I took a deep breath and prayed to a god that I wasn't sure existed anymore. Please let him see me. Please let him believe me. Please let him be the good man that they say he is. Please.
Pushing open the door with the dignified gold lettering, Drew and Lane, I smiled at the secretary. She smiled back and I took hold of my courage. "Good morning, ma'am, I don't have an appointment but . . . I need to speak to Mr. Drew. My name is Laura Johnson and fifteen minutes would do it." Please say he's free and willing to see me.
"He has an appointment at 9:30 but let's see if he's at a stopping spot in his research." She smiled at me and rose to tap on the right hand door. Hearing an 'enter', she stepped inside before returning and motioning me forward. "Come along in, Miss Johnson."
Thank you, God. I managed another smile before slipping past her into the tastefully furnished office. The tall man who met me in front of his desk had a genial smile and moved with the grace of an athlete. His handshake was firm and his voice kind when he greeted me and offered me a chair. But it was the picture on his desk that told me that I'd come to the right place.
He was sitting on a red blanket spread out under an oak tree, a beautiful dark-haired woman lying back with her head in his lap. They were smiling at two matching babies, one cradled between her breasts and the other held in his arms. The love and caring reached out of the picture and wrung my heart. Without even realizing what I was going to do, I looked up at him and burst into tears.
Mr. Drew blinked once then stepped to the door and asked his secretary for some tea. Closing the door behind him, he circled the desk and opened a drawer while I tried to get control of myself. Drawing out a Kleenex box, he circled back around and handed it to me. "Sit down, Miss Johnson, whatever is wrong can probably be fixed. Why does a picture of my wife and children upset you so?"
I sat in the cobalt blue leather chair, sniffed hard and blew my nose, trying to blink the tears away. "Because it's as plain as the nose on your face that you're both in love and the babies are the crowning joy of your lives." I blew again then raised my chin and looked him straight in the lives. "And I know that there's something going on that could hurt you and your family." I shivered at the sudden look of steel in those blue eyes. "I didn't know until recently but I *should* have known that something was wrong."
He blinked and the steel hid itself behind an inquiring look. "Do you by any chance work for another law firm?"
He's good . . . and fast but then I knew that. I swallowed and nodded. "I'm doing an internship with the firm of Denver and Coates. I graduated twelve months ago from UCLA and they took . . . a chance on me. Being a woman doesn't get you very far in the real world, even when you graduate summa cum laude."
Mr. Drew nodded and sat down beside me instead of putting his desk between us. "I begin to see some light. Ah Margaret, thank you," he let her put the tray down on the small cherry table that sat between the client chairs. "Please have Jimmy take my 9:30 if I haven't buzzed you by then."
She nodded and left us. He poured the tea out and handed me a cup. "Now, I want you to drink all of that before you tell me what it is that bothers you. The blend is a soothing one that we picked up in England on our honeymoon last summer. I think you'll like it."
Cautiously I took a sip, then another. It was smooth and bland but with something that made my nostrils flare and my sinuses clear from the crying. Hot but not too hot, I let it flow down my throat until it hit my empty stomach and almost instantly made it relax. Wow, that was amazing, I thought dazedly. It was so good it should probably be illegal.
"Now, slowly . . . and with detail, tell me what is wrong and why you're so afraid both for yourself and for me." He spoke softly but with great authority and I instinctively nodded.
"Da-, Mr. Denver asked me to do some research on your law firm. He said that it was because he was thinking of opening an office in River Heights and you would be the main competition." I drank more tea and marshaled my thoughts. "I checked on law cases, judgments - the business side of law but that didn't satisfy him. He looked so disappointed that I . . . I told him that I'd check out your personal side. So I did a background check and pulled up your travels, family, financial statements - everything that the newspapers and gossip knew about."
"Then what happened," he asked with a quirk of his eyebrow.
"He said that was enough and put me on another assignment." I finished my tea and blew my nose on a fresh Kleenex. "I felt . . . odd about what he wanted but tried to dismiss it from my mind. College may lay a basis of understanding the law but it doesn't prepare you for the bits and pieces that go to make up the legal trade."
"Well said," his smile was almost a grin.
I blushed. "But while I was looking for something in Da-, Mr. Denver's desk, I found a folder with your name on it. He hired a private detective to investigate further into your private life. And . . ."
********* Carson *********
She faltered then put her shoulders back and looked me straight in the eye. "There was a list in his handwriting of points where rumors could be started." Anger warred with sorrow in her green eyes. "It was a blue print of a smear campaign that would leave you fighting for your professional honor and your privacy at the same time. I made Xerox copies of everything and put the file back in his desk."
Opening her briefcase, she pulled out a file and handed it to me. I nodded and put it on my desk without looking at it. That was for later, right now I needed to concentrate on solving her problem. "I know of no other way to ask this . . . but were you intimately acquainted with Mr. Denver?"
Biting her lip, she nodded. "It was stupid but he offered me a chance when no other law firm would. That would have gained my loyalty but then he started taking me to dinner and - and he took me with him on a three day visit to Manhattan where I acted as his secretary during the day and . . ."
Impulsively I held out my hand to grasp hers. "I understand. Is your loyalty irrevocably severed?"
She took a shaky breath and gripped my hand hard. "Completely and irrevocably - I left him my resignation, packed my bags and got on the bus for River Heights, all in the same day. I'm staying at the Bide-a-Wee motel near the station."
Thinking quickly, I decided not to take a chance. "Have another cup of tea while I think about the next step."
Getting up, I paced slowly around my office, choosing and discarding one idea after another. Here was perhaps the menace that we'd feared was coming. What should I do with Miss Johnson? Where would she be safe? How would he react to her leaving? Had she left behind anything that might have left a trail back to that folder of dynamite lying on my desk?
"What was in your resignation letter, Miss Johnson?" I paused near the phone.
She blushed. "I told him that it was for personal reasons."
Why the blush? Ah, the affair, I nodded and picked up the phone. "I'm going to have someone go with you back to the motel so you can get your things. Then you're going to move into an old farm house where a college student is already living." Hannah answered and I asked her to have Connie bring her car to the back entrance of our building and also to come up the back way to my office. She didn't ask a single question, just said 'all right' and hung up.
"You don't have to do this, Mr. Drew." She was sipping the tea that Avery had given us almost a year ago and her color looked better. "I can head back to California and my old job, waiting tables at the Century Club. I did legal research on the side where ever I could get the work and I can again."
Suddenly she looked exhausted. Her eyes half-closed and her hands trembled so badly that she almost missed the tray with her cup. I came back and sat in front of her, knee to knee so she could see me. "What's your first name, Miss Johnson?"
She blinked at me then answered. "Laura . . . Laura Sarah Johnson."
"Good," I took both of her hands in mine. "Let Connie take you to your sanctuary, take a hot bath, sleep until you wake up, then come over to our home for a late dinner. This won't seem quite so bad once you've had a rest and a good meal. Forget about everything but your needs. I think we can do better for you than legal research on the side."
Laura looked like she wanted to cry again but she fought it back and returned my smile. I felt a little guilty myself that I'd only looked at young male lawyers when I was looking for help. But since fate seemed to have given me a knock on the head, delivered by an intelligent young woman of strong principals - I'd better pay heed and snatch her up for my law firm.
Now, if only we had a little time for planning before Mr. Denver traced her to me. I poured her some more tea and got up to pace again. Moving has always helped me think and today was no different. It looked like it was time to hire a private detective of my own and I knew just the man for the job. I'd met him ten years before in Manhattan and a more unassuming gentleman I've yet to know.
Solomon Frisco was maybe 5' 6" tall, a hundred and forty pounds soaking wet with sad eyes and a permanent mournful look. His demeanor was so forgettable that he'd never been caught while tailing a suspect. He'd done superlative work for me in the past and it was past time to bring him in on this amorphous case. Stopping at my Rolodex, I found his card and picked up the phone.
Luckily he was in his office and I made an appointment with him for the next day at my home. He'd met Nancy a time or two and I knew he'd appreciate our new home and the babies. Just thinking about them made me smile and I wished very hard that this evil that I sensed would be deflected from all of us.
A tap at the back door to my office brought me out of my reverie. It was Connie and I explained the plan of action to her after introducing her to Laura. An odd thing happened at the moment they first looked at each other. I could swear that for a moment, they were outlined in an aura of gold sparks. Perhaps, Laura and Connie had known each other before, I thought while hiding a smile. Anything was possible.
********* Ned/Nephrites *********
My lord took us to safety in our rooms then left with Carira to confer with an old friend, Lord Roylant. His lands bordered ours to the west and I'd met him once when he came to hunt with my bonded. His emblem was the hawk and his tales of falconry were exciting to listen to. I played with Sar while Sepira tasted our lunch dishes so we could eat.
But all the while, I felt an urge to go and find the other Chosen, Laital. It grew and grew until I simply had to comply. I asked the Sisters where the rooms of Lord Sacralus were and how to get there. Sepira would have argued with me but I firmly told her that I was leaving to find them and see how he was doing in his labor. Lasira smiled and said she would come with me since she knew what room he was in and a back way into it.
That made me feel much better and I smiled before changing into an old robe and veil that no one but my Car would recognize. We slipped down the halls until I could tell we were in another wing of this large palace. At an ornately carved door, Lasira tapped lightly then whispered to the slave who answered that we were from the House of Eternal Bliss.
She nodded and let us in before leaving herself. The stuffy room smelled of blood and fear. Laital was moaning on the simple pallet that served as his bed and I could see the cramps of labor racking his whole body. I rushed to his side and found a basin of cold water which seemed to be all the comfort he'd been given. Wringing out a cloth, I wiped his face of sweat and tears while he panted hard and choked back another cry.
Lasira was checking between his legs and what she found widened her eyes. "My lord, support him in a squatting position. This baby is coming right now."
I found the strength to get him upright so I could brace him from behind while he held his belly and pushed as if he had only the strength for one more push. Lasira reached almost inside of him and gently helped the small one emerge with a rush of blood and fluid. I'd forgotten how messy birthing was but then, I'd had the comfort of my lord and a water birth. Why wasn't Lord Sacralus here with his Chosen and helping him to an easier birth?
The wavering cry of the newly born made me cry at the memory of my little Sar's first cry. Laital had slumped back against me as if all his strength had fled. "What . . . what is it, Sister?"
"A beautiful little girl, Chosen," Lasira smiled at the baby and kept on cleaning her up.
"Another puling female," the cold voice from the doorway to the room made me drop my head so he couldn't see my eyes. Lord Sacralus walked in and looked down with an expression of disgust. "Laital, you are a failure once again."
"Please, my lord, please let me keep her with me." The young-old man in my arms stirred and his appeal would have swayed the god of death himself.
But it didn't sway his lord. "Nonsense, I'm not feeding a worthless female slave." He looked down his nose at Lasira who still held the infant. "You - whoever you are, dispose of it and be quick about it."
I was paralyzed, surely he couldn't mean what he'd said. Laital sobbed quietly in my arms, "Not this one, too - please not this daughter."
The hair on the back of my neck was trying to stand straight up. I held on tightly to the other Chosen while Lasira laid the new baby down and slowly stood up. "My lord wishes me to kill this girl child and dispose of her body?"
"Yes, of course, just who are you anyway? You don't look like the slave who was here before." He frowned at her and I saw her beautiful green eyes change ever-so-slightly. Suddenly it wasn't the pleasure slave in front of the lord but the assassin. In a move too swift for me to see it, she moved forward and we watched Lord Sacralus crumple to the ground.
The baby was crying and Laital reached for her with trembling hands. Clutching her to his chest, his gaze was intent on Lasira. "Is he dead?"
"Yes, little one, he shall harm no more babies in this life." She knelt by his side and stroked back his sweaty hair. "What happened to your other babies, Laital?"
He sighed and kissed the downy head on his chest. "They were all girls so he had them disposed of. Two he exposed by the river where the crocodiles ate them and the other two he had smothered moments after they gave their first cry. He said it was my fault that they were girls and therefore worthless."
I bathed his face with the damp cloth and he started as if remembering suddenly that two of us had come in. Turning his head to see me, he tried to smile. "Who are you?"
"I am Lasira of the House of Eternal Bliss and because of Lord Sacralus' desecration of four, almost five females I pronounce Eternal Torment upon him." Her voice was steely then it softened. "Have no fear, little one, we shall take care of you and your beautiful daughter."
He nodded and looked down at the sweet little girl he held. "She is beautiful, isn't she?"
I blinked back tears. "She is the most beautiful little girl that I have ever seen, Laital. Look, she's ready to nurse."
"Oh, what do I do? I never got to . . ." he didn't finish the sad statement but he took direction well and we soon had him nursing her.
Lasira stood and looked indecisive for the first time since we entered the room. "I need to go and find the others, my lord but I can not leave you alone in this place."
"Go, Lasira, I'll be fine and I really don't want to leave just yet." I smoothed back Laital's hair and felt him still.
"My lord?" He sat upright and truly looked at me. "You're Nephrites, the free Chosen."
"Yes," I said simply, not knowing what else I should say. "Lord Carthenal will find a way for you and your daughter to remain together. I promise you this."
A strange tap at the back door brought Lasira up and over to it, a knife springing into her hand from out of nowhere. When she opened it, Carira, Car and Lord Roylant slipped inside. I was so glad to see them. Lasira explained what had happened and I saw the look of horror on my bonded's face. But the one that surprised me was the hawk lord. His fierce look at the dead lord was followed by a soft glance at Laital.
He also had the solution to our problem. He would enter by the front door asking to see Lord Sacralus so that he could discover the dead body and also protect the Chosen and his child. My lord chuckled but agreed with the plan with one addition. The moment that Laital heard Lord Roylant's voice, he was to scream out his dead lord's name, as if he'd just fallen over.
Lasira mentioned that it would look like a heart attack and her serene face told me that even the king's healers could not say differently. I fussed a bit over Laital and made sure that he and his daughter were comfortable before rising to be held in my lord's arms. Turning for a last goodbye, I saw such a wistful look on his face that I wanted to gather him into my arms and tell him that 'it would be all right'.
But from the way that Lord Roylant was looking at him, perhaps happiness was just around the corner for the brave Chosen who'd endured so much pain. My lord's arms were tight around me and his little whisper of what chastisement I was going to receive made me grow damp with need for him. He chuckled and had Carira check the back hall for servants before hurrying all of us out of there. Lasira and Lord Roylant went one way while we followed Carira back to the suite.
I was exhausted by the turmoil of the last few hours and I must have shown it because the moment we were back in our rooms, Car picked me up and carried me straight back to the bathing chamber. Stripping both of us took but a moment then he was sinking into the hot water with me snuggled tightly to his chest. Now I was really safe, I thought with a sigh.
"Little one, you are braver than a lion." He kissed my temple and I hummed happily at his praise, even if it was an exaggeration. "You did a good thing day and I'm very proud of you. I think that Laital will be safe with Roylant since he was the unsuccessful bidder for him five years ago. This time he won't let him get away even if Phaisel tries for him."
I hadn't thought about that. "He wants a Chosen so badly but he would surely treat Laital even worse than Lord Sacralus did. How could a man kill four babies? What evil spirit inhabited his body?"
"Greed goes by many names, my Nephrites, and so does ignorance." Car was scooping up water with his big hands and soothing long caresses down my back to my cheeks. It felt so good that I had to wriggle over his rising cock. "Sweet heart, is there something you'd like of me?"
Reaching between us to grab his shaft, I smiled as sweetly as I knew how. "This, I want this inside of me, reminding me that in eight months I will be giving birth under much better conditions than poor Laital did."
He lifted me up and I reached down to guide his sword into my sheath. He seemed to slide forever into my heat until I was finally flush to his heavy thighs. Stretching me wide but not nearly as wide as little Sar had been when I delivered him. Still, he felt big enough and I caressed his bulk with my inner muscles. He moaned a little and his hands gripped my hips to raise me a little before letting me fall back to his legs.
I was already leaking and we'd only been making love for a few moments. Suddenly a picture of a small girl-child came to me and she was even more beautiful than Laital's. Somehow I knew that the baby I carried was a girl, also. Car would welcome our child no matter what sex it was and so would I.
I was the luckiest Chosen in the whole world.
The end of part 14