I’d never put these two characters together, so I thought I would try it and see what happened. The scene takes place a few months after the end of Joining in the Round, and it’s helping me solidify ideas for future partner stories.
The first crisis of the day began with slammed doors and stomping feet. Alison paused mid-pour to listen. Her tea steamed quietly in the strainer. Heavy footsteps thumped overhead and down the back stairs: Carl, from the sound of it, or Felicity. They both walked hard when they were in a hurry. Or in a mood.
Carl was in a terrible hurry, storming out the back door of the farmhouse into the teeth of a February snow squall. Alison caught a glimpse of pale hair and a dark scowl in the gap between stairs and kitchen doorway, and then he was gone. Icy air swirled through the room in the wake of his passage.
Where Carl went, Felicity wouldn’t be far behind. Alison finished setting up her tea and started its timer. Then she poured a mug of coffee and left it on the counter as bait before retreating through the swing door to the dining room with her tea.
Felicity’s irritated mutterings preceded her appearance. She thudded down the stairs, opened the back door only to slam it shut again hard enough to make the dishes in the sideboard rattle. A short silence followed, and a long sigh, and Felicity appeared in the kitchen doorway.
Tall, brown, and stately, she held the coffee mug aloft in one hand while she tied a white fluffy bathrobe around herself with the other. Pink flannel pajamas decorated with red hearts peeked from beneath the robe. Her hair bounced in a damp curling black cloud around her face, and her lips curved up at the sight of Alison on the far side of the table.
The big, solid table was long enough to seat ten people in its big, solid chairs. Alison grinned back and swung her feet, which did not quite reach the floor. “Laugh away. I feel like a toddler. Someday I will remember to ask Justin why he picked furniture sized for giants when he isn’t that much taller than I am.”
“I wasn’t going to laugh. I was plotting your future.” Felicity moved around the table. “My cousin Eileen is casting a historical series, and you’d be perfect for her Queen Louise.”
“Someone is making a series about Queen Louise of Prussia?”Alison closed her mouth when she realized it was gaping open. Someone else in the world knows who that is? “Sign me up! She was an amazing human being.”
“Was she? Something else you have in common, then. I was going off looks alone.” Felicity tipped her head to one side.”Yes, indeed. Tiny, busty, all dressed up and smiling like mischief? You’re a dead ringer for the portraits on Eileen’s idea board.”
She made a show of lifting her mug in both hands like a chalice and bowed slightly. “Your majesty, I thank you for this generous gift. My heart overflows with gratitude. ”
Alison waved off the thanks with an appropriately regal hand. “Not necessary. I make the stuff in pure self defense. Naomi and I are the only people in this house who can be civilized in the morning without a cup of vile bean drippings.”
“One cup? Ha. Carl needs three.” Felicity sat down gracefully next to Alison–her feet reached the floor just fine when she leaned back–and took a slow, reverent sip of her drink. “Mmm. How can someone who calls this ‘vile bean drippings’ brew such fantastic coffee?”
“Magic.” Alison turned off the timer and sampled her tea. “And working for Justin. Lots of practice and access to the best available beans and equipment. Speaking of magic, where did tall, blond and brooding go in such a rush? Or should I not ask?”
“You can ask. I can speculate. Naomi knows more. I heard Carl’s side of her call from the shower. Serena took Justin out for a walk at dawn for some reason only Serena could explain, Naomi caught a scary vibe from Serena and sent Parker after them, and that aggravated my personal mind reader enough that he took off without a word to me.”
She paused as if reconsidering her words, then rested both elbows on the table and put her head in her hands. “When did my life reach a point where that explanation makes any sense?”
“Five minutes after meeting Carl, I imagine,” Alison said with sympathy. “That’s when my life took a permanent tilt to the weird side.”
They enjoyed a quiet few minutes gazing out the big dining room windows at the wintry vista. The view currently ended past the mixed trees at the edge of the yard. Falling snow hid the distant horizon so well Alison could imagine proper mountains out there instead of vast, flat, boring Nebraska cropland.
Felicity frowned at the snow. “I refuse to chase him. I am staying right here, warm and safe. One after another out the door–that is the plot of every horror movie ever made.”
“Movie monsters wouldn’t last five minutes out there,” Alison pointed out. “Not with Justin’s hired team of armed and highly-trained security professionals on the job. And they would call us if there was a real problem. There isn’t.” She displayed the phone on her wrist: strong signal, no messages waiting. “See? Nothing. Things get dramatic around Justin. Don’t get sucked in. Stick to your sensible plan.”
“I will,” Felicity said agreeably. “Whatever ridiculous melodrama they have brewing, they can work through it without me this time. I don’t like drama. I am a sensible woman. I have a business to run.”
“One you can run in your pajamas,” Alison said. Felicity clearly needed help convincing herself. “I envy that, by the way.”
Felicity glanced her way. “Liar. You love dressing up and being the shiny public face of the “Justin Wyatt, eccentric billionaire” franchise. You won’t convince me otherwise.”
“I won’t even try. I still have days when I’d rather work in comfort. The part I enjoy is swinging Justin’s financial weight around and making opportunities happen.”
Felicity took another long swig of coffee. “Don’t I know it. Thank you for aiming me at the accounting firm you use. With all the new business I’m getting, I will need lots more help with taxes and excises. My big decision is whether I should bother with the hassle of a storefront at this point.”
Nothing about Felicity had surprised Alison more than finding out the woman owned a thriving international craft supplies business. She’d run it all from a tiny storefront. Now the store was gone, but the popularity of the supplies catalog was skyrocketing. Some discreet mentions here and there, that was all it took. “I can’t help you with that one,” she said. “But I love the pajamas. I wouldn’t mind curling up in soft robe right now.”
“Suit and heels before breakfast is a bit much even for you.”
That was true enough. Alison said, “I had a virtual conference with a research firm in India at 4 AM local, and I have two more meetings with the Seattle office later. I really need to get home now that Justin’s done with his son’s visitation. I miss Tyler.“
“I’d love to meet him someday,” Felicity said. “It seems odd to me that your husband didn’t come with you.”
“We’re an odd couple. And we’re not lifers. I’ll be filing for release at the annual term review if Tyler doesn’t beat me to it,” Alison said. “We love each other, but….”
“Oh, yes. But.” Felicity shrugged without taking her eyes off the view. “My mom’s favorite term is six month plus paternal support. Long enough that she’s getting tired of them, short enough they don’t start feeling entitled, she says.”
Alison bit her lip. Saying, your mom sounds like a selfish wench might not go over well. She didn’t know Felicity well enough to guess, so she went with,”There’s something for everyone. I wish Tyler was here too, but he has some project incubating in Justin’s main R&D lab out in Seattle. He can’t telecommute. I can, and Justin needed me to run interference while his ex-wife was visiting. Compromises. We all make them.”
“Oh, yes.” Felicity retreated into staring outside at nothing, and Alison finished her tea on affectionate thoughts of her adorable, clueless, brilliant marriage partner. He was a good man. He just wasn’t the right good man to keep forever. If such a man existed. Alison had her doubts on that score.
She debated calling the security team for a briefing on whatever kerfuffle was brewing, but Justin’s personal dramas were no longer hers to manage. She couldn’t honestly say she regretted that. Felicity had the right idea. Whatever mess Justin was making, he could clean it up himself.
She hoped. It was so hard to stop herself from getting involved.
The snow squall blew past, and sunbeams shot through fast-moving clouds over the nearby fields. The bright rays touched bare tree limbs in the yard with golden light and gave the landscape a bleak, monochrome beauty that made Alison’s fingers itch for her camera.
Felicity remarked, “I must do a weaving in this color scheme someday. I’ve been thinking on it since I got here. Can I borrow your art camera? I should collect some index photos while the light is doing that.”
“I’d be glad to take the pictures for you.” Being sensible didn’t stop worry from plucking at Alison’s nerves. Staying busy did, and it was nice to be appreciated for something other than efficiency. “I don’t like loaning equipment, but I work cheap. Please say yes.”
Felicity nodded firmly. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”