The Crimson Stone – chapter 7

Hi, I know, I know… It’s been a (ridiculously) long while since I last posted something. Life has been totally insane, but I am now trying to refocus on what matters more: writing.

I finally updated my ongoing novel, The Crimson Stone, with Chapter 7, so it is now available for registered members to read on Channillo.

Please visit the website for a free preview, enjoy, and don’t forget to subscribe!

 

The Crimson Stone: cover reveal!

As I move forward with the novel, I thought it was time to give it a cover worthy of its name. Hello hello, here it is and I adore it! In the next few hours, I will also post the next installment so hold on to your couches and reading sofas! Comments of appreciation are welcome lol

v6

Proud member of the Channillo family

With immense pride, I announce that my ongoing novel, The Crimson Stone, was picked by Channillo to be published as a series.

Starting from today, it will be updated on a monthly basis. And while the first chapter is publicly visible for everyone, the rest of the story will be available to members only.

No words can express how happy I am to be given such an opportunity. That’s why I want to share with you the first installment that was published today while inviting you to subscribe to the Channillo site where you will discover an entire new world of talented authors.

Happy reading!!

Trial and Tribulations of Unexpected Love – Chapter 5

After three changes of clothes, hair pulled up then down again, and having been on the verge to give it up twice, Allison was standing right there where the taxi left her a couple of minutes before, in front of a small and quiet restaurant in North End, unable to move. For some reason she had expected Todd to reserve some overcrowded fancy restaurant, and was pleasantly surprised to see that he had probably sensed her need to be far from the confusion and safe from prying eyes. Still, she couldn’t get rid of the anxiety eating at her. Why in the world did she accept? She was scared, but she didn’t know if by the dinner itself or by the thought of where the dinner could lead. She breathed in and mustered all the strength she could gather to take the last few steps that separated her from the building.

Once inside she started to glance around nervously looking for Todd. She liked this place. The simple wooden decor was complete with yellow-earth drapery and tablecloths, which gave a touch of elegance that was simple, intimate and familiar. She finally caught sight of him standing up to take a few steps towards her, a tense smile on his face. Apparently she wasn’t the only one nervous tonight. Breathe, Allison. Breathe.

She walked towards him with a bit of uncertainty in her step. How were they supposed to greet each other? A shake of hands? Too formal. A hug? Too intimate. A kiss? Not even in discussion. Maybe a more innocent kiss of the cheek? Embarrassing and awkward, to say the least. Okay, maybe it was better to go for a simple hello.

“Hey,” Todd said, his gaze fixed on her.

The look in his eye confirmed that her third change of clothes was clearly the winning one. Although, for a brief moment she thought that maybe it was too much for the occasion. The black sheath dress, bordered on its bottom with two oblique and very thin lines of white sequins, was very elegant yet simple at the same time. And way different from the suits she always wore in courtroom.

“Hey,” Allison replied with some hesitation, leaving a few steps between them to avoid uncomfortable proximity. Probably catching her uneasiness, Todd smiled and gestured for them to take a seat.

“I…,” Todd started with some hesitation, “I thought a quiet place was better, under the circumstances.”

Allison smiled. “I like it,” she said giving her attention back to him, her hands toying nervously with the menu on the table. She found herself looking down. For some reason she still couldn’t hold his gaze for more than a few seconds.

“Why are you so nervous?” he teased her.

“I’m not,” she contradicted him. Well, if she had to be honest, she was. “Okay, maybe I am,” she corrected herself. “You make me nervous,” she admitted.

Todd smiled softy, his expression reassured her. “Why?”

“I don’t know. You… You just do,” she said in a faint voice. Truth was, he didn’t make her nervous. Unable to ward off his advances and light flirting, Allison grew nervous. It was a feeling that she couldn’t understand, let alone handle, no matter how much she tried and she loathed not being in control of her feelings.

“Okay,” he said, “and what can I do to… not make you feel nervous?” he asked with a smile, but his eyes showed he was clearly uncomfortable too.

Allison stared at him for a moment, pondering his question. Since it was not about him but about her, the only thing she could do was to try and find a way to relax a bit. “What about a good bottle of wine?” she proposed with a knowing smile.

Todd sat there for a moment, his eyes fixed on her. “Wine, mmmh?” With a light laugh, he took the wine carte. “Wine for this lovely lady, then!”

Allison just stared at him, more intently than she really wanted, a soft smile on her face quickly turning into a mild laugh.

Two glasses of wine later…

“Okay, now tell me something more about you,” Todd asked with a curious expression, his forearms resting on the table. The wine had clearly reduced both the anxiety and the physical distance between them.

Allison gave him a questioning look. “What do you want to know?” she asked with a smile.

Todd looked at her for a moment and hesitated. “Anything that didn’t already go through the media is welcome,” he joked.

Allison chastened him with a reproaching look that quickly turned into a smile. “Not funny!”

“What are your weaknesses?” he said, going for something a little more specific.

“Are you going to use them against me?” she asked throwing him a slantwise look, which made Todd burst out in laughter.

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” he said seriously, suppressing a laugh.

Allison took a moment to decide what to answer. What seemed an innocent question could instead be very tricky. She looked down at the glass in front of her and got her answer. “Wine,” she said with a soft laugh. She realized she was at her second glass and she’d better stop before starting to feel the side effects, because then it would probably be too late. She never really held her booze well. What else, then? “Shoes,” she said with an apologetic smile and light shrug.

“Shoes?” Todd asked between laughter. “That’s so lame!”

“Hey!” She reproached him jokingly. “I’m a woman, shoes are in our DNA like motors for men!”

“What? Not all men love motors!” Todd objected, with a look of faux offense.

“Said the guy with the expensive coupe…” She promptly remarked, then took a small sip of wine.

Todd nodded in acknowledgement and laughed, his arms open in surrender. “Okay, I asked for it.”

“You know, there’s an interesting theory for which cars are for men a sort of extension of their attributes…” She stated with pretended candidness, yet keeping a mischievous eye on him.

“Good for me I don’t have a compact car or I could feel offended.”

Allison nearly choked on her wine and blushed lightly. “I didn’t… I…” She burst into laughter, totally embarrassed, then looked away. How did she end up here? When she looked back at Todd, he seemed thoughtful, though smiling slyly. “What are you thinking about?”

“Just trying to imagine what kind of extension shoes represent for a woman,” he said, his gaze fixed on her.

She looked at him a bit provocatively. “They only make us look hot and tall in every occasion,” Allison observed with a slight female pride. And she knew something about it. Patrick’s career had brought her in front of the cameras way more times than she had really wanted to. Campaigns, interviews and press conferences first. Then… One not so fine day, two years before, in the backstage of one of his conferences, she had caught him busy in a not quite politically correct ‘debate’ with Sharon Harper, the District’s Attorney of Albany’s county. What followed had been on everybody’s mouths for months, causing a political pandemonium that would be remembered for the years to come.

Most journalists seemed to be thankfully more concerned about the political implications deriving by the involvement of two leading figures. Tabloids, though, gave their best – or worst – with the sexual component, not sparing the juiciest details of those hot encounters.

It took her weeks only to find the strength to step out again of the comfortable walls of her home.

Sometimes she had to stop and remind herself that it was over. The scandal, the press, the humiliation. A part of her would probably never get rid of that anxiety, that lingering undertone of fear to see her face in the tabloids again.

She had always looked at herself as an ambitious woman, till the scandal made her reconsider her priorities, her needs, her wishes. Living outside the media’s radar was definitely better for her mental health.

Staring back at the man in front of her she realized that things weren’t really completely over. She was far from the media’s assault but still not free from Patrick’s influence. She shook her head and tried to get rid of that thought. She wasn’t here to think about the negative aspects but to enjoy a nice evening and a good dinner with Todd. With a soft smile, she gave her attention back to him.

“By the way,” she started, looking for a way to shift the discussion back on him. “What did you do to deserve being kicked out by your ex-wife?” she asked him with a teasing, knowing smile.

Todd looked at her for a moment without saying anything, until he burst into a bitter laugh. “Ahhh… You women always assume you’re on the right side, don’t you?”

Allison hesitated a moment. “Because we usually are?” she replied, playfully.

Todd gave her an amused smile. “Well, I’m still wondering about it five years later,” he said quietly. “She left after a couple of years, just in time to get the most out of the divorce,” he explained with a knowing look.

“How unoriginal of her,” she joked, her eyes wide in faux disbelief.

“I guess it was just wrong from the beginning,” he said.

Allison stared at him and nodded in understanding. She realized that he knew way more about her than she knew about him and decided to play his own game. “Okay, now it’s your turn,” she teased him.

Todd gave her a confused look. “My turn for what?”

Allison leaned forward with a confident smile. “Your weaknesses,” she said, taking a sip of wine.

“Damn, I thought I escaped from those questions,” he laughed.

Allison’s gaze was fixed on him, amused and expectant.

His answer came with no sign of hesitation. “Jack Daniel’s.”

Allison raised a brow and nodded in approval. The guy had interesting tastes.

Todd smiled and took a moment before going on. “Good food just like it was prepared at home,” he said, pointing at the empty plate in front of him, “and finger food,” he added with a bit of tease.

“Finger food?” Allison’s question came along with a smile and a raised brow. “Now, this is interesting and needs for explanation.”

Todd leaned dangerously forward, the reduced distance causing Allison to blush a little.

More wine. Allison suddenly felt the pressing need for more wine but didn’t dare move a finger under such proximity.

“I think…” Todd started, peeping around them, “I think there is something extremely sexy in feeding someone…” He explained, giving his attention back to her, “or being fed,” he quickly added with a smile.

Okay, more wine. Now.

Allison took a long sip from her glass, looking down in slight embarrassment. The way he was staring at her really left no room for doubt. He was making his move with her, and not so subtly. This dinner was taking all but an innocent turn. Allison had to remind herself that she wasn’t the blushing kind, she’s never been a woman that let men take control of her nerves. Gathering some courage and boldness, she faked a confidence that she had lost along the way and sat up straight, doing her best to hide that bit of discomfort caused by his obvious attempt. “Something tells me that it’s not that kind of finger food served in cocktail parties,” she said with a knowing look and a hinted smile.

“Well, it depends from which cocktail parties you are used to,” he said, his gaze fixed on her, his expression showing defiance.

Allison nodded, and in a flash of lucidity she decided they were overshooting. With a soft smile, she looked down searching for the right words to stop what was obviously not meant or supposed to go on.

“I don’t think we should do… this,” she said, her voice insecure and faint. Did her words really match her thoughts? It didn’t matter, her thoughts needed to be hushed.

“Do what?” Todd asked, “Talk about food during a dinner?” he added, faking confusion, obviously pretending he didn’t understand the real meaning of her words.

It took a moment for Allison to react. She threw him a look of disbelief before bursting out in loud laughter. Well, putting it that way it lost most of its mischief, but the good laugh wasn’t enough for her to forget the forced – and agreed upon – limits. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to respect those limits she herself imposed as she leaned forward and met his lips slowly, hesitatingly at first. Their kiss deepened and became passionate, urging. The red wine that he consumed tasted better on his lips. Cool and robust, it created a breathtaking contrast with the warmth of his mouth. She could easily get drunk under such an inebriating kiss. Leaning back in need for air, they stared at each other for a moment. It could have been one second, or one hour, Allison couldn’t say for sure. All she knew was that she was scared of her own feelings. She was used to having everything under control and the sensation of losing the reins of her heart was overwhelming, unwelcome but somehow exciting at the same time. Her eyes silently pleaded for him not to say anything. She could deal with one thing at a time and right now her mind was still reeling from the aftermath of their kiss.

“I like you, Allison.” Todd’s words came out hurried, faint, thrown out there barely audible, as to reserve the chance to retreat from them if needed.

But Allison heard them well, loud and clear. For a moment she was speechless. If she had to be honest, this shouldn’t be a surprise. But there was something in hearing those words said out loud that made everything real, concrete, taking away any chance to ignore what was clearly happening between them.

At the same time, it was scary. It was easier to handle a fantasy, a figment of her imagination, or a dream. The reality was far more compelling and demanding and, most important, it bound them to a different sort of consequences and responsibilities she was not yet sure she was ready to cope with.

“I think we should stick to what we agreed,” she said in a low voice, in a desperate – and probably useless – effort to bring things back to what they were supposed to be from the very beginning.

“You think it or you want it?” Todd asked leaning forward. His gaze was fixed on her, but lost most of its previous confidence.

His question caught Allison completely off-guard. With some hesitation, she dared asking, “What… What do you mean?”

“You keep on saying… you think what we are not supposed to do, you don’t say that you don’t want it. What is it that you want then?” Todd’s question sounded so simple. What did she want? She had no idea, and if she even did, she was still fighting to ignore its mere existence.

She remembered the conversation of the previous night with Mark, all that stuff about taking responsibility really lost its meaning when the heart decided to take control over the mind. The truth was that she spent too much time thinking instead of feeling. Thinking about what was best for her, for Hope, for Patrick, even for her firm. But she didn’t really take the time to stop and feel.

She took a moment to look at the man sitting in front of her in expectation. She couldn’t deny he was attractive. But what exactly was so attractive about him? His strong personality? Well, that was unquestionable. He was just good looking? No, she had learnt to distinguish love from sex long ago. Was it something more that she still couldn’t define? What exactly?

“I don’t know… but I want to find out.” Those were the words she told to her brother and her honest answer to Todd’s question.

***

Later that night, the feeble streetlights illuminated a room outlining two blurred silhouettes standing, as the door closed behind them with a soft bang.

Allison was still wondering what had come of all her good intentions, as she turned to look at Todd, standing next to her. In the dead silence, she could hear distinctly their irregular breathing and her own heart beating wildly, frantically.

Neither of them dared to move or to turn the lights on, afraid it might break some sort of spell. Or maybe they were just afraid to catch any sign of second thoughts in each other’s looks.

In the semi-dark, only their eyes shone, smoldering, gleaming with excitement, desire, fear and anxiety. Still, they left no room for doubt that right now they wanted, they needed the same thing. It was written all over their faces, in the way they slowly, hesitatingly moved closer to each other, reducing the distance between them to a bare breath unable to decide as to who was going to take the first step.

Allison remembered the words she told him only minutes before about wanting them to happen and decided it was time for her to act. After all the times she turned him down, making his every attempt fail miserably, she felt the need to give him some proof that she really wanted it. She closed the little distance left with a soft shy kiss.

It lasted a brief moment. The fleeting hesitation faded, leaving room for hushed longing to prevail as their kisses became deeper, passionate, hungry, and unrestrained.

She felt Todd’s hands running up her thighs and over her dress, searching for the zipper. She started her own fight with the buttons of his shirt.

She couldn’t help but think that men knew nothing of practicalness, or they wouldn’t wear so many clothes with the even remote chance of having to take them off. Allison’s dress was already gone and she barely managed to take his shirt off.

But much to their benefit, she noted that they compensated the scarce practicalness with an exceptional speed in taking their clothes off, as Todd quickly stepped out of his trousers. Was that the result of years of practice? She didn’t really want to know.

All she knew was that a moment later they were lying on the soft and scented sheets of the bed, taking off what was still left of their clothes.

Allison had a moment of hesitation as she felt Todd’s hands on her now naked body. Were they really aware of what they were doing? Were they really ready to face all the repercussions ensuing from a moment of passion?

She ran her hands through his slightly curly dark hair and gently guided his face to meet her eyes, searching for either some sign of doubt from his side too, or the reassurance that they would be fine. But there wasn’t any hint of doubt in the way Todd looked at her, longingly. Instead, she felt him caressing her thighs with firm, strong hands, running up to her hips to cover her ass.

His hold was firm but at the same time betrayed a slight insecurity. There was a touch of possessiveness in the way he held her tight, devouring her mouth, her neck, and her breasts with hungry kisses. It was both at the same time, a source of anxiety and reassurance.

The thought of belonging again to someone terrified her, but at the same time she couldn’t help orbiting this man like a small planet that fights vainly against gravity.

All she could do was to let herself go; she clung on to his waist and sighed deeply as he entered her with vigorous, long thrusts. Holding him in a tight embrace, she breathed deeply into his strong smell of some masculine perfume she couldn’t recognize. It wasn’t just cologne for sure. Its smell, fresh and lightly musked, mixed with a hint of sweat, was inebriating.

The tension that had built up over the months was explosive, overwhelming, uncontrollable; it took control of their bodies, silencing their minds.

Allison thought that her heart couldn’t beat any faster than that without exploding. She wanted, she needed some release after months of holding back feelings she kept on pretending that didn’t exist. And she needed it quickly. The increasing pace of Todd’s thrusts was the clear sign that he needed the same. She didn’t care about foreplay, or teasing. And apparently he didn’t care either as they devoured each other’s mouths, drunk with passion. After all, they had the rest of the night to take their time and savor each and every moment, again and again. Right now, she only cared about the orgasm taking over her body as she gave in to the increasing pleasure, her hands clung tightly to the firm muscles of his back; it was only a moment before she felt Todd’s own release into her, collapsing on to her in a tight embrace.

***

The early morning brought the dream of soft hands caressing her, delicately, lightly brushing the soft skin of her arms. They were somewhat familiar but couldn’t recognize whom they belonged to. It felt so real, vivid. In the half-sleep, she realized she wasn’t dreaming. Still drowsy, she stiffened, peeved by a mischievous sunbeam piercing through the curtains. She opened one eye, refusing to wake up, as she tried to remember where she was. With its maroon curtains and the light creamy walls with spatula effect, the place wasn’t familiar at all. She clearly wasn’t in her bed. A soft kiss on her shoulder brought her back down on earth. The dinner. Todd. Oh my God. Their first passionate round of wild lovemaking. She blushed at the memory. The second time, sweet, taking their time, greedily exploring each other’s bodies, fully enjoying every kiss and caress, slowly. Oh my God.

She slowly rolled on her other side to meet his eyes and his soft smile.

“Good morning,” he said in a whisper.

“Good morning,” she replied, her voice barely audible, as she leaned closer, slightly unsure, and let him place a soft kiss on her lips. His touch on her skin was the same firm one of the previous night, just softer, light, probably appeased in the senses; it sent her slight shivers down her back.

The awakening threw in their faces all those complications they deftly, defiantly – or irresponsibly – chose to ignore the night before. The trial. Patrick. Her daughter. The firm. The trial. Disclosure. Were they going to regret it? With her gaze fixed on Todd’s eyes, she was searching for some shadow of regret, or worry. If he regretted it, he was very good in hiding it. Still, she could read some worry in his hesitant smile. Or he must have sensed her discomfort and anxiety. Her brain’s gears were spinning so fast that he could probably hear them colliding into each other.

“Is everything alright?” he asked, a hint of concern in his voice.

Was everything alright? Looking away, Allison didn’t answer straightaway. Not everything was alright. There were a lot of things to discuss. What was happening between them in the first place? What did they expect from each other? How were they going to handle their situation in public? Were they even going to make it public? Everything was so new to her that it was almost terrifying. Yes, there had been Chris before, but if she had to be honest, she always knew what she wanted from their relationship, she always knew that it was not meant to last.

Her thoughts went to the dinner to their night together. She was so comfortable with him. She loved how he could so easily make her smile, laugh, and blush. He had the ability to touch all her weak spots and make her forget all her worries in the space of a few seconds. He was a walking temptation. And she had decided the night before to just stop and not resist temptations anymore. It proved to be worth all her inner turmoil and conflicts. She couldn’t recall ever wanting something so badly, still being so scared about it. And what scared her even more was that she was pretty sure that it wasn’t just sexual chemistry, but as to what she felt, she still didn’t know it for sure. She only knew that she didn’t want to lose it. It was the chance of something new, the chance to start all over again, but with the advantage of all her experiences, bad or positive.

She looked back at Todd, whose gaze was fixed on her, expectantly. She smiled softly, trying to reassure him that she wasn’t regretting anything. All her worries weren’t about him, about them. It was about her allowing herself, for once, to feel. “Yes,” she simply said, as she nuzzled up against his chest. She enjoyed the morning sweet cuddling for a while, his soft caresses and kisses, before taking the initiative and moving on top of him, returning his endearing gestures with steamier, more tantalizing ones.

The crimson stone – Preview #4

After tossing and turning in my bed for God knows how long, the idle vampire in me snuggles deeper under the duvet in a vain attempt to escape light. The cold February sun reflecting on the snow carpet creates a blinding light that filters in through the window and makes it impossible to sleep. On top of that, yesterday’s events have been crowding my mind ever since I left the police headquarters. At some point of my restless night, the meeting with Christopher must have crept into my dreams, for I remember pieces of a conversation we never had. I try to recall what we were saying but the more I focus the blurrier the memory gets and it’s frustrating. With a deep snort I check the clock. It’s a few minutes past 7 a.m. on a day without looming deadlines, which means it’s way too early to wake up, so I decide to just chill in bed for a little longer. Over the past hours every possible feeling has vied for my supremacy, making me bounce back and forth between frustration, curiosity, anger, confusion, sense of guilt and, it would be pointless to deny it, a fair amount of worry. How do you deal with the doubt that someone you used to know closely might have done something so beastly? Oh. Come on. It’s Chris. Remember? Yes, that Chris who saved you from more than one hangover. He’s no Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He’s your old friend! Who am I kidding? I don’t know that man anymore. He’s a celebrity now, let’s face it, and the side effects of fame are unpredictable. What could I do anyway? Accepting his appeal is not an option, my days as lawyer are dead and buried, nothing and nobody can change my mind. Even if they weren’t? Criminal law and I have never been crazy about each other.

When the sound of Hannah’s footfall outside my door interrupts my nonsense, it’s almost a relief. I listen closely and upon hearing nothing but silence, I convince myself that she went back to sleep. I’ve been barely lazing for a few minutes and my head is already spinning, until a light knock on my door tells me I was wrong about my daughter. It’s the second day in a row we both wake up early, though my insomnia has a name and a face this time. “Come on in,” I invite her, reemerging from the dark comfort of my cobalt pillow with a stifled grunt and a drowsy smile.

“I can’t sleep,” she whispers. Her ruffled curls frame her oval and fall on her peach cheeks, accenting the tiny button of her nose.

She looks almost sorry to intrude this early in the morning, so I pat on the mattress as an invitation for her to join me. It doesn’t happen often, especially lately, that she needs – or wants – some motherly cuddling, so when she walks in, then closes back the door behind her, I smile, make room for her under the blankets and watch as she lays down on her side, facing me. But the instant she stares at me with restless eyes, almost frightened, the reason of her insomnia is not a mystery anymore. It’s happening again. I close my eyes, struggling to come to terms with the idea. What I hate more in all of this mess is not being forced into a situation, or being completely unaware of what is going to happen, or how it’s going to end. The one thing hurting me the most is to know that my daughter never volunteered for this. This time, more than ever, having to question her feels like a real violence and my resigned exhale gives away all my reluctance. “I think you have to tell me everything you remember about that dream.”

“It’s happening again, isn’t it?” Her question is barely whispered, almost timorous.

Trial and Tribulations of Unexpected Love – Chapter 4

Allison rushed into the DA’s building. Chloe had kept her on the phone for a good ten minutes discussing new evidence and she ended up being late for the court session. Susan would be disappointed. No, she’d probably be downright angry, since what Allison had in her hands was the folder with the complete list of witnesses and the draft for the questionings. Running until the last few steps remained to the courtroom, she stopped right outside the closed doors. She regained some composure, smoothed down a crease from her blue skirt and roughly fixed her hair with her fingers, while she caught her breath.

Finally, she opened the door. The reproachful and displeased look she caught on Susan’s face made her flush lightly in embarrassment. With short hurried steps, she quickly took her seat next to her boss, careful to avoid throwing even a fleeting sidelong glance at the prosecution table.

Allison and Todd had discussed what had happened between them. A lot. But in whatever way they turned it around, it didn’t change the fact that it was simply wrong. The courtroom was their workplace and they needed to keep a professional distance.

“I’m sorry, Susan. I was on the phone with Chloe, there’s new evidence we need to discuss,” she whispered.

“Good or bad?” Susan simply asked, her tone giving away a remnant of annoyance.

“Hopefully good,” Allison replied, her gaze fixed on the judge. Don’t look to your right. “We should call Mr. Ramirez to the stand again,” she whispered, being careful not to let the prosecution hear her.

Susan gave a questioning and perplexed look. “We already questioned him and it led to nowhere,” she whispered back.

“Yes.” Allison nodded. “But we didn’t know that the immigration stamp was forged,” she explained with a smug smile.

Susan sat there for a moment, lost in thought, probably processing her words. “You take over his questioning,” she concluded, getting a broad and proud smile out of Allison.

Well, technically it was Chloe who got the piece of information. Note-to-self: offer her a drink later.

“Mrs. Moore,” the judge opened the session giving the nod to the defense, “you are invited to call your first witness to the stand,” he concluded.

“You go,” Susan whispered and Allison promptly stood up.

“We would like to call Mr. André Ramirez back to the stand for a new line of questioning, Your Honor,” Allison said with a decided voice as she moved closer to the witness stand, reminding herself again that she shouldn’t glance toward the prosecution table. Hard thing to do, she had to admit, since she could feel Todd’s gaze fixed on her, following her every step, and this wasn’t certainly helping at all. Still, she failed again as she threw a sideways glance at him, catching his look of worry and discomfort. He clearly wasn’t expecting this twist. She felt slightly bad for him, this was certainly not good for the prosecution. But her first interest was to her firm and the client, and she knew very well that they couldn’t afford to lose this case, neither economically or for their image.

The bailiff reminded the witness that he was still under oath. After he was seated in the witness stand and the jurors turned their attention to Allison, waiting for her to start the questioning.

“Mr. André Ramirez,” she started, “you said in your previous testimony that the defendant, Mr. Pablo Juarez,” she indicated the man sitting next to Susan, “helped you to obtain the entry visa for the United States. Is that correct?” she asked him.

“Yes,” the man replied in a faint voice. It was time to prove that she was excellent when it came to intimidating witnesses.

“Can you state for the jury in which way he helped you?” She went on with her questioning, walking slowly and confidently in front of the judge.

“Objection, Your Honor!” Todd’s voice emerged strong from the prosecution table.

Allison couldn’t help but throw him a questioning look. “On which basis, Mr. O’Bryan?” she asked him with a hinted smirk.

“Mr. Ramirez has already been asked these questions and they led to nowhere, Miss Mayfield,” he said confidently. A little too confident for her taste.

“Sustained,” the judge declared in favor of the prosecution.

Todd paid her with the same hinted smirk, which she chose to ignore for her own nerves. It was distracting, and he was probably well aware of it too.

“Mr. Ramirez,” she started again, as she very calmly walked to the defense table, taking a document from the folder in front of Susan, “do you recognize this document?” she asked, as she politely handed the paper to the witness. Out of the corner of her eye, she couldn’t help but notice Todd stiffening in his seat.

“Yes, it’s a copy of my entry visa,” he confirmed nervously.

“Can you read that number right beside the word approved?” she went on with her questioning.

“734,” Mr. Ramirez replied in a faint voice. And for good reasons, Allison thought.

“Can you repeat it, just a little louder,” she asked, miming the little with a gesture of her fingers, “because the jury and the prosecution might have not heard it.” She glanced at Todd, who was serious now.

Mr. Ramirez cleared his throat. “734,” he repeated, this time louder.

“Do you know what that number is?” Allison asked, more confident at every question.

“No,” Mr. Ramirez replied.

“Well, it’s a registration number, Mr. Ramirez. A progressive registration number, to be more specific, made of three figures. It’s odd, because we have checked personally with the immigration office and it should be four figures, unless you came in the States in the fifties, sixties maybe? Which I’d tend to exclude since you were not even born back then,” she explained, looking straight in his eyes. “Now, I am a little confused… Why should the son of the Columbian consul, who has wide access to legal immigration forms, give you a forged visa?” she asked, faking confusion for dramatic effect, because the answer was right there in front of her, sitting in the witness stand in a cold sweat.

“I…,” Mr. Ramirez hesitated, “I don’t know,” he shrugged.

Allison knew very well that she couldn’t give the answer herself without getting an objection, which would very likely be sustained. But this was certainly enough for the jury to doubt his words. “No further questions, Your Honor,” she concluded.

Heading back to her seat, she looked at Todd. No quick sidelong glances this time, she stared right into his eyes as he took the bunch of papers in front of him and threw them in frustration. This was the reason why they were supposed to keep the distance, one of them at least, since the list was endless.

Susan gave her a pleased smile. “Good job, Allison,” she said, gathering the few papers scattered in front of her.

Allison replied with a smile of satisfaction.

“Does the prosecution have further questions for the witness?” the judge asked.

“No further questions, Your Honor,” Todd replied, glancing at Allison.

All they had to do now was wait for the judge to set the date for the next session, give the jury their instructions and wait for their verdict.

In a moment of quiet, she caught her phone vibrating on the table. She checked the caller and had to force herself not to blush.

Great job Miss Mayfield, drink later?” the text said.

I thought drinks were off-limits Mr. O’Bryan,” she wrote in reply, as she failed to hide a smile.

Dinner? No refusals accepted. Wins require celebrations,” he insisted with a new message.

Allison was finding it really hard not to laugh, and having her boss sitting right next her was making it awkward and slightly uncomfortable. “We didn’t win yet.”

I thought I said no refusals accepted Miss Mayfield.”

This time she failed to suffocate a light laugh, getting a weird look from Susan. “I’m sorry,” she mouthed, slightly embarrassed. Damn. There was no way out with that man.

You are damned persistent. Okay for dinner.” She finally gave up. Not that she had any other option.

The moment she sent the message, she immediately regretted it. She started to search frantically and in vain for some ‘undo’ button. Dinner… it was long, demanding and dangerously close to the night… Maybe she had better accept the drink. Or not? Suddenly she felt panicky. How did they go from coffee to dinner after all they said about it being wrong? The way Todd managed so easily to trick her into doing things she apparently didn’t want was at the same time fearsome and intriguing.

“The court is adjourned. We’ll meet back here in five days for closing arguments, jury instructions, then turn the case over for the jury’s deliberations,” the judge declared, closing the session.

As she stood up to leave the courtroom, Allison turned to look at Todd who was staring at her intently. She gave him a soft smile before looking down, shy.

***

That same night, sunk in the comfortable couch of her apartment with her feet resting on the small coffee table, Allison sipped a glass of full-bodied red wine, slowly savoring every drop. It was warming, relaxing and gave her comfort.

It was a late Friday night and Hope’s absence was palpable through the surreal silence surrounding her, which let her thoughts run wild, boundless, uncontrolled. It had been a positive day but she felt the weight of the emotional stress. The anxiety derived from the questioning added to the restlessness that flooded over her at the sense of discomfort she felt in seeing Todd so angry at the end of their last court session. All these feelings were resurfacing in the quietness of the night. And the more she let herself linger in the thought, the more she thought dinner was a very bad idea.

The coffee, the kiss… The kiss…  She couldn’t get that little and almost innocent kiss out of her head. She unconsciously licked her lips. The dinner… She shook her head and shuddered. The dinner! Panic started to prevail at that thought. In five days they’d go before the jury for the closing arguments and, acting like two witless kids, they thoughtlessly decided to have dinner together. Tomorrow. Way to be coherent with your own decisions, she considered.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell ringing. The clock showed 10pm. There was only one person who would show up that late in the evening. She forced herself to stand up, annoyed by the unpleasant interruption of her little moment of quiet, as the doorbell rang for the second time. “I’m coming,” she said loudly with a strained voice.

As she lazily opened the door, she met two depressed puppy-dog eyes filled with guilt.

Allison looked at her brother with the resigned look of someone who’d been through that enough times to know he had just messed up his love life again.

“What have you done this time?” she asked as she stepped aside to let Mark in.

“Hi Mousie, I’m happy to see you, too,” he replied with a faked sarcastic tone, making his way into her living room and sinking into her couch. Mark was six years older than Allison but she often had a hard time treating him like that. She had lost time of the girlfriends she had to meet, like and then forget.

“Make yourself at home,” she joked, as she sat beside him and gave him a reassuring and slightly motherly smile. “So… what have you done?” she asked again, this time softly.

“It’s over,” he just said defeated.

“Joss?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. Mark didn’t say anything, he just nodded.

Allison gave him a confused look. “Wasn’t it already over a couple of months ago?”

“It wasn’t,” he contradicted her, giving her an annoyed look. “Okay, it was…” he corrected himself, taking the bottle of red wine from the coffee table. “But now it’s over for good,” he declared, shifting his gaze from the bottle to Allison, to the bottle again. “Excellent wine,” he changed subjects, “I need a glass of good wine to drown my sorrows,” he said faking a winy voice.

Allison couldn’t hold back a laugh. Her brother should have acted in some soap opera instead of designing luxury buildings.

Pouring him a glass of wine, she insisted on a little more, hoping that alcohol would make him open up, even if she was pretty sure she’d end up regretting it in a few minutes’ time. “What happened, Mark?”

“Do you think I’m unable to make a… permanent commitment?” he asked doubtfully.

“Joss said that?” she asked softly. Mark sighed and nodded.

Allison took a moment to choose the best answer, one that wouldn’t hurt him. “I guess, it depends… Which kind of responsibilities are we talking about? Something like a full commitment or who has to do the laundry?” she asked trying to get a picture of the situation. “And most of all… how important is Joss for you to take over such responsibilities?”

She was realizing only now how this was fitting for her own situation, too. She was about to do something that would involve taking on huge responsibilities, if accidentally disclosed. Her mind went to the dinner again. Her conscience kept telling her to just call Todd and give it up, but something deep inside was screaming at her to hush the conscience and just listen to her heart. Yes, she wanted it, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t anxious.

“Are you still with me?” Mark asked her with a concerned look.

Snapped back to reality, she smiled in the attempt to dissipate every concern from his side. She didn’t want questions asked, she didn’t want Mark to ask questions. She wasn’t really ready to cope with his jokes or whatever he – or anyone else for what it was worth – had to say about it.

“Wait wait wait…” Mark said, straightening up on the couch in full attention mode. “I know that look,” he commented in a flourish of enthusiasm, apparently forgetting his own love pains. “Fire away!” He said with a knowing smirk.

“There’s nothing to… fire away,” Allison said, holding tight to a pillow and hiding behind a long sip of wine. No, she couldn’t do it.

“So… Mr. Nice Guy struck again?” he teased her.

“Mr.…? What?” Allison gave him a confused and unbelieving look. Did he really think… “It’s not… he’s not Chris,” she confessed with a faint voice. And she immediately regretted it. Maybe it was better and safer if after all Mark thought it was still about Chris. But the look of disbelief in his eyes made it clear that it was too late for a retreat.

With wide eyes and an evil grin, Mark was already on a tangent. “Mousie! What are you up to?”

Allison slightly stiffened, nervous. No, she definitely wasn’t ready for such a confession. But he was her brother, the only person she could open up to and fully trust to never betray her secrets.

“It’s… complicated, very complicated,” she started, her voice low and uncertain. Curled up in defense, her gaze was fixed on the glass in her hands, as if the wine could transmit her some strength by osmosis.

“Okay,” Mark started very quietly, “I’m used to complicated… very complicated worries me a little,” he admitted, not hiding some concern, as he gently stroked her forearm, reassuringly.

Where could she start? What would she say to begin with if she had no idea how she felt? Slowly, hesitatingly, she decided to take it step-by-step.

“He… His name is Todd,” she started, looking back up to meet her brother’s expectant look, “and… he… he’s a prosecutor,” she confessed looking down, hoping this would be enough for him to get the whole picture.

Mark gave her a questioning look, his mind clearly working to connect the two simple pieces of information. “Prosecutor.” He repeated slowly. “Does that mean that he works for your ex-husband?” he asked as confirmation. He was obviously getting the whole picture. She found it somehow funny that Mark still had a hard time mentioning Patrick’s name. If she was lucky and he was in good mood, Mark usually called him the husband. Most of the time, he was just the jerk.

“Yes, it does,” she said with a hinted and slightly embarrassed smile. “Actually, he’s my replacement.” She needed more wine. One glass wasn’t enough to even start and handle this conversation. She poured herself some more liquid, giving Mark the time to assimilate her words and, hopefully, to come out with something other than a joke.

“Now, this is very complicated,” he said in a serious tone. “What happened exactly?” he asked very softly, “and does Patrick know it?” he asked with a slight hesitation, not taking his eyes off of her.

“Patrick doesn’t know it,” she started, “not yet at least,” she quickly corrected herself. “We only… we only kissed and…” Damn, why was it so difficult to share such personal information with her own brother? “He asked me out,” she went on, looking down, her hands torturing the poor pillow in tension, “tomorrow… for dinner…” She concluded with some discomfort.

Looking back up at Mark, she met his expecting and intent look. “And?” he asked.

Allison gave him a look of disbelief. No, he wasn’t getting the whole picture. “And… I can’t! It’s… it’s wrong, ethically wrong and inconsiderate and…” She suddenly let the pillow go to take her phone on the coffee table. She needed to do it. To call him. To say she couldn’t. But before she could press any button, Mark took the phone from her and held it hostage.

“How important is this Todd for you to take over some responsibilities?” Mark suddenly asked, distracting her from her anxiety.

Allison gave him a confused look. Why was he talking about responsibilities? She was the one supposed to be giving responsibilities speeches, not Mark. “What do you mean?”

“This is very likely going to bring consequences, good or bad,” he said softly. “Is he worth taking the responsibilities for those consequences?” he asked, his gaze fixed on her questioning.

Was he? Was Todd worth that? How could she possibly know when everything was just beginning and she barely knew him? Shifting her gaze from the phone to her brother, she realized she didn’t have an answer. All she had was an indelible kiss and that ungovernable attraction taking hold of both of them whenever they were around each other. This was something she couldn’t deny. So was she ready to take the responsibilities for the possible consequences? One last look at her phone, she took it from Owen’s hand and put it back on the table and sipping some more wine, pondering Mark’s words.

“I don’t know,” she said looking down conflicted. “But I think, I want to know…” she said, giving her attention back to her brother with a soft smile. “You still didn’t tell me if Joss is,” she said, remembering what led them to this conversation.

Mark reacted by drinking all the wine in his glass with a sad look in his eyes. “No, she probably wasn’t.”

 

The crimson stone – Preview #3

I had nursed the naïve hope that my days visiting the police department were over, but all the upsetting memories held in that modern building resurface with vehemence as its unique architecture comes into sight. Dom had called me in the middle of innumerable nights to get him out of there; if he wasn’t drunk, he had ended up in a fight. It seemed to never end. I lived that life for seven years; because despite his flaws he’s always been a good man, because when you are young you think love alone can perform the miracle of fixing people. It’s the biggest lie ever told. The night I found myself with no money for his bail was the night I said ‘enough’. I regretted that choice more times than I’ll ever care to admit – and sometimes still do – albeit aware it was the right one, like I blamed myself countless times for not trying harder to fix him. So the day Hannah was arrested for a stupid act of bravado my sense of guilt reached new altitudes. It felt like a failure both as a wife and as a mother, and it took months and the different perspective of a new life outside the city to realize I had done my best instead and to promise myself I’d never get to cross those doors again.

So what am I doing here now, breaking that promise for someone I haven’t met in half my life, someone who asked for a kind of help I probably cannot grant anyway? And why me for a start? Christopher should already have a lawyer, shouldn’t he? And even if he doesn’t, the cream of the MBA is likely already in line to defend him against whatever charges he was pressed on. But the only line that can be seen now are the media vans, parked like vultures in front of the building. A sudden sense of uneasiness and inadequacy takes hold of me as I dash past the reporters and entrench myself into the police headquarters like a refugee seeking for asylum.

“Well, well, look who’s back in town!” The gravelly, enthusiastic welcome is a pleasant reminder that I still have friends here.

“Hey Matt!” With the most genuine grin I haste to hug the man who helped me out of many troubles, sometimes even of financial kind. To call him friend is reductive, during my years in Boston he’s become family, one of those corpulent uncles who always gets your back, no matter how much you screwed it. He and his wife are one of the very few things I missed when leaving town.

“I haven’t seen you since…”

Easily guessing what he’s about to say, I stop him mid-sentence and slowly release from his embrace. “Please, don’t remind me. How are you doing, instead? I thought you’d be retired by now?” I question, peering at the tremendous amount of cockades and stripes that hang proud from his uniform.