By the Bay Ch. 14

byKillerRomance©

She tucked away the stories she heard about him, just so that she could tease him about them when he returned home later that night.

*

"James! James! Hold on!"

The shouts didn't reach Jay's ears as he strode to his automobile with a single purpose in mind: to find his father's lawyer and get to the bottom of the whole marriage contract business. As he fumbled in his pockets for his keys, a hand landed on his shoulder, startling him. He turned to find a vaguely familiar-looking man standing in front of him.

"I'm sorry but I don't quite have the time to speak to you at the moment. I'm in a hurry. Perhaps you could leave a note with my butler?"

The man cocked his head to the side. "Jay, it's me. Don't you remember me?"

Still looking for his keys, Jay's reply was brief. "Not really."

"It's Ambrose. From boarding school? We were buddies before you went off..."

Recognition dawned and Jay managed to spare a smile for a long-lost friend and room mate. "I wish I could stay and chat, but I'm really in a hurry. Perhaps you could come by another time? I'd love to do some catching up."

Ambrose raised one blond eyebrow, a slight smile tilting his lips. "That's not why I'm here. I came by to pass you this." He held up a black and white photograph. "This would mean something to you, I take it?"

A blasphemy slipped past Jay's lips. It was a picture of him, Anita and Meera at the docks. Anita's hand was resting on his arm. The picture hinted of intimacy. He swallowed. This could ruin his family.

"Where did you get this?" he asked, his throat dry.

"One of my reporters submitted it to me for the gossip column."

Jay looked at the picture again, then back at Ambrose. "Get in the car," he said. At Ambrose's hesitance, he barked, "Just do it."

Stashing the photo in his coat pocket, Jay pulled out his keys and entered the automobile. As Ambrose seated himself, Jay reversed the car, not bothering to wait until the man had closed the passenger door. As Ambrose fumbled with the door and lock, Jay drove the automobile down the long stretch of gravel that led to his family home.

"Tell me more. Does anyone else know about the picture? Any other reporters?"

"No." Ambrose shook his head. "The reporter who handed me the photograph couldn't recognize you, of course, since you've been absent form the House of Lords since you inherited the title form your father. But I knew instantly who you were. I couldn't possibly let that picture go for printing."

Jay gripped the steering wheel tightly, the stress of the day making him feel like running away from it all.

"Are you very sure about this? I cannot let any news like that leak to the press."

"I know. And I'm quite sure there are no other copies of that picture. In fact, I have the negatives right here in my case." He reached into his briefcase and withdrew the roll of negatives. He passed it to Jay, who put it in his pocket.

"I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am for your help. I wasn't even aware of someone taking our photograph."

Ambrose's smile was filled with pride. "That's because I train all my reporters to be as slick as thieves."

"That must prove to be quite a pain in people's arses sometimes."

"Oh, it is, old boy. It definitely is."

Jay sighed and leaned back in his seat, concentrating on maneuvering his car through the heavy London traffic.

"If you don't mind my asking," Ambrose ventured hesitantly a few minutes later, "Who are the women in the picture?"

"Why don't you make a guess?" Jay said, slightly amused.

"Well, actually, I'm very interested in the blonde woman. She has the look of a gypsy, which is the height of fashion at the moment."

Jay chuckled. "Please never tell Meera, if you ever meet her, what you just told me. She might not be from Britain, but she has suffrage blood. She'd think that you're judging her worth by her looks."

A flush rose to Ambrose's cheeks. "I was, wasn't I?"

"Yes, you were. But she's a beautiful woman. It's a common mistake to make." Jay honked at a peddler who was trying to wheel his cart across the street in heavy traffic. "She's a writer, by the way. A very passionate one."

"Ah, would she be interested in a job at my office? I do have a vacancy at the moment."

"I could ask her if she is. But you have to know that she'd only be interested in the job and not other... benefits."

Ambrose frowned. "Why? Is she married or engaged?"

Jay shook his head. "But trust me when I say that she will not be interested in you."

"A man should try before he admits defeat."

"Suit yourself. I will ask her about your offer, though."

He sighed as the traffic finally cleared and allowed him to drive towards the office district. "Where is your office located? I'll drop you off."

"It's actually quite a distance from here. Where are you heading to?"

"Frederick and Associates on Miles Street."

"Why, that building has been closed for the past few weeks. Why are you heading there?"

The news had Jay stepping on the brakes, bringing them to a halt at the side of the road.

"What?" he asked, shocked.

"The firm closed down a few weeks ago. There was a huge case regarding fraud that was linked to the President, Boyd Fredericks."

"You don't say."

"Yes. I have the full story at my office if you'd like to take a look."

"Give me the directions."

*

"He was fined a thousand pounds for a breach of Fiduciary Duty?" Jay asked incredulously, looking down at the article in The Reflection. "What duty exactly?"

"Well, the press was not alerted of the reason, but I happen to know someone who knows someone who knew the person who sued him in court. Apparently, he was bribed to give his client a 'poor' defence, such that the poor bugger ends up in jail. There was a witness to this."

"A breach of duty, eh? That's just the topping on the cherry pie for me. Where is this bloke now? I'd like a word with him."

Ambrose scratched the slight stubble on his chin, flipping through the notes in his journal.

"Well, I've heard that he retreated to his family estate in Liverpool, unable to bear the shame of the court case."

Jay's fist came down on the table, sending a pencil holder flying to the floor. "What? Tell me you're just joking!"

"I wish I was, old boy. Why do you need to speak with him so urgently?"

"A personal matter," Jay growled low in his throat.

"If you drive at top speed, it will take you about nine to ten hours to reach Liverpool."

"You're right. I have no time to lose." Jay stood, grabbing his keys from the table. "Thank you for all the help. If you need anything in return..."

"The debt will be repaid in full if you ask the girl -- Meera -- to stop by my office one of these days," Ambrose said with a lopsided grin.

"I can't promise that but I'll try," he said as he exited the room. A second later, he turned back and poked his head around the corner. "By the way, if anything -- and I mean anything -- that I told you in confidence today, leaks to your little newspaper or any other newspaper, I will destroy you. Are we clear on that?"

"I'm insulted that you would even think that, Jay."

"Yes, well, I've had a horrid day and feel like insulting people." He sighed. "Do you remember the Bridgewood manor we visited as boys? I'm staying there at the moment. Drop by in a few days if you have time."

Ambrose smiled, remembering the time they had run away from school and hid at Bridgewood so no one would find them. Unfortunately, that had been the first place Jay's father had looked.

"I will."

*

Jay sat behind the steering wheel of his automobile, facing a dilemma. It was six in the evening already and he'd promised Anita that he'd be back at Bridgewood for dinner. He'd already reneged on one promise these past few days; he did not want to renege on another.

But the temptation was strong, very strong, to drive to Liverpool and drag the truth out of Fredericks. The marriage contract was like a boulder tied across his neck. He wanted to clear it up as soon as possible so he could go about his merry way without worrying about complications like Roger and his daughter.

He sighed, letting his head fall back against the seat. It would take him nearly nine hours to drive to Liverpool. Was he going to barge into the man's home in the middle of the night and demand answers? And after, was he going to drive an additional nine hours back to the city? Not bloody likely. At least, not after the day he'd just had.

Slapping a hand against the steering wheel to release some of his anxiety, Jay started the engine. He already knew he was going to do nothing of that sort. Tonight, he would go back to Bridgewood and dine with Anita as he'd promised. Tomorrow -- tomorrow, he'd deal with the mess that was his life.

*

Anita stood and stretched, her hands immediately massaging the sharp pain at the base of her back. She'd been bent over for the better part of the day, arranging the books in the library.

Late that morning, she'd discovered that none of the books in the library were in alphabetical order. The part of her that demanded organization in every aspect of her life was appalled. Thus, she had made it her personal goal to set the library to rights.

However, after several hours, she'd only manage to successfully stack one bookshelf. The library had five more. It would take her days to get the entire library organized.

Sighing, Anita bent to place the rest of the books in a neat stack so they wouldn't seem so cluttered.

She jumped and let out a startled squeak as hands encircled her waist from behind. A kiss was pressed to her neck and she let out a relieved breath.

"Missed me?" Jay asked as he looked over her shoulder to see what she was doing.

Anita looked back at him, a small smile twisting her lips. "Not really," she said, tongue-in-cheek.

He chuckled.

"Saucy," he said, his tone gruff. "I like it."

She turned in his arms. "I didn't know if you'd be coming back for dinner."

"Neither did I."

He stood and helped her up, using her hand to pull her closer to his body. He raised her hands and draped them around his neck. Then he settled his own on her waist.

"I can't believe I've stayed away from you for two days. It's a miracle to me," he said. She smiled, enjoying his compliments.

"I think of you too," she confessed, "all the time."

"Even when you're rearranging my father's library?" he said, looking behind her at the stacks of books on the floor.

She laughed lightly. "Even then."

He stared into her eyes and all signs of laughter fled from her. Her eyes were such a deep, dense blue. It was always hard for him not to drown in them.

"I promised Ruby that we'd all have dinner together."

"Mm" was the only response he received. Her eyes were fixed on his lips and were beginning to glaze over with want.

He doubted any man could have been impervious to that look. He crushed his lips to hers, creating a burst of passion that neither of them wanted to walk away from.

When he pulled away for air, he realized that if he didn't stop now, he would have an embarrassing bulge in his pants throughout dinner.

"We should go," he whispered against her lips. His mind and body were two different things. Even as he was speaking those words, his lips claimed hers, indulging himself with her taste.

He cleared his throat minutes later and repeated, "We should go now."

She nodded and uncurled her fingers from his neck. As she made to move away, he pulled her back into his arms and whispered, "Tonight."

It was a promise that made her blood sing. She nodded. "Tonight."

*

Dinner was a simple affair. The four of them were seated in the parlor where a table had been set up for an intimate dinner. Honeyed chicken and vegetables were on the menu, served with crusty bread and wine. As Anita surveyed the fare, she realized that although British food tasted good, she was beginning to yearn for some spicy Indian curry. She couldn't help it; it was in her blood.

Jay and Ruby dominated the conversation. Ruby wanted to know all about what Jay had been up to over the past few months. Her interest in Jay's life seemed genuine and Jay was happy to speak to her about the progress of his novel and the different sights he'd seen on the island.

As Jay spoke to Ruby, Anita realized that he really respected and admired this woman. Of course, Jay had told her before that he thought of Ruby as his mother, but Anita had had doubts. Ruby, after all, had been his father's mistress. And Anita definitely knew first-hand how mistresses were treated. But the way Jay complimented her looks and spoke about things that would please her showed that he really cared for this woman deeply. It was something new about him that she found she really liked.

Through dinner, Anita chimed in with little tidbits of her own, playfully teasing Jay and making Ruby laugh. Anita found that she liked the dinner arrangement very much.

"Meera," Jay said, and Meera started as though her mind had been somewhere else. "How are you liking England thus far?"

Meera popped a piece of crusty bread into her mouth. "Thus far, I think I've seen very little of it."

Jay cleared his throat whilst Anita glared at her sister. "Well, I do have to apologize for that. There were some pressing business matters to attend to in the city."

To that, Meera said nothing.

"But I do have some good news," Jay continued. Meera raised an eyebrow at that. "A friend of mine who runs a news agency is wondering if you're interested to work for him. I told him that you're a very passionate writer and you have an educational background."

Ruby cut in. "From our talk the other day, I gathered that you wrote fiction, not newspaper articles. Was I misinformed?"

"No, no, you weren't. I do prefer to write fiction, but I can do a good job of writing other pieces like newspaper and magazine articles as well."

"Well, should I tell Ambrose that you're interested then? Perhaps you could work for him for a time after we return from our trip."

Meera took a sip of her wine. "That would be nice."

Anita glared pointedly at her sister, hoping she would get the hint and say thank you. Since nothing was forthcoming, she reached over to hold Jay's hand in hers and gave it a quick squeeze, thanking him in her own way. His other hand covered hers, acknowledging her unspoken words.

The rest of the dinner was spent discussing Jay's travel plans. He planned to take both Anita and Meera all over Europe. He had, of course, been to those places before, but he wanted to see it all again with Anita. They would probably take a few months to visit those places. Ruby was generous enough to invite them to stay at Bridgewood once they returned.

Meera excused herself from dinner early.

"Where are you going?" Anita asked, concerned. She had seen so little of her sister since yesterday and even when she spotted her, Meera was always moping around the manor.

Meera soon began to feel uncomfortable with three pairs of eyes watching her. "Um, I'm going to spend some time with Charlie before bed," she murmured.

"Well, you've become fast friends, haven't you?" Jay asked, cutting off Anita's remark of disapproval. Meera's eyes immediately snapped to his. There had been something in his tone -- just a hint of it -- that seemed to imply that he knew about... it. What did he mean by 'fast friends'? Was he just being his own odd self, or... did he know about her? Had he somehow found out?

She told herself to calm down. It was impossible. She had told no one. It was too personal. She was just being paranoid.

She took a deep breath and gave the party a small smile before leaving.

After Meera's departure, conversation dwindled to trivial things. Ruby asked after Jay's brother, Andrew's, health. As far as Jay knew, the lad was fine. He had his own accounting firm, which seemed to be doing well. Needless to say, Andrew had inherited the mathematical brains in the family.

After half an hour of light conversation, they retired to their rooms. Ruby had to prepare herself for Dr. Harolds' arrival and Jay was itching to get Anita alone again.

*

Once in their room, Anita excused herself to use the bathroom. Jay stripped off his shirt and tossed it onto the settee nearby. Then he went to the window and stared into the darkness in front of him. Without Anita by his side to distract him, his thoughts flew back to Roger and the contract. Would he be able to sort through the mess by tomorrow? Would he be able to find Fredericks and finally get the truth? Was anything going to be resolved? It was a frightening thought. If he didn't manage to prove the contract false, the alternative was almost unbearable to think of. He felt like he couldn't breathe just imagining a marriage as cold as the one he would have. He'd sworn to himself that he'd never put himself through what his father had; he hoped he could see it through.

When Anita stepped back into the room, she saw Jay frowning into the darkness. His lips were pressed into a frown and his muscles were tight and drawn. There was worry etched in every line of his face. She reached out and touched his arm.

He tensed for a moment, then seemed to relax by force of sheer will.

"Is something wrong?" she asked, concern obvious in her eyes. She knew him too well to know that something was bothering him. He was the kind of man to shake off the little worries in life. So for him to appear so troubled... it scared her a little.

He cupped the hand that was on his arm and brought it to his lips. "Nothing's wrong now that you're here."

She smiled even though her worry was still apparent. "You have a sweet tongue. Are you sure nothing is amiss?"

His answer was to pull her close and kiss her. He didn't want to think about problems anymore. He just wanted to be with her. It was the reason he'd come to Bridgewood for dinner.

Being with her made him feel like a simple man who lived for simple pleasures. He left everything else behind and savored each moment. With her, there were no obligations, no stress, no deadlines, no need for pretenses. She liked him for who he was as a person, not as a Duke or an heir or a Lord. That was the most endearing quality about Anita. The acceptance and affection she had for him were the factors that heated his body the most, making him want to give more than take.

It was so easy for him, she thought. So easy to wipe everything clear from her mind. It was his touch, his heat, his scent, the feel of his lips on hers. Every time it happened, it felt like she was coming home. She forgot everything that was not him. She didn't know how he could bewitch her so. Just one kiss, one touch and she'd melt for him. As his tongue dueled with hers, she felt light-headed yet unbearably strong. She wanted more, needed more. But that was nothing new. She always wanted more of him.

He ripped the blouse from her body, sending the white cotton floating to the floor. Her breasts were bare for his ministrations and he caressed them, though not very gently. She whimpered into his mouth, her fingers curling into his hair. The tug on his scalp was a delicious sting.

God, he wanted to get closer to her. The taste of her intoxicated him. The smell of flowers in her hair was most definitely his choice of drug. The feel of her body pressed against him, responding so sweetly... dear god, he thought as a shudder passed through him. He wanted more.

He pulled his lips away and whispered, "Touch me." He took her hand and placed it at the apex of his pants. "Like that. Touch me."

Touch him she did. They'd never really done this before, though she knew of numerous occasions when he'd touch her down there. She petted him through the barrier of his pants, her touch light and teasing. As she stroked her palm across the bulge, his breaths came in short pants against her ear.

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