Missing Pieces – Part Two: The Morning After
She awoke to the smell of breakfast and it sent her flailing up out of the warm nest of blankets, “Hamilton dammit! Get out of my kitchen—!”
Around her the navy blue and hunter green scheme of the room sent in a bewildered state of confusion. And then she remembered where she was with a suddenness that had her gasping dramatically out loud in a way that would have undoubtedly gotten her teased had anybody been in the room with her.
She was in Bry’s bed.
She’d overslept clearly by the light filtering through the windows. Not surprising actually as she’d been up all night wracked with an overly creative libido and imagination. At least this Australian vacation had meant no more crack of dawn workouts, but honestly, the energy that was sizzling through her right now needed an outlet. With a muttered curse at Andersens everywhere she launched herself into a series of stretches, kicks, crunches and push-ups designed to loosen her up and keep her in the taut shape she’d been molded into. The motions were like a poetic weaponization of Tai Chi and she found herself unable to center her mind as instead she remembered Bryce’s assertion that Amelia could take her. “Ohh yeah?!” Henri growled at the poster of a mountain range that hung before her. “That fluffy arsed house wife hasn’t been trained by an Andersen! Much less three of them!” She flipped off the poster and then blushed at herself as she folded her free hand over the rude gesture and curled both hands into her chest. She shot her gaze around the room to make sure no one had seen her before realizing how silly she was being.
She huffed over to her suitcase and took out her carefully folded and sealed clothes. Her toiletry bag tucked under her free arm. Henri couldn’t resist a quick glance around to make sure she was still alone before she threw one last glare back at her imaginary Amelia foe. “I’d kick your booty,” she said to the mountains. Pulling the door closed behind her and scampering down the hall for a shower.
Whitley stretched languidly against the undeniably male body next to her in bed. He was clearly awake as one hand stroked down her side and curled in arm around her drawing her in tighter. She was usually pretty clever at slipping out before that happened, but this was the second time she’d actually awakened to Jeremy. And as he’d proven the last time, this was not really such a bad thing.
“Isn’t this where you tell me in your ‘tone’ that you’re not really a morning person and that you don’t care for morning sex?” He rumbled into the crook of her neck and shoulder before taking a nibbling bite there that had her squirming.
“I’m not a morning person…” She asserted even as she threw a leg over his hips and rolled him on top of her, “but I do stand corrected on the other issue.”
“Nope.” He argued. Bracing on his elbows above her, his shaggy hair curling about his face.
“No?” Surprise edged her sleepy features.
“You’re not standing.” He grinned.
She was rolling her eyes even as he kissed her laugh away.
Henri hopped out of the shower, dried herself off and then dutifully dried off and recollected all of her toiletries back into their individual little pockets and pouches. Then she carefully dried off the shower walls before hanging the towel in rigid folds guaranteed to let it dry out the quickest. Dressed in a skirt and a blouse, she slid her feet into her Mary Janes and blow dried her hair into submission. A dab of lip gloss, a swipe of mascara and her glasses firmly affixed upon her nose, she headed back to Bry’s room to put her toiletry bag and pajamas away. The entire process had only taken her 25 minutes. She avoided looking at the mountain poster again. It was silly to associate it with Amelia and she was above such petty things after all. She just did not understand how such an uncouth and uncivilized woman could dare think she could talk to Bryce like that, and throw things at him?! “Goodness.” She huffed with an angry glance at that poster she’d just convinced herself not to look at. “You’re lucky you’re the mother of Brett’s child, because otherwise…” Well, otherwise she really wouldn’t do anything. In fact, if she wasn’t Olivia’s mother, Henri probably wouldn’t have any reason to actually dislike her so that line of thinking was rather pointless, she reasoned. “Well, let’s just say if you think you’re keeping Brett from his daughter you’ve got another think coming lady, my mother AND brother are damn good lawyers and they’ll show you. And Shawna, Shawna will whoop you into next Tuesday.” She lifted her chin angrily at the poster.
The glow of her cell phone caught her attention and her pugnacious expression melted away as she realized it was a message from Jacob. Pulled from her ranting at the symbol of Amelia (an empty mountain range, pretty sure there was some kind of metaphor right there that would make a great insult if she could just think about it long enough…well it was a very pretty mountain range, but it, was mysterious and …and…hmmm…) Her phone beeped in her hand again and she drew herself back to the present, she’d think of a good insult later. Guiltily she sent him an apologetic message explaining how she’d fallen out last night and was unable to call him like they’d planned. She blushed as she realized she couldn’t tell him the truth. In reality she couldn’t bring herself to talk to Jacob when she was lying in Bry’s bed thinking about him. Open relationship or not, that just seemed deceptive.
“And not all women are deceivers, Ah MEAL yuh.”
She gathered up her purse and flounced past the poster, closing the door gently behind her.
“Looks like it is all clear.” He announced after pulling his head back into the bedroom. She sat propped up on the pillows, her dark hair spilling all about her shoulders. A sheet lazily draped over her nudity as she waited to hear if the shower was open. He had slid on his jeans but nothing else as he assessed the hallway for her walk of shame. Not that she was feeling particularly shameful.
He padded back toward her and leaned in to give her a final kiss. He’d said he was going to “see to things” before a shower and would just slip out the back, letting everyone think he’d slept in the barn last night, so that her night in his bed would not be suspect. She thought it was sweet that he cared about her reputation, her hands tracing down over his shoulders and his naked chest as the kiss deepened.
Her nails lingered on the scar along his ribs and just like last time he shied away, twining her fingers in his and bringing it to his lips. It was a subconscious gesture that he didn’t even realize he was doing, of this she was sure. But his need to avoid had drawn her in like a cat. Curiosity always her downfall. Before the Alliance she would have most likely had simply slipped inside Jeremy’s mind and sought the answers.
Instead, she drew her fingers free and returned them to the ridged flesh and held his gaze, “Don’t want to talk about it, I take it?”
His brow furrowed in surprise at this direction and just when she thought he might respond with some deception or even exhibit some irritation, his expression simply became more serious, and his tone resigned, “Knife fight.”
She could feel the honesty in the answer and the calm acceptance of his past deeds. But she also felt the weight of his regret. His smile remained, but as she looked from him to the scar and back again, it had thinned and his breathing held momentarily as he seemed to be gearing up to tell her something he’d rather not share but still would if she asked.
“A dancing knife fighter?” She teased, keeping it light, “So, the circus is where Ms. Andersen found you, then? Hmm?” She tickled her fingers up over his ribs, letting him know that she was not going to pursue it and take them into the darkness.
His appreciation was obvious, the tension melting as his smile returned with warmth.
“Oh most definitely.” He chuckled. “It was right after, or was it before,” he pretended to be confused, “my burlesque days?”
She snort laughed.
It wasn’t a noise she was used to making really and the noise surprised her as much as it did him.
“Did you just snort?!”
Her laugh only got louder as she tried to roll free from him and the bed.
“Oh no you don’t, I definitely have to hear the lovely lady Ferriero make that noise again.” He wrestled her back and she struggled against him, choking on her laughter to the point her lashes grew wet.
Their mock fighting became tickling and then the tickling became something else. And before too long, Whitley Ferriero missed her opportunity to shower again.
“Good morning Mrs. Andersen.” Henri chirped as she entered the kitchen, placing her purse on a stand nearby. “Bryce!” She said with some surprise at the sight of the youngest Andersen brother on the team. She couldn’t remember ever seeing him at the breakfast table before anyone, except maybe Shawna, of course.
“Well good mornin’ dear, does somethin’ seem the matter?” Mrs. Andersen was warm stately grace as she made a plate for Henri filled with enough portions to feed her for the week.
“Oh no, I’m just not used to seeing Bryce at the breakfast table first.”
At that he grinned at her, boyishly, and it was wondrous to see him so at ease. After his disappearance and coma, he’d come back hardened and troubled, but here at his mother’s hearth he seemed almost whole again. Henri felt a weight in her throat and resisted the urge to throw herself at him and hug him tight. Bryce Andersen was her absolute bestest friend and anybody who couldn’t see the purity in him was a damn fool.
“Well, that might be now, m’dear, but Bryce was always the first one at my breakfast table.” Mrs. Andersen explained as she nudged out a chair for her.
“Your boys certainly can eat.” Henri agreed as she took the offered chair.
“Yeah, Brett was usually the last at the table but somehow the first one finished.” Bryce said around a bite of food that Henri pretended not to notice.
Of course, while she was willing to give him a break on his lack of manners she was left utterly open mouthed at the sight of Bry arriving in the kitchen in what could only be called his pajamas. Her mouth went dry at the sight of his worn tank top clinging tightly to his chest and leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. The sweats he wore hung low on his hips and his feet were bare. She wasn’t used to seeing him without his customary hoodies and concealing clothes.
“Good morning.” He exchanged pleasantries before his gaze lit on Henri and he asked, “Somethin wrong?”
“Well yes.” She managed.
He gave her a quizzical look as his mother passed him a plate of food to rival Bryce’s.
“You’re in your pajamas.” She choked out.
His quizzical look turned more confused as he nodded affirmation and Bryce glanced between the two of them, “He is.”
“You don’t wear your pajamas to breakfast!” Henri gasped, her tone a little more censorious because of the flushed heat that had beset her. She’d spent half the damn night tossing and turning thinking about that chest. She didn’t need to have it flaunted right in front of her.
“Yes you do.” Both Andersen’s argued.
“No you most certainly do not. It is rude.”
“What do you mean you don’t wear your pajamas to breakfast, what do you wear then?” Bryan seemed to be legitimately puzzled by her assertion.
“You get dressed for the day.” She stated the obviousness of the answer with a librarian’s tone of disapproval.
“Well seein as to how I like to sleep without a stitch on, but I gave up my bedroom, I’d think you’d be happy I put on the pajamas in the first place.” Bryan muttered.
Henri had no response. She was too busy sputtering as her musings from last night came thundering back to her compelled by a naked Bry and his bedroom.
“Can you get this nonsense?” Bryce and Bryan shared a look and a shake of their head when Foster walked in the front door carrying a newspaper. “You’d think wearin’ pajamas to the kitchen was a sin.”
“We didn’t eat breakfast in the kitchen, we ate it in the solarium.” Henri managed.
“What the hell’s a solarium?” Bryce asked as Foster greeted Mrs. Andersen.
“Somethin’ rich people eat breakfast in clearly.” Bryan answered.
“It’s not only rich people who don’t wear pajamas to breakfast—“ Henri began.
“Right, Henri, what’s the name of your driver again?” Bryan asked, the question weighted with the edge of proof being delivered.
The sharp turn in the conversation had Henri tilting her head quizzically, “When I lived at home with my parents or my driver now?”
Bryce snorted into his eggs and Bryan rolled his eyes, “See, you’re so rich you don’t even know your ‘driver’s’ name.”
“I most certainly do too!” Henri drew herself up indignantly, “I still send Christmas cards to my childhood driver, for the record, his name is Charles and he is quite happily retired and—“
Bryce crowed with delight, “I was so going to guess Charles! It had to be Charles!”
Whitley chose that moment to enter the room, flushed and sparkling with a contented energy; she didn’t have the usual brittle sense of tiredness that came after 14 hour shifts saving lives at the Paragon Center balanced against saving lives with the Alliance as Brujeria. This Australian vacation had brought a mischievous hint of girlishness to her smile, “Charles who?”
Foster interjected, “They’re giving Henri a hard time for having a driver.”
“Well, who had a driver growing up?” Bryan argued.
“I did.” Foster remarked as he declined a plate of breakfast and sat down at the table, newspaper folded beneath his palm.
Bryan asked, chuckling, “Of course you did, and what was his name?
Foster nonchalantly replied, “How should I know? He wasn’t allowed to talk to me.”
Bryan seemed at a loss for a moment but Bryce broke the quiet by swinging his head incredulously toward Whitley, “seriously?”
She arched a brow as she quietly added, “What? I had drivers too.” A pause at Bryce’s widening eyes, “Armed drivers. And I didn’t speak to any of them. They were there to keep my father’s rivals from kidnapping, torturing, raping or murdering me.”
That note seemed to have ended the conversation for the Andersen’s and the pregnant pause would have gone on indefinitely if Henri hadn’t chosen to ask, “Who was your driver?”
“An 11 year old Brett.” Bryan deadpanned.
Whitley laughed even as Henri took a minute to mull that over, “I’m not sure what the driver’s license requirements are in Australia but that does seem to me to be—“
Mrs. Andersen re-entered with another tray of food, her smile genuine and pleasant at the sight of Whitley. Their morning exchanges were authentic and warm and Whitley couldn’t help but feel a sense of connection with this woman. Perhaps it was the relation to the Andersen’s, but it was also due to the way Jeremy spoke about her, as if she were an angel who had come into his life at a critical moment and offered him salvation. Salvation from what, they hadn’t discussed, but his devotion to this woman was undeniable and Whitley found herself dropping her façade of ‘whatever the situation called for’ and instead being herself around her.
With a slightly knowing and approving smile, Hannah Andersen handed Whitley two plates after their morning pleasantries, “It doesn’t take Jeremy long to finish up the morning chores. He’ll be along shortly, go easy on the bacon, he prefers the vegetables.”
Whitley’s lashes flared wide and she felt her cheeks flush slightly in a way that hadn’t happened in too many years to count. She felt a flutter in her belly and her heart tripped for a moment as if she were a schoolgirl caught making out behind the bleachers or mooning after her crush. Not about to let anybody else catch that exchange she hurriedly tried to switch gears, “Where’s Brett and Shawna this morning?”
“Sleepin’ in m’dear, and then Brett was plannin’ on showin’ his Sheila around to his memory haunts.”
“So there’s time for me to go by the bike track then.” Bryce began having overheard his mother. At this point, Foster once again cleared his throat in that way that politely demanded attention.
“I really think you should all take a look at this.” He flattened out the newspaper on the table before him and they all leaned in to see what had caught his attention.
Whitley caught just a piece of the headline:
New Details in the Museum Massacre.