Lady in Red Ch. 11byHarddaysknight©
When school resumed after New Year's, Ashley Summers asked Steve to follow her into the empty hallway at the beginning of her class. "My friend that goes to the gym where I met Larry called me yesterday. She told me that she heard that he had an accident. He fell down the stairs on New Year's Eve and broke his left arm, a couple ribs, and his nose!"
"Gee, that's too bad," replied Steve in a noncommittal tone. "Maybe he had too much to drink."
"Steve! You know damn well that jerk didn't fall down any stairs. He fell into your disfavor when he struck me. The guy was as strong as an ox and look what happened to him. Please don't make a habit of it, but thanks for worrying about me, and for getting him away from me. I doubt he'll be coming back around anytime soon. You're an amazing young man. I hope you don't get into any trouble over this. You make me wish I was eight years younger and as pretty as Gwen. Thanks!"
"Ms. Summers, The guy's telling people that he fell down the stairs. How would that affect me? He could have had too much to drink and fallen down the stairs like he said happened. Don't worry about me. And," added Steve. "You're a very attractive woman and you don't need to look like anyone else. You'll find the right guy."
Gwen looked questioningly at Steve when he and Ashley returned to the classroom. Steve shrugged and mouthed the word "later" as Ashley explained to the class how she had bumped into a set of weights at the gym over the weekend and blackened her eye. She took some good natured ribbing from that explanation for a little while and then class began.
Steve waited for Gwen after class. "So what did Ms. Summers need to discuss with her hero before class this morning? Was she worried that we'd tell the other kids what happened?"
"I don't think that even occurred to her. She heard that Donner fell down some stairs on New Year's and hurt his arm. She just wanted to be sure I wouldn't get in trouble for it and I assured her that some guy falling down his stairs couldn't affect me."
"Steve, I know your father was a SEAL and you've been around some rough people and places, but is it necessary to use violence to solve every problem?"
"Of course it isn't. You know that as well as I do. But to respond to what you're trying to ask, I don't take advantage of anyone and I don't look for confrontation. But I will stand up to bullies and abusive people. What chance did Ashley have with Donner? What chance would you have? What about your mom with those two creeps? As long as there are people walking the planet, there'll be bad ones that want to control, or hurt, those that are smaller and weaker. That's where guys like me come in. I feel strongly about that. My dad ingrained that in me from the time I was little. Be polite but help those in need."
"Was it necessary to have that scene outside with Donner? He would have left that night and it would have been over with," reasoned Gwen.
"How about Ashley? Are you confident that he would have left her alone after that evening? Don't you think he might've abused her again? I wasn't willing to take that chance. He's a bully. He struck a woman. The only thing he'll understand is pain. He needs to know that there'll be dire consequences if he bothers Ashley again."
"I didn't think about him going back to see Ashley again! She could be in danger if he did. I may have been hasty in thinking you were too rash in confronting him, Steve. I just don't want you to be hurt, or get into trouble. I can see how he could have been a real threat to her. I've got to learn to trust your thoughts and actions when dealing with men, especially bad men. I'm sorry for suggesting that you're too keen on using violence. I saw how you risked your life and almost died to save those two little boys. You're amazing when I think about it. Forgive me?"
"How can I ever be upset with you? I spend my days thinking about you when I'm not with you. You let me determine how to handle the bad men and I'll let you guide me past the bad women. How's that?" asked Steve as he put his arm around Gwen's waist and walked with her.
The weekend came quickly and Saturday morning saw a small caravan leave Sparta bound for the inauguration of the new governor. Lisa had asked Mike Boone to attend the gala with her and they took his car. Steve rode with Gwen, Kate, and their parents. Laura and Coach Watkins took his car while Angela Walker drove out Friday evening and spent the night.
"I mentioned to Amber Stahl that we'd be attending the festivities and that Steve and I would be dancing our dance at the Ball. I suggested that we'd be very receptive to her covering any part of our activities, and less receptive to other news people," revealed Gwen. 'She called me back last night and told me that her station had managed to wrangle a place for her at the inauguration and Ball. She complained that she only had a few hours to get a new gown for the occasion, but she was really pleased that we thought of her.
"Amber O'Leary called yesterday. She said that she had a major department store very interested in her designs. According to her, they were very complimentary about us and were pleased that we were involved in the project. They were really impressed when she told them that we were going to donate all the profits to the hospital fund. She thought that might have been the clincher for the deal. They promised a final decision by early next week. This thing could take off, Steve. How cool would that be?"
"I'm having trouble imagining all of this. If it turns out that it raises money for the building fund, it'll be very cool. With beautiful models like the Anderson sisters, how can this not be a success?"
"I could get used to having this guy around all of the time. He's such a good judge of beauty," quipped Kate. "I wonder how it would have worked out if I had been reading at the mall that day instead of Gwen, and she had been shopping for clothes. What do you think, Steve?"
"If I had seen you first? I guess I would have stopped looking, Kate. You're a living doll. But, fate led me to Gwen first and I can't seem to get past her, and I really don't want to, either."
For the actual inauguration, Governor-elect O'Leary had Steve and Gwen sit right behind his immediate family and in front of many of his supporters and donors. Steve tried to protest the seating arrangements, but Amber quickly ended that discussion.
"Dad has his reasons. Remember, he beat the incumbent, so he knows what he's doing. He's repaying you for saving us, but he's also taking advantage of the fact that you and Gwen are hot commodities right now. It'll be very good public relations to have you as a personal friend, and vice versa. Just sit there, look studly, and clap now and then."
After the swearing-in, Steve, Gwen, and the rest headed for their rooms that Amber had reserved for them at an upscale hotel less than a block from the Governor's Mansion, were the Ball was to be held. When they went to check in, they found that rooms had been reserved for couples, including Steve and Gwen, Lisa and Mike, Ted and Paula, Laura and Coach Watkins, and Kate and Angela Walker.
Ted addressed the situation immediately. "These reservations aren't going to work this way. Paula and I will have a room, my daughters will share a room, Mike and Steve can share a room, and Angela can have one to herself. Laura and Coach Watkins are able to determine for themselves where they want to spend the night. Any questions or complaints?"
"I'm pretty content with things as they are," laughed Laura as she wrapped her arm around Coach's Watkins. "My dad's over a thousand miles away, so I'll be sharing my room with this guy!"
"Maybe one of us could spend the night with Ms. Walker, if she doesn't mind? That would make it less crowded," offered Gwen.
"Okay, I'll take Steve," deadpanned Angela Walker to the shocked gathering. "My father's only a hundred miles away, but I'm sure he'd approve."
Gwen was still in shock as everyone else began to laugh quite heartily. "Ms. Walker! I think we're going to have some fun tonight!" laughed Lisa. "I like the way you think. That was so funny!"
"What? You think I'm joking?" laughed Angela Walker. "Wait until the champagne kicks in tonight."
Amber O'Leary had reserved a room in the mansion for the girls to change their gowns. It was a bedroom in the living area of the mansion. Steve was shown what appeared to have been a large closet where his tuxedos were hanging.
"It isn't much, but you get changed so fast there wasn't much reason to use another bedroom for your clothes. We have a full house tonight. I'll be sleeping in the room the girls are using for their gowns. This is going to be a big night for my dad, and for us. I have a few media people that owe me favors and they'll be mentioning that I designed the girls' gowns and your tuxedos. Gwen said she has her favorite reporter here as well. I think we should be able to garner a lot of good publicity. And, I expect you to save a dance for me."
Steve quickly changed into his first tuxedo for the evening and stepped into the hallway, bumping into Amber Stahl as he did so. "Excuse me, Ma'am. I apologize for being such a clumsy oaf. Are you a supermodel? Here for the festivities?"
"Thanks! I appreciate the compliment, but we both know I'm no supermodel, like your girlfriend and her sisters. I'm just trying to be a good reporter," replied Amber modestly.
"Well, with a face and figure like yours, you could be one of the ladies on Fox News or the Weather Channel. You really clean up well, Amber. I think your combination of smarts, good looks, and hard work will take you pretty far."
"It sure doesn't hurt that you and Gwen keep insisting that I be the one to cover you when possible. I have to thank you for that. It's really given my career a boost."
"It's a symbiotic relationship. You help us get the coverage we need to raise money for the hospital fund, and we'll try to help you climb up to the top. I'll be watching you anchor the evening news some night and feel proud that we started out together in Sparta."
Steve waited for Gwen and escorted her into the grand ballroom. What looked like a small orchestra, or a large band, occupied a raised platform on the side of the dance floor. Steve noticed a computer plugged into a sound system and realized that it would be a simple matter to play recorded music at any time.
"Lisa is a little worried about Mike," whispered Gwen as the couple gazed at the decorations and signs hanging everywhere. "He wasn't very happy that Dad said we sisters are sleeping together. He also told Lisa that he doesn't like her dancing with other guys, especially you."
"I tried to explain to him that the more your sisters liked me, the more you would like me. But that you were the only girl for me. I told him that Kate and Lisa would never betray you and they knew that I was safe to flirt with and tease. I guess he couldn't wrap his head around it."
"It seems to be a difficult concept for a lot of men, but the guy that wins Lisa's heart will have to accept that she loves you, and not only like a brother. The good side of that, for him, will be that if Lisa loves him, so will Kate and I. She needs a confident, mature man, like the one I found."
The festivities began with the governor and his wife sweeping into the room as they were announced. They had the entire floor to themselves for the first dance. When the second song began, Steve took Gwen into his arms and led her around the dance floor. He noticed that Amber Stahl had a much smaller camera than usual as she shadowed them for a couple minutes. After the first dance of the evening, Governor O'Leary stepped to the microphone and welcomed everyone. Then he announced a special treat for the crowd.
"You've all seen the dance videos on the internet. You've all seen the drama of two infants rescued from the frigid waters of the Emerson River. Now you'll have the distinct pleasure of watching, live and in person, my friends, Gwen Anderson and Steve Hammer as they once again perform the incredibly beautiful 'Lady in Red'. Please welcome these two amazing young people!"
The crowd clapped politely until the music began. Steve led Gwen to the center of the floor and took her in his arms and together they danced their dance better than they had ever danced it before. The red gown the Amber had designed for Gwen was sexy without looking slutty. Steve's tuxedo had some red lines along the lapel that matched Gwen's dress. The music was played perfectly and the singer managed a credible job with the lyrics.
Gwen's family watched with pride from a raised area near the dance floor. The governor, his wife Janice, daughter Amber, and Amber's boyfriend stood with them.
"That's absolutely beautiful," gasped Amber. "I've never seen a better looking couple anywhere. They're so graceful, so elegant, so in love. It shines through in every step they take."
When the song ended, Gwen placed both arms around Steve's neck and kissed him on the lips before turning away to face those watching. She flashed a great smile and waved as the ovation went on. Steve managed to keep his smile under control as he took a couple bows with Gwen.
Once the next song began Steve, Gwen, and Lisa all left the room to change for their next big dance. Steve was ready in a few minutes and waited another five for the two girls to return. They returned to the ballroom just in time to hear Amber's boyfriend ask Amber to marry him in front of the entire room. Much to his relief, Amber immediately accepted and jumped into his arms before he even regained his feet. Once again the crowd applauded and cheered.
Shortly afterward, Amber led her fiancé over to visit Lisa, Gwen, and Steve. "This is the incredible Gwen Anderson, her equally beautiful sister, Lisa, and the guy I kept telling you about, Steve Hammer. I want you all to meet my fiancé, Brad Hunter."
"Captain Hunter," greeted Steve as he shook the other man's hand. "Amber told us about you. It's a good thing you proposed to her. Girls like her are always in high demand. You're a lucky man, Congratulations."
"Thanks. I know I'm a lucky guy. You seem to be doing alright for yourself, Steve. You're always surrounded by beautiful women. It must be tough."
"It's a cross I have to bear, Captain. There's no use complaining," laughed Steve.
"I can tell you have a military background. You knew from my uniform that I'm a captain and you address me like an officer. I understand your father was a Navy SEAL. I've had the pleasure of working with some and if I can't find an Army Ranger to watch my back, Navy SEALs are my next choice. They're very good."
Gwen watched the two men interact and realized that was one of the things that set Steve apart from the other kids at school. He was military in his poise and confidence. He was a natural leader. He and Amber's fiancé were very much alike. They were relaxed and smiling, but the steel in them was always apparent. They were men, not boys.
When the dancing began again, Steve found himself with some very pretty daughters of government officials, and occasionally the girls' mothers. He noticed that Gwen and Lisa never lacked for dance companions. Then he saw Kate with Amber's 17 year old cousin and it was obvious the boy was smitten with her. Paula and Ted seemed to have a good time, but Mike Boone was nowhere to be seen. Laura and Coach Watkins didn't seem to miss a single dance and even Ms. Walker was kept quite busy with dance partners.
"You and Lisa are up next," stated Amber as she caught up with Steve after a dance. "Remember that the better the crowd likes it, the better the chances of marketing our line. And if it's really good, it'll be shown on TV and YouTube a million times."
Steve grabbed Lisa's hand and headed for the center of the dance floor just as 'Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?' began to play. Steve put extra life in his steps and Lisa responded immediately. Their footwork synchronized perfectly and Steve's lifts were precise and powerful. Lisa's Spanish style dress showed enough cleavage and leg to garner a lot of admiration from every male in the room.
Near the finish, as Steve slowly lowered Lisa and lingered with her heaving bosom near his face, sighs could be heard from all over the ballroom. Then he placed her gracefully on the floor and they turned and bowed. Lisa sported a huge smile as she wrapped an arm around Steve's waist and hugged him to her and waved with her other hand. She knew that she had performed as well as she possibly could and she felt great. As the applause slowed down, Steve looked around the room.
"I don't see Mike anywhere," worried Steve. "I sure hope he didn't miss seeing you give the performance of a lifetime!"
"You won't be seeing that jealous ass anymore," admitted Lisa as she continued to smile. "He told me he wanted me to stop dancing with strangers, and especially with you. He said he'd leave if I didn't stop. I told him to not let the door hit him on the ass on the way out. This is the biggest, best affair I've ever attended and I want to make it memorable."
"You sure did that!" gushed Amber as she approached the couple. "Brad's brother has been asking me all about you, Lisa. He's in his last year at West Point and he's almost as hunky as Brad. Would you mind if I brought him over? He's a little shy, but he's the real deal."
"Are you kidding? If he looks anything like Brad, I'd be nuts to decline," responded Lisa as Amber hugged her briefly and headed back through the crowd.
"That was incredible!" raved Gwen when she reached Lisa's side. "Steve, you seemed to have some extra flair or something, but Lisa was just burning the house down. That was way beyond smoldering. I'll have to really push our next dance or I'll be the forgotten sister tonight."
Amber suddenly reappeared with a tall, handsome man in uniform. "Lisa Anderson, this is Jason Hunter, Brad's brother and an ardent admirer of your dance skills. Gwen, Steve, this is West Point's best looking cadet, Jason Hunter."
Steve noticed that Lisa was staring at Jason and gave her an elbow to jar her out if her trance before he spoke. "Jason, it's great to meet you. Lisa was just complaining to me that she didn't have anyone to dance with now. Would you mind escorting her onto the floor and dancing with her?"
For his part, Jason never took his eyes off Lisa, even when he was introduced to Gwen and Steve. Taking Steve's suggestion, he took Lisa's hand and started for the dance floor.
"He acted just like I did the first time I saw you!" laughed Steve. "Lisa seemed to be taken by him, too. I wonder where this will lead."
"She reminded me of the time you sat at my table at the mall the first day we met. I just stared at you. I couldn't think or anything," admitted Gwen. "I wondered why an amazing guy like you would waste any time with me."
"You can see why Jason is so interested in Lisa, can't you? You need to realize that you're gorgeous, too. You and Lisa, and Kate for that matter, are uncommonly beautiful. Never doubt your appeal to men. Just try to control it when I'm not around," cautioned Steve good naturedly.
"What about Mike? I almost forgot about him. Where is he? And what will he say?" wondered Gwen.
"He's on Route 66 headed home and Lisa won't miss him for a second. She just traded up about a hundred positions in the draft. Jason has the look of a solid, dependable type of guy. He's almost through West Point and he'll be commissioned an officer soon. I'd say Lisa may have found her Prince Charming."
"He was awfully good looking, although it wasn't very flattering that he never even looked at me. I guess I'll forgive him this time. He sure looked good in that uniform!"allowed Gwen.
Paula and Laura joined Gwen in the ladies' room between songs. "Gwen, do you know who that young man in uniform is that's so attentive to Lisa? What happened to Mike?"