What came up was overwhelming, and filled with even more unpleasant surprises than I was prepared for. I had been aware that he was a young but well-known billionaire. I had expected some attention from the media in his direction, just from his looks and money alone. But I couldn’t have anticipated what I found.

I was out of touch with current events, to say the least. I didn’t watch the news, and you couldn’t pay me to watch some of the celebrity entertainment shows that were on television, and I certainly wasn’t interested in print tabloids. I’d never understood the appeal of things like that. I had just never been able to relate to anything about them. They usually centered around spoiled rich people, and I just didn’t get the appeal. That could perhaps excuse the fact that I was utterly clueless about the man I’d had a brief affair with.

I clicked on the images portion first. It was mostly shots on red carpets. He seemed to have endless pictures posing with countless women, though Jules was in a sickening majority of them.

He wore tux after tux, some fashion forward, some classic. She wore gowns in every color, always looking beyond stunning. The two of them together made a dauntingly beautiful pair. He wore suits in other pictures, to what I assumed were less formal red carpet events. I was shocked to see that I even recognized some of the other women he had dated.

I recognized a very famous actress. I hadn’t realized she was so tiny until I saw her standing beside James’s tall figure. She barely came to his chest. I had liked a few of her films, but I felt an unreasonable rush of dislike for her when I saw that she had attended at least three events with him.

I recognized yet another woman, a voluptuous, dead behind the eyes reality star. She was dark-haired and dark complexioned. Her curves very nearly ran to fat, I decided cattily. She was so short that they looked ridiculous side by side.

I felt sick when I saw him next to one woman who had the caption ‘fetish porn star’ right under the picture.

He always looked spectacularly handsome, regardless of who he had on his arm, but I was getting a bigger and drastically different view of him now. And I didn’t like what I was seeing.

Farther down on the image page I saw a picture of him and Jules dressed down in jeans. It was a rare sight, so I clicked on it. I got a larger view, with a small gossip article. They were holding hands in the picture. The article said that she was rumored to be his longtime on-again off-again girlfriend.

I turned on my phone just long enough to send James the image.

Bianca: You Liar. I’ll speak to you on Monday because I said I would, but I’ve begun to do my research, and I’m quickly seeing that I don’t know anything about you.

I didn’t bother to read the dozen unread messages above the one I had sent him, but I got a response almost immediately, and I did read that.

James: Please don’t believe that tabloid garbage. I’ll admit I never discouraged the rumors about Jules being my girlfriend, but they were only rumors. She has never been my girlfriend. She’s my best buddy’s sister. I promise I will never escort her to another event for the rest of my life, but last night was not a date with her. It was a long standing social obligation. If I had tried to put myself in your shoes, I would have seen how hurtful it could look to you. I apologize for that. I would give anything if I could do it differently. But please, just try to give me the benefit of the doubt, and stop looking at tabloids. I’m still in New York working, since you won’t see me, but it’s killing me that I hurt you and that I can’t make it right. I could be on a flight within the hour. Just say the word, love.

I turned my phone off after that. His one message almost had me softening towards him, and I just wasn’t going to let that happen. Fool me once…

I went back to my own personal torture of sifting through gossip about James Archibald Basil Cavendish, The Third. I hadn’t even known his middle names, or that he had two of them. A random gossip site had had to tell me. Of course, he didn’t know mine, either.

I found articles about his parents, and even a few pictures. They were a stunning couple. His mother was a dark-haired, dark-eyed, ravishing beauty with James’s golden skin and pretty mouth. His father was devastatingly handsome and blond, with beautiful turquoise eyes that made my gut clench with recognition. I could see how such a combination of people could create a masterpiece like James.

An article I found about them wrote about how they had died in a car accident. Their tragedy, and a beautiful young James, a billionaire before he was even fourteen, had quickly been propelled into the spotlight and romanticized.

I caught little snippets and even a picture of his infamous deceased guardian, and the full details of that scandal. The man was in his early thirties in the first picture. He was handsome, with light brownish-blond hair, like James, but a paler complexion. And he was slender to the point of frail, with creepy, pale green eyes. Spencer Charles Douglas Cavendish had been a predator in the skin of a lamb. I felt a hate for him that made bile rise in my throat.

I read the article about his death. Spencer Cavendish had been killed by an enraged lover. One Lowell Blankenship had been drugged and handcuffed by the frail Spencer. Lowell had commented that he had consented to have sex with Spencer, but that he hadn’t agreed to any of the other ‘sick shit’ the man had forced upon him. Spencer had been strangled to death when he had unlocked the handcuffs of the much larger Lowell. I personally thought he deserved a far more painful death.

There were countless other articles about James’s numerous business ventures. I just skimmed over these. I did learn that he was into much more than just the hotel industry, and I wasn’t surprised.

I read through a three page article about his two month affair with a platinum hit singer. She was barely nineteen, and it had been less than six months since their split.

Dammit, I have some of her songs on my mp3 player, I thought in disgust. He had his hand on her nape in one of the pictures. I wanted to throw something.

There were a few articles that hinted briefly about him being a kinky sex partner, but that was all that I found that was even close to touching on his BDSM lifestyle. I wondered how he’d kept it so well under wraps.

I turned off my computer, striding into my bedroom and tearing the painting of him from the wall. I tried to make myself tear it up, but I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I put it into my chest of old watercolors.

I turned my phone on again. I ignored all of the new missed calls and texts from James. I texted Stephan, asking if I could come over. He answered instantly with a yes.

I went over, and we watched TV and ate too much ice cream. It helped, but as soon as we stopped watching, I started thinking again. That’s how we ended up catching up on my TV until nearly two a.m on a work night. We had an early morning, but Stephan didn’t complain.

“I spoke at length to James today,” Stephan told me after we’d been watching TV for hours.

I just nodded.

“Want me to tell you about it?”

I shook my head.

“Okay. Let me know if you do.”

“I need some time. I read up on him online. I’m feeling less inclined than ever to even speak to him again.”

Stephan took a deep breath. “That’s something I wanted to talk about, actually, if you’re willing to hear what I think about the whole thing right now.”

I just studied him for a minute. He looked nervous, which meant I wouldn’t like what he was going to say. “Not right now,” I said.

“I think I can at least understand now why he wanted to keep his relationship with you private.”

I held a hand up. “No more. It sounds a lot like you’re taking his side right now. I just can’t handle that at the moment.” Unwilling tears welled up as I spoke.

He pulled me against his chest, kissing the top of my head. “Never, Buttercup. I’m always on your side. Always. We’ll talk about it when you’re ready.”

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

Mr. Cavendish

I was grateful for busy flights at work the following day. We had full planes going both ways on our turn. I barely had time to eat, and I was avoiding thinking at all costs. I didn’t even have my phone. It was still at home, by my bed, and turned off.

The Agents were present, and I felt a moment of unreasonable anger at them when I first spotted the one in my cabin. I squelched the emotion, just serving them as they alternated cabins on the return flight. I made myself brush off the implication that James still had a reason to keep an eye on me. I would set him straight on Monday, and then this nonsense would be over for good.

I was, thankfully, exhausted by the time I got back home that night. I only performed the minimum bedtime preparations before practically falling into bed.

I slept in late the next morning. Even after I woke up, I moved slowly. It took me nearly an hour to prepare and feed myself breakfast.

I felt like a zombie, too numb to even cry. I thought it was an improvement.

Stephan and I had a monthly lunch date with several of the other members of our flight attendant class at eleven. I was skipping out. It was a boisterous, funny, close-knit group. The lunches were always a great time. There were twelve of us in total that went, and we usually caught up with each other over lunch. We often caught a movie afterward or even headed to Stephan’s house, on occasion. I wasn’t up for any of it. Stephan had promised to make my excuses. He had offered to skip out with me, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I knew he was a social creature, and the lunches were always a highlight for him.

I tried to paint. One look at my canvas of a nude James changed my mind . I put the painting in my spare room with trembling hands. I just didn’t have it in me to deal with it at that moment.

Finally, I went the masochistic route, turning on my computer again. I set out to do more painful research on my famous ex-lover.

If I had been shocked by what my search had turned up the first time, I was utterly floored by what I found then. What a difference a few days had made.

Now, typing James Cavendish into the search engine brought up an entirely new batch of photos that the first search hadn’t. Pictures of me. I had never thought of myself as a beauty. My features were even and symmetrical and my coloring was a soft natural blond, but I had always just considered myself attractive, if I was in a kind mood. I usually photographed well. I even had a picture-ready smile. If it wasn’t all that sincere, it was at least polished and convincing enough at a distance. These weren’t those kinds of pictures.

They had obviously been snapped as I was stumbling out of James’s building. I looked disheveled, and, well, horrible. I was ghostly pale, my eyes red and bloodshot. There was mascara running down my face in dark lines. It made me look at least forty years old, instead of twenty-three.

My uniform was in shambles, the buttons of my blouse misaligned by at least three. I hadn’t even noticed at the time. My shirt was untucked, and the top was hanging low, showing an almost obscene amount of cleavage. My hair was a tangled mess.

I looked like I was drunk and about to throw up in the street. I was teetering on the edge of the sidewalk. Apparently, I had looked as awful as I had felt that night. And the pictures were everywhere. One gossip site after another had scented the story of trouble in paradise. Though they all seemed to have a slightly different slant on it.


Tags: R.K. Lilley Up in the Air Erotic
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