Sabrina had been back in Chicago for almost two weeks, while she missed Vermont, she was glad to be home. She had been able to find a happy medium in her relationship with Chris, specifically with their communication since he had gone back to Asia to work on his movie. He was working long hours to make up for the week that he missed while they were in Vermont. And while he had expressed how much he hated the long hours, he did not regret the week they spent together, not even for a brief second. She was working long hours as well, although, instead of doing all the work in the office, she was taking some of it home.
The time difference was still an issue for them, but they worked it out with voicemails, emails, and text messages. The scattered messages throughout the day and the ability to hear each other’s voice once in a while closed the gap and made things better. Sabrina had even set her alarm to force herself to be awake at certain times so that she could have real-time phone calls with Chris on the weekends. They were each taking the relationship seriously, they were both happy, and that meant so much.
Work was getting better for Sabrina as well. She had finally filled the General Counsel position, promoting an internal associate named George Tate. She had also started to pass some things off to other associates, clearing her plate and allowing some of her team members to step up. She had tried to find ways to relieve her stress, and this seemed to be working for her. Alice had noticed a difference as well; she was relieved to see that her boss was going home every night and no longer sleeping in the office. It meant that things were back to normal, well, except Audrey’s absence, they were back to normal.
Sabrina had been ruminating over the photographs that Kyle had and how she might be able to get out of her situation with him. Early on, she realized that Kyle had not been able to identify the man in the pictures with her. This was to her advantage, obviously. If he had known, the price for his ‘hush’ money would have been higher. She knew it was risky, but figured she would reach out to Kyle, asking if they could come to some agreement. He would, more than likely, anticipate her doing something like this. After all, she would want to pull out all the stops to save her reputation and keep the pictures from being released.
Calling him was out of the question, she had no desire to hear his voice; she wasn’t sure she could maintain her composure. No, it would be best if she had a paper trail, she could cover her ass if she had to. Besides, he was the idiot who emailed her in the first place about the pictures, he was getting sloppy, so might as well exploit his stupidity. She had her personal laptop with her, opening her email program, she decided to go for it and fire off the email.
Recently, you reached out to me, asking to increase your monthly stipend due to some photographs in your possession. You wanted monetary assistance to keep them private and out of the hands of newspapers and tabloids. I am sending this email with a proposal for you, which I hope will be mutually beneficial.
I am aware you are, shall we say, in financial straights. I’m willing to make an offer, one in which I’ll make a one-time payment in exchange for all copies of the photographs in question. Of course, I’d need some proof that I am, in fact, in receipt of all of the pictures. And receive assurances that they’ll not turn up again somewhere.
The one-time payment would be of $1.5 Million Dollars. This can be done by our standard wire transfer and once paid; your monthly stipend would decrease back to your normal amount.
Please advise if you are accepting of these terms. I look forward to your response.
She read the email several times before hitting send. She prayed he would read it and respond quickly. If she could get this off her mind, it could go a long way in reducing the lingering stress she had. It wouldn’t eliminate her need for telling Chris about Kyle, but it would mean she wouldn’t need to say anything to him about the pictures.
She quickly turned her attention towards the budget for her latest project, figuring if she were able to get lost in the details, she wouldn’t worry about whether Kyle had responded or not. Running through the numbers, she was shocked when she suddenly heard the ding indicating she had received an email. Glancing over at her personal laptop, the email from Kyle in her inbox was enticing and terrifying at the same time. She stared at the screen for a few minutes, her finger hovering over the mouse pad, willing herself to click on the email to open it and read his response. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and clicked the button. When she opened her eyes, she focused on the words and began to read his response.
My dearest Sabrina,
I am so happy to hear from you, although I must admit I’m surprised. Honestly, I’m also a little disappointed that you made no mention of the flowers I sent while you were in the hospital. I hope you’ve recovered; you gave me quite a scare. You need to not work so hard and take better care of yourself.
Yes, unfortunately, my legal situation has left me strapped financially, and it has also impacted my work situation, as you can probably imagine. While there would be some disadvantages to working out a deal with you, the overall financial gain is more valuable to me at the moment. I’m willing to hand over the entire digital library to you; the pictures are on a memory card from the camera. I’m also willing to sign and notarize a document indicating I have no other copies, in exchange for the agreed upon purchase price. I’ll meet you outside the gala event for the exchange; I wouldn’t miss the chance to see you all dressed up for your big night.
Sabrina’s stomach twisted as she read his words. She hated that he signed every note with the phrase, ‘your husband.’ If he loved her, he wouldn’t be torturing her like he was. And he sure in the hell wouldn’t be blackmailing her. She was relieved, however, to know that he was willing to take the deal and that he did not question her motives at all. The only thing that did concern her was the fact that he wanted to do the exchange at the gala. She didn’t want to see him and, more importantly, she didn’t want Kyle to see Chris.
She knew if she sent him an email back with a request to not see him the night of the gala, it would most definitely arouse suspicion. It was no secret that she didn’t want to see him, he was more than aware of it, but he knew damn well she wanted these pictures, so he had the upper hand. If she wanted this to come to an end, she would have to do it on his terms, even though she was giving him the money, he held the cards, or in this case, the photographs. Her only hope was that he would want to meet earlier than the gala because he would want the money faster. Kyle was nothing if not greedy, if she played that angle, she might have a shot to keep the exchange from happening at the gala.
She quickly drafted a response email, sending it back to him with the hopes of it working to her advantage.
My apologies for not mentioning the flowers in my earlier email, it did slip my mind. The peonies were beautiful, and it was very thoughtful of you to send them. I’m feeling much better, and I am taking better care of myself. Thank you for your concern.
While the gala would be a good time for the exchange, I’m willing to meet earlier than that. I have the money ready now, knowing you need it quickly, we can meet immediately if you would like so we can get this cleared up.
She received a short note back almost immediately; he must have been sitting on top of his computer waiting for her email. His email indicated that he could wait the two weeks and he looked forward to seeing her. Damn, now she was stuck. Her only other hope was to find a way to keep Chris from attending. It was going to be tight for him to get back anyway, the gala was on Saturday night, and he was due back in Chicago on Friday evening, around 10 pm. Maybe there could be a delay in the shooting schedule, and he wouldn’t be able to fly back; she couldn’t believe she was going to pray for this to happen. She wanted to see him; she missed him terribly, but right now, she needed to keep him away from Kyle, that was more important.
~ * ~
When Coleman had visited Kyle’s apartment a few weeks earlier, she had provided him with a secure cell phone. The two of them had exchanged a few phone calls and text messages. Kyle had kept her updated on the jobs he had done for Vinnie Saldonna over the last few weeks. Primarily he had helped on the collection of cash from a few drug runs, the goons did the work, Kyle was making sure no one had sticky fingers. His work for Vinnie ranged from counting cash to just being along for the ride; he never knew from job to job what he would have to do.
He was aware that Coleman was planning to stop by for a visit. She texted him and said that she wanted a face-to-face discussion about some of the jobs and needed details that he wasn’t going into in text messages or on the phone. He paced around the apartment, just waiting for her to knock on the door. He hated talking to her, fearful that someone would see him with her and there would be no way to play it off that she was a girlfriend or a hooker. Coleman didn’t look like a hooker, and the body language between the two of them clearly indicated he had no interest in having her as a girlfriend.
Since Sabrina had been home recently, he had the video equipment out. Matter of fact, he had been up all night watching her the evening before. So, when he knew there would be a chance he would have a visitor, he had packed it all up, not wanting to have to explain anything to Coleman about his extracurricular activities. He had been tipped off that Sabrina was back home at the apartment, which is why he had the equipment out. She had come home almost two weeks ago with bags; he thought she looked like she had been on vacation. He was delighted to see she was coming home nightly, making dinner, doing a little work, and then going to bed. He was even happier to notice that she was doing this alone, no sign of the boyfriend, so he was hoping that meant he was out of the picture. That was the real reason he didn’t want to get the money from her earlier; he wanted to opportunity to see her at the gala all dressed up. Maybe he could have a chance to dance with her and sweep her off her feet; it was a long shot, but it was worth a try.
He was brought of his thoughts by sharp banging on the door. He walked over and flung the door open, but when he did, he realized it wasn’t Coleman on the other side, it was Vinnie Saldonna. Vinnie stood about 6’3 and was almost as wide as he was tall, his dark hair slicked back, his dark eyes had no soul. He was an intimidating figure. The big man pushed his way into the apartment, closely followed by two of his bodyguard goons. He said nothing as he looked around the sparse dwelling, he walked over to the kitchen table, pulling out a seat and making himself comfortable. Kyle noticed it was practically the same place Coleman had sat when she first visited his apartment as well.
Vinnie finally turned to lock eyes with Kyle and spoke, “We need to have a little chat, Chapman. Pull up a chair and have a seat.”
Kyle knew that wasn’t as much of a request for a discussion as it was an order. The bodyguards evidently didn’t think he was moving quick enough, they pulled out a chair and forcibly pushed him to sit directly across from Vinnie. Kyle tried not to look worried, but he wasn’t sure he could hide that fear so quickly.
Vinnie’s voice was gruff as he began to speak, “The Feds have been snooping around my operation for years, Chapman. But lately, their activity has increased. Word on the street is that someone is talking to them, feeding them information, the problem is, I don’t know who it is.” Vinnie leaned forward, smirking and patting Kyle’s knee, “See, the thing is, some of the information the Feds got right now, anyone could be giving it to them. Nothing they got tells me who my traitor is, so I have to personally visit everyone and deliver my message.”
Kyle swallowed hard; he didn’t like the tone of Vinnie’s voice or his smirk. He also didn’t like the fact, that at any moment, Special Agent Coleman could knock on his door. Not what he needed right now, fuck, he prayed she wasn’t going to show up. He hoped that as he talked, his voice would not betray him, “I’m not talking, Vinnie. Look, I owe you, that wouldn’t be a good way for me to repay you now, would it?”
Vinnie’s smirk turned into a full out smile, and it was hard to believe, but it made him even creepier looking. Now Vinnie reached up, gently slapping Kyle’s cheek, “You’re damn right, Chapman, it wouldn’t be a good way to repay my kindness. Just so you and I are clear on something, if I found out you’re the one talking, it’ll be the last thing you’re doing. Do you understand?” Kyle slowly nodded his head to acknowledge what Vinnie was saying. “Just know if you’re talking, I’ll find out, I’ve got my ways.”
Vinnie stood up, and the bodyguards kept their hands on Kyle’s shoulders to hold him in his chair. As Vinnie approached the door, he turned, looking back at Kyle, “You’ve been doing real good at paying off your debt, Chapman. Don’t fuck this up now,” Vinnie opened the door and walked out, his bodyguards letting go of Kyle’s shoulders, followed Saldonna out of the apartment.
Kyle slumped over in the chair; he was sweating profusely. He glanced over, his front door standing wide open, Special Agent Coleman walking up. Panic set into his eyes, there is no way she did not walk right past Saldonna. And there is no way he would not realize she was a cop of some sort. Fuck, he was a dead man! He jumped out of his seat, ran towards Coleman, grabbing her hand, pulling her into the apartment and slammed the door.
She stared at him with utter disbelief, the fact that he had his hands on her and pulled her into the apartment with force, “What the hell was that all about?” She forgot all about protocol or decorum, and when she was angry, her southern drawl becomes a bit more pronounced.
“What? Are you telling me you didn’t see him?”
A faint smile crossed her lips, and a light of recognition flared in her eyes, “Oh, you think Saldonna saw me and would know I’m FBI, right? Calm down, Chapman. I realize you think I’m an idiot but I was aware he was in the building, and I’ve been lying low. I wasn’t about to burn your ass when I need you.”
He shook his head like he didn’t understand what she was saying to him, “What? How did you know he was here? Do you have ears in this place?”
“Kyle,” it was one of the rare times she used his first name, she had always just called him Chapman. “I don’t have ears in this place, but I’ve told you before I’ve got eyes on you. They said Saldonna had shown up when I arrived, so I knew I had to stay out of the way until they were gone. I had someplace to lay low here in the building, the boys downstairs texted me when they saw Saldonna walk out, so I knew it was safe to come to you.” She tried to gauge his expression; he was still looking a little worried. Whatever Saldonna wanted, it had Chapman freaked out, “So, what exactly did Vinnie want? You seem a little shaken. Tell me what’s going on.”
The worry in his eyes suddenly changed and he began staring at her incredulously, “Coleman, are you fucking serious? You have no idea why he was here? News flash, Saldonna thinks I’m feeding information to the FBI.”
“Well, you are,” she fired back at him, there was no sarcasm or emotion in her voice; she was matter-of-fact.
“Damn it!” He walked away from her and moved to the couch where he plopped down. His hands flew to his face; he was struggling to maintain composure. He finally threw his hands down and stared up at the FBI Agent who was standing in front of him, her hands on her hips, looking at him with a stern expression her face. “He knows that someone is feeding information to the Feds, he said that based on what the Feds know now, he couldn’t tell who is doing it. So, he is personally delivering messages to people to let them know he is watching them. He was sending the message that he will kill whoever is talking.”
“So, he must have someone on the inside who knows there is an informant,” Coleman theorized as she walked toward the window.
“I don’t know; he didn’t say. But he told me not to fuck things up, now. So I’m pretty sure he thinks it’s me. I’m a walking dead man,” the sweat was beading on Kyle’s forehead.
“I want you to do one more thing for me Chapman, but it’s big,” Coleman turned around to face him, she could see he wasn’t looking overly excited at the prospect. “The next time you have a meeting with him, the next big planned event, I want you to wear a wire.”
Kyle jumped off the couch, “No fucking way!”
“Look, we have a device you can wear that he’ll never know you have it on. Do this, and you’re out, I stop the investigation into all your buildings and your illegal activity. Including the research into whatever shit you are pulling with your ex-wife.”
Kyle blanched, he had no idea Coleman was pursuing anything in regards to Sabrina. He didn’t know if this was something she was doing or just a tactic to get him to go along with her.
“I see that got your attention,” Coleman spat at him and if she was honest with herself, she was enjoying that. “I told you that I thought there was something you were hiding. And with that reaction, I’d say I was spot on.”
“You’re a bitch, Coleman; you know that?”
“Yeah, I know,” she was apparently wearing that as a badge of honor. “Look, you’ve been able to confirm things for us that we suspected but couldn’t prove. Your information has been valuable, whether Saldonna realizes that or not. You’re not our only informant; we have other intel, we know of other things he has planned. I’ll venture to guess there are things you don’t even know about.”
“I’m sure; I’m not a made man in his organization. I’m a low-level guy he gets to do shit so I can pay off what I owe him.”
“Right, well, you know enough to be helpful. Low-level or not, we take what we can get to bring the bastard down,” Coleman pushed past him and began walking towards the door. “I’d like to mic you up for your next encounter with your regular contacts, get you used to the device. That way you are comfortable with it when you are wearing it in front of Saldonna. Think you could do that?”
Kyle shook his head; he hated this idea, but he knew there was no way out of it. “Fine, whatever!”
“That’s the spirit, Chapman,” she laughed as she exited the apartment, “I’ll be in touch.”
~ * ~
Sabrina was in her office, the gala was in three days, and she had not even thought about her dress yet. She had been so wrapped up in worrying about the logistics of Kyle and Chris that she almost forgot about the party itself. She was not looking forward to being the center of attention for the evening, all eyes on her, meaning all eyes on Chris, too. This would be their official ‘coming out’ party as a couple. She knew that it wouldn’t take long for photographs of the two of them to make their rounds on the internet. This meant she had to find the perfect dress. Great, just what she needed, extra stress and pressure for the evening.
Alice knocked gently on the door as she pushed it open, “Sabrina, I have a delivery for you.” As she entered the office, she carried a large white box, wrapped with a blue bow. Alice sat the box on the coffee table in front of the couch, “I thought you might want to open it right away. There is a card on top, but I did not open it.”
Sabrina stood from her desk, eyeing the box cautiously, “Thanks, Alice. Why don’t you stay in here with me when I open it? I’m sure you’re just as curious as I am,” she let out an impish laugh. She walked around to the seating area, never taking her eyes off the box. She plucked the card off of the top, gently removing it from the envelope and reading it aloud, “I hope you don’t mind, I asked my stylist to help find the perfect dress for your big night. I figured with your busy work schedule; you haven’t had a chance to go shopping. Plus, this way I know you’ll coordinate with my tux! See you Friday night, Chris.”
“Oh, how romantic is that?” Alice commented, placing her hand on her heart, “Handsome and charming, how delightful.”
Sabrina had to smile, not only at the card but Alice’s reaction as well. “Yeah, he’s perfect, isn’t he?” She stepped forward and carefully removed the bow from the box. She took a deep breath and lifted the box lid; her breath caught in her throat as she caught sight of the dress. The dress was a sparkling, midnight blue Elie Saab gown. As she lifted it out of the box, she realized it was strapless, and the skirt became sheer as it descended her legs. It was exquisite, and she could not wait to wear it. The box even had a pair of blue strappy heels to match the dress; the stylist had thought of everything.
“Sabrina, the dress is divine. You must try it on, please, go try it on so we know that it fits,” Alice was begging.
She scooped everything up and ran off to the bathroom, emerging a few moments later wearing the gown and shoes. Tears glistening her eyes, “How does it look?”
“Wow! You look beautiful, and you will knock them all off their feet on Saturday night!”
Sabrina quickly changed her clothes and walked back into her office. Alice had retreated to her desk. Sabrina placed the shoes back in the box and gently folded the dress, placing it back in the box and returning the lid. She then called Chris, knowing she would have to leave him a voice mail. She listened to his sexy voice mail greeting, at the tone she left him a message, “Hey handsome, I got your delivery today. Your stylist is a genius, and I love it! I can’t wait to see you, has your schedule changed at all? Talk to you soon, love you.”
She had just put her cell back on her desk and settled into her chair when her office phone rang. It was her private number, meaning that the call did not go through Alice. The person would have received the number from her, “Hello, this is Sabrina,” she answered.
There was silence for a moment before the voice returned the greeting, “Hi Sabrina, it’s Audrey.”
Sabrina sat up straight in her chair; this wasn’t a call she was expecting. It has been almost a month since her collapse, and the last time she had talked to Audrey. “Um, Hi, Audrey, how are you?”
“I’m not calling at a bad time, am I? I can call some other time, I mean if you’re busy,” she was nervous to make this call. It seemed so odd to have that feeling, after all, this was once her best friend and closest confidant. But after everything that had happened, the words that had been spoken, this wasn’t so easy.
“No, you’re fine. I could use a break,” Sabrina offered politely.
“To answer your question, I’m doing good. How are you doing? Are you feeling better?”
“Yeah, I’m doing so much better. I promoted George Tate, and he’s been able to take some pressure off. I’ve stopped sleeping at the office, too.”
“That’s good to hear. George was going to be one of my recommendations. Good choice, I think he’ll do well for you,” the conversation was strained, neither one of them were opening up too much. Audrey decided to go ahead and venture into the minefield, “How are things with Chris?”
“Are you sure you want to discuss this, Audrey? I know you’re trying to build a bridge, I want to be respectful.”
“I lost my friendship with him, did he tell you? I was honest with him, told him how I felt. I don’t know what I was trying to accomplish by doing it,” she sighed heavily, she was at least coming clean with Sabrina. “It doesn’t hurt so much, at least not anymore. Are you happy?”
“I didn’t know, Audrey, he didn’t tell me. We didn’t talk much about what led up to my collapse. We did talk about my reluctance for a relationship, that I’m not very good at opening myself up. But we’re giving it an honest effort, and yeah, I’m happy,” she felt guilty for saying it, knowing it was probably hard for Audrey to hear. “How are things with you and Gunnar?”
“We’ve tried to keep it professional only, but there is an attraction, we both feel it. He’s taking me to dinner tomorrow night.”
“I hope it works for you, Audrey. You deserve it. The rest of this week is hectic, and I have that architectural gala on Saturday, but maybe we could have lunch next week if you’re up to it. Maybe we can try to move past what happened if you want?” Sabrina was taking a leap, but she figured if Audrey had called, there was a chance this is what she was wanting.
“I’d like that, why don’t you give me a call next week. Good luck at the gala, I can’t wait to hear about it.”
As Sabrina hung up the phone, it made her happy to realize that there was an opportunity for the two of them to repair their friendship. She elected not to tell Chris, though. After all, he was keeping it from her that his friendship with Audrey had ended. She thought it was best not to broach the subject, at least not yet.
~ * ~
The filming for the day was over; Chris was exhausted. All he could think about was a hot shower and crawling into bed. As he got in the car for Josh to drive him back to the hotel, he noticed his light flashing on his cell phone; he had a voice mail message. He quickly listened to it and smiled as he heard Sabrina thank him for the dress. He let out a slight chuckle as he hung up the phone.
“I take it the dress was delivered?” Josh inquired, eyebrows raised as he glanced over at his passenger.
“Yeah, she loves it. I can’t wait to see her in it,” Chris responded.
“You mean you can’t wait to get her out of it?”
“Well, that too! I won’t lie. I miss her, Josh, it’s not just the fact that I can’t see her, it’s the fact I can’t even have a regular conversation with her,” he exhaled and looked out the window at the night sky. “I will be so happy when I can get this movie wrapped and get back to her. Fuck, I sound like a lovesick puppy don’t I?”
“Yeah, but it’s good to see you like this. It’s been a while, and I’m glad you’re happy.”
As Josh pulled in front of the hotel, Chris got out, thanked him for the ride and went up to his room. Before taking his shower, figuring he might need it after the call, he dialed Sabrina’s number.
“Hey, baby, how are you?” She sounded so perky and chipper as she answered the phone.
“Exhausted but happy to hear your voice. I got your voice mail, I’m glad you like the dress,” he smiled, hoping she could hear it through the phone.
“Like it? I love it; it fits beautifully by the way. Alice was very jealous. Please tell me you’re calling to tell me when you’re coming to see me?”
“I am. My flight gets in on Friday night at 10:17. You gonna meet me at the airport?”
“No, because I might get arrested for ripping your clothes off in the terminal. I think they frown on that, Chris. Plus, your publicist might be a little angry at you for it,” she was having a hard time controlling her laughter at this point.
“Yeah, you have a point. So, I’ll just meet you at the apartment, then?” He asked quietly.
“I’ll have a car for you, and yeah, I’ll bring you to the apartment. How long are you going to stay in town?”
“I’ll be in Chicago until Tuesday morning, then I have to fly out to Dallas where I’m working on another project,” he grew quiet for a moment. He knew that his answer was bouncing in her head and she was thinking too much about it. “Get out of your head, baby, don’t work yourself up before I even get home.”
“Yeah, I know, I can’t help it. I’ll be glad to have you closer to Chicago, though.”
“Me too, I promise, we will make time to see one another more often. Okay, I’m gonna go take a shower and go to bed, I miss you.”
“I miss you, too. Dream about me,” she said playfully.
“You know I do, baby. Love you,” he replied as he disconnected the call. He could not wait to get back to Chicago and show her just how much he missed her.