Duplicity Ch. 02bypartial2passion©
First of all I really have to apologize for how long it's taken to post chapter 2. It's always my intention to write as fast as possible because I hate keeping my readers waiting. Unfortunately I didn't count on just plain old stuff happening. First I needed to get a little distance from the story and write something else. Then a bunch of "life" happened (some of which I'll include in the other stories I'm working on). THEN I just had a major block with this story... I had no inspiration to write whatsoever. I kept second guessing myself and kept changing things around. But I'm glad to say I'm back. I hope you enjoy this chapter... it's is mainly an intro to a new character. So hang tight the story will unfold and come together in the next couple chapters. Thanks to honeybree for her great editing. Thank you for taking the time to read and don't forget to comment and vote. ;) -- p2p
Layla Coldwell was having a mild panic attack.
As a wedding planner, her job was to remain calm, collected and methodical. While her clients and their families fell apart with the stress of a wedding, she was there to pick the pieces up and execute the job flawlessly. The ever skilled professional, her clients only had great things to say about her. Although behind her back she was dubbed "the Enforcer."
At the moment she was breathing deeply and willing her panic attack away. She hadn't had one in over a year. This was a high profile client and she couldn't afford to screw it up.
Jason Bane found her through a reference and called to tell her about his upcoming nuptials. She jumped at the opportunity. This would be great for her newly launched event planning business. She thought he would say their wedding date was at least 6 months from now.
She nearly coughed up her tongue when he said the wedding was in one month. It did help that there was no limit to the budget but honestly it would take an act of God to pull this off. But her panic attack symptoms came when she found out she would have to fly out for the wedding.
She did not fly. There was no way she could do it. There was no way she would do it.
But then again... this was Jason Bane's wedding.
This was the type of client she needed for her portfolio. Any wedding planner would kill for this account. The needs of her business overrode her insignificant fears. She would just have to suck it up and deal with it.
When the man finished talking, it took her a total of ten seconds to respond despite her insides being twisted into knots. Still, like a cow walking to its slaughter, Layla accepted and booked the first plane out.
Immediately Layla went into planning mode. She needed to have some ideas already in mind before she arrived. She thumbed through her digital albums to see some of her latest wedding events.
God, she hoped his fiancée wasn't a snobby bitch. Unfortunately, it was almost always the case with high profile clients. Gold-digging whores burrowed themselves into these handsome men's bed and bank accounts.
The last bride Rebecca Whitmore was a piece of work. She'd throw tantrums like two-year old without a toy at playtime. How could someone hate everything and love everything at the same time? In the end, Layla's blood, sweat and OCD made the wedding a vision of perfection.
However, Ms. Rebecca Whit-Whore never saw it. She drained their sizable joint bank account and ran off with the pool boy the night before the wedding.
After it was all said and done, Layla felt mostly bad for the groom. He was so clueless; still trying to get her back. It was depressing really.
So Layla was fortunate the Bane account came through when it did, since it was a chance for her company to move on from that scandalous wedding. Hopefully the Bane wedding will be a straight-forward subdued event...
At the JFK airport counter, Layla nervously re-organized her boarding documents.
Tucked away in a labeled folder, all the documents faced the same direction in alpha-numeric order. She created a manual with emergency numbers, U.S. embassy locations, travel checks, contingency plans and a multi-language dictionary.
Her packed luggage was even more painstakingly detailed. On the left side, her clothing was perfectly color coordinated, ironed and compartmentalized in labeled waterproof pouches. Her large planning binders were tucked on the right hand side. She had everything in digital form as well but she found some people preferred the feel of a real book and photos. So she was prepared for whatever personality she'd encounter.
She nibbled on her perfectly manicured nails and fretted about the trip. She wanted to kick herself at the flight she chose. She thought she could manage her little fear of flying problem by getting there slowly, with several layovers. But that was just delaying the inevitable.
Her flight trajectory went from New York City to Heathrow airport in London and then towards Athens; where she would take a ferry to the island of Santorini towards the Bane estate.
As Layla waited to board the Boeing 747 she took a couple of heavy sedatives. This would help her catch up on some much needed sleep and would ease her nerves. She needed to be completely alert and on point for this event.
The airplane cabin was completely full and felt stuffy even though it was really quite spacious. Layla made sure her carry-on luggage was securely stowed away in the overhead compartment. She felt there needed to be at least 6 inches of space between the surrounding luggages.
Before sitting, she sanitized her seat's arm rest and asked the flight attendant for 3 blankets and 2 pillows. Her decisive tone brokered no argument as to how quickly she expected it in return.
When the flight attendant returned, she was surprised to see one of the blankets was to be used to cover the seat's headrest.
"Germs spread with little encouragement." Layla coldly answered the un-asked question.
The attendant pursed her lips, gave her a sarcastic slight nod and walked away.
Finally, Layla graciously sat down over the freshly laid blanket and the other blanket she modestly placed over her legs.
She sat very still; her shoulders and neck were perfectly aligned.
Some of the surrounding seated people stared at her with interest. She definitely seemed out of place. Her upturned nose and etiquette was uncomfortably proper for the setting.
It felt as if the royal family sent a representative to take note of the sloppy ones.
Layla turned her body to the left and then to the right.
Her long shapely legs were crammed into the space. She adjusted her navy blue pencil skirt while she sincerely tried to make herself comfortable. The crisp white button down shirt held a sharp contrast with her cinnamon colored skin. Just hint of modest cleavage graced her top and a long ultra-thin gold chain with a small pendant laid snuggly between her full breasts. Her shiny long black hair glimmered in the overhead cabin light.
She felt her eyes drift as the attendants made the usual safety announcements. She hadn't been sleeping because honestly she never really slept well. She chalked it up to stress from starting her own business. But in actuality Layla was a worrier. A tightly wound, human organizer... had been since puberty.
Situations never got out of her control and she thrived in achieving the impossible. Hence her appeal as a wedding planner.
Sitting in her assigned window seat, Layla wondered when those delightful pills would kick in completely. She wanted to be out cold by lift off. It's so frustrating when your body is slowly shutting down from exhaustion and yet your brain doesn't want to cooperate.
Every time blissful sleep almost took her, she was awoken by the sounds around her.
A couple seats up, some older ladies talked in loud voices. The pilot announced something about speed and altitude. A flight attendant accommodated an obnoxious passenger. Whatever it was, there was always something depriving Layla of her sleep.
At the moment there was a crying baby sitting right behind her. It was amazing how powerful that infant's lungs were... the piercing sound rang directly behind Layla's ear.
It was like a gut-wrenching concert accompanied by the melody of the mother's soothing voice.
Undoubtedly the child was fiercely fighting sleep... even though it would swiftly come regardless of its effort to stop it.
Layla knew the feeling because at the same time her subconscious battled sleep... even though she desperately needed it. She covered herself with the remaining blanket, stuck her headphones in and rested her head on the window.
The baby's high-pitched wails, the mother's comforting voice and Layla's playlist were in unison...
And curiously the combination of sounds brought Layla the most comfort.
As her half-lidded warm brown eyes stared out of her small window... blackness engulfed the night. She squinted and tried to make out anything distinguishable. The plane's wingtip lights twinkled as if in response.
As her eyes adjusted, she caught her reflection in the window and it disturbed her...
She shut her eyes tight and braced for lift off. There was a sudden need to focus on breathing. She felt herself tense as she gripped the arm rest. It was her body's feeble attempt to initiate a panic episode.
Control... that is how things are fixed... control.
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
In through your nose and out through your mouth.
The plane started to move and go faster down the runway. The inside cabin rattled as the plane gained speed. Layla was in a lull and manage to softly smile as the medication took effect.
As everyone else held their breath at lift off, she in turn exhaled feeling lighter as the distance from the ground grew greater.
The last images she had before sleep overtook her were vivid and familiar...
It was the back of a girl with braided brown pigtails who wore a pink lace summer dress. The 7 year old turned her delicate brown cheek to the right and let out a high pitched scream; just as a massive explosion filled the bright clear morning sky.
It wasn't until the flight attendant firmly shook her that Layla finally awoke. Looking around she realized there was no one left in the aircraft but the cleanup crew. She felt groggy but was grateful for the hours of sleep.
Gathering her carry-on bag, she aimlessly walked around Heathrow airport. She had about 2 hours to kill until her next flight.
For some reason Layla felt completely uncomfortable walking around the London airport. The air smelled gross and the people were rude. Are all Brits like this on their own turf? Everyone looked at her like she had the plague. What the hell? Hadn't they seen black people before? That was stupid, of course they had; there were plenty around. She just couldn't understand their behavior.
One woman even had the audacity to point and whisper to her husband while staring right at her. The older woman made eye contact with Layla but pointed to her own head and made circles by her right ear. The universal sign for crazy.
How rude she thought. Layla just rolled her eyes and walked away. She was not going to stoop to her level and respond.
Layla would certainly not return to London if that's how they treated Americans. They can just stuff their tea and crumpets where the sun doesn't shine!
Before boarding time, she found her way to the restrooms. When she was washing her hands, she checked herself out in the mirror.
And there on the right side of her head was a solid clump of a light colored substance. Upon further inspection, Layla was hit with the rancid smell coming from it.
"No-no-no-no-no! Aww fucking hell!"
Apparently at some point during the flight the crying baby behind her was kind enough to leave some of his regurgitated dinner... in her hair.
No wonder the funny looks she got from people... How embarrassing!
How in the hell did she not notice this before? She was fastidious about her appearance, never having a hair out of place. And here she was walking around an airport for over almost 2 hours with a chunk of vomit on her head. During which the only thing she felt was a growing paranoia for the British. Maybe those pills were more powerful than she thought.
Now she had to deal with washing it out but didn't have any products on her... since she had to pack all liquids in her checked bag. And to top it off she only had 10 minutes to board her plane.
In the end she made it all work with the restroom hand soap, a bobby pin and a little hand lotion. She put it up in a messy bun. Maybe she could stop somewhere and wash it thoroughly before boarding the ferry in Athens.
The only good thing is that the whole ordeal had distracted her with the fact she had to shortly board yet another plane.
As she was in line to board the flight to Athens, a man standing behind her in line started laughing. It was a hearty laugh and it fit the man's image. He was a burly man with rosy cheeks.
"I'm glad to see you finally cleaned yourself up, love."
"Yea well, no thanks to you." Layla replied. This man had obviously seen the embarrassing situation on her head and chose to remain silent.
"Hey, I was going to tell you, I promise. But you had this stern look about you. Like you didn't want to be bothered." The man shrugged his shoulders. "I thought I'd let you be."
Layla muttered under her breath.
"Didn't mean any disrespect love."
Detecting sincerity in his voice, Layla exhaled. "It's alright. This trip has been kind of a nightmare so far. What's a little baby throw up to seal the deal right? Actually, you're the first person I've talked to since I left the U.S."
"Well, we can't have that now, can we? Henry Moore, at your service." He said extending his hand.
Layla politely nodded and shook his hand. Of course his name was Henry; he looked just like those portraits of an older portly King Henry VIII. All he needed were the crown jewels and a costume with those puffy sleeves and tights.
"I'm Layla, nice to meet you too."
"So are you traveling for business or holiday?"
"Business, I'm an event planner and I'm off to plan a wedding. You?"
"I'm on holiday. I'm headed to the island of Mykonos to relax a bit."
By this time they were already advancing in line, boarded the aircraft and were looking for their seats. They realized they were only 4 rows down from each other. Before the flight was underway, Layla looked back and noticed there was an empty seat next to Henry. She got up and made her way to him.
"Mind if I join you?"
"That would be lovely. Please sit; perhaps we can extort some tea out of the attendant. I hate traveling alone for this very reason, it's so boring. How has the flight been for you so far?"
"Not too bad."
She didn't want to get into the fact that she was barely holding it together with her little problem of flying. She had forfeited taking meds because it was a shorter flight and just didn't trust those sleeping pills. So now she was grateful for any friendly distracting conversation.
"So a wedding planner? I for one don't believe in marriage, you can thank my ex-wives for that."
"Well, I guess it isn't for everybody. You can usually tell how long a couple will last. Usually the more lavish and bigger the wedding, the shorter the marriage. The wedding planning sometimes lasts longer than the marriage."
"Is that so? You sound like it's all a mathematical equation. Bet you've guessed how long this wedding will last..."
Layla snickered, "Maybe I have. I give these people 6 months."
Henry shook his head and tutted disapprovingly. "So young to be so cynical... Why do you do it, love? The wedding planning, I mean."
Layla sighed. "For some reason, I happen to be good at it."
"Oh bullocks, I don't buy it. I'm sure you could do anything but you chose this? I know it can't be easy with those satanic brides and their bloody family members. Out with it, why do you plan weddings?"
Layla sported a neutral face and wasn't budging on an answer. Normally it would've been easy to dismiss such an intrusive man. But for some reason she rather enjoyed his company.
"Are you married or dating anyone?"
"Henry... that is none of your business."
"Ah! You see there it is."
Layla rolled eyes but answered. "Okay okay, maybe deep down... I might be... a little tiny bit of a hopeless romantic."
Henry leaned over and whispered, "Don't worry I won't tell anyone your secret."
Then he let out a booming laugh. He laughed so loud you would've thought he was watching a comedy show. Regardless of the annoyed looks from people, he didn't have a care in the world.
Although Layla thought there must be something seriously wrong with him, she couldn't help but be a little envious at how carefree Henry seemed.
Soon they heard the captain's announcement to prepare for their arrival. Layla was relieved. They exchanged email addresses and wished each other well.
Layla was anxious to arrive and get herself cleaned up and refreshed before she boarded the ferry.
In the baggage claim area, she was starting to get nervous when everyone else's suitcases had come and gone but hers remained unseen. She anxiously waited and waited... when at last the luggage carousel stopped moving.
This can't be happening. This just can't be happening.
But there her lonely luggage was tucked away as if hiding in the corner. Someone had grabbed it thinking it belonged to them and never put it back on the conveyor belt. Layla breathed a sigh of relief.
She gathered her belongings to leave and found the ferry ticket counter. The ferry ride would take about 5 hours but at least it wasn't flying.
Layla looked out from the ferry to the beautiful island of Santorini.
What a gorgeous place... She inhaled the pure air. Although this had been a travel nightmare, she really was grateful to get out of New York City for a while. She left her cat with her mom; hopefully Kitty will be alive when she gets back. God knows, the chances are 50/50.
Reaching the pier, she expected a chauffeur to emerge with her name on a sign, but she saw a sleek black Mercedes sedan approach.
She caught her breath as Jason Bane in all his glory got out of the car.
Layla had only seen his picture in Forbes' World's Most Eligible Billionaire Bachelor list from last year. As the sun hit his perfect skin, he stood at his full impressive height of 6'4". His piercing gray eyes could quite possibly stop time. That chiseled face was almost pretty but reeked of masculinity. His dark hair had errant waves that curled by his ears. His powerful and confident stride advertised his status.
It should be a sin to look like that.
Oh God Layla, get a grip. You can't drool over the client... Focus.
Jason walked around and opened the passenger side, extended his hand and withdrew a small mocha colored one. That's odd, Layla thought. When he pulled out the presumably bride-to-be, she wasn't at all what Layla expected.
Layla thought Jason Bane's fiancée would be a stick thin bubbly blonde with a huge rack. But instead this woman was curvy and chocolate. She wore a simple teal maxi dress and long hair adorned her face in soft curls.
If it wasn't for the shiny rock on her left hand she'd have a hard time believing it. Layla thought Sienna was pretty... but for Jason Bane, she seemed a little plain.
But Jason held the woman close as if she were the most precious thing in the world. She smiled in his direction and Jason seemed like he couldn't help but lean over and give her a soft kiss.
Layla sighed and silently swooned to herself. Well at least these two are really in love. Why are all the good ones always taken? She thought.
"Layla Coldwell?" Jason asked.