When you turn and run away
Take a look at how you’ve given up your fantasy
And if you can’t stand the heat
Keep out of the kitchen
Can’t stand the heat – Bucks Fizz
Seattle, Summer 2004
“Mimi, you’re late, as usual.” The pouty frown on Lily’s face seriously detracted from the image she fought so desperately to maintain. Mia didn’t like letting her friends down but then if Lily got a hint of remorse she would use it to manipulate her for the rest of the semester. Instead, she shrugged, smiled and popped her sunglasses down her nose.
“It’s all part of my charm, darling.” With a collective giggle, the girls made room for her on the sun loungers. At fourteen going on fifteen they were stretching beyond their reach into womanhood. Today was all about being cool enough to hang out while Lily’s brother, Joel, entertained his college buddies at the other end of the pool.
“Who. Is. That?” Donna asked, as a bronze-skin youth, with a mess of sandy blonde hair and a long, lean body, somersaulted into the pool. Mia knew the type – trying to show off and grab someone’s attention. Lord knows, enough of her brothers’ friends have tried.
“Ethan Kavanagh.” Mia heard the hint of ownership in Lily’s voice and wondered if her friend had already kissed the guy. Shame, he was really hot. But no boy was worth incurring Lily’s wrath. “He’s a freshman at WSU.” A collective gasp sounded around her as he emerged from the water, flicking his hair off his face like some sort of sports model. Then he looked directly at her and smiled. Mia struggled to look away.
Later, as the party started to wind down, she found herself standing alone in the front garden trying to call her big brother to come pick her up. She felt his approach and was surprised to see a little uncertainty in his swagger. Without a word, he dropped the bag, took her phone out of her hand and began dialling in a number.
“Hey!” But his finger came up to silence her protest. When his own phone began ringing he pushed a few buttons obviously saving her number into his phone. She couldn’t help but smile as he handed her phone back.
Reaching down he plucked a single flower from the garden. A lilac. He brought the petals to his mouth and pressed it to his lips before handing it to her, then he picked up his bag and walked away without a single word.
Paris, May 21 2011
I hate that man. If I have to front up to this godforsaken hellhole and be abused by that tyrant one more day, I will take a potato ricer and mince his testicles! The heat coming off the gas hobs and ovens is stifling and playing havoc with my hair. My hair! Fuck! The dickwad, has made me go back to my natural hair color. Nondescript tar. What did the hairdresser call it? Chocolate-molasses. Chocolate-molasses, my ass. Oh God, here comes Floubert again to tell me what I’m doing wrong.
“Madame. You will do me the courtesy of explaining what you have done to these pomme de terres? You have no right to mistreat them so.” I’m sure his accent is as fake as mine.
Grabbing the knife off me, he proceeds to demonstrate again. Again! Fighting the temptation to pin him to the wall, I turn back to the chopping board. All I need is enough basic skills so I can fool my family into believing that I’ve been in Paris training to be a chef for the last four years. No rancid-breath, garlic-eating, half-assed… COOK!… is going to get the better of me. I study his movements for all of 30 seconds, committing the technique to memory. Grabbing the knife back, I flip it over in my hands a couple of times before having the sheer joy of watching his jaw hit the ground as I repeat his movements faster and with more accuracy. I relegate three potatoes quickly to the ranks of the julienned before rapidly stabbing it back and forth between my outstretched fingers three times ending with the blade embedded in the board a mere hair’s breadth from his splayed hand. That little frisson of fear in his eyes is worth a thousand successful soufflés and it takes all his will power to straighten away from the prep bench and smile at me. Prick.
“Your shift is over, Madame. Be sure to be on time tomorrow.” Before I can even cringe at his foul breath I hear HIM issuing a declaration from the other side of the room.
“Sorry, Flaubert. My wife won’t be back tomorrow.” The resonant arrogance makes me shudder but I pull it together. He walks through the kitchen towards me with predatory grace. I smile lovingly at him. All part of our cover. His mouth smiles but it never reaches his eyes so I rock my expression up another notch. My happiness is contingent on his discomfort. “There’s been a change of plans. We need to get back state side by the end of next week. The cooking classes will have to stop if we’re going to get all that sight-seeing done.”
I pout. “But there’s still so much to learn.” The sweet plea barely hides my relief at knowing I don’t have to come back here. HE doesn’t need to know that. He steps in close and puts his hands on my upper arms. I want him to stop, in fact it would have been good if he’d stopped at the door but I think he’s got a thing about intimidating people with his height. To everyone else, he looks like an adoring newly wed who can’t keep his hands off his new bride. To me, he looks like the devil incarnate and I can tell that he hates me as much as I hate him. He pulls my body hard against his before planting a firm kiss on my mouth. Every fucking day, the same routine. Every fucking day, my body betrays how much his touch effects me. As my body approaches that point where it’s about to explode from willing his tongue to enter my mouth, he pulls away.
“Monsieur Floubert, my wife has enjoyed your classes very much but unfortunately my business will require us to relocate sooner than we had hoped.” There’s that conciliatory tone. The one that makes people want to walk through fire to accommodate his every need. I swallow the bile in my throat. I, too, would have done anything for him. Once.
“Of course, Monsieur Kavanagh. I hope that I will have the benefit of your patronage in the near future.” Simpering fool. Flaubert is all sweetness for my husband. That’s his charm. People trust him. I trusted him. Floubert turns and looks down his nose at me. “It has been a pleasure Madame. I wish you and your guests the best of luck with your future cooking endeavours.”
Ethan’s hand is restraining me before I backhand the little prick. “Come darling. We have so much to do.” He manhandles me out of the kitchen and away from the knives.
“I don’t know why I couldn’t have just studied a book. Why did I have to…?” He stops dragging me down the hallway, presses me back against the wall and places a finger on my lips. Electricity shoots straight down to my groin. I wish to hell he wouldn’t do that.
“And every day you say the same thing, like a broken record. Your parents believe that you have been studying here for the past four years. If you don’t go back with at least some skill in the kitchen then your cover is blown.” Just for a moment he looks like he is going to lean in and kiss me again. Just for a moment I wish that he would. Then we both pull away and keep moving on down the hallway.
Back in the suite, gin and tonic in hand, he debriefs me. It seems that while we have been flouncing around the globe creating a good enough cover for greater Seattle to accept me back into its circle without too many questions, the proverbial has been hitting the fan.
“The South-East Asian ventures are increasing. Farad has got more Chinese officials in his back pocket and his inside man has been cultivating more potential buyers in the US. There is import growth from South America as well. The US market is about to get flooded with product through both the southern and western gateways. They want us to move on Seattle now.”
“Why the rush? I mean, I’m not complaining but none of this is exactly news. Why the race to get back now?” Eight weeks ago they said they wanted to slow things down. The stated reason was needing more time to build the cover. Now we are back on the schedule that was set before we arrived in Paris in January. I know I shouldn’t question the orders. I shouldn’t question his authority. But it irks me the way he gets to call the shots. My gun is in pieces on the table in front of me, everything neatly lined up and sparkling like a shiny new penny. I flick the timer and begin reassembling while he keeps talking.
“The Western seaboard is heating up. (Click). Someone higher up is freaking out about all the rerouting through Asia. (Click, click, click). Then there’s this other thing with your brother.” (Cli-click). I aim the revolver at his head. The bastard doesn’t flinch as we eyeball each other down the site. Cool as a fucking cucumber.
“What about my brother?” I hate this plan. He knows I hate this plan. But he’s agency through and through. Hard as fucking nails and ruthless as all hell. Not an emotional bone in his body. I should know. To him, Christian is just a potential asset. Nothing more, nothing less. If I could kill him and get away with it, I would do it right in this moment and the bastard knows that as well. That’s why he’s standing still as a fucking statue on the other side of the room waiting to see what I will do. Chicken with a side of Russian roulette. After a few seconds I lower the gun and safety it.
“If we are going to cultivate him then we need to move fast. It looks like someone is making moves to blackmail him and that will make him instantly a person of interest to the FBI. The agency doesn’t want him getting that kind of attention.” My head snaps up to look at him. He’s deadly serious. Christian probably gets blackmail threats every other day so for the agency to take notice means the threat is real.
“Is this about Elena Lincoln?” My brother has a history that would have the police crawling up that woman’s ass in a heartbeat. Problem is, it would reveal a whole lot of other freaky shit that could bring down his global empire. Kink might be prevalent, even admired, among the powerful but shareholders are less trusting. There’s nothing like a fetish to make the stock market shaky.
“We’re not sure. There’s more to this. Whoever it is, they are going after Elliot as well.”
That grabs my attention. “What?” Elliot is my oldest brother. A builder with a past as an exotic dancer, not exactly an an indictable offence. “Elliot’s got nothing to hide.”
“From what we have found out there are files and photographs circulating where they shouldn’t. The photographs have been coming courtesy of the brother of an old friend of Elliot’s. The brother’s name is Danny Morris. The friend is…”
“TJ, Timothy Morris. Yeah I know him.” Well, not really but if my big brothers think there is much about their lives I don’t know then they are sadly mistaken. The last ten years have been one massive bitch of a learning curve about my family. A whole heap of shit that I wish I didn’t know. God, I sound like Elliot sometimes.
“Right. Well, we don’t know why Danny is taking the photos but they are being sent through to one of the major media outlets.” He looks sheepish. That means this intel has come from his father not the agency. What? You think I am a complete idiot? Fucking, Mensa member here!
I stand up from the table and start pacing the room, stretching to get the kinks out of my back and avoiding that hungry look on his face. Jesus, I wish he wouldn’t do that. Most of the time he looks at me like I’m an amoeba. His eyes cold and distant. Then he turns on a dime, with this massive heat flare in his eyes that says he wants to consume me. Every time he does I get a little combustion of my own. I don’t want to want him. Bastard has a body to die for and if he wraps me up in those strong muscular arms one more time in public I swear I will throw him up against a wall and fuck him out of my system. Yeah, as if.
We’ve been playing happy housewives in this Paris Hotel for the past five weeks and I’m about to implode with unfulfilled lust. Love and hate, two sides of the same coin. Soon, we’re going to go back to Seattle, to our families, and yell, “Surprise! This is my husband, Ethan Kavanagh. We met in Paris and married on a whim after a whirlwind courtship, and we’re so happy and in love. Oh, and he broke my heart so badly when I was 16 years old that I thought I wanted to die, but I’ve forgiven him for being such a selfish prick.”
A knock at the door puts us on alert. Ethan immediately draws a weapon and stands behind the door. Automatically, I move to the other side to take point, our movements perfectly synchronized. He signals for me to open.
“Just me.” I step back with a relieved smile. Jean-Claude. Now him I could have a serious fling with. Beautiful body with none of the arrogance and machismo. Unfortunately, Jean-Claude is also very married, and unlike my biological mother, I don’t poach another hen’s coop. Besides, I really like Angelique. She’s a good agent.
“Have you got the itineraries?” No ‘hi Jean-Claude, how’s the wife?” just straight to business. The guy is like a machine, one track. Except for those looks. And those I could do without.
“Oui, mes amies. Everything is booked. You have less than a week here in Paris and you will arrive back in time for your sister’s graduation.” He looks at Ethan as he hands over the documents and there’s a moment’s hesitation that they both pick up on. Ethan frowns as he studies the docs.
“This isn’t right.” Ethan shuffles the papers, then hands them to me. The itinerary has us arriving back in Seattle separately, two days apart. “What’s going on?”
“You caught a lucky break, mes amies.” Jean-Claude grins. “Fate has been kind and put your siblings together at just the right time. So there is no need for you to continue with this pretence. You will enter the US as yourselves, your covers will remain as they always have. Mia you have been studying in Paris and are arriving home to the bosom of your family to pursue a new career in hospitality. Ethan, you will arrive from Canada at the end of a year of adventure trekking around the world and you are enrolling in a postgraduate psychology masters program as soon as you find the right one. You are both single, have never met and your brother and sister will create the family connection that we require to move our asset cultivation to the next phase.”
A look washes over Ethan’s face. I don’t read the man’s emotions particularly well but I’m pretty confident it’s relief. Yeah, well it will make my life a whole lot more bearable not to have to live with him, too. Then it occurs to me what Jean-Claude has been saying.
“You mean, Christian and Kate are dating? No way. That will be over before we even get there.” I know my brother. Shit, I’ve read over a thousand pages of files on my brother and I know enough about Kate Kavanagh to smell disaster. She’s my age, blonde, smart and a journalism major. Enough said. He doesn’t date, he has contractual relationships with non-disclosure agreements in place and a finite period of sexual engagement. And he doesn’t do perky blondes with a tenacious nose for newsworthiness. He can’t afford to. This can’t be true. And if it’s true, it won’t last long. In fact, it will probably end in disaster. I look at Ethan who is still frowning at his shoes. Now is not the time to freeze up, dickwad. I don’t want to be married to you either but relying on a relationship between Christian Grey and Kate Kavanagh to bear fruit will be like waiting for an atomic bomb to explode.
“No.” Jean-Claude interrupts my inner monologue. “Not Christian.”
Oh, God this just gets better. Kate and Elliot? Elliot is a certified manwhore. And while Kate fits the physical type, she’s way too smart to get played by the likes of Elliot.
“Are you insane? Elliot can’t keep his dick in his trousers long enough to remember their phone numbers.” Now, the dickwad leaps back to life?
“Shut up, Ethan. That’s my brother you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, and Kate’s my sister!” We’re standing almost toe to toe, breathing in each other’s angry air. My hands flex at my sides as I resist the temptation to strangle him. I’m waiting for him to shut me down, but he doesn’t.
Luckily, Jean-Claude steps between us. “Now, now my little love birds. I know how disappointing this all is, after you’ve grown so close.” He chuckles. The bastard is taking the piss. “However, this affair looks very serious between Kate and Elliot. Our psyche team has done an evaluation and they are satisfied that there will be enough longevity for you to at least meet officially through their relationship. If not, then the new love interest that Christian has found will definitely make this possible, since she is Ethan’s new flatmate.”
“Love interest?” We yell out simultaneously, causing us to look at each other in disbelief. Then we both turn back to Jean-Claude. He shrugs.
“If that sick bastard hurts Ana…”
“You’ll what?” I round on Ethan. We’ve both become well versed in kink since landing in Paris and Ethan will be the first to tell anyone who will listen that it’s not an illness. How dare he call my brother a sick bastard? He glares back at me but seems to know he’s crossed a line. I wonder what the hell Ana Steele is to him. “Are you fucking her, Ethan? Is that what this is about? Christian’s moved in on your little chicky babe while you’ve been gone?”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.” I’m waiting for his training to kick in.
“Don’t I? You wouldn’t give a shit if you didn’t care about her.” I shouldn’t be fighting back.
“Shut it, Mia.” He’s still not bringing his A game and that pisses me off more than this argument.
“You do, don’t you? You’ve got the hots for Ana Steele and Christian’s poached her to play in his kinky tower.” Smoke might as well be coming out of his ears. I can’t help it. I move in for the kill. “Who are you more disappointed in, Ethan? Christian, for taking your girl? Or Ana, for being a perverted submissive? Or were you just unable to fulfil her needs?”
“Stop!” Jean-Claude steps in and pushes us away from each other. “Enough. Don’t say anything that you will not be able to take back.”
That is the only thing that bugs me about JC. He assumes that Ethan and I are already doing the horizontal mambo. Just as I am about to correct him, yet again, a commotion erupts outside our room. Once more, weapons are drawn and we go into high alert listening at the door.
“It’s the de Costas, again.” I whisper, my ear pressed against the door. Paula and Stefan have been fighting non-stop since we arrived here. I knew them back in Seattle, they move in the same circles as my parents so I have had to make every effort not to run into them while I play happy families with Ethan. That news would be a hell of a shock to my folks and we had a plan for how to handle it, sensitively. Paula deCosta doesn’t do sensitive as evidenced by the constant fighting
My curiosity got the better of me in a moment of boredom a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t take me long to hack into the de Costa accounts and see what the problem was. Paula, a trust fund baby from way back has been siphoning all her money into off-shore accounts. Which got me wondering what the hell Stefan had been up to. Turns out that there are a couple of raunchy videos circulating on the internet with Stefan and, what appears to be, the de Costa pool boy. Seems Paula is not very happy with the publicity and is getting ready to sideline Stefan.
“You have no right to do that. Our agreement gives me at least 15%.” Stefan is yelling.
“Well, 15% of nothing is … nothing isn’t it? So, it seems to me that if you want to maintain this lifestyle, you had better stick around and pretend to be a husband for a while longer.” Oh. That’s a surprise!
“Oh, you would like that, wouldn’t you. You vicious bitch.”
“Honey, I just want what’s mine and, until I say otherwise, that includes you. Now get yourself back into that room and wait until I am good and ready.”
It goes quiet and then we hear what sounds like a very quiet “Yes, mistress” before the door shuts. When we are sure there is no one outside the room, we all collapse against the wall. I can’t stop the giggle that’s rising in my throat. Stefan is a rotund little maggot and the image of him naked and submissive, strapped to the bed, is more than my imagination can take. Soon I am laughing so hard I don’t notice when Ethan takes my hand and then that electric shock flashes through my body. I pull away quickly and move to the other side of the room.
“Well, little ones. This is the last time I will see you for a while. It has been fun, no?” Ethan goes to shake Jean-Claude’s hand and gets pulled into the other man’s hug while his cheeks are soundly kissed. Then Jean-Claude quickly embraces me. “Give him a chance, little one. He is not so bad and he would make you a very happy woman, I think.” He whispers this in my ear and then looks me in the eye to ensure that I have heard him. I look from him to Ethan. I can’t deny that on some level, my body still wants Ethan Kavanagh, but happiness isn’t in my future. My life, my family, is such a fucked up mess that I can’t imagine any man truly wanting to stand by me. Especially, not Ethan. He proved that a long time ago. No, I would be a fool to give him an opportunity to walk away, again.