Chapter 47


Chapter 47

Derrick took the large skillet and set it on the stove. He put a bit of butter in it and left it there. He turned and opened a bin drawer in the island. Seth moved out of the way a bit as he watched. Derrick took out small red potatoes and set them on the counter, about a dozen of them, then he reached in again and pulled out another type of potato, very yellow looking ones. Seth never took his eyes off what Derrick was doing.

“Now, we start the oven.” Derrick said as he reached for a knob, turning it and the oven started. Derrick took a knife out of the block on the counter and started to cut up the potatoes into small pieces very quickly. He looked at Seth and smiled once, “We can roast these with a bit of onion and peppers. Would you get out a red pepper in the fridge for me, Seth?”

“Yeah.” Seth said and moved toward the fridge.

“There should be one in the bottom crisper drawer.” Derrick said as he looked over his shoulder, “There’s also some parsley in there, grab that too please.”

“Uh, what’s parsley?” Seth asked as he backed out of the fridge and looked at Derrick. Derrick smiled and came over to him. He looked down and into the drawer.

“That right there.” Derrick said as he pointed with the knife. Derrick went back to the potatoes, taking more of them and cutting them up quickly. He put the knife down and opened another door and pulled out a baking sheet. He set it on the counter and opened another drawer. He took out a long narrow box, closing the drawer. Seth came back to the counter, “Okay, now, you can cut up the pepper for me. Just remember to remove the seeds.”

“How do I do that?” Seth asked.

“Cut the top off and then the bottom. You can cut the pepper into sections and then scrap out the seeds.” Derrick said. Seth took a knife and started to cut it up. Derrick watched out of the corner of his eye.

“Hope I don’t screw this up.” Seth said as he cut the pepper, treating it like it was some kind of alien thing.

“You can’t screw it up, there’s no way. You’re doing fine just the way you’re doing it.” Derrick said.

“I am?”

“Yeah, you’re a natural.” Derrick said and smiled looking at the pepper. “Now, each section gets cut up into small pieces.” Derrick said and watched as Seth went to it.

“Are you feeling better?” Ty asked as Aiden came to the table where Ty sat. Aiden nodded as he put his hands on the table and sat down next to Ty on the bench, “You look a whole lot better now.”

“I just don’t know what to do.” Aiden said as he looked down at the table. Ty put an arm around the slender shoulders.

“That’s life, bud. We never know what to do until we’re faced with it, whatever the problem is. Some people try and plan, try and get everything perfect and all in a row, but you know what? It seldom works out that way.” Ty said.

“You never seem to have a problem.” Aiden said.

“Oh, believe me, I’ve had my share.” Ty said with a roll of his eyes.

“I’ve never noticed. You were always so cool when I was growing up. You were always so good and nice.” Aiden said.

“That’s just an act.” Ty said with a shrug, “I’m really an asshole in disguise.” He said and shoulder bumped Aiden a bit making Aiden smile, “If you hung around long enough, you’d see.”

“Yeah, right.” Aiden said. He hung his head a bit. A tear dropped in his lap. Ty saw it, squeezing the shoulders tighter.

“I know your dad was never there, bud. Your uncle was always there for you though.” Ty said.

“I wish I had a dad like you.” Aiden said above a whisper, “Someone that I could talk to, someone that would listen and not blow up.”

“You know, friends do that too.” Ty said as he leaned his head against Aiden’s for a moment, “And sometimes, friends can be better than having a dad. I’m always here and ready to listen, bud, as a friend.”

“Thanks.” Aiden whispered.

“Now that you have that done,” Derrick said to Seth, “take those and put them on the potatoes.”

“You mean, just scoop them up?” Seth asked with wide eyes.

“Sure.” Derrick said, “I’ll chop up the parsley.” Derrick reached over, taking the parsley now that he was done with the potatoes, using his knife, he cut off the tops of the parsley. Seth was adding the red pepper to the potatoes and then watched Derrick do magic with the knife on the cutting board. Derrick chopped the parsley very fine, scooped it up with the knife and spread it over the potatoes.

“I think your brother is getting a real lesson in cooking.” Ty said as looked toward the island. The high counter blocked most of what was going on with Derrick and Seth, “We should watch what’s happening. Come on.” Ty nuzzled Aiden a bit with his shoulder. They both rose up from the table, going over to the stools at the island, sitting down and watched what was going on, on the other side.

“Now the onion.” Derrick said, reaching back into the bin drawer, pulling out a shallot. Seth looked puzzled. Derrick cut off the ends.

“That doesn’t look like an onion.”

“There are several different types of onion. This is called a shallot.” Derrick said holding it up briefly as he looked at Seth, “It’s delicate in its flavor, gives you a hint of that onion taste without overpowering.”

“Oh.” Seth said, but had no clue of what Derrick was talking about. Seth watched as Derrick sliced the small onion, then chopped over where he had sliced.

“You should see him when he really gets going.” Ty said as he leaned toward Aiden a bit, “Especially when he does dinner. I just sit back and stay out of his way and count my fingers.”

“Yeah, like I want carpenter hands helping when I’m cooking.” Derrick said with a flash of his eyes.

“You know, I like to cook sometimes too.” Ty said.

“Yeah, well, mac and cheese from a box doesn’t count.” Derrick said and flashed a smile at his man.

“Hey, easy there, killer.” Ty said, “It’s not like it came from a taco truck you know.”

“God help us all if it did.” Derrick said and rolled his eyes as he added the scallion to the potatoes.

“Hey now, we were at the taco truck the other day, remember? You didn’t complain then.” Ty said. Seth and Aiden were smiling watching them playfully arguing.

“No, you’re right, but my stomach sure didn’t agree with it, did it?”

“He’s too delicate.” Ty said as he leaned toward Aiden, “It almost blew out the pipes later on.”

“What?” Derrick asked with a shocked look.

“Just sayin’,” Ty said with a surprised look on his face. Seth and Aiden were chuckling over it, “Maybe if you ate there more, you wouldn’t have a problem with it.”

“Killin me.” Derrick said as he shook his head, “I should probably call the health department and have that truck shut down.” Derrick said as he reached for the olive oil. He gently shook the bottle side to side over the potatoes, peppers, and shallot. He set the bottle down.

“That’s my favorite place I’ll have you know.” Ty said and looked insulted.

“It shows.” Derrick said as he got his fingers into the mixture, gently bringing everything together, “Seth, would you grab that shaker there for me please?”

“This one?” Seth asked, Derrick nodded.

“Yes. Sprinkle some of it over the top of this while I mix it.” Derrick said as the salt was added, just a little, “That’s good. Now, would you get the other one?” Derrick asked and nodded. Seth took it up, “Give it a twist and spread it around as you do that.” Seth did it and the cracked pepper dropped delicately, “Perfect. Now, into the oven.” Derrick said, “Get the door for me, will you?” Derrick moved with the baking sheet, Seth opened the oven door, Derrick slid it in, Seth closed it as Derrick moved to the sink to wash his hands, “About a half hour and those will be ready.”

“Wow, there’s a lot to it, isn’t there?” Seth asked.

“Can be, if you want it to be right.” Derrick said as dried his hands on a towel.

“And he always wants it to be right.” Ty said as he leaned toward Aiden. Derrick raised an eyebrow and a finger.

“You, mister, are getting on thin ice.” Derrick said.

“Are you going to put me over your knee?” Ty smiled.

“You wish.” Derrick said with a smirk. Ty wiggled his eyebrows.

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Conner sat across the small table in the bar of the hotel from the scruffy looking man. He had listened to everything that the man had said about the voyage, what had happened about them being boarded by the raiders, the fire being set accidentally in the confusion, the order being given to abandon ship. Conner had watched as the man had drank the entire time, beer after beer that Conner had ordered for him. The man did not seem too affected by it.

“So, you and your crew escaped without any harm.” Conner said as he leaned on the small table a bit. The man nodded, “I’m glad of that. But there is something you haven’t said about all of this yet.” Conner said.

“What we were carrying?” The man asked in his low deep voice. Conner nodded in reply, “There were sixty-five containers on board, all stacked on the main deck. We were carrying different commodities, all except for one.”

“What was in the one?” Conner asked in a low voice.

“It was marked as ‘machine parts’ on the manifest. But, I got a look in it before we left port. A quick look.” The man said as he finished the beer, setting the empty bottle down on the table, He looked around for a moment and then back at Conner, “They were some kind of fuel cells or something.”

“What do you mean fuel cells?” Conner asked.

“They were in crates, one of them was opened. I got a quick look at it. They were like tubes, sealed on the ends. I’ve never seen anything like them before.” The man said as he sat forward a bit.

“What makes you think they were fuel?” Conner asked.

“When the navy ship picked us up, and got us on the deck, the officers were asking about them. They weren’t very clear about it, but they knew they were onboard with us.” The man said. Conner narrowed his eyes.

“Our navy knew?” Conner asked, the man nodded again.

“And that’s another thing that’s odd. They got there so fast. It’s like they were following us. Our radar didn’t pick them up though.” The man said.

“Where were you going?” Conner asked.

“There were several ports of call that we were to unload our containers at, but that particular one was to go to Abu Dhabi.” The man said.

“Why there?” Conner asked.

“I have no idea.” The man said and sat back.

“Then they put you and your crew ashore?” Conner asked, the man shook his head slowly.

“No. We were taken off by another ship, transferred, and brought back here to Port Elizabeth, on another merchant. But only after we were questioned. Everything we said was taken down and made into a report.” The man said.

“What kind of navy ship was it?” Conner asked.

“A frigate. Very fast and sleek.” The man said, leaning forward, “Mr. Van Owen, I will tell you this, I’m a bit afraid for my safety.”

“Why?” Conner asked. The man looked around the bar and then back at Conner.

“A couple of my crew have disappeared. I can’t find them anywhere.” The man said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but when the insurance men came and asked about what happened, I noticed that I was being watched, followed. I haven’t been back to my apartment since. That was over a week ago.”

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“Mister Alec, I want to thank you for doing all of this for my daughter and her family.” Madame Julliene said as they finished making the bed in one of the guest rooms. Alec looked up from tucking in the sheets at the foot of the bed and smiled into her warm face.

“I told you it would be alright, didn’t I?” Alec asked.

“You did, but it just doesn’t feel right. It feels like we’re sneaking around.”

“There is no problem at all with them staying here.” Alec said and watched as her face showed deep concern, “Look, I’m the only one in the house, and I don’t have a problem with it. Besides, if Conner was here, he’d say the same thing that I’m saying. Do you want me to call him?” Alec asked and she went wide eyed.

“No.” She said a bit loud.

“So, if I don’t have a problem with it, then you shouldn’t either.” Alec smiled and then winked at her. She eased a bit, “So, what about the menu?” Alec asked and she eased even more. A smile slowly crept over her lips.

“I think we could prepare some nice…” She said as she was interrupted by the doorbell. Alec went wide eyed.

“Who could that be?” Alec asked.

“I have no idea.” Madame Julliene said with a surprised look.

“Okay…I’ll go and see who it is. You keep going with the room.” Alec said, turning to go to the door. She watched him walk out quickly as the doorbell echoed once again. Alec hurried down the stairs, going to the front door. His hand reached the knob as the doorbell went off again. Alec opened the door and was stunned by who was there. He swallowed hard seeing her beauty, her thin frame, the long hair flowing over her shoulders that came around her face. She was beautiful, model quality, and Alec was stunned for a moment.

“Bon Jour, Monsieur.” She said with a faint smile that made her eyes twinkle a bit in the afternoon light.

“Uh,…bon jour.” Alec said dumbfounded. He swallowed hard and then saw someone else coming up the step. He was more than gorgeous, breath taking, as he moved and the way he looked, hair swept back but over his right eye, the overcoat that covered his frame did not mask his musculature. He wore a thin sweater, v necked, with a white tee underneath it, and then there were the jeans, worn and faded, but sculpted around his manhood and showed everything. Alec went slack jawed.

“Est-il bien?” He asked as he came next to her looking at Alec, who’s eyes were locked on him.

“Je ne suis pas sur.” She said softly as she stared at Alec, “Euh, je cherche Madame Julliene?”

“What?” Alec asked as he snapped out of it and looked at her beautiful face. He noticed that she had the most sparkling blue eyes.

“You are American?” She asked and Alec nodded.

“Yes, I am.” Alec said softly. She smiled and he melted at it.

“Bonn, I mean…good.” She said with an even warmer smile, “I am Chevelle. This is my husband, Robert.”

“Uh, how do you do?” Alec asked as he tried to compose himself. He felt a hand take his and looked down, it was hers. He looked back into her eyes.

“Are you alright?” She asked.

“You both are so…” Alec said, but was cut off. He heard her behind him and then the sound of children’s voices.

“Chevelle…” Madame Julliene said as she came around Alec, taking her daughter into a deep and tight hug.

“Mama.” The pretty girl said as the air was squeezed out of her. Chevelle returned the hug that was given to her. Alec saw it all and smiled softly. He looked out to his right in the driveway seeing the two most beautiful children he had ever laid eyes upon coming toward them all at a run.

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Derrick slowly stirred the eggs in the large skillet. Seth was next to him, watching what was happening. Derrick was paying close attention to the skillet. Ty smiled and nudged Aiden.

“We should probably get some plates out.” Ty whispered. He moved to his right and got off the stool. Aiden followed, getting off his stool. Ty came around the counter, patting Derrick on the butt once and went to the cabinet, opening the door. He pulled out plates as Aiden came up next to him, “Open this drawer,” Ty pointed with one finger as he held plates, “grab the forks.”

“Okay.” Aiden said. He opened the drawer.

“See how the eggs turn?” Derrick asked Seth as he watched. Seth nodded, “You have to watch them carefully so they don’t get overdone.”

“Is that bad if they are?” Seth asked.

“They get hard and don’t taste good.” Derrick said.

“Oh.” Seth said as he watched Derrick turn off the flame and then move the skillet.

“Remove them from the heat to stop the cooking, that’s important, giving them one more stir.” Derrick said. He moved and went to the oven door, opening it. He looked inside and the smell from the cooking potatoes filled the space. Seth smiled. Derrick looked at him, “Hungry?” Derrick asked and Seth nodded, “What teenager isn’t?” Derrick asked as he grabbed a pot holder and pulled out the tray from the oven. Seth gave him a blank look. Derrick looked at him as he closed the door of the oven, “You know, when I was your age, I could eat a dozen hot dogs and go out and play a full game of football and not even think about it.”

“Really?” Seth asked.

“Really.” Derrick said as he set the tray on the stove. He picked up a spatula, set it to the potatoes, giving them a toss. Seth watched the whole thing and was amazed at how good they smelled. His stomach was about to explode if it didn’t get any of these and soon. Derrick looked at him and smiled, rolling his head a bit, “Come on.” Derrick moved and Seth followed right behind him, “Alright gentlemen, breakfast is served.” Derrick said and set the tray on the table. He went back to the stove getting the skillet of eggs. He came back to the table and served each of them. Seth didn’t wait and dove right in. He shoveled everything so fast it was a wonder that he could taste anything. Derrick smiled at him as he came around him, “Maybe we should watch our fingers to make sure they’re all there.” Derrick said and Ty smiled up at him and then looked at Seth.

“So, really, when was it the last time you guys ate? Last week?” Ty asked as Seth cleared his plate and looked up with a wide-eyed look. Seth swallowed hard, “Yeah, I guess it was.” Ty said and pushed his plate in front of Seth, “Here bud, it looks like you need it more than I do.”

“No, it’s okay.” Seth said a little embarrassed.

“No, take it.” Ty said. Seth wasted no time and dove in, clearing the plate in only moments. Ty looked at Derrick who had not had a chance to sit down yet. Their eyes met and Ty raised an eyebrow, “Yeah, I think I’ll count fingers.” He raised his hands and looked at his digits. Derrick chuckled.

“So, you like what we cooked, Seth?” Derrick asked. Seth looked up from the other plate.

“Uh huh.” He mumbled with a mouth full of food and looked around. Aiden was eating slowly as he sat next to Ty. He gave his brother a side glance out of the corner of his eye, “What? I’m hungry.” Seth said with a full mouth.

“It’s okay.” Derrick said as he put the skillet on the table and sat next to Seth on the bench, “You eat as much as you want. No one ever leaves this table hungry, that’s a house rule.” Derrick said. Seth was looking at him and chewing and swallowing, “Just make sure you taste it first rather than just swallow it.”

“But it’s so good.” Seth said again with wide eyes. Derrick smiled.

“This is why I said preparation is everything, makes it taste better.” Derrick said and flashed his eyes. Seth smiled and went back to the plate Ty pushed in front of him.

“We’re gonna go broke feeding these guys.” Ty said as Derrick caught his eyes.

“Can’t happen.” Derrick said and smiled. He looked at Aiden, “How you doing, buddy?” Their eyes met and Aiden set his fork down. He hung his head a bit. Derrick looked at Ty for a moment and then back at Aiden, “Do you want me to fix you something else?” Derrick asked and Aiden shook his head a couple of times, “Hey, I know it hurts right now, bud, believe me, but it’s going to get better, I promise.” Derrick said. Aiden lifted his eyes and looked at him directly.

“How do you know?” Aiden asked softly.

“Because I’ve been there myself.” Derrick said in a matter of fact tone, but it sounded gentle and Aiden eased a bit, “We all have been there, bud, in one way or another. Just remember, you’re not alone in this. We’re here to help.” Aiden hung his head a tear dropped from is eye.

“You know what I think?” Ty asked as he scooted closer and put an arm around Aiden’s shoulders, “I think you need a break from everything.”

“What do you mean?” Aiden asked without looking up.

“I mean, you need to get away from it all for a while, and I have just the thing and the place to show you to make that happen.” Ty said giving Aiden a bit of a squeeze on the shoulder.

“What are you talking about?” Aiden asked as Ty gave Derrick a glance and looked back into the red eyes.

“Come on, I’ll show you.” Ty said, taking his arm back and got up from the bench. Aiden looked up at him. Ty smiled down at him and nodded to his right a bit, “Come on.” Ty turned and headed toward the back door. Aiden got up and followed him.

“Where are they going?” Seth asked as he finished the plate.

“Out back to the studio.” Derrick said softly.

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Conner got out of the taxi, the man following him out. Conner leaned toward the window in the front and paid the driver. He looked at his new companion for a moment, turned and went into the hotel, the man, Captain Reynolds followed. Conner went to the front desk. The man behind it looked up at him.

“I need an additional room please.” Conner said.

“Certainly, Mr. Van Owen.” The man said and started working the computer there on the desk, “For how long, sir?”

“I’m not sure.” Conner said, looking over his shoulder once and then back toward the desk.

“I see.” The man said, “I have a room available down the hall from yours, sir.” Their eyes met.

“That will be fine, thank you.” Conner said with a nod.

“Do you want me to place it on your company card, sir?”

“No.” Conner said, reaching into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. He opened it and handed the man a card, “Put it on this if you will.” Conner said. The man gave a brief smile, taking the card from Conner. He swiped it through the reader and then handed it back to Conner.

“There you are, sir.” The man said, “What name shall I put on the registration?”

“Put mine on it.”

“Are you certain, sir?”

“Very.” Conner said in answer. The man typed into the computer. He opened a drawer and pulled out a card. He ran it through another reader, putting the card on the counter. He typed into the computer again then looked at Conner.

“You’re all set, sir. Here is your room key.” The man said, Conner taking the card from the counter, “Room 526, sir.”

“Thanks.” Conner said to the man behind the desk, turning and handing the card to Reynolds, “Here you go. Let’s go up and get you settled.”

“You sure about this, Mr. Van Owen?” Reynolds asked taking the card.

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Conner said. They went around the desk, going to the elevator. The desk clerk gave them a side glance for a moment.

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Alec watched the children all get hugs from Madame Julliene, a boy and a girl. Alec looked at Robert once and their eyes met. Alec was given a soft smile from the stunning man, it sent a tingle through Alec. He had never seen such beautiful people before. It was almost unreal to him, everything about them was perfect. Madame Julliene stood straight and looked at Alec, smiling.

“Mister Alec, these are my grandchildren, Sophie and Eadric.” She said, her hands on each of their little shoulders. The girl was older and had long flowing hair like her mothers, her eyes sparkled. The boy looked like his father, stunning as well, “Sophie is five and Eadric is four.”

“Hi.” Alec said and smiled at them. They both were looking up at him but stayed very still. Alec looked at the parents, “Why don’t we come inside?” Alec asked and Chevelle looked hesitant. Her eyes flashed toward her mother and Alec knew what was wrong, “It’s really alright. I’m the only one here.”

“Mister Alec has asked to have you stay here in the house.” Madame Julliene said.

“But, Mama…” Chevelle said.

“I insist.” Alec said cutting her off. All eyes looked at him for a moment.

“I was hesitant myself, Chevelle.” Madame Julliene said.

“Do you have bags?” Alec asked. He knew they did as they were behind them in the drive.

“Oui.” Robert said.

“I’ll give you a hand with them.” Alec said, stepping around the stunning man. Alec reached down and took one of the two. Robert turned and took the other.

“We were going to stay in Lyon.” Robert said as he looked at Alec.

“You don’t have to.” Alec said softly as he looked into the face, the sparkling eyes, “It gives you more time to visit if you stay here. Besides there’s plenty of room.”

“But…” Robert said softly.

“I insist.” Alec said and smiled at him. He looked back at the group at the door. Madame Julliene was smiling at him. Alec moved and took the bag up the step and into the house, Robert coming up next to his wife. Alec went in and went to the stairs. He started up and they all followed. He went around the railing at the top and down the open walkway to the guest room that had been made up for them. Alec went in, setting the bag on the floor next to the bed. He turned as they all came in, “Well, here you go. We can put the kids in the next room. We just have to make up the bed first.”

“This is very generous of you.” Chevelle said softly as she looked around the large elegant room.

“It’s nothing really. Back home we do this all the time when we all get together and visit my parents. There’s a lot more of us though.” Alec said. He looked at all of them standing there, standing very still, “Do you want me to take that bag?” Alec asked Robert.

“No, thank you, I can manage.” Robert said. He smiled briefly at Alec and stepped over to the other bag, setting it down on the floor. Alec watched how he moved, the flow was so graceful.

“Well, I’ll let you get settled.” Alec said softly, “I think I’ll go down to the kitchen and make some tea for all of us.”

“Thank you.” Chevelle said as she looked at Alec. Alec smiled at her and noticed that the children were standing there very still, not making any sounds at all. It was odd to Alec who was used to kids running around or touching everything they saw. He thought about saying something, but let it go. He looked at Madame Julliene and smiled at her warmly, then went to the door, going out.

Alec went along the open balcony rail and reached the stairs, turning, and then started down. He could hear muffled talking as went down. He had a feeling that they were talking about staying in the house. It was strange to him that they would be so nervous about it, and he shrugged it off as he reached the bottom step, going around the railing, through the foyer, down the open corridor and went into the kitchen. He went to the stove and lifted the kettle, taking it and went to the sink. He filled it and went back to the stove, setting the kettle down, turning the knob and lit the burner. He reached the canister that contained the tea but realized he was not alone and stopped. He looked to his right.

“May I speak with you a moment?” Chevelle asked. Alec turned and faced toward her.

“Sure. Is something wrong?” Alec asked.

“Yes.” Chevelle said softly and stepped toward him. Alec seemed confused a moment.

“Where is your mother?” Alec asked.

“She is upstairs with Robert and the children.” Chevelle said as she came closer and then stopped.

“What’s wrong?” Alec asked.

“I am wondering why you are doing this.” Chevelle said and Alec smiled, “We have never been allowed to do this before here.”

“What? Staying in the house?” Alec asked and Chevelle nodded, “It’s simple.” Alec said and shrugged, “It’s for your mother.”

“I don’t understand.” Chevelle said.

“She wants to spend time with you, all of you, and I know she doesn’t have the room in her little house to have you stay there.” Alec said.

“But,…”

“But nothing.” Alec said and smiled, “There is all of this room and no one is here, like I said, but me.”

“But the master is…” Chevelle said. Alec shook his head at her.

“Is still in the United States and will not be coming, or will ever know. I mean, I won’t say anything.” Alec said and shrugged, “It’s no big deal, really.”

“It is to us.” Chevelle said. Alec said as the kettle started to whistle. He turned the knob and shut off the flame, then looked back at her.

“What? This master and servant thing?” Alec asked and she nodded slowly, “Yeah, well, I have a problem with that one too.” Alec said and rolled his eyes a bit. He stepped closer to her. Her eyes were so sparkling to him, “Your mother and I have gotten to know each other since I’ve been here. She’s a really sweet lady and we have become good friends, I think.”

“I had no idea.” Chevelle said.

“Yeah, and I hope we can all become friends as well.” Alec said with a smile.

“I would like that.” Chevelle said, returning the smile, “The master and his family have never really spoken to our family when they have been here.”

“So, do you know Conner?” Alec asked.

“The son?” Chevelle asked and Alec nodded, “Yes, I know of him. As I said, I have never really spoken to him before.”

“When was the last time you saw him?” Alec asked.

“It has been some time, long before I was married. We were children at the time.”

“Wow, okay.” Alec said. He turned and reached for the cannister, taking it off the shelf.

“Why?” Chevelle asked.

“Don’t judge a book.” Alec said.

“I’m sorry, what?” Chevelle asked as Alec added tea to a pot.

“He’s not like his parents at all. You might like him.” Alec said as he added water to the pot from the kettle. He set the kettle down on the stove and looked at her, “The tea should be ready in a few minutes. What would your kids like?” Alec asked and she smiled warmly at him.

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Derrick was standing at the counter, rinsing dishes, Seth was helping him load the dishwasher as Ty and Aiden walked back in from the back door. Derrick looked up and smiled noticing that Aiden looked a bit better now and not so down.

“What’s going on?” Ty asked as he came up to the counter, sitting down on one of the stools. Aiden came up next to Ty and looked at Derrick.

“Just cleaning up.” Derrick said and then looked at Aiden, “So, you like the studio?”

“It’s really nice.”

“Yeah. Ty worked really hard on it.” Derrick said.

“So did you.” Ty said.

“Not as much as you did and you know that.” Derrick said with a raised eyebrow and then looked back at Aiden, “So, what’s the plan?” Derrick asked.

“Haven’t come up with one yet.” Ty said. Derrick looked at him, still with the raised eyebrow.

“I think you have.” Derrick said as he shut off the sink. He picked up a towel and dried his hands, “You obviously took him out there for a reason, just say it.”

“I think we need to talk about it first, don’t you?” Ty asked.

“What’s there to talk about, babe? He needs a place to stay, and there it is.” Derrick said.

“I think we should talk about it first.” Ty said. Derrick raised the eyebrow again.

“Okay, let’s talk.” Derrick said and gave a brief smile.

“I don’t want to be any trouble.” Aiden said.

“You’re not, bud, believe me.” Derrick said as he looked at Aiden and then back to Ty, “Are you afraid that you needed to clear it me first?” Derrick asked.

“Well kinda, yeah.” Ty said.

“It’s your house, too, babe.” Derrick said as he put his hands on the counter, “I don’t have a problem with it at all, and you know that.”

“You’re too much sometimes.” Ty said and shook his head a bit.

“Why?” Derrick asked, “He’s in need, you know that. You don’t want him out on the street, do you?”

“No.” Ty said.

“Then it’s settled.” Derrick said and shrugged his shoulders. He looked at Aiden, “You’re more than welcome here, Aiden. I have said that before, and I meant it. You can stay here as long as you need.”

“Thank you.” Aiden said softly, Derrick lifted a finger.

“No wild parties though.” Derrick said and gave him a wink.

“Damn, really?” Ty asked as he got up off the stool.

“Yeah, that goes double for you, mister.” Derrick said.

“You always take the fun out of everything.” Ty smirked and looked at Aiden, “You alright with this?”

“Yeah, I am.” Aiden said.

“Good, because he doesn’t give this stuff for free you know.” Ty said. Aiden looked a bit shocked all of a sudden.

“I’ll pay. I have money in the bank.” Aiden said.

“Good, leave it there.” Derrick said.

“I work for my uncle until I have to go back to school.” Aiden said.

“And that’s fine, bud.” Derrick said, “I know you do. Ty’s just pulling your leg.”

“Do you want me to do stuff around here, because I will.” Aiden said.

“Just pick up after yourself is all I ask.” Derrick said.

“That won’t be hard.” Seth said. All eyes shifted to him, “He’s a neat freak.”

“Nothing wrong with that.” Derrick said, giving Aiden another wink.

“Drives me crazy.” Seth said with a roll of his eyes.

“You could learn a thing or two from that, bro.” Aiden said. Seth looked at his older brother and smirked.

“I never can keep my socks and underwear straight like you do. That would drive me even more flippin crazier.” Seth said. Derrick chuckled as he looked at Seth then back to Aiden.

“Like I said, there’s no problem with that.” Derrick said, “Another neat and tidy person around here might do us some good.”

“Oh God, I’m doomed.” Ty moaned, hanging his head.

“I think you are, babe.” Derrick said with his own smirk.

“Alright, I’m going to go and get your stuff, Aiden, and drop off your brother.” Ty said. Seth looked a bit sad now thinking about it and what was coming. Ty looked at him and saw the look, “Don’t worry, bud, you can come over anytime you want to see him and hang out.”

“Won’t be the same.” Seth said in a low voice.

“It’s just for a while, Seth, until we figure out what else to do.” Ty said.

“I guess.” Seth said, hanging his head a bit.

“Let me get my keys.” Ty said.

“What are you going to get? How are you going to do this?” Derrick asked Ty. Ty looked at him.

“Well, he needs his clothes and some stuff, right?” Ty asked and shrugged his big shoulders, “Toothbrush?”

“What are you going to put them in is what I meant.” Derrick said crossing his arms over his chest. Ty shrugged again, “That’s what I thought, you still don’t really have a plan, do you?”

“Do you?” Ty asked. Derrick raised an eyebrow.

“Come with me.” Derrick said, turning and headed toward the little hall toward their bedroom. Ty followed him. Derrick went to the closet and opened the door. He stepped in as Ty came to the doorway and looked inside. Derrick bent over and started pulling out empty duffels. He turned and handed them to Ty, “These should work.” Ty looked down at them and then into Derrick’s eyes.

“You sure about this?” Ty asked.

“What, the duffel bags?” Derrick asked.

“You know what I mean.” Ty said.

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Derrick said and leaned in, kissing Ty gently, “What are you going to do about his mom?”

“I’ll deal with it when I get there.” Ty said with a slight tone.

“You want me to go with you?” Derrick asked.

“No, I’ll handle it.” Ty said, “I’ve dealt with her before.”

“Really?” Derrick asked.

“Yeah, long story.” Ty said, “It wasn’t pretty.”

“You’ll have to tell me about it.” Derrick said softly.

“Yeah, I will.” Ty said, “I’ll be back in a bit. Thanks for this.”

“It’s no trouble.” Derrick said and smiled softly, turned from the doorway and went around the bed. Derrick shut off the closet light, closing the door and followed Ty out. They came into the kitchen, Aiden and Seth were standing there on the other side of the island. Both of them had long sad looks on their faces.

“Uh oh.” Ty said seeing the looks, “You having second thoughts?” Ty asked Aiden.

“No.” Aiden said. He shook his head a bit, “Just going to be different from now on I guess.”

“What?” Ty asked.

“My life.” Aiden said softly. Ty came up close to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“You know what, bud?” Ty asked and Aiden looked at him, “Life’s like that. It just depends on how you handle it that’s all.”

“You really think so?” Aiden asked. Ty nodded.

“Yeah I do.” Ty said, “Is there anything that you want besides your clothes?”

“He doesn’t have anything.” Seth said, “Never wanted anything.” Derrick was looking at Seth, watching all of them together. Ty looked at Seth for a moment and then back to Aiden.

“No video games or anything like that?” Ty asked.

“Don’t really do ‘em.” Aiden said, “I already have my phone with me and the charger.”

“Simple, I like that. Kind of like me.” Ty said and smiled. He pat Aiden on the shoulder a couple of times, “Well, tell your brother goodbye and we’ll get going.” Ty stepped back once. Aiden and Seth looked at each other. They both smiled briefly and then came close to one another.

“I’m sorry.” Aiden said softly.

“Hey, it’s okay. It is what it is.” Seth said with a shrug, “You want me to tell her anything?” Seth asked and Aiden shook his head.

“They said everything already.” Aiden said. He looked in his brother’s sad face, “You gonna be okay?”

“Yeah, she’s not pissed at me, at least not yet.” Seth said and smirked.

“Yeah, right.” Aiden said. Seth reached out and put his arms around his older brother’s shoulders and hugged him tight.

“Maybe I’ll see you soon. Want me to have Uncle Bart pick you up tomorrow morning?”

“No.” Aiden said as he put his face into his brother’s shoulder. Aiden put his arms around his brother and pat his back a few times, “I’ll give him a call later and see where he wants me to go.”

“Okay.” Seth said and pulled back from his brother. Seth looked at Derrick and smiled, “Thanks for breakfast and the cooking lesson, it was awesome.”

“Anytime, buddy, on both.” Derrick said. Ty looked at Seth and nodded sideways. They walked toward the back door together, leaving Derrick and Aiden alone in the kitchen.

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Conner got up from the little desk he was sitting at going over some more briefs to answer the door. He opened it and there was a familiar face there, the driver from the day before.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Van Owen.”

“Hey.” Conner said.

“I have been sent to pick you up.” The driver said.

“Pick me up? For what?” Conner asked.

“The get together out at the estate, sir.”

“Oh damn. I totally forgot about that.” Conner said with a roll of his eyes, “I’ve got a ton of work to do right now. Tell Mr. Platt for me,…”

“I was told not to take no for an answer, sir. I am sorry.” The driver said. Conner wrinkled up his face a bit and looked at the elegantly suited man. Conner sighed a bit.

“I remember he said it was some kind of pool party?” Conner asked. The driver nodded once, “Yeah. Alright, give me a minute to get everything put away.”

“I will be waiting downstairs, sir.”

“Am I dressed alright for this?” Conner asked. The driver looked him up and down quickly.

“It is a casual affair, sir. You seem to be properly dressed for it.” The driver said and gave a slight smile, “I will be downstairs at the car.” The man turned away from the door. Conner closed it and went back to the small desk. He put all of the briefs back in his case and sealed it. He went into the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. He brushed his teeth and checked his look and frowned a bit. He thought for a moment about changing clothes, but let it go. He shut off the light, going out of the bathroom, picking up his key and cell phone on his way by the desk, going to the door. Conner went out of the room, closing the door behind him and went down the hall to the elevator. He pushed the down button and waited. The door opened a minute later and he stepped in, pushing the ‘L’ button. The door closed slowly and the lift moved, going down. Conner waited until the lift reached the bottom floor, the bell dinged and the door opened. He stepped out past an older man and woman. Conner smiled at them as he walked by as they waited to get in the lift themselves, obviously tourists Conner thought to himself. He came around the desk, noticing two men in suits standing there talking to the desk clerk, who saw Conner out of the corner of his eye.

“Oh, Mr. Van Owen.” The desk clerk said, holding up a hand. Conner stepped closer as the two men turned and looked at him, “These gentlemen were asking about you, sir.”

“Mr. Van Owen?” The taller of the two asked as he stepped away from the desk toward Conner.

“Yes?” Conner asked.

“My name is Wainright. We work for Habiness Insurance.” The taller man said as the second man stepped up close beside and behind the other man, “We would like to talk to you if you have a minute.” Conner looked them both over quickly and came to the conclusion that they did not look like insurance men at all. The suits that they wore were not what one would call ‘fine clothing’, but rather ‘off the rack’.

“I wish I had the time.” Conner said, “I have a car waiting and am late for another engagement. Why don’t you come and see me tomorrow at our offices, say around ten or so?” Both men did not move or exchange looks with each other once.

“Mr. Van Owen?” The voice asked from behind Conner. Conner turned his head and saw the driver standing there, “The car is waiting outside, sir.”

“Thanks.” Conner said, flashing his eyes a bit. The driver saw it.

“We are running very late, sir.” The driver said.

“Yeah.” Conner said and turned back to the two men, “Sorry. Come and see me about ten in our offices. I really have to go.” Conner turned and walked out with the driver, side by side, “Who were those guys?” Conner asked in a whisper. They stepped out into the front of the hotel, the driver reached the back door of the sedan, opening it for Conner.

“Government men.” The driver said softly. Conner looked at him for a moment and then got in the car. The driver shut the door and went around the car quickly. He opened the driver door and got in. He shut the door, started the car and put it in drive, pulling away from the curb. He looked in the rear view as he saw the two men in suits standing on the sidewalk in front of the hotel.

“Whose government?” Conner asked as he sat forward a bit on the seat.

“I’d rather not say, Mr. Van Owen.” The driver said as he looked in the rear-view mirror making eye contact with Conner, “Perhaps Mr. Platt can answer that for you, sir.” Conner sat back in the seat.

“It’s like a fucking spy movie.” Conner said softly as he settled in. He didn’t see the half smirk on the driver’s face.

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Ty drove across town pulling into a rather seedy section of it. Run down homes littered the streets. He knew it all too well, having been living in this area for quite some time himself. Seth was quiet the entire ride until they turned onto the street Seth lived on. He turned a bit in the passenger seat and looked at Ty.

“What are you gonna do?” Seth asked. Ty was resting his wrist on the top of the steering wheel as he drove slowly.

“Depends on what she says, I guess.” Ty said.

“You know she’s gonna give you shit, right?” Seth asked. Ty glanced toward Seth for a second and then back on the road.

“Wouldn’t be the first time, bud.” Ty said. Seth sat back in the seat and looked ahead.

“This really sucks.” Seth said under his breath. He folded his arms over his chest.

“I know it does.” Ty said, “But it’s gonna get better.” Ty pulled the truck up in front of one of the better looking houses on the block. It did need some help though. The lawn was mostly dead and the paint on the house was peeling, but it looked better than most around them. Ty put the truck in park, taking the keys out of the ignition. He opened the door and looked at Seth, “Ready?”

“Do I have a choice?” Seth asked as he undid his seatbelt and opened the door. He stepped out of the truck, closing the door behind him. He walked slowly up the sidewalk toward the raised front porch, his hands in his front pockets. The screen door opened and she stepped out. Ty had grabbed the empty duffels and was coming up behind Seth, a few steps behind.

“I was wondering if you were going to show up.” She said toward Seth, “Where have you been?” Seth stopped and looked up at her. Ty couldn’t see the look on his face.

“Getting Aiden taken care of.” Seth said softly. She narrowed her eyes at Ty.

“Go to your room. I’ll talk to you in a bit.” She said, “I was wondering if you would show up.” She said to Ty.

“Hi Jolene.” Ty said and flashed a smile.

“What do you want?” Jolene asked, putting a hand on her hip.

“I came to get Aiden’s things.” Ty said.

“Taking them to my brother’s?” Jolene asked. Ty shook his head.

“Nope. He’s staying with me for right now.” Ty said as he reached the bottom step of the front porch. The screen door opened and a large man stepped out, letting go of the door, letting it slam back into the frame on its own. Ty shifted his eyes toward the man taking in the sight of him. He was balding, dressed in dirty jeans with a ratty looking tee-shirt and that was stained that covered his good sized beer belly. Ty shifted his eyes back to Jolene, “Don’t want any trouble, Jolene, just want to get his things.”

“He’s got nothing here.” The man said and Ty shifted his eyes back to the man.

“His clothes and stuff.” Ty said in a cold tone as he made eye contact with the man.

“You can leave.” The man said and stepped forward a couple of steps coming next to her.

“I told you to go to your room.” Jolene said looking at Seth.

“He only came here to get Aiden’s stuff and bring me back.” Seth said and the man moved, coming down a step.

“She told you to go to your room.” The man growled and Ty stepped up a couple of steps getting in front of the man.

“Back off, dump truck.” Ty said with a growl, “You’re not his father.” Ty watched the eyes shift toward him and saw a flash of fear in them for a moment, “Seth, why don’t you go in the house for a minute.” Ty said without taking his eyes off the man. Seth silently moved, going around the large man and went toward the front door of the house, going in.

“Like I said, you can leave.” The man said. Ty tensed and stepped up another step, getting almost into the man’s face.

“After I do what I came here to do.” Ty said as his eyes burned into the man’s, “Back up.” Ty growled. The man thought better of it for a moment seeing the build on Ty, all the huge muscles of him in his own tight tee. Ty stayed focused on the man with his eyes, “What about it, Jolene? Are you going to keep Aiden’s clothes or are you going to let me get them?” Ty asked.

“Yeah.” She said finally. Ty shifted his eyes toward her and then back toward the man.

“Back up.” Ty said making direct eye contact with the man.

“That little fairy doesn’t need anything out of this house.” The man said.

“Really?” Ty asked, “Did you buy his clothes for him? Do you pay the rent or the light bill?” Ty asked as he went face to face with the man. The eyes changed and had fear in them, “Didn’t think so. Now, get out of my way.” Ty said.

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“So, what do you like to do, Aiden?” Derrick asked. Aiden shrugged his shoulders as Derrick looked at him.

“Listen to music, read.” Aiden said softly.

“What do you like to read?” Derrick asked. He noticed a slight change in Aiden, one more of being embarrassed now, “You know, it’s just us. I don’t judge.” Derrick said and gave a slight smile. Aiden looked at him.

“You probably read it before, maybe you haven’t.”

“What is it?” Derrick asked softly.

“Dumas.” Aiden said and looked even more embarrassed. Derrick gave him a questioning look.

“Dumas? Like Alexandre Dumas?” Derrick asked, and Aiden nodded, “Three Musketeers?”

“You know who he is.” Aiden said. Derrick smiled wide and nodded as they sat at the table across from one another.

“Of course I do.” Derrick said, “He’s awesome. One of my favorite authors actually.” Derrick said as Aiden brightened a bit, “Do you read French?” Derrick asked and Aiden shook his head, “Have you read much of him?” Aiden shook his head a bit more, “Too bad. I have an idea,” Derrick said. He got up from the table, “let me show you something.”

“What?” Aiden asked.

“Come with me and I’ll show you.” Derrick said, turning and going out of the kitchen, going into the dining room. Aiden got up and followed. Derrick went into the living room, stopping just past the half wall of the dining room, stopping at a large case. Aiden came up beside him as Derrick opened the doors of the large case, “Something that I have had for years, before I was your age actually. My father gave these to me.” Derrick said as Aiden saw all of the bindings of the books, “I have read them all.”

“Whao.” Aiden said as he saw them all. The bindings were beautiful, all different deep colors and all had gold lettering that said the titles. Aiden read them one by one and was amazed by them all.

“There are a couple of them that are first editions, but most were from a set that my father ordered. They came once a month as I recall in the mail.” Derrick said, “I would read one and finish it just in time to get the next one.” Derrick said, “Since you seem to care for the classics, you can read them all if you wish.”

“Really?” Aiden asked. Derrick smiled and looked at him.

“Sure, why not?” Derrick asked, “It would be nice to know that they are still enjoyed by someone.”

“My age?” Aiden asked as he fingered one of the bindings.

“Yeah.” Derrick said. He reached out and put his finger on one of the books, “My favorite.”

“Lorna Doone.”

“Never read it?” Derrick asked as he looked at Aiden, who shook his head, “Try it, you’ll really like it. Romance, intrigue, fights, really cool stuff.” Derrick said and smiled.

“You sure?” Aiden asked and Derrick just nodded.

“Of course.” Derrick said. Aiden paused a moment and then took the book out of the case slowly.

“Thank you.” Aiden said softly as he opened the book carefully. He started reading, “I always read at night. It helps me escape what goes on at home.”

“Well, here it’s different. I read because I like to.” Derrick said softly, “There is nothing to escape from here.” Derrick looked at Aiden and the sad eyes of the boy looked at Derrick, “You’ll always be safe here, Aiden.”

“I know that.” Aiden said above a whisper as he looked at Derrick. Tears were welling in the young eyes of the boy. Derrick smiled at him and put an arm around the young shoulders, pulling him in. Aiden fell into Derrick and felt more than just being safe, he felt comfort and love for the first time in a very long time. Derrick just held him as Aiden sobbed softly into Derrick’s muscled chest.

“It’s going to be okay, bud.” Derrick whispered over the boy’s head as he held the boy.

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Alec carried the tray out to the flagstone patio outside the kitchen. He set it down, putting out the pot of tea and setting the cups out as well. He picked up the tray and went back to the kitchen, going in through the wide open doors. He picked the pitcher of a punch up that he had made for the kids, setting it on the tray along with some glasses for them. He turned and opened the cabinet near the stove. He pulled down a few small boxes and opened them one at a time, placing the crackers and light cookies on the tray. He closed up the boxes and put them back then started to reach for some fruit.

“Mr. Alec, what do you think you are doing?” Madame Julliene asked as she silently came up next to him. Alec jumped a bit from hearing her voice.

“You always do that.” Alec said as he looked at her. She smiled at him.

“Years of practice.” She said, “Now what are you doing?” She asked softly.

“Just getting a few things out. I thought we could all go out on the patio and sit and have tea out there.” Alec said.

“You should not trouble yourself over this or them at all.” She said softly. Her eyes were soft as she looked at him.

“You don’t get to see them much. I thought it might be nice.” Alec said.

“It’s very sweet of you, but you should let me take care of this.” She said, “Chevelle said you were making tea.”

“It’s already outside on the table.” Alec said, “Would the kids like some sliced fruit?”

“Let me take care of this.” She said as she stepped in closer next to him, “You can take this tray out and set it on the table if you like.” Alec smiled at her as she set about preparing some fruit and then some cheese. Alec turned with the tray went out of the kitchen.

He came outside and saw Chevelle and the children near the table. He came up to it and placed the tray on the edge. He set the small plates out and the children came over to see what he was doing.

“Are you guys getting hungry?” Alec asked and they just looked at him. Chevelle came close to Alec, coming up behind the children.

“Their English is not very good. I am sorry.” Chevelle said. Alec looked at her and then at the children.

“That’s alright. I wish my French was better. If Conner was here, he’d be talking their legs off.” Alec said, “He loves kids.”

“He does?” Chevelle asked, “Does he have children?” The question came and then the realization set into her as she looked at Alec, “I am sorry, I did not think before I spoke.” Alec smiled at her as he took the tray off the table edge.

“Don’t be sorry. You wouldn’t know because I didn’t tell you.” Alec said.

“How long have you two known each other?” Chevelle asked.

“A few months.” Alec said, “It feels like years actually. We met where I was working. He was with friends of ours, well, they weren’t really friends of mine at the time, but they have become very close friends now.” Alec looked at her and she had a confused look on her face, “Yeah, I guess it can sound a little confusing, can’t it? It’s different in America.”

“Yes, that I know.” Chevelle said with a soft smile.

“Have you been there?” Alec asked.

“Yes, for work.” She said and Alec looked at her. She gave him another smile, “That is how we met as well.”

“Robert looks familiar somehow.” Alec said.

“He is a model.” Chevelle said, “We both are.”

“Oh.” Alec said and his mind was racing and then it dawned on him where he had seen Robert and he went wide eyed and blushed, “That’s where I’ve seen him. He models underwear…” Alec blushed deeper and Chevelle smiled wider.

“I see that you know my husband.” Chevelle said.

“Yes, he’s…uh…well, he’s…” Alec stammered. Chevelle chuckled and put her soft hand on Alec’s shoulder.

“It is quite alright.” She said softly, “I am glad that there are others that appreciate his beauty.”

“Yeah, I bought that underwear because of the way he looked in them.” Alec said and blushed even deeper, if that was possible.

“I am sure you look very good in them as well.” Chevelle said, her eyes flashed and she had a look of mischief on her face.

“Well not as good as he does, that’s for sure.” Alec said softly. He looked around a bit, “Where is he by the way?”

“He is finishing up the room for the children.” Chevelle said, “He dotes on them.”

“They are sweet.” Alec said as he looked down at the cute little faces.

“Yes they are. We are very fortunate.” Chevelle said as she put her other on Sophie’s hair and stroked it once. It brought a warm smile from the little girl as she looked up at her mother.

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The sedan pulled through a set of large iron gates that were tied to massive brick pillars. Wrought iron went the length and breadth of the estate, surrounding it completely. Conner had been here before, many years ago with his parents. He sat back and waited as the sedan went up the long paved drive toward the massive house at the end. It reminded him of his parent’s home, but was far larger in size and scope. He snorted to himself, thinking for a moment that you could probably see it from space.

As the sedan came closer, Conner could see other cars parked about in the huge circular drive that was in front of the house. The driver slowed the car as he came to the front of the house and stopped. He got out and opened the door for Conner. Conner slid out of the seat and stood there, looking up at the massive house. Deep stone steps rose up to a wide flat area at the front doors, which were massive on their own, arched, and must have been twelve feet tall each. It looked as if they had come from some castle somewhere in Europe.

“They are expecting you, sir.” The driver said softly.

“You sure you wouldn’t just rather drive me back to town?” Conner asked still staring at the house and then slowly looked at the driver.

“That would not do, sir.” The driver said, “But I will take you back to your hotel this evening.”

“Sure.” Conner said and stepped forward. He went up the steps and came to the front doors. Before he could knock or ring the bell, the door opened. An older lady in a dark uniform with a white apron was there. She bowed her head slightly and held out a hand leading the way. Conner stepped in and she shut the door.

“Right this way, sir.” She said as she came around Conner. He followed her as she led him through the huge house. The ceilings were at least thirty feet in the air and there were frescos in them, scenes of rolling farmlands, forests, small villages, and then finally seascapes. She led Conner out a large set of glass doors, holding one for him. He saw a massive Olympic sized pool with dozens of people about. Some were swimming, others were talking in small groups, all of them were holding drinks.

“Conner Van Owen, my future husband.” She said and Conner looked to his left as the slender redhead came up and wrapped her arms around his left one, “What’s it been, ten years?” She said and Conner gave a half smile.

“Hello, Victoria. You look good.” Conner said.

“Not as good as you look.” She said as Conner looked her up and down quickly, “How did I ever let you slip through my fingers?”

“Ancient history, Victoria.”

“Not from where I’m standing.” She said. Her voice was silky smooth and her smile had something that was behind it, “I guess I’d better take you to Daddy.” She pulled on his arm and he stepped with her. She led him through different groups of people and Conner saw Mr. Platt, “Daddy, look who I found.” Victoria said and Platt turned and smiled.

“Conner, my boy. So good of you to come.” Platt said in his smooth voice. He extended a hand and Conner took it, giving it a firm shake.

“There really wasn’t a choice.” Conner said.

“Brian was a little firm with you, I take it. I apologize, that was my doing.” Platt said.

“No harm done.” Conner said as he took his hand back. Victoria still held onto Conner’s left arm. Platt looked back and forth between Conner and his daughter.

“I see you remember Victoria.” Platt said.

“She’s rather hard to forget.” Conner said and felt his arm being squeezed tighter.

“Well, why don’t you get yourself something to drink and I will introduce you to various people and then we can have another talk.” Platt said.

“There are a couple of things I would like to talk to you about as well.” Conner said.

“Good.” Platt said and then looked at his daughter, “Vicky, show Conner to the bar if you would.”

“Of course, Daddy.” She said in her silky voice and pulled on Conner. They stepped away, “I am so glad you came.” She said.

“Why is that?” Conner asked as they moved along through some other people. They all turned and looked at Conner and Victoria together.

“We need to finish our conversation.” She said.

“Vick, listen.” Conner said as he stopped. She turned and looked up at him, “Things have changed. Us getting married was our parents idea. They’re the ones that arranged it.”

“A business deal, I know, but from what I see, I might enjoy it,…very much.” She said.

“I’m involved with someone, Vick.” Conner said flatly and her face did not change at all.

“Did you bring this person with you?” Victoria asked as she stepped into Conner, putting her thigh gently into his crotch.

“How much have you had to drink?” Conner asked. He put his hands on her upper arms to start to push her back.

“Vicky, I thought you said you were going to come swimming with me.” The voice said and Conner turned his head. There was a tall guy there in a speedo, hair wet and slicked back. Victoria rolled her eyes and looked over at him.

“Not right now, Ernst.” Victoria said. Conner looked the guy and down quickly. He was good looking and fairly built, his voice had a German accent, “Conner, this Ernst, Ernst, Conner.” Victoria said. Conner turned and nodded toward the guy.

“Hey.” Conner said.

“American.” Ernst said in an almost a disapproving tone. His eyes shifted up and down Conner.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Conner said. He didn’t know who this guy was, but he knew he didn’t really like him.

“Let’s get you that drink, Conner.” Victoria said and pulled on Conner’s arm again, “I’ll catch up with you later, Ernst.” They moved off and left the guy standing there.

“Friend of yours?” Conner asked.

“Son of one of Dad’s business partners.” Victoria said as they reached the bar, “Two Collins, please.” Victoria said to the barman.

“Actually, just water for me, thank you.” Conner said. Victoria turned and looked at Conner again.

“So, what have you been up to all this time?” Victoria asked as the drink was set in front of her, “I lost track of you after we left school.”

“I went to business school in New York, met someone, and tried to have a normal life, until my parents started meddling in it. Now, I work for my father, and seem to be up to my eyeballs with his stuff.”

“What about this other person?” Victoria asked and tried to look a bit on the seductive side. Conner picked up the bottle of water and took a drink from it. He looked right at her.

“He makes me very happy.” Conner said. Victoria’s face said it all. She was stunned.

“He?”

“Yep,…he.” Conner said flatly.

“Didn’t see that one coming.” Victoria said.

“Disappointed?” Conner asked.

“Very.” Victoria said. She shook her head a bit, “Just my luck. Why are all the really hot guys gay?”

“Can’t answer that.” Conner said and took another drink from his bottle.

“Do you still look good in a speedo?” Victoria asked. Conner smirked.

“Better than your bratwurst dude there.” Conner said.

“I bet you do.” Victoria said, “Do you want to go swimming?”

“Didn’t bring anything to swim in. Besides, I’m here on business.” Conner said.

“There are some extra suits over in the pool house.” Victoria said, “I would really love to see you in one again.”

“You mean to just show up your boyfriend there?” Conner asked.

“That and I remember how you used to fill one out. Remember how I used to go to all of your swim meets? I couldn’t wait to see you get out of the pool.” Victoria said and flashed her eyes.

“Another time.” Conner said, “I really need to talk to your dad.”

“You have changed. There was a time when you used to love to just show off.” She said.

“Yeah, things change.” Conner said and then smiled, “I only show off for one person now, and he’s not here.”

“Too bad.” She said and smirked, “Maybe you should go talk to my dad then. Just watch out for him. I know what he‘s planning.”

“What’s that?” Conner asked.

“To try and get you together with me.” She said. Conner rolled his eyes.

“Great. I’m getting it from all sides, aren’t I?” Conner asked and she laughed.

“I’m afraid so, Conner Van Owen, you’re a doomed man.” She said and went up on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.

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