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Authors: Melanie Shawn

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BOOK: Scandalous
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It had been less than a week, but that little house in the valley that the agency had rented for them felt more like a home now than Dominic’s house in the hills ever had.

And it was because of Cristal. She was the missing piece. She was his home.

“Mornin' kids,” Red came into his office and greeted them the same way he greeted everyone that worked at Red Hot. They were all ‘kids’ in Red’s eyes.

“Morning,” they said in unison.

“So good work on the Kellan case. Mrs. Kellan is very happy with what we were able to get. You can both head home, no need to stay living as man and wife,” he chuckled.

Something passed between Dominic and Cristal. They didn’t move, didn’t look at each other - but there was definitely an electric charge to the air between them.

Red looked back and forth between them. He sighed and leaned back in his chair, then said resignedly, “Look. I can sense there is a tension in the air, and I'm pretty sure I know what’s going on.”

Dominic sensed more than saw Cristal stiffen at Red’s words. Neither she nor Dominic said anything, they both just silently waited for Red to continue.

“Well, fine. If neither of you want to talk about the big ol’ elephant in the room, then I will.”

Still nothing, they both remained silent. Dominic was a little concerned that Cristal would be upset if Red reprimanded them for their relationship
. In fact he was a little surprised that Red would bring it up like this. Dammit, Red! Dominic thought, I may love you like a father, but if you are the thing that spooks her about getting into a relationship with me after all the work I've put in, I swear to God I will kill you with my bare hands!

Red shook his head and looked at them pointedly, “I know that you're both on pins and needles waiting to hear what my decision is.”

Cristal’s shoulders relaxed and Dominic tried to hide a smile. Of course Red had meant the sale.

“Well, here’s the deal,” he continued, “you both made me great offers and, honestly - if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that you had worked on them together. The plans that you both have for the agency are very similar. I know that it would be in good hands with either of you.”

They both nodded nervously.

“Look Dominic,” Red continued, “from the day that I met you, working private security on that smuggling case, I knew that you had something special, son. You were smart, good with people, and you've got instincts like I’ve never seen before or since. You can’t train someone to have those things, you either do or you don’t.

“You’ve done a great job with the guys that you’ve brought on in security and undercover. You are more than capable of running this place and I know you would make me very proud.”

Dominic was happy that Red was saying all of this, just not as happy as he thought he would be. This should be music to his ears, but all he was doing was wondering how Cristal was taking this. He tried to glance at her but he didn’t want to make it obvious.

“And you, young lady,” Red turned his attention to Cristal with a smile, “You have been a spitfire since day one. I have never met anyone with your unique combination of brains, beauty, and strength. Not just physical strength either, although you have that in spades. Mentally and emotionally, you are one of the strongest people I know. You are always calm, cool and collected. You don’t let anything make you lose control.”

Dominic thought back to the night before and had to once again stifle the smile that was trying to creep across his face. She had certainly lost control with him, and he loved that.

“You have gone above and beyond with the girls in undercover. You always prepare them for any possible outcome, always ensure their safety. I have to admit that when you proposed that we make weekly self-defense classes mandatory, I was not 100% on board, but you were right. And we have had several girls who needed to use what they had learned in those classes. They could have been hurt, or worse, if they hadn’t taken them.”

This time Dominic did look at Cristal, “I didn’t know those were your idea.”

He was impressed. He recalled one particular case. He and Mateo had been staffing the surveillance van and Lexy, a fairly new bait girl, got into a situation that could have easily gotten way out of hand before Mateo or he could have even been able to get out of the back of the van, let alone get to her. However, because of what she had learned of self-defense, she was able to fight off her would-be assailants without getting so much as a scratch.

Cristal just shrugged, “They needed training.”

She said it evenly and matter-of-factly, but Dominic knew that she cared about those girls. He also knew that she would do a really great job of running Red Hot if Red decided to sell to her. In fact, part of him was tempted to bow out of his offer to Red right now, to just gracefully let Red sell to Cristal.

But, there was just one little problem with that - he knew that Cristal would never accept it. If Red chose her she would want it to be because that is what Red wanted, not because he had no other buyer. So he waited to hear Red out and find out what their destiny held.

 

--- ~ ---

 

Cristal appreciated the fact that Red was taking the time to speak to them about how he felt. She thought that it may be more appropriate if he had called them in individually, but he
probably felt it was best if they heard it at the same time. Just rip off the band-aid. Always the best policy.

And she had been relieved, to say the least, when the 'elephant' he was speaking of was
not
the fact that she and Dominic had been having hot monkey sex in the house that the agency had rented for them, while they were on assignment. What was up with all the animal metaphors? Maybe Dominic just brought out her base, animalistic nature!

She tried to categorize and label what had happened between them. She smiled to herself. True, she thought, we were undercover as man and wife...but I don't think that Red would approve of us playing the roles quite as literally as we did!

But even though they hadn’t been 'caught' per se, she didn’t like the feeling that someone would find out. She didn’t like any loose ends in her life. She never wanted anyone to be able to have information about her personal life that could come back and bite her in the ass. She definitely needed to deal with the Dominic situation.

Hopefully Red would fill them in on what he ha
d decided, and then Dominic and she could have a talk about what it would mean for them.

Hey, she thought optimistically, maybe whatever Red has decided will make things between Dominic and I somehow clearer. She shook her head. She didn’t really see how that could be possible, but...a girl could hope, couldn't she?

“So,” Red continued, the tone of his voice making it clear that he was getting to his wrap up, “as you both can see, this was a very difficult decision for me to make.”

Here we go, Cristal thought, taking a deep breath to quell the sudden influx of nerves.

“What I have decided may take you by surprise, but I ask that you both have an open mind. Let it marinate for at least twenty-four hours before you give me an answer.”

The hairs on the back of Cristal’s neck were standing up. That wasn’t a good sign. She normally knew where conversations were headed. Reading people’s body language had always been one of her specialties. But, right now? She had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. She didn’t like that, not one bit.

“See, I have owned and operated this business for almost thirty years and, although I know it’s time for me to slow down, I am just not ready to step away completely.”

Cristal closed her eyes. Great, she thought. This whole emotional roller coaster was going to end up right back at the beginning of the ride. Then, in another year or two, when Red finally
does make the decision to retire, she was going to have to wait in line again, get back into her seat, fasten the safety bar...and hope for the best. Again. Lovely.

Red chuckled a little and Cristal shot a look at Dominic to see if he was laughing as well, and what exactly it was that she had missed. Dominic was looking at her with the same expression she thought she must be wearing…disbelief.

“Now, now,” Red said in an amused and conciliatory tone, “Before you two start pouting... I am still going to retire.”

They both looked back at Red and waited for clarification.

“Well...semi-retire, that is. I want to bring you both on as partners. You would each hold 40% and I would retain 20%. The simple truth is, I'm just not ready to completely throw in the towel quite yet. I would say that I was going to be a silent partner but, hell. You both know me better than that.”

Cristal was stunned. This outcome had never once crossed her mind. She figured it would either be her, Dominic, or an outside buyer. In a million years she would have never guessed that this would be on the table.

Partners. She was waiting to have some kind of a reaction to what Red was offering but, honestly, she just kind of felt...numb. Maybe she was in shock. She didn’t like things sneaking up on her, and this had come out of left field.

“Well, you kids head back to the North Hollywood house and clear out your stuff. I would like an answer by tomorrow.”

“So does this mean that if one of us decides not to take the 40%, then the other person would be able to buy out 80%? Or is this offer only good if we both agree?” she heard Dominic ask.

Oh, good question, Cristal thought. She was shocked that she hadn’t thought of it. She realized she was holding her breath while she waited for Red’s response. So she was literally waiting with bated breath.

“Well, son, I suppose if one of you doesn’t want to be a partner, then yes. The other one would have the option to take the other 40% that was left up for grabs. But I really hope that's not the case. You two would be great together.”

Cristal felt herself blush. She knew that he was speaking about them working together not actually ‘being’ together, but just hearing the words affected her. She tried to mask her reaction
but when she looked up at Red he winked at her. Great, so maybe he wasn’t talking in the purely professional sense.

“Now you two get going,” he said, adopting his 'crotchety old man' demeanor, “I’ve got a lot to do to get cleared out of here.”

“You’re not keeping your office?” Cristal asked as she stood.

“My office is going to be the golf club or a beach. I just want to come in every once in a while to stay in the loop. Nope, if this deal goes through you two can flip for it. Or fight for it. I don't give a damn, I'll be at the beach. Now get.”

 

Chapter Twelve

Cristal had hightailed it out of Red’s office like there was an Indiana Jones sized boulder chasing her cute little ass, and Dominic had decided to give her some space. He knew that this arrangement would not be what she would want, ideally - but he was hoping she would at least consider it.

He checked in with
Ethan, Ty and Mateo before heading out to the NoHo house. He thought for sure that Cristal would have stopped in to see Raiza before she left, but apparently she hadn't. As he was leaving, Raiza had asked if he knew when Cristal would be in.

As he pulled up to the small house, he saw that Cristal’s car was parked in the driveway. The realization that this might be the last time he pulled up to a house where she was inside waiting for him hit him like a fist, making his gut clench. He hoped like hell that dark possibility wouldn't come to fruition.

He walked through the door and, just to break the ice, yelled, “Honey, I’m home.”

He waited for a snappy comeback but when he didn’t hear one he continued into the kitchen to look for his girl.

“There you are, Scrappy Doo,” he said, trying to ease the tension.

“Are you trying to pick a fight with me?” She said, her tone on edge. When she turned to face him, he saw that she was packing up the few groceries she had brought with her.

She looked, confused, pale, and drawn - not at all like herself. Before he could think better of it, he pulled her into his arms. To his great relief, she melted into him.

He kissed the top of her head, “No, I’m not. I was trying to make you laugh in my own juvenile way. I know that Red’s offer was not what you wanted.”

She sighed.

“I don’t have to be a partner Cristal. I thought I really wanted it, but not if it hurts you.”

She looked up at him, her green eyes boring into his, searching for artifice – trying to determine the sincerity of his statement.

“You would do that…for me?” she asked, her voice almost a whisper.

Dominic nodded and rubbed her back. He thought she was going to fall into his arms and thank him for his gallant gesture. He thought wrong.

She slapped him hard on his chest. “Are you crazy? Why would you do that?”
He should have known better. This was Cristal, not some girl who wanted him to come in and save her. But, in one of the great mysteries of the human heart, her brilliant self-sufficiency only intensified his sharp desire to take care of her.

“I just thought you were upset about it,” he gently tried to explain, “I didn’t want you to be upset.”

BOOK: Scandalous
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