DISCLAIMER: See Part 1
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“After carefully reviewing your jacket and your behavior before and after it is the official ruling of this committee that you not be reinstated.”
The breath that Jo had been holding onto had released coolly. Her back sat rigid and she looked her superiors in the eye as they dryly gave her the verdict she'd been waiting for. If she had been a man then they would have drawn out the suspension. If March had been any other pervert she would have had a parade.
The countdown to this moment had been tedious. She wasn't one for patience. She hated not knowing if this part of her life was coming to a close. Now here she was in a room with five other men, who took it away, not knowing what they were shattering. She detested giving them the power to do so, but the hell if she'd show it.
“You used excessive force and your actions were deemed unbecoming of an officer. You knowingly injured a man and failed to report it further endangering his life.” The older man with sagging skin and graying hair spoke in monotone. Unflattering caricatures involving the chief of police, a donkey, and a tennis ball were passed around the office. The brunette thought the cartoonist was an optimist. He gave their superior more emotion than Jo ever thought the man was capable of. Jo's face didn't break in disappointment or pain. She had loved the job. She enjoyed making a difference. The badge didn't make her, but it had helped to complete the part of her that needed to be active to make a difference.
When the official pleasantries were over Jo looked over the committee. They were all older men wearing crisp suits and medals. They had never wanted her there. The resentment drove her to do better and excel where her male counterparts didn't. She was smart and capable and even now she could see them looking her over putting her in a dress. When her eyes landed on her Captain Gale, he wore a smug smirk like he had won, and he had.
The former cop stood and turned leaving the white walled room. She didn't meet the curious eyes gazing at her after she walked by them. Her chin didn't tilt. This would be the last time some of them would see her and she wouldn't give them the satisfaction of seeing beyond her mask. If she had bothered to look around she would noticed a familiar blonde head scribbling notes in a pad. Natalie was just as unaware.
She stopped at the steps of the council building. She looked at the street aimlessly. Remy stood outside in the car holding the door for her. She didn't speak and neither did he. She wasn't too devastated to notice that he wasn't yapping away. The change unsettled her. She glared from the back in the rearview mirror.
“Are you sick?”
“What?” he didn't expect her to speak, “uh no.”
“The garage,” she growled. There was plenty of time in their drive for him to speak. It was distracting to obsess over his reserved behavior.
“Did someone die?” she asked absently.
Jo settled into the silence coming to the only conclusion that made sense. Teodor's garage was closed today. Another Wednesday he would be spending with his wife. She figured they were happy. Where most men usually complained about their wives, Teodor was always careful to say nice things. She'd only met the woman once and from that meeting she could assume the woman was worthy. She had to be worth it with the kind of courting Teodor put himself through to get her back.
Remy stayed uncharacteristically silent for the entire trip. Jo obsessed for the remainder. The key in her pocket jingled when she made a move to get out. Remy usually didn't let her get that close before he sprinted towards the door. “You coming?” she asked meeting his eyes in the rearview.
He started from his thoughts and then worked on his seatbelt. Jo was already out of the car to unlock the garage door. Outside of the windows above the garage was darkly lit. She heard Remy stumbling behind her before she turned the light on in the office. He followed her more confidant in his gait.
Her blue jacket lay open and a beer rested in her hand. She took liberties with the old man's stash since knowing she'd replace what she drank. She handed one to Remy. Considering he was going out of his way not to be annoying, he wouldn't be rude now and decline a drink. She leaned back on the couch and watched him stiffly sit beside her leaving a huge gap. She appreciated the distance. But it unsettled her that he didn't try to get into her personal space.
She found him a lot more tolerable as a companion when he wasn't talking. She noticed the dirty glass of Teodor's office. He really needed to clean that, she thought.
“You haven't asked me how it went,” Jo pointed out.
Remy took a drink to avoid speaking. Mr. Warner had warned him not to get too close to Jo in the beginning, but she was easy to like, that's what brought him here.
Remy shrugged, “if you wanted me to know you'd tell me.”
Jo laughed finishing off her beer tearing at the label. She stared at it, but paid attention to Remy's body language. “Why do I get the feeling you already know?”
He cleared his throat and started fidgeting taking another drink. Jo smirked, the man should never play cards in the near or distant future with his tells.
“You knew before I did didn't you?” the question was accusing, but her tone, devoid of emotion, lessened the sting. He choked on a gulp and Jo finally eyed him in his coughing fit. She leaned her forearms on her knees now interlocking her hands. Remy, the self proclaimed man at the bottom of the food chain, knew about her official dismissal before she did. There were one of two reasons to contemplate, and Jo wasn't convinced that the man was omniscient.
“David's been pulling strings hasn't he?” she asked her final question. There gazes met, and even though Remy had yet to say a word the man was too much of an open book to hide the truth. Jo could see it. Her instincts told her something was off and Warner was in the middle of it all, like he always was.
She settled back tossing her hat off watching it slide across the table to the floor on the other side of the small office. Remy didn't need to betray any confidences. She knew Warner would make her pay for being with his daughter. She couldn't give him all the blame for losing her job. From the looks on the committee she didn't look like she had any fans.
“He's not done Jo,” Remy offered against his better judgment.
David liked to play with his proverbial food. The brunette heard all the seriousness in her friend's tone and believed every word of it. Though there wasn't much left for him to take.
“Captain Gale,” Natalie stood abruptly catching up to the wiry older man.
The captain turned. He looked her over debasingly before his eyes roamed back to her eyes and the other tell tale signs that this woman was hunting for a story. “No comment,” he allowed before carrying on.
“Wait,” Natalie followed undeterred.
“I hardly think a disgraced cop is worth media attention,” he called over his shoulder.
Natalie didn't let on she didn't know what he was talking about, “God help us if the day ever comes when the media is run on what you consider news worthy.” She moved faster in his profession Gale deflected nasty comments like that all day long.
Taking a shot in the dark, “disgraced cop slash millionaire mathematician and murdered girl sounds like a Josephine Tey novel.”
The older man whirled around. She struck a nerve, smiling inwardly.
“Media hounds don't care about the truth or who they hurt by twisting it.”
“We're not all made from the same cloth,” Natalie smirked, “but from an outsider's point of view it sounds bad all around.”
He closed the distance between them. Natalie stood her ground fighting the urge to retreat. “Charles March was the victim of an overzealous cop's delusions. Polniaczek no longer represents the department. Whatever she might have said reflects on her resentment of her suspension and subsequent firing.”
She couldn't follow if she wanted to when he entered a cruiser. She remembered her notes and the seemingly clandestine photograph of Captain Gale and Charles March turned overwhelming. What was the great mystery? What did it mean? And Jo, what had happened with the case? She remembered the media coverage. There were no reports that Jo had been suspended, hell, Jo hadn't even said anything. The case wasn't sound enough to hold March. The media waned, reluctant to give up the coined ‘March Molester'. Perhaps there had been more to the story obscure by money and a certain Captain.
“I promise you you're the last person I wanted to see today,” Jo groaned sitting up from the dolly.
When Tootie didn't glare or offer sarcasm as a reply that was all the indication Jo needed. The younger woman knew. She was close to the twenty four hour mark and here she thought she was home free for a day, she was wrong. She smirked and shook her head wiping her hands on a cloth in her pocket.
“Good news travels fast.”
The actress waited a whole hour after hearing the news to seek Jo out. When Louie heard and not long after called her. He didn't know if he would be welcomed, but he knew she wouldn't turn away a childhood friend. And Jo didn't. Instead she stood taken aback by the smaller woman plowing into her arms. The hour wasn't enough time to find sentiments suitable for comfort. Where words failed the actress hoped a friendly hug would convey.
Unfortunately walking in with preconceived notions of the duo Blair eyed the embrace darkly. She had come to talk to Mr. Adamnski about the distribution of funds through a Warner account for vehicles. Teodor noticed the woman before the two women did and introduced him as the owner.
Blair thoughts of retreat were deterred by the man's introduction. She smiled lightly this was the last place she wanted to be. She took the short trek to Mr. Adamnski's office. In resentment she eyed the duo. They had been so wrapped up in each other they didn't even notice she was there. She watched the other man make himself comfortable behind his desk after he closed the door behind them. She decided to stand. While she told herself she stood to stretch from sitting at her desk all day, she knew differently.
She questioned the older man distractedly. Her eyes found Jo and Tootie no longer hugging. Jo was rummaging through tools while Tootie's mouth moved. They stood close, too close for Blair's liking. She sighed reminding herself that she no longer had a claim to the woman, but the part that wouldn't let go was telling her differently.
“I'm sorry that you came all the way here for no reason, but all our paperwork is in order.” The sound of paper slapping his desk got Blair's attention. She moved turning her back to the window for the first time since she walked in.
“So it does,” she admitted troubled by her father's signature. If he were using Jo as a mechanic then why lie about the innocuous profession? And why was Jo a mechanic? Obviously this was something she didn't mind sharing with Tootie.
“Well at least you're thorough,” he tried to make her feel better. He thought it odd for her to be inordinately disappointed, but women were sensitive creatures, even if they were lawyers.
Blair stood holding the file, not looking at the words anymore. Her head lifted expecting to see Jo, but Tootie just stood alone looking down. Returning the folder she her smile was brief stating she could see herself out. When she walked passed this time she made sure that she was seen. Tootie smiled when she saw her and Blair realized where Jo had disappeared.
“Blair what are you doing here?” she queried the smile faltered a little. Blair assumed it was because of a guilty conscience.
“Roughing it,” she looked down as Jo rolled out from under the car. The mechanic stood up looking at Blair, but she didn't bother to speak. Tootie followed her, but she kept a careful eye on Blair and her not so congenial smile. “I'm not in the mood Blair,” the brunette pointed out straightening up her tools.
The blonde's eyes narrowed, “how convenient,” she eyed Tootie and then Jo's back. She could give Tootie a hello hug and not her? Not as if grease and silk went together, she narrowed her eyes on Tootie's sweater stained by Jo's overalls.
“What are you doing here Tootie?” she queried as lightly as she could manage.
“Um…” she started knowing it wasn't her news to share; she looked at Jo, who still had her back turned. “Just visiting,” she answered.
“Oh?” Blair glared into Jo's back.
“Is there something wrong with coming by the garage?” Tootie frowned. Blair had been looking her weird, but now she had a tone to match. It was a tone that she wasn't appreciating being directed at her.
The heiress answered in a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. Jo would have seen it if she turned around. Tootie had a clear view of it and couldn't say she cared for it. Something was going on in Blair's head. Blair feigned being concerned by the time leaving the younger woman confused. Jo pushed her frustrations focusing on her indifferent visage. A short visit by Teodor, after Blair left, shed some light on the real reason she stopped by. Jo listened intently even though she looked to be more concerned with cleaning her tools.
When he was out of ear shot Tootie hit Jo's back for her attention, “what was that all about?”
“What?” Jo turned toward her slightly. Blair had figured this much of ‘the mystery' on her own. It was a matter of time before she was completely unsatisfied with all her father's excuses and went searching for the truth. She didn't know how she would feel about that. It hadn't crossed her mind until today that she would seek answers. She was always under the impression that the women questioned her father in earnest.
Tootie had noticed the change of Blair's behavior. The looks and the tone added up to something familiar. But the actress had only seen it in other women, who thought she stood in the way of their careers or their men. Jo agreed with the younger woman's reservations. Succeeding against quiet shock Tootie found words again only to marvel how Blair could assume she was a rival.
“I don't get it.”
Jo shrugged not understanding it herself. The answers she could offer left holes that only Blair's jaded psyche could fill in and apparently they had. In her head Tootie and she were living in the happily ever after that should have been theirs. Fortunately Blair had only been proactive with making Jo's life a living hell. She never wanted a friend to pay for anything that involved the mistakes she made.
“Just drop it alright?” It came out as a question, but it was a clear cue the conversation end.
Power and love are desired entities that most people spend their lives for. Sometimes they're attainable and other times the reach is too far to even attempt. Poverty of wealth and the heart are afflictions that Randall couldn't write a book about, but he was familiar with both. He saw it on television had heard conversations and even read books about them, but there wasn't something he could consider himself an expert of.
David like power and money and in his mind Randall was a man after his own heart. He'd spent years letting Blair make her own decisions about the person she would spend the rest of her life with. When he found his inaction had gone awry he made moves to rectify it.
They often had lunch around this time. They would talk shop and David could act like the concerned doting father he had never been. Randall didn't need to know that he was a pawn to kill the last bit of affection he knew his daughter held for Jo. This extra time with his future son-in-law allotted time to make ‘suggestions' to woo his baby. Randall, none the wiser, took the information in stride developing a fantasy of his own about what his life would be like when he was at the reigns of Blair's life. It wasn't a position her father would give up easily, but if he played the cards right he could convince David to relinquish it.
Jo watched Lorraine sleep. The woman's face was still swelled, but she didn't look as bad as she first did when she was brought there. Remy called in a physician that first night to look after her care. She was given a clean bill of health outside of the swelling and bruising. If they hadn't gotten there who knows what Bell would have done to her.
“Who is she?”
Jo turned frowning at her unexpected visitor. David Warner had more right than anyone to be there since it was his apartment she was using. That didn't stop her resentment that he came and went as he pleased in a place he freely gave. But she supposed forfeiting any privacy was one of the prices she had to pay, which was why in all the months it was available she hadn't used it until now.
“Someone who needed help,” she admitted reluctantly. She moved and relaxed in the den. She didn't want him near her charge.
“I didn't give you this place to make it your own personal half way house,” David sat across from her. Jo studied their positions always on opposing sides. It was the reality of their relationship since they met.
“She doesn't concern you,” Jo knew he was searching for more leverage.
The older man pursed his lips. “She does when she is accepting Warner hospitality by staying here and cared for by my doctor.”
“Not everyone is a power play.”
He sighed. “There's a lot of potential in you Joanne, get over that big block of integrity in your path and you're no different than me.”
“I like my block,” Jo deadpanned.
“What's it done for you so far?” He shifted in his seat, his hand braced on the sides of the chair.
“I can think of one big thing.” Warner quirked his brow for her to continue, “it reminds me I'm not you or the Charles March's of the world.”
“Obviously it's not so bad being a silver spoon,” he smirked referring to his wealth and all the luxuries that came with it.
Jo narrowed her eyes, “for now.”
“You don't get your man detective, you don't get the key to city, and you definitely aren't getting the girl,” he crossed his legs letting his ankle rest on his knee.
Jo clenched her jaw. Doing him physical harm would be selfish and satisfying, but she knew couldn't, not yet. She let David Warner take his proverbial victory lap. There was always something that could tip the scales. Over a decade of having one of the most conniving best friends had taught her some things. She never knew when she had to use them, but they were part of her repertoire when the occasion called for it.
“So is that all?” she asked bored with his company.
“No,” he continued, “I actually came by to drop off a gift,” he pointed toward the miniature box that sat on the table.
When her gaze landed on it she didn't let her brow furrow, but she was wary of its contents. She made no move to open it. David didn't wait for her to if he thought she would. Just as quietly and quickly he had come he left in the same fashion. Jo leaned on her knees and looked at the box. It was lavender with a pink bow. She grimaced inwardly at the color choice. Blair would have appreciated the design more than she.
She looked up at the door where he disappeared. There was no one else in the room for her. She tipped the box open to peak at first. H er eyes narrowed. She dropped it on the table and stared at it the necklace. She lay back into the comfort of the chair. It was a modest trinket she took care to choose. It was going on the neck of one of the most beautiful women in the world after all. Blair had loved the gift even though she had her choice of diamonds and pearls when it came to jewelry.
She said she would never take it off. The mechanic succumbed to a flurry of emotions closing her eyes. She didn't wipe away the tear that fell. Instead Jo felt it fall down her cheek to her chin and drop somewhere on her shirt. She remembered Blair wearing it at the ice cream parlor. She tried to remember if she had seen it when she barged in her office. David could have duplicated it. He'd admitted to knowing about them. There was no reason to believe that while he had them watched he wasn't taking notes on how to break them apart. David was as meticulous with a plan as Blair is with her wardrobe choice and a lot more dangerous.
She leaned forward sighing picking the necklace up. She held it to her face looking at the heart twist and turn. Blair had smiled with joy when she woke up with Jo trying to sneak it on her neck. Jo's smile was bittersweet then it dropped into a determined line. She collected her jacket after checking on Lorraine and leaving a note just in case.
Jo hailed a cab and gave the driver Blair's address. When she slid back in the seat she watched the city as they sped by. Lights were still on and Jo looked down at her watch to see what time it was. She found only a bare arm and wondered where she left it, and then she remembered she showered at Tootie's that afternoon. Her lip twitched recalling Tootie and Natalie's intervention. They had the best of intentions, but even that was too unexpected for Jo.
When the cab stopped she paid and jumped out the car without a second glance to him. She didn't notice as it left. Her eyes were trained on the stoop and then the house that it led to. She took the steps one after the other almost wishing there were more. Coming over felt like a good idea with raw emotion coursing through her veins, but now she wasn't sure. The lights were off and Jo wished that she knew what time it was. She hadn't thought to ask the cabbie, he would have known.
She turned before she felt something in her jacket pocket. She looked down at her tools and then turned back to the lock. She remembered she used them to break into the Bell home. One second of thought was all she allowed herself to think about what she was doing. A few moments of tinkering and she was inside. Jo opened the door slowly and quietly with practiced ease. She was a professional at sneaking in since the tender age of twelve, when she was young and stupid. Some could say she was revisiting that now.
The door shut with a click. When Natalie was having trouble with rent Blair proposed she stay with her. Blair paid most of the rent lessening Natalie's stress to keep up. Tootie was the first to volunteer, but her place was too small for the both of them and a terrible commute to Natalie's job. Jo had only been here a few times, but never in Blair's room. She looked at the hallway at each door willing one of them to tell her if Blair was behind it. In all probability she wouldn't be happy to see Jo. But her feet wouldn't move to retreat. Her hand closed around the charm and suddenly she was filled with the emotion that brought her out tonight.
“Blair,” she whispered harshly. Distancing herself was a long forgotten tactic she pulled on like a second skin when David reentered her life so proactively. Now all she wanted was for Blair to understand that everything she did and had done was what she needed to do. It sounded convoluted even to her even when she didn't say it out loud; perhaps that was why she'd avoided talking about it to anyone. They would think she was over complicating the situation when in fact she wasn't.
Her head immediately jerked in the direction of the front door. She heard it open. She looked down the hallway with the closed doors. She assumed earlier that they were both asleep. She strained her ears to listen. She heard whispering. The sets of voices sounded like they belonged to a man and a woman. Jo frowned she couldn't tell which roommate it was. Her heart sank at the possibility that it was Blair.
Moans replaced talking and Jo for a moment forgot herself and slammed her head against the frame of the wall. The thud was louder than she anticipated and she stopped to listen hoping no one noticed. When the moaning got louder Jo realized it definitely wasn't Blair making the noise. She knew that sound very well. No, Natalie was getting it on with a mystery man and couldn't remember Tootie making mention of a man in her life right now. She had been busy, but Natalie and Tootie weren't subtle about their love lives.
“Yes,” Natalie hissed and Jo groaned inwardly. She was stuck. There wasn't another way out and the only way she could escape was passed the two people in heat. It would be a very awkward conversation and she no long felt like a confrontation with Blair would be good considering. She heard a door open behind her and she immediately jetted towards it. Covering Blair's mouth with her hands she moved them back into a startled Blair's room.
A muffled protest erupted from Blair. Working on pure instinct and a few self defense classes she threw her knee upward. Jo groaned then collapsed when she felt something hard and boney connect unkindly in between her legs. Her arms went up futilely when something struck her over and over. In the dark, however, she couldn't anticipate where Blair would strike next.
“Hey,” Jo growled, “stop!” Jo struggled to stand but kept getting beat back down by whatever it was that Blair was hitting her with.
The screaming startled the duo in the living area. Natalie and her friend moved hurriedly to the origin of the noise haphazardly pulling their clothes together. When they reached the room, Natalie, more familiar with the architecture, found the light and switched it on.
“It's me!” Jo yelled needlessly now that Blair could indeed see.
Blair stopped herself mid attack when she saw her former lover balled up on the floor. She heard the yelling and the voice had registered on some level familiar. She wasn't going to take the chance to be raped because of familiar.
“Jo?” Natalie frowned. Her friend hauled Jo up and held her looking to Blair.
“Are you ok?” he asked glaring darkly at the intruder as Jo yanked her arm away returning the sentiment.
“Fine,” she huffed. Her breath came out fast from the exertion of beating her friend into a pulp. Jo looked at the weapon and smirked at the toy bat she gave Blair a year ago. It was a souvenir from a game a Yankees game. Blair claimed it was hideous, but obviously it had made an impression if she still had, even if it was for a weapon.
“You sure?” he looked Blair over to make sure Jo hadn't harmed her.
Natalie pushed passed him to join in, “of course she's fine the only one here that looks like they need medical attention is this one. Are you ok?”
“Is she ok?” Blair asked indignantly, “I'm the one that was attacked.”
“I didn't lay a hand on you!”
“What do you call putting your hand over my mouth?”
“I just didn't want you to interrupt Tarzan and Jane in the living room.”
Natalie blushed and her friend's face reddened as well, but neither woman noticed. Natalie knew that whatever else either one of them said wouldn't be welcomed or acknowledged. Her investigation into the department's investigation wasn't far from being broached. Though, she didn't think it was the time or the place to talk. She pulled her curious companion from the room and shook her head when he opened his mouth to speak. There was no point in interrupting their argument. Perhaps this is what they needed anyway, a confrontation to let out all the tension.
“Why are you here?” she placed her hands on her hips with a determined stance.
The question prompted Jo to close her mouth swallowing the reply on the tip of her tongue. She knew why she had come and now standing in front of Blair it seemed like a stupid gesture. What had she come here and expected? Blair was angry with her, it made sense for her not to want Jo's gift anymore. In school it wasn't uncommon for Blair to discard gifts when she found a suitor unworthy of her affections. Jo had proven herself unworthy and Blair had finally gotten over her. It wasn't something she wanted even though Jo's actions up until that point said the opposite.
“Nothing,” she responded sheepishly.
“Nothing?” Blair held up her bat, “you risked getting beat to death for nothing?”
Jo quirked her brow at the weapon.
Blair tilted it challengingly and Jo started towards the door, “where are you going?”
“Leaving,” she didn't bother to turn, if she had she would have ducked. Blair swung hitting her hard on the back of the head. Jo stopped in her tracks.
“What was that?” Jo held the part of her head Blair smacked.
“A goodnight kiss,” Blair answered smartly.
“You…if you hit me again….” Jo trailed off wishing for something inventive.
“What?” Blair stepped forward in challenge. Both hands held the bat ready to strike again.
Jo looked down at the offending object and for the first time wondered if that it was actually a good idea.
“I'll hit you back,” Jo finished. She turned fully to the heiress daring her to take a swing.
Blair smiled thinly. She lowered the bat down to her side and nodded her head. It was only until Jo turned around to leave again did she strike. Jo whipped around grabbing the bat first backing Blair up to the bed. She fell on the mattress when the back of her knees gave out at the impact. She lay breathing heavily. Jo noticed that her top had opened slight letting the curve of her breast peak out in greeting. There was nothing especially sexy about her pajamas, but she learned a long time ago Blair could make anything she wore work.
“Are you going to hit me now?” Blair husked angrily. She was aroused. Jo made her aroused and she hated that fact. She wanted to hate Jo, but it was hard to separate rage and lust when it came to the cop.
Jo leaned over resting on one hand while the other kept a tight grip of the bat in the other. She never expected to give into Blair. This was when the debutante was at her sexist. In her natural form without all the makeup just the look in her eyes was enough. It also helped that she knew the woman wouldn't be wearing anything underneath.
Closing in on Blair's lips Blair thought about smacking her. She wanted Jo to hurt as much as she did. It was physical pain, but at least it would be something. Her plan was to let Jo kiss her and then retaliate with teeth instead. The plan had gone horribly wrong and instead she responded whole heartedly with tongue.
They grappled for control of the kiss. All their rage and frustration melded, battled, and bent with both their wills. Neither was ready to give up power and neither would. Jo pushed Blair farther of the bed straddling her. She threw the bat away not caring where it landed. She was too focused on her body and the woman underneath her.
“Jo,” Blair moaned when she pulled her mouth away and let the brunette attack her throat.
The mechanic whimpered in answer, but Blair forgot what she was about to say. This was what she had wanted. This was what Jo denied her for months. How she and Jo would feel after didn't matter. All that mattered was here and now they were together. It felt good to be underneath Jo, even as she acknowledged the thought she pushed Jo aside and claimed the top.
Jo leaned up as much as she could pushing away the hair that had fallen into Blair's face. It wasn't usually unkempt so Jo took pleasure in the moments that very few people were privy to. Blair was all control and shallow to a point, but not now. She loved Blair. And for the first time in months she wanted to say the words out loud. She wanted to give Blair back everything she had taken and denied. Everything that included what David Warner said she could never have.
Jo eyed Blair's hips as they moved against her stomach in a silent rhythm. Jo grunted biting the bottom of her lip becoming painfully aroused. Blair, ever the extrovert, brought that energy into the bedroom. It was a show that Jo came to anticipate enthusiastically. Jo rose to meet her half way when she leaned down but instead Blair pushed the other woman away.
The mechanic dropped her head back down to the mattress. Her chest rose and fell as she stared aimlessly at the ceiling. Licking her lips catching her breath she leaned up on her elbows. They stared at each other breathing heavily.
Time felt at a halt lost in each other.
“Lay with me.” Jo coaxed her further caressing her thighs through the fabric of her pajamas.
The blonde acquiesced after a moment of hesitation. She fell gently on her lover's chest. They didn't speak their truce and the blanket of silence too fragile to ruin with words.
The morning air was a mixture of smells unidentifiable in their origin. Remy just liked to call it ‘city smell'. He leaned against his car casually a newspaper in his hand. He didn't usually do newspapers, but he needed the distraction. The driver knew how much Mr. Warner hated when he carried around his infamous gossip magazines. The daily funnies were the compromise. Warner could be consoled that passerby's would be under the impression that his driver looked like he cared about daily news. Remy got paid well enough to do the things he liked just as much as he did the things he didn't much care for. Standing outside of his daughter's home, knowing full well Jo had spent the night fell in the latter.
Remy looked up when the door he'd been waiting to open finally did. He saw a glimpse of surprise on Jo's face when she stepped out, but she recovered quickly. Blair looked curiously at Remy over Jo's shoulder noticing how it stiffened. She didn't think it was coincidence that he was here, especially since the last time she saw him she saw Jo giving him orders.
“Who is that?” she leaned against the door frame. It was wide enough to see him but his view was obscured by Jo standing in front of her.
“Business,” Jo answered noncommittally.
She tilted her head. He smiled acknowledging her and she returned the gesture. “And what am I?” She could find out what she wanted about the mechanic's friend later. Right now she wanted to know if Jo regretted their time together.
“Beautiful,” Jo caressed her cheek much like she had done the previous night.
“Jo…” she sighed ready to voice any uncertainty she felt when Jo pushed her in closing her hand around the knob she pulled it.
“Shut up Blair,” she claimed the blonde's lips and her waist with a firm grip. The kiss was meant to reassure her, but that didn't stop the debutante from wrapping her arms around her neck. The door shut with the force of Blair's pull. They slammed against the wall together and Blair dragged her arms to Jo's center.
Jo pulled away their lips inches from the other. Their breathing heavy mingling while hands roamed eagerly indiscriminate. “You love me,” she reiterated from their altercation at Jo's. The brunette smiled knowing. Before tonight she probably could have given her a convincing no. But she liked the sound of the words too much to argue.
She pulled away making promises to come by later that evening, “if you want to see me that is,” Jo offered.
The moments where Jo discarded her own bravado took Blair's breath away. She fell more in love with each piece of the puzzle that was Polniaczek and she still wasn't tired of piecing her together. She lowered her eyes to Jo's mouth, “did I kiss you like I don't want to finish what we started?”
Chuckling at the response Jo dropped her head for a chaste lip lock. It had been her idea to just hold each other last night. It didn't feel right to be with her until she knew everything. And she did intend to tell her. Jo knew she was a bastard. It just wasn't her ambition to be a well rounded one. Their promises weren't set in stone, but they might as well have been with the way they were determined to make them an ‘us' again. Jo had been a fool wallowing in blind self exile. Blair had been a fool for her letting her as if she cared less than she actually did. They weren't going to let each other go.
Jo practically skipped down the steps. While she glowed her counterpart glowered folding his newspaper under his arm, “you're playing with fire,” he said barely audible.
She wondered briefly why he was whispering but settled into the backseat without question. When she met dark eyes she answered the question. She didn't have time to speak before a fist shot out. What the hell is it with Warner's hitting me lately? She queried to herself holding her busted lip. Jo could take a hit. The shock came from the sneak attack and who'd been behind it. She pushed the pain aside enough to smirk.
“Good morning to you too Dave,” she chirped feeling her lip throb.
He glowered with his fist resting on his knee clenched. Jo eyed the fist. This was a side of Dave she had never seen before. She liked it. It was something that not only she could relate to, but manipulate. Because he drew first blood, Jo felt like she had the upper hand now.
“What were you doing there?” he asked with controlling rage.
“You're a smart man, put two and two together,” Jo taunted, “or would you like a diagram?”
“Before last night I thought you had the potential to be a smart woman Joanne,” his voice was strained.
“That's funny,” she began, “I see last night as a wakeup call. Before I let go of the very thing I should have been fighting for and now there's no way in hell I'm letting her go.”
David scoffed. “It's taken me four marriages to know what you fail to realize Joanne. Fairytale endings don't exist. This can only end badly for you.”
“Stop the car Remy,” she called out feeling the older man's eyes boring into her. She met them. They both had made their intentions clear. Neither would back down. Remy stopped. Jo exited the car closing the door after her. The vehicle sat unmoving even after she walked away.
The driver stared after the woman knowing no good could come of Jo's rebellion. Sure her strides belied assurance in her decision to metaphorically spit in Warner's face, but the aftermath had the potential to be devastating. If love inspired insane risks like going up against a man like David Warner then he wasn't interested in it.
Daryl Ronson had been a homicide reporter for all of six months before he realized he like the lighter things in life. A diet of blood, pain, and more pain wasn't healthy for anyone to ingest if they didn't have to. Instead he molded his talent to provoke emotion with another type of news. He took pride in his column even if his viewers knew him as Gladys Lorring. The gift of gab was what made him an exceptional writer. Being raised by his mother put him in touch with his feminine side. The two attributes merged to create a successful column that newspapers vied for and finally The Times won out. He had no loyalties in Chicago and it was time for a change of scenery.
The Times was a lot busier than the moderately small paper he came from before. He appreciated the beauty of the gritty city and the other small joys it offered namely, Natalie Greene. He reacted to her sharp sarcastic wit and immediately found a kindred spirit. She of course thought he was too idealistic for reality, but he countered that maybe some time with her would ground him and he could find a happy medium. The blondish brunette obliged and before long lunches became dinners and dinners became heated make out sessions after hours in her living room.
He was having fun and he hoped she was to. Unfortunately last night was cut short by the screams of her roommate leaving him wanting. Today he admired her chewing at the end of her pencil while she wrote with purpose. Her gaze never lingered, despite how much he had willed her to look in his direction so that she would know his private hell. He smirked to himself and then headed over with two cups of coffee. One black just like Natalie liked it and the other full sugar and cream enough to induce a sugar coma as his mother joked often.
“Morning,” he grinned placing the glass on her desk.
She looked at the offering and then the man the offering came from. “Hey Gladys,” Natalie stopped typing long enough to take the pencil out of her mouth. She loved that the world didn't know that the middle aged lady looking at them from their paper was really a Harlequin hunk. She teased him constantly about the ruse, but it was all good fun.
Daryl lowered his voice, “a bribe.”
“Attention,” he smirked leaning over to see what she was writing.
“Hey hey buddy top secret,” she plucked him away from her screen.
He threw his hands up in surrender laughing as he left her desk. Usually they chatted a little longer than that. She didn't dwell on it assuming she looked as possessed as she felt, until she saw a sticky note under the coffee cup she began to sip from. Natalie recognized the writing and then smiled at the time and place scribbled on it.
She had planned on working late into the evening. But with a gust of anticipation for the next six hours she was determined to get as much work as possible done. She wanted to spend the evening in the arms of a Harlequin romance hunk. She'd never admit to him that's how she saw him. It made her look shallow and she didn't want him to think that she saw him as just a piece of meat. Though the writer found it liberating to be on the other side of the exchange she found demeaning.
She stopped herself from giggling uncontrollably. She had said goodbye to giggling Natalie in High School. It was more mature to smile in sultry mystery. She laughed at herself focusing on her notes. She talked to Mr. Rodriguez the little girl's father; he was a mess, which was understandable. How long did it take to get over someone they loved especially family? When her father died she took it hard and no time felt right to feel better. In time the pain had eased to a dull ache. Fortunately she hadn't turned to darker vices to hide from reality, Mr. Rodriguez on the other hand had.
They had talked for an hour. An hour was all it took for the man at his most vulnerable to share what he should have told the police all those months ago. Charles March had hurt his little girl.
“He hurt her in a way a father should never let a man hurt his blood.”
His eyes were haunted and Natalie didn't know what it said about her, but she couldn't feel sorry for him. Daryl, who had been looking around the room, stopped his perusal to stare speechlessly. His face betrayed his feelings, but Mr. Rodriguez was too focused on self deprecating to be concerned with being judged.
While he told his side of the story he didn't leave out any unflattering details. It was only a matter of time before he put himself in a liquid coma if the empty bottles around the room were any indication. The father lied for a paycheck at his daughter's expense. One socially apt man was held unaccountable because another was just as corruptible as Sophia's father. She could clear Jo's name. She had the power to tell the world about what happened to Sophia.
Blair pulled her gaze away from the contracts her father had sent over. She hadn't even been aware her father was interested in the March computer company. The name that hiked her delicately plucked eyebrows up left her even more curious than her father's unexpected interest. She looked at her watch. Her father was in a meeting and wouldn't be out of it until after lunch. She moved to pick up the phone, but didn't know where to call Jo. She had hours until they met up last night.
Unanswered questions were falling like the unyielding rain outside. Too many too count, but Blair felt the blow of each droplet tax on her psyche. Her father was a businessman. He made no apologizes for the sacrifices he's made to stay on top, and if he did she doubted they were sincere—even to her. His tenacity meant bull dozing people on a regular basis; it was something that came with the territory.
For the first time in a long time Vesper noticed her boss smiling. Since it was her business to dissect every expression to gauge her performance she was apt to the many faces of Blair Warner. Today her smiled hadn't been particularly aimed at her, but it was genuine. The morning had been going well despite the rain.
“Good morning Ms. Warner,” Vesper came in carrying her pad. Earlier she delivered a cup of coffee and a bagel that she noticed Blair had yet to touch. The young woman noticed and frowned wondering if she had done something wrong. It was a cold rainy day and Blair's mood mirrored it the assistant noticed, she hoped she had doing nothing to feed it.
“Was the coffee and bagel not to your satisfaction?” she asked dropping her pad already making a move to rectify whatever mistake she made to her employers morning meal.
Blair shook her head waving the young woman away. She needed to get some work done and distracting herself with her secretary checking off her responsibilities of the day would have to do.
“Warner,” a voice rang from the door as uninvited as the owner who waltzed in.
Stopping from making an audible groan Blair plastered a mirror of the faux smile for her visitor, “Roger.”
“Lovely weather we're having isn't it?” he glared at the spacious view. He would kill for her view.
“I have a lot more pressing matters than the weather to attend to,” though he ignored her critical observation with little heed. Roger folded his hand and peaked at the flourish of papers on her desk, “pressing matters as in…the contracts of the purchased shares of March's company. The old man does love paper, pen, and legality.”
Blair sighed at her own curiosity and dismissed her secretary.
“How would you know about it?”
“I wrote it,” he smiled inordinately proud of himself.
Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.
- Vincent van Gogh
Remy sat in his car eight minutes away from the Warner building. He knew his boss hated when he was late, but there was no getting around the traffic from the work being done to the streets. He had the brilliant idea to leave early, but that just insured that he stayed in the line longer. He groaned leaning his head back into his seat. He watched the rain falling and the wipers clear the water in a mechanical rhythm. Craning his neck he found his magazine and smiled reaching for it. At least he could catch up and use the distraction to ignore the horn blowing frenzy.
The passenger door opened abruptly. A wet Jo Polniaczek dropped into the seat hurriedly closing the door behind her, “…like cats and dogs,” she mumbled.
She threw the limp newspaper Remy assumed she used to fend off the rain with, on the dash. When she turned her attention away from her soaked person she focused on the befuddled driver. In the short time they knew each other Jo was privy to a few facts that accumulated into what she thought of the Cajun driver. She liked him. On a scale of one to ten she could give him a safe, but sure five.
“What are you doing here?” He noticed the cut on her lip and then looked around outside needlessly. He was safe from the prying eyes of his boss, who sat in a high rise in a meeting with only thirty minutes left.
Her hair fell matted on her forehead but she didn't bother to move it. She turned fully in her seat, her clothes in their condition, made an otherwise silent shift into a production of wet sound. “I have a proposition.”
The driver shook his head as Jo waited coolly until he finished, “no I'm not going to get involved absolutely not…my job…I love the money I do some shitty things, but I love the money.” He watched the wipers feeling safe to train his eyes on them and not Jo. “You know what it's like to be poor and then…..to have the security of a job like this, for a man like David Warner.”
“People like you are the reason he has this insane god complex,” Jo shifted again. The red lights from the cars brought color to the gray morning.
Remy scoffed, “you are people like me Jo.”
Their gazes didn't meet and the car stayed quiet until Jo answered, “I know,” she lifted her head and turned to him, “but I'm done.”
It was stated with so much conviction Remy didn't want to contest it, even if it felt better for him to have company. Warner, both of them, had had their claws in Jo a lot longer. He wondered what she was like before meeting them—he knew that he was less morally contemplative.
Jo watched him clench his jaw, “I'm not even supposed to be talking to you.”
“I'll do all the talking and when I'm done I'll never jeopardize your silk cushion again ok?” The nod was there, but if Jo hadn't been paying attention she wouldn't have caught it.
David sat at the head of the table. Watching as another presentation of sales and investments filled the wet morning, he was seconds away from calling it to a stop. He was more than restless. It was hard to ignore the wrench in his stomach when a memory of Jo's eyes glazed with satisfaction when he hit her. It had not had the desired effect. Violence was predictable that way that is why usually he refrained from using it.
He clenched the hand that connected with her lip. He ran his hand over the knuckle. He had meant to greet his daughter this morning and give her a ride to work. From the tinted glass he could see the brunette exit the house looking very…satisfied. There were few moments that his cool veneer cracked. Joanne had been the reason for the two that came to mind; each one included his daughter in some way.
The lung had been out of reaction. An emotional fault that couldn't be rectified and in all honesty he didn't want to. He was sharp and quick and not usually a trade sadist, but Joanne was a personal project. David had already consoled himself that he would take his time with her. It was strange that even with the things that had gone wrong in her life she was still determined to be a pain.
“Mr. Warner,” a whispered in his ear shyly, “this came for you,” she handed him an envelope.
He looked at the envelope not looking up at the woman or the curious gazes aimed in his direction. He half expected to see nude pictures of him and some tryst, but he knew better than that. He wasn't as careless as his other protégés even more paranoid about what could get out and destroy the dynasty that he had built.
In place of a photo was a contract. His brow furrowed and the rest of the room escaped from notice as he read skimmed through it until he finally found the reason for it to be sent. He set his jaw curious as to how she pulled this off.
“Mr. Warner?” a brave executive interrupted his reverie.
David looked up acknowledging the speaker, “what?” he answered more brusquely than he intended, “we'll finish this tomorrow,” he continued and stood to leave.
While inquisitive glances were exchanged no one offered a protest. They watched their boss head out of the office like a man, who owned the place, and since he did he could do whatever he pleased.
He took the elevator his first instinct was to press the first floor, but he chose his daughter's floor. He ran the contracts through his legal personnel before and after they were signed, it was just his way. He paced in the elevator unhappy at the speed of delivery. When he did reach the floor he pushed passed the duo waiting to get on. Whatever dark remarks they had didn't go any farther than their personal musings, that is, until he was out of earshot.
Vesper stood up quickly to greet David, but he ignored her just like he had done everyone else in his search for his daughter. Not bothering to knock he entered Blair's office unannounced.
“Mr. Warner,” Roger's glared transformed into a wide welcoming smile. Blair smirked amused by how quickly his lips puckered whenever her father's ass was in his vicinity.
“What is this,” he seethed slamming the contract, crumbled at the corner from his grip, into Roger's chest.
The man frowned never remembering a time when Mr. Warner was displeased with his work, when he realized it was a copy of the contract he was bragging about.
“What's wrong daddy?” Blair stood from her desk. She had never seen her father so demonstrative in his discontent.
“I don't own these shares why?” he tried to calm himself in front of Blair. “Have you read these?” he picked up the pile on her desk seeing another name repeated where his name should be. He hated when things didn't go his way and usually he kept a cool head. Joanne, however, inspired a primal urge that ended with images of his hands around her neck.
“Yes,” Blair chimed in slowly showing her confusion.
“I….I…I…I don't know about this sir,” he answered just as baffled.
“Then what the hell is it I pay you for?” he ground out inches from the other man's cringing figure.
Roger gulped and while the blonde wasn't fond of her coworker she didn't want anything ruined in her painstakingly decorated office. “Daddy,” she said in a hopefully soothing voice brushing her hand against his arm. He was stiff with rage, but she prodded further until he took enough steps back to lessen her discomfort. Roger was appreciative as well breathing a brief sigh of relief until he heard the words ‘you're fired'.
David didn't give the lawyer a second glance when he turned his back. In truth Roger had been a loyal employee. His work was exemplary, but he couldn't afford a staff of incompetents. The contract had to go through several hands and it took an unmarked envelope to tell him what Roger should have, that he made a mistake.
“Daddy,” Blair started but his hand went up to stop her from speaking.
“Not now princess,” he was thinking. Joanne had pulled a fast one, but there still was a card he could play. He turned to Blair. He never liked to involve his daughter in his dirty deeds, only when it was necessary and there had been quite a few necessary times over the years. She always forgave and understood if she found out he was using her, he always sugar coated it with a gift.
He doubted what he was about to propose next would garner the father of the year award. But in retrospect he'd always coveted the businessman of the year award more. His eyes darted to his daughter's door when Vesper interrupted to say she had a call from a Ms. Polniaczek.
“Put her through,” he demanded forgetting he had an audience.
Words were sometimes an unfortunate way to communicate. Often when they matter most they halt their travel at the throat. Jo had spent her morning trying to decide how to tell Blair about her. Blair deserved the truth no matter how badly it ended for the former cop. She held onto the phone waiting patiently for the blonde's hello. However, she hadn't expected the voice she heard instead.
“What the hell have you done?”
“I want to talk to Blair.”
David looked at his daughter as he said she wasn't available to come to the phone, nor would she be for Joanne. The brunette bit the bottom of her lip glaring at the cracks on the sidewalk. The man could grate her nerves like a pro.
“Where are you?”
Jo's glare moved to the phone then she slammed it on the receiver. She ignored the looks in her direction and headed toward the building holding her favorite and least favorite people. Security didn't give her a second glance when she moved through the turning doors. The elevator ride to Blair's office was going too slow for her tastes. And while she would have appreciated the exertion of running up the stairs she needed the energy for the confrontation ahead.
“Daddy what's going on?” Blair kept her tone calm even as her aggravation evolved to anger.
David ignored his daughter's question. He didn't think his daughter would look at him the same if he knew how deeply involved he was with unscrupulous affairs. He knew his daughter was a highly intelligent woman, more worldly than most. But being a father wouldn't end until after he was long gone. Until then that meant doing everything his power to preserve her image of him. Sure, she knew that he could be cutthroat in business, but to her knowledge he had never exercised that initiative outside of it.
“Nothing you need to concern yourself with princess,” he plastered on an assuring smile, but in seeing her jaw set he knew she wasn't going to drop it.
“It becomes my business when it involves my...,” she stopped short to catch herself, “friend.”
The patriarch caught the pause and his hackles rose at the possible words that ‘friend' replaced. He often thought a confrontation of their affair would be wise. Then he considered the words that would come out of her mouth, words he didn't and wasn't ready to hear.
“This is between Joanne and I honey,” his tone had hardened.
Blair tilted her head frowning now, “what are you talking about?” she stepped toward him, “you've been hiding things from me daddy and I don't like it. I turn a blind eye to business because you're a businessman, but I grew up with Jo I care about her. I don't want her to get hurt.”
“You think I would hurt a friend of yours?” he mirrored the tilt of her head with one of his own. He never dwelled on his daughter's perception of him. All she had ever given him were kind words and warm welcomes and an endless supply of ‘I love you'. Where in any of that had she gotten the idea that he was capable of hurting someone on purpose? It didn't change the fact that he could and did, but it was always something to shield his baby from. Through her eyes he could be the perfect father despite the unworthy title.
Blair shook her head lowering her head, “what do you expect me to say daddy?” She sounded lost and hurt, “I know what those contracts mean and I know you when it comes to business.”
Sighing he smiled at his baby girl. “Life was so much easier when all I had to do was buy you ponies and pearl earrings when you were a little girl.”
“Is that what you want to do, distract me from the truth?”
“What's so great about knowing something that can hurt you?” he began his play of words to manipulate the conversation.
“I made a mistake pumpkin one that I did because I cared,” his opening offered introduction to a deeper conversation.
Jo walked in to hear the last part.
Blair's hair whipped over her shoulder as she returned her gaze back to her father when Jo entered soundlessly. He took a step toward her and then made a dramatic pause and turned to Joanne. If he beat her to it, it made her out to be the one keeping secrets. For him to lament and confess he could show his daughter how deep his internal turmoil was over the role of the untruth.
“Don't choke on that line of bull,” Jo folded her arms in disgust.
“Wait!” Blair exchanged a look with Jo then her father. Placing a hand on her forehead she closed her eyes and left it there when she spoke. “Why did you give the maintenance contracts of Warner vehicles to a shop in the Bronx where Jo happens to work? And when I talked to the owner, he said he had Jo to thank for the business? And why don't the numbers match up with how much it should really cost?” She met their eyes again, “why are you lying to me?”
Jo tightened the cross of her arms before dropping them at her side; they didn't stay there for long. She brought them up to piece together a sentence that wouldn't get anything thrown at her head. But softening the blow wouldn't make the news sound any better to hear. David saw her struggle, but when he jumped in, it had little to do with lending aid.
“Joanne and I have a complicated history.”
“What kind of complicated history can develop over a handful of meetings?” Blair didn't like where this was heading.
David took control again steering it away from recent events Blair inquired about, “I'm the reason that Joanne went to Eastland.”
“What?” Blair shook her head smiling away her father's absurdity, “Jo was there on scholarship.”
The older man shook his head and Jo watched not believing how easily he could warp this to his advantage. He took the long pauses. He made sympathetic overtures. David was a pro at this game and Jo realized that perhaps giving Monica all the credit for Blair's diabolical side may have been rash.
He shook his head slowly his eyes met his daughters, “I wanted you safe and looked after and I knew you wouldn't appreciate armed guards.”
“So…you what?” the truth was forming slowly against a resistant psyche.
Jo stepped toward Blair to finish, “I needed the money,” she started then amended her statement, “my family needed the money. And this suit offers my mom a paycheck every month and all I had to do was go to school and….,” Jo trailed off losing steam. Ignoring the situation had only made explaining it worse.
“And what?” the blonde narrowed her eyes waiting for Jo to carry on.
David jumped in, “I paid her to be your friend.”
Jo's face folded, “no,” she shook her head. “No, I mean that's how it started out,” she tried to convey what she felt without saying the words. Blair was still unaware David knew about them, and there was already one big secret out of the bag they didn't have room for two. “But this spoiled self absorbed assembly line Barbie brat grew on me… until growing on me turned into a being my best friend.”
Blair glared, “the scholarships that you lost? The money troubles at home?” she tried to piece the moments from their past into a cohesive memory. It was a lot of past to pick through, but the common denominator came from Jo's underprivileged roots.
The older man interrupted Jo before she had a chance to answer, “Joanne was never genuinely in financial peril.”
Blair gasped making a sound like a choke, as if she were trying to speak with disobliging words. Jo glared, “shut up,” she held up her hand, her mouth curved upward nervously as she continued to talk directing the words to Blair. “My mom waited tables for guys that thought pawing at my ma came with the special of the day. I didn't think about who you were when I took the deal. I just thought of the hours my mom could cut back on at a job that took so much outta her.”
Blair's eyes dropped, but Jo continued needing to say her peace even as the heiress closed herself off in front of her. She avoided Dave's gaze and focused on the woman she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. “I planned to be fake…and then I met you,” she trailed off letting her tone say the rest. Their first meeting had been disastrous. An uncensored Blair and an equally unrepressed young Polniaczek unintentionally foreshadowed their entire friendship from one introduction.
“Oh.” The first words Blair had said since Jo stopped speaking. Jo hadn't anticipated immediate understanding, but the delivery left the mechanic wishing for more emotion. The bad thing about the socialite, that had only gotten worse over time, was her ability to hold a grudge.
“Princess I know it was wrong of both of us for this charade.”
“Charade?” Jo mocked the word, “I lied, but I never acted like someone I wasn't,” Jo interrupted taking another step towards Blair. She was on the brink of damning how her father or how Blair would respond and take the blonde in her arms. Jo was always better hands on rather than living everything up to words. Using words for her were as much of a gamble as a weekend in Vegas.
“It's funny Tootie was so worried about taking acting courses,” she chuckled humorlessly, “and all she had to do was take notes from you.”
Jo's heart sank at the comment knowing Dave's swelled. This was indeed happening. She was losing Blair and she knew she deserved it. For months this was what she wanted for Blair to accept and say goodbye. But the sensation never lasted and this moment illustrated why. Jo could never hammer in the last nail because she wasn't capable of letting Blair go.
“Blair,” she started, but the blonde cut her off.
“No Jo,” she whispered. She could feel her eyes become weighed down by wet. She desperately wanted to keep them dry. Jo didn't deserve seeing how much she had affected the heiress.
“Leave,” she croaked hating her voice for breaking.
“This isn't what I want,” Jo sighed heavily lost on how she could make things right with Blair. When she headed toward the door she wondered if Blair would ever carry the same warmth in her eyes that she once had. She wasn't hopeful, but that didn't stop her from turning around to see if Blair was even looking at her—she wasn't.
“We have a problem,” David didn't like saying the words.
“Why are you calling me?” the sleepy voice on the other end demanded.
“The ‘call' contracts…they were stolen,” David chose the words carefully considering Jo's deception.
March sat up from his couch, “what are you talking about?” he growled into the phone.
David explained and March listened and by the end of it neither man felt good afterward, bad news had that affect. Moving the phone away from his ear March shut his eyes before he stood grabbing the rest of the phone with him as he paced. He didn't usually raise his voice, but he felt the situation called for an out of character response. The deal had been simple and genius. His senior stockholders were bad men with vices. They didn't trust him for good reason. With the information that he knew he sold the blackmail to Warner as a long term investment. David in turn agreed to become majority a majority stockowner and eventually procure the fixed price per share of preferred stock. The money along with the blackmail purse was enough to start anew.
Unfortunately David had thought his misgivings about including Jo in his scheme were unfounded and now here they were.
“How could you be so obtuse Warner,” he pinched the bridge of his nose as a throbbing started in the behind his eyes.
“Calm down this can be handled.”
“How and when?”
“I still have a card to play and soon.”
The man was obnoxious and arrogant. In many ways they were alike, but in the ways that counted not so much. David was content to play games, but it was more efficient just to cut the problem out of the equation.
“I can't stress to you how much this deal means.”
The older man smirked, “if my net worth was waning by the second I'd be worried about time too.”
March bit his tongue letting David's barb slide. He was going to be worth nothing and unfortunately the only thing left was his product. His name now mingled in a cesspool alongside child molester and murderer despite the unfounded investigation. While nothing was proven, people had made up their own minds and his business paid for it. He stared at his ostentatious furnishings knowing that if the former Detective had her way all of it would go. He had to liquidate his company to save it. David could talk a big game, but he always shied away from getting his hands dirty. March had different proclivities.
Natalie and Tootie exchanged curious looks as Blair sat watching the city stretch and wake. Tootie didn't like being on the other end of Blair's wrath, but she preferred if silence was the alternative. When she received an ominous phone call suggesting she and Natalie invite Blair out for breakfast from Jo, she knew something was up. Jo hadn't said it in so many words, but the sound of her voice had said enough.
Blair had invited them in cordially. She had nothing planned that morning and didn't put up a fight when they took her on each arm and guided her to a small café called Laramie's. The place was moderately bohemian, but worthy of the Warner snobbery that had been absent all morning.
“Are you ladies ready to order?” the waitress dropped off their coffee.
Tootie and Natalie had made a production of looking at the menu and pointing out selections that made their stomachs rumble. They waited for Blair to do her part and bash each one with sage weight and skin advice, she said nothing.
“She'll have the fruit bowl with a douse of special syrup and a bagel with cream cheese,” Jo took the seat beside Blair.
The waitress nodded and then motioned for someone else to continue with her pencil. Blair stared at Jo. It wasn't a glare, but it hadn't graduated to anything warm. Tootie ordered the chef special and to save time so did Natalie. The red head took no time in leaving letting the older women concentrate on whatever it was that was unfolding before them.
“Oh Jo you didn't order.” The girl stopped in her tracks when Tootie helpfully called her back.
The Bronx native shook her head at the pad the girl had ready, “what I want isn't on the menu,” the girl nodded and returned on her trek to the kitchen.
“Am I supposed to be swooning?” The question soaked in the bitter syrup of sarcasm.
Jo smiled thinly, “no, you should be angry as hell, personally I'm impressed you haven't poured hot coffee on me by know.” She looked at said cup sliding it out of Blair's reach just in case she was suddenly inspired. “I'll wait for you.”
Tootie smiled wistfully sounded thirteen, “that's so romantic.”
“Who would have thought Jo the romantic?”
“I would…I did,” Blair caught Jo's gaze daring her to break it, “until I found out I was just a paycheck.”
Jo tilted her head knowing that whatever the blonde said was out of a hurt pride, “when you're less angry you'll know that that's not true.”
“What's going on?” Natalie pinned Jo down with an insistent ‘tell me now' gaze.
“My father paid Jo to be my friend at Eastland,” Blair twisted the truth, but she wanted her friends to be on her side. Jo didn't deserve any sympathy. Jo had been poor for the majority of the time that she met them. And as petty as it sounded now she had something to show them that Jo was just a self righteous liar.
“Your dad did what?” Natalie's eyes popped open, then she turned to Jo, “you didn't get paid very much did you?” she asked.
Jo glared and Blair followed suit.
“Natalie…really?” Tootie drawled.
Blair had hoped to feel better in the company of like minded ‘Jo haters, but she was sorely disappointed.
“How could you do that?” Tootie was flabbergasted.
“Yeah Jo how could you do that?” Blair repeated gaining momentum. “How could you stare me in the face and not say a word for years and let me believe, like a fool, that you cared?”
“I love you,” Jo announced.
“How much are those words worth?” the blonde shoved Jo aside as she stood and left.
Standing up to follow Jo half jogged to catch up with her, “Blair,” she called to her through the morning crowd of strays hurrying to work late. Curious eyes watched them as Jo finally stopped the blonde in her tracks, “wait.”
“I trusted you and you know how much it means for me to be able to trust someone,” she pulled away wrapping her arms around herself.
Jo nodded wishing that her next words could wash all the doubt and hurt she had caused. Unfortunately no such words existed and she was left with I'm sorry. But those words paled compared to the betrayal that preceded it.
Jo stepped forward closing the gap between them leaning into Blair's ear, careful not to touch her, “I was never paid to say what I feel…I love you Blair Warner.”
Jo waited searching the socialites' eyes for something that wasn't there. Blair frowned withdrawing from the scrutiny. Hope sank even further for Jo when she just left.
“Think about how much easier you're life could be if you just told us truth,” Natalie supplied.
Sighing heavily Jo eyed her good friend. “What?”
She held up the morning paper. She had brought it to surprise everyone. She had finally printed something worthy of her pubescent aspirations. Her editor had loved it and Daryl had smiled proudly after he'd read it. It would have had double meaning when she presented it before Jo and Blair had gone all soap opera on her.
Jo took it drawn in by the bold headline. She bypassed the author name and when she skimmed through the words she stopped on the byline.
“…..You?” The paper folded from her grip, “what the hell is this?”
“My story,” she said.
“Why?” she swung the paper pieces of it flew out where Jo's clutch hadn't secured.
“L.P. King,” Natalie explained. There were few people aware of the truth about Sophia Rodriguez. The culpable parties wouldn't approach her. It only made sense that the heroine would contact her good friend, ‘a reporter' and lead her to find the sordid truth on her own. When she concluded that it was Jo she thought the anonymity silly, but if Jo wanted to participate with a murder mystery pseudonym who was she to judge.
“Talk English Nat.”
“L.P. King,” the younger blonde said more forcefully.
“I don't know what the hell that means.”
“You sent me the envelope.”
“With the pictures and the notes ‘what's the big secret',” even as she explained further she knew Jo was at a loss. How could she have been that far off? If it wasn't Jo then who else could it be? She continued more apprehensive, “I received envelopes about Sophia's case. There were notes and pictures with Gale and March together. Gale has an offshore account in Switzerland. What kind of cop has a offshore account in Switzerland?”
“A guilty one,” Jo murmured. She could see how Natalie made the assumption that she was the sender, “L.P. King?” Jo didn't recognize the initials.
“Your partner,” Jo shook her head when Natalie started.
“Louie's last name isn't King” she refuted even though he made more sense than anyone else that came to mind.
“We're here to play nice,” Tootie reiterated as both women arrived at the gala. Camera's greeted them when they left the limo. They were more focused on Tootie than Jo, which the former cop was thankful for. She couldn't understand what drove her friends to seek out the spotlight. Blair and Tootie hardly had privacy and there was always some story or another plastered on rag mags about them. While Jo took her own joy from reading them, she didn't think this is what they wanted for themselves when they dreamed of making it big. And if they had they were crazy for wanting it.
Tootie was eating up the attention. Jo could only tolerate so much before she headed into the building alone. In the elevator she spied her reflection. Tootie had insisted on dressing her. Jo didn't feel like fighting and let what happened at the spa happen. She looked like one of the women in the magazine's Blair read religiously. Her hair was pulled up and her form fitting tuxedo complimented in all the secular places.
At first glance it looked like Dave had spared no expense. At second glance Jo concluded that it was just as lavish as she first observed. Crystals hung from the ceiling. A violinist played in a corner opposite the large bar. She recognized some faces from magazine covers and editorials. Other faces she didn't know she was content with her own ignorance.
In a millisecond of revelation Jo realized she could watch Blair for hours. The blonde breathed life back into the clichéd phrase ‘poetry in motion'. Her shoulders bare in her white dress. Her hair was pinned up, but Jo liked it better over her shoulders, like she wore it at school. The mechanic smiled watching her charm the room with the disarming smile she'd perfected from hours in the mirror.
“How is that lovely legal aid you were hiding in my apartment?” Jo acknowledged the voice, but didn't bother to meet the older man's gaze.
“Safe,” Jo answered cryptically. She hoped the woman had the good sense to keep away and lay low. The combination of narcissist and psychopath didn't bode well if she thought she could reason with her husband. She played her part in Jo's plan editing the contracts to her advantage; it was a matter of time before David pieced Lorraine's part in.
“And in twelve to twenty four months will this all have been worth it?”
“You thought it was,” the liquidation of March's company was in affect and Jo being one of the preferred stock owners would receive a percentage of the liquidated assets. Considering how March's popularity deflated since Natalie's article she doubted she'd be buying a private island any time soon.
“Despite your machinations I still don't see you giving up on love so easily.”
Blair looked good on Randall's arm. They were as perfect a couple as they had been the first night Jo had been introduced to Randy. He could give her the normalcy that she couldn't. He could give her the children that she couldn't. In every way that Jo lacked Randall picked up the pieces and while the notion didn't sit well with her, it was something she could live with—as long as it made Blair happy.
“I never gave up on love,” she countered. “I still haven't, but I lost something getting even with you and March. And Blair she doesn't deserve that.” The mechanic stared critically, “she gets enough of that from you.”
The crowd of people milling around them were too busy to notice the tension rising off the duo.
“You were this headstrong kid ready to grow too early. I could say that I saw the glitter of greed in your eyes,” he smiled remembering when he thought of the scheme. Like many of David's great ideas they were triggered by something not so extraordinary, everyday life. “But I won't,” Blair's father continued, “As devastating as love is you let it drive you.” He turned his gaze to Blair, who was watching them, “If you were a man I could one day respect that insanity. But you're not.”
Jo smiled joylessly. Her eyes met Blair's, “I wouldn't expect any less Dave.” She walked away keeping her stride steady. She excused herself through the throng until she made it to the elevator outside the double doors of the suite. The part of her that wanted Blair to follow her was just as strong as the part of Blair that wanted to oblige. In the blonde's mind if Jo turned then she would have had the strength to, even with her father watching. She had managed a step before a hand slipped around her waist possessively. Randall smiled endearingly oblivious to how close he had come to losing her.
“Whoa, where are you going?” An arm latched around Jo's retreating form.
“I was making a hasty retreat,” Jo supplied looking longingly at the bottom for the elevator as Tootie pulled her away from it.
“You would think with age and pedigree the one-liners would get better.”
“I see I've been a terrible date leaving you alone to bat off would-be Don Juans.”
“Very,” she laughed getting hold of two glasses on a passing tray. “If it makes you feel better if anything did happen I think the wall to wall security could handle it.” Jo looked at Tootie oddly. The younger woman continued, “Rambo doesn't stop being Rambo no matter how spiffy he looks,” she nodded toward one such wannabe standing at attention. Jo chuckled impressed Tootie's observation matched her own.
Jo downed her glass replacing it with another that she nursed more slowly. She looked sheepishly at Tootie, “I needed that one.”
Before she tasted her own, “you might want to down that one too.”
A dark brow quirked before it dropped in recognition. “Dorothy,” Blair drew out her name in the same faux joy she did with acquaintances.
“Joanne,” Randall's smile didn't arrive at his eyes. They were plastic together. If this was the Blair that Randy inspired Jo's jealousy alleviated.
A silver tray was held out for Jo saved them from the awkward silence on the verge of settling. An envelope with her name scrawled in calligraphy sat waiting for her to take. She met the curious gazes before she took the offering. Ripping it open she eyed the note and looked around.
“Is something wrong?” Tootie read the lines on Jo's face as worry.
“I'll be back,” when her eyes met David's she had a feeling he'd been watching her for a while. Heading in the opposite direction David followed her greeting the trio she left en route.
She entered the men's bathroom. There were stalls and a table in the center and cushioned chairs. She questioned what rich people did in their bathrooms to need a table and cushioned chairs. She never stayed in a bathroom long enough to lounge.
“We really should stop meeting like this,” Charles said humorlessly.
Jo didn't answer. He looked like he was half dressed to go out. His bow tie hung from his neck. “You mistake booze for cologne or is that a new fragrance you rich people wear?”
“…Always have answers… for ev'rything,” he staggered when he attempted menacing. Jo didn't worry about him as threat. He could barely stand on his own much less strike her.
“You took everything,” he whimpered.
Jo scoffed she was giving her too much credit. Natalie had hammered in the last nail with a little help from the anonymous L.P. King. The door opened behind her. She wasn't disappointed to see David.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“And here I thought my invitation got lost in the mail,” he said with glassy eyes.
“So you broke in? You weren't invited for a reason.”
“Which is?” Blair asked joining the small party.
“Lil' Blair,” March smiled lecherously, “pity you grew up.”
David dropped his head pinching the bridge of his nose.
Jo lunged. He fell back into a wall sliding down it until he sunk to floor. She flexed her hand looking at the unconscious figure. She hadn't anticipated a brawl. But done in one punch was pathetic.
Two men entered the room. They were dressed like guests, but with their build and bearing Jo guessed ex military. Three pair of eyes watched them work efficiently hefting March like he was no more than a paper weight. They were out just as quickly as they came.
“What was he doing here daddy?” She stepped in the room stopping dead center in the gap that separated her former lover and her father. Jo questioned if it was on purpose.
“No need to worry over that now.”
“I'm not worried I want an answer,” she pushed. “What's going on?” A man was just carried out of the men's restroom drunk and her father hadn't even batted an eye.
David saw her jaw set as her determined gaze met his. They hadn't had a chance to speak since that day at her office. He knew Jo had tried, but had been unsuccessful. His impassive approach would bring her to him. Of course the circumstances were imagined differently.
“What do you want to know?” he forced a smile. David's eyes made a lazy trail to Jo.
The smile as a gesture was insincere. It was then she knew he wouldn't give her the whole truth. How many times had she given her father the benefit of the doubt for no other reason than relation? How often did he taken advantage of her need to believe him?
Remy was perfectly predictable. That day in the rain she told him about her plan to confront March. Any association with the infamous Charles March didn't look good for Dave and company. She anticipated damage control. David added security with orders insuring March wouldn't attend. Unbeknownst to him Jo planted March the night before the party planner set up.
Jo retrieved the envelope from her inside jacket pocket. She pulled out the note. Jo held it up.
Blair's back was to the mechanic, but David's wasn't. The note—the catalyst was blank. The look Jo gave the room when she ‘read' the note had been for show. And what had been the point of it all? So he would follow her and in turn Blair would follow do the same? Blair was passed placation with half truths. She was smarter than that, she had always been, but he grew to rely on her choice to stay placated.
Louie hung over Jo's shoulder to look under his hood. He intentionally crowded her chuckling endearingly at the shove and glare she gave him. Louie and his mother had hardly used the car, but over a period of time the struts were worn out. The 40,000 mile mark until it was time for them to be changed hadn't come yet. Louie was still determined to have them changed. When he stepped back leaning against the table that held Jo's tools. It was safe to say he didn't know what half of them were. He stared blankly at the set when Jo asked for a tool. She waited patiently glaring at the struts.
It wasn't until she spared a look at her former partner that she realized he was useless. She shook her head retrieving the ratchet herself.
“And you call yourself a man.”
“There's only one tool I need to know back and front,” he grinned at Jo's snort and her cursory glance below.
Dropping herself carefully on the creeper she planted her foot firmly so she wouldn't slide. Louie laughed off her snort. He talked while she tinkered not entirely certain if she was listening.
“Huh?” He stopped mid sentence.
“L.P. King,” Jo began, “Louis Prima voice of King Louie,” Jo continued. “Kinda convoluted even for you don't you think?”
The older man shrugged, “I knew you'd get it eventually.”
“I wish I could've done more when it counted. The way I see it better late than never,” he traced the line of another tool he didn't know how to use. Jo rolled under the jacked up car. They could have drawn it out into something sentimental, but that wouldn't be them.
The blonde beauty sliding through the entrance was an unexpected Sunday visitor. Louie never let on as he continued to talk.
She propped herself against one of the car's by the entrance. Jo didn't seem to notice either too focused or completely oblivious. With an idea forming in his head he weighed the repercussions. Feeling that the positives far outweighed the negatives he veered the conversation to something more intentional.
“I don't get the smoothie metaphor?”
“What?” Jo groaned loosening the bolts of the struts from the bottom.
“Whatta you talking about?” she asked distractedly.
“You and Blair,” he didn't meet the woman's eyes, “how you two work.”
Over the years especially in the last few months it was hard to separate the woman from her father. He was the real issue wasn't he? The one who wouldn't let her forget who she was and what she was. And Blair had paid because she was confused. She dropped the ratchet to her stomach sitting under the car to think. The smoothie metaphor had come to her while relaxed entertaining random thoughts about life. Different ingredients blending, battling to usurp the taste and in the end whatever they were before the blend—the tastes compliments each other, like a good smoothie.
“You can't know what it's like to die a little inside. That is until you realize that you were never fully alive in the first place til after you met her.”
Louie studied the blonde's expression. The shadows hardened her face, but as she slowly stepped into the light, the cadence of her heels announcing her presence, they softened. Clearing his throat uncomfortably he heard Jo roll from under his car. She sat up but didn't stand to turn.
There are moments in our life that test our resolve to be the person we think we are. In those rare tests it shows the part of ourselves we aren't prepared to admit. Jo had learned the hard way that she wasn't the integrity fueled engine that drove most people around her insane. She had a price. When she was younger it was an education and ‘help' money for her mom. When she got older it developed into something more corporeal and scary, her name was Blair Warner. Her compromises were small at first, too miniscule to consider that her life would forever change by it. But the small compromises had had an effect.
Her eyes rose to her friend and without him saying a word she knew a particular someone had been listening the whole time.
He smiled sheepishly reminding Jo that he was going to pick up lunch as a thank you for working on his car. In an unnecessary sprint he was out the door and Blair and she were left. Shaking her head she braced herself and turned to meet the cool gaze trained on her.
“I heard you.”
Jo's eyes lowered, “I'm sorry about everything.”
Blair stood silently for a moment. It was easy to lash out at Jo especially with the way she'd been acting. Months of hurt and anger melded with more hurt taking shape into the feeling that almost stopped her from coming. “Hopefully not everything,” the words broke a dam both women were tentative to rupture.
Jo wanted to wait for Blair to step toward her, but the brunette had never been particularly patient when it came to these things. It surprised Blair that the only contact Jo initiated was to hold her hand. Her fingers were stained from working on the car. But Blair hadn't pulled away. Jo grew bolder brushing her finger across her hand gently.
“Blair Warner,” she introduced.
“Charmed,” Jo grinned. “Joanne Polniaczek.”
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