From Chapter Six
The party was disorienting to Gretchen for two reasons. For one, they insisted on playing club remixes of annoying teenybopper music that either got you to twitch a hip or made your head throb. Not to mention, people flitted around her like frenetic hummingbirds on a sugar high and insisted on talking to her as if they were auctioning off objets d’ art on Sotheby’s or something. It was a wonder that her eyes didn’t cross in the middle of the verbal barrage.
She spied Orlando and her sister across the room talking to someone whom she could not recognize because their back was turned. Danie and Orlando stood close together, both having placed a hand on the small of the other’s back. They looked cozy, laughing and looking at each other sidelong. How sweet. Gretchen stared at them for a moment longer until Orlando’s eyes met hers.
For a moment, time paused. Gretchen found that it was hard to take a breath, and the spike in her temperature made her slightly itchy. Her rational mind spoke in a tinny voice: What’s this all about?
In real time, it had only taken a second, but the moment seemed suspended in time. Gretchen looked away first, bemused but still uncomfortably warm.
Okay so she was still attracted to Orlando, even now after over five months. Intellectually she realized that the lack of true closure between them figured into her feelings greatly. Irrationally, she thought it sucked.
He made an excuse to break away…and much to Gretchen’s chagrin started to come her way…
Gretchen’s eyes darted around frantically for some sort of refuge. She did not want to deal with Orlando right now, especially with Danie nearby. Oh shit. Where is the Kool-Aid Man with a clamorous entrance when you need him?
“Um excuse me…Gretchen is it?”
Gretchen jumped, startled at the sound of the male voice. She almost knocked over the person who had spoken, thinking it was Orlando. She was mistaken.
He was at least six feet tall with brown hair shorn close to his head. He wore jeans and a shirt in a pewter hue that made his blue eyes stand out in contrast. His face was somewhat familiar, and his name was on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t consciously remember it.
“Are you all right?” the guy inquired with concern that left Gretchen baffled.
“I’m fine, thank you,” Gretchen answered, bemused. “I’m so sorry for trying to tackle you.”
“I think I’ll live…but I don’t think you’re fine.” When Gretchen’s face fell slack with shock, he added, “To be honest, you look like you’re on the verge of a major tension headache.”
Gretchen snorted. “On the verge? I think I’ve already fallen off of that rocky precipice.” She idly flicked a stand of black hair from her forehead.
“Somebody here causing you undue aggravation?”
Gretchen chuckled sardonically. “You have no idea…eh…” She trailed off when she realized she didn’t know his name.
“Henry,” the guy supplied. “Henry Cavill.”
Hm. Oh yeah! Now Gretchen remembered him. She’d seen his bare ass on Showtime once. It was a nice ass, she mused as she appraised him a little more closely. But of course you couldn’t judge a man by his derrière. Or anyone for that matter.
“Nice to meet you, Henry,” Gretchen said. “I’m sorry for my imminent confusion. I…” She waved a hand in impatience. “I’m just in a strange mood.” She glanced over her shoulder at the party, then frowned. “So why aren’t you in there with all of the interesting people? I’m sure being out here with me isn’t the reason why you hopped in your car and brought yourself to this exciting gathering of beautiful people.”
Henry chuckled. “Truthfully, no, but there’s a first time for everything.”
Gretchen stared at him for a long moment, trying to figure out if he was kidding and indeed was going to turn and walk away. Once she ascertained that he indeed was serious, she chuckled, too, and looked down at the traffic of Los Angeles passing them by. She tried to ignore the photographers down below who called out to her, wanting a picture. She sighed and turned her back to them.
“What was I thinking believing that it would be more peaceful out here?” Gretchen mused aloud. She shook her head in disbelief. “They’re probably after me because they think I’m my sister.”
“Your sister is getting married to Orlando Bloom, isn’t she?” Gretchen nodded. “She’s a lucky woman,” Henry remarked diplomatically. Then he added, “On the other hand, from the pictures I’ve seen, the bloke’s not doing too badly himself. Your sister is a knockout.”
“Oh. Thank you. As if I needed reminding.”
Henry’s face fell comedically, for he did not hear the ironic humor in Gretchen’s voice. “Oh. I mean, I’m sorry, love. I didn’t mean to sing your sister’s praises in front of you. If it’s a sore spot…”
At that moment, Gretchen laughed and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Relax, Henry. I was just joking.” Gretchen gestured to her sister standing across the room. “Besides, I am well aware that my sister could stop traffic with a flick of her hair.”
“Well, I think that sort of brazenness suits her just as your spunk and refreshing humility suits you.”
Gretchen’s cheeks colored and she looked up at Henry. “Are you trying to flatter me, Henry?”
One side of Henry’s mouth quirked. “Maybe I am. Would that be unacceptable?”
At that moment, Gretchen shifted and caught sight of Orlando. He was without Danie. What was even worse was that he was staring rather intently at her and Henry with a rather inscrutable expression.
Something occurred to her then: Orlando had not been lying that day on his porch. He still had feelings for her.
It took a second before she realized Henry was speaking to her. She shook herself from her daze and smiled apologetically up at him. However, the mirth didn’t quite meet her eyes. That was one thing Henry noticed and did not understand.
“I’m so sorry, Henry,” Gretchen said. “I’m definitely not giving you the attention a man like you deserves.”
Henry chuckled at that. “I’m hardly expecting you to bow down and kiss my feet. That would be rather excessive and embarrassing to say in the least.” He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “If you would like to be alone, then I will graciously leave you without argument.”
Gretchen regarded him for a moment, a little stunned but pleased by his statement. There had definitely been some flirting going on between them, now that she thought about it. And the last few minutes had suddenly made the effects of the excruciating night fade away.
“Actually,” Gretchen began, “I think I’ll keep you around a little bit longer, Cavill. What do you say?”
“Well as long as you don’t tackle me again,” Henry retorted, making Gretchen laugh.
* * *
Meanwhile, at Orlando’s house in Los Angeles, Shannon was driving him crazy. It was a rainy afternoon that closed the twins up indoors, and Orlando was determined to read through the script of Like Water for Chocolate before the beginning of next week. Despite this goal, Shannon was more determined to bother him about the lack of activity. Abby attempted to sway her attention so that he could finish reading, but Shannon was more frenetic that usual.
“But Orlando, I wanna go outside,” Shannon whined. “It’s boring. I wanna go outside and swim.”
Orlando set his teeth and tried not to swear. Abby spoke before he did, however, and saved him the trouble of replying at that moment. Thank God for that girl.
“It’s still raining, Sissy,” Abby observed, gesturing out the window where a steady rain fell. “We have to wait until the sun comes out.”
Shannon pouted. “So? It’s all water anyway.” She slumped into a chair and crossed her arms over her chest.
Orlando paused and stared at her. He didn’t blame her for being bored. Danie was in Spain and he was expected to keep them company as he had promised. Feeling his annoyance fading, he rose from his desk and stood over the sullen Shannon. After a moment, he knelt in front of her and she trained her violet eyes upon him. The look she gave him reminded him of her mother, and he swallowed, trying not to think of…no. He wasn’t even going to name the…Incident.
“Shannon love,” he began, “I know there’s not much to do here right now since it’s all cloudy and rainy. Give me half an hour. If you leave me alone for thirty minutes, I’ll take you out.”
Orlando had uttered the magic words: Take you out. Shannon brightened. “Where? Where?”
Orlando placed a finger on her lips. “Quiet now. It’s a surprise. You’ll know when you get there.”
That was all she needed. Shannon vaulted from the chair (luckily Orlando had moved out of the way to avoid injury) and grabbed Abby. She babbled about doing a makeover and Abby sent him a wide-eyed look over her shoulder. Orlando gestured for her to just go along with Shannon and prayed that the poor girl wouldn’t have nightmares about whatever was going to ensue.
In the quiet, Orlando’s headache eased. For a moment, he wondered what led him to fall in love with a woman with two twin girls, but then he remembered that Shannon and Abigail were usually self-sufficient and quite entertaining–not to mention their mother was quite enticing herself. It was him that was the problem. There was something wrong with him. There was no doubt what was bothering him.
The ringing of the phone broke the silence the twins had left in their wake.
Striding to the desk, Orlando answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Darling, it’s me. You sound strained. You alright?”
Wow. Danie. Bloody hell. “I’m fine, love,” he replied, feeling his legs go shaky. He turned and sat down before he could collapse. “I didn’t expect to hear from you until–”
“Tomorrow?” Danie finished. “Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t help it. It’s kinda late here and I had a free moment so I wanted to call you.” Her voice dropped in pitch, revealing the theme of her thoughts.