At first he felt nothing and wondered if it could be that he, Prince Everhart, once the ultimate con man, had just been fleeced by a gypsy fortune-teller. But then--after several agonizingly painful moments--it worked!
He felt like he'd been released from prison--not that he'd ever been there!--given a second chance at life and he could not quit smiling.
The first thing he did was remove the blackout curtains from all the windows even though it was the middle of the night. The heavy fabric had weighed him down emotionally, adding to the pain of not being out in the sunshine. He'd always taken daylight for granted and thought of himself as a night person but now he knew he'd never get enough of being out in the daytime hours, rain or shine, nor of being a part of humanity again.
He went upstairs and looked in his bathroom mirror. He was cheered to see his own familiar face minus the fangs and plus the natural golden glow of his skin and he cracked,
"It's me! I'm back!"
Prince had always used a tanning booth, but now he decided he'd try to get outside in the sun more often for that as well. There was plenty of room for sunbathing and exercise on the deck that surrounded his house and looked out on the pond.
It was early, early in the morning and he went to bed on the couch. He was throwing out that coffin tomorrow! Not surprisingly he didn't sleep much; he was too exhilarated as so many ideas for the future flooded his mind.
He was up with the sun and anxious to get to the office, but he thought he'd better give Pepper a heads up rather than just strolling in and, anyway, she'd told him that since he'd been gone she sometimes worked from her apartment. He tried her at home but she must have already left--she usually came to work early and left late. She answered her cell on the first ring though, her soft clear voice sounded calm and efficient as always.
"Hey, Beautiful!" he said, "The doc says I have a clean bill of health, so I'll be there in about ten minutes."
For a moment she said nothing, clearly struck speechless. Prince couldn't know but it was his manner as much as what he'd said that had shocked her.
"Yes, it's me. Want me to bring in doughnuts?"
Usually it was Pepper who brought baked goodies of various kinds ever since she'd discovered Prince had a sweet tooth.
"Uh, yeah, sure...I mean, yes. that would be--um, sir, are you sure the doctor said you're completely well?"
He just laughed,
"Of course. What's the matter? Worried I might be losing my mind? Well, I have and I haven't. There are going to be some changes around our place of business, Pep, but they're going to be good ones."
She nodded dumbly before she remembered he could not see her.
"That'll be...nice," she said faintly, wondering if the changes included getting rid of her for a new sexy version or what. Because, in her opinion, Prince was acting very strangely, indeed. She managed to get her mind in gear again and said,
"I'm just pulling up to the building now."
"See ya soon," he still sounded like he was laughing at some secret joke.
In the meantime Pepper was over the moon at the prospect of seeing him again. He would never know how very much she'd missed him and worried about him.
When he walked through the doors into her office she was so excited and nervous she couldn't meet his eyes. When he looked away for a second, she quickly peeked at him and sighed mentally. He looked wonderful, as rakishly handsome as ever; like he'd never been sick. Admittedly she'd never been able to picture the very vital man in ill health anyway.
"Well, what's on the agenda today?" he stood in front of her desk expectantly and she couldn't stop herself from smiling even though she still would not look him in the face.
"Well, since I didn't know you would be back, there isn't much. Just the stuff I emailed you and it looks like you've already taken care of that," she said peering at his schedule up on her screen.
He looked around and out the windows,
"It's really a beautiful morning, isn't it?" he said almost rapturously.
He obviously expected an answer from her but she hadn't been this disconcerted by him since he first employed her. She really couldn't say why that was except she'd never before heard him make one remark in regard to the weather since she'd known him. In fact, he'd seemed oblivious to it. As for being cheerful early in the day, well most mornings he tended to frown, grunt and suck coffee down until at least noon, when he came awake and started to smile a little.
She still hadn't replied and he looked at her. To break the tension she jumped up from her desk,
"Oh, my goodness! I forgot to make the coffee! I haven't been doing it while you were gone and no clients were here."
She'd thought that would make him finally retreat to his office so she could gather her wits about her, but he merely watched her move to the coffee maker. Having never been a coffee drinker, Pepper had gradually learned to make it exactly the way Prince preferred it.
Now her hands were shaking as she prepared it.
Idly, he watched her make the coffee, humming some unknown tune to himself. Prince watching Pepper do something didn't usually throw her, but today...
The coffee maker made hissing noises and the coffee began to drip,
"It shouldn't be long," she assured him, watching it expectantly even though she knew it would be a few minutes. But she also knew he was directly behind her and she was avoiding the moment when she had to turn around. Finally she could stall no more and she spun on her heel. He was closer than she'd thought and she stopped in her tracks. Still he did not move, blocking the way and suddenly she felt cornered.
"You don't seem too enthusiastic this morning and that's not like you," he said.
Finally she had to meet his eyes,
"I'm so sorry if I'm coming across that way," she apologized. Looking directly into his face was almost like looking into the sun somehow, she thought. Scary and exciting...and dangerous. He seemed almost radiant this morning and she was suddenly mesmerized,
"I guess I'm just taken aback," she went on, "I didn't expect to see you. Well, not until you called just now. You look amazing, sir. Just as if you'd taken a vacation rather than been sick in bed."
"Thanks. I'm a fast healer," he grinned, "Okay, I'm going into my office now, but I'll be calling you in there in a few minutes. We have much to talk about concerning plans for this company."
Caught in his spell, Pepper forgot about worrying. She was much too happy at having his attention; much too undone by his close presence after such a long absence. He disappeared behind his door and she sat at her desk, gazing off at nothing.
It wasn't long before the in-house phone line lit up and Prince said he was ready for her to come in for their discussion. That he'd used the phone pleased her because it meant he was trying to follow her recent suggestion. Prince had developed the habit of leaving his door open when no clients were there and just bellowing, "Pep! I need you!" when he wanted her attention. It was none too professional and Pepper had finally apprised him of that.
"What if I have a client waiting in my office that you don't know is there?" she'd asked, "You don't want to be yelling for me; it's not dignified. I'm your employee, not your business partner or colleague, and you need to keep that in mind when dealing with me in front of clients. You shouldn't leave your door open anyway, Boss, even if no one is here. It's just not right for me to be privy to your phone conversations with clients. Not as a rule, anyway."
"You're right, you're right, I know you're right," he admitted. He usually took her advice to heart but he didn't like to stand on ceremony either. Besides she handled so many things for him, knew all his secrets, and all the company business that he did tend to think of her exactly that way; as his equal in all things. He just didn't realize that he did.
Furthermore, she was so earnest and worried when she lectured him that it rather amused him. He would have promised to take her advice no matter what.
"Okay, I'll keep my door shut from now on and I'll use the phone...unless I forget," he had grinned at her in that devil may care way he had and she'd gone all soft inside and had to smile back at him,
"Thanks, I know you'll try your best."
He'd been working on it; Pepper was proud of him. However at this moment she was more worried that today might be her last day on the job. There was no real reason to think that just because he'd said there would be changes. But unfortunately losing this job--and Prince--happened to be her worst fear.
She gathered up her courage, her knees knocking and her heart hammering, and opened his office door...
Next update: The Brothers Everhart Ch. 22 Big Plans