It's Still the Same Old Story...
Chapter 1: A Mugging
Sean packed his briefcase and turned off the lights in his office from his desk. In the darkness he was able to take a couple of deep breaths and appreciate the beauty of the solitude. No phones ringing, no admins rushing to his side and most of all no annoying signals from his computer telling him he has new e-mail. Twice his computer crashed this week because of some annoying spoilt brat decided to target his company to test out their latest brand of virus-kisses. Shaking his head to at least delay the oncoming dull headache he rushed out the door and into his private elevator. Mark and Thomas, the two security guards for his building gave their usual wave of farewell as he departed from the building. His gait gained rhythm as his mood lightened the further he got away from the Georgian building.
"So another day, another million you think?" Mark asked his partner.
"I hope so mate otherwise we're going to be out of our jobs." Thomas answered feeling pity for the disappearing figure. He has worked for Winters Finances for nearly three years and there had been few times where its unspoken president left the building before eight. Sean glanced at his watch, too late to join his brother for his girlfriend's gallery opening and besides he wanted to take a leisurely break tonight. The latest client had presented too many problems for the oldest Winters brother to fake any social niceties tonight.
This was the last pleasant thought as Sean rounded the corner. The blast of pain that slammed into his right temple sent the man sprawling against the sidewalk. The mugger tried to grab the expensive briefcase but was thwarted when his downed-victim slammed his knee out from underneath him. Cursing viciously he kicked the man right in the ribs and tried to grab the Cole case again. This time he succeeded but his temper was stung into violence. He and his partner decided to teach this uncooperative idiot what to never do when one gets mugged.
Suddenly a voice whipped from across the way, "Hey, you! What are you doing over there?! Get off of him now!" The interruption stopped the two assailants long enough for Sean to roll away and stumble to a standing position. It was a good thing he did because in the next instant one of his muggers fell where he was pinned. Sean blinked once, Dear L-rd he thought, that's just a kid...Realizing what was about to happen next he tackled the second mugger before the brute could lay hands on the struggling figures on the ground. This actually feels good, almost therapeutic. Have to think about taking up boxing instead of rowing Sean mentally noted to his addled brain as he managed to drive away assailant #2.
The two tussling figures separated as the bigger man ran away with more wounds than the other one. Sean stared at the baseball cap...New York Yankees? He took another look, Yankees? The kid stood up and turned to Sean. The man blinked rapidly. No, not a kid, definitely not a kid, a woman.
"Are you ok? Your head's bleeding. Come on, I'll call an ambulance." Yes, definitely a Yank...with a Yankee hat. For some reason that thought brought a chuckle from Sean and frightened his rescuer.
Sarah looked at the man and wondered how bad the head injury really was. He was a mess from head to toe and bleeding to boot. Why the hell the fool didn't give his briefcase she couldn't even begin to guess but he was near hysteria from the sound of that laughter.
"No ambulance, my car is right there...I just want to go home."
Her mouth dropped open in shock, "You have got to be kidding me. They probably kicked couple of your ribs in and your skull has a dent the size of a quarter! We are going to the hospital..."
"No hospital, I want to go home." Sarah frowned; he sounded like a petulant child arguing with his nanny.
"Suit yourself then." She retorted sharply and turned around to cross the street. Sean stared at her back a bit dismayed.
"You're going to leave me here?" He asked.
She turned around and stared at him, "If you're going to be some steel-headed numbnut yes, I am going to leave you here."
Feeling unjustified outrage the man marched to his car and tried to open the door. For some reason the key refused to fit the lock and he dropped the key ring twice. Cursing as badly as his attackers Sean kicked his car. "Give me the keys, you can't drive like that." Sarah offered gently. She saw his struggle and couldn't leave the injured man in such dire condition. He turned to face the stranger and felt nothing but embarrassment. He handed her the keys and walked to the passenger side feeling chastised and regretful.
She opened the door and the two got into the luxurious car. Sarah sighed and took a deep breath of the leather interior. Nice she thought, and made herself comfortable in the seat. Sean gave her directions as they drove away from the financial district of London. Within twenty minutes they were in front of his place and Sarah was utterly lost. She has never been this far away from the church and wondered how the hell she would get back without calling a cab. Sean slowly got out of the car and felt his head spin. Perhaps the woman was right; maybe he should get checked out but his old fears rose and the man crushed the thought.
She saw him lean against the Audi and hurried to his side. "Come on, let's go in. If you're going to pass out try to do it on a sofa and not on the sidewalks of London." Sean smiled thinly and held onto her as she guided him up the front steps and into the house. She took three steps into the foyer and knew there was nobody in the place. Damn it, now what? She couldn't leave this fool alone and she had to go back pretty soon. Otherwise Jon will raise all hell looking for her.
Sean sat in the hallway chair and controlled the nausea threatening to take control of his stomach. "Who can I call?" She asked with concern, "I can't leave you here like this. If you won't go to the ER at least let me make sure someone can take care of you properly." Sean stared at his rescuer and wondered how he was ever going to apologize properly for his ingratitude. She stepped between him and two muggers getting herself beaten viciously in the process and all he did so far was yell at her.
"My brother should be home by now. It's *1 on the phone." She nodded quickly and dialed. A beautiful voice answered on the second ring.
"Lorien here." Sarah's eyebrows rose; Lorien, honey you sound like an angel.
"I am calling on behalf of your brother...umm...what's your name?" She asked turning around to the man sitting behind her.
"Sean." He croaked weakly.
"Sean, he just got mugged and refuses to go to the hospital. He's got a nasty head injury and bleeding from half-a-dozen places but the man's playing Dirty Harry here and refuses to get any medical help."
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Thank you." Lorien replied crisply and ended the call.
Sarah sighed in relief and turned to the older brother. "Lorien will be here in fifteen. Come on; let's find some ice and bandages. Do you have any iodine?" Sean shrugged and regretted doing so when the pain rippled through his shoulders. She winced as she saw the grimace and gently helped the man to the kitchen. He sat on the island stool and took couple of shallow breaths. Taking any deeper amount of air was too painful for him. She found the ice and dumped it into the sink. Then using the washcloth she made a bundle for him to hold to his temple. Feeling great relief Sean made the mistake of leaning his head to the packet. The immense pain made him straighten himself as he took care not to press the ice too hard on the wound.
She washed her hands and her face in the kitchen sink gingerly feeling the rising bruises on her forehead and left cheek. No doubt about it, she was going to be blessed with some real shiners. Great she thought, just what I always wanted. Uggghhh...she moaned to herself. He stared at her as she felt about her face and was even sorrier than before.
"I have some iodine and alcohol in the upstairs bathroom. It's right off the staircase." She nodded in understanding and limped to the hallway.
Sean stared absent mindedly after the woman and wondered how old she was and how long she was visiting the city. In spite of the bruises she was rather pretty and those cut-off jeans she was sporting revealed a pair of athletic legs. Runner he thought, had to be to have legs like that. Maybe I should take up jogging instead of rowing he mused to himself. Surprised at his long-dormant libido waking up in such an inopportune time Sean clamped down on himself.
Sarah returned triumphantly holding an armful of medical supplies. "Here we are. Hey don't look so panicky, most of this stuff's for me." Sean grinned in real amusement as she dumped the bottles and tubes of medicine on the island. For the next five minutes she deftly bandaged herself and even persuaded him to at least let her take care of some of the wounds. During this whole time Sean realized his id was slowly and inexplicably spinning out of his control. Praying his baby brother would come to his rescue soon Sean wondered how he was going to thank the woman. Without having her file charges against him for indecent behavior and solicitation tomorrow.
"Do you think I could have a drink?" He asked hopefully.
She shook her head; "With a head injury a drink is the last thing you need my dear child. Besides we need you awake and alive to make sure you won't slip into a coma and alcohol is a great depressant. Sorry, no go." Sean moaned, Lorien where the hell are you? Fifteen minutes you said you turkey, get over here now.
"How about juice?" She shook her head again.
"Nope, if we do need to get you to a hospital your stomach has to be empty as possible. Water?" Sean nodded quickly, anything he thought. Just bring it in a glass so I can concentrate on something else. She found a clean glass after riffling through three cabinets and got Sean his water. The wounded host took a swallow and realized he had a nasty cut in his mouth. Grateful that it wasn't whiskey or orange juice he finished his drink quickly and took couple of shallow breaths again trying to relax himself.
Sarah blissfully unaware of her compatriot's feelings continued to nurse the abrasions on her arms and knees trying to ignore the sting of the alcohol. She was done bandaging her right elbow when she looked up at Sean and caught his stare. Perhaps it was the look of desire mingled with confusion and embarrassment or maybe because he was so attractive but Sarah for a moment felt what Sean was fighting against. Sean saw the emotion flash across her face and that was enough for him. Now he hoped Lorien would never arrive. He leaned over and kissed her before either knew what he was going to do. It was shock for him and a wonderful sensation for her.
I am seriously going to do this Sean thought as the kiss deepened and reached into the neglected corners of his mind. I don't know her but I don't give a damn. In fact right now I don't think I can think outside of this room. And isn't it wonderful he sighed into the kiss. Bloody marvelous in fact as he felt her press closer to him. Suddenly the doorbell rang. "Ignore it." Sean whispered totally prepared to leave his brother on the doorsteps worried to death about his welfare. Sarah shook her head and pulled back. He has a head injury she chanted to herself. Taking advantage of the man no matter how willing and able he is would be unfair to both of us...or at least to him.
Sean felt her retreat and moaned a little leaning closer to recapture the heated kiss when the banging on the front door started. That he could not ignore. "Stay here, do not move. I'll be back." He said with conviction and rushed to the front door ignoring the terrific pain on his right shin and thigh. Sean was determined to make the conversation as brief as possible so he could return to the kitchen and continue the lovely train of events.
He flung open the door, "Lorien, I'm fine. In fact..." He never got to finish his sentence as his youngest brother barged his way in.
"Jesus Sean look at you! What the hell happened?!" Lorien shouted horrified at the disheveled figure and flushed face of the eldest of the Winters brothers.
"Lorien, I'm fine. I know I must look..."
"Come on, we're going to get some ice." Lorien announced grabbing Sean's elbow. Propelling the reluctant man to the kitchen the doctor in the family began to give commands.
They entered the empty room and Sean's eyes widened in surprise. Glancing around quickly he realized his unnamed rescuer was nowhere to be found. "Sean, what's wrong?" Lorien asked as his older brother walked out of the kitchen and into the study. Sean felt the night breeze run through his hair as the back door stood open letting in the cool and damp London air. He stood there for a while remembering what just flew from his cage and felt a great sense of deprivation. "Sean, are you all right?" Lorien asked a bit fearfully as the man stood in the doorway with an unreadable look on his face. Sean shook his head a little closing his eyes and brushing his hair back from his face.
"No Lorien, I'm not all right. In fact I am the sorriest man this side of the Atlantic."
Chapter 2: $95,000 Pin Cushion
It was nine days since Sean's attack and he was still as lost as that night regarding the identity of his rescuer. Lorien examined the battered brother and determined none of the bones were broken but he would have enough pain to hinder him from picking up anything that weighs more than five grams. Snorting in disbelief Sean discovered the next morning his toothbrush became his nemesis overnight.
Fortunately his face was spared from embarrassing him further but it was plain to everyone that the man was in some great discomfort. Jebediah, the second brother took great pleasure in teasing the eldest simply because the chance to do so was incredibly rare. However, at the end of the day even Jeb felt some pity after witnessing stiff movements and unconquerable frowns of pain. What no one guessed was Sean's constant thought of the American woman. He wondered how many tourists from the States visited London during May. After making some private calls he was horrified to find the number in the thousands. The one grace he had was the simple knowledge of her existence somewhere in London, but as days flitted by he slowly gave up his hope in finding her.
More than couple of times in the early morning he would slow down when a jogger came to view. He even followed one down a block in his car and was rewarded with disappointment when he realized the runner wasn't her. The woman caught him staring and flipped him a bird thinking he was some pervert who took his jollies watching women run. Sean gave up tracking behind joggers after that humiliating incident.
It was Friday and Winters was in chaos as usual. Friday meant hordes of clients panicking across the globe as all the markets closed down for the weekend. Every single one wanted assurances that his or her investments would not do a kamikaze over the quiet days. And they all wanted it now. The Winters brothers' responses were the same across the line every single time. They were not the usual warm, genteel-type of investment firms who would soothe their clients' anxious nerves with tea and soft tones. In fact they've been accused of being almost German. The word 'Teutonic' was often used in describing their manner and transaction with their clients.
They absolutely refused to give any guarantees. Markets might be closed but business, especially business that deals with money in millions and billions never shuts its doors. Transactions can be made over dinners and cocktail parties. Companies can be broken asunder with a simple phone call. However, the Winters knew these events as well as anyone and they would have to be fools to ignore the slight signals of oncoming storms. Their voices were never reassuring but the firmness of their convictions and self-confidence did the trick. Yet Fridays were never easy for any of them.
Jeb was standing by the conference room, which Sean had taken over. He needed the huge table in order to study the latest run-outs of a prospective client. It did look promising and the investors came with the highest pedigree but Sean had seen one too many foxes and was wary of accepting a client solely on recommendation from another. The name of Winters was old and venerated amongst the international set and he was too aware of the power of prestige. And how quickly one can lose it with a stupid move.
Jeb suddenly took a sniff, something smelled good. In fact the odor was delicious; he turned around and saw Brendon come down the hall munching something wrapped in a paper napkin. It was a meat savory! "Where did you get that?" He asked feeling his stomach cramp up from lack of food. He had the usual businessmen breakfast which consisted of black coffee and two Tylenols.
"I got it in the street bazaar." Brendon replied carelessly. He was the tech-on-call for this lot. Every single floor in the Winters Finances' building had at least one computer guru to make sure the company kept on ticking.
"Street bazaar? Here?" Jeb asked thoroughly perplexed by the answer. These streets didn't exactly lend itself to a cozy street fair. First of all because of the ominous buildings and more importantly the stressed-out and obsessive-compulsive people who inhabit the offices from six to eight frequently six days out of seven, holidays included.
"Yes, there is a Friday bazaar over at Winthrop. It's almost like an alleyway off of Cannon. Two blocks down from here and they have this great food court going every Friday."
Feeling his mouth salivate then dry at what could be waiting he asked, "So where did you get that?"
"The Church at the corner has been having these great bake sales the last few weeks. It's being renovated by a group of Americans and they've been doing the bazaar thing to raise money in order to make the repairs."
Sean stuck his head out, "Americans?" Brendon nodded finishing off the tasty stuffed pastry.
"Yes, Americans. And there's a redhead who works as a cashier and let me tell you she's a definite ten in the babe factor."
"Americans?" Sean repeated and both men stared at him puzzled.
"Yes, Americans...why have you never seen one?" Brendon asked in amusement.
Sean gambled and took out an astonishing number of bills from his wallet, "Go, buy as much as you can and have one of those Americans help you bring the stuff back. I think a little nourishment might help everyone survive today. Just hurry along." Jeb stared after Brendon as the young man gleefully trotted back to the elevator.
"Exactly how bad was your head injury?" He asked pointedly shocked at this uncharacteristically generous behavior. Seth gave a dismissing grunt and returned to the conference room.
It was an agonizing twenty minutes before he heard the commotion. Lifting his eager face he saw through the glass walls Brendon accompanied by a stunning redhead. Damn it, he should have known that the kid would drag her in so he could impress her with his computer wizardry. Jeb was staring at the same beautiful vision. "Forget food, excuse me Sean." He muttered and cheerfully abandoned his disappointed brother to chew over his miscalculation.
The arrival of the beautiful woman holding boxes loaded with delicious pastries indeed revitalized the office workers. The men just took pleasure in what their eyes could take and the women realized with some amusement that the redhead was naively ignorant of her power over the male population. She was friendly and funny in an innocent way as most Yanks were. Sean didn't come out though and remained in the glass hole trying to come up with a tactful way of asking the stranger if she knew his rescuer.
Excuse me, but do you work with a woman who looks like she was rammed by the 4:35 from Paddington? I was mugged a few days ago and this strange woman with a Yankee hat...no. She's about this tall and has really nice...Did any of your friends end up in St. Michael last week? You must think this is a strange question...idiot, it is a strange question! Throwing his pen across the table in frustration Sean was unable to work out an acceptable resolution to his problem.
The guest stayed where she was carelessly chatting with the office workers flirting with none of them except for Jeb. All the Winters brothers inherited their father's Nordic blue eyes. And accompanying that was the slightly dark skin from their mother's side, all these attributes combined to make a handsome contrast in the narrow visages. And Jeb was the one who was the most confident thus most relaxed in the group around this charming butterfly. Poise and looks do have their advantages Brendon thought rather bitterly as he quieted down and abandoned his plans to show her his office and his latest digital creation.
Sarah was exhausted and she was tired. But for the life of her she couldn't stay angry with Marge. Her friend was too friendly a soul and was probably detained by the young wolf who came with wads of bills and cleaned out their table and coolers. Grateful their business ended before eleven Sarah was determined to get some sleep. She was on twilight duty the night before and hardly got a wink. Ignoring the somber English taste around her Sarah walked through the lobby and got into an elevator without sparing a thought on how out of place she looked among the suits and dresses. The elegant elevator doors slid open as she covered her mouth to hide her yawn. The receptionist looked up and frowned. No wonder, she was dressed in scrubby jeans, white T-shirt long yellowed by repeated washes and a cotton plaid shirt rolled up to her elbows.
Sarah gave her disarming grin, "I am here to pick up my wayward buddy. She's the tall redhead with looks that no one human being should have?"
Robin smiled back, "Yes, she's right down the corridor."
"Thank you." Sarah politely chimed and walked down the hall the receptionist pointed at. Sean didn't look up as his Holy Grail breezed by less than ten feet from him. Instead he kept trying to figure out what to say to the redhead while studying the paperwork. "Marge" She said gently and the woman turned around. The lovely smile was immediately replaced with a contrite look. Marge automatically checked her barn jacket pockets. Her beeper! She looked at her exhausted friend as the woman revealed it nestling comfortably in her right palm.
"Oh I am so sorry! What time..." Marge asked glancing at her watch. Thirty minutes?! Her face revealed her innocence as she despaired over her inability to keep track of time.
"It's fine Marge. Five minutes ok?" Sarah replied smiling. Sean looked up as he instinctively recognized another unknown voice and blinked rapidly. How...what...she's here. Glory to G-d she's here. Sarah waved her farewell and turned around to go back to the elevator. Sean watched her depart then belatedly realized what was going to happen unless he hurried. Snatching his suit jacket off a chair he rushed behind her.
"Miss!" He said out loud but Sarah was oblivious to the call. She couldn't imagine anyone wanting to address her in this building so she continued to walk and got into the elevator as it opened up in front of her. She rubbed her tired eyes with the heels of her hands, pressed the ‘close-door' button then looked up. The figure coming down the hall shocked her to a standstill. It was the man whom she nearly pounced on over a week ago. Sean caught her eyes and smiled. It was good to see her, and feel the same desire once again stir in his blood. But this time he was more than determined to continue what was left undone from their last encounter. In fact the whole weekend suddenly improved by leaps and bounds in his estimation.
Her next action brought him to a dead stop. She leaned over to the control panel and with sheer panic began hitting the 'close-door' button. What the hell...Sean thought as he began rushing towards the trapped woman. The doors slammed together almost taking his nose with it. For a moment Sean stared at his astonished face reflecting from the steel barriers, then he turned to Robin.
"Get security. Tell them there is a woman who will be coming out of the B elevator wearing jeans. Tell them to detain her until I get there. Now." Robin obeyed the whipping command and felt apprehension. Detain...oh dear, and this was such a safe place to work.
Unfortunately he was a step behind Sarah who got off on the second floor and took the stairs. She saw the security gather in front of her elevator from the corner of her eye as she leisurely strolled out to the street. Taking a deep breath she made her best time running to the church in fear. Not stopping until she was safe within the its walls Sarah took deep breath of relief. She was hoping to avoid him, wishing she didn't need to. He was obviously still attracted to her and she would be lying in G-d's house to say she wasn't. But any relationship right now would be disastrous for everyone concerned and Sarah came over the Atlantic to get herself straightened out. Starting a relationship physical or emotional did not configure into her plans.
Sean was near fury as he could be. Somehow one woman, one single foreigner managed to evade not only his security guards but himself as well for the second time. However he was unwilling to accept any more setbacks. He knew where she was now and after work he was determined to drive her out of her brier patch. What he could not understand was the look of dismay on her face when she recognized him. Sean didn't believe for a second that he did something improper in their first encounter. He still remembered her kiss and there was definitely nothing there save attraction and heady want.
Five came with clay feet and Sean was out of his office even before Jeb was. The younger Winters stared at the man as he disappeared with coat and briefcase in tow. There is definitely something wrong with him Jeb thought. I'm going to have to talk to Lorien about this bizarre behavior of our beloved dictator. Sean's Audi TT roared to life giving voice to its owner's eagerness as the man sped to the church. He found an empty spot near the front entrance of the beautiful structure. Brendon wasn't exaggerating when he said the street was almost an alleyway. And the church was definitely being repaired. There were bags of soil and stacks of new iron fences waiting to find their roots. He watched as two people on the street level held a lightening-rod as it was being pulled up to the rooftop by a pulley system dangling out of a window ledge. Rob and Shawn tried to carry it inside the church but the stairs leading to the steeple narrowed and curved to such a point it was impossible to manipulate the six foot metal spike.
Christine and Jess watched carefully as the thing passed the first level. They cut off the sidewalks with 'caution' blockades but since it was after five on a Friday there was hardly any pedestrian traffic for them to worry about. Sean turned his back to the fascinating scene and quickly entered through the doors. He was immediately greeted with vicious wafts of turpentine and paint. Coughing uncontrollably he leaned over a pew and sent it crashing to the one in front. It had a domino effect and eight pews keeled over because they were no longer nailed down. The restoration workers had taken them off so they could work on the old wooden floor and the pews themselves. The noise brought two curious faces from behind the marble altar. Sean stood mortified and lost wondering if destroying church property was not only a criminal act but also a morally condemnable one by the Anglican Church.
"Can I help you sir?" A polite Welsh voice asked from his left and he was greeted with the Vicar Noble's smiling brown eyes. Feeling defensive not only because of his tremendous blunder but also being in a church Sean withdrew into his shell. However before he could open his mouth a crashing noise captured both men's attention.
Chris and Jess watched in dismay as the rod began to gradually slip from the rope's hold as gusts of winds swung the precarious load to and fro. Shawn and Rob noticing the same thing began frantically pulling it up hoping to grab it before the lightening-rod freed itself. So it was almost at their third level when the spike escaped its bounds. If it were in a vacuum the lightening rod would have fallen in a straight line and shattered itself on the empty sidewalk. But the group wasn't so lucky. Because of the wind created from the tunnel affect of the tall buildings it gracefully arced outwards and pierced the black Audi parked close to the building. The sharp point sheared right through the roof, ripped through the leather backseats and pierced through the floor before being stopped by the asphalt. The on-lookers stood there dumfounded at this incredible sight.
Rob stared out the window at the automobile doing a remarkable imitation of a pin-cushion, "Does the insurance we carry have an 'Act of G-d' clause?" He asked Shawn who was as pale as he could be.
"Every insurance policy has that clause Rob." The law-school student replied weakly feeling his knees cave beneath him.
"I really hope this doesn't fall underneath that because if it does we are dead in the water." Sean stood on the steps to the church aghast at what he first could not comprehend.
He walked to the car opening the doors with his remote. Sticking his head inside Sean saw the incredible damage to his beloved car. The price for this auto-masterpiece was astronomical and compounded was the fact it was custom-made to his needs. The type of leather, the wood and metal in the interior, even the installed cell phone was all created to specifically suit his tastes. And now it was reduced to the same level as a bug pinned to a display case in the British Museum.
"I've called a garage and he is coming over right now." Vicar Noble informed the horrified owner.
"What will he do?" Sean asked blankly peering under the car wondering if it was nailed to the street. Luckily the point seemed to be still above ground level as he could see its shattered tip. Chris approached the man terrified he will break into a Nor'easter in front of her. Confrontation was never her forte but someone needed to tell the man the damage wasn't permanent.
"Sir, we have insurance and we will cover the cost of repair." Sean stared at the small brunette in disbelief.
"Do you have an inkling on how much this car costs? Do you have any idea what it will take to repair this much damage?"
Chris shrank back a little shaking her head. "First, it will need to be shipped back to Germany then...actually I have no bloody clue either." Sean ended in defeat staring at his beautiful toy. Ten minutes later a flatbed truck came down the street and pulled up to the disabled vehicle. The mechanic stared at the mess with his jaw on the ground. In all his fifteen years patrolling London this was the winner hands down. While the car was being hauled to the garage a passer-by took a picture of this incredible accident loaded on the truck. He was a free-lance photographer for the Fleet Street gang and the picture made it to the Sunday Herald, Variety Section, second page with the following title - "NOW LONDON HAS SEEN IT ALL. "
Chapter 3: A Cornered Hare Named Sarah
Sean pulled up to the driveway to the family house. Sunday morning began with a soft drizzle but the drops faded away quickly as he drove from London to the family house. Quickly noting the other cars already situated around the circular driveway he realized all his siblings were present, including Lorien. And he was glad; it was rare that the youngest joined these Sunday gatherings so when he did show up the day was even more pleasant. He walked through the opened garden door that led to the breakfast room and came to a dead stop.
Taped to the wall facing him was a blow-up of the picture of his car from the Herald. It was at least six feet tall and as wide in full glorious color. Then he heard his brothers laughing as they watched him from the breakfast room. In fact they were bent over being total hostages to their humor. Lorien saw the article early morning and asked Matt to have it enlarged. He couldn't let this chance slip by and the youngest imp was glad he didn't. The look on Sean's face was priceless, one to be remembered forever and told to generations to follow. The poor victim of this horseplay didn't know what to say so he stood there blushing to his ears.
"It's G-d's way of saying you should go to church more often Sean!" Jeb cried out coming to grips with himself.
"What did you do there brother? Because I cannot even begin to imagine what led to that tragic demise of your Audi." Ben added still laughing. Ben was the third of the Winters brothers and he headed the PR department of the firm.
"I have nothing to say," Sean remarked as he joined the pranksters around the table. "All I know is that it will probably be a month before I get my car back."
"Poor Sean, a month? What are you going to play with until then?" Lorien teased mercilessly, "Should have known better than to buy such an expensive toy. Pride goeth before the Fall..."
"Sean, what were you doing at that church?" Daphne asked as she entered the room. She was their stepmother, and second wife of Mr. Charles Winters. Tall, willowy and platinum blonde one would imagine her as something of an Arctic maiden. She was neither for her warm, generous and kind nature shone through the first few minutes of introduction destroying the first impression she invariably made with her cool good looks.
Mr. Winters was one of those rare people who was blessed with the ability to fall in love with the right people. His first wife Charlotte was a treasure, as dark as Daphne was fair she was a noted historian of the city of London. She gave birth to three healthy sons without any difficulties and no one thought her fourth pregnancy would be a problem. It was a disaster from the moment she entered the hospital because of an abnormal pain in her abdomen. The doctors realized the baby was having difficulty in the womb and decided on a cesarean as they heard the erratic and fading rhythm of his dying heart. The surgery was textbook perfect but the bleeding wouldn't stop. The blood loss became so severe that an emergency hysterectomy had to be performed in order to save her life. Two days later she was diagnosed with a mild infection, which in spite of all the antibiotics pumped into her system exploded into a full peritonitis in less than twenty-four hours. The problems snowballed as the internal suture-sites became infected. This compromised the stitches to a critical point that they unraveled opening the unhealed wounds to the infection. In less than five days after giving birth to Lorien the mother was dying. The husband was frantically signing the consent forms to have another surgery done in order to close the wounds when he was informed his wife had passed away. The body weakened by the birth and unable to respond to the medication gave up the battle and lost the war.
Sean was sitting with his mother as she faded away though the young child had no idea she was dying in front of him. Then the medical personnel rushed in and all but ignored him as Charlotte blue-coded then died. Sean shoved himself into a corner, watching the chaotic scene not comprehending what was happening until one of the nurses said that the patient was dead. He was only six but he knew what death was instinctively, death was a place where he couldn't go. Which meant he no longer had a mother and that was too much for the child to accept. He went into a hysterical fit and the nurses belatedly realized that the son witnessed everything. They had to sedate him and place him on the pediatric floor where a numb widower picked him up an hour later. That was Sean's introduction to the world of medicine. Failure, death and deprivation, three hard lessons that though hidden still roamed in the back of his mind even as an adult.
The father in his grief stood by his children. But when a man loses the better part of himself and comprehends the loss the man can not begin to understand the pain of others, even his own children. Jeb and Ben were young enough to adjust quickly but Sean remembered and felt the absence of his mother as keenly as any sensitive child would. And he took out his anger at the one innocent soul in the whole tragedy; he rallied against Lorien. The squealing, smelly obnoxious baby who stole his mother. It was unfair they had this unwanted visitor who in Sean's eyes was totally responsible for his mother's death. The situation became so drastic that the father had no choice but to send Sean away to school. This only fostered the feeling of alienation in the oldest who saw not only his mother replaced but also himself in his father's affections. The boy grew up in the private schools earning a great reputation as a student but was feared by classmates for his brutal temper and savage wit. This all changed when he turned twelve. One day during late November a LandRover pulled up to the school as the boys were returning to their dorms in order to prepare for dinner and Mass.
Daphne came to tell Sean that he had thirty minutes to pack up because he was going home. Turmoil followed as she happily presented the paperwork from Charles ordering the school to let the boy go in her care. It took seventeen minutes for Sean to pack and he said farewell to no one for he had not one friend in the whole school. As he walked away he could almost hear the sighs of relief coming from the student body. But he didn't care; his father finally wanted him back. Daphne told him during the drive she was his father's future wife and Sean didn't mind it much. Other boys in schools had stepmothers and they said it was tolerable so Sean accepted the news politely. He met Daphne before and he found her presence in their lives acceptable, as long as she didn't interfere with his personal life nothing else mattered. However when he returned he realized everything had changed. The rest of the boys were already calling Daphne 'mother' and even his father treated her like a wife. However Sean remembered and he would never forget. He kept silent, was polite to the utmost manner possible but nobody could break through that closed exterior.
Charles knew he made a terrible mistake when he saw how much Sean had changed. When the boy came home for the holidays the changes weren't very noticeable. But since he was now a constant presence Charles began to see the problems and they seemed almost insurmountable. What also made it worse was Lorien who grew up without Sean. Yet when the eldest entered the household the youngest gravitated towards the somber boy like a moth to a flame. Everywhere Sean went Lorien followed. Everything Sean did Lorien tried to a great degree of failure. Sean wore red, Lorien wore red. Sean ate porridge with honey; Lorien had honey with his porridge. All this did was to irritate Sean to no end because suddenly he had to take care of Lorien who became his constant shadow. No one thought this was dangerous, and the adults believed that sooner or later Lorien would endear himself to Sean like he did with everyone else. They were gravely mistaken.
It was a warm winter by anyone's standards but there was enough snow and ice for the children to play around in. There was a small fishing lake about half mile from the house where the boys skated and raced. Sean was there one early morning skating by his usual lonesome self, feeling exhilaration as the wind whipped his face. The faster he went, freer he felt than the second before. Lorien managed to follow him and watched him from the bench. Wanting to join his brother in the obvious fun he pushed himself out to the ice trying to imitate the oldest and failing miserably. Sean annoyed at the awful mimic skated off the lake and was untying his lace when he heard a small cry.
Lorien had fumbled over to a thin patch and fallen through. Sean sat there watching the scene and thought for a second this was as it should have been all those years ago. It should have been Lorien who died and his mother who should have lived. Now justice was finally served. Then the small childish hand broke through the freezing layer and Sean woke up from a nightmare of six years. He didn't see his brother's dying limb but Charlotte's. It wasn't Lorien who was drowning, it was his mother. Without thinking the lad pelted across the ice and plunged into the cold waves heedless of his own safety. The cold water knocked the air out of his lungs but he felt nothing except panic. The water was so dark Sean could see nothing but he soon took purchase of soft waving hair. Grabbing the strands tightly the boy swam back up to the opening and broke through. Managing to shove his brother to a thicker part of ice he pulled himself up after. He quickly stripped off all his gear because he couldn't run fast enough with waterlogged clothing. Only in his pants and naked feet he hauled the unconscious boy onto his shoulder and turned home. All the while thinking of his mother the oldest Winters brother ran and this time to beat death itself.
Daphne saw them first from the parlor window. Screaming for help she ran out to meet the boys and grabbed Lorien looking for life-signs. It took almost a week before Lorien was able to move out of bed. It took Sean less than an hour to realize the last thing; the last act of love his mother had given to him was this baby brother. And within that fragile and curious boy resided a part of her, the best part. Sean wouldn't leave the boy's bedside until he was chased away by the nurse or his dad who only did so when Sean didn't come down for his meals. The father never knew what really happened out there but he understood well enough that whatever it was, it was a blessing and left it at that.
Daphne stared at the oldest son once again marveling at the remarkable resemblance Sean had to his late father, not only in looks but also in manner. The woman knew there was a fascinating story behind the hysterically funny picture decorating the wall. But she also knew that it would be near impossibility to force Sean to tell it so she would wait patiently.
"It was a horrible accident, I was lucky that I wasn't in the car when it happened." Sean noted hoping to quiet down the laughing brood. It had the desired effect as the brothers thought about his remark.
"And you were at the church because?" Ben asked still unwilling to give up the line of questioning.
"I wanted to meet someone." Sean answered miserly.
"Who? The vicar?" Ben continued.
"Not Marge, please don't tell me you're going after her." Jeb asked panicking a little. Sean and he had competed for the same woman before and Jeb never came out the winner.
"No, not Marge or whatever her name is."
"Who's Marge?" Lorien asked totally mystified at the turn of the conversation.
"Marge is from the States. The church is being renovated by a group of American restoration specialists. A private benefactor had hired them to restore that church specifically and from what I gathered it was for personal reasons. She said the costs are piling up faster than they estimated because of the amount of damage and erosion the church has weathered including the Blitz. Did you know they found fragments of V-1 rockets embedded on the roof and the steeple?" Ben looked up from his eggs fascinated.
"Really? Do you think they might even have an undiscovered UXB in there somewhere?"
"Hope not. Otherwise we could kiss Winthrop Street good-bye." Jeb added munching on the sausages.
"American?" Lorien asked his eyes reflecting his interest, "There are Americans repairing the church?" Sean belatedly realized Lorien had talked to his rescuer briefly over the phone. Jeb saw the glances exchanged by the oldest and the youngest.
"Will someone please tell me why this sudden fascination with the word ‘American'? Sean couldn't stop staying it Friday afternoon and now you're doing the same bloody thing Lorien."
Lorien grinned from ear to ear, "Don't even bother coming to me for explanations. I don't have the right to reveal anything here. Interrogate Sean and let me eat my toast in peace." All heads turned to the eldest who wished he never made it to the late brunch.
"There's nothing to tell. Lorien's just being an ass. Daphne, please pass me the marmalade and the salt." The stepmother was now totally fascinated by what transpired and more importantly what didn't. Maybe she should visit that church and find out what drew the most reticent of the brothers to it. Of course she would park her car as far as possible probably in Liverpool.
The meal lasted as the family chatted, teased and discussed their lives though Lorien remained tactfully quiet. It hurt him deeply that he could not openly discuss his life as well as his brothers but he knew that the compromises everyone made including himself were still in a precarious stages of development. Lorien was patient and believed that his brothers would come around hopefully sooner than later. In order to lighten his mood he kept throwing wicked glances to Sean knowing the oldest would feel uncomfortable under his amused scrutiny. The mysterious woman who called on his brother's behalf that night was on his mind as much as Sean's. To his unending aggravation she seemed to have magically disappeared when he reached Sean's place. Lorien also had nagging suspicions that something happened between Sean and this mysterious savior before he got there. Of course Sean could have been acting so scatter-brained because his skull was dented but something told Lorien the causation was that of a female persuasion.
None of the brothers were ever desperately seeking female company, especially Lorien or Sean. They were all considered very eligible bachelors by most of the single female population not to mention their mothers and fathers. And the society pages reflect this fact almost every single weekend. But Sean would be forty very soon and even Daphne was getting a bit worried that the man was throwing his life away for the sake of the business. Sean never lacked for a partner but he was too willing to drop a relationship before letting it develop into something deeper. However Daphne knew she could not actively interfere, of course there was nothing written in the rulebooks that she couldn't nose in just a little. The brothers dispersed around three and Sean in his leased BMW drove straight to the church. After spending some quality time in the secure world of his family Sean gathered enough courage and justified annoyance to find this woman whose identity so far cost him over 60,000 pounds.
He walked into the church and there was...silence. Actually abandoned was more like it. Sunday is a day of rest isn't it? He thought while kicking himself for not remembering this widely known fact. Then he heard thumps overhead; there was somebody up there or so he hoped. Somehow he couldn't imagine a church mouse making that much racket. Sean saw the stairs leading to the second floor to his left and didn't hesitate to take it. He quietly entered the large room that almost composed the whole second floor and saw Sarah putting away her tools and brushes. Sean quickly noted the only way she was going to escape him now was to either knock him from his spot or leap through one of the windows. Feeling confidant she was going to do neither he stood in his spot and enjoyed just staring at her. Sarah was dumping used chemicals and paint into airtight containers to be disposed of properly tomorrow. Glancing at her thick construction gloves she made a mental note to buy a new pair. She needed them in order to prevent her skin from getting chemical burns and this pair was getting dangerously threadbare. Suddenly she realized she was no longer alone. Her head snapped upwards and once again she saw the man she was trying to avoid. Of course she knew it would only be a matter of time before he cornered her.
"I am so sorry about your Audi. I wasn't here but I saw the picture on the paper. Actually I'm sorry about the picture too." Sean smiled a little leaning on the doorway.
"It has been an unusually eventful week for all of us I think. Why did you run away from me? I don't believe what happened was offensive to either of us. And you don't exactly strike me as a coward." She stared at him surprised at the direct line of attack.
"You don't waste time do you?"
He shook his head and entered the room, "No, I don't waste time. It's against my nature to do so." She sighed deeply and took off her gloves and that was when he saw the wedding band. Sarah didn't realize what he was staring at in shock. Sean on the other hand was staring at nothing else. She's married...but he knew she wasn't wearing the band when she rescued him. He was sure of it. "You didn't have the ring on when I saw you the first time." He said in the best non-accusatory voice he could manage under the circumstances.
Sarah paled a little, better to get it over with. "No, I took it off before getting in on the fun. I was afraid that it would get lost in the fray."
He stared hard at her, "Where is your husband? He's not here is he?"
She shook her head, "No, he's back in New York taking care of our company. We had a business together." Sean felt the tension uncoil itself from the pit of his stomach, she said ‘had' not ‘have'.
"Separated or divorced?" If she wasn't in a church Sarah might have been tempted to lie but as it was she was too tired to mislead the poor man after what he's been through.
"Separated, the divorce papers just came through but there are snags and the attorneys are working them out as we speak."
"I see, how long have you been separated?" Sean asked gentling the edge in his voice.
"A little over a year, for a progressive state New York definitely has some arcane divorce laws. I know that doesn't totally explain my strange behavior but I hope you could understand I'm not looking for anything right now. My life's still a mess and I can't afford to let a stranger enter into it."
Sean nodded a little, "I can understand that definitely but all I was going to ask you was if you wanted to have dinner with me. After all you've been through on my behalf at least let me say thank you by taking you out for a decent meal."
She laughed, "I think the damage to your car evened us out. Don't worry about it." Sean wasn't about to let it go that easily.
"How about a glass of wine then?"
She shook her head, "No thank you Sean. It is really kind of you to offer but what happened that night will remain an anomaly in both our lives."
"But you rescued me from heaven knows what. And then helped me home in spite of the fact that I was being a major b******. Please don't tell me that my behavior was acceptable, even I know it wasn't. And it's extraordinary for me to realize that someone risked so much for me personally." She grimaced a little - this was going to hurt. The man was very attractive and his attempts would have worked was she not so determined to avoid any entanglements while she was in London.
"And that's where it falls apart. I didn't rescue you I came to help a stranger. I'm sorry Sean but it could've been anyone and I would have still done the same. It's just that the victim was you. You could have been a beggar or a king, either way I wasn't about to let those two thugs beat the living daylights out of another human being."
He stared at her deeply wounded by her words but at the same time his respect for his rescuer grew immensely. No matter who it was she would have done the same...beggar or a king. That was definitely a sign of good character. Suddenly getting a date with this woman turned into an obsession and Sean wasn't about to take a no as Sarah was hoping for.
"Then how about coffee? You realize I am not going to let this just stroll away from me don't you? And before you open your mouth let me remind you what happened in the kitchen wasn't with a stranger, it was with me." Sarah couldn't turn that truth around to suit her needs and she made the fatal mistake that every woman makes for some unfathomable reason. That by saying yes once the man would accept all the no's that would follow after.
"For coffee then, I guess that's non-committal enough even for me."
Sean gave an inward sigh of relief, "Good, tomorrow then? When and where shall I meet you?"
"How about eight in front of the church? I'm on night-duty here so having some coffee would probably be a good thing for me."
"I'll come by eight and please don't run away from me again. Good night...what is your name?" He asked his exasperation leaking into his voice.
She laughed loudly, "Sarah, my name is Sarah."
"See you at eight Sarah." He said and left the woman staring thoughtfully at his back. He knew her name, he knew she no longer had a husband and he admired her character. The dividends to his car's unfortunate mishap were paying off very nicely.
© 1999 Copyright held by the author.
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