All They Need
Flynn Randall swallowed a mouthful of champagne as he stepped through the French doors onto the terrace.
It was February and even though it was nearly ten at night, it was still warm. Sweat prickled beneath his arms and he tugged at the collar of his shirt as he surveyed the sea of people in front of him. Like him, the men were all in formal black and white, the perfect foil for the women in their colorful gowns. There must have been close to two hundred congregating on the wide, long terrace and the sound of their laughter and chatter drowned out the jazz band playing on the lawn below.
He searched in vain for a familiar face but everyone looked the same in their penguin suits. He shrugged. The perils of arriving late.
He was about to start down the stairs to the lawn when someone called his name. He glanced over his shoulder. A tall red-headed man was waving him over.
“Tony. Good to see you,” Flynn said as he joined his friend.
“Bit late, aren’t you?” Tony said, tapping his watch.
“I’m a popular guy,” Flynn said, deadpan. “Gotta spread the love around.”
Flynn kissed Tony’s wife, Gloria, before turning his attention to the tall, blonde man standing next to her.
“This is a bit of a coincidence,” Owen Hunter said as Flynn shook his hand. “I’ve been trying to get an appointment to see your old man all week.”
It was said with a grin, but Flynn could see the glint in the other man’s eyes. What was that Shakespeare line his mother was always quoting? Cassius has a lean and hungry look.
In Flynn’s experience, Owen Hunter always looked hungry, despite the fact that there was nothing lean about him. He was as tall as Flynn and built like a football player. Flynn guessed women probably found him attractive, with his square jaw and very white teeth.
“Well, you know, my father’s a busy man,” Flynn said, raising his glass to his mouth.
“Don’t I know it,” the other man said ruefully.
Flynn smiled but didn’t pursue the subject, well aware that Hunter was waiting for Flynn to offer to set up an appointment with his father. Owen Hunter had political ambitions; no doubt he planned to ask Flynn’s father for a donation.
Maybe Flynn was getting cranky in his old age, but he couldn’t help thinking that Hunter could have waited a few minutes before hitting him up for a favor. A little civility never hurt anyone.
A cry rose over the general hubbub, drawing people to the balustrade. Flynn drifted across with the rest of his group, idly curious. The lawn was six feet below, a lush green carpet dotted with yet more people. A large marble fountain sat in the centre, decorated with cavorting cherubs and nymphs, many of whom spouted plumes into the wide, deep basin. The thing had to be well over ten foot tall, easily dominating the formal garden. Flynn winced, wondering where his hosts had found the monstrosity, before shifting his attention to the source of the scream.
A couple he recognized as Andrea and Hamish Greggs were standing at the edge of the fountain, Andrea gripping the edge with both hands as she peered into the bubbling water. In their fifties, they were old friends of his parents and regulars on the social circuit. Towering over them both was Melanie Hunter, wearing a blush colored gown, her hair in a sophisticated up-do. Her face was creased with concern as she talked to the older couple.
She was easily the tallest woman at the party - at least six foot - with broad shoulders that would put a lot of men to shame. Her breasts were full and round, her hips curved. As much as Flynn was wary of Owen Hunter’s naked ambition, he’d always liked the other man’s wife. There was something about Mel Hunter that always made him want to smile. Maybe because she was often smiling herself.
“I wonder what happened?” Gloria murmured beside him.
“Looks like someone’s lost something in the fountain,” Tony said.
“Isn’t that your wife, Owen?” Gloria asked.
“Yes, that’s Melanie,” Owen said. He was frowning, his gaze intent on the trio by the fountain.
“Shit,” Owen said, so quietly Flynn almost didn’t hear him.
He glanced at the other man briefly before returning his gaze to the lawn. He soon realized what had made Owen Hunter swear - his wife had just stepped out of her shoes and was hitching up the skirt of her long dress. A crowd had started to gather, drawn by the promise of a spectacle. This was gripping stuff, much more interesting than any gossip that was being exchanged.
“Oh dear. This has the potential to end badly,” Tony said with a smirk.
Flynn didn’t take his eyes off Mel as she leaned out over the water, the older man using his weight as counter balance.
The crowd held its breath as she dipped her hand into the water, leaning further and further away from the rim, straining for all she was worth.
“Almost got it... There!” She pulled her arm from the water and the floodlights threw sparks off what looked like a diamond bracelet.
The crowd started to applaud - then Mel gave a startled yelp and fell into the fountain with a mighty splash. There was a communal gasp, followed by a wave of titters as she broke the surface. Her elegant up-do had dissolved in the water and her dark hair hung in a tangled mess down her back. Mascara ran down her face as she pushed herself to her feet. Another round of titters washed through the crowd. The water had turned her blush gown translucent, leaving very little to the imagination. The dark outline of her nipples was clearly visible, as was her underwear - which appeared to be bright pink with white stripes.
She should have looked ridiculous, standing there wet and bedraggled in her silly underwear, but she looked magnificent. Like some kind of mythical goddess rising from the mists of time.
Statuesque, utterly feminine. Breathtaking.
Flynn couldn’t take her eyes off her and only remembered to blink when she threw back her head and laughed. The sound, loud and boisterous and incredibly sexy, echoed across the lawn. She wasn’t alone in her amusement - Flynn couldn’t keep the smile from his own face and everyone around him was either smiling or laughing.
Except Owen Hunter.
Without saying a word, the blonde man pushed his way through the crowd, heading toward the stairs to the lawn. Flynn barely registered his departure - he was too busy watching Mel fling a long, athletic leg over the edge of the fountain and extend both hands forward in an unspoken request for assistance. Two men rushed forward, and within seconds she was standing on dry land, dripping from head toe and thanking her rescuers.
She presented the bracelet to Andrea Gregg with a little bow, which earned her more laughter, then turned and held up her hands as though accepting a standing ovation.
“Thank you, you’ve been wonderful. I’ll be here all week,” she said.
Her audience was still laughing and applauding this show of chutzpah when her husband pushed his way to her side. Shrugging out of his coat, Owen Hunter flung it over her shoulders and leaned close to say something in her ear. The smile fell from her lips and she nodded, ducking her head. The crowd cleared a path for them as Owen led her away from the fountain.
“Someone’s in trouble,” Gloria said with a quick, expressive lift of her eyebrows.
“It was hardly her fault. Hamish shouldn’t have let her go,” Flynn said.
“Or she could have let the Hollands take care of it,” Gloria said, referring to their hosts. “Like a normal person. They could have easily arranged to have the bracelet retrieved tomorrow morning.”
Flynn drank the last of his champagne instead of continuing the discussion. Melbourne society was notoriously stuffy for a supposedly egalitarian culture. Old Money only very grudgingly accepted New Money, and No Money didn’t stand a chance in hell. There was an unspoken social hierarchy and a set of rules that were only bent for the right people - and Melanie Hunter was not one of them. Personally, he thought she was bloody gutsy, the way she’d waded in to do her bit while everyone else stood around watching. And he definitely wasn’t going to object to the view he’d enjoyed when she’d stepped out of the fountain - he had a pulse, after all, as well as a healthy appreciation of the female form.
He glanced down at his glass. “I’m hitting the bar. Anyone else want a refill?”
A series of head shakes meant he was on his own as he made his way back into the house. The bar tender was working at full pitch to serve a slew of people and Flynn stood to one side, waiting for the crush to subside. He nodded to various acquaintances and friends, lifted a hand to acknowledge an ex girlfriend, but didn’t go out of his way to connect with anyone.
He was tired. Probably he should have gone home instead of come to the party. As a rule, however, he liked to honor his commitments and he’d said he’d attend.
His thoughts drifted to the conversation he’d had with his mother earlier in the week. She’d asked him to meet her for lunch and then surprised the hell out of him by asking if he’d noticed anything “different” about his father lately. She’d cited several instances of finding things in odd places around the house - the kettle in the fridge, shoes in the washing machine - as well as a number of memory or attention lapses on his father’s behalf. At the time, Flynn had been quick to assign his father’s slips to stress. His father’s property development business was closing a deal to build several apartment towers on Government land in a former industrial suburb and his father had been working around the clock. Still, Flynn couldn’t get his mother’s concerns out of his head. She knew his father better than anyone, after all.
But his father was only fifty-eight. Way too early to be hitting the panic button over a few memory lapses.
Flynn stared down into his empty champagne flute, brooding. He made a snap decision. He’d put in an appearance, done his duty. Now he was going home. Life was too short to waste time at parties talking to the same people about the same things, over and over. And he had a garden to view tomorrow with an eye to developing a design. If he was successful, it would be yet another win for Verdant Design, the landscaping firm he’d founded nearly three years ago.
He put his glass down on the nearest flat surface and wove his way through the crowd. It took him five minutes to find his hosts to say goodbye, then he made his way to the foyer and out through the open double doors into the portico. He was about to start down the drive when movement caught the corner of his eye.
It was Mel Hunter, standing in the shadows beneath the carefully manicured hedge that bordered the driveway. She was facing the street, her husband’s tuxedo jacket draped over her shoulders. Gravel crunched beneath his shoe and her head swung toward him. They locked gazes across twelve feet of driveway.
There was no mistaking the unadulterated misery in the depths of her grey eyes. After a few short seconds she looked away.
He opened his mouth to say something - what, he had no idea - just as his phone rang. He pulled it from his jacket pocket and saw that it was his father. He glanced at Melanie Hunter again. Her focus was once more on the driveway. Waiting for her husband to bring the car around, he guessed.
He hit the button to take the call. He kept his gaze on her tall, straight back as he spoke. “Hey, Dad, what’s up?”
“Flynn. Thank God. You have to help me. I’ve tried to get home but none of it makes sense. The roads have all changed...”
Flynn’s grip tightened on the phone as he heard the panic in his father’s voice.
“Sorry, Dad. I don’t understand. Where are you?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know. I was driving home. But the roads are all changed. Nothing’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Dread thudded low in Flynn’s gut. This man did not sound like the assured, confident father he knew. This man sounded scared and confused and utterly lost.
But he was only fifty-eight.
Flynn pushed his own panic from his mind. There would be time for that later.
“Okay, Dad. Listen to me. We’re going to work this out, okay?” Flynn said, keeping his voice calm and clear.
“Why can’t I recognize anything? Why has it all changed?”
“We’ll sort this out, I promise. I want you to look around. Are you on a highway or in a residential area? Are there houses around you?”
“Yes. Lots of houses.”
“Good. I want you to pull the car over. Turn off the engine, and walk to the nearest corner to find the street sign and tell me what it says.”
He could hear his father’s panicked breathing. He dug in his pocket for his car keys and started down the long driveway at a jog.
“I’ll be with you every step of the way, Dad. We’ll do it together, and I will be with you as soon as I can. No matter what happens, I will find you. So just take a deep breath, pull over and find me that street sign."