Do you pretend you’re high
Pretend you’re bored
Pretend you’re anything
Just to be adored
And what you need
Is what you get
Don’t believe in fear
Don’t believe in faith
Don’t believe in anything
That you can’t break
You stupid girl
-Stupid Girl – Garbage
Around lunchtime my phone starts ringing off the hook. First is James calling from Haiti.
“Dude, how’s it hanging?” James’ dulcet tones hit my ears.
“Jimmy, how is the island?” James has been my business partner since the beginning. Grey Casey Development has grown exponentially since we signed up our first major renovation project with a crew of seven guys six years ago. Now we employ up to five times that number permanently working on multiple projects across four states with a roster of over two hundred casuals. Hence James having the original crew down in Haiti doing a month of charity build.
“Man, it’s phenomenal down here. Beautiful one day, perfect the next.” I know it can be anything but beautiful from personal experience. Post-earthquake Haiti has been nothing short of hard work for everyone involved and one hell of an emotional journey for both the locals and anyone working closely with them. “I just wanted to let you know that we are taking a few days break while we wait for that shipment from Atlanta. It won’t be here until Saturday so the boys are going to take a well earned holiday starting Wednesday. We will be back to assist with the unload by the weekend.”
“Sure thing mate. Make sure they have some fun.” These guys have been working their collective buts off for the past couple of weeks and they deserve furlough. “Christian is picking up their tab.” This is something that he and I have already discussed in Portland.
“Okay, thank Christian for me and tell him we need to catch up for golf when I get back. I’ll call you in a couple of days.” I smile, Christian hates golf but he makes exceptions for business and James.
No sooner have I got off the call to James when Jennifer, my housekeeper calls.
“Hi Elliot. It’s Jennifer.”
“Jenny, hi. Thanks for calling back.”
“No worries, when are you leaving?” Jennifer is a marine biology student who lives with her mother most of the time but comes out and stays during the week to clean my place and run experiments in the bay three or four days a week. Her PhD is basically sitting somewhere off the small pier in my backyard so it suits us both.
“I leave tomorrow at noon. Babe, I need to ask you a favour.” I am hoping that she won’t mind doing this for me because the argument with Kate this morning damn near broke my heart. I would do anything to take that look off her face. “I wondered if you would be able to stay with Zeus full time for the next couple of weeks.”
“Isn’t Gia staying with him?” Not if I can help it.
“She will if you can’t but I am really hoping that she won’t have to.” Please, please, please.
“Can I ask why?” The curiosity in her voice is burning a hole in my ear.
“Kate.” I say simply.
“Oh, so you don’t want Gia in the house, huh?” She is sharp. I also happen to know that she doesn’t particularly like Gia, with good reason.
“Listen, I know it is a lot to ask but it would really mean a lot to me. And Kate.” I sigh.
“Will I like Kate?”
“Yeah, I know you will. I am counting on it.”
“Can I bring Karen and Jake with me?”
“I would expect you to. You know they are always welcome. Just watch him around the water.” I think I am about to seal the deal.
“No worries. I will pack everyone up and get us out there by dinner time.” We discuss a few more of the details and then I make the phone call I dread. To Gia to cancel her. She doesn’t take it very well and I know that we will have to reconcile somehow when I get back since we still have a host of projects under development together.
I am about to check in with my site manager when the phone rings again. It’s Kate.
“Hey, sweetheart. How is your day?” The smile has spread across my face before she even says anything.
“Hey, babe. I’m exhausted but I think I have my bedroom mostly sorted. How is your day going?” Her voice is sweet and lilting sending an instant tingle down my spine and straight to my groin. I think I might be becoming predictable.
“Pretty good. I am almost done here so I will be going home to pack in about half an hour then I can probably be with you by five.”
“Can you pack a tux?” What the…?
“Uh, sure, can I ask why?” She has really peaked my curiousity. Can’t imagine why I would need one in Barbados.
“Dad, has a Press Club fundraiser cocktail event tonight and he and Mom want us to come. They want to meet you before tomorrow.” Great, this should be fun. Not. “Do you mind?”
I know that this is really important to Kate. I just hoped that I could put this meeting off until the airport lounge tomorrow.
“No problem, baby. What time do we have to get there?”
‘I have to drop Ana off at Sea-Tac at 5pm and then we need to be at the Sheraton by 7.30.”
“Okay, I will aim to be back from Richmond around 6.30.”
As soon as I hang up from Kate I call my dad for some reassurance and to check if he is going to this thing. After a short discussion about dinner last night I unload some of my insecurities about Sam Kavanagh and tell dad about the phone call.
“First of all, son, you don’t have to apologise to Sam Kavanagh. You will be fine. Secondly, he called me the other day. He offered to shift some of his business my way if I convinced you to stop seeing his daughter.”
Fuck. “What did you say?” I know that this would be a big deal in Dad’s world.
“I told him that your love life was none of my business. In truth I wanted to see you and Kate together before I told you about it.”
“I like her, she’s feisty, smart, a real handful. Just what you need. More importantly I can see how you feel about her.”
“Ah, how exactly do I feel about her?” I am curious how much I might be wearing my heart on my sleeve.
“The same way I felt about your mother when I first met her. Look, Elliot, this is not the way I do business and Sam has gone down in my estimation for having done this.”
“Wouldn’t you do the same if it was Mia?”
“Fair point. Are you defending him now?” I think about this long and hard. Family first, and one day I am going to have Sam as a father-in-law.
“Yeah, I guess I am. I want us to get along. Are you and Mom going to this thing tonight?”
“We are now. This is important to you, I get that. So it is important to us. Let’s go meet your girl’s family.” I can hear the smile in his voice. “But Elliot, understand this. We liked Kate, your mother especially. You are going to have to tread carefully here. None of your usual…behavior. I don’t want your mother invested in your relationship if you are not capable of being their for Kate 100%.”
“Dad, Kate is different.”
“I know son. Just remember that.”
We walk into the Sheraton ballroom at 7.50 to an intimate gathering of around 750 of Seattle’s finest. While the event is mostly media that extends to a range of high profile personalities and businessmen on the periphery. Press Club events are notoriously edgy with knives at thirty paces a regular feature. I know from the moment we enter the room that Kate and I are going to be big news. True to form, the invitation only paps surround us and hone in like bees to honey. I make sure that she is firmly in my embrace for every shot.
Unfortunately, I am aware that there will be a number of past flings in the assembled gathering who might decide to make their presence known to Kate. We have discussed this on the way here and have decided that we will just have to handle them together when the need arises. I made her promise not to be too far out of reach for the evening. Divide and conquer is not a strategy that we want turned on us tonight.
The evening is about finger foods and cocktails. The actual fundraising is the less intrusive kind with charity envelopes, pledge forms and a silent auction going on steadily in the background. Mostly this is about being seen. We make our way steadily towards the area where Sam Kavanagh is holding court. Kate is greeted by a range of people as we move through the crowd, most of whom I know or have met at other events. Once more I am amazed that she and I have not met at one of these thing before.
“Katherine. Darling, you look wonderful. I am so glad you went with the cherry.” A replica of Kate steps up and greets her with a warm hug. “And you must be Elliot. My, but you are quite a specimen. I can see why my daughter has that look in her eye.” This bundle of Southern charm has to be Kate’s mom.
“Mrs Kavanagh. I am delighted to meet you.” I take her hand and kiss it. She simpers a little as she looks with a smile from me to Kate.
“Such lovely manners. Are you sure you’re not from Georgia, Elliot?” Her eyes are wide with laughter and I instantly like her.
“No M’am but I do appreciate beauty when I see it.”
“Enough of that stud.” Kate swats me on the shoulder. “Mom, this is Elliot Grey. Elliot, my mom, Julie Kavanagh.”
“Not Julie Kavanagh of JK Designs?” A familiar voice pipes up behind me. “My most favorite designer in the whole of Seattle.” My mother descends on us and sweeps Julie into a warm embrace. Kate and I stand back with our mouths hanging open.
“Grace, darling, you look wonderful. Who made this stunning creation? Oh, that would be me.” Julie laughs as she examines my mother with a look from head to toe.
“You know each other?” Kate look incredulous.
“Kate, I have been buying your mother’s designs for years. I have always considered her a friend, now we have a reason to be even better friends.”
“Mom, why didn’t you say anything?” Kate is staring at her mother with her hands on her hips.
“Darling, Grace and I are both delighted that you two lovely things have found each other but we don’t want to influence this either way. Nothing would make us happier than to see you together but we made a pact when w e found out you were seeing each other. We will not be accused of being interfering mothers.” Julie’s approval is evident and I am totally floored by my mother’s deception.
“Mom, you knew?” I am thinking back to the discussion yesterday with Mia in the kitchen.
Her eyes are sparkling with laughter and I suspect a tear or two, knowing Mom. “Baby, Julie called me straight away when she knew you were going with them to Barbados. Friends don’t keep that sort of news a secret.”
Now I am truly confused about all this stuff with Sam. If Julie is so happy that Kate and I are together, what the hell is Sam playing at? Next thing Sam joins us.
Julie takes it upon herself to do the introductions. “Sam, darling, this is Kate’s Elliot.” I really like her style. Sam shakes my hand with one of those power handshakes. He is testing my mettle, I can tell. I look him in the eye.
“Sir, it is good to finally meet you. Thank you for allowing me to tag along on this holiday. I hope that I am not intruding too much.”
“Elliot. I think the womenfolk have made it pretty clear their thoughts on this. I am not sure you or I would have had any other choice, so no son, you are not an intruder at all.” Shit, what happened to the guns at ten paces scenario that I had envisaged. Sam turns to Kate and gives her a quick kiss on the cheek then greets my mother warmly. “It is lovely to see you Grace. Where is Carrick?”
Well, this is rich. I have been stressed out about how to win over Sam Kavanagh for the past couple of weeks and here he is playing happy families with my folks? Dad walks up just then and kisses my mother, Julie and Kate then shakes Sam’s hand. “Did I miss anything?”
I stare at my father in confusion. What the hell happened to the conversation this afternoon? I have no idea how things suddenly changed but somehow it has. Kate looks just as confused as me. She mouths WTF at me with questioning eyes. I shrug. Anyone would think that we were already family the way the four of them are carrying on.
After a couple of rounds of drinks the ladies are deep into fashion talk. Kate’s brother Ethan has arrived and is talking with Sam so I pull Dad aside.
“Dad, what the hell is going on? You seemed pretty pissed about Sam’s tactics this afternoon. Now you are suddenly best buds? I don’t get it.”
A look of concern floods Dad’s eyes as Sam moves over to join us. He looks nervously from Sam to me. “Son, Sam and I spoke this afternoon. He has shared with me some news that is a little disturbing, stuff that I don’t particularly want the rest of the family to know about, especially your mother. I do, however, think you should know, so Sam will tell you more when you get to Barbados. When he has shown you what he has, you and I will need to talk so Skype me from Barbados when you are ready. Just don’t tell Kate anything yet.”
“What the hell is going on, Dad?” My eyes are looking from Dad to Sam, both of whom look pretty grim.
“Son, now is neither the time nor the place. After you called today Sam phoned me. We had a long conversation and Sam will tell you everything in the next couple of days. Let’s just leave it at that for now.”
“Is this about Christian?” I don’t want to walk out of here not knowing what I am dealing with.
“Partly. But I want to reiterate that I don’t want your mother to know any of this, nor do I think Kate should hear what Sam has to say.”
“Good luck with that.” Sam and I say simultaneously before a conspiritorial and sympathetic smile spreads across his face.
Dad looks shocked and then laughs. “Yes, well, ultimately that is your problem. I want you to have a proper break, Son. You have earned it. Whatever this is, and no, Sam and I haven’t been able to get a firm grip on it, but it can wait until you get back. I don’t think there is much we can do but wait at this stage.”
Sam looks at me intently. “Your Dad is right. And as long as I am out of the country at the moment it potentially lessens the threat.” Now I am really confused.
“Someone is threatening you? And you don’t want to tell Kate?” I want to throttle him.
“No, Elliot. They are threatening you and your family. I am just the weapon of mediation they are trying wield to do it.” Oh shit, an exposure via media. Fuck.
“Carrick, Kate already knows some of this. It might help if we keep her in the loop. She is has a sharp analytical mind, she might be able to help.” Sam pleads.
“Sam, if your daughter is about to be a part of my family I don’t want her in the firing line. This prick might choose to come after her next.”
“I think you might want to let Kate be the judge of that. And Elliot.” Dad looks pretty grim but he eventually nods.
“Do what you think is best. Now given where we are, I think we should probably drop this discussion. I am not sure advertising the link between our families is such a good strategy at the moment.” Dad looks set to move off.
“Everyone is going to know when the papers hit the stands tomorrow morning. There are photographers everywhere tonight.”
“I don’t think we can shut the door on your relationship but we probably don’t need it to be known that both families are pleased about you two getting together.”
This is getting more intriguing by the minute. I almost can’t wait to get Sam alone, which seems really strange given how I have been feeling about him recently. Kate is looking at the three of us with a concerned and questioning smile. I don’t think she can quite believe how the evening is going either.
“Perhaps we should go our separate ways for the rest of the evening. Just in case.” Sam is scanning the room as am I although I have no idea what I am looking for.
“Yes, I am going to take your mother home. Have a great trip and remember to call me. I want an update after you have talked.” Dad draws me into a hug which only serves to ramp up my fear over this whole discussion. If there is a threat I want to know where it is coming from. “Have a good holiday, Son. Sam, take good care of my boy.”
Dad pulls Mom away from her discussion and after a quick embrace and more promises to call they leave. Sam also draws Julie away with the reassurance that they will see us at the airport.
Kate goes off to the ladies room and I head to the bar for another drink not far away so that I have a sight line to the door. Even though my senses are on high alert and I have a thousand questions swirling around in my head I am glad to know that my families are now on the same page as far as Kate and I are concerned. While I wait for a drink I feel a hand on the small of my back. I turn around expecting to see Kate but instead come face to face with Elena Lincoln.
“Elliot, darling, I saw your mother as she was leaving. She said you were here. I must say I am surprised. I thought you had sworn off this sort of event.” Her hand has traveled up to my shoulder and she is rubbing it slowly down my sleeve in a proprietary way. I have always hated this about her. She seems to think she has ownership of the Greys.
“Elena, how disappointing to see you.”
“Now, now, Elliot. There is no need to be like that. I don’t know why you have such animosity towards me, darling. After all I only have your best interests at heart. Speaking of which there is an angel here who might be worth you meeting.”
“Not interested, Elena, never have been, never will be. ” The barman has handed me my drink and taken in the peroxide blonde bombshell that has attached herself to me. She gives him a come hither look that is always part of her predatory repertoire. “Why don’t you introduce him instead.”
“That would be such a waste. I chose her especially for you.” She has stepped in closer and I panic as I see Kate on her way back from the powder room. Placing my drink down on the bar I take her by both shoulders and push her firmly away.
“It is time to say goodnight, Elena.” I turn to head over and meet Kate who has been intercepted by a small group of people. I can’t see her for the moment except for a glimpse of her red dress. Elena grips my arm and pulls me back.
‘Listen Elliot. You don’t have to be so damn rude. I am just trying to be a friend to you. Christian has no problem with me so I don’t know why you feel the need to be obnoxious.”
I laugh. “Oh that is rich coming from you. You are my mother’s friend and my brother’s business partner. You mean nothing to me. I don’t have to like you and I wish you would get it through your thick head that I don’t want what you have to offer.” I spit through clenched teeth as I remove her hand.
“Oh sweetie, I am not the thick one and you do want it even if you won’t admit it to yourself. Do you think little miss red dress is going to give you what you need? Look at her Elliot, she couldn’t do submissive if you held a gun to her head.”
“What the hell makes you think I want submissive. I am not like my brother. I am not interested in your crap, Elena.”
“Sshhh, baby. You don’t want everyone to hear.” She strokes my face pressing close enough to kiss me.
Just then I hear Kate’s voice.
“Get your hands off him, bitch.” With a quietly menacing voice Kate has moved in for the kill. “He said he’s not interested.” She slips her body in between us and wraps my arms around her protectively so that I am leaning down to her shoulder. I look Elena in the eye as I plant a wet kiss on Kate’s bare skin.
“It’s okay Kate, Elena was just leaving.” Kate leans back into me rubbing suggestively and I know this is as much about sending Elena a message as it is about wanting me.
“Lovely to meet you, Kate, is it? Elliot she is delightful.” She reaches into her clutch and takes out a business card. “You know Kate, that dress is exquisite, a JKD if I am not mistaken. Come and see me at my salon. If you want to pull of that color you might want to add some warmer highlights so you don’t look so washed out. I will see you soon Elliot, take care.” She turns around and heads off into the crowd as if she has just seen someone important.
“Bitch!” Kate looks at the card for a moment before tearing it up and dropping it on the floor. “I hate to litter but some garbage is too disgusting even for a trash can.”
She turns in my arms and reaches up to hold my face. “I take it that was Elena Lincoln.”
“Yep. How do you…?” I don’t recall us talking specifically about her.
“Dad told me a little about her. Owner of Esclava Salons, Christian’s business partner, your mother’s friend.” There is something else she knows that she is not telling me.
“Yeah and royal pain the ass. Don’t like her, never have, but I tolerate her existence for Christian and Mom’s sakes.”
Kate thinks about this for a moment then leans in. “Don’t worry, baby, I won’t let the big evil witch get my man.” She kisses me gently then pulls away. “Now, I have a great need to get out of this damn dress, Mr Grey. Think you can help me out?”
“Sure thing baby. Let’s go home.” Taking her hand I tow her out through the crowd but I continue to scan as I go. Not knowing what this threat is kills me and I would rather die than have anything happen to Kate.