43. House Visit
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In her bathroom, Sena stopped in front of the wall mirror to check on her face. There were no dark circles under her eyes, she doesn’t have pimples and thankfully, her face is as healthy as can be. She looked at the tube of lipstick but then decided against it. With a light brush, she only dabbed her lips with a light gloss and combed her hair with her fingers, then she paused. She refused to admit that she was primping because of Nicholas. 

Walking down the stairs, she saw him sitting on the balcony enjoying the wind behind the glass wall. Thankfully the awkwardness in the elevators was gone quickly. Passing through the living room, Sena couldn’t help but turn her head to the dining area. April placed the tray with steeping tea on a gorgeous Meissen set over the table then took it on the way. 

“Is tea alright with you?” She smiled, placing the cups on the low table and began serving.  

Nicholas stood when he saw her approach, “Warm tea is perfect, thank you. The wind is cold up here.” 

“Would you like a blanket too?” Sena joked.

He shook his head and began unwrapping the box. A small fancy cake that looked like an antique jewellery box came into sight. Topped with sugar crystals and chocolate ribbons, Sena couldn’t help but smile. 

“For me?”

He looked into her eyes with a teasing smile. “Unless you don’t want it...”

“Thank you!”

“I was afraid you wouldn’t like sweets.” For this little cake, he had to sneakily enter a dessert shop full of women and nearly fought with a grumpy kid.

“I like it very much…”

Sena realized that he did not open the box and sat here enduring the wind until she came down to surprise her this way. Although he always picks on her, this guy has impeccable manners. Seeing his smug appearance, it appears that he was so satisfied with the result so she tempered her silly smile. To compensate for his efforts, Sena held back and did not immediately attack the lovely little desert; she took the small knife and sliced him a portion first before stabbing the rest with the fork. 

The oozing flavours of bitter chocolate, cream and crisp fruits instantly filled her mouth making her squint in delight. How long has it been since she ate such a delicious cake! Too bad it was so good she can only butcher its appearance. While she ate happily, she let Nicholas tell her about his last appointment together with Michael making him dominate the conversation. 

“This time it took almost a week. There were plenty of things to deal with a foreign company.” He said naturally. “We met up with a new business partner and fortunately, he agreed to invest in our east project seeing the current flow in the market.”

Seth Collier did agree to invest, though they do not need additional capital, adding an ally is always welcome.  

“That sounds amazing.” She praised glancing at him. “I assume Mike is back at this hour too?”

“Mike?” and she sounded so at ease calling him so… 

“Yeah, what’s wrong?” 

“Nothing, I never thought you two were that close.” 

“I won’t snatch your concubine from you.” Sena snorted, giving him a dirty look. 

Nicholas choked on tea. “I’m not--”

“By the way, Layla’s school just started. He might get called up by the academy to confirm guardianship.” 

He answered with a faint hum. So she was concerned about that. He then pretended to sip on his tea to hide his expression. 

Michael returned home as well, to her amazement their work ‘overseas’ had been wrapped up and done so he had more time dealing with their current partnership. The groundbreaking ceremony for the east construction is about to take place next month. The three of them must attend to show support and for good luck. She didn’t know why she felt expectant and a little disappointed when he only kept talking about business and too little of himself. 

Sena wondered: Did I leave him a shadow since he heard me say he is a playboy?

As if reading her thoughts, Nicholas inserted some anecdotes of himself. 

“By the way, you seem to have a very poor impression of me.” He grinned, crossing his arms on his chest. 

With her eyes dodging, Sena forked a large bite of cake to prevaricate. “Do I?”

He angled his chin up. Issuing a challenge. Dare to lie? 

“I might have exaggerated a bit…” she cleared her throat unnaturally.  

“That you did. For one, the women I dated could not circle the globe.”

She nodded.

“But I did date a lot.”

“A lot you mean?”

“Don’t count.”

“Oh… No wonder you’re so slick.” She muttered.

Seeing her not being repulsed by his admission he felt warm inside. But her silly grin made his fingers itch so he smeared cream to her nose. 

Sena groaned angrily then grabbed a tissue while giving him a death glare, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude.”

Of course, he knew. She was the combination of sassy and cool, the kind of girl he can talk openly with. In their circle, he was most disgusted by pretentious women who are clearly adults but want to project the holy mother image. Women who come up to you just because they see you the same as the next limited edition item they can flaunt. Being admired is flattering but that's as long as it doesn't involve schemes.

“Alright, alright, you’re not a prude." He gave in then shooting her a look: Don’t I know that of all people?

The table jumped when she kicked his shin below, he should be thinking something inappropriate. 

“Thank goodness for that bottle of tequila.” He drawled out then smiling at her meaningfully making her heart skip. 

Oh Lord… See? He’s not the least bit embarrassed but she is! 

She stabbed the remaining cake, imagining it was his arm, “You really are not shy around women, are you?”

“No honey, I guess the month-long stay in the ward with only a catheter and a blanket has shaved off my remaining dignity.”

She stopped eating, “What happened?”

“Shoulder wound, surgery and a leg fracture,” Nicholas replied drolly but she felt he did not want to elaborate so she did not press him. Although she was itching to know what could have sent him there and with such injuries.

Moving on, he mentioned a few of his bizarre travel experiences. Like sitting next to a tribal shaman in the airplane enduring deluxe fortune-telling about fate. It was one of the instances that made Sena laugh. Imagine Nicholas Vaughn-Aiguille, sitting obediently and could not utter a word of complaint. It was pitiful and hilarious at the same time. 

Of course, she was keenly aware that he was trying to make the conversation very light by tearing open his most shameful secrets. It must have been killing him but the evening was enjoyable nonetheless.

Nicholas thinks he did okay too despite the sweat on his palm and his lousy storytelling. 

At the entrance of his apartment, he saw the disappointed man inside the mirror staring back at him as if he was a loser. He was supposed to check about her situation as Leo asked but it was somehow thrown at the back of his head without him noticing. That was the whole point of him buying that cake in the first place! 

Annoyed slightly, he gave his head a yank. He had not been a person who pestered women he’s interested with but since meeting her, it was as if the childish slightly autistic second personality he never knew existed broke away and kicked the calm and rational him. 

Nicholas smiled self-deprecatingly then went straight to the bathroom. In the mirror, he caught sight of his right shoulder and remembered the feeling of those soft fingers trailing at the scar.  

He stopped playing around in his third year in college. His parents thought he had serious problems when he suddenly reformed and quickly summoned the private doctor to check his condition. He even thought the same as well. But no, it was merely a change of interest. Later his excess energy was shaved off by his unusual hobbies, some of it were devoted to business giving him no time to take good care of his lower part.  

Over time he got used to it until one encounter. Nicholas knew he was too young to lay six feet under and give his parents grief. He had always been an adrenaline junkie, when skydiving, spelunking and rock climbing in his senior year could no longer scratch his itch, he went ahead and signed up for a private organization. The kind of rush pumping into his bloodstream when he dodged bullets and subduing criminals makes him feel so alive. 

But it was a secret only he knew because despite having that wild streak, he did not want to worry his family. Especially his grandfather who was very looking forward to seeing his great-grandchildren toddle around the ancestral estate. 

So he took a vacation when an acquaintance sent him a message to attend his wedding. Perhaps the most uncalculated move he ever did. With dark hair flying, snot dripping and eyes swollen like walnuts, he met her. Sena Erde.

The girl on the billboard. At that time, perhaps three to two years ago when he was down on his belly holding a sniper rifle. He could see vapour in his breath then he looked through the scope and saw her. Light green eyes sleepy as if looking at her beloved. With her glorious hair pulled back by the wind and her slim hand wearing a custom-made diver’s watch, her shapely body wrapped in a long-sleeved backless swimsuit he very much liked. 

Anyone who had seen that ad might have felt the same as him. Like a wet behind the ears boy happy to see his first crush but was too undeserving of the heavenly beauty. It was pure untainted admiration. 

Those slightly parted lips were dewy and lusciously pink. Like ripe fruits. Unfortunately, it was unattainable.  

Surprisingly three years forward they would cross paths. The beauty was far from the impression he had. She made him laugh more than a comedy show. The woman wanted to project an air of a pampered snotty rich girl; she was so prickly he itched to poke some more. But she deflected his overtures like how an adult would.

She clumsily tried to push him away afraid that someone would notice that fragility. But, he noticed anyway since he’d been watching all the time.

What made little miss prickly?

Her life was close to perfect. But having everything at your fingertips does not mean security Nicholas knew that firsthand.

“I know you are afraid.” He told her simply when she sniffed in front of him like an abandoned kitty. “The changes might have been abrupt and it’s normal to fumble all the way.”

When her mother died she confessed she was frightened she didn’t know how to proceed next. All her life her mother had been there, Linda and Leo were like her second parent but Paula’s death awakened her. Someday they will form their own family. As to what extent they are willing to stay by her side and love her?

She panicked. And her way to test that was to rebel. To see if they will stay with her all the way. She needed security. And they did. He never took her as a stubborn kind, a little bratty yes but not unreasonable. 

Sena told it in a way as if she could already foresee her future. It was strange but he could feel she was not making that up. According to her, everything failed because of her deliberate provocations. Enemies saw that gap as an opportunity to target them. 

She threw away the image of a bratty girl after telling him that story.

“You’ll make a really good shrink.” She remarked with a wobbly smile.

Nicholas shuddered in horror, “Gads, no.”

When the atmosphere began to lighten and he saw another side of her, he began to realize that he wasn’t as indifferent as he thought he was before. Because right at that moment all his thoughts were concentrated on how to hug and comfort the snot-nosed crying girl.

Then one thing leads to another. He’d be really impotent if he didn’t have the slightest reaction when she’s all sweaty and messed up under him. Five years of abstinence was broken. His elders can rejoice now. 

He thought they would never see each other again after that night. There will be no further interactions.

But maybe she was destined to disturb his life and he was the same as hers. 

Nicholas took a bath and lay like a dead fish on his bed. Sena’s face eating the cake almost in one breath made him chuckle. How long has she not eaten sweets? He remembered the lollipop she was sucking on earlier. His train of thought was so messed up that all he could think of was kissing Sena Erde’s pink and dewy lips. 

The same lips he saw on the billboard some years ago. 

Urgh. Calm down Nicholas, you are not a teenage virgin! 

Since he discovered a little of her happiness, it seems he has to take note of her preference carefully. With a smile, he swiped his phone on and sent a text message to his assistant who was probably in the middle of a good dream. 

[President: Give me a list of highly recommended dessert shops around the city in my office first thing tomorrow morning.]

Jacob: Zzz… 

 

***

 

On another side of the capital, in the middle of the dance floor, where LED and strobe lights of neon flashed in a dizzying beat, there were bodies after bodies twisting and gyrating to the rhythm of the wild music. 

Club Amber is one of the favourite hangouts of the rich night owls. Meribeth sat on the bar without sipping on the dark red cocktail she was holding. Contrary to the energized crowd, her expression looked dull and nervous. 

A handsome American approached, “Would you like another drink?”

Meribeth awkwardly thanked him and said she was waiting for someone. The American smiled and left knowing she wasn’t interested. Half an hour passed but there was still no sign of the person. She thought he wouldn’t come so she grabbed her purse to leave. 

“You’re Maya’s cousin?” 

The deep emotionless voice made her look up. Dresden was tall, she barely reached his shoulders, from that angle, it looked as if he was staring at her mockingly. Her inside tightened. 

“I am.” 

“Follow me.” 

From the noisy dance floor, she was guided along the empty corridors to the elevator leading to the VIP rooms on the fourth floor. Club Amber precedes its reputation as one of the bests, she noticed that there several passages connected to the buildings around the area. Up ahead are rows and rows of high-end fashion brands that stay open even at this hour to cater to the patrons of several clubs and casinos below. 

Meribeth gripped her purse apprehensively. Why all of a sudden Maya’s boyfriend came to her? She was busy at the university when she received an anonymous text. She did not want to entertain it at first but she was put under pressure when the person sent another message demanding she cooperates. 

Reaching their destination, her back was already rolling with sweat. 

She kept on thinking where she could have offended this man but nothing came to her head. Aside from refusing Maya’s invitation a few times, she could not recall an instance that summoned his wrath.  

“I heard you haven’t been in contact with Maya lately?” Dresden asked, occupying the chair across from her. 

“I was busy…”

“I see.” 

He observed Meribeth Martin briefly and lost interest quickly. She is timid as a mouse and fidgety, far from the file he read. She’s the daughter of Mr Luz’s sister, a cousin to both Maya and Sena. When the Luz family raised their status, Meribeth also received the favour of her uncle, settling her and her mother to an extravagant lifestyle. 

“I came to ask you a few questions, I hope Ms Martin can answer me honestly.” 

“As long as it's within my capability,” Meribeth replied, trying to calm herself down. 

“Good, don’t worry, I only want to know more about Maya. As someone close to her, you must know a lot, correct?”

She swallowed. What does he mean by going to her instead of knowing Maya personally? 

 

I was wondering if you would want to know a little about Nicholas so here it is... by the way I have a question. What kind of ML do you like?

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