High Stakes, Hard Sell Ch. 04

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Ass

Author’s note:

Welcome to the fourth of six (or seven) chapters! I must again thank those who took the time to read, vote, comment and/or email me about the first three chapters, and I’m grateful for the advice and editing of the wonderful and accomplished author karaline. This is a story about a relationship between consenting and fictional adults. Thank you again for reading!

****

Jane was disoriented, and without a sense or time or place; there was only a vague sensation of pain which grew stronger and sharper. She started to feel nauseous.

Pain. Lots of it, mostly in her ankle and wrist and on her cheekbone. And wetness on her face – blood? Had she fallen? She tried to focus her eyes but nothing made sense – colours and shapes were just a swirl. There were noises. Speech. She tried to pull herself into a sitting position but her arms didn’t work properly and pain shrieked through her wrist and ankle until she felt like screaming too.

Panic. Where was she? Why couldn’t she move? What was wrong with her?

“Stay still. Stop trying to move.” A voice, deep and familiar. Close to her ear. Comforting. She wasn’t alone. She lay still. The pain wasn’t as agonizing when she was still, but it was there, and steadily building.

“Mike?”

“Yeah, I’m here. You fell down the stairs. An ambulance is on its way. Don’t move.”

The pain dispersed the fog in her mind and she remembered. It was Friday morning. She’d shown up early to Mike’s to get a jump on the laundry and to cook breakfast. Mike usually did the breakfast but she’d wanted to go the extra mile – continue the good vibrations from Wednesday. Mike was eating and she’d grabbed a basket of dirty laundry and was lugging it down the stairs when her ankle rolled and she fell.

The curse had struck again. The vengeful old lady had tasked her to ‘regain the trust most cruelly betrayed or die before spring’, and the effects of that hex were growing more pronounced with each passing week. And the first day of spring was less than a month away…

“Don’t leave me,” she said. He wouldn’t leave her like this, surely?

“I’m here. I’m not leaving.”

“It hurts.”

“Where does it hurt?”

“All over.”

“Your chest or stomach?”

“No.”

“Your back?”

“No. My wrist and ankle. My face.”

“Can you breathe okay?”

She took a few breaths to confirm. “Yes.”

“Okay. Lie still. Help is coming,” he said. His voice was steady. It made her feel better to hear it.

“Don’t leave.”

“I won’t.”

The paramedics arrived and there was a flurry of activity; more questions, gentle squeezing and prodding, sickening pain as she was braced and maneuvered onto a stretcher and lifted into the ambulance. Her head and neck were immobilized with blocks and straps but she could see Mike and Nessa riding in the ambulance with her. The kid looked terrified and clung to her father.

“I’m sorry,” Jane said.

“No need for that. Just lie still,” Mike said. He reached over and brushed her hair out of her face.

“How bad does it look?”

“Not too bad. I looked worse after my last fight,” he said. She saw his smile and relief flooded through her. She was in good enough shape to joke with, anyway.

“No, seriously.”

“You can move your fingers and toes so that’s good. They want to check you for a concussion and internal injuries.”

“Stay with me, please?”

“I already called Greg told him I won’t be in. Took Nessa out of school for the day, too. We can stay with you.”

“I’m sorry,” she said again.

“Don’t be sorry. Just lie still.”

They rode in silence for a few minutes.

“This is the curse. It’s trying to kill me,” she said, her voice a whisper. “I thought I had more time.”

“You tripped and fell. Happens every day. It was just an accident.”

“It wasn’t an accident…”

“Janey,” Mike said, his voice quiet and firm. “This isn’t the time, okay?” He put his arm around Nessa and drew her in closer. The kid was wide-eyed in horror.

Damn. She’d forgotten about Nessa. Jane forced a reassuring smile.

“I’m okay, Nessa. I guess I need to be more careful when I go down the stairs.”

“And always hold the railing,” Nessa said.

“Always,” Jane agreed.

A few minutes later the ambulance stopped and Jane was wheeled into the hospital. Triage. More questions. Mike filled out paperwork on her behalf and she was given a bed in the holding unit. The initial diagnosis was a moderate sprain of her left ankle and right wrist, a broken nose and a minor concussion. There was some purple facial bruising and both her eyes had swollen and blackened. X-rays and a head CT scan were scheduled and the doctor recommended she stay twenty-four hours for observation. Overall it wasn’t a bad outcome after falling down a flight of stairs.

“You don’t have to stay, Mike,” Jane said after the doctor left. “I’m in good hands here.”

“You sure?”

“You and Nessa have been here for hours. Go home and get some lunch.”

“There’s a cafeteria downstairs. bursa escort We could just grab a bite there.”

Jane smiled at his graciousness. “I’m fine. Thanks for staying – I was a little shaken at first. I’m okay now.”

“Alright. I left my number at the nurse’s station, so they can call if you need anything,” he said.

“Thanks.”

Mike bundled Nessa up and they left. The rest of the day was long periods of boredom interrupted by diagnostic tests, followed by more boredom. Her ankle was elevated and painkillers did a good job of bringing the aching and throbbing to a manageable level.

Jane spent her time trying to figure out how she could keep her deal with Mike now that she’d be off her feet for a while – the doctor said the ankle sprain in particular might require four weeks or more to heal. No more lugging laundry up and down stairs, that was for sure. But her fall had underscored the urgency of her situation – the curse seemed to be ramping up its efforts to kill her, and she needed to break it before the start of spring.

She ate a better-than-expected hospital dinner and spend much of the evening dozing.

“Jane?” The voice was familiar and unexpected. Jane opened her eyes and looked up as her sister approached.

“Betty? What…”

“Mike called and said you’d had a fall. He thought I should call you. I decided to visit instead.”

“That was kind of him,” Jane said. Mike must have been really concerned to have called Betty – there was a strong mutual dislike there. “I rolled my ankle and fell down the stairs.”

“Are you okay?”

“The doctor says so. I feel sore. How do I look?” Jane tried for a light tone.

Betty didn’t answer. She pulled a chair close to the side of Jane’s bed and sat down.

“You were at his apartment when it happened?” Something in the way she said it put Jane immediately on the defensive.

“Yes.”

“Why?” Betty said.

“We discussed this. I’m trying to win back his trust, remember? Kind of hard to do that if I’m not around him.”

“We also discussed the risks of dealing with an abusive man.”

“He’s not an abusive man,” Jane said, now fully on guard.

“And yet here you are – again – in the hospital.”

“Because I fell down the stairs.”

Betty sighed and gave her a look of mixed concern and pity. “Kind of a coincidence, isn’t it? You start seeing a man with a history of domestic abuse and then immediately fall down the stairs for the first time in your life? Broken nose and a concussion, right?”

“You think Mike did this?” Jane was incredulous. “If he hit me, how come the paramedics found me at the bottom of the stairs? Why would Mike call you and tell you about it if he were responsible?”

“He might have made it look like a fall to fool the paramedics. They’re trained to look for signs of abuse, you know. And it’s hardly surprising he called me – the abuser often makes gestures of contrition afterwards. It’s practically textbook.”

“He didn’t hit me, Betty. I’d tell you if he had.”

“Battered Person Syndrome,” Betty said, in a gentle tone. “You blame yourself for the violence, so you’re reluctant to admit the truth.”

“The truth is I fell down the stairs,” Jane said through gritted teeth. “All your psycho-drivel doesn’t change that.”

Jane could tell she’d scored with the psycho-drivel remark; Betty’s eyes flashed with brief anger.

“In any case,” Betty said, regaining her calm demeanor. “What are the doctors saying about your recovery?”

“All the tests are negative and I’ll be discharged in the morning. They’re only keeping me for observation.”

“And your injuries?”

“A few weeks and I’ll be good as new.”

“I’m really relieved to hear it,” Betty said, and her face reflected genuine relief. “Can I swing by and pick you up tomorrow morning? Maybe you can spend a few days with me until the pain and swelling go down.”

Jane reached out and held her sister’s hand. Betty gave it a supportive squeeze. “Thanks – I’ll take you up on the ride home. But they gave me some pretty good meds here; I should be able to manage on my own.”

Betty leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.

“Get some sleep. I’ll be here at nine tomorrow,” she said, then stood, cast an encouraging smile down at Jane and made her exit.

**

Jane spent the weekend at home sleeping, icing her wrist and ankle, popping pain pills and trying to get in touch with Mike. She wanted to talk to him about how they could proceed with their deal despite her being physically limited. Laundry was out – she could only climb stairs with difficulty. She could cook and do light cleaning. She could still drive, so the nanny option was in play. Bottom line: she could still save him time and effort. There was no reason not to continue the deal. And she needed that working for her now more than ever.

Except he wouldn’t respond. He’d returned her texts on Friday when she was in the hospital, but starting Saturday he hadn’t replied and didn’t pick up when she called. He’d gone silent, bursa escort bayan and the salesperson in her knew this was almost always a bad sign.

By Sunday evening a feeling of dread had sunk in and disaster scenarios were consuming her thoughts. Had her injury somehow scared him off? Had something happened to Nessa – or to Mike – that was preventing a response? Was he angry at her for some unfathomable reason?

She barely slept Sunday night and arrived at his apartment by cab at six on Monday morning. She struggled up the stairs on a crutch, each step painful and careful. She had a key to his apartment, but decided to knock instead. She didn’t know what she was walking into; better to use a cautious approach.

The door swung open.

“What are you doing here?” he shouted, his glare an accusation.

“It’s Monday…”

“I don’t know what kind of goddamn game you and Betty are playing but I’m done. Just leave me and Nessa alone.”

“What…”

The door slammed shut in her face.

Shaken by the sudden and disastrous change in tone between them, Jane stood outside his door to think things through. Betty clearly had something to do with this. Had she contacted him? Accused him? Worse? Should she back off and re-group or force a confrontation in order to get past whatever the issue was?

She took out her key. A risky gambit, but with Nessa present Mike would have to restrain his emotions and his language. He’d have to talk instead of yelling. She unlocked the door and stepped inside the apartment.

He was on top of her almost immediately.

“Out!”

“Tell me what’s happened, please,” she said, searching out his eyes with hers.

He hesitated, maybe reading the genuine confusion in her face. She hoped it was that. He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly.

“You don’t know?” he asked.

She shook her head.

He waked to the couch, grabbed some formal-looking documents and thrust them at Jane.

“Betty paid me a visit Saturday morning. A pleasure, as always. Said she’s going to report me to the Fighting Federation for domestic assault – that’s a one-year suspension from competition. She’ll also go to my sponsors with the same accusation. And…” he had to stop to reign in a temper she could see was threatening to flare out of control. When he resumed, his voice was a barely audible hiss, “She’ll report me to child services, ask them to intervene and get Nessa taken away.”

Jane was scanning through the documents Mike had given her. They confirmed what he was saying.

“Mike I had no idea that…”

“She also happened to mention your little revenge game…making me fall in love with you so you could rip my heart out again. Cute. Nice touch,” he said. His glare was withering, his fists clenched.

Jane just stared in horror.

“But in the end she kindly agreed not to mail those reports if I stopped seeing you. I guess she was too impatient to wait for your revenge to pay off. If it’s any consolation, she did drop off copies to Greg at the gym, so he’ll be reaming me out for most of the week for being stupid enough to give you the time of day.”

“Wait…none of that is true. Mike, all those things are lies,” she said, putting all her sincerity behind her words.

“Right. And the truth is…what? An old lady cast a spell on you? I gotta say, Jane, Betty’s explanation makes a lot more sense.”

“But she lied!”

“I’ll hand it to you, though, you’re a better actor than I thought. You pretty much had me convinced.”

“I love spending time with you,” Jane said.

He paused and took a step back. Love was a powerful word. His eyes scrutinized her face as though searching for deception.

He waved her away. “Doesn’t matter, Jane. Betty’s calling the shots and I’m not letting anyone take Nessa. You’d better go.”

“I’ll fix this,” she said and grabbed for his hand with her left one. He pulled away.

“Just go.” His voice was quiet, his expression weary.

“I’ll fix this,” she repeated, awkwardly backing out of the apartment with her crutch, still clutching the papers.

Mike’s started to shut the door, then paused and gestured to the crutch.

“You’re going to be okay? After the fall, I mean.”

“I’ll be fine in a few weeks.”

Mike just nodded, then shut the door, leaving Jane alone in the hallway.

**

Jane didn’t go directly to Betty’s house. She spent the day planning what she wanted to say and focusing her emotion. Shouting and tears wouldn’t do; they weren’t children anymore and letting her fury run wild wouldn’t get the job done. It was early evening before Jane made the trip to her older sister’s house.

Jane rang the doorbell of the upscale bungalow and prepared herself for the coldest of cold calls. Betty doubtless felt justified in what she’d done, and Jane needed to shake that confidence and turn things around.

“Jane? This is…” Betty trailed off as she caught Jane’s icy glare but stepped aside to let her in. Jane limped to a bench in the hallway and sat. escort bursa Betty closed the door and occupied a chair opposite her.

“Mike told me about your visit. You threatened him and you threatened a five-year-old girl.” Jane kept her voice quiet and robbed of intonation. She wanted to project only coldness.

“I’m not going to stand by while some juiced-up thug maims my little sister,” Betty said, already on the defensive.

“What gave you the right to make decisions on my behalf?”

“I’m your older sister. I won’t see you stuck in an abusive relationship.”

“I came to you for help to win his trust, and instead you destroyed it. Intentionally.”

“I love you. I couldn’t do nothing while…”

“I don’t have the words to express how much you’ve hurt and humiliated me. You ruined something that I’ve been working really hard for – something that’s very important to me.”

“Jane, listen…”

“Rebuilding my trust in you – if it happens – will take a long time. But whatever happens I will never forget what you’ve done to me,” Jane said.

Betty just stared at her. Jane stared back stone-faced.

“But for now, you’re going to come with me to Mike’s apartment and you’re going to retract everything you told him on Saturday. Then you’re going to apologize to him and to me,” Jane said.

Betty gave an incredulous laugh. “You know I won’t do that.”

Jane grabbed her crutch and dragged herself to her feet. “Then we’re done. For good.” She turned and lurched to the front door.

“What do you mean ‘done’?” Betty followed behind her.

“Don’t call me, don’t visit. Don’t talk to me. I’m erasing you from my life.”

“Like mom,” Betty said.

“Like mom.” Jane’s tone was devoid of emotion.

“Is that the best way to deal with conflict? Cut yourself off from people who love you?”

“Cut myself off from people who stab me in the back, yes.”

“You can’t be serious!”

“You know exactly how serious I can be,” Jane said.

“You’re being irrational,” Betty said, and Jane could hear a hint of anger in her voice. “Do you think I’ll cave to emotional blackmail? I’m not simple.”

“Goodbye.”

Jane opened the front door and was greeted with an icy blast; it suited her mood.

“When you’re through being angry, call me. I’m always here for you,” Betty said.

“Mom said the same thing fifteen years ago,” Jane said, then slowly picked her way down the porch and down the front path towards her car.

When she was behind the wheel the tears came but she quickly swiped them away with the back of her hand. There would be time later to grieve the death of her closest relationship, the severing of her last familial bond. For now, it was time to engage her backup plan.

**

A few days later she limped her way into Betty’s office. It was a quarter past noon and the receptionist was at lunch, just as Jane had expected. It allowed her to walk straight into Betty’s inner sanctum unopposed.

“I’m with a client,” Betty said in a civil tone. Jane knew her sister well enough to detect the outrage seething underneath. She ignored it – in fact she’d hoped her sister would be in a session. It allowed Jane to speak without inhibition while her sister had to restrain herself. Advantage: Jane.

She slapped an envelope onto the surface of Betty’s oak desk.

“I’m hear to present you with a Cease and Desist letter. You will refrain from any further attempt to defame or libel Mr. Michael Talbot. Your malicious accusations against him are provably untrue and will result in significant personal hardship for him and his child as well as financial damages possibly running into the millions of dollars.” Jane was pleased – it had come out exactly as she’d rehearsed it.

“Jane, be reasonable.”

“I’ve hired a lawyer from the law firm Rothman and Edgar. I showed her the letters you threatened Mike with. Turns out they’re actionable unless you can prove he hit me, which you can’t, because he didn’t. You’d be liable for any financial damages he sustains as a result of your lies. Loss of sponsorship income, loss of prize fight income…we’re talking three hundred and fifty thousand, minimum. A sympathetic judge might return an award in the millions.”

It had been expensive to go behind Mike’s back and hire the lawyer, but he wouldn’t have had the money and in any case this was her sister and therefore her problem. Jane was determined to clean up this mess herself and prove to Mike she could be trusted.

“I’m trying to protect you!” Betty said.

“And if you go after his daughter, that’s when things get really interesting. You don’t have a shred of evidence of wrongdoing and I’ve got half a dozen people who will testify that he’s a great father. Myself included, actually.”

“Okay. That might have crossed the line, but…”

“We will go after your savings and investments as well as your personal and business assets. Filing for bankruptcy might save you but I wouldn’t bet on it. With the wrong lawyer or the wrong judge anything can happen. Bottom line: we’ll get a settlement that Mike can retire on.” Jane stepped in close and lowered her voice. “And I will continue to see him whenever I please, regardless. There’s no win for you here, only an array of losing outcomes.”

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