Violet was bored to pieces waiting for this man to start talking. She was just about to twiddle her thumbs when she looked up at the subtle clearing of a throat.
“Yes, Jeffies, what is it?” Laurence said, not even looking at his butler.
“Shall I serve dinner, Sir?”
“Not until Rance and his friends are back from their tour. They should be done soon. House isn’t that big,” he muttered irritably.
“Perhaps not, but I heard them heading down to the bowling alley and…”
“Bowling alley?” Violet shrieked.
“Yes, Madam,” Jeffries replied, hiding a small smile.
“Well, whenever you wish to serve dinner, call them up and send one of them for us,” Laurence said, dismissing the man with an imperial wave of his hand.
Violet watched as Mr. Jeffries bowed and went back inside. She had half a mind to ask to see this bowling alley, but that was when her host decided to speak.
“Do you have any idea how much I’m worth, Violet?” Laurence asked, his expression somber.
She blinked stupidly at him, then said the first thing to pop into her head. “Not a plug nickel in the parenting department.”
Richard burst out laughing. “Good going, Honey. You’ll have him eating outta the palm of your hand come…oh, I dunno… the next ice age or something,” he said, still laughing his head off.
“You don’t pull any punches, do you?” Laurence said, obviously shocked and annoyed to find someone who would speak to him in such a non-deferential manner.
She shrugged defiantly. “Call ‘em as I see ‘em,” she mumbled.
“Of course,” he replied, staring her down. He leaned back in his chair, crossed one leg over the other, then needlessly straightened his tie. “Well, kidnappers would disagree with you.”
“Kidnapers?” she squeaked.
“Yes, Madam, kidnappers. Despicable human trash who wish to make wealthy people plead and beg for the lives of their captive loved ones in exchange for money. Lots and lots of money, and then there is no guarantee that they’d ever be seen alive again,” he said, fiercely. “You think knowing such people exist, that this is a real possibility, a sure-fire threat, that I would allow my flesh and blood, my one and only heir to wander on this earth without appropriate protection?”
Her eyes widened to their full extent, but in the next moment they showed their confusion. “You mean…Rance has bodyguards? Why didn’t Sophie ever tell me?”
“Because she doesn’t know any more than Rance does. If he did…”
“Oh, I can imagine he wouldn’t like that. He might get…very angry with you and you don’t need him more so than he already is, do you?” she said, biting down on her bottom lip. It all made sense now…parts of it anyway.
He shook his head. “And I would rather he still not be any the wiser, for that very reason. It is my biggest secret and I’ve just revealed it to a person whom I don’t know I can trust.”
“Well, you can. Secrets are safe with me. I’m a very private person. I don’t even gossip,” she said, shrugging.
He stared at her frowning. He didn’t know her from Adam, but he somewhat believed her. “Pity you don’t work for the tabloids then,” he muttered bitterly.
She leaned forward, placing her arms on the table. “You’ve already mentioned the tabloids twice. Do they cause that much trouble for you?”
He gaped at her. “Have you been living under a rock for the past fifteen years?” he asked.
She suddenly giggled. “You know, I get that a lot, and maybe I have been,” she replied with a little sigh. “But you won’t catch me complaining! Only chance I get to read celebrity garbage is while I’m in a long check-out line at the supermarket and then I only catch the front cover, which of course, tells you nothing.”
She then stared at him frowning. “I don’t think I read anything about you though…least I don’t recall.”
he shook his head incredulously at her. “Well…to answer your question, they cause me endless amounts of trouble. You have no idea,” he said, shutting his eyes for a moment as if he were in pain. “Those rags are the reason my son believes I cheated on his mother while she lay dying and that I’ve done nothing more than chase skirts since her death. According to them, I’ve been engaged to at least seven different Hollywood starlets…and a couple of porn stars.”
Violet’s eyes widened and a tiny smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “You’ve been busy then,” she said.
He glared at her. “They are all lies!”
“Didn’t say they weren’t, but did you bother to tell your son that?” she asked.
“He wouldn’t listen.”
“Doubt you tried very hard,” she mumbled behind her glass of iced tea.
He glared at her, having heard her perfectly. He opened his mouth to defend himself, when she beat him to it with something from out of the blue.
“Speaking of secrets,” Violet said, looking suddenly nervous. “I… might I ask that you not mention Victor to Sophie… or anyone…please? I’d rather she…”
He held up his hand as if to silence her. “She will hear nothing of that from me. I assure you.”
She nodded. “Thank you. Um, can I ask something else?”
“Seems you can.”
“How can there be bodyguards protecting your boy without him knowing it… without any of the guys knowing?”
He raised one insolent eyebrow and she swiftly shook her head. “Sorry, if you think it’s none of my business, but…” she said.
“Actually, you have every right to know,” he said, sighing. “As you know, your daughter is every bit in as much danger as my son…”
“What!” she shouted springing to her feet. “Oh, my God…it…it never occurred to me, but…. if they get Rance, take him, kidnap him…they could easily get Sophie and the others and …”
“Violet, you don’t have to worry,” he said, standing up as well.
“The hell I don’t! You just told me…”
“Your daughter is just as safe as my son and I have proof. A kidnapping attempt was easily averted already, little over a week ago with no harm done…except for some broken furniture in the club and the bruises on Sophie’s arms that is, but those were expressly because of her boyfriend’s interference. Had he not been there, had he not gotten in the way, the situation would have been diffused much quieter and with a whole lot less fuss.”
Violet gaped at him, her mouth hanging open. “You…you don’t mean...?” she whispered. “You knew about that?”
“Of course I do. The kids were talking about it just moments before,” he said, sternly.
“But… you think it was a kidnaping attempt? Sophie said… she said it was just a couple of drunk college kids who didn’t take no for an answer and were getting a bit rough and…”
“Those so-called college kids, were not what they seemed. The rape attempt was just a ruse to get the others away from Rance, but it didn’t work. My men were in place and Rance, bless him, he was right in the middle of the fray protecting your daughter along with the others and with complete disregard for his own safety. My men informed me of everything, Violet, so yes, I know all about it. I possibly know more than anyone involved, in fact. The kids, after all, still have no clue it was a botched kidnapping. It is what I pay… my men most handsomely for, to keep all of them safe while they know nothing.”
Violet covered her face with her hands. “Oh, my God…this can’t be happening.”
Sophie had lied to her about the whole thing. It hadn’t been just a little thing at all, like she said. An attempted rape was, after all, no better than a kidnapping —botched or otherwise. Her breathing grew short and rapid and she knew she was hyperventilating. She might faint if she didn’t calm down, but she couldn’t. She just wanted to take Sophie away from these hideously wealthy people--all their money only caused them grief.
That’s it. She had to take Sophie home with her, back home to Catalpa Valley where it was quiet and peaceful and she could be safe and sound and…
“And bored to death. Sophie would be miserable there,” Richard whispered to her. “She is not less safe because of the rich kid, you know. She’s actually more safe, if you think about it rationally. There are trained bodyguards around them at all times. Isn’t it better to know Sophie will be protected 24/7 once she is in the city with these guys? Now, at the college dorm, she’s pretty much on her own, and within easy reach of that creep Antione. You must have seen how protective the guys are of her.”
Laurence was talking, but she heard none of it. Her mind was abuzz with crazy kidnapping plots, mercenaries lurking in the bushes with AK-47s in hand and Sophie and the other guys hog-tied and tossed into the back of an unmarked black van. How had her boring, normal, everyday life come to this?
“Violet!” Laurence said louder than he might have done ordinarily.
“Your daughter is safe, as safe as my son is,” he said.
“And you know this how exactly?”
“I just know,” he replied. “I get reports several times daily, from someone who is very close to Rance.”
“That’s not enough for me,” Violet said. “Who is this person? Where is he that Rance’s movements are known to him but Rance can’t tell he’s…what? A spy? You expect me to believe this is possible? You’re nuts if you think so!”
He drew in a deep breath, his jaws clenched in irritation. “No, I don’t suppose it would be enough for me either, if I were in your position,” he muttered angrily. “But you’ll have to take my word that I know what I’m doing. You don’t need to know any more than what I have already told you. It’s for your own good.”
“For my own good, did you say?” Violet shrieked. “My goodness, but you’re an imperious bastard, aren’t you? I’d say Victor was wrong about you. You’re more than half way to being a full-blown, holier than thou, I-know-better-than-anybody-how- to run-everybody’s-life politician.”
His eyes narrowed to slits and he took one menacing step closer. “Perhaps, but I wouldn’t take the pay cut to be one of those bozos,” he growled.
“No, Mr. Van Gholston, I may not be the brightest person around, but I know the score. The wealthier the prick, the more likely he is to hoard it and steal from taxpayers as well,” she muttered.
“Violet, what the hell has gotten into you?” Richard shouted. “You’ve never said that word in your life and look who the hell you’re talking to!”
“This is my son’s life we’re talking about and being his friends are figuratively glued to him they get the benefit of the protection I afford him. I care about nothing more than that, so believe me when I say I have the best guys for the job. Experienced former Navy seals, if you must know, and that is all the information you will get from me. This discussion is over, Mrs. Bennett!”
Just then the double doors opened and out spilled the sound of raucous laughter.
“Hey, guys!” Rick shouted. “Dinner’s ready. Come on in!”
“Be right there,” Laurence said, then turning to Violet he added, “Shall we go in?”
She moved right up to him, close enough to plant a wet one on him if she thought it would help, but instead she narrowed her eyes and hissed like an angry goose.
“This isn’t over until I say it is. You better listen up, Mr. Pretty boy, cuz I won’t say it twice,” she snarled. “If anything happens to my daughter because you and your boy are so damned rich that scumbags will do anything to get their hands on some of it, then be advised. No amount of experienced, hard ass Navy Seals are going to keep me from ripping you a new one.” She then turned on her heel, strode around the pool and clicked her heels up the steps and into the house.
“Damn if she doesn’t remind me of Emily,” he muttered, straightening his tie and following her up the steps to the house with a shake of his head.