Page 39 of Corrupted

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She takes my hand and tugs. We go silent as we stand around the gazebo, and the couple inside exchange loving words. Christmas music plays in the background, and Raphael, who I met last week, comes on to the scene dressed as Santa. He speaks to the couple, but we’re too far to hear. I caught Londyn skimming through the script over the last week, and her big smile is a clear indication she knows what’s being said.

“He’s telling them wishes made at Christmas do come true.”

I nod and avoid looking at her. I don’t believe in anything Christmas, but I’d be a real prick if I didn’t let her live in this fantasy world a little while longer. We continue standing, and when the couple kiss and the cameras span the crowd, everyone is hugging and kissing, and I pull her to me. Her face is awash in happiness as I kiss her. My God, she’s so into this, gobbling up the festive season like it’s a big turkey dinner and she hasn’t eaten in weeks. Am I a total prick for not putting up a tree, decorating it together? For not going back to spending the holidays with my sister when I caught the melancholy in her voice?


Marci yells out, “Cut,” and I dip my head.

“Do you want to hang around a bit longer, or head to the restaurant?”

She smiles up at me, all dreamy-like. “I’m ready to go.”

The walls around my heart crumble a little more and I shake my head. “Let’s go.” I put my arm around her and lead her through the crowds.

“Did you notice the costumes?” she asks.

“Yeah, they went with the ones you fixed. You did such a good job they didn’t need to order more. I’m sure they put the donations to better use.”

“It kind of makes me happy that they went with the original costumes. It sort of fits with the rags to riches story they’re going for.”

“Couldn’t have happened without your sewing talents.”

She smiles, a new lightness in her step as I lead her into the well-known seafood restaurant. I open the door and put my hand on her back to guide her in.

“This place is gorgeous,” she says quietly. “I’m sure we’ll need a reservation.”

“I called ahead.”

She gives my arm a squeeze and it travels to my damn heart. “Here I’ve been ignoring you and you’ve been planning this.”

I bend and whisper in her ear. “Is that what you think, that you’ve been ignoring me?”

“It’s what I know.”

The hostess takes our coats, and puts us at a quiet table for two, a nice private spot in the corner like I asked. I unbutton my suit jacket and sit. As she admires the aesthetics of the place, I open the wine menu and scan it.

“Chardonnay?” I ask.

“Still my favorite.”

“Since we’re walking...” I close the menu and order a bottle when the server comes.

“Are you trying to get me drunk?” she asks, as bread, oil and vinegar are served to us.

I wait until we’re alone. “When I get you in my bed, I don’t want you drunk, babe. I want you wide-awake and aware of everything I’m doing to you.”

She visibly quakes, and I grin. The bottle of wine is brought over and served, and when it’s just the two of us again, I tap glasses with hers and we both take a sip. I don’t want to spoil tonight, or pierce her balloon of happiness, but I lean forward, wanting to talk about the auction, and her eyes meet mine. Her body stiffens. Clearly she knows what’s on my mind.

“So, the auction house,” she begins, takes a big sip of her wine and sets it on the table. She toys with the stem, her gaze flitting to mine. “As you know my father can be controlling at times.”

I smooth my hand over my coat, and push back in my chair. “I know.”

“Unfortunately for me,” she says, twisting her cloth napkin in her hand. “He’s made some very bad investments.” Her lashes lift slowly. “From what he said, his conglomerate is in real trouble.” She laughs but it’s humorless. “I have ideas, of course. But he won’t listen to a word I have to say.”

“That’s a mistake on his part.”

“Thank you for saying that.” She takes another sip of wine, and the server comes to take our orders. We both have a quick look at the menu but after what I just heard, and what I fear she’s going to say, my stomach has soured.