The storm that no one realised was coming has broken over our heads.
Bo is striding up and down the pub angrily, though no one has dared tell him that Shawn is back yet. Heís worried because Paul is dead. That means thereís another nasty son of a bitch (or possibly daughter of a bitch) out there capable of murder, and he doesnít know where Hope and JT are. If they were my family, as they sort of are, Iíd be worried too.
Bo is nearly out of his mind, Belleís sitting in the corner, trying very hard not to cry, John is cracking his knuckles and looking for someone to hit, Austinís holding Nicoleís hand, and trying to stop her from breaking down entirely, and Mimi is still shaking. Everyone else is too shocked to do much but talk and wave their hands in the air.
"Calm down everybody." Itís Abe, his gravely voice loud and harsh intermingled with the confused talk of everyone else. I have to say, he got over Lexie surprisingly quickly and moved on with a beautiful woman called Virginia. I donít trust her as far as I can throw her. The only beautiful woman I really trust is my fiancťe. In Salem, it pays to be suspicious. Itís how you make it to your next birthday alive, but even now that philosophy is on the skids. If we donít find the person who killed Paul, some of us may not see our next birthdays anyway.
"Do you have any news?" Doug asks from his place by Julieís side. Both look distressed, worrying about Hope and JT no doubt. I donít think theyíre thinking of Shawn. Heís proved time and again that he can look after himself. Sometimes a little too well. None of us have forgotten the violence he showed himself so capable of before he left. None of us can.
Abe turns and replies, "Yes, weíve heard from the coroner. Itís definitely murder. He says thereís no chance that Paul killed himself or that it was an accident."
"Has anyone seen Hope?" Bo asks as soon as Abe finishes his last syllable. His eyes are wider than usual, his hair disarrayed and you can practically feel the fear and worry coming off him. Abe shakes his grizzled head and I can almost see my half brotherís heart break. He doesnít know where Hope and JT are anymore than I do, and heís afraid of what will happen to the family of a man who was arrested for murder on the very night that he returns and another murder is committed.
I donít know what Belle is thinking about, but itís making her shiver. I take her in my arms, and clutch her to my chest. A few minutes ago we were so happy, and now weíre afraid. Shawn is in Salem and someone lies dead, murdered. She hasnít forgotten the last dark and stormy night that was true. I donít think she ever will.
"No, the APB for them we put out hasnít been answered yet." He ran a heavy hand over his face. "Iím telling you, Bo, donít worry yet. Itís still early, sheís probably just in the Java Cafť or a clothes store, holed up out of this storm. Have you called her cell phone?"
I thought of that too. He has. Itís switched off. Iím just glad Belleís by my side and not out in that weather. I donít think I could bear it if she was out there with a killer on the loose and both Brady and John were in here with me. Iíd be terrified for her. Sheís my life, my world, my everything. I think Iíd die if she was killed. I just wouldnít be able to bear it. Not after everything weíve been through together. Not now.
"No answer," Bo looks on the point of a nervous breakdown. I feel sorry for my half brother, I really do, but Iím even more worried about Belle. Sheís had two bad shocks tonight, when we were supposed to be in an ecstasy of delight,
I step forwards to tell Bo about his sonís return, and for the second time tonight the door swings open and interrupts me, but this time Iím pleased to see the Brady standing in the doorway.
"Hope!" Bo cries, running forwards and hugging her tightly. He ruffles JTís hair, evidently relieved.
"I havenít been gone that long, Brady," Hope is suspicious. Sheís spent too many years married to a police man (and involved with the police generally) not to be when her husband acts this way. "Whatís going on?"
"Do you want the good news, the bad-or-good depending on your point of view news, or the definitely bad news first?" I ask, not really joking, but with a pathetic attempt to lighten the mood. I shouldnít have tried. She shoots me the look Iíve been afraid of since I was small. Hope can be one scary lady.
At the same time Bo says, "What?"
Hope answer stiffly, "The bad news." Sheís gripping JTís hand a little tighter as she speaks. The kid winces and scowls, but I know he loves her more than anything. I once felt that way about my mother too. That was before the Vincent in Paris incident and the Coronation massacre. Iíve learned not to trust beautiful women, and in Salem, there isnít any other kind (unless you count Nancy as a woman and not a captive balloon, which I donít). Thatís one reason Belle is so important to me, I can trust her as I can trust no one else. She would never hurt me, but now, I canít think of our great love. I have to protect her, and the best way to do that is to catch Paulís murderer, even if he is my own nephew. God knows heís proved heís capable of it.
"Paul Mendez is dead," I tell her, watching her wait for the finale. This isnít enough for her. She knew he was dead, so it sounds strange that I reiterate long established facts. I elaborate. "He was alive earlier today, and then he was murdered out on the docks. The depending news is that Shawnís back. He was here tonight." I donít mention what he said. I canít imagine his mother would approve, and Iím sure sheíll hear all about it soon enough. The town gossips are good at their job.
Itís the news of Shawnís return that elicits the gasp, though that is hardly surprising.
I decide to drop the final bombshell at once. Belle has returned to my side, tears of joy and not fear now glinting in her eyes, and she takes my hand in her little delicate one. She shows Hope the diamond engagement ring, and I tell her, "The good news is weíre engaged."
Hope doesnít look at me. She doesnít even look that shocked. Sheís staring at Belle, but after all of these months, she must have known. Itís not like our relationship has been a secret. Perhaps telling her like that wasnít fair, but she needed to know. If nothing else, she needs to be careful. Thereís a killer out there, whether it be her son or not.
"Heís back?" Itís Bo who grabs me by the arms, forcing me to look at him. "My boy is back?" He keeps repeating, and I see tears glisten in the brown eyes that have been familiar to me all my life as warm and gentle, not sad and worried as they are now. I feel pity for my half brother, my favourite family member. He doesnít deserve this. Not after everything he and Hope have been through first with Billie, then with Lexie and finally with Jan, and everything that happened with Shawn before he left.
"Yes," I tell him, gently pulling my arms from his grasp and draping one over Belleís slender shoulders, feeling the tension flow out of her. "and as cocky as ever."
Hope is about to cry. "Just like you were, Bo," she whispers to her beloved husband, and for a moment we are all dragged back to when Bo first came back from the Merchant Marines, a young rebel with an attitude problem and a heart for the prettiest girl in Salem. Shawn may be like his father, but he isnít getting Belle. I donít care how pretty she is or how often history repeats itself. She is mine, not his. He gave up any right to her when he became the father to Janís baby. Bo never did that. Except kind of with Billie, but sheís my half sister. I think. She might be my aunt. Iím not really sure. Damn. I know Iím not dumb, but this whole family thing is more confusing than the tax returns for Titan after Mickey has been at them.
Belle turns around, wrapping her arms around my waist, and looks up at me so I feel like a million dollars. Or rather, twenty million. Iím already worth a million at least. Back to BelleÖ
"Philip," I love it when she says my name, but now it is uttered with desperation to be gone, not love, "take me home."
"Already?" Weíve only just announced our engagement. I suppose it all depends on that little word Ďhomeí. Mine or hers, Iím wondering. Hey, Iím a guy, arenít I?
"To the penthouse," she takes her hand off my waist and gesticulates in the air. "You know, home?"
"Sure, baby," oh well. Iíll be the only warm body in my bed tonight. Again.
"Bye, everyone," she grips my hand and practically drags me out of the Pub door.
I want to stay with her tonight, and I do, until her father comes home and I leave the penthouse with the definite feeling that if Iíd stayed longer, we might not be getting married.
What happened in those hours is between me and my Belle. Letís move on to where Iím in bed - alone if you must know.
Iím daydreaming of my wedding to Belle, of Bo as my best man, Mimi as Belleís Maid of Honour, and Belle walking down the aisle on her fatherís arm, smiling that smile she keeps especially for me. The smile that dimples her cheek and brightens her eyes to sparkling sapphires. The smile that turns my soul into a quivering pool of adoration, thatÖ
Thereís a knock at the window, and I think about calling Henderson to get it, but decide it would be faster if I answered myself. Anyway, Iím intrigued. Itís not every night a guy gets a visitor three floors up via a pair of French windows.
Out of the cold, the dark, the distinctly wet night, climbs an all too familiar figure.
"What the hell do you think youíre doing here?" I snarl at Shawn. I suddenly feel rather unsafe. I may be in a legally, and physically, precarious position. This guy was arrested for murder, and even if he is my nephew, I donít feel too safe in his company. Iíve seen him when heís angry, jealous, and, worst of all, worried about Belle.
"I came to see Belle," he answers coolly, glancing around my richly furnished bedroom and noticing the complete absence of short beautiful blonde girls, or girls of any kind for that matter.
"Sheís not here." Itís a sore subject, so I snap the words at him. This is getting weirder by the minute.
He gives me this smirk, like he knows something I donít, and says, "I can see that."
I hate him. I hate him. I hate him. So much.
"Can you leave now?" I donít add please. I wouldnít be so polite to such a wanton bastard as stands before me. "I was trying to sleep."
"I can see that too," he glances down to my pyjamas, which are of some very nice blue silk. Another knowing smirk. I want to smack it right off his face, but I think I would come off worse in any fight. This guy has muscles like you wouldnít believe. If they werenít flexing six inches from my face, I wouldnít believe them.
I really hate him.
"So where is she?" Heís settling himself against my dresser, and crossing his arms.
"Thatís none of your business," I snap, trying and failing not to take his bait.
"The penthouse then." That smirk crosses his face again and I want to smack it off, but the sight of his bulging muscles close to my face is still fresh in my mind. So is the barbed wire tattoo around his upper arm. I wonder where he got it. Then I tell myself Iím being ridiculous. This man, for he is no longer the boy I once knew, could well have killed someone tonight and Iím wondering where he had his tattoo done. "I wanted to ask you something."
"If I answer you, will you leave?" I throw myself back onto my bed and stare at him, not letting him know how much he unnerves me.
I wait, get bored and add, "Fine. Whatís the question?"
His eyes are cold but intense. I feel like heís trying to freeze me into telling him truthfully what he wants to know. "Where was Belle at half past six tonight?"
Itís such a simple question I almost laugh in his face, but thereís something about his expression - or possibly just his muscles - that stops me. "With me. Eating dinner at Tuscanyís. Why?"
"No reason." But I know there has to be a reason. Otherwise, why did he ask me? "Thatís all I wanted to know." Heís climbing back out of my window, and I notice thereís something dark red and wet on his jeans.
"Whatís that?" Maybe it was a stupid thing to do, but I point to his leg and stop him leaving.
"Blood," he grins at me and pulls up his jeans, showing one tanned, muscled leg with a scratch in it, fresh and surprising deep for him to walk without a limp. "I took a corner too fast on the bike and ripped my leg open on a piece of metal."
He swings both legs over the sill and prepares to jump to the tree that grows beside my room. I suddenly decide to use one of the guest rooms, at least for tonight.
"Oh, and Philip?" I lift my head, but I have not taken my eyes off of him since he entered my room. "Nice pyjamas. Real sexy," and with that damned annoying smirk, he leaps from my window with practised ease and is out into the night.
"Bye Shawn. Have a nice life somewhere out of Salem and away from me!" I shout after him, not willing to antagonise him no matter how crazy he drives me. There is a thud and I hear his footsteps echoing across the grounds. Heís gone.
I release a breath I didnít even know I was holding in. I still donít know if heís a murderer, but I know heís dangerous. There are people in Salem who still bear scars from the wounds he gave them, physical as well as emotional.
I lock my window and reach over to the phone that sits beside my bed, my private line. Iím calling Belle. I need to hear her voice, to hear her say my name, and to tell me that it will be all right. That we wonít soon be back in that terrible courtroom watching Shawn sit in the dock and answer questions about where he was the night of the murder. Thatís when we fell in love, I think. Watching Shawn, and knowing that whatever he was saying, it wasnít the complete truth, knowing that he wasnít lying, but he wasnít telling everything, knowing that the boy we had once considered a friend might have killed someone.
When she answers, her voice is a little groggy, and I realise how late it is. I feel instantly sorry for calling her at this hour, but I know I couldnít have gone another minute without hearing her voice, drugged with sleep as it is.
"Hey, Angel," I say, and I hear her sigh, not with boredom or distress, but with contentment.
"Hello, darling," she murmurs back.
"I just called to say I love you," itís an old joke between us, almost stupid, but ever since I called her while she was listening to the Stevie Wonder classic, she laughs whenever I say it to her.
She laughs now, and the tight feeling in my chest that has been there since we first saw Shawn was back eases a little, but not all the way. "I love you too, Philip."
Flame shoots through my body, and the thought that this is the girl that I am going to be married to, love and honour for the rest of my life, makes it ease even more.
"Are you OK after tonight?" I whisper, knowing she wasnít but not wanting to push her.
"I guess so," her voice is small, and the pain in it rips into my heart.
"You know, Belle, we never really talked about what happened last time." I cross my fingers, hoping that some of the mystery will be explained.
"Philip," she sighs tiredly, I think. "I donít want to talk about it over the phone."
"Fine, Iíll come over." I answer firmly. Something about seeing Shawn earlier has made me edgy. I want her where I know she is safe: in my arms.
"OK," she doesnít argue and I know she wants me there too.
"Give me fifteen minutes." I dress hurriedly, not even glancing in the mirror as I customarily do. Belle needs me. She needs me. I need her. Shawn may be back, but she doesnít want him anymore. In a selfish way, that makes me happy. She wants me, she needs me, she loves me. Not him.
I get in my car and drive to her place. She opens the door in the short pyjamas I love so much, her mascara has run and I can tell sheís been crying. I take her into my arms, and she starts to sob.
"Why? Why did he come back now?" She repeats over and over again. "Iím over him, he must know that by now." I can feel her lips resting against my neck, giving me tiny kisses of comfort, consolation almost. She needs me the way I need her, urgently, physically, and desperately.
"He knows, Belle," I answer her, kissing her forehead with all the tenderness in my soul. "And if he doesnít, heíll soon realise."
"Darling," she kisses me, and if the world was on fire all around us, I wouldnít notice. God, I love this girl.
If this was a TV show, Iíd cut to an ad break here, but as it isnít, just stare at the wall while we have a few private moments, OK?
And weíre back.
"Philip," she leans her soft blonde head against my chest, and I feel like some kind of medieval knight, with his fair lady needing his protection, and whatís more, itís a good feeling.
"You wanted to talk to me about something." Her voice is low, and a little sad. I want to joke her out of it, but I need to talk to her seriously, so though it hurts me, I donít.
"I wanted to talk about Shawn," I say quickly, hoping she wonít react too badly. "He came to my room tonight."
She looks up at me, and for a moment Iím lost in a pair of blue eyes. "What did he want?"
She isnít angry, but she is a little upset. I want to hit Shawn for hurting her like this, again and again, but I canít, so I comfort my darling Belle instead. "He wanted to know where you were at half past six tonight. I told him you were with me."
She nestles closer to my chest and I breathe in her smell. She makes me feel so warm, so happy, so damn hornyÖ
Back to reality.
"So why did you want to talk to me about last time?" She hasnít moved her head from its delightful position on my chest, and we move together to the sofa so we can be more comfortable while we talk.
"Because Paul was murdered tonight, Belle," I remind her as gently as I can, "And everyone in Salem can see the connection between him, Jan and Shawn, especially when Shawn just happens to come home the same night as Paul is killed."
"You donít think he did it, do you?" She doesnít ask me in outraged sensibility of her ex-friendís worth, but in genuine interest.
I shake my head. I donít know, but I donít want to scare Belle anymore. "I donít know, babe, but thatís what I wanted to ask you. Do you think heís capable of it?"
She looks at me with the blue eyes that have haunted my dreams for years. "I donít knowÖ Before the trial, I would have said definitely not, but he lied under oath, Philip. I know he lied that day."
Belleís getting upset, so I put a hand down to calm her. "Hey, itís OK. Itís OK," I start rocking her in my arms, and now that sheís crying, I feel terrible. I shouldnít have made her talk about this tonight. Sheís had it bad enough already.
"Philip!" Brady yells from upstairs. "Stop making my little sister cry! This is your only warning! Youíd better stop, make it up to her or get out in the next five seconds or I will be down there to kick your ass out of town!"
How does he do that? Thereís at least two closed doors between us and him, and I know he shouldnít be able to hear us, because Belle is whimpering like a kitten and we were talking in whispers. Amazing.
"Shut up, Brady!" Belle yells, her fighting blood up. She may love her big brother, but she certainly doesnít let him rule her life. "Iím fine! Go back to sleep!"
I love this girl so much, sheís just wonderful, especially when sheís yelling at her brother for me. Even if she had a brother, Chloe never would have done that. Bitch.
"Belle, we need to talk about this." I repeat, once she has sat down again and has calmed down to the point where she is not about to beat her brother into submission with a cushion. "The police are going to want to talk to you and Shawn after last time."
"I know," sheís being submissive now, and I hate it. I like her when sheís fiery, it shows how alive she is. When sheís like this, I feel like a complete bastard who has somehow cowed or threatened his fiancťe into this position. "But I donít want to go through all of that again."
"Philip!" This time itís John, and heís yelling even louder than Brady was. "Itís time for you to get the hell out and thatís a fact!"
I grimace, and Belleís grip on my hand tightens. "Heís going in just a few minutes, Daddy!" She calls back, apologising to me about her family with a simple look that makes my heart glow. I love her family because she loves them, no matter how many little peccadilloes - or major neuroses - they have.
"Belle," this time, I turn her around physically so sheís facing me. "Theyíre going to want to know about last time. Theyíre going to want to know about the island, the first time Paul was shot everything."
She nods, and looks sad. It cuts my heart to see her like this. I want to protect her from the world, but there are some things even I canít save her from. "OK."
I stand up slowly, not really willing to leave but knowing that John is going to come flying down the stairs any minute now with a bowie knife in his hand, and Iím not quite ready to look death in the face again tonight. I feel like I came close enough with Shawnís visit earlier, and I know John is going to come after me at some point, probably reeling drunk, for wanting to marry his little girl. I just donít want to make tonight the night when I visit first the ER for fight wounds and then the jail to bail my future father in law out.
"Goodnight Belle," I whisper to her. She kisses me goodnight, whispering sweet nothings to me, and my heart damn near goes through my chest. I donít want to ruin this romantic moment, but I feel like I have to. "Just remember: Paul is dead and he canít hurt you or anyone else anymore, Shawn may be back, but you donít need him, and he canít hurt you either, and that bitch is long gone. We went to her funeral together, in the rain, remember?"
She nods, and just before she closes the door, says in a voice that sends ice not fire through my body, it is so sad and so full of wisdom hard won, "Call her by her name, Philip. Sheís dead, Ďmurdered by person or persons unknowní. I know she hurt me while she was alive, but I forgive her. You should too. Goodnight Philip, and please, make your peace with her too. Sheís beyond everything now, and itís wrong to hate the dead."
The door is closed, and I know she is right, that I shouldnít hate the bitch, but after all she did before she was murdered, can I really find it in my heart to forgive Jan? I just donít know.