tagRomanceKarma Ch. 04

Karma Ch. 04

byWine_Maker©

Chapter Four: A leap of faith

I woke up slowly, luxuriating in comfortable warmth. Then I realized I was half-sprawled across someone. A man - Tony - my suddenly awake brain informed me. His scent filled my senses with my face buried in his hair, my lips brushing his neck.

The rest of my body began reporting in and the news went downhill from there. My thigh was resting on an obviously aroused cock and his arm was between us, cupping one of my breasts through my tee shirt. Unconsciously I began gently moving myself against him. Then my forebrain caught up with my hindbrain and froze my hips. This was not what I wanted.

Liar.

I lifted my head a little to look at his sleeping face. I wanted to kiss those soft lips again and I couldn't keep fooling myself about not wanting him. Now, with that out of the way, I just needed to decide if I would give in to my desires or not.

I was still wrestling with myself when the phone rang. Tony's eyes popped open and we stared at each other from a few inches away. I could see his eyes flicker with surprise at the sudden realization that I was lying mostly on top of him. Then the alarm as he realized that he had a nice morning erection rubbing my inner thigh and my breast in his hand. I felt my nipple stiffen against his palm through the cloth of my tee shirt.

The phone rang a few more times while he got his brain in gear, pulled his hand away from my breast, and answered the phone. A murmur told me it was our wakeup call. When he hung up, I started to swoop in to take a kiss but he beat me to it, kissing me softly and pulling back from me.

"Sorry," he said, rearranging his briefs as he stood up. "I didn't intend to grope you." He looked embarrassed and I realized that he took his promise to behave very seriously.

"We were asleep. You didn't do anything I'm objecting to," I said softly. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Tony, I want you. And that scares me."

The spark in his eyes was impossible to miss. "Don't be scared. The feeling's mutual. However," he said regretfully as he climbed out of bed, "we have to get a move on or we'll be late."

With a nod, I slipped out of bed. "Do you want to shower first?"

"We could shower together," he suggested softly, pulling me closer with a hand on my hip.

"Not and get to the funeral home on time," I said, regretfully. "Go shower."

I brushed my teeth and sat on the toilet listening to him shower while pummeling my brain on how to proceed. The speed and force of my emotions were making me feel out of control again. I probably shouldn't have told him that I wanted him. That gave him power over me and I didn't know if any man could be trusted with that kind of control.

Tony turned off the shower and climbed out with water streaming down his body. His wet hair clung to his neck and shoulders and he looked like some kind of Greek god. The Regan of twenty years ago would have thrown him against the wall - at least she would have if he had been a woman - funeral service be damned. But I'd learned to restrain myself. Most of the time. Restraint still didn't stop the wave of lust that rolled up my body and lit me on fire, though.

Pulling my eyes from Tony, I stepped into the shower. The ritual of washing myself brought me some control and I felt much better by the time I climbed out and dried off.

Tony was putting his tie on when I came in and laid out the dress I'd picked for the funeral. I sat down and reached for my makeup, but stopped when I saw how badly my hand was trembling. If I tried to apply makeup while I was shaking like this I'd look like an extra from a slasher movie. I couldn't look like that in front of Mother. I couldn't disappoint Daddy.

Tony put his hands on my trembling shoulders. "You can do this," he said. "Take one step at a time and put one foot in front of the other."

I smiled wanly and nodded. "It's going to be the hardest thing I've done in a long time, but with you behind me I might live through it."

He kissed my cheek and backed off. "Get dressed and we'll go. Are you hungry?" I shook my head and slipped into a fresh bra and panties. "Not really."

He left me in silence to apply my makeup and dress. The familiar rituals calmed me and I felt almost human when we walked out to the car.

-----

Mourners packed the funeral home. The service didn't start for half an hour, but now we had local notables and family friends to add to the volatile mix of relatives and me. I probably should've been here earlier. I'd no doubt hear all about my failings before the service ever got underway. At least after the funeral, I would only have to deal with Conrad for one more day. Once the lawyer read the will, I could be on my way back to LA. I glanced at Tony and realized that I might not be heading to LA just yet, but I'd still be away from family.

Conrad was waiting for me. Someone must have tipped him off that I was here, and he was ready to plaster me before I even had a chance to catch my bearings.

"It's about time you decided to show up," he said, staring down his nose. "You should have been here over an hour ago to meet the family. And where's my SUV?"

I didn't even slow down and he had to leap aside to avoid me bouncing him into the wall. "Yesterday you told me to be less involved. Really, Conrad, for once in your life, show some spine and make a decision. Which is it? You've been hogging the limelight and I'm happy to let you have it. Choke on it. As far as the SUV, I left your stupid toy here in the parking lot."

The expression on Conrad's face left no doubt I'd confused him, so he switched tactics. "I don't want him here," Conrad said, sliding back in front of me and walking backwards. "He threatened one of my guests, and he has no business here while I'm burying my wife. He goes. And you're lying because my SUV certainly isn't in the parking lot."

I stopped and made him walk back to me when he didn't stop when I did. "Well then, we're even; I don't want you here, either," I assured him. "Once again, you think you're in control of me and my friends. Disabuse yourself of that idea right now. I do as I damned well please; and no one tells one of my friends that they have to leave my mother's funeral." I stepped up into Conrad's face and forced him back a step. Inside, a quiet part of me marveled at my reaction. Margot called me "the bulldog" when one of my friends was threatened. Again, it illustrated to me how Tony defied all my expectations and fit into my life anyway.

Thinking of Tony, I lowered my voice so as not to give Conrad another scene. "Rod was being an ass and deserved to be thrown out of my room," I continued without pause. "And if you don't want to be thrown into a hearse, you'd better get out of my way. If I make a stink and someone calls the police, I may not get my way, but I will guarantee you a three-ring circus that'll make you wish you'd never been born. As for your SUV, maybe it was towed, or better yet, stolen. I say 'good for the crooks' though it can't be worth much, as cheap as you are."

His face paled as he snarled and dithered.

Before I could see if he had a pair or not, Daddy stepped into the hall with Melissa beside him. Daddy was frowning like a thunderhead, and Melissa was shooting cold daggers at me with her eyes. I guess she'd hoped for a late-night meeting with Tony. She was ambitious; I had to give her that.

"Young lady, I am shocked at your behavior," Daddy growled. "I don't know what you're thinking, but threatening a guest of mine is inexcusable. So is running off to have an all-night orgy with a man you just met the night before your mother's funeral." He shifted his gaze to Tony. "I shouldn't have expected any better from the likes of you. Leave. You're not wanted here."

Tony didn't seem at all bothered by Daddy's disapproval. Or Conrad's. He looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

I shook my head. "He stays. Whether or not I slept with him is my business, Daddy. I don't tell you or your wife who you can or can't sleep with, so I'd appreciate the same courtesy. What happens in Vermont stays in Vermont, you know, unless the two of you would like to change the rules?"

Melissa flushed and her cold eyes heated with rage.

Daddy's expression didn't change. "Don't try to change the subject. We're speaking about you and your unacceptable behavior."

He didn't seem surprised when I said Melissa cheated. Interesting, but irrelevant.

I smiled sweetly. "But Daddy, I'm just being a good little daughter and following in your footsteps. All I've ever wanted was to be like you. If you don't want your philandering or your wife's sleeping with people like Rod to be brought up, then leave my sex life out of this."

"I don't sleep around, and neither does Melissa," he said in an almost apoplectic rage.

His denial about his own behavior fell flat for anyone who knew him. As for Melissa, who knew what he believed? A better question was who cared?

"You've pushed me as far as I'm willing to go." He leaned in and I had to force myself to stand my ground. "That trust fund of yours and the settlements from those men you used and dumped might keep you in a comfortable house, but I know you want more. You want to be rich. I know your mother left everything to Conrad. If you continue to humiliate me this way, I'll cut you out of my will, too." His voice dropped to a harsh whisper as he wound down.

This wasn't the first time he'd played this card to good effect. I felt my heart rise into my throat. He thought using his money as a threat was what would motivate me. He never seemed to get that it was his approval that made me do what he wanted. I had to make the choice now between pursuing a relationship with a man, one that would probably end in disaster, and making Daddy happy.

Daddy's hard glare told me I didn't have the luxury of time, either. I had to make that decision right here and now. Should I follow my heart or my mind? Was there really a choice? As always, he held all the cards.

Then I remembered what Tony said yesterday. The past defined us, but we could choose to break the cycle. If we were willing to accept the pain and start again. Karma or redemption? Right now, I was at the cusp of two very different futures. One with Daddy's approval and one without any close family at all. I took a deep breath and made the most important decision of my life.

"Take your inheritance and shove it, Daddy. I never wanted your stinking money. I wanted something you can't give me. Come on, Tony." My voice was astonishingly level and somehow I wasn't shaking like a leaf.

Daddy looked stunned and Melissa looked triumphant as I pushed past them and into the funeral home. Conrad looked gay but that was probably natural. Now I noticed all the people around that had been staring at the confrontation, and I couldn't decide if the fact it would spread like wildfire was good or bad.

I went to the front row and sat down with Tony next to me, staring straight ahead.

What had I just done? Was I right? Wrong? Stupid? All of the above? I felt my breathing start to speed up and the tears threatened to overwhelm me.

Tony took my hand in his, and I looked at him through my unshed tears. "I'm so proud of you," he said quietly.

I stopped a maniacal laugh in my throat through brute force. "I've just walked away from the only family I've ever known."

He nodded. "Just like I did. Now you don't have to fit into the mold of what they expect and demand. You can be who you want to be now."

That brought a small smile. "I already have a reputation for doing what I want in spite of the consequences."

"I didn't say free to do what you want, Regan. That's not the same thing as being free to be who you want to be."

I pulled a tissue from my purse and wiped my eyes. "I guess I don't understand the difference yet."

"We've got years to figure that out," he said confidently.

"We? Planning on being around for a while?"

"For a while," he agreed with a smile.

Conrad came up and sat stiffly down the bench from me as the minister walked up to the podium to start the funeral. I finally noticed that I hadn't seen Rod. I worried about where he was and what he was doing when I couldn't see him.

Nothing could be done about that now. Giving my attention over to the service, I ignored Conrad, though I felt his gaze on me several times.

-----

I cried through the funeral, but it went as well as that kind of thing can go. Many people got up and spoke about all the good things my mother had done, and how she had blessed the people around her. Some of it was real, but the rest of it was well-meaning tripe and posturing. All too many people said the right thing only so they could be seen doing it.

Near the end, I stood up and made my way to the podium, cutting off Conrad before he could walk to the microphone for the final eulogy. Conrad sat back down abruptly and glared at me.

Since I'd decided before the funeral not to speak, that must have surprised the minister but he took it in stride. I suppose he'd seen it all at these sorts of things. Looking out over the crowd, I felt the rising tension. They expected something bad to happen. I imagine that meant that word of my telling Daddy off had already made the rounds.

I smiled at Conrad and then at Daddy for a moment. Then I focused on the crowd as a whole. "Everyone's spoken about all the good works my mother did in her life, but I don't think they've touched on the core of who she was. Let me tell you about my mother. She was a flawed woman."

At the swift inhalation of breath, I smiled a little deeper. "Yes, flawed. As flawed as we all are. Some more flawed than others." I spared a glance at Conrad without being obvious about it. "In spite of her own flaws, she loved me in spite of my flaws. She loved me, and I love her, still. Maybe that seems a little off topic from all the grand stories here this morning, but it's what's important to me. Despite our personal failures, we could love one another in our own ways. I'll miss you, Mom."

Wiping my face, I resumed my seat. Tony slid an arm around me and held me reassuringly close while Conrad walked stiffly to the podium and made the most pompous speech, seeming to focus more on him than her. Typical.

The minister closed the service and thanked everyone for coming. That seemed to cut loose the crowd and I again broke the rules and walked to my mother's casket one last time. I kissed her face and whispered goodbye. Then I walked out with my back straight and my head held high.

Outside, I'm sure Conrad would have done something nasty if I'd bothered to stop and try to speak to him. But I blew past him without pausing. Daddy and Melissa were already in the parking lot and he stared at me for a moment before deliberately turning his back and climbing into his car. Melissa's grin was predatory as she followed him. I tried to pretend it didn't hurt as Daddy turned his back on me.

"Come on," Tony said, leading me to his Rover through the dispersing crowd. People avoided me as if I'd caught the plague. "Time to go get roaring drunk."

"That sounds like a grand idea," I agreed with a sigh. "Drive on, MacDuff." I was glad I wouldn't be flying back to Knoxville for the burial. After all that had happened, I just couldn't bear to go and see her put in the ground. I just couldn't. Perhaps that is why she insisted that her will be read here tomorrow morning. Maybe she knew me better than I knew myself.

-----

Stopping on the way back to the hotel, I managed to find a bottle of François Villard St. Joseph Blanc 1996 and Tony snagged a bottle of Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. That beat the hell out of the crap in those stupid mini-bars.

When we made it to our room, we saw the light blinking on the phone. "Get that, will you?" Tony asked as he set the bottles on the counter.

I dialed the desk and asked for any messages. The perky female voice that answered set my teeth on edge, but I just asked for the messages.

"No messages, ma'am. We had a package delivered for your room," she said.

"A package?" I asked, surprised. "What kind of package?"

"It looks like a box of clothes," she said cheerfully. "A man left it for your room this morning."

"I'll be right there," I said and hung up before she could respond. "I think we need to shift hotels."

Tony shrugged. "That's fine. You go get the package. I'll pack and pick you up in the lobby in ten minutes. Just check us out."

With a nod I left him packing and walked to the office. The woman looked just as disgustingly perky as she sounded.

I presented my ID and room key and she handed me a cardboard box.

I took it and opened the lid to glance inside at the contents. It looked like my clothes and small personal effects. On top was an envelope with my name on it. I tore it open and scanned the short note.

Neither you nor your friend is welcome in my home any longer. Don't come back to my property. - Conrad

I crumpled the note. "We're going to be checking out early."

Unperturbed, the cheerful clerk nodded and processed us out. I stepped outside and went through the box in detail while I waited for Tony. Under all the clothes was another of Rod's vials. I gritted my teeth in rage, poured it onto the ground, and scattered it with my foot. Then I crushed the vial under my shoe. That asshole.

A minute later Tony pulled up and I climbed in. "Where to?" he asked.

"The Hilton," I said. "If I'm going to be disowned, I can at least celebrate in style. And they have rooms with a Jacuzzi tub."

He shook his head and smiled at me. Without another word, he drove to the Hilton.

-----

The Hilton and I had a real history. If you looked at it from the right perspective, that history was both good and bad. At least one incident had been both at the same time.

I shook my head and scattered the gathering thoughts. Tony was right. The past was the past and I couldn't choose to undo those long ago events, even if I'd wanted to. To be honest, considering how blissfully happy Gina was now, I wouldn't change that night one bit, even though I regretted the pain I'd help cause that night.

In the end, that strength and independence of Gina’s was worth all the pain she'd endured, even if I was sometimes mystified at her taste in husbands. Still, he made her happy and if that's what she wanted, it's what I wanted for her. I didn't have to understand. I just needed to love her. I did envy the happiness she'd made for herself, though.

A glance and a smile back at Tony reinforced how life sometimes took a left turn and tossed all our plans and expectations on their heads. Maybe I needed to reevaluate my opinion about Gina's husband, since I had to re-examine everything in my life. Even knowing Tony as little as I did, he and Gina's husband seemed to have a good bit in common. They were both in good shape, but more importantly, they had a similar strong self-assurance. I found the similarities a bit disconcerting and just a little bit ironic.

With a laugh that drew a surprised look from Tony, I walked quickly into the lobby and straight up to the desk clerk.

"I need a suite with a Jacuzzi," I said, sliding my ID and credit card over.

-----

An hour later we were safely ensconced in a nice suite and sitting naked in the Jacuzzi, sipping on our drinks. Well, he was sipping and I was closer to gulping. I expected him to tell me to slow down or something, but he didn't. After the first glow hit me, I slowed down and watched him from beneath my eyelashes.

"Aren't you afraid I'll drink myself into a stupor?" I asked.

"I wouldn't say 'afraid', but I am worried about it," he admitted.

"Then why aren't you stopping me?"

He smiled and shook his head. "If anyone deserves to get falling down drunk tonight, it's you, and I won't stop you. If you do, I'll make sure you get safely to bed, so don't worry about it."

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