Author: Lisa H & Stephanie
Rating: PG 13
Disclaimer:This is a work of fiction based on the characters established and defined by the actor Russell Crowe. It is strictly for entertainment purposes. Please do not copy, publish or alter this work in any way without the written permission of the author.
Lisa looked up from her magazine and waved as a tired-looking Dr. Giraudeau walked out of the elevators and into the main lobby of the hospital.
“Sorry I’m late.” He said, hurrying toward the chair where the respiratory therapist was waiting for him. “Post-op didn’t go as well as I had expected…” his voice trailed off, tinged with a hint of exhaustion. “I hope that I’m not making you late for anything.”
“Oh, no!” Lisa reassured him. She slid her reading material into the canvas tote that she carried with her and dug her car keys out of her jacket. “It’s just going to be another quiet weekend up at the hangar for Lachlan and I. He’s been tinkering around with the Moth a bit. We might try to get to the Tav tomorrow, but it’s just leftovers and TV for tonight.”
Nodding in relief, the doctor followed Lisa out to the parking lot and climbed into her silver CRV.
“Thanks again for the ride.” He said. “I’m supposed to pick the truck up from Colin on Monday. If not, I’ll use Steph’s car until he gets it running.”
Once again, the woman waved his worried away. “I’m glad to have the company.” She offered her companion a warm smile. Then, after backing out of the parking space and turning onto the road that would take them to the Point, engaged him in conversation once more. “So, do you and Steph have any plans?”
“Yes, actually. We do.”
Lisa frowned at the odd tone of his voice. It sounded almost nervous, and the therapist turned her head to study his face, noting the lines of tension there. “Anything wrong?”
“No…” He didn’t sound convinced. “We’re having company.”
“Stephanie’s brother is home from Scotland, and she’s invited him to stop by.”
After dropping Anthony off at his place, Lisa drove the rest of the way into the Point. She parked her car in her usual spot near the back of the hanger and slipped in the rear door that led to the addition that she and Lachlan had built. She glanced at an unfamiliar bag sitting by the couch.
“Lachlan?” She called, and frowned when there was no answer. She walked into the kitchen. “Lach?” He wasn’t there either but there were dirty dishes in the sink. Lachlan must have decided not to wait for her for dinner. Judging by the fact that there were two sets of dishes, he must have had company. Probably one of his brothers came over- possibly Colin- and they were out in the hanger messing with the biplane.
Lisa changed out of her scrubs and made her way over to the hanger. She stopped in her tracks as she took in the scene before her. Lachlan was helping a woman down from the forward seat of the yellow Tiger Moth biplane–A woman who was everything that Lisa was not: tall, model thin, blonde and smartly dressed.
Lisa looked down at the worn sweatshirt and baggy shorts that she was wearing. She sighed. It was just her luck. Gretchen, the woman that almost replaced her, was back. And I look like some homeless shelter refugee. She pasted a cheery smile on her face.
“Hi” She called out.
The couple turned, Lachlan’s hands still on Gretchen’s waist. “G’day, luv. Look who’s here?”
Lisa’s smile was tight as she walked toward the couple. “Hello.” She extended a hand, “I don’t believe that we were ever formally introduced. I’m Lisa.”
Lachlan winced and quickly let go of Gretchen. Lisa was mad, he could tell. She always got excessively polite when she was angry. “Lisa, this is Gretchen. She’s a mate of mine.”
“Pleasure to meet you.” What the hell are you doing here? Lisa didn’t voice her thoughts. She shook the woman’s hand and quickly let it go. “Have you two eaten?” It wasn’t really a question.
“Yeah.” Lachlan replied. “You weren’t home yet, Gretchen was hungry after her trip here so I made us a little tucker.”
Lisa nodded. “If you’ll excuse me then, I’m just going to run over to the Tavern and grab a bite.” She started to walk away.
Lachlan quickly caught up with her. “Everything alright, luv?”
She turned to face the handsome pilot. “Just stellar.” She figured he wouldn’t miss the sarcasm.
Lachlan had the good sense to look sheepish. “It’s a long story, sweetheart.” He glanced back at the blonde still standing next to his beloved biplane. “I’ll explain later.”
“I’m very sure that you will.”
Lachlan watched as Lisa walked back through the door that led to their new home. He was in trouble, he was almost sure of it. But he had every bit of confidence that he could make it up to Lisa later. He turned back to Gretchen.
The blonde Canadian smiled brightly at him. “I don’t think she is happy to see me here.”
“Something more to drink? Maybe a nightcap? Amaretto Sour?”
Stephanie looked up at Andy. “Thanks, but not tonight. I’ll take a Diet Sprite.”
“Hitting the hard stuff tonight?” Andy teased.
The attorney smiled weakly. “Yeah.”
Stephanie sighed and looked down at her half-eaten sandwich and fries. Across the table another plate sat untouched and growing cold. Anthony was late. Again. Why wasn’t she surprised?
“You don’t look so good, luv.” The photographer-turned-barkeep squatted down level to the booth.
“I’m just tired. I can’t seem to get enough sleep these days.”
“Anthony wearing you out?”
The smile widened. “I wish…” She looked over her shoulder toward the door. “I barely see him since he started covering call at Mercy for Dr. Broun.”
“Yes…but happy. I think he was getting bored sitting around just waiting for you guys to screw up.” She glanced hopefully toward the entrance again.
“He joining you tonight?”
“He was supposed to. He rode home with Lisa, but had to head back to the hospital again.” The doctor’s lover shrugged. “I’m getting used to it by now.”
“Can I get you something else to eat while you wait?” Andy solicited. “A piece of pie…or maybe some cheesecake?”
“Maybe a little bit of ice cream.” Stephanie declared at last.
“Coming right up.”
Andy cleared the dirty plates away. In a few minutes, he returned with a Diet Sprit and a hot-fudge sundae. Three extra cherries were sitting on the top. “I said a little ice-cream” she said with a laugh, “This is enormous!”
“Well, no such thing as calories at the Point.”
“God, I’m starting to doubt that’s true!” She declared, pushing the bowl away. “I swear I’ve gained four pounds this month!”
“Well, then the good doctor obviously isn’t working you hard enough…or” Andy’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “Maybe he did a little too good of a job?”
Stephanie’s suddenly black expression was interrupted by sound of the Tavern door being flung open against the wall. All conversation in the bar seemed to stop as Lisa stormed across the floor.
“Give me a double.” She said through clenched teeth.
Wide-eyed, Andy scurried off to do as he was told.
Stephanie watched the scene with interest, wondering if it would be a contrite, or an equally enraged Lachlan who next walked through the door.
The door stayed closed.
Stephanie picked up her spoon again. Maybe she felt like chocolate after all!
Lisa accepted her drink, tossing half of it back in a single gulp. “What are you looking at?” She challenged Andy. The photographer flushed and returned his conversation to a game of pool. Lisa continued to look around the room, her eyes stopping at last on the attorney.
“Men!” She hissed, ambling toward her friend.
Stephanie opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, but it was clear that such action was unnecessary.
“Bloody hell. Bloody fucking hell! What does he think he’s doing?”
“Lachlan?” Stephanie asked rhetorically.
“Damn right, Lachlan!” Lisa said, taking another long draw on her drink. “Waltzing down from the moth with that woman on his arm, acting as if nothing in the world should be wrong!”
“Woman?” Stephanie tried not to betray here interest.
“Gretchen.” Lisa spat the word.
The Kentuckian’s eyes grew wide. “You mean…Canadian Gretchen? Gretchen from…?”
Well, that explained it.
“What in the world is she doing here?”
“That’s what I’d bloody like to know!”
“I thought she was getting married.”
“That’s what Lachlan told me too! -But there she was prancing around like she owned the place when I got home!”
//You left them alone?// Stephanie swallowed the question, considering its impropriety. Acting on autopilot, she reached for the uneaten pickle spear on Anthony’s plate and gnawed it nervously.
The action distracted Lisa from her displeasure. “Pickles and ice cream?” She asked. “Do you maybe have news of your own?”
Stephanie blanched, letting the morsel drop. “Will everybody please stop!” She said so ferociously that Lisa and Andy could only stare. “Why do you all keep saying that?”
“Saying what?” the man asked earnestly.
Lisa’s arched her eyebrows. “Knocked up?”
Stephanie bit her lower lip. “I’m not!” She insisted.
“Well I should hope not.” Andy said with a dismissive laugh. “Surely they taught the poor man enough in med school to stay out of trouble with the ladies.”
//But I think they skipped that lesson in seminary.//
Stephanie blinked when Lisa’s expression indicated she had read the thoughts.
“Hey, how ’bout another drink.” The medical worker said quickly, watching as Andy scampered away. “You are being careful?” She asked when she was certain that the coast was clear. “I mean…you two are…careful.” she underscored the word. “Anthony isn’t like the rest of the guys here, after all.”
“No…I mean yes!” Stephanie said quickly. “I mean…sort of.” When Lisa’s features narrowed in confusion she explained. “Anthony doesn’t know.”
“He doesn’t know?”
“I just…stole some birth control pills from the Clinic because I don’t want him to know.”
“You don’t want him to know?” The other woman’s face grew more and more puzzled.
“Well he’s sort of…really Catholic, after all.” Stephanie explained.
“Oh.” Lisa nodded her head, finally understanding the problem. “I suppose I can see that then…but it still isn’t safe to self-medicate.” Another thought struck her. “You’re sure that you are taking them right?”
“Yes!” Stephanie’s voice was strained.
The abrupt answer caused Lisa to color once more. “Well, then- why are you so touchy?”
“It’s just…” Stephanie leaned across the table, not wanting prying ears to overhear. “It’s just that it’s been three months…”
“Three months? Three months since you and Anthony had sex?”
Lisa was aghast.
“No!” Stephanie looked away in mortification. “Since I had…my visit…from Aunt Flo.”
“Oh my God!” Lisa could not contain her shock. “Have you taken a test?”
“Well don’t you think you should?”
“I took the pills perfectly!”
“That’s no guarantee.”
Lisa dropped her friend off at the Clinic before heading back to the hangar. She had been momentarily distracted by her friend’s shocking revelation. Now, however, as the low building which house the apartment she and her boyfriend shared swung into view, her own worries were returning to the fore.
//Bloody hell!// She thought, not even noticing that, in her disquiet, she reverted to the Australian slang her lover used. Gretchen’s car was still there. Feeling color returning to her cheeks, Lisa pulled the car into the drive.
Lisa walked into their living room just as Lachlan was laying a set of sheets and a blanket on the foot of the couch. Gretchen was sitting in the chair facing him sipping on a bottle of beer. Lisa gave the Canadian a small smile. “If you’ll excuse us for a minute.” Lisa grabbed Lachlan and dragged him out to the small patio off their kitchen.
“Just what the hell do you think that you are doing?” Lisa’s voice was sharp.
“Making the couch for Gretchen. She needs a place to sleep.” Lachlan crossed his arms defensively over his chest. He’d done nothing wrong, in his eyes. “Gretchen’s broke it off with her fiancé. She needs a place to stay.”
Well, she can not stay on my couch,” Lisa hissed. “There is a perfectly good Inn just down the road and I’d be happy to take her there. Besides, the couch is going to be used tonight.”
“By who?” Lachlan asked innocently.
Lisa gave him a pointed look. “By a pilot stupid enough to invite his former lover to spend the night.” She turned back towards the door.
“She was never my lover.” Lachlan called out to Lisa’s retreating back.
“Near as bloody dammit!” Lachlan heard her say as she slid the glass door shut with enough force that he was surprised it didn’t break.
Lisa walked back into the living room where Gretchen was pursuing the collection of photographs on the mantle over the fireplace.She was holding the double-framed pictures that Steve had taken months ago. The Canadian turned at the sound of Lisa’s footfalls. “Last time I saw this, the glass was broken.”
“Things have changed a bit since you were last here.” Lisa replied.
Gretchen glanced at the closed door to the patio where Lachlan remained. A quick glance followed to Lisa’s left hand then back to meet the other woman’s gaze. “Some things but not everything.” There was a hint of smugness in her voice.
“Lachlan and I have decided that you’d be more comfortable at the Inn.” Lisa decided to ignore Gretchen’s last comment.
Gretchen shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
Lisa motioned towards the door. “Oh, I will!”
Stephanie walked through the back door into the Clinic kitchen, and then continued down the hall through the door that separated the medical facility from the rest of the house. Anthony still wasn’t back from the hospital. Still, she moved quietly, as though frightened that she might get caught.
Surely, Anthony had a pregnancy test kit somewhere! She was certain that Lisa’s fears were overrated, but she was starting to get nervous on her own. There was no sense brooding about something for days and days when a simple test could lay all her fears to rest.
She went to the supply closet in Anthony’s office, feeling a little bit guilty as she removed the key from its secret hiding place and unfastened the lock. The resident physician had never commented on the missing contraceptives, but she was still worried about the risk of getting caught. There weren’t many women around the Point who needed these sorts of things, even if Anthony liked to keep them on hand just in case. She didn’t want to be around when he started asking questions.
//Ah! There it was!//
Stephanie located an E.P.T. kit in the back of the cabinet and quickly tucked it under her arm. She relocked the cabinet, returned the key to its drawer, and hurried back down the hall.
//God, I haven’t done this since college!//
The lawyer vividly remembered her two experiences with pregnancy tests from her undergrad days, pacing around the bathroom while she waited for the stick to dry, praying “Please God; I’ll never have sex again…“
Clearly, she was no better about keeping promises now than she had been back then. Nearly sick with worry, she dove into the bathroom and locked the door.
Stephanie discarded the packaging and removed the tester from its foil wrapping. She barely glanced at the instructions before cramming them into the bottom of the trashcan.
//No!// She stopped herself. That wasn’t safe. Anthony might find them when he carried the garbage outside. Annoyed by the delay, but cognizant of the fact that her boyfriend might return at any moment, Stephanie carried the box and associated papers to small incinerator that he kept outside for medical waste. It wasn’t turned on, of course, but it also wasn’t likely that the doctor would notice anything that happened to be inside.
Her task complete, she returned to the bathroom. The test looked the same as the ones she had used before, and she balanced herself above the toilet as she performed the awkward (and humiliating) maneuvering that the test required. When the stick was adequately pee-drenched, she put it in a cup.
And then she had to wait.
After hiding the evidence in the back of the linen closet, she went to the kitchen to fix a cup of tea. How long was she supposed to wait? Five minutes? Ten minutes? All day? Why had she thrown the stupid instructions away? She would wait an hour. If it hadn’t changed by then, she was safe. Stephanie stared dolefully at the clock. Then again, maybe forty-five minutes would be okay.
“Honey? Are you home?” The sound of Anthony’s voice jarred her attention to the hallway. She quickly exited the bathroom, her features flushed with guilt.
“I looked for you at the Tavern…” the doctor explained, catching her in his arms. “I must have just missed you…”
“It’s alright.” The lawyer answered. “Your dinner is sitting on the counter.
Stephanie led her boyfriend into the kitchen. She tried to keep up small talk as she waited for the minutes to crawl by. //What was Anthony saying? Something about a ruptured appendix. Sutures. Tonsillectomy…//
“Honey, are you okay?”
Stephanie blinked into concerned green eyes.
“You’re sort of zoning on me…”
How long had she been staring into space? Stephanie looked at her watch. //Twenty minutes. Close enough!// She jumped to her feet.
“I’m sorry. I…I have to go to the bathroom.” She explained, then raced down the hall.
She closed the door and turned the lock behind her, her hands shaking as they reached to the back of the closet. She forced herself not to peek until she had carried the cup to the sink and switched on all the lights. Removing the stick, she finally looked down.
Then her knees gave way.
It was blue!
It was blue.
Stephanie gripped the edge of the sink, feeling as if her knees were going to give way. How was it possible?
Well, she knew how it was possible, but…
“Stephanie? Honey, are you okay in there?”
The woman spun around guiltily as Anthony stuck his head in the door, cramming the indicator stick into her pocket as she turned.
“I…I’m fine.” She stuttered.
“Okay. Well, I’m ready to drive you back then.”
“Back?” Stephanie was confused.
“To the hotel…” Anthony’s voice carried the tone of a reminder. “Remember? We decided that it would be better if you weren’t spending the nights here.”
“Anthony, everyone knows that we’re sleeping together.” She informed him with exasperation. If there had ever been any doubt, the episode with Sid, the Blade II soundtrack, and the camcorder had long since laid it to rest.
“Everyone except your brother- and I want to keep it that way.” A pout was forming at her lips, and he playfully poked the protruding lip back against her teeth. “Please, honey? He’s the first member of your family that I’ve ever met. I want to make a good impression.”
Stephanie sighed and shook her head. “Anthony, he’ll love you.”
“I just don’t want him to think that I’m the sort of guy who just wants to play around, get you knocked up and drive away…” Anthony frowned as the color drained from Stephanie’s face.
“What is it?”
“It’s…” She couldn’t tell him now- not until she figured out how she felt about it herself. “Nothing. I’m tired. Maybe you’re right. Avery will be here early. I think I’ll head back to the Inn.”
*knock knock knock*
Stephanie blinked her eyes as she came slowly awake.
*knock knock knock*
Where was she?
Sitting up, the attorney recognized her room at the Crowe’s Point Inn. Although Tina had surrendered the apartment before Christmas, Stephanie had spent most of her nights at the Clinic, so that she was still unfamiliar with the space.
*knock knock knock*
A third barrage of pounding caught her attention again. Glancing at the clock, she saw that it was 8 AM. It must be Jeff with breakfast. Had she told him that she wanted something brought up? Still confused, she pulled on her robe and padded to the door.
“I’m coming!” She called out sleepily. Stephanie placed her hand over her mouth as she yawned. She had no idea when she had finally fallen asleep. Her mind had been too preoccupied with worries to permit any rest.
Stephanie’s stomach did a flip-flop in her chest as she remembered the source of her turmoil. What was going to happen? How was she ever going to tell Anthony?
*knock knock knock*
“Coming!” Stephanie said again. For now, she forced the worries out of her mind. Fixing a determined smile on her lips, she flung open the door.
It wasn’t Jeff.
In contrast to the young Russell Crowe incarnation, the man before her had a more compact build and less rugged features. His eyes were a crystal blue, and his hair a burnished auburn that fell in wavy locks to an inch above his shoulders. A well-trimmed beard accented upcurled lips that seemed to be laughing at the half-clad woman.
Stephanie blinked, recovering from a moment of shock, and then her own features spread into a wide grin.
“Avery!” She cried out, flinging her arms around the visitor’s neck. “You’re early!”
“Surprised?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “You must be. For a second, I didn’t think you recognized me. My favorite little sister. You should be ashamed.”
Stephanie blushed. “I’m your only little sister.” She reminded him. “And I knew it was you. I’m just tired…besides, you do look different.”
“It’s the hair. I let it grow out a bit”
Avery stuck out his tongue.
“So- How did you get here so soon? I wasn’t expecting you until lunch, Anthony and I were-“
“Maybe I wanted you to myself for a little bit?” He said warmly. “But seriously. I didn’t intend to be so early. I followed the directions you gave me from the airport. I made a left turn, looked up, and I was here.”
Stephanie nodded her head. “That happens sometimes. I didn’t know whether to tell you or not.”
“Well, I figured you would have a hard enough time believing me about this place already.”
Avery nodded his head. “I do admit that I was worried that I was going to get here and find out that you had really checked your self into a psycho ward. Mom said that you were still upset about Jack and I was afraid that-“
“I am not still upset about Jack!” Stephanie’s face darkened. “And as for believing me- well, you’ll see for yourself. Did you see any of the boys when you came in?”
“Boys?” Avery’s features scrunched in confusion until he remembered the meaning of the term. “The Russell Crowe characters, you mean. Uhm…no. Just the cute Canadian sitting at the desk.”
“‘Chelle.” Stephanie supplied. “And don’t bother. She’s taken.”
Avery smile deepened. “So, are you going to invite me to come in, or should I ask if they have another room?”
“No! No!” Stephanie had forgotten that they were standing in the hall. “Let me help you with your bags.” When her brother declined, the Kentuckian contented herself with leading him into the room. “You can sleep in here. I’ll probably stay…” with Anthony at the Clinic, she almost said, but stopped when she remembered her boyfriend’s plan of keeping up appearances. “…on the couch. Do you want me to help you unpack? Have you had anything to eat?”
“No, and no.” Avery replied, setting his suitcase on the bed. “Unpacking will only take me a minute. I left most of my things in Europe- no sense toting them back over next month when we start the new project in Berlin.”
“But you would be my favorite little sister if you’d get me something to eat.”
Stephanie shook her head. “I’m your only little sister!” She reminded him again. “You get settled in. I’ll go down and find some breakfast.”
How could you?—Bloody hell, Lisa! You’re over reacting. –She wants to fuck you and you refuse to see that. —She’s just a good mate, that’s it! Stop imagining things. –If you don’t believe me then maybe the couch is a good place for me tonight.
Snippets of their argument whirled through Lisa’s head, as she lay alone in their big queen size bed. A dull throbbing behind her eyes gave testimony to her lack of sleep. She and Lachlan had their first big fight last night. The bed had seemed so lonely without him and more than once she had been tempted to go out and apologize. But pride had won out over common sense and she had spent the night alone. She looked at the clock on the bedside table. It was already after nine. Lachlan was probably gone by now. Today was his day to make a weekly supply run to Mannie’s hut. Sighing, Lisa slowly got out of bed. Maybe Lachlan was right, she was over-reacting about Gretchen’s arrival. She’d make it up to him when he got back.
Feeling better already, Lisa quickly showered and dressed. Instead of cooking breakfast, she’d run over to the Tavern, grab a bite to eat and maybe see if there was any excitement going on.
There was hardly anyone around when she pushed open the door to the Tavern. Colin and Johnny were already engaged in a pool game and Arthur was parked at one of the tables doing some paperwork. Lisa waved at all of them then made her way to the bar in the back.
She had just settled onto a bar stool when the door to the kitchen opened. She was surprised to see Annabella, the resident chef, come out to take her order. Annabella seemed just a surprised to see Lisa.
“Lisa, what are you doing here?” The chef asked.
“Ordering some breakfast. Why?”
“It’s just that Lachlan had me pack the small picnic basket this morning. You know, the one that fits under the seat in his plane. I figured that you two had plans for today…..” Her voice trailed off at the devastated look on the other woman’s face. “Lisa, what’s wrong?”
Lisa sat straight and tried to ignore the crushing pain in her chest. Struggling to sound normal, she replied. “Nothing. I think I’ll skip breakfast after all.” Moving slowly because she felt like she was going to break into a million pieces she walked towards the door that connected the Tavern to the Inn. Maybe Stephanie was in her room.Lisa had to talk to someone. She desperately needed someone to tell her that she was imagining things. To tell her that no, Lachlan had not taken Gretchen to the bluff, their special place. She was just imaging things, that there was a perfectly logical explanation for Lachlan ordering a picnic lunch.
Lisa fought back tears as she quickly made her way up the back stairs of the Inn. It didn’t take but minutes for her to be standing in front of Stephanie’s doorway. She tried the doorknob, too upset to bother with knocking. As luck would have it, the door was unlocked and Lisa barged right in.
“Steph, you are not going to believe…” Her voice tapered off. The tears in her eyes dried up as well as any moisture that might have wetted her mouth. For standing the in the middle of Steph’s living room was a man. And it wasn’t Anthony. This man was using a soft blue towel to rub the moisture out of his hair. Lisa’s eyes quickly traveled from the long locks of sunlit copper to the neatly trimmed beard, past the broad chest with its generous sprinkling of that same golden red hair down to the tumble of ginger curls at the juncture of his thighs in which nestled the biggest…oh my god, he’s completely naked! Lisa’s gaze immediately shot back up to his face. Her cheeks flooded with color at his broad grin.
“I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to barge in. I was looking for Stephanie and the door was unlocked so I just…”Her voice trailed off again at his deep chuckle.
“It’s all right. I’m Stephanie’s brother Avery. She just went to get some breakfast for me. She should be back in just a second.” He stood there looking at the red-faced woman in front of him who was now covering her face with her hands. “What?”
“Oh for god’s sake, will you put some clothes on!” Came the muffled reply.
Avery’s laugh was full bodied and rich. “Sorry about that. I’ll be right back.”
When she was sure that her was gone, Lisa slowly uncovered her face. She couldn’t believe that he had just stood there; naked as the day he was born, trying to have a conversation with her. Either he was extremely self-confident or he was crazy as a loon. She looked up when the bedroom door opened. Dressed, he was just as devastately handsome. He was wearing a white, button down shirt that showed off his lightly tanned skin. Faded jeans hugged his body in all the right places.
“Much.” She couldn’t help but return his infectious smile. She scooted over when he sat next to her on the couch. “So you’re Stephanie’s brother?” Lisa wondered what he knew about this place. The last time someone connected to Stephanie came here it almost destroyed the magic. “How did you get here?” She asked cautiously.
“Steph invited me so I flew down. I’m back in the states for a hiatus before I start my next project.”
“I’m a historical architect.” He grinned. “I know, it sounds horribly pretentious. But I enjoy it. Studying ancient ruins and old buildings, figuring out how they were built, how the residents lived. I wouldn’t trade it for any job in the world.” His love for his chosen profession glowed in his words.
“So just where does a historical architect find work?” This handsome man beside her intrigued Lisa.
“Right now I’m a associate professor at the University of Glasgow.”
“That explains it.”
“Explains what?” His head tilted a little with the question.
“Why you sound a bit like Ewan McGregor with a bad American accent.” Lisa grimaced. “I suppose I could have put that a little nicer.”
Avery tipped his head back and gave a full-bodied laugh. “No offense taken.”
Stephanie carefully carried the breakfast tray as she walked down the hallway towards her room. Her thoughts were still on that simple blue line. Why now? With Avery here it was going to be even harder to come to terms-bad choice of words-with what this all means. She balanced the tray on her hand as she reached down to open the door. She could hear Avery talking as she walked in the room.
“There I was in a little pub in Saint Andrews, there are some great ruins of a cathedral near there. I’d had a couple of pints. Okay, maybe more than a couple”He said with a mischievous grin. “I was singing Flower of Scotland which is their unofficial national anthem. Now I thought I was doing a fair job of it when suddenly this huge guy came up to me. The last thing I remember was hearing him say “Bloody Yank” in the thickest Scottish burr I had ever heard. I swore from that moment on, that I would never drink Guinness or sing in a Scottish pub again. I’ve managed to keep the latter half of that promise.”
Stephanie watched as Lisa covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her giggles. Gone was the angry hurt woman from yesterday. Avery had made another conquest. Lord help Lachlan now. “Hey, I’m back!”
Both Lisa and Avery turned their heads reluctantly toward the door.
“Ah! Stephanie!” Avery said at last, walking forward to assist her with the tray. He bent forward, deeply inhaling the crisp bacon and juicy orange halves that Annabella had sent up for their guest. “My savior!”
Stephanie surrendered her burden to her brother, and then turned her attention to the woman. “Lisa? What are you doing here?”
Abruptly, the giddy glow on the respiratory therapist’s features dimmed. “I…needed to talk to you.” She said in a quiet tone.
“Oh?” Stephanie’s eyebrow lifted, asking silently if this had anything to do with what had happened the night before.
Lisa’s expression answered with a resounding “yes”.
“Avery, Lisa and I are going to walk downstairs.” Stephanie said slowly, glancing at her brother. “Why don’t you get settled in and rest? I’ll find Anthony later and-“
“We could meet for lunch?”
Stephanie shook her head in amusement. “Don’t you ever think of anything but food?” She laughed, thinking that her brother would get along famously with a certain Frenchwoman who often checked in to the Point.
Avery threw up his hands in defense. “I’m hungry! Besides, the European approach to meat is to slap it on the butt and trot it on out… I haven’t seen a crisp piece of bacon since I left the States.” As if to emphasize his point, he crunched a piece of the fried meat between his teeth, sighing with satisfaction when it snapped easily between his teeth. “I’m in love.”
The professor’s sister laughed again and shook her head. She turned to Lisa. “Let’s go. I think my brother and his breakfast need some time alone…”
Avery stuck out his tongue.
“We’ll be back around eleven thirty.” The lawyer said, ignoring the face. “I suppose we could get some lunch if you’re still hungry. Maybe we could take you for a tour…”
“And of course, Lisa is coming.”
Stephanie bit her lip in concern at the look that passed between her sibling and her friend. She had seen Avery use that look before.
“I don’t know if she’ll have time. Her boy-“
“Of course!” Lisa interrupted. “I’d love to. Besides, I owe you a drink.” Her lips curled upwards. “Guinness, I believe?”
Avery laughed. “Only if you don’t mind hearing…”
“Let’s go.” Stephanie stepped abruptly between the pair, cutting off their banter. “We have to hurry, Lisa. We’ll be late.”
Ignoring the look of confusion on the other woman’s face, Stephanie clasped her elbow and dragged her through the door.
“Sorry about that.” The attorney apologized when the door had shut behind them.
“Leaving you alone with him.”
“That’s alright.” Lisa mumbled as her cheeks flushed a furious red. “I…uhm…got to see…a part of him…parts…that I wouldn’t have seen if you were around.”
Once again the lawyer lifted her brow.
“Really. It’s no big deal.”
Stephanie nodded her head. “Well, I’m glad that the two of you seem to get along. I was scared to death about bringing him here. He’s always thought that I was his weird little sister- he thought I was going crazy when I told him about this place- but I didn’t want him to be at home and not see me…and the alternative was going down to my parent’s place in Palm Beach.” She paused to make a gagging sound.
Lisa nodded her head. “The two of you must be really close.”
“We are.” The younger woman’s expression became more serious. “Aside from Anthony, he’s the most important person in the world to me. I’d do anything to keep him from being hurt- anything.”
Lisa blinked. Was that remark intended for her? If it was, Stephanie didn’t linger on it. “Now. Tell me what happened! Annabella said that you had swooped out of the Tavern looking whiter than a ghost…I take it that things aren’t any better with Lachlan?”
“No.” Lisa sighed deeply, surprised to find that the shiver of excitement from her meeting with Avery had somewhat dulled the pain of her boyfriend’s behavior. “When I went home, we had a terrible row. He slept on the couch last night, and he was gone when I woke up this morning.”
Stephanie laid a reassuring hand on Lisa’s shoulder. “I’m sure he’ll come to his senses soon. Men are clueless. He probably honestly doesn’t realize that Gretchen might have an agenda that goes beyond being friends.”
“It’s not her agenda that I’m worried about anymore.” The respiratory therapist replied.
“When I went to see Annabella this morning, he’d asked her to fill the picnic basket!”
This meant nothing to Stephanie, and it showed on her face.
“The basket! – the one that fits under the seat in the plane…Don’t you see? He’s taken her to the bluff!”
The attorney’s face reflected concern, but it was clear that she still didn’t comprehend the magnitude of what had happened. Lisa continued. “It’s his special place- our special place. Until this morning, I was the only person that he had ever taken there…”
“Well, you don’t know for a fact that he did take her there.” Stephanie tried to be optimistic. “Lisa, you’re jumping to conclusions.”
“Ha.” The other woman snorted. “Well, you don’t know Lachlan like I do.”
“Maybe not…but I do know how the two of you are together. Lisa, I’m sure that he loves you. Give him the benefit of the doubt.”
There was no answer for several minutes. At last, Lisa took another step toward the door. “I guess I’m going to drive back to the hangar until Lunch. You want a ride to the Clinic?”
Lisa was struck by the lack of enthusiasm in her friend’s voice. She arched an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you and Anthony are having problems too.”
“No…at least…not yet.”
The curiosity on the other woman’s face grew as the attorney struggled for words. “Oh, Lisa! I…I took the test.”
“And…it was…” Stephanie took a deep breath. “And it was blue. Lisa, I am pregnant. What am I going to do?”
“Oh my god. Are you sure?” Lisa asked with a shocked look on her face.
Stephanie sighed. “I told you, it was blue. Positive.”
“So what does Anthony think?” Lisa asked although she could probably guess what the former priest was thinking.
“I haven’t told him yet.” Stephanie’s sigh was heavy. “I have no idea how I’ m going to tell him. And Avery is here. This could not have happened at a worse time.”
Lisa could see that her friend was in no mood for further discussion, and so she simply squeezed her hand in reassurance and led her to the door. “It will sort itself out.” She said quietly. “These sorts of things always do.”
Stephanie nodded her head. “I hope you’re right.”
“Anthony?” Stephanie stepped nervously into the Clinic, trying to figure out what she was going to say.
“In here, honey.”
The lawyer followed the voice to the small office that Anthony kept behind his exam room. “I’m just finishing up some charts…” He smiled and, without looking up, held his arm out to beckon her to his side. She complied reluctantly, but melted a little bit as his warm arm wrapped around her. “I missed you last night.” He murmured, then finally let his pen slide onto the table and turned to shyly meet her eyes.
“I missed you too.”
Shoving her worries to the side for a minute, Stephanie bestowed a gentle kiss, which the doctor accepted eagerly. Then she stepped back. Her boyfriend frowned as she drew away. “I need to talk to you.” She said softly.
Anthony furrowed his brows. “Right now?”
Stephanie swallowed. “Soon…but not this second, I suppose.”
Her boyfriend nodded his head, gesturing quickly at his pile of work. “Five minutes.” He said. “Why don’t you go to the apartment and start some coffee? I’ll finish up and be right in.”
Stephanie nodded her head, leaving him to finish his work. She stepped toward the hallway that led to physician’s personal living space, grateful for the temporary reprieve. Finally arriving in the kitchen, she rummaged in the cabinets to find the coffee and began preparing it. She let her eyes wander around the kitchen for a moment, soaking in all the changes that had taken place in the last year. When she had first visited, the room had seemed so sterile and empty. Now cheery checkered curtains hung on the window, with terracotta potted herb garden warming on its sill. Funky, mismatched canisters were ranged along the counter by the coffee pot, sharing the space with other colorful knickknacks and mementos that the doctor had accumulated since he came to the Point.
How much more different will it be next year?
Stephanie didn’t know whether to smile or wince at the vision she had of the changes that a baby would bring: baby bottles stacked in the sink, a highchair in the corner, canisters of formula crowding out the doctor’s precious supply of caffeine.
If he lets us stay.
Stephanie clenched her eyes. That was a ridiculous thought. Stupid. Anyone who knew Anthony knew that he was the last man on earth (After, possibly, Maximus) who would deal with her announcement by running away. He would do the honorable thing. She had no doubt that, this time tomorrow, she’d be on her way to the justice of the peace.
“Oo…ertain…ee…look…oody.” Stephanie jumped as Anthony nuzzled the back of her neck, his words muffled and distorted by the waves of her hair.
She flinched. How was it possible? Had Lisa told him? Had he found the testing strip? Stephanie’s heart began to race as all her careful preparation flew to the wind.
“Broody? I’m not broody!” She said defensively. “Why did you say that? What did you–?”
“Calm down!” Anthony took a sudden step back, his soft green eyes wide with surprise. “I didn’t say broody, I said moody.” He pondered for a moment, and then frowned. “Why would I say a thing like that?”
Idiot! Stephanie chastised herself. “N-no reason.” She stammered. “It’s…I just…thought you said something else.” She bit her lip, looking for a new topic of conversation. “The apartment looks nice.”
“It’s almost finished. There are still a few more small things to do before your brother gets here.”
That was it! Anthony didn’t know.
“I didn’t tell you! He’s here already! He showed up at my bedroom at eight a.m.”
“What?” This time it was the doctor’s turn to blanch. “He said that he wasn’t going to get here until noon. He said he was going to…”
“It’s all right.” Stephanie soothed, squeezing his bicep through the thin cotton of his shirt. “The drive took less time than he expected- you know how the Point can be. At any rate, we aren’t going to actually meet him until noon. He’s resting up in my room until lunch.”
The doctor looked visibly relieved. In spite of her tension, Stephanie couldn’t help but laugh.
“Why are you so worked up about this? I told you he’s going to love you…and even if he doesn’t I love you, and I’m certainly not going to let my icky brother change my mind.”
Anthony forced a smile, threading his arms around her waist. “I know it’s stupid…but its almost like a trial-run for your mom and dad…I’ve never done the ‘meet the parents’ thing you know.”
Stephanie kissed his cheek. “I promise that Avery is nothing like mom and dad- thank God!” She grinned. “He’s exactly like me…except not as breathtakingly gorgeous and stunningly intelligent.”
“Or as modest, I expect.”
Stephanie swatted his bottom in mock-annoyance. “You’d better watch it, Dr. Giraudeau!” she warned.
Anthony sidestepped the blow, and then turned more serious. “You said that you wanted to talk to me about something?”
Stephanie sighed. She had lost her nerve. “It wasn’t anything important.” She lied. “Now…what was it that you wanted to finish up before lunch?”
Anthony opened his mouth to speak when the pager at his hip buzzed. He held up a finger. “Hold that thought.” He turned back to the Clinic to use the phone.
Stephanie sighed, then looked down as she felt a furry body rub against her leg. “Hi there, Maggie. Where’s the kids?” As if in answer to her question, three little kittens skittered around the corner into the kitchen.
She kneeled down to pet them as two of them crowded around her. The other little kitten, a fuzzy male with golden hair took his time coming to her. It was if he wanted to make sure that she knew his affection was on his terms, not hers. Of course this made him hard to resist and the lawyer wiggled her fingers until he finally brushed against them. Victory.
Maggie brushed up against her too. Stephanie’s finger caressed her fur. “Seems like you aren’t the only inconveniently fertile thing around here.”
“Did you say something?” Anthony asked from the door.
Stephanie’s head jerked up. “No. Not really, just nonsense to the kitties.”
Anthony’s expression was contrite. “I have to run to the hospital.”
“But lunch with Avery?”
Anthony pulled her up so he could press a soft kiss to her lips. “I’ll be back in plenty of time.” Another kiss. “Just a patient with a fever. Nothing serious but her family is worried. They want to talk to me.”
Stephanie hugged him tightly. “You’re a good doctor.”
Anthony’s cheeks pinked a little. “Thanks.” He gave her another squeeze and a kiss on top of the head. ” I’ll be back soon.”
Stephanie nodded. “I think I’ll just take a nap while I’m waiting. I didn’t sleep well without you last night.”
On last kiss and Anthony was gone.
Lisa stood in front of the mirror and smiled. She looked good. Really good. After dropping Stephanie off at the Clinic, she had returned to the hangar and spent the two-hour wait pampering herself from head to toe. It had been a long time since she had made such an effort, but the results had paid off. She felt a little bit guilty about going to so much trouble for someone that wasn’t Lachlan…but then, that was his own damn fault, wasn’t it? He could have left the Canadian lover girl on the beach and headed home whenever he damn well pleased. It was his own choice that had kept him from enjoying the fruits of her labors. Besides, she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She simply wanted to make a good impression on their guest. That was it…wasn’t it?
Lisa’s certainty wavered, and she bit her lip.
Maybe this was wrong. She vacillated–maybe it was all right. She was going out to lunch with some friends. It’s quite okay to look nice. It wasn’t just Avery. Stephanie and Anthony were going to be there too. A turn of her wrist to look at her watched revealed that she still have a little more time. Maybe this dress was too dressy, too obvious. She turned to her closet to grab something else and the dress joined the growing pile of discarded clothes on the bed.
Anthony looked down at the woman sprawled across his bed. She had borrowed one of his scrub tops to sleep in. Her own clothes lay neatly folded on top of the hamper. Stephanie shifted slightly in her sleep and the scrub top road up above her waist exposing delicate lace panties.
Anthony smiled. How lucky was he that she was his. They had been through so much. Mostly of my own doing. But she forgave him and she loved him. What more could a man ask for?
He sat down on the bed beside her, intending only to gently kiss her awake. He jerked slightly when her soft gray eyes opened. “I thought you were asleep.”
“I thought you were going to stand there forever.” Stephanie replied.
“I was only enjoying the view.” Anthony said with a smile.
Stephanie moved over to sit on her knees facing him. Anthony’s eyes slowly shut as she leaned in to kiss him. It started as a soft gentle ‘hello’ kiss, her lips feather light against his. But quickly deepened to something hotter, more passionate.
Anthony reached for her and she came into his arms. Stephanie threw a leg over his so that she was straddling him, the heat at her core pressed against his growing arousal.
“I should probably get ready for lunch.” Anthony said half heartedly as he press an open mouthed kiss against the side of Stephanie’s neck.
“We’ve got plenty of time.” Stephanie replied as she worked the buttons free on Anthony shirt. It didn’t take her long to have the smooth expanse of his chest exposed and she leaned forward to run her tongue along the doctor’s collarbone.
Anthony moaned in response. “You are so right.” He tugged the scrub top over her head. He moaned again at the sight of her breasts. He was never going to take this for granted. Ever.
He pulled her close and kissed her again.He reached down to unbutton his pants and found delicate fingers already there.
“Let me,” She hissed against his lips. Stephanie made short work of the buttons and zippers and slipped her hand inside Anthony’s briefs. He was hard and throbbing already and she could feel that tiny drop of wetness that gathered at the tip. She pushed his clothes down to free him.
Anthony kicked his clothes away and help Stephanie remove her panties. He groaned against her lips as she pulled him down against her. He ran his hand down the curve of her waist and across her belly. He smiled. She was his, all his and he laughed out loud in sheer enjoyment as he touched her. He was never going to stop touching her.
“Something amusing, doctor?” The beautiful lawyer matched his smile.
“Nothing, nothing at all.” Anthony’s dark eyes turned serious. “I love you, Stephanie. I love you so much.”
Stephanie blinked back tears. “I love you too.” Would he still look at me with that tender expression when I tell him about the baby? Serious thoughts fled as Anthony’s long fingers reached the juncture of her thighs. A gentle nudge with his leg forced hers apart.
She was slick and wet and totally ready for him. Anthony couldn’t wait as he pulled her beneath him; his body was so ready to join hers that he was trembling. He groaned as he slid into her. She was always the perfect fit, tight and warm. He felt like he could stay like this forever. He couldn’t tell where he stopped and Stephanie began. They moved in perfect sync, kissing and touching.
He moved faster and harder but he could tell that she loved it as she wrapped her long legs around his waist to pull him closer. She was smiling up at him and Anthony reached over with one hand to caress her face and he felt the start of her release. She held his gaze and breathed his name in a gasping sob. It was the sexiest sound he had ever heard.
Anthony pulled her close and kissed her as his own release rocked though him. He collapsed, sweaty and content beside her.
Stephanie snuggled up against him wondering if now would be a good time to tell him about the pregnancy test. At the same time that she opened her mouth to speak, Anthony looked at his watch.
“Devil dammit!” He swore.
“Anthony!” Stephanie was shocked.
“Sorry but look at the time.” He vaulted out of bed. “It’s almost noon. We’re supposed to meet your brother at noon, remember?”
Stephanie couldn’t help but laugh as she watched her lover dart around the room. “Relax, Avery is never on time.”
Anthony looked back over his shoulder as he grabbed a shirt. “But I am. So come on.”
Stephanie sighed and rose from the bed. At the rate she was going, this baby would be in kindergarten before she got around to tell Anthony about it.
She didn’t have time to dwell on the thought.
“Come on.” Anthony said again.
Stephanie’s lips curled upwards as she watched her boyfriend fidget nervously at the door of the lobby staircase. “Stand still!” She laughed, walking forward to straighten his tie. “It’s going to be fine.”
“What’s going to be fine?” A new voice interjected.
“Meeting Stephanie’s bro-” Anthony’s voice died in a sound of surprise. “Wow.” he said after a long pause.
Stephanie turned to investigate, raising her eyebrow in question at her friend’s appearance. Lisa looked sensational- it was clear that she had spent the entire time since she had dropped her friend off at the clinic primping for the lunch…but why? The respiratory therapist’s only answer was a shrug.
There wasn’t time for questioning. Before Stephanie could open her mouth to speak, the final member of their party appeared on the landing.
Avery gave his sister a tight hug from behind, before letting his gaze wander appreciatively over Lisa.
Stephanie’s eyes moved between the pair. She wasn’t sure that she liked what she saw.
“Avery!” She said, clearing her throat, “Let me introduce you to Anthony.”
The light-haired man looked up, menace suddenly flashing in his eyes. “You!” he growled.
The doctor blinked in surprise at the fierce greeting, stumbling over his feet as he hurried to back away. “I-” he began to stammer, but then stopped when he realized that the glare had turned into a smile.
“Sorry about that!” Avery grinned. “Just teasing!”
Stephanie rolled her eyes, looping her arm through Anthony’s own and taking a protective stance in front of him. “Ever the comedian.” She sighed.
Avery tamed the merriment in his eyes. “Seriously.” He began again, offering his hand. “It’s nice to meet you. You’re all my sister talks about.” He cast a glance at Stephanie as if to gauge if the conversation was acceptable.
Anthony warily accepted the handshake. “She’s spoken a lot about you too.”
Avery bobbed his head, an unspoken “that’s nice” hanging in the air for a fraction of a second before he turned his attention back to the ladies, stepping between them and sliding one arm around each waist almost subconsciously. “Let’s eat. I’m starved.”
Anthony twirled a strand of pasta around his fork as he listened half-heartedly to the gleeful chatter of his tablemates. Avery was entertaining Lisa with another tale of his dissolute youthwith Stephanie providing color commentary and checking some of his more outrageous claimswhile Lisa watched with rapt attention and Anthony…Anthony simple waited for Rick to come and take their plates.
The doctor had spent hours worrying about how to make a good impression on Stephanie’s brother. In the end, it seemed, he had made no impression at all.
“So Anthony….” Avery finally drew him into the conversation. “Did you get into much trouble with the ladies at school?”
The doctor flushed. “Well, uhm…actually….” Oh, Dear God. Surely Stephanie had told her brother that he had been a priest.
“Anthony was at seminary.” The attorney provided, as if on cue. “I told you that.”
“I know.” Avery said, “But he wasn’t a priest yet. You can’t tell me that women didn’t see it as a challenge: Forgive me father for I am about to sin.”
Lisa and Avery giggled. Stephanie waited to see if Anthony would be offended.
“Well, we really weren’t around them very much.” he said at last, clearly discomfited by the tack the conversation had taken.
Sensing the awkwardness, the attorney changed topics. “So, Avery- are you going to see mom and dad before you head back?”
“Only if I can’t help it.” Avery replied, pausing to chew a bite of his food before he continued. “I’ve had my quota of the ‘when are you going to get married and start popping out our grandchildren’ lecture this year. That’s your department.”
Anthony noticed a bit of a strain on his girlfriend’s face. She must be familiar with the lecture as well. She hesitated a moment before replying. “I’ve already done the white wedding- sorry. I’m off the hook.”
“But not for babies.” Avery seemed not to notice that his sister had gone white as a sheet. “They know I’m never going to manage to reproduce.” His cheeks dimpled as he added to Lisa in a conspiratorial tone. “-not for lack of practice.”
Why was Lisa staring at him? Anthony shifted uncomfortably, liking this topic even less than the last. “Maybe someday. She’d be crazy to have a baby right now.”
Lisa gave Stephanie a pointed look. “I have to go to the bathroom.” She said suddenly. Avery and Anthony gave her a puzzled look. “Stephanie, come with me.”
Lisa practically drug Stephanie out of the dining room and back into the lobby. “What was THAT about?” She asked, looking both ways to make sure that the room was deserted.
“What do you mean?”
“‘Maybe someday'” Lisa hissed. “You haven’t told him?”
“Told him what?” Stephanie feigned innocence.
“Told him that you are expecting his child!”
Stephanie blinked back the tears that were threatening to fall. “I tried.” She said at last, “But I can’t…oh, Lisa. He’s going to be so disappointed in me!”
“As if it were solely your fault.”
“It is in a way.”
“Rubbish.” Lisa sniffed angrily. Then, noting the hurt in the other woman’s eyes softened her look. “I know it’s hard…but waiting isn’t going to make it any easier. You know Anthony. No matter what he feels, he is going to stand by you one hundred percent– and he is going to hate himself for calling you crazy once he knows the truth.”
Stephanie nodded wearily. “I’ll tell him tonight.” She said at last.
“Good…now let’s go finish our lunch…when we left, Anthony looked like we were leaving him with a pack of wolves!”
“Arthur? What are you doing under there?”
The Welshman jumped, wincing as he hit his head on the edge of the reception desk. Looking guilty, he rose up from the floor. “Uhm…hi Colin.” He tilted his head in greeting to his brother. “I…uhm….dropped a pair of scissors on the floor.”
It wasn’t completely a lie. The tool had fallen from his hand just five seconds before Lisa made her announcement. He had been rummaging around on the floor when the bombshell dropped- and then he was too frightened to rise back up. Slowly regaining his composure, he scanned the room. The women were gone.
“Uhm, C-C-Colin?” Arthur stammered.
“Yeah, mate, what is it?”
“Uhm, well, you think everything would be alright is one of the women had a baby?” Arthur’s face flushed red as he spoke.
Colin’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “What’da mean?” Then he smiled. “So you and Savannah finally having a go at it? Good on ya, mate.”
“No, no, no.” Arthur corrected, his face getting even redder if that was possible. “Well, I mean, uh, that’s not what I meant.”
“You know that none of us can father children, right, Arthur?”
“There is one person here that can.” Arthur said cryptically.
It took Colin a moment to realize whom the Welshman was talking about. “Bloody hell! Ya mean Stephanie….” He started laughing. “Way to go, Anthony. Wait ’til I tell the rest of the crowd. Ah, Chelle is going to be thrilled.” Colin was still chuckling under his breath as he walked off.
“But wait!” Arthur called out. “Anthony doesn’t even know yet…..” His voice trailed off as the door shut behind Colin. “Oh my. I hope I haven’t wrecked anything.”
Meanwhile back in the restaurant, Avery was continuing his interrogation of his sister’s boyfriend. “So,” Avery leaned toward the young doctor. “Are your intentions toward my sister honorable? I know that you are a former priest and all. But I think that only adds to my suspicion. All that celibacy and stuff makes a man desperate”
Anthony tugged at the neck of his sweater. He could almost feel the tightness of a clerical collar. He cleared his throat. “I love your sister very much. I would never hurt her.” Honesty forced him to add, “at least not on purpose.”
“It’s the not on purpose that worries me.” Avery was totally serious. “She thinks she is tough but she’s a softie. I don’t want to see her hurt.”
“Avery, that’s about enough.” Stephanie chastised as her and Lisa approached the table.
Avery turned to his little sister. “I just want to know that if he gets you knocked up, he’ll do right by you.”
All the color drained from the lawyer’s face. She turned to Lisa with a panicked look. Lisa shook her head subtly. Both women looked at Dr. Anthony.
Anthony was never so grateful to feel the soft vibration of the pager at his hip. He unclipped it from his belt and held it up. “Got paged. I’ll be right back.”
“Avery, knock it off.” Stephanie enunciated the words succinctly.
“Knock what off?” Avery gave her his best what-I-do expression.
“I think that she wants you to stop interrogating Anthony.” Lisa chimed in helpfully.
“Thanks for the tip, darlin'” Avery winked at her then turned back to Stephanie. “Just making sure he’s good enough for my sister.”
“He’s more than good enough for me, big brother.” The lawyer glared at her brother. “In fact, I’m more worried that I’m not good enough for him.” She continued, tiredness adding weight to her words.
“What do you mean by that?” Avery looked at his sister, really looked at her. Her face was pale and she had the beginning of faint smudges under her eyes. “Hey, sis. You look shattered. Maybe you should lie down for a bit.”
“Shattered?” Stephanie asked.
Avery smiled, “Sorry, too long in the UK. Tired, Steph, you look exhausted.”
Anthony arriving back at the table interrupted their conversation. “Emergency at the hospital. I’ve got to go.”
“Perfect!” Avery ignored the look that Anthony gave him. “Steph can go take a nap.” He flashed a brilliant smile at Lisa as he linked his hand with hers. “And Lisa can show me around.”
Lisa nodded her head enthusiastically. “Sure. I’d be happy to. He’s right, Stephanie, you do look tired.”
Stephanie glanced between her brother and her friend. Something was going on and she was sure that she didn’t like it. But they were right. She was really tired. All this worry about the baby, probably the pregnancy itself had left her with no energy. The thought of curling up in Anthony’s bed was irresistible.
“All right.” She agreed. “I’ll crash at Anthony’s so that you can go back the room if you want to Avery.”
“Sounds good. We’ll meet up again later this afternoon.”
“Your brother hates me.” Anthony exclaimed as soon as they were seated in his truck.
Stephanie sighed and shook her auburn tresses. “He doesn’t hate you, Anthony. He just likes to tease.”
The lawyer shook her head in amusement as her boyfriend shifted the truck into gear and started down the road that led back to the Clinic. “Really, Anthony. I would tell you if I thought you were doing anything wrong. He’s just my icky older brother. He’s been harassing me since we were kids. He doesn’t mean any harm.”
Anthony shrugged halfheartedly as they turned into the Clinic parking lot. “Well, I wish that he’d tease me about something else.”
“I’ll tell him to knock it off, okay? The thought of someone voluntarily going without a woman for”
“That isn’t what I was talking about.” Anthony put the truck in park but kept the engine running.
Stephanie looked confused.
“He can goad me about being a priest all he wants but the thought that I’m using you for carnal pleasure is insulting. You know that I love you, right?”
Stephanie felt tears well up in her eyes as the doctor took her hand in his. “I know.” She mumbled.
Anthony pressed his lips against her forehead. “And just for the record- I wouldn’t dump you if…”
Stephanie held her breath. When he didn’t continue after a moment, she finished for him. “If I were…pregnant?”
The doctor nodded, then added quickly. “As if the very idea isn’t ludicrous!” He offered what was meant to be a reassuring squeeze. “I don’t think that either of us are ready for anything like that!”
The lawyer swallowed dryly. //Ready or not…//
“Actually, Anthony….” her voice was quivering, but she was determined to continue. She might as well come out in the open while she had the opportunity. “I….we need to talk. I’ve been trying to get the courage to”
She winced as Anthony’s pager squealed again.
“I’m sorry, hon!” The surgeon said quickly as he glanced at the display. “They really need me. We’ll talk when I get back, alright?”
Stephanie bit her lower lip. “All right.”
Colin whistled as he walked down to the storeroom.
“What are you so happy about?” Kim snapped, obviously annoyed that anyone was having fun while there was work to do.
Johnny was a bit more convivial in his ribbing. “I thought that Chelle and Tina had gone into town.”
“Not that kind of smile, mate.” The mechanic and sometimes bank-robber grinned.
“Oh?” Kim lowered his clipboard.
“Oh?” Johnny echoed. “Just what kind of smile it is?”
Colin laughed. “It’s an ‘I know a secret and I’m not gonna tell.’ smile.”
“Awww!” The youngest man of the trio groaned. “That’s not fair. You have to tell!”
“He has to tell what?” from the doorway, Jeff’s voice chimed in. The athletic Australian was carrying a handcart, which he began to load with provisions for the Tav.
“Colin has a secret.” Kim supplied sullenly. “He’s being coy.”
“Go on then!” Jeff’s eyes twinkled expectantly. “You aren’t really going to keep information from your own dear brothers!”
“My own dear brothers!” Colin made a playful face.
“As if we cared about the stupid secret to begin with.” Kim feigned extreme interest in his clipboard.
“That so?” Colin arched an eyebrow. “Well in that case….” He started for the door.
“No!” Jeff and Johnny exclaimed in unison.
The plumber laid his hand just above the other man’s barbed wire tattoo, halting his exit. “He doesn’t speak for all of us…spill!”
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret.”
Johnny pouted. “You could at least drop us a little hint.”
Colin pondered. “Chelle would kill me if I didn’t tell her first.” He said at last.
“Well, we know it isn’t about Chelle!” Kim observed, betraying his eagerness to share in the news with his comment.
Colin sighed. “Well…maybe just a little hint” He made a dramatic show of looking over his shoulder to check that they weren’t being observed. “Let’s just say that, about nine months from now, Lachlan isn’t going to be the only thing flying over the Point.”
The three eager faces peering up at him showed no signed of comprehension. Annoyed, he continued.
“There might be a bird.”
“Oh, Crikey! One of the gals is having a baby!” He said at last.
There was a collective intake of breath, and then a snort as Kim rolled his eyes. “That’s ridiculous, Colin. None of us can reproduce. We all know that.”
“None of the brothers.” The mechanic placed heavy emphasis on the final word.
Jeff and Kim finally got it. They blinked at each other before the footy star managed his voice. “It’s no good, mate.” Jeff’s teasing tone sounded strained. “Rick and I have been using protection. You must be misinformed.”
“Ha. Ha.” Colin rolled his eyes. “You know who I mean.”
“Oh my God!” Johnny’s eyes bugged out of his head as the final piece fell into place. “You mean that Father Anthony…”
“Doctor Anthony.” Jeff corrected gently.
“You mean he….and Steph….they….” the young man continued to sputter in disbelief.
As the shock wore off, Jeff’s grin widened. “Are you sure mate? It does seem a little bit farfetched.”
“I just heard it from Arthur five minutes ago.”
“Arthur.” Kim laughed dismissively.
Colin defended his brother. “I know he’s not always reliable, but he had just had it from Lisa and Stephanie herself.”
“How did Anthony take it?”
“Dunno. Arthur didn’t say…but isn’t it good news? The girls will be so excited!”
“I can’t wait to tell Sophy!” Johnny grinned, but Colin’s glare cut him off.
“It’s a secret!” he reminded his brother. “Stephanie may not want it spread around.”
Jeff snorted. “Sure! That’s why she told Arthur! The third fastest way to spread information: Television, Telephone, Tel-a-Arthur!”
Colin looked serious. “I mean it, mates. It’s not ours to share. Promise that you won’t tell anyone else.”
“We promise.” The three men promised.
Of course, they all had their fingers crossed as well.
“…..and even though John has ice everyday at his pond, he uses the arena for games with players from town.” Lisa said as they moved away from the arena.
“Amazing. This place is fucking amazing.” Avery exclaimed. “What’s over there?” He pointed to the large building off to the right.
“The stables.” Lisa replied and immediately turned towards the left.
“Cool. I love horses.” Avery took her hand and pulled her back towards the right.
“I don’t so if you want a tour of the stables, you’ve got the wrong gal.” Lisa pulled her hand free. Not even for this handsome man was she going to hang out with those large animals.
“Nonsense. What’da horse ever do to you?”
She sighed and began to tick items off on her finger. “Let’s see….many a scrap and bruise as they tried to forcefully remove me from their back finally culminating with a dislocated elbow so bad that I was in a cast for six weeks. They don’t like me, I don’t like them. It’s a mutual arrangement. I never met a horse that didn’t want to do bodily injury to me.”
Avery laughed. “Maybe you were just never introduced properly.”
Avery continued to pull her towards the stable. They had just walked through the door and were immediately greeted by a beautiful silver tabby cat. She rubbed up against Lisa’s leg, a rousing purr practically shaking her body.
“Hello there.” Lisa squatted down to pet her.
“You may not like horses but I can see that you like cats.” Avery came down to her level to join her in petting the feline.
“I love cats. There is just something about a pet that meets you on your level that I enjoy.” Lisa laughed as the cat rolled over to expose her belly for Avery’s long fingers to caress. “This is Esther. Anthony’s cat, Maggie is her mom. Esther lives in the stables and is a fine mouser or so they say.”
Finished with the petting, the cat stood, gave a final meow as if to say ‘Thank you’ and sauntered away.
Avery watched as Lisa’s gaze was focused on the cat that was walking away. Using the advantage of that distraction, he grabbed her hand and pulled her toward one of the stalls. He didn’t give her time to dig in her boots and protest.
Soon they were standing the stable next to the stall that held a brown and white gelding. Lisa backed up as the horse swung his head over the door. “T..that’s Butterscotch. Jennifer’s horse.” She stammered.
Avery took her hand and pulled her forward. “Come here.” He stood behind her so she couldn’t back up but kept his hand on hers. He lifted it up and placed on the neck of the sweet horse that was greeting them. “Butterscotch, this is Lisa. She’s a little afraid of your kind but I’m trying to convince her otherwise. So I need your help on this.”
Lisa couldn’t help but chuckle at this nonsense. Avery’s hand cupped hers and guided it in long strokes along the horse’s powerful neck. She had to admit that it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be. Butterscotch leaned slightly into the caress and his eyes were half closed with pleasure.
“See he likes it and you.” Avery’s voice was soft against her ear. His breath stirred the curls at Lisa’s nape.
She turned back to look over her shoulder at the man behind her. Their gazes locked. Lisa’s breath caught in her throat. She was suddenly aware of how closely pressed to her back Avery was. She felt every line of his lean body. He continued to hold her hand against the horse’s warm flesh and guide it in smooth stroking motions. The movement became slower, more sensual and Lisa could imagine that same hand sliding across her bare skin. She watched as Avery leaned forward, his eyes focused on her lips.
She could feel the light brush of his breath on her face. He smelled slightly of peppermint. Her eyelids dropped as Avery’s lips came closer. They had barely made contact with her own when Lisa jerked away. This was wrong. Although she and Lachlan were having problems she was still in love with him. “No.” She hissed and stepped out of Avery’s embrace, moving closer to the stall.
Unfortunately her movements started the horse in front of her and he jerked his head back. There was a sickening crack as his bony skull made contact with Lisa’s face. “Ow!” Lisa’s hands shot up to cup her nose.
“Shit!” Avery exclaimed, moving forward. He pulled at Lisa’s hands. “Let me see, honey.” He moved her hands to reveal a thin trickle of blood coming from her nose and tears streaming out of her eyes. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a handkerchief. He was suddenly very glad that his mother had always insisted that he carry one. “Here you go.” He pressed it under her nose to stop the bleeding. With his other hand he wiped away the tears.
“I’m othay.” The firm pressure of the handkerchief muffled her voice. She made eye contact with the man standing in front of her. Lisa realized that he was trying desperately not to laugh. His blue eyes were positively sparkling with mirth. His full lips were pressed in a thin line to contain his laughter. This forced a deep dimple to appear in his cheek, so deep is was visible under his light beard. If she had thought he was handsome before, he was almost irresistible now.
Avery couldn’t contain his merriment any longer and a full-bellied laugh escaped. He pressed a hand over his mouth. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t laugh….” His voice trailed off as he chuckled again. “But I think you were right…” He lost his voice again in laughter.
Lisa smacked him lightly on the arm with her free hand. “I told you tho. Horthes hate me.” She suddenly realized how silly she sounded and joined Avery’s laughter. They both laughed until they were crying.
“Oh my god.” Avery wiped tears out of his eyes. “I haven’t laughed like that in ages.”
“What the hell is going on here?” Both Lisa and Avery jerked at the voice.
Avery turned to see a man dressed in boots and an Australian style stock hat walk toward him. He was leading a beautiful palomino. The professor immediately straightened. “Nothing all.” He looked over his shoulder to wink at Lisa. “Just bonding with animals.”
“Scaring them is more like it. If you two want to joke around, take it outside.” The man glared at Avery.
“Egan, love, don’t be rude.” Avery could see a pretty woman walk up to the man in front of him and link her arm in his.
Lisa peeked around Avery’s shoulder. “Mannie, NJ, what are you two doing here?”
“Thought we better came down before everyone forgot what we looked like.” Norma Jean replied.
“But what about your weekly supply run? Didn’t Lachlan…” Lisa trailed off. “Of course he didn’t. You probably let him know that you were coming down.”
NJ nodded. “We gave him a call yesterday.”
Avery watched as Lisa’s shoulders drooped. He wasn’t sure what was going on but even he could tell that something about this conversation was bothering her. He interrupted with a cheery smile. “By the way, I’m Avery Bailey. Stephanie’s brother.”
Lisa realized that she had completely forgotten about Avery. “Sorry. Avery, this is Mannie and Norma Jean. Norma Jean works for Anthony as his nurse sometimes.”
Avery shook hands with both of them. “Nice to meet you.”
Mannie nodded. “And you.” He turned to the woman at his side. “We better get Golden tucked in. See you two around.”
Avery watched the couple walk away. He turned to look at Lisa. Gone was the smile on her face. Her green eyes were dark with hurt. He wanted to know why. But he was pretty sure he wouldn’t find out easily. Maybe he needed a little help from his old friend, Mr. Guinness. “Well, I think that concludes our tour for the day. How ’bout we head back to the bar for a drink?”
They entered the Tavern and selected a table for two near the bar. Both turned at the sharp sound of a break at the pool table. Avery watched as Lisa stiffened.
“Nothing.” Lisa shook her head and motioned to the man behind the bar.
Avery looked at the couple at the pool table. A young dark haired man was helping a tall willowy blonde line up her cue. He was obviously one of the ‘boys’ as Stephanie referred to him because he looked very much like the man Avery had met in the stable. And very much like the man standing in front of them ready to take their order.
“Avery?” Lisa asked.
“I’ll take a Guinness.” He interrupted when Lisa started to speak. “And she’ll have a Guinness Shanty.”
“Lisa, are you sure ’bout that?” Andy asked.
Lisa glanced at Avery and nodded when he did.
“You’ll like it, I promise. The New Zealand rugby team started it. They ordered after a game while they were in England. Very refreshing. ” Avery grinned. “And it’ll have you singing Flower of Scotland in no time.”
Lisa laughed. “See that tall red-head over there.” She motioned to a couple leaning against the bar. “She’s from Scotland and so is her sister. And they’re good with weapons.”
“Weapons?” Avery pondered. “Guns?”
“Swords, quarterstaffs and the like.”
“Oh! Thanks for the tip. No singing.” The professor turned as the bartender set their drinks down. “Thanks, mate.” He watched as Lisa took a tentative sip of her drink. His smile widened when she looked up at him.
“It’s good, really good.” She took another drink.
And started coughing when a voice said, “G’day, Lisa.”
“Hem.” Clearing her throat, she replied. “Hello, Lachlan.”
“Whose your mate here?” His tone was icy.
Lisa’s was just a chilly. “Lachlan, this is Avery. He’s Stephanie’s brother. Avery, this is Lachlan. He’s a pilot for the Point.” She watched as the men shook hands. “Speaking of which. How was your flight?”
“Fine.” Lachlan’s reply was short. “Can I talk to you for a minute? Privately?”
Lisa took another long quaff of her drink. “Sure. If you’ll excuse us, Avery.”
Avery watched as the two of them walked over a deserted corner. He recognized Lachlan as the man from the pool table. This could explain a lot. Avery watched as Lisa started to say something but was cut off by the other man.
“…. You’re drinking beer!”
“So what?” Lisa snapped. “You drink beer all the time.”
“But you don’t. You never drink beer.” Lachlan couldn’t figure out why it hurt so much to see her drinking beer. “What is wrong with you?”
“Wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? I’ll tell you what’s wrong!” Lisa struggled to keep the hurt out of her voice. “I know where you were today. What you were doing.”
Lachlan shrugged. “I took Gretchen on a flight. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You took her on a picnic. In your plane. How could you do something like that?” Lisa glared at the pilot.
Lachlan’s anger was finally beginning to match the woman standing in front of him. “It is my plane and I’ll take whoever I damn well please wherever I damn well please.” He clenched his fist to from hitting something. “Why should it make any difference to you?”
“We have a commitment. Something you have obviously forgotten.”
“A commitment?” He snorted. “We don’t have a commitment. You’re afraid of commitment, remember? You won’t marry me.”
“Since you are so quick to throw me over for the first skinny blonde that comes along, maybe it’s a good thing that I won’t marry you.”
“My relationship with Gretchen isn’t like that but you refuse to see it.”
“Enlighten me then.” She said sarcastically.
“Ever since I got here, I watched people come because of their connection with one of my brothers. But no one, not even you, came because of me. Gretchen did. She came here for me, because of me. She’s a good mate.”
Lisa crossed her arms against the hurt his words caused. “Maybe you better just go to her then.” Her voice was soft.
“Maybe I should.” Lachlan turned and walked away.
Lisa stood there for a moment, staring out the window. Lachlan’s words echoed in her head. She came here for me, because of me.
So much for soul mates.
Her worst nightmare, the one that had kept her from accepting Lachlan’s proposal, was coming true. He was leaving. She should have known better than to give away her heart. They leave in the end, they always do. She glanced over at the table where he sat with Gretchen. The blonde had one hand on his arm and the other was stroking his hair. Lisa turned toward the table where Avery sat. If Lachlan thought Gretchen was so bloody important, then he could have her. He wasn’t he only fish in the sea. She forced a bright smile on her face as she walked back to the handsome architect.
Jeff snuck up behind Rick and pressed a quick kiss on the nape of the blonde waiter’s neck. “What’da reckon, mate?”
As much as Rick enjoyed the caress, he had another agenda. He grasped Jeff’s jaw and turned his head towards one of the tables.
“Bloody oath!” Jeff exclaimed. “What the fuck is she doing here?”
“I don’t know but this is the effect.” Rick pointed the other direction.
The plumber’s jaw dropped as he took in the scene. Lisa was sitting at a table with some stranger. Pretty spunk looking bloke but…what the..? Jeff’s gaze followed her hand as she reached over for a glass of beer! “Fuck! She’s drinking beer?”
“Actually a Guinness shanty but near enough.” Rick replied.
“Who is he?” Jeff’s eyes never left the couple.
“Stephanie’s brother, Avery. Just got in this morning.” Rick answered.
Jeff’s eyebrows raised as he watched the man slide his arm across the back of Lisa’s chair and caress the skin at her neck. It wasn’t an inadvertent touch of acquaintances but a kind of casual intimacy that only close friends or lovers have. Lisa’s smile back at the man was dazzling. While Jeff’s expression was world-weary. “Here we go again.”
Rick rubbed a comforting hand across Jeff’s back. “Yep. You want Lisa or Lachlan.”
Jeff chuckled. “I took Lach last time. It’s your turn.”
Rick nodded. “Good enough.”
Jeff walked over the couple talking quietly to each other. “G’day.”
Lisa looked up at Jeff with a smile. But Jeff could tell that the smile didn’t reach her eyes. “G’day, mate. Have you met Stephanie’s brother yet?”
Introductions were made then Jeff asked. “Can I talk to you for two ticks, luv?”
Lisa smiled an apology at Avery. “I’ll be right back.” She followed Jeff to the back of the bar.
“Bloody hell!” Jeff exclaimed. “What’da doing? Cozying up to some other bloke.”
“Lachlan started it.” Lisa whined.
Jeff crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Well, that’s real mature, luv.”
“It’s true. He doesn’t want me anymore. Gretchen’s here. She’s all he needs. She came her just for him, you know.” Somehow saying it out loud made it seem truer. Lisa’s eyes filled with tears.
Jeff gently wiped a tear off her cheek. “You’re his match, you know.” Jeff echoed. “Doesn’t matter who you came for. It’s who you ended up with that is important.” He enfolded her in his arms. “He loves you. I know he does.”
“It sure doesn’t seem like it right now.” She sniffed and motioned to the pilot and his companion as they walked out the door of the Tavern.
Jeff tipped her face up so he could look in her eyes. “Give him a fair go, luv. He gave you a chance to figure out what you wanted. The least you can do is the same.”
Lisa smiled a little. “You’re right.” She pressed a soft kiss against his lips. “As usual. Don’t let it go to your head.”
Jeff gave her a tight hug then released her. “Never. I’ll always be that same humble, yet wise, handsome but shy plumber from Sydney that everyone knows and loves.”
Lisa’s smile was finally genuine. “Get out here, ya bloody poof.”
She walked back to the table and sat down.
“Lover?” Avery asked.
“Jeff?” Lisa shook her head. “No. He’s my best friend here however. See that tall blonde guy over there?”
Avery nodded. “Yeah”
“That’s the love of Jeff’s life, Rick. They are a great couple.” Lisa sighed. Speaking of couples, her thoughts were on Lachlan. “If you don’t mind, I think I’m going to head home.”
Avery slid a gentle finger down her nose. “Bit of a headache from your close encounter with the equine kind?”
“A little. You don’t mind?”
The handsome professor stood and extended a hand. “Not at all. I’ll walk you home.”
For some reason, Lisa wasn’t ready for Avery to see the home she shared with Lachlan. “Don’t be silly. I’ll be fine.”
“At least let me walk you to the door.”
They walked hand in hand to the door. After seeing her off, Avery turned towards the Inn. He was almost there when he realized that he had forgotten something.
Jeff whistled to himself as he unloaded the bottles and napkins that he had brought back from the warehouse. The Tavern was unusually slow for this time of day, and he attributed it to the weather. Wendy and Jeffrey were sipping lemonade out on the back porch, and Donna had stopped by earlier to pick up a sandwich for the road, but now only Dominic, Zack, and Terry Thorne lingered in the bar.
Jeff focused on his hostage-negotiating brother , trying to keep the look discreet. Did he know about Anthony and Stephanie’s news? If so, how was he taking it? He blushed and looked away as, for the third time that morning, Thorne noticed his gaze.
No one doubted, for a second, that Kazlyn Hawke was the only love in Mr. Thorne’s life. Still, he and the Kentucky lawyer had a history together- and they remained incredibly close. Surely he would have some strong feelings about the news- either positive or negative- but he hadn’t said a thing!
Jeff looked up as the door chimes announced a new patron. It was Colin, wheeling in the last of the supplies.
He glanced at Terry, and then tilted his chin as if to ask, “Well?”
Terry threw down his newspaper with a sigh. “Oh, for the love of Christ!” He exclaimed. “What is it?”
“What is it?” Jeff blinked innocently. “Nothing mate. Colin was asking me about….”
Colin made a futile effort to help out. “About….”
“About why you were staring at me?” Terry rolled his eyes. “Out with it. What is it?”
Jeff bit his lip, indicating that Colin should continue.
“Well, Tio….we were just….wondering….how you felt about the big news.”
“Stephanie’s big news.” Jeff supplied helpfully.
It still didn’t connect. “Stephanie’s big news?”
The two younger brothers exchanged a look.
“Ah….it was nothing, mate.” Colin said quickly. “Our mistake.”
“Wait a second….”
“Seriously.” Jeff clapped the older man on the shoulder. “It’s nothing. Probably just upset you anyhow.”
That was a mistake. The rugby fan instantly regretted the addendum to his remarks- but it was too late to take them back.
“What big news does Stephanie have that would upset me?”
His brothers stared at each other for a moment, gathering the nerve to speak.
“About the baby.” Colin said at last.
Terry took a long breath. “Oh.” He took a long swallow out of his glass. “That’s… nice.” He took another drink. “Why should I be upset?”
He had a point. The former K& R agent looked more pissed off by the insinuation than by the news itself.
“I dunno.” Colin admitted. “Just thought it was….strange…and since the pair of you are so close…I….I guess-“
“Speak of the devil.” Jeff’s nervous exclamation cut off Colin’s response.
Anthony had just walked into the tavern. The doctor pushed his sunglasses off the bridge of his nose and then tucked them into the pocket of his shirt.
“Hi, guys!” He said, with a casual wave. “Has Steph been in here?” He scanned the room with his eyes as he waited on a reply.
The three men shook their heads in the negative.
“I had to go into work- thought she might have dropped by to pick up the wine for dinner.” He grimaced playfully. “Big brother’s coming over to see the Clinic.”
Jeff invented some work for himself behind the bar, forcing Colin to take over his end of the conversation. “Haven’t seen her, mate.” He said as casually as possible. He glanced at his brothers. “I’m surprised that a doctor would want to be serving wine for dinner.” His tone was purposefully weighted to impart that he knew.
The doctor merely raised an eyebrow. “Well, it’s not like we are planning to get hammered or anything.” He gave the mechanic an amused, yet puzzled look. “Besides, I’ve got to have SOMETHING to keep my nerves in check.”
“Sounds fair to me.” Terry piped into the conversation. “In fact,” He turned to cast a pointed gaze at his brothers. “…I’d like to buy you a beer right now.” See, his look said to Jeff and Colin, I couldn’t care less!
“I’d better not…” Anthony glanced at the door. “Steph is probably waiting and….”
“I insist.” The Australian continued, reaching behind the bar to fetch the doctor a beer, then raising his own bottle into the air. “A toast– to the Point’s newest dad!”
“Newest dad?” Anthony blinked.
Terry looked to his brother’s with concern. “Well, yeah…” he said uncertainly,// What in bloody hell was going on?// “You!“
Anthony stared at Terry, waiting for the punchline.
It never came.
He continued to zone for a moment, his hand beginning to shake so violently that beer sprinkled from the top of his bottle.
“What?” He rasped at last. “What are you talking about?”
“About…the baby, mate!” The hostage negotiator looked at his brothers uncertainly. “I…we…thought you knew!”
//Bloody hell!// Thorne thought. //Stupid galah!//. Stephanie hadn’t told Anthony yet? And here he was running his mouth!
The doctor blinked in shock.
“That’s ridiculous!” He sputtered as he rose from his chair. “She…we…” His face was crimson. “She can’t be pregnant!”
“My sister is pregnant?!?”
Everyone turned in unison at the sound of an angry male Southerner crashing through the door. Rick was a few steps behind him.
“He forgot his jacket!” The waiter mouthed in explanation to the others, though they were too distracted by the unfolding scene to notice.
Anthony stepped behind the barstool as if wanting to increase the distance between himself and Avery.
“This is the first I’ve heard about it.” He said defensively.
“Well, it isn’t going to be the last!” The architect was in full-steam big brother mode now.
Anthony’s expression darkened. “Listen! I didn’t get anyone pregnant!”
“Are you saying that someone else is responsible?” The older man’s eyes flashed dangerously. “Are you calling my sister a tramp?”
The punch was thrown before Anthony had time to react, and it hit him dead center on the chin. The doctor’s body was thrown backwards over the bar, sending his drink crashing to the floor behind him. The blow stunned him, so that he wasn’t quick enough to dart away as Avery grabbed the collar of his shirt and hit him again.
At last Terry intervened, “Easy mate!” he ordered, pulling Anthony out of harm’s way while Colin and his other brother pulled lightly on Avery’s sleeve, urging him to back off. “Listen, let’s calm down! Anthony’s not saying anything about yer sister’s morals, okay?”
Avery’s features remained dark. “I knew that I couldn’t trust you! Ex-priest!” He spit the word like an accusation.
“Now you wait just a…!”
This time it was Stephanie at the door. She rushed to where her boyfriend was leaning on a barstool for support while he regained his wind. “Anthony!” she exclaimed, taking in his battered face. His lip was bleeding, and one of his eyes was beginning to swell closed. She looked between the man and her brother- still being restrained by the other men. “What’s going on here?”
“I should be asking you that question, don’t you think?” Anthony said tersely.
“Don’t worry sis.” Avery said, finally shrugging free of his captors and folding his sister in a comforting embrace. “Weaslely little bastard! He isn’t fit to lick your boot!”
Stephanie’s eyes widened with growing alarm.
“Sure! Blame me!” The doctor glowered. “Well, it takes two to tango!”
Avery scuffled forward again, brandishing his fists.
“Not in my bar!” Andy said angrily.
“Fine.” The architect wiped his palms on his pants. “Me and Dr. Feelgood can take it outside.”
“I’m not going to fight you.”
“You don’t have to fight me. I’m going to kick your ass either way!”
“Avery!” Stephanie shot a withering look at her brother.
“What’s gotten into you?”
“What’s gotten into me? That asshole is insulting your honor, and if you think I’m going to just sit here…!”
“I’m not insulting her honor, I-“
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?” Stephanie put her hands on her hips looking around the room for an explanation.
At last, her boyfriend provided it. “Today’s Point gossip is that I’m going to be a father. Of course, no one bothered to tell me that.” His voice was tinged with bitterness. He rubbed the rapidly darkening bruise on his cheek. “Stephanie, please tell these morons that you are NOT pregnant!”
A heavy silence descended as Stephanie lowered her eyes to the floor. She let out a shuddering breath.
“Steph?” The doctor coaxed.
She blinked away a tear, and then raised her gaze to his. “I…I’m sorry, Anthony,but I can’t.”
All eyes were on the doctor as he accepted the news. A range of emotions played across his face: shock, sadness, and finally anger. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I tried!” Stephanie rubbed her eyes again, but it was no use trying to keep her tears at bay. “I kept trying, but it never seemed to be the right time.”
“Not the right time? NOT THE RIGHT TIME!?!” Anthony’s voice grew higher and louder as he struggled- unsuccessfully- to come to terms with the news.
“Anthony, I-” She reached for him, but he evaded her touch.
“Leave me alone!” He spat, brushing past her. “I need some time to think.”
Before anyone could stop him, he had stormed out the door.
Anthony was halfway into the parking lot before he realized that he didn’t have any place to go. His truck was still in Colin’s garage, and the Clinic was a long walk. Scanning the parking lot, his eyes fell on Stephanie’s Maxima, and he remembered that he had a key. Her brother could drive her home. Right now, he needed a chance to get away and sort through his feeling.
//A baby// Anthony pulled the car onto the road- away from any potential pursuers- before he allowed himself to consider the thought.
The very thought was almost impossible to believe, and yet, if what Stephanie had said was true…
Why hadn’t she told him?
Less than half a mile from the Tavern, Anthony was already beginning to regret his hasty remarks. His reaction had been selfish– and childish. If only he had been given some sort of warning about what was going to happen, he wouldn’t have lost his temper at Stephanie’s brother, and then taken it out on the woman herself.
Why, oh why, hadn’t she told him?
//She tried, but you didn’t give her the chance.//
Anthony fought the urge to bash his head against the steering wheel as he thought back to all the times that day- at least three instances that he could remember- that Stephanie had told him that they needed to talk. He had intended to hear her out, but kept getting distracted- first with cleaning the house, then by his own hormones, and finally by the page from work.
He suffered a pang as he thought about her face back at the Tavern. Hurt. Confused. Ashamed.
//Good God. She must be terrified!// He thought. It wasn’t enough that she had suffered all the uncertainty that he was feeling now, there were the physical rigors of pregnancy to deal with too. She had faced them completely alone- and now he had compounded her problems by storming off like an asshole. Hadn’t he promised her (that very morning!) that he wasn’t the sort of man to run away?
Releasing a shuddering breath, he slammed on the brakes of the car and headed back in the direction that he had come. He pulled to a stop in the Tavern parking lot.
Stephanie was sitting on the front porch, the moonlight reflecting the streams of tears that streamed down her face. Terry was sitting next to her, trying to offer what comfort he could. Seeing Anthony, he tactfully slipped away.
Stephanie froze as she felt Anthony’s hand on her shoulder. The physical touch broke the dam holding back her tears. Moisture blurred her vision as she turned to sweep his hand away. “Don’t touch me!” She cried.
Ignoring her, Anthony increased his grip. “Stephanie, we have to talk.”
“I don’t want to talk.”
The doctor’s eyes flashed with anger. “Well, that’s just too bad! You have to. If we’re going to be parents, we’d better get used to doing things that we don’t like.”
The reproach hit its mark. The woman quit struggling and reluctantly turned to face her lover.
“I’m sorry.” She said after a long pause. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know what went wrong. I didn’t skip a single day of my pills. I did everything I knew to–“
“Don’t.” Anthony lifted her chin with his fingers, forcing her to meet an unexpectedly tender gaze. “Don’t tell me you’re sorry. You’re just…surprised. We both are.” He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for the way that I behaved back there. In my whole life, this is one of the last situations that I ever expected to find myself in…but we’ll make it work..” Anthony stopped talking for a moment to brush away a tear. “I love you, and I want to marry you. That was true before any of this happened, and it’s still true right now. This has just…moved up the timetables a little bit.”
Stephanie took a tentative step forward, slowly lowering her head onto his shoulder as if testing his reaction. Without hesitation, Anthony’s strong arms wound around her waist and crushed her forward. He rocked her in silence for several moments before leaning forward to nuzzle her ear.
“Let’s go home.” He suggested.
Anthony laughed. “I hardly think that we need to worry about keeping up appearances anymore.” He pointed out. “Besides.” He glanced toward the window of the Tavern where Wendy and Jeffrey were trying their hardest to feign inattention. “I want to be alone…with you.\”
The doctor drove his girlfriend to his apartment, and helped her out of the car. Her face was pale and drawn. No doubt she was physically- and emotionally- exhausted from everything that had happened in the past few days. Hell, he was too.
“We need to get some ice for your cheek.” Stephanie said, raising her hand to caress the spreading bruise beneath his eye.
Anthony nodded and followed her into the kitchen. He flung his keys on the counter and waited while she ran a washcloth under the sink, then dabbed the dried blood off his lip and face.
“I’m sorry that he hit you.” She murmured in apology.
“No. I deserved it.” Anthony said sheepishly. He caught the hand that was ministering to his injuries and drew it toward his face, planting a kiss on the inside of her wrist. “But you really should have warned me that your brother was so strong!”
Stephanie laughed lightly, sighing as Anthony kissed her again, moving his caress along the soft inside of her forearm to the crook of her elbow. She tilted her head to the side as he finally reached her neck, shivering and fighting the instinct to twist away as he teased the sensitive skin beneath her chin.
His jade eyes looked…embarrassed?
“What?” Stephanie asked, tilting her chin.
Anthony feigned innocence. “Hmmm?”
“What is that look for?”
Anthony flushed, dipping his chin beneath her gaze. “I dunno…” he murmured. His finger trailed lightly over the still-flat curve of her stomach. “It’s… a little bit… sexy.” He admitted in a small voice.
“Oh?” Stephanie’s asked, then her expression darkened seductively as she understood. “Oh.”.
When his head bobbed upwards again, she could see the hunger in his gaze.”Yeah…like…uhm…” He was too self-conscious to finish.
“Like it makes you feel virile?” It was Stephanie’s turn to tease. She skimmed her palm over his clothes. “Proud that you got me knocked up?” She underscored the remarks by moving her feather-light caress to the front of his pants. His erection was already enormous.
//A little bit sexy?//
“Do you remember how I got pregnant?” she whispered against the doctor’s ear. Her fingers twisted around the zipper of his fly.
“I…uhm…think I remember”. Anthony managed, with difficulty, as he squirmed beneath her touch.
Stephanie looked up at him through her lashes. “A big, strong man took his huge–“
If the buckling of Anthony’s control had an actual sound, Stephanie imagined that it would be something like the crash that resulted when he swept everything- Dishes, charts, plants — off the countertop and hauled her on its surface. His fingers dove frantically beneath her skirt, hiking it up over her hips, then forcing her knees apart. He didn’t even wait to strip away her panties. After the (much begrudged) half-second it took to free himself from his own covering, he merely pushed them aside as he drove himself into her core.
The rest of the sentence was lost in a rush of breath as his body pushed her back against the smooth Formica. A moan escaped her teeth as her lover briefly withdrew, then surged forward once again, filling her with a pleasure almost punishing in its intensity.
Oh no. This wasn’t making love. It was something much more primal than that- Raw and powerful, frightening and intoxicating at the same time.
Fucking. This was fucking– and she loved it.
Stephanie threaded her arms around the doctor’s neck, her fingers moving over the muscles in his back and arms as they moved beneath his shirt…his bottom…
Stephanie closed her eyes in concentration, matching her movements to the staccato thrusts of his hips.
Her vision seemed to dim as the knot within her core grew tight. She couldn’t take much more. Either her body, or her sanity, would break.
“Oooohhhh!” It was the sound of Anthony’s own release that pushed her finally to the edge. The pleasure that had been promised was tasted at last, and she surrendered completely to its grasp. She screamed something. A word? A curse? A name? For a moment, the strangled sound seemed her only tether to the conscious world.
Anthony had slumped against her chest, and she cradled him tenderly as they waited for their breathing to slow.
“Wow.” He whispered when he could finally manage it.
Stephanie giggled, only in retrospect appreciating the absurdity of what had happened. “Wow.” She agreed.
Anthony flashed a smile and turned his lips toward her to kiss the nearest available patch of skin: squarely in the middle of her stomach.
“We’re going to be okay.” He said firmly, conviction saturating his voice.
Stephanie nodded, combing her fingers through his sweat-damped locks. “I know.” Anthony met her gaze in a silent promise, and then he turned his attention to her stomach once more.”Our baby.” He whispered. Notes of awe and disbelief mingled in the doctor’s voice, but there was a smile on his face as well. “When did you take the test?”
“Three days ago.” Stephanie answered. “I tried to tell you sooner, but…”
Anthony foreclosed a fresh bout of apology by laying his fingers against her lips. “Three days. You’re probably….six weeks along?”
“More like three months.” Stephanie flushed. “I was sort of in denial, I think. Lisa finally convinced me to take the test the night before Avery came.”
“Three months?” Anthony looked a little daunted. “Wow. We’d better get ready quick.” He gave his girlfriend a reassuring kiss on the forehead. “And you need to go to the doctor.”
“But that’s what got me into this mess!”
The joke was rewarded with a grin. “Fair enough!” Anthony gave her a peck on the cheek before growing serious. “But its no excuse! I want to take care of you.” There was an almost imperceptible pause. “both of you. So, promise me you’ll call for an appointment first thing in the morning.”
Anthony nodded his head, and then his jade eyes glittered as though he were plotting something. “Do you want to see it?” He said at last.
“It?” Stephanie was puzzled.
“The baby.” Anthony’s features beamed with delight. “We have a sonogram at the Clinic!” Without waiting for an answer, he began steering her toward the car. “Come on. Let’s go!”
Lisa stood in front of their fireplace staring at the pictures that graced the mantle. Although they had been together less than a year, a dozen captured moments looked back at her. There was picture of the two of them that Steve had surreptitiously taken while they were in the garden. There was one of them kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas. Lisa picked up her favorite of the bunch. Lachlan was leaning against the Tiger Moth, his hair tousled by the wind.; He had a huge smile on his face and he looked every bit the sexy World War 2 pilot. God, she loved him so much.
This was crazy, she was crazy. If Lachlan said there was nothing going on then there wasn’t. She hadn’t even tried to get along with Gretchen. She had only assumed the worse.
Lisa turned towards the door. She was going to apologize to both Lachlan and Gretchen and try to get this friendship off to a better start.
She checked the Tavern first. It was almost deserted. She waved at Wendy and Jeffrey then continued on to the Inn. It didn’t take her long to arrive at the door to Gretchen’s room. She pressed a hand to her belly to calm the butterflies there. This is nothing like your ex, she told herself as she knocked.
Gretchen opened the door. It’s exactly like my ex. Gretchen was wearing Lachlan’s light blue shirt….and nothing else. Lisa felt the pain like a knife to her heart. “Um, excuse me.” She looked around the blonde woman. “Is Lachlan here?”
Gretchen motioned to the closed door behind her. Lisa could hear the sound of a shower running. “He’s in the shower. Want me to get him for you?”
Lisa backed away from the door slowly. She shook her head. “No. Never mind. It’s not important.” It was obviously never important. She turned a walked away, trying very hard to ignore the faint sound of feminine laughter that followed her down the hallway. She paused at the top of the stairs. She couldn’t face all of Lachlan’s brothers and their partners right now. They would be on Lachlan’s side. They had to be. And right now, what Lisa wanted was a sympathetic ear. The corner of her mouth turned up as she thought about the right man for the job.
Before she knew it, Lisa was standing in front of Stephanie’s door. She tapped lightly.
Footsteps padded behind the door.
And then it opened.
“Avery!” Lisa was confused. It was only early evening but Avery looked as if he had just crawled out of bed….or was getting ready to crawl in. He was wearing a pair of loose flannel boxer shorts….and nothing else. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
“Don’t you ever wear clothes?” She asked when she regained a little of her power of speech.
Avery flashed his trademark rakish grin. “Not if I can help it.”
Lisa couldn’t help but shake her head. Here was a man so comfortable with himself and his body. And what a body it was. She couldn’t help but stare. She shook her head again to clear her thoughts.
“What can I.–?” “I didn’t mean to–” Both spoke at the same time.
Avery laughed. “You go first.”
“It’s nothing. I didn’t mean to bother you.” She couldn’t stop the tears that filled her eyes. She turned to go.
“Hey!” Avery grabbed her and turned her around. “What’s this? He asked as he leaned forward to brush away a tear that had escaped. He gathered her in his arms. “Shh, it’s okay.” His long fingers stroked her back.
Lisa shivered under his touch. “It’s nothing. I shouldn’t have come.”
There was the muffled sound of footsteps at the far end of the hall, but Avery kicked the door closed with the side of his foot before the people making the sounds had time to appear. He led Lisa into the room, coaxing her to sit on the side of the bed.
She looked uneasy when he settled down beside her.
Avery caught the look. His lip twisted up on the side as he gave her cheek another gentle stroke. “It’s okay.” He purred. “I’m not going to make you do anything that you don’t want to do.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Lisa whispered to herself.
If Avery had heard the remark, He didn’t mention it. He caught Lisa’s eyes in her own, giving her a long, soul-searching gaze….
..and then he made a face.
Stunned by the sudden change in mood, Lisa couldn’t help but giggle as Avery crossed his eyes and waggled his tongue.
“Success!” he cried, letting his own features slide back into an easy grin. “I knew I could make you smile.” His eyes gleamed mischievously for just a moment before he pounced forward, pinning her to the mattress as he began to tickle her.
“Stop!” Lisa laughed, making a perfunctory effort at brushing him away. Her obviously insincere command inspired him to increase his efforts, his hands dipping lower on her body.
“Stop!” Lisa said again. She still didn’t mean it- but this time she wasn’t laughing. For a split-second, Avery’s hands had strayed from the safety zone, brushing over the curve of her breast. The fire that his touch had ignited beneath her skin quickly altered her mood.
The architect had sensed it as well. His hands hovered uncertainly above her chest. “I’m sorry.” He murmured, uncharacteristically unnerved.
His blue eyes widened. “Shouldn’t I be?”
Lisa exhaled slowly, twining her arms around his shoulders. “Yes….no….I’m not sure.”
She bit her lower lip. “I’m with someone.” She said at last.
Avery pondered. “Married?” He finally replied.
“No!” the woman answered quickly.
Avery’s expression softened. “Could he kick my ass?”
Laughter returned to Lisa’s features. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen you in action.” Lisa teased, a small voice in the back of her head wondering if she shouldn’t mention something about all the brothers he would have to face on the off chance that he did win a brawl.
Avery tilted his head to the side. “Then it sounds like the choice is up to you.” He dipped forward toward her shoulder, planting a kiss on the skin that gaped from the collar of her shirt. “Do you want to be sorry?” He kissed again, this time a fraction of an inch lower. “Do you want me to stop?”
Unconsciously, Lisa lifted her chin, exposing more of the creamy skin on her neck to his advance. A sigh of pleasure escaped her lips as the hot brand of his mouth moved over the offered territory.
No, she didn’t want him to stop. Regardless of what she should feel, this was the truth. She had imagined his lips against her skin from the moment she had seen him….his hands on her body….his tongue in her mouth…
Lisa shuddered as she felt one of his hands plant itself firmly at the base of her back. He used it to lift her hips of the mattress, creating an opportunity to tug free the tail of her shirt.
She let her own fingers stir to action as he lowered her back on the mattress, and turned his attention to unfastening the buttons on her shirt. She combed through the soft locks of his hair, luxuriating in the masculine scent of his shampoo, as she tried to lose herself in the moment.
She was making a mistake. Each button that Avery pulled free from its loop was like another step toward a precipice but she didn’t care. Lachlan didn’t, why should she? She spared only a moment for her guilt. Even that was forgotten when the architect finally pulled the last closure free, and shrugged the cotton garment from her skin.
Lisa shivered in the cool air of the room. The sheer fabric of her bra was painfully inadequate against the chill, and her nipples stood in stark relief beneath their black gauze covering. Avery found them instantly. He made a little growl of delight as he positioned himself over her body, taking one tight peak into his mouth and pinching the other between his forefinger and thumb.
She had lost track of his other hand, which announced its presence at the zipper of her pants. Avery moved slowly, brushing the fly lightly to announce his intentions and then, encountering no resistance, making short work of the barrier.
He murmured softly against her ear as he worked. Lisa couldn’t make out the words- she wasn’t even certain that they were words. It was the sort of quiet nonsense that she had heard East and Mannie use to soothe a skittish horse.
But I’m not skittish.
Her remorselessness was as exciting as it was surprising, and she wanted to communicate it to her partner. She moved her hands against his back as she tried to reciprocate the pleasure that he was giving. Avery acknowledged her efforts with a kiss against her temple as he continued his own ministrations.
Once more, the man’s hands went behind her back to lift her from the bed. This time he eased her trousers over her hips. Lisa assisted the awkward operation, wriggling until they slipped from her legs to the floor, their underwear the only barriers left between their bodies.
Lisa twisted her arm behind her back, reaching for the fastening of her bra, but Avery stopped her, kissing her elbow as he intercepted the action. “Leave it on.” He whispered huskily, tracing the demi-cup with a lustful glimmer in his eyes. “I like the way it looks on you.” He followed his finger with his tongue, licking lustfully over the swell of her bosom. “So feminine…”
He growled quietly as he pushed her into the mattress, covering her with his body. The skin of their chest met, radiating warmth between their flesh.
Avery rocked his hips against her own. She could feel his own arousal now. Though she couldn’t see it, she could tell as it pressed against her that it was even more magnificent erect. She wanted it inside her. Now.
The intensity of her need was too strong to be denied, and Lisa finally took control, shamelessly groping beneath the waistband of his boxers, and circling the throbbing column of flesh with her hand. She smiled in satisfaction as a sound of approval escaped him, the lust in his eyes demonstrating that she was not alone in her desire.
Lisa continued to stroke him until his eyes grew unfocused, and then she drew away. Impatient for her own gratification, she quickly discarded her panties, and led his hands between her thighs.
She was wet.
Avery’s fingers slid easily between her folds as he found the small nub of nerves at her core. His movements were expert as he coaxed wave after wave of pleasure through her veins. The feelings that consumed her were, at once, overwhelming and inadequate. She wanted more.
Reluctantly pushing away his hands, Lisa tugged at Avery’s shorts.
“I want you.” She whispered throatily.
Almost in a daze, Avery nodded his head. He obediently removed the garment and positioned himself at her opening…and then he stopped.
Avery captured Lisa’s chin with his index finger, and forced her to meet his eyes.
“Is this what you want, Lisa?” He asked slowly, surprising her with his coherence.
“Yes.” She moaned in annoyance, arching her hips toward the object of her desire.
The man would not yet capitulate to her demands. “Then promise me one thing….”
Lisa nodded, willing to say anything to satisfy the craving that was driving her wild.
“Promise never to regret this…ever. You can feel guilty for not regretting it…You can hate yourself- or me- for letting it happen…but never wish that it didn’t. I want you too much….want this….”
He filled her with the final word.
Lisa lost track of conscious thought as their bodies began to move together.
They move deliberately, reaching a shattering climax at almost the same instant. For a moment, neither could move, paralyzed by ecstasy- but then their collapsed against the pillows, cradling their exhausted forms together.
Lisa clenched her eyes, panting as she slowly regained control, thinking that no man had ever touched her quite like that. She glanced over at the man next to her. She watched as his lips curved into a sated smile. Her hand was still trembling a little as she reached up to brush sweat dampened hair out of his eyes.
“No regrets?” His voice was soft.
“No regrets.” Lisa was surprised to find out it was true. She probably should have some guilt, after all her and Lachlan weren’t officially over. They were just trying to find their way. But this, this felt too right to be wrong.
“You know I don’t normally…” Her voice trailed off as Avery pressed a finger to her lips.
“Shhh. We didn’t do anything wrong. We’re attracted to each other — on many levels. Ya just can’t ignore that.”
“You’re amazing, you know.” Lisa smiled.
“That’s what all the women say when they’re in bed with me.” He grinned, dimples flashing.
She slapped him lightly on the chest. “Bastard.”
“So” Avery began as he leaned up on one arm to gaze at Lisa. “Tell me about this man who made you cry.”
Lisa’s eyes widened. He wanted to talk about Lachlan now? “You want to know about Lachlan….now….here? After what just happened?”
Avery nodded as he ran a caressing fingertip across Lisa’s eyes causing them to flutter shut for a moment. “You have the most amazing eyes. It’s the first thing I noticed about you. They’re not a bright green like most people. They are more of a dusty sage. Warm and inviting. Except when they are filled with tears. I want to know why this guy that you are ‘not exactly’ engaged to made you cry?” He gathered her in his arms and leaned back against the headboard. “Come one, spill it.”
Before she even realized it, Lisa was tucked neatly against Avery’s lightly furred chest telling him everything. She told him how she had gone away when she was confused about her feelings for Lachlan. How a tall, slender blonde from Canada had shown up to take her place. And now that woman was back trying and seeming to succeed at taking her place once again.
Avery pressed a soft kiss to the top of her hair. “So tell me. Are all the men here arseholes or just the ones dating you and my sister?”
“Anthony? An asshole?” Lisa shook her head. “Anthony’s wonderful.” She could feel the muscles of Avery’s chest bunch as he tensed.
“He knocked up my sister. That makes him an arsehole in my book.”
Lisa struggled to rise up. “Oh no. How’d Anthony take the news? Is Stephanie all right? I should go, lend moral support.”
Avery pulled her back down. “Don’t bother.” His voice was a little bitter. “She told everyone to get lost. She and Anthony left for the clinic a little while ago.”
“He loves her, really he does. Anthony will make it all okay.”
“He bloody well better.” Avery laid a hand on his stomach when it growled.
“Hungry?” Lisa laughed. “Or should I even bother asking?”
“Always. Want to order some room service?”
Lisa was surprised to discover that she was indeed hungry. She nodded her assent.
They dressed and went out into the living room to await their meal. Avery looked up at the knock on the door. “Want to hide in the bedroom?”
“I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.” Lisa said as she opened the door. “Hi, Rick.”
To give the young waiter credit, he didn’t even blink. “Hello, Lisa.” But Lisa could see his eyes take in everything from her disheveled hair to her untucked shirt over to Avery, standing there in his boxers and back to her.
Rick set the tray down on the table. As he walked by her, he grabbed Lisa’s hand and dragged her out to the hallway. “Fuck, Lisa. You’re screwing him, aren’t you?”
Lisa could feel her cheeks redden. “It’s not like that. He’s just a friend.”
“Like Jeff is just a friend?”
“Yeah.” Lisa’s reply was quiet as she realized the trend.
Rick put it into words. “Is this some sort of weird friendship ritual with you?” He paused. “Oh god, am I your friend too?”
Lisa nodded. “Of course you are, Rick.”
“Don’t tell me that I have to sleep with you too.” Rick couldn’t hold back his grin any longer.
Lisa smiled back, relieved that Rick wasn’t angry. “No. I’m make an exception for you.”
“Thank you, Jesus.” Rick crossed himself.
“Get out of here.” Lisa pushed him playfully.
“I’m already gone.” Rick turned back for a moment, his face serious. “Be careful, sweetie.”
Lisa simply nodded and turned back to Avery’s room.
They spent the rest of the evening together. They talked and joked and tried their hardest to best each other at trivia. Avery finally conceded when he had to admit that he had no idea who did the first blood transfusion.
“Jean-Batiste Denis!” Lisa cried triumphantly. “He infused the blood of a calf into a violent madman hoping it would make him calmer.”
“Well, did it?” Avery asked curiously.
“I suppose you could say that it did.” Lisa grinned. “It bloody well killed him!” She giggled and Avery joined in.
They continued to talk and just enjoy each other’s company. When Lisa yawned and said she should probably head home, Avery simply gathered her in his arms and strode back to the bedroom.
“Tonight you stay with me. No going back to that empty hanger and dwelling on what might have been.” He threw her a well-worn University of Kentucky t-shirt.
So before she knew she was back in bed with the gorgeous professor from Glasgow, held tightly in his arms as she fell asleep.
“Okay. This is going to be cold.” Anthony warned before squirting a handful of clear goo onto Stephanie’s stomach. The warning had been a half-second too late for her to prepare, and she jumped as the icy gel touched her skin.
“Told you.” The doctor grinned. He smeared the substance over the plane beneath her belly button, then wiped his hands clean on a towel before switching on the machine. He warmed the sensor pad with his hand before sliding it into place.
“What is it?” Stephanie started to set up, instantly alarmed. “Is something wrong?”
“No. No…” Anthony tried to reassure, gesturing that she should just lie still. “I haven’t used this machine since we first got it. I think that the sound isn’t working. We should be able to hear the baby’s heartbeat.” He fiddled with a few knobs. At last, the speakers crackled to life. A slow, steady thrum echoed through the room.
The lawyer smiled. “Is that…?”
“That’s you.” Anthony said quickly, then bit his lip. Avoiding Stephanie’s eyes, he moved the pad lower on her hips.
On the view screen, the lawyer could finally make out murky, grayscale images that she assumed were her internal organs. She looked to her boyfriend for explanation, but he was too intent on his task to notice. He was moving the apparatus in slow, deliberate circles.
“Where’s the baby’s heartbeat?” Stephanie couldn’t stifle the hint of panic in her voice.
“I’m not sure.” Anthony adjusted the settings once more. “You might not be as far along as you think and it could still be too faint to hear. Like I said, I haven’t done this in a long time, I….” He stopped, staring at the image on the screen.
“It’s your uterus.”
“Oh?” She tilted her head, trying to pick out the contours of her baby in the vague shapes that filled the screen. The doctor seemed to be struggling as well.
“Stephanie…” something in Anthony’s tone made her look up. “You’re sure that your last period was three months ago? You haven’t had any…bleeding…since then?”
“I’m positive!” Stephanie felt a wave of panic as she once again scanned the screen. Where was her baby? “Not since I switched to the new pills.”
“The new pills?”
“I…” Stephanie instantly turned scarlet, realizing that she had backed herself into a confession. “I ran out of my prescription so I….sort of….took some from the Clinic.”
Anthony seemed almost disinterested in how she came by the medication. “They’re different from what you had before?”
“They’re the same brand, only shorter.”
“You know. Twenty-one days instead of twenty-eight.”
“Twenty-one days plus a week off.”
“Twenty-one days plus a week off….the packs with twenty-eight days have a week of placebo.” When Stephanie’s face remained confused, the doctor’s mouth molded into a small “O”.”You didn’t take a week off?”
Stephanie made a frightened sound as he switched off the machine. “What happened?” She demanded. “Did something happen to the baby? Why did you turn off the machine?” For the second time that day, she felt tears fill her eyes.
Anthony squeezed her hands tightly. “I don’t think that anything happened to the baby.” He said, the calmness in his voice the result of obvious effort. “I think…that there was never any baby at all.”
Stephanie blinked several times as the world seemed to suddenly spin too fast. “What…what do you mean. I took the test. It was blue, and my-my…the symptoms…” Stephanie swallowed back a sob. Five minutes earlier she had been miserable at the thought of her pregnancy. Now, the prospect of losing the baby- of the baby never having existed at all- loomed blacker than any of her contemplated struggles.
Anthony kept his voice very low and carefully modulated as he explained. His girlfriend imagined it was the same tone that he used to deal with bereaved families in his work at the hospital or, before that, in the church. “Both sets of pills- the ones that you were on before and the ones that you took from the clinic- are calculated on 28 day cycles. The ones you used to have included a week of placebos to remind you when to start up again. The hormones in the pills mimic pregnancy. If you take them without stopping it–“
Stephanie closed her eyes tightly and drew away.
“Honey, it’s an easy mistake to make.” He soothed, refusing to let go of her hand. “There’s no need to feel–“
“Stupid?” The attorney’s lower lip trembled as she spoke.
That wasn’t it. She wished that she felt stupid. She wished that she felt anything other than….how to describe it? In spite of her protestations that she wasn’t ready to be a mother, the idea of the baby had taken root in her heart and imagination. Anthony’s revelation had ripped it away with a suddenness that made her ache.
The lawyer finally pulled her hand free and used it to cover her eyes. “Please just go away Anthony. I need to be alone for a little while.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Before he could open his mouth to reply, she added acidly. “Since I’m not going to be a parent anymore, I presume that being selfish is okay.”
It was blue.
It had to be blue.
Stephanie held her breath and then removed the tester stick from the cup. Her heart leapt to her throat as she saw the pale, azure line across the lower box.
And then she noticed the word written underneath. “Control”.
Control? What the hell did that mean? She bit her lip worriedly, postponing her sense of relief until she consulted the directions.
“Instructions for use…..reading results…….control!” She seized on the phrase. “When the test is properly administered , a blue bar will appear in the ‘control’ box. If you are pregnant, a second blue bar…” The rest of the words were obscured in a glaze of tears. Stephanie gripped the edge of the sink as her knees gave way, and she slowly crumpled to the floor. Anthony was right.
There was no baby.
There never had been.
Stephanie hugged her knees to her chest, ignoring the fact that she was behaving childishly as she vented her emotions in a flood of tears. She was furious: angry at herself for carelessness that had led to the predicament in the first place. She was embarrassed: Ashamed to have jumped to conclusions and mortified that word had spread throughout the point. Mostly, however, she was sad. The fact that she had lost nothing but a dream did little to soothe hurt. Real or not, she had made a place for the baby in her heart. Having it ripped away so suddenly had left a hole that would take time to heal.
The baby’s name was David. She was certain she had seen his face in a dream. //He would have been dark-headed, like Anthony, but with bright blue eyes like her brother’s, and Avery’s charm and winning smile. He would have liked baseball and pancakes, would have hated….Stop being ridiculous!//
Stephanie bit her lip and tried to control the crying that shook her frame.
A knock on the door drew her attention.
“Stephanie?” Anthony’s voice was carefully neutral. It was his “priest voice”, and it drove her insane when he used it.
“Go a-aw-away!” she demanded, her voice catching half-way through as she choked on another sob. “I don-don’t wan-na talk r-right n-o-ow.”
There was no sound for a moment, and she thought that Anthony had did as he was told, but she was furious a second later when- before she could seize the handle- the door unlocked and her boyfriend stepped inside, pinching the keys between his fingers.
“I t-told you-!” she started to rage, but Anthony’s expression remained calm.
“Honey. You can’t stay in here all day.” He jutted his chin toward the window. Stephanie was astonished to find darkness outside.
“W-w-why n-not?” She asked.
“Well…”Anthony’s long finger tenderly traced her quivering chin. “The Clinic only has one bathroom for starters. I’m going to have to go eventually.”
In spite of herself, Stephanie grinned.
Looking relieved, Anthony sunk to the floor beside her. “And secondly…because I love you, and it tears me up to see you like this.” He stroked her cheek with one hand, then used the other to retrieve the testing strip from her grasp. He turned it over in her hands, not saying what she knew he must be thinking.
“Y-you were r-ri-ght.” Stephanie stammered miserably.
The doctor was smart enough not to agree. He simply gathered her into his arms and held her tightly. “I’m so sorry.” He whispered against her hair. “I truly am. And not just because it hurts you so much.”
Stephanie looked up, wondering if she had mistaken his meaning.
Anthony shrugged. “I’m not saying that I wasn’t upset at first.” He confessed. “But afterwards….well….” He kissed her cheek. “I was happy. Excited. Glad.” Anthony drew his girlfriend back against his chest and held her until her shaking subsided. When she finally drew away again, he caught her hand. His fingers captured the antique diamond ring on the third finger of her left hand. “Someday.” He whispered. “Someday soon….I promise.”
Stephanie nodded her head, then allowed herself to be lifted to her feet. She glanced at the clock on the wall. “I’d better get back.” She murmured. “Avery’s leaving tomorrow.”
“Your brother is in good hands.” Anthony assured her. “And it’s too late to do any visiting tonight. I want you to stay here with me.”
The attorney nodded meekly and stepped into the hall. She was puzzled when the doctor didn’t follow, and shot him a look of confusion. Anthony grinned sheepishly as he started to shut the door. “You thought I was joking about the one bathroom thing, didn’t you?”
“Care for a cup of tea?”
Lachlan opened his eyes just enough to see Jack Corbett kneeling in front of him, holding a teacup. The hung-over pilot gingerly sat up on the couch, careful not to move his throbbing head too quickly. “Ta, mate.” He reached for the cup.
“Need the loo before I take a shower?” Jack asked.
Lachlan shook his head then instantly regretted it. “No, I’m right.” He watched his brother walk away. Bloody hell, he thought as he took another sip of tea. What had ever possessed him to drink a half a bottle of whiskey? Memories of the previous day washed over him. He’d drank to forget that flash of hurt in Lisa’s green eyes when he told her that Gretchen had come for him. Could he have been anymore stupid? Lachlan knew Lisa’s history, the story of her marriage’s demise. Her ex-husband had become involved with a good friend. She was especially vulnerable to things like that. No wonder she had jumped to the wrong conclusions. To her it must have seemed like her ex all over again.
But he had seen her drinking beer with Stephanie’s brother and felt betrayed. It was childish but he wanted to make her jealous. And when she had told him to maybe he should just go with Gretchen, he was hurt and wanted her to hurt too. That was the reason he gave himself for showing up at Jack’s door last night clutching a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Good ol’ American whiskey.
Now all he could think about was how hurt Lisa probably was when he didn’t come home last night. She’d more than likely assume the worse. “Bloody hell!” He cursed again. He’d really messed it up this time. “Fuck!” He set the empty teacup down with a thump.
“Easy, mate.” Jack admonished as he walked out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his lean hips. “Don’t take it out on the dishware.”
“I fucked up.” Lachlan sighed.
“Yeah you did, mate.” Jack agreed. “Last night was stupid but taking Gretchen to the bluff was the worst.”
Lachlan’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “I never took her there. That’s Lisa’s special place.” He sank his head into his hands and groaned. “She thinks I took Gretchen there? No wonder she was so bloody angry. How did it get so bad?”
All Jack could offer was sympathy. He was no expert in matters of the heart. He refilled Lachlan’s cup. “So what are you going to do about it, mate?”
“I don’t know, Jack. Apologize; beg her to forgive me&emdash;” Lachlan lamented. “You’d think as much as we love each other we’d be happy as Larry but we just can’t seem to make a go of it.”
“And you best get that Canadian sheila outta here.” Jack suggested.
Lachlan could feel the caffeine from the tea easing his hangover. “Fair Dinkum, mate!” he said sarcastically. “Can I borrow your shower?”
Jack motioned to the bathroom. “She’s yours.”
Lachlan rubbed a hand along his freshly shaven jaw. He was grateful to Jack for the use of his bathroom and the change of clothes. They were similar in size so it wasn’t a problem for Lachlan to borrow a faded pair of jeans and a t-shirt. The pilot’s thoughts turned to his younger brother. Jack was probably one of the quietest blokes here. He didn’t spend much time socializing. He wasn’t a snob, he just kept to himself. Lachlan suspected that the events at Ambon had left Jack with some serious emotional scars. He had long since given up trying to bring Jack around. Maybe someday, someone or more specifically some sheila will change the young lieutenant’s life. Lachlan had great confidence in the power of this world that they lived in now. But it was still quite a shock to Lachlan when Jack spoke.
“I’ll come with you, mate.”
They made their way over to the Tavern. Lachlan’s gaze swept the room and came to rest on his lover and the man sitting next to her. Jealousy made his heart clench. Easy, mate! He reminded himself. Don’t blow it again. He fixed a pleasant smile on his face and approached them. His eyes sought Lisa’s and he flinched at the hurt in them.
“Can I talk to you, luv?” He asked quietly.
Lisa glanced at the man sitting next to her.
“Do you want to talk to him?” Avery’s voice was soft. Lisa could tell by his look that it was her decision and Avery would stand by her regardless.
She nodded. “Yeah.”
Avery gave her hand a comforting squeeze and rose. “I’ll be right over there,” he gestured to the bar, “if you need me.”
The young professor turned and bumped into Terry Thorne. “Oh! Excuse me.”
Terry had been waiting around to see if the fiery southerner was going to repeat his actions from yesterday. But his fears weren’t realized. He looked into the man’s eyes. He could see a bit of disappointment and resignation there. Terry has seen that look before echoed in his own mirror after Telacca. “Let me buy ya a pint, mate.”
Lachlan slid into the seat facing Lisa. He cleared his throat nervously and opened his mouth to speak.
She interrupted him, “I can’t imagine what you want to talk about. Seems to me that you made your decision last night.” Her voice was soft and full of pain.
Lachlan looked at her sheepishly. “I’m sorry about that. I should have come home last night. And trust me,” he rubbed his forehead, “I’m paying for it this morning. I should know better than to spend the night with a bottle of your American whiskey.” He tried to laugh but stopped at the hurt look on Lisa’s face.
Lisa shook her head sadly. “Honesty is something that we’ve always had between us. Don’t destroy that too.” She looked down. It hurt too much to look at him. She jumped a little when his hand cupped her chin and forced her to face him.
“What’da mean, luv?” The pilot’s brow wrinkled in confusion at the look of anguish on his lover’s face.
Lisa jerked her face away from his touch. “I went to her room last night. I saw her with your shirt on. Nothing but your shirt. She said that you were in the shower.” Tears clogged her throat. It hurt so bad to say the words out loud, it brought back all the pain from last night. Instinctively she turned, her eyes seeking out Avery. He was at the bar with Terry. At the look on her face, he rose and was immediately pushed back down by the K&R consultant. Lisa could see that Terry was speaking to the professor and she saw Avery nod and turn his back to her. Lachlan’s voice brought her gaze back to the man in front of her.
“What the hell?” His tone was sharp. “You’ve got it all wrong, sweetheart.”
“I know what I saw.” She retorted.
He held up a finger. “I’ve got to straighten this out. Wait here for me.”
Lachlan interrupted. “If we ever meant something to each other, you will wait two ticks. Please,” he pleaded.
Lisa barely nodded. “All right.” She watched him walk away.
“‘Struth, Lisa.” Jack said as he slid into Lachlan’s vacant chair. “Lachlan was at my place last night. He staggered late in the arvo. I swear he was passed out on my couch by ten.”
Lisa stared at the young lawyer’s assistant in shock. That was the most she had ever heard him say. Guess he saves it for when it is really important.
“Why would she–?” Lisa stopped. She already knew the answer to that question.
Lachlan took the steps leading up to the second floor of the Hotel two at a time. His thoughts raced. Bloody hell! There has got to be some explanation for this. Gretchen’s a good mate. She wouldn’t deliberately do something like this. But he knew Lisa. She didn’t lie. And there was no way she could fake the torment in her eyes. “Fuck!”
His knock on the door was a little harder than he had intended. Gretchen opened the door tentatively.
“Lachlan!” Her voice was full of surprise. She opened the door wider. “Come in.”
The pilot strode through the door and turned immediately. “What is wrong with you?”
“What?” Gretchen’s face was the perfect example of innocence. “What do you mean?”
“Where’da ya get the shirt, Gretchen?” Lachlan motioned to the light blue shirt, his light blue shirt that she was wearing unbuttoned over a tank top.
“This?” She smoothed an imaginary wrinkle out of it. “Why it is yours, of course. I found it in my suitcase after I was at your place. And since I had forgot my nightgown, I thought I borrow it for a bit. I was going to give it back,” she added defensively.
Lachlan stared at her, unsure whether to believe such a story. “But you told Lisa that I gave it to you.”
“I never told her that.”
Lachlan waved away her protest. “But you let her believe it.”
“What she believes isn’t my problem…and it shouldn’t be yours.”
“I think that I’m a better judge of that.” Lachlan felt that Gretchen at least deserved an explanation. “It’s just that Lisa’s ex had an affair with his best friend. She’s very sensitive about such things. Normally she’s the most level headed woman I know but with something like this…..she’s insecure as hell.”
Gretchen let out a snort of disgust. “So you have to pay for her ex-husband’s sins. Is that it?” She reached up to caress Lachlan’s cheek. “You deserve better than that.” Her eyes bored into to his. The message was unmistakable. You deserve better&emdash;like me.
Lachlan averted his gaze. Gretchen couldn’t be in love with him, could she? He rethought his previous accusations. She didn’t know about Lisa’s past and her story seemed plausible enough. He looked around the room, trying to not make eye contact with the woman before him until he could keep the pity out of his eyes. He wasn’t in love with her. He never would be. Suddenly he noticed something draped across the chair. A nightgown!
“So you lied to me too.” Lachlan gestured to the garment. “I think you should go.”
Gretchen’s expression of lovesickness wavered for a moment but she quickly regain her composure. “You can’t be serious.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Lachlan! This is all a misunderstanding. It’s just a mistake. We’re good mates, remember.” Gretchen’s voice took on a desperate edge.
“You set me up. You set Lisa up. You told her I was with you…..”
The Canadian interrupted. “Lisa set ME up!”
“What?!?” Lachlan was incredulous.
“Isn’t if obvious? Doesn’t it seem strange to you that your shirt would have ‘fallen’ into my bag?” She was on a roll now. “She doubted how much you loved her. Besides, you saw her with Avery. She was trying to find a reason to get rid of you. Your shirt in my luggage makes you out to be the bad guy. She’d be the sympathetic scorned lover and no one would blame her for falling into the newcomer’s arms.”
Yes, it did seem strange-but not for the reasons that Gretchen was implying. What was it Lisa had said back in the Tavern? ‘Honesty is something that we’ve always had between us. Don’t destroy that too.‘ Lisa didn’t lie. She didn’t have to lie. She knew that he loved her…..until someone else had given her cause to question him.
Lachlan threw Gretchen’s suitcase unto the bed. “Pack,” he commanded gruffly, crossing his arms to signal that he would brook no resistance.
His eyes returned to the crumpled shirt the blonde was wearing and he jerked his chin in its direction. “And be careful that it doesn’t ‘fall’ into your bag again.”
“But Lachlan&emdash;” Gretchen cried.
Less than a half hour later Lachlan was leaning against his motorcycle that was parked by the side of the road. He took a deep drag on the cigarette between his lips then carefully crushed it under his heel as a battered Ford approached. He stood up as a woman exited the car.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Lachlan?” Gretchen asked.
Lachlan nodded then added seriously. “You know that is doesn’t work to have you here.”
Gretchen laid a hand on his arm. “We didn’t have to be just friends, you know.”
Lachlan smiled sadly and removed her hand. “Lisa’s the most important person in my life. I just lost sight of that for a bit. But I can’t live without her. And I can’t let anyone come between us.”
Gretchen finally admitted defeat. “All right. I should have known that I never stood a chance.” She impulsively hugged him then moved away before he could respond. “Take care, Lach. I won’t forget you.”
Lachlan didn’t correct her although he knew in time that she would indeed forget him. “You’ll find someone, I know you will.” He held the car door open for her then shut it after she was inside. He leaned in the window a bit to address the driver. “Thanks for doing this for me, Rick.”
The bartender nodded. “No problem.”
Lachlan watched as they crossed that invisible but magic line that separated his home from the ‘real world’. As he watched the car drive away, he uttered those important words….”Gretchen can’t come back.”
It’s finished. She can’t return to the Point. The proverbial welcome mat’s been pulled up. It seemed so simple but Chelle had reassured him that it would work. Slowly Gretchen’s memories of the Point would fade away. She wouldn’t even realize that it was happening. Before long, this place would just seem like a dream to her. Banishment was such a harsh word but essentially that was what it was.
Lachlan noticed that Gretchen had stuck her head out the window to look back towards him. He didn’t bother to wave. He knew that she couldn’t see him. The curtain between reality and his world had fallen. They would never see each other again. Although he mourned the loss of a good friend, he knew it was the right thing to do. He nodded to himself with a certain amount of satisfaction. Now it was time to go and take back the woman that he loved.
She was sitting at a table in the Tavern with Jack Corbett when Lachlan got back. A shared look with Jack sent him on his way. Lachlan dropped to his knees in front of her. He kissed her hand then laid it against his cheek.
Lisa’s heart gave a little flip in her chest at the sight of the handsome pilot kneeling at her feet.
“Forgive me?” He asked.
Lisa slid off the chair to kneel beside him. “Only if you forgive me first.” Her other hand went up so that his face was cupped between her palms. “I’m sorry, Lachlan. So, so very sorry.”
“Shh, it’s alright” He consoled.
“No it’s not all right.” Lisa met his eyes. She wanted to be looking directly at him when she spoke to him. “I was jealous of Gretchen. Jealous that you and her were such good friends. I was wrong and I’m sorry. If I had acted better maybe things wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand.”
Lachlan brushed a soft kiss across her forehead. His smile was tender. It really was going to be all right. They had weathered another storm in their relationship and come out stronger again. “This is one time that I can say ‘I know exactly how you felt.'”
Lisa dropped her gaze. “I know. Nothing like getting a taste of my own medicine. But it was so stupid of&emdash;” Lisa’s words were cut off by Lachlan’s fingers laying gently on her lips.
“Hush. She’s gone. That’s where I was.” Lachlan’s fingers slipped under her chin to bring her eyes up to meet his. “She’s left and she isn’t coming back. No worries, luv. I wasn’t much better. When I saw you with Avery…..”
“Important.” Lachlan interrupted. “And neither is Gretchen. You and I are what matters, honey.” His smile was full of love. He kissed her softly then deeper. Her hands slid around his neck to pull him closer.
Slowly they were brought back to awareness of their surrounding by the sound of applause. Lisa realized that they were kneeling on the floor in the middle of the Tavern. Her cheeks flushed and she buried her head on Lachlan’s shoulder.
Lachlan looked around. Approval shown in everyone’s faces. He grinned and gathered Lisa in his arms as he rose up. “Maybe we should continue this somewhere else.” He walked with her out the door that led to the patio.
They stood out in the sunlight, a gentle breeze stirring their hair. Lachlan smiled at the woman in his arms.
Lisa matched his smile. “Love is never going to be easy for us, is it?”
Lachlan chuckled and shook his head. “Nope. I don’t think it ever will be. But it is worth it. I love you.”
“I love you too.” Lisa raised up to gently press her lips against his. She sighed as Lachlan pulled her closer and deepened the kiss. Music filtered through the open door.
Lisa pulled back to look into Lachlan’s beautiful eyes. “Do you hear it?”
Lachlan nodded. “It’s our song.”
Lisa, ever the realist, corrected him. “Technically it’s East’s song. It came from his&emdash;”
Lachlan silenced her with a kiss. “It’s our song.” He said firmly. “Dance with me?”
He slipped his right hand around her waist so that she automatically placed her hand on his bicep. Her right hand rose to rest lightly in his left. They stood still for a heartbeat. Lachlan was in jeans and t-shirt; Lisa was in a borrowed University of Glasgow sweatshirt. They looked into each other’s eyes across the small space that separated them. Lisa could feel sudden tears sting her eyes, tears of happiness, of grateful appreciation to the god that had given her this man to love.
And then Lachlan applied a hint of pressure to her waist and they began to move in tandem, responding the strains of music of the Waltz from Hammers Over The Anvil. Their eyes never left each other’s face, their steps grew bolder and their bodies swayed and dipped, spun in breathless circles.
Lachlan held her loosely but firmly, leading his lover, his soul mate in graceful circles around the patio. He carefully avoided chairs and tables as well as potted plants and flowers. He pulled her closer, his smile boyish and excited, a lock of his dark hair falling forward onto his forehead.
The sweeping turns of the waltz grew increasingly intimate as he gathered her closer and closer. And they slowed down gradually until they finally stopped as the last strains of the music played out.
Lachlan raised her right hand to rest on his shoulder so that he could caress her face. “Aw, sweetheart, I’d be so lost without you. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I swear that I’d just simply fade away.”
Lisa allowed herself to melt against him. She tucked her head against his broad chest, her fingers clutching his shoulders. He was her life, he and the future that they would share together…..maybe. She had to tell him about Avery. Hope against hope that he would once again forgive her for being stupid. I swear that if he forgives me this time, I won’t even talk to anyone else.
Lachlan looked down at the woman in his arms as her hands clenched his shoulders. “What is it, luv?”
“Oh Lachlan,” she sighed. “I love you more than I’ve loved anyone in my life….”
“I love you too.” Lachlan replied and leaned in to kiss her.
Lisa turned her head slightly so that Lachlan’s lips missed hers and ended up on her cheek instead. “Let me get this out please. I love you and frankly it scares the hell out of me sometimes.”
Lachlan leaned back slightly so he could see her face. “Yeess?”
“And when I’m scared I sometimes do some really stupid things. Avery—“
Lachlan silenced her with a kiss. He suspected what she was about to say and he didn’t want to hear it. Not this time, not again. “I don’t want to hear it.”
“But I need to say it.”
The pilot hugged her tight against his chest. “Then say it to Cort in the church. Have Anthony drag out his collar and go to confession. I. don’t. want. to. hear. it.” He added. “Do you love me?”
“Of course,” She added, “With my whole heart.”
“Then Avery doesn’t matter.”
Another kiss. Lisa gave up. They say that confession is good for the soul but perhaps it isn’t always good for the relationship. If Lachlan didn’t want to hear it then she wouldn’t say it. She snuggled back into his arms.
Avery watched as the couple danced on the patio. A twinge of envy caused his heart to clench. He took another swig of his drink and turned as they walked back in. He had one last chance. He strode toward them.
“Lisa?” He asked. “Can I talk to you for a minute&emdash;alone?”
Lisa glanced at Lachlan who nodded subtly. “I’ll just share a pint with Jack. Take your time.” The pilot was confident in Lisa’s love for him. The professor from Glasgow was no threat.
Avery grabbed Lisa’s hand and led her through the Tavern and out the side door that led to the Hotel. He opened the door for her then pulled her onward. He stuck his head in the entry of one of the smaller dining rooms. He pulled back and carried on. Another door, another look inside. This one seemed to suit him and he guided her inside.
Lisa looked around the deserted room as Avery let go of her hand and walked over to the small piano that was tucked in the corner. He randomly pecked at the piano keys, not really playing anything, more just snippets of songs and melodies. “Avery, what’s wrong?” She finally asked.
He didn’t look up from the black and white keys. “I think this could have been real.”
“What?” Lisa asked although she already had a good idea.
“This..” He motioned between them. “Us. Some place else. Maybe some other time. I think it might have worked.”
Lisa couldn’t say a word over the constriction in her throat and the pain in her chest. She just looked at him; her eyes shining brightly with unshed tears.
“Come to Europe with me.” His voice was soft, barely above a whisper but he still didn’t look up.
“I can’t.” Lisa’s voice was tight.
“I know. I just had to ask.” His long fingers trailed across the keys of the piano. The random cords and notes he had been absently playing suddenly became a song. His rich voice joined the haunting melody.
“If we never make it back to how far we’ve come along this way
We search around for solid ground that will help to carry us away
If the memories I left throw the light that helps to guide you through
We trickle down to our goodbyes but a part of me will stay with you
What we’ve spoken over time
Never broken or compromised
Dream on together
Leaning against each other
However it happens I hope it’s
Whatever makes you happy
It’s whatever makes you happy..”
Avery’s voice trailed off. He looked up at the woman standing by him. “He makes you happy, doesn’t he?”
Lisa nodded. “He does. And he needs me more than you ever would.”
“I know.” Avery stood. “Come on. Let’s go find Lachlan before I change my mind and whap you over the head so I can cart you off to Berlin.” Avery’s usual devil-may-care grin was back.
“Someday, Ryan Avery Bailey, you are going to find a woman that knocks you off your feet.” Lisa threatened good-naturedly. “I only wish that I could be around to see it.”
Lisa had turned away so she didn’t see the emotion that clouded his blue eyes as he thought to himself&emdash;Maybe you already have.
Before handing her over to Lachlan, Avery leaned in to brush a soft kiss across Lisa’s cheek. “It’s whatever makes you happy.” His voice was gruff.
A single tear trailed down Lisa’s face as she responded. “It does.”
Avery tightened his grip on Lisa’s hand for one second then carefully placed it in Lachlan’s outstretched palm. He stared at the young pilot. “Take care of her, mate. If you don’t, I’ll find out about it.”
Lachlan brushed his lips across Lisa’s knuckles without looking away from the older man standing in front of him. “I will. She means the world to me. Without her I would simply disappear.” The two men nodded silently at each other.
“Thank you, Avery…” Lisa’s voice was tight with unshed tears, “for everything.”
“Well, I think I head over the see my sis.” Avery’s smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “See you later.”
So, my sister isn’t pregnant?” Avery narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
“No. She isn’t.” The Point’s doctor replied, forcing himself to hold the gaze.
“So I don’t have to kill you after all?”
At last, Stephanie’s brother cracked a smile. “Well, that’s a relief! The bodies are starting to pile up!” He looked at his sister. “But I don’t understand why you thought that you…”
“It’s a long story.” The attorney headed the question off deftly. “Maybe next time, alright?”
The architect shrugged.
“Let’s just say…from now on, your sister is going to stick to the practice of law.” Anthony’s green eyes twinkled mischievously. “At least I hope so- otherwise things are going to get really busy around the point.”
Stephanie took the ribbing in stride. “Don’t worry, doctor. Now that I’ve had a taste of my own medicine, I wouldn’t have the heart to inflict it on anyone else!”
There was another round of laughter, and then Avery’s expression grew more serious. “Well, I guess I should be going. Mom’s insisting that I stop by Palm Beach before I head back.” He made a face as he stepped forward to give his kid sister a hug. “And we know better than to ignore an edict handed down from Palm Beach!”
“Amen!” Stephanie agreed. She gathered her brother in a warm embrace. “Strength and honor!” She offered with a giggle.
“More like ‘abandon hope all ye who enter here’!” Avery shook his head, then turned to Anthony. “So….I guess we’ll be seeing more of each other?”
“I hope so.” The doctor gave the other man’s hand a hearty shake, then reached for one of his bags.
“Do you want a snack from the kitchen for the road?” Stephanie asked. “There’s no telling where the Point will put you out.”
Avery shook his head “no”. “I’ll be fine. But thanks for asking.”
“My brother turning down food?” Stephanie looked shocked. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Nothing.” the man replied, but not fast enough for his sister to overlook the glance that he shot over his shoulder.
A glance in the direction of the hangar.
“Does….everyone know that you’re leaving?” She asked, trying to be tactful.
Avery ignored her for a second, but finally met his gaze. The look was distant. If Stephanie didn’t know that her brother was above such emotions, she would have sworn that the look was…wistful.
“I’ve said all my goodbyes.” Avery turned toward the east once more, then shook his head as if forcing a memory out of his mind. “There is one thing that you could do though.” He said after a pause. “You’d be my favorite little sister if you helped me out…”
one week later
Lachlan stared at the woman asleep on the couch. Her arm was encircling the small kitten that lay curled up against her. Lachlan knew that he should probably be jealous of the much-loved gift from Avery that had arrived via Stephanie several days ago. But he just couldn’t be. He thought back to his last conversation with the man. He’d caught the professor just before he drove away.
“Do me a favor, Avery?”
“If Stephanie ever calls you and tells you that this place is gone. That the magic wore out or disappeared or something–“
“Find Lisa. She’s lost a lot of important people in her life. She’ll need someone to lean on.”
“Sure thing.” He must have noticed the serious look in the young pilot’s eyes because he added. “I promise. I’ll take care of her.”
Lachlan shook Avery’s hand. “Thanks, mate.”
It might be silly to believe that the magic of this place was going to change but Lachlan couldn’t help it. Deep down inside, he truly believed that the Crowe’s Point would someday cease to exist. The older/young incarnations had tried to reassure him otherwise. But Lachlan couldn’t forget that moment of blankness when Stephanie’s ex-husband had caused all the men of the Point to disappear. It had happened once, it could happen again. Nothing lasts forever.
He had worried about who would take his place in Lisa’s life when he was gone. She could make it on her own but he didn’t think that she should have to. He felt better knowing that there was someone out there for her.
He kneeled down next to the couch. Guinness looked up and gave a chirping meow. “G’day, little one.” Lachlan stroked the tiny kitten that arched up under his long fingers.
Lisa’s eyes fluttered open. “You’re back.”
Lachlan leaned in to brush a light kiss across her lips. “Yep. Have I told you lately how much you mean to me?”
Lisa smiled. “I can’t remember. Maybe not since this morning.”
Lachlan gathered her in his arms, ignoring the grumbling of the kitten. He carried her towards their bedroom. “I think you’ll remember better if I show you.”
“Oohh always did like live demonstrations.” Lisa purred.
Lachlan gently laid her on the bed. He followed her down. Soft kisses turned to more passionate ones as clothes were tossed haphazardly about the room.
Lisa sighed as Lachlan pressed open-mouth kisses against the side of her neck. She tipped her head so he could have better access to the sensitive spot behind her ear. I am so lucky to have this man in my life and I came so close to losing him.
Lachlan felt the woman in his arms grow tense. He looked down with concern. “What is it, luv?” He grew more concerned as she started to shake. “Lisa?”
“Lachlan?” A pause then she blurted out. “Will you marry me?”
Lachlan froze. Has she just said what he thought she has said? “Marry you?” He echoed.
Lisa barely nodded. “Yeah.”
Her head snapped back like he had slapped her. “No?” Warm green eyes filled with tears. “Why?”
“Because you aren’t ready.” Although it broke his heart to say it, Lachlan knew it was true. She wasn’t ready. She was practically vibrating off the bed with nerves. His tone was gentle. “Sweetheart, I love you. And I’ll marry you when the time is right. But not yet.”
“Why?” Was all she could say. Lisa had never expected this response from her beloved pilot. Memories from the last week flooded her mind. She leaned back to look at him with narrowed eyes. “Is this some sort of punishment for what happened?”
Lachlan pulled her back into his arms. “No. Of course not.” Maybe just a little. “You’re not ready.” He reiterated. “Look at yourself. You are shaking like a palm in a cyclone.”
“But&emdash;” She stuttered.
“I love you. I always will. And when things are right, I’ll wear your ring proudly.” He ran a caressing hand across her cheek to soften the blows from the words he was about to say. “But sweetheart, first you have to learn to trust me and our love. To come to me with your doubts and fears. It’s what love and commitment are about.”
So there is a little punishment involved, she thought to herself. But he was right she couldn’t deny it. She did turn to other people when things went wrong. First Jeff then Avery. But never to Lachlan. Things were going to change. And the more she considered it, the less frightened she was of the thought of marrying this handsome man. All it would take now was time to prove that she was ready. “All right.”
“Alright?” The handsome pilot smiled at the determined look in her eye.
“You will marry me someday, Lachlan Curry.” She planted a firm kiss on his lips. “I guarantee it!”
Three Months Later
Twelve minutes and eleven seconds…ten….nine…eight….seven….
Anthony blinked his eyes rapidly, trying to tear them away from the oven timer that he had set to inform him when thirty minutes had passed. As he watched the seconds slip away, he tried to remember the conversation which had brought him to this nervous vigil…
“I’ve swelled!” Stephanie said in disgust, tossing the dove gray wool skirt that she had been wriggling into onto the pile with other discarded clothes.
“You have not.” Anthony said dismissively, plucking a knit skirt in a similar shade out of her drawer and flinging it playfully across the room. “Now’s not the time to dwell on it. Lisa and Lachlan said to be at the hanger by seven…Besides, there would only be more of you to love.”
The doctor’s fiancé made a gagging sound and returned her attention to the mirror. “I’m serious, Anthony. Seven pounds in three months.”
He bit his lip, aware that he was treading near dangerous ground. “Well, I haven’t noticed.” He said warily. “And besides…even if you had gained a little weight – And I’m not saying that you have!- it would only be normal.”
“Changing to the new birth control pills. You switched brands when you went to the 28 day packs. The chemistry is a little different. It will even out.”
“You think so?”
Anthony sighed, then crossed the room to sweep her into his arms. “I know so. Trust me. My professional opinion is that things will be back to normal as soon as your body adjusts to the new hormones…and my personal opinion is that you’ve never been more beautiful in your life, so QUIT WORRYING, WE’RE GOING TO BE LATE!.” He tried to truncate the conversation with a cleverly placed kiss, but Stephanie was persistent. She frowned at the too-tight skirt.
“Well, if that’s the case, don’t you think I should go ahead and start?”
The doctor bent forward to nuzzle her ear. “Start?” He said in a distracted tone.
“Yes…don’t you think the sooner I start back, the sooner that things will get back to normal and I won’t look like such a sow.”
Anthony pulled away, looking confused. “Start what?” He frowned.
“Start the new pills, of course. You said that I couldn’t keep taking the old ones. They weren’t designed to take without a break. You told me that I had to wait a little while before starting the new ones because…”
“A week.” Anthony said in a very thin voice. “You had to wait a week…” He searched her face for some sign that she was teasing, but found none. “You only had to wait a week, and then….” He took a deep breath. “You *HAVE* been taking them, right?”
Stephanie shook her head, her fiancé’s panic catching in her own eyes. “You said you would remind me when to start again….” She insisted. “You said….”
“You mean you haven’t been doing anything to….to….for three months???”
The sudden, shrill buzz of the oven timer made the couple jump. “It’s time!” Stephanie squeaked unnecessarily. Anthony was already on his feet, lunging toward the kitchen counter and the paper cup that held their fates.
“Well, this is it.” He said slowly, forcing his voice to remain calm.
Stephanie nodded her head.
“We’re going to feel really silly in a minute.” Anthony tried to keep his tone light. “All worked up over nothing…What’s that they say? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…”
“JUST READ THE DAMN TEST!” Stephanie snapped.
Anthony nodded his head. He took a breath before lifting the stick to his eyes.
“Well? Is there a blue line?”
He shook his head. “No.” He said quietly, before letting the stick fall back into the cup. “There isn’t a blue line.” He took a deep breath.