Provocation (18+)

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35. Surprise? No Surprise

No one batted an eye at seeing Nate and Leila come together. So what if Violet was too busy wrangling children and Mathilde was busy greeting guests? And Harry was with the gentleman in another room and was handing out scotch like it was water?

So... no surprise there.

The kids were in the backyard playing, and there was a tent set up to cover the gifts, food, and tables that people would eat at. Knowing Mathilde, she’d have the fucking party catered to within an inch of its life. Kid food on one table, adult food on the other.

As soon as Nate and Leila placed their gifts on the table, out of reach of little hands, Leila was called away by Violet who was looking flustered and flushed and scampering after Little Lizzie and Mason.

Nate chuckled as Leila took off with a laugh and went to find his father, Carl and the others. They were inside the house, as he had suspected they would be, and the haze of cigar smoke shone like a murky beacon until Nate was knocking on his father’s study door.

When he opened it up, he saw little difference between the study from before and after Harry had retired. He guessed he could call it a men’s lounge now because there was certainly no work to be done anymore. Nate was keeping up with the managers of the businesses in England weekly until he felt he could chop it down to conversing every other week.

“Nate! Cigar?” his father offered.

He looked around the room. Ramon and Aiden each had one hanging from their mouths, but Carl didn’t. He was sure it was because his wife hated the smell of cigar smoke and had tried to badger her father for years to quit them, even though they were onlye smoked on special occasions.

“No thanks, Pop,” Nate said, walking further into the room.

“Leila come with you?” Ramon asked, his face neutral. Nate didn’t trust it. The man was far too perceptive.

Nate only blinked and shrugged.

“Yup,” he said. “Seemed stupid to come in two cars if we’re living at the same address.”

Ramon nodded and looked over at Aiden before taking another swig of scotch.

Fuck. Did Ramon know? He could have seen Leila entering the building at Kintech. He had access to all the security footage. Even if he was not watching it all hours of the day, it would only take a moment for him to catch sight of Leila’s fiery red hair to wonder what the hell she was doing there.

But he didn’t look suspicious. That was the problem with Ramon. He had a poker face that every Vegas poker player would have died for. Nate wondered how Mariana ever knew what her husband was thinking.

“How’re the kids, Ramon?” Nate asked, trying to discern his mood, his thoughts- hell, anything that would give Nate some sort of read on the man.

“Outside with the ladies,” Ramond told him. “They’re going to put on another magic show I think. They’ve been secretive as thieves the past week or so.”

They weren’t the only ones.

It didn’t surprise Nate that his kids would be into illusion. Their father gave quite the illusion all the time of being a bored, non-commital gentleman, when deep down he saw things no one else did and engraved them in his brain for future use. Whatever that may be.

Nate nodded, feigning indifference and taking a glass of scotch from his father. He took a sip, hoping to ease some of the tension from his shoulders. Being in the same room with Ramon now made him feel like he was hooked up to a lie-detector test. He needed the smooth liquid fire of the scotch to ease him.

He hoped Leila was holding her own outside.


“He did what?” Violet asked, her voice’s pitch becoming higher at the end.

“I know,” Leila said. “I warned him and he hasn’t said squat about it since he went out for drinks with him.”

“They’re not back together though, are they?” Violet asked. “The man would be insane to go back to him.”

“Once a cheater,” Leila started.

“Always a cheater,” finished Violet.

Violet shook her head at Jared’s stupid move to go out for drinks with Mickey. And since Jared had kept mum about what they had had to talk about with Leila, it was all up for discussion.

“Maybe he just needed to get some stuff from Mickey’s house,” surmised Violet.

“Or they could have been making plans to join the local Scrabble tournament or decided they wanted to take up shuffleboard,” Leila said sarcastically back.

“You’re right,” Violet said. “He was probably balls deep in Mickey. Or the other way around.”

“I think Jare switch hits when it comes to topping or bottoming,” Leila stated quietly. Kids were still around after all. “At least that’s the impression I get from him.”

“TMI, Lala,” Violet told her, her face twisting in disgust.

“Oh, and being ‘balls deep’ in someone was what, something you’d say in front of Mason and Little Lizzie?” Leila retorted, amused.


“Exactly,” Leila said, arching a brow at her friend.

“Well, what about you? You seeing anyone or are you still living the single life? You know, in solidarity with Jared?” Violet asked.

Leila laughed. It was an uneasy, tittering sound. She cleared her throat to ease it.

“I don’t do the solidarity thing when it comes to s-e-x,” she said, noticing Lizzie toddling by to get to her mother. “If I’m getting some and Jared’s not- or vice versa- it makes no difference to either one of us.”

“Is that a yes to seeing someone?”

Leila shrugged, blushing. “You got me.”

“What?” Violet’s eyes went wide. “You are seeing someone? Who is it? Anyone I know?”

Good God, not now.

Leila kept mum, knew that whatever she said would sound fake to her own ears, as well as Violet’s.

“It’s new,” she finally said, with a weak shrug. “Not really telling people about it yet. Want to see where it goes first.”

“How long have you been seeing him?” Violet asked, arching a brow.

“Uhm, about a month,” Leila said lightly.

“Oh- was it someone from the wedding?” Violet asked, lowering her voice. “Or maybe the bald bartender or one of the catering staff?”

Steve... er, Joel? Good Lord, no.

“No, it’s not related to your wedding.” Well, not really. The temptation was there long before you got hitched, missy.

“I don’t even get a name?” Violet asked, suspicious. She was probably thinking Leila was fucking someone from her guest list. There had been plenty of single males and she had slipped off around the time that the bouquet-throwing got underway. Leila could almost see Violet running down the guest list in her head, making a checkmark next to any reasonably goodlooking man who was single.

“I’ll tell you soon,” Leila promised. As soon as I can, my friend. Just as soon as I grow enough balls to do it without thinking you might hate me for fucking your brother.


Leila left to use the restroom. At least that’s what she told Violet she was doing. Instead, she was going to meet Nate near an upstairs bathroom by his old childhood bedroom. The text had seemed urgent, so she had made her excuses to Violet and went off in search of Nate.

After walking upstairs toward where she remembered Violet’s room once was, she saw him pacing outside of the bedroom across from where she had spent so many nights talking boys, makeup and gossiping with Vi.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, quickly walking toward him with concern etched across her face.

“I think Ramon suspects,” Nate said with a sigh.

“Did he say something?”

“No, but that man always knows. He was a damned P.I. at one point, and he’s head of security at Kintech. If there’s anyone who would have seen you coming and going from the building, it would have been him.”

“Well, if he does know, he won’t tell,” Leila said, soothing him. “He’s locked up tighter than a clam half the time, from what I’ve seen of him. He could hold the nuclear launch codes and even torture wouldn’t get him to spill.”

“True,” Nate said, thinking about it.

“Well, Violet now knows I’m seeing someone, though I mentioned no names or anything,” Leila added. “She thinks I hooked up at her wedding and now she’s digging for deets.”

“She is your best friend,” Nate reminded her. “It would be weird for her not to ask. It’s even weirder that you aren’t telling.”

“I actually have no problems telling her, but today would be the wrong time to do it,” Leila said. “It’s a celebration for her baby, not a tell-all engagement.”

“Well, I don’t have any problems with telling her,” Nate said. “Never have actually. I just didn’t want you to feel awkward with Violet. She may be my sister, but I don’t honestly give a shit if she knew I was fucking the Queen Mother in the loo at Kensington Palace while Camilla and Charles were snogging atop Princess Di’s Memorial Fountain.”

Leila blinked, amused with his declaration.

“Okay, then we’ll let them know bit by bit,” Leila said. “After today,” she added.

“Okay then.”


They stood there for a moment, the awkward situation made even more awkward by the sounds of children and babies laughing from outside.

“Who first?” Leila asked.

“Violet,” Nate said immediately with a nod. “She’ll fucking kill us if we don’t tell her first. Then I can tell my dad and mom.”

“My mom is a breeze to tell,” Leila said. “I could tell her I’m dating Satan and she’d ask when she was meeting him and offer to have him over for Sunday dinner.”

“Violet will tell Carl more than likely,” Nate said.

“And Carl will tell the world,” Leila added. “I’m surprised that man kept silent about Violet for as long as he did.”


“You a little scared?”

“No,” Nate admitted. “Nervous, but not scared. It’s not like I’m homewrecking or anything. Then... I’d be scared.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“We’ll keep it simple though,” Nate said. “No one needs to know the whens and hows. Just tell them we’re seeing each other and to hell with the details.”

“You good?”

“Golden,” Nate replied with a smile. Yeah, he was nervous and yes, he was anxious to see how Violet would react, but he didn’t really have any fear that she’d be against them seeing each other. They were grownups and could do what they liked.

And if she gave him shit, he’d just turn the tables. He had been the last to know about Carl since he had been living abroad at the time. She could have told him and he wouldn’t have judged, even though their relationship had been even more of a secret, almost taboo. This... this was penny ante shit as far as Nate was concerned.

“I’m going to kiss you now,” Nate told her, his grin widening.

“And I’m going to kiss you back,” Leila responded, her lips quivering, trying to hide her own smile from him.

Nate took a step forward and pressed his body to hers. He pulled her hips into his with his hands, then cupped one of her cheeks before lowering his lips to hers.

It started soft and slow, reassuring. Like they had all the time in the world to work this out if they had to. No rush, no muss, no fuss.

Leila’s arms curled around Nate’s neck, his hands curving around her body slowly, one at her waist, the other thrust into her hair as their lips moved against each others.

Their mouths opened, tongues tangled. She sucked on his lower lip as his mouth opened, tucking her upper lip into his mouth, nibbling at it before slipping his tongue into her mouth again.

They were alone, into their kiss. But even with the distant sounds of the party going on below them, they didn’t hear the clacking of dress shoes as they traversed the stairs to the second floor.

They didn’t hear them approaching, and they certainly didn’t hear when they stopped a few feet away from them.

At least they didn’t hear anything until a throat cleared and a voice spoke. A familiar voice. One Nate had known since his cradle days. One he had known from the womb even, if his memory could go back that far.


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