Authors: Ginger Voight
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Saga, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Sagas
I felt a hand tap me on my shoulder and I turned to see Jonathan standing behind me. Alex gave us a nod and went off in search of refreshments. The next song started and Jonathan held up a hand. I allowed him to lead the dance
“I wasn’t sure you’d show,” he said softly as he pierced into my soul with his icy blue eyes so similar to his father’s and his uncle’s.
“I made a promise, didn’t I?” I retorted.
He nodded as he
looked me over. “You look nice.”
I smiled. “You, too.”
He tried to fight his smile, but was unsuccessful. Instead he tipped his chin a little higher, straightened his shoulders a little more, and guided me with confidence through the waltz. He wore his breeding well, I thought with a sinking heart. He was already turning into his father and he was barely into the double digits.
When the dance as done he bowed to me and then left in search of his mother.
I sighed as I glanced out onto the dance floor. I spotted Drew easily. He held Olivia so close I thought she had melted into his body. It twisted the knife in my gut. What was this hold he had on me? Why did I care?
“Miss Dennehy,” Senator De Havilland said as he walked up behind me.
“Senator,” I nodded in greeting.
“Please, call me Troy,” he said with a slick smile that immediately put me ill at ease. He was a handsome man, perhaps too handsome. And his charm oozed from his pores as he glanced down at me. “May I interest you in a dance?”
“Of course,” I answered, though I honestly didn’t care to dance with this man. I didn’t care for his politics, of course, but I suspected living with Alex and dealing with Jonathan only fueled my discomfort about his character. I didn’t subscribe to any bullshit conspiracy theories, but a little of their inherent distrust had apparently worn off on me.
He took me confidently into his arms, his hand along the small of my back as we danced a proper waltz. “You look lovely,” he complimented.
“Thank you,” I said simply.
“I must say I was thrilled to see you again. You were good for Drew. I was sorry that it didn’t work out. Maybe now that you’ve returned, you both can
mend your differences.”
My eyes met his. “I haven’t returned, sir. I am Jonathan’s teacher, and that is the position I have resumed. I have no interest in dating or marrying Drew Fullerton.”
He nodded. “Matters of the heart are… complicated,” he mused. “And Drew is a formidable man. He needs someone to soften his edges, but he’s likely to fight it every step of the way. That is why he needs an equally formidable woman to be his partner.”
I glanced at where Drew cuddled with Olivia on the dance floor. “He seems to be doing well for himself in that department,” I mumbled.
Troy laughed. “Never underestimate male pride, Miss Dennehy,” he advised. “It makes fools of all of us at some time or another.”
“It would appear the business of love is full of fools,” I responded.
“Indeed,” he agreed. “But it is worth it, is it not?”
I stared into his dark blue eyes. “For some,” I finally answered. “But not for me. Thank you for the dance, Senator,” I said as I pulled away and headed off in search of another glass of champagne.
I nursed the glass as I watched Drew and Olivia together. His touch was intimate and her countenance was possessive, as if she had earned the title of the future ex-Mrs. Fullerton whether we all knew it or not. I watched Jonathan as he evaded her every chance he got. He danced with his mother, but the tenuous relationship they had begun building just months before had already collapsed. She was a decoy, a prop, to keep him away from Olivia.
I went to his rescue and we headed out onto the terrace for a breath of fresh air. As I strolled
amidst the familiar sculpted gardens, I was awash with memories that were still a little too raw. Jonathan could read it all over my face. “This was hard for you, wasn’t it?”
I chuckled humorlessly. “It wasn’t my favorite, no.”
He glanced down at his feet. “I guess I blew it for everyone.”
I wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “You can’t keep blaming yourself for everything, Jonathan. We’re adults. We get to make our own choices. Sometimes we’ll fly, and sometimes we’ll smack right into a wall. But those are our choices to make. And I’m not sorry,” I said as I looked down at him.
“You’re not?” he asked.
I shook my head. “If I hadn’t come out here, I would have never met you. That’s been worth everything.
I’m glad I came back.”
A moment of silence passed between us before he finally said, “Me, too,” in a voice so low I could barely hear it.
We said nothing more as we turned and headed back into the house. Jonathan went in search of his mother, while I scanned the crowd for Alex.
“Looking for someone?” Drew asked me from behind.
I spun around to face him, struck mute by the look in his eyes. It flashed me back to being beneath him as he made love to me, his body one with mine, as he sent me into orbit with each confident stroke. “I… uh…,” I trailed off, unable to put a coherent thought together.
He didn’t even ask as he took my wrist in his hand and dragged me to the dance floor. His arm wrapped around my waist as he pulled me close to his body, and I felt him press against me in a way far too intimate for my liking. “Drew…,” I tried to protest, but he only responded in pulling me closer.
“You danced with everyone else,” he murmured into my ear. “Why not dance with me?”
My breath caught in my throat.
He knew exactly why it as a horrible, horrible idea, he could feel it in the way my traitorous body yielded to his masterful touch. I wanted to protest how unfair he was being, but I already knew he didn’t fight fair. And he was quite proud of that fact. So I gulped down any protest as he led me around the dance floor, his hand placed right above my hip as he gripped me tight. As his hand fell to cup my curvy hip in one hand, I gasped in spite of myself.
“Drew,” I whimpered. “You’re being completely inappropriate.”
“Not half as inappropriate as if we were alone,” he murmured against my ear. “Come with me to my study, Rachel. Let me show you all the inappropriate things I’ve dreamed about doing to you.”
I shook my head and tried to pull away, but he held me fast.
“All your things are still here. You don’t even have to leave. You can return and everything could go back to the way it was. The way they should be.” His voice deepened as his eyes absorbed me. “God, you are beautiful,” he whispered. “Is this for my benefit? Or for his?”
I damned the tears that sprung into my eyes.
“It’s for mine, you self-absorbed asshole,” I hissed as I wrenched away. I didn’t stop until I reached the doorway, where I nearly mowed Alex down as he entered the room. “Get me out of here.”
He glanced behind me to see Drew approach. He nodded and grabbed my hand, and led me toward the front door before we risked another confrontation.
I had wrecked Jorge’s paintjob all the way back to the ranch with tears I could no longer withhold. Alex said nothing, even after we entered the house and I ran up to my room to pull off the ridiculous gown and scrub away any water resistant makeup that hadn’t already rubbed off. I slammed into my bedroom and didn’t come out again that night.
There was no hiding from Max the following morning, who wanted all the details about my big night.
Hours of crying had left me with a massive migraine, so Millicent distracted him. I had no doubt that Alex had confided in her how things went, and she effortlessly played interference to allow me time to lick my wounds.
I didn’t emerge until Sunday morning, when I could ignore my growling stomach no longer. Max curled with me on the sectional sofa in the family room, doing whatever he could to make me feel better. It touched me so much the waterworks nearly started again. What a mess I had turned out to be.
Alex finally brought me a cup of tea after Max headed to bed, and Millicent left us alone to talk. “Are you OK?” he asked softly.
“No,” I answered as I rested my head on one of the throw pillows. “This must be punishment from a past life or something.”
He chuckled. “If that’s true, we both must have really,
I laughed in spite of myself. “Sorry for my meltdown.”
“We’ve all been there,” he dismissed. “All part of being human.”
“Yeah, well it bites the big one,” I said.
“With relish,” he agreed with a grin.
And you want to know a horrible secret? You know what would honestly make it hurt less?” I asked. “If I knew he was suffering, too.”
Alex studied my face. “Yeah, I know.”
I cursed my trembling lip. “But he’s not, is he?”
There was a long pause before he answered. “Probably not.”
That started the waterworks again and Alex scooted closer to take me into his arms. I cried on his shoulder, though it mortified me to do so. He said nothing as he rubbed my back and let me get it all out of my system.
I was flushing out the wound, and we both knew that was a painful process.
But it was one more stage in letting go. I had to mourn.
Gently he started to sing an old country
song as he held me, and it quieted the soft sobs that racked my shoulders. By the time he finished, my tears were spent. He smiled at me and I returned it. When his head bent toward mine, I didn’t even move away. But his kiss landed on my forehead, a chaste gesture of our budding friendship. I hugged him tight to show him how grateful I was, which he held as long as I needed. He said nothing else as he rose to head off to bed.
I felt a little better by the time Jonathan arrived that following morning. He was quiet as he carried his suitcase up to Max’s room. Our morning session was uneventful, with Jonathan not saying much about the party or my rapid departure. I debated on whether or not I wanted to address it. There were certain things I felt needed to be kept confidential, but I didn’t want him to fill up the silence with more bad stuff he had created in his own mind.
Jonathan, however, showed no sign of communicating. He did the work I gave him without complaint, even did the chores around the house and the stables, but he often disappeared to answer an increasing number of phone calls.
By afternoon, I understood why. Justin
Deneke stood at the threshold of the entryway, having been invited by Jonathan to stay the night.
It was an openly defiant gesture that showed disrespect for the house and for everyone in it. I knew things were going from bad to worse when Justin pushed his way through the doorway and entered the house like he owned the joint.
He was tall and lanky for a fourteen-year-old, wearing garish chains around his neck like they were solid gold pythons. He wore his ball cap backward, a wife-beater shirt and baggy fatigues in black and gray. I figured his shoes cost around a thousand bucks, pricing his ensemble to more than some folks made in a year.
“You must be Rachel,” he said as he glanced over his designer shades to give me a completely inappropriate once-over. “Not bad. But you should really lose about thirty pounds. Then you could be really hot.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
Jonathan ran in to grab his friend by the arm. “You’re here! Come on down and see the horses.”
“Jonathan,” I tried to stop him, but he was already darting out the door.
Justin sent me a smug grin as he followed behind. I went into the office to call Alex, but Millicent was already on her cell phone. She went upstairs to keep Max distracted so he wouldn’t be exposed to Justin, while I waited for Alex downstairs.
He walked through the door about an hour later, after likely breaking dozens of traffic laws to get there from Pasadena. “Where are they?” he asked.
“Down at the stables, I think.
They’ve been all over,” I confided, having kept an eye on them as best I could.
“Where’s Max?” he asked.
“Millicent is keeping him upstairs in the play room.”
He nodded. “
Good. I’ll go send that little punk packing.”
The minute we entered the family room, we saw the boys spread out on the sofa, playing a violent video game Jonathan was forbidden to play. I could tell by his eyes that he had indulged in some kind of intoxicant.
“Hey, the ‘rents,” Justin drawled as we walked into the room.
“Not my ‘rents,” Jonathan said and both boys broke into the giggles.
“Jesus, how high are you?” Alex bit out as he walked around the sectional, knocking their feet off of the expensive ottoman.
Both boys looked at him and said, “Yes,” before they dissolved in even more laughter.
Alex turned to me. “Go get Millicent,” he said and I nodded. I met her in the hallway, as she found some leftover packages of synthetic incense popular among kids to get high. It had fallen out of Jonathan’s hoodie when she attempted to hang it up. “Go through his things,” I told her. “Get rid of all of it.”
I brought the empty package it to Alex, he exploded in anger. “How dare you bring this poison into my house around my son?” he demanded of Jonathan, who looked unmoved by his uncle’s outburst.
He shrugged. “Just figured fair was fair. You destroyed my family. What difference would it make if I destroyed yours?”
“What are you talking about?” Alex demanded.
“After you and Rachel left the other night, Dad took me aside and told me everything,” Jonathan said as his eyes bore holes in Alex. “I know what you did with my mo
ther, and that’s what broke up their marriage.” Alex was shocked silent. “Not so sanctimonious now, are you, asshole? You do nothing but attack Dad, but you’re nothing but a cheat and a thief.”
Alex appeared thunderstruck by the confrontation. I walked over to him, which only drew more of Jonathan’s ire.
“So you moved on to Rachel,” he filled in. “Just to bust up my family again.” The tears of a ten-year-old hovered in his bloodshot eyes as he stared at the man he had always trusted. “Why do you hate me, Alex?”
I could feel Alex’s spirit crumple from two feet away. “I don’t hate you, buddy.”
“Yeah, ‘buddy,’” Justin retorted. “He doesn’t hate you. He just likes pussy.”
“Get the fuck out of my hous
e!” Alex roared at our unwelcome guest.
Jonathan popped up. “If he leaves, I go with him!”
“Jonathan,” I cautioned but he wasn’t having any lectures from me, either.
“Who are you to say anything?” he challenged. “You’re just the hired help. I probably won’t mean anything to you until I’m older and my balls drop.”
“You can do better, Johnny,” Justin said. “That Olivia Guest is a hot little piece of ass. A real spinner. No heavy lifting required,” he smirked my direction.
Alex lunged across the ottoman, and I had to pull him back. “He’s not worth it,” I said as I held him back.
Alex yanked away to call for police reinforcement around the time Millicent ran into the room. “Alex, Rachel… Max is gone.”
Alex swung around. “What do you mean, gone?”
Millicent wrung her hands. “I left him in the play room while I cleaned up that other issue,” she said as she glanced at me. “When I went back, he was gone.”
We forgot about Jonathan and Justin as we dispersed to find Max. We tore the house from top to bottom before we each headed outside. Alex raced down to the stables, Millicent
jumped into the golf cart to take her down to the garden. I concentrated on the back yard. When I spotted the open door by the pool, my heart stopped.
“No,” I whispered as I raced down the hill toward the fenced-in pool area that was no longer secure.
I checked the hot tub first, but it was turned off and clear. I turned to the pool and there I saw my special little boy floating face-down in the water.
I didn’t think twice as I raced around the deck, which was much slipperier than I had anticipated. My feet went out from under me as dove into water, grabbing for Max as my head hit hard concrete
whole world went black.