Diane stared at her reflection in the huge mirror in the luxurious bathroom for the fifth time and sighed deeply.
There she was, naked, hair messy, all those tingles running through her body. In the good old days, she would be walking in the clouds after so much action and emotion. Instead, she felt guilty as hell.
She just couldn't understand how she got into this situation. How could she have done such thing?
Well, technically there was nothing wrong about it. She was an independent, successful woman who shouldn't have to justify herself for having needs. Since he was a successful, handsome, sexy man himself - not to mention Republican - she couldn't be blamed either. Apparently, she had a thing for that type.
She felt tingles again, butterflies in her stomach. It looked like her body was telling her something although her mind was telling a totally different story. Why was she feeling so guilty?
She sighed again. Of course she just couldn't help but remember how this whole mess had started. Was it only three months ago? God, it felt like an eternity. So many things had happen on her life. Apparently, time seemed to move faster when you were busy.
Three months since she had been told that all her money was gone. All of it. Three months since she was forced out of her own firm. Only three months since she and Maia had accepted Adrian Almighty Boseman's invitation and joined Reddick, Boseman and Kolstad as a junior partner.
More precisely, right after Boseman told her that she had to bring new clients to the firm, those important ones that would follow Diane Lockhart anywhere.
Right. Like she needed that kind of pressure back in her life. That one kind that she hadn't felt in a long time, since she was too young to have a small part of her telling herself that she had too much to prove to the world. The young, naive, insecure Diane was back from the dead.
This mess probably started with RD and his lifesaving phone call. He hadn't spoken to her in a quite some time and she wondered what in the world would make him call her after months of not seeing or talking to each other.
He had suposedly heard from someone what David and Howard had done with her. She had a pretty good idea where he got that information from. Not to mention the fact that they did have many friends in common too. However, since she was in no place to deny any opportunity, she accepted his offer.
It was a simple, perfect plan: one of his great old friends was looking for a new representation in Chicago and he highly recommended her. She was sincerely grateful and rather surprised after she'd learned how much they were willing to spend with the new firm. If she could get the account, it would definitely put her in very good hands with Boseman, Carl, Barbara and the other partners. Mostly, it could mean her well deserved ticket to the director's board.
Of course the name partners and Lucca were thrilled when they heard about this client interest to hire them. Of course she and Maia were overwhelmingly excited. Especially after the awkward, surprising, interesting and charming first meeting.
She sighed, looking at her reflection and noticing a warm feeling run through her body again. She was in excellent shape - she had finally got the time to get back to her Pilates and yoga classes after what was probably the worst year of her life.
She was feeling excited, alive at the top of her game. Not only physically, but mentally as well. So, why the guilt?
"Fuck," Diane whispered, lowering her head only to stare at her hand. There it was, shining like it did the day he put it on her finger. Her wedding ring was still there. She shook her head and clenched her fist.
"Hey, beautiful," she felt an arm circle her waist, a hand lay on her stomach and jumped a little with the surprise. She was so lost in thoughts that she didn't hear him walking inside the bathroom. He felt warm and safe when he pulled her closer. She started to respond almost immediately, moving against him.
She definitely had no control over her body that night. Damn.
"Did I just hear you curse? Is something wrong?" He asked in a low voice, leaving small kisses on her neck as he spoke.
"It's nothing, don't worry," she smiled back at his reflection in the mirror and dismissed the thought. She turned her neck and met his slips in a slow, sensuous kiss, hoping she could make him forget why she was behaving awkwardly.
"I woke up and you weren't there. The bed can get awfully cold this time of the year, especially when there isn't someone to share body heat with you," she could feel him hardening, as his little kisses resumed their way on her neck and ear, while his hands started to move freely over her body.
She should stop this sooner than later. After all, she was already in deep trouble.
But she was a human being too. She was weak, she needed affection, she needed attention. Besides, he was sexy as hell, charming and a decent man. The perfect, irresistible combination.
Was she wrong? Was this going to end well? How could she stop this?
It wasn't like she wasn't being honest about the situation. She wasn't hiding anything from anybody. Or was she?
She chose not to think about the consequences, turned around and felt his lips on her collarbone. When she heard him chuckle against her skin, she opened her eyes again.
So devilishly handsome. She could see how happy he was and the love he felt for her in his eyes. Yes, she knew he was falling hard, there was no doubt about it. She raised her hand, touched his bearded face and smiled.
He smiled back at her and she convinced herself to put aside all those stupid reasons why she should be feeling guilty about this whole situation and move on. Exactly like she did a few hours ago, when he started kissing her.
She could always blame the damn Don Perignon and Chicago's beautiful starry night.
"Sorry, I tried not to wake you up," she told him, with her best seductive voice.
She felt his right hand move from her lower back to her ass, only to move it up again slowly, repeating the action a few times. The man knew perfectly well what he was doing, since he had a sexy side smile on his face.
Before she could find another excuse to end that situation, he lowered his face and kissed her fully. She closed her eyes when she felt both of his hands move to the back of her thighs. In an instant, she found herself seated on the green marble table, with her legs wrapped around his hips.
His kisses got more intense and she responded in kind. The hell with it.
In some corner of her mind, she couldn't help but remember the day this mess started: on that damn raining Monday, all those months ago.
Diane had never seen Chicago in such state. It had been raining cats and dogs for three hours straight and it had finally stopped, just in time for her meeting.
She had to be fair though: her luck was coming back full force and she could feel it. After months of what was probably the worst time of her life, heavens decided to be kind again.
The last few weeks were exhausting and stressful, but it brought her a new hope that she hadn't felt in a long time. With Maia's loyalty, Lucca’s support and Marissa’s sassy cleverness, she had won a few good cases in court. Adrian Boseman, Carl Reddick and Barbara Kolstad were finally trusting her for good.
Just a few months ago, she was devastated, feeling hopeless after losing all of her money and being forced out of her own firm. A firm that carried her own name, the one she founded with Stern and Will more than ten years ago. A firm she helped building a locally and later a nationally respectful reputation.
At that time, she was looking for a job and being rejected repeatedly by the top firms in town. In the begging, she felt like a tea bag herself, boiling in hot water. Now, she was feeling stronger than ever. Eleanor Roosevelt was right after all.
She was standing up again and nothing could stop her, especially not on that day. She could feel in her guts that something good was about to happen.
“After the rain this morning, I was afraid we were going to be late. The traffic is still insane,” Maia said, checking her watch, “We will definitely make it on time - we’re actually 20 minutes early,” she smiled at her godmother, who was seated next to her, inside the cab.
“We won't mess this up, trust me. I know we will convince him,” Diane smiled at her, patting her leg quickly, “I'm sure RD put in a good word for us. I have high hopes about this meeting.”
Who would have thought that RD would be her lifesaver and rescue her from that terrible situation? Who would have thought that she would be his first recommendation when a good friend from New York was looking for a new representation in the Midwest? Especially when this good friend happened to be a billionaire who owned the second most important and biggest building company in the country?
“A decent Donald Trump," he told her, which made her laugh out loud over the phone,“This one is one of the good Republicans, Diane, I promise,” he completed.
“Is there such kind?” She replied sarcastically and heard him laugh on the other side of the phone. She always liked RD.
“Are we meeting Fisher alone or will the other partners also join us during the meeting?” Maia asked her.
“I'm not sure. I hope we will meet the full board, not only him. We better close this deal as soon as possible,” Diane only hoped they could come back with good news for Boseman. She needed to prove her value and finally win back the respect she always had.
The car stopped in front of an impressive and modern glass building, “Wow! I've never realized that this was T.A. & Fisher’s new Headquarters,” Maia stared at it with her mouth slightly open as she waited for godmother to pay the ride.
“Why are they moving the main office from New York to Chicago again?” She turned around and saw Diane closing the taxi’s door to finally join her, “Hey, careful with the water. There are a few puddles on the sidewalk.”
“Yes, I've noticed,” Diane stepped carefully holding Maia's arm for balance. Before she left home, she remembered to put on her specially chosen new black Louboutin, but forgot to check the weather forecast.
“I have no idea. RD didn't say much. We can ask Fisher about it during the meeting,” Diane told Maia with a smile playing on her lips, “I hope this could make an interesting small tal--”
Diane felt a splash of cold water being thrown at her and immediately closed her eyes. She stopped dead in her tracks. Her whole right side was soaking wet.
“Oh my god!” Maia said, staring at her godmother. For a few seconds Maia didn't know what to say or do. Diane slowly opened her eyes and looked in the direction where the water had come from.
A blonde middle aged man driving a big noisy motorcycle, wearing a black leather jacket and boots, removed his helmet and apologized, “I'm very sorry ma’am, I didn't see the puddle.”
“Are you freaking serious? What kind of idiot are you?” Diane was livid. How could this man ruin her lucky day like that?
“You can't ride on a sidewalk! You could have hurt us!” Maia joined her godmother and voiced her thoughts in anger.
“Sorry lady, I was heading to the garage,” he said, pointing the gate on the far right of the building, “It is my fault though that I wasn't careful enough and didn't see you walking this way. And I'm very sorry that happened. Please accept my apologies.”
Diane followed his gaze. It looked like he was indeed going in the right direction. Even though she noticed he was probably right and being as polite as possible, she was not going to admit to herself, let alone to him, that she was wrong.
“Next time, watch where you are going!” Diane almost shout at him and then turned to Maia, “I can't go back home and change. It will take at least an hour with this traffic.”
Her brain was trying to find a solution, yet they all sounded disastrous.
“Ma'am, if there is anything--” the man said sympathetically but was immediately interrupted.
“We have a very important meeting in less than 20 minutes and it looks like it's going to be a disaster, because of you!” Maia said angrily.
“Again, ladies, I'm very sorry,” the man insisted in apologizing one more time.
“Just... Don't bother,” Diane raised her hand at his direction, asking him silently to shut up.
“Let's go,” Diane told Maia, running her right hand through her wet hair, “I hope somebody can get me a towel or something. We are wasting our time here.”
She and Maia walked into the building, not before making a few heads turn in their direction. Diane felt humiliated and only wanted to forget that such day had happened.
When they arrived on the top floor, where the senior partner’s offices were located, the receptionist and Fisher’s secretary were very sympathetic towards Diane's situation.
They found her towels to help dry her clothing, a blow drier for her hair and even makeup, “Don't worry, Ms. Lockhart. Mr. Fisher called saying he was going to be late. I guess everybody in Chicago is late today. I've never seen a storm like this before.”
It took a good thirty minutes for Diane to look presentable again. Despite the fact that her coat had taken most of the damage, in the end she had to lose her jacket too, as it was made from a thick fabric and still had a big wet spot. Thank God she had decided to put an elegant blue navy silk shirt underneath it.
“Ma'am, Mr. Fisher will see you now,” the secretary said, smiling, adding proudly “By the way, you look great.”
“Thank you, Nathalie,” she returned her kind words with a big smile, “I will never forget this.”
Diane was sincerely touched by the girls' kind attention and how they were willing to help her. Moments like this kept her going. She knew there were good people in the world and she needed somehow to continue to fight for them.
As she and Maia walked into a huge elegant English style office, she felt like she was walking inside a movie. The view from the glass wall was breathtaking - she could see the Millennium Park, Lake Michigan and the Magnificent Mile. It was what one would expect from the view of the 82nd floor.
“Sorry ladies for the waiting,” they heard a male voice coming out of what seemed to be a side room, next to a library-like shelf holding a few hundred books, ”Please sit down and make yourselves comfortable.”
She noticed that in contrast to the building itself, the office was designed as a traditional businessman office. Leather couches and chairs, jacaranda table, door and shelves. She couldn't help but notice the paintings hanging on the wall. An impressive portrait of an old man standing and dressed in a black suit, a few nature paintings and abstracts and... Was that a Pollock?
“Yes, sure. Thank you, Mr. Fisher,” Maia answered and sat down on the chesterfield couch on Diane’s side, facing the fireplace.
She smiled at her godmother flabbergasted. This could be the golden pot at the end of the rainbow after all.
“Hey, call me Richard. Mr. Fisher was my father,” they heard him laugh, “Anyway, I had a little incident downstairs that made me late. I had to change before looking presentable for the meeting.”
He walked into the room, fixing his left cufflink and stopped, stunned, when he realized who his guests were. Diane was equally shocked and couldn't help but stare at him, her mouth hanging open.
It was him again. The same blond middle-aged idiot who had soaked her with his Harley-Davidson not long ago.
“Well, this is embarrassing,” he said, in what Diane noticed to be a nervous laughter, running his hand through his hair.
Diane blinked a few times. Awkward didn't even start to describe that situation. A few minutes ago, she had called the man an idiot. Worse of all, she knew he was right about the whole incident, as he was driving on the right side of the road. It was an accident and definitely not his fault.
She could feel Maia embarrassed and tense. She knew her goddaughter was probably thinking about apologizing and getting the hell out of there as fast as she could. The meeting was doomed before it had a chance to start.
Diane laid a reassuring hand on her arm and took one deep breath. She reminded herself that she was at her best when she was under pressure and when everything was against the odds.
“We better address the wet elephant in the room, Mr. Fisher, before it gets even more awkward,” she smiled at him and raised herself from the couch, offering her right hand for him to shake. Both he and Maia laughed and that seemed to start breaking the ice.
“I feel I should apologize once more. Sorry about what happened,” he shook her hand and Maia's, as soon as she raised herself to greet him, “And call me Richard, please, I insist,” he smiled charmingly at them, “Make yourself comfortable. Would you like something to drink? Coffee, water, cappuccino maybe?”
Diane sat down again and smiled back at the offer, “Cappuccino would be lovely.”
“Just water for me,” Maia answered and by the sound of her voice, Diane could feel that she was slowly starting to recover from the shock.
Richard pressed a phone device on the table in front of them and spoke to his secretary, “Natalie, could you be so kind and bring water and a cappuccino for Ms. Lockhart and Miss. Rindell, please? And coffee for me, straight.”
“It's Diane and Maia, please,” Diane corrected him and noticed his eyes on her. There was no doubt that he was trying figure her out.
The most successful men she knew were egocentric and narcissistic. Even if there were a few exceptions, they were all very suspicious towards other business partners, especially at the beginning.
It was like watching a hunter and his pray. The hunter studied the situation, the whereabouts and the weather - all the details - before deciding what was the best time to attack or give up.
She learned a few things about hunting from when she was married. She was still married, she quickly corrected herself. Even though the last time she had spoken to him on the phone was in that awful week, when she found out she had lost everything.
“I'm sorry my other partners could not attend the meeting. Dan had to go urgently to New York and left early in the morning. Jason is currently in the hospital, as his wife was threaded to have a miscarriage,” he said, and before Diane could make a comment, he reassured her, “Don't worry, he called an hour ago. Baby and mother are doing fine.”
Diane nodded and smiled back at him. She noticed that he was smartly dressed in dark grey pants and a blue tie. His shirt was impeccably white and his shoes were shining black.
He was a tall, slim man, with deep blue eyes and fine perfectly combed blonde hair. She didn't want to acknowledge how handsome he was and the dashing smile that was playing constantly on the corner of his mouth, since he joined them on the twin couch opposite the center coffee table.
If someone had told her that the man who was talking to her now enjoyed motorcycles and liked to dress in leather jackets and boots, she would have laughed. He looked more like an English gentleman, who happened to have a New Yorker accent. A very interesting combination.
“RD told me a few interesting things about you.”
“Oh, like what for example?” Diane smiled and sipped the cappuccino that Natalie had brought back.
“He told me you were a very smart, tough lawyer that would never back down. That when you are in court, you always own the room and that you would fight against whatever and whoever when you truly believed in something,” Richard smiled, after he tasted his coffee, "He also mentioned that you are passionate about the law and that you were one of the best litigators he had ever met.”
She raised her eyebrowns, a bit flattered, “RD was being kind. You know he always exaggerates.”
“I've known Reese for more than 40 years, Diane, and believe me when I say he would never exaggerate about something like this. Not when it involves somebody’s profissionalism or personal values. Or even money, for that matter,” he laughed and she joined him, “I've also met your father on several occasions, Maia, and he seemed like a good man. I'm sure all those accusations against him will be cleared soon.”
Diane noticed Maia relax as she listened to their conversation with curiosity. She also quickly remembered what she had mentioned to her in the cab, only a few minutes before.
“I've been told you are looking for a new litigation firm to represent you in Chicago. I thought the main office was in New York and all the decisions came from there,” she made it sound as casual as possible and waited for his explanation.
“Well, yeah, you are right. The main office is in New York, but we are now planning to move everything to the Midwest by the end of this year. Our plan is to make Chicago the new headquarters in the next few months,” he made a gesture with his hand, pointing the room, “I've moved here myself five years ago and made a new life in Chicago. The city and its people were very welcoming and warm to me.”
Diane narrowed her eyes at him as she couldn't see the real reason why they would make such a bold decision.
Richard smiled at her, crossed his right leg over his left, making himself more comfortable, “Look, I was raised in New York. My father was the son of a Jewish immigrant, born and raised in Brooklyn. My mother was the daughter of the British Ambassador in America at that time. I'm the perfect definition of the New York mix myself,” he laughed and it suddenly made sense where all that charm came from, “I met my late wife in New York, raised my son there and for a good part of my life it was home and the most perfect city in the world to me,” he smiled briefly, but it soon faded away.
"And it only takes a minute to ruin everything,” he completed as he fell silent for a while, his face suddenly sad, “In one moment you are the luckiest man alive. In the next and before you know it, everything is taken away from you, and there is nothing you can do about it.” He moved forward, placed his arms on his legs and stared at his hands, suddenly lost on his thoughts.
“After what happened, all I wanted to do was to get out of that town as fast as I could and never come back again,” he continued, after what seemed like a minute of silence, “I moved to Chicago with high hopes and this city didn't let me down. I've finally convinced my partners to do the same and we are planning to make a full company move, as I mentioned, by the end of this year.”
“That's why you are looking for a litigator in Chicago,” Diane said, with a brief smile on her face, trying to lift the mood.
“It’s not only litigation. We need everything: Reddick, Boseman and Kolstad would be our official legal representation for contracts, civil cases, litigation, you name it,” he smiled at her and fell quiet, waiting for her reaction. She blinked a few times, stunned. She could hear Maia's gasp by her side, equally shocked. That was so much more than she could have asked for.
“Yes, it does sound crazy to trust a rather small firm with our business, but this is how much I trust RD and his advices. He had never let me down before," he smiled again at her, enjoying the surprised look on her face, “The fact that he put you in such good words, even being a liberal Democrat, an Emily's list Member and Hillary supporter, I guess it says it all,” he completed his thought, before they shared a laugh.
“I do have all those great qualities,” she smiled back at him. She made a mental note to call RD and thank him for the help. Diane thought for a brief moment about what Richard had just told them. It sounded like he had already made a decision before they had even met.
He grinned, as if he was able to read her mind and explained, “I scheduled this meeting because I wanted to meet you personally. From what RD said, you are perfect for us. In fact, he also told me about your current situation and how you were kicked out of your own firm. I guess I felt sympathetic, decided to jump in and help,” he continued, ”There is nothing in this world that I hate more than betrayal, Diane. And last year, you were betrayed in many ways.”
She nodded slowly. She didn't know how much RD had told him, nonetheless it felt like he knew a lot.
“I would love to visit your office soon, with the full board and meet you and Mr. Boseman. I hope we can sign those contracts and start as soon as possible.”
“That would be perfect. My assistant will be in touch with your secretary and find the best time to schedule a meeting for later this week,” she said, feeling positive. She turned her head only to see Maia smiling back at her. Not in her wildest dreams she couldn’t have imagined a better first meeting.
“It's a deal then,” Richard stood up and shook Maia’s hand briefly yet firmly.
He offered his hand to Diane and shook it slowly, “Just for the record: I didn't vote for Donald. I couldn't ever do that. I know him and believe me when I say that the idiot can't tell the difference between his right small hand and left.”
She and Maia laughed out loud as they made their way to the door. Richard opened it politely and let Maia go through first. She grinned at the secretary, who quickly started making small conversation with her.
Richard took advance of the situation and gently laid a hand on Diane’s arm, asking silently for her attention, “There is one thing RD didn't tell me and I was pleasantly surprised to find out today.”
“Oh, and what's that?”
“He forgot to mention how charming you are,” he said in a low, serious and deep voice.
For an instant, she was speechless. She could feel her face getting warm. Diane did notice the long looks he was giving her during the meeting, but she thought they were merely curious, business related ones. She thought he was trying to figure her out. Then again, she knew deep down that those quick glances at her legs and those slow smiles he was sending in her direction had nothing to do with business.
He noticed that the comment had made her slightly uncomfortable, released her arm and changed the subject, “I look forward to meeting you ladies later by the end of this week,” he told Maia and Diane, "And again, I'm very sorry for what happened earlier."
“No need to apologize. I know it was an accident, that you wouldn't have done it on purpose,” Diane smiled back at him.
“I hope you will allow me to make up for what I've done, one of these days. Maybe lunch?” He asked, tilting his head to the side and waited for an answer.
Diane knew he was flirting, but he was doing it carefully. Lunch was perfectly harmless, but it could grow into something more. The man was smart.
“Sure,” she grinned politely, as she answered him in kind.
As soon as she left the room with Maia, she felt her confidence coming back at full force.
And finally, so did her luck.
“I can’t believe he hasn't called yet,” she sighed, throwing her reading glasses carelessly on the table.
Diane always had her personal staff meetings on Friday mornings. Although it never took more than an hour, that was always the best way to look at the bigger picture and see how things were going, what had to be done and which decisions she had to make.
Her own team, The Lockhart Girls, as Boseman had started to call them, was seated in front of her desk, on her new and more humble office from the Lockhart/Lee days.
“No, he hasn't and I’m sure. When I spoke to his secretary on Monday, she told me he had to meet his partners before scheduling a time,” Marissa answered, as she made her final notes, “But as soon as we finish here, I will call Nathalie. Maybe Fisher had a last minute business travel or even a personal problem, who knows.”
Marissa was proving to be one of the best surprises she had over the last few months. Smart, quick and witty as her father, Marissa was yet to let Diane down in any task she asked her to succeed. She could not have asked for a better assistant.
“Yes, please do that, Marissa. We cannot afford to lose him,” Maia said, nodding in Marissa’s direction. “Especially now that Boseman and the other directors will choose the new name partner over the next few weeks. This could be Diane’s ticket to the board.”
“Girls, do not count your chickens before they hatch,” Lucca interrupted Maia, advising cautiously, “I know if T.A. & Fisher closes the deal with us it would be our biggest account yet, plus the amazing media coverage we will get, but one step at a time.”
Lucca was slowly winning her trust again. She couldn't deny that the young lawyer was very talented and that adding her to her team was one of the best decisions she had made so far.
“Oh, come on! According to Maia and Diane, Fisher had already made a decision when they visited him on Monday. This meeting would be just a formality, just signing contracts,” Marissa continued, closing her notepad and standing up.
“Lucca is right,” Diane dropped the pen she was holding on the table and sighed heavily once again, “As much as I hate to admit, we have to think about the possibility that he might have changed his mind.”
On the other hand, she would be surprised if he did. The meeting was a success so to speak and could not have gone better, even with the silly incident in the morning. The memory made her chuckle. She left his office with a feeling that he was interested in more than simply closing a business partnership. Perhaps she had lost her touch. Maybe she was reading too much into the situation.
“Yes, Marissa, please call his office immediately and let me know what Nathalie says,” she put on her glasses again, dismissed the girls and turned her attention to her personal computer.
She checked the time and rolled her eyes. It wasn’t even lunch time yet and her morning had been a busy yet frustrating one.
Earlier that week, Boseman approached her and Lucca saying that he wanted them to specially take over the Stevens' case. The young couple was suing an important genetic private clinic for basically destroying their fertilized eggs only a week before they could be implanted.
If settled, Lucca and Diane would be responsible for winning a few hundred thousand dollars for the firm. Boseman told them that since Judge Abernathy was presiding, Diane would be the first choice for the case, as he liked her on a personal level.
Diane had to admit she was a little surprised about his new found trust on her, but didn't question his motives. She was fighting every single case with everything she had and this was not going to be an exception.
She had arrived at eight sharp in court, prepared and ready to kick ass, only to have Judge Abernathy start a campaign to support ACLU, asking everybody to make an official protest, delaying the trial at least a few more days.
Of course she would do anything to protest in favor of the rights and liberties of people across America, especially when their orange president decided to sign, on his first week in power, an executive order denying Muslims refugees to enter the country.
She hated Trump from the bottom of her soul, but she hated not being able to prove herself even more.
And Maia was right, of course: she needed another win. She had to prove to the senior partners that she deserved more. And the fact that Fisher hasn’t called made the whole situation even more frustrating.
“Diane,” she heard a knock on the door and raised her eyes from the computer screen. She saw Marissa leaning against the side wall, with her mouth slightly opened, looking surprised.
“What happened?” Diane asked.
“He is here,” Marissa said after she blinked a few times.
“I’m sorry,” Diane shook her head, confused, “What are you talking about?”
“Fisher,” Marissa answered her and paused for a minute, allowing the information to sink in “He is in the meeting room, at this very moment, with the senior partners, probably signing the contracts.”
“What?” She said, with eyes wide opened.
“Nathalie told me she called on Tuesday and confirmed the meeting for this Friday morning,” Marissa said and looked at Diane with sympathy, “She said she spoke with Alice directly, Mr. Boseman’s secretary.”
“That bastard!” Diane shouted and raised herself from the chair. From the corner of her eye she saw a few people staring in her direction, but didn’t care. Let them know what kind of man they worked for.
She started to run to the second floor, followed closely by Marissa, who was yelling at everybody to get the hell out of their way. When they reached the meeting room, the door opened and Boseman and Fisher were the first to exit the room, laughing.
Diane and Marissa were breathing heavily from the running and stared at them. Fisher was the first to notice Diane and seemed surprised to see her. He was holding a briefcase while the other senior partners, including Barbara, were holding files and papers. Those were probably the contracts.
“Diane, what are you doing here?” He laughed awkwardly after recovering from the surprise of seeing her.
For a brief moment, Richard stared intensely at her. Her first reaction was to run her hand through her hair and make sure she looked presentable. Of course she told herself it was just a normal reaction after running two sets of stairs. Part of her, however, knew she was doing that for him.
“Weren’t you supposed to be in court? I thought you had to rush there urgently to help a last minute case,” he turned to Boseman for confirmation, but silently letting Diane know where he got that information from.
She narrowed her eyes at Boseman, who had never looked so white in his life. A small crowd of people, who had just exited the room or were walking on the corridor, gathered around the scene, watching with curiosity.
She thought about the situation itself and decided to approach with care. She knew Boseman had obviously made sure she was away from the office when the meeting was taking place. She knew he probably wanted to make the senior partners believe that bringing T.A. & Fisher’s account to the firm was his own doing.
“I just came back from court,” she told Richard, not before looking quickly in Boseman’s direction. Let Richard figure out the situation himself. Perhaps she might even play Boseman’s game, but she was definitely not going to be the naive girl.
Richard noticed the brief exchange between her and Boseman and gasped, “I can’t believe it,” he lowered his head, shaking it. Diane was surprised at how angry Richard looked as he clenched his jaw, “Did you just lie to me, Mr. Boseman?” He asked the other man, in a low, dangerous voice.
Boseman waited a few moments, opening his mouth to answer, but before he had the chance to do it, Richard interrupted him again, “Let me make myself clear, not only to you but to all the senior partners,” he said, pointing out at the gathered group watching the scene, “The only reason why we chose your firm over all the other law firms in Chicago is because a very good friend of mine recommended Diane Lockhart as our lawyer. Ms. Lockhart, not you sir or any of your colleagues.”
Everything was so quiet that you would hear a pin drop on the floor. Diane felt all eyes shifting from her direction to Richard’s and then to Adrian’s, “I want to make sure that for our future meetings Ms. Lockhart will be present in all of them and will be the head lawyer for the litigation team. I also want her to supervise the other cases closely. Is that clear, Mr. Boseman?”
Adrian spoke after a few seconds, when he finally found his voice, “Yes, Mr. Fisher. Consider it done. She will be there.”
Richard nodded slowly, staring coldly at the other man. Although Boseman still looked astonished, she knew she had to explain to him why she and Lucca had come back from court earlier than planned. Then again, he should have known that this was a very dangerous game to play.
“Good. I guess we finally have an agreement,” Richard said offering his hand to Boseman, who shook it without even thinking. He grinned at the other man, but it didn’t reach his eyes, which were still fixed on Adrian’s.
“Diane, may I speak with you in private?” She noticed that everybody was slowly resuming their activities, as Richard himself walked closer to her. He held her right elbow gently and moved to a quieter area, avoiding any prying ears.
She still could see Boseman from the corner of her eye, curiously trying to hear their conversation.
“Have you had lunch yet? I believe this is the perfect time to go, since I owe you another apology.”
Diane shook her head and dismissed his concern, “It wasn’t your fault. Don’t feel guilty about it. It was just another misunderstanding,” she said, after quickly checking if Boseman was still looking in their direction.
“It seems that every time we meet there is a small misunderstanding,” he laughed softly and continued “So, is this a yes?” She tried to ignore the fact that he was so close to her that she could even smell his aftershave.
Diane smiled back at him, “I have to get my bag and coat in my office downstairs. Do you mind waiting a few minutes?”
“Sure, no problem. I will be in the lobby,” he nodded at her and Marissa, who was a few feet away from them.
Diane watched Richard give a final warning look to Boseman before walking his way towards the reception, while talking to one of the members of his team. She had second thoughts about accepting his lunch invitation, but quickly dismissed the idea. Let Boseman’s imagination run wild. He deserved to suffer.
“Fisher is cute!” She heard Marissa chuckle behind her, “I already like him. I guess this is the first time I've seen Boseman speechless.”
Diane crossed her arms over her chest and smiled, as she watched him entering the lift with his staff, “Yeah, I like him too.”
She also agreed with Marissa that he was kind of cute.
Richard Fisher was her new found hero.
He took her to a lovely and cozy French restaurant near Lincoln Park. During the whole way, he apologized a few more times for believing in Boseman’s story.
Richard was still very upset about the way Boseman had dealt with the situation, “I guess that’s the Chicago’s way,” he told her as he held an umbrella and allowed her out of his car. The rain that started on Monday had extended for the whole week.
When they arrived at the restaurant, the owner greeted Richard with a welcoming hug. He had mentioned that the restaurant was one of his favourites and a hidden jewel. She couldn't help but notice that he knew everybody by their first name. From the receptionist to the maître, and even a few waiters. All of them were extremely warm when they greeted Richard.
They also seemed surprised when he introduced her as his lawyer and friend. Jerome, the owner, a funny-looking skinny man from Nice, even joked that it was the first time he had ever brought a guest for lunch or dinner.
“Charming little restaurant, isn’t it?” He said as he helped her remove her coat. They had chosen a table by the fireplace, next to a window, with a lovely view to the park.
She nodded as she sat down, making herself comfortable. The restaurant had a special dimmed lighting and old wine corks served as decoration for the main wall. There were plants and flowers everywhere, posters of old French painters, a couple chandeliers on the roof and a rounded Louis XVI table on the center of the main room.
She was amazed by the huge stunning bouquet on that particular table. She could smell the scent from where they were seated. It was a very interesting mix of different types of flowers. There were dahlias, lilies, daisies, tulips and roses, just to name a few.
Diane heard Richard chuckle as he raised his eyes from the menu to catch a glimpse at her, “I take it you like flowers.”
“Well, of course. Who doesn’t like flowers?” Diane smiled at him as she herself opened the menu and checked the options.
“They change those flowers every day, do you believe it? You will never see them repeat the same style. It’s always something different,” he explained, before telling the waiter what he had chosen.
“They shouldn’t do that! It could last a few days--”
She was starting to complain when Richard interrupted her, “No, you don’t understand,” he grinned, placing his elbows on the table, leaning closer, “During dinner time, they present the customers with flowers, so they can take them home.”
“They give the flowers away for free?” Diane blinked a few times as she smiled back at him.
“Not exactly. Jerome is a smart guy, I’m sure we’ll end up paying for them on the final bill,” he laughed as she joined him.
Richard ordered red wine as the waiter made the last few notes about Diane’s order, “So, which one would you chose?”
“Oh, the yellow roses,” she laughed as she answered him, “I’ve never seen roses this big before.”
Richard looked at the bouquet and crossed his arms over his chest. He seemed to be lost in thought for a moment. He chuckled as he inclined his head at her “Roses are my favourite too. And I’m here because of them.”
She frowned at him, confused. He laughed and shook his head, “Ok, I guess that sounded weird. Let me explain,” he sat back in his chair and made himself comfortable. Before he could continue, the waiter brought them the covert and wine.
“As I told you the other day, my father was the son of immigrants and my mother, the daughter of an Ambassador,” he started after he tasted the wine, “They didn't have anything in common, only the fact that they were both fresh students at Columbia. My dad was an engineer student and my mom studied English Literature. He was from Brooklyn, she was from Lexington Avenue. He liked numbers, she liked words. He was brunette, she was blonde. He was outgoing and talkative, she was shy and introspective--” he laughed.
“The complete opposite,” she laughed.
“In every way imaginable,” he nodded, “They’ve met at one of those meet-and-greet students' events. He said he was immediately fascinated by her, while she wasn't impressed with him at all,“ he laughed, “Instead of giving up, my dad convinced himself that he was going to win her heart simply by being insistent.”
Diane tasted the wine and smiled back at him. She could see his eyes shine when he told her the story.
“One of his friends heard her mentioning to someone that she was fascinated with the yellow roses in the garden next to the library’s main entrance. He found out her address and started sending her yellow roses every single day, asking her out.”
“Every day?” She asked, laughing.
“For 10 consecutive days,” he nodded, “That’s when my grandfather interfered telling her she had to accept the poor boy’s invitation, as he could not stand the smell of the damn flowers anymore,” he laughed out loud and Diane joined him.
“So, she accepted,” Diane completed, grinning.
“They finally had their first date and she said she was astonished by how smart, kind and funny he was,” he chuckled, “He told me later that he knew she was going to fall for him, that all he needed was a chance,” Richard said, inclining his head.
Diane tried to ignore the double meaning in what he was saying and continued, “They started dating, of course.”
“Of course," he nodded and continued, "After six months dating, my father had no doubts that she was the one and finally decided to change tactics,” his smiled.
“Uh-oh,” Diane chuckled.
“He started sending her red roses instead.”
Diane laughed out loud. The wine was helping her relax and she noticed that he was also more at ease as the time passed by.
“I guess it didn't take her another week,” she smiled at Richard who had just poured more wine in both of their glasses.
“Three days to be exact,” they laughed and drank deeply.
Lunch extended for another hour and Diane was feeling more comfortable with his presence as the time passed by. They haven’t talked about business or what had happened at the firm early in the morning. He obviously chose to keep the conversation on a more personal level.
They talked about their childhood and college years. They learned that they both enjoyed long walks, jazz and yoga. When the conversation moved to politics, they agreed to disagree. His stories were always interesting and always made her laugh. And every time she laughed she caught him staring at her a certain way or smiling a little longer than he should.
Richard was being discrete, but she knew he was clearly interested in getting to know her. She even caught him quickly peeking not only at her legs, but also at her left hand during lunch. It reminded them both that she was still a married woman.
“You do understand that I've invited you for lunch just to piss Boseman off, don’t you?” Richard said.
Diane laughed gently at him, “Yes, that was pretty clear.”
“So officially, I still owe you another lunch,” he smiled, after he waved and silently asked the waiter for the bill, “But we could make it dinner if you like,” he told her as casual as possible and waited for her answer.
Before she could say anything, the waiter came back with the bill and the credit card machine. While Richard was busy with the waiter, she thought about his proposal. Clearly, that was a dangerous game to play and she knew exactly what she had to say.
“Well?” He asked, folding the receipt and putting it inside his wallet.
She caught him glancing at her ring one last time and decided to throw caution to the wind.
“One of these days,” Diane answered, only to see his smile grow bigger.
The office was busier than ever. T.A. & Fisher brought all the media coverage they were willing to get. Boseman, Carl and Barbara, as the name partners, gave a few important interviews about the new, hottest pre-eminent law firm in town, while she worked hard in the backstage.
Diane’s week had been so busy that she barely had time to breathe. She spent her mornings in court and having meetings in the afternoons, back at the firm. She left home early only to arrive late at night.
After Richard made it clear who had won the account for the firm, she was being praised by the senior partners. For the first time, they had seriously considered her to join the board of directors. In fact, there had been talks about capital contributions and salary increase.
Since the incident, Boseman was regarding her more, but was still very suspicious. He always asked her how the T.A. & Fisher cases were going and if she needed any help with them. She understood that he wanted to make sure his most important client was happy, but she also knew he was concerned that she could leave the company and take them with her.
Boseman obviously knew nothing about her. She was a loyal, honest woman. He gave her a chance when she most needed and she was going to be correct to him, even though he wasn't being as honored.
When she arrived from court that day, she was so exhausted that she went directly to her office, sat down comfortably in her chair, took her shoes off and closed her eyes for a few moments. She had even declined Maia’s lunch invitation with Amy.
It had almost been three weeks since she had lunch with Richard and last spoke with him. Surprisingly, he didn’t contact her at all. She didn't want to admit that she felt a little disappointed. Then again, the last time she thought he had disappeared he was closer to her than she could have ever imagined.
And of course, since she was now head of the T.A. & Fisher’s litigation cases, she was constantly reminded of him.
She opened her eyes and saw Lucca and Marissa chatting casually outside her office. She groaned as she raised herself from the chair, walking a few steps in their direction, when she remembered yet another case.
“Did we hear from Thorton Assisted Living? Weren't they supposed to sign the agreement this morning?” Diane asked Lucca.
“Simon Wiseman’s case?” Diane nodded as Lucca continued, “Yes, everything was sorted. Barbara and I were present when they settled,” Lucca said, leaning on the corner of Marissa’s desk, “He will have full support for the rest of his life.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful! Does Fisher know that already?” Diane asked. This was the first big win for T.A. & Fisher and a special one: Mr. Wiseman was an old employee, who had worked closely with Fisher’s father since he founded the company. Richard’s assistant had made it clear during their first staff meeting that Richard himself wanted total support for Mr. Wiseman. He was an adorable nighty-three year old World War II survivor and a real charmer.
“Yes, he knows. He called earlier to personally thank you, when you were in court with Maia,” Marissa said, moving her eyes from the computer screen to her, “I left a note for you, didn’t you see it?”
Diane was taken aback by the fact that she had missed the note, “He also asked me for your private number. I hope you don’t mind,” Marissa looked at her with puppy eyes, asking silently for forgiveness, “I normally don’t give your number to clients, but since he is so special...”
Diane kicked herself again: she hadn't checked her messages since she had left court, “No, I don’t mind, you did well,” she told Marissa and ran back to her office. Diane ignored the smile Lucca and Marissa shared as she left their presence.
When Diane checked her phone, she saw a missed call from an unknown number and a new text message. He had reached out after all.
Hi there. Just wanted to thank you for taking care of dear Simon. That was beautifully done. He mentioned how wonderful you were with him.
She couldn't help but smile at his message.
It was a team effort. We are very happy for Mr. Wiseman.
She sent the message and received an answer only seconds later.
Sorry that I haven’t been in touch. Been really busy. And don’t you think I have forgotten about our dinner!
She chuckled before biting her lip. She didn’t know what to say. He was being flirty again and for the first time, she admitted to herself that she liked it and missed it too.
She started to think about what kind of reply she should send him but they all sounded terrible. Sighing deeply, she put her phone down, laid her elbows on the table and rubbed her face with her hands. God, she was tired. Not only physically, but mentally as well.
“Did you see the Chicago Tribune today?” Marissa interrupted her thoughts.
“What are you talking about?” She shook her head trying to focus.
“Fisher is on the cover. There is a rumor that he will be the 2017’s Businessperson of the Year,” Marissa said, throwing the newspaper on Diane's desk, in front of her.
There was a picture of Richard in a side note, on the bottom left of the paper’s cover. She tried to ignore how dashingly handsome he looked.
Mr. Richard Fisher, 62, President and CEO of the T.A. & Fisher Organization, is being rumored to be this year's Businessperson of the year. Created in 2001, Fortune Magazine’s Award is considered to be the most influential prize in the sector. Mr. Fisher, a native from New York, chose Chicago as his new home and is constantly seen at social gatherings and events around the city. As a conservative Republican and pro-life supporter, Mr. Fisher is one of the party’s biggest donors. He also avidly advocates for harsher punishment for parole violators, after his wife was brutally murdered by an ex-convict five years ago, when she arrived at home. The crime shocked New York's society for its banal reason.
Diane stared at the words for a few minutes. Now everything made sense - no wonder he seemed so resentful of New York. For what he had told Maia and her the other day, she knew something serious had happened, but she would never have imagined that such a tragedy was behind his abrupt decision to leave everything behind and start over in the Midwest.
“Can you imagine how much publicity he will get if this turns out to be true?” Marissa smiled at her, “I’m sure it will affect us too.”
Diane nodded at Marissa as, in the back of her mind, she was reminded once again that bad things happened to good people. Sometimes, she hated being right.
“Anyway, Lucca asked me to help her and Barbara with a deposition,” she continued, checking her watch, “It starts in 30 minutes. Do you mind if I go?” Diane shook her head. Before Marissa dismissed herself, she pointed at a small paper on her desk, “See? There’s the note.”
Diane saw Marissa’s yellow paper pasted on her notepad and couldn't believe how she had missed it. She also saw another handwritten note, made by herself a few days ago. She had forgotten to call RD and thank him for his help. That was probably the most important call of the week and she completely ignored it.
Diane immediately searched for his contact information on her phone and called him. RD was surprisingly happy to hear from her.
“It was nothing Diane. I just told him the truth: that despite being a liberal, you are also a damn good lawyer,” she could hear his laugh over the phone.
“You saved my life RD, you have no idea. We could never have imagined that they would trust us with all their legal business. It was unbelievable,” she said “Rumor has it that I will be named senior partner in the following weeks.”
“Even better! It’s always a pleasure to help a friend like you, Diane. You deserve nothing but the best,” he chuckled, “In fact, can you believe I was about to call you? There will be an All Lives Matter fundraiser event in two weeks and I was wondering if you would like to come. More Republican clients for you to pitch!” He laughed.
She joined his laugh and accepted his invitation. She was not going to deny any opportunities RD or life itself was throwing at her.
Especially now, when everything was starting to go back to normal.
The event was being held at the Hilton Chicago’s ballroom. The grandiosity of the room had fascinated her since she was a little girl. She still remembered walking through those doors for the first time when her parents took her to a family’s friend wedding ceremony.
Diane decided to arrive later for the event. The official invitation had a complete schedule, which included a few speeches from Pro-Life advocates and politicians before the cocktail dinner party. Another wealthy Republican client would do wonders to her situation at the firm. However, she was not willing to throw her values in the wind. At least not yet.
She had chosen a long burgundy gown, which included a low cut in the back. Nothing too revealing. She wanted to be elegant, yet provocative.
As soon as she arrived, a nearby waiter offered her champagne and she accepted. Diane noticed the luxurious decoration of the room and tables. The guests were smartly dressed in tuxedos and gowns. An orchestra was playing old American classics in the background while a few couples were dancing in a reserved area in the center of the ballroom.
The fact that there were also a few men formally dressed and wearing cowboy hats made her chuckle. Since it was a national Republican event, one should expect all those southern men would also be present. There was a time when she thought the whole look was ridiculous: how could cowboy hats and tuxedos even go well together? In more recent years however, she started to have a complete different opinion about cowboys.
She shook her head, dismissing the idea and decided to look for RD in the crowd. She saw him by the bar, chatting enthusiastically with three other men, who held glasses filled with golden liquid and ice.
Diane preferred to watch the group from a distance for a few minutes and then choose the best time to interrupt the conversation. A woman in her thirties, undeniably attractive and visibly pregnant, approached RD’s group of friends. She greeted them all, spoke briefly to one of his friends in particular, kissed him and then returned to a nearby table.
Diane rolled her eyes. Typical. Another case of a much older man involved with a younger woman. She had never understood this stupid crisis middle age men clearly had.
Diane looked down at her own glass and decided to drink deeply. It seemed all men who were interested in her had that particular problem. Her father once told her that curiosity was healthy until a certain point, which she had always disagreed with.
"Knowing too much can be painful, my love. Ignorance is bliss."
Last year, Diane had to learn in the worst possible way that her father had been right after all. And in the last few days, she was reminded of those wise words again.
Since she was working for T.A. & Fisher 24/7 for almost two months, Richard was a constant presence in her life. During that weekend, she even decided to indulge herself and look him up on the internet. She felt like a teenager, secretly spying on her crush’s social media profile. She sighed as she accepted another glass from another waiter.
She would never admit to anybody that she looked for information about Richard on gossip websites. In one specifically, there were many pictures of him from different time periods: when he was a gorgeously looking freshman in college, with his parents, at important gatherings and conventions, with famous public personalities and politicians. There was even one with Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior at the White House.
A few more recent pictures, clearly taken by paparazzi, showed him either arriving or leaving different events and always accompanied by a much younger woman. Thirty-year-olds of course.
What was she expecting anyway? He could not have been that perfect. Nobody's that perfect. Another wise man had once told her that everybody was more than one thing. And as her father, it turned out that he was right. She sighned loudly. Why did she even bother?
She took a final sip from her drink and looked in RD’s direction. He remained in the same place, but he was now laughing with Bruce Rauner, the Governor of Illinois. Somehow, at this moment, he saw her from across the room and waved, walking in her direction.
“You are here!” He greeted her cheerfully with a kiss on her cheek.
“Yes, I’m that desperate. I can’t believe I'm at a Republican’s Party event,” she confessed as she run her hand through her hair, embarrassed.
“Hey, it’s an All Lives Matter event Diane, not Pro-life. Your honor is still intact,” he mentioned and she laughed. He grabbed two glasses of champagne from the nearest waiter and handed her yet another one, after she placed her own on the tray.
“That’s what I've been telling myself since I received that invitation,” she threw back at him.
He answered her, laughing, “I have a few friends who would like to meet you. I did my part and now it’s your turn.”
“I won’t disappoint you,” she grinned.
“I know you won't and that’s why you are here,” he glanced briefly at something behind her and, for a moment, she thought he was trying to hide a smile.
“Oh, here is one of them,” RD said, waving his hand to someone, “But I guess you know him already.”
She turned around and was surprised to see who his friend was. He was dressed in an elegant tuxedo, with his hair perfectly combed back. He looked like one of those classic movie stars, holding what seemed to be a glass of scotch.
“Hello, Diane,” Richard greeted her with a big smile. He didn't seem surprised to see her, "When did you arrive? I haven’t seen you in the audience during my speech.”
She felt like rolling her eyes again. Of course he was one of the speakers at an All Lives Matter event, “Yes, I arrived a few minutes ago,” she said.
“You look great by the way,” he said, after looking intensely at her. She felt a chill run through her body. Why in the world did she have to drink those champagnes so quickly?
“If you would excuse me, I will look for those friends. Be right back,” RD told her and dismissed himself. He patted Richard on the shoulder and winked at him, “See you, buddy.”
And then, clear as water, Diane understood what had happened. They had it planned all along: the invitation for the party originally came from Richard and not RD. There was no doubt Richard had been watching her talking to RD before he made his presence known. He was surely enjoying the view too.
They fell silent for a moment and she felt uncomfortable. He sipped from his glass and when he was about to say something, she heard somebody approach them.
“Diane, is that you? I haven’t seen you since Wyoming!” It was one of his friends that she had met during those three days.
Wonderful. All she needed was to be reminded of such a time her life, especially now.
“Hi Mike, how are you doing? How is Amanda?” She shook his hand and forced a smile.
“Amanda is in California with Becky, our oldest. She’s helping her with the last arrangements for her wedding,” his smile grew bigger.
“Oh, that’s great news. Congratulations,” she mentioned, trying to be as friendly as possible. She saw him looking at Richard and realized that she forgot to introduce them, “Oh, sorry. Mike, this is Richard Fisher, CEO of T.A. & Fisher. Richard, this is Michael Darryl, President of Holland Publications.”
Richard shook his right hand and pointed at him with his left, “Haven’t we met? Weren’t you at RD’s gathering on Lake Tahoe last November?”
“Yes, I was," Mike answered him and soon narrowed his eyes, "Wait, I remember you. You were one of the few brave souls that went fishing at four, on Sunday morning, right? It was freezing cold that weekend.”
“That's right. I love fishing,” Richard nodded, “And you told me hunting was your thing.”
“Exactly! That’s how I met Diane and Kurt. We all went deer hunting in Wyoming once, RD’s idea again.” he said, smiling.
The moment she heard his name, Diane felt like an ice bucket had been thrown over her head. When she had decided to attend the event, she should have prepared herself for this kind of situation. She knew RD and he had many friends in common and that they were probably going to be at the event.
She couldn't blame Mike, really. She was still wearing the ring, wasn't she? People didn't know they were, what, taking a break? People didn't know what had happened. Or did they?
Then again, Mike hadn’t asked how or where he was.
Richard glanced at her and placed a friendly hand on her back for a few seconds. His intention was to clearly give her support, but it wasn't helping at all. When his thumb made contact with her skin, she shivered. He had probably felt it himself, since he removed his hand only a few seconds later.
Diane cursed the champagne for the second time that night.
“So, what in the world brings you to a Republican Party event?” He continued laughing, “I thought you hated us.”
She laughed and shook her head “Oh, no, I don’t hate you. I respect you a lot,” she smiled gently and was lost in thought for a moment, “The most decent man I know is Republican.”
Diane felt a little emotional and kicked herself for allowing those memories to come back. After all, she was trying to move on in all possible ways.
“I’ve invited her,” Richard interrupted them, after he took another sip from his drink, “Diane is the head of my Legal team now and I wanted to introduce her to a few friends,” he said proudly, before he quickly winked at her. For her amusement, he was making a confession. Nonetheless, he had chosen to leave behind a few important details of the story.
“Is that right?” Mike narrowed his eyes at Diane “Very interesting. In fact, we are thinking about changing our Legal representation in Illinois as well. Our current firm is about to settle a rather easy case this week, involving copyrights. It's almost embarrassing. What’s the name of your firm again?”
She grinned at him after briefly looking at Richard. He was clearly helping her to pitch a new business. Mike was very impressed with the cases the firm had won in the last months and promised her that his regional director was going to be in contact in the following days.
“Good job! Apparently you got yourself another client,” Richard whispered to her as soon as Mike left their presence.
“Because of you, of course,” she told him, “Seriously, Richard, you didn’t need to do that. You are being too kind.”
“No problem. Besides, I’m doing it for selfish reasons,” he finished his glass looking deeply into her eyes.
Diane felt her face warm up. What was happening to her? Why was she feeling so uncomfortable when he flirted? She was the kind of woman that made men blush, not the other way around. Yet, in the back of her mind she could hear a voice telling her that she shouldn’t be flirting with another man to begin with.
“It’s Mafia tactics,” he said shaking his shoulders dismissively, trying to light up the mood, after he noticed she was uncomfortable.
She chuckled, “What do you mean?”
“I’m helping you now so you will owe me a favor in the future,” he grinned while she laughed out loud.
After a few moments, he inclined his head admirably at her “God, I love your laugh.”
And just like that, he made her blush again. Damn, the man and that champagne.
“Would you like to dance?” Richard offered and waited for her answer. She had obviously missed the lights dim while they were chatting with RD and his friends.
RD had finally returned after being absent for a few minutes, bringing back the friends he had mentioned for her to meet.
They were businessmen from nation-wide big industries: energy, hospitality, real estate and even the media. They all knew she was a liberal and made jokes about it. A couple of them even confessed not voting for President for the first time, since Hillary herself sounded better than the cotton candy hair lunatic. She couldn't have agreed more.
Diane was excited about the possible promising outcome from a few of those conversations. They all chatted amicably, while sharing many glasses of scotch. She had decided to avoid the champagnes, just in case.
Richard was putting in a good word for her as much as he could. Not only did he looked dashingly handsome, he was also behaving like a gentleman. Of course, from time to time, he made harmless flirtatious comments here and there.
RD and his friends slowly excused themselves, going back to their tables, as Diane and Richard were left alone again.
She stared at his extended hand and thought about it for a few moments. She shouldn't, she really shouldn't.
“Sure, why not?” She said, taking his hand.
He smiled broadly at her, held her hand tightly, before they moved to the center of the ballroom, where the other couples were dancing. Richard put his hand on her back, clearly avoiding touching her skin. Being this close to him, however, was too tempting. She could smell his perfume, see his shining notch lapel, how blue his eyes were and how well trimmed his beard was. She knew from the beginning that that was a very dangerous game to play.
Diane heard a song in the background, couldn't believe the irony and started to laugh. Too Close for Comfort, a Sinatra classic.
“What?” Richard asked, smiling at her.
“Nothing,” she grinned back at him and chose to say the very first thing that came to her mind, “I never thought you would be a good dancer.”
He chuckled but playfully pretended to look offended, “Of course I am! In fact, I’m a great dancer. I’m the grandson of the British Ambassador, remember? I started having ballroom dancing classes at the age of four, just in case Queen Elizabeth stopped by New York,” he told her as she joined his laughter.
“Oh, wait. I get it. It’s the motorcycle, isn’t it? You don't think a man who drives a Harley-Davidson can dance,” he continued the conversation, following yet another song.
“More like the leather jacket and boots,” she said, smiling.
In the corner of her eye she noticed the thirty something pregnant girl dancing with RD’s friend and her smile faded. She asked herself again, for the thousandth time, how men could do such an idiotic thing.
Richard noticed her mood change and followed her gaze, “That’s Tony Harris and his wife. You’ve probably seen him before. He is the king of shopping centers in the Midwest,” he mentioned and returned his attention to her. He wasn't surprised to see the couple dancing.
“She is awfully young for him, isn't she?” Diane threw the comment back at him and waited patiently for his answer.
Richard didn’t seem to be affected by her accusation, “Yes, he is seventy something and she is in, what, late twenties, early thirties perhaps?” He shook his head and continued, “I understand that younger women are exciting but, I always wondered if the real reason of dating these young girls is just a show off to your friends.”
She frowned. Was he playing some kind of game with her? Was he being a hypocrite? “I thought you had dated a few younger women yourself.” Now she was starting to get offended.
Richard opened his mouth but didn't answer, making her even angrier. She stopped dancing while looking straight at him. Instead of being surprised by her reaction, a slow smile began to spread on his lips.
Was he amused because she sounded jealous?
He blinked a few times and began to explain himself slowly, “Yes, I did. After my late wife died, I dated a few women, yes,” he nodded and continued, “And they were much younger than I was, it’s true. Those dates, I must say, were all arranged by my friends. Total disasters since the very beginning.”
His smile reached the corner of his mouth as he continued, “The longest relationship I had during these five years was with a cardiologist divorcee from Los Angeles.”
Richard slowly, yet carefully, placed his hand back on her waist and they continued dancing as Diane allowed his words to sink in. This time, his fingers grazed her bare back again and she gasped lightly at the contact but tried to hide her exhilaration. She couldn’t tell if he noticed.
”I met her at a friend’s wedding in Houston. We were both bored and didn't know anybody, except for the newlyweds. We started making small talk and fun of the other guests. Charming woman. She was probably in her late fifties,” he narrowed his eyes, trying to remember, “It didn’t last, though. Long distance relationships are always difficult. It’s still a four hour flight, you know,” he grinned, while staring deeply into her eyes.
It sounded like he was being honest with her and she kicked herself for thinking the worst of him. She was tired of people lying to her, especially lately.
“Well, I hate blind dates, I've always have,” he told her, “But I do understand my friends and my son’s concern and the fact that they want me to find someone.”
She nodded gently and decided not to say anything. He looked at Diane’s eyes again, smiling charmingly at her, “I prefer to meet someone myself, get to know her first, and if I'm intrigued and interested, slowly win her heart.”
Richard watched her reaction with curiosity and Diane started to feel uncomfortable. This time, she couldn’t blame the champagne. She hadn’t been drinking for an hour, at least.
Luckily, the orchestra chose that moment to finish with the song and the couples in the ballroom stopped dancing, applauding their last performance.
She took that as an excuse and checked her watch, “Oh, I didn’t realize the time. It’s awfully late,” she told him “I have an early meeting tomorrow, with your financial team by the way.”
Richard seemed surprised and disappointed, but only nodded at her. She knew that was a lousy excuse and probably one of the worst performances of her life.
“Sure, no problem,” he said and walked her towards the exit in silence.
Before they reached it, he held her left arm gently, stopping her, “Diane,” he whispered and waited few seconds before continuing. He seemed hesitant, “There is one thing though, if you don't mind me asking,”
“What is it?”
“May I take you home? If you allow me, of course.”
For the first time since they have met, Diane saw the desire he had for her openly written in his eyes. Apparently, alcohol was having its effect on him as well. She should feel revenged, but instead she felt tense and anxious. She knew the true meaning of those words and felt butterflies in her stomach.
“Richard, I can’t,” she whispered, shaking her head. He released her arm slowly and forced a smile. She had not missed the fact that he had quickly looked at her left hand again.
He was such a wonderful man and had been such a gentleman with her that she decided he deserved an honest answer. She should be as sincere and brave as he was with her, “Not today.”
He inclined his head, looking admiringly at her. She couldn't resist his handsome face and placed her right hand on his left cheek. Richard closed his eyes for a moment before he pressed his cheek against her palm. He took her hand in his, turned it, and kissed it gently.
“Goodbye,” she whispered and left.
When she arrived at the firm on the following day, Diane went straight to her office. Surprisingly, Richard’s financial team had canceled the pre-scheduled meeting she had that morning at the last minute and she thanked whatever Gods in silence.
She was a mess. Her mind was too busy remembering all the details from the previous night, which evidently had been the cause of her insomnia. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his smile, felt his hand on her back and his lips on her hand. She could even smell his perfume on her skin.
“So, how was it?” Maia was inside her office, seated on the sofa, surrounded by papers and files. Diane greeted her, waving in silence, while she dropped her coat and bag carelessly on the desk.
She saw Marissa walking in, with a notepad and a pen in hand, “Wow, you look awful,” she said, with her blunt honesty. Leave it to the Golds to make you feel even worse about yourself with just a few words.
Diane sat down on the chair, groaning. Her whole body hurt. Apparently, champagne and a bad night sleep were going to be the death of her.
“Thank you very much for your kind words, Marissa,” she told her assistant, running a hand through her hair, “It’s my fault. I left the event later than I should,” she sighed and continued, “But I’ve met a few interesting people. They promised to get back to us in the following weeks, we will see,” she opened her bag, searching for her reading glasses, “I got their business cards too. They are here somewhere.”
“Sounds like it worked. We have received a few phone calls today,” Marissa said, checked her notes and started reading them, “From Picket Incorporated, Texx Corp and Mr. Brendan Ross, who is the Regional Director of Holland Publications. Apparently his boss knows you. A guy called Michael Daryll?” Diane nodded as she continued, “Anyway, they all scheduled meetings for the next few days with the name partners.”
She blinked a few times at Marissa and then at Maia, who had raised herself from the sofa to stand next to Diane’s assistant, “Yes, I know. Whatever you did or said yesterday, you left quite the impression,” her goddaughter grinned at her.
When she confirmed her presence at the event, she had high hopes, but she would have never thought that it was going to be such a successful night.
“That is wonderful!” Diane laughed with the younger women, as they nodded in agreement.
“Mr. Dipple is really helping us out, isn’t he? I mean, all these contacts you met last night--” Marissa asked.
“It was Richard's invitation, though,” Diane interrupted her.
“What do you mean?" Maia continued, "Didn’t you call RD the other day and he ended up inviting you to the event?”
“Yes, but it was really Richard’s idea,” Diane hesitated for a few moments before adding “He asked RD to invite me and I only found out about it yesterday. He was there too.”
“Wait, why would he do that? I mean, why didn't he call you himself?” Marissa asked.
Why indeed. That made no sense. Except for the fact that he knew perfectly well that if he had invited her she would probably have had second thoughts about going. He was a clever man, wasn’t he?
She opened her mouth to reply and briefly looked at Maia, silently asking for help. She saw her goddaughter look sympathetically at her, apparently understanding her request. Maia was there with her during their first meeting and probably noticed the way he was looking at her, not to mention the fact that he wasn’t being discreet when he invited her for lunch.
“I don’t think it would play well, Marissa,” Maia answered, “I mean, Fisher obviously wanted to help us but he is still a client. An invitation coming from RD, who knows Diane on a personal level, would sound less than an obligation and more like a helping hand.”
Marissa looked first at Maia and then at Diane, narrowing her eyes briefly. Of course she didn’t buy it. She wouldn’t be Eli’s daughter if she had. She knew that there was clearly another reason behind that story.
Marissa chuckled and decided to change the subject, “Wow… Instead of the Businessperson of the Year, I guess the Man of the Year award would be more appropriate for him,“ she said laughing and Maia joined her.
“What do you mean?” Diane asked confused, “Wait, did he win the award?”
“Yes, he did! It was announced a few days ago, didn’t you hear? He is even on this month's cover of Fortune. Boseman bought a few copies and left them at the reception and in the meeting room, of course,” she said rolling her eyes, “He said it will make a good impression with the clients.”
“Come on, he is right. You have to admit that this is free publicity,” Maia said, after crossing her arms in front of her chest, “The Businessman of the Year is our client. Very chic,” she made a movement with her shoulder, closing her eyes and sticking her nose in the air, while she shared a laugh with Marissa.
“Boseman announced on the general meeting that T.A. & Fisher invited us and the name partners to the official ceremony next Thursday,” Marissa said “Their Public Relations and Fortune Magazine are both organizing a party at the Sheraton Grand. It’s going to be big, Diane.”
She frowned. Richard didn’t mention anything about the award. Then again, he didn't look like the kind of guy who would gloat so openly.
After what happened on the previous night, though, she would have at least expected a phone call or a text message from him. She was rather surprised that he hadn’t used that as an excuse to reach out and invite her personally to the ceremony. And, to be honest, she was a little disappointed too.
In fact, he had only made contact by phone once, to congratulate her about the Wiseman’s case. That was a few weeks ago.
“Hey, I have to go. I’m helping Barbara with the Sara Barnett’s case,” Maia interrupted her thoughts, “She will try to settle with the University and avoid going to court. Even though it's not related to T.A. & Fisher, I offered to give her a hand,” she completed.
“And if you don’t mind, I will take my lunch break now,” Marissa continued.
“Yes, sure,” Diane nodded.
“Oh, by the way, a box arrived for you earlier this morning and I put it on your desk. It's under your coat,” Marissa pointed at the table, “I will be back in a few minutes, I promise,” she told her and left the room right after Maia.
Diane removed the coat and her bag from the table, only to reveal a big gift box, wrapped in a ribbon, with a beautiful bowknot on top.
It had been a decade since she had received a very similar box at her old office at Stern, Lockhart & Gardner. He hasn’t been in touch in almost three months, so why in the world would he send her something now?
And just like the first time she received the gift, she was both curious and worried about its content. She exhaled slowly and decided to be brave. She opened the box and saw a book wrapped in waxed paper.
He had sent her another book. His book.
The Second Amendment, Firearms and Forensic Ballistics.
She stared at it for a few minutes and remembered the first time he mentioned his plans of becoming an author, during their last Christmas at the farm. He always wanted to write about the right to bear arms, famous criminal cases and how technology and science can help solving difficult cases.
He had it all planned and even started writing a few chapters. When she read it for the first time, she was rather impressed on how many details he knew about each case and how impartial he tried to be when explaining the reason of the crimes. He had included a few examples and cases that he himself had participated in.
In one chapter in particular, he wrote about being sued for the testimony he gave in a murder trial and how his future wife, working as his defence lawyer at the time, had cleared him of all charges.
She made a few comments here and here, which he followed in the end. He had even contacted the NRA as she suggested and they ended up sponsoring the book, helping him with publication and distribution. The whole book was written in just four months as with his retirement, he had more time in his hands.
It was also during his first days of retirement that everything went down the drain. She found out in the worst possible way that he’d had an affair with his student.
She sighed. Those memories were always painful to remember. Especially because she knew there was something very wrong about his retirement from the very beginning. It all sounded too good to be true.
When they decided to get married, they had agreed that they would stop, once and for all, running away from each other. They both wanted to be together as often as possible. However, their careers made it almost impossible to make that happen.
She always left too early for work or came back too late at night. He was always travelling around the country, going to conventions, working as an expert witness in cases and teaching. Not to mention the fact that he hated Chicago and preferred to live at his farm.
He was right when he pointed out that they had been married for three years and had probably seen each other ninety eight days. If she had to be honest to herself, she knew it had been even less than that.
A few days before he told her about his wish to retire, she noticed he was quieter than usual. It was very clear that he was happy to spend more time with her and to finally be able to move in with her. But from time to time, she also felt he was distanced.
After she was humiliated in court, she went straight home and waited for him. She refused to believe or accept what had happened. Above all, what made her devastated was the fact that she didn't understand why he would do such a thing.
When he arrived he finally confessed her everything. He told her how much he missed her, how lonely he was and how he never really accepted the way they lived. He also told her that he was too proud to admit even to himself that what he needed the most was to be by her side as much as possible.
Apparently, he and Holly had a brief affair during one of those conventions. They went to a party and had a few drinks too many. He said he wanted to tell her what happened right after it happened but never had the courage. The first step into fixing his own mistake was the decision to retire. He wanted to spend more time with her, he wanted to be closer to her and finally live the married life they had always planned.
Days and months passed by and they never talked about the book again.
Diane felt a tear running down her cheek and dried it angrily with her hand. It still hurt too much every time she remembered.
She picked up the book and examined it closely. The hard copy was quite impressive and heavy. The front cover had a close up picture of a Smith & Wesson 29, the gun he taught her how to shoot. She turned it around and saw the author’s bio, with his profile picture - the exact same one taken by herself, on their first anniversary at the farm. He was smiling into the camera, sitting on the sofa, by the fireplace.
He hated taking pictures, always had. One day, she had finally convinced him to take one. Since they couldn’t spend much time with each other, she at least wanted a picture of him on her nightstand. She eventually chose another one to have by her bed: their wedding picture.
She turned the book around again, opened it and started to read the first pages. She smiled when she read that it was on its second edition already. She was genuinely happy for his success.
As she turned the pages, she stopped suddenly and stared at the book. She felt her eyes fill with tears once again. On the dedication page, he had chosen only three words.
She closed the book angrily and pushed it away from her. She placed her elbows on the table and her head between her hands. Why was he doing that to her? Why in the world would he send her the book knowing perfectly well it was going to be painful for her? Especially the way he sent it.
During the first months they were separated, he had tried to reach out many times, imploring for her forgiveness. Every time they spoke, she always ended up being devastated. She asked him to give her time. She needed space, she needed to think; she needed to be away from him for a while and try to forgive him and forget what happened. More importantly, she needed to understand the reason why it happened and why he did it.
Diane took a deep breath and shook her head. She had to be strong and move on. She placed the book back inside the box and closed it. She decided she was not ready to read it through yet.
“Diane,” she heard someone knocking at the door. Marissa had just made it back from lunch apparently, “There is something else for you,” she lifted her head only to see the smiling face of her assistant looking at her. By her side, a young man dressed in khaki clothes was holding a huge flower bouquet.
He checked his device as he entered the room, “Diane Lockhart?”
She raised herself slowly from the chair and nodded at the man. He placed the bouquet on her extended arms, while she just stared at it, surprised. The man gave Marissa the little device to sign and then left.
“Wow, they are beautiful,” Marissa said as she admired the flowers closely, “Is there a card?”
Diane saw a small pearl envelope between the flowers and placed the bouquet on her desk. She picked it up and opened it.
I hope you can make it next week.
Can’t stop thinking about you.
Diane closed her eyes and tried to slow down her heartbeat. Richard didn’t even bother to sign the card.
Of course she knew what those yellow roses meant.
"Did you hear Boseman bragging about going with Fisher to a private gathering after the party?" Marissa asked Lucca and Diane in a low voice, as Maia and Amy laughed.
T.A. & Fisher had invited the partners, The Lockhart Girls to the event and seated them all at the same table. They were all chatting by the bar while watching their bosses from a distance. Carl, Adrian, Barbara and the other directors were all enjoying their dinner.
"Boseman said Fisher only invited his closest friends for a Poker & Brandy extravaganza on his private yacht. He thinks he is now Fisher's close friend," Maia rolled her eyes at the other women and Marissa agreed.
"Oh, is it the big one anchored by the lake?" Lucca pointed to the window and Maia nodded, "I hope he loses money and wins the billionaires' sympathy. We need more clients," she told the other girls and laughed herself.
Diane smiled before sipping her drink. At least the girls were having fun and even distracting her from what had happened on the previous week. It all started with that damn Republican event and the fact that Richard was proven to be her greatest temptation yet. She closed her eyes and shook her head.
She couldn't deny that she had enjoyed the flirting. Right when she was starting to accept it other than feeling guilty about it, her husband decided to send her his book as a reminder that she was still a married woman.
She drank deeply this time and placed the empty glass on the nearest tray. Diane sighed and looked around at the beautiful decoration in the room. She found it to be more elegant and not as ostentatious as the one at the Republican event. The ballroom itself was less grand, but had a spectacular view of the lake and the hotel's garden. She could even see the yacht Lucca mentioned only minutes ago.
The rounded tables were arranged nicely, in the center of the room. There was also a big stage in the front, with a gigantic picture of Richard, the same picture from the cover of Fortune magazine.
The organizers had chosen yellow roses for the decoration. Of course. She knew that was a personal request from Richard and not only a coincidence.
In fact, she had received a bouquet of yellow roses every single day, for seven consecutive days. She knew perfectly well what that meant: he was following his father's footsteps impeccably. After the fourth day, she had even sent him a rather angry text message.
Can you please stop sending flowers to the office? People are starting to talk!
Diane thought she had convinced him when on the following day she didn't receive anything, only to be proven wrong when she arrived home later that night. He continued playing his game, sending flowers to another address.
"So, did you like the roses?" Diane jumped a little when she heard Richard's voice. He was dressed in an impeccable tuxedo again, holding two glasses of champagne and grinning at her.
"Shhhhh! Keep it quiet!" Diane whispered, after opening her eyes widely and hitting his arm playfully.
"What? Don't they know it was from me?" He pretended to be surprised and offered one of his glasses.
"Of course they don't! And can you stop sending them once and for all?" Diane whispered back at him, feeling irritated.
"You didn't give me an answer yet. I won't stop until you say yes," he smiled wickedly at her, as he sipped his drink. His eyes wandered from her hair to her lips, while waiting for her answer.
She lowered her head and shook it, smiling. He was such a flirt. She had to admit to herself that she liked it.
"I can't say yes, Richard," she said laughing, "I can't go out with you. You're my client, it's unethical," Yeah, right, she thought to herself. That foolish excuse didn't stop her a few years ago.
"Ok then, fair enough," he nodded, "You are fired!" He pointed at her and Diane laughed out loud. Richard's smile faded slowly as he watched her. He tilted his head and told her, in a low voice, "You look stunning."
When Diane decided to wear the silver beads dress, she wondered what his reaction would be. She had enjoyed the way he had looked at her the other night, especially how desirable he made her feel.
"Thank you. And congratulations, by the way," she decided to change the subject.
"I thought you would never mention it," he said, looking into the nearest mirror, fixing his tie and pretending to be proud of himself. She chuckled before he continued, "Seriously though, I'm glad that I won a serious and respected award for a change, rather than those anyone can buy. Those shitty ones that were created just to make you look good with the media."
She smiled back at him and took another sip, "You deserve it, Richard. What you have done to the company and industry is extraordinary. T.A. & Fisher is the most admirable construction company in the business."
"Mr. Fisher, excuse me," a woman in her twenties and dressed in black interrupted them, "It's time for your speech, sir."
"Ok, sure. Just give me one minute," he told the woman, who nodded and took a few steps back to give them privacy. Richard turned to Diane and smiled, "Promise me we will continue this conversation after I finish. Don't run away from me this time. I will be back in a few moments."
Diane looked at him and nodded, "I won't."
She watched him give the woman his glass and walk towards the stage. The chief Editor of Fortune gave a brief speech about the magazine itself, the importance of the award and announced this year's winner.
Richard shook his hand when he stepped onto the podium and accepted the warm applause. The entire room was giving him a standing ovation and she was rather surprised to see how happy his friends were for him. Apparently, everybody adored him.
"Thank you all, thank you," he said as the guests applauded him, "OK, cut that out guys, that's enough," he continued and the audience laughed. He smiled and made a gesture with his arms, silently asking the audience to sit down.
"First of all, I would like to thank Fortune for honouring me tonight with this incredibly important award. I still don't know the real reason why I'm being honoured, but since I'm an old man, I'm accepting all kinds of recognition I can get lately."
The audience laughed and he continued, "I would also like to thank all of you for being here tonight. I'm honoured that I'm this year's award winner, but this would mean nothing if my family and friends weren't here to share this moment with me. My son Josh, his wife Sarah, who gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life, my granddaughter Grace. My old dear friends Adam, Larry, Reese and Max; Even my partners and confidants Dan and Jason, who helped turning my old father's construction company into the second biggest in the country and had finally agreed to move to Chicago last year... All of you. This award is to all of you," he said while the audience cheered loudly.
Diane noticed Richard looking in her direction before speaking again, "It's indeed a very special night and very special people. Old friends and new friends, who are very close to my heart."
She looked down at her glass and shook her head. God. She knew she was playing with fire. But it was her fault, wasn't it? She was definitely encouraging him, laughing at his jokes and enjoying his flirtation. She was even dressing up for him.
She drank deeply and felt her phone vibrate inside her clutch. She took it out and for a moment just stared at the name on the screen. It was 9pm, on a Thursday night - what in the world would he be calling her about?
She decided to answer, since it could have been an emergency.
"Hey," he said and she immediately closed her eyes. He obviously had to answer that way, the same way he had always answered her when he called, "Am I interrupting something important?" He asked. Diane thought he might had heard the cheering in the background, "It's no big deal really, I just wanted to ask you something," he said and waited for her reply.
"Yes, I can talk, but briefly. I'm actually at an event right now," she mentioned and looked back at the stage. Richard was still giving his speech and entertaining his friends
"It won't take much time," he said and waited a few moments, "I was wondering if you have received the book last week, since you haven't been in touch."
She could tell he was nervous. Why in the world would he be nervous? Maybe because he hoped she would mention the picture or better yet, the dedication.
"Yes, I did and it looks great. The publisher did an excellent job," she said the words as cold as possible, trying to hide any emotion she might have been feeling.
She saw Richard finishing his speech while the guests applauded enthusiastically. He walked down the stage, greeting friends with pats on the back and long handshakes. He spoke to a couple briefly, hugging and kissing them. The young man's resemblance with Richard was uncanny, even though his hair was much darker.
"Well, good," he said and hesitated again before continuing, "I just wanted to invite you to the book launch cocktail. I'm not sure when it will be exactly, but probably in the upcoming months."
She quickly searched for the nearest waiter, urgently needing another drink, "Send the invitation to the office when you decide on the date and I will check my schedule. I've been incredibly busy lately, so I can't promise you anything. But I will definitely do my best to go."
Diane saw Richard smiling at RD, as he patted his back and looked in her direction again. She noticed how much closer he was to her.
"Yes, sure. I can only imagine," she heard him saying, "It would mean a lot to me if you could come though," he said and she closed her eyes tightly. Every time they talked, at some point, she felt emotional.
"I've been..." he said and stopped. She could hear him sighing deeply. If it was difficult for her, she could only imagine that it was painful for him as well.
Before he continued, she heard a distant voice on the other side of the line. A woman's voice, "Kurt, are you ready? They are waiting!"
Diane opened her eyes and her thoughts began to run wild.
"Sorry, I have to go," he said calmly, "I will talk to you soon."
She took the phone from hear ear, turned off the call and stared at the display. Her whole body was shaking and her eyes filled with tears again. She couldn't believe what had just happened.
Diane felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around without thinking. She saw Richard's smile fade away when he notice her eyes filled with tears.
"Are you ok?" He asked softly, sounding concerned.
She shook her head simply because she didn't trust her voice to answer him. She knew she was going to cry openly and didn't want to embarrass herself even more. She immediately turned away from him and started walking towards the exit as fast as she could.
"Diane," she heard him call her name, but didn't bother to answer. She needed to get away from that place and from everybody. She wanted to be alone. She was done with public humiliations a long time ago.
When she reached the main door, she felt a hand on hers, forcing her to turn, "Diane, wait! What happened?" Richard asked, breathing heavily.
"Please, let me go," Diane whispered, keeping her head lowered. She could hear her heart beating loudly the minute she heard that voice on the other side of the line.
"You promised me you wouldn't leave, remember?" Richard said, trying to make eye contact with her, "What happened to upset you so much? Was it the phone call? Is everything alright?"
She laughed ironically, as she dried a tear with the back of her hand, "Yes, I guess it is. Everything is fine. With everybody else but me."
"Was it him on the phone?" Richard asked her and she finally made eye contact. He saw the truth and nodded.
"Richard, please go back. It's your night, you need to go back," Diane asked him, trying not to let her voice break again.
"This is where I want to be," he told her, offering his hand, "Come, let's go somewhere quieter and talk."
She looked at his extended hand first and then at his eyes again, kindly asking her to accept his offer.
"Do you trust me?" He asked her.
There was no doubt that she could trust him. She was not sure though if she could trust herself.
“Come on,” he asked again, offering his hand, “Let’s go.”
She closed her eyes for a few seconds and placed her hand on his. She felt him hold it tightly while she followed him.
Richard and Diane crossed the hotel's beautiful outside garden, walking through a path towards the lake. She could see the huge yacht anchored and remembered what Lucca had told the girls earlier.
“Where are we going?” She asked him.
“You will see,” he answered her briefly.
When they arrived at the yacht, two navy sailors greeted Richard with a salute and opened the small gate for them. Richard greeted them back and allowed Diane to walk first the narrow bridge-like that connected the boat to the shore.
“Richard,” Diane mentioned his name and before he could say anything, the captain and another sailor greeted them.
“We are ready when you are, sir.”
“At ease, Denis,” he told the captain and smiled, “We can go.”
“Sir? I thought there were more people coming,” the captain looked at him and then at Diane.
“No, it's just us for now,” he told him. The young man opened his mouth to say something but in the end, he simply nodded, saluting Richard again. He stepped away and climbed the stairs to the bridge while his fellow officer yelled at the other two on the shore.
“So, what would you like to drink? Should we continue with champagne?” He said walking inside the main deck, as she felt the boat starting to move. She looked at her side and saw the hotel’s ballroom from its window, where everybody seemed to be having a wonderful time. People were laughing and dancing animatedly while the party’s honoree was getting her a drink.
“Richard, what is this?” Diane asked when he saw him returning with a bottle of Don Perignon and two glasses.
“A boat,” he told her as he handed her one.
She opened her mouth to reply but ended up laughing. He could be so frustrating sometimes.
“It’s good to see you smiling again,” he grinned when she accepted the glass. After taking a sip, he started to undo his bow tie, “God, I hate these things. I hope you don’t mind.”
She shook her head and looked quickly inside the room. The place was incredible and reminded her more of a luxurious house dining room than a yatch. It was set for a private event, with rounded tables, chairs and a full set bar at the end of the room. She also saw three waiters clearly looking curious towards them.
“Come with me, I want to show you something,” he grabbed the champagne bottle, put it under his arm, held a glass and offered her his free hand. She took it without thinking, trying to ignore the fact that it was getting easier for her to follow him.
As soon as they walked to the front of the boat, Diane felt the chilling breeze on her cheeks. Chicago was starting to get warmer again, but that night was definitely colder than that week’s previous ones. She slowed her steps when she saw how mesmerizing the view was. The beauty of those buildings and their lights made her gasp.
“Yes, this is such an amazing city, isn’t it?” He told her, placing the bottle on the high table while sipping his drink and admiring the view, “It's easy to fall in love with it. My friends constantly ask me if I regret moving here from New York. Not for a second,” he opened his tuxedo jacket and made himself more comfortable.
They fell into silence for a few moments. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the sound of the water gently hitting the boat. She sighed deeply and opened her eyes, only to feel his gaze on her. “You were supposed to come here with your friends after the party and I just ruined your plans.”
“Who told you that?” He asked smiling, his eyes narrowing in surprise.
“I have my sources,” she smiled back at him.
“Well, not exactly. Dan and Jason invited a few friends and business partners to play poker. I’m terrible at it. I wasn’t planning to lose money tonight,” he laughed, “So I told them they could just go ahead and borrow the place.”
Diane shook her head, chuckling, “Poor Boseman. He thought it was a personal invitation from you and that he had finally won your trust.”
“That is going to be a real disappointment for him,” he continued and drank again, “Besides, I had other plans for the night.”
Diane smiled briefly and lowered her head. She looked at her left hand, the one holding the glass and stared at the golden band.
“Why do you still wear it?” Richard asked her, as if he could read her thoughts.
She looked at him and started to feel emotional again. She closed her eyes and asked herself the same question. She wasn’t so sure about the answer anymore.
“I don’t know,” she heard herself answering him, “We barely speak. The last time I saw him was five months ago. We are still married, but in many ways, we are not.”
He nodded slowly before drinking from his glass, “The other day, when we were at the All Lives Matter event, you mentioned something that I didn’t forget. You said that the most decent man you have ever met is Republican,” he repeated her words, “Were you talking about him?”
She nodded back at Richard and looked at the view, after she tasted the golden liquid herself
He shook his head, “I don’t understand how you can still call him a decent man after what he did to you, Diane.”
She didn't know what to say. There was no reasonable explanation. Judging by his actions, he was anything but. However, Richard didn’t know him the way she did, he didn’t know how they suffered being away from each other and how much they needed each other.
“One thing I know is how difficult it is to let go of someone you love,” he told her with a sad smile, as she quickly looked into his eyes, “I'm not sure if you know what happened to my late wife and how she was murdered,” he asked her.
“I’ve heard a few things,” Diane whispered to him.
He nodded and drank deeply, “Helen was a professor of Arts at Columbia. She loved teaching, she had never wanted to do anything else in her life,” he told her, “She was returning home from classes on an early Friday evening when she was murdered by an ex-convict. He was accused of taking part in a robbery bank and New York state government decided to issue him an early parole for good behavior. They had this new program that helped rehabilitate them to society - a complete failure from the very beginning. He killed her because she refused to give him her diamond ring. Her engagement ring.”
Richard fell silent, staring at the lake, “You can only imagine how I felt, knowing it was partly my fault,” he said and interrupted her before she could say anything, “I know what you are going to say, all my friends told me the same thing. But deep inside I know that everything could have been avoided if she hadn’t been wearing it in the first place,” he continued.
“I know the pain of losing someone you love suddenly. It was just another regular morning: we had breakfast, we kissed goodbye and went to work. When I was on my way home, I received a phone call from the police.”
Diane remembered the day she found out about his infidelity. They were finally living together and enjoying married life. They had also had a pretty ordinary morning that day.
“You lost someone you loved too," Richard continued, “The man you knew, the man you trusted and admired died the moment you found out about his affair.”
She closed her eyes when they start to fill with tears. That was exactly how she felt. When she heard those words coming from Lucca, her first reaction was denial. She knew the man she was married to and how much of a decent person he was - that man couldn't have done such a thing.
And yet, he did.
Disappointment had proven to be the most painful feeling she’d had at that time.
“We both lost loved ones. My wife’s death made me hate everything about my old life, everything that was associated with that crime, with that city. It took me a while, but I moved on,” he told her.
“I know Helen is gone and your husband is still here Diane, but you need to eventually move on someday,” she opened her eyes and looked at him. He took his and her empty glasses, placing them on the high table.
“I know I have to," she whispered at him, “But it still hurts too much.”
“I can imagine,” he said.
“This past year was probably the worst of my life,” she sighed, placing her hands on the cold grid, “I lost everything. My money, my retirement, my marriage and my job,” she told him, “Things are now starting to come back to normal. Especially these past three months, right after I met you.”
“I am glad I was able to help,” he smiled at her for the first time in a while, “I hope the roses I sent played a part in this too.”
She smiled gently, “Definitely. And I guess the yellow roses today were no coincidence either.”
“Too much?” He asked her with a smile on the corner of his lips.
“No, it was lovely,” she smiled at him.
Both fell silent again for a few minutes. She stared at the buildings, feeling the gentle breeze on her face and hair. She had never seen the sky so clear, so full of stars.
“It’s such a beautiful night,” she said softly, admiring the view.
“It’s such a beautiful woman,” she heard him whisper and turned her head to look at him. He was closer to her than before and she could smell his perfume again.
He placed his hand over her left and continued, whispering, “Since the day I met you, all I can do is think about you. Everything about you fascinates me, Diane,” he placed his right hand gently on her waist, turning her to face him, “I haven’t felt like this in a long time. Let me help you move on.”
For a few seconds she was lost looking at his bearded handsome face. She could easily fall for him. His hand moved from her waist to her lower back as she felt him leaning in slowly until she closed her eyes.
Diane felt a jolt of electricity run through her legs when his lips touched hers for the first time. It started slow, only to suddenly grow into such passion that she felt out of breath. Both his hands were holding her tightly while he ravished her in a surprisingly wonderful kiss.
She felt her own arms moving to the back of his head, automatically running her fingers through his hair. She responded in kind and after a few moments, both moved apart to catch their breaths.
“God, I thought about kissing you so many times,” Richard whispered in her ear and started leaving small tender kisses on her face and neck.
She opened her eyes for a brief moment and looked at the yacht bridge. On the top floor, his captain and sailor were both clearly smiling at them, while enjoying the view.
“Richard,” Diane whispered, raising her hand to his face, “Looks like we are putting on a show for your crew.”
He moved back to look at her face. She smiled at him and looked up. He turned his head and saw both men move quickly, pretending to be concentrated in something else.
“We should go to a more private place,” Richard smiled at her, carefully removing the hair from her forehead and placing it behind her ear, “My apartment is only ten minutes away in that direction,” he told her softly, looking towards the buildings.
She smiled at him and nodded, “Let’s go.”
The hell with it.
They arrived at his apartment and went straight to his bedroom. Richard didn’t bother turning on the lights on their way up and she could barely see where they were going. He had stolen a few kisses in the taxi and elevator while she unsuccessfully tried to make him behave.
His bedroom curtains were opened and the lights coming from the other buildings helped illuminate his room. She was feeling dizzy from the alcohol, but she always loved that sensation, especially when someone was kissing her neck.
She stepped out of her shoes, smiled and closed her eyes. Diane felt his hands on her stomach slowly moving up and right before it touched the lower part of her breasts, moving down again. He buried his head in her hair, breathing deeply.
“Your perfume drives me crazy,” he told her and she smiled. It was good to know that both were having trouble trying to resist each other.
She turned to face him and they kissed passionately. She let his tongue slowly move inside her mouth and felt his hands running from her hips to her ass, pulling her closer to him. She also felt his erection against her and gasped.
He moved one of his hands to her head and continued kissing and sucking her lower lip. She was fascinated that he kissed like a young starving teenager, so anxious and passionate.
She felt his other hand move to the back of her dress and he started unzipping it slowly, letting his finger caress her skin. He moved his lips to her collarbone, helping her remove the sleeves. She felt her dress fall to the floor before his hands resumed their slow movements on her body. She started to remove his jacket but before she finished, his right hand made contact with her panties and she moaned.
“Richard,” she whispered, asking him silently to help her. He removed his tuxedo, hurrying, and helped her unbutton his shirt before resuming their kisses.
“I love the way you say my name,” he told her, walking them slowly towards the bed after he stepped out of his own shoes. His hand travelled down her body again, sliding into her panties. He started to kiss her face gently as he moved two fingers to feel how ready she was.
“Sweet Jesus,” he moaned into her neck once his fingers made contact with her wetness. She gasped, closing her eyes and throwing her neck back, giving him better access. He continued to leave alternate kisses and sweet little bites on her neck and jaw while his fingers made small circular movements touching her.
Her own hands went down to his pants, opened his belt and fly and moved inside his underwear. She heard him sighing when she felt how wonderfully hard he was for her. She started to touch him, as her other hand tried to remove his shirt. He stepped back a little and helped her with his shirt, intensively looking at her body.
She had chosen black lace lingerie to wear that night. She wanted to feel beautiful and desired, even if it was only for herself.
He took off his pants and socks and held her tightly again, kissing her, her skin burning when it made the contact with his. She stepped away from Richard and walked back slowly until she felt her legs touching the edge of the bed. She moved her hands behind her to remove her bra, when he stopped her.
“No, let me,” he told her in a low voice. He moved closer to her and removed the undergarment slowly. His hand made contact with her right breast and he immediately lowered his mouth and start sucking her left one. She gasped loudly.
His mouth moved to her other breast, as his hand held her, moving from her lower back to her ass.
“Richard,” Diane said and moved away from him. She turned him around and made him sit down on the edge of the bed. He pulled her to him and started sucking her nipple, as she continued to caress his hair. She held his face between her hands and kissed him sweetly, “I want you to enjoy this too,” she said and lowered herself to the floor, kneeling in front of him.
He smiled at her, raising a hand to caress her cheek. Her fingers helped him remove his underwear and his erection sprung free. He touched her hair when she caressed him gently while staring at his eyes. She lowered her mouth, kissed and licked the tip of his cock and waited for his reaction. He was looking at her the entire time, with his mouth slightly opened. She smiled again, before lowering her mouth, sucking him slowly.
“Oh, baby,” he closed his eyes and tightened his hand on her hair, but carefully enough not to hurt her. She continued to suck him deeply, while her hand helped, imitating her movements. After a few minutes, she licked his cock, from the base to the tip and could feel its veins pulsing against her tongue.
“Stop, please,” he said, holding her face away from him, “I want to last for you,” he said and kissed her again. He helped her stand up and kissed her stomach once she was in front of him again. She placed her knees next to his hips and he held her waist with both hands.
Before she knew it, he had quickly moved and laid her on his bed. She laughed and he smiled, positioning himself on top of her. He started hungrily kissing one of her breasts again, while his fingers squeezed the other. He started to move down, kissing his way to her navel. He removed her panties slowly and looked up, admiring her for a few seconds.
“Beautiful. Just as I imagined,” he smiled at her after his eyes wandered over her body.
“You have imagined me naked?” she mirrored his smile and caressed his face.
“Many times,” he laughed gently, while his hand moved to her legs, “God, you have the most incredible legs.”
He started to kiss the inside of her thigh and she threw her head back, moaning. He repeated the movement on her other leg until she felt his hands and fingers opening her for him. For a moment, he stopped his movements, making her look down, only to find him smiling wickedly between her legs.
“I have also thought about this many times,” he said and then lowered his mouth on her.
“Oh, God,” she mumbled, moving one hand through his hair, holding the bed’s grid with the other. He had a very talented mouth, she had to admit. His hands and fingers opened her up for better access as he slowly kissed, licked and sucked her, using his tongue and lips, from her opening to her clit. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on his tongue. She knew if he continued with that, she would be coming soon.
She tightened the grip on his hair asking for his attention, “Richard, please, stop.”
“You don’t want it?” he asked, looking up at her, while his fingers replaced his tongue, making small caressing movements on her. Before she answered him, he moved back and sucked her clit deeply, alternating with wet kisses. She gasped again. The sensation he was making her feel was incredible. She opened her eyes, looked at him and smiled. She knew perfectly well how to affect him, “I want to come with you.”
He groaned loudly and quickly moved up again to kiss her passionately, while his hands held her legs opened, positioning himself between them. She tasted herself on his mouth, felt his erection against her thigh and broke the kiss. She snaked her hand down and touched him, staring intensely into his eyes.
“Please, I need this,” she said and he lowered his mouth to her neck. He placed his hand over hers and slowly let himself inside of her. God, she had missed that so much. She was full again, complete and he felt wonderful.
She moved her right leg on top of his left one, holding him in place. He started to move slowly, as his hand held her breast and pinched her nipple. He raised himself to his forearms, looking down at them. She felt him push harder and faster against her, his breathing harder and faster as he watched them move, obviously fascinated by the image of their connected bodies. She touched his face and he turned to kiss her hand, while pushing inside of her.
His right hand moved down and his fingers started to stimulate her clit. She threw her head back, exposing her neck to him again, as she tried to keep his pace, whispering, “I’m almost there.”
Groaning, Richard increased the speed and made different moves with his hips. She started to come only moments after, clutching him and screaming his name. He lowered his mouth to hers, muffling the sounds she was making, kissing her sensually with his tongue and sucking her lower lip. Richard slowed his movements as she came down from her orgasm.
“God,” she ran a hand through her hair and noticed that she was sweating. He smiled down at her and lowered his mouth to kiss her gently, continuing to move slowly inside her.
“Now it's your turn,” she moved one of her hands to his ass squeezing it and letting him take the lead of their lovemaking. He started again making round movements at first and sending little electric shocks to her core, increasing the speed only a few moments later.
He looked from her face to her breasts again, thrilled that they were mirroring the movements his hips were making. He slowed the speed for a few minutes and started to move harder and deeper. He lowered his mouth to her neck again as his left hand held her thigh higher for a better angle. She turned her head and started to kiss his earlobe and neck, alternating with little bites. She knew that was going to help drive him over the edge.
She could feel him getting closer when he moaned from the back of his throat, as his cock moved faster and harder inside her by the minute. His passion scared her a little, but during the entire time, he was trying to be as careful as possible with her. He finally buried his face in her neck and roared loudly for the last time. She felt him pulse as he continued to move deeply inside her, before he finally stopped.
She caressed his back with both her hands, enjoying the weight of him on top of her. After what seemed like an eternity, he rolled to his back, pulling her with him. She placed her head on his arm, only to start running her fingers slowly over his hairy chest.
“That was--” he said, running a hand through his hair, looking down at her.
“Incredible,” she looked at him and completed his thought. They both laughed and relaxed again, “I guess you had also imagined that it was going to be like this too.”
“Oh, yeah. I just knew it,” he laughed with her as he gently caressed her arm, “Since you walked into my office for the first time.”
She kissed his chest, smiling happily and closed her eyes.
And the smut continues... ;)
Diane woke up feeling tired. She kept her eyes closed and tried to remember what she had done the previous night. She felt like she had ran a marathon.
The first thing that came to her mind was Richard’s handsome face, grinning at her. She smiled gladly and buried her head in the pillow. Her memories were so real that she could smell his perfume on the bed sheets and on her skin again.
Her eyes opened wide once she remembered what happened.
The party, the boat, the champagne. It was all clear to her now. She also remembered the guilty walk she took to his bathroom, in the middle of the night, only to end with more sex.
She turned and laid on her back staring at the ceiling. How could she be so weak? How could she had fallen into temptation like that? She ran a hand through her hair, closed her eyes and sighed heavily, burying the back of her head on the pillow again.
She was at his apartment, in a huge modern bedroom on the top of a very big luxurious building in the Magnificent Mile. At least, that was what she vaguely remembered. She looked to her left side and found his watch on the nightstand. Thank God it was still early in the morning.
Diane smelled panckakes and coffee - he was probably making them breakfast. No wonder, after so much action during the night maybe he was starving too.
Right after she finished her thought, a hand slowly moved on her stomach and she opened her eyes wide again.
“Morning,” Richard placed a tender kiss on her cheek and continued kissing her behind her ear, “Did you sleep well?” He asked, as she felt his body making contact with her skin.
His hand travelled lower, moving towards her center. She smiled, closing her eyes, focusing her attention on his touch, “I did. How about you?”
“Wonderfully,” he smiled against her skin, kissing and biting gently her jawline. His fingers made contact with her wetness, sliding over it and feeling her slowly, “Best night I had in years.”
She chose to ignore his last words and change the subject, “I really need to go home and get ready for work,” she said breathlessly while his fingers touched her. She had to stop him, but what he was doing to her was beyond wonderful. She felt his erection touching her right thigh and moved closer to him.
“You feel incredible,” he whispered in her ear, “I want to learn everything about you, Diane. How you like to be touched, how you like to be loved. The pressure, the speed, the angle, everything,” his fingers were touching her intimately and she couldn't avoid but move her hips along with them.
She knew he was seducing her with words and actions and felt herself getting wetter as the minutes went by, “Richard, please, I really need to go,” she said breathless but didn't make any move to stop his fingers.
“Breakfast is ready,” he said, while his fingers moved around her clit and lower lips, applying more pressure each time, driving her crazy, “And I’m starving,” he whispered again and she couldn't avoid the moan that came out of her mouth.
She started to move her hips in the same rhythm as his hands and fingers, “Open your legs wider, baby,” he whispered in her ear, only to moan himself when she did what he had asked.
He pushed two fingers inside her, sliding easily. She was so wet and swollen that the sensation was incredible. Her hand found his cock and started to touch him slowly.
Richard continued to stimulate her with his fingers. Sometimes he would move them out of her, slowly and gently caress her, only to insert two fingers back inside her, while his thumb rubbed her clit. She knew she was getting close by the minute and he could feel it.
“What do you want, Diane?” he whispered against her lips. She knew he was also affected by what he was doing to her and was getting harder himself.
“I want you,” she told him and he kissed her, sliding his tongue inside her mouth. He removed his hands and fingers from her and re-positioned himself.
“God, I just can’t get enough of you,” he told her as he looked down and slowly pushed his erection inside her. He started to move slowly a few seconds later, kissing her neck. She placed both her legs on top of his, holding him tightly, and followed his movements.
She smiled wickedly at him and, before he knew it, he was lying on his back, “My turn,” she lowered her mouth and kissed him sensually, making him moan from the back of his throat. His hands automatically went to her hips, while she moved slowly on top of him.
She sat with her back straight and let her head fall, enjoying the sensation the new angle was giving her. She had always enjoyed being on top. His hands travelled from her hips to her breasts, holding them firmly. After a moment, he moved one of his hands to her face, while his thumb caressed her lips.
She opened her eyes and looked at him. He was staring at her with so much adoration that she felt uncomfortable. That wasn’t just sex for him, it wasn't something casual. He was making love to her.
She moved his thumb inside her mouth, sucking it slowly. He gasped and started to move faster inside her. She lowered herself to his chest, letting her nipples touch his skin and kissed him fully. His hands moved to her ass as he started to move faster and harder.
After a while, she sat up again, placing her hands on his chest. She moved her index finger to her mouth and sucked it, never losing eye contact. He moaned when she slowly moved her finger down her body, only to end on her clit. She started to touch herself and threw her head back, closing her eyes while moving her other hand to his leg for balance. She wanted to give him a full view of what her fingers were doing to her.
"Jesus,” he mumbled, moving harder inside her, while his hands held her hips so tightly she knew he was going to leave fingertips marks on her. She felt her orgasm coming and lowered her lips to him. She came moaning against his mouth, as he kissed her with equal passion.
After a few minutes, he turned them over again, and started to move inside her slowly but deeper. She tried to follow his movements at the beginning, but soon he was moving faster and moaning louder against her ear.
He was fucking her with everything he had and she loved it. Clearly, her previous actions had the effect that she wanted. Sex was much easier to deal with than whatever she saw earlier reflected in his eyes.
He came deep inside her, groaning loudly, saying her name over and over. He placed little kisses on her jawline after a few minutes and she held him tightly, making smoothing movements with her hand.
“Are you trying to make me lose my job?” She asked, after he moved to lie on his back, offering his arm to her. She accepted it, placing her head on his shoulder.
“Far from it,” he kissed her temple and readjusted his pillow more comfortably this time. Both felt silent for a while, staring at the ceiling. She started to make small circles on his chest with her fingers while he caressed her hair slowly and tenderly. They were simply enjoying each other. That was her favourite moment, it always had been. Unfortunately, she didn't have much time to indulge herself that morning.
“The pancakes and coffee must be cold by now,” he told her, a little side smile playing on his lips.
“You made us pancakes? You can cook too?” She asked surprised, turning to face him. He smiled back at her and she shook her head in disbelief, “I can’t believe it. You cannot be this perfect,” she laughed with him.
“Nah, I’m a terrible cook, sorry to disappoint you. I can’t even boil an egg,” he chuckled kissing her quickly on the lips, “I ordered them, from a bakery down the corner. The owner is a good friend,” he told her as he placed a hand on her face and caressed her cheek with his thumb.
“I need to go home and change. I don’t think I will have enough time to--” she started and he interrupted her.
“Diane, it’s seven in the morning. You have to be there at what, nine?” She nodded and he continued smiling, “I can always call Boseman and tell him you were late because I scheduled a private meeting with you. That wouldn’t be far from the truth, you know.”
“No, please don’t!" She laughed and he joined her, running a hand through her hair, ”People at the office are starting to suspect that you were the one who sent me those flowers.”
“You will be on time, don’t worry,” he placed a kiss on her head, as they slowly moved out of bed. He offered her his bathrobe and they went downstairs to have breakfast. The best pancakes and donuts she had ever had.
She went home, took a shower and got dressed. As she was putting on her lipstick, she saw the gold band through the reflection and stared at it.
What was she doing? Was she being unfaithful to him too?
She closed her eyes, placed her hands on the vanity table and inhaled deeply. She couldn’t live like that, she had to make a decision. She had to move on.
Diane removed the wedding ring from her finger, placed it inside the opened drawer and closed it again.
She was already late for work.
Diane was having a big salad for lunch in her office at three in the afternoon. Although most of her T.A. & Fisher’s cases were taking longer than normal to settle, she was glad with the results they were getting so far.
As the head of their legal representation at Reddick, Boseman & Kolstad, she lately spent most of her days in court and afternoons at the office dealing with their cases. That morning was no different.
“Hey, Diane, did you talk to Maia about Holland Publications?” Lucca asked her, leaning against her door, “Mr. Darryl is coming to the office next week to sign the contracts."
Diane was astounded when Mike called her personally to say that he was done with his law firm and needed new legal representation in Chicago as soon as possible. She asked Maia to represent her during the partners’ meeting and he was apparently delighted to meet her.
“Yes, I did. Maia said Mike was very enthusiastic about moving here,” she said, before taking another bite, “She is already taking over the copyrights’ case from the old firm.”
Marissa walked into the room and left more papers on Diane’s ever-growing pile of documents that laid on the left side of her desk.
“Jason Rosenbaum’s divorce papers. Looks like the former Mrs. wants an increase in her alimony and the full children’s custody,” Marissa told her and Diane rolled her eyes. Richard’s senior partner Jason had divorced his wife and married another woman, and that all in one year. Obviously, when the former wife found out that the new one was pregnant, she demanded a new higher settlement.
“Talk to Julius, he is the head of family law and is aware. I already explained him the situation,” Diane said, taking another bite.
“Sure, after he is finished with Boseman and Barbara. They are in the meeting room with the other senior partners,” Marissa told her and sighed, “Boseman is in such a bad mood today, Jesus.”
Lucca nodded and folded her arms on her chest, “Of course he is. After what happened last night, what did you expect?”
Marissa sat at one of the office armchairs and chuckled, “You mean the failed boat Poker & Brandy adventure?”
Diane looked at Marissa and at Lucca with curiosity, swallowing her last bite with difficulty.
Lucca laughed, sitting on the other empty chair, “He was so disappointed, you should’ve seen his face.”
“Sorry, I don't understand. Maybe I'm missing something,” Diane mentioned, after a few moments. She was curious but also afraid to know the truth. After she and Richard left the yacht for his apartment, she didn’t know what had happened with the yacht or his friends’ plans.
Marissa laughed, “The party was organized by Fisher’s partners, not him.”
“Oh,” Diane pretended to be surprised.
“Poker & Brandy, but no Fisher. He was nowhere to be found,” Lucca said and Marissa joined her laughter, “It was a very nice evening, though. Everything else was great: the band, the food, the decoration. And those roses! He gave an great speech too, let us be honest.”
Marissa agreed and looked thoughtful for a moment, “Fisher disappeared after his speech, didn’t he? I heard a lot of people talking about it,” she mentioned.
“Really?” Diane asked, placing her fork and knife on the plate. Suddenly, she wasn’t hungry anymore.
“Didn’t you leave early too?” Marissa mentioned, pointing at Diane, “Maia told me RD was looking for you. He heard about Holland Publications and wanted to congratulate you personally for getting another account.”
Diane looked at her desk and pretended to search for her glasses, “I... I had a headache, I wasn’t feeling well.”
Marissa narrowed her eyes at Diane for a moment longer and nodded. She exchanged a quick look with Lucca and stood up.
“I have to organize the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. Do you need anything else from me?” She asked her boss, who shook her head. Lucca also dismissed herself. Diane couldn’t help but notice the smile they were trying to hide when they left her office.
She sat back on her chair and closed her eyes. Eventually, they would find out the truth, that was pretty clear. He wasn't exactly being discreet about it. And neither was she.
Diane couldn't believe she was living that kind of situation again. About four years ago, she had decided she would never have to do that again. And here she was: still officially married and sleeping with another guy. She moaned loudly. She had to do something about it.
A few minutes later, she felt her phone vibrating on the table and immediately looked for it. Speaking of the devil. A smiled showed up on her lips the moment she saw who those two messages were from.
You owe me dinner and an apology.
I went through a very embarrassing situation this morning because of you.
She chuckled, looking at her phone’s screen. Leave it to him to help lifting her mood so fast. He sent those messages just to spark her curiosity and make her call him back. They had known each other for only a few months, but apparently he could read her like a book.
Diane bit her lip and called his number.
“Feeling guilty, are you?” He asked, answering his phone after only one ring.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” she laughed.
“Don’t play the innocent,” he chuckled and continued, “I had a very important meeting with a potential client this morning, who will be investing billions in the construction of a hydroelectric plant in Nevada. The meeting was going very well until I saw Jason trying very hard not to laugh at me,” he laughed quietly at the memory, “When it ended, he whispered that I should check my neck in the mirror before attending meetings.”
“Oh my God,” she said, closing her eyes.
“Yes, Ms. Lockhart, you left a hickey on my neck. Thank you very much,” he told her and she laughed out loud.
“I'm so sorry,” Diane said after a few moments, as she ran a hand through her hair feeling embarrassed. It seemed old habits die hard, “But you know it wasn’t on purpose, you just can't blame me like that. I don’t even remember how--”
“Ok, fair enough. Maybe it's true and you don’t remember how that one happened. But how about the scratch? You left one on my back, the size of Argentina,” he continued, pretending to sound offended, “I literally screamed in pain when I took a shower this morning.”
She laughed with him, “I’m sorry, ok?”
“Not so fast, lady. You owe me dinner,” Richard said, insisting, “How about seven?”
Diane looked at her watch and checked the time. It was almost four and she still had many contracts on her table to go through.
“I do hope I can finish everything by then,” she told him, sighing.
“You know, I really should talk to Boseman about you,” he told her, “You are never available when I need you,” he said, complaining.
He was being adorable again and she couldn't resist the smile that formed her lips. Leave it to Richard to make her feel better about herself after such a stressful day.
“People here are wondering why we left the party so early yesterday,” she told him smiling.
He chuckled, “Same here. I told them I had a headache and wasn’t feeling well. I think they bought it,” he told her, “Except Jason, of course. He knows it’s bullshit.”
“I used the same excuse,” she chuckled, “Next time we should plan it better and try to be more creative.”
He felt silent for a moment, “It’s a good thing I’ve been in meetings all morning and early afternoon, keeping my mind busy for a change,” he told her in a soft voice, “During these last few days, Ms. Lockhart, you have proven to be one hell of a distraction.”
“So you haven’t thought about me all day?” She told him in a low, sexy voice. Diane always liked to flirt. In fact, she loved it.
“Oh, I thought about you. Especially when Nathalie showed me a few pictures from yesterday’s event. God, you looked beautiful. How did I resist you for so long?” he asked her.
“You were being polite and a gentleman,” she told him.
“Yeah, a polite, stupid idiot you mean,” he said and heard her laughter, “So, can I pick you up at seven?”
She smiled and shook her head, thinking about his proposal for a brief moment, “Yeah, why not?”
“Well, finally! It’s a date,” he told her laughing, “I will let you know when I’m close to your office,” he told her, “But if you prefer, I can go up and--“
“Richard, seriously, don’t start,” she told him and heard him laughing.
“Ok, I won’t. I will behave for now,” he said and laughed, “See you later,” he said goodbye and hang up the call.
Diane placed the phone back inside her bag and looked around. Her office was a mess: a few brown discarded boxes on the floor and many papers on her desk.
She also saw another box lying on the top of the coffee table and sighed. She was trying to avoid seeing that book, let alone reading it. She had placed it there a week ago to never touch it ever since.
Many things had changed in her life over the last few months, but she was happy that she had work to do, to keep her mind busy with other important issues. She was again feeling confident, not only about her work, but also about herself. After days of wondering, thinking, suffering, she was taking the first steps towards a new life. A better, happier one.
Diane picked up the phone and dialled a few numbers, “Marissa, can you come here for a second?”
“Shoot,” Marissa said as soon as she entered her office, holding a notepad and a pen.
“Could you please schedule a meeting with Julius?” Diane placed her elbows on the table, moving her hands and fingers distractedly, “I need to talk to him about something.”
“Your schedule is full for the week, but you are free next Tuesday afternoon,” she told her boss, as she wrote a few notes, “Is this about the Rosenbaum's divorce?”
“No,” she said, “It’s about mine,” Marissa raised her head, surprised. She glanced discreetly at her hand, before nodding slowly.
“Ok, sure,” Marissa said after a while and left the room.
Diane lowered her head, placing her hands on her face. This was more difficult than she thought it would be. But she had to take the first step, she had to move on.
After a few minutes, she raised her head again, took a deep breath and picked up the first folder on the pile.
Diane chose another file from the never-ending pile on her desk and continued reading. Her goal was finishing going through at least nighty percent of those documents before she left for the day.
She was so focused reading a particular case that she only heard her assistant knocking her door the second time around.
“Diane, do you need anything else? I'm leaving, it's almost eight,” Marissa told her, as she held her purse.
Her first thought was Richard. The last time she looked at her watch was still five in the afternoon. Where the hell time had gone? Strangely enough, he hadn't reached out as he’d promised. She dropped her pen on the desk and looked for her phone. She quickly checked for messages or missed calls and there was none.
“Marissa, did anybody call in the meantime?” She asked her assistant.
“No, why? Were you expecting a call?” Marissa said, laying her shoulder against the door frame.
“Not exactly, it's just…" she signed before continuing, "I spoke to Richard yesterday about a case and he said he was going to be in touch,” she explained, trying to be as discreet as possible. She knew Marissa was starting to be suspicious and so was everybody else who worked with her.
“No, he didn't call. But he is here, by the way. He is having a meeting with Barbara and Boseman,” Marissa said and smiled at her.
“Richard is here?” She asked, surprised. She was definitely going to kill him.
“Yeah. Alice told me he called this afternoon and requested a last minute meeting,” Marissa told her “I can find out later what it was about.”
She shook her head slowly and tried to hide a smile. Diane wondered what stupid excuse he had given her senior partners for that last minute meeting.
“Yes, sure,” she said, put on her reading glasses and turned her attention once again to the contract she was reading before.
“Ok then. I'm leaving. See you tomo-- Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Fisher,” when she heard Marissa say his name, she immediately raised her head.
He was smartly dressed in full length camel coat, a dark blue navy suit, stripped tie and perfectly combed hair, “No need to be sorry. Marissa Gold, isn't it?” he smiled at her.
“Oh my God, you remembered my name,” she said giggling.
“Of course. Your grandfather Ira was one of my father’s good friends,” he told her and she smiled.
“You knew Grandpa Ira?” She placed her hand on her chest and smiled, "That's awesome!”
Diane tried to hide a smile. Apparently, even Marissa couldn't resist his charm.
“Great guy, by the way,” he smiled, “One of the cleverest engineers I've ever met,” he told her and looked at her boss, “Are you busy, Diane? May I have a quick word?”
“Sure,” both Marissa and Diane replied, while Richard smiled charmingly at them. Marissa dismissed herself once again and closed the door behind them.
He looked at her intensively, placed a hand inside his pocket and started to make his way to the chair across her table, pointing at the vase behind her, “Good to see that you didn't throw them away.”
“I can't believe you did this,” Diane shook her head, while he comfortably took the seat on the chair opposite her.
“Did what?” Richard asked, pretending to look confused.
“You scheduled a last minute meeting as an excuse to pick me up,” she told him, trying to hide her smile. She was never going to admit that she loved the surprise.
“I have no idea what you are talking about. I had a few things to discuss and decided that they were too important to talk over the phone,” he mentioned, pretending to look serious, “It's not always about you, you know,” he told her as he tilted his head.
Diane shook her head slowly at him as she saw him trying to hide a smile.
“People here leave early, don't they?” He asked her, trying to make conversation, “I saw maybe five people back down the hall towards the reception."
“It's eight at night on Friday, Richard. They have their lives to live.”
He ignored her comment, looking around her office, “So, this is where the sexiest Litigator in Chicago works.”
“Can you please at least behave?” Diane whispered at him, looking outside her office. Luckily, the hall was completely empty, “These walls are not soundproof.”
“No, I will not. And are you ready? Remember that you told me you were going to be finished by seven? If you need more time though, I can sit here and stare at you, no biggie,” he folded his arms on his chest, smiling.
“I'm almost done, give me a few more minutes,” she told him and heard him chuckle. She put back her glasses, trying to read the last lines of the document for the second time.
“Where do you want to go?” He asked her, “Japanese? Italian? French? We can always go home and order take out. That’s probably the best option anyways. I'm hungry, but not necessary for food...” he spoke the last word meaningfully slower than usual.
Diane narrowed her eyes at him, silently complaining, “Sorry, I won’t distract you anymore,” he apologised quickly.
She shook her head and returned her attention to the document in front of her. After a few minutes, she felt the tip of his shoe slowly moving up her right leg. She raised her eyes at him, taking her glasses off, “Are you kidding me? It will take longer, you know. I really have to finish this.”
He raised his palms at her, “Won't do it again,” she put back her glasses only to be interrupted by him once more, “I can't see a single soul out there. I guess they won't find out or even care if I kiss you--”
“Ok, that's it,” Diane closed the folder, removed her glasses and raised herself from the chair, “Let’s go. It's absolutely impossible to work like this.”
He raised himself almost immediately from the chair, smiling broadly, taking her coat from behind the door.
Diane shook her head, “Don't look so happy. You are going to regret this later, mister.”
“I know. I'm looking forward to it,” he told her and she laughed out loud.
When they made their way to the elevator, she noticed the dimmed lights and a few brave colleagues still working at the end of the hall, as he had mentioned.
Richard pressed the button and waited. She felt his eyes on her and looked back at him. He had a corner smile on his face, “You look beautiful, by the way.”
Diane felt a warm feeling spreading through her body. He always made her feel special when he looked at her that way. He made her feel sexy, desired and she loved it.
Diane smiled back at him and both returned their attention to the elevator golden doors after a while. Diane felt his fingers touching hers, silently asking her permission to take her hand.
She moved her own fingers and felt him immediately hold her hand. As soon as he did, he quickly looked down and then stared at her eyes surprised. She smiled at him and nodded. She felt his hand tightening up his grip as he smiled back at her.
She was not wearing her ring anymore.
They started seeing each other more often. Richard always found excuses to invite her for lunches or dinners while she couldn't find any to decline them. He constantly sent her flirtatious messages or called her after lunch, just to make small talk.
He was also showing his affection for her more frequently and openly too. He was being careful about it, but from time to time, he would reach for her hand when they walked, or kiss her cheek when she made a silly comment about something.
He was the perfect date, making her laugh with his stories, telling her how wonderful she looked. Sometimes, they stayed in and ordered delivery. He frequently helped her setting up the table specially and lighting up the candles. Richard rarely spoke about work or business, which made her feel more confident. She knew he trusted her professionally and with her decisions.
He was also the perfect lover, caring and attentive. Diane adored the fact that he always looked at her with desire in his eyes. She could also see very clearly that there was something else behind that look. She knew he was in love with her and that scared her more than she would admit.
After a couple of months, Richard invited her to spend the long weekend on his house in Lake Forest and she reluctantly accepted. Of course she was anxious and had seconds thoughts. So far, they had just spent a few hours together here and there, slept on each other’s apartment, had lunch or dinner together, but nothing special.
She was not sure if she would agree to spend that much time with him. It was all so very new and she really didn't want to jump into a serious relationship so fast. And, of course, not to mention the fact that she was still officially married.
Then again, apparently her husband wasn't as concerned about it as she was.
On that cold Sunday morning, Diane woke up and opened her eyes slowly, smiling. She felt kisses being placed on her right leg and slowly moving up to her ass, her back, shoulder and neck. Meanwhile, his fingers were sliding through her right side, mirroring what his mouth was doing on the other.
Diane moaned as she felt him nibbling her ear, “You sleep too much,” he told her smiling as he made his way to her cheek. She felt his hand move to her side and helped her turn around to face him.
“And you never get tired,” she said, after he left small kisses on her jawline.
“Never,” both laughed before he kissed her. He placed his hand on her stomach and stared at her for a few moments, “Do you have any plans for next Wednesday?”
She smiled as he moved up and turned to his side, facing her, “No, why?” She asked him, running her fingers tenderly through his fine hair. She couldn't help but smile at how thin it was. It felt like a child's hair.
He looked at her for a few moments before continuing, “My son will celebrate his birthday next week and I really like you to come,” he told her “It's nothing fancy, just a friends and family gathering in a local restaurant.”
She stopped her fingers and widened her eyes at him as the idea sank in, “You mean, as your date?” He nodded slowly and waited for her answer. She adjusted the pillow below her head and looked at him. It was not only an official date, but he was obviously going to introduce her to his family, “Richard, look… I'm not sure if we… I mean, maybe it's too soon. I don't know.”
“Calm down, it's just a question. If you think it's not the right time yet, it's fine for me,” he smiled at her but it died soon. She knew he was disappointed, especially when he quickly looked at her left hand, “I thought since you are not wearing the ring anymore that you were ready to move on...” he said and stopped. He obviously didn't understand what was going on. From the look in his eyes, she knew he was also upset.
“Richard,” she said after caressing his face, “I'm not wearing it anymore because I want to move on. This was the first step,” she told him and saw him nodded at her.
He faked a smile and placed a kiss on her fingers, “I understand,” she knew he did, but it was clear to her that he didn't like it.
She smiled slowly at him and decided to be honest, “The second step was asking my lawyer to review the divorce papers.”
He stared deeply in her eyes and moved quickly to fully kiss her, while she laughed, “Thank you,” he whispered, as he placed small kisses below her ear and neck.
She smiled at him as she ran her fingers through his hair again. He was such a sweet man, "Are you going to help me with the other steps? It will be a tough journey.”
“All the way through, I promise,” he smiled back at her and kissed her again, more intensively this time. She felt his hands move from her hips to her legs and broke the kiss.
“Richard, let’s have breakfast and do something else for a change,” she said chuckling.
He raised his head and started at her with his mouth slightly opened, “Ok, Ms. Lockhart, let’s do something else. What do you suggest? Read a book?” He asked her, with a side smile.
She laughed as he continued, “A bio maybe? I have Dubya's downstairs, the autographed version.”
“Don't you dare,” she said, pretending to be angry at him.
“How about fishing?” He asked, “It's freezing cold outside, perfect time for my favorite type of fishing.”
“I hate it, especially ice fishing,” she answered chuckling. She would never understand why men was so fascinated by that stupid sport.
“Yeah, I thought you did. Maybe one of these days I will convince you otherwise,” he chuckled, “We can always stay in and watch TV. Then again, if I choose Fox News, you will hurt me badly.”
“You know me so well,” she chuckled back at him.
“A movie maybe? I know you will deny it, but I bet you are a romance/drama type of girl,” he narrowed his eyes at her as he mentioned, “At least we can get cozy. You loved the fireplace downstairs,” he told her, shaking his shoulder, “Hey, we could cook. I mean, you could, since I’m a disaster,” he said while she laughed.
“Better not. We don’t want to burn this beautiful house down,” she told him and kissed his cheek.
“I wouldn’t recommend walks either. I’m sure there is mud everywhere, after last night's snow,” he said looking at the window’s direction, “Worst case scenario, we could…” he looked around for a while pretending to think, “I can’t really think of anything else to do other than sex.”
She laughed out loud and he smiled down at her. He raised his fingers to her hair and caressed it tenderly, “I really love your laughter, you know,” he whispered and his smile faded. After a few moments, he moved his hand to her face, as his thumb caressed her cheek, “I love everything about you, Diane.”
She stared at him as he looked intensively at her. She didn't know what to say. He was confessing something and it scared the hell out of her.
Richard smiled again but it didn't reach his eyes. She knew he had seen her hesitation and decided to ignore the subject for now. He lowered his mouth to her and kissed her slowly. She kissed him back and it quickly turned into something more.
They eventually made downstairs and watched a period drama. Most part of it at least.
“Are you nervous?” Richard reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. She turned her head and smiled quickly.
“No,” Diane replied and fell quiet for a few moments. She knew she hadn't convinced him, “I'm anxious I guess,” she confessed and turned her attention towards the car’s window.
“There is no need to be,” Richard said, laughing, “I'm sure you will dazzle everybody with your charm, as you always do,” he raised the hand that he had been holding and kissed it gently. She nodded at him and forced a smile.
She knew that night was special. They were heading to his son’s birthday party. What was initially a simple celebration turned out to be a black tie event at The Signature Room.
Although it wasn’t really news, Richard was going to officially introduce her as his girlfriend to his family and friends. His best friends and partners knew about them and so did his son. He wasn't really being discreet about their relationship anymore.
She had dropped by his office a few times, to meet with his legal team, with someone specific or even to talk to him briefly. Every time, she saw people turning their heads at her direction, smiling, nodding or whispering things to the nearest person.
For some reason, she didn't feel uncomfortable. Diane knew they were curious glances, not judging ones. Everybody loved Richard and they sincerely wanted to see him happy.
She could also feel the slight behavior change coming from her own bosses. Since she had been appointed as a name partner, she was having weekly meetings with the other directors and this time, her vote and opinion counted.
She knew that the respect she was now getting from Adrian and Barbara was the result of her efforts to bring four new big clients - T.A. & Fisher alone made forty million a year in billing for the firm. In the back of her mind though she wondered if that attention was due to the fact that she was sleeping with their biggest client. She shook her head and dismissed the thought.
Diane felt Richard tighten his grip on her hand, making her look in his eyes, “Did something happen? You’ve been awfully quiet this evening,” he mentioned and she saw his curious and worried gaze on her. Although they’d only known each other for a few months, she was once again surprised to see how well he could read her.
Diane forced another smile before answering him, “Don’t worry, I’m just tired.”
Richard narrowed his eyes at her “Do you want to go home? I can call Josh and say I wasn’t feeling well or--”
“No, Richard, it’s ok. This party is actually a good excuse to unwind. I need to have a little fun, for my own sake,” she told him. He smiled back at her, nodded and let the conversation die.
She was indeed in desperate need to take her thoughts away from what had happened early that day.
Maia had once again invited her for lunch and, just for a change, she had accepted her invitation. Simple cases were quickly turning into endless courtrooms days. She was tired as hell, but she was taking every possible opportunity to relax. Even a harmless lunch invitation with her goddaughter.
They shared a wonderful salad and many laughs. She knew Maia also needed to take away her thoughts from the painful situation she was going through. The poor girl’s life had been turned upside down since Henry had been arrested. Diane herself hadn't been able to give the support her goddaughter needed and she felt a little guilty about it.
When they were on their way to the exit, she saw him. She stopped dead on her tracks and just stared at the scene.
It was the first time she had seen him in months. He was sitting at a table in the far corner of the restaurant, by himself, looking down at his empty plate. He was dressed like always, brown jacket and plaid shirt.
She couldn't help but notice that his hair and beard were longer and in desperate need of a haircut. A smile crossed her lips at the memory. She was the one to constantly remind him it was time to cut his hair and trim his beard.
And when did most of his hair turn into fully silver?
A waiter approached his table, while holding a small electronic device. He picked up the menu that was placed on his right hand side, pointed at something, spoke a few words and gave it back to the young man.
She shook her head smiling. He always knew exactly what to order in every restaurant they went and it never took him more than a minute to choose. At this restaurant in particular, she knew that the rare steak with mash and salad was his favorite.
While Amy and Maia were calling an Uber and talking about their plans for the weekend, she continued to watch the scene closely.
After a few moments, another waiter came to his table, bringing beer and covert. He nodded at the man and took a sip from his drink. At that time, a smartly dressed young couple approached his table and he raised himself to great them. He smiled politely, shook their hands and offered them the seats opposite him.
Both the man and woman laughed and talked enthusiastically with him, while he just smiled, made a short comment here and there and nodded. The couple had probably brought him good news, as after ordering drinks, the three shared a toast.
He had always been the silent and stoic type, she knew it. However, he looked a little lost. There was something on his face that told her that he, somehow, was not only tired but also--
“Diane,” she felt Richard touching her hand and immediately turned her face to look at his.
“What?” She asked him.
“Are you sure everything is ok? You seem distracted,” he insisted.
“Yes, just too much going on in my head,” she said and kissed his cheek, hoping that he would drop the subject.
“You can talk to me, you know,” he mentioned, while holding her hand.
“I know,” she nodded smiling and turned her head to the window again. She adored him for being so attentive and concern.
They arrived at the building and soon made their way to the top floor. There must have been at least one hundred people just in the main room. All of them were laughing, drinking and dressed impeccably.
Most of the guests were familiar to her. She’d met a few at the All Lives Matter event a few months ago, another handful at the Fortune’s award celebration and even at T.A. & Fisher’s office. She had also met another lot during a certain trip she took years ago to Wyoming.
Why did they have so many Republican friends in common anyway?
A trio in the background was playing soft jazz music, while the tables were elegantly arranged with beautiful flowers and candles. The view from the city was just breathtaking, exactly as she remembered. Diane had been in that restaurant a couple of times in the last years, celebrating their anniversary. After all that had happened early in the morning, that was probably the worst way to keep her thoughts away from a certain somebody.
She saw a young man holding a glass of champagne waving at them and coming in their direction. Richard quickly looked at her, tightening his grip on her hand, encouraging her silently.
“You guys are late! What happened?” He said after hugging Richard, “Grace has been asking about you for the past hour. She didn’t want to go to sleep before seeing her Grandpa.”
Richard ran a hand through his hair, while placing the other behind Diane’s lower back, “Happy birthday buddy and sorry for the delay. The meeting with Warren & Goldman took longer than expected. And I had to pick up Diane on the way.”
“So, you are the famous Diane,” he said offering his hand. Josh looked at Diane and smiled. He had the exact same smile as his father, but different shade of eyes, “I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said chuckling.
“Happy birthday, Josh, and nice to meet you,” she shook his hand and quickly looked at Richard, who smiled proudly at her, “You heard a lot about me? All good things I hope.”
Josh laughed and continued, “Oh yeah, all good. So good that in fact I wonder why you haven’t met him before,” he chuckled, “The old man had been in such great mood these last few months that--”
“Yeah, yeah, very funny,” Richard interrupted him, trying to change the subject, “Where is my granddaughter, anyway? I miss her, I haven’t seen her in almost a month.”
“And suddenly he is Mr. Perfect Grandfather,” Josh told Diane, who smiled, “You know you could just drop by to see her, right? We live ten minutes from your apartment. Then again, I guess you have been very busy with work and… Everything else,” he said the last word winking at Diane, trying to hide a smile.
“How old are you? Five?” Richard said annoyed, while narrowing his eyes at his son and making both Josh and Diane laugh.
“Thirty-five today, dad. You missed by thirty, nothing big,” he said and rolled his eyes, “A father is supposed to know those things, by the way. I’m your only child, heir to your great fortune. T.A. & Fisher’s future depends on me, remember?”
“Not since you chose architecture instead of engineering seventeen years ago,” Richard fired back, while he grabbed two glasses of champagne from the bar and offered one to Diane.
“And I’m back being the family’s black sheep again,” Josh lowered his head, shaking it, “You just can’t imagine the hell I've been through, Diane,“ he told her, sounding hurt and continued, “Just try to be an architect working in a construction company. For years, I’ve been humiliated, offended, bullied…” Josh said pretending to dry his fake tears, while Diane just laughed.
“Okay, cut that out,” Richard said, smiling, after taking a long drink from his glass, “Have Dan and Jason arrived? I need to talk to them about the hydroelectric plant in Nevada."
“Yeah, they are playing poker with the other guys in the green room, next to the bar. They asked me to drag your ass there as soon as you arrive. They probably want to rip you off as usual,” Josh said chuckling and turned to Diane, “Did you know Mr. Businessperson of the Year here is a terrible poker player?”
“So I’ve heard,” Diane smiled at Richard, who rolled his eyes and placed his empty glass on the nearest table.
“The man just can’t bluff! How is that even possible? I mean, he is in negotiations every single day, how is that different from poker?” Josh said, while Diane laughed.
“Grandpa!” She heard a girl’s voice behind her and turned around to see a beautiful blond girl, with long curly hair, dressed in a pearl dress running towards Richard.
He picked her up, hugging her tightly, “Hello, princess,” he said after placing a kiss on her cheek, “You look beautiful.”
The little girl smiled at her grandfather and hugged him again, “I missed you so much. Were you traveling again?”
Richard hugged her back and smiled, “I’ve been very busy these days, darling. I haven't had time to see you.”
“Yes, sweetie. Now that Grandpa has a girlfriend, he doesn't have time for any of us,” Josh said, running a hand through his daughter's hair, comforting her.
“Joshua!” A young blond woman approached the group and stared angrily at her husband. She was a tall, slim and very beautiful woman, who seemed to be in her early thirties.
“What?” Josh said, looking innocent, “Hey, no offence Diane,” he whispered to her, while she nodded smiling.
“Hello, Richard,” Sarah greeted her father-in-law and kissed him on the cheek, “This one here didn’t want to go to sleep before she hugged her Grandpa.”
“Sorry for being late, Sarah. I know she should be in bed by this time but things were crazy at the office today,” Richard told her while he kissed Grace’s cheek again.
Diane saw the interaction between them and smiled. They all seemed to get along extremely well and it was obvious that Richard loved the little girl more than anything in the world.
“Oh, and by the way. Sarah, Grace, I would like you both to meet Diane,” Richard told them, smiling proudly at her.
Sarah shook Diane’s hand smiling, “So nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Before she could answer, Josh interrupted her, laughing, “See? The only thing he’s been doing these days is talk about you.”
“It’s great to meet you, Sarah,” Diane laughed and turned to the child, “And you too, Grace,” she smiled at the little girl, who tightened her grip on her grandfather’s neck, looking shy for a moment.
“Hi,” Grace whispered, “Your dress is pretty,” she told Diane quietly, who smiled.
“Oh, thank you,” she chuckled, “Your dress is very beautiful too.”
Grace smiled at her, looking more confident, “Grandpa gave it to me on my birthday,” she told Diane, pointing at her dress, “I love this color.”
“Pearl is one of my favorite colors too,” Diane told her and pointed at the silk large belt she was wearing, “And so is burgundy.”
Grace widened her blue eyes at Diane, “I love this color too!” Diane smiled at the girl, who giggled in response.
“Ok Missy, time to go to bed,” Josh smiled at them and took Grace from his father’s arms, “I know you and Diane want to dish about the latest fashion trends, but it’s getting too late and you have early classes tomorrow.”
“Can I just stay a little longer with Grandpa and Diane, daddy? Please?” Grace asked her father.
“No, sweetie, you can't. Joe and Celia have been waiting for more than an hour just to take you home,” Josh told his daughter softly, “Joe works as our driver during the day only, darling, and he needs to go back to his family. Celia also needs to get up early tomorrow to take you to school,” he explained, “Remember what I've told you? You need to study to be a great engineer. Otherwise, you end up being an architect just like your dad and Grandpa will be very upset.”
“Joshua!” Richard and Sarah said loudly, making Diane laugh.
“What? It’s true,” Josh shrugged his shoulders and Richard sighed, running his hand through his hair.
“Where does that sarcasm come from?” Richard said frustrated as Sarah, he and Diane watched Josh take Grace to another room.
“I don’t know Richard, but that sarcastic humor and his charmingly good looks made me fall in love with him,” Sarah patted his back, smiling, “Not to mention a talented man that he is. Did Josh tell you about the Museum?”
“Yes, he did. The project is really incredible.” Richard said, folding his arms on his chest.
“Isn’t it? No wonder they chose his over all the others. Looks like the construction starts next month. He will fly to Canada tomorrow.”
Richard nodded, with a smile playing on the corner of his mouth. He had told Diane proudly early that week that Josh’s project had been chosen as the new design for the Modern Art Museum in Toronto.
He turned to Diane, touched her arm gently and whispered, “I better find Dan and Jason. There is something I want to discuss with them, if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, go ahead,” Diane smiled and nodded.
“Sarah, do you mind staying with Diane for a few minutes?” Richard asked his daughter-in-law, who immediately smiled back at him.
“Of course not! We have a lot to talk about. I will tell her a couple of secrets about the Fisher’s family men.”
“That sounds interesting,” Diane smiled back at her and they both shared a laugh.
“Just put in a good word for me, ok?” Richard told Sarah chuckling, kissed Diane’s cheek and walked towards another room. She felt her face getting warm. There wasn’t really a reason for such a reaction, since it wasn’t the first time he had done that in public.
Perhaps because he was doing that in a room full of people and that most of those people knew who her husband was.
“You know what Josh said about you is true, right?” Sarah told her with a side smile.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Diane blinked twice before answering her.
“Richard,” she tilted her head towards the room where he had gone a few moments ago, “The only thing he’s done over the past months is talk about you,” Sarah crossed her arms on her chest and continued, smiling, “I’ve never seen him like this.”
Diane nodded slowly and tried to prepare herself for what was about to come. She knew exactly where that conversation was heading.
“He is in love with you, Diane,” Sarah whispered and Diane lowered her head. She could feel her heart beating faster.
That was the first time she heard somebody else saying out loud what she had been thinking for a while now - and it scared the hell out of her.
“I can't believe he is taking this long,” Sarah looked at her watch as Diane took a sip from her drink.
“Richard told me that he had something to discuss with Dan and Jason,” Diane told her and Josh.
“I think I know what happened though. The guys probably convinced him to play one hand of poker and he is still playing,” Josh laughed, “He never learns.”
Diane, Josh and Sarah have spent the last hour getting to know each other. She learned that Sarah was an architect just like her husband and had a few accomplishments herself. She was a senior partner at one of Chicago’s best Architects offices. The couple met on their first year at Columbia University and they’ve been together ever since.
They were a vibrant, charming and entertaining couple. They told a few stories about Richard and the Fisher’s family, keeping her mind away from more serious matters.
Josh was a character. He made those stories more interesting and funny, adding a few colorful remarks here and there. So different from his father and yet Diane couldn’t help but notice the similarities they had.
Josh and Sarah were also very interested in getting to know her as well. They asked her about her carrer, about Reddick, Boseman & Kolstad and how she had lost her job and retirement to a Ponzi scheme.
Josh had introduced her to a few family friends and business partners, who were all surprised, but extremely happy to finally meet her. Apparently, they had all heard about her.
She knew Richard was a discreet man and had been officially alone since his wife's death. There was no doubt that the dates he had with those younger women, dates arranged by his friends and son as he had mentioned himself, never meant anything after all.
Diane understood that there was a reason people were curious and surprised when they first met her. She was the first woman in five years, and since his wife's death, who he had introduced as his official date.
“I think we should see what’s going on, Diane. It had been almost an hour since he left,” Josh said looking at his watch before placing his empty glass on the nearest table, “I won’t let the old man lose all the family’s money in a poker match, and on my birthday of all days. Besides, I’m relying on this fortune to pay for my daughter’s education.”
Diane smiled and followed him to another room. She felt the mood change immediately after she walked in. The first thing she noticed was the dimmed light and the fact that everybody in that room was male. There were groups of two or three men sharing brandies and scotches while chatting and smoking cigars.
She heard laughter when somebody mentioned Obamacare and tax cuts and she felt like rolling her eyes.
Everything too Republican. What was she expecting anyways?
On the back of the room, she saw a big rounded table. Seven or eight middle aged men laughed and drank from their glasses while Richard held a few cards in his hand, looking concentrated.
“Richard, my man, just give up. You are not doing that bad,” she heard a familiar voice telling him.
Richard narrowed his eyes at his cards and sat up straight, acting offended, “No, not tonight RD. I won't,” he said, followed by laughter from the other men.
“You always say that and you always end up losing more,” a half bald bearded man by his side patted his back, with a wide smile on his face.
“Come on Dan, give the guy some space. Eventually, he will win someday,” another man on the table mentioned, folding his arms in front of his chest after placing a cigar in his mouth. He was a rather big funny looking fellow, who was clearly trying to hold back a smile.
Josh and Diane slowly approached the table, but nobody seemed to noticed. Richard had their full attention.
“Very funny, Jason. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves, trying to rip him off again,” Josh said, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder.
Richard finally raised his eyes from his cards to look at his son. The moment he saw Diane by his side, he smiled and winked at her, “I will get back what I’ve lost. I'm feeling lucky tonight.”
RD turned around and immediately smiled when he saw her, “Diane, you came!” he raised himself from his chair and kissed her cheek.
“How are you RD?” She smiled back at him.
“Wait... Diane? The Diane?” Jason whispered to Josh, who nodded smiling.
“Hey, why don’t you join us. Maybe you can give him a helping hand,” RD chuckled, moving his head in Richard’s direction.
She made her way to the other side of the table and stopped behind his chair, “I used to be good at this,” she whispered to him, gently touching his sholder. Richard moved slightly to the side and patted his right armchair, silently asking her to sit down.
“Looks like I need help,” Richard told her.
“How much did you lose so far?” She asked him, after sitting down.
“Ten thousand. It’s his lucky night,” another man said smiling, holding a few cards himself.
“You lost ten thousand dollars in less than an hour?” Diane asked him with wide eyes.
"Thirty-five minutes to be exact," Jason said, looking down at his watch.
“Patrick is right, Diane,” she heard Josh chuckle from across the table, “This is actually not that bad.”
She opened her mouth to say something, but just shook her head. They all laughed at her reaction.
“What do you think?” Richard asked her, showing her his cards.
She whispered at him, smiling, “Do you trust me?”
“Of course,” he smiled back at her.
“Ok, then. You don't need this and neither this one,” she told him, throwing both cards at the table.
“Jesus Christ,” Richard blinked twice, before looking at the table and at her. He was visibly concerned about her move, “You do know this is real money, right?”
Smiling, RD gave him two new cards. Right after he saw the cards, Richard looked at Diane.
“How much did you bet?” She asked him.
“Five thousand,” Richard told her after he turned his attention back to the cards in his hand.
“I think you should bet another five,” she told him with a side smile playing on her lips. Richard immediately took his chips and threw them on the table.
“She is fierce, Patrick. You will get your ass kicked,” Josh told Patrick, who smiled at him.
“I don’t think so, birthday boy,” Patrick placed his cards on the table looking confident, “Full House.”
“Oh, that’s just cruel,” RD said, shaking his head, while Dan and Jason groaned loudly.
Richard looked at Diane again, who moved her head slightly towards the table, “Go ahead,“ she whispered at him.
He smiled and turned his attention to his friend, “Four of a Kind, my dear Patrick.”
“Shit,” Patrick said under his breath, as he stared at the cards on the table, with his mouth slightly opened.
“Oh my God,” Josh gasped and ran his hand through his hair, “That was amazing!”
The men laughed out loud, cheering and applauding the move. Richard smiled, drinking the rest of his whisky. He placed the empty glass on the table and rose from his chair.
“Guys, I want you all to meet Diane,” he told them proudly and kissed her temple.
His friends stood up and shook her hand. They sympathetically smiled and greeted her. She laughed when they made jokes about Richard and his bad luck.
After he officially introduced her to Jason and Dan, Richard touched her arm gently and discreetly moved her to one side, lowering his voice, “Let's go somewhere more private. I need to tell you something.”
She nodded and held his hand. They slowly made their way to the door, stopping a few times to chat with some of his longtime friends.
“Hey, Diane!” she heard Jason shout from across the room, “Whatever he asks you, just end his misery and say yes, ok?”
She heard laughter coming from the men by his side and immediately looked at Richard, who was smiling broadly at the group.
As he turned his attention to her, his smile slowly faded. She felt a shiver traveling down her spine when she realized what he could be thinking. Tightening his grip on her hand they walked to the balcony, closing the glass door behind them once they stepped in.
It was a beautiful night and the view from the 95th floor was absolutely breathtaking. The full moon illuminated the buildings and the sky, as the chilly wind blew at full force. Chicago was truly a magnificent city.
“Thank you for coming to my rescue,” Richard smiled at her, leaning against the wall.
She smiled back and lowered her head, “I guess we can call it luck.”
“No, it was more than that,” he smiled, gently placing his hand on her face, turning her attention to his eyes, “You are incredible, did you know that?”
She smiled, feeling her cheeks getting warm, “You wanted to tell me something,” she said, trying to change the subject.
He sighed heavily, folding his arms over his chest, “About three months ago, we received the visit from a potential client interested in investing on the construction of a hydroelectric plant in Nevada.”
“Yes, I remember,” she told him and noticed how upset he looked.
“Well, they were supposed to sign the contracts yesterday, but they are now having second thoughts. As it involves a few billion dollars, we just can't lose such an investor. Especially now that Wall Street is so unstable, always reacting to anything a certain orange president says or does,” Richard told her, running a hand through his hair.
“The partners had a meeting this morning and we decided that one of us should go to Las Vegas and deal with this personally,” she nodded before he continued, “So Jason and Dan are sending me on a mission. Looks like I’ll have to go to Nevada tomorrow and spend the next two weeks or so negotiating. Basically, I have to convince them to sign the contracts as soon as possible. Otherwise, we will lose a lot of money.”
Richard nodded and continued, “Give or take.”
“Oh,” she said quietly and moved her attention to the beautiful view.
“It might take just a week, it might take 10 days, who knows,” he told her slowly, following her gaze.
She felt the cold breeze on her arms and quickly ran her hands over them trying to keep them warm. Somehow, Diane knew that the cold she felt running through her body had nothing to do with temperature. Just the thought of being alone again for so many days made her shiver. It reminded her of another rather recent time of her life, a much lonelier and darker period.
Richard touched her hand gently, making her turn her attention to him once again, “Are you ok?”
She nodded, forcing a smile, “Yes,” she whispered, “Just don’t stay too long, ok?”
He narrowed his eyes at her looking a little surprised by her reaction. He could probably see how upset she was. Richard quickly moved his arms around her, before kissing her hair. She hugged him back, placing her head on his chest.
They stayed locked in each other’s arms for a few brief moments. She loved how special and protected he made her feel, how calming his presence was. She felt her body getting warmer and closed her eyes. The only sound she would hear was the wind against the building windows.
“Diane, there is something else,” his voice softened, breaking the silence. She opened her eyes slowly, looking deep into his, “I think you know it by now, but I feel like I need to tell you.”
As much as she had tried to prepare herself for this moment, she was not sure how her mind or even her heart would react.
She saw his eyes shine while a small smile played on the corner of his lips, “I’m in love with you,” he raised a hand to her face and gently caressed her cheek with his thumb.
He left her speechless. Her mind was telling her to say something but there were simply no words. She hated herself for not having the courage to tell him that she also had feelings for him. More importantly, she hated herself for not being sure if what she felt for him was love.
How could she not anyway? He was such a wonderful man - any woman would be head over heels in love with him.
Noticing her bewildered look, he just smiled at her, ”I know it’s too soon for you. Believe me, I’ve been there.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head, “Richard,”
“Shhh, don’t worry,“ he said, running his hand over her back, his grip on her tightened, pulling her closer, “You don’t need to say anything. Not now.”
Richard’s chin rested agansit her temple, as she heard him breathe deeply, “I just needed you to know how I feel, and for quite some time,” he told her, “If you don't know yet how you feel, if you don't know what to say, I understand.”
She didn't trust her voice and simply nodded against his chest. After a few moments, she felt Richard’s hand gently strocking her hair.
“So, will you miss me?” He turned one of those charming smiles at her, trying to change the mood.
”Very much,” she said, smiling back at him. And that was true - she was going to miss him every single day.
“Look, let’s do this. Once I’m back we will spend another weekend at my house in Lake Forest, the one you liked so much,” he told her, carefully removing the hair from her forehead and placing it behind her ear.
“I do like it there,” she smiled.
“Great. We can take a walk through the woods or a boat ride on the lake. Maybe I will even convince you to ride around the village on my bike,” Richard said, laughing immediately after he saw the worried look on her eyes.
“It will take you a lot to convince me to ride that thing,” she smiled back at him, touching her forehead with his.
“I will change your mind, Ms. Lockhart. I’m a great negotiator, haven’t you heard?” She laughed and he quickly lowered his mouth to hers.
He kissed her slowly, savoring her taste. She felt his tongue touching her lips and moaned. She immediately opened her mouth and it quickly turned into something more passionate. The kiss was full of emotion as they enjoyed each other’s lips.
When it ended, she slipped her arm around his waist as he trailed kisses down her neck, “We need to go back. People are probably looking for us.”
Richard nodded, but didn't move away from her arms. She was feeling warm again. He quickly kissed her one last time before they started to move towards the door.
“Bastards,” she heard him chuckling.
Diane laughed when she looked inside the room. Richard’s friends and son were all smiling at them, either applauding or holding a glass in their direction.
They were all happy for him.
Diane signed loudly after closing her laptop, placing it carelessly by her side, on the bed. Apparently, her initial plans for a relaxing night had been ruined.
She was looking forward to a few hours of doing nothing, just for a change. She had arrived home at eight, took a long bath and put on her silk robe. When she placed a few pillows behind her back and got herself comfortable enough to watch TV, she received a phone call from Lucca.
Her younger colleague asked her to check an email urgently. She was in desperate need of a second opinion on a settlement for the latest Texx Corp case, a new client Richard had helped her pitch.
Those last two weeks have been absolute hell. Now that she was a senior partner at Reddick, Boseman and Kolstad, she was busier than ever. T.A. & Fisher still occupied most of her time, with constant contract reviews but now, with the four new clients she had brought to the firm, she barely had time for herself.
She always loved when she was busy with work as her mind worked better and her body and soul felt alive. It gave her energy, it gave her stamina. Physically, however, she was exhausted.
Diane signed once again as she placed her glasses on her nightstand, noticing her phone and a gossip magazine Marissa had given her early that morning.
“Check page fifty-three. There is an article about Fisher son’s birthday party from the other night. I think you should take a look,” Marissa had told her with a mischievous look on her face. She brought the magazine home, planning to follow her advice as soon as she found time to unwind. She was trying to relax, but work and Richard have been on her mind all day.
Diane missed him terribly. It has been thirteen days since he had left and it didn't look like he was coming back any time soon. Yes, she was counting the days, looking desperately forward to his return.
She was also having horrible night’s sleep. She constantly woke up in the middle of the night and blindly touched the right side of her bed, never to find him there. She missed his smile, his touch and kisses. But especially, she missed his warm voice and body next to hers.
While he was away, he contacted her a few times, calling at night or sending quick adorable messages, always helping to lift her mood. She couldn’t blame him as she knew he was also very busy dealing with the investors.
For the last three days, however, he hasn’t been in touch and that was slowly killing her. Even on her worst busiest times at R.B. & K., having him by her side had helped her forget about the stressful times at the office and focus a bit more on her personal life.
She stole a glance at her phone and wondered for the tenth time if he was playing a game. Perhaps he wanted her to reach out, just for a change.
Diane bit her lip and picked up her phone, dialing his number.
“I was right,” he said, laughing, answering almost immediately, “I knew you would call me back sooner or later.”
She had no choice but to smile as soon as she heard his voice.
“You miss me, don't you?” He said chuckling.
“You haven't called in three days,” she complained.
“I’ve been so busy, you have no idea. I literally just arrived at my hotel room, took my jacket off and laid down on the bed when you called me,” he told her, “Are you at home?”
“It's eleven, Richard, of course I'm home,” she told him chuckling.
“Ah, yes, the time difference, I forgot. Anyway, it’s wonderful to hear your voice,” they fell quiet for a moment until Richard broke the silence again, “So, tell me: what are you wearing?”
She laughed out loud.
“What? Did I say something wrong?” She knew he was jocking.
“That's not why I called!” Diane told him defensively.
“Wait, what?” He asked her, but she knew he was smiling on the other side of the line, “We are not having phone sex? Why would you call me in the middle of the night if not for phone sex?”
Diane closed her eyes and let her body slide further down on the bed. She was very familiar with that kind of midnight phone call conversations and confessions. She had done that for more than three years.
She stared at her right side, imagining him there. His declaration of love the other day had left her a bit tense at first.
It wasn’t really a surprise. She knew he had feelings for her since the beginning. The way he looked at her, his actions, friends and daughter-in-law had helped her prepare for the inevitable. However, the fact that she hadn’t been able to reply him in kind kept her on the very edge.
For now, she had taken his own advice and given herself time to accept their relationship and whatever feelings she felt for him. She knew she was going to fall in love sooner or later. Everything that had happened to her last year had left her heartbroken and hurt. Richard was making her believe in love again.
Diane closed her eyes and chose to be brave. She had to tell him the truth.
“I miss you,” she whispered, her voice breaking a little. She hated herself for sounding so emotional. She could only blame those recent stressful days she had been through.
“God, Diane, don’t do this to me,” she heard him sighing loudly on the other side of the line.
“Do what?” She asked.
“Don’t tempt me. It’s so damn easy. It just takes a few phone calls, a ride to the airport and a flight to Chicago in record time. In less than five hours I could be there, just in time to wake you up with a good morning kiss,” he told her in a low voice.
“Just a good morning kiss?” She teased him.
“Well, yeah, it wouldn't be just a kiss,” he joined her laughter, before sighing, “I’m sorry but I can't. I have a nine o’clock meeting tomorrow and this one looks promising.”
“How is negotiating going, by the way?” She asked him. The last time they talked, he mentioned that one of the partners was very keen to close the deal, while the other three seemed irreducible.
“It’s improving. I’ve convinced them to sign the first and second phases of the construction. That’s seventy percent of the initial investment. It’s something, but not enough,” he explained and she could hear the frustration on his voice.
“When are you coming back?” That was the only thing in her mind since he had left.
“I hope by the end of this week,” she groaned as soon as he spoke the words. Another four days of loneliness, at least, “I found out at tonight’s dinner that one of the investors knew my father from college. I will try to bring this to the table and hopefully I will be able to change their minds.”
After a short while, he spoke again, lowering his voice meaningfully, “You still haven't told me what you are wearing.”
She heard him laugh and looked down at herself, smiling, “Better not. I don’t want to make you suffer,” she knew too well that two could play that game.
“That good, huh? Ok, let me guess: one of those sexy silk nightgowns you have, with those lacy things on the cleavage,” he told her, lowering his voice. She loved that voice.
“Nope,” she told, “I'm wearing my silk golden robe.”
“And nothing else?” She heard him moaning out loud from the other side of the line and couldn’t help but smile, “Jesus, why did I even ask.”
They fell into silence for a few moments, before he continued, “You know, this idea of getting on a flight and going there is not that bad. I’m sure Jack can make Las Vegas to Chicago in record time. He is by far the best pilot I’ve had,” they shared a gentle laugh, “Or maybe you could come here and spend the day with me,” he said slowly, wondering.
She sighed loudly, looking at the ceiling, “I can’t. I have to go to court tomorrow morning and on Thursday, not to mention three meetings scheduled for the next days with Texx Corp, Picket Incorporated and Holland Publications. And don’t forget the monthly T.A. & Fisher meeting on Friday.”
“Looks like you have your hands full for the rest of the week,” Richard told her, “It would be so much easier if you were a lousy lawyer. I could drag you with me anywhere and anytime I wanted.”
She smiled, laying her head comfortably on her pillow and turning to her right side. She tried to imagine him on his bed, with his feet on the floor, while his left arm laid over his head and his right hand held the phone. He was probably still wearing his tie and white shirt, as a smile played on the side of his mouth.
“I miss you so much, Richard,” her voice trembled, as she spoke the words.
“I like this new side of you. Vulnerable Diane,” she heard him chuckle. When she didn’t reply, he fell silent for a moment. He understood that she was being honest, “You really miss me, don’t you?” He said softly, with a warmth in his voice. She knew he said it as a statement rather than a question. He was clearly surprised by her confession.
“We will make up for the time lost, I promise,” she heard him say and nodded, not trusting her voice, “I hate to say this but I have to go, baby. I need to take a shower and rest.”
She closed her eyes again, “I can’t wait to see you.”
“Me neither,” she heard him chuckling, “I will be in touch. Just a few more days, my love,” they exchanged goodbyes and turned off the call.
Diane placed her phone on the nightstand and saw the magazine Marissa had given her earlier that morning. She put on her reading glasses before sitting back against her bed's headboard. She followed her assistant’s instructions and opened the page she had suggested.
There was a two pages article about Josh’s birthday at the Signature Room. Although she wasn't sure if she could call that an article. The only information written under the guests pictures was their names, age and which famous designer each person was wearing. She rolled her eyes. Definitely not her type of reading material.
The light green rectangle on the bottom right corner of the second page, however, was a clear exception. There was a picture of Richard holding a glass of scotch, next to Dan and Jason, looking more handsome than ever. For her surprise, there was another smaller picture of herself, with Josh and Sarah. She honestly didn’t remember seeing any photographers that night.
WATCH OUT CHICAGO FOR THE NEW POWER COUPLE
One of America’s most eligible bachelors is now taken. T.A. & Fisher President & CEO handsome billionaire Richard Fisher (first on the right), who had been a widow since 2012, was seen very much in love during his son’s birthday party and in the arms of Chicago’s top litigator Diane Lockhart. Diane is a senior partner at Reddick, Boseman and Kolstad and met Richard through a mutual friend. Although there had been rumors that the couple had been dating for a while, Fisher officially introduced Diane to his family and friends during the event. According to those longtime friends, they haven’t seen the 2017’s Businessperson of the Year so happy and so much in love in a long time. One of them revealed that Fisher is seriously thinking about asking Diane the big question soon. We can surely hear the bells!
She stared at the pages, with her mouth slightly opened, completely speechless. Where the hell did those people get that information from?
Diane shook her head laughing nervously at how absurd that all sounded to her. She closed the magazine, placed it back on her nightstand and turned the lights off.
As she lay down on her bed once again, she closed her eyes and tried to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. She tossed and turned for about an hour before giving up and turning on the TV.
Her imagination was running wild. So much for a relaxing night.
Diane stared at her laptop screen, before taking her glasses off and giving up. That was probably the third time she was trying to read Boseman’s email about the firm first semester financial ballance and the new partner’s bonus participation. She simply couldn't go through the second paragraph without getting distracted.
She was desperately trying to concentrate on her work and take her mind away from what had happened on the last few days.
God, what a week. She was leaving home even earlier than usual, only to come back later than ever.
To be fair, she shouldn't be complaining really. All the cases were going exceptionally well, as her team had scored a few important wins in court.
Lucca and Maia were flawlessly helping her with all the paperwork and having a few creative ideas themselves. Marissa was skillfully working with investigations, paring up with Jay and turning into a valuable asset for her and the firm.
If everything was going well in her professional life, her personal one was a different matter.
Richard hasn’t called or texted her in two days. When he told her the other night he was going to be in touch, that had definitely never crossed her mind. Instead of messaging or calling her, he sent her something.
She had to admit though that they did look absurdly beautiful on the top of her drawer.
It was not that she didn’t like his flowers - she adored them. Nevertheless, those specific flowers had a clear finality and the last thing she wanted to think about was the real meaning behind that gift. More precisely, what those red roses meant to him.
She refused to accept that a gossip magazine or his friends' mocking jokes could be right after all. Especially about something that concerned her own life.
When they had lunch together for the first time, she made an innocent comment about an impressive centerpiece, on a French restaurant’s main table. On that day, he told her about his parents’ love story. She had no idea, however, that she was going to live the exact same story just a few months later.
Diane rolled her eyes and stood from her chair. She walked towards her drawer, opened the doors, picked up a crystal bottle and poured herself a glass of a 24-year-old scotch.
The hell with it.
She had just made her way back from lunch but knew she had a very long and punishing Friday afternoon ahead of her. She needed a drink to simply keep her going.
Diane placed the glass on the table, put her reading glasses back on and started to go through the few remaining documents on her desk. During the week, she had managed to check most of the contracts, revised a few complicated cases, but there were still a few irritating ones to go.
As she read the documents, she was reminded by Marissa about the T.A. & Fisher monthly meeting, “Looks like it will be delayed for about an hour. I will let you know when they arrive,” she told Diane, who groaned loudly.
When she took the last folder in her hands, she opened it carelessly. As soon as she turned the first page of the document, she took a deep breath and bit her lip.
She had completely forgotten about it. That one in particular had been the cherry on the top of the cake.
Julius had finally come back with the revised divorce papers. Her apartment, his farm, her retirement account, his retirement pension, their savings, their properties, everything painfully listed.
It was much harder than she thought it would be. She had tried to go through those lines a few times in the last couple of days but simply couldn’t concentrate. All those things were attached to memories and most of them, as hard as it was to admit to herself, were happy ones.
She read it again, going through the details. They had been independent people all their lives and, during that time, both had managed to make a small fortune as the result of their hard work. They didn’t want anything from each other. It was a simple paper.
Her three years marriage had come to an end, which Julius had expertly summarized in two ordinary words: irreconcilable differences.
That was not what she had in mind when she had decided she didn’t want to wait anymore. Her romantic side thought he was always going to be there, waiting tirelessly for her, holding a few lilies in his hands, at the end of a courtroom corridor.
Diane shook her head, wiping away the tear that fell on her face with the back of her hand and closed the folder angrily. Why did she end up torturing herself over and over again?
Every time she thought about them and how it ended, she suffered, trying to understand all the reasons why it happened. She blamed him for being such a weak bastard and for not admitting since the beginning that he missed her. She blamed herself for not having more time for their marriage and for being naive enough to believe that he could love her forever.
The last thing she needed was to have her husband on her mind. Especially now with Richard in her life and supposedly ready to take the final step.
“Diane,” she heard a double knock at her door and raised her head immediately, “There is someone here to see you,” Marissa told her.
She slowly raised herself from her chair as soon as she saw him. She felt like laughing - that was obviously some kind of a joke.
“Hi,” he managed.
The first thing she noticed when he walked inside her office was that he had finally gotten a haircut and his beard trimmed. His hair, on the other hand, as she had noticed the day she saw him at the restaurant, had indeed gone completely silver.
He looked absurdly handsome, even with the same old brown jacket, one of his blue flannel-plaid shirts, leather boots and jeans. The fact that he still insisted in wearing that stupid Native American eagle belt almost made her roll her eyes.
She also noticed that for whatever reason, he was still wearing his ring. That made no sense at all. From what she understood on their last phone call, from what she heard through the phone, he was with somebody else.
When she didn’t reply, he continued, looking at her desk, “I hope I’m not interrupting anything important.”
Diane shook her head and opened her mouth to reply, but was immediately interrupted by her assistant, who was watching the scene with curiosity, “Would you like something to drink, Mr. McVeigh? Water, coffee, tea… Jessica, Barbara’s assistant, makes the best cappuccino ever. Do you want to try it?”
“No, thank you”, Kurt told her, before turning his attention to Diane, “It will be quick.”
“That will be all, Marissa,” she dismissed her assistant, who nodded slowly at her boss and left, closing the door behind her.
She saw him quickly stealing a look at her. He was probably doing the exact same thing she did when he walked in her office. You miss so much from a person’s life when you don’t have them by your side.
She remembered the old times, when they were surprised and thrilled to see each other again.
“How are you?” She asked him, after an awkward moment of silence.
“Good,” he said, “You?”
“Good,” she nodded, noticing the charming half smile playing on his face. She couldn't help but smile back at him.
It always intrigued her how irresistible they found each other and how easy it was to flirt with him.
“I, eh, brought you the invitation for the book launch as I promised,” he told her, taking an envelope from his back pocket, “I wanted to hand it to you personally.”
“Oh,” she said as he gave her the paper.
“Anyway, it’s a cocktail on Thursday next week, nothing special,” he mentioned. Diane opened the envelope and when she read where the cocktail was being held, she breathed out slowly.
“I know it’s a last minute thing, but it would be great if you could come. It would...” he said and suddenly stopped, as if he was not sure if he should continue. She looked at him and, for the first time in years, she saw him hesitating.
After a few seconds she nodded, putting the paper back inside the envelope, “Kurt, I’m not sure if I can come, but I will do my best. I’ve been very busy these days with client’s cases, contracts, meetings...”
He held up a hand before she could continue, “Yes, I can imagine. But since you encouraged me to write this book and helped me a lot during the whole process, part of its success is yours.”
“You wrote the book, Kurt. Those are your ideas, your input and opinions,” she told him, shaking her head, “I just gave you a few tips here and there, nothing else.”
“It’s just…” he ran a hand through his hair, taking a deep breath before continuing, “It would mean a lot.”
She looked in his eyes and regretted it immediately. She saw his true feelings reflected there, as they always were. His eyes had always told her how he really felt, never hiding anything from her. After all this time, they still did.
“Diane,” she heard her assistant’s amused voice interrupting them, after knocking for the second time at the door. She was so lost on her own thoughts that she had obviously missed the first, “You got another one.”
Initially, she didn't understand what Marissa was referring to, but when she saw a man in his early twenties dressed in khaki clothes, it all made sense. For the third consecutive time that week, he carried a huge rose bouquet in his arms and placed them on top of her drawer, next to the other two, exactly how he had done it before. The young man gave Marissa the portable device to sign and they both left the room.
Kurt stared at the flowers and Diane felt chills running through her body. After a few moments, he turned his attention to her, frowning. He raised his shoulders and put both hands slowly inside his jeans’ front pockets. His whole body seemed tense. That awkward silence was killing her and she knew she had to say something.
“They are from a client,” she finally broke the silence, before smiling nervously. She was desperately trying to lighten up the mood.
“A client sent you red roses?” He said slowly, raising his eyebrows at her.
She opened her mouth to reply, but closed it seconds later. What could she possibly say anyway? He was a smart man and he knew perfectly well what they meant.
He took another good look at her, only this time slower. She felt another shiver running down her spine as soon as his gaze stopped on her hands, still holding his invitation. He definitely noticed the missing golden band on her finger, the one he had personally put there four years ago.
She didn't know how much he knew about her private life since they had been separated, but it was obvious to her now that he knew very little.
“Is there anything you would like to tell me?” He said, lowering his voice meaningfully. He had always been a direct man and he was certainly not trying to hold anything back at that moment.
Luckily, for the third time that afternoon, her assistant interrupted her again, “Sorry, Diane, but T.A. & Fisher's team is here. They have just arrived.”
She nodded, “Thank you, Marissa. I’m coming in a few minutes,” turning her attention back to her husband, she continued, “I promise I will do my best and try to go, ok?” She placed the envelope on her desk and picked up a few papers and folders instead.
He nodded slowly but didn't say anything. Diane was not used to seeing him so shaken. She left the room quickly, trying desperately to run away from that place and from the guilt she was feeling.
She greeted a few of the T.A. & Fisher staff on the corridor, as they made their way to the meeting room on the second floor. Before she followed them, she stole a quick look at her office one last time and her heart broke a little when she saw him.
He was still there, standing in the exact same way, at the exact same place she had left him. He was staring blankly at nothing in particular, with his hands still in his pockets.
For a moment, she felt a pain on her stomach, very similar to the one she had felt more than a year ago, when Lucca asked him that horrible question. As if sensing her scrutiny, he looked in her direction. Even at a certain distance, she could see the hurt written all over his face.
They stared at each other while her eyes filled with tears. She had gone through that same painful experience that day in court and now she was the one making him suffer.
Only seconds later, she saw him opening his mouth slightly and narrowing his eyes. He was trying to focus his attention on something next to her.
Diane gasped when she felt a kiss being placed on her cheek, turning immidiatly her attention to the other direction.
“Surprise,” Richard said softly, with a warmth in his voice. He was looking more handsome than never, smiling charmingly at her. He touched her arm gently and started to walk them towards the stairs.
She lowered her head, closed her eyes briefly and took a deep breath. She didn’t have the heart nor the courage to look at her office again.
A quick thank you note here:
One very special person is my beta for this fic. She is not only helping with the grammar, but also encouraging me a LOT. She is the person who I get the first impressions from and even gave me a few great ideas. I can't thank her enough!
“You didn’t say anything about the roses,” Richard murmured as he stroked her hair.
They were lying in his bed, staring at the ceiling, wrapped in each other's arms. Initially, she had been looking forward to that weekend, counting the days to see him again. However, since what had happened in the office a couple of days before, she hadn’t been able to relax.
She was so distracted during the meeting that even Richard’s charming side smiles and his hand occasionally touching her knee under the table were not having the effect they usually had. All she could think of was the pain in Kurt’s eyes when he realized she was with someone else.
After the meeting was over and before she said goodbye to him and his team, Richard had offered to pick her up later at home for the long weekend at his lake house. She quickly accepted.
Diane returned to her office only to see the new bouquet already in display. Marissa had skilfully put the roses inside a crystal vase on top of her drawer, matching the other flowers.
Diane shook her head, after absently staring at them for a few moments. Those red roses were clearly not helping the overall situation.
She was not going to live with the guilt of hurting a person she cared about. If she wanted to move on with her life she had to stop thinking about the past, enjoy the present and start planning the future. However, giving up the past was turning out to be much harder than she thought it would at the beginning.
Later that evening, Richard picked her up from home as planned and they made their way to his lake house. They stayed in and enjoyed each other’s company on Saturday. For some reason, he made her feel even guiltier when he was so attentive and devoted to their lovemaking.
On Sunday morning, she had reluctantly allowed him to take her to the nearest town on his bike, which turned out to be the scariest 30 minutes of her life.
That short, adventurous trip had once again reminded her of how much people liked him. Everybody, from the staff who worked at his property, fixing the boats or taking care of the garden, to the small grocery shop owners, who he eventually visited and was a regular customer when he was in town, they all knew and adored him.
How wouldn't she fall in love with such fascinating man? She knew it was just a matter of time.
“Diane,” he insisted, “The roses?”
“They are beautiful,” she whispered when she turned her attention to him and looked in his eyes.
Richard raised his eyebrows, “That was not the kind of reaction I was hoping for.”
She adjusted her head that laid on top of his arm and took a deep slow breath, “What to say, Richard?”
He frowned and stopped his fingers from running through her hair, “The other day, during our last conversation, you seemed...“
“I did miss you. Terribly,” her voice softened as she interrupted him. He looked in her eyes for a few moments and kissed her head, snuggling closer.
“I love being with you, I always enjoy the time we spend together. But it's just...” she trailed off, searching for the right words, “It's too early.”
“Not for me,” he said softly interrupting her, a warmth in his voice.
“Please be patient,” her voice trembled when she spoke. She needed to say those words out loud, not only to him, but to herself.
He nodded, “I’m sorry. I clearly read too much into something,” he murmured against her skin, ”I shouldn’t have sent you the roses.”
“No, don’t say that,” she shook her head, before looking deep into his eyes, “I loved them. And don’t feel sorry either. You were simply following your heart.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Richard chuckled, “I am following my heart. I should have followed my head instead and stopped at Tiffany & Co on my way to your office.”
She smiled, “No, you shouldn’t. It would have been much more difficult to say no.”
“My point exactly,” he said, with a wry smile playing on his lips. Diane laughed and shoved him playfully, “I will convince you, you’ll see.”
They shared a brief smile, but she knew it was not going to be easy. He caressed her cheek and leaned over to kiss her. It started slowly, but soon his hands were moving all over her body, as the kisses got more intense.
“Richard,” she laughed softly, as he trailed small kisses along her collarbone and squeezed one of her breasts gently, “I need to pack.”
“Why don’t you take the day off?” He murmured against her skin, “Two days were not enough.”
“You know I can’t,” she said and heard him sighing loudly.
“I hate this,” he raised himself back up on one arm, looking down at her, “I hate that you barely have time for us.”
She saw the disappointment reflected in his eyes, “You’ve always known that about me. My work, the things I fight for, is part of who I am,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear, “I’ve been very busy these last few weeks and it looks like the following won’t be any different.”
He groaned, lowering his head to her bared neck, as she continued, “In these past few days I’ve been leaving home at seven-thirty, getting to court at eight sharp, going to the office for meetings, only to arrive back home around nine.”
“God,” he started and raised himself to look at her again, “I will have a few meetings myself this week. I need to give Dan and Jason a full update on the Hydroelectric investment. I know it will be painful and take longer than I can possibly imagine."
At least his trip to Nevada hasn't been a waste of time after all. He had successfully closed the deal with the investors, who had agreed to fully support the construction. Richard used that as an excuse to bring a couple of Don Perignon bottles in their luggage to celebrate.
Funny, as she had always preferred wine herself. Lately, however, she was enjoying the effects the sparkling liquid had on her, especially when they were mixed with sensual kisses, nibbles on her neck and husky moans against her ear.
“Just promise me we'll find time for each other,” he said before she nodded and kissed his cheek.
They fell quiet once again, his head resting on her chest, while his arm slid along her waist, “Josh invited us to have dinner at his house later this week.”
“Richard,” she started, “It will be difficult.”
“It’s a simple family dinner, Diane,” he interrupted her, propping his head up in one hand, “Both of us, Josh, Sarah and Grace. A foolish excuse to spend more time with you.”
She placed a hand on his face, with a small pleasant smile, “I will try, ok?”
“How about Thursday?” He suggested, smiling back at her, “You should be less busy by then.”
Diane opened her mouth, fixing a long look on him. She wasn’t sure if she should tell him about Kurt’s visit to her office. She had to be honest with him, but she didn’t know how he would react. The last thing she wanted was to make him worry about something so unimportant.
There was no real harm in telling Richard that he had paid her a visit. Likewise, Kurt was not going to disappear from her life. They would eventually bump into each other. It was impossible to avoid the inevitable.
“What? Did you already make plans?” Richard insisted.
Diane sat up, with her back against the headboard, pulling the covers up around her chest, “I’ve received an invitation for a cocktail on Thursday. A book launch.”
“Okay,” he replied briefly.
“It’s Kurt’s new book,” she told him and waited anxiously for his reaction.
He frowned at her suspiciously, but didn’t say a word. She watched his expression changing from slightly worried to concerned, as the silence was slowly killing her, “It's about the right to bear arms. He started to write it when we were still married,” she explained.
“Yes, I know. I’ve heard,” he said, after a long while. At first, she was surprised that he knew anything about Kurt’s book. Then again, she immediately reminded herself that they had a few friends in common. She even suspected that RD had something to do with it.
“I gave a few ideas, helped him with the first draft and the NRA sponsorship,” she said, but hesitated for a brief minute. Diane curiously wanted to know his opinion about it, “I’m not sure if I will go anyway. It was only an invitation.”
“You should go,” he told her categorically, “As you helped him with the book, you should,” his reply surprised her once again. After a silent moment, he continued with an unexpectedly disarming comment, “Now, if you ask me if I like this situation, that’s a total different story.”
She opened her mouth to argue, but found she couldn’t. He had a blank expression on his face, as his eyes were fixed on hers.
“Look, I don’t like the fact that you will be with him, if only for a few hours,” he said, plainly. His face was slowly turning into a slight shade of red. She had only seen him like that the day he found out that Boseman had lied to him about her going to court.
After a brief moment, he shook his head, sighing deeply, “I hate feeling like this,” he confessed, “Just go. You need to go, you need to be there,” he said, using a decisive tone of voice, “Diane, we have to face the facts. He was part of your life and it's not like he will simply go away.”
“Are you sure?” Diane lowered her voice.
“No, I’m not,” he quickly replied, “But that’s the right thing to do,” she knew how kind and fair he was. After a short while, he continued, “At what time will it be?”
She nodded, accepting it with a look of gratitude, ”It starts at seven, if I remember correctly. I will arrive later, say hello and then leave. I will probably be home before ten.”
He nodded and looked away. She could only imagine what was running through his mind, “You can come if you want,” she said, trying to ease the tension.
He laughed, shook his head and laid his temple on the top of her thighs, “That would be quite a surprise. It would certainly ruin his night.”
“He knows about us,” she said and watched the incredulous look on his face, after he turned his attention to her again.
“How?” He asked.
“He knows,” she replied, “People talk. And it’s not that we have been discreet either,” she continued, but decided to spare a few details. The last thing she wanted was to hurt him, making him even more worried and confused.
Richard nodded and squeezed her hand gently, “Go and give me a call as soon as you arrive at home.”
“It's a deal,” she smiled and gave him a sweet but quick kiss. Before she knew it, he got hold of her legs and pulled her back to lie on the bed. She let out a sharp laugh, as he snaked his arm around her waist, lowering his lips to her bared neck.
He raised his head staring down at her, with a lopsided smile and looking a little lost in her eyes, “I love you,” he whispered.
She placed a hand on his face, while her fingers caressed his cheek, “You are so wonderful, Richard,” she said, voicing her thoughts.
“I know,” he smiled mischievously, “And I’m doing everything in my power to make you fall for me.”
She laughed gently, throwing her arms around his neck, “It’s working.”
He started to kiss the upturned corners of her mouth, before moving to other parts of her body. Soon, it started all over again.
Diane eventually found time to pack, but much later during the night.
As soon as she walked out of the elevator, she regretted her decision.
It had been almost a decade since she last saw that restaurant. The room itself looked completely different and much larger. Apparently, the hotel had extended the area and changed the decoration many times over the years.
The cocktail reception was crowded with people laughing, drinking and enjoying themselves. The organizers had arranged the room differently from what she remembered. A good part of the regular round tables was replaced with small high ones, a more appropriate choice for the occasion. The decorative centerpieces included a few small candles in a glass vase, beautiful green leaves and lilies.
On the right side of the room, she noticed for the first time a huge bar with an impressive bottle collection and glass shelves, where waiters constantly stopped by to return a few empty glasses and load their trays with new ones.
At the end of the hall, she saw a glass wall which lead to a balcony. From a close distance, she could see the Marina City, the nightlights coming out of the buildings, the lake and its bridges. Although the restaurant was on the fourth floor, the view was still magnificent. Maybe even more impressive, as they looked much closer than they actually were.
Near that wall, she saw a lengthy table with many books precisely organized. A tall and long banner stood behind the table, hanging from the ceiling and almost touching the floor. The book's name and a huge picture of the cover and the author were on display.
She recognized the picture almost instantly. It was the same one used on the book’s back cover, which she had taken all those years ago at the farm. On the top corner of the banner, in big capital letters, she could read the fourth edition information.
Even with the noisy guests around her, Diane heard a soft piano tune being playing in the background, exactly like the first time she was there. Everything looked familiar and completely different at the same time.
Then again, the last time she was there she wasn’t really paying attention to beautiful views, large bars or charming table centerpieces. There was something more important to distract her that night.
Diane sighed heavily. Every little detail had been carefully chosen, from the location to the decoration, and even the music. In spite of everything, she didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that he might have left those small but special memories for her to find.
During the time they were together, he had always shown her how much he cared, either with rare declarations of love or unique thoughtful gifts. In fact, they were so unusual that it never failed to touch her heart deeply. He was a silent cowboy after all.
She wondered what his real intention was in doing all that. It seemed like he was trying to reach out again. It made no sense since he knew she was taking the first steps to move on with her life, as he had already done with his.
A young waiter stopped by, interrupting her thoughts. He offered her wine and canapés, which she thankfully accepted. Looking closely at the guests, she spotted a few politicians, personalities and even the NRA Vice-President himself. Diane rolled her eyes. There was a time in her life when she found all that to be extremely amusing and entertaining.
She spotted his old ballistics friends, lawyers from renowned Chicago firms and even a few local TV News reporters, who were clearly trying to blend in. She also recognized the same young couple she had seen having lunch with him a few days before talking amicably with a journalist, who was taking enthusiastic notes. The blond girl was holding a glass of water while her companion drank red wine.
The book’s author, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found.
When Diane felt her phone vibrating inside her bag, she immediately picked it up. She was in desperate need of a distraction.
“Hey,” she smiled as soon as she heard his voice, “How is the cocktail going?”
“I have just arrived”, she said, “The only interesting thing is the NRA logo on the banner. And I think I saw Wayne LaPierre chatting with Nolan Ryan a few minutes ago.“
“Sounds like you are in my kind of place. Any of my Republican so called friends?” He asked accusingly and she laughed.
“None so far,” she replied.
“Good,” he mentioned, “How long are you planning to stay?”
“I haven't seen him yet,” she said looking around once again, “I will be out of the door as soon as I talk to him,” she told Richard, trying to comfort him.
“Okay. Just...” he started and hesitated. She heard him taking a deep breath before continuing, “Give me a call when you arrive at home, ok?”
“I will. Talk to you later.”
“Love you,” she heard him whispering before turning off the phone. Diane closed her eyes for a short moment. He wanted to make sure she knew how important she was for him and how much he cared for her.
Richard had picked her up from work every single day that week and invited her to dinner when she wasn't too tired to decline. Since their conversation on the previous weekend, he made no secret of how much he disliked the idea that she was going to meet her husband. He had been concerned about the whole situation since the very beginning and she couldn't blame him. After all, he had many reasons to be worried.
A few months before, on another special night, he had compared his situation with hers. He confessed how hard it was for him to let go of someone he had cared about. At that time, he told her that if she wanted to be happy again she should think about doing the same.
There were indeed many similarities in both stories, but different from his wife, her husband was very much alive. Letting go of someone who was still around was obviously much more difficult than repressing a memory. She shook her head and tried to focus on the present.
Diane slowly made her way through the room, hoping to find him somewhere in the crowd. She greeted a few guests with a nod here and a quick handshake there. For those who had actually spoken with her, she was as brief as possible. She was avoiding engaging in any long unpleasant conversation that night, especially those involving her private life.
She had been honest with Richard earlier when she told him she only wanted to talk to her husband quickly and get the hell out of there. From time to time, she felt someone looking at her, whispering something to the nearest person. She had an idea what they were talking about, since there have been a few weak smiles in her direction. It all made her feel extremely uncomfortable.
As she accepted yet another glass of wine from a friendly waiter, she finally saw him on the far side of the bar. A TV crew was setting up the camera and lighting, while the same young couple she had seen before discreetly whispered a few last minute instructions.
He was smartly dressed in a dark grey suit, white shirt and a burgundy and silver striped tie. His hair looked impeccable and so did his beard. The publisher had indeed done an amazing job, not only organizing the event, but also convincing the book’s author himself that he had to look presentable for the occasion.
She couldn’t help but smile. She knew he hated suits and only wore them when absolutely necessary. Even in court, he normally wore a jacket and jeans and on rare occasions, a tie.
During the long time they’ve known each other, she had only seen him dressed up a couple of times. One of those times in particular, he had chosen a navy blue suit and a golden tie. Instead of holding a glass of scotch as he did now, he’d been holding lilies.
Diane frowned when she saw his drink choice for the night. That was very unusual of him. He had never been a fan of the golden liquid. He even confessed to her once that he didn't like the taste and found it to be rather strong. When they shared a few drinks together, he frequently chose beer and occasionally wine. It was an odd choice for such a crucial, joyous night.
After the crew made last minutes adjustments on their equipment, the reporter nodded, silently asking them if they were ready. The young blonde woman gave him final instructions and right before they started filming, he drank deeply from his glass and gave it back to her.
Even from a certain distance, she could see how tired he looked and from his body language, she knew he was agitated. He answered most of the reporter’s long questions with very short words. He sighed a few times and moved his arms constantly during the interview.
At one question in particular, she saw him running a hand through his hair as a clear sign of his irritability. Apparently, that TV channel in particular was no Fox News and not a fan of the NRA either.
During the time they had been together, they had endless heated arguments about the second amendment. For more than a year she had been trying to forget what happened right after those arguments.
The crew stopped filming and thanked him for his time. He nodded and forced a smile. The young blonde girl approached him again and whispered a few words. He took a deep breath before answering her and ordered yet another glass of scotch from the bar. A minute later, he greeted a couple of guests with a handshake and few words.
Diane shook her head slowly. He was not behaving like his old self. Maybe he had something else on his mind other than the interview.
She looked at the main room again. There were definitely more people at the event since she had arrived. Behind her, she heard the sound of laughter. Her smile slowly faded as soon as she saw three familiar women on the other side of the bar. They drank and giggled with one of the sexy young barmen making cocktails.
After a short while, Jeannie saw her and stopped laughing. She elbowed Bobby and whispered something to Tonya. The fire-breathing crazies watched her with sympathetic looks on their faces.
She raised her head proudly, turned around and walked as far away as possible, disappearing into the crowd. She felt her heart beating faster and stopped by one of the empty high bars at the end of the room, closing her eyes for a moment. That place brought back too many memories she was desperately trying to forget.
At a safe distance, she looked at their direction again. They continued to talk to each other until a young redhead woman stopped by the bar. Diane recognized Miranda immediately as she exchanged hugs with the other girls. Jeannie whispered something to her and Miranda's smile faded. She turned her attention to the guests, clearly looking for someone.
Diane had to get out of that place. Right by her side, she saw a glass door and didn't hesitate to open it. As soon as she felt the cold breeze on her cheeks, her heartbeat started to slow down. She walked a few steps along the balcony until she reached the half brick wall. She held the cold iron handrail tightly, closed her eyes again and started to take slow deep breaths.
For the second time that night, she regretted coming to that stupid cocktail reception. She should have listened to Richard instead and never stepped one foot in that damned hotel.
Everything was going well with her professional life and she had finally found a little happiness with Richard. Still, her husband had to show up and make her life a mess again, with book dedications, special photos and personal invitations.
Diane opened her eyes after a minute and admired the view for a while. She saw the lights coming out of the buildings, cars crossing the bridges and a huge boat sailing calmly on the river. It was such a beautiful night. She should have stayed at home and enjoyed it fully with somebody who genuinely cared about her.
She inhaled deeply one last time after raising her head. She was going home, decided to forget about what had happened during the last week.
At that moment, she almost jumped at the sound of the glass door slamming behind her.
“I thought you wouldn’t come,” he said as she stared at him.
She felt her heart skipping a beat when she heard his taut voice.
Diane looked back at him incredulous as he walked towards her carrying a full glass in his hands. He stared at her for a minute before breaking the silence.
“Well, this is a surprise,” he told her smiling, but the smile didn't quite reach his eyes.
“I never promised you anything but I didn’t say I wasn’t coming either,” she replied, crossing her arms in front of her chest. She suddenly felt cold and wondered if the wind that continued to blow had anything to do with it.
He laughed briefly, shaking his head. He took a few steps and stood by her side, only to stare at the view. He looked lost somehow, “After what happened this morning, you were the last person I expected to see here today.”
She frowned. She could hear the hurt in his voice, “This morning? I don’t know what you mean.”
He turned his head almost immediately and gave her a cold-eyed stare, “You’re joking, right?”
Diane shook her head slowly and decided to stay quiet. She suspected that the reason why he was so livid had something to do with Richard.
“Julius called,” as soon as he told her she felt a shiver running down her spine, “Asked me to drop by to sign the divorce papers. I think he also said as soon as possible, but I hung up before he could finish.”
She closed her eyes tightly for a second and lowered her head.
“I thought you’d at least call me about something that important...” he said, looking down at his drink, “Guess I was wrong. Maybe you were busy with more important things.”
“Kurt, please,” she whispered.
He leaned forward and laid his forearms on the steel handrail, “We are quite a pair, you and I. We are not exactly brave when we have to face the facts,” he said before taking a sip from his glass, “Or consequences for that matter,” he added with a low voice, barely audible as he wasn’t facing her, just talking.
He was right. Although he still regretted not telling her about the affair, she never had the courage to talk to him about the divorce either. She learned about what happened in a crowded courtroom while he had received a phone call from her family lawyer.
She watched his handsome face and noticed the dark circles under his eyes. He was clearly having trouble sleeping and was not only worried, but also deeply hurt.
“Today was supposed to be one of the highlights of my professional career and it turned out to be one of the worst days of my life,” he continued, looking at the view again, “I should have canceled this nonsense book launch a long time ago,” he turned the attention to his glass again.
Diane interrupted him, “No, you shouldn't have. Look inside, Kurt,” she mentioned and tilted her head towards the main room, “All these people are here for you. They are proud of you, of your success. This is a special night.”
“I don't give a damn about them,” he said and tasted from his drink. He turned to her, raising his eyebrows, “Is that why you are here? ‘Cause you care?” He asked her sarcastically.
She opened her mouth to answer, but hesitated for a second. She knew deep in her heart what the answer to that question was, but didn’t have the courage to say it out loud. She didn’t want to give him false hope either.
He laughed after stealing a look at her left hand, “Yeah, that's what I thought.”
Diane watched him taking yet another sip. She sighed again and continued, “I'm sure you have an interesting offer to write another book. You have a life in front of you, full of new possibilities. You should celebrate.”
“Celebrate?” He looked back at her, astonished, “The only reason why I continued with this madness was because at that time it looked like a good distraction. And maybe, for whatever reason, it would make me forget to blame myself daily for ruining my life.” He paused for a quick minute to drink again. Diane had never seen him so hurt, “Of course I failed. As I failed you.”
She looked down at her own shoes. She knew it was also her fault. Their marriage was never a priority. She lost count of the number of times she had declined his invitations for a short romantic trip, to go over to the farm for the weekend, or even a quick lunch or dinner at her favorite restaurant.
Diane watched the wind on his hair. Somehow, she still remembered the feeling of running her fingers through it and closed her fists tightly, “It’s not only the book, Kurt, your personal life too. I’m sure that since you have moved on you should--”
He quickly turned his head at her direction and frowned, “Since I’ve… What are you talking about?”
“A few months ago you called me late at night to ask if I have received the book and to mention the book launch.”
Before she could say anything else, he interrupted her again, “Yeah,” he said with a wry smile, “I’ve been planning this stupid night for months.”
Diane sighed. She was right after all. All those little details and memories she had seen earlier had indeed been chosen by him. The hotel, the restaurant and even the lilies, which decorated the centerpieces.
“I know about her, Kurt. I’ve heard her voice on the other side of the line when you spoke to me,” as she said the words, she watched his expression changing from worried to simply stunned.
“Her voice? What...” he trailed off, stopping himself there. His eyes shot open, enraged, as soon as he realized who she was referring to, “That was Monica! The public relations director!” He told her and pointed at the young blonde woman inside the room, “We were at the office the whole afternoon and evening revising contracts! The book is going to have its international release next month and I had to…” he trailed off when he cast a sideways look at her. He shook his head, laughing, “God, you really think the worst of me.”
He had left her completely speechless. She watched him running his hand through his hair, “She is married and is expecting her first child, if you haven’t noticed. As a matter of fact, her husband Eric also happens to be my Editor.”
Diane felt her eyes filling with tears. He was right again. Truth was, she had been paranoid since before they were married, when she learned about what kind of friends and students he had. Nonetheless, as he had mentioned himself, she also had reasons to think that everything could happen again.
Deep inside, however, she knew without a doubt what kind of man he was. She should have known better. His integrity and his decency were two of the many reasons why she had fallen in love with him in the first place.
“Shit,” he raised his eyes to the sky, wondering about the decisions he had taken in the past, “What a spectacular mess this is and it’s all my fault.”
She felt a tear running down her face and raised her hand to dry it quickly before he could notice. She hated herself for being so emotional.
“Do you have any idea how many times I wanted to talk to you, to reach out?” He continued, turning his attention to the view in front of him, “You told me you needed time to think and to forget, so I respected that. There hasn’t been a single day since last year that I haven’t looked at my phone and thought about calling you.”
His declaration wasn’t really a surprise. She lost the counts of how many nights she stood wide awake thinking about him at the farm, lonely, staring blankly at the fireplace. How many times she physically needed him and thought about throwing caution to the wind, just to feel his arms around her once again. Everything ended so sudden that they didn't have time to say or have a proper goodbye.
“I should have been braver,” he sighed heavily and cleared his throat, “Anyway, it’s too late now. I don’t want to cause any more pain. I just want you to be happy.”
She had never seen him so hurt. He still blamed himself, but was also nobly trying to face the situation. He was putting her before him, as he had done during the entire time they had been together. And yet, he had mistakenly failed once and their lives turned upside down.
“After what happened last year, I hoped that somehow you would…” he hesitated, shaking his head, “I was being delusional. The woman I married would never forgive such a thing. She is a fighter. She would have stood up tall and moved on with her life.”
That’s where he was wrong. She had been trying to do exactly what he had said, yes, but somehow she knew she had yet to succeed. There was one reason stopping her and Richard to be happy and he was standing right in front of her.
“For ten years I’ve worried that you would eventually find someone better, move on and forget about me,” he confessed, ”Looks like you finally have.” She saw him stealing a peek at her hand again before he asked unexpectedly, “Does he know you are here?”
“Yes,” she looked into his eyes and replied briefly. He nodded, as if expecting such an answer, “He knows about what happened too.”
“Of course,” he said and fell silent for a few moments, “Are you sleeping with him?” He pointed at her bitterly, looking her square in the eye. The whiskey was definitely starting to go to his head. Her once silent and thoughtful cowboy would think twice before asking her something like that.
She inhaled deeply before speaking, “You know the answer to this question, Kurt,” she said the words slowly, letting them sink in.
He nodded again, taking one long final gulp from his glass, draining it completely. When he finished, he looked down at the object in his hands, staring at it for a long while. He turned his back to her and she saw his shoulders tense.
He threw the glass against the brick wall with full force, smashing it into small pieces. She was startled by the loud crash and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she stole a quick look through the window to see if anybody had heard the noise. The party continued to run smoothly as guests enjoyed themselves, drinking and chatting cheerfully.
”Lucky son of a bitch,” she heard him whisper under his breath as he angrily ran his fingers through his hair again. He was furious. Seeing him in such a state broke her heart a little.
Turning his attention to the view, he lowered his head and held the cold handrail so tightly his knuckles blanched.
After a short while, he looked deeply into her eyes again when he realized he hadn't asked her a far more important question, “Do you love him?”
She watched him uncomfortably waiting for her response and the image was utterly disarming. Her jaw dropped just slightly, but before she could answer, she found she could not. For the first time that night, she wondered if she should tell him the truth.
“He loves you, that's pretty clear to me,” he interrupted her again, before she had the chance to make a confession, “What man wouldn’t fall in love with you? I mean, look at you,” he said, tilting his head slightly to one side, with desire in his eyes, “You're absolutely stunning.”
She felt her eyes fill with tears again and shook her head, still unable to answer. He took a deep breath and moved one hand to the back of his head, scratching a spot just behind his ear. She had seen that anxious tick before, “You should love him back. To what I’ve been told, he is a formidable man. Everybody likes him, even my own friends,” he continued, chuckling.
She wasn’t surprised that he had tried to find out more about Richard. It was only natural to be curious about her new relationship, “I’ve never heard a single bad word about him. People told me he is a decent, smart businessman, with all the right friends and contacts.”
He lowered his gaze to the floor and put his hands inside his pockets, inhaling deeply. She felt a pain in her heart as soon as she openly saw written on his face that he had finally given up, “You deserve him. He is a far better match for you than I could ever be.”
After a while, his head moved up, fixing a long look at the sky again. She knew there were a lot of things running around in the back of his mind, “Besides, we know that he won’t be stupid enough to screw things up the way I did.”
She remembered all the small wonderful moments they had together. They were undoubtedly happy while they were married, she could never deny that. Nobody had ever made her feel so alive, complete and so much in love. She had always considered herself lucky to have found him, even later in her life.
“The guy is fucking perfect, how am I ever going to compete with that?” He mentioned, letting out a suppressed laugh, running his fingers repeatedly on his temple.
“But he is not you,” she whispered quietly, lost in thoughts.
She only realized what she had said when she saw the stunned expression on his face and his wide eyes staring back at her, “What did you say?”
Diane felt a shiver travelling down her spine when she met his gaze, speechless. She shook her head in disbelief. She couldn’t have said it out loud. She shouldn’t have made such a stupid mistake. Her heart was beating so loudly that she knew he could hear it.
She felt her phone vibrating inside her clutch and remembered her promise. Richard. He asked her to call him as soon as she arrived at home. Apparently, she had spent too much time talking to her husband and never felt the time running so fast. He was obviously preoccupied.
“I have to go, it’s late,” she managed, shifting the line of conversation. She walked past him, going in the door’s direction. Before she could reach it, he touched her bare arm, squeezing it tightly.
“Diane,” he said softly, trying to convince himself that he had indeed heard those words coming out of her mouth.
The contact of his skin on hers felt like fire. She closed her eyes and bit her lip to keep herself from crying, “I need to go,” she made a final desperate plea, her voice breaking, “Please.”
He loosened his grip slowly and she started to move again. She opened the glass door and walked through the crowded room as fast as she could and as far away from him and that place as possible.
She reached the elevator and pressed the button repeatedly. When the doors opened, she almost ran into a young couple who had arrived for the cocktail and didn’t care to apologize.
Her tears were running freely down her cheeks. She could barely see the display in front of her and pressed what she hoped was the Lobby key. She leaned against the wall and felt her phone vibrating again. She closed her eyes, trying to calm herself down by taking deep slow breaths.
She tried to imagine Richard’s smile and handsome face waiting for her at his house, but the only image she could see was the disarming sexy half smile her cowboy always had for her. She tried to remember Richard’s perfume or his touch and all she could feel was Kurt’s fingers still burning on her arm.
When the doors started closing, she heard a loud noise. She opened her eyes widely in surprise and saw his hands and arms forcing the doors to open. He walked inside the elevator breathing heavily and stood right in front of her. So close, she could smell his aftershave. Too close.
“You ran away from me once. I won't let you go this time,” he told her, with a decisive tone in his voice.
From the corner of her eye she could see the elevator's doors slowly closing again.
The elevator started to move, but Diane felt trapped. She kept her back to the wall, his body right in front of her and all she could do was stare at him.
He had never been good at hiding his true feelings from her. She simply knew exactly what he was thinking looking right through his eyes. Even when he told her about his plan to retire, she suspected almost immediately that there was something else behind his surprising decision.
She held her clutch tighter, close to her own body, trying somehow to protect herself from the overwhelming emotion she was feeling. Tears were running and her heart was beating incredibly fast inside her chest.
“Don’t cry,” he said tenderly, raising his hand towards her face, moving the back of his index finger over her cheek. The contact with his skin made her feel a warm sensation spreading through her body, something familiar she had experienced only a few times before in her life.
She remembered waking up in his arms at the farm, on a Sunday winter morning. His hopeful face when he told her they should make their lives a priority and go to Costa Rica. His hand holding hers, when he promised to love her and cherish her until death tore them apart.
“You still love me,” he said to himself, as a little side smile played on his lips. She saw his eyes filling with tears and shook her head slowly. He chuckled, enthralled by the way she still insisted in denying the truth and used his own thumb to dry yet another tear that was running down the left side of her face. He knew it undoubtedly before she had the courage to admit it herself.
The elevator slowed down until it came to a complete stop. The doors opened but she still couldn’t take her eyes away from his. She knew clearly in her mind what she had to do, but somehow she stayed rooted right there. After what seemed like minutes, he took one slow step back to his side, moving his body away from blocking the exit.
She was the one who had to make the final decision. Ten years ago, she had left that same restaurant only to have second thoughts as soon as she reached the Lobby. She came back to him that night and never regretted it.
He slowly reached for her left hand, while he continued to stare at her. She felt his fingers barely touching hers as the doors closed again. He waited a few moments before moving his other hand over his suit jacket. He reached for a card from the inside chest pocket and turned his attention to the elevator display. He inserted the card on the panel, removed it, pressed the floor number and looked back at her. She couldn’t help but smile at the memory.
“2103?” Diane’s voice trembled when she spoke. He had indeed been planning that night for a long time. Looking at her mouth intensively, he nodded slowly, held her hand and took a step closer to her.
“I hoped, somehow,” he leaned forward and touched her temple with his. She closed her eyes, feeling his beard on her skin when he moved his cheek against hers, “It’s you, Diane. It has always been you,” he told her, his nose touching her hair, breathing deeply for a long moment.
“Kurt,” she whispered, moving her face slightly away from his. He placed his hands firm around her hips and pulled her to him.
“I missed you so much,” he admitted softly, before placing feather kisses on her jawline. She pressed herself against his chest and felt warm and protected when she heard his heart beating loudly.
The elevator reached its destination and the doors opened on the twenty-first floor. He moved away from her, but his hand quickly searched for her own, trying not to lose the contact.
He squeezed it, silently asking her to follow him. They walked along the corridor until they reached the room’s door. As he had done a few minutes before, he took the card from his pocket and used it one more time. He held the door opened for her and she walked inside the room slowly, trying to adjust to the darkness.
She hadn't been in that room in more than ten years and yet she clearly remembered being pressed against the wall, his hands moving over her body and up her leg, finally tracing the lines of her panties. His loud moan against her ear when he felt how wet she was for him. Her body shaking when his moustache touched her earlobe. The gasps and furious sensual kisses, the incredible feeling of his erection pressing against her stomach and clothes being removed so fast that it still made her wonder how they didn't end up being completely ripped.
At that night, the full moon on the sky was the only light illuminating the room from the big window. The drawer on her right was still in its place, where one of them had thrown her bag and earrings carelessly the last time they were there. The big leather sofa looked the same, where he almost tripped as she tried to walk him backwards towards the bed, while hurriedly removing the belt from his pants and opening his fly.
“You look incredible in red,” he said huskily as he moved his hands slowly over the side of her body, before tracing the contours of her breast. He trailed small wet kisses up her throat until he reached and sucked that special spot behind her ear. That had never failed to make her gasp in pleasure.
It was the very same sensation from ten years ago: the overwhelming need to feel his skin touching hers, his mouth and body over hers. Yet, different from the first time, there was no need to rush. Over the years, they had finally learned to slow down their lovemaking and cherish every single minute of it. Their favourite game was to pleasure the other with what they had learned, taking total control over each other's reactions and bodies.
It could also be very wild and fast if they hadn’t seen each other in a while or right after they had a heated political argument. There was nothing more satisfying than the thrill of shutting the other up with a surprising sensual kiss. Make up sex had always been one of her favorites.
He stepped slightly away from her as his hand moved to the clutch she had been holding tightly, placing it on the top drawer. When he ran his fingers down her bared arm seconds later, drifting closer, she noticed that he wasn't wearing his suit jacket anymore.
Diane shivered and closed her eyes when his lips erotically touched the skin between her shoulder and neck, his fingers slowly unzipping the back of her dress. He started sliding it down with one hand while the other quickly moved inside to touch her stomach.
She sighed heavily when she realized what his hand was doing, her head leaning back against his shoulder. She moved around to face him and was surprised by a hungry, needy kiss. Her heart beat faster and her body felt alive. She felt goose bumps and the feeling of electricity running through her body. She gasped when he drew her lower lip inside his mouth, sucking it surely. She was momentarily breathless, savoring the taste of scotch on his mouth as his hands roamed lower, caressing her ass over the dress.
She was so concentrated on what his hands and lips were doing to her, that she didn't recognize the low sound on her left side. Her eyes opened wide a few moments later when she realized where it originally came from. Her phone was ringing again.
“Kurt, wait,” Diane said softly, after breaking their kiss. He slid his arms around her waist, drawing her to him. She could feel him hardening.
“God, I missed you,” he whispered in her ear, nuzzling kisses across her jaw, his other hand cupping one of her breasts.
“No, stop,” she whispered, trying to remove herself from his arms. He continued to touch her, completely unaware of her request. He pulled her mouth back to his and devoured her in another urgent kiss. When he slipped his tongue past her lips, a little gasp of need escaped her throat.
She heard her phone continuing to vibrate and stopped the kiss abruptly.
“No!” She shoved him away, taking one-step back. His stunned and confused look almost made her regret her decision.
“I can't,” she managed, shaking her head as she reached behind her to close the dress.
He froze at first and then frowned, placing his hands on his hips as he looked at her, incredulous. He was nervously trying to understand what had just happened. He opened his mouth for a second, but soon gave up. Not only did she leave him completely speechless but also clearly hurt, when he saw her hesitation.
"I can't do this," she said it again and the defeated look crossing his face made her heart break again. It was the same look she had seen only moments ago, when she confirmed that she was indeed sleeping with Richard.
“I can't do this to him,” she related her words when he continued to stare at her confused, “I need to tell him first,” her voice breaking as she tried to explain herself.
Richard was kind and patient. When they first met, he told her that he knew what she had been through and sympathized with her situation. On that same day, he even confessed to her that he hated betrayals.
“I know the pain, Kurt. I've been there,” she told him, her voice low and steady.
He shook his head in disbelief and ran a hand through his hair, completely frustrated. He turned away from her and crossed the room, until he reached the king size bed. He sat down, placed his elbows on his thighs and held his head between his hands.
“I'm sorry,” she heard him whisper apologetically, ”I'm sorry I made you go through all that.”
He repeated those words, as he had done countless times before, and she closed her eyes for a brief moment, nodding. The mere memory of the public humiliation in the courtroom when she found out about his affair never failed to send a shiver through her body, “That’s why I need to tell him first. We are in a relationship and he doesn’t deserve this.”
A tear ran down her cheek when she saw how broken-hearted he looked, “We need to be braver, remember? We have to face the facts and consequences,” she concluded, repeating his words back to him.
He nodded slowly and continued to stare at his own shoes, consumed by a painful silence. She took a few steps in his direction, stopping in front of him. She raised her hand and affectionately moved a lock of hair off his forehead.
“You are right,” he looked at her and she immediately saw the sadness reflected in his eyes, “You should go,” he said categorically, “You should talk to him. That’s the right thing to do.”
Despite of everything, she smiled through the tears when he said the same words Richard had used a few days before. There were two wonderful men in love with her and she couldn’t feel luckier.
She took one small step closer and he leaned his temple against her stomach. She gently moved her hands over his hair and neck as he placed his own on the back of her legs, pulling her to him.
“When are you going to tell him?” He asked, looking up at her.
“Tomorrow morning. I don’t think I want to delay any of this anymore,” she told him and felt him inhaling slowly against her. Breaking up with Richard was going to be one of the hardest things she had ever done in her life. He truly loved her and she knew deep in her heart that she felt something very special for him as well.
“Do you still have the keys?” She asked him, lowering her voice meaningfully, trying to lift the mood.
He chuckled, turning one of his charming smiles at her. She couldn’t help but see a hint of hope on his face, “Of course.”
“Meet me tomorrow at home, after work,” she told him, before kissing his head.
He raised himself and looked deeply in her eyes again, “I will be there.”
She smiled, caressed his cheek gently for a few seconds and walked away from him with confident steps. She stopped by the drawer to retrieve her bag, hidden below his suit jacket. Before she could reach the door, she felt his hand touching her arm, holding it tightly and stopping her from leaving.
“I love you,” he told her, his eyes shining with affected adoration.
”I know,” she said with a proud half-smile. She placed a hand behind his neck, leaning forward, kissing his lips in a slow brief kiss, one last time.
Finally, she turned away from him, opened the door and left.
Diane was feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. The previous night had simply been one of the restless nights of her life. She left the hotel confident and hopeful, knowing exactly what she had to do in the morning. She took a hot shower, expecting it to help relaxing her body.
She tried to go to sleep for a while, only to toss and turn in bed for most part of the night. When she eventually accepted that it was not going to happen, she watched a movie, read a book and even took another shower. Nothing was keeping her mind away from the cruel reality she was about to face in the next hours. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Richard staring disappointingly at her.
She finished her rushed breakfast and gave Marissa a quick call, letting her know she had a few things to sort out personally at the T.A. & Fisher headquarters. She dressed up flawlessly as always and applied her make-up, ready for battle. Before she stood up from her vanity, she stared at her reflection a little longer. Her heart skipped a beat when she reminded herself of what she was about to do.
She decided to go to his office early; the less people she would eventually had to face on that morning, the better. In addition, she knew he usually arrived before eight on Fridays, as he liked to leave right after lunch for an early weekend and enjoy it fully.
Natalie allowed her in his office as soon as she arrived, without announcing her. She had been grateful to her sympathy and kindness since the first day they have met.
Diane walked inside slowly, watching him silently as he stood by his table, talking on the phone. A smile crossed her lips when she remembered the hopeful feeling she had when she left that place, after meeting him for the first time. Since the very beginning, he had always made her feel good about herself, not only professionally, but emotionally too. So much had happened during those months that it felt like years.
“Sure, Jason, of course they will accept the dinner invitation. Give them a call and make it happen,” Richard said calmly, his back to her, still unaware of her presence.
In a space of a week, she had lost her money to a Ponzi scheme, was kicked out of her own company after she had announced her retirement and forced to look for a new job, only to be declined repeatedly by her so called old friends. She had to start from the beginning, as a regular associate in a rather small law firm, with her freshly graduated goddaughter as her colleague.
He had helped to find new clients, proudly introducing her to his friends and partners during the All Lives Matter party. His eyes had shined when he told her how much he loved her laugh. The irresistible smell of his perfume, his flawlessly shining tuxedo and his adorable face smiling at her at the Fortune reception. She was never going to forget his hungry and rushed kisses the first night they made love.
“No, not tonight. Maybe Monday or Tuesday, but no later than this. I have plans for the rest of the week too,” he continued the conversation.
He was such a wonderful man; and he was in love with her. Deep inside, she still didn’t know if she was making the right decision. She was still trying to figure out how she could just give up on such a decent, honorable person. More importantly, she didn’t know how she could simply give up on them.
When Richard finally turned his attention to her, he immediately raised his eyebrows, looking concerned, “Hey, I have to go. There is something urgent that I need to deal with now. Can we talk about this later? Yes, sure, I will,” he finished the conversation and hung up.
“What happened?” He asked her, raising his arms in the air, “I called you about five times last night and you never answered,” he added, placing his hands on his waist. He was, as always, dressed impeccably, wearing a white shirt, a striped dark blue tie and black pants. She still spent a moment longer just admiring how devilishly handsome he was.
“Diane?” He asked her again, when she didn’t answer. She placed her hand on the back of the chesterfield leather couch and held it tightly, trying to find courage somehow. She silently repeated to herself what she had told her husband on the previous night. She had to be brave and face not only the cruel facts, but the consequences too.
She took a deep breath and raised her head, looking straight at him, “Richard, we need to talk.”
He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at her, a brief questioning look crossing his face. She saw his expression changing completely when he realized what those words meant. His opened disappointment sent a shiver down her spine.
He raised his hands to his head and turned his back to her, “Fuck,” he heard him saying slowly, in a low voice.
“Richard,” she said quietly, taking one step in his direction. For some reason, her body was taking over her mind once again, aching for his, wanting to be close to him. She understood his pain more than anybody. She knew he was preoccupied with their situation since the very beginning, but she also knew he trusted her.
“Fuck,” he repeated louder, holding his hair tightly between his fingers. He was probably thinking the worst of her at that moment, but she decided not to interrupt him. He had the right to be angry with her.
After she had arrived home on the previous night, she kept staring at her phone, his innumerous missed calls listed on her screen. Eventually, she decided not to call him back. She couldn’t simply lie, telling him that everything was fine, that there was no reason for him to worry. He deserved the truth and she had to tell him in person.
It was painful to admit, however, that if he hadn’t called her so many times, if he hadn’t interrupted them, she would probably have ended up in bed with Kurt. Thankfully, for the first time in a long while she had acted the way she should have, taking a rational decision over an emotional one.
“Fuck!” She jumped a little when she heard him punching the table with closed fists. He was absolutely furious. He put his opened hands on the top of the table, leaning his body against it and lowered his head.
She would never forget the image of Kurt standing in the middle of their living room, completely silent, devastated, as he watched and listened to her distressing words. How the tears ran down her cheeks when she repeatedly asked him why. Not once he interrupted her. Not once he denied her accusations.
Richard turned around again, placing his hands back on his waist. Her heart broke when she saw how disappointed he was with her.
“I just can’t believe it,” he continued angrily, shaking his head. She closed her eyes for a brief second, feeling her whole body shaking. She understood his rage and pain more than anybody. She also knew what she had to do and he deserved to know the truth. She took another deep breath and raised her head, looking at the open sadness on his face.
“I sent you right to his arms, didn't I?” He said pointedly, his tone sarcastic and bitter. She frowned, taken aback by his surprising comment, “How could I have been so stupid?”
“We didn’t--” she started, struggling for words.
“You didn’t what?” He cut her off with a dangerous, taut voice, “You didn’t sleep with him, is that what you’re saying?” He accusingly pushed for an answer, trying to read her expression closely.
His anger frightened her, as it had before, when she had felt it herself almost a year ago. She remembered how furious she was when she found out the truth, the physical pain when she left the courtroom and the disappointment when she later confronted Kurt at home.
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” He asked, infuriated. She felt nervous under his penetrating gaze and blinked back tears. His face softened when he saw how vulnerable she looked and shook his head, “I’m sorry, I shouldn't...“ he mentioned apologetically, before trailing off.
He stood there frustrated, massaging his temple for a little while. He leaned against the table, crossing his arms over his chest, his right leg over his left and raised his gaze at her, “Were you ever mine, Diane?”
The tears that were threatening to fall started to run freely. He was right to doubt that she ever felt anything for him. He inclined his head waiting patiently for her to answer his painful question.
She didn’t want to give him any false hope, but he had to know what she knew as the truth in her heart, “For the whole time we were together, Richard, there wasn’t a single moment that I didn’t wish I could love you the way you deserve to be loved.”
He lowered his head for a few seconds, “I hoped you would forget him,” he confessed, “I believed you would move on someday.”
“It’s so much harder than you can imagine,” she told him and he nodded, his face softening a little.
“I know how hard it is. I’ve been there, remember?” He whispered and she took one more step in his direction. The memory of the tragic loss of his late wife was not going to help the overall situation. He raised his eyes once more, looking deeply into hers, “What makes you think he won’t do it again?”
It was a fair question. She had asked herself that same question countless times over the past year, especially on those days when she was missing him the most. It seemed impossible at first to think that Kurt would betray her. A decent man like him, with so much integrity, would never do such a thing.
She always thought love was all that mattered and that any relationship could survive with it. In the end, it was hard to admit the truth. She couldn't have been more wrong.
She was a workaholic and always had been. Not because she wanted to, but because she wasn’t lucky enough to meet somebody special like him before in her life, when everything was possible and easier. It broke her heart when she thought about the possibilities and the fact that she could have had the chance to have a family with him.
“He won’t do it,” she told him categorically.
“How can you be so sure?” Richard asked, frowning.
She just knew it. She knew it deep in heart and soul. They had made many mistakes in their relationship and marriage, but she also knew they were going to fight harder for it.
“I’m willing to try the right way this time. And so is he,” she said, plainly, looking at his eyes.
He chuckled and ran a hand over his face, “I would have never done that to you.”
“You can’t say that,” she insisted.
“I know I wouldn’t,” he said decisively, raising his eyebrows.
“I never thought Kurt would and he did. Life interferers, Richard. We are both very busy people. You work too much and so do I. We barely have time for each other now. We just manage when we can.”
“I wouldn’t let this happen to us,” he reassured her, “I would never let work interfere with our relationship.”
“You can’t say that because you don’t know. You can’t make such promise,” she said pointedly.
He lowered his head and looked down to his shoes for a long moment, lost in thoughts, before taking a deep breath, “I was going to propose to you next week,” he confessed, his face looking melancholic and distant.
After his disarming comment, she stared at him in disbelief with her jaw opened.
“I had everything planned,” he continued, a lightness to his voice.
“Richard, please,” right after she started to argue, she felt a pain in her stomach first, which went straight to her heart.
He chose to ignore her request, adding softly, “I was planing to take you to France for the weekend, to Paris first and then to the Riviera.”
She shook her head silently, opening her mouth slightly, but didn't know what to say.
“I would have rented a boat and we would have gone out sailing,” he continued slowly, suppressing a proud half-smile on his face, “We would have made love under the stars and I would propose to you. Right there, in the middle of the ocean.”
“Don’t do this. Don’t make it harder, please,” she desperately tried to cut him off, as she took another step in his direction. How painful it was to see him so hurt. All she wanted was to hold him and comfort him.
“I was supposed to go to Cartier on Monday and get the ring. I had it reserved since last week,” he pronounced the words gently, letting them sink in.
Richard was an amazing, decent man. They had many things in common and even liked the same things. They both enjoyed the same kind of music, travelling, appreciated art and good cuisine. Even movie genres, books and authors. Kurt had been right when he pointed out that Richard was a far better match for her than he would ever be.
But then again, what first attracted her to Kurt was everything that all the other men she knew were not. He wasn't narcissistic and fascinated by power, like most of the egocentric lawyers she used to date. He was a simple man of the country, with simple taste and simple values. Not in a million years could she have known she would fall for the Marlboro Man.
She stood right in front of him and placed a gentle hand on his arm, trying to pull his attention back to her. When he felt her touch, he raised his eyes to hers, looking a little lost, “I love you, Diane.”
Before she knew it, she was in his arms, holding him firmly against her. He buried his head on her hair, breathing deeply for a long moment. She knew she was going to miss him terribly. They stayed there for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth from each other’s bodies, knowing it was probably the last time they would ever do that.
“Please,” he whispered in her ear, making a final, desperate plea.
“I can't,” she said calmly, reassuring him, “I can’t choose you. It wouldn’t be right for either of us.”
He looked down at her, raising his hand to her hair first and then her face, “I only wish I could have met you at another time.”
A small but pleased smile crossed her lips, when she felt his fingers stroking her cheek, “There was never a good time for us, Richard. We were never meant to be.”
He nodded as he accepted it, placing his arms around her waist, coming a little closer. He knew that it was the truth. He had been happily married for thirty years and she had already met and fallen in love with Kurt when he became a widow.
“I don’t want this to interfere with business. You and your team have been doing an amazing job and I still want you to represent us,” he reassured her.
"Sure, and thank you for that" she nodded against his chest, “Although, I think it would be better if--”
“Don’t worry,” he interrupted her before she had a chance to finish her thought, “I will ask Dan to attend the next meetings. At least for now,” they exchanged a brief smile, before going silent once more.
She heard him sigh one last time as he started to let her go slowly. A cold shiver ran through her body when she felt the loss of his touch.
As if he could read her mind, he reached for her hand and held it tightly, fixing a long look at her, “Promise me you will be happy.”
She smiled, before looking deeply into his eyes, “Promise me you will fall in love again.”
He couldn’t help but laugh at her comment, “That will be much harder,” he stood there studying her face for a long moment, “I have only felt this twice in my life and I’m sure I won’t feel it ever again.”
“You will,” she told him unquestionably. For some reason, a curious memory momentarily crossed her mind, “Why don’t you give that doctor a call?” He narrowed his eyes at her, tilting his head, looking confused, “The cardiologist from L.A. The one you mentioned to me once?”
He chuckled, shaking his head slightly, “You remembered, huh?”
She smiled at him when she heard him scuffing, “I’m sure she loves you.”
He laughed quickly at her, “How do you know?” She loved how easily they could still flirt with each other.
“What woman in her right mind wouldn't fall for you, Richard?” She observed him and he raised his eyebrows at her, a wide smile playing on his lips. She adored him for trying so dearly to lighten up the mood.
“I couldn’t. There was already somebody else,” she saw his face quickly clouding with sadness, before he lowered his head. He caressed her hand, staring intensively at it.
“Diane, if you ever change your mind…” he started but soon trailed off, looking for the right words.
She placed her fingers on his chin, asking silently for his attention, “I will never forget you,” she heard her own voice breaking when she saw his eyes shining with tears.
He held her hand in his and brought it to his lips, kissing it tenderly. She tightened her grip one last time before letting his hand go slowly.
They walked silently towards the door, with their hands behind each other's backs, not having much else to say. Before he opened it, he turned to her again, with a forced smile, “I hope one day he realizes how lucky he is to have you.”
After she quickly looked at him, she painfully saw the open love he still had for her. She couldn’t resist and leaned in closer, kissing the upturned left corner of his mouth. A warm feeling traveled through her body when she pulled back, seeing him smiling down at her too.
“You will always have a special place in my heart, Diane,” he spoke the words tenderly, looking deeply into her eyes.
“Bye, Richard. Take care,” she said after studying his face for a long moment.
She finally walked out of his office, feeling a huge burden being lifted from her shoulders. There was no doubt she did the right thing.
Diane arrived at home and went straight upstairs to take a shower and change into something appropriate and special. The anxiety to see and tell him what had happened in the morning was the only thing on her mind. She couldn’t deny, however, that she was also counting the minutes to feel his arms around her.
After she left Richard's office, she went straight to the firm and tried to concentrate on the countless meetings scheduled for that Friday. He had pretty much played the devil’s advocate, reminding her of all the questions she kept asking herself every time she thought about giving her and Kurt another chance.
It was clear that she had made the right decision. She wondered, though, if she had made the best one too.
Diane heard the door closing and felt her heart beating faster. After waiting for an unusual amount of time, he had finally arrived. She placed the wine bottle next to the two glasses, on top of the dining table, and made her way towards the living room.
He walked in slowly, looking around, unsure somehow. She leaned against the door frame and crossed her arms in front of her chest, watching him from a distance. He was wearing his favorite pair of jeans, one of his red flannel shirts, his brown jacket and leather boots. Her cowboy had finally come back home, with the stupid blue eagle Native American belt and all.
He stopped in the middle of the living room and looked through the main window for a brief moment, lost in thoughts. After a while, he lowered his head, placed his hands in his front pockets and exhaled deeply.
There was no question that he had also suffered tremendously. While she was betrayed and had lost the trust in him, he had to live with the guilt, knowing perfectly well that it had been his fault. Everything they had to endure during that period, the pain, the mistrust and the loneliness, they were all consequences of his mistake.
Then again, she knew people got desperate when they were lonely. There wasn’t a single moment since that horrible day that she didn’t wish she would be able to go back in time and spend more time with him.
Surely, she never denied that she hadn’t been the perfect wife either. Perhaps having her work as a priority was her biggest mistake. Perhaps she should have accepted more of his dinners, lunches and short, meaningless trip invitations. In the end, she was and had always been his priority.
He finally raised his head and looked in her direction. His mouth opened slightly at the sight of her. She loved to see the change on his face when he looked at her for the first time, confirming silently with a proud half-smile that she eventually chose the perfect outfit for any occasion.
She never questioned his love for her. Never once. Not even when she was utterly disappointed with him, after she had learned about the awful truth from Lucca and when he confirmed the affair himself.
“Hi,” he said softly, looking in her direction. She could see how hesitant he still was, struggling to believe that he was there. More importantly, he still couldn't believe that she was finally willing to give him and their marriage another chance.
A small but pleasant smile played on her lips as she raised her eyebrows at him and decided to lighten up the mood, “You are late.”
“I was supposed to meet you here after work. You didn't specify a time,” he narrowed his eyes at her and raised his finger to scratch a spot behind his ear. That anxious tick was definitely becoming more frequent, “Or maybe you did. I was so wasted last night that I might have missed something.”
She laughed quickly and started to slowly walk in his direction, “No, you are right, that was the deal,” she said nodding, “I thought you would be here earlier, though. It's almost nine.”
“I arrived about an hour ago,” he told her, running a hand through his hair, “I've been sitting in the car, trying to find the courage to come inside.”
“I didn't know I was this intimidating,” she told him with a smirk on her lips.
“Yeah,” he chuckled and nodded, his eyes travelling from her body to her face, “I was afraid that maybe I dreamed about last night. That I've finally gone completely crazy and had imagined the whole thing.”
She stopped in front of him, shaking her head slowly, a lightness in her voice, “You mean the Westin, the lilies, room 2103, your kisses and hands all over my body?” She looked at him and continued flirtatiously, with a dangerous smile, “I think I had the exact same dream.”
He raised a hand to her face and caressed her cheek with his thumb. He was so focuses on her lips that she couldn't help but wet it with the tip of her tongue.
“Are you really here?” He whispered, making her heart melt.
She smiled briefly and nodded slowly before she changed the subject, “Would you like to drink something?”
He continued caressing her cheek and shook his head, “I better stay away from alcohol for the next few days. I woke up with the worst headache.”
“Not used to hangovers anymore?” She asked him, smiling. She loved teasing him about how grumpy he got when he had hangovers.
He smiled back at her first, but his expression changed quickly, as he lowered his hand and placed it back in his pocket.
“Did you talk to him?” He asked a more important question. His face looked sad for a moment as he uncomfortably waited for an answer.
“Yes, I did,” she crossed her own arms in front of her, lowering her head. Every time she remembered Richard’s defeated face, staring at the floor, lost in thoughts, when he told her about his future plans, a cold shiver ran through her body, “He didn’t take it well exactly--”
“Of course he didn’t,” he cut her off, but fell silent right after.
Diane raised her eyes again to his face and stood quiet for a little while. It seemed both men understood each other’s situation and curiously, somehow, they also seemed to share a certain mutual level of respect. Yet, she needed to tell him the truth. He had to know that Richard had meant something to her.
“I…” she started but hesitated, “He was very important to me, Kurt, I won’t lie to you. He was there in one of the worst moments of my life and helped me going through it.”
He lowered his head and sighed deeply, sounding embarrassed, “I can’t tell you how much I’m sorry for making such a huge mistake.” He raised his eyes to her, before continuing, “And how much I wish I was the one by your side during that time.”
She nodded, closing her eyes for a brief moment, “I was so hurt,” she confessed, as her voice softened, “He helped mend my broken heart.”
“I know,” his hand touched hers slowly, until he held it firmly, "Won’t happen again,” he told her and she immediately nodded, closing her eyes tightly.
“He also asked me if I was sure,” she whispered to him, lowering her head again.
“This time it will be different. I won’t let us make the same mistakes,” he told her in a decisive tone before continuing, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
She raised her eyebrows, surprised, when she recognized the words, “So I’ve been right after all? A cowboy who likes Proust?”
He smiled at her comment first, before changing to a more serious tone, “We will make it work, Diane. We will put our lives first.”
A mischievous smile spread across her face once she remembered the time he told her similar words, a few years back. “Kurt, I can’t go away from work now. Costa Rica will have to wait a little longer.”
He chuckled once she mentioned their never-ending joke, “I’m retired, did you forget? I will have more time for us,” he said as he raised his fingers and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, “As a matter of fact, I’m planning to write another book.”
”Really?” She raised her eyebrows again, asking him with a hint of playfulness in her voice, “Let me guess: another praise to the second amendment?”
He smiled at her and decided to go along with her idea, “Actually, I was thinking about a novel.”
“Oh,” she told him surprised, in a mocking tone.
“It's the eighteen hundreds, Civil War,” he continued, his arm slipping around her waist, pulling her a little closer, “A Confederate ballistic expert falls in love with a beautiful Yankee liberal lawyer.”
She laughed openly, turning into his embrace, wrapping her own arms around him, “That will look great in the bookshelf, right next to your first book and Sarah Palin’s biography.”
His smile faded slowly, as he grew serious again, “I missed your laughter,” he whispered, letting his temple rest against hers.
A little gasp of need escaped her as he started to leave feather kisses down her throat, “How I’ve missed you.”
He raised his fingers once again to her face only to close the distance between them. He kissed her tenderly, a slow kiss that quickly turned into a passionate one. When she felt his mouth opening and his tongue touching hers, her whole body started to shake. Soon, his hands were all over her, touching her, while she moved hers to his hair, tangling it tightly between her fingers and kissing him hungrily.
In the back of her mind, she remembered that there was an elegantly set up table for them in the dining room, with silver candlesticks, Limoges porcelains and Baccarat crystal glasses. She had even stopped by his favourite restaurant, ordered his favourite meat and chosen an overpriced red wine from her personal collection, especially for the occasion.
Apparently, that would have to wait for a better and more appropriate time. He had never been a fan of those fancy dinners anyways.
“Kurt,” she whispered, when they eventually moved slightly apart, “Let’s go upstairs.” His warm breath against her ear and his lips barely touching her skin brought back the most wonderful memories she impatiently wanted to experience again.
She reached for his hand and held it tightly, leading them towards the stairs. Without questioning her, he started to follow.
He suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and lowered his gaze, staring at their joined hands in dismay. He had a genuine astonished look on his face when he realized she was wearing her ring again.
“Come on,” she told him, her voice lowering meaningfully. She placed a way too tempting kiss on his bearded cheek, “I have another surprise for you.”
It's Mchart smut time. Yay!
As soon as they reached the bedroom, she felt his hot breath on the back of her neck and his hand sliding along her waist. She closed her eyes when a warm and familiar feeling ran through her body.
His strong presence alone constantly brought back the most erotic memories. Since the very beginning, she had never been successful at controlling herself when she was near him and let her heart take over her mind. With time, she had learned that he also had the same magnetic attraction for her. Having so much power over him could be fascinating, but also overwhelming.
His nose touched her hair and he inhaled deeply. She could feel his erection behind her and turned to face him. She knew her plans for a slow night of lovemaking were ruined the moment she welcomed his sensual, eager kiss.
As his hands continued to touch her, pulling her closer, she was taken aback by his wild passion. She was soon reminded that he had been alone the entire time they were separated, differently to what had happened to her. She couldn't deny, though, that she was still feeling guilty about what had happened on the previous night.
She stepped out of her shoes while he kissed her again, quickly removing his jacket and throwing it on what she hoped was the armchair. His right hand was focused on unzipping the dress while his left squeezed her breast. She started to unbutton his flannel shirt and removed it from his pants when he groaned, unsuccessfully trying to pull her dress free of her arms.
“I need to touch you,” he told her frustrated, silently asking her for help. As soon as her dress fell to the floor, his mouth searched for hers in a furious, desperate kiss, while one of his hand moved to her ass, squeezing it tightly.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she whispered, while he sucked a spot right behind her ear. She wanted to look into his eyes and reassure him that she was there and that it was all real. However, for some irrational reason, her eyes just couldn’t stay open.
All that fearless, primitive desire reminded her of the beginning of their relationship, when they didn’t have any control over their bodies. She tried to reach for his belt while his hands stripped her off her bra. A deep gasp of need escaped her throat when his mouth touched her breast and sucked her nipple.
“You just ruined my second surprise, Kurt,” she said, throwing her head back when his tongue made its way up to her neck, until his lips found her ear, stopping there to gently bite her earlobe.
Damn that man. She was utterly disappointed with him. Her plan for a special night, with pleasant and thoughtful memories, had been destroyed. She had even left work earlier just to prepare all those small surprises for him. The dinner, the lilies, the black lace number: it has all been cruelly ignored. All she wanted was to repair the damage she had done on the previous night.
“Lingerie is the last thing on my mind, hun,” he whispered when his right hand finally reached the edge of her panties.
“It cost me a small fortune,” she said breathless, grabbing his unbuttoned shirt.
“I will pay special attention to it next time, I promise,” he continued and moaned into her mouth right after he felt how wet she was already.
“You better,” she whispered to him and closed her eyes instantly, feeling his hand stroke her, rolling her clit between his fingertips.
After a short while, he removed her panties in one, quick move and before she realized it, she was off her feet and in his arms. He gently placed her on top of the bed, quickly proceeding to remove his own boots and shirt. During the entire time, he didn’t take his eyes of her body and the sight of his erection pulsing against his jeans only made the wait even more agonizing.
He kneeled at the bottom of the bed, between her legs, slowly kissing his way up and eventually reaching the inside part of her thighs. She moved her hands to his belt and tried to unbutton his pants.
“No,” he told her as he placed her hands above her head, next to the pillow, “I want you to enjoy this first.”
He kissed her sweetly and started to leave feather, gentle kisses on her shoulder, chest and stomach. When she felt his hot breath next to her folds, she closed her eyes again and finally laid her head on the pillow, trying to prepare herself for what was about to come. Once his tongue finally touched her, she let out a loud groan of need, the reality so much better than the memory. She reached for his hair with one hand and held him there.
He knew every single part of her body, all the sensible spots. He knew where she liked to be touched and how she wanted to be kissed. He knew when he was supposed to be gentle or expected to be bold. He probably knew it even better than herself.
He licked and sucked her as he had always done before, with precision and hunger, driving her absolutely insane. His hands and fingers parted her open as he kept broadly licking her, sucking all the right spots for long, wonderful moments. Always attentive to her responses, he continued kissing and touching her, before inserting a finger deep inside.
She felt his mouth moving away from her and concentrated on what his finger was doing. She knew he was looking closely at her every reaction, grinning like an idiot, as he had always done before. He was pleasuring her and giving her all the attention she deserved, but he was surely enjoying having that power over her too.
When he inserted another finger inside her, she tightened the grip on his hair, a clear sign that she was close to her release. Before she knew it, his mouth and tongue were on her again, sucking and licking her like a vise. She threw her head back against the pillow and came hard.
He continued his assault for a few more moments, before slowly kissing his way up her body, first her navel, then her stomach. He paid special attention to her breasts, sucking and liking her nipple, while his hand squeezed the other one gently.
She was floating in the clouds, her body still trembling from the wonderful waves of pleasure. His fingers continued touching her skin slowly, moving up and down her legs, worshipping them repeatedly.
She was soon reminded, however, how exciting that game could be for both of them. With his body over her, she could distinctly feel his hard erection against her, as he kissed her slowly, moving his tongue inside her mouth and letting her taste herself on his lips.
He delicately ran a hand through her hair, only to place small, gentle kisses on her jaw, “Do you have any idea how much I love loving you?” he asked her when she felt his mouth against her ear. She reluctantly opened her eyes and raised a hand to his face. She spent a moment longer just looking at him, so handsome and so in love with her.
She caressed his cheek with her fingers, before he turned his face to her hand and kissed them gently. She moved her other hand to his jeans and started to touch him through his pants.
“Diane, careful,” he told her in a playful, but deep tone, after closing his eyes, enjoying the feeling of her hand on him.
“It’s your turn now,” she whispered against his ear, before licking and sucking his earlobe. That little secret move never failed to drive him crazy.
He impatiently started to help her removing his own jeans, belt and underwear, throwing them carelessly over his shoulder and groaning loudly, when he felt her hand touching him. She finally touched his cock and smiled against his cheek, feeling him hardening even more in her hand.
He lay down on his back, watching her skillfully stroke him for a few moments, with a satisfied smile on his lips. It has been so long since they had made love that she just couldn't resist having him inside her mouth and tasting him once again.
She moved her lips to him, slowly but surely sucking and licking the head of his cock, exactly the way he liked it. He immediately entangled his fingers in her hair and let out a deep cry as she stroked him, while she let him slide deeper and deeper inside her mouth.
His eyes were fixed on hers, full with need and desire, as she worked his erection repeatedly. She later slipped him up and down her lips, her hand stroking the base in sync with her mouth.
”No, stop,” he told her, tightening his grip on her hair.
“Are you sure?” she bit his thumb gently, asking with a side smile, when he moved his fingers down her face and caressed her lips. She continued touching him with sure strokes, still waiting for his answer. He was so hard that she could feel a few veins pulsing in her hand.
“Come here,” he said decisively, pulling her to him in one, fast move, laying her on top of him. Sometimes she forgot how much stronger he was.
She placed her hands on his chest and looked at him. He had a pleasant smile on his lips, his hands on her hips, gripping it tightly first, until he started to slide them up and down her legs and thighs. He had always loved admiring her while they made love, caressing her body and paying attention to every single reaction she had for him.
She lowered her head and kissed him slowly, enjoying his kiss. After a moment, she touched his cock again, stroking him for a short while, letting her thumb caress the tip gently. After he whispered her name in need, she raised herself slightly, positioned him at her entrance and started to slowly let him in. She was so wet that both let out a moan of desire as soon as he was deep inside her.
She closed her eyes and raised her head to the ceiling, trying to concentrate on the wonderful feeling of having him inside her again. It didn’t take long until she felt his hands caressing stomach and breasts, while he started to swing his hips up and down.
Maybe she wasn’t ready to start just yet. Perhaps she would have waited a little longer, just silently sending a special prayer to whatever Gods that had allowed them to have a second chance.
Once she looked down into his eyes, so full of lust and need, she was reminded that he may not be as willing to cherish that moment as she initially wanted. She moved slowly at first, but soon changed to faster and stronger movements, trying to keep up with the rhythm he had established for them. She felt his hands sliding up her ass, tightening his grip and pushing him deeper into her.
She knew how he adored that position. The way her nipples barely touched his chest when they moved together, the small, little bites she left on his throat, her fingers in his hair. But above all, they both enjoyed the incredible sensation of him pulsing inside of her, getting harder and closer by the minute.
Suddenly, he surprised her by turning them around, rolling her onto her back, his hand quickly holding her leg up around his waist for a better angle. His mouth opened slightly at the image of being inside of her again, pulling himself out almost completely, before slowly pushing in again. He was trying to bring her over the edge one more time, even though he was definitely ready to come himself.
She was always enthralled by his amazing control and the fact that he could pleasure her for hours. He moved faster and harder against her, his gaze fixed on her mouth. She wanted him to enjoy that evening as much as she had. She closed her eyes and ran a hand down his back, squeezing his ass.
“Jesus, Diane,” he groaned loudly as she tightened her inside walls around him, “You never play fair.”
She smiled and opened her eyes again, only to find him smiling back at her. He looked down at her bouncing breasts, admiring them for a moment, before he lowered his lips to a nipple, licking and sucking it a little harder than before. She let out a loud moan, tangling her fingers harder in his hair. Apparently, two could play that game.
She felt herself getting closer as he continued thrusting inside her, faster and harder than before. His hand moved from her leg and down her body, until he found her clit.
She came almost instantly when she felt his touch, throwing her head back and crying out his name for the second time that night. He continued rubbing her clit intensively, sliding inside of her, slower but deeper now, extending her orgasm as long as he could. She was breathing heavily when she opened her eyes and looked at his smiling satisfied face.
“Come on,” she started to move trying once again to clench her walls around him. She knew he was close as soon as she felt him tremble and his rhythm change. Initially, she tried to keep up with his pace, but he was soon frantically pushing inside her. He placed his temple on her shoulder and felt his hips jerking uncontrollably against her.
He thrust deeply one more time and came hard, letting out a loud and long groan next to her ear. He continued to thrust until he emptied himself and collapsed on top of her after he finished, trapping her body between his and the bed.
After a few minutes, she moved one hand slowly up and down his back while the other caressed his hair tenderly. He buried his head in her neck and felt his whole body shaking against hers. She just realized how emotional he was when her neck started getting wet.
“I love you,” he held her even tighter, whispering to her ear, his voice breaking as he spoke the words. She sighed for a long moment as a tear ran down her own face. They stayed like that for some time, his lips moving lazily against her cheek, before he started sliding out of her slowly.
He turned on his back, bringing her with him. She placed her head and hand on his chest and looked deeply in his eyes. She felt his fingers searching for hers, before moving them to his lips, only to place a kiss on the golden band.
“I love you too,” Diane whispered back, both sharing a smile when his arm circulated her waist, making her snuggle even closer into his warm embrace.
The fast but confident beats of her heart confirmed what she knew all along.
“I have a reservation for four, please. McVeigh,” Kurt told the girl at the reception, who quickly checked her notes.
Diane was not surprised to see the restaurant completely packed, on a beautiful blue sky Sunday afternoon. Since it had been selected one of Chicago's best meat restaurants in some glamorous and shallow magazine, it was almost impossible to find a table on a regular day basis.
The last time she was there, she had lunch with Maia and Amy. On that day, she saw her husband at an isolated table, in the far corner, looking lonely and heartbroken. He was there to meet Monica and Eric, who had actually brought him excellent news - due to his first book success in sales, the publisher was ready to invest not only in a second, but in a third book as well.
A year later, she was back at that same place with him and the young couple, ready to celebrate the success of his new book. She was glad to learn that they had become not only trustful business partners, but also Kurt’s loyal friends during one of the darkest times of his life. Gladly, he had at least found kind and honest people he could rely on.
As the maître lead them to a large round table by the window, she thought about everything that had happened in the past year. He had written yet another book, she was now a name partner at Reddick, Boseman and Lockhart and Maia was arrested as the result of Henry’s coward and dishonest accusations.
She was rather surprised when Barbara decided to leave the firm and go to Washington to open her own business. Although Barbara was certainly one of the last names on her list, eventually one of the partners was going to feel threatened by the number of new important clients she had brought to the firm. More specifically, by what those clients represented to the firm’s annual billing.
Diane was certainly the best and right choice, since she had a respected and important reputation in town and years of experience in court. Before she was confirmed as the new name partner, Julius declined the offer, as he had always hated the bureaucracy and the meetings, planning and decisions the directors had to endure regularly.
Maia, on the other hand, had probably lived through one of the worst years of her life. Apparently, being betrayed by your own father was one of those tricks life played on you. Maia had admirably dealt with the whole situation with dignity and her head held high. She couldn't have been more proud of her goddaughter.
Still, it was clear that Maia had lost a little of her innocence, only to become tougher and more realistic. She had developed a thick skin that Diane had only seen on people who had suffered in life. Those were probably the strongest people she knew.
When they arrived at the exclusively reserved table, Kurt pulled up a chair for her to sit and she smiled thankfully. Only a few seconds later, he sat down himself, placed the napkin on his lap and his hand on her knee beneath the table, as he always did when they were next to each other.
“Is everything ready for the trip, Kurt?” Monica asked, making small conversation, “This one will be longer than usual,” she completed, after her husband caught the attention of a nearby waiter.
Kurt looked at Diane, before smiling weakly, “Yeah, I guess. Two months away on the other side of the world still puts me on the very edge.”
“He hates long flights,” Diane smiled back at him, placing her hand on top of his, squeezing it briefly. He wasn't really happy about the trip and she knew why. Once again, he was going to stay away from her for too many days.
As soon as they came back together, he moved to Chicago for good and she tried to keep up with regular office times. They went to the farm regularly on the weekends and had dinner or lunch frequently during the week. They desperately wanted to stay together as much as possible.
For the first three months, she managed to arrive home early. However, the moment Barbara confirmed her exit and she was formally announced as the third named partner at R.B.L., everything came back to the usual frenetic schedule.
He spent his first days at home, working on his new book. He had decided to keep it safe and chose technology in ballistics as the theme, something that surprisingly everybody wanted to hear more about. The entire book was written in just four months and even before the launch, it was already an instant success.
Invitations for workshops and speeches were countless, including interviews on specialized magazines. Private and public local organizations were the first to show interest in his lectures and he soon started to receive national invitations. It didn't take much longer until they became international.
Before she met him, she had never really understood the fascination people had for guns. Even though she had always thought that that inconsequent madness was exclusively American, apparently Australians and Canadians shared the same obsession.
“Kurt, you know Australia is your third biggest market. People are interested to know more about how the new technologies could help solving crimes. And there is no one better to talk about the subject than you,” Monica told him, after accepting the menu from the waiter.
“Which reminds me,” Eric continued, opening the menu himself and looking at the options, “We have to plan that other trip to Canada. The editor keeps telling me that he wants to go ahead with those workshops in Toronto and Vancouver. They are also talking about a possible television interview.”
She heard Kurt sighing deeply when he closed and placed the menu on the table, ”Let’s try to avoid those for the time being.”
“I know you hate television and radio, Kurt, but they are inevitable. Besides, they do wonders to the divulgation,” Monica told him and turned to the waiter only moments later, “Could you please bring us a bottle of this red wine? I need more time to choose the main course though.”
“Me too, if you don’t mind,” Diane added, before Eric placed his order. The young man agreed politely, taking a few notes on his electronic notepad.
“I will have the steak, rare, with mash and salad, please,” Kurt told the waiter, which made Diane chuckle. As always, it didn’t take long for him to make a decision and order his favourite dish. He never changed.
“I’m really torn between the steak and the ribs,” Monica mentioned to no one in particular, after the waiter left their presence, “Anyway, have you thought about the next book, what it will be about?”
Kurt ran a hand through his hair and sat back on the chair. Despite his love for the subject and how much he was enjoying being an author more than he could have ever imagined, he also hated everything else that came with it. Launch cocktails, interviews, workshops and speeches were overwhelmingly demanding most of the times.
“Possibly about famous crimes and how forensic and ballistic analysis helped solving them,” he told them, after laying his arm over the back of Diane’s chair.
“Sounds good to me,” Eric said, nodding, “Just avoid unsolved crimes. That can be way too controversial.”
Another waiter brought back glasses and the chosen wine and they all cheered for the success of Kurt’s new book. “Looks like our girls need more time to decide,” Eric told the young man, making Diane and Monica share a smile.
After reading her options again, Diane looked through the window for a minute, lost in thought. As her husband and his friends engaged in conversation, she watched a valet greet and welcome an older couple who had just arrived at the restaurant, helping them getting out of the car.
She was still afraid to admit the truth. They were slowly falling into the same past mistakes, spending less and less time with each other. Dinners and lunches were a rare happy occasion and those farm weekend retreats were now only happening once a month.
He was concerned too and she knew it. When they got back together, everything semed irrelevant next to the desire of making it work. Slowly, however, they understood that they had to deal with the little surprises life threw at them. So many things had happened that hadn’t been planned and had already tried to interfere with their marriage, now that they were leaving together again.
She saw another couple talking to the valet at the entrance of the restaurant. He waved to a nearby limo, nodded and smiled when the friendly customer told him something. It was then that she realized who the elegantly dressed man was.
She hadn't seen him in months. True to his words, he had sent Dan on his place rather than attending all those weekly Friday meetings himself. She also suspected that he was doing everything possible to avoid seeing her.
Now with a few more Republican clients on their list, Diane, Boseman and Reddick were constant guests at events and parties. On a few of those indeclinable invitations, she met his old friends, talked amicably with his partners, but he was nowhere to be found. Every time she went to T.A. & Fisher headquarters, he was never around.
The excuses were always the same: he was either travelling, busy with meetings or out having lunch with an important client. Natalie’s sympathetic smiles when she told her his whereabouts never failed to tell her the truth.
In that cold afternoon, he was wearing a tailored camel coat over a blue navy suit, as his fine blonde hair shone under the sun's light. Charming and incredibly handsome, exactly as she remembered. By his side, an elegant and pretty brunette held his arm intimately close to her body.
Diane frowned, trying to remember where she knew that woman from, but soon it all came back to her. Although she had never met her personally, she had heard about her once. On that occasion, when he told her about the doctor, he mentioned that she was a charming cardiologist from LA, who was in her late fifties.
The woman was prettier than she had imagined and she looked great for her age. Diane’s stomach turned when she saw him kissing his date's cheek, after he leaned slightly to hear something she had whispered to him. Perhaps unexpectedly seeing him with another woman was too much to handle.
But why was that image so disconcerting?
Deep down she knew she had felt something special for him and during all those months that they had been apart, she tried very hard to not think about what she might still feel for him.
She really had no right to feel anything at all. Especially now, considering that she had started over with her husband.
The woman said something else to him again when she opened her bag, taking out her phone. She answered it laughing and soon began to chat enthusiastically with the person on the other side of the line.
Before Diane knew it, he was looking inside the restaurant and staring at her. He opened his mouth slightly, looking surprised in the beginning. Her mind told her to avoid any eye contact, but she simply failed to do it.
The corners of his lips slowly turned into a beautiful smile. She smiled back at him and, for what seemed like minutes, time stood still when they just couldn’t take their eyes away from each other. Those lovely moments they shared, those short special days they had spent together, they all came back to her. She was always going to be grateful to him for making her happy during a very complicated period of her life.
His smile faded when he looked at her side. As far as she knew it, they had never been officially introduced, but she could tell that he had recognized her husband almost immediately.
“Is that him?” From a distance, he mouthed the words slowly at her, making a quick movement with his head. She nodded discreetly, confirming his suspicions. He slowly nodded back at her and narrowed his eyes at Kurt, taking a good look at him.
When he looked at her again, it was her turn to mouth those same words, “Is that her?” He chuckled and nodded, his smile coming back to his lips at full force. She nodded slowly and smiled wickedly at him, exactly as he had done just a minute before.
“You look beautiful,” he said, mouthing a few more words. Her cheeks felt warm as she watched his smile growing bigger. She lowered her head for a second, shaking it slightly, trying to hide her blush and smile. It was still so easy to flirt openly and shamelessly with him.
The car arrived and the woman by his side finished the call. She told him something else and thanked the valet when he politely opened the car’s door for her. Richard placed a hand on her back, answering with a quick smile, and allowed her to go first.
Before he could go inside as well, he looked in her direction again. Her heart started to beat faster when she realized that, for a brief moment, he seemed to hesitate.
No, you fool. Don't do it! She thought to herself, shaking her head slightly, eyes opened wide as she stared back at his. Whatever he was thinking of doing, he just couldn't. He definitely shouldn't.
He held the door opened and looked inside the car again, then back at her. He was probably thinking about the choices he had made and how he had let her go in the end. Perhaps he was wondering what would have happened if he hadn't given up on them so easily. And maybe, just maybe, she may had wanted him to fight just a little harder for her.
Sometimes, however, you simply have to accept the cruel facts and learn to live with the painful consequences.
He gave her one last gentle smile and entered the car. She took a deep and long breath when limo drove slowly away from the restaurant’s porte-cochere.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Monica waving at the nearest person. Diane looked down at the table and saw green and black olives, two baskets of various types of bread and pâtés. She had obviously missed when they brought over the covert.
A waitress approached their table this time and, as Monica instructed her order, she made a few notes on her electronic device.
“Diane,” she heard Kurt’s voice and felt his hand gently touching her arm. Everything had happened so fast that she was feeling a little lost, “Have you made a decision?”
She immediately looked at Kurt and stared at him for a few seconds. He had chosen those words unaware of what had just happened, but somehow they made perfect sense. Even after what they had been through and the mistakes they both had made, she still didn’t have any regrets.
“Yes,” she smiled at him and placed her hand over his, squeezing it tightly, “Yes, I have.”
Kurt smiled back, took her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. She turned her attention to the patient waitress and finally told her what she wanted.
It had taken a long time, but she made the best decision after all.
PS: I know the end is not going to please everybody, but this is what I had in mind when I first started writing this fic back in January. I decided to stay truthful to the original idea.
However, I was really surprised to see how people liked Richard as a character and how many of you were actually cheering for him instead of Kurt.
I won’t deny that I also liked him too much to let him go that easily. Therefore, I guess I would have to write a sequel.
And what if Richard came back and fought for Diane?
LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE IN MIND FOR THE SEQUEL! I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR THOUGHTS.