Anne and Andrew were buzzing with excitement as Kris watched Daniel cross the room. The sudden appearance of Felix filled her with a sense of foreboding.

As CEO of Stone Enterprises, the company that Daniel had set up, Felix obviously had considerable power within the organisation of which her husband-to-be was the Chair, but Kris couldn’t help shake the feeling that this opulent, gregarious man, so unlike Daniel in so many ways, had a hold over the founder of Stone Enterprises that she couldn’t explain. Daniel had told her how he’d turned to Felix after the death of his wife—his first wife, she reminded herself—for a secure and stable pair of hands to run the company after he had gone into a self-destructive dive. Yet there was something else going on, something just beyond the reach of her conscious mind which her intuition told her was incredibly important.

Not that the CEO liked her. He had made that abundantly clear a number of times. She still suspected his hand in the attempt to drive Maria Gosselin between her and Daniel, and when they had last met in Portugal Felix had been openly contemptuous of her. Although she had avoided him as much as possible since then, she knew that his dealings with Daniel were also becoming increasingly difficult—and that Daniel no longer had enough of the trust of his shareholders to be able to do anything about it. For all that he was one of those masters of the universe that were the darlings of financiers and entrepreneurs, Daniel Stone was increasingly less certain of his ability to hold his throne.

So what was Felix doing here?

“I still can’t believe you didn’t tell us.”

“What?” Kris was suddenly snapped out of her reverie and dragged her attention away from the two men talking in the corner of the gallery and back to Anne, who was staring slightly peevishly at her.

“That you weren’t going to tell us.”

“I was. Honestly. Give me a break, Anne. I’ve hardly been in London for the past few months—I was too busy preparing for this.” Kris gestured around her to the paintings on the wall.

Anne softened slightly. “Well, I suppose so.”

“Pretty cool that Daniel was so willing to invite us along, eh?” Andrew’s eyes were glittering, Kris suspected, with the prospect of a free holiday in San Francisco.

Anne looked at him, exasperated. “Yes,” she said at last. “It is I suppose.” She returned her gaze back to Kris and shook her head, her eyes still expressing some annoyance. “You should have told me,” she said quietly.

At this, Kris blushed and dipped her head slightly. “Yes, yes, I should have. But I wasn’t sure that Daniel wanted anyone to know.” In fact, she had felt pretty sure of it. He had always been so private, so reserved with others. And here he was suddenly blurting out the most important event of her life to strangers he barely knew...

...but the closest friend Kris had in the world, the closest thing she had to family now, other than him. Her eyes lifted again but not to look at Anne this time. Instead, she searched the room to where Daniel was talking to a frowning Felix.

Seeing the direction of her eyes, Anne also looked across the room. “He is pretty marvellous,” she sighed. When she returned her own gaze back to Kris, the two women looked at each other. There was no jealousy in Anne’s face, though perhaps a sort of wistfulness, and she gave a curt, secretive nod. She understood.

“And what about me?” It was Andrew’s turn to frown as he pulled Anne into him, a little defensively. “Ain’t I marvellous too?”

“Let me see,” Anne mused, looking towards Kris impishly as she allowed herself to snuggle against Andrew’s shoulder. “You’re not fabulously rich, you’re not built like a giant, you’re not able to whisk me off around the world on a whim, and you’re not hung like a horse.”

“You never complained before,” he observed somewhat sullenly.

Half turning, she lifted herself on her feet and kissed his cheek. “But you are better looking—sorry, Kris, just my opinion. The scars don’t quite do it for me.”

This made Kris laugh. She was so used to women unable to see who Daniel really was because of his aura of wealth that her friend’s honesty was like a sweet, fresh breeze. “Well, they do for me,” she replied smiling.

Anne nodded and then turned her attention back to Andrew, gazing up at him silently for a few seconds. “And you’re mine,” she said softly. “That’s enough. That’s what’s important.” She frowned for a moment after saying this and returned her attention again to Kris. “The problem with living in a fairy tale,” she said very quietly, “must be that you’re never quite sure what’s real, or when the evil goblin is going to come and steal everything away.”

From anyone else, Kris would have taken that comment as malicious, but she was more disturbed to see that Anne was genuinely concerned about her. This was not some attack on her happiness but rather distress that Kris could be hurt in some unspecified way. Kris was about to reply when Anne lifted her hand and grabbed hold of Kris’s. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to sound rude. This is a fairy tale, a fucking fantastic fairy tale, and you deserve every moment of it. Just don’t lose your head, okay?”

Grateful of this solicitude, Kris nodded her head and kissed her friend softly on the cheek, enjoying her embrace. After this Anne and Andrew parted to allow her to mix among the rest of the guests.
Although the conversation had shaken her ever so slightly, Kris’s distance from the various onlookers and well-wishers was disturbed more by the fact that whenever she looked across to Daniel and Felix the two of them appeared to be having a heated and angry conversation, their emotions barely suppressed. At one point, Daniel placed a hand on Felix’s arm, apparently to guide him out of the gallery, but Felix shook it off disdainfully.

She had no desire to meet with Felix again, and tonight she disliked his presence even more. This was meant to be her fairy tale, but she sniggered as she thought of Anne’s observation of the “evil goblin”. That was what he was, for all his elegant tailoring and meticulous, even fussy grooming: an evil goblin.

But if she had no wish to encounter Felix she was even less happy about the fact that Daniel appeared to be plagued by this wicked creature. At last, she could stand it no more and went across the room to them. Felix saw her before Daniel did and the older man’s face barely concealed his sneer before he painted it with a false, coagulated smile.

“Wonderful,” he said, gesturing around him towards the paintings. “Quite an event Daniel’s put on for you.” His face was somewhat redder than usual, and his eyes, glittering with malice as they turned back to her, did not seem to focus quite as readily as they should have.
She smiled a little thinly at this. Even when complimenting her—a rare enough event—Felix couldn’t help but mix his sugared words with a little poison.

“I just hired the place,” Daniel murmured. “Kris’s work attracts enough attention on its own merits.”

Felix shot him a glare at this. “I’m sure it does,” he murmured. As a waiter passed carrying a tray he grabbed hold of the young man, somewhat brusquely, and lifted a glass, half draining it at once.

“Well I’m glad you could make it this evening,” Kris said, attempting to keep her voice as neutral as possible. Felix merely nodded at this, not even bothering to remove his eyes from Daniel’s—who in turn barely looked away from his CEO, his own face scowling slightly.

At last, genuinely annoyed that the goblin was going to ruin her night, Kris changed tactics and snapped: “Why did you come, Felix? I don’t think it was particularly to appreciate my work.”

Felix snorted at this, finishing the rest of his glass. “Well, this abstract stuff isn’t really my taste. Looks fine on the walls of a bank, I suppose, but not my thing. Mind you, you’ve got a good patron so I guess you don’t have to worry. Anyway, I had some business that I needed to speak to Daniel about.”

Kris ground her teeth together in anger, but it was Daniel who spoke, softly but firmly. “You’re drunk, Felix. This can wait till tomorrow.”

“No it can’t!” Felix’s voice suddenly rose a few decibels and he let the glass fall to the floor. It shattered into crystal pieces at his feet, catching the light as he moved one shoe to crush the frail stem and bowl. “Too much has to fucking wait these days, Daniel. It’s not good enough.”

A few people nearby could not help but overhear and, glancing towards the trio, they either moved away or became more alert as they attempted to eavesdrop on the conversation.

“One more night won’t hurt,” Daniel said, placing one restraining hand on Felix’s arm. “Tomorrow I’m off to New York. I’ll sort it out. I promise.”

“Yes, with her!” Felix hissed. He attempted to pull his arm away from Daniel’s grasp, but the other man was too strong for him: there was a warning in that restraint that even Felix could not ignore. This, however, simply made him even more furious. “So,” he sneered. “Are you going to New York to work or fuck?”
Several months previously, Kris would have gasped at this, but she thought that nothing Felix said or did could upset her now.

“That was uncalled for,” Daniel said, keeping his voice low. Felix, however, did not appear to care.

“I wouldn’t even mind the fucking if it didn’t take your mind off the important things. Remember when we’d go to Victor’s? Pick us up a few whores? Land a good deal and then go and fuck the night away in celebration. Real fucking orgies when you were a real man.” With this latter, his eyes left Daniel’s face and fixed on Kris’s with a level of malice that shocked her.

“As I say, Felix, you’re drunk.” Daniel’s own features were fixed and cold, his eyes unmoving from the older man and his knuckles whitening as he gripped him more tightly. At this, Felix gave a grimace and began to tug his arm from side to side violently: fearing a scene, Daniel finally let him go.

“Yes, I’m drunk. And what of it. Don’t get all holier-than-thou with me, you fucking hypocrite. You could drink and whore with the best of us.”

Felix was clearly building up to another tirade but it was Kris this time who cut it short. “What is your problem with me?” she asked, her voice firm and unwavering as she stared at him levelly.

For a few seconds, Felix appeared to sober up a little. He opened his mouth to speak, paused, and then shut it again. “You’re not worth my attention,” he said at last. “Well, I can’t stay around here.” He fixed Daniel with his gaze again, ignoring Kris entirely now. “Enjoy the rest of your evening with your charity case. Just make sure you’re on the plane tomorrow and fucking well sort things out with Roth. I don’t mind your ass being nailed by that motherfucker, but you’re not taking mine with it.”

With that he turned away and left them. Kris was annoyed and frustrated by the turn of events. When she returned her attention to Daniel, however, her anger was immediately replaced by concern. Her lover was shaking, barely able to control his rage, his face white and his scars pale, clear tracks scored across his cheek and brow.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. Her hand came up to rest on his arm, just above the elbow, a delicate and tender touch as she squeezed him ever so gently. “Ignore him. I don’t understand what his problem is with me, but just forget it.”

At this, Daniel smiled a little bitterly. His eyes appeared to focus somewhere in the distance, far past the direction where Felix had left, but then at last he turned to her and some warmth and colour began to return to his features.

“His problem,” he said at last, very quietly so that only she could hear it, “is that you gave me hope again.”
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Published on November 30, 2012 01:48 • 133 views



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message 2: by M. J. (new)

M. J. Lawless It is nearly there! (Really just formatting now.) I've been spending hours each day going over the book, and am hoping to get it up and published even by Monday.


message 1: by VEL (new)

VEL The suspense is killing me....I just might start reading the previous books hopefully finishing in time to start on this one...;)


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