“Keep breathing, sweet Jessica. Let me hear you doing that.”
When she sat up to adjust her clothing, she hid behind the fall of her long hair, embarrassed. Inhale, exhale
Keeping her gaze lowered, she pulled her panties up and her dress down.
“Honey, you have nothing to be ashamed of—that was glorious,” Jonathon complemented.
. She shook her head. “Jonathon, Jonathon. I need to have you around for a confidence builder.”
She settled back in the chair, met Conor’s gaze as she held out her hand, and smiled, embarrassed, as he handed her the glass of whiskey. “That was beautiful, Jessica. Thank you.”
She took a sip, then admitted, “I’m surprised I came. I am so drunk. Either the room or the inside of my head is spinning.”
A soft knock at the door made her jump. “Shit! Who could that be?”
Jonathon slid under the covers as Conor pulled on a pair of briefs.
She heard Conor talking softly but couldn’t make out any of the words. Another voice, one she didn’t recognize, before Conor called her to the door. “Hey Jessica, proof-of-life check. It appears you’ve been deemed missing.”
“Fuuuuuuck!” Jessica slid her shoes on and poured a couple of splashes of whiskey into her glass. She walked toward the door, weaving. Her brogue was thickly slurred southern county Kerry as she said, “I am alive. Highly intoxicated, but as you can see present and accounted for.”
She saluted and stumbled into the hallway. Only Conor catching her around the waist and pulling her back against his chest kept her from going down. He whispered, “Careful, love.”
She patted his bare chest and smiled. “Oopsie.”
Once she was balanced, she stepped out of her shoes and tried to bend over to pick them up but grabbed only one as she fell sideways, giggling. Conor’s hands still holding her waist saved her a second time.
She held on to his wrists before turning and owlishly blinking. She stroked the side of his face. “Thank you for the whiskey.”
“Perhaps some assistance back to your room, ma’am?” the agent asked, picking up her other shoe. “And in the future report where you are going to be?”
“The pretty agent knew I was here, drinking my sorrows away. He’s very nice.” She winked at him. She said too loudly, “Thanks for the whiskey, boys. Imma go back to my place now.”
She dropped the shoe and sloshed her whiskey. She managed to squat, pick up the shoe, and straighten without falling on her face. She realized both Gabe and Luc were standing in their doorways, watching the show. She frowned, wondering if they’d both seen her come out of Jonathon and Conor’s room.
Thank God he put his underwear on. Jesus, what a scandal that would become.
She took another step forward and started to drop as her knees buckled. The agent caught her and lifted her into his arms. Conor took the tumbler from her hand and set both shoes on her stomach. “Hold on to them.”
The agent carried her down the hall. “You need to vomit. You may have alcohol poisoning.”
“And waste perfectly good whiskey? Blasphemy! I’m fine.”
“Really, I keep telling everyone I am fine.” She reached around her body to point at Gabe. “I told him I’m fine.” She leaned forward and pointed at Luc. “I told him I’m fine. And the two mates I was drinking with. I told both of them I’m fine
One of the other agents slid the key card through the door’s reader and pushed open the door. The agent carried her into her bedroom and kept walking until he was standing in her bathroom. He lowered her to the ground, bent her double over the toilet, caught hold of her tongue, and pulled it forward. He bent her deeper, and she started heaving. She vomited and cursed, then vomited some more.
He finally lowered her to the ground, and she rested her head on the porcelain throne. She said, “You, I don’t like.”
He laughed at her. “Well, we can’t all be as nice as the pretty one
, now can we? My job is to make sure you stay alive, whether the enemy is without or within.”
She gave him the finger, too late realizing both of her children were watching.
“You all right, Momma?” Rebekah asked.
Jessica nodded. “Too much liquid, not enough food. I’ll be okay.”
“You gonna stay here a minute? Do you want me to sit with you?” Rebekah asked.
“God, no, I’m fine. Go back to bed. I’m sorry I caused a ruckus.”
“I love you, Momma.”
“I love both of you.”
Marcus hitched his chin and elbowed Rebekah to get her moving. She heard the agent talking to someone and recognized Luc’s voice by his Welsh accent. “I’m staying with her. She could asphyxiate on her own vomit.”
“Jesus fucking Christ. Asphyxiate? Hardly.” She spat into the toilet, stood, and hung over the sink to brush her teeth.
The agent who had made her vomit came back to the room. “Mr. Nicholas would like to be allowed to stay with you. My instructions are to make sure he made no attempt to talk to you unless you approached him first. According to the other agent, you did initiate contact, but your visit to his room was short and uneventful. Are you comfortable with him being here?”
Jessica shook her head and held on to the counter, weaving slightly.
The agent left her standing. “Go back to your room Mr. Nicholas. Mrs. Williams is in no state to give consent. I will stay with her.”
She could hear an argument between Luc and the agent, catching, “I wasn’t planning on fucking her” and “I didn’t fucking rape her; we’re in a relationship!”
She pulled down her panties, took off her bra, and then turned on the shower. She waited for the water to warm and stepped under the warm spray. She wasn’t sure the water was making her feel better or worse. She washed her hair and scrubbed her body before starting to vomit again. She backed up against the tile to stay standing but ended up sliding down the wall. She sat with the water spray hitting her face. She leaned to get out of the spray and toppled all the way over. “Agent, are you here?”
The bodyguard came into the bathroom and, seeing her state, turned off the water, grabbed a towel, and covered her with it before lifting her. He carried her to the bed and laid her down. Leaving her wrapped in the towel, he folded the bedcovering around her. “My life is such a mess.”
He replied, “Things will be better tomorrow.”
“Daylight makes everything better,” she whispered in agreement.
* * * *
Waking carried the price of a hellacious hangover. When she came out of the bedroom wearing only a robe, she shrieked a little seeing the shadow of an agent on guard at her bedroom door. “Sorry. I forgot you were here. It appears I also I forgot what it was like to drink with real Irishmen. They can handle a little.”
“From what I hear, you can handle a little,” the agent rejoined.
“When I eat; last night I fucked up and didn’t eat enough.”
With her eyes half-closed, she managed the slow, nauseating walk to the living room and sat in a comfortable chair facing the television. She wondered why the agent was in the suite and not in the hallway but didn’t care enough to ask.
She closed her eyes and hugged herself, wrapping her arms around her middle and clutching her arms to hold herself together as she started shaking. “What do you need, Mamaí
She opened her eyes as minimally as possible to see Rebekah and nodded. Rebekah returned with Tylenol, water, sunglasses, and a blanket.
Jessica snuggled beneath the blanket, and Rebekah propped the sunglasses on her nose. “God sent you to me, baby girl. I just want you to know that.”
A knock sounded at the door, and she whispered, “Who the fuck?”
“Breakfast,” Luc announced cheerfully as he entered, carrying four domed plates.
“God, no.” Jessica moaned.
He handed one each to Rebekah and Marcus. “Pancakes, double order of bacon.”
She dry heaved, covering her mouth. Luc knelt beside her and whispered, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. You don’t have to be here.”
“Yes, I do, because this is partly my fault.”
She looked at him, wondering if he really believed that.
He leaned closer, whispering next to her ear, “I ran it through my head, and you are one hundred percent correct, no means no in lieu of a safe word. I screwed up. I obviously triggered memories better left buried, and now you’re paying for it. I’m sorry.”
She didn’t comment. He knew nothing about her past, and she wasn’t in a sharing mood.
“Come on, eat something; you’ll feel better.”
“Not happening.” Jessica moaned again, wanting silence, lower light, and fewer people, or maybe just one less person, because she really wasn’t feeling any better about being alone with Luc the day after. She’d thought she might.
“Goddamn.” She took a bite of eggs, a bite of toast, and a sip of hot tea. She gagged and ran back to the toilet. Luc was on her heels, plate still in hand.
“You are Satan. You are enjoying this entirely too much.”
He grinned a little, saying, “No, I’m really not.”
A soft tap sounded at the door, and Marcus got up to answer it, allowing Gabe to enter as Luc followed her back into the other room, demanding, “So if I’m Satan, who are the two that allowed you to get so drunk?”
Rebekah replied, “No one allowed her
to do anything. She manages to get that drunk all by herself all the time, so don’t try to blame anyone for her actions. It’s all on her.”
“Thank you, Rebekah,” Jessica said, sitting, covering, and putting the sunglasses back on. “I think.
Gabe crossed the room and sat on the arm of her chair. He lifted the dark sunglasses to meet her gaze, asking, “So you’re alive?”
“If I survive the pounding headache and Luc
.” She growled, lowering the shades back into place.
“Well, if it’s any consolation, Jonathon and Conor are just as hungover. They claim you drank them under the table and then some.”
“Well, I didn’t know it was a contest, or I might have tried harder.”
“If you’d tried any harder, the three of you wouldn’t have survived. So what happened?”
“Secret Service interrupted my pity party with your boys.”
Uh-oh, know that tone.
Jessica shook her head.
“She had a fight with Luc,” Rebekah answered for her.
“More like a misunderstanding,” Luc offered and winked at Jessica as he moved the plate closer. “Eat, Jessica.”
“No! Luc!” She covered her mouth and held her nose. “Damn it! Take it away!”
It was too late. She again ran to the bathroom.
She was hung over the toilet, body jerking, racked with dry heaves when Gabe came in. He got a hand towel damp, laid the cool cloth over the back of her neck, and helped her stand when her own attempt failed. She barely managed to return to the chair and wrap herself in the blanket under her own steam.
Gabe followed close. “Can I talk to you in private?”
Jessica frowned, putting the sunglasses back on. “Are you mad at me for getting Conor and Jonathon intoxicated?”
“Private means not with everyone listening, Jessica.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Rebekah said. “That translates to kids in the room. We can go—”
“No, stay where you are. I’m taking your mom out for lunch. Get dressed, sweetheart.”
“Are you serious?” She lowered her sunglasses. “Yesterday you were too busy to listen! Now you’re going to try to make me eat too?”
Gabe gave her the look
Oh God, the tone and the look?
She left the room, hearing Gabe and Luc have a conversation that seemed tense. She dressed faster: jeans, sweater, and boots. She grabbed her coat, a hat, and her purse. Coming back into the living room, she announced, “Ready.”
Gabe crossed the room and held open the door.
“You ran Luc off?”
“He stormed back to his suite when I asked him what the fuck happened yesterday.”
“Did he tell you?”
“Not really. He triggered a memory, and you went berserk but have yet to discuss it?”
Jessica narrowed her gaze, repeating, “I went—”
She shook her head, exited the room, and banged on Luc’s door, not waiting until he answered to scream, “Berserk? Really?”
She started kicking the door, but Gabe grabbed her bicep and pulled her back.
She stomped down the hall, and Gabe caught up to her, wrapping his forearm around her chest and pulling her back into him with a tight jerk. He knocked the wind from her with the force, and she panted in his embrace. He asked, “Better?”
She exhaled and breathed as normally as she could with him crushing her chest. She whispered, “Better.”
Gabe released her, and she pivoted on him and growled. “Are you mad at me?”
“Should I be?” Gabe asked.
“No,” she whispered, really hoping that what happened in Conor and Jonathon’s suite stayed in Conor and Jonathon’s suite. They took the elevator downstairs, and Jessica felt like it was an amusement park ride as her stomach heaved upward during the elevator’s descent. She bent at the waist, trying not to puke.
She followed him through the hotel lobby. “Please tell me you won’t make me eat.”
“Don’t worry. Coffee okay?” he asked as he led her out into the chill air.
The cool air felt good. “God, yes! There’s a café in the hotel, remember?”
“You need the fresh air, and the walk will give us time to talk.” Gabe took her hand and held it as they walked. “What’s going on, Jessica?”
“Yesterday you pawned me off on Conor, last night I sought him out, and today you want me to tell you what I’d planned to tell you yesterday. You really need to make up your mind.”
“Conor said you didn’t reveal what happened between you and Luc. Even though he and Jonathon plied you with enough whiskey to make a mute talk.”
“Secret Service panicked and interrupted our night. Another drink, and they’d have known everything, I’m certain,” Jessica admitted. What is wrong with me?
“Be glad the agent did a proof-of-life check. It’s none of Connor or Jonathon’s business, or even yours. Honestly, yesterday, you were in the right, and I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you. The three of you are Alexandra’s. So it’s none of your business either.”
“Jessica, I swear to God, you will tell me.”
His expression led her to believe he might beat it out of her if she didn’t cooperate. “After coffee?”
He nodded curtly as he opened the door to the coffee shop. She sat at a window seat, placing her cell phone faceup in case her kids texted. Gabe ordered and then brought two large to-go cups to the table and sat. He had a small pastry bag that he tore open to expose three vanilla scones.
Jessica lifted the coffee, inhaled deeply, and sighed. She sipped. “God, thank you.”
Gabe sat and watched her for a moment. She avoided his intense stare by watching the other patrons. “I’m fine, Gabe.”
“Francisco called me last night. He was very worried and very convincing. He believed it was dangerous to leave you alone even though I assured him you were fine. That call led to the proof-of-life check.”
Jessica buried her face in her hands.
“Now, seeing you this morning, I’m very worried too.”
“Jesus Christ.” She lifted her coffee and sipped it with both hands shaking. “No one needs to worry about me. I’ve been alone a decade, took care of all the grown-up shit by myself. I don’t need a keeper. And seriously, I have two teenagers keeping track of my every move. I can hardly do anything too drastic.”
“What did you say to Francisco, Jessica?”
“You fucking told me to answer his call; I did.” Her hands started trembling so hard she set the cup down. “Now all of a sudden I need crisis management?”
“Yes!” Gabe grabbed her hand. “He said you admitted you are far from being okay. He said you were crying, inconsolable, and made him promise to call again tonight.”
Her cell phone buzzed, and she saw a text from Luc: I want to make things right.
She texted back: Berserk? Really? Fuck you.
Keeping her phone in her hand, she admitted, “I thought asking Francisco to call me again would make you both happy.”
“We need to determine if you are experiencing subdrop. Or if something else —”
“Subdrop?” Jessica stared at him. “And which of the three men who tied me in their rope would be responsible for such an occurrence? You? Aftercare subzero. Francisco? Aftercare adequate. Luc—”
“What happened in the SUV, Jessica?”
“We established yesterday you do not have time for my hurt feelings.”