Chapter I

 

What are you doing Cornelia? Are you sure you’re willing to do this?

Cornelia Masters asks herself as she holds on to the seat belt of Nick McElroy’s expensive car. She’s seen the look on Morrison’s eyes as the car drove away further along the road, away from her apartment, away from him.

Oh, what must he be thinking now? Surely, he’s thinking I’ve gotten back together with Nick and continued with our “supposed affair”.

Cornelia Masters, an orphan, a young woman with a very beguiling face and body, who can get any man she wanted, looks on ahead, her conflicting thoughts plaguing her as they drive towards the city. She’s been bent on destroying Nick McElroy, the father whom she has never known, until her mother’s untimely death. She’s always suspected that it wasn’t just an accident. Her mother had always been a very careful driver and rarely went above sixty on the freeway. But she mysteriously had a vehicular accident when Cornelia was ten years old – that was ten years ago to that day…

And she has never forgotten. Her mother, sweet Julie, had so many difficulties in her life. First, meeting the man who got her pregnant and left her, raising her daughter alone without so much as a relative that was around to help her, then finally, meeting her unjustly death over a suspicious car accident. How could a person go through all difficulties in life without so much as a shoulder to cry on? That’s what Cornelia admired about her mother the most and that’s what pushes her forward.

There’s no time for crying or regrets, only plans for the rightful justice of her mother’s death… and of course, to find out if Nick McElroy is her father once and for all. And if he is, why did he leave them? Why would he let his unborn child grow up without knowing him? Those questions still burn in her head even until that day that she’s finally within reach of the father who abandoned her. But even with all the hatred and disgust over this person, she can’t seem to bring herself into asking him directly if he really is her father… not yet anyway. She has to get more facts and information to bring him down. The truth would come out eventually but for now, she has the opportunity to know more about him, without him knowing about her.

“So, Mr. McElroy – I mean Nick – where do you plan to go for dinner?” she asks as Nick continues to drive across the bridge.

“Oh, I don’t know. How about a modest little restaurant a friend of mine owns? It’s just over at Soho. It’s lovely over there and we have so much privacy,” Nick looks at her and winks with a smile.

I knew it! You perverted bastard! You really are a disgusting human being!

“I see, sure.” Cornelia tries hard to smile instead of getting mad at him.

She knows that lying to Morrison and telling him Nick and her had a two-month affair before was wrong, but she only blurted that out when he caught her sneaking around Nick’s study during the party he threw in Morrison’s honor. She was surprised to know that Morrison is actually Nick’s adopted son and didn’t know what else to say when she was caught, so she lied!

She met Morrison earlier that week when he ran her over with his bike during her early morning run at her neighborhood’s park.

Such a stupid idiot he was, she thought to herself as she recalls how they met.

“Ouch!” she said in a small voice as she felt a throbbing in her head.

“Miss! Miss! Are you alright?” a deep male voice asked with concern. “I’m sorry, I, ah, I didn’t see you past that curb. I should’ve slowed down. What an idiot!” he said, as he looked so guilty for he had his full helmet gear and reflective glasses on while she was lying on the ground, all banged up.

He looked at her with concern and mostly guilt in his eyes as he continued on a string of curses directed to himself for not noticing her running towards the curb.

“Hey, I’m fine, stop cursing already,” she was more annoyed at his string of words than being hit by his bike.

When she started to sit up, he suddenly grew silent all of a sudden like he’s just seen a ghost or something. He continued staring at her through his annoyingly bright sunglasses, which he had not taken off yet even though he’s been talking to her for several minutes now.

Then he finally uttered something like, “Wow”, but grew silent again. She asked what the heck he was doing for not slowing down while rounding a curve and biking through a runner’s lane. He couldn’t seem to answer her so she just waved her arms out in front of him, hoping to get his attention back. He seemed to have faded out into his own universe of something but he finally snapped out of his trance and apologized profusely.

She wanted to go home but he insisted that they go to the hospital so she can be checked for any concussion or if it was serious. She went along with it because he wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.

Despite being hit and having some minor bruises and cuts, she was intrigued by Morrison and more so when he took his sunglasses and helmet off. She didn’t expect a movie star to appear from that helmet but he was close. He was, surprisingly, a gentleman too with his subtle ways of chivalry all throughout their way to the hospital. He even carried her to the car and inside the hospital – something that made her feel vulnerable but at the same time, safe somehow. Albeit his charms and acts of chivalry, she was still annoyed with him and she can’t understand why he had such an effect on her. So as soon as he and his driver dropped her off her apartment building, she jumped out of the car and was about to race to her door were it not for Barret being there and ready to help her.

“Whoa there!” Barret exclaimed as he caught her on time before she hit the pavement. In her rush to get out of Morrison’s car, she underestimated her body and lost her balance for a second.

When Barret caught her, she took the chance to use him to push Morrison away. She made a play of acting weak and agreed to be carried inside her apartment by Barret. There was a moment when Barret and Morrison looked at each other with animosity and if Charlie, Morrison’s driver, hadn’t cleared his throat to dispel the palpable tension between them, it might have resulted to more than sharp stares between them.

When she saw how Morrison looked at them when Barret carried her up to the apartment building door, she felt a pang of guilt but quickly dismissed it because he couldn’t possibly feel jealous about Barret carrying her. She just did it to piss him off because he was acting like she was his girlfriend or something, when clearly she wasn’t! They just met for Christ’s sake. Plus, she doesn’t like it when men order her around like they had a right to tell her what to do, so, she just annoyed him back.

As soon as they were out of earshot and as Morrison’s car pulled away from the driveway, she asked Barret to put her down because she was feeling better.

“Cornelia, are you sure you’re okay to be alone?” Barret said as he gently placed her feet back on the ground.

She said she’ll be fine and apologized for even asking him to carry her, which he said he did gladly. They parted ways and she went up to her apartment building and did more thinking about her plans the next day, the party at the Hamptons, in Nick McElroy’s house.

She didn’t know that Morrison was Nick’s only son, his adopted prodigal son, until he caught her snooping around his father’s study in the new house. The party was in full swing when Cornelia decided that it was the best time to get some evidence against the older McElroy, or the Moneymaker, as the people so fondly called him.

Except that he was a crook, as far as Cornelia thinks. Nick was up for a lawsuit being filed at him for money laundering and from stealing from his clients using his local bank, Missions Bank. That lawsuit is going to be the perfect downfall of the man who thought he could own the world and not be responsible for any of his actions. All she had to do was find out his dirt. She needed to look at his files or anything indicating any offshore accounts where he might have stashed the money of his patrons. Since Missions Bank declared bankruptcy a year ago, there have been many talks from the customers and the shareholders as to where the funds went to. There were no investments made or any proof of where it went. The firm claims that it went to bad investments and unpaid loans that their clients took out but there has to be something more to it.

That’s what McElroy will be tried for.

Cornelia made her way to Nick’s study by actually climbing up to it and swinging herself to the foyer since it was on the second floor of the McElroy Manor. She used the diversion from Nick’s speech to do the deed, thinking no one would be paying attention until the speech was over. What she didn’t know was that Morrison had been avoiding his father’s formal speech and just wanted to escape the party altogether. It was just unfortunate for Cornelia to be caught red-handed as she was snooping at the study by Morrison, nonetheless. They already had an early run in with him saving her at the gas station and driving her to her hotel. The least she expected to happen that night was to see him at the McElroy Manor and then eventually finding out that he’s Nick’s son.

In her panic and shock- at finding out that the guy who ran her over with his bike and who’s continuously becoming the bane of her existence – was Morrison himself, she blurted out a complete and utter lie about being supposedly involved with Nick McElroy. She used her knowledge about Nick’s whereabouts to convince Morrison who actually believed her, at least she thinks he did.

Morrison was angry and shocked at first but she was very believable or at least he’d like to think she was the innocent who got corrupted by his father’s worldly pleasures. He took pity on the girl especially when she cried in front of me. He could never stand women crying so instead of telling her that she was just lying and was just destroying his father’s name, he did the opposite, believing her and even comforting her in her pain.

I must be an idiot! He thought to himself as he even invited her for a tour or a day out to explore the better parts of the Hamptons the next day, which she accepted to his pleasant surprise.

He had no idea that Cornelia plans to use him against his father…

Cornelia hasn’t quite made up her mind yet as Nick’s car drives away from the stunned face of Morrison from the rearview mirror. She’s torn between being a moral person and from being a good daughter who is willing to do anything to make sure justice is done right for her mother.

As she snaps back to the present, she looks at Nick’s smiling face as he rambles on about his meanderings in town, going to business meetings and talking to potential clients. She thinks to herself, Is this man really my dad? Is he really a disgusting womanizer who happens to be good at hiding it? Or does he just have a good heart and just decided to give a ride to an employee whom he happened to see while she was walking by herself? Did he really not have anything to do with my mother’s death?

It is almost too excruciating for her to think of all the answers to her own questions, but there is one thing that she’s certain of at that moment… She has finally broken Morrison’s trust and she might never get it back ever. That thought actually makes her sad and she almost takes a double look at the rearview mirror and just stop the car altogether… but she doesn’t.

No, you can’t like anybody, remember? She reminds herself while trying very hard not to look up at the mirror. You have to think back to what mom went through. You have to find out what really happened and if you do confirm that Nick is your dad and had something to do with her death, then you have the right to exact your justice unto him!

She gives a final shake of her head and breathes in deeply. Now, she’s ready.

“So, Nick… is it okay to call you Nick even outside the office?” she asks while smiling at him.

“Of course, Cornelia! I’d very much prefer you to call me Nick. Or if you have something else better in mind to call me, just let me know. Ha ha ha!” he chuckles loudly as she pretends to laugh with him. She can’t put her finger on it, but either Nick is borderline flirting with her or he is just a darn jolly fellow.

Whatever he’s doing, she has to keep up with the pretense of not knowing anything much about him and possibly gain his trust.

“So, are you and Morrison dating?” he asks suddenly.

Cornelia is surprised at his question, but thinks that it is just natural for a father to inquire about his son’s lovelife, right?

“Well… not exactly,” she says honestly. She doesn’t quite know what Morrison and her are, at the moment, but she’s sure it’s not good after what he saw.

Why? Have you gone out for a while?”

“The time you saw us together was actually the first time we went out and it wasn’t exactly a date. He just wanted to show me around since it was my first time to visit the Hamptons.” At least that was true, she thinks to herself.

“Ah I see. So how did you like it so far?”

“It’s a great place. I don’t get out much so being in a lovely place was very refreshing.”

“I meant your “not exactly a date” with my son? How was it?” he winked jokingly at her, as if letting her know that he was the cool dad who wanted to know the real score between them. “I don’t mean to intrude or anything. It’s just that my son has gone through a tough time with his – ah – ex… I just don’t want to see him go through that again, you know what I mean?” Nick looks serious for a second as he looks ahead towards the beaming lights of the city.

She doesn’t know quite exactly how to respond because she has not figured out her feelings for Morrison either. “I enjoyed his company but I’m not sure if its every going to happen again. I- I’m really trying to focus on my career so dating is not really something I’d want to do now. Don’t worry about him being heartbroken over me, Nick,” she gives a short laugh, “I’m sure he’s forgotten about me now.”

“Oh, don’t be so quick to discount my son’s sincerity. If he really likes, you, believe me, he will find a way to see you again. I’m sorry for my prodding. I just wanted to make sure you know what he’s been through so if you’re not seeking for a relationship, then just let him know the soonest so he won’t be pinning over you. Sorry for my bluntness.”

Cornelia looks at him as he talks and she can’t shake the feeling that everything he said was out of concern for his son. But her hatred for this man is not letting her fully believe that he has good intentions in asking her those kinds of questions.

She squirms in the leather seat of the sports car that Nick is driving. They drive through the busy streets and gets caught in mild traffic. The whole time, Nick regales her of stories from Morrison’s early childhood and they share a laugh when he tells her about Morrison’s favorite cowboy boots that were pink.

“He never wanted to take it off. He would wear it anywhere, even in his bed! I mean, I was beginning to think that he’d marry those boots!” he chuckles and Cornelia can’t help but laugh with him as she imagines how Morrison looked like with his pink boots.

Hey, why are you laughing with him? It seems like you’re having a good time with him! What gives?! Her inner voice checks her because she seems to have forgotten about her whole purpose in getting in the car with him in the first place. She stops laughing subtly and focuses on what information she needs to get from him. She needs to lead the conversation and not the other way around.

As they pull up at a modest restaurant in the streets near Soho, Nick sighs and says, “Ah, finally we’re here. Come on, if you want to taste authentic good food, then come with me!” he says enthusiastically as he gets out from his side and opens her door to let her out.

He offers his hand and she takes it, not wanting to be rude and so he can be more comfortable with her. She didn’t feel at all creeped out by taking his hand and his assisting her out of the vehicle. For one, she feels like he’s sincere in just having dinner out with her, not on a date or anything, but just to share a meal with someone.

She looks up at the two-story building made of wood, mostly. It looks like a kind of cross between Italian and Western cuisine. It isn’t like those five-star restaurants that most rich and famous people go to. It’s just a normal, cozy restaurant, tucked in one of the homiest streets in Soho.

As they go in, the person on the counter, which is probably Nick’s friend because they greet each other like old friends, usher them in and leads them to a table in the corner. The ambiance of the place is very homey, with the yellow dim lights and the plush sofa in the middle of the floor, facing a small fireplace. It looks more like a home than a restaurant and there are just a few tables around.

The chairs and tables surrounding the small space are made of wood but not just ordinary furniture lumber. They are made out of driftwood and fashioned into comfortable chairs and tables.

Cornelia is stunned for a few minutes and doesn’t say a word until Nick clears his throat and asks what she wanted to order.

“Oh, I’m sorry Nick. I was just blown away by this place that I forgot we had to eat here,” she apologizes and looks at the menu.

“That’s quite alright. I was the same the first time I went here. I used to frequent this place a long time ago…” he stops and looks like he is remembering something or reminiscing about something in the past, “but nowadays, I just come here when I can…like tonight. After a grueling day, I just need to go somewhere familiar and a place I feel a lot more at home with.”

He looks at his menu for a second and decides on the clubhouse sandwich.

“Wow, their food look amazing. I don’t exactly know what to get…” Cornelia thumbs through the selections and decides to just try their bestseller. “I think I’m going to get this,” she points to the order and Nick gives a nod of approval.

“That is a great choice! Their pastas are one of a kind. Now, let me just tell Antonio over here and we’re good to go,” he calls over the waiter whim he knows, of course, and gives their orders.

“So, Cornelia, my dear. Where are you from?”

Why is he probing again?

“I am originally from Jersey but moved here when I was sixteen and lived here ever since,” she answers honestly. She figures that it wouldn’t do any harm to be a little honest with the man. Maybe he’s just checking if she will tell him what’s in her employment file, which he has access to. So, she thought she’d better stick to her work profile.

“I’ve been to Jersey lots of times before… on business mostly, but also for pleasure. I love it there. It’s not as fast-paced as New York, but not as far away as I’d like it to. It’s a balance between the tranquility of the outdoors and the bustling city lights, both of which are just an hour away.”

He talks like he’s back in that place again. Cornelia studies him while he talks about her hometown and feels that he enjoyed being there. She risks a personal question to possibly incite him to talk more about himself and get more personal.

“Is that where you met Mrs. McElroy?” she asks with a smile, pretending to be interested with his wife.

He turns serious for a second then breaks into a smile as well, shaking his head as he replies, “Nah. I met Linda in the South, where her family lives. I worked with her father before and he thought it would be a good union so we got married.”

“Oh, I only said that because it looks like you really love Jersey and, naturally, might have found someone there that you love as well.”

“Yeah, unfortunately, I didn’t find anybody there who wanted to spend her life with me. So I moved on and accepted Linda’s father’s proposal.” Nick looks at her with a look of bewilderment on his face. “You know, I only just met you a couple of days ago but I feel that we will get on quite nicely. See, I’m even telling you my personal life!” he laughs at the thought as she smiles sweetly at him.

“I really appreciate your honestly Nick. I guess we’re two peas in a pod, you and I,” she laughs as well as their food is served.

They spend a good full hour just enjoying the Italian dishes they ordered and telling each other tidbits of their lives. Of course, Cornelia just tells him half-truths and full lies about her childhood and where she’s been, but still, that dinner began to let her realize a number of things. Things that are so life changing that she doesn’t want to analyze it right there. She needs to be by herself and think things over afterwards.

She then politely bids him goodbye and declines his offer of driving her home. She prefers to get into a cab so she can have more time alone while she mulls things over in her head.

She waves at him as the cab passes by his car. What just happened?  She asks herself. Why is Nick being so nice to her all of a sudden? Is it really because he wanted to know how she feels about Morrison? Or is it something else?

She tried many times to loathe him while they were having their dinner but he was very accommodating, nice, and cool about things. She never expected that he would be like that in real life. She always sees him in his impeccable suits and polished shoes, walking in a brisk pace, as he enters the elevators.

Cornelia shakes her head as if to clear her mind because certainly, she’s all confused now with what to make out on the time they shared in the restaurant. It was actually… pleasant.

No! That’s what he wants you to think! They’re all liars, these lawyers. They will get you to like them to gain your full trust, then use it against you! No, Cornelia. He is a phony. Don’t believe his pretense and find out more about his dirty secrets before he finds out about you.

Her conscience and inner voice has always led her to the right path and she is listening to it yet again. She knows herself and right now, she is getting confused on who Nick McElroy really is. Is he a friend or a foe like he has always been?

She enters her apartment and sags down on the floor as soon as the door was closed behind her. She doesn’t know what to feel and what to think of her dinner with her father.

She thinks back to their conversation and a smile creeps into her face. But she squashes the funny thought as soon as it hit her. Julie’s face comes into her mind and all her doubts about Nick’s personality are set in place again.

She stands up and gets undressed. But she suddenly sees something under her door, a piece of paper. She shrugs her shoulders and goes to it, opening the folded paper and starts reading what is in it.

“You are playing with fire Cornelia. Be careful. If you get too close, you might burn yourself in the process. – J.W.”

Of course, it’s from James. He’s probably worried that I went out to dinner with Nick.

“Well, James, you don’t have to worry about me. I’m a big girl, I can handle myself,” she says outloud. She knows that he’s watching her and wants only what is best for her, like what he’s always done in the past, but this is a battle she has to go through. She has to know what really happened to her mother and if her father had anything to do with it… if Nick is really her father to begin with.

She has to make sure once and for all that he is so she won’t have to second guess everything about their relationship. She nods her head as if to agree with herself then makes for her bedside table. She needs to make a plan to have a DNA test done for her and Nick.

She just needs to get his DNA…

“Hmm, that would be a problem…” she says as she tries to think of ways on how she can obtain some. She decides to go online and find out how she can get some DNA out of a person.

For the last six months that she had been working for the firm, she only went as far as gathered information about Nick’s whereabouts, his business, and other affairs. But she is yet to make her first step into actually confirming if he is, in fact, the father she always searched for.

She tinkers with her laptop for a couple of hours and when she’s satisfied with what she got, she powers it down and lies down on her bed, eyes still open and her mind still reeling.

Then she thinks about Morrison. That old familiar pang of guilt hits her head on and she doubles over with the thought that she had unequivocally broken his trust. His expression as they drove away will be forever etched in her mind.

“I’m sorry Morrison… I know you will probably never going to talk to me again after this but I am truly sorry…,” she whispers to her pillow as a lone tear slides from her eyes to the pillow. She’s heartbroken that they will never have a future together, no matter how they like each other’s company, and no matter how they make each other laugh with their silly acts and funny stories.

She realizes that now that she has to embrace the fact that they can never be together, it makes her long to have a relationship with him, any kind of relationship… She realizes that he’s a genuine person and he was a good friend eventhough she fed him lies about her affair, he still gave her a chance to be his friend.

There aren’t many people like him in this world anymore, that much I know, but I only have one life and I must use this life to honor my mother, who had always put me first in everything in her life. Nobody has time for love anymore.

And with that final thought and one final tear, she succumbs to the darkness and enters the world of Morpheus where she dreams of the life she has and what she wants – a life that she can never have.

 

 

Chapter II

 

“I can’t believe she would go with him! Shit! I can’t….” Morrison says angrily to the wind as he walks back to his car. He saw her face on the rearview mirror and he knows she saw him. “But why didn’t she get out? She knows that I know of their affair. Why would she risk me seeing them together again? Isn’t she afraid that I might tell on them?” But he knows that he won’t.

He gets inside his car and in his anger, punches the steering wheel.

“God damn it woman! What are you doing to me?!” he yells inside the car. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He knows he’s being irrational with his feelings towards her. How could he feel so attracted to a woman who is having an affair with his father? Is he that desperate that he would go for the same woman his dad is screwing?

Shit! What the hell have you gotten yourself into? Would you snap out of it already? She chose him. She saw you but she never batted an eye. She’s already forgotten about you Morrison… so forget about her.

He opens his eyes and tries sorting out what he wants to do moving forward. “Okay, so she’s obviously chosen him over me. No point in crying over spilled milk, as they say…,” he says trying to talk himself into not feeling anything about the encounter but at the back of his mind, he still can’t accept it. He is still intrigued and attracted by that mysteriously independent woman. What he can’t figure out is, she comes off as independent and strong, but why would she latch herself to a married man?

Then it dawns on him, his confusion now turns into understanding. Of course! She’s just like any other gold digger. She wants him for his money. Who wouldn’t? He’s just one of the richest and most successful businessmen in the country!

“I can’t believe I fell into her trap,” he whispers to the interior of the car. His expression turns into something serious and hard. He starts the engine and drives off. “Fine! If she wants his money, she can have it. I won’t tell the world about their secret because it will surely destroy mother, but I will damn make it a hard existence for them both!” He revs up the engine and drives like a maniac, his frustration showing on how he’s driving, not caring if he hits something along the way.

Right now, Morrison Ellis McElroy is going to be every bit the billionaire playboy everyone pegs him to be. And he is bent on showing Cornelia what he’s really capable of.

The office is bustling with people as Cornelia walks in the next day. She decided early that day to come in early and get settled in even before Nick comes. She also secretly wanted to avoid any run ins with Morrison in the elevator or anywhere within the premises but as she stares at her colleagues running around in her old floor, she feels something big is happening. She stopped there first before going to the top floor, to Nick’s offices, just to get some stuff she left behind in her desk.

“Katie!” she calls out seeing her old boss open her office and is on her way to the boardroom. “What’s going on? Why is everybody running around like there’s fire or something?”

“Well, you can say that. Haven’t you heard? Today, Mr. McElroy is going to trial for the allegations against him and we are in the midst of finding out any evidence that might help him.” Katie frantically juggles the file folders she has on both hands.

“But the hearing is not until January, right? It’s only November. What happened?” Cornelia asks and helps Katie out with the folders. From the reports and news she has heard over the last several months, Nick’s hearing was to be scheduled on the following year because the Judge still had to look at the evidence against him and all other preliminaries, she wonders what had caused the sudden change.

“We don’t know yet. That’s what we’re trying to find out. Quite frankly, I think Mr. McElroy knew about the change in dates but I don’t know why he kept it from his company and the press. Well, anyway, you better get up there. I saw him come in a few minutes ago,” Katie waves at her as she runs off to the opposite direction.

Oh shoot! And here she thought she was early. She dashes off towards the elevators and as soon as the doors open, she sees Morrison look up and stare at her from his spot inside. There is one other person in the elevator and since she’s rushing, she doesn’t have a choice but to get in.

Morrison doesn’t look at all rattled by her presence in the elevator. In fact, he looks calm and collected. Something that puzzles Cornelia as she continues to stand rigidly beside him. He doesn’t say anything to her and so she decides to start the conversation.

“Ah, hi, Morrison. How are you today?” Yeah, stupid question Cornelia. Of course, he’s pissed at you dummy!

“Oh, hi, Cornelia,” he greets back as if seeing her just then. “I’m sorry I was preoccupied earlier, I didn’t see you come in. How am I?”

Oh no, here it comes. She nearly cringes at his answer but to her surprise, Morrison gave her a toothy grin.

“I’m wonderful! Other than feeling sad by my father’s early hearing, of course, but otherwise, good. I have a good feeling about my dad’s case. I’m sure they’ll just throw that accusation in the garbage where it belongs. He’s going to wing it. Now, how about you, lovely Cornelia? What have you been up to?” he looks at her with his right eyebrow raised but he doesn’t look angry or pissed.

“Oh… ah- ha! I, I haven’t been up to anything actually,” she laughs nervously as she is still wrapping her head around his demeanor that morning.

What has gotten into him? I’m positive it was him who saw us drive off last night. But why is he acting like he didn’t see anything? Like he doesn’t know that I got into his dad’s car last night.

“Okay, if you say so,” he beams then turns his attention to the lady on his right – a pretty brunette who works in her old department, a new one so Cornelia hasn’t even spoken to her yet – then starts up a conversation with her. “I’m sorry, I don’t think we haven’t been formally introduced yet. The name’s Morrison.”

“Oh, hi, Mr. McElroy! Of course, I know who you are, sir, who doesn’t? I went to your father’s house last weekend. Wonderful house!” she starts chatting away and finally gave him her name, Gloria or something like that. Cornelia doesn’t really care about her, but she is all ears to their conversation because, well, if she’s being honest with herself, she’s shocked at Morrison’s sudden complete disregard of her standing there. Didn’t he just ask her out that weekend?

“Well, I guess you should start reading up on your job, now shouldn’t you?” she mutters as Gloria-what’s-her-face said something about still being confused with her tasks and what-not.

Morrison suddenly looks at Cornelia and asks, “Hold on Gloria, sorry. Umm… Sorry Cornelia, what was that? We’re you saying something?”

Oh you! You insufferable little – Then it strikes her. Hah! He’s trying to piss me off! He wants to get back at me, that’s it! Well, two can play this game.

“Oh, nothing. I just thought you’d want to know that we passed your floor. You are working in the thirtieth, right? I should know, I’m all the way up to the top. Tough luck being late on your first day, huh?” she answers pretending to look sorry but is really going for the opposite.

“Oh shit! Ah, Georgia –, “he starts to say as he quickly punches the button for the thirty-second floor.

“Gloria,” the new girl replies looking a bit annoyed at him.

“Yes, sorry, I have to go, but see you around!” he nods at Cornelia but doesn’t smile then saunters off towards the stairs going down to the thirtieth.

Cornelia hides a smile beneath her hair and looks up to the elevator buttons. Nick’s offices are on the top of the building, the fiftieth floor, and it’s going to take her a few more minutes to get there. She’s hoping that Nick has a very hectic day today so she can snoop around some more.

Pretty brunette gets off on the fortieth and the elevator goes up the rest of the way. Then suddenly, the elevator stops without her pushing anything.

“Whoa!” she exclaims as the feels it sway a little. “What the heck – “ then she remembers overhearing the security guys talking about a faulty elevator that they had to check on as she was making her way inside the building lobby. “Shoot! Why the heck didn’t they block this elevator off if it needed repairs?! Oh my God,” she squeaks as the elevator threatens to give.

Then she hears ringing in the background. She grabs her phone and answers it. “H-hello? Help! I- I’m in the elevator and I think it’s broken… ah!” another swaying and she hears the metal ropes breaking.

“Cornelia! Hold on. Help is coming. Just stand still!” Morrison’s voice echoes through the receiver but she just stares at it for a few seconds.

How did he even get my number?  She snaps out of her confusion and responds to him in an uncertain voice.

“O-okay. I’ll be s-still.” She slowly goes down on the ground and hugs her knees. She has to remain perfectly still to prevent anymore breaking in or around the already-busted elevator.

“It’s going to be okay, Cornelia, just hang on,” Morrison’s earnest voice echoes in her head as he continues to talk to her through her cellphone. He’s keeping her busy by asking her all sorts of questions so she won’t panic while the rescuers are making their way to her.

“The building is fairly new but just a week ago, an employee reported something loose with that particular elevator,” Morrison tells her. He only just found out from the maintenance guy who is beside him as he continues to talk to her.

“But why wouldn’t they close it off if there was a reported problem? You got on it from the ground floor right? Did you notice any sign?” Cornelia is puzzled with the fact that the no one placed any warning signs near or around the elevator doors.

“I didn’t see anything. I wouldn’t have gone inside then. Georgia or Gloria, was already on it when I arrived. It’s good that she’s okay, she’s here with me now…” he stops for a second but ignores the voice inside telling him to stop making her jealous.

“Oh… yeah, it’s good that it was me instead of her who got stuck here. God knows what would have happened if she was ever in danger!” sarcasm in her voice, she decides to end the call and just ignore him.

What an ass! He didn’t have to rub it in! What does he see in her anyway? They just met for goodness sake! She distracts herself from her thoughts and tries to focus on the problem at hand. She thinks first about the elevator itself.

The elevator leads directly to the top floor, making just a few stops along the way, for those who have access to it. There are a number of people who have access to it, like the bosses in each division, who use it for faster transport from the lobby and of course, to the whole top floor, so it was hard to pinpoint who damaged it or if it was really a mechanical failure. She has access to it because she is one of the secretaries of the CEO. Some of the bosses can give special access to their secretaries or people who are directly servicing the bosses of each division, but not all are given that privilege.

Cornelia’s phone rings again, but this time, she answers it because it might be important.

“Hello?” and Morrison’s voice comes on again.

“Cornelia, what happened? The connection broke earlier and I’ve been trying to call you back since. Are you okay? Are you hurt? The rescuers are on the thirty-fifth floor now. They can’t risk using the other elevators because there might be a problem with all the wirings but they’re not far away, just hang in there.”

“Yeah, I guess there’s poor reception here,” she lies as she fumbles with her shoes. She’s still on lying low on the ground with her knees close to her but it’s becoming hard to stay in that position. “I’m not hurt, thanks for your concern,” she says rolling her eyes in the process. I don’t need and want your concern pal! Just give it to little Miss Oh I’m so confused with all the tasks… blah blah blah! She gives a poor imitation of the girl Gloria but makes sure she doesn’t let Morrison hear her.

“Sorry, what was that? Your voice was muffled on the last part.” Morrison sticks his ear closer to the phone to hear better.

“Ah, nothing, I just thought I heard something. Anyway, I think it’s them. Gotta go now. See you later… and thanks Morrison,” she says more seriously as she presses the “End” button of her phone.

“Miss Masters? Are you there?” a male voice shouts from behind the elevator door and she answers earnestly. She’s anxious of getting out of there and her feet and body are tired from crouching low to the ground for several minutes.

“Yes! I’m here. I’m okay, but please, get me out of here!”

It takes about five minutes for the rescuers to pry open the door, secure the elevator cabin, and get her out of harm’s way.

She is rushed towards the side of the floor stairwell and is being interviewed by the paramedic for any signs of trauma, shock, or any kind of injury when Morrison suddenly appears from the stairs and grabs her by the shoulders, the paramedic courteously moving away to give room to him.

“Are you hurt? How are you?” he looks her up from her head down to her bare feet and places his palm on her cheek. “Ah, thank God, you’re finally out,” he sighs with relief as he gathers her in his arms.

She pushes him away before he can even embrace her fully, “Um, I’m fine, Mr. McElroy, there is no need to worry more about me,” she says, discreetly putting some distance between them.

Morrison clears his throat as he realizes that there are people looking at them. You’re in the office premises, control yourself. He silently lectures himself as he nods and asks the paramedic back to continue checking her.

“Okay, since you’re okay, I shall go about my business and not worry anymore… a- about the incident, with the- ah- elevator.” Go! Before you make yourself even more of an ass!

As Morrison exits the floor and goes down to his floor, Cornelia can’t help but long for the would-be embrace, but stops herself as she spots Gloria from behind one of the office doors, a phone on her ear and talking in a hushed voice.

Maybe it was her boss or a family member, Cornelia shrugs and gives her attention back to the paramedic.

As the commotion ended, the employees went back to their work stations and resumed work for the day.

“Okay, people, we still have some work to do remember? Let’s make sure to help out in any way we can about Mr. McElroy’s case.” Katie’s voice echoes amid the chaos on the thirtieth floor.

Morrison’s office is at the back of the floor, windows facing the Manhattan skyline. He sits on his chair, contemplating what had happened earlier that day.

“Uh, Morrison?” Katie’s head appears from outside his door and he is jarred from his thoughts.

“Yes, Katie?” he swivels his chair around to face her, “Please come in.”

“No need, I just came here to tell you that the documents you requested from me are ready. I’ve sent it to your email. I guessed you haven’t even seen your emails yet with all the commotion so I decided to let you know personally. Plus I do need some people from your staff. Can I borrow Phil for a day? I need his tech specialties,” Katie’s friendly smile comes on as Morrison gives her permission.

“Okay, okay, since you’ve caught me off guard, I will lend him to you for a day. And thank you for sending over what I asked. Sorry for the bother.”

“Oh, pish posh! No prob. Gotta rush! Bye!” And with a wave of her hand, Katie closes his door and dashes off to where Phil is.

Morrison opens his laptop and searches his mail for Katie’s email. And there it is, Cornelia Masters’ profile and evaluations from Katie.

He knows it’s unnecessary to do some background checking since the company does that to every employee they ever hired, but he has a feeling that she might be holding something back, or rather, keeping something a secret. He doesn’t want to stalk her either, just checking on her credentials, strictly professional matters.

“Okay, so who are you Ms. Cornelia Masters?” he says absentmindedly as he moves on to the next pages of the documents. From her file, Cornelia joined the firm about six months ago. Her previous job was a secretary for a J.Wilson, a private entrepreneur and she came with a great recommendation and excellent feedback from his employer. Prior to that, she graduated high school in a school in New Jersey, but didn’t go to College, however, her former employer allowed her to study  while working, earning her an associate’s degree which she completed in less than two years. “Hmm, impressive. At least I know she’s got a good head on her shoulders,” he says outloud although he already felt that about her when he first met her.

He continues browsing through her accomplishments and becomes even more impressed as he finally reaches the end of the document.

Okay, no skeletons in here.  However, company profiles don’t always have everything jotted down in it. He has to dig deeper if he wants to know more about her. But what’s the point? He asks himself, standing up and going towards the wall-sized window. Obviously, he want to find out if she is really having an affair again with his father, but he can’t right now, due to the chaos caused by the hearing and all, but he can’t seem to believe that Cornelia would just disregard the time and conversations they exchanged when they were in the Hamptons. She seemed so genuinely interested in him there and he likes her company more than he likes any other woman he’s ever met before. She makes him feel… something… He can’t stop thinking about her and the thought of her going out with his dad is driving him crazy!

A knock comes from outside his door and he answers curtly, “What?!”, as the doors opens.

“Oh, I’m sorry… Maybe I should come at a better time…” Cornelia’s face appears from the door, looking embarrassed for intruding. She turns back and about to close the door again when Morrison stops her.

“Wait! I’m sorry. I was,” he looks at his laptop and Cornelia’s face is plastered all over his screen. He quickly closes it and turns his attention back to her, “I was thinking about the case. Sorry if I sounded rude. Please come in. How are you? I was thinking you went home after your ordeal earlier.”

He walks towards the bar and pours water on a glass. He hands her the glass, their fingers slightly touching, and walks back behind his desk.

“T-thank you, Mr. McElroy. I’m fine. I would hardly call it an ordeal. Just a delay, I should say so,” she takes a sip of the cold water. She can still feel the warmth in his fingers as they brushed hers earlier. She feels her cheeks flare and quickly feigns a cough to cover her face with her hands, hiding her cheeks.

“You were stuck in a defective elevator, it’s not merely a delay, Cornelia.” His voice is as cold as steel as he points out the danger she faced.

“Well, nothing happened, alright? I was rescued and everybody went back to their own business, case closed. Anyway, I came here to thank you for, well, for calling me and calming me down. I must admit I was pretty nervous at the beginning but you, err, distracted me from it… So, ah, thank you!” Why does my voice sound like a squeal?

Her voice gets a little high-pitched when she’s nervous or tense, possibly from being such close proximities from Morrison.

“You’re welcome. It was my pleasure to help you out. I only just learned about it because I bumped into the maintenance man as I was going down to the thirtieth and he told me not to use the elevator I just used.”

“I see. Then it was very fortunate of me that you had a warning. You certainly avoided even more chaos by showing you’re a good boss. I’m sure all the employees will be talking about how well you handled the situation.”

Morrison holds himself back from telling her exactly why he did it, instead, he agrees on her what she surmised, “Yes, I wanted to show everyone that panicking in these kinds of situations doesn’t help anybody, much less the person who was in danger. I think they got the message. Thanks to the rescue team who got there on time.” He thinks back to the scene when the line was cut and he couldn’t get Cornelia back on the line. He was freaking out and everybody in his floor saw it. Were it not for Katie who calmed him down and explained that it might be a connection issue, he would have raced to the broken elevator and hauled her out of her there himself.

She nods and then stands to leave, “Well, that’s what I came here to tell you so… Thanks again.”

Morrison remembers that he asked her out that weekend and he still wanted to go out with her, for the life of him, even if she was having an affair with Nick, he would want to find out from her himself.

“Ah, Cornelia, are we still on this weekend? Was it Friday?” he tests.

Her back is turned so she hides the smile that crept to her lips. “Oh, do you still want to go out? Aren’t you busy this weekend? With the case and all?”

“I have time. Besides, I already asked you out and I still want to go out, so what do you say?” he winks at her.

She’s getting confused with his demeanor because earlier that day, he just semi-flirted with the Gloria girl and now, he acts like she is the only girl in town. Maybe he’s hiding something, I better find out on this date.

“Sure, make that Saturday. I have a prior arrangement on Friday,” she replies remembering just in time that she has a date with Barret that Friday too.

“I see…” he raises his eyebrow, as if saying, “Really?” instead. But he stops himself on time and just let it go. “Sure, I’ll pick you up on Saturday then, around seven?”

“Sure,” she answers detecting that he wanted to say some more but didn’t.

“Great then! See you Saturday,” he says a little too cheery for his taste. Why am I acting like an excited little boy?  He shakes his head as she makes her way out the door.

Whatever you’re hiding Miss Masters, I will find out this Saturday, one way or another. He follows her retreating form from his office towards the exit of the floor, and is again reminded of how very attracted he is to her.

No, Morrison, don’t let yourself be blinded again from seeing the truth! You’re just going on a date with her to find out the real score between her and Nick, that’s all. He mentally reminds himself, then as an afterthought, And what will you do if you find that they are having an affair? It leaves him stumped for a while but decides he would worry about that when the time comes.

Now, he sets his focus on his father’s case. Why would the judge move up the date of the hearing? He asked himself that question earlier that day but has not spoken to his father about it yet. He hasn’t seen him yet but his secretary said he arrived before Morrison. He makes it a point to see him in the next hour, he just needs to sort out his schedule for that day, which was interrupted with the elevator commotion earlier.

He quickly calls for his secretary, Simone, and set up a meeting with the other leaders of his division after he’s talked to his father so they would know what next steps to take. It takes him more than an hour to set up his day and when he finally concluded the meeting with his secretary, he makes for the elevator – a functional one – and presses the top floor.

As the elevator door dings, signaling the top floor, he arranges his tie and brushes his dark hair. Cornelia will surely be there so he makes an effort to fix his attire, although he stops himself again and reminds his brain to stop doing things for her.

“Hi, Michaela,” he says rather sweetly to his father’s long time secretary.

Michaela politely ends her call and turns her full attention to Morrison, whom she secretly has a crush on ever since she saw him, “Hi, Morrison darling.” She reaches over to his standing position and gives him a peck on the cheek.

Why do they have to do that in my presence? Cornelia, fuming, thinks as she then pretends to rummage for something in her drawer. She can’t believe that Morrison is back to his old flirtatious self just an hour after he confirmed his date with her. What a jerk!

“I want to see my father please, is he available?” Morrison knows that he doesn’t have to ask if Nick was available to talk to him, and he certainly didn’t need to ask Michaela but he does it anyway just to annoy Cornelia. He knows she can see them and plays his role well as he continues to compliment Michaela.

“And I want to see you beautiful! It’s been a while since we’ve spent time together, love. How is your so-called boyfriend these days? I hope you’re not still together?” he laughs as he jokes with Michaela.

“Oh you! He’s fine and yes, we are still together. I couldn’t wait on you forever!” she flirts back and laughs daintily as Morrison pretends to have been hit hard on the chest with what she said.

“Ouch!” he says, turning sideways to see if Cornelia is still watching them, which she is pretending not to.

Oh would you just get a room! Cornelia tries to stop herself from hurling her stapler at him and when he looks over, she gives him her sweetest I-don’t-care-what-you-do smile.

“Go in, Morrison! Stop plaguing me with your smiles,” Michaela tells him as he saunters into his father’s office.

He knocks politely and opens the mahogany door. He knows his father might be preoccupied with all the developments in his case but he has to talk to him so he can help in any way he can.

Nick is on the phone but waves him over as he continues to speak into the mouthpiece. “I know Richard. Just fix this. I’ll be waiting for your call,” Nick says before hanging up the phone.

“Ah, Morrison. I’m sure you’re here to ask me about the hearing and all,” he starts. “but I don’t have time to explain everything now. I have a business meeting in a few minutes and I’d like to get there beforehand. I’m sure our shareholders are panicking right now so I need to assure them that things are just a little tense but I’m confident out lawyers will sort things out.”

Morrison looks at his dad who appears to be calm and collected amidst the lawsuit being slapped at him. “What do you mean things are just a little tense? Dad, you’re being sued for stealing money from your patrons, how is that “a little tense”?”

He doesn’t mean to lecture his father about the implications of that lawsuit to all his businesses, not only the bank, but he can’t help not to after seeing him not overly concerned about the matter.

“You should make this your top priority Dad! You can’t go running around in business meetings, we have to meet, all of your board members and lawyers, now!” Morrison is still standing, not wanting to sit because he can’t treat this as a courtesy call, but an urgent one.

“Would you relax, son. I’ve got it all handled, trust me. Now, all you have to do is to assure everybody that everything’s going to be all right. We’re just in the spotlight but we will fight this and win. Now, if there’s nothing else, I need to call Cornelia to come with me to the meeting.”

That catches Morrison’s ears as he turns to leave, and stops in his tracks. “Why Cornelia? Michaela’s been here longest and knows you better, why not take her? And why did you even hire Cornelia in the first place?”

Nick has the phone to his ears again and is currently talking to someone. He covers the mouthpiece and says, “Because she’s a competent secretary from what I heard from Katie and she seems genuinely interested in the company, so I thought I better show her the ropes myself when it comes to my business meetings. I’m on the phone now, son, sorry, but just call me later once you’ve met with everyone. I’m trusting you on this, Morrison, calm them down and tell them we’re handling this.” With that, Nick goes back to his phone conversation.

Morrison is left standing there, doubting his father’s words and having this awful feeling in his stomach like he’s been kicked in the gut. He retreats from his father’s office, closing the door behind him rather soundly and storming into the elevator.

“I hope you en – ,” Michaela starts to say but seeing his angry face, she stops talking altogether and goes back to typing in her laptop.

Cornelia sees him stride off purposely and quite angrily and pays him no mind. Hah! Whatever happened there certainly wiped that smirk off your face, good! She starts to smile to herself then he comes walking back to her office, ignoring Michela who asked her if he needed anything else, then slams the door behind him after entering her office.

 

Chapter III

 

“What do you think you’re doing?!” she starts to say as she gets up from her chair.

Morrison rounds her table and comes face-to-face with her, his breath coming in short bursts, and she, holding her own in shock at his blatant behavior.

“What the hell is going on between you and Nick?!” he asks accusingly, planting his fists behind her chair as she sinks back into it.

She is shocked by his behavior because she’s never seen him like this, but she isn’t shocked by his questions. She’s seen it coming and she’s been expecting it, but not him asking her like this.

“Wh-what are you doing Morrison. Nothing! There is nothing going on with your father and me! I told you, it was over!” she answers as she pushes him off her chair so she can stand. She hates being caught off guard and being literally cornered like that.

“I don’t believe you,” his voice suddenly mellows down to a cold one. She’s not quite sure if she likes the shouting better because he sounds murderous and the look he’s giving her feels like he’s stripping her of her defenses.

“Yes, it’s true! Look, we’re both not in the right place and time to discuss this. I-I’ll explain more on Saturday, okay? Now, please Morrison, leave…” she feels drained all of a sudden from their exchange or probably from her earlier bout with the elevator that she feels dizzy all of a sudden.

“I’m not going to fall for your damsel-in-distress acts anymore Cornelia, explain it to me now!” he says but then quickly goes to her when her eyes starts to close and she is sliding to the ground. “Whoa! Cornelia! What – Are you okay?”

He catches her in time and props her back in her chair. She comes to her senses and tries to sit up. “I – ah – I’m sorry… Must be t-the h-heat…” she starts to say weakly.

“No, don’t get up Cornelia. Let me take you home. You’re obviously not fine. I’ll take you home.” He flips open his phone and talks to Charlie for a few minutes, arranging their transport, then he scoops her up in his powerful arms and carries her to the elevator leading straight to the parking lot. “Michaela, please tell my Dad that Cornelia has fallen ill and I need to take her home now. Thanks.” He doesn’t wait for her response and gets on the elevator.

“M-orr, she tries to say but he cuts her off.

“Shhh. Don’t try to talk now, love. Just close your eyes. I got you,” he whispers in her ear as she rests her head on his big shoulders. He carries her like she doesn’t weigh anything and she feels safe in his arms. A feeling she hasn’t felt like ever since her mother died. She gives in to the overpowering feeling of fatigue that suddenly came over her.

He could kick himself if he could. How could he lose his composure like that? And to confront her right there? What was he thinking? He berates himself all the way to the parking lot and feels guilty for causing her distress. She can’t be faking it because she looks really pale and he’s never known her to be that shallow to feign sickness just to end an argument. He didn’t give a damn with the stares that other employees gave them and continued to the parking lot where Charlie was.

“Charlie, please take us to my apartment,” he says to Charlie who quickly springs into action as soon as he sees them coming. He nods and puts the car in gear. He drives off into the busy streets of New York and heads for the Upper East Side of the Big Apple. They get there in record time and Morrison quickly carries Cornelia to his loft.

He signals to the guard to open the doors as he carries Cornelia inside. She’s still groggy but otherwise, half awake.

“W-where…?” she starts to ask but he shushes her again as the elevator goes to the penthouse where his apartment is. He’s been living there for just over six months and eventhough he thinks it ridiculously extravagant, he likes the comfort and privacy the place has over others.

“Don’t worry Cornelia. I’ve taken you to my place for now. I don’t know if anyone will take care of you back in your place, plus mine is nearer. Relax, I’m not going to kidnap you or anything.” He brushes her hair away from her face as she suddenly protests. He assures her that she’s safe and despite her growing feeling of dread, she slumps back in his arms and stops resisting.

As he steps in the threshold of his home in the city, he takes her to the nearest sofa and gently puts her down. He dashes off to the fridge to get some water as she recovers from her nausea.

When he made his way back to the sofa, she’s already sitting and rubbing her head. He hands her the glass of water and some medicine for her headache.

“Here, I thought you’d have a headache afterwards so I got you some Advil,” he hands it to her, which she takes willingly.

“Thank you, Morrison,” she says weakly as she hands him back the glass. She closes her eyes and draws her head back on the sofa for a few minutes. “I’m sorry for the bother. I don’t know what got into me. I’m don’t usually have fainting spells. I’m sorry you had to see this and,” she opens her eyes suddenly and looks around, “Wait a minute. I’m in your place! Wh-,“ she stands quickly stands up but as soon as she did that, her head starts spinning again. “Ow…” she places her hand in between her eyes and tries massaging it as she sits down slowly.

“Please Cornelia, just try to relax. You’re safe here.” He sits her down, gently rubbing her back to ease her pain and then stops because the act seems all-too familiar. He used to do that to Sally whenever she wasn’t feeling well.

“I’m okay now. I would rather go to my place to rest. It’s not good for you to bring me home like this. What would the other employees say?” she asks while willing herself to feel better faster.

“I don’t care about what people might say, Cornelia, haven’t you realized that by now? I don’t want you going home looking like that. You look like all the blood has been drained from your face. Rest a while. At least until we’ve had dinner, please.”

She thinks about what he said and sighs. “Okay, but take me home right after. Gosh, does Nick know that I’m here?” What she means to say is that, does he know she was gone for the day, but Morrison’s expression starts to change the moment the words left her mouth. She doesn’t think correcting herself will do any good, so she just stops talking altogether.

“Yes, I’ve told Michaela you’re not feeling well and that I’d take you home. I didn’t specifically say that I was taking you here, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m sure my father won’t miss you if you were gone for just one day,” he spits the words at her as he stands up and takes a drink from the bar.

He is clearly pissed and he isn’t hiding it.

“It’s not what you think – “

“Well, what is it then?” he retorts, cutting her off and looking her straight in the eye. “Tell me. We’re alone. No one will hear you if you confess so go ahead, explain to me what you and my father did after you got into the car with him last night!”

She is stunned at how angry he seems to be over her getting in Nick’s car but answers calmly.

“Nothing happened. He saw me walking home by chance and asked where I was headed. He doesn’t know where I live and I didn’t want him to know so I said I was looking for somewhere to eat. He then offered to take me along where he was headed, which was a little restaurant in a lovely street in Soho.”

He smirks and asks sarcastically, “So how did you enjoy that little Italian restaurant, huh?”

She looks surprised at him for a few seconds.

“Yes, I know that little quaint restaurant where he takes all his conquests to. Believe me darling, you’re one of his.” He acts as if he meant it but he really doesn’t know for certain if his father did take girls there or if he had other affairs before Cornelia. He just happens to know that restaurant because he took him there before when he was small. He said that out of spite because how could she just agree to dinner just like that. What if it was a complete stranger? Would she go in the car and have dinner with the guy? His expression remains the same irritated angry look.

“Oh, I didn’t know he takes his girls there. I thought he just didn’t have anywhere to eat. Well, no matter. We just had something to eat then I took a cab home. I didn’t want to impose further by asking him to drive me back, and again, I don’t want him to know where I live, okay! Now, can we just drop it?!” she is beginning to get tired of all his questions when she should be the one probing him more about Nick.  But for obvious reasons, it has become a sensitive topic so she’d leave out her questions for now. She needs to get him off her case or the next thing she knows, he’ll be launching a full scale investigation on her.

“No,” he says adamantly. “I don’t believe that’s just it. Come on, you were together for two months, no matter how short it sounds, you were still together so don’t tell me that you both have just forgotten about that just like that!” he tries keeping his voice calm but he’s failing at it.

Cornelia’s head seems to hurt even more instead of it getting better. She tries to remain amiable and apologetic but he’s making it hard for her to stay calm. “What do you want me to say? That I’m having an affair with him… again? Well, if that’s what you’re waiting for, you would have to wait forever because I am not.”

“So why would he make you his personal secretary? He didn’t just up and leave for work thinking, ‘Hey, what if I make Cornelia my secretary and make it even more obvious to the world that we’re having an affair?’.” Sarcasm has become his favorite emotion aside from anger when it comes to her. He can’t help it. He’s frustrated at his point for wanting so much to believe her but the evidence points the other way.

“Well, maybe he thinks I am capable of doing that job? Haven’t you thought about that, mister know-it-all?”

“Please! Anyone having less than a college degree can never get a position so close to the CEO, let alone a two-year course!” Shit! Good going, you just buried yourself in a big hole! He tries to look nonchalant as Cornelia’s eyebrows draw together.

“Have you been spying on me?!” she exclaims, the look of utter betrayal etched I  her face. “How dare you? You have no right to check up on me!”

He starts to explain but then, he decides to be tough and fight her on the subject, “Well, that’s where you’re wrong because I only looked at your job profile and not your personal life. It’s not unusual for the son of the CEO and member of the board to look at employee records from time to time.”

For the life of her, she can’t argue with that defense. He did just say he knows her educational attainment and nothing remotely personal but she can’t help but be mad at him for pointing out how inadequate he thinks she is.

“Still, you shouldn’t take people’s abilities and capabilities so lightly. If you think me so incompetent for that job, then I would rather leave! I refuse to stick around and hear you rant about my “undeserved” position.” She takes her things and gets up, trying hard to ignore the pounding in her head, and heads for the elevator doors.

He quickly goes to the elevator and blocks her way, “Okay, I’m sorry Cornelia. It’s not what I meant. I am not insulting your credentials; I know that you are very much capable of performing your tasks well. What I was wondering was, why now? I mean think about it. Is it because he saw you with me? I’ve never known my father as a jealous person and we’re not really… close, as you might see. I think he’s doing this to get you away from me. That’s what I am mad about! I’m not mad at you…” He rakes his hair with his fingers in frustration, his face looking pained and angry at the same time. “Well, I am annoyed at you just getting into the car with him. I thought you didn’t want to remind yourself of your tryst with him but there you went, got in his car and drove off to some secluded restaurant! How could you be so naïve?!”

“Oh stop it Morrison! I never had an affair with your dad okay!” She can’t handle his pressuring her anymore so she just blurted out the truth.

Morrison is silenced for once that day. “W-what do you mean?”

“You heard me,” she says uncertainly.

“So you lied? Why?” He finally calms down as he moves away from her path. She clearly is not leaving after what she said.

“I, ah, I wanted to move up in the company and I thought if I met him personally, alone, outside the office, and talk to him, he might consider me for, ah, the post – the one that I have now.” Okay, keep going Cornelia, this lie is much better than the first one.

“So you thought that by going into his study during his party, you could catch him alone and what? Dazzle him with your secretarial skills?” he’s starting to sound sarcastic again.

“No, of course not! I, I don’t know. Maybe if he heard me talk and how inspired I am to work in his company, I might make a mark in his mind, you know. There are tons of people working in McElroy and Burns, and so much more in his other businesses that I can never stand out if I stay behind a desk. I needed to find a way to stand out. And so I thought I’d pretend to get lost and end up in his study and dazzle him with my knowledge about his firm and… Gah! There’s no point explaining this to you because you’ve never felt this way before. You’ve never felt the need to find a job to feed yourself and the thirst to do so much more to ensure your future and your family, if you ever decide to have one someday!” she lets out a huge sigh after saying her piece and looks down on the carpet floor.

Morrison can only smile and feel relief wash over him as he looks at her downtrodden face. He walks nearer to her and puts his finger under her chin, “Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound sarcastic. And contrary to what you might believe, there was a time that I had to work for food and lodging as well. But that was a long time ago. My point is, I understand. And you don’t have to lie to me anymore. Okay, Cornelia?”

She looks up at him and is genuinely surprised that he fell for her lie again! He really does trust her still. Enough to believe one lie after the other. She smiles inwardly for her clever wit, but the other part of her feels so much guilt over lying again to the man who obviously is enamored by her and would readily believe anything she says.

“O-okay. I’m sorry for lying about the affair and all. I was just scared that you’d let security drag me out of there. I didn’t know what to tell you… I -,”

He cuts her off by hugging her to him, which immediately shut her up. Eyes wide and heartbeat getting faster, she lets herself be comforted for once. It’s the first time that she let herself feel safe after her mother’s passing and it feels so good to just surrender and let go of her fears and plots even just for a few minutes.

She finally draws away from his arms and clears her throat. “Um, I think I should be going now. I’m sorry for intruding,” she starts to move away but Morrison stops her by grabbing her arm gently.

“No, Cornelia. Now that I know that you’re not in any way having an affair with my dad, I’m not letting you out the door without us going back to being how we were when we were at the Hamptons. Please, stay. Have dinner with me now. Let’s not wait until Saturday. You’re here now. The least I can do after yelling at you and treating you badly is to cook for you, right?”

He looks so much younger when he grins and she likes seeing the old Morrison she spent the day with in the beach. She can’t say “No”, and she doesn’t want to. Please, give me this day. I just want to feel human again, even just for a day…

Okay, dinner it is. I hope you’re as good a cook as your arguments. I don’t want to have to order this early.” She also misses herself being this carefree. Come to think of it, she has never been this way, even when her mom was still living. She was always the detached loner who enjoyed her own company more than others. But Morrison is stirring things inside her that are new even to herself. At the back of her mind, she frets that if she’s not careful, she might get too attached to Morrison and forget her reasons for existing. It was also different from her night with Barret because it was more of a fun and carefree night shared by would-be friends.

They spent the whole day in the apartment, cooking, and exchanging stories, just like what they did in the day at the Hamptons. By late afternoon, Cornelia was in such a good mood that she forgot she had tons of work she left in the office.

“Oh shoot! I forgot to file the Lorenzo account and inform Nick of the meeting next week. I must call Michaela and tell her,” she dashes to her purse and looks for her phone.

“Relax Cornelia. I already told Michaela that you’re not feeling well and knowing her, she will take charge and do what is needed to take care of my father’s affairs for the day.”

She slowly puts her phone down and asks curiously, “How long have you known Michaela? Did you date before?”

“Michaela? Date? No, never. Although I have asked her several times before. That girl’s as loyal as they come. She has this long-time boyfriend, whom I have never met before, and eventhough she admitted that she liked me before, she wouldn’t trade him for me. So, that’s that.”

“Hmm, I see. You two just seem so close and familiar with each other that I thought you went out before,” she continues looking nonchalant, her heart secretly rejoicing.

“Jealous, are we?” He comes over to her and leans his face near hers. He is taunting her and checking if she will blush. If she does, then she’s definitely interested in his dating life and her asking about his relationship with Michaela wasn’t just an offhand question.

She tries to contain her blush but it creeps slowly to her cheeks and spreads all the way to her nose. Now she looks like a person with a terrible cold.

“Huh? Me? Jealous? Over what? It’s not as if we’re dating…” They look at each other after the words left her mouth and for a few long seconds, they stare into each other’s eyes and are mesmerized with one another.

Look away, Cornelia! Don’t let him trap you in his gaze. You can’t be with anyone right now, remember?

Just grab her and kiss her already! No, don’t do that. Don’t scare her. Just take it easy. You’ve got all the time in the world.

Cornelia looks away first, giving in to her inner voice. She turns the conversation into something light instead, commenting on how sad their dinner looks at that moment.

“At least your omelet looks…,” she picks up her fork and plays around with the soggy egg and chuckles, “It looks good really. I can never make anything so I commend you for getting all these stuff ready.”

“Now, you’re just making fun of me. I mean, come on! Can you eat that?” he points at the food he laid out on the table. Some look inedible while the others look undercooked.

She laughs out loud and he joins her as they share a few minutes of pure laughter.

After about half an hour of taste testing or more like food throwing, they decide to order in some food.

“Um, what do you want?” Morrison asks as he thumbs through the listings for restaurants nearby. By that time, they are famished and need food served near his apartment.

“Tell you what, since we’re already starving, why don’t we just saunter into those cute restaurants just beside your apartment and enjoy the evening air. Plus, your place smells of burnt food right now,” she pretends to wrinkle her nose and be all bratty about it as he throws some more food at her plate.

“Fine. Let’s go out then. But are you okay to step outside? Do you still feel dizzy?” his face changes from smiling to concern as he places his palm against her forehead to check her temperature.

“I’m okay now Morrison. Thanks to you. How did you learn how to care for sickly people anyway? I’m sure you’ve never been a nurse before. Did you have pets when you were little?”

They pick up their jackets as they make their way to the elevator. She looks one final look at his place and is still in awe of the place. It has all the makings of a bachelor pad slash businessman-type abode. It doesn’t have any flashing disco lights or a revolving bed or bar, but its comfortable sofas in the living room and the huge lazy boy in the middle of the room says “Bachelor” in bold letters. However, at the same time, the kitchen looks really homey and as terrible as Morrison cocked, it seems that he really uses his kitchen and not just a display for women to use after a night’s tumble.

Speaking of that, it has come to her mind that she might not be the only girl he’s brought here so, naturally, she doesn’t treat it as a special thing for Morrison.

Morrison, on the other hand, treats this incident as a pleasant surprise and very rare. Yes, he’s taken girls here before but they never slept over or at least spent a considerable amount of time talking and laughing. Usually it was all just physical and then a casual “goodbye” afterwards. It was a nice experience for him to bring Cornelia there and have that kind of bonding moment with her.

He stares at her as she looks at his apartment one more time, wonder in her eyes, and he thinks to himself, I would want to gaze into her eyes everyday and have her here with me always. He tears his gaze away from her innocent face and reminds himself to take it slow. It puzzles him that when it comes to Cornelia, he always reminds himself to control himself, take it slow, don’t act too rashly for she might get scared, and all that easy talk, but he ends up doing the opposite.

He hands the jacket to her but as she is reaching for it, she doesn’t see the step ahead of her and nearly trips. Morrison catches her quickly and steadies her on the wooden floor.

“Hey, are you sure you’re okay?” he asks with a frown and concern etched on his face.

“Yes, I’m okay. I just didn’t see the step, that’s all,” she smiles up to him like a schoolgirl and he is overtaken by the urge to kiss her right there.

And he does. He gathers her up in his arms and gently nears his face to hers. Panic begins to register on her face then surprisingly, she slowly closes her eyes and lets him come closer.

He is taken aback by her reaction as well. Just moments before he finally kisses her, he was half expecting her to slap him on the face but she never did.

Their kiss is gentle and sweet. He doesn’t want it to deepen and turn it into a more intimate kind because he knows that by her letting him kiss her is already a big step for Cornelia. He doesn’t want to rush it and ruin her trust. So he just ever so gently kissed her closed lips and pulls away after a few seconds.

“Wow…” he utters as he opens his eyes to look at her. Eventhough it was short-lived, their lips meeting like that felt so right for Morrison. He felt a shock go through his body as their lips met. It was something he has never felt before. And seeing the same expression she has on her face, tells him that she, too, had experienced the same electricity he did.

“Uhm, we b-better get gong o-or else we’ll faint from starvation,” she laughs nervously as he ushers her inside the elevator.

He agrees with her and does not mention the kiss for the remainder of the night because he doesn’t want her to overthink things. At least they are making some progress.

They drop by a little restaurant just two minutes from his place and both of them decide to take their dinner there. They are ushered to a table out front for all the tables inside are already filled. They’re fine with the table because they have a great view of the streets and the setting sun.

“Hey, what’s your favorite part in New York? I mean a place here in New York that you absolutely love or always like to go to?” Morrison asks as they made their order.

“Well, that’s a tough one for me because I haven’t been outside for a long time. I haven’t even gone to the Empire State Building for crying out loud!” And that’s the truth. She’s always wanted to go because it is one of the main attractions of the Big Apple but she never found the right time or she wasn’t usually in the mood to go adventuring by herself. She would rather work her ass off earning her keep than go traipsing around the city.

“Wow! You’ve been here for what? Months? Maybe years? And you’ve never been?” He looks stunned at her confession. “I must take you there soon! I cannot allow you to go on living here without even taking the historical tour there! I know it’s cliché and overrated but it’s one of the best things in New York. You have to come with me this Saturday!” he says excitedly as if the thought just crossed his mind, which it did. He was thinking of things they can do that Saturday that would take her mind off things at work and climbing the Empire State Building would be a great way to distract her.

From their talks in his apartment and even back in the Hamptons, he feels that she’s keeping a big secret inside and she’s building her whole life around it. She’s very secretive about her childhood, never giving away anything apart from the fact that she was from Jersey. She never talked about her parents or her school, just the work she’s done before landing the one being Katie’s assistant. She does talk about a friend of hers, James, who seems like an elderly guy who looks after her. But he didn’t pry for details. He lets her take her time and she also had many questions for him. Like what it was like growing up in a grand house and having a very beautiful and elegant mother, not to mention having one of the richest men in the country as his dad.

He answered as honestly as he could and he even told her of her two-year travel to Africa. That really spiked her interest and the smile on her face when he told her about the outreach activities he’s done and collaborating with charities, was pure joy. He loved her reaction when he told her about the time he had to work in a flea market to get some money and her amazement that I even survived a year there, let alone two.

“Well, I am known to be persuasive and persistent when I put my mind to it. I love to go back there someday and do some more charity work. What about you? Have you ever done anything that involved charities?” he threw back the question to her and she became quiet all of a sudden.

“Uhm, not exactly.” She looked guilty over not having the same experience as he had that involved helping people.

“Hey! Don’t worry about it. I’m sure you would love to do some one day. It’s not yet too late to do so,” he nudged her and she smiled again. He didn’t see her expression as he looked away. She remembered her time in the orphanage then when he mentioned about charities. She was a recipient of those charity organizations and yet she has never done anything to give back. Yes, she had a difficult time there but still, the orphanage was her home for six years. Who knows if her old orphanage still stands but at that moment, she decided to go back there someday and look back at her old life.

Their orders arrive in time and they dig in with much enthusiasm. There is literally no conversation for a few minutes as they eat their food. As their hunger is sated by the sumptuous dishes, they start to pick up from where they left off at the apartment.

“So, my dad decided to marry my mom for a good business partnership with my grandfather and years later, they adopted me. They never had any children of their own and frankly, I don’t think they had the time. They were both so busy, even my mother, with her charity groups, all those auctions and galas she hosted and are still hosting even now. I grew up wearing tuxedos and suits even as a young boy. Maybe growing up having most of everything made me think of those who were not like me. Those who had so little of anything.”

Cornelia is transfixed at this dark-haired billionaire philanthropist. What more can a woman ask for? He’s super sweet, very caring, and he carries me around like I weigh nothing! Why are you so perfect?

They continue talking while they ate and as the night wore on, they still kept telling each other stories and anecdotes from their lives. Cornelia can’t help but like the guy and Morrison can’t help but fall for this fair-haired beauty.

After several hours, which seems like minutes to them both, Cornelia looks at her watch and is surprised that it is already eleven at night.

“Oh, wow, look at the time.” She looks at Morrison and she gets a glimpse of regret in his eyes as he realized what she meant.

“Yeah, wow, time really flies these days,” he chuckles and looks at his own watch. “Wish it stood still but we both have an early day tomorrow so I guess I should take you home then.” He sighs regrettably and he doesn’t even want to hide his disappointment at having to end the night so soon.

“I guess so…” Cornelia is half relieved for ending their night but half of her also wants to extend the hours so they can talk some more. As soon as that thought crosses her mind, her voice of reason quickly squashes that feeling and she reminds herself that they can never be more than what they are now, him being the son of her boss, and her tool in getting the revenge she’s been longing for.

He gets the bill, waving her hand away when she reached for the bill, “Don’t be ridiculous, Cornelia. I got it. I still am a man of the traditional world.” He winks at her and she feels a flutter in her stomach.

“I can take a cab to my apartment, Morrison, you don’t need to take me all the way back there,” she tells him as they walk out of the restaurant premises.

“No, I will take you home, Cornelia. You don’t know how safe the cab is and I won’t let you taking off in someone else’s car again. I’d like to think that from now on, the best car for you to get into, is mine…,” he says suddenly, drawing her close to him as he whispers those words in her ears.

She feels goosebumps all over her body and she feels her face flush from his intimate words. “Uhm, Morris- on, I, ah,” she stammers as Morrison draws in a breath, smelling her hair as she struggles to get the words out of her mouth. “Please, Morrison…” her voice cracks and he stops in fear that she might get mad at him for being so forward.

Take it easy Morrison. Don’t scare her away, idiot!

“I’m sorry Cornelia. It’s just that… I like very much spending time with you and I can’t stop thinking about you when you’re not with me. And I hate confessing these things to you when we just had our “unofficial” first date! I’m going crazy over you, Cornelia, can’t you see?” he rakes his hair with his fingers and looks at her with blazing eyes.

“I… I don’t know what to say, Morrison,” she replies, honestly not knowing how to react to what he just said to her. “We just met each other and I don’t want for things to move so quickly… but I like spending time with you too…” she can’t help but be a tad bit honest with him as well. No matter how much she tries to remind herself that there can never be a future for them, she can’t stop herself from liking him.

“You don’t have to say anything, Cornelia. I’m not asking for any confessions from you as well. I just… I just wanted to get it out of my chest and to let you know my intentions. And maybe you’ll understand why I acted that way when I saw you and my father. I’m sorry for blurting this out. Tell you what, let’s just forget all about this and go from there, what do you say?” He tries to make light of the awkward situation, which he has caused, and hopes she doesn’t run away from him after this.

She smiles and nods, “Yes, let’s.”

They decide to call it a night and as they stand in front of her apartment, she leans over and gives him a kiss on the cheek.

“Well, it’s better than a slap,” he chuckles as she lightly slaps him on the shoulder for good measure.

“Or a kick, but you’re pushing it!” they both laugh and with that, she thanks him for the ride and they part ways. She leans her head at the back of her door as she closed it and sighs but smiles to herself. She must admit that she really enjoyed her time with Morrison and secretly wanted to invite him in but decided against it at the last minute.

Hmmm, it is better than a slap or a kick. At least now I know that she doesn’t mind me feeling this way, otherwise, she would have told me to stop right then and request not to ever see me again. Yes… Today is a good day… Morrison nods to himself as he gets in his car. Little does he know that a pair of eyes are looking at them and the person is not pleased with how the night turned out to be.

“Oh, why do you have to be together like this? It could have been a lot easier to dispose of her…” the shadow whispers as the window of the car rolls up and the black sedan drives away as soon as Morrison pulls away from the pavement and drives back to the city.

 

 

Chapter IV

 

The next few days flew by and as Friday comes near, Cornelia gets ready for her date with Barret. She has not seen him the whole week and is wondering what had happened to him. She still doesn’t know what she feels about their date on Friday; Will it be like those platonic dates? Will it be a romantic one? Will it be filled with laughter like what she had with Morrison?

As she lays her head on her pillow on Thursday night, she reminisces the days following her impromptu date with Morrison. He was a true gentleman all throughout the rest of the week and has always smiled in her direction whenever he strode into his father’s office.

The case has progressed and Nick’s attorneys are scrambling to find the culprit of the supposed money-laundering scheme that Nick is being charged with. The CEO of McElroy and Burns is adamant that he has never cheated his customers of any money and that his investors can attest to that as well his employees. She recalls his statement in the press the day before which was aired earlier that night before she went to bed.

“I have never stolen money from anyone because I know how it feels like to be robbed of his own property. I have worked hard to build this company and I will not let it go to waste because of someone who is trying to destroy me. I will not rest until I clear my name,” he said with conviction while looking at the cameras.

The television anchor then appeared as Nick walked away saying, “There you have it. The Moneymaker’s fall from the high tower of the rich and the powerful. We hope that the truth finally comes out and the guilty party be punished for their crimes.” The anchor signs off and the channel switched to a commercial.

Right now, she doesn’t exactly know what she thinks about Nick anymore. She is conflicted if he is truly innocent of his crimes or that he is that good to conceal them. So far, James had not contacted her since the letter he left under her door and she’s not expecting him to communicate with her for another month. He usually lets a month go by before checking in on her, unless she contacts him through his private number. He never calls her back though, just messages via mail or emails. Maybe he doesn’t like phones or something, she always thought.

But since he has not made himself available for a chat, she is left with the trepidation of wavering in her quest to bring Nick down because it seems that someone else is trying to destroy his life and whatever he’s built for himself.

“Should I just let them tear him apart with this scandal? Should I add more to it?” she says outloud, then adds another one that she, herself, is surprised that she even thought of it, “Should I help him?”

She sits up all of a sudden and shakes her head to get that thought out of her head, “No Cornelia. What is wrong with you? He is the enemy!” she tells herself.

She finds solace in her mother’s words once again as she recalls her saying, “I love you, Cornelia and I will always be with you wherever you go, even when I’m gone. No matter what you do, do it with a clear conscience and an open heart.”

I miss you mom. I wish you were here to tell me that everything’s going to be all right.

Cornelia whispers more words into the night like a ten year-old girl, longing for her mother’s love and presence. She finally falls asleep with the thought that tomorrow is going to be better for her.

The next morning, she wakes up early to get everything done in the office before taking off for her date with Barret. She still has no idea what to expect from him and what she should tell him about her and Morrison.

She stops while putting on her shoes. What is going on with me and Morrison? We shared a kiss – more of a peck on the lips really – but it was awesome, at least for me. And then what? He confessed that he wanted more than friendship with me and I didn’t react. Do I want to be more than friends with him? But he would certainly get in the way of my plans. Am I still going through  with my plans anyway? I’m so confused!

She resumes strapping on her stilettos and grabs her tote bag as she closes the wooden door behind her. The ride on the elevator is the usual three-minute ride until a man enters on the tenth floor.

He wears a black cap on his head, maybe to hide his reddish hair, and he stands just a few inches above Cornelia’s head. There is no other person on the elevator except the two of them so there’s a lot of space but he chooses to stand right beside her. She doesn’t give it any care for she is busy typing on her phone, organizing her day ahead, when suddenly, he grabs her by the arms and covers her mouth with his other gloved hand.

He lowers his mouth to her ears and whispers in a chilly voice, “Stay away from the McElroy’s. I know who you are!” he bangs her head on the wall, pitching her backwards. As she fell, he quickly presses on the elevator button and the doors open. He dashes outside and disappears from view. They’ve reached the lobby but since it is still early, none of the tenants are up yet. She can’t believe that she was just attacked inside the elevator in her own building!

She scrambles to her feet and as she opens the front door to try to catch up with her attacker, she runs into Barret’s hard chest.

“Whoa! Hold on there, Cornelia. It’s still early, I assure you,” he chuckles as he tries to steady her on her feet.

“I’m sorry, Barret,” she tries to catch her breath as she holds on to him for support.

He notices that her dress is a bit disheveled and a trickle of blood starts to show on the side of her head, the part where it hit the side railing of the elevator wall when the mysterious man banged her on.

“Are you, okay, Cornelia? You’re bleeding! Here, why don’t you take a seat while I check you, okay?” he says soothingly as he leads her back inside and sits her on the lobby sofa. He fishes out a hanky from his back pocket. Who keeps a handkerchief in his person this day and age? She thinks to herself but otherwise feels relieved for having him there. He always seems to pop out of nowhere when she needed him the most.

“What happened? Why are you rushing out and why the hell are you bleeding?” he asks, his voice going from asking to getting mad. “Who did this to you, Cornelia? Tell me now and I will make sure he pays for even laying a hand on you!” he hisses as he continues to dab on the blood on her head.

“Please, Barret. You don’t have to do this. I- I’m okay. I j-just bumped my head on the elevator wall before going out. I’m such a clutz!” she gives him her very own fake laugh but he doesn’t seem to buy it.

His eyebrows are still drawn together as he asks her more questions, “Where exactly did you bump your head? The elevator is made of wood. Only the side railings, which are above your head, if my measurements are correct, are made of steel. And even if you were running out of the elevator to God knows where, you still can’t get that injury by just bumping on it with that small of a space to leverage with.”

She decides to tell him the truth because he doesn’t look like he’s going to let her out of his sight without getting a plausible answer.

“Okay, fine. I was attacked when I was inside the elevator,” she blurts out as she takes the hanky from his hand and dabs her own forehead.

“What!?” he exclaims, jumping to his feet with every intention to chase whoever attacked her.

She pulls him back beside her on the sofa and tries to calm him, “Relax, Barret. I’m okay, just a little banged up, but otherwise, fine.”

“What the hell are you talking about? You’re bleeding for God’s sake! Who attacked you? Do you know him? What did he look like? What floor did he get on?” he asks her a string of question that she has to put her hands up to stop his barrage.

“Barret, one at a time please.”

“Okay, I’m sorry. But first, are you sure you’re okay? I can take you to the hospital. It’s just a few blocks from here,” he starts to pick her up then but she gently waves his arms away.

“Barret, I’m fine. It’s just a little flesh wound. They always look worse than they really are,” she says offhandedly pertaining to bleeding in general. “Please, come and sit back down so I can tell you what happened.

Barret complies and looks at her with concern, brushing a stray strand of hair from her face. Why do guys feel the need to do that? It’s so utterly intimate that it makes me more interested in them. She admits to herself as she looks into Barret’s golden brown eyes. She feels so much safer now that he’s here.

She tells him about the mysterious red-head who entered the elevator in the tenth floor. “He looks like he wanted to rob me or something but when I didn’t want to give my bag, he banged up against the wall and ran out as soon as the doors opened. That’s why I was rushing out the door so I can get a better look at him. It was a little dark inside the elevator that’s why I couldn’t see his face, plus he had a cap on.” She lies about the attempted robbery part and that she didn’t see his face. She had a partial look of his face, the lower part of his face that is. He had a big mole on the right cheek and his lip was pierced. Other than that and the red hair, she doesn’t have pretty much to go on. But even with those tiny details, she doesn’t share them with Barret because she doesn’t want him to file a police report on it. Filing a report means that the cops would have a record of her living there and since she changed her name, they might find out that she was really Cornelia Lewis from the New Jersey community orphanage who ran away. It would be too risky for her to be known anywhere and that would mean that she won’t be able to find out more about Nick and his connection to her mother’s death.

But those two incidents of her nearly falling to her death in the elevator at work and now this, couldn’t be a coincidence anymore. Plus, the guy gave her a warning to specifically stay away from the McElroys. He knows them! But what does that mean? Could it be Nick telling her to back off? But he made her his secretary for goodness’ sake! Morrison couldn’t possibly have sent him because he confessed his attraction to her and his intentions. She hasn’t even met the Mrs. McElroy so she wouldn’t know Cornelia. So who could have sent that guy to stay away from them?

“Hey, Cornelia?” Barret’s voice jars her from her thoughts and she is forced to forget those questions for now and focus on what Barret is telling her. “Are you okay? Are you dizzy? We need to report this to the authorities. Come, I’ll go with you.” He starts to stand and offers his hand to her.

“No!” she says rather loudly. “I- I mean, it’s no use because I didn’t see his face. What will we tell the cops? That a mysterious man whose face I didn’t see, came at me, wanting to rob me but ran away with nothing? They would just laugh at us.”

“No they won’t. I’ll make sure of that. But, Cornelia, he hurt you and he could have done worse if you stayed longer in there. This is my building and I won’t have my tenants be harassed, robbed, or taken advantage of anytime! And most especially you…” he pauses then continues on his speech. “I made this place so that people can feel safe and protected and make this place their homes. Not a place where evil men can lurk and surprise them from out of nowhere!” he looks to be angry now that Cornelia decides to tell him something to convince him not to report it anymore.

“Relax Barret. I’m okay and I won’t mention this to anyone. Tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. The moment that I recall something about my attacker, may it be his face or anything note-worthy about him, I’ll tell you and we can both go to the police station to file an official report. How does that sound?”

Barret looks at her fragile face and her sweet smile. How could he say “No” to that? “Okay…” he sighs and finally concedes. “The moment you remember anything, and I mean even the way he smelled or the way he dressed, you come to me and tell me everything, okay?”

She nods in response and picks up her bag. “Yes, sir. I will surely let you know. Now, I need to go to the office.” She looks down on the hanky that she used which is now partially stained with her blood, and says, “Umm, I better clean this first before giving it back to you…”

“No, please, keep it. Are you sure you’re still going to work after what happened to you?” he asks as he walks with her outside, feeling the cold morning on his face.

“Yes. Like I said, I’m fine. It’s just a little headache. Nothing that an Advil can’t fix and besides, my boss needs me real badly.”

“Are you going to be up for our date tonight? Why don’t we just reschedule it so you can rest instead?”

Cornelia thinks about his suggestion but decides to go against it. “No, I want to go out. I want to forget what happened today and what better way to do that than to go out and have fun, right?” Honestly, she doesn’t want to go out especially on a Friday night but she didn’t want to be rude to Barret because he is such a good friend. “Maybe you’ll take me back to the open cinema and we’ll pig out on hotdogs and lay lazily on the grass?” she suggests and then winks at him as a cab comes cruising by. She waves it over and luckily, it stops for her.

“I’d like that but are you sure you don’t want to go to the city and have a proper dinner in a restaurant instead?” he opens the cab door and waits for her to get in. He would have preferred to take her to work but she already got a cab and he had to talk to a client that morning.

“No, I just want to take it easy tonight. I’m not really up for a night in the city. If its okay, can we just stick around here or at the park instead?”

“Of course, Cornelia. I’ll pick you up at eight.” He gently closes the door after she agreed and wave at her as the cab pulls away from the curb.

What are you hiding from me, Cornelia? Why are you so afraid to tell me who you really are? Barret feels that Cornelia is hiding from a big wall and all that she’s showing is just her outer layer. She is like an onion, you need to peel through the layers.

Would you also sting my eyes and heart if I peel off too much of your layers? He asks nobody in particular. He shakes his head smiling and thinking that he’s really got it bad for that woman. He hopes that she feels the same way.

Cornelia leans her head on the cab’s window after telling the driver where to go. Her mind is numb from what happened in her apartment. She’s getting sloppy, she thinks to herself. She’s allowed people to notice her and now, they are slowly peeling away her protective layers. She has to think of a way to stop it. She has to put up sturdier walls.

That means that she needs to stay away from Morrison. Her job at the company is all professional but her connection with Morrison has gotten too personal that it’s gaining too much attention from the wrong kinds of people and that kind of attention will greatly hurt her. She has to think about herself again and not give in to her heart or allow herself to feel compliant, causing her to be careless. She has to be wiser on whom she talks to or whom she interacts with.

Yes, I have to stay away from Morrison. Not that she is going to give whoever wants her hurt, the satisfaction, but it’s for her own benefit. If she really is serious about finding out the truth about Nick and how her mother died, she needs to get her head on the game and be wise. Obviously, she hasn’t gotten any substantial enough facts from him and now, he’s becoming a liability to her and her goals.

So maybe this so-called date with Barret is a good thing because it would take her mind away from Morrison. And she could then easily tell Morrison to back off because she’s dating Barret.

She could use Barret to pretend that she’s no longer interested with Morrison. At least that way, she would have a good reason to stay away from him and it wouldn’t be too hard to believe her because she would have another man in her life whom she doesn’t really despise, but could use as a decoy for Morrison to leave her alone.

Cornelia looks out the window and she looks out into the world.

“If it were a different place and time, Morrison, we could have something, but I can’t risk everything I have built all these years just so you can come into my life. I have a purpose and I must fulfill that, if not for my mother’s memory, for my own identity…” are words she whispered to herself, strengthening her resolve in steering clear from Morrison.

Her date with Barret will be in a few hours but Cornelia is still in the office, sorting out files in her computer and trying to find those that Nick has asked for her to retrieve from the archives. She was given access this morning to the archived files through Michaela, who was especially friendly today, because she asked Cornelia to do all the work for the day since she had to run off somewhere. Of course, Cornelia was happy enough to take them on since that would mean she would have more time looking around and her access would be broader, but she didn’t realize how much work Michaela had asked her to do. So she ended up not having her lunch or any kind of break, except her short trips to the bathroom.

She had put together the Camden account and made sure that the Phillips account had no snags with it’s legal agreements with the company – they are very particular with legal clauses especially now that Nick’s company is at trial. They had a session at court that day regarding the trial of the people against Nick McElroy and Missions Bank. The trial for the allegations against Nick had slightly hit a milestone when Nick’s lawyers had produced some credible witnesses proving that Mr. McElroy had no knowledge of any stolen money and that he doesn’t have any offshore accounts that the opposition were claiming, that the accounts that were made under Nick’s name were all bogus. Another of his lawyers even said, “Your honor, if you were to steal millions of money from a large group of people, why would you create an account under your own name and start putting the stolen merchandise there? It doesn’t make sense and can only be construed as pure lies!”

That had the whole courtroom silenced for a few seconds then the angry crowd erupted and hurled more accusations at Nick’s camp. The judge had to bang his gavel a lot of times to bring back order to the courtroom. Since the tension was high, the judge had decided to adjourn and to meet back the following year, which was only less than a month from then.

“Due to the upcoming holidays, I’m sure you all would like to spend this time with your families so we will set the next court date on January fifth!” The judge bought down his gavel hard and that was the end of the hearing, at least for that day.

Cornelia was the one who attended the hearing because Michaela had then busied herself with other matters outside work. So the trial had already taken up half of her day, then she had to go back to the office and have everything documented so Nick would have his own record of the trial’s accounts. Nick, on the other hand, also went off somewhere with his lawyers, probably for another briefing, but said something to Cornelia before he took off.

“Cornelia, I would require your services later on tonight for something important, if you could indulge me.” It didn’t sound like a command, more of a request really, but she remembered that she had prior engagements that night.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Nick. I would have to decline because I have a date tonight.” She shyly smiled and wondered why she had to explain herself like she was talking to her father and asking for his approval.

“Oh, I see. Ah, I’ll just tell Morrison then. Have a great time then,” he waved at her and strode to his car, flanked by his two bodyguards. The security head of the company had imposed on adding his security detail for his safety especially during the trials. He has, in fact, received several death threats but no one was bold enough to really make an attempt to his life yet. And that’s why he was constantly surrounded by men in black who often give calculating and mysterious looks to people.

What would he tell Morrison? And why would he tell him that she couldn’t go? Is there something I should know about this service he’s requiring me?

“Um, what kind of service are you requiring Nick?” she asked as she was about to get on his car.

“Oh, nothing, Morrison’s mother is throwing him a surprise party tonight for his birthday. You can still come after your date if you like. I just thought you two were exclusive that’s why I asked. But don’t worry about it.” He waved at her and closed the door. She was left staring at the moving car.

Morrison’s birthday? But I have a date with Barret which he has asked me even before I met Morrison. And he wouldn’t expect me to know his birthday this early on, right? I mean, he’s not my boyfriend or anything…

But she feels a little guilty for knowing now and even more so for still not going. She stops herself again and reminds herself that she doesn’t owe him anything and certainly is not required to attend any of the important dates of his life.

Cornelia looks at her watch once more and sees that it’s past six o’clock, way past her office hours but she only has one more file to sort and prepare for the following week and she’d be free and clear to go home.

“Late night again?” Morrison’s voice echoes in the corridor. She didn’t even notice the elevator doors opening.

“Oh, hi!” she says feeling her heartbeat quicken. “How long have you been there? Sorry I’m trying to get all these stuff sorted out before I go. Michaela had to go to some important thing of hers so I finished her pile first.”

“Ah, did she?” he says doubting it because he saw Michaela in the hotel lobby of the Ritz earlier that day, probably meeting her boyfriend. “That was nice of you to think of her first before finishing your own tasks.” He teases, his lip curling up into a smile as he approaches her table.

“Ha ha, yeah, laugh if you want. Maybe I’m just that nice. Or maybe I’m just trying to be friends with the only other person on this floor except my boss.”

He smirks and teases her some more then asks, “Are you free tonight? I, ah, I was thinking maybe you could accompany me to some dinner or something. Just something my boring old family cooked up.” He tries to sound nonchalant. He doesn’t want her to know that it’s for a birthday dinner his mother planned for him and some close family friends, well, more of business connections who grew close to the McElroys.

Cornelia stops what she’s doing and slowly looks at him guiltily. “Umm, I kind of, have a date tonight…” she says uneasily. Why are you feeling guilty about going out with other people? It’s not as if you’re going exclusive with him, right? He’s not your boyfriend so you shouldn’t feel bad for not going to his party for another guy… right?

Morrison’s face changes when Cornelia told him about her date that night. “Oh…” he looks down on the carpet as if to hide the jealous look he has on his face but she already saw it. He couldn’t hide it fast enough, a shadow comes over his face and his voice as he realizes what that means. So she’s going with other men but it takes her a hard time to even decide if she wanted to go out with me?

“I see,” he nods then smiles, the one that he uses for the ladies, masking his true feelings with his charming grin.

“I’m sorry, Morrison. I didn’t know you had something like this planned…”

“No, please, don’t apologize, Cornelia. We both know that we’re not technically “dating” so you don’t have to explain anything. You’re free to make commitments elsewhere as I am. I actually am taking someone already but, hah!” he laughs as if not knowing why he even asked her, “I guess I just thought you didn’t have anywhere to go tonight so… nevermind. Anyway, have fun tonight!”

He doesn’t mean to deliver his message like how it came out but doesn’t feel the need to explain himself either. He is uncomfortably jealous with the guy she’s supposed to go out with that night instead of being with him on his birthday. But then again, she’s not his girl to begin with. No matter how much he wants it to be that way, it just isn’t so.

Cornelia feels his anger palpate through his words but instead of feeling even sorrier about the situation, she feels anger as well. Yes, we are free to have other commitments. I am not tied to him nor he to me so I should not feel guilty about my date with Barret tonight.

“Yes, I sure will. You have fun tonight too!” she doesn’t mean to sound so uncaring and insensitive but she can’t stop herself from feeling hurt that she isn’t even his first choice. Why would he even bother asking her in the first place if there was already some girl waiting for him?

He turns his back on her then, making to enter the elevator doors when he stops for a second and says in a hushed voice, “Just make sure you take care.” Without turning around when he said it, he enters the threshold of the elevator and pushes the button. His back is still turned as the doors close.

“W-wait…” Cornelia whispers but it is too late for the doors are closed and she is all alone in the office premises. She sits back down on her chair and contemplates what just happened. “Did we just have a fight?” she asks the wind.

She looks at her watch again and scrambles to her feet, exclaiming, “Shoot! I really need to go.” It’s nearly seven in the evening so that means she only has less than an hour to prepare for her date with Barret. She closes up her office drawers and powers down her laptop. She makes sure to check and double check everything before leaving for the elevator, feeling satisfied that she had all her work, plus Michaela’s, done for the day.

The ride to her apartment was swift and in just a few minutes past seven, she is delivered at her doorstep by the friendly cab driver. She gives her cab fare and tip to the driver and gets off, nearly running towards the apartment building. As soon as she enters her apartment, all of her clothes go flying and she moves like a whirlwind as she tries doing everything as quick as she could.

By the time her doorbell rang, she had just put on her earrings and strapped her sandals on as she makes her way to the door. She showered, picked out a decent dress, did her hair, and her makeup in record time of just forty minutes. She checks her image on the mirror hanging at the back of her door, and then opens it.

“Hi!” she greets Barret as he smiles at her stunning form standing in her doorway. He doesn’t say anything for a few seconds. He just remains standing there, staring at her like someone who just saw a ghost or a beautiful apparition.

She looks at him uncertainly, not knowing if there was something on her face or if he changed his mind about their date. She waves her hand at him catching his attention. “Umm, Barret? Are you okay?”

Barret can’t believe that this beautiful woman is going out with him that night. He already knows how beautiful Cornelia is but he didn’t expect her to look so good on their night out. She had on a simpler dress than what she had on the first time they went to the park. She wore a black number then, but now, she has on a red dress that hugs every part of her body. It looks so right on her body and it isn’t even remotely showing any skin. It has a square neckline and its sleeves come up to her elbows. The hem of the dress is not short as what she wore on their first night out together, but ends on her mid-calf. The whole dress looks so elegant and sophisticated, making her look even lovelier and classy.

“Wow! I’m sorry Cornelia. I was just, ah, speechless!” he chuckles feeling like a complete idiot for ogling at her. “You must think I’m a total pervert for staring at you. You are just so lovely… wow!” he exclaims, still mesmerized at how great she looks.

Cornelia blushes from his praise but waves her hand as if to dispel the moment. “Oh, please, this old thing?” she chides as she steps out of her door. “Shall we?”

He offers his arm and she takes it gratefully. “So, I hope you’re in for a fun night ahead!” He’s trying to add excitement to their date night in fear that she might get bored of his company if he remained quiet. But it looks like he’s looking like a blabbering idiot.

“Barret, you don’t have to entertain me.” She can feel that he’s nervous and he’s trying to fill in the dead air between them. “Let’s just relax and have fun, okay?” she says good-naturedly while gently nudging his arm.

“Hah! Sorry if I seem a little on edge. It’s just that you make me nervous looking all so made up. Now, I feel so underdressed.” He looks down at his cowboy boots, jeans, and navy polo shirt.

“No! Please, don’t feel that way. I feel so overdressed with this silly thing. You know what, maybe I should change my outfit into a more fitting one.” She starts to turn back but he stops her, holding her hand in the process.

“You look perfect, Cornelia.” They look into each other’s eyes as the moment stretches on between them.

She looks away first, clearing her throat to clear the air. “Ahm, we better go. We don’t want to hit traffic…wherever we’re going… Where are we going by the way?”

The moment might be over but Barret’s heart is still doing cartwheels in his chest. He could have kissed her right there but held himself back for fear that she might slap her and would never want to see him again. But at that brief moment as they were standing in the hallway of his apartment building – him in his stupid cowboy boots, and Cornelia in her regal red dress – it felt perfect.

“Yes, we do need to get a move on if we want to catch the show.” He didn’t want to bring her to the park again because she might think it’s the only place he liked and he doesn’t want to appear cheap or boring. He booked tickets for The New York Philharmonic who was playing in town. They are going to be there for three nights only and he was lucky to secure two tickets just a few days ago. He likes music and he’s never personally seen the symphony. Being a hopeless romantic all his life, Barret thought Cornelia is the type of girl who likes this kind of music and who wants spending the night listening to the orchestra play their musical masterpieces. He also didn’t know if he was dressed right so he just threw on his ever-reliable boots and polo shirt. He hasn’t exactly been polished into going in these kinds of events and he’s been out of practice when it comes to the dating scene, being divorced, and having a non-existent social life. He doesn’t have any sisters as well to ask for fashion advice and he can’t very well ask his ex-wife, even if they remain friends after all that’s happened between them.

“Wow, looks like you’re taking me some place fancy tonight huh?” she jokes but he actually nods at her.

“I know you said you just wanted to stay near but you might say that it’s not the usual thing you see in these parts,” he winks then opens the building door to let her out first.

Cornelia wraps her shawl around her shoulders and breathes in the evening air. It’s a bit chilly tonight and her outfit is just the right one for the weather. Although she does envy his boots as she wriggles her toes in her strappy sandals.

“Could I borrow your boots though? I knew I should’ve worn mine!”

They both laugh as he guides her through the wet ground towards his pick-up truck. But instead of getting on the truck, Barret leads her to another car parked beside it. A shining BMW sits on the spot near Barret’s truck and since the pick-up was big, it easily hides the much smaller, but sleeker car beside it.

“Wow! I didn’t know you owned another car.”

She looks impressed! Always a good sign. Now you just need to survive the rest of the night without looking stupid in your already embarrassing clothes. He whispers to himself as he tries not to mess up until they are safely inside the ridiculously small car. He never liked small cars but he’s always been a car buff. That meant that he has an admiration for all kinds of cars and a sports car is every guy’s dream car, no matter how traditional he must seem to be. So a year ago, he was feeling a little down with the divorce and all that’s been happening with his life so far that he went out and bought the vintage BMW on a whim. But he must admit that he’s never regretted it once, even if he doesn’t drive it often. It was still a good investment for him, and now that he has officially started dating again, it’s a plus for any girl.

Well, Cornelia is not like any other girl. She actually prefers to sit on the comfortable big seats of the pick-up over the cramped and low seats that usual sports cars have, except for Morrison’s, of course. His car has plush seats, but it was very comfortable and just right for her medium height.

Why am I thinking about another man’s car anyway? You’re with Barret tonight, okay? Please don’t think of him now or ever again. He’s surely not thinking about you.

 

But Morrison was thinking about her an hour ago and is still is at that very moment.

He moves towards the balcony of the exclusive hotel and resort that his mother has rented for his birthday bash. He knows about the surprise because his mother has always been big about celebrations, especially his birthday. He remembers their conversation a week before.

“Mother, I’m twenty six for crying out loud!” he said, exasperated with what her mother had cooked up for his upcoming birthday. “I am not some teenage boy who’s coming out into the world. Please, don’t throw another one of your surprises for me, okay?”

“But Morrison, darling, you know that it’s my only joy… For you to have a good time on your birthday with your friends and family. Don’t you want that?” Linda McElroy had put on her most convincing motherly face to convince her son to agree to her idea. She didn’t want to make the same mistake of not informing her son of any planned surprises beforehand – not after her failed surprise when he went bounding off to Africa. She had planned his eighteenth birthday to be held at their vacation house in Hollywood but then he broke the news of going off to some faraway place just days before the said event. Of course she couldn’t very well cancel when she’s already invited many of her famous friends and business acquaintances of her husband. In the end, they still had to throw the party with the absentee birthday boy.

Morrison looked at his mother’s pleading face and didn’t want to break the old woman’s heart. “Fine, but don’t expect me to hang around for long. I have tons to do with the cases that I need to review. I am not a full-fledged lawyer yet so I need to really work my butt off and learn the ropes before I even decide to go to law school – if I still want to, that is.” Morrison has been learning a lot about his father’s business and as much as he loves being an environmentalist and dreams of being an environmental lawyer, he must admit that he’s been enjoying himself so far with the business side of things and less on the legal side. But his passion for doing something about the environment and doing what he can to preserve the world is still there and it will never leave him.

“No, of course not. You just need to be there in the beginning of the party if you want then you can go off to your other engagements, if you have any planned afterwards. It’s just that I have already invited some of our close family friends and Sandy, you know, Hilda’s daughter from England, is going to be in town. I would very much like you to meet her and get reacquainted. I’m sure you’d love her dear.”

Sandy Morgan is one of Morrison’s childhood friends. Well, her mother is his mother’s friend, which makes them childhood friends by association.

“Sandy? I haven’t seen her in decades. I remember her as the tall girl with pigtails and braces. I used to tease her a lot. How has she been?” He honestly cannot remember how Sandy Morgan looked like but he faintly remembers her as the awkward one out in class and who always got picked on because of her height. She was the tallest of the girls, even taller than most boys, and skinny as well.

“She’s just finished her degree in Economics and Management at Oxford University and is taking a short break before going off to Paris for a graduate course as well. You must meet her! She’s grown into quite a lovely girl, you know.” Linda hopes for a romantic union between the heiress and her son. Sandy stands to inherit her family’s amassed fortune and group of companies that catered to shipping businesses and freight. Her family’s company, Morgan Industries, is one of the leading and sought-after companies in the whole United States and they have since the nineties, expanded their business overseas. Sandy’s mother, Susan, has been Linda’s closest friend in their charity group or their so-called group of “Elite Wives’ Club”, as they are dubbed by other aspiring and envious housewives of the rich and famous. The two mothers have long since talked about a union between their children but with Morrison’s wandering ways, and Sandy’s thirst for academics, the mothers’ dream of that union has not been fulfilled.

But it will be soon, as long as my plans go according to plan. Linda will do practically anything for the two to meet and will make sure that they spend as much quality time as they can with each other – without any nuisance women throwing themselves at her son’s feet. No, I will have none of that! Especially with that Cornelia girl! She cannot have any part in my son’s life.

Linda McElroy is not one to be messed with, especially when it comes to her family. She doesn’t allow just anyone to get too close to them because she wants to preserve her family’s “untainted” blood. Meaning, she doesn’t want any gold-digging whores and those who take advantage to get near them. She believes that everybody wants something from everyone and that any relationship has to serve a purpose on each side. So every transaction, every friendship, every family ties that she’s built over the years have always been to serve a bigger purpose. A purpose for the family she has strived to grow and preserve, and she will never let anything or anyone destroy what she has built so far.

So if you don’t have a purpose in Linda’s life, you are set aside and discarded. If you are a threat to the peace and tranquility, she has surrounded herself and her family – no matter how superficial and pretentious it may be for others – then you are to be dealt with accordingly. Her years of experience in thwarting would-be gold-digging girlfriends of her son and countless efforts of screening women who come into his life, has earned her many tricks up her sleeve. She wasn’t about to let any slut catch her son’s heart and ensnare her vise grip around his neck. No! Her son would marry a woman from a reputable family – meaning also rich and famous, preferably one of her friend’s daughters – with a good head on her shoulders and shares the same values as she does. Family has always been her identity and without the essence of family in her life, she would cease to exist, socially at least.

You cannot blame Linda for her tenacity in keeping her family safe, but her ways have landed some people a lot of misfortune and even death.

She looked at her son then and was hoping against hope that he at least look at Sandy and talk to her. She was sure the educated lady will have his attention right from the start and if that doesn’t do it, her looks will surely do. She was quite pleasantly surprised when she herself, saw Sandy after many years of not seeing even her shadow in the U.S. She has bloomed quite nicely and her height only adds to her chic look and model-worthy physique.

“You would love her, Morrison. She has changed quite a lot and a quick wit, I must say!” she talked animatedly, making sure her son was all ears to her praise of the young academic.

“I’m sure she is mother. Anyway, I can only spare an hour, maybe two at the most so please don’t be disappointed if I suddenly go off somewhere. I will make sure to let you know when I decide to leave, okay?” he walked the short distance of the study towards his mother and gave her a peck on the forehead. “You stress yourself too much on these parties, mother. You should be sipping coffee somewhere sunny, not planning ridiculous birthday parties for grown men.”

“Pish posh! Oh please, dearie, I remember you used to love these parties. Your tuxedos and cute suits are still in the basement of the old house. You looked so cute on them I didn’t have the heart to throw them away.”

“Mother, I’m a grown man, I think it’s safe to throw my baby things away now, or give them away, that’s much better. Anyway, I have to go. Please,” he gave her an imploring look, “not too many people and not too extravagant. I would rather have a birthday party thrown in a charity ward of a hospital if you had asked me first.” Morrison would have liked spending his birthday in Africa if he was given the chance, with his old friends and possibly making new ones. He suddenly missed being in the simple lives of those people he met in the jungles of Africa.

He tosses the remains of his champagne glass on the flowerpot beside him, set the glass on the ledge and decides he can safely leave the party now since he’s been there for more than an hour. He is beginning to feel tired because of a hard day at work and is about to turn around to make his way to his mother for his polite exit when a tall woman – clad in black, her hair swept up in a bun atop her head, classic Audrey Hepburn glasses on her small face, and a glass of champagne on one hand – stands not too far away from him, staring out into the lovely ocean view in front of them. She must have not seen him because she is oblivious to his presence as she continues to sip on her glass whole looking out to the blue and green colors of the sea.

Morrison has never seen her before – certainly not one of his mother’s usual self- proclaimed prospects that she sets him up with – and she isn’t from the office as well. She might be a celebrity with her looks and poise but he’s never seen her face on television before. It makes him very curious as to know who this mysterious lady is.

She finally notices him as she glances his way. He is still staring at her like some idiot who just saw a beautiful woman. She smiles at him and raises her glass then makes to leave.

“Wait!” he suddenly calls out, stepping towards her to get a closer look. “I believe we have not yet been introduced. The name’s Morrison, and you are?” He uses one of his charming smiles to show he is harmless and extends out his hand to shake hers.

She looks down at his outstretched hand and offered hers as well. “Sandy, Morrison. Of course I know you and you know me too… well, not as well as you knew me then, apparently.” She chuckles as Morrison remains rooted to his spot as he still holds her hand on his. Her British accent is lovely and Morrison can’t take his eyes off her face. She’s completely the opposite of what he was expecting when Linda told him about her coming back to the U.S.

What? Sandy? Sandy Morgan turned out to be this hot?! His mind is still reeling at the complete transformation of the awkward ugly duckling who literally turned out to be a lovely swan.

“Wow!” he exclaims as he laughs at his own ignorance. “Forgive me for being such an idiot! I… I can’t believe it’s you Sandy! I mean, hah! It’s been decades since I last saw you. I believe it’s way back in middle school?” Morrison scratches his head with his one hand while still holding hers on the other.

She looks down on their hands and politely says, “I would need my hand back if that’s okay with you, Morrison.”

“Oh! Sorry! Wow! I seem to have turned into a mess now that I know you’re the Sandy I’ve gone to school with before,” he laughs nervously, hoping that he hasn’t messed up that big for her to avoid him.

“Oh, stop it Morrison. I haven’t changed that big. I’ve only, well, grown, to put it literally.” They both laugh at her quip as they start reminiscing their time back in their old school.

They talk for about an hour before they decide to go in and have a few more drinks at the bar of the resort.

“You know, I was starting to dread this night until you came out of that balcony,” he tells her while they sit on a comfortable spot near the big windows.

“Aww, now I feel guilty for having to tell you that I must be off in half an hour. I have some prior engagements in the morning and I actually just dropped by to wish you a happy birthday. When I couldn’t find you earlier, I decided to have a whiff of the sea breeze that’s why I went out there.” She smiles guiltily at him.

For the life of him, Morrison doesn’t want her to go so soon. He is surprised that he was actually enjoying his party for once because of Sandy and she’s leaving in a few minutes. “Oh that is too bad. You’re going to break my heart Sandy. Now that I’ve finally found someone I could talk with without having to politely excuse myself after several minutes, you’re going to leave me this early?” He pretends to stab himself on the heart and leans back on his chair as if he is actually hit with something.

“Don’t be such a baby Morrison. You can talk with these people,” she looks around at the sea of color before them. There are lots of people dressed in those high fashion outfits while they sway to the sound of the music and dancing around them. “Well, some of them perhaps.” She looks back at him with a sympathetic expression on her face.

“Please Sandy,” he reaches out across the table and takes her hand in his. “Don’t leave me alone with them!” he pretends to weep as he pleads for her to stay. “Or at least let me take you somewhere closer to your place so you could spend a few more minutes with me, please?”

She seems to consider his offer then finally nods. “Fine! Since you’re the birthday boy and I don’t have the heart to leave you to these teenagers who seem to have drowned themselves in liquor this early, you can accompany me on my way back to my hotel.”

Yes! Morrison quickly stands and goes to her side to help her out of her chair. He wanted so much to get out of that place and even if it will only be a few minutes for them to talk some more, he would gladly take it rather than spending another hour in that place.

“Let me just have a quick word with my mother and we’ll be on our way.” He makes his way through the throng of people towards the VIP lounge where his mother is having some cocktails with her friends.

“Oh, Morrison darling! How are you enjoying the party so far? I didn’t know what type of music you wanted son I just had the DJ play something you kids like these days. Thank God for soundproofing!” Linda laughs as her friends laugh with her.

“Hello mother. I have been enjoying it for a change. Thank you for arranging this but I need to scoot off somewhere. So if you would all forgive me, I will be on my way and call this a wonderful night.” He gives his mother a peck on the cheek and hurriedly exits the lounge.

Linda was about to call him back when she saw who he exited out the front doors with. “Oh my! Susan, I believe that is your lovely girl Sandy?”

Susan Morgan leans to look at whom Linda is pointing at and nods with excitement. “Yes, that is her with your Morrison dear! I guess your predictions are turning out to be true Linda!”

Linda’s smile widens as she realizes what it means. “Yes, I told you my son would notice your girl. Besides, she has grown up into such a beautiful woman. Morrison can never resist her now. Ah, just think Susan. Sometime next year or even sooner, we could be celebrating much more than a birthday party! Am I hearing wedding bells?!” They both giggle like they were back in their high school cheerleader uniforms, trying to ensnare the richest and handsomest guys in the football team. They both went to one of the most exclusive schools in the South, where their families have established their million-dollar empires and they have been best friends since high school.

Linda takes a sip at her glass and silently laughs inside. You think you can win Cornelia Masters? Think again. You can never have my son and I will make sure that it stays that way!

 

 

 

Chapter V

 

The orchestra plays beautifully as Cornelia’s eyes nearly water from the beautiful music the symphony is making. It is her first time to be in an actual live performance and the experience has been magical for her.

Barret looks at her while the orchestra plays on the background and he’s thankful that he thought of this instead of another boring night in the park or some restaurant. He’s sure that with a girl like her, she’s probably gone to exclusive hotels and fancy restaurants on dates so he had a hard time thinking of where he could take her to make things special for her. It was a good thing that he saw the commercial on television featuring the New York Philharmonic playing in town and he thought that Cornelia would probably like to go. And he was right! Thank God for infomercials.

“How are you liking it so far, Cornelia?” he dares to ask as they take a short break for the next few songs. She looks at him and beams.

“I love it, Barret! I never thought I’d like the orchestra but I love it now that I’m hearing them play live!” she sounds ecstatic and happy. It is the first time that Barret saw her in that light. She had always been the quiet type, always keeping her emotions in check and rarely shares anything personal with anybody. He couldn’t help but observe her ever since he saw her come in the apartment with her sad eyes. There’s something about her that bring out his sense of protectiveness as if he wanted to shield her away from the world – to keep her safe in his arms. She doesn’t appear to be the victim type, on the contrary, she appears to be a strong and independent woman, but he sometimes, he catches a glimpse of her vulnerability. Like whenever she goes to the bakeshop owned by those sweet old couple or when she plays with her neighbor’s baby. She tries to hide her soft side but he can see through her tough exterior. Especially now that he’s seen how happy she is.

“I’m glad you like it. I honestly decided to get the tickets on the hopes that you won’t totally hate it. I wanted to take you somewhere special, some place beautiful and majestic… just like you.” Shoot! There it goes, the first shot.

Oh no! He’s starting to flirt. What do I say? Am I going to flirt back? I’m blushing again, aren’t I?

“Haha! Good one Barret! I almost believed you there.” She decides to respond with a friendly banter because she doesn’t quite know what she feels about the situation yet. She likes spending time with him, she feels safe with him around like he’s always got her back no matter what. But is that enough? She doesn’t feel the same heart-thumping kind like how she is with Morrison but that one could also mean that Morrison just gets on her nerve most of the time. She doesn’t feel the same comfort when she’s with Morrison either. Whenever he’s around, she’s always on her toes and her heart does cartwheels then summersaults, and all sorts of activities. There is nothing like the silent, calm, and relaxing kind that she feels with Barret. What does that mean exactly?

She’s trying to play it safe again. Maybe you’re moving in too fast. Anyway, it’s only your first date, except that time in the park. But that does not constitute as a date since they just happened to run into each other and shared a night watching old movies.

“It’s true! You don’t believe me? Well, you should. You’re one of a kind Cornelia and I’m lucky you even went out with me.” He is being honest and he hopes that she could see that he is genuinely interested in her.

“Thank you for your kind words, Barret. I’m lucky you asked me out. It’s not everyday that a handsome guy asks me out to listen to a full orchestra!” she tries to keep the conversation light and he is amused by her efforts to dodge his words of admiration.

“Well, thank you very much miss! I have been known to sweep ladies off their feet so be forewarned!” he tries his best James Bond impression which draws out a giggle from Cornelia. He begins to find out that he likes the way she laughs and the sound of her voice is becoming something he looks forward to hearing everyday. You have it bad for this girl, man. He shakes his head as they go back to listening to the music they came to hear and see.

They drove to a restaurant that Barret knows well in the neighborhood and ended up introducing Cornelia to the regulars of the restaurant. It’s a family-owned business and the owner happens to be one of Barret’s good friends.

“Eddie! Hey man! I’d like you to meet Cornelia Masters.” Eddie, the owner, has a big build, more like a body builder and he stands taller than Barret. Everything about the guy is massive. From his shoulders to his enormous hands. It is clear to see that nobody messes with this guy.

“Hello, Cornelia! Come here and give big Eddie a hug!” he snatches Cornelia like she was a rag doll and hugs her to him.

Cornelia is shocked at the guy’s build and how strong he was but he was like a big teddy bear when he gave her a bear hug. “Whoa! Hi, Eddie!” Cornelia greets him with a big smile. They exchange some more friendly banter then finally settling on a table in the corner. Eddie set them up on what he calls, “the best seat in the house” because it was far away from other customers and set on the mini-balcony of the place. The whole structure is two-stories high and the restaurant sits on the ground floor as the upper floor serves as a bar for those who want some drinks. Out front, just in the middle of the first and second floor, is a landing with a table and two chairs facing the streets. Since the place is set on the corner of the block, it faces the whole street and one could see the old brick houses and cozy apartment buildings that are not the modern types with elevators and stuff. Just the traditional apartment style houses in Brooklyn.

“It’s a wonderful view!” Cornelia gets her breath taken away for the second time that night. First with the orchestra they saw and now, the breath-taking view of the streets of Brooklyn. She can even see the Brooklyn Bridge on her perch.

“I’m glad you like it because this is one of my favorite places in town. Aside from the park, of course. I love this town. I grew up loving this town even though I’m not originally from here. You’re from Jersey, right?”

“Yes. I was but then I moved here a long time ago,” it was actually just four years ago but it feels like decades for her. She tries to forget her old life in New Jersey and move on but sometimes, nightmares of getting beaten by older kids and starving, still haunts her in her sleep.

“How has New York been treating you so far?”

He’s trying to get to know me. Relax, you can be honest with him to some point.

“Well, I can say that it hasn’t been easy, especially at first, but I’m hanging in there and it gets better every year.”

Their orders start arriving as they thank their waiter.

“You, how long have you been here?” she asks in return, wanting to turn the questions on him and get the conversation focused on his life and away from hers.

“I’ve been divorced for a more than a year now and I’ve taken over the family business since I was in my early twenties and have been developing it since then. I wanted to branch out to other parts of the city and probably buy an old building to develop into an apartment as well or a small condominium but the competition is tough and most of the lands in the city are either already acquired by huge corporations or by the city government. I think I’ll stick around here or maybe look into other states nearby. I’m still trying to build my furniture business as well so I do have a lot on my plate with that one.” He lets out a sigh and looks at her apologetically. “Sorry, I’ve blabbered on about my five-year plan, haven’t I?”

“No! Please, I like hearing your plans and what you want to do with your business. I, myself, am not a business-minded person so hearing you talk about your dreams in building your business so passionately inspires me. So where do you plan to take your furniture business if you were given a chance?”

“Hah! Don’t be too nice, Cornelia. I know I’m probably boring you out of your mind with all these stuff. Let’s talk about you. What do you like to do? What are you passionate about?”

Getting justice for my mother’s death and getting back at the man who abandoned us.

“I like spending time with orphans – I know it sounds cliché – but I feel good in helping others.” Which is partly true because she does sympathize with orphans since she is one and she likes helping people out, just not everybody. Her feelings about Nick are still the same. He is getting what he deserves and slowly, his empire will fall. All those buried skeletons in his closet are starting to come out and sooner or later, she will know why he had up and left them a long time ago and why her mother cried for a week before she died from a car crash that looked like there might have been foul play. She had dug deeper when she got out of the orphanage and with the help of her friend, James; they were able to look up old files about the accident ten years ago. It looked like some wirings were loose in her mother’s car, which caused the car to careen on the side road before being pitched off the cliff.

“No, I don’t think it’s a cliché. You have a good heart, Cornelia.”

You are totally mistaken, Barret.

They talk more about their background, Cornelia telling him small lies about her childhood and her parents, Barret, talking about his mother, and how he loved her cooking. She tries to steer clear from very specific information about her and her past and subtly diverts the topic back to Barret. He doesn’t seem to notice the slight manipulations she makes when it comes to the flow of the conversation. They seem to have plenty of things in common. At least Cornelia tries to be as honest as possible about her likes and dislikes.

They like the same kind of food, which is anything Italian, the same type of movies, action and adventure, and oddly enough, they like lions too. Cornelia likes the way lions hunt their prey, while Barret likes their silent, but protective nature.

“Although I must admit that I have not seen one in person.”

“I have when I went to the zoo. Haven’t you been to any zoo yet?”

It’s a simple question but it strikes something in Cornelia’s memory.

They were walking in a crowded place with lots of children giggling and letting out squeals of delight as they navigated through the many attractions that were showcased in that year’s circus parade. She has been waiting for the circus to come to town for months now and her mother promised to take her on the very first day, which was that day. The first instant she stepped out of the bus and on the pavement where the circus tents were set up in their entire splendor, she felt an overwhelming sense of happiness. Of being completely content with what she had that day. She’s always been fascinated with the world of circus performers where they lived in a place of magic twenty-four-seven. Where everything was possible, even flying in the air and being friends with animals. She doesn’t quite remember how old she was then but it was certainly a time when she still believed in Santa Claus and happy endings.

“Are you excited to see Leo the Lion?” her mother asked her as they made their way into the huge tent where the final act was about to be shown. It promised a two-hour fun-filled adventure ride featuring all of the favorite acts of that said circus – Holly the Hunchback, The Amazing Trampoline Brothers, The Wonder Kid, and many more, plus her favorite, Leo the Lion. Leo the Lion became her favorite act when she saw it one time on television and she’s been mesmerized by that adorably furry creature ever since.

As she thinks back to that old, almost forgotten memory, the gut-wrenching feeling of missing her mother came back with it. Then she shakes her head at her naiveté when she was young, thinking she could pet the lion if she had the chance. Of course, she didn’t know of the dangers of wild lions yet but she felt like she was like Leo in a way. Always moving from place to place, never really creating long-lasting relationships. But that is how she must live in order to achieve what she wants to get out of her measly life.

Barret is still talking about his country roots and how he misses spending time in his old town but Cornelia’s mind is elsewhere. Thinking about what she has to accomplish the following week. She still has not found time to get Nick’s DNA because he’s been out of the office almost all week. The longest time he went in was Wednesday, where he met with her and Michaela, briefing them about what they needed to do with regards to his office affairs as he takes care of some details about the case against him and the company.

She somehow pities Nick, especially now that he’s faced with this controversy, because whenever he talks to his employees, he takes time to assure them that their jobs are secure and that they should not worry about the case, but behind closed doors, she sees him lamenting on what is happening. Like what she saw when he came in the office.

It was early last Wednesday when she decided to go to work early. She walked out of the elevator and went straight to her office. She was about to go into his office and try to snoop around again when she noticed a light in Nick’s office. She peeked through the crack of his office door and saw him. His head was bent and his hands were covering his face. He didn’t look like he was crying but his facial expression showed much grief as he lowered his hands and folded them on top of his table. He whispered something in the air but she didn’t quite hear it so she pressed her ears closer to the door and she heard him pray.

“Ah, alas, God, I seem to have a dilemma for which I do not know what to do. I wish I still had the people I trusted to guide me in this…”

Cornelia couldn’t believe her ears. She didn’t know that he prayed, or knew how to. For her, Nick was just someone with so much power that he might not know that there is someone even more powerful than anyone or anything in the world they live in. Cornelia then slumped to the ground, realizing that there might be something more to the guy she has hated for ten years now. She, herself, acknowledges the supreme power above and knows that she is doomed no matter what she does because of the hatred in her heart.

She stood up and went to her office, banging the door a little bit so Nick would know she had arrived. She then busied herself with her tasks and after several minutes, Nick stepped out of his office and greeted her, looking all made up and cool like he had no worries in the world. Michaela also walked in then and they resumed with their everyday tasks.

“And I had to chase the cow around for like an hour! Can you imagine that! I must have looked so stupid with those ridiculous ropes, swinging them worthlessly to the air and catching nothing!” Barret is still going on about his early childhood experiences in his old home and laughs about his own antics as Cornelia smiles at his anecdotes.

“Wow! That must have been great! Growing up in a place like that!” she comments while letting out a laugh. It’s good that she can keep up with his stories while thinking about other things. It was a skill she learned as she was growing up in the orphanage. She used it before when the other big kids were teasing her and beating her up. She learned how to channel her mind elsewhere so she wouldn’t feel the pain but still attuned to what was happening around her, so she could escape when she saw the chance. Now, she uses it to distance herself from those around her. She uses her walls to block herself from feeling, from getting the idea that there was a chance for her to be happy amidst everything she is going through and after what she has planned to do.

“You bet it was! I had the best times in my life in that place. I wish I could go back though, but business and other things keep me here in New York.” Barret then looks at her and she knows the table has turned and it is her time to tell her own story or tidbit about her childhood. “So, what about you? Any other juicy facts about your early life’s embarrassing moments you’d like to share with me? That is, if you’re brave enough to tell me.” he said, raising his eyebrow to taunt her.

“Hah! You can’t trick me Barret. But as much as I want to oblige you, I don’t have much to tell about my childhood. I just had a pretty normal, average, childhood just like everybody else. Well, except you, of course. I mean, who would want to pet a cow and ride it? It’s not a horse you know.” She rolls her eyes to tease him back and they both laugh at her comment.

They enjoy another fun evening, chatting and laughing mostly about Barret’s embarrassing moments and fashion fails, especially when he was still dating his ex-wife. Out of respect, Barret asked Cornelia earlier if it was okay to talk about his ex, and she immediately stopped him saying, “Barret, please, don’t filter anything about your stories. I want to know about you and I know that it includes things and people in your past. I’m good. I’d tell you if I’m uncomfortable or anything. Besides, based on your stories, she was good to you and she seems to be a lovely person.” She smiled to him then as Barret smiled back.

Barret thinks he’s hit the jackpot with this girl because she was so cool about everything and she paid attention to everything he was telling her. Although she still has her walls up because she tried to steer clear from personal questions he asked her and instead, redirected the conversation back to him. He also noticed how she, sometimes, drifted off inside her head while still looking at him. And he admires her for that. She must be thinking about the things she shouldn’t tell him and still tried being polite by paying attention to his worthless chatter.

As the night wears on, they finish their food and start walking outside the restaurant.

“Hey,” Cornelia nudges him on the shoulder, “thanks for this evening. You really made me laugh a lot and the show was perfect.” Cornelia means every word as she gives him a peck on the cheek. She is surprised at herself for doing that but that was how she felt doing at that moment.

Barret stops in his tracks and stares at her. They are standing in a dimly-lit part of the street, with cars buzzing by and a handful of people walking by, but they don’t seem to notice that as Barret moves closer to her.

Cornelia knows what’s coming next. He is going to kiss me. Should I let him?

He takes her hand in his and holds her waist with the other. He draws her closer to him and is about to lean down to kiss her, when a car drives by, blowing his horn so loud that it interrupts their moment.

“Get out of the way!” the driver from the tinted black car shouts as he whizzed by.

Barret and Cornelia look at each other and laugh.

“Well, that guy is certainly a party pooper!” Barret says still laughing at their thwarted romantic kiss. “Maybe we should get out of this street and go someplace less busy. What do you say?”

“Yes, I think that’s a good idea too!” she giggles as they cross the street. Barret hails a cab back to the park where they shared their first evening together. He had wanted to take her somewhere else because she might not want to go back to the same place but she actually suggested it, which was very convenient for both of them since it’s only a few minutes’ walk to her apartment building and to his own house.

They arrive at the park after several minutes and as they get off to start their leisurely stroll, they see a few people making their way home from the park. Cornelia looks at her watch and is surprised to see the time.

“Wow, time does go by fast when you’re having fun. I didn’t realize it’s almost midnight.”

Barret feels disappointed that she told the time but understands that she might want to rest from being at work most of the day. “I see. Well, let’s go straight to your building then so you could rest. I know how much hours you put in your job and I’m telling you, it’s not right. Take some time to rest, Cornelia. It’s not healthy to spend more than ten hours in the office almost everyday.”

And how does he know that exactly? But instead of being all defensive and suspicious of how he got that information, she says jokingly, “Hmm, someone’s been keeping tabs on my while I work, huh?” She smiles and raises an eyebrow.

“Huh? Me? I never…” he replies with the same smile and puts his hands up in the air as if to surrender. “Fine, fine. Yeah, I see you go out everyday and I see you get home in the late hours with take-out bags of food. So I figured you’re probably spending so much time in the office that you don’t even have a decent meal every night. I would have, of course, invited you in my house for some hot meal but you looked so beat everytime that I didn’t have the heart to invite you over when you should be resting in your bed.”

“I appreciate you looking out for me, Barret, but I’m fine. Besides, I like working for McElroy and Burns. I want to be busy, plus I need the overtime money. I’m saving up for my future like every other gal out there!” she says in her best “Valley girl” accent.

Barret laughs at her failed attempt but turns serious again as they approach the bench they sat on before. “But still Cornelia, you should take it slow sometimes. It’s harder to get sick even if you have tons of money. I should know, that’s why I gave up my nine-to-five job before. I had ulcers developing in my stomach because I rarely ate and when I do, it was never on time. I used to be busy as well, with my career and my dreams of moving up in the corporate ladder, but after five years of doing the same thing everyday, I realized, I wanted to be my own boss and not be constrained by these hours. So I quit and took over the family business. And I never regretted my decision one bit.”

They gaze over the waters of the pond in front of them as Barret’s words echoes in her head. She does feel sick on some days but she always managed to stuff some medicine in her stomach, which kept the dizziness and weakness at bay. She takes her rest on the weekends but during weekdays, she pushes herself to be productive at work and to keep herself busy during the most part of the day, leaving almost no time to eat, but only to sleep. She likes being tired because that means that she doesn’t think. She doesn’t mull over the things that she should have done in the past that might have helped her mother or the stuff she should have done to avoid being beaten and picked on when she was in the orphanage. And most especially, things that she must do in order to avenge her mother’s worthless death and the unjust life she had and is still living at that very moment. She doesn’t have any family or friends that she considers are real, and she doesn’t have a future to look forward to. Only her hate and her desire to see people she hates fall and be destroyed as she watches on.

“I wish I had the same freedom as you have…,” she says absentmindedly.

“You do, Cornelia. You just need to make yourself the priority, not your career. You can always have a job in another company if you like. But do things that you enjoy doing at a considerable amount of time. Don’t let it be your life or else, life might just pass you by and you just wake up one morning, at fifty-something years old, wondering where your years went, and end up regretting choosing your career over having your own family and building lasting relationships.”

Barret’s words were like knives stabbing every ounce of her body. She knows that what he told her was true and that she should not be living in a lie and feeding off the hatred in her heart, but for the life of her, she can’t stop herself from feeling that rage, that emptiness, that Nick has caused. If he hadn’t left them and let them fend for themselves all those years, her mother might still be alive and she might have had a normal childhood, indeed. Nobody deserves to be treated the way she was treated in life – orphaned at an early age and knowing pain and torment in her early teens, then starving, homeless in the streets of New York. If it was not for James, she would have died in that same street she stayed in during the first few days after she ran away from the orphanage. She owes James her life and all she wants to do is to find out what happened to Julie and make those people responsible pay.

“I guess if we were in a different world, I would take your advice, Barret. Who knows, I might do exactly what you said in a few years. But right now, I like what I’m doing and I feel fine. I’m still young and I want to take advantage of my youth to do more than what is expected of me, more than what I expect from myself. Now that I still have the passion to do so.”

He looks at her with admiration and nods his head in agreement. “Okay, but if you get tired – which I know you do, everbody does – take a day or two to rest and unwind. And you can always call me to take you out and keep you busy having fun while relaxing!” he chimes in, giving her a friendly nudge.

They talk some more about what they want in the future and what they would have changed in their past lives. They always seem to agree on things as if their minds travel in the same wavelength. They share lots more moments of laughter as the night wears on.

Finally, the huge clock in the park strikes the hour of one in the morning and they decide to call it quits and turn in for the night.

They walk the short distance from the park to her apartment, still talking and not paying attention to their surroundings too much. An elderly guy is slumped on the ground in the street they are walking on and as they pass him, he suddenly grabs Cornelia and brandishes a knife in front of Barret while locking her in his arms, nearly choking her as he keeps her near him.

“Give me your money, now!” he screams at Barret as he swings his knife back and forth in front of Barret’s face.

“Okay, relax, man. There is no need to be violent here. I will give you my wallet but you have to let her go, now.” He is strangely calm, as he talks to the man who is actually not old but probably in his late twenties, dirty and ragged. He is covered in dark, tattered clothes, and his face is too dirty as if he had intentionally smeared tar on his face to appear like a homeless old man.

“Give me the wallet or I will cut her throat right here! Quick!” he demands nicking her throat to emphasize his point.

“Okay, okay, I get it. Please, stop. I’ll give you my wallet. I’m just going to reach into my pocket and get it out. Please don’t make any sudden moves…” Barret waits for the man to nod in agreement then slowly reaches into his back pocket.

All of a sudden, an arm reaches into the homeless guy’s neck and pulls him backwards while another one grabs his hand with the knife and hits it with something hard, causing him to lose the knife and stumble backwards, loosening his grip on Cornelia.

“Let her go now,” Morrison’s deathly cold voice echoes near her ear and she is as shocked as the guy who holds her captive in his arm. “I’m not going to tell you again, mister. Let her go or your arm breaking is the last sound you will hear before I break your face.”

The homeless guy lets go of Cornelia and steps back as Morrison tightens his grip on his throat, drawing him away from Cornelia’s slumped body. She collapsed to the ground as soon as her hostage-taker let go of her.

Cornelia coughs a couple of times and tries to stand on her two feet. Barret comes to her side right away and holds her upright as she recovers from her ordeal. She suddenly remembers that Morrison is there and is currently tackling her assailant.

“Now, I could beat you up and take you to the police and you’ll still be charged with attempted robbery and assault, but I’m a busy guy so I’ll let you decide. Are you going to do this again or will you straighten out and work for a living? You’re a grown man preying on young innocents. What kind of a living is that? Now, go and man up! Get a job for crying out loud!” Morrison lets go of the struggling man, tossing him away from him like he was some rag doll as the man scrambles away and breaking into a run.

“What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you let him get away? He might just turn around and rob another person from across the street?!” Barret can’t believe Morrison could just let the guy go after assaulting Cornelia like that.

Morrison looks at Barret with a stare that could have easily said, “Back off!”, then turns his attention to Cornelia. He goes to her side and holds her arm gently in his, taking her away from Barret’s arms. Barret, of course, just let him do it, although his possessive side starts kicking in. He stems his urge to draw Cornelia back in his arms because he doesn’t want to cause more of scene than it already is.

“Are you alright, Cornelia? I must take you to the hospital. Charlie!” Morrison shouts all of a sudden then sure enough, Charlie, his ever-present driver, arrives at his side, ready to take on his orders. “Get the car around. I’ll take Ms. Masters to the doctors. Make it quick Charlie.” He says with a very serious tone as Charlie nods.

“Of course, Mr. Ellis, right away,” Charlie answers quickly before running towards where their car was parked.

“No, you d-don’t ha-have to… I’m f-fine, Morri-,“ Cornelia starts to say but Morrison won’t have any of it.

“No, Cornelia, you have to listen to me this time. I can’t have you go home like this. You, on the other hand, can. Thank you but I’ll take over from here.” Morrison faced Barret while he uttered those last words.

Barret wasn’t about to let this guy give him any orders and was about to protest when Cornelia holds up her hand and says, “It’s okay, Barret. You had better get on home. I’ll just let him take me to the hospital then I’ll be on my way home as well. Thank you for this lovely evening and I’m sorry it ended this way…” she looks at him apologetically, imploring him to drop the issue and be on his way, which he understood so he nods his head, gives her a hug, and with a final “Take care”, walks towards his house.

Morrison watches them as Barret gives her a hug but looks away for he didn’t want to make a scene by yanking the guy from her. Who was he that he could just give her a hug just like that? Yes, they were on a date but it doesn’t mean that he suddenly is her boyfriend now! It infuriates him to know that she was just out on a date with him… on his birthday nonetheless! But he can’t give in to his jealousy now because he needs to take care of Cornelia, and from what happened, she had conceded to him and sent the other guy away. It was a small victory but he is still the one with her at the end of the day.

“Now, can you please let me carry you to the car so we could get there faster?” he asks her, more like not giving her a choice on the matter.

“Do I have a choice?” she answers as he scoops her up in his arms and the familiar quickening of her heart starts happening again no matter how hard she tries to stop herself. “What are you doing here anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be at your birthday party in some fancy place?”

“I was. I was actually having a good time with one particular miss but I had the sudden stupid urge to check on you.” He looks at her then with eyes so intense like he was fighting something inside him. “I’m trying to stay away from you Cornelia, and I know that you have some date tonight but I… I don’t know! I just wanted to see if you were all right, okay?!” he says feeling frustrated for having to confess like that.

He puts her down gently on the ground, holding her arm to support her while Charlie opens the door and they get inside the limousine. He wasn’t driving his usual sports car that night because he used a limo to get to his party so he didn’t have a choice but to leave the party with the same car. He gets in on the other side and instructs Charlie to take them to the nearest hospital, which was the same one he brought her in over a week ago, when he ran her over with his bike.

Cornelia can’t believe he’s been spying on her! Well, not exactly, but who does he think he is, showing up out of nowhere and saving the day just like that? She thinks to herself as she looks out the car window, eyebrows drawn together and fighting the urge to touch her wound. The homeless guy cut her quite good but she hopes it wasn’t deep enough that she needed stitches. Barret had wrapped a handkerchief around her neck to stem the bleeding but it still hurts like hell. She looks at him sideways and upon seeing that he is facing the window on his side too, reaches to her throat, and touched the handkerchief that’s wrapped around her neck. The handkerchief has been nearly drenched with her blood. It was a good thing that it’s dark blue, otherwise, she would have panicked at seeing too much blood. The last time she saw a person bleeding was on the operating table at a hospital in New Jersey. Her mother laid on the table, bleeding from all parts of her body but managed to still smile at Cornelia when she walked in, giving her strength when she already knew that she would die at any minute.

Cornelia quickly tightens the handkerchief around her neck and prays that they reach the hospital soon or else she would be bleeding all over the plush seats of the limousine.

“Stop fidgeting with your wound Cornelia.”

She nearly jumps out of her chair as Morrison took her hands and deftly took out his own handkerchief from the front pocket of his tuxedo, and replacing the already drenched blue one from Barret. He chucks the blue – or rather red – hanky out the window and gets a first aid kit from under his seat.

“Oh, why did you throw it away? I was going to give it back to Barret…” she suddenly realizes that Morrison doesn’t want to hear anything about Barret from the way he looked up at her with piercing eyes, and of course, his clear words.

“I don’t care and I don’t want to know about your “guy” friend, okay? I’m sorry Cornelia but I don’t want to know about your date or how it went so please, just… just let me take care of you, okay?”

Morrison is losing his cool. He went to her apartment because of a nagging feeling that he needed to see her, even from afar, on that day. Maybe it was him being sentimental about his birthday but as it turns out, it was a good decision to go to her place on a whim, even if he was having a blast with Sandy. Sandy was a great girl to be around with. Her quick wit, sexy body, and beautiful face are qualities that every man dreams of in a girl or a date, but he was looking for something more that night, not anything physical or sexual, but something more than the beautiful and intelligent girl he’s been talking with for the most part of the night. So, he sought out Cornelia because she’s never left his mind ever since he met her.

When Charlie rounded the corner of her apartment, he meant to just stay out there for a couple of minutes, just being in the same space as her was good enough for him. Then he decided to walk for a few yards to feel the wind in his face and clear his head. He’s had a few drinks but he wasn’t drunk or tipsy. Then he heard a commotion just a few blocks from where he was walking and immediately saw Cornelia being held captive by a dirty, probably homeless, guy. She was held by her throat with a knife as the guy covered in dirt screamed at another man for his wallet. Morrison broke out into a run, bounding towards the scene. He recognized Barret, her landlord, and figured he was her date, talking to the guy calmly but then the dirty man shouted and pressed the knife on Cornelia’s throat, drawing blood. That’s when he lost it.

He waited to be right behind the dirty guy, moving stealthily as some onlookers stared silently. When Barret distracted the dirty man with the knife by reaching into his back pocket, Morrison saw the opportunity to strike and he grabbed the guy’s arms from behind, knocking out the knife from one of his hands, and making him let Cornelia go by twisting his arm from behind.

He was so outraged that he could have beaten him to a pulp but the sight of Cornelia slumped on the ground, bleeding from her neck, stopped him and instead of taking out his anger on the assailant, he let him go instead so he could take Cornelia to the nearest hospital. But not before glancing at the guy’s jacket and seeing a name stitched to the inside pocket. He memorized the name and vows to make sure to have the man searched to find out if it was a simple attempted robbery or an intentional one. He has made some inquiries about the elevator incident and the men he had appointed in looking into it have found some interesting facts surrounding the matter, but he decided to keep those facts to himself until he finds out more information about the incident.

“Fine! You don’t have to be so rude about it!” she spats the words in his face as he ties the handkerchief around her neck, securing it in its place. He hides the growing concern on his face but not from his touch. His fingers linger on her neck and brush the hair out of her face.

She looks at him while he caresses her hair and tries not to swoon from his intense gaze. She clears her throat instead, breaking the intimate moment they shared. “I- I think we’re here…” she whispers, pertaining to the hospital.

Morrison breaks his gaze and looks out the window. “Yeah, we better get inside. Don’t move.” He gets out of his end as the car stops and gets to her door in seconds. He does move fast.

She still can’t believe how fast he was when he apprehended her attacker. The whole confrontation was over in just seconds when he came. He must have had some training at it because he looked and moved calmly with precision when he tackled the guy.

He carries her to the stretcher waiting at the emergency wing and talks to the nurse who came to assist them.

“She’s been cut, I don’t know how deep, on her neck and she might have lost a lot of blood. Please nurse, make sure she’s all right.” Morrison sees Cornelia being wheeled into the emergency room with her bleeding neck and most of her upper body having blood on them too. She was wearing a red dress so it was hard to see the blood on it. Morrison hardly noticed her dress before then because he was so concerned about her well-being but now that he sees how it hugged her body, he begins to feel jealous all over again that she dressed up like that for her date with her landlord.

Why would she even bother looking good for him? What does he have that I don’t? She is so frustrating to figure out!

He reigns in the ugly head of his jealous nature and tells himself to stay calm and focus on getting her better. He’ll deal with her about her dressing up like that once she’s fit.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Ellis, we’ll take care of her. Now, would you please clear the room so we could assess her further. I’ll be with you as soon as we find out how she is,” the nurse says as she waves him away from the room. She closes the curtains so Cornelia could have more privacy as the nurses and the doctor in-charge looks her over.

Morrison can only step back from the curtain and wait at the lobby. Charlie walks in at the same instant with a curious look.

“I’ll be staying here for a while, Charlie. I need to stay until they’re done examining her. You can go ahead with the limo. I’ll just get a cab later.”

“I can wait with you, Mr. Ellis,” Charlie protests, approaching Morrison to sit on the available seat.

“No, you don’t have to, Charlie. You should go home to Kate and the kids. Say “hi” to them for me, okay?”

Charlie smiles at his employer and nods. “You are very kind, Mr. Ellis. I’ll make sure to tell them you said “hi”. If you ever need me though, you can just call me on my cell.”

“That’s okay, Charlie. I won’t need you for now at least. Go home and get some rest. I’ll probably be home later on. Thanks and take care.” Morrison pats Charlie on the shoulder as he makes his way out of the emergency room.

The nurse decides to appear from the curtains then and talks with Morrison about Cornelia.

“Well, the good news is, she’s going to be fine. A little traumatized perhaps, but otherwise, physically fine. We wanted to do some blood tests but she refused. She said she just wanted to go home and rest. We’re just dressing her wound and she’d be fit to go home.”

“Thank you, nurse. I’ll take her home after you’re done with her.”

The nurse goes back to Cornelia as Morrison sits back down on the chair at the waiting area.

What are you doing, Morrison? You’re back here… with her… She just came from a date with another guy for Christ’s sake! What the hell are you still doing here helping her and going crazy with concern and jealousy?

He covers his head with his hands as he struggles with his inner voice. He’s very confused about his feelings for Cornelia but there was one thing he was sure of, he can’t seem to keep himself away from her even for a day. Even if he’s already having a good time with another great girl… Cornelia still came to his mind earlier that evening which made him say his polite “goodbyes” to Sandy and his mother. He can’t stand to be there, while Cornelia is out with another guy. At first, he just wanted to see if she arrived home safely but when he saw that her apartment was still dark, he decided to wait a few minutes just to make sure she got home safely. Just when he was about to turn back from his walk, he sees what was happening just a few blocks from where he stood. And when he saw it was Cornelia being held at knifepoint, he just lost it and raced over to the scene.

He suddenly remembers that he needs to give instructions to Charlie about the name he saw on the inset of the assailant’s coat and will have him look him up. He takes out his phone and sends a message to Charlie, which he responds to after several minutes.

Cornelia walks out from behind the curtains with a bandage on her neck.

“Uhm, maybe it’s time I go on home. Thanks for, ah, staying behind…” she adjusts her bandage and cringes as she hit her wound.

“Stop touching it, Cornelia. Just let it heal. Come on, I’ll take you home.”

Why does he always have to sound so demanding? I get it, he’s used to ordering people around but it’s so infuriating when he does it to me. He’s not my boyfriend or anything!

They walk out of the hospital with Morrison leading the way and Cornelia trailing slowly behind. He hails a cab and they get in. As they make their way to her apartment, he remains silent as she looks out the window, contemplating on what happened that night. She still feels a little dazed from the whole thing but with a little rest, she’d be back to her old self.

“I’m sorry for being…ah…so forceful. I’m just worried about you, naturally. And well, I just wanted to make sure you’re safely out of harm.” It was the best sort of apology he could muster for he is still a bit pissed about the whole Cornelia-dating-some-other-guy issue.

“You don’t have to worry about me, Morrison. I am perfectly capable of handling and taking care of myself. But thanks for the concern…” she says the words in the most polite way she could muster because even if he was bossy and downright infuriating, he still saved her life and she owes him now for that. Something she hates, especially with him. She never imagined owing him something, much less her life and it’s making her very uncomfortable. Why did he have to be the dashing knight-in-shining-armor?

The drive was short because the hospital was just a couple of blocks from her apartment building. They arrive at the building and she lets him accompany her up to her apartment unit.

“Are you sure you want to invite me in? You know, after your date with the landlord of this place…” he can’t help but still be annoyed by her date and can’t resist saying something about it.

“Barret? Why would me dating him stop me from inviting people I want to invite inside my apartment? We just had dinner, okay? It wasn’t like he became my boyfriend or anything. He’s a good guy.”

That gives Morrison the hope he needed in seeing a future with Cornelia. So, she’s not blown away by their date tonight, that’s a good sign. Very good, indeed! But I’m still freakin’ pissed at him!

“Oh, I’m sure that’s what he thought about it too.” He snickers, thinking about Barret, and how he looked at Cornelia possessively when he stepped in to take Cornelia to the hospital. He swears that if Cornelia were unharmed, that Barret guy would never have let him take her out of his sight without a fight. And Morrison sure will never back down.

“What are you doing in these parts in the first place? Aren’t you supposed to be at your party?” she looks at him sharply, ignoring his condescending tone because she is still pissed at him for being the knight-in-shining-armor that she never wanted him to be.

They walk inside her apartment, Cornelia looking frantically at her living room, searching for anything she had carelessly discarded that night. So far, nothing embarrassing is displayed anywhere in her living room. Whew! That’s a relief!

She ushers him inside as she asked the question that she’s been burning to ask since he swept her off her feet to bring her to the hospital.

He enters the threshold, feeling elated for seeing her place for the first time. Then he stops himself. Why would I feel excited in seeing a girl’s apartment, anyway? Then Cornelia clears her throat. She is still standing beside him, her eyebrows raised as she waits for the answer to her question.

Morrison thinks of an excuse and decides to just blurt out the truth. “I was waiting for you. Okay? I wanted to check if you’re safely home… and not home with some guy…” he adds, looking away from her. Why are you baring everything to her? Isn’t it enough that she’s going on dates and did not consider your birthday as an important enough day to see you?

“You left your party to come and see me?” she asks gently, her look softens a little bit.

“Yeah, okay? Well, I was having a good time, if you must know, with a gorgeous and intelligent friend from childhood…” he finally looks at her with a stern face then continues, “but I… I wanted to see you. And when I saw you being held captive, I just lost it. I could’ve killed that guy in an instant! I never want to see you hurt or treated like that ever again so you – you better stick with me!” Morrison is letting his emotions take over and he was spewing honest words to her and he can’t seem to stop.

She remains silent but also can’t take her eyes off his face, feeling incredulous and unbelieving. Then she says one word,

“Why?”

He looks straight into her eyes with an expression that shows how shocked he is at her question. “Why do you think? I like you, Cornelia! More than you ever know and more than any woman I have ever met. I want to be near you all the time and I want to be the only guy you go out with at all times!”

He rakes his hair with his fingers while looking pained at trying to explain what he feels. He is starting to feel frustrated because with everything he said; she is still not talking but is just looking at him like she’s just seen a ghost.

“Well? Are you just going to look at me? Say something, Cornelia. Slap me, kick me, do whatever, just have a reaction… please… I’m going crazy thinking about you and I have but declared my love for you yet here you are, not saying anything in response…” he exclaims, looking as frustrated as he feels at that moment.

But still, Cornelia remains silent as a grave and her expression of surprise is still plastered on her face.

What do I say? Damn it! Why did he have to be so honest about his feelings for me? Damn it!

At that moment, a million things is running through her mind. What will she say? How and what does she feel about him exactly? Is he just a convenient guy to have around? Or is she having feelings for him as well? She hasn’t quite sorted out her feelings for him and Nick yet and she’s been having second thoughts about the true nature of Nick’s involvement with her mother. No matter how hard she tries to figure things out in her head and in her heart, its proving to be a hard feat for her. She’s also starting to realize that she needs time to figure out all that’s going on in her head.

“Umm… I – I don’t know w-what to say, Morrison…” she finally blurts out loud.

“I’m sorry Cornelia,” he replies. “You don’t need to say anything. I apologize for my stupid outburst. Of course, I’m not forcing you to say anything, please don’t think that I’m pressuring you or what, although it might have come out that way earlier… but I’m not,” he continues to talk nervously. Now that everything was out of his chest, he doesn’t know how to react to her anymore. He doesn’t want to scare her away or for her to hate him, so he’s doing damage control to his earlier bout of stupidity.

“No, Morrison, you don’t ha – ,“ she starts to say, wanting him not to feel embarrassed or feel bad about his being honest about his feelings for her.

“No, Cornelia, I have behaved badly and I know that you’re not feeling well with your wound and all, but I still made you feel bad right here in your home. I’m sorry, I – I better go home… as long as you’re okay?” he asks her, still wanting to kick himself for having the worst timing in declaring his true feelings for this girl.

“Morrison, please, you don’t need to leave right away. Don’t be like that… please? Besides, I – ah – ,” she starts to fidget with her dress and then her hair. “I like having you around… I feel safer when you’re here… with me. Please don’t go,” she says looking at him from where she is, which is a few steps from behind a chair in her living room. He is still at the door, hesitant in stepping inside her abode some more, but as soon as the words left her mouth, he takes a few steps closer towards her and now, he is just at arm’s length from where she is standing.

“Do you mean that? You want me to stay?” he has to make sure that he heard the right thing because he badly wants to stay with her and make sure she was all right.

Cornelia looks up at him and places her hand on her chest. “Yes…”

He takes her hands into his and wraps her in his arms with such intensity that it takes the breath away from her. “Oh!” she exclaims but otherwise shuts up and closes her eyes as she feels his strong chest heave a sigh.

“Thank you for letting me stay, Cornelia. I want to take care of you my darling…” He pulls away from her for a second and places his fingers under her chin. He lifts her face to him and looks directly into her eyes. “You make me very happy, Cornelia. I want to be the only one you let into this apartment.”

Her heart is leaping bounds right now as Morrison looks into her eyes and tells her that he wants to be the only one she invites over to her place. Here he goes again, ordering me around like I’m already his girlfriend! Hmph! She starts to feel annoyed again but then it hits her. So, am I seriously considering him to be my boyfriend?

“And why exactly will I do that?” she asks sheepishly, a smile playing at the sides of her lips.

He suddenly closes the space between them and gently grabs her waist, drawing her to him. “Because, Cornelia, I can’t stand seeing you with any other man. I want you all to myself, Cornelia. Call me possessive or demanding, but that’s how I want things to be between us.”

He lowers his lips towards hers and she doesn’t pull away or stop him in any way. She wants him to kiss her. She longs to be held by him in the most intimate way possible. For once in her life, this is one thing that she is most sure of. She closes her eyes and feels the anticipation of feeling his lips pressed against hers. His strong arms tighten around her to hold her more securely in his arms as the gap between their lips slowly gets smaller and smaller.

“You are so beautiful, Cornelia. I want to be with you all the time and hold you like this… just like this…,” he whispers as his lips presses against her soft, red ones.

His lips feel so soft and firm as he kisses her. She sucks in her breath as his lips finally touch hers. Her eyes remain closed as she lets her feelings take over and let their bodies do the talking.

She throws all caution to the wind as Morrison lays her gently on the sofa of her living room. She knows what’s going to happen if she doesn’t stop it. They are both getting caught in the whirlwind of their emotions and their loins. But as much as the voice of reason in her head screams at her to stop, she doesn’t listen for once and just enjoys the moment she’s having with Morrison. She cannot deny what she’s been feeling since they met.

He tries to stop himself but can’t keep his hands off her body and his lips from hers. At first, her body became rigid when he first kissed her but as their kiss deepen; she becomes more pliant and soft in his arms. He didn’t plan to take it that far but as it was turning out, they both can’t stop their feelings and bodies from being as intimate as possible with each other.

Cornelia takes a final look at Morrison’s face before she succumbs to what her body wants to do, “I have a feeling you’re going to bother me for more days to come, Mr. Ellis.”

“Oh, I know so, Miss Masters, and I will make sure to make it worth your while to give me your undivided attention from now on…” He nuzzles her neck is rewarded by a giggle from Cornelia.

He goes back to kissing her and all she can think of is if she let things run their natural course that night, it will surely affect her plans. As Morrison keeps touching her body, her reason continues to diminish until finally, she is swept by the wave of intimacy that both of them is sharing at that moment.

As the night wears on, they continue to discover each other and their hearts learn how to speak the same language as all other lovers did when their souls meet in the most intimate way.

 

 

Chapter VI

 

The knocking on the door woke her up five minutes ago and when she looked around at the unfamiliar place where she slept, she realized that she was in her living room. And she wasn’t alone.

She scrambles to her feet after untangling herself from Morrison’s naked body, the upper half exposed for all the world to see and his lower body concealed by the blanket she uses to drape over her sofa.

Oh gosh! What have I done! I have to get him out of here, quick! But how? Oh crap!

She tiptoes to the bathroom and looks at herself in the mirror while another soft knock echoes in the apartment. Thankfully, Morrison is not a light sleeper so he remains asleep on the carpet floor and doesn’t wake up even with the knocking. His wonderfully chiseled body lays sprawled on the carpet floor as Cornelia tries to fix herself in the bathroom.

Who in the heavens is paying her a visit this early? Gah! And what will I do about Morrison? I can’t very well hide him under the pillows now could I?

“Cornelia? Are you there?”

It’s Barret! She shouts in her head as she looks at herself in the mirror. Then the next instant, she hears the front door open.

Morrison finally heard the knock on the door as he turned over to look for Cornelia. He wasn’t used to waking up in another person’s place, much less a girl’s. But as sleep finally left his guise, he remembered what he and Cornelia shared last night, and then he smiled. Then the knock again and a man’s garbled voice, so he got up and wrapping only the thin blanket around his hips, opened the door, completely forgetting that it wasn’t his house in the first place.

Barret’s shocked face greets him on the doorway. “What are you doing here?” he asks accusingly. Barret looks at Morrison’s disheveled hair and his lack of clothing and it finally dawns on him what happened.

“Barret!” Cornelia comes bounding out of the bathroom, wrapped in a bathrobe and with the same messed-up-hair look like Morrison’s is. “W-what are you doing here? Can I help you with s-something?” she asks guiltily as she tries to nudge Morrison out of the way so she can face Barret better.

“Ah… I just wanted to, ah, check on you. Are you okay, Cornelia?” he asks while looking uncertainly at her and Morrison, who is still standing behind her, rubbing his eyes as if to will himself awake.

“Yes!” she exclaims, not meaning for her voice to be so high-pitched, but it sounded as if she was a mouse who just got stomped on. “Yes, I’m fine now, Barret. T-thank you for coming all the way here to check on me. What about you? I’m sorry I didn’t see where you went last night when I got into…” she looks back over her shoulder as Morrison leans over and smiles at them both.

Is he deliberately trying to ruin me in front of Barret?

She nudges his jaw, which sends a clear message that she wants to be left alone at that time. “Morrison, I’m sure you’ve already met Barret from last night. Would you please give us some privacy?” He looks at her as if to taunt her further, but then thought otherwise and nodded but not before telling Barret,

“Nice to see you again, Barret. I’m sorry for my clearly inappropriate attire. I’ll just put my clothes back on and leave you two to chat some more.” He gives them a wide grin then finally walked back inside the living room then to the bathroom after picking up his discarded clothes on the floor. Of course, he makes a show of himself deliberately taking his time in picking up his clothes, wanting to make it clear to Barret that something had happened between him and Cornelia – not that it wasn’t that obvious with just the way Cornelia was behaving. She looks fidgety and has an overly wide smile that’s trained at Barret.

“So, I guess we won’t be having any more dates in the future…” he surmises, looking down on the floor to hide his disappointment and his breaking heart. He never would’ve thought that Cornelia would sleep with Morrison after just taking her to the hospital. He knows that they have not known each other as long as he and Cornelia had, but he has to admit that they see each other more often in the office work place than he, who just passed by her apartment building.

Cornelia looks over her shoulder towards the bathroom and sighs. “I’m sorry Barret. I didn’t mean for you to see this. I- I…” she starts saying but he holds his hand responds,

“No, Cornelia. You don’t have to explain anything to me. I see that you have chosen him and I respect that. It was a snowball’s chance in hell anyway for you choosing me over a billionaire…”

“Barret, that is not true – “

“It’s okay. Again, you don’t have to explain anything. I just came here to see if you were all right and now, I know that you are so… I think I better go now. Thanks. You take care, Cornelia.”

Barret turns around abruptly without waiting for her response. He doesn’t want her to see his face anymore. He’s hurting and he just wants to get away from the thing that’s causing him pain. He knows it’s not her fault in any way. She made her choice and she chose him. He gets it. Now he needs to put some distance between them. That’s the only way he could move on.

Cornelia reaches for Barret but touches air instead and sees his retreating back, “Barret… I –, “ She doesn’t even finish what she wanted to say because he was already out of ear shot by the time she realizes that she’s hurt him.

Oh no… Barret… I am such an idiot!

But as much as she hates herself at that moment, everything was said and done. She slept with Morrison last night. She let her emotions run her body and her longing take over her whole being. For once in her life, she had wanted something, someone so bad that she threw caution to the wind and just went ahead and did what her heart was telling her. But she never even thought of the consequences of that act. The people she could hurt by doing so, and that it would surely jeopardize her whole personality and her reason for doing things the way she does them.

Well, there’s no use standing out here in the hall with my bathrobe on. I just have to give him time to think, to get over what I had done. And hopefully, still want me as a friend…

She walks back inside her apartment and closes the door silently behind her.

“So, is he gone? I’m sorry Cornelia. I didn’t think of what I did earlier. I was still half asleep and honestly forgot that this wasn’t even my apartment.” He apologizes sincerely and starts tucking in his shirt from last night. “I don’t want to leave you like this, but I have to go to work today to finish up some deals. I know it’s a Saturday but it’s the best time to finish all my stuff. No distractions. Are you going to be okay?” He reaches her as she draws her bathrobe closer to her body. He gently raises her head with his hand and inspects her bandage. “Does it hurt badly? Do you need me to get you back to the hospital?”

He made sure to be gentle with her last night, especially with her neck injury but she kept telling him she was okay. Still, he steered clear from touching or kissing that part of her neck so as not to cause more pain or harm to her. He also found out that she was still a virgin and hesitated when they were about to do the act. He asked her if she was sure and she nodded. He felt pride swell in his heart for being the first man she’s ever been with and wanted to shout it out to the world. But instead, he loved her as best he could and made sure she didn’t feel so much discomfort.

The wound on her neck didn’t bleed the whole time they made love but it looks like it needed a change as he clears the hair from her face and neck.

“I, I’m okay, Morrison. You don’t need to take me back to the hospital. Please, go if you need to. I don’t want to keep you from your job. I’ll be fine here. I think I’ll just take this day off and get back tomorrow. I have to admit, I’m still a little shaken up from last night…”

“Take the whole week off, Cornelia. I’ll make sure to tell father what happened and the reason for your absence. Don’t worry about work too much. Everything will get sorted out in time. Now, take a seat and let me whip you up some of my famous eggs before I go. I still got time.” He grins boyishly at her and it makes her smile that he wants to cook for her even though they both know he couldn’t, as what happened back in his apartment.

“Okay, sir. I’ll take your advice about taking the week off but you don’t have to make me breakfast, really. I’ll just run down the bakery and get some bread. Remember what happened the first time?”

“Nonsense! Let Chef Morrison take over your kitchen and amaze you with his cooking wonders!” He imitates a brooding face and starts to tinker with the kitchen pots and pans. “Now, where are your eggs?”

Morrison cooks up a meal for a few minutes as Cornelia looks on, feeling more and more amused and impressed by the billionaire cooking in her kitchen. She decides to help him out and make sure he doesn’t undercook their breakfast like what he did before.

She is graced by numerous smiles and jokes from Morrison while she laughs out loud at his every funny story. She remembers her night with him and it still felt like magic to her. Their bodies coming together was a whole new level for her. She has not had any contact with any men before, something, which she’s sure that Morrison noticed about her because he was so adamant that she be sure before they proceeded. She merely nodded and knew in her heart that she was making a choice. A choice that her heart made, not her mind or her reason, just the simple beating part inside her, telling her to give this guy a chance at her heart and that whatever she does afterwards, was going to be an experience she will never forget.

And it is still true to that very moment as she laughs at Morrison’s quip about lawyers and their ways.

He stays to have breakfast with her and even volunteers to change the bandage of her wound for her.

“No, you don’t have to. I’ve kept you here long enough, Morrison. You have to go home and to the office.” She jabs at his shoulder jokingly and pushes him to her door gently.

“I don’t want you to kick me out of your apartment but you’re right, I really have to go now.” He picks up his jacket and heads for the door. Cornelia follows him to her door and as he gets out, he turns around and they meet at her doorway. “Will it be all right if I take you out tonight? You know, for a proper dinner? Not because it was my birthday yesterday, but because you deserve to be taken to dinner and I’ll be the luckiest guy in the world if you say yes…”

Her heart does a backflip as she immediately smiles and nods. “I think I could squeeze you in my busy schedule, Mr. Ellis.” She teases him for she knows that she has nothing planned for that weekend or any of her future ones as well.

“Well, I should make sure you that you reserve that time for me then. Can a kiss suffice as a deal being sealed?” He throws the teasing back at her as she acts surprised at his suggestion, animatedly acting shocked.

“Oh, you are very persuasive, sir. Okay, I shall seal the deal with a kiss but only a quick one.” She leans over and he suddenly grabs her waist and draws her to him. She laughs but after a few seconds, she is silenced as his lips cover hers in a passionate kiss.

They say their final goodbyes after several minutes. Morrison waves from the elevator as Cornelia closes her doors.

Oh, what a lovely night and breakfast. I wish I could have more times like this with Morrison…

That thought jars her from her daydreams as it suddenly dawns on her that she’s starting to want things. Things that were not possible for the old Cornelia, but now that she has become a full-fledged woman, she begins to think that it might be possible for her to actually be happy with someone… with Morrison.

The phone rings as she saunters to her living room, the love struck look still in her eyes as she picks up the receiver to answer the phone.

“Hello?”

Silence.

“Hello? Anybody there?”

“Get away from him or your only family will disappear too.”

A cold, heartless, toneless male voice echoes in her ears. It’s like a bucket of cold water being dumped on her face at that very moment.

“Wh-Who is this?” she asks uncertainly. The remnants of her joy finally receding in the background.

Silence then a sharp click as the caller ends the call.

She looks at her mobile phone for a few seconds, still wondering what the phone call was about. Then it enters her mind that it might have something to do with the man who banged her up in the elevator. She remembers him saying something like staying away from the McElroys or something will happen of some sort. And what family is the person talking about? She doesn’t have any family left that she knows of.

She thinks back to the incident when she nearly lost her breath again, the mugger in the elevator or so she thought he was a mugger. He was more of a person that was sent to harm her or at least deliver his message effectively. She actually forgot about that and also the mishap she had with the elevator at work. Could all these things really happen because of her involvement with the McElroys? Does this mysterious person know about her past and her connection with the family?

And why would this person want me to stay away from them?

Now that she’s had time to think things through, she begins to feel that something was amiss about her knowledge of the McElroys. Well most of what she knows came from James and the rest she got from her snooping around the office. Which brings her to her task of getting Nick’s DNA to find out if he is really her father.

Okay, that’s what I need to do first. I don’t have the time or resources yet to find out about this mysterious person who leaves me messages.

But she thinks it is also best to let James know of what’s been happening. He might be able to help her uncover this person and the reasons behind this person’s actions towards her.

She goes to her study table and opens her laptop. She starts typing a message for James and after explaining what has happened so far, she hits “Send”.

“He’ll probably respond in the next few hours so I better do something productive this day,” she says to herself while on her way to the bathroom. She sees the sheet that Morrison used to wrap around his body and it immediately takes her back to the wonderful night they shared. She smiles and gets in the shower, humming to herself. It’s the first time she hummed while taking a shower and as much as it surprised her, she welcomes the feeling of being inspired and happy for once.

The rest of the day, she spent waiting. Waiting for James to respond and for Morrison to call or let her know of their plans for that night. Then it hits her.

Am I making plans with him now? What would happen after this date? Are we dating now then? Of course, I don’t want to think of last night as a one-night-stand but is it wise to box myself in this somewhat relationship that we’re having?

The sound of an email coming in jolts her from her musings. She sits up from the sofa and goes to her table. It’s from James.

Cornelia,

This business you have being that close to the McElroys have put you in danger. You must not have involved yourself too deep with any of them. Remember our agenda that you become like a shadow, never revealing yourself too much but just another ordinary face in the office. But you have gone too far with your relationship with Nick’s son and this kind of tangle will not go unnoticed from Nick. He is a vicious man who does not want an outsider meddle themselves in his business, his company, and his family.

You have to disappear now Cornelia. Before any action is taken from Nick or his cohorts. The events that happened were only the beginning. He will try to destroy you and worse, kill you off as well. Morrison Ellis is his heir and successor. He will do anything in his power not to derail his son from his destiny, not even for the truth. Morrison is young and idealistic and Nick only wants his influence on him and nobody else’s. He wouldn’t want his son to turn his back on him if he finds out the truth behind his wealth and what he did in the past to get it.

Beware of this impending danger, Cornelia. You must now lay low. I will meet you once you are safely out of the city and out of the company. Make up a lie that would get you out of there. You must not stay there much longer for I fear that I cannot protect you when you are still in their midst.

I believe that there is someone else behind this, apart from Nick but I am not aware as of this time who that person is.

The important thing is that you are still relatively safe from anything serious. But you have to get out now. You shall have your justice in another way, and another time.

Email me once you’re on your way out of the city. Choose a simple town with not too many people. I’ll meet you then.

J.W.

Cornelia sits back on the chair in front of the table and tries to read the email again. She is trying to internalize everything James said. She sighs and rubs her head as if a blinding headache suddenly hits her.

Why the sudden change in pace? He has always been so calm and relaxed about her getting closer to Nick, but now, he sounds as if he is being hounded.

She stands and decides that before she even thinks of moving away, she has to find out if Nick is her father. She grabs her purse on the way out of the apartment and locks her door before going to the elevator.

Her steps are determined to take her to where she wanted to go but she’s not even sure where she could get a sample. She stops at the lobby and tries to think where she wanted to go. Then an idea struck her.

There was a new spring to her step as she opens the building door and saunters outside, looking for a cab. She plans to surprise Morrison in the office because she knows that Nick would be there too. She’d go bearing food and will make that as an excuse to be there. Although she was not sure if Morrison had already told his father about them.

She doesn’t have much time left so she’d worry about that when she gets there. As she hails a cab, she then thinks of what food to take, and where to get them. She remembers that Nick likes the food at the little restaurant where he took her on the night Morrison saw them leave with his car. She gives the instructions to the cab driver and in less than half an hour, she is giving her orders to the waitress at the restaurant. She rushes back to the cab and tells the driver to go to the McElroy’s office. She gets there in record time, just in time for an early dinner.

After paying for the cab fare, she looks up at the top floor and hopes to find both the father and son in Nick’s office. She goes in and nods at George, the guard on duty and straight to the elevator that leads straight up to the top floor. Thankfully, the elevator was finally repaired and secured from further mishaps.

As the elevator dings on the top floor, Morrison and Nick look up from Nick’s table. As expected, they are both there, trying to go through some of the preliminary investigations of the firm. Nick didn’t want anybody else looking through the evidence his men gathered before he submits it to the lawyers, just Morrison because he is the only one he trusts.

Morrison did tell Cornelia a small lie when he said he needed to finish up some deals in the office because he didn’t want her to worry about the  company’s future, as all other employees were at that moment. They were doing damage control and he just learned from his father later that week that there are new evidences that might lead them to the culprit. That’s why he had to come in on a Saturday.

“Cornelia! What are you doing here?” Morrison is surprised at her arrival but otherwise happy that she came.

She gets off the elevator and walks up to them. “Hi Nick, Morrison,” she nods smiling sweetly at him. “I’m sorry to intrude. I just thought you would like some food. I learned from Morrison here that he had to work today so I thought I’d bring him some early dinner. I didn’t know you’d be here too, Nick. But I’ve brought food for an army so you are both welcome to have some.” Cornelia jokingly opens the paper bag filled with Italian cuisine and the aroma of the food immediately attacks both Nick and Morrison’s noses.

They inhale deeply and close their eyes. “Ah! That smells wonderful, my dear. Did it come from Antonio’s perhaps?” Nick asks already approaching Cornelia and looking through the bag. He’s already told Morrison about the time he took Cornelia to Antonio’s and that he decided to make Cornelia his other secretary because he saw something in her that makes her a very competent employee. They both agreed on that.

“Hah! You are right Nick. I stopped on the way here, knowing how Morrison likes their food there. And I personally miss the pasta I ordered before. Please, let me get this all set up while you continue. I’ll be just a minute.” She proceeds to the small pantry area near her office and start taking out the plastic containers with the food.

“You are one lucky guy, son. Women who bring food are always the best!” Nicks says teasingly at Morrison who has a smile plastered to his face from the time Cornelia walked in.

“I know father. I sure am lucky. But I don’t know if we are going exclusive yet. I just came from her place last night. I took her to the hospital after some guy tried mugging her. That’s why she’s wearing that jacket because she still has a wound on her neck.”

“Why, what happened? Is she all right now?” Nick asks with concern.

Morrison tells him the short story of what happened with the homeless guy but did not mention that Cornelia was actually on a date that time.

“I just happened to pass by her apartment building last night and saw the whole thing so I did what I could and brought her to the hospital afterwards. She’s pretty banged up by it so I insisted to stay with her in her apartment.”

Nick looks at Morrison with a smile playing at his lips. “And I suppose you were there to console her after the incident?” He winks at his son as he asked in a hushed voice. Then looked over at Cornelia as she approaches them.

“You could say that,” Morrison replies with a hushed tone as well and adds, “We’re actually going on a date tonight but I guess she wanted to have an early dinner.”

“So, what are you boys talking and smiling about?” she asks them pretending to have caught them unawares.

“I was just telling my dad here what a wonderful host you have been to me last night when I was at your place. And that you had quite a scare that’s why I was there in the first place.”

“Did you recognize the man at all, Cornelia? Did you report this incident to the authorities? Morrison, I can’t believe you just let that bum go?” Nick turns to his son.

“Don’t worry father, I was not about to let it go just like that. I have Charlie looking into it. I just had to let him go last night because I had to take care of Cornelia first.”

“And it’s not a big deal, Nick. I’m sure I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and he’s probably just looking for some cash.” Cornelia sets the food down on the corner table, away from all the paperwork sprawled in Nick’s wide table.

“What do you mean it’s not serious, Cornelia. He hurt you and you were bleeding!” Morrison goes to her and holds her in his arms as if to shield her from all the world.

“I appreciate your concern, Morrison, but don’t be so overdramatic. I’m fine, we’re okay, so on that note, let’s just enjoy this meal before you go on with your work. I anticipated that this might be an all-nighter so I brought the food here so you won’t have to be bothered with time in taking me out later.”

“You are indeed a God send, Cornelia. I am starving!” Nick gets the plastic container and starts gobbling the food while smiling back at them. He looks like a normal person who likes good food and loves his son.

These are some of the moments that gets Cornelia to thinking that she might have it backwards when it comes to Nick. She questions her prior judgments about him, that he might be a nice guy, a good guy, and not the person James paints him for – a ruthless businessman who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even eliminating his competition or anyone who gets in his way.

“Fine, let’s eat. But I will take you home after this. I’ll just come back later on. Besides, Dad has to go on a trip later tonight as well, so I think I’ll just take my work home or continue this tomorrow. Right dad?” he asks Nick who is halfway through his pasta.

“Uhmm, yes I suppose we could put this off until Monday, but make sure you read through them Morrison. I need this proofread by Tuesday so I can brief the lawyers about what these are.”

“See. I’ll be free in an hour or so but might as well eat now. We could do something else later if you want…” he whispers the last sentence to her ears only as her heart skips a beat.

She clears her throat and changes the subject in an effort to stem the blushing that’s starting to show on her fair cheeks. “Ahem! Yes, no point in wasting this lovely food. Here, have some soda. What about you, Nick? Want something to drink?” she hands Morrison a can of soda while Nick nods for one as well.

“I normally don’t indulge myself in these carbonated drinks because my doctor says so but one drink couldn’t hurt, now could it,” he winks at her as he takes a sip of the cold soda.

Yes, take a sip. Take as much as you want.

“I’m sure you’d be able to get rid of that in no time. You just need to take a run or even a leisurely walk a few hours a week and you’ll burn that right off!” she says enthusiastically.

“Yes, dad, I forgot to mention. Cornelia here is an avid runner and I believe I’d like to polish my running skills as well so I could keep up with her.” Morrison jokes as he grabs her waist to give her a peck on the cheek.

“I guess from your sweetness for each other that you are now “officially” going out?” Nick asks.

Morrison looks at Cornelia and lets her answer the question for he, himself, is not yet certain but hopes she says “Yes” to the question.

“I-, “ she starts, looking at Morrison for some kind of answer, but he remains smiling and silent.

Okay, so he’s letting me set the pace and put the label.

“I… guess so, Nick…” she finally finishes.

Morrison’s smile widens and he answers as well. “Yes, we are dating and because of that, I guess, we need to make adjustments as to the structure of her job here, right dad?”

“Well, not necessarily. She’s under my office, technically. So it should not interfere with yours Morrison. She can continue working for me.”

Morrison grins and thanks Nick for his consideration. Cornelia remains silent as the situation sinks in.

I’m dating Morrison now. How could I leave now? What do I tell him? Do I want to leave?

“Are you okay, Cornelia? Is your wound hurting? You shouldn’t have come here and caused pressure to your wound. Let me take you home so you could rest. I’ll just come back to finish up.”

“Yes, that would be best, Morrison. Cornelia, my dear. You can go home and you can take the whole week off next week to get better. You have my permission.” Nick approaches her and takes her hand in his. “Dear, now that you are with Morrison, you are more than an employee, but family. So take some rest.”

Cornelia’s heart swells as Nick says those words to her. It was the first time that he acknowledged her as a part of the family, although not as his daughter, but still a family member. She didn’t expect herself to feel emotional when he said those words, but she does and it’s making her resolve falter.

She looks down on his hands and sees the soda can he is holding on his other hand.

“Thank you, Nick. It means a lot. But here, let me fix this up for you before I go. I don’t want you cleaning up all this mess that I brought here.” She takes the empty can and starts clearing up the paper bags.

“Cornelia, it’s fine. You can leave. I’ll have the janitor clean it up later on.” Nick says as Morrison agrees.

“We better go,” he says, “Father, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Morrison takes Cornelia’s hand as they proceed to the elevator, but not before she grabs her purse and secretly stuffs the soda can inside.

“Thank you again Nick. I’ll see you when I get back. You take care…” It’s as if she was saying goodbye to him because as soon as she gets the results from the DNA sample she got, she’ll be on her way out of the city. If she can stand to leave Morrison…

“No, thank you, my dear. I hope that you and Morrison have a wonderful time later on tonight. Don’t worry, I won’t keep him for too long.” Nick winks and smiles at her. She, on the other hand, stares back and takes her a few seconds to react and smile back.

Did he just seriously wish us good tidings? Or did he mean something else. She’s always been a good judge of character and if not for her thirst to avenge her mother by driving Nick’s company to the ground, she would have thought that he was a genuinely good guy.

She and Morrison walk towards the elevator and after several minutes, are on their way back to her apartment.

“You know what, Morrison, could you drop me over at the train station? I want to take a ride home using the train.”

He looks at her puzzled. “Are you sure? I could take you all the way back to your apartment so you won’t have to ride the train, especially since you still have that wound.” He gently touches her neck to inspect the bandage but it looks good and there is no shadow of blood showing on the outer bandage.

“I’m fine. And besides, I want to take my time getting home since you’ll still be at the office. Also, I want you back there right away so you can finish what you’re doing more quickly.”

“All right, if that’s what you want. But I wish you’d just take a cab then. Or I could have Charlie come over and drive you over while I go back,” he suggests. He’s still not comfortable leaving her alone especially while travelling.

“No, don’t do that. It’s his day off. Give him a break. I am perfectly capable of taking the train and going home by myself. Plus, it’s broad daylight, nothing will happen to me, trust me,” she insists, hoping he finally concedes so she can be on her way.

He sighs and says, “Fine. I’ll drop you off at the station. Make sure to call me once you’re home or at least send me a message.” He was acting like he was now her boyfriend eventhough they’ve only been together a couple of times and he’s only spent one night in her apartment. But to Morrison, they are now dating and he was just being protective of her since she had also given herself to him and never denied him or his confessions to her. To him, she was his.

Cornelia could feel Morrison’s possessiveness and protectiveness, and neither bothered her. On the contrary, she feels good about him being this way towards her. It’s been a long time since someone has treated her that way, apart from her mother. And this time, this kind of attention is coming from the opposite sex. She feels like she’s finally having a connection with a guy, and possibly have a normal relationship with him. If she indulges herself, which is something she cannot allow herself to do.

After realizing this again in her head, she is reminded that she must not be pulled in by her feelings for Morrison. That she remembers that they can never have any future together, no matter how the situation might turn out. She clutches her purse, feeling the slight bump of the soda can. She plans to go straight to the lab where an acquaintance of James works in. They’ve met before and she has used his services before when she was still at her old apartment. She had some to get a medical before and to avoid any further questions from doctors, she went to him to get a certificate that she was fit to work, which allowed her to get a job.

Dr. Klacinzki has friends in the forensic department and she might be able to speed up the process of DNA testing if Cornelia goes to her directly. She works at a medical laboratory near Flushing Avenue so Cornelia just needs to take the MTA Subway to Flushing Avenue and walk from there.

Morrison drops her off the subway and she immediately rushes towards the entrance in hopes of getting to her destination faster. She barely said goodbye to Morrison before getting off his car because she was in a hurry.

Morrison drove away a few seconds after she got off and just thought she might have something to do at home. He’s looking forward to their date that evening and hopes he gets out of the office earlier.

Cornelia catches the train right as it was getting ready to leave. She ran the whole way from the entrance and as she finally sits herself in one of the chairs, she heaves a huge sigh and catches her breath. She leans her head back on the seat and waits for her station. She was lucky to have caught the 7 before it departed because she’ll get the test done faster and hopefully get the results at a quicker turn-around time.

After several minutes, she reaches her destination and starts walking towards the address James gave her before. The streets have not changed much, and the people she sees on the way there are pretty much the same. She’s lived in Brooklyn for the most part of her four years in New York and she’s learned to be tough through the years. It also helps that she’s been bullied before so she knows how to defend herself when necessary.

Several people look at her as she clutches her jacket closer to her neck. The wound still stings but otherwise, it was almost completely healed. The cold afternoon air creeps through her clothes and she shivers as she rounds the next block. She remembers the post at the end of the street where the pedestrian crossing starts and ends at the other side of the street. Many accidents have happened here because of the sharp turn of that particular street so she takes care in looking both to her left and her right, making sure there are no cars that might hit her.

“Walk faster, Cornelia,” she tells herself as she feels more eyes on her. Even in her neighborhood, people usually stare at her because of her beauty. She was even mistaken for a movie star on more than one occasion by some of the tourists in New York. She modestly told them she wasn’t a movie star at all nor a model and politely went on her way. As much as she tries not to be noticed wherever she goes, her face is very hard to miss, especially when she’s all made up and in her corporate clothes.

She hates it when she’s at the center of attention and tries to avoid it each time. Although she learned that it had some advantages as well like if she needed some help from people, she usually uses her smiles to get what she needed, but always felt guilty afterwards.

Now, as she walks towards the medical laboratory, is one of those times that she wishes for the ground to open up and swallow her whole so she won’t be noticed. She hears a guy whistle as she passes a group of young men hanging out at the side of the street. She ignores them and continues walking.

“Just a few more steps and you’ll be safe,” she tells herself. She’s not afraid for herself but more of not getting what she came here for. It’s very crucial for her to hand over the soda can to Dr. Klacinzki because she might not get another opportunity like this again. Also, she needs to find out about the threats she’d been getting and in order to do that, she needed to confirm that Nick is truly her father, which will make things more sensible.

If she were truly Nick’s daughter, it would make sense that the threats she’d been getting came from someone close to Nick and she has become a threat to that person. But who could it be? Why would that person feel the need to force me out of the McElroy’s lives?

She rounds the corner and sees the building. She rushes towards it and pushes the intercom button for visitors to state their names and purpose. It’s not a highly protected place but they do have some level of security. That particular laboratory is in charge of processing some samples for the police department, which makes them a target sometimes, especially if the victims or suspects are high-profile subjects.

She states her name into the intercom and hears the buzzing of the gate as it opens up for her. She inhales deeply, thankful that she was given access immediately. She walks towards the hallway and sees the receptionist.

“Hello there, how can I help you?” the young lady asks.

Cornelia smiles her sweet smile and approaches her desk. “Good afternoon, I’m looking for Dr. Klacinzki, I need to speak with her please.”

“Sure, I’ll ring her up and tell her. May I have your name please?”

“It’s Cornelia Masters.”

The receptionist makes the call as Cornelia was asked to sit and wait while the doctor is being summoned. Dr. Klacinzki appears almost immediately from one of the doors and welcomes Cornelia. She leads her to her office and they discuss what Cornelia came there to do.

Cornelia hands over the soda can and the doctor carefully takes some cotton balls and swabs the outer layer of the can’s lip. She then cuts them into strips and puts them in a test tube with some kind of liquid inside of it. After which, she places the test tube in a centrifuge and allows it to be processed.

“Usually, it takes up to five days to process paternity tests, depending on the sample. If you need an express one, our lab offers it from 12 to 72 hours, but since you need this right away, I’ll have it for you in a few hours. I’ll just email you the results if you can’t wait for it.”

“Oh, thank you doctor. Yes, I’ll need it as soon as possible and I would appreciate if you send this via email since I need to get back quickly. Thank you again, Dr. Klacinzki.”

“You don’t have to thank me, Cornelia. You can thank James for saving my life then. I’d do anything for that man and his friends,” the doctor says sincerely while smiling at Cornelia.

Cornelia says her farewell and leaves the facility after only half an hour of reaching Flushing Ave. She goes back to the subway and walks the whole way. She is surprised to see the streets all but empty, except for a few youngsters. She is about to turn the corner again when a hand grabs her from behind and a man’s voice echoes in her ears.

“Hold still or I will kill you right here,” he says, pointing a sharp object on the side of her torso. The voice sounds familiar to Cornelia but she can’t quite place it just yet.

She nods carefully and doesn’t struggle. She’s learned a long time ago not to struggle while something sharp is pressed up on your body. It would be wise to follow along and when you get an opportunity, you can strike then.

Her back is against the guy so she can’t see who he is but from what she can feel, he is about a two or three inches taller than her five-foot-seven height but is twice her size. He is strong and his grip on the lower part of her face is becoming painful.

Finally, he puts his hand down and away from her face so she could breathe better. She inhales deeply, flaring her nose in the process to suck in more air. The wound on her throat starts to throb but she doesn’t pay any mind to it. She’s sure it is now bleeding from her struggle with the man but she pays no heed to the pain. She needs to get out of there but she can’t escape without seeing who the guy is.

“Now, be a good little princess and do everything I tell you.” He grabs her arm with one hand and with the other hand, he presses the sharp object closer to her ribcage. She sneaks a peek at him but he has shades on and a hoodie under his windbreaker. “Start walking and don’t act suspicious or else, I will bury this knife into your body that the police won’t even find it in there.”

Cornelia starts to feel fear creep up her spine despite her experiences of being beaten and bloodied before. This man is now threatening to kill her in public if she doesn’t do as he says. Considering that there’s not much of an audience in that part of town, it would be very easy for the guy to stab her and leave her there. She probably won’t be discovered for hours if he drags her into an alley or backstreet. She closes her eyes and pushes those thoughts from her mind. She needs to be strong and to focus.

What do I do now? Relax. Calm down and do as he says. There will be an opportunity for you later. First, you must find out what he wants…

“Okay, mister, I got it. Please don’t kill me. I’ll do whatever you say… What do you want?” she asks adding a little more shakiness in her voice to sound convincing, although she is really shaken up at that moment.

“Just move! We’re going somewhere so just do as I say!” He nudges her to move forward while he slings his arm on her shoulders. He is wearing a loose black windbreaker and a hoodie underneath, which is also black so no one can see what’s underneath the jacket unless he opens it. She is also wearing a jacket on top of her jeans and plain shirt. It was chilly earlier that day so she decided to bring one. Now, she’s regretting it because her jacket helps conceal the weapon the guy has on his hand.

“Okay, I’m moving, all right? What do you want anyway? I don’t have much cash but I have probably a few bucks in my wallet. You can take it, all of it. I won’t go to the cops, I swear!” she starts looking around for an escape route because she’s starting to feel that the guy doesn’t want her money. If he did, he would have just grabbed her purse and ran away but this guy is taking her somewhere – something that is never a good thing.

“Oh, just be patient. You’ll get your answers soon. Now, get in the car!” he hisses in her ear as he opens the passenger’s door of a sedan that’s parked on the side of the pavement. She didn’t even notice the car until she was forced inside of it.

Oh no! I can’t get in this car.

She starts panicking in her head but wills herself to be calm on the outside so she won’t miss any chance to get away. And she gets the chance when the guy tries to get in the car as well through the driver’s side. It was pretty stupid for the guy to let her get in and then walks all the way around the car to get to the driver’s side without securing her inside first.

As soon as he is nearing the driver’s side, Cornelia makes a run for it. She opens her door and dashes out in a quick flash. She is a good runner and a rather fast one at that so the moment her feet hit the pavement, she starts pounding away, one foot after the other, as she hears the man curse and shout behind her. After a few blocks, she looks back to see if the guy followed her but he is nowhere in sight. She slows down a bit and searches her surroundings for any sign of where she is. She went north from where the car was parked, away from the train, and now, she doesn’t know where she ended up.

Then she remembers that she has her phone in her pocket and flips it to make a call. She dials James’ number first and waits for him to pick it up. After several rings, still no one is picking up so she hangs up and dials Morrison’s number instead.

It rings several times. “Please pick up, please… Please pick up, Morrison…,” she keeps saying as the ringing continues. Finally, Morrison comes to the line.

“Hello, Cornelia. Sorry I –, “

The dial tone cuts and the line goes dead.

“Hello? Cornelia? Are you there?”

Morrison looks at his phone and tries dialing Cornelia’s number but it seems that it has been turned off. “Hmm. Wonder what that was about. Maybe she had bad service,” he says, turning to his father and continues with their work.

 

“I told you to do as I say, didn’t I? Now, you made me mad and no one wants to see me mad. Do you want to see me pissed? Huh!?” The man with the hoodie manages to catch up and breathing is haggard like he has been running for a few minutes, just like her. She’s probably ran about five blocks from where the car was. “Now, get inside, you drive!” He shoves her inside the car but not before crushing her phone on the ground.

Cornelia is really panicking now. She feels stupid for stopping at an isolated place. Why didn’t she wait until she’s surrounded by people or is safely inside a building before she stopped? But it’s too late to dwell on her poor judgement. She has to figure out a way to get out of there.

“There’s no more escape for you, my sweet. I am looking forward to making you feel pain.” He barks at her inside the car and tells her where to go. He makes her drive the side streets and backstreets of the town until she is so confused as to where they are that she doesn’t notice that they are actually just going in circles.

She tries to calm her mind down and focus on the road but she’s really beginning to dread what will happen to her when they reach their destination.

“Where are you taking me? Please, don’t hurt me. I – I am not rich nor famous. No one would give a ransom for my life. It would be fruitless for you to take me hostage because I have no family for which you can extort money from.” She decides to be honest and hopefully make the man realize that she is not a wealthy target for money.

“I am not interested in your money. Haven’t you figured that out by now?” he asks sarcastically then grins to himself as he takes his eyes back to the road. “Now, make a right turn here and drive for ten minutes straight, no left or right turns, just straight, ya’ got me!” he starts yelling again then laughs as if he has a secret that she cannot guess. “We’ll be spending a whole lot of time together, Cornelia. I am so looking forward to that…”

“How do you know my name?” She looks at him through his shades and faintly sees his eyes reflected through the lens. They are looking right at her. “Who are you?” she finally asks.

“No one you know but someone wants you to disappear really badly. I’ve given you enough warnings before but you! You stupid, stubborn little bitch cannot see the message! Isn’t your near fatal fall from the elevator enough? Or the time I told you to stay away from the you-know-who’s? Or the mugger I sent to you last night? And now, you’re walking into a police laboratory like some confident bitch who has answers to everything! Well, let me let you in on a secret, she’s been watching and she’s not pleased… Tsk… Tsk… Tsk…”

He says the last words close to her ears, grazing her outer lobe with the knife in his hands. She tries to focus on the road and keep herself from jumping from his touch.

“Don’t let them see you flinch!” She remembers James’ words as he visited her before in her first apartment in New York, the one where he let her stay after she nearly starved and died from the cold in the streets of the city. He was telling her about being tough in the Big Apple. She told him that she went there to find out about Nick McElroy and if he really as her father. “I have never liked that guy. I’ve never met him, of course, but from Julie’s stories, he was a jerk and you two were better off without him. I also learned from Julie that Nick McElroy never liked to be crossed by anybody. If he doesn’t get what he wants, he makes sure that people responsible paid for his troubles. He’s a despicable human being, Cornelia.”

She mentally shakes her head to get rid of the memory. She doesn’t need to be distracted, furthermore, with the hurt of losing her mother and that Nick might be the one responsible for it. Now, she has to focus on getting her ass out of the car and getting to safety.

“Who is she? What does she want with me?” she’s trying to make him talk some more. She needs to get as much information as she can about her abductor.

“Enough! I will not tell you anything more. She will, eventually, show herself and tell you in person. Now, turn here.” He points to a clearing and a way out of the town. They drive through a dark road and the pavement gives way to a dirt road. It has turned dark over the last few minutes and Cornelia barely notices how late it has become. She glances at her watch and sees the time. It’s half past six o’clock. That means they have been driving around for more than half an hour.

“Just tell me what you want.” She tries talking to him again to incite more details to come out of his mouth but he remains tight-lipped. He doesn’t respond to her questions and shouts at her to shut up many times.

She finally does shut up and she continues to drive through the dark dirt road. She’s surprised to see a place like that in the outskirts of New York. Tall trees appear from out of nowhere and the next thing she knows, they are in some kind of thick forest.

Maybe it’s a park with lots of trees? No, that’s not it. I have to get out of here. Please James, come and find me…

She sends out a fervent prayer for her safety and for James or Morrison to notice that she’s missing. But then, she realizes that neither of them knows where she went that afternoon. She didn’t tell Morrison that she’d be stopping in Flushing Ave, and she certainly did not respond to James’ email last night.

Big mistake! God, how could you be so naïve, Cornelia!

She’s getting very angry with herself, but stops after several minutes because getting mad at herself will not get her out of the situation. She inhales deeply and continues to look around where they are driving in hopes to find a sign or something that would tell her where she is.

They arrive a clearing then she sees a ramshackle house ahead. It looks like an abandoned cabin of some sort, with vines and plants growing beside it and even on the walls of the small house itself.

“Where are we?” she asks again, still hoping he’d give her a hint of where he has taken her.

“Stop right here,” he says coldly, paying no mind to her questions.

She stops in front of the cabin. They are surely alone now, no way to escape to, but as she looks around, she can see lots of places to hide – if she ever gets away from this hideous man.

“Get out of the car! Now!” he shouts as he pushes her out of the driver’s seat. She complies and steps out of the car grudgingly. The man gets out from his side and grabs her arms behind her, making her walk ahead of him. “Start walking bitch! Get inside the house!”

They reach the rickety porch and she tries the door. It gives way after several turns of the rusty old knob. The door creeks loudly, as if protesting to be opened after years of being closed. The interior of the house is dark, except for a dim light out on the porch and car’s headlights. She reaches out her hands in front of her to feel where she is going while the man nudges her forward.

“Get inside, quickly! We don’t have all day!” he shoves her a little more forcefully that sent her tumbling down on the dusty wooden floor.

Thud!

She hits the floor hard, tripping on some obstruction near the door after being pushed by her captor. It’s like the good old days when she was at the orphanage. She got pushed down on the cement, dirt, floor, and all kinds of surfaces by the other bigger girls at the orphanage almost every day during the first couple of years she was there. Those times that she tasted blood in her mouth and the putrid smell of the dirty floor made her stomach almost immune to bad odor and irritating smells, plus she also learned how to fight while down on the ground.

And she decides to use it while she lays flat on the dusty floor. She flattens her body some more and using her hands to push her body up a few inches, she kicks out her right leg and sweeps the man off his feet. She has sturdy legs from years of running and her kicks are strong as well.

She sends him hurtling to the ground beside her, then quickly bounds up to her feet to steady herself. She makes a run for the door but her foot is caught by her captor. He is lying on the ground but he reaches out towards her and gets a hold of her ankles.

“Ouch!” she bangs the side of her face on the wooden floor as she goes down. But she isn’t about  to let him render her helpless again so she kicks him on the face and gets up the second time, this time much quicker and more agile.

“No! Come back here you bitch!” he shouts from inside the house as she bolts to the car. She gets in but realizes that he took the keys and is still in his person.

I can’t go back there to retrieve the keys. He’s going to come out here any second. Think!

She hears him get on his feet so she decides to get out and just make a run for it towards the woods. She sees him coming out of the door as she enters the thicket of trees on the right side of the house.

“You can run, but you can never hide!” he shouts, looking straight at her as she ploughs through the plants and trees in front of her.

 

 

Chapter VII

 

It’s been an hour and a half since Morrison dropped Cornelia at the subway station and around a little less than an hour since he received the dropped call.

“Are we done for today father? I really want to get home to check on Cornelia. She should have sent me a message by now.” Morrison checks on his phone again but still no messages from her. He tries calling her back after the dropped phone call but he couldn’t reach her. He tried again several minutes earlier but still nothing.

“Yes, of course, son. We can continue this on Monday. You can rest tomorrow. Go on your date with Cornelia. I’ll just stay for an hour more to make sure I’ve got this all in my head. I can’t really take this home to your mother. You know how she is about me working too much.” Nick loves his wife, Linda, and eventhough he’s had his earlier mistakes, she stuck by him through all his indiscretions, and is continuously sticking by him even in the midst of the scandal he’s caught up at the moment.

She was a feisty Southern bell with a head full of knowledge and a quick wit, when he met her at her father’s welcoming party almost forty years ago. They were very young then. She was seventeen and he was twenty-two, fresh out of College and wanting to make it big in the business industry. Thanks to his father, John McElroy, Nick was able to break through the high-society scene and gathered connections early on. The McElroy name is an old player of the business world, starting from the shipping industry during the early 1900’s then venturing out in other business ventures throughout the years. The recession hit them hard and the early businesses the family put up toppled and died along with many companies during those years. Nick’s dad, a young lad then, did not give up, however. He persevered in continuing with what his father started and started small. He was patient in building up the shipping business back up and after the recession, he hit it big by scoring a huge deal as the main provider of ships to the US Navy. He was commissioned by the government to provide the ships the country needed during the war. He was chosen because of his precision and quality of his work.

The dream started to be feasible again for the McElroys and with Nick growing up during that time, he, too, was trained in the best way to ensure success and continuance of the family business.

The moment he saw Linda, he was awestruck. Not because he wanted her but because of her strong-willed spirit. He was never used to women who took the lead in things so Linda was a bucket of cold water dumped in face. That’s how he felt then. Not that he did not approve of women being empowered, but Linda had a very stubborn and manipulative streak in her that he disliked. But he had no choice but to court her and make her his wife because it would strengthen the business that Linda’s father and he were starting to build. By that time, Nick’s father has fallen ill and it was his last dying wish for Nick to marry advantageously, which Linda was perfect for.

All those years afterwards, Nick learned to get used to Linda and her ways, and even loved her, eventually. She made sure that he stayed with her even if she couldn’t give what he wanted the most, an heir. So she looked for a way to still give him what he wanted so he would stay with her. That was when she adopted Morrison. It was a happy day for the McElroys when Morrison entered their lives and he has been the son they have always wanted. Nick never found any reason to leave Linda after Morrison was adopted because he was content with what he had. After all, Linda still forgave him for his previous mistakes and he felt that he owed it to her to stay for the sake of Morrison, and to preserve what they have built in their business.

“Ah, you know mother. She gets worried when you work late. So when she sees you working still at home, she just loses it.” Morrison chuckles as Nick laughed with him.

“Your mother is truly something. Well, you better go ahead then. I think I’d better stay for just thirty minutes. I wouldn’t want to hit traffic especially since people are still doing their last minute shopping for the holidays. By the way, would you be taking Cornelia over at Christmas? Your mother would be glad to meet her.”

“Yeah, I think I will. I’m sure Cornelia would love to meet mother as well. I’ll ask her tonight. Well, gotta go dad. See you on Monday.” He starts gathering his things but before he goes out the door, he looks back and says, “Dad?”

“Yes, son?” Nick answers without looking up.

“No matter what happens, I know you’re innocent and we’ll get through this.”

Nick looks up from the papers he was trying to read and smiles sadly at his son. “Thank you for the vote of confidence, Morrison. I sure hope that the people believe me as well when I go to the stand next year.”

Morrison nods and leaves his father’s office.

It’s a cool afternoon as Morrison steps out of the building, clutching his small briefcase and drawing his coat closer to his neck and body. He is thinking about going to Cornelia’s apartment first to check on her before going to his own place to change for the evening but changes his mind because that would mean he would take two trips back to Manhattan. He decides to cruise by his place and take a quick shower before continuing to Cornelia’s apartment.

She’s probably asleep or something that’s why she’s not picking up. Her mobile’s battery might have died while she was sleeping. I’m sure she’d call me if something was up.

He locates his car in the parking lot and gets in. Right before he closes his door, he sees someone lurking in the shadows, two cars behind him. If he didn’t look up and check his rearview mirror, he wouldn’t have seen it. He carefully watches as the man moves from the second car to the next, moving closer to him. He’s not sure why this guy is acting suspicious but he’s not about to get caught off guard. He readies the baseball bat he always stores in the backseat of his sports car as the guy comes up close to his window.

He quickly gets out, sending the guy sprawling down on the ground while he raises his baseball bat.

“What do you want?! Why did you sneak up on my car, huh?! Answer me!” Morrison shouts at the figure on the ground who let out a moan.

“Ouch! Relax man.” The dark-haired man stands up and raises his hands in the air. “Don’t hit me with your bat and stop shouting, will you? I’m here to deliver a message, okay.”

Morrison looks dubiously at the guy, who looks no more than sixteen or seventeen years old, and seeing that he does not have any weapon on him and his hands are raised above his head, he lowers the bat to hip level.

“What message? What are you talking about?”

“Look man. I was paid fifty bucks to give you this piece of paper. Don’t ask me who it was because I didn’t get to see his face. So here’s the message.” He hands Morrison a clean white 11 x 3 envelope and leaves.

“Hey, wait!” Morrison yells after the teenager but he was already gone.

He gets inside his car and neatly opens the envelope. It has a folded piece of paper inside. As he reads the message that is printed in black bold letters, he starts to fear the worst for Cornelia.

“We have her.

Don’t alert the cops or we would know.

If you want to see her alive again, you have to give us the documents you are working on regarding Nick McElroy’s case and don’t even think of making copies and using them in court.

If you want to see her alive ever again, follow these instructions carefully.

Bring the documents to the address below by midnight tonight or we will feed her to the wolves.”

He stares at the black bold letters for a few seconds, trying to absorb what the message means. He is sure that the person who sent the message was referring to Cornelia.

So that explains the dropped call! Oh God, she was trying to get help and I was a fucking asshole for not picking up right away! Fuck!

He thinks about what he needs to do first and decides to check Cornelia’s apartment first. It might be a bluff. Maybe his father’s enemies are afraid of the evidence they recently uncovered and has cooked up a scam to trick him into giving them the documents proving Nick’s innocence.

He starts the engine and races out of the parking lot. He reaches Cornelia’s apartment in less than half an hour in his haste and runs towards the apartment building.

He bumps into Barret as he is coming out of the lobby’s door.

“Hey! Watch it!” Barret shouts as Morrison’s shoulder hits him on his way inside. Morrison didn’t recognize him because he had his hat on and his shades.

“Barret! Just the guy I was looking for.”

Barret gets taken aback by Morrison’s statement that he raises an eyebrow at him. “Oh really? Well, I am not particularly fond of you right now so whatever it is, I am not interested.” He starts to go down the steps but Morrison stops him.

“Do you know where Cornelia is? Have you seen her today, apart from… earlier?”

“You mean apart from seeing you almost naked? Believe me, it’s not a pretty picture.” Barret seems to have taken things in a positive way because he can kid around about it, which is a relief for Morrison. He wouldn’t have time to deal with a jealous landlord.

“Ha ha! I bet you had a field day,” he chuckles a little remembering his face when he saw him with only a thin blanket on, then seriously asks if he has seen her again.

“No, I haven’t seen her back here. I think I saw her leave earlier but I’ve been working here all afternoon and I have not seen her walk in. Have you tried her door yet? What’s the problem, anyway? Have you lost her already?” Barret likes teasing Morrison when it comes to Cornelia.

At first, when he saw Morrison half-naked in Cornelia’s apartment, it was like his heart was wrenched from his chest and he needed to get out of that place right away. He walked out of the building disappointed and a little bit heartbroken. He was sure that he and Cornelia made a connection – first with their candid date in the park, then the one they had last night. But as it turned out, he got beaten at the finish line. He knew he shouldn’t have let Morrison take her to the hospital. He should have done that like any normal and concerned date, but he backed off because he couldn’t even defend her from her attacker, much less take care of her wound. He always wants the diplomatic way of things but sometimes, it doesn’t always work… and it doesn’t always impress the girls.

“That’s probably why my ex-wife left me,” he thought as he walked with heavy footsteps towards his house the night before. Cornelia just proved to him that women prefer the strong-willed and dominant types. Of course, they also go for the ones with deeper and heavier pockets. He thought Cornelia was really into him…

He spent the night contemplating on his life. Where was it taking him? He was doing well with his businesses and his hobby, furniture making, has finally taken off, but there was something missing. That’s when he decided to text his ex and she responded quickly. They got to talking on the phone and he actually told her about his failed would-have-been-great relationship with Cornelia. She gave him some encouraging words not to give up on love and turned the situation around for him. They shared some laughs and reminisced about their relationship before. At the end of the night, he felt better and was thankful for his ex’s time.

“I haven’t been to her unit yet but I’m on my way now. Say, just in case I need to get in there to check on her, you wouldn’t have the keys to it right?” Morrison is hoping she’s there and the message was just a hoax but he has to find out for sure so he needs to get inside her place.

“I guess, but is this really an emergency or you two just had a lover’s spat and she’s not letting you in?”

“I wish it was but this is serious. I received a threat telling me they have her but I’ve received these kinds of threats before and so far, none has actually turned out to be true. I’m hoping this one turns out to be a bluff too.

Barret turns serious and nods, “Okay, if that’s the case, I’ll go with you to check on her. Lead the way.”

They both get inside the elevator as Morrison presses her floor. They reach her floor and starts knocking on her door. After several minutes, Barret gets his spare keys from the lobby office and they open her door slowly.

“Cornelia? Are you in here?” Morrison goes in first, stealthily walking across the living room, and looking for any signs of struggle or any mishap that might have happened in her apartment.

“Cornelia? Cornelia? Are you okay?” Barret chimes in, going to the kitchen to check on her. The apartment is enough for one tenant that’s why there were almost no families in the area. Barret wanted to save on space and make more individual rooms, specifically targeting the young working men and women in the city. The other buildings that he built in the other parts of Brooklyn are bigger and houses families. These are located farther away from Manhattan and other bigger cities, which is very conducive for families to live in.

They comb her apartment, every nook and cranny for several minutes until they converge at the door and look at each other, both thinking the same thing.

“She’s not here.”

“Well, weren’t you with her earlier? What did she tell you? Was she going somewhere else before going home?” Barret asks after Morrison told him that she went to his office that afternoon.

“No, she didn’t tell me anything. She just said she’ll go straight home. She was kind of in a hurry when I dropped her off at the station, though.”

“Well, what about her phone? Have you tried calling or sending a message?”

“I did. She called me earlier but when I picked up, I only heard the dial tone, like she hung up just before I picked up. I sent her tons of messages already, especially after receiving that envelope. God! Where could they have taken her?”

“The other most important question is, ‘Who are they?’, in the first place? Do you have any enemies? Anyone who would want to harm you or anyone close to you?” Barret looks concerned, mostly for Cornelia’s safety.

Morrison sinks to the sofa and rakes his fingers through his hair, feeling frustrated and helpless. “No! I don’t know! Shit! I should’ve brought her home. Fuck! I am such an idiot! She had just been taken hostage and hurt last night and now, she’s nowhere. Where would I find her, Barret?”

Barret remains calm and starts picking up his phone. Morrison sees it and grabs his phone exclaiming, “No! The letter said not to call the cops or he’ll feed her to the wolves! I don’t know exactly what it means but I’m sure it’s not something good so please! No cops!” he pleads, looking into Barret’s eyes with a look of horror.

It’s the first time Morrison felt fear, not for himself, but for Cornelia. He doesn’t care what happens to him and wishes that they took him instead of her. She doesn’t have anything to do with his father’s case but she has fallen victim to the enemy. He doesn’t know who the enemy is and he’s sure that his father doesn’t know yet either, at least according to what he’s told him so far and the evidence they’ve gathered. The pieces of evidence the private investigators have uncovered were just bank documents that have lists of private accounts offshore. There were a bunch of names in there but they might be bogus names but those numbered accounts are essential in the investigation. They are scheduled to turn over the documents on Monday to his father’s lawyers to further authenticate them and possibly get a warrant to search the numbered accounts listed.

Now, the enemy, or whoever is framing his father, is asking for those documents so it just shows that it’s a legitimate source of information.

I can’t give it to them. If I do, it would set us back to zilch! We wouldn’t have anything against them anymore.

They can’t make copies and he’s sure that they might have already changed or transferred the funds elsewhere and that would mean that they would still lose the case. What boggles him is how could they know that the evidence has reached Nick? Do they have investigators of their own?

“There’s a lawsuit against my father and we have recently uncovered some evidence. That’s what they want. They want to retrieve the evidence we gathered. I bet to destroy it once and for all.”

“Yeah, I heard about that on the news. So, your father was really set up, huh? Well, this only means that they are threatened. They want you to lose, obviously, and so far, they are willing to do anything to get what they want. What do you plan to do then?” Barret sits on the chair opposite the sofa and folds his hands in front of him, patiently waiting for Morrison’s answer.

“God! I don’t know man! I wasn’t really prepared for this kind of shit to go down. I mean, if they were going to make a move to hurt my father, they would have taken me instead or my mother, right? But why Cornelia?” Morrison had some time in the military, fighting for his country and his home, but he wasn’t trained in negotiations or dealing with kidnappers. He was always the guy who goes in and does the rescuing, not the talking.

“Well, if these guys are serious and they’re probably are if it involves the lawsuit is being slapped with, they could be watching your every move. They might be surveilling you from right outside your house or office, and even here. They know Cornelia and what she means to you, that’s why they took her instead of you. Do you know anyone you trust who could help us find her?”

“Us? Why? Are you coming?” Morrison looks up from starting at the floor and stares at Barret, wondering if he what he said was serious or was he just being polite.

“Yeah, of course I’m coming. Look, I get it, you and Cornelia are dating but she’s one of my tenants, we’re good friends – at least I’d like to think so -, and we went on two dates – well, the first one was not “actually” a date but a get together at the park. Bottom line; I care for her as well and since you can’t go to the cops, which was what I first thought of doing, then I’m coming with you to find out where she’s being detained. But the two of us won’t be enough. We need someone, an expert at tracking people.”

“I was trained in combat but I don’t think I can be of much use in here. If what you said about them watching me is true, I can’t be lurking around with you. I have to be seen in the open, doing what they asked me to. And I don’t know anybody else who can help us…”

“I do,” a voice from the door answers.

Morrison and Barret nearly jump up from their seats as James enters the threshold. They didn’t even notice the door opening earlier. They were so caught up in their conversation and worrying about Cornelia that they didn’t hear the footsteps from behind the door and the door finally opening.

“W-who are you?” Morrison asks while Barret continues to stare at the guy. He looks to be in his fifties or maybe sixties but he looks healthy for an old guy. He has graying hair and shades on and he walks with a cane. His coat covers him from head to foot, all six foot of him and although he is smaller than both Barret and Morrison, he has a commanding presence and he looks like a guy that you don’t want to mess with. His broad shoulders heave as he looks around the room as if trying to assess the situation. Another man is behind him with his back turned against them like he’s keeping watch from the outside.

“My name is James and I am an old friend of Cornelia’s. She tried calling me this afternoon but, unfortunately, I was indisposed. I came here as quickly as I could for I know that it must be an emergency that’s why she called me. Who are you?” James asks but he already knows who the two gentlemen were. Kevin has filled him in with the details of the men who are close to Cornelia at the moment.

James was in one of his chemotherapy sessions when Cornelia called. He’s been battling his disease for quite some time but he has never told anybody about it. His cancer started a few years back, before he set out and looked for Cornelia. It was actually one of the reasons why he started looking for Julie’s daughter. Although Julie never talked to him for almost ten years, she was still his daughter and Cornelia is still his granddaughter. He only wanted what was best for Julie but she never listened to him and went against his wishes of her never seeing the older McElroy. She said she was in love and wants to be with the man, but James knew that Nick was already married at the time and he would never have left his wife for Julie, not even if they had a child, which they did. Julie’s pride has prevented her from sharing Cornelia with him and his anger has stopped him many times from reaching out to his only daughter. He has never told Cornelia the truth.

Morrison and Barret both tell him their names and who they are as James finds out more about Cornelia’s last moments before she was taken.

“Do you know of any place she might have gone to? Because from the looks of this place, she wasn’t abducted here. It must have been somewhere else. Have the kidnappers contacted you again?” he turns to Morrison.

“No, not yet. I am supposed to give them some very important documents at midnight in an address written on this paper,” he hands the piece of paper to James for him to inspect.

James gets the small piece of paper and reads it. He calls Kevin over and shows him the letter.

“I know this place. It’s over by the docs near the river. I can take you there now,” Kevin says looking serious as he reads the address again.

“No, they might be watching us. We must leave separately and go to different directions.” James instructs the three men of what they needed to do and after a few minutes of questions flying and answers being thrown back, they disperse. Morrison leaves first, heading over to his office, while Barret heads over to his house, behaving like nothing was amiss.

James and Kevin take their time getting out of the apartment building. James even pretends to feel sick by leaning on to his cane and pressing his fingers to his forehead. Kevin brings the car around and they drive off.

 

“The building is clear, Madam. Nothing looks suspicious from here. McElroy took the bait and it looks like he is heading back to the McElroy building back in Manhattan. Should I follow suit?” a man talks into his cellphone quietly, his eyes still trained at the apartment building.

“Yes, follow McElroy and make sure he doesn’t go to the cops about this,” the woman from the other line talks into the receiver and nods absentmindedly.

“Copy. Following McElroy now.”

 

Morrison pulls away from the curb and starts going to the city. He notices a black sedan begin tailing him and he knows that it must be them. He takes his time driving, hoping for traffic so James and Barret could have more time on their hands trying to locate Cornelia. He’s acting as the bait, luring the enemy away from the place that they needed to check.

Kevin and James believe that Cornelia might be detained near the drop off area listed on the piece of paper. They think that whoever has her is keeping her near the place so it would be easier to make the exchange, if they are even going to honor their word.

It’s a chance they would have to take for her sake. They have to try everything to rescue Cornelia.

Morrison reaches his office and strolls casually into Nick’s office. Thankfully, Nick is not around so he grabs the documents that they were looking over earlier and heads down to the ground. He still has plenty of time before midnight. It’s only eight o’clock in the evening so he decides to go home to his apartment to kill some time until he needed to get to the address.

James and Kevin on the other hand, are heading over to the drop off point. It was near a river on the outskirts of town, near the station of Flushing Ave. James is sure that Cornelia was taken in the vicinity. It would be hard to transport an unwilling passenger unless she was drugged or kept in the trunk. It would have been difficult to do that because there are people about.

“Where do you want me to go James? Should we go straight to the docks? Do you think she’s there or somewhere close?” Kevin asks, looking back at him while he drives to their destination.

“I know she’s near that place, Kevin, so we better try to make some rounds around the area to find out her exact location.”

“Okay, got ya’. I know that there are many abandoned places there, especially some cabins near the woods just across the river. She might be there somewhere. If she ever escaped, the woods is the best place for her to lose her captors. It has lost of trees and many places for her to hide.”

“I’m sure she’s found a way to escape. Cornelia is a fighter and she would never allow herself to be trapped in a helpless situation.” They reach the place and start driving around the area.

Barret fidgets around his house, still trying to stop himself from going over to the drop off place but James had specifically told him to stay there and not to endanger himself or cause any distractions for them. They have to appear as if they are not aware of the situation that’s why he went back to his house and Morrison went back to his office.

“This waiting is killing me!” He grabs his jacket and his keys, pushes open his door and gets inside his truck. He’s waited long enough. He needs to get in on the action and do something to rescue Cornelia. The truck sputters to life and he drives out of his driveway.

 

Meanwhile, Cornelia crouches down on the muddy road, trying very hard to conceal herself from the man who abducted her. Her face hurts from the fall she took earlier and her body is shivering from the cold evening air. She’s been in that position for the last fifteen minutes, trying very hard not to move an inch because her captor might hear her movements.

Finally, she couldn’t hold her position any longer and decides to sit up and look around. She suddenly hears a twig break from behind her and the words that sends chills down her spine.

“There you are…”

She whips around to look at who had spoken but blackness engulfs her like the night, making her fall hard to the ground.

The next time she awakes, she will never be the same again…

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