Tuesday, November 4, 2014--3:57 PM
He was in the office adjoining his bedroom at the villa outside of Rome, researching his next assignment when someone knocked on the door. “Si,” Darsh replied, closing his laptop. The heavy wooden door opened a fraction and he saw the head of his daughter, peaking around it.
“Come in, bambina.” He smiled warmly.
“English,” he told her gently.
She pushed the door open enough to squeeze through, went to him, wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Father, I no longer am a little one. I’m twenty-one now and Gianna is twenty-two. We’re grown women living on our own,” she informed him, plopping down on his lap.
“Ah, Catarina, you will always be my little one. Especially as long as you and your sister rely upon me to support you,” he teased, his thoughts flitting to another whom he would always think of as little one. “Besides, don’t take it personally. It’s a term of endearment.”
Her large brown eyes stared into his. “Mammina spoke to me just now. She asked about you. She wanted to know where that handsome man with the wild hair was. She said she wanted to see him.”
Darsh felt a churning in the pit of his stomach as a lump rose to his throat. “Did she know who you were?” His daughter shook her head. She’s so like her mother used to be, he
mused, so statuesque with the dark features and beauty of an Italian movie star. His other daughter, Gianna, was the polar opposite, born with fair skin, capped with a copper crown and cat-green eyes. The moment he’d seen her at the hospital, she’d reminded him of another little girl he’d known many years before, and he’d whispered her name. Catarina gave him a puzzled look and he ran a hand through her thick black mane.
“What are you thinking, Babbo? You’re going to have to go back to Jaipur soon, aren’t you?” He shifted uncomfortably so she stood, went to the leather sofa and sat, her legs crossed, thumbs under her chin, fingers steepled in front of her face.
She had learned the gesture from him and he sighed, realizing she had something on her mind. “You know I have to travel a lot. Sally does a good job of running the IT company, but I still have to be there occasionally to handle things. There are the oil and gas properties, the office in Dubai, Kathrine in London and the estate. I have—“
“Yes, I’m aware you have to handle things…in Jaipur. We know about Sally,” his daughter said with a smug grin.
His heart sank. “What do you know?” he asked, staring into eyes filled with amusement.
“Oh, Father, really! Gianna and I aren’t children. We’ve known for ages. And we don’t blame you. After all, you’re only a man. And men have needs. It isn’t your fault mother got ill. We’re both happy you have someone to…well, you know,” she said, sounding quite worldly.
Darsh felt the heat rise in his face. “Please, don’t let this be an opening to start sharing experiences. I prefer you keep yours to yourself.”
Catarina giggled. “My God, you’re embarrassed!”
“You’re my daughter, young lady!”
“We could share, you know…I tell you, you tell me.”
“Let’s say we did and don’t. Where the bloody hell do you come off talking to your old man like this? And how did you come up with these quixotic theories of yours?” he asked as he stood, went to her and offered his hand.
She took it and gave him an exasperated look. “Well, you were always gone and we haven’t exactly had a mother for several years, have we? So, we mainly learnt from the servants here and in England. Then there’s grandfather and Uncle Bane—“
“Don’t look so shocked. He stays in touch with us…has even visited when we’ve been in London with Kathrine.” She glanced up at him slyly. “You’re kind of a fuddy-duddy, you know. Very secretive…the mystery man. Gianna and I used to make up cloak and dagger stories about you,” she informed him knowingly, as he led her out of the room.
A knot tightened in his chest. “Did you now?”
“Oh yes! Wonderful stories about you not just being amazingly handsome and wealthy, but about you having this covert life where you went around saving the world. Gianna used to think you were a superhero. But alas, we searched your closet once and couldn’t find a cape. She was terribly disappointed…almost devastated. She’d been so sure.”
They were walking along the ancient stone floor of a hallway when Catarina stopped and looked up at him. “Who are you, Father?”
“You know who I am,” Darsh answered softly.
“I know you’re my father.”
“That’s all you need to know. I’m your father, Ian Sinclair, and I love you,” he responded, letting go of her hand to open the door in front of them.
“She’ll ask you the same thing,” she whispered as they entered the chamber.
The woman was on an antique chaise, a mere shadow of herself. Her once luxurious raven hair was all but gone. Only thin puffs of white covered her scalp as a withered hand rubbed over it. The bright blue eyes, dark as sapphires, were faded and cloudy as she stared at them with a bewildered expression.
Catarina went to her mother, sat on the edge of the chaise and pulled her robe together in the front. “Remember, Mammina? I’m your daughter, Catarina.”
The woman ignored her and kept her gaze on Darsh. “You look like a nice man. Who are you?” she asked in Italian, taking her claw-like hand from her head to point a finger at him, the other hand frozen on her lap.
A lump went to his throat as he gave her a charming smile. “Isabella, I’m your husband. Do you not know who I am?” he asked, going to a chair next to her. Sitting, he took the shriveled hand in his, kissed the back of it, the palm then held it gently between his two hands.
She shook her head. “I have no idea who you are.”
Tears formed as they always did when he saw her like this. Theirs had been a lustful, tempestuous relationship that turned volatile and they’d separated. He’d just bought the flat in Dubai and was setting up offices there, when she was diagnosed with aides. In the beginning he hadn’t realized she was bipolar, but her behavior had gotten worse as the years went by with all the medications she’d had to take. She would accuse him of things then not remember, go into rages but forget why. It had been a living hell for everyone. Now, Alzheimer’s had taken over.
They’d been raising the girls in this same villa that had been owned by her family for over three hundred years and he’d restored it to its original splendor, yet nothing pleased her. Had we ever been happy? he wondered with a deep sigh. Maybe not so much…perhaps not at all. His head bent and he let go of her hand. It was his guilt that made him so sad at moments like this. Maybe, if he had forced her to seek help earlier...if he’d been truly able to love her.
“Who was she?” Isabella asked sharply, her voice angry.
The words were familiar and he slowly raised his head and stared into her eyes. She’d asked the same question a thousand times before. They were barely back from their honeymoon when it started. “I don’t know who you’re talking about,” he lied.
“Tu disteso fottuto bastardo!” she screamed. “The one you left me for. The one whose name you mumbled in your sleep. The one whose name you let slip when you called our first born by her name the moment you saw her.”
A shiver ran through him. She’d never made these accusations before. He turned and saw the confusion in their daughter’s eyes as she mouthed, “Sally?” He gave a brief shake of his head and smiled back at his wife.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about. What is the name?”
“Who?” Isabella asked irritably.
“The woman you spoke of,” he answered calmly.
“I spoke of no woman.”
“Of course you didn’t...my mistake.”
“Who are you?” she asked then suddenly started shooing them away with her hands. “I’m tired. Leave!”
Father and daughter stood. Neither attempted to give her a kiss on the cheek or top of her head as they used to, for she would only accuse them of attacking her and go into another of her violent rages. They nodded at the nurse who sat quietly in the corner, playing a game on her
Smartphone, and quickly made their exit.
Once in the hall with the door shut behind them, Catarina whispered, “I know the name.”
Darsh’s heart sank again as he slowly turned to face his daughter but he said nothing.
“Gina. Her name is Gina. I heard Mother say it to Gianna. She said, ‘Oh, you must be my husband’s Gina.’ Then she as quickly forgot and didn’t know who the hell Gianna was and screamed for her to get out. I’m right. I know I am, Babbo. I can tell by the look on your face.”
Darsh stared at her a moment, trying to control his breathing. “I’ll see you and your sister in London tomorrow. The plane will be waiting at 10:00. Luciano will pick you up here at 9:30. I’ll be leaving Thursday night after Kathrine’s birthday celebration,” he stated evenly before turning, going to his office, stuffing the laptop in a satchel and heading down the stairs.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014--5:29 AM
Gina said, “Please,” as Bane stood over her, looking down at her trembling nude body. She was begging for it and he couldn’t hold back any longer. He was going to own her, have her on her knees. Soon he would break her and she would be his sub. He wouldn’t fail like he had with the original Beauty. No, Gina would be his Beauty and he her Beast. He would teach her the pleasure in pain and when he was through with her, she would come to him willingly and ask.
But for now, he had to have her and lowered himself between her parted legs as her hips arched up in a silent plea for him to enter. He gave a thrust and she screamed out in ecstasy as her body began to undulate beneath him. Her pale skin was damp and glistening, her mouth half open as she panted, moans escaping her parted lips. Wet tendrils of copper clung to her face and neck. He was picking up rhythm and her nails dug into his shoulders as her legs wrapped around him, heals digging into his buttocks. Suddenly, she went rigid and he felt her
throbbing around him as her body was racked with tremors. She cried out again and tears slid from the corners of her teal eyes as they opened and stared into his. He felt the wave erupting and an explosion went off in his head as his deep guttural groans filled the night air…
“Bane, wake up! Bane! What in the hell is wrong with you?” The shouts pierced his brain, as lights crashed through the previously dark bedroom and he blinked several times to clear his head. Putting a hand up to shield his eyes from the glare, he looked in the direction the voice had come from.
Beverly stood with her plump fingers still on the light switch, a scowl across her once pretty face. She was dressed in a flannel nightgown and robe combo that could have been her grandmother’s. It was real. They were back together and she was sleeping with him again, the proof of last night’s lovemaking on his bedside table; a bottle of Cialis, tube of K-Y Jelly and a clean hand towel, in the event one of them had an orgasm.
“What the hell was that all about?” she asked angrily. “Are you okay? I heard grunting and roaring in here like some wild animal in pain.”
“Jesus,” he said, sitting up. “Where have you been?” he asked, avoiding her question as he felt the stickiness of his wet dream on the top sheet.
“You were snoring. Nothing ever changes.” She shrugged. “I’ve been reading in the guest room.”
Reading, he thought. Yeah, he could imagine what she was reading. The same things she read all day and night. Texts from his cell, emails between that green-eyed devil and him…anything she could get her hands on having to do with his relationship with Gina. He’d been able to get his cell back from her before she’d decided to check his pictures…So far, all she had was a first name and didn’t know it was the Gina Faulkner. The one of infamy, the one some
thought of as a voodoo queen, the one who owned Swamp Witch Pickles. He looked at the clock. It was 5:30. Normally, Beverly would sleep the day away, but now she liked to get up early to make sure she started his day off with a bang.
“I need to get up,” he said, ignoring her glare as he lifted to a sitting position and put his feet on the floor, the sheet still covering his naked lap.
She looked at him in disgust. “I asked a question, Bane. I expect an answer. Are you okay?”
He glanced up at her and smiled. “Of course! Just a nightmare, I guess. Don’t even remember it now.”
He needed to get their housekeeper to wash the sheets as soon as she came in. If Bev finds out, she’ll find someone to accuse me of being with, thinking and dreaming of. I know who that someone will be. He shook his head. I’m not going to think about her. He’d made up his mind he couldn’t think about her.
His wife gave a derisive snort. “I’m going back to the guest bedroom. Don’t let anyone disturb me.”
“Of course not,” he replied to her back as he watched her turn from the doorway and waddle off. Slowly, every part of his body hurting, he searched in the nightstand drawer and found a bottle of pain pills. Without thinking, he popped two, reached for the half empty glass of merlot and washed them down.
Thirty minutes later, he was sitting on the back porch, a mug of coffee perched on his lap in one hand, a lit cigar in the other. He watched the smoke curling and twisting up into the cool
morning air and thought about what a lucky man he was. After Beverly had left him, he’d wanted nothing more than to get her back. That’s all he could think about. It had consumed him and he was a man who always got exactly what he wanted.
Well, I won, he told himself. I have her back and she’s even in my bed again. He’d accomplished what he’d schemed and planned on doing. He’d saved his marriage. So what if I had to give up a few sacrificial lambs? It was worth it, he thought smugly. He was a happy man and smiled, letting his eyes close and his mind wander.
Suddenly, his nightmare was crisply vivid and he was remembering every detail. “Stop it,” he said and shook his head again, as if he could make the memories or his fantasies of Gina go away. That swamp witch probably put another one of her curses on me. Damn the bitch, he thought with a chuckle. But the smile quickly left his face and a sadness swept over him. He sighed and whispered into the morning air as a soft breeze kissed against his cheek and caused the tip of his cigar to glow bright red, “Gina, you won’t leave me alone, will you? What in the fuck am I going to do about you?”
Garden District, New Orleans, LA
Gina was on her morning walk with her childhood friend, Lydia, who was tall and blond, her long legs always getting ahead of the short redhead. The morning was brisk and Gina was unusually silent.
“Okay, what’s going on? Have you talked to Bane?” Lydia ventured.
“No.” She gave her friend a sideways glance. “I sent him a goodbye text and he sent something back saying, I don’t do goodbyes, my dear.”
“That’s a little frightening. Anything else?”
“Nothing more than him getting a message to me through Jolita to move on a few days later.”
“So, he’s officially back with his wife? They’re living together?”
She stopped walking, looked up at her friend and nodded.
Lydia walked back and wrapped long arms around her in a bear hug. “Oh, poor baby, I know you really cared about him. This is the first time you’ve actually had someone walk away from you, huh? But look at it this way, it’s just karma. Now you know how all those poor souls that you’ve lured in then turned your back on have felt. It’s not fun hurting like that, now is it, baby girl?”
Gina shoved her away. “You bitch. Why are you starting to sound just like Tasty? Can you all not believe, for just a second, that I have real feelings and can actually care about someone?”
Her friend grinned from ear to ear. “Oh, bless your little heart. No, we can’t. I’ve known you now for most of your life and Tasty’s been taking care of you since you were born. I was there, remember…when we were teenagers? I saw him…the boy at Carnival. You’ve imagined yourself in love with him for decades and haven’t been able to truly love anyone else. And then the hallucinations you had when your fever was so high. Tasty kept trying to tell you she threw those damn beads away, but you wouldn’t listen to—“
“She did not throw those damn beads away! I see things and know things and I did not hallucinate. I ran into Chad a few weeks later and he told me he and his gang were still going to hunt my friend down and kill him. I begged him to tell me what he looked like. He just laughed then started making threats about what he was going to do to me when he got me alone.”
“I know, darlin’. But you were so desperate and hell bent to find out, you made plans to
meet Chad anyway. But he never showed up.”
Gina looked away and started walking, her fists stuck deep in her sweater pockets. “I don’t want to hear this.”
Lydia stepped over a puddle that her friend had to go around and caught up. “Why? Because you’ve never been able to handle the truth?”
“Don’t do this to me, please.”
“Chad never showed up at that meeting. Chad never showed back up at Loyola or anywhere in New Orleans after that. I thought your daddy had something to do with it. But your mother, rest her soul, swore to me before she passed that he didn’t and she didn’t either. She was afraid maybe you—“
“For God’s sake, Lydia, I wouldn’t have done anything. I wanted to find out if Tommy was real, if he was the one from the parade. I did not do anything.”
“I found out recently on Facebook, through some old high school friends, that Chad’s whole family just up and disappeared to somewhere like Montana. There were even rumors about witness protection… I haven’t wanted to tell you, but he died young. They say it was his liver, alcohol poisoning.”
Gina froze and put her hands over her ears. “I didn’t cause it. I didn’t do anything to Chad,” she whispered.
Lydia pulled her hands away and held them. “You’ve been manifesting things your whole life. Are you sure, baby girl?”
She looked up and nodded, tears clinging to her lashes. “Something bad is going to happen. I feel it. I feel him.”
“For the love of Christ, Gina, he’s not real. You’ve taken this one encounter with a boy you never knew and turned it into some unrealistic fantasy about a guardian angel, a demon lover--”
“Yes, he is real and I can feel him thinking about me.”
“And all you can think about is Bane. Tell me something, Gina. Why didn’t you just go ahead and screw your Mr. Colton?”
“Because he was still married.”
“Oh, Lawdy, like that would have stopped you.”
“Okay, damn it! I didn’t want to get hurt.”
“But you got hurt anyway and now he’s back with his wife, and you feel like something bad is going to happen.”
“I think she’s had him followed since he asked for a divorce and still is. She knows about and is obsessed with me from what Jolita says. I think she’s festering and things are going to get violent.”
“I don’t understand. Why did he stay with her?”
They walked onto Lydia’s columned porch and sat in white wicker chairs, a wicker table between them, ancient live oaks blocking the sun’s ascent. Gina’s eyes were no longer teary and teal colored but vibrantly green and fiery. “I’ve saved the best,” she said, grinning mischievously.
“No, there can’t be more,” the blond groaned. “Does it explain why he let her come back?”
“Uh-huh, a lot of it does. You know that woman who tried to come on the market with a
pickle similar to ours? Remember the French Market wouldn’t let her sell there because of being in competition with us?”
“Sooo, it appears some of our retailers have given her the boot, too. Most locals are pretty loyal to us and don’t like someone from across the lake coming in and trying to copy what we’ve done.”
“Good, they shouldn’t. You’ve worked too damn hard. Besides, that’s your great-grandmother Brussard’s recipe.”
“I know. Anyway, it seems everyone neglected to tell Erin and me who Bane’s wife is.”
Lydia’s eyes got huge. “Noooo…not Bev the pickle bitch?”
“Yes, ma’am. Big Bev’s Famous Pickles. Seems like nothing was a coincidence. Mr. Colton got tired of listening to his delightful wife raking us over the coals all the time. So, after she’d left him, he evidently decided to win her back by getting to the bottom of this pickle thing and made a little trip down to the Quarter. Guess who was working the booth at the Market that day…yours truly. From what I understand, he just sat back in the crowd and watched the show.”
“The whole thing was a setup?”
“All of his offers to help, wanting me to tell him everything I had, where it was, etc. His wanting to get me out of the country, open offshore accounts for me. I think he started out wanting to find out what was so great about me and the pickles for his wife to hate us both so much but—“
“But then he got hooked on you and the pickles, plus he had a pickle of his own he wanted to give you. You must have been like a breath of fresh air to him.”
“You mean the big boobs and red hair, cute little dimples—“
“Stop! You are so bad.” Lydia burst out laughing. “Oh, and the way you flirt. My God, he had to have been watching you leaning over, handing out samples with your cleavage popping out and that shit-eating grin you get and…” Lydia started chocking. “I can’t even imagine what his first impression would have been. I’ve actually seen Big Bev and, baby girl, he had to have been looking at you like you were a goddess.”
“You met her? Where?”
“Oh, it was some charity event for the zoo or something and she was there trying to hawk her wares, but she was so…I don’t know…negative. I didn’t really speak to her. I meant to tell you, but back then it didn’t seem important. And Bane, damn! He is a hunk, in an older man sort of way. Go figure. Oh, this is too good. I can’t wait to tell Scott tonight. How did you find out?”
“Erin. Neither one of us knew who Jolita worked for. We just knew she was a secretary. Evidently, Mr. Colton asked around and found out that his very own trusted Girl Friday was a casual friend of my daughter’s—“
“And so he set out deliberately to trap you. Jolita gets closer to Erin, Erin encourages you to hire Jolita one afternoon a week to help with the bookkeeping and voila, he has instant and complete access into your world. And it explains why so many of the package stores never would carry you.”
“Well, when you own the biggest liquor distributorship along the coast…and about fifty percent of those package stores, that gives you a lot of power.”
“And connections. Mr. Colton could be a very dangerous man.”
“If he does have connections with the mafia then Big Bev could be an even more dangerous woman. She could have so much on him that he could never get away from her. I know she’s been making threats to him about what she’s going to do to me, but Jolita won’t tell
me what they are. She already hated me without knowing a damn thing about me. Now she knows her husband and I had a thing, and if she puts two and two together and figures out I’m the green-eyed devil of Swamp Witch Pickles—“
“Then let’s hope your Tommy is real. You always swore he promised to save you from certain peril.”
Gina felt like she was going to burst out crying and stood. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, mon amie. I always feel him when I’m in danger and I’m feeling him now.”
“Have you talked to Eve about any of this? I know you miss her.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t want to bother her. Ever since she moved to Denver, she’s been so worried about me. I’ll talk to her when things settle down…if they do.”
“Go home and call me when you get there. Lock the doors, turn the alarm on and make sure the dogs are inside with you. I know you. You can’t keep yourself from manifesting things. But I’m warning you. You’re playing with fire. No spells, curses, incantations…nothing.”
“Not even a tiny dream a little dream of me?” she asked, putting her thumb and index fingers together in front of her.
“I’m calling Tasty. Someone’s got to be able to get through to you.”
“People say I’m a lost cause.” Gina went down the steps then turned back to her friend. “You didn’t respond.”
“Because, I don’t know what to say. All I know is I’m glad you’re my friend and not my enemy.”
Feeling like her heart was going to explode, Gina turned and headed down the sidewalk, wondering if Bane Colton had sweet dreams last night.