Copyright 2011 Viviane Brentanos.
“So, you took the job.”
Nik Lloyd closed the door and expelled a life-weary sigh. “Lily, you can’t keep barging in like this. Ducking his head to avoid the scarred and pitted wooden door beam, he stepped down into the sitting room. The room was small, with a gentile shabbiness that betrayed its age. Nik loved it. The unsophisticated, rustic lines appealed to him. Disordered – like his psyche.
Lily followed his every move, her eyes wide, innocent – too trusting.”
“I would have lit the fire but…. You know how it is.”
Her smile dazzled him, turning his dark world into a place filled with love and - if not exactly joi de vivre - something close.
Not trusting himself to respond to her initial question, He crouched in front of the cast-iron grate and put a match to the already laid logs. Apple-scented wood spat and hissed into life, filling the room with their pleasing fragrance.
“It’s cold.” Wrapping arms around her wraithlike form, Lily shivered.
Nik smiled; Lily was always cold. Straightening up, he stretched his arms high above his head. His chin itched from two-day stubble. More than anything, he craved a long, hot soak, accompanied by a stiff measure of bourbon – or make that two. He’d cut down, his drinking now under control, but he knew Lily watched him like a hawk. That’s why he loved soaking in the tub. As audacious as she was, she abstained from sharing his bath time.
“So aren’t you going to tell me?” Graceful as a swan, she followed him into the tiny annex masquerading as a kitchen.
“Nothing to tell.” Avoiding her probing, he opened the fridge. Not much greeted him. Oh well, so be it. He was becoming pretty nifty at flipping omelets.
“You should shop more.” Lily sniffed in that irritatingly superior way of hers. “Your cholesterol must be sky high.”
“Lily,” Nik banged the frying pan down onto the unhealthy looking stove, “you should go. I need to be alone. I have to think this through and I can’t do that with you around.”
Silence brushed the back of his neck; a silence pregnant with hurt and rejection. Would he ever stop hurting her? He loved her. He always would but sometimes…. “I’m sorry, Lily.”
“No. Don’t apologize. I’m so tired of you doing that. I’m leaving. I know I am a pain but I worry about you. You know how much I care.”
Nik closed his eyes, her essence flooding his soul. Her warm breath caused the hairs on his arms to rise. Two years on and she still held him captive under her spell. Emptiness replaced the warmth in his heart. He knew she’d left him. Appetite gone, he turned off the gas and made for the tiny staircase tucked away in the corner of the cottage. He needed that bath – and drink – more than ever.
Negotiating the uneven steps, he pondered on his future. Was he doing the right thing? Common sense told him yes. It was time to pick up the reins of his bruised and battered life and move on. If only he could shed the cruel mantle of guilt torturing his every waking moment, rendering sleep a distant memory.
Lily. Cranking up the thermostat dial on the upper landing wall, his old friend, sadness, crawled over him. Would he ever be free of her? Would guilt allow him to cut the fragile thread binding them together?
“I do not believe this.”
Sofie Jameson gathered up a pile of delicate underwear and dumped it on top of the ever-growing mountain of clothes.
“Are you sure you are gonna need all this stuff? Diane wrinkled the retrusse nose that had set her father back a ton of his hard-earned ‘I’m in oil’ dollars. “I thought you said you were going somewhere warm so why the North Pole gear?”
“I said I hope I am going somewhere warm.” Climbing on top of the Louis Vutton case, Sofie pushed down hard with open palms. “This isn’t going to shut. Bugger. It would bloody help if I knew where I am going but you know my dear father, as tight-lipped as Putin’s press secretary. Be prepared. That’s always been my motto.” Frowning she scanned the bed. “I think I need another case.”
“Which will bring it up to four.” Pulling an ecru-lace thong from between where leather refused to meet, Diane twirled it between thumb and finger. “And what are you planning on doing with this? Seduce your body-guard into letting you run away?”
Grunting her accord, Sofie slid off the case. “Good plan. I may consider it but, knowing my father, he’s probably hired some Godfather reject with cheek padding and pesto-stained tie. Hardly seducible material. I won’t forgive him for this. I am expected to give up two weeks on Capri with you and the guys just because he can’t keep his mouth shut. I shall miss you.”
“Your attempt at idle flattery is falling on all too savvy ears.” Diane stuck out her tongue. “It is not I, I fear, you shall miss. I do swear your 34 A bosom heaves and palpitates for a certain Tom Reynolds.”
“Well, there is that,” Sofie conceded. She crossed to the floor-length mirror in their shared room. Pursing her lips, she squashed her boobs together and cocked her head. “34 A? Really? I’d go more with 36B.” Arms dropping to her side, she pulled her denim shorts down over her gym-firmed butt cheeks and wriggled her hips.” You know, I think I’ll ask daddy for implants. It’s the least he can do, seeing as he is banishing me to God knows where.”
“Yer right.” Diane threw the thong at her head. “You have as much chance of that as your old man voting Republican. You know what he thinks of cosmetic surgery.”
Sofie knew too well; she shared his sentiments but she was so pissed at him right now. Sighing her frustration, she collapsed onto the devastation masquerading as Diane’s bed. “God – you’re a pig.” She sniffed the air. “Don’t you ever change your sheets?”
“Oh bite your tongue.” Diane joined her on the bed. “Why would I want to do that? So much easier to chuck them and buy new ones. Ciggie?” She held out a roll up.
Sofie swiped away her hand. “You know if you get caught again, you’re going down for sure.”
“Good.” Di rolled on to her dance-toned tummy. “I’m sick of this place anyway. I shall leave and get a job.”
Sofie drew her knees up to her waist and rocked from side to side, shrieking with laughter. “You? Work? You can’t even make tea.”
Grabbing a pillow, Di lobbed it at her head. “Seriously.” Leaning over, she stubbed out the incompetently rolled cigarette. “How long does your father expect you to hide away?”
“Until this latest fracas dies down. Oh why can’t he make normal movies like…like…well James Cameron?”
“12ft tall blue people is normal?”
“Oh you know what I mean. Dad always has to piss people off, with his high brow moral documentaries.”
“So what psycho group of social misfits has attracted the wrath of Dr. Malcolm Jameson this time?”
“Psycho doesn’t come close. Do you remember that story that hit the news last year? About that freaky evangelical leader who told all his ‘flock’ their daughters should be locked up in the home until it was time to marry then off – at fourteen? No school, no parties, no mall…nothing?”
Her answer didn’t surprise Sofie. Diane got most of her news from Gossip Girl.
“Anyway, Dad, tenacious as always, dug deep into the ‘wunnerful’ Rev. Freeman’s affairs and found he is up to his clerical collar in fraud and embezzlement – not to mention a stable of ladies of ill-repute stashed away on his billion-dollar Texan ranch. He claims they came to him willingly – you know – to be ‘saved’ and all that.”
“Yer right.” Di scoffed.
“Point is, his merry band of holier than thous are baying for dad’s blood – or, rather, mine, I am told. Apparently I am steeped in sin and they have threatened to show me the error of my ways, prove to my father, with their guidance and through the ‘love of the Christ’, I can be saved.”
“Saved from what?” Diane went off into peals of laughter. “God – you’re so straight you won’t even smoke a joint – and, it pains me to say, you are the last remaining vestal virgin in college.”
Sofie squirmed, cheeks flushing. “So?” Swinging her legs over the bedside, she stood and resumed the task of packing. “I can’t help if I can’t find anyone worthy of my glorious, svelte body. Unlike you….hey, I have a brill idea.” Hand on hip, she gleamed at her friend. “I’ll tell daddy to tell them to take you. You are definitely in need of saving. Oh I can just see you now. All done out in long skirt and Quaker bonnet.”
“I, my dear,” Diane grinned. “ ..am past saving, and thank Christ for that. No sex before marriage? Fuck that for a game of soldiers. Anyway,” She jumped to her feet and sashayed over to the mirror, pouting at her reflection. “What just are these Amish wannabees going to do to you? Bash you over the head with a bible?”
“Jest ye not. My father believes them to be as dangerous as any Hamas fanatic. You know they set fire to a refuge home for HIV sufferers last month. Two people were killed. Ok, their sainted leader publically condemned the action but dad isn’t buying it. All the time his Malibu tanned expression screamed ‘it was God’s will’”
“Mmm – I can see why your dad is taking their threats seriously.”
“Maybe, but I still think I can be protected just as well here but you know dad, over-protective and over-dramatic. I think it was the ‘death to your first born’ blah blah letter that did it. Thing is, the police aren’t playing down the threat either so –”
“Off to your ivory tower you go. Hey, I have just had an epetomy.”
“I think you mean epiphany – and no – dad will not agree to you coming along. Not after the last stunt you pulled.”
“Moi?” Diane turned on her ‘I’m hurt’ expression. “Did I force you to drink eight aftershocks?”
“You,” Sofie aimed a wedged sandal at her head, “told me it was medicinal. For my cough, you said.”
“It worked, didn’t it?” Diane grinned. “You didn’t cough all night.”
“Kinda hard when one is too busy barfing all over your father latest film script. I think that’s why he went so ballistic. Not the fact his precious one and only daughter had passed out at his feet. So, no – you won’t be coming. Okay,” Sofie scanned the room. “That’s me done. Do you think six bikinis may be enough? Maybe father will feel sorry for me and send me on a Caribbean cruise.”
“Why stop at six?” Di grunted.”Oh it’s so not fair. You get to finish the term a week early.”
“Quite.” Sofie skewered her with her best Ice-Queen stare. “Makes having one’s life threatened so worthwhile.”
“Well I think it’s exciting. Hey, maybe your father could get Ridley Scott to make a movie out of it. They’re friends, aren’t they? That way I will finally get to meet Russell Crowe. You know they wor –”
“You, Diane Scott, are one sick bitch.”
* * * *
Sofie sat, legs sprawled out in her best let’s-get-this-over- with pose. She’d been waiting for thirty minutes and still the ‘babysitter’ hadn’t shown. Maybe he wasn’t coming, she mused. Wishful thinking. Her father was as stubborn as six mules. No way would he change the master plan. It was probably why they clashed.
“What can I say?” Her mother’s resigned sigh fluttered in her internal ear. “No good crying to me. You are just like him.”
Poor mum. Fingers twiddling with her latest ear-piercing, Sofie smiled. Her shy Martha’s Vineyard bred mother was no match for father and daughter, especially when they went head to head.
“Sorry about that.”
The door swung open and Miss Miles, principle of Chatsworth Ladies College entered, feet barely connecting with the plush ivory carpet. It was the general consensus amongst her pupils that Miss Miles was not of this earth. She did not walk; she glided. Extremely effective for sneaking up on her oft-wayward students. The tiny ex-ballerina frame deceived. Miss Miles’s caustic tone held more punch than Mike Tyson’s left hook.
“So, Sofie, I must say this is a most unfortunate situation.” Pez-nez perched on the end of her nose, Miss Miles floated into her cracked, leather chesterfield. “You will miss the end-of-term festivities.”
Poor Miss Miles. She so hated any alteration to her well-ordered life. Sofie knew she was miffed because her star pupil and college student president would not be at her side to meet and greet the board of directors. The old bat didn’t care about her safety.
“Oh dear, Mr. Lloyd is running late I see.”
The glasses wobbled with the ferocity of Miss Miles’ frown. Tardiness, she believed, was akin to ungodliness. No sooner had she breathed the words, the door opened and Elsa, Miss Miles’ long-suffering, possibly lesbian, assistant ushered in the man her dad had honored with the ominous task of guarding his only daughter’s life.
Sofie spun round as the well-modulated ‘good afternoon’ brushed by her ear. Not adept at masking her feelings, Sofie allowed her jaw to plunge to her knees. “You can’t be my bodyguard. You’re too young.”
From the back of the room, Miss Miles’ admonishment bounced off the back of her head. The tall, casually dressed man met her gaze. Eyes the color of Kentucky blue grass betrayed zero emotion. Clean-shaven, his skin was smooth and pale, as if he’d been kept from the sun for a while. Not exactly Edward Cullen white but close. He wore his hair short and messy a lá Daniel Craig, long fringe artfully arranged to the side. Without the boyish flop, his face would have appeared austere instead of rakish – sexy.
Sofie gripped the sides of her chair. For a the briefest of moments, her stomach dipped and rolled, as if someone had spun her hard and fast on a merry go round, Her feet touched the ground with a hard jolt. Irritation replaced the brief euphoric moment. Although his expression remained blank, his eyes betrayed a hint of disdain.
“Miss Jamison, I believe.”
He held out his hand, long, slim fingers curling around her palm. Pianist’s fingers.
“I see your father was not mistaken about your caustic wit.”
No easy smile curved his mouth. Lips, soft and firm, remained sealed. His tone carried as much sincerity as Simon Cowell’s. For once, a sharp, witty retort eluded her. This man had drawn the wind out of her sails with one frost stare. Oh but this experience was shaping up to be a barrel of laughs.
“I took the liberty of carrying out your suitcases to the car. If you’re ready, we’ll be on our way.”
God, the guy was so uptight nothing short of an enema would loosen him up. Acknowledging Miss. Miles with a curt nod, he strode from the room. Long jean clad legs kicking up one helluva pace. Mouthing a breathless goodbye, Sofie had no choice but to follow.
His strident pace did not let up. Sofie half walked-half ran along the corridor and then down the stairs to the carpark. She made up her mind she didn’t like him – even if he was the hottest specimen of manhood she’s set eyes on since….well, since ever. Diane would wet her knickers with envy.
By the time she’d stumbled across the tarmac, two-foot wide D and G bag clutched to her chest, Sofie sweated for England. She decided Diane was welcome to him; she hated him.
“What’s the rush?” she snapped, in between gasps of oxygen. “This bag is heavy, you know.”
“I rather suspect it is your inappropriate choice of footwear that is to blame for your inability to keep up. Not at all practical.”
“Where are you taking me – the Amazon? I….” Sofie stopped dead in her tracks. “You have got to be kidding me.”
Again, his expression read ‘on empty’. Holding open the back door of a pre-millennium Opel Corsa, he inclined his head. “Get in, please. We have a plane to catch.”
“But…”Sofie blustered. “Dad usually sends the Bentley –”
“No Bentleys for you, I’m afraid. At least, not for a while. The art of this game, Miss Jamison, is inconspicuousness. A stretch limo complete with tinted windows rather screams ‘hey – I’m a celebrity get me out of here’, wouldn’t you agree?”
“And they say I am sarcastic.” Ignoring his wave of hand, she opened the passenger seat door – only to have him slam it shut.
He shook his head. “Behind, please.”
“Excuse me…?” Sofie challenged him with the best condescending glower in her extensive armory. Nothing. He remained as immobile as the Sphinx. Too dumb-founded to expel even a whisper of a pained sigh, she threw her bag onto the stained and grubby backseat and climbed in. Without so much as a thank you, he closed the door with a quiet click.
Face pressed against the window, Sofie stared out at the bleak countryside. A slight drizzle sprayed the glass. Typical English summer weather: grey, chilly, the sun a figment of some optimist meteorologist’s imagination. She prayed he was whisking her off to a land of sea, sun and hunky guys. Not that she would get anywhere near them. She had a notion the ‘Terminator’ reject behind the wheel would watch her like a hawk.
This wasn’t the first time she’d been forced to go into to hiding because of her father’s over-zealous moral code. She was tired of it. Hard experience had taught her bodyguards were short on humour. Charm and fun did not make for an impressive C.V.
Staring at the back of the wheat-blonde head, Sofie couldn’t hold back a chuckle.
“Something amusing, Miss Jamison?”
“Oh please. Call me Sofie…or Sof. My friends do. Sorry – I was just thinking out loud.”
“Well…” She wriggled forward. “I noticed…you have a neck.”
“He didn’t share her mirth. “Very perceptive of you. I was under the impression a neck was a prime requisite of the human anatomical structure.”
“I only meant…. It’s just that the goons my father usually hires fall somewhere between Rocky Marciano and Shrek.”
Still no laughter; only a cool oh – I see. Sofie gave up. Arms wrapped against the ineffective heating, she returned to counting trees; a challenging task in the bleak Fen landscape. Oh but did she ever owe her father big time.
“How old are you, Miss Jamison, if I may ask?”
His deep, melodious tone jump-started her out of the imagined scenario in which she was punishing her father by voting Tory. “Sorry? Me? I’ll be twenty next birthday.”
“A bit old to be still at school.”
Cheeky bastard. “It’s a college.”
“Really. And what does one learn at this college?”
His skeptism bruised her ego. “Oh you know,” Feigning an affected air, she examined her French buffed nails, “Macramé, needlepoint….how to be beautiful and vacuous and ensnare a rich, preferably old husband.”
“Indeed. A worth and varied education.”
Sofie didn’t rise to the bait. He could think what he wished. She wasn’t about to tell him she had four A levels under her belt and was studying for a degree in Social Sciences. Ok – maybe she would rise. “Has anyone told you are a tad insulting, not to mention a real barrel of laughs?”
“My job is not to amuse but to keep you alive.”
His deadpan delivery irritated. “So what do you need to know my age?”
“Oh it helps me gauge the mental capacity of my charges. I need to be certain they have the maturity to understand the seriousness of the situation and thus understand and follow my rules.”
“And your conclusion….about me, I mean?” Leaning forward, Sofie rested her chin on the back of his seat. A subtle waft of spicy cologne teased her nostrils. Oops, back on the merry go round she went.
“My conclusion is I predict you will not my make job easy. You wear a cloak of childish petulance, Miss Jamison, which could prove dangerous.”
“Did you swallow a bloody dictionary for breakfast?” Sofie grunted. She sprang back, hand itching to reach around and slap him.
“Please fasten your seat belt.”
Trumped once again; this cyber-man wouldn’t even do her the courtesy of arguing
* * * *
Gatwick North Terminal, ten p.m, height of the summer season. Hardly fun. Talk about trailer trash city.
“Ok, now I know I’m not in Kansas.” Sofie stared at the teeming mass of pre-holiday all-inclusive Brits. “Excuse me, I don’t wish to be difficult, but please don’t tell me we are flying charter.”
“Exactly that.” Cybo-man pushed their trolley of her high-rise luggage towards check-in desk no. four.
Squinting, Sofie read the screen. “Where in the hell is Zan….God, I can’t even pronounce it.”
“You don’t have to.” Ignoring her spluttered protest, Cybo-man positioned the trolley behind a squad of ever-optimistic England football shirted youths.
“Hello, darling.” Raising a beer bottle precariously close to her face in salute, one of them lurched against her. “You off to Zanfos? I’ve errd its fucking lush there.”
Alcohol fumes sent her reeling.
“Want a slug?”
“It’s ZanTHos and we’re good, thanks.” Cybo-man’s Clint Eastwood delivery sparked apprehension in the acned youth’s eyes.
Blimey, Sofie thought. He may be a total prat but he’s definitely shit hot at this protection lark. He’d silenced the chanting soccer cacophony with one cold stare. Sofie scowled at his back. It still didn’t excuse him making her queue. “Do we have to be here?” She hissed?
But can’t we use my father’s jet. It’s –”
“Does my father know about this?”
“Oh can’t you say anything more than yes….no?” Frustrated and, by now, beyond tired, Sofie wanted to cry.
“I cannot believe you are making me do this.” She stamped her foot.
The snot-nosed kid behind collapsed into peals of raucous laughter. “That lady’s stupid, mum. She’s acting like a kid.”
“Why, Miss Jamison.” Finally Cybo-man cracked a smile. “I do believe you are a snob.”
Sofie had no comeback; at least not one that wouldn’t cause her to be arrested. All she could do was seethe and suffer the indignity that was mass tourism.
“Bad news, I’m afraid.” Cybo-man pocketed the boarding passes and passports. “We have a three hour delay.”
“Oh why?” Sofie banged her forehead with closed fist. “I must have been so bad in a past life.
* * * *
“Would you care for something to drink?”
“What did you have in mind?” Sofie Jamison’s glare was pure venom. She didn’t like him. Good. He didn’t want her to like him.
“Actually,’ she hauled herself up from where she’s sprawled across four of the lounge seats. “A mojito will do nicely.”
Pulling the scrunchy from her ponytail, she shook her hair free, a glorious russet and chestnut gold mane. Nik doubted that colour came out of a bottle; the shades were too subtle. Swallowing against sudden dryness in his mouth, he stood. “Mineral water it is, then. Don’t move from this spot and don’t talk to anyone. If anyone approaches you, come to me. I’ll be over there at the bar…second thoughts, best you come with me.”
“U huh.” She shook her head, lips set in a determined line. “I am not moving. My feet are killing me plus, if I do, Hooligans Inc, over there, will nick our seats.”
Mutiny lurked behind the china doll face but experience told him she wouldn’t bolt – which was exactly what he wanted to do. This was all wrong. He’s been a fool to think he was ready.
Perched on a stool at the bar, he orders a double espresso for himself and a Perrier for his new charge.
“You’re being mean, you know.”
He swirled round to find Lily perched on the adjacent stool, head resting on one clenched fist, regarding him with that admonishing frown that, at once, drove him on to the offensive.
“Lily, what are you doin here?” Turning from her searching, child-like gaze, he concentrated on opening a sachet of sugar. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“So it is.” Her tone held humour. “But you know me. I don’t live by the clock and don’t try to change the subject. You are bullying her.”
“If you mean by being detached and professional then, yes, I am. She needs bullying. She is a spoilt, little madam.” He raised the tiny paper cup to his lips, hating that his trembling fingers betrayed him.
“Oh Nik, don’t you think she may be scared?”
He smiled. That was his Lily; seeing good in all, always defending the underdog. Naïve, yes, but, in some ways, mature beyond her years.
“And how could you possibly know she’s scared.” He drained the inch of coffee in one. “Have you been skulking behind corners again?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes, and plus, I am a good listener.” She stuck out her tongue. “It’s all a front, you know. She is frightened and your attitude isn’t helping.”
“It’s how it has to be, Lily. “Closing his eyes against her too-knowing smile, he tried to block out the images from the past. The sound of gunfire ricocheted inside his head. He shivered. Would it ever go away? “I can’t get too close. Not again. I need to stay detached. It hurts too –”
“Nik…it won’t happen again. You won’t let it.”
Her cool breath caressed his skin.
“You have to stop blaming yourself.”
“Oh Lily, my sweet Lily.” He turned to her, fighting against the moisture dampening his eyes. An emotional chain: love, regret and unbelievable sadness bound them together. Who would be first to break that chain? It ought to be him but he wasn’t ready and that, he knew, was selfish.
“You should go.” Running fingers through his hair, he turned away, unable to see the sorrow in her eyes.
“I will. Soon. I promise.” He heard her swivel round on the stool. “I like airports,” she sighed. “So lively. I like people watching. Nik –”
The plea in her tone forced him to finally look into her soft, brown eyes. “Lily….you need to stop this following me around and, I am begging you…don’t show up on the island. I need to be really focused. I can’t do that if I know you are there.”
Her silence told him he’d hurt her.
The delayed response doubled his guilt. “I understand but Nik…be kind to her. She isn’t who you think she is. I think…..I believe she’s confused and angry with her father for putting her in this position. So, she’s wealthy. Money isn’t everything. It doesn’t buy love or happiness.”
Once again, with her quiet, wise words, she’d taken hold of his heart and squeezed it. He wanted to cry out at the unfairness of life. Inside, he raged at God and the unjust world he’d created and supposedly controlled. “Lily….”
Lily had gone, leaving behind, as always, the black void he was convinced would never be filled. Beads of sweat broke out along his hairline, fiery pain ripping at his gut. “Barman,” he raised a finger, “Double Scotch on the rocks.”
If you liked this, check out Viviane's latest novel - Written in Stone a contemporary romance - naughty with sizzle. Available from MuseitHot Publishing.
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