I came in like a wrecking ball
I never hit so hard in love
All I wanted was to break your walls
All you ever did was wreck me
Yeah, you, you wreck me
– Wrecking Ball, Miley Cyrus
Saturday, May 4, 2002
Quartermaine Estate: Foyer
AJ stormed through the door and into the foyer, ignoring the protests of Alice the maid as he bellowed for his grandfather. His pulse was racing, his muscles quivering—he couldn’t remember the last time he had been quite this goddamn livid.
Instead of Edward, Ned stepped out from the front parlor, a sheaf of papers in his hand. “Junior, having a bad day?” he asked dryly.
“Where is he?” AJ demanded, his hands so tightly fisted at his side that they ached. “Where the hell is our grandfather?”
“Taking a meeting at ELQ,” came the quiet and gentle tone of Lila behind them as Reginald wheeled her in from the conservatory. “And you’ll use a decent tone when you’re in my home.”
“Well, it’s Monica’s—” Ned began the old refrain, but AJ cut him off with an annoyed glance. “Sorry. Not the moment for that old bit.”
“I’m sorry, Grandmother, but he’s gone too far this time,” AJ said, struggling to keep his tone even.
“That may be, but he is still your grandfather, AJ.” Lila lifted her chin, but her eyes were somber. Resigned. “What’s he done now?”
“He went to my son’s school,” AJ told them, still reeling from Courtney’s revelations. “I don’t know how he managed to convince the headmaster, but he’s been meeting with Michael for the last few days. Telling him he’ll be coming here to live, that he’s a burden on Bobbie—”
Ned closed his eyes and shook his head. “That’s a new low. Even for him.”
“AJ—” Lila attempted.
“You should be grateful that I’m here and not Jason. Elizabeth, I’m sure has told him by now, and if you think I’m angry—”
“He’ll raze the old man to the ground,” Ned said. He looked to their grandmother. “You need to speak with him. If Grandfather upsets Michael, it might hurt AJ’s chances in court.” He hesitated and looked at AJ. “For what it’s worth, I’ve tried to talk to him. I knew he was angry after the will reading.”
“I know.” AJ dipped his head. “I was, too.” And hurt that Carly had tried to reach out from the grave to devastate him and his family. And what had they ever done to her but love Michael and want to be in his life? “I know Grandfather just wants to be part of Michael’s life. I love him, Grandmother, but I can’t let him ruin my chances.”
“I understand, AJ. And I will speak to him.” Lila pursed her lips. “Reggie, I’ll need to you to contact Jason—”
“Let me—” AJ waited a moment, taking a deep breath. “Let me speak with him. I need him to know that I wasn’t part of this, that I don’t condone it. If it comes from you, it won’t mean as much.”
“Fair enough.” Lila tilted her head. “I hope that you and Jason can work something out. I’d hate to see this dragged into court.”
“It’s not my first choice, Grandmother, but I’ll do whatever has to be done.”
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose as she spied the older man striding towards the courtyard from the parking lot. This was all her day needed.
“Ah, Elizabeth, just the young lady I wanted to see.” Edward offered her a broad smile, with a bit of chagrin in his eyes. She sighed. She should have known.
“I’m not running interference with Jason,” she told him as she scooped another set of dirty plates into her plastic mug. “You did the crime, Mr. Quartermaine, you do the time.” She paused and looked at him. “Has he found you yet?”
“Ah, no, but I spoke to my wife…” Edward cleared his throat, straightened his shoulders. “It’s a crime to see my great-grandson?”
She closed her eyes and cursed herself. Why did he have to do this? Why did he have to put that note of hurt, of despondence into his voice? She was such a sucker.
“It’s a crime,” Elizabeth said, setting the tub down and turning to him, “when you tell a five-year-old boy who’s just lost his mother that he’s a burden to his grandmother.”
At that, Edward did look slightly embarrassed. “I’m not saying I haven’t made mistakes—”
“I’m not talking to Jason for you,” Elizabeth said. “You’re wasting your breath—”
“This isn’t about Jason. I wanted—” He hesitated. “When AJ files for custody, it’s likely you’ll be called—”
“And you’d like me not to talk so much about what Michael told me.” She rolled her eyes. “You’re wasting your breath. If I end up having to testify, even if I wanted to omit it, Alexis would ask.”
“Elizabeth, I’ve always thought of you as one of the family,” Edward with his smile firmly in place, even if his jaw was slightly more clenched. “You’ve always been so good to Emily. And you’ve been close with Jason—”
“I’m going to do what’s best for Michael, Mr. Quartermaine.” Elizabeth picked up her tub of dirty dishes and discarded food. “I think it’s about time someone started putting him first.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Quartermaine.”
Elm Street Pier
Jason slowed his steps when he saw AJ on a bench at the bottom of the steps. Other than another member of the Quartermaine family, AJ was might be the person he wanted to see least in the world right now.
But he’d promised Elizabeth last night that he’d give AJ the benefit of the doubt when it came to Edward bothering Michael. He wasn’t convinced AJ wasn’t working with the Quartermaines to get custody, but he had to admit—it didn’t exactly seem like something AJ would do. Not this AJ.
“Jason.” AJ got to his feet when Jason stepped off the bottom of the steps. “Hey. I was hoping to catch you on the way to the warehouse.”
“Is this about Michael?” Jason asked bluntly.
“I know Elizabeth told you that Grandfather was…that he was harassing Michael at his school.” AJ looked away, his skin mottled with suppressed anger. “I can imagine how angry you were when you found out, because I was, too. I still am.”
Jason looked out over the harbor. “Elizabeth said you didn’t have a hand in it.”
“She’s right. Look, I want my son. I think I’ve been up front about that. I haven’t pretended for a second that I don’t intend to use everything I can to get that done. Including asking Elizabeth to testify—”
Jason swung back again with a glare. “I told you. Leave her out of it—”
“I don’t want to have this argument with you again,” AJ cut in. “I just want to make it clear there’s no way in hell I would ever allow Grandfather to say those things to Michael.” He looked down at his hands, and for the first time, Jason could see the thick calluses that had developed, an indication of the hard labor AJ now did as a forklift operator. “You don’t remember our childhood—”
“I don’t want to talk about—”
“I wish I didn’t,” AJ cut in. “The last thing I want is Michael to go through what we did. Every little thing was measured, considered. If we brought home art projects, we were judged on them as if they were candidates for a museum. Every grade, every test was agonized over. The pressure to be the Quartermaines Grandfather wanted, that Mom and Dad wanted—” He swallowed. “I crumbled under the weight of it. I wasn’t strong enough to drown them out. I drank to make them stop. You went with the flow. You were smarter than I was—”
“That’s not who I am now,” Jason said roughly, for the first time recognizing the pain in the older man’s expression. “I’m not Jason Quartermaine—”
“No, you’re not,” AJ said quietly. “But you were once. And I’m afraid that if Grandfather has his way, Michael will grow up with that pressure. With soul-crushing expectations. I’m sure Michael is as smart as you were—as you are now—don’t shake your head, Jason. Courtney told me that Elizabeth turned over Kelly’s books to you. I know what you do for a living, and you don’t do it for long if you’re an idiot.”
“I want to be a father to my son,” AJ told him. “But I promise you, Jason, if I have that chance, I won’t let Grandfather do those things to him. I’ve talked to Grandmother. I’m making it clear that I won’t participate in any custody suit he files on his own, and I won’t allow Grandfather anywhere near Michael if he continues to act this way.”
Jason dipped his head, taking a deep breath. He wasn’t sure what to do with this information, with this insight into a man he preferred to ignore. But he knew AJ was being honest with him, and if there anything Jason respected — it was honesty. “I called the school and told them if I found out Edward met with Michael again, I’d have Alexis sue them.”
“Good, good. Uh…” AJ scratched the back of his neck. “I have to get to work. My shift starts soon.” He started down the pier, but then stopped and turned back. “I hope—I hope we can come to some sort of agreement about what’s best for Michael. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
He left then, not waiting for Jason to answer. Not that Jason knew what he would say. In less than three weeks, everything he’d taken for granted about the uselessness of the man who was technically his brother had shifted and changed.
And he didn’t know what the hell to do about it.
“This day.” Elizabeth tossed back a long swig of her beer, then wrinkled her nose. “Oh, man. Who suggested the cheapest beer?”
“The girl who wanted to go on a Caribbean vacation this summer, which means we have to save every penny.” Gia shrugged and considered the thick dark liquid in her pint glass. “Not sure this is worth it. Next time, we just get the big bottle of wine.”
“But then we’d miss all this atmosphere,” Courtney said with a bright smile as she gestured toward the rest of the room, filled with dockhands and men playing beer. The trio of girls were the only females—save Jake behind the bar.
But no one approached them or gave them a second look. Courtney was Sonny’s sister, Gia was a cop’s sister, and Elizabeth…
Elizabeth decided not to think about why men who worked for Jason and Sonny were ignoring her.
“So, how did telling the boys about Granddaddy Q go?” Gia asked, folding her arms on the table. “You worked all day—”
“You didn’t come back last night after telling him?” Courtney raised her eyebrows. “Do we have something else to put on the agenda?”
“No,” Elizabeth drawled with a roll of her eyes. “It was okay. He was pissed as hell, like I’m sure AJ was. I talked him out of going right to the mansion, but it was a close call.” She lifted a shoulder. “We talked, and then we went for a ride.” When Gia started to wiggle her eyebrows, she laughed and punched her roommate lightly in the shoulder. “No, I mean on the bike. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I’m done pretending that we’re just…friends.”
“Thank God.” Gia raised her hands in the air. “Hallelujah!”
“AJ looked ready to kill this morning,” Courtney said. “He went straight to the mansion to confront his grandfather.” Her mouth twisted in a slight grimace. “I suppose I don’t have the influence on him that you do with Jason.”
Elizabeth winced, but shook it off. “He must have talked to Lila, because Edward showed up at Kelly’s. I’m not sure if he thought I could make peace with Jason or he could talk me out of mentioning any of it at a custody hearing, but I told him no way.”
“Even if you wanted to leave it out,” Gia said, “Alexis isn’t going to let this slide. She’d use it against AJ, as a sign the Q’s are demonic, but yeah, there’s no way this isn’t going to be a thing.”
“It’s insane. How did he think Michael was going to keep this to himself?” Courtney asked with another sigh. “I hate that Edward might have messed with AJ’s chances, but you’re right. This is a mark against the Quartermaines.”
“They’re never more dangerous than when they’re trying to help,” Elizabeth said with a rueful smile. She grimaced. “Damn it. Why he does have to be here tonight?”
Zander emerged from a clump of men that had been at the pool table. He grabbed a chair from another table, turned it around and straddled it. “Slumming it tonight, ladies?”
“Who asked you to sit down?” Gia demanded, but Zander ignored her, focusing his gaze on Elizabeth who met his eyes dead on. She wasn’t intimidated by him.
She could take care of herself, and moreover, this was Jake’s. The bartender had given them a friendly wave when they’d arrived, and the bar itself was full of men who worked for Sonny. She’d like to think after all the problems Zander had had at his job lately, he’d show some common sense.
But clearly that was too much to hope for as Zander’s eyes narrowed. “You talk to your boyfriend lately?”
She lifted one eyebrow. “Why? You looking to pass another message to him? I’m not interested.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” Zander smirked. “He’s not walking around like a man who’s satisfied. Maybe Gia’s more his speed.”
“Are you kidding me right now?” Gia demanded.
“I mean, I merely suggested yesterday that maybe he needed to get laid,” Zander continued, ignoring her. “And he nearly put me through a wall.”
“I wish he’d throw you over a cliff,” Courtney muttered.
“I wondered what those bruises were from,” Elizabeth said sweetly as she gestured toward the dark marks at Zander’s neck. “I heard you weren’t measuring up at work.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, well, maybe if Jason was getting what he needed at home, he wouldn’t be so bitchy at work.” He tilted his head, a wicked light in his eyes. “Or maybe you’re too frigid.”
Elizabeth fisted her hands in her lap, her blood beginning to simmer.
“Zander, you should probably go,” Courtney said. She leaned away from the table, looking in a different direction. “I think maybe—”
“Yeah, Emily told me you had a hang-up about sex,” Zander continued, leaning in. “I guess no one can measure up to that first time—”
“Oh, that is it—” Gia got to her feet, but Elizabeth had already beat her to it. She picked up her glass and without even blinking, tossed it in his face. Zander scowled and grabbed Gia’s beer.
Elizabeth gasped as the cold liquid splashed her face. Without one more thought, she lunged to her feet and launched herself across the table, tackling Zander and clawing at his face with her nails.
Gia rushed in to help, but the bar had already exploded. Men were trying to separate them, jostling each other. One man took exception to a bump from another, punched him in the face, then had a chair cracked over his head by someone else from the guy’s group.
Courtney neatly sidestepped the whole matter and moved a chair out of Jason’s away, as he closed the last distance between him and the melee at the table. She’d spied him several minutes earlier—and after all, hadn’t she warned Zander to leave?
Elizabeth felt herself being lifted up by the waist and kicked out wildly until she realized it was Jason. He set her down next to Courtney, grabbed Zander by the throat and lifted him up as well.
“When the hell did he get here?” Elizabeth demanded, wiping blood from her cheek. Courtney winced, then bit her lip as she watched Jason drag Zander towards the back of the bar.
“Uh, where’s he taking him?” Courtney asked.
Gia joined them, holding her hand to her cheek. “Fucking wastes of space,” she snarled. “Someone punched me in the face.”
“I better go out there before Jason kills him,” Elizabeth managed before taking off. After a moment, Gia and Courtney followed.
Jake’s: Back Alley
But Jason wasn’t going to kill Zander Smith. He didn’t know why Zander had thrown the beer at Elizabeth, but when he had, he’d seen red and didn’t quite remember closing the distance between the stairs and the brawl.
Fucker was lucky Jason didn’t separate his head from his body. It would have given Jason pleasure to rip him apart.
Though it felt good to finally be using his fists against Zander’s face the way he’d always visualized, Jason saw the back door open out of the corner of his eye. Elizabeth and her friends piled into the alley, followed by Jake.
When he was sure Zander wouldn’t be able to get back up and do any more damage, Jason let him slide to the ground, landing on his back, coughing up. His face was streaked with grime and dirt from the alley, along with scratches from Elizabeth and Gia’s nails—and blood from the broken nose he’d made sure Zander would suffer.
He’d seen the scumbag punch Elizabeth in the face. Zander Smith was lucky to be walking away with his ability to breathe intact.
Jason planted his motorcycle boot on Zander’s chest and leaned down. “You get up and you go away,” he told him in a low voice. “The next time I see you, I might not let you leave alive.”
Zander coughed again and spit to the side, the saliva mixed blood. “Fucking bitch needs you to fight her battles—”
“Call me a bitch again!” Elizabeth snarled, but Gia grabbed her elbow to keep her from striding forward. “I don’t need anyone to take care of me. I knocked you on your ass, you piece of shit—”
“Who are you and what did you do with Elizabeth?” Courtney hissed.
“Get up and go away,” Jason told him again. “Don’t look back. You’re done here.” He stepped back.
Zander stumbled to his feet and spat again. “You don’t get to decide that,” he snarled, but he didn’t press the point. He disappeared down the alley. Jason turned to the quartet at the back door.
“Just wanted to be sure you wouldn’t kill him,” Jake said blandly. “I’ll go in and turn on the sprinklers.”
Elizabeth was breathing hard from the exertion of the fight, her pulse was racing as she watched Jason stand several feet away, breathing just as hard, his muscular chest rising up and down beneath the black t-shirt he wore.
“We should—” Gia grabbed Courtney by the arm and yanked her through the door.
“Should we leave them alone?” Courtney asked. “He looked pretty angry—”
“Girl, those were mating pheromones,” Gia told her. “Let’s help Jake clear out the bar.”
“Um, we weigh like a hundred pounds,” Courtney replied, but followed her friend. “I don’t think we’re going to be a lot of help.”
Back in the alley, Jason and Elizabeth just continued to stare at one another. Should she go inside? Say something? But her throat refused to produce sound and her feet were glued to the sidewalk.
He strode forward then, slid his hand around her neck and drew her up on her toes. And then he kissed her.
She’d been kissed before—by Lucky, mostly. Once, uncomfortably by Nikolas. A few times on dates with Gia’s annoying friends—but never like this. He consumed her. The world around her melted away, and the only thing she knew was the taste of his mouth, the slight tang of beer as his tongue slid past her lips. The way his hands felt as they slid beneath the thin camisole she wore and touched her skin, scorching a trail up her back.
She could feel the cool stone of the building behind her as he backed her against it, taking his lips from hers in order to kiss her jaw, taste the skin at her collarbone, the nip of his teeth at her throat. It was everything she’d ever thought it might be, but somehow more. Everything was brighter, more vibrant.
A bottle smashed somewhere nearby and Elizabeth jerked away, drawn back to reality by the sound. She pushed Jason back a little, suddenly uncomfortable with how fast and…how intense the moment had been.
His fingers touched the swelling at her cheek. “You’re going to have a black eye,” he murmured, with none of the aggression he’d shown just moments earlier. “I should have hit him harder.”
“I’m pretty sure he’ll have scars from me and Gia,” Elizabeth replied with a sauciness she hadn’t felt in months. “I appreciate the assist, but I had it under control.”
“I know.” He grinned then, stepping back, giving her some space to cool down. “I just finally had a good excuse to kick his ass. You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.”
She knew her own smile must be as wide. God, Gia and Courtney had been right. She needed this electric feeling, this sensation of being alive. She could feel all her nerve endings standing on end. “I have a pretty decent idea.”
He tipped his head toward the door. “I should go in, make sure Jake cleared the bar. You need a ride home?”
“Even if I didn’t,” Elizabeth said, arching a brow, “I’ll take one.”
Port Charles Harbor
It was just after dawn when a yacht sailed into the harbor as some of the locals were beginning their morning shift in the warehouses that lined the docks.
It had left Caracas, Venezuela two weeks earlier and had initially been scheduled to arrive the week before. But a storm off the coast of Massachusetts had delayed its northward progress, and traffic down the St. Lawrence River from the Atlantic had been congested now spring had arrived and wealthy residents were taking their own pleasure cruises from the Great Lakes to the ocean.
The yacht sliced through the murky blue water of the Elm Street Pier and slid into a slip that had been reserved for the summer. Its crew set down the anchor, and some of workers at a nearby warehouse part gaped at the large vessel. Yachts were common in Port Charles, and wealth was not a new sight—they had their own island just outside the harbor complete with a Gothic mansion.
But this yacht was unusually large, with swarthy Columbian crew, and a name scrawled in Spanish across the bow, La Venganza. Some of the dock workers who spoke the language remarked on naming one’s boat after revenge, but everyone knew rich people didn’t have much imagination.
Several hours later, a man strolled out to the bow of the boat where the pier met Elm Street. He had a decent view of the harbor and, in particular, Pier 52. He lit a cigar and took a long pull, enjoying the bitter, smoky taste as it rolled down his throat.
“Let the games begin,” he murmured, before turning to meet with his first business associate, his grin wide and enthusiastic. “Ah, Senore Roscoe, thank you for meeting with me…”