Several hours later, we finally touched down in New York again. Kiona awoke just in time for us to hit the runway, and the process went about as smoothly as it had when landing in New Orleans. My usual driver, Gregory, was ready with the car to scoop us back up and take us home. While Kiona rested a little in the backseat with me, I reflected on our unconventional marriage and the fun that we’d experienced together…along with the impending meeting with Alphonse Megami.

I need to start making the arrangements for that, I thought to myself. Tomorrow, I’ll contact Kylie.

I thought about how useful my executive assistant had been these last five years as we ascended the elevator up to the penthouse. Kiona, still yawning slightly, was watching the beauty of the setting sun against the skyline as I found my thoughts trailing to the previous jams that Kylie had helped me avoid or mitigate. A couple of times during our honeymoon, I’d stepped aside to privately answer a phone call or series of text messages from my assistant, who was holding down the fort in my absence.

I still needed to figure out what to do about Coppersmith. His preposterous posing and wanton need to have his ego stroked at all times was making him trouble for me, and I needed better management…but it wasn’t time yet. When the appropriate moment came, Larry would fit the bill appropriately, and if the board wouldn’t accept him, I’d step in to sign off on his ascension myself. A little parting gift before I handed over the reigns of my company to Megami.

But that still left the problem of leaving a supervisor for the marketing department…and the training procedure for that would be somewhat time-consuming and problematic…

Is there seriously nobody capable of stepping up to that role, already IN my company?

Once again, I needed people in the right roles. Sure, this transition would cause significant upheaval in the company, especially after I gave everyone my parting six figure bonus, but with the right staff in control I knew they could weather the storm.

“What’s the matter?” Kiona asked, gazing at me thoughtfully with some concern.

“I don’t…wait, where are we?”

The concern across her face intensified. “We’re home.”

I glanced around. She was right. I was standing in the kitchen of the penthouse, and she was back on the other side of the divider. We were holding glasses of wine again, even. I shook my head – is this déjà vu? Didn’t we JUST do this a few days ago?


“Yes, I’m…I’m fine,” I nodded.

“You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve been saying, have you?” Kiona chided me with a mocking frown. “I swear, sometimes you just get wrapped up in that world of yours…”

“No, I was…it was just…I’m sorry,” I apologized. “I was distracted with work preoccupations. Could you repeat whatever you were saying?”

“I was saying that I really appreciate the trip down to New Orleans, even if it wasn’t a real honeymoon for a real marriage,” Kiona smiled. “You’re very sweet sometimes, even if you try to hide it. But you should know that you can’t hide things from me, Cole…”

That’s what I’m afraid of, I thought to myself before I realized that she was stroking my cheek with her palm. I glanced down at my wine – I’d already almost finished the glass. While absentmindedly wrapped up in thoughts about my company, I must have been unconsciously drinking it.

Not a good combination, I thought to myself. Drinking wine and lost in thought…how much have I been drinking? And how long have we been here? I glanced over to the window, seeing that the sun was already disappearing towards the horizon.

“Listen, I know what I see in your eyes when you look at me,” she whispered, standing on just the other side of the divider again. “I can see it in them now. You didn’t just pick me because I could play pretend. There’s some part of you that wants this to be real…”

I realized that she was right. You know what you have to do. I began to concentrate again, taking a deep, soothing breath as I closed my eyes. I can’t let her inside. I can’t let ANY of them inside. Just calm down…relax everything…and push the safety of those walls back up…

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