Friday, May 16, 2014

Chapter 3 of book2, 'Finding our Forever'

'Finding our Forever'

Chapter 3

Carson Bradley

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.
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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.
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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.

Lillian Ly

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.
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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.