Thursday August 23
The musicians were riffing off pop and rock standards. The harmonies and syncopated rhythms made the patrons fill the dance floor of Le Saphir, the club off New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street. Kip Brennan sipped a Sazerac, a cocktail with Cognac, bitters, sugar, and herbsaint. Kyle Cooper, sitting across from him, raised his glass. “Congratulations.”
“We’ve been here three days and it still hasn’t set in.” Kip shook his head. “When Kieran called me over during the dinner, I thought I screwed something up,” the now former co-executive director of Chase Security Infrastructure said.
“You’ve been spending too much time with Wes. His paranoia about Kieran is rubbing off on you,” Kyle, the executive director of licensing for the Chase Group laughed. “You are now the Executive Director of
Chase Security-New Orleans.”
Blowing out a breath, he said, “I am. I have eight days to get the ship in order. How Kieran managed to keep this secret, I don’t know.” Kip looked at his hands.
“Yeah, we do,” Kyle sighed. “He’s going to be alright. Doc Novak will make sure of it.”
“Mac worked a miracle for Troy.” Kip swallowed hard, remembering his conversation with Kieran before the rest of the executive board was alerted. “We are financing the purchase of the hospital, a women’s health center and a nursing home by selling off more shares from Chase Care. The markets don’t like uncertainty associated with an illness. Shares will be sold off depending on the CEO’s standing. Markets always discount on uncertainty.
“After we close the deal, I’m flying to San Diego. I have testicular cancer. The doctors think it’s very early. My bloodwork is good and so are my scans. Mac Novak will remove the testicle and dissect some lymph nodes. Depending on what he finds, we go from there.
“My dad will step in as temporary CEO for appearances. But I don’t want to tank the price before the sale goes through. After the purchase, Ian and I expect a five percent drop the minute the world hears. I can’t delay treatment, and I want control over the release of information. The good news is Monique is due in February.”
Kip shook off the worry. “Tomorrow, Owen Errol, our wonderful decorator, designer and coordinator of all things beauteous is taking me suit shopping. He finds my wardrobe lacking and then his husband, Barry is taking me to see a house. Coop what am I going to do with six bedrooms?” His chest bounced with laughter.
“Hahaha, your parents can move in with you.” Kyle leaned back in his seat.
Kip’s face contorted. “Uh, no. Barry is looking for a condo for them. Their neighborhood in Jersey is changing. My brother and sister-in-law have been less than hospitable to my folks. And my sister is finding herself. I have a feeling she’ll be calling to want to find herself in New Orleans,” Kip chuckled and watched the dance floor.
A man in a suit approached them. “Gentlemen, I apologize, but this table is made two tables for two patrons each. Would you mind if we separated the tables? We will adjust your bill for the inconvenience.”
Kyle smiled. “Sure.” He moved to sit directly across from Kip.
The man separated the table into two. Their waitress wiped down the other table, covered it with a cloth and turning to them said, “Two more Sazerac?”
Kyle nodded. He turned to Kip. “Tonight, relax. You haven’t stopped working since you were told. Tomorrow the shit hits the fan. All the staff begin to arrive. And we sit down with technical analysis to get a better idea about Tropical Storm Greta rolling through the Atlantic.”
“You always bear such good news.” Kip sipped his drink.
The man who separated the tables escorted two women to the other table. Both women had long blonde hair secured in a high ponytail. That’s where their similarities ended. One was tall, with petite features and vivid green eyes. As she turned to take her seat, Kip noticed a tiny baby bump.
The other woman was about five feet tall with a voluptuous figure that would make Ruben’s smile. Her round face, pert nose and luscious lips made Kip’s body tighten with awareness.
Before she sat, she approached Kyle and him. “Thank you for letting us share your space.”
“You’re welcome. I’m Kip and this is my friend Kyle. May we buy you a drink?” Kip smiled.
“I’m Harper and this is my sister Chantal.” Harper’s cheeks blushed pink. “That would be nice.”
The waitress delivered Kip and Kyle’s cocktails. “Their order is on us,”
Kyle said, his soft Alabama accent warm and welcoming.
They gave the women a chance to get comfortable at the table. Kip noted Harper ordered a milk punch, while Chantal ordered a club soda with a touch of cranberry juice.
The music switched to a bluesy rock tune, perfect to dance to. Kip watched Chantal lean toward Harper who gave a tiny shake of her head and shoulder shrug. He kicked Kyle under the table. Kyle leaned toward Chantal. “Would you like to dance?” he asked.
Kip cocked his head. “Harper?”
Chantal glared at Harper. “Um, okay.” She extended a shaking hand to Kip. Chantal nodded.
His hand wrapped around hers as he led her to the dance floor. Letting the music lead, Kip waited for Harper to relax before he placed a gentle hand on her hip. She startled at his touch. “Sweetheart, I won’t hurt you.”
She met his eyes, her gray green eyes mesmerizing him. Her body formed a square with his, likely learned from years of lessons and as the tempo increased, she disappeared into Kip’s lead. The music slipped into a sexy slow tune.
Kip sighed as he pulled her a bit closer. Her body stiffened. A touch of fear maintained a tiny distance between them. Peonies surrounded him. His mind emptied of everything except for Harper’s face and the sultry song. Kip loved to dance, but this felt intimate. As the song concluded and the band signaled for a break, Harper stepped back. A shudder ran through her, and her eyes shuttered.
Returning to the table, he saw Kyle returning to the table with Chantal. The pregnant woman wore a brilliant smile. Harper remained cautious.
Kyle raised a brow at Kip and the two pushed the tables back together. “Kip, Chantal tells me, she and Harper are born and bred Crescent City girls. I told her you are new to the town,” Kyle said.
“Well, if you need a tour guide, Harper and I will be happy to show you around,” Chantal offered. A flicker of discontent played across Harper’s brow.
“Are you free tomorrow? Our decorator is taking me house hunting and suit buying. He says I need a look,” Kip chuckled, not expecting anything from the women.
“You do. Senior executive—dress to impress. Wool winter suits aren’t going to cut it in Nawleans. Help him out ladies,” Kyle laughed.
“He’s right about wool,” Chantal said. “Make sure you go to Clothes Contact. I buy my suits there. They have a wonderful men’s department. Sales staff is like a tele-evangelism for suits, but the clothes are worth it. It’s the best place in town.”
“Have you settled on a place to live?” Harper asked.
“Barry is taking me to a few homes in the garden district. My office is in the Central Business district,” Kip said.
“We live in the garden district. There are some beautiful, old homes there,” Harper advised.
In the company of her sister, Kip saw her begin to relax. Suddenly, it was Chantal who tensed. Something or someone behind Kip upset her. “Chantal?” he asked.
“It’s nothing,” she maintained.
Kyle raised a brow. “Miss Chantal, those four overdressed women and their wannabe male companions walked in, and your shoulders are up to your ears.”
“Have you ever seen the movie mean girls? Those four never found redemption,” Harper looked down.
“Incoming three o’clock.” Kyle said.
Both girls tensed. A woman dressed in a white sequined minidress with
four inch heels led the group toward their tables. “Oh, my gawd,” she shrieked. “Girls look who’s here.”
“Hello Annabelle, Colette, Olivia and Vivian,” Chantal said through gritted teeth.
Vivian lowered her eyes on Chantal’s belly. “A baby. When are you due?”
“Tell them, Cherie. We’re so excited,” Kyle slid her into his lap and placed a predatory hand on her belly.
“Baby is due in October. Kyle and I are taking advantage of our pre-baby time.” Chantal cupped Kyle’s cheek with her palm.
“And you, Harper.” Colette raised a perfectly penciled in brow.
“Do you want to tell them, or do you want to keep it between us for a little longer?” Kip placed his hand on hers. Harper was more reticent than Chantal. “Kip, you can tell them.”
“I asked Harper to marry me. I also asked for her forgiveness because I’ve been busy with my new position, I didn’t have a chance to pick up her ring.” Kip leaned over and placed a chaste kiss on her lips.
“What do you do?” the man with Olivia asked. His suit seemed to drip grease.
Kip opened his wallet and removed his business card. “I’m the executive director of the New Orleans branch of Chase Security International.”
“Wow. Baby, that the company owned by the billionaire brothers, Ian and Kieran Chase,” the man with Collette said. “Look.” He googled the Chase Group.
“That’s you,” Vivian’s eyes went wide. “And you, Kyle.”
“We need better pictures,” Kip teased.
“Can we buy you folks a round?” Kyle asked.
By their body language, the guys wanted to hang out but the women clearly wanted to head to their reserved table on the other side of the club. The minute they were gone, Chantal hugged Kyle. “You are too much.”
“That was so cool,” Harper giggled.
“We’d never let them take advantage of you,” Kip said.
“I was going to ask if you were taking an office in the Sommerstone tower near City Hall. A big conglomerate bought it and there’s been a lot of construction going on there. Now I’ll ask if you are taking the whole building. My architecture firm contracted to provide inner office designs. The previous tenants made some illegal subdivisions. Miracle no one died with the electrical issues. We subcontracted under Owen and Barry Errol.” Chantal tipped her head. “You said Barry is taking you house hunting.” Chantal’s eyes widened.
“Miss Chantal has our number. Yes ma’am, our company purchased the building,” Kyle shared. “It will become the CM Chase building as soon as the sign goes up.” The C was for Ian’s wife Cassie, and the M was for Kieran’s wife Monique.
“Wow. Each floor is roughly twenty-eight thousand square feet. The corner office on the top Floor is fifteen hundred square feet with a full bathroom, dressing area, kitchenette and living room area. The coffee table is a polished mahogany surfboard. They brought in a glass and mahogany conference table for ten. It fits in a collaborative area. At Owen’s request, I created these ornate, cool secret cabinets buried in huge glass and walnut bookcases. The mahogany and leather desk is backed by floor to ceiling windows. Once we finished with the designs, we were locked out. They made it a fortress with all these specialized security systems.” Chantal was animated.
Kip crunched his brows. “What’s a collaborative area?” He’d been working from their hotel and hadn’t seen the inside of his office yet.
“I’m sorry. It gets technical sometimes. It is a large glass room within the room. When the doors are closed, the area goes opaque, and it becomes soundproof. I imagine you must keep some heavy-duty secrets.”
“That building has the Sommerstone Women’s Health Center, and a small ambulatory surgery and recovery center for the women patients inside. Please tell me the company you work for is taking over the practice. Or at least booting the Sommerstones.” Harper frowned.
“Why do you say that?” Kip cocked his head. His expression neutral.
“I’m a critical care nurse in the ER at Sommerstone Hospital. Sometimes I float to the OR, or their surgery center. Working for the Sommerstones, you’d think they hate patients. I mean when they see patients, they act like they’re their best friends but behind their backs.” She shook her head. “They also treat their employees poorly. We are always short staffed and low on supplies. Rene Sommerstone is the Chief Medical Officer the hospital, the women’s health practice, and a nursing home in the 8th ward. Rene is an OB/gyn, Lourdes, his wife is a woman’s surgical oncologist. She’s quick to cut. Their son, Jerrod…” Harper stopped herself. “And the nursing home always has available beds. That’s an impossibility unless they push the census. Patients who come back to the hospital are always near death from treatable things. I swear they’re milking Medicaid.” Harper shook her head. “I’m sorry, that was a buzz kill.”
“Why do you stay working for them?” Kyle wondered.
“The staff. We’re tight. Family. And we care about our patients and work as a team. University staff is a little cutthroat and overly corporate.”
Kip, in an innocent tone asked, “We cut you off. You were about to tell us about Jerrod Sommerstone.”
“Harper…” Chantal reached for her sister’s hand. When Harper shook her head, Chantal continued. “Jerrod is also an OB/gyn. He is trying to modernize the business model for his parents. His patients think he is a God. His nursing staff, not so much. Harper got me to switch OB practices because of him, though I’m not sure any of them are good in the city. Infant mortality is high here.” A chill shuddered through her voice.
Kip’s eyes narrowed but he held back his desire to ask what he did to Harper. Afterall, he met her a minute ago. His protective gene fired. Kyle nodded at him.
“Kyle if Kip is relocating, are you moving here too?” Chantal’s eyes lit up looking at him.
Kyle seemed equally impressed with Chantal. “Alright ladies, if you repeat any of this to anyone, we will have to kill you.” Kyle teased. “As you heard us tell you old aquaintances, Kip and I work for Chase Security International.”
Kip’s eyes turned dark with warning. The purchase of the Sommerstone owned facilities were a well-kept secret. Deep down, he hoped Kyle hadn’t lost his mind.
He leaned in conspiratorly, “”Kip gets that cool penthouse office. I usually work out of the DC branch, but I’m here to make sure everyone has the right permit or license. All kinds of permits, gun permits. Security guard permits, teaching permits, day care and such. I’m the company’s licensing guy,” Kyle said.
Harper looked at Kip from beneath her long lashes. “You’re the guy in charge?”
“That’s me. It’s nothing special.” Kip said with all sincerity.
“I stuck my foot in my mouth, huh? Heavy duty secrets… What does Chase Security International do?” Chantal asked.
“Yes, Kyle, tell them,” Kip chuckled.
“Chase Security International is a high-end private security company, providing personal escorts, executive protection, providing mission support, security and training services to domestic law enforcement, US and multinational corporations worldwide. We stand apart from the Chase Group, which through its venture capital investments support our pro bono work.” Kyle rattled off the brochure answer in a newscaster tone.”
Chantal and Harper’s jaw dropped. “That sounds scary,” Harper squirmed in her seat.
“Nah, we are highly trained and so are our personnel. I’m in the loft penthouse—papercuts and tired eyes from looking at a computer too long are my possible injuries.” He wasn’t going to tell them he was shot in June. Wanting to get off the subject, he asked, “Tell me about yourselves? I mean I should know about my friend Kyle’s wife and my fiancée.” He smiled.
“I’m the big sister. I am a partner and lead architect at Grottolutions. I love everything mystical and voodoo. We share a house on an old estate. And the elephant in the room—my little person is all mine. No baby daddy drama,” Chantal said with ease.
“You want to tell them your underwear size too, Channy?” Harper said.
“Harper sheesh, loosen up. I’m normally a size four, but baby makes me an eight.” Chantal stuck her tongue out.
Kip watched Kyle squirm. Yup, she’s got his attention.
“Excuse my sister, she’s the queen of TMI,” Harper puffed out her lower lip.
Okay, she’s got my attention. “C’mon, Harper throw me a bone,” Kip smiled.
She wiggled her nose. “I like action movies. My favorite ice cream flavor is strawberry. I make terrific shrimp creole. I like to dance. And I indulge my sister’s love for the occult. That’s five bones,” Harper laughed.
“That it is. Another dance, sweetheart?” Kip offered.
As the dance music slowed, Kip asked, “Was your sister serious about offering you both as tour guides?”
“Yes. That should have been my sixth bone. She usually knows what I mean before I do.” She shrugged.
Kip held back from a desire to kiss her. “Are you two free tomorrow? I like Owen very much, but I’d like a second opinion on hair and clothing.”
“Owen? Of God, Owen Errol too. Channy and I love their show. They sneak around and talk to friends and family and then decorate their home. Barry is more mellow. He looks at the space and structure. The remodeling stuff.”
She cocked her head and gave a tiny giggle. “Security guy and Owen Errol? If I wasn’t working, I’d take off to see this. Alpha male and Owen. You do realize his idea of tame is glitter instead of crystals.” Harper bent over laughing.
“Come here you.” Kip stood her up, twirling into his arms. Lowering his head, he pressed his lips to hers. Sucking her lower lip, he could taste the dueling brandy and bourbon of her milk punch cocktail. His tongue licked the seam of her closed lips. She opened her mouth pressing her lips to his with a tentative curiosity. He wanted to seize her mouth and explore every crevice with his tongue. Was it the two drinks? A drought of feminine company? Her chest rose and fell against his. Easy does it, Kip, he warned himself. Instead, he pressed his forehead to hers.
“Mmm, I could dance with you all night. But my better judgement reminds me, I need to be up at five thirty. My appointment with Owen and Barry is at ten. Let’s talk to Chantal and see if it works for both of you.”
A brief discussion later and at Chantal’s urging, Harper agreed to go herself. Chantal had an important client meeting.
“Um, can I meet you somewhere?” she asked.
Kip was pleased with her response. “Kyle and I are staying at the Windsor Court Hotel. Meet me in the lobby at nine thirty?”
She blushed again. “I’d like that.”