Recap, since it has been a long time: Mason has agreed to escort Nik to the red carpet premiere of her first movie after a long argument as the construction site for his new gallery. A small outing has gained them notorious bad press with the media portraying her nephew, Nathan, as her and Mason's son. Now her ex-boyfriend and current computer hacker has joined the cause for Senator Mayfield's downfall. And something fishy is up with Gina and her pregnant, now delivered, maid.
My face was as red as Gina's flaming, famous hair. Not only was my own hair straight and tickling the skin on my back, but my dress exposed much more skin than I would have liked. Not to mention Andrew had just burst into the room like he owned the place.
"Looking good, Nik." He winked at me as I hastily turned around and grabbed my bathrobe to cover myself.
"Oh no you don't." Gina said, tearing the robe from my grasp and spinning me to face Andrew. "Do you think she's red carpet material?"
My shoulders sagged. "Gina, I've told you a thousand times I don't think this is appropriate-"
"Honey, this dress completely goes with your skin tone. The underlying blue hues bring out those eyes of yours. The color isn't flashy so you won't stand out in that way, but you've got a nice lean body and subtle curves. Trust me, this dress is perfect for what you're going for."
"It hardly has a back! The neckline is far too low. Not to mention it's much too tight through… this area!" I waved my hand in front of my stomach and hips, where the dress clung and outlined my curves.
"Go look in the mirror. You'll see."
"I would, but these shoes are a death trap!"
Gina rolled her eyes very dramatically and gave me a small push toward the mirror. When I stumbled, Andrew grabbed my upper arm and helped me wobble across the room.
I barely recognized the girl in the mirror. With Gina's straight ironing skills, my hair hung to my hips in a honey color mixed with darker undertones. The pale color of the dress gave me a soft, nearly ethereal look, but the fit made me look like the young woman I was instead of a child.
The neckline was low, but it gave me the appearance of curves I hadn't realized I'd had before. The same went for my hips. I'd always been kind of scrawny, but the dress filled me out.
The color, along with some make up, brought out my eyes and added color to my face.
"Yep. You look wonderful. Now, time to parade you around the house and get you moving like a superstar, instead of just looking like one."
I slumped my shoulders and sighed heavily, but Gina rushed over and straightened my posture. "If you don't stand up straight you'll look like a frumpy little girl playing dress up. Now MOVE!"
With a manicured claw she prodded my lower back until I was in the hallway and approaching the grand staircase.
"Whoa no! There's no way I can walk down those stairs in these heels!"
"Just balance on your toes and move slowly. You'll have be confident in those shoes before the premiere and there's no time like the present!'
"Sure there is."
Christ, Gina was scary when she was teaching me how to be famous. I took the stairs with care, my back itching from my hair swaying across the exposed skin and my legs wobbling like a newborn foal's. Gina was at my back, making commentary on how I walked and my posture.
I tried to follow her directions, but ended up stumbling once I got to the last step. Andrew, luckily, was there to catch my arm.
"Thanks" I said, knowing an embarrassed flush was creeping into my cheeks. I didn't miss the obvious grunt of annoyance from behind me, but I couldn't figure out why Gina had such a problem with Andrew helping me. Maybe she didn't and the sound was made for another reason that was beyond my notice.
As we approached the big open foyer, I felt like I was entering a Victorian ball hosted by the most prestigious of blood lines. I almost expected to be wearing the typical long, flouncy skirt and a corset, and it really wouldn't have surprised me to see men in frilly shirts and cravats escorting the finest of ladies.
Instead there was Mason, standing there with a frown between his eyebrows and familiar pissed pulse in his jaw. His torn, paint splattered blue jeans didn't resemble the old fashioned finery in the least, but I could not deny that he looked utterly gorgeous all the same.
Behind me Gina was making noises again, this time clearing her throat in a suggestive way.
"What do you think Mason? Is she red carpet material?"
He turned a stony gaze upon me, scouring every inch of my body. In response, my skin turned as red as if it had been scalded. In a way, I guess, it had.
"She looks okay."
He flashed a poorly concealed angry look at Andrew and then bounded up the stairs, slightly knocking into me on the way past. I conveniently lost my balance and Andrew caught me by the waist, just as Mason turned back around.
"Thanks a lot, you big jerk!" I yelled up at him, feeling the sting of tears behind my eyes. Usually things like that don't bother me so much, but for some reason his obvious disdain was a fatal blow to my resolve. In a swift move, I bent over, took the shoes off and bounded up the stairs into my room where I put on my sweats and typed away furiously on my laptop.
After a while I began to crave more open space, so I slipped on some shoes and carried my laptop out to the gazebo in the garden. A long, wooden swing was attached to the rafters and I nestled myself into the crook of the thing and opened up my neglected fan mail account. I was overwhelmed by the amount of emails I'd received in just a couple weeks. The mail box wasn't big enough for them all, but had topped out at over 1,000. I happily began to sort through them, overjoyed by the adoring and positive ones and sending the negative ones to a special folder to be looked at later.
I needed the ego boost.
I was so absorbed in my reading that I didn't hear Gina approach.
"Anna is upset that she didn't get to see you in your dress." She had been taking care of the baby when the dress fiasco had amounted.
I looked up at her with an "are you kidding me" expression. "I wasn't about to suffer any more humiliation because of that."
"I don't see why you're humiliated."
I gave her the look again. "Mason completely blew me off! I mean, couldn't he have least said I looked good? Then he practically knocks me over! I must have looked so out of place."
"But you didn't! You looked fantastic! I still can't believe you don't see what's going on with Mason."
"What do you mean?"
Gina's perfect face was drawn up in a huge, cheesy grin. "He thought you were flirting with Andrew and got pissed off. That's why I was making the noises at you; you looked like a couple."
"And why would Mason care?" I felt bubble of hope rise in me as I pondered the answer to my own question, the same thought I'd been hoping to be true for weeks.
Gina rolled her eyes. "Don't tell me you don't have feelings for him. That goofy grin on your face betrays you. Did you ever think maybe he feels the same way?"
I couldn't seem to stop smiling no matter how hard I tried to pull my cheeks back into a relaxed, neutral position.
"You never dressed up like that when we were dating." Justin was sitting across from me on the couch looking at pictures Gina had taken of me in the Dior dress.
"You two… dated?" Anna was sitting on one of the large sofas in the den cradling baby Michael. His little red face was blubbering and shiny with excess spit and we all took turns cooing at the drool factory.
"For two years in college" he boasted out. "Nik was a crazy one…" Justin got that nostalgic look on his face and I wanted to slap him.
"Oh shut up. I graduated in two and a half years and it's not like I'm the one who got locked up in Brandon Acre's trunk on Halloween…"
"Oooh, do I sense a drunk story?" Gina and Mason walked into the room together. They didn't look suspicious of anything, but I still felt my heart beat a little faster in a jealous rhythm.
"Boy do you ever!" I called out, willing to embarrass my friend now that he'd brought up our history.
"Let me tell this one, Nik."
"No way. You were locked in the trunk most of the time so it's not like you know what happens." He conceded to my argument and I continued. "Well it was late on Halloween night and William and Mary was putting on a haunted forest through one of the frat houses. Brandon, one of Justin's old pals, wanted us to come so we did. The place was a college kid's dream… kegs, hard liquor, rec drugs… you name it. Anyway, we were all a little buzzed when Brandon suggests we go scare some passerby people with fake blood and stuff.
"Justin got really into it, went all out on the make up and stuff. At this point he was still a bit bigger around the middle and decided to be a deranged redneck with a beer belly. Anyway…"
"Don't forget your costume, Nik." Justin spurted out. "She wore this insane red and black wig with a big black cape. She looked like a bite-sized vampire until she took that cape off-"
"Shut up." I felt myself flush. "Anyway, we-"
"What was under the cape?" Gina was raising her eyebrows at me with that expectant look.
"A leather suit." Justin happily blurted out. "Like catwoman, or that hot vampire chick in Underworld."
I felt all male eyes on me.
"And you complained about the dress?"
I ignored the question. "Well I was a little drunk at the time."
Mason shook his head. "I can't imagine you having the gall to get drunk."
"I was in college. I had a boyfriend to look out for me." I glanced at Justin meaningfully. "What else was I supposed to do?"
"You two dated?" He'd walked in late and missed that part, obviously.
"Two whole years. Don't ask me how I did it because I really don't know how I put up with Nik for that long." Justin's grin in my direction made me roll my eyes.
I watched Mason's eyes grow icy for a moment before he relaxed in his seat. Gina ran circles on his arm with her fingers and I noticed Anna giving her a glare at the same time I did.
I decided to shake off any implications and continue the story.
"Now onto the part of you riding on the car and getting caught by campus police…"
Justin groaned, his hair sticking up as he slumped in his seat.
I completely embarrassed him as I retold the story in great detail.
Later that night, after the last rays of sun had shied from view, I grew restless. Nathan had spent the day tailing Tom and Bill as they checked out the farm land and stuff. He came home tired and spilled into his bed before I could tell him to change into P.J.'s.
The summer air was thick enough in my room to make me uncomfortable, and I found my self pacing and not able to sit still long enough to do anything productive. Instead of seeking company, I figured it was time to walk around and talk to myself about a potential new story that was floating about in my head.
Blackberry in the pocket of my jeans, I snuck down the servant ramp and out the back door. Mason's lawn was more than big enough to walk in, but I still longed for a little more freedom than it offered. I looked at the manor's windows and saw no silhouettes, so I figured no one would notice if I stepped off the premises for a short night stroll. After all, if I followed the fence I couldn't get lost, could I? The seed was planted in my mind. I was leaving the grounds.
As I approached the gates, my stomach gave a lurch as I realized I hadn't considered Mason's new security force.
It turned out that the two guys in the booth didn't notice that I was going out of bounds. The fluorescent light from the TV lit up the booth, and I could see them both transfixed by a ball game of some sort. I didn't mind that they were so lax as I needed the get away. Later I would damn my foolishness, but for the time being I was adventurous and happy.
The cool night air made goosebumps pop up on my arms, but I enjoyed the bit of quiet and feeling of openness around me. I walked for a long time before I decided that I should probably head back, but as I turned to go the other way I felt an arm at my elbow.
Another arm muffled my gasp of surprise and fright as more arms picked up my legs and began walking with me. I struggled for all I was worth, my old fear rising at a geometric rate.
A hand came heavily upon my neck and my world suddenly went blacker than the night air all around me.
The last time I'd been taken against my will I'd woken up underground or in a vehicle. This time I was in a room. A living room with soft suede sofas and paintings on the walls. The lighting was pleasant, almost soft, and if I hadn't been confused out of my mind I might have been at ease.
"Awake, are you?"
I turned to look behind me, and saw subtle brown hair and a red parka on a woman of about thirty. She was quite nearly pretty, with a strong jaw and a straight nose over a pale mouth. The only thing intimidating about her was her eyes. Cold and cruel hazel orbs focused on me.
"So it seems." Deciding that calmness was the best way to deal, I straightened up. I was not tethered and wondered why.
"You'll find my methods of detainment much less hands on than those of the Senator." She stood and walked toward me, a small package nestled between two thin hands.
Thrusting the package at me, she sat to my left and commanded "open it."
Not speaking, I did as she asked.
Inside was a small tape recorder, a much more technologically advanced version than those I'd used for the paper. There was also a pay-as-you-go cell phone and a smaller envelope. In it was a Polaroid of Mason, Gina, and I in the manor. How had they seen in the manor? Unless the security force set up was corrupted. Shit.
"The look on your face says you realize your safeguard has been infiltrated. John's lackey put a message in the Bell mansion for you to report with cash. You never did." She handed me another envelope. "This is your punishment."
A picture of a crying infant sent a chill of terror down my spine. This was Anna's baby.
"He has not been killed yet, but he is in our possession as of this afternoon."
"You will not ask questions."
After a moment, she resumed speech. "When you are released you will transfer a fixed amount of your bank account to the one written on the photograph."
The word release sent my breath wooshing out of me. I was to be released?
"There is something else."
I looked up into cold eyes.
"You will use the recording devices to ascertain the White financial information and Bell information. I suspect the two have not been honest with me. Use the phone to contact me with information. Any bit of info you come up with, financial or not, report. You should be good at that."
At this the woman handed over another envelope. I opened it carefully to find a picture of my nephew and I at natural bridge. The innocence and wonder on his face was quite captivating but I felt the fear crystallizing in my veins wasn't good.
"If you fail to do as I ask, the infant will not be the only child missing. We can find you nephew quite easily and I can assure you that I will not hesitate to kill."
My chest felt like it was caving in. There was so much pressure inside, and I felt my hand rubbing the flat part of my chest to try and lessen the pain. It didn't go away. The weight of what I was forced to do wouldn't go away and I knew I was torn between the life of my beloved nephew and betraying Mason.
As I agonized, two men came in with a basket. Inside was a baby. This wasn't Anna's child, but a little baby nonetheless. I reached out to comfort it's wails and instead got my hand slapped away with the butt of a gun.
An instant later the baby was dead, strangled by the men who carried it in.
The woman looked at me expectantly. "Use the phone to contact me with information."
With this, the woman and her killers left the room. I looked at the little blue face in the basket in front of me. And I realized I was sobbing, harder than I ever had before in my life.
The weight in my chest made me sink off the couch and clutch my sides as I retched onto the nice carpeted floor. My screams were muffled by my hands covering my mouth and wiping away vomit and tears.
There was no choice. I was to become The Informant for the enemy.
Sorry this has been so long in coming. I promise I haven't forgotten you all. Thank you all for the reviews!
I can't promise a prompt update as I am COMPLETELY swamped at the moment, but I am trying. The latest development is the beginning of the end. I decided the throw my last cards out and begin to finish this up and then think about editing the entire lot. Again, thanks for reviews and criticism. If your suggestions aren't fixed in the chapters here, know they are made in my person copy.
SORRY! I know it's short too. :(