The Brinks truck pulled up to the museum, loaded Johnny’s collection, and pulled off. An unknown man, who had been staking out the location, followed the truck to see where it was going. He was surprised to learn that the truck stopped in front of a residential building. The truck could have stopped to pick up something from the building, but instead, the collection was unloaded. Hmm, he thought, and pulled off.
Apollo sat at his desk looking over more contracts. One by one, he read them all, and signed his name at the bottom. When he was finished, his stomach let out a huge growl and demanded to be fed. He looked at his watch and noticed that it was lunch time. He thought that he would take his team out to lunch if they weren’t busy, so starting with Jayden; he walked to his office and knocked on the door. “Hey, wanna go to lunch?”
“Sorry, I can’t I already have a lunch meeting scheduled.”
“That stuffed shirt from the bank?”
“Sounds exciting,” Apollo said sarcastically. “Have fun.” He turned and went to Pheonix’ office. Her door was closed, so he knocked opened the door, and stuck his head in.
Pheonix was on the phone. She shook her head. Apollo closed her door back and moved on the next office. To his surprise, Troya had a visitor.
“Nate, what are you doing here?” Apollo asked.
He turned around and grinned. “Oh hey, Apollo. This lovely lady called me and invited me to lunch.”
“Troya? Troya called you?”
Troya smirked. “Yes Apollo, I did. Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Oh no, I’m not trying to stop you,” Apollo chuckled. “Nate, you be careful with this one, she’s feisty.”
Nate grinned. “Just the way I like ’em.”
“Okay, you two have fun,” Apollo said, and went to the last office on his list. Though he was hungry, he didn’t want to eat lunch with Sateria alone. As it turns out, Jayden was right. He liked her more than he should. He knew that she trusted him the most out of anyone else on their team, and she would always come to him if she had a problem with anything. He needed to distance himself. This would help to keep his head clear, and not let him do something stupid. He decided that after this lunch, he wouldn’t ask her again. He secretly hoped that she was too busy to go. No such luck.
Sateria smiled at him from behind her desk, “Sure, where are we going?”
“Well, I was going to treat all of you to the Med Kitchen, but no one else can go. We can go somewhere else if you like.”
Sateria remembered going to the Med Kitchen a few times with Johnny. It was his favorite sandwich shop. “No, that’s fine. But it’s so far away from the office. We’ll never make it back on time.”
“On time for what? I don’t have any meetings today.”
“I do. I have a closing at two.”
“Oh, okay. Well we can eat somewhere closer if you like.”
“Um how about Cheesecake Factory?”
That was safe. Lot’s of people, and quick service. “Fine. Let’s go.”
Sateria grabbed her purse from the drawer and stood up. Her long wavy hair was down that day. She wore a black, white, and red floral printed tie front tank top with a short white skirt that showed off her legs. She moved across her office to grab her blazer, and Apollo nearly had a heart attack. Jayden’s workouts were defiantly changing Sateria’s body, and Apollo loved it. He continued to stare as she put on her blazer. She turned to find him staring.
“What’s the matter?” She asked.
“Oh, oh nothing. I was just trying to remember something. You ready?”
“Yes. What were you trying to remember?”
“Nothing. It’s not important.”
Sateria smiled. “Come on, let’s go.”
They made it to The Cheesecake Factory were seated immediately. The server gave them time to look over the huge menu, and came back to ask what they were eating.
“I’ll have the Mexican Tortilla Salad,” Sateria said smiling.
“And I’ll take the Grilled Rib-Eye Steak, medium well.” Apollo handed his menu back to the server.
“Okay, I’ll have that right out for you,” the server said, smiling.
“Mexican Tortilla Salad?” Apollo asked. “Why not eat something heartier?”
“Jayden would have a fit.”
“Really? How would he even know?”
“Well, he says people wear their meals like clothes. I ate some nachos for lunch last week and he said he could see the cheese dripping from my ass.”
Apollo let out a huge booming laugh.
“He then worked me out for an additional fifteen minutes to melt the cheese, he said.”
Apollo chuckled some more.
“It’s not funny, Apollo. He’s killing me in the gym.”
Apollo nodded. “I know. That’s because he likes you.”
Sateria shook her head. “Jayden Johns does not like me. He hates my guts. He only hangs out with me in the first place because you made him do it.”
“Maybe at first, but now, not so much. He is beginning to trust you. I’ve known him a long time, and well it usually doesn’t take him this long to trust anyone, but you’re wearing him down. The last one he had to learn to trust was Troya. Like you, she had to prove herself.”
“Well, when am I gonna get a chance to do that?”
“First we have to teach you how to shoot.”
“I don’t want to spend anymore time with Jayden than I have to. I want someone else to teach me.”
“Of course. If Pheonix isn’t busy, she can teach you.”
“Okay fine. We’ll ask her when we get back to work.”
“Are you really ready to go on a job with us?”
“If it will keep Jayden from torturing me, I’ll do it.”
Apollo nodded. “Okay.”
Pheonix agreed to help. “Sure. It’s about time you asked. But first I think we should all take a drive down to Olney and have a little fun down there first.”
“Olney?” Sateria asked, her eyes lighting up, looking up at Apollo.
He nodded. “You own twenty-four acres of land down there. And on it a very large house with a lake.”
“Johnny used to take us down there and we would play,” Pheonix added.
Sateria squinted. “Play? Play what?”
Sateria grinned. “Oh how fun!”
Pheonix looked up at Apollo. “So boss, your call. When do we get to go?”
“I’m not going.”
“Aww, why not?” Sateria asked, disappointed.
“I have too much to do around here. But if you want to go this weekend, you can. Just be back in the office on time Monday morning.”
“Come on Apollo, it will be fun,” Sateria said.
“Yeah, Apollo,” Pheonix agreed.
Thinking about the large lake that sat in front of the house and the beauty of the country, Apollo wasn’t going to take the chance that he could easily be alone with Sateria. He didn’t want that. He didn’t want to like her in the way Jayden suggested. He only wanted to be her friend. At least until he could prove to the rest of his friends that she didn’t kill Johnny. Until then he chose to keep his distance.
“I wish I could, but I have to work this weekend. You all go. I’ll go on the next trip.”
Pheonix knew something was bothering Apollo. He never passed up a trip to Johnny’s country house. He loved it there.
“All right I’m gonna hold you to that,” Sateria grinned. “Well, I have to get down the bank for my meeting. I’ll see you all later.”
Sateria walked out of the door, and Apollo attempted to follow her. Pheonix wasn’t having it.
“Oh no. Get back in here and close the door.”
“Pheonix I have to get back to work.”
“You leave my office and I’ll set your car on fire.”
Pheonix always threatened him, but he was never certain if she would actually make good on the treats. So with that in the back of his mind, he always submitted. “Okay, okay,” he replied closing the door.
“Have a seat.”
Apollo sat down.
“Okay, why don’t you tell me what’s going on with you?” Pheonix asked. She already had an idea; she just wanted to hear him say it.
“Nothing. I just can’t go this weekend. I have meetings next week that I have to get ready for.”
“Meetings, with whom?” Apollo had no answer. Pheonix knew him long enough to know when he was trying to get out of something. “Just as I thought. No meetings. So what are you going to be doing this weekend when we are all out having some fun?”
Realizing his friend had him dead to rights, he admitted his guilt. “I have to stay away from her, Pheonix. I don’t want to get close to anyone right now.”
Pheonix nodded. “So you like Sateria more than you should, and you think a weekend away from her is gonna save you?”
“It’ll help, yeah.”
“Apollo, I know you don’t date seriously anymore, but maybe you should give this one a chance.”
“Woman, are you crazy? I can’t get close to Sateria. We have a professional relationship. Shit she sits in the office right next to me. I’m training her. If I get involved with her even for a minute, things could get ugly if I continue going the way I have been.”
Pheonix sighed. “Apollo, Kalista is gone. I know you loved her, but you can’t keep punishing yourself. Let go and allow yourself to fall in love again.”
Apollo shook his head. “No. Not this one. I mean if she wasn’t a part of our team, maybe, but the risk is too great. I won’t live through heartbreak like that again.”
“But she is a part of the team. You can protect her.”
“I’m not doing it Pheonix, and that’s final. I’ll just continue with my meaningless relationships, if you don’t mind.”
Pheonix shrugged. “Okay. Do what you want. But I’ve known you for a very long time, and I don’t see you staying away for long. She’s only here because Johnny wanted her here. Technically she’s your boss and not the other way around, so you’re stuck with her. Figure it out and don’t torture yourself. I know you love the country.”
“You’re right, I do. But can I at least try and work this out on my own?”
“Okay boss. You can go now. I was looking forward to kicking your ass in paintball, but hey, since you won’t be there, I can’t do that. I’ll get you next time.”
Apollo grinned. “You will never beat me. I’m the champ.”
Apollo stood, left Pheonix’s office, and went back to his own. He sat down in his chair and buried his face in his hands. Fuck!
The weekend came and Sateria was up early preparing for her trip. She was sad that Apollo wasn’t going. She needed a buffer between her and Jayden. At four in the morning, she picked up the phone and dialed Apollo’s number.
Half asleep, he reached for the phone. “Hello?” he answered groggy.
“Hey Apollo, it’s me.”
“Sateria. What’s up?”
“I just thought I would try and get you to reconsider.”
“Mmm. No. Sorry I can’t go. I have way too much work to do.”
“Please. Come on, Apollo. I don’t want to be around Jayden without you.”
Her statement left a question in the back of his mind, but there was no way that he was going to be jealous of Jayden. According to Jayden, he didn’t trust Sateria. Apollo brushed it off. “What are you talking about? You go to the gym everyday with him.”
“That’s different. Come on, come with us.”
“I would if I didn’t have so much to do.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. You go. Have fun. Make sure you’re on Pheonix’ team. She is the one that is supposed to be training you.”
Sad that she couldn’t drag him out of bed. “Okay. Don’t work too hard.”
“I won’t. See you Monday.”
Sateria hung up the phone, and regretted the time she was going to have to spend with Jayden, without her buffer. Apollo looked at the clock and rubbed his face. Wanting to be close the object of his current affection, he cursed himself for being so weak. Damn it!
Four hours later, Jayden and the girls reached the house. Sateria was amazed by the beauty of both the land and the huge house that sat in front of a large lake. She stood with her mouth agape for a minute and thought, I’m gonna move here.
Pheonix walked up to Sateria and slapped her arm. “Close your mouth, Sateria. Time to get your game face on.” She said.
“It’s so quiet and peaceful.”
Pheonix nodded. “Yeah it’s pretty, but we are here to start your weapons training. I can’t have you all in love with the land. We gotta get you ready. Besides, you own this now. You can come down here whenever you want.”
Sateria nodded. “Right.”
Game face totally loaded, Jayden eyed his competition. “Okay girls first we eat, then gear up. I’m thinking I’m gonna take all three of you on by myself.”
Troya grinned. “Not a good idea, Jayden.”
“Nope, it’s not. But I promise you I’ll win,” he grinned.
They finished their breakfast and went to the shed where they stored their paintball equipment.
Pheonix handed both Troya and Sateria their vests and protective gear. “Sateria, have you ever played paintball before?”
Sateria shook her head. “No.”
“Well the vests are to keep your body from bruising in places it shouldn’t. Paintballs hurt when they come at you. Your mask will keep the paint from three of your sensory organs, though it will not fully protect your head. The rules of our game generally keep balls from your face, but Jayden doesn’t fight fair. Get a head shot and you are immediately eliminated. Don’t plan on wearing any skirts or short sleeved shirts to work on Monday. You will not be cute at all showing off huge purple bruises on your arms and legs.”
They geared up and Jayden headed off in his own direction. Apollo was not there to have his back, so he had to be careful. Pheonix was ruthless when it came down to paintball.
Jayden spotted Troya moving. A head shot would take her out of the game. Bang! He blasted her on the side of her mask. He was not playing fair. One down, two more to go. He expected his first victim to be Sateria, but not so much. Pheonix tried to hide, but he shot her in the head to immediately eliminate her as well. She was now out of the game. Pheonix joined her sister in the house for a hot shower and a late lunch.
Sateria laid and wait. She chose a spot amongst the trees, brush and didn’t move. She figured that Jayden would have to move to find her, and that he did. Excited that she saw him at all, she couldn’t fire off a round. One up for him. Jayden lay in a low spot in front of Sateria. All she had to do was pull her trigger, and he was hers. Grinning, she pulled the trigger and missed. Jayden slipped away from her, unscathed. Damn it! She thought. Jayden moved quickly out of sight, and she was forced to wait. Instead of moving from her chosen spot, she stayed. Not a good choice. Jayden was able to sneak behind her and shoot her with his paintball bullet. “I win. Pheonix and Troya have been long taken out. Girls zero, man, three hundred.” Smiling, he pulled back and made his way to the house. Sateria followed, disappointed that she didn’t win.
“Fatal mistake. You missed.”
“Yeah, whatever. Next time, your ass is mine.”
Jayden chuckled. “Okay, whatever.”
They made dinner. The Smith sisters were so worn out; they went to bed right after they finished eating. This left Sateria alone with Jayden. Something that she didn’t want. Jayden poured himself a glass of wine. “Want some?” he asked.
Sateria nodded her head. “White, please.”
Jayden poured her glass of wine and handed it to her. “That was fun.”
Sateria agreed. “Yes. I’ll get you next time.”
Jayden grinned. “Not as long as your aim remains shitty.”
“I had you.”
“And I got away.”
“Next time then.”
Jayden nodded. “Next time.”
They were being cordial towards one another. Something neither of them was comfortable with. Sateria immediately pulled back and let Jayden lead the conversation. He lit the fireplace, sat on the couch in front of Sateria, and sipped his wine. He stared at her a long time before he spoke.
“Johnny was a lucky man.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He was able to keep you all to himself. He spoiled you rotten, I’m sure of it. But you managed to come away from it unscathed.”
Desperately trying to understand, “Jayden, you’re not making any sense. What are you talking about?”
“Johnny’s previous girlfriend, the one before you I mean. He spoiled her to the point she thought she was on our team.”
“She knew Johnny was a thief?”
Jayden nodded. “Oh yeah. After each one of our jobs, he would give her a little trinket for her to wear.” Jayden looked at Sateria’s hand and noticed the large diamond ring Johnny gave her. “That diamond you’re wearing on your hand is from a job we pulled two years ago.”
Sateria looked at her hand, amazed that Jayden recognized it. She however was not going to play his game; at least she thought she wasn’t.” Johnny loved me, Jayden. I was the lucky one.”
Jayden sipped his wine and nodded his head.” Maybe, but I still think he was luckier.”
Jayden sat back and sipped his wine. He glared at Sateria for a moment then asked, “Do you know how beautiful you are?” Sateria stayed quiet. “You are, Sateria. You are one of the most beautiful women I’ve seen in a long, long time.” A slight smile played on his lips. “If someone else didn’t want you, I’d go after you myself.”
Sateria rolled her eyes. “Oh please. You can’t stand me.”
Jayden chuckled. “Oh I like you. You’re a very nice lady. You’re smart, you have an awesome body, and you’re rich. I never said I didn’t like you. My issue is trust.”
“You still think I killed Johnny after all this time?”
“That was my initial reason for not trusting you, but now that you know what we all do when we are not at work, I have a new reason. But don’t worry about it. I’ll get there. You put yourself in danger like the rest of us, and my trust issues will fade away.”
“Then you won’t torture me at the gym anymore?”
Jayden chuckled and shook his head. “Ah sorry. Torturing you in the gym is what’s going to keep me alive.”
“Fair enough.” Sateria thought back on something Jayden said earlier. How it slipped past her she didn’t know. “You said someone else wants me. Who?”
“Who do you think? Apollo.”
“Why do you think he’s not here?”
“Apollo doesn’t have a girlfriend?”
“Nope. He says he won’t have one because one day he might not come home, and doesn’t want to hurt anyone like that. I’ve seen it before. He’ll meet a nice woman, and stay with her for a little while, and then he just stops messing with her all together. But I think he’s trying to put a little distance between you before he even makes a move on you. That is why he didn’t come. Apollo loves this place.”
“I see. So he’s never had a long time girlfriend?”
Jayden quickly recognized that Sateria was interested. “Why do you ask that?”
Realizing that she may have let out her secret, she shrugged. “He’s a good looking man. I would think he had a beautiful girlfriend.”
Jayden sipped his wine and smiled. “Oh he had one once. A few years ago he was about to get married to a wonderful woman, and she died. That killed him inside for a little while. When he started dating again, he told us he was never gonna get serious again, and well, so far he hasn’t.”
Sateria sat and learned more things about the new people in her life and thought about the pictures in Johnny’s office. Perhaps Jayden could give her some insight on the photos that she saw.
“Did you ever meet Johnny’s family?”
“I did. Both of them emigrated from Greece before Johnny was born. Very nice people. They did all they could to help their kids grow up and be successful in whatever they wanted to do. I wasn’t there then, of course, this is what they told me. Johnny’s papa passed away six years ago. His mother passed a year later.”
“Johnny has siblings?”
Jayden couldn’t pass up the chance to shock Sateria so he answered. “Oh yes.”
“Only one. Kalista.”
“Kalista. Is she the pretty girl in the picture in his office?”
“If you are talking about the woman that looked a lot like you, then yes. She was his twin.”
“What was she like?”
“A lot like Johnny, though not in our business. She was a model. Johnny was so proud of her.”
“I bet. Did Apollo know her?”
“Of course. She was his fiancée.”
The next day Pheonix set up the paintball targets so Sateria could work on her aim. “Center mass is what you want. Go.”
Sateria pulled the trigger, and missed the target all together. “Aim, Sateria, it’s not that hard. A real weapon is gonna nearly take your arm off. This gun has no recoil at all. Aim and shoot.”
This time she hit the target. She and Pheonix practiced until she was able to hit the target consecutively.
“Good. I’ll go get Troya and Jayden. Today we’re gonna be on teams. You and me against them. Gear up.”
They played paintball for three hours. In the end, Jayden and Troya won.
“I’m sorry Pheonix, I tried,” Sateria said.
“It’s okay. I’m on Jayden’s team sometimes when we come out here and play, that’s how he beat us. He knows how I think. But no worries. Let’s go get cleaned up and get dinner going.”
They showered, and ate dinner. Pheonix got the fireplace going, and Jayden poured them their drink of choice. The four of them sat around talking, laughing, and drinking. Soon they were out of wine and intoxicated.
Both Pheonix and Troya passed out. One on the floor, the other in the chair which she sat. Sateria decided that she was going to go to bed before she also passed out.
“Well Jayden, I’m drunk and I’m going to sleep.”
Sateria got up and took her glass in the kitchen, and headed upstairs. Jayden sat on the couch for a moment. His loins on fire, he watched Sateria walk up the stairs. Knowing what he knew, and what the ultimate plan was, he couldn’t keep her, though he thought about it. Instead, he waited until he saw the bathroom light come on and the door close before he got up. He went upstairs and waited on Sateria to come out of the bathroom. When she opened the door, he was standing there with a devious grin on his face.
“Oh! Jayden you scared me.”
Jayden didn’t say anything, only continued to grin.
“What’s the matter? Why are you looking at me like that?” Sateria gazed into his sexy eyes.
Jayden quickly grabbed her by her shirt and pushed her against the wall.
“Jayden let me go.”
Jayden shook his head. He slowly leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss on the lips, still wanting her, he maintained control.
Surprised, she stared into his light brown eyes, and didn’t move.
“You are so damn beautiful,” he said and kissed her deeply. He broke off the kiss and said, “Goodnight, Sateria,” and left her where she stood.Confused and still drunk, she watched Jayden go in his room and close the door.