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Chapter Seventeen – A Twist Of Fate
Ruslan looked around, trying hard to look pious. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who was trying to do that. Francis Davenport might have had more enemies than friends attending his funeral, people who wanted to make sure, just like Johnny, that the defunct was dead without one shadow of a doubt, and would soon be six feet under.
As his eyes roamed over the attendees, something caught his attention. Nigel was close to the priest, his head down, his hands clasped in front of him, in a visible effort to hold it together. Ruslan felt a bit touched. No matter how big an asshole Nigel was, he had just lost his father, the only parent he had had left in the world, and that could not be easy.
For a few seconds, Ruslan looked at Nigel from his place. There was plenty of distance between them, so he could not see him clearly. Yet, the oddest thing, when Nigel lifted his head, Ruslan thought he saw something that startled him. A grin seemed to split Nigel’s face in two. Impatiently, he pulled at Johnny’s sleeve.
“What is it?” Johnny whispered.
“Just look at Nigel,” Ruslan replied.
The priest managed to catch himself into his long robe and stumbled. Courteously, Nigel hurried to help him. Ruslan set his eyes on him, avid to see any traces of that nasty grin he had noticed. But right now, Nigel’s head hung down again, and discreetly, he patted his eyes with a handkerchief.
“I suppose even an asshole like him could have tears for his father,” Johnny commented.
“I wasn’t talking about that. Just earlier, he seemed to be smiling.”
“Are you sure, pretty? He looks kind of wrecked.”
Now Ruslan wasn’t so sure anymore. At this distance, his sight could play tricks on him. “Not sure. Not really. It just struck me as unusual. But I might have imagined everything. I don’t like the guy, but I shouldn’t be this petty. It’s his father’s funeral, after all.”
Johnny’s eyes seemed to follow Nigel for a while. Ruslan knew Johnny took his words at face value. Right now, though, he could not help but feel a little guilty. He started to say something, but an old lady in front of them turned in her seat and hushed him with a severe look and a hissing sound. The tall black feather adorning her hat was shaking with equal indignation. Ruslan murmured his apologies and looked down, chastised.
After the ceremony, Ruslan had to drag Johnny after him to address his condolences. They had to do the whole thing since they were present. They stopped in front of Nigel. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Nigel,” Ruslan said in a voice he hoped didn’t sound fake.
Nigel took his hand and stared him in the eyes. Right now, he looked like a kicked puppy. “I guess I’m an orphan now,” he said with a long, heart wrenching sigh.
Ruslan patted his shoulder. “You must be strong, Nigel. Your father would be proud of you. It was a beautiful service.”
Nigel nodded solemnly. He then offered his hand to Johnny. Ruslan watched his lover as he shook Nigel’s hand shortly, without saying a word.
“We should see each other sometime. It won’t be long until you take over your father’s business, too,” Nigel said. “I would like to continue the good business relationship our dads had.”
“Of course,” Ruslan said after a short moment of hesitation. “But it will be long until I take over the family business. Papa has plenty of active years in front of him.”
“Eh, you never know,” Nigel said with another long sigh. “I thought my father would live for many years and that I wouldn’t take over the family business this soon. I suppose that I must rise to the occasion, now. That is why I want to keep the relationships my father worked so hard to build over the years.”
“Of course,” Ruslan said again, but now something in Nigel’s body language was making him wary.
They were pushed from behind by other people who wanted to address their condolences, so they bid their goodbye in a hurry and moved along.
Ruslan could feel Johnny walking next to him, his body tense. He didn’t have to look to know that his lover’s face was all a frown.
“Johnny, do you think we could walk a little slower? Any faster, and I’ll have to sprint to catch up with you.”
“Sorry, pretty. Just lost in thought, is all,” Johnny said.
“Can you tell me what you’re thinking about? You look like you’re ready to wreck someone with your fists.”
“I believe what you thought you saw earlier is true. That asshole Nigel is pretty damned happy about his father kicking the bucket.”
“Now it’s my turn to ask, Johnny. Are you sure?”
Johnny nodded curtly and followed with a grunt.
“What of his behavior made you think that?” Ruslan asked.
“I watched him. As soon as someone approached him, he was all sad and weeping. But, in between, he looked at everyone like he had just won some fucking lottery. The fucker is happy about his father’s death. And it doesn’t look like Francis had managed to choose a replacement or teach Nigel how to stop being an asshole.”
“That’s casino şirketleri bad,” Ruslan said in a low voice. “I should warn papa. He’ll know what to do about this.”
“And, in the meantime, we don’t go to meet this asshole at all, not even for a scoop of ice cream. I don’t care if your papa thinks we should. That’s not happening.”
“Of course,” Ruslan hurried to appease his lover. “I was just being polite when I talked to him.”
They walked in silence to the car waiting for them. This time, it was a car put at their disposal by Douglas. The old man was traveling with Martin, like usual. They would talk about it all at home, as they were supposed to reunite back at his papa’s. For him, that mansion, austere on the outside, but warm on the inside, would always be his home, even if he didn’t live there anymore.
Douglas seemed lost in thought, as they walked inside and gathered all inside the old man’s studio. Ruslan beckoned Johnny to sit by his side on the leather sofa, but his lover shook his head. He chose not to insist. Johnny was restless and he couldn’t sit down. Ruslan wondered whether Johnny was reading too much into Nigel’s behavior. Yet, at the same time, he could not wholeheartedly reject the idea that Nigel wasn’t at all devastated by his father’s death.
“Papa, we need to talk about Nigel,” Ruslan was the first to speak.
Douglas just nodded. He picked a letter from his desk, stared at it like it was important and then threw it back into the pile. Ruslan found that odd. His papa was a stickler for orderliness.
“Yes, we must,” the old man said. “The worse came to worst, eventually. Nigel is in charge of the family business, and that doesn’t bode well with a lot of people. We should be prepared.”
“Prepared? But for what? Sometimes, papa, I wish you haven’t kept me so much in the dark about your business.”
“I haven’t, Russy. What you see is all there is with us. You’re as involved with the casino business as you need to be. And, if I were to retire, you know everything to take it all from my hands.”
“Retire? Seriously? But why? Papa, I don’t want that much responsibility. And you’re in top shape. What reason could you have to retire?”
“I am getting quite old, Russy. Don’t you want to take the burden of responsibility, as you say, from my shoulders?”
“Just what I said,” Ruslan replied with a huff. “Come on, papa. I’m not five. What’s going on? It’s not like you to think of retirement.”
“You’re getting married, Russy. Don’t you want to be completely grownup? Running the business by yourself is in your power. And you’ll have Johnny to help you.”
“Well, if running the business means having to deal with that asshole Nigel on a regular basis, no, thanks. And how come he knew you would retire?”
“He knew? What do you mean?” Douglas seemed surprised. “No word of such a thing was spoken outside this house.”
“At the funeral, he just ran his mouth about how we should continue our business relationship just like our dads. He was talking about that as if he knew. Not that he said it directly.”
Douglas frowned and his hands reached for the pile of letters again. “Don’t worry, Russy. If Nigel Davenport believes that he can play the big boys’ game, he’ll be in for a rude awakening.”
“What do you mean?”
“It means that, for the time being, a lot of people will have their eyes on him. He can try to shake things up, but he’ll not end up well if he steps the wrong people on their toes.”
“And what are we supposed to do in the meantime?” Ruslan asked, throwing a sideway glance at Johnny, whose face seemed to be all granite, his lips set in a harsh thin line.
“You two? Plan your wedding, of course, and enjoy your youth. Time flies and you never know when your joints start to swell, your bones start to hurt, and you can’t sleep more than six hours a night.”
“Anything I can do for you?” Ruslan asked. “Don’t say ‘take over the business’ because I won’t. But, maybe, if you want a break.”
“Actually,” Douglas said and he finally seemed to find what he was looking for, “there is something you can do. Take over the business only for a couple of weeks. See how you feel walking in my shoes a little. Let’s call it a test drive.”
“Okay, I can do that,” Ruslan said with a sigh. “But what will you do in the meantime, papa? You’ll still guide me, right?”
“Over the phone, yes, and only if you really feel like you must ask for my advice. As for what I’ll do, Martin and I will take a vacation.” Douglas showed Ruslan a colorful flyer, which appeared to be the thing the old man had searched for through his correspondence.
Ruslan stood up and took it. “Wow, you really meant it about aching bones and all that. I won’t say that you don’t deserve it. Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve been nothing but work, work, work. What can I say? You two should have some fun. But only for two weeks. I’m seriously not taking over the business this soon. You’re not intimidated by Nigel, are you, casino firmaları papa? I mean, he didn’t say anything to scare you, right? I know that now he has money and goons probably -“
“Russy,” Douglas looked at him visibly amused, “Nigel doesn’t even play in the little league. He can’t be someone I would be afraid of.”
“But is there someone that you could be afraid of?” Ruslan asked, sensing that his old man was omitting something on purpose, yet again.
Douglas chuckled. “We all have someone like that. And it’s a good thing. It keeps us modest. Ask Johnny. It’s a simple truth that anyone who ever picked up a pair of gloves knows.”
Johnny just nodded, without saying a thing. Ruslan noted briefly how his lover had kept silent throughout their visit.
He huffed. “I’m asking you a direct question, and you become a philosopher. But have it your way. I’m sure that if I insist, you’ll have me running in circles, trying to chase my own tail.”
Douglas’s face lit up. “Russy, I would never do that. Don’t worry about Nigel. He’s nothing but flotsam. He might believe he’s in charge of some juggernaut, but the truth is that he has an entire life ahead of him to build up his father’s legacy from scratches.”
“What do you mean, papa?”
“Francis didn’t leave behind the prosperous business everyone thought. There are troubles with the books, a lot of losses that haven’t yet been accounted for, and overall, Nigel’s inheritance is one big mess.”
“And does Nigel know that?”
“If he doesn’t, he will soon enough. This is not exactly word on the street. But let’s say that his father’s associates who used to play golf with him know it very well. Nigel will have to work hard to salvage something. Along that train of thought, I can see clearly now why Francis had sent Nigel to woo you. Knowing how much I wanted you to settle down, he had hoped for a swift arrangement that would save his dying business. Again, it was something I should have been aware of.”
“Good thing Nigel sucks at wooing,” Ruslan said.
Douglas looked at him with reproach. By how Johnny shifted in his place, Ruslan was sure his lover wasn’t laughing at his joke, either. “Fine, I take it back. It was bad taste,” he said quickly. “Then I should wish you a great time getting massages and water therapy for the next two weeks. But don’t relax too much, and think that you can buy that resort and live there. Your business is here and will be waiting for you. And I’m here, too. You can’t abandon me,” he added in a theatrical voice that made his papa laugh.
“I think I’m leaving you in capable hands. Johnny, just make sure Ruslan is happy. It’s all I’m asking.”
“Sure thing, Douglas,” Johnny said.
Ruslan was relieved to hear Johnny talking. “Then if you know about Nigel and all, we won’t keep you from packing for your vacation. Ah, papa, one more thing. Johnny noticed some weird things lately.”
Douglas looked at him, and then at Johnny. “Define weird,” he said.
Johnny was the one to speak now. “Someone’s tailing us for days.”
“Tailing us?” Ruslan was surprised. “I thought it was just a hunch.”
“It was,” Johnny replied. “But dudes in black suits, black hats, and black cars, were at the funeral, too. And funny thing, they followed our car.”
“And you didn’t think it was something I should know?” Ruslan asked.
“I’m telling you now.”
“Boys, don’t fight. That’s just my security detail, watching over you, until things are right again. I could not say if striking a deal with Francis Davenport would work, and I hired people to keep an eye on you. I didn’t think you would notice.”
“Well, Johnny did. And papa, you could have told us.”
“I didn’t want you two to worry.”
“You had us worried by not telling us. What if Johnny walked over to one of these guys, and gave him a piece of his mind?”
“But that didn’t happen. Well, I hope you don’t mind a bit of discreet company for the next several weeks. Until Nigel understands his place in the food chain.”
“That’s a bit overkill,” Ruslan said. “Do you really think we need protection? Johnny might feel offended.”
“Johnny is a great fighter. But he knows plenty about people who don’t fight fair. Don’t you, Johnny?”
“Yeah, I do. But you could have told us.”
“In hindsight, I believe I should have,” Douglas offered an apology. “Just until the little chaos stirred by Francis’s death dies down. After that, everything will go back to normal.”
Johnny nodded, and Ruslan stood up shaking his head. “As long as you’re not offended, I’ll go with papa’s security detail, too.”
His lover was silent again, as they left his father’s house. Ruslan wanted to ask what was still troubling him, but Johnny beat him to it. “Your papa is worried, Ruslan. I can’t tell why, but there’s plenty he’s not telling.”
“Don’t I know it,” Ruslan said dryly. “That’s him. There are always secrets. And he somehow believes that he’s keeping them to protect me.”
“Do you have any idea what those güvenilir casino secrets might be about?”
“None. Each time I insist, he somehow steers the conversation away and then tells me that I’ll know everything when the moment is right.”
“He left you in charge of the business. Maybe that’s what he wanted. All this secrecy is about that.”
“Maybe, but it feels personal. Whatever, I’m just babbling at this point. A lot has happened lately, and I might just be a bit confused. Don’t worry; we’ll steer clear of Nigel. I believe papa expects the worst from him.”
“But if that’s true, why leave for a vacation now?”
Ruslan shrugged. “He does deserve it. And he hired those dudes to keep an eye on us. We should be safe.”
“Do I look like I’m afraid?” Johnny snorted.
“Hey, looks who’s all macho now. Back in there, you were all for papa’s philosophical take on guys who don’t fight fair, and all that.”
“Yeah. And I’m keeping to that. I’m never afraid, though.”
“Well, that’s a comforting thought.” Ruslan took Johnny’s arm, and leaned against it. “I’m safe when I’m with you.”
Johnny threw him a look full of love. “That’s good to know.”
“But I will protect you, too. Like I told your mom.”
Johnny smiled. “Do that.”
“What? No protests? No ‘I can handle myself,’ and all that?”
“No,” Johnny said promptly.
“It feels nice to have someone who’s having my back for a change,” Johnny explained.
“That’s actually my papa who’s having our backs.”
“You’re stronger than you think, pretty,” Johnny said and kissed the crown of his head in a tender gesture.
“I hope you’re right. Because I feel a bit thrown off balance by papa’s behavior. But I will do my best not to bankrupt us all while he’s away.”
“Hey, he’s only one phone call away. Whenever in doubt, just call him. But I think you will be fine.”
“How can you be so sure?” Ruslan asked.
“Once, because you’re not only beautiful, you’re smart, too. And your dad has trusted you with the books for years. You just need to take on some more responsibilities now, is all.”
“Thanks for thinking so highly of me,” Ruslan said, half-joking.
“I wouldn’t get hitched with you if I didn’t,” Johnny replied, and laughed.
“Joker.” Ruslan made a sour face and punched Johnny in the shoulder.
One week into his papa’s vacation, and Ruslan had every reason to believe what Johnny said about him. He was not one to brag, but he had managed to take care of everything beautifully. And he had kept from calling Douglas every single day. Actually, he had only called once, and then decided that he should allow his old man to have a relaxing vacation.
“I told you you’d be great as a boss,” Johnny said as he came behind him and began massaging his stiff shoulders. “Now, Mr. Boss, take a break. It’s an order.”
“Really?” Ruslan leaned into Johnny, enjoying the firm fingers working the kinks in his muscles with determination. “But I have no time for that. In one week, papa will be home, and I won’t have that much to show.”
“Are you planning to grow the business by twenty percent in two weeks or something? You work too much.”
“Wow, you sound just like a nagging wife.”
Johnny chuckled and slowly began licking his ear, making his entire body shudder. “Do nagging wives do this?”
“All right, you convinced me.” Ruslan turned to face Johnny and kissed him.
Johnny was quick to push him into the desk and step between his legs which he had opened willingly. They were busy trying to undress each other, when the sound of the phone ringing made them stop. “I probably should get this,” Ruslan said apologetically.
He was still smiling, and Johnny was squeezing his ass, when he answered. “Martin? Hey, don’t tell me you miss home already -“
Ruslan listened to the butler’s steady, grave words, and all became a blur. He caught the desk with his free hand to keep himself from falling. Sensing his distress, Johnny stopped. “When, how? No, it can’t be -“
He put the phone down and doubled over as if punched in the stomach.
“Pretty, what’s wrong?” Johnny’s voice swam to him, muffled and unreal.
“Papa,” he whispered.
He could not say anything more. He just broke down and began sobbing.
Johnny kept Ruslan’s hand in his tightly. Ever since Douglas Kent had passed away in what seemed to be a strange accident, Ruslan had not been himself. The problem was Johnny had no idea what to do to deal with that kind of situation. In the end, he had just settled for holding his lover, and Ruslan seemed to be appreciative of that, even if he said nothing, and still remained silent, spacing out, sometimes for hours.
Martin had told him to let Ruslan grieve, and just be present in case he needed him. But Johnny still felt useless. They had received an urn with the old man’s ashes, as Douglas had apparently left clear instructions about his funeral, and Ruslan hadn’t spoken much since.
And now, they were in some lawyer’s office, and they were waiting for a man with a balding head, and thin-rimmed glasses barely hanging on his nose, to read Douglas Kent’s will. The name on the door was Murray Young, and Johnny noticed in passing the lavish surroundings.
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