Crystal Hughes was mad as hell and the person behind this madness would feel her wrath, she decided as she ripped the notice she’d received in the mail to shreds. “Welco!” she muttered. Crossing the vast living room, Crystal grabbed her purse and keys from the coffee table. Dashing out of her plantation styled house, Crystal nearly bowled over two teenagers planting rose bushes near her steps.
“Miss Crystal is everything OK?” asked Renda Johnson as Crystal placed her hands on her shoulder.
“Yes, I’m just in a hurry. What are you and MJ doing?” Crystal smiled at Monique and Renda, two sisters who lived in the Starlight Group Home that sat less than two miles from Crystal’s house. No one else in Reeseville, North Carolina wanted a home for wayward girls anywhere near them. But Crystal, who owned more than 100 acres of land in West Duval County, subscribed to the notion that one good turn deserved another. “To whom much is given, much is required,” Grandmother Hughes would always say. Crystal told the board of county commissioners that Starlight could have as much space as they needed. She treated the girls in Starlight just like the sisters she never had and in return, they treated her to surprises like planting rose bushes in her yard, raking her lawn and working in her community garden without any complaints.
Placing her hands on her hips and smacking a wad of gum, Monique stood up and looked Crystal in the eyes. “Well, it was supposed to be a surprise. But we found those orange rose bushes you were talking about. Why are you up so early?”
Nervously, Crystal twisted the green jade ring on her index finger. There was no way she could tell these girls about Welco’s plans, plans that would level everything on her property. In their short lives, they’d seen so much disappointment and despair and Crystal wasn’t going to let evil Welco Industries add to it. She’d grown tired of watching this company buy up Reeseville as if they were playing Monopoly.
“Just some business in town, sweeties,” replied Crystal. “Thank you so much for my surprise, though.”
Mrs. Brooke Fey, the director and on-sight operator of the house, walked over to Crystal and the girls. “Ms. Hughes, I hope MJ and Renda aren’t bothering you this morning,” she said, surveying the scene in front of her.
“Oh, no. These girls have given me something that I’ve wanted for a long time. Now, I really have to go.” Crystal ran to her car, nearly tripping over her Birkenstock clogs and ankle-length rainbow skirt. She started the car and peeled out of the driveway, leaving two black marks on the pavement. This isn’t going to happen. Welco isn’t going to buy me!
It wasn’t nine a.m. yet and Douglas Wellington III, president and CEO of Welco Industries, was popping aspirin. His head throbbed like heartbeat, because the board was on his back, his assistant couldn’t find the documents he needed for his ten-thirty presentation -- and did she just say a woman was threatening to chain herself to the front door if he didn’t meet with her immediately?
“Amy! Amy! I don’t have time to meet with some kook. Call security or something. But what you need to do more than anything else is find my proposal!” he barked into the phone. From his desk, Douglas scrutinized Amy’s small frame as she slumped over her desk. He knew he was too hard on her, but today wasn’t a day for anyone to expect kindness from him. Twirling a silver ink pen between his fingers, Douglas picked up the phone and dialed Waylon Terrell’s number. Waylon was his father’s best friend and Douglas’s godfather. In business, the only person Douglas trusted other than himself was Waylon. Waylon had mentored him and guided him though some of his toughest business decisions.
“Hello, godson,” the older man said when he answered.
“Waylon, the board is driving me crazy,” Douglas admitted. “I know they want me gone and I’m beginning to think Amy is working against me, too.”
“Calm down, son. These guys want you out of Welco, but your father groomed you your whole life for this. Don’t let these old bastards push you around. Take a deep breath and show them who Doug Trey is.”
Hearing his nickname brought a smile to Douglas’s face. “All right, Doc,” he replied. “Did you take a look at my business park plans?”
“Uh, I haven’t really looked over them. I’m retired, remember. I’ll get back to you in a few days, but isn’t this decision already made?”
Sighing, Douglas wished he’d gone to Waylon before presenting this business park idea to the board. What if he was going about building this place the wrong way?
I can’t second guess myself, that’s what they expect.
“You’re still here?” Waylon asked, breaking into Douglas’s thoughts.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m going to go. We’ll have to have dinner sometime this week,” said Douglas. He hung up when he noticed Amy standing at his door. “What?”
“Sir,” she said nervously. “That woman won’t leave. She’s handcuffed herself to my desk, sir. With her free hand, she keeps knocking papers off my desk.”
Muttering a string of curses and profanities that would make a sailor blush, Douglas snatched his phone off the hook and dialed security. “There is a woman that needs to be removed from the building. You’ll notice that she’s wearing handcuffs,” Douglas growled at the guard. Slamming the phone down, he walked over to the window and peered at the woman cuffed to Amy’s desk as she dug in a huge brown sack. Thinking she may have a gun, Douglas pulled Amy into his office and slammed the door. They ducked behind his desk, waiting for the woman to make her next move.
The artificial beauty of the Welco lobby grated on Crystal’s nerves; from the potted silk plants to the shiny marble floors and the huge windows allowing bright sunlight to saturate the building. But there’s no life force here, she thought as she looked around. Crystal spotted a menacing security officer walking toward her, his massive hand at his side, gripping his flashlight. Dropping her bag to the floor, Crystal sat down on the floor crossing her legs Indian style. This wasn’t her first time standing up—rather sitting down--to corporate security. She and some of the girls from the Starlight House protested the local mall because security officers had harassed a number of young people for no reason. The Reeseville Mall ended up donating $100,000 to the Starlight House to stop the weekly protests and the security guards were trained how to deal with diverse youth. Crystal’s reputation as a community activist was born the day the settlement was announced.
The Welco security officer, who reminded her of an ogre from Greek mythology, snarled at her before saying, “Ma’am, unlock these handcuffs and leave.”
Rolling her eyes, Crystal stood up to the towering guard. “If you want me to leave, get Wellington out here, otherwise, I’m camping out. What’s right is right. I don’t want to make a scene, but I will and the whole town will see it.”
Crystal threw her hand up illustrating how close they are to the big bay window. Slowly, she returned to her seat on the floor.
The security officer ripped his radio from his hip holster as Crystal pulled a bottle of water from her bag. “All right,” the officer said. “Promise me that you don’t have a gun in that sack and I’ll see about getting Wellington out here.”
Crystal looked at him quizzically. “Why the change of heart?”
Placing his hand on her shoulder, he smiled. “He ain’t my favorite person, either. Hold tight.” The officer waddled down the hall and disappeared behind two glass doors.
Crystal drank her water slowly, waiting for something to happen. When is old Wellington going to appear? She’d already built an image of this monster in her mind—pencil thin, receding gray hair, a potbelly and crooked teeth. Only a monster like that would want to displace people for the almighty dollar. Only a monster like that would view people as a commodity to be bought and sold. Not Crystal, she wasn’t for sale.
Moments later, a tall man, moving with the grace of a panther and the body of a Greek god, crossed the lobby and planted himself in front of her. Crystal stared up at him, momentarily speechless as he stared at her with slate grey eyes. His full lips seemingly beckoned her to kiss them and those hands-big and wide with long fingers. She wanted them on her body, caressing her breasts, thighs and everything in between. Rapidly, she blinked and swallowed hard.
His face told a story of annoyance, with the scowl darkening his handsome features and his wide nostrils flaring with anger. “Are you going to just stare at me or do you have something to say?” His voice reminded her of a sensual sax, hypnotic and melodic. Her body was electrified at the thought of him whispering sweet words of passion in her ear.
“I’m not talking to anyone but Douglas Wellington.” Crystal’s voice wavered, but not from fear, carnal desire described what she’s feeling as she stared into his eyes.
“I am Douglas Wellington, the third,” he announced proudly.
Now on her feet, Crystal was dumbfounded. There was no way a man this beautiful could be as cold and callous as the man she’d dreamed up in her head. Where were his fangs, protruding belly and horns? The scent of burning sulfur and brimstone?
“What? You’re Douglas Wellington?”
He folded his arms across his chest and shot her a look of irritation. “This is fascinating and all, listening to you repeat my name. But what the hell do you want, lady?”
Narrowing her dark eyes into slits, Crystal exclaimed, “My land is not for sale, you pompous ass. If you think for one second that I will allow you to come on to my property and just take over because you want to, you can forget it.”
Douglas laughed and turned to walk away. “I’m calling the police.”
“And I’m calling the press, jerk! Do you realize what you’re planning to destroy all in the name of corporate greed? People need this land and I will fight you tooth and nail to make sure it stays in my possession.”
Douglas waved her off as if she was a gnat buzzing around his ear. “If you don’t unshackle yourself by the time I get in my office and get out of this building, I will press charges when the police arrive.”