Rule's Obsession

By: Lynda Chance


She was lost in uncomfortable thought when his deep voice intruded. "You're very pretty," he announced in a low, gravelly tone that sounded as if the words were ripped from his vocal chords against his will.

The words sent a libidinous heat down her spine that she tried to ignore. She found his eyes in the mirror and quickly looked away before answering curtly, "Thanks."

Without looking at him directly, she noticed that his attention became even more scrutinizing. "How old are you?"

Unable to help herself, her eyes landed on his in the mirror again. "How old are you?" she fired back, without answering his question.

"Thirty-four." His lips flattened. "And you?" he demanded, his dark brown eyes holding hers hostage.

"Twenty-seven," she managed shortly, wishing he'd mind his own business.

Silence permeated the air between them after her answer, and it was all Angie could do to keep her hands from shaking.

Finally, the cut was finished and she handed him a mirror to inspect her work. He took it and held it up with a grunt of semi-approval. She pulled the protective covering from his shoulders and shook it out as he stood to his feet.

With little to no fanfare, he pulled a bill from his wallet. As she stared down at the large denomination note, attempting to get her frazzled brain to function, he murmured, "Keep it," and turned and strode out the door.



****

A couple of weeks later, Damian stood mixing a drink at the sideboard in his mother's living room when her statement finally penetrated his brain.

"You want me to do what?" he asked in a booming voice, freezing in place.

His mother set her coffee cup down and nervously stood up and shut the door so they couldn't be overheard. She made her way over to him before quietly answering, "I want you to consider pushing forward with your relationship with Courtney, and I think that my dinner party on Saturday night would be a good time to start."

Damian closed his eyes for a moment in pure frustration before opening them again and looking straight at her with determination. "You have got to be kidding me. There is no relationship between us and furthermore, you're very aware of that fact." How in the hell could she think that he felt anything but a familial type of love for Courtney? When his mother had brought the girl home after the death of her parents, Damian had already been out on his own and she'd become almost like a second little sister to him. He hated to admit it, but he'd mostly ignored her, slotting her in with Erin, the youngest of his siblings, and now when he thought of them, they were almost one unit, 'the girls.'

"She's a perfect girl, Damian. You've been playing the field for far too long and you owe it to your father's memory and the company that he left to you and your brothers--"

Damian gritted his teeth and cut her off. He loved his mother but she'd gone too far this time. "Mother, I need you to listen to what I'm about to say, okay? I don't want to hurt you, but you need to start understanding how it is. How it was."

His mother stared at him with a sheen of tears in her eyes. "Okay."

"I love you; I loved Dad. You know that." He cleared his throat. This was damn hard for him, he did love his mother and he and his siblings had always tried to protect her from pain of any kind. At her nod, he continued, "I know you love Courtney like a daughter and she's a sweet girl, but I don't feel the way you want me to feel about her and you've got to quit trying to control me through guilt." He watched for a sign that she was registering his words. "Even if the company had been in the black and worth millions, you shouldn't keep reminding me of the fact." His eyes narrowed. "But Mother, the company was in the red, in a big way, and you know that it was. The only thing that Nick and Garrett and I inherited was a truckload of debt. There were no assets. Zero freakin' assets, Mother. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy. You have no clue how much easier it would have been if we'd just walked away from it all." He studied his mother, who was listening to him in silence. "But we didn't do that. We honored our father's debts, we kept you in the same house you'd been living in since you married him, we put Erin and Courtney through college without a quibble and if we've done anything wrong, it was protecting you and the girls too much from the real world."

He took a deep breath and watched closely to see if she would accept the truth this time. It was a fact that his mother lived in her own little fairytale world, and if there were two truths he knew about her, the first was that she loved her children more than anything else, and the second was that she always had her head in the clouds.

She reached up and touched his cheek gently, the gesture full of so much love and tenderness that he almost groaned. How was he supposed to stick to his guns when she was the kindest, most compassionate person he knew? She watched him a little sadly. "I know, sweetheart, I couldn't have survived without you boys and I'm so sorry there weren't more liquid assets when your father died." But then she tilted her head and looked at him as if he was the one who didn't quite understand. "But there was that life insurance policy, and the company itself was still intact and doing business. You boys inherited the business, and just look where it's at now." She smiled and patted his hand as if the world and everything in it was perfect.