June 10, 2014

So I’m no going to pretend I’m not behind on my own visualized schedule for the month, ha. I haven’t even responded to emails from Cora much less done much writing. Not because I don’t want to, but I literally have not had the time, so to give myself some space and hopefully recharge without expectations, I’m declaring myself on hiatus until the end of June. I’ll post the end of Poisonous Dreams and Chapter 6 of The Best Thing at some point during the next two weeks, but I’m not sure when. I love you guys and look forward to getting myself back in gear 🙂

June 2, 2014

I added Chapter Five to The Best Thing 🙂 I wanted to remark that I am working on the ebooks I promised ages ago, but as you might expect, they are very far down my list of priorities.

I also know I have write more for Turning Points and Come On Eileen, but those are also very low of the totem pole. TBT, Damaged and the outline for These Small Hours come first right now. I’m also finishing up the new plot sketch for Mad World so I can write a more detailed outline and storyboard.

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series The Best Thing: Sanctuary

I still feel the same
Though everything has changed
The pain it cost now
I feel lost inside of my own name
But I keep running
I am running
I keep living for the day that I’m with you
– Out of Breath, Lifehouse


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Kelly’s: Diner

Emily dumped her books on the table and collapsed. “I am so ready to be done with lab reports. My last semester as a med student is going to be a bitch.”

“Hmm…” Elizabeth barely glanced up from her list and Emily rolled her eyes, turning her attention to the little boy in the booster seat beside her.

“Hey, Cam. Is Mama ignoring you? How dare she?”

Elizabeth set down her pen. “What do you want, Quartermaine? I’m busy.”

Emily stuck her tongue out. “What are you working on?”

“The guest list for my opening.” Elizabeth tapped her pen against the sheet of paper and leaned back as Georgie Jones approached them to take Emily’s order. When the teen had stepped back, she sighed. “I have to get it back to my agent by the end of the day.”

“Well, it can’t be that hard.” Emily shrugged off her jacket. “Your grandmother, your brother, me, Nikolas, Lucky, Jason, maybe my family, if you want. They’ll definitely buy something—”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I can’t invite Jason.”

“Why not?” Emily demanded. She flipped open a folder and removed the cursed lab report due in the morning. “What’s wrong with him? You looked pretty cozy with him at my party.”

“He’s not going to want to go to New York City to an art show.” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “Don’t start, Em. I told you not to match make.”

“I am not matchmaking,” Emily huffed. She was merely going to create an opportunity, but left that unsaid. “This has nothing to do with any of that. Jason is your friend. Even if he decides not to go, you should invite him. Or are you going to let him think you’ve just been pitying him this last month?”

“Em, he wouldn’t think that.” Elizabeth sipped her tea. “Jason knows better. Anyway, it’s not his scene, and I don’t want him to feel obligated to go—”

“Obligated.” Emily snorted. “Five years ago, no one would have used that word in conjunction with my brother. He used to go to the Nurse’s Ball for Robin, you know. Every year. He went when they weren’t dating, and if he’d been in town the last two times they had it, he would have gone. Because it was important to her.”

Elizabeth arched a brow. “I know you’re not comparing the things Jason used to do for his girlfriend with coming to my art show. Because I don’t need to explain that it’s different.”

“Not the concept. Jason does things for people he cares about. He came to my birthday party. He used to go to Carly’s stupid parties at The Cellar.”

“Exactly my point. Jason has a lot of people who expect things from him, and I used to be one of them. I’m not going to do that again.” Elizabeth picked up her pen.

“So you’d rather hurt his feeling by leaving him out of a major milestone in your life?”

Elizabeth eyed her. “Are you trying to guilt me into inviting him? Because…it’s not gonna work.”

Oh, it was totally working. Emily wanted to burst into song. These bastards made her life so easy sometimes. “I mean, you guys have already left each other out of your kid’s lives. You didn’t even know about Evie until I told you, and I’m sure he didn’t know about Cameron until someone else told him. I guess if you wanted to prove you weren’t friends, not inviting him—”

“Oh, my God, just shut up already. Fine.” Elizabeth scrawled his name at the bottom of the list. “Right now, Emily, promise me something.”

“Um. Do I get to hear the terms first?”

“Do not twist Jason’s arm into going,” her friend ordered and Emily grimaced. Shoot. “I’m serious. If he decides not to go, then it’s fine. I don’t expect him to go. But so help me God, if you force him—”

“Do you think after the stunt I pulled with Grandfather he’s likely to listen to me at all?” Emily demanded.

“You’re not distracting me out of this. Promise me.”

Diabolical woman. Emily sighed. “Fine, I will in no way make Jason go to your art show. What do I say if he asks if he should go?”

“You refrain from speaking. You run screaming from the room, I don’t care.” Elizabeth sighed and leaned back in her chair, casting her eyes at her son who was studiously banging a spoon against the table. “Emily, setting me up with your brother isn’t going to change the fact I’m a single mother. And you have to stop feeling guilty about it. I didn’t make things easy on Zander, either.”

“It’s not entirely…” Emily sighed. “Okay, it’s a little about the guilt. I do want you to be happy. After everything that’s happened in the last few years, I just want to see you light up, you know. Like you used to. And you do, around Cameron. I love Nikolas so much, I just want the same thing for you. I want you to find love. Real, lasting love.”

“I know, and I appreciate it. But I cannot worry every time I turn around that you’re annoying Jason about me. He and I are just settling back into being friends. I really want that back, okay?”

“Okay.” Emily bit her lip. “But…would you turn down a chance to be with him?”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “Em—”

“This is just between us. I won’t even tell Nikolas. I just…I see you guys sometimes, and I wonder if you guys know what you look like when you’re talking. It’s like you shut out the rest of the world, and you only see each other.”

Elizabeth dipped her head and exhaled slowly. “Which is why we don’t work in the real world,” she said softly. “We were always good at shutting out the world. People didn’t even know we were friends until the Christmas Party, you know? Because we kept each other so separate from our own lives. We don’t fit otherwise. I don’t—”

“I get what you’re saying, but honey, it’s such a cop out.” Emily leaned forward. “Look, I won’t…I won’t pressure, and I’m sorry if I was. I don’t want to do anything to make you or Jason unhappy. I just…I see a spark. Maybe you weren’t ready for it all those years ago. Or even two years ago. But you guys aren’t those people anymore.”

“No, we’re not. Which is why what is between us is just…” Elizabeth hesitated, her eyes darting back and forth as if she were looking for the right word. “It’s residual. Because we never…had much of a romance. We just…stopped being friends. No closure. So, yeah, sometimes, there’s still…but it’s just leftover. It’s not part of our future.”

Residual her ass, but Emily nodded. “Fair enough. But you know his life has changed. Sonny and Carly? Not his priority anymore—”

“Right now. But Jason and Sonny are never at odds for long,” Elizabeth said. “Carly doesn’t…know. And Sonny will get past this…part of his life. Whether Jason ends up raising Evie or not, he and Sonny are going to reconcile. They did after Carly, after Courtney. And that would put us right back where we were—”

“Elizabeth—”

“Emily, just…look, I’m inviting him. If he asks you whether he should go, give your honest opinion. Just don’t change his mind. Other than that, I really don’t want to discuss it.”

“A girl knows when she’s beat.” Georgie set down Emily’s burger and fries. “I’ll just sit here, eat my food and do my lab report.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Warehouse: Sonny’s Office

Jason gingerly settled in the chair in front of Sonny’s desk. “I haven’t been able to get in contact with the driver,” he admitted. “I’ve got Cody and Max on it, but it’s looking like it might have been hijacked.” He had waited an extra day, hoping for some good news. Sonny was going to see this as a sign that the Zaccharas were moving in on their territory.

But he had a job to do, and a missing truck with a shipment of cigarettes they were intending to get across the border to Canada was not something he could keep from Sonny.

His partner slapped his hand on the desk. “I knew it,” he growled. “You wanted to think the Zacchara bastard wasn’t up to something, but—”

Jason wanted to close his eyes and sigh, but that would be a sign of exasperation. “We don’t know who it was. We put Milo on Johnny, and he hasn’t done more than hang out at Luke’s or take dinner at the Outback. I think he’s seeing someone who lives here, but we’re not positive on that. Sonny, maybe it’s—”

“Don’t tell me it’s the fucking Ruiz family.” Sonny leaned forward, his eyes dark with anger. “They’re not ones to sit back and cause minor troubles—”

“Yeah, that’s true, but neither are the Zaccharas. Anthony shot his own wife, remember? Shipped his daughter to Italy ten years ago, never has any contact with her. He’s not sending his only son to screw with your head.”

“What makes you so sure?” Sonny rose his feet. “How the hell can you sit there and act like you got all the answers?” He pounded a fist against his chest. “I’ve been in this business for a hell of a lot longer than you, Jason. Why do you always think you’re right?”

Because he was ninety-nine percent of the time, but today was not a good day to bring that up. Rather than being conciliatory as he had been most of the month, today Sonny was combative. This going to be a problem.

Jason took a deep breath. “Look, right now it’s just one shipment. If we go to Anthony, demand answers or take action against them, and it’s not them? They’re gonna look at us and think we’re weak. Think that we don’t know what the hell’s going on. Give me a few days. I’ll find out what happened to the shipment. Stan is tracing the GPS—”

“Why the hell don’t I already have these answers?” Sonny cut in. He headed for the mini bar and poured himself a tumbler of bourbon. He tossed it back like it was a shot, and Jason took another deep breath. Alcohol in these moods was dangerous, and Jason would have to tread lightly.

“We didn’t know it was missing until yesterday afternoon. We don’t have specific schedules for the trucks—they gotta be careful with the patrols, with the weighing stations.” As if Sonny didn’t damn well sign off for this change in business shortly before Jason left town in 2000. “We put together a sketchy timeline, and we know it disappeared somewhere between Rochester and here. Stan’s working on highway cameras, Cody and Max are taking care of searching the route. I don’t want to leave a stone unturned.” He, too, stood but did not approach his partner.

“Sonny, I’m not saying it’s not the Zaccharas, or that Anthony is finally done screwing with you and ready to move on you for real. I’m just…we don’t know. And we both…” He hesitated. “We have people who depend on us to keep them safe. A war when we don’t have the answers doesn’t do that.”

He saw Sonny’s shoulders slump. Maybe. Maybe this would work. Maybe he could still talk Sonny down in these moods.

“You’re right,” the older man murmured after a long moment. He poured himself another bourbon. “I don’t know why I need you to explain this to me, Jase. I know all of that. I just…” He rolled his shoulders, keeping his back to Jason. “I get tired of constantly having to fight for what’s mine. Why can’t these bastards just sit back and make a profit? No one’s ever taken me down.”

He turned to Jason. “You’ve been with me almost as long as I’ve controlled Port Charles, you know. I took over for Frank Smith, in what? ‘94, ‘95?”

“A year before I came to work for you,” Jason answered, almost unnerved at the stillness in Sonny’s demeanor. He’d talked Sonny down before, but the sudden switch did not bode well for the future of his erratic moods. “But—”

“Don’t think I’m not aware that I’ve kept this going because you…balance me.” Sonny turned to him. “I’m a hothead, and you’re stone cold. You talk me down when you need to.” He tossed back this drink, too, as if it were a shot. “Do you ever get tired of it?”

Jason’s breath caught, and tried not to hesitate. “It’s my job. It’s what I do.”

Sonny chuckled, a low bitter and dark sound that might have sent a chill down anyone else’s spine. “That’s how you learned to lie, you know. You learned that talking around a question meant you didn’t have to answer it…” He nodded, his fingers wrapped tightly around the empty tumbler. “And from there, you leapt straight into full-on lies. Did I teach you that?”

“No, I—” But there it was. Another lie. Jason paused. “Maybe. You taught me a lot, Sonny. You and Robin.”

“True enough.” Sonny ambled towards him, towards the desk and resumed his seat behind it. “But we didn’t do it alone. I figure Carly taught you a few things about lying. Maybe even Courtney did, too. When you were lying to me about your relationship.”

Bringing up that difficult time was not a good thing. “I didn’t lie—”

“You omitted,” Sonny cut in. “Not much difference, Jason. You know that.” He tapped his chin and leaned back. “I told you once there was no damn difference between the two, do you remember?”

“Yeah.” His throat was dry. “When you faked your death, and told me I had to lie to Elizabeth about it. I told you I just wouldn’t say anything to her.”

“And I told you she wouldn’t be able to handle the lies, omissions or the ones to her face.” He shrugged. “I was right. Courtney couldn’t either. Women rarely can handle this life, Jase.” His face changed, became contemplative as he looked at something over Jason’s shoulder. “Carly’s…different.”

“And I told you we could have trusted Elizabeth,” Jason said, ignoring his remark about Courtney, because that was true—she’d stopped his execution of Lorenzo Alcazar the year before as if the man wouldn’t have deserved it. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“I just thought…we should discuss your sudden predilection for lying, and that was the only other time we’d brought it up.” Sonny pressed his hands together and steepled his fingers.

These circular conversations were always dangerous because he had to be very careful about what he was saying and the tone of his voice, lest Sonny use something against him later. “That was a long time ago, Sonny. And I prefer not to lie, but sometimes there’s no other choice.”

“That’s very true.” Sonny nodded. There was nothing in his eyes now—they were completely unreadable. “Do you ever get tired of lying?”

Every day. All the time. But Jason was so far into this now, he wasn’t sure how to dig himself out. “Don’t you?” he replied. “Are you ready to be done lying?”

Sonny closed his eyes, and again his shoulders slumped. “No. Nothing’s changed, Jason. Carly is still…not going to accept this turn of events, even with Sam gone. We have to…keep this up.”

“All right.” Jason took a deep breath. “I’ll keep the guys on the shipment and let you know if we hear anything, and Milo will stay on Johnny. He’ll know if he does anything out of the ordinary while he’s in Port Charles—if he meets with anyone.”

“Good.” Sonny nodded. “Good. Keep me posted.” He paused. “Do you wonder, sometimes, who’s really in charge here?”

“No,” Jason said immediately. “It’s you. I never wanted it.”

And on that note, he turned and left the room, eager to be away from Sonny’s erratic mood swings. He’d talked him down for now, but there was no telling how long this would last.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Cellar: Office

Carly tapped her fingers restlessly against the blotter on her desk, ignoring the pile of messages from vendors and people interested in holding parties at the club.

She had more important business to deal with right now.

Another unsuccessful visit with Dr. Meadows. Carly had tests done earlier in the month, and they had come back normal today, which meant the useless woman had no way to explain why, after five months, Carly still had not conceived a child.

She had tried not to laugh hysterically when Dr. Meadows suggested Sonny come in for tests—Sonny was nothing if not fertile.

The child living across the hall from them was living goddamn proof of that. The little girl following Alexis around was more ridiculous proof. God only knew how many bastards he had sired.

She reached for her purse and the cell phone contained within. After a few rings, her sister-in-law picked up. “Hey, Carly.”

Did she sound annoyed? Carly couldn’t be bothered wondering further. “Courtney. Hey. I was hoping you could come up this weekend. I really miss you.”

“Oh.” There was a pause. “I have an event this Friday night, but maybe I could take a flight up on Saturday, and stay over. I have to double check my schedule.” Courtney paused again. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes.” Carly huffed. “No. I went to the doctor to find out why I’m not pregnant yet, and I may need to find someone else because she can’t figure out why. All my tests came back normal.”

“Maybe it’s…it’s a sign that this isn’t a good time,” her friend remarked in a soft voice. “You know things have been difficult between you and Sonny since you came home from South America, before Morgan was born. It’s been a rollercoaster since—”

“I need to fix things between us,” Carly interrupted, annoyed. Hadn’t she explained this in great detail at the Christmas party? “A baby will make Sonny focus on his family—”

“Morgan is barely one years old, Carly. Why isn’t he enough? What about Michael? You told me he’s been having behavioral issues. Maybe if you talk to Sonny about the boys—”

“He needs a daughter,” Carly said, her teeth clenched. “I need to give him one.”

There was a long pause. “Carly, I love you both. I really do, but I’m just…I’m worried that you’re not seeing this for what it is. You and Sonny were divorcing last year because you were having really bad problems. You had both slept with other people. You got back together because Sonny made a promise to God if He saved Michael—”

“We love each other,” Carly all but growled. “Do you think we don’t?”

“I loved Jason, but that didn’t mean I could accept him for what he really was,” Courtney said. “We didn’t work because of who we are. Maybe you and Sonny—”

“You don’t understand, Courtney. Why can’t you get this? You used to support me.”

“I do. I support you being happy. I support the boys being in a happy home. I love my brother, I want him to be happy, too. I don’t think bringing another child—”

Her throat was closing, because this was supposed to be her best friend and if she didn’t understand the plan, how could Carly get her to help? “I know a baby will fix things. It’s how we fell in love in the first place.”

There was quiet on the other line. “Carly, I do…I do see why you think having another child would recreate that…time, but…I just…”

“What?” Carly demanded. “Are you doubting me again? My plans work, Courtney. I planned to get revenge on my mother and it worked. I planned to keep Michael at any cost and it worked. I planned for you to marry Jason and you did. I am planning to keep my family intact—”

“Your plans come at a price, Carly,” Courtney said, her voice becoming more firm. “You destroyed your mother. You destroyed Jason and AJ to keep Michael. I married Jason, a man I did love but never really understood or saw the truth about. He has a child with another woman, conceived while we were supposed to be working on things—”

“You’re just concentrating on the minor problems. It’s not my fault if you and Jason didn’t work out. You were both supposed to do the hard work, and I wanted to destroy my mother. That was the goddamn point. Jason and AJ are fine. Well, Jason is. He will be. He has a daughter now, doesn’t he? Who cares about AJ, anyway?”

“That’s the problem with your plans, Carly. You don’t get it. They’re not minor problems. It’s called collateral damage and you don’t care about it.”

Her stomach rolled and her eyes burned. “If I have a baby, Courtney, everyone wins—”

“And if it doesn’t work the way you want it to? If you have a child and you and Sonny implode anyway? That’s three children in the middle instead of just two. And you’ll put Michael through it all over again with the hearings. Carly, I love you too much not to tell you the truth. Please—”

“You’re supposed to love me, Courtney. You’re my friend, my sister. Why don’t you understand? Why are you betraying me?”

“I’m not—”

Carly yanked the phone from her ear and hit the end button. It wasn’t as satisfying as slamming a landline down, but it would do.

Courtney didn’t see how it would work, but she would.

Everyone would see when Carly gave Sonny a daughter. It would all be right again.

It had to be.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Jason set Evie’s car seat on the chair between himself and his sister, removed his jacket and then sat across from her. From his jacket pocket, he removed an envelope and set it between them. “Emily, this has to stop.”

Emily paused as she sipped her soda and peered at the envelope in question. “Oh, cool, you got yours today. I got mine yesterday, even though Nikolas and I have been ready to go since Liz told us about it.” She set the glass on the table and reached for a fry. Her hand stilled and her dark eyes flashed to him. “What has to stop?”

“You told Elizabeth to invite me.”

Emily pursed her lips and set the fry down. “You don’t think she can put two and two together by herself? It’s a major milestone in her life. You’re supposed to be her friend.” She shrugged and popped the fry in her mouth. “How’s Evie today? I can’t believe she’s almost three months old. I think she recognizes my voice, Jase. She’s looking at me.”

Jason narrowed his eyes. He was not going to let Emily get away with this so easily, but he cast his eyes at his daughter. “Yeah. She’s been doing that more this week—looking at people whose voices she’s heard before. Emily—”

“I did not tell her to do anything,” Emily said, annoyed. “No one tells Elizabeth to do something. Geesh, and you say you’re her friend? Yes, she was on the fence about inviting you because it’s not your scene, and she did not want you to feel obligated. I told her that you should get decide whether you want to go or not. So clearly, you don’t want to go—”

“It’s not—” Jason huffed, wondering how she had turned this around on him. Quartermaine tricks probably. His sister had Lila’s pure heart, but Edward’s deviousness, despite being adopted. “I didn’t say that.”

“So you’ll go.” Emily wiped her hands on a napkin, then bounced in happiness as she touched Evie’s nose and the infant made a babbling noise. “She’s the light of my life, you know that, Jase? I mean, I cannot wait to get married and give her a cousin.”

“I didn’t say I’d go either.”

Emily rolled her eyes. “God, Jase. It’s a weekend in New York in support of our mutual friend who has dreamed her entire life of being an artist with a real opening—” She closed her mouth. “Nope, Elizabeth made me swear not to talk you into going. She wanted it to be your decision.”

There was truth in these words, but he still detected Emily manipulating the situation. Somehow. “I’m glad Elizabeth and I are…reconnecting, but she’s right. It’s not my scene.”

“That’s exactly what she said. She told me that people always expect things from you, and she didn’t want to be like that anymore. I think it’s kind of admirable,” Emily said with a firm nod.

But Jason frowned, because he would never put Elizabeth in the same category as Sonny and Carly, who always wanted something from him, always needed him to fix something. “She was never like that.”

Emily just shrugged. “It’s not like people won’t be there with her. Her grandmother and Steven will be there. I’m going, Nikolas is with me. Lucky is dragging his new girlfriend. She won’t lack for support.”

Jason leaned back. “So I won’t go.”

“Yeah, I figured. Besides, you’ve always had trouble with images since the accident, haven’t you?” Emily said. She reached for her soda and sipped it. “So it’s not like you’d even understand the art.”

“I—” He closed his mouth, because that was true but he could still remember Elizabeth not taking offense to his not understanding her painting of the wind, merely explaining it to him until the image came together for him. She could do that again, couldn’t she?

And why shouldn’t he go? Elizabeth was his friend, and he wanted her to know how much he appreciated her support the few times they had spoken. He always felt better afterward, and going to her opening would go a long way towards doing that. So it wasn’t his scene. He had gone to the Nurse’s Ball every year for Robin and he would go to Carly’s ridiculous parties at her club when she whined enough.

He eyed his sister. She had technically kept her promise and not said one word about convincing him to go, and yet…

“I don’t know if I want to leave Evie here, even with Nora,” Jason said. Emily arched her brow. “I just…it’s better if I don’t go out of town overnight and leave her here.” Across the hall from Sonny.

“Oh, that would make everything so much easier.” Emily leaned forward. “Maybe you could ask Nora to look after Cam? Because Audrey and Steven are doing it, but that means they can’t go to the opening together—they’re splitting the night.”

“She’s not leaving him here?” Jason said, surprised.

“With who?” Emily said. “Everyone is going to New York. I mean, if you’re not going to go, maybe you could look after Cam for her. She should have her family around her the entire night, and Audrey and Steven should get to see the whole thing—really get to watch Liz shine.” She pursed her lips. “I could hire a nanny or something for the night. I didn’t think of that before. Thanks for the idea.”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I’m going, Emily. You talked me into it.”

“I did not. That is a filthy lie, Jason Morgan.” She stabbed a finger in his direction. “And don’t you dare tell Elizabeth any differently. I never once told you to go. In fact, I gave you eight reasons not to go—”

“You think after being friends with Carly all these years, I don’t recognize reverse psychology?” Jason asked, almost amused. “I won’t tell Elizabeth that you did not violate the letter of your promise, merely the spirit.”

She scowled. “Well, frick, Jason. Excuse me for breathing. It’s a major thing for her. I mean, the Harris Gallery is so well-respected, and it’s a coup for a brand-new artist to secure an exclusive showing. I mean, it’s like unheard of. Which means Elizabeth will finally start believing how brilliant she is.” She folded her arms against her chest. “Don’t you think Elizabeth deserves that? And I want everyone who loves her to be there and watch her shine.”

“I—I know how important her art is to her,” Jason said. He cleared his throat, because he was glad to see Emily so fiercely dedicated to Elizabeth.

“These last few years have sucked, you know that. First, Lucky pretended to love her and marry her out of obligation, then she was kidnapped and you dumped her for Courtney, and between Ric and Zander last year, she was feeling pretty down on herself—”

“I didn’t—” Jason opened his mouth to defend himself, but Emily was on a roll.

“She’s an amazing woman, Jason, who keeps picking herself up and rebuilding when her life falls apart. This time, she is finally getting rewarded for constantly standing by men who don’t deserve to be in the same atmosphere as her—”

He frowned, because did that mean Emily was lumping him in with Lucky, Ric and Zander? “Em—”

“And damn it, if I thought I could invite the entire world to this opening to watch everyone fawn over her talent and her awesomeness, I would.” She huffed. “So I am so sorry I had to convince you to do what friends should do naturally. You were so quick to think I was trying to set you up, but maybe I don’t just get how you can say you guys are friends, and yet she’s convinced you won’t go to the most important event of her life and career because it’s not your thing.” These last words were laced with heavy sarcasm.

He hesitated. “Are…you mad at me?”

“No.” Emily scowled. “Well, maybe I am. You’re right. I tricked you. And I tricked her into inviting you, because I knew she wanted to. And she wasn’t going to because it would have hurt her to put herself out there and have you reject her. But I knew it was gonna hurt her not to invite you either. So you should ask yourself what kind of friend that makes you that I had to convince you—”

He held up a hand, feeling a rare spiral of shame wind through his chest. “You’re right, Emily. I’m sorry. Elizabeth and I are friends, and I know how important her art is to her. I remember when she started at PCU and struggled with her classes. She should have felt comfortable inviting me, and I should have just decided to go without you being involved.”

She closed her mouth and stared at him. “There’s a trick here I’m not seeing.”

“And she should have her brother and grandmother with her to enjoy the whole night, so if Elizabeth is okay with it, I’ll ask Nora to look after Cam.”

“I think I feel dizzy.” She looked at Evie, who had been looking at her father with her dark eyes. “So…you’ll go.”

“I’ll go.”

“And maybe you don’t mention this to Elizabeth, because I totally violated the spirit of my promise.”

“Because you love her,” Jason said simply. “And I’m going to tell her because she should know how much you’re in her corner, and to apologize to her if I’ve ever given her any sense that I wouldn’t go to this. We are friends, and I should show her that. You will not get in trouble with Elizabeth.”

“Okay.” Emily hesitated. “So you know Nikolas rented the entire floor at the Waldorf for this, so that he and I have a suite. Elizabeth is sharing one with her grandmother and Cam. Lucky and Leyla have a room, Steven has one, too. I can ask him if he’s got another suite available on the floor.” Before Jason could refuse, she continued, “If Nora is going to watch Cam, it would make sense for her to be on the same floor.”

Again, his sister had a point. “All right. Let me know what he says.” He hesitated. “Thank you, Emily.”

“This was not how I thought this conversation would go.” She grinned. “You’re back to being logical and unpredictable. I like it.”

This entry is part 20 of 23 in the series Fiction Graveyard: Poisonous Dreams #2

September 9, 2003

Morgan Penthouse

Elizabeth slipping her feet into a pair of sandals when Jason came home twenty minutes later. She looked at him, slightly guilty. “I was only going to Sonny’s,” she told him.

“I know. We’re all meeting there in about a half hour.” He took her hand and led her back to the couch. “We need to talk.”

“We really said it all before—” Elizabeth began but he shook his head.

“Maybe you did, but I didn’t.” She sat down and he sat on the edge on the coffee table. “Part of what you said is right. The reason we got married was because you were in danger. But that’s how I justified it to myself.”

She furrowed her brow and shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

“When Carly came up with this plan…my first instinct was to volunteer because…” he hesitated. “I wanted to. Even before we got into the details of who to marry because of their standing in the organization. I wanted to be the one who married you.”

“But—”

“I told myself that I was just protecting you—that I had promised you once to always look after you but the day of the wedding…when you walked down the aisle—part of me wished that you wanted it, too.”

“I did,” she said softly. Elizabeth stared at their joined hands, his gold wedding ring resting next to her matching ring. “I do.”

“Before I met you, I didn’t understand people who had regrets—who didn’t do or say the things they wished they had because I thought it just made life easier if you told the truth all the time every time.” He shifted and struggled to put this into words. “But I understand that the truth can be…it can be scary because you’re not just being honest with the other person, but with yourself and I wasn’t ready to face how I felt about you.”

“Why not?” Elizabeth asked, her voice catching. “What was so wrong with me?”

“Nothing,” Jason replied instantly. “It wasn’t…it’s not you. The way you make me feel—it’s not like anything I’ve ever felt before. For anyone. There were times when you lived here last year that I would come home in the middle of the night and you would have fallen asleep on the couch—waiting for me, I guess, and I would just think—I don’t deserve someone who waits for me like this.”

“You do,” Elizabeth said fiercely. “But—”

“I wanted to keep you in this penthouse for the rest of our lives, to keep you away from anything that could hurt you,” Jason confessed. “I didn’t want my life to touch you, to change you.”

“You can’t protect me all of the time,” she murmured.

“No—but I can try. And that’s why the thought of you going to meet Ric terrifies me. Because you’ll be stepping into a situation that I can only control to a certain extent.”

“Jason…”

“I went to Laura, hoping she could tell me what I could say to you but I found Luke instead,” Jason admitted.

Luke gave you advice?” Elizabeth asked with a wry smile.

“He told me that he loved you like a daughter—that he just wanted to see you safe and settled. And happy.” Jason hesitated. “And I realize that you need more than just an agreement to stay married.”

“Staying married was the easiest decision I ever made,” Elizabeth told him. “I don’t need more—”

“But if I had just told you everything, maybe it wouldn’t have had to be a decision,” Jason interrupted.

“I don’t understand.”

“I love you, Elizabeth.” He said this to her hands but the words still knocked the breath out of her and she just stared at his bowed head for a moment. He raised his head and met her eyes and repeated it. “I love you.”

She blinked and tried to open her mouth to reply. She closed it after a few moments and swallowed hard. “I told you that I loved you today but—I didn’t do it right.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I love you, Jason. I love you so much.”

He exhaled in a quick breath as if he’d just been holding it in—waiting for her to return the words. “In twenty years, when we look back on our marriage, I don’t want you to think that we stayed together because it was easier than being apart.”

“I won’t,” Elizabeth promised.

“Because if you love me and I love you, then this is a real marriage,” he continued, “and neither of us can walk away from that.”

“I agree.”

“If you need us to get married again—or just renew our vows, I can do that—”

“Jason—” Elizabeth pressed two fingers to his lips. “I don’t need anything but you.” She replaced her fingers with her mouth and kissed him long and deep, trying to convince him that by saying the words—he’d healed whatever wounds had been ripped open again.

Corinthos Penthouse

Carly tapped her fingers against her water glass impatiently before tossing a glare at her husband for finding her cookie stash and confiscating it.

“As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t see any other solution,” Nikolas said. “We can take all the precautions necessary but Elizabeth has to go on Friday.”

Elizabeth nodded but Jason resolutely shook his head. “No,” he repeated.

“Jason, it’s not like he’ll have much of a chance to hurt her,” Carly tried to assure him. “I mean—you’ll be like four feet away behind a bush.”

“Elizabeth is too far along in a very difficult pregnancy to put herself through something like this,” Laura argued. “I have to agree with Jason.”

“I think having Elizabeth go is the best solution—” at a dark look from his wife, Luke hastened to continue, “but I can’t tell her to do it. Not when she’s pregnant.”

Lucky nodded. “I love Emily and I want her home safely but not at the risk of Elizabeth and the baby. I think even Em wouldn’t want you to do this.”

Nikolas snorted. “Emily lost her rights to have a say when she turned Elizabeth over to the wolves,” he muttered.

“She had her reasons,” Lucky shot back.

“I can’t ask Jason to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do,” Sonny said. “And you wouldn’t send Laura either, Luke.”

“I would respect my wife and allow her to make up her own mind,” Luke said diplomatically.

Carly rolled her eyes. “You mean Laura would tell you she was going and that would be the end of it. It must be nice to have some control in your marriage.” She shot another look at Sonny.

“You’re not getting the Oreos,” Sonny retorted. “Sending Elizabeth is the best solution—we’re all in agreement. But it’s not a solution that’s viable. The purpose of tonight is come up with another one.”

“It’s clear that someone else was working with them on the inside,” Luke said. “Someone who knew the guards and could get past them. Who had knowledge of all the security improvements we made in the penthouse. Is there anyone who knew?”

“No. We only told those who had to know. The only people who had that cell phone number were myself, Elizabeth and Jason.”

“Well, that’s not true.” Carly sat up. “I knew it.”

Sonny swung to look at her. “How?”

“When you got the phone in, you wrote the number on a piece of paper on the desk over there and left it sitting there for a few days until you had it committed to memory.” Carly shrugged. “Anyone who came in during that time would have seen it if they looked. You didn’t label it but it was a cell number and it’s not a huge thing to drop some money to the cell company you use to find out whose number it is.”

She looked to Elizabeth. “Did you ever get any hang ups? Or missed calls?”

“Once,” Elizabeth admitted. “Not long after I got the phone. I said hello and they hung up.” She sighed. “I thought it was just a wrong number.”

“What about the secret room?” Sonny asked pointedly.

“Well, anyone could have asked the construction workers. Especially if it’s someone who works for you.” Carly sighed. “You’re very naïve, Sonny, if you think just telling people not to talk about it works.”

“It can’t be just one of the guards. There’s no one we trusted except for Andrew and he’s loyal,” Jason said slowly. “He’d lay his life down for you,” he told Elizabeth.

“It really can’t be Andrew,” Elizabeth agreed. “Well—Emily showing up here like she did can’t just be a coincidence. Maybe someone called her over here as a distraction.”

Lucky frowned. “No. She was the intended victim all along,” he realized. He looked to his dad. “Emily was here and Ric only grabbed her. He could have knocked Em out and still gone for Elizabeth but he only grabbed Emily.”

“He’s right,” Laura nodded. “They know grabbing Elizabeth would never work—not after failing so many times. The only way to do it is to get Elizabeth to come to him.”

“Which I would never do without a reason. And Emily’s the reason.” Elizabeth looked to Jason. “I have go on Friday, Jason.”

“Elizabeth, I thought we settled this.”

“I trust you,” she told him. She looked around the room. “I trust all of you to keep me safe and take all the necessary precautions. We have to buy some time to figure out who betrayed us. I have to go on Friday and find out what terms Ric wants to set.”

Luke sighed. “I don’t like it, kid. I don’t like it at all.”

“Elizabeth—” Jason began.

“I know you won’t let anything happen to me.” She took his hand in hers. “I have to do this. Can you support me?”

After a long moment, Jason finally nodded. “I can support you. But you have to promise you’ll do it our way. What we say goes. If we tell you to get out of there, you have to promise you’ll listen.” He hesitantly rested a hand on her protruding abdomen. “We’re risking so much.”

“I promise,” Elizabeth pledged.

This entry is part 19 of 23 in the series Fiction Graveyard: Poisonous Dreams #2

 

September 9, 2003

Somewhere In Port Charles
Emily glared defiantly at Ric. “This is never going to work. Jason hates me. Elizabeth hates me. They won’t come for me.”

Ric smirked. “You underestimate your friend’s loyalty.” He took a seat across from her and started to slice some vegetables. “I hope you’re hungry,” he said.

She just stared at him now—not even struggling with the ropes that bound her. “You are insane.”

“We’re having company for dinner,” Ric continued. “Someone you know very well.” He smiled and there was charm in the expression. “We really couldn’t have done this without their help.”

Someone else had betrayed Elizabeth and Jason, Emily thought as a tight ball of tension formed in her gut. Someone else they loved and they trusted. She closed her eyes. What she wouldn’t do to take it back.

Who was it? A guard? Someone at the warehouse? Someone even closer?

When the person in question stepped into the kitchen twenty minutes later, Emily realized how obvious the choice was.

Courtney.

“Hey, Em,” Courtney greeted warmly. She took a seat at the table and smiled at her. Like Emily wasn’t tied to the chair having just been kidnapped from her brother’s home.

And it made sense. Courtney had been the one to call and suggest they talk to Elizabeth. She’d take care of the guards, Courtney had said. No one would bother them and Elizabeth would have to listen to their apologies.

Ric’s intention had never been to kidnap Elizabeth at the penthouse. It had been to gain leverage.

Please, Emily prayed fervently, let Elizabeth hate me and want me dead. Don’t let her come after me.

“You know I’ve just got Jason’s best interests at heart,” Courtney remarked. “Elizabeth is trying to trap him. And she has no right to keep Ric’s child from him.”

Zander had made Emily watch a tape of that night in Elizabeth’s apartment and she’d watched in horror at what she’d been to blame for. Elizabeth had been emotionally brutalized because of her insecurities and her betrayal.

She’d finally understood her best friend’s terror.

“Elizabeth doesn’t need to trap Jason into anything,” Emily said flatly. “He loves her. And Ric’s a psycho. I’d say she has every right in the world.” She smiled at Ric. “You’ve been stripped of parental rights, by the way.”

Ric glanced up at her sharply. “In the States, that means something. I bring Elizabeth somewhere else, I make her sign Laura over to me—”

“She’ll never do that,” Emily said sharply. “Never. I made the mistake of trusting you once, now I know better. The second you have your hands on Laura, you’ll kill Elizabeth.”

Ric shrugged. “No use for her.” He looked at Courtney. “Chicken stir-fry all right with you?”

“Fine.”

“And if you do that, you’d better pray it’s Sonny who finds you and not Jason.” Emily pressed her lips together and narrowed her eyes. “My brother protects the people he loves and he loves his wife and his baby.”

Courtney narrowed her eyes. “She’s trapped him. He loves children. She knows that. She’s using that baby—”

“Elizabeth doesn’t have to trap him. He loves her. He will do anything for her,” Emily said coldly. “He already wanted you dead, Ric, but God help him if he finds you now. After what you did to her last month in her apartment…”

Ric shrugged. “I got impatient. This will work. Elizabeth feels guilty. I know her, Emily, and I know she feels guilty that you betrayed your brother because of her. She’ll want to fix it. She’ll come Friday night.” His lips curved into a cruel smile. “And I’ll make her understand she can’t run from me.”

Morgan Penthouse

Elizabeth rubbed her arms and stared out the window. “I’m not angry,” she repeated.

Jason sighed and rested his hands on her shoulders. “I’m just not ready to lose you. You mean so much to me.”

“I know what Emily did was wrong,” she said slowly, “but I know why she did it. People do crazy things to protect people they love.”

“I will find her,” Jason pledged. “But I won’t risk losing you and Laura.”

Elizabeth turned and met his eyes with a sober look in hers. “Jason—”

“I’m tightening security.” He moved away from her and picked up the phone at the desk. “I don’t want you leaving the penthouse without me and I’m putting a guard in here at all times. He’ll go everywhere with you.”

She frowned. “Jason—”

“I don’t want you alone.”

“You don’t want me to have an opportunity to sneak out.” Elizabeth tried to find some indignant anger but failed. “You know me very well.”

His smile was humorless. “You love Emily. I know you’d go to bat for her.”

“I’m going, Jason.”

“No you’re not,” he said quickly. “If I have to tie you to your bed, you’re not leaving this penthouse. Damn it, Elizabeth, do I have to lock you in here?”

“Jason.” She closed her eyes. “Jason, please try to understand—”

“You’re my wife,” he bit out. “And you’re pregnant—”

“And the only reason you married me was because there was no other choice,” Elizabeth said coldly. “For all your grand talk about wanting to stay married and caring about me and not wanting to lose me, if this hadn’t happened, you’d still be with her.”

He stared at her for a moment before looking away. “Why do you have to think like that?” he asked softly. “What good does it to do to think what if?”

“It’s not a what if. It’s a fact.” Suddenly, she felt so tired and worn out. She leaned against the pool table. “Maybe in twenty years, I’ll be able reconcile myself to that. That we’ll be married because there was no other choice and it was just easier to stay together.”

“That’s—it’s not like that.” Jason moved towards her. “Elizabeth, I want—”

“You’ve had a year to tell me what you want.” She looked up at him and her eyes were empty. Cold. “All you had to that night was tell me you were sorry. That you’d hurt me. That you’d lied.”

“I am sorry—”

“But you let me walk out. And you never once told me you cared. Never once said you missed me. And I let Ric make me believe he was better than you because I was just so desperate to believe someone could love me.”

“Elizabeth, I want to be married to you,” Jason told her again. “I want a life with you—”

“I want that, too.” She felt so empty. “I want that enough that I’m going to try really hard to not remember why we got married. That at our wedding, you came close to drinking yourself into oblivion and if Sammy Tagliatti hadn’t pulled that stunt, you would have.”

“Elizabeth—”

“You didn’t want to marry me, Jason. And that’s okay. I can learn to accept that.” She rubbed her forehead. “I didn’t want to marry you either.”

That bothered him somehow. “Why?” he asked, regretting the question almost as soon as he’d asked it.

“Because I knew that. I knew that you only married because Carly came up with the idea and Sonny suggested you. Because you would do anything he asked you to.” She closed her eyes. “And I knew that I loved you.”

“Elizabeth,” Jason began but he stopped. He didn’t know what to say to that—didn’t know what he could say.

“I’m going on Friday, Jason. Because I will never be able to live with myself if I don’t. I know I’ve asked you for a lot since we met but I have to do this.” She met his eyes. “Jason, please.”

For the first time since they’d met—he shook his head. “I can’t let you. You told me that you were upset that I let you go once. That I let you walk out and that I never told you I cared. I’m not making that mistake again.”

She nodded slowly. “All right. I won’t lie to you, Jason. I’m going to find a way to go on Friday. You can try to stop me. You can put guards on me. You can do whatever you think you have to do. But Emily is my best friend. And she would do this for me.”

“She almost got you killed!” Jason exploded. “God damn it, Elizabeth, you’re too forgiving!”

“Maybe,” Elizabeth allowed. “But no one seemed to bat an eye when Carly turned Sonny into the police because it’s just something right up her alley. And even when they were apart, Sonny would have done anything for her. But because this is Emily, because this isn’t something she would do—I’m supposed to just hate her forever. To let her die for something I did—”

“You didn’t do anything!” Jason retorted.

“I knew something was wrong with Ric. That he didn’t add up. But I thought he loved me. And that seemed more important.” She straightened and started for the stairs. “I’m going to bed.”

“Elizabeth—” he called but she ignored him. A few minutes later, her bedroom door clicked shut and he exhaled slowly.

Corinthos Penthouse

Jason sat downstairs in the penthouse alone for about fifteen minutes before he realized Elizabeth wasn’t coming back down.

It was time to start discussing action, he decided. He left the penthouse—but not before leaving a scrawled note that he was at Sonny’s. He didn’t want her to worry.

Carly was on the couch, eating a plate of strawberries and listening to Michael reading out loud in his halting voice. “It’s free-dum, not free-dome,” she murmured, correcting him.

“Where’s Sonny?” Jason asked. “I have to talk to him.”

“He’s in the kitchen. I threatened something about Oreos and he disappeared in there to sulk.” Carly sighed. “The man just does not change.”

Jason nodded shortly before offering Michael a smile. “Sounds like the reading’s going okay.”

Michael shrugged. “It doesn’t suck.”

Jason ruffled the little boy’s red hair before going into the kitchen where Sonny was chopping some cucumbers and muttering something about vegetables. “Ric and Faith are in the city,” he said shortly.

Sonny glanced up. “Can’t know that for sure. Ric grabbed Emily hours ago and honestly—” He sighed heavily. “We can’t be sure that Emily didn’t set this up with them.”

Jason sank onto one of the high wooden stools. “I know. But Elizabeth seems to believe otherwise.”

“I will say that this would be something that would directly hurt Elizabeth,” Sonny considered, “and Emily seemed to just want you to be safe. She didn’t arrange for Elizabeth to be on her own or lose her guards. She handed information that Faith wanted in exchange for the ending of the marriage.”

“She was being naïve if she thought Faith wouldn’t use that information for her benefit,” Jason scowled. “And Elizabeth is just being so damn stubborn—she’s insisting that she’s going on Friday and nothing I can say will change her mind.”

“She’s loyal, Jason. The two of you have that in common.” Sonny dumped the cucumber slices into a bowl and pulled out some carrots to start dicing them. “I still don’t see why—”

“And she thinks we’re only married because of Ric,” Jason muttered. He stared at his hands.

“Well…you are,” Sonny reminded him.

“We got married because of him, we’re staying married because…” Jason stopped and shook his head. “She’s just upset right now. She’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”

“Why are you staying married?” Sonny asked. “Because it’s easier than finding the woman you really want to be with forever? Because you want to be Laura’s father?”

“Why does everyone think being married to Elizabeth is easy?” Jason replied sharply. “She thinks I’m taking the easy way out by staying. You think I’m just tired of looking for the right woman. Well to hell with you both.”

He stormed out of the kitchen and when Sonny heard the front door slam shut, he smiled faintly.

Spencer House

Jason raised his hand to knock on the door but faltered. Laura Spencer knew Elizabeth almost better than anyone else. She was the mother Elizabeth had never known and her only real confidante now that Carly had pulled away from her, Audrey had disowned her and Emily had betrayed her.

If anyone could tell him to how to make Elizabeth see the truth, it would be Laura.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted anyone to tell him anything. If Elizabeth couldn’t understand—couldn’t see what he felt for her, why did he want to kill himself trying to prove it to her? That he was married to her because he wanted to be—that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

“The door doesn’t bite,” Luke drawled and Jason turned. “Something wrong with Lizzie?”

Jason sighed. “Ric was at the penthouse today. He got past the guards.”

Luke climbed the remaining steps and grabbed Jason’s arm tightly. “Where is she? Why the hell weren’t we called?”

“She’s fine. Emily came over and Ric grabbed her instead. We need to meet with Sonny later to figure out what to do now.”

Luke nodded. “We’ll get the pipsqueak back,” he told Jason. “She ain’t done answering for her actions and I’ll be damned if I don’t get a chance to yell at her.” He pulled his keys out of his pocket but before he inserted the key into the lock, he frowned. “Why were you just standing here?”

“I came to talk to Laura,” Jason admitted.

“Laura, huh?” Luke smirked and let his hand fall to his side. “You have a fight with the wife?”

Jason looked away. “No,” he said sourly.

“Uh huh.” Luke studied him. “What’d she say to you, Morgan? You look more miserable than usual.”

Jason shook his head. “It doesn’t matter—”

“Saying crap like that is a sure way to lose her for good.” Luke shifted. “I ain’t good with advice—that’s my woman’s department but I do know Lizzie. She’s like a daughter to me and I’ve watched her grow up. Survive things no girl her age needs to have gone through. I want to see her happy and settled.”

“She will be,” Jason stated. “If she just stops waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

It dawned on Luke then and he nodded. “She’s thinking about why you two got married and trying to work it out in her head why you’d want to stay that way.” He pressed his lips together and continued to nod. “She won’t let herself even think of the most obvious reason.”

“She thinks I’m taking the easy way out,” Jason said, irritation bleeding through his words. “She’s made her mind up.”

“Then you just got to swallow your pride and tell her you love her.” Luke tilted his head to the side. “Which you do, you know. Even if you’re trying to deny it. You love her and she loves you. Doesn’t matter why you’re married or how it happened. Only matters where you go from here.”

Jason hesitated. “But—”

“It’s time you two stop doing this god damn tango. If you hadn’t been afraid of your own shadow a year ago, none of this would be happening,” Luke scowled. “Go home and tell your wife you love her. Me and the posse will be at the Corinthos joint in about an hour.”

He slid the key into the lock, opened the door and was inside all in the second it took Jason to realize he was actually contemplating taking the other man’s advice.

This entry is part 18 of 23 in the series Fiction Graveyard: Poisonous Dreams #2

September 9, 2003

Morgan Penthouse

Elizabeth was upstairs in her makeshift studio when she heard the downstairs door open and close.

She stood and immediately crossed the small hallway the connected her studio and the bathroom Jason had finished for her last week. In the hallway, there was a small door—a safety measure he’d insisted on. She pulled it open as quietly as possible and crouched to get inside.

Someone was inside the penthouse that should not be there. She’d spoken to Jason only moments ago and he had not been on his way home. The guards had been instructed to announce all visitors—no matter whether they were Laura Spencer or Sonny himself.

Just one of the many security measures that Jason had insisted on when Elizabeth moved back in a few weeks ago.

She reached for the cell phone that was on a shelf in the room—along with some different sorts of food and a blanket and a pillow on the ground. He couldn’t make it much more comfortable than that and Elizabeth was grateful for the consideration he’d shown her.

“Morgan.”

“Jason—someone’s downstairs,” she said softly. “The door opened and none of the guards called out.”

“Are you in the room?” Jason asked immediately.

Before she could answer, she heard footsteps in her studio. Heavy footsteps. “They’re in the studio,” she breathed—terrified.

Jason, who’d been at the warehouse, was already out the office door and halfway to the parking lot. “Elizabeth, I need you to hang up and call Sonny—”

“No, please don’t—” she broke off as the steps came closer to her little hallway.

“Elizabeth!” Jason nearly shouted in her ear.

“He’s coming closer,” she said almost inaudibly.

“Elizabeth…” it was his voice. She closed her eyes and tried to control her breathing so that he couldn’t hear her. “Come out, come out, wherever you are…”

“Elizabeth—” Jason tried to get her attention.

There was another sound from downstairs. The door open and closed again, “Elizabeth?” Emily called out.

The footsteps in the hallway paused. “Elizabeth, are you? We need to talk!” Emily called out. “There’s no guards on your door but—Elizabeth?”

The footsteps moved rapidly now and exited her studio. She heard them going down the stairs. “Elizabeth?” Emily called out again. There was a scream and then a loud crash and there was nothing.

“Emily,” she breathed, terrified.

“Elizabeth, what the hell is going on?” Jason demanded.

“He was here but Emily came in downstairs. I don’t know what happened—I need to go look—”

“You need to stay right where you are.” He fished his keys from his pocket. “Hang up and call Sonny. I’m on my way home now.”

“Jason, Emily—”

“Stay where you are damn it and don’t come out until Sonny opens the door,” he ordered.

He hung up then and started his bike, praying that she would be safe when he got home.

Elizabeth had no sooner dialed Sonny’s number than the small door was yanked open and Sonny was there. “I heard the crash—where are your guards? What happened?”

Elizabeth launched herself into his arms. “Ric was here. I heard his voice and he kept coming closer and then Emily came in. She screamed and there was this crash—”

“Emily’s not here,” Sonny told her. He sighed. “I guess he got her. Come over to my place—”

“Jason told me to stay where I am,” Elizabeth said softly. Her hands were shaking. “What do you mean he’s got her? What does he want with her? How are we going to get her back?”

“Slow down and take deep breaths. There’s no point in getting yourself upset,” Sonny said. “Jason would want you out of here until we can secure the place and figure out what the hell happened.”

“Okay, okay,” Elizabeth took his arm and he led her out of the room and back down the hall way into the studio. “He knew I was here. He knew I was hiding up here. Sonny—no one is supposed to know about this room.”‘

“I know, I know. We’ll figure it out.”

They were in the hallway when the elevator doors opened. Jason lunged out and breathed the first easy breath since she’d called. “Elizabeth.”

“Jason.” She pulled away from Sonny and went into his arms. “I’m okay.”
He smoothed a hand over the back of her head. “Are you sure? Maybe we should take your blood pressure or take you to the hospital?”

“I’m okay,” Elizabeth repeated. “But I think he’s got Emily.”

“I’ve already got men searching the building,” Sonny interjected. “No one saw him come in or go out but her guards are gone and we’re going to call Zander when we get into the penthouse. He’s supposed to be on her at all times.”

But Jason wouldn’t take his arms from around Elizabeth and even after they were in Sonny’s penthouse and seated on the couch, he still kept his hands on her as if reassuring himself that she was there and she was safe.

They hadn’t announced it or even spoken of it, but the decision to remain married had been an easy one to make even if they hadn’t really made it yet but Jason had called Dara and told her that the annulment was off permanently.

Carly was at her mother’s and it was just as well since her friendship with Elizabeth had come under a lot of strain since Courtney’s return home a few weeks ago.

Sonny called Zander first who had been locked in a closet when Emily snuck out. “He reported that Emily has been talking about clearing the air with Elizabeth for a few days but he’s kept her from doing that because we ordered him to do that.”

“Emily got tired of waiting,” Jason murmured.

The cell phone Elizabeth had used was still clutched in her hand and it jarred her when it rang. No one had that number except for Sonny and Jason so she stared at it for a moment before answering it.

“Don’t listen to him!” she heard Emily shriek in the background.

“Emily!” Elizabeth cried.

“If you want her back, you’ll come to the docks on Friday night,” Ric said smoothly. “Eight sharp, beautiful.” He hung up and Elizabeth started to tremble.

“What happened?” Jason asked immediately. “What did he say? Elizabeth?”

“He’s got her and he wants me to come to the docks at eight on Friday,” Elizabeth whispered. She looked at him. “I have to go.”

“No—you’re not going near him,” Jason said sharply. He stood. “I almost lost you to him twice. I won’t lose you again.”

“Jason, we can set up a trap,” Sonny suggested.

“No—not using her as bait.”

“Jason, I get to make my own decisions,” Elizabeth argued.

“Yes, yes, you do but I get to make some for Laura, don’t I?” Jason remarked. “And I’m not putting our daughter in danger. End of story. No.”

“I can’t argue with that, Elizabeth,” Sonny said with some regret. “We will have to come up with another solution.”

“There is no other solution,” Elizabeth began to protest. But Jason shot her a look and she immediately quieted. She’d work on him later.

“We’ll put men on the dock. They’ll grab Ric—” Jason began.

Elizabeth sighed impatiently and stood. “And he’ll have men waiting in case that happens and if you grab him, they’ll kill Emily. Jason, you’re not thinking clearly and you know it.”

He stared at her for a moment and swallowed hard, looking away. “I won’t hand you over to him, Elizabeth.”

She shook her head slowly. “Jason—Emily may have done something you can’t forgive but she’s your sister. And she loves you. She’s like a sister to me. I can’t ignore that because she hurt me. She needs me to come through for her. She needs to know that I still love her.”

“We’ll find another way,” Jason said stubbornly. “We’ll find where Ric and Faith are and we’ll rescue Emily.”

“And if I don’t show up on Friday, he’ll kill her,” Elizabeth protested. “You can’t find them before that.”

“If I have to lock you inside the penthouse until then, you’re not going,” Jason said bluntly. Sonny coughed loudly to get his attention.

“I think you’re being too rash—”

“You wouldn’t let Carly within a hundred feet of Ric, would you?” Jason challenged.

“No,” Sonny admitted. “But—”

“But nothing. Elizabeth is my wife just as much Carly is yours. She’s pregnant with our child and I am not putting either of them in danger.”

Sonny sighed and shook his head. “Elizabeth, I’m going to have to agree with Jason. I can’t expect him to do something I wouldn’t do in his place.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “Jason, this isn’t just about me or Laura, it’s about Emily and—”

I will find Emily,” Jason told her. “You told me that you didn’t leave me because of my job. That you understood it. Well, trust that I know what I’m doing. That I can handle this. You either trust me, Elizabeth or you don’t.”

“I do trust you,” Elizabeth whispered. “But I know that you believe you will find her and I believe you will try. But this isn’t just about that. Ric and Faith are not your normal enemies. They’re desperate. Ric broke into this building twice and I trusted you to protect me from him. And I believe that you did everything you could stop him. But he made it past the guards and he knew about the room in the hallway and he knew the number no one else is supposed to. Ric is not just any other person, okay? Jason—I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t go on Friday. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something.”

Jason sighed heavily. “I don’t know how Ric got in here. I know that the penthouses aren’t safe anymore.”

“If this place isn’t safe, no place is,” Sonny said quietly. “The safe houses are too isolated. And we can’t take her out of the country. Too many eyes watching.”

“Then I’m putting a guard inside the penthouse and he’ll go everywhere with you,” Jason said stubbornly. “He’ll stand outside the bathroom if he has to. I will do anything to protect you, Elizabeth and I don’t care if you hate me for it.”

She shook her head. “No! I could never hate you. I told you both at the beginning of this that I will do whatever it takes to keep my baby safe. But I can’t ignore my part in this. You warned me about Ric, Jason. And I didn’t listen. Now everyone around me is paying—”

“None of this is your fault,” Jason cut in sharply. “None of it.”

“Jason—”

“We’ll figure out something else,” he told her. He looked at Sonny. “Right?”

“I’m sorry, Elizabeth. You told us that you trusted us to take care of you.” Sonny shrugged and looked at his feet. “You’re staying home Friday night.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell them she’d never forgive them both if something happened to Emily but she knew it would be said out of anger and that she wouldn’t mean it.

For the first time, she bit down and didn’t say the first thing that came to mind. She nodded and looked away. “Fine,” she whispered. “I’m kind of tired,” she told Jason. “Can we go home now?”

He kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry,” Jason said quietly. “I know you’re angry.”

“I’m not angry,” Elizabeth remarked. She looked away. “I’m just tired.”

And guilty.

Unbelievably guilty.