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The Art of Deception

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~1~

There are times I would have had to admit, well mainly to myself, that my life has had quite a few dramatic moments. For instance, being Jake Riordan’s boyfriend did have its moments, some a bit rocky…

Ok, extremely rocky ones.

But the good ones outweighed them by a ton. Especially when he asked me to become his fiancé. Well, things were definitely becoming much more interesting.

After being proposed to in the early hours of New Year’s Day of this year, with Scout our adorable but somewhat over excitable German Sheppard and Tomkins our cat watched cautiously from the safely of the bathroom as I cried.

Yes cried, men can happily show their emotions, at the sight of the ring and hearing those words “Adrien with an e, will you marry me.” I will admit my emotions were somewhat all over the place. We had after all spent New Year’s Eve with what will be my in-laws. I was over-joyed.

I let Jake take me in his arms and lead me to the bed, slightly awkwardly as I was trying to put my engagement ring on as he was hastily taking off both our clothes while trying to carry me to said bed. We managed, just about.

It was the perfect ending to the best way to celebrate the new year.

Skip forward seven weeks on and as I sat in my office at Cloak and Dagger things in my life were definitely thought-provoking. For instance, the scene which was unfolding right before my eyes.

Natalie, my sister / shop manager and Angus her boyfriend and my store assistant were both bickering in the store about the baby. Natalie was almost two months into her pregnancy and even to this day Angus was still suggesting they should marry. I must admit that I was surprised they had stayed together this long and also Angus was still persistent on the marriage idea.

It also accrued to me that telling both Natalie and Angus both Jake and I were engaged was probably not the best of ideas. Angus had this delusion that a double wedding would be perfect.

No.

Just no.

I hadn’t told Jake his idea, which I know would result in a different answer. Something much worse but still on the same concept of ‘no’.

Angus had dreams though, it was just an irritation on Natalie’s part and a nightmare on mine.

“Just think…” He said quiet cheerily, which was quite strange coming from someone who knows and studies demonology and who was currently in full goth gear, I did notice a new skull piecing in his right eyebrow. “We could have Tomkins as ring bearer just like in that film you like.”

Natalie sighed which seemed to be the 100th time this morning. “God no, Tomkins would freak and attack half the guests or he’d be superglued constantly to Adrien’s head. That is the worse idea yet.”

My ears suddenly picked up, Natalie had included me for the first time in their wedding ideas. Or like I call them, disagreements. I truly hoped her thought was not for a joint wedding and I was just there as a guest.

“Adrien,” Natalie looked up at me from where I stood in the door frame of mine and Natalie’s office. “Tell him this is a bad idea.”

As co store manager we both share the office, I decided to promote her officially in January once we hired new staff, which we did. Two new people to join our team. I let Natalie interview and begrudgingly hire the ones who seemed most perfect for the shop, this was her first main job in being manager and to prove that I was not a complete and utter control freak.

This almost killed me, but I had to give Natalie credit. She did great.

The lucky two candidates were great. I met them both on their first days here. The first one I met was Gemma Lockhart, a 40 something - I never asked her correct age as it was rude to ask a lady her age - black woman with dreadlocks down to her elbows. She had experience working in a library for over 25 years until an unfortunate event happened when it got caught on fire. The place got torn down and rebuilt into restaurants. Gemma was a great asset with a great bubbly character.

Currently, she was dusting shelves near the front of the store trying to ignore the once again drama happening as well as deter Tomkins from attacking the feather duster.

Christopher – Chris for short - Willows, the other recently appointed assistant to the shop is a 25-year-old Scottish guy with a British accent, unless he swore or got annoyed (which was hardly ever, compared to others in the shop and yes, I did include myself in that epiphany) and who had the most amazing deep red mahogany hair that I had ever seen. I found out he was all natural. It wasn’t something I was going to look into but with an unfortunate accident between Angus and Chris in the staff toilet, apparently, it was true.

Which reminded me, I needed to fix that lock.

Pushing the image of a shocked Angus and a slightly freaked Chris out of my mind and my shock look when I ran in after hearing both of them scream at each other.

Chris had currently moved over from the UK to live with his family for a year and was doing a small study part time refresher course on computers at the local university. Not that he needed it. He was very smart and on his first week working here, Chris had fixed up the shop computer and store website to look fresher and better than ever.  Our online customers quickly grew, hence the ability to give Natalie her much needed pay rise.

Needless to say, we were both impressed.

Even my old friends Jean and Ted in my old Partners in Crime writers group – yes, I still run the group even though it was now held once a month still on a Tuesday - were impressed.  I even saw them both trying to persuade Chris to quit and join them in their computer business. He declined, which I was thankful for. His excuse was his years’ study visa wouldn’t allow it what Ted and Jean wanted and offered, but mainly it was because Chris truly loved books just as much as I did.

His main love was for Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, but when I introduced him to Christopher Holmes Miss Butterworth series he fell in love with them. Sleuth novels he loved the most. Jake made a joke once that the only reason Chris stayed around here was because he loved my amateur sleuthing.

I on the other hand was not amused by that.

Also, and I will admit this, he was rather attractive. He was the same height as me and same build. Also, he did have a health condition but I was told by Natalie who had all his details on file it wasn’t serious. Just a skin condition, which is why he always wore long sleeved sweatshirts which pretty much covered most of his hands too.  

I didn’t find it odd, actually it seemed normal compared to Agnus.

Chris was a great worker, once he was on something he got it done. He was always reliable, which is why I also gave him a key so he could be in charge Sundays and close up Saturday afternoons so me and Nat could have those days off. Chris was definitely committed to the work and punctual.

Except today, today he was late and I was worried.

No one else had noticed, Natalie and Angus still bickering on our joint wedding day with Gemma ignoring it all I was the only one concerned. Why was I so concerned though? It was only ten minutes past 11, the beginning of his shift being 11, but still. Something was wrong.

“Hello.” Natalie said clicking her fingers right in front of my face. I suddenly jerked back but instantly regained my stance as Natalie looked concerned. “Adrien, are you ok?”

“Yeah- yes, sorry. You were saying?” I asked slightly forgetting what on earth we were all talking about.

Natalie sighed “It was nothing important.”

101 sigh of the day.

Speaking of importance, “Have you heard from Chris?”

“Chris?” Natalie blinked and quickly glanced at her watch. “Oh god, he’s supposed to be here 15 minutes ago, has he called?”

I tried my best to not roll my eyes. I’d been watching from here for the past hour or so listening to Natalie and Angus bickering over baby names, weddings and Tomkins role in it all and she’s asking me if anyone’s called?

“No, no he hasn’t.” I replied and tried to hide the anxious feeling deep down in my stomach. I couldn’t help myself, I cared about him.  It was very much out of character.

Natalie saw right through me and instantly pulled out her cell phone. Angus had gone back to sorting the new delivery of books which had arrived this morning. Gemma was now arguing with Tomkins to get off of the shelve she was trying to clean, which of course Tomkins refused to move and tried to attack the duster she was holding. The only person I was completely focused on was Natalie. Phone to her ear looking quite anxious as I felt. Her eyes met mine. No answer.

Suddenly the doorbell rang above the shop door and my eyes immediately moved to it. All I could see was red. The red hair of Chris, all messed up and frazzled as his green eyes were wide eyed and frantic. Not so harshly, I moved Natalie out of the way and quickly went to his aid as he collapsed onto his knees as if he’d been running for his life. Everyone in the store turned to witness the event unfold before our eyes.

I instantly wrapped my arms around Chris. “What’s wrong?” I could feel him trembling as his pupils were huge.

“Scott- “Chris gasped for air as tears fell down his cheeks. “My boyfriend, he’s gone.” He finished as he collapsed into my arms.