Chapter 36: NC-17
“Damn it,” Shawn muttered as he finally realized his attempts for resuscitation were now futile. He sighed heavily and was numb from the sound of the long, monotone beep of the heart monitor. “God damn it!” He removed his bloodied gloves and threw them down in disgust. With a hard glare at the digital clock on the wall, he sighed once again. “Time of death, 1134.”
“You did everything you could Shawn,” the anesthesiologist assured.
“It was a risk putting her on the table,” he said angrily. He sighed heavily again. ”I’m going to go talk to the family.”
Minutes later, Shawn was in a small consultation room with the patient’s husband and teenage daughter. They were visibly crushed by all that was happening and eagerly awaited the news Shawn was about to give them.
“Your wife sustained a number of internal injuries from the accident. We tried to stop the bleeding but once I got a look inside it was obvious that the damage was far more severe than originally anticipated. We did everything we could but the loss of blood was too tremendous. I’m so very sorry. There was nothing we could do.” This was never easy and as the cries of the teenage girl mixed with the quiet sobs of her father began to resonate with Shawn, he found himself taking this loss harder than any other patient. “Feel free to stay in here for as long as you need. I’m truly sorry.”
“Doctor, can we see her?” the husband asked.
“In a few minutes. When I left the OR, the nurses were preparing her for viewing. They have to move her out of the OR and once that happens you’ll be notified and can see her. It should be another five minutes or so. If there is anything you need, do not hesitate to have me paged.”
Shawn walked out with a heavy heart and decided to take a break. He couldn’t focus right now, so he made his way to administration.
“Dr. Brady, how are you this morning?” Harriet, Belle’s assistant, asked brightly. It wasn’t long until she noticed the more grim expression on his face.
“I’ve had better,” he replied honestly, “but I don’t think it can get worse. I just lost a patient, so I’m trying to clear my head.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure you’re here to talk to Ms. Black, but unfortunately she is in a meeting with the chairman of the Board. She should be finished in about thirty minutes or so. I will have her page you the moment she’s finished.”
“I appreciate that Harriet, but I don’t need her to worry about me. I’ll be alright. Let her know I stopped by and I’ll talk with her later on today.”
“Very well then Dr. Brady. I’ll let her know you were here.”
Belle had a difficult time containing her excitement as she listened to the chairman of the Board of Directors give her the news she had been long awaiting. After months of being in the interim position, the Board had decided to name her the permanent COO of University Hospital. It was a dream come true for her, and she was grateful for the opportunity.
“You’ve been doing a wonderful job Belle. We feel very lucky to have you here at University Hospital and you are making quite the name for yourself in the community. I think this is a good move for you and for the hospital.”
“Thank you. I’ve enjoyed being here and am excited about this position becoming permanent. I do appreciate your confidence. I will not let you down.”
Minutes later, Belle had finished her meeting and soon retrieved her messages from Harriet. She was glad to know that Shawn had stopped by and so she went to her office to page him and share her news with him. Before she had a chance her phone rang and it was Lexie on the other end.
“Belle I hate to bother you but I am about at my wits end and I didn’t know who else to talk to. Do you mind meeting me for lunch now?”
“Sure, what’s wrong Lexie?”
“I thought Tek and I were finding some common ground, but he has filed for divorce.”
“Oh Lexie. I’m so sorry. Sure we can talk. I just got out of a meeting and was going to see where Shawn was but I’ll be seeing him later anyway. Let’s meet in the cafeteria in about five minutes.”
Nearly ten minutes later, Lexie and Belle were already engrossed in a conversation as they sat at a table in the corner of the crowded cafeteria. “I don’t know what I’m going to do Belle. I have made such a mess of things. I’ve betrayed your trust and I’ve betrayed the trust of my husband. I thought we could get past this. We had been trying, but I don’t think Tek was ever really ready to try. I know I really shouldn’t be worrying you about this. I know you have your own things to think about. You and Shawn are so happy right now, planning your wedding and your future together. I shouldn’t be bothering you about this.”
“Don’t be silly Lexie. I’m your friend and I want to be there for you. Tell me what you need.”
“My family back. How can I get my husband back?”
“I don’t know Lexie, but we’ll figure something out. Don’t give up,” she encouraged.
“Thank you Belle, I appreciate that. Maybe we can have a girls’ night out this weekend with Mimi.”
“Wish I could but JT’s wedding is this weekend. Shawn and I are going to the rehearsal tonight and then the wedding tomorrow.”
“Oh, how is Shawn handling the loss?”
Belle looked at Lexie curiously. “What loss?”
“I’m sorry, I thought you had already talked to him. A patient who came into the ER died during surgery. I heard that Shawn took it pretty hard. I was just wondering how he’s holding up.”
“I didn’t know. This morning has been so busy for me, I haven’t even talked to him yet.”
“Well, if you want to go find him, I completely understand.”
Belle quickly had her last bite and stood up from the table. “Sorry to cut this short, but I really should find him. We’ll catch up later.” With a sense of purpose Belle left the cafeteria and decided to go into the physician’s lounge as her first stop. She was relieved to see him in there, zoning out – staring at the television and alone. The door closed and Shawn did not react to the sound. “Baby?” she softly called out to him. She smiled warmly when he glanced over his shoulder to see her approaching. Her fingers gently ran through his hair and she took a seat next to him. “I just heard. Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m much better than before. I guess it sent me into a bit of a funk, but I’m alright. I swear.”
“Ok, good,” she said with a growing smile. “I got the message that you had stopped by and then I was going to page you then Lexie called and she needed to talk so we just had lunch. Then she asked me how you were doing and that’s how I found out.”
“Is Lexie doing ok?”
“Tek filed for divorce and she doesn’t know what to do. It’s so weird. Here my friend’s marriage is falling apart and I can’t help but be ecstatic that we’re getting married. It makes you wonder sometimes why people…”
“Get married?” he interrupted.
“I guess, but it’s not what you think I’m thinking. I want to marry you, more than anything.”
“Good because I want that, too and sure what Lexie is going through is tough but that’s not going to be us. I’m not going to let anything happen to us…ever,” he said definitively.
“If we weren’t at work and I hadn’t been recently promoted, I would kiss you so hard right now.”
“There is a lot of fun in sneaking around though,” he said with a mischievous smirk. He leaned in closer then suddenly stopped. “Wait a second. Promoted?”
“I was wondering if you were going to catch that.”
“Is that what the meeting with the chairman of the Board was about?”
“Yes. I am no longer interim COO.”
“Oh sweetheart, I am so proud of you. I believe that deserves a proper congratulating,” he said as he leaned in once again only to be stopped by Belle’s hands firmly planted on his chest. “Now what?”
“Later. After the rehearsal you can have your way with me.”
“Trust me, I want you to,” she said with a look of want in her eyes that did not go unnoticed by her fiancée. “But I should get going. I will see you later tonight.”
“Alright baby. Thanks for finding me. I needed to see you more than I thought I did.”
“Sure you’re ok?”
“Mm-hmm. We can talk some more tonight… that is, after I’ve had my way with you.”
Belle smiled in response. “Ok sweetie. I’ll see you later.”
St. Luke’s Church was buzzing with activity as the wedding rehearsal was well underway. Belle was staying busy in the back with Hope and Caroline who were putting on the finishing touches decorating the church. In the midst of her ribbon tying, Belle would look upward toward the altar and would catch a glimpse of the wedding party rehearsing for tomorrow. She was unable to keep her eyes off of one person in particular, who stood next to the groom and would be a groom himself in only a matter of months. When Shawn happen to glance away from what was happening and caught Belle in her stare he gave her a wink and that smirk she loved.
“Sure you don’t want to make this a double wedding?”
Belle was snapped out of her thoughts and turned to see Hope giving her a knowing look. “I’m sure.”
Hope laughed as she watched her future daughter-in-law look away somewhat guiltily. “Well, I’ll tell you one thing. This has become such a great year for the family. First JT and Diana and then you and Shawn in a few months, I hope I can hold onto Zack for a little longer.” She looked up at the altar, and Belle followed her gaze to watch the rehearsal once again. “I must say that seeing the three of them up there together makes me feel proud. They’ve all grown to become good men, like their father. I have loved seeing them grow up and become their own men. There’s something about having sons, but I am so relieved to finally have daughters.”
Belle smiled and put her arm around Hope. “Thank you. I’m excited about becoming a Brady.”
“We are, too.”
“Well, I guess I should get back to work. There are plenty more ribbons to tie.”
As the rehearsal wound down, and Belle finished up her decorating assignments, she found herself easily amused by Madison, JT and Diana’s two-year-old who was running around the church in excitement. Belle took a seat on one of the middle pews and waited patiently for Shawn to finish up. She was tickled when he began to play with his niece, tickling her mercilessly before picking her up, holding her in his strong arms and covering her cheeks with kisses. Madison giggled and spoke to her uncle in a mixture of words and her own babble. He walked with her down the aisle and took a seat next to Belle on the pew.
“Madison, say hi to your Aunt Belle,” he told her and watched the little girl as she became mesmerized by the gold cross that hung around his neck. Her tiny fingers clutched it and Shawn carefully removed her paws from it before she tugged on it a little too hard. Her exploratory hands soon found something else, his nose, which she squeezed. Shawn made funny faces in response, causing her to laugh.
“You’re very good with her,” Belle commented.
“For some reason I have always had a knack with children. Maybe because my brothers are so much younger than me, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you one thing, being around kids definitely helps me keep perspective on things. After the morning I had, little Madison has helped me realize how important it is to cherish moments like this with family.”
Belle watched him closely as he kept his attention on his young niece. She ran her fingers along his dark hair, and studied his profile closely. “I’m lucky to have you,” she said softly.
Shawn turned his head to face her and gazed adoringly into her eyes. He moved in closer and grinned when she leaned in. Soon their lips met for a sweet kiss. “I’m luckier,” he whispered.
The bed had never rocked in such a way before. Shawn drove into Belle to the hilt every time so that she didn’t know where she began and where he ended. He wreaked havoc on her senses, turning all five into one. She tasted, smelled, touched, heard, and saw only Shawn. He knelt on the bed, gripping her hips in his hands to keep her locked to him as he moved strongly while she lay before him. His eyes surveyed her body, hardened nipples begging for his mouth.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling herself up. She held his gaze with her own and bit her lip as she teetered on the edge of yet another orgasm. Her fingers threaded through his dark locks and tugged on them. She gasped then let out a shuddering cry as she climaxed. She fell down onto the bed, her head hanging off the edge of the bed as Shawn continued to ravage her. He lowered himself down and his mouth took possession of hers for a hungry kiss. His tongue met hers for a series of duels as he continued to push her on the edge.
Feeling limp beneath him, Shawn’s dark orbs stared at the unraveled goddess. “Stay with me baby,” he panted. “I’m almost there,” he groaned.
Belle held onto him, her fingers digging into his back and a moan escaping her lips. He latched onto her breast, his tongue swirling against the rose colored tip. She whimpered his name, knowing he was nearing his peak as his pace quickened.
He called out her name and with a few powerful thrusts he released inside her. He collapsed down onto her and covered her mouth for a series of sipping kisses. They were hanging off the bed with Belle’s head practically touched the floor. Feeling like they were further slipping off, Shawn placed his hands firmly on the ground. “How in the hell did we end up in this position?” he asked in a chuckle.
Belle giggled at seeing their awkward situation. “That’s what you get for trying something new.”
He now carried a smug expression. “Did you like it?”
“Couldn’t you tell?” she laughed. “But I need to get up. The blood is beginning to rush to my head.”
Shawn laughed and eased himself up then helped Belle get up, pulling her on top of him. “Come here.” He held her face gently in his hand and moved his other hand lazily down the length of her spine. “You are so beautiful.” He gazed devotedly into her eyes. “Even when the blood rushes to your head.”
Belle playfully swatted him on the chest and laughed. “I thought we were going to fall down to the ground at one point. That was amazing. You’re amazing! I guess I have to let you have your way with me more often,” she teased.
Shawn chuckled as he continued to run his fingers along her silken tresses. “I love you,” he whispered. His lips locked with hers tenderly and she eagerly returned the kiss that slowly deepened.
“Love you, too,” she murmured as their lips continued to meet. “But I am in desperate need of a glass of water.” She tried to get up but Shawn had a pretty good hold around her. “Shawn, please,” she pouted.
“Ok,” he said and patted her lightly on the rear. “Hurry back.” He watched Belle get up, grab his shirt that was nearby and put it on before heading downstairs. Minutes later they were back in bed, snuggling under the sheets this time around. “Feeling better?”
“Hmm, yes. I’m starting to get the feeling back.”
“Everywhere,” Belle laughed.
“I’m sorry. I’ll be gentler next time.”
“You better not be.” She held on to him tighter, savoring the moment together. “What time do you have to pick up JT?”
“About 11:00. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow. I guess it’ll give me some practice for our big day, in a way. Were you jotting down some notes?”
“Maybe a few dos and don’ts. But I did find myself fantasizing about our wedding and afterward.”
“You mean the honeymoon?”
“No, I mean our future as husband and wife. I really started thinking about it when I saw Madison running around. She’s so adorable, and seeing you with her made me think how cute you would be if we had a daughter. She would have you wrapped around her little finger.”
“A daughter, huh? I think I’d like that a lot, especially if she’s as beautiful as you.”
“You are such a sweet talker,” she smiled.
Shawn grinned at the thought. “I think that would be great. Son or daughter, but a little girl,” he sighed happily. “Of course she won’t be allowed to date until let’s see… until she’s about thirty or so. That sounds about right.”
Belle easily dismissed his thought process. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. At this point all we need to figure out is if we should wait a little while to try and have a baby.”
“I don’t know. Part of me says we shouldn’t wait, but I sort of want to have a little fun first before we start a family. What do you think?”
“I sort of think the same way except seeing what Rex and Mimi have gone through, it’s obvious that there is no real perfect time. The way I figure, I’m supposed to have my next shot in August and I’m thinking about not getting that one. We can let nature run its course. Unless you think that’s too soon.”
“No, the timing is good since it’ll take a while for it to get out of your system anyway, so it’ll take a month or two at least before conception is really possible,” he deduced. “I think that’s a good idea. We are obviously in a position to give a child everything he or she could ever want or need. Besides, I hate to say it but we’re not getting any younger.”
“Well, then don’t say it.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do. I know exactly what you mean.” She turned onto her side and Shawn moved close behind her. Holding her close, he skimmed his lips against her shoulder. “Still want five or six kids?” she teased.
Shawn raised himself up and looked down at her. “When did I ever say that?”
“How soon we forget,” she stated. “It was quite a few months ago, after Gavin was born and we were talking one night in bed. You confessed that you had never really thought much about having children before being with me. I asked you how many you wanted and you cheekily answered five or six.”
“I remember and you jokingly asked me who I planned on having all those kids with. Well, I don’t want that many, maybe four or five instead,” he said and instantly felt her elbow in his gut. “You better watch that elbow. If it went down a few more inches, I might not be able to ever get you pregnant. So watch it.”
“Or what?” Belle asked almost threateningly.
Shawn turned her around and he quickly hovered above her. “Do I need to have my way with you again?” he warningly questioned. He watched her bite her lip and flash a faux pair of innocent eyes in response. He looked her over curiously and a slow grin emerged. “How’s your head?”
Dr. Todd McKenzie was exhausted after a long day in the lab and was grateful that he didn’t have to wait long for the elevator. Rushing inside he chuckled to himself at seeing Jan Spears inside. The doors closed and he pressed the already lit “1” button.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“It’s going,” she answered, obviously not in the mood to carry on a conversation.
Todd looked at her, his exhaustion suddenly not an issue. “Have plans for the weekend?”
“No, and whatever you are going to suggest I am not interested,” she answered.
“Ouch Jan. I wasn’t going to ask you out, I was only curious, that’s all. I mean, we haven’t dated for nearly two years. Can’t we at least be civil towards each other?”
“Sorry,” she mumbled. “I guess we could be,” she agreed and seemed to have a sudden change of heart. “Do you have plans this weekend?”
“Not really. If you have no plans now, would you like to go get a drink and maybe grab a bite to eat? As friends,” he added.
“I don’t know. I’ve had a long day and I’m a little tired. I probably won’t be good company.”
“Suit yourself,” Todd dismissed. The elevator doors opened and Todd watched Jan walk out before him. He walked out and noticed Jan’s whole countenance change when they both saw Shawn and Belle walking through the lobby, leaving for the day. Todd had only recently learned of their engagement. It had apparently been hospital gossip for quite some time before he heard the news. He was personally happy for them, but the sour expression now swept across Jan’s face indicated to him that her infatuation with Shawn had not come close to dissipating.
“How about that drink?” she suddenly asked.
“Jan, when are you going to let the silly notion of you having a chance with Shawn go? It’s not going to happen. He and Belle are engaged. They’re going to get married. You can’t stop that from happening.”
“She’s all wrong for him.”
“How do you know? You don’t even know Belle.”
“You do. Doesn’t it bother you that she is with him?”
“No,” he answered.
Jan gave him a disbelieving look. With an eyebrow raised she studied him carefully.
“Months ago I was bothered, now I’m happy for her. I could not give her what she wanted and needed. It’s because I know her and care for her that I know that Shawn is the better man for her. I do not take it personally by any means. I’m still waiting for my Ms. Right.”
“I certainly hope you don’t think I’m her.”
Todd smiled. “Let’s go have that drink.”
“Alright,” she agreed. With a slightly bemused expression on her face, she thought that perhaps she could make him an ally in her quest to have Shawn to herself. In their brief conversation, Jan believed that Todd still harbored feelings for Belle. She hoped she could persuade him that he still had a chance with Ms. Black. Jan was now more determined than ever to have Dr. Brady.
Belle sat up in her bed with a bridal magazine in front of her, flipping through it as she heard Shawn brushing his teeth. They had both had a full day, actually a full week and they were grateful to be able to finally relax and spend time together. Engaged for six weeks and now four months from the wedding, the preparations were well underway. As of the day before, Belle had hired a wedding consultant who was already handling the pesky details and focusing on particulars Belle hadn’t even thought of yet. He was flamboyant, energetic, well connected, reliable, and Harold also came with a high price, but to Belle he was definitely worth it.
Shawn walked out of the bathroom, his pajama pants comfortably fitting along his waist. His bare feet padded along the carpeted floor and he soon stretched himself out on the bed. Lying on his stomach, he propped himself up on his elbows and looked at Belle as she glanced through the magazine.
“Is he really worth all that money?” Shawn asked. He wasn’t nearly as convinced that Harold was a great choice or that they actually needed a consultant. “I mean no one in my family has ever used an outside person. Can’t you have my mom help out or something?”
With a sigh, Belle stopped her perusal and glared at Shawn. “Why are you being so difficult about this?”
“Didn’t realize I was being difficult. I thought you wanted to plan our wedding, not someone else.”
“All he’s doing is the ground work and making my life easier. Trust me, we are still planning our wedding, Harold is just going to help move things along to reduce my stress level which will in turn reduce your stress level.”
Shawn didn’t look all too convinced, but he did understand her wish to have help and decided to drop it for now. He continued to watch her, his eyes growing darker as he watched her become more engrossed in the bridal magazine. His gaze shifted down along her body, to the short end of her nightshirt revealing her perfectly toned thighs and sculpted stems down to her pink painted toes. He moved a little closer and glided his fingertips along her silky leg. She continued to read the magazine as he slowly began his perusal. His fingers were soon replaced by the palm of his hand easing along her skin.
“You’d be proud of what I did today,” Shawn told her, not stopping his exploration.
“Oh yeah?” Belle asked, not looking up from the magazine.
“Yep. I went to visit Lucas.”
At that, Belle stopped looking through the magazine and brought her attention to her fiancé. “You did?” she asked in surprise.
“Yes, I did. He’s now at the rehab center as you know and I was a little curious about it, so I had some time this afternoon and decided to take a trip. I was going to tell you but you were in meetings all day.”
Belle watched him with growing intrigue. “So…?”
“So,” he continued while his hand ended its perusal and rested on her knee. “I went to the center and I happened to get there at a time when he was not in a session. It’s sort of an interesting place. Anyway, Lucas and I talked. We talked about his sentence and he told me he didn’t see the sense in fighting it when he knew he had done a terrible thing. He apologized for what he did to us. It was a very sincere apology. It was like for the first time I truly understand everything you had been trying to tell me while I was trying to cope with all that was happening. It hit me while I was there listening to him, clearly so humbled by everything that has happened.”
“How do you feel?”
“It’s sort of weird but I feel pretty much at peace, finally. So much so that I decided that I want to talk with Abe and let him know that I forgive him for what he’s done. Not that he needs my forgiveness but I want to put this behind us completely and concentrate on our future together.”
Belle was more than impressed. “I am very proud of you Shawn.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty proud of me, too,” he grinned.
With a smile and a gentle ruffling of his hair, Belle then picked up the magazine she had previously flipped through. “When are you going to talk to Abe?” she asked, her eyes now focused on the magazine.
“Don’t know yet, maybe sometime this weekend.” His hand began to move along her leg once more. “What are you looking at? Wedding dresses or something?”
Belle’s gaze didn’t leave the pages of the publication. “I’m trying to get some ideas for the bridesmaids’ dresses particularly. As for my dress, I’ve given Harold some ideas and we’re meeting with a designer Monday morning.”
“You’re designing your dress?”
“Yes,” she answered, her eyes finally looking up from the glossy pages.
“Why? Can’t you get something in a store or something.”
“I could but I want to look absolutely perfect for you,” she answered.
His fingers inched upward along her thigh slowly raising the material of her nightshirt. “You always look perfect to me baby.” His dark eyes became transfixed on his fingers dancing along her upper thigh. As her clothing lifted he soon caught a glimpse of her yellow panties. He gave them a little tug and promptly felt Belle’s hand on top of his. With a smirk and narrow eyes he looked at her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked, instantly finding herself turned on by the feel of his masterful hands inching along her inner thigh.
He snapped the elastic of her underwear and watched the blue eyes he loved turn three shades darker in that instant. “I’m doing a little wedding preparation of my own.” He noticed the curious expression on Belle’s face, then chuckled when she squealed as he swiftly moved his hands on her waist and pulled her downward toward him so she was no longer sitting up. The action caused her pajamas to roll up her body. His fingers hooked under the elastic of her panties and he grinned mischievously. “I’m practicing for our wedding night.”
Early Saturday morning, Mimi woke up not feeling her best. Ever since she learned of her pregnancy, she had been trying her best to take it easy, but for her that was a difficult task. Her mind was constantly filled with worry about the situation. Stretching under the covers, she turned to see Rex already out of bed. It wasn’t long after that she heard the familiar sounds of the house coming from downstairs. Soon, she got up, put on her robe and was heading downstairs.
Rex multitasked in the kitchen, feeding five-month-old Gavin while he fixed his own breakfast. Listening to Gavin’s coos and babbles, he thought how wonderful it would be to have another baby in the house. He loved being a father and spending time with his son.
“Here you go buddy,” Rex said while he fed Gavin another spoonful. He chuckled when he watched Gavin smack his lips happily and proceed to talk to his father with a series of babbles. He reached for his toes, happy and ready for more.
“Good morning sweetie,” Mimi said as she walked into the kitchen. “How are my favorite guys doing this morning?”
“We are great,” Rex told her after giving Gavin another helping. “How are you doing this morning?” he asked as she approached them. He greeted her with a sweet morning kiss.
“I’m hanging in there,” she shrugged.
“Well, have a seat. Breakfast is almost ready.”
Mimi didn’t immediately acquiesce. Grabbing a wet wipe, she promptly cleaned up Gavin, who made up his face as she did so, but he was once again smiling when she picked him up and kissed his chubby cheeks. “I could eat you up my little sweet pea!” she gushed.
Minutes later, Rex put the food on the table and the two of them ate their breakfast. Rex watched her, holding Gavin and picking at her food.
“Not what you want?” he asked.
“No, that’s not it, I don’t have much of an appetite I’m afraid. I sort of feel like what’s the point of eating when it’s not going to stay down.”
Rex reached out to her, holding her hand in his. “Tell me what you want sweetheart.”
With a faint smile in response, Mimi was moved by her husband’s obvious worry. “I have everything I want. I just need to get pass this…” her voice suddenly faded and she tensed.
“Mimi?” Rex questioned, clearly panicked.
“Take Gavin,” she eked out. Wincing in pain, she feared the worst as the sharp stabbing pain radiated throughout her lower abdomen.
Rex grabbed Gavin and put him down in the baby seat. He immediately focused his attention on his wife. “I’m taking you to the hospital.”
Hours later, Rex and Mimi’s worse fears were not realized when the doctor assured them that the baby was fine. “What happened?” Rex asked the physician. He sat by Mimi’s side, her hand clutching his.
“You could call it a false alarm.”
“What would you call it,” Rex snapped, his frustration and anger becoming more apparent.
“I would call it a false alarm,” the physician answered. “There’s really no explanation. I wish I could give you a reason, but I can’t. My suggestion is that you see your OB as soon as you can. I’m going to go ahead and let you go, but take it easy. Rest. That’s the best advice I can give you right now. Take your time to get yourself ready.”
“Thank you,” Rex muttered, not happy with the lack of news they received. Once the physician left them, he focused his attention completely on Mimi. Touching her cheek gently he looked her over and his heart broke when he saw her eyes well up with tears. “Shh, sweetheart,” he whispered, brushing his lips against her forehead.
“I don’t know if I can do this Rex,” she wept.
“Yes, you can.” His eyes locked on hers and he repeated sternly, “Yes, you can. You are the strongest woman I know and I know you are going to move heaven and earth to hold on to this baby. I can only imagine how you’re feeling and what you are going through, but I promise that I will do everything in my power to help you fight. This is our time for a miracle,” he declared. ”Believe that.”
“That was a great concert,” Brady commented. Driving his luxury two-seater through the streets of Salem, he glanced over to his side to his beautiful date keeping her gorgeous eyes on him.
“It was fabulous. Thank you so much for getting tickets – front row at that.”
“Nothing but the best for you. So, where to now?”
“Your place,” Chloe answered seductively.
“I certainly don’t feel like going to my place and having to sneak you by my roommates, and then sneak you out in the morning.”
“That’s an awful lot of sneaking around that you’re envisioning.”
“Is that a problem?” she asked.
Stopped at a traffic light, Brady looked over at her once more and could see the growing need in her eyes. “No, but I’m thinking that it’s late and maybe I should take you home.”
“It’s not late and I don’t want to go home, I want to spend the night with you,” she stated seriously. “Now, I’m going to ask again, is that a problem?”
“Chloe, I… I don’t know,” he muttered.
Chloe sighed heavily. “Brady, don’t you want me?”
“More than anything, but I don’t want to complicate things.”
“Complicate things?” she questioned incredulously.
Brady struggled to find the words. “I don’t mean complicate, I just… I mean, I care about you and I like what we have and I don’t want to jeopardize that. I think we’re at a good place right now. I…” he was suddenly interrupted by the horn of the car behind him honking. He looked upward and saw that the light was now green. He pressed on the gas and they were once again zooming down the street. “Chloe, you’ve got to understand my need to take this slow.”
“How slow Brady, because we have been together for two and a half months. I have been patient and I understand your hesitation. I know that this is scary for you, putting your feelings out there and opening up to me. I want to be with you and I see such a great future for us, but if you don’t want to get out of your comfort zone then what future do we have?” Her question was met with silence, but she received her answer when he didn’t turn down her street and headed into the direction of his home. She decided not to say anything further and they sat in silence for quite some time, until she heard Brady mumble something. “What did you say?” she asked.
“I don’t want to lose you,” he muttered.
“You won’t,” she assured.
A few minutes later they entered his home. Brady locked the door, threw his keys onto the small table in the foyer and the moment he turned around, Chloe took possession of his mouth with her own for a searing kiss. He looked at her in amazement. “I am falling so hard for you.”
“Then let’s go upstairs,” she suggested.
“Are you sure?” he asked, his eyes staring at her seriously. “Because if we go upstairs and I make love to you, I don’t think I will ever want to let you go.”
“That’s all I want. I’ve never been more sure of anything. I need you tonight Brady.”
“And I need you,” he murmured against her lips. He kissed her passionately and wantonly. The heat rose between them and he lifted her up in his arms. Carrying her up the stairs they eventually made it to his bedroom and fell onto the bed together, expressing their love for each other.
Hours later, Brady suddenly woke up, his eyes staring widely at the ceiling. He felt Chloe next to him, her head on his chest and her arm around him. He took a deep breath, but that did not calm him and he began to sweat, his heart beating rapidly. He eased out of Chloe’s hold and sat up in the bed, swinging his feet around so they were firmly planted on the wooden floor.
He took another deep breath, trying to push the images out of his mind and wanting so badly to concentrate on the beautiful moment he had shared with Chloe. He held his head in his hands, desperate to get rid of the demons in his life. It had been ages since he had a good night’s sleep. So long that he couldn’t remember the last time he had been able to sleep the whole night through.
Soon, he felt a soft hand move up his back and touch his shoulder gently. He looked over his shoulder to see Chloe looking at him in concern.
“I’m sorry I woke you,” he said softly.
“What’s wrong?” she asked groggily.
“Nothing. I always have a hard time sleeping the whole night through,” he explained. “Go back to sleep. I’ll be alright.”
Chloe shook her head in disagreement. “If you can’t sleep, I’ll personally make sure you get exhausted,” she said, the grogginess in her voice beginning to dissipate. She touched his cheek, guiding him to her as their lips locked. “Come back to bed.”
Brady moaned, unable to resist her advances. He turned around and lowered himself on top of Chloe. Feeling her fingers comb through his hair, he deepened the kiss. “Exhaustion is a good thing,” he mumbled as he desperately tried to rid himself of the memories that constantly haunted his thoughts.
Lexie and Tek glared at each other from across the large conference room table in the law office of Autry, Kerner and Associates. Their lawyers spoke to each other on their behalves. The divorce had dragged on much longer than either had anticipated, all for one reason.
“My client will not agree to only seeing her children on the weekends,” Lexie’s lawyer, Arlene Collins argued. “This proposal is completely unacceptable. Joint custody, nothing less.”
“Due to the nature of your client’s profession, it will be harder to establish a consistent pattern for the children. My client works a regular 9-to-5 job and will be able to provide the children a more stable environment.”
“That’s not true,” Lexie said, obviously hurt that Tek would ever allow his lawyer to say such a thing. “You know that is not true Tek.”
“Lexie,” Arlene intervened. “Let me handle this.”
“No, I cannot be quiet when they are basing their argument on a lie. Tek works crazy hours just like I do. The fact of the matter it is my mother who picks up the kids from daycare and watches them and often fixes them dinner before either one of us gets home. Yes, I work long days but I also don’t work every day. I work 3 12 hour shifts, sometimes 4 and I can always change that arrangement if need be. It’s unfair to say I cannot provide a stable life for our children. I don’t want this divorce, but if you insist we go through with this, don’t make me give up custody of the kids. That is completely unfair to me and to them.”
“Are you finished Dr. Kramer,” Tek’s lawyer Luther Edwards spat disdainfully.
“Don’t talk to her like that,” Tek spoke up. “She doesn’t deserve that. She doesn’t deserve this,” he muttered, almost incoherently.
Lexie realized in that instant that their marriage was far from over.
“Sounds like you need to speak with your client further, Mr. Edwards,” Arlene said smugly. “Should we schedule another meeting for when you bring forth a more fair and just proposal?”
“We will finish this now,” Luther argued.
“No we won’t,” Tek said. “I need time to think about this some more.”
“But…” Luther tried to argue further.
“I said, we’re finished,” Tek asserted. “Sorry to waste everyone’s time,” he muttered and stood up from the table. He walked out of the room, surprising everyone, especially Lexie who immediately went after him.
“Thomas!” she called out to him. She was relieved when he stopped and turned around to face her. Rushing to him, she was overcome with concern when she noticed the sullen look on his face.
“Lexie, I’m sorry. Luther shouldn’t have spoken to you that way. He was out of line.”
“It’s alright. I’m not worried about him. I am worried about you though. Can we talk?” she asked wishfully.
“Maybe another time. I’m a little confused about what I want.”
“Can I at least as you a question?”
“Do you still love me?”
“Lex,” he sighed.
“Tell me, please.”
He paused a moment. “Yes, I do. I will never stop loving you Alexandra, but I don’t think that is enough. I need time.”
“Don’t shut me out. Please, Tek. I love you very much. Let’s try and make this work.”
“I want that, but I need to figure things out. I need time.”
“Well we can’t very well live in two separate houses,” Shawn argued.
“Don’t be ridiculous Shawn. I never said that. All I said was I think we should buy a house together, instead of me moving into your place.”
“But my house is big enough. Why can’t we make a life together there and make it our own?”
“Because it’s yours. I want to make a fresh start. At least let’s see what is on the market right now. We can get a bigger place. If we’re thinking about not waiting to start a family, we should have a place that is more kid friendly.”
“And you don’t think we could raise a family in my house?”
“That’s the thing. It will always be your house. I want us to have our house.”
“Now you’re getting hung up on semantics. I don’t get it. You did help me decorate it.”
“Sure when we were friends and you needed a hand and I was not thinking it would ever become my home. The house is decorated in your taste, not mine and besides, have you forgotten how much furniture and stuff I have? Where is all of that going to go?” she asked and watched him concentrate on the question for a longer period than she expected.
Shawn stared at the road ahead, his mind swimming with a number of thoughts. Belle had a lot of high-class items that she wouldn’t give up all too easily. He knew that and he also knew that combining their belongings wouldn’t work in his house.
“Well, we can’t keep all of it. I’m willing to give up some of my things to make room for some of yours… wherever we decide to make room,” he added. He could see Belle’s smile grow steadily out of the corner of his eye. “We’ll give my realtor a call. She was really good about helping me find my place and I know she’ll show us some good options.”
“That sounds like a good plan. Thank you. It’s all about compromise right?”
“And you always getting your way,” he said teasingly.
“I do not.”
A loud guffaw escaped from Shawn without thought. “Who are you trying to fool?” he laughed.
Belle pouted slightly. “I do not always get my way Shawn.”
“Alright fine, you don’t always get your way,” he conceded. “But I hope you realize that by me agreeing with you, you have once again gotten your way.” He chuckled again when she huffed in response. “But anyway, how’s Brady doing? Haven’t seen much of him lately.”
“Neither have I,” Belle told him. “He called me earlier in the office to let me know that Chloe has a small concert this weekend so he’s been helping her prepare for that.”
“So when and where is the concert?”
“You want to go?” Belle asked in surprise.
“Don’t you plan on going?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged.
Shawn took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Belle, you do realize that you need to learn how to get along with Chloe. Supporting her performance is one way to let bygones be bygones. It will also let Brady know that you support not only Chloe but their relationship.” He glanced over and saw her teeth worrying her bottom lip while she stared out the window. “Is it really that tough?”
After a pause, Belle finally answered. “It’s not tough. Honestly, I like Chloe. I like her effect on my brother, but it is hard for me Shawn. It’s hard to explain.”
“Try me. You know you can tell me anything.”
“I know,” she said, and paused once again before continuing. “I have always been the one that Brady turned to, it has been like that since we were children. I’m happy that he has found someone that he cares about. Someone who can easily look beyond the mistakes of his past and see what a great person he is.”
“But, I don’t know. I’m being selfish about this I know.”
“No you’re not. You are protective of your brother, just like I’m protective of my family and as much as you know that Chloe is good for Brady you can’t help but be a bit skeptical. However, have you ever thought that it goes both ways? If you’re used to Brady coming to you, I’m sure he’s used to you coming to him and now our relationship has changed that a little.”
“That’s a good point.”
“And the other thing is Brady and I get along now but in the beginning, to him I was the man in his sister’s life and I knew that if I messed up just once I would have hell to pay from him.” He pulled into the driveway of his great grandmother’s home and as he parked the car, he looked over at Belle. “I bet Chloe realizes the same thing. She doesn’t want to get in the way of your brother-sister bond, but at the same time she loves your brother and wants to see their relationship grow.”
“That’s a great point sweetie. I’ve never really thought about it like that before. You can be awfully wise.”
“I owe that wonderful insight to gran. We should get inside.” Shawn quickly got out of the SUV and made his way around, opening Belle’s door and helping her out.
“Out of curiosity, when we’re married will you still be so chivalrous?”
“I believe in always making a lady feel special, especially my lady. If you don’t want me to open your door and everything else, that’s too bad. I was a teenager when my great grandpa Tom passed away, but he always taught me the importance of treating a woman with respect and to put her first. My memories of him with Gran stay with me. I’m afraid you’ll have to deal with this treatment for the rest of our lives.”
“I am definitely not complaining,” Belle smiled.
Shawn gave her a wink and took her hand in his as they walked along the short path to the front door. Before Shawn’s finger pressed the doorbell, the door opened and Alice was quick to usher the couple inside.
“Come in, come in,” she said eagerly. Belle greeted her with a hug and kiss and Shawn followed, greeting his great grandmother in the same way. “I am so glad to see you two. I am so pleased that you took time out of your busy schedules to have dinner with me.”
“Gran, you know we couldn’t turn down an offer to spend time with you,” Shawn said with his signature charming grin. He inhaled deeply. “Something smells wonderful.”
“Dinner is almost ready. You two go into the living room and relax,” she urged.
“Is there anything we can help you with Mrs. Horton?” Belle asked.
“No dear, and please call me Gran. You are family now.”
“Well Gran, as family I insist that I help you in the kitchen and Shawn is excellent at setting the table.”
“What? You’re putting me to work?” Shawn questioned, acting surprised.
“I see there is no arguing with you,” Alice said with a jovial laugh.
“You are very right Gran,” Shawn said. “I learned that lesson the hard way.”
Belle playfully pointed her finger at Shawn. “Watch it,” she teasingly warned.
Alice laughed at the interaction. “Come on you two. I can always use some extra hands.”
Minutes later, the three of them sat around the dining table enjoying dinner. They fell into an easy conversation, relishing one another’s company. Alice was always delighted to spend time with her great grandson and his fiancée. From the moment she met Belle, Alice knew that she was a special young woman who would have a profound affect on Shawn. Watching the two of them reminded her so much of her life with her late husband.
“Gran, I was telling Belle as we were getting out of the car that Grandpa Tom used to always tell me that chivalry wasn’t dead. I was only a kid when he told me but it’s stuck with me over the years.”
“Yes, Tom always believed in doing the little things and he taught our sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons those lessons.”
“How long were you and Dr. Horton married?” Belle asked.
“We had been married 52 years when my Tom passed away.”
“Wow! You must have been a very young bride Gran,” Belle smiled.
“I was 20 and Tom was 21 when we married. Tom was my high school crush. He was Mr. Popularity in school, a star baseball pitcher and valedictorian of his class and I was one of many girls who had a crush on him. He was so handsome and charming.”
Belle smiled as she listened in awe of the tale. She was so moved by the way Alice spoke of her late husband as if their courtship had only recently occurred. “Now, when did he become more than a crush?” Belle asked curiously.
Alice laughed to herself, easily remembering that time nearly 75 years ago. “During my senior year of high school, my best friend at the time, Marybeth Jennings was dating Jackson Lewis who played baseball at Salem University. He was a sophomore, pre-med and good friends with Tom who was a freshman, also pre-med and played baseball, too. See, I was quite shy when I was a girl and Marybeth practically dragged me to one of the baseball games to see Jack play. Jack was a catcher and Tom a pitcher, but he didn’t play that game. He was in the… oh dear, what do you call it Shawn Douglas, where all the players sit?”
“The dugout Gran,” Shawn answered.
“Yes, that’s it. He was sitting in the dugout and I was honestly quite bored with the game so I was looking around quite a bit. My attention finally went to the dugout and there I saw Tom. I hadn’t seen him since he graduated from Salem High and he looked even better than he did in high school. I was even more surprised to see him staring right at me. I looked away in embarrassment, thinking I had been caught, but I looked up again and he was still staring at me. When I blushed once again, I saw him smile and I knew at that moment that my life would never be the same again.”
“Aww,” Belle gushed. “That is so romantic! So what happened next?” she eagerly asked.
Alice was amused by Belle’s enthusiasm. “After the game, Marybeth was very much preoccupied with Jackson, so I waited patiently, standing near the bleachers. The field was practically empty with only a few people around and I hadn’t seen Tom anymore so I thought he had already left. Much to my surprise he snuck up on me from behind by tapping on my shoulder. When I turned – completely startled, he was grinning from ear to ear. As I said earlier, I was a shy girl and to be so close to him was very difficult for me. I looked down bashfully, and he placed a finger under my chin so I would look up at him and then he simply said, ‘that’s better Alice.’ In that instant, Tom gave me the self-confidence that I had never had and also, I had no idea that he even knew me. I managed to say hello and asked him how he knew my name. He told me that he remembered me from high school, which was a complete surprise since I was what you would consider a wallflower at the time. It wasn’t very late, but I had to be home within the hour so Tom suggested that we go to the local diner for ice cream along with Jackson and Marybeth. That was unofficially our first date. Afterward, he walked me home and asked me out. I was unsure, but he was persistent. We courted for over two years when Tom proposed, we got married almost a year later. The next year Tom graduated from the University and we had already started our family.”
“You know, Grandpa Tom had a chance to play professional baseball, but he was dedicated to becoming a physician and helping others. He was a great pitcher,” Shawn said excitedly. “He would show me these old pictures of him with his team and he loved baseball. But his father was a doctor and he wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
“He also wanted a more stable life for us and our family,” Alice added. “The baseball life wasn’t ultimately for him or us.”
“That is so amazing,” Belle said in wonderment. “I can’t believe you were every shy,” she said causing them all to laugh.
“Yeah, that is a hard one to believe Gran,” Shawn agreed.
“It was so long ago. But that is what love can do,” Alice commented. “Tom was a persistent man. He saw something in me, he believed in me when I often times didn’t believe in myself. I always felt tremendously blessed to have a man as wonderful as Tom to have that amount of faith in me. He treated me with respect and as an equal at a time when it was not customary for men to view women that way. I see what I had with my Tom in you two.”
Shawn touched Belle’s hand that rested on the table, and squeezed it gently. “Really Gran?” he asked.
“Most definitely Shawn Douglas. You are very much like your great grandfather. You have the same passion for medicine and helping others, and you are a good man. Honorable, dedicated and very persistent.”
“Sometimes to a fault,” Shawn added jokingly. “But you know the one thing that I wish for is that when Belle and I get married that we have an amazing life like you and Grandpa Tom.”
“As long as you love, respect and honor one another, you will. Family first,” she said warningly. “Despite Tom’s schedule and accomplishments, he made a point of having dinner with the family, helping the kids with their homework, tucking them in at night and communicating everything with me. Now, in this day and age I cannot make this one-sided. Belle, I know you like to spend long days at the hospital. You need to keep things in perspective, too.”
“Yes Gran. Shawn and I have talked about that a little bit already. We want to have children, but we have crazy schedules sometimes and we know we need to get a better handle on it so we can keep those priorities in order.”
“Well, don’t take too much time getting them in order. I can’t wait to become a great-great-grandmother!”
Belle’s head was tucked under Shawn’s chin. She lay on top of him, sharing an intimate moment. Savoring the feel of his lean fingers moving along her bare back, she sighed in contentment while she reflected on the day. “Gran is a remarkable person.”
“Yeah, she is. It was quite a compliment that we remind her of her and Grandpa Tom.”
“It certainly is. They were married over 50 years. That is so amazing. Hopefully we will be so lucky.”
“Of course we will be. Sitting on the porch, drinking lemonade, surrounded by our grandkids and great grandkids.”
“Let’s focus on getting married first before we think of the great grands.”
“Deal.” He kissed her head gently and smirked when she raised her head and her eyes locked on his.
“We should try and have dinner with Gran more often. We can invite her over next time.”
“Sure. That’s a good idea,” he said then suddenly chuckled. “I can’t believe Gran was ever a shy girl.”
“Neither can I. She certainly doesn’t shy away from any conversation. After all, she was the first person to ask me about our sex life.”
“She what…?” Shawn asked in shock.
“I never told you?”
“I think I would remember that,” he grumbled. “When did this conversation take place? And most importantly, why?”
“Oh, months ago,” she said cavalierly. “It was after our first night together and everyone in your family seemed to know that we had made love for the first time. She asked me about our weekend and I told her we had a wonderful time, open conversation and all that. Her response was to say that we must have done more than talked and that we had a sexual tension that could have been cut through with a knife.”
Shawn chuckled easily in response. “She was right. It was getting pretty bad before we finally hooked up. I was unsure of how to tell you how I felt. I thought you only wanted friendship from me.”
“How long did you feel that way?”
“Can’t pin point a certain time. All I know is there was a time when you were still with Todd that I didn’t want you with Todd and I couldn’t really understand why. I didn’t think I would necessarily be better for you, but I felt like I could make you happy. As our friendship grew I knew that I always wanted to be in your life. Then after your birthday and then our time in Chicago at the conference, before the accident, I knew I had fallen in love with you. I have always been attracted to you, and it threw me that you didn’t feel that way about me from the beginning. After all, before you I was quite the ladies man.”
“Yes, I have heard the stories.”
“What have you heard?” Shawn quickly asked, with a hint of nervousness.
“Nothing bad.” She ran her fingers through his hair reassuringly, while keeping her eyes on his dark gaze. “I get the random snicker every now and then when I tell people we’re engaged, but trust me – I do not ever plan on dwelling on your past. I haven’t so far. All I want to do is concentrate on our future.”
Shawn moved his fingers up along her sides, his fingertips brushing against the swells of her breasts that pressed against his chest. “I agree, but I am curious about when your feelings began to change for me?”
“First of all, don’t think that I wasn’t attracted to you from the beginning. The problem was your ego was constantly in the way.”
“I was a pretentious bastard, wasn’t I?” he said with a quirky smirk.
“Was? You still are,” she laughed. “But I’ve learned to appreciate that overly self-confident side of you.”
“Very diplomatically put, thank you.”
“It’s a good skill to have. Anyway, to answer your question, my feelings for you began to change when you told me that I need someone who isn’t going to take me for granted and that I deserve more. It was a conversation we had after Todd and I broke up and I was considering for a moment to take him back. You were so opinionated about it and I valued your judgment. My feelings grew after that, but I knew I loved you after the accident and I was forced to think what my life would be like without you. I didn’t want to lose you. I wanted you in my life though I didn’t care if we became lovers and more than friends, I simply wanted you in my life. But I have to admit that I like how our friendship has evolved.”
“Me, too. Ever think we’ve moved too fast?”
“If I thought that I wouldn’t have accepted your proposal. I am so totally in love with you and that is not going to change.” Her eyes locked on his as she spoke with all the seriousness in the world. “I want to be your wife and the mother of your children. I have never wanted anything more in my life.”
Shawn was moved by her obvious conviction. “And we both know you always get what you want.” He framed her face in his hands while his gaze matched the seriousness of her stare. The love he had for her seemed to multiply in that instant. He brought her closer to him and took possession of her lips with his own. He kissed her with a sweet passion, capturing their abounding love.
Shawn groaned as he continued to react to Belle’s body against his causing Belle to giggle. “It seems as though you might be getting what you want, too,” she teased. Her hand journeyed downward and began to slowly massage his hardening manhood.
“Hmm,” he moaned. “You turn me on so much baby – I am so powerless when it comes to you.”
“You might be singing a different tune in fifty years when we’re old and gray.”
“You are the love of my life. Nothing will ever change the way you make me feel.” Her fingers continued to caress him. “Absolutely nothing,” he groaned and kissed her with a fervent passion that escalated to new heights.
Three months later…
Abe’s face brightened when the front door opened and Theo was ready to go with him. “How’re you doing champ?” he asked and chuckled lightly when his son gave him a hug. “You ready to go?”
“Sure, I’m all set.” He grabbed his bag, baseball bat and glove, and was starting to head out the door. “Bye Mom!” he yelled and almost sprinted past his father but Abe was quick to stop him. “Wait a second. Your Mom deserves more than that.”
“I would hope so,” Lexie commented as she emerged from the kitchen. She smiled at seeing her son so eager to get to his game and spend time with his father. Theo looked forward to the time, but Lexie wished he could spend more time with Abe. He was at an age where he needed more time with his father and she recognized that. They had gone back and forth about the custody arrangements and considering everything she was going through with her husband, Lexie didn’t want to go through another custody issue. Lexie looked at her son ready and eager to leave. “Come here sweetie,” she requested.
Suddenly, Theo’s movements became sluggish as he went to her. “Are you coming to watch me play?”
“Of course, I’ll be there. We’ll be there cheering you on,” she told him and gave him a big hug. Kissing the top of his head, she wished him a good game and he didn’t hesitate to rush out of the house.
“Come on Dad!” he said excitedly.
“Just a minute son,” Abe said and approached Lexie, his countenance turning more serious. “You doing alright?” he asked.
“You know why I’m asking.”
Lexie sighed in response. “I know, and no I’m not doing alright, but I’m doing better knowing that Tek doesn’t want a divorce, though it is still hard to do things on his terms right now.”
“If you ask me, he’s taking you for granted and you don’t deserve that. I hope you don’t lose sight of what is important for you.”
“Being with my husband and my children is important to me.”
Abe paused a moment hoping his next action wouldn’t seem to forward. “If you want to talk about things, why don’t we have dinner together one night? It looks as though you might need a friend. I’m here for you Lexie. I always have been… always will be.”
Lexie appeared caught off guard by his words and surprising genuineness. She saw something in his eyes that she hadn’t seen in many years, realizing that he still harbored feelings from what seemed like a lifetime ago. “Thanks Abe,” she eventually replied. “I’ll let you know if I decide to take you up on your offer. But you need to get moving. You don’t want Theo to be late.”
“Right. We’ll see you at the game?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
Moments later Abe and Theo were in the car heading for Salem Park. “Are you going to sit next to Mom at the game?” Theo asked curiously.
“If she wants to sit next to me. Why?”
“I was wondering that’s all. I mean she’s been kind of lonely lately and you aren’t fighting anymore.”
Abe approached the red light at the upcoming intersection and as the car came to a stop he looked over at his son paying an unusual amount of attention to his baseball glove. “Son, why are you so curious about your mother and me?”
“I don’t know,” he mumbled.
“Yes, you do. Talk to me.”
Eventually Theo spoke. “Don’t you want us to be a family again?”
“Theo we are a family. Just because I don’t live with you and your Mom doesn’t mean that we aren’t a family. Your mother and I are not together anymore and we’re not going to get back together.”
“But don’t you…?”
“I do,” Abe interrupted. “But your mother and Tek are married and I respect that relationship. I’m not going to come between them son. You were only a toddler when your mother and I divorced. I hated the affect it had on you.”
“So that’s why you should try to get Mom back,” Theo insisted.
“No, that’s why I shouldn’t. Think about Ben and Olivia. Think about how sad they would be if their parents were no longer together. I know you want to protect your little brother and sister. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to them, now would you?”
“No,” he mumbled. “I guess not.”
“And I know you don’t like to see your Mom hurting, but I do know that you like Tek.”
“Yeah, but he’s not my Dad and I don’t like to see Mom sad.”
“I know buddy. I don’t like to see her sad either, but I promise things will get better. Somehow.”
It was a gorgeous August afternoon. The group couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to sail on the Fancy Face and enjoy one another’s company. Shawn closed the lid of the cooler with a few beer bottles in hand. He immediately began to pass them out as he returned to where he had been sitting. He handed one to Rex and was surprised when Mimi politely refused. He then saw Belle in his seat and nodded his head, motioning her to get up. She didn’t hesitate to oblige as he took a seat and she promptly sat on his lap. He opened her bottle and his in a snap. With a glance he noticed Chloe and Brady cozy next to each other as they tried their luck at fishing. It was clear that neither one of them had fished before. He had given them some tips but they weren’t coming close to following his advice. All he cared about at this point was that they were having fun.
“Meems, you sure you don’t want anything to drink?” Shawn asked.
“I’m sure. This lemonade is perfect,” she said with a quick look at her husband. They had debated when they were going to tell their friends their news. She was now five months pregnant and could no longer hide the changes in her body. The pregnancy had been taken its toll on her, but she had finally allowed herself to enjoy the changes and slowly put her fears behind her.
“I think we should tell them,” Rex whispered in her ear. When she nodded in agreement they both looked at a now curious and confused Shawn and Belle. Rex took Mimi’s hand in his. “There’s something we want to tell you both.”
“What’s going on?” Shawn questioned.
“We have some news,” Rex continued and then gazed at Mimi. “You want to tell them?”
“Oh, come on you two,” Belle said anxiously. “The suspense is killing me.”
“Ok, well, we wanted to tell you earlier but we wanted to keep this between us until I was further along.” She smiled at seeing her anxious friends and finally announced, “We’re having a baby. I’m five and a half months pregnant.”
Shawn and Belle both had a wide-eyed stare in response. Belle was the first to snap out of her daze. “That’s amazing,” she said almost in disbelief. She had noticed the physical and emotional changes in her friend but never thought pregnancy was a possibility considering the previous difficulties. The reality started to sink in even more. “Oh my God, that’s amazing!” she said excitedly and stood up from her seat on her fiancé’s lap to give her friend a hug.
It wasn’t long until Shawn joined in the celebrating and gave his cousin a solid handshake. “You’re a lucky man, and a more exhausted man. Two babies in one year,” he said teasingly.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Rex answered sincerely. “You two know how much we’ve wanted a family of our own. Gavin has brought us so much joy and we’re excited to have another baby to love.”
Settling back into her previous cozy position, Belle continued to look at her friends in amazement. “We are so happy for you two.”
“Thank you, but I’m afraid I’m going to be pretty big by the wedding. Sure you still want me to be matron of honor?”
“Of course I want you to be, unless you think it will be too stressful on you and the baby,” Belle said with growing concern.
“No, I should be alright. I cannot wait to see you two get married.”
“You can’t wait,” Shawn sneered. “I’m getting more and more anxious each day,” he said with a grin as he felt Belle’s fingers softly comb through his hair. “Six weeks and counting.”
“He’s only anxious because he thinks we’re spending too much money on it.”
“Hey, I’m all about you having the wedding of your dreams,” he defended, “however, we could have a tighter budget. I think we’re spending too frivolously.”
Belle sighed and stood up. “Well, excuse me but I’m not looking to have this conversation again. I’m going to check up on Brady and Chloe,” she announced and made her way to the other end of the deck.
“Did you strike a nerve?” Mimi questioned with a bemused expression in Shawn’s direction.
“Not one I haven’t struck before,” Shawn answered easily and took a long drink from his bottle. “We simply have a different view on finances, which honestly concerns me but she has her own money and I have my own. You two know that I’ve always been frugal.”
“You mean cheap,” Rex chuckled. “Shawn, let it go man. Belle is accustomed to a certain lifestyle. You know that and you’re both in careers where you can support that.”
Shawn didn’t respond, but took yet another long swig knowing that his cousin was right, but not close to admitting it.
“By the way, how’s the house hunting going?” Rex asked.
“We’re not hunting anymore.”
“What?” Mimi asked in surprise.
“Yeah, we found a place we both really love. It’s in one of those newer communities on the west side of town. A few months ago the couple that was having the house built got a divorce. The husband relocated to somewhere in Ohio and the wife didn’t want such a big house, but she’s still in Salem. The house was finished only a couple weeks ago and it has only been on the market for a week. We’ve made an offer we know they can’t refuse. Hopefully, we’ll be closing on it in another week or two. It’s been moving so fast. Belle’s townhouse is going to sell like that,” he said with a snap of his finger. “My place may take a little longer, but there has been some interest. If all goes well, we should be able to move in a couple weeks before the wedding and we will officially have our own place together. It’s a lot of work, but I can’t wait.”
Belle had to admit that over the months she had grown to like Chloe and appreciate the wonderful affect she seem to have on Brady. It was something she didn’t focus on too much because of her own wedding plans, but when she did think about it she knew in her heart that this was a good pairing. As she approached she saw the two fishing poles perched along the side unattended while Chloe sat next to Brady, her legs stretched out across his lap, his arms around her and their lips meeting for a series of kisses.
She cleared her throat, as she got closer. “Catch anything?” Belle asked, interrupting their alone time.
Chloe wiped the remnants of her lip-gloss off of Brady’s lips with her thumb and smiled at him. “A pretty good catch,” she replied saucily while she moved from her cozy position.
Brady smirked in response to Chloe’s comment, then brought his attention to his sister. “What’s going on Tink? Checking up on us?”
“Yep, just making sure you two were doing ok, but I can see that you are.”
“We are enjoying ourselves, aren’t we?” Brady answered with a look in Chloe’s direction.
“Mm-hmm,” Chloe agreed. “It’s a gorgeous day.”
“It sure is. Shawn and I have sailed out to Smith Island a couple of times already this summer, but we’ve never just enjoyed the lake and sat out on the deck. I love this yacht, and we can use it whenever as long as Bo and Hope don’t have plans.”
“So, we should look forward to more invitations in the future,” Brady said.
“Most definitely. Anyway, if you two aren’t planning on fishing I’m going to go ahead and put these away. Shawn’s a little finicky about the equipment.”
“Fair enough. Thanks Tink.”
“No problem. We’ll probably be moving again soon to head to the island.”
“We aren’t going anywhere,” Chloe told her.
Belle smiled and grabbed the fishing poles. She put them away and noticed Shawn taking his place to drive the boat toward their final destination. Her eyes surveyed him. She enjoyed the look of him in his khaki shorts and blue sleeveless shirt, his strong arms already perfectly tanned and well defined with only the slightest movement. She went to him and circled her arms around his waist from behind. He glanced at her from over his shoulder with a grin.
“Hi,” she said softly.
“Hey you,” he said and turned so he could give her a quick kiss. “I’m sorry.”
Her brow furrowed in response. “For what?”
“I shouldn’t have brought up the stuff about the budget and expenses and all that. That is something private and should stay between us, regardless if it is our best friends.”
“It’s ok, I wasn’t offended or anything. After all I mentioned that you were uptight about the cost of the wedding first, you simply reacted.”
“Regardless, I still feel I owe you an apology. You know how I feel about keeping certain things private and I didn’t do that.”
Belle gave him a lingering kiss in response. “Water under the bridge. Let’s forget about it,” she said and smiled when he leaned in to kiss her once again. “Now, do you need any help captain?”
Shawn grinned in response. “Are you going to be my first mate?”
“I’d rather be your co-captain.”
“You know there’s no such thing on a ship. There’s the captain, then the first mate, then…”
Belle silenced him with a finger placed on his lips. “I was speaking metaphorically Shawn.”
“Oh. I knew that,” he said with a nervous chuckle. “So, do you want to steer?”
Her eyes widened in surprise. “You’d actually let me?”
“Sure. You are after all my co-captain… in everything. Come in front of me,” he said as he moved to the side. He now stood behind her and took her hands in his, placing them on the wheel. “Just keep it steady,” he told her. “Now speed it up a little bit.” Once she did as she was told, he kissed her head gently. “You are a pro at this.”
“I learned by watching the best,” she replied. “Remember that time we went sailing with Bo and Hope.”
“But Dad was the one…” he began then stopped when he realized she was teasing him again. “You’re going to get it so bad,” he said and started to tickle her sides. When Belle did a sudden movement with the wheel, he stopped his actions and steadied her hands once again. “No more playing until we dock.”
“Good idea,” Belle agreed. They continued to talk and Shawn pointed out a number of things on the boat to her and certain sailing techniques he knew. She was more impressed with his obvious joy and passion then his extensive knowledge. He was like an excited little boy when it came to sailing. “Ever think of getting your own boat?” she wondered.
“I’ve thought about it but haven’t seen the need to do so yet. Maybe in a few years and we have a baby or two and we want something bigger. But for now, this old girl will do…and the cabin below,” he added in a familiar low voice.
“So true,” she agreed as she remembered the last time they were on the boat alone together. They never actually left the pier – never saw the need to go to the Horton cabin when they had all they needed below deck. “I think we might need to get one sooner than later, so we can christen it properly.”
Shawn circled his arms around her waist and kissed her neck gently. “I do love the way you think,” he muttered against her skin.
“I thought you said no more playing until we dock.”
“In that case,” he mumbled and promptly sped up the boat. “Let’s try and get there faster,” he said and started to laugh when Belle giggled at his action.
It was the first Saturday night that Todd had been out in ages that he didn’t even care that his date didn’t look at their evening out as truly a date. Unfortunately for him, Jan had someone else on her mind. Someone she couldn’t have and Todd felt he could convince her to let go of the obsession before it went too far.
“How’s your salad?” Todd asked, trying his best to strike up a conversation that didn’t revolve around work.
“Pretty good. I’ve never had a shrimp Caesar salad before. It’s quite good. How is your steak?”
“Not as tender as I would like, but it’s not too bad. So, are you enjoying yourself?”
“Sure. It’s good to be out with a friend.”
“Yeah,” Todd somewhat agreed, he honestly wanted more than friendship from Jan. “I’m glad you could join me. I didn’t think you’d agree to go out with me, considering everything.”
“You know. When we broke up a few years back, it wasn’t on the best of terms. I’m glad we’re able to look beyond that and move on. I enjoy your company Jan.”
“Todd, I know you’re only using me to get over Belle.”
“Hardly. I got over Belle a long time ago.”
“Sure you did,” Jan mocked.
Todd looked at her a little hurt and confused by her sneering remark. “I have no desire to get back with Belle. I know she’s engaged to Shawn and I respect the relationship they have. I suggest you do the same Jan and forget about this fantasy you have of having Shawn all to yourself.”
With a brow raised, Jan looked at him curiously. “Did I strike a nerve?”
“Hardly. The point is I genuinely enjoy spending time with you. I would like to start over – the two of us, if possible, but that can only happen if you end this obsession with Shawn.”
“I’m not obsessed,” Jan defended.
“You sure?” Todd asked with a gleam of hope.
“I’m pretty sure I’d like to see where this can go,” she flirted.
“Of course. I think we have a lot of potential,” she told him, while her mind was swimming scheming plots. We have a lot of potential to break up Shawn and Belle. You will be my perfect ally.
A week before the wedding…
Shawn sluggishly sat up in bed, only to feel Belle’s arms around him hold him tighter. He groaned as if already in defeat. “Baby, I need to get up. I really do need to grab a quick shower,” he said, practically whining.
Belle ignored his plea and guided him to her for a hungry kiss. “How about a quickie?” she mumbled in between kisses.
Shawn groaned again. “I – I really have to go to…” his voice drifted as the kiss deepened. He tried to get out of bed, but she held on to him.
“I can join you in the shower,” she further suggested. When he pulled himself away finally, she sat there pouting and hoping he’d change his mind.
Relieved that he escaped, Shawn kept his distance from the bed and looked at her curiously. “Why exactly are you so aroused right now?”
Belle’s eyes surveyed his body and a devilish grin emerged. “Why are you?” she asked seductively.
Shawn looked down and covered himself with his hands. He hated that he felt so smug about his big and quick reaction. Finally, he focused on what he was trying to do. “Belle, as much as I would love, and I really mean love to satisfy this urge of yours and obviously mine, I do need to get moving. Besides, I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon and I will come straight home and we can spend hours upon hours upon hours together in bed… or the floor… or couch… or wherever we end up.” He looked down again and realized from his ever-growing reaction that he was making too good a point. “Oh god,” he grumbled.
Belle giggled at his lament. “Why don’t you come back to bed?” she asked seductively.
Shawn thought for a moment, but willed himself to think with the head on his shoulders. “Baby, I’ve got to pick up Rex and Brady in about thirty minutes. That gives me enough time to take a quick cold shower, get dressed and head out. We can’t leave late. I don’t want to deal with the traffic and be late to the game.”
“Are you saying a Cubs game is more important than this?” she questioned as she removed the sheet now revealing her naked body.
Shawn gulped slowly. “You’re evil… gorgeous, but you’re going to get me into trouble.”
He fought back the urge as much as possible, but knew his attempts would be futile. “Come here.” He watched her saunter towards him. Her hands snaked up his body and around his neck. His erection poked her in the abdomen as he pulled her close, his arms circling her petite form. Their mouths fused together, the kisses deepening with every moment. “Let’s have some fun in the shower.”
“What happened to picking me up at 11am sharp?” Rex questioned as he got into his cousin’s SUV.
“Something came up, ok,” Shawn responded tersely. He certainly didn’t regret the fun in the shower but it wasn’t as quick as he would have hoped. Initially, they didn’t even make it to the shower and once they did Shawn was already late so he lived it up.
“Right,” Rex said, giving his cousin a knowing look. “Anyway, are you looking forward to your last week of bachelorhood?”
“I feel like the wedding is just a formality at this point. Belle and I have been living together for a week now. Sometimes I think we’re already married.”
“Not the same thing.”
“What do you mean, it’s not the same thing? The only difference is Belle will have my last name and all that legal stuff.”
“It’s a little different Shawn. First of all, you’re experiencing a classic honeymoon period. When you’re living together and not married, you still have the option to leave because you haven’t promised anything – you haven’t made any vows. Anyway, in a week’s time you will find out. For now, we’ve got a Cubs game to enjoy and a night on the town in Chicago – just the guys. Now, give me your cell phone.”
“What the hell for?”
“To prevent you from calling Belle and to prevent her from reaching you.”
“Why? She might need to talk to me about something important.”
“This is your bachelor party Shawn. Talking to the fiancée is not allowed. Besides, if you’re needed I have my cell phone. So hand it over.”
With a heavy sigh Shawn reached into his pocket and handed the phone over.
“Alright, very good. Now we can have some fun.”
Later that night, despite watching the Cubs lose by one run in an eleven inning game, Shawn was in good spirits as he spent the evening at a crowded bar with his friends. Rex had arranged a full day for his cousin. A group of Shawn’s friends from college, medical school and work were at the game, and another few friends who lived in Chicago joined them at the bar. Now on a countless shot of tequila, Shawn was fully feeling the effects of the alcohol.
“How’re you holding up buddy?” Jason asked as he put his arm around Shawn’s shoulder. “You need another drink? How about you take it easy and have a beer?”
“Sure,” Shawn slurred an answer. He struggled to focus on his friend who stood right next to him. “It’s been a long time since we’ve hung out man.”
“It has, but I’m glad I’m here to help you celebrate. I honestly never thought I’d see the day you said goodbye to bachelorhood. Belle is a pretty special lady.”
“My Belle is the best,” he said and promptly began to chug the bottle of beer he now had. “I’m so lucky,” he said as thoughts of Belle filled his head. “Hey Jason, you remember back in college and we’d go to the bars and pick up all sort of random girls?”
“Yeah, I remember. I also remember that you were better at it than me.”
“You were my wingman. I couldn’t use Rex. He was so hooked on Mimi that I had to depend on my boy Jason to help me out.”
“Those were the days.”
The two of them continued to reminisce then went to join the others. Shawn stumbled onto Rex, who was fortunately more sober than his cousin.
“You doing alright?” Rex asked.
“Never better. You?” he slurred.
Rex pulled back as the alcoholic stench wafted over him. “Maybe you should slow down.”
“What fun would that be?” Shawn grinned. “What time is it?”
Rex glanced at his watch. “1:34,” he answered. “Got somewhere to go?”
“No, but give me my phone. I want Belle to know I’m alright.”
“She knows. I called Mimi to check in and I asked her to let Belle know all is well and that you are having a ton of fun and that you will call her in the morning.”
“But I want to talk to her now,” he insisted.
“And it’s late and you’re drunk. Talk to her in the morning,” Rex stated sternly.
Though he didn’t appreciate the tone or the circumstances, he conceded. It wasn’t long until he was caught up in the fun once again, forgetting his conversation almost immediately.
The next morning Shawn groaned loudly as the sound of his phone filled the room. With his head buried under the sheets, he could see the little sliver of light peaking through the curtains of the large window in his hotel room. His head throbbed and the incessant ringing didn’t help. Eventually, his hand escaped the cocoon of the bed and found the cell phone that rested on the bedside table.
He grunted more than spoke when he answered and grimaced at hearing a bright voice on the other end.
“Hey baby,” he muttered. “Don’t talk so loud.”
“I guess you had fun last night,” Belle said quietly.
“I drank too much,” he mumbled almost incoherently. “I’m so hung over.”
“Oh, poor baby. Well, I’ll let you get back to sleep. Sounds like you need it.”
“I don’t even remember how I got here,” he muttered, seeming to not pay attention to what Belle had said to him. “Rex must have gotten me to my room,” he deduced. “He’s been doing that since college. He’s a good friend.”
Belle smiled at the stream of consciousness coming from Shawn. “Sweetie, get some more sleep. I will see you when you get back home, ok?”
“Hmm? Ok. I love you.”
“I love you, too sweetie. I’ll see you when you get home.”
“Ok. What are you doing now?”
“Trying to let you get some sleep.”
“I know but I want to talk to you.”
“Oh yeah? What about?”
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you yesterday. I wanted to call you last night but Rex wouldn’t let me. He made me give him my phone,” he grumbled. “He must have left it when he dumped me off into my room. My head hurts.”
Belle continued to listen to Shawn ramble. She smiled to herself as he did so and when it seemed as though he was finally winding down, she spoke up once again. “When you get home I’ll draw you a nice warm bath to relax you.”
“Are you going to join me?” he asked wishfully.
“I’ll scrub your back.”
“You are so good to me. Have I told you how much I love you?”
“You’ve mentioned it a few times.”
“Well I do. I can’t wait until we get married. I love you.”
“I love you, too. I’m going to hang up now, ok baby.”
“Ok,” he said sleepily. His voice started to drift off, “Bye baby”
Two days before the wedding…
Belle and Lexie both noticed Mimi suddenly grimace, causing Belle to break into a mild panic. “What’s wrong?” she yelled, so she could be heard over the club music.
“I think the baby likes the music. She gave me a huge kick!”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Belle relaxed in her seat.
“Looks like you’ve got a little dancer on your hands,” Lexie smiled.
“Perhaps a drama queen, like her mother,” Belle teased.
“Very funny,” Mimi said flatly. “Now, enough about me. Belle, are you having fun?”
“This is great. I’ve been trying to get Shawn to take me here for a while, but we just haven’t made it here for some reason.”
“Now that you’ve had a chance to check it out, I’m sure you’ll be dragging him out here in no time. Now, it’s time for you to live it up!” Mimi declared as she spotted the waitress approach them with their drinks.
“Here you go, ladies,” the waitress said as she placed a virgin daiquiri in front of Mimi, an apple martini for Lexie and a cosmopolitan for Belle. “The gentleman in the blue shirt standing by the bar says your drink is on him.”
“Whose drink?” Belle asked.
“All of you. This round is on him.”
“You’re kidding,” Belle said in surprise.
“No, I’m not kidding. Enjoy your drinks.”
The waitress walked away, and the three of them looked over to see the gentleman who was staring at them, but particularly at Belle.
“Drink up Belle. I can’t have any alcohol, but you can have my share,” Mimi told her.
“I am not getting drunk ladies.”
“Why not? Shawn did,” Mimi said with a growing giggle.
“And it took him a day to recover. It was sort of funny though,” Belle said with a growing smile. “I called him when they were still in Chicago and ended up waking him up. He was so out of it and all he could really manage to tell me was how much he loved me, numerous times.”
“Oh, how sweet,” Lexie gushed.
“Hardly. He didn’t even remember talking to me when he got home.” She glanced and caught the stare of her new admirer. “That guy is still looking over here.”
“Well, flirt or do whatever to keep the free drinks coming,” Lexie teased. “By the way, when are your other friends supposed to join us?”
“Any time now,” Belle answered. Her college friends Becky and Kristina had flown in earlier from Cleveland and DC respectively, that afternoon and were relaxing in the hotel, making plans to join Belle and the others at the club that night. Belle continued to chat with Lexie and Mimi when she finally saw her two old friends and practically squealed in excitement. It wasn’t long until the two dragged Belle onto the dance floor like old times and Lexie didn’t hesitate to join them. Mimi knew she wouldn’t be able to keep up so she watched from their table.
The four ladies moved to the club music, laughing and having fun. Belle wasn’t at all surprised when she saw a man make a move toward Kristina, who was the best dancer in the group and with her tall, statuesque features she looked like a model and men always gravitated towards her. She was her best friend from college and between her and Becky, they had made sure Belle’s nose wasn’t always buried in a book when they were in school. The girls loved to party and besides, Kristina was also a huge flirt so she easily complied with the man’s advances. What did surprise Belle was when the same man who had bought them drinks earlier had made his way to her and started dancing with her.
Caught off guard, she suddenly stopped dancing as she faced the attractive man. “Um, hi,” she said. “Thanks for the drinks.”
“No problem. You want to dance?”
“Thanks, but I really shouldn’t. I’m getting married in two days.”
“But you’re not married yet, and it’s just a dance. What do you say? We’re already out here anyway.”
Belle smiled. “Sure,” she answered and they started to move together. He kept his distance and didn’t touch, which Belle appreciated. For the most part, he was a perfect gentleman.
“I’m Chris,” he introduced himself.
“It’s a pleasure.”
“So, are you originally from Salem?”
“No, I’m an east coast girl. I grew up in Massachusetts. You?”
“Yeah, born and raised.”
“So is my fiancé.”
“Then I probably know him. Salem’s not that big. What’s his name?”
“Shawn Brady. Do you know him?”
“Do I know him?” he questioned sarcastically. “We only played basketball together in high school. I haven’t seen Shawn since we graduated. I only recently moved back from Indianapolis, so there are a lot of folks I’ve lost touch with. So Shawn is getting married. That’s awesome. He’s a good guy.”
“He sure is. Well, if you know Shawn then you probably know Mimi.”
“Mimi? Mimi Lockhart?”
“Brady now, she’s married to Shawn’s cousin Rex.”
“Good for her.”
“She’s here you know. She was one of the girls you bought a drink for.”
Belle looked at him in confusion.
“I mean, the virgin daiquiri. I saw there was a pregnant lady but I didn’t even recognize her. I guess I should say hi.”
“Come on.” Belle walked with Chris off the dance floor and towards Mimi who appeared confused then her eyes brightened when she seemed to recognize him.
“Hawk?” she questioned with growing excitement.
“I haven’t been called that in years. How are you Mimi?” he asked as he gave her a hug.
“I’m well. So you managed to hit on Shawn’s fiancée of all people,” she smiled.
“Looks like a picked the wrong table to buy drinks for… I didn’t have a chance with any of you. It’s the story of my life,” he grinned. “So, what does Shawn do? I think I remember someone telling me a while back that he was a doctor.”
“He’s a surgeon at University Hospital. That’s how I met him. We all work at the hospital, me, Mimi and Lexie who was the other lady at the table with us.”
“So, what do you do? Are you a nurse?”
All Belle could do was smile at his assumption. She was so used to people assuming that she was a nurse because she was female and worked at a hospital. Despite the fact that there were as many female physicians as male and that there are more than just physicians and nurses at a hospital – nursing was still the common assumption. “No, I’m the COO of the hospital.”
Chris winced in response. “Alright, well I might have to get Shawn to surgically remove the foot in my mouth,” he said, causing the ladies to laugh. “OK, so before I make any more bad guesses, what do you do Mimi?”
“I’m the marketing director and our friend Lexie is a physician, just as an FYI. Why don’t you pull up a chair and join us? I’d love to catch up with you.”
“Sure I’m not interrupting the girls night out?”
“Well, technically this is Belle’s bachelorette party but we’ll allow you to tag along until you get tired of spending time with us.”
“Sounds like a deal. It’s good to catch up with old friends and new ones.”
Belle started talking with the two of them until she suddenly felt a tug on her arm. She turned to see her friend Becky beginning to pull her away.
“You’re talking too much. Get back out here girl!” Becky told her.
“Oh, Becky this is Chris, he’s an old friend of Shawn’s.”
“Well you might as well come out on the floor, too,” she said and pulled him with surprising strength.
Mimi laughed as she watched on, seeing her friend get lost in the sea of people on the dance floor. She could tell that this was going to be a long, but definitely a fun night.
The night before the wedding…
“Shawn, where are you taking me?” Belle asked while he led her through the park. A blindfold covered her eyes and based on her unsteady steps, she knew they were going through a more secluded area.
“We’re almost there.”
“But why am I blindfolded?”
“Because it’s a surprise. Don’t you trust me?”
“You know I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m fine with not being able to see where I’m going.”
“Baby, remember when I couldn’t see and I had to depend on you, to trust you?”
“I know but…” her voice drifted off when they came to a stop. “Are we here?”
“Yes,” he said softly. His fingers slowly began to untie the blindfold and as he removed it, he continued to stand behind her and his hands moved along her arms.
Belle gasped as she took in the sight of a blanket spread out with a small picnic basket. They were at lookout point and from there you could see the city as well as the night sky so clearly. The moon was full and bright. The stars twinkled in a way Belle had never seen before. She smiled when Shawn’s arms wrapped around her waist and he pulled her close. His lips brushed against her cheek, then her neck.
“What is all this?”
“I wanted a moment alone with you tonight. We have been with family and friends all week, and tomorrow will be crazy. I wanted to give you something and to have just a little bit of time with you before you head to the hotel with your bridesmaids.” He moved from his position and took a seat on the blanket then guided her down to him. Facing each other, he kept his dark eyes on her, unable to stop staring.
“Nothing. Nothing is wrong. I was imagining how you’re going to look tomorrow, that’s all. You’re going to be so perfect. Tomorrow is going to be perfect.”
“That’s the plan,” she smiled, blushing slightly at the intensity of his stare. “So, what’s in the basket?”
“A little dessert. Just give me a second here.” He opened the basket and removed a small candle, then a lighter.
Belle watched on eagerly and was impressed with this impromptu moonlight picnic. She watched Shawn light the candle and place it down on the ground. “Ooh,” she said in amazement as he pulled out two champagne glasses, and then laughed when he pulled out a small champagne bottle.
“Did you know they came this small?” he asked with a light laugh.
“I’ve never seen one that small. Where’d you get it?” She watched him pop it open and fill the glasses.
“Believe it or not, Harold got it for me from the caterer. They had small bottles for samples. I figured that we’re paying them enough, the least they could do is hook me up this once.” He reached into the basket again. “And a little strawberry cheesecake,” he announced, pulling out a sizable slice.
“Hmm. You are so good to me.”
Shawn promptly began to serve her a bite and smiled at seeing her reaction. After taking a bite for himself he placed the plate down and picked up the two glasses, handing her one. “To our last night as singles,” he grinned. “I have never looked forward to a day as much as I am looking forward to tomorrow.”
“I can’t wait until tomorrow either. I’m so anxious I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep. I want everything to be perfect. I want to be perfect for you.”
“You will be, because you are perfect to me.”
“I love you Shawn.”
“I love you, too Belle.”
They both took a drink from their glasses and Belle suddenly started to giggle.
“What are you laughing about?”
“We’re getting married tomorrow! Isn’t that great?” she said giddily.
Shawn chuckled at her child like exuberance. “It’s better than great. It’s amazing.” He continued to feed her and as she savored the last bite, he placed the empty plate in the basket then pulled out a small gift. “This is for you. A little pre-wedding gift.”
Belle slowly opened the small box and gasped as she saw a beautiful silver locket. “Oh Shawn. This is gorgeous.” Her eyes surveyed with wonderment and her smile widened when she saw the inscription. Thank God for truces! With all my love, SDB.
“Remember when we called a truce because we were always bickering?”
“Do I remember?” Belle asked sarcastically. “Besides, you also wrote that on the card with the flowers you gave me for my birthday.”
“I figure that would always have meaning for us. Now, there isn’t anything inside yet, but I figured we could have a picture of us on our wedding day inside, or whatever you want.”
She brought her attention back to him and touched his cheek gently before leaning in to press her lips gently against his. “I love you so very much.”
“You’re my everything Belle. I love you.” They continued to kiss. Shawn’s hands moved upward to cup her face gently when she suddenly broke the kiss. “What’s wrong?”
“I almost forgot I have something for you, too.”
“You aren’t the only one who is full of surprises,” she smiled and reached into her purse to pull out a small box. “This is my pre-wedding gift to you.”
Eagerly, Shawn unwrapped the box and opened it. The look of surprise on his face was classic and Belle knew she had picked the right thing for him. “Oh baby this is amazing!” He lifted up the silver pocket watch and opened it. “This is the most awesome gift.” He closed it and looked at it again, his fingers moving along the definition of it and then noticing the inscription. To the perfect man, who came at the perfect time. Love always, Belle. “I love it and I love you. I am definitely wearing this tomorrow. Dad is going to be so jealous.”
Belle laughed at his commentary, only for it to be suppressed as he captured her lips with his own. He brought her down with him onto the blanket. He lay on his back with Belle on top of him, her fingers sweeping through his hair as their kisses deepened. “Wait a second?”
“What’s wrong now?”
“What time is it?” she asked and glanced at her watch. “Oh my God, it’s almost 11:30.”
“We cannot see each other after midnight. You can’t see me on our wedding day until I’m walking down the aisle. I am not leaving anything to chance. We need to leave.”
“You really believe in that superstition?”
“I am not testing my fate. Let’s get moving.”
“Fine,” he grumbled.
Nearly twenty minutes later, Shawn pulled up in front of the Salem Inn to drop off Belle who was staying with her bridesmaids. “Ok, we still have ten minutes before midnight, what do you say I park in the back and we can have a heavy make out session. That’ll be enough to last me until tomorrow.”
“You’re adorable but incorrigible and the answer is no. I will see you at the church. I love you.”
“I love you, too baby, but you’ve got to give me at least one quick kiss.”
Belle happily obliged and leaned in closer. Their lips met for a loving kiss that deepened slightly. Belle had enough presence of mind to pull away before they got too carried away. “Alright, I’ve got to go sweetie,” she said and started to open the door.
“Wait a second,” he said and hopped out of the SUV. He walked around and opened her door, then helped her out. He put his arms around her waist and pulled her close, his mouth covering hers for a lingering kiss. His hands moved upward and held her face as they continued to kiss sweetly.
Again, Belle pulled away. “I’ve got to go. Next time you see me, we’ll be getting married.”
“I can’t wait.” Slowly he let her go and she started to walk away. He glanced at his watch. “You’ve got two minutes to get inside,” he said and laughed when Belle started to make a dash inside. “Goodnight baby! I love you!”
“I love you, too. Now go!”
Shawn laughed to himself, and then laughed harder when she disappeared out of sight. He couldn’t wait until tomorrow.