* NOTE TO READERS: I began adding Owen's persepctive as well as just Sabrina's. When I considered having this story published, I thought it might be more interesting for the reader to get a clearer idea of what Owen was really thinking and feeling. Before I think about sending it in anywhere, I will no doubt go back and insert more of Owen's perspective throughout the beginning portions. Let me know if Owen's perspective of things adds to or takes away from the momentum of the story. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy these next few chapters.
When Owen returned to the house that evening, Sabrina was curled up in large chair out on the patio. She was dressed in warm pants and one of Owen's sweatshirts. Celine doesn't own sweatshirts, she'd thought bitterly as she'd rifled through her things. Only slut-wear. So she'd taken the liberty of borrowing one of Owen's sweatshirts.
Now, she huddled deep in the large shirt, praying Owen's scent would somehow soothe her mind and body, and help her erase the horror of that afternoon. But each time she shifted, her bruised body reminded her all over again of Jackson's vile assault. Was it something she was just supposed to accept? Should she call the police? Would they even believe her story?
Sabrina sank lower in the thick warm shirt, pulling it up to her face as she hugged her knees against her body. She wanted to cry again but there didn't seem to be any tears left. Even worse than Jackson's assault was the reality of the depth of her sister's betrayal. Just that afternoon, she'd looked Sabrina in the eyes and told her she loved her. She'd said it with all the sincerity she'd always spoken it with. And if it wasn't true this afternoon...had it ever been true? Had Celine always secretly hated her? Was she so materialistic and superficial that she would actually hate her own sister because Sabrina had the kind of money and life that Celine had always wanted?
When she heard Owen come through the front door, her heart began to thump in her chest. Would he believe her if she told him what Jackson had done? What Celine had done? But in his eyes, she was Celine. And he didn't trust Celine. He would think she was just playing some twisted game with him. But how could she just keep this to herself? How could she deal with it alone? And what about the next time Owen was gone? Would Jackson do it again?
"Is there no limit to how low you will sink?"
Sabrina jumped and looked around quickly. Lost in her troubled thoughts, she hadn't noticed Owen approach the open doorway that led into the house. "Excuse me?" She questioned uncertainly. What had she done this time?
"Don't play me for a fool, Celine." Owen stepped out on the rock patio. His face was hard, his blue eyes once again chipped ice as he drilled her with the shards.
After what had happened today, Sabrina wasn't up for a fight. In fact, she just wanted to be left alone. "What're you talking about?" She asked quietly, emotional fatigue pulling her down.
Owen grabbed her chair and spun it around so suddenly she gasped and clutched the arms. Her eyes were wide and shocked as he clamped his hands on the arms of the chair and leaned down, glaring at her, his face only inches from hers. And that close, she could see the fire raging behind his ice blue eyes. Could he be pushed to resort to physical violence? Was that how this nightmare would end - with Owen assaulting her as well?
"I saw him coming out of the house." He spoke tightly, his jaw clenched. "Adjusting his crotch. Maybe I can't stop you from fucking every cock you encounter, but I'll be damned if you're gonna fuck 'em in my house!"
Sabrina recoiled from his rage. Trying to explain the truth at this point would be futile, maybe even hazardous to her health.
Owen shoved back from her hard, nearly knocking her chair over with her in it. "I aught to send your cheating ass packing right here and now. 'Cause what we have here sure as hell ain't no marriage."
Sabrina huddled in her chair. "Why don't you?" She whispered. The question was out before she even realized she was going to ask it.
Owen stood with his hands gripping his hips. His chest heaved with anger as he glared down at her. "Because I know you would run straight to your sister. She would take you in, not realizing she was letting a viper into her home. And you would poison her life the way you've done mine." Something flickered through Owen's eyes, another emotion. "And Sabrina already has one poisonous snake in her house. She don't need two."
Was that really why he let Celine stay, after all she'd done to him? Because he was trying to protect Sabrina from the truth of what her sister was? Protect her from the reality of the affair Charles and Celine were having? He would rather suffer himself than shove his problems onto her and be done with all the bullshit?
She lowered her eyes to her hands. "I never realized you cared so much about...Sabrina."
Owen drilled her with sharp eyes. "Don't you dare try to turn this on me. You're the one fucking her husband. Sabrina's a good woman, and I would never put you in her home so you could fuck Charles in her house the way you fucked Jackson in mine."
Sabrina twisted away from Owen and rested her chin on the back of the chair. The tears she thought were dried up, stung her eyes. Somehow his verbal assault was worse than a physical one. "Maybe you should have married Sabrina." She whispered, her voice thick with tears.
"Yeah." Owen said tightly. "I wish."
Then he was gone. Sabrina buried her face in her arms and cried openly.
Though it was only eight in the morning, the sun beat hot on the small balcony outside Sabrina's bedroom. Sabrina stood in the sun rays, arms wrapped around her own waist, and watched Owen come out of the cool interior of the stables and stop to speak with Jackson. Even from this distance, she could detect Owen's frigid demeanor as if he would just as soon knock Jackson's head off as look at him.
"Why don't you?" Sabrina whispered aloud, her voice tight, the horrible memory of Jackson's assault still fresh in her mind. "Why don't you kill the motherfucker? How can you just let him keep working for you?"
Owen turned away from Jackson and disappeared back inside the stables. Sabrina stared at Jackson, standing in the morning sun, shirtless, cowboy hat shading his face. Under any other circumstances he would have been an appealing sight. But this morning, he was anything but appealing.
Jackson was about to return to his duties when he glanced up and caught Sabrina watching him. He grinned and tipped his hat, then slid one gloved hand down and gripped his crotch. Her eyes narrowed and darkened with emotions she'd never experienced before in her entire life. At this precise moment, she knew she was capable of murder. Had she owned a gun and knew how to shoot, she honestly believed she could blow his fucking head off and not blink an eye.
The intense, violent thought disturbed Sabrina and she turned from the sight of Jackson and entered the bedroom. She was halfway across the room before she realized she was shaking. Every nerve in her body seemed alive and on edge. Was this how a person felt when they were having a nervous breakdown?
A wave of dizziness washed over her and she down sat on the edge of the bed and waited for the dizzy spell to pass. When it finally subsided, nausea rose up in its place. Sabrina squeezed her eyes shut and hugged her stomach, fighting the urge to vomit. She felt like she was coming apart inside, piece by piece. She wanted to cry and that pissed her off. It was her weak and submissive demeanor that made her a victim - to both Jackson and Celine.
Despite Celine's betrayal, her control over men - over life itself - was something Sabrina was suddenly very envious of. She longed for the strength and courage to face Jackson head on and put the fucker in his place once and for all. And for that matter - put Celine in her place as well.
Sabrina's chest heaved then slowed into an even rhythm of breathing as her mind began to work overtime. She would deal with this situation once and for all, and in doing so, free both herself and Owen from Celine's poisonous snare. They would all pay their dues - Celine, Charles, and Jackson - and they would pay dearly.
Suddenly very calm as the solution became crystal clear in her mind, Sabrina picked up her cell phone and made the call that would set her plans in motion.
Concealed in the shadows and gloom of the stable, Owen caught the lewd gesture Jackson made to his wife. His blood boiled and killing the bastard was strong on his mind. But if he were to be totally honest with himself...wasn't Jackson's responses to his wife, Celine's doing? She'd fuck anything with a dick and he had no doubt in his mind that she was the one who instigated her sexual indiscretions with Jackson. The man clearly had no integrity, fucking his boss' wife and all, but few men could resist a woman like Celine. Shit, Owen himself had succumbed to her beauty and sensuality. But even now, he knew he'd given in only because she was the image of his true desire...the one woman he couldn't have.
Owen looked away from Jackson and moved deeper into the large structure. Lately, Celine reminded him so much of her sister and he didn't understand that. The two were only alike in appearance, and that's where it ended cold. Maybe the resemblance he was seeing and feeling in her was what was causing his attacks of extreme jealousy now. Before, he didn't care. He just looked the other way. But now...it was different. Seeing Jackson coming out of his house, knowing he had been in there for God only knew how long, screwing his wife...it had taken every ounce of Owen's will not to pull out his shotgun and blow the fucker's balls off. And when he'd walked in on Celine sucking Jackson's dick, he'd felt a rage and jealousy unlike anything he'd every experienced before when it came to Celine. He'd only suffered that level of jealousy whenever he thought about Sabrina sharing Charles' bed, that worthless piece of shit touching her and making love to her.
Owen shook his head once, hard. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" He hissed at himself. He'd become enamored with Sabrina the very first time he looked in her eyes. He hadn't been married to Celine yet, but Sabrina had been engaged to Charles. Rich, handsome, debonair Charles Braxton. He'd seen the lust and envy in Celine's eyes even then. He should have suggested a trade right then and there - Celine for Sabrina. Somehow he thought they would've all been happier today.
He shook his head again. Who was he trying to fool? Sabrina was, hands down, a better woman than her sister, but even so...why would she want to give up her life on the mountain of gold to live in the trenches with a man like him?
Choosing to exit the stables through the rear entrance, not in the mood for another face to face with Jackson, Owen walked around the lower end of the paddock fence then leaned on the wooden rails and watched the two year old gelding trotting back and forth inside the enclosure. He'd just purchased the young horse a few days ago and already the animal was making progress, responding well to the training method.
He pressed his forehead against his arms and closed his eyes. He needed to just divorce Celine and get on with his life before she became the death of him. She would do her level best to strip him of everything he had, he knew that, and that was, in part, why he let her stay. He'd worked hard for what he had. Maybe to her it was nothing, but to him it was everything. His whole life. And she would take it and destroy it without a second thought. His chest tightened. He should have never married her. Taking her into his life because she looked so much like Sabrina had been the biggest mistake of his existence. At first, when she was somewhat decent to him, he imagined she was Sabrina. Many times when they were first together, he had to consciously check himself to keep from shouting Sabrina's name in the height of passion.
When Owen raised his head, his eyes were drawn to the balcony outside of the master bedroom. Not his bedroom anymore. And why should it be? He had long since ceased to be the master of his home. He started to look away when he saw his wife approach the door to the balcony and pause. Was she hoping to get another glimpse of Jackson, maybe flirt with him from afar, get him hot and horny-
Her eyes were on him, not Jackson. He could feel her gaze. His skin began to heat up, and not from the morning sun. Lately every time he looked at her he saw Sabrina - and it made him crave her beyond measure. And that pissed him off. Celine manipulated every man she came in contact with. And now she was manipulating him as well. This had to be some kind of game. Maybe she knew about that night in Charles' office when Owen had given in to his deepest desires and hunger and had taken Sabrina without a second thought. That night blazed in his memories day and night, haunting his dreams, tormenting his waking hours. If Celine had somehow found out, she would use his desire for her sister to torture him, pretending to be just like her, making him feel loved and desired. And just when she had him in too deep for him to ever get out again...she would tear him apart.
Yet, despite it all, as he stared up at the woman in the doorway, he wanted her. Every part him begged him to go in that house and up to that room and spend the rest of the day making love and fucking.
Owen realized his pulse was racing and his crotch was aching. He tore his eyes away form her. She wasn't Sabrina and letting his mind go there and pretend she was...it was a dangerous game to play. One he couldn't win - or even survive.
Sabrina held the phone numbly in her hand at her side as she watched Owen from the balcony doorway. Though he was a great distance away, she could feel the intensity of his stare. She longed to run out there to him, tell him everything, beg him to forgive her for deceiving him, and then plead with him to come back inside with her and make love to her for the rest of...forever.
She swallowed thickly when he forcibly looked away. He was in torment and it was, in part, her fault. He surely believed she was Celine playing a cruel game with him. She could feel it in the way he never quite let himself relax when she was in his arms. Like he was waiting for the knife in the back. The only time he'd been at total ease was when they'd made love while he was dreaming. In that dream, he was really with her and he knew he had nothing to fear.
"Soon, Owen." She whispered softly. "Soon we'll be together for real."
After she showered, Sabrina couldn't stop the anxiety that gripped her when she returned to her bedroom, half expecting Jackson to be there again. But her room was empty and she searched her sister's closet for her most decent outfit; a surprisingly elegant and at the same time conservative black pantsuit. Sabrina surveyed herself in the mirror; it would do for her purposes. She had to look like herself; Mrs. Charles Braxton.
Sabrina's face crinkled. That wasn't who she was, not really. She'd never been Mrs. Charles Braxton. She'd simply been Sabrina. Or to Charles' colleagues - Mr. Braxton's lovely wife. But all she wanted to be was Sabrina. She stared at her reflection and whispered, "Sabrina Briggs."
Owen's steps faltered outside the partially open bedroom door. A hard frown pinched his brow. Why would she say that? His hand hesitated as he reached out to push open the door. Why had he come up here? His reasons escaped him for a moment before he remembered he'd decided he was tired of the bullshit and intended to confront Celine. Call her bluff on this whole game. But now uncertainty forced him to reconsider.
"Soon, Owen." She spoke softly inside the room. Owen stepped closer to the door and listened. "Soon everything will be put right." A brief silence, then - "Soon that horrid bitch will be out of your life for good."
Owen's frown deepened. What the hell was she talking about? Who was she talking about? The only horrid bitch in his life - was her. And yet, recently, she didn't seem like the bitch he'd come to know so well. He actually felt good to be around her. She made him feel good. How was that even possible after all the shit she'd pulled? All the times she'd cheated?
Backing slowly away from the door, Owen was suddenly very confused. How could he feel so strongly for a woman whose only interest in him was to tear him down and destroy him? Had he really sank so low, become so desperate that he was willing to go begging for physical gratification from a cull bitch?
Thoroughly disgusted with himself, Owen returned downstairs. His balls could turn blue as the Pacific Ocean for all he cared - but he would never go crawling to her for sex again.
Sabrina was surprised to find Owen in the kitchen when she came downstairs. She had been hoping he would still be out at the stables. She didn't need any questions. And she was sure to get them, considering how she was dressed. She took a deep breath and entered the kitchen, her mind working overtime to come up with an explanation as to why she was all dressed up so early in the day.
True to form, Owen called her on her appearance the moment she stepped through the doorway.
"Well, aren't you looking snazzy." He threw the sarcasm at her with what she suspected was meant to be a fast ball, but it lacked strength and speed. As if he were forcing himself to be deliberately critical. And since Owen didn't usually have to force the sarcasm and criticism when it came to his "wife", this weak attack had her somewhat stumped.
"I have business in town." She offered calmly, without defensiveness. She plucked her car keys from the key rack by the kitchen doorway.
Owen leaned against the counter, a cup of coffee in his hand, and watched her intently. Why wasn't he out at the stables or working with new gelding he'd just purchased? It wasn't like him to be in the house at this time of day. His powerful stare prevented her from just walking out, although she needed to go.
"Aren't you...working today?" She asked with a bit of fluster. She glanced absently at the clock on the wall.
Owen ignored her question. "Late for something?"
"I told you." She said without meeting his eyes. "I have business."
Shoving away from the counter, Owen moved towards her slowly. Sabrina felt like a prey animal being staked by a predator. "What kind of business?" He asked low. "Meeting someone?"
It didn't take a rocket scientist to know what he meant. Of course he would think that. Why shouldn't he?
"The way you're dressed." He said. "It must be someone of higher social status than a sweaty ranch hand." He chuckled but there was no humor in it. "You must have a backup for when Charles is gone, huh?"
Sabrina flinched at both the mention of the ranch hand and her husband's name. She hated both men. Ironically, she was more repulsed by the sound of her husband's name than Jackson's. Jackson had violated her body, but Charles had violated every part of her being. But they would both pay for their sins and indiscretions.
"It isn't like that." She told Owen, knowing full well he had no reason to believe her. "I really do have business. Regular business. Nothing more."
He stood over her - towered over her - and planted his hands loosely on his hips. "Then you won't mind me driving you." He said. "I have business in town as well. No need taking two rigs and wasting gas when we can both go together."
Sabrina opened her mouth to protest, then clamped it shut. Something Owen didn't miss.
"Is there a problem?"
How was she going to do what she needed to do with Owen hovering nearby? But if she insisted going in her own car, he would assume she was, in fact, meeting a man. And she didn't have the time or strength to deal with his rage right now.
"No." She raised her eyes to his. "No problem. But I need to go now."
He smiled but it didn't reach his suspicious eyes. "I'm ready."
Anxiety churned Sabrina's insides as she turned and headed for the front door. She would have to figure out a way to separate herself from Owen. He couldn't be a part of her plans.
It could all backfire and she didn't want him caught in the crossfire.
"How...how is the gelding coming along?"
The question caught Owen off guard. From behind the wheel of the pickup, he glanced at the woman in the passenger seat. She was asking about the horses? That was a first. But then so was her accepting to ride in his filthy truck.
"He's coming along fine." Owen answered slowly, frowning. "How did you know I'd bought a new horse?"
"I saw you unloading him." She said quietly. "He didn't look familiar."
Owen turned his attention to the road. What the hell was going on with her lately? He couldn't say he was disappointed in the change, but he was damn suspicious. Celine had never noticed anything about his work on the ranch except the money it produced...or the lack thereof, Celine had often pointed out. But to actually notice when he acquired a new horse? Or ask how the training was going? Not once in their entire marriage.
"What do you care anyway?" Owen asked with a bit of steel in his voice. "As long as it brings in the cash."
She turned her face away and stared out the passenger window. "Sorry for asking." She whispered tightly.
For reasons he couldn't begin to understand, he felt guilty for his sharp remark. Maybe by some miracle she was actually trying to change, trying to become more involved with the ranch, with him. He couldn't quite bring himself to believe that, but anything was possible. "I'm sorry." He offered. "I didn't mean to snap at you. It's just...you've never asked about the horses before, or about the training I'm doing. It just..." He sighed and finished weakly, "Caught me off guard, I guess."
"I'm sorry." She spoke soft, quiet. So unlike Celine.
"For what/" He asked without looking at her.
"For...never asking." She said. "For never taking any interest in the ranch, or all the work you put in just to take care of us and provide for us. I've been such a..." She faltered.
"A bitch?" He finished for her as he let his eyes slide over to her face.
She looked at him, a bit of shock in her eyes which quickly faded as a smile curved her full lips and she released a small laugh. "Yes, a bitch. Exactly." She shook her head as the smile wavered a little and he swore a look of sadness and regret shadowed her blue eyes as she added quietly, "And so much worse."
Owen suddenly felt at a loss. Somehow she was making him feel sorry for her. How was that even possible? Since when did she deserve his pity? And yet, he couldn't stop the sympathy from rising inside him as he looked at her sad eyes. He forced his eyes away and shifted in his seat, clearing his throat. "If you know what you are." He said. "And you don't like it. Then why do you keep doing what you do?"
Her arms slid around her waist and she looked out the passenger window again. "I'm not going to be that way anymore." She murmured. "Things are going to be different." She faced him, her eyes begging him to believe her. "I promise, Owen. I don't want to be with anyone but you. Not ever again."
Her words hit Owen square in the heart like the fist of a prized fighter. He wanted to believe. God, he wanted so bad to believe her. But history had a way of overshadowing her promise with doubt.
"I wish I could believe you, Celine." He whispered tightly. His eyes were hard as he stared out the windshield. "I really do. But less than forty-eight hours ago you were fucking Jackson in my house, and probably in my bed. That doesn't tell me you have any intentions of changing who or what you are." He shook his head as his jaw began to ache from tension and internal pain. "I'm sorry, but your word alone isn't enough. You've lied to me too much."
He could hear the tears in her voice as she turned away and whispered barely loud enough for him to hear, "I didn't fuck Jackson." Her voice quavered as she added even more quietly, "Not by choice."
A new kind of anxiety twisted Owen's guts. What the hell did she mean by that?
"And I suppose it wasn't by choice either," He said bitterly. "That you were out in the stables the other day sucking Jackson's dick?" He turned and met her startled eyes. "Yeah, I saw that. So how about you give me a fucking break? I know you think I'm a fool, and maybe I am for letting you stay, but don't take me for a moron. I have eyes and I know what the fuck I saw." His throat tightened until his whole head began to ache. "You were on your knees before him because you wanted to be." He shook his head slowly as an ache he wasn't quite sure he understood spiraled through him. "I can't even remember the last time your mouth was on my dick." His chest heaved. The image of her kneeling before Jackson filled his head. Jealousy overwhelmed him like he'd never experienced before. He'd always been disgusted with his wife's ways, but he'd never really felt jealous. Not like this. He felt like he couldn't breathe. "I don't know what kind of fucking game you're trying to play with me, Celine, but it isn't going to work." A sudden, unbidden emotion squeezed his chest and tightened his voice. "You're the same cold hearted, selfish bitch that you've always been. And that ain't ever gonna change."
Owen's words hit Sabrina like poisonous darts. She flinched and felt the stinging wound with each one he threw at her. Tears burned her eyes and she stared out the side window. She knew he wasn't really speaking to her, so why did it still hurt so much? But she understood suddenly that it was his pain that was hurting her so bad. Getting a full, head on look at what her sister had done to this good man was cutting her to the bone. How could she and Celine even share the same blood? Her sister was everything Owen said she was - and so much more.
She chanced a glance at Owen as a heavy silence filled the cab. His eyes were hard as he stared at the road before them, but a deep anguish resided there too. He really did want to believe her words. He wanted to believe his wife could really love him that much, really want him and only him. But Celine had damaged the man, and as long as he believed she was her sister...Owen would never trust her or believe in her love for him.
There was so much more she wanted to say to him, to assure him of, but all his ears could hear were the lies of his unfaithful heartless wife. Did he really not sense that the woman beside him was the same woman he had desired and hungered for so desperately two years ago? Was there no part of him that felt who she was truly was? Sometimes when their eyes met, she thought she could see the uncertainty in his eyes. But there was no reason for him to think it was her. He would never believe that "Sabrina" would do something so underhanded and conniving as tricking him this way. Celine, yes. But not Sabrina. What would he think of her when he found out the truth?
Her eyes lingered on his handsome face, so tight with pain and tension. She longed to reach over and caress it all away. But she wondered, would he even let her touch him again once he learned that she, indeed, had deceived him? Or would he write her off as he had Celine?
I know I don't deserve your mercy, Lord, she prayed silently, but please whatever happens...please don't let Owen be hurt anymore than he's already been.
"Where do you need to go?" Owen asked. "I'll drop you off. I need to fill an order at the feed store."
The sudden tension that gripped her didn't escape Owen's attention. "I can...I can walk from the feed store."
Owen frowned. "Why? I can drop you off. Now tell me where you need to go." If she was going to cheat on him, he wasn't going to make it easy for her.
She bit her lower lip - something he found surprisingly arousing - then with clear reluctance in her voice, told him, "The Plaza."
"The Plaza Hotel." He murmured as he headed the truck in that direction. "Nothing like being discreet. I bet cheatin' wives everywhere would idolize you."
"What do you mean?" She asked quietly, a sliver of defensiveness in her voice. What brass she had.
"Well." He said. "You ask your husband to drop you off at a fancy hotel...and he does it." He cast her a cool look. "No questions asked."
She said nothing and pulled her eyes from his. Silence settled between them as he drove through the streets and finally pulled up in front of the posh hotel.
"Front door service." He said dryly then looked at her with dull eyes. "But I'm guessing you're gonna get a little back door service as well, huh?"
She didn't look at him until she was out of the truck and standing in the open door. There was actual hurt in her eyes. God, she was good.
"I know how this looks, Owen." She said. "But I'm not here to cheat on you. I'm meeting someone for business, in the hotel restaurant. I know you don't believe me and I don't expect you to." An emotion he wasn't accustomed to shadowed her eyes. "One day...you'll see that I'm not the woman you think I am."
She closed the door and walked up the steps to the hotel entrance. A door man stepped forward and opened the door for her and she disappeared inside. Owen stared at the door. For a brief moment, he actually believed her that she wasn't there to cheat on him. That look in her eye, a look of sincerity...and love?
"You're out of your fucking mind, buddy." He berated himself as he finally pulled away from the hotel. "You know how deceitful she can be. Why are you falling for this?"
"Mrs. Braxton." The older man smiled and held out his hand. He was attractive and expensively dressed. His graying hair only seemed to add to his mature handsomeness.
"Mr. Landers." Sabrina shook his hand then sat down as he held out a chair for her at his table.
Landers took a seat across from her. A waiter in a white shirt and black bow tie approached the table. "A drink?" Landers asked her.
She smiled at the young handsome waiter. "White wine." He nodded and left. Sabrina looked at the older man. "I know it's a bit early for our annual review of our estate, but Charles and I are flying to New York tonight and the reality is, planes tend to crash at times. It's a morbid thought but one that can't be denied. In the case of any such event, we want to know everything is handled. So he asked me to schedule an early appointment to take care of this now. I hope that's all right?"
Landers smiled and sipped at his glass of Merlot. "Yes, of course. After all, I am your attorney. I work for you."
The waiter brought Sabrina's white wine. "Can I get you anything else, Ma'am?"
"No, thank you." The waiter nodded once more and walked away. Sabrina sipped her wine then spoke as casually as she could, "I understand that the majority of Charles' business equity remains in my name."
"Yes." Landers said. "Business can, at times, get a bit...vicious, if you will. I suggested that, in order to protect his assets, he place at least half of everything in your name. He opted to place it all in your name."
"All?" Sabrina raised her eyebrows. All of it? That was even better, of course, but why would he put everything in her name? But then, didn't she know? He didn't think she would ever have the guts to defy him or steal from him. He had trained her well and she was his puppet. He feared no repercussions from having his entire business more or less in her hands. As far as he was concerned, it was the safest place he could put it. She smiled.
"Yes." Landers confirmed, then smiled. "He must have a deep trust in you. That's nice to see."
Sabrina nodded. "Yes, it's nice to be trusted by the man you love."
Landers dug into a briefcase on the chair beside him and took out some papers. "Now, about the beneficiary of your estate in the case of both yours and Charles' deaths." He looked up and met her calm, beautiful eyes. "You wanted to list your sister?"
"As full beneficiary?" Landers asked.
"Your sister's name?" He asked as his pen hovered over the appropriate line of the document.
Sabrina offered him a charming smile. "Celine Ashley Briggs."
Owen stood discreetly at the corner of the large brick pharmacy across the street from the Plaza and watched his wife exit the hotel. He'd left his truck to be loaded up at the feed store and was now on foot. Something was going on with Celine and he didn't like being played for a fool. If he had to resort to following her around, then so be it.
She stopped at the bottom of the steps and looked around, as if to make sure she wasn't being followed. Seemingly satisfied, she started walking down the street away from Owen. When she was far enough away, he stepped out and followed along his side of the street. He'd never secretly followed anyone before and kind of felt ridiculous, but if she refused to be honest with him, then he had to figure this out himself.
When she spotted a cab and hailed it down, he swore out loud. He took note of which direction it went then quickly waved down his own cab. He slid into the back seat and leaned forward. "The cab that just went down 6th street." He said through the partition. "Follow it."
The cabby, an Italian guy in his late twenties and lots of beard stubble, grinned. "Yes, sir."
Owen sat back but his eyes remained alert as he stared out the front windshield. Where was she going now? Because 6th street wouldn't take her to the feed store. She had somewhere else to go that she hadn't told him about.
When they caught site of her cab, he leaned forward again. "Hang back a bit." Owen told the cabby. "Don't appear like you're following them."
The cabby nodded and let up off the gas a bit as the cab slowed.
Owen remained leaning forward, a hard frown on his face as they tailed the other cab down one street and then another and another until they were in a shadier part of town. What kind of business did Celine have down here? Was she moonlighting as a high class call girl? It sure as hell wouldn't surprise him. But if that were the case, why would she be down here? Maybe she was just moonlighting as a whore. That was even more believable.
Her cab pulled to a stop in front of a place called The Crimson Shamrock.
"Stop here." Owen said and the cabby pulled over. Owen watched as she left her cab and entered the establishment. "What is that place?"
The cabby cocked his head. "The Crimson Shamrock is an Irish pub." He said. "Antonio O'Brian owns it."
"An Irish, Italian guy. Some say he has mob connections in Chicago and New York." The cabby shrugged. "But people say a lot. So who knows?" He glanced at Owen in the rear view mirror. "That your wife you following?"
The muscles in Owen's face flexed with tension. He sat back. "These days...I'm not sure who she is." What the hell was she doing in an old Irish pub? Reportedly ran by a mobster? He sighed. Maybe she was going to hire someone to kill him. Anymore - who gave a fuck? "Let's go." He told the cabby. "Take me back to the Granger's Feed Store."
As the cabby pulled away from the curb and headed back up town, Owen leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He would almost welcome a bullet in the head right about now. He couldn't take anymore. He just wanted peace of mind - anyway he could get it.
"You lost, lass?"
Sabrina approached the bar. The pub was dimly lit and only a couple men lingered at the far end of the bar. She looked at the bartender who'd spoken to her. He was a thirty-ish Irish man, well muscled with the sleeves of his black t-shirt rolled half way up over his nicely developed biceps. His hands were flat on the bar as he looked her up and down. But it wasn't a predatory look like the kind Jackson gave her. It was simply a look of appreciation.
She forced herself to remain calm, cool and collected. "I'm here to see Tony."
The bartender stared at her with dull, though gorgeous, dark eyes. "Tony who?"
Sabrina sighed. "Antonio O'Brian."
The bartender shrugged. "Don't know anyone by that name, lass."
Another slow sigh escaped her and she stepped closer to the bar, her voice lowering. "Come on. I need to speak to Tony. We both know that you know who he is and if he's here." When the bartender just looked at her, she shook her head. "Do I really look like a threat? Do you want to frisk me? Check my purse-"
"That won't be necessary."
Sabrina and the bartender both turned at the same time. A man stood at the far end of the bar, having seemed to appeared out of nowhere. He was just shy of six foot, neatly cropped black hair and very nicely dressed - but not in a "pimp" kind of way. Sabrina recognized him instantly as the man Charles occasionally had over for special business meetings. She'd met him once, but Charles had quickly ushered her from the room and closed the door. Did he think she was so stupid as to not know what kind of business they were conducting behind that closed door?
On the way out, Antonio O'Brian had taken her hand and kissed it lightly, bidding her good night. Despite the rumors of who he was and what his business consisted of - Sabrina had instantly liked the man. The world was full of dangerous people, but after living in Charles' world for five years, she'd learned that not all dangerous people were necessarily bad people. Unlike Charles, she considered Tony to be one of the good bad guys.
Tony walked towards her, a charming smile on his handsome Irish-Italian face. "Mrs. Braxton, what a pleasant surprise." He took her hand and, again, kissed it like a gentleman then continued to hold it in both of his gently. Without looking at him, Tony told the bartender - "Sammy, get the lady a drink." To Sabrina - "What will it be?"
"Oh, thank you but I just had a glass of wine."
Tony waved his hand at Sammy to nix the order. He tucked Sabrina's hand around his arm and led her towards the back of the pub. "Now, to what do I owe this surprise visit, Mrs. Braxton?"
"Please." Sabrina said. "Call me Sabrina."
Tony cast her a long look sideways. His smile slowly stretched wider across his lips. "Do I detect a bit of distaste in being labeled Mrs. Charles Braxton?"
She hesitated. Tony O'Brian was, in a sense, a colleague of Charles'...what if he had some form of loyalty to Charles? But as she met Tony's eyes, she knew that wasn't the case. He seemed to fully understand her "distaste" of the Braxton name. "I just..." She started then faltered.
"It's perfectly okay." Tony laughed softly. "Believe me, I understand. I have, after all, met your husband on many occasions."
Tony led her to a corner booth set apart from the rest of the room. He urged her to sit then took his place across the table from her. She thought about what he'd just said and asked cautiously, "You don't like my husband?"
"In business." Tony said. "It isn't about liking someone. It's about the money." He winked at her. "Most of the time."
"I see." Sabrina was suddenly uncertain how to proceed. This wasn't just some lunch date with a business client. How did she say what she really wanted of him? And what if Charles countered her offer and turned the tables on her? If he managed to do so...would he turn it on Owen as well - simply out of spite? Was she really prepared to take that risk?
"Sabrina." Tony took her hand in his and looked at her intently, drawing her from her troubled thoughts. His eyes were so dark they looked black, but not in a disturbing way. They had a way of drawing you in and soothing your nerves. "Why are you here?"
"Business." She whispered and she could hear the tremor in her voice.
"What kind of business?"
She stared into the black depths of his eyes. "Your kind of business." She spoke so low she barely heard herself.
He gazed at her with his entrancing eyes as he held her hand in both of his. "That's serious business, Sabrina." He said quietly. "Are you sure you're ready to cross that line? Perhaps you should take a few days to think it through."
Sabrina shook her head slowly. She was shaking. When had she started shaking? "No." She trembled. "It has to be now. I-I don't need to think about it. There's nothing to think about." Her shakes intensified and she could feel the tears running down her face. Suddenly Tony was at her side, his arms around her.
"Sammy!" He called to the bartender. "Bring me a glass of ice water, now." Tony rubbed his hand over her wet cheek as she shuddered and sobbed uncontrollably. "It's gonna be okay, lass." Sammy brought the water and Tony gave her a drink and stroked his hand over her hair. "Just take a deep breath, drink some cold water...then tell me who I have to kill for doing this to such an exquisite woman?"
Owen was just seconds away from saying to hell with it and heading home alone when the cab pulled up in front of the feed store and his wife got out. There was something different about her, like she wasn't quite as "together" as she had been when they'd left for town earlier. When she slid into the passenger seat, he could see that her makeup wasn't nearly as perfect either. It was on the tip of his tongue to remark how her session with her lover had smeared her makeup, but pulled the words back when he noticed the faint redness to her eyes. Had she been crying?
She sat silently next to the passenger door and didn't look at him. She seemed tense, like she was waiting for his attack. Again, he felt sympathy for her and didn't know why. Whatever the reason, he wasn't in the mood to attack.
"Did you get your business done?" He asked as he started the truck and pulled away from the feed store. There was no note of sarcasm in his question this time, which startled even himself.
"Yes." She said quietly. She picked at her clothes as she gazed down into her lap.
Owen thought about asking her if she was okay, but he sensed she didn't want to talk. They drove home in silence, all the while Owen wondering just what exactly his wife had done today. Though it was instinct to suspect her of screwing around on him, he found himself believing that today was about something else entirely. What kind of business did she have in pub owned by a mobster?
He glanced at her. She stared distantly out the window, her mind clearly a million miles away.
What did you do today?