A Cloak of Lies Ch. 15bySweetWitch©
That's all folks...
Lorette waved a nervous hand at Camille, telling her to keep her voice down. She looked around carefully, checked out the window to make sure they hadn't been heard.
"Yes," she said. Her voice was hushed, as if imparting a secret that could bring the world to a screeching halt. "I don't know what to do."
Camille laughed, jostling the cherub on her lap. "For heaven's sake, Lorette, you have a baby, that's what. It sort of comes along with being pregnant."
"You're a real card, Camille. I think I have that part figured out. I'm talking about Marion. He's going to have a heart attack when I tell him."
"You mean you haven't told him yet? Don't you think the man has a right to know he's about to be a father?"
"You have no idea what he's like."
"I'm sure I can guess."
The baby started giggling at the mongrel chasing its own tail some feet away. Both women laughed along with him.
"Seeing you with your son makes me really want to have this baby. I can't wait to cuddle and hug him and tell him about all our adventures. I just don't think Marion could stand it."
"What makes you say that?"
"You saw the way he acted, like he was afraid of breaking little Nick. He won't even touch him."
"Well, we'll just see about that." Camille stood up, hefting her four-month-old son up to her shoulder. "You're getting to be such a big boy. Let's go see Uncle Brick and show him what he's missing out on."
"Camille, what are you thinking?" Lorette asked with some trepidation.
"I'm thinking that any man who can fight off an entire army of villains should be able to face his greatest fear—small children. This should be fun."
The cabin was beautiful, something to really be proud of. Niko was glad he'd had a part in constructing the sprawling home. Calling it a cabin seemed an understatement. It was more a cross between a mansion and a lodge. Brick was an enigma. The man had lived in squalor for years but had more money socked away than anyone could have guessed. And the man had a head for business. With his investment portfolio, he and Lorette could afford to live quite comfortably.
"I saw the mutt Lorette gave you for your wedding," he said. "It's really grown. The thing looks like a horse."
"Yeah. He's a good dog, but nothin' like ol' Rafe. Like to tore me in two when that prick shot him."
Both men fell silent for a moment, remembering the day when all hell broke loose on the mountain. "So, how do you like genteel living?" Niko finally asked, trying to hide his smirk when Brick growled.
"It sucks, if you gotta know. I can't even walk in my own house without taking my shoes off or Lorette throws a fit. The woman's a clean freak. And lately, it's getting worse. She's always scrubbing at something—usually me. She's got me smelling like a rose."
"And you love every minute of it."
Brick grinned broadly, something Niko was having a hard time getting used to.
"You got me dead to rights there," Brick said. He led the way to the back of the cabin where the shady, awning-covered patio awaited with its new furniture. "She insisted on getting all this fancy shit to sit on out here and I have to admit that I like it. Something's bothering me, though."
"Aw, hell. I should keep my big mouth shut."
"Spill it, Brick."
"It's not that I want your advice or nothin', but...Something's wrong with her. I can't really figure her out."
"Why do you say that? She seems perfectly fine to me."
"I don't know. Maybe it's nothing. I ain't had much experience with women on a domesticated level, so I probably just imagine..."
As his words trailed off, Niko could see something was truly eating at the big guy. "What's up, Brick?"
"Well, take yesterday for instance. For weeks Lorette's been cleaning and planning and scheming about your visit and when the two of you show up, she starts crying. I thought she would be glad to see your wife again, but she just started bawling."
"Women don't just cry when they're sad, fella. They don't even need a reason to do it. They just cry—when they're happy, when they're angry. They just up and cry."
"Yeah? Well she's been doing it a lot lately. She ain't herself, I tell ya. You remember when we first found her, how sweet and gentle she was? Well she ain't now, brother. The woman goes off at the drop of a hat, gets spittin' mad and it's like tangling with a mountain cat. The next minute she's apologizin' and cuddling up to me like nothing happened. I think she's plain crazy. I had no right bringing her up here and separating her from her family."
It was Niko's turn to grin. "How long's this been going on?"
"I don't know. A couple o' months, I guess. But that ain't all..."
"You know...Shit, I don't even know how to put it. Okay, it's like this. All those years the only women I knew were whores. I paid for my needs and cut 'em loose. Some were good, some were just whores."
"Well, Lorette ain't like that. She...Her only experience with men took place in that dungeon on the island." Brick paused, an expression like a thunder cloud crossing his face. "I'd like to bring every one of them sons-of-bitches to life so I could kill 'em all again." He gave himself a visible shake and sat up a little straighter. "Anyway, on our honeymoon, I was afraid to touch her. Hell, I was scared I'd hurt her. And she was so shy, not timid, but shy. I was gentle and she seemed to like it that way."
"And now it's different. She's not shy, let me tell you. It's like my sweet wife is gone, replaced by...by a hell cat. I mean, every night! She's going to kill me."
"So, you're complaining that Lorette cries too much, forces you to be clean and rocks your world every night. And this is a problem because...?"
"Shut up, Pavli. I knew you wouldn't understand."
"What's to understand? Listen, Brick, Lorette will tell you what's on her mind soon enough. Women have their ways and all we can do is wait for them."
"You know something I don't?" Brick leaned closer, put out a hand as if to grab Niko's throat. To make matters worse, Niko laughed.
Both men looked up to see their wives walking toward them. Niko was clearly amused while Brick looked like he might explode.
"What does Niko know that you don't, honey?" Lorette asked as she took the chair next to her husband.
"I don't know. He won't tell me."
"Here, Brick. Will you hold Nick for me?"
His hands in the air as if to ward off an attack, Brick reared back in his chair. "Not me. I don't know nothin' about babies."
Camille plopped the child down on his left thigh and pulled his hand down to support the infant's back. "Nothing to it. Just hold onto him and say a word or two to him every now and then." She walked away and sat on Niko's lap.
All three of them were entertained by his obvious discomfort. The baby wrapped a tiny fist around one of his big fingers and cooed.
"Come get this thing," he said. "I'm afraid I'm gonna break it."
"You better get used to it, Marion," Lorette said.
"Why? They'll be gone in a couple of days and we can get back to normal."
Lorette's eyes flashed emerald fire. "You can be so thick sometimes."
"See?" he said to Niko. "This is what I'm talking about. She gets mad over nothing and goes on the attack."
"Why are you talking about me like I'm not here?" Lorette asked. "If you want to know something about me, you could ask me."
"Niko," Camille said. "I think it's time you and I took little Nick for a walk."
She snatched the baby off Brick's lap and walked away. Remembering discretion to be the better part of valor, Niko followed suit, grinning at his friend's predicament.
"I always wanted one of these," Niko said when they stopped at the edge of the new driveway. A large black Hummer gleamed in the sun atop the fresh white gravel.
Both turned to watch the scene on the patio unfold. It was obvious a showdown was taking place, but it was difficult to tell what was being said with only the occasional word drifting toward them from time to time, at least until the tempers of the combatants flared.
"Don't argue with me, Lorette," Brick bellowed as he got to his feet. "Get in the house now."
It was rare to hear Lorette raise her voice, but she did and nearly brought the awning down on them both. "Who do you think you are ordering me around like that. I'm not dying, you imbecile. I'm having a baby. Women do it all the time and never change their lives to appease paranoid husbands. I'm about to be a mother and you will treat me with respect. What's more, you're going to be a father. You better start showing a little happiness about it."
It looked as if the big man had been hit by a Mack truck. He staggered backward, flopping into his previously abandoned seat. The heavy iron-work of the massive chair gave under his solid frame. It crumbled under him and hit the stones of the patio wrenching an audible grunt from his lungs.
Lorette squealed, dropping to her knees next her flattened husband. Niko laughed, holding Camille back when she started to rush to his aid. "He's fine, love. Let Lorette take care of him."
A moment later, Brick reached up, pulled the little redhead down on himself and yelled, "I'm going to be a dad!"
The Pavlis took their leave, walking through the woods to give the other couple some time alone. Niko loved packing his new son around, showing him all the wonders of the world, and Camille loved to watch them. It had been a long time since she'd known the peace of their present life.
"I'm so glad Brick took all those traps out. I was scared he'd make Lorette live with the woods all wired for Armageddon."
"Nah, he'd never do that. Besides, the contractors wouldn't come up here until he promised to take care of it. Doesn't mean he's not still suspicious. Look." Niko pointed up at a tree. "It's one of the new motion sensors he put in."
"Lorette told me about it. He took out the explosives but still has the place wired—with electronics. It's like he thinks Oleander's coming back from the dead or something."
"Agapi, Brick has reason to worry. He's got a lot of enemies—uh, past acquaintances—who'd like to see him come to harm. Now that he's got someone beside himself to look after, he's not about to take any chances."
Camille chewed her lip, taking the baby from his father. "I know and I worry about it all the time. What if some of your enemies come looking for you? It could happen, you know."
"I know, babe. Don't worry. As soon as our new house is finished, you'll feel much safer. I won't let anything happen to you or our son."
"I know I sound like a broken record, honey, but are you sure we need all that?"
She was thinking of the construction project that had been going on for more than five months. The structure was too big for a simple family of three. It had hidden rooms and corridors for emergencies and, when finished, would be like a fortress, complete with electronic surveillance and its own emergency power and water supplies. As her father would say, they could "get dug in like a tick on a hound".
"Better safe than sorry and the Company's paying for it, may as well take advantage."
"I don't like it. Promise me you'll never go back to working for them."
"You know I have to make a living. It's not like I'll be in the field anymore. Training recruits is a regular nine to five. The pay's right and I'll be home every night for dinner."
"I still don't like it. Those assholes took you away from me for eight years. I wish you'd find another way."
"With Hansen running the show, things will be different. I'm a civilian now and they know I won't ever join the game again. I'm completely yours, my love."
She looked unconvinced as she cradled her son a little closer. "Nick's getting fussy. Time for his nap."
"That sounds good. Why don't we all take a nap." He wiggled his brows at her in a suggestive manner that had her giggling.
"Is that all you ever think of?"
"What else is there? I have the rustic back-drop of the mountain forest, a beautiful family and thou. It's all a man needs."