Desire Love and Passion
Author:Lesia Reid

chapter 10



James was right about one thing, the news would twist his date and his gift to Stacey. Willow was still asleep when he woke up and went downstairs for a drink. Larry, Henry, and Daphne, Henry’s wife, were already in the kitchen. Both men were laughing and talking but they fell silent as he entered.

“Good morning,” James said.

“You might change your mind when you see the papers,” Larry said.

James sat on one of the barstools in front of the island in the kitchen. Henry, the real chef of the house, was behind the island making some elaborate breakfast. Larry was having coffee and reading the papers from another barstool.

James took a quick glance at the paper before handing it back to Larry.

“It could be worse,” James said as he took a cup of coffee from Henry.

“Worse?” Larry balked. “Come on, you know I am no fan of Miss Barnes, but the reporter makes it sound as if you are ready to exchange nuptials with Stacey. What do you think she’s going to say when she sees this?”

“She said it was none of her business, basically,” James replied.

“What are we talking about?” Cassandra asked as she entered the main house from the common room. Giles was close behind her.

“This,” Larry shoved the paper at his sister.

“I said it was a bad idea,” Cassandra said after a quick read

“Willow knows about it,” James said.

Cassandra climbed onto one of the stools. Giles did as well. Henry served up coffee to everyone.

“How could she know?” Cassandra asked, “The paper just came out today.

“I told her everything last night. Now can we stop talking about this?”

“If you say so,” Larry said.

“Since you hate her so much Larry, why do you even care?”

“Because I’ve lived and worked with you for six years and this past month is the happiest I have ever seen you. So I concede. She has some good qualities. Though encouraging and actively participating in a plot to dodge your security in Ireland was not wise.”

“I can’t wait for the two of you to get married,” Cassandra said. “A free pass to fashion shows for the rest of my life.”

James listened for a moment to his friends. But they were more than employees and friends. They were his family. He wanted her to be a part of that circle. He didn’t want her separate, on the outside. He could not see his life with them and then a life with her, he wanted it all together. This loose fit of people he had personally hired had transcended being just employees and though he often said he was the boss, he very much liked their input in his life and he certainly enjoyed their company.

He knew the only way he would ever win her heart was to let her in. He knew he had to share secrets that were best left in the dark. When she told him in the morning they were not like other people, they had their demons to guard she had basically told him without letting go, there was no future for them. But how could he bring the monsters to her? How could he let them in? He had spent years locking them away tightly, pretending they did not exist.

After breakfast, he went back upstairs to the bedroom. She was still sleeping. She was on her belly, the sheets drawn up to her neck.

He took a quick shower, dried himself then decided to wake her up.

James climbed over her still sleeping figure. He pressed up against her and kissed her neck. She stirred.

“What time is it?” she asked in a sleepy voice.

“Almost nine.”

“It’s early.”

“Not when everyone else has already had breakfast.”

He moved enough for her to turn around and lay on her back. She was looking up at his naked figure.

“I was thinking about what you said this morning,” he began. “I want to show you something. If you want to leave after, it’s okay.”

Willow was barely awake, but she could see the hurt and strain in his eyes.

“What is it?” she asked.

He moved away from her and lay on his belly so she could see his back. He heard the gasp before her fingers gently moved over the deep lacerations that had long healed but left brutal scars that modern medicine had yet to conquer.

He heard movements from her side of the bed and closed his eyes. She had called him a hero, now she knew the truth, no hero would allow himself to be so tortured. He was a monster. He held his breath fighting the urge to cry, fighting the urge to beg her to stay. Then he felt it, soft kisses, gentle caresses and that was it, she had him forever.

She prompted him and he turned to look at her.

“You don’t have to be ashamed with me,” she said in a soft voice. “You are a war hero, I expect scars.”

“I am not hero,” he said.

“You are my hero,” she replied.

She dipped her head and kissed him sweetly on the mouth. He kissed her back.

“If you ever want to talk about those years,” she said, “I’ll listen.”

“I don’t understand you,” he said. “How can you be this way with me and want so little of me?”

“Still on that bloody house?” she asked, but there was no anger in her voice.

“You haven’t seen the news in the paper as yet.”

“Forget the papers,” she said. “She’s your friend, she’s broke, homeless and has three kids. It’s in your power to help, so I would expect nothing less. One of the reasons I invited you to Dublin and the reason I’m still here is because you know when and how to do the right thing. Everyone dodged the diplomatic aid thing because of you, yet you did exactly what was supposed to be done despite the fact that you were helping old enemies. Now that I see what was done to you, you’re an even better man than I thought.”

“Move in with me,” he said.

“You don’t always live here, remember?”

“I only stay at St James Place when I’m really tired and working very late,” he said. “For you, I would be here every night.”

“You travel with everyone in this house except Henry. I would go out of my mind.”

“You’ll travel with me.”

“I have a business to run,” she said.

“I’m not going to shoot down your every excuse,” he said.

“Stop pouting,” she said and kissed him.

He pushed her away gently.

“Mad at me?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

Her left hand ran down his naked body, across his waist and he caught it.

“I’m sure,” he said.

“Okay,” she said getting up. “Then I’m going home.”

“Are you going to threaten to go home every time we have an argument?” He turned to look at her.

“No, but if I’m going to be staying an extended time here I need to get more clothes and things like my laptop, my favorite cameras, you know, the stuff I have to have.”

“Are you saying -?”

“I was saying I wanted to have sex now and then worry about packing later, but if you’re sure you are not in the mood, then -.”

He reached up and pulled her onto the bed. Now it was her turn to feign pushing him away as he pinned her under his body.

The first month living together was all about adjustments. She preferred to work into the early hours of the morning, he preferred going to bed at a reasonable hour. He preferred getting up early in the morning. She preferred getting up when the sun was closer to noon. Even though she had Henry, who prepared exquisite high end delicacies, Willow still relied heavily on a salad after work.

“James,” she said on Sunday morning after they finished making love, “I want to tell you something about me?”

“What is it?” he asked.

“My name was not always Willow Barnes,” she said. “I was born Claudia Harper.”

The name had a ring of familiarity about it, but he could not quite place it at the moment.

“Okay,” he said slowly reaching into his mind for a memory.

“My parents were anthropologists,” she continued. “Doctors Akyini and Jeffrey Harper.”

Now the memory came to him. They were once Britain’s best known anthropologists. They died tragically in Central America years ago. Their daughter, Claudia, had been presumed dead or kidnapped.

“Wow,” he said. “You’re like an open cold case.”

“Something like that,” she admitted. “I wasn’t missing or kidnapped, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. John was my godfather and at the time, I wanted nothing to do with my father’s family. My mother was an only child and her parents died a few years before the accident which meant my other relatives were all Harpers. John helped me change my name and I stayed in France until the whole thing died down.”

“You didn’t like your father’s family?”

“I loved them. For you to understand the state of my mind, I have to go back a little further. My father bought me my first camera when I was four or maybe five. I absolutely adored it. I took it everywhere I went. I had an unlimited supply of camera equipment. My father even taught me how to develop photographs by the time I was seven. My parents were also madly in love with each other and that’s where John came in. I was young, vulnerable to suggestions and he planted it in my mind that my father gave me all this photography stuff so I would stay out of his hair. Then the accident happened and everything got jumbled and messed up.”

“You were with them that day?”

“Yes. In the morning we all went to the site together because my parents had found what they believed was a secret antechamber. It turned out that the chamber was below and what was above was a very delicate bubble. They didn’t know. I mean they measured parts of it and the walls were a foot thick, but then they climbed up and the top was only inches thick. It happened quickly, the ground gave out under my mother and my father reached out and snatched her out of the air, just like that. He was holding on to column he’d just planted. The column could not hold both their weights. My mother told him to him to let her go. She was crying, he was crying and I was crying.

“She kept whispering that she loved us and that my father needed to let go to save himself. He just kept trying to get a good grip. It seemed like forever. The whole thing started falling away and my father looked at me and said, ‘Claudia, I love you but I cannot live knowing. I hope one day you will forgive me’. Then he swung her so high I thought that was it, they would make it, but the column broke away and he hugged her. They didn’t scream, just whispers in the wind, then a soft thud.

“I called John. I told him what happened. I could never forget my father’s words. And John said my father chose to die rather than live for me. At nine, it seemed plausible. It seemed right and I hated all things Daddy. And Daddy was a Harper, so I hated that, too. I didn’t figure out what my father meant for years, not until I was twenty one or twenty two and I was telling Michel about it one night. And then I understood. If my father had not caught my mother, it would have been okay. He would have lived and probably moved on, but the minute he caught her, he couldn’t let go. It was not about loving me less, it was living with the guilt of knowing he had her in his grasp and let go.

“John and I sort of had a falling out after that. But I still loved him. I mean he gave me everything I ever wanted and he was a loving guardian. When he took sick and I went to visit him in the hospital, he told me about how my parents met. How he had invited my mother to a frat party and the moment my father laid eyes on her, he had said some corny thing like, ‘where have you been all my life’, and my mother said, ‘waiting for the perfect moment’. They wanted to get married the very next day, but my father’s parents insisted they have a proper wedding so my parents set a maximum delay of two weeks, and that was it. Twenty six years of marriage on a dumb line like that, John said.

“The crazy thing is I forgave John. I couldn’t hate him anymore. I thought I would leave the hospital and find my father’s family and tell them everything. I drove up to the family house. I was so close, just a few feet away from the gate and I couldn’t go up and ring the bell. I was so ashamed of how I had been easily manipulated and then two months later, you had to go and hit my car.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“You don’t get it,” Willow said.

“What do you mean?”

“When you came over to my car and I looked up at you, all I wanted to say was that stupid line, ‘where have you been all my life?’. It wasn’t just the handsome face. It was as if I knew you. As if I had lived that day before and I was in a dream and I would wake up and you would be there beside me as you have always been. I was afraid if I gave in to you then the whole dream would fall apart. You probably think it’s crazy or that I’m crazy. I’m not talking about déjà vu. It’s just that sometimes when I’m with you there is this overwhelming sense of familiarity. I still wonder if this is the dream or if this is reality. I love you, James.”

“Oh my God,” he pulled her into a big hug and rained kissed all over her face. “I love you Will. I loved you the minute you looked up at me with those big eyes.”

“That’s my demon.”

“I love you,” he said again. “I love you.”

“Okay,” she laughed one of her throaty laughs that always excited him. “I got the message the first time.”

“I should have gotten the message the first time,” he said.

“What are you talking about?”

“The first time we made love. You trusted me.”