“Senator Dupree, let me introduce you to my fiancee, Clementine,” Gabriel says, as he shakes the hand of the grey-haired politician sipping from a glass of champagne.
“Hi, Senator Dupree. So nice to meet you,” I greet him.
Gabriel and the senator launch into a conversation about his upcoming campaign, and I drown it out. Instead of listening to their talk of donations, I scan the party filled with men in suits and women adorning their arms. Every man in a suit has a few men standing guard beside them, ready to do their bidding. At least that’s what I think they are.
Even Gabriel has a few men staying close, but not too close. I people watch for a few minutes before I spot a picture that calls to me.
My feet move on their own, until I’m standing right before it. Blues, reds, yellows, and greens dance together in a playful banter of wits and strength. The reds are winning, taking up most of the canvas with their heavy brush strokes.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” a man behind me asks with a thick Southern drawl.
I peek over my shoulder, to see a lean man with longer than average sandy-blond hair and a mustache to match, holding a glass of some brown liquor on the rocks. He’s older than me, by about twenty years, and has a large set of brown eyes that resemble an owl. “Reminds me of sex.”
I widen my eyes. “Excuse me?”
He laughs a rich, hearty laugh. “Doesn’t it look like a canvas filled with a lot of angry sex to you?”
I chance a peek over at Gabriel who still chats away to a group of people. I stare back at the painting, wondering if it indeed looks like sex. It’s been so long since I’ve even had sex, but I remember the limo ride here. “Yes, it kind of does. Like the colors are all fighting for their own presence.”
The man smiles. “Precisely.” He studies me for a moment. “You’re marrying Gabriel Prince, right?”
I smile. “Yes. That’s right.”
He assesses me, taking a sip of his drink. “Bishop Blackstone sends his best wishes.”
My heart stops. Everything around me moves in slow motion. “What?”
Before the man can say anything more, Gabriel is once again at my side with his hand resting on the small of my back. And I have to say, it makes me feel safe.
“What are we talking about here?” Gabriel asks with a smile, essentially staking his claim over me. But, for once I don’t mind it.
I welcome it, actually.
“Sex,” the man says.
I swallow and blink.
Gabriel takes a moment before he answers. “I don’t think I’ve caught your name.” Gabriel holds out his hand, ready for the man to answer.
The man shakes his hand. “Names aren’t important around here.”
I don’t dare mention that this bushy old man mentioned Bishop Blackstone.
I purse my lips into a thin line, hoping more than anything the man with the big moustache walks away.
After a minute, my wish comes true, he winks at me and walks away with another hearty laugh.
“What did he say to you?” Gabriel asks as soon as the man is out of ear shot.
I shake my head, and flourish my hand. “Oh, nothing. He was telling me how this painting is like angry sex on a canvas. I really like it.” I can feel myself beginning to ramble. I sometimes ramble when I’m nervous, and … “I need a drink.”
Just as I say the words, a server passes with a silver tray of champagne glasses. Gabriel grabs two and hands me one.
“Find out who that was,” Gabriel says to one of his men who appears out of nowhere.
“That’s not necessary,” I say. “He was just a harmless old man.” But, I’m sure he’s not harmless. He most likely works for Bishop, and that’s one thing I don’t want Gabriel to discover.
I know Bishop.
I’ve known him for many years.
And he’s not a good guy.
He’s the type of man your mother warns you about when you’re young. The boogie man who comes into your home and steals everything until you’re left with nothing. Only, Bishop comes into your life, stripping you down, until you’re left with a shell of the woman you used to be.
Sometimes people sell their souls to the devil.
And Bishop owns many souls.
He travels the world. He’s into export/imports, or something like that.
Gabriel’s dark eyes roam over me, thinking, contemplating, and I can see the exact moment he makes a snap decision to trust me. “Ok, nevermind, Jonas,” he says to the same man standing at his side.
I release an audible breath, trying my best to paint on a fake smile. “Thank you.”
“I have to talk to that man over there,” Gabriel tells me, pointing to a bald man across the room. “Think you can stay out of trouble?” He winks.