Fallen Too Far (Chapter Twenty-One)

Leaving Rush in bed this morning had been hard. He'd been sleeping so peacefully I hadn't wanted to wake him up. I'd refrained from kissing his face before I left. Asleep he seemed so worry free. I didn't realize how intense and on guard he was until I'd watched him sleep and seen him completely at peace.

Opening the door to the staffroom I was greeted to the smell of fresh donuts and a smiling Jimmy.

"Good morning sunshine," he said cheerily as always.

"That remains to be seen… are you gonna share those donuts or not?"

He held the box out to me. "I bought two extras just for you doll. I knew my blond bombshell was coming to work today and I didn't want to be empty handed."

I sat down across from him and reached for my donut. "If I thought you'd enjoy it I'd kiss your face," I teased.

Jimmy wiggled his eyebrows, "Who knows, baby? A face like yours can lead a man astray."

Laughing, I took a bite of the fluffy warm goodness. This wasn't healthy but it was so dang good.

"Eat up because we got us a long ass day ahead. The debutante ball is tonight and we won't be in the dining room. We'll all be sent to the ballroom and forced to walk around with trays of food and then serve them all at a sit down dinner."

Debutante ball? What the heck was that? "Is that why there are so many trucks outside with flowers and decorations?"

Jimmy nodded and reached for another chocolate covered donut. "Yep. Happens every year during this week. Crazy rich mommas strut their daughters around and introduce them to society. After tonight, the girls will be considered women and treated as an adult member of the club. They can be on committees and the like. It's crazy ass bullshit is what it is. Especially since Nan turned twenty-one a few weeks back. That means she gets to be released into mother fucking adulthood."

Nan was a debutante. That was interesting. Her mother wasn't here. Did this mean she was returning? My heart sped up… I'd have to leave soon. Rush hadn't told me that anything had changed about my moving out. When I left would he still see me?

"Breathe, Blaire. It's just a damn ball," Jimmy said. I took a deep breath. I hadn't realized I'd started to panic. This is why I'd wanted to keep my distance. I knew this day was coming. Would my dad be home today then?

"What time does it start?" I managed to ask without a hitch in my voice.

"Seven but they will close down the dinning at five to get us ready."

I nodded and put the rest of my donut down. I couldn't finish it. Today would be a waiting game. I felt the phone in my pocket but I couldn't text Rush. I didn't want him to tell me any bad news through a text message. I'd just wait.

"Blaire, I need to see you a moment in my office," Woods' voice broke into my thoughts. My eyes shot to Jimmy's and his were wide with concern. Great. What had I done?

I stood up and turned to face Woods. He didn't look angry. He smiled at me and it gave me the courage I needed to walk toward him. He held the door open for me and I stepped out into the hall.

"Relax, Blaire. You aren't in trouble. We just need to discuss tonight."

Oh. Whew. I took a deep breath and nodded then followed him to a door at the end of the hall.

"I don't get anything glamorous. Dad believes in making me work my way to the top. Even if I'll inherit the club one day." Woods rolled his eyes while opening the office door and waved me inside. The room was as large as my bedroom at Rush's. It had two large picture windows overlooking the eighteenth hole.

Woods walked over to sit on the edge of his desk instead of behind it. I appreciated his trying not to make this very formal. That would make me nervous.

"The Debutante Ball is tonight. It is an annual event around here. We make spoiled little rich bitches into adults. It's a stupid pain in the ass that makes the club over fifty million dollars in profits with fees, donations and the like. So we can't stop the nonsense. Not that my mother would if she could. She was a debutante once upon a time and you'd think she had been crowned queen of England to hear her talk about it."

I wasn't feeling better about tonight. This explanation was making it worse.

"Nan is Twenty-one now. So, she'll be a debutante. I looked over the line up and Rush will be her escort; it's traditional for the girl's father or older brother to escort her. The escort must also be a member of the club. I don't know what is going on with you and Rush but I do know that Nan hates you. I don't need drama tonight. I do however, need you. You're one of our best. Question is, can you do this without a catfight? Because Nan will do her best to push your buttons. It will be all on you to ignore it. You may be dating a member but you're the help. Doesn't change that. The member is always right. The club will have to side with Nan if a fight were to break out."

What was he expecting? This wasn't high school. We were all adults. I could ignore Nan and Rush all night if need be.

"I can do this. No problem."

Woods gave a brisk nod. "Good, because the pay is excellent and you need the experience."

"I can do it," I reassured him.

Woods stood up. "I'm trusting that you can. You can go help Jimmy with breakfast now. He is probably cursing us both."

The rest of the day flew by and I was so busy with preparations that had no time to think about Nan or my father's return. Or Rush.  Now I was standing in the kitchen with every other server on staff. I was in a white and black server dress with my hair pulled up onto my head in a bun. I was beginning to get butterflies in my stomach.

This was the first time I'd have to face the differences between Rush and me. His world versus mine. They would collide tonight. I had prepared myself for any remarks Nan might make about me. I had even spoken with Jimmy about being a buffer and keeping me from having to go near Nan. I wanted to see Rush or even speak to him but I had a feeling that would be frowned on.

"Show time. Hors d'oeuvres and drinks people. You know your job. Let's go." Darla was running the show tonight backstage. I picked up my tray of martinis and headed for the line-up at the door. Everyone left quickly and we all made different paths through the crowd. Mine was a semicircle clockwise. Unless I saw Nan, then I turned counterclockwise and Jimmy went clockwise. It was a good plan. I just hoped it worked.

The first couple I walked up to didn't even acknowledge me as they chatted and took a drink from the tray. That was easy enough. I made it through several more groups. Some of the men and women I recognized from the golf course. They would always nod and smile when they noticed me but that was it.

Halfway through the room my tray was empty and I made a mental note of the stopping point. I hurried back to the kitchen for more drinks. Darla was waiting for me. She shoved a new tray of martinis at me and shooed me away.

I made it back to my spot only having to stop twice and allow someone to get a drink off the tray. Mr. Jenkins called out my name and waved. I smiled back at him. He played eighteen holes every Friday and Saturday. It amazed me that a ninety-year-old man could get around that well.  He also came in for coffee black and two poached eggs Monday through Friday mornings.

As I turned back from smiling his way my eyes locked with Rush's. I had tried hard not to look for him although I knew he was here. It was Nan's big night. Rush wouldn't miss it. No reason he should. She was mean but she was his sister. It was me she detested. Not him.

His face looked pained and his small smile was forced. I smiled back at him trying really hard not to think about his weird greeting. At least he had looked my way. I hadn't known what to expect from him.

Doctor and Mrs. Wallace both greeted me and told me they missed seeing me on the golf course. I lied and told them I missed it too. Then I headed back to the kitchen for yet another tray.

Darla shoved a tray with champagne at me, "Go, go, hurry," she barked.

I walked as swiftly as I could with a tray full of champagne flutes. Once in the ballroom I started my same path again through members who were deeper in conversations and I was just a tray of drinks. I liked this better. I didn't feel on edge.

Bethy's familiar giggle caught my attention and I turned to look for her. I hadn't seen her in the kitchen earlier. I'd assumed Darla hadn't wanted her to work this function. Or Woods' dad hadn't.

Bethy wasn't dressed like us. She had on a clingy black chiffon dress and her long brown hair was piled up on her head with ringlets hanging down around her face. She turned her head, catching my eyes, and she broke into a huge grin. I watched as she hurried over to me. The stiletto heels she was wearing didn't even slow her down.

"Can you believe that I'm here as a guest?" Bethy asked, looking around us in awe and then back at me. I shook my head because I couldn't.

"When Jace came to my apartment on his knees and begging last night I told him if he wanted me he had to claim me as his girlfriend in public. He agreed and well, you get the picture. Things got real hot up in my apartment. But anyways here I am," she gushed.

Jace had manned up. Good for him. I glanced over her shoulder to see Jace watching us. I smiled at him and nodded my approval. He flashed me a crooked grin with a shrug.

"I'm glad to know he got some sense knocked into him," I replied.

Bethy squeezed my arm. "Thank you," she whispered.

She didn't have anything to thank me for but I smiled. "Go have a good time. I've got to get these all passed out before your aunt comes out here and catches me talking."

"Okay. I will, I wish you could enjoy it with me, though." Her eyes glanced over my shoulder. I knew she was looking at Rush. He was here and he was ignoring me in front of all these people. He was doing it for Nan's sake but did that make it any better?

It slowly dawned on me. I'd become Bethy.

"I need the money so I can get my own place," I told her with a forced smile. "Go mingle," I encouraged her and walked off to the next group of people.

The eyes following me sent a burning sensation up my neck. I knew Rush was watching me. I didn't have to turn and see him to confirm it. Had he just had the same realization that I had? I doubted it. He was a guy. I had become available and easy. I was also the world's greatest hypocrite. I was now guilty of what I'd scolded and pitied Bethy for.

The last champagne flute left my tray and I walked back through the crowd careful not to go near Rush or Nan. I didn't even glance their way. I had some pride left. I only had to stop three times for guests to put their empty flutes on my tray as I hurried back to the safety of the kitchen.

"Good you're back. Take this tray. We need some food out there before they all drink too much and we have a high-faluting drunken mess on our hands," Darla said, handing me a tray of things I didn't recognize. They also smelled bad. I scrunched my nose and held the tray away from me. Darla cackled with laughter.

"It's escargot, snails. They're disgusting but these people think they are a delicacy. Get over the smell and go." I felt my stomach roll. I could have done without that explanation. Escargot would have been a sufficient description.

When I reached the entrance to the ballroom I steadied myself and tried not to think about the snails I was giving people to eat or the fact that Rush was in there acting like he didn't know me at all. After I'd spent the past two nights in his bed.

"You doing okay?" Woods asked when I walked inside the room. He was at my elbow looking concerned.

"Yes. Except for the fact I'm giving people snails to eat," I replied. Woods chuckled, took one from my tray and popped it into his mouth.

"You should try one. They're really very good. Especially soaked in garlic and butter."

My stomach rolled again and I shook my head. Woods laughed out loud this time. "You always make things more interesting, Blaire," he said, leaning down toward my ear. "I'm sorry about Rush. Just for the record, if you'd have chosen me you wouldn't be working tonight. You'd be on my arm."

I felt my face flush. It was enough to know I was a dirty little secret but for others to realize it was humiliating. I'd wanted Rush, though. So bad. Well, I'd got my wish alright.

"I need the money. I am very close to being able to afford a place of my own," I informed him matter of factly.

Woods gave me a brisk nod and a sympathetic smile before turning to greet an elderly guest who was passing by. I took that moment to get away. I had snails to feed people.

Jimmy caught my eye and he winked at me reassuringly. He'd taken care of Rush's side of the room brilliantly. I hadn't even gotten close to him. Bethy smiled brightly at me when I arrived at her group. Her smile died when she looked at the food on my tray.

"What is that?" she asked in horror.

"You don't want to know," I informed her, causing Jace and a guy I wasn't familiar with to laugh.

"Probably best that you let this pass on by," Jace told Bethy as he tucked his hand around her waist and pulled her closer to his side affectionately.

She beamed up at him and that was all the sweet romance I could take. I hurried on to the next group. The curly red hair was familiar. It took me a second to place her. The evil venom in her smile reminded me exactly where I'd seen her before.  She had been after Woods at Rush's house the night of Nan's party. I hadn't made a fan that night thanks to Woods.

"Isn't this fun?" she said, turning her attention away from the couple she'd been talking to and focusing on me. "Guess Woods decided you were more suited to work for him than date him." She giggled and shook her head causing the red curls to bounce around. "I swear, this makes my night." She reached up and tipped my tray.

Snails ran down the front of my shirt followed by the tray clattering loudly on the floor. I was too stunned to move or speak.

"Oh and look she's super clumsy. Woods should be pickier about his employees," the girl hissed hatefully.

"Ohmygod! Blaire, are you okay?" Bethy's voice came from behind me snapping me out of my shock.

I managed to shake off the snails still clinging to my clothing.

"Move," commanded a deep voice that I instantly recognized. My head shot up to find Rush pushing past the couple with the red head who seemed to be laughing at the mess I was in. He was angry. There was no mistaking that. Rush grabbed me by the waist and studied my face a moment. I wasn't sure what for. "Are you okay?" he asked quietly.

I nodded, not sure how to react just yet.

The veins in his neck were once again straining against his skin as he swallowed hard. He barely turned his head to cut his eyes toward the red head. "Don't come near me or her again. Understood?" he said in a deadly calm.

The girl's eyes went wide. "What are you mad at me for? She's the clumsy one. She dumped the whole tray all over herself."

Rush's hands clenched tightly on my hips. "If you utter one more word I'll threaten to remove all my contributions from this club until you are escorted out. Permanently."

The girl gasped, "But I'm Nan's friend, Rush. Her oldest friend. You wouldn't do that to me. Especially for the hired help." The childish pout in her voice was odd coming from a Twenty-one year old woman.

"Test me," he replied.

He looked back down at me. "You're coming with me." 

I didn't have time to respond before he turned his head to look over my shoulder. "I have her Bethy. She's okay. Go on back to Jace." Rush slipped his hand around my waist. "Watch out for the snails; they're slippery."

Two of the busboys were hurrying into the room with supplies to clean up the mess. The music hadn't stopped but the place had gone quiet. Slowly, people started to talk again. I kept my eyes on the door waiting until I could get outside of this ballroom and break away from Rush's arms.

If everyone in there hadn't known we were having sex, they did now. He'd just shown everyone that he cared about me to an extent but he didn't exactly want to walk around with me on his arm. My chest ached. I needed my distance from him. It was time I learned to crawl back in my own little world where I trusted me and me only. No one else. Once we were out of the ballroom and away from prying eyes I stepped free of Rush and put some distance between us. I crossed my arms over my chest and stared down at my feet. I wasn't sure if looking at him was such a good thing yet. I hadn't taken time to enjoy how gorgeous he looked in a black tux. I'd been doing my best not to look at him. Now that he stood right here in front of me dressed like he was while I was in my server dress covered in snail oil, the massive difference between our worlds was evident.

"Blaire, I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting something like that to happen. I didn't even know she had issues with you. I'm going to talk to Nan about this. I have a feeling she had something to do with it – "

"The redhead hates me because of Woods' interest in me. Nan had nothing to do with it and neither did you."

Rush didn't respond right away.  I wondered if I should just turn and walk back to the kitchen.

"Is Woods still hitting on you?"

Had he really just asked me that? I was standing there covered in snails and butter and he was asking me if some other guy was hitting on me? I didn't even know if I still had a job. That was it. I'd had enough. I spun around and started for the kitchen. Rush didn't let me get far. His hand shot out and grabbed my arm.

"Blaire, wait. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked that. That isn't the issue right now. I wanted to make sure you were okay and help get you cleaned up." His voice was pained as he said the last part.

I sighed and turned back around and met his gaze this time. "I'm fine. I need to go to the kitchen and see if I even still have a job. I was warned by Woods this morning that something like this might happen and it would be my fault. So, right now I have bigger problems than you suddenly feeling the need to be possessive of me. Which is ridiculous. Because you were doing your best to ignore me until this incident happened. You either know me or you don't, Rush. Pick a team." The hurt in my voice hadn't been easy to mask. I jerked my arm free of his hand and stalked back toward the kitchen.

"You were working. What did you want me to do?" he called out and I stopped.  "Acknowledging you would have given Nan reason to attack you. I was protecting you."

The fact he even admitted that told me so much. Nan came first. He was ignoring me to keep Nan happy. I'd expected this of course. I was just the booty call. Nan was the sister. He was right to choose her over me. How could he look at me as anything more when I'd gone so easily to his bed?

"You're right, Rush. You ignoring me would keep Nan from attacking me. I'm just the girl you fucked the past two nights. All things considered I'm not that special. I'm one of many." I didn't wait for him to say anymore. I ran for the kitchen doors slamming into them before the tears welling up in my eyes broke free.