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Chapter 37

The limousine dropped them off at the entrance of a posh tower in Midtown Manhattan where a young butler escorted them to the penthouse home of Valerie Wang.

When they came out of the lift, a garden of bonsais around a pond welcomed them. They marveled at the steps alit with lights like fireflies on the topiaries that lined their walk to the main door.

Amanda and Jo couldn’t stop gasping as they admired the chic outdoor ambience on the way to Val’s apartment.

“Wow, this is a fantasy, yet we haven’t seen the rest of it…” Jo said.

“Val is quite the patroness of beauty— her home truly speaks for her.” Amanda said. “I wish I could be more of a homebody and do the same for my apartment.”

“Hey, your apartment isn’t bad at all. I like your minimalist style and clutter-free place. It actually speaks of you too.” Jo smiled at her.

The butler opened the door and gestured for them to come in. “Miss Wang will be with you in a minute, please make yourselves comfortable at the salon.”

They sat speechless opposite each other on arm chairs with colors and print that didn’t match but carried the same art deco style. Amanda scanned the room and noticed the eclectic collection of furnishings, like every object had its own identity and character— perhaps they have names too.

“I hope I didn’t make you wait too long, ladies.” Valerie came out in a simple mauve gown that flowed like water around her body. She moved like a swan on a placid lake towards them and kissed them.

“No, not at all, Val, we can’t stop feasting our eyes on your lovely home. It’s quite stunning.” Amanda said.

“Thank you, I like surrounding myself with beautiful objects and people— like you.” She beamed.

“Thank you for inviting me, Val.” Jo said.

“This evening is for family— and I consider you both a part of my family.” Val smiled. “Shall we sit and have some wine while we wait for Bruno?”

They strode to the large wooden table laid with a cornucopia of fruits and flowers as centerpiece, candelabras on each side, and plate settings for eight people.

“Do you have other guests coming?” Amanda asked, her gut suddenly recoiled.

“Yes, I also invited Morris, Hans, and Edward, Justin and… Alex.” Val beamed at Amanda.

“Oh… I thought…” she looked down on the pretty fabric mat on the table.

“Don’t worry, darling. Alex and Justin will be coming in a bit later.”

“Justin didn’t tell me he was coming, although I told him I was.” Jo said, confused. “And is he coming with Alex? Are they that close now?”

“Yes, they’re just busy at the moment.” Val said, and poured red wine from a crystal decanter, and raised her glass. “Let’s drink, ladies.”

Jo and Amanda sipped their glasses of wine with mystified looks on their faces.

“I know you’re both wondering what’s been going on. I wish I could say, but it would be better if Bruno did that.”

“Alex is with Agatha now, did you know that, Val?” Amanda said.

“I did… I’m sorry, but I was not in a position to say anything about it.” Val said.

The butler marched in and announced, “Mister Bruno has arrived.”

Bruno walked in and smiled at everyone on the table.

“I was held up in holiday traffic, my apologies, ladies… Val, my dear, did you wait long?” He kissed her smiling lips. “That’s a lovely dress, by the way.”

“It’s all right, darling, but I guess you have to enlighten Amanda on what’s been going on since Hallow’s Eve. She has been in the dark, and it’s not a happy place, you know that.”

Bruno turned to Amanda and took the seat beside her. “Iris, I owe you an apology for all the confusion…”

“I may not understand, Bruno, but I’m not confused. I don’t need any explanation for Alex’s actions from you. It’s over for us, end of story. I’m not interested in your explanations.” She shifted on her seat as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I understand, but I must tell you this. Agatha and a group of thieves in Lower East Manhattan are now in the custody of the Feds with the help of Alex and Justin— that’s what they’ve been up to since Hallow’s Eve until tonight.” Bruno announced.

“So that’s why Alex was at the bar I went to with Justin the other night at Hell’s Kitchen, Justin wouldn’t tell me anything…” Jo said, still puzzled.

“We were bound with confidentiality while the Feds, led by Justin, worked the case. That’s why not even Alex could tell you what he was up to with that girl.” He stood up and sat at the head opposite Val.

Mouth agape, Amanda peered at Val. “Is this all true?”

“Wait— did you just say Justin is a federal agent?” Jo said, her eyes wide.

“Justin is an FBI special agent who came to me before the party. He told me they have been tracking a group of high profile people who are dealing stolen art and artifacts— and that some are believed to be attending the party,” Bruno explained, “I cooperated and got him in as Sherlock Holmes.”

Jo and Val got into their own hushed conversation that Amanda couldn’t hear.

“So what has Agatha got to do with this group?” She asked Bruno.

Bruno laughed. “Would you believe it? She’s the head of that group— the queen bee. She really wanted the CEO seat for herself as a good front for her billion dollar operations.”

“And all Alex had to do was fuck her and Denise?” Amanda sobbed, her phone conversation with Agatha and Alex’s voice in the background echoed in her head.

“It was part of the entrapment strategy, Iris. Agatha took so much interest in Alex, not for her illegal business though— she wanted to get back at you. Please don’t take this against Alex. He did his best to bring her to justice even to the point of losing you in the process. He was heartbroken too, my precious flower.” Bruno ran a finger on her cheeks.

Bruno’s touch made her relax, like a warm cloak on a snowy evening. Although that same touch could turn her on in the past, she didn’t feel the same. In that moment, it became the touch of a good friend.

Then a pair of familiar hands rested on her shoulders. She inhaled the spicy whiff of Creed perfume that wafted, and held her breath. Her heart missed a beat.

“Can you find it in your heart to forgive me, my love?” Alex whispered in her ear.

His voice transported her to a place of bliss. “I guess there’s nothing to forgive, Alex,” she said.

“So are we good?”

“We’re good… but not like how it used to be. I can’t do that anymore, Alex,” she said and turned to look at him.

He looked so handsome. She wanted to run her hands on the silky sleeves of his grey dress shirt and press her hips on his tight dark jeans.

“I agree… remember when I said our relationship wasn’t working to our favor? That’s because we thought we’ll be okay to be just fuck buddies… but that’s not us anymore…” he went down on one knee with the gold collar on his hand. “Will you marry me, Amanda Iris Fox?”

Bewildered, she looked at all the people in the room, surprised that Morris, Hans, Edward, and Justin were already there— and everyone wore smiles as they witnessed what Alex just did.

She didn’t expect that word to come out of his mouth, “Marry you? What about the freedom that you value so much?”

“You can keep your freedom, my love. I don’t care about mine— you can keep the keys to the lock on my chastity belt and put blinders on my eyes, but I can’t live without you, Iris.”

“No way… I can’t do that either. It is possible to keep our freedoms, but we have to at least get each other’s consent when we want to play around… and be careful not to break each other’s hearts. Will that work?”

“So, is that a yes?”

“Yes, I will marry you, Alessandro Alex Borelli.” She reached for him and kissed him.

Everyone applauded and cheered as Alex stood to put the collar on her.

“Wait, Alex, I have to tell you something first.” She looked at Bruno, “I’m sorry, but I have to tell him.”

Bruno nodded and smiled.

“Remember when I mentioned the name Adam, the mysterious guy I played with at the cruise that I’ve been infatuated with?”

“What about him?” Alex said.

“Adam and your father are one and the same person.” She cast Val a worried glance. Everyone kept silent.

“Bruno told me about it, Iris, and I didn’t mind at all.” Val said.

“Remember when I mentioned that’s not a problem with me and my dad?” he fixed the collar on her neck and worked with the screws until it locked. “But you deserve to be punished, pet.” He laughed.

“I can’t wait, sir.” She giggled.

Laughter erupted and glasses clinked.

“Congratulations, Iris and Alex, cheers!” Bruno said. “I’m really happy for you both. Iris and I had a great play time back at the ship, but I also know that she belongs to you, Alex— and I belong to Val.”

“Thank you, dad,” Alex said. “This sense of belonging to someone is quite new to me, but with Iris, it became clear as day.”

Hans waved at Alex, “Now you know why I could desire your ass but stay in love with Edward.”

“We both desire you ass, by the way, Alex— but you wouldn’t give it, shall we go on and try?” Edward said as everyone laughed.

“I’m not sure I’m gonna change my mind about that… but I can give you something better— if… Iris approves, of course.” He chuckled.

“Ooh my gosh, it’s getting hot in here, isn’t it?” Hans said as he fanned himself with his hand.

Jo banged a spoon on her glass. “I’m so happy for you, Iris… Alex— congratulations. Actually, I’m relieved— I thought Justin was having an affair with Alex.” She grinned.

Justin protested, “You thought I was gay?”

“No, just metrosexual,” she laughed.

“I think I should punish you for that thought, Jo,” he said. “Congratulations, Alex and Iris— my apologies for disrupting your relationship back at the ship. I owe you one, Iris.”

“Thanks, Justin, don’t worry— I’ll keep that debt in mind.” Amanda laughed.

“I’d like to propose a toast,” Morris said as he raised his wine glass. “To Alex and Iris, you know, I’ve given up on true love a long time ago, but now I’ve started to believe in that shit again because of you. Wishing you both the best in love, in freedom, in life— and lots of playtime with friends. Cheers.”

Everyone cheered and drank their wine.

“I guess we can start our Thanksgiving and engagement dinner now, shall we? I’m starved.” Valerie laughed and gestured at her butler to send in the food.

Waiters carrying trays lined up and laid the feast on their plates. The large roasted turkey came in last.

Valerie took the knife and did the ceremonial carving. “Happy thanksgiving, everyone,” she said, and handed it back to her butler who continued carving the stuffed entrée. “That turkey took the whole day to prepare and cook, while the stuffing is a special recipe I shall keep a secret. I hope you like it.”

“I’m sure I will, darling,” Bruno said, “Every thing you touch turns into something magical.”

“I agree with you, Bruno, I don’t care about the secret recipe, but I want to have that magic touch too,” Amanda said. “Val, I want to thank you for bringing magic back into my life. I wonder what could have been, if you didn’t send me to go on that cruise…” she beamed at Val.

Val raised her glass of wine to Amanda. “I’m really glad I have you, Iris. I can’t imagine the hell Agatha would have brought upon the company if she became its CEO. I am thankful that it’s you.”

“Are you calling me Iris now?” Amanda laughed.

“Everyone on this table calls you Iris, why should I take exception?” she said.

The conversation hopped from one amusing topic to another— all centered on things they were thankful for that year.

Amanda thanked the heavens for that moment when all her fears and heartaches seemed to vanish in thin air— when Alex popped the question she never expected to hear, and a bridge she thought to never cross again.

“I’ve missed you, Iris,” Alex reached for her hand. “You have no idea how bummed out I’d been. Agatha’s ass looked like roasted turkey after the whipping I gave her.”

Amanda winced. “Ouch, did you have to do that?”

“Not really, I only needed to keep her occupied. But when I caught her on the phone with you— my vision turned red. I lost control.”

“Don’t even go there, my love. It’s over with Agatha, I don’t even want to hear that name again.”

“I told her if she can’t take it anymore, she can say the safe word— Iris.” He grinned. “I guess she didn’t want to say or hear that name either.”

“You’re a cruel bastard, Alex.” She teased.

“I am truly thankful for having you back in my life, Iris. Without you, my heart will stop beating… nothing else matters but you.”

“My sentiments exactly, my love,” she said. “So, what do you have in mind for my punishment, sir? Like I said, I can’t wait…”


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