New Kingdom: American Court Ch. 01byMicKay©
The locator panel displayed the elevator's slow descent and apparent pause at each floor. At 7pm, the last shift change had occurred and those employees of the Children's Hospital, who had just completed their work day, were making a hasty exodus from the building. As the elevator's doors opened, the rush of people poured through the exit barely noticing the single female waiting for the car that would transport her to the tenth floor executive offices. Alena Madyson smiled at the Pediatric ICU Director who acknowledged her presence while the crowd otherwise ignored her.
After the commotion settled, Alena was able to catch a lift and begin her solitary ride to her last appointment for the day. Glancing at the mirrored panels, she groaned at the reflection of the tired, gaunt features staring back at her. Was a thirty-three year old professional woman supposed to look this haggard? Obviously her choice of the plain gray suit and white blouse was not the most eye catching attire but her entire wardrobe consisted of similar pieces with only slight variations. Her dark brown hair was severely pulled back into tight twist garnished with a mechanical pencil, that she swore she had lost earlier that day, and her brown eyes, which once resembled melting chocolate, now contained a mixture of colors reminiscent of a toddler's first attempt at finger painting...ugly. Although never a slave to fashion, Alena had once been described as attractive, a natural beauty with rich dark coloring and a curvaceous petite body. One man had called her beautiful. Well, maybe others had thought her beautiful, but only one man's opinion had ever mattered.
But now, as she stared at her pale reflection, Alena thought she looked closer to her mother's age. The flashing thought of her mom reminded her of the painful loss that had dominated so much of her life. The untimely death of her parents forced an eighteen year old Alena to become a legal guardian of two younger siblings. Her brother's disabilities may have limited her social life, but her love for the boy had replaced the need to be with anyone, with the exception of that one man.
Harnessing her thoughts, Alena remembered how her parents had taught her that family should be revered above all else. Had she not followed their examples while caring for her brother and sister? Was she not placing her family as priority when she tried to explain her life to that man, the explanation which was a major cause their separation leaving both angry and hurt, so that she could be with Tony during the final stages of his illness? And how had she failed her sister, Lia? Had she not worked hard to provide the best private schools money could buy? In the end, Tony died, the man left, and Lia was still missing and classified as "presumed dead." If her parents had lived, would Tony still be alive? Did she fail as a surrogate parent in keeping Lia safe? In her heart, she knew that her self-pitying was unfounded. Every year that Tony had lived, the doctors had declared as an exception. And Lia had boasted of her party girl lifestyle reminding Alena that she would never be the girl left behind, crying over the one that got away referring to the man who had given her older sister hope that fairy tales do come true. Unfortunately, the fairy tale was replaced with a vow of never being subjected to that pain again.
Eight years ago after an investigation by the Office of Inspector General, the executives of the Children Hospital were escorted out in handcuffs by FBI agents and the hospital was soon purchased by the American Kingdom Foundation. Although corporate CEO, Edward King, had never stepped foot in the pediatric units, his financial generosity had kept the healthcare provider's doors open.
"Oh yeah, I'll take big fat donations over cheesy PR appearances any day," Alena had boasted to her staff.
But Edward King was anything except invisible. Female colleagues joked about getting their daily fix of the King thanks to the various local newspapers and TV news stations. He always appeared diplomatic, considerate, and gorgeous. Attending every elite function that the city's night life offered, Edward would pause at the entrance of an establishment to speak to a reporter and always mentioned the needs of the hospital. Impeccably dressed, he was always accompanied by two standard accessories: 1) a beautiful woman whose pale perfection complimented his dark features and 2) the man, who looked a mythological god from the Mediterranean, standing in the background, not as an onlooker, but as the friend, brother and guard, ready to sacrifice his life for Edward's. The day the Foundation assumed ownership, that man, Gabriel Philandros, was announced as the hospital's new CEO.
On the first day of his command, Gabriel walked into the executives demanding to speak to the Director of the Finance Department. When Alena arrived at his beckoning, they started a tedious review of the numerous accounts so they could present accurate financial statements to the board. After a few weeks of late nights filled with his questions and her answers, their conversations started shifting to more personal topics regarding family, hobbies and travel. In a matter of days, the professional communication converted to playful banter that started with her innocent observation about his late start in the work day. When he finally revealed his true nature, Alena sat quietly staring at him. Certainly, his expression confirmed that he was not joking. But as she studied his face, she vowed that he was not only the best looking man she had ever seen but also the best looking man that ever lived. Well, not lived but existed. In addition, she discovered that his gorgeous looks were also fearsome and silently spoke of the destructive power. The observation did not change her feelings for him because their bond was too strong. That bond had promised an eternity of happiness but ended with a lifetime of miserable reminders.
As the elevator neared her destination, Alena snapped back to the present consumed with her loss – Tony's death, the man's rejection and Lia's disappearance. In addition, she had liquidated every asset and had borrowed on every credit card to pay for the private investigators who had promised to find some clues to her sister's location. In the end, they all had the same report of "no leads, cold case, presumed dead" and Alena was left alone and in massive debt.
A generic chime brought Alena from her thoughts and to the realization that she had finally arrived at her destination. While the majority of the administrative work force was beginning their weekend, Alena was reporting to a summons that had appeared on her MS Outlook calendar. The executive team on site consisted of the Chief Nursing Office, Chief Operations Officer, and, her immediate supervisor, the Chief Financial Officer. The latter would be the only bastard inconsiderate enough to call a meeting at 7pm, Friday. As she walked down the corridor, Alena reminded herself that she had no weekend plans, no family waiting for her arrival and she would have probably worked late anyway.
Stepping into the executive suites always disappointed Alena on the misuse of the hospital's scare funds. The children's hospital survived on the dedication of employees who cared more for their mission than their paychecks. The clinicians gave the love and devotion that patients and families needed to endure horrific diagnosis, procedures and, sometimes, death; while the ancillary staff served the patients by protecting the financial assets, monitoring expenses and maximizing profits. Everyone worked together with the exception of the executives. Noting the décor with usual distaste, Alena wondered if an interior designer was kept on retainer. With each step, the heels of her shoes would sink into the lush carpet making her pause to question if she should remove the offensive accessories. Mentally scolding her subjection to this hedonistic squalor, Alena approached the only occupied desk in her line of vision.
"Hey, Frieda," Alena greeted the executive assistant, "I have a meeting with Steve. Is he in?" she asked looking at the closed door to the CFO's office.
"Sorry Alena, Steve's not here," she said while gathering her personal belongings in obvious preparation for her own departure. "You should have made an appointment or at least called before just dropping in", Frieda reprimanded.
"Ok", Alena stiffly replied at the terse comment, "maybe I'm supposed to meet with Debbie or John. My calendar had a generic post to meet in the executive suites. Are either of those two here?"
"No such luck. Are you sure you have the right day?" Frieda paused in her packing to look at Alena.
"Lately, even I would question my judgment, but the Outlook reminders informed me of this appointment. Since the executives are the only people with access to my calendar, would you please check to see who made the request?" Alena asked. "I know you're ready to fly but apparently someone initiated this meeting."
"O-kay," Frieda mumbled logging on to her desktop. "Oh my," she said in a wide eye stare at her monitor, "When did he get here?"
Frieda's head jerked up to blink at Alena in a mouth gaping stupor.
"When did who get here?" Alena repeated feeling nervous at the change in the woman's demeanor.
"Me", said the silky, baritone voice from the entrance to CEO's suites.
Drawn to the voice as the ancient sailors were to the sirens, Alena turned to stare at the man. The onslaught of memories and emotions caused instant heartbeat acceleration and shortness of breath.
As though he had materialized from her recent thoughts, Gabriel Philandros slowly stepped towards her. Watching him approach, Alena noticed his eyes roam over her entire person and an odd look disappearing almost as quickly as it formed.
"Oh God," she thought, "Was that pity? Would he actually stand there judging me as pathetic when I've lost everyone? He must wonder at how he ever called me beautiful when eight years has caused so much damage."
Searching for any sign of his deterioration, Alena dropped her eyes to his feet noticing the apparently expensive wingtips that were worthy of the suite's luxurious carpet. She notice the perfect crease of the hand tailored slacks that ascended up his long legs to the narrow, belted waist obstructed by the matching suit jacket wrapped around the largest chest and soldiers she had ever seen. "A year's worth of my paychecks wouldn't pay for his clothes", she mused. Finally bringing her eyes above the knot of his silk tie, Alena stared into Gabriel's black eyes. She did not need to look at his face to remember that his lips were full and soft. She had kissed him enough to have their description permanently etched in her memory. She had stroked his face enough to have phantom feeling teasing her finger tips now of the size and muscles of his jaw. She knew that even in her heels that the crown of her head did not reach his shoulders but could intimately snuggle on his chest. She would tease him asking how he could ever care for a woman who couldn't look him in the eye.
"Easy," he would quickly reply, "You reach my heart."
"So many memories for such a brief..." Alena paused on her thought, "time? friendship? romance?" It was so much more than days on a calendar. The bonding of friendship that instantly bloomed from an offhanded comment progressed into teasing, laughing and confiding to each other as though no one else existed in the world. But the romance did not last long enough to consummate into the physical relationship they both wanted.
Her thoughts finally shifted to the present. "No good in resurrecting the past," she reminded herself. "Although it would have been civil of him to remember that eight years would have deteriorated me some, while he would still be gorgeous after eight hundred years!"
An amused gleam in his eyes and lopsided smirk reminded Alena that her thoughts were not always private. Steadying herself, she reinforced the mental walls perfected by hours of practicing an ancient discipline. Gabriel's smile disappeared and his eyes hardened in acknowledgement of her withdrawal.
"Gabe, uh", Alena stuttered, "Lord...Mr. Philandros, welcome back to the hospital. I wasn't aware that you were returning any time soon, so I hope we haven't missed any important notices about your arrival," she directed a questioning look at the Executive Assistant. "If you wish to see any financial statements, I obviously don't have them with me now," she lifted her empty hands from her sides, "but I can have them too you within the hour. I just need to go to my office and ..."
"That's not why I'm here," Gabriela interrupted.
Summarily quieted, Alena waited for him to explain.
"Frieda," Gabriel turned to the poor woman who was obviously torn between ogling the good looking man and worrying that she would have to extend her work week by a few more hours. "I requested the meeting with Alena this evening but not will require your assistance, so you may leave when you wish. Have a good weekend."
The next sixty seconds were filled with the sound of Frieda's quick, random gathering of personal belongings, goodbyes, and hasty exit from the executive suites.
After several more seconds of silence, Alena asked, "Why did you need to meet with me?"
"I have news regarding your sister," he replied.
"My sister?" How could he know about Lia? Her disappearance had not justified even the smallest blurb in the local papers. Although she had shared the issue with other hospital employees, they had barely seemed concerned and certainly did not forward the information to the CEO who had been physically absent for eight years.
"Come to my office so we can sit down and talk," he requested.
"Is she dead?"
"Alena," her name rolled of his tongue. "Come in my office. Please."
"Gabe, she's been gone three months. I can stand while you tell me whatever you have to say, but the waiting is killing me," Alena pleaded with tears sparkling in her eyes.
"Ok," he hesitated. "She's with us."
"Us? Who is 'us'??"
Eliminating the distance between them, Gabriel walked to Alena and wrapped his hands around her waist to pull her close while he looked down into her eyes.
"She's one of us"
In less time that she would need to blink, Alena was whisked into the CEO office and placed on the large, overstuffed sofa.
"Drink this," Gabriel ordered while placing a glass of water in her hands.
"She's one of you? How...who...where has she been?"
"Alena," Gabriel began, "Your sister will explain it herself. I promised Edward that I would talk to you and bring you to the mansion."
"Edward?" she asked, "Edward King? How is he involved with my sister?"
"Your sister will need explain that but I can tell you that she is considered the true mate of our American king, a highly honorable position for someone of her former human status"
Bristling at the the jibe on her sister's character she shouted, "Of your vampire king in America! And now she's one of you! Who changed her? Him?" she demanded with tears flowing over her cheeks.
"Once again, your sister will explain everything. I was sent to explain her change and bring you to the mansion."
"I can't go to the mansion. You told me about the mansion and how the place operates. Why couldn't you just bring her to me?"
Gabriel exhaled loudly, running his hands through his hair. Sitting beside Alena he said, "Edward will not let Lia leave the mansion while there is any question about her safety."
"Why wouldn't she be safe with me?"
"The American sector of the New Kingdom is having serious problems," Gabriel turned to face her. "Rebellion forces are killing our allies. Alena, my people and our way of life is being annihilated by those we had once called brothers."
As she processed the words he had spoken Gabriel finished, "Alena, if you go with me, you can see your sister. But you will enter into the lifestyle that you didn't want eight years ago. Whether you choose to change or become a donor, once you enter, you will never leave."