Not Really MR. Smith
Chapter 1—A Man of Few Hopes James Geraghty frowned. The death of Miranda Forbes had come as little surprise to him. He expected her demise to be anything but graceful for she had led a life anything but that. The information that his long lost love was dead should have moved him, drawn him into reflection, though he was feeling anything but retrospective. His brother had phoned with the news but made no query as to the funeral because both knew he wouldn’t be attending. Theirs was a small town, and his was a small town infatuation gone awry for she had manipulated him with the skill of a seasoned seductress. He was only eighteen and at twenty-two, she already had a firm grip on her wiles. He had loved her with the fury—passion only a first love could inspire, and she toyed with him until the brink of madness—until her father stepped in to separate them. He made elaborate plans where they would run away, elope, have adventures, and take on the world. However, hers was a world of privilege, and she was loath to leave the comforts of daddy. In the end, due to her misconduct, James left. He was forced to abandon her, joining the military and allowed it to fill the void in his heart until it no longer ached for connection to another. Fourteen years later she was dead—killed in a traffic pileup when a tanker overturned. While her death made local headlines it was nothing more than a mild ripple in the stormy seas of the world. His discharge had him return to the city, moving into a hotel as he had no place of his own and no imminent desire to find one. His room had been a choice made without thought as he found himself needing to ease back into civilian life, so no matter his location he would be uncomfortable. It was here the call from his brother found him and sitting alone in a strange room James heard about the death of the first and maybe last woman he had loved. He changed the subject and told his brother about his discharge, which immediately raised the expectation of his return home. James fobbed off his brother, his family, telling the half-truth that there were procedures he was still going through. The ignorance of his brother was easy to play upon and he was once again left alone with his thoughts. Wiping the steam off the bathroom mirror James looked at the weathered face staring back at him. His black hair was still cropped short; aqua blue eyes creased from squinting into the sun, his was the guarded look of a man used to a dangerous life. At six foot tall, the muscled frame beneath his clothes was given away by momentary revelations, the hint of a bicep under a sleeve, the breadth of his shoulders filling a jacket. He stretched his arm out as if his shoulder had a kink, and it was becoming a reflexive action to cope with the after effects of his injury. It seemed that he had barely taken a breath in his new life when the strident jangle of his phone summoned him once again. He eyed the box vibrating on the dresser with the same wary eye he would lay on hostile terrain because after his unit only his family knew he was out. He debated leaving it to go to voicemail, suspecting this new call would be more pressure to get him to return to the family business. This suggestion would be futile as James was not interested in returning to the building trade. That was something long gone from his past, not that he disliked the trade because it once suited him as it suited his father and brother. The three of them got on with a respectful camaraderie that he had later applied to his own career. He had it with his own men, at least he used to when he was part of a unit. The warmth of home, he had forgotten it had once been a pleasant place with a loving family and good friends, was a place he escaped and the military was where he had escaped to so going back was not an option. James didn’t acknowledge the motivations of fear or sorrow; instead he kept moving forward reluctant to engage in the untidy and uncontrollable arena of emotion. He didn’t have a personal life because he didn’t need one, he served his country with loyalty, gave all to his unit, and in his down time took what he needed from those who understood the value of transient relationships. He had been there and done that. Now it was time, once again, to move on because he believed that life was always about moving forward and never looking back. That way the past could never catch up with you. James was wrong about his past and about the phone because someone with the power of knowing knew all about him for his brisk voice was on the other end of the receiver. “Geraghty.” It was greeting, query, and answer all in one, so James replied in kind, “Major.” The respect his tone offered his former superior was because Major Frederick Spokes was one of the good guys, an effective soldier and leader who supported his men. He was also straight to the point with his condolences. “Bad luck that.” He had not expected anything more from the Major who was out of the country when the fateful diagnosis caused James to be decommissioned on a medical discharge. A stray bullet left his shoulder stiff and without total range of movement. It was a slight distinction between one of optimal recovery and considered unfit, but he had fallen into the latter category. He had been offered the usual desk or teaching job, and he had declined both because it was time to go. So James Geraghty after fourteen years in the special forces found himself back home and without a goal in sight. He waited patiently for the Major to continue. “I was wondering if you had plans.” Both men spoke in the low well-modulated tones of men used to giving orders, but caution had crept into the edges of his. James was not interested in becoming a trained monkey for a private mercenary force and he would be very surprised if the Major was offering him the opportunity. “Nothing urgent.” Instead, Spokes cleared his throat uncomfortably as if asking for a personal favour, which in fact he was. “My brother has a spot of bother that needs tending.” “I see,” he didn’t, but he knew the story would have layers never to be discussed on the phone. “There’s a restaurant called Ventures in town. I would like to meet for lunch, make it one.” James was still too imbued with military protocol to refuse, even if he had wanted to, so he accepted with the same brevity as the Major and hung up the phone while considering his situation. He was unemployed, but he didn’t need work just yet as he had invested his money wisely and returned to a nest egg. He was thirty-two, while not past leading a wild life he had seen enough carnage to value quiet moments. James needed down time, from the grief of losing his career, from the grief of his past, from life. He rubbed his face with weary acceptance and feeling the stubble realised he needed to shave before lunch. He owed the Major nothing anymore as he was no longer under his authority, but the respect he accorded was one earned from a long association of serving under a courageous and intelligent man. The efficiently groomed man, for James could never be labelled metrosexual, that entered Ventures attracted the attention of both women and men. He was the masculine presence men aspired to, that attracted woman, and his athletic grace made up for his face narrowly missing handsome. The ex soldier didn’t notice the lingering glances for his focus was exactly where it should be as his subconscious noted the layout before searching for the Major in the crowd. It took but a few moments as the silver head of hair resonated against the sea of colour. Dubbed the Silver Fox, the beautifully sculpted face of the officer would have been more suited to tormented artist than a military strategist. Nearing fifty, with a well- toned body comparable to the younger man before him, the silver of his hair against the black of his eyes only added distinction to his authority. The Major’s success with women was legendary and evidenced by the constant parade of lovely young women eager to share the company of a compelling older man. The Fox also had the ability to lay down a unique and effective strategy for any situation, so James was a bit curious as to why his presence was required. The Major nodded to James and he noted that Spokes was tapping the side of his menu, his signal for discomfort. They ordered as he sat back in his chair and waited for the officer to unburden himself. “I have a brother.” James remained silent for he knew the careful and considered manner his superior used to approach problems. “He does corporate law and is attached to Barrington Industries. He has spoken to me and believes there might be a serious problem.” The blue of his eyes paled into a startling aqua as James concentrated on the Major. He was waiting for something interesting, perhaps a spot of corporate espionage maybe some retrieval required. Instead, Spokes gave an awkward cough as if the information was sticking in this throat. “My brother appears to be convinced that someone is trying to harm Miss Barrington.” He gave Spokes a puzzled look, “So call in the police.” The Major almost shuffled in his seat, “It is not that easy. It’s never that easy. Since the death of Aubrey Barrington, my brother has been concerned about the welfare of Miss Barrington. It appears she is a rather unique person.” James folded his arms and it was obvious that he was closed off from the conversation. The Major leaned forward. “I wouldn’t ask, but my brother has come to me with what he believes to be a valid concern and you are someone I can trust to see it right.” He gave Spokes a measured look, “So you want me to go check it out and make sure it’s nothing but conjecture.” Their food arrived and the Major beamed as he thanked the young server who gave him a sweetly dimpled smile in return. He returned to the conversation and as dark eyes met aqua, James could see the fox was still made of steel. “There is far more than conjecture as things have happened, but I will leave that for Roger to explain. Don’t worry you will be properly renumerated for your time.” James wasn’t as much worried about the monetary aspect as to the inability of the Major to tell him about the job. He suspected that he was about to be asked to babysit a troublesome rich girl who needed to stay out of the spotlight. The death of Aubrey Barrington was big news as outsiders speculated as to who was going to take the reins of his considerable company. That he had a daughter was a new piece of information but then again James was not really up on the latest gossip having little interest and being located elsewhere most of the last decade. They finished their dinner with a discussion of current military endeavours and the Major handed James a card with an address while explaining that his presence was expected immediately. He could have walked out the door never to return for to him answering the request for lunch was all he owed the Major. Knowledge of a spoiled rich girl had thoughts of Miranda flit across his mind. He remembered how she would challenge everything while her gossamer blond hair floated about her shoulders. Her shining green eyes would dare and a wicked smile played upon her lips, begging for a kiss, and he would oblige her anything—everything—even his own sanity. She had lied, manipulated, harmed others for the sake of it, and he let it happen. He had ignored it all for the glory of her body and the sanctity of her attention. Her legacy was his shame as he remembered how she treated the friends they had grown up with, tormented less attractive girls, and seduced every man within her radar. Whoever she had slept with in the end he never knew for the sexual interest of men always hovered around her. Miranda did because she could, and caught in her web he had enabled her vicious plots until she chose wealth over him. He removed himself from her and petulant she retaliated at his stand by continuing without him. She tormented, with an unrelenting vicious determination, any victim she could find until the daughter of a minor government official committed suicide. The girl had been singled out by Miranda until she couldn’t bear even the thought of living, so swallowed a bottle of pills and then the bottom fell out of his world. The girl he loved was unrepentant, callous, blamed the victim, and in a blinding moment James saw the truth of his shame. With the conviction of youth, he mistakenly believed he could have stopped her. The torment became common knowledge, and their outcry was the final victory of those who suffered from the abuse of the rich and unrepentant. Luckily, he was blessed with parents who were smart enough to know that someone would have to pay the price. James was bundled off into the military, and he never forgot the look on his mother’s face the night he left or her despair that his passion had broken up their family. His father told him that he needed to disappear and let Miranda take the blame for her behaviour. Still blessed with the chivalry of youth, though no longer blindly in love, James protested until his father turned to him in exasperation. “She has enough to protect her and you have nothing. Her father will point the finger at you and she will walk away from this. You need to go and let her father deal with it.” James fought to stay, but the sorrow of his mother won and he left the girl he once loved to sort her own mess. Her father did deal with it as he always had, Miranda was removed from town, and the minor official became a major official. James never spoke to her again and though her death didn’t hit home, his brother’s surprise at his lack of response did. He wondered if Marty had expected him to run back and mourn the person who broke their family. He should have just walked away and ignored the request for his was a different world now. The Major had disarmed him by doing something he had never done before for—he thanked him. James knew then that maybe the brother had been onto something and reluctantly left to meet with Roger Spokes. He arrived at the penthouse without difficulty and after watching the doorman’s hurried phone conference he was finally allowed into the building. The entire building was made of luxury that he was unused to, had never sought out, partly because of his profession and partly in defiance from the rejection of Miranda. She had chosen wealth over him and so he gave the wealth, at least the trappings of it a wide berth. James didn’t scorn—he merely put it aside and rode in the luxurious penthouse elevator without appreciation. If the elevator was a statement of elegant, then the penthouse was a mission to design as every inch of every room served the purpose of fluid grace. Before he knew what had happened he had been ushered through a foyer of marble and crystal into a large living area with a dazzling view of the city. Everything in the room was huge, from the elegant leather sofas that could seat at least twelve people, to the dominating folding glass doors that allowed the exterior to recombine with the interior into a stunning living space. The open plan area seemed to be divided into sections with a long bar, once again the generous use of marble, against one wall. The far end of the room was partitioned into a dining area by no more means than a silk rug under a huge mahogany dining table. Beyond that the shiny cupboards of a kitchen could be seen through one of the few doorways leading off the room. The area containing the sofas faced the glass doors that opened up to a balcony filled with outdoor furniture and nearly as wide as the living room itself. An opening in the wall showed the beginning of a corridor, which James assumed led to the bedrooms. Though luxurious, the area was still distinctly masculine with nothing in the way of decoration except for a trio of huge paintings on one wall. They dominated the area as a tribute to the artist, and even the unknowledgeable soldier knew talent when he saw it. They were simple pictures, so simple they could have been relegated to the mass production of maudlin prints, children holding kittens, crying clowns, focused upon a single theme. They were all of a young girl chasing butterflies and each from a different angle, though she stood in the same place. The amazing skill of the artist was something even a world-weary soldier could notice. The technique was exquisite, and each picture showed the outline of a mansion with a tiny patch of blue fluttering down from the roof. In one, the girl had dropped her hat in the chase and had trod on it carelessly. Another showed the ribbon tied in her hair floating behind her, a well-used scrap with previous knots evident. In the last, a toy dog sat observing his mistress chase the colourful insects just out of reach of her outstretched hands. James observed the decor without any personal judgement, so after noting the appropriate points of entry he fell into habitual stance and waited to be greeted. The man that came across to him was almost a replica of the man he had left and James once again faced a silver fox. Roger Spokes was older than the Major was, but he had the same fit bearing of his brother, the same sweep of grey hair, and the same aesthetic face that would suit a spiritual counsellor far for more than one bound to the profane of business. The one difference was that the eyes that swept over him were not weighing his potential for damage and instead held the warmth of introduction. They shook hands and the older man ushered him over to sit on one of the huge leather sofas. Roger Spokes had the same voice as his brother, but it carried more inflections as to discovery of purpose instead of the usual achievement of a desired end. James turned down the proffered drink and waited on the lawyer to discuss his problem. Spokes sat down opposite, and the late afternoon sun had him glow against the dark leather of the chair. He started the conversation with the uneasy stilt of a patient talking to a new doctor. The exchange of confidence with a stranger was never an easy situation especially when the topic was one, while foreign to the lawyer, well known to James. “As my brother has probably explained I look after the interests of the Barrington Family.” James nodded and Roger continued. “This includes ensuring the company runs smoothly during the transition of ownership. Aubrey Barrington didn't die intestate as he set up a rather specific will. It was speculated due to the reclusive and unique personality of Miss Aden Barrington that control would be left to his nephew, Witt Barrington. Due to past indiscretions Aubrey had reservations as to the suitability of the nature of his nephew. Though Witt has behaved these past few years, his Uncle felt that his basic nature has not changed. Aubrey—.” Here Roger paused, and James could see the older man was moved as he reflected upon his old friend. “Aubrey was no one’s fool, even though he was occupied by his work he was not preoccupied by it. He was well aware of what was going on around him, which included the rather more discreet but still dangerous behaviour of Witt. However, it was his relationship with his daughter that troubled him the most.” Roger motioned to paintings on the wall, “You might have noticed these as she is quite famous for her landscapes. For her to include a person is very rare, and I think these are the only ones she has ever done like this.” James stared at him blankly until the lawyer educated him, “Aden Barrington—she is considered a superb landscape artist and is in great demand. In fact, she can pretty much name her price, not that she requires income. Between her mother and father, she has inherited enough money to live in luxury for several lifetimes. It was more her reaction to the death of her mother that concerned her father.” “When did her mother die?” Roger grimaced, “When she was ten. Sandra Barrington used to go onto the roof of the house in those paintings. She loved to paint the surrounding landscape and one day she fell, or jumped to her death. She was still alive when found and was moved in an attempt to save her. Any evidence of the scene was lost to that and a powerful thunderstorm that occurred within hours. Aubrey refused to accept her death as suicide, Sandra was a loving mother and devoted wife, yet no one could work out how she accidentally fell off since her easel was set up in the middle of the roof. She did not take risks, was not foolish or under the influence of anything, yet there she was dead from a fall. Her death crushed Aubrey and to add insult to injury—Aden blamed him. She refused to speak to her father for years with these paintings as her only comment upon their relationship. The child in the painting is Aden and the blue floating down must represent her mother.” James shook his head, “What this family needs is therapy, not my services. There is nothing I can do here.” Roger gave the soldier a sharp look, “This information is only background as I have yet to explain the real issue at hand.” He nodded, but vague fingers of alarm were inching through him because this didn’t seem to be a job of babysitting a spoiled rich girl as much as babysitting a crazy rich girl and he wasn't revisiting there. Spokes continued, “Despite what you think, Aden has been sent to the best treatment facilities in the world and they all came to the same consensus. As long as she remains committed to the stubborn belief that her father was responsible for the death of her mother she would continue to exhibit unique behaviours in order to cope.” “What behaviours are these?” Interrupted James, who envisioned himself holding down a head spinning, violent, cursing bundle of crazy of rich girl. “She—ah—renames people. Her latest doctor says this is how she is able to maintain the safety of control in a world where she fears being powerless. Such as being unable to prevent the death of her mother, or discovering why it happened. By choosing our names, we are not autonomous beings but characters in her story. Until she accepts that what happened to her mother may never be resolved she will be stuck in this loop.” James allowed himself to relax, “Renaming, is that all? Nothing else happens—she just changes the name of people?” Spokes gave a wry smile, “That is it! For example, I am Officer John; don’t ask how she came up with that one. The problem with this is that Witt will use it to contest her position on the board and oust her, even relieve her of ownership. I have called a meeting and during it will present enough evidence to the contrary. Aden is a well respected artist who has earned her own fortune despite her eccentricities. My mistake was warning Witt that his plans were likely to fail, and that was when the attempt was made. You see there is a clause in the will that states if Aden dies within one month, or before she can assume control of the business, Witt is given it all.” James was not perceptive as to the aspects of business, "So why not hand everything over to Aden right away?” Roger smiled, “Death, unfortunately, takes time and there are official documents to be drawn, government documents to be filed, so it’s not done in a matter of days. Unfortunately, Aden has not exactly been cooperative and we are running out of time, which is something Witt is counting on. Two weeks ago a minor car accident could have been a major one if not for the skill of the driver. Aden was unharmed, but Edward her driver and bodyguard broke his leg in several places. While he can technically still drive, he can’t offer her the protection we believe she now requires.” Here Spokes leaned forward while his dark eyes became intense with conviction. “You see when the car was brought to a mechanic it was discovered that the brake lines had been tampered with. A clumsy attempt yes, but still a genuine attempt nevertheless. From that moment we knew that Witt was serious about removing Aden.” James was still not convinced, “If she is in such danger why not give control over to him? She already has her own money and a career, why does she need to bother with running an industry?” The lawyers face fell into weary lines, and James knew the look of one who had been fighting a long battle. “That was also her first reaction; she wanted nothing from her father as she barely lived in the main house. It took days of explaining to her what Witt would do if he gained control of everything. She knows what Witt is, what he does to people, and she has always disliked him. Once it was pointed out that the livelihood of hundreds of people depended upon her, then she changed her mind. Aden might be reclusive, preferring to paint than deal with people, but she is not unkind or careless, and she would try to protect the company. Make no mistake Witt is dangerous, unpredictable, with nothing to lose and won’t go away easily.” As James nodded he told himself there was no way he was going take this job, this was no more than hysterical speculation based on a faulty car and a hated family member. He had been caught in the middle of the power struggle of a family before, between Miranda and her father, so he was damned if he was going back to that. Spokes needed to accept life was not a soap opera, if someone wanted you dead then you were killed. Either by an efficient adversary, or a clumsy amateur, but the plots revealed here was the stuff of cheap drama and not life. The lawyer read the scepticism in his face and shook his head to refute the soldier. “Edward Wore is a retired homicide detective he doesn’t invent danger, and he doesn’t need it to keep his job. In his expert opinion—of more than twenty years experience—this was a genuine attempt on her life. Frederick told me that you were serving in a special unit when injured and that you had training to protect valued assets. Aden is a valued asset and she needs to remain safe. Spokes handed him a card as he rose and James could see the earnest concern in his face. “All we ask is that you keep her alive for the next month. It is short term, well paid, and you will be accommodated in luxury surroundings. Your only concession would be putting up with being renamed.” James took the offered card and the lawyer continued, “Please think about it. This is a very real threat, and despite her quirks she is defenceless against the plans of Witt.” He nodded and leaving the worried man to the plots and plans of wealth. James escaped the building with a sigh of relief. The emotion of others was a burden he wasn’t prepared to endure, especially when it concerned the tantrums of the rich and worthless. He hailed a taxi and rode back to his hotel without a backward glance. Aden Barrington, whoever she was, had to survive this turmoil on her own. At least that was the plan.

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KatriCardew
Novel / Novella
Romance
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Synopsis
After an accident made the family lawyer suspicious James Geraghty was hired as a replacement bodyguard for the heiress Aden Barrington. What he didn’t expect was to be renamed while she dragged him all over the countryside while ignoring danger. Finding herself attracted to James, Aden finally withdraws from her fantasy world to accept the consequences of her inheritance. James finds himself struggling to keep Aden safe while coping with her strange and deadly family. He would be far more confident if her eyes weren’t the colour of honey and her hair a halo of sunshine. He had given up on love—she had given up on life. Not Really Mr. Smith— a unique love story.
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Published Date
11/13/2011 12:00:00 AM
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