Sabrina walked into her office, slamming the door behind her, taking a seat on her couch. She was stunned, unable to move, replaying in her mind the vicious fight with Audrey. The two of them had knock down drag out fights in the past, but none of them had been in the office, or at least none of them had been when there were associates around to hear them. She also had a hard time reconciling the fact that she held, in her hands, the resignation letter of her best friend. She never expected Audrey to quit, the thought had never crossed her mind. She couldn’t even bring herself to read it. What had happened between the two of them? What led them to this point? Had this been coming and she had missed the signs?
After staring off into space for several minutes, Sabrina finally stood up, walking to her desk and placing the letter on top of the pile of papers that she needed to tend to. While she knew she would need to read it and make plans to move forward, right now she couldn’t do it. Right now, she wanted to ignore it and address anything and everything but the letter. She logged into her computer, fired up her email and began to peruse everything within her inbox. She saw the handful of emails from Audrey and Alice that referenced the Boston RFI binder and getting it signed. No need to keep those, after all, it was a little late now, she quickly deleted them and moved on. She found several emails that outlined potential new projects that needed to be reviewed, she flagged those figuring she would come back to those.
As she continued through her inbox, her heart stopped when she saw a particular email, the one with the attachment, the one from Kyle. She was afraid to open it, for one, he rarely sent emails, preferring to do most of his correspondence via text message or telephone. She hoped this was one of those hacked emails that were transmitted by mistake, the ones with a link that meant nothing, that this was scaring her for no reason. She clicked on the email when the text showed up in her preview pane, her heart sank when she saw the text.
My dearest Sabrina:
It is nice to see that you have one again dipped your toes into the dating pool, he appears to be young. I guess the cougar needed a toy this time around. Not surprising, I suppose you need to find someone to distract you from all of your hard work; it is important to take a break from time to time. I am disappointed, however, that you used poor judgment with your public display of affection. Just because you are on the 80th floor, doesn’t mean that people aren’t watching! Remember, I’m always watching.
You need to be more diligent, but I will say, you looked stunning. I’m not afraid to admit the pictures did get me off, as did the video. But you know I have a thing for videos of you having sex. So, I’m thinking about this new collection, our arrangement needs renegotiating. That is unless you want these released to the general public? The Mayor might find these interesting, I hear you have that new project up for approval, maybe these can help sway the vote!
I think these photos are worth at least an extra $5k per month, starting with next month’s payment. Just to prove I’m not making idle threats, I’ve attached two photos for your review.
From the look on your face, you were liking what you were getting.
As she read the email, Sabrina had to choke down the bile that was rising in her throat. She had not heard from him in weeks, now all of a sudden he was texting and emailing again. She had hoped he had finally decided to leave her alone, that the stalking had stopped, but now, it was ramping up all over again. She was scared to click on the photos, but she needed to see just what he had on her. More importantly, what did Kyle have that could damage Chris?
The first picture was of her standing in front of the window, completely naked. She recognized that this would have been when Chris was in the shower, and she was opening the curtains, looking out over the city. When she was first thinking, she shouldn’t be standing there. Tears began to prick her eyes, she knew this could be a severe blow to her reputation if this picture were to be released. While it didn’t depict her doing anything vile, disgusting or what some would identify as inappropriate, she was naked in a window, and that was clearly poor judgment. If she had the poor judgment to do something like that, could her judgment be trusted for anything else? Lost in the argument would be the fact that she was in a window that was 80 stories above the street or that the picture was taken by a stalker with a telescope. No, the focus would be that she was naked in a window, and the circumstances around it wouldn’t matter.
She didn’t want to open the second picture, but she had to. But as she opened it, she could no longer choke back the bile, she made a mad dash for the bathroom, barely making it in time before getting violently sick. She sat on the bathroom floor for a few minutes, making sure the urge to be sick had passed completely. She pulled herself together, rinsed her mouth, and walked back out to her desk.
The picture staring at her from her screen was one of her and Chris in the middle of a rather intimate moment at the window. Even though the photo made her sick, she studied it carefully, realizing you could not distinguish exactly who the man was. The curtain and the bar on the window were on Chris’s left, which meant they hid his Taurus tattoo on his upper arm. With the way she was standing, the way her hair fell, you could not see the clavicle tattoo or the Bardsley tattoo. The camera couldn’t see his right side at all so the Loyalty tattoo and the initials of his siblings on his ankle were not visible either.
She let out a sigh of relief, it is why he only asked for an additional $5k in payments each month. Sabrina figured Kyle sent the two best pictures as evidence of what he had, that way he would be able to prove why he deserved the amount he was asking for. So, if this was the best picture he had of Chris, and there were no distinguishing remarks, this was at least a positive sign. If he had known who it was in the picture, Kyle would be asking for more money. Not only that, he would be spouting off as to how he would be getting a big payday from Disney or Marvel.
She was horrified that he had the pictures, but she was thankful that if they were to be released, her reputation was the only one that would be ruined. She had to wonder, though, how many other pictures did Kyle have? Did Chris ever move so that his tats were visible, could he be identified? Was it possible that maybe he could be identified, and Kyle was just dumb enough to not know who Chris was? Her head was now spinning out of control, and she was going to make herself sick again. She knew if she began asking questions, it would make Kyle suspicious, that could spell trouble for her, more importantly, that could spell trouble for Chris. No, it was better to play it cool, act as if this was nothing to be concerned with.
If Sabrina knew Kyle, he would be waiting for her to respond. He would want to know he pushed her buttons, she wouldn’t let him have that satisfaction. So, it meant she had to word her email very carefully. What Kyle failed to realize, is that he just put in writing that he was blackmailing his ex-wife. Sabrina now had evidence to go to the Police regarding his stalking and blackmail, so her words back to him needed to be careful, in case she elected to go down that route. She would prefer to tell him off and give him a piece of her mind, but it would not serve her well in the long run.
I’ve received your email, and I’m sorry for the delay in responding. I’ve been out of the office in meetings today and just returned. You’re right, I did have a lapse in judgment, I knew there was the possibility of eyes on me, but I was obviously not thinking clearly. As you can imagine, I’d prefer those photographs stay private. So, per your request, I will increase your monthly payment from $15k to $20k beginning next month.
It made her just as sick to play nice as it did to look at the pictures. Having to act as if he was doing her a favor by making her realize she made a mistake. The problem was, she had a bad feeling when she and Chris were in the window, she knew that someone could potentially be watching, she brought this on herself. This was all her fault, and she had to take care of it, she had to protect Chris at all costs.
She pressed send, then forwarded the original email along with what she sent to Kyle over to her personal email address, then deleted the other copies from her company account. She didn’t like keeping emails from Kyle on her work computer, she didn’t like having evidence of his existence hanging around.
Sabrina sat back in her chair, her mind was racing, and she didn’t want to stare at the computer screen any longer. The image of her and Chris was burned into the monitor, or at least she felt like it was. She thought she would turn her attention to the stacks of documents on her desk, maybe work through the piles and divert her attention. The problem was, the main pile in front of her had Audrey’s resignation letter on top. Her blood pressure was already high from the situation with Kyle, she wasn’t sure she could handle dealing with Audrey right now on top of that.
The situation with Audrey had her confused as well as angry. She wondered if the letter spelled out why Audrey felt compelled to resign? She could read it and find out, but she wasn’t sure her heart could take it, at least not right now. No, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. There was no one in the world that Sabrina trusted more, or relied on more heavily. However, she had not even told Audrey what had been going on with Kyle; she was too embarrassed to admit it to anyone, even her best friend, and closest confidant. But Sabrina had noticed that her relationship with Audrey had become strained over the last few months, she couldn’t pinpoint where it started to break, but she knew the mess with the Hawaii deal didn’t help. Was that the breaking point for Audrey?
She knew to get the answer, she should just go and talk to Audrey. The two of them needed to get everything out, clear the air, see what the underlying issue really is. But she knew that emotions would be high and the last thing she wanted to do was argue, she didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to do it. She didn’t want to make it worse, she certainly didn’t want it to turn into an argument about Chris, because no matter what he said, she was positive that part of the problem had to do with him. No, it was going to be better to ignore it, at least for now. She folded the letter and put it in her purse. She would address it tomorrow, maybe after she slept and had a clear head.
Right now, her head was swimming in emotion and brimming with anger. Between Audrey, Kyle, and the Boston project, it might be best to describe her attitude as seething. Staying away from people, that was best for her right now. Oh, realistically she knew that there would be other projects, and Boston was not the end of her career. But this would have been high profile, and if there was on thing that Sabrina Burnham loved, it was high profile projects. Factor in that she had never been denied the opportunity to bid on a project, until now. She was going to channel her anger to be her motivating factor for work, use it to get through the stack of items on her desk and the remaining emails in her inbox. She would use her anger at Kyle for the pictures, her anger at Audrey for resigning, her anger at the loss of the Boston bidding, and her anger at Chris for leaving. While some of her anger was misplaced, and deep down she knew that she didn’t care, she needed to do whatever it took to regain her focus. She had let herself get distracted, and she could not let that happen again.
She started with her emails first, firing off answers, printing off project requests for review, responding to calendar invites for meetings. She was not watching the clock, had not taken her cell phone out of her purse, so she missed the call from Chris to say he had landed safely in Los Angeles.
With her inbox empty, she started in on the pile of documents stacked on her desk. She had to reach over and turn on her desk lamp, as her office was getting darker. She turned around and noticed the dark, midnight sky blanketing the skyline behind her. She pulled her phone out of her purse, saw it was 11:45, she had missed a total of three calls from Chris, as well as two text messages. She sat her phone back on her desk and continued working.
~ * ~
The plane touched down at LAX, Chris was relieved to finally be home. Not that he was happy to leave Sabrina behind because that had been much harder than he had anticipated. He couldn’t look at her when he left, not even when he went back to kiss her, that had all been instinct. He couldn’t bear to see the pain in her eyes. He was not sure how he had gotten so wrapped up in her, but he wasn’t complaining. He just needed to figure out how this was going to work going forward.
He also needed to know what was going on with Audrey because his phone call with her was strange, to say the least. She was combative, and that was not like her at all. He understood she was angry, he shouldn’t have ignored her calls, but he apologized for that. He was going to chalk up her anger and bitterness to the fact that a major project was hingeing on those calls. She was stressed out because of it, and she snapped, he just need to give her some breathing room. He’d call her later, apologize again, see if things were okay between them. She was a good friend to him, he didn’t want to lose her over something as silly as not answering a phone call or two.
As he stepped off the plane, he began moving through the bustling airport, quickly exiting through the departure doors into the heat of the southern California afternoon sun. He spotted his brother parked along the curb, waiting for him. Due to his filming schedule and then jetting off for the wedding, he had not seen Scott in several months. He approached his brother, dropped his bags, and pulled his brother into an embrace.
“So happy to see you, Chris. Almost forgot what you looked like, man,” he teased as he slapped him on the back and pulled back from the hug. He reached over and picked up his brother’s bag, “You look exhausted, I’m taking it you didn’t get much sleep in Chicago?” Scott tossed Chris’ bag in the trunk and walked around to the driver’s side of the car.
Chris opened the passenger side door, stood there a minute, looking at his brother with a grin on his face, “Didn’t sleep the last few nights, that’s for sure.”
“What’s her name?” Scott asked as he got in the car and cranked the engine.
Chris got in and shut the door, giving his brother a confused look, “What makes you think there’s a woman involved?”
“Dude, you don’t go to Chicago for a wedding and decide to stay a few extra days unless there is a woman involved. So, I guess you hooked up with some chick at the wedding, had a great time and didn’t want to come home. Hence, I want to know her name.” Scott checked the mirrors for traffic and pulled away from the curb to start the drive to Chris’ house. When Scott realized his brother wasn’t answering, he gently prodded, “Are you going to tell me about her?”
“I don’t know, maybe. But it isn’t really what you think,” Chris said as he reached into his bag, fishing out his cell phone. He scrolled through his contact list, finding Sabrina’s name and selecting it to dial. The number rang several times and went to voicemail, he decided to go ahead and leave a message, “Hey, it’s me, I thought I’d let you know I made it to LA safe and sound. I guess you’re in a meeting so I’ll try to reach out later. Miss you, bye.”
Scott noticed the change in tone in his brother’s voice. The playful tone he had when he got into the car had been replaced with a more somber tone. He was staring out the window, didn’t seem talkative at all. “Hey, is everything alright?” He asked tentatively.
“Yeah, I just hoped she would have answered the phone, that’s all. She’s probably just in a meeting, I’ll talk to her later tonight,” Chris was trying to talk himself into believing that more than making Scott believe it. “By the way, Chuck’s wedding was nice, he cleaned up well, and Lauren looked beautiful.”
“Ah, yeah, I almost forgot that is why you were in Chicago in the first place. And you survived the Trump Hotel, I see?” Scott laughed, knowing how much his brother bemoaned the idea of staying there, “Your friend Audrey lives out there, right? Did you hang out with her at all?”
“Yeah, I did get to see her while I was there,” Chris’ tone changed again, “I need to call her, we had a slight disagreement, I need to try and smooth things over with her. But I’ll do that when I’m home.” Chris rode the rest of the way home without saying anything further. Scott could tell that he shouldn’t push, when Chris started to close himself off, pushing for him to talk was one of the worst things you could do.
Fifteen minutes later, Scott pulled into the gated driveway, Chris opened his door and slowly got out of the car. Scott popped the trunk, Chris grabbed his bag, heading for the front door, his keys already in hand. As he opened the door and turned off the alarm, his brother came walking in behind him shutting the front door and flipping on the lights for the family room.
“Chris, you want me to go get some food while you unpack and relax? I don’t think you have anything in the fridge, but I can check,” Scott offered while walking into the kitchen, Chris was making his way down the hallway to the bedroom.
“Nah, not hungry right now. I’m just gonna drop this bag in the bedroom, I’ll be right out,” he dropped his bag at the foot of the bed, pulled out his cell trying Sabrina’s number one more time. Once again the call went to voicemail, this time, he didn’t leave a message. He stuffed his phone back into his pocket, walked out into the family room and plopped down on the large sofa, letting out a heavy sigh as he settled in.
Scott walked in from the kitchen, handed his brother a beer and then sat down in the accent chair directly across from him, “You tried calling her again, didn’t you? She still didn’t answer?”
Chris looked up at his brother, his eyes wide, “Huh, what makes you say that?”
“Well, let’s see, you plopped on your couch, sighed heavily, look like your fucking miserable. In other words, you seem like you did in the car when you had to leave her a message. Spill it, what’s going on?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” he replied quietly.
“Really, and why is that? Come on, I know you better than anyone, no judgments, I promise,” Scott was actually concerned for his big brother, he hadn’t seen him this worked up over a woman in some time.
“Fine, Audrey introduced me to someone, I fell for her, she’s not the typical woman I’d fall for,” he ran his fingers through his hair, a nervous habit that told Scott he was having trouble talking about this. “I really like her, but I am not sure if she feels the same. I mean, I thought she did, but there is part of me that believes I am nothing more than a boy toy for her.”
Scott could not contain himself and let out a boisterous laugh. He continued laughing until he realized that Chris wasn’t joining him, “Oh shit, you’re serious? Oh fuck, Chris, I thought you were joking.”
“No, she didn’t want to be seen in public with me initially, thought it had something to do with not liking to have her picture taken. Then found out she has her picture in the paper and magazines all the time. She went to the wedding with me but was nervous about all eyes being on us. Then she locked us away in her apartment and didn’t want to leave or let anyone see us, I’m telling you, she was embarrassed to be seen with me.”
“Why would she be embarrassed to be with you? You’re a handsome guy, women clamor to go out with you, so why would she be embarrassed? That makes no sense at all. Just exactly who is this woman? Is there some big age difference or something?”
“Yeah, she’s older than I am, but that doesn’t bother me at all. As far as who she is, well, she’s the premiere female architect in Chicago, hell, I think in the country. She’s powerful Scott, that’s what I mean about her not being the typical woman I date. She’s self-assured when it comes to work, but she’s vulnerable, has this wall around her personally,” he took a long draw from the bottle of beer that Scott had given him a few minutes earlier, giving him the perfect opportunity to stop talking for a moment.
“Sounds to me like she’s a little broken and you’re trying to save her.”
“No, not trying to save her, she’s letting the wall down and letting me in. She’s amazing, Scott and we are fantastic together,” Chris leaned forward, his arms resting on his thighs as he looked at his brother, “I’m telling you I was this close to telling her I was in love with her. I’ve never fallen so hard and so fast for anyone. She’s amazing, and I think she feels the same way one minute, then the next, I’m afraid she doesn’t.”
“What happened when you left this morning?”
“She didn’t want me to leave, I kissed her goodbye and left. I told her I would call her when I got home, but now she isn’t answering, so I’m not sure what’s going on. The disagreement with Audrey, well it had to do with Sabrina and a project that might have been lost because we ignored her calls yesterday. So, I don’t know if that has something to do with it.”
“So, Audrey and this, Sabrina, they work together?” Scott asked hesitantly.
“Sabrina is Audrey’s best friend,” he took another pull from the beer bottle, “and boss.”
“Holy shit, Chris! You’re asking for trouble there, no wonder you had a disagreement with Audrey. That girl has it bad for you and now you’re banging her best friend who also happens to be her boss!”
“Whoa! What do you mean she has it bad for me? Audrey doesn’t have feelings for me, man. We’re friends, that’s it.”
“Oh my God, you are so fucking blind. You need that prescription for your contacts checked!”
Chris stood up from the couch and began to walk towards the kitchen. He slammed his bottle down, then leaned against the counter, staring into his backyard. “Look, I appreciate your armchair psychoanalysis of the situation, but you’re wrong. There is nothing between Audrey and me. I’m probably overreacting to the situation with Sabrina, and I’m projecting my fears onto her.”
Scott stood up and joined his brother in the kitchen. “Look, if you have these concerns, it isn’t nothing. You’re worried about something, I get it, I’m not trying to make light of it, I swear. But I have to ask, are you sure you aren’t just confusing great sex with something else?”
Chris shot his brother a nasty look, “No, that isn’t it. There is a connection, I swear to you I felt my heart stop when she looked at me the first time. I feel things with her that I have never felt with any other woman. I’m in love with her, it’s that simple,” he hung his head at the realization. The problem was, he had this sinking feeling he was the only one with that emotion.
~ * ~
Kyle Chapman walked down the hallway toward his office, he hated being back in Austin. He felt like the walls were closing in on him and everyone judged him. When the building collapse happened, the whispers in the office started, along with the stares. Everyone was curious as to his role in the situation and what it would mean for his career. No one dared to speak to him about it, all of the talk was behind his back. For this reason, Kyle liked the freedom of working wherever he wanted, and most of the time that was in the small studio apartment in Chicago.
When he divorced Sabrina, or rather, Sabrina had divorced him, he had agreed to move out of Chicago and to start his career over in another city. Over the years, his obsession with her meant that he needed to be closer so he could keep an eye on her. The studio apartment across the river from the Aqua building provided the perfect spot. His frequent visits to the city also provided an opportunity to be available for small jobs for Vincent Saldonna in an attempt to pay off his debt. He had been lucky that during all of his trips to the city, Sabrina had never spotted him. He had texted her and emailed her, referenced her movements so she knew he was around, but he never had physically run into her.
He was pushing it, knew she could go after him for stalking, but he figured she was too scared to try. She was so careful of her reputation, she would never risk him releasing anything. She would just continue to pay him in silence and just pray that she never saw him. He loved having this power over her, he was just sorry that he couldn’t boast that Sabrina Burnham wasn’t as strong as she made everyone believe she was.
Kyle knew that he had also been quite lucky that he had been able to maintain his job after the building collapse case had been settled. It helped that he had not been found guilty in the criminal proceedings; no criminal negligence meant that there was not a valid reason to fire him for design concerns. The partners didn’t want to take a chance on losing clients or put their reputation on the line for having someone on staff that was linked to such a high profile case. Therefore, Kyle was kept in the background, working with other people who ended being the ‘face’ of the project. He was okay with this, because, in the end, it also meant he didn’t have to be tied to Austin to get his work done. Everything happens for a reason.
He put his portfolio with the latest drawings on the desk of the design engineer for review, then went back to his office to rifle through the details for his next project. Sitting on the desk was a large parchment envelope from the National Architectural Society, he figured it was the invitation to their national gala event. He hated those things, he avoided going every year. Curiosity was getting to him, he wondered where the event was going to be this year and which old establishment ass they were going to kiss.
He ripped open the envelope, unable to contain his excitement when he noticed that the event was going to be in Chicago this year, “Well, well, well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise?” He quickly scanned over the particulars of the invite seeing that the event was in two months at the Aon Grand Ballroom on Navy Pier. “This year, we are pleased to announce that we will recognize Sabrina Burnham with the Governor’s Award for Excellence. Oh, this can’t get any better,” Kyle exclaimed as he read the invitation aloud. He sat at his desk and quickly completed his RSVP so he could get it sent off. He also wrote out his check to cover the expenses and prepared the envelope, he did not want to miss out on getting this in the mail. No way he would miss the opportunity to be in the same room with Sabrina.
As he finally started to go through his email, he noticed he had a reply from the email he sent to her regarding the pictures. Sure enough, she had received it and agreed to the increase in payments beginning with the next check. This truly was a banner day for him. Right now, there was nothing that could bring him down.