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Enlighten (Thornhill Trilogy Book 2) by J.J. Sorel (1)

CHAPTER ONE
“These are for you, Clarissa.” Greta handed me a large bunch of blood-red roses.
My arms were suddenly weighed down by what appeared to be at least five dozen roses. Brushing against my face, the flowers released such an intoxicating perfume that it took me a moment to gather my senses.
“They’re beautiful. You shouldn’t have,” I said, standing aside to allow her passage. Strewn with clothes from my recent arrival, the room was shamefully messy.
“They’re not from me, Clarissa.” Greta raised an eyebrow. “From an admirer, I would hazard to guess.” 
I answered her wry grin with an uncertain smile. We both knew who they were from.
“I can’t stay, got lots to do. Since we fired Bryce, I’m running the Veterans’ Health Center, as well as the estate.”
Placing the flowers on the table, I was about to respond when a card fell out of them, landing on the ground. My focus did a sharp shift from Greta’s penetrating stare to the white envelope on the floor. All I could hear was my heart pounding.
When I finally snapped out of it, I noticed Greta’s big blue eyes upon me. “Oh, yes, of course,” I said finally. “I can pop over in an hour or so and start work. I’d like to.”
“That’s good of you to offer,” said Greta, doing a quick sweep of my unsettled space. “There’s no need to hurry back. You’ll need some time to settle in first, I think.”
“I’ve already taken enough time off,” I said, fidgeting with my sleeve button.
“That’s not an issue, Clarissa. We’re just happy to have you back,” said Greta, smiling. “Tomorrow will be fine. I’d like to discuss a new fund-raising idea that Aidan has come up with.”
“I’m looking forward to hearing about it. The galas were fun, though,” I said, my voice wavering. A replay of my dramatic exit from the last ball flashed before me—running away, tears streaming down my face, after that chilling confrontation with Aidan’s ex.
“They’ve run their course, I believe,” said Greta. She lingered for a moment. I could tell she wanted to say something. “Your father should be back later today. He’s dying to see you. Would you like to catch up for dinner this evening?”
“I’d love that. I dropped in briefly last night. He was up to his head in new acquisitions and off in la-la-land. He’d picked up some rare editions of Henry James. I could barely get a moment of his attention.”
Greta laughed. “Tell me about it. Anyway, he’s got to eat.”
“Let’s do that, then, Greta,” I said, my legs weak with anticipation as I side-glanced the little white envelope.
“How does seven o’clock sound?” asked Greta.
“Perfect.” I hugged Greta, seeing her to the door.
After Greta had disappeared down the cobbled path back into the main house, I returned to the table, indulging in the heady perfume of roses that had taken over the room.
My stomach tightened as I ripped open the envelope.
The card that quivered in my hand had an image of two lovers entwined with an angel overhead. It read: I can breathe again knowing that you’ve come home. Love Aidan.
I expelled a long sigh. Two weeks seemed like a lifetime of being apart. Aidan would be back on Saturday, which was when I’d been engaged to perform at Dorothy and Rudi Cohen’s soiree.
I didn’t want to do it. But I’d promised to give a talk on Gustav Klimt. They were such nice people, and good friends of Aidan’s. I’d agreed to it when Aidan was by my side, his arm around me tightly. Supporting me, loving me.
The buzz from my phone made me jump, startling me out of my dream. I pressed the button.
“Tabs, where are you? Are you back?” I missed not having my best friend to talk to. With her kick-ass, knock-out-imagined-fear attitude, Tabitha was the person I needed to speak to.
“I am. I got back last night. Are you in Malibu?” she asked.
“Yes.” I expelled a long-winded sigh.
“Hey, what’s up? You don’t sound too good.”
“That’s an understatement. I don’t know where to start, to be honest,” I said, walking around and looking for a vase big enough to house the largest bunch of roses I’d ever received.
“Has something happened between you and Aidan?”
“You could say that,” I said, poking my head into the cupboard.
“What are you doing? You’re making a racket, Clary.”
“Sorry. I’m just looking for a vase big enough for sixty roses.”
Tabitha whistled. “Let me guess? From Aidan?”
“Ah-hu,” I said, flopping onto the sofa in defeat.
“So then, tell me, what happened?”
“Jessica, his ex, turned up uninvited to the last gala event. She cornered me and gave me the story of her sordid life with Aidan.” I took a breath, expecting Tabitha to jump in, but she remained uncharacteristically quiet. “Anyway, she told me that she’d found Aidan in bed with Amy, that’s the PA before me. And that the shock was so great that Jessica ran and slipped and fell, causing a miscarriage. The child, according to her, was Aidan’s.”
“Holy shit! Oh Clary. You poor thing,” said Tabitha.
“Yeah, well. Anyway, Aidan told me it wasn’t his child. Jessica had bedded half of LA, apparently. And that he’d broken off with her at the time.”
“That sounds reasonable enough. Have you taken him back?  Please say you have,” sang Tabitha.
Good question!
“Not quite, Tabs.” My voice was small. Expecting one of Tabitha’s tirades, I held the phone away from my ear.
“Why the fuck not? Clary, need I remind you that Aidan is one hot catch?”       
“I know. I’ve been so damn miserable. Anyway, enough of me. I’m dying to see you,” I said, lifting my tone to forced cheeriness.
“What about this afternoon?” asked Tabitha.
“That would be great. I need your head-kicking advice. Are you at our place?”
“No.”
I wasn’t expecting that answer. “Where are you?”
“I’m at Venice Beach. It’s the same building where Aidan has his penthouse. Evan has an apartment there as well—gifted to him by none other than your very generous lover. All of Aidan’s security staff live here. Evan told me that Aidan bought the whole apartment complex to house his ex-army buddies.”
Why was it that every time I heard something about Aidan, it was to do with his generosity?
I missed him madly. My body, like that of a drug addict in withdrawal, was in so much pain. It was worse at night. Even my dreams were intruded upon by Aidan, deliciously naked, holding me, taking me deeply, only to leave me to awaken with creamy longing between my legs, and a throbbing heart that shriveled in cold tears.
“Do you want me to meet you in Venice somewhere?” I asked, not sure if I could handle visiting Aidan’s other home. It would only summon up memories of when we made love all day and night, causing me to hobble about the following day.
“I’d love you to come by. I can’t wait to show you my new home, Clary,” said Tabitha.
“Your new home? Seriously, Tabitha? I mean, are you sure you’re ready to move in with Evan? It’s only been a few weeks, after all.”
Tabitha giggled. “I knew you’d say that. We’ve just spent two weeks together. And we were inseparable. It was beyond amazing.”
“But I want to talk to you in private. I need some of your sage if not reckless advice,” I implored.
“I’m alone. Evan’s got some business to attend to. He won’t be back until later tonight. It will be just us. I’m dying for you to meet him, though,” said Tabitha.
“I’ll be there in an hour. Do you want me to pick anything up on the way?”
“Yeah, donuts. I’ve got such a craving for them,” said Tabitha.
“Oh God, Tabs, tell me you’re not pregnant,” I said.
Tabitha laughed. “No way, silly girl. You know how much I love donuts.”
“Yeah, sure. It just seems like a lifetime since I’ve seen you. I’ll pick some up. Catch you soon, sweetie. I can’t wait. I’ve missed you, Tabs,” I said, my voice cracking. Oh no, not tears again. I’d become such a cry baby.
“I’ve missed you too, Clary.”      
After putting down the phone, I went back to look for some vases. One was never going to do it, so I opted for the three vases I found in the cupboard. With the perfume rushing through me and making me all dreamy, I separated the long-stem roses carefully to avoid piercing my fingers. I placed some in each vase. After which, I stepped back to study them, making sure there was symmetry.
I picked up the card Aidan had sent and kept staring at it as if trying to glean more from it. The love heart made my skin tingle.
Greta must have informed Aidan of my return. That didn’t surprise me. The relief emanating from her face when I’d agreed to come back to the estate was stamped all over her normally stoic visage. Aidan’s happiness meant everything to her. It was one of the many reasons I’d formed a deep affection for Aidan’s aunt. I loved that Aidan’s well-being was Greta’s primary concern. I also appreciated, deeply, that Greta had liberated my darling father from a lonely existence by becoming his girlfriend.

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