Home > Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(8)

Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(8)
Author: H.M. Ward

"Yeah, Kate doesn't exactly blend in down there," Jack says, running his hand through his hair. He glances at Abby and smiles sadly.

Gus snorts. "Kate doesn't blend anywhere. She's a pain in the ass, but you already know that." He chuckles, which is swiftly followed by a smack. "Ow, what'd you do that for?" He's talking to Kate. "It's not like you're low maintenance or anything. Damn, Kate."

"Gus, get back on track. What else is going on?" Jack says, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose.

"Oh, sorry. The museum is a little bit skittish about housing your art. It's not like the major museums in the country where a good scandal helps draw in more patrons to see what all the fuss is about. They're a little freaked out by the size of the crowd."

"What's your impression? Do you think it has the same vibe as previous shows?"

"No," Gus says, lowering his voice, "there's something in the air making everyone tense."

"It's as bad as I thought, then. Listen, Brimstone flagged me. I think they're going to try to do something down there. They don't seem to realize that I won't be at the opening. Normally, I would have been, but with the way our honeymoon fell and the tour plans, I'm not going to be at an opening until the show is back in New York. That said, have you seen any trace of their people?"

"Holy shit," Gus says. There's some static, like he changed the phone to his other ear. "Are you serious?"

"Yeah. I got a letter today, anonymously. It said to look at the site. Either someone gave us a heads up or they want to make sure we're looking when things crash and burn. How'd you know who they were?"

"They send us shit from time to time, usually taunting letters saying that you're next. So I looked them up. I know exactly who they are. Since they seem to aim at one person at a time and they had someone else in their sights, I ignored it. You get fan mail and hate mail, Jack. I thought it was hate mail. I didn't think they'd seriously put you on the list next." Gus says some choice words over and over again.

Jack cuts him off, "Listen, I don't want anyone to get hurt. Take Kate and get the hell out of there."

"Done. We'll go to the airport now and grab a flight back. We should be there first thing tomorrow. And Jack..."


"Thanks for not taking my head off about the painting. I didn't want anything to happen to it. I know how much it means to you and Abby. It was Kate's idea to drive it down." There's another smack. Gus's voice gets higher, "Well, it was. But I thought it was a good idea. It's my fault if something happens to it because of what we did."

"I know why you did it, Gus. Tell Kate thanks. It's nice to know someone else is watching out for us."

"No problem. See you in the morning."

Jack hits the END CALL button and tosses the phone on the table. There's an open pizza box between him and Abby. Her green eyes flick up to meet his. She looks so fragile lately. If he could take away her anguish, he would. Jack knows she tries to hide it and act like it's not there, but he knows her too well for that.

"So, everything's fine then?" Abby asks sarcastically, taking a bite out of a slice.

Jack presses his finger to the table, staring at nothing in particular. "Yeah," he laughs and looks up at her. "Gus said there are more protestors than usual, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything."

Worry flashes across her face and she asks, "Do you really think that the Brimstone people would do something to Kate and Gus? I mean, they're going after you, right?"

Jack glances at Abby and nods. "Yeah, but they'll aim at the people around me if they can. I wish I knew who threw them at us. The tour itself isn't controversial, especially since I married you and it was all over the press." Jack sighs and stares blankly.

Abby picks a piece of cheese off her pizza and pops it in her mouth. "So this is about something else?"

"Most likely."

She nods slowly. "And we have no idea what, or why they targeted you?"

"I'm an easy target Abby." Jack sits up and straightens, stretching his back. "I always have been."

"It's because you paint with your heart." She glances up at him. "There's no way to please everyone. I couldn't put my heart on a canvas and listen to people rip it apart. I don't know how you do that."

Jack walks over to her and pulls her up. Taking Abby in his arms, he says, "Because every painting is a memory of you. They can say what they want about the quality of my work, but when I look at it, all I see are reflections of you."

Jack pulls her into a tight hug, wishing he could shelter her from the days ahead.

Chapter 14


Gus and Kate fly back the next morning, telling us what they saw over coffee. We're sitting in the conference room in front of a span of windows.

Kate is bleary-eyed. She came out with Gus. I told her that I'd take her back home later. "They can't back out without pissing off my boss, so they won't. It's hard to get traveling shows. They're so expensive and most of the smaller museums don't have the funding or the ability to get a show on their own. The traveling shows are important to them. So, pulling out of one can screw them out of future shows. If they toss Jack, they toss the Russian czars exhibit next fall, so they won't do it, but all the people are riled up," Kate explains. "The locals see picketers at the museum and want to know what's going on. They assume it must be bad if there are protestors. Then the news comes out, then the paper, and then schools ban us and things start to get hairy."

She stifles a yawn and Gus continues. "Any publicity is good publicity but this carries a double edged sword," Gus says. He dumps three more packets of sugar into his coffee and stirs. "Groups like this one have been known to be sponges. They attract every lunatic that doesn't like the way things are and rallies them together. They all blame Jack and feel better about it. The problem is, with that many people together and angry about something, things tend to get ugly."

"It isn't even about the art," Kate says. I shoot her a look, but she misses it. I don't want her to say it. I see Jack struggling with this every day. "It's about you two. That Brimstone group made the art an extension of the morality problems in America. Somehow that guy Wrath has them thinking that you created the seven deadly sins and then painted them onto those canvases."

Cara chimes in from the door. "That's ridiculous. There are actual paintings of the seven deadly sins. Jacks are nothing like those." She's leaning in the doorway, listening to the conversation while watching the front of the gallery. From her spot at the door, she can see the entrance, her desk, and us.

Kate shrugs and answers, "Since when does a group need a logical reason to protest something? The group sounds insane to me, but the people were eating it up. One woman was telling a newscaster how your Woman in White portrait was of Jack raping an angel. Could you think of a more ludicrous - "

Jack tenses as Kate is talking. His blue gaze falls to the table as he works his jaw. Even though I can tell he's upset, I still don't expect his reaction. The mug in his hands is suddenly hurled at the wall. It shatters and falls to the carpet. Streaks of brown flow down the wall and soak into the floor. He doesn't look back or apologize. Jack simply springs from his chair, pushes past Cara, and leaves.

Kate glances at the wall and then back at me. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to - "

"It's all right. He's just mad. You know how hard he tries to keep his name clean, and then this happens." Because of me. I know Jack's wrestling with something. I feel him pulling away. I have no idea how to fix it, but this is making it so much worse. I saw the way he moved, the way his body tensed before he hurled that glass at the wall. I glance at the door, wondering if I should follow Jack or give him time to calm down.

Gus looks at me oddly. It's like he has something to say, but doesn't want to tell me. "Abby, they're going to slaughter Jack. It's not just that they want to shut him down; they want to make him into an example. This is far from over."

"So what do we do? Is your boss pissed?" I ask Kate, suddenly, wondering what their take on it is.

"Oh, please. As if my boss cares about some yokels down south. As long as the exhibit stays in one piece, she's fine with it. The tour has hired security personnel to make sure no one does anything to the paintings. The tour ends back here in New York. As long as you can tolerate the crap the picketers say, I think it'll be good."

Gus huffs like they've had this conversation already. "This isn't your normal group of picketers. Brimstone has a history of violence. When they can't get things to go their way through legal channels, they get aggressive." Kate just stares at him. I kick her shin, thinking she fell asleep.

"What? We already went through this. No matter what happens, I think it's good for Jack.," Kate says.

"No, getting shot is not good for Jack," Gus blurts out. Kate gives him a look and he presses his lips together and shakes his head. I stare at him with my mouth open, trying to take in what he just said. Gus backtracks. "I mean, if it comes to that. I don't think these individuals are all armed felons waiting to hurt people, Abby, but that Wrath guy has them thinking that people like Jack are turning this country into crap. Somehow he lit a flame under every activist group there is and they're all targeting Jack. I think we should take this seriously, and not let it get out of hand."

"It's already out of hand and it just started," Cara says.

I press my fingers to my eyes. This can't be happening. It's always been horrible when I see it on TV, but when those hate slingers are aiming for us, it's worse.

"We'll manage the exhibit. You make sure Jack doesn't run over the protesters when they find this place." Kate pats my arm. "We're here for you guys." Gus and Cara nod in agreement. Everyone here is willing to protect Jack.

I nod and stare into space, thinking. I have no idea what to say. I don't know how to weather things like this. I never thought I'd be married to someone so famous and now that I am, I don't know how to protect him. I wish I could take him back to the Caribbean and erase everything that's happened since we came back, but I can't. My mind races through different scenarios, trying to figure out the best way to deal with this. Jack feels so fragile to me. He's so upset about us. I'm afraid that this mess will force a rift between us. It's already there. I feel his guilt; I see it in his eyes. Nothing I've said seems to make things all right. I can't let him go through this. But there's only one way to the other side of this mess, and it's straight through the middle.

Glancing at Kate and Gus, I ask, "What if we were the ones who dropped the proverbial match and blew it up? What if we expose whatever we have so there's nothing to dig up on me and Jack? What if we preempt them and steal their wind? I'm sure they'll try to drag out that Jack and I had an intimate relationship before we were married. What if we said it first?"

Cara offers, "It's not a bad idea."

Kate glances at Cara and Gus, then back at me. "Maybe not. But, it could go wrong and blow up in your face."

I don't like this. I wish I could stop it, but I can't. Forcing the situation to explode will make it burn out faster. I say to Kate. "It's going to do that anyway, so why wait? The longer we wait, the more stress Jack has to go through, the more time people have to blame him." I stare blankly at the coffee stains dripping down the wall. No one speaks for a moment. I keep seeing Jack throw that mug at the wall. I know what this is doing to him. That's when it hits me. Glancing at Gus, I ask, "What if I told the press that I started the relationship?"

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