Grounded, Page 2R. K. Lilley
Part of me wanted to ignore her not so subtle suggestions and just wear whatever I felt like wearing, but she was a professional shopper, and I barely ever shopped.
I decided gamely to give her recommendation a try. Why not? If I hated the shoes she’d picked, I’d just wear something else.
I opened the box to find a pair of yellow, Prada patent-leather wedges with a peep toe and a smart little leather bow. I thought they were adorable.
I put them on and found that Jackie knew her stuff. As a bonus, they were comfortable and easy to walk in.
I went a little heavy with my eye makeup, going for a smoky eye, but I thought it worked. I was liberal with the black mascara, and went with my usual lip stain and soft pink gloss. I was pleased with the end result. I had taken longer than usual with my makeup, but it had still only taken ten minutes, which gave me a solid ten minutes for my hair, which only needed a quick blow-dry. I gave myself a quick once over, noting that the haircut had been a very good idea for me. Straight blonde bangs now framed my face, bringing out my eyes until they were an almost startling, pale aquamarine.
I was running right on time when I heard a knock on the bedroom door. I opened the door, thinking that it had to be Marion. I was less than thrilled to look down at Jackie. She smiled at me.
She eyed me up and down, smiling as though she hadn’t already clearly expressed how much she disliked me. “Very nice. Armani fits you well. I’ll make a note of it. ”
My face had schooled into a carefully blank expression at the sight of her. I just couldn’t make myself smile back at her, but I would manage to remain civil. “I’m in a hurry, if you’ll please excuse me…”
She held up a finger. “One thing. I set up your bag collection in the fitting room. James hates clutter and they take up a lot of room, so this seemed like the best option. Come right this way. ”
She strode off without waiting for my agreement.
I followed unenthusiastically, determined to see what she was talking about and get on my way in a timely fashion.
She led me to the guest bedroom I had used just a few days ago to try on dresses. The large closet now had roughly half of it devoted solely to handbags.
Jackie shot me a look. It was very nearly hostile. “You don’t like bags?” she asked incredulously.
I grimaced. “I like some of them, but clutches are not happening for me. I can’t stand having to hold something all the time. I need something with a long strap. ”
She made a noise of pure disgust, but didn’t waste any time selecting a bag for me. She thrust a large, cream-colored leather satchel-style bag in my direction.
“For the love of God, at least hook it on your arm. If I see you wearing it cross-body, I may just scream. ”
I took the bag from her, gave her a very unfriendly look, and strode out of the room. I had to return to our bedroom briefly to put all of my things in the bag before rushing downstairs, now late.
I descended the stairs, rushing to the elevators. A security team awaited me at the elevators. A team…
I blinked at the three austere men in suits and the one woman who managed to be the most intimidating of the bunch.
Blake nodded at me, speaking first. “Ms. Karlsson, let me introduce you to the rest of your security detail. ” She pointed to the man closest to her. He was massive with muscles and obviously armed under his finely tailored suit. His dark hair was cut very short and his features were severe but appealing. “This is Williams. ”
“Ms. Karlsson,” he said, nodding at me politely.
I nodded back, trying to file the name into my memory. I was apparently going to need to learn a lot of them, with this much security.
The elevator car arrived and Blake waved me inside. I walked in, trying not to feel intimidated as the four of them flanked me.
Blake cleared her throat. “We need to hurry. Mr. Cavendish won’t be pleased if you’re late. ” She quickly introduced the other two men.
One was shorter than the others, at least an inch shorter than me, if I wasn’t wearing three inch heels. He was still intimidatingly swollen with muscles though, and his short blond hair made him look unquestionably ex-military. Blake introduced him as Henry.
The last one was my height almost exactly in my heels, with medium brown hair and smiling brown eyes. He was less severe than the others, and more attractive, but he still held himself in that disciplined way that had law-enforcement written all over it. Blake introduced him as Johnny.
I thought it was odd that some of them used their first names, and some their last names, but I didn’t ask them about it. I had been conditioned from a very young age not to pry.
It was late June, and hot as hell in New York. I was thankful for my lightweight clothing, since the heat and humidity instantly attached themselves to me the second we stepped outside. My security flanked me closely as we moved from the elevator to a swank limo that was lined up directly with the lobby entrance.
I tried to act as though I wasn’t uncomfortable with my extremely affluent settings and my ridiculous overabundance of security, but I felt very stiff as I moved from the elevator to the car.
My security team arranged themselves as though they had choreographed it, which I supposed they had. Blake and Johnny joined me in the cab of the vehicle, Henry taking shotgun, and Williams driving. The short ride to the Cavendish property was a strange affair. Blake maintained complete and utter silence, and Johnny seemed almost too friendly to fit in with the rest of the security guards I’d met so far.
“So, Bianca, how are you liking the move to New York?”
I blinked at him, nonplussed. I’d gotten so used to how the other bodyguards were professional to a fault that I hadn’t been prepared for even idle chat. And the question…
“I haven’t really moved here. I’m going back and forth from Vegas. But I do like New York. I’ve had a route here for years, with no plans to change it. ”
Johnny shot me a bewildered look. “You’re keeping your job? You’re staying a stewardess?”
I eyed him suspiciously. I wasn’t one to pry, but Johnny apparently was. “Well, yes. It’s my job. Why would I quit?”
“Um, maybe because Mr. Cavendish is spending four times what you make a week on security for every single one of your flights—“
“Enough,” Blake interrupted him harshly. “You know better, Johnny. If you upset Ms. Karlsson, Mr. Cavendish will fire you. Hell, he’ll fire all of us. ”
The car grew painfully awkward after that, as I had no idea how to respond to such an unexpected outburst from a stranger, and of course I wouldn’t, since I didn’t owe anyone any explanations about my life. The nerve…
I brooded all the way to our destination, staring out the window, my face a blank mask.
I had never been inside the Manhattan Cavendish Hotel, but I recognized the colossal building. The blue, modern reflective glass windows that lined the entire building made it stand out as a new and sparkling gem amongst skyscrapers.
My security detail moved into their well-choreographed formation as I stepped out of the car, escorting me into the lobby as though I were a threatened head of state. I felt ridiculous.
I had no idea where to go, but luckily I didn’t need to. Blake led me unerringly through the sumptuous marble lobby.
We were nearly to a bank of well-guarded elevators when I heard a female voice call my name. Surprised, I turned to see who it was, and stiffened.
Jolene sauntered over to us, a lush smile on her lips. She was beyond scantily clad, wearing only the tiniest bike shorts I’d ever seen and a sports bra that was so minuscule I didn’t imagine for a second that it could actually do its job. I couldn’t guess what she was dressed for. I’d almost have thought working out except that she was wearing sexy black sandals and her hair was down, hanging in curling ringlets around her
shoulders and back.
Johnny whistled appreciatively as she approached. He stood directly at my right but I didn’t spare him a glance. “Hottest fucking chick I’ve ever seen,” he muttered, not quite keeping it under his breath. Okay, I was not a Johnny fan; it was official.
Jolene tried to move close to me, but Blake got in her way before she was within three feet of me. She pouted a little, but it was obviously an affectation. “Bianca! How are you?”
I had always considered myself a controlled person. Things rarely came out of my mouth unless I meant for them to. I knew right away that this would be one of those rare times when my brain would not be doing the talking. “What are you doing here? And why are you dressed like that?” I asked her coldly.
She gave me a look that made me stiffen. It was pointed and knowing. She was up to trouble. “I just got finished working out. This place has a great gym. And I’m dressed like this because James loves to see my skin. He says I have the sexiest stomach on the planet. ” As she spoke, she ran a manicured hand from her throat to the low waist of those obscene shorts. She did have a lovely stomach, all well-toned hollows and dusky skin, her waist ridiculously tiny, especially compared to the oversized breasts that nearly spilled from her top. She exuded sex, and I hated her.
My breath caught at her implication. Was she saying that she was here to see James? That he was still seeing her? Was she flat-out lying, or telling some twisted version of the truth? Either way, I was sick to death of her, and I’d only met her twice…
“Are you saying that you’re here to see James? That he invited you here? Just speak plainly, because I have absolutely no patience for these games,” I told her in my blankest, coldest voice. That voice was an old defense mechanism for me.
She pursed her lips, running her tongue over her teeth. I wanted to smack her. I was shocked by the urge, but even my shock didn’t seem to make my sudden rage abate.
“None of your business,” she said petulantly, crossing her arms, which pushed her fake, ample breasts even higher. That bra was so useless that I could make out just the barest hint of the top of her nipples as she pushed them up.
I couldn’t believe that James had spent so much time with this woman, even with her over the top sex appeal. To my mind, he was the epitome of class, with his charm and his manners and his impossible beauty, whereas she seemed to relish her own trashiness.
“It is certainly her business,” a voice that made me want to melt spoke from behind me. A big, warm hand pressed into the nape of my neck, gently brushing aside my long hair to settle there possessively. I didn’t look at James. I was too angry and upset and just plain hungry for the sight of him.
“Why are you still here, Jolene?” he asked coldly. “I told you to leave this morning, when you tried to barge, uninvited, into my office. Do I need to have you escorted from the property?”
A raw expression passed over her features so briefly that I thought I might have imagined it. Her beautiful face swiftly worked itself into a satisfied smile. She flipped her curly black hair behind her shoulders, thrusting her breasts into prominent display. As though they needed the help. “I’m here with Scott. He’s staying in the penthouse, and I’m his guest. Are you going to ask him to leave, as well?”