Acts of Betrayal Chapter 1 Jason guzzled the last of his beer and set the bottle on the table

with the rest of the empties. He leaned back in the dark corner booth, which he’d made all the darker by unscrewing the low wattage bulb in the light fixture over the table, and wrapped his fingers around the next long necked bottle awaiting his attention. Numb. That’s all he wanted to be. Not drunk, buzzed, or high. Just numb…. enough to stop the thoughts rushing through his mind and deaden the pain knotted in his heart. The waitress stopped at the table, set two new bottles next to the two already waiting and silently filled her tray with his empties. Jason didn’t bother her with a glance and appreciated the fact that she didn’t try to start a conversation or fill the silence with chirpy small talk. She obviously had waitressed at Jake’s long enough to recognize what a customer wanted and learned that respecting those wants earned her the biggest tips, or she could have simply learned that keeping quiet and her nose out of other people’s business went along way to keeping her job. Either way, Jason made a mental note to leave her a nice tip for her trouble. The crack of pool balls exploded from the far side of the room and a group of unkempt dockworkers cheered lustily at the break. Jason’s eyes narrowed at the group. Most wore dirty sleeveless t-shirts, equally dirty jeans, and black knit caps pulled low over long stringy hair. Several sported garish tattoos meant to intimidate and he recognized all of them as Corinthos-Morgan dock workers, most likely out squandering their weekly wages on cheap liquor and even cheaper women. A loud, crude, boisterous lot laughing and drinking in abandon - they were a bar fight waiting to happen. Jason downed half of his newest beer and closed his eyes, willing the numbness to come. Only in the dark behind his eyelids, he saw the disapproving glare of a small brunette. Jason sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Sam hated him. She’d said as much and worse. Her words had cut him to his heart and he still ached from it. He knew she was in pain, the pain of a mother losing a child - losing a child so soon after having lost her own baby - but had she simply been lashing out at him in that pain, or had she spoken the truth. Had she only stayed with him because he could support her and the baby? Had she lied when she professed her love to him? If she had lied, she’d used him and his love of her baby and baby Hope to manipulate him. But, what if she hadn’t lied? What did that mean? Jason didn’t want to think about it anymore. He only wanted to be numb. Used or not. Lied to or not. He hurt, and he wanted it to go away. He lifted the beer bottle to his lips and paused as he heard the bar door slam open. Instinct had him turning to assess the newest arrival. A gust of wind brought in a puff of snow and it swirled around a petite figure in a black leather jacket. The new arrival was wearing nicely snug blue jeans and boots, which she put to use kicking the door closed. She pulled off her wool cap, letting loose an avalanche of chocolate brown hair and Jason’s eyes widened in surprise. Elizabeth Webber.

He lowered his bottle back to the table and folded himself further into the darkness of the booth. What has she doing here? He watched her make a bee-line for the bar. He could tell she was angry by the way she sharply yanked off her jacket and threw it on the bar. Her soft pink sweater molded her like a second skin and was attracting stares from several men around the room, stares which made Jason growl in disapproval. Then, she plopped down on a bar stool and he physically tensed as behind the bar Coleman sauntered over to her, leaned on his elbow to get in close and gave her one of his brand of slippery smiles and sly winks. He couldn’t hear their conversation over the song grinding from the jukebox and the rowdies at the pool table, but Coleman nodded and winked, which made Jason grit his teeth, and then filled a shot glass with vodka and placed it on the bar in front of her. Elizabeth lifted it in a mock toast, then tipped her head back and downed it in one swallow. Jason frowned. He didn’t like this. This wasn’t like Elizabeth. Granted they weren’t as close now as they had once been, but he still felt he knew her well enough to know when something was wrong. Elizabeth downed her second shot and Coleman was lining up a third when Jason noticed that the dock crew at the pool table had taken an interest in her. Three of the burly men were huddled together, leaning on pool cues and ogling her from across the bar. The one in the middle let out a long wolf whistle and a nod of approval. Jason swore to himself. Elizabeth was raising her third shot and wiggled ever so slightly on her stool as she raised her arm. The men at the pool table hooted their approval. Yet she still hadn’t a clue what was going on around her. Jason shook his head, the woman had no idea what kind of havoc she was raising just being here. He ran his hand through his short spiked hair and sighed. All he’d wanted to do was to come and drink himself into oblivion, then crash for the night in his old room upstairs. So much for his well laid plans. It seemed they’d gone out window the minute Elizabeth Webber stepped into his world again. He pulled a couple of hundreds out of his wallet and tossed them on the table for the waitress, then drank the bottom half of his beer and grabbed a full bottle to take with him. He slid out of the booth and stood, feeling the floor pitch under him a moment as he got his bearings. How many beers had he drunk? Apparently more than he’d realized. The men at the pool table immediately saw him emerging from the corner booth and their faces told Jason all he needed to know. They saw him, they recognized him, and with their back-stepping and raised palms, showed they had no intention of crossing him. Jason pulled himself straighter and inhaled deeply, meeting each man’s gaze in a silent affirmation of his place as the alpha male in the room. The dock hands nodded mutely and went back to their pool game. Then Jason slowly crossed the room, headed directly towards the brunette at the bar downing her third shot of vodka. She hadn’t noticed his approach, because when he leaned one hand on the bar next to her, she jumped in surprise and her eyes widened in recognition. “Jason.” She said, the word slightly slurred, and reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. Her eyes were red-rimmed and slightly puffy, from crying no doubt, and she wiped

at her reddened nose with a wadded tissue in her hand. Jason tipped his head at the chair next to her. “Do you mind?” She shrugged and turned back to Coleman who had just arrived to fill up her shot glass. Coleman had a vodka bottle in hand and propped in on the counter top before filling her glass, “Hey, baby-doll, are you sure I can’t interest you in something with a cute little umbrella in it, like a frozen daiquiri?” Elizabeth shook her head and rapped her knuckles on the counter. “Nope. Just fill me up again.” Coleman sighed, and shot Jason a knowing look, twisting the bottle for him to get a good look at the label. Jason saw and tipped his head in approval. It was the bottle they kept watered down for patrons who were obviously out of control. Coleman filled Elizabeth’s shot glass and she stared at it for a long minute before picking it up. Jason watched her bring the glass to her lips and tip her head back, slamming the drink in one shot. Watered down or not, she was going to get drunk fast at this rate. “You want to talk about it?” “No.” Elizabeth rapped her knuckles on the bar again, looking for Coleman, who was suddenly nowhere to be found. Jason took a swig of his beer and a long hard look at Elizabeth. She was staring down at her glass and as her eyes fluttered closed, a single tear spilled out and trailed a glossy line down her cheek. Then she turned and met his gaze and his heart constricted in his chest. So much pain. He recognized the anguish he saw in her sapphire eyes because it was a reflection of the pain he felt own heart, and suddenly the years fell away. It felt natural again, just the two of them like it had been before - in her studio, on the docks, here at Jake‘s - one of them needing, the other knowing how to just be. Jason reached over and cupped her chin, gently gliding his thumb over her cheek, catching the tear and wiping it away. Elizabeth closed her eyes and turned her cheek into his hand. Her breath hitched as she inhaled and she opened her eyes to look at him. “Jason.” She said his name on an exhale and in it he heard a plea for help. Jason pushed away from the bar and stood, this time the floor only mildly teetering under his feet. He looked down at her, her eyes wide and glistening with unshed tears. He held out a hand to her. “Come on.” “Where?” She wiped her cheeks with her fingers and for the first time since she’d entered, she glanced around at the bar. “Trust me.”

She looked back up at him and he watched as emotion played across her face and then he saw her decision. The corner of his mouth lifted in a smile. She stood and her legs gave way underneath her. She wildly grabbed at Jason as she began to fall. He caught her easily, but together they swayed and she wound up having to lean heavily against him in order to remain on her feet. Jason wrapped his arm around her waist and grabbed her coat and purse. “Ready?“ She nodded, and he tipped his head to the side. “Let’s go.” Chapter 2 Jason closed the door behind him and turned around to find Elizabeth exactly where he’d left her, standing in the middle of his old room above Jake’s. She was looking around in wonder, recognition lighting her eyes. “This was your room.” She said as she turned and then teetered dangerously before Jason caught her arm and steadied her. Navigating up Jake’s back stairs had been a challenge, mainly because Elizabeth had leaned so heavily against him he was pressed against the wall, which was compounded by the fact that both of them had repeatedly caught the toes of their boots on the stairs as they climbed. It was a wonder they’d made it up here without falling. Elizabeth stumbled forward and looked up at him with wide, glassy eyes. The vodka she’d drunk had obviously worked its magic on her. “But you don’t live here anymore.” She looked up at him quizzically. “Do you?” “Elizabeth,“ Jason said, putting his hands on her shoulders and shifting her upright as she started sagging to the left. “I think you should sit.” He steered her backwards towards the bed, but she’d only taken a couple of steps when her feet tangled and she tripped, pitching over backwards and pulling him with her as she went. They landed heavily on the bed, sprawled side by side, half on and half hanging off. Jason groaned and rolled onto his back. Elizabeth, however, started giggling and since she had landed more off the bed than on, her body slowly slid onto the floor. Jason closed his eyes, waited for the room to stop spinning and tied to remember how many beers he had drunk. Elizabeth’s giggles floated up and popped around him like effervescent bubbles and he couldn‘t help smiling at their cheerful sound. Then as he listened, the giggling turned into hiccupping and the hiccupping quickly dissolved into sobbing. He rolled up on his elbows and eased himself down onto the floor next to her. Elizabeth turned to him and curled into his side, burrowing her head into the crook of his neck and fisting her hand in his shirt. He wrapped an arm around her shaking shoulders, pulled her to him, and simply held her - his chin resting on the top of her head as he rocked her back and forth and let her cry. They sat, holding each other, until Elizabeth had cried herself out. Jason let the silence linger, not wanting to intrude on her pain or offer her meaningless

platitudes. Finally, she lifted her head and pulled back, absently tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She didn’t meet his gaze, but he still saw her puffy redrimmed eyes and tear-streaked cheeks. His heart swelled painfully in his chest and he reached up to cup her cheek with his palm and wipe away her tears with a gentle stroke of his thumb. “Do you want to talk?” He asked. Elizabeth’s eyes fluttered closed and she shook her head, pulling her lips into a thin line. Then she sighed. “Lucky was shot.” Jason’s eyes widened in surprise. “Almost in the same place you were, but a little higher. The bullet punctured his lung, but he’s supposed to fully recover.“ Elizabeth paused and seemed to wilt a little. “When they brought him out of surgery I was ready to go see him, but…” Her breath hitched and fresh tears started spilling down her cheeks. “He didn’t ask for me. He asked to see Emily.“ She rolled her eyes. “I knew they were friends, but you should have seen them Jason. I went to the window and peeked into the room. Lucky was lying in bed, holding hands with Emily and looking at her just like…. like….” she started hiccupping between her words, caught somewhere between crying and talking. “like…. like he used to look at me. I thought we were starting over. I thought we had another chance, but we don’t. Because he doesn’t love me. He’s in love with Emily.” Abruptly she turned pleading eyes toward Jason, her words laced with anger and hurt. “What’s wrong with me Jason?” Her voice cracked, and her breath hitched. “Why am I not good enough to love? I’m not good enough for Lucky. I wasn’t good enough for Ric,” Jason frowned at her. “Lucky and Ric are both idiots. You’re not the problem Elizabeth. They are.” She levered herself up on her knees and pointed a trembling finger at him. “I wasn’t good enough for you either.” Jason’s eyes went wide. “Is that what you think?” “That’s what I know.” Elizabeth angrily swiped at the tears on her cheeks. “You never fought for me. You never tried to win me back. You never got a special place for us to meet. Why Jason? Please tell me, what‘s wrong with me?” “There’s nothing wrong with you.” Jason struggled to control his composure, but her words were dredging up memories he thought he’d buried long ago and stirring feelings he thought he’d forgotten. His head began to ache, how could she believe he let her walk away because he didn‘t care enough. “There has to be something about me that makes me not worthy of loving.” The hurt in her eyes twisted a knife in his heart. “No!“ He said. “It wasn’t you, it was me.” Then his tone softened and his shoulder sagged. “I was the one who wasn’t good enough for you.” He levered himself up on his knees so that he could gaze down into her upturned face, barely inches from his, and looked her in the eyes as he spoke out loud truths he’d only ever admitted to himself. “You told me to stay away and I did,

because…” he paused and sighed, “because I knew I wasn’t good enough for you. Because you deserve a better man than me.” Elizabeth’s sapphire eyes widened and she raised trembling fingers to her lips. She searched his face, lingering on his eyes, and he felt like she was looking straight into his heart. Jason sighed. At least now she knew the truth and could blame him instead of hating herself. “Elizabeth…” he began, but she moved her fingers to his lips. “Shhh….” She tipped her head ever so slightly and slid her fingers over his cheek. Jason felt the embers that she had stirred with her words burst into flame at the feel of her touch. He closed his eyes and steeled himself against the heat spreading through his veins. “Oh, Jason.” She said on a sigh, and feathered her fingers into his hair. Jason’s breath caught in his throat and his eyes snapped open. She was watching her fingers play through his hair, then a small smile blossomed on her lips and her eyes fell to his. She held his gaze as she brought her other hand up to smooth her fingers over his jaw. Then she rose, closing the space between them and softly brushed her lips across his. As he felt her lips more over his, Jason’s mind exploded with memories of her. She tasted like he remembered, petal soft and sweet, but this kiss was better than the one he held in his mind. He brought his hands up to cup her face and feathered his lips over hers, keeping his touch as light as hers had been. Each brush of their lips tightened the desire coiled in his belly and heightened the emotion heating his blood. Then he remembered more - how she’d changed her mind the last time they‘d started this. How just a handful of hours before he’d been settled into a life and content with another woman and a child. How that woman had viciously turned on him, using his feelings for her and a helpless baby as a weapon against him. Was he doing this now in reaction to that, erasing the pain and hurt with offered pleasure, or were he and Elizabeth picking up where they’d left off over two years ago? Each memory, each question gave him reason to pause. There were so many reasons why this wasn’t a good idea. Not the least of which was the fact that they had both been drinking heavily. He didn’t want to make a mistake. Not with Elizabeth. She meant too much to him to throw away what they had…. or could have… all in one drunken night of passion. He forced himself to pull away and look her in the eye. “You told me this wasn’t the way you wanted this to happen.” He said, his voice was rough and gravelly. “And you told me I could always change my mind… again.” She leaned closer, sneaking her hands down to his waist where she slipped them under the hem of his t-shirt and slid them up the plane of his stomach. Jason inhaled sharply and his muscles tensed under her caress, and he reached for her wrists to keep her hands from wandering higher. “Elizabeth.” he warned, then he swallowed roughly. His brain was warring with his desires, and her every touch was drawing his restraint thinner. “I don’t want you to wake up tomorrow morning and regret this.” Elizabeth looked up at him through half-lidded eyes, her hair tossed in loose

sensual curls around her Jason’s resolve weakened the blood pulsing in his to her waist to hold her

face, and smiled a sultry, come-hither smile at him. and the sounds of his thoughts faded behind the throb of ears. She started to drift closer and he moved his hands back.

“We’re both adults. We both know what this is about.” Elizabeth said, slipping her hands around his waist and smoothing them up his back, dragging his shirt with her as she went. Despite his hold on her waist, she leaned closer and brushed her lips along his jaw, pausing at his ear to whisper. “I need you.” Jason tensed, unable to breathe. Her words sang through his mind, finding and filling old desires he’d had of hearing her tell him how much she needed him. His resolve pulled taut, now nothing more than a fine thread. His fingers had somehow found their way under the hem of her fuzzy pink sweater and the feel of her smooth skin under his hands made his head swim. The warning sirens that sounded so loudly in his head earlier were now lost in a haze of rising passion, and Jason closed his eyes, drawing back to rest his forehead against hers. He closed his eyes, feeling her warm breath fanning against his face. He felt her trembling under his fingers and heard her words echoing in his head. “I need you.“, and still he held back. Still uncertain. Still afraid of making a mistake that they’d both regret. Elizabeth turned her head, letting her cheek glide over his. She pulled her herself further into his arms, bringing her body flush with his. Then she teased his ear with her lips and whispered to him. “Please, Jason, make me feel wanted.” And the thread snapped.

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General Hospital Lucky’s heart monitor beeped steadily, a soothing rhythmic pulse in an otherwise quiet, dimly light room. Emily had pulled the unwieldy hospital chair over to Lucky’s bed and was now curled up in it watching him sleep. He’d been given a mild sedative by the doctor so he could get some much needed rest and he’d dozed off still holding her hand. She looked down at their entwined hands and gently squeezed his fingers. Then she faltered, her eyes blurring with tears. So many horrors had happened in the last twenty-four hours, so much ugliness and pain, and now that the shock of it all was wearing off, cold hard reality sank its teeth deep into her soul. She’d been raped. Connor Bishop had beaten and raped her. A choked sob escaped her lips. It had been a horror to live through once, but now every time she closed her eyes to think of the man she loved - her husband, whose memory should be giving her strength and hope - she only saw the face of her rapist and felt his hands touching her, his body penetrating hers, and revulsion made her skin crawl. Then if that weren’t bad enough, Helena Cassadine had arrived in the aftermath of her assault and had tried to kill her. If Lucky hadn’t jumped between them and

taken a bullet meant for her, she would right now be lying on a slab in the morgue. So now, her best friend was in a hospital bed fighting for his life, she was fighting for her sanity, and Helena Cassadine had slipped through their trap and disappeared once again. Too tired to fight anymore, Emily let herself begin to cry, and having finally stopped resisting the pain, it crashed over her, drowning her in its intensity. She collapsed forward, her forehead falling against Lucky’s arm, and erupted into a fit of heart-rending sobs.

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Kelley’s Diner Sam McCall sat in the dark in the middle of her bed surrounded by photographs. A large metal bowl that she’d stolen from the downstairs kitchen rested on the blanket in front of her. She reached down and picked up a photo. It was a picture of her holding baby Hope the day Bridget had dropped her off. A small smile lifted the corner of Sam’s mouth. She’d been so happy that day. Hope had been so small, so precious and needed her so completely. She’d taken dozens and dozens of pictures of Hope during those first few days supposedly the beginning of a new life for her, and the start of a new family that had risen from the ashes of the old. She’d had a baby again, a child to fill the void that the loss of her own baby had left in her heart. She shook her head as she looked at the tiny baby in the picture, not that Hope was replacing her baby. No, not replacing at all. Hope just needed so much and she had so much love to give that they just naturally fit. It was a match made in heaven. It was perfect. Then she frowned. Until Jason betrayed her. Jason had taken away her baby, her baby, and given it to strangers. She had trusted him, let him into her life, she’d even started to actually like him, and then he’d gone and destroyed everything. She lifted a lighter and flicked in on with her thumb. Then she brought it to the corner of the picture and watched as the flame caught on the paper, spreading and blackening the photo as the fire licked over it’s surface. Flame curled over baby Hope’s face and Sam watched with dead, emotionless eyes as the child’s face disappeared into a crust of black. Then she flicked the burning photo into the bowl and picked up another picture. Chapter 3 For the first time in months Elizabeth didn’t wake up to the shrill ringing of her alarm clock or the crying of a small baby, and she reveled in it. Without opening

her eyes, she let wakefulness come over her slowly, relishing the peace and quiet, and especially loving the feel of the muscular chest pressed against hers and the strong arm wrapped around her waist. Jason’s arm. She smiled. Last night had been more than she’d ever dreamed it could be. Admittedly some of the details were a bit foggy, but it had been glorious none the less. She’d wondered for years what kind of lover Jason Morgan would be, and her smile widened now that she knew. Oh how she knew. He made love the same way he rode his motorcycle - with wild abandon, exploding with passion, and as intense as driving the cliff road after dark, racing fast and furious, taking the turns too sharply, flying through the night, the wind in their faces, until the world blurred away, driving them on to where they could almost touch the stars. She reached the top like she had then, trembling with excitement, breathless from the thrill, completely spent and yet desperate to do it all over again. “Good morning.” Jason’s voice was thick with sleep and her eyes fluttered open to find him gazing at her, his pale blue eyes twinkling playfully and his normally perfectly styled hair sticking out in various directions. Her smile widened and she nuzzled into his shoulder. “What are you smiling about?” He asked. “You,” Elizabeth said, then amended her answer, her smile morphing from playful to sultry. “Us.” Jason’s eyes fell and she felt him tense, “So you don’t regret last night?” “No.” She answered, then her eyes widened as panic gripped her heart, “Do you?” “Never.” His smile widened as his eyes returned to hers, and he reached up to brush a tumble of curls out of her face and tuck them behind her ear. Elizabeth slid her hand up to capture his and found watching the slow entwining of their fingers amazingly erotic. Her heart sped up and she nervously licked her lips, suddenly acutely aware of the heat of his skin against hers and the tangle of their legs under the sheets. Jason released her hand and propped up on one elbow. He looked down at her, taking his time and letting his eyes feast on her. He lingered on her face, her eyes, cheeks, lips and then down the line of her neck, her full breasts and slowly let his eyes drift down the flat plain of her stomach to where she disappeared under the covers. Elizabeth flushed in embarrassment under his intense gaze, but another part of her - a very feminine part - enjoyed the feeling of being appreciated and lusted after by such a virile male as Jason Morgan. That part of her sang loud and clear, heating her blood and kindling a sweet ache at the junction of her thighs. Jason’s eyes drew back to her face and he reached out to caress her cheek with his fingers, letting his thumb glide softly over her lips. “I never thought I deserved you.” His voice was soft and the confession made Elizabeth’s heart leap into her throat. She reached up and caressed his cheek, and Jason closed his eyes and placed his hand over hers, turning his face to kiss her palm.

“Jason.” Elizabeth sighed. He turned back to her and started to close the space between them, his intentions written clearly in his smoldering gaze, when the sprightly tune of a cell phone started playing. Both of them automatically turned towards sound, and Jason groaned. “That’s mine,” Elizabeth said. “It’s in my purse.” Jason leaned over her, scooped her purse off the floor and held it so she could pull her phone free. One quick glance at the display and she groaned as well. “It’s Grams. I need to take it.” Jason nodded and Elizabeth flipped the phone open and lifted it to her ear. “Hi Grams, how’s Cam?” Elizabeth sat up, pulled the sheet up to cover her breasts and slid an apologetic look at Jason, who eased out of bed and started gathering their clothing. “No, I’m fine. Any word on Lucky?” She paused to listen to Audrey, “When do you have to be at work?” She covered her eyes with her hand. “No, no problem. I’ll be there. Then I’ll go and check on Lucky.” She nodded absently. “Okay, bye.” Elizabeth shut the phone and sighed. Then she looked up at Jason who’d pulled on his jeans, but had left them undone, giving her a glimpse at his white briefs. He was holding out her pink lacy bra and matching panties. “I’m sorry,” she said, reaching out to take her lacy delicates from him, but pausing as her hand touched his. She cleared her throat and eased her hand away, then swung her legs over the edge of the bed and pulled on her panties. “Don’t be. We’re both adults. We both know we have lives and obligations.” Elizabeth had just finished latching her bra behind her back and paused, suddenly horrified. She actually hadn’t been thinking of either of their lives or other obligations. She paled. What about Jason’s life? Had she just done something that would mess up other aspects of Jason’s life? She stood and covered her eyes with her hand. “Oh, Jason. I didn’t think about you and Sam…” She paused, finding herself uncomfortable at the thought of Jason with another woman, “I don‘t want to cause a…” She stopped when she felt Jason’s hands settle on her shoulders. She dropped her hand and looked up hesitantly, expecting to find regret, or maybe a hint of frustration. Instead she saw only a shadow of sadness in his eyes. “There is no Sam and me.” As she watched him, that hint of sadness vanished, and seeing that whiff of emotion get buried under his normal stoic expression saddened her far more than seeing it on his face to begin with. She knew him well enough to recognize when he was in pain. Sam McCall had managed to hurt him deeply. “I’m so sorry, Jason.” Jason shrugged and bent to snag his shirt from under the bed. “Don’t be. It’s over and done with.” Elizabeth nibbled on her lower lip a moment as she watched Jason tug the shirt on over his head. She’d never pressed him to talk about something if he didn’t want to, and she wasn’t about to start now. Obviously he wasn’t ready to talk. So she tried to focus on something else. Getting dressed… yes… she needed to get dressed.

Quickly she scanned the room to find her clothes and saw her jeans in a crumpled pile over by the closet. She went to get them, but the silence started to gnaw at her, making her feel uncomfortable and she started talking to fill the emptiness. “I really should get to the hospital and check on Lucky. Em’s probably been there all night, and after everything she’s been through she really….” Jason swung around to her as she was pulling her jeans over her hips. “What happened to Emily?” Elizabeth’s mouth fell open and then she clamped it shut. She closed her eyes and swore at herself. He didn’t know. Emily hadn’t talked to him yet. “Elizabeth.” Dread laced his voice. She sighed and opened her eyes. She put her hands on his arms, and the worry in his ice blue eyes deepened as he saw the seriousness in hers. “Call her Jason. She needs you right now.” Jason’s brow furrowed but and pulled his cell phone bathroom to make the call dressed. She cringed. She he didn’t ask questions. He only reached for his jacket out of its pocket. Turning, he retreated into the and Elizabeth took the opportunity to finish getting should have told Jason about Emily last night.

She had just finished pulling on her boots when Jason burst out of the bathroom. His face was grim as he sat next to her on the bed and quickly jammed his feet into his boots. “Come on, I’ll drop you at Audrey’s on the way to the hospital.” He said as he jumped up and grabbed his jacket. Elizabeth grabbed her coat and purse, and was putting them on as she followed him as he pounded down the stairs. “I can call a cab so you can get to the hospital faster.” Instead of answering, Jason slammed out of the back door and Elizabeth followed, then she stopped short in the doorway. Sitting five feet away from them was Jason’s motorcycle. Elizabeth’s breath caught in her throat. She hadn’t ridden with him in nearly three years, and the idea of riding behind him again had every nerve in her body alert and tingling with anticipation. Jason grabbed the helmet and handed it to her. “Let’s go.” She took it from him with trembling hands and strapped it on as Jason mounted the bike and kick-started it. The thrum of the bike’s engine vibrated through her, making her heart skip a beat. Then she slid behind him on the seat, his body pressed tightly between her thighs, and wrapped her arms securely around his waist. He twisted around to her, “Ready?” He yelled over the sound of the engine. Elizabeth nodded and she felt him tense as he turned, revved the engine and kicked the bike into gear. Then they were shooting forward, Jason weaving them expertly around the bar, through the deserted parking lot and into the street. Once on the straight away, he accelerated and Elizabeth tightened her hold on him, pressing herself against his back. The wind whipped by, the buildings began to blur together, and she couldn’t suppress a squeal of delight. She felt Jason reach up and put a hand on top of hers and squeeze. Then he revved

the engine again and they shot forward in a burst of speed that made her tremble from excitement and she wondered how she had ever convinced herself she could live without this.

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Elizabeth arrived at the hospital a couple of hours later, after she’d showered, fed Cameron and then dropped him off at the hospital nursery. As she’d made her way to Lucky’s room she’d seen Emily, Jason and Monica together in the waiting area. Taking her post at Lucky’s bedside to sit vigil over his sleeping form, she couldn’t help but watch the small group through the room’s window. Emily, Monica and Jason had formed a tight circle with their heads together. Monica was holding Emily, half supporting her in a hug, and Jason had a hand on either of their shoulders. Emily looked as if she could collapse at any moment and Monica looked stricken with worry. Elizabeth could see Jason’s concern for his sister written all over his face, but she also saw beyond the concern to the fury that roiled underneath his calm surface. From the tightness in his jaw, to the stiff set of his shoulders and the creases marring his forehead, she saw his anger shining through like a beacon, and her hands gripped the bar on the side of the Lucky’s hospital bed until her knuckles were white from the strain. Finally Monica began steering Emily towards the elevator. Emily went along awkwardly, her legs moving stiffly, looking more like a rag doll than a person. Jason stood and watched them go until the elevator doors blocked them from his sight. Then his hands balled into fists. He turned towards the room and his eyes locked with hers, then he tipped his head to the side and beckoned for her with a wave of his hand. Elizabeth glanced down at Lucky. He was still asleep and his heartbeat was blipping strong and steady on the monitor. She smoothed a hand over his and squeezed. “I’ll be right back, Lucky,” she said soothingly to his unresponsive form. Then she hurried around his bed and into the hall, following Jason as he lead them back to the corner of the empty waiting area. When he turned back to her, the anger burning in his eyes made her catch her breath. “Did that bastard rape her?” Jason asked bluntly, his barely controlled whisper thick with emotion. Elizabeth winced and instinctively wrapped her arms around herself. It had been years since her own rape, and she had dealt the trauma long ago, but sometimes all it took was one unexpected reminder and the pain would flare up, its sting fresh and raw. Jason cringed, “I’m sorry Elizabeth, I didn’t mean to…” “Its okay, really.” She brushed off his concern. This was a demon she’d faced thousands of times over and it only took a moment for her to get back in control. She took a deep, steadying breath and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “She

didn’t tell me, but…” She let her voice trail off and brought her eyes to Jason’s. She lifted her brows and sighed, nodding sadly, “I think so. She’s acting a lot like I did.” He grimaced, lifting his gaze over her head and running his hands over his face and back through his hair. “What did Lucky do with the body?” Elizabeth shook her head, everything had happened so fast once she and Lucky had arrived at Wyndemere yesterday morning, she had to concentrate to remember what had happened when. “I don’t know, he didn’t let me go with him when he took it away. I stayed with Emily. She was a wreck, but after I got her up to her bedroom so she could lie down, I went back downstairs to clean up.” Elizabeth covered her eyes with a shaky hand, remembering all the blood there had been. She rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. “I was coming back upstairs when I heard the gunshots. I’m not sure when Lucky got back, but he couldn’t have been gone longer than an hour.” “Do the police know about Emily and Connor?” Jason’s eyes hardened. Elizabeth shook her head, finding Helena.” Her eyes bicep. “Emily shot Connor police were searching the basement….” She shook her a forensics team. If they “I don’t think so. They were focused on saving Lucky and went wide and she reached out and squeezed Jason’s in the basement. Lucky was shot in the living room. The living room, but if they go looking around the head. “I cleaned up, but not good enough to stand up to go down there they’ll find evidence of another crime.”

Jason’s jaw set and his eyes slid to the side. She could feel his bicep harden under her light grip. Then his eyes swung back to hers. “Can you go check on Emily this afternoon, and talk with Monica? Tell her what you suspect if she doesn’t already know.” Elizabeth nodded. “I was going to go see Emily anyway. I‘ll talk to Monica.” Jason glanced quickly around the room then stepped closer to her. He brought one hand up, ran his fingers along her cheek, then leaned in and brushed his lips over hers in a quick unexpected kiss. Elizabeth raised on her toes to deepen it, letting their lips linger, their tongues briefly tease across each other, and then Jason pulled back, resting his forehead against hers, breathing fast and shallow. “I’ve got to go,” he said and pressed another kiss to her forehead before he turned and started walking away. “Jason,” Elizabeth called after him, and he paused to turn back to her. “Don’t get caught.”

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Sam had stationed herself across the street from the Harbor View Towers in a booth in a small café that had a view of both the Tower’s main entrance and the entrance to the underground parking garage. She’d sat literally for hours, through

breakfast and then lunch , long ago losing count of how many cups of coffee she’d had before she finally saw Jason drive into the garage on his motorcycle. Then she leaned back in the booth and began the real waiting. Less than half an hour later, Jason sped back out of the garage, his motorcycle going airborne for a second as he flew up the exit ramp, and she was on the move. Dropping a couple of twenties on the table to cover her tab, she headed for the door and then straight across the street to the Tower’s main entrance. Nodding at the doorman, she scurried to the elevator and fidgeted with the tie on her overcoat as she waited. Jason had looked like he was in a hurry, which she hoped meant he was going to be gone for a while, because she didn’t want to run into him - not yet. Not before she was ready. The solitude of the elevator ride up gave her time to get into character. She gathered up her anger and hid it behind a mask of grief. Then she stifled a smirk, she’d pulled off a lot of cons in her career, but this one, this one would be her coup’ de grace. She was going to cut Jason’s heart out for what he’d done to her. The elevator door slid open and she stepped into the foyer, her head lowered and her face pinched in mock-sorrow. Max was standing guard near the door to Sonny’s apartment and she saw him stiffen as he saw her. She stopped, hesitated, then stuck her hands in her pockets and shifted from one foot to the other all the while keeping her head down. Then she turned to Max and lifted her head just enough to make sure he could see the lone tear she had squeezed out of her eye as it trailed down her cheek. Max cleared his throat and approached her almost timidly. “Sam? Are you alright?” His gruff voice was softened by concern. Sam had to turn her head and lift a hand to hide the smirk that was threatening to appear. She kept her voice low and wobbly, and as she started speaking she let herself stutter for effect. “I…I… forgot a few things at Jason’s.” She hitched her breath in a good impression of a sigh, “I waited for Jason to leave, I…I… didn’t want to see him. I just wanted to get my things and go.” Max was nodding and moving to open Jason’s door for her. She kept her head down and murmured a thank you to the guard as she entered the penthouse. After the door shut leaving her alone in the darkened room, she snorted and rolled her eyes. All this time Faith had been using the wrong approach. All it took to get into the inner sanctum of the most powerful mob boss on the east coast was a few tears and a little whimpering. Sam avoided looking around the room, no need to remind herself of the pain that had been inflicted here, instead she focused on the task at hand and headed straight for the desk. Removing the lock picks from her pocket, she crouched and set to work at opening the locked filing drawer. She licked her lips in success as she felt the lock give under her expert hand, and then she tossed a quick glance at the door as she slid the drawer open. Riffling through the file folders, it only took a moment for her to find what she was looking for. Sam rolled her eyes. Leave it to Jason and his non-imaginative brain to label a file - “AJ‘s Current Location”. Of course she hadn’t doubted that Jason would know where AJ was - what was that old adage, keep your friends close and your enemies

closer - Jason always knew where all his enemies were and what they were up to. It was part of the reason the Corinthos-Morgan empire stayed in power - no one was ever able to get the drop on them. Sam eased the file out of the drawer and flipped it open. Inside was a single sheet of paper with a several photos paper-clipped to it. She slid the photos free and thumbed through them. All of them were slightly out of focus and grainy, attesting to the fact that they’d been taken with long range photo equipment, but clearly, all were of AJ. AJ lying on the beach, AJ standing as the ocean surf crashed over his feet, AJ at a bamboo hut bar ordering a drink and smiling at a leggy blonde in a barely-there bikini. The paper listed an address, and Sam grabbed a pen and notepad off the desk to jot it down. Then she smiled. This was going to be too easy. Chapter 4 Elizabeth stood holding Cameron in the foyer of the Quartermaine mansion, the large opulent room making her feel small in comparison and she straightened her spine trying not to let herself be intimidated by it. She was nervous enough as it was given her reason for being here and feeling so out of place in the ornate room wasn’t helping matters any. Monica walked in from the living room and crossed to the two of them. “Elizabeth! I‘m so glad you stopped by. Who is this handsome man on your arm?” The older blond smiled and squinched her nose at Cameron. “This is my son Cameron.” Elizabeth smiled with a mother‘s pride, running a hand up and down Cameron’s back to sooth him as he squealed at Monica’s attention, then stuck a pudgy fist into his mouth and burrowed his head into his mom’s neck. With Monica distracted, Elizabeth took the moment to look closely at her. Monica was smiling, but there was no spark in her eyes, and Elizabeth guessed that she was unsuccessfully trying to hide her worry behind a happy face. “How’s Emily?” Elizabeth asked. Monica’s smile vanished, and she sighed, casting a glance up the stairs in the direction of her daughter’s room. Then she stepped closer to Elizabeth and said in hushed tones, “Not well. Elizabeth, I know you are her friend, but if something happened to her please tell me.” Elizabeth pulled her lower lip between her teeth and remembered her promise to Jason. “tell Monica what you suspect if she doesn’t already know”, but she worried that voicing her suspicions would be impinging on Emily’s right to privacy. She sighed, it was a no-win situation, either telling or not telling could potentially hurt Emily, so she chose the option that might possibly help. “Monica, she hasn’t told me anything about what happened to her…” She paused and cast a quick glance upstairs feeling a bit like a tattletale, “but she’s acting a lot like I did after I was raped.” Monica’s eyes closed and she seemed to shrink into herself. Elizabeth shifted Cameron into her other arm and reached out to touch her shoulder. Monica looked back at Elizabeth, nearly begging the younger woman. “Please go talk

to her. Maybe she‘ll open up to you.” Elizabeth nodded. She didn’t know if she could help, or if Emily would even allow her to, but she needed to try. No matter what else was happening between Lucky and her - Emily was her friend first and foremost - if she needed help, Elizabeth would be there for her. Monica held her hands out for Cameron. “If you’ll let me, I’ll take Cameron, so you two can have some privacy.” Elizabeth hesitated a moment, then seeing the smile spread across Monica’s face, she relaxed. This was Jason and Emily’s mother, she could trust her. Elizabeth kissed Cameron on the forehead and handed him into Monica’s waiting arms. Then she handed over his diaper bag. “There’s a bottle inside if he gets hungry.” Monica took the diaper bag and smiled at Cameron’s wide-eyed stare, then began speaking to him in baby-talk. “How are you little man?” She clucked her tongue and Cameron giggled at her. “I bet Cook takes one look at that cute face of yours and breaks out her secret stash of chocolate chip cookies.” Cameron’s smile widened, and Monica brushed her nose against his. “Oh yes, I think she will.” Elizabeth watched the two of them head across the foyer towards the kitchen and felt a strange mix of joy and sadness. Except for Audrey, Cameron didn’t have any Grandparents around to spoil him. She sighed and pushed the thought from her mind and cast a glance up the stairs. Right now she had bigger problems to worry about. She climbed the stairs with building trepidation and walked slowly down the hall to Emily’s bedroom door. She lifted a hand, paused, took a deep breath, and then knocked. “Emily are you awake, it’s Elizabeth.” She waited for an answer. The door opened an inch and Emily peeked out. When she saw Elizabeth she opened the door wider, carefully staying behind it as she did. Elizabeth slipped inside and Emily quickly shut the door behind her. Emily was wearing a grey sweat pantsuit with a jacket she’d zipped all the way to the throat. A haunted expression cast a shadow over her face and under her eyes, twin dark circles stood starkly against her pale skin. As soon as the door shut, Emily nervously wrapped her arms around herself. She didn’t meet Elizabeth’s gaze and retreated to her bed where she sat and pulled her legs up so she could wrap her arms around her knees. Elizabeth sat gingerly on the bed next to her, wanting to reach out, but holding back, uncertain how Emily would react if she did. “Lucky told me to tell you ‘Hi’.” Elizabeth’s smile faltered. When Lucky had woken up, the first thing he’d done was ask about Emily. Emily managed a wobbly smile. “How’s he doing?” “He’ll be okay. The doctor said his wound was clean, and with no complications, he’ll be back on his feet in a few days.” Emily stared into the distance and Elizabeth shifted uncomfortably. Elizabeth cleared her throat softly to bring her friend back to reality. “Emily, if there’s anything you want to talk about, you know I’m here for you.”

Emily turned her head away, “I’m fine.” The tremble in her voice belying her words. Elizabeth sighed, grieving for her friend’s obvious pain. Emily’s head lowered, “I… I think I’m going to try to sleep now.” Elizabeth jumped up as Emily half-rolled, half-crawled under the quilt, and pulled the sheets up, tucking her friend in bed. “Thank you for coming. Tell Lucky I’ll be by to visit him later.” Then Emily turned her back to Elizabeth and tucked her head into her pillow. Frowning, Elizabeth backed out of the room and quietly closed the door behind her. Then she leaned heavily against the solid wood and sighed. Emily wasn’t dealing with this well at all. Her first impulse was to call Jason, simply because Emily had always leaned on her brother for support, but then she remembered what Jason had said this morning and realized Emily hadn’t said anything to him about her rape either. Jason. Groaning, Elizabeth closed her eyes. Between spending time in the hospital with Lucky and now dealing with Emily, she hadn’t had a chance to even think about what had happened between them last night. Last night at Jake’s. Her and Jason. Upstairs in his room. Naked. A sudden fit of trembling seized her and in a panic she darted across the hall into the bathroom and locked herself in. Perching on the edge of the bathtub, she covered her face with shaky hands. What had she done? What had they done? She’d gone to Jake’s because she’d felt betrayed by Lucky’s feelings for Emily. Seeing so undeniably that his heart belonged to another had hurt and she’d wanted nothing more than to go and drown her sorrows. She hadn’t planned on running into Jason, much less spending the whole night making love with him. She stifled a groan. How many times had it been? Three, four? Her brow furrowed as she tried to remember. Four, she thought, as she tried to pull memories out of the drunken haze that was last night. There had been the first time on the floor, the second in the bed, then the third after she’d woken him up - a smile spread over her face remembering how much he’d enjoyed being awoken like that - and a fourth when he’d returned the favor and woken her up her smile widened remembering how much she’d enjoyed being awoken in nearly the same way. That made four. Right? Then a hazy memory of her straddling Jason in the desk chair floated into her mind. His hands were wrapped around her hips lifting her as she rode him and her head was tipped back so his tongue could have ample access to her….. Suddenly hot and dizzy, Elizabeth jumped up off the edge of the tub, turned on the

cold water and splashed her face. Five. Okay, it’d been five times. Then another jolt of panic swept over her and she closed her eyes. What about birth control? Then she blushed, as she remembered. Yes, they’d used condoms. She groaned again and let her head fall into her hands. At least that was one thing she didn’t have to worry about. No, she only had to worry about what it meant. When they’d awoken that morning, they’d both admitted they didn’t regret what‘d happened, but then they really hadn’t had a chance to talk about it either. Then she paled as her words from last night swirled out of the alcohol induced mists blanketing her memory - “Please Jason, make me feel wanted.” - and she cringed. She’d shamelessly begged Jason to make love to her. Her face reddened and her hands began quivering all over again. What if that’s all last night had been for him - pity sex. Elizabeth pulled her lower lip between her teeth. He had kissed her in the hospital this morning. Didn‘t that mean something? She sighed and rubbed her forehead. She was going to drive herself insane. They needed to talk. She unzipped her purse and pulled out her cell phone.

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Jason shined his flashlight straight ahead and at the end of the dark tunnel he caught a glimpse of the churning water of the bay. There was no moon this night to paint the water with silver highlights and the waves dipped and swelled a matte black. Jason paused in his search of the tunnels to pinched the bridge of his nose, then he pressed the pads of his thumb and fingers into his closed eyelids. His eyes were dry and gritty from lack of sleep, but he knew there was still a lot that needed done before he could rest. It had been a relatively simple task to contact one of the police sergeants on Sonny’s payroll and arrange for certain ‘favorable’ officers to be standing guard outside Wyndemere that evening. Since the case involved the shooting of a police officer, he’d met with some resistance, but Jason wasn’t above giving not-sosubtle-reminders of who owned who to get what he wanted. It hadn’t taken much persuading to get Police Sergeant Griffith to accommodate Jason’s needs. When Jason and his team arrived at Wyndemere, they’d found the docks and grounds devoid of a police presence, just as he’d requested. Leaving the clean-up team in

the basement to do their job, Jason personally spent the better part of the day and night combing the island for signs of a newly dug grave or a hastily hidden body. Lucky may have had good intentions for protecting Emily, but Jason didn’t have much faith in his ability to cover up a crime, not when it was his sister‘s life and freedom on the line. Now in the wee hours of the morning, as he finished inspecting the last few feet of tunnel snaking underneath Wyndemere, Jason completed his grid search of the island without having a grave or a body to show for it. In fact, the only clues he’d found were some fresh foot prints leading to the cliff. From them he guessed that Lucky had thrown Connor’s corpse off the cliff and into the water. Jason frowned. He hated giving Lucky credit, but that was the smartest way he could have disposed of the body. The rough current would sweep it out to the ocean and soon Connor Bishop would be nothing more than dinner in the bellies of hungry fish. Jason sighed. All the same, he wanted to get confirmation of his suspicions. Emily’s future was at stake and he couldn’t take chances with assumptions, no matter how likely they seemed. As he emerged from the cave, his boots sloshing through ankle deep water, his cell phone beeped to life. Jason pulled the phone out of his pocket and shone the flashlight on it. He’d missed a call while he’d been underground. He pushed a button and a number lit up in the display. He recognized it immediately. Elizabeth. The corner of his mouth lifted into a grin, and his thoughts flashed to last night. In all the years he’d wanted her, before and especially after they’d finally admitted how they felt for each other, he’d tried to imagine what it’d be like to make love to her. To feel her skin under his fingers or her body move with his, but he never could. He simply wasn’t capable, but after last night, he knew if he had managed to imagine something, it wouldn’t have come anywhere close to the real thing. Maybe it’d been the years of bottled up sexual frustration that once uncorked, erupted into a passion that had overwhelmed the both of them. He simply hadn’t been able to get enough of her. Each time had left him spent and exhausted, but craving her all the more. This morning while he was pulling his pants on, he’d counted four condoms in the trash can and knew if she hadn’t gotten that cell phone call they would have added another to the pile. His smile grew sly as he remembered one time fumbling the condom wrapper in his urgency and her taking it from him and ripping it open with her teeth. Then there was this morning in the hospital, when he’d impulsively reached out and kissed her. It had been only one little kiss and yet it’d taken all his willpower not to drag her into an empty supply closet and ravage her right then. His smile faltered as a hint of doubt scuttled through his mind. She’d been hurting last night. In truth, they’d both been hurting and needy. He’d gone to Jake’s stinging from a betrayal of trust by a woman he’d thought he’d loved. What if that’s all it had been for her? A night of soothing raw emotional wounds. Jason’s jaw tightened as he closed his eyes. What if he’d only filled a role for her that Zander had once occupied? With all the push and pull between them over the years, he suddenly wasn’t sure what to believe. Still she’d called him. That was a good sign? Wasn’t it? He looked down at this cell phone, this time checking his watch and then sighing. It was well after three

in the morning, and she’d undoubtedly be asleep. He paused for a moment in indecision, then pressed the call button and lifted the phone to his ear. He could at least leave her a message.

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Sam walked along the beach, wearing a sheer sarong over a skimpy red thong bikini and carrying her sandals loosely in one hand. The fine grained sand gave silkily under her feet and the tropical sun kissed her skin with its warmth. However, she didn’t find the clear blue expanse of the ocean nor the sound of the calypso music floating through the air the slightest bit enjoyable. Her only interest lay in finding a man. Her frown deepened as she stopped to scan the beach. It was a glorious tropical island day and the beach was packed with vacationers. A bamboo hut sat at the edge of the nearby pier and she recognized it from the grainy surveillance photos in Jason’s drawer as the bar AJ frequented. The place was bustling with people lining the tiny palm covered porch. None of whom was the man she searched for. She grumbled under her breath and slapped her sandals against her thigh. How hard could it be to find one man on a small island? No one had been at his house when she‘d stopped by earlier and now after several hours of prowling the beaches and local hangouts, she was getting not only tired and grumpy, but also angry as well. She was about to start walking further down the beach when the sound of laughter filled her ears. Mixing in with the din of the surf, blenders, music and shouting filling the air, she wouldn’t have noticed it at all, except for the fact that she recognized it. She turned slowly, scanning the area, looking for the man who’d made the sound, and found him walking down from the ocean end of the pier with three other men. AJ Quartermaine. Sam lowered her tortoise shell sunglasses far enough to peek over the rims, and sized him up. He was looking good, tan and lean in low riding black swim trunks and sandals. His dark hair was windswept and longer than she remembered. She watched him smile confidently and hand some cash to the local working the docking slips, then point back down the pier in the direction of a pristine sailing sloop. The three other men with him, all reeking of old money and playboy attitudes, laughed and pounded each other on the backs, no doubt congratulating each other on a great day of sailing. Pushing her sunglasses back up her nose, she headed for the pier, all the while keeping her eyes locked on AJ, like a lioness stalking its prey. Under her feet, sand gave way to weathered wood and as she closed the distance between them, one of AJ’s companions noticed her approach. With a smug smile he nudged the man next to him and brought the second man’s attention to her with a tip of his head. Sam didn’t spare either of them a glance, she had her goal in sight and nothing

would distract her from it. AJ finally glanced over and saw her, his smile faltering a moment before it widened in recognition. She stopped a couple of steps in front of him and raised an eyebrow. “Mr. Quartermaine, you‘re a hard man to find.” AJ turned to his companions and waggled his eyebrows, “Well, gentlemen, it looks like I’m wanted elsewhere. Shall we meet again next week for cards, same time, same place?” The three men muttered their affirmations and left in a gang, giving Sam lingering looks of appreciation as they went. Sam turned and started walking slowly back down the pier, making sure to tic her hips to show off her rounded and virtually naked bottom at its seductive best. Then she paused, looked back over her shoulder, and waited for AJ to catch up with her. “McCall, right?” AJ asked as he stopped behind her. “Sam McCall. It took me a minute to place you, but now I remember. You’re from Port Charles, you were part of that whole ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ card fiasco.” Sam turned back to him, suppressing an urge to roll her eyes. Instead she waved her hand dismissively, “This has nothing to do with cards.” AJ tipped his head to the side and crossed his arms over his toned chest. “Whatever it has to do with, I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time Ms. McCall. There is nothing in Port Charles that interests me.” Sam propped her hands on her hips, leaned slightly forward at the waist, and let her head tip back. It was a carefully crafted move that worked exactly as planned as she watched AJ’s gaze fall directly to her cleavage. AJ chuckled as he lifted his eyes back to hers. “Nice display, but it’s not going to work. Nothing you have to say will change my mind.” Sam smiled seductively, “Oh, I’m afraid you’re wrong about that.” She cocked her head to the side and raised her eyebrows. “I’m about to make you an offer you can’t refuse.” Chapter 5 The door slammed shut behind Elizabeth and the familiarity of her surroundings made her smile. The sound of pool balls clacking together and hard rock music pumping out of the corner jukebox wrapped around her and made her feel downright giddy, even the thick yeasty smell of beer made her stomach flutter. Jake’s. Everything between her and Jason had started right here at Jake’s one night almost five years ago. It seemed more than fitting that their relationship had restarted in the same place. Elizabeth tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she made her way to the bar and scanned the room for a familiar figure clad in a black leather jacket. The place was nearly empty, only a pair of pool players and a few serious drinkers were scattered around the tables - none of them Jason. She checked her watch. It was only nine fifty, so according to the message he’d

left asking her to meet him, she was ten minutes early. Sighing nervously, she eased onto a barstool and swiveled to find Coleman headed her way. The shaggyhaired bartender picked up a bottle of Tequila by its neck as he sauntered over and she felt a blush rise to her cheeks. “A tequila shooter for the lady?” Coleman asked with a sly grin and his head cocked to the side. Elizabeth shook her head and waved the drink away. “I think I’ll pass tonight.” Coleman stashed the bottle on one of the glass shelves behind him and then leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the bar. “I don’t supposed you’ll take me up on my offer?” He asked, raising an eyebrow to go along with his sly smile. Elizabeth’s blush deepened the stool. For the life of She tipped her head to the of offer he’d made her the at the bartender’s blatant flirting and she fidgeted on her she couldn’t remember what he was talking about. side as she desperately tried to figure out what kind other evening.

Coleman chuckled and leaned in, lowering his voice conspiratorially, “For a fruity drink with an umbrella in it.” A laugh of relief escaped her, and the sound widened Coleman’s smile and set his hazel eyes twinkling. She met his gaze with a twinkle of her own. “Although it’s a very tempting offer, I think I need to stick to Diet Coke tonight.” Coleman winked at her again and filled a glass from the fountain. He sat the drink in front of her, then holding up a finger for her to wait, he reached under the counter, pulled out a straw crowned with a colorful little paper umbrella and placed it in her drink. She giggled at the gesture and he grinned at her flirtatiously, then spread his arms wide and braced both hands on the bar. “I know this is a corny pick-up line, but what is a beautiful lady like you doing in a place like this?” This time Elizabeth leaned in and lowered her voice conspiratorially, “This is where I come when I’m looking for trouble.” Just then, the front door banged open and Coleman’s gaze lifted at the noise. A shadow passed over his features and the twinkle faded from his eyes. “Well,” he snorted, “talk about trouble, and here he is.” Elizabeth twisted on her stool and found a very familiar spiky-haired, black leather-jacketed man standing in the doorway, his eyes narrow as he surveyed the room. A slow, appreciative smile bloomed across her face, and when Jason’s eyes found hers, an identical smile spread across his as well. That smile sent a host of butterflies to flight in her stomach and as she watched him approach, his eyes never wavering from her, she found herself rising in her seat to meet him. He stopped in front of her, their eyes still locked, and despite the dim light of the bar, she could see the twinkle in his blue eyes. “Elizabeth.”

The huskiness in his voice sent a chill down her spine and she found herself so breathless she had to remind herself to inhale before she could say his name. “Jason.” His gaze dropped to her lips and he started to lean in, but then hesitated, instead turning to glare at Coleman who was watching them both with rapt, unabashed fascination. Jason glowered at the barkeep, then put his hand on Elizabeth’s arm and tipped his head toward the back staircase. Understanding perfectly what he meant, Elizabeth jumped off the stool and felt Jason’s hand slide possessively to her lower back as he started away from the bar and began maneuvering her towards the stairs. Elizabeth turned to Coleman who seemed amused at Jason’s annoyance and flashed him a quick wink before she turned into the back hallway. She heard Coleman chuckle following her as she started up the stairs with Jason’s hand nestled on her hip and his heavy boots pounding up the stairs behind her. She was fine all the way up the stairs, down the hall and even into Jason’s room, but once the door clicked shut behind them, the butterflies in Elizabeth’s stomach turned sour. Vague feelings and memories began to lift from the haze in her mind, and she was suddenly unsure of herself. She turned in a nervous circle, fiddling with her purse strap when her gaze fell on the bed and triggered a burst of memories. Memories of them. Together. In that bed. Skin against skin. Their bodies entwined and moving together in a heated rhythm. The touch of his lips. The feel of his hands on her body. The way his muscles rippled and pumped under her fingers. Holding onto the bed’s headboard for dear life as she screamed his name. Suddenly the room was too small and too warm. Had it always been this small? Trembling, she turned away from the bed to find Jason right behind her, still smiling, and had to turn away. He was too close. She couldn’t think with him so close. She brought a shaking hand over her eyes, and started to back up a step, then realized that step would bring her next to the bed and stopped. Feeling dizzy in the wake of the rush of heat that swept over her, she tried to laugh, but her nervousness strangled the sound. “This is more embarrassing that I thought it would be.” Jason shifted closer to her and cupped her chin, lifting her face to meet his. “You don’t ever need to feel embarrassed with me.” His voice was low and husky and the sound of it soothed the raw edges of her nerves. She dropped the hand covering her eyes and sighed as she turned her face into his palm. Looking up at him, she realized how right this moment felt. How she really did want to be here with him, not just this minutes, but tomorrow and the day after that as well. Now, if only she knew what he wanted. Elizabeth took a deep breath and forced herself to step away from him. She had to know, and as pleasurable a distraction as his touch was, if she wanted to get through this next question, it was still a distraction she couldn’t afford. “Jason,” she began, her voice quavering. He was watching her intently, his expression a blend of worry and concern, and she had to look away in order to ask him the question that’d been haunting her since yesterday. “The other night when I…. I mean… when we…. you know…. and I was… well, I mean…. you seemed….” She felt her cheeks burning and clenched her teeth, hoping the floor would just open up and

swallow her to end this torture. She swore at herself, took a deep breath and forced herself to spit out the words, “Did you sleep with me because you felt sorry for me?” Then she squeezed her eyes closed and tensed, both mortified for asking and terrified of what his answer might be. After a long silent pause, she peeked out of one eye and found Jason staring at her with an unrecognizable expression on his face. Was he hurt? Surprised? Incredulous? Relieved? She couldn’t tell and her stomach started to sink in disappointment. Then he blinked and took a deep breath as he shook his head. One corner of his mouth lifted into a smile and he reached out with both hands to cup her face. “Elizabeth.” he began, his voice sandpapery with emotion, “of all the things I felt that night, pity wasn’t one of them.” Her shoulders sagged and a single tear of relief slid down her cheek. His thumb shifted to gently wipe that tear away and he sighed. “Two years ago we both admitted we wanted to try a life together. My feelings for you are the same now as they were then.” He cleared his throat, and his eyes fell away from hers. “When you walked out, I thought your feelings for me had changed and you didn’t want me in your life anymore. That’s why I stayed away.” Jason drew her closer, his thumb gently stroking her cheek, his cerulean eyes fastened on hers, “I still want this, but if you don’t, if what happened was just about making the hurt go away for the moment,” he swallowed thickly, “then tell me. If that’s all you want, I’ll respect that and walk away right now.” Elizabeth’s eyes widened at Jason’s confession and her heart leapt into her throat. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. He still wanted her. After all this time and everything that had happened, he still wanted her. Yet, he was willing to walk away if that’s what she wanted. She knew he’d do it if she asked walk away and never look back, despite what he wanted for himself - because she’d watched him do it before. He’d walked away more than once with his heart broken and bleeding, back when she’d been scared, confused and trying to live her life by a misguided sense of loyalty and misplaced love. She’d let him walk away from her even though her heart had screamed at her to stop him. Elizabeth lifted her hands to cup his face and took a long moment to simply look at him. She saw the guarded hope that shone in his ice blue eyes, the tension playing across his forehead as he waited for her answer. She was still a little scared and confused, but she knew what she wanted, and she wasn’t about to let it walk away from her again. “I want this too.” She said, and shushing him with a finger over his lips when he started to speak. “My feelings for you didn’t change. Yes, I was angry, but when I walked out, I wanted you to come after me, to fight for our relationship. Maybe even to prove I was important to you. When you didn’t, I thought that meant you didn’t want me….” Jason slid his hands into her hair and pulled her to him, silencing her in a kiss borne of urgency and hunger. Elizabeth rose on her toes to deepen it, pressing her body against his as she slid one hand into his hair, the other finding the hem of his t-shirt and stealing underneath it so her fingers could splay across the skin of his lower back. Then Jason broke away, pulling back to rest his forehead against hers. Breathing heavily, he braced his hands against her shoulders and backed a step away. Slowly shaking his head, he released her and scrubbed his hands over his face before running them over his head and twining his fingers behind his neck.

He looked at her, the war between his desire and the need for honesty plainly showing on his face. “The reasons you walked away haven‘t changed. There are still things I won’t be able to tell you, times I’ll be gone and can’t explain why. Can you live with that?” “It wasn’t your life, Jason.” She argued, wanting to make him understand. “ I left because of the lies you told. I was angry that you spent weeks avoiding me and shutting me out.” Jason sighed, his voice lowering in resignation. “But that’s the problem, I may have to keep something like that from you again.” Elizabeth closed the distance he‘d put between them. “Then tell me straight out ‘There’s something going on right now that I can’t tell you.’ That I can deal with.” A frown creased his forehead. “How is that different from not saying anything?” “Because one is the truth and one is a lie.” Elizabeth eased closer to him, “Jason, we don’t have to have all the answers this minute. We can find our way as we go, just as long as you don‘t let me walk away without a fight.” She lifted an eyebrow questioningly at him, “Can you live with that?” He reached out and wrapped one arm around her waist and pulled her to him. “I can live with that.” He grinned as he dipped his head to capture her lips, but Elizabeth ducked away. “There’s just one more problem.” She said, tucking her hair behind her ear as she pulled her lower lip nervously between her teeth. Jason’s forehead wrinkled in a frown. “What?” Elizabeth slid her eyes to the side and smoothed her hands over his shoulders. “I’d always dreamed that our first time would be special. It sounds silly but I wanted it to be something incredible that we’d remember for the rest of our lives.” “You didn’t think it was incredible?” Jason asked, his eyebrows knitting together. Elizabeth blushed and then confessed, “I can’t really remember.” Then she shrugged, “I guess it isn’t really that important, but I was kind of hoping you could tell me… ” she felt her blush deepening as she finished the question. “…what happened.” Jason grinned at her in amusement, “Would it make you feel any better if I said it’s pretty fuzzy for me too.” She sighed, and mentally berated herself. She was being silly, after two years of hurt and misunderstanding, they were together and working out their problems, she shouldn’t be so bothered by a little bit of foggy memory. There would be other times, other memories they would create that would last her a lifetime, there was no need to mourn the loss of one, no matter how much she’d been looking forward to it. Jason reached out to tuck a wayward strand of her chocolate hair behind her ear. Then he feathered his fingertips down her jaw. “We have something much better.”

She lifted a eyebrow, “We do?” “Yes,” he answered, slipping his hand behind the nape of her neck as his voice grew thick with emotion, “we have the first time we both know it’s out of love.” “Love?” Elizabeth’s eyes widened as the word slipped from her on a sigh. Jason nodded as he drew her to him, brushing his lips softly over hers. She eased closer for another kiss, but he pivoted and swept her off her feet and into his arms instead. He carried her to the bed and gently laid her down. With one knee planted by her hip and his arms braced to hold himself over her, he looked down on her with the blue of his eyes deepening in passion and his sandpapery voice a near whisper, and asked, “Elizabeth, will you let me love you?” Elizabeth’s heart fluttered in her chest and her breath caught in her throat. Never before in her life had anything felt so perfectly right. A sultry smile spread across her face as slid a hand behind his neck and gently pulled him closer as she murmured. “Yes, Jason, please make me feel loved.” Chapter 6 Standing alone the in the hospital supply closet, Elizabeth went about the job of restocking. Boxes of medical sundries were stacked on the counter awaiting their turn to be unpacked, sorted and stored in their appropriate places. It was just another one of the tedious menial tasks of her job. Boredom had set her mind to wandering and her thoughts drifted to her current concerns. Lucky was steadily improving and was expected to be discharged any day now. His wound, bad as it had been, was healing with no complications. Emily, on the other hand, seemed to be locked in a holding pattern. After trying to talk with her, Elizabeth had backed off, being there for her if she needed but not pushing. So far Emily had only begun to open up to Lucky. Then there was Jason. She sighed and the corner of her mouth hitched into a shameless smile. All it took was the thought of his name to get her tingly all over. It’d been a week now since their ‘first time when we know its because of love’ evening together and Jason had truly made that first time a time she would remember forever. The tingles grew into a warmth she could feel redden her cheeks, and her shameless smile widened as she pulled her lower lip between her teeth. They’d managed to meet four more nights since then. Each time Elizabeth had taken a cab from her Gram’s house to a different location where she’d meet Jason, and they’d ride off into the night together. Each night had been magical, riding behind Jason under the stars, then finding an out of the way hotel where they’d make love until they fell asleep in each others arms. Nights she wished could go on forever, but then she also loved waking up feeling his body wrapped around hers, cocooning her with his warmth. He was always careful to get her back to an already waiting cab, so she would make it to her Gram’s by six a.m. and be there for Cameron when he woke up each morning. She absently sorted packages of gauze by size and indulged herself in the memories

of last night. She was kneeling on the bed and Jason knelt behind her. She arched her back into him, cradling her head on his shoulder, his lips finding their way down her neck and over her bare shoulder. His hands cupped her breasts, his fingers sliding up to tease her nipples, gently rasping over them until they were hard and she was moaning with pleasure. Then she gasped as she felt his hardness slide between her legs, not inside her but over her - and he slowly, teasingly, eased himself back and forth, creating a delicious friction that made her thighs quiver and tightened her ache to have him inside her. He rolled her nipples between his fingers and a zing of erotic electricity made her shudder and cry out his name. Jason growled low in his throat and lifted one hand to turn her head so he could hungrily captured her mouth with his, as his other hand skimmed down the plane of her stomach and his finger slid… “A penny for your thoughts.” Elizabeth jumped in surprise and packages of gauze flew wildly as she started at Stephen’s words. She leaned heavily against the counter, covering her pounding heart with one hand while staring in wide-eyed shock at her brother. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.” Stephen gave her a mischievous look. “Well, I think I’m getting the better end of the deal here. From the look on your face those thoughts are worth a whole lot more than a penny.” He grinned wickedly at her. Elizabeth tried to glower at her brother in mock annoyance, but instead shuffled nervously and felt her face turning a bright shade of red. Stephen noticed and lifted an eyebrow at her. “Elizabeth! For shame!” Elizabeth tried to ignore him and bent to pick up the spilled packets, but Stephen wouldn’t let the matter drop. “So who’s the lucky guy?” he asked as he bent to help her. Then leaned in closer, and half-whispered, “Lucky guy - get it… Lucky…” He waggled his eyebrows and Elizabeth frowned at him. “Lucky and I are just friends. That’s all.” She said a little too defensively, then stood to deposit an armload of packages on the counter. Stephen stood and piled the rest of the gauze next to hers and looked at his sister questioningly. “I thought you two had started dating again.” “No, it didn’t really work out.” she answered, busying herself sorting packages to avoid looking her brother in the eye. She really didn’t want to talk to him about this. “So…” he drawled, “this guy you were thinking about who has you smiling like a Cheshire cat and turning beet-red when I try to get you to talk about him…. Is he someone I know?” This time Elizabeth did glare at her brother, “I don’t want to talk about it.” “So I do know him.” Stephen chuckled, “Is he that new doctor in pediatrics? I caught him checking you out last week.”

Elizabeth braced herself on the counter with her elbows and hid her face in her hands. “Stephen…” The beeping of her brother’s pager filled the small room and Elizabeth turned to see him checking his message. He was backpedaling toward the door as he spoke to her. “We’re not done with this conversation.” he said as he pointed at her for emphasis. Then he turned and was gone down the hall. She breathed a sigh of relief. Now if she could manage to avoid him for the next couple of days, maybe he’d forget all about this. Then she snorted, yeah right, like that was going to happen. He’d no doubt be calling Grams to check up on her and find out she’d been staying out all night. Rolling her eyes, she groaned, sooner or later she’d have to face up to him about the truth, she couldn’t avoid him forever. Elizabeth finished stowing supplies and headed back to the nurse’s station. On the way she paused as she passed Lucky’s room. She’d stopped in before her shift and talked to him for a few minutes, but now as she slowed, she saw Emily perched on the edge of his bed. She was wiping a tear from her cheek with one hand and holding Lucky’s hand with the other. Lucky was looking up at her in concern and reached up with his free hand to rub her arm. He smiled at her and said something that made Emily giggle. Elizabeth backed away quietly, hoping not to disturb them. Right now what Emily needed was someone she could open up to and Lucky certainly was someone who could help her. With no real surprise, Elizabeth discovered that she wasn’t bothered by the idea. The restart of her relationship with Lucky had been a nice dream, but in her heart of hearts she knew that’s all it had been - just a dream - a teenage dream to be more exact. Her and Lucky had loved each other once and that love would always be alive in her heart, but she’d grown and moved on since then. There was no going back. Besides, she didn’t want to go back. Even if she and Jason hadn’t reconnected in such an amazing and intimate way, she knew she and Lucky wouldn’t have worked. Jason. She sighed again, and that smile slipped back into place. Somehow they’d found their way to a place of openness and honestly they’d never had before, and getting there had been far easier than she’d ever imagined it could be. They hadn’t formally decided to keep their relationship a secret, but with the complications of Emily’s situation and Lucky’s recuperation, it didn‘t seem like the right time to tell them. Her smile widened. Besides, she thought he was enjoying keeping them a secret as much as she was. Somehow sneaking away made it a little more special, their relationship was like a treasure only the two of them knew existed, a sweet escape that was only a phone call away. Stepping behind the nurse’s station, Elizabeth pulled her lower lip between her teeth as she plopped down into one of the chairs and started going through patient charts. Soon enough everyone would know. Then she’d have to deal with her Gram’s disapproval and no doubt lectures on responsibility from Stephen, but until then she’d enjoy every second of every stolen moment to the fullest. Her phone vibrated to life in the pocket of her nurse’s jacket. Reaching for it, she checked the display. There was a one line text message and her heart skipped a beat as she read it.

The corner of Roosevelt and Third. J Elizabeth quickly checked her watch. It was almost two, only eight hours to go. She would spend the evening with Cameron, tuck him into bed, Gram would be there to baby-sit and then she’d be free. One corner of her mouth hooked up into a smile and her palms started to sweat as she thought of tonight - of being alone with Jason … “Elizabeth have you checked the patient in room 152?” Elizabeth jumped at the Head Nurse’s question, staring at her blankly a moment as the large woman came swinging around the desk. It took her a second to get her head clear and process what she was saying. “No, not yet. Is his IV ready to be changed?” “It should be, why don’t you go check.” Elizabeth ignored slight accusatory tone in the nurse’s voice and hurried off toward room 152, happy to have an excuse to get away. Eight more hours, she thought, and her stomach fluttered in excitement.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam sat in the same booth in the same diner and watched the same underground exit waiting for the same motorcycle to enter. Jason had been out all night again last night and she knew she didn’t have long to wait. Just as she finished the thought, Jason’s motorcycle came tearing down the street, then turned into the parking garage, and Sam smiled smugly. Right on time. She’d been running surveillance on him for a week now and had his pattern down to a virtual science. Each night he’d been out, he’d returned home at the same time six-thirty in the morning - like clockwork. Then he’d spend no less than a couple of hours at the penthouse before heading out again. She eased out of the booth and this time instead of hurrying across the street she went to the restroom and spent a good twenty minutes getting prepared. This morning she needed everything to be perfect. In no less than thirty minutes she exited the elevator and turned toward Jason’s door. Max hurried over when he saw her, the worried look on his face easing when he saw she wasn‘t crying. Playing it cool, she smiled shyly at the guard. “I need to talk to Jason.” Max shifted, the burly guard was clearly uncomfortable in her presence, as if he expected her to break into tears or have an emotional breakdown at any moment. “Okay, hold on. I‘ll get him.” He said and practically fell over himself getting to Jason’s door. Opening it, he bellowed loudly for his boss.

Safely behind him and out of sight, Sam smirked and rolled her eyes. Men. She followed Max into Jason’s penthouse squelching any remaining look of humor on her face in case Jason was in the room. This little performance was going to set the stage for everything that followed and she couldn‘t afford any slip-ups. Max stepped aside to let her by and she timidly took a step into the room. Jason was nowhere to be seen. Then she tensed as she heard his boots start pounding down the stairs. The sight of him coming down the stairs in his jeans and grey t-shirt, his spiked hair still damp from his shower, almost made her break her cover. She hadn’t seen him since the day he’d given Hope back to her birth mother, and seeing him now ripped those wounds open again, making her loss fresh and raw. Anger welled up in her, anger that he could be so casual, so unaffected when she was still hurting so deeply. She closed her eyes. She couldn’t lose it now, too much was at stake. If she didn’t get this right today, everything she’d done would be for nothing. Jason stopped abruptly on the stairs, stiffening and frowning, his eyes hardening when he saw her. Sam breathed deep, pushing her emotions away, and focused on her plan. Contrite. Demure. She needed to be the essence of a woman who realized she had made a terrible mistake and was trying her best to correct it. She crossed her arms over her chest and let her eyes fall to the floor. “Jason.” she shifted nervously and sighed, letting her shoulders sag. “I need to talk to you.” Jason descended the last few stairs, his expression unchanging. Behind her she heard Max back out of the room and close the door behind him. She raised her eyes timidly to meet his cold gaze, “I know I said some cruel things when I left and you probably don’t want to see me, but I had to come and apologize.” She lifted her chin so he could see it tremble and squeezed a single tear from her eye. Jason didn’t move. Sam took a deep breath and forged on. “I lashed out at you because I was hurting. I’m not proud of it, but I wanted to make you hurt as bad as I was.” She sniffled, blinked out another tear and let her voice fall to a wobbly whisper, “Jason, I still love you. I always loved you. I miss you and want to try to make things right, so we can get back what we had.” Jason’s face softened but the frown stayed in place. Sam leaned in and reached out to him with one hand, “Please Jason, can you forgive me?” Jason sighed, scrubbed his face with his hands and turned away from her. “Sam….” He started, then paused, and the resignation in his voice made her blanch. Dread knotted her stomach as she watched him walk to the fireplace and brace his arms against it. Her tears had always worked on him before. He’d always reached out to comfort her when she’d started crying. Always. It was a staple she’d been able to count on to keep him where she wanted him. The fact that he wasn’t responding to them now made her realize that something major had changed, something she hadn’t counted on. Jason turned and took a deep breath preparing to speak, and the look of regret on

his face made her panic. She jumped ahead in her plot, pulling out a card she knew would trump anything he was about to say. “Jason, I’m pregnant” Chapter 7 “I’m pregnant.” Jason froze. Anything he’d been about to say was now lost as Sam’s words echoed through his mind, his brain refusing to process them. Sam smiled shyly at him and tipped her head to the side. “This isn’t the way I wanted to tell you. I wanted to wait until tonight after I’d made a nice romantic dinner and set the mood. You know, candles, wine… okay, well maybe not wine.” She laughed easily and eased toward him, reaching out to take his hands in hers. He found he couldn’t move to stop her, his brain still stuck in a loop of incomprehension. “But I’m too excited! I couldn’t wait to tell you that you‘re going to be a daddy!” She squealed and flew into him, pressing her body against his and closing her arms around him in a hug. Jason didn’t move to return the embrace. Instead one of his hands went to the bridge of his nose, pinching it with enough force to shoot pain back through his eyeballs. The jolt kick started his brain and he stepped back, putting his hands on Sam’s shoulders to peel her off of him. He kept moving back, putting a few feet of distance between the two of them. He needed space. He needed to think. He scrubbed his face with his hands, then raked them through his hair, over his head and finally twined his fingers together behind his neck. Pacing restlessly in the small living room, he turned to see Sam beaming at him blissfully and then turned away, his stomach souring. This couldn’t be happening. Not now, not when he and Elizabeth had just found each other again. “This is just what we wanted.” Sam said, the happiness in her voice cutting through his thoughts like a knife. “This is going to be the family we hoped for. The family we planned on raising, and this time it will be our family. Yours and mine. Our own baby.” Not even two weeks ago, he would have been as excited about this as she was. He would have been happy and content at the thought of them raising a family together. Yet now, today, the same thought was making him ill and threatening to ruin the best thing he’d ever had in his life. Sam was still prattling on in the background, but he didn’t hear her. Her words easily passed through him without notice. He turned his back to her, found himself facing the pool table, and braced his arms on its rail, gripping it so tightly with his fingers that his knuckles whitened. “…I’ll move back in and we can redo the nursery…” her voice floated through his mind and cringing he hung his head. How could everything go from being so right to so incredibly wrong so fast? His thoughts whirled through his head and he had a hard time focusing on each of

them before jumping to the next. Yes, she’d have to move back in, he still needed to protect her and the baby. A baby? She wasn’t supposed to get pregnant this soon, the doctor said it was dangerous. How would Elizabeth react to the news? How would Sam react to knowing about Elizabeth? What’d she just say…paint the nursery again? Sam came up behind him, ran her hands up the length of his back, then leaned in, wrapping her arms around him to half lay on him and half hug him from behind. Suddenly it was too much. The room was too small. Everything was too close. There was no room to think. He started to move, but found himself trapped between the pool table and Sam’s body. He turned carefully, and Sam let him move in the circle of her arms, settling her cheek on his chest when he was finished and sighing happily. “Jason, the three of us are going to be so happy.” He bit his lip to stifle a groan. Placing his hands on her shoulders he backed her away from him and maneuvered her around the couch. With little coaxing she followed his lead, letting him guide her around and sit her on the couch. She smiled up at him wide-eyed, like a happy puppy, and shifted to make room for him on the couch next to her. He didn’t sit. Instead he crossed behind the upholstered chair and leaned on the back of it, letting his arms bear his weight as he hung his head and took a deep breath to get everything in perspective. Except nothing would get into perspective and every time he tried to process the fact that Sam was pregnant with his baby, his mind zoned out on him. A hand caressed his arm and he nearly jumped out of his skin in surprise. Sam was kneeling in the chair facing him, with one hand on his arm and the other cupping her belly as if there were already a baby bulge there to hold. “Jason, you are going to be the best daddy.” She seemed oblivious of his less than happy reaction to the news. He pulled his arm away from her touch and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sam.” He sighed. “Are you sure?” She giggled, “The little stick turned blue.” Everything crashed in on him all over again. This couldn’t be happening. Not now. The room seemed to be shrinking, pressing in on him, making it hard to breath, to think. He needed to get away. He needed to process this, to figure out what he had to do to make everything work out. Backing away from the chair and Sam inside it, he caught the back of his legs on the side of the desk and staggered to catch his balance. “Are you alright?” Sam asked, frowning at him. He wasn’t good at lying, even when it was scripted for say it, but coming up with lies and excuses on the fly nothing came to his mind to explain his sudden need to moment before simply cutting to an abbreviated version him long before he had to was an impossibility. So leave. He hesitated a of the truth. “I have to

go. I’ll send Max to Kelly’s to pick up your stuff. We’ll talk more about this later.” Then he grabbed his jacket and was out the door, completely missing the smug look of victory on Sam’s face as the door slammed behind him.

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Jason flew on his bike, running the ragged edge as close as he could. He nearly lost it on a curve, leaving a long arc of rubber on the pavement before he yanked the bike back under control and shot off down the straight away with his jacket snapping behind him. Miles clicked away under his tires, only the scream of the wind wouldn’t clear his head. His thoughts seemed to roar louder, refusing to give way to the noise of the ride, and he finally gave up trying to silence them. He found himself pulling into Sonny’s driveway without even consciously deciding to talk to his best friend. He’d sorted nothing out on his ride. The news of the baby still made his brain grind to a halt every time he tried to think about it. He pulled off his helmet and hung it from the handlebar, then scrubbed his face with his hands. With a quick kick, he lowered the kick-stand and eased the bike down to rest. He sat for a moment in indecision. Then swinging his leg back over the seat, he stood and crossed to the front door. He trusted Sonny, and even if Sonny didn’t have answers to give, he at least needed to know what was going on. Jason entered the house expecting to hear the sounds of children at play. Michael it seemed was never quiet and even though Morgan couldn’t quite keep up yet, he was getting almost as loud as his older brother. Only today there was no rowdy horseplay going on, no zooming noises made by little mouths to imitate the sound of cars or trucks. Silence and the sight of Sonny at the desk looking over ledgers were all that greeted him. Jason rolled his shoulders, his pale blue eyes taking in the room for any glimpse of the boys he might have missed. “They’re not here.” Sonny answered Jason’s unspoken question, “The boys are at Carly’s today, and Kristina is at Alexis’.” Jason nodded absently and Sonny leaned back from his desk, “What’s wrong?” Jason rolled his shoulders again, but the tension refused to give way. “If we hadn’t lied to Carly about Sam, do you think you two would still be together?” Sonny’s obsidian eyes flashed in irritation, irritation not directed at his friend, but at the tenderness of the nerve struck by the subject matter. Shaking his head, he stood and paced to the bar. “Carly and I had more problems than what went on with Sam.” Picking up an empty tumbler, he turned to his friend. “What’s this really about?” He asked, his voice low and foreboding as it always got when he talked about his soon-to-be-ex-wife. He poured a slug of scotch into the empty glass in his hand and downed it in one

swallow. He closed his eyes as the heat of the alcohol scalded his throat. Jason crossed his arms over his chest and lowered his head. “Sam’s pregnant.” Sonny’s eyebrows arched in surprise and he eyed Jason up and down. “You don’t look very happy about it.” Jason’s eyes slid towards Sonny. “It’s complicated.” Pouring himself another slug, he filled a second tumbler and handed it to his friend. “Isn’t it always.” Sonny tossed back his drink and scowled as the liquid scorched its way to his stomach. “You’re not worried about how Carly is going to react are you?” Jason rolled the alcohol around in the glass, watching the light play off the amber liquid. He shook his head slowly, “Not Carly. There’s someone else.” For the second time Sonny’s eyes widened in surprise. “Someone else?” Jason heard the question in Sonny’s voice, but didn’t look over at his business partner. Instead he tipped his head back and downed his scotch in one swallow, then set the glass on the coffee table and lowered himself onto the couch, bracing his elbows on his knees and propping his head in his hands. Sonny brought the bottle of scotch with him as he crossed to the couch and sat next to his friend. He poured them both another generous round and leaned back in the overstuffed cushions, crossing his legs at the knee and settling one arm across the couch’s arm with his chin in his hand. “You’re in love with this someone else?” The question was more of a statement of fact and Jason groaned at the truth in it. Sonny nodded slowly, his glass of scotch dangling from his hand. The hand under his chin lifted to cover his mouth, then he leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, hands clasping his glass between them, mimicking Jason’s pose. “Sam…” he started, pointing a finger at Jason, “left you less than two weeks ago. There is no way you’ve fallen in love with someone since then. I know you better than that.” Jason turned his head to look at Sonny. “It’s Elizabeth.” Then he reached out, took his glass and slugged the drink. “Does she know yet?” Jason shook his head studying the empty glass in his hands like it was one of the seven wonders of the world. “And you love her?” Jason’s eyes softened as he thought about Elizabeth and the last week and half they’d spent together. A smile crept across his face. He’d never felt more happy or content. With Elizabeth by his side he felt whole, complete, like he could really breathe for the first time. “I love her.” He said, nodding. Sonny sighed and ran a hand over his slicked back black hair. “Sam won‘t handle the news well.” Jason snorted, his fingers tightening around the empty glass in his hand until his

knuckles whitened. He of all people understood only too perfectly how badly Sam would handle the news. “Do you need me to help you hide it from Elizabeth?” Sonny asked studying his glass carefully. Jason shook his head, stubbornly resolute. “I’m not going to lie to her.” Sonny sighed. “Then you have to make a choice.” He said sagely, leaning back into the plump couch cushions like a wizened old man imparting the wisdom of the ages. “The woman you love or your child.” Wordlessly Jason placed the glass on the table and stood. His head was pounding more now that it had when he’d arrived. He’d hoped that somehow Sonny would help make things easier, but he hadn’t. Nothing could. Without looking back, Jason walked out of the house. The guard on the porch started to approach him as he left, but Jason waved him off. He knew what he had to do. Walking down the driveway toward his bike, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed. After two rings a familiar feminine voice answered, and the sound painfully squeezed his heart. He closed his eyes and sighed. “We need to talk.” Chapter 8 The door flew open just as Jason lifted his hand to knock. Elizabeth stood in the open doorway, her hair pulled into a sloppy pony tail, looking a bit worse for the wear in an oversized t-shirt with baby spit-up on the shoulder and blue yoga pants. In her arms a very unhappy Cameron was crying at the top of his lungs and trying to bury his face in her shoulder. She looked frazzled and her relief at seeing him was apparent. She grabbed him by the jacket and pulled him inside, kicking the door closed behind them. Jason frowned the two of them, concerned as Cameron broke into a new round of squealing. “Is he okay?” Elizabeth shifted Cameron onto her other arm and bounced him against her shoulder. “He’s teething and it’s past his bedtime. So no, he‘s not okay. He’s tired, cranky and in pain.” She rubbed her cheek over her son’s pudgy face and he wailed louder, batting her away with his small hand. “I just changed him and was about to try rocking him to sleep again.” She started down the hall, tipping her head for Jason to follow. “Are you sure it’s okay for me to be here?” he asked, warily looking around as they passed through the house, keeping an eye out for Elizabeth’s disapproving grandmother. He was fairly certain Audrey didn’t know about their renewed relationship and he didn‘t want to have a confrontation with the woman. Not tonight. “There was an emergency at the hospital and Gram was called into work.” Elizabeth explained as she led them up the steps and down the hall to her and Cameron’s room. “She didn’t think she’d be home for several hours. I was getting ready to call and tell you when you called me.”

The small bedroom was lit only by a purple dinosaur nightlight and as they entered, Cameron started fussing louder in Elizabeth’s arms, kicking himself up and down, and protesting her hold on him with his most frustrated baby wail. His little hands balled into fists and he wearily rubbed at his half-closed eyes, then kicked again, clearly unhappy. Jason shrugged off his leather jacket and hung it on the back of the wooden rocking chair next to the baby crib. He held his hands out, “Let me take him for a while.” He saw a wave of relief pass over Elizabeth’s face. “Are you sure?” she asked. “He’s really cranky.” He raised an are-you-kidding-me eyebrow at her and carefully lifted Cameron off her shoulder. Cameron let out a squeal of displeasure and kicked and batted out at Jason as he turned and settled the little boy against his shoulder. Elizabeth ran a hand over her forehead, closed her eyes, “I don’t know what else to do for him. I’ve given him baby pain reliever and put that numbing stuff on his gums.” Then she sighed and lifted her arms in defeat. “Nothing seems to help.” Jason rubbed Cameron’s back in slow circles and bounced him in a gentle rhythm, while Cameron alternated kicking and stiffening his body against Jason’s touch. Jason’s voice softened as he spoke, “Michael had a hard time when he was teething. I spent a lot of nights pacing the floor with him crying the same way.” Elizabeth smiled sadly at her son and brushed her hand over the back of his head, then looked up at Jason. “I’ll go warm up a bottle, maybe that will help him calm down.” Jason nodded, concentrating on the baby in his arms, who was wailing loudly, fisting his hands in Jason’s grey cotton t-shirt and pressing his face in Jason’s shoulder. Elizabeth slipped out the door and Jason started pacing, beginning a soothing rhythm of back rubbing and slow rocking. Keeping his voice low and even as he started talking, soothing Cameron with sound as well as touch. “You have a big temper for such a little boy,” he began, as he paced to the crib and slowly turned, “I bet you got that from your daddy.” Then he rolled his eyes, “Although your mommy has a pretty good temper too.” Jason started back across the room, gently rocking and rubbing Cameron’s back as he went. “You don’t know this but your daddy and I didn’t like each other very well.” He peeked down at Cameron. “In fact, the only thing we ever agreed on was how special your mommy is.” Another turn had him headed back toward the crib and he noticed that Cameron’s wails were quieting. Jason slowed his pace, feeling Cameron heave a sigh and then hiccup several times as he settled against his chest. Jason ran his cheek over the little boys head and Cameron squirmed, rubbing his closed eye with a fist before heaving another small sigh. Jason dropped his voice another notch as he softly rocked Cameron back and forth. “You don’t know how lucky you are to have the mommy you have. When she loves someone, she loves them with all her heart, and she loves you more than she’s ever loved anyone else. One day she‘ll teach you how to fingerpaint.” Elizabeth had once spent an afternoon fingerpainting with Michael and Jason remembered walking

in on them, covered in paint and beaming from ear to ear. The joy on both of their faces had made his heart skip a beat and now he wondered how much more joy she would get out of fingerpainting with her own son. Cameron’s little body relaxed against him and Jason slowly stopped rocking. Cameron twitched once in his sleep, and Jason held his breath a moment waiting to see if the little boy would wake up. Instead he only felt Cameron’s tiny even breaths on his neck and the rise and fall of his chest under his hand. He smiled. He’d held Michael like this when he was small, had paced the floor with him when he was sick, read him books about Italy and Africa as bedtime stories, and he wondered what would it feel like to hold his own child. To rock his own baby to sleep at night and pace the floor with him when he was cranky. He tried to imagine seeing a little newborn with a blend of his and Sam’s faces but couldn‘t. The only baby he could picture in his mind’s eye was the one in his arms. Jason brushed a finger over Cameron’s crown, and the little boy hiccupped in his sleep. Jason smiled sadly, Cameron reminded him so much of Elizabeth, from the blue of his eyes to his little button nose. Jason inhaled deeply and heaved a long sigh. The bedroom door eased open and Elizabeth tip-toed into the room holding a baby bottle in her hand. Seeing them together, a smile lit up her face and even in the darkness he could see the sparkle in her eye. “You got him to go to sleep,” she said softly and reached out to caress her sleeping son’s head. “I think he wore himself out.” Jason moved to the crib and carefully laid Cameron down. Elizabeth set the bottle on the changing table and tucked a blanket around her sleeping boy. She ruffled his fine, dark hair and ran a finger over his cheek. She slid an arm around Jason’s waist and laid her head on his shoulder. “Thank you.” Jason slid his arm around her, drew her into his side, and rested his cheek on the top of her head. This felt so right, the two of them standing over Cameron in his crib. It felt like they were a family, his family, and the realization made his heart sink. He wanted to turn and fully pull her to him, to hold her and tell her he wanted them to be a real family, but he couldn’t. Not any more. Letting go, he turned from the crib and crossed the room to stand in front of the bed against the far wall. He stared down at it blankly. “You two share a room?” he said, more a statement of fact than a question. She answered as she followed him across the room. “Gram offered to clean out another bedroom for us, but I like having Cam in here while he’s little. It’s easier to hear him when he wakes up.” She shrugged as she turned and sat on the edge of the bed, “Besides I didn’t expect to be staying here this long.” Jason’s head fell, he was stalling. Avoiding saying what he needed to tell her. Elizabeth looked up at him, drawing her lip between her teeth. She fidgeted a minute before reaching up to take his hand. “Jason, is there something wrong?” Jason groaned and pulled his hand from hers, using both hands to rub his forehead. Then he mentally swore at himself. He hated this. He hated seeing the look of

concern on her face and know that he was about to hurt her - again. Turning, he lowered himself next to her on the bed and stared straight ahead. He couldn’t bring himself to look at her, to see the pain on her face when he told her. Closing his eyes, he sighed. “Sam came to the penthouse this morning.” The next words caught in his throat. He pressed his lips together and let his head drop. “She’s pregnant.” He heard Elizabeth’s startled breath and felt her stiffen at his side. He expected more, he expected anger, but her next question surprised him. “Do you love her?” Jason whipped his head around and found her staring at him. She was trying to hide her hurt, but he saw it peeking out from the depths of her sapphire eyes. “No,” he said, his voice tight and clipped, and she visibly relaxed at his answer. “I thought I was at one time, and I still care about her as a friend, but what happened between us was only two people coming together out of pain.” Elizabeth slid her hand into his and squeezed it. Jason wrapped his long fingers around her small hand. Looking across at Cameron’s crib, he realized for the first time how much she understood what he was going through. “I’ve had Max move her back into the penthouse.” Elizabeth’s hand tightened in his, and when she spoke her voice was a little too high pitched to be natural, and it belied her worry, “So you can protect her, like you moved me in once to protect me. I understand.” Jason hated this, hated hurting her, but he had to make her understand. “It’s more complicated than that.” Jason sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I have to protect the baby from Sam.” Elizabeth turned to Jason, searching his eyes for understanding. “Why do you have to protect your baby from its own mother?” Jason scrubbed his face again. The more he explained, the worse it all seemed. His child already had so much going against it with Sam’s medical problems, the last thing it needed was the added complications of her erratic behavior. He took a deep breath before attempting to explain. “When Sam was pregnant with Sonny’s baby, Sonny and Carly started trying to work things out and get back together. Sam watched the family she thought she was going to have with Sonny disappear, and she panicked and took off to get an abortion. Later she ran again and told me she’d had a miscarriage. Then she ran away so she could have the baby in hiding and give it up for adoption. I was always the one who went after her and made sure Sonny’s child stayed safe. If she finds out about us, I’m afraid she’ll do the same thing.” He paused, his voice hitching, “What if she runs away to get an abortion and this time I don‘t find her in time?” Jason slowly shook his head, his shoulders sagging in defeat. “I can’t ask you to put your life on hold and wait for me for nine months. You and Cameron both deserve better. It wouldn’t be fair to you or to him.” Elizabeth slid off the bed, turning to kneel in front of Jason, and looked up into his down turned eyes. “Jason, what do you want?” She asked, her gentle, loving

gaze pricking his heart. His eyes glazed over with unshed tears. He knew exactly what he wanted. “I want all of it - I want you and Cameron and my baby.” Then he fisted his hands as he turned from her. “But I don’t see how it can happen.” Elizabeth reached up and cupping his cheek with her hand, gently turned his face back to hers. “Jason, I’ve seen the way you are with Cameron, how much you love him in spite of his being another man’s son, and I know if he were ever in trouble you’d do everything in your power to save him.” Despite his heartache, Jason smiled. He did love that little boy and he would do anything for him just like he’d do anything for his mother. A watery smile spread over Elizabeth’s face and she wiped a tear from Jason‘s cheek with her thumb. “I will do whatever you need me to do to make sure your child survives.” Jason felt a weight lift from his chest and he pulled Elizabeth up into his arms, holding her tightly to him as silent tears of relief trailed down his cheeks.

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Sam McCall flopped back onto the bed and stretched lazily. “I told you there was nothing to worry about.” Across the small room AJ Quartermaine snorted loudly. The second rate motel he’d been staying in for the last week came up lacking in just about every area imaginable. The room was too small, the curtains were too thin, the bathroom faucet leaked and the showerhead only trickled water even when he had it turned up full blast. It been a week of torment for a man used to having servants bring him champagne and caviar on a silver tray for a mid-afternoon snack. So having the ‘plan‘ start to unravel so soon after its execution was highly discomforting. “You told him you were pregnant?” AJ asked, his voice dripping with irritation as he braced his hands against his hips. Sam lifted her shoulders in a half-hearted shrug. “And…” “And he believed you?” Sam‘s eyes widened, lifting her eyebrows, “Why wouldn’t he?” AJ groaned. “You know, you’re not very good at his revenge thing,” Sam said, rolling onto her stomach and bracing her chin on her hands. “You’re too skittish. Things change, plans evolve. You have to go with the flow, take advantage of situations as they

present themselves. My pregnancy was always a part of the plan. It’s just happening a little sooner than we planned.” The plan, AJ shook his head. It sounded so nice and tidy when she’d explained it standing on the sun-washed boards of a pier on a tropical island. He would steal from Jason what Jason had stolen from him - the woman he loved and the child he was having with her. It was as simple as it was apropos. Sam cocked her head to the think this would be a good I‘m back in the penthouse. ‘meet’.” She lifted up her me away from Jason leaving side, watching AJ with a little smirk on her face. “I time for you to make your grand return to Port Charles. You blow back into town. Start stirring up trouble. We fingers to make little brackets, “Then voila. You steal him alone this time. No wife, no child.”

Sam laughed as if the thought amused her, and AJ found himself once again warming to the idea. He didn’t know why it sounded to much more wickedly vengeful when she said it. Maybe it had to do with the amount of pleasure she got from simply explaining it to him. He crossed the room to where she was stretched out on the bed. He never thought it possible, but he’d actually found someone more interested in getting revenge on Jason Morgan than he was. Watching her get so excited about her plan was highly enjoyable. He smiled, the truth was, she was the one who was making this fun. “You’re not his wife yet.” AJ countered, antagonizing her just to see the sparks light up in her eyes. Which they did as she shot him a glare, “Are you kidding, he was going to marry me when I was having Sonny’s baby. Now that I’m having his,” she shrugged, “we’ll be married before the month is over.” Curiosity got the better of him. A big part of this plan hinged on her being pregnant. Stealing Jason’s woman would be a slap in the face, but taking his child was the ultimate revenge. He knew personally the depths of pain and betrayal of having your child stolen from you, and it was a torment he meant to repay in full. The prospect of raising Jason’s child as his own had been the linchpin in his decision to partner with Sam. It had been the only thing he’d demanded - a primary role in the raising of the baby. Sam hadn’t even paused before agreeing to his request. He could only guess that she found the prospect of having a wealthy man supporting her for the foreseeable future most appealing. AJ crossed his arms over his chest and looked curiously down at Sam. “So are you?” “Am I what?” “Pregnant.” Sam smiled devilishly, a look of complete confidence on her face. “I will be after tonight.” Chapter 9 Sam paced the floor in Jason’s bedroom. Moonlight slipped in through the slightly parted curtains bathing her nude body in gold overtones. It was well after one in the morning, Jason hadn’t returned home yet and she was pissed. She crossed her

arms under her breasts and tapped her foot against the plush carpeting. So where was he? She’d been careful to keep her visit with AJ as short as possible so she would be back at the penthouse, moved in and ready by the time Jason returned. That was over 8 hours ago and she was still waiting. Okay, maybe she’d been a bit overconfident with AJ when she was explaining how well the plan was working, but honestly how could things to go wrong. Jason would never walk away from his own child, and as far as his feelings for her went… well, she’d made him fall in love with her once, she had no doubt she could do it again. Moving her hands to her hips, she turned to start pacing again when the sound of the front door opening filtered up the stairs and through the bedroom door. A zing of excitement made her pulse race and as quietly as possible she climbed into Jason’s bed. She wanted him to find her asleep, at peace and right at home in his bed. Sliding under the sheets, she forced herself to slow her breathing, then listened as his booted steps came up the stairs. She closed her eyes as she waited to hear him enter the room. Lying still with her hair fanned around her head like a silken pillow and one bare leg peeking out from under the covers, she held her breath expecting Jason at any moment. Only he didn’t enter the room. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, but only ten minutes by the clock, she opened one eye barely a slit and peered around the room. She was alone. Opening both eyes she lifted her head enough to search the entire room to make sure she hadn’t missed him in the dark. She hadn’t. He wasn’t in here. Her head snapped around to look toward the bathroom, but it was also dark and empty. Her forehead creased as she tried to figure out where he’d gone. Stretched out on her stomach with her chin resting on her crossed arms, Sam impatiently waited fifteen minutes longer and when she still heard nothing, she climbed out of bed. Then without bothering to put on a robe, she went searching for him. She found him in the guest bedroom. His clothes abandoned on the floor and the man himself stretched out under the sheets sound asleep. Seeing him triggered another painful flash of hurt and loss, and made her arms ache to hold he baby he‘d taken from her. She winced at the rawness of its sting, tears filling her eyes. Part of her wanted to run far, far away from the painful memories, but another part steeled her will and reminded her of her goal. Sam tightened her jaw. She only had a small window of opportunity to get pregnant this month. The ovulation test she’d taken early this morning had come back positive, and that positive result was what had sent her to Jason’s doorstep today. She wanted revenge for the suffering Jason had put her through more than anything she’d ever wanted in her life and that’s why she’d carefully choreographed every possible detail to bring her to this point - conception. Focusing her mind on her goal, she swallowed the revulsion she felt over what she was about to do with the man who’d taken the last and only good thing in her life - her child - away from her, and crossed to the bed.

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“Elizabeth.” The name drifted through his mind, but only a moan made it through to his lips. His thoughts sleep-heavy, he stretched, his eyes still closed as reached to capture Elizabeth’s hand in his. She eluded his grasp, her hand teasing across his chest before sliding down his stomach to the band of his briefs. He felt Elizabeth stretch out against him, her body warm and lithe as it pressed intimately against his, and he smiled sleepily, giving up on trying to catch her hand. Instead he reached around her waist and pulled her on top of him. As his hands settled low on her bare hips, a warning bell went off in the back of his mind. Something was wrong. His forehead creased as he tried to figure out what wasn‘t right. It came to him just as Elizabeth’s hand slid inside his briefs. Her breasts were too big. Then she moaned in his ear, and his whole body froze in shock. That wasn‘t Elizabeth‘s moan. Instantly awake, Jason’s eyes flew open and he found Sam McCall’s face inches from his. She was smiling seductively down at him and he became acutely aware of her hand inside his briefs… feeling it slide lower… Reacting without thinking, he threw her off of him. His sudden move surprised her, and he watched her eyes widen like saucers as she flew away from him. She dropped unceremoniously on the bed, while he rolled away, his feet landing on the floor. Then he put the length of the room between them before he turned back to her, his eyes narrow and accusatory. “What do you think you’re doing?” He asked, his voice deceptively calm as his hands gripped his hips. True, he was angry with her, but he was also nursing a pang of guilt for the pleasure he’d been feeling before realizing who was in bed with him. The shock on Sam’s face quickly turned to hurt. “When you asked me to move back in, I thought that meant you were okay with us.” Jason paced the room, raking his hands through his short hair. Sam collected herself, sitting on her knees in the middle of the bed, not making the least effort to cover her nudity. He wanted to keep being angry with her, but found blaming himself easier. She could have made an honest mistake, he had left this morning without making his feelings on the matter clear. He stopped pacing and turned back to her. She was looking at him with a mixture of confusion and hurt on her face. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, his exasperation evident in his voice. “Sam, it wasn’t even two weeks ago that you told me you never loved me and you were only with me so I could support you and the baby. Now you show up, and tell me you’re pregnant. What am I supposed to

believe?” He opened his arms wide, “I don’t know if you’re being honest with me about how you feel or if you‘re just here because of the baby.” Sam’s face fell, hurt giving way to dejection, as her lower lip began trembling, she lifted a hand to hide it. Jason felt second wave of guilt swell in his heart as he watched her eyes glaze over with tears and he scrubbed his hands over his face. “Jason, I wouldn’t lie to you.” Sam’s voice trembled. “I explained why I tried to hurt you before.” She crawled toward him on her knees, holding out a hand invitingly. “Won’t you let me prove to you how much I love you?” “Sam…” he began, not moving from his position. “this isn’t going to happen. Not now.” Jason started picking up his clothes and Sam was off the bed, clutching at his arm. He thought he heard a tinge of desperation in her voice. “Jason, please, just stay with me. Hold me tonight in bed tonight like you used to. I need you.” Shrugging her off, he pulled on his pants and stuffed his feet in his boots. Sam padded behind him following him like a lost puppy as he crossed to the door, zipping his jeans as he went. “I can’t stay here tonight. I need to think.” He told her as he made his way to the stairs, tugging his shirt over his head as he hurried down the steps two at a time. Grabbing his jacket from the desk chair and pulling it on, Jason stopped as he opened the front door, half in the penthouse, half in the hall. Turning back, he saw Sam stalled halfway down the steps, tears running down her cheeks. He heaved a sigh, he hadn’t meant to hurt her, but he couldn’t let her believe everything was alright between them either. “Listen, I’ll be back in the morning and then we can talk.” He shuffled a moment longer, wanting to say more, but clamped his mouth shut and closed the door behind him, leaving her standing alone on the stairs. Less than an half an hour later, he pulled his motorcycle into Jake’s parking lot. This place been his safe haven before he’d moved into the penthouse and coming here tonight for refuge felt like coming home again. Once in his room with the door locked behind him, he finally let himself relax. He didn’t know if Sam knew about this room, or if she’d try to find him, but for the moment he felt safe. Stripped down to his briefs, he climbed into bed. Lying back he remembered the last time he’d slept here. Elizabeth had been with him that night, and the two of them had made love in this bed before falling asleep with their bodies entwined the way only lovers can. He turned his head into the pillow and smiled. It still smelled like her. Earlier, he and Elizabeth had spent hours talking about Jason‘s situation. She’d asked him if he was certain Sam’s baby was his and regrettably he’d had to say ‘yes’. He’d spent most of his time during his bike ride that morning trying to figure a way out of the baby’s paternity. The problem was he simply couldn’t. Of the months Sam had spent living in his apartment, both before and after they’d become a couple, there had been no one else. Not even Sonny had been a real

presence in her life since the time she’d moved in. Then after her baby died, it had only the two of them. They’d grieved together, bonded in their pain and after she’d brought baby Hope home, they’d officially become a family. There had been no one else, he was certain of that fact. Even when she’d walked out on him, she hadn’t gotten as far as the lobby before he’d sent Max after her to keep watch on her. She’d stayed holed up in a room over Kelly’s not going anywhere or seeing anyone for nearly a week before she approached Max and calmly told him to tell Jason she was fine and didn’t need him keeping check on her. Jason had respected her request, putting Max back on door duty and leaving Sam to her own life, but of the two weeks between the time she left and the time she showed up at his door announcing her pregnancy, he knew she’d spent the first week alone. Which, in his mind, left no opportunity for this baby to be anyone but his. When Elizabeth had asked if he was sure Sam was really pregnant, Jason had been stumped. He hadn’t thought of the possibility of Sam lying to him about the baby, but after considering the possibility, he couldn’t come up with any valid reason why she would. She didn’t need money, he and Sonny both had set up generous accounts for her. Besides it would be such an easy thing to check, as a simple Doctor’s appointment would expose a lie. He just didn’t see what reason she would have to lie about it. Elizabeth had amazed him by choosing to stand by his side through this, even though it meant keeping their relationship a secret and sacrificing some of their already brief time together. She‘d explained her decision by saying, “I lost you once because you lied, I’m not going to lose you again for telling the truth.” and he’d realized how fortunate he was to have found her all over again. She’d willingly become his partner in this subterfuge, taking time to carefully coach him on how to deal with Sam. Since lying wasn’t his strong suit, she gave him specific words to use to answer, avoid or redirect pointed questions Sam might have if she started getting suspicious of him. Her advice on how to outright lie when needed was as simple as it was ingenious, he’d deal with it like he dealt with certain aspects of his job - focus, close down and keep his answers short and blunt. One word was best. Yes. No. That would give Sam the least amount of information to work with. As long drawn out explanations could easily be toyed with, sifted and pulled apart until the lie became obvious. On the other hand, it was hard to argue with a simple, stern “no.” He’d left Elizabeth’s feeling confident in his ability to handle anything Sam could throw at him. Little did he know that less than an hour later he’d nearly ruin everything. Jason tucked his forearm under his head and his eyes fell to his jacket. His cell phone was in its pocket and he longed to call Elizabeth. However, it was nearly two-thirty in the morning and he knew she’d be asleep. He frowned remembering how fussy Cameron had been. He wouldn’t wake her, she needed her sleep tonight. Then he thought of calling Sam to check on her, but easily dismissed that idea. He hadn’t said anything to her that would make her think their relationship was over before it began. He’d been careful, even in his discomfort, to remember what Elizabeth had told him, and had done his best to kept her hope of a relationship alive. He knew as long as she thought they could work things out, his baby would be safe. No, he thought as he settled back into bed, he was sure Sam wouldn’t rush off and do anything rash, not tonight anyway.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

AJ woke up to pounding on his hotel room door. He lay in bed, blinking sleep away for a moment before the pounding started again, and then he was up, headed to the door wearing only his boxers and fisting his hands over his ears. “Alright, alright, I’m coming.” He yelled. He’d barely gotten the door unlocked and the knob turned when it was shoved from the outside, making him jump back so it wouldn’t crack him in the skull. Sam stormed into the room and loudly tossed her keys and purse on the table. AJ glared at her as he shut the door. “Are you trying to wake the entire hotel?” he asked, his eyes flicking to the alarm clock beside the bed, “It’s three in the morning, most civilized people are asleep at this hour.” Sam turned an icy glare at him, yanked off her denim jacket, and with a roundhouse swing, flung it against the far wall. AJ’s eyes widened and he chuckled at her fury. Her gaze turned back to him, her eyes snapping with fire. “So I take it my little brother didn’t fall for your plan to get pregnant tonight.” Sam’s features darkened as her face twisted into a scowl. She crossed her arms over her chest and ticked a hip out to the side. “You don’t understand. I’m ovulating. If I don’t get pregnant tonight, it will be another month before I’ll be able to.” Her tone turned scathing, “And I think even your brain-damaged brother can do math well enough to figure out I’m lying to him about the baby. Two weeks I can fudge. Six weeks, no way. It won‘t work.” AJ tipped his head back, sighed in frustration, and half turned away from her. A move which proved to be the wrong thing for him to do because Sam crossed to him and jerked him around by the arm so that he was facing her again, and if looks could kill, he’d have dropped dead at her feet right then. “What you’re not getting,” Sam verbally lashed out at him, saying each word slowly and precisely. “is that I have to get pregnant tonight.” AJ’s eyes widened in understanding and he backed away from her shaking his head. “Oh, no….” He began, “no, no, no…this was never a part of the plan.” Sam’s glare hardened. “It’s not like we have to enjoy it. Think of it as a stud service.” She was serious. AJ backed another step away as he twined his fingers behind his neck. She was serious about him getting her pregnant - right here, right now. Shaking his head and turning away from her, AJ crossed the room, and fisted his hands in anger. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to work. He’d only gotten

involved in this insane plan because he wanted Jason’s biological child, that was what would serve his need for revenge - raising Jason’s child and teaching it to despise everything Jason was. Sam came up behind him, her voice low and lethal. “Does it really matter if this baby isn’t Jason’s? As long as he believes it is, he’ll love it like his own, and when he loses it to you, he’ll still hurt like he’s losing his own kid. Isn‘t hurting Jason what really matters?” Her words had AJ remembering how much Jason had loved Michael, despite Michael’s true paternity. He remembered how hard it had been for Jason to walk away and how much Jason had suffered losing Michael. Grudgingly, he had to agree that Sam’s idea could work. Then another idea came to him and the corner of his mouth hooked up into a wicked grin. If Jason ever did find out Sam’s baby wasn’t his, maybe it’d turn the screws even harder to find out the child was really AJ’s. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was definitely workable. Sam’s voice carried a shrug of indifference with it as she spoke, “You know, never mind, if you’re not interested I’ll go find someone who is.” Suddenly turning on her, AJ grabbed her by the arms and spun her around, shoving her back against the wall and pinning her hands above her head. Her eyes narrowed and she angrily bucked against his hold, but he leaned in using his body weight to hold her in place. “If we do this, it’s not going to be a stud servicing.” AJ’s lip curled in contempt, his eyes darkening as a smug smile lifted the corners of his mouth. “I’m going to make sure you enjoy it.” Chapter 10 One Week Later… Elizabeth leaned on stretched out under hands tucked behind the door to get his the doorjamb leading into Lucky’s hospital room. He was alone, the sheet on his bed in a non-descript hospital gown, his his head as he stared blankly out the window. She knocked on attention.

He turned, and seeing her, he smiled broadly. “I hear you’re getting out of here tomorrow,” she said. “Yeah, I guess they’re finally tired of hearing me complain about the food.” Crossing to his bedside, Elizabeth laughed easily with him and smacked him across the arm with the charts in her hand. Lucky reached out for her hand, but she shied away, keeping both of hers wrapped tightly around her papers. He looked up at her questioningly, “Is everything alright?” Elizabeth shuffled, then clutched the charts to her chest and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear before completely sidestepping the question. “Have you heard anything from Luke and Skye?” He beetled his eyebrows at her in confusion. “No, not yet, but I didn’t expect them to get a lead on Helena this quick.” Reaching out to take her by the elbow, he tried to ease her toward him, but she shied away from his touch again. “Elizabeth.” The questioning tone in his voice clearly told her he knew something

was up, “What’s going on?” Elizabeth shuffled her papers, suddenly unable to meet his eyes. She didn’t know why she was finding it so difficult to tell him they couldn’t see each other. They weren’t even really dating, so it wasn’t like she was breaking up with him. No, that’s not true, she sighed in resignation. They’d both had a perfectly clear understanding of the situation between them as of three weeks ago. They’d both understood that they were working their way back together and at this moment Lucky didn’t have any reason to suspect the situation had changed. The complicating factor in this break up was the thorny little problem of her and Jason keeping their relationship a secret. She sighed. Breaking up with Lucky was difficult enough, now she had to do it without even having another relationship to use as the reason. Elizabeth rubbed her forehead, groaned lightly and then met Lucky’s eyes. They stood for a moment, gazes locked - hers regretful, his concerned - then before she had to said anything, she saw the light click on in his head and knew he knew. “You’ve met someone else, haven’t you?” Elizabeth’s face wrinkled up in an apologetic frown and she nodded. She honestly didn’t want to hurt Lucky. As a friend, he was important to her, but she wasn‘t about to give up her happiness to spare his feelings. She sighed and her head drooped as she perched on the edge of his bed, “I didn’t mean for this to happen Lucky, but it did and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He leaned toward her and lifted her chin with his finger so he could see into her eyes. “Are you happy Elizabeth? I mean, really happy?” Elizabeth thought about Jason and their last two weeks together and couldn’t help smiling. Even though things had gotten complicated and this last week, they’d only been able to see each other a couple of times, she didn’t regret any moment of it. Not only had they found each other again, she’d rediscovered a part of her soul she’d thought she’d lost forever when she had walked out of his penthouse that day so long ago. A blush crept into her cheeks as she remembered waking up two mornings ago wrapped in Jason’s arms and she had to look away from her exboyfriend to compose herself. “Yes, I’m happy.” “Then I’m happy for you.” Lucky said. She looked up at him and found his eyes beaming with complete honesty. He really was happy that she was happy. His well wishes weren’t completely unexpected, but hearing them helped ease her guilt. “Thank you,“ she said as she leaned in and hugged him. No matter what, he was still one of her best and dearest friends. That, she knew, would never change. “So when do I get to meet him?” Lucky lifted an eyebrow at her as she pulled away from him. “Well, it’s kind of complicated.” Her eyes darted away as she answered and she almost laughed out loud. Complicated would be his family not liking her, or his job schedule clashing with hers. She wasn’t sure what you would call what they had. She was in a relationship with a known mob enforcer, but keeping it secret so his pregnant ex-lover could be led to believe she still had a chance at a relationship with him to keep her from running away to abort his baby, or possibly miscarrying from the stress of losing her ‘family‘, or going off into hiding so

said mob enforcer would never know if his child was dead or alive and being raise by who knows who, who knows where. When she didn’t answer, Lucky narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously. “He’s not married is he?” Elizabeth laughed out loud, if only it were that simple. “No!” She protested, mock glaring at Lucky for daring to suggest such a thing. “Good grief, no. What do you think I am?” Lucky looked at her pointedly and her mouth dropped open in surprise. She smacked him again with the charts in her hands. “You know, just for that, Lucas Lorenzo Spencer, I’m going to have Steven order you an enema.” Lucky’s mouth dropped open, “You wouldn’t dare!” Elizabeth only raised her chin and smiled like the cat who ate the canary. “Elizabeth Imogene Webber!” Lucky lunged at her, pulled her down on the bed next to him, and started tickling her in the ribs. “Lucky! Stop it, we are in a hospital.” Laughing Elizabeth batted at him again with the charts and he reluctantly let her go. She gave him her best ‘disapproving nurse’ look as she scooted away from him. “Besides you could hurt yourself. Do I have to remind you that you are still recovering from a nearly fatal gunshot wound?” He frowned at her, although behind it his deep blue eyes sparked gleefully, and he crossed his arms over his chest. Elizabeth shifted further away from him and nervously nibbled her lower lip. There was something else on her mind she needed to discuss with him and this subject had her even more anxious than the first. “How’s Emily doing?” Lucky reacted like she’d doused him with a bucket of ice water. Immediately, he became serious, his smile giving way to worry. Concern etched itself across his features and rubbing at a temple with one hand, he slouched back into the mattress. “A little better. I think I’ve got her talked into seeing Gail for counseling.” “Really!” Elizabeth perked up at this bit of good news, it seemed as if Lucky had managed to make great strides in helping Emily after all. Lucky’s eyebrows beetled together and a frown creased the corners of his lips downward. “She’s still not doing very well. Because Connor looked so much like Nikolas, she’s afraid to go visit him in jail. She’s afraid to see him at all. She thinks all she‘ll see is the man who raped her, and not the husband who loves her.” “Lucky,” Elizabeth found herself nervous again, afraid of stirring up trouble where she shouldn’t, but knowing there were things that needed to be discussed. “How do you feel about Emily?” Lucky looked up at her puzzled. “What do you mean? We’re friends. She’s in trouble and I’m helping her…” He shrugged half-heartedly and Elizabeth sighed, wondering if he even fully understood himself how he felt about Emily.

Yet she couldn’t let it go that easily. With Emily in such a fragile state of mind, she was afraid if Emily started suspecting Lucky’s true feelings for her, it would confuse or hurt her, or she would wind up hurting him with some kind of knee jerk self-defense reaction. Emily was recovering from a terrible emotional trauma, and they all needed to be careful about anything that might make her healing process more difficult than it needed to be. Surely finding out her husband’s brother, who she cared for and relied on as a best friend, was secretly in love with her would unsettle her already conflicted emotions. Elizabeth’s voice lowered to a near whisper. “Lucky, you’re in love with her.” He started shaking his head in denial, but didn’t meet her eyes. “No, we’re just friends.” Elizabeth sighed, “Lucky…” Lucky cut her off sharply. “Look it doesn’t matter how I feel, Elizabeth. Emily is married to my brother and she’s going through something no woman should ever have to endure.” The pained expression on his face made Elizabeth’s heart hurt for him. “All I want is for her to be happy and whole again, and if that means helping her work things out with my brother, then that’s what I’m going to do.” Elizabeth reached out and took his hand in hers. “Have I told you lately that you are the best friend anyone could have.” Lucky shrugged off her compliment and batted her hand away. “Well you know what they say about us good guys.” He rolled his eyes, “We finish last, die first…. you, know, that sorta thing.” Elizabeth’s lip curled into a wary smile just as her cell phone rang. She pulled it out of her coat pocket and a text message scrolled across the screen. Jakes 10. Her smile was immediate and brilliant. Lucky leaned in to read the screen over her shoulder and Elizabeth twisted away so he couldn’t see it. “So that must be from Mr. Mystery Man,” he said disapprovingly. “What makes you say that?” she asked, trying her best to sound nonchalant but doing a very poor job of it. Lucky just snorted at her. “You’re such a horrible liar. Just make sure to tell Mr. Mysterious if he hurts you, he’ll have to answer to me.” Elizabeth bounced off his bed and turned to face him. “You know I love you don’t you?” She leaned in, gave Lucky a quick kiss on the cheek and headed for the door with a spring in her step.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam stopped pacing the bedroom and threw a glance at the clock on the nightstand. Two more minutes. She was alone in the apartment and with no fear of being discovered she didn‘t try to be sneaky. The box the pregnancy test kit had come in and its unfolded page of instructions were both tossed haphazardly on the bed. Jason had left bright and early this morning just as he’d had every other morning this week, and she’d patiently waited in bed until she’d heard him closing the door downstairs before she’d gotten up to take the test. It’d been only a week, but this home test kit had promised accurate results up to five days before her scheduled period. Technically she wasn’t quite five days away, but she couldn’t wait another day or two to find out. She glanced at the clock and twisted her fingers together nervously, still another minute to go. Striding to the bathroom door she stood and peered in, ticking her toes against the carpet as she counted off the seconds. She had managed to duck her guards every day this week and sneak off to meet AJ . All in all, not a difficult feat seeing how Jason had been making a career out of making himself scarce. Oh, he’d come back that first morning and they’d ‘talked’. She rolled her eyes. Jason had made it perfectly clear that nothing sexual would be happening between them until at least after the baby arrived, and trust, if was to exist between them again, would be hard earned. She’d taken it all light-heartedly, knowing she would soon sway the mobster’s heart like she had already done once before, but this last week hadn’t gone nearly as well as she‘d expected. He’d had reasons and excuses for being gone each day and a couple of nights. All well and good - job-related - he explained, and she’d gritted her teeth and smiled. Then cooed over him like a love-sick teenager while hating every moment of it. Still, she didn’t doubt her plan would work, after all she had at least nine months to work out the details. She’d be like the spider who’d spun her web and then lay in wait for her prey to blunder in. Sam was still carefully lying out all the strands of her web, and soon enough her prey would have nowhere to go except into her trap. She eyed the clock again, where the last thirty seconds of the remaining minute were still ticking away and her thoughts shifted to her partner in crime. A genuinely happy smile spread across her face as she thought about AJ. He was getting under her skin. Yes, he was devious, vindictive and petty; but frankly she admired those qualities. Maybe what she saw in him was a kindred spirit of sorts. Then she shook off the sentimental feelings. They were in on a job together, she scolded herself, that was all it was, they shared a common goal, nothing more, nothing less. When her smile returned, she lifted a hand to hide it. The sex had been pretty amazing, and he did more than deliver on his promise of making her enjoy it. Yet, however amazing the sex was, that wasn’t anything new to her, she’d had amazing sex more times than she could remember. What made the difference with her and AJ was that they were having honest sex, and that was something she hadn’t had in ages. She’d spent years playing the game, running a con, using her body to get what she wanted. She was always, always playing an angle. Except now. This time, there was an angle, no doubt about that, but since she and AJ were both working the angle together, the honesty made her feel truly naked with a man for the first time in years. It was a feeling as unsettling as it was enticing.

Sam shook her head and reminded herself that it didn’t matter what she felt for or about AJ. In the end all that mattered was if that little stick turned blue. Then everything they’d done would have been worth it. The clock ticked away the last few seconds and as the minute changed, she sprang into the bathroom, and with trembling hands gently picking up the pregnancy test stick which was balanced carefully on the rim of the sink. She closed her eyes a minute and took a deep steadying breath. Then she opened them and looked at the stick. A broad smile bloomed across her face. Running back into the bedroom to flop on the bed, she pulled a cell phone out of the nightstand drawer and dialed. When she heard the click of the call being answered, her smile widened. “It’s positive,” she said, her voice ripe with glee. “Phase Two of our plan is a go for tomorrow at noon.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Elizabeth climbed out of the cab and tried to hand the cabbie a tip, but he’d refused it just like every other time he’d brought her to one of her rendezvous points. Smiling and waving her off, the burly man explained yet again how he’d already been paid more than enough to cover the ride and the tip, and drove off without her money. She turned towards Jake’s knowing she should feel annoyed with Jason for keeping her from helping with her part of the expenses, but one look at the front door and she only felt giddy. The door looked like it had every other time she’d seen it, but this time a flutter took flight in her stomach, because she knew at this moment behind that very door, Jason was waiting for her. Carefully crossing to the door in her four inch black heels, she opened the door, slid inside, and looked around for Jason. What she saw instead surprised her. The bar was empty. Slow seductive music was playing on the jukebox, and one lone table in the middle of the room was draped with a lacy tablecloth and single slender candle was alit in its center. A small grin curved her mouth and the scene made her hesitate in the doorway. Her hand came to her throat when she realized all Jason had done to make their night alone special. Slipping out of her jacket, she crossed to the bar and draped it on a stool. The sound of his boots had her turning to find him walking out of the kitchen, a mug held in each hand. He rounded the end of the bar and seeing her stopped him in his tracks. She blushed as she watched his eyes wander slowly over her face, down her snug red sweater, black leather mini, shapely fishnet stockinged legs to the strappy stilettos she was wearing before rising again to meet her eyes. The hungry glint now glowing in them made her pulse kick into high gear and sent a tingle down her spine.

They were both still caught in each other’s gaze when Coleman burst noisily out of the kitchen. Their trance broken, both of their sets of eyes snapped to him. As he rounded the bar, he caught sight of Elizabeth, and stopped, his eyes also skimming over her very much like Jason‘s had. He whistled his appreciation and earned himself a lethal glare from Jason. Catching sight of Jason’s disapproving look, Coleman only chuckled at the enforcer as he shook his head and headed for the front door, flipping up the collar of his jacket as he went. He paused with his hand on the knob and turned back, “Just remember to lock up when you’re done.” With one last appreciative glance tossed Elizabeth’s way, he was gone, banging the door shut and locking it behind him. Jason glared heatedly after the man before turning back to Elizabeth. His eyes softened as they fell on her again. “You’re early,” he said without accusation. “Everything’s not ready.” Then he crossed to the lace covered table and set the two mugs next to two plates. Elizabeth followed behind him, taking in little details she had missed earlier. The pool table was racked and ready for play, each plate on the table held a large brownie and her mug was topped with a generous heap of whipped cream and sprinkles. “Candles? Music? Kelly’s brownies?” her eyes widened at each revelation and then she pointed at her mug, “Is that hot cocoa?” “A packet and a half with extra whipped cream.” Jason smiled as he watching her face light up. “You remembered?” “How could I forget?” he asked, as he reached out to slip a strand of hair behind her ear, letting his head fall to the side as his fingers lingered over her cheek, “All that soup you made me drink while you fixed yourself hot cocoa.” Still amazed at everything special Jason had put together for tonight, she couldn‘t believe how happy she felt at this moment. “You went to all this trouble for us?” “No,” he said, pulling her toward him to place a tender kiss on her lips, “I did all of this for you.” Elizabeth felt her heart swell in her chest, and with Jason looking down at her with so much love in his cerulean eyes it made her weak in the knees. Then she remembered the little surprise she’d picked up at Victoria’s Secret for his pleasure and was thinking about leading him into a seductive dance, when she caught sight of the rack of balls on the pool table and had another idea. “I have a surprise for you too.” She smiled playfully at him, took him by both hands and led him to the pool table. “Have you ever heard of strip pool?” “Strip pool?” He followed her lead, his grin widening at the idea. “Yes,” She said as she let go of him and picked up a pool cue. “It’s just like regular pool, only when I sink a shot I get to pick a piece of clothing for you to take off and when you sink a shot, you get to tell me what to take off.” Then, she picked up the chalk, started chalking the tip of her cue and raised an eyebrow at him as she cocked her head to the side. “Are you up for the challenge?”

Jason’s eyes never left hers and a wicked smile spread over his face as he nodded and reached for a cue stick. “Should I spot you a couple of shots? Or play lefthanded, so I‘m handicapped?” “You’re awfully sure of yourself.” She said as she circled the table, snatching the cue ball on her way around and setting it down at the far end of the table. “I’ll break, if you don’t mind.” “Not at all.” Jason stood holding his cue with both hands, watching her as she bent low over the stick, sighting her break shot. Elizabeth slowly licked her lips when she noticed him taking advantage of the view provided by the dip in the front of her shirt. She laughed to herself, he had no idea what she had in store for him. She was going to have so much fun. Pulling her concentration back to her shot, she gripped the cue in her hand and drove the stick forward, hitting the cue ball and sending it careening into the triangular rack of balls. With a loud crack the balls broke apart, rolling wildly across the table, and she watched with a satisfied grin as the red three dropped into the corner pocket. “Nice break,” Jason said. Smiling coyly, Elizabeth picked up the chalk and rechalked the tip of her cue stick. “Why, thank you,” she said, wrinkling her nose at him, “By the way, you owe me that shirt.” Chapter 11 Elizabeth watched Jason line up his shot, more interested in the way the muscles across his shoulders and back flexed as he moved than in his technical pool shooting skills. Tonight she was playing the best game of her life and had so far successfully stripped Jason of his shirt, belt, both boots and jeans. When she’d sunk her last shot and won his jeans, he’d peeled them off with such a sensual grin on his face, stripping down to his snug black boxer briefs and socks, she’d nearly thrown the game right then and tackled him onto the pool table. Only when she’d started to lean in to kiss him, he wouldn’t let her, and with a spark of deviltry in his eyes showing just how much he was enjoying this, he put a finger to her lips, slowly shook his head at her and made her wait. That’s when she’d decided to make him suffer. If that was the way he wanted to play then she’d more than oblige him. Besides, he hadn’t done nearly as well in the game as she had. So far Elizabeth had only removed her red sweater and black mini. The sweater had come off to reveal a lacy black push-up bra, and then later when she’d slid off the mini to reveal a matching pair of black lace boyshorts cut high enough to show off an ample portion of her nicely rounded bottom and thigh high black stockings, Jason’s game had taken a decided downturn. In fact, he hadn’t sunk another shot since. Which made their totals: Elizabeth - 5, Jason - 2. The shot he was currently lining up was a pretty simple one. Straight in, no fancy rail angles or multiple ball ricochets happening with this one. Straight from the cue stick to the cue ball to the blue striped ball and into the corner. Elizabeth

sidled around the table to the corner pocket Jason was aiming for and leaned over, bending at the waist and extending her arms wide as she braced her hands on the edge of the table, giving him a clear view of her cleavage as he looked down the length of his pool cue. His eyes lifted to her, and she saw his knuckles whiten around his pool cue as his gaze lifted to her face. She gave him a “Gee-is-something-bothering-you-because-Ican’t-possibly-imagine-what-it-might-be” look and a smile lifted the corner of his mouth. He closed his eyes a second, took a deep breath and with a shake of his head brought his focus back to his shot. He was practically glowering at the pool balls and after a tense moment, he drew back and connected with the cue ball. Elizabeth watched the cue ball dart forward, impact with the blue striped ball making it roll straight into the corner pocket. She looked up, cocking an eyebrow at him, and found a broad grin on his face. He crooked an eyebrow back at her and she straightened, placing a hand low on each hip. With a sultry ticking of her hips she purposefully rounded the table to face him, then looked down giving herself the once over. She lifted one black stilettoed foot and pointed down at it, “Shoe?” His eyes darkened as he pursed his lips and slowly shook his head, “No, the shoes stay.” Her eyes widened as she watched him look her up and down and then circle her. She could practically feel his gaze on her body like a pair of hands and she felt herself flush. She wanted to feel his hands on her, his long talented fingers sliding over her skin… “Stocking.” She jumped, “What?” She hadn’t realized how distracted she’d become. “I want your stocking.” He repeated with a sly smile. She pointed at her leg, “This? Are you sure this is what you want?” Jason nodded, his sly smile slowly becoming seductive. Elizabeth leaned back against the pool table and slipped her foot out of her shoe, then braced her toes on a table. Licking her lips, she made a slow, teasing show out of sliding her hands up her thigh and hooking her fingers under the lacy edge of her stocking then slowly easing it down the length of her leg. Jason kept his eyes locked on her hands for the entire show. Standing slowly, Elizabeth tucked her foot back into her black three-inch heel, and sauntered toward Jason with the stocking dangling from her hand. Their eyes locked, his ice blue ones darkening with desire as she stopped in front of him and draped the scrap of filmy material around his neck. “You wanted this. It‘s yours.” She drew her lower lip between her teeth and watched his pupils widen. She was enjoying this. “Now, I think it’s my turn.” He watched her walk away and she made sure to sway her hips for his viewing pleasure. Then she stopped and bent low at the waist under the pretense of getting a bead on a shot. She rejected the angle and stood, bracing a hand on her hip and arching her back seductively. She was determined to play this for everything it

was worth, and tease him to his limits, to see how far she could push him before he snapped. She made her way around the table, ostensibly looking for her best shot, but really just giving him plenty of time to watch her move. Jason moved with her keeping the pool table between them, his eyes locked on her as if he were animal on the hunt, stalking her, waiting for the right moment to pounce. She stopped at their little dining table to swirl the end of her finger in the whipped cream topping her now cool hot cocoa and then, turning to make sure he could watch, she slid her finger into her mouth, wrapped her lips around her cream covered digit, and eased it back out again. Across the table, she heard Jason groan. She didn’t try to hid her smile of pleasure as she turned back to the pool table, it was her shot after all and as fun as teasing him was, stripping him down to the buff was even better. Spying the shot she wanted to take, she was only mildly surprised to find where Jason’s prowling had taken him. She raised an eyebrow at him as she rounded the corner of the table and approached his position. Raising an eyebrow back at her, he planted his cue stick by his side and didn’t move. He’d stationed himself right where she needed to be to make her shot, and with that little eyebrow wiggle he’d done, he was clearly challenging her to make her shot anyway. Well, she wasn’t about to let him beat her at her own game. She sidled up with her back to him and eased herself into the space he’d left between himself and the table, her rounded bottom sliding across his groin. She could feel him pressing into her, and a shiver went through her as she felt his reaction to their physical contact. Elizabeth’s hands trembled as she grasped the pool cue. She leaned forward to line up her shot, a move that settled her even more intimately against him and he pressed his hips forward making her gasp. Suddenly, she was having a hard time breathing, much less concentrating on finding the proper angle in which to hit a little white cue ball to knock another ball into a pocket. Peering back over her shoulder, she saw Jason watching her with a truly wicked glint in his eye and then she widened her eyes innocently, “Do you think you can you help me with this shot?” Jason’s smile broadened and he lowered himself over her, planting one hand by hers on the table and the other on her pool stick. She felt the broad expanse of his chest across her back and his warm breath fan across her neck, and the tremble in her hands spread outward, not stopping until it reached her toes. Jason’s voice was in her ear, low and seductive, giving her instructions on aim and ball English, and she bent one knee, listening as his voice stuttered as her hip shifted against him. She had set out to push him to his limits, but was finding herself testing her own. She wouldn’t be able to endure much more of this, it was time to go in for the kill. “Jason, “ she paused, and had to swallow to wet her mouth before she could continue, “Have I ever told you about this fantasy I have about you and me and a pool table?” His whole body stiffened and she felt his breathing become ragged. Then she stood and he rose with her, and turning to him, she found his face drained of all its humor, leaving only raw desire in its place. His eyes consumed her and she licked her lips, trembling under his heated stare.

Her voice was breathless, nearly a whisper, “From the first day you taught me to play pool, I wondered what it would be like for you to take me on top….” His arm went around her waist, roughly pulling her to him and lifting her as his mouth took hers, hungry and desperate with desire. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she met his kisses with a hunger of her own and he bent her back, rolling pool balls out of their way with a sweep of his arm. Laying her out on the table, he stretched the length of his body over her, and passions that had been stoked and smoldering all evening erupted in a flame of hot bright need that consumed them both.

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Emily rounded a corner in the hospital. It was way past visiting hours, but she couldn’t stay away. Her nightmares were getting the best of her and she needed a friendly face to help keep them at bay. She stole silently down the hall, doing her best to avoid nurses and orderlies who might stop and question her about where she was going or send her away. Turning down the last hallway, she snuck over, quietly opened the door to Lucky’s room and slipped inside. She found Lucky still awake with his small television turned on and the faint rumbling of WWF wrestling filling the room. He had the head of the bed cranked up and one arm braced behind his head. Emily hesitated in the doorway, suddenly unsure of herself and wondering why she was here. Her uncertainty added to the maelstrom of emotions already swirling through her and pushed her beyond her limits of control. Tears began silently sliding down her cheeks and she crossed her arms over her chest as she shifted from one foot to the other. Why was she here? She didn’t know. She didn’t know anything anymore. Everything she’d placed her trust in to make a solid foundation for her life was now gone. Her husband was in prison and because of what Connor Bishop had done to her, she couldn’t even picture him in her mind without being seized by a feeling of abject terror. “Emily?” Lucky’s voice floated to her, barely registering over the noise in her head. Then he was next to her, pulling her into his arms and she leaned into his chest, burying her face and letting herself cry. Lucky guided her to the bed and they sat, his arm around her and her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” Emily said through her tears, “I don’t even know why I’m here.” Lucky lifted her chin with one finger and met her eyes, “You know you can tell me anything.” Emily sighed, “Nikolas called today. He wants me to come see him tomorrow.” She dropped her head, closing her eyes and shaking her head. “I don’t think I can go.” Her shoulders started shaking as her tears came faster, her words coming out

between sobs. “What if I can never look at him again without remembering… without remembering….” Lucky pulled her to him and she went, crying out her fears into his shoulder and finding comfort in the feeling of his arms wrapped around her. It was all too confusing, but she didn’t care, she just needed something to hold on to, to make the pain feel less overwhelming. When she found her voice again, it was barely a whisper, “Can I stay here tonight?” “Of course.” he answered, pressing a chaste kiss to her forehead, “I’m here whenever you need me.”

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Sitting on the edge of the bed with his bag packed and at his feet, AJ Quartermaine should have felt excited. Today was his grand re-entry into Port Charles. His big splash come-back, welcome, welcome, guess-who’s-here-again day. The day his revenge on his brother for stealing his son from him kicked into high gear. But Sam had called yesterday morning and turned his world upside-down. Sam. His mouth hooked into a grin. Now she was a woman after his own heart. This last week had been amazing. Her appetites were unbelievable. Never before had he been with a woman so sexually uninhibited, she even had Carly beat, hands down. She was a sassy, saucy, tarty little firecracker who could literally bring him to tears with pleasure in the bedroom, and yesterday she’d called him and told him she was pregnant with his baby. His baby. The wonder of it made everything else a little less substantial in comparison. He hoped they had a girl. A little sprite of a baby girl with her momma’s chocolate brown eyes. His grin widened as he thought about his daughter, a feisty little brunette with her mother’s spark, and his hand stole up to his chest to cover his heart. He was going to be a daddy. He’d come back to Port Charles to give his brother a taste of his own medicine. Tit for tat. An eye for an eye and all that jazz. Only now he was the one had everything and more. He had the girl, the baby and the revenge was just the cherry on top. So today when he walked into Kelley’s Diner at half past noon to make his grand appearance in front of Sam and his brother, he would know he’d already won. The downfall of the great Jason Morgan had begun and nothing would stop it now.

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Elizabeth rolled over in bed, the morning sun bleeding in through the curtains, settling a faint glow around the room. In the hazy light she saw Cameron in lying in his bed, awake and on his back, perfectly content as he played with his feet. Elizabeth snuggled into the covers, savoring the warmth the feather comforter afforded. She and Jason hadn’t spent the entire night together last night. After their game of ‘pool’ - her grin widened remembering how incredibly that fantasy had been fulfilled - they’d stayed at Jake’s a while talking, but with Cameron teething and not sleeping well, she hadn’t wanted to be away all night. Cameron, having gotten bored playing catch and release with his toes, rolled onto his stomach and using the slats of the crib, levered himself up on his knees. Smiling broadly, he looked over toward her bed and starting making grunting noises to get her attention. Elizabeth loved this time in the morning with him, he was always in a good mood when he woke up and they’d worked out a pleasant morning routine. He’d wake up and she’d change him, then they’d climb back into her bed where they’d snuggle and play patty-cake or peek-a-boo. It was a wonderful time, just the two of them, happy and content, and it’d usually last all of fifteen minutes, if she was lucky, before Cameron realized he was hungry. Today was no different, Cameron was happy to be awake, looking over to her bed for her to come pick him and just like every other morning, Elizabeth sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Except today, her stomach lurched and heaved, and she froze in mid-move as a wave of nausea swept over her. She swallowed thickly as bile rose in her throat and she brought a shaky hand up to cover her mouth. A cold clammy feeling spread its icy fingers over her and for a moment she thought she was going to throw up on her feet. On the other side of the room, oblivious to his mother’s distress, Cameron was laughing. Elizabeth let the sound flow over her, rocking slightly with one hand on her stomach, the other still covering her mouth, mentally willing herself not to toss her cookies. She couldn’t be hung over, she reasoned, she hadn’t drank anything harder than hot cocoa last night, unless it was too much hot cocoa and Kelley’s brownies on an empty stomach that was making her sick. A few deep breathes had her nausea calming slightly, and she slowly stood and carefully crossed the room to Cameron. He was smiling widely at her and she forced a smile on her face as well. “Hey there big boy.” She lifted her son out of the crib and he fell into her, wrapping his short arms around her as far as he could. She caressed his head with her cheek and for a brief moment forgot how horrible she felt. Their together time in bed didn’t interested in doing was rock back bed shake, which in turn made her machine during the spin cycle. So last long that morning as all Cameron was and forth on his hands and knees, which made the stomach feel like she was riding the washing in less than two minutes Elizabeth had her son

in her arms and was headed downstairs to get him his breakfast. Audrey was already up, wearing one of her signature pastel suits with her hair perfectly coifed, and eating her morning staple of an English muffin with strawberry jam and a cup of coffee with two creamers and two sugars. She gave her granddaughter a reproachful look as Elizabeth strapped Cameron into his highchair. “You don’t look well this morning.” Audrey said dryly. Grabbing a baby food jar of peaches and a spoon, Elizabeth rolled her eyes at the disapproval in her Gram’s voice. Elizabeth knew Gram wasn’t happy with her night time excursions, but more than anything else she though her Gram had her nose out of joint because Elizabeth hadn’t taken Gram into her confidence about what she was doing. This morning, however, she didn’t really feel like dealing with elderly woman’s attitude, Grandmother or not. “I’m fine, I just have some kind of stomach bug. There’s one going around at work.” Elizabeth said, as she tucked a bib around Cameron’s neck and unscrewed the jar of peaches. She’d normally eat her breakfast as she fed Cam, but with her stomach acting up this morning she didn’t feel much like looking at food, much less eating. “Maybe if you wouldn’t stay out till all hours you wouldn’t be getting sick.” Gram arched a thin eyebrow pointedly at her and Elizabeth bit her tongue before a nasty retort shot out of her mouth. She was after all indebted to Gram for letting her and Cameron live here rent free. The least she could do is put up with a little heavy-handed Grandparental concern. Instead Elizabeth focused on dodging Cameron’s hands as he tried to grab the spoon of peaches she was feeding him. Then the front door bell rang, and Gram huffed in annoyance and left to go answer it. In a minute Elizabeth heard the voice of her brother Stephen floating in from the foyer. Cameron had one whole fistful of fingers stuck inside his mouth, and was grinning at her with his deep blue eyes sparkling as she held up another spoonful of peaches to try to tempt him into taking another bite. He laughed at her and started smacking his peach-puree covered hand on the tray of his highchair, splattering pale orange goo all over himself, Elizabeth, the table, and the wall next to them. Elizabeth sighed and rested her head on her hand, looking at her giggling son with a mixture of frustration and joy. Gram came back into the kitchen carrying her coffee cup with Stephen trailing behind her, her low-heeled pastel sling-backs clacking softly on the hard wood floor. “Maybe you can talk some sense into her, Stephen,” Gram was saying as she entered, “she stays out until all hours, and now she’s gotten sick. She just can’t keep this up with a baby to take care of.” Elizabeth’s stomach lurched as the smell of Gram’s coffee wafted over her, and she bolted out of the kitchen for the bathroom, making it just in time to get sick in the toilet. By the time her stomach settled, she’d cleaned up and gotten back to the kitchen, Gram was nowhere to be seen and Stephen was finishing feeding Cameron his breakfast. She grinned sheepishly at her brother, “Sorry about that.”

He shrugged it off, taking the spoon of peaches on a winding airplane ride to Cameron’s mouth, “Don’t worry about it. I’m a doctor. I’ve seen worse.” He slid his eyes to her and raised an eyebrow at her. “You are awfully pale. Are you sure you’re alright?” Elizabeth collapsed in a chair opposite him and laid her cheek on the table top, her auburn hair fanning out around her head like a dark cloud. “Yes, it’s just a stomach bug. There’s one going around the hospital. I’m sure I’ll be fine in a few hours.” She lifted her head to look at him, “By the way, where did Gram go?” “Work.” Stephen turned back to his nephew and used the spoon to scrape up the peaches he’d pushed back out of his mouth in his attempts to chew. “I told her to leave you alone and mind her own business.” “Thanks.” She smiled lopsidedly at her brother. “Did she fill you in on all the areas I’m falling short in?” “I got the general rundown.” He spooned the last bit of peaches into Cameron’s mouth and kept his eyes on Cam as he made her an offer, “You know you and Cameron could move in with me.” Elizabeth smiled at her brother. “Thank you, but I couldn’t do that to you.” Then talked over him when he tried to interrupt. “I love that you offered, but I just can’t. You’re working crazy hours at the hospital and Cameron would keep you up when you need to be sleeping. I‘m sure your patients would much rather have a well rested doctor than one who is sleep deprived and cranky.” Stephen gave her an annoyed look, “Elizabeth, I‘m being serious.” “So am I,” she said, tipping her head to the side, “I know you mean well, but it wouldn’t work.” Stephen sighed. “Are you scheduled to work today?” Elizabeth shook her head no. “Well then, would you at least let me take care of Cameron this morning so you can go back to bed and get some sleep?” He raised his eyebrows in challenge, but it wasn’t necessary, the sound of more sleep was too good an offer for her to refuse. “Have I told you, you’re a saint?” Elizabeth asked as she stood. “I’d kiss you right now, but I don’t want to give you what I have.” Stephen laughed and pulled Cameron out of his high chair, turning him around so that the little boy’s back was to his chest and held him in place with one arm wrapped around his middle. Cameron gurgled happily in his new position and started waving his arms and legs in the air. “Go,” Stephen ordered, pointing toward the stairs, “go back to bed before I change my mind. If you‘re feeling better when you wake up, I‘ll even spring for lunch at Kelley‘s.” “Thank you.” Elizabeth mouthed as she backed out of the room and headed back to her bedroom. Chapter 12

Despite Jason’s arrival during the peak of the lunch rush, Kelly’s had an unusually small smattering of customers scattered at various tables. The cold February chill kept most sensible people indoors out of the icy, cutting wind and the few that had braved the elements had come prepared, their mass of coats, hats and scarves covering the coat rack by the door making it look very much like a lumpy multi-colored Christmas tree. Jason took it in with a sweep of his eyes, the sparsely filled room, the winter garments, Penny behind the counter, and the small dark-haired woman draped like a rag doll over the counter with her head resting on her crossed forearms. Sam had called him less than fifteen minutes ago in a panic and Jason had made it here from the warehouse in record time. Having heard the door open, she lifted her head from the counter and seeing Jason made a shaky smile bloom on her face. “Where’s Greg?” Jason asked gruffly as he crossed to her, irritated the guard was nowhere in sight. “I ducked him back at Wyndam’s.” Sam propped her head on her hand. “You know I hate being followed around like I can’t take care of myself.” Jason frowned and without bothering to sit, he pulled out his phone and flipped it open. “I don’t care if you don’t like it. You shouldn’t be alone.” “But I can always call you if I need help.” Sam smiled at him and Jason’s frown deepened as he brought his cell phone to his ear. “No you can’t Sam.” He cocked the mouthpiece aside and struggled to keep the irritation out of his voice, “I won’t always be available, that’s why you have Greg.” As the phone rang, he studied her. Her color was good. Her eyes were bright. Maybe she looked a little more tired than normal, but then she was pregnant - with his baby- and that reminder made him cringe. He hadn’t even asked her how she was doing. With a sigh, he rubbed his forehead. “How are you feeling? Have you eaten lunch yet?” Sam waved her hand dismissively and lowered her head back to the counter. “I had some toast for breakfast. I wasn’t feeling very well this morning.” Toast. That’s why he’d dropped everything, including sitting in on a scheduled conference call to Puerto Rico, and nearly broken his neck getting over here? Because it was two friggin’ o’clock in the afternoon and the only thing she’d eaten all day was toast. He swore to himself. That call was important, things in Puerto Rico were beginning to get shaky again and he needed to keep a firm hand on the situation before it got out of control. Screwing up one well timed ‘reminder’ could possibly tip the balance of power, and it was all because of toast. His jaw tightened as the cell phone at his ear clicked over to Greg’s voice mail, and Jason barely suppressed an urge to throw the electronic device through the window. Greg was in for a lot more than a simple reprimand when Jason got his hands on him. The front door of the diner slammed open, spilling a frigid breeze across the room, and Jason’s gaze automatically flicked toward it, instinctively checking out the diner’s new arrival. Then he froze, his eyes narrowing and his gaze hardening. The muscle in his jaw ticked as he ground his teeth together.

He didn’t need this, not now. Sauntering toward him wearing a long black wool coat, casually unbuttoned with its ends flaring out behind him as he moved, was his brother - AJ Quartermaine.

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“Well, well, well…look at what we have here.” AJ stopped in front of his little brother, his lip curling into a half amused and half disgusted smile. Jason didn’t answer, not that AJ expected him to. “Did you miss me?” AJ crossed his arms over his chest and settled back on his heels. He watched as annoyance flickered across Jason‘s eyes and chuckled. “I see you haven’t changed a bit.” “What do you want?” “Can’t I stop by and say ‘Hi’ to my baby brother without having an ulterior motive?” Jason glared at him. AJ let his gaze roam over Sam who watched him blankly, not surprised by her feigned disinterest, and cocked his head to the side. “Well, hello there,” He dramatically arched an eyebrow in a display of curiosity, entirely for Jason‘s benefit. “Don’t I know you?” Then he made a show of rolling his eyes as if shuffling through his memories, then snapped his fingers in mockrecollection, “You’re Sam McCall aren’t you? We met during that whole Dead Man’s Hand treasure hunt.” He nodded his head as Sam raked her eyes over him in distain. He had to struggle to keep his admiration for her off his face. She, however, seemed to have no trouble playing her part, and if he hadn’t known better he would have sworn she’d never met him at all, much less suspect that the child she carried was his. Before she could reply, Jason stepped in front of her putting himself between the two of them, effectively shielding her and blocking their conversation. AJ dragged his eyes back to his brother’s, the annoyance he’d seen in them earlier had turned into the first glimmerings of anger. “What do you want?” Jason repeated, this time with a hard edge in his voice. Stroking his goatee between his finger and thumb, AJ considered how far he could push his brother without starting a brawl. The ragged edge of Jason’s anger was an uncertain place to tread, but he’d had enough practice to tell when he was safe and when he was nearing the edge. Right now, he was still well within safe territory. “To tell you I’m back in town.” AJ’s eyes sparkled.

AJ heard the bell chime as the door to Kelly’s swung open and watched Jason’s eyes flick past him to inspect the new arrival. Then, as he watched, Jason’s face relaxed, its hard edge slipping away into a ghost of an almost-but-not-quite smile, and the anger in his eyes melted into a spark of something AJ would have taken for happiness on any other man except his stone cold killer of a brother. Surprise and blatant curiosity had him turning toward the door to see what had caused his brother to bloom into instant good-tidings and joy. What he saw made him pause. Elizabeth Webber maneuvered a stroller through the door, laughing out loud at some comment the man holding the door open for her had made. Together the two of them managed to muscle the baby stroller inside and close the door behind them. Then as AJ watched, Elizabeth’s eyes lifted and seeing Jason brought a look to her face that was eerily similar to what he’d just seen on his brother’s, only the shy smile and glint in her eye was accompanied by a pinking of her cheeks. Then the man with her asked her for her coat, breaking the spell and she turned away, her smile melting, her movements suddenly awkward as she avoided looking back in Jason’s direction. AJ’s eyes narrowed as he turned back to his brother and found him staring not at Elizabeth or himself, but off to the side. His face once again a mask of indifference, or nearly so, because when Jason’s eyes cut back to him, the open hostility in them was tempered with a look of unease. “Are you done?” Jason asked, his voice tight, and out of the corner of his eye, AJ saw the baby in Elizabeth’s arms turn toward the sound of Jason’s voice with a big, wet, sloppy smile spreading across his pudgy face. A red flag popped up in AJ’s mind. This was interesting. In fact, it was more than interesting enough to call for an impromptu experiment. “For now.” He slid his eyes to Sam, who from her position behind Jason’s back hadn’t caught the look that had passed between his brother and Elizabeth, “I will leave you and your lovely lady…” AJ openly winked at her, noting the lack of change in Jason’s expression. Interesting. “alone so you two can eat lunch.” Backing away from them, he watched a flicker of confusion pass over Sam’s face, then turned and headed for the table where Elizabeth Webber was seated. Pausing next to Elizabeth’s chair, he turned around as if he’d forgotten to say something. He was close enough to her that all he had to do was shift his hand to the right a few inches and he could brush against her arm. AJ feigned a near miss, raising his hand to rub his forehead, and took close note of Jason’s reaction. Unlike his wink at Sam, this almost-but-not-quite contact made Jason tense, his hands fisted at his sides, his jaw clenched, and his eyes narrowed threateningly. Most interesting indeed. Satisfied, AJ waved an arm as if deciding not to make his remembered comment, then turned and headed out of the diner. Chuckling to himself as he closed the door behind him. He cast a glance back over his shoulder and watched through the glass as Elizabeth Webber pulled a jar of baby food out of her bag for the little boy squirming in her arms. Running a finger and thumb over his goatee, he started walking away. He wasn’t sure what kind of relationship existed between his brother and Elizabeth and her baby, but

knew without a doubt she was important to Jason. And since she was important to Jason, she was also important to him. He needed make sure he knew everything there was to know about Ms. Elizabeth Webber. Chapter 13 Sitting in the visitors waiting room at Pentonville prison, Emily felt like she could puke on her shoes and pass out, or run screaming down the hall, fleeing until she was safely huddled under her blankets in her bed at the Quartermaine mansion. Why was she here? Bringing trembling hands up to cover her face, she resigned herself to the answer. She was here to see her husband. The husband who still loved her, still needed her, and knew absolutely nothing about her rape or his terrifying resemblance to her rapist. A part of her, the sensible part, knew she needed to tell Nik about what happened to her, but she couldn’t. There were a million reasons why. He would be upset. He’d want to help her. He’d feel guilty. He’d blame himself for not being there to protect her. She sighed. She didn’t want to burden him with guilt, for being away from her, or for not being able to help her now or then. She simply couldn’t deal with his emotions right now, she had enough trouble dealing with her own. However, the biggest reason she couldn’t tell him was that she couldn’t bring herself to tell him that the mere sight of him made her want to run screaming in blinding terror. An arm went around her shoulders, tightened into a hug, and she let herself lean into Lucky’s side. “I can’t do this.” Her voice was barely a whisper. Lucky wrapped his other arm around her and pulled her closer, tucking his chin over her head as she curled into him. “You don’t have to.” Safe in Lucky’s arms, Emily shook her head and let herself cry freely. “I can’t. I can‘t go see him. I‘m not ready.” “I can go in and explain…” “No!” Emily’s head popped up, her eyes wide with fear, “No! You can’t tell him what happened. I don’t want him to know. Not yet.” Lucky’s hands rubbed up and down her arms and he ducked his head to look her in the eyes. “Emily, I won’t tell him anything you don’t want me to.” Emily closed her eyes and sighed. Of course he wouldn’t, she knew she could trust Lucky. “But he loves you, Em, he would do everything he could to help you if you told him.”

Emily shook her head, not in denial of his words, but in disagreement, “That’s why I can’t tell him. It’d kill him to know and not be able to do anything.” Besides I’m not ready for him to know. A door opened next to them and a tall guard in a starched blue police uniform stepped out and appraised them with a sharp edged look that bespoke years of police training. “Nikolas Cassadine is ready. Only one visitor at a time.” Lucky looked Emily in the eye and she wilted under his questioning gaze, shaking her head and covering her eyes with a shaky hand. Lucky stood, gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze and followed his fellow officer into the visitors room.

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Lucky watched the smile on Nikolas’ face melt away when he saw his brother. “What?” Lucky took a seat in the plain metal chair across the small table from his brother and frowned in mock offense. “Aren’t you happy to see me?” Nik’s face twitched into a smile. “I was expecting someone much better looking.” Then his smile melted away again, “Is Emily here?” Lucky leaned forward bracing both elbows against the table, clasped his hands in front of his face, and stared intently at the battered metal tabletop. He’d only had the walk into the room to come up with a cover story and he’d decided to go with one that was mostly true. He took a deep breath and scratched his ear. “Yes, she’s here, but…” He glanced over his shoulder toward the spot where Emily waited on the other side of the wall, hurting and alone. “She’s been stressed about you being here for so long, then coming here, seeing the prison…” He slowly shook his head. “It was too much for her.” Nikolas’ expression darkened and he tugged restlessly at the handcuff chaining his wrist to the table. His jaw set and ticked to the side as his eyes followed Lucky’s to the spot on the wall hiding Emily from his view. He looked like he wanted to claw his way through it to the woman he loved. “I’m worried about her.” Slowly shaking his head, he turned back to Lucky, “Something’s wrong, but she won’t tell me what it is. She barely talks to me on the phone.” His dark eyes flicked back and bore into Lucky’s, as worry lined his face and filled his voice, “What’s wrong with her Lucky?” Lucky hated lying to his brother, and not any lie either, but a lie that would cut him to his core once he found out the truth. A knot of guilt formed a lump in his chest, making it hard to breath. “She’s trying to handle everything on her own. Convince everyone she’s fine. Not let you know how much she’s worried so you won’t worry about her.” Lucky paused, collecting his thoughts and adjusted his words so he wouldn’t give too much away, “She’s worrying herself sick. She’s not sleeping well, and she won‘t let anyone help her.”

Frowning grimly, Nikolas tapped his finger against the table. Lucky leaned in closer and asked in a low voice. “How are you doing?” Nikolas lifted his arm as far as the cuff would allow and jerked upward a couple of times, making the metal bracelet and chain rattle. “It’s not exactly a dinner party at the country club, but I’m managing.” Lucky was going ask more, but his brother’s eyes focused on the wall Emily was behind. Nikolas turned pleading eyes back on him. “Please take care of her for me, Lucky. While I can’t. Be there for her and help her get through this.” Lucky’s chest grew tighter, making it hard for him to breathe, swallow, or look his brother in the eye. He settled instead for staring at the table top and nodding. “I will.”

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Drawing her leather jacket more tightly around her, Elizabeth sat waiting on a bench in the park. After an uncomfortable lunch at Kelly’s pretending to not notice the man she loved hovering protectively over another woman, she’d gone home and tucked Cameron in for his afternoon nap. Steven had offered to sit with his sleeping nephew so she could sneak away for some alone time. An offer she quickly took advantage of. Then after she’d left, she’d immediately phoned Jason to see if he could meet her for a quick rendezvous in the park. Right at three o’clock she heard the familiar tromp of motorcycle boots and her heart kicked into double time in her chest. Jason appeared rounding a clump of tall shrubs and at the sight of him something inside her snapped. The hurt and frustration that had been building all afternoon broke loose and a wet sob broke from her as she launched herself off the bench and wrapped her arms around him. He pulled her closer, holding her tightly and she clung on to him desperately as if she were afraid he’d vanish if she let go. Jason nuzzled her hair with his cheek and murmured apologies into her ear. Elizabeth pulled away and wiped away the tears that had streaked her cheeks with twin iridescent trails. Looking into Jason’s pale blue eyes and seeing the pain and regret in them made her heart break all over again. “It’s not your fault. We both knew this would happen sooner or later.” It was inevitable their paths would cross while Jason was with Sam. While she expected it to happen, she hadn’t expected it to hurt so much. It’d been like a sucker punch to the gut. Even knowing that he didn’t love Sam didn’t blunt the shock of seeing him pretend to be half of a loving couple. It knifed her through the heart, a quick painful stab of reality. Shaking his head, he stroked his leather gloved fingers over her jaw, brushed her hair back from her cheek and sighed. “I can’t do this to you, or Cameron. I saw him recognize me.” A dark shadow passed over Jason’s face, “I hated acting like I

didn’t see him. I don’t want to hurt him or you.” Reaching up to cup his cheek, she let her head fall to the side. “We‘ve been friends for a long time. I don’t think anyone would be suspicious if we acted like friends when we run in to each other. As long as you and I keep our secret, everything will be fine.“ She leaned into him, resting her head in the crook of his neck, “Besides, the first time is the hardest. Next time will be easier.” She said the last with a conviction she didn’t really feel, yet knowing she’d endure fire and brimstone for him if need be. “Are you feeling okay?” Elizabeth pulled back and looked up at him wondering where that question had come from. “What? Why?” “You were eating soup.” He half-shrugged as if that explained everything. Shaking her head in disbelief, Elizabeth stepped back in surprise. “You noticed what I was eating?” With everything else going on at the diner, he had noticed she was eating soup and was worried about her. A smile broke across her face, and she sighed. She loved this man. So there was no way she’d burden him the news of a little bout of stomach virus, which she was already completely over. “I’m fine.” She reassured him, but her eyes narrowed. “Seeing you with her ruined my appetite.” Jason groaned. Elizabeth’s lip curled into a smirk. “You’re lucky all I did was order soup. What I really wanted to do was to tackle her and snatch her bald.” Watching Jason’s face break into a grin lifted her spirits more than any of his reassurances. Crossing his arms over his chest, he rocked back on his heels and rolled his eyes. “There’s something I’ve been thinking about.” Reaching up, he scratched the back of his neck in what Elizabeth recognized as nervousness. She lifted an eyebrow, instantly curious. “What?” “I’d like to get you and Cameron a place to live.” “Jason!” Elizabeth’s mouth fell open in surprise. “A nice little house, where the two of you would be comfortable. Some place out of the way, where I can come visit without attracting attention.” He met her eyes and lifted a hand to caress her cheek with his thumb, “A home, for the three of us.” Elizabeth covered her mouth with one hand and stood in shock as she processed what he’d said. A home. No, not just a home. Their home. Somehow she’d never imagined them in a home together. In the penthouse maybe, but a home…. She didn’t know what to think. It would be wonderful to share a home with Jason. Being at ease together in a place all their own, eating dinner together, sleeping in the same bed - their bed - waking up in the morning together. It would be heaven, even if it was in secret for the next few months, but still… Something felt wrong about it too. Because it was a secret. Would if make her feel like a mistress living off her lover, paying her way on her back. She shook the thoughts away. She was overreacting. Their relationship wasn’t like that. Jason

wasn’t like that. There wasn’t anything sleazy about his offer. Still she would feel better about the arrangement if she supported herself. She didn’t want to live off him. Not yet. That was a huge step in their relationship which she wasn’t prepared for. She smiled at him, “Well, if I agreed to this there would be conditions…” Jason raised an eyebrow. “Conditions?” “First, I’d have to pay rent.” Jason started to protest, but she cut him off with a twist of her head and a raised hand. “Second,” She rolled her eyes lazily, then scrunched her face thoughtfully and brought the end of her finger to her chin, “It would have to have a pool table.” A wicked glint sparked in Jason’s eyes and he reached out with one arm to snag her around the waist and pull her to him. Cupping the back of her neck with his gloved fingers, he bent her back and kissed her hard. Elizabeth pressed herself more firmly against him, his kiss setting a fiery need pulsing between her thighs. Her hand fisted in the back of his hair as his mouth began to work its way over her jaw and down her neck. Each brush of his lips was like a little electric spark and her mind groped vainly trying to think of a place close by where they could continue this in private. She swore to herself when she came up blank. What she wouldn’t give right now to still be renting her old studio. It was what they needed: private, empty and just a couple of blocks away. Then Jason’s cell phone rang. He ignored it, concentrating instead on sliding a hand under the hem of her sweater. The cool feel of his leather-encased hand against her warm skin made her knees weak, but then his cell phone rang again. Elizabeth broke away and backed up a step. She was breathing hard and every molecule of her being protested the interruption. “You’d probably better answer that.” Jason growled and pulled out his phone, scowling at it when he saw the name in the display. Giving her an apologetic look, he flipped the phone open and held it to his ear. “What?” After a moment, he closed his eyes, his shoulders sagged and he reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I’ll be right there.” He looked back at Elizabeth with a frown on his face, and she nodded in understanding. “I’ll call you later.” He pulled her close for one more quick kiss, lingering a moment before releasing her, shaking his head, and walking away. Elizabeth watched him go and sighed. Her heart still pounded in her ears, the ache low in her belly throbbed, and the idea of having a place where they could be together without having to worry sounded much better now than it had a few moments ago. A home. He’d called it a home for the three of them. She smiled. She liked that idea.

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AJ Quartermaine held himself perfectly on his side lying half in a mud puddle through his clothes, his new wool coat what he’d just seen, the coat was more

still behind the large bush. He was curled and from the feel of the damp seeping in was ruined. Yet he didn’t care. Considering than a worthwhile sacrifice.

Watching Elizabeth leave, he carefully levered himself to his feet and stood. In his hand he held his camera-phone. The wide grin on his face grew even wider as he stared at the picture he’d just snapped of his brother locked in a passionate kiss with Elizabeth Webber. He stroked his goatee as he chuckled and turned to slink away. Chapter 14 Jason watched Sonny stare out of the picture window in his new living room. Sonny rolled his shoulders and cocked his head to the side. Jason had seen him this way enough to know what was bothering him. Something in the business needed his special attention. And he had no doubts that special something was in Puerto Rico. Sonny rarely shied away from giving the order to eliminate a problem when it became necessary, but he’d never become completely comfortable giving that order either. Jason respected that hesitation. Respected that Sonny took the burden seriously. That made his job easier. He became the last resource when all else failed, and when an order came, he knew it was well deserved and not the result of a casual whim. Sonny turned slowly, a finger at his lips, his eyes focused on the drink in his hand. Then his eyes lifted, met Jason’s, dark and serious, and he shook his head. “The problem in Puerto Rico has gotten out of hand.” Jason’s lips drew into a thin line. He’d missed making his call today. He pressed his thumb and forefinger into his eyes. He’d screwed up and now he was going to have to go down in person and straighten it out. “What happened today?” The soft spoken words carried no accusation, no anger, but Jason flinched. “Sam had an emergency.” Which hadn’t been an emergency, but he’d believed it to be when he’d abandoned his duties and charged out of the warehouse to help her. Sonny’s head snapped up. “Is she okay?” Jason nodded. “The baby?” Jason nodded again, and Sonny visibly relaxed. Then he looked his friend up and down carefully. “You don’t look good.” Scrubbing his face with his hands, Jason sighed. “I’m tired, that‘s all.” Then he shook his head. “It’s not easy dealing with Sam.”

Sonny smirked. “You my friend, should never have an affair.” Then he crossed to his bar and refilled his glass, lifting the bottle in a silent offer to Jason, which he refused with a single shake of his head. “How’s Elizabeth doing?” Sonny asked as he turned away from the bar. Simply hearing her name lifted a weight from his shoulders. He remembered their all-to-brief encounter in the park that afternoon and a boyish grin broke across his face. “Better than I am.” Catching Sonny watching him with a knowing grin on his face, Jason straightened. “What do you want me to do in Puerto Rico?” Sonny watched Jason for another moment then took a deep breath. “Deliver a message and make sure Enrico listens this time. He needs to understand this will be the last message I send. Next time…” He let the threat lie and took a swig of his drink. Jason rolled his shoulders and nodded. “When?” “Tonight.” Jason nodded again, turned to leave and then hesitated. Debating with himself a moment before turning back to Sonny. Sonny raised an eyebrow and waited for him to speak. “Could you watch Sam, so she doesn’t take off while I’m gone?” He rubbed the back of his neck and fidgeted a moment, rolling his eyes to the side before straightening and looking Sonny in the eye. “Elizabeth and Cameron are my family. Keep them safe for me.” Sonny’s dark eyes held Jason’s pale ones, understanding flowing between the two men, then he nodded once. “Done.”

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AJ’s cell phone rang again. He’d ignored it for the better part of the evening, currently racking up over ten missed calls from the same number. He chuckled, letting it ring one more time for good measure before finally answering it. “Where have you been?” Sam shrieked into his ear. “Busy.” His grin widened at the irritation in her voice. He didn’t know why he liked riling her so much - no, he shook his head, that wasn’t true, he did know why - and it was a shame he wouldn‘t be able to take advantage of the results of his efforts tonight. The silence on the other end almost convinced him she’d hung up. Then she started talking, her voice tight with anger. “What happened this afternoon at Kelly’s? You didn’t follow the plan.”

AJ chuckled. “Baby, you don’t know Jason like I do. What I did was more than enough for one day.” So what if he didn’t tell her he’d found out his brother had a woman on the side. What Sam didn’t know couldn’t ruin his plans. “I don’t like this.” He sat up straighter, his voice hardening. “Listen to me, Sam, Jason’s not stupid. If we started falling all over each other the moment we met, he’d know it was a set up. We have to go slowly or we’ll ruin everything.” Silence. “Trust me. I’ve been dealing with Jason longer than you’ve been wearing a bra. I know what I‘m doing.” He could hear her breathing over the phone, then she curtly said, “Fine,” and cut the connection. A smile broke across AJ’s face, keeping Sam in line wouldn’t be a problem, his little firecracker was in too deep and wanted her revenge too badly to screw things up now. He leaned back in his chair, punched buttons on his cell phone and brought up the picture of Jason and Elizabeth he’d taken earlier in the park. So far everything was going smoothly. The baby half of the plan was progressing perfectly. All that remained for his complete retribution was taking Jason’s woman. With his thumb he covered Jason’s face in the picture and grinned broadly. He’d thought taking Sam would do the trick, but now he knew better…. He raised a finger and caressed Elizabeth’s face. Now the real fun would begin.

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Rocking Cameron in the dim light of their bedroom, Elizabeth sang a soft lullaby to her dozing baby boy. He was snuggled into her chest, wearing fleece footedpajamas with a cartoon truck stitched on its front, his eyes closed and his thumb in his mouth in the first light stages of sleep. She rubbed her cheek lightly over his crown and closed her eyes. Across the room, she heard the muted ring of her cell phone. Standing carefully, supporting Cameron against her chest with one hand tucked under his bottom and the other on his back, she made her way to the bed. Leaning back to keep Cam secured on her chest, she rummaged through her purse for her phone. Then snagging it, she check the display, grinning widely when she saw who was calling. Punching the button to answer, she lifted it to her ear. “Hey.” She whispered. “Hey.” Jason’s voice was tight, carrying a note of reservation, and immediately

she knew something was wrong. Her stomach lurched and she lowered herself onto the bed. “Jason?” The one word overflowed with question and she heard Jason take a deep breath. “I have to go out of town for a few days…” Elizabeth closed her eyes and felt herself tense. He hadn’t said it, and she wouldn’t ask, but she knew. This was business. She pulled her lower lip between her teeth as a trickle of icy fear worked its way down her spine. Elizabeth eyes welled with tears and she scolded herself for overreacting. Good grief, what was wrong with her? Jason knew what he was doing, she shouldn’t be acting like she was never going to see him again. That thought made her chin tremble, and she sucked in a breath, forcing herself to regain control before she spoke. A thousand responses ran through her head, Don’t go. Stay with me. Be careful. Please don’t get hurt. Can’t Sonny send someone else? She bit her fear back and managed to say, “Can we see each other before you go?” Jason’s voice softened. “No. I’m at the airport. I’ll call you when I get back.” Elizabeth cradled Cameron closer and blinked back tears. She managed to choke out an “Okay.” without her voice cracking. Jason hesitated a moment, the silence between them thick with emotion. “I love you.” Elizabeth smiled as a bloom of love warmed her heart and chased away some of her worry. “I love you, too.” Chapter 15 The morning after Jason left, Elizabeth woke up sick to her stomach. While heaving last night’s dinner into the toilet, it didn’t occur to her this was the second morning in a row she’d been nauseous. She simply dismissed it as nervous worry about Jason. The third morning she found herself crouching, head down over the toilet, she again passed it off as stress, although a little nagging doubt and a suspicion of something else she really didn’t want to think about started niggling at the back of her mind. She resolutely ignored the little voice, focusing on her son and her morning shift at the hospital. By that evening she’d felt fine, forgetting about the nausea, vomiting, and the little voice. The fourth morning she woke, lurched across the hall into the bathroom to again hug the porcelain bowl, she couldn’t ignore that little voice in the back of her head. The voice dutifully reminded her of the last time she’d felt this way. It wasn’t just nausea and vomiting bothering her either. She’d been extra tired and moody, high strung and worried, all of which she’d attributed to a lack of sleep from staying up late and rocking a cranky, teething Cameron to sleep. Now she wasn’t so sure. Hauling herself back across the hall, she flopped into her bed, pulled the covers over her head and tried to convince herself she was being ridiculous. She couldn’t be…. Then she closed her eyes, unable to think the word.

They’d been careful, every time. No. That wasn’t true. She groaned. There had been that first night neither of them could completely remember. Covering her face with a palm, she tried in vain to pull memories out of the alcohol induced haze blanketing that evening. She knew they’d used a condom once, but if she couldn’t remember every time - or even how many - how could she be certain they’d been careful enough? She burst into tears. This couldn’t be happening. Not now. Not when she and Jason were finally together, working things their relationship out. Then she rolled her eyes. What about the whole Sam situation? This was not a good time. Curling under the blankets to cradle her knees against her chest, Elizabeth cursed herself and her luck. Hadn’t she learned anything from her disastrous one-night stand with Zander? She’d majorly screwed up her life then, and she of all people should have known better than to make the same mistake twice. Wiping away her tears, she sat up in bed and forced herself to stop making assumptions. She didn’t know for certain what was wrong with her. It could just be stress, she was under a lot of it - with a baby, a full time job, nursing school, and carrying on a secret affair with a known mob enforcer. She held onto that thin thread of hope and smiled wobbly. Stress. It was just stress. Clamoring out of bed she snagged her purse from the floor and rummaged through it for her pocket calendar. Finding it, she flipped through the months to find where she’d marked the beginning of her last period. Maybe she wasn’t late. Maybe she was overreacting. The only problem was the check mark she found was over a full five weeks ago. She was a week late. Closing her eyes and sagging back onto the bed before her knees could give out, she clasped her hands to keep them from shaking and felt tears start to well in her eyes again. She hadn’t even realized she was late. Cameron rolled over in his crib and groggily lifted his head. Seeing her sitting up and awake, he giggled and levered himself up on his knees. Elizabeth watched her young son bounce on his knees while clutching the crib slats, laughing at her from across the dim room and felt a swell of love bloom in her heart. In a rush she realized how much she loved that little boy and how her ‘mistake’ with Zander had turned into the biggest blessing of her life. Even if she could go back and do that Halloween over, she knew she would do everything exactly the same if it meant she’d have Cameron. She wouldn’t give up her little boy for anything. Her hand stole to her stomach. Didn’t she feel the same this time? Her eyes flicked to the clock beside her bed. She had a double shift to work today. Closing her eyes, she wiped her face and took a deep breath. First things first. Right now, she had to be a mommy to her baby boy. The thought made her pause mid-rise, maybe by tomorrow she’d know if she was going to be a mommy to a new baby. Jason’s baby. Tears welled in her eyes, but this time they had nothing to do with fear, and everything to do with love. The thought of her carrying Jason’s baby made her

heart swell. Yesterday he’d offered to buy a house for the three of them, Elizabeth wondered what he’d think when he found out it might be a house for the four of them.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Emily sat behind the nurse’s station, shuffling papers. She wasn’t back to her full-time work schedule at the hospital yet, but Dr. Hardy had suggested starting to volunteer a few hours a day as a way to ease back into the normal routine. Today she was in the middle of a three hour rotation doing the exciting job of organizing patient records. Important but mundane, tedious but not over-whelming. All in all, a good distraction from her real life problems, and after her miserable visit to the prison she needed a distraction. Someone flopped tiredly into the chair next to her and Emily stifled an urge to jump. When she saw her friend Elizabeth next to her she felt herself release a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. Looking closely at her best friend Emily screwed up her face in concern. “You look worse than most of the patients.” Elizabeth turned tired eyes on her friend and smiled a small, tight, distracted smile. “I’m just finishing a double shift and Cameron’s been teething.” Emily frowned and draped an arm over Elizabeth‘s shoulders. “I’m sorry, can I take Cameron for you tonight so you can get some sleep?” Her smile faltering just a little, Elizabeth sighed, “Be careful, I might take you up on your offer.” “Hey.” The familiar voice had Emily looking up and she found her brother, AJ Quartermaine, leaning against the counter of the nurse’s station with a broad smile on his face. Emily squealed and ran around the nurse’s desk to throw herself in his arms. “AJ! I didn’t know you were back in town.” AJ hugged her, then put his hands on her shoulders and pulled back to look her in the face. “Where’s the fun in telling you I’m coming, when I can surprise you instead?” Emily batted him playfully in the arm, “I didn’t expect to see you after the way you left last time.” AJ’s eyes rolled in mock-annoyance. “Stop that. Are mom and dad mad at you?” “Nothing I can’t handle.” AJ shrugged. “Grandfather.” “Furious.” AJ leaned in, whispering, “But when isn’t he?”

Emily giggled and stepped back to get a good long look at her brother. He was fit, tan, and had grown back that goatee she loved so much on him. She nodded, “You look good. Where‘ve you been? An island somewhere?” AJ didn’t answer, instead he slid his eyes to a spot beyond her left shoulder and Emily turned to see what he was looking at. Elizabeth stood behind her a pace, waiting it seemed for a moment to talk to her. Emily mentally smacked herself on the forehead, she‘d completely forgotten she‘d been talking to Elizabeth when her older brother showed up out of the blue. “Elizabeth, I’m sorry.” Then she turned back to AJ, holding her hand out, palm up by way of introduction, “You remember by brother AJ.” Elizabeth smiled and nodded. “AJ you remember my friend Elizabeth Webber.” AJ smiled broadly as he stuck out his hand and Elizabeth tentatively reached out to shake it. “Of course I remember Elizabeth. You two were inseparable back in high school.” Elizabeth tucked a strand of hair which had escaped from her ponytail back behind her ear and crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t want to interrupt, I just wanted to tell you good night.” Emily glanced out of the window at the darkness that had fallen and felt panic twist her stomach and rev her heart. “You’re not walking home with Cameron are you?” “Gram took Cameron home when she got off this afternoon, he’s probably already in bed asleep.” Elizabeth turned to walk away, but Emily’s panic had taken on a life of its own. It felt like a giant fist was squeezing her chest and she couldn’t force any air down into her lungs. She reached out and grabbed Elizabeth by the arm. “Please tell me you’re not walking home alone after dark.” She could feel her heart banging against her ribs and try as she might to calm herself, she couldn’t. Elizabeth out at night alone in the park, it was too dangerous. “Emily, it’s okay. I’ll be fine. It’s not far to Gram’s house.” Then AJ was by her side, a worried look tightening his face and Emily turned to him, a thought taking hold of her. “Can you walk her home, AJ? Please, can you make sure she makes it there okay?” AJ nodded and cast a worried look at Elizabeth. ”Of course Em. Don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure she makes it home okay.” Elizabeth threaded an arm over Emily’s shoulders, turned and walked her back toward the nurse’s lounge. Emily held onto Elizabeth, feeling panicky, scared and foolish all at the same time. She’d been doing so well today, yet every shred of her control had collapsed in an instant. By the time they’d gotten to the lounge, Emily was crying and Elizabeth made her sit on the couch, then went to get a bottle of water from the refrigerator. Watching Elizabeth unscrew the top and look at her with so much worry in her eyes, made Emily feel even more foolish. “I’m sorry.” She hiccupped. “Don’t worry Em.” Elizabeth knelt in front of her and offered her the water. Emily took it and sipped, her eyes dropping to the floor.

“I feel so stupid.” “Don’t.” Elizabeth said firmly. “This is nothing compared to some of the stuff I did.” Emily felt herself tearing up again and Elizabeth leaned in, “Do you want me to call Lucky?” Emily nodded and Elizabeth stood, crossed to the small desk and made the phone call. Then she returned and sat next to Em on the couch, both of them leaning together, shoulders and forehead touching. Just sitting and letting the room fill with the silence of understanding and acceptance that said more than mere words ever could. Two women, two friends, each knowing intimately what the other was feeling and accepting each other for everything they were.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Lucky poked his head into the nurse’s lounge fifteen minutes later and Elizabeth waved him in. He crossed to the two women and knelt in front of Emily. Emily immediately started crying again and fell into Lucky’s arms. Elizabeth stood, gave Lucky a nod and snuck out, leaving the two of them alone to talk. She pulled the door shut behind her as she left, sneaking one last look to see that Lucky had twisted around to sit on the couch next to Em and Em was talking to him between her hiccupping sobs. She felt a twinge of guilt for not staying and helping, but the truth of the matter was, she couldn’t help Emily. Emily wasn’t opening up to her, she was opening up to Lucky and as much as Elizabeth wanted to or tried to, there wasn’t anything she could do. Sighing, she trudged down the hall toward the elevators. Besides, she had her own troubles to worry about. The largest of which started with a stop at the drug store on the way home to pick up a pregnancy test. Rounding the corner of the nurse’s station, she found AJ loitering next to the waiting area. His eyebrows went up when he saw her and he moved to intercept her. He had one hand on his hip, the other stroking his goatee, and he looked worried. Elizabeth sighed. She really didn’t need to deal with this tonight. “Is Emily okay?” His questioning tone let her know he didn’t think Emily was okay. Elizabeth Obviously weeks and about his pushed the elevator button and shifted her purse higher on her shoulder. he didn’t know about what had happened to his sister in the past few it wasn’t her place to tell him. It frustrated her to see him worry baby sister and not be in a position to say anything to reassure him.

“You should to talk to Emily.” The elevator doors slid open and Elizabeth stepped inside, wrapping her scarf around her neck as she moved. AJ stayed rooted to the spot, staring back down the hall to the lounge where Emily had disappeared. AJ turned back just as the elevator doors started closing and darted inside before they shut. Elizabeth backed away in surprise. She hadn’t expected him to actually walk her

home. “You really don’t have to walk with me.” AJ smiled politely, clasped his hands behind his back, “I did promise Em.” Then he leaned slightly toward her as if including her in a secret, “Besides you saw how worried she was. I don’t want to make her mad at me by not doing what I promised. She‘s the only family I have who still talks to me and I don‘t want to mess that up.” Elizabeth didn’t know what to say to this confession. She knew a lot - not all, but more than the average person - about the internal Quartermaine family struggles. AJ was the proverbial black sheep, troublemaking prodigal son. Jason didn’t trust or like him, but their brother against brother conflict had more complicated twists and turns than the Mid-East Conflict. The elevator opened on the ground floor and AJ stepped back to let her exit first, then followed her as she headed out of the hospital. Elizabeth paused outside the main hospital door to pull on her wool cap. The February night was dark and cold, and overhead thick grey clouds threatened snow. AJ stopped beside her, buttoned his coat and pulled on leather gloves. “Ready?” He asked. She pulled her leather jacket closer and nodded. The walk home was short. AJ played the part of the perfect gentleman, carrying on polite conversation and keeping his hands in his pockets. She got several glimpses of his million dollar smile and he even asked about Cameron, who he’d seen in Kelly’s that morning, which brought a smile to her face. Then he complimented Cameron on his cuteness and she nearly gushed telling him about her little boy. What mother wouldn’t smile at complements for her child or rattle on about how amazing they were to an eager audience? By the time they reached her Gram’s front porch, she’d significantly warmed to AJ, seeing a sliver of why Emily loved her brother so much, and maybe putting Jason’s distrust of him into a different perspective. Not dismissing it, more like curious to look beyond it to try to see the real AJ Quartermaine for herself. As Elizabeth unlocked slightly at the waist letting me stay in my faltered, “and I will the front door, AJ splayed a hand across his chest, bowed and backed down the porch steps. “Thank you Elizabeth for sister’s good graces.” Then he paused, and his smile be talking to her about what happened very soon.” as he walked away, and about what was happening in she ran into AJ again to find just to be safe.

Elizabeth watched him go, disappearing into the dark wondered just what and how much Emily would tell him her life. She’d better check with her friend, before out what she could talk about and what she couldn’t,

“Elizabeth is that you?” Gram’s voice floated down from upstairs. “Yes, Gram it’s me, but I need to make a quick run to the store. I forgot to stop and pick up diapers.” “Ok honey, be careful.” Elizabeth checked her watch. She wanted to wait at least ten minutes to make sure AJ was gone before she snuck back out to the drug store. No need for him or anyone else to know about her taking a pregnancy test. She took a long deep breath. Stress, she kept telling herself. It was only stress. Then she pulled her lower lip between her teeth and sighed. She’d know the truth soon enough.

Chapter 16 Rolling over in bed, Sam squinted at the faint light streaming around the edges of the curtain. Morning. And again she woke up in the penthouse alone. Jason wasn’t back from his trip and after three days of being cooped up in the apartment she was going stir crazy. Pulling herself out of bed, she crossed to the bathroom and stood looking in the large vanity mirror at her naked body. It looked the same. Her breasts were the same. Her stomach was the same. She scrunched up her face and frowned. She wasn’t even a month along yet. What did she expect? Still, her hand stole to her belly and she smiled as she cupped the not-yet bulge of her baby. “Hey there baby. How are you this morning?” Sam’s long dark hair cascaded around her face as she lowered her head to talk to her stomach. Then she lifted her face back to the mirror, drummed her fingers against her belly and decided she had to get out of this apartment before she lost her mind. Padding back to the bed after she’d finished in the bathroom, she slid the drawer in the nightstand open and pulled out her cell phone. Flopping backwards onto the rumpled silk sheets, she held the phone above her and dialed. Bringing the phone to her ear, she listened to it ring. Then licked her lips when she heard the voice that answered. “Guess what I’m wearing.” She teased in a low seductive voice. Her lips curved into a smug smile when she heard a low growl in her ear. “Why don’t you tell me.” AJ’s voice was low and husky and its rumble made her nipples hard. “Why don’t you come over and find out for yourself.” AJ chuckled. “What’s wrong Sam? Jason’s not back, so you need someone else to torment?” “No.” I miss you. She frowned. Where had that come from? Squashing the unwanted emotion, she cleared her throat and did her best to sound casual. “I’m bored.” Then she remembered her other reason for wanting out of the penthouse today. “Besides I don’t think I can take another visit from Sonny.” Her ex-lover had been over every day since Jason left to check up on her and she felt like a butterfly under a microscope. The feeling was too claustrophobic to be comfortable. “Give me an hour,” AJ said. She could hear him yawn and rustle the sheets as he stretched. “I’ll have a car parked in the alley behind Kelly’s. The keys will be in the ignition and the garage door opener in the glove box, like always. Make sure you’re not followed.” “Maybe you shouldn’t take an hour.” Her voice lowered sultrily. “Why not?” AJ’s voice contained a hint of annoyance.

“Because I’m not wearing anything and I don’t want to have to get dressed long if I’m only going to get naked again.” Another low growl filled her ear, and she could hear AJ suck air through his teeth. “It’ll be there in half an hour.” AJ disconnected the call and Sam smirked at the urgency filling his voice. It was good to remind him who was in charge. His little burst of independent alteration to the plan didn’t sit well with her. She needed to keep him firmly in hand… her tongue peeked out of her mouth and swept along her upper lip. Oh yes indeed, she planned on keeping him “in hand” alright. She lifted an eyebrow and scanned the room. She was going to have to wear something he’d enjoy, after all she needed his full and undivided attention, or maybe…. her eyes slid to the side in thought… yes, that was a much better idea. Forty five minutes later, she’d ducked her guard at Kelly’s, taken the car, and driven like a crazy woman taking wild turns and careening through traffic to make sure she wasn’t being followed. Ten minutes after she left Kelly’s she was pulling into the garage of a non-descript house in an equally non-descript neighborhood which no one would suspect was being used as an illicit rendezvous point for a mob moll and her soon-to-be brother-in-law. Sam slid out from behind the wheel, the garage door grinding shut behind her, and tightened the belt on her ankle length trench coat. Her four inch spiked heels clicked against the cement floor as she crossed to the door and let herself into the kitchen. AJ was there, waiting for her in his perfectly pressed dress shirt and creased pants, a smile on his face and two wine glasses full of sparkling white grape juice waiting on the counter. Sam’s eyes skimmed over the glasses and uncorked bottle then came to rest on AJ’s face. He looked smug, too confident and in control. She needed to take him down a notch and firmly remind him who was in charge. Keeping her eyes locked with his, she untied her belt. Then with a slight shrug she let the coat slip off her shoulders and puddle on the floor around her feet, revealing her naked body. AJ’s eyes widened for an instant, then narrowed as a lusty grin spread over his face. He reached for her, one hand cupping her bare hip to draw her to him, but she stopped the move with a hand splayed firmly on his chest. “First we are going to talk about the plan.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Lucky blinked as the door to the Quartermaine mansion swung open and Alice the maid stood taking up nearly the entire entrance. Her gruff appearance was spoiled when she smiled at him and then stepped back to allow him entrance. “Good morning Lucky.”

“Hi Alice.” He said, “Is Emily awake?” He heard a voice call down from the balcony. “Lucky?” He leaned to the left to glance around Alice and saw Emily on the top of the stairs, looking down at him quizzically. She tilted her head and pulled her thick robe closer. She must have been headed down for breakfast. “You’re here early.” She descended the stairs, keeping her eyes locked on him the entire way. Alice gave him a reassuring nod and a wink before turning and leaving the foyer. Coming here to cheer up Emily and get her mind off of her breakdown last night had been the only thing on his mind when he’d left his room at Kelly’s this morning. He hadn’t thought about how early it was or if Emily might have other plans for the day. Shuffling nervously on his feet, he felt awkward and a little foolish. “I have a surprise for you, but if you have other plans I understand.” He rubbed his forehead and admitted sheepishly, “I should have called first.” Emily eyed him up and down, then settled her arm in the crook of his elbow. “Have you had breakfast?” Lucky shook his head. Grinning, Emily tugged him toward the living room. “Come on and don’t let Grandfather scare you. He’s harmless.” “Wait a minute.” He stood firm against her gentle steering. “ If I’m going to suffer through breakfast with your family, I’m going to need a promise from you first.” Emily raised a suspicious eyebrow at him. “What exactly do I have to promise?” His face softened and his smile brought a twinkle to his deep blue eyes. “That you’ll spend the entire day with me without asking any questions about what I’ve got planned.” Emily crossed her arms and looked at him sideways. “No questions?” Lucky shook his head. “None. Today is a day of surprises.” They stood for a long moment. Emily’s searching eyes locked on his. Then Lucky’s smile widened as her expression softened. “Ok. I suppose that’s a fair trade for enduring a meal with my family.” Lucky took a deep breath as Emily hooked her arm through his and they crossed into the living room.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Elizabeth lingered in her bed. After her double-shift at the hospital yesterday, she was off today, and she’d purposefully stayed in bed late, both to put off taking the test and to make sure her Gram had left, leaving her home alone.

Gram had left about half an hour ago and Elizabeth still couldn’t bring herself to get up, go the bathroom and find out the truth. There were so many things that would change forever once she took the test and wasn’t ready to face any of them. Not on her own. So she procrastinated. Cameron was sleeping peacefully. So in the quiet, thin light of dawn, she lay still and tried not to think about how much her life might change. Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, she tried to make her mind a blank slate. Only her mind wouldn’t cooperate, all the ‘what ifs‘ and ‘if onlys‘ wouldn‘t be quiet. She fidgeted under the sheets. Her bladder wasn’t cooperating either. She couldn’t put this off much longer or she’d burst. Sitting up, she slid the night stand drawer open, removed the pregnancy test kit, and pulled out the sheet of instructions. Holding them with trembling fingers, she read them for the fifteenth time. Then she sighed, gave up fighting and hauled herself out of bed and across the hall. In less than five minutes, she was back in her room, pacing, wringing her hands, and watching the clock. Panic started to set in and she wished Jason were here. She wanted him to hold her and tell her everything would be all right no matter which sign showed up on that little stick. He’d be happy about this, wouldn’t he? Or would he think it would be an annoying, unwanted complication? She bit her lip as the clock ticked slowly forward. Maybe she should call him. Leave a message on his cell. He would understand why she called while he was away on business, wouldn’t he? Her forehead crinkled in indecision. This was a business trip, so whatever he was doing was serious. A distraction might be dangerous or even fatal. She chewed on her lower lip and wiped her sweaty palms on her pajama-covered thighs. She couldn’t call, at best this was important, life-altering news, but it wasn’t a life-threatening emergency. Besides, if the test came back negative, she would have called and disturbed him for nothing. If it were positive, it was news she’d rather tell him in person, rather than over the phone. The clock’s second hand rounded the top of the dial and headed around the clock face again to count out another minute. The test was done. Across the hall balanced on the edge of the sink, sat a little plastic stick upon which the fate of her entire future rested. Her stomach shriveled and a fine sweat broke out on her forehead. Part of her wanted to leap out of the room, throw open the bathroom door and discover the results immediately, another part wanted to hide in the bedroom buried under the sheets and blankets and deny there was anything wrong. Striking an uneasy balance between her two impulses, she slowly walked across the room, through the hall, paused with her hand on the doorknob, and took a deep steadying breath. Stepping into the bathroom, she swallowed nervously, and reached for the pregnancy test. Her hand gripped the cool plastic and she closed her eyes, took another breath, told herself she could do this, and opened her eyes. They immediately fell to the little test window, and she sucked in a gasp of surprise. Her hand flew to her mouth, and she lowered herself to sit on the edge of the tub. There was no mistaking the bright blue plus sign. She was pregnant.

Chapter 17 “You do know you’re supposed to hit the ball through the windmill, not over it.” “It’s not my fault, the windmill arm thingy swooped down and hit my ball.” Emily gestured wildly with her golf club as she talked, and while trying his best to stifle a laugh, Lucky snorted loudly. Emily lifted an eyebrow and grinned, “Oh now that’s attractive. Can you teach me how to do that?” “At least I hit the ball through the windmill on the first try.” Lucky teased. Emily had made good on her promise not to ask where he was taking her, so when he pulled into the parking lot of the miniature golf course Emily had been surprised. She’d also been somewhat leery, but after a few holes, she’d relaxed and gotten into the spirit of the game. Which is exactly what Lucky had set out to accomplish for the day, to get her to forget her troubles and have an afternoon of simple fun. Now, Emily’s every smile and laugh gave his soul wings. “Hey.” Emily’s gaze dropped over his shoulder, “Isn’t that Michael and Leticia?” She drew her eyebrows together and pointed toward the entrance of the course. Lucky turned, but didn’t see either Michael or Leticia, then as turned back around he caught Emily tossing her ball over the windmill onto the putting green. His mouth dropped open. “Cheater!” Emily’s eyes flew to his, wide with mockinnocence, and she struggled not to let a smile spread across her face. “Me? Cheat? Never.” Then she gave up the innocent routine and smiling broadly, scurried around to the putting green. “My ball’s closer to the hole, I get to go first.” Lucky grinned as he followed her. Then he stopped and watched as she putted her florescent orange ball six inches into the cup, then danced up and down in victory. His heart expanded in his chest seeing her giggle with so much abandon. She turned to him, her eyes still twinkling. “Your turn.” Pushing up his sleeves, Lucky positioned himself in front of his lime green ball and lined up his two foot putt. Drawing back, he swung, contacted the ball and sent it on a line straight to the cup. Then right before his ball sank into the cup, Emily’s club snaked out and batted it away. Her eyes opened wide and she lifted a hand to cover her mouth as she sucked in a breath of surprise. “Look at that, you missed.” “I missed?” Lucky stalked across the green to her, one brow lifted, his eyes twinkling. Emily giggled and smacked his green ball further from the cup as she scampered away from him. “Hey!“ Seeing her game, Lucky gave up chasing Emily and darted over to his ball, making quick work of lining up his shot and hitting it towards the hole. Emily took position like a goalie in front of the cup and using her club like a hockey stick, smacked Lucky’s green ball back at him. Rising to the challenge, Lucky hit the ball wide to the left of the hole and as Emily leapt to intercept the shot, he went right, catching the ball after it

ricocheted off the far wall. Emily spun, saw Lucky’s wide open shot and reached out with her putter, catching the ball before it hit the cup. Then Lucky was at her side, having given up on putting, he used his putter to roll the ball toward the hole. Emily pushed him with her hip, trying to unbalance him and bat the ball away with her club. When she couldn’t move him, she resorted to putting her foot over the cup and Lucky leaned into her with his hip to unseat her, but she wouldn’t budge. So Lucky wrapped his free arm around her waist and picked her up. “That’s cheating!” Emily squealed, her feet several inches above the ground. “No, it’s getting even.“ Lucky said as he rolled his ball into the cup. Then he raised his club and danced around while holding Emily and giving a hoot of victory. Emily laughed, throwing her head back and as Lucky‘s gaze fell on her, he realized what he’d done. When he’d picked her up, he’d grabbed her around the waist, pulled her to him and lifted her off her feet. Now they were pressed together chest to knees, her face inches from his. Her laughter washed warm breath across his neck and a strand of her silky hair caressed his cheek. Suddenly his playful mood shifted and desire sparked in the pit of his stomach sending a hot surge up his spine and out every nerve. His eyes focused for an instant on her lips and warning sirens went off in his head. He closed his eyes and eased Emily back onto her feet. This was his brother’s wife, he reminded himself and took a step backward, blinking and breathing deeply to regain control. Emily, still giggling, apparently hadn’t noticed his brief battle of wills and pulled the score card out of her back pocket. Using the pencil to count shoots, she scrunched her face as she ticked each one in the air. Then she nodded. “Two for me.” “Two?” Lucky asked, more than relieved to let his moment of weakness pass without notice. Emily ignored his dismay, and concentrated on counting again with her stubby pencil, then giving another quick nod of her head, she said, “You had ten.” “Ten! Let me see that scorecard.” Lucky reached for the slip of paper, but Emily scuttled away, tucking it into her back pocket. “Sore loser.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Some men can’t take losing to a woman.” Lucky closed the distance between them and readied a retort, when Emily leaned into him, put her head on his shoulder and sighed. “Thank you for today, Lucky. I had a great time.” Lucky draped an arm across her shoulders and fought an urge to press a kiss to her head. “So are you ready for the next stop?” “There’s more?” Emily asked. Lucky’s eyebrows rose and he shook his head. “You don’t get to ask, remember?” Emily chuckled. “Fine. Lead away, I‘m ready for anything.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The quiet of the darkened room was disturbed by the muted creak of the front door hinges. Sonny sat unmoving in the overstuffed chair he’d turned to face to the penthouse door. Legs crossed at the knee, elbows braced on the chair’s arms, fingers steepled before of his face, he was a study in calm tranquility. Except his eyes, where anger swirled, muddying their rich brown. The light switched on, illuminating him and evoking a startled yelp from Sam. “What are you doing here?” She asked. Sonny tipped his head to the side and studied her without responding. She tugged her long trench coat tighter around her and crossed her arms over her chest. She seemed nervous as she shifted from foot to foot. He took a deep breath and let his eyes rove the room. “Jason asked me to watch over you while he was gone. So far I’ve been able to trust you.” His eyes snapped back to hers, pinning her as if he held her with his fist. “However, you’ve betrayed that trust.” Her jaw tightened, “I wanted to go out for some air. Alone.” “I don’t care.” Sonny propped his head with his fingers on his temple. “Jason left you in my care and I’m going to make sure you stay safe while he’s gone.” As if on cue, three men and one woman dressed in identical dark suits filed out of the kitchen and stood silently behind Sonny. “I’m assigning you four new guards. Including Anna.“ The woman, whose auburn hair was pulled into a severe pony tail, nodded. “They will accompany you everywhere you go while you are out of the penthouse. Anna will be following you into bathrooms, changing rooms, and anywhere else the male guards can’t go.” Sam’s face contorted and reddened, her hands went to her hips, her movements jerky. “Jason won’t be happy about his.” She said, her head snapping forward as she talked. “Jason trusts me.” Sonny kept his face impassive and watched her strut back and forth in front of him like an angry peacock. “When he returns he can adjust the guards however he wants, but until then, you won’t go anywhere without all four of them.” Sam glared at the four guards behind Sonny, then turned her harshest look yet on the mob boss. Her jaw slid to the side and she shook her head in disbelief. Turning away from him, she stomped up the stairs and disappeared into the second floor. Sonny watched her go, an unsettled feeling knotting his gut. Her initial surge of anger was too strong to be simple annoyance and her feeble attempt at arguing about his extra precautions smacked more of assuaging his suspicions than compliance. The entire exchange gave him the impression she was up to something. He scrubbed his chin with his palm. He didn’t know what, but he doubted it was good.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Elizabeth sat on the park bench staring at Cameron in his stroller. He was burbling contentedly to himself after a long ride on the swings. Elizabeth, however, felt numb. She was pregnant. All morning her emotions had swung wildly between denial, shock, and giddiness, while she’d alternated between crying jags and bouts of giggling. Now she was numb. How was she going to tell Jason? Hey Hon, remember that night we don’t remember, well the funny thing is we kinda made a baby. Her chin trembled and she blinked back tears. What was she going to do? For the hundredth time that morning she pulled out her cell phone and dialed Jason’s number, then sat with her finger hovering over the ‘Send’ button. Her chin wobbled again and her shoulders sank, then she closed the phone and stuck it into her coat pocket. She didn’t want to tell him over the phone. She wanted to look him in the eye when she told him the news, and see the smile on his face when he found out about their baby, and then she could stop worrying. Cameron squealed and bounced up and down in his seat. A small smile spread over her face as she watched her son grin at her. “Your mommy has gotten herself into a real mess this time.” She cooed at her son. Cameron giggled in return. “Elizabeth?” Lifting her head, Elizabeth saw Emily and Lucky walking down the park path toward her. They were both smiling broadly, so she plastered on a grin. Emily hurried over to her and sat next to her on the bench, her attention immediately focusing on Cameron. “Hey there, cutie pie. How are you doing?” Cameron’s eyes widened and he kicked happily at the attention Emily lavished on him. Lucky knelt next to the stroller, reaching in to tickle Cameron with one finger. Cameron latched onto Lucky’s finger and pulled it into his mouth to gum it. “Ouch.” Lucky’s face pinched, “He’s already got a tooth coming in.” “Yes, he chews on everything.” Elizabeth held Cameron’s teething ring in front of him to lure his attention away from Lucky’s unlucky finger. Cameron’s eyes darted to the colorful ring, and his interest in Lucky vanished as his pudgy little hands went for the ring. Lucky’s gaze lifted to her and he frowned. “You look beat.” Elizabeth sighed and leaned back against the hard wood of the bench. She was beat - physically, emotionally - she was tired beyond exhaustion. Yet, telling them the whole truth wasn’t an option. She wasn’t going to tell anyone about her pregnancy before Jason. Excuses flowed out of her easily, “Between Cameron’s teething, work and school, I haven’t been getting much sleep.” She massaged her forehead with her hand.

Emily and Lucky exchanged a knowing look, and Elizabeth had the sense that an entire conversation had taken place between them without one word being spoken. Lucky turned back to her, “We can take Cameron for the evening so you can get some sleep.” Her knee-jerk response was to decline, Cameron was her responsibility, but the longer she sat, the better a nice long uninterrupted nap sounded. She wavered, arguing with herself about whether being strong meant taking care of herself and her son without help, or not being afraid to take help when it was offered. “Are you sure you don‘t mind?” She asked, her eyes flicking over Lucky and Emily. “You look like you have plans, I don’t want to spoil your day.” Emily leveled her gaze at Elizabeth, “Elizabeth, you aren’t spoiling anything.” She quickly glanced at Lucky, then back to Elizabeth, “You’ve always been there for me when I’ve needed you, please let me help you now.” She smiled as she looked down at Cameron, and her voice lifted into lilting baby talk. “Besides who wouldn’t want to spend time with this cute little guy.” Cameron gurgled and smiled around the teething ring in his mouth. “Hey.” Lucky frowned, “Aren’t I cute?” Emily playfully smacked him in the shoulder, “You don’t count.” Lucky frowned in exaggeration, and Elizabeth laughed at his expression. Then she rubbed her forehead. A nice long nap did sound like heaven, even a few hours of quiet time she could use to get a little more adjusted to the idea of being pregnant with Jason’s baby sounded like bliss. She was pregnant. The word rolled around in her head like a pinball and her stomach clenched. Oh no, not now.. Her hand went to cover her mouth and she breathed slowly through her nose to ease her way through her nausea. Emily’s eyes narrowed. “Are you okay?” “I think I’m going to take you up on that offer.” Elizabeth nodded and smiled wobbly. “Everything Cam needs is in his diaper bag, he shouldn’t be hungry for another hour.” Elizabeth leaned down and picked up her son. Bringing him to her, she hugged him and placed a kiss on his forehead. “You be a good boy for Aunt Emily and Uncle Lucky. Mommy will see you later.” Emily took Cameron and he immediately starting bouncing on her lap. They all stood, Emily holding Cam, Lucky pushing the stroller, and Elizabeth turned to watch as her two best friends left with her son. “Call if you need anything.” She called after them. Emily’s laugh floated back to her. “We’ll be fine, you get some rest.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Fate was smiling on him. Last night she’d gifted him with a chance encounter with Elizabeth at the hospital when he’d gone to visit Emily, and he’d eagerly taken advantage of the opportunity. He’d had a moment of hesitation, a choice to stay and help Emily, but he’d gone with his gut and his gut told him to stick with Elizabeth. It seemed he’d made the correct choice because today Fate was giving him another gift. He’d happened upon Elizabeth, Emily and Lucky in the park. Keeping well hidden behind a tall hedge, he watched the three of them chat. This morning he’d tried to talk to Emily after breakfast about what had happened at the hospital last night, but she’d brushed him off, reassuring him everything was fine. He hadn’t believed her for a moment. Now, as he watched, Emily and Lucky took Elizabeth’s son and headed off in the general direction of Kelly‘s, while Elizabeth stood and walked in the other direction. AJ basked in the glow of the moment. Not only did he have the perfect opportunity to ’run into’ Elizabeth again, he also had the perfect reason to talk to her - his concern for Emily. Watching her round a bend, he started off on a path he knew would intersect with hers over the next hill. He quickened his steps until he crested the hill and was close to the spot where the paths crossed, then he slowed to a leisurely pace. As he guessed, Elizabeth rounded the curve as he entered the intersection and they nearly bumped into each other. Elizabeth started and jumped back a step. “Elizabeth?” AJ drew his eyebrows down in a look of mock surprise. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.” “AJ.” Elizabeth breathed deeply, her eyes widening, “That’s okay, it’s not your fault. I was distracted and wasn’t watching where I was going.” AJ got a good look at her and saw she look tired. Her eyes were heavy lidded, ringed underneath with dark circles, and were puffy and red as if she’d been crying. His eyebrows drew together, this time in true concern. “Are you okay?” Nodding, she took a step away from him, “Yes, I didn’t get much sleep last night. Cameron is teething and was up off and on all night….” Then she laughed, a light quick noise that lilted over him, and reached to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “You don’t want to hear about this. I just left Emily, if you hurry you could catch up with her.” It was the opening he’d been waiting for and he tucked his hands into his pockets as he schooled his face into a look of worry. He glanced in the direction she pointed and turned back to her. “Can I talk to you about Emily?” Elizabeth shifted uncomfortably, shaking her head, “You really should talk to Emily.” “I did.” AJ sighed, his frustration not all for show, “She told me she was fine and not to worry about her.” He frowned, despite all his plotting, he was genuinely worried about his little sister. She was behaving too strangely for

everything to be alright. Elizabeth lifted a hand to rub her forehead and wobbled a little on her feet, “I don’t know what to tell you…” Her voice trailed off, her wobble became a teeter and just as AJ realized something was wrong, Elizabeth’s knees gave out from under her and she started to collapse. AJ jumped forward, grabbing her as she fell, and they went down together in a pile. He managed to maneuver his body beneath hers, cushioning her impact and keeping her head from hitting the ground. As he fumbled for his cell phone to call for an ambulance, Elizabeth groaned, rolled her head and blinked at him. “What happened?” “You passed out.” She started to sit and AJ helped her up. For a moment, she only sat bracing herself with her arms, then a heated blush crept over her cheeks and her eyes became glossy with unshed tears. “I’m sorry.” “Are you alright?” He was worried about her now, people normally didn’t pass out without a good reason. “Yes, I’m fine. I just… I haven’t slept and I skipped lunch.“ Elizabeth wiped at her eyes and started to lever herself back onto her feet. AJ jumped to his feet, offering her his hand to help her stand. She took it, leaning heavily on him as she stood on still wobbly legs. “You’re not fine.” AJ shook his head, “Let me call someone, a doctor, your Grandmother…” “No!” Elizabeth interjected. “Really, I just need to get home and take a nap.” AJ eyed her suspiciously. Something was up. “Okay, I won’t call anyone, as long as you let me make sure you make it home.” Elizabeth visibly relaxed and nodded, and AJ slid his arm around her shoulders for support as he walked her home. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Still ticked that Sonny had set more guards on her, Sam plowed through the park at a brisk pace. She’d pouted in her room for at least an hour after Sonny left, then decided that if he believed she needed more guards, she’d at least make them earn their pay. So she made it her goal to make their collective lives torture and set off on a shopping rampage, hitting every store, shop and mall in Port Charles. None of the guards voiced a complaint, but once she’d caught one of the younger men grimacing while shifting on his feet and it made all her efforts worthwhile. She barreled around a curve in the path and came to a screeching halt. Across the way on the far side of a row of bushes AJ Quartermaine walked with his arm around Elizabeth Webber. They were headed toward her, but with their heads bent together neither of them saw her or her entourage. Sam stood frozen in place for a heartbeat, too shocked to move, then she wheeled around and headed the other direction. What she really wanted to do was find a

hiding spot behind a bush or tree to watch AJ and see what he was up to. However, with her new gaggle of guards, she didn’t dare. She didn’t need them reporting to Sonny that she spent time spying on AJ. Sonny would ask questions she didn’t particularly feel like answering. Setting her jaw, she quashed down a flare of anger. She didn’t like what she’d seen. Elizabeth’s head had been resting on AJ’s shoulder and the two of them looked downright cozy. A swirl of emotion she couldn’t quite place made her queasy and she decided she didn’t like Elizabeth Webber being cozy with AJ. The image of her in AJ’s arms made her teeth itch. Looking at the four goons surrounding her, she knew sneaking off to meet AJ to find out what was going on between him and the little nursie-poo would be an impossibility. She’d have to settle for confronting him over the phone. She pressed her lips together and tightened her hold on her shopping bags. AJ didn’t have a clue what he was in for if he thought he could play fast and loose with her. Chapter 18 Stretching in bed, Elizabeth rolled over and blinked herself awake. She’d slept like a log, her brain simply giving out after spending all day yesterday worrying. She frowned at the light streaming in through the window. It was still light out? She hadn’t slept as long as she thought. Then her eyes found the clock and she sat bolt upright in bed. 7 a.m.? She’d slept straight through the evening and night. Her eyes locked onto Cameron’s empty crib and she panicked. Where was Cameron? Hadn’t Lucky and Emily brought him home last night? Jumping out of bed, she threw on her robe, bolted out of the room and down the stairs, only to come to screeching stop in the kitchen where she found Steven sitting at the kitchen table patiently feeding Cameron his breakfast. A wave of relief washed over her, and she released a heavy sigh which swept away the tension which had gripped her. “Look who finally decided to wake up,” Steven said, shooting her a sideways grin. Cameron laughed happily when he saw her and held up his arms for her to pick him up, which she did, pulling him close and lavishing kisses on his chubby cheeks. Then she turned to look at Steven and her brother smiled broadly at her, his hair sticking up as if he’d just rolled out of bed. Yellow splatters of mashed banana dotted his shirt. “What’s wrong with you? Did you sleep in the gutter?” She teased him with a smirk. “Close. The couch.” He stood and stretched. “Lucky and Emily brought Cameron back about eight last night. You were still asleep, so I let him sleep in his playpen in the living room and I crashed on the couch next to him.” “Thank you.” Elizabeth hugged her big brother, and with one arm around his back and the other holding Cameron, they made a neat little family group. “What would I do without you?” “You want to thank me?” Steven asked, putting one hand to his lower back. “Convince Gram to buy a new couch. That one is murder on the spine.” Elizabeth elbowed her older brother in the ribs and tucked Cameron back into his

highchair. “I don’t suppose you’d mind feeding him breakfast while I get ready for work?” Steven canted his head to the side, then slowly shook his head at Cameron and sighed. “The things I do for my baby sister.” The little boy scrunched his face up in a grin and giggled at him. “Thank you.” Elizabeth mouthed at her sibling as she ducked out of the room and hurried back up the stairs. Twenty minutes later she reentered the kitchen, this time freshly showered with her hair pulled into a ponytail and wearing a long sleeved white shirt under a mauve nurse’s uniform. The hot shower had done wonders for her mood and the saltines she‘d stashed in her nightstand had helped sooth her nauseous stomach. Steven was still at the table feeding Cameron, his hair in even more of a disarray and now sporting a blob of yellow goo smeared across his cheek. Without sparing his sister a glace he wiped pureed banana from Cameron’s chin with a baby spoon. “A courier delivered an envelope for you while you were showering.” Elizabeth crinkled her forehead as she stared down at the plain padded mailing envelope on the table. It had only a simple white computer label with her name and address on it’s front. There was no return address or company logo printed on its face. In fact, there was no hint of any kind about who the sender might be. She curiously turned it around with one finger, then flipped it to look at its blank back. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” Elizabeth answered with a shrug, “I wasn’t expecting anything.” Lifting the envelope, she hefted it in her hand, judging its weight. It was light. Then with another shrug, she ripped one end open, tilted it, and key ring with a single key slid into her palm. Tucking a strand of hair which had already escaped her ponytail behind her ear, she studied the key, then flipped it over in her hand. It was an ordinary looking house key. Then she turned her scrutiny to a paper tag attached to the key ring and her heart skipped a beat in her chest. An address was written on it in neat blocky handwriting - Jason’s handwriting. Pulling her lip between her teeth as a shiver of excitement swept over her, she turned the tag over and on the other side found written just as neatly the words, “Rematch. 10:00 p.m.” Her fingers closed around the key and a knowing smile spread over her face. Tingles danced down her spine and butterflies took to flight in her stomach. At 10:00 p.m. tonight, she would be with Jason. She took a deep breath, her hand finding its way to rest protectively on her stomach. Ready or not, baby, she thought, your daddy’s going to find out about you tonight. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Pacing the length of her bedroom, Sam absently wrapped the tie of her bathrobe around her fingers as she held her cell phone to her ear and listened to it ring. Instead of getting an answer, her call switched over to voice mail. She growled, hung up and redialed.

Pacing faster, she ticked her fingernail against the phone as she walked. Then she stopped in her tracks as AJ’s sleep-fogged voice answered. “What now Sam?” “What do you think you’re doing?” Her tone acidic enough to peel paint off the walls. “Sleeping.” Clamping her teeth together, she shook her head in irritation. “I saw you in the park yesterday.” She waited for a response. When none came, she added, “with Elizabeth Webber.” A groan emanated from the speaker at her ear. “That’s right, and I want to know what you think you were doing with your hands all over her.” She started pacing again, her anger needing an outlet. If AJ had been standing in front of her, her ’outlet’ would have been a right hook to his jaw. AJ started chuckling. “You’re jealous.” “Jealous!” She screeched, “I am not jealous! Are you insane? I just don’t want you screwing up my plan!” “Baby, the plan is fine.” Humor bled from his voice and it rubbed her the wrong way. “I thought we settled this yesterday morning. I told you…” AJ cut her off. “I explained this to you once already. Jason would be suspicious if we started connecting right off the bat. I have to distract him. Make him think I’m seeing someone else, then later when we spring the trap, he won‘t suspect anything.” Sam rolled her eyes and tapped her foot against the floor. “I don’t like it.” “Trust me.” AJ chuckled and she slammed the phone shut, severing the connection. She glared at the phone in her hand. The thought of AJ schmoozing around town with Elizabeth Webber made her want to hurl the device through the window. What if he started liking her? Her jaw tightened and her teeth ground together. What if he starting sleeping with her? She shook her hair back and took a deep breath, her lips pinching into a thin line. It didn’t matter. He could screw the entire PCU cheerleading squad for all she cared. She only cared about her plan and at the moment she needed to get it refocused and headed in the right direction again. Crossing her arms over her chest, she tipped her head to the side. Once Jason returned she’d make sure everything started happening exactly the way she wanted. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ What a day it had been. Everything that could have gone wrong - did, and nothing nothing had gone her way. Her pen had run out of ink while taking a doctor’s orders. Mrs. Schmidt, the hypochondriac in room 447, had kept calling for the nurse and the one time she didn’t rush to check with her was the one time she’d

thrown up all over herself. She’d knocked over a food cart, forgotten to get Mr. Randolf to his MRI, and then Joanna, her replacement on the next shift, had gotten a flat tire on the way to work and was half an hour late. The minutes had crawled by like hours and when Joanna finally arrived, she felt like the gnawed bit of eraser left on a chewed pencil. Now sitting in the back of the cab she’d come to think of as her own personal transport to paradise, she was too mentally exhausted to be worried about telling Jason about her pregnancy. She leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes, right now the only thing she wanted was to be safe in his arms. She must have dozed off because the next thing she knew the rich baritone voice of Vincent her cabbie was waking her up. “Miss Webber.” Elizabeth’s eyes popped open and she abruptly sat up. Vincent’s round Italian face wrinkled into a grand-fatherly smile. “We’re here, Ma‘am” Elizabeth rubbed her face sleepily, “Are you going to let me pay you this time Vincent?” Elizabeth hadn’t yet gotten him to take her money, but the question had become a familiar routine. “No, Ma’am.” He shook his head. “I’ve already been paid.” They both said the words in unison, which won her a broad smile from the man. She reached up and patted him on the shoulder. “Thank you Vincent.” “You‘re welcome, Ma’am. Have a nice night.” Elizabeth slid out of the back seat and closed the cab door behind her, then paused as she laid eyes on the house in front of her. It was two story, with a rock façade, large, yet managed to pull off a quaint look with a prim, neatly trimmed row of bushes along the front and white shutters framing each window. It was hard to make out the colors in the darkness, but it looked like the trim was done in a hue of blue. Turning, she saw a sprinkling of other houses with wide, well tended yards on a quiet, softly lit street. The sound of a door opening brought her attention back to the house and she saw Jason standing in the doorway framed by interior light. Her heart rose into her throat at the sight of the familiar silhouette and she suddenly felt as if she were floating. In a few quick steps she was across the porch and in his arms. “I missed you,” She hadn’t realized how much until this very moment. He pulled her closer, drawing her more snugly into his embrace and she melted into him. He’d been gone barely a week, but their entire world had changed. She knew she needed to tell him the news, only being here in his arms felt too good to interrupt. Just a minute longer, she reasoned, then she’d tell him. However, before she could work up the nerve to pull away and tell him he was going to be a father, Jason drew back, his pale blue eyes lit with one of his rare boyish grins, and he turned, sweeping one arm to indicate the room around them. “What do you think?” Confusion drew her eyebrows together, and she struggled a moment to understand what he meant. Then it hit her.

The house. Her eyes widened as she looked around. The door opened into an living room with a high ceiling. A cream colored couch sat alone in the middle of the room and a built-in bookshelf graced the far wall. A dining room opened off the back and a long counter separated it from a kitchen to its right. The entire area was designed in an open floor plan style and tied together with clean simple lines, making it seem at once spacious yet cozy, and she loved every inch of it. Her eyes met Jason’s and seeing the twinkle in those baby blues made her lose her train of thought. She brought a hand up to cover her mouth and could only manage to say, “Ours?” Jason’s smile faded a bit. “Only if you like it.” “Oh, Jason.” Tears welled in her eyes, as her emotions swelled. When had he had the time to look for a house? The fact that he had made time while buried to his eyeballs in business problems spoke volumes to her about where she fit into his life. “I love it!” “Come on.” He tipped his head and took her hand, leading her toward the stairs. Upstairs there were four bedrooms and two baths. The master bedroom alone was twice the size of her old studio and already contained a king-sized bed, complete with sheets and a dark plum patterned comforter. She gravitated toward the bed, tugging him with her, but he only shook his head his boyish grin still in place. “Not yet.” She pouted behind him as he led her back down the stairs and through the kitchen to a set of double French doors. He turned to her and paused. “This is for you.” He swept the door open and together they stepped into a large glassed-in room. “The realtor called it a Sun Room, but I thought it would make a perfect studio.” As Elizabeth looked around, her hand stole to her mouth. It was the perfect studio space. A wall of windows rose from the ground then arched gracefully to meet the side of the house. During the day, light would stream in filling the space, and she saw where built-in blinds could be raised and lowered on tracks to adjust the amount of light she wanted. With plenty of light, tons of space, and easy access to the rest of the house, the room was perfect. She could even put Cameron in a playpen in the corner where he could watch the world through the windows as she painted. A single tear spilled down her cheek, and turning to Jason she found she couldn’t find any words adequate enough to describe how she felt. Jason, however, watched her with uncertainty. His wrinkled brow and frown making it obvious to her that he wasn’t sure whether the tear was a good thing or not. The confused look on his face made her smile all the more and she reached up to pull him into a kiss. “It’s perfect.” She finally managed in a watery voice. “I love it.” “There’s more.” He whispered into her ear. She looked up at him eyes wide in surprise. What more could there be?

“I saved the best for last.” He took her hand again, leading her this time to a door in the living room which opened onto a set of stairs leading down to a basement. Wiping her cheeks dry as they descended, Elizabeth stepped onto the basement floor and her jaw fell open. This time she didn’t have the wherewithal to lift her hand to cover her mouth. Jason had outdone himself. In the middle of the large room stood a pool table, with balls racked and ready to play. The walls held braces for cues and other necessary pool paraphernalia. A table exactly like the ones at Jake’s was sitting next to the pool table complete with two chairs and two plates of Kelly’s brownies and mugs of hot cocoa. However, the item that astounded her the most was the large dark leather couch situated on the far side of the pool table. She silently crossed to it, running her hand along its back, feeling the subtle play of the leather under her fingers. It looked exactly like… She lifted her head, and fixed Jason with her eyes. “Is this your old couch?” The corner of his mouth hooked into a grin as he nodded in silent agreement. Elizabeth beamed. She never thought she’d see the couch again. She’d assumed Courtney had disposed of it, or had it burned, when she’d redecorated Jason’s penthouse. “How?” She could only shake her head in wonder. Jason’s smile widened as he canted his head to the side and stroked his cheek. “It’s been in storage. I thought about getting rid of it several times, but I couldn‘t.” He crossed his arms over his chest and let his gaze drift over her from head to toe. “It’s your fault.” Elizabeth’s eyes widened as he stalked toward her. “I would look at that couch and remember when I’d come home to find you curled up asleep on it.” He stopped in front of her, reached out and caressed her cheek with the back of his fingers, his smile taking on a wicked edge. “Then I’d remember all the things I wanted to do to you on that couch, and I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.” Heat crept into Elizabeth’s cheeks at Jason’s confession. She’d never imagined then that he’d felt that way about her. She sidled closer, sliding a hand up his chest and over his shoulder, her fingers feathering into his hair. Her voice dropped, low and seductive, “What exactly do you want to do?” Backing away with a mischievous glint in his eye, Jason prowled around the pool table, dragging his hand around the rail as he went. “I want a rematch.” Smiling knowingly, Elizabeth remembered the word on the key’s tag. She’d understood his meaning from the moment she’d read it. He wanted to get even for being beaten in their first game of strip pool. She’d even dressed the part, wearing red stiletto heels, fishnet stockings, leather skirt, tight red sweater, and underneath it all, a lacy red thong and matching bra. Jason didn’t stand a chance. Sauntering to the side of the pool table, Elizabeth selected a cue from the two laid out, then she raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re a glutton for punishment

aren’t you?” Picking up his cue stick, Jason tipped his head to the side. “Since you’re so sure of yourself, why don’t we make it interesting?” “Interesting?” “Whoever wins will decide how much rent you’ll pay for this house.” He lifted his eyebrow at her in unspoken challenge. “What?” Elizabeth eyes widened in surprise, this wasn‘t what she had expected. “Unless you’re afraid you might lose.” Jason taunted as he tried to stifle a grin. That persistent little voice in the back of Elizabeth’s head perked up, reminding her there was something she needed to tell Jason. Some very important, lifealtering news she’d planned on telling him when she’d first walked through the door. Yet, she was having too much fun playing along with his game to bring it up now. After all, she reasoned, he had gone through a lot of trouble to set up this evening for them, why ruin it when she could as easily tell him later, after she’d beaten him in a quick game of pool. What harm could come from waiting until later this evening. She wrinkled her nose. No harm at all. “Afraid? Me?” She scoffed. “I’ll even let you break.” Jason picked up the cue ball, then paused, looking at Elizabeth with a gleam in his eye. “How about the person who makes the shot takes off the clothes.” Elizabeth’s grin twitched to the side, “So you mean when I sink a shot, I get to take off your shirt?” Jason nodded. Elizabeth smiled smugly. She could definitely work that to her advantage. Jason was so going to lose this game. “Okay.” Jason positioned the cue ball, then bent over and lined up his shot. With one powerful stroke, he sent the white ball flying across the felt and into the triangle of balls. Colored balls ricocheted wildly around the table and a striped one sank in a corner pocket. Jason propped his cue against the side of the table and approached her like a tiger on the hunt, eyes narrowed, muscles rippling. Elizabeth swallowed, her body heat ratcheting up several degrees under his unwavering stare. He stopped in front of her, his smile shameless. “Sweater.” Elizabeth obediently set her cue aside and lifted her arms, giving him access to her sweater. His hands settled at her waist, his fingers easing under the sweater’s tight knit. His hands were warm on her skin and he moved them with calculated slowness, sliding up her side, easing the sweater along with him as he went. Then his hands shifted inward, his thumbs meeting over her belly and spreading their delicious heat over her ribs before cupping the swell of her breasts in his palms, then slowly sliding over them, his thumbs strumming across her nipples. He slipped his calloused fingers over the smooth skin of her arms, gently chasing her sweater up over her head. Finally lifting the sweater free, he tossed it aside, let his eyes lower, taking in her body and the red lace of her bra. She felt the heat of his gaze on her like another set of hands, and it made

her tremble. Then Jason took a step back, and cleared his throat. “Your turn.” As he reached for his cue, Elizabeth noticed the white knuckled grip he held it with and smiled to herself. This wasn’t going to take long. If their last game could be called ‘playful’, this one was downright wicked. Each shot either of them made turned into a steamy trail of temptation, each article of clothing removed a test of the other’s limits, with hands and bodies moving together wantonly. Elizabeth rubbed herself like a cat against Jason’s chest as she removed his shirt. Then she sauntered over to stretch languidly across the leather couch between turns, making sure Jason caught her licking whipped cream off her fingers. Jason firmly pressed himself into Elizabeth from behind as he reached around her to slide her skirt off, his long fingers working magic on her skin as he eased her skirt over her hips. Removing Jason’s jeans became the slowest process yet, with Elizabeth standing close enough for her lace clad breasts to brush his chest as she released his snap and lowered his zipper. Her hands slipped under the waistband and lingered, sliding lower to cup him before beginning the work of lowering the denim over his hips and thighs. She watch his pupils dilate as she moved, licking her lips and eliciting a groan from Jason. After that Elizabeth’s hands trembled so badly she missed an easy shot, but despite the strain clearly showing through his boxer-briefs, Jason didn’t miss his next turn. He fixed his gaze on her after sinking another striped ball and Elizabeth leaned seductively back against the edge of the pool table, offering herself for his perusal. “Do you see anything you want?” His eyes smoldered, and she could hear her blood pulse in her ears. Gripping the edge of the table on both sides of her hips, he leaned forward, hovering close yet not touching her, but still making her body tingle as if he had. She could feel his warm breath on her neck as he whispered in her ear. “Stocking.” Then he lowered himself to his knees in front of her, his hands still gripping the edge of the table, his eyes locked intently with hers. Her stomach fluttered and she held her breath in anticipation. Then she gasped as he leaned in and slid his tongue under the top edge of her thigh high stocking. Any thought she’d had of winning the game evaporated in that instant. A tremble coursed through her and she sank down into his lap, her thighs straddling his, cupped his face and pulled him into a hungry kiss. Growling low in his throat, Jason’s hands found her hips, and he pulled her more firmly against him. Then without breaking their kiss, he stood, lifting her as she wrapped her legs around his hips and tipped her head back to give his lips access to her throat. Then Elizabeth felt cool leather under her bare skin as Jason laid her back on the couch. Relaxing into the leather, she smiled seductively at him. “So are you finally going to show me what you want to do to me on the couch?” Jason’s lips found the spot just under her ear that sent heat blooming low in her belly, and she arched her back to press herself more firmly against him as she moaned. His hot breath wrapped around the shell of her ear, “You should lie back and get comfortable,” Then he looked into her eyes, lifting his eyebrows in a quick, suggestive flick. “This is going to take a while.”

Chapter 19 She’d honestly meant to tell him Bracing her elbow on the nurse’s desk, Elizabeth rubbed her forehead and frowned. She laid the blame for not telling him entirely on that leather couch. Well, she amended with a smile as a shiver of pleasure raced over her at the memory, not the leather couch precisely, but what he’d done to her on that couch had driven all rational thought from her head. Then after the couch Jason had carried her upstairs to their bed, and for the rest of the night nothing other than the two of them existed. The world outside, all their problems and complications faded away, and it was simply the two of them and their love, until they’d fallen asleep spent, exhausted and entwined in each other’s arms. The next morning she’d been awakened by a kiss which lifted her just far enough out of the fog of sleep to hear Jason tell her he had to leave and then her pregnancy induced weariness sucked her back under the blissful blanket of slumber. Since that morning they hadn’t seen each other. He’d called later that day to tell her the rent on the house was five hundred a month. A figure so low she balked and tried to argue with him about raising it, but he simply chuckled and told her she’d lost the bet and she didn’t have a say. They‘d talked on the phone several times since then, but she hadn’t told him because she had a plan. She was going to make a special dinner for just Jason and her in their home, Cam would be at Gram’s spending the night, then with everything the perfect moment set up, she’s share the news. In the meantime she’d spent her time moving her meager possessions into their new house. Their new house. She sighed in contentment, thinking she’d ever get tired of calling it that. She loved that place more with each passing day. Jason had stocked the kitchen with food as well as dishes and more cooking implements than she’d ever need. He’d also loaded all the bathrooms with plum colored linens and in the sunroom, she’d found a cabinet full of canvas, tarps, and paints ready for her to start working. She’d been so overjoyed at finding them, she’d gotten her brushes and easels out of storage before she’d moved her clothes over and the first thing she’d done after settling Cameron in for his nap was to stretch a new canvas over a frame and set it up on an easel to paint. Leaning back in her swivel chair, Elizabeth pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and frowned when it showed no messages. Sighing, she placed a hand protectively over her still flat belly. She had to tell Jason about this baby, the sooner the better. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Coming out of Dr. Gail Baldwin’s office, Emily stopped as the door shut behind her and took a long slow breath. Their sessions were proving helpful, although each one left her physically exhausted and mentally drained. Dealing with her rape was only half the problem, the physical violation, although horrific on its own, wasn’t nearly as devastating as dealing with the image of Nikolas as her attacker. Seeing her husband’s likeness hovering over her with a leer of hatred twisting his features as he forced himself inside her made her wonder if she’d ever be able to look at Nikolas and see her loving husband instead of a monster. Keeping her head down, her long auburn hair curtaining her face, she walked toward the elevators. All she wanted was to go home, crawl into bed and take a long nap. However, the sight of sneakered feet and jean-clad legs approaching made her

pause. She looked up and came face to face with Lucky, his normally handsome features were pulled into a frown of concern. “Are you okay?” He raised a hand only to have it falter a moment next to her face before settling on her shoulder. “You know you don’t have then immediately negated letting him wrap his arm Together the two of them on Lucky’s shoulder with to wait for me after every session Lucky.” Emily said, her weak objection by leaning into his shoulder and around her as he pulled her to his side in a hug. turned and walked to the elevators, Emily’s head resting Lucky’s head resting lightly on hers.

“I know.” His brow wrinkling if in deep thought. “I was here for my therapy and I thought I’d hustle a free lunch out of you.” Emily giggled and punched him playfully in the ribs. “Free loader.” “You wound me woman.” Lucky swooned in mock-wounded pride. “How about Kelly’s then, I’ll buy you a burger.” “If you insist, my lady.” Lucky scooped an imaginary hat off his head and bent in a deep bow. Emily laughed as her cell phone rang. Pulling it out of her purse, she answered while giving Lucky a stern look to warn him to behave. “Hello.” “Emily.” Her brother AJ’s voice answered her. “Hey AJ, how are you?” “I was going to ask my baby sister to lunch. Are you free?” Emily eyed Lucky, “Well, Lucky and I were making lunch plans, but you can join us if you’d like. We’re heading over to Kelly’s.” She half-turned from Lucky, missing the annoyed roll of his eyes. “As long as you don’t mind.” “No, its fine.” Emily crossed an arm over her waist. There was a pause on the other end of the phone, and she could hear a rasp as if AJ were fingering his goatee. When he spoke his voice was low and tentative. “Emily, can I ask a favor?” “Sure.” “Could you invite Elizabeth Webber along?” Emily’s eyebrows rose in surprise as she completely turned from Lucky and lowered her voice, yet managed to keep a teasing tone to her words. “Why AJ, do you like her?” “Well.” AJ’s voice was light and she could imagine him rocking onto the balls of his feet and rolling his head back then to the side. “Let’s see. She’s sweet and kind and beautiful. What man in their right mind wouldn’t be attracted to her? Let’s just say I’d like a chance to get to know her better.” He paused a moment. “She isn’t seeing someone is she?” “Not that I know of,” Emily answered, then frowned as she pondered AJ’s request.

Her oldest brother was a lot of things, but he was always a gentleman when it came to women. The thought of him dating her best friend felt odd, but if they met and Elizabeth wasn’t interested, she knew AJ wouldn’t press her. From where she stood, nothing bad could seem to come of setting up a lunch between the four of them. “Okay. I’ll see if she can come along.” ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Pacing the length of the living room, Sam ran the events of the last couple of days through her mind again. Jason had come home two days ago, unceremoniously arriving in the afternoon and promptly disappearing into his bedroom without so much as a “Hi, how are you?” He’d been tense and ill at ease and she wondered what had happened on his trip to put him in such a foul mood. Over the rest of that day and the next his mood degenerated until he was conversing with her in nothing more than grunts. She’d had enough of it. It was time for her to take back control. According to plan, today was the day for another “lunch” at Kelly’s. She eyed the stairs. Jason was up in his bedroom at the moment. He’d been gone all morning, returning only to ignore her and head straight for his room. She heard an upstairs door open and she sprawled across the couch, poking herself in the eye with her finger to make herself start crying. Curling into a knot, with her head bent into her forearms on the she heard the clump of boots descending the stairs and let out a sob. The boots faltered in their step, and she took advantage of by ratcheting up her histrionics, making her shoulders heave and sob. arm of the couch, heart-rending Jason’s attention tremble with each

After an almost grudging pause, the boots clomped closer, stopping next to the couch. Peering out beneath her arms, she saw Jason crouched beside her. She stifled a smile and when his hand touched her shoulder, she pulled away. “What’s wrong Sam?” Sam sat up ramrod straight, wiped her face dry and looked off into a distant corner. “You hate me.” Jason groaned and rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger. “Sam, I don’t hate you.” “Yes you do. You think I’m not a good enough mother for your baby.” She let herself dissolve back into tears. Sitting back on his heels, Jason looked at her. “That’s not what I…” She didn’t let him finish. “Why else would you not talk to me. Why else would you not stay and have a conversation with me about our baby. I’ve tried to talk to you about the baby, and the nursery and the doctor.” She sobbed loudly. “You don’t think I’m good enough to be the mother of your child. Courtney was good enough, but I’m not.” Jason covered his face with his hands, then settled himself on the couch next to

her and took her hand in his. “Sam, I don’t hate you. I don’t think you’re not good enough to the be mother…” “You don’t think I’m good enough to be your wife.” She cut him off again, beginning to wail as she leaned her head into his shoulder. Jason put a hand on her back in something less than what she’d consider a hug. “Sam you have to calm down. The doctor said you have to be careful about stress. It’s not good for the baby.” With a great sob, Sam threw herself off the couch and away from Jason. “I can’t keep doing this not knowing how you feel about me. If we can’t be a family then I’ll just leave and you’ll never have to bother with me or our baby again.” “Sam.” Jason reached out for her, taking her arm with his hand. “You don’t have to go. I want you and the baby here. It’s going to take time for us to trust each other again. That‘s all.” She shook off his hold, crossed her arms over her chest and walked away. “How can I believe you when you won’t stay in the house long enough to have a conversation?” Jason stood and threw his arms out to the side. “You know how the business works Sam. I’ve been busy lately. It doesn’t mean I don’t want things between us to work out.” Sam turned her back on him and shook her head. “What can I do to convince you I’m serious?” His voice carried the barest hint of resignation and a victory smile spread slowly across Sam’s face. Manipulating Jason was almost too easy. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ It was noon and Kelly’s was full with the lunch rush. Emily, Lucky, Elizabeth and AJ found an empty table by the windows and shrugged out of their jackets before sitting. Elizabeth sat across the table from Emily, with Lucky to her right and AJ to her left. Elizabeth had questioned Emily on the sly when she found out AJ was meeting the three of them for lunch, but Emily had laughed off her concern, saying it was simply her brother wanting to buy her lunch and her own insistence about inviting her friends along. AJ hadn’t seemed put off by Emily’s generosity with his money and the four of them settled into a comfortable lunch. The conversation turned almost immediately to Elizabeth’s new house. Emily’s eyes lit up as she sipped her hot cocoa. “Tell us how you found it Elizabeth.” Elizabeth took a deep breath, she’d been preparing this tall tale for days. She was sure she could get through it without getting tripped up on details, but the little stabs of guilt she felt for lying to her friends were unexpected. She smiled and tipped her head to the side. “When I worked at Kelly’s, there was an older lady who came in occasionally for breakfast on the weekends. She was very nice and over time we got to be good friends.”

“What was her name?” Emily prodded. “Mrs. Peterson.” Lucky frowned. “I don’t remember her.” Elizabeth waved off his comment. “I’m sure you’d know her if you saw her. Besides you weren’t here that often while I was working.” Lucky nodded and she went on. “Well, last week I was working a shift in Orthopedics, when who do I see but Mrs. Peterson. She’d fallen and broken her hip.” Emily frowned. “How sad. Is she going to be alright?” “Yes, it was a catching up on her to Florida to sell me her simple break and she’s healing well, but as we got to talking and old times, she said when she was released, her daughter was moving so she could take care of her. Well, long story short, she offered house in a rent-to-own, owner-finance kind of arrangement.”

AJ smiled as he sipped his coffee, “That’s an amazing offer.” Sinking back into her seat, Elizabeth’s eyes rolled skyward. “I absolutely love the house. It’s perfect. It has a sunroom I’m going to use as a studio, and Cameron has his own bedroom. Mrs. Peterson has already had her things packed and moved out so it’s pretty empty right now. I’ve got some kitchen stuff and a couch. But that’s about it.” AJ reached over and poked his sister in the arm. “You know, friends usually give their friends housewarming presents.” Emily’s eyes widened in what could only be described as the joyful anticipation of shopping, and locked her gaze with Elizabeth‘s. Elizabeth could almost see the ideas flying through her friend’s brain. “You’ve got to let me get you something special for your house.” “Emily, you don’t have to do that.” “I know I don’t have to. I want to.” She pouted and looked at Elizabeth with sad puppy dog eyes. “Please, please, please.” “How about getting her a big screen TV with surround sound and digital cable with all the sports channels prepaid for a year.” Lucky smiled and waggled his eyebrows, earning him a smack on the arm. “You men stay out of this.” Emily shook a finger warningly first at Lucky then AJ. “This is between us women. You have no say in my housewarming gift.” AJ lifted his palms in mock surrender and Lucky’s counter argument stopped short when Penny arrived at the table balancing four plates of food. AJ handed Elizabeth her plate, and his hand brushed hers making her draw away awkwardly when his fingers lingered a little longer than necessary. Nervously Elizabeth swept a strand of hair behind her ear, and AJ took the moment to lean closer to her, keeping his voice low so only she could hear. “Are you feeling better?”

She nodded stiffly. “I’m fine. Thank you.” Beside them the door to Kelly’s swung open with a jingle of bells, and Emily, who had a direct view of the new arrivals, paused with a forkful of food raised half way to her mouth. Her eyes went wide in concern and her smile faltered. Before Elizabeth could ask about the change in her friend, Lucky’s disapproving grunt pulled her attention to him. She turned to find him glaring with open annoyance at the doorway, and curiosity had her turning around in her seat to see who it was who had walked in and thrown a bucket of cold water on their lunch. She found herself staring at Jason. Having stopped just inside the door and not a foot from their table, he was wearing his signature black leather jacket, well-worn jeans and motorcycle boots. Sam McCall hung on his arm looking every bit like a cheap hooker in her nearly xrated top and micro-mini skirt. She tightened her hold on Jason’s arm and smiled a nasty smile at them. Jason’s crystal eyes flashed like ice as he frowned. Their eyes locked for an instant, then he flicked his hard gaze at AJ who was still half leaning toward her in his chair. Elizabeth’s stomach soured and she gripped the edge of the table to steady herself. Emily stood and smiled at Jason, throwing herself into a valiant effort at keeping the peace between the two brothers. “Jason. Hi.” She faltered a moment, the brief silence ripe with tension. “Did you know AJ was back in town?” Jason’s pointed stare didn’t falter from his older sibling. “Yes.” Sam brought one arm around Jason’s back and up to his shoulder while her other hand slid intimately across the plane of his stomach, then she used her hold on his waist to pull herself closer. Elizabeth had to look away, her eyes falling down to the floor. She lifted a hand to cover her mouth as her stomach lurched and rolled. Doing her best to look casual, she reached out and lifted her mug to take a sip of hot cocoa. She’d just gotten it to her lips when Sam stuck out her left hand, turning her fingers to bring everyone’s attention to the diamond ring on her third finger. “Jason and I are getting married.” Elizabeth froze with the cup at her lips. The huge diamond ring on Sam’s finger filled her vision. Her own fingers tightened around her mug and she fought to keep her now trembling hand from spilling hot cocoa over the table. Closing her eyes Elizabeth set the mug back on the table. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. He wouldn’t actually marry her. Would he? Then against her will and better judgment, she looked at Jason, and the tight frown and flash of regret she saw on his face told her everything she needed to know. He was going to marry Sam. Suddenly the room seemed to turn on its side and everything around her zoned into a wash of whiteness. Every thought came to her with a crystal clarity, and she knew she had to leave because she was going to start crying if she stayed a minute longer. Pushing her chair out, she turned to Lucky, her safest option of everyone around her at the moment, and smiled sweetly. She didn‘t know where the excuse came from, but the words flowed out of her as if of their own will. “I really have to go. I

forgot I have to pick up Cameron from the sitter.” She turned and smiled pleasantly at Emily, mumbling something nonsensical as she inadvertently got another look at Sam running a hand over Jason’s chest. She turned away mechanically, missing the smug look Sam directed at AJ, the equally smug look AJ returned first to Sam then to Jason as he draped an arm across the back of her chair, and the ensuing glare Jason focused on AJ as he stilled Sam’s wandering hand by grabbing her wrist and lifting it off his chest. Elizabeth stood and walked away, her vision narrowing to the floor in front of her feet. As she reached the door, someone was there beside her helping her put on her coat. Silently she accepted the help and blindly walked through the door. She felt a hand at her lower back and she let it guide her through the empty outdoor tables to the street and finally into a cab. Only after the cab was underway did she let herself take a deep shuddering breath and sink into the seat. That’s when she noticed the person who had followed her out of Kelly’s was AJ and not Lucky as she’d assumed. She suppressed a groan and covered her face with her hands to keep herself from dissolving into tears. “Are you okay?” She heard the concern in his voice, but couldn’t bring herself to move her hands or trust herself to answer with anything more than a nod. “Good, I didn’t want you passing out again without anyone around to catch you.” She could hear his smile in his gentle ribbing and took a long slow breath, then lowered her hands to her lap and raised her eyes to meet his. AJ sat watching her. A flicker of relief passed over his features as their eyes met. He was worried because he thought she was sick. She almost heaved a sigh of relief. At least he didn’t suspect her strange behavior was connected to the announcement of Jason’s marriage. “Where do you want to go?” The cabbies deep baritone broke into their conversation and Elizabeth quickly rattled off her address. AJ relaxed into the seat, not pressing her with any more questions. A small favor she was more than thankful for. She wasn’t in the mental state to tap dance around the truth while trying to answer any more questions. Less than ten minutes later, they were pulling into her new driveway and she was reaching into her purse for money to pay the cabbie. AJ beat her to the punch, paying the fare before she had the chance, and then waved away her protests as he climbed out after her. As he leaned back in to ask the cabbie to wait for him, Elizabeth suddenly remembered Vincent and how he always waved away her attempts to pay for the rides he gave her to meet Jason, and something inside her snapped. The emotion she’d held tightly in check since Sam’s announcement broke free and with a stifled sob her tears finally started falling. Whirling around, she ran for the house. Throwing the door open, she burst into the living room making Georgie Jones jump in surprise. She didn’t pause as she ran up the stairs, making a bee-line for Cameron’s bedroom. All Elizabeth wanted was to feel the security of holding her little boy in her arms. Something real, something solid and safe she could hold onto while everything else crumbled. It was a selfish desire, but after Sam’s emotional punch to the gut, she needed a little selfish time.

She found Cameron lying on his back, asleep in his crib. She gently caressed his crown, ruffling his swatch of dark hair before bringing her fingers down to cup one pudgy cheek. Cameron stirred in his sleep, jerking at the unexpected touch and making sucking movements with his lips. Elizabeth hesitated. He was sleeping so peacefully, the mother in her demanded she leave him alone to finish his nap, overriding her personal need to use him to console herself. Lifting a hand to her mouth she stifled the sob about to break free and took a long deep breath to steady herself. Tears welled in her eyes and in the safety of the nursery she let them fall soundlessly down her cheeks, dropping to make small wet circles on the sheet. Stupid. She shook her head. She was being stupid. She’d known this plan wouldn’t be easy, but she’d never foreseen this. Marriage. A chill passed over her at the thought, the possibility of Jason marrying Sam hadn’t even occurred to her. A noise filtered up from downstairs and she groaned. Georgie was still down there and considering the way she’d run through the room, she probably thought something was wrong. With a deep sigh, Elizabeth gathered up her wounded emotions and wiped her face. With one last caress to Cameron’s cheek, she turned and headed downstairs. To her surprise she found only AJ waiting for her. He’d made himself comfortable on the couch but stood to meet her as he heard her coming down the stairs. “Where’s Georgie?” She looked around the room to make sure she hadn’t missed the girl. “She said she had to go and you could pay her for babysitting later.” AJ ‘s head tipped to the side and he stared at her for along moment. “Are you sure you’re okay?” “Yes.” Elizabeth forced a grin and repeated the mantra. “I’m fine. You don’t have to stay.” AJ nodded and headed toward the door. Opening it, he paused in the doorway, turning back to look at her with a sheepish grin. He shuffled and cleared his voice, before asking, “Would you like to go out for drinks with me sometime?” Elizabeth stood rooted to the floor, dumbfounded. The invitation was so completely unexpected, it caught her off guard. Finally she mentally smacked herself and forced herself to take a deep breath. Meeting his hopeful gaze, Elizabeth cringed slightly as she rejected his offer. “Thank you, AJ but no.” She cleared her throat and then shifted uncomfortably on her feet. “I’d rather we stayed…. friends.” AJ took the rejection in stride, smiling as he took a step backwards. “Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying.” Then he scooped up her hand and pressed a kiss onto its back before turning and heading down the path toward the waiting cab. Elizabeth closed the door, leaned heavily against it, and closing her eyes, wondered how this day could possibly get any worse. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Safely in the back of the cab and headed down the street, AJ flipped out his cell phone and dialed. When the other end was picked up, he smiled wickedly. “It’s

done.” He turned to watch Elizabeth’s house recede into the distance as he listened to the reply, then narrowed his eyes. “Fine. Just make sure you’re not seen.” Chapter 20 Jason had spent the afternoon stalking around the penthouse like a caged lion. He was unhappy with Sam over her little performance at Kelly’s and he was especially unhappy about the look he’d seen pass over Elizabeth’s face when Sam had flashed her ring and made their wedding announcement. He stopped in front of the balcony, the sunset casting long shadows around him, fisted his hands at his sides and growled. He hadn’t wanted Elizabeth to find out that way, he’d wanted to explain to her himself why he’d gotten re-engaged to Sam. Only it hadn’t happened the way he’d planned and now Elizabeth wasn’t answering his phone calls. Sam, on the other hand, had spent the afternoon stretched on the couch pouting petulantly, unhappy with him because of his annoyance with her. She didn’t understand his foul mood and he refused to explain it to her. He, in fact, didn’t feel the least bit motivated to explain anything at the moment. Jason ground his teeth in frustration. Then there was the AJ problem. AJ had been irritatingly smug sitting with his arm around the back of Elizabeth’s chair. Jason had nearly ruptured a blood vessel restraining himself from yanking AJ bodily out of his chair and tossing him into the back alley for a little lesson in keeping his hands to himself. Frowning, he rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. He couldn’t let Elizabeth keep thinking he was going to marry Sam. He needed to talk to her, soon and in person. Striding out onto the balcony to get out of sight and ear shot of the woman lounging on the couch, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed Sonny’s number. “Call me back in five minutes,” he said when Sonny answered, then snapped the phone shut. Returning inside, he crossed to the desk where he sat and pulled out paperwork as if preparing to spend the evening going over coffee warehouse inventories and spreadsheets. Sam cast him a cursory glance and went back to reading her magazine. In exactly five minutes his cell phone rang. Pulling it out of his pocket, he answered. “Yeah.” “It’s been five minutes. Now what?” Jason half turned toward the couch and got a look at Sam watching him quizzically out of the corner of his eye. “When do you need me there?” He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “It must be bad if you’re establishing an alibi.” “In half an hour.” Jason kept Sam in his peripheral vision, making sure she heard every word of his faux conversation.

“Is Sam there?” “Yes,” Jason affirmed. “Do you have my back on this one?” Sonny chuckled. “I believe you’ve finally become a first rate liar. I guess all you needed was the proper motivation.” Jason blew a long sigh into the phone, eliciting another round of chuckles from his boss. Then he snapped the phone shut. He turned his gaze to Sam, who quickly looked back at her magazine and pretended not to have been eavesdropping. He stood, swept all his papers back into their folder and stashed them in the desk drawer. “That was Sonny. I have to go.” Sam stood and sauntered over to him as he went to pull his leather jacket out of the closet. Her pout deepened as she stopped in front of him and watched him pull it on. “Don’t go while you’re mad at me.” “Sam.” Her name came out as more a warning than an endearment. She grabbed the lapels of his jacket and pulled herself closer, pressing her breasts into his chest and letting the low cut of her shirt give him a clear view of her cleavage. “At least give me a kiss before you go.” Staring down at her and trying to hide his irritation, Jason placed his hands on her shoulders and backed her up a step, then leaned down and placed a quick peck on her lips before turning and yanking the door open. Sam frowned at his back, but didn’t have time to complain before the door slammed shut in her face. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ It was fully dark by the time Jason ditched his bike at Jake’s and had Vincent drive him to Elizabeth’s. They cruised slowly down her street, skirting a white plumbing repair van several houses down before turning into the back alley and slowly easing to a stop behind the house. Jason was counting on the cover of darkness to help hide his arrival. Easing through the back gate, Jason stopped in his tracks. The sunroom was fully lit and inside using her paintbrush more like a knife than an artistic tool, Elizabeth was literally attacking the canvas in front of her. Blue and black paint was smeared across one porcelain cheek and she was furiously intent, using short staccato stabs of her brush to put paint to canvas. Anger radiated from her movements and she backed up a step, then swung her arm broadly, swiping back and forth at the canvas. Jason stood a moment in the darkness, watching her and rubbed a hand over his face. This wasn’t good. Crossing to the back door, he knocked and in the sunroom he could see her startled reaction to the sound. Waiting and counting the seconds as she made her way through the kitchen and to the backdoor, he bowed his head as the doorknob rattled. He didn’t feel he was in any position to greet her with his head held high. What he expected was anger, but when the door opened and he lifted his eyes to

meet hers, what he found in them was hurt. A knife twisted in his heart at the sight of her red-rimmed and swollen royal blue eyes. His first instinct was to pull her to him and hold her until the pain shining in her eyes disappeared. He reached out, saw her stiffen and hesitated, settling instead on caressing her cheek with his fingers. “I had to talk to you.” Frustration made his jaw clench. He hated that she was hurting because of him. His eyes fell to the floor as his hand dropped from her face. “If you don’t want to talk, I’ll say what I came to say and leave.” “Why wouldn’t I want to talk.” Elizabeth’s voice was shaky, her tightly held emotions bleeding through despite her efforts to keep them hidden. “You weren’t answering my calls.” He shrugged half-heartedly. “You called?“ Elizabeth’s eyes widened and she abruptly turned, heading through the kitchen and into the living room. Jason shut the door behind him and followed close on her heels, watching as she snagged her purse off the closet door handle and rummaged through it to find her cell phone. When she held it up, her shoulders sagged, and she turned, looking apologetically at Jason. “The battery is dead.” Her lower lip quivered. “I forgot to recharge it. I thought you weren’t calling on purpose and….” Her hand covered her mouth and she closed her eyes. “I should have known better.” She looked up at him through glossy eyes and Jason’s heart constricted painfully. This time when he reached for her, she didn’t flinch and he pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her and enveloping her in his embrace. “I hate this,” he said. ““I should have said something at Kelly‘s.” “No.” Elizabeth pulled away just enough to look into his eyes and shook her head, “I’m glad you didn’t. As hard as this is, your baby is worth it.” Jason closed his eyes and sighed. His baby. The one and only reason they were both stuck in this situation. They were both willingly enduring this pain to make sure his child was given every possible chance to live. Yet, as often as he’d tried to picture a baby with a blending of his and Sam’s features, he couldn’t see it. “Are you really going to marry her?” Elizabeth’s question brought his eyes back to her. She looked so vulnerable at that moment, like she was handing her heart to him for safekeeping, yet was unsure if he would nurture it or cut it to ribbons. He reached up to tuck a strand of her hair behind her ear and used his thumb to wipe the smudge of paint off her cheek. “No.” Then he tensed remembering how quickly the events in his penthouse that morning had become a runaway train he’d been helpless to stop. “Sam lost it this morning. She accused me of not trying hard enough to work things out between us and she threatened to leave. She said I’d never see her or the baby again.” His voice lowering guiltily at his admission. “I asked her to marry me to calm her down and keep her from taking off.” He took a deep breath. “I wanted to call and tell you, but I didn’t have a chance.” Her lower lip quivering, Elizabeth settled her cheek against his chest. Her hands

slid up his back as his arms pulled her firmly to him. “Jason.” She relaxed into him. “There’s something I need to tell you.” “Good.“ Jason rested his cheek on the top of her head. “Because I don’t want to talk about Sam or babies anymore. That‘s the only thing Sam talks about anymore. The baby this. The baby that. I‘m tired of hearing about the baby.” Sam was obsessed. She hadn’t been that way when she’d been pregnant with Sonny’s baby, and he guessed her obsessive focus was due in part because of the death of that child. It was understandable, but it didn’t make it easier to endure. Elizabeth stiffened. Then she pulled away from him, crossing her arms over her chest as her brows drew together in a frown. Jason watched tension settle on her face and a feeling of dread settled in his gut. “What’s wrong?” Dropping her gaze to the floor, she shook her head and swept her hair off her forehead as she fidgeted a moment as if struggling with her courage. “Elizabeth?” Then she sighed and her shoulders fell. “AJ asked me out on a date.” Every muscle in Jason’s body tensed with anger. He should have beaten the crap out of AJ when he’d had the chance. His gut instincts had been right. AJ was up to no good. “Jason.” Focusing on Elizabeth, Jason found her gripping the front of his shirt, worry etched onto her face. “What?” He frowned and his hands pumped at his sides, squeezing and releasing as he fisted them in mute fury. “Did he hurt you? “No.” Elizabeth was shaking her head. “Jason, you can’t do anything to him. If you talk to him about this, he’ll get suspicious.” He hated this. It killed him to be unable to have a discussion with his brother about keeping away from Elizabeth. It went against every male instinct he had not to protect the woman he loved. “Jason.“ Elizabeth‘s grip on his shirt tightened and as he met her eyes, her gaze bore into him and a soft smile lifted the corners of her mouth. “Forget about AJ. He can’t hurt us. I love you and nothing is going to change that.” Elizabeth rose on her toes to press her lips to his. Deepening their kiss, Jason slid one hand around to her lower back to pull her firmly against him. Trailing kisses across his jaw, Elizabeth stopped to purr sexily in his ear. “Make love to me.” ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ A couple of houses down from Elizabeth‘s, AJ Quartermaine sat inside a white van sporting a plumbing logo on its side. He smiled broadly, listening to the conversation through headphones as he watched it play out on the monitor in front of him. The slightly grainy picture showed a live feed of his younger brother pulling Elizabeth Webber into an intense kiss. As Elizabeth’s hands went to Jason’s belt, AJ leaned back in his seat causing a metallic screech to resonate through the van. He turned to Ron, the balding and

slightly paunchy tech working the control panel and lifted one side of the headphones off his ear. “You’re recording this, right?” Ron didn’t turn to face AJ, instead he kept his eyes on the readouts as he answered. “Yep, we got everything from the moment Jason arrived.” AJ smiled wickedly, leaning forward in his chair and tenting his hands in front of his face. He watched as Jason swept Elizabeth’s shirt over her head and began trailing kisses down her throat. “Oh little brother.” He chuckled. “I’ve got you now.” ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Sam drove slowly through the docks, keeping a close watch for anything suspicious. Jason had taken his motorcycle when he’d gone out and even in the moonless dark she knew she would recognize it when she saw it. He’d lied to her tonight about what he was going to do. It’d been obvious he’d wanted her to overhear his conversation, wanted her to think he was out doing a job for Sonny, but she knew better. The giveaway had been his turning toward her instead of turning away to keep her from overhearing his conversation. She ground her teeth together, it was a small oversight, but that old saying “never con a con” ran through her mind. Jason had tried to con her and she’d seen right through him. In the seat next to her Anna scanned the area as well, although Sam knew the bodyguard was looking for a different type of trouble. Another of Jason’s concessions to her had been a reduction in the number of her guards. She’d tried to get them all relieved of their duty, but Jason had insisted she keep one and she’d finally relented, agreeing to keep Anna. An arrangement, which in her estimation, was a mistake on Jason’s part. He never should have left her with a female guard. No matter how loyal Anna was to her boss, there was a kindred spirit among women that Sam had no qualms of playing to her benefit. It had only taken a little crying and some insinuation about Jason’s whereabouts and Anna had been more than willing to take her hunting for the scoundrel. Sam pinched her lips together as she scanned the darkness for signs of Jason. Why was she out here in the dead of night searching for him? She asked herself. Couldn’t she wait until he returned home and confront him then? She scowled at the idea. No. He’d lied to her and she couldn’t let him get away with that. She had to be the one in control. She had to call the shots or her plan might fail, and that was not an option. She’d worked too hard for this and Jason was going to suffer the loss of his child. She was going to do everything within in her power to make sure he suffered as much or more than she had. Rolling to a stop at the end of the long stretch of docks, she frowned. She hadn’t seen any hint of Jason. He wasn’t here. Where could he have gone? She’d already driven by Sonny’s, Carly’s, the police station, the hospital, the warehouse and now the docks. Then she cocked her head to the side. Next to her Anna turned and lifted an eyebrow. “Are you ready to head back to the penthouse?” “No.” Sam said setting her jaw. “There’s one more place we can try.”

Chapter 21 As Coleman wiped down the bar with a damp rag, he kept an eye on a group of sailors at the pool tables. It had been a rough night. He’d already had to break up two fights, toss six guys out, and it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. Things hadn’t necessarily ‘quieted down’, but everyone seemed to be keeping to themselves. Well, everyone except the foreign sailors at the pool tables working out their cabin fever from being trapped aboard ocean-going freighters for weeks. They were loud, rude and Coleman watched them warily. They were trouble waiting to happen. The front door slammed open and he turned to size up the newcomers. Then groaned when he saw who entered. Samantha McCall. He’d met the raven haired beauty months ago and pegged her as a troublemaker. Yet, if he’d still been running the Oasis he’d offer her a job stripping. He recognized the type; she had the look and attitude of a woman willing to make money riding a pole or living off any rich sugar daddy who took a fancy to a hot little sex toy like her. To see her walking into his bar tonight, of all nights, made him roll his eyes. He hadn’t kicked any puppies or robbed any nuns lately, and he wondered what horrible deed he could have done to so royally screw up his karma. Sam fixed him with her steady gaze and made a beeline for the bar. She was followed closely by another woman who made no effort to hide the fact that she was keeping a close watch on the other patrons. Coleman narrowed his eyes at her. Obviously she was a bodyguard, who else would be sending out ‘don’t mess with us or you won’t live to regret it’ body language to anyone who glanced their way. Coleman leaned forward bracing one elbow on the bar and watched Sam slink across the room. In her low cut top and high cut skirt, she flaunted her sexuality like a siren and the group of sailors at the pool tables took notice. Whistles and catcalls followed in her wake. Sam, though, only had eyes for him. “Where’s Jason?” Coleman smiled a lopsided smile. Normally he liked a woman who cut to the chase, but Sam rubbed him the wrong way. He didn’t like her much and he trusted her less. He knew where his loyalties lay, and they weren’t with the little con artist. “What makes you think I know where Jason is?” Coleman drawled, shifting his toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “He doesn’t check in with me before he goes out.” Sam frowned in annoyance. “His motorcycle is parked in the back. Where is he?’’ Coleman chuckled, then reached up to remove the toothpick. “Do you see him here?” “No.” Sam answered, cocking her head to the side and crossing her arms under her breasts. “Then I don’t know where he is.”

Sam lifted her left hand and waggled her engagement ring for Coleman to see. “I’m his fiancée, and I’m sure he’d appreciate you telling me where he is. I have important information for him.” “Then call him on his cell phone, sweetheart.” Coleman brazenly winked at her. “I know the man never goes anywhere without it.” Sam huffed, fixed Coleman with a glare and turned to the woman with her. “Let’s go.” Backing away from the bar, Sam gave the room one last look before she headed for the door. However, before she could reach it, one of the sailors, a tall darkhaired lout with a Mediterranean look about him, intercepted her. “Hello sweetie.” He crooned in a thickly accented voice. “Would you like a drink?” Sam lifted her eyes to his smiling face, then without warning, brought her knee up in a swift shot to the man’s groin. The man’s face drained of color and he uttered a stifled grunt as he fell into a heap to the floor, curling up in a fetal position with his hands holding his injured privates. The room went silent. Sam flicked her long black hair over her shoulder and turned to look at Coleman. “I’ll remember all your help.” Then she turned and exited the bar with all eyes on her. Coleman shook his head, took a long pull from his beer bottle and frowned. What game was Jason playing? Sam McCall was his fiancée? He’d seen Jason with Elizabeth and knew without a doubt how they both felt about each other. What did this mean? And now that he knew, what was he going to do with the information? *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* Sam paced the length of her bedroom brooding on her failure to find Jason. She didn’t like that he’d lied to her and she really didn’t like that she couldn’t find him. Where was he and what was he up to? Growling, she snatched her cell phone from the nightstand and speed dialed the only number programmed into its memory. Despite the fact that it was two in the morning, AJ picked up on the first ring and sounded positively perky. “Sam.” She could hear the smile on his face over the phone. ”You should be asleep. A woman in your condition needs her rest.” “Shut up, AJ.” She growled into the phone. His good mood was irritating. AJ tsked. “What do you want, Sam?” Sam paused. What did she want? Why had she called him? To tell him Jason had lied to her and had taken off for parts unknown. She rubbed her forehead. Suddenly she felt like crying and wished AJ were here so she lean into him and cradle her head on his shoulder while he wrapped his arms around her. Then AJ sighed loudly in annoyance and the moment was lost. What was she thinking? She was stronger than that. She’d never needed anyone before and she wasn’t about to let herself get all

weak and needy now. Sam tossed her hair over her shoulder. “We need to speed up the plan.” “No. Everything is fine.” Sam closed her eyes and suppressed an urge to yell. “No, the plan isn’t fine.” She took a deep breath and hardened her resolve. It went against her grain to admit weakness, much less defeat, but her goal was much too precious to lose over her own pride. Besides, she had been in the business long enough to know when a deal was going bad and this one was going south fast. “I’m losing my hold on Jason. We need to speed things up to get him back on the hook.” “Sam.” AJ’s voice took on a soothing tone, not the least bit condescending, but quietly reassuring. “I saw Jason tonight. He‘s still on the hook. You haven‘t lost him. Relax. Everything is going perfectly.“ Then she could hear his smile again. “Trust me.” Sam rubbed her forehead, physically relaxing under AJ’s calming influence. If he was right and Jason was still on the hook, that meant she was overreacting. She rolled her eyes. AJ was after the same thing she was, he wouldn’t lie to her. “You’re sure?” “Sam. You have him right where you want him. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” On the other end of the line, AJ leaned back in his squeaky metal chair, watching the light glint off a DVD he held in his hand. A grin spread across his face. “Everything is working exactly the way we planned.” *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* Jason ran his fingers through his hair as he stepped out of the cab. His eyes instinctively darted around the back parking lot of Jake’s, searching deep into the shadowy corners to make sure the area was safe. Not seeing anything suspicious, he shut the taxi door behind him, and crossed through the early morning darkness to his bike. He’d hated leaving so early, before the sun had even risen, but he had things he had to take care of. Business was still a priority despite the mess his personal life had become, and with new enemies in town, he couldn’t relax, no matter how much he wanted to stay the night with Elizabeth snuggled safely in his arms. The time when he could stay with her without having to sneak around couldn‘t come soon enough. Clenching his jaw he inwardly cursed himself and the situation he’d gotten himself into. Rounding the dumpster he found his bike. However, it wasn’t as he’d left it. A heavy chain was woven through the front tire, twisted around the frame and secured with a heavy duty lock. There was a note taped to the seat. You need to talk to me. Coleman. Jason crumbled the note in his fist and ground his teeth together. Turning on his heel, he slammed through the back door and stalked inside, finding Coleman lounging behind the bar, an elbow braced against the wood countertop. Coleman casually raised a eyebrow, not showing the least bit of intimidation in the face of Jason’s cold glower. “Well, well, well. Look at what the cat dragged in.” Jason frowned and narrowed his eyes at the bartender. “What do you want?”

Coleman leaned back, cocked his head to the side and raised his eyebrows. “Your fiancée was here last night.” Rolling his head, he glanced at the ceiling while scratching at the stubble on his neck. “She caused quite a commotion while she was here.” Jason’s eyes widened in surprise. “Sam was here?” He turned his head and rubbed his jaw, swearing to himself before looking back at Coleman. “Is she okay?” Coleman hitched his hip against the bar and nodded as he crossed his arms over his chest. “She was looking for you and thought I might know where you were.” Jason raised his eyebrows in unspoken question. Coleman shook his head. “I didn’t tell her Jack, man, and she wasn‘t happy when she left.” Jaw muscle ticking, Jason shook his head. Sam should have been at the penthouse where she was safe, instead of out running around looking for him. His anger started to simmer. Here he was turning his own life inside out to protect his baby, and Sam was putting herself and their child in danger by coming to places like this and stirring up trouble. He’d given in to her demands about the guards and the first thing she’d done was proven that he couldn’t trust her. Leaning forward to grip the bar with both hands, he let loose a string of curses. Pushing off the bar, Coleman made his way around to Jason. Squaring his shoulders he pulled himself to his full height as Jason turned to meet him. Coleman frowned as he stared at the younger man. “Look, I don’t know what you’ve got going on, but I’ve seen you in here with Elizabeth.” Jason tensed at Coleman’s mention of Elizabeth and his glare at the bartender hardened. “Elizabeth is a classy lady. Men like you and me don’t deserve women like that.” “What are you saying?” Jason stepped forward, but Coleman didn’t back down, if anything he pressed himself forward to meet the threat. “I’m saying Elizabeth deserves better than to be treated badly by the likes of you.” Neither of them blinked and Coleman lifted his head a little higher. “If you hurt her, I’ll make you pay.” And in the face of Coleman’s statement, Jason flinched. He couldn’t argue the point. Elizabeth did deserve better than to be hurt by the likes of him. Stepping back, his eyes slid away. Coleman pulled a set of padlock keys out of his shirt pocket and tossed them on the bar. Frowning, Jason reached over and took them. Without meeting Coleman’s eyes, Jason skirted the man and headed toward the back exit, stopping in the doorway to turn and flash an icy glare at the older man. “Not many men get away with threatening me.” Coleman was leaning back against lit it. It caught in a flare and looked Jason slowly up and down. forefinger, Coleman flicked away “I’m not worried.” the bar cupping one hand around a cigarette as he he shook the match out as he took a long drag and Pinching the cigarette between his thumb and its ash tip and blew out a long stream of smoke.

Jason narrowed his eyes at the man. “Why?” A sly grin lifted one corner of Coleman’s mouth. “Because you know I’m right.” *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* The sun was fully risen, its bright light seeping in through the curtains as Elizabeth fitfully rolled over in bed. She hadn’t slept well last night. It was because she’d stayed up late with Jason, then he’d had to leave before she could fall asleep. Their bed was too large and too cold without him in it. She frowned. Liar, she told herself. Her tossing and turning had more to frustrations with babies. Sure he’d complaining, but still, would he be and her talking about their babies? found out about their child, but he either. do with her worry about Jason’s very vocal been talking about Sam’s baby when he’d been less frustrated to have to listed to both Sam Not that she thought he’d be angry when he sure didn’t seem like he’d be happy about it

Elizabeth felt tears well up in her eyes and cursed herself. If she’d only told him the first night he’d gotten back she wouldn‘t be in this awkward position. Her hand splayed protectively on her stomach and she found herself speaking out loud to ease her fears. “Don’t worry baby, your daddy will love you.” She took a long shuddering breath to hold in her emotions and squeezed her eyes closed. “I just need to figure out how to tell him about you.” Downstairs she heard the front doorbell ring. Rolling over, Elizabeth determined to ignore it and whoever was down there. She had bigger problems at the moment. But the doorbell rang again, then the third time the caller held the button down turning the bell tone into a solid whine. Down the hall she heard Cameron start crying and Elizabeth groaned, pulled on a robe and swore to give an earful to whoever was down there disturbing her life. Stopping to pick up Cameron, Elizabeth descended the stairs, crossed to the front door, threw it open with a huff and found herself glaring daggers at her older brother. Stephen smiled brightly at her. “Wake up sleepy head!” Then he noticed her scowl and his smile faltered. “What?” “I was sleeping! Or don’t you care that you dragged me out of bed on my day off.” Stephen lifted the lid on the heavy paper box he was carrying. “I brought doughnuts.” He said in a sing-song voice with a smile and a lifted eyebrow. Locking her eyes on a chocolate glazed doughnut, Elizabeth faltered. “Doughnuts?” “Yep.” He skirted around her, bringing the smell of freshly baked doughnuts with him into the living room. Elizabeth inhaled deeply, shutting the door behind her as she followed her brother into the kitchen. He was busy pulling out plates as she entered. Narrowing her eyes at him, she worked up a little righteous indignation. “You play

dirty.” “But I always win.” “Fine.” She reached over and put Cameron in his arms. “You go change Cameron and I’ll make the coffee.” Then she snagged the chocolate glazed doughnut Stephen had put on a plate for himself and took a big bite out of it as Cameron laughed and smacked him on the cheek with a pudgy hand. “Hey! That‘s not a fair trade.” Stephen said as he tried to catch Cameron’s hand before he could hit him again. Cameron laughed at the game and deftly dodged Stephen’s grasp and smacked him across the cheek. “La, la, la. I can’t hear you.” Elizabeth turned to the sink and ran the faucet to fill the coffee pot. Making a banging noise with the pot against the metal sink, she continued to ignore her brother’s arguments until he gave up and with a disgruntled harrumph, took Cameron upstairs to change his diaper. Elizabeth started the coffee brewing and leaned against the counter. Rubbing her forehead, she inwardly groaned as she thought about the mess she’d made of her life. She’d been nervous about telling Jason before, but now that she knew he wasn’t thrilled about hearing about babies, she was positively mortified. The front doorbell rang again and pulled Elizabeth out of her frump. Tightening her robe around her, she went to the front door and peeked through the spy hole. Standing on her front stoop was a courier with a flat legal-sized package tucked under one arm. A trill of excitement passed over her. The last courier delivery she’d received had been from Jason, and she wondered what he could be sending her this time. Opening the door as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, the deliveryman barely made eye contact with her. “Elizabeth Webber?“ When she nodded, he thrust a clipboard at her. “Your signature please.” Elizabeth took the clipboard and signed her name. Then without another word, the man handed her the package and turned to head back to his delivery van. Closing the door, Elizabeth inspected the large mailing envelope. This one was different from the last one she’d received. This envelope was emblazoned with “Urgent” and “Important Legal Documents” stamped across it’s face, and neatly typed across the upper left corner was a return address. This package wasn’t from Jason. Curiosity creased her forehead sheaf of papers bound together page she scanned the document, understand, and as she flipped hand to cover her mouth. This had to be a mistake. Chapter 22 Elizabeth shifted nervously in the overstuffed leather chair and sat a little straighter. She’d dressed up for this visit and even in the professional looking black pencil skirt and v-necked mauve button-up shirt she felt awkward. In spite of the fact that she considered Alexis a friend, even if it was in a highly respected teacher kind of way, being here in her office seeking legal advice had as she with a trying to the ripped open the envelope and pulled out a large binder clip. Starting at the first to translate what legalese she could next page, her jaw dropped and she lifted a

Elizabeth’s nerves on edge. Alexis had been the first person she’d thought of to help her when she’d gotten the documents this morning. She’d briefly considered calling Ric, but things were still touchy between them concerning her ‘relationship’ with Zander and she felt asking him about this would be too emotionally touchy. Besides, Elizabeth trusted Alexis, and despite the fact she was married to Ric, she knew Alexis was too professional to discuss confidential information with him or anyone else for that matter. Smoothing her hands over her skirt, she watched Alexis look down her nose though reading glasses as she perused the legal document. The lawyer wrinkled her nose as she read and Elizabeth tugged her lower lip between her teeth. It was certainly taking her long enough to read the thing. She’d flipped through it three times already and was now going back and picking apart selected sections. Cameron grunted loudly in the stroller next to her chair. He was leaning forward, gumming the padded bar holding him in the seat and kicking his legs furiously. His grunt caught Alexis’ attention and she sat the papers down on the table to lean forward and rub his forehead with her fingers. “Are you getting bored little guy?” She smiled at Cameron and Cameron giggled at her. “You remind me of your daddy.” Alexis tipped her head to the side and ran her fingers through his swath of dark hair. “Yes, you do, but you have your mommy’s eyes.” Cameron gurgled and grabbed Alexis’ finger in his fist. She looked at Elizabeth, a wide smile on her face. “May I hold him?” “Of course.” Elizabeth reached down and unbelted her son. Alexis slid a hand under each of his armpits and lifted him from the stroller. Cameron giggled at his new found freedom and kicked his legs wildly. Balancing his feet on her knees, Alexis held onto him tightly as Cameron took advantage of his position to start bouncing. “Look at you go.” Alexis turned to Elizabeth, a look of concern on her face. “Is he always this full of energy?” Elizabeth beamed. “Oh, yes, and now that he’s crawling I can barely keep up with him.” Alexis turned Cameron around and set him on her knee. In a clearly practiced move she laced an arm around his belly and held him so that he could flail his arms and legs, while she was able to pick up the legal forms with her other hand. She looked at Elizabeth over the top of her reading glasses. “This is Cameron Lewis’ Last Will and Testament. He apparently changed it a couple of months before he died. He left everything to his unborn grandchild.” Elizabeth lifted a hand and pointed at the document, a frown creasing her brow. “I don’t understand. He died almost a year ago. Why did it take so long for me to find out about this?” Alexis shifted through the papers. “It looks like there were other interested parties who contested the will. They’ve kept it locked in probate and managed to keep you out of the loop, no doubt through a little illegal bending of the law. Their claims have just been dismissed and the court has declared the new will to be authentic and binding.” She lifted her eyes to Elizabeth, a smile on her face.

“So you inherit the entire estate. Two point three million and a house in Florida.” “No.” Elizabeth lifted a shaky hand to her forehead. “I don’t deserve all that. I barely knew the man.” Setting the papers down. Alexis pulled off her glasses and gave Elizabeth a stern look. “It’s Cameron’s inheritance Elizabeth. He is Zander’s only child and Cameron Lewis’ only grandchild. It all belongs to him.” Elizabeth looked away, lowering her hand to her mouth. “I know, but it’s so…. I don’t know.” She shook her head. “Undeserved. I guess.” She knew the facts, her son was Cameron Lewis’ biological grandchild, but thinking of inheriting the man’s life legacy felt so inappropriate. Her spur of the moment decision to sleep with Zander to push Ric away kept popping up with new and unforeseen consequences. Alexis turned Elizabeth’s son around in her lap and smiled at him. “Your Grandfather would have loved you. Granddad? Grandpa?” She screwed up her face in thought then shook her head. “He was more of a Grandpa I think.” Elizabeth sighed and leaned back in the chair. It was too much to take in. “Elizabeth.” She looked up at Alexis gentle prodding. “I knew Cameron Lewis very well, and he may have been a stubborn old goat, but he was a good man. He would have wanted to take care of his family. He would have wanted you to have this. Take some time. Think about what this could mean for your son. You could quit working and stay at home with him if you wanted. You could send him to the best schools and colleges.” Wiping at a tear collecting in the corner of her eye, Elizabeth sat forward. “I need to think about this.” She smiled at Alexis. “Maybe get a financial planner to explain my options.” Alexis smiled. “I’ll file all of the necessary legal paperwork.” She gave Cameron one last hug, then brushed the tip of her nose against his, eliciting a bubbling fit of giggles from the little boy. “You handsome little guy, you be good to your mommy. No sneaking out of the house and taking the car for a joyride when you turn sixteen.” Cameron laughed and reached for a lock of her hair. With a quick flick of her head Alexis swept it out of his grasp and handed him back to his mom. Elizabeth settled him on her lap, then dug through her diaper bag for a teething ring, which Cameron swiped from her hand, immediately sticking it into his mouth and gumming it. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, Elizabeth looked at Alexis. “How is Kristina doing?” She hadn’t seen the little girl since she’d been sent home from the hospital. Alexis’ smile widened. “She’s doing wonderfully. The doctors say she’ll make a full recovery.” “I’m so happy to hear that.” “Elizabeth.” Alexis’ tone was back to business. “You know I won’t say anything to anyone about this. Not even Ric.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Thank you. I want to decide what I’m going to do before I tell anyone.” “I understand.” Alexis stood and Elizabeth juggled Cameron in her arms as she stood and shook Alexis’ hand. Then Alexis sighed and wrapped them both in a quick, awkward hug. Alexis stepped back, smiled sheepishly and fumbled for something to say. A wave of relief passed over her face as a knock sounded at the door. As Alexis retreated to answer the door, Elizabeth tucked Cameron snugly into his stroller. When she stood, she turned to find Ric in the open doorway talking quietly with Alexis. Their eyes met and she saw a question flit across his face as he no doubt wondered at finding her in his wife’s office. Seeing Ric always stirred up a myriad of emotions in her. Hurt, betrayal, loss, disappointment, fear, and yet despite all the negative, there was still a pull at her heartstrings for the man. A sad bittersweet memory of what they’d once had, or what she’d thought they’d had, lingered, but much like the love she felt for Lucky, it was firmly anchored in the past. “Ric.” She latched onto the handle of the stroller and angled it for a quick escape. “Elizabeth.” Ric nodded, stepping out of her way and closer to his wife. “I was just leaving.” She turned to Alexis. “Thank you for your help.” “You’re welcome.” Alexis smiled. “and Elizabeth, think about what I said.” Nodding, Elizabeth ignored Ric’s confused look and pushed Cameron into the hall. She didn’t relax until she heard the door shut behind her, then she stopped a moment, leaning against the wall and letting the truth of what she’d just learned seep into her. Two point three million dollars. Her mind couldn’t wrap itself around that amount of money belonging to Cameron. The only thing she knew for sure was that she had some serious decisions to make about their future. *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* Slamming the door of the penthouse, Jason stalked inside. He was angry with Sam for following him and even angrier because she’d put herself and their child in danger. “Sam!” He yelled when he found the living room empty. The penthouse remained quiet. He knew she was here somewhere because Max had told him she was. Swearing to himself, he took the stairs at a run and tromped down the hall to Sam’s bedroom. Flinging the door open, he found her asleep in bed. She stirred, stretching and causing the sheet to fall away, revealing the swell of her breasts barely contained by her black lace negligee. Propping herself up on one elbow, she gazed at him with a come-hither look, her head cocked to one side and her hair mussed. “Good morning sexy.”

Jason scowled. “It’s afternoon.” Sam shrugged carelessly, letting the sheet fall further, exposing the flat of her stomach peeking out from under the edge of her lacy black camisole. She changed position to stretch out on her back, thrusting her breasts out and rubbing the bed beside her. “Would you like to come join me?” Jason didn’t move, he only narrowed his eyes, his glare hardening. “You went to Jake’s last night.” His curt statement completely changed her demeanor. Her jaw tightened and she levered herself onto her knees, her hands planting themselves on her hips. “Who told you that?” “Don’t bother Sam. I know you were there.” Jason frowned at her as he stood his ground in the doorway. “You know you shouldn’t be out looking for me while I’m working.” Sam spring off the bed, giving him full view of her barely covered body. Her earlier enticing mood was gone, replaced in a flash with anger. “I was worried about you.” Jason clenched his teeth to rein in his emotions before continuing. “You can’t put yourself and the baby in danger like that.” Sam straightened and glared at him with arms akimbo. “What exactly do you mean ‘I can’t’? You don’t get to tell what I can and can’t do.” “Sam.” Jason’s tone carried a heavy warning and he used a finger to point at this own chest. “I have enemies who would like nothing more than to get their hands on you and use you and the baby as leverage against me.” “Maybe if you were honest with me and told me what’s going on I wouldn’t have to follow you around looking for answers.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” His eyes narrowed at her, suddenly wary. He didn’t like what she was implying, or that she might suspect he was hiding things from her. “You know. You didn’t have business last night. You lied to me.” Jason closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. If she knew he was lying last night, he was going to have to be much more careful in the future. He measured his words carefully, afraid of losing control. “You know there are things I can’t talk to you about.” “You’re still lying to me!” Sam yelled, leaning forward at the waist to put more power behind her words. “Where were you last night?” Jason turned on his heel and fisting his hand, he swung out, bringing his fist smashing into the wall in fury. Sam jumped in surprise and then clutched her stomach, falling to her knees with a moan. Instantly Jason was at her side, anger forgotten. He frowned as she moaned again. “What’s wrong?” Sam’s head came up and she clutched at his shirt with one hand. “Something hurts.”

Jason’s eyes widened in concern. “The baby?” “I don’t know.” Sam’s chin trembled as she leaned into him. “I’m scared Jason.” Jason scooped her into his arms and carried her back to the bed. Lying her down, he pulled the covers over her and took out his cell phone. Dr. Meadow’s office answered on the second ring and it took only moments to explain the situation. After answering a few questions, he had orders to keep Sam calm and bring her to the hospital if her pain worsened or if she started bleeding. Sam burrowed into the pillows, reaching out to clutch Jason’s hand as tears slid down her cheeks. “Please stay with me.” Sweeping her hair from her forehead, Jason knelt next to the bed. “I’m going to call Sonny and tell him I need to be here today. Don’t worry. I’ll only be gone a moment.” Turning toward the door, he missed the smug smile that spread across Sam’s face. *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* Treading down the stairs in black stockinged feet, Elizabeth headed for the kitchen. She’d put Cameron down for his afternoon nap and before changing out of her black skirt and mauve top, which now sported baby spit-up on the shoulder, she wanted to eat lunch. Throwing together a quick salad, she tucked a juice box under her arm and carried her lunch into the living room. Sitting on the couch and picking at the assortment of greens, Elizabeth let her mind wander. She had too much to think about to make any hard and fast decisions. First. She had to talk to Jason. He needed to know about their baby. He deserved to know and together they had decisions to make about how to handle their future family. No more waiting until the ‘perfect moment’ or other similar romantic notions, she had to tell him the next time she saw him. Second, there was the inheritance, which had fallen into her lap out of nowhere. Her initial response, rejecting it out of hand, had changed. It was, after all, the only inheritance her son would receive from his father and Cameron deserved it. Whether she used it to become a stay-at-home mom or saved it for Cameron’s future was something she wanted to ask Jason’s advice about. He had a wonderful way of seeing things logically and right now she didn’t feel the least bit logical about the entire situation. The doorbell rang and she sighed, wondering what Stephen wanted. No doubt he was back to find out what she’d found out at the lawyer’s office. Sighing as she went to the door, carrying her salad bowl with one hand and opening the door with the other, she was startled to discover it wasn’t Steven back for information. It was AJ. Suddenly feeling nervous, Elizabeth braced herself against the door, using her body to block AJ’s entrance. “Hello AJ.” He smiled charmingly at her and lifted a hand to his chest. “Good afternoon Elizabeth. Are you busy?”

Shifting on her feet, Elizabeth glanced behind her, looking could offer to keep from inviting AJ inside. “I was getting to AJ, her brain slow on the uptake, “to…. do homework. For chemistry. It’s pretty complicated and I need to spend some next test.”

for any excuse she ready to….” She turned class. Organic time studying for my

AJ’s smile broadened as he held up a DVD disc which glinted brightly in the afternoon sun. “Oh, I’m pretty sure you’ll want to make time for this.” Chapter 23 Watching herself and Jason making love on the laptop screen made the gall rise in Elizabeth’s throat and her skin prickle with loathing. It was a violation so intensely intimate that it was the closest she’d ever come to reliving the feeling of being raped. AJ reached over and pushed the stop button, his gaze lifting to hers. His smug smile widened as he closed the laptop and slid it across the table until it was sitting safely in front of him. “I think you remember the rest.” His eyes twinkled devilishly. “It’s always the good girls who surprise you. I‘d never have guess you would have liked….” his eyebrows flicked upwards, his expression ripe with erotic suggestion and the insinuation kicked Elizabeth’s brain out of its stunned shock. Her arm flew wide, the flat of her palm catching AJ squarely across the cheek in a slap that snapped his head to the side and sent a crack resounding through the room. AJ slowly turned back toward her massaging his injured jaw, his gaze no less suggestive for her assault. “I see why Jason likes you. You’ve got sass.” “I trusted you.” Elizabeth couldn’t get away from him fast enough, practically leaping from the couch, she moved to the far side of the room where she turned to glare at him, her voice carrying the full weight of her revulsion. “I thought you were my friend.” If her disgust bothered him, he didn’t show it. AJ only settled into his chair and lifted an eyebrow at her. “You were an opportunity too good to pass by.” A chill passed over her at AJ’s words. An opportunity. That could only mean one thing. He was going to try to use her against Jason. Crossing her arms over her stomach, she eyed him suspiciously. “What exactly do you want AJ?” AJ leaned forward and braced his elbows on his knees. Staring unflinchingly into her eyes, he smiled broadly. “You.” Elizabeth gaped at him in confusion. “Yes, Elizabeth, I want you. Jason stole the woman I loved from me and now I’m returning the favor. You’re the woman he loves and you’re going to make him believe you left him for me.” “No.” Elizabeth’s answer fell short of the conviction she’d meant to convey. The cold chill that had passed over her earlier, now resolved into a knot of icy fear and settled heavily in her gut. There was no way she could do what AJ was suggesting. She would never intentionally hurt Jason that way. “Oh, Elizabeth.” AJ’s voice took on a sing-song quality, as if he were correcting a petulant child. “Didn’t Jason explain how blackmail works? Shame on him. You

think he would fill you in on the basics of ‘the life’ if he plans on having you live with him.” He stood, roaming toward her as his voice slowly dropped to a whisper. “You don’t get to refuse. If you don’t do exactly what I want a copy of that DVD will be sent straight to Sam.” He’d made his way to her side and leaned in to speak his next words directly into her ear, making a chill shiver down her spine. “How do you think she’ll react to hearing her fiancée admit he’s only with her to secure his rights to her baby, then see him sex up a hot little number like you?” Tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes. Hearing him calmly spell out the havoc he would wreak on her and Jason’s lives if she didn’t do exactly as he wanted was like watching a train wreck. She couldn’t pull her eyes away from the horror. Her arms tightened around her waist to stop them from shaking. The only glimmer of hope she had was that AJ didn’t know all the facts. Maybe, once she explained the repercussions of his actions to him, he would change his mind. Surely he wouldn’t put Sam and her baby’s lives at risk if he knew the whole truth. “You don’t understand.” A tear broke over her lashes and trailed down one cheek. “The doctor told Sam she shouldn’t get pregnant for at least a year after her delivery. Between the trauma of the placental abruption and the c-section, she said Sam needed to give her body time to heal. Otherwise, a pregnancy would be dangerous for both her and the baby. Jason is doing all of this to make sure she and the baby both survive this pregnancy.” AJ took a step back, his eyes glazing over, and he turned away, bracing both hands on his hips. Elizabeth knew by his reaction that that information had surprised him and now watching his back, she saw his shoulders tighten and thought it meant she’d gotten through to him and made him understand the gravity of the situation. She started to relax at the apparent reprieve when AJ suddenly turned on her, his eyes sparking with barely restrained fury. “Then that gives you all the more reason to play your part convincingly, doesn’t it?” Spinning on his heel, he presented his back to her again and barked orders over his shoulder. “You have a day to break up with him. Make it good. He has to believe this is real or I’ll make sure Sam finds out the truth.” Elizabeth felt like she’d been punched. This couldn’t be happening. AJ couldn’t be so cruel. AJ paused as he picked up his laptop and slid it into its carrying case. Then he stood ram-rod straight and squared his shoulders. “And don’t think about telling Jason what I’m doing so he can rescue you. I’ve made arrangements so that if anything happens to me, copies of the DVD along with a letter implicating Jason in my disappearance will be sent not only to the police and FBI, but every major newspaper across the country.” Then he turned to her, a feral grin spread across his face. “And then DVD will be downloaded onto all the top porn websites.” He lifted an eyebrow with a smirk. “You’ll be famous.” The blood drained from Elizabeth’s face. She knew Jason well enough to know he wouldn’t stand by and do nothing if he knew how AJ was threatening her. He’d barely contained his anger when she’d told him AJ had simply asked her on a date. She had no illusions about what Jason would do to AJ for blackmailing her. AJ turned to leave, stopping at the front door to issue one last order. “I’ll give you forty-eight hours, then I’ll be calling to iron out the details of our first

‘date’.” He winked at her as he opened the door. “I hope you enjoy the spotlight, because I’m going to make sure the entire town knows we’re together.” Then he was gone and Elizabeth couldn’t move or breathe. She closed her eyes and lifted a shaky hand to her mouth. When AJ had turned to her with anger glowing in his eyes, she’d flashed back to a moment when Ric had turned to her with that exact expression on his face. It had been after she’d discovered a pregnant Carly being held prisoner in the panic room and the revenge and hate she’d seen on Ric’s face then perfectly reflected what she’d just seen in AJ’s expression. AJ wanted revenge against a brother he’d felt had wronged him. A lover for a wife. Tit for tat. Yet, in AJ‘s eyes, Jason had taken more from him than a wife, Jason had also taken AJ’s son. Elizabeth’s knees wobbled and she let herself sink to the floor. What would AJ do when he found out she was carrying Jason’s baby? Visions of panic rooms blossomed in her mind. Would she wind up chained to a wall while AJ brought her food, watching greedily as her belly grew large with Jason’s child? In her mind AJ transformed into Ric, making plans to steal her child and raise it as his, all the while Jason was oblivious to the fact that he even had a child with her much less aware of the fact that AJ’s new baby was actually his. Wrapping her arms around her knees, Elizabeth pulled herself into a protective ball, tears spilling down her cheeks unchecked. What could she do? AJ was right about Jason. If she told him what AJ was doing, there was no way he wouldn’t deal with his brother, despite knowing he’d wind up in jail. Yet, if she refused him, he would tell Sam. At best, Sam would leave, opening the possibility of her aborting the baby or giving it up for adoption so Jason would never know where his child was. At worst, the stress and shock would physically push her over the edge, causing her to miscarry or develop life-threatening complications. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself if something happened to either Sam or Jason’s baby when she could have prevented it. However, if she did what AJ wanted, she would not only hurt Jason and ruin any chance of them ever being a family, but soon enough AJ would find out about her pregnancy. What would he do then? Elizabeth shut her eyes, her shoulders shuddering with every sob. How could she choose who would suffer the most? Did she put her baby’s life above Sam’s baby? Both were Jason’s children. As a mother she couldn’t endure the thought of putting her child into AJ clutches, but neither could she willingly put Sam’s baby in mortal danger. Then what about Jason? Was his freedom more important than sparing him apparent betrayal and emotional pain? No matter what she did, Jason would suffer. She was trapped, and any way she turned would bring pain to those she loved. Her only choice was in picking the lesser of the evils, but deciding which would bring the least amount of suffering to all involved was an impossible task. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ AJ hadn’t gotten to the end of the block before he had his cell phone out. Dialing as he stopped at the corner, he looked both ways before turning and speeding away from the quiet neighborhood. Switching the cell to speaker, he dumped it in his lap as he sifted gears and

listed to it ring five times before an automated voice instructed him to leave a message. Snapping the phone shut, he swore loudly, ramming the ball of his hand against the steering wheel as he flew down the thoroughfare. Sam had not told him the whole truth and a lie by omission was still a lie. She’d failed to mention the fact that she was putting her life and the life of his child at risk in this revenge scheme of theirs. His knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on the steering wheel. He didn’t like being played, and he especially didn’t like the thought of her or their baby dying because of a little double-cross gambit he was playing with his brother. As much as he savored the idea of revenge, he wasn’t willing to sacrifice so much to achieve those ends. Picking up the cell phone, he speed dialed Sam’s number again and again listened to it ring until the automated message center kicked in. Frowning in anger, he threw the phone across the car, but in the confined space it smacked unsatisfyingly off the door panel and dropped to the floor with a muted thump. He realized he’d unconsciously been heading for the Harbor View Towers and slammed on the brakes, pulling into the nearest parking lot with a screech of tires. Ramming the car into park, he yanked the door open and climbed out. He was angry, but not too angry to know that going to confront Sam in front of Jason would not only be stupid, but potentially deadly. Bracing his hands on his hips he forced himself to breathe deeply and regain a bit of composure. Tracing a finger and thumb over his goatee, his eyes narrowed. Sam was going to explain herself, but their confrontation was going to be on his terms. And when they were done, she’d understand she’d picked the wrong man to screw over. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Sam had finally dozed off and Jason heaved a sigh of relief. She’d spent the day endlessly chattering to him about their baby. Contentedly snuggled into the pillows, she’d held onto him, running a hand up and down his arm while he sat next to her on the edge of the bed. Each time he’d asked how she felt, she’d reassure him she was okay but was still scared and then clamped her hand even tighter on his. Several times she’d put his hand on her belly, talking about how she hoped their baby would have his blue eyes and Jason had tried his best to picture their child, yet each time he failed to bring any face to his mind. He’d made every excuse he could think of to escape the room, going several times to get her fresh juice and various snacks. Lunch provided a short respite as well as a phone call from Sonny asking how the baby was. The day was tense and drawn out nearly beyond his endurance. How he was going to get through seven more months of this was impossible for him to guess. However, she’d finally dozed off and Jason escaped. Standing, he stretched his aching back before padding softly out of the room. Making his way downstairs, he pulled out his cell phone. Coleman’s words had been echoing through his head all day and had inspired an idea of how to make certain Elizabeth knew without a doubt how he felt about her.

It took a call to Stan and several minutes of searching to find the number he wanted. Then after getting the information he needed, he made the call he’d been planning for the last several hours. He had no doubt Elizabeth would love his surprise and after a brief conversation everything was in place. Tomorrow afternoon he’d meet a plane at the Port Charles airport and then head straight for Elizabeth’s. A smile spread across his face thinking of tomorrow night. It would be a night they’d both remember for the rest of their lives. Chapter 24 Jason lowered a booted foot to the tarmac to support his bike as he slowly rolled to a stop. Giving the engine a last rev before he kicked the kick-stand down, he swung a leg over the back of the seat and pulled off his sunglasses. A small business jet was pulling into the hangar and he turned to watch as it rolled to a stop less than fifty feet from where he stood. The side exit popped open and a middle aged man with stern features and a receding hairline stepped out. His dark blue suit was impeccable, as if he just stepped out of a fashion magazine rather than off an eight hour flight. Seeing Jason, his hand tightened around the handle of the black leather briefcase he was carrying and he descended from the plane, then headed across the tarmac straight for the mobster. “Ciao Mister Morgan.” A smile cracked the man’s features, creating a dazzling transformation from chiseled stone into brilliantly handsome. His heavily accented voice added to the man’s charm. “Do you have what I requested?” “Si. Luciano Gattuso will never let you down.” The man proceeded to a table and set the briefcase down, taking a moment to dial the little combination lock on its top and open the case. Inside, snugged in a layer of shaped foam was a small velvet box. He removed the box with a flourish and placing it on his palm, offered it to Jason. Jason lifted the small box and flipped the lid open, his eyebrows lifting as he nodded his approval. “You like, no?” The man remarked with a growing smile. Jason lifted his free hand and gestured Milo over. Milo, standing almost invisible against the hangar wall, was immediately on the move. Stopping beside the two men, he placed a nearly identical black briefcase on the table next to the first. He flipped the locks and snapped the case open revealing an interior full of neatly stacked and wrapped hundred dollar bills. “Grazie, Mister Morgan. Grazie. If you require my services again. I would be more than happy to do business with you.” The gentleman bowed as Milo snapped the case closed and handed it to him. Jason nodded as he turned, tucking the small box into his inside jacket pocket and swinging a leg over his bike. Kicking it started he sat back and slid his sunglasses into place. With one last nod at the businessman, he revved the engine,

turned the motorcycle and sped out of the hangar. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Lucky turned his small TV so it angled toward the chair in the corner. His small room above Kelly’s didn’t offer much in the way of space or comfort, but when Emily had suggested a movie marathon he couldn’t turn her down. There were only a limited number of places available to them and as neither one had wanted to spend time at the Quartermaine mansion and Spoon Island was out, his room was their last option. He’d cleaned, which meant shoving dirty laundry under the bed and tossing empty fast food wrappers in the trash. He’d even run out and bought a cheap microwave to make popcorn for their movie fest. Emily pulled the room’s one chair next to the bed, plopped into it and crossed her heels on the edge of the mattress. “It sure is cozy in here.” Lucky turned to frown at her. “Are you dissing my place?” Emily lifted her shoulders in a casual shrug. “Who me? Never?” She scoffed. “I just haven’t been able to pop popcorn in bed before.” “Just for that.” Lucky glared at her in mock insult, grabbing a DVD case off the foot of the bed. “We’re watching my movie first.” “Oh no we’re not!” Emily lunged at him trying to snag the DVD out of his hand. “You already agreed we’d watch mine first.” Lucky held the DVD over his head and out of her reach. “That was before you insulted my digs. Now you must pay the price. We’re watching Death Stalker VI, Revenge is Mine.” Cackling maniacally, he popped open the case and pulled the disc out. Emily pulled away, crossing her arms over her chest and sticking her lower lip out in an exaggerated pout. “I can’t believe you’re going to make me watch that.” “Hey, you agreed. We both picked out a movie and we both agreed to watch the other’s choice no matter what it was. Besides,” He waved the disc around as a magician waves his magic wand. “this movie has ten car explosions. Ten! And one of them involves an entire parking garage and two gasoline tanker trucks!” Emily rolled her eyes and intoned, “How intellectually stimulating. I can feel my IQ rising as we speak.” “It’s better than,” Lucky picked up the other DVD off the end of the bed. “Pride and Prejudice.” His lip curled playfully. “They didn’t even have cars back then. I bet nothing explodes in this entire movie. Worthless.” Emily inhaled sharply, bringing a hand to her chest as if wounded. “Heathen!” Lucky grimaced, squinted one eye and stooping to one side, limped toward her. “Heathen am I? Well then little missy you should be afraid…” Emily backed away, giggling as she dodged to the other side of the chair. Lucky’s cell phone rang and the electronic buzz had both of them turning their heads toward the sound. Lucky groaned and rolled his eyes.

“You’d better answer.” Emily said, with a lifted eyebrow. “It might be important.’ Crawling over the bed, Lucky snatched the phone off the dresser and his eyes widened at the name on the display. He flipped the phone open and answered. “Elizabeth?” Lucky’s eyebrows beetled in worry as he listened to his ex-girlfriend. She sounded upset. “Are you okay?” Emily frowned in concern as she listened to Lucky’s end of the conversation and edged closer to where he was sitting on the bed. He lifted his eyes to meet Emily’s as he listened and shook his head to answer her unvoiced question. “Can I watch Cameron tonight?” Lucky peered at Emily with wide eyes seeking an answer to Elizabeth’s question. Emily immediately nodded, crossing her arms over her chest as her forehead scrunched in concern. “Of course I can. I’ll be over in fifteen minutes to pick him up.” Lucky clicked the phone shut, staring at it in wonder a moment as if the device would offer some insight into his conversation with Elizabeth. Lifting his eyes to Emily and seeing the concern on her face, Lucky frowned. “Elizabeth was upset, but she wouldn’t tell me anything over the phone.” He shook his head. “Something’s wrong.” “What do you think it could be?” “I don’t know, but let’s go pick up Cameron and find out.” ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Tapping his cell phone impatiently against his cheek, AJ peered through the café window as he kept his eyes glued on the underground parking entrance of Harbor View Towers. Checking his watch to make sure half an hour had passed since Jason had left on his motorcycle, he quickly downed the dregs of his coffee and flipped his cell open. His mole in the Harbor View Towers office confirmed that Sam hadn’t been through either the lobby or the parking garage that morning. Which left only one option. She was still holed up in Jason’s penthouse. Dialing, he took a deep breath to make sure his anger didn’t bleed into his voice. The two of them were going to have this out. Now. “Hello” Sam sounded happy and that lilt in her voice only managed to piss him off even more. “We need to talk.” She paused a heartbeat and when she spoke again, the cheerfulness was gone. “What’s wrong?” AJ closed his eyes and his hand tightened into a fist in his efforts to keep his tone neutral. “I heard something and I need you to tell me if it’s true.” Dead silence greeted him, so he continued. “Is it true you were told by Dr. Meadows not

to get pregnant for at least a year after your stillbirth because if you did, you would be risking both you and your baby’s life?” Despite his best efforts his voice had risen a notch and as he strangled it back down, he looked over his shoulder to make sure no one in the café had heard him. He waited impatiently, his fingers tightening as he squeezed his fist, listening to Sam breathe on the other end of the phone. Then abruptly the line went dead. Swearing, he dialed Sam’s number again and listened as it rang over to her automated message. Frowning, AJ pulled his wallet out and tossed a fifty on the table as he slid out of the booth. If that’s the way she was going to be, he was more than happy to accommodate her. Crossing the street, he entered the Tower’s lobby and with only a quick elevator ride, was in the small lobby outside Jason’s penthouse. Max was stationed outside the door and AJ took a deep breath in preparation for his performance. “Max!” He bellowed much louder than needed for the small space. “I need to see my brother.” Max, hands clasped in front of him, rolled his eyes and sighed in annoyance. “Jason isn’t in.” “Well, then Max, I’ll wait for him!” Max lifted his hands, palms out. “AJ you need to calm down…” “Calm down!” AJ shouted, “Do you think I’d come here if this wasn’t urgent. I‘ve got information Jason needs to know and I‘m not going anywhere until he hears it!” AJ didn’t know how long he had him out, but he was willing to the penthouse listening to him the chance of him spilling any talk to her. until the guard lost his patience and bodily kicked push his gambit to the limits. Sam had to be inside make threats and he was betting she wouldn’t take secrets when she knew all he really wanted was to

He inhaled for another round of loud protesting when the door to the penthouse swung open and Sam appeared in the doorway, shooting him a scorching glare across the small space. AJ grinned pleasantly at her, making her look degrade from anger to loathing. Turning, Max tried to shoo her back into the penthouse and Sam twisted her features into a pleasant smile for the guards benefit. “Don’t worry Ms. McCall. I’ll get rid of AJ.” “No, Max.” Sam drawled, her words dripping with sweetness. “It’s alright if AJ waits for Jason inside.” Max started to object, “I’m sure Jason wouldn’t want AJ bothering you….” “Oh, he won’t bother me.” She fixed AJ with a feral grin. “Besides you’ll be right outside the door. All I have to do is yell and you’ll be right there to protect me.” AJ stepped past the guard, giving him a pat on the shoulder as he went. “Don’t worry Max, old boy. Nothing bad is going to happen. Sam and I will just catch up

on old times while I wait for my brother to return.” Max glared at AJ in warning, obviously not liking the arrangement in the least. However since Sam had invited him in and without specific instructions from Jason to keep him out, there wasn’t anything he could do. Following Sam inside, AJ shut the door behind him and before he could take another step, Sam spun around, grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him into a kiss. The surprise of her move distracted him and scattered his thoughts. She molded her body to his, rubbing against him like a cat, her fingers undoing the buttons on his shirt. He might have been angry with her, but his body remembered what it was like to have her in his bed and responded with zeal to her overtures. A flare of logic welled up through his haze of lust. She was playing him and he knew it. She was using sex to distract him, so she wouldn’t have to answer his questions, and as her fingernails scraped over his taunt stomach, he seriously debated if he really wanted to interrupt her to dig for the answers he needed. Yet, as much as his lust raged, he couldn’t forget the seriousness of the problem. She may have knowingly put not only her life, but also their baby’s life, on the line for revenge against Jason. That thought doused his ardor as effectively as a bucket of cold water. Wrapping his hands around her wrists, he pulled her hands away. Sam broke away and looked at him in confusion. “What‘s wrong?” Her lips were swollen from their kisses and her half-lidded eyes were smoky with desire. The sight nearly undid him. “Is it true?” AJ’s voice was tight as he struggled to control his aroused emotions. “Did Dr. Meadows tell you that you shouldn’t get pregnant for a year or you’d be risking you and your baby’s lives?” Sam’s features hardened and she yanked her arms to try to break AJ’s hold. He held her firmly and she glared at him when she couldn’t get away. “Sam.” His voice carried a note of warning. “I can end this right now. All I’d have to do is make a single call to Jason and it would be over. All your careful planning and plotting would be for nothing. Jason would walk away without so much as a paper cut and you‘d have nothing.” Sam’s hands fisted and her eyes widened. “You wouldn’t dare.” She hissed at him. “Try me.” Her mouth gaped open to snap off a retort, then clamped shut again. Then her eyes narrowed as she studied him and after a moment she huffed. Throwing a quick look over AJ‘s shoulder to the door, she lowered her voice to keep Max from overhearing. “Yes, that‘s exactly what Dr. Meadows told me.” She yanked her arms again and this time he let her go. Backing away from him, she crossed her arms over her chest, her jaw tightening and lips pursing together. AJ watched her retreat, placing his arms on his hips and discovering as he did, that she’d not only managed to undo all his shirt buttons, leaving it untucked and hanging open, but she’d also undone his belt and the top button of his pants as well. He didn’t move to refasten anything, he simply watched her drag a hand across her forehead and sigh.

He hadn’t expected her to volunteer the truth so quickly and he stood for a moment processing her confession. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “Would you have helped me if I did?” She snapped back at him. Then she lifted a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug, her tone turning placating. “Besides Dr. Meadow’s is keeping a close watch on me and I’m doing fine. Nothing is wrong.” AJ wasn’t convinced. Rolling his eyes toward the ceiling in exasperation, he strode over to collapse on the couch, bracing his elbows on his knees and holding his face in his hands. Sam sauntered over and slid onto the couch next to him. She cleared her throat to get his attention. When he lifted his gaze to her, she fidgeted uncomfortably and sighed. “Dr. Meadows said the baby and I are both fine. However, I will probably have to have to go on bed rest at about five months and have my cervix sewn shut again. I won‘t be able to lift anything heavy, or do any exercising or strenuous physical activity.” AJ fell back into the couch cushions and groaned. “I should just take you to a hospital right now and keep you there so both you and the baby are safe.” “You know, AJ” Sam twisted around, throwing one leg over his so she could sit straddling his lap. “This could make the plan even better .” Looking up into her face hovering over his, he tried to ignore the sweet friction she was generating as she shifted her hips against his crotch . “And why is that?” She looked down at him, working her fingers through his hair as she kept her hips moving against his. “Because Jason knows the risks of this pregnancy and if we run away together when he thinks I’m four months along, he’ll go crazy trying to find us. He won’t know if we’re safe or if I’m getting proper doctor’s care for the baby. Think of the torture and worry he’ll put himself through trying to find us.” She smiled wickedly, her eyes fairly gleaming, and AJ groaned as her fingers found their way back under his shirt. He knew she was playing him again, using sex as a distraction, but at the moment he didn’t care. Her argument had merit, not that he planned on agreeing to anything until he had a chance to think it over with a clear head. “Is it safe to do this now?” Leaning in, her lips brushed his ear as she answered, “Oh, yes.” AJ abruptly stood, lifting Sam as he moved from the couch. Wrapping her legs around his hips, Sam captured his lips in a scorching kiss. Wrapping his arms around her to hold her securely to him, AJ walked them around to the stairs and started climbing. He had other agendas to take care of as well, including one return favor of using his brother’s bed for a tryst with his woman, and he wasn’t about to let a golden opportunity like this slip through his fingers. Pulling away from Sam, he paused at the top of the stairs, unsure where to go. He smiled at her questioning gaze. “Which one is Jason’s bedroom?” ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ The cab pulled away, leaving him alone in the alley and Jason slipped through the back gate under the cover of deepening twilight. Not pausing as he crossed the backyard, he pulled out his key ring and had the

backdoor key at the ready. It only took a second to open the lock and he was inside. Silence greeted him and for a moment that silence worried called earlier and asked him to come at nine. It was nine be seen. A fleck of something red on the floor caught his panic flooded his senses, as his first leap of logic told blood. him. Elizabeth had and she was nowhere to eye and a quick surge of him what he saw was

Squatting down, he reached out to dab a finger in the dot of red on the floor but discovered it wasn’t liquid, it was solid. Picking up the small red scrap, he lifted it to his eyes as he rolled it between his fingers. It was soft and silky under his calloused touch and bringing it to his nose, he inhaled the scent of roses. A rose petal. Looking up, he saw what he hadn’t noticed earlier in the darkened room, a trail of red rose petals leading into the living room. His panic faded as quickly as it had surged forward and with a knowing smile, he stood and followed the rose petal path. It led him through the living room, up the stairs and into the master bedroom, where he found Elizabeth stretched across the bed waiting for him in a long red silk negligee. Her hair was twisted up in a knot and tendrils of curls hung to frame her face. The clinging gown hugged every curve, elegantly accentuating every hill and valley, and Jason’s body responded. His heart leapt in his chest, sending blood surging through his veins and heat shooting straight to his groin. His eyes locked on Elizabeth’s lips, painted a vivid red to match her gown. When those sensual lips curved into a come-hither smile and she crooked her finger at him, he covered the distance between them in three steps, pulling her into his arms as she rose to meet him and kissing her with a hunger born of heated lust. Elizabeth slid his jacket over his shoulders, the leather landing on the floor with a muted thump as he kicked his boots off. Climbing onto the bed, he braced himself with one arm while wrapping the other around Elizabeth’s waist, holding her to him as he stretched out and lowered her to the mattress. Her fingers found the lower hem of his shirt and slid beneath it, lifting it as her hands slid up the long, hard plane of his back. He pulled away long enough to strip the shirt over his head and as he did, he felt Elizabeth’s hands popping open the button on his jeans and sliding down his fly. Lifting her eyes to meet his, her lips curled into a wanton grin as she slid her hand inside his jeans. Jason groaned in pleasure, as a strum of hot electricity surged up his spine and through every nerve ending in his body. Elizabeth reached up with her free hand, grabbing him behind his neck and pulled him down to her, meeting his lips in an almost desperately intense kiss. Her demands drove him over the edge and he met her with a ferocity of his own. Jeans and boxers were quickly stripped away and when her red negligee caught and twisted as he tried to remove it, he growled low in his throat and grasping the neckline, ripped the flimsy material away from her body. There was nothing tender or gentle about their love-making. They were wild, hot and intense, caught in a feeding frenzy of lust and a firestorm of passion.

When Jason finally collapsed back on the bed panting for breath, a fine sheen of sweat coating his skin, his arms fell spread eagle as he melted into the mattress with no energy left to move. Elizabeth lay sprawled half across his chest, one leg tossed over his thighs, her breathing coming in gasps and feathering across his chest as she too recuperated from their frantic love-making. She stretched against him, lifting a hand to run her fingers through his hair. Moaning in pleasure, her body shuddered. “That was incredible.” He smiled as he turned to look at her. She was smiling at him and lifting his arm, her drew her closer in a half-embrace. His fingers wound through her silky hair and he reached to cup the back of her head, pulling her to him to place a tender kiss on her lips. Elizabeth sighed as he pulled away and their eyes met. Then Elizabeth shifted slightly and a shadow passed behind her eyes as they skipped away from his. Jason’s eyebrows drew together as he studied her. “What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?” Elizabeth’s eyes flew back to his, wide with surprise. “No! That‘s not it. I just…” Then she sighed, shifted against him as if to pull away but his arm held her in place. Instead she lifted a hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. “I just….” Her voice wavered, and a knot of worry tightened in Jason’s stomach. “It’s just that things are complicated right now and this has been harder than I expected.” Frowning, Jason let his head fall back. He didn’t like seeing her hurting, especially when he was the one causing her pain. “I’ll tell Sam…” “No!” Elizabeth interrupted, her eyes pleading with him. “You can’t. You are that baby’s best chance at survival. As much as I hate seeing you with her, I wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt if something happened to your child because of us. I would never ask you to risk your baby’s life for me.” “What do you want me to do?” Reaching up, Elizabeth traced her fingers along his jaw and smiled sadly. “Make me a promise.” Capturing her fingers with his, he stilled their nervous trembling, and patiently watched her, he waited for her to continue. She took a deep breath, “I know over the next seven months you are going to have to do things you won’t like to make sure Sam and the baby are safe, and I don’t want you to have to worry about me getting hurt because of it.” She twisted her hand around in his and twined her delicate fingers through his. “I trust you, and I promise that no matter what happens I’ll still be here with you when this is all over.” She dropped her eyes, peeking up at him while pulling her lower lip between her teeth. “Can you promise me that?” Jason studied her face. She looked almost desperate for his reassurance and he didn’t make her wait to hear it. Not when it was a promise so easy for him to give and keep. “I promise when this is over we will be together.” “No matter what happens?” Jason smiled as he ran a thumb over her cheek. “No matter what.”

The relief that passed over her features was immediate. Then he remembered what he’d planned for her this evening and lifted his shoulders from the mattress, craning his neck to search for his discarded jacket and the little velvet box hidden in its pocket. “There’s something I wanted….” Elizabeth stopped him by placing her fingers over his mouth. He turned to look at her curiously as she slowly shook her head at him. “I don’t want to talk any more.” Her eyes roamed his face, settling for a long moment on his lips before rising to meet his ice blue eyes. “Just be with me and hold me for as long as you can stay tonight.” Leaning in she brushed her lips against his, kissing him slowly and tenderly. Jason pulled her closer, then rolled her over, beginning to making love to her again. This time he would take his time. They had all night to enjoy themselves and he planned on making it last. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Elizabeth luxuriated in the feel of Jason’s embrace. Their bodies spooned together, his arms wrapped loosely around her, she snuggled into him, pressing her back against his hard chiseled chest. Under the sheet his body heat warmed her and she closed her eyes, etching the moment in her memory. The feel of his skin against hers, his subtle masculine smell of leather and musk, and the faint sound of his breathing as it tickled her ear. She wanted to remember this moment for the rest of her life. She’d waited until Jason had fallen asleep, then listened to his soft shallow breathing at least a half hour longer to make sure he was fully and deeply asleep. Moving carefully so she wouldn’t wake him, she covered his hand with hers and gently slid it down to her lower belly where she pressed it flat. With Jason’s hand protectively cupping their unborn child, tears filled Elizabeth’s eyes and trickled down across her nose. Sorrow welled up from deep within her but she rigidly held it at bay, forcing herself to kept silent. Closing her eyes, her chin trembling, she turned her head toward the man she loved and whispered. “I’m sorry.” ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Jason stretched in bed as wakefulness slowly crept into his brain. As his various senses awoke, he became aware of the room, the sunlight streaming in the window, the faint scent of rose petals lingering in the air, the quiet stillness of the early morning, and the brush of soft cotton sheets against his skin. He reached out to pull Elizabeth to him. She wasn’t snuggled next to him as she usually was when they slept together and he missed the feel of her arm draped across his chest and her leg tossed across his thighs. It was bliss to wake up with her in his arms, her warm skin and silky hair wrapped intimately around him. Yet when his arm stretched over her side of the bed he found it empty. Sitting up and turning his head, he rubbed the last vestiges of sleep out of his eyes. He hadn’t been mistaken. Elizabeth wasn’t in bed with him. A cold chill washed over him. Something was wrong. He cast his eyes quickly around the room. Nothing looked amiss. Everything seemed to be in place. Elizabeth could simply be downstairs getting breakfast, but he couldn’t shake the feeling of wrongness that soured his gut.

Then, he saw it. A note was lying on Elizabeth’s pillow. Seeing the paper lying there, neatly folded with his name written across it in Elizabeth’s flowing handwriting made his stomach lurch. Swallowing hard, he reached for the paper, lifting and unfolding it with fingers threatening to tremble. Inside there was only one line, but that one line nearly undid him. “Remember your promise.”

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