“Good news everyone. Shawn is conscious and it looks like he’s going to make a full recovery,” Dr. Shanahan declared jubilantly. “You can go in and see him. I’m going to transfer him to a rehabilitation clinic tomorrow.”
“Have you asked Shawn if he’s willing to do that?” Jesse asked.
“We had a good talk. He understands how close he came to dying and he realises that drowning himself in alcohol isn’t the way to try and solve his problems. He keeps asking to see someone named Belle. He swears he heard her voice. I thought I’d let you tell him that she isn’t here.”
“Thanks for everything you did for him, Dr. Shanahan,” Gladys said as she hugged the doctor.
Royce, Gladys and Jesse filed into Shawn’s room and approached the hospital bed with a bit of apprehension. They really didn’t know what to say to him.
Shawn looked at them and read their hesitancy. “You don’t need to tell me. Belle’s not here,” his voice was filled with disappointment. “Forgive me, it’s not that I’m not happy to see you three, it’s just that I was so sure I heard her crying and pleading with me not to leave her…” he stopped talking and turned his head into the pillow hoping they wouldn’t see his tears.
Royce took his hand, “Shawn, I believe you did hear her. She’s not here, true but she was the one that called Gladys. She was sure that you needed help. She was absolutely distraught, isn’t that true, Gladys.”
Gladys glared at her husband. She hated to even mention that woman’s name but denying it would be a lie. “Royce is right, Shawn. She kept saying that she had this horrible feeling that you were in trouble. She also told me that she had been having disturbing dreams and hasn’t been sleeping well. She wouldn’t come out and say it but she was dreaming of you, Shawn. I’m going to be blunt with you, young man. You need to forget about her and move on. She’s bad news…” she could see he was about to say something so she put up her hand, “…no, let me finish. She may have been the reason we found you in time and that your life was saved but she is also the reason you almost died. She’s gone, Shawn.”
Royce and Jesse watched as Shawn listened closely to what Gladys had to say. They both noticed him flinch at her direct words and both wondered whether he would accept her advice or turn on her. Royce loved Shawn like a son but he wouldn’t let him talk harshly to his wife.
“I love you, all of you. You know that and I’m sorry for putting you through this. Don’t worry about me, Gladys. I’m going to be fine.”
“Of course you will, dear. Now that you’re going to forget all about Be…that woman…you can find happiness with someone that will love you the way you deserve to be loved,” Gladys said as she busily fluffed his pillows trying to make him more comfortable.
“I think I may have given you the wrong idea, Gladys. I’m going to me alright because I finally see that there are issues in my life that I need to deal with. Issues that I’ve carried with me since my childhood that I should have dealt with a long time ago. This is not Belle’s fault and I won’t have you blaming her. I am the person responsible. I chose to drink myself into oblivion. Belle didn’t pour me the drinks,” Shawn said firmly.
“How can you say that it’s not her fault? If she hadn’t walked out on you…”
Shawn reached for the older woman’s hand. “Gladys, I forced her to make that choice. She never lied to me. She told me that she couldn’t accept love. I didn’t listen to her. I was so sure that I knew what was best for her. When a person almost dies things become so clear. In the long run this will probably turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. Especially if I choose to view it as a positive and work really hard to heal myself.”
“I’m proud of you, son,” Royce choked out trying desperately to hold back his tears. “We’ll support you and we’ll always be here for you. You can count on us.”
“Thanks. You didn’t need to say it. I know that I can always rely on you. It’s no secret that I consider you two as family. I’m closer to you than I am to my own parents.”
“Hey, what about me?” Jesse joked.
“Oh yeah. How could I forget about the pesky kid brother? Come here little fella.”
When Jesse approached the bed, Shawn pulled him into a hug. “You and I sure got the better end of the deal when Royce and Gladys unofficially adopted us, don’t you agree?”
“We sure did bro.”
“I think this calls for a group hug,” Gladys sniffed.
The doctor chose that moment to return to his patient’s room. “I hate to break up this little mutual love fest but I need our patient to sign some forms so I can transfer him to the rehab centre in Minnesota tomorrow.”
“Minnesota? Is that really necessary, Dr. Shanahan. Isn’t there one a little closer to home so that we can go and visit him?” Gladys asked.
“I wanted to go to that particular facility. Besides, I don’t want the fact that I’m going to a rehab centre to dry out public knowledge. It will be a lot easier to keep that private in a facility in a state where no one knows Shawn Brady, attorney-at-law exists.”
“Understood, Shawn. What do you need us to do for you?” Royce cut right to business.
“I’m going to ask that you call a meeting at the office and tell everyone that you heard from me and that I’ll be away for another six weeks. Dr. Shanahan has also recommended a good therapist for me to see when I return from the clinic so things should slowly start returning to normal.”
“Normal? Are you sure you’re talking about your life, Shawn?” Jesse smirked.
“Maybe I should say it will be business as usual when I return. I won’t be making any life-changing decisions until I feel like my life is on track again.”
“That’s a wise choice, Mr. Brady,” Dr. Shanahan cut in. “I really think Shawn needs to get some rest. Five more minutes and then I’m going to ask that you leave. Shawn won’t be able to contact anyone for the first two week once he’s admitted to the clinic. He’s already asked me for a recorder so he can record some instructions to leave with you, Mr. Gable. I’ll courier the tape to you tomorrow morning.”
“Thanks doctor. Five minutes and we’ll be out of here,” Royce shook his hand.
“Gladys, I need a favour from you please,” Shawn asked.
“Anything, Shawn. Just name it.”
“I want you to call Belle and tell her that I’m going to be alright…”
“And tell her that no matter what I will never leave her. I’ll always be here for her no matter what paths our lives may take. Would you do that for me…please?”
She wanted to argue but when she saw the look of unwavering love in his eyes she agreed. “I promise I’ll call her as soon as we get home, Shawn. You’re not going to stop loving her, are you?”
“Not loving her isn’t an option. I’ll never stop loving her but you don’t need to worry. I know I have to let her go.”
Belle leapt out of the bed at the first ring. She already knew that Shawn was alright. She had felt him come back from the edge of death. “Gladys. He’s okay, right. He’s not in danger any longer, is he?”
“Yes, Shawn is doing as well as can be expected. He still has some problems he needs to look after but he’s taking care of those.” Gladys hesitated. She had made a promise and she would keep it but she was going to speak her mind as well. “Shawn wanted to me to tell you that he would never leave you; that he’ll always be here for you.”
“He said all that,” Belle whispered into the phone.
Gladys’ heart softened a bit. Belle had woven her way around her heart strings as well. It wasn’t easy to do what she had to do but she knew that it would be best for Shawn in the long run. But first she had to see if there was any chance that things could be different. “Belle, he loves you. Do you love him?”
“God no, Gladys. There is no such thing as a love. Shawn is my friend and I’ll always be fond of him just like I am fond of you and Royce and Mimi,” Belle answered quickly, tripping over her words.
Gladys paused. She is in serious denial. “Belle, I think you feel more than friendship for Shawn.”
“Belle, he heard you pleading with him to fight, begging him to stay and you knew that he was in serious trouble. How do you explain that?” Gladys asked softly.
“We’re…I’m…” Belle had a hard time breathing and she could feel her heart racing. That doesn’t mean anything. We’re just friends. I can’t love, Shawn. I can’t love any man. “It was just a feeling, that’s all. Nothing more. Shawn and I were friends and I hope we can remain friends.”
“Belle, I don’t know how to say this so I’m just going to come right out with it. I really think that you need to let Shawn go. Don’t call him. Don’t contact him by email or letter. Let him go. Give him a chance to find someone else. Someone that wants to be with him.”
Belle felt a stabbing pain shoot through her heart but she ignored it. “Sure, Gladys. I don’t need Shawn anymore. Thanks for calling me and…and…thanks for everything you and Royce did for me. I won’t be bothering you again.” She quickly hung up the phone because her lungs hurt from holding back her sobs. She crawled underneath the covers and cried until she fell asleep. She wouldn’t think about why she was crying. All she knew was that she hurt.
Belle found that the best way to try and forget Shawn was to take it day by day. She threw herself into her work, trying to learn every facet of the business she would one day again be CEO of. She pushed herself and the people around her until one day her personal assistant sat her down and told her she was going to have an out and out rebellion on her hands if she didn’t scale back on the amount of time she expected people to spend at the office. She politely told her that her workers, unlike Belle, had lives outside of work and perhaps Belle needed to start relaxing and socialising a bit more.
As the weeks and then the months passed Belle found herself taking the advice of her assistant. The little lie she had told Shawn about seeing other men now became a reality. It wasn’t the same for her as being with Shawn. She couldn’t bring herself to kiss another man and she never took them back to her place. She would always insist that they get a room or she would go back to his home if she didn’t feel uneasy around the man. Sometimes they’d find a hidden spot or duck into an empty room where ever they happened to be and have sex. That was the method she preferred. It made leaving so much simpler. She rarely ever the saw the man again after they would get intimate. She had learned her lesson with Shawn. Shawn. She still thought about him far too often as far as she was concerned but she had gotten really good at pushing him out of her head as soon as her mind wandered in his direction.
Belle looked into the full-length mirror checking her appearance one last time before leaving for the huge charity event she was attending tonight. Basic Black would be making a donation of the proceeds from the fashion show they had held to benefit the children’s charity that Belle held dear to her heart. Her personal assistant’s three year old daughter had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and Belle had watched the woman struggle to care for her. Belle had held her hand and listened to her cry as she worried about her daughter’s future and present health concerns. As she turned around her eyes rested on the photo on her nightstand. She crossed the room and picked it up. It was the picture of Shawn with her sitting on his lap on one of Royce and Gladys’ deck chairs. She sat on the edge of her bed and stared at it. Why can’t I forget you? Why haven’t I found a man that can satisfy me the way you did? Hell, at this point I would settle for someone that I could carry on a half-assed intelligent conversation with.
She slowly got up from the bed and walked to her closet. She pulled down an empty hat box and laid the picture inside lovingly wrapping the tissue paper around it. Goodbye, Shawn. Maybe if I don’t see your beautiful face every day I can let myself go with another man. Maybe it’s my fault that I feel nothing when I have sex with them. I’m sure they’re accomplished lovers just like you are but I have to force myself to go through the motions and I’m tired of doing that. I want to find someone that makes me feel the way you made me feel. I want to commit myself to one man, yes, commit but it has to be with a man that knows nothing of my past. I wish it could have been you, Shawn but I’m not strong enough to live with the constant fear that one day you would throw the things Nat made me do right back in my face. Her hand caressed the smooth finish of the lid before she slid the box to the darkest corner on the shelf. It was time to move on.
A pair of blue eyes followed the movements of the petite beautiful blonde American woman. There was something about the way she carried herself that immediately attracted him. He resolved that he would get to know her better but first he would make some discreet inquiries about her. Carlo Fabbrizzi was a determined man. He could trace his lineage back hundreds of years. He was a member of one of the noblest families in Italian history. He carried himself with the confidence of a man who commanded respect. After learning that she was an heiress in her own right and a bit of her history he angled an introduction.
“Belle, sweetheart. I want you to meet a dear friend of mine. This is Carlo Fabbrizzi, Carlo this is Belle Black. She is the goddess that hired me to put Basic Black’s label on the map. She is one smart woman. Now if you will excuse me, I see someone I just must speak to. What horror is she wearing…” the designer prattled on as he left the two people he had just introduced.
Belle watched Roberto weave his way through the crowd towards his next target. She turned back to the man he had introduced her to and gave him a dazzling smile. “There he goes. I swear he is the definition of constant motion. I don’t know how he does his sketches. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him sit for longer than five minutes at a time.”
“He’s been that way all the time I’ve known him,” Carlo observed. His eyes narrowed as he studied the woman in front of him. There was just something about her that intrigued him. He found himself fascinated with her and he vowed to get closer to her.
At the same time he was studying her, she was studying him from beneath her thick lashes. He certainly was striking. He was only about five ten but he carried himself in such a way that he appeared much taller. His face was pleasant to look at, the combination of jet black hair, piercing blue eyes and swarthy skin was very appealing. It was obvious that he looked after his body as well. His broad shoulders and lean hips well showcased by the tailored tuxedo jacket he was wearing. He’ll do. I should learn more about him.
September 2005 San Francisco
Shawn sat at his desk in his office and reflected back over the past year. He shook his head slightly finding it hard to believe that it had been a year since Belle had left him. He had found his stay at the clinic very enlightening. He had begun to gain an insight into his actions and emotions that helped him begin the road to a full recovery. He never doubted that he could abstain from alcohol. That was just a matter of being strong-willed. It was his emotional well-being that he really doubted could be healed. Not that he was completely healed. He had things to do before he could say he finally had come to terms with his past. Today that journey was going to begin.
He glanced at his wristwatch and saw that it was time to head into the conference room to hold what would be his final staff meeting.
As soon as he walked in the room everyone stopped talking. “Don’t let me stop you from continuing your conversation. It sounded like it was important.”
“Not actually, boss. We were just talking about where to go and celebrate the end of your tight-ass regime,” Jesse teased.
“Now that sounds like a reason to celebrate. I won’t keep you long and then I’ll officially turn the reins over to your new leader, Angela Vanstone. I just wanted to say that it’s been my distinct pleasure and honour to work with you over the years. I’m going to miss all of you.”
Sandra stood up. “I wanted to say thank you for the opportunity you gave me, Shawn. No one else was willing to take a chance on a single, welfare mother except you. I’ll be forever grateful to you.”
“It was the smartest move I ever made, Sandra. You’ve proved your worth more times than I could possibly list. I know that you and new hubby are expecting and that you’re already training a replacement so I’d like to wish you all the best.” He crossed the room and pulled her into a hug.
Each took their turn and before the final goodbyes were said there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
“It’s time for me to leave. Royce knows how to get in touch with me and through him I’ll hear all the news. I’ll be sure and call every now and then when I drop anchor in a port.”
“Where’s your first destination, Shawn? God I envy you. Sailing around the world. Going where ever the wind takes you,” Brendan said.
“Believe it or not, my first stop is home. I’m going to Salem to see my father.”
“Good luck, Shawn. Be careful and be sure and check in every so often. You know that Gladys will be worrying herself half to death if she doesn’t know that you are okay.”
Shawn hugged the man he loved like a father. “You can count on it, Royce. Tell her I love her and I will call.” Shawn took a final look around the room at the faces of the people he considered family and braced his shoulders. “Goodbye,” he said one final time as he walked out the door.
Shawn sailed into a private marina of one of his former big-name Hollywood clients who had a residence in Miami looking forward to a few days on land. He needed to pick up a few supplies and make a few calls. He had decided to make this one stop and then continue up the eastern coast. He had his course all plotted out. His next stop would be the docks of the Salem River.
After he secured his boat he headed up the walkway to the back entrance. The staff had been informed of his impending arrival and he wanted to pick up a set of keys to one of the many vehicles that were at his disposal. He spent several hours getting everything he needed except his groceries and then he returned to the house. He had his meal served out on the deck and decided to remain outdoors and watch the sunset. He had gotten used to being alone and instead of dreading the absence of other people all around him he had grown comfortable with only his mind and his senses for company. He found himself reading a lot more, something he hadn’t done since college. He spent a lot of time reflecting back on his life and learned to focus more on his happy memories instead of the bitter ones that he had always kept front and foremost in his mind.
Inevitably his thoughts turned to Belle. They always did. Not a day or night passed where she wasn’t the first person he thought of when he awoke and the last person he thought of as he drifted off to sleep. Going into therapy had helped him see the mistakes he had made with her. His love had overwhelmed her. His therapist, Dr. Withers, had listened to him talk about what he actually knew of Belle’s life. Without having ever talked to her, Dr. Withers had stressed that he was expressing his opinion only when saying that unless Belle dealt with her past through extensive psychoanalysis she would never be able to fully love another human being.
Shawn still found the fact greatly ironic that he could see so clearly that Belle needed help sorting out her emotional life but he couldn’t see that he was in need of the same type of help. Dr. Withers had helped him to see that Belle’s leaving him and his reaction to it was all tied in with the sense of abandonment he felt at his mother’s desertion. He had never dealt with the fact that he loved his mother and her leaving had left a portion of his heart an open wound. Dr. Withers had pushed and pushed until Shawn had finally blurted out what he had held inside himself for years and years, he had always felt that he was to blame for his mother’s leaving. He wasn’t good enough, he wasn’t the son she wanted him to be, he wasn’t worthy of her love. That is why he had fought against the idea of love and scoffed and sneered at the notion from the time he had entered puberty until he had fallen head over heels for Belle Black.
Yes, he still loved her and he would never stop loving her. He had resigned himself to going on without her. He knew she was fighting very hard to gain some emotional balance in her life. He felt her struggle to push him out of his life. It sounded weird but he just knew when her struggles failed and she would think of him, remembering what it had been like between them. Dr. Withers had asked him to really think about this love and make sure he wasn’t just succumbing to the fantasy of love. They had talked for hours in his sessions and eventually Dr. Withers had grown to acknowledge that what he felt for Belle was the real thing. The next step had been preparing him for the possibility that he might never see Belle again. That was still something he struggled with on a daily basis. His logical mind told him that nothing had changed. Belle still hadn’t acknowledged that she needed help and continued to push forward seeking something she was never going to find.
As he poured himself another glass of iced tea he allowed himself to feel compassion for the beautiful, fragile woman that had a lock on his heart and soul. She was desperately seeking love although she masked it as a quest for happiness. Belle, you’ve already found what you’re looking for but you won’t allow yourself to recognise that little fact. He wondered if she was going to spend the rest of her seeking what she had already had. He sighed. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, Belle that means I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life alone. Why, Belle? Why can’t you see that I’m what you are searching for?
It was times like this that he really had to exercise all the self-control he possessed to stop himself from picking up the phone or booking himself on the next flight to Milan. He knew he could break down her defences and get her back into his bed but he also knew that the end result would be the same. She would walk out of his life again and he had no intention of setting himself up for another fall. He still had a hard time coming to grips with how close he had come to dying as a result of his alcohol binge when she had left him. Royce and Gladys had his house cleaned and the damage repaired while he was in the clinic in Minnesota. After he had smashed the window he had just boarded it up and then he remembered going to a bottle shop and buying a couple of cases of scotch. He had never really had a problem with alcohol but he had never resorted to drinking non-stop before. He chose to avoid alcohol now and he couldn’t say he missed it.
He looked forward. Within a week he should be in Salem. He wondered how much the place would have changed. He hadn’t been home since he left for college. He had slowly lost touch with everyone, no longer even communicating with his grandparents. He wondered if they ever thought about him. He hoped not because he felt guilty about not once calling or sending so much as a Christmas card in the past ten years. He didn’t fear going to see his father although he had no idea of what type of reception he would be given. This was all about healing. Hopefully he and his father could come to some type of understanding. He wanted to feel close to his dad. Royce had been a great substitute and he would always consider him as a father-figure but he really wanted to have that same type of connection with his biological parent. He hadn’t put any time line on how long he would remain in Salem before heading to Europe to track down the elusive Princess Gina. He had had Royce do some investigating and he hadn’t been able to locate her. Princess Gina had dropped out of the European high society picture about nine years ago and no one knew where she had disappeared to. Royce had said the gossip was that she went into seclusion as the result of a disastrous love affair but no one really knew for sure. Royce had said he would either have to send an operative or hire a detective firm from a European city if Shawn wanted her found. He had decided to hold off on that until after he had made peace with his dad. Maybe his father was still in contact with his mother. He had no idea.
He reached for the stack of newspapers he had picked up today. He had bought the dailies from several of the major cities including San Francisco, L.A., New York and Chicago. As he flipped through the pages of the Chicago Tribune he found himself seeking out any news about Basic Black. He had kept in touch with Myron Tully. The attorney told him that Belle was a natural and a real marketing wizard. She was making great strides in putting Basic Black back on the map after the dual investigations. Both the IRS and the SEC had ruled that neither John Black personally or Basic Black as a corporation had had knowledge of Nathaniel Ashworth’s illegal activities. While this had helped to restore some of the company’s tarnished image it was really Belle’s forward thinking and progressive marketing strategies that had made people sit up and take notice. He felt proud of her accomplishments. Hopefully once she accepted the accolades as being deserved she would start thinking of herself as worthy of love. But he knew what it had taken for him to come to the realisation that he had issues to deal with and he feared that it was going to take something horrendous happening to her before she came to the conclusion he had ultimately reached. No matter how much he wanted her to seek help he couldn’t possibly wish for something traumatic and terrible to happen to her. He didn’t know how much more she could take before losing her grip on reality.
Now that was irony. The only chance he had of ever having her back in his life on permanent basis loving him the way he loved her was to have her go through a horrendous traumatic event that she might not come out of with her sanity intact. If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny. He turned his attention back to the newspaper and froze. His mind couldn’t register what he was reading. The picture was there, the words were there, he was seeing and he was reading but he didn’t comprehend either. No! For god’s sake, Belle. You can’t do this. Don’t do this. Please. You are making a mistake. Why can’t you see that?
“I mean it, Natalia. Only those two people are to be put through to me. Otherwise I’m in meetings and can not be disturbed.”
“The phones have not stopped ringing. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to issue some sort of statement to the press? Maybe that would appease them for a while.”
“No, I don’t want to make a statement at this time. Besides it’s not a statement I want to issue alone, it is something that should be done jointly. Have the calls forwarded to the answering service and give them the same information I gave you. They have more people on staff and its part of our contract with them that they will field calls for us when required. That’s what we pay them for, Natalia. Avail yourself of their services.”
“Yes, Ms. Black,” her personal assistant said.
Belle sat behind her desk and tried to regroup. It had been insane since the news had been leaked to the press last night. The paparazzi had been camped out at every conceivable entrance and exit and she had not been able to avoid them. Having to shield her face and having someone escort her in and out of buildings had brought back unpleasant memories of the day she had been arrested for Nat’s murder and her subsequent court appearances. Those unpleasant memories immediately led to more pleasant memories. Shawn. No matter how hard she fought them she never could get thoughts of him completely out of her mind. She worked so hard at forgetting him but it was futile. She was fairly proficient at pushing thoughts of him out of her mind but she hadn’t been able to master the ability to stop thinking about him completely.
She wondered how he was doing and if he had found someone else to love. She could never let herself dwell on that possibility for very long. If she did she would have to admit to herself that the thought of him loving another woman the way he had loved her was unbearable. And that was something she wasn’t prepared to admit to. She sensed that he was moving on with his life and she had convinced herself that she was very happy that he was making his way easily without her. Her life had been hectic since the night of the charity event. The night she had forced herself to put Shawn’s picture away. The night she had met Carlo.
She smiled as pictures of the past few months played back through her mind. Carlo was a very persistent man. He hadn’t left her side the night of the charity gala until she had agreed to go out to dinner with him the following evening. While they were out at dinner that night he had declared that they would be seeing each other exclusively from that point forward. She had laughed at what she thought was a joke but soon realised he was serious. She had to admit she had been more than intrigued with his total self-assuredness. She had made him wait a full two weeks before she agreed to the exclusivity of their relationship although for all intents and purposes they had been exclusive since their first date because she had been out with him every single night after that.
He was a completely charming, loving, special man. He doted on her. He never pushed for more than she was willing to give. They talked for hours on end. She still wasn’t as completely comfortable with him like she had been with…Damn it, Belle. You have to stop comparing Carlo to Shawn. Carlo may not make your heart sing the way Shawn did, but he’s so much better for you. He can’t hurt you like Shawn could hurt you. Be thankful Carlo came into your life. She had never mentioned Shawn to Carlo. She had told Carlo that she had been married and that her husband had been murdered. She also told him that she had been accused of his murder but subsequently cleared when the person that had killed him had come forward. She never gave out all the details and Carlo never asked for more so she had let the subject drop and they never spoke of Nat again.
It had taken almost two full months before she had let Carlo kiss her. He was an expert kisser and she hoped that she was just as expert. He gave no indication that he knew that his kisses left her completely unmoved. She was beginning to question if he was picking up on her reluctance because they had gone no further than a few heavy petting sessions. He never tried to undress her. She never tried to take things any further either. She was content with the status quo and she pushed back the slight uneasiness she felt. He could just turn it off so easily. They could be in the midst of a heated make-out session and then in the blink of an eye he would be straightening his clothes and giving her a chaste goodnight kiss and walking out the door. He told her that he she was to special to him and he wanted to do everything right. He didn’t want this to become just another affair in a long string of affairs he had had over the years. He claimed she was different and he had to treat her differently than the other women that had breezed in and out of his life. She accepted his words at face value and ignored the warning flags that waved before her eyes.
She was content when she was with him. They spent all their spare time together. She had just realised something today. She didn’t really know where his money came from. She knew he came from a noble family but she didn’t know where his family’s money came from. He didn’t work in an office. Whenever she had questioned him about money he had gently chastised her telling her in a polite way that he considered it crass to speak about money. He said people that come from money don’t discuss it. They don’t have to; it’s not an issue for them. So she had let it drop. Money and family. Two things that she had learned that he wouldn’t discuss with her. She didn’t know if he had any family. She really couldn’t fault him for not talking about family. She wouldn’t discuss hers either. He thought it was just another sign of how right they were for each other. In the back of her mind she thought it was fairly sad that the two men she had let into life after Nat were the same as him when it came to family relationships. But that was where she stopped comparing either Shawn or Carlo to Nat. There was no comparison especially as far as comparing Shawn to Nat and as long as she kept telling herself that even though their were some similarities in the way Carlo treated her with the way her husband used to treat her, they were vastly different in the most important ways. Nat was a monster; Carlo was a loving, kind man. Nat was an abuser, Carlo was a nurturer. Nat cared only about himself; Carlo cared about her well-being above his own. Nat had hated her, Carlo loved her.
She smiled when she looked down at her left hand. A week ago she had finally accepted Carlo’s proposal. She looked down at her antique European-styled platinum-step mounted diamond engagement ring. He had wanted to announce their engagement immediately. She had wanted to wait. He wanted to get married within the month. She wanted to wed on Christmas Eve. She had won on both counts, well at least on the wedding date. Somehow the news of their engagement had leaked out although the only people that knew were Natalia and Myron Tully besides herself and Carlo. Carlo had said it was probably a lucky guess because he had taken the ring to be cleaned before presenting it to her so someone from the jeweller’s must have called in a report to one of the tabloids. He had assured her that he hadn’t told anyone and she had to agree that they hadn’t tried to hide their relationship so a reporter being tipped off that Carlo Fabbrizzi had taken a family heirloom ring to be cleaned wouldn’t have to reach to far to come up with an engagement. Unfortunately the news had broken when Carlo was on one of his frequent trips to the United States. Come to think of it, he had never told her why he made the trips. She had always assumed it had something to do with whatever family business he was involved in.
Myron was pressuring her to be married in the United States and to have Carlo sign an iron-clad pre-nuptial agreement. He also wanted to make sure that she didn’t allow Carlo any access to her accounts. She had tried to assure Myron that Carlo was not anything like her former husband and that she was uncomfortable with bringing up these issues with Carlo. She hadn’t finally agreed to at least consider Myron’s advice when she had talked to him briefly after the news had broken in the United States. For one fleeting second she wondered if Shawn had heard the news. Face it, Black. Even if he knew he probably wouldn’t care. He’s probably involved with someone else already and doesn’t even spare you a second thought. She knew she was wrong. Sometimes she could feel him, feel his thoughts and just know he was thinking of her just like she was thinking of him. Against all odds, he could still reach her even if it was just in her mind. She knew he would be hurt when he learned of her engagement but she also knew that he would wish her the best. He was just that kind of man. One of the good guys. Too bad he couldn’t be the man she spent the rest of her life with. That spot was reserved for Carlo.
She smiled when Natalia buzzed with the news that Carlo was on the line. “Hi, sweetheart? When are you coming home?”
Shawn stared at the newspaper and read the caption for the hundredth time. Heiress to Basic Black Fortune to Wed. As he stared at the picture of Belle and her fiancée his uneasiness grew. He told himself over and over it was just jealousy on his part. He was seeing something that wasn’t there because that was what he wanted to see. He carried the newspaper to the suite of rooms set aside for guests and sat on the leather couch. He tossed the paper aside and took a long, refreshing shower, slipping into a pair of slate grey lounging pants when he was done. It was his intention to turn on the television and watch the late news but he was drawn towards the newspaper again. He looked at the paper and instinctively knew that he was right. He had to listen to his heart and trust that gut feeling that told him if Belle married this man she would be maker an even bigger mistake than she did when she married Nathaniel Ashworth. Considering how her marriage to Nat had turned out this one could well be the end of her. He had to stop this. He had to for her survival and his own.
He crossed the room and picked up the phone.
Waiting patiently for the phone to be answered his mind was racing. How do I explain my feeling? Where is it coming from? Why does that picture of that man make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end? As he waited for Royce to answer he realised it was the man’s eyes. They were cold. Cold as ice. Dead, devoid of emotion.
“Royce, thank God I got hold of you…yes, yes, everything is fine with me but I have a feeling Belle is in deep trouble.”
As he explained why he thought Belle was in trouble Royce’s voice changed from sceptical to concerned.
“So you and Jesse will fly to Milan and personally work with a local agency to investigate this man? Royce, please make sure it’s done thoroughly. Don’t miss anything.”
After he hung up the phone he walked out onto to the deck looking out towards the ocean. Belle, be careful. After standing outside for a while he knew what his next step had to be. He hoped he was successful. He went to the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed and pulled out his palm pilot. He checked the time difference and prayed that she would be home in bed alone.
He dialed the number and let the phone ring. It rang and rang but he felt that she was there just not picking up. Belle, come on. Answer the phone. I need you to pick up the phone. Belle, just pick it up.
“Hello, Belle. It’s Shawn.”
Chapter 52 – NC17
Belle looked at the digital readout of the clock radio on her bedside nightstand. It was 4:37 in the morning. What the hell? She pulled a pillow around her ears. One of those damn tabloids must have found out my home number somehow. The reporters were still calling the office and trailing her. The doorman of her apartment building had even told her they caught reporters going through the trash in the bins at the back of the building. She had got a good laugh out of that because she knew they wouldn’t find anything of any use. She was paranoid about keeping her private life exactly that, private and never threw anything out in the trash except food scraps. All her personal papers were taken to the office and shredded and distributed in different recycle bins on various floors. Even if someone tried to piece together the papers they would have to collect the scraps from all the different floors and considering that some scraps were shipped out inconspicuously, that person would never find a complete document.
God, why don’t they give up? She knew that it wasn’t Carlo. He was too considerate to call her when he knew she was sleeping. It wouldn’t be the answering service because they knew better than to put calls through to her home number. How the fuck did they get a private unlisted number? As she listened to the phone ringing she heard another voice. Shawn’s voice. She turned on the bedside lamp and cast a furtive glance around the room. Now, I’m hearing things. She was about to turn off the lamp when she heard him again. Belle, come on. Answer the phone. I need you to pick up the phone. Belle, just pick it up.
Without thinking twice she did as he asked. “Hello.”
“Hello, Belle. It’s Shawn.”
Her breath caught. Even though she had known it was him before actually picking up the phone, the sound of his voice still caught her by surprise.
“I bet you’re surprised to hear from me.”
Belle was in a daze. She couldn’t think straight. Her heart was pounding and her mouth was dry. She threw back the covers and walked with the handset to the fridge.
Shawn waited for her to say something and wondered if he could pull this off. “Belle, are you still there?” He heard background noises so he knew they hadn’t been cut off. Then he heard the sound of ice tinkling inside a glass and smiled. Perfect. “Are you getting yourself a glass of ice water?” he chuckled. She was the only woman he knew that drank ice water in the middle of the night and first thing in the morning.
She took a long refreshing sip and topped the glass up before heading back to the bedroom. Maybe she could form words now. “Yes I am surprised to hear from you and yes I was getting some ice water. Why are you calling and especially why are you calling me at this ungodly hour?” Even to her own ears her voice sounded sharp.
“Are you alone?”
The question caught her off-guard and she answered it without thinking. “Of course I am.”
Thank god. “I just wanted to know if I woke anyone else up besides you.”
It became clear to her. “You read the announcement, didn’t you?” she asked quietly.
“Yes. Is that all you have to say? I have to assume that is the reason I’m hearing from you for the first time in slightly over a year.”
“One year, one week, three days, 6 hours and 23 minutes actually not like I’m keeping track or anything,” he said in a deepened voice that had her skin tingling. “I didn’t hear from you either.”
“Did you expect to?” She wondered what his response was going to be.
“No. But that’s not why I’m calling.”
“You know Shawn it wasn’t really necessary for you to call and congratulate me on my engagement.”
“That isn’t why I called,” he said straightforwardly, “although I do want to talk to you about this Carlo fellow. I have a few questions…”
“Questions. What makes you think I’m going to talk to you about Carlo?”
“We’re friends aren’t we, Belle?”
“Ye…yes…I guess we are,” her nervousness came through her voice. Where is he going with this?
“As your friend I just want to make sure you’re happy. Are you, Belle?”
“Yes, happy. Is Carlo the man of your dreams? Are you madly in love with him? And he with you?”
Now she was just getting annoyed. “Let’s not start on the love crap again. Carlo makes me happy. I’m comfortable with him and we get along well.”
“Comfortable…get along well…” Shawn broke out laughing. This was going to be easier than he thought.
“What’s so funny? Damn you, Shawn Brady. Are you laughing at me?”
“No…no. I’m not laughing at you, sweetheart.” He immediately changed the tone of his voice. “Are you back in bed, Belle?”
She couldn’t keep up with the changes in conversation but she couldn’t bring herself to hang up the phone. “Shawn, why are you calling?”
“Does Carlo make you feel the same way I used to make you feel when you’re in bed together?” He decided just to cut to the chase and waited with bated breath for her response.
Her blood started heating at the sound of his bedroom voice. She still remembered every nuance of his voice when he was in the thralls of passion. The memory had her trembling. “That’s none of your business but I will answer it. I don’t know because I don’t remember what it was like between us.”
“Oh, Belle. You can’t lie to me. I bet you remember exactly what it felt like. I know I do.”
“Really, Shawn. You have quite the ego if you think you were so good in bed that no woman could ever forget what it felt like and then compare every other man to you.”
“I’m not talking about other women and other men. I’m talking about you and me. I never experienced anything with any other woman that even remotely felt as wonderful as what I experienced with you. What you and I had was magic, Belle. Don’t deny it. And you don’t have to answer the question because I already know the answer. Carlo could never make you feel the same way because you don’t love him, you love me.”
“I don’t love you. I don’t love Carlo. I don’t…”
“I know Belle, you don’t believe in love. So don’t marry Carlo. Don’t short change yourself.”
“Nothing you can say will make me change my mind, Shawn. Carlo and I will be married on Christmas Eve.”
“Okay, if I can’t change your mind…”
“No, you can’t, Shawn.”
“Then I won’t call again but before we say our final goodbyes, I want to leave you with one last memory.”
“Belle, lie back and let me take you down memory lane. I want you to remember everything you won’t feel when Carlo touches you.”
“Shawn…” Her senses were on overload. I should hang up but oh god, I don’t have the strength. I want to remember…I want to feel that way that only he can make me feel…I want…
He lay back on the pillows. “Are you lying down, baby?”
“Yes,” she breathed.
“I bet you still like wearing those little satin nighties to bed, the ones with the spaghetti straps. What colour is the one you have on tonight? Pale lavender, ice blue, soft pink…”
“You wear them because the feel of satin on your naked skin is very sensual. Not near as sensual as the touch of my fingers trailing over your body…”
She closed her eyes and bit back the moan that almost escaped from her lips. “What are you wearing, Shawn?”
“Those slate grey lounge pants that you bought me.”
“Are they...” she stopped herself from asking the question.
He smirked. “Yes, baby. They’re riding low on my hips, below the tan line just the way you used to like me to wear them until you couldn’t stand to have me wearing anything at all.
She didn’t hold back the moan this time.
“Belle, honey. Picture this in your mind and remember and feel…just let yourself feel. I’m kissing the soft skin of your neck, letting my tongue swirl on that secret little spot behind your ear that drives you wild. You tilt your head to the side so I don’t miss any spot. You want me to kiss every inch of your skin, don’t you?
“Now I nip at your earlobe before my tongue licks a circular path inside your ear. Do you like that, Belle?”
“You know it drives me wild. Can’t you feel me thrusting against you?”
It was his turn to groan. “Patience, my little darling. I always have to tell you to savour the moment. Now what’s next?”
“You kiss my shoulders and move the straps down my arms,” she spoke automatically lost in the memory of him touching her.
“Are your nipples straining against the satin? Are they aching to be touched?” he breathed into the phone.
She silently arched off the bed frustrated that he wasn’t there to relieve the pressure.
“Belle, you have to use your hand. Just think of it as mine. Let your fingers brush against your breast lightly.”
She did as he asked. “That’s not enough. I want more, Shawn.”
“You always did. Now push the straps down your arms. Can you feel me kissing my way down your arms? Now I’m moving to drop tiny kisses on the tops of your breasts. Push your gown down to your waist, baby.”
She did as he asked lost in a sensual haze.
“Oh baby, you are so beautiful. Do you want to be touched?”
“Please,” she breathed in the phone as her fingers drifted down her neck to her breasts to her pebbled nipples. She spread her palm over her breast as she tugged at the beaded tips moving her hand from one breast to the other.
Shawn could hear her breathing heavily. “Do you want to feel my tongue on your breasts?”
“Oh god, I wish…”
“Reach into your glass and get some ice. It will feel so good, Belle. Cool and wet against your hot flesh. Trail the ice down slowly down your neck…are you doing, that Belle?”
“Hmmm…” The trail of ice was making her feel warmer. The heated blood was coursing through her all heading to that one special spot. She spread her legs as she felt the liquid heat pooling between her legs.
“Move the ice to your nipples, baby.”
She ran the ice over the peaks and trembled. “Shawn…that feels so good.” She cradled the handset of the phone against her shoulder and ear so she would have both hands free. As she pinched and tugged at one nipple she caressed the other with the ice cube.
“I need to be naked, Shawn.”
The vision of her lying naked spread eagled beneath him had him gasping for air. “I want you naked, too. Push your nightgown down over your hips and then pull your legs up so you can feel my wet kisses trailing up from your ankles to…”
“Oh Jesus, Shawn. I want to feel your fingers pushing my damp curls apart and your tongue lapping up my juices.”
“I remember how sweet you tasted, Belle. You’ll have to let the ice be my tongue.”
He was so hard he didn’t know how much more he could take. “Use the ice and your fingers, Belle. Just remember how it felt when I would push my fingers deep inside you as I sucked hard and licked at that sweet little kernel. I would feel you so tight against my fingers and your muscles would clench and unclench. That’s when I knew you were close. Are you close, baby?”
“Oh god, yes. Shawn. I’m so close,” she half-sobbed as she bucked against her hand.
“Go deeper and harder, Belle,” he choked out as his hand drifted downwards and he freed his throbbing member.
“Oh yes…yes…yes…Shawn,” she cried out his name as her body exploded into thousands of little pin-pricks of sheer pleasure.
“Belle…” he breathed heavily into the phone as he stroked himself towards a climax.
As she was coming down from the heights he had taken her to she heard his heavy pants. “Stop. My turn to please you, lover,” she purred into the phone.
He groaned in frustration as he stopped. “Belle, I hurt.”
“Let me take the hurt away, sugar. You know I can.”
“Hmm, yes you can. I’m in your hands. Do with me what you will.”
That was all the invitation she needed. As she made love to him with her words over the phone she felt herself growing aroused all over again. When he climaxed so did she.
They both lay silent for several minutes. Belle was floating on cloud nine. How can he satisfy me more completely when he’s thousands of miles away than a man who is right in my bed can? She didn’t want to let go of this feeling.
“Still sure you won’t change your mind about marrying Carlo?”
She closed her eyes tight against the pain that shot through her. “Nothing has changed, Shawn. I’m going to marry Carlo.”
“He’s never going to make you feel the way you feel right now, Belle. Only I can make you feel that good and only you can make me feel the same way. Remember that when you’re lying in bed with Carlo faking it. And you do fake it with him, don’t you, Belle? You’ve faked it with every man you’ve been with since me.”
She didn’t answer because he was speaking the truth. Except for Carlo and she would probably end up faking it with him as well when she did finally sleep with him.
“Ah, Belle. I wish I could tell you to have a long and happy life but I know that is not possible. You won’t be happy until you stop running from love…running from me. Goodbye, Belle. I love you. I will always love you,” he sighed as he broke the connection.
Belle held the phone in her hand staring at it for a long time. “Shawn…” she sobbed as she curled up in the bed and cried herself back to sleep.
Belle slammed the folder closed in disgust. Damn him. Damn Shawn Brady to hell. Why did he call? How could he do this to me? How could I let him do this to me? Her body still thrummed with the passion he had awakened in her. All she could think of was him. The feel of his naked flesh pressed against hers, the taste of him, his unique scent, the feel of him inside her as he took her to previously unimagined orgasmic heights, the sound of him when he followed her to heaven, the look in his eyes as he released inside her. All these pictures played inside her mind and held her in a state of suspended desire. I want him. I need him so much I feel like I’m going insane.
For god’s sake, woman. Pull yourself together. You don’t need Shawn. You just need to get laid. She pushed her chair back and grabbed her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk. She had no idea when Carlo was returning from his trip to the United States but she had every intention of finding out. When she had asked him that very question when he had called the previous day he had given a vague when my business is concluded response. She just had to come up with a plan that would get his doorman to admit her into his apartment. Carlo was going to bed her whether he wanted to or not. She was no longer going to accept his excuses about wanting to wait until they were married to make love to her. She was so tired of hearing him tell her that she was different. She was the woman he loved, the woman that he wanted to make love with not fuck like all the women before her.
Sorry about that, Carlo but this woman wants to fuck. She made one quick stop in the men’s department of the Basic Black boutique and then hailed a cab. On the cab ride over to Carlo’s building a thought she had kept buried in the back of her mind wormed its way out. She had to admit to herself that Carlo’s little song and dance about waiting was too close to what she had experienced with Nathaniel. Nat had kept telling her that she was so special and because he knew she was a virgin he wanted to make their first time memorable. There was no disputing that her first time had been memorable but not for any reason that she cared to remember. She shuddered as she tried desperately to push aside the memories of the night she was brutalised by the men her husband had sold her to. She shook her head and forced herself to think about Carlo. If he refused to have sex with her she vowed to break the engagement. I’m not going to go down this road again.
She relaxed. She knew that Carlo was nothing like Nat and that she was just being silly. Shawn’s call last night had dredged up both good and bad memories. She had no doubt that when she slept with Carlo it would be better than sex with Shawn…Face it, Belle. You don’t really believe that. Okay, okay. Maybe not better than with Shawn but definitely better than what it was like with the other men she had been with. She looked forward to being with Carlo. Hopefully he would be home soon and they could take their relationship to the next level.
She asked the cabbie to wait. She hoped she would find something in Carlo’s apartment that would give her an idea of when he would be returning. The doorman was all smiles when he let her into the lobby. “Ms. Black. You must be so anxious to see your fiancée. You’re in luck. He just got back a few minutes ago but you must have known that or you wouldn’t be here.”
She returned the smile. Carlo’s back. Great. Now how do I get into this apartment without tipping off the doorman that I had no idea he was returning today. Oh yeah, the gift. Wait a sec, how did the doorman know he was my fiancée?
“Would you like me to tell the cabbie to leave? He isn’t waiting for you, is he?” the doorman asked.
“Yes he is. Carlo doesn’t know I’m here. We are supposed to meet in a few hours but I have a little surprise for him,” she waved the package she was carrying. “Do you think I can get into his apartment without him knowing I’m there?”
“I’m supposed to announce all visitors but I think I can make an exception in your case. You’re in luck. He left some bags with me for Gus to bring up to his apartment. He said he would leave the door slightly ajar because he had an important call to make and didn’t want to have to answer the door. Here’s Gus now.” He flagged the young man over. “Take these bags up to Mr. Fabbrizzi’s apartment. Ms. Black will accompany you.”
Belle gave Gus a generous tip and whispered her assurance that she would close the door behind her when she left. She should have told the doorman to send the cab away. No time like the present to seduce Carlo. He must be on the phone in his bedroom. She had never been inside his bedroom and she hadn’t spent that much time in his apartment at all. She made her way quietly down a hallway she hoped would lead to the master bedroom. She noticed one door was ajar and was about to step into the room when she heard his voice.
“Yes, my darling. I’m sure that Belle Black or Isabella Ashworth is the one. She is definitely the little prize that Nat used to bring to the special little parties. I always suspected it was the same woman even though he cleverly disguised her. But one doesn’t forget a body like that.”
Belle froze on the other side of the door.
“I knew there was something familiar about her the night I met her. It took a while for me to figure out what it was about her that drew me to her. This little trip I just took to San Francisco confirmed it for me.”
Belle heard him laugh.
“Yes, my precious. I’ll let you have a taste of her after I marry her. I know Nat wouldn’t allow her to be used for our special little games but it will be different once she is under my control. And I won’t be drugging her like Nat did to make her agreeable. She’ll do as she is told or suffer the consequences.”
Belle wanted to run but it felt like her feet were glued to the floor.
“Of course I’ll let you punish her sweetheart. You know I can’t deprive you of anything. I’m not going to let Belle know I’m back so you and I can get together. I just need to shower and then I’ll be over.”
She knew she had to get out of there before he discovered her presence but her knees were shaking so badly she didn’t know if she could move.
“Yes, Anna. Soon we will be rich beyond our wildest dreams. Once I marry that insipid little American heiress and have control of her fortune and her body we can live out all of our fantasies. Once I have her sign over everything to me and you and I have had our fun with her we’ll turn her over to those people that Nat wouldn’t allow to touch her. She won’t last long. Thank god there are gullible fools with money for us to take advantage of. The idiot hasn’t even had me checked out. She probably doesn’t even know that I’m penniless. Hell, she is so stupid that she doesn’t even recognize me from some of those parties where she was passed around as the main party favour.”
Belle felt the bile rising in her throat. She finally got control over her limbs and backed silently away from the door. She slipped out of the apartment and made her way to the elevator. She tried to pull herself together so that the doorman wouldn’t suspect anything. Shit. She still had the package with her. How was she going to explain that?
She hoped that the smile she glued to her face looked like exactly that and not like the grimace it felt like. “Thanks. I hid his gift away in this one spot so he finds it exactly when I want him to. Now I can count on you and Gus not letting him know I was here, right? It’s a very special surprise and I don’t want it ruined. I took it out of the package so he wouldn’t see it until the right moment.”
“No problem, Ms. Black. Ahh…to be so in love. Your secret is safe with us.”
“Thanks.” She ran to the cab and gave him her home address. She wasn’t going back to the office. She had to think. What the hell am I going to do? She called Natalia and told her to reschedule any appointments she had over the next couple of weeks. She scrambled to come up with an excuse for her absence. “I just got a tip from a reliable source that the supplier of fine silks that has been refusing to do business with us just might be willing to change their minds especially if they were paid a visit by an executive of the company.”
She listened to her assistant. “No, Natalia. The impact will be far stronger if I show up unexpectedly and no, I don’t want to send anyone else. If we get exclusive rights to their product we’ll put Basic Black fashion houses on the map. The arrangements for my trip and stay are already made. I’ll let you know the particulars of how to reach me when I arrive there. I really have to go. I’m on a very tight schedule. Remember, not a word to anyone including Carlo of my whereabouts. I can’t risk a leak. If any of our competitors find out where I am they will send a representative and I don’t want to end up in a bidding war I might lose.”
She let herself into her apartment. She managed to turn the locks but she no longer could hold herself together. She slid down and collapsed onto the floor weeping. She locked her arms around her knees and rocked back and forth. No, no, no, no, no, no…Not again…not…again! As Carlo’s words replayed through her mind she felt a wave of nausea hit her. She got up and bolted for the bathroom. She didn’t make it in time and she emptied some of the contents of her stomach just inside the door. She crawled to the toilet bowl after the first wave had passed as she retched until her insides ached.
It was the flash of the diamonds of her engagement ring that drove her to her feet. She pulled it off and threw it into the toilet bowl and flushed. She felt slightly satisfied to watch it swirl down the drain along with the disgusting contents of her stomach. She made her way to the kitchen and got some paper towels and a rag and cleaned up the mess on the bathroom floor.
How could I have so stupid? What is wrong with me? I ignored all the little similarities to Nat. I should have known. Oh my god. What if I had married him? Oh my god. I am such an idiot. I was so sure Shawn would hurt me and I end up with a man who is exactly like Nat…no, worse than Nat by the sounds of that conversation I overheard. I can’t take this anymore. I just can’t.
She picked up the phone and called the one person she needed the most, the one person she trusted that would do what needed to be done.
It had been ten days since he last talked to Belle. Royce and Jesse were investigating Carlo Fabbrizzi and he prayed that the man was on the up and up. He hadn’t been able to talk to them for the past week. He didn’t walk to discuss this over the boat’s radio and he told them he would contact them wherever they were when he docked in Salem. They had told him that in the course of their preliminary investigation that they had launched from their office that they had discovered that the man had just been in San Francisco. They were going to do some leg work right there to see if they could find out the reason for his visit. They had even joked that they might he so unlucky as to find out everything they needed to know without getting an expense paid trip to Italy out of him.
He hoped Belle wouldn’t do anything rash like push up the date of her wedding just to spite him. He didn’t have a good feeling about the man but how the hell could he tell her the guy was bad news based on his feeling alone. He knew her better than that. She was so damn stubborn. He was going to have to have ironclad proof. Proof that the man was not worthy of her and that he couldn’t be trusted. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Carlo would do more damage to her than Nat had and that scared the hell out of him. He knew she would never survive that type of mistreatment again. Hell she wasn’t even emotionally functional as it was even though she refused to acknowledge that. Any type of abuse by Carlo would be the end of her.
As he secured his boat his mind pushed aside thoughts of Belle for the moment. Until he talked to Royce or Jesse there was really nothing else he could do. It was time for him to face his past. As he walked along the docks memories of his early years in Salem haunted him. The happy times spent aboard the Fancy Face, Grandpa Brady always feeding him one of his delicious burgers and a side of fries along with a thick, chocolate shake after school even though his parents had told him not to give him any food so his supper wouldn’t be spoiled. He was looking forward to sinking his teeth into one of those burgers again. His steps slowed. He didn’t even know if his grandparents still ran the pub. Hell, he didn’t know if his grandparents were still alive for that matter. He squared his shoulders and kept walking. There was only one way to find out.
He stood outside the door of the pub. Well, it’s still here and the sign still says Brady Pub. He opened the door and heard the familiar chimes that had heralded the entrance of customers ever since he could remember. He looked around. The tablecloths were different but everything else looked the same. He didn’t recognise the waitress but that didn’t surprise him. He walked towards the bar slowly. The man behind the bar had his back towards him but he knew that it was his grandfather. His hair was a little greyer and he was moving a little slower but considering he was in his late seventies he was doing pretty good to still be running his own business. He waited patiently for him to turn around.
“What can I get for you, young man?” Shawn Sr. glanced over his shoulder at the man who stood at the bar. He turned back and then spun around for a better look. “Shawn? Is that you lad?”
Shawn smiled. “Hello, Grandpa.”
“Hello. Is that all you have to say to your old grandpa? Come over here and give the old man a hug. My god, son it’s been years since we’ve heard from you.”
Shawn felt himself wrapped up in the strong embrace of his grandfather and felt a lump in his throat. I have been such an asshole for ignoring my family. “Grandpa…” he couldn’t talk past his tears.
“Ah, laddie. It’s so good to see you again. We’ve all missed you so much. Oh geez, wait a second.” He let Shawn go and went to the stairway and yelled, “Caroline. Come downstairs.” He turned back to Shawn. “She is going to be so happy to see you. She’s made up these scrapbooks from all the clippings out of the newspaper. She, we are all so proud of the successful man you’ve become Shawn.”
“Why are yelling, Shawn? What did you do now, drop…Oh my, are my eyes deceiving me?” she stepped closer.
Shawn moved quickly towards her and swept her into his arms, the tears flowing freely down his face, “Grandma. I’m so sorry that I haven’t called or come home…more sorry than I could ever say.” He reached for his grandfather and included him in the hug. “I love you both so much. Forgive me.”
“You are family. There is nothing to forgive son. You’re here now and that’s all that counts. We love you.”
Shawn sat with his grandparents and answered their questions and listened as they filled him in on what happened over the years. They were surprised and a little bit disappointed when he told them that he would only be in Salem for a while but relieved when he told them that he would keep in close touch with them and be a frequent visitor. He had certain things he had to get done before he made any firm decisions about the next phase of his life. He told them he had given up his practice and was taking a long sojourn to reconnect with the people he had left behind.
Shawn noticed the sharp look his grandfather had given him when he had made that statement. “Have you been to see your pop yet, young man?”
“No, grandpa. I docked my boat and walked here first. I’m going to head home...” he hung his head sheepishly, “…that is if home is still the same house?”
“Your dad hasn’t moved.”
“I really should start making my way over there. I have to pick up a rental vehicle as well. I’ll want to get around and see how much the place has changed since I left all those years ago.”
“There’s been some changes, Shawn. Does your father know you’re coming?”
“No he doesn’t, grandma. Please don’t call him. I’d like to surprise him. I’m not exactly sure of the kind of reception I’m going to get but I hope that…”
“You’re father will be thrilled to see, Shawn. There’s something…” Caroline never got to say more before her husband cut in.
“You better get going lad. Now make sure you come and see us tomorrow. We’ll be sure to have an old fashioned Brady family celebration.”
“I promise. I’ll be back tomorrow.” Shawn gave them each a big hug and didn’t notice the confused look that his grandmother gave his grandfather.
After he left the pub she turned around and faced her husband. “Why didn’t you let me tell him? He doesn’t have any idea of the shock he’s in for.”
“It wasn’t our place to tell him, Caroline. I hope he meant what he said when he told us he wanted to reconnect with those he left behind. If he didn’t he might leave again and this time he will be gone for good.”
Shawn drew a deep breath and squared his shoulders before ringing the front doorbell. He had no idea what type of response to expect from his father. They hadn’t parted on bad terms more like no terms at all. Neither of them really had had much to say to the other once Hope had left them both. He had never come out and blamed his father for his mother leaving but he was sure he had probably made his father feel like he had held him responsible. That was something else that he had talked through in his sessions with Dr. Withers. He couldn’t face his own deep-rooted fear that he was the reason his mother had left the family so he had lashed out at the only other person he felt could and should shoulder the blame. He now realised that his mother was the only person responsible for her decision and until he talked things through with her he might never understand why she had done what she had done.
He heard footsteps approaching the door and he mentally braced himself, preparing himself for the rejection he half expected to get. He didn’t have a clue what he was going to say. He shuffled his feet nervously as the door opened. Brown eyes met brown eyes as the two men took in the features of the man standing across from him. Shawn noticed immediately that his dad had aged a bit. His brown hair and goatee streaked with grey but he also noticed that his eyes still held all the fire of a man in his prime. He stood still his eyes searching those of his father’s, trying to figure out what to do next, seeking an assurance that he was welcome or even a clue that his presence was not welcome. Anything.
Bo stood and stared into his son’s eyes. He saw it all. The hesitation, the eagerness he tried to hide, the fear, the silent question that he knew his boy couldn’t voice. For a millisecond he felt like lashing out with all the anger he had felt at his son’s abandonment but all he could think was my boy is home. When he looked into his eyes now all he could see were the eyes of that little boy who had worshipped his father until fate had stepped in and turned his young world upside down. He saw his tears reflected in his son’s eyes as they both reached out for each other at the same moment.
Father and son stood locked in the embrace for several minutes. When they pulled apart both had tears streaming down their faces. Bo used the sleeve of his long sleeved tee shirt to wipe his face as he reached behind Shawn and closed the door. “Come in and let me look at you. You’re getting old there, son.”
They laughed to relieve the strain of the deep emotions they were both experiencing.
As they walked towards the sofa, Shawn relaxed a little. “You too, old man. What’s up with the grey hair? Eyesight too poor to read the instructions on the bottle of Grecian Formula.”
Bo started laughing, really laughing this time. “Are you thinking of the same thing I am?”
Shawn shared in the laughter. “If you’re remembering Grandpa Shawn’s story that he thought he was using a special shampoo that would add lustre to the grey hair he tried to convince us he treasured, than yes.”
Bo tried to control his laughter. “Do you remember how god awful he looked with that jet black hair?”
Shawn was laughing so hard that he could feel the tears well up again. “Do you still have the pictures we took? I remember him running a mile in the other direction every time one of us pointed a camera in his direction.”
“Sure do. I remember Ma finally being able to get him in to see the eye doctor when he used that excuse that the print was too small. She had been trying for two, three years to get Pops to admit he needed reading glasses.”
“Grandpa looks good. I was surprised to see that he and Grandma still run the pub.”
“You’ve been to the pub?” Bo asked.
“It was my first stop after I docked my boat at the pier. I walked there and then I took a cab over here. I really had no idea of whether or not the pub was still open or even if Grandpa and Grandma were still…”
Bo let some of the resentment he felt about the years he missed with his son come through, “Alive. You would have known that if you would have bothered to come home every now and then or even if you had just picked up a phone.”
Shawn hung his head. “I…I’m…”
“Shit. No I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound so resentful. I always told myself if you came home that would be enough for me. I’ve missed you son. More than I can say,” Bo’s voice trailed away as he was overcome with emotion again.
Shawn reached for his Dad and hugged him. “I’ve missed you too, Dad. But you’re wrong. I think we should talk about this…no, I don’t think. I know we should. It’s taken me a lot time to realise what an asshole I’ve been over the past many years. I’d like to try and make up for that. I know we can never get back the years my stubborn pride cost us but I’d like to think that we could look forward to many years of being a family again.”
Bo looked closely at his son. “Son, don’t for minute think all of this is your fault. I knew where you were. I never picked up the phone. I was the adult that failed his child. You did not fail me. I’m very proud of the man you have become.”
“No, dad. Don’t say that. I’m not proud of the man I was but I have changed and I have worked very hard to come to terms with the actions and the reactions of my youth.”
“Did something happen to you, Shawn? What led to all this soul-searching?”
“What do you think happened, dad?” Shawn gave a half-smile and shrugged.
“Ah. A woman. Did you bring her with you son?”
“No, Dad. She isn’t with me. She left me and I couldn’t handle it. I kind of tied her leaving me in with mom’s abandonment and I almost drank myself to death.”
“Oh god, Shawn. I’m so sorry…”
“Don’t be sorry, Dad. In a way it was just the wake-up call I needed. It made me see how much I needed help. I had never dealt with mom leaving us. It took a lot of intense therapy for me to come to realise that I blamed myself. I thought that there was something wrong with me because she didn’t love me enough to stay. So I made a mockery of love and I pushed all thoughts of love out of my mind. That’s why I couldn’t call home or come home because deep down inside I couldn’t stand to see all the love everyone in this family has to give and would have given me when I didn’t believe I was worthy of it.”
“Jesus, Shawn. I’m so sorry you were in all that pain. I should have come to see you and talk to you. Damn stubborn Brady pride. Can you forgive me, son?”
“Dad. There’s nothing to forgive. I love you.”
“I love you too, son. Now about this woman. She obviously wasn’t the one or she wouldn’t have walked away from you.”
“Dad, don’t say that. You have no idea…you couldn’t possibly know…”
“You’re right. I just sounded the exact same way you did when you threw your mother’s move to Europe in my face. Tell me about her, Shawn.”
Shawn sat back and gave his dad a short version of what had happened with Belle. He told him that he couldn’t reveal the details of her marriage because it wasn’t his secret to tell but Bo could read between the lines.
“I can certainly empathise with the poor girl. Both your mother and I had met the Black’s way back when you were a toddler and I recall thinking that they were both cold fish. I can’t imagine how they treated their daughter. In fact we didn’t even know they had a little girl until the poor little thing was hospitalised with pneumonia.”
“In a way that was my fault. I played with her in the park and we dumped sand all over each other. Marlena made her stand in a cold shower until all the sand was washed out of her clothes and hair. She told me in prison that the only happy memory she had of her childhood was of playing with this little boy in the park. Dad, I love her so much but she is so fragile…so afraid of love…I don’t know if she’ll ever heal.”
“You’ve obviously healed or made great strides towards healing maybe one day she will as well. But you’re right, son. You have to let her go.”
“Just like you did with, Mom.”
“Yes, son. Exactly like I did with your mother.”
“Why do you think that you and I were both doomed to love women that couldn’t accept our love? Do we love too deeply, dad?”
“Not at all, son. We have to let them go and hope that they will come back to us.”
Shawn shrugged. “Well that hasn’t worked too well for you and I doubt it will work out any better for me. She’s engaged to another man and she’s determined to marry him. I have a bad feeling about him. I hope I’m wrong. If I’m not wrong I hope I can convince her not to marry him before its too late.”
“Speaking of things not working out, there’s something I should tell you…”
Before he finished he was interrupted by a sound that Shawn couldn’t recognize.
“What’s that noise, dad? Is the water heater acting up?”
“No, actually it’s the sound of a lift I had installed behind the stairs.”
“A lift? Why?”
“I should have told you this earlier…”
Shawn turned towards the sound he did recognise from his time spent with Belle at the center in San Francisco, a motorized wheelchair.
“Who are you talking to, Bo? Or are you watching one of those talk shows?” the woman’s voice carried through the room. She was busy manoeuvring the chair and hadn’t bothered to look up.
Shawn’s eyes widened. “Mom?”
Hope’s head jerked upward, “Oh my goodness, Shawn…are you really here?”
Shawn was at a loss for words. He had so many questions spinning through his mind.
Hope broke down in tears and the sound of her sobs had Shawn on his feet and by her side in a flash. He knelt on the floor next to her wheelchair and pulled her close against him. “Mom…oh…mom,” was all he could manage to say before his sobs wracked his body.
Bo felt his eyes fill with tears as he watched his wife hold on to their boy. He knew that she had longed for this moment but had never really expected it to happen. She hated herself for what she had done to their son and nothing Bo had been able to say her to her could take that pain away from her. He hoped that Shawn would be able to help her put the past in the past where it belonged.
Hope hugged her son as hard as she could. I’m never letting my little boy go again. Her hands swept his hair back and then moved to hold his face. She turned his tear-filled gaze to hers. “I love you, Shawn. You have to know that…I want you to know that and feel it.”
“I know, mom.”
“You need to let me explain…”
“It isn’t necessary. You’re here now and you’re with Dad…” he looked from his dad back to his mom.
“Yes, son. Your mother and I are remarried. I’m going to go start supper. I think you and your mother need to talk.”
Shawn watched as his Dad pushed his way through the door into the kitchen he turned back to the woman in the wheelchair. He noticed the grey streaking her luxurious dark brown hair, the onset of wrinkles in her once smooth skin and the hint of pain that lurked in her eyes. No matter what the years had done to her to him she was still the most beautiful woman in the world along with Belle of course. “Mom?”
“Why don’t you sit down, Shawn. We have so much to talk about.”
Shawn sat back on the couch never letting go of his mother’s hand. She rested her other hand on top of his unconsciously patting it the same way she used to do when he was a little boy. “I owe you an explanation of why I ran out on you and your father all those years ago. It had nothing to do with wanting to be Princess Gina. I had just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and I don’t think I was thinking clearly at the time. I couldn’t handle the diagnosis and instead of sharing the burden with my family I chose to run away. I convinced myself that I was being noble and doing the best thing for my family. I didn’t want my husband and son saddled with an invalid. Of course I looked at the worse possible case scenario and ignored everything that the doctor told me about how I could still live a fairly normal life.”
“Mom, I’m so sorry that you went through all that alone.”
“That was my choice, son and my mistake. God, I regret all the time I missed with you and your father. Most of all I regret how deeply I hurt you. Gran was so disappointed in me, Shawn. I didn’t even tell her the truth. When I went to say goodbye she warned me that I would live to regret the damage I would be inflicting on you. She kept telling me you were in crisis already and I refused to listen or to see it. I failed you, son. Both your father and I failed you and that is something that we have had to learn to live with. I also have to live with knowing that I never got to tell her the truth before she died.”
“No, let me finish, Shawn. Your father and I have talked about this a lot. Both of us realise that we can never get back the years we lost with you so we promised ourselves that if we ever got a second chance to be a complete family again we would cherish every moment of our time with you.”
Shawn couldn’t speak he was so overcome with emotion. Today had turned out to be more than he had ever expected. For the first time in his adult life he felt like he was at home. He almost felt whole; almost…he knew he would never feel whole until he had Belle with him. She completed him.
“Do…do you want the same, son? Do you want to be a family again?” Hope asked hesitantly.
“Yes, Mom. That would make me very happy.” He hugged her. “And Mom, she knows. Great-Gran knows ... you can trust that.”
“I believe she does, Shawn. Now why don’t we call Grandpa Shawn and Grandma Caroline? They’re going to be thrilled that you have come home.”
“I already saw them, Mom. I stopped at the pub first. I told Dad I was surprised that they actually still ran the place. I would have thought they would have retired by now.”
“Oh they have, Shawn. Pops was minding the bar for an hour or two while your Aunt Kayla ran some errands.”
“Yes, she moved back here from Los Angeles. Stefanie was running with a wild crowd and she thought maybe a move to Salem would help get her on the right track. It turned out to just the thing for all concerned. Mom and Pop were considering selling the pub so Kayla bought it. Mom and Pop still live above the bar and help out when it’s needed. The best of both worlds for them.”
“And Stefanie? How is she?”
“It took a while for her resentment to wear off. She’s now a medical student at Cornell.”
“Wow. That’s a tough school to get into. Good for her.”
Bo stuck his head around the door. “I could use some help in here. You two all talked out yet?”
Hope laughed. “Done talking? Me? Sweetie, you forget who you’re talking to.”
Bo smiled. “Come on in the kitchen and talk then. Shawn, do you have your bags with you or do you need to pick them up?”
“I’m going to stay on the boat…”
“No way. You get your butt in the old truck and go pick up your things.
“You still have that old piece of scrap metal?” Shawn asked, surprised.
“Hey, it’s an antique man. Still purrs like a tiger.”
“All right, I know when I’m outnumbered. I have a few calls to make so I’ll get those out of the way while I’m gone. I’ll be back in a while. How long before the poison…I mean supper is ready, Dad?”
“Funny, sailor man, very funny. It should be ready in an hour.”
“See you then.”
After his bag was packed Shawn dialed Royce’s cell phone. “Hi, Royce. Where are you? Still in the U.S. or living high on my dime in Italy?” he joked.
“Jesus, Shawn. I’ve been going crazy waiting for you to call.”
Shawn instantly became wary. “What’s up, Royce? And where are you?”
“I’m at home, Shawn. You need to warn Belle. She needs to run as hard and as fast as possible from Carlo Fabbrizzi,” Royce said in a panicked voice.
Shawn tried to remain calm but it was difficult considering the tone of Royce’s voice. “What did you find out?”
“He moves in the same circles that Nat did, you know the inner circle.”
“He’s much worse than Nat. Word has it he’s in to inflicting pain, real serious pain, Shawn.”
“Good God. How will I get her to believe me?”
“He’s also penniless. We found out that he’s banking heavily on getting his hands on the Black fortune and borrowing heavily against his future wife’s assets. He is being bankrolled in his quest to marry Belle by the biggest crime family in Italy. They don’t expect him to fail, Shawn. Carlo knows that if Belle eludes him it will probably cost him his life. That is how sure he is of getting Belle under his control.”
“I’ll call Belle. Do you have anything to substantiate what you’re telling me in case she demands proof? Christ I hope she’ll even talk to me.”
“Not much, Shawn. But I’m sure I could get banking records if we needed them.”
“I’ll be in touch, Royce. I’m staying at my parent’s home in Salem. Shit, I forgot to find out if their phone number has changed.”
“Don’t worry about that. I can get the number if necessary. Please update me after you talk to Belle.”
“Will do, Royce. I’m going to call her right now. Screw the time difference.”
He pulled out his palm pilot and dialed Belle’s home number in Milan. Fuck, I must have dialed wrong. He dialed a second time and got a recording first in Italian then in English. The number he was dialing was disconnected. After dialing the third time and getting the same message he figured she must have had her number changed after he called the last time. Fuck. Who do I call next? He dialed the Basic Black offices wondering if they had a twenty four hour answering service considering it was the middle of the night in Milan. The phone rang several times before it was answered. “I need to speak to Ms. Black. This is a life or death emergency. Tell her its Shawn Brady calling,” he barked into the phone hoping the operator would pick up on the sense of urgency in his voice.
“Ms. Black no longer works out of the Milan office.”
“Ms. Black no longer works out of the Milan office.”
“I heard what you said. Which office does she work out of now?” he was momentarily stunned wondering what had caused her to leave.
“Ms. Black has taken an indefinite leave of absence.”
Oh fuck. Am I too late? Has she married that monster already? “Has she…did she…did Ms. Black marry Mr. Fabbrizzi?”
“We do not discuss personal matters…”
“I told you this is life or death. Did…she…marry?”
“Just answer the fucking question. This is important.”
“No, she did not marry Mr. Fabbrizzi. He does not know where she is either. He calls several times a day demanding to know her whereabouts but we are under strict orders not to tell him anything. Besides we have nothing to tell. We do not know where she is so please do not expect me to be able to tell you.”
Shawn’s mind was turning over possibilities at a speed that had him feeling dizzy. “Thank you. You have been very helpful.”
He dialed one other number. “Myron Tully, please. It’s Shawn Brady.”
“Mr. Tully works…”
“I know what he works. Please put me through to him. He’ll take my call.”
A few minutes later Myron was on the line. “Shawn, I can’t tell you where she is. Just trust me when I tell you that she is doing what is best for her.”
“Myron, I need to talk to her, to warn her about Carlo…”
“She knows, Shawn.”
“Is she hiding out from him?”
“Shawn, I’m not at liberty to discuss what my client is doing with you.”
“Please, I need to know…I need to talk to her…to see her…”
“I’m sorry. She gave explicit instructions…”
“She’ll talk to me, Myron. Just call her,” he knew he was begging but he had to make sure she was all right.
“Shawn, I didn’t want to tell you this but you’re leaving me no choice. She made it perfectly clear that you were the last person on this earth that she wanted to talk to. She made me swear that I would tell you nothing. She pleaded with me…I’m sorry.”
“I understand, Myron. Promise me that you’ll keep her away from Carlo.”
“I’ve already taken steps against him. You know you don’t have to ask me to look out for her. You know I’m doing that.”
“Yes, I do. As long as she is safe…”
“Shawn, she is safe and she is doing what she has to do right now. Trust me on this.”
“Thanks, Myron. Would you tell her I called?”
“I can’t. She asked me not to bring up your name…”
“I see. I’ll probably call every now and then and just check in on her through you if that is okay with you.”
“Sure. You never let me finish. She asked me not to bring up your name until she brought it up first. She just needs time, Shawn.”
Time. He would give her all the time in the world because he didn’t have a choice. He loved her. “I’ll be in touch.” He hung up the phone and grabbed his bag. He really needed to see his parents right now. Their love and support was the one thing that would stop him from falling to pieces again.
|This message has been edited by Mrs.B. on Nov 5, 2004 10:01 PM|