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All Warfare Is Based On Deception

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Rose wrinkled her nose as she walked into the penthouse suite. The smell of stale alcohol and vomit assaulted her senses immediately. She pulled off her leather gloves and motioned for the concierge to leave her packages near the door. She retrieved a crisp $50 bill from her purse and looked at the young man in front of her. “Please, tell the kitchen to send up a breakfast spread along with a fresh pot of coffee in exactly 35 minutes. Send a discreet maid up in an hour.”

He nodded in the affirmative and took the tip from Rose. He was Mr. Salvatore’s personal concierge whenever he stayed at their hotel. There was no manner of debauchery that the young man had not witnessed in his three short years working there.  “Yes, Ma’am.”

She turned on the lights in the living room when she heard the doors snick as they closed. The penthouse looked as if Guns N Roses had stayed the weekend. Unfortunately, Rose’s employer and his mistress caused this carnage. To be fair, she was certain that they weren’t the only ones responsible for the mess in front of her. Katherine did so love to invite people over to the penthouse. She loved to show off the wealth that didn’t belong to her—and never would. However, Rose supposed that she could understood wanting to flaunt the success of one’s paramour. Damon was only 31 years old but he was the CEO of Velocita, the world's leading Italian sports car manufacturer.

Rose unbuttoned her leather jacket and hung it on the coat rack near the door. She crossed the room to the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of water from the refrigerator. Then she marched into the bedroom without bothering to knock. She had long since grown immune to see her employer’s naked body.

Rose placed the bottle of water and a pill organizer on the nightstand. Then she picked up the remote and opened the automated shades. The room was instantly bathed with early morning sunlight. She smiled as she heard grumbles of complaints behind her. Rose turned around in her 5 inch pumps and exclaimed, “Rise and shine, Mr. Salvatore!”

Damon growled and said, “I should fire you for this bullshit!”

Rose rolled her eyes and pulled the blanket from over his head. “Yes, you would fire me if you were capable of surviving without me. Unfortunately, we both know that you would die in a pool of your own vomit without my intervention. Now get up! Your two-week vacation is over and now it is time for you to be an adult once more. You have a business to run and a family that needs you.”

Katherine sat up as naked as the day she was born. If looks could kill then Rose would be dead a thousand times over. To say that the two women didn’t get along would be an understatement. They hated each other and rarely managed to remain civil behind closed doors. “You should finally fire her, Damon. She’s disrespectful and doesn’t know her place. I could be your personal assistant.”

Rose laughed heartily. “I am sure you could if sucking his cock and snorting cocaine were the only job requirements. Alas, I’m afraid your special skill set wouldn’t prove to be helpful.”

Katherine’s face looked as if she had sucked a lemon. “You uppity bitch!”

“Yes, I might be an uppity bitch, but this bitch doesn’t have to earn her living on her back. Every day you are getting closer to 35. What are you going to do when you’re too old to be someone’s whore? I certainly hope that you’ve been investing wisely.”

The brunette woman lunged at Rose but was caught around the waist by Damon. She glared at him. “Are you going to let her talk to me like that?”

Damon chuckled and sat up in the bed. “You started the shit with her, Katherine. You don’t get to bitch when she checks you. As much as I would like to see the two of you fighting over me, I have a headache. So kindly shut the fuck up.”

Katherine huffed while flipping Rose the bird. She climbed out of the bed and sauntered into the bathroom.

Rose opened the bottle of water and handed it to Damon with his pill organizer. “Take every single one of those vitamins. I know you haven’t been eating properly while you were on this bender.”

He dutifully did as instructed because Rose was right as usual. He drank most of his meals for the last two weeks. “Why are you here this morning? I’m not due in the office for two more days.”

She sat down on the nightstand and leveled a serious gaze at him. “I am here because last night I received a call from Sophie. She informed me that Mrs. Salvatore and young Sarah have not been home in two weeks. In fact, they left the house in the middle of the night. She didn’t tell a soul and you know that’s not like Bonnie. I called to ensure that she was safe.”

A knot formed in the pit of Damon’s stomach. He hadn’t spoken to his wife since he left for his vacation. He facetimed with Sarah every couple of days but he couldn’t really focus while she rambled about her days. His daughter had the ability to talk a million miles an hour. “Are they okay? I talked to Sarah a few days ago. Everything seemed fine.”

Rose gave him a dubious look because Sarah couldn’t hold water. She certainly would have told her father that she was on vacation with her mother. “I spoke to Bonnie last night. She’s staying at her family’s home in Shadow Hills.”

Damon frowned at his wife’s choice of getaway. Shadow Hills was where Bonnie’s great-great-grandparents started settled nearly 100 years ago. The town had about 50,000 year round residents and the Bennett family practically owned it. Shadow Hills was probably the one place in the world where Bonnie could disappear from the public eye completely. It would be where Bonnie would go if she wanted to feel safe. He licked his lips. “What day did she leave?”

“It seems that Bonnie left the same night that she had dinner with your father…alone,” Rose said. Her voice showed her apprehension about such a thing happening.

Damon was out of the bed in a flash. “What do you mean she had dinner alone with Giuseppe? Stefan and Caroline were supposed to be there. It’s the only reason I felt comfortable leaving before Giuseppe left the country.”

Rose stood and said, “Well, you know that Zach took his family skiing. Stefan took Caroline, Tony, and the twins to Paris to visit your mother. They didn’t return until two days ago. I’m assuming that he didn’t say anything because he knew that you would disapprove.”

His younger brother had assumed right. He hated both of their parents and couldn’t understand how Stefan gave Lilly a pass for their screwed up childhoods. Giuseppe was an abusive asshole but she left him when Stefan was six years old. Unfortunately, she also left her two sons alone with the violent drunk. Damon had bore the brunt of the abuse to protect his baby brother. Things got better once Zach graduated from college. Zach had no problem getting into fistfights with his older brother to protect his nephews. Unfortunately, Damon was 18 at that point and didn’t really need protection anymore. He gritted out, “I am going to need more than two days with my family. I don’t care what’s going on at work…make it happen, Rose.”

She smiled smugly. “I’ve already handled it. The board knows that you have contracted viral pneumonia and will be unavailable for the next week. However, you will teleconference if there’s an emergency. I have breakfast on its way up in another 20 minutes and I brought a clean suit for you to wear.”

Damon said, “I am not staying for breakfast. I need to get to Shadow Hills now.”

“I understand the urgency but the jet won’t be ready to leave for an hour. You need to be at your best when you see Bonnie. You don’t know what sort of state she will be in, Damon. You’re going to have to do your best to make her feel that you give a damn.”

He snapped. “Of course I give a damn! She’s my wife, Rose.”

Rose frowned because she understood his panic but it was of no use to them now. “There are three possible scenarios here. The best that we can hope for is that your toxic dump of a father verbally abused your wife to the point that she decided to vacate your home to get away from him. The less appealing option is that he got drunk and physically assaulted your wife while you were off playing hide the salsiccia with your whore. And the worst…”

“Stop,” he growled. “I know that you don’t approve of my relationship with Katherine.”

She sighed. “This has nothing to do with Katherine. I don’t care who you’re screwing. However, I care when you leave your 21-year-old wife to be accosted by your father. You can blame this on Stefan for making plans without your knowledge but it isn’t his responsibility to protect your wife. To top it off, you have so little concern for her that it didn’t occur to you to speak to her in two weeks time, Damon.”

Damon sat back down and scrubbed at his shaggy hair. “Are you done?”

Rose stared at him until she heard the shower turn off in the bathroom. “I’ll leave you to it. I will make sure to hang your suit up in the closet. I also brought shoes. I am going to go call Lucy to see if she’s heard from her cousin. I’d like to know what sort of shit show we’re walking into when we make it to Shadow Hills. You had better hope that options two and three didn’t happen. Because the prenuptial agreement you signed is very punitive. She’ll walk away with half of your company and three bloody seats on your board. Not to mention that your five year old daughter will lose the only mother she’s ever known. If she doesn’t make a case for joint custody.”

Damon watched as his assistant and friend stormed out of the room. She was right that this was his fault. It wasn’t just that Damon was away when Bonnie needed him, it was the fact that she hadn’t reached out to him since. Maybe his wife felt that she couldn’t or worse believed that he wouldn’t care.

Rose returned with a garment bag and a shoebox. She placed both in the closet and left again.

Giuseppe and Sheila had arranged the marriage between Damon and Bonnie. They played up the love story aspect in interviews and at public functions. However, anyone with a lick of common sense would question why a 27-year-old man would marry a 17-year-old girl. The truthful answer was that Bonnie’s grandmother, Sheila Bennett, learned that she had stage four liver cancer before the girl’s 17 th birthday. The doctors gave the Bennett matriarch 6 months to live. At that point, it became a race against time to safeguard her family’s legacy and her granddaughter’s inheritance.

Bonnie’s mother was a free spirit that abandoned her when she was 4 years old. Sheila would have never entrusted the company to Abby. Her grandparents had built the company up from nothing at a time when it was difficult for a person of color to succeed in America. Knowing Abby, she would trade the company for a handful of colorful magic beans.

Sheila never liked Bonnie’s father. Rudy Hopkins saw his daughter sparingly after relinquishing custody to his mother-in-law...for a price. He all but ransomed Bonnie to Sheila after Abby took off for Europe without so much as a goodbye. The $2.5 million settlement was steep but Sheila would have paid twice that to protect Bonnie.

Her desire to protect her heir was the reason she arranged the marriage between Damon and Bonnie. The Salvatore and Bennett families had a long history. They had been business associates since the 50’s. There were even rumors of Giuseppe and Sheila having a relationship before he married Lilly. The Bennett family, much like the Salvatores, was a curious mix of legitimate business and organized crime. The Salvatore patriarch jumped at the chance to merge their interests. However, Damon was more reluctant. He didn’t want to get married and certainly not to a girl that was just graduating from high school. He only agreed after Giuseppe promised to let him run the newly merged corporation without interference. Velocita’s shares tripled in value when the company absorbed Bennett Technologies. BT boasted patents on some of the most efficient and fastest engines and propulsion systems on the market.

Katherine emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her body. She walked into the closet and looked through her clothes. She lived in the penthouse whenever she was in the city. However, she traveled a great deal on Damon’s dime. He was very generous with his money as long as Katherine made herself available to him.

Damon went into the bathroom without speaking to her. He didn’t want to deal with her ridiculous jealousy. Katherine could be incredibly thin skinned when it came to his marriage. In fairness, his relationship with her predated his marriage to Bonnie.

He stepped into the glass shower enclosure and turned on the shower. Damon didn’t know how he would make this up to Bonnie. He wasn’t just concerned about the fallout from a divorce. He loved his wife even if he wasn’t in love with her. Damon would never want to be the cause of any pain for her. Bonnie had been amazing from the moment they announced the engagement. She was mature beyond her years. Bonnie understood how the game was played and acted accordingly at all times. However, she won his heart with how she doted on Sarah. His daughter was barely a year old when he married Bonnie. She immediately bonded with Sarah…perhaps more so than he had in her short life.

Katherine walked into the bathroom. She stood in front of the mirror and put on her makeup. She asked, “When will I see you again?”

Damon shampooed his hair. “I don’t know, Katherine. Why?”

“I was thinking that I might spend a few weeks in The Canary Islands. I didn’t want to leave if there was a chance that you might want to see me.”

He considered it for a moment and then stepped under the spray to rinse his hair. “It’s fine. You’ll have to fly commercial. I am taking the jet.”

Katherine stopped putting on mascara and turned to look at him. “Where are you going?”

Damon ignored her question. “You’ll be in first class. It won’t be so bad.”

She stormed out of the bathroom and slammed the door in her wake.

Damon frowned and finished with his shower. Afterwards he dried off and brushed his teeth before going into the bedroom. He went to the dresser and retrieved a clean pair of boxers. He had plenty of clothes here since this was his home away from home. However, today he needed something special. He hoped that the suit Rose brought for him said ‘Sorry I left you alone with my homicidal father. Please, don’t divorce me’.

Breakfast had arrived by the time that Damon finished getting dressed. He had a seat across from Rose at the table and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Katherine wants to go to The Canary Islands.”

“I know. I am working on the arrangements now,” Rose replied without looking up from her tablet.

“Where is she now?”

She said, “I don’t know. I only heard her mumbling something about making you pay as she left the penthouse.”

Damon chuckled, “Uh, she’s probably going shopping with my credit again.”

Rose finished booking Katherine’s flight and then stood up. She walked over to the couch and picked up three shopping bags. She placed them in the chair beside Damon. “I have gift selections for Bonnie and Sarah. Look through them and pick one.”

He took a bite of his omelet and then picked up a bag. He looked at the jewelry options meant for Bonnie. Damon sighed and said, “Depending on what happened it might be a good idea to give her everything.”

Rose nodded in agreement.

“Did you manage to speak with Lucy?” He returned everything to the bags.

“The good news is that she hasn’t heard from Bonnie.”

“What’s the bad news?” he asked. Damon was relieved that the fallout was contained. It would be easier to smooth things over with his wife if her family wasn’t involved. Her extended family would come out of the woodwork at the prospect of the 21-year-old gaining half of a fortune 500 company.

Rose said, “Well, that is also the bad news. I can’t think of a reason why Bonnie wouldn’t reach out to her closest relative. Something has to be very wrong. Unfortunately, my call to Lucy tipped her off that something happened. She’s in Sydney now but she will try to make it back to the States next week. You will need to have shored things up with Bonnie by then. We can’t have outside voices telling her to divorce you.”

He snorted. “I thought you would want Bonnie to leave me.”

“Why would you think a thing like that?”

Damon gave her a knowing look. They had been friends since college and Rose never held her tongue for long. She was one of the few people in the world that didn't fear him. 

“I think that you can be a better husband than you have been to her. That being said, Bonnie’s grandmother didn’t trust a single person in her family to protect that girl’s best interest. She trusted you, Damon. Ms. Sheila believed that you had a good heart where it truly mattered. While Giuseppe was talking about her legacy, it was you that understood that Bonnie was her legacy.”

Damon’s eyes closed in frustration. He snapped, “I don’t know what you expect from me, Rose. I treat Bonnie well. I give her everything she could possibly want. I agreed to her taking those classes at the university. I even told her she could go to school full-time on campus. She’s the one that turned me down and opted to take online classes at USC. I am giving her everything that I can.”

Rose stared at him in disbelief. “You really don’t know?”

“Don’t know what?”

She rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t know that your wife is in love with you. You might have spent half your life sleeping with women but you certainly can’t read them to save your life. Bonnie tries her best to impress you and to make you happy, Damon.”

The raven-haired playboy sat there stunned by Rose’s revelation. He wondered if it could be true. Had his wife fallen in love with him while he wasn’t looking?