Kallie loved the scenic drive to Jack and Cam’s childhood home. Everything just seemed so much clearer out of the hustle and bustle of the city; there was just so much more grass, trees, and animals than what she was used to seeing. It was refreshing. Kallie, Jack, and Cam talked and laughed the entire time. The three of them had such a fluid chemistry that it was impossible not to relax and have fun. Jack and Cam told Kallie stories about growing up in their beach front home, about Cam’s basketball career and his injury, and about their parents. Their dad, Lincoln “Linc” Williams, owned a very successful chain of restaurants in Miami, Las Vegas, Long Island,and San Francisco. The restaurant in Syosset, Long Island was the one that Cameron was the head manager of, but he had worked at all four at one time or another. Their mom, Sophie, was now a homemaker who helped Linc with the financial aspect of the business, but was once a highly respected photographer who worked fashion runways in New York City, Los Angeles, and even Paris. She had decided to give it all up when she had Jackson and decided that having a family was her top priority. Cam and Jack spoke about their affluent upbringing, but it was clear to Kallie that their fortunes had not made them work any less hard as adults.
As much as they pressed, Kallie would only reveal a few details of her life. She told Jack and Cam about how she had grown up in a foster home in upstate New York because her mother had given her up at birth, and how her foster parents were very caring and did the best they could with 5 foster children. She then sadly told them about how she’d found out last year that her foster mother had been killed in a boating accident and that her foster father moved somewhere west, and no one had heard from him since. Jack noticed how sad talking about her parents made her, and tried to change the subject. Kallie told them about how she had met Drew through a high school friend, and that she had moved right from her childhood home into Drew’s house. Cam and Jack hadn’t pressed for details about Drew, but she seemed to want to share, so they let her. Kallie knew wholeheartedly that Drew was now her past, and she was happy to admit to herself that she could only go up from here. She had met two amazing men who proved to her that it was possible to trust people.
A little over an hour after their trip began, Jack pulled his car onto a long residential street. Kallie looked out the window and gaped at her surroundings like a child. The picturesque road was lined with large, stately houses with immaculately manicured lawns. Kallie rolled down her window and breathed in the hot, salty air. She could smell the ocean and hear kids playing outside in the distance. Kallie thought to herself that this was probably the most amazing place she had ever been in her life, and she wasn’t even out of the car yet. She leaned over and turned the radio up, leaned her head back on the headrest and closed her eyes, completely content for the first time in her life. Jack looked over at her and smiled. She looked absolutely amazing, and he bet that she didn’t even realize it. Kallie had worn a flowy, white strapless sundress that fell to right above her knees. She had on gold gladiator flats that matched the golden highlights in her long, wavy hair. Jack had never seen a more beautiful sight in his life. The breeze from the open window lifted tendrils of her hair and made the car smell like her strawberry scented shampoo. Jack looked in the rear view mirror and looked at Cameron, who was also watching Kallie and smiling. All of a sudden, Jack frowned. He recognized the look on Cam’s face; it was the same one that he had when he looked at Kallie.
They reached the end of the road and Jack pulled into a long driveway that directed them closer to the ocean. In front of them stood the largest house on the street, highlighted by huge weeping willow trees and hundreds of perfectly manicured flower bushes. Kallie could see a hint of the vast blue ocean behind the house. The long driveway curved into a large circle in front of the house, where Jack stopped and parked the car. Kallie turned and looked at Jack in astonishment.
“This is your parent’s house?!” She asked incredulously.
“This is it! Home sweet home; hopefully you love it as much as we do,” Jack said with a smile.
Kallie launched herself across the middle console of the car and threw her arms around Jack in a giant hug. Jack smiled sadly to himself and put one arm loosely around her back for a moment. Just as quickly, he unwound himself from her embrace and opened his car door. The three of them got out of the car, stretching their cramped muscles and breathing in the fresh ocean air. Jack popped open the car’s trunk, and him and Cameron removed the bags of luggage and began toting them up the front steps. Kallie was still in awe over the house and couldn’t take in all of the surroundings fast enough. Cam opened the front door and let Kallie enter first. Her jaw dropped as she looked around. The grand foyer was bright and crisp. A sprawling staircase to the second floor was directly in front of her, and a huge chandelier hung from the high ceiling. A large sitting room was directly to her left, and she could see two hallways on either side of the bottom of the staircase. Jack and Cam placed all of the bags down in the entrance of the sitting room. They led Kallie down the hallway that was to the left of the staircase. The hallway was wide and tall, and the walls were decorated with large, professional looking photographs of Cam, Jack, Sophie, and Linc.
“Mom! Dad! We’re here!” Cam called down the hall.
“In the kitchen, boys!” Kallie heard a woman’s voice call from the back of the house.
The end of the hallway opened up into a vast, modern kitchen. The countertops were gray marble and all of the cabinets were a clean, pearl white. A large, light wood table that could seat about 10 people sat to the left, and there was a tall breakfast island in the middle of the room, with 5 tall bar stools. Directly over the kitchen sink was an enormous picture window that looked directly into the backyard, which Kallie could tell connected right to the sand on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. Sophie Williams stood at one of the large counters, carefully trimming a beautiful bouquet of bright flowers in a crystal vase. Her jet black hair was cut in a perfect, chin length bob, and she was wearing a pair of khaki colored Capri pants and a pale pink camisole tank top. Her bare feet showed perfectly manicured, pale pink toenails. Linc Williams was seated at the breakfast nook, reading the newspaper and wearing a crisp white polo shirt and blue and white plaid shorts.
“Wow,” she mumbled under her breath. Cam smiled when he heard her and playfully squeezed her side.
When Sophie saw her boys, she instantly dropped what she was doing, rushing over to them and enveloping Jack in a large bear hug. She was so small compared to her husband and her boys, but her matronly presence immediately commanded the room. Jack squeezed his mom tightly and released her with a smile. Sophie then moved to Jack and gave him the same motherly hug. Linc got up from his stool and shook his boys’ hands, clapping them affectionately on the back and pulling them in for a hug. Kallie smiled, loving this family immediately.
Jack grabbed Kallie’s elbow and pulled her forward. “Mom, Dad, this is our friend Kallie. Kallie; Sophie and Linc Williams.”
Kallie smiled that one and only “Kallie smile” and reached out her small hand to Sophie, who immediately pulled Kallie in and gave her a big hug.
“Oh Kallie, it’s so nice to finally meet you! We’ve heard so much about you!” Sophie held Kallie out at arm’s length and looked her up and down. “You are just simply stunning! Have you ever been photographed?”
Both Cam and Jack laughed. “Easy there, mom,” Cam said, “Take off your photography hat and put on your mom hat for a little while.”
Sophie gave her boys a playful little pout and swatted Cam’s arm. Linc scooped Kallie into his strong arms and gave her a tight hug. “It’s very nice to meet you Kallie; welcome to our home.” Behind Kallie’s back, Linc raised his eyebrows at his boys and gave them a thumbs up. Sophie rolled her eyes and gave her best “angry wife look” to her husband, though she had never been seriously angry with Linc in their entire marriage.
“Come outside everyone; let’s catch up,” Sophie said, and led her family outside to the deck.
From the sprawling wood deck, Kallie could see for miles out on to the sparking blue ocean. She relaxed into the plush deck chairs, allowing the summer sun to warm her from the outside in. She listened to Jack and Cam talk to their parents about what was going on back in the city, and she seamlessly entered into conversation when she was asked a question. She thought that Jack or Cam must have clued their parents in on her “situation”, as it never came up in conversation and they never asked. Sophie and Linc made her feel so comfortable, like she belonged here. Kallie had never felt like she belonged anywhere in her whole life.
“How is the team doing, mom?” Jack asked.
“Oh, you know, working hard. Our first competition is coming up in a few weeks.” Sophie answered. Kallie’s ears perked up and she listened intently to Sophie.
“Are you a coach?” Kallie asked curiously.
“I am, actually! I coach a competitive high school cheerleading team, at Jack and Cam’s old high school,” Sophie beamed proudly.
“Really? I used to do competitive gymnastics and ballet before I left Kingston. I can actually still do most of what I’ve learned.”
Cam and Jack smiled secretly at each other, remembering their conversation about Kallie after they’d first started training her for the undercover sting. Kallie and Sophie began talking in depth about their past competition experience, with the conversation ending with Kallie promising to show Sophie her talents sometime before they went home. Jack loved watching Kallie’s face as she talked about something of which she was so passionate; her eyes lit up and her body was so animated. The only other times he usually saw her so relaxed and vibrant was when she was playing around with Cameron.
“Oh,” Sophie said suddenly and checked her watch, “I forgot that the tent company is coming this afternoon to set up for tonight! Jack, you did tell Kallie about our annual Barefoot Gala; didn’t you?”
From the confused look on Kallie’s face, Sophie could tell that he hadn’t. “Jackson! This is the biggest and best party of the whole year!” She squealed excitedly, “We usually have about 150 people here under a huge white tent. We have a band, a DJ, cocktails, charity auctions, and everything! And the thing that makes our party different than all the other ones is that everyone is dressed to the nines- women in gowns and men in tuxedos- but everyone must be barefoot! We have so much fun! I can’t believe you boys didn’t tell her about this! Kallie and I will have so much to do before tonight!” Kallie couldn’t help but feel anxious, wondering what in the world they would have to do before the gala.
Before Jack or Cam could defend themselves, Sophie continued her frenzied planning. “Okay, here is what we are going to do. Linc, you can stay here this afternoon and wait for the tent company to arrive and set up. It’s 11 o’clock now; they are supposed to be here by 1 and should be completely set up by 4. Jack and Cam, please update our party’s social media sites and send all the guests e-reminders. I am calling Carolyn now to tell her to reserve an appointment for us in an hour; I’m also calling Ava- the girls are going shopping! I need to go inside and change my clothes!” Sophie clapped her hands excitedly like a little girl and beamed at Kallie. Kallie laughed, deciding that Sophie Williams was probably the most intoxicating woman she had ever met in her life.
Sophie got up from her chair and disappeared inside the house, with Linc following at her heels and listening to her continue to rattle off things to add to his ‘honey-do’ list.
Jack reached out and touched Kallie’s hand gently. “Kal, I’m sorry I forgot to mention the gala to you; it slipped my mind. You don’t have to go if you really don’t want to.”
“No, I would love to go. It sounds like lots of fun, and your mom is amazing,” Kallie said, smiling.
Jack reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet, and handed Kallie his black American Express credit card. “Here, take this. You guys are going to meet mom’s personal shopper at Neiman Marcus, and she will be able to help you pick out something perfect for tonight. Get whatever you want, no questions asked. At least you know you won’t have to get a pair of shoes,” Jack winked at Kallie.
Kallie shook her head feverently and handed Jack back his card. “I don’t need that; thank you though.”
Jack crossed his arms in front of him, refusing to take it back. “I’m being serious Kallie; please use it.”
She pursed her lips uncomfortably, and Cameron interrupted. “Just take it Kal. He won’t take no for an answer. You and Jack seem to have that obnoxious stubborn attitude in common- this could go on for days.”
Kallie opened her mouth in mock surprise and indignation. “Well, at least I know now how you really feel about me Cameron. I’m going inside to change my clothes,” she said, storming off dramatically, only pausing to give Cam and Jack a cute, playful smile before going inside.
Sophie met Kallie inside the house and led her to what would be her room for the next 2 weeks. In the hallway that Kallie had seen to the right of the grand staircase in the foyer, there were four bedrooms- three of which had full adjoining bathrooms- a large office, and a media room. Two of the bedrooms in that hallway were already taken by Jack and Cam, so Sophie led Kallie to the last bedroom that had it’s own bathroom. Kallie immediately fell in love with the room. It was large and airy, decorated in pale yellows and gray. There was a large window behind the bed’s wooden headboard, looking out to the ocean. Kallie noticed that her new Louis Vuitton duffle bag was already sitting in the middle of the bed, and she idly wondered who had brought it in here. The adjoining bathroom was decorated in gold and white and looked like it belonged in an Egyptian palace.
“Is this room okay?” Sophie asked. “Do you like it?”
“It’s absolutely stunning, Mrs. Williams. I love it.”
“Oh no, please call me Sophie. I expect that I am going to become very close to the woman that has all 3 of my boys fawning over her, even though she doesn’t realize it,” Sophie said, squeezing Kallie’s hand. Kallie smiled a small, polite smile.
“We are going to leave here in about 20 minutes; okay?”
“That’s fine, and thank you Sophie,” Kallie said. Sophie smiled at her and left the room.
Kallie opened her duffle bag and rummaged through it, trying to find a comfortable outfit for shopping. She decided on a pair of black, wide legged short cotton shorts and a hot pink, one shouldered tank top. She slipped a pair of black open toe wedges on her feet and tucked Jack’s credit card safely into the pocket of her shorts. She checked her hair and makeup in the bathroom mirror, and, after determining that she was presentable, began navigating her way back through the house and to the kitchen.
The whole family was hanging around the kitchen, but the first thing that Kallie noticed was the gorgeous woman underneath Jack’s arm. She was wearing a pair of tight white Bermuda shorts, a flowing black strapless shirt, and lime green stilettos. Her long, pin straight, jet black hair was pulled back from her flawless face with a thin, lime green headband. Kallie paused uncomfortably in the kitchen doorway, and couldn’t suppress the pang of jealousy she felt in seeing this woman with Jack. Seeing Kallie out of the corner of his eye, Jack unwrapped himself from the woman’s embrace and walked over to Kallie, bringing her back to the center of the room.
“Kallie, this is my aunt Blair, my mom’s sister. Aunt Blair, this is Kallie, the girl I told you about.”
Kallie internally breathed a sigh of relief upon finding out the true identity of this woman. She stuck out her hand politely.
“Very nice to meet you Blair; you and Sophie look so much alike!”
“The pleasure is all mine, Kallie. I’ve heard so much about you! You are just as beautiful as my nephews said,” Blair answered, beaming a pearly white smile. Blair linked her arm through Kallie’s. Since both of them were wearing heels, Kallie was only about 2 inches taller than Blair.
“Let’s go girls!” Blair exclaimed excitedly in her best ‘Shania Twain’ voice, and Kallie liked her immediately. They said goodbye to the Williams’ men and left.
Blair talked for the entire ride. She had such a friendly, laid back personality that Kallie couldn’t help but feel relaxed and comfortable with her. Kallie found out that although she didn’t look it, Blair was 40 years old, exactly 10 years younger than Sophie and 10 years older than Jack. Jack and Blair grew up extremely close, more like brother and sister than nephew and aunt. Blair was very outspoken and fun, and also very protective of her nephews and family.
When they arrived at the store, Sophie led Blair and Kallie to the customer service office at the back of the store where they would meet Carolyn, Sophie’s personal shopper. Carolyn was a tall, slender woman with a short pixie haircut and perfectly applied makeup. She was waiting for them as soon as they walked in.
“Sophie! Blair! It’s great to see you ladies again! So, we are shopping for two new gowns today?”
“Yes,” Sophie replied, “I already have mine, but Blair needs one and so does Kallie. Carolyn, this is my sons’ very good friend, Kallie.”
Carolyn smiled. “Ah, Kallie. How do you like your new Louie?”
“I love it. Thank you.”
“Jackson knew you would. He has great taste. He actually left something for you; hold on, I’ll get it.” Carolyn disappeared behind a small desk. Kallie looked down at the floor; she felt embarrassed by the attention.
Sophie gently grabbed her elbow. “Don’t be embarrassed Kallie. You will come to see that the Williams’ men are forever giving sweet little surprises. They just want you to be happy.”
Carolyn came back with a small, black velvet box with a big yellow bow. Kallie took it carefully and ran her fingers lightly on the soft box. Opening it slowly, she revealed a beautiful, white gold and sapphire oval pendant hanging on a necklace. Her jaw dropped.
“Sophie, I can’t accept this. This-this is beautiful, but its too much. Jack has already done so much for me.”
“I think it will hurt Jackson’s feelings if you aren’t wearing that tonight,” was all Sophie said.
Blair stood, smiling at Kallie. “Get used to it girl; this is just what these men do.” Blair took the box and tucked it into her purse. She linked elbows with Kallie. “Let’s go find a dress to match.”
After 2 hours, Kallie was exhausted, but she had the perfect dress. She couldn’t wait to wear it, and she knew that her necklace would match perfectly. Kallie felt a pinch of guilt when she used Jack’s credit card, and Sophie saw it in the look on her face. She reassured Kallie that she shouldn’t feel bad at all, and that Jack would be offended if she hadn’t let him buy the dress for her.
Driving home, an overly sleepy Kallie nodded off. The plush seats of Sophie’s Lexus SUV felt like fluffy clouds, and she couldn’t help herself. When they arrived home, Blair shook her arm gently to wake her. The women carried their purchases inside and went in search of the men. They found them in the family room, watching a college basketball game on the flat screen TV. Kallie draped her dress bag carefully on the back of the loveseat and walked right over to Jack. Sitting next to him, she looped her arms around his neck and gave him a small kiss on the cheek.
“Thank you,” she whispered, “It’s beautiful.”
Jack beamed. “You are very welcome. I hope you’ll wear it tonight.”“I’m going to. I found the perfect dress to match it!” Kallie said, winking.
Sophie came into the room. “Kallie, my hair and makeup team will be here in an hour! Think of how you want your hair; they can do anything!” She hurried out of the room just as quickly as she came in.
Cam kicked Kallie’s foot playfully. “She likes you. You’re like the daughter she never had. I think she’s like, obsessed.”
Jack, Cam, and Linc laughed. Kallie shook her head and smiled. “She’s probably the most amazing woman I’ve ever met in my life. I love her already. You’re a lucky man, Linc.”
“I know I am, and thank you.”
Jack smiled to himself. This girl could not get any more perfect- he just wished his brother didn’t feel the same.
At 5 o’clock, the Williams’ house was alive with action and positive energy. The party was set to start in exactly 1 ½ hours. The men were upstairs putting on their tuxedos, in the wing of the house that served as Linc and Sophie’s private quarters. The women were downstairs in Kallie’s room. Kallie had taken her time showering, shaving, and moisturizing. The bathroom was so elegant that she hasn’t wanted to leave it. Emerging from the bathroom wrapped in a plush gray robe, Kallie saw that Blair was sitting with Paula, the makeup artist, and Sophie was sitting was Henry, the stylist. Sophie motioned for Kallie to sit down next to her, and Kallie obeyed. Henry was just finishing up Sophie’s soft up-do, and Blair’s hair was already finished- a side swept, straightened low pony tail that would look perfect with the black velvet, one shoulder gown that she had gotten earlier that day.
“Kallie,” Sophie said, breaking Kallie away from her own thoughts, “Did you decide on how you want your hair to look?”
Kallie bit her lip. “I think I want it pulled back on both sides and curled, so that my hair hangs all together down the center of my back. What do you think?”
“Oh!” Sophie squealed, “That will look perfect! Henry, wait until you see the dress she got. The latest Alexander McQueen- Gor. Geous.” Sophie got out of the chair and prompted for Kallie to get in.
Henry was like a hair angel, Kallie thought. He blow dried her wet hair and gave her a relaxing scalp massage. Then, he put long, spiral waves in her hair and used bobby pins to pull back the sides out of her face, hiding them in her hair as he went. When he finished, Kallie scooted over to Paula’s make up station. She explained her dress to Paula, who went to work, quietly and diligently. Blair and Sophie slipped on their dresses while Paula put the finishing touches on Kallie’s makeup. Then, Kallie put on her dress, careful not to mess up her intricate hairstyle or her makeup. She looked at herself in the full length mirror, and let out a breath that she didn’t realize she was holding.
“Whoa,” she whispered, and looked over at Sophie and Blair to gage their reactions.
Blair’s jaw had dropped, and Sophie was smiling. “Kallie, you look absolutely stunning. Remind me to call Carolyn so we can go shopping; this style definitely suits you.”
Kallie beamed. She couldn’t stop smiling; she felt so elated and overwhelmed, but in a good way.
Sophie clapped her hands. “Let’s go outside; make our grand entrance to my guests!”
Every year, Jack and Cam forgot just how much they loved the Barefoot Gala. There was always such electricity in the air, and the company was always so much fun. Both Jack and Cam had gin and tonics in their hands, donned impeccably pressed black tuxedos, and of course, bare feet. They were standing outside, but directly by the back door, waiting for the ladies to make their grand entrance.
Blair came out first. As always, she looked like a fashion model. All sleek black hair, sleek black dress, and pale, milky white skin. Sophie was right on her heels, wearing a perfectly fitting nude colored satin corset dress, tight in the bodice with a full tulle skirt to the floor. Linc looked like the happiest man in the world when he saw his wife, and he immediately scooped her around her small waist and planted a kiss on her lips. Jack looked back to the door to find Kallie, and his jaw dropped wide open.
“Day-yum.” Cameron said, not even attempting to be polite.
Jackson had never seen anyone more beautiful in his entire life. She looked unreal. Kallie’s makeup was flawless; so simple but so perfect. Her long hair was softly curled and pulled back so he could see her delicate face and the large sapphire pendant that hung around her neck. She was wearing a cream colored, low cut halter dress. It fit her gorgeous body like a glove, all the way to the floor. A deep slit ran up her right leg and stopped right above her knee. A sapphire blue section of fabric ran on the inside V of the halter top and up to her shoulders and around to the back of her neck. She caught Jack’s eye and spun around slowly. Jack’s breath hitched. The back of Kallie’s dress was completely open. The sapphire blue ran around the edges of the back, making a blue O. Kallie smiled at Jack and dropped her eyes. Jack thought he was supposed to go get her, but he couldn’t move. Cam laughed out loud and shook his head. He put his drink down on the half wall of the deck and walked over to Kallie.
“You. Look. Amazing. Like, out of this world,” Cam said to Kallie, taking her hand and spinning her around.
“Thank you, Cam. I feel amazing. All of this is… unbelievable. Pinch me.”
Cameron took Kallie’s hand and looped it on his elbow, walking her over to where Jack was still standing.
“Hi Jackson,” Kallie said sweetly.
“Kallie. Wow. Umm.. wow.”
Cameron snorted. “My brother, a man of many words.”
Kallie giggled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Kallie was having an amazing time. The waiters and roaming bartenders kept the food and drinks coming. Kallie had switched from alcohol to water after only an hour or so. She didn’t need alcohol to keep this party entertaining; after Jack had finally regained his bearings, he and Cameron had their table laughing all night. She loved the atmosphere; everyone was so welcoming, and whomever she talked to was genuinely interested in what she had to say. Cameron pulled her around the tent, introducing her to so many people that she knew she wouldn’t remember who everyone was.
At around 10, Kallie excused herself to use the restroom. The party was still in full swing, and she had no idea when it would end, nor did she want to it if she was being honest. No one was indoors, so it was easy to slip into her quiet bathroom for a moment. When she was finished, she exited her bedroom and closed the door softly behind her. She turned, walking right into a man that she only vaguely remembered Cameron introducing her to. Tom or Ron or something, she wasn’t sure.
“Hey Beautiful, I thought I saw you come in here.” He was too close to Kallie, and he smelled like alcohol. His eyes were heavy lidded and he was sweating.
“Um, hi. I’m sorry, I’m just trying to get back outside,” Kallie said, shifting uncomfortably and trying to get out of Tom/Ron’s reach.
“What’s the hurry? We can start a party in here, if you want to…”
“No thank you. I’d rather just go outside.”
“Come on pretty girl,” he drawled, pushing her against the wall with his body and running his clammy fingers down her arm.
“Please, don’t touch me. I don’t even know you.”
“But we can get to know each other. Come on girl, get to know me.” He fisted his hand in her hair and pulled her head to the side, nuzzling her neck. Kallie tried to push away from him, but he was just so much bigger than her.
“Get off of me!” Kallie yelled, and suddenly, she felt his big body being pulled violently away from her. Jack was there, coming to her rescue as usual. He shoved Tom/Ron into the opposite wall and away from Kallie.
“I believe she said ‘no’, Tommy. Why don’t you show the lady some respect.” Jack kept his hand on Tom’s chest and kept him pinned to the wall.
“Whoa, easy. Sorry bro, I didn’t know she was taken. My bad, bro.”
“I think you’ve had enough fun here tonight, Tom. You should leave now. The valet will get your car.”
“Goodbye Tom, and goodnight.” Jack grabbed Kallie’s hand and pulled her back towards the backyard. She didn’t look back, just grabbed Jack’s hand tightly and followed him.
“Thanks Jack. Maybe one day I’ll be able to take care of myself and you won’t have to watch my back every second,” Kallie said, trying to lighten the mood.“Don’t worry about it Kal; I’ll always have your back. You know that.”