hello. He nods his head to acknowledge my greeting and gives me a slight grin. “Have you had lunch?” I ask him.
“Yes, ma’am…I mean Lily,” he trips over his words, and it makes me smile internally.
I assemble a sloppy sandwich of turkey and provolone cheese without any condiments because there are none while watching the news. Omgeez, my face is still broadcast all over. They keep showing that bottomless hell pit where only charcoal remains of the explosion are visible. I’m considered a missing person with an unlikely chance of surviving an explosive accident. Why are they saying that? That’s very misleading. Now I can understand why my mom was a hysterical mess. She thought that I had died in the accident. I’ll have to inquire Mr. Bradley why he would allow people to think that I’m dead when he returns this evening. I’m definite he’ll try to give me a useless answer for an answer.
After catching the awful news about my alleged death, my hearty appetite dissipates. Simmering thoughts of Carson’s motives begin to surface. Why am I really locked up away from everyone? He keeps telling me it’s for my safety. Are there dangerous people after me? If so, I want to know this fact. Ever since we’ve been back to Boston, he’s become a different man or maybe this is the real Carson. He’s less tolerant, more secretive and obsessively controlling. I hate bringing these depressing thoughts up because they’re such mood killers, but I can’t help it. A sudden rattle by the pantry door seizes both mine and Luke’s attention.
Luke’s quick reaction startles me, making me levitate my sandwich midway between my mouth and neck. Springing up on his feet in one quick motion, he dashes toward the pantry with his hand behind his waist. Oh god, does he have a gun on him? I panic. “Stay still,” he whispers while placing an index finger over his lips. I nod my head and freeze in my spot. Luke bravely plants himself in front of the secret door to prowl on the uninvited guest. I hear yapping and then the door slides open to reveal a tall, curvy brunette woman with two adorable dogs following by her feet. I know her. She’s Carson’s cousin, Nikki, from the lymphoma yacht function in Chicago. Luke relaxes immediately, dropping his arm down by his sides after recognizing her.
“Good afternoon Ms. Nikki,” Luke greets in his monotonous tone.
“Hello, you must be Luke, Lillian’s bodyguard,” she responds with a playful and serious tone, probably to tease him for overreacting. She then turns to face me and introduces herself, “Hi darling. I’m Nikki, and these are my babies, Charlie and Sophie,” while pointing to her dogs. “Carson told me that you’ve moved in with him. I thought you might need some company while adjusting to this new environment.” she offers with a beautiful red lipstick smile. Did she say moved in? I guess I haven’t even thought about my permanent housing arrangement because of all the excitement I’ve had. Carson just assumed that I’ll be living with him. Am I okay with that? Not really. But I’ll have to be for now. “I took an earlier flight so Carson doesn’t know I’m here yet. I like to add the element of surprise to his humdrum, structured life,” she adds and giggles. From just her brief and lively introduction, I take to liking her instantly. She’s appears to be the flip opposite of Carson—lively, sociable and easy to get along.
“I’m Lily. Your babies are the cutest. Can I hold one?” I ask. I’ve always wanted a puppy growing up, but mom told me we couldn’t afford it. There were a lot of things we couldn’t afford, so I learned at a very young age not to ask for frivolous things. Nikki hands me the tiny Yorkie. It licks my face as soon as I squeeze it against my chest, tickling me. I love it.
“Sophie loves to give kisses and being held. Charlie is more aloof and composed like most of the men I’ve dated,” she trifles with a nudge of her elbow. Her comment makes me chuckle. “Lily, what are some of your interests? What do you want to do today?” Nikki offers.
“Well, for starters, I can’t leave this place, so that limits my choices,” I gripe. “Everything that I want to do is outside of this penthouse,” I add.
“Oh yes, Carson did mention that. Hmm…I see your dilemma,” she empathizes while her thinking gears crank inside her head, leaving a contemplative expression on her face. “I have a fabulous idea. Let’s give you an identity makeover,” she suggests with a crafty grin.
“What’s that?” I curiously ask.
“We’ll change your physical appearance so much that no one can recognize you. This way, you can leave the penthouse and enjoy all of Boston!” she excitedly exclaims. “Let me gather some goodies, and then I’ll be back in a few hours.”
Nikki spent three hours on my identity makeover. She dyed my hair the darkest shade of black which I’m not used to yet because it makes me look Goth. I have too much makeup on my face for chilling around the house and my clothing style is very modern, almost Japanese anime. “I appreciate all your effort, but I look nothing like myself,” I complain to her.
“Good! This is exactly what I want to hear,” she excitedly tells me. “The true test is when Carson comes home tonight to find another woman in his bed,” she chuckles. I blush red from her alluding comment. “If he can’t recognize you, then he should give you free range to leave the penthouse tomorrow.”
“I hope you’re right, Nikki. I want out of this place so badly.”
“I’m confident it’ll work,” she assures me. “Well, my job here is done. I’ll see you tomorrow, darling.” Nikki gives me a quick squeeze and a peck on each of my cheeks, leaving red prints of her lips. “Your new clothes are hanging in the closet, and I left you something special in the bedroom for tonight,” she whispers and winks her eye at me. “Sophie, Charlie, come with mommy,” she calls out to her babies and then exits through the private pantry door.
I stand in the kitchen in a dazed, checking my new image in the mirror. What just happened here? It seems as if my fairy god-mother appeared out of nowhere and waved her magic wand around to turn me into a Gothic Cinderella and then disappeared into thin air. The skimpy skirt Nikki picked out for me keeps riding up my butt. I find myself tugging at it constantly. I’m embarrassed as I walk awkwardly pass Luke who’s meditating in his corner, pretending not to notice the new me. What will Carson think of all of this? Can a lot of makeup, dark black hair and trashy clothes change his overbearing mind? I’m not feeling too confident that Nikki’s plan will work.
Upon entering the bedroom, I see a sheer white nightie displayed in the middle of the bed. This must be Nikki’s surprise for me. Picking it up by the thin straps, I press it against my body and imagine what it’ll look like on me. Why am I intimidated by a delicate piece of material? You shouldn’t be! I tell myself. I replace my skimpy skirt and tight fitted top with a translucent layer of fabric held together with a strand of silk ribbon. Positioning myself seductively across his bed, I patiently lay there waiting for Carson to enter and appreciate the new Lillian.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Hayden and I march into the conference room of Steward Lab to find five intimidating, strapping men suited up in black tactical gear, t-shirts and cargo pants. Their expressions are all uncompromising—not a single sign of emotion. “Mr. Bradley,” a man with an embellished Greek alpha symbol tattooed on the back of his right forearm greets. He must be the team leader, Alpha, whom Owen has been talking about. Reaching his hand out to me, he grips mine firmly with his eyes locked sternly on mine. I return him with the same confident stare. Glancing over to the other men, I spot Greek symbol tattoos on their right forearms as well. This is probably some kind of an initiation or a commitment they made to be part of this elite team in addition to many other rigorous requirements I assume.
“Good morning, Alpha. Would you like to introduce your team?” I suggest before taking my seat at the head of the oval table. As I scrutinize each of the men’s unsmiling expressions, I notice they all have an identical look: same brawny physique, buzzed cut, facial hair, and dark sunglasses tucked on the neckline of their t-shirts. Immediately after Alpha takes his seat, they all sit down synchronously. Hayden seems to be in awe as he gapes at their militant conduct in a daze.
“I’m the team leader,” Alpha commences. “To my right are Beta and Delta and to my left are Gamma and Kappa. We lost Chi and Epsilon two years ago,” Alpha explains as the men raise their fisted forearms with Greek symbols to acknowledge who’s who. They then place two fingers to their hearts and signal the number two in the air. I’m guessing out of respect for the two lost brothers.
“Welcome gentlemen. I appreciate you taking on this mission. The goal is to safely retrieve my two researchers without attracting any attention to Bradley Pharmaceutical Corporation. After you find the culprits, I will seek legal actions against them. No brutal force should be used unless absolutely necessary. I’ll leave that discretion with Alpha,” I rattle off my stipulations, and they all respectfully nod their heads in agreement, acknowledging my authority. Even though those perpetrators have been nothing, but trouble for me, I still don’t want to see any bloodshed. I shift their attention over to Hayden who’s now furiously tapping the keys on his laptop. “This is Mr. Carter. He will now brief you with the data he’s collected.” Hayden darts his eyes from his computer screen to tag each set of probing eyeballs staring at him.
Kappa is chosen to scout the enormous Montgomery estate for an entire week. He’ll monitor any unusual activities or visitors. The other four will rake through an approximate fifteen mile radius in the west region of Massachusetts where the signals were last detected. This will not be an easy task for anyone—combing through the mountainous terrain in this cold and wintery weather.
Glancing down at my watch, I notice that it’s almost lunch time, but our meeting is far from being completed. I pull my phone out to send Lil another quick text.
Miss your beautiful smile. X Carson
Is Isabella there yet?
Leaving Hayden to wrap up the meeting, I anxiously make my way over to the laboratory. Alex peeks her head up as the security door slides open for me after the scanner checks my eyes and palm prints. “Mr. Bradley, so good to see you!” she exclaims. “Samantha and I have been working around the clock to figure out the missing two fifths of the drug component. We’re finding that it’s almost next to impossible.”
“I appreciate all work you both have contributed. Now that I’m back, we can retrace the steps and figure it out together,” I assure Alex.
“Thank you, sir. I’m sure glad to have you back,” she replies with bashful eyes.
“It’s good to be back, Alex,” I tell her and head to my research area.
Four years ago before the five of us began our work on the Oss-Meta drug, we established some guidelines. We decided that we all have different strengths and expertise that we can focus on individually. We divided our study into five parts and agreed to leave concealed clues behind in case something happened to one of us. I plan on finding David and Paul’s clues. This is the only way to complete the formula if we don’t locate them.
Always running habitually late, Belle bangs on the side door around 2:30 p.m.—three hours after she told Luke she’d be here. I’m used to her tardiness, but poor Luke seemed quite agitated as the hours and minutes ticked away. Quickly glancing over the security screens for clearance, Luke rushes to the door to let her in. I can’t even see her face, hidden behind two large grocery bags and a pizza box, until Luke offers to take them from her.
“Lil…,” she pauses with her lips curled up on one side and with an empathetic expression. “I’m sorry…,” she pauses again and sighs. I assume that Hayden has already filled her in on my miscarriage.
“I’m okay. Let’s not talk about it or I won’t be,” I hastily reply. My eyes are so sore from sobbing that the thought of salty tears seeping past them sounds more torturous than emotionally relieving. “I’m so happy to see you, Belle,” I tell her as I coil my arms tightly around her like a Boa constrictor. My ribs are still tender, but I don’t care. I’ve missed her and everything that was normal to me. She checks me over with her attentive eyes before returning my squeeze with the solace of her embrace.
“I love you, girl. You know I’m available twenty-four seven,” she tells me as she rubs my back.
“I know,” I reply with a tighter squeeze around her shoulders. The weight of the world doesn’t seem as heavy at the moment now that I have one of my best friends here to help me brace it.
“The reason I’m so late is because I had to stop at the grocery store to pick up all our favorite comfort snacks: Twizzlers, Reese’s Peanut Buttercups, and plain M&M’s, potato chips, Oreos and white chocolate covered pretzels. The gallon of vanilla ice cream and toppings are for me,” Belle giggles and then releases her hold of me to walk over to the kitchen island where Luke placed her bags. “I also have something in here that’s sure to make you laugh for several hours,” she promises me as she digs into her brown bag to pull out two DVD movies. “The Princess Bride and 50 First Dates—our two most favorite movies in the world!” she shrieks.
Leave it up to my bestie to know how to cheer a gloomy girl up when I’m way below sea level. A sugar slash sodium rush is the ultimate cure for depression. This was how we dealt with our teenage crises. Why should the remedy be any different for us as adults?
“Before we dig into your mood-altering goodies, I should text Carson to let him know that you’re finally here with me. He’s texted several times to check on me and your whereabouts,” I rub her tardiness in, but it flies right over her carefree mind.
“Okay, hurry up or the cheese on the pizza won’t be gooey anymore,” Belle insists before waving Luke over for a slice. “Luke, come help yourself. There’s plenty of pizza here.”
“I will. You know how I like my cheese to be gooey,” I reply.
Craving to hear Carson’s soothing voice, I run back into the bedroom with the burner phone to call him. Admittedly, it’s my fault that we’ve been distant. I’ve been pushing him away, blaming him for things that were out of his control. I can’t help myself. To my stubborn mind, he seems to be the logical explanation for all my misfortunes. However, I’m an adult. I made the decision to stay with him even after discovering his background. So for me to hold every hardship that’s come my way against him is undeserved. Now if I can only convince my subconscious to rationalize like this, Carson and I can get back to happier times sooner.
I tap on his name and wait for him to pick up. “Hey,” he greets after the second ring. “Is Isabella there yet? What did you have for lunch?” he inquires with concern for the nth time. I feel terrible that he’s worried about my happiness in addition to completing his new drug product, running a multi-billion dollar empire and finding his missing employees.
“Yes, she finally made it here a few minutes ago with pizza,” I answer as I hang onto the warmth and depth of his tone.
“I’m glad to hear that she’s with you. I’ll probably be home late this evening,” he continues with hesitation. “I have a lot of catching up to do. I’m sorry,” he tells me with guilt resonating in his voice.
“I understand. You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be fine,” I fib with a long face, knowing that he can’t see me. With so much practice lately, I’m getting better at lying every time that I do it.
“I can always have Luke bring you here to the lab,” Carson insists. “We can order carryout for dinner and eat it in my office, if you’d like.”
“No, that won’t be necessary. I’ll just be in your way,” I assure him.
“Lil, I promise I’ll make it up to you. Your happiness is all that matters to me,” he expresses sincerely, and I truly believe him.
“I know,” I agree softly.
“I love you, Angel. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Me too,” I reply in my usual round-a-bout way, avoiding those three intimidating words.
Belle pops in the first movie, The Princess Bride, before handing me a slice of extra gooey cheese pizza and a side of salty potato chips. It’s like old times again having Belle here with me. Luke insists on manning from his corner with his lunch. I assume he feels that he’s already disclosed too much of himself to me and besides, I don’t see him as a chick flick type of guy, anyways.
Mid-way through the movie, Belle tensely asks, “How are you feeling, girlie?” She appears to be antsy about something. Belle’s mood is predictable. If she’s not gibbering for more than five minutes then I know something is seriously wrong.
“Better,” I answer. “Why are you asking before Westley gives Princess Buttercup the most passionate kiss in history?” I question her.
“I want to tell you something before the happy ending comes,” she surrenders.
“Spill it, Missy, or you’ll have to suffer the consequences,” I tease her.
“Emma is pregnant. She’s getting married in two weeks,” she blurts in a single puff. From her tone and expression, I can tell it’s been eating her up inside, keeping this secret from me. And then the word pregnant hits me—hard. I drop my slice of pizza down on my lap and force welling tears back.
“How far along is she?” I ask, but not really wanting to know because I think it’ll crush me even more.
“Emi is going into the second trimester. I’m sorry, Lil. I know how tough this is for you,” Belle tries her best to be gentle. It is tough for me—tougher than I can convey in any form of expressions.
“Don’t be silly, I’m happy for her,” I assure Belle that I’m fine. “When and where’s the wedding? I won’t miss her special day for anything.” I plan on being there for Emma no matter what Carson says.
“Two weeks from Saturday at the Fort Wayne Embassy. She wanted to tell you, Lil, but with everything that happened to you, she didn’t know how to reach you,” Belle explains.
“It’s fine. I completely understand. I’ll talk to Carson about it when he gets home tonight.”
Around 7:45 p.m., I finally convince Belle to go home to Hayden. I already feel guilty for keeping her here with me all day.
“Call me if you need anything. And I mean anything at all,” she emphasizes.
“I will. Thanks, beautiful. You know how much you mean to me.”
“I do. Hang in there, girl,” Belle encourages with another hug. “I’ll come see you again as soon as I can.”
“Okay, but only if it doesn’t interfere with your life,” I stress. Belle should know that I don’t accept handouts easily even from my best friend. Walking her over to the pantry room, I watch Belle exit through the secret door. My burner phone sounds off and I know it’s probably a text from Carson.
Will be home soon, babe. Keep the bed warm for me. X Carson
I reply with a simple text.
See you then. XOX Lil
Even after watching 50 First Dates, my mood is still in a funk. I couldn’t laugh no matter how hard I tried. Emma’s pregnancy news is constantly coursing through my mind. I couldn’t help thinking that if I wasn’t in that accident, we would have our babies at around the same time. Again, those painful salty tears beg to come out, but I wouldn’t let them. I hate that I’ve been an emotional wreck lately. It’s not like me to be this pathetic.
Depressed, I tell Luke, “I’m tired. I’m calling it a night. Your evening shift will be boring. Why don’t you go home?” I suggest. “I’ll just be sleeping.”
“Not possible. I will stay here until Mr. Bradley gets back.” Luke slams my idea down immediately.
“Okay. Shoot yourself. I’ll see you in the morning. Night, Luke.”
“Goodnight, Miss…I mean Lily.”
Dragging my feet along the plush white carpet, I make my way to the bedroom which has become a lonely room lately. I hop into the shower, brush my teeth and then climb into Carson’s king-size bed which seems mammoth without him here with me. I crave the strength of his protective arms around me. I miss him, but not just physically. Mentally, we’ve been separated and it’s hurting us.
My eyes dart over to the digital clock. It’s almost 9:30 p.m. and no signs of Carson yet. He wasn’t exaggerating when he said he had a lot of catching up to do. The last text I received from him was around 8:00ish when he said he’d be home soon. Climbing out of bed to flip the nightlight on his side for him, I find my stuff giraffe, Sugar, wedged between the bed and the nightstand. I scoop it up and hug its plushness against my chest. Finally, all the hidden tears that I’ve been holding back streams down my cheeks over Sugar. I couldn’t be brave anymore. All the hurt and pain that I’ve been concealing from Carson burst open—with it came my fragmented heart.
Friday, May 16, 2014
I can’t believe I fucking lost it back there. The hurtful expression on her face stabbed my heart like a piercing scalpel, and I was the cause of it. The last thing she needs is an asshole shouting at her, making her doubt my unconditional love and support for her. My god, I’m slowly deteriorating. This fragile Carson hasn’t surfaced in fifteen years. I need to get a grip on myself before I push her even further away.
Leaving Lil to sleep in our bedroom, I retreat to my office to clear my mind and to call Luke for updates on Sasha and Bianca. I overheard Lil implying to Richard that she thought they could be involved with the accident. For reasons unknown, she didn’t elaborate on it. The subject switched course abruptly, cutting any further exchange of information. Rage goaded me to interrupt her to tear the phone from her hand and demand answers. But Lil had already stopped me once with her shaky palm, so I unwillingly submitted to her silent demand.
Unfortunately for Lil, this evening has been full of devastating news. I believe Richard did the honorable thing and confessed his involvement with those plaguing pictures. I’d rather suffer being forsaken in a vast ocean over and over again than to see her that upset. Her eyes welled up with emotions of deep, gouging wounds—the kind that’ll scar permanently. Why else would I have purposely avoided telling her about those pictures? Her heart is my priority. I’d sacrifice anything to shelter it from all agony. I knew Richard’s betrayal would destroy her, and I was right.
Thank god Owen was quick-witted to have Alpha retrieve those damaging pictures and destroy any possible duplication before they could fall into more wrong hands. I was in no condition to make any sound decision at that time. I was at my lowest point when I thought Lil had left me for Richard. My will to continue without her was demolished. I didn’t want to face another day knowing that she was no longer mine. I could barely stay sober long enough to partake in some of the charity functions that I had pledged to support. Fortunately, I had another person looking after me. My cousin Nikki slapped the self-pity and sulking out of me.
“Don’t make me get ugly. Being pathetic doesn’t suit you!” she roared and shoved me in a cold shower several times. “Where’s the bad-ass CEO who doesn’t fear anything or anyone? Show me that man!” she demanded as she stood next to me soaking wet as well. “Are you going to let some stupid pictures destroy everything you’ve worked so hard for?” she continued to shout as she shook me. I shrugged my shoulders, blinking my eyes against the damn water jetting down over us. “Carson, get your head out of your ass! If you love this girl, you need to fucking figure out what happened instead of drowning your sorrow in booze.”
She was absolutely right. I agreed to sober up for the final charity function and then drank my heart away afterwards. That was also the night that I decided to rip Lil’s heart apart like she did mine. I pretty much accused her of being a slut, playing me and Richard at the same. I made her cry, but it didn’t soothe my broken heart. In fact, it made me hate myself even more after she confessed she loved me—for the very first time. The wounded sound of her gentle voice was my wakeup call. After Nik’s intervention and Lil’s unexpected admission, I was able to clear my head and see Bianca for what she truly is.
Bianca is really a vile, coldblooded demon underneath that pretty face, and I fell for her cunning scheme like an idiot. First, the damn pictures and now, she’s possibly link to the accident that killed my unborn child. Apparently, she’ll do whatever it takes to get whatever she wants without any ethical boundaries. What she did, I will not easily forget and will never forgive. I’m a firm believer of an eye for an eye solution. That cruel beast will get what she deserves, and I won’t hold anything back either. I’ll have her declawed and caged up like a wild animal.
While waiting for Luke to answer his phone, I log onto the computer to see his undercover pictures of Sasha and Bianca kissing each other on the screen—how interesting. These two are romantically linked. Things are clicking together and making perfect sense. I’ve always known that Bianca has no limits when it comes to sex. She’s kinkier than hell, pleading several times for a three or foursome. I never agreed. Even in my pathetic, lonely years, I still believed intimacy should only be shared between two people.
Luke answers, “Hello, sir. I followed Sasha to a bar in the downtown business vicinity after she stormed off from Bianca’s office crying. She’s hasn’t stop slamming shots of hard liquor for the past hour.” It appears that the lovers are experiencing a quarrel of some sort, and the vulnerable one is whom I’m interested in.
“It might seem that Sasha will break her silence sooner than I expect. Keep trailing her. I don’t think it’ll be long before we get what we need from her.”
“I will, sir. Anything else?” he confirms.
“No. Have a good evening.” After I disconnect from Luke, I skim over Owen’s memo for tomorrow’s meeting with the members of his team, Sanguis Frater: Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma and Kappa are their names. Alpha, the team leader, will report their progress directly to me or Owen. Hayden will brief them with information he had gathered right before the signals faded. After the meeting, I’m hoping to dedicate several good hours to the Oss-Meta drug project. Even with two contributing researchers absent, I have to press forward. I’m too close to helping thousands of people with bone cancer to give up. But at the moment, my direr dilemma is figuring out what to do with Lillian while I’m consumed with my work. Keeping her locked up in my penthouse indefinitely will not be an option for me. She’ll never go for that.
Being as quiet as possible, I slither under the sateen sheet, to find her back purposely turned to me and her arms wrapped around a pillow that should be me. Can I fault her being upset with me? No. I was out of line, shouting at her when I should’ve been comforting her. I reach my arms out to hold her, but quickly reel them back to my sides, knowing that the invisible barrier between us is there for a reason. She wants to be left alone. I kiss her cheek gently and roll onto my lonely side of the bed.
Restlessly, I toss and turn, struggling with anger and confusion. Lil’s brief conversation with her mother left me feeling disheartened as well as pissed. No woman has ever been ashamed of me. She denied that she loves me to her mother, thinking that I couldn’t understand her in Chinese. Singapore was my home for two years when the Marines stationed my father there. I mastered enough of the language to get me by. It wasn’t until years later that I picked up various dialects through self-taught audios to aid me in foreign business transactions. My accent might not be most authentic, but I’m fluent enough to know that Lil isn’t sure about her love for me.
Nightfall is persistent and unrelenting as it detains daylight from me. Glancing over to my nightstand, I see that it’s finally 5:08 a.m. on the digital clock. Unfortunately for me, I’m still wide awake while I stare at Lil’s back, fighting my urge to hold her. My tired eyes drift distantly out to see silvery star specks and skyscraper lights peek through the windows on this frigid November morning. The bleak composition fails to hold my interest and my focus shifts back to Lily again. No longer able to refrain my yearning to touch her, I stroke the back of my fingers along her face, tracing the tenderness of her delicate skin. What’s happening to us? Tragedy is never far behind whenever I decide to give my heart away. Am I doomed to live a desolate life? I hope not. Gently, I slide out of bed and tuck my pillow behind her back so it seems as if my body is still there next to hers.
Owen will be here in about an hour to pick me up for our routine ride to the office while Luke keeps his watchful eye on Lily until I return this evening. This is the plan for today. Tomorrow is still an unsolved mystery. I jotted down a list of dos and don’ts for her last night which I know will piss her off even more as soon as she reads them. She doesn’t take orders well, especially really restricted ones. I can only hope that her tantrum will be more manageable later tonight after she’s blown off some heat. Meanwhile, I’m praying that Hayden will share Isabella. While I’m away working, Isabella can keep Lily occupied for me.
Not long after I’m dressed in a black wool Brioni suit, I hear an alert for the front door. My heart pants a beat until I see Owen’s image on the security screen from my bedroom. With all the commotion that’s been surrounding me, I’ve been more antsy and paranoid lately. My first instinct is to protect like a lion over his pack, fearless and steadfast. Owen is especially early today, and I haven’t had a drop of coffee yet. I’m irritable if I don’t get my caffeine-fix first thing in the morning. Walking over to Lil, I gently press my lips on her forehead and then pull the covers over her shoulders. Her body squirms from my warm touch, but her eyes remain sealed.
Poking my head into the kitchen, I see Owen pouring coffee into his mug. “Morning Owen, you’re remarkably punctual this morning,” I greet him.
“I thought I’d beat my boss to the coffeemaker,” he replies, sounding unusually lighthearted. “And Luke will be here any minute. Where do you want him stationed? In or outside the penthouse?”
“Either way is fine with me as long as he’s hidden. I don’t want Miss Ly to feel like a prisoner even though I’m pretty much keeping her hostage here.”
“How about the security room?” Owen suggests. “Luke can monitor her on the screens, undetected. I’ll have him disconnect your bed and bathroom cameras to give her some privacy.”
“Sounds good,” I concur. “What can I expect from today’s meeting?” I inquire Owen, hoping he has answers for me.
“Alpha will divide his team into two groups. Four will go to the site where the last signal was tagged and one will go to the Montgomery estate.”
“Owen, it appears as if your team has things under control. I can’t thank you enough for your dedication to BPC. When this problem is all resolved, I plan on shifting more of my responsibilities over to you. I’m promoting you to Vice-President of BPC.” I pat him on his back to congratulate him.
“Thank you, sir,” he accepts with enthusiasm.
“Congratulations, Owen,” Lily adds with a grin while standing at the entrance of the kitchen in my white cotton robe and bare feet. Straightaway, my doting eyes roam over to her alluring face. Her beauty is so natural that makeup would only obstruct it. I walk over to meet her and tuck a tousled strand of hair behind her ear. She recoils slightly. Overlooking her wounding response, I continue to lean forward to impart a kiss where my fingers graced. She savors our contact with a soft inhale as her dark lashes flutter. I know she misses me. I have to believe that she does. Her eyes meet mine briefly and then over to Owen’s. She sidles away from me and then exhales, leaving my chest to feel a different kind of tug—pain.
“Thanks, Miss Ly,” Owen replies, surprised that she was standing in the background all this time.
“Please call me Lily. Miss Ly is too formal,” she suggests. “Carson, I found your note. We need to talk before you leave?” She narrows her eyes at me with a tart bite in her tone. I know I’m in for a bull-headed beating, and I haven’t had any coffee yet. This isn’t a good way to start my day.
Owen clears his throat and then proceeds to the coffeemaker. “I’ll get your coffee, sir.”
“Thanks, Owen, see you downstairs.” I turn to Lily to give her a pursed smile. She ignores my pacifying attempt. “Lil, let’s not start the morning off like this.”
“Like what? Like how you were going to leave without any explanations, but this note?” she snaps as she flashes a white BPC stationary in my face.
“You haven’t been sleeping well lately, so I didn’t want to wake you,” I defend my decision.
“Carson, your note says no calls, no visitors, no leaving the penthouse. How do you expect me to live like this?” Her volume steadily increases. I think she’s on the verge of ripping my head off as her cheeks heat up to a jewel pomegranate shade.
“Baby, these rules are only temporary until I speak to Owen’s team. After the meeting, we’ll decide which rules we can eliminate,” I attempt to settle her. “Besides, you won’t be by yourself all the time. I’ll ask Hayden to send Isabella over whenever she can.”
“Are you kidding me? I don’t need two babysitters!” she heatedly retorts. “I need my ordinary life back!” Her index finger jabs angrily into my chest.
“Your life is with me now,” I clarify sternly. “I can’t give you your old one back.” Grasping both her hands, I hold them between mine. “We’ll be husband and wife soon, spending forever together. Remember?”
“Carson, I don’t know if I can do this,” she replies softly, looking guiltily away from me.
“Please…don’t say that, Angel. You don’t know what those words do to my soul.” My voice is weak as my mind panics. She can’t give up on us. I can’t lose her. “I know this is more than what your mind can wrap around. Let me make some arrangements so I can work from home. Then you won’t have to be without me,” I offer desperately to appease her.
“No, I don’t want you to do that. Your work is invaluable, and it has to be done at the lab,” she sighs. “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere. I’m sure I’ll find something to do,” she surrenders in defeat, recognizing the value of my research—thank god. Even at a time like this, she’s still selfless and considerate of my obligations. This is why I’m so madly in love with her.
“I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
Tipping her chin up to kiss her good-bye, I take her mouth with a fierce need. She doesn’t shy away from my ferocity. It’s been too far and few in between since we’ve kissed like this. My tongue twirls around hers, devouring her silky decadence. I run my hand down her neck to slide my white robe off one shoulder. My lips trace along her bared suede skin over goosebumps plagued by my touch. I love the way her body responds to me. Faint moans escape her throat, letting me know that she desires this as much as I do. I scoop her into my arms and carry her to our bedroom as we continue kissing. Gently, I lay her body down on the bed and peel the robe apart to expose a satin ivory nightgown covering her dainty frame. Christ, she’s so damn beautiful. My other head says take her, but Dr. Laurent recommended abstinence for at least two weeks. I lean my chest into hers, kissing her everywhere. I’m so fucking hard that I can feel my erection fighting against my wool trousers. Stop torturing yourself! I scold. Releasing her tender nipple from my hungry mouth, I inhale a deep breath and exhale my desperate desires for her out of my system.
“I better go. Owen is…waiting…downstairs…for me,” I pant and lick the tip of her nipple one last time. “Are we okay now?” I ask.
She pulls me back into her lips, kisses me one last time and then releases me with a satisfied grin. “Yeah, we’re okay,” she replies with a partial grin. “By the way, where’s Luke? He doesn’t have to stay hidden for my sake. I wouldn’t mind having a little company while you’re gone even if his personality is drier than all of Egypt’s deserts,” she smirks after her sassy comment. Can it be? Is my Lillian with the quirky sense of humor slowly resurfacing?
“Are you sure? His constant lurking won’t bother you?” I confirm. She nods her head. “He’ll be happy to come out of hiding.” I wink in response, and she offers me her gorgeous smile—the one I’d sell my body and soul to Satan for in exchange.
Finally, I see a tiny glimpse of progress, and it comforts me momentarily. The sweetness of her lips still lingers on my mouth, urging me to press my two fingers along that area. Holding on to her kiss seems to be overshadowing my need for coffee this morning.
“Mr. Bradley,” Owen interrupts my hopeful thought. “Mr. Carter will send Ms. Ellis over to the penthouse later this morning. I’ve already arranged it for you.” Owen is a godsend. He’s always two steps ahead of me, especially when I’m emotionally fucked.
“Thank you, Owen. You just made my day much better.”
“No problem, sir. Are you ready to go over today’s agenda?” he promptly reverts back to business mode. “Alpha will go over his strategy and introduce his team to you. Since Paul and David’s disappearance, the other two researchers, Alex and Sammy, have been working diligently. They’ll be excited to have you back.”
“I plan on working in the lab today. I’ve lost a significant amount of time. The drug needs to be ready for the planned protocol studies. You can reschedule or handle any business matters in lieu of me,” I assert.
“I guess we won’t have to go over the rest of the agenda then.” Owen flips his iPad cover over and sits back to enjoy a quiet ride to the office.
“Good morning, Evelyn,” I greet her as she smiles timidly back at me. You’d think that after working here for five years, she’d be less intimidated by me.
“Good morning, Mr. Bradley. Coffee?” she offers.
“Yes, please and make it a double,” I reply before walking into my office. Dropping my briefcase on my desk, I fall back into my leather chair and sigh. There’s a lot of work ahead of me. How will I get it all done? Reaching for documents lying next to Lily’s picture, I see a folded black silk tie with red specks. I grab it instead and squeeze it in my fist. I recognize this tie. It’s the one I tossed in the trash right after receiving news of Lily’s accident. Bianca left a note with it. A tie to end all other ties. And then it hits me like a burning slap in the face. Bianca is the one behind the accident, not the kidnappers. She had planned the entire thing with the intention of me seeing this tie after Lily’s demise. My blood is boiling hot with hatred for Bianca blasting through my veins. She just fucked with the wrong man—the one who’s not afraid to go to hell and back for justice. I’ll make sure she won’t ever come near me or Lil again.
Knocks on my door interrupts my plan for revenge, forcing my hidden dark side to retreat for the moment. “Mr. Bradley, I have your coffee and Mr. Carter is here,” Evelyn announces through the frosted glass door.
“Come in and send Mr. Carter with you,” I clip in a snippy tone. God, I really need to control my explosive temperament. Breathe, exhale, breathe, I coach myself, using a relaxation technique I acquired as a teen from a psychiatrist I saw for years after Emily died.
Evelyn sets my coffee in front of me while Hayden makes himself comfortable on my sofa. “Can I get you anything else, Mr. Bradley?” Evelyn asks.
“Carter, coffee?” I offer. He shakes his head. “That’ll be all, Evelyn. Thank you.” She smiles and scurries away quickly.
“Carson, are you ready for some more bad news, man?” Hayden poses. Really? More bad news? I think to myself.
“I don’t want it, but I’m sure you’re going to give it to me anyway,” I tell him frankly.
“Emma, Lily’s other best friend, is pregnant. She’s getting married in two weeks. I can promise you that nothing will stop Lily or Belle from attending it,” Hayden declares.
Disregarding the word pregnant that Hayden just uttered, I grumble, “It’s not safe for Lily. She can’t go. I won’t allow it!” Though I’m confident I know who the perpetrator is behind Lil’s accident, I’m still not convinced that she’s completely safe out of harm’s way even after I eliminate that threat. I won’t take any chances when it comes to Lily, especially when someone has kidnapped people who are connected to me.
“Carson, I don’t care what you do, man. I’m just giving you a heads up so you can deal with Lily’s temper when you tell her ‘No.’” Fuck! Hayden’s right. If I stop her from attending the wedding, she’ll hate me indefinitely.
“What do you suggest I do since you know these three women much better than me?” I ask Hayden for his advice.
“That’s a tough one. I don’t have any suggestions for you,” Hayden surrenders, shrugging his shoulders and throwing both hands up.
My office phone rings, and it’s Evelyn reminding me of our meeting with Owen’s team, the Sanguis Frater or Blood Brothers. What am I going to do with Lil? My sanity is fading away little by little. My brain is on hazardous overload. I’m fucking losing it. Pull yourself together, man. You can’t fall apart now, I caution myself. How will the team of Navy SEALs respect me if I don’t have my shit together? Adjusting my tie and slipping into my CEO mode, I ask, “Hayden, you ready?” He nods his head and follows my lead out to the elevators.
After Carson and Owen left the penthouse, I rush back to the bedroom to brush my teeth and dress. I choose a pair of yoga pants that hangs loosely around my hips and a worn, cotton long sleeved shirt. They’re perfect for lounging around the penthouse until Carson comes home. What shall I do to keep myself occupied today? Hmm…I wouldn’t mind starting my morning with a casual breakfast with Luke. I could persuade him to open up to me even though I’ve been unsuccessful for the past week.
I find Luke sitting quietly in the far corner of the living room, being as discreet as possible, while heading towards the kitchen. “Luke, I want you to have breakfast with me. I hate eating alone,” I holler across the room.
“Miss Ly, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’m here to watch over you,” he clarifies in a militant tone.
“Mr. Bradley told me that I can request anything from you that’s within reason. Eating breakfast with me is reasonable,” I wittily reply with a crafty grin. “So please come over here, and I’ll make us some pancakes.”
Luke, wearing black jeans and a leather coat, slowly advances towards the kitchen as quiet as a mouse. He seems completely out of his element from his wavering movements. I enjoy seeing this more human side of him instead of his terrifying Terminator persona. He has his eyes purposely hidden behind dark sunglasses, so I can’t decipher them or see their color. When he finally reaches the barstool, Luke lowers his bottom in one controlled motion, almost like a robot.
“Would you like some coffee?” I offer while pointing at Carson’s intimidating coffee machine.
“No thank you, ma’am,” he replies. Is he for real? Did he just address me as ma’am again?
“Luke, please do me a huge favor and call me Lily instead of ma’am? I just had my first legal drink over a year ago,” I plead and smile at the same time.
“But, it doesn’t sound professional, ma’am. I mean…Lily,” he answers uneasily while shaking his head.
“That’s better. Thanks. You can be my bodyguard around Mr. Bradley and my friend around me,” I smirk and wink at him. I’m not positive, but I think I just made him crack a smile.
As I whisk the pancake batter with my back to Luke, I casually ask him about his background. “How did you get into this line of work anyways?” Leaning his elbows on the granite countertop, he hesitates for a minute before answering my question openly, taking me completely by surprise.
* * * * * * * *
After flunking out of his first year of college from partying too hard, Luke returned home to work for his father as a mechanic. He reconnected with a girl from high school who joined the Marines after their graduation. Since he lacked the discipline to succeed in college, she convinced him to enlist in the Service. They ended up at the same training camp, but Annarah was higher in military rank. She impressed the heck out of him with her combat skills and sharpness. She even kicked his ass several times while practicing a fighting exercise. With respect and admiration, he fell deeply for her. They secretly dated for about three years. A month after Luke proposed to Annarah, she was sent off on a secret mission to South America. Her objective was to stop the drug cartels from buying destructive military weapons. She never made it out. Her entire team was annihilated according to military records, but no bodies were recovered.
Luke knew what he had to do after Annarah died. He applied for the elite Navy SEAL team. His training was rigorous and demanding, sometimes almost impossible, but he persevered because he had a personal vendetta. He wanted to kill the bastards who took Annarah away from him. Luke was eventually sent to South America and the Middle East for covert operations. He was successful with every mission presented to him, but he never found the people who killed his lover. Luke continued to work undercover for the U.S. government until Owen recruited him approximately a year ago.
Being completely engrossed in Luke’s incredible story, I burn our breakfast to a dark and inedible crisp. Unpleasant smoky fume wafts through the entire kitchen, smothering what would’ve been the delicious aroma of pancakes. But it doesn’t even faze me. I can’t believe that I’m standing in front of a real person who has completed secret missions and even killed bad people. He’s like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, but much taller. I’m floored and impressed at the same time. And then who would’ve guessed that Luke was ever romantically involved with anyone? Not me. I didn’t even think he had a passionate bone in his body. Was I ever wrong to assume that! I’m dying to ask more questions about Annarah, but I can tell that his shield is slowly going back up as soon as he completed his last sentence.
Luke clams up after realizing that he has revealed more information to me than he intended. It was so cool to get a glimpse of his other side while it lasted. “What can I make you instead of pancakes?” I giggle. “Bagel with cream cheese? I can’t mess that up,” I offer with a grin. He nods his head, refusing to offer anything verbal. I place a plate and a glass of juice in front of him. We both sit quietly at the bar, chewing our crusty toasted bagels.
An old car horn ringtone from Luke’s side pocket halts his sip of juice. I chuckle immediately at the silly sound that doesn’t correspond to his personality. Or does it? Luke places his glass neatly on the counter and then pulls out a black phone similar to the one that Carson handed to me yesterday.
“Hello,” he answers. “Yes, Ms. Ellis, when will you be here?” He waits for her answer and then replies, “Okay, I will let you in through the side door,” he instructs in his disciplined tone and serious demeanor.
I could scream for joy. It’s my best friend, Belle. I’ve been dying to see her. The idea of having her here with me warms my soul like a security blanket is to a child. I need familiarity, and she’s as close to family as it gets. If anyone can help me get over my sulking, it would be Belle. She has never failed to make me laugh even when I try my darndest not to crack a smile.