CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
I'm nervous as the limo drives towards the hotel Chases party is at. I should be enjoying it, this is my first time in a limo, and I'm driving through New York City with a sexy man at my side. But instead, I'm thinking of all the cameras that will be going off in my face. What if I make a fool of myself? What if I embarrass Chase? I feel Chases hand slide into mine and a soft kiss placed on my bare shoulder.
“Everything will be fine. Just focus on me, it's just us out there.” he tells me. I smile and take in a deep breath, squeezing his hand in appreciation.
“Just us...” I whisper. I look at Chase and he grins, leaning in he kisses me softly.
“You and me.” He reiterates. I stare into his blue eyes, getting lost in the way he appears to be looking straight into my soul. I can feel my body relax under his gaze and the tension I felt slip away. The limo comes to a stop and Chase brings my hand to his lips. “Let’s do this.” He says. I nod, not taking my eyes off Chase as the driver opens the door on Chases side. He slides out and offers me his hand. I take it in mine and allow him to help me out of the car, trying to be as graceful as possible.
Chase pulls me to his side and wraps an arm around my waist. I look up at him, trying to ignore the flashes going off around us. Chase smiles sweetly down at me and we walk towards the entrance. I can't help the smile on my face, being in Chases arms as we walk past the press and into the hotel foyer. Chase doesn't stop to speak to them, just simply nods in their direction, acknowledging their presence. I try not to listen to all the questions being thrown at us, some as simple as how did you meet, to why Chase is forcing me to work. That one annoys me the most. It's my choice to work, Chase gets no say in that, but I bite my tongue. If Chase is right, anything I say will be misconstrued to make a better story for them.
We make it to the entrance and Chase leans down and kisses me softly. I can't help but smile as he pulls away, staring into his eyes as the flashes around us amp up. We step through the doors and walk towards the reception hall.
“See? It wasn't so bad.” Chase says.
“No, it wasn't. But you are very distracting in that suit.” I say with a grin. He chuckles and squeezes my waist.
“Just picture me wearing this every time you are in public and you will be fine.” He teases. We step into the reception hall and Chase leans down and whispers in my ear. “Better yet, picture me naked.” I blush as images of his gorgeous body flood my mind. He chuckles and I slap his hard chest.
“Stop it.” I scold quietly.
“Never.” He smirks and winks at me.
“You finally made it.” Mark walks up and slaps Chase on the shoulder before kissing my cheek.
“We aren't that late.” Chase says with a roll of his eyes. Mark raises an eyebrow but doesn't respond.
“How are you doing Kate?” he asks me. I can see the concern in his eyes and I smile.
“I'm fine, really.” I assure him. He grins and nods his head.
“I trust my son is looking after you?” he asks. I can feel Chase roll his eyes next to me, it makes me giggle.
“Definitely looking after me.” I confirm with a sweet smile. Chase squeezes my waist hard, understanding the meaning behind my words and I try not to laugh. Mark walks with us further into the hall as I take in our surroundings. Everything is so lavish, to the Chrystal chandeliers, heavy velvet drapes, fine china and a full layout of various forks on each perfectly arranged table setting.
It's so far removed from the casual barbecues at home, where you serve yourself onto a paper plate and try and eat with one hand while standing. Somehow I can't see any of the guests here getting blind drunk, wrapping their arms around each other's shoulders, belting out working class man with a beer in their hand and a durry in their mouth.
The thought of any of these impeccably dressed women in their floor length gowns and perfectly styled hair, or the handsome men in their tailored suits getting anywhere near that state makes me giggle. Chase gives me a strange look.
“What?” he asks quietly. I shrug my shoulders.
“It's just so different to what I'm used to.” I say. Chase smiles warmly.
“They can be a bit much, but you get used to it.” He says. I look around the large room, there would be a few hundred people milling around, sipping from wine and champagne glasses and talking amongst themselves.
“Who are all these people?” I ask. Chase places his hand on my back as we walk towards the bar.
“Family and business associates.” He answers. I furrow my brow
“Your friends?” I ask. Chase has never spoken about any friends before. I know him and Ryder tend to hang out when they aren't working, but there really isn't much time when Chase isn't working. Chase frowns.
“No... I guess I don't have friends.” He says. The thought makes me frown. I'd be lost without my friends. But then I don't have any family apart from Ethan. Chase kisses my temple. “I've never needed friends. I have Ryder, and I talk to a few cousins on mum’s side. And now I have you.” He says with a smile. I nod and turn towards him, wrapping my arms around his neck.
“That you do.” I tell him. His smile is wide, reaching his blue eyes, he tugs me closer and presses his lips to mine
“Get a room!” we hear behind us, we pull apart and I giggle at Verity, Chase just rolls his eyes. Verity pulls me into a hug. “You look gorgeous.” She says. I smile and take in Verity's fitted red dress. It has a high neckline and flows softly to the ground from her hips. She really looks stunning, the colour bringing the slight red tinge out in her auburn hair.
“You look amazing.” I say.
“Thank you.” She says with a smile. Ryder approaches and kisses my cheek.
“Good to see you Kate.” He says. I smile at Ryder as he slaps Chase on the back. “Happy birthday bro.” he says. Chase grins and hands me a glass of champagne.
“You know my birthday is tomorrow right?” Chase says with a smirk. Ryder shrugs his shoulders.
“But tonight's your party.” He states.
“And you’re still going to annoy the shit out of me tomorrow.” Chase replies.
“Yep.” Ryder says smugly. I can't help but laugh at their banter. Chase acts like Ryder's annoying but I know how close they are, I know how much Chase loves him. Chase pulls me into his side and places a kiss on my cheek.
“We should go mingle.” He says softly. I give him a nod and Verity grabs my hand.
“I'll come save you in an hour.” She tells me. I laugh as Chase whisks me away to speak to the guests.
Mingling with the guests I can see just how different my and Chases worlds are. It's all business talks with the upper class and I feel like a fish out of water. The men are nice enough. Greeting me as if I belong in the room, some looking at me a bit too long for comfort. But the women... They barely acknowledge me. Looking me over with disdain as if I'm nothing more than garbage from the street.
Verity had told me that Chase’s family came from old money, whatever that means. But obviously it means they are a bunch of snobs. An older couple, probably in their late 50s come to greet Chase.
“Chase! Darling, happy birthday.” The woman says haughtily. She air kisses both his cheeks as Chase tenses.
“Happy birthday son.” The man says after the woman pulls away. The man pats his shoulder in greeting.
“Charles, Marlene. It's good to see you, this is my wife,
Kate.” Chase introduces. He pulls me in closer and I give them a polite smile.
“Hello.” I say politely, not giving into the temptation to put on a snobby accent to match theres. Or worse, do my best Bogan impression. The women gives me a quick glance while the man doesn't acknowledge me at all. Marlene turns back to Chase as if I wasn't there.
“Vanessa is around here somewhere, I was hoping you could organize to meet up with her.” She says. Chases tenses more, his hand digging into my waist.
“I hardly think that's appropriate Marlene.” He tells her. She ignores the comment and continues.
“It's about time you two settled down. I think it's admirable for you to help the.... less fortunate, but it's time you both produce an heir... one that comes from the right stock.” I stare at the woman wide eyed, not believing that she has said this right in front of me.
“Well luckily, Kate is the perfect person for me, one that will ensure the Caldwell line isn't tainted by the likes of you and your daughter. Now if you will excuse us, I owe my wife a dance.” He says chastely. Chase whisks us away before she can respond and wraps me in his arms.
“What the hell was that?” I ask, still shocked by that horrible woman. I don't know whether to laugh or be angry at the short encounter. Chase groans and holds me tighter.
“The Lewis family. My grandfather wanted to combine our companies by the way of marriage. Of course he couldn't force it, but it was assumed I would marry their daughter Vanessa.” Chase tells me. I pull back to look at Chase.
“And obviously you didn't want that?” I ask. He chuckles dryly
“God no. Vanessa is the worst of the worst. I'm guessing that's why my grandfather put the marriage clause into his will, probably figured I'd marry her to ensure my inheritance given how willing she is.” He states. Chase kisses my forehead softly. “I don't even want to think what my life would have been like without you in it.” He says sincerely. I smile up at Chase, melting a little from his words. I reach up and press a soft kiss to his lips. He smiles against my lips.
“I know you must be bored by now.” He says. I giggle and shrug my shoulders.
“A little... I just don't feel like I belong here.” I tell him.
“You belong at my side Kate, whether that's at some boring event or at home, you belong with me.” He states. I look into his blue eyes, getting lost in the affection they are showing.
“I know.” I whisper. He smiles and kisses me once more before we are interrupted by more guests.
True to her word, Verity rescued me from the snobby guests and dragged me towards the bar. Ryder is already there, leaning up against it with a whiskey in his hand.
“How'd you go in the vulture pit?” he asks. I chuckle and take a glass of champagne from the bartender.
“Well, they definitely don't approve of me.” I say dryly. Ryder shrugs his shoulders.
“I wouldn't worry about that. We like you, that's all that matters.” He states. I screw up my nose
“I don't know how Chase puts up with them all.” I mutter.
“He doesn't really have a choice. Business relies on it, luckily because they all think he's an asshole he doesn't have to hold his tongue.” Ryder replies. I nod, smiling when I remember him defending me to that disgusting woman.
“He gave some Marlene woman a tongue lashing.” I giggle. Ryder laughs loudly.
“She still trying to get Chase to marry her daughter?
Even with you on his arm?” he asks in amusement.
“Yep. Said I wasn't the right breed.” I say, putting on my best impression of her. Ryder groans and rolls his eyes.
“Why anyone would want to breed with anyone from that family is beyond me.” He states. I smile at that.
“How come you three are so normal? Well, more so than the rest of the people here.” I ask, wondering about the Caldwell father and sons.
“Mom didn't come from money, dad actually married for love, which my grandfather didn't approve of.” Ryder states.
“But he still inherited everything?” I ask.
“Our great grandfather ensured that dad got his rightful inheritance. But our grandfather always thought we weren't good enough, still the business had to go down dad’s line to us.” He informs me.
“Which is why he put in the clause for your cousin to get half.” I finish. Ryder nods his head.
“Yep. He figured James would get half the business or that Chase would marry Vanessa and combine the business with the Lewis family... he didn't count on you coming into the picture.” Ryder smirks.
“True. Now we just need to marry you off.” I say with a smirk. He groans and I chuckle.
“I have four years, leave me alone.” He pouts. I stay chatting with Verity and Ryder for a while before stepping out onto the balcony for some fresh air. The night is chilly, even though it's supposedly summer. It's not like the summer nights in Australia where the temperature doesn't drop below 30 degrees Celsius. It's more like a crisp autumn day, just before it turns to winter.
I lean on the balcony railing, looking over the lights of New York. It's a pretty city, though I miss seeing the stars in the sky. Even in Perth you can see a few, but here it's almost impossible.
“You must be the wife everyone is talking about.” A voice says from behind me. I turn to find a man closing the door to the balcony. He's tall, in his late 20s and good looking, but he gives off a creepy vibe with the way his eyes scan over me. I wrap my arms around myself as he slowly stalks closer to me.
“I am. And you are?” I ask, not caring to put on airs. He chuckles as if my question is amusing.
“Oh sweetheart, I'm the man who’s going to make all your fantasies come true.” He says, eyeing my up and down. My mind is screaming at me to run and I take a tentative step backwards as he moves closer to me. I know there's another set of doors on the other end of the balcony, I just have to get there.
“I'm not interested.” I state. He smirks, although it’s sinister in its appeal.
“That's not something I'm particularly worried about...”he tells me. His eyes scan me again and he licks his lips. “I can see why Chase picked you... definitely easy on the eye.”
I keep stepping backwards for every step he takes towards me. He's not exactly holding back his intents, there's an air of arrogance around him that's unnerving.
“I think you're going to be a lot of fun.” he says with a smirk. I can feel my legs start to shake as I step back further and hit what feels like a solid wall. Strong arms wrap around me and the familiar woody masculine scent I've come to love hits my nose. My body instantly relaxes in Chases arms. He pulls me behind him, becoming a barrier between myself and the man.
“What are you doing here James?” Chases tone is full of venom as I realize this must be the cousin they have spoken about.
“Oh I'm hurt, I'm your cousin, and I’m here to celebrate your birthday and get to know your lovely wife.” He says. The way he says get to know sends a shiver down my spine and I sink further into Chase.
“Stay away from her.” Chase growls. James chuckles humourlessly.
“You always did have good taste in women.” James states.
“I mean it James.” Chase replies in warning. I can't see James face, Chase blocking me from his view.
“I'll leave your sexy little wife alone.... on one condition.” James says. Chase tenses but doesn't say anything in reply. “Hand over the company, all of your share, to me, and you can have your happy ever after...” he continues. Chase goes to speak but James cuts him off.
“No need to decide today, it's a celebration after all... tell me on Monday. Although we both know what you will decide.... I look forward to getting to know you better
Kate.” He says. I hear his footsteps retreat and the door to the balcony open as tears prick my eyes. Chase can't give him the company for me, deep down I know that. Somehow I can't help but feel this is the beginning of the end.