The Arrangement (An Alternative Love Romance)

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The Waiting Game

Once that ring was on her finger, Selene was not taking it off. Of course, people at the restaurant noticed, including many of the men who’d repeatedly hit on her. Fortunately, she wasn’t generally waiting tables and they weren’t ballsy enough to make a scene in front of the other people around. Mrs. Robinson was thrilled and wanted to plan them an engagement party. With everything going on, Selene was reluctant, but after talking with Nick, she got her way. Secretly, Selene was thrilled because she knew the woman didn’t do things for many people. It told her how much the older woman thought of her.

On top of all that, adjustments were made to their security and they looked at a lot of houses. Half were ruled out as being too difficult to secure, others because one or the other of them didn’t like it. Selene wanted a big yard, no large windows, an attached garage, and a stone wall they could add to. Nick wanted something with class and preferred to focus on the finer parts of the house, such as marble floors and exotic wood floors. The contrast was a reflection of their own – one more interested in the basics, one more interested in the quality. Between the two of them, though, they settled on two houses that Nick bought outright and had them quickly modified and set up. Should they have to retreat to either of them, they could continue life as if nothing had happened.

Selene had finally met the Marshall and she immediately felt incredibly uncomfortable with him. As with the men in her life, he set off her inner alarm. The difference was that he seemed familiar to her, somehow, but she couldn’t put her finger on just what it was triggering that feeling. Nick and Ahmed hadn’t been messing around, either. The man couldn’t get near her without someone stepping into the area. She’d been introduced to the whole team now, so she knew exactly who she could trust – to some degree, anyway.

“Isn’t this all a little extreme,” she asked as she watched them replace the windows with what she’d been told was bulletproof. “I mean, it’s not like we’re going to be under attack from an army or anything.”

Ahmed and Nick shared a look.

“Honey, these people could be connected to anything. It is possible someone could send people out to kill you or people close to you to keep you quiet,” Nick explained. “There are some suspected ties to one of the cartels,” he reminded her.

“It just seems so ridiculous. I’m just one person and I only know so much,” she said with frustration. “Plus, this must be costing a fortune!”

“I have more than enough to cover all of this. I could buy and do this to 10 more houses right this minute, if I wanted. Relax,” he told her, “it’s just money. I can’t put a price on your life – there isn’t any amount of money in the world to make up for you. I’d rather get it all right the first time. I can’t lose you, Selene.”

“Are you really sure we have to do all this?”

“I would rather waste money making this place 100% safe than risk losing you or your getting hurt.”

Selene sighed, still not convinced. The reinforcements on the doors, the security locks inside the house, the safe room, the hidden staircases, the guard shacks at the entrances to the property. The spotlights outside around the fence and closer to the house made sense. Alarms on the windows and doors make sense. The sensors on the added fencing made sense. Reinforcing doors and windows, plus the walls around them, all made sense. But bulletproof windows, fingerprint scanners, the double redundant ultra-secure security system with cameras, motion activation devices, heat sensors, and security patrolling the property at all hours just seemed to go a bit overboard. She always ended up shaking her head and going on to pick out paint colors and light fixtures and everything else that had to be updated or redone.

While this was going on, they first had their anniversary party that was fairly small and intimate. It was just their closest friends and a few important in their social circle. Then, they received the notifications about the party Mrs. Robinson was throwing. It included a date to take their pictures together with a date at a dress shop that only allowed shopping by appointment. It was ultra-exclusive and held a very prestigious list of clients who were each personally invited to shop there. The clothing they sold were apparently one-of-a-kinds and were only available in certain sizes unless they were custom for a specific client, something that was completely at the discretion of the designer.

While they were there, Selene was asked to be measured, then was put in heels for another measurement. Afterward, they discussed the styles, then the consultant vanished. After several minutes, she returned and clapped her hands. Model after model walked across a stage, each wearing a gown that the consultant had decided were suitable for Selene. They had about 20 seconds to decide if they liked each dress before the models would exit to change and return in another gown in and endless cycle.

The perfect dress came out and immediately caught everyone’s attention. It was a one-shoulder number, with a gathered look at the shoulder, then hanging from there as it spread to wrap around her. It was trimmed with gold threads, beads, and sequins in a 1/2” strip along all the upper edges. Otherwise, it was fairly simply with a lace overlay on the bottom that shimmered slightly. The color, darker than her eyes, truly made them stand out. Outside of a bit of hemming, the dress would need very little alteration to fit her perfectly.

Afterward, Mrs. Robinson scheduled another showing of bridal gowns so that they would be well-prepared for them ahead of time.

In the limo, Mrs. Robinson explained she’d had no daughters and all her family was gone, so she wanted to fulfill a matronly role for Selene. Nick couldn’t have been more grateful, Selene herself was deeply touched. She hugged the older woman briefly. The details of the event were mostly kept from them outside of being told when to show up. She was having a tailor arranged to make his tuxedo for tonight and the wedding. While they’d not decided on when or what kind, Mrs. Robinson was not allowing them to do it poorly dressed.

“Now, when you two are ready to make some decisions on the size and type of location – you let me know. I know all the best spots and can help you do anything from just a handful of people to hundreds,” she told them. “I’ll cover the catering, too. I know the best in the business.”

Selene giggled at the woman’s enthusiasm. “We most certainly will. Thank you, so much,” she told the older woman.

“It’s a pleasure, dear. I’m quite happy to do it. Now, you two stay safe. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”

Nick did his best to keep her occupied with things when they weren’t actually busy with something. Her anxiety was palpable, and she was smoking more cannabis when she wasn’t at work. He didn’t want to push her, but he decided it was time they talk about her going to therapy. They’d briefly discussed it before, but with all the extra strain, it seemed it was time to bring it up again. This time, however, he was going to push it a bit harder.

While she was reluctant, Selene finally agreed and they made an appointment to see the woman that the agents had suggested. Apparently, they’d let her know about Selene, because she got her in right away. The best part for Nick was that after about 10 minutes, Selene was doing fine on her own. She got comfortable with the woman quickly and was able to discuss some things rather easily. The lady was apparently a shrink and prescribed Selene a non-narcotic anxiety medicine to help take the edge off so she didn’t need to rely as much on the marijuana. While she wasn’t crazy about the idea of taking a pill, Selene didn’t fight it. By the time of their engagement party, her anxiety levels had come down a fair bit.

Mrs. Robinson had gone all out for the engagement party. It was a huge event and they had their friends and a few hundred of the upper crust to celebrate with. Of course, there was a massive row of tables covered with gifts. The theme was classic with emerald, deep blue, and gold decorations that represented them both. Fresh calla lilies stood in trios within tall, slender vases, while small clusters of violet lilies, pale aster, and white chrysanthemums decorated each of the tables in the dining room. The decorations made it all look like a forest wonderland, including the ceiling being done to appear as if the trees created a canopy above them, letting some light in at places where the leaves broke apart.

It was stunning – there were even small fountains with nymphs, satyrs, and other woodland mythological animals decorating them. The look of wonder and amazement Selene wore upon seeing it was child-like. Nick only squeezed her hand a little more tightly at seeing that expression and the pure happiness that radiated from her. All the weight from everything that had been going on was brushed aside for a while.

They walked into the main room hand-in-hand as everyone fell silent. Nick grinned and raised her hand to his lips, pressing a kiss to her knuckle as they were introduced. Soft background music began and the couple began making the rounds through the crowd of well-wishers. While some only came out of curiosity, most were acquainted through one circle or another.

Nick had had a special necklace made that had the BDSM symbol worked into the gold with stunning emeralds filling in the spaces. A little tag and a faux gold padlock hung from the back, with his initials on the tag. It was mostly hidden by her hair, but they both knew that it was there and what it meant. Curiously enough, there was more than one who looked at the necklace and gave a secretive smile in response.

Selene was both surprised and pleased to know others were there that understood. Though, a few clearly both knew what it meant and knew Nick well enough to be truly happy for the couple. They were also invited to some private events held by members of the community, mostly couples, one of which was a fundraiser for domestic violence and would help support local agencies that assisted in emergency assistance. Of course, Selene was all in for that one, and Nick was perfectly happy to go along with it.

There were posters showing some of the couple’s engagement photos, a couple of which had been used for the newspaper announcement and the one in the society pages in the local gossip magazine. Of course, they had copies of everything back at home and were deciding which ones to frame and where to put them. There were more photographs during the event, especially with the many guests and there was another set that were being taken for newspapers and magazines, including at least one of the big business magazines that sold internationally.

All the day-to-day stresses had faded to the background, if only for just a few hours. Without them realizing it, Mrs. Robinson had given them a much-needed break. Both had a great time. At least, until three of Nick’s exes, who’d all come with invited guests, attempted to corner Selene alone. Before anything beyond a few words were thrown, Nick put an end to it and the women were removed. Nick noticed Linda was among them. She’d seen the ring and Nick could tell she was livid. Fortunately, Selene blew it off and didn’t let it ruin their night. As she told Nick, they weren’t important.

By the end of the night, they were both tired but happy, and required a truck to haul the gifts back to one of their houses to be opened later. Rachel and Gail had promised to help with the many thank you cards that would need to be written and sent out. This was yet another busy task that she would use to occupy her brain when not working or doing things with Nick.

Everything seemed to be a way to kill time while they were playing the waiting game. Sooner or later, something was going to happen. It was just a matter of when. Selene felt as though she were waiting for a countdown to begin to whatever major event was going to happen. Part of her just wished they’d make their move and get it over with.

The waiting was agonizing.

Holloway or Mills were in contact almost daily. Both had privately expressed concern about the Marshall. When Ahmed got back the full background report, they all sat together and read everything over. It became clear that their instincts had been spot-on.

Selene sat back in shock. “I know him.”

Everyone looked at her, waiting to find out whatever it was she remembered.

“He uhh… sometimes he’d show up, then we’d all get moved around. My parents always moved if he came around,” she said slowly. “I remember seeing him taking a big envelop from one of those guys that threw the parties a couple times. I imagine now that it was money.”

There wasn’t a brain in the room without the same thought: If he got Selene in private, he’d want her dead or he’d want her to disappear. Then the rest of the thoughts came tumbling one after another.

“The prosecutor and our boss will need to know all of this. He’s connected – there’s no way we can let him slide on this,” Mills stated.

“I want to see pictures of everyone,” Selene told them. “I mean, this guy’s in an elite law enforcement agency...”

She didn’t have to finish the sentence. Where there was one corrupt person, there were often others. It wasn’t easy to hide things for a long time. People got sloppy sooner or later.

“Let’s find out first who gave him the orders to get in one this case,” Holloway suggested. “We can eliminate everyone one at a time. I know my boss and our prosecutor are clean, but I’ll get you pictures.”

“We really could use a deeper investigation on everyone on this case,” Ahmed suggested, looking at Nick. “We’ve checked everyone that’s been around, but I think we need to go higher up the chain. Just as a precaution.”

Holloway looked alarmed. “You really don’t think -”

“My sister was taken by people who were in our government. This country isn’t as corrupt, but it’s still rather pervasive. Better to know now so we can adjust our plans,” Ahmed interjected. “It also gives us the upper hand.”

Selene nodded, looking at Nick. “Do it.”

“Now, we can’t support this,” Mills began.

Holloway interrupted him. “He’s right. Can you imagine how bad this could go if we’ve got someone on our side pulling strings? Evidence could go missing, the kids could vanish – we’d lose everything. We’ve put our lives into these cases, Mike. I don’t want to see it go down the drain; I’d rather know one way or the other. That way, when they are cleared, we know we can really trust them.”

“Does this change things?”

Mills sighed and rubbed his forehead. “It could. It could make it a whole lot bigger and that could mean we will need some additional support and resources.”

“Let’s do this one step at a time. We start with the prosecutor. She’s incredibly passionate about the law and she considers these types of cases some of her most important work,” Holloway told them. “We’re going to have to restrict his access to the evidence without him realizing he’s being locked out. Feed him false information and see where it shows up at.”

“Track the lie,” Selene commented. “The easiest trick there is to locate the leak and their contacts. It’s used on the street sometimes,” she explained when she saw the looks again.

“Of course,” Holloway acknowledged with a grin. “I think it’s easy to forget you’ve been out there.”

“How so,” Selene asked with a look of confusion.

“You don’t act the way most of the people we see out there act,” Mills explained. “You use very little slang, you’re extremely polite, and you weigh your words before speaking.”

“Oh,” she said, blinking rapidly as she processed it. “I know a lot of very polite poor people, though,” she pointed out.

“Yes, there are. Some are also careful about what they say. But they always have at least two of those three traits.” Mills reminded her.

“So, I believe we have our plan.”

“Wait, has the house been checked? He was here a week ago. Could he have bugged the place,” Selene asked, looking between them. “What about your offices or computers. I mean, I know I’m a bit paranoid, but...”

“I always check the house after people have been here,” Ahmed revealed. “I also have equipment monitoring signals if it’s transmitting, since that would be the most likely type someone would use.”

Nick was the one to look surprised now. “Have you found anything?”

Ahmed shook his head. “Nothing yet.”

“Ok, so at least I’m not the only paranoid one here,” Selene joked.

“That’s what I get paid for,” he answered with a smirk. “For what we are getting paid; we are not taking any chances.”

Selene and Nick began discussing the wedding they’d like to have, trying to figure out what would suit them both. The funny part of that was that neither of them had a clue what they wanted. Nick had not really planned on getting married and Selene had never thought about it – more worried about not being found. So, they ended up talking to a few different wedding planners to try to figure out what appealed the most. They brought Mrs. Robinson and two of her friends, as well as their other friends by to help them narrow things down a bit.

“She loved the engagement party,” Nick told Mrs. Robinson, drawing a nod of agreement from Selene.

“That was really cool.”

“Could we find a nice place outside for something like that,” Gail wondered.

“What if it rains or the wind is bad,” Rachel asked.

And so it went. After nearly a month of looking at suggestions, proposals, debating preferences and so on, it was decided they’d plan an outdoor wedding in late spring or early summer, and they would rent something big enough it could be done up for the reception and be able to hold the wedding in case of poor weather. Selene had loved the woodlands theme from the engagement party so much that she wanted an extension of that theme brought into the wedding and reception. That was when everything fell together.

While it wouldn’t even be two years together at that point, Nick and Selene it would be best to do it in the coming year. After all, there was no telling what might happen in the coming months or years with the case going on. It was also decided that they would limit the guest list, sticking to the most important people around them and those who would be expected to receive invitations for one reason or another.

Now, the real work began. Still, in spite of everything going on, that sense of foreboding never left. A blade hung over their heads, waiting to drop at any moment.

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