I woke to a bright and sunny morning after spending all night unpacking my new apartment. It wasn’t much, definitely a downgrade from my previous place. The building was built in the 1940’s. The outside brick was faded and chipped. My neighbor’s pipes creaked as he started his shower. The footsteps of several children pounded on the ceiling above my bed. I stretched my arms above my head before hitting the OFF button on the alarm. This was the first day of my new life and I was excited to start it. I jumped out of bed, pulled on my cargo pants and a sweatshirt, and tied my hair up into a knot. Whistling, I ran down the three flights of creaky stairs to the sidewalk outside.
The morning sun beat down taking out the little chill of the autumn air. People hurried on by. Some drinking coffee, others buried in their newspapers. Blaring of horns punctuated the air. I pulled my hood up to block the wind and headed the ritzy residential neighborhood a few minutes away.
A chill crept into me by the time I found number 304 Mullberry Boulevard. The houses were giant and stacked close together without any yards. A black Porsche parked in front of the door. I rang the doorbell, which echoed throughout the house. The wind picked up nipping at my ears and burning my cheeks. I stomped my feet. The door swung open and a large, broad shouldered man filled the doorway. My breath caught at him, but then again it might be the cold. I really should've gotten some coffee. He was wearing an Italian suit and had a bluetooth in his ear.
“Sarah, I’ll call you back.” He turned his attention to me. His eyes roved from my head to my tennis shoes. “Can I help you?” He crossed his arms and glared at me.
“Mr. Trevor Donne?” I extended my hand. “I’m Vivian from Viv’s Dog Walking.” He nodded but did not take my hand. “Okay, no shaking hands.” I muttered. “Is Champ ready to go for his walk?”
“Can a little girl, like you, handle a large dog?” A sneer marred his pretty face. His muscles bulged as I stared him in the eyes. The pulse jumped at the base of his neck.
“I will manage. He’s not my first large, unruly dog.”
“Fine, I’ll go get him. I’ll pay you when you return.”
A few minutes later, the door opened and a large Rhodesian Ridgeback leapt at me. His giant pink tongue licked every inch of my windburned face. I clicked the leash on to him and set out for the thirty minute walk his owner wanted. He pulled hard and chased every squirrel. Champ did not lollygag around. By the time we made it back, my hands were sore, shoulders ached, and the bottom of my sneakers were worn out. I rang the doorbell on 304, again.
Trevor answered right away. He took in my windblown hair and red cheeks. His dog sat obediently next to me, his tongue rolling out of his mouth.
“Come in, Vivian.” The invitation startled me, but the warmth was welcomed. I stepped into the foyer and rubbed my hands together. His eyes squinted as he looked at me. “I have a business proposition for you if you’re interested.”
“Um,” I squinted back at him. “What kind of proposition?”
“I need a date tonight for the gala for my charity.”
Taken aback, I crossed my arms. “I’m a dog walker. Not a call girl.”
The first real smile tugged at his lips. “No, I need a date, not a call girl. Let’s get coffee and discuss it.” He ushered me into the kitchen.
The sun was shining brightly but then it had turned out be a beautiful day for October in Chicago. My first day as a dog walker went by fast, but I had the satisfaction of exhaustion from physical labor. After walking Trevor Donne’s large, unruly canine, I had six more appointments. My feet ached, my shoulders were sore, and my lips chapped from the strong winds. I collapsed on to a park bench to catch a few rays before dragging myself home. The sun’s warmth was welcome on my face as I closed my eyes to savor it. The laughter of children filled the air, the swings creaked on their chains, and birds chirped. The hotdog stand had just started cooking the dogs for the afternoon. My stomach rumbled at the smell of cooking hotdogs. I sighed and threw my arms over the back of the bench. The ache in my shoulders eased, slightly.
A shadow blocked out the sun, causing a shiver to race through my body. I cracked an eye open to see who dared to interrupt my break. A large, heavily muscled man dressed in a black suit stared down at me.
“Miss Vivian?” The beard covering his face barely moved when he spoke.
I cocked an eyebrow at him. My heart thundered at the sight of him and my palms went clammy, even though it was cold. Play it cool, Viv. You’re in a park. What’s he going to do to you?
“Yah, that’s me. What do you want?”
“Mr. Donne sent me.” He crossed his arms before nodding to a sleek black car.
“Why?” I was instantly alert. We had agreed to meet at the event this evening. “How did you know where I was?” I jumped to my feet and spoke in my most demanding senior clinician voice.
He paled a little bit and raised his hands as I stalked closer to him. I glared at him with everything I had in my 5’2” self.
“I’ve followed you.”
“All day!” And I hadn’t even noticed! I didn’t know what was came out stronger my anger at Trevor Donne for having me tailed or myself for not even noticing. I paced back and forth in front of the bench. I needed to up my game. This wasn’t the quiet town I was used to. Anyone could’ve been following me. A serial killer, a rapist,... or a really large guy driving a black car.
“Miss, we should be going.” He interrupted my internal scolding. “Mr. Donne wanted me to take you shopping.”
“Shopping? I have clothes.”
At that, a small smile broke his face. His eyes went from my dirt smudged sneakers to my paw print covered pants to my windblown hair. For a moment he looked like he didn’t know what to say, then a genuine smile spread out under the bushy growth.
“You need a dress.”
“I HAVE dresses.” Not really, I had one black dress that I used to wear out with my girlfriends and... a white dress that will never be worn. So, yes, technically I have two dresses. It was my turn to smirk and cross my arms.
He took a step toward me and reached out for my elbow but stopped a few inches away.
“I was told to take you shopping for an appropriate dress tonight.” His voice was stern and gravelly. “Mr. Donne wants you to be suitably dressed.”
I tossed my hair to the side and opened my mouth to tell him exactly how I felt about that.
“Please, miss, just try on some dresses. If you don’t, he will dock it out of my pay.”
Rats, I don’t know this man from Adam but what if he needed every bit of his salary.
“Fine.” I marched to the waiting black car.
Shopping with the man whose name was Carl turned out to be fun. We went to this high end boutique where I tried on dresses that cost more than a year of rent. Then, Carl took me to a salon. I was pampered with in an inch of my life. A massage, a mani, a pedi, and a facial. Then, my hair was coiffed into an elaborate up-do and my make up professionally applied. Afterwards, he dropped me off at my apartment to relax a bit before promising to pick me up in an hour.
Exactly sixty minutes later, the door bell sounded in my tiny home. I rushed to answer the door, wobbling in my red stilettos. I swung it open. Carl’s gruff face broke into a grin as he took in the new me.
“Quite a bit different than earlier.” He held up my jacket to help me into it.
“There was a lot of work to go into it.”
He chuckled as he took my elbow to steady me down the stairs. A long black limo waited at the curb,
“We’re going in that?” I whispered.
He nodded as he opened the door for me. My heart sank as I glanced into the back of the limo. It was empty.
“Mr. Donne had to arrive early to make sure everything was ready.”
I nodded as I slid into the back. The inside smelled of brand new leather and the seats were plush. A bottle of champagne sat in a silver bucket of ice.
“Help yourself. It’ll take some time to get to the gala.” Carl said before sliding into the passenger seat up front.
The limo ride was fun. I drank some champagne and watched the lights of the city roll by. Butterflies danced in my stomach as I adjusted the red dress. It was a soft silk that hugged my curves while the back was nonexistent and front plunged to a deep V. A long slit went up the side and made me feel very exposed. I wasn’t even sure how this thing stayed where it was supposed to but Carl and the sales woman assured me it was absolutely right for tonight.
The limo pulled up in front of the entrance. White columns lined the front and a carpet covered walkway led up to the doors. On either side, cameras flashed and people shouted. Carl opened my door and helped me out of the limo. Flashes blinded me and the roar of the crowd overwhelmed me. My heart raced, blood pounded in my ears, and my ankles wobbled in my new shoes. What was I doing? I made to turn back to the limo when a tall broad-shouldered man in an elegant black and white suit gripped my elbow. His blue eyes sparkled at me and a grin tugged at the corner of his lips. His artfully styled black hair and a face of an angel made my heart pound in a different way than before. Suddenly, my voice froze and I couldn’t move. Trevor Donne, in all of his glory.
He leaned down with his mouth inches from my ear. Tingles raced down my spine as he said, “You look beautiful.” He placed my hand at his elbow and led me into the gala.
It was Friday, time for the weekend to begin. I’d been looking forward to spending some time by myself exploring my new city, coming to grips as to where the journey of my life had taken me. But no, instead, I’d been dressed up in a fancy ballgown, escorted across the city, to go to a gala with a man I’d just met this morning.
Flashes of the cameras brought me back to the present. Mr. Donne had me my the elbow and was whispering something in my ear. The cameras flashed again and my heel caught on the carpet. It snagged, throwing my body forward. A strong arm wrapped me around my waist to hold me upright.
“Easy there,”” he purred into my ear. “You don’t want to give the tabloids fun things to write about.”
What? The tabloids. My stomach sunk like a stone to my feet as my heart hammered in my chest.
“Whoa, no need to panic.” His blue eyes searched mine. “I was just joking.”
Joking or not, this was not good. “I can’t be in the papers or magazines,” I whispered out of the side of my mouth. My eyes darted from one side to the other as we stepped into the ballroom. It was elegantly decorated and a band played a soft tune in the corner. I should’ve been excited but instead my brain screamed run away. “Pictures wasn’t part of the deal.” I freed my arm from his grasp. “I need to leave.”
He took a step back and his piercing blue eyes searched my face. In my other life, I’d be enjoying every moment in this man’s company. Not anymore, I saw an exit sign and made to go to that.
“Wait. Don’t leave.” His hand engulfed mine, pulling me back to him. Tingles of electricity ran up my arm and my cheeks heated as he came near. “If it’s the pictures, I’ll have my assistant buy their silence.”
“I wish it were so easy.” I shook my head, “I’m supposed to keep myself invisible.”
A frown crossed his brow. “Why?”
I chewed on my bottom lip. Do I trust him? I trusted the last man who promised to take care of me and look where I ended up. Making up my mind, I stepped closer to him. Standing on my tiptoes, I whispered, “I’m in witness protection.”
Scene 4 - Vivian
"You're in what?" He asked in disbelief, his voice dropped and sent shivers down my spine. His hand tightened on mine sending little electric bolts up my arm as he dragged me into an alcove, away from any prying eyes. The band started playing on stage. "Why didn't you say something this morning?"
I played with the silver earrings and scuffed the toe of my shoe on the marble floor. "Um, I didn't realize that there would be photographers here."
He chuckled in my ear. "There are always paparazzi where I am. Do you not know who I am?"
I shook my head. How was I to know who he was, I just moved here yesterday? I gasped as I realized I said the words out loud, but looking at his smirk he wasn't offended.
"I didn't mean to say that out loud." I muttered, a heat rising up my neck.
"Are you a bad guy or a good guy?" He blocked me in with his large body so there was no way to escape.
"I am a naïve bystander that tried to help someone." I twisted a lock of hair behind my ears. "I wish I hadn't." That wasn't exactly true. Being a doctor, I had to help the girl; I wished she wasn't tied up in the mess that she was and now I am too from what I'd seen.
He mulled it over for a bit; his eyes boring into mine as he contemplated my words. "Alright," he looked me up and down. "I don't know if anyone will recognize you with how you look right now. I certainly didn't. It's a nice change from the ratty jeans and sweatshirt you were wearing this morning."
I shifted my weight from foot to foot. Where was he going with this? When could I leave?
"How about you stay here with me and my assistant will okay all the photographs that will be used? We can screen the photos to make sure you don't appear in a full frontal."
"What if someone recognizes me anyway?" I chewed on my lower lip.
His eyes darkened as he stared down at me, his thumb pressed on my lower lip. "No one messes with my people."
My heart pounded as my head got light headed "Your people?" I whispered.
"I hired you and I'll protect you. Come on Vivian, let's dance." His voice lowered causing tingles of excitement to race through my abdomen.
Could I trust him? Was it safe? No, life for me was no longer safe. Maybe I could pretend it was for one night.
I slid my hand into his, earning a brief twitch of his lips as he escorted me to the dance floor.