Chapter 20

“Sir the airport just called, their flight just got off on time.” Finally, everyone was out of his house. Well, everyone except one person. He loved having his friends visit, but he was also fine with seeing them leave. Too much of anything is never a good.

“Thank you John, is the nurse with her?” Carrick was in the study, absentmindedly nursing an amber colored drink.

“Yes Sir, but the nurse is packing up her things to leave as we speak.”

Carrick sighed; it was the most recent of the mini squirmishes that he had allowed her to win. The last sane barrier between Camille and he was presently packing her stuff up. Sometimes he just wished he requested Jacob to just put her under for another couple of weeks. That way when she awoke, she would be fully healed and he could send her on her way. The woman was a wonder, she had a busted leg and a broken arm and it was taking him the negotiation skills of Talleyrand to get her to shut-up, stay in bed, and listen to the doctor. Carrick was still beyond bemused. He was used to telling people what to do and them doing it. Even with Mal, he was assured to his lover at least making a show of considering his requests. Camille barely blinked before issuing an obstinate “No.!” She reminded him of a three year old, with a body of a porn star. The only thing that was helping him keep his cool was his daily calls with Malcolm , work, alcohol, and the evenings of watching her sleep. When she was asleep she looked almost stripped bare and unguarded-she seemed both delicate and delicious. Then she opened her eyes…

He didn’t know how long he sat there, looking out the window into the magically light grounds. Outside was a fairyland of shadow and light. He remembered being a child and being allowed to watch the guests of one of his parents’ much sought-after evening parties, and being enamored by the adumbrated figures meandering among paths bisecting the foliage. It was wasteful for him to ask his staff to light the gardens, and usually he deplored waste, but this place, the house seemed to pull him back toward the loneliness of his childhood. Without his friends to distract him, he could almost feel the cold presence of his father sitting stiffly at his desk, going through a mountain of correspondence. The house drew him into the past. The house splayed him bare.

“Mr. Caudwell…., Mr. Caudwell,” a feminine voice reached his consciousness.

Carrick looked away from the windows to find Camille’s nurse…former nurse, standing a few feet inside the room. “Mr. Caudwell, she refused the sedative again. She was adamant that she will not take it.” The nurse seemed uncomfortable; she was actually wringing her fingers. “Sir, I could stay.” The nurse stated in a rush, “She wouldn’t know that I am here, if things get bad I could make sure she has something to help her sleep. The nights are so bad for her.”

Carrick smiled wryly, this is what started the mass exodus in the first place. Earlier, Camille had caught on that Jacob was slipping her some drugs that would help her relax enough to sleep and heal and she pitched a hissy fit. Screaming something about unlawful imprisonment and keeping her and her existence from the people who cared about her. As Carrick indolently leaned against her suite door, driving her even more crazy, he noted a few of things; the color infusing her face from her exertions was doing a lot to diminish the pasty look she had been wearing for the last two weeks, there weren’t exactly a horde of people knocking down his door to get to her, and he had better calm her down before she had a heart attack and Malcolm killed HIM.

That’s when the negotiations began. She laid it all out on the table. She wanted to go home. Camille wasn’t stupid. She knew that he was aware that she kept a place in Manhattan; actually it was a pretty expensive address on the island. He knew that she could barely walk, had virtually no use of one of her arms and still looked like an extra for the movie The Mummy. But her eyes…her eyes telegraphed in every contemporary language that if he didn’t find a solution that was mutually beneficial, she had infinite ways of making his life hell, while she dedicated herself to finding the means to get off the grounds. The woman didn’t know the meaning of the word incapacitated and she would accept nothing less than that he bend to her will. Bend to her will!

And by God he did, but at least he managed some leverage. She was still there, but he had to clear everyone out of the house to keep her there.

She was furious when she told him, “Carrick, I am on display. I feel like some freaky scientific experiment.” Camille briefly touched the bandages protecting her face, “I appreciate everyone’s help but if Lisa comes in here one more time to get me to face my feelings about what Benny did, I really will go insane. I’m fine. I just need a little peace and quiet…a little space. I want to go home.” She ended with a mumble, uncomfortable about the way he was staring at her.

She almost had him. She was a damn fine actress-almost award winning quality. He had been to her condo and there was nothing there worth going over hysterics over. In fact, the place was so startling that he was compelled to take pictures using his phone and send them to Mal. “Sugar dumplin’” Carrick began calling her that soon after she had woken up. With everyone else, she was a sweet as pie. With him, she acted like he was a canine that had tried to dry hump her and then pee’d on her leg. It was enough to say that there was nothing sweet or dumpling-like in her demeanor toward him. “That does bring me back to a really good question. On the Cuckoo meter, where actually do you rate? Unless you’re into extreme minimalism, I can’t see anybody carrying on to go to that, and leave this.” Carrick looked around with obvious pride at the opulence that surrounded them.

Even among the bandages around her face, Camille’s eyes turned to slits. “You have been to my house? Do you even have a passing acquaintance with the term, reasonable expectation of privacy?”

“Sugar dumplin’, you have propositioned my lover, I’ve seen you in little more than a thong, nipple clamps, and another chick between your legs. Let’s not forget the added bonus that I know more than your HMO about your body chemistry. I think we crossed the privacy bridge a long time ago. What’s up with the “nothing on top of nothing” interior design style-you’re not a psychopath are you? What happened on the boat was not you and Michel’s version of the Dating Game?” Carrick pushed away from the door frame and stepped closer to her bed. “That would be a perfect cap to the last few weeks.” Carrick features twisted into thorough disgust.

Camille knew that Carrick was only baiting her. The man obtained a perverse pleasure in making her seem crazy. She could only imagine what he saw when he entered her Condo. The outside her brownstone was simple and sophisticated. She made sure that the façade incorporated all the touches required so that it sent the message of stately elegance. But once inside, it was blinding white. She hadn’t bothered with furniture; she only included drapes so that the space seemed normal from the outside. The kitchen was white, not cream, but blank white. Each room repeated the same theme. No furniture, just white, until one reached the bedroom. She paid a heavy commission for the builders to remove most of her roof and replace it with the thickest glass, so that she could stare out at the night above her head. Her bedroom was as black as the other rooms where white. Her only concession to furniture was a bed and her antique Pleyel Grand Piano, hers very similar to the one Chopin favored. The bed was functional, but that instrument was exceptionally beautiful. It was her heart and soul, but she could not explain that to anyone, least of all The Great Carrick Caudwell.

A thought occurred to her as she whipped her head around and stared in to his eyes. She couldn’t hide her wince at the quick action. The bruises from Benny’s attempts to strangle her had begun to fade. They were like the blooms on a bouquet of roses, at first the color only hinted their extravagance, then after a day or two they erupted with a riot of intense colors. The intensity of the hues surrounding Camille’s neck were beginning to diminish and she was attempting to swallow foods with a consistency of more than a thin shake. Carrick’s innocent countenance did not fool her for a minute. “You got into the rooms on the second floor.” It wasn’t a question; just a statement of fact.

“Yeah, Sugar dumplin’,” Carrick drawled with an raised eyebrow as he sat on the corner of her bed, “I wasn’t sure if I should make a call to John Douglas the FBI Mind Hunter (the agency’s most recognizable Profiler), or Dr. Phil.” Her house had been startling to begin with. He had never been in a space so devoid of stimulation or decoration, even an art gallery, in between shows, had some amount of character. Carr was glad he walked through her living space alone, room after room of white was disconcerting; he had difficulty expressing it to Mal, later that day. That’s why he had to document the experience with pictures. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t bothered to decorate, it was so meticulously, intentionally white that he feared for her psyche. Then he came to the locked door on the second landing. When he found that he couldn’t just force the lock to open the door easily his curiosity got the best of him, he called one of his top security specialist from his organization. Carrick tried to wait patiently while his guy waxed poetic about the state-of-the-art security system. After the door clicked open, he asked his employee to wait downstairs.

It was a closet and so much more. The room encompassed the whole floor and when he flicked on the lights it was like something out of Ironman. Successively, little cubicles were illuminated to depict each little vignette. It was a horny man’s dream. A space devoted to illusion and mystique. And the reason that her working name was Chameleon became crystal clear. There seemed to be at least ten stalls devoted to a theme or scene; one depicting a studious little school girl, another resembled the woman whom he met in he and Mal’s condo a few weeks back, another housed a devious dominatrix , another a femme fatale power broker… Each had a distinct personality, each stood on their own. Each had its own mannequin that held the hair piece for the character, and on its principal costume meticulous attention was paid to all details. Surrounding the still figures were all the other accoutrements the wearer may want to use to augment the outfit; false eyelashes, perfume, jewelry. There were hundreds of choices among each stall, all completely independent of the other. As Carrick walked the length of the room, quietly touching various pieces, he saw each person had their own make-up, undergarments, and accessories. Every color imaginable, every fabric conceived, any make-over show would kill to get their hands on her collection. Every persona was self-contained and the only element missing was the body that gave each character life. Carrick’s felt as if he had entered a morgue. The room was as just as cool and devoid of life as the real thing. The display was more than a little frightening, yet absolute genius. Who was this woman?

“It’s my work.” She stated simply. She didn’t need to elaborate. The both knew what she was talking about.

“You’re a blank slate, except for the fucking for money?” Carrick took a stab at psychiatry.

Camille stared at the fingers of her uncast hand for a few long moments. “I thought I was done. I had the place before…I had to come back,” she responded disjointedly.

Carrick had to push her, he needed to know how broken the woman before him was. “Yeah, I know the FBI impressed you into service, but that doesn’t explain what the hell I saw.” Carrick catalogued her look of stunned surprised that he knew of her connection with the FBI.
“Maybe I knew I would always come back to the life-you know what they say about a leopard changing her spots and all that…When I left the first time I had white washed my previous life, literally, as you saw in my brownstone, and figuratively. “ She looked at him and paused, telling him with her eyes what she believed to be true. “I have never been ashamed about being a Call Girl. I was proud of being one of the best out there, of having made a ton of money, and of investing it wisely. I stopped because I didn’t want it anymore. I was done.”

“So why did you let them pull you back in?” Carrick asked.

She looked briefly frustrated because he suggested that she had a choice. “Because the life was not done with me. The people who had kept my head above water, when I was just learning the ropes were in jeopardy and I was in a position to help them. I couldn’t keep walking away. The one thing I hadn’t dismantled from my old life was the closet, it was so easy to slip back into all my ladies…” Camille stared off over his shoulder. Carrick knew that whatever she saw was not in the room-she was staring at the past.

“Well, where are these people who are so special that you put everything on the line for them. They sure aren’t beating down my door to get to you.” Carrick was oozing sarcasm.

Camille threw him a dirty look. “Of course you wouldn’t understand, not everyone has the strength or the resources of the Caudwell name. Not everyone has superhuman strength like you.”

The bleak expression slid across her face so quickly he had almost missed it. She was scared to death.

“Or you.” Carrick responded automatically and couldn’t help but reach out and lightly trace the “V” between her pinky and ring finger. He felt the shiver of her response to his touch and let his lips curve up reflexively.

Camille’s brow creased with puzzlement as she pulled her hand to her stomach and well out of his reach. The nice Carrick confused her. “Carrick, I have got to go home. Neither you, nor Malcolm is responsible for this mess I’ve made. I am not as helpless as I may seem right now.” For the first time, since that afternoon they met Camille sent him a smile that was for him alone, and its effects scared the shit out of him.

Carrick stood from the bed and walked a few steps to its foot, brushing non-existent hair from his forehead. Finally he turned to her, “What will it take to get you to stay? You can’t possible expect the ‘Wonder Twins’ from the FBI to have the mental capacity to protect you? Besides, when Mal comes home and you aren’t here, he will have my head.”

“It wasn’t their fault I got hurt. I deviated from the plan. I was sloppy.” She countered.

“I’m sorry did I hit a nerve calling your boyfriend a twit? Jeeze, you seem to collect men like my great aunt used to collect snow globes.”

“Agent Marks is not a twit and he’s been as nice as possible to me, he’s a nice bo-man.” Camille looked up sharply as she finished her protest.

Carrick wore a smug smile as he moved close to her side and leaned into her. He closed in on her and recognized that she was helpless to pull away. “Boy Wonder never had a chance with you, did he? But that didn’t stop you from tying him all up like a teenager in an after school special, huh?” Carrick golden eyes lit up with silent merriment.

“Honey we all need an exit strategy, right?” She stared straight in his eyes, making no apologies for creating some leverage for control.

She was hard to the core, and damn but did he appreciate that in a person.

He sat back and looked at her speculatively, “Again, what do I have to do to get you to stay, voluntarily.” making it clear that he would be willing to resort to more unorthodox means to keep her under his protection.

Camille looked at him as if she was weighing his cojones on a scale. She wisely made the correct decision. “Ask everyone to leave. The nurse, your friends –everyone. I can’t do the friendly invalid bit a minute longer. Everyone asking with their eyes questions they clearly won’t ask with their mouths. I will stay for a bit longer but that is my condition.”
Her concession was not good enough for Carrick. He had to make sure she stayed until Mal came home. “Camille, maybe you don’t understand. My help is what is keeping you alive.” Carrick reminded her.

Camille rolled her dice. “Maybe I am just as willing to bet on my ability to keep myself alive.”

“Well then you should fire yourself. You almost got yourself killed.” His next words he delivered quietly, “What about Malcolm, seeing you in that room curled over a pool of your own blood tortured him. Can’t you at least promise to stay until he comes home.” Carrick pressed.

Carrick had delivered the sucker punch and by his expression, Camille knew he was aware of it. She was almost desperate to see Mal again-it was his voice that had drew her out of her coma. She had been so frustrated when she awoke and saw Carrick by her side, not Malcolm. She owed him, and she was so afraid that when it came to payback she would come up short. She was so tired of running. But leaving this guilded fortress and going back to her responsibilities was the responsible choice. Right? Camille also knew that leaving The Pride would also free her from the disturbing attraction she was feeling for Carrick, she was beginning to look for him during the day and she dreams were being haunted by Mal and his golden eyed counterpart, and her nightmares were filled with other things.

Camille closed her eyes briefly as she made her decision. “I will stay until Mal comes back, but I still need a little space. “ She warned, then tried to phrase her next words carefully, “I would appreciate it if everyone was allowed to go back to their lives, I will be okay without the babysitters.”

“Agreed.” Carrick confirmed.

And later that night, there he was, in his family’s vast country house, staring out into the illuminated darkness, missing Malcolm, and wary? It was true, his perfect little life of a few weeks ago had blew up in his face. He didn’t blame Camille or Mal anymore, but it wasn’t any less a fact that the precise structure of his world had been turned on its ears. He was in a house that made him uncomfortable, with a woman who tested him like no other, and separated from the one person who usually soothed his ruffled feathers.

His front shirt pocket began to vibrate. As if by rote, he pulled the flat phone from his phone, not even pausing to see who it was. He was grateful for the distraction from his morose thoughts.



Carrick felt a little of the tension ease up in his chest. “Baby, I miss you.”

“I know. I felt it, so I called. How’s it going?”

“Our not so invalid, invalid somehow got me to kick everyone, but the staff, out the house and now I can look forward to dealing with her one on one.” Carrick stepped closer to the window and brought his arm up to run his hand across the short curly spikes of his hair. Unconsciously, he let he hand rest on the top of his head. “When are you getting home?” he asked with a faint note of desperation.

“I have got a few thing s to finish up here. You are alone at The Pride, with Camille?” Malcolm knew that was a dangerous cocktail. The house always seemed to bring out a melancholy side of Carr. Mal knew that Carr was only willing to stay at the house for such an extended period of time because it was clearly a fortress, a superbly built edifice of protection. But The Pride and Carrick had a love/hate relationship, though Carr was proud of what his family had built, he just couldn’t stand being there for more than a couple of days. “Babe, go to bed. Get some decent sleep. Booze and work is not going to get your head right to handle everything.”

Carrick knew the truth of Mal’s words. He also knew it was time to get down to business “I am going to bed soon, Mommy. When will the packages arrive?”

“In two days. It was a complicated transaction. Are you ready on your end? Mal responded.

“Yeah.” Carrick turned and dropped his hand. Then he pressed the back of his head against the cool surface of the glass behind him.

“Babe, you know we don’t have to do this?"

Carr brushed Mal’s words aside. “No one can trace this to us?”

Mal didn’t want to brag about his new obtained savy as it related to new acquired life of crime, but he was pretty confident in his efforts. “Someone may have an idea that it was us, but there in no way that they could make us legally responsible for anything. I kinda good like that.” He added with a chuckle.

Carrick smiled into the darkness. God how he loved the man on the other end of the phone. “Just get home quick, okay?”

Mal responded somberly, “Caudwell, you know I love you. I am moving as fast as I can to get back to you. Go to bed, and sweet dreams.”

They clicked off. They usually talked earlier in the day, Carrick’s time, he usually had the phone brought to Camille so that she could have the opportunity to talk to Mal too, but this time, right before he made an attempt to go to bed, was precious. Knowing you had an extraordinary connection to another human being was an infinite gift.

Carrick let his thoughts carry him out of the room, up the grand stair case and past a number of bedroom suites. For a moment his steps faltered outside Camille’s room. He thought he heard a sound that was out of place. Right when he was about to continue to his room, he heard a terrific crash. Carr would never be about to exactly retrace his movements, suddenly he found himself in front of an obviously frightened Camille, with curious bits of glass in front of her night stand. His guess was that the Tiffany lamp that once stood on the stand had just bit the dust.

“Oh God! I’m so sorry. I just…I don’t know what happened. That was probably priceless, no less than a family heirloom-I woke up and it was on the floor.” Camille was disheveled, simultaneously trying to push her hair out of eyes while she spoke.

Carrick sized up the situation in a few seconds. Now he knew what the nurse meant when she said she had bad evenings. By the time he came in at night to check in on her, the medical personnel had probably given her something to sleep. With her ban on everyone and everything to assist her in her recovery, she was facing her nightmares cold turkey.

He didn’t say anything as he walked around the side of the bed. The staff could handle the broken glass. He noticed that she had been busy, she had removed the bandages around her head, face and neck.

Camille’s eyes were wide as she watched him make his way to the other side of the bed. Her mouth was going a mile a minute, yet later she wouldn’t be able to recall a single word she had said.

Carrick looked at her quietly, while toeing off his shoes, untying his tie and undoing his shirt. There was nothing seductive in the air as he managed all of his tasks, but somehow she was terrified.

“What are you doing?” she asked panicked.

His glittering golden eyes seemed to reflect in the moonlight. “I am getting into bed and I am going to sleep.” Carrick answered matter-of-factly and he did just that. Pulling the bedcovers over so that he could slide in.

“Carrick, what the fuck?” She started in stunned disbelief. All traces of the fog of sleep were gone. “What?...Where? she had about ten questions fighting to get out.” The most important one made it. “Huh?”

Decisively, Carrick pulled her down so that she was laying within the crook of his arm. With expertise he positioned her so that she was pressed against his warmth and cushioned by his body.

At first her body seemed to sink into his. Then she caught herself and stiffened. This wasn’t right. She didn’t even like him! Then she felt the heat of his breath as he leaned into her ear. “Shut it down Camille. You’re safe and I’m here. I swear I won’t let anything hurt you again.” Camille recognized two things; she wanted so badly to trust him and the sound of his voice in her ear made her quiver.

She would never be able to pin point the exact moment, but in the next few minutes her body made her choice for her, she drifted off to sleep with the sheltering feeling of Carrick’s arms around her.