Home > Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(7)

Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(7)
Author: H.M. Ward

As Jack cleans up, Abby stands in front of the little canvas, leaning close and then stepping back, like she can't believe it. Once Jack has everything cleaned up, he walks up behind Abby and sweeps her off her feet. Abby falls back into his arms with a squeal and a smile.

"Mrs. Gray, I have to carry you over the threshold of our home. It's a tradition. Don't even try to get down." He leans in and kisses his bride. Jack takes the short walk from the studio to the cottage with Abby in his arms. He carries her into the cottage and lies her on the bed.

"I can't believe that I'm going to have you in my bed for the rest of my life," Jack says, smiling down at her. He lays down next to Abby and pulls her against his chest. Abby drifts off to sleep and finally rests.

Chapter 12


The next day starts off wonderfully. I'm in Jack's bed - I mean our bed - in his little cottage. I must have passed out in his arms last night. I've been so tired lately. Nightmares keep flashing through my head, but instead of being chased by monsters, I'm being haunted by my past. The day the church board announced my punishment keeps replaying over and over in my mind. Every emotion that I felt then, comes back full force. The tight throat and cotton mouthed replies that seem weak in hindsight plague me. But for some reason, the shadows didn't come last night. I didn't see Dick Bennit's face twisting with pleasure. There was nothing. No dreams. Just rest.

I roll over and look around the little cottage. The painting that Jack and I made the first time we were together is hanging over the bed. It makes me smile. I glance around wondering where I'll put my things. They'll be here in a few days and although Jack told me to make the place feel like my home, too, it already does. I don't want to change much at all. Maybe put a reading chair in the room, but that's about it.

Jack awakens next to me. He rolls over and gathers me into his arms. Damn, he feels good. "Good morning, Mrs. Gray." My body presses into his, and I feel like nothing bad can happen.

"Good morning, lover."

Jack laughs and kisses my temple. "I'll never grow tired of hearing you say that." Jack holds me tightly before sitting up and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "I need to get up and get going. Something's up with the tour. I need to figure out what happened while we were gone."

I roll onto my stomach and watch him as he slips away from the bed. The sheet slides away and my eyes fixate on his tight butt. I must be staring, because when Jack turns, he says, "If you keep looking at me like that, I'm never going to get any work done."

"Maybe that's my plan," I say and wink at him. My body is barely covered by the sheets. Jack's eyes rove over the blankets looking for bits of skin peeking through.

"You're wicked," he grins, pausing like he might come back before shaking his head and walking into the bathroom. The shower turns on and I lay back in the bed, disappointed. I stare at the white ceiling, holding the blanket to my chest when I hear his voice, "Are you coming?"

Smiling, I spring from the bed and join Jack in the shower.

We grin at each other over breakfast. My bare feet play with his beneath the table. I can't stop smiling. It isn't until Jack opens the mail that the mood shifts. He has a white envelope in his hand. Ripping it open, he smiles at me, teasing me about something - until he unfolds the paper inside. Jack's face freezes. His eyes flick up to mine. The paper is still clutched in his hand.

"What is it?" I ask, reaching for the letter, but he doesn't let me see. Instead, he gets up and walks to one of the computers at the front of the studio. I follow along behind him, wondering why he's gone tense. "Jack, what's wrong?"

Jack sits in front of a computer and punches in a web address. It pops up quickly, showing orange flickering flames on a red background as the sidebars. The center is white, with black text. The header is a red and white graphic that says, "MORAL BRIMSTONE." There are names of organizations to boycott, names of public figures who said the wrong thing, including one name that matters very much to me. It's in big black letters right at the top - JONATHAN GRAY STUDIOS.

My chest tightens as I lean in and read over Jack's shoulder. "Is that what I think it is?" Shock swallows me whole as I stare at the screen. It looks like a hate website and there's a call to action at the top, telling people that Jack is corrupt and in need of having his thoughts changed. At first I think it's because they believe sensuous art has no place in public places, but its more than that. They seem to have a personal problem with Jack.

"Fuck," Jack says through gritted teeth. He stares at the screen, not reading it, just staring. His fists tighten and he hangs his head between his shoulders before running his fingers through his hair.

"Jack?" I ask uncertainly, not fully comprehending what's wrong. Jack has always had protesters, people who hate his work. It bothers him, but I've never seen him react like this. "They're just another group, right? You've dealt with this before. I thought most of your shows had picketers?"

"They do. There are always small groups of peaceful protesters at my shows. That's not the problem," Jack says, looking up at me. "Brimstone's a nightmare. They're not just a bunch of zealots bent on giving art in America a dress code; they're an organization that calls for morality, but the way they go about it is violent. They use the normal picketers, douse them with verbal lighter fluid, and drop a match. They're dangerous. They use normal, peaceful people to accomplish their goals. There was a shooting last year that was linked to them. A few months ago they were tied to another heinous act. They tied a g*y kid to a post and burned him like he was a witch. The group has been suspected of other things, horrible things, but no one can pin specific events on them. They turn peaceful protesters into mobs and then get the mobs to do their dirty work for them."

My eyes are bugging out. I can't believe what he's telling me. "Is there anything we can do to stop them?"

"No, they're classified as a religious organization, and between that and free speech, they're hard to get rid of once you're targeted. Besides that, they're small. For all I know, the group could be run by one person. There's no indication of how large the group is. Most of the time, when something goes down and Brimstone takes credit for it, the protesters have no idea how they turned violent. It wasn't their intention, but something changed, and it made sense at the time. I popped up on their radar once before, but they didn't go after me then. I never found out why." Jack is working his jaw, staring at the note in his hands. "No wonder Kate and Gus didn't let your painting leave with the rest of the shipment." Jack stands and paces the room, his hand stroking his chin.

"I don't get it. Why would they separate that painting?" My eyes scan the article about Jack. It's horrifying. They're saying that he single-handedly destroyed a minister, and while the media sang his praises, Brimstone knows what he really is - an advocate of evil. The article goes on to urge people to rally against Jack, and tells them not to condemn those who Jack has tainted - by which, they mean me. By the time my eyes reach the end of the story, I'm fuming. They made Jack into the bad guy. They have accused him of practically raping me, of forcing me to be his wife - like I didn't have enough of a brain to tell him no. Horrified, I look at Jack.

He doesn't return my gaze. They hit a sore spot. "They're targeting me because of our relationship, because you were chaste and I stole you from the church. They say I turned you into a whore. According to their site, they realized the painting of you was created prior to our wedding vows. They think I corrupted you. The call to action is to win you back. This is personal. They're using the tour as an excuse to attack me now because it'll draw in more people. They'll try to destroy that painting, and possibly the others, at the very least."

"Jack, are you sure?" I look at the screen again. I see the site owner, a man who calls himself, "Wrath." My eyes trail to previous posts, which call for people to take back their country, to flush out the evils that are polluting the masses. There are hundreds of responses. I know as I say it that this man is a problem. He's targeting Jack because of me.

Jack stops and looks at me. "Yes. This group doesn't do things small. I'm sorry Abby, but they're coming. Protesters will be at the galleries, following the tour, and some will come out here. Some of these Brimstone people will be mixed in with them, ready to strike. We need to be ready for it."

I nod slowly, looking into his eyes. Sorrow clings to him, like he can barely breathe, like he believes Wrath's words. I stand and walk over to him. Touching his arm, I say, "Jack, you know that stuff isn't true, that you didn't do anything - "

Jack pulls away. "I know," is all he says. Although his lips say the words, I don't think he believes them.

"Jack, my life shattered before I came back here. That job in Texas sucked out my soul, and I was letting them do it. I wanted to help people; I wanted it so badly that I thought I had to stay there and let them suck me dry."

"And now?" he asks, standing apart from me. "Now where are you? Your faith is broken, I took you from a life that you excelled at, and now you can never go back."

"Where is this coming from? Jack, I can go back. I could take a job as a minister again. There are other denominations, other congregations, that share my faith, but I don't know if that's what I'm meant to do. I don't know what I want yet. That's not bad, is it? I didn't think it meant that they broke me."

Jack looks at me with sorrow in his eyes. "It wasn't totally them. I'm not free from blame - "

My heart slips into my stomach. He thinks he hurt me. Stepping toward him, I say, "Love binds, Jack. It always has, it always will. Don't doubt that." I slip my arms around his waist as I speak and some of his tension fades. "What we have isn't some meaningless tryst. It's love and I don't care what people say about how we came to discover that, I won't apologize for finding my soul mate."

Jack gives me a lopsided smile and holds me to his chest. "I wish I could have heard you preach. You have more conviction in one tiny thought than I have in my whole body. You seem to know things. You're even content with the things you don't know."

"Yeah. That's just about everything. And that's fine. Maybe that's part of faith or maybe it's just me, but I know how much you worried about making me fall for you, Jack. The truth is, you didn't make me do anything. You were made for me and I merely noticed."

Jack holds me against his chest, chasing away the feeling that demons that are ready to attack.

Chapter 13-14

Chapter 13


Later that night Jack gets a call from Gus. "What's going on?" Jack says into his phone. Abby sits across from him at the table, picking at a slice of pizza.

Gus's voice sounds strained. There's a lot of noise behind him, making it difficult to hear. "What you thought. There are protesters and the normal kind of stuff, but the crowds are large, and some of them are calling for more radical action. Kate went down there earlier and was wandering around among them, you know, talking trash, hoping someone would say something. She overheard a few people saying that they should do something, but when they saw her, they shut up."

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