Chris had asked her point blank, “Who exactly is Kyle Chapman?” He felt as if she was hiding something, the fear in her eyes when she came walked away from him at the gala to go outside. The rattled nerves when she came back inside, although she was doing her best to hide it from him. He wasn’t blind, and he definitely wasn’t stupid, something was bothering her, and he wanted to know what it was. But as she stared out the window of the car, the words she spoke were not the ones he expected. He had not been prepared to hear, “He’s my ex-husband.”
Those words were crushing; he could barely breathe. It was as if every bit of oxygen had been sucked out of the car. He had never thought to ask Sabrina if she had been married before. He didn’t have an issue dating a woman who had been divorced. The issue was that she had never told him, she kept this a secret, even when they had the discussion of no lies or secrets between the two of them. And evidently, there was more to this than just a divorce, the exchange he had witnessed between the two of them was heated and angry.
The silence between the two of them was stifling; Sabrina broke first, “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“What would you like me to say?” He offered quietly, the words barely audible and again, there was no emotion in them. He was shutting down.
“I would expect you to yell or something,” she admitted, finally turning to look at him, “It’s what you want to do, isn’t it? You want to lash out at me with all the questions that are swirling through your mind.”
“How long have you been divorced?”
Sabrina was taken aback that this was the first question he would toss her way. She figured there were a million other issues that would come first, “Ten years, almost eleven.”
The car stopped, they had arrived in the parking garage of the Aqua building. Sabrina opened the door before the driver could and let herself out, she wanted to escape what felt like a prison. She didn’t wait for Chris, she walked toward the elevator and pressed the button. She silently cursed it for being slow, when in fact, it was one of the fastest elevators in the city. But when you want to escape, everything feels as if it is moving in slow motion.
Chris was suddenly behind her; she could feel the heat of his body. He didn’t touch her, didn’t say a word, he just stood there. She wanted nothing more than to turn around and kiss him, tell him she was sorry for not telling him about Kyle earlier. But she couldn’t, she was paralyzed. The seconds ticked by and felt like minutes. The doors opened to the elevator, and they stepped inside. The silence was beyond awkward, she wished he would yell at her, anything but the silence. Then again, she could speak up, but she didn’t know what to say or even how to say it.
She rushed out of the elevator as soon as the doors opened. Her keys were in her hand, and she deftly opened the door to the apartment, swinging it open far enough so that Chris could walk through without her having to hold it for him. She placed her clutch on the entryway table and stepped out of her heels. He had rushed past her to the kitchen where he was pouring himself a tall glass of whiskey, neat.
He downed the drink in one gulp, she knew it had to have burned on the way down. Most likely he didn’t even notice. The tension seemed to suddenly disappear from his shoulders. He poured another drink and took a seat on a bar stool, his arms stretched out in front of him, encircling his glass. Sabrina stood nervously at the other end of the kitchen, watching him, waiting for him to say something. Finally, he did.
“I’m going to guess you had an excellent reason for not telling me about Kyle? I mean, we discussed not having secrets and not lying to one another, right?” He raised his eyes, taking in the slight tremors in Sabrina’s hands. He didn’t know if the tremors were because she was scared of him or if the situation with Kyle had her scared. Either way, he needed to find out. Also, he wasn’t sure if she was going to answer his question, but he was going to give her a few minutes before he asked a second time.
“I’m not proud of the fact that I have a failed marriage under my belt. It’s not like I want to start a relationship with someone and tell him right off the bat that I’ve been divorced. It doesn’t really set the right tone, you know?” She dropped her gaze to the floor, willing herself to go on. “I thought he was wonderful when I married him. Thought he was the perfect guy for me and I would have the idyllic life. But it went terribly wrong, and I’ve had a hard time trusting myself in a relationship since then.”
“He’s the reason Audrey said you don’t do relationships? You’re afraid you’ll end up with another Kyle?” She slowly nodded her head in agreement. “What did he do that was so bad? Make me understand this, Sabrina, because right now I just can’t see why you didn’t tell me.”
“Kyle was handsome and attentive, always made me feel special. We were both architectural students, we had shared interests, and he was very encouraging because he knew I had my family’s name to overcome. And the fact that there weren’t a lot of opportunities for female architects,” she breathed a heavy sigh. Thinking back on those days has been particularly painful for her. The fact she was digging them up to break them down for Chris was even worse. “I really thought he was perfect. He asked me to marry him, and I jumped at the chance. But as I started to have success, he began to get jealous and hated that I would get accolades and he wouldn’t. He said everything came to be because of my name, that I had no talent. He began to get verbally abusive, his jealousy manifested into a rage, and that turned into verbal and emotional abuse.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me? All because his wife was becoming famous? Little dick syndrome sounds like to me,” Chris huffed.
Sabrina smiled and nodded, then continued, “The verbal and emotional abuse went on for a few months. Then one night, it went too far,” she stopped talking and noticed the grip Chris had on his glass was getting a little tighter. She was afraid he might break the glass and cut his hand if he wasn’t careful. “He flew into a rage one night, all over a project where my building design beat out the one he submitted. He yelled at me, and as his anger escalated, he backhanded me, sending me across the room. He came over and hit me a few more times, wanting to make sure I understood just how angry and betrayed he felt. He left several marks that I was able to conceal with makeup when I went to work. But during my lunch break, I filed for divorce. I stayed late at work, told him it was due to a project; I just didn’t want to be alone with him. The next day, while he was at work, I moved out of the house. He was served with the divorce papers at the office, and I went into hiding.”
“Wait a minute, you were that scared, but you didn’t have him arrested for domestic abuse?” Chris asked incredulously; he could not believe she let him get away with it, this was not what he had expected at all. “Sabrina, why didn’t you hold him accountable for what he did to you?”
“Because, there would have been too much press. My name would have been dragged through the mud, and I didn’t want that. I was the victim, Chris, but you know as well as I do, the media tries to find a reason to blame the victim. I didn’t want that, I just wanted him to go away. More importantly, I didn’t want what he did to me to have an impact, positive or negative, on my career. I wanted to move on with my life and forget that I had ever married him.”
“Please tell me you at least got therapy or talked to someone about what you went through?” He watched as his words hit her. The tremors became more pronounced, and she slowly shook her head. “Why? You’re an intelligent woman, but this makes no sense. I don’t get it, I swear I just don’t get it.”
“Of course you don’t,” she snapped; her voice was shaky, but her words were clear. “You’re a man, you wouldn’t understand the stares and the doubt. The constant struggle to get people to look past the fact that just because you don’t have a dangling appendage between your legs doesn’t mean you aren’t talented or smart. You add to that mix that you’ve been abused and you definitely have no chance for someone to look at you and give you a fair shot.” The tears were starting to slowly escape her eyes and trickle down her cheeks. She wished they wouldn’t, but she couldn’t control them. “If no one knows, they can’t judge me for it. It’s as simple as that.”
As Chris watched her start to crumble, he began to feel like a complete ass for pushing her. He got it now, he could see why she kept this quiet, why she had to work her way up to discussing it with him. And here he was, forcing her to talk about it and making her feel bad about it. He pushed himself away from the bar, slowly walking over to where she was standing. He held out his hand, reaching for her, as they took a step towards one another, she practically fell into his embrace.
Chris held her tight, smoothing her hair, “Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry for upsetting you. I get it now, I do,” and he did, but he still didn’t like it. He continued to console her, rubbing her back and kissing her temple, “I feel horrible for how I acted, please forgive me.”
She pulled back, looking up into his striking blue eyes, she could see that he was sincere, there was a pain looking back at her. “I knew I needed to tell you, I just didn’t know how. We had our own issues, and I wasn’t ready to add this to the mix, I promise, I was going to tell you.”
“Ok,” he said as he pulled her back to him. He knew she was worried about the secrets and lies discussion and how this was going to impact the two of them. “I completely understand. Now that I know, it makes sense.”
She sighed heavily, the weight was lifted that he was okay with the divorce. But, she had more to tell him, and he might not accept this as willingly, this part scared her, “There is something else I need to tell you about,” her voice trailed off, and she started to pull away from him.
He didn’t like the sound of this. He watched her for a minute; she looked just as fearful as she did when she started talking about Kyle in the first place. Chris took a step towards the bar, “How about we sit down for this discussion?” Sabrina nodded and began to walk toward the couch. “Do you need a drink?” He asked and watched as she shook her head in response to his question. “Ok, I have a feeling I’m going to need one, though.” He poured a glass of whiskey, taking a large sip then topped it off again and joined her on the couch.
Sabrina was seated at one end, her back against the arm of the sofa with her legs tucked up under her. Chris sat at the opposite end, facing her, watching intently so he could gauge emotions and reactions. It took several minutes before she could get the nerve to speak. Chris took this as a sign that whatever she had to say must be more serious than the fact that she is divorced and was abused. Although, for the life of him, he could not even begin to wrap his brain around what that could be.
“Kyle was furious that I filed for divorce. He threatened me, calling the office and my cell. He didn’t know where I was staying, and I took crazy routes home every night just to make sure I wasn’t being followed. He contested the divorce, he liked the idea of being married to a Burnham and being linked to my family. He didn’t care if the divorce got ugly, he knew I didn’t want the publicity, but he welcomed it. He was counting on me not filing a police report for the assault, even though I had medical records and everything I needed. It would have been public, and the scrutiny would have been more than I could stand. I would have gotten my divorce but it would have been in the full glare of the public, and it wouldn’t have been quiet.”
Sabrina looked down at her lap, she figured Chris was judging her all over again. While he was more than aware of the need for privacy for certain aspects of his life, she knew he had to question why she let Kyle get away with so much. She was also rethinking that need for a drink. She almost reached across the couch and took the glass out of Chris’ hand. It was as if he could sense what she was thinking because he leaned over, giving her his drink. She raised her eyes to meet his and smiled. Taking his glass, she took a small sip and gave the whiskey back to him.
“Eventually the two of you reached some sort of agreement, though, right? I mean, you got your divorce from him.”
Sabrina scoffed at him, “I wouldn’t say we had an agreement, but there was at least an understanding of sorts. I reached out to Kyle, asking what it would take to get him to just go away. I knew that deep down, Kyle was greedy, it was going to boil down to money for him. So, I asked, what was it going to take to get him to divorce me and get out of my life,” Sabrina wasn’t sure how to get these next words out. “I offered him a lump sum payment but he wasn’t interested, he wanted part of my family’s legacy. If he couldn’t have it by being married to me, he was willing to tear it down. He dropped the bomb that he had been recording the two of us having sex. All of our intimate moments when I thought we were still in love with one another, before the abuse, he recorded all of them and planned on releasing them.”
The vein on the side of Chris’ head was suddenly prominent with the anger that was coursing through his body. His face had turned crimson, and Sabrina was fairly sure his blood pressure was dangerously high. He downed the remaining whiskey in his glass and stood to go and refill the glass. He didn’t utter a single word. He did, however, slam his glass down on the granite countertop, “Fuck!” He finally exclaimed, “You’re telling me that motherfucker planned on releasing sex tapes to try and ruin your reputation? All because he abused you and you were brave enough to divorce his sorry ass?” He poured the whiskey, not bothering the cap the bottle since he knew he was going to down the glass and need to refill it almost immediately.
“It’s hard to believe, but it gets worse,” she offered quietly.
“Really? How can it be worse? Please, go on,” he offered as he raised his glass.
“He knew a few unsavory folks who would release the videos and help him market them. The fact that I was well known in certain circles, including political ones, would mean that they could make significant amounts of money off of them. Kyle offered to keep them out of the hands of these people if I agreed to pay a monthly maintenance fee to him for storing them away.
“So, he’s been extorting money? Blackmailing you for ten years to keep sex videos secret? Damn it, Sabrina! How in the hell could you let this go on?”
“I had no choice, Chris. I couldn’t risk losing the career I’ve worked so hard to get. I couldn’t lose it all over sex tapes! It would have been embarrassing and degrading, to say the least. Not to mention how hard it would be to get anyone to take me seriously for work going forward. We agreed on a set price, but after the building collapse, when he was desperate for money, he raised the fee substantially so he could pay off his lawyers,” she looked up at Chris, hoping he could see the pain and distress in her eyes. This was so much harder to talk about than she had anticipated. “I’ve been tempted to turn him in, I really have. But since I’ve been paying him for so long, I will just be viewed as a bigger fool. So, I’ve remained quiet.”
“Wait a minute, what building collapse are you talking about?”
“There was a building that Kyle was overseeing the construction on, this was right as our divorce was being finalized. Anyway, the building collapsed and killed around a hundred workers, about twenty or thirty more were hurt. It was a big story,” Sabrina was cut off by Chris as she was starting to get into the details.
“Holy shit, I remember that story! It was national news, they thought the project manager was skimming on the project and using inferior products. Am I thinking of the right thing?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. The architect and project manager was Kyle. He was arrested and charged with murder and put on trial. He had a mob lawyer, and he got off. But it cost him his job. He can’t get hired anywhere as a lead architect, he’s got a job in Austin as a junior architect. Every design and drawing he does have to go to a safety engineer for approval before it can be moved to the next level or be built. He has no idea that I know all of those details, but people talk and tell me things. No one wants to work with him, he’s poison. The firm that hired him has him on a short leash from what I hear.”
“And tonight? What was he doing at the gala?”
“I haven’t seen him in years. He has been stalking me lately, sending me cryptic messages to let me know he was in Chicago. Evidently, he is still a member of the Architectural Society, and he received an invitation to the event. I didn’t know he was going to be there and I was, as you can imagine, not happy to see him.” While she had been willing to give Chris details about Kyle and how he was blackmailing her; she was not prepared to go into detail with him regarding the most recent pictures. She was dealing with that and would handle it, Chris didn’t need to know. “I was trying to make it clear to him that I wanted him to leave and get out of my life stay away from me.”
“It’s a good thing I didn’t know about any of this before seeing him at the event. Because rest assured, I would have beat the ever-loving shit out of him.”
Sabrina stood from the couch, walking into the kitchen where Chris was still standing at the bar. She was still shaking and tentative, but she wrapped her arms around his waist and placed her head on his chest. Chris immediately folded his arms around her, enveloping her in an embrace for which he hoped she could feel safe.
“I know my actions disappoint you,” she whispered, “but I was doing the best I could to hold everything together. I didn’t know what else to do, and I didn’t want him to release the videos.”
“What did Audrey tell you to do?” Chris asked, figuring that her best friend had to have given her some advice to help her through the situation. His question was met with silence; Sabrina was not responding at all. He pulled back from her, looking into her face, “Sabrina, Audrey knew about this, didn’t she?”
Slowly, Sabrina began shaking her head, “I didn’t tell anyone. Not my divorce attorney and not Audrey. You’re the only person I’ve ever admitted it to,” as she said those words, the tears began to well in her eyes again. She could almost feel the disappointment that was building in Chris’ chest.
He exhaled heavily, “Wow! Seriously? You never told Audrey about this?” He sidestepped Sabrina and moved to the other side of the bar, taking a seat on one of the barstools.
“Audrey knew he hit me, I didn’t keep that from her. But I never told her about the blackmail. She never liked Kyle, her dislike for him grew after he put his hands on me. But if she knew he was blackmailing me, I’m pretty sure she would have killed him.”
“Well, your problem would have gone away,” Chris laughed, realizing he shouldn’t be.
“Well, truer words have never been spoken. But, I knew that Audrey would have gone to the police, even if I asked her not to. It was not a risk I was willing to take. So, I shouldered it alone.”
“I think you underestimate Audrey. She is fiercely protective of you, but she knows how much your career means to you. She wouldn’t have put that in jeopardy. Deep down you know that.”
Sabrina nodded in agreement, “You realize now that I am beyond broken. Why aren’t you running from this apartment?”
“Well,” he started to say as he stood from the barstool and moved closer to her, “My flight doesn’t leave until Monday, and it’s a little late to go searching for a hotel right now.” He started to laugh at he pulled her into an embrace and kissed her forehead. “I’m teasing, Sabrina. You had a shitty relationship and Kyle left you with an enormous amount of baggage. But I’m going to prove to you that all men are not like Kyle. I am nothing like him, you don’t have to be afraid of me.”
Sabrina said nothing, she just held him tight. She could hear his heartbeat, strong and steady. Deep down she knew that what he was saying was the truth, he was nothing like Kyle. But in her mind, she kept going back to the fact that Kyle was sweet and attentive when she started dating him. The one variable in her relationship with Chris that scared her the most was the age difference. She was worried that he would get bored with her if she could not give him what he wanted the most, and that was children. If she gave herself to him, let herself love thoroughly and openly, and he broke her heart by walking away, she didn’t think she would be able to recover.
~ * ~
The smell of coffee and the sound of the shower woke Sabrina. As she slowly opened her eyes, she noticed her stainless travel mug on the nightstand next to an almost empty cup of coffee. She slowly sat up, wiping the sleep from her eyes, pulling the sheet up to cover herself. The bedroom was chilly, and her nightgown was not enough to keep her warm. She reached for her travel mug, letting the hot liquid coat her throat and warm her insides.
The water turned off, and she knew that within a few minutes, Chris would be entering the bedroom. Last night they had come upstairs and gone to bed, but there had been no sex. The fight after the gala, along with the discussion of her past, had killed any romantic overtures. In fact, they hadn’t even snuggled like they had in the past. It was as if the revelations of her past with Kyle had started to form a chasm between the two of them. She hoped she was simply overreacting. Hopefully, the lack of intimacy was simply because they were exhausted, and nothing more.
Chris came into the bedroom, jeans on, unbuttoned, no shirt and towel drying his hair. The sight of him was something to behold. He looked up to see Sabrina staring at him, a smile forming, “I see you decided to wake up.”
“How long have you been up?” She asked sheepishly, knowing she had been caught admiring his form.
“A few hours. I went downstairs so I wouldn’t wake you,” sitting on the edge of the bed, he leaned forward to give her a kiss. “I figured you could use the rest. But, it is almost noon, so I think you need to get that beautiful ass of yours out of bed.”
“You have plans for the day?” Sabrina tilted her head, raising her eyebrows to question his motives.
“I figured we could find something to do. Since we made an official debut last night, no need to hide in the apartment all day.”
Sabrina got out of bed, making her way to the bathroom while Chris went downstairs. When she joined him an hour later, she noticed that he had the blinds up in the living room and had the TV on.
“What’s going on?” She asked, curious as he seemed to be enthralled with something that was going on.
“I opened the blinds to look outside and saw all these police cars over on the North Shore. So, I turned on the TV, and there was a special report on that a body washed up on the beach this morning with the tide.”
“That happens more often than you’d think around here. The mob is still quite active, and they like to dispose of their enemies by tossing them in the Lake.”
Just as she finished her thought, the news anchor broke in, “To recap our breaking news story, a body has washed up on North Shore Drive this morning. The police are only saying it is the body of a male victim. They are not releasing his identity or his cause of death at this time. A source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, has indicated the victim was dressed in a tuxedo. The speculation is that he was either a guest at the National Architectural Gala at Navy Pier or was on one of the numerous dinner cruises that are on Lake Michigan each evening. The police are currently investigating these angles and are hoping to have a press conference with more information later this afternoon. We will keep you updated as we learn more.”
“Do you want to get out of the apartment or watch the news all day?” Sabrina smirked as she clicked off the television and looked over at Chris.
~ * ~
Special Agent Cherie Coleman was starting to worry, she had not heard from Kyle, he was late for his check-in. He had a rendezvous with Vinnie Saldonna on Saturday night, but she had no idea what it was about. Kyle didn’t seem too worried about it; he had been doing odd jobs for Vinnie over the last week or so. Every one of them had been recorded without incident. It bothered her how easily this man could lie. He was at ease with the recording device; she didn’t think there was anything to worry about as far as that was concerned. But why hadn’t Kyle checked in yet? It was almost two in the afternoon on Sunday, surely Kyle was home. She called the agents assigned to his apartment building, they had not seen him. Chapman hated working with her, but there is no way he would just leave her dangling like this. Asshole or not, he knew not to carry it this far.
Coleman decided to log into the Chicago PD blotter. Figuring she could get an idea of what had been dispatched and see if anything gave rise for her to be concerned. Sure, enough, right there on her screen, she saw it, ‘body on North Shore Drive.” She closed her laptop, grabbed her keys and took off for the scene. She couldn’t explain it, but she was positive this had something to do with Kyle. She turned her sirens on, something she rarely did in her vehicle and sped down the road. There was a power to command traffic like this; she could get used to it. As she arrived and pulled up behind the mass of police vehicles, she flashed her badge and ducked under the police tape to find the body.
She walked up to the medical examiner and the two Chicago PD Detectives who had been assigned the case. They were discussing the body and potential time of death. Coleman looked down at the body, it was uncovered. She reached for her cell phone; she had still not introduced herself to the gentleman in front of her. She dialed a number and upon the call connecting, spoke openly, “Director, this is Special Agent Coleman, and I’m sorry to bother you on a Sunday, sir. I need you to reach out to the Chief of Detectives for the Chicago PD and advise them that we will be taking over the case of the body that washed up on North Shore Drive.” Coleman was quiet for a moment, listening to whatever her Director was saying on his end of the line. “Yes sir, I do understand that. But I’m at the scene, and I can identify the body. The body is that of a confidential informant that I have been working with on a case. His name is Kyle Chapman.”