His eyes followed her. The release party of his TV station’s new show was filled to the brim with all kinds of celebrities; the women amongst the guests were, physically speaking, far more beautiful than the one who had caught his attention, but, in Jesse St. James’ mind, she outshone everyone else. There was an air of adorable simplicity in her that attracted both men and women towards her; she looked like someone who would never betray anyone.
In Jesse’s eyes, she was the ultimate girl-next-door that everyone loved and trusted, but who held a quiet, subtle sex appeal that made all men want to take her to bed.
There was no severity, no intimidation in her physical appearance. Her shiny, silky brown hair cascaded down her back, always looking slightly disheveled, always with a lock out of place. A delicate dimple appeared on her cheek every time she smiled. She had soft facial features, except for her typically Jewish nose, but even then she made it work for her. And her body was just like a woman’s body should be: she wasn’t bony, stick-thin. Each and every part of her build was sweetly curvaceous and soft, not exaggeratedly voluptuous, thus unthreatening to other women – but deeply inviting to any man.
However, it was her eyes that held the real secret to her appeal. The luminous chocolate brown pools somehow stated that, in her soul, she was willing to listen and relate to anything someone wanted to tell her. There was no reservation in her eyes. They sucked one in, showed every emotion she held, reflected an almost hypnotizing vulnerability that fired a man’s both protective instincts and most primitive ones.
She had a large, generous mouth that was almost as expressive as her eyes. Her lips’ smooth mobility always displayed some emotion, from a small smile of solidarity to a radiant grin of shared joy. She had an innate ability to portray anything anyone wanted from her, and people believed she felt that emotion as a real person, not as an actress portraying a character. It was a gift that would make her a huge star, not only in the TV show whose pitch he had bought for his station, and then demanded to be rewritten so the leading lady could reflect what he had seen in her.
Strangely, however, Jesse wasn’t sure if a TV star was what she wanted to be. Her domineering mother, however, wanted her to. Her ambitious screenwriter husband too. And she did what they wanted, never making any objections. But there were moments when Jesse caught a lost look on her face, flashes when she thought no one was look and she didn’t need to be anyone’s puppet, when she wasn’t under the spotlight.
That evening, however, she was under the spotlights. Guests surrounded her, wanting to bask under and share a second of her light, inevitably fascinated by her unique charisma. The crowd around her shifted, in constant movement, people forced to give way to others who also wanted a part of her, if only for a few moments. But Jesse noticed that often she looked around, searching for those who were always near her but not at the moment.
That, he had to admit, was a surprise. Neither her mother nor her husband liked to be on the background, where they would inevitably end if they stayed away from her in public. Jesse looked away from her and looked around, to find the people she was looking for.
Unsurprisingly, her mother was a little away from her, talking to a group of TV executives – certainly widening the network of contacts she could use for future gain. For Jesse, it had been unpleasant to talk business with her, but inevitable since she had named herself her daughter’s manager. He had kept all his meetings with the woman as curt as possibly, coldly thwarting all her attempts at building a close personal liaison with him.
Controlling and egocentric, Shelby Corcoran was the worst kind of stage mother. Her constantly dyed black hair screamed her need to be paid attention to and remembered; its masculine short length accentuated her ‘I’m-as-good-as-any-man-and-better-than-most’ mindset. Her body, however, had nothing masculine: Shelby was always dressed with a heavy sexuality, always wearing low-cut shirts, short skirts and sky high heels that displayed her toned legs.
Her sexuality and her sharp business instincts were weapons she used to have things go her way, and Jesse could honestly say there was nothing in her that he liked. Even the name she had picked for her daughter – Rachel – sounded a deliberate attempt to try and manipulate her child’s then-future career. Rachel Berry was a name that was easy to remember, but, in Jesse’s mind, the way she constantly said it – both given and last names always said together – always sounded fake. It was so different from the person he saw Rachel as. A simpler name would have fitted her best.
Maria St. James.
His lips contorted in slight amusement at the presumptuous addition of his own last name to the name he had given her. Marriage had never held any attraction to him. He didn’t want a wife. His sexual urges could be satisfied with any woman, and the governess and the cook he had at home managed his domestic life better than a wife could. Besides, Rachel Berry already had a husband, and Jesse was deeply against stealing a man’s wife, even if it was for a brief affair. A troubled personal life was as bad as a troubled professional life.
Jesse tightly controlled both of his.
He wondered if her husband was enjoying the party, and his eyes scanned the crowd, looking for Finn Hudson, the womanizer Rachel had tied her life to. His wasn’t a good name. The man had an all-American charm that people easily believed, but Jesse saw no talent at all in his writing skills. None of the lines he had created carried emotional strength. They invariably had to be edited out or improved by the other writers of the show’s team. Finn Hudson would have never been part of said team, if his inclusion to it hadn’t been part of the negotiations with Rachel.
Interesting, Jesse thought when he found the man. Finn wasn’t seeking for anyone’s attention. He stood far away from the crowd, almost turning his back to them, deeply involved in a conversation that looked very tense with Quinn Fabray, Rachel’s personal assistant. His face held fury and frustration. Hers was full of fury and determination. She tried to walk away from him, and Finn held her back by her arm, his fingers pressing firmly on her flesh. But she shook him off, stepping away from him. Resentment flared on her face as she made her way through the masses, going straight towards Rachel.
Jesse’s intuition immediately warned him of the potential mess. There were TV and print reporters among the guests. He was violently against the idea that any press, no matter how bad, was good press. Anything that could drag the press’ attention from the show wasn’t well-received – especially anything that could damage its leading lady’s reputation.
He moved, finding his own way to Rachel, but he was on the other side of the room from her; it would be impossible to stop Quinn on time. She reached Rachel first, pushing people away and taking a confrontational position; her body language clearly displayed her fierce determination. Her hands closed on Rachel’s shoulders as she leaned forward and whispered something in her ear, her face full of venom.
Rachel went pale, and Jesse cursed inwardly.
The shock in her face and her deeply shaken expression indicated to Jesse that Quinn had dropped a bomb on his leading lady. Fortunately, he reached the two women only seconds after Quinn shared her news. It was perfectly timing, for his tall, strong frame blocked Rachel from the eyes of the nearest guests.
“Go away, Fabray,” he demanded coldly, startling the young blonde, who let Rachel go and turned to face him. He, however, moved quickly, completely ignoring her and wrapping an arm around Rachel’s waist. He carefully led her away from the party, with his face down towards her, his expression closed off as if he had something serious to discuss with her. He held his free arm out in a dismissive gesture that would keep the other guests from interrupting their conversation.
“Do not make a fuss,” he instructed in a whisper, his voice grave and urgent. “Just come with me. I’ll take you to a safe place where we will be able to work this issue out, just you and me.”
Rachel didn’t reply. She just looked blankly ahead, walking like an automaton, being led only by the pressure of his arm around her waist. It was as if she had suddenly become an empty shell, with nothing inside to hold her up. Jesse deduced that, whatever it was that Quinn had told her, it had to be quite bombastic news to reduce Rachel to what she was now.
His immediate goal, however, was to protect the investment he had made that she was a part of, and so he did, in the same impetuous way with which he went after all of his goals. He didn’t give a fuck to what her mother-manager and her husband would think of such action. They didn’t matter.
With this in mind, Jesse led Rachel straight out of the Adrenaline Room, the main ball room of the five-star hotel where the party was being held, ignoring the calls for attention and diverting any attempt at conversation with a scathing glare. It was successful, because no one would dare to cross California’s most powerful TV magnate. He had too much power to be trifled with, and everyone knew Jesse had no scruples against using such power if necessary.
Thankfully, he had previously booked the penthouse suite for his use. Because he wanted to enjoy his moments with Rachel at the party by himself after it ended, he hadn’t invited his current lover as his guest for the evening; thus, there were no risks of Andrea throwing a fit and making an unpleasant scene if she walked in him alone with Rachel. So, he led the shaken brunette to the room, for it was a quick and efficient escape route for her.
Jesse didn’t take the time to ask Rachel if she agreed with his decision. She wouldn’t listen to a word he said anyway. She still seemed too out of it to pay attention to anything. Rachel didn’t breathe a word or a sound of protest when he took her to the elevator, staying mute even as he pressed the button to the top floor, took her to the suite, locked the door behind them and carefully made her sit in a comfortable couch.
Rachel didn’t crumble against the soft cushions; her spine was stiff, ramrod straight as she looked inexpressively ahead. Jesse doubted she was even aware of her current location. Taking a deep, quiet breath, he went to the liquor cabinet nearby and put a generous dose of cognac in a clean crystal glass. For himself, he served a small dose of whisky in a tumbler, trying not to look threatening in her eyes, but friendly and sympathetic once the drink brought her back to her reality.
Jesse was aware that Rachel didn’t feel at ease with him and never had felt. His goal had never been to make friends, and his personality was too demanding and closed-off for her to promptly empathize and like. But, at that moment, he was the one in charge, and so he wanted her to accept the situation, to trust him, to share her problems with him and to allow him to work it out, for it was obvious she was unable to deal with it on her own and he needed his star to keep acting the way only she could. Jesse St. James, everyone knew, wasn’t a man who accepted defeat and failure from any of his projects.
. . . .
“Here, drink this.”
A delicate, small glass was firmly put in her hands, which lay lifelessly on her lap. Her numb mind registered only that she had to drink whatever had been given her, otherwise the liquid would spill. She held her glass with both hands so that it wouldn’t shake.
“Go on, drink.”
The gentle incentive made her lift the glass to her lips. She took a sip from the glass, and the liquid burned her mouth, going in a fiery path down her throat. Her neck was taken over by warmth, which flooded her cheeks and shook her brain out of its state of numbness. Her eyes, filled with alarm, immediately and automatically sought the man responsible for giving her alcohol to drink.
Her eyes widened when she found Jesse St. James.
A shiver made its way down her spine when she noticed his blue eyes watching her closely; the power he always exuded caused goosebumps to break over her skin and made her insides clench. She blinked at him, and he smiled slightly.
“That’s better,” he said, satisfaction sparkling inside the blue eyes that shone with intelligence. Not for the first time, she thought nothing went unnoticed by him. She had the opinion that he saw everything, knew everything and cared only about what would benefit him and the world he ruled.
She was relieved when he took the glass from her hand, put it on a glass center table in front of her, then turned his back on her, putting physical distance between the two of them by taking the armchair in front of her seat on the couch, with the glass center table between them. Jesse sat down, settling his taller frame on the seat while his elegant hands held the tumbler from which he took a sip.
Jesse St. James was a man of stunning beauty, although this description was far too delicate for a man like him. He had dark, curly hair, delicate facial features, fair skin and pink, pouty lips that made him look as aristocratic as a royal, an air only enhanced by the aloof way he carried himself. However, it was his blue eyes that caused the most impact: those crystal-clear pools sparkled with untamable power and charisma, making it clear that he was a dynamic man who could find good ideas in anything and make them work somehow.
Those eyes also added to his undeniable sex appeal. When they first met Rachel’s own eyes, it was almost like they caused a mental and physical attack on her femininity. Since then, every time they met she couldn’t shake off the magnetism he exuded, no matter how hard she tried, and it brought to the surface things she shouldn’t feel for him.
So, she was alarmed when she came back to her senses and realized she was alone with him.
Her eyes moved anxiously around the room, realizing she was obviously on a hotel suite. A brief glance to the window told her it was most likely the penthouse. Her eyes saw a flash of the king-sized bed in the sleeping chamber, and it made her heart clench and break all over again, for it immediately made her think of the bed Finn had insisted they bought for their own bedroom.
Had he slept on it with Quinn?
Had it been one of the places where he had committed the worst betrayal against her without no care at all?
“What did Quinn Fabray tell you, Rachel?”
The softly spoken question took her eyes back to Jesse St. James, forcing her to look at his concerned blue eyes, and she realized that she couldn’t deny him the truth. The concern and the worry she saw in his eyes worked as a soothing balm to her shattered heart, and, from what she knew of him, she was aware he wouldn’t accept silence or any attempt of dismissal from her part.
Besides, there wasn’t any way to hide the truth. Quinn didn’t want to hide it anymore. And, Rachel realized with a start, she didn’t want to hide it either. What Quinn had told her just minutes ago had put a definite end to her marriage, and she wouldn’t live a sham of a relationship, no matter what her mother or Finn tried to tell her.
There wasn’t an argument in the world that could make her go back to her marriage after what Finn had done.
Rachel closed her eyes, Quinn’s soft, venomous voice easily echoing into her mind. “She’s having an affair with my husband,” she whispered, clenching her hands so that her nails bit into her palms. It was a double betrayal, from the woman she saw and trusted as one of her closest friends and the man who had sweet-talked her into tying her life and his career to her, who had pretended to love her. “And she is… pregnant… with his baby.”
Only months earlier, she had wanted to have a child, and Finn had been fiercely against it. Jesse’s new TV show, he had claimed, was an awesome opportunity for their careers, and Jesse wouldn’t agree to wait for more than a year to start shooting. Because her deal with Jesse was for one season only, Finn had promised that once it was over they would have their baby.
Now, weeks later, here she was, having just learned that he was having a child with another woman.
Rachel’s lips trembled as she added in a heartbroken whisper, “She said he didn’t want a divorce because I’m… I’m his meal-ticket. His goose with the golden eggs.”
Rachel looked away from him when bitter tears pooled in her eyes and discretely wiped them off. She wouldn’t cry over Finn. She wouldn’t.
“It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t want to leave you,” Jesse replied very calmly. “What matters is if you want to leave him.”
Deep anger exploded within Rachel, bringing with it a flood of old wounds that she had been inflicted upon by the life her mother had manipulated her into leading since her childhood. Having not achieved success in her own career as a TV actress, Shelby had seen Rachel as the way to have the life and the fortune she had dreamed as a young woman and, in order to achieve that goal, had kept her child from any other option that would deviate her from the purpose and life-plan Shelby herself had made for her daughter. Marrying Finn had been part of that plan… And the baby she had been convinced not to have would be yet another bump in the road. No more! Rachel thought furiously.
The tiny brunette jumped up, her eyes shining with fury and determination as she looked at the man who was calmly waiting for her decision.
“Of course I do!” She said vehemently. “I won’t let Finn, my mother or even you sweep this under the rug. I don’t give a damn if it will tarnish my reputation. I will never accept Finn back as my husband!”
Jesse smiled slightly, leaving Rachel slightly confused. “Good,” he told her with a gesture towards the couch. “Sit back down, Rachel, please. I just wanted to know if you had any idea on how to deal with the situation, since you’ve been quiet ever since we left the Adrenaline Room.”
“I’m not in the frame of mind to go back down there and start networking again,” she replied angrily. “And I don’t want to see or talk to Finn, or be anywhere near him at all. And the same applies to my mother.”
Jesse sat back and looked at her thoughtfully for a long moment. His hypnotizing blue eyes watched her, evaluating, speculating, making her feel like a butterfly trapped to a pin, being thoroughly examined. She looked away from him, picking her glass back up and taking a sip from her drink, wishing the fire in her throat would burn away the humiliation of being nothing more than a sure-way to make money for the people who had put her in this situation.
It’s not like Jesse St. James is any different, she reminded herself firmly. The only reason he was worried about her now was because of the investment he had made on the show she starred in, of the belief that she and her acting talents would bring him huge profit. Even so, however, she couldn’t help but feel grateful that he had acted and taken her away from the party. The time from the second Quinn silkily whispered her secret to when she took her first sip of cognac in the suite where they were now were missing, but he had obviously noticed the devastating impact of Quinn’s revelation and acted in order to avoid any uproar on the release party.
After all, she thought bitterly, the show must go on.
But not tonight. Not to her, at least.
“Well, you don’t want to deal with neither your mother nor your husband, who, I’m sure, is at the moment desperately trying to think up a way to place all the blame on Quinn Fabray’s shoulders and to put herself as the innocent victim of the lies and manipulations of a greedy woman…” He trailed off, watching closely for her reaction.
She snorted, and he smiled.
“… and, if he says that, then he’ll be lying,” he carried on calmly. “I’ve watched them tonight, before she found you. They seemed very close and intimate. She was furious with him. They’re having an intimate, personal relationship, and for quite a while.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” Rachel mumbled, bitterly. “The baby will be proof of it anyway.”
“Not if Quinn is convinced to have an abortion,” he said calmly. A shocked Rachel looked up at Jesse, and he shook his head negatively. “I wouldn’t do that.”
But Finn would. And so would her mother. She knew without him have to say a word that both her husband and her mother would see an abortion as the perfect solution for the unpleasant scandal, to smooth everything up so that she would come back to them, that she would keep doing just what they wanted, to hell with what she wanted. Rachel’s head began to burn as she came up with all the arguments they’d subject her to.
“I have to get away from them,” she blurted, looking around in despair. “I have to disappear.” She didn’t seem to notice she was speaking out loud. Her mind was desperately focused on finding a way to leave, but everything she had was tied to either Finn or her mother: her money, her house… her entire life…
“I can help you, Rachel.”
Startled out of her reverie by a statement she wasn’t expecting, she turned to him, her face full of anguish and confusion. He looked calmly back at her, arrogant and confident in what he had just spoken. I can help you, Rachel. And just like that she remembered how powerful he was. The blue eyes sparkled with power and confidence.
Yes. Yes, Jesse St. James could help her if he so wanted. But what would it mean? And at what cost?
“You need to go somewhere safe, where security will be so tight no one will be able to find you unless you want to be found,” he said calmly, casually. “It’ll be easy for me to get that for you.”
A peaceful oasis, a refuge, a haven… she thought longingly. But soon practical issues popped up. “I’ll need to go home, pack up some clothes.”
“No need,” he dismissed it with a wave. “We can send someone to pack them up for you and then have them delivered. Or we can forget all about your clothes and buy you new ones.”
She chuckled in disbelief. “I don’t even have my credit card with me!”
“So we hire a lawyer to work a way to get both your mother and your husband away from your bank accounts. Meanwhile, I can start a bank account for your bare necessities until you can use your own money.”
She blinked, feeling slightly hopeful. He made everything seem so easy… “My mother will never relinquish control.”
He smirked slightly. “I highly doubt your mother has access to the same weapons I do,” he told her coolly. His eyes shone with determination. Suddenly, he knew what she longed for. Freedom, from her mother and from her good-to-nothing husband. And, with a start, he realized he wanted to help her get that.
Rachel blinked slowly. He was right. Her mother, no matter how much contacts she had, was no match at all for him. For the first time in years, freedom seemed within her reach.
“Trust me, Rachel,” he whispered, quietly. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to give you your independence back… if that’s what you want.”
It was tempting, so tempting to believe in him. The agreement tingled and burned in the tip of her tongue. The only thing that held her back was the tiny, nagging feeling that she would be changing one way of domination for another, subtler one.
“Why would you do that for me?” The question escaped her lips in a whisper of fear: fear that he was using her longing for freedom as a bait to trap her into something even worse, fear that he planned to shape her into what he wanted her to be, to hell with her wishes.
He looked straight into her eyes and let one of the reasons flow out of his mouth. “I don’t want anything to put the show at risk, Rachel. It’s a project I’ve been working on for a very long time, and you’re the most important part of it. I need you at your best, acting as only you know how. If, to achieve that, I need to rid you of everything that hurts you and make sure that you won’t be disturbed by people who only wish to hurt you, then be it. I’ll create a security perimeter around you so tight that no one will be able to enter it without your express permission. All I ask in return is that you keep giving your best when working on the show as long as it lasts.”
He was only protecting his investment. Of course.
It made sense. Jesse St. James and his station had always been tied to success, never to failure.
For him, keeping her away from Finn, Quinn and her mother wasn’t personal. It was business. Jesse only didn’t want her personal life to shine a bad light onto his newest pet project.
Suddenly, her fears seemed ridiculous even to herself. And even his request seemed slightly weird. She loved the show’s premise, her character and the cast and crew she worked with. She had no plans to leave the show. And she knew with absolute certainty that, if she didn’t have to deal with Quinn, Finn or her mother while on set, she’d give her all.
“I’ll make them disappear,” he said softly, as if reading her mind. “If that’s what you want.”
Her exhausted mind was suddenly taken by the image of him as a dark knight, fighting off all of her dragons, and Finn and her mother as the villains who sought to keep her as a pawn for their own personal goals. It was more than tempting – it was the final push for her to accept the offer without thinking it over further.
“Yes, it is what I want,” she replied confidently.
“Then yes,” he told her, as if he already knew what she had decided and had only been waiting for her to explicitly confirm it. He then rose from his seat, a man obviously pleased with the battles ahead. “You can wait for me here. You’ll be perfectly safe. You also probably need to eat something. Feel free to order room service. Make yourself at home and relax, and be assured that you won’t deal with any kind of disturbance tonight.”
She watched as he made his way to the door. “Where are you going?”
“Back to the party,” he told her with a wide smile of pure pleasure. “Once I’m done, I seriously doubt anyone will come bother you about your decision to move on from your marriage and your management.”
Rachel felt a thrill of satisfaction. It had been her decision.
An independent one.
She felt strangely comforted by that as she watched Jesse, the man who had made so easy for her to leave her suffocating life, leave to start to put their plan in motion. Jesse St. James was a man who had power enough to do anything he wanted, anything he put his mind to. And, now, he was about to use his power to free her of a life that she had always wanted to escape.