Chapter Title: Sex on a Stick
Rating: PG (adult language).
Word Count: ~4,180.
Characters: Patrick Westfield, Maraina Stratten, Lucia Stratten, Riley Stratten, Noel Cruz, Sterling Mitchell, Anna Mitchell
Rating: PG (adult language).
Word Count: ~4,180.
Characters: Patrick Westfield, Maraina Stratten, Lucia Stratten, Riley Stratten, Noel Cruz, Sterling Mitchell, Anna Mitchell
Warnings: Unbetaed (possible grammatical errors).Synopsis: The war party continues to bring together the unlikeliest of allies, changing lives with a single conversation and in a most surprising fashion. Back at home, a surprise for Mari gets more than he bargained for.
“So, don't fall in love with me because I'll just break your heart”
Anna stopped short when Jaime and Patrick walked out of Sterling’s office. “You’re late,” she told Patrick before turning to Jaime. “Would you be a dear and take this,” she handed the tray laden with food to Jaime, “to the kids outside? If they start planning to take over the universe, they’ll need more food.”
“Anything for you, Anna,” Jaime said graciously, as if she’d actually had been given a choice in the matter.
Patrick reached out for one of the sandwiches only to his hand slapped away by Anna.
“Not for you,” she said, then wrapped her arm around his and pulled him towards the kitchen.
Patrick glanced over his shoulder at the food Jaime was taking to the undeserving scribblers. His stomach rumbled.
“Did you just come for the food?”
“Not just for the food.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “When are you going to leave Sterling and run away with me?”
“Ha,” she replied, a small smile tugging at her mouth. “You are just charming me in order to be fed and we sent the caterers home over an hour ago.”
Patrick bit back a sigh. He had been looking forward to being fed. He thought back at the tray Anna had been carrying. “Since when do you free your enslaved caterers leave while you still have guests?”
Anna stopped at the doorway and pointed to the woman pulling a tray of food from the oven. “Since the heavens sent one of their own to grace my kitchen.” She released his arm and patted the marble top of the island bar. “Lucia, don’t let this rogue sweet-talk you. He’s just after your food.”
“I’m too old to be swept off my feet by a sweet talking rogue.”
“Stay away from her daughter,” Anna warned Patrick. Before he could reply, she continued. “Lucia, this is Patrick Westfield, rogue extraordinaire and an actor, so don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth.”
“You wound me,” he said, hand to his heart.
“Like I said,” she told Lucia. “Darling, this is Lucia Stratten, goddess of the kitchen and savior of the enslaved caterers.”
Lucia shook her head. “We didn’t need three servers for a party of eight people.”
“You haven’t known our Anna long, have you?” Patrick winked at Anna. “She’d get breakfast, lunch and dinner catered just to avoid stepping foot in the kitchen. I told you that getting struck by lightning would only happen in a church, not in your kitchen.”
Anna grabbed a serving fork and stabbed the tri-tip while looking at Patrick, before placing it on plate. “If Sterling wanted a betty homemaker then he should have married someone else.” She pushed the food in front of him.
“Not that you are one,” she said to Lucia after a moment of tense silence. “You’re a kitchen goddess. There’s a difference.” She tapped her expertly manicured nails on the marble counter. “I know my strengths and domesticity is not one them.”
“Are you not good at it or just don’t like it?” Lucia asked. “Because if you don’t like it, then nothing will help with that. But if you don’t cook because you aren’t good at it, then I can fix that.” She pulled out a pan, then went to the refrigerator and got more items. “We’re going to make a simple ganache for those truffles.”
“I can’t boil water,” Anna said crossing her arms around her chest.
“You’re not supposed to boil water,” Lucia replied. “That’s the stove’s job.” She continued measuring out the ingredients and putting them r on the counter.
“She’s got you there, Anna,” Patrick piped in between bites. He ducked his head, hiding his smile, when Anna sent him her prime death glare.
“Please get some rum,” Lucia told Anna, then turned to Patrick. “Any chocolate ganache recipe that doesn’t have a good dose of alcohol in it should be avoided like the plague.”
He nodded. “I’ll remember that.”
“Now,” Lucia took the rum from Anna, looked at the label and nodded, “chocolate, cream, a whisper of cayenne and some rum.” She poured the rum into the pan, then looked at Anna. “Start stirring, you don't want to burn the chocolate and waste the rum.”
Patrick couldn't help but be impressed with Lucia Stratten when the often imperious, Anna Mitchell, quietly picked up the spoon and started stirring the concoction without peep. He knew he was in love when Lucia poured an extra shot of the rum into the panache and shrugged when Anna looked at her.
“There’s no such thing as too much rum in chocolate if you know what you’re doing.”
“Mom!” Mari froze at the doorway into the kitchen. She should have known better than to leave her mom alone in any social situation that didn’t involve immediate family or close friends because things always ended up in the kitchen and with booze and baby Mari stories.
Lucia turned. “What, Cara? Are you out of food already?”
Mari sighed and leaned on the door frame. “You can’t make the hostess cook, ma.”
“I’m not making her cook.”
“Yes, you are,” Anna said. She glanced over her shoulder, “Don’t you agree, love?”
Mari finally paid attention to the man sitting on the island. Oh. My. God.
“Yes, I’m afraid you are Lucia,” Patrick Westfield said. He dabbed the thick linen napkin around his mouth and then smiled. “But it is such a joy to see a master torturer at work, I didn’t dare interfere.” He pointed to his empty plate. “Especially when the torturer is also a kitchen goddess. This was amazing.”
“You just want the truffles with the boozy ganache, don’t you?” Lucia smiled.
“Not just the truffles,” he replied then turned bright blues eyes to Mari.
She’d seen modeling pictures of him when he’d been barely twenty. All chiseled cheeks, exquisite eyes with just a of hint of exotic in them, and a cool arrogance that all models exuded. He’d been gorgeous despite slightly mismatched features that shouldn’t have worked but did. His nose was a bit blunt and looked liked it had been broken more than once. His bottom lip was full and rich and the only thing that kept it from looking like a puffer fish was the strong upper lip and the granite jaw which framed his face. Time and, if the tabloids were to be believed, the constant partying had aged him. There were subtle lines around his eyes and the semi-permanent scruff he now sported took away the prettiness he once had. Now, he was simply sex on a stick.
“Cara, stop staring,” Lucia said. “It’s unbecoming.”
Thanks, Ma. Mari tried not to cringe and her eyes were drawn to the floor as if it was a newfound masterpiece.
“That is my daughter, Mari.”
“Stay away from her,” Anna said over her shoulder. “She’s much too nice and way too young for the rakish likes of you.”
“Thanks, Anna,” he mumbled and a hand suddenly appeared where the floor had been. “Patrick,” he said.
Mari looked at his hand, then his eyes. “Mari,” she said and when her hand slipped into his, a shock of warmth and strength ran straight to her core. It must have been the same for him because his fingers gripped her hand and didn’t let go. Her throat dried up and heart thundered in her ears. For a brief moment, she wondered what it would feel like to pull him towards her and kiss the daylights out of him.
“Mari, did you need something?” Anna asked.
His thumb caressed her hand and all she could think of was how long it could take to strip him naked.
“Maraina Elisabetta Stratten!”
Mari jumped away from the delicious Patrick. “What?” She clenched her hand into a fist and pressed it against her side, but she could still feel it tingle from his touch. Lucia arched her brow and nodded towards Anna. “Oh, right,” Mari said, stalling for time as she tried to remember the reason she’d come inside in the first place. “Chuck,” she finally said and looked up at Anna. “He wanted me to grab some notebooks and pens from his study but I just didn’t feel comfortable roaming your house going through drawers.”
“You are such a dear,” Anna said, ignoring Lucia’s snort. “Darling,” she said to Patrick, “be a dear and take Mari to Sterling’s office and let her get what they need. We’ll be out there as soon as these are have cooled off.”
Patrick nodded. “This way, sweetness,” he told Mari who followed quietly because she had a great view.
“Why do I feel like you just gave the wolf the key to the hen house?”
Anna laughed, “Don’t worry. Patrick, despite all the rumors suggesting otherwise, is a perfect gentleman.”
“So, are you an inspiring actress?”
Mari managed to tear her eyes off the delicious ass filling the well worn, but clearly designer pair of jeans and snorted. She patted her own soft hip. “Didn’t you just eat my mother’s cooking?” She shook her head. “I like eating too much to be an actress.” She cringed. Oh, that was brilliant. Why don’t I just start talking about my period next? Idiot.
Patrick eyed her from head to toe, then back down again very appreciatively and making her toes tingle. She should have been insulted, but she couldn’t help being flattered because…hello! Patrick oh so fuckable Westfield just checked her out. She couldn’t wait to tell Noel because instead of making her feel sleazy which is usually how she felt when rich guys eyed her at the parties they catered, this time she felt sexy and very womanly.
“I don’t see anything wrong with you, darlin’”. He winked. Oh, he was flirting. With her! Yippee! Now all she had to do was relax and enjoy it because he was safe. After all, she had as much chance with him as she had with with the gorgeous bad boy in the motorcycle.
“So if not an actress then…what? And why are you calling Sterling, Chuck?”
Now that her brain had processed the reality, she could act relatively normal and save the fantasy for when she was alone. “Because he told me to,” she said. They entered what she could only assume was Chuck’s office but oh, it could have doubled for a very exquisite library. “Wow,” she said as she looked around the floor to ceiling bookcases. “I’d marry Chuck for this room alone.”
Patrick chuckled. “It’s my favorite room.” He headed straight for the Skittles on the desk, grabbing a handful before moving around it and sitting on the chair. With one hand he popped the candies in his mouth while the other opened a drawer. He pulled out several yellow notepads, then looked up. “You are over eighteen, right?”
Mari laughed. “You don’t think you have better judgment than Toby I’d bang anything still alive and some things that aren’t Fray?”
He shrugged. “Never trust anything with two heads and one brain.”
A loud snort escaped her lips and she quickly covered her mouth. “You should stitch that in a pillow.”
They smiled at each other and there was that connection again. That little something special, but she knew it was probably just him being nice and her having an overactive imagination. She turned back to the mounds of books in front of her.
“So how did you meet Sterling?” He asked after a few seconds of comfortable silence.
Mari’s hand traced the books lined on a shelf. She leaned forward and inhaled deeply. God, she loved the smell of books. There was just something sensual and tactile about books that electronic readers just couldn’t match. She pulled out a random copy, carefully caressing the thick card stock of the page. She pressed her nose to the paper and inhaled. “Ummm, on the highway,” she answered absently.
“So you’re his muse,” he said. “Sterling mentioned he found inspiration during a traffic jam. You’re the reason he’s decided to take on Goliath.”
Mari turned and looked at him. “I don’t know why,” she said. “We really didn’t talk for that long and I certainly didn’t inspire him with my brilliance. I just gave him a pastry and chatted with him for a few minutes. I didn’t do anything special.”
Patrick leaned back on the chair and studied her for several long seconds. “You did something to inspire him.”
Mari threw up her arms in resignation and returned the book to the shelf. He leaned back on the chair and watched her. The thing was, she could feel the weight of his gaze on her back. It was warm like a caress and all she could think about was what his actual touch would feel like. Her eyes drifted shut as she imagined his large, warm hand slowly moving across her bare back. He’d be the type to tease, caress and trace the contours before leaning in and tasting with lips and tongue.
Her breath hitched. She was definitely going to need new batteries for the Jack Rabbit which resided deep in her side table under several pairs of wool socks. She’d been horrified when Noel had given her the ridiculously large and very pink vibrator with side rabbit shaped stimulator. But now she was going to ever so thankful she had it. She fanned herself with the book and then the sex charge of the room disappeared.
Patrick couldn’t help it. He loved flirting with pretty girls as a rule but this one, there was something rather adorable about her. And the way she stripped him with her eyes as if he was the last chocolate bar in the world had just turned him on more than empty sex with some brainless bimbo who compared conquests with her mother. Unfortunately, he did have some morals and Anna was right. Mari Stratten was too good for the jaded likes of him. But at least he wouldn’t feel like some old pervert when he thought of some deliciously dirty fantasies with her as the center attraction.
He grabbed some pens to add to the notepads and saw the ornate framed picture in Sterling’s desk. It was the first time he’d actually looked at the women in the old picture. And then he knew. He glanced at Mari then back at the picture that was well over twenty five years old. A smiling Anna hugging a very pretty, younger version of herself. He picked up the picture and smiled. He suddenly felt ancient. Definitely too old to be flirting with pretty young girls like Mari. He put the picture back on the desk and got up.
“They are probably wondering where you are.” His tone sounded old and tired even to his ears. There was a puzzled look in her eyes and he couldn’t really blame her. He’d been flirting and checking her out and now, well, now that was done. He held out the pads and pens for her.
“Right,” she said talking her bounty and holding it close to her chest. She started to walk out but turned back. “Thank you…Mr. Westfield.”
He didn’t correct her formality. Hell, he couldn’t even look at her. Not now, so he nodded absently and studied the beautiful crimson rug and squashed the painful memories that turned his stomach sour and threatened to upchuck the rich food he’d eaten earlier. When her footsteps faded, he watched her walk through the glass doors.
“Are you alright, dear?” Anna asked as she came back to into the house.
Mari nodded. “Just fine.”
“The truffles are ready so go at it.” Anna smiled and patted her arm. Then turned a narrowed gaze his direction. “What did you say to that girl?” She walked towards him.
“Kitty,” he said gently, knowing what that name would do to her.
Anna hesitated for an instant, then her mouth opened slightly as a soft gasp escaped her lips. She plopped heavily on a side table, lips pursed and eyes unfocused.
Patrick felt like an utter heel. He closed the distance between them and put his arm around her. “I’m sorry. I still miss her, too.”
Anna sniffed and nodded, then looked through the doors at the group outside. “You’re right. I didn’t see it because…maybe, I just haven’t spent enough time talking to her or I just didn’t want to see it. They say that time heals all wounds, but not really. Not all. He’s missed her so much…I just don’t know this girl well enough to be sure she won’t take advantage of an old, heartbroken man.”
“She’s not like you people,” Lucia said coming out of the kitchen and murdering the dish towel in her hands. “She’s not a user. She’s a good girl. Loving and caring and she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body even when she tries. Her father died when she was twelve and my mother was the only grandparent she knew ever though my in-laws are quite alive. So if anything, she’ll bend over backwards for that man, that stranger she met on a freeway, simply because she misses her father.”
“Our daughter, our only child, died when she was twenty,” Anna said. “She died in a car accident, late at night. She was only out because she was helping a friend. That was my Katherine. Sweet and smart and wanting nothing to do with the Hollywood scene. She loved to write and-” She cleared her throat, choking back a sob.
Patrick squeezed her shoulder and she looked up with a wan smile, patting his hand in appreciation.
“I don’t want to hold Mari back, but she doesn’t have that cutthroat mentality needed to survive in it. Frankly, I don’t want to have it because she wont be her anymore.”
“I’ll watch her back,” Patrick said surprising even himself. He held up his hand, stopping whatever Lucia might have said. “No strings. No nefarious reasons.” He looked at Anna. “Just returning the favor. You told me I needed to grow up and now is as good of a time as any.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Tell him I’m all in, whatever he needs.” He turned to Lucia. “I’ll keep an eye on Mari and between the three of us, she’ll remain the sweet girl she is.”
Riley Stratten closed the door behind him and turned on the lamp on the side table. The house was still warm even though it was late, but it was empty. He dropped the Army duffel bag that had just about everything he owned on the floor and limped to the the kitchen. His body ached but it was as much from the non-stop trip as it was the shrapnel torn muscles. A grimace twisted his face when he tried to stretch some of the kinks out of his body. He looked around the empty house and bit back his disappointment. He should have called them but he’d wanted it to be a surprise. Turns out the surprise was on him. They were probably working late. Again. His hand clenched into a tight fist. They shouldn’t have to work so hard. God, he hated the Strattens. Should have changed his name when he joined the Army.
He took off his ACU jacket and was about to toss it on the sofa when he remembered his phone. He’d forgotten that it had been off in the airplane not that it usually mattered, his social schedule was bordering on wallflower status according his buddies. He checked the messages while moving gingerly towards the kitchen. An unknown number caught his eye as he opened the refrigerator. He dialed his voice mail and put it on speaker while he looked for food and some much needed beer. He found the beer first and that was good enough.
“Mr. Stratten, my name is Roger Corrina. I work for your grandfather, Alexander Stratten. - pause - Mr. Stratten has fallen ill. It’s cancer and it’s terminal.”
Riley froze with the bottle halfway to his mouth.
“He would like to see you as soon as possible. He understands this request might be difficult for you due to the familial estrangement-”
“Which he created,” Riley said before taking a long drink from the bottle.
“- and he is willing to compensate you for your time and trouble-”
“Of course he is.”
“-but under the circumstances he hopes you will be willing to put aside past animosities and visit him. I can be reached at this number to schedule a meeting and look forward to hearing from you.”
Riley put the bottle down on the counter with a loud bang. “Fat chance. The old bastard can meet the devil without any absolution from me.” He deleted the message without a second thought. They had done just fine for over twenty five years without the old Stratten money, even after his father died. He wasn’t about to get sucked into that hellhole now.
He downed the rest of the beer and blinked as the room spun. Then he remembered that the last real meal he’d eaten had been in Germany and close to twenty four hours ago. Once the Army decided to get rid of someone, they did it with stunning efficiency and meals tended to interrupt that process.
He turned back to the refrigerator and looked for the container he was sure held some edible leftover. Opening it, he was rewarded with cold pasta. Good enough. He grabbed another beer and headed for the sofa. Getting comfortable, he pulled out his phone again and texted Mari.
::Where you at Markie Mark?::
He didn’t have to wait long.
::Schmoozing the rich and infamous. Have news. Can’t wait for you to get home.xxoo::
::Have surprise for you. CU soon.::
::Counting off days :)::
He settled in the sofa with his food, beer and television, confident he had the bigger news of the two. It wasn’t ten minutes later that the sound of keys had the door rattling. He straightened and smiled, anticipating squeals of joy and a boat load of tears. At least he got the squeal part right.
“Arrrrhhhhheee! I carry pepper spray and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Riley stared at the Latino punk in front of him. But after two seconds, he realized the kid was no punk breaking and entering because who the hell would break into a middle, middle-class house wearing a white long sleeve shirt, black trousers, service shoes and carrying what looked like a tray of food?
“Who the hell are you?” Riley finally asked.
“I live here, buddy, I get to ask the questions.”
Riley didn’t move from the sofa and waited.
“Who the hell are you?” His eyes narrowed, then his body posture changed from defensive to, well, not. “Jesus, Mary and fucking Joseph.”
“Was that a multiple choice question?”
“You’re Riley. I’m the guy sleeping in your bed. Ha. That sounded like a gay Goldilocks, didn’t it?” He smiled and closed the door. “I’m Noel Cruz, by the way. Half black, half Puerto Rican and all gay.” He turned and looked Riley straight in the eyes. “I like to get that out of the way right off the bat so there’s no surprises. My parents would’ve rather have a gang banger than a gay son, so your mom and Mari have pretty much adopted me.” Noel walked to the kitchen and set the tray down on the counter.
Right. Riley remembered something about Mari’s friend moving in but…
“I have some leftovers if you’re hungry. Mari is going to shit bricks when she realizes she missed you.” He was completely comfortable in the kitchen, grabbing plates and utensils with ease. “How the hell did she miss you? They wouldn’t have gone to a pot luck party and missed you coming home.” He spooned the food on plates and walked to the sofa, handing Riley a plate.
“They are at a pot luck?” Well, at least they were out having fun and not working, so that was something. He looked at the casserole, then shrugged and started eating.
Noel nodded. “Uh huh.” He stuffed a large forkful of food in his mouth. “She met this charming old man during a traffic jam and got invited over for dinner and you know Mari is a sucker for charming.” He chewed slowly for a few seconds. “What are you doing home? You’re not supposed to get leave for another two months.”
Riley poked at his food. “Yeah, well, sometimes plans change.”
“Uh huh.” Noel arched his brow. “You’re not going to want your room back are you? I mean I’ve always dug men in uniform but you look like you’re the type to get attached and I’m not done getting all of your mom’s recipes, so don’t fall in love with me because I’ll just break your heart.”
Riley bit off a smile and nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”