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— CHAPTER 7: Montauk II —
*– JULY, MARSEILLE, FRANCE –*
Gingerly, I lay back against the plush pillows of the king-sized bed, getting myself comfortable before extending my right arm out into a curve, creating an inviting spot for Cassandra to recline against me. She accepted, pillowing her head against my chest before reaching back to pull my arm around her in a tighter hug. And together, we exhaled in welcome relief.
All was quiet in our spacious room. I’d gotten the Prestige Suite at the Sofitel Marseille Vieux-Port. And within five minutes of entering, I’d banished Captain Leclerq and all of his staff to get the hell out of the entire suite. I wanted nothing more to do with this whole mess.
Although the French officers shadowing me had been neutralized at Gare de Lyon, analysis of the security camera footage had eventually shown my unconscious body being dumped onto a TGV express train bound for Marseille. Captain Leclerq and his officers had immediately come after me, taking up positions in key areas and using their informant network to try and zero in on my location.
The French police had gotten a partial trace during Sharpley’s first ransom demand call to Taylor, while Cassandra and I were still holed up in our little closet. They narrowed our location down to the Vieux Port area. And the next time Sharpley called, Taylor had been instructed to keep him on the line for as long as possible to complete the trace.
So Taylor had first demanded evidence that we were still alive. And when that didn’t take long enough, she’d launched into her derisive comments, claiming not to care whether or not we were returned and instead asking Sharpley to just kill us so she could collect the entire fortune. She’d kept Sharpley on the line, the cops completed their trace, and then they busted in with guns at the ready.
The FBI agents, Taylor, Vivienne, and Evania were now flying down in the private jet and would be arriving shortly. They had stayed in Paris, holed up in their hotel suite, watching things unfold from there. But as soon as they had evidence that we were okay, they’d packed up immediately to come join us. The plan was to fly home to New York from Marseille.
But until they arrived, it was just me… and Cassandra.
“I love you…” I stated softly, leaning down to kiss the top of her head while running my fingers through her freshly-washed blonde hair.
“Love you…” she mumbled, snuggling her face deeper against my chest. Wanting to feel the touch of my skin, she reached up and dragged the collar of my T-shirt down. But it wasn’t enough, and she wound up pushing the hem of my shirt upwards until my entire chest was exposed and she could lay her cheek against my right pec.
I chuckled, her eyelashes tickling me as she blinked. And I felt an old stirring as Cassandra and I lay in bed together, me half-naked.
It had been a very long time since we’d been like this, excepting that one night in our closet prison. But we weren’t trapped any longer, and I could feel my body flushing as my warm affection for this gorgeous creature flooded through my veins.
I wasn’t the only one to notice. Cassandra hummed, idly kissing my chest, perhaps out of habit from the many times she’d lain on it over the years. Her hand roamed up and down my abs, my muscles taught and semi-defined after years of Rebecca working me into six-pack shape. And then her hand drifted a little lower, gliding over the bulge in my cotton lounge pants.
I groaned softly, feeling the rush of blood going south into my loins. But the instant I groaned, Cassandra’s hand went tense, and she pulled it away from my crotch.
I knew immediately that something was wrong. And I was already sitting up as Cassandra quickly rolled herself away from me, curling herself into a ball.
“Cassandra…” I said softly, wincing as I remembered what had happened to her scarcely an hour ago.
As much as she loved me, and as much as she enjoyed the feel of my touch, Cassandra had been raped. There had been no time for her to recover from that yet, and I knew I had to be very careful with her.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured, as if that would do any good. “I’m… I’m here…”
Without looking, she reached a hand back, seeking out mine. Instinctively, I offered her my left hand, and she grabbed it, pulling my arm around her. “Just hold me,” she whimpered very softly, so softly that I barely heard her.
“Okay,” I said, nodding even though she couldn’t see me. I slid down the bed, moving myself into a spooning position. Moving slowly, I let my legs come up behind hers, ensuring that I could touch her without making it seem like I was coming on top of her, like I was trapping her. And once I settled in behind her, I wrapped my left arm around her a little more tightly while adding again, “I’m here.”
“Just hold me,” she repeated.
So I did.
Even though it was only mid-day, Cassandra and I still fell asleep. Our exhaustion had nothing to do with bahis firmaları the time zone or number of hours we’d been awake. The sheer ordeal of being kidnapped, held at gunpoint, and then caught in the middle of a firefight had taken its toll on us. And I didn’t want to even think about where Cassandra’s psyche was at after the rape.
By the time we awoke, everyone else had arrived and was waiting for us in the suite’s living room. While we’d slept, someone had brought in both my suitcase and the one Taylor had thoughtfully packed for Cassandra before leaving Montauk. The sight of her own clothes put a smile on Cassandra’s face, and she went into the bathroom to change and freshen up. Ten minutes later, the two of us emerged.
“Ohhh…” Taylor sighed and smiled, immediately jumping out of her chair and coming over to Cassandra. The two women hugged fiercely, rocking together while Taylor blubbered apologies for what had happened, saying it was all her fault. And Cassandra just patted her back, reassuring the brunette that it was okay and that things _weren’t_ her fault.
Vivienne, expectedly, came straight to me. She leaped into my arms, wrapping her legs around my waist with all the exuberance of a 23-year-old girl who thought her boyfriend had been *this* close to death. And Evania was immediately by our sides, hugging us together.
Taylor then released Cassandra. Vivienne saw my wife coming over to us, and immediately dropped her feet onto the ground. Almost embarrassed, she backed away, sliding her hand into Evania’s as the pair of them gave me and Taylor some room.
My wife simply stepped up to me, taking my face in her hands and giving me an intense look before sliding her hands around the back of my head and giving me a firm kiss. Wordlessly, she then slid her face down so that she could rest her cheek against my shoulder. And she hugged herself against me while crying ever so softly.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” Taylor whimpered.
“Get yourself kidnapped,” she sniffled before pulling her head back and pouting. “You do, and I will *seriously* just let them kill you so I can take all your money, got it?”
I barked a short laugh, and soon Taylor and Cassandra were chuckling along with me. It was then that I saw there was one more person in the room, and Special Agent Farnsworth stepped forward.
“Hi, Barry,” Cassandra sighed, opening her arms for a hug.
Rather stiffly, the dour agent moved forward and let Cassandra hug him. But he stepped back almost immediately, looking decidedly uncomfortable. “I’m glad you’re safe,” he said, the catch in his voice betraying his emotions despite his attempts to appear stoic.
Cassandra beamed, her smile lighting up the room. “Thanks to you and your team.”
He nodded and then looked ready to bolt.
But before he could, Cassandra asked, “Where is everyone else? Jonathan told me Agent Reddick and a few other field techs were with you.”
Farnsworth shrugged. “Agent Reddick is at the local prison keeping an eye on Mr. Sharpley. His associates were French nationals, so they’re under Captain Leclerq’s jurisdiction now. But we’re working out the paperwork to extradite Sharpley to the U.S., and that’ll take a little time.”
Cassandra blinked. “So you won’t be returning with us?”
Farnsworth shook his head. “We’ll have to arrange a later transport. So this is goodbye for now. I’ll stop by the house to brief you once we’ve gotten all the legal matters sorted out.”
Cassandra smiled and then stepped forward, enveloping the agent in a warm hug that he wasn’t expecting. But this time, instead of just stoically taking it, he actually smiled and patted her back. And he blushed when the gorgeous blonde turned her head and kissed his cheek, letting her lips linger for a few extra seconds. “Thanks, Barry. For everything.”
“Just doing my job, Ma’am.” Farnsworth touched his forehead in a casual salute/hat tip, and then came over to me to shake my hand.
“Thank you, Special Agent Farnsworth,” I stated firmly, emphasizing his full title.
“Take care of yourself,” he replied before glancing at both Taylor and Cassandra. And then he added, “And them.”
I watched his lingering looks and grinned. “Sure thing.”
As picturesque as Marseille was, both Cassandra and I really wanted to get the hell out of there. So after a quick catered lunch on the balcony overlooking the harbor, we took limos to the airport and boarded the Gulfstream jet. And soon we were in the air heading for America.
I’d taken two transatlantic plane rides in the past month or so. The first one had been from Athens to New York, when Cassandra had first come to fetch me home. And the second had been just days ago, flying off to Paris to rescue Cassandra.
Both times, I’d been conscious of the unspoken pecking order that had developed among the girls accompanying me. Through veiled looks or merely confident movements, these women self-organized who was sitting where, and it was no kaçak iddaa different for this flight home.
I had a regular seat on the plane. It had been my seat for both the previous trips, with Cassandra by my side for the Athens-return and Taylor with me for destination-Paris. But Cassandra didn’t lead me to it this time. Instead, she pulled me directly over to one of the long sofas built lengthwise along the side wall, one that sat three people with recessed seatbelts in the cushions. Cassandra put me in the middle, and then dropped herself into the spot on my right. Taylor followed, sitting down on my left.
There was an identical sofa facing the first one across the aisle, so that six people could comfortably have a conversation. But rather than sit down there, Vivienne pulled Evania with her to the table towards the aft part of the cabin. She sat down in my regular seat, immediately buckling herself in. And then she sighed and stared out the window.
I sat there and pondered the way my life had turned out. In many ways, it was just the way I had once hoped for… desperately… after my world had fallen apart. After everything we’d been through, here I was back on my private jet with Taylor under one arm and Cassandra the other. Taylor’s scar would never fade — and I was sure the memories of what had happened to Cassandra wouldn’t either — but we were together again.
At the same time, I’d picked up two new important people in my life along the way. They’d played an important role in getting me back to this point, and I couldn’t discount the contributions they’d already made. And with them on my mind, I flicked my eyes over to Evania and Vivienne.
Both women were watching me intently. Evania had a patient expression. She actually seemed energized by all the zipping around we’d been doing lately. She’d handled all the arrangements of going back and forth to Europe, completely in her element. And the look in her eyes told me she looked forward to serving me in any way I deemed fit for the foreseeable future.
But Vivienne gave me a pained look. I saw the longing in her eyes, the desire to be beside me, cuddling up next to me. I had to be killing her inside not to be with me, and yet she knew that it wasn’t her place.
I felt for her. I felt guilty for uprooting her from her home, taking her away from her friends, and dragging her back and forth across the globe. We’d become as intimately close as any two people could become in… what… five weeks? And to go so suddenly from being my clear
to a distant… what… third? Fourth? It had to hurt.
If we were to continue with our relationship, we would have to work things out. I still owed Cassandra much more love and attention, especially after what she’d just been through. But I also owed it to Vivienne to make the effort to keep our relationship intact.
I knew I was going to have a problem very soon. Three days ago, I was all set to abandon the Jonathan Kwong life, to live as Tom Eriksen with Vivienne and Evania. All three of us believed our world together would be happily ever after.
But then everything imploded. Reality had forced its ugly head into the mix, and I’d jetted away to rescue Cassandra. Now I had to deal with both lives. I couldn’t keep BOTH of them; there was a simply too great a divide between my Tom Eriksen life and my Jonathan Kwong one. But it was a problem I couldn’t deal with right now. Cassandra needed me, and indeed she was pulling my right arm around her shoulders and cuddling herself into the crook of my shoulder.
I would have to make a decision about my Tom Eriksen life very soon. _I’ll get it worked out,_ I told myself. _I’ve still got some time._
But I was wrong. Time was up.
*– MONTAUK, NEW YORK –*
“Mr. Kwong, sir?”
I was startled from my reverie by the voice of Matthew, my limo driver, coming over the intercom. After landing in the afternoon at the airfield and transferring to the stretch limo with tinted windows within the privacy of an enclosed hangar, we’d emerged to find scores of paparazzi lining the fences as we tried to drive out.
I’d sighed in resignation at the flashbulbs popping en masse as they tried to penetrate the car windows. The special tint I’d gotten was reflective, so the photogs weren’t doing anything but blinding themselves, not that they would stop or anything. And I was staring out at them when Matthew called for my attention.
“Miss Ashlyn just called. She says you should turn on the TV.”
Both Cassandra and Taylor looked over at me. They were seated to either side of me in the back of the limo. And Evania and Vivienne ahead of us also turned around to look at me. Shrugging, I motioned for Taylor to push the entertainment system controls on her side of the car, and she turned on the 30-inch monitor on the wall separating us from the driver.
“The blogosphere is buzzing with new reports coming from both our European sources and key personnel *inside* the FBI investigative unit. We’ve kaçak bahis confirmed that in the past 48 hours, an absolute whirlwind of events have taken place involving the now infamous Jonathan Kwong and his longtime personal assistant Cassandra Cooper.
“A few days ago, TMZ released startling footage revealing that a disguised Jonathan had paid a visit to his estranged wife, ex-supermodel Taylor Brynn, at a Malibu rehab center. Shortly after, it was announced that Taylor had _left_ the clinic, and was presumed to have returned to the Kwong’s private estate in Montauk, New York.
“But contrary to what we believed then, Montauk was not Taylor’s final stop. Our FBI sources have confirmed that just before Taylor was released, Jonathan’s assistant Cassandra Cooper was *kidnapped* by none other than the fugitive executive Robert Sharpley, who just last year stole over four *billion* dollars from the company. Miss Cooper was presumably held for ransom, and our European sources now tell us that when Jonathan’s private jet flew away two nights ago, both Jonathan and Taylor were aboard as they headed for Paris to mount a rescue attempt.
“What followed is a story that you won’t believe, with a standoff that ended in bloody gunfire. So don’t go away. We’ll have the juicy details after the break!”
The screen cut to commercial, and Taylor put the sound on mute. I simply buried my face in my hands and muttered, “You’ve GOT to be kidding me.”
“How could they know?” Taylor sighed.
“The FBI is a big, BIG government entity,” Cassandra sighed, her Aussie drawl making her seem even more jaded. “National secrets are one thing. I’m sure you could get *executed* for divulging that stuff. But protecting the privacy of the rich and famous?”
The three of us griped about that for a few minutes until the Celebrity Sightings broadcast came back. Unfortunately, the French police wasn’t much more airtight. The breathy reporter announced that *I’d* been kidnapped, and then the both Cassandra and I were rescued in a firefight that wounded several French police and claimed the lives of three kidnappers. It had all happened only a few hours ago. But word could shoot across the Atlantic Ocean much faster than even the fastest private jet could fly.
“Matthew, get us home,” I barked, jabbing the intercom.
“Sir, we’re in front of the gates now,” he said. But then he explained apologetically, “And so are they.”
I looked up. In the intervening ten minutes of broadcast, we’d driven to the front gates of the Mansion estate. But just like at the airfield, there was a horde of paparazzi blocking our way.
“‘Encourage’ them to move,” I growled.
“Yes, sir,” Matthew replied. He promptly honked the horn, a special one I’d installed that was *deafeningly* loud. And then stepping gently on the accelerator, he nudged the front bumper forward and into the crowd. At the first touch of knees buckling, the crazed photogs began to move out of the way.
With travel and the time zone change, it was about 5pm. Security radioed to tell me they’d caught two trespassers with bigass zoom lenses jumping the fence. I rubbed my forehead again, thinking that after everything I’d been through, couldn’t I please just have some peace and quiet for a little while? I’d nearly died a few hours ago… Cassandra had nearly died. Why wouldn’t these people just leave me alone?
But of course they wouldn’t leave me alone. It was their job to hound me. And whether I’d agreed to be hounded or not, my fame had been the price to pay for my inheritance. Plus, it was like Taylor had once told me: “You don’t want paparazzi stalking you? Stop fucking supermodels.”
She’d said it in jest at the time, but there was more than a grain of truth in her words. If I’d just settled into a quiet life with Taylor in some rural destination, my life would have been far less complicated. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet had gazillions more money than me, but then they didn’t go around to high society parties and leave with a couple of extra hot women under their arms. No, I had to go jet-setting to exotic locales with Taylor, Cassandra, Ashlyn, Charlotte, and a half-dozen of their friends. I had to get photographed in compromising positions with many different women who weren’t my wife. And that kind of lifestyle was of somewhat high interest to the people who enjoyed watching Celebrity Sightings. It was my fault. It was the lifestyle Jonathan Kwong had chosen, believing that the rewards (and pleasures) were worth it.
And even though I’d run away from that lifestyle, it would forever haunt my past.
Time was up. And now I had to make a new decision: After everything that had happened, what did I want to do with my life now?
Even though I’d slept quite a bit during and immediately after the kidnapping, I hadn’t slept on the plane ride home. So I was feeling pretty tired when we finally got to the house and went inside. As expected, the whole household was there to greet us.
My mom was the first to grab me and hold onto me, complaining in Cantonese about heart attacks and making her worry while simultaneously professing her relief that I was alright. To my right, Cassandra’s mother was doing the exact same thing to her daughter.
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