They found the bar at The Jefferson easily enough. Heather had never been inside the hotel before and was immediately awed by its presence. She could see herself in her wedding gown coming down the wide stairway in the rotunda, to meet Kellan on the tapestry-like carpet below. The staircase was like the one at the plantation, Tara in Gone with the Wind. She stopped to look at it. Kellan stopped beside her. She put her hand on his shoulder. He had chosen to use his wheelchair for the after- party, tired from crutching around all day.
“It is amazing.” She said, with her eyes wide.
“You are such a hopeless romantic.” He said in gentle teasing. “I suppose you want a staircase like that in your farmhouse with the red tin rood.”
She shook her head. “No. The farmhouse with the red tin roof will have to be one story, because you will be lying in bed beside me, listening to the rain on that roof, and I am not going to live in a house that isn’t as accessible as where you are now.”
“A staircase that wide would easily accommodate a lift.” He pointed out. Practicality took over as his emotions got way too close to the surface. She was already picturing her future as their future. It was exactly what he wanted, but it still scared the shit out of him to hear her speak the words.
He gave her a minute more to stare in silence. “Let’s go find the others.”
She nodded and they made their way to the bar.
The after-party was in full swing, with the wedding party clustered at tables and on couches in the lounge. Carrie and Reid snuggled close together on an espresso-colored leather sofa, with Reid smoking a cigar and Carrie working on a glass of wine. Angela was snuggled close to Owen. Heather smiled. Owen looked like he was ready to leave. He smiled when he saw Heather and Kellan approach, ready for some diversion.
“Glad you could make it, Tierney.” Reid welcomed them. “We thought you might have changed your mind.”
“Not just yet.” Kellan answered. “But I can if you will be disappointed. Who won the bet?”
“No bets this time. Kyle isn’t here.”
“Did you ever win against him?”
Reid shook his head. Heather followed the conversation, confused. Reid stopped to explain to her. “Your Mr. Wonderful is lousy with social gatherings. Nine times out of ten he would choose to stay behind whenever we went out as a team or just got together. Nose in a book or stuck to his computer or something. But Kyle always knew when that one time out of ten would be. Without ever asking Kellan. I hate to break it to you this way, Heather, but Kellan is a geek.”
Kellan didn’t look offended. He just waited.
“Not my Kellan!” Heather looked shocked. “But if he couldn’t quote Sarbanes-Oxley chapter and verse, I would have no idea how to communicate with him.”
“Sarbanes-Oxley?” Reid was curious.
“IT compliance guidelines.” Kellan answered.
“Project manager stuff.” Reid nodded his head. “No thanks. I will stick to land surveying.”
“Civil engineering stuff.” Carrie joined the conversation. “I am glad you are here.” She reached for Heather’s hand and squeezed. “What are you drinking?”
“Nothing yet.” Heather answered.
“Let’s fix that.” Carrie stood up.
“What do you want, Kellan?” Heather asked him as Carrie pulled her away.
“You don’t drink do, you?” Owen asked Kellan as Heather and Carrie walked over to the bar.
Kellan shook his head, hands on the wheels of his chair. He had a feeling the questions were about to begin. “Not often.”
“Health reasons?” Owen followed up.
“Mostly.” Kellan watched Carrie and Heather talking animatedly as they waited at the bar.
“Owen, shut up.” Reid said. “Sorry, Kellan. He forgets his manners when he has too much to drink.”
“Most people do.” Kellan looked at Reid, then at Owen. The resemblance between the brothers was uncanny. Especially when he and Kyle looked nothing alike. “What is your real question, Owen?”
“Nothing. Sorry.” He looked very embarrassed and stood up to leave. “Gotta piss.”
“Thanks for the information.” Reid let him go.
Angela followed Owen’s retreat with a pained look. He hadn’t even said goodbye.
“Don’t be offended, Angela.” Reid told her. “Owen isn’t a people person.”
“Whatever.” She still pouted and chose to get up to find more suitable company.
“She really likes me.” Reid shook his head, then puffed on the cigar. “I suppose you don’t want a cigar, either.”
“No thanks.” Kellan looked toward the bar where Carrie and Heather were talking, still waiting for their drinks.
“You always were straight-edge, Kellan.” Reid studied his friend. “Never did party with us.”
“I went to parties with you.” Kellan corrected him. “Occasionally.”
“Yes, you did. But you never drank or smoked or did any of the other idiotic stuff we did. Did your dad drug test you and Kyle or something?”
Kellan shifted his weight in his chair. “Why are we talking about this now? You have known me since we started riding juniors class. You could have asked these questions a long time ago.”
“I wasn’t drunk enough to be relaxed enough to ask you or I was too drunk to put a coherent sentence together. You aren’t the easiest person to talk to, you know.”
“You just open your mouth and words come out. Not hard at all.”
Kellan looked for Heather again. He didn’t want to relive his cycling years with Reid. All of the training, the he had grown up, everything structured to make him be the champion his dad had wanted to be. She was still deep in conversation with Carrie.
“Yeah, right. Smartass.”
“No, my dad didn’t drug test me. It is more fun to watch everyone else make an ass of themselves than it is for me to be told what an ass I made of myself.”
“That’s it!” Reid’s brown eyes lit up. “It is all about control. You are the most self-controlled person I know. You can’t lose that control, can you? Being drunk takes that away from you.”
Kellan was only half-listening now. Reid was analyzing him in an alcohol-induced moment of “insight” and he didn’t care to hear it. But there was something interesting going on at the bar. A stocky guy with a bright red ponytail had joined Carrie and Heather. He had wedged himself between the two women. Heather looked upset.
“Stop talking.” Kellan said to Reid, who immediately stopped and looked at Kellan like he was from another planet.
“Asshole.” Reid shot back.
“No.” Kellan said impatiently. “Someone is trying to put the move on Carrie, I think. I am trying to figure out what is going on and you are running off at the mouth about my control issues.”
Reid stood up and turned around. “Oh. That is Troy Davis. He is an old friend of Carrie’s. He is an ass, but he’s harmless. He is here with his girlfriend. You can relax. Not that you ever would.”
Reid sat back down. Kellan watched as Carrie and Heather began to walk away from the bar. It did appear that he had read the situation incorrectly. He was ready to go, even if they had just arrived. Drunk people tended to annoy him after a time. The fun part wore off pretty quickly. He stretched. His back was starting to become increasingly uncomfortable. It always hurt some, but lately, by the end of the day, he was ready to go to bed and sleep through the pain.
When he looked back in Heather’s direction, the situation had changed markedly. Troy was holding Carrie’s wrist, Carrie was trying to pull away, and Heather looked angry.
Kellan wheeled away from Reid without a word. The space between him and Heather was pretty clear; there were no tables directly in his path and the floor was level. He crossed the distance quickly, with Reid still staring dumbfounded after him.
“Come on, Carrie, just one kiss for old time’s sake.” The words were slurred and Troy wasn’t incredibly steady.
“You are drunk, Troy.” Carrie remained as calm as she could. “You should go back to Gina before she sees you.”
“Gina lets me do what I want. How about you Whitlow, ready for a Troy sandwich?” He turned around to put one arm around Heather.
Heather tried to shake him off. “Leave me alone. I am with someone.”
He just pulled her closer.
“You know you want me, Heather. Who are you with, anyway?”
“She is with me.” Kellan stopped in front of them, quiet as always, but Heather had never heard the tone in his voice she heard just then. She froze.
Troy looked down at him. “Yeah, right.”
“Leave her alone, man.” Kellan’s voice held a warning that Heather had not heard. She had seen him angry before. But not like this. He appeared calm, as always, but Heather could see in his eyes that Troy had crossed the line and Kellan wasn’t going to let him slide.
“You are with the cripple.” Troy laughed. “Then I know you want it even more, Heather.” Troy nuzzled his face in Heather’s hair, letting go of Carrie. “You aren’t getting it from him.”
At the last words, Heather tore away from Troy and slapped him across the face with all her strength. A scarlet handprint immediately bloomed on his cheek. He recoiled and grabbed her wrist, twisting her arm around her back. “Bitch!” He snarled at her.
Kellan didn’t waste any time. He pushed forward, got his balance and swung, his left fist, knuckle out making solid contact with the side of Troy’s upper thigh. Kellan caught himself with his right hand as he started to overbalance. Tory’s leg buckled and he started to go down on top of Kellan’s chair. Kellan swung again and caught Troy’s jaw, knocking Troy sideways, off of him and his chair. Troy hit the floor mumbling and cradling his thigh. He wasn’t getting up. Heather and Carrie stared at Kellan. Reid had finally realized something was going on and had run over.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” Reid looked shocked. “How in hell did you do that? And why?”
Heather shook out her stinging hand and stepped over to Kellan. “Thank you.” She said as he pulled her into his lap. “No one has ever stood up for me like that before.”
She put her arms around his neck and kissed him. When she realized he was shaking, she held him even tighter. Fear? Anger? Both? She wasn’t sure and it didn’t matter.
“Kellan just kicked Troy’s ass for me and Heather.” Carrie explained to Reid. “Troy got out of hand.”
Troy’s girlfriend, Gina, had come back from wherever she was to find him laid out on the floor, cursing Kellan. “What happened?” She quizzed them, anger in her eyes.
“He got his ass kicked.” Reid answered.
“Fucking cripple, I will kick your ass.” Troy started to get up.
“I don’t think so. Just get someone to help you to your room before I beat the shit out of you on principle.” Reid instructed. “And please check out in the morning. I don’t want to see you at my wedding.”
“Carrie--” Gina pleaded.
“Take him, Gina. He is drunk and can’t control himself.” Carrie didn’t say anything more, just buried her head in Reid’s shoulder.
“Did he hurt you?” Reid asked.
“Kellan didn’t let it get that far.” Carrie answered.
Reid looked at Kellan, who still had Heather wrapped around him, their heads bent together, aware of only each other. He touched Kellan’s arm. “Thanks, Kellan.”
“You are welcome.” Kellan didn’t look up.
“Let’s go home.” Heather raised her head to look at Kellan, love bright in her eyes. She looked over his head at Carrie. Carrie smiled and nodded.
Heather slid off Kellan’s lap.
“Thanks, Kellan.” Carrie leaned down to kiss his cheek. “You are a keeper. I am glad Heather has you.”
He looked surprised. He had finally won Carrie over. He wished it could have been easier than a bar fight, but, he would take what he could get. “You are welcome. Now if you will excuse us, Heather and I are going home.”
“See you tomorrow.” Carrie gave Heather a hug. “Go play.” Carrie whispered in Heather’s ear.
Heather hugged her back. “You bet.”
Kellan and Reid shook hands.
Heather followed Kellan out of the bar, then took her place beside him back to the rotunda and the beautiful staircase, all the while feeling love and passion and desire and a slight buzz swelling inside her like a balloon that could lift her off her feet. She smiled at no one in particular; thinking about what would come next when they got home.
To be continued...