The curling iron sat steaming along with enough make-up products to stock Macy’s scattered across the bathroom counter, Reese Walker nervously applied a second, or maybe third layer of mascara before putting the applicator down and looking at her reflection.
Her medium-long brown hair fell in soft curls around her shoulders, cascading down her back, her blue eyes should have sparkled or lit up or anything but what they were doing, looking flat and unhappy possibly even depressed.
Reese let out a frustrated sigh before haphazardly tossing her make-up back in the top drawer and then throwing open the double doors on her closet and frantically searching for something professional looking to wear.
Not Prada, not Marc Jacobs, even Betsey Johnson was looking poor today, and then she found it, an Armani black pencil skirt with an adorable matching tailored jacket. She matched it with her favorite black Mary Jane pumps and a silky powder blue camisole with just enough lace to make the outfit very feminine but not even slightly alluring.
This time when she looked in the mirror she smiled, the sparkle in her eyes had returned, maybe it was all about the clothes, or maybe she was getting excited. Whatever it was, she didn’t mind it at all.
At twenty-four, Reese had just completed her sixth year of law school at Yale University. One more grueling year and she’d be a lawyer whether it was what she wanted or not. It kept her mother at peace and that was good enough for her.
Reese grabbed her keys off the sparkling blue and black granite counter tops in her kitchen as she made her way to the garage where her baby sat. A Ford Fusion, in metallic black, it was a beauty.
Half an hour later she was sitting in front of one of the biggest law firms in New Haven, founded in the early 1900’s by Hubert Hanson, the great-great-grandfather of Reese’s future fiancée, Preston Hanson, and Hubert’s brother, Henry, thus Hanson & Hanson Law was born.
Reese exhaled loudly as she parked the car, the building intimidated her from here, and she couldn’t fathom how she’d feel when she actually got out of the car. She had been here before, of course, but this was different, she was applying for a job. She had enough training to become a paralegal or any other kind of assistant, but she wanted an internship or was informed rather, by her professor that it was the best way to ensure a job when she graduated.
Reese willed herself out of the car and pushed through the huge glass doors to see Ruth, a very sweet old lady that seemed to work only for the fun of it as she had passed retirement age a couple of decades ago, but it made Reese happy to see her there. She always reminded her of the Granny from the Looney Tunes cartoons.
“How may I help you, Miss Walker?” Ruth asked.
“I’m here to see Mr. Hanson,” Reese answered, her voice sounding dry and scratchy.
“Preston isn’t here, sweetie, did you have plans with him?”
“No, I’m not here to see Preston. I have an appointment with Paul,” she explained, her voice clearing a little.
Reese turned to see Paul Hanson barreling through the reception area, his pudgy cheeks, and belly bouncing as he wrapped Reese in a rib-crushing hug.
“Hello?” It came out more like a question due to the lack of oxygen.
“Oh! Reese!” Paul beamed as he pushed her away; he examined her as if she was the prodigal child.
“How are you, Mr. Hanson?” She asked politely, trying to end this awkward moment.
“Preston called this morning and told me the news! Let me see that ring!” He grabbed her left hand and lifted it, “where is it?”
Reese smiled, suddenly nervous. “Oh! No! I must have forgotten it! I’m afraid that I am not quite used to it yet.”
Apparently that reason was good enough because he hugged her tightly again. “Now, did you come all the way down here just to tell me of your engagement?”
“I have an appointment with you about an internship,” she told him.
“Yes, of course, I forgot all about that with all the excitement! Come with me,” he grabbed her arm and pulled her into an elevator.
What seemed like an ion later, they were walking down a long hallway to a gigantic corner office with large windows overtaking the room to such a point that Reese wondered how it could be structurally sound. She took in the room, the same creamy paint that was on the first floor seemed to extend throughout the entire building, large paintings of the founders covered the interior walls, but there were no pictures of Preston or his mother, which was a surprise to her. Not a single ‘homey touch’ was added to his office.
“Why do you think you deserve an internship?” Paul asked, plopping down in his leather office chair.
“Here is my resume,” she slid it across the desk and noted that it was the only file there. The man obviously kept his business and personal life to himself, “I’ve worked as an assistant for Maverick Johnson the last four years and his letter of recommendation is in my file.”
Paul glanced through the file then closed it and shoved it back to her, making her insides squirm, “Anything else?”
“I really, really want this job, Sir, I will work harder than any intern you have. I will make this worth your while,” she said; it sounded more like begging than a statement.
“It’s yours, Reese. I will start you at the beginning of the month?”
“Thank you so much, Sir.” This actually came out calm and appreciative, she shook his hand and started out the door.
“Reese?” He called after her.
“All you had to do is ask.”
Reese nodded and shut the door behind her.
Half an hour later, Reese was merging onto the freeway, nearly fuming. This should have been one of the happiest, more fulfilling days of her life and yet it wasn’t at all.
All you had to do is ask.
This simple statement ate at her, she didn’t want to ask. She wanted him to read her resume and decide that she deserved the internship, not to look at her like his almost daughter-in-law and hand it to her. Everything had been handed to her, her entire life, from her first bicycle (that she wasn’t allowed to ride unless wrapped in so much padding that she couldn’t breathe), a pony, ball gowns, evening gowns, college was paid for along with her house and car. She tried so hard to earn what she received, but it never mattered how hard she worked, in the end, she was a Walker.
She whipped out her cell phone and called her lifetime best friend Nicole Brandt.
“Hello?” Nicole asked.
“Nicole?” She asked; she sounded like she was a million miles away from the phone.
“Sorry about that,” Nicole said, apparently finding her phone. “Kayla stole my phone.”
Reese smiled; Kayla was Nicole’s adorable two-year-old. “I’m glad you got it back. I got the internship.”
“I’m so happy–” there was a clatter in the background, a muttered curse word, and Kayla crying, “Sorry Reese, she threw the Mac and Cheese. Kayla! I gotta go, sorry, call you back later?”
Reese felt like beating her head against the steering wheel, she should have called Preston, but she didn’t want to, she wanted to tell Nicole about his horrible proposal that she hadn’t accepted or declined and about the job that was making her breakfast threaten to return.
She turned her radio on and let the music fill the car, she was just beginning to relax when she heard horns honking, tires squealing and finally, breaking glass. The beautiful blue sky faded into darkness as she sank into oblivion.
Sirens blared, the smell of burnt rubber loomed in the air and blue and red lights seemed to cover the sky.
Reese opened her eyes to find her body being cradled by a large framed man with dark, mysterious eyes and apparently very strong arms.
“You’re all right,” he assured her. “You were in a little accident, as far as I can tell you have a minor concussion.”
“Hum?” She moaned in return, her head was pounding and her vision was still blurry.
“The fogginess will wear off,” he smiled slightly. “I’m gonna sit you up, okay?”
Reese nodded as he gently placed her on the floor of the Ambulance.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” He asked.
“Two,” she answered. “Does that mean I’m alright?”
He smiled, this time with a little amusement. “I’m a cop, not an EMT, I don’t know if it means anything.”
Reese returned the smile, this guy was good, he’d reduced her confusion, and concerns tremendously in just a few words.
“This is Tony; he’s going to take care of you, okay?” He told her more than asked as he grabbed an average sized Hispanic man and then gave him all the information he had on her.
“Thank you,” Reese said, she was going to ask for his name, but he was already walking away.
“Name please?” Tony asked as he started a chart.
“Age and date of birth?”
“Here is my driver’s license,” she handed it over, thinking it would be faster, “Is my car drivable?”
“No, anything that’s still here isn’t moving on its own. They have tow trucks on the way.” He answered.
“Do you mind if I call my own?”
“Knock yourself out.” He responded as he filled in her information.
She pulled out her phone and called Jack Brandt, Nicole’s husband of seven years. “Jack? This is Reese, I have been in a small accident, and I need to be towed, please.”
“What? Are you okay?” Jack spat out, his deep voice booming.
“I’m fine,” she answered, receiving raised eyebrows from Tony as she gave Jack her location. “Please hurry!” She added before hanging up the phone.
Tony tossed the clipboard next to her and began his examination; he started by checking her eyes, heartbeat, and blood pressure then pressed on her ribs, which made her gasp a little. “Does that hurt?”
“A little.” She lied it hurt. A lot.
“It’s not broken.” He told her, working his way over her ribcage. “I think it’s just bruised. You may want to get an x-ray to verify that.”
Reese felt something hot on her forehead, and then cold, as Tony took a cleaning wipe to a little gash then covered it with a Band-Aid.
“Am I alright to leave?” She asked, ignoring everything but the ‘not broken’ part as she saw Jack’s tow truck pulling up to her car.
Tony gave her another raised eyebrow look, this made little wrinkles crease on his forehead. “I guess but take it easy, set an alarm and wake up every two to three hours tonight because of the concussion and if the pain in your ribs persists, go to the hospital.”
“Thank you,” Reese replied, taking her wallet from him and power walking to Jack. “Thank God, you’re here!”
“Reese!” Jack caught her in a quick but gentle embrace. “You were so vague on the phone, I didn’t know what to expect. Thank God, you’re okay!”
Reese smiled, she was so happy to have Jack here, she knew they had an unconventional relationship but they’d been through a lot together so she didn’t mind when people assumed they were a couple or whatever. He was the best brother she could have ever chosen, way better than the ones her family had given her.
“Let’s get this thing back to the shop and you can explain all this.” He said, opening the passenger door for her.
“Thank you so much.” She smiled; her heart rate had finally slowed until she caught movement in the backseat sending her heart rate back to the extreme pace it had just come from.
Jack hopped into the driver’s seat. “Reese, this is Hunter, he’s been working for us for a few months, but this was the first towing job we’ve had, so I brought him along.”
Reese looked at him and he grunted at her. She didn’t know what to make of that, but she wasn’t going to respond. He looked angry, his deep blue eyes glared at her, his skin was tanned to perfection, his muscles seemed to strain against his shirt, at the chest and arms enough so that she had to look away before she started to drool.
“Reese?” Jack asked, expectantly.
“I’m sorry, I was…” she trailed off, not knowing exactly what she was doing.
“What caused the crash?” Jack asked, again apparently.
“Officer… I guess I didn’t catch his name.” She said, slightly embarrassed, winning another grunt from the backseat. “Anyhow, he said there was a high-speed chase on the westbound lane and when they saw the road block they decided to go east causing the crash.”
“Nicole is going to have your head when she hears about this.” Jack chuckled. “If she survives the stroke it gives her.”
Reese dropped her head into her hands, she knew exactly the reaction she’d get from Nicole, after relaying every detail and the fact that she may or may not have been buckled up, Nicole would kill her or give her a lecture more painful than death.
Jack reached over and patted her head lightly, very father-like, which made Reese sit up as if she’d been shocked.
“Please don’t tell her until I can.” She pleaded.
“I won’t say a word.” He said, returning his hand to the steering wheel.
Backseat guy must have thought this was rather odd because as he adjusted his long frame awkwardly in the back, he sent a knee into Reese’s back. She shot him a glare, but the look she got back was far scarier that anything she’d ever seen before. She had to look away; it was so intense and felt a lot like hatred. But why?
Jack pulled the truck into the empty driveway of his shop, putting it in park and getting out to let the car down.
Reese looked over his shop; his business has been born out of an abandoned lot that Jack’s father had bought only a year before his very untimely death. A heart attack at 47, who would have thought it? Nevertheless, it had left Jack with a completely empty lot that covered about half a block so he built a shop, hung an open sign on the front door, and started his career as a mechanic.
Again, backseat guy smacked the back of the seat, impatiently waiting for her to get out so he could.
“Sorry.” She smiled politely. She jumped out of the truck and let the front seat up but was quick to get out of the way before he ran her over, which proved to be a good idea as he barreled out of the back and passed her in a marathon worthy stride.
“Nic’s going to come pick you up,” Jack told her. “Go get some water, you look dehydrated, there’s bottled water in the office.”
Jack’s fatherly manner pushed her to argue most of the time but this time she had too much other stuff to worry about so she stepped into the office and grabbed a water bottle out of the blue cooler that was sitting at the end of the built in desk.
Her stomach turned as she sipped on the water, she took a seat on the sleek black armchairs that sat along the wall separated by an end table with the latest magazines, she picked up People and began thumbing through it when she heard a demanding voice from the work area of the building.
“Where is she?” She heard him yell again.
“She’s in the office.” Jack responded.
Backseat guy walked through the door letting it slam in the man’s face before typing something on the computer that sat on the desk.
She turned her attention to the door once again to see a blur of navy blue headed towards her, he wrapped his arms around her so tight that she let out a little cry of agony. He loosened his grasp and settled into a gentle, warm embrace. Finally something familiar, his deodorant and Calvin Klein cologne mixed perfectly, she took a deep breath in, tears welling up in her eyes, but she pushed them back.
“There was…” She started, but he cut her off.
“Why didn’t you call me?” He asked his hazel eyes flickered from angry to sad rapidly.
“I…I… how did you know I was here?” She stammered.
“Oh, I set the emergency response system in your car to page me, which is apparently a good thing since you did not feel the need to call me, your fiancée.” He emphasized.
Something about his statement got a little snicker or grunt from back seat guy.
“I am sorry, Preston, I just woke up and they were examining me and then I got Jack to get my car.” She explained, the fiancée part was not lost on her, but she knew this was not the time to point out that she had yet to accept.
“We will talk about this later. I am going to take you home.” He told her.
“Reese Elizabeth Walker!”
Reese’s eyes got wide as Nicole stalked through the front door with Kayla on her hip.
“What the heck?” Nicole asked very loudly more at the sight of Preston than Reese.
“The air bags are a little slow,” Reese answered with a slight smile.
“Are you okay?” Nicole asked, hugging her quickly.
“Yes.” She answered. “I just want to go home.”
“Okay, I’ll take you.” Nicole gathered Kayla up again and started for the door.
“I will take her,” Preston said.
Nicole spun around looking like a bull ready to charge but dialed it back quickly. “I would really like to take her.”
“So would I and as her fiancée, it is my responsibility to care for her now.” Preston responded.
Nicole’s eyes were about ready to pop out of her head, but Reese grabbed her hand. “I will call you after a quick shower, okay?”
Nicole was angry but rather than fight back she smiled. “Okay.”
Reese mouthed ‘I’m sorry’ as Preston opened the door to his Aventador Lamborghini in a flaming orange color with dark tinted windows and black trim, it only set him back about $400,000, but he swore it was worth it. He closed the door behind her then got in the driver’s seat.
“Unbelievable!” He snapped, along with an unmentionable curse.
Reese sat silently, fidgeting with the strap on her Gucci bag.
“Nothing?” He asked.
She sighed, her body felt as though it’d been run over by a steam roller and kind of looked like it too, all she wanted to do was go home and sink down to her nose in a bubble bath.
“Reese.” Preston’s face was stone cold, he wanted an explanation for everything, not just the accident but also the proposal, calling Jack AND Nicole but not him, this was too much even for a well-bred man like himself.
“What would you like me to say?” She asked, finally.
“Anything! Would you care to explain just what is happening here?” He yelled, his perfect pale complexion flushing all the way to his ears.
“You are giving me a ride home?” She guessed, not that she had to, she knew what he wanted, but she just didn’t care enough to get into it right now.
“That is exactly what I mean, Reese; you’re acting like another person altogether, what is going on with you?”
Again, she responded with silence. Things like ‘you’re smothering me’ and ‘you’re acting like my mother!’ were on the tip of her tongue but she put a lid on it, shoving it to the dark recesses of her mind.
Preston’s features softened finally as he pulled into her driveway and put a hand on hers. “Sweetheart, I am concerned about you. Please talk to me, honey.”
Reese felt her own body loosen up but just barely as she searched his face, looking for any sign of the indignant jerk he’d become lately. “I am just so tired.”
Preston kissed her forehead. “Alright. Do you want me to stay with you tonight?”
“NO!” She shouted a little too quickly and clearly too loudly. “No, thank you. I need to sleep.”
Disappointment clouded his face, but he pushed a smile through it. “Goodnight, love.”
Reese smiled as sweetly as possible as she made her way up the sidewalk, unlocked the door and shut the rest of the world out.
Reese woke up to her phone beeping incessantly, she tried to determine whether the pounding she heard was in her head or if someone was at the door. She grabbed her smartphone and listened to several messages from Nicole with endings like ‘if you don’t call in ten minutes, I am coming over and kickin’ your butt!’ and ‘if you’re ignoring me, I’ll kill you’ and one from Preston reminding her of a dinner date with his parents.
She groaned as she looked at the clock, a little startled to find it was 11:00 a.m. as she finally realized that the pounding was not only in her head but at the door as well. She groaned again as she made her way to her front door, checking the peephole, it was Nicole. Thank God.
“You live!” Nicole shouted and threw up her hands dramatically as she huffed past Reese and plopped down on her brown suede sofa.
“Coffee,” Reese said as she stumbled to her coffee pot, dumping nearly twice the needed grounds in.
Nicole had set Kayla in the living room, but she had long since made her way down the hall to find the dollhouse and dolls that Reese kept for her in her spare room. Nicole walked into the kitchen and sat at the granite-topped island on an intricate iron looking barstool.
Then she saw. It was big and said ‘Tiffany & Co’. “Reese?”
“Oh, no.” Reese whimpered at the sight of it, she reached to grab it before Nicole could, but it was too late, instead she wound up holding her ribs that she’d bounced off the island.
“OMG!” Nicole squealed with delight as she opened the box, it was the biggest diamond she had ever seen and it was rare, no doubt.
Reese responded with another groan, remembering how badly her ribs did hurt.
“Can you say real words please?” Nicole requested.
“Coffee,” She repeated just as the machine beeped telling her it was done. “Thank God.” She poured herself a cup, skipping cream and sugar and offered one to Nicole.
“No thanks, I saw how you made that, it’ll put hair on your chest!”
Reese chuckled a little, once again feeling the ache in her chest.
“So, why is this still in the box?” Nicole asked pointing to the ring again.
“I hate square cut diamonds.”
Nicole’s jaw dropped, “Seriously?”
“Yes, but no,” Reese nearly had to climb to get on the stool beside her with coffee in hand. “Do you know how he asked me?”
“No, because you haven’t told me.”
“I tried to yesterday, but Kayla threw her lunch!” Reese said defensively.
“Anyhow, I’m sorry, continue, please.”
“He came in the night before last as I was making dinner, he dropped the ring right there and said ‘How’s an August wedding?’”
“No way!” Nicole gasped, genuinely appalled.
Reese nodded. “I know that this has been coming for a long time, but I thought I deserved at least a ‘Please marry me’ or something.”
Nicole put her hand over Reese’s, a small attempt at comfort. “You do. Everyone does.”
Reese put her head in her hands, reminding her of her bruised forehead. “So, I went to Hanson & Hanson yesterday to apply for an internship, right? Moreover, Paul was so excited to hear we were engaged that he handed the job to me. He didn’t even look at my resume.”
“I’m sorry,” Nicole said, she didn’t really know why but she felt like she should be so she was. “Just think, next year you’ll be a full-blown lawyer!”
“Ugh.” She responded, resting her head on the counter top.
“Oh, it will all be okay,” Nicole assured her, patting her on the back.
“What should I do?” Reese asked, raising her head again.
“That’s up to you, hon, if you love Preston then marry him but if you don’t… please say so now.”
“But to end things with Preston would nearly kill my mother… Nic, you do know that rather than read me traditional fairytales, my mother would end them with ‘then Preston swept you off your feet and you lived happily ever after’ right?”
Nicole laughed. “That’s ridiculous!”
Reese nodded in agreement. “Sad but oh, so true.”
“Go shower, get dressed and I’ll make you some breakfast and new coffee.”
Reese obeyed and made her way to her master bathroom, started the water and stripped down. Her ribs were purple and green, but her forehead was just a little red, it looked more like road rash than the gash it felt like.
Half an hour later, she strolled out of her room feeling fresh and ready for the day, kind of. She smelled the coffee and bacon and nearly ran for the kitchen.
“Here you go!” Nicole said, handing her a plate full of waffles with syrup and butter oozing out of them with a generous helping of bacon.
She sat at the island and took a huge bite, moaning a little as it melted in her mouth. “I love you, Nic, please marry me! You can have that ring if you cook like this all the time!”
Nicole laughed, setting Kayla up beside Reese. “I think Jack would protest that a bit.”
“A bit? He’d kill me if I stole you away.”
Nicole giggled like a schoolgirl. “Yeah, he would.”
“You two make me ill.” Reese joked, after seven years of marriage they were still as they were in high school, handholding, butt grabbing and giggling kids.
“Jack told me to drop you off at the shop and he’d set you up with a temporary ride and give you an estimate for your insurance company,” Nicole told her as she handed her another mug of coffee.
“Thank you so much, Nic, you two are lifesavers. But what’s with that guy who grunts a lot?”
“Hunter?” Nicole’s eyebrows rose suspiciously. “He’s been with us for about a year, he’s a great worker unless anything else is going on in his life. He’s kinda quirky, everything has to be perfect for him to be efficient which is odd because Jack’s the opposite, when stuff goes south, he pours himself into his work.”
“Has he been in prison?” Reese asked.
“Why would you ask that?”
“He seems angry, like someone who has been locked up for a while.” She explained.
“Maybe he just needs laid,” Nicole said then turned to Reese, “Speaking of which, how about you?”
“I have not been in prison.” She answered.
“Ha, ha, you’re so funny. The other part.”
“No.” Reese replied feeling very awkward.
“Seriously? You’ve been with the man for ten years, what are you waiting for?”
“My wedding night?” Reese asked, hoping it was the right answer.
“Has it ever occurred to you that maybe it has more to do with Preston than you’re ‘saving yourself’ mantra you’ve been chanting for the last decade?”
Reese put her fork down slowly, she had thought of this but really didn’t want to venture any guesses.
“Seriously, Reese, are you even attracted to him?” Nicole asked; she was going to push this to its limit if Reese was having any doubts about him; she wanted her to look at every aspect before breaking down and agreeing to marry the jerk.
“I do not know.” She answered honestly. “I just don’t know.”
Reese walked into Jack’s shop; Nicole had dropped her at the door explaining that she needed to get the deposits to the bank before three o’clock.
“Hello?” She asked, walking directly into the work area, her car was the first one in there. She heard a clank and a stream off curses as she made her way around the car, she saw Hunter rubbing his head. “You do know words.”
He sneered at her and grunted again, knocking a wrench off the side of the car and into a bucket of oil, which splashed all over Reese’s blouse. He dropped the towel in his hands and stepped toward her.
Out of shock that not only was her blouse destroyed but also he was walking towards her, probably going to murder her, she stepped back until she was against the wall.
He was practically up against her now, his deep blue eyes staring intently at her; he grabbed her blouse and jerked it off in one swift move then walked to the workbench.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She yelled when she found her feet, she followed.
He had a spray bottle in one hand and her blouse in the other; he squirted the oil spot a couple times then took it to the sink and washed it out. He wrung it out and handed it back to her.
Reese was stunned, she realized that all that was covering her was an almost too sheer cami, and she had to wonder, what was with this guy?
She was going to ask when she saw a nearly six foot tall blonde with messy hair and hardly any clothes stumbling through the shop.
“Hunter…” The lady moaned; her voice sounded like it had seen one too many cartons of cigarettes.
“Go sleep it off in the truck. I’ll take you home soon.” Hunter said, quietly as the lady grabbed his shirt in her fist. She looked disappointed but did as he asked.
Reese cleared her throat, not sure what to say but feeling very awkward considering she was almost as naked as the lady who just walked away.
“Don’t look so high and mighty,” Hunter said a hint of scolding to his tone. “You’re no better than her.”
“Excuse me?” Reese asked, she’d heard him but had no idea what he meant.
“Please. Don’t try that innocent bull on me. You’re nothing but a high-class whore yourself.” He threw a grease rag on the workbench and stormed towards the back where the lady had gone.
Reese just stood there, her jaw gaping as he walked away.