Chapter 21

Camille couldn’t help but exhale with pleasure as she stretched along the cool silk sheets. The rich fabric caressed her face and felt decadent as it rubbed across her toes…

Whoa! Silk sheets? Her bed at Carrick’s house had good sheets, better than hospital grade, but they certainly weren’t up to the level of one hundred percent silk. Camille’s eyes shot open, and quickly glanced at the deep blue linens as she made a futile grab for the bedding as she seemed to levitate into a sitting position. Camille allowed a small wince as her ribs protested her rough treatment. She looked around wildly, barely taking in the masculine décor and the high, ornate ceilings before her eyes settled on a damp haired man, calmly sipping, what she guessed was coffee, as he read the newspaper through his wire rimmed eye glasses.

Camille’s eyes glinted as she zeroed in on him. "Just don’t tell me I’m in your bedroom?"

Carrick didn’t bother looking up from the paper, "Okay, I won’t." He put his cup down as he turned the paper and promptly picked the fine piece of Wedgewood up again, his eyes still glued to the page, dismissing her completely.

What in the..?

Who in the hell…?

Well! Her mind stuttered.

As usual, the bane of her existence had thrown her off her game, again. All of the sudden she felt unreasonably annoyed that she didn’t have his full attention. She watched for a few seconds while he ignored her, he continued to sedately drink from his cup. She couldn’t help the observations that popped into her mind as she watched him in semi-stunned silence. He seems like the business section in the morning type man, then probably politics followed by Op Ed pieces. The wire rimmed glasses, balanced on his nose, gave him distinguished look. His wet hair softened his etched, classic lines, allowing her to imagine the young boy he may have been.

She couldn’t help but to watch him while he read the fine print in front of him. His long tapered middle finger softly, absently, rubbed the thin paper, while the other curled beneath. Something about that one digit making light circular motions against the page was hypnotizing, mesmerizing, and so damn seductive. Lazily, her mind drifted as she imagined the contrast of his finger drifting along the expanse of her thigh. I really must have had too many blows to the head!

Camille almost fell back onto the pillows with disgust. She was getting hot over a damn finger and some news print. It was ridiculous! It was an abomination! A few weeks ago she would have happily used his face for a dart board and now she was imagining him… Absolutely not. I am not going to finish that thought! Camille yelled internally to herself. Talking about abomination, she wanted to wash her mind out with soap. Those drugs they had been giving her must have been heavy duty, the mind altering kind. It was the only explanation for the crazy paths her noggin had been taking since she had gotten to The Pride.

For all she knew, he was setting her up for another episode of unimaginable humiliation. Was she doing the smart thing and trying to protect herself? No! She was watching him like a school girl whose boyfriend had just made a touchdown and as a reward she was considering letting him get to third base. It just wasn’t right for such a pain in the ass to have such broad shoulders!

Her eyes caught a glint of gold from the corner of her eyes, The room was huge with a masculine undertone-definitely furnished with a "Lord of the Manor" flair. It wasn’t ostentatious, but anyone with any taste could clearly see that everything was carefully placed with a male in mind and "reproduction" was clearly a dirty word. She had slept in a perfect time capsule. The room was a homage to a time long ago, the rich wood gleamed, the textiles framing the top of the bed were crisp. And she smelled him. The essence of him seemed to permeate the room and his scent rose from the sheets. Camille couldn’t help but fall back onto the pillows and touch the fabric to her nose like a kitten in catnip. She couldn’t remember the last time she spent time alone in a man’s presence, let alone in a room with a bed, when she wasn’t fully in control, making sure that her client was getting the service he paid dearly for. It just felt nice to relax and enjoy…

Oh, wait a damn minute!

Then it occurred to her to do a little check. Camille turned awkwardly so that she could see what was going on under the covers. Yep, her pajamas were still in effect and all of her undergarments were in place. She looked across the room to find light, amber, eyes sparkling in amusement over the edge of the paper.

"Sugar Dumpling," His paper seemed to mock her as it shook with his quiet laughter. Camille sighed as she suddenly noticed the deeply carved patterns, directly above her, framing the bed. They were back to that annoying and ridiculous nickname. Carrick continued, "I am not at the point, yet, where I’ll take advantage of anyone who looked like they went twenty rounds with Muhammad Ali." He took that opportunity to turn to the next page of the paper, not bothering to dignify her with another glance. "Just in case you are wondering, that contraption they call a hospital bed is not fit for one human being let alone two. I tried to wake you up to let you know we were going to change venues, but you tried to brain me with your cast. So, I took that as a sign that you didn’t care to be awakened. By the way, you should warn a person that sleeping with you is like wrangling an octopus? You arms and legs are everywhere." Carrick made his comments without bothering to lower the paper again.

Camille felt her hand grip the sheets in an effort to hold herself back from flinging herself at him and his newspaper and snatching it from his hands, or him bald. She used the sheets to pull herself into a sitting position, telling him off really required the up-right position. Of course, right when she was beginning to thaw, a little, toward him, he had proved, again, to be the most egotistical, infuriating man alive. His ego was certainly not suffering from malnourishment. What was more impressive was that there was an enclosure large enough to house it. She glance around the room and smirked at the thought that this house gave a whole new meaning to suburban sprawl. Camille made a mental note to check and see if he and his ego were Guinness Book of World Records worthy.

The man had an unerring ability to shatter her titanium reinforced, cool, façade with just peck at its exterior. Her body tried to sort out her often conflicting emotions, where he was concerned. In the end she settled for quiet resignation. Her eyes followed her fingers, as she forced herself to loosen her grip on bedclothes and try to act casual as she picked at the deep blue sheets with her fingernails. "I guess I should be pleased that you at least deigned to attempt to ask me before you tried to take over my body, again." She pointedly stared at the paper, but it didn’t have the same satisfaction since he had yet put down the damned paper to look at her.

Behind the paper Carrick was almost slack jawed with shock. He knew when he moved her he was probably taking his life in his hands. During the night he considered that comforting her didn’t mean that his back had to pay the price, especially when there was a perfectly state-of-the-art bed in a room down the hall. He also didn’t want to remember how soft and warm she felt nestled in his arms. Some laws of the universe required obeisance and a pissed off Camille at any show of authority over her, certainly by him, seemed one of those well settled rules.

Time for a sanity check. Carrick knew he could no longer pretend to ignore her as he folded the paper in his lap and made a sound reminiscent of a nurse coddling a patient of dubious mental capacity. "What’s your name and which personality are you?" his asked in a patronizingly patient voice.

Her gaze had dropped from his barricade of the written word and she had been looking around the bedroom, her eyes silently cataloguing the touches of taste and wealth that were stoically standing guard. She answered, "Camille Montgomery and whaaat?" before his question registered. Camille looked at Carrick in exasperation, "Damn it, why in the world are you asking me my name?"

"You seemed a little slow this morning; that, coupled with your multiple personality disorder, I just wanted to make sure that your, TAKING OFF YOUR BANDAGES WITHOUT YOUR DOCTOR’S PERMISSION didn’t loosen up something critical, allowing grey matter to ooze out of your ears.

Oh yeah that- he noticed the bandages. Camille couldn’t help but to avoid his eyes. She had really tried to comply, but she wanted to see the damage. Everyone had made sure that mirrors were out of her reach. She assumed it was Carrick who had the mirror in her bathroom removed. She could deal with the damage; it was not being able see it-having someone keeping it out of her reach that was making her increasingly more restless. She also had a bone to pick with him about what she saw under those bandage.

"You asked him to operate on me?"

Carrick looked at her like she had truly gone over the bend. "Of course! Michel had torn you apart. Jake did his best to put you back together."

Camille shook her head, clearly he didn’t understand what she meant. "You had him fix my face." Camille had unwound her bandages the evening before, and made her way to another bedroom suite for a mirror, to confront the clear evidence of plastic surgery.

Carrick looked puzzled at her question, "Jake explained all the damage to us. You wanted Malcolm and me to leave you like that when we had one of the best surgeons in the world ready and willing to repair it all? Jake told us that some of it had to be corrected immediately, to bar the possibility of it healing incorrectly and additional damage from scar tissue forming. There wasn’t even a hesitation for Mal, he didn’t want you to have to face…"

"Myself" Camille finished the sentence while she searched his eyes for a moment, wondering if he truly didn’t understand. "Well…neither of you had the right. I got myself into this mess and I am responsible for dealing with the consequences. I appreciate the ‘big, strong men running to my rescue’ sentiment, but I allowed myself to get entwined in this mess and I have to face the consequences."

Carrick appraised her with barely concealed annoyance. "You act like we snuck in a boob job." He spat out in disgust. "First of all, I have an excellent command of the English language, so it has been a long time since someone has had to finish my sentences. I was going to say, ‘what they did to you.’ Secondly, I am not sure if I should pull out my rolodex and get Oprah on the phone to stage an intervention, or should I just call you on your bullshit." He pretended to think about it for a moment. "You know what? I think I will go with the latter, you’re really full of shit, you know that? "

Camille’s eyes widened with incredulity. She was pretty sure she knew how this conversation was going to go, but this sure as hell wasn’t it. The ridiculous part was that she had this insane urge to check her chest to see if she really need breast augmentation surgery-she had never had any complaints before.

He barely paused as he continued, "You know when I first entered your house the first thing that I considered was that this lady is a sociopath or something. When I got into that little room of yours, I my assessment of you was pretty much in the bag. No matter what I felt about you one thing is absolutely sure, you are one freakishly smart lady. Remember, I saw you in action-you take on the roles you play and you take them on completely. So don’t go fucking up my carefully drawn conclusions by saying something stupid like you deserve what they did to you."

Camille opened her mouth to respond, but Carrick got the jump on her.

He held out his hands as if to silence her. "Please, you are really at your best when you are silent. I am just going to hope that it the withdrawal from all those drug that is making you sound like an idiot." Then something seemed to occur to him and he dropped his hand on his lap as he bowed his head.

With his laser beam eyes off of her, Camille had a chance to breathe and consider how she lost total control of the conversation.

Then Carrick suddenly stood up, ripped off his glasses and strode to the edge of the bed. "Tell me you are not that crazy? Just tell me that you wouldn’t be that horrendously stupid?"

Camille had no idea what he was talking about, but she knew the topic had changed. Carrick looked lethal in his anger and his eyes pinned her to the bed.

"It occurs to me that maybe I am still not giving you your due. I can’t call you mind bindingly brilliant on one hand and then giving you the credit of intelligent lettuce on the other. Camille, please tell me you didn’t get on that boat knowing the consequences. Knowing that you were going to get the shit beat out of you, but also knowing if you survived it you would probably be free of them and also free of the FBI. Broken goods wasn’t going to be any good to anybody, right?"

Camille felt wetness on her face. At first she thought he had spat on her, he certainly seemed mad enough, but the wetness seem to refresh itself, sending constant streams across her cheeks, pooling along the crease of her nose and dropping from her chin to her pajama top. She was bluntly honest. "I don’t know." She took a swipe at the moisture that was engulfing her face-her silent tears. She couldn’t remember the last time that she had cried. She couldn’t look at Carrick, so she focused on some point past her toes. "I got lost within myself that night, I lost her. That night was supposed to be the end. I had been working on Michel to have an event gathering all his partners for months. All I had to do was get the evidence that the FBI wanted and I would have been free. My friends would be safe." She took a ragged breath as she searched for the words to explain. "In all the ladies that you saw in the room there is one person who is brings them all together-the executioner. She makes it happen. She is the part of me that doesn’t have any judgments and can do what must be done. She knows what is right for each "date." She can size up a situation in minutes. She calculates."

Camille saw Carrick step back in her peripheral vision. She tracked him while he walked back to his chair and sat heavily. "I don’t have a death wish, but seeing Mal that night, being with you and him on that balcony, I was wiped out. I did something so simple in its asininity that it is almost funny. I fell asleep. I woke with Lucien in the room and it was apparent that Benny had seen everything and had told Lucien everything he saw on the balcony. Michel told me that my existence was no longer of any interest to him, but he let Benny do all the heavy lifting."

She sighed and finally looked at Carrick. "Did I want to die that night? I don’t know. What I do know is that all my defenses failed me and I just wanted it all to be over."

He look directly at her for a long moment, probably judging her veracity.

Then she thought to add, "You know I am a little tired of you telling me that I’m a crack pot. I have had to deal with my life with all of its strangeness. You may have noticed that money may not buy you happiness, but it certainly bought you a few more choices. For others of us not so blessed, our choices have been a sight more limited.

"Do you need violin accompaniment for that sad song?" Carrick offered dryly as he pantomimed a musician playing the instrument.

Camille couldn’t help herself. She gave him a long, well earned, middle finger salute. Somehow he brought out all of her childish impulses. She turned as if to ease her way to the other side of the bed, when she suddenly stopped. Her mind indulged in an instant replay of what he was wearing, or more accurately…what he wasn’t wearing.