The Tightest Knot
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
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Gray plastic flew through the air and shattered as it hit the wall, accompanied by a growl. Frustration filled the room as tired eyes travelled to the mess now strewn across the floor. Pushing away from the desk, he padded over to collect shards of plastic into his palm. Back to the door, as he crouched to clean up the mess, he heard the door being opened.
“Is everything all right, Nat?” Francesca’s voice was cautious, not used to seeing her older brother out of his element.
“Yeah, Princess, I just realised that my mouse doesn’t bounce,” straightening, he made his way to deposit the contents of his palm into the trash can.
“And what, may I ask, prompted you to have this little epiphany?” Gliding over the carpet, she perched on the edge of the desk, glancing at the piles of files that littered it.
“It was that or put my fist through the damn computer screen!” His tone clearly revealed his agitation.
“Big brother, I know what you’re doing for me; for us, but you can’t let it eat you up.” The burley man had retaken his seat and the young woman took his hand.
“I’m not gonna hurt myself, Princess. Its just so hard to get straight answers from these people! Its worse than business!” Nathaniel was not a man used to getting the run around. “Then I keep thinking about Hunter and you…”
“I’m holding my own Nat.” Placing a soft kiss on her brother’s cheek she stood, ready to leave. “As for Hunter… I’m taking it as a good sin that she hasn’t been in a bout yet. Maybe she’s cleaning hose somewhere,” a wane smile told him all he needed to know as he watched his sister go. Picking up the phone on his desk he called his secretary.
“Angie, I need a new mouse!”
The television blared in the other room as Francesca read through her itinerary for the following day. Her conversation with her usually unflappable older brother, earlier that day, had shaken the young woman causing her to retreat into the rituals she had perfected over the last three months; self distraction. Every moment was filled with work, planning or the children. Sanity was only maintained by not thinking about Hunter, far away and suffering unknown brutalities. The one small mercy in all of this was the older woman’s continuing absence from the broadcast ‘sport’. She was not naďve enough to imagine that that was a situation that could last.
Growling in frustration, she forced her mind to focus back on the dazzlingly white sheet of paper in front of her, marred by the harsh black strokes of Rashid’s pen. He was a real traditionalist when he came to putting down thoughts and ideas, one of a very few who still balked at the idea of consigning his thoughts to a heartless monitor. He had an oft maligned secretary who would input his scrawl into a more professional format. Francesca received the fully unedited, un-sanitised version, straight from the man himself. The youthful PR man spent more and more time at the mansion, almost hanging off of the heiress, who was under no illusion as to why. He wanted her, and not just her name. His interest had been clear even before Hunter’s repatriation, though tempered because of it; now he was actively pursuing her. It shamed her to admit that she was allowing him to believe that they were a possibility. It sat well in the public eye and God knew the family needed the good press.
In the days and weeks following Dettore’s edict the Prince family had come under ever increasing scrutiny. Francesca’s very public ‘outing’ had led the public and media alike to blame them and those like them for the recall of slaves. Even though Francesca had pretty well side stepped the accusations about her relationship with Hunter, they were an easy target; the rumours still fresh in the collective minds of the nation. They had been cited as the idle rich, wilfully setting slaves free without thought to the implications for the hard working citizens whose lives they may endanger. As an emblem they had been a powerful tool for Dettore, however short lived. Thanks to the genius of both her agent, PR man and her father’s contacts they had soon put into motion a campaign for compensation for those who had lost slaves and would not be getting them back. With Darla and Sal working tirelessly to show that they were on the side of the average man, the families fortunes had quickly righted themselves. In three short months they had gone from pariahs to saints. Mankind really were a fickle bunch.
Seeing the futility of planning for tomorrow she instead turned her attention to getting the children ready for bed. Disposing of the document into the draw of her desk she wandered into the adjoining family room, just in time to see Terry launch himself off the sofa and into his younger sister. Her indignant squeal was followed by the slap of flesh on flesh. Rolling blue eyes, perversely pleased that, for the most part, the children seemed unaffected by her malaise she waded into the confrontation.
“Ahem!” Three heads snapped up, brown eyes fixing on her. The small girl sitting with a colouring book in front of the TV shook her head in consternation and turned back to liberally applying colour to the page. Smiling indulgently, though briefly, at her youngest child Francesca was in full mom mode as she turned but to the other two, now fully disentangled and standing shame faced before her. “Would somebody like to tell me what that little spectacle was all about?”
Two tousled heads bowed as toes worried the carpet, sometimes this was the hardest part of being a parent…disciplining them without cracking a smile! The pair of them looked so woeful, with Rochelle worrying her bottom lip with her teeth and Terry tugging nervously at his ear. Finally, Terry raised his big, sad eyes, ready to take the fall.
“Shelly was annoying me mom, she kept making fun of me so I jumped on her!” Ah, child logic.
“Shelly, what were you saying to your brother?”
“Um…” without raising her head the girl started to cry big, fat tears. “I was making fun of his friend Gloria and saying she was his g…g…girlfriend.” Pitiful little sobs came from her as she tried to dodge punishment. “Then he jumped on me!” She couldn’t leave that out.
Raising her hand to her chin, Francesca made a great show of pondering her decision. She was very aware of Rochelle shooting glances at her through her bangs. Tapping a tapered finger against her chin and pursing her lips in thought she drew out the children’s anticipation.
“I think we can all agree that you are both in the wrong here. Terry, you know better than to resort to violence. Your grandfather and I, even Hunter, have told you that is not the way to end a dispute,” using the gladiator’s name held a great deal of power over her son and she saw him nod soberly. “However, Shelly, you should not make fun of your brothers friends! You have male friends and he has female friends and that is how it should be. You shouldn’t take friendship for granted!
I want the pair of you to go and change for bed. I will be into your rooms in ten minutes. There will be no bedtime story for either of you for the next week and no friends will be allowed back to the house either.” Seeing that both children were ready to protest she slashed her hand through the air in a gesture of finality, “It could be a week, so I suggest you do as you are told! You have ten minutes!” Realising their mother’ seriousness the siblings bolted from the room, leaving the brunette alone with her youngest child.
“How you doing there, sweetie?” Walking towards the sofa she sat down with Rebecca at her feet.
“Hello mommy, do you like my picture?” She held up the page she had been so diligently filling with colour for her mother’s inspection.
“It looks wonderful, Becca. Maybe we could put it up in my office?” Running her hand over the child’s head she felt it shake. “Where would you like me to put it then?”
“Couldn’t we send it to Hunter? To show her we are thinking ‘bout her and so that she can look at something to remind her of us. She can bring it back with her when she comes home.” The hopefulness that shone in the child’s eyes was nearly her undoing; not wanting to cry in front of her daughter she knew she had to leave the room, fast.
“I tell you what, Becca, let me go and sort out your brother and sister and then we can talk about this. Lucky you, you get to stay up late!” A wide grin of triumph covered the cherubic face as she turned back to her colouring.
Slipping from the room and moving down the hall she fell against a wall and felt the tears come. As heartbreaking as her lovers absence was she could deal with it fairly well but when the children brought it up it was her undoing. Becca especially idolised the slave and the blonde’s disappearance had really hit her hard. The children didn’t really understand the recall or the politics so instead they simply thought that Hunter was on a mission and would just turn up on the doorstep one day.
Pulling herself together, wiping away the tears she strolled up the stairs to check on her two chastised children. A little less than five minutes later, with both children firmly admonished and tucked into bed with a kiss, she re-entered the family room. Switching off the TV, she pulled the crayons from her daughters hands and lifted her onto her lap on the couch.
Settling into the familiar position for one of their talks, electric blue met liquid brown. Becca was such an intent and serious child, so different to her siblings. She was adorable and funny, enjoying to play as much as the next seven year old but she lack the frivolity and spontaneity of her twin.
“Becca, sweetie, I don’t have an address for Hunter right now, so it would be very hard to send her your picture.” It almost felt like a physical blow to have to lie to her children like this, she knew exactly where her sweetheart was held and wished she didn’t. “Her mission is very important to the people employing her and so she has to keep a lot of things secret. I know that she loves us all and misses us as much,” here she paused, “no she misses us more than we miss her because at least we have each other. I tell you what, I’ll put that picture away safely when you’ve finished and we can give it to her when she does come home.” This seemed to satisfy the little girl as she snuggled more deeply into her mothers shoulder, eyes heavy.
“Can I have a story mommy?” Her voice was very small as she fought sleep.
“Of course you can my darling. How about we go up and get you ready for bed and I will read you a story in my room so that we don’t wake your sister up.” Rising off the sofa, her arms filled with child she moved to the stairs after nudging the light off.
“Can I sleep with you tonight mommy?”
“I don’t see why not.” The pair continued upstairs and towards the bathroom, Francesca trying to ignore the two pairs of eyes peeking at them from rooms that should have contained sleeping children. “I should be able to reward one of my children for being good!” She emphasised the last two words and saw the shadows disappear from the doorways and, hopefully, back into their own beds.
Wiping her mouth with a napkin, she folded it and placed it back on the table as the waitress whisked away their dishes. Taking the opportunity provided by the lull in conversation created by the servers presence, she studied her companion. Today Mungo was looking a lot more sober than usual. This was the way of their clandestine meetings, as clandestine as two music stars could be in public. Mungo would wear low key suits as would she, meeting in exclusive restaurants in out of the way nooks; never arriving or leaving together. It was like espionage.
Soon after the recall the rapper had approached her with a proposition. He and a number of other high, and not so high, profile individuals were working together with the abolitionists in an effort to not only stop the edict but also completely nullify slavery. At present their affiliation with the movement was a closely guarded secret. They would be revealed but only when it would be most beneficial to the cause, no point in pulling out your big guns before you have any real ammunition.
“Any news?” It had taken the big man this long to pluck up the courage to bring up the sore subject.
“No…No news is good news, I guess.” It was too flip, too well practiced to fool the Grammy winner.
“I know she hasn’t been in any bouts yet, in fact I haven’t heard word one about her since she was taken away. You haven’t been able to get any information at all?” Reaching over with one large hand he wrapped it around her wrist in a gesture of comfort.
“Well, I know where she is and that’s all. Nat is trying to get more information which is nigh on impossible. It has to be so covert…We need to seem so disinterested…” She trailed off in frustration.
“I know that this is killing you but you’re dealing with it the right way Princess,” it hadn’t taken much for the rapper to adopt the familial nick name. “I know being seen with Rashid isn’t a dream for you but the more you can be photographed as the ‘hot new couple’ the more we are allaying suspicion. The sooner you get back completely into the bosom of the public, the sooner you can be out spreading the word and starting down the path to getting you real love back. It takes a lot of heart to make those sacrifices.”
Taking the hand still on her arm she squeezed to show she appreciated his words. Mungo tried to lighten the mood, “Do you want to know anything more than I’ve told you today? I know its all James Bond hush-hush, need to know stuff…I could bend the rules for you.”
“No need Mungo. I am intrigued by Lukas’ offer to meet with us. What about Spencer?” Emily Lukas was the leading emancipation campaigner and a regular face on Dateline and a myriad of other news shows. She was the palatable face of a still controversial movement. Adrian Spencer was not; where Lukas fought with words Spencer simply fought. He was winning no popularity contests.
“Spencer is a last resort. We’ll win more people over with words than with violence. I’ll make a date with Lukas and let you know.”
“This is going to be a long road, isn’t it my friend?” He didn’t respond, he didn’t have to. It was only going to get worse before it got better.
To Be Continued...
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