"Hey, its me. Don't worry, I'm fine. The doctors checked me out and everything. Um...so yeah, I got into a bit of trouble...I had to get married. Don't panic. Everything will be fine. Call me when you get back. Bye."
Colton jerked awake, sitting up before he remembered he shouldn't. He groaned, every muscle aching and on fire. He lifted a hand and rubbed his face, feeling the tender places where'd he'd bruised.
Mancini was there instantly.
"Good morning, sir."
Colton groaned again, sliding to the edge of the bed. Mancini helped him stand, smiling.
"Shut up!" Colton snapped. He stretched gingerly, his joints snapping ominously. He lurched to the bathroom, sighing as the steam already billowing in the shower sank into his limbs.
He felt better once he'd showered, spending most of it standing listlessly under the scalding stream of water. Mancini had his clothes out already. Colton ignored them and rummaged through a drawer, pulling on a comfortable pair of jeans and an old t-shirt. He couldn't face designer anything today.
He left his room, heading down the long hallway, still yawning and wincing. He paused by a closed door.
"She is up already, sir." Mancini murmured. "I believe she is in the kitchen."
Colton grimaced and headed down. There was no avoiding it.
Colton's doctor was feeling her head when Colton stepped into the kitchen.
"Ow!" she complained.
"Sorry," the man muttered. "Your stitches look good, no swelling."
She snorted. He shined a light in her eyes, checking each one carefully. "Headache?"
"Raging." She clipped.
"And your ears?"
He nodded ruefully. "That will probably last a few days. Take aspirin, get some rest. No loud music." The doctor saw Colton in the doorway. "Ah, Mr. Savage. How are you, this morning?"
Colton scowled and the doctor chuckled. "Good, good."
He quickly packed up his things, tucking everything into a sleek brown suitcase. "Call me, if you need anything, or your headache gets worse."
"Thank you, Dr. Ferr." The woman said, shaking his hand. Colton nodded and the man left.
The woman watched him, silently. Renee. Renee Savage.
Colton cleared his throat. "I hope you slept well."
She shrugged, making a face. "I tried. I'm not used to your time zone, still."
"Yes, I imagine." He said lamely. Silence stretched between them again. "Have you eaten?"
"Yes, thank you." She touched the bowl and spoon sitting on the table next to her.
Her face was cut and bruised like his, a white bandage on her forehead, covering six little black stitches.
"Are you in pain?" he asked.
"Nothing unendurable." She said with a grimace. "I'll live."
"Good." He could have kissed Mancini when the man rescued him.
"Mrs. Savage," he said smoothly, ignoring both of their winces. "Would you come with me? I have a selection of clothing for you to chose from."
"Thanks," she said, standing stiffly. She was still wearing her football jersey, cleaned during the night, but ragged. Her jeans had scorch marks on them. Colton stepped out of the way. She looked back once at the foot of the stairs, her frown filling him with foreboding.
What had he done?
Colton stared into his cup of coffee, trying to divine the reason for his madness.
He couldn't blame it on the explosion.
Yes, he could.
He shook his head, setting the mug down with a sharp click on the marble counter top. He closed his eyes, trying to ease the dull ache behind them.
He laughed grimly to himself. Two words he'd never thought he'd hear spoken in his house. He went to the window, looking over the smooth lawn, the garden. It was a beaming, beautiful day. Already the air conditioner was on, promising a hot afternoon.
"Mr. Savage," the housekeeper said cheerfully. "Can I fix you anything to eat?"
"No, Rosa. Thanks."
"Alright." She said with a sniff. He growled to himself. The problem with having a permanent household staff is they started acting like family.
"Mrs. Savage is looking better than I expected."
Colton grunted noncommittally.
"She is very pretty, isn't she?"
Colton was of two minds about this, so said nothing.
"Dreadful, them thinking she had a hand in this!" the woman continued blandly. Rosa Grego loved to talk. "Why, she saved your life! And who knows how many others! She is so very brave. Simply dreadful," she repeated.
"Yes." Colton said evenly. He left before she could extol on the woman's virtues any further.
His mood was not brightened when Mancini showed a man into Colton's office.
"Mr. Savage." Mancini murmured gently. Colton looked up from his laptop, scowling.
"This is Dr. Tuilin."
Colton stood, shaking the man's hand. "What can I do for you, doctor?"
"The embassy sent me, Mr. Savage." The man said softly. "I am to examine you and...Mrs. Savage."
"Why?" Colton asked warily.
"You have experienced a traumatic event, Mr. Savage. The ambassador is concerned for your mental health."
Colton snorted. He was himself, after yesterday. "I'm fine."
"Protocol, sir. May I proceed?"
Colton waved him to sit, dropping back to his own chair.
Colton had heard all these questions before. He answered simply, explaining what had happened, how he felt about it. Tuilin nodded finally, capping his pen. "Thank you, sir. Is Mrs. Savage well enough to take some time for me?"
Colton shrugged. "Wait here. I'll find her."
"Of course, sir."
Colton stood, gratefully escaping. Even if he wasn't traumatized by it, it still made his skin crawl thinking how close to death he'd actually been.
He found Mancini in the kitchen, writing up a menu.
"Where's..." Colton cleared his throat. "Where's Renee?"
"I will get her, sir." Mancini assured him. Colton gave up the task gratefully. He only had to wait a few minutes under Tuilin's bulging eyes before she knocked at the open door.
"Ah, Mrs. Savage." Tuilin said, rising to shake her hand. Colton watched as she blushed furiously, bemused. "I must ask you some questions, ma'am."
"Yes," she agreed, sitting.
Colton listened absently, feeling like he should leave, but not wanting to. He pecked at his keyboard, trying not to watch too closely.
Rosa was right, as always. She was pretty. In a soft, kind of round sort of way. Colton imagined she'd have been the height of sexy two hundred years ago, when women wore enormous skirts and corsets. And lots of cleavage.
She finished quickly, obviously not traumatized either. Tuilin frowned a bit at her harsh answers when he asked what she would like to say to the men who had done this. Colton didn't think she was out of line. And she was American. Americans were aggressive, impulsive. Which is why she'd saved his life.
And why he'd married her.
"Thank you, Mr. Savage." Tuilin said, breaking into his thoughts.
Colton stood and shook his hand again, murmuring pleasantries.
She made a face as the door shut, sticking her tongue out. "Horrid man!" She exclaimed.
Colton shrugged. "Psychologist."
She snorted, then winced, feeling her bandaged forehead.
Colton searched for a way to get her out of his office. She took matters into her own hands. She stood and gave him a weak smile. "Mr. Savage," she began. He held in a flinch. "I know I said it before, but, thanks. I really appreciate you...sacrificing like this."
"Least I could do." He said falsely. This was going to blow up in his face any second.
"Really, you didn't have to." She gave him a better smile, much warmer. "Hopefully, this gets cleared up quickly."
He grunted and stared determinedly at his computer screen. His stocks were already plummeting and the market in London had only been open for three minutes.
She left then and shut the door with snap.
He swore at himself and put his head down on the desk.
He was mad, to have done this. The words had just blurted out of him.
"You have to marry me." He'd said, low and urgent.
"What?" she squawked, blood dripping down her face as a paramedic tried to staunch her wound.
"You have to marry me." He insisted. "Now."
"Please, listen to me."
"Who the hell are you?" she demanded. "Get away from me!"
He'd glanced over his shoulder, at the police and soldiers milling around the crater in the street. "At the hospital. I'll explain on the way."
She gaped at him. He climbed into the ambulance after her, bracing himself as the wailing vehicle lurched away from the stadium.
He wasn't sure what he'd said as they raced to the overburdened building. She'd listened white faced as he hissed to her, praying she'd understand. Finally she nodded. It was easy to find a chaplain circling the emergency room, comforting the injured and dying.
He'd hardly batted an eye, pulling out his book and doing it right then. He even had the license for them to sign.
Colton pushed back from his desk. Opening a drawer, he pulled out the stained document. It was smudged with dirt from his hands, blood from Renee's. Still legal, though. He was glad he'd done it then. Renee's trouble had already started.
Colton watched the video again, rewinding over and over. It made him queasy, but he had to make sure, convince himself.
The black and white footage was jerky, a frame shot every three seconds, only two minutes of footage, six minutes total. It seemed like much longer than that at the time, lasting for hours instead of moments.
He found himself as he left the stadium, the crowd celebrating their victory churning to one side. Flags and pennants waved madly, footballs flying everywhere.
Soccer balls, he corrected himself. He'd been living in Spain too long, apparently.
He found Renee, only twenty feet or so from him on the screen. She stopped to dig through her purse, one of hundreds of nameless faces. She pulled out a cell phone and answered, laughing, her face in profile. She hung up, clearly unable to hear in the noise.
Then she stopped, her hand still in her bag.
Colton shuddered. The man was standing in the middle of the crowd. He opened his coat, the bomb strapped to his chest. He lifted his hands in the air, to give the shrapnel the most chance of penetrating the people around him.
Renee took a flying leap and slammed into him, driving him to the ground, her hands wresting the trigger away from him. It was a miracle it wasn't a dead switch. Just a button.
The man didn't stand a chance as Renee punched and kicked him into submission, screaming, her strength born of fury and terror. The crowd wavered around her, a space opening up. Police shoved through the crowd, trying to reach what they thought was just a fight.
Then the screen went white, then static. It faded back slowly, gray smoke obscuring everything. People were running everywhere, many bleeding. Colton found himself lying on the cement, tangled in with the other survivors.
Renee sat up, holding her head. She stood shakily. She knelt down next to the attempted terrorist, shaking his collar. He didn't move. Renne ran over to a stumbling policeman, dragging him back to the unconscious man. The policeman stared down at the bomb, then got on his radio. It was chaos after that.
Colton ejected the DVD. He shouldn't even have it, but money bought all sorts of things he shouldn't have. He tucked the disk back into its case and set it in his desk drawer.
She was lucky she wasn't dead.
He was lucky he wasn't dead.
He sighed, stretching, his body sore and achy every possible place it could be so and then some.
He'd heard the policemen's mutters, about an American woman who had known about the attack. Colton had frozen in horror. He'd seen what had happened, her shouts drawing every eye. He knew the truth of it, that she was a hero, that she had saved dozens of lives.
That's when he'd broken away from the men trying to get him onto a stretcher. He had to find her, to warn her. She'd not get any leniency from the Spanish Police. They were good, hardworking men and women fighting an increasingly desperate war against an unpredictable, merciless enemy. If they thought she'd had anything to do with it, she'd have been locked up for months, years maybe, while they tried to get her to confess.
Marrying her was the only way. And even that might fail.
He went to find her that afternoon, increasingly anxious. She was passed out on the couch in front of the TV, the news muted, English subtitles scrolling across the bottom. They were showing the footage as well, replaying the explosion again and again.
Colton switched it off.
The news anchors were already hyping it, speculating about who Renee was. Was she a hero? An accomplice who backed out at the last minute? Was it a diversion from the real explosion?
He shook her shoulder gently. Her eyes opened slowly, groaning as she pushed herself upright.
"I hurt!" she said pathetically. He had to smile.
"I know, me too."
She sat with her eyes closed for a moment, her lips thin with pain.
Rosa was right. She was very pretty. Even with her lip cut and her eye swollen.
She felt her bandage, wincing.
"Do you need more pain killers?" he asked, concerned when her grimace of pain didn't ease.
"No," she said shortly. "I can't take any more until..." she opened her eyes to peek at her watch. "Six."
He sat on the couch, as far from her as he could get. It didn't make his heart stop thumping.
"Do you need a doctor?"
"No." She snapped. She sighed. "Sorry. I'm just tired."
"Its okay," he said, trying to joke. "I owe you my life. I think I can put up with it."
She smiled then, turning her head to look at him. "Hopefully, not for long."
He hesitated and she saw. "What?" she asked. "What's happened?"
"Nothing," he assured her. He was starting to worry about that himself. He expected the police to be banging his door down already. "Its just...look, this is going to suck, but you need to stay here. In Spain. Married to me. For awhile."
"So people don't think we did exactly what we did. Get married so you would have resident legal rights, be protected by my name."
"How long is 'awhile?'" she asked warily.
"Until this investigation is over." He hedged. Her glare dragged the words out of him. "And then long enough afterward to make it look legitimate."
"How long?" she repeated sternly.
"Maybe a year, two?"
She swore and he flinched.
"Sorry," she muttered. "Its not you, of course. I'm sure you're a great guy and everything."
"Thanks," he said, feeling somehow insulted. He gave himself a shake. His emotions were jangling around discordantly. And she wasn't pretty, maybe rating, at best, cute. Nothing on his last girlfriend. She'd been a model. Or maybe it was a gymnast?
"But I really, really, don't want to live in Spain." She continued. "I have a job. Friends. My career." She put her head in her hands. "What are my parents going to say?"
"You haven't called them?" he demanded.
"I did. They're on vacation, too. In Yellowstone, backpacking. It could be weeks before they check their messages." She sighed, rubbing her eyes. "Man, I'm tired."
"Go get in bed," he suggested. "I'll have Rosa bring you something to eat later."
"Thanks." She said, smiling at him again. His heart lightened. She'd sounded distraught, hopeless. He helped her to her feet, steadying her as she swayed.
He was tired too. Tired enough he only watched dumbly as his body leaned forward and kissed her.
She jerked out of his arms. Her slap burst pain across his temples.
"Oh!" she gasped. "Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean-sorry! I'm sorry, Mr. Savage!" She rubbed his cheek as he scowled at her. "You startled me."
"I guess." He muttered, embarrassed and angry. And not sure why. It had been a friendly kiss, meant to comfort.
He was glad when she fled upstairs, furiously red.
Colton lay awake, staring at the ceiling above his bed, at the rich molding and plasterwork. His house was old, decorated in a classic style. He hadn't cared when he moved in, his agent buying the property for him and readying it while Colton was still in Singapore.
He liked it here. The house was comfortable, close to the city. It was warm most of the year. He'd never liked winter sports. And he didn't really miss America, having spent so little of his life there. He had been born in Spain, his mother Spanish.
He smiled sadly. He missed them. He was glad he had been here when they died. His mother from cancer, his father, much older, from grief. There was no other explanation for it. He had just stopped living after his wife died, fading away.
Colton turned over, wiggling unto he was comfortable.
Her lips were soft.
He jerked awake, blushing again. He scowled and punched his pillow down.
He was being stupid. She was pretty, yes. Brave, daring. And a complete stranger. No doubt a conceited princess using her dad's money to have a good time in Europe while her parents took a break from their boringly opulent lives.
The hypocrisy of his thoughts didn't make him feel any better about it.
The next morning the storm descended.
Colton was pouring himself a cup of coffee when someone started pounding on the front door. Mancini answered.
A man stomped in, glaring furiously.
"Mr. Colton Savage?" he demanded.
"Yes." Colton said easily. "Who's asking?"
"I am Detective Ralph Moreno." The man fixed him with a hard stare. "Do you know the whereabouts of one Miss Renee White?"
"Yes," Colton said, enjoying being difficult a little too much. "She's still asleep upstairs."
That flummoxed him for a moment. "Excuse me?"
Colton saw Mancini slip away, wondering what he was up to.
"Renee is upstairs. She's exhausted. Could you come back later? You understand why I don't want you to bother my wife, detective."
"Wife?" Moreno's mouth dropped open. "What is this?"
"We got married." Colton said simply, sipping from his mug.
"Two days ago. At the hospital."
"What?" Moreno shook his head, dismissing that impossibility. "Mr. Savage, I must speak with Renee White immediately."
Colton sighed. "If you must."
He led the man out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He hesitated by the guest room, Mancini's look drawing him down the hallway.
"Mrs. Savage is asleep," the man chided at Colton's bedroom door, but he let them in, Moreno nearly stepping on Colton's heels to get inside.
Colton stopped dead.
"Colton?" Renee asked, drawling sleepily. She lifted her head from his pillow, her hair a tangled mess. She propped herself up on her elbows. "Colton, what-" She saw Moreno and gasped, jerking the blankets to her chin, blushing. "What is this?" She demanded.
Moreno had the grace to look at the ground. "Miss White, I must speak with you immediately."
"About what?" she snapped, making sure every inch of her was covered with the sheets. She scowled at them and Colton cleared his throat.
"He just has some questions to ask you. Honey." He added, hoping Moreno didn't notice the pause.
She pouted and Colton sucked in a breath. "Give me a minute." She said, her cheeks flaming still.
Mancini herded Moreno out the door, shutting it with a wink that filled Colton with dread.
Colton stared at the floor. At Renee's bare foot tapping the wood impatiently, peeking out from under his robe.
"Of course I have no idea who they were or what they want!" Renee snapped, her cheeks red with fury now.
"And we are married, Mr. Moreno." She interrupted. "I'll tell you again. I came out and saw him open his coat. I jumped him and got the trigger away from him. Then there was an explosion. Once I could get up, I went and got a policemen. Then I went to the hospital."
"Where you married Mr. Savage." Moreno added dubiously.
"You understand we must check your story, Miss White." Moreno said severely. "If you've lied to me in anyway..."
Renee threw up her hands and started pacing, the silk of the robe swishing.
"Your embassy will be in touch with you soon, Miss White. They are overwhelmed at the moment, what with several Americans being killed in the explosion."
Renee sighed. "I wish I could have stopped them both."
Moreno ignored her plaintive wish. "You have all your documents? Passport, visa?"
"I will need copies."
"You have the marriage certificate?" Moreno asked after a moment of scribbling in a little notebook. Colton handed it over, blood stains and all. Moreno scowled at it and took a picture of it. Colton took it back, swallowing nervously.
The man stood heavily, looking grim. "Miss White, I must place you under house arrest." She rolled her eyes and he went on. "Until this investigation is over and your involvement determined."
"Fine," she snapped. "Are we done?" She turned and marched out. Colton could hear her thumping all the way back upstairs. To his bedroom.
Moreno left without another word.
Colton put his head in his hands. He couldn't believe it had worked.
He sat until Rosa came in and asked if he wanted lunch.
"No." He said shortly, mad at being caught being a coward. He didn't want to go upstairs. What if she was still in his room? In his bed? She had been naked!
He climbed the stairs slowly, trying to figure out what he had felt when he'd seen her lying there. It defiantly wasn't something he was proud to recall.
His knees went weak with relief as Renee scowled at him from the edge of the bed, fully dressed, in her own clothing.
"Is he gone?" she snapped, still in a rage.
"Yes." He assured her. "Sorry, I couldn't get him to leave without it looking suspicious."
She snorted. "Thank Mancicni. He was brilliant." She blushed, though.
"Yeah, I'll give him a raise." Colton said distractedly. "So, I don't mean to kick you out, but I need to take a shower and..."
"Right," she said, jumping up. "Sorry." She slipped by him, her face averted.
Colton shut the door and leaned against it.
"I am crazy." He said to the empty room. Giving himself a shake, he went and sat on the bed. And jumped up again. He tore back the sheets, bundling them up and dumping them in the laundry basket.
He felt better after that, knowing he wouldn't have to sleep where she had lain in his bed.
Colton left in the early morning. He hadn't been into the office for days and his secretary was sending him increasingly frantic emails.
He turned in his seat to watch his house shrink behind him. Rosa and Mancini would make sure she rested today.
His secretary, Alice Cho, waited at the main door, her heeled foot tapping.
"You have some explaining to do," she snapped, glaring at him from behind her sparkling glasses. She always wore the most outrageous clothing. Today was a pinstripe suit in pink and blue, her heels a jarring yellow. She enjoyed her lavish salary to the fullest.
"Yes," he agreed. She didn't know the half of it.
Her shriek was deafening in the elevator. Colton winced as she shouted at him.
"Married?" She demanded. "You got married?"
"I had to!" he protested. She hit him with her stack of folders. Several times.
"What were you thinking!"
"I fell in love with her," he lied.
"That's no reason to go Vegas on me!" She snapped, leading him into his office overlooking the business park's central plaza. He'd had to tempt a very grumpy CEO with a very large check to get these offices. It was worth it for the view. "Who is she?"
Alice jerked to halt, spinning to stare at him. "That woman on TV? Who tackled the terrorist?"
Colton nodded, grinning in spite of it. "I married her at the hospital."
"WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?" Alice thundered. She continued to yell at him, slamming documents and papers down on his desk, shutting the files with sharp jabs. The phone rang, pitiful under her bellows. "Don't think this is the end of it, Colton!" She lifted the receiver and said sweetly, "Savage Corporation, how may I help you?...I'm afraid he isn't available at the moment, may I take a message...yes...yes...thank you, ma'am. Good-bye." She banged the phone down. "And what are you going to do about Felicia?"
Colton winced. He'd forgotten about her. "Just call her, I guess-"
"Call her?" Alice repeated. "That will go nicely. 'Hi, Felicia, sorry I have to cancel. I know I said I'd take you to Milan for the spring show, but I got married instead.'" Alice threw her arms out and glared at him expectantly.
He shrugged. "Something like that."
"I want to meet her."
"Your wife," Alice said nastily. "I want to meet her."
"Who is she? The news says she's American."
"She was on vacation." Colton explained.
"What does she do? Where's she from?" Colton winced again.
"I don't know."
Alice's disgust was beyond words. She stormed out, slamming the door shut behind her.
Colton took a deep breath and went to his desk.
Alice refused to speak to him the rest of the day. She relayed her messages by email or text. Colton considered refusing to check it, making her talk to him. Then he decided he didn't have the energy. He'd been up most of the night. Changing the sheets hadn't worked.