Authors: Ava Lore
And then my phone rang.
Real world calling.
The happy buzz of the wine receded somewhat before I realized
that the ringtone was not Felicia's. I probably had a million texts from her,
but she'd known I'd gone to see Malcolm on Monday because he'd asked her for
the day off so he could paint me. If there was anyone in the world who would
understand getting swept off her feet and off to some other place by a rich,
magnetic man, it would be Felicia. So... someone else was calling me.
I didn't want to answer it. Whoever it was could wait. I kicked
my purse under the table and shrugged out of my coat. The corset kept me
sitting straight, and I suddenly realized how far my breasts were pushed out
toward Malcolm. And he knew it. His eyes glittered at me, dancing mischievously
in the candlelight.
Dominic rattled off more rapid French as he poured out small
glasses of liqueur. Malcolm tossed his back immediately and I... well, I let
mine sit after taking a whiff and feeling my stomach turn. I really needed
something to eat first.
My phone rang again. I gritted my teeth, then gave Malcolm a
bright smile. “Just a second,” I said. “I have to turn that off.”
He smiled back at me. “Very well.”
I ducked under the table, the tightness of the corset making me
wheeze as I grabbed my purse and ripped it open, fishing the offending piece of
technology from its terrifying depths.
A number I'd never seen before flashed on the screen. New York
I hesitated. What if it was an emergency? What if something had
happened to Felicia and someone was trying to get a hold of me? What if
something had happened to Felicia and Anton together? Felicia and Anton and
Arthur, and the whole company...?
Well, okay, the more I thought about it the less likely it
seemed that everyone I personally knew would have been consumed by the same
disaster, except of course it had happened before. Many times. I hadn't seen
the news lately...
“I have to take this,” I said, suddenly feeling more sick than
Malcolm frowned at me. “Is everything all right?” he asked.
“Haha!” I said. “Probably! Is there a bathroom here?”
Wordlessly, concern lighting his eyes, he pointed to the back of
the restaurant, and I shuffled past him, my heels clacking loudly on the wood
floor. I barely made it to the water closet before voicemail picked up. I
answered the call. “Hello!” I chirped. “Sadie MacElroy speaking.”
“Where the hell is Mr. Ward?” Don's angry voice surged across
the Atlantic, pissed beyond belief. “I know he must be awake by now.”
This. Fucking. Guy,
I thought. Two could be righteously
angry! “How'd you get my number?” I demanded.
“That's not important. I need to talk to Mr. Ward as soon as
My buzz was thoroughly wrecked at this point and my stomach
pitched and roiled, basted in acidic wine. I needed to eat something.
Preferably a piece of bread. “I'll tell him you called,” I said.
“Oh, will you? Think you can remember to do that this time?”
I hated this guy. “I remembered,” I said. “I just didn't do it.”
A sound of frustration came over the line, and I smiled. I mean,
I'm not usually vindictive and unprofessional like that, but I was drunk, I
really needed to eat something, and he was just a shithead.
He changed tactics. “I apologize, Miss MacElroy,” he said after
an audible sigh. “It has been a long and very trying few days. Mr. Ward
come back to New York. It is very important.”
“You're not going to give me a hint about what's so goddamn
important?” I said. I obviously didn't have any right to that information, but
if it was a business deal or something I was certain it could wait until the
end of our meal.
There was a silence. “Okay. Fine. He's wanted for questioning by
I nearly dropped the phone in shock. “What?”
“Yeah. You'd better get his ass back to New York, or he's going
to be arrested.”
I licked my lips. “I have no reason to trust what you're saying.
You've been nothing but a shitlord to me since the world
better tell me right now what you need him for or you're just going to have to
call him yourself.”
“Does he have his phone on him?”
“No.” I wasn't sure, but I wasn't going to give him any quarter.
“And I have no reason to trust what
You're just a gold-digger.”
Now I was so shocked I couldn't even speak. Was that why he was
such a terrible person to me? Don seemed to take my silence as an admission of
guilt. When he spoke next I heard his smile.
“He's not crazy, you know,” he said. “It's all an act. You can't
get his money by duping him.”
I felt cold. “I know he's not crazy, you ass. I'm not after his
“Sure you aren't,” he said, his voice brimming with smugness, as
though he knew all my motivations. I'd have had no problems marrying someone
for their money as long as we were perfectly honest about our relationship...
but this wasn't like that.
“Good luck getting a hold of him when I accidentally drop his
cell phone in the toilet,” I said and hung up before I became the target of any
Sobered, I stood in the bathroom and stared at myself in the
mirror. I hadn't put on any make up and my hair was loose, but the clothes I
wore were beautifully made and they mostly hid my tattoos. I didn't look like
someone who would sleep with a guy for the money... did I? And I certainly
wasn't the sort of person who would take advantage of a crazy person for
That dickhole knows nothing about you,
fiercely. Leaning over the sink, I splashed some cold water on my face and, feeling
a bit more clear-headed than before, I turned and strode back to the table
where Malcolm was speaking with Dominic.
“Sorry about that,” I said, settling back down in my chair.
“Who was it?” Malcolm asked.
I shook my head. “No one important.”
Just your secretary,
telling me you're wanted for questioning by the FBI. Oh yeah, about that...
He held my gaze for a little longer than I would have liked, but
after a moment he turned back to Dominic and spoke again in rapid French.
Dominic smiled and laughed, left and then returned almost immediately bearing a
loaf of crusty bread, olive oil and vinegar, and a smattering of herbs on a
plate. With a flourish, he poured out the oil and vinegar onto the plate,
somehow managing to create a pool of oil with a perfectly-formed black-vinegar
heart in the middle. Malcolm shook his head, but it was indulgent.
“Dominic claims we are destined lovers,” he said as the old man
bustled off, presumably to get the rest of our meal ready.
“You said that we might be the day after we met,” I said. “Don't
His eyes softened. “I do, but I said it was the red thread of
fate, which ties together those who are destined to meet, not necessarily
become lovers. So the red thread of fate connects us, perhaps, and even if it
were to designate us as destined lovers that is not necessarily a good thing.
Often lovers in Eastern mythology are tragic figures.” His eyes twinkled, as
though he thought being a tragic figure would be quite a lark. “Dominic doesn't
mean it that way, but he's a remarkably optimistic man.”
I tilted my head, “And you aren't?”
He seemed surprised that I had misread him so badly. “Me? Oh,
no. I'm far more fatalistic. The Buddha himself tells us that suffering is
inevitable. It must be true.”
He was getting mystic on me again, and I was no longer in the
mood for his whimsies. “I know you're not crazy,” I blurted suddenly.
Silence fell across the table.
Me and my stupid drunk mouth.
His eyes hardened and he leaned back in his chair, and I
suddenly realized that there was another side to him. The side I'd seen when he
commanded me to submit to him. The side of him that had made him a formidable
businessman and a billionaire at a relatively young age. Mastery. Dominance.
I gave an involuntary shiver and forced myself to not look away.
He steepled his fingers in front of his mouth, every inch the
CEO. “And how would you know that, Sadie?” he asked. “Does it have anything to
do with the scars hidden beneath the ink on your skin?”
I stiffened, inhaling sharply. The strictures of the corset
restrained my ribs, and I became lightheaded. “That's none of your business,” I
said. “But yes. Yes it does. Now don't change the subject.”
He blinked, and his shoulders relaxed slightly. He hadn't
expected me to admit anything. “What subject?” he said.
“The subject where I tell you I know you aren't crazy, so why do
you act the way you do?”
He tilted his head. “And what way is that?”
I narrowed my eyes. “You know exactly what I mean. Skipping the
country with a woman you barely know and buying her thousands of dollars worth
of clothes.” God, tens of thousands, probably. The thought made me slightly
sick to my stomach. Eschewing decorum, I nibbled on a piece of bread to settle
my stomach before continuing. “Declaring yourself to be a tortured artistic
genius. Singing with homeless men on the subway and then giving away a thousand
dollars just because. Spouting off religious aphorisms in every day
conversation. You know.
sort of thing.”
He was silent for a moment, and we stared at each other as
Dominic emerged from the kitchen with our first course, a delicate display of
fresh mussels with a drizzle of cream sauce. The bread had settled my stomach
and it smelled heavenly, but I didn't want to be the first to look away.
Dominic, clearly sensing something had gone awry with his fated lovers, faded
back into the kitchen.
Finally Malcolm picked up his fork and deftly pried a mussel
from its shell. “Who was that on the phone, Sadie?” he asked me. He didn't
exactly sound like a disapproving father from a sixties sitcom, but it was
“Why?” I demanded. “What does it matter?”
“Because the moment you came out of the bathroom after speaking
to them, you acted differently. Whoever it was told you something about me, or
warned you against getting involved with me, or something else to that effect,
and I would like to know what it was, and who told you such things.”
I pressed my lips into a line. He didn't have a
know. But then again, I didn't have a right to interrogate his personal
And I really liked Malcolm Ward. He was weird, but he wasn't
trying to be. He was just a guy who had removed his social filter and decided
to do whatever the fuck came into his head. The only reason he wasn't singing
on the subway as a homeless person himself was because he was so goddamn rich.
Why he'd decided to do that was the question.
Surely it didn't have something to do with the fact that he was
being investigated by the
It was all the wine, I swear. And I guess some of it was my own
bad judgment, but mostly it was the wine.
“Your secretary called me,” I confessed at last. “Don Cardall,
surprised him. His eyebrows nearly shot into his
hairline. “Don called you? How did he know your number?”
Now I had to look away, worrying my lower lip with my teeth. “He
sort of called you on your cell phone about a thousand times while you were
asleep and I answered, thinking it might be important.”
I sneaked a glance at him from the corner of my eye, and was relieved
to see he looked more puzzled than anything. I'd expected him to be angry. I
pressed on. “I asked him what he wanted, and he said he needed to talk to you.
I tried to wake you up, but you were passed out. Like, drugged passed out.”
“Mm,” he said. “I do sleep fairly heavily. And I haven't been
sleeping much in the past few weeks.”
Few weeks? So not just since he'd met me.
he was really rude to me, so I was rude back, and by the time you woke up I'd
had too much wine and watched too much Croatian television to remember that he
wanted you to call him back. So he got
number from somewhere and
called me to yell at me for not informing you that he'd called.” I thought for
a moment. “And now that I say it out loud, it's all very high school. I also
told him I'd accidentally drop your phone in the toilet if he wasn't nicer to
“He was rude to you?” Malcolm asked.
“God, yes. Swearing and everything. And he called me a
gold-digger.” That last part came out without my consent. Wine. Seriously.
never drink wine again,
I vowed. I was absolute shit at keeping things
under wraps when drunk. In the hopes of delaying any further embarrassment or
confessions, I set about attacking my mussels, which is hard to do when
expensive wine has given you the fine motor skills of a penguin on crack.
“Ah, yes, he's under a lot of pressure,” Malcolm said. He seemed
to relax and leaned forward again, deftly plucking another mussel from its
shell before extending it across the table and feeding it to me. I accepted it
gratefully. Honestly, who in their right mind serves mussels to a lady wearing
The answer was,
Someone who knows his mussels are so goddamn
good you'd sacrifice a finger to have another one.
The morsel melted in my
mouth, sharp and sweet and salty, a perfectly cooked piece of shellfish. I
couldn't help but moan with pleasure. For a moment, Don was forgotten as
Malcolm helped me eat my portion of the appetizer, and it was only when I was
done and leaning back, feeling more content that I had any right to be that I
brought the subject back up again. “Anyway. Don was really rude. You should
“Oh, I can't fire him,” Malcolm said. “He's just feeling a bit
stressed out at the moment.” He appeared to think about this as he chewed and
swallowed the last mussel. “I don't blame him, really. I defied his
expectations by leaving the country with you.”