Out of the Past Pt. 03bymadam_noe©
Claire was shaking, still in an erotic fugue. This was what she feared, why the past three years for her had been a desert. Nothing with a lover was ever simple and with Sebastian it would always be hot, fast, and painful.
Damn it, that had been everything she wanted, every dark, hot, stolen fantasy. Yet it was better than she could have thought. Better and worse, of so much worse.
"What am I doing?" She asked the mirror as she heard the door shut, Sebastian stomping out.
This was exactly what she feared. Kellners played games, always playing. It was how they made their money, how they destroyed competition, and how they controlled one another. It was simple: she needed money, and this family executed the trust owed her. Any other family on earth would sign it over or take her to court. Sebastian had instead told her it was liquidated and gone, he would replace it, but only if she was his whore for twelve days.
It spoke highly of their methods that she had even agreed to it. A truly strong, independent woman would have laughed in his face and stalked off. Not Claire though, those twelve years in this clan had warped her. She needed to escape and she needed to do so now.
There was an old account from her high school days, it wasn't much but it would help. The original bank had been bought out, that one bought out, but she could probably still access it. If she had enough for a plane ticket, she was good.
Claire washed her face and put on the new casual clothes she'd bought hastily. Tying her hair into a ponytail she stuffed the rest of the clothes into the duffel bag she'd bought and then checked her purse. It was early enough Luisa wouldn't be in yet, and so she slipped out the door unseen.
Freedom again was so close. She slipped on her sunglasses against the early morning light. Claire was sick of running away, she wanted something to run to. That was truly her deepest fantasy.
Sebastian rubbed his fist with glee as his uncle slumped in a chair, cradling his cheek. "You're a fucking madman!"
"I'm not the one who tried to force myself on a young woman I raised like a daughter!"
"What are you talking about!?"
At his wife's voice they both yelled out to leave them alone, and Michael took advantage of the distraction and stood, running behind the bar of his study to pour a drink. His cheek was scuffed his short dark hair mussed, and his eye was blackening already. "She's lying, that little bitch always lied. I'd say ask her mother, if her mother wasn't dead."
"She lies? You drained her trust fund!" Sebastian wanted to pummel him, but he wanted answers more than anything. "If she's lying, why did she leave us that night, scared out of her mind? She disappeared for two years before grandfather dragged her kicking and screaming back. The second she finished school she left, and she showed up here with nothing but the clothes on her back."
Michael shifted his jaw and slammed back the martini he'd poured. "Do you think I haven't kept tabs on her? Angela Johnson was the name she used, and she lived in Toronto. Do you know what your precious little intended was doing? Hell, I won't tell you, it'll be more fun to ask her.
"She's back now because she knows you forced me out. Try as you might the charter still states there have to be two Kellners in charge of the company. She knows even in this economy the company's posting record profits and figured, 'well gee, Ferdinand once wanted me to marry Sebastian, maybe I'll just go an seduce him and walk away with half the company.' Sound about right? She seduce you yet? Not hard, you'd fuck anything barely female, and she's certainly more than that. Tits are better than ever."
Sebastian was standing outside himself, watching in slow motion as his body vaulted the couch and his fist slammed so hard into his uncle's face Michael's head snapped back and crashed into the shelves of liquor. Bottles fell and burst open and he was down, punching again and again.
Someone screamed and tiny hands were on him, it was his aunt du jour that snapped Sebastian back into himself. She was screaming, there were words, but the buzzing in his ears was too loud. He shoved her away and stood stiffly.
All those years, it made sense now. His uncle, that evil pile of filth, had tried to violate Claire. No wonder she was scared, babbling that night. Stupidly, so stupidly even for a seventeen year old boy, he had thought her trembling was just nerves at his touch. He had enjoyed the rush of power, seducing her.
Stalking out to his car he realized he wanted to punch himself. That night a scared girl who trusted him had come to him for comfort, to wipe out an ugly memory. With no clue he'd been rough and selfish, and then when she had begged him to leave he'd missed the terror in her eyes and refused. For twelve years the hurt he'd felt at waking alone had festered and now he knew it had not a single goddamn thing to do with him.
Sitting in his car he punched the steering wheel so hard his hand ached. He'd been a fool. Claire had been swept into the world of the Kellner family and suffered nothing but abuse and manipulation. She had come to him for help and he'd failed her. Twelve years later she comes for help once more and what had he done but play games, manipulate, and abuse her.
She was right. He was the worst of the bunch.
The city had changed in twelve years. It was cleaner and shinier, quieter and louder, and grittier and more sinister than she remembered. It was a pulsing thing, alive, but it was no one's mother; Chicago was a tempestuous lover on her best day, and today she was not letting Claire go.
She walked to burn off her anger, but Kenwood was a long walk to any transit of note. So she wandered aimless and angry. After a time she had to ask herself just why she was so angry. She knew Sebastian's game, and he hadn't done anything outside of the scope of his game plan, there were no true surprises.
She stopped and hefted the duffel higher on her shoulder. Claire was angry at herself. She'd known his game, she had thought she could play to win, but there was no way, was there? It didn't matter how much he had changed, he was still Sebastian.
Hell, now that she thought about it the seeds were always there. He'd been a quiet, serious child who always had to have his way in games. When they had begun spending time alone, experimenting, he'd always been the one in charge. Her memories were colored, but the love she had felt then was for a pigheaded, obstinate, pain in the ass. These days he was still exactly that, with a little bit more life experience behind him and an added touch of arrogance.
Still he'd stopped when she'd asked. He'd been a caring lover, if demanding beyond belief. He'd taken her in when she'd needed a place to stay, fed her, clothed her, trusted her alone in his home. Hell, he'd offered up his money to replace what of hers had been stolen.
There was goodness in Sebastian, just enough to keep her there ten more days. She would do the best she could, but focus on survival.
Strained to a breaking point she realized she was outside a little mom & pop shop with signs in Spanish. Inside she dug out a twenty and asked for a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. She hadn't done this in three years, but packing the cigarettes down came naturally.
Without thought she pulled out two and turned them around, sliding them back in, the "good luck smokes." With shaking hands she lit one and took a long puff. The feeling was familiar, comforting and- oh, god!
In a scant row of bushes she threw up, cursing whoever had decided to light a plant on fire and smoke it. The burning cancer stick fell as she emptied her stomach and after she was left panting. Back in the store she bought mouth wash and a travel toothbrush kit and cleansed her mouth in an alley.
When she was done she realized she'd seen the same Camry pass by for a third time, with a single driver, likely male. In the past forty-eight hours she'd forgotten the mess that had sent her running, and stark fear gripped her. She'd escaped him, there was no way he would be there, he couldn't have found her.
She turned back and went the way she'd come, and the blue Toyota turned at the next corner. She kept up a quick pace, her hand on her shopping bag white-knuckled, and walked with great strides, her only thought getting to safety, and safety meant Sebastian.
Damn it, if she went south a block she could catch a bus to the train to get downtown where he'd be at work, or she had a mile and a half back to his house. The Camry turned down her street and without thought she ran. The car came abreast of her and the driver's face was obscured by a scarf, but he looked right at her and terror screamed through her. Thinking quickly she doubled back and ran into an alley.
Tires screeched and she cut through an empty lot, running blindly. She ran zigzag through streets and alleys, yards and lots, kept pumping her legs until her lungs burned and she found herself at Sebastian's house.
Panting, defeated, and determined, she found the spot on the wall she could climb and through her duffel over, staring back at the street for any sign of the Toyota.
She heard her name just as she vaulted over and when she landed to her surprise strong arms caught her, cradling her. "Sebastian!"
"What the hell were you doing!?"
"Put me down!"
To her relief he did and she straightened her clothes and bent to grab the duffel, but he beat her to it. Opening it he saw the clothes and his expression turned thunderous, but there was pain in his green eyes. "You were leaving, again. Why did you come back?"
"I- Just-" She sighed and growled in frustration. It was all too much and she realized somewhere long the way she'd dropped the bag, cigarettes and all, and cursed viciously.
"Claire, what is going on!" He grabbed her arm and steadied her.
If he was the man she thought, the boy she'd known, she had to take the chance. So with a steadying breath she looked up at him and risked it all. "Someone is trying to kill me."
He'd said nothing but brought her inside. The duffel had been given to Luisa and he'd ordered the housekeeper to put the things away and make some hot cocoa. He'd dragged her to the living room and bundled her into a blanket on the couch. It was a light fall day, hardly cold, but Claire was shivering with fear and exhaustion.
Luisa served the cocoa as he built a fire and was ordered to pack away her clothes and retire for the day. Only when she had drunk her first mug and the fire was roaring did Sebastian turn. Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, his ponytail mussed, he looked nothing like a powerful CEO playboy, and more like a cross between every woman's fantasy and every man's nightmare.
"Tell me about it."
Clutching her second cup of the warm liquid, Claire remained snuggled on the couch, wearing the heather colored blanket like a cave. "I know this cop, we eat breakfast together. Toronto, I live in Toronto. Her name is Sharon and she's nice, chats about cases.
"This mobster came up to start over. He'd been on trial back in the states but every witness turned up dead. Sharon used to update me about the investigation over breakfast. She was excited, working with the Mounties, it's pretty similar to the FBI. She wants to work for them and undercover was exciting."
Sebastian remained sitting by the fire, working to keep his expression calm. Inside his emotions were rioting, a swirling mix of anger, guilt, and fear. What he had seen in her eyes at her confession had cut him deep. She was a woman on the edge, and all he had done was push her further.
"They got Morelli, that's the mobster. They got him, but he had witnesses. And again they started to disappear. It was a hit man, a good one, but somehow they knew it wasn't the one from the U.S. but a new one. He had no witnesses,, not until almost four weeks ago when someone saw his car, a distinct Mercedes.
"I have a little anonymous apartment in a tower that faces another. There's a man who lived one floor up and directly across. He used to fuck women, a different woman every night, sometimes two or three, and he- I-" She took a deep breath. "He knew I was watching, I think he liked being watched. Just five days ago while I was watching a man came in, shot him in the head, and shot the woman with him.
"I was watching, my apartment dark, he couldn't have known. I watched him get into his car, and it was the Mercedes.
"I told Sharon and she was so excited. A big break, the one that'll get her into the Mounties. I want to help her, she's my friend, but-" She took another steadying breath. "I could swear the hit man looked at me. My lights were off but it was like our eyes met. I just got this feeling I had to leave.
"Sharon and I were supposed to meet on Monday but Sunday when I left I took one bag. I had enough I could have stopped here or just gone wherever, but someone was waiting for me, following me. He- he shot at me. So I left my suitcase and drove to the airport and at the last minute booked a ticket to Chicago through New York. I came here looking for Ferdinand and, well..."
His eyes were thoughtful but his expression was neutral, spurring her on.
"Today, I w as angry, and I was leaving. I stopped off to buy some things and this car, a green Camry circled the block three times. I saw it and ran and it followed me. I ran all the way back here."
With that Claire shut down, huddling in the blanket, waiting.
Sebastian was a mix of emotions. Anger, rage, fear, and longing combined to perplex him and he took several deep breaths before speaking. Even then, he didn't know what to say, so shut his mouth. She hadn't come back to try and take half the company, nor had she come back for him. She really had been there for her money, to escape.
Still...for all that had passed between them in the last forty-eight hours, he didn't imagine it was cold and calculating. No, only on his end, he thought with a wince. History was repeating itself it seemed. Claire was in danger, loathe to confess, came to him for help, and he'd been monstrous at best.
It was time to do the right thing.
"I lied about it being twelve days. My uncle did empty your fund, but the business is doing well, quite well. I can get you the money tomorrow morning, it's getting late in the day now. Just stay with me one more night, that's all I ask. Tomorrow I'll get you that money and bring you to the airport myself. We share a jet with a few other businesses, keeps costs down, but take it somewhere, anywhere, and then get a commercial flight from there."
Claire heard his words but what made her heart trip was the disappointment behind them. Surely this had all been a game, he'd even admitted it. Lying about the time it would take to get her money, and for what? To seduce her, overwhelm her, claim her like some barbarian bent on conquest?
"Why?" Her voice was soft, nearly a whisper.
He stood then, looming above her, his expression guarded. "With all we have ever shared between us, do you need to ask me? I know now how I failed you those years ago. I won't do it again."
"All right. I'll stay."
His hands momentarily clenched into fists at his sides but Sebastian forced them to relax. "I'll cook tonight and we'll figure things out."
She could only nod. Claire had been through the emotional wringer so any times she was feeling numb. Her legs still ached from the run and the adrenaline had bled out, leaving her weak. "I'd like to take a nap now."
He moved quickly and she found herself in his arms. Instinct told her to fight it, to claim independence, but she was tired and he showed no strain as he walked them to the stairs and up. She was so exhausted that she made no complaint when he headed for his room and not the guest quarters.
He deposited her on his bed and untangled her from the throw blanket to stand there, watching her. Despite it all Claire felt a small shot of lust at his beauty. Sebastian just leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, then turned and left.
Blinking in confusion Claire relaxed and chose to let sleep claim her. She had taken some very large gambles that day and only time would tell if they would pay off. Still, why did it hurt that his response had been to find a way to get rid of her faster?
Torn and confused, she closed her eyes and sought the darkness.
Messy, it was messy. He hated messy. There was a checklist he always had to go through, but this one had such limited opportunity. The only time he'd found her alone and it was late at night in her car, sneaking a cigarette before going home to her sister and brother-in-law.
One shot to the head through the open window. The traffic in the nearby distance had been enough to cover the muffled pop of his gun and no one had come running. This one was a puzzler. Would they connect it to the other deaths? So long as the trail followed only those who connected to Morelli he was safe, but this...this was shitting in his own backyard.
On impulse he checked the tightness of his gloves and reached in over the warm corpse for her purse. He grabbed it all, knowing all too well how young punks worked, and turned. Something seemed wrong. The engine was running, lights on. It would bring people too quick. So again he reached in and twisted the keys, turned the light stick.
He'd parked far away but didn't walk there, instead headed for the jerk chicken place that was closed early on a weeknight. The purse went in the trash save the wallet and he walked further east and pulled out the cash. The wallet went into a dumpster behind a car repair shop and he balled the cash in his fist then doubled back the long way to his new car.
He drove to the north of the city until he found an alley with an enclave of homeless. Tossing the bills to the ground he figured he'd let them fight it out. Next he had to get rid of the gun so he doubled back heading for Dundas. A quick stop at the harbor and the clip and bullet in the chamber were gone, then the gun went into trash by the Greyhound station. Let the local cops hunt down every manifest and chase their tales. By the time they connected this to the rest he'd be long gone.
There was one last task to complete. Morelli's list was clean but his was not. The girl, now in Chicago. He had a man on her and she was isolated in a big house. Security went both ways and worked better at keeping the neighbors out than people like him.
He had to keep up appearances but soon he'd be free, and Claire Willoughby would be dead, letting him retire with a perfect record.
Claire woke to the sound of old jazz filling the echoey house and the smell of something delicious. She brushed the cotton from her mouth and took a quick shower, reflecting there were few things in the world a hot shower wouldn't cure.
Still, something made her use Sebastian's shower and not the one in the hall, and she couldn't help but remember when they were in there. The way he had teased her was maddening, but her body heated at the thought. The way his strong, callused hands had stroked her so slowly, massaging, cajoling, sensitizing every last nerve.
Claire found her own hands wandering that path, desperate for more sensation. All her fear, her anxiety...it only disappeared when Sebastian was around, driving her crazy in an entirely different manner. It seemed for all she had hardened her heart, her body needed him still.
On that thought her hands dropped and she turned to let the wondrous showers heads rinse her off. She didn't have to stay, didn't have to agree to twelve days, so why had she? Claire was a survivor , it was what she did. Angela Johnson was a nobody without the benefit of her education and in three years she'd become a trusted name in information security. She had done that with not a penny to her name, only the clothes on her back, and sheer determination. She could do it again.