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Authors: Sabrina Lacey

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BOOK: Stand Close 1
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Chapter Three
Rue

T
his cold
, modern décor does nothing to make me more comfortable. I adjust the hem of my dress, wishing too late that I’d worn something longer. Mr. Henderson’s receptionist has let me know by her repetitive appraisal over the top of her glasses that it’s inappropriate by her standards. Well, I can’t go home and change. There’s not enough time. It took me over forty-five minutes to get to Downtown in the first place. Even though Jack Fucking Stone had warned me this morning, how do you prepare yourself for a mysterious call from his lawyer:
Ms. Calliwell, this is Tom Henderson. I represent the Stone family. Is there a time today when you can come in? I can’t tell you what it’s about over the phone. I hope you understand.

Well, I don’t.

“Excuse me.”

The receptionist looks up with disinterest. “Yes?”

I offer an awkward smile as I ask, “Do you know why I’m here?”

Her eyebrows rise slightly and she looks back to the computer. “No.”

I lean back and adjust my hem again. “You’ve been a big help.”

Her eyes flick my way a split second, and then back down.

The elevator doors open to my left. My stomach jumps out the top of my head and splats on the ceiling as Jack and Sean Stone walk out, each with one hand in the pocket of their tailored slacks, mirroring each other, and both looking at me. Jack sneers, his jawline taut and his light green eyes cutting a path through my heart, which is pounding and stopping, and pounding some more. I gulp and move focus to his brother who’s only slightly less intimidating with softer, curious blue eyes, the same nose, sandy brown hair styled perfectly, and a slender, more graceful frame. I don’t say anything as they pass me to stop at the receptionist’s desk. Sean throws a glance over his shoulder, checking me out as Jack says, “Mary, you look gorgeous. Tell him we’re here, will you?”

She all but falls out of her chair for him. And gorgeous she is not, so instantly I find him charming and wish I were on the receiving end. Why does he hate me so much? It’s like I’ve killed his dog or something. Who are these people? And why do they want to see
me
?

Sean strolls over, holding out his hand. “I’m Sean. You must be Rue.”

I stand up and my dress hitches on my thigh, demanding a hasty fix. Blushing at my moment of gracelessness, I hold out my hand and shake his a little too firmly. “Yes, that’s me. Hi. I didn’t know you’d be here today. Either of you. I don’t know why I’m here either, actually. I don’t know what this is about. And I’m blabbering. It’s nice to meet you.”

Sean’s smile is polite, his eyes a little cold. “Nice to meet you, too.”

“My ass it is,” Jack mutters loudly.

The large oak door opens and a man appears. He’s ancient, with gray hair sprouting all over the place. His body is tiny, as are his hands. His smile says he’s seen it all, and he probably has. Even the invention of fire. “Ah, we’re all here. Come!” He turns and walks back inside his office, leaving me staring after him. Sean touches the small of my back in a comforting way. “After you.” I look up at him and nod, but my feet aren’t having it. “It’s okay,” Sean says.

Jack walks in, shaking his head at the whole situation. “Can you believe this?” he shoots to his brother.

“Believe what?
What is going on??
!” I whisper, following the Stone brothers into an immense office with floor-to-ceiling books and dark brown leather furniture. There are three high-backed chairs facing the desk, ready for us, and Mr. Henderson sits down with his back to the skyline of Downtown Los Angeles in an even larger leather chair. Or maybe it just looks larger because he’s in it. Sean motions for me to take the middle. I glance to him, and take a seat.

Chapter Four
Rue

M
y jaw drops
like one of those cartoons. “What?!!”

Mr. Henderson’s hands lock together on the paunch of his stomach as he repeats, “Now that you’re twenty-one, you have inherited fifty-million dollars from Maxwell Stone of Stone Enterprises.”

“Fifty
million
dollars??!”

He nods once and takes a deep breath. “I was told you would not know that your mother worked for the Stone family before you were born. She and Maxwell Stone had an affair. It went on for quite some time. No one knew about it, save for one of his trusted men, Jonas, and me well after it was over, when he set up his will. I’m to give you these letters.” He glances to the men who have shifted in their seats on either side of me at the sight of the yellowed tattered envelopes bound in a large rubber band, the middle of the stack compressed tightly and the ends splayed out by time.

“You didn’t tell us about those,” Jack objects, but Mr. Henderson stops him with a rise of his tiny hand.

“I know. I am following your father’s wishes.”

I take the stack and stare at them. The whole world knows that Maxwell Stone died three years ago. It was a big deal. He committed suicide with a Nine Millimeter in a fancy hotel, with a note that said:
It is time. – Max
. People speculated that he used the hotel to save his family the haunting memory living with them at home. I always thought he did it there because he wanted to get away from that woman he married. Every picture or interview I’ve ever seen of her has made me uncomfortable. She smiles
constantly
. Her eyes
never
smile. It’s disconcerting.

To me, Mr. Henderson asks, “Did you know about their affair?”

I shake my head, dumbfounded. “No.”

He exhales, pursing his lips. “As I thought.”

Confused and with all eyes on me I slide off the rubber band and open the top envelope to find a letter with a man’s handwriting:
My love, Stop sending back my letters.
Stunned, but still not believing it’s for my mother–there is no name, it could be to anyone!–I unfold the next to find my mom’s gentle, cursive handwriting staring back at me. My hand flies up on a gasp to my lips. My mother died of cancer right after I turned eighteen. To see the smooth curves of her l’s and g’s absolutely ruins me. It’s like one last chance to hear her voice…

“This is her handwriting.” I caress the paper with my thumb. The room is as still as glass as a tear falls down my cheek. I’m starting to understand what’s going on, but I can’t believe it. But yes, I see Sean and Jack’s faces with new eyes, can see similarities, feel the telltale heart-pounding of a truth I don’t want to face beating louder by the second. To think my mother would have held something like this from me; it’s too horrible to believe. And yet… these letters in my hand and this money that’s been left to me… from a man I’ve never met. There can be only one reason.

An ache throbs in my chest. Trying to hold onto a shred of forgiveness for my mother, I ask in a voice no louder than a whisper, “But I don’t understand. Did he want to leave me money because he loved her?”

Jack explodes, “Oh, for fuck’s sake. You can’t be that naïve! It’s staring you in the face. Why do you think he left you the money, jackass?” He stops himself and jumps out of his chair to pace it off by the dusty old books. He jerks a hand to me. “Tell her!”

“Jack, calm down,” Sean warns him.

“CALM DOWN? Sean, there’s nothing to be calm about!”

Mr. Henderson waits until they’re quiet. “Ms. Calliwell…”

Lowering the letters to my lap, with a sinking feeling that life is never going to be the same again, I ask, “Yes?”

Mr. Henderson says calmly, “Maxwell Stone was your father.”

I shake my head and close my eyes. “Shit.”

Chapter Five
Sean

A
ll the blood
leaves Rue’s face. She’s horrified, not elated, and I can’t help but be grateful for that. The letters are what have Jack and I surprised. We didn’t know about them. I’m guessing yesterday when Tom told us and our mother the news, he knew if she was aware of their existence, she would have grabbed and destroyed them.

“FIFTY MILLION!???” Mom had yelled. Jack and I just stared at Henderson, probably with the same expression Rue has now. “You have got to be joking!”

“I’m afraid I’m not. I know this must come as a shock…”

“Tom, that’s the understatement of the fucking year.”

“…but the money won’t come out of your known equity. Maxwell kept this money hidden away from the other assets. It won’t make a dent with what you all have.”

All three of us stared at him, processing this. Then Mom said, “You’re telling me that not only did he sleep with one of our servants, but he kept a secret stash of money aside for his bastard daughter, too? How long was this going on under my nose.” She waved her hand around. “The affair, not the money.”

“The years aren’t clear, but when it ended,
is
. It was around…”

Impatiently, again she interrupted him, “Twenty one years and nine months. I’m not an idiot.”

Jack muttered, “Idiot, no. Blind, yes.”

Mom cut her eyes to him and spat, “Shut up, Jack!”

I couldn’t blame him for the jab, but I wanted answers. “She was the maid?”

“I don’t know. What was the whore’s name?” Mom asked.

Mr. Henderson answered gravely, the task he’d been given not an easy one, “Olivia Calliwell.”

Mom sat back in her chair like she’d been punched into it. Her answer to me sliced the heavy air around us like a slow knife, “She was your nanny.”

“Fuck,” I mumbled, sinking under the concept. The nanny slept with our dad, cared for us, and then slept with our dad again. Wow. “Did you know she got pregnant? I mean, I guess you didn’t know about the affair, but…”

Jack hotly interjected, “But did you at least see her getting fatter by the second, is what’s he’s asking.”

Mom shook her short, silver hair, unscrewed another cap and poured several small white pills into the palm of her perfectly manicured hand. “No. She must have left right after she found out. I’m sure he didn’t love her. She probably tried to blackmail him and then when he didn’t cave, he got rid of her. It’s clear he got rid of her. Olivia Calliwell. And to think, I treated her like a sister!”

Jack and I shared a look at that. We knew how mother treated the help and there was nothing familial about it. If she treated our nanny like a sister, I’d eat a turd right here and right now. “So we must have been two and three years old then.”

Jack stood up and walked to the window behind Henderson’s chair as Mom swallowed the pills. “Well, this Olivia Calliwell is going to be happy her blackmail finally paid off.”

Mr. Henderson solemnly countered, “She passed away. Three years ago.”

Jack paused and continued on the same track, “Well, Rue then.
Rue
Calliwell is about to win the fucking lottery and I can just picture it. She’s going to be a trashy skank we’ll have to have over for Christmas.”

“The hell we will!” Mom cried out in disgust. “The hell we will,” she repeated and leaned back in the chair to let the sweet fog descend upon her from the inside out.

Chapter Six
Sean

R
ue is sitting
in that same chair looking helpless and very un-skanky. She’s a little mousy, if anything. She’s got light brown hair that blends in with her light brown eyes. She’s pretty, but doesn’t know how to show it. She’d look good as a redhead, if you asked me. If I had my way, I’d get her to a salon and give her a makeover, shed some sunlight on her entire presentation. But I would never say that, and especially not with those words. If I did, Jack might guess the truth about me. Dad wasn’t the only one in this family with secrets, and as I sit here looking at our half-sister, I can’t help but feel closer to Dad for it. It’s painful living a double life. And here I thought I was the only one. Dad couldn’t come out about loving the help, and I can’t come out about loving my same sex. I don’t feel safe to be who I am, not with our public life. Who wants to live a life of ridicule from strangers, the press, and maybe even my family. Twitter would have a field day. I can’t even think about it, so I break the silence. “Rue. Who did you think your father was?”

She looks at the letters lying in her lap and whispers from miles away, “Mom said he died in Desert Storm. I thought he was a soldier.”

“Well, that would have been more respectful,” Jack mutters. “Except that it happened before you were even born.

Irritated, I snap, “Jack, lay off her. And we didn’t know about the letters. Maybe he loved her.”

“Don’t say it!”

“What did you read, Rue? Did he?”

Jack doesn’t wait for an answer. He yanks them from her hands. “Give me those.” He runs to the other side of the room, but she leaps out of her chair and chases him. He holds them out of her reach and like a wild cat, she climbs up his body as he yells at her to get off him. She launches her hand up like a claw and snatches them back from him, pushing him back with force as she jumps off, clutching them to her chest. “No!” They’re both panting and staring at each other like neither can believe that just happened.

Henderson and I are standing in front of our chairs, risen in disbelief by the frenzied spectacle. We exchange a look.

Rue brushes her hair away from her face and says, “I’m sorry, but these were meant for me.”

Henderson clears his throat. “Okay. Okay. Let’s all sit down. This is a difficult and unusual situation. There are bound to be arguments and assumptions, but if you can take my considerable age as an indication of what I’ve learned, and thereby take my advice, I’d like to impart that family is
important
.” We all settle back into our chairs, but Jack’s still grumpy. He doesn’t want to listen to advice. He never has. “You’ve both lost a parent, and Rue has now lost, in essence, three. Perhaps you can go easy on one another.”

We all wait as she looks up. Her lips separate slowly and she whispers something I never thought I’d ever hear: “I don’t want the money. I couldn’t possibly take it. It’s not mine. It belongs to them.”

I shift in my seat. “You don’t?”

She looks at me with a small shake of her head. “No. What am I going to do with all that money? I would feel awful.”

“Of course she wants the money,” Jack mutters, angrily. “She’s playing you! Sean, help me out here. Why am I the fucking bad guy? We’re talking fifty million dollars. Who the fuck turns that down. Open your eyes!”

My eyes are open, because now with the money taken out of the picture, I’m suddenly aware of the humanity behind all of this. That what Tom said, is true. She’s just had her entire world turned upside down. The father she thought she had doesn’t exist. The father she never got to know is dead, but obviously cared about her. She now has us judging the fuck out of her. And of course then there’s the mom who lied to her, and who isn’t around to answer any questions.

We need to give her some space. It’s the right thing to do.

I grab the thick arms of the leather-bound chair and rise up. She flinches like she thinks I might blow up or hit her or something. That was Jack’s doing, and as usual, I have to undo it. Holding up my hands like I’m unarmed, I say in my most reassuring voice, “Whoa. It’s okay. Look. This is a hideous situation. You probably have a lot of questions and you don’t need us hovering over you while you ask them. We’ll be outside.”

Jack growls, “I’m not going anywhere.”

I give him a look. “Jack, think about it. She’s seen her father…”

“Our father!” he snaps.

“On the news her entire life, and now that she knows who he is, she can’t get to know him for real.”

“Like that’s a big loss,” Jack grumbles.

I exhale, getting nowhere. “Rue, I want to speak for both of us when I say it’s a credit to you that you don’t want to keep the money. You’re a bigger person than I. Jack...let’s go. We’ll be in the reception area.”

I rarely put my foot down like I’m doing now. Begrudgingly, he stands and follows me, but before we make it to the door, Rue stands up, adjusting the hem of her dress quickly. “No! This is about you, too. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to find out what you did. Please stay.” She looks at Henderson and says with determination. “I don’t want the money! I’m doing fine without it.”

“Oh please!” Jack explodes. “Nobody turns down fifty million bucks when they work at fucking Ralphs! What are you going to do, stay there hoping to make it to manager so you can stop living in a shoebox?!”

“Jack. Go easy…” He cuts me off.

“What!!! I mean, come on! Don’t you see the act she’s playing? So sweet and so good and soooooooooo
bullshit
. Sean, wake the fuck up. Stop being the hero. What about being on our team? Mine and mom’s? You just met this girl! Why are you defending her? How can you possibly believe she would turn down the golden ticket?”

Rue is staring at Jack like she just realized she hates him. She takes a step toward him with her finger pointed up. “Now look, you spoiled jerk. Not everyone believes the world revolves around money! And you can knock my job, but I’ve got dreams just like everyone else. Why do you think I work graveyard? I work it so I can audition and train during the day! Do you think it’s easy to do that? It’s hard work! Something I bet you know nothing about! And here I was feeling sorry for you for finding out your father was a cheater and did this behind your back. You know what I’m sorry for now? That my mother had to quit raising you, because had she stayed, you would’ve turned out a nicer person!”

A chocked laugh escapes me. Jack glares at her, and without another word, storms out. She hit home. Henderson is the only one seated. I look to him, not surprised to find him sporting a small, satisfied smile. “Well now. I bet he doesn’t get that kind of set down very often.”

Rue’s still locked on the door that seems to be vibrating from when he slammed it. “God! What a jerk!” She plops back in the chair and mutters to herself, “He deserved a slap is what he deserved.” Picking up the letters from where they fell, she runs her thumb across them for comfort. “My mom would’ve been good for him,” she whispers.

She must have loved her mother very much. I love mine, but not like this. We were raised by one nanny after another, and my mom was barely around. She said she loved us and told anyone who’d listen,
They’re the best thing I’ve ever done,
but she accepted every chance to get away from us she could. Every invitation. Every vacation getaway. Always leaving us behind, or cared for by a virtual stranger who often envied us and wasn’t nice.

I step away from the desk and bow my head out of respect. “I’m going to go, Rue. You must have questions for Henderson. We’ll wait for you outside. I’d like to ask you… never mind. It can wait.”

Without looking up, she gives a small, helpless nod. Her bravada has melted, and now sits a girl who is melting my heart. I believe her that she doesn’t want Dad’s money. I believe her that she feels badly for all of this. And I have a strong, growing desire to protect her from Jack.

I walk to the door, quietly open it, glancing back before I leave. I have to admit it; I’ve fallen in love with the girl. Who knew I wanted a sister?

BOOK: Stand Close 1
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