Life Renewed II: Love Renewed

love-renewed.jpgLife Renewed II: Love Renewed
By StefB

After surviving a life threatening attack by her ex-boyfriend Sara had thought she was on her way to a happy life with Adam, but now his past is threatening their future.
This story takes place immediately following the events of Life Renewed. It is highly recommended you read that story first.

Many thanks to LorasPa6 for everything you do. This story would not be what it is if you were not around to bounce ideas off of.
Also thanks to you Kris. A third set of eyes is greatly appreciated and your input was perfect.

Chapter One

Once I was properly situated in my private room of the hospital, having been stabbed by my ex boyfriend Razor, Mom and Dad were the first to enter.

"Darling, are you ok? I was so afraid we'd lost you too," Mom cried as she ran her hands through my hair.

"I’m sore Mom but I’ll be ok," I responded.

"Liberty, I am so sorry for everything. All that ran through my mind as your father drove here was how you might die without knowing how much I love you, and how you make me proud every single day. I never let you know what a gift you truly are to me."

My emotions went in overload as my mother said the very things I had wanted to hear from her my entire life. "I love you too Mama."

As she leaned over to hug me, I knew I needed to tell them about what happened while I was unconscious. I took a deep breath. "Mom, Daddy, I saw Hunter."

"What?" They shrieked in unison.

"The doctor told me I died on the way here and Hunter was waiting for me. He said it wasn’t my time and that I had to come back."

They both started to cry again.

"Daddy, he said to tell you it’s not your fault. He doesn’t want any of us crying for him anymore, he wants us to smile anytime we think of him."

My father took my hand and I could feel his trembling. "Honey, it was just a dream."

I looked up at him with a fierce determination. I had to make him believe me. "No Daddy, it wasn’t. I know it wasn’t. He is in a better place playing his guitar. He said he hears you when you talk to him down at the river where you took him fishing. He said it was a happy place for you two, and he doesn’t want it ruined with tears."

Daddy's face went blank with astonishment. "Nobody knows I go there to talk to him."

I squeezed his hand. "Daddy, Hunter knows. He says it makes him sad when we cry for him. I can’t make him sad Daddy. My boy wants to be happy, hell he deserves to be happy. We can’t cry for him anymore. He wanted me to tell you and Mom both to stop."

Mom walked around the bed and hugged Daddy as she wiped away his tears. "Rob, when did we ever not give that boy what he wanted?"

Daddy shook his head "Never Carol. You know we'd do anything for that boy."

I looked up at both of them. "Then we need to do this for him. From now on, no more tears when we talk about Hunter. Only smiles. Agreed?"

Mom and Daddy both smiled down at me in my hospital bed. "Agreed."

Mom lovingly moved some loose hair from my face. I could not remember the last time she had acted that way towards me but I liked it. "Honey, there is a room full of people waiting to see you and if that man of yours doesn't get in here soon I'm afraid he'll crack." She bent over to kiss my forehead, "we'll come back later to check on you. Call me if you need anything before I get back. We love you."

"Love you too"

Adam and Ellie came in next with each grabbing a hand.

"I saved your shoes." Ellie said with a big smile.

I tried to giggle but winced at the dulled pain. "Don’t make me laugh please. I remember hearing you. I would've been pissed if they'd been ruined, I knew you were my best friend for a reason."

Ellie laughed before her expression became serious. "You scared me to death. I thought you were going to die." She started crying again.

"The doctor said I did die a couple of times."

Adam gasped and clutched my hand so tight that it probably would have hurt more if I were not pumped up with pain killers.

I solemnly looked up at Ellie and took a deep breath "Hunter said to tell you ‘hi,’ and that he loves you."

Ellie's complexion suddenly became as fair as mine. "What?"

"I swear I saw him. He told me a lot of things. We can’t cry for him anymore. He said it makes him sad when we do. He says he doesn’t want me to visit his gravesite anymore, he says he’s not there."

I turned my head to the man I loved and continued. "Adam, he says he likes you and how you treat me. He said he wished you'd been his Dad."

Both of them had disbelief written on their faces.

"I know you both think I am crazy but I swear I saw him. He told me it wasn’t my time and that I had to come back. He said I had a lot of life yet to live."

Ellie leaned in to hug me. "I believe you girl. I'm glad to hear you have a lot of life left. I’d be lost without you. I love you so much."

I did my best to hug her and still hold onto Adam's hand. "I love you too."

Adam grabbed a chair to sit beside me. He looked terrible, he was wearing a tee shirt from the bar and his face still held my bloody handprint, his hands and pants also still bore evidence of Razor's attempt to take my life.

I gently squeezed his hand. "Hey you."

"Hey you. You scared me." He replied through a heavy breath.

I pulled his hand to my lips and kissed it. "You saved me again."

His gaze turns toward the floor. "I wouldn’t have had to save you if I'd just kept hold of him instead of letting him go like Jesse asked. At least that son of a bitch won’t be singing for awhile since his jaw is wired shut while he sits in a jail cell."

I squeezed his hand tighter, "look at me."

He lifted his weary head until he met my eyes.

"You saved me. I love you for that. I can add that to all the other reasons I love you. What happened was not your fault."

Adam rolled his eyes and I sighed. "Honey, nobody knew he'd do what he did. It was you that saved me."

I kissed his hand again since it was the only part of him I could reach. "You pulled him away so that it wasn’t worse. It was you who covered my wound to slow the bleeding until the ambulance got there. Don’t you dare feel guilty about this!"

Adam started to cry and it broke my heart. "How can I not feel guilty? I was the one who booked that bastard! I was the one who insisted you come to the club! I was the one who brought him in the room! Me! I did all that! It was all my fault."

I cringed at the knowledge that it was not going to be easy to relieve his guilt. "No honey, it wasn’t. You were trying to give me closure and you did. I may be hurting physically but mentally I'm as good as I've ever been and I owe that to you." I stated emphatically.

Adam dropped his head. My tough hero appeared so weak and broken. "I don’t know."

I tried to turn toward him and winced, as any movement my mid-section made was agonizing. Ellie released my hand so I could caress Adam’s cheek. "I do, but if you feel so strongly about this I know how to set you mind at ease. You know the saying about the life you save?"

Adam cautiously looked back up. "Yes?"

I tried to coax him to lean to me. "Well," I kissed his trembling knuckles. "This life you saved just became yours to own so you'll have to take care of it."

Adam adopted the first smile I'd seen cross his face since before Razor made his dedication. "I think I can live with that."

I smiled in return and could feel Ellie’s happiness at witnessing our exchange when she lovingly gripped my shoulder.

Our moment was short-lived however because Gracie stuck her head in and smiled, "Okay you two, I think it’s somebody else’s turn. We have to get on the road soon and have to check on our girl."

Adam tossed his hands up defensively. "Yes Ma’am, we were about to leave."

He leaned in to kiss me. "I'll be right outside if you need me."

I ran my hand through his hair. "I always need you but you need a shower, you look like shit. I think I'm covered here for awhile, go get some rest and I promise to call you when the herd thins out."

Adam smiled and I melted. "You don’t think this is a sexy look?" I rolled my eyes and he smirked. "Call me and I’ll come running. I love you so much."

Ellie leaned in and gave me another hug. "I'll be back after work to check on you. Call me if you need me before then. Love you."

As they left I suddenly remembered the message I was supposed to deliver, and called my love back to my side. "Baby, a lady named Zaria who looked amazingly like Polina and your friend Dani said to tell you that you can no longer delay what needs to be done if you wish to move forward. She said wealth is easily rebuilt but trust is not."

Surprise laced with fear filled Adam's face as he nodded. "I am working on it, I swear to you I am."

Before I had the chance to ask what he meant he kissed me again and rushed from the room while also reaching for his phone.

Gracie and Liz followed and they were beside themselves with worry as I tried to encourage them that I was going to be fine. We agreed for them to visit after their tour ended.

Tim and Jesse were next and they were wracked with almost as much guilt as Adam. I finally convinced them I would be okay, and we promised to stay in touch after they went home. Their anger was so intense I knew Razor would do well to never run into either of those two again.

The last duo the nurses allowed to visit was Jill and Jane. They were understandably upset and both looked terrible, but Jane was by far the worst. She was nearly hysterical when she rushed to my side to grab my hand and bury her head in my shoulder as she wept.

"I thought we lost you," she sobbed.

I tried to soothe her. "You didn’t though. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."

Jane continued to sob, "I couldn’t bear the thought of losing another sister."

I remembered what Hunter had told me. He must have been talking about Jane and Adam’s sister. "Jane, Sarah said to tell you she loves you, she’s happy, and it wasn't your fault."

All color drained from Jane's face and she became unsteady. I motioned for Jill to move a chair so Jane could sit.

"How, how, how can you, you possibly…."

I became worried when she appeared to be in shock. "Are you going to be ok?"

With bewildered eyes Jane stared at me. "Nobody knows. We don’t talk about her, how'd you know about Sarah?"

"They said I died. I saw my son. I saw Hunter and he told me lots of things but he said to tell you it's not your fault. Jane, who is Sarah?"

Jane wept as she whispered, "She's our older sister. She died in the car wreck on the way home from that concert we saw you at. We were fighting about my attitude that night and she wasn't paying attention to the road. It's all my fault, if I hadn't been arguing with her she'd have seen the deer jump in the road."

I gasped. Neither Jane nor Adam had mentioned an older sister.

I remembered one other thing Hunter told me "She also said to tell you a sister's love is stronger than the hope tomorrow brings."

Jane collapsed in her chair as her eyes flickered with thought. "How'd you know about that?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I'm relaying a message my boy made me promise to deliver. Do you know what it means?"

Jane nodded her head. "Yeah, we always said no matter how bad things seemed there was the hope of a better day tomorrow. She always said her love was stronger than that."

I gripped her hand. "She said you can't blame yourself and I think it must have been pretty important if she went through the trouble of having me deliver the message."

She jumped up and grabbed her phone from her purse punching a number before placing it to her ear.

"Will you excuse me Sara?" Jane said absent-mindedly and without saying goodbye she headed for the door.

I heard her talking into her phone before she walked out. "Adam? You're not going to believe this."

I turned my attention to Jill who seemed to have been rattled by everything.

"Are you ok Jill?"

Jill attempted to smile but the result was weak at best. "Yes I’m fine. Are you ok? I was so frightened when I saw you being wheeled out on that gurney."

"I hurt, but the doctors say I'll only have a small scar by the time I heal. I guess I'll probably end up with a new tattoo to hide it."

Jill released a long breath I never realized she was holding then smiled her cheerful smile. "That’s great news. I’d hate to lose the coolest boss ever. Everyone at the office sends their best and said to make sure you know that they have everything under control until you get back."

"What do you mean? How do they know already?" I asked. I found it hard to believe the people who worked for me would still be up at this hour.

Jill looked at me puzzled "You don't know? It's been almost eighteen hours and you've been all over the news. Not just local news either, you're worldwide."

I’m sure my confusion showed. "Why would I be worldwide?"

Jill chuckled. "It’s kind of big news when the lead singer of one of the largest bands of the nineties stabs one of the biggest female singers from the same era. You were famous, like one name famous. You walked away at the height of your fame and was never heard from again until last night and that asshole that stabbed you was famous and your boyfriend is famous. Your secret is out. Everyone knows you're Belle."

I rubbed my temples trying to purge the thought of my normality disappearing.

"How's the office gossip?"

"You mean after the shock wore off?"

I laughed lightly and nodded my head.

"Everyone's fine, great even. Mr. Moretti called, he wants you to call him as soon as you feel up to it."

I caught Jill's expression and noticed there was something else she wanted to say but was possibly afraid.

"What's that look for Jill?"

Jill appeared confused. "Mr. Moretti is um, unusual isn't he?"

I laughed so much it hurt thinking about my kind, eccentric boss. "Yeah Jill, you could say that but he's a really good man. What did he do to make you ask?"

Jill's face was beginning to turn a nice shade of pink. "Nothing really, he was just really frantic when he called to check on you. He made me camp out in the waiting room and has called every fifteen minutes for updates. He said the hospital wouldn't tell him anything and he couldn't reach your parents. Then he said he was glad you're finally out about your past but it made him sick that he couldn't protect you. He also said sending you home was a bad idea. That's not something you expect to hear from the owner of the company. I'm not sure how to say this but he told me to tell you he loved you."

I smiled fondly while thinking of the man who had become like a second father. "Like I said, he's a really good man. He and his wife have always looked out for me. What did the people at the office say?"

Jill smirked. "The guys all say they remember you and everyone agrees with my coolest boss ever statement. Especially the women after they found out you and Zeus are dating. Margaret almost passed out when I told her."

Jill giggled before continuing, "I think there must be a lot of your fans out there that need our services since our phones went crazy today with potential clients wanting to set up meetings with you after you get back. I am going to make sure the people are legitimate and not a crazed fan or a sleazy reporter before I call them back. I'll set up the appointments after we know when you are returning to work."

A yawn escaped before I could contain it and Jill noticed. "I need to go, I can see how tired you are. I'll call or come by tomorrow if that's ok."

"I'm sorry about that. Thanks for everything you do for me." I replied. "Before you go I wanted to ask you about what was bothering you last night. You want to talk about it?"

Pain flashed in Jill's eyes briefly before she smiled graciously. "That's sweet of you but I'm good. You need to get some rest. I'll see you tomorrow."

I knew it would take more effort than I had available to get Jill to talk. "I guess it’s been a long day. Yes please, I'd like you to come by. We can talk about it then."

Jill started toward the door but stopped suddenly and handed me her iPhone. "Oh, before I forget. You're on TMZ in their ‘Who’d you rather’ section. It’s really a great picture of you with Liz and Gracie taken at the club. Right now you're winning with 60 percent of the vote."

I glanced at the screen. "Oh great," I said sarcastically as I handed her phone back. "At least it’s a good picture."

"It really is. Take care Sara, I’m glad to see you're doing so well."

"Thanks Jill. See you tomorrow."

With my room finally empty I needed to call my frantic friend.

"Are you okay? You scared ten years off this old man's life." Gabriel said as soon as he answered.

"Yes Gabe, I'm fine. Actually I'm better than I've been in ages."

He sounded relieved, "You sound good. Anna and I have been worried to death about you. You need to come back home so I can keep a proper eye on you. You've non aveva niente ma il dolore since I sent you there."

"No Gabe, I am home. This is where I need to be. Who's to say that I wouldn't have had sorrow in New York? None of this is your fault. Everything happens for a reason."

Gabriel sighed. "I'm not so sure."

"Mi creda per favore. I'm in a good place. I'm fine. I promise you."

With a hint of disappointment in his voice Gabriel replied. "I don't believe you. You told me you were fine before but your parents told me otherwise so I know how well you can lie. We are flying down so I can judge for myself."

"You don't have to do that but I'll be happy to see you both. I miss you."

"We miss you too. Anna is making Florentines to bring."

I smiled even though Gabriel couldn't see it. "Yum, I've missed those. What kind?"

A yawn escaped and Gabriel heard it. "I have no idea. I stay out of the kitchen when she's stressed. You must be stancato so I'll let you go. So good to hear your voice and I'll see you soon."

"Yeah, I'm a little tired. Thanks for caring and I'll see you when you get here."

Gabriel paused. " Ti voglio bene."

"I love you too Gabe. Send Anna my love."

As soon as he hung up I called Jill so she could tell everyone to be aware that Gabriel might make a surprise visit to the office.

After talking to Jill I was about to get some much-needed sleep until Adam's friends Cali and Dani walked in the room.

I no longer felt the anger I once felt at seeing the tall brunette but her presence still made me nervous.

"How are you feeling?" The petite red head with spectacular prism colored eyes said as she walked up and took my hand in hers.

"As well as can be expected I guess. Luckily the hospital has provided something for the pain." I replied.

Cali smiled warmly. "Adam called us and told us what happened, we wanted to come by and see if we could help."

I started to feel a tingling sensation throughout my body and quickly jerked my hand away. "Stop whatever it is you are doing."

Dani stepped forward and as I really looked at her I realized she wasn't as identical to her sister as I initially believed.

The tall brunette's eyes were much kinder and a lighter shade of purple. "We only want to help you. Cali can heal your wounds. It is one of her many gifts."

I shook my head. "Let me start off by apologizing to both of you for all my previous actions but I need to heal naturally."

I lifted the hospital gown to show my taped wound. "I was given a choice before I came back and I chose to return to this life just as it is. I knew there would be pain when I made the decision. This will be a reminder of my choice and everything I wanted to live for. I have finally realized that it's not what you go through, it's how you choose to get through it that defines you."

Cali smiled again. "I can definitely respect that. No wonder Adam loves you so much. I think you are the only person who can hold her own with him. He has always had an ego but it really became prominent after he adjusted to his new life."

I laughed as I glanced at Dani before looking at Cali again. "Maybe I can have the same effect on him that your wife had on you. I bet Zack still has a scar from what you did to him."

Cali laughed. "Well, he shouldn't have grabbed my ass like that."

Dani's jealousy showed as her posture straightened. "Who grabbed your ass? When? Tell me who this person is!"

I pulled my pillow down over my injured area hoping the pressure would quell the pain of laughing so hard.

I spoke up to remind Cali that was not what set her off. "It wasn't his grabbing you that caused it. I distinctly remember it was a few minutes later, when he said it was a waste to put such hotness in scrawny male body."

Cali's face turned about three shades redder as she nodded. "I was trying to block that part out."

Dani's brows furrowed as she looked back and forth between us. "How can she remember Ty?"

Cali smiled. "I let her. Since we share a common bond of forced sisterhood and we had met before, I wanted her to remember who I once was. It would be nice to have someone to talk to about it."

Dani's pulled her wife into her arms and her voice was not much more than a whisper. "Am I taking you for granted again? I thought you were happy with how everything turned out. If I had known you still had issues I would have been happy to talk to you about everything."

Any apprehension I had concerning Dani evaporated as I saw her genuine concern and love for her wife.

Cali leaned on her toes to kiss Dani. "No honey, you let me know all the time how much you love me, and I am very happy, but it is still nice to talk to someone who has been through it."

They ended up staying another hour and we discussed everything from the differences in Adam's personality compared to Ryan's, to how Cali's sister-in-law Renee was doing. I was glad to hear Renee seemed to be very happy.

I smiled genuinely when Cali showed me the latest pictures of her and Dani with Cali's daughter/niece Kaley. The beautiful girl was the spitting image of her father/aunt. I thought of my Hunter and was thankful he always knew who I was in his life.

By the time I closed my eyes after they left, I knew I had two new close friends.

Chapter Two

My eyes opened to a room full of flowers. There were so many of them! Some were over the top tacky while others happened to be rather beautiful. What stood out was how many of the arrangements were shaped like a bell or had tiny bells attached to the ribbons.

I was so busy looking at all the flowers I failed to notice the doctor standing at my side. "Hi Sara, how are you feeling?"

I jumped slightly, "I feel stoned actually but I’m ok I guess under the circumstances."

He smiled at me. "That would be your pain medication. You appear to be progressing rather well. At this rate you can go home in a few days; with certain provisions of course."

I nodded, "I understand. I'll do whatever it takes, I just want to sleep in my own bed."

He gently patted my arm, "just hang in there and you'll be able to."

The doctor was leaving as Adam and Jane returned. They looked like hell.

"Are you guys ok? You look terrible."

Adam sighed. "It’s been kind of a terrible day."

Jane nodded in agreement.

"Why are you still terrible? I’m ok, I told you not to worry about me."

They both tried to adopt a smile but it was obvious they were faking it.

I frowned. "Is this about your sister?"

Jane became slightly emotional as Adam nodded sadly.

"Jane you can't cry for her anymore. Hunter told me something and I think Sarah would probably feel the same way if she's anything like you."

She looked up. "What's that?"

"He said that anytime I think of him he wants me to smile because he smiles when he thinks of me. It hurts him to think of me being in pain at the mere thought of him. Do you think your sister feels any different?"

Adam shook his head and pulled Jane into a hug. "The Sarah I remember was always laughing and putting everyone at ease."

Jane started sobbing into his shoulder. "I've been a terrible sister. I don't talk about her and have never been to her gravesite since she was buried."

I shook my head vigorously. "Jane, where you bury her is just a place. She's not there anyway. Those we love always stay in our heart. They know we love them. They carry that with them. We don’t have to go to a special place just to prove we love them, Hunter told me that himself."

Jane smiled in understanding and leaned over to hug me. "You're a lot like her you know. She always knew what to say to make me feel better too."

I kissed her cheek. "You'll have to tell me about her one day."

Jane nodded her head. "I’d love to tell you all about her."

I turned my attention back to Adam. "How's my sexy man holding up?"

Adam was lost in thought before he focused his attention upon me and gave a real smile. "I'm good, better now that I'm here with you. What'd the doctor say?"

"He said I should be able to go home in a few days."

"Great. Jane and I were talking. We think you should stay with me while you recover. That way when we're at the club my staff can take care of you."

I grimaced. Adam’s penthouse was big and cold in an impersonal way. His place was identical to mine in layout but my place was home. Where he lived was beautiful but it felt more like a showcase, which was why we always spent the majority of our time together one floor below.

"Honey, I appreciate the offer but I just want to go home. To my own bed, to where I'm comfortable."

Jane nudged her brother. "Told ya so."

Adam frowned. "I just want to make sure you're taken care of. You know I feel responsible."

My brow furrowed. "I wish you'd stop feeling like that. We discussed it earlier. None of this was your fault. I want to go home. I want to sleep in my own bed. I want to lounge on my own couch where I'm comfortable. No offense, your place is lovely to look at but isn't very homey. I'm almost afraid I will break something in there."

"I already told ya, you ain't gonna win this one baby bro," Jane said to Adam.

Adam sighed in defeat rather easily, I think Jane had prepared him to lose this fight. "Fine but I'm staying with you and I'll have my people checking on you when we aren’t there."

Jane joined in. "I'm staying too, I can sleep on your couch. Just so you know, I'm as stubborn as a pissed off mule and I’m not taking no for an answer."

I snickered because I knew she spoke the truth. "No need for the couch, sis. I have a spare bedroom."

---

Mom wasn't happy when I told her I was going to my home instead of hers. I tried explaining that I didn’t sleep well at her house because it was just too quiet. She finally relented when it was explained that Jane was staying with me and her look was comical when I let it slip Adam would be staying with me as well. I don't know why, but at thirty-seven years old and twenty-one years removed from living under the same roof, I was still afraid to let my mom know a man was sleeping over.

Mom couldn’t resist the temptation to tease me. "If I had him waiting I'd want to go home too."

After receiving the doctor’s instructions on proper wound care and dietary restrictions he dropped the bombshell of no sex or alcohol for at least six weeks.

Jane laughed as both Adam and I looked at him incredulously when he mentioned no sex. I inquired when I could return to work and after I told him what I did for a living he said I could return in two weeks provided I did no lifting and went home if I started to feel drained.

The trip from the hospital to home was eventful as we actually had paparazzi waiting for us as I exited the hospital. More paparazzi were waiting as we entered the parking garage. Thankfully Jane and Ellie ensured my hair and makeup were perfect before we left the hospital.

---

I settled in on the couch as everyone fussed over me. It was starting to get frustrating; all I wanted to do was cuddle with the man I loved.

Adam tried to put up a fuss at first when I asked him to sit down but relented when I told him I would rest better if my head was lying in his lap.

Adam’s fingers strummed through my hair as he looked down at me. "How are you holding up baby?"

I looked up at my strong man lovingly, "I'm good… better now that I'm home and with you."

I strained to tilt my head up and he met me halfway as we kissed.

Adam’s expression turned serious again. "I thought I lost you and it scared me. It’s the most terrified I've been in my adult life."

Pain be damned, I sat up and hugged him tightly allowing him to bury his head in my chest. "Baby, I’m ok and I'm here. I'm here with you and I'm not going anywhere."

Adam looked up at me and I noticed tears starting to form. I placed my hand over his heart. "I give you my word. I have it on good authority that I have a long life ahead of me and I plan to spend it with you." I pulled him up and kissed his luscious lips.

Adam pulled away and stood to fish a box from his pocket. Once he had the box firmly in his grasp he dropped down on one knee.

I started to shake and felt a tear of joy trickle down my cheek.

"Sara Liberty Collins, if you plan to spend the rest of your life with me, I would be honored if you'd do so as my wife."

I smiled wildly at my gorgeous, muscled, tattooed hero as he opened a Cartier box to reveal an exquisite platinum ring adorned with 3 brilliant-cut diamonds.

"Sara will you marry me?"

I nodded vigorously as tears of pure bliss flowed freely down my face.

Adam smiled. "Say it. I have to hear it cross your perfect lips."

I lunged toward the man who had found me in pieces and through his love made me whole again. "Yes, Adam Shane Carson, I will marry you."

I embraced the man I loved more than anything I had left on this earth with everything I had and we heard clapping around us.

I was so lost in the moment that I had somehow forgotten that we had an apartment full of people to witness our joyous occasion. Everyone took turns walking up to congratulate us.

Gabriel and Anna arrived shortly after Adam's proposal. They were slightly cold and distant toward him. So much so that Adam left with the excuse of needing to take care of some business and would return soon. I tried to talk him into staying but he was obviously uncomfortable.

Even from a glance Gabriel was a very striking man, standing six foot two with a fit physique and head full of snow white hair that contrasted perfectly with his tan complexion. He carried an air of aloofness but his appearance in no way matched the personality I knew. His rivals often said he was a cold and vicious man who took no prisoners. To me he was a boisterous, honest, funny, caring friend and shrewd businessman.

His wife Anna on the other hand appeared to outsiders as his trophy but I knew better. She was five foot three and so beautiful. She always dressed in the finest fashions; her lily white hair never had a strand out of place and her makeup was always impeccable. She was an excellent cook and the living definition of perfection. She carried herself with a quiet dignity that was hard to ignore but was always quick to let her husband know if he stepped out of line. Their marriage was an equal partnership, one I could only hope for Adam and I to achieve.

The couple that made my son and I their family rushed to my side. Anna handed me one of her delicious Florentine cookies. "Santo cielo!! It's so good to see you sweet one. I was worried about you."

I smiled as I embraced my dear friend. "Good to see you too caro amico."

Anna looked concerned. "Did I hear correctly, stai impegnati?"

I glowed as I responded. "Yes, Adam asked me to marry him."

Gabe spoke up. "Are you sure about this? He looks like a vagabondo."

I laughed lovingly at these wondrous people who would never consider anyone good enough for me. "He's not a bum at all. He's very successful. He used to be a musician like I was. He and his sister own one of the hottest bars in town. Lui ᨠl'amore di vita mia. He understands what I've been through better than any man could."

It was obvious my words did little to belay Anna's concerns. "I don't know. You say he is the love of your life but he's non guardi il Suo tipo."

I laughed again. "Oh caro amico, you're the only person to say that. Everyone else tells me he's exactly my type. You've never seen me with a boyfriend before but I promise you he's everything I could ask for in a man. If you don't believe me ask Mom and Dad."

Gabe smiled. "If you love him and he loves you and treats you with the respect you deserve then that's all we could wish for."

I sat up and opened my arms for him to hug me. "Thank you Gabe. I have never had a man, other than you, treat me better. I love him with all my heart."

Anna smiled, "If you are happy bella mia then I am too. I only want what's best for you."

After we talked, the couple who had taken my son and I into their heart warmed up to Adam and once they got to know him ended up really liking him.

I had no idea til it happened, how much their approval meant to me.

Chapter Three

Even though my friends and family smothered me with attention I hated being stuck at home for two weeks. I was tempted to call Cali and accept her offer to heal me but resisted since my reasons had not changed since I rebuffed her.

I used the time and Adam's undivided attention to find out more about his past.

"Hey baby, why did Jane say I'd understand you better than anyone?" I asked one day when we were alone since Jane was out grocery shopping.

Adam shrugged, "Because you understand the road and the temptations it provides plus the toll it takes on you. You also understand dealing with unjust jealousy."

I frowned. "Yeah, those things I do know. Sadly I know them too well."

Adam sat down beside me and I rose slightly so I could rest my head into his lap as he continued to talk. "Nikki, my ex, provided backup vocals on a few of our tracks. That's how I met her. It was like she was made for me. She was a tall blonde bombshell with crystal clear blue eyes and the voice of an angel."

I smiled, "you found your Belle?"

Adam nodded his head as he ran his fingers through my hair. "I fell hard and fast. I adored her. I thought she was the love of my life. In my mind no other woman compared to her but nothing I did was good enough. She was so jealous and always thought I was cheating on her. If a female fan came up to me and asked for a hug or just an autograph she'd accuse me of wanting to sleep with them."

I nodded, "I've been there."

Adam smiled, "I know you have baby. It was making my life miserable. I started ignoring our female fans but she'd flirt with the guys in the band and with the crew and I wasn't allowed to say anything. I'm not sure I would have said anything anyways because I trusted her completely."

I looked up at him. "So you weren't always the jealous type?"

Adam started to frown as his body tensed up. "No, not always. She made me that way and the way she got jealous took the fun out of performing. I was miserable and just wanted to go home to try and salvage what we had but she'd have none of it. She insisted we go on with the tour even if my heart wasn't in it. I don't think my friends were as loyal as yours because they convinced me it was the best for my marriage to stay on the road."

I reached up and caressed his cheek. "I'm sorry."

Adam sighed and slumped his shoulders. "Then one day the band was supposed to be at a studio recording shout outs to local radio stations and had a technical problem of some sort so it had to be rescheduled. I was walking back to the bus when I heard Nikki giggling."

I could tell from the look on his face that this was a painful memory so I moved his large hand into both of mine as a small show of support.

A tear formed in the corner of his eye. "I walked around a bus and found her and one of the sound guys in an embrace. I lost it and beat the guy within an inch of his life. I stormed back to the bus with Nikki chasing me telling me how sorry she was and how it was my fault because I didn't pay her enough attention."

Adam removed his hand from mine and slammed his fist on my glass coffee table causing it to crack. "My life revolved around her! I was with her every chance I had and she wanted to blame me. I told her I was done with the road and the band and if she wanted to make it work between us then we needed to get away from it all."

I noticed Adam's hand was bleeding but didn't want him to stop talking. I knew he needed to get it out of his system but I also knew that if I got up he'd quit talking and Lord knows when I'd be able to get him to open up like this again. I grabbed the tail of the oversized tee shirt I was wearing and wrapped it around his injury as I encouraged him to continue.

Adam left his hand in mine. "She told me she'd do anything I wanted so long as I would forgive her so that night I informed the band I was leaving and the next day we were on a plane back here. The first month or so was wonderful and I honestly thought we'd gotten past it but then she started mentioning going back on the road. I told her I wasn't ready yet so she let it drop."

"Then probably four months or so after I left the tour the guys came to town on a break to work in the studio on the To the Sixth Degree and wanted me to play on it. Of course I agreed but after we finished and they got ready to go back out on the road, Nikki told me she was going with them because she missed the excitement. I asked her how she was going without me and that's when I found out she had started seeing Ben, our lead singer, when the band got into town. I found out later she'd slept with almost any man willing while we were on tour. It devastated me to think that the woman I loved could do me that way."

I sat up and hugged him as hard as I could. "I'm so sorry baby but you know I'd never be that way."

Adam returned my embrace. "I know you wouldn't. You're not wired that way."

He made me lie back down in his lap before he continued. "After she left I was in a daze. I drank all the time. I had no focus or drive til Jane slapped some sense into me and we started the club. I decided right then that I'd never let a woman get my heart again. I became cold and distant until one night when a certain someone knocked me for a loop."

I smiled shyly. "I wonder who that could have been?"

Adam laughed. "I think you know. It's so weird because these memories are mine but they aren't. I have yet to see Nikki with these eyes but the pain of what she did is so real. Thankfully meeting you has eased the pain to almost nothing." He lifted me up and kissed my forehead. "I'm going to go wash my hand. I'll be right back."

While Adam was in the bathroom I tried to process everything he'd told me but the timelines weren't adding up. To The Sixth Degree was only released four months ago.

"Hey baby?" I called out to him as he walked back into the living room.

"Yes?"

"You told me that night at the restaurant that you'd been divorced a year and half."

Adam's face suddenly went pale. "Yeah, about that. I was trying to get you to go out with me and I knew if I told you I'd only been divorced three months you would have avoided me after you dropped me off."

My look was stern. "Divorced three months or separated three months."

My worst fears were realized when his head dropped. "Separated."

I choked back tears, refusing to break before everything was out in the open. "So, are you still married right now?"

Adam's eyes grew wide. "I filed that Monday after your birthday and she still refuses to settle. I have tried everything, I've even offered her more than what she deserves but she won't sign off."

I slammed my fist into the coffee table, finishing the job Adam started and as glass shattered over the floor I screamed. "So you're still married and if it weren't for the fact you started a relationship with me you'd be hoping she'd come back?"

Adam pulled me into his arms and held on as if his life depended on it. "No. I didn't file because of you but I did file in the hopes of you. I already had the appointment made before that night because just knowing there are women out there like you finally gave me the peace to move on. I prayed it would be you but even if it wasn't, I knew I didn't want a life with her. Please baby, all that's in our past. Our future is together. I love you and can't imagine a single day without you in my life."

I wrapped my bloody hand in my shirttail. "You could have told me I was just a rebound."

"You are not now, nor have you even been a rebound. For the record there was no way I could tell you anything about this. Baby, from the second you laid your beautiful eyes on me, you ran from the idea of a relationship. You told me point blank that I represented everything bad that's ever happened in your life. Would you have even been friends, much less agree to be in a relationship, with me if you'd known?"

I sobbed into the shoulder of the man I loved. He was right. If I had known all this beforehand we would have never been together and if we had not gotten together, Lord knows where I would have ended up.

"So let me get this straight. You are still married? How am I supposed to react to that knowing I'm wearing your engagement ring?"

Adam looked worried. "Like you always have with me baby. Nothing in the last five minutes has changed how I feel about you. Has it changed how you feel about me?"

My mind was swimming and waves of despair were crashing down around me. I had no idea which way was up. My life went from as perfect as I could ask for to a complete mess in a matter of minutes.

I needed three things in that moment…one, more answers. Two, time to think and three, a stiff drink. I knew I probably would not get the last two because there was no way anyone would allow me to be alone and because of this stupid injury I was not allowed to drink.

I sighed and dropped my head in my hands. "Do you still love her?"

"Not like I love you."

Not the answer I wanted.

A small tear started to form in the corner of my eye. "So you do love her?"

His arm wrapped around me and instead of the protection I normally felt at this gesture, I felt scared. Scared of losing him, scared of staying with him.

His beautiful dark brown eyes were filled with panic. "No Baby. I love you."

I didn't know what to say or how to feel so I pulled away from him and stood to go to my room. I need to be alone so I could put things in perspective.

Adam grabbed my uninjured hand in a panic. His crushing force made me wince from the pain, he released it quickly. "Please say something, what are you thinking?"

I was afraid to talk. I knew if I said something in that moment it would be words I would regret later.

I inhaled deeply to gather some courage. "Adam, I need time. I'm going to my room. I'll call you later."

Adam shook his head. "No, you are not going to run from me. We need to fix this. You can't leave me wondering and worried."

Despair was quickly replaced by a burning anger and sense of betrayal. "Trust me. You want me to think this through because you DO NOT want me to speak my mind in this moment."

He grabbed my shoulders. "Yes, yes I do. Please tell me what's in that pretty head so we can get it out and work through it."

Since he wanted to open the gates, my mouth released the flood of my mind. "What's in my head? Okay, here it is. You're a selfish bastard to make me fall in love with you. You found me broken and rebuilt me so I could not live without you. You make me question everything between us. Our entire relationship was built on a lie. How can you possibly love me when you still love her? You are a cruel selfish man Adam Carson and I never, NEVER thought you had it in you to be that way."

Adam tensed and I saw so much pain quickly followed by a flash of anger as his brown eyes suddenly darkened. "I'm not the only one who lied you know."

I didn't know my anger could rise any higher until it did. "I never lied Adam. I only omitted the truth of my past."

He rolled his eyes. "Same difference."

I grabbed the vase on the end table and sent it flying. He easily ducked it while I glared at him. "No it's not. Not even close. I think I deserve to know my fiancé is actually a married man."

His eyes tightened as he stared at me. He almost frightened me as his eyes had turned into black pits devoid of the kindness I had grown so accustomed to seeing there. "And I deserved to know MY fiancé used to be a man."

His despicable shot was like another knife ripping me in half. I gasped for breath as I took the ring that only thirty minutes ago symbolized our unending love and threw it at his chest. "If you remember correctly I could not tell ANYONE but as soon as I could talk about it, you did know. You knew because I felt complete honesty was important to our relationship. I could have kept my mouth shut and you never would have suspected but I told you. I told you because I love you enough to want you to know everything about me. I never imagined you would resort to using the trust I placed in you to hurt me. Get out of my house."

He visibly winced at the pain my words caused him and started to move towards me as he shook his head and his eyes returned to their normal color.

In my pain and rage I started beating him in his massive chest while screaming at him. "Get out. You let me know how you really feel. Get the fuck out and never come back."

I turned and ran up the stairs to my bedroom as fast as my weak legs would allow. Once in my room I finally released the tears that had been threatening to pour from the moment Adam told me everything.

I hurt immensely from Adam's lies and him lashing out at me but I loved him. I loved him more than I have ever loved another man. I knew in my heart that he did not mean a single thing he said. He only voiced those hurtful things to combat what I had said to him.

Could I deal with this? Would I have run if he had told me?

Damned right I would have.

I had - no I still have - trust issues. I guess I understood why he did it. When we met, neither of us knew it would grow into the love we shared. That night, both of us were just after a pleasant distraction and by the time we knew what we had, he was scared to lose me.

Did I love him any less than I did when I woke up this morning?

No, he was still my everything.

Was I hurt by his actions? Absolutely, but could I get over them?

Jane interrupted my thoughts when she walked in. "You okay sis? Adam just called and said I needed to drop everything to check on you."

I didn't say anything because I furious with her for not me telling about Nikki. Even if Adam was her brother it was wrong of her not to tell me.

She placed my engagement ring in my hand. "I found this on the floor in the living room."

I stared at it realizing how much I really loved him but I wondered if love was enough.

She released a sigh of worry as she sat beside me. "He really has been trying to get his divorce. He loves you more than anything."

I still did not acknowledge what she said because I was hurting and angry. I was not ready to see things from his point of view yet.

Jane ran a supportive hand over my shoulder. "He told me he said some awful things to you that he regrets. You know he was just lashing out don't you? He has a habit of saying things he doesn't mean when he feels he is in the wrong."

I pulled away from her touch and still did not speak. I knew Adam didn't mean what he said. If he had issues with my past then he would also have issues with Renee and his best friend Cali and I knew in my heart that who I used to be did not bother him in the least.

She playfully shoved me. "Are you going to talk to me?"

Again, I only shook my head.

A troubled expression crossed her face. "Are you mad at me?"

I jumped up and shoved my table lamp, sending it across the room and spun around to face her. "I thought we were friends? Why didn't you tell me?"

Jane flinched and fell off the bed on to the floor. "Because I hate that bitch and the hold she had on him. I knew you were perfect for him."

I glared at her. "It wasn't fair to me."

She pulled herself up to face me. "I know sis but at first I didn't know you well enough and I just wanted what was best for him and anyone that didn't look like that damn Belle fit my criteria. Shit, I'm sorry. I hate to admit this but that was my nickname for her cause she really does look just like you at that age. It's uncanny."

I stared at her blankly before she continued.

"Anyways, anyone he was interested in who didn't look or act like her I was going to push for. You are just as wild and crazy as he is but you found a balance that he needs. By the time I got to know you it was too late. All I could do by then was hope and pray that everything worked out. I'm so sorry sis."

Her words were doing nothing to calm my fury. "You tried to talk me into a relationship with a married man. We were good friends when you did that."

Jane began to cry. "Look, I'm sorry. I knew how he felt about you. I knew he loved you then and I could tell you had feelings for him too, but by that point it was too late. I was afraid of not only how you'd react, but selfishly I was worried about losing you as a friend. You're my best friend sis. I know it doesn't excuse what I did and I know I'm wrong. All I can say is I'm so very sorry."

I jumped up still full of anger. I knew if I didn't do something I'd end up hitting Jane so I walked over to the corner and picked up a small cabinet with the intentions of throwing it across the room. As soon as I lifted it I knew I had made a big mistake because the pain in my abdomen was intense.

I screamed before falling to the floor and passing out.

When I came too Jane was in the floor with me and had my head in her lap rocking back forth while keeping a cold rag pressed against my forehead. She was near hysterics as she kept saying, "I'm sorry sis. I'm so sorry. I'll never keep his secrets for him again I swear. Just wake up. Don't be mad at me. Please don't be mad at me. I almost lost you once, you can't go because of me. I won't do it again. I promise. Wake up sis. Please wake up."

Pain replaced anger as I saw Jane breaking down. I no longer hurt from her betrayal, nor did the pain in my midsection bother me. Instead I hurt for my friend who I'd always pictured as so strong.

"I'm not going anywhere."

Jane hugged me close. "Oh thank God. You scared me. I swear to you that from now on I'll never keep anything from you."

"Please don't, and I swear I'll never try to throw a piece of furniture when I'm mad again."

Jane laughed as she helped me from the floor. "Can I ask you something about all this?"

I nodded as I made my way back to the bed to lie down.

"Why did you forgive Adam so easily, but not me?"

"Who said I have forgiven him? But if I did it would be because Adam's a man and you're not."

Jane looked confused. "What's that supposed to mean?"

I laughed. "Have you not seen a guy hit on a girl in a bar and tell her whatever he thought she wanted to hear? Sometimes he leaves out parts he thinks she might not like."

Jane nodded. "Yeah, so what? Men lie to get some."

I gave Jane a 'duh' look.

"Ahh." Jane said. "You expected lies from Adam back then?"

I smiled. "Yeah, and by the time we realized what we had his bed had already been made, but with you it's different. We're supposed to best friends, and not telling your best friend that her boyfriend is married is kind of a big deal. That was a true bitch move, even if it is your brother. You know… the whole 'chicks before dicks' thing."

Jane frowned again. "You're right. It won't happen again, I swear."

I opened my arms wide. "I think we need to hug it out."

Jane walked over and returned my embrace. "So, do you forgive me?"

I grimaced because the pain in my abdomen was excruciating. "Yeah, I do. Can you do me a favor and get me a pain pill please?"

Jane smirked. "Okay but only on one condition."

I pursed my lips. "What condition?"

"That you admit that you have forgiven him."

I shook my head. "Not yet, what he said was awful and he needs to suffer so he knows to never say anything like that again even if he doesn't mean it."

Jane laughed. "That's close enough for me. I'll be right back."

I settled under my comforter and noticed a wry smile on Jane's face as she approached with my medicine. "What?"

"Nothing, just thinking how ironic it is that I was trying to push him away from girls trying to be a certain type and he ran into the one person who was doing everything in her power to keep from being exactly who he was looking for."

Chapter Four

I had no clue how long I had been asleep when I was awakened by soft kisses on my forehead, nose, cheek and finally my lips. As soon as his lips met mine I returned his affection ten-fold. I started to cry with joy that he was with me.

"I'm sorry Baby, don't cry. Please forgive me. I'm as wrong as a man can be. Please, please forgive me. I didn't mean what I said. I was lashing out and it was wrong. Ever since I changed it has been my go-to reaction when confronted with a situation I can't use my fists to get out of and I hate that part of me. I can't live without you. Our past is behind us and my future is with you. You are the only woman I could ever want. I love you with everything I have."

I smiled as I wiped away my tears. "I love you too, I can't imagine a day without you. You're right, our future is together but no more secrets."

Adam smiled back as his body relaxed. "Agreed. No more secrets. I'm so sorry Baby." He retrieved my engagement ring from the nightstand. "Here, put this back on."

I frowned slightly. "I can't wear that."

My poor man appeared to lose all the breath in his beautiful body. "You don't want to marry me?"

I reached up and gently caressed the scruff growing on his cheek. "Of course I do, more than anything but I don't feel right wearing a ring from a man who is still married."

Tears started to fall from his gorgeous brown eyes. "I'm working on it but she's being difficult. It's you I want, not her. Physically I have never met the woman, I have seen pictures and talked to her on the phone but my eyes have never seen her in the flesh. I think it's cruel for Zaria to have saddled me with this baggage."

"I understand that, believe me I do, but I refuse to wear it until our pasts are behind us." I said sadly.

Adam nodded reluctantly. "I guess I can't blame you for that."

I wrapped my hand around his neck and pulled him down. "I still love you and I still plan on marrying you one day but until everything becomes final it's a reminder she's putting our future on hold."

Adam's eyes remained glued to mine. "I swear, you'll be able to wear it again soon. I'm ready for the rest of our lives to start."

I smiled and kissed him deeply. "Me too Baby, me too."

---

Even though time crept by I was kept busy by the phone ringing off the hook. I believe every friend I ever had called to check on me. While I was in physical pain, I had never felt better emotionally.

Adam seemed to feel better after our heart to heart talk as well. I don't think either of us realized the burden our secrets caused.

I made Jill call or come by a few times a day to keep me updated on everything happening at work. Neither Jane nor Adam was thrilled with my attempts to work but they relented when they realized I could do the majority of my job while still in bed with my laptop.

I'd never imagined so many people thought so much of me. Gracie and Liz would put me on speakerphone when they called from the road so I could talk with both of them at the same time. I couldn't bring myself to share the story of Adam’s proposal. They made subtle and not so subtle suggestions that Adam and I should get married. It was almost painful when Gracie said we should just hop a flight to Vegas as soon as I healed enough to have a proper honeymoon.

Tim and Jesse were both religious in keeping check on me. I told them Razor had been granted bail but couldn't come with a thousand feet of me and I did not yet know when the trial would be. I also told them to expect a call from the district attorney because they would be called up as witnesses. Both were still feeling tremendous guilt over everything that occurred. I explained over and over that nothing was their fault, but my words did little to ease their remorse.

Many of my coworkers and clients would call or stop by to see me. They all said how much they missed me and that they couldn’t wait for me to return.

I truly felt blessed.

One of the biggest surprises came five days after I was released from the hospital when Jane came up to my bedroom to tell me I had visitors. I walked out into my living room to see Matt and another man.

Matt had been my first roommate in Los Angeles and also the bassist for Annihilation. He didn't join them for the reunion because of personality conflicts and to be able to live the life he deserved.

I squealed and ran to Matt as he embraced me. I gasped at the pain and he quickly released me. He looked great and introduced me to his partner James who, with his jet-black hair, dark complexion and deep brown eyes, looked as hot as Matt.

Both were fine physical specimens. They worked out often and it showed. After our introductions, James excused himself to visit some local friends allowing Matt and I time to catch up in private.

I huddled up next to Matt on the couch and we spent the largest part of the afternoon talking. He admired all the pictures of Hunter hanging on the walls. True to my promise I did not shed a single tear and smiled often as I remembered all the great times we had.

Matt looked at me with a tear in his eye. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you when he died. James and I just spent a year in Europe traveling. I should have been there, but I was so wrapped up in my little world that I didn't check in with anybody. I let you down."

I wiped the building moisture with my thumb and kissed his cheek. "No you didn't. I'm just glad you're finally happy. I doubt I would have remembered you being there anyway. I kinda shut down during that time and it would have only made you worry. I'm good now, no I'm great actually. I have found peace with everything."

I asked about his family whom I'd met a few times when our tour would land close to his hometown. He had a baby sister I was especially fond of. Anytime his family was around ‘Pickles’, as she was always called, would hardly leave my side. I taught her to play guitar after she kept playing with mine and I was afraid she'd break it. I also got roped into "babysitting" duties when Matt couldn't take having a hyper moody teenager around when she'd visit. He told me she was in the business, whatever that meant. He wouldn't elaborate.

Matt informed me he had seen a video of my performance with Liz and Gracie.

"You looked great up there." He proclaimed as he retrieved my laptop to show me the website my footage was on.

"I have to agree. I didn’t believe Matt when he told me you hadn't performed in over ten years." James added as he walked back into the room.

I jumped up to give him a hug. "Thanks, I was amazed at how easily it all came back."

James grinned as he sat in the chair across from the couch so I took it as a sign that it was okay to settle back in next to Matt.

Matt looked at me with a wistful expression. "Do you ever miss it? You know, not the road necessarily but being on the stage."

I pondered his question. It looked as if he missed it. "Sometimes I do, but not that often. As you know, I feel like nothing good comes from me singing. There are times when I'm at Adam and Jane’s club and see a shitty female singer covering one of my songs that I want to yank her off the stage and take her place. "

Matt and James started laughing before Matt added. "I could so see you doing that. You were quite a scrapper back in the day. I remember in the early days you would kick a girl’s ass just for looking at Razor."

"Who was a scrapper? Oh never mind you have to be talking about Sara. I've seen her in action." I looked up to see Adam laughing as he walked in the room. Even though he was laughing his eyes looked troubled.

I jumped up and ran to kiss him. "Are you okay?"

Adam nodded half-heartedly, "I'm fine. Who are your friends?"

I smiled even though his attitude worried me. "I'd like you to meet Matt and his partner James."

Adam looked slightly confused so I clarified, "Matt was the bass player for Annihilation."

Adam nodded in understanding and his smile grew wide as he extended his hand to Matt. "It is so great to finally meet you. Sara's told me so much that I feel as if I already know you."

Adam then turned to James, "Have we met before? You look so familiar."

James smiled knowingly at Adam. "Yes, a few years ago when you were touring with the Xenolith. I used to play for Disintegration."

Adam’s eyes widened in realization. "JP?"

James nodded his head.

"What a small world. It’s great to see you again man." Adam said as he and James moved into the kitchen to discuss music. At that very moment, any worry I had concerning how Adam would treat Matt and James evaporated.

Adam just gave me another reason to love him.

I thought back to the conversation before we were interrupted and turned to Matt. "Do you miss performing?"

Matt sighed, "Sometimes I do but not enough to give up the life I have now. We both have done pretty well you know." He looked around my expansive condo before he smiled again. "This is a far cry from that small shit hole we had in LA."

I nodded, "Yeah it is and I know what you mean, I think I feel the same way. Maybe someday you and I can do a gig or two together just to get it out of our systems."

Matt smiled wistfully, "That would be fun."

We heard Adam and James laughing in the kitchen and Matt gazed at me sweetly.

"Looks like you finally landed a good man Belle."

I nodded in agreement and draped my arm over Matt’s shoulder. "Looks like we both did."

My phone buzzed and I quickly grabbed it to see a text from Jane. I thought it was odd since she was still in the apartment.

I promised no secrets. The bitch is back.

I tossed the phone back on table behind the couch and sighed.

Matt looked concerned. "Is everything okay?"

I painted on a smile as I rested my head on his shoulder. "I hope so."

He hugged me tightly. "It is so great to see you again. Only one thing could make it better."

I looked at him questionably. "And what is that?"

His smiled brightened and his beautiful eyes quickly resembled a puppy's. "That Oreo dessert thing you make."

I laughed. "I'll see what I can do."

---

I stopped and stared when I walked through the revolving doors of the Hunture. At the far end of the expansive marble floored entrance hall I was welcomed back with another banner. This one was larger than the one given to me on my birthday. I stepped closer and saw that it had been signed by not just the local office, but by everyone in New York.

Everyone gathered around for an informal gathering to welcome me back. Thankfully the initial shock of finding out about my past had died down but the two weeks spent at home did little to quell the amount of questions they had.

I felt no hesitation to answer any query after my wonderful boyfriend and fantastic friends helped me come to terms with my past. The women gathered around insisting to know how Adam and I met and not hesitating to let me know how lucky I was, as if I needed any reminders of that.

Adam's demeanor troubled me for a couple days but thankfully, he was soon back to normal and in much better spirits so I decided it was best not to ask about his not-quite-ex-wife Nikki being back in town since nothing in his actions made me worry. I just hoped that while she was in town she had signed the damned divorce papers.

After finally making it into the office, I easily dived back into the flow of things as I'd already been working from home since the hospital released me.

I was worried about how my boss and mentor, Gabriel Moretti, would react to the additional attention I'd been receiving but he was very supportive. He even suggested using it to the company’s advantage and really start going after the record labels for business by using my past as a selling point. He seemed to believe my name alone would allow me in places we couldn't get to before.

I found myself far more relaxed and self-assured after returning than I'd ever been before. With Adam’s prodding, the personality I worked so hard to hide emerged. A confident, outgoing, sexy executive was quickly replacing the uptight but friendly low-keyed ad exec. Business was booming as a result.

On my second day back, my fiancé surprised me by popping up at the office to take me to lunch. He was wearing my favorite pair of loose fitting Levi's that fit him in all the right places along with a tight black tee and snakeskin boots. I couldn’t help but to laugh at the stares and gasps from the other women as they gazed upon his six foot six inch muscled frame.

He looked so scrumptious I had to have a taste. After quickly dragging him into my office I kissed him passionately. "How about a quickie right here? Nobody will know."

Adam laughed, "As tempting as your offer is you know what the doctor said."

I pouted thinking about the doctor's moratorium of no sex for six weeks. "I need you baby. It's killing me."

Adam tugged on my bottom lip. "It's killing me too, but I want you completely well."

I stomped my foot and walked back to the door and opened it. "Be that way. If I can't have you we might as well go eat."

Adam's expression told me he was having as hard a time with that rules as I did. He kissed me again, "It won't be long."

I sighed and rested my head on the strong shoulder of the man who had saved me in so many ways. The eyes of all my female coworkers focused on him as we walked out.

I couldn't help but to smirk.

Yes ladies, eat your heart out because he is mine!

"I'm worried about Ellie," I said to him as we waited for our meal.

Something was different with my cousin and best friend Ellie. It felt like she was avoiding me. I tried stopping by Charley's, the gentleman's club she worked at, a couple of times and was told she called in sick.

Adam rubbed my hand gently over the table. "Why do say that?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. It's like she's avoiding me lately. She never answers when I call anymore. It's like she's up to no good and doesn't want me to know. It's not the first time she's done it."

My man gave me a reassuring smile. "She's a big girl. I'm sure she's fine."

I shrugged. "I guess you're right. I just worry about her."

Adam looked into my eyes with a serious expression. "You are always worried about everyone else when right now you need to worry about yourself. I don't understand why you didn't let Cali heal you."

I laughed lightly. "I'm fine." I pulled his hand across the table and kissed it. "I've had enough supernatural for one lifetime. The only miracle I want these days is you and since I have you so I can't imagine life being any better. Unless…" I paused and tried to give him my best puppy dog eyes. "You start letting me come back to the club."

Adam and his sister Jane refused to allow me to step foot in their club Anthracite. I think they were afraid it might trigger flashbacks of the night I was stabbed. I tried in vain to assure them that I was fine with everything that happened and that the club held so many more wonderful memories than bad.

Adam frowned. "Absolutely not. We've talked about this."

I sighed. "But Baby, I'm fine with everything if that's what you're worried about."

He just shook his head as our waitress showed up with our lunch. I knew from the look on his face that the subject was closed in his mind. I huffed as I grabbed my fork and scooped up a bite of spaghetti.

What I couldn't get my beautiful boyfriend to understand was that emotionally, I was the best I'd been since my son Hunter died when my father's truck was broad sided by a semi-truck. For the first time, in a long time, I had peace of mind.

Chapter Five

With my nights free, I used my extra time at night to write new music. I spent most of my time at the piano because I instinctively knew Hunter was sitting beside me when I was there. The smell of Curves for Men filling the room proved that.

I tried to keep myself occupied but I was really starting to miss seeing everyone as much as I was used to.

My recovery proceeded very well with the exception of a single lapse in judgment. It happened a week after I returned to work.

I left the office early in the hope of swinging by Adam's place to spend some time with him before he had to go to the club. I walked in to find him trying to mount a new sixty-inch high definition television to his wall. He had it in an awkward position and I knew he was about to drop it. I rushed over to give him a hand when he turned to me and snapped. "I got it."

I grabbed one end of the television before I snapped back. "No you don't. You should see yourself"

Adam spun and the TV escaped my grasp as he growled. "You know you can't lift anything."

I reached for the television again. "It's not heavy it's just awkward. Dang you're grumpy. I'd think a man with a television like that would be on cloud nine. Being able to watch that should be better than sex for you."

Adam sat the TV back on the floor with a huff. "It better be since it's all I can get for the time being."

I smirked and started unbuttoning my top. "Ah, okay. I see the problem. I think I know just what you need, I know I sure do."

Adam covered my hands with his own to stop my progress. "No, doctors orders."

I smiled and licked my lips provocatively as I reached down to his fly. "He didn't say I couldn't take care of you did he?"

Adam's strong power of will started to show cracks. "No, not exactly."

I pushed him to his white leather couch and pulled his pants to his ankles. "No he didn't. Just relax and enjoy."

My man hardened in an instant and I leaned down to give him the pleasure he so desperately needed. I looked up through my lashes to see him staring with such intense desire. I wished I had removed his shirt so I could enjoy an unobstructed view of his mountain of a chest rising and falling swiftly. As it was, I focused on the face and the rapidly darkening eyes of a man so beautiful he could make Aphrodite forsake all others.

As his pleasure climbed higher I found myself getting just as excited.

I needed a release.

It's strange how I'd gone more than a few years prior to meeting this magnificent man without any sex but now only three weeks of standing in front of the fountain without being able to drink had been almost more than I can take.

It occurred to me that I might not get my taste if I allowed Adam to reach the apex. I stopped suddenly and began to remove my panties.

Adam emerged from his bliss with a start. "What's wrong? Why did you stop?"

I hiked up my skirt and crawled on top of him. "Why should you get all the fun?"

With panic and extreme desire firmly etched on his exquisite face Adam replied, "What about what the doctor said?"

I placed my hand between us and grabbed his painfully attentive shaft and lightly rubbed it against my willing opening. "You don't want this?"

Adam closed his eyes and tossed his head back. "More than anything."

I leaned in and grabbed an earlobe with my teeth. "Then take it, it's all yours baby."

With a primal grunt Adam filled me in one thrust.

His pitch black eyes stared into mine. "I missed you like this."

I leaned backwards and arched my back. "I did too."

Adam grabbed my hips and began thrusting harder when I felt a sharp pain that caused me to gasp.

Adam paused. "What's wrong?"

I shook my head. "Nothing, keep going."

Adam resumed exquisitely assailing my body. I ignored the pain in my abdomen, instead focusing on the pleasure I was finally receiving.

I stared at him angrily when he abruptly stopped and carried me to the bathroom. "What are you doing?"

Adam glared at me as he snapped. "Look at your stomach."

I looked down to see my wound had torn open and was bleeding profusely. "Shit."

Adam sat me in his tub. "Yeah shit is right. I told you we shouldn't do this but you wouldn't listen." He ran his hands though his hair. "Does it hurt?"

"A little, but not much."

"I still have evil in me and I always end up hurting you." He turned to leave. "I'm calling an ambulance."

I reached out to grab his leg. "No, it's not that bad, just let me call the doctor first."

Adam let the lid down on the toilet and sat. "I'm always hurting you."

I leaned across to touch him. "No baby, never. You've never hurt me."

His head turned to me and his eyes carried a ferocity that sent a chill down my spine. "Yes I have, I do it all the time. I never should have let you talk me into this." He stood and stormed out to get his phone.

After calling my doctor we made a quick trip to the emergency room. I spent the time waiting to be seen attempting to calm Adam down. I truly believed I succeeded until my doctor arrived and angrily explained how much damage had been done. He spoke to both of us but aimed the majority of his wrath at Adam.

I stood to defend my man when the doctor told Adam he was being selfish and uncaring to put his needs before my own. "Back up Doc, this was all me. I initiated it, I let it escalate, it was all me. Adam wanted to stop, but I can be very persuasive when I want something."

The doctor's eyes drifted all over my body before he nodded and apologized to Adam, but the damage had been done. To a man already harboring guilt, the words he heard were nothing more than a confirmation of his feelings.

The six-week recovery had to start again from scratch. Adam's remorse intensified and after that night he was afraid to so much as cuddle with me.

He started going straight home after he returned from the club at night. He told me it was to avoid the temptation and for my own good. For something that was supposed to be for my benefit it felt like being confined to a personal hell. Without Adam in my bed the nightmares returned with a vengeance.

Our steamy romance cooled immediately and he began acting rather distant. Instead of answering my calls on the first ring they would go to voicemail and he’d call me back later. I ended up eating most of my dinners alone. Instead of the full loving hugs that made me feel complete, I was receiving a light pat on the back. Instead of the passionate kisses that made everything right with the world, all I got was an innocent peck on the lips.

I knew I was losing Adam, but nothing I said or did changed anything. I kept trying to persuade my mind that we were fine and chalked it up to his feeling at fault over everything that had happened. I convinced myself we would be good again once I wasn't so fragile.

Jane and I were closer than ever and she kept assuring me that Adam just needed time get over his guilt. She explained that he'd shut down to her as well but that had always been how he coped. She said he closed himself off when he was upset and pushed those closest to him away. It helped that she didn’t seem too concerned.

As his behavior continued I called Cali to get her opinion. She knew Adam even better than Jane did or at least that was what I thought until she explained she had been having a hard time figuring him out.

She explained that as Ryan his feelings were always transparent to her, but now was different. It would take her using her gifts to know what he was feeling and since they were so far away from each other he could hide things that he never could before.

Cali reminded me that it had not even been a year since he became Adam was still having to sort through his new life but she knew he wanted me to be a part of it so I tried to push my worries aside.

Chapter Six

My lunch meeting was with a potential new client downtown. I noticed, as I pulled into my usual parking lot, that the motorcycle I had bought Adam for his birthday was there. I thought it odd since on most Fridays he was too busy getting the club ready for the weekend rush to go out anywhere. I saw his helmet on one handlebar and mine on the other.

I considered it unusual that he hadn't mentioned it to me but I blamed it on the mood he had been in lately and it slipping his mind since I failed to mention my meeting to him as well.

I decided to leave him a little love note to hopefully brighten his day. I dug out a pen and some paper from my purse.

Hey Baby,

What does it say about how much I love you when just the sight of our sled makes me smile? Looking forward to next week! Maybe we need to take another trip to the lake. ;)

I love you!!!

I refreshed my lipstick and kissed the note. I stepped out of my Mini and made my way to our bike where I placed the note inside his helmet.

I turned around and Arhan was there to greet me. "Sara, you are looking great today, where is hug for Arhan?"

I smiled warmly and gave him a friendly hug. "Hi Arhan, thanks. How have you been? "

Arhan smiled brightly. "I am good Sara. Arhan was so worried when I saw you on the news. I see you have man now. Is he good to you?"

I smile warmly thinking of Adam. "Yes I'm doing much better and yes I have a man now and he's very good to me. I'm very happy."

Arhan's grin grew wider. "That is good. You deserve to be happy. Who is this lucky man?"

I patted the chrome and gunmetal gray custom reminder of our love. "His name is Adam, you must have met him because this is our motorcycle."

Arhan looked at the scooter and his smile disappeared immediately. His demeanor tightened. "No, I don’t know him. I didn’t park him."

I picked up on Arhan’s attitude switch immediately. "What's going on Arhan?"

Arhan dropped his head and began to squirm nervously before putting on a fake smile.

I knew a fake smile when I saw one. Dammit, I wore one just like it for months.

"Nothing Sara, nothing at all. You have fun."

Arhan turned to walk away without asking for another hug. I definitely knew something was amiss.

I followed him, "What are you not telling me?"

Arhan straightened up and his fake smile became more pronounced. "I already told you Sara. There is nothing I’m not telling you."

Something in his body language told me I would not be getting any information from him. Since I had already spent more time talking than I planned I knew I needed to get going otherwise my client could be upset.

I timidly turned to walk toward the street. "Ok, Arhan. It was good to see you."

I arrived at Baxter’s Grill right as my client, David Reid, was walking in. I was greeted with a friendly handshake before he escorted me inside.

"Thank you for agreeing to meet with me David." I smiled as we were waiting for our table.

"It's my pleasure Sara. I have looked forward to this all week."

I got the distinct impression from his eyes and nervousness that this was more than a business meeting to him.

Before I had a chance to respond a young, attractive brunette interrupted us. "Right this way please."

She led us to our table and as we made our way I noticed a couple sitting together in the far corner. They seemed rather friendly with each other and I smiled because they reminded me of Adam and I. If we were here together I imagined that was how we'd be interacting with each other.

Since I still refused to wear my glasses in public I could not get a good look at them but as we moved closer the blonde facing me came into focus.

She appeared to be tall given the long legs peeking from underneath the table. She was also very attractive with big electric blue eyes, high cheekbones and rather voluptuous lips. She looked remarkably like a younger, cuter version of me in very disturbing way.

The man she was holding hands with looked familiar. Upon closer inspection I realized we were intimately familiar.

I felt faint as I turned to David. "Will you excuse me for a moment? I see someone I must speak to."

I could tell from the expression on his face that David had an idea what was happening. In the weeks that followed my being stabbed, pictures of Adam and I had been plastered on all the entertainment magazines and television shows.

David looked at me with concern. "Sure, not a problem at all. Can I order you a drink?"

I tried to muster a smile, "Water will be fine, thank you. I won't be but a moment." I turned away from David and marched with a long determined gait toward the couple’s table.

As I was approaching, I noticed the man raise his hand and gently place a few stray strands of hair behind her ear. Little Miss Blonde bombshell was giggling when he lifted her hand to kiss her knuckles until she saw me approaching and her expression changed to one of immense satisfaction.

"Hello Adam, what a surprise seeing you. Who's your friend?" I worked hard to contain all emotion so my tone ended up sounding flat instead of the sarcastic cheeriness I was aiming for.

The man who held my heart jumped and quickly released the woman's hand. I gasped as his eyes faded from the dark they became when he was in an amorous mood to the brown I was accustomed to. "Uh, um, Sara what are you doing here? This is not what it looks like."

Not what it looks like? What type of excuse could explain this?

"I have a business lunch with a client Zeus. Would you care to introduce me to your friend?" I finally found my friendly voice as my mask finally secured in place. I didn’t want to cause a scene, Mama always taught me not to air my dirty laundry in public. I maintained a professional smile and demeanor but Adam knew me well enough to see past the wall and recognize the rage and hurt dancing just below the surface.

Adam slumped down in his seat while trying to figure out what to say so I decided to take charge.

I offered my left hand and a warm friendly smile to the bimbo. "Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Sara Collins. Has anyone told you how much you look like that rock singer, I think her name was Belle? You aren’t related to her are you?"

The little blonde tramp extended her hand to meet mine. She was still wearing her wedding ring. I had to chuckle a little because it was smaller than the one Adam had given me.

I could tell from her expression she knew exactly who I was. "Hi Sara, I'm Adam's wife Nikki. I get that a lot. If I'm being honest, a few years ago I would have been thrilled with the comparison but now it gets really tiring being compared to some old has been."

My stomach turned and full fury raged within me as I received confirmation the love of my life was getting cozy with his ex-wife. I pulled out every ounce of self-control within to maintain my composure and not let her know that her words had been a direct hit. "Oh my what a lovely ring."

Adam was squirming and started to speak but Nikki beat him to it. "Thank you Sara. I can only hope you'll be able to find a man of your own who loves you enough to give you a ring like that and not try to steal someone else's."

She subtly turned her eyes to Adam as she said it. He didn’t even notice but I damn sure did.

My voice carried a syrupy sweetness that would have made the ladies of my mother's garden club proud. "Oh Nikki, bless your heart. I'm sure I could never take a man whose wife had taken care of him in the first place and if I did…my ring would be much larger than what you have."

Recognizing a slip into my southern accent meant my anger was reaching dangerous levels, Adam perked up and finally found his words. "Can we step outside and talk in private Sara?"

I dismissed Adam with a wave of my hand. "Nonsense Zeus. You and your wife enjoy your lunch and don't worry about this old lady."

I stared a hole through Nikki, almost willing her to make a move toward me but she remained in her seat with an intense look of satisfaction.

Words can't describe the eeriness I felt realizing how much we truly looked alike. I would not be the least bit surprised if the other patrons thought we were sisters. She obviously did not share my gift when it came to aging. Where I had always looked considerably younger, she looked her true age. Knowing the history of her and Adam, I knew she was twenty-three. When I was that age I was still being carded just to buy cigarettes.

My distinctly shaded large blue eyes suddenly felt commonplace as I looked at hers. My distinguishing cheekbones I'd always been so proud of unexpectedly didn't appear as striking when resting on another face. The full lips I always thought myself fortunate to have suddenly felt like a curse if they made me appear as cheap as this Jezebel in front of me. I needed to ask Daddy to make sure that he had always been faithful to Mom.

I started to shake slightly from the emotional turmoil boiling within.

Recognition began to set in as Nikki studied me and she saw that I was a ticking time bomb ready to blow at any second. Her little head game had the desired effect but I don't believe she expected me to stand my ground. She turned her gaze away from my intense stare.

I turned to Adam and gave him an icy glare. "You take care of yourself Zeus. It was liberating to see you today."

I turned on my heels to walk away as Adam stood before placing a death grip on my elbow. "Sara please, we need to talk about this."

I spun around and it took all I had to restrain from slapping him. Instead I gritted my teeth. My voice was low and menacing as I spoke. "No Zeus, we don’t. There's nothing to say. I'll get Jane to bring you your things. Please take you hand off me."

Adam placed his arm around my waist and pulled me close. His eyes appeared to be full of remorse. "Baby, stop calling me that! It’s not what it looks like, please we need to talk."

My rage was in full force as I dug my nails into Adam’s arm so hard I brought blood. He winced and quickly removed his arm from my side. I kept a death grip on his arm as I backed away from his embrace.

"I can read you like a children's book. It is exactly what it looks like so keep your damned hands off me. Did you bring her here on our bike?"

His silence told me what I already knew. To me that was lower than low and told me how little he appreciated the things I considered so special to us.

I spoke to him in a hushed tone that did little to hide my hurt and anger. "I was right about you from the beginning, but I let you convince me you were different. You're worse than Razor. The only difference between you and him is that Razor hurt me on the outside and I knew what to expect. I thought you loved me. I love you and trusted you and how do you repay that love and trust? You go out running to your ex the first chance you have. On our bike, no less. We're done. Go back to your Belle and have your happily ever after."

"Baby, please don't do this," Adam pleaded.

I sighed and tried to calm down, finally losing my accent. "Do what Adam? Let you have what you've wanted from the beginning? Please let me walk away with my dignity, it’s all I have at the moment. You owe me that much."

All color washed away from Adam. The pain in his eyes was unmistakable as his shoulders slumped in defeat. I turned away and walked over to David to take my seat.

I summoned the best fake smile I muster. "I apologize for that, where were we?"

David had just witnessed everything and was obviously uncomfortable. His eyes kept moving from me over to Adam and Nikki as they stood in the corner arguing.

Nikki approached my table cautiously. "Excuse me Sara but may I have a word?"

I turned to look the bitch in the eyes. She tried to look remorseful but I wasn't buying it. It was my impression she was putting on a show to not look like the tramp she truly was. "Nikki, right now is not a good time. I'm in the middle of a business lunch."

Nikki placed her hand on my shoulder making me flinch, "I'm so so sorry. I had no idea he was involved with anyone. If I had known I wouldn't have…" Her words were nice but saying it loud enough for everyone to hear combined with the look of accomplishment in her eyes gave away her true intentions.

I stopped her before she could continue. I let down my wall long enough to give a glimpse of my fury in a manner to let her know she would receive my full wrath if she did not leave quickly. I slowly stood realizing she was the same height as me and glared into her eyes so she realized how close I was to completely losing any consideration of decorum.

I tried to keep my voice low but my anger didn't allow it. "Do I look like a fucking idiot? Anyone with a television or internet access knew he and I were together so please find somewhere else to spread your bullshit. I can see right through you and what you want. You came back to town wanting to win him back. Consider it mission accomplished. I'm done."

Apparently she didn't understand I was dismissing her since she adopted an offensive stance and moved toward me to attack.

I needed to make it painstakingly clear I'd seen enough of her to last the rest of my life. I reached across and grabbed a handful of her bleached tresses with my left hand and made a fist with my right. "You got what you wanted, so I suggest you just go before I do something to you I won't regret. Don't let my appearance fool you. I have nothing left and I'm redneck to my core. I ain't got nothing to lose and I'll hurt a bitch in a heartbeat so you need to leave NOW!"

Extreme fear became evident as Nikki's eyes grew wide before I let her go with a shove toward the front door.

She dropped her head and quickly ran away.

Adam looked like he was about to walk in my direction. I stopped him with a scowl as I shook my head and pointed toward the exit. "Get out!"

Adam sighed and dropped his head as he turned to the front of the restaurant. He garnered many disgusted looks, as well as, more than a few nasty comments from others as he made his way to the front.

After Adam was gone I took a deep breath and sat down in front of David. I put on my fake smile and in the sweetest voice I could muster as I resumed my seat said, "now, where were we?"

David looked at me with a mixture of pity and concern. "Would you like to talk about what just happened?"

I shook my head. "No David, I don’t. Thank you though. I'm fine and ready to discuss your account."

He nodded at me kindly. "Let’s reschedule for next week. Neither of us is in the mood to talk business anymore."

I smiled at this kind-hearted man in front of me. "Thank you for understanding. I truly apologize for causing a scene."

David looked at me incredulously, "why are you apologizing? Nothing that happened was your fault."

I shrugged, "I could have handled things better."

David looked at me in awe. "I don't think so. That was awesome. You showed amazing grace under the circumstances. Most women would have either run away crying or walked over to grab the other woman by her hair and drag her outside for a beating."

I looked at him with arched brows.

He smiled knowingly. "My point is, you tried not to do that and maintained your cool until she attempted to put her hands on you. I've never hit a woman in my life and the idea crossed my mind with the way she was acting." He began to laugh. "I was going to let you get a few good shots in before I tried to separate you two. I don't think I want to be on your bad side."

I laughed embarrassingly, trying my best to hide the fury that continued to bubble just below the surface.

David rose and offered his hand. "Come on, let’s get you out of here."

The many sympathetic looks I received on the way out didn't help me feel better.

Chapter Seven

My phone rang while I was walking down the sidewalk to my car. I looked to see Adam calling so I hit ignore. I had no more than placed it in my purse and it started ringing again. Once again I clicked ignore and started to turn it off when it rang again but this time I saw it was Jane calling.

I started talking as soon as I answered. I tried to keep my tone emotionless. "I know you're calling for him but I’m not in the mood to talk. On Monday I need you to come get his shit and take it to him."

Jane gasped, "what are you talking about?"

I could feel anger rising again. "Don’t play stupid Jane, it’s not becoming. You promised no more covering for him."

Jane sounded dumbfounded. "Honestly, I don’t have a clue what you're talking about. I just called to see if you wanted to grab a bite to eat this afternoon. What's going on?"

I finally released a few of the tears I'd been holding back. I loved Jane like a sister, but Adam was her brother. She'd already shown me once that blood was thicker than water and I realized that in addition to losing the love of my life I would also be losing someone who had shown me what being a best friend truly meant.

I refused to make her endure the agony of choosing sides. A friend would not do that.

"Nothing sis. I’m gonna to let you go. I love you."

Jane was frantic. "Sara, talk to me. Did you and Adam get into a fight?"

"I'll talk to you soon, sis." My voice started to crack. "Thanks for always being there."

"You are scaring me si…"

I clicked end before she could finish and called Jill.

"Jill, this is Sara. I'm taking off for the rest of the day. I'll be out of contact until Monday. You can leave as soon as you're finished."

My tone obviously let Jill know that I wasn't in the mood to explain my actions.

"Oh ok Ms. Collins. I’ll cancel your appointments this afternoon. Have a good weekend." Worry was evident in her voice but she wisely chose not to press me.

"Thank you Jill. You too."

I turned off my phone as soon as I hung up from Jill.

I returned to my car to see Adam waiting beside it talking to Arhan while clutching the note I had left for him.

I could hear Arhan yelling. "Sara is good woman, how can you do that to her? You leave now stupid man!"

It was quite a scene to watch unfold as short little Arhan was getting in Adam's face. The sight of the man I love holding onto my profession of said love like it was a precious treasure, standing helplessly next to my car allowing Arhan to berate him caused a few tears to escape.

I turned in my tracks to walk in the opposite direction before they noticed me. I had no more than gotten out of sight when I heard a male voice. "Hey stranger. Long time no see."

I looked up to see Kevin Snider’s smiling face.

I attempted to wipe away the tears and put on my smile. "Hi Kevin, good to see you."

Kevin’s smile faded as stared into my red eyes. He quickly pulled his car to the curb and leaned across to open his passenger side door.

"Get in here Sara, are you ok?"

I quickly assessed the situation and knew I didn’t want to be seen in my current state. I quickly sat down in his black Infiniti coupe.

I attempted a weak smile. "Thank you."

Genuine concern emitted from every pour of Kevin’s body. "Can I take you somewhere?"

I appreciated that he was providing me with a way to get home without anyone knowing. "Can you take me to the Terrazzo please? I’d be forever in your debt."

Kevin gave me an understanding nod. "Sure, no problem at all. You want to talk about it?"

I shook my head. "Thank you, but no."

True to his unrelenting style, Kevin kept pressing. "Are you sure? I'm a good listener."

I patted his hand as it sat on the gear shifter. "I’m sure you are and I appreciate the offer, but right now I just want to go home."

Kevin realized I was really not in the mood to have a discussion. "Okay but that's a standing offer. Anytime you need to talk I'm but a phone call away."

"Thank you Kevin"

"You still have my number?"

I nodded. "Yes I do."

Kevin smiled compassionately. "Good."

Mercifully he allowed the remainder of the ride to be in silence.

Once home I locked my door, fastened the chain and clicked the deadbolt so that a key from the outside would not work. No longer caring about the doctor's orders, I headed straight to the bar sitting in the corner of the living room to grab a bottle of Gentleman Jack before heading to the kitchen to pour some soda.

After a couple of quick drinks that weren't as calming as I expected I stepped into the shower and finally allowed myself the emotional release I had been craving.

I slid down the wall and sat on the tiled floor of my shower stall. I wept til the warm water of the shower cascading overhead turned cold. My hope of washing away the pain was for naught. I didn't feel even the tiniest bit better.

After over an hour and a half in the shower I finally stepped out and heard someone banging on my door. I ignored the commotion as I dried off.

I thought about my Mini that I left at the parking lot. While I was sure Arhan would take care of it for me, I didn't want to take any chances by leaving it downtown all weekend.

I waited until after six o’clock, that was the time I knew that both Adam and Jane would be at the club, to go retrieve it. I put on my black compression shorts and a white T back tank and my running shoes.

I used the two-mile run to my car to think.

How could Adam do this to me?

I thought we had something special.

He let her on our bike.

What the hell?

Why did he propose?

Did guilt make him propose?

Did he propose to Sara or did he propose to Belle?

What about what Hunter said?

Guess I’m not going to get the chance to be a mother again.

I’m getting too old anyways.

Nikki looks alot like me.

Nikki is cuter and younger than me.

Maybe it was the lack of sex that led him astray.

He never loved me.

I chose to stay in this life for him.

I was just a pleasant distraction.

If I had known that was all I was I might not have come back to the same life.

Yes I would have, my life is still not bad, it could be way worse.

I could have turned out like Razor.

Nikki is beautiful.

I always knew Adam could do better than me.

I was just a placeholder til she came back.

I looked enough like her that he was happy until she came back.

He was too good for me anyways.

No man wants a woman who used to be a man.

I probably would have cheated too if I were him.

Why did I ever think he would settle down with someone like me?

Why did he save me from Razor?

I wish the doctors had not brought me back.

Why did Zaria send me back?

I could be with Hunter instead of all alone.

Oh God. I'm all alone.

What kind of life is this?

I’m an old washed up has been like Nikki said.

I did make some great friends from that time.

I wonder how everyone is.

I need to call Gracie and Liz later.

I need to call Ellie but she wouldn't answer anyway.

I need time to think things through.

I miss Adam already.

I wonder if he's with her right now?

Why didn’t he just tell me he wasn’t happy?

He said it wasn’t what it looked like.

By the look on Nikki’s face it looked like something.

By the color of his eyes I know it was something.

Maybe I should give him a chance to explain.

How can I be so naíve?

I saw him treat her the same way he treats me.

I love him.

He is obviously not happy being with me.

He can do better.

He deserves better.

I can’t trust him anymore.

I have to let him go.

I could see Arhan on the opposite end of the lot when I got to my Mini and noticed a note under my windshield wiper. He spotted me and started to run in my direction as I grabbed the piece of paper. I quickly jumped in my car to take off. I didn’t give Arhan a chance to say anything before I squealed my tires and left the lot.

I was still mad at Arhan for not telling me whom Adam came with, but then again he did defend me. He had the chance to tell me about Adam but he didn’t. He let me just walk in the restaurant and look like a fool. I knew he would probably try to comfort me with some lame saying from his home country that I was in no mood to hear.

I decided to park my car in the parking garage a block away from the Terrazzo so that nobody would know I was home. Once parked, I opened the note.

Sara,

Please call me. It's not what it looked like. I love you and would never do anything to jeopardize what we have.

I love you forever,

Adam

Yeah right! I know what I saw. Why doesn’t he just be a man and own up that he still loves her. I wadded up the note and tossed it in the passenger's seat.

Once back in the safe confines of my apartment, I clicked the deadbolt then stepped into the kitchen to get a large glass and fill it with ice.

Mixing my drinks with soda was not numbing me fast enough so I poured my Gentleman Jack over the rocks. I grabbed the bottle and glass before heading up to my bedroom.

"Please Lord allow my precious son to visit me tonight." I prayed as I turned off the lamp beside my bed.

Three glasses of expensive whiskey later a restless sleep finally came.

Prior to Hunter's death I often suffered from night terrors but afterwards I looked forward to sleep because my dreams were often filled with sweet memories of my beloved boy. Once Adam and I were together he became the topic of many erotic dreams.

Sadly after Razor's attack and Adam moving back to his apartment the nightmares returned with a vengeance and often haunted my slumber. Many memories and insecurities I had managed to bury came back in a flourish.

I soon found out I missed the dreams about Razor…

I stepped out onstage with Bellero. It felt like I never left as I began to sing. I looked out at the crowd and found everyone laughing. After the song ended someone from the crowd yelled, "Give it up old woman go back to the nursing home."

I turned to Liz and Gracie, the original members of the band, for support and they were standing with Hannah, my replacement, shaking their heads. I heard Gracie say, "I tried telling her she hasn't aged well but she won't listen. She thinks acting like that will get Adam back. It's sad when you think about it."

I turned to run off the stage and ran straight into Adam and Nikki. I straightened myself and smiled seductively, "hi Adam."

Nikki began to laugh. "Can you believe her?"

Adam shook his head embarrassingly. "I don't know what I was thinking."

Nikki leaned over and kissed Adam passionately. "I don't know either, baby. Let's get out of here. This is pitiful."

Ran away from them and ended up in the arms of Razor. "Doesn't feel good to grow old, does it Bumpkin?"

He softly stroked my cheek. "It's a shame really. You used to be so hot. We can switch back now if you want."

I started to say yes when he began beating me. "Do you really think I'd give you chance to be happy after you ruined my life?" The sounds of his punches were intense.

Someone pounding on my door loudly roused me from my terror. I shook off the nightmare and lightly walked to look through the peephole and saw Adam with Jane standing by his side.

Jane tried her key but, because of the deadbolt, it didn't work. I eased my way back to the kitchen ignoring them. Ten minutes later the pounding started again, I didn’t even have to look to see who it was as I could hear Adam yelling my name.

I realized that this was going to go on all day so I picked up my phone and turned it on to call Ellie.

To my surprise, she not only answered but she started in on me as soon as she answered. "Oh my God, are you ok?"

"No. I need a favor."

"Adam's been looking all over for you, where are you?" Her concern was evident.

"Yeah I figured as much. I'm at home. Can you do me a favor?"

I could feel her anxiety through the phone. "Of course I can. What’s going on?"

I sighed knowing I had to tell her. "I caught Adam with his wife. Can you lead him to believe I left town for the weekend to think? He keeps pounding on my door, I can’t get any peace."

I had to hold the phone away from my ear as Ellie screamed. "He's still married? That BASTARD! Do you want me to come over?"

Even though her coming over was the last thing I wanted, it hurt slightly that she asked if I wanted her to. In the past she would have already been out the door and halfway to her car.

"No, it's okay," I sighed into the phone. "I just want to be alone. You know how I get. I’m not in the mood to talk. I need to sort things out in my mind and I just need him to leave me alone."

Ellie sounded relieved. "I’ll tell him you went up to Dad’s cabin in the Smokies. Are you sure you don’t want me to come over? I will if you really need me, I think Greg would understand."

Without meaning to, she confirmed my suspicions that something was wrong between us but I wasn't in the mood to find out what it was.

My voice started to crack. "Don't worry about me. I just need some time alone. I'm turning my phone off so I'll call you Monday. Please don’t come over because I won’t answer the door. Oh and could you tell Jane I've gone to the Smokies too, so she won’t try to come over either?"

"Yeah girl, of course. Are you sure you're ok?"

"No I’m not, but I will be. I've survived worse you know."

Ellie released a heavy breath, "I know you have. I'll keep my phone on me except at work so if you need me just call."

I wanted her to know how much she meant to me. "You're the best. I love you more than you know."

I could feel her smile through the phone. "I know because I love you just as much. Promise you'll call if you need me."

"I promise."

The rest of the day was spent in the bottom of a bottle. I smashed many plates as well as anything else breakable that held no sentimental value. I decided to watch a couple of tearjerkers before calling it a night.

---

I awoke feeling refreshed and finally worked up the courage to face the world again. I walked to the window to witness a perfect day so I stepped back into my bedroom to put on my running clothes. Nothing cleared my mind like a good run.

I stepped out into the hallway and immediately fell into a deep chasm. I called out for help but there was no response. After what felt like hours I heard a noise above me. I called out again for help.

An eerie feminine laughter reverberated in my ears. "You really think anyone cares about you?"

I clawed at the walls. "Please just help me out."

"Why should I? It's not like anyone will miss you."

"Why are you doing this to me? Who are you?"

A light appeared and Nikki's face came into view. "I'm not doing anything to you. You dug this hole yourself."

"How did I do it?" I screamed up to my doppelganger.

She shook her head as if she pitied me. "You turned your back on everyone who cared about you. Did you really think Adam could love something like you? What can you offer him that I can't?

"I can offer him love."

"I can do that too plus I'm all natural."

Adam stepped to Nikki's side laughing. "Did you seriously think I would choose you over her?"

"You said you loved me."

He smirked at me. "I said a lot of things. You were a fun distraction."

Nikki joined Adam in laughter. "Oh my goodness, she really believed you loved her. How sad."

The tears came hard and heavy filling the hole. I tried to swim to the top but my feet were stuck to the floor. I tilted my head back trying to stay above water.

Suddenly my feet became free and I turned to kick my way to the surface when I found myself flat on my living room floor.

Wide-eyed and gasping for air I looked around the room. The TV was on but the DVD player had turned itself off and a horror movie was playing in its place. It took me a second to realize I had another nightmare.

Too wound up to sleep I settled in and found a nice comedy to watch in the hopes that it would remove the remnants of my dream.

Chapter Eight

By Sunday afternoon my weekend of self-pity and inflection had reached its limit. I cried all the tears I could cry and broke almost everything that was breakable in the apartment. I needed to talk to someone, anyone. I had no desire to talk about Adam nor did I want to talk about myself.

During my self-exile I made up my mind. Adam deserved better than me and I would let him go. I had only been a rebound and it had been selfish of me to expect him to settle down. I loved him too much to force him into my life when he wanted a life with someone else. He only proposed out of guilt, I realized that it wasn't fair to hold him to a commitment he had no desire to fulfill.

I willed myself to be happy with my decision, and using my newfound willpower I finally called Ellie. It went to voicemail, which did not surprise me given how's she'd been acting lately.

"Hey girly, it’s me. I’m alive and well. No need to call me back, I just wanted to let you know and to thank you for covering for me. Love you."

I wanted so badly to talk to talk to Jane and had to force myself not to call. I couldn't make her choose so I called Matt instead. He must have been busy as well since his call also went to voicemail. I didn't bother leaving a message, figuring he'd call me when he saw his caller ID.

On my third call someone finally answered.

"Hey, Your Dad and I were expecting to see you today."

Oh shoot, I had forgotten all about going to my parents today.

"I’m sorry Mom, I had a lot on my mind and I totally forgot."

"It’s no problem. Are you ok?"

I decided not to tell Mom about Adam. I’m not up to reliving the experience.

"Yeah I’m good, just busy. How are you and Dad?"

Mom used her tone. The tone that told me she didn't believe me. "Are you going to tell me what's going on?"

I sighed. "No. I don't want to talk about it."

"Did something happen between you and Adam?"

I was starting to cry again. "I said I don't want to talk about it. Can we please have a normal talk? That's what I need right now."

Mom's voice became calm and soothing. It was the voice she used when I was young to convince me everything would be right with the world. I was amazed how well it still worked. "Oh baby girl. It's going to be okay I promise. Sure, we can talk about anything you want to talk about."

"What did you do this weekend?" I asked.

Mom told me about her and Daddy's trip to a car show where Daddy proudly displayed their cherry red 1970 Cutlass four-four-two that they bought shortly after they were married. There were times growing up that I swore he loved that car more than me but in his defense, it was a really sweet ride. To this day I believed my fondness for red cars was because of that Cutlass.

"How's Daddy doing?"

Mom's voice perked up. "He's doing great. He woke up one morning and said he dreamed of Hunter playing music for his parents and mine. He said Hunter looked happy and his mood's been wonderful ever since."

I laughed. "Hunter had to make him see for himself."

"What do you mean?"

"When I saw Hunter he told me people were taking care of him and that he was happy. Sounds to me like Hunter had to let Daddy see for himself."

Mom sighed. "I wish I could see him."

I fought back tears remembering my promise to never cry for him again. "Me too. I'm missing him more than usual right now."

"Oh baby girl. Do you need me to come over?"

I could really use one of Mom's hugs right now but her temper (yes, that's where I got it from) along with the fact Adam only lived one floor above me was a recipe for disaster. I didn't want her making a scene. "No, I'll be okay."

While I was thinking of the events of Friday another thought entered my mind. "Is Daddy around?"

"He's in the living room watching the game. You want to talk to him?"

"Yeah."

It was refreshing to hear his happy booming voice. "Heyas Libs, how's my baby girl doing?"

"I'm okay Daddy. I have a question."

"Shoot."

"You didn't happen to cheat on Mom about twenty four years ago or so did you?"

Daddy laughed nervously. "What kind of question is that?"

"A serious one. I met a girl this weekend who looked so much like me we could be sisters. She's tall like me and has our eyes Daddy. I've never seen anyone but you, me and Papa with them."

Daddy suddenly became quiet and I could hear him release his recliner and then I heard a door shut before he spoke again. "It can't be. Did you get her name?"

"Yeah, her name is Nikki Carson."

Daddy gasped slightly. "Olivia Nicole? What does she look like? Is she happy?"

"I don't know her full name, I just know the name Nikki. She looks just like I did when I was her age and I don't give a fuck if she's happy but I'd say she is since she got what she wanted."

"What did you think of her?"

This was not the direction I anticipated this conversation going. My voice took on a hard edge as I replied. "I think she's a manipulative bitch who'll get her ass kicked if I see her again. What's with all the questions?"

He sighed. "Nothing."

I was frustrated beyond words as I screamed in the phone. "Daddy just tell me. Who is she?"

"She's nobody to worry yourself over."

"What are you saying Daddy?"

"Lib, you are working yourself up over nothing just calm down."

I was so upset I started pacing the floor. "Daddy, what is it?"

I could hear him crying and it caused my chest to ache. He's only starting to pull himself together and I was afraid I might break him again.

I sighed deeply. "I love you Daddy, no matter what. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes I'm sure."

Realizing this was a painful topic for Daddy I changed the subject. "Any chance you could get the Rebel going for me?"

The Rebel is a smaller motorcycle I traded for when I was fourteen so I could have a way to get around without relying on Mom.

"That'll be easy. I usually start it every few weeks and take it around the block so it should be good right now."

I laughed. "Bet that looked like a bear riding a tricycle. I want to swing by and take it for a spin."

"Why drive out here when you can just hop on Adam's hog?" He paused and laughed. "Damn, let me rephrase that."

I didn't even snicker. "Let's just say I'm never getting on that thing again."

Daddy switched into full on protective father mode in an instant. "What'd he do Liberty?"

"Don't want to talk about it Daddy."

"I don't care. You're gonna tell me over the phone or I'm coming over. One way or the other I'm finding out."

"Forget it Dad, it's my problem. I'm not a little girl anymore. My big scary father can't stroll in the room and make everything right. I got myself in this mess and now I'm getting myself out. I'm not saying anything else about it and if you come over I'll make sure I'm gone before you get here. Can we just talk about something else. Tell me about your car show. How'd big red do?"

Daddy sighed. "Is this why you asked about Nikki?"

"I don't want to talk about it Daddy. You have things you don't want to talk about and so do I. I love you, now tell me about the car show."

We continued to talk for another half hour or so and it was a pleasant, normal conversation and exactly what I needed.

I tried to call Ellie again because I needed her opinion badly, but sadly her call went straight to voicemail. I didn't even bother leaving a message.

With nothing left to do but think, I decided to get my car so that I would not have to walk over a block in heels, during the morning rush, to get it in the morning.

I didn't think I would run into anyone I knew so I tossed on pair of bright yellow running shorts and a tight bright green tank top and quickly pulled my hair into a high ponytail before heading out.

It was a beautiful day as I stepped out of the lobby. My stomach growled reminding me that I had not had anything other than a liquid diet for almost two days. I decided to stop off at the corner deli to grab a sandwich to carry back to the apartment for dinner. I smiled when I noticed Kevin walking out as I approached the door.

"Twice within three days, this has to be some type of record?"

Kevin's smile matched mine as I approached. "Hi Sara, yes it must be. You look much better today."

I smiled and placed my hand on his arm. "Thanks, I'm feeling better today. I apologize again for my state Friday but I truly appreciate you bringing me home. You were a life-saver."

Kevin emitted genuine warmth, "it was my pleasure. I’m glad I happened to be in the right place at the right time."

I smiled. "I’m glad you were too."

Kevin’s eyes lit with an emotion I couldn’t quite read as his eyes scanned my legs, which were largely uncovered. "You know, I still owe you a rain check for dinner."

I smiled shyly, "As flattered as I am, I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. I thought you had a girlfriend?"

Kevin raised both arms defensively. "No girlfriend for me, not my style. Look, I respect what you and Zeus have together. It wouldn't be a date. I would just love to hear some of your stories. I suspected you had some good ones before, but now I know you're bound to have some great tales."

I was not even close to being ready to jump back into the dating pool but he appeared to be sincere in his reasons for asking me out. "We might be able to arrange something but only if you share some of your stories as well. I bet you have just as many as I do. I'm sure the one about you being called away from a date because of an artist having a fit is a good one."

Kevin laughed, "Yeah, that one was good but I sincerely doubt that the rest of mine compare to yours. If you agree then I'll happily share the few I do have." He paused and looked at his watch. "I need to be going but it was great to see you and I'll call soon."

---

I settled in front of my television to watch a romantic comedy while I ate when my phone rang, I looked to see it Jane's smiling face on my display.

"Hi sis, where you been?" I asked as soon as I answered.

"I’m so sorry sis. Are you ok? Adam told me you broke up with him." Her tone led me to believe she only called for him and he didn’t tell her why we split.

Anger flowed over me as I replied. "I hope you he told you why."

"He did but you need to talk to him." Jane’s pitch sounded determined.

I’m not in the mood to relive the day for Jane’s benefit so I responded, "We promised no more secrets. You want me to talk to him after I caught him getting cozy with Nikki? It was good to hear from you Jane. Take care, love you."

I heard Jane drop the phone and yell a few obscenities before she picked it back up. "No wait. He didn't tell me that part. That little prick! I'm gonna kill him and then go find that bitch and yank every fucking hair from her head. Oh my God I hate her!"

I couldn't help but to laugh at her outburst. "Breathe Jane. Just breathe!"

Jane let an exasperated sigh escape. "What is he thinking?"

I sighed, "he's thinking she's the love of his life and the woman he wants."

"But she's not the love of his life, you are! I've seen it in his eyes! He never loved her like he does you. I don't understand. Are you sure that's what you saw? Could it have been completely innocent?"

Her questions made the anger from Friday come back full force. "Dammit I saw him kiss her hand and tuck some stray hairs behind her ear. I talked to them and threatened to kick her ass. Look at Adam's arm and see where I had to dig my nails in his arm to get him to let go of me."

Jane interrupted my rant. "How do you know it was Nikki though?"

"Hmm, let me see, really tall with blonde hair and blue eyes. Bitchy personality. Looks like she could be my kid sister. Oh yeah, she said 'nice to meet you, I am Adam's wife Nikki.' If this is how it's going to be I'm going to go. Take care Jane."

My words shook Jane as she started crying, "We can’t let what happened between the two of you effect us. Regardless of whether or not you and my brother are together you will always be my sister."

As relief washed over me my tears equaled Jane's. "Thank you. I know he's your brother and you love him so I think it's best if you and I don’t discuss him. I love you like a sister and it would kill me to lose you too."

"I feel the same way. I almost lost you once and won’t do it again."

I tried to steer Jane in a different direction. "How was your weekend?"

Jane sighed. "It was… eventful."

I knew she was talking about Adam and I so I changed tactics. "Have you seen the new Channing Tatum film? I'm watching it now. He's so hot."

"Well pause it. I'm on the way over. Unclick your deadbolt bitch."

I laughed, "yes ma'am."

Chapter Nine

A late night of watching movies made the next day feel longer than it was. I let Jill leave early and I ended up working late to get caught up on some work that I had let fall behind because of my wallowing in self pity.

My phone buzzed as I received a text from Jane.

"What are you up to?"

I immediately called her back.

"Whatcha doing?" Jane asked as soon as she answered.

I sighed. "What am I always doing these days?"

"Dang. You still at work?"

"Yeah. I almost done, I'll be heading home in about ten minutes or so."

"Good, you need to get out. You've been working too much."

"What did you have in mind? I need a drink after doing all these projections. Where are we going?"

"I was thinking you could come up here." Jane's tone changed slightly. "Adam's out of town trying to talk some band into coming here to perform and it's dead here so you won't be hounded."

"Remember, no more secrets."

Jane sighed. "You're right. He's out with Nikki I think. Either her or another slut he met around here. They all look alike to me."

"If you promise he won't show up I'll be there in an hour I just need to finish up then run home to change. Love you."

"I promise. Love you too, see you in an hour."

I hurriedly finished my work and shut everything down before locking up. As soon as I leaned in the door of my Mini to set my purse down I felt someone come up behind me and poke something hard on my side.

I froze as a man covered my mouth and pulled me out of the car. I panicked when a familiar voice said. "Nobody here to protect you now is there Bumpkin?"

I looked down to see it was a gun he had buried just below my ribs. "What are you doing Razor? Are you crazy?"

"Yes, crazy for ever letting you ruin my life. Seems my life isn't the only one you ruined either." He then yelled over his shoulder. "Isn't that right?"

I was stunned to see Nikki walk out from the shadows carrying a baseball bat. She smirked at me. "What's the matter Belle, surprised to see me?" She walked closer and slapped me with the fury of a woman scorned. "Doesn't feel good does it?"

With Razor holding me back she grabbed the bat with both hands and swung at my ribs causing me to fall to the ground. "You stole my husband and ruined my life."

I grasped my hand, which I sliced open on a broken piece of glass lying in the parking lot. I gasped for air as I looked up at her. "How did I ruin it? I've done nothing to you. You left Adam long before I ever met him. I can't steal someone you cast aside."

She kicked me while I was still lying on the ground. "Adam won't have anything to do with me anymore and everywhere I go people tell me how much I look like you. My life is hell because of you."

I had to cough up some blood before I could speak again. "No Nikki, that was your doing and I can't help it that we look alike."

I curled into a ball when Nikki raised the bat again to strike but Razor reached out to take it from her. "Enough. You've had your fun, now it's my turn. You go on home, I'll be there later."

Razor looked at me with a grin that caused me to fear whatever he had planned wouldn't be quick and painless. I began crying, "Please Razor, just let me go. I won't tell anyone. I'm begging you, just let me go."

His eyes were filled with such hate. "That's right bitch, you're going to be begging alright."

Nikki looked alarmed. "What are you planning to do to her? You said we were just going to rough her up."

Razor spun around and hit Nikki with the pistol he was holding, knocking her to the ground next to me. "I thought I told you to go home. If you don't leave you'll get the same thing she's going to get."

I whimpered, "Please Nikki, don't let him do this."

"I'm sorry" was all Nikki said as she held her face and ran off into the darkness from which she came.

Razor reached down and grabbed my arm dragging me to my feet. "Now then Bumpkin let's get you home and cleaned up."

I let our eyes meet. "Razor please don't do this."

Razor threw me in the driver's seat then quickly walked around to get in the passenger's side. He tossed my purse in the back before sitting down and shoving his gun back into my side. "Get going."

My mind raced and my breathing increased as I drove to the Terrazzo but the combination of fear and excruciating pain prevented me from thinking clearly.

I saw a cop car heading my way and my initial impulse was to swerve at it when Razor growled. "Do it and you're dead. Cooperate and you may just make it out of this alive."

I looked over at him again. "Please, just let me go. You don't want to get in any more trouble. I'll drop all charges."

Razor stared straight ahead. "It's too late for that. Dropping the charges won't give me my band back."

As I pulled up to my parking space an idea struck. I spun my Mini around and backed into Adam's spot hoping either he or Jane would come by to ask why I did it.

Razor grabbed my keys as soon as I shut the car off. I started to exit when Razor snatched me back, "Get your purse. I might need some things from it."

My next idea came when I reached in the backseat to retrieve my purse and saw the note Adam had left on my car after we split. I casually reached down and placed the note in the palm of my hand. As I stepped out of the car, I casually dropped the note next to the front tire and smeared my blood down the side of the car.

I let my hand fall beside me dripping blood as Razor pushed me to the elevator. He noticed the trail I was leaving and shoved the pistol back hard into my side. "Do something about that."

I looked over at him innocently, "What am I supposed to do? It's a bad gash."

Razor shoved me toward the elevator causing me to lose my balance and fall. "Take your jacket off and cover it up til we get to your place or there will be more than a drip spilled."

I pushed myself up leaving a bloody handprint on the floor that Razor tried smearing with his boot. The elevator doors open and he shoved me in, "Damn you're a stupid bitch. What floor?"

I tried to remain calm. "Fourth. Please just let me go and walk away. I won't say anything to anyone."

Razor's anger rose higher and he slapped me across the cheek. "Nice try. I'm going to ask you again. What floor?"

I reached for the panel trying to get to the buttons so it would open in the lobby before he snatched me back and cocked his pistol before placing it to my temple. "Last time. What floor?"

I started crying again. "Thirteen."

Once the doors opened again he pushed me out of the elevator and grabbed my purse pulling out my driver's license. "I don't trust you to tell me what unit."

I feigned losing my balance as he pushed me inside my condo and grasped the doorframe. He gave me a shove as my phone started to ring. I looked at him, "That's my friend Jane. I'm supposed to be meeting her for drinks. If I don't answer she'll know something's wrong and come by to check on me."

Razor considered what I said. "Answer it but so help me if you say anything you'll wish I just killed you.

I worked up a super friendly tone that I knew Jane would realize was fake. "Hey bitch, something's come up. I can't make it."

"Sis, what are you talking about?"

"Yeah, sorry about that I just had a better offer. Can I get a raincheck?"

"Are you okay?"

"No, Saturday won't work. I have visit my parents."

"What's going on?"

"I can't say Friday would work either."

"Where are you?"

"Sunday's are a definite no. I always stay home and veg out to get ready for the week."

Razor nudged me to end the call.

"So you're at home and in trouble?"

"Yeah I guess I'll need you to do something about that soon. I need to go. If you need me you know where to find me. Love ya."

I hung up and Razor took my phone and switched it off before throwing it across the room.

He led me into the kitchen pulled me in close and planting a deep kiss on my lips. Next he grabbed a knife from the counter and started using it to pop the buttons off my blouse. He put down the knife and grabbed my breast while still holding the pistol. "Damn you still look good. Why is it you aged so well and I didn't?"

I knew I just had to hold him off long enough for Jane to show up with some help. I didn't have the energy to physically fight him off. I knew with how I felt, he'd be able to do anything to me and I wouldn't be able to stop him. I hoped they would hurry because I was having trouble breathing.

"You remember the good times we shared? Remember our trip to Las Vegas?"

Razor's demeanor softened somewhat. "Yeah, that was fun."

I smiled. "And remember the string of luck we had at the blackjack table?"

Razor finally smiled. "Yeah you were always my good luck charm."

Suddenly his anger returned stronger than ever and he ripped off my top before using the knife to cut through my skirt leaving me standing in front of him in nothing but my bra and panties. "My good luck ran out when you did."

His eyes studied my body hungrily. "You do make a much better woman Sean, I could look at you all day long but right now I have other plans."

He pressed the blade into my breast sharply and started rubbing me through my panties with his free hand. I began to scream at the tops of my lungs when I fell to the floor.

I scampered to get away from him but he gripped my shoulders and started to shake me. "Snap out of it Sara. Your perfect world was just a dream. Welcome to your nightmare."

I started to open my eyes with Jane shaking me by my shoulders, "Snap out of it Sara. It's just a bad dream, you're having a nightmare."

I jumped backwards and rubbed my eyes. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep."

Jane sat down beside me. "Are you okay? I was all into the movie and then you started screaming like something was wrong. I looked up and your eyes were closed but you kept talking."

I pulled my knees to my chest. "Just a bad dream. Thanks for waking me."

She looked very worried. "What was it about?"

I shook my head as chills ran down my spine. "Nothing important."

Jane took my hands in hers. "What happened to you in your nightmare? You sounded scared to death."

I shuddered as I tried to expel all memories of the awful dream. "I don't want to give it words so it can stay around."

"Do you need me to stay tonight?"

I shook my head again. "No I'm fine. These happen all the time. Nothing to worry yourself about."

"You sure? I don't mind."

I stood and moved to my bar to mix a nightcap. "I'm positive. Thanks for coming over tonight, it was fun."

Chapter Ten

The next morning as I was getting dressed I picked out my blue business suit to wear. I had not worn it since I let Adam talk me into changing my wardrobe for work. I made sure my hair was pulled up into a tight bun before I left. I did my makeup in a subdued manner that was fitting my internal feelings.

I noticed another note under my wiper when I reached my car.

Sara,
I was wrong and I now realize it. Please give me a chance to make it up to you. I miss you and am miserable without you.
I love you,
Adam

I turned his note over and started to write a reply. I wadded the paper into a ball and tossed it in the backseat of my Mini as I got in to leave for work.

Jill, my secretary, looked concerned as I entered the office. "Good Morning Sara, are you okay?"

I looked at her flatly. "Yes Jill I'm fine, why do you ask?"

My body language told her all she needed to know. "No reason ma’am. Can I get you a coffee?"

I nodded. "Yes please, and if Mr. Carson calls please inform him I'm busy."

Jill’s eyes widened in surprise. "Are you sure?"

I could feel my anger rising in her questioning me. "I wouldn't tell you if I weren't sure."

She quickly got the point and dropped her head. "Yes Ms. Collins. I'll be right back with your coffee."

Right before lunch I heard a commotion just outside my door. I stepped out to see Adam arguing with Jill. Jill was standing in front of his massive frame blocking him from coming to my door. Any other time this sight might be considered funny but not today. Today it was maddening.

My little secretary had dug her heels into the carpet and was pushing with all she had against his chest. "Adam, she gave me explicit instructions that she doesn't wish to speak with you."

Adam looked panicked. "Jill, I have to talk to her. I have to explain."

I spoke up causing both of them to jump. "There's nothing to explain Zeus. You made your choice and I believe it was the right one for you. Jill it’s okay. Thank you for trying."

I frigidly motioned toward my door. "Zeus, step into my office."

Jill stepped to the side as Adam rushed into my office.

Once the door closed Adam reached for my hand. I quickly pulled it away and told him to take a seat, which he did reluctantly.

"Sara, I'm so sorry. Nothing happened I swear." His voice was pleading.

I’m sure my anger at his lame excuse spiked as I spoke. "Zeus, I’m not blind. How can you possibly explain away what I saw?"

Adam looked in my direction but his gaze never reached my eyes "Stop calling me that. I hate it when use that name as weapon against me. We just met for lunch, she wanted to talk about the settlement."

He was lying, I could always tell. "Really? Do I look that stupid? You expect me to believe that nothing happened?"

He looked me in the eyes. "No, I swear to you it didn’t. She called me earlier and said she wanted to talk about the divorce without our lawyers. I'm desperate to start our life together, just you and me, so I agreed."

I leaned forward. "Nothing has happened between the two of you since we've been together?"

Adam shook his head violently. "No. You are the only woman I've been with since your birthday. I swear on my life."

Momentarily relieved, I stepped away from my desk. "I saw how you were looking at her. Do you really expect me to believe that was simply settlement talks? You kissed her knuckles and played with her hair." I turned back so I could see his eyes. "You are telling me that if I had not walked in you two would not have done anything?"

Adam’s demeanor stiffened.

"You know I can tell when you're lying to me so don’t make this worse than it already is."

Adam rubbed his neck then looked everywhere in my office but my eyes and did not utter a single word. My heart broke, as I understood his silence was an admission of guilt.

I sat collapsed in my chair when my knees buckled from his admission. I knew what I saw but the pain of him admitting it was something I wasn't expecting. My voice was soft as I asked, "did you go to lunch with the intention of something happening afterward?"

Adam shook his head. "No. I never planned on anything happening but we started talking and it was like it used to be. I had a single lapse in judgment but I'd like to think it wouldn't have gotten that far. I love you too much for that to happen. I know it's not what you want to hear but I promised to be honest.

I felt my tears start. "Why Adam? What have I done for you to do that to me? Why didn’t you just take her to Anthracite? Take her some place you knew I wouldn't be. Why did you have to take her on our bike? I bought that to show you how much I loved you. I thought you considered it as special as I did."

Adam once again looked me in the eyes. His own dark pools were overflowing with remorse. "About the bike, it was what I rode that morning. I had no idea she'd show up but I had to get her away from the club because Jane would've killed me. She's not speaking to me right now. You haven't done anything, Baby. It was me. I was scared."

I wiped away a tear. "Adam, I understand scared. I've been scared from the first time we met. I knew this day would eventually come but I stupidly let you convince me otherwise."

I sighed and caressed my temples before continuing. "Adam, I've always known you were too good for me. You're thoughtful, kind and the most gorgeous man I've ever laid my eyes on. I realized from day one that I was on borrowed time. The thing that confuses me is why give me a ring when you still yearned for her? Was it out of guilt?"

Adam’s gaze found mine. "I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you but I was scared we were drifting apart and I was losing you. I missed everything about you and suddenly I found myself looking into eyes I could almost convince myself were yours, even if only for a moment."

That was it, what little calm I had managed to hold onto escaped my grasp. My stapler flew past his ducking head and crashed into the wall. "Scared of losing me? What the hell? You have been the one pushing me away. Of all the lame ass excuses! So your idea of holding onto me is screwing your ex? How long has this been going on?"

My tears started flowing freely as I continued. "I’m sorry everything happened the way it did. You felt pity for me because of everything with Hunter and helped me the best way you knew how. I came on too strong and wanted to be everything you needed but I know it's not enough. You deserve better. I guess I should consider myself lucky I had you for as long as I did. It was longer than I deserved. Thank you for that."

Adam jumped up and ran around my desk to embrace me as I sobbed freely. "No honey, it’s not your fault. You're perfect. I made a stupid decision one time. I didn't plan any of that. I was missing your touch. I have no excuses for what I did. Can you please forgive me?"

I looked at him through my tears and pushed him away, "There's nothing to forgive. You did what was right for you. You do deserve better. Please go now."

Adam's tears started to flow. "No baby, you're what's right for me." He opened his shirt to reveal his bell tattoo. "See, you're on my heart. You always have been."

I recoiled from him and had an epiphany. "No Adam, that’s my point exactly. You love Belle. I'm not her! She's a phase I went through when I was young. So long as I gave you glimpses of her you were happy but after I was hurt you saw the real me."

I slammed my fist into my own chest. "You saw me, Sara, and how screwed up I really am. I understand your reactions. You became distant and eventually ran to the arms of someone younger and cuter. Think about it Adam you ran to the person you wanted all along, Belle. You're a good man, you deserve someone like Belle but I’m not her anymore."

Adam tried to pull me closer. "That’s not true Baby. It's you I love. It's only you."

I backed away and shook my head before burying my face in my hands. "I wish that were true Adam, but you don’t love me. Nobody loves me when I'm myself. You loved a person I was pretending to be. You weren't ready for a serious relationship and pity forced you into one. Will you please just go? This conversation's over, I'll give your things to Jane so we don’t have to see each other again."

Adams grabbed my shoulders. "Baby don’t do this, please don’t do this. Let me make it up to you."

I placed my hands on each side of Adam's face making sure he could look into my eyes. "Adam, I love you so much. There is absolutely nothing to make up for. You were able to reach me when I was unreachable. You found me in pieces and were able to put me back together. I doubt I'd have survived what happened to Hunter without you."

I placed my head on his broad chest. "I thought the sun rose and fell around you. I wish you could feel the love I hold for you but now I realize that's not enough. The only way I know to show you how much I love you is to let you go. Hopefully when you grow up and are ready, you'll be able to find a woman deserving of the wonderful man I know you can be."

I fought hard to keep my tears at bay as I kissed him lightly on the cheek. "If you love me as much as you claim then you'll go so that I can start picking up the pieces of my heart before the damage becomes too great. I can’t do this anymore. Please Adam, if you love me like you say, then you'll leave."

Adam nodded in resignation and he leaned over to kiss my forehead. "I do love you. I love you for who you are now. I will always love you and I'm not going to give you up." He stopped when he reached the door and turned one last time with tears still falling from his eyes. "I'll always be here for you. You only need to ask."

I threw myself on the couch and openly wept as the door closed behind him.

Moments after Adam left Jill lightly knocked on my door and entered before I had a chance to tell her to come back later.

"I'm sorry for interrupting but Mr. Moretti is on the phone and is rather insistent that he talk to you. I tried telling him you're in a meeting, but he said to interrupt you."

Embarrassed to have been caught mid-meltdown, I rose from the couch and straightened my skirt. "Thank you Jill."

"I was about to go to lunch. I was wondering if I could get you something while I was out?"

"Thank you Jill. Anything would be fine. I’m not picky."

Jill walked further into the office as I took a seat behind my desk and placed my head in my hands trying to psyche myself up so I could talk to a man who would be able to tell something is wrong unless I put a really good game face on.

"Would you like for me to cancel your appointments this afternoon?"

I managed a smile. I don’t know how I could survive at work without her.

"No, I'll be fine, thanks."

Jill returned my smile with one of her own. "Your next appointment isn't til two. Would you like to talk about it?"

I sighed knowing she was only trying to help. "Thank you, but no. I believe everything was said a few minutes ago and I have to take this call."

Jill appeared embarrassed as she rose from the chair. "Oh yes, I forgot. I'm sorry but please know that I'm here if you need me."

I need to give her a raise, I thought to myself as she closed the door behind her.

I took a deep breath and picked up the receiver. "Hey Gabe, to what honor do I owe this call?"

" Bellezza Mia, I've been worried about you. I tried calling you all weekend and you had your phone turned off. Is everything okay?"

"Yes, everything's fine."

Gabe sighed disappointedly into the phone. "See, that right there is the reason I don't like you being so far away. You think you can lie to me and get away with it."

I suddenly sat up straight in my chair like a scolded child. "What do you mean?"

"When we couldn't get you on the phone Anna called your madre and she told us what happened. She said you wouldn't tell her details so she had to call your cugino to find out."

Anger rose as I realized that Ellie had told Mom what happened and in return Mom told Anna who told Gabe.

Sounding more like a petulant teenager than a thirty-seven year old executive I sulked. "What do you want me to say?"

Gabe's anger matched my own. "I don't want you to say anything. I thought sending you there would be good for you but now I know it was not. I'm transferring you back here where we can keep you safe."

I jumped to my feet. "You can't do that to me. I've worked too hard for you to take it away on some silly notion that you think you know what's best for me."

"I can and I will. You are the closest thing to a figlia we have and we will do whatever it takes to keep you from harm."

"This won't protect me Gabe. I don't care if you believe you have some fatherly duty to look out for me. You're taking away the only thing I have left. If you try to transfer me I'll have to turn in my resignation." I started to cry. "You can't do this to me."

Gabe 's attitude softened. "I'm sorry but we both feel this is what's best. If you resign then I'll just close the office. I opened it for you in the first place. I want to retire soon and want you to run things here just like you do there. I'm not doing this to punish or hurt you. It's a promotion."

My tears continued to fall. "As much as I love and miss you both, my life is here. It would kill my parents for me to move away again. We are finally close and I don't want to lose that. I have formed some strong friendships here. Hunter is buried here. I can't move back. Please don't close this office, think of all the people who work for me, I mean work for you."

Gabe still didn't seem very convinced. "I don't know. I only want what's best for you. If you transfer then I'll keep the office open but if you quit I'll close it."

"I know you do but please, at least, think about it before you make any decisions. I can't move back now. My life is here."

He didn't cave, but at least he wavered and that was the best I could hope for at the moment. "I'll think about it. Ti voglio bene ragazza dolce "

I released a sigh of relief. "Thank you Gabe, I love you too. Send my love to Anna."

After hanging up I reached for my cell and walked over to the couch and collapsed. I needed to talk to Ellie but as usual she didn't answer.

I should have hung up with my mood being what it was but instead I lashed out to my best friend who had started avoiding me. "I don't know what's going on with you but this bullshit of not answering my calls is getting old."

I threw my phone across the room and sobbed into my pillow until Jill arrived with my lunch.

Chapter Eleven

After stopping off for a couple of drinks at the bar on the first floor of the Terrazzo I walked in my big empty apartment and was stunned to see it cleansed of any reminders of my temper tantrum over the weekend. Jane, who was seated comfortably on my couch, startled me. Times like these made me regret giving her a key when she first started staying with me while I was recovering.

"It’s about time you get home. I've been waiting here an hour so I picked up a little." She jumped up to hug me. "I'm so sorry about my idiot brother."

I giggled slightly, "Yeah, he told me you weren’t speaking to him."

Jane snorted. "Damn right I’m not. Especially after he finally told me everything. I can’t believe he did that to you. On the bike you bought him no less. I swear that boy has a body that won't quit and a brain that won't start. He knows he's on my shit list."

I pulled back from Jane. "You know you can’t stay mad at him. He's your only brother."

Jane sighed heavily, "I know that but I’m gonna to make him sweat. You were the best thing to ever happen to him and he blew it."

It was now my turn to snort. I knew she was only trying to be a good friend but how could she say that? "Oh please. I'm far from the best. Truth be told, us splitting up is probably the best thing for him."

Jane expression turned to anger. "You're starting to sound like that uptight bitch I've heard about. What have you done with my sister? I'm trying to see things from your point of view but I can't get my head that far up my ass. Where'd that confidence go? Where's that fearless girl I know so well?"

I shrugged. Adam was my confidence, his love made me feel invincible. "She left with the cute young blonde Friday at lunch."

Jane led me to the couch and sat down beside me. "Sis, don’t let him do this to you. You can’t do this to yourself. He’s not worth it. You need to make him pay for what he did. Show him what he lost. If you mope around and revert back to…," Jane then waved to the outfit I was wearing, "…this, then you've let him win. You can’t do that. You can have any man you desire, but you've let a few bad apples ruin the bunch. You believed the words of a few assholes instead the words of almost everyone around you."

I continued to look at her like she was crazy so she changed tactics.

"I want you to think about something. When you were being wheeled into your hospital room, how many people were waiting for you in the waiting room?"

"A lot."

She nodded vehemently, "Damn right. Do you think that many people would wait around for someone they didn't care about?"

I stared at my light beige carpeting. "They just had a morbid curiosity."

Jane gave me an angry glare. "No, that's not why. Hold on, I’ll be right back."

Jane walked to the closet in the spare bedroom and returned with both the banners from work.

"Do you think your coworkers from here and New York both would go through all this trouble for someone who was not worthy?"

I tilted my head slightly to the right. "They had to sign it since I'm a boss."

Jane sighed and stepped to my computer and brought up the link to the TMZ page featuring me. "Would you have won this fan poll by such a majority if you weren't beautiful?"

I shrugged again, "they were feeling sorry for me because I was in the hospital."

Exasperated Jane walked over to the bottom drawer of my desk and retrieved some of the ‘Get Well’ cards I received. "Do you think people would have taken the time to pick out and mail actual cards to someone they didn't adore?"

I threw my hands up in defeat. "Okay, okay I see what you're trying to do, but what am I supposed to think when the man I love runs off to be in the arms of a younger version of me? One that happens to be his wife?"

Jane allowed a victorious grin to cross her lips as she realized she was finally getting through to me. "You live your life and show him what he lost. Now come on, we need to get you ready."

I looked at her bewildered. "Ready for what? Don’t you have to work?"

Jane laughed, "it’s Monday silly goose, the club's closed. Axis music is hosting an album release party for one of their artists and we are invited."

I walked over to the bar in the corner and began to mix another drink. "No. The last thing I need is to spend the evening with a lot of music people. I have to fake being happy and acting like everything's fine all day at a job that wants me to transfer back to New York even though I don't want to go. I just want to wallow in self-pity for awhile."

Jane stormed over and yanked the glass from my hand. "Stop it. This ain't accomplishing shit. I'm sick and tired of seeing you pour yourself into a bottle every time the going gets rough."

I angrily grabbed another glass. "That's rich coming from the person who told me...," I did my best impersonation of Jane, "there ain't a problem that can't be forgotten at the bottom of a glass."

In an instant I felt the sting of Jane's palm across my cheek.

I grasped the left side of my face and stared at my friend in horror. "What the hell?"

With an anger I'd never seen before, Jane looked fiercely up into my eyes. "That was for you giving up. He's not worth it. You need to snap out of this and make sure you don't fall back into the habits you had the first night I came over here. Sis, you were a mess and I'll be damned if I'll let you get that bad again. I love you too much to let that happen."

I frowned at Jane. "But why tonight? I'm not ready for this."

Jane smiled and pulled me into a hug. "Because I have the invite for tonight. You're going to have to start living again sooner or later, so why not just get it over with. The longer you wait the harder it will be. Think of it like a band-aid, just a quick tug and it'll be over."

I sighed, knowing I had no choice. "Okay, but no playing Barbie with me."

"You've got a deal." Jane replied as she walked behind the couch and retrieved a garment bag I hadn't noticed before.

I put on very light makeup before carefully blowing out my curls until they sat in soft brunette waves that fell down my back before dressing in my mimosa colored shimmer tiered dress. As I sat on my bed fastening the leather straps on my Jimmy Choo’s I couldn’t help myself as I began to laugh.

Jane walked in and caught me laughing. She looked fantastic in her purple one shoulder taffeta dress and three inch black heels.

"What’s so funny?"

"I was thinking about how Ellie made sure to take care of my shoes for me when I got stabbed."

Jane started laughing as well. "Yeah, she brought them to me to make sure I cleaned them before the blood dried."

I stood up and twirled around. "So, what do you think?"

Jane whistled. "Damn, I believe that is by far the sexiest I've ever seen you look."

I laughed as I turned back to her. "Thanks, I believe the same can be said about you. You really should dress up more, it suits you."

---

"Can you believe this place?" Jane exclaimed as we entered the Meridian Lounge.

The Meridian Lounge was on the second floor of an old building that was once a flourmill. The lounge had a standing room capacity of 500, a state of the art sound system, and a back bar area that featured pool tables and booth seating. It had old brick walls covered with pictures of various musical artists and what appeared to be new hardwood floors.

"It sure looks different from the last time I was here." I responded with a grin.

Jane looked at me in surprise. "When were you here before? Different how?"

I laughed as I remembered the first time Annihilation played here.

"This place used to be such a dump. Downstairs was a total dive bar."

I pointed to a service elevator before I continued. "See that over there? This whole area used to be where the bands hung out and they'd take that elevator down. It used to be an open elevator, no walls or doors. It would descend right behind the stage. It was actually pretty cool because one minute the stage would be completely empty and the next the band would be dropping from the ceiling. After the band took their places, Gracie and I used it as a stage to dance behind the guys."

Jane started laughing. "I keep forgetting that you would've been here before."

A waiter walked by and offered both of us a glass of champagne as I chuckled. "That’s a good thing. Oh if this room could talk."

A male voice interrupted. "I bet it has as many good stories as you do."

I turned to look for the source. "Kevin! Okay, this is getting weird. Are you stalking me?" I asked playfully.

He greeted me with his boyish grin. "Hey now, this is my party. I'm hosting it for one of my artists so I believe it's you who's stalking me."

Kevin placed an arm around my waist and placed a chaste kiss on my cheek. "What a pleasant surprise. I'm very happy to see you Sara and I must say you look exquisite."

I extended my arm in Jane’s direction. "Kevin do you know my friend Jane?"

He nodded in affirmation as he grabbed her hand and placed a kiss on the back. "Of course, great to see you again Jane. You're looking beautiful as well. If you and Sara are here am I to assume your brother is close by?"

Jane scoffed. "No, he’s off somewhere doing his own thing."

Kevin’s eyebrows lifted in surprise and looked to me for confirmation. "You mean he's left his lady friend to fend for herself at an industry party? He must be starting to mellow with age."

Before I had a chance to respond Jane smirked at me wickedly then fueled the fire. "He no longer has a lady friend. Sara and I are here on our own."

The smile on Kevin’s face grew as understanding set in. "Oh, I see. That explains a lot. In that case would you ladies care to accompany me? I have some friends I'd like you to meet."

I looked to Jane with trepidation because I was definitely not ready to jump back into the fray. Jane gave me a dismissive glance before replying. "That sounds wonderful Kevin. Please, by all means, lead the way."

Kevin offered his slightly bent arm, which I hesitantly accepted as I ran my arm through his. He gently patted my hand as he started toward the main room. "It is nice to see you tonight Sara, you're going to have fun. I promise."

I could only muster a slight grin as Jane and I were led into the crowd.

---

During the next hour of mingling and polite introductions, Kevin showed me off as if I were a shiny new toy. Most people knew me immediately and I started the feel anxious, but Kevin never allowed my champagne flute to empty which helped with my nerves tremendously. I began to feel the effects as he led Jane and I to a couch in the back corner that was already full of celebrities.

"I would like to introduce my friends," Kevin said to everyone as he turned to Jane. "This is lovely lady is Jane Weitz, I believe most of you know her brother Zeus."

The crowd nodded in acknowledgement and waved politely toward Jane.

Kevin then rotated toward me. "And I doubt this remarkable woman needs an introduction."

I turned to Kevin with alarm.

The small crowd was all smiles and stood to greet me.

"Belle it's so nice to meet you. I had a poster of you on my wall," Ryan Deets, a famous country singer said to me as he grasped my hand.

"Please call me Sara," I replied nervously.

"Belle, you inspired me to become a performer." A singer named Lily Jones whispered in my ear as she hugged me.

"Call me Sara please. You're making me feel old." I laughed timidly.

"Belle, I always wanted to record a duet with you," Robert Jackson, one of my idols/celebrity crushes growing up, said.

"Please call me Sara. You're just trying to be nice but thank you. That would've been a career highlight for me." I replied.

"Belle, I'm glad to see you're doing so well. I was worried when I heard about what happened to you." Another young singer named Kelli Swain said.

"Call me Sara please. Thank you, I'm almost completely healed." I responded.

The platitudes seemed endless as I respectfully engaged everyone in conversation.

Jane was beaming as she stood by my side.

"If you'll excuse me ladies, I need to make sure everything is ready for the show" Kevin said before walking toward the stage area.

Lily offered Jane and I a seat, which we graciously accepted.

Lily had been a top recording artist for about five years. She was very petite with gorgeous long brown curly hair. Her eyes were the shade of chocolate and it looked as if she had a perpetual tan. She reminded me of someone but I couldn’t, for the life of me, place who it was.

"I can't believe I'm sitting here next to you. It’s so good to see you again." Lily exclaimed with glee.

I looked at her bemused. "Why do you say that? I’m nobody special."

Jane gave me her patented Tsk look as Lily stared at me as if I had grown another head.

"You're amazing. You have the voice of an angel and the songs you've written are beautiful. The thing I admire most though is that you were willing to give it all up to focus on your son." Lily placed her hand on my shoulder. "You've lived your life by your own rules. I hope to have that courage someday." She leaned in close so that only I could hear her. "Plus my brother Matt loves you."

My mind was racing. Her brother Matt… Jones? Holy Shit! I remember he had a little sister that I followed me everywhere but her name wasn’t Lily was it? I set back astounded. "Pickles?"

Lily looked nervously at Jane before she nodded her head and smiled shyly.

How could I not recognize her? I laughed and quickly pulled her into an embrace. "It's great to see you again! I just saw Matt a few weeks ago, he never told me."

Lily laughed, "I was still on tour then. We keep it a secret to protect his privacy. He worked too hard to build a normal life to have my fame ruin it."

I nodded, "I couldn’t agree more and James is great. I’m still gonna call your brother to let him know I don’t appreciate keeping you a secret from me. Heck I even asked about you and all he said was that you were in the business."

Lily giggled, "yeah James is wonderful. I told them both if we ever change teams, I'm going to steal him. Matt told me you asked but he also said you were going through so much that he wanted to just focus on you. He loves you like a sister."

I smiled wickedly, "I love him too but don’t tell him I know who you are. I'm soooo going to mess with him."

Lily laughed out loud. "Uh oh, I remember that look. Just make sure to call me afterward to tell me about it."

I nodded. "I will, I promise."

Lily hugged me again "Do you remember teaching me how to play guitar?"

I smirked, "I remember showing you some things hoping that you'd stop pulling all the strings off mine."

All three of us were laughing as we shared the story with Jane.

"Um, Excuse me, Belle?"

I looked up to see my musical idol standing in front of me.

I stood to greet him. "Yes Robert? And please, call me Sara."

"Sara, I was wondering if I might have a word."

"Of course, I’d be honored." I looked to my friends. "Excuse me for a moment."

Why would he want to talk to me privately?

Once we were a safe distance from everyone I turned to him. "What can I do for you Robert?"

He started to fidget before me anxiously. This six foot three inch man with his thick sandy blonde hair and gorgeous blue eyes was nervous around me. I felt like I had slipped into an alternate universe where everything was backwards.

"I'm supposed to sing a few songs tonight and I was wondering if you would perform ‘Out of the Dark’ with me?"

Oh man, my musical idol wants to perform one of my songs tonight. He wants to perform it with me? I used to dream of this moment but can I do it?

"Robert, I'm flattered but I retired years ago. I didn’t write it as a duet and plus, I’m afraid I would detract from your performance."

Robert smiled proudly at me. "That’s nonsense and we both know it. I saw the video from Anthracite and I refuse to take no for an answer. This is a small intimate gathering and I believe an acoustic version of your song would be beautiful. I've thought about it for years, ever since it came out. I even rewrote it to be a duet."

I clasped my hands in front of me and held them at my waist as I looked at the floor. "Robert, nothing good has ever come from me singing in public."

Robert placed a finger under my chin and tilted my head until I could look into his eye. "I've heard about everything you've been through, and I can see why you would think that. I give you my word nothing will happen. Don't think of it as singing in public, consider it playing for a small group of friends."

How could I say no to this opportunity? My only problem was I didn’t know his revised lyrics. "I'm flattered Robert, but I don’t know how you've arranged the song."

Robert’s smile grew wider as it appeared he'd already worked out the logistics in his mind.

"No worries. If you'll join me in the back we can go over it, my changes are subtle. It shouldn’t take us long to get it."

I smiled and found myself getting excited at the opportunity. I placed my hand on his shoulder, "you're very persuasive. Please allow me to tell my friends where I'm going. I'll be right back."

Robert nodded, "I'll be right here."

I ran back over to Jane. "You're not going to believe this. Robert Jackson wants to work on a song with me. I'm going to go work on it with him before he changes his mind, I'll be back shortly. Will you be ok on your own?"

Jane hugged me while she jumped up and down in her seat. "Of course I will honey. Go have fun. I'm gonna go scope out some hotties so I'll be around somewhere. Just come find me."

Chapter Twelve

"When I go out I'm supposed to play three songs. I will play my three but after the band leaves the stage I'm going to get a stool and sit in front of the microphone stand with just my guitar and start playing the first verse. I want you to walk out and start singing the second. Once you reach me you need to place a hand on my shoulder and continue to sing and we'll take it from there. How does that sound to you?"

I smiled like a schoolgirl with a crush. "Yes, that sounds great."

"Good, now let’s go over these changes. First off, the first time I'll sing the chorus alone but after that we'll sing them together…"

We discussed the changes he made and I suggested a few of my own which he agreed to and after about thirty minutes we had practiced enough to feel comfortable. When we felt completely confident with the song I walked back to my seat.

"That was quick," Jane said as I took my seat. "I kinda figured you meant you were singing with him tonight."

I wanted to surprise her along with everyone else so I squinched my nose. "Nah, he had an idea for a song and he wanted to run it by me to see if I had any ideas."

"Oh, okay. It’s pretty cool that he asked you."

I giggled. "I know, right?"

As Robert took the stage to perform his set I excused myself claiming a need for the restroom and made my way backstage to wait. The crowd was very enthusiastic and roared loudly after each song.

Once his band left the stage, Robert moved his stool to the front like we planned and he began to speak to the crowd.

"I hope you all will indulge me for one last song. I've always wanted to perform this ever since I first heard it."

With no further introduction he started playing the song I knew so well. The crowd erupted louder than at any point thus far. I always thought I performed the song nicely but his voice and slight adjustments made the song special.

"Night is closin’ around me

The cloud of loneliness is all I see

I wish someone could stop the pain before it starts.

Jack and Jim are my only friends

They are always there when my day ends

They always help numb me to the pain in my heart.

Try as I might

I can’t find the light

Will anyone lead me out of the dark?"

I stepped out on the stage to start singing and walked across toward him.

"I saw you from across the room

Just a glimpse made my heart bloom"

The crowd started going nuts as soon as a second spotlight found me. As planned, I placed my hand on his shoulder and continued to sing. The reaction from the crowd filled me with joy and I'm sure that elation was reflected in my voice.

"I could tell right away that you were the one

Who could lead me to the light.”

"I made my way through the crowd

I yelled to you but the music was too loud

You never saw me because you were focused on her.”

“I tried with all my might

But I can’t find the light

Only you can lead me out of the dark."

“The next night I found you on your phone

It sounded like you had a fight with someone named Joan

I just wanted to help.”

“I just wanted to be left alone.”

“Your mood was dark are weary.”

“Your approach had me leery.”

“I just wanted to help.”

“I just wanted to be left alone.”

“I tried with all my might

To help you find the light

But you wanted to stay in the dark.”

“I began to realize you only wanted to help me.”

“That was my intention it’s about time you see.”

“I just want some help

I no longer want to be alone.”

Together we sang the rest.

“It was when I finally kissed you

That my gray skies turned to blue

The sun shone bright around us

I was out of the dark.”

“I tried with all my might

And finally you found the light.

Together we walked out of the dark.”

Once we finished Robert hugged me and introduced me to the crowd, "Sara Collins, everybody!"

I was shocked that he didn't call me Belle. I was also stunned by the crowd's reaction as I gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek as he led me from the stage.

"Thank you, Robert. I now have one more item I can mark off my bucket list."

Robert laughed. "It's I who should be thanking you. Your voice is beautiful and I'm honored you agreed to sing with me tonight. Would you consider recording it with me for my new album?"

His question caught me off guard. I had given all this up years ago. "I'm flattered, please let me think about it if you don’t mind."

Robert reached for his wallet and pulled out a card. "I understand, this has both my home and cell number on it. Please call me when you decide or call me if you don’t decide. How about this, why don’t you just call me, maybe we can write something together."

We both laughed as I thanked him again and left to find Jane.

Finding Jane was not difficult because as soon as I stepped back into the main room she launched herself at me.

"Holy Shit! You were amazing! I think I like that version better than the original. Why didn’t you warn me you were going to do that? You just said he wanted to work on a song with you, not that he wanted to sing your song with you."

I smiled wickedly at her. "It wouldn’t have been a surprise if I told you now would it?"

Jane laughed. "No, I guess it wouldn’t have. That was way cool!"

I noticed something as we walked through the crowd back to our seats. Nobody was calling me Belle anymore. Everyone was congratulating Sara. Jane noticed it too.

"Feels weird doesn’t it?"

I looked at Jane confused "What does?"

"Having Sara receive the accolades instead of Belle."

I nodded. "Yeah, it really does but it’s nice."

I think Jane understood what I meant but wanted to hear me say it. "Nice how?"

I thought for a second. "For the first time in my life I was not in some type of costume. I didn’t have heavy makeup and wild hair or a skimpy dress to hide behind. It was just me. Just Sara up on stage singing and it felt great. For the first time in my life the real me is being congratulated."

Jane was giving me her ‘I told you so’ grin before getting one last jab in. "Sooooo what you're saying is… I was right earlier with everything I said. Go ahead and say it. ‘Jane you are so smart’."

I laughed and bowed at my waist towards her. "Jane is so wise, Jane is so smart. What would I do without my Jane?"

Jane started laughing again and pulled me into another hug. "I love you girl."

"I love you too."

Jane chuckled to herself as if at some internal joke.

"What’s so funny?"

Jane shook her head. "I was just thinking about what a dumbass my brother is. He'll die when he hears about this."

I laughed too. "I don’t want him to die, per say. Maybe suffer inscrutable pain and agony, but not die, never die."

My pain and heartache was turning to anger apparently.

I think the alcohol was getting the best of us because Jane found my remark far funnier than it actually was. "There's my smart ass Sara, I've missed you. Come on, my glass is empty."

We found Kevin waiting with two new flasks when we returned to our seats.

"You were amazing up there Sara. You and Robert should record that."

I smiled warmly, "yeah, he asked me about that. I told him I'd have to think about it."

Jane started choking on her drink. "He did what? You mean you didn’t already say yes?"

Kevin smirked at both of us. "I think it’s a wonderful idea. I believe I like that version better than the original."

Jane slapped his hand, "I told her the same thing. Help me talk some sense into her, she’s about as bright as a firefly in the fog sometimes."

Kevin laughed at Jane and I knew I needed to jump in or else there was no telling what the two of them will concoct for me. "Look guys, I had fun up there. I performed with an idol of mine, but I have a business to run. I’m not going to give that up."

Kevin had a fierce determination in his eyes. His expression told me he was not going to let this go easily. "I understand. I'm not proposing you drop everything and go on a world tour. I'm only suggesting a few hours in a recording studio. Robert hasn't had a solid hit in years and I believe this song would do it for him."

Denoting the reluctance that had not left my eyes, he paused to take a drink before he continued. "Sure, we have other artists in our stable that could perform it with him, but what I just witnessed on stage was magical. You two have a chemistry that’s impossible to duplicate. One song, one video that's all I am asking. I understand you have an agency to run, and I'll be more than happy to work around your schedule. Please at least consider it and don't dismiss this out of hat. This could jumpstart your career as well as his."

He had just given me a lot to think about and this was not a decision to be made lightly. I rubbed my neck before I looked back up at him. "Kevin, I'm slightly drunk and the high of performing is still coursing through my veins. I've done the fame thing and it's not something I aspire to do again. Please allow me time to think with a clear head before I give you a decision."

Kevin smiled and nodded his head as I turned to Jane. "Sis, I make the same request from you. Please, no more mention of this tonight and no hounding me for at least two days. Deal?"

Jane nodded her head wildly. "Deal!"

The next two hours flew by as Jane, Lily, Kevin and I shared stories. One in particular had everyone in stitches…

"One year Bellero was up for a Video Music Award and a good friend of mine whose band was also up for an award thought it would be sweet to bring his fifteen year old sister as his date."

I cut my eyes toward Lily who started to laugh and blush as I continued. "I've never seen someone so excited to be somewhere in my life. Pickles, as we called her, was in heaven. Her brother Matt couldn't stop laughing every time she nudged him and pointed out somebody famous. Poor guy had the patience of Job that night."

"After it was over we all went to an after party hosted by one of the entertainment mags." I looked around at everyone. "As you all know, the alcohol flows rather freely at those things and somehow Pickles managed to get her hands on a drink. I can't remember what it was she was drinking and have no idea how she got it. All I remember is that it was purple."

Without thinking Lily piped up, "it was a Grateful Dead. The guys from Buckley's band gave it to me."

Everyone at the table turned to stare at Lily. She looked in my direction expecting me to continue my story, not even realizing she'd just outed herself.

I laughed as I patted her knee. "No Lily, this story's about Pickles. Remember?"

"Shit, I guess the secret's out." Lily said as she looked at the group.

Jane smiled. "You ain't gotta worry about me. I found out earlier."

Kevin was dumfounded. "Your brother is Matt Jones?"

Lily and I nodded.

Kevin feigned offense. "Now Lily you should know by now that I'd never tell your secrets. You cut me deep."

Lily slapped him on the shoulder. "I know, and thanks." She turned back to me, "I want to hear the rest of this. I don't remember much of that night."

I laughed. "Where was I? Oh yeah. After the drink you started to get a little wild and Matt couldn't handle you anymore. He bribed me into watching you for the rest of the night. I was happy to do since Razor was being an ass anyways."

"When was he not an ass?" Lily interjected.

I nodded. "Touché. You were a handful bouncing all over the room talking to everyone as if they were you their best friend. I was actually having fun and met a few really nice people I probably wouldn't have ever met if I weren't babysitting you. Things were good til I noticed you looked like you were about to be sick. I grabbed you and rushed you to the bathroom. We almost made it too."

Lily put her head in her hands. "Please don't tell me I threw up on someone."

I started laughing again as her eyes widened and she asked. "It wasn't anyone important was it?"

Kevin leaned forward. "Who was it?"

I grinned wickedly at Lily. "It was just London Jenner."

Lily was mortified. "I did not throw up on her. Please tell me I didn't do that."

Jane laughed. "Miss prim and proper diva extraordinaire?"

I nodded with a smirk. "One and the same."

Lily slammed her glass on the table. "I don't believe you."

"Call your brother if you don't believe me. After you turned her white dress into a purple tie-dyed looking creation, we rushed you out the back door and Matt took you back to his place. All the tabloids claimed London was a drunken mess that night because of her appearance. She tried to tell people what happened but because everyone you met liked you and you were gone, and I denied it, nobody believed her." I started laughing even harder. "I bet she still hates me to this day."

"Oh my God." Lily exclaimed and beat her head in the table a couple of times. "We work together doing advertisements for a cosmetics company. If she ever realizes who I am, it's not going to be pretty."

After our raucous display of laughter a few other people joined our group and the stories, as well as the alcohol kept flowing til about 2 a.m.

It was a fun night from beginning to end. It was exactly what I needed and I barely thought of my heartache at all until I stepped into my bathroom once I got home. I reached for my toothbrush and saw Adam's beside it. Suddenly the pain was as great as it had been when I had woken up that morning.

Chapter Thirteen

Jill was smirking at me as I entered the office the next morning.

"Okay, spill it Jill. What's going on?"

Jill spun her computer monitor around so that I could see it. "You made TMZ again."

I gasped. "Again? How?"

Jill looked at me like I was an idiot. "You perform a duet with a country legend covering one of your own songs and you don’t expect it to get out?"

I blushed. That was kind of stupid on my part. "What'd you think?"

Jill beamed at me, "it made me cry. It was so beautiful."

Jill hit play and one thing that stood out was that it was very high quality. It didn't appear to have been taken from a phone or even from the crowd perspective for that matter.

"Can you come into my office please?"

She followed as I stepped into my office and closed the door as soon as she entered. "Jill, I trust you not to repeat what I'm about to tell you. Can I have your word that this conversation stays between us?"

Jill nodded her head vigorously. "Of course. You have my word."

I smiled knowing Jill was one of the most trustworthy people I had ever met. "Robert asked me to record that song as a duet for his new album."

Jill’s eyes bugged out as she gasped. "You're going to do it aren’t you?"

I shrugged. "I don’t know. I’m worried how New York will react."

Jill took a seat and motioned for me to sit beside her on the couch. "I don’t think they'll have a problem with it. Remember they're an hour ahead of us so Mr. Moretti has already called this morning. He seemed to see this as a positive, just as he did when everyone found out about your past."

I smiled at Jill. "I don’t know what I'd do without you, which is why I'm happy to inform you that I received an email confirmation yesterday. I'd like to know if you'd be willing to become my personal assistant?"

Jill didn't try to hide her confusion. "I thought I already was."

I explained. "In many ways you are, but on paper you're my secretary. In this company an executive personal assistant makes twenty five percent more than a secretary does."

Jill’s eyes lit up with understanding as she jumped up and hugged my neck with tears overflowing. "Oh thank you Sara, thank you."

"You're welcome, you deserve it. Thank you for everything you've done. I'd be lost without your help."

Jill resumed her seat and wiped her eyes. "Will my duties change?"

I walked over to my desk and retrieved a company credit card from my purse. "I am going to teach you everything I know so that you can move up when you are ready. Plus, I may need you to attend a few functions with me." I waved the card at her and grinned. "So we'll need to buy you some appropriate attire. Care to go shopping during lunch?"

Jill jumped from her seat again, "are you serious right now?"

I smiled and nodded.

Her arms wrapped around my neck while tears of joy fell from her eyes. "Oh thank you so much, you have no idea what this means to me."

"You're welcome. I guess I need to call Mr. Moretti to gauge how he feels about me recording a duet."

Jill bounced toward the door. "I'll get him on the line for you."

"No thank you, Jill. I'll do it."

Jill stopped just before exiting and turned to face me. "I said it once and I'll say it again. You are the coolest boss ever!"

I dialed his direct line that only a select few even knew existed.

"Hi Gabe. Jill told me you've seen the video." I said as soon as he picked up.

"Yes, you looked beautiful and happy."

Even though Gabe couldn't see it, I smiled. "I was happy. It was like a dream come true to have him sing my song as a duet."

"It made Anna cry. She had no idea you had such a beautiful voice."

I found that hard to believe. "Surely she's heard me sing before."

His voice was adamant. "No, we both agreed that we'd never heard you sing before."

"What about from the night I was stabbed?"

"We couldn't bear to watch it knowing what happened afterward."

"Surely I sang around your house?"

"Not that I can remember hearing and your voice is unforgettable."

It saddened me that two of the people dearest to me had never heard me sing before. "Thank you. I'm sorry I never sang for you. They want me to record it. How do feel about that? I promise to not let it interfere with business."

He adopted a neutral pitch. "Is this what you want?"

"I think so. I'm not sure, which is why I called you. I need your advice."

His voice was so full of the love he held for me. "I've never seen such joy in your eyes as when you were singing. It's the first time I've seen your eyes sparkle since you lost your dear boy. You know all we want is for you to be happy and it is obvious singing makes you happy. I think if it is something you want to do then do it."

My voice filled with the same love he was showing me. "Thank you Gabe. It means a lot to hear you say that. Have you decided on what you are going to do with this office yet?"

"You are welcome. No, Anna and I are still discussing it."

"Please don't close it. I'll buy it from you if you'll consider selling it."

"I'll keep that in mind. Ti voglio bene."

"Thank you. I love you too."

After talking to Gabe and getting his blessing, I called Kevin.

I was greeted with a cheerful voice. "Hi Sara, great to hear from you."

"Hi Kevin, I wanted to call and let you know I've reached a decision."

Kevin sounded surprised. "Oh, so soon? What have you decided?"

"I've decided to do it, provided we can arrange everything in a manner that doesn't interfere with my job."

"Like I told you last night, I'm more than willing to make those concessions. I'll have my lawyers work up a contract and send it to you ASAP. Since I don’t foresee any issues I'll go ahead and schedule the studio time. I'll get back with you when I know something."

"Thanks Kevin, I look forward to it."

He hesitated for a quick moment. "Would you care to grab some lunch to celebrate?"

"I can’t today, I already have plans."

Kevin sounded hopeful. "How about dinner tonight?"

I paused trying to decide if it’s a good idea or not.

He sensed my hesitation. "Sara, this would be a business dinner. I know you recently experienced a break-up and I understand you're not ready for anything or anyone. Consider this as a label exec taking out his newest artist for a celebratory dinner because in truth that's exactly what this is."

I mulled his words and while often Kevin’s eyes had told me he would like more, he'd never been anything but a complete gentleman towards me.

"Sounds great Kevin. What time should I meet you?"

Joy was evident in his voice. "I'll send a car to pick you up at seven. Is that ok?"

"Seven it is Kevin. See you then."

As soon as I hung up my cell started to ring. I looked down to see Matt's wonderful face that I snapped on his last visit.

"Hey boyfriend. I was about to call you."

He chuckled. "Hey girlfriend, I saved you the effort. Guess what I'm looking at?"

I laughed. "I can guess. What did you think?"

"I loved it. How did you end up at an industry party?"

"My friend Jane knows some people."

His voice took on an edge of concern. "I thought those type things scared you?"

I laughed again. "They used to, but my secret's out now so I don't have to worry anymore."

"I didn't think about that. Meet anyone famous?"

I saw this as my opportunity to get my friend. "Yeah, a few people. Most were nice but this one girl was a total bitch."

Matt sounded excited. "Oh gossip. Who was she?"

I did my best to sound angry. "That country singer Lily Jones. God, she was awful. She was all 'I thought about doing that song on my album but decided on something better written.' I hate her."

Matt's excitement evaporated. "Are you sure it was her?"

I worked hard to keep from laughing. "Oh yeah especially when she kept referring to herself in the third person."

"She did what?"

"Yeah, she was like Lily needs another drink, Lily's next album will be huge. She kept it up til I finally snapped on her."

Adams voice carried a combination of dread and annoyance. "Snapped how?"

"She was telling a story about something and Jane asked her a question. She looked at Jane like she was an idiot and then insulted her asking who let the riff raff in. You know how protective I can be."

Matt actually sounded scared. "Yeah I do."

"I jumped across and grabbed her and told her to say she's sorry. She said Lily Jones apologizes to no one, so I slapped her."

I thought Matt was about to cry. "Please tell me you didn't do that."

"Yeah and then she had to nerve to say she was going to tell her brother on me. I was like go ahead and tell him. What can he do all the way in California?"

Matt started laughing. "Damn, you got me."

I laughed along with him. "Good, you should have told me she was in town but I understand why you didn't."

Matt took on an apologetic tone. "I'm sorry about that. So why were you gonna call?"

"Believe it or not I'm heading back to the studio to record that duet with Robert. It's going to be the first single off his new album."

"Seriously? Is Adam cool with that?"

I had to fight to keep from crying again. "Um yeah, we split up."

I received a very shocked sounding, "What? Why?"

"Not gonna talk about it and ruin my mood. I just wanted to share my good news with you."

"I'm happy for you girlfriend. We're going to be in town the end of this week. We need to go out to celebrate." I knew he would also want the deets on Adam.

I looked forward to seeing my dear friend. "I'm there, just let me know when and where."

"I'll call as soon as we get to town."

I noticed Jill come to the door excited to go to the mall. "Sounds good. I need to get going. I love you boyfriend."

"Love you too girlfriend."

While shopping with Jill, I decided to splurge and buy myself a new dress.

I bought a beautiful plum colored halter dress that featured ruching and draping detail. Jill agreed that I needed the dress, not that I required any real convincing.

Jill was having a great time spending the company’s money and I was enjoying spending some of my own.

We were walking toward the food court when Jill suddenly froze in front of a high-end dress shop and started staring in the window.

"You see something you like? We can go in if you'd like."

Jill never broke eye contact with whatever it was she was staring at. She was almost breathless as she spoke. "Lily Jones is in there."

I walked closer and looked in. "So she is. Let's go say hi."

Jill dug her nails into my arm. "I can't go in there. She's like, famous, and probably doesn't like to be bothered."

I laughed and dug in my purse for a pen and paper. "I wonder if she'd give me her autograph?"

I grabbed Jill's hand and drug her into the store as I yelled out. "Oh my God it's Lily Jones! Can I have your autograph?"

Lily looked up quickly in panic before a hint of a smile crossed her lips when she saw me. "What's this I hear about you calling me a bitch?"

I laughed as I released Jill's hand and hugged Lily. "I guess you've talked to Matt?"

Lily smiled. "Yeah, he said you got him." She looked around me and noticed Jill. "Who is your friend?"

"Oh I'm sorry. Lily this is Jill Abernathy. She's my personal assistant."

Lily walked over and took Jill's hand in hers. "Very nice to meet you Jill."

Jill was obviously star-struck, but she managed to smile warmly. "Nice to meet you too. I'm a huge fan."

Although they finished greeting each other their hands remained intertwined as Lily spoke. "Thank you, I'm happy to hear it."

I interrupted their greeting. "Matt says he's coming to town this week?"

Lily turned back to me. "Yeah, he said we're all going out. How's Thursday for you?"

I nodded. "I can do Thursday, I'm looking forward to it."

Lily smiled at Jill. "You're welcome to join us."

Jill's eyes widened in surprise. "Thank you very much."

After buying a few new dresses and business suits along with some shoes for Jill, and a few outfits for myself, we strolled out to the parking lot with our purchases. I was laughing as Jill bragged on herself for maintaining her cool so well in front of Lily. I wasn't about to burst her bubble and say anything to the contrary.

The smile on my face faded as Adam’s blue Evoque drove by. Luckily he didn’t see us but I'd seen him and he looked miserable.

My good mood evaporated immediately and pools started to form in my eyes. I'd done so well trying to take my mind off him and the damage he'd done. My renewed confidence disappeared at the memory him flirting with someone so young and beautiful.

"Are you ok? I don’t think he saw us." Jill had noticed Adam drive by as well.

"I’ll be ok Jill. Thanks."

Jill looked at me with concern. "I hope you consider me as much of a friend as I consider you. If you want to talk about it I'm a good listener. What happened with you two?"

I wiped away a stray tear. "You know I had to meet David Reid for lunch at Baxter’s Friday." Jill nodded that she did. "When we walked in I found Adam in the back corner with a beautiful young blonde, a beautiful young blonde that happens to be his wife, a beautiful young blonde that happens to be his wife and that I have a feeling might be a half sister I never knew about. If that wasn't bad enough, they were being very friendly with each other."

Jill pulled me into a hug. "I'm so very sorry. You deserve better."

I returned Jill’s hug. "Thanks. I try not to think about him, but every once in awhile my emotions get the best of me, so please excuse these outbursts. I do rather well so long as I don’t see him or I’m not alone. I really thought he was the one."

Jill nodded knowingly. "My grandmother always said ‘Men are like a fine wine. They start out like grapes, and it’s our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you’d like to have dinner with.’ I think we need to go stomp him." She gave me a hug. "Just remember I'm here anytime you need to talk."

I laughed. "Thanks."

Chapter Fourteen

I stepped out of the lobby wearing my new dress at seven expecting to be greeted by a limo or something of the like. Instead I saw Kevin’s black Infiniti. As soon as Kevin stepped out of the car to greet me with a friendly hug I caught sight of Adam’s Evoque out of the corner of my eye. I could tell he had spotted me while waiting at the light.

Seeing this as an opportunity to stomp a grape like Jill suggested, I returned Kevin’s hug warmly and planted a chaste kiss on the very corner of his mouth knowing full well that from Adam's angle it looked as if I kissed Kevin full on the mouth before he opened the passenger side door for me.

With no small amount of satisfaction I looked at Adam as he drove by while Kevin walked around the car to take his seat. I’m not sure what I expected to see but the depth of hurt that I witnessed sent a chill down my spine. No matter what he'd done, I still loved him. I could never trust him again but it was childish and petty to purposely try to hurt him.

Oblivious to my inner turmoil, Kevin sat down with a smile and asked, "are you ready?"

I nodded before inquiring, "where are we going?"

Kevin’s smile widened, "I have reservations at Fitzgerald's."

I felt almost giddy. Fitzgerald's was a Mediterranean-influenced bistro cuisine restaurant with what I considered the best food in town. This would definitely not be a salad only night for me. They also featured an excellent live jazz bar that could always be counted on to provide a nice relaxing atmosphere.

Knowing where we were going immediately lifted my disposition. "I’m always in the mood for jazz."

---

After ordering a bottle of their finest wine Kevin looked across the table at me. "In case I forgot to tell you earlier, you look stunning."

I blushed at Kevin. He looked rather stunning himself in what I could best describe as a power suit. It was solid black lightweight wool and he'd accompanied it with a white shirt and red tie. The man-child I'd grown to expect whenever I saw him was gone, replaced by a man who could be the subject of many women's fantasies.

"As do you. I don’t think I've ever seen you dressed so well. You clean up rather nicely."

Kevin smirked at me. "Why thank you. I figured this is a celebration so I dressed to impress."

I smiled brightly. "Well, consider me impressed then."

Kevin raised his glass and I raised mine to match.

"Here’s to you, Sara. May our business relationship be a lasting one."

I clinked my glass to his. "Here Here!"

As I took a sip of the delicious wine I couldn't help but to notice quite a few people looking intently at us and whispering amongst themselves. "Um Kevin, is it just me or is everybody staring?"

Kevin looked around to see what I was talking about. "Yes I believe they are."

Suddenly self-conscious, I sat up a little straighter. "I didn't realize you were that famous."

Kevin almost choked on his wine from a sudden burst of laughter, "I'm not. They're staring at you. I'm just your arm candy for the night. Surely you've experienced this before?"

My face registered surprise at his comment. "Not in years, and before my fans were more vocal when they saw me. The thing is, I was usually with a group who were just as or more famous than myself." I gazed around the room. "I can’t remember ever being the most famous person in the room. This is weird."

If things were like this now, what would they be like when the single was released?

Kevin smiled and lightly patted my hand. "You better get used to it because I think you are about to become very recognizable again."

"How big do you think this will be?"

Kevin replied without hesitation. "Huge."

I felt a headache coming on so I began to rub my temples hoping to hold it off. "I’m not sure if I'm up for this. How soon would you like to get in the studio? You better schedule it quick before I lose my nerve."

In a surprising and slightly unnerving move, Kevin stood and walked around the table to massage my shoulders. "Saturday at the latest. We need to strike while the iron's hot. Believe it or not, radio stations have already started playing excerpts from the video that’s posted online. Almost every station in the country minus talk radio and gospel has posted links to the performance on their websites. We're up to almost a million views already."

If not for his nimble fingers gently erasing my stress I might have freaked out a little.

This was about to get crazy in a hurry.

---

As we walked from the restaurant to the bar I smiled at Kevin. "That was wonderful. Thank you."

"Yes it was, and you're very welcome" Kevin’s expression was warm as he led me to a table in the corner with his hand resting on the small of my back.

I took my seat and something I wondered about earlier came to mind. I decided to ask him about it. "How did the video of Robert and I get out already? I saw it this morning and it didn't look as if it was from just some random Joe Shmo out in the crowd."

Kevin’s grin was rather smug. His look was one of a man very proud of himself. "We leaked it. I arranged a camera to record the entire concert. Thank goodness I did too. Your performance caught everyone, myself included, by surprise." Kevin’s haughty expression changed to concern as a thought entered his mind. "It didn’t upset you did it?"

I thought about it. His explanation made sense. Did it upset me? I've had a lot of emotions today but I don’t believe upset over the performance being leaked was one of them.

I tasted a sip of the wine that had just been brought to the table before responding. "No, it didn’t. It just caught me by surprise. I'd like a DVD of it though, if it’s not any trouble."

Kevin’s body relaxed as he leaned back. "Good, I'm glad. I’ll have someone drop a copy off to you tomorrow. That performance last night was unexpected and it was magical. Robert, while a legend, doesn't generate the interest he used to."

Kevin paused and placed his hand over mine. I know it should have bothered me the way he gently stroked the back of my hand with his thumb but I didn't even realize he was doing it at the time. "You're a star who walked away from it all while you were on top to never be heard from again. It's sad to say but your stabbing has generated a lot of interest in you. A lot of your fans have gone country so they'll flock to this. I see this as a real opportunity for everyone involved. The crossover appeal is through the roof."

I took a large drink of my wine while I absorbed everything Kevin just said.

We were interrupted when a very attractive brunette woman wearing deep crimson colored cocktail dress approached me. "Excuse me for the interruption Belle, but I was wondering if you would like to sing a song with us tonight?"

I smiled graciously. "Please, call me Sara. And you are…?"

The woman smiled back. "My name is Sherry."

I sat my glass back on the table and offered my hand. "Nice to meet you Sherry. Thank you for the kind offer but I'm not sure my voice is suited for jazz."

Sherry laughed as if I had just told a joke. "I believe your voice is suited for anything."

Kevin decided to add his two-cents. "Come on. Just one song, it'll be fun."

I sighed. "I don't even know what to sing."

Sherry's face brightened, "How about 'It Had To Be You'? You know, you could dedicate it to Zeus."

Before my filter had a chance to kick in I blurted out. "Oh hell no."

Sherry looked horrified. "I'm sorry. I just assumed…"

Before she had a chance to finish her sentence Kevin interrupted. "How about 'What Is This Thing Called Love'? It's perfect for your voice."

I looked at Kevin incredulously. "No songs about love. Period."

The three of us contemplated for a few moments trying to come up with a song and kept coming up blank.

Resigned, I leaned back in my seat. "I'll do 'What Is This Thing Called Love' I know it by heart so it would be the easiest."

Sherry appeared excited but I knew Kevin was concerned. "Are you sure? You don't have to do this."

I ignored Kevin as I looked at Sherry, "Can I play piano as well or do you just want me to sing?"

"You can play if you'd like. Fred won't mind."

I smiled. "That sounds great. Just call me up when you're ready."

Sherry's smile grew wider. "Thanks so much for doing this." She turned and walked away before I could respond.

Kevin repeated his earlier objection. "You know you don't have to do this."

I shook my head. "Yeah I do. The club is filling up. Everyone in here saw Sherry and I talking, and will know that she asked me to sing. How would it look if I said no?"

"It would look like you just wanted to have a nice quiet evening."

I sighed. "No it wouldn't and you know it. If you want this song to succeed then we need all the positive PR we can get. You know full well I understand the business side of music, so how would it look to have someone run off to a tabloid saying how that I was a bitch and refused to sing when asked?"

Kevin nodded, "the record exec side of me agrees but the friend side has reservations. I just wanted to give you a nice relaxing evening to get your mind off things."

I grabbed his hand, "and you have. Thank you."

Sherry and the band came on stage and began to perform. I must admit, Sherry had an amazing voice. I started to regret my decision if it meant I'd be sandwiched between her performances.

After her third song, Sherry called me up to sing. I took my seat at the baby grand and poured my heart into the song. I don't know how but I didn't break down while singing. I came as close as a person possibly could without doing so especially when I sang I saw you there one wonderful day you took my heart and threw it away. I performed with as much emotion as I had when I sang my farewell with Bellero. The main difference being, this time all the emotions were negative.

I was not prepared for the reaction I received. As soon as I played the last note the crowd stood to applaud with many wiping away tears. Sherry walked up and embraced me as she whispered in my ear. "I'm so sorry for whatever it is you're going through but it's going to work out."

Moved to tears by her, as well as the crowds, support I smiled as I lifted a tissue to dry my eyes before finding my way back to my table.

Kevin stood as I approached. "That was amazing. I'm glad I couldn't talk you out of it now."

I laughed as I took my seat. "Thanks. I can't believe I got a standing ovation."

Kevin shook his head. "You have no idea how you affect people."

I looked at him puzzled. "What do you mean?"

Kevin waved his hand dismissively. "Nothing. Never mind."

I decided to let it drop and enjoy the wonderful music that was being offered.

The rest of our evening was very enjoyable. Kevin and I discussed that there would be someone shooting our time in the studio for possible use in a documentary about the making of Robert's album. We also discussed scheduling time to shoot a video. Once the talk of business concluded we mainly sat in a comfortable silence enjoying the atmosphere the club provided.

---

I checked my phone after I sat down on my couch upon returning home. I had one missed call from Ellie, two from Jane, two from Mom and five from Adam.

I called Ellie first.

"Hey girl, where ya been? I saw your video, that must have been awesome." Ellie said as soon as she answered. Something about her voice was off and it worried me.

"I had dinner with Kevin. Thanks, I wish you'd been there last night. It was awesome."

She sounded surprised and slightly condescending. "Dinner with Kevin? Damn girl, it didn’t take you long to get back on the horse."

"No, it wasn’t like that. It was business. We were discussing a recording contract. They're going to release the song as Robert’s first single off his new album."

Ellie gasped. "You're kidding me?"

"Nope. I'm going into the studio Saturday morning to record it. They want to release it soon."

"Oh my God! I'm so happy for you."

"Thanks, I figure I may need a back-up career since Gabe is wanting me to transfer back to New York."

Ellie's voice became frantic. "You're not going to leave me again are you?"

I tried reassuring her. "No, I told him I'd quit if he tried to force me, but he says he'll close down the office if I do."

She sounded angry with me. "Sounds like he's not leaving you much choice. You're going to have to move."

"Not without a fight. I like you being close." I wanted to change the subject so I did. "Before I forget Matt and his boyfriend will be in town Thursday and want to go out. Want to come with?"

Ellie hesitated. "Uh, I'm not sure but it sounds like fun."

Her reaction perplexed me. Ellie was never one to miss a good party. "What's going on? Why do you say it like that?"

Her further hesitation frightened me. "Have I done something?"

"Yes and no."

"What does that mean?"

"Greg took my car in to get it checked out and his mechanic said it was like a new car. Almost every part on it had recently been replaced. Would you know how that happened?"

I knew from her voice she knew what I did. "You know the answer why are you even asking? I didn't want you to be stranded anywhere."

"It's wrong to do that without even asking plus you embarrassed Greg."

I started to get angry. "Why did that little weasel get embarrassed?"

She started screaming in the phone. "Don't you dare say anything about him. He planned on doing something sweet to make sure I was safe and couldn't because you did it. He takes care of me and prevents me from sabotaging myself."

She was talking nonsense and it was only making me angrier. "I'm sorry I hurt his precious feelings, but if it meant I didn't have to worry about you breaking down in the wrong part of town and something happening to you, then I'd do a hundred times over. I don't give a flying fuck what he thinks or feels so long as you are okay."

Ellie was around back then to deal with me in the aftermath of an over eager 'Samaritan' making me repay his 'kindness' with my body. "I didn't think about what happened to you. I'm sorry but you should have told me."

"You'd have just gotten mad anyways. There's something else going on with you. Why have I suddenly become the bad guy here?"

"Greg found out about me flirting with everybody at the retro party and thinks you're a bad influence on me. He almost dumped me over it."

"Me? How did I influence anything you did?"

"You called me to tell me my ex was there and wanted to see me. I told him you weren't planning on hooking us up but he said ever since you came home we've had trouble."

"What did you say?"

"I told him I'm a grown woman and anything that's happened had nothing to do with you."

"What did he say?"

"He doesn't believe me. I love him more than I've loved anyone. You might move back to New York and I'm not as young as I used to be. What would happen to me if I dropped him and you moved away again, leaving me on my own? It happened before in L.A."

I suddenly became defensive. "I begged you to move with me. You didn't have to be on your own."

Ellie voice filled with contempt "My life was there. I had already uprooted to follow you once. I wasn't going to do that again."

Condescension filled my voice. "I respect that but don't make it sound like I made you follow me and then abandoned you cause I didn't. If I remember correctly you begged me to let you move in with me not the other way around."

Ellie sounded even angrier. "Greg is my last chance for a really good man that I love who loves me back. I think it might be a good idea for us to not hang out for awhile."

My disdain remained. "I don't like him, haven't liked him from the first time I met him and I don't trust him. He's trying to isolate you and soon he'll start hurting you."

Ellie's anger returned in a rush. "That's rich, so you're gonna try to project your issues with men on me? Fact is I love Greg, and you've made it obvious you can't handle it. He was right all along. You are angry, bitter and want to bring everyone around you down so that you can make yourself look good."

My body started quaking and I couldn't control the shuddering sobs coming from my mouth as she hung up on me.

After I was able to calm down, I called Jane. I knew she was at work but being Tuesday I figured it was slow enough that she could talk for a few minutes at least. It baffled me how a night that started out so great, could go from bad to worse so quickly when a very deep male voice answered.

"Hey there."

I hesitated before I replied, "Hi, where's Jane?"

Adam sounded happy to hear my voice. "She’s busy right now. I've tried calling you all night."

I responded coolly, "I know, I saw. Tell Jane I called please."

Panic seemed to take hold of him as he said, "No wait, I need to talk to you. I saw your video today. You were fantastic. I wish I'd been there to see it live."

"No, you don’t need to talk to me Adam. We've already said all we need to say to each other." I huffed.

Adam begged. "Please Sara hear me out!"

Stay strong, Stay strong he deserves better.

"Adam, why are you doing this to me? You made it clear that you can find someone superior to me. I’m sure if you look around your club right now you can find two or three women who are better than me and more than willing. So stop doing this to yourself."

"I love you, Baby." Adam whined.

I felt myself weakening as my tears started to flow again. "I love you too Adam, which is why I have to do this."

"Do what?"

I hit end on my phone. After talking to Adam I was in no mood to talk to Mom because she would know immediately something was wrong so I grabbed a bottle from the bar and headed to bed.

Chapter Fifteen

A little after midnight I felt someone tugging on my toe. I shrieked and curled up into a ball when Jane came into focus.

She then sat beside me on the bed. "Another nightmare?"

I nodded and reached for the bottle of Jack I left on the nightstand but it was gone. "Before you ask, no I don't want to talk about it."

"I'm sorry for scaring you. After I realized Adam had taken my phone to intercept your call I knew you'd never answer your phone if I called so I had to come by. I promise you, I had no idea he did that. I hope you know I'd never set you up like that. He’s been acting weird since you two split but he was crazy today. One of the guys asked about you, saying he heard you two split."

"Then Adam overheard the members of the band setting up saying how stupid he was to fuck things up with you. A few minutes later he left the club in tears but returned after an hour screaming about seeing you get into Kevin’s car. He's completely lost it. He said you kissed Kevin."

I rubbed my eyes and sat up. "I didn’t think you'd set me up like that."

Jane looked at me with concern. "Where did you go with Kevin?"

"We had a business dinner to celebrate that I agreed to record the duet with Robert. I saw Adam at the intersection when Kevin greeted me. I kissed him to mess with Adam. It was an innocent kiss as he hugged me." I felt my tears start up yet again. "I just wanted to show Adam how much it can hurt but I think it hurt me more because it broke my heart to see the pain on his face."

Jane rubbed my leg. "Well sis, you had the desired effect. He told me tonight that he now recognizes how much he's hurt you. He said he knew the pain you suffered was worse because you never did anything to deserve it. He's finally realizing he brought all this on himself."

I start sobbing, "oh Jane, I never wanted to hurt him. I love and miss him so much but I don’t trust him anymore. How can I be with someone I don’t trust?"

Jane pulled me in for a hug. "A relationship can’t survive once the trust is gone. Maybe you can find some way to trust him again one day. I'd hoped you two would end up married and I really think he learned his lesson but I understand why you wouldn’t take him back."

I buried my head in Jane’s shoulder before I spoke again. "I want him back so much it hurts. Even if he didn't want that woman there's too many temptations at the club every night, it would drive me crazy if I took him back. I'd be wondering who he was making plans on hooking up with. I can’t do that to him. I can’t do that to myself. If I took him back I'd just be right back where I am now sooner or later."

Jane patted my back as I cried. "I don’t blame you at all. Can I crash here tonight? I don’t feel like driving home."

"You know you're always welcome here."

"Good, I’ll be right back."

Jane grabbed a nightshirt from my dresser before disappearing into the bathroom for a few minutes, once out she climbed into my bed.

"Scoot over."

"What? Why? I thought you were going to sleep in the guest bed," I said in shock.

"Nope sis, I still want to find out about your duet and I figure you don’t need to be alone. Especially if you have another nightmare."

After a moment I looked over at Jane, "you know I'm going to be afraid to call you now don’t you."

Jane appeared worried. "I know sis, I've been thinking about that. I’m not sure what to do about it." She started laughing.

"What is so funny?" I asked.

"I was just thinking about the look on my brother’s face after I threw a full mug of beer in his face after he told me what he'd done."

I started giggling. "No you didn’t!"

"Yeah I did, I was so mad at him. Actually I still am. He's my brother and I love him dearly but he's so wrong in this that I can’t back him."

I sighed, "I don’t want to come between you two."

Adam and Jane were all the family each other had. Their sister then their parents died a few years back and Jane’s husband was killed while he was serving in Iraq. She'd never truly gotten over his death. I would never be able to forgive myself if I was the reason they stopped speaking to each other.

Jane smiled at me. "I know you don’t, and don’t think for one second this is your fault. It’s not. I know you know that he almost died in that accident coming from the show we saw you at. The thing is, ever since then everyone in the family babied him. In a lot of ways he's still a spoiled brat. He's so used to me supporting him no matter what but I just can’t support him right now. He's wrong on every level. Now he's tried to involve me by stealing my phone. I know in time I'll get past it but now isn't the time. I’m still pissed at him."

I stayed there thinking about what Jane told me. I felt horrible that they were fighting but I couldn’t think of anything I could do to help.

Jane interrupted my thoughts when she started talking again.

"Have you signed anything yet with Kevin?"

"No, my lawyer is looking it over. Why?"

"Mind if I look it over too? I used to be Adam’s manager so I might be able to squeeze some perks in for you."

I laughed. "Are you offering to be my manager?"

"No, I am offering help to my sis."

"Would you be my manager?" I asked. "I can’t think of anyone I trust more than you."

"I'll be happy to act as your manager but I refuse to let you pay me."

Argh! She never lets me pay her for anything she does for me! "Sis, you know money's not an issue for me. I’d be happy to pay you."

Jane appeared surprised. "No, I didn’t know that." Her expression returned to one of determination. "But the answer is still no. You can’t pay me."

I pouted. "If I can’t pay you then I don’t want your help."

Jane glared at me. "How many times have you helped me with advertising?"

I sighed, "that’s different."

She was adamant. "No it’s not. It was you using your knowledge to help me. Well this is me using my knowledge to help you." She poked me in my chest to emphasize her point.

I groaned, "you've dug your heels in haven’t you?"

She smiled victoriously. "Damn straight. So can I get a copy of the contract or not?"

I grinned in defeat. "Yeah, I'll get you a copy first thing in the morning."

"You don’t have to, I'll call Kevin and have him send me a copy. I'll take care of everything. You just be super ad exec tomorrow."

"I love you sis."

"I love you too. Go to sleep." Jane said as she turned over.

"Dang, you've been my manager for all of two minutes and you're already telling me what to do." I slapped at her butt.

Jane hit me with her pillow as I reached over and turned off the lamp on the nightstand.

No matter what I did I couldn't find sleep. Jane noticed and turned on the bedside lamp. "What's wrong sis?"

"Ellie dumped me"

Jane sat up slightly. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Greg thinks I'm a bad influence on her, he says I bring everyone down to lift me up."

Jane sat straight up the rest of the way. "Wait til I get my hands on that little fucker."

I shook my head. "No, he has a point. I was the one who made her think moving to L.A. was a good idea with all the stories I'd tell her. I also was the one who got her a job stripping for the first time and coached her through it. Maybe I do bring everyone down. I mean look at you and Adam, I'm the reason you're not talking to him. I don't mean to do it but I'm a bad influence."

Jane became serious. "I'm not speaking to my brother because of what he did, not what you did. Ellie is trying to shift the blame for her own fuckups. Did you hold a gun to her head and make her move?"

I shook my head.

"Did you hold that same gun to her head and force her to take her clothes off?"

I shook my head again.

"If I remember right, she laughed as she told me how mad you were when she told you she was going to work there. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you ask her to move to New York with you?"

I nodded my head.

"Then I don't see the problem. Everything she's ever done in her life has been of her own doing. I have not once heard you try to blame others for the mistakes you made in your life."

She was wrong, I did blame someone, but I couldn't talk about that tall brunette bitch.

"She yelled at me and hung up. She says I'm projecting, but I think he's isolating her and will end up hurting her somehow. Razor started just like this."

Jane sighed. "I'm sorry sis, she'll come around. You know how we are when we're in love. We tend to forget about our friends over a man til we really need them."

"I'm not like that."

Jane moved until we were face to face. "Really? Who abandoned all her friends because of a man and moved to New York?"

Suddenly becoming defensive, I tried to back away from her. "I didn't move because I was in love in with a man."

Jane rolled her eyes. "Oh, so you didn't move to the opposite end of the country and break off any contact with anyone, close friends included, who would remind you of a certain man?"

I started to cry. "Shut up. You're supposed to be making me feel better. Not making me feel like a bigger piece of shit."

Jane sighed. "I'm not deliberately trying to make you feel bad. You're a great person and if I point out where you made mistakes before maybe you won't do it again."

I cut my tear stained eyes toward the only friend I had left. "You're afraid I'm going to take my boss's offer and move back, aren't you?"

I saw a tear twinkle in the light of the lamp as she nodded her head silently.

I didn't want Jane to be troubled so I knew I had to cheer her up. "I've already decided I'm not going anywhere so you don't have to worry. If I want to work again I can always find another job even if it means waiting tables at some sleazy rock bar or singing at a jazz club. They seemed to like me."

Jane laughed. "You promise?"

I made the motions as I said. "Cross my heart."

"And hope to die?"

"I'll even stick a needle in my eye if it will make feel better."

She started to giggle and I could tell her mind was sufficiently eased. "Good. Don't worry about Ellie, she'll come around. Now you need to get some sleep."

I laughed and shoved her away. "Jeesh, so bossy. I think I'm gonna have to fire you."

Chapter Sixteen

I walked into my office the next morning to the sight of Jill sitting in front of her computer crying. I rushed to her side. "What's wrong? Is there anything I can do?"

Jill smiled as she wiped away a stray tear. "Nothing's wrong at all. I'm great actually. I was just watching a video and it made me cry."

"What were you watching?"

"One of my favorite singers performed at a jazz club last night."

I dropped my head. "Damn, not again."

Jill laughed. "Yep but this time the quality's nowhere near as good. The sound quality is excellent but the visual is slightly blurry."

"How do you find all these things about me so quickly?"

Jill blushed. "I, um, kinda have you set up as a Google alert. It notifies me anytime anything's posted about you."

I laughed. "Just let me know if they post anything you know to be a lie."

Jill nodded. "Sure thing."

---

"All you need to do is place your Joan Hancock on all the places I've marked and you'll once again be a recording artist," Jane explained as she placed the contract in front of me.

I signed my name so many times my hand wanted to cramp up.

"Did I get them all?" I asked once I reached the final page.

"I think so. I've already checked on your schedule with Jill and you've got an appointment with a stylist this afternoon at three-thirty and then you need to be at the studio at six," Jane advised me with a grin.

I looked up at her with surprise "I didn’t think we'd be in the studio til Saturday."

"They're shooting the video Saturday and Sunday, they got some bigwig director who is only available this weekend and they need to get you in the studio before then. This thing's blown up bigger than a whale's butt and radio is clamoring for the single. Nobody expected the reception it's received. Almost every station in the county wants it. Kevin told me that God Almighty called him yesterday asking for it." Jane leaned back in her chair and her excitement was transparent. "This is gonna be one of the biggest crossover hits ever."

I leaned forward into my hands, "This is all happening so fast, I haven't had time to think. Am I doing the right thing? I mean, do I really want this?"

Jane stood and walked to my side as her tone became somber. "While I was at Axis this morning Kevin showed me a video from last night."

I nodded. "Yeah, Jill told me there was one out there."

"Are you okay sis?"

I slumped down in my chair. "No, you know full well I'm not."

Jane reached over and grabbed the contract I'd just signed and held the corners in each hand. "Are you sure you're up to this? I mean I can just tear this up right now if you're not? "

I yanked my contract from her hand. "Don't you dare! I need this. You know me well enough to know that if I didn't have this right now I'd be buried in a bottle somewhere. I cope by drinking and I think singing is a better alternative. I'll still wake up alone but at least this way I won't have a headache."

Jane sighed, "I knew you've been hurting but I thought you were handling it as well as could be expected til I heard the pain you released when you sang."

I placed my arms on my desk and buried my head in my hands. "I'm good if I can push it out of mind. It just hurts when I'm alone, or something reminds me of him, which seems to be most of the time. Right now music helps me forget. I'm doing the right thing aren't I?"

Jane sat on the corner of my desk next to me "I think you are. You have a gift and it'd be selfish of you not to share it with others. As for you not being able to think, I believe that's a good thing. You over think things, so…" Jane grabbed the back of my chair and spun me around the room. "Why don’t you relax and enjoy the ride."

Being pushed around the room had me laughing loudly. "I think this is going to be a wild ride."

Jill walked in with a handful of mail and started laughing at us when she saw the scene in front of her.

Jane leaned into my ear. "Yep, you go have fun and let me sweat the small stuff."

I was still giggling when I addressed Jill. "What can I do for you?"

"I was wondering if you needed me to accompany you tonight to the stylist?" Jill looked hopeful.

"No, that’s not necessary." I saw Jill’s expression fall. "Unless… you'd like to join me?"

Jill smiled and it became obvious how excited she was about everything. "Thank you Sara, thank you so much!"

Jane smirked in my direction and I looked over and mouthed, "video shoot?" Jane nodded.

"Jill, would you also like to go with me to my video shoot Saturday?"

Jill dropped the mail she was bringing me. "Can I really?"

Her excitement was contagious. I found myself starting to get keyed up about everything as well.

"Jill, you know the title ‘personal assistant’ is for work related things but if you wish, you can come along for anything else I do. I don’t mind at all and since you technically are my ‘PA’ it won't be an issue whatsoever to get you in."

Jill’s squeal was deafening as she ran around my desk to hug me. "Oh thank you Sara. You're the best."

Jill appeared to be walking on air when she made her way back to her desk.

"I think you just made her day" Jane commented as Jill closed my office door. "She'll come in very handy too."

I smiled thinking of Jill’s enthusiasm "She’s good. I don’t know what I'd do without her. If she proves to be as helpful as I think she will, and doesn’t just stand around watching, I'll have to start paying her to accompany me to all these things."

"Yeah," Jane nodded in agreement. "That might be a good idea."

"Oh, subject change" I uttered as something I'd been thinking about popped into my mind. "I have an idea about how to know if Adam has your phone or not."

Jane looked intrigued. "Do tell."

"How about," I began telling Jane my plan, "I text you before I call to ask ‘what time will you be ready?’"

Jane interrupted me, "and I can just call you. Sounds good and I'll text you the same then you can call me."

I paused because I had a much more cloak and dagger plan in mind but hers worked.

Jill walked back in. "Sara, Mr. Moretti is on line one for you?"

I quickly picked it up. "Gabe, you know I have a cell phone you can use."

He laughed. "I know but I like to keep your employees on their toes and I pay for this phone. Your personal assistant will tell others I call often and people will think I am keeping a close eye on things."

I laughed. "You pay for my cell phone too you know."

He began to laugh as well. "Yes, I guess I do."

"How is Anna?"

"She is well. We are planning a trip to the homeland soon so she is very excited."

"That's fantastic. I bet it will be great to see family."

"Yes but sadly there are fewer around to see these days."

"I'm sorry Gabe."

" Non ti preoccupare piccino."

"What do you mean don't worry? I always worry about those I love. What can I do for you?"

"I saw another video and I wanted to check on you. Finally you sang a song I know and your voice was so bellissima but so full of pain. Are you okay little one? It pains my heart see you like that."

"Yes, I'm fine. I'm sorry seeing me like that hurt you but a break up is painful. I have to endure some stormy days to appreciate the sunny ones but l'amore e il supporto aiuta." I explained how his love and support helps me though everything.

"You always call me wise one but you are just as wise lovely girl."

"Thank you Gabe. You honor me with your kind words. Have you made any decisions yet?"

"Is there any way I can convince you to come back and take over?"

"No, I'm sorry. My life is here now." I cut my eyes toward Jane. "I'd feel like I was running from my problems and abandoning my friends and family if I did. If you taught me anything it's to face my tribulations head on. Where would you be if you moved back to Italy as soon as you and Anna ran into trouble?"

"You have me there child and I respect that. I'll let you know soon what I decide. Ti voglio molto bene."

My voice softened to almost a whisper. "I love you too. Send my love to Anna."

Jane spoke as soon as I sat the receiver back in the cradle. "They really care about you. I saw that when they came to visit."

"Yeah, and I them. They became my surrogate parents when I moved out there. I wouldn't be where I am right now without those two lovely people."

Jane started to laugh. "It's so funny listening to you talk to them. It's like you have your own language."

I joined Jane in laughter. "Yeah, they slip in some Italian from time to time. They sometimes use it when they don't want others to know what they're saying, and other times Gabriel does it just to mess with people. He likes to keep his employees on their toes. It took forever to learn but it was so funny when I did."

"One day he and Anna were talking about me in Italian about how Anna thought he needed to promote me to a position that was open in the company. He told her I wasn't quite ready. I interrupted them in perfect Italian and told him I was ready for anything his company had to offer. I was promoted the next day."

Jane smiled. "Oh. Subject change. I can't get off Thursday."

I frowned, "Dang, that sucks. I was hoping you'd be there."

"I know. I want to go but Adam already has plans. He's meeting with some people and said it was important."

I scoffed. "He probably has a date with Nikki and doesn't want to disappoint her."

Jane sighed. "I doubt that's the reason but you never know with him lately."

Chapter Seventeen

As I was leaving the office Thursday I looked at Jill. "You want to just meet at my place at seven and share a cab? That should give us enough time to get ready."

Grabbing her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk, Jill looked up. "Yeah, that sounds great. Any idea what you're wearing?"

I held the door open as Jill walked through setting the alarm. "Not yet but I've done enough retail therapy the last few days that I think I'll find something."

Three days this week Jill and I had spent our lunch hour shopping. I had a wide variety of clothes suitable for after hours now.

Jill waited as I locked the door. "What about that deep plunge dress you bought?"

I shook my head. That dress was bought on a whim. The self-deprecating mood I'd been in since Friday would never allow me to open myself up for judgment by wearing something so sexy. "I'm not sure I want to show that much skin tonight. I'm thinking casual."

As we made our way to the parking lot Jill turned to me as she pulled her hair into a ponytail. "What about that turquoise scoop neck mini with a cute pair of jeans?"

I nodded as I unlocked my Mini. "Yeah, that sounds cute. I may try that, thanks. Any idea what you're going to wear?"

Jill grinned as she jumped in white 1988 VW Golf convertible and let the top down, I couldn't help but notice the back seat was full of boxes. "It's a surprise. See you at seven."

On the way home my phone rang, I hit the screen to transfer it my Mini's bluetooth. "Hey girl. We still on for tonight?"

Lily responded. "Of course, I've been looking forward to it all week. Is Jill still coming?"

"Yeah, she's meeting me at my place around seven and we're going to catch a cab to wherever we're going."

"No need for a cab. We've rented a limo for tonight."

I laughed. "WooHoo, the perks of partying with a star."

"Shut up. You're every bit the star I am."

"Whatever Miss Country Artist of the Year. Where are we going?"

Jill laughed in an evil manner. "It's a surprise. It's Matt's idea."

I sighed into the air. "Dang, everybody's full of surprises today. Jill won't tell me what she's wearing and now you won't tell me where we're going. I think I should be afraid."

"Yeah, you probably should be but just relax it'll be fun."

I pulled up to the red light at the corner of the Terrazzo. "If you say so. I'm about to turn in my parking garage so I need to let you go. Call me when you guys get close and Jill and I will meet you at the street."

"Will do. See ya, bye."

"Bye"

At ten minutes til seven Jill arrived. I let out a wolf whistle as soon as I opened the door. My shy, quiet and dependable personal assistant stood before me dressed in a bright red ruffled top halter mini dress. It was low cut down the front, so low that I could see that she had a navel ring. She had also gained five inches of height from her silver platform pumps.

There was no possible way this beauty was ever a man.

I gasped as I looked upon her teased honey blonde locks and her blue eyes popped with the mascara and eyeliner she applied. Her lips shone with the same color as her dress.

She definitely outdid me in my turquoise scoop neck mini, black jeans and black knee high boots. I didn't mind that my hair was only done in a cute messy ponytail because I loved the fact that Jill felt comfortable enough around me to let herself shine.

I hugged her. "Look at you! No wonder you didn't tell me. I'd have never believed it."

Jill smiled as she walked in and twirled. "You like it?"

I made my way over to the bar in the corner and pulled out two glasses. "I love it. You look fantastic. Would you like something to drink?"

Jill nodded, "A vodka and cranberry if you have it. It's not every day you get to party with a star." A horrified expression crossed her face. "I mean two stars."

I laughed as I mixed our drinks. "You had it right the first time. No wait, you might have heard of Matt or James."

Jill walked over to the bar. It was obvious she was too nervous to sit. "Who are they? Where are we going?"

Jill took the drink and downed it quickly as I shrugged my shoulders. "Lily's brother and his boyfriend. I have no idea where they're taking us. Lily said it's a surprise."

I was about to fix Jill another drink when my phone rang. "Hey, you guys close?… Good, we'll meet you at the front door." I hit end and looked over at Jill who had already grabbed her purse and was standing at the door waiting on me. "A little anxious are we?"

I grabbed my purse as Jill held the door open with a shy smile.

As we waited on the sidewalk I laughed as the limo pulled up with Matt and James hanging out of the sunroof.

"Hey hot stuff, how much for a good time?" Matt yelled.

A few people walking up the sidewalk turned to stare when I yelled back. "For twenty dollars I'll make you holler, big boy."

Lily opened the door and stepped out looking fabulous in a white mini cap sleeve dress. The black belt she wore accentuated her tiny waist and her black five-inch heels were the perfect finishing touch. "Hey guys, wow Jill you look fantastic."

Matt and James stepped out looking scrumptious. I couldn't help but to laugh since Matt had on a tight plain turquoise tee and black jeans that were just as tight as his shirt. James had on a black long sleeve silk shirt and black dress trousers. I ran over and gave them both a huge hug.

"Great to see you both." I motioned for Jill. "I'd like you to meet my friend and personal assistant Jill Abernathy. Jill this is Matt Jones and James Pasch."

The both greeted Jill with hug as if they'd known her all their life. Matt smiled warmly. "Great to finally meet you, we've heard so much."

Jill appeared to be relaxing after they made her feel so welcome.

Lily gave the impression she was embarrassed for some reason as she punched Matt in the shoulder. "Are we ready to go?"

As Lily and Jill entered the limo first I looked at Matt. "I'm glad you're wearing jeans too. I was starting to feel out of place."

James laughed as he started to climb in. "I knew you two were close but this dressing alike is making me worry."

Matt slapped my ass making me yelp. "She's my sister from another mister. We can't help if we both have excellent taste."

Once in the limo I looked over and Lily settled in next to Jill on one side and Matt and James had settled in the other. I took the seat in the curve so I could see everyone easily. "Now will someone tell me where we're going?"

Lily laughed. "Can I tell her?"

Matt nodded and Lily leaned in. "We're going to Out."

Jill nodded knowingly and smiled while I looked at Lily with confusion. "I know we're going out. Where are we going?"

Jill laughed, "No Sara, the name of the club is Out."

"Oh okay. What kind of a club is it?"

Lily's grin told me there was something everyone else knew that I didn't. "It's a lot of different clubs in one. It has a dance club, a country club, a piano bar and a show bar."

I set back and laughed as realization set in. "Oh, why didn't you just say so? Why all the secrets?" I punched Matt in the arm. "You're gonna make them think I've never been to one before."

Matt laughed, "because I know how it drives you nuts to be surprised." He turned to James, "Sara used to help me sneak out on tour and we'd hit up the different clubs in whatever town we were in."

I shoved his shoulder. "Sometimes it sucks to have a friend who knows me so well. I used to love going with you. I mean all those hot guys to dance with and I didn't have to worry about their intentions. They were always the nicest guys I ever met. You know I have to watch the show."

Matt smiled. "Of course, and from what I hear there's a part of the show you can't miss."

Out was located in the warehouse district and in a previous life had been a community playhouse. A beautiful fountain greeted us just outside the front door and a spacious lobby lined with pictures of many gay icons greeted us once inside. We received the VIP treatment upon arrival. Oddly enough though, it was I who was getting the majority of the attention.

I looked at the pictures as we made our way to the bar. I stopped when I saw a picture of me circa 1998. Matt stopped with me. "What's wrong?"

I pointed to the picture. "There's a picture of me. Why would there be a picture of me among all these icons?"

Matt laughed. "You really don't know do you?"

"Know what?"

Matt turned to Jill and Lily. "Can you two find us a table? We'll be right behind you."

When the girls walked away Matt grabbed my hand and led me to a couch. "You remember the song you wrote about my struggles with telling everyone?"

I nodded. "You mean You Be You? Of course I remember it."

"Once you walked away you never looked back did you?"

I shook my head sadly. "No, it was too painful."

"After your second album was released the response was enormous. It started being played in clubs around the country. It was even remixed into a dance song and re-released. You'll probably hear it tonight. I don't think I've ever been in a club that didn't play it at least once during a night."

I was flabbergasted. "How could I have not known about this?"

"I tried to tell you but anytime I tried to mention anything music related you told me you didn't want to hear it. You shut down after what Razor did. You had a newborn to take care for and a new life to build. For all intents and purposes you killed Belle."

I nodded sadly. "I guess you're right. Still though, a simple song shouldn't earn me a spot on the wall."

As we were talking a tall well-built man appearing to be the same age as Matt and I walked over to my picture and took it off the wall. He walked over timidly with sharpie in hand. "Excuse me Belle. I'm Chris, would you do us the honor of signing your picture?"

I smiled graciously as I accepted the portrait and removed it from the frame. "Nice to meet you Chris. Do you want me to make it out to the club?"

The man smiled. "However you wish." His voice then started to break, "I have to tell you that 'You Be You' helped me through some rough times."

Something about him struck me as familiar. "Thank you. Didn't we go to school together? Chris Holt isn't it? Are you the owner?"

Chris nodded and smiled. "Yes on all counts. I didn't think you'd remember me. I sorta stayed to myself. You were always the badass girl that ran with the wild crowd but never failed to say hi to the little sissy kid. Looks like both of us misfits turned out pretty well."

I laughed as I signed the portrait.

To one of my oldest friends Chris,

Never give up and just be you. We misfits stick together!

Much love,

Sara Collins AKA Belle

After I signed the picture, I placed it back in the frame and handed it to Matt as I stood to hug the man in front of me.

I reached in my purse and retrieved a business card. "Yes we did. Here's my number and if you are hosting a benefit or anything and need my help or if you just need a friend to talk to please don't hesitate to call."

Chris's smile grew wider. "Thanks, I'll do that."

I motioned to Matt and James. "Chris I'd like you to meet my friend Matt, his friendship was the inspiration for 'You Be You,' and his partner James."

Chris shook both men's hands before turning to Matt. "It's an honor to meet you."

Chris turned back to me. "I've taken enough of your time. I have a club to run and you have some partying to do. It's my treat so order anything you wish. It's good to see you again."

I hugged him. "Great to see you too, but I can't let you do that."

Chris released me. "Nonsense. It's the least I can do as a thank you for giving me hope when I had none."

James, who was standing on the other side of Matt walked around and hugged me tightly. "And that right there is why your picture is on the wall."

Chapter Eighteen

After Chris walked away Matt put his arm around my waist. "See, Belle wasn't all bad was she?"

I tilted my head to rest on his shoulder. "I guess not. Let's go find the girls and have some fun."

When we walked into the show bar I noticed Lily and Jill huddled together with their chairs pulled much closer than needed. Lily was tucking a stray piece of hair behind Jill's ear while Jill looked longingly in Lily's eyes.

I looked over at Matt with a shocked expression.

Matt shrugged his shoulders. "It runs in the family."

I laughed. "How could I have been so oblivious about Jill?"

James reached over and patted my arm. "It's okay honey, most fag hags are clueless."

I considered myself lucky to have not gotten a drink yet because if I had I would have spit out when I started laughing.

Jill and Lily saw us approach and quickly separated.

I took my seat. "I'm not Moses. You two didn't have to split like the Red Sea just because I walked up."

Matt and James laughed at the girl's obvious embarrassment.

A waitress stopped by to take our drink order. Even after we joked around with the young lady taking our drink requests the girls still appeared ill at ease.

I spoke up. "I'm here to have fun with my friends and if either of you think being together will make me uncomfortable then you don't know me very well. Just be yourselves."

Jill continued to look embarrassed. "You don't care?"

"No, why should I? Did I care about the other?"

Jill's head dropped. "No but most people I know do."

I laughed. "What, in the time you've worked for me, has made you think I'm like most people?"

Jill tried to laugh but I knew she was still worried. "Touché."

I got up and walked around to give Jill a hug. She started to cry as we embraced and I softly sang in her ear. "You be you and I'll be me and eventually the world will see there's nothing wrong with being free. We should be free to love who we choose, free from worrying about what we'll lose." I paused to smile at Jill and add a secret verse. "No one lives in a house of glass so if they give you grief they can kiss your ass."

Jill laughed through her tears. "I didn't know you knew that song. It's one of my favorites."

Lily leaned in laughing. "She wrote it." then she looked over at me. "I take it that last part was a verse the label nixed?"

I laughed. "Yeah, I had a hard enough time just getting it on the album. They didn't even let Gracie or Liz record anything on it, that's why it sounds so different from anything else I did with Bellero. The only way it made the album was to be a secret track and they said it was all on me."

James laughed. "Guess you showed them."

I nodded. "Apparently."

Our waitress returned with our drinks and everyone started to loosen up and have fun. I laughed so hard when one of the drag performers came out as Lily and performed her latest hit. It was hilarious to watch how Lily's mannerisms were exaggerated for effect and how the performer played up Lily's look. It was as if we were watching a like caricature of my friend. Lily loved it and I had to get a picture when she tipped the performer a twenty.

I looked over to Lily when she took her seat next to Jill. "You know you've made it when a drag queen does your songs."

Lily laughed. "Then you must be at the pinnacle."

Everyone was still laughing and I was about to ask her what she meant when the next performer was announced and when the music started all eyes at the table turned to me. Their laughter increased and I couldn't understand why they suddenly began to stare, much less laugh, since I didn't even recognize the song. It was a fun, mid-tempo song that had been heavily mixed with synthesizers.

When the artist on the record began to sing and the performer stepped on stage I quickly realized why my friends looked as they did. Tears of laughter filled my eyes as I placed my hand over my mouth. "Oh my God, oh my God, Oh my God." Was all I could manage to say.

I looked on in awe that a man could look so much like me. I knew this person had to be a huge fan because it was obvious he had my stage mannerisms down. I stared while still giggling as he really played up the fact that on stage I have a habit of really using arm and hand gestures to convey emotions.

I quickly reached in my purse to grab a twenty and made my way to the stage. The performer knelt down to accept my money and I leaned in to tell him how great he looked. The performer looked in my eyes and fell backwards when he realized who I was. I gasped and offered my hand to help my wonderful doppelganger to his feet. I pulled him close and whispered in his ear. "Please come see me after the show. I have to have a picture with you."

The performer nodded his head and smiled widely before he continued the performance.

I returned to my place next to Matt as he teased me. "See, you can even sweep a drag queen off her feet."

I smirked and slapped his shoulder while never taking my eyes off the stage.

James leaned over to me. "Pretty amazing huh?"

I nodded. "Yeah, humbling too. I mean he had to have really studied me. I think he makes a better Belle than I do."

Matt scoffed, "Nah, I've seen better."

I spun around. "What do you mean better? You mean you've seen other people impersonate me?"

Matt laughed and pulled me into a sideways hug. "Girlfriend, you really need to get out of your bubble more often. I think the only person drag queens love more than you is Cher."

Jill leaned across the table. "Tomorrow I'll find some videos to show you. They're all over the place."

After the show ended Lily and Jill wanted to go to the dance bar while Matt and James wanted to go to the piano bar. I chose to go with Matt and James to allow the girls some time to themselves.

The piano bar only had a sprinkling of people scattered about. After getting fresh drinks we found a booth in the corner.

"Are you guys having fun?" I asked.

Matt spoke up. "I'm crushing on my guy and hanging with my girl, of course I'm having fun. How are you holding up?"

His question stunned me. I thought it was obvious I was having a blast. "Fine. Why?"

Matt frowned. "You know why. What happened?"

I scowled at him and waved my hand in a dismissive gesture. "I don't want to talk about it. I came out tonight to keep my mind off things."

"Fine, I won't ask tonight but you'll have to tell me sooner or later." He then eyed the empty piano in the corner. "Can I ask a huge favor? If you say no I understand."

"You know I'll do anything for you."

Matt looked almost afraid to ask.

"Just spill it, what do you want?"

"Can you sing my song for me please?"

I smiled sweetly at one of my oldest friends. "Of course."

Matt's face lit up as he practically shoved James to the floor trying to get out of the booth to lead me to the piano.

Chris was standing at the door and noticed us walking to the piano and rushed to let the bartender know it was ok. He joined Matt and James as they stood around watching me.

The few people in the bar perked up when I started playing the intro to the song. I focused solely on Matt as I started to sing.

My dear friend why are you upset?

Your beautiful eyes are soaking wet.

Come and sit by my side.

I moved over on the bench and motioned with my head for Matt to sit beside me.

Are you still sad from having to hide?

Just be yourself and forget what others say.

They are wrong and they'll know one day.

You are wonderful in every way.

You make the world a better place.

Please dry your eyes and put a smile on that pretty face.

Please sweet boy, don't be blue.

Ignore the others and stay true to you.

I lifted my eyebrows at Matt and nodded toward James before I finished the verse.

You being happy is my only care.

Find that person who's life you want to share.

By this point word must have spread throughout the building because it was starting to fill with people watching me. I turned my attention to Chris.

You be you and I'll be me.

Eventually the world will see.

There's nothing wrong with being free.

We should be free to love who we choose,

Free from worrying about what we'll lose.

Anyone who turns away is not a friend.

Those who love you will be there til the end.

I looked up to see Jill with Lily's arm around her waist. Jill appeared to have a tear in her eye and was mouthing the words as I sang. I made sure her gaze met mine and she knew I was singing the next part to her.

Don't waste emotions on those who hate.

Start living your life before it's too late.

They aren't worth it, don't waste your time.

Once you do everything will be fine.

Some will turn away, it's sad but true.

But it's also something I'd never do.

Dry your eyes and stand up proud.

Be yourself and join the crowd,

Be one who lives their life everyday.

Not worrying what others say.

This is the beginning of life's new book.

It's going to be exciting and I can't wait to look.

I turned my attention to back to Matt and started to choke up with happiness at seeing my friend so blissful. I lightly nudged my body into his. Matt smiled and nodded to silently let me know he understood.

And see you dear friend with a twinkle in your eye.

Instead of watching all the tears you cry.

You be you and I'll be me.

Eventually the world will see.

There's nothing wrong with being free.

We should be free to love who we choose,

Free from worrying about what we'll lose.

Anyone who turns away is not a friend.

Those who love you will be there til the end.

I smiled at the room as I ended with the verse I wasn't allowed to release.

No one we know lives in a house of glass.

So if they give you grief they can kiss your ass.

The small crowd erupted as I finished. Matt and Jill engulfed me simultaneously.

Matt whispered. "I love you girlfriend."

I smiled and kissed his cheek. "I know boyfriend. I love you too."

Jill looked at me with eyes so full of fear. "Did you mean it when you said you'd never turn away?"

Matt recognized we needed a moment so he stepped back.

I pulled Jill in tighter. "Of course I did sweetheart. I know you're scared. I would be too but please know I only care about what's in here." I placed my hand over her heart. "Not who you give it to."

Jill burst into to tears. "I wish my family felt the same."

I looked to Matt who had heard everything. "Can you tell all these kind people I need a moment and I'll be back?"

Matt looked on with an understanding only someone who'd been there could understand. "Sure thing."

I looked over at Lily who was beside herself with worry. "Just give us a moment okay?"

Lily nodded and I guided Jill out a side door that led to a secluded patio. "What's going on Jill? You can talk to me."

Jill wiped her eyes and sniffled back another sob. "I'm so alone."

I pulled her in closer. "Oh honey, why do you say that?"

Jill's tears continued to fall. "I transitioned my sophomore year of college. I knew it would be rough but I had my girlfriend's support so I thought we'd get through it. My family's very religious and as strange as it sounds, they were okay with it when they thought I was interested in men but as soon as they met my girlfriend they disowned me immediately. I couldn't get them to understand the difference between identity and preference."

I sighed sadly. "Let me guess, you and your girlfriend split up the night I was stabbed."

Jill nodded her head. "Yes, how did you know?"

"You acted different and I'm a master at hiding emotions so I knew you were only pretending to be happy. I tried to ask you about it but, well, you know. You were scared to talk."

Jill nodded again as she wiped her eyes. "Yeah, I was. I mean I'm lucky enough that I can hide who I was from most people but it's much more difficult to hide who I am attracted to and I've already dealt with enough rejection to last a lifetime."

I continued to hold her in my arms. "I couldn't even begin to imagine what you had been through. What happened after you two split?"

Jill wiped her eyes and tried to act nonchalant. "I've been jumping around from friend to friend til I find a new place. I hate to admit this but I have stayed in the office a few nights sleeping on your couch."

I hugged her tighter. "Why haven't you asked me for help? I thought you said you consider me a friend?"

She nodded her head vigorously. "I do, I promise I do but I could never ask for that. It's my problem. Besides you've been through so much and the last thing I wanted to do was burden you with my problems."

I ran my fingers through her hair. "Please don't do that again. I'll never go through so much that I can't be there for a friend. Where are you staying now?"

"A college friend is letting me sleep on her couch but I almost have enough saved for all the deposits I need to get a place of my own."

I tilted her head up so we were eye to eye. "You're staying at my place til we can find you an apartment."

Jill's body stiffened. "I can't do that."

I adopted a stubborn expression. "You can and you will. Not only are you a friend but you are also my right hand so I need to make sure you are safe and well rested. I have three bedrooms and can only sleep in one. I'm guessing all those boxes in your back seat are your clothes."

Jill nodded.

I smiled victoriously. "Good so all we have to do is stop by your car when we get back."

Jill embraced me again and suddenly she appeared years younger. "Thank you. I'll be out of your hair in no time."

I pulled her in closer. "There's no hurry."

Jill and I were laughing as we walked back to the piano bar arm in arm. Lily ran up to us and grabbed Jill's hand.

I looked at Lily, "you take care of her, or you'll have to answer to me."

Lily smiled earnestly as she led Jill back out to the patio. "Yes ma'am."

Many fans and admirers asking for autographs or pictures swarmed around me. A lot of them just wanted to share personal anecdotes about their lives. Some were heartbreaking but just as many were uplifting. I considered myself better for hearing them.

Matt finally pulled me away. "I'm sorry. I had no idea it would be like this."

I smiled. "No need to be. It's helped my get some perspective. Here I am crying about poor me, 'Ohhhh I caught my gorgeous rock star boyfriend with his ex who looks exactly like I used to.' when in reality I'm blessed."

James muttered, "ew, I hate that skank but now that you mention it, you two do look alike."

Matt looked angry. "That Son of a Bitch did what?"

I ignored Matt's outburst and turned to James as I sarcastically said, "thanks James, that's a big help."

James frowned. "Sorry but if it makes you feel better I really do hate her. She's had more good men than the Marines and her personality makes her uglier than Matt after drinking tequila."

I laughed. "That's helps a little."

Matt stuck out his bottom lip, looking so cute with a little pout. "I thought you said I always looked good."

James reached over to pat Matt's cheek. "I know honey but I lied. Why do you think I won't let you have it anymore?"

I laughed again. "In James' defense I've seen you on tequila and he has a point."

I looked at my phone to see it was almost midnight. "I need to be heading home soon. I have to work tomorrow and then shoot a video immediately after."

Once back in the limo I looked over at Lily and Jill. "Jill, if you want you can take off tomorrow. I don't think we have anything pressing."

Jill looked concerned. "As much as I'd love to, I can't. You have that video shoot that was rescheduled for tomorrow."

"Yeah but that's not til two."

Jill glanced at Lily and blushed. "Can I come in after lunch?"

I laughed. "Yes, that will be fine."

Chapter Nineteen

I walked on the set of the music video, which was being shot in bar that once doubled as a speak easy during prohibition. It was located at the end of a hidden alley between two antebellum houses. It was actually part of one of the houses but had a separate entrance from the alley. The décor was classic and beautiful. The place was only two blocks from my condo yet I had no idea it existed.

While the bar was being readied, we met with Robert and the director in the house.

Curt Newsome was one of the hottest directors at the moment. He happened to have two free days in his hectic schedule and we were lucky to get him. He was cute, in a boyish way. He only stood five foot five, very thin and had a head full of unkempt red hair to go with his green eyes and freckles.

Curt was very enthusiastic. "My idea, with all the publicity around your past and how you walked away, is to have you interacting with a young version of yourself. Showing her how she's heading down a dark path and Robert shows up to help lead you both out."

Robert frowned and I'm sure my confusion was obvious since I had no clue what he was talking about. "Excuse me Curt, I have reservations about this. I'm not sure I like this idea but let's say, for arguments sake, I agree. How do you plan on having me interact with a young version of myself? Am I going to have to wear a blonde wig or something trying to pretend I'm young again? If that's what you have in mind, I'm not sure I'm on board."

Curt must have anticipated my concerns. "No Sara, we've hired a look alike to play Belle. I think she's perfect. Would you like to meet her?"

I was apprehensive to say the least. "I guess I need to."

Curt turned to his assistant. "Go get Nikki."

Oh no no no. He couldn't have possibly hired her to play a young me. It has to be someone else. I was already reaching for my cell phone as she walked in."

With a smug grin the tall blonde walked in. With the help of a makeup artist and what had to be an excellent stylist, she looked like a carbon copy of myself, only fifteen years or more younger. The bitch that had, less than a week ago, turned my world upside down stared me in the eyes. "Hello Sara. It's a pleasure to see you again. Looks like you aren't the only one who thinks we look alike."

I scoffed. "Yeah, but a cheap knock-off never compares to the original."

Robert chuckled and Nikki was momentarily stunned at my remark. I think she expected me to be surprised to see her. She didn't hesitate long before she bit back. "Maybe some people just prefer a newer model."

I laughed. "Some people don't understand that newer doesn't mean better. Newer models are nice to look at but the quality is usually shoddy."

Nikki's face began turning red. "Yeah but a person always prefers the newer version when the road gets a little rough."

That remark got to me but I wasn't about to let her know. "That's just because they want an easy ride and sometimes a person doesn't even care how many people have been behind the wheel before them. They may take it for a quick spin around the block then realize a cheap knock-off doesn't quite measure up to the real thing."

I knew my words had the desired effect when Nikki lunged at me with her fist and screamed. "I'm going to get him back!"

My redneck past came back in full force as I deflected her blow. I grabbed a handful of her hair and used her own momentum to smash her head into the wall behind me. "You can have him. Just know that from now on everything you do will be compared to me and nobody treated that man better than I did."

Nikki angrily stood and faced me. I knew she was thinking about charging again so I slapped her with everything I had.

As she leaned against the wall rubbing her face I pointed my finger at her. "Listen to me sister. You better treat him better than you did last time or else." I stepped closer and buried my finger in her chest pushing her back into the wall. "Just so you know, that was a small sampling of the ass whooping I'll give you if you break his heart again. He deserves better than you but if you're what he wants then you don't have to worry about me interfering."

I turned to Curt. "This ain't happening. If you feel the need to have a younger version then I met a person last night that'd be perfect. Get this bitch off the set or there won't be a video." I stormed out of the room before anyone had a chance to say anything.

It felt oddly symbolic to have fought with a representation of my past but it also felt very fulfilling to have gotten the best of her. I called Jane as I marched outside.

"I thought you were supposed to text me before you called?"

"Fuck that right now. I have a question. Are you my manager for everything or just for the contract?"

Alarmed by my tone Jane quickly replied. "For everything. Why? What's up?"

"They hired Nikki to play a young version of me and expect me to work with that bitch. I just had to kick her ass during a meeting with the director. Get me out of my contract."

Jane's anger now matched my own. "What the hell are they thinking? I'm calling Kevin right now. Where are you? I'm on the way."

"I'm walking back to the Terrazzo right now. I should be home in about five minutes."

"I won't be far behind."

Irritation continued to simmer within me and it had almost reached a boiling point. I was starting to think agreeing to the duet was a recipe for disaster when Kevin pulled up beside me and rolled down his window. "Sara, are you okay?"

I turned quickly, "No. This was a bad idea. I don't know what I was thinking agreeing to get back into this crazy mess." I once again started walking home.

Kevin turned off his car and jumped out. "No it wasn't. It was just a bad idea for the video. I was on the phone with Jane when I saw you, she told me what happened and I don't blame you. But by the same token you can't blame us because we didn't have a clue. All I can do is say I'm sorry. We'll make it right. I was apprehensive when Curt told me his idea to begin with so we can go in another direction if you wish."

I noticed a bright green Camaro pull up as I mulled over what he said. I needed advice and thankfully Jane showed up just in time to help.

Jane and I discussed what Kevin said to me while he called the set to make sure Nikki was gone.

"What do you want to do?" Jane asked.

I sighed, "I don't know. I'm beginning to think this is a mistake."

Jane grabbed my hand. "It's not."

"Why not?"

"Because you're not a selfish person."

I released her hand and threw my arms in the air. "How does that have anything to with it?"

Jane laughed lightly. "Look sis, how many singers spend their entire lives trying to achieve a fraction of what was handed to you by chance? I mean really, how many singers just happen to have a major record executive stumble upon them goofing around and get begged to sign?"

I shrugged my shoulders.

Jane continued. "How many of your peers from back then would sell their soul for a second chance like you're getting?"

A thought crossed my mind and I could help but wonder if Polina was trying to influence my life as a means of retribution for what she did. I was not fond of the idea that my life was beyond my control.

My demeanor sudden straightened. "That's my point Jane. Am I selling my soul to do this? You should see what this Curt guy wants to do. He's totally exploiting my past and what I've been through. I don't think it's worth it. I thought this whole thing would be fun and take my mind off everything but everywhere I turn is a reminder and I'm not enjoying it at all."

Jane nodded her head. "I see what you're getting at and technically you've fulfilled your contract. They have the footage from the recording session. We can walk away now if that's what you want to do without breaching."

Kevin heard what I said and interrupted. "Sara, you're right and I'm sorry. I got excited and went overboard. I was wrong. If you agree to continue to support the single, given your experience, I'll give you complete control over how everything is marketed and the image you wish to portray." He then laughed, "I mean that is your firm's job anyways."

I managed a modest smile, "yes it is." Still unconvinced, I looked at Jane. "What do you think?"

Jane's expression told me she favored the idea but being the friend she is, said, "it's your call, but I don't think you could ask for more."

I nodded. "Okay, let's go talk to Curt and see what other ideas he has before I decide. Thank you Kevin, sorry I lost my cool. I'm not usually a diva to work with."

Kevin sighed in relief. "Don't be sorry. You had every right to be upset. I just hope we can come to an agreement."

Jane looked at Kevin with concern as she asked a question that hadn't even entered my mind. "Nikki isn't singing on the single is she?"

Kevin shook his head. "No. We stayed with a simple sound so it's just Sara's voice and her on the piano with Robert's voice and guitar."

Jane appeared relieved. "Good. I hate that bitch."

Kevin shrugged, "I don't know her that well. We just hired her for the video and to provide some background vocals on other tracks but after hearing your opinions I don't think I'm going to use her. I may spread the word simply because of how she treated one of the nicest people I know."

Jane laughed and looked at me playfully. "Oh, so she's mistreated someone besides Sara?"

---

"Can I get you something to drink Sara?" Jill asked while I was waiting for one of my last scenes to be shot. Jill had really proven her worth these past few days. She'd accompanied me everywhere. Other than having to witness my outburst and then worrying when she didn't know where I disappeared to, she was truly enjoying the experience and her enthusiasm kept me vibrant when I should've been exhausted.

"Yes please, Jill. Thanks."

"What would you like?" she inquired.

"Something cold with lots of caffeine."

Jill smirked, "one Diet Mountain Dew coming right up."

I smiled thinking about the check I had for her in my purse. I could hardly wait to see the look on her face when I handed it to her. She'd earned every penny of it.

It was day two of our shoot and I was sitting in a chair behind the cameras wearing a slightly loose fitting black crinkled sheer chiffon cami with a sequin pattern all over the front and back. They had me wearing black designer jeans that, as Jane would say, were tight enough to see Lincoln smiling on the penny in my pocket and black knee high stiletto boots when Curt, the director approached.

"OK Sara, for the next scene…"

After my little flare-up Kevin, Jane, and I sat down with Curt and Robert to explain my outburst. Curt was rather standoffish at first but as I enlightened him to my past and the reasons I didn't like his idea his demeanor changed completely. Both he and Robert, having witnessed the exchange between Nikki and I, understood immediately why I didn't want her anywhere around me. I jumped back on board when Curt told me about his new idea. It would be a straight up interpretation of the song. There were scenes with me trying to get Robert's attention, Robert reminiscing about our first meetings as well as scenes we shot the day before that showed us as a happy couple.

Curt pointed to the corner as he continued, "Robert will be at the bar on his phone, and I want you in the corner looking longingly at him while you sing."

"No problem Curt," I responded as I looked over to where he was pointing.

As I was led into position I started thinking of Adam and how I gazed at him when he was in the lighting booth the night I dedicated the song to him. It suddenly occurred to me how often I used him as motivation when I needed to express different emotions. I wondered how long it would take for me to get over him.

I actually felt a tear trickle down my cheek while singing from the corner. Curt loved it. "That was fantastic Sara, you're a natural." He then turned his attention to Robert as I returned to my seat.

Jill handed me a drink. "Here you go."

"Thanks so much."

Jill tried to stifle a yawn, "I never knew how boring this would be."

I tried not to laugh. "Yeah, it’s not all glitz and glamour that’s for sure."

Jill gave my arm a gentle squeeze. "It’s not what I expected but I'm loving the experience. Thank you."

"My pleasure, I'm glad you're here," I replied honestly.

"Ms. Collins, we need you back on set," one of Curt’s assistants said as he approached my chair.

"I’m on my way."

Chapter Twenty

Jill and I stepped out of the limo Kevin provided once it pulled up in front of the Terrazzo. I accepted the garment bag from the driver. I was so tired that I didn't bother to change from the outfit I wore during the last scene. I tried making my way into the lobby when a few people approached asking for an autograph.

They allowed me to keep all the clothes from the video shoot. I’m not sure if that's common practice but the stylist for the video had excellent taste. She offered them to me explaining that everything had been specially made for me because of my height and they wouldn't be able to use them again. I eagerly accepted before she changed her mind.

I gasped as the elevator doors opened. "Adam, what happened to you?"

Adam looked like hell. His clothes looked and smelled as if he'd been wearing them for three days. His long, beautiful mane was matted to his head. The crisp white that normally surrounded his sensual dark eyes was now bloodshot. It also looked like he had not shaved in a week.

"Hi Shara, sho good to she you." He slurred as he stumbled into me and attempted to give me a hug. "You look great. Sho shexy."

The smell of alcohol and body odor filled my nostrils as he leaned into me. "How much have you had to drink? Did you drive like this?" I asked in horror. I'd never seen him this far gone.

"Jush a little." Adam replied as he pulled his index finger and thumb together to illustrate. He attempted to straighten his body but fell back against the back wall and slumped to the floor grasping my arm in a failed attempt to gain his balance.

"Let me get you home." I asserted angrily pulling my arm away. "This is crazy, what were you thinking?"

Adam looked at me with an adorable drunken grin, "I wuv you Shara."

I braced myself and tugged on his arm trying to get him to his feet. I laughed lightly, "I wuv you too Adam, you are so drunk. Come on, stand up."

Adam started to cry. "I'm shorry for what I did. I shaw your video from the jazz club. I shwore to never let anyone hurt you and I ended up hurting you worsh that anybody."

I patted him on the back. "Yes you did. You're drunk. Let's get you home."

Jill looked on with concern. "You need any help?"

I shook my head. "No, I'll be home in a minute."

I grabbed Adam’s keys from his hand and unlocked his door.

As I helped him in I noticed fresh roses and a framed photo of him and the woman who seemed to be making every part of my life hell on the corner of his coffee table. The guilt I harbored believing his present condition was my fault evaporated. "Glad to see you've not wasted any time."

Adam gave me a puzzled expression. "Whash you mean?"

I pointed to the photo. "Your little shrine to Nikki."

Adam studied it closer, picking up the photo and slamming it to the floor. "Thash nots mine. Fuck her."

I rolled my eyes. "Done that a lot lately have you?"

He glared at me and walked straight to his liquor cabinet and reached for a square bottle of whiskey.

"Oh no no no, you've had enough for today." I grabbed the bottle from Adam’s hand.

I found my phone and called Jane. "You need to get to your brother’s place NOW."

"Why? That bastard didn’t even show up today. Fuck him."

Adam tried to grab the bottle from my hand as he yelled at me. "Give me that."

I put the bottle behind my back. "No, you've had enough to drink. Go to bed Adam."

Adam gave me a sexy smile. "You coming with me?"

"Hell no!" I placed the phone back to my ear. "I need help here Jane."

Adam reached around me and grabbed the bottle. I dropped the phone to the floor and clasped the bottle with both hands.

"You've had enough! You're not getting this bottle." I screamed.

Adam glared at me as he pulled on the bottle, "Oh yesh I am."

I could hear Jane screaming for me through the phone but I wasn't about to let go of the whiskey.

I tugged on the bottle with all my might. "Oh no you’re not!

"Fine!" Adam screamed as he released the bottle.

The force of my tugging combined with his sudden release caused the full bottle of Jack to slam into my face. I stumbled backwards and grabbed my nose. The pain was intense and I felt blood all over my hands.

"OW! You son of a bitch! I think you broke my nose." I screamed at the top of my lungs.

Panic caused Adam to sober up immediately. "I didn’t mean to Baby, I'm so sorry, let me a get a towel."

I reached down to grab my phone and gathered up everything else while blood continued to gush from my nose.

Adam rushed toward me with a towel. I jumped backwards and yanked the towel from his hand as I shrieked, "Don’t you come near me and stop calling me baby."

A look of horror and extreme sadness washed over Adam’s face as he dropped to his knees when I turned to leave.

I ran out of his place to the stairs. I had no desire to wait for the elevator. I had to get away from him.

Jill shrieked as I ran in the door and straight to bathroom. "Oh my God! What happened?"

I retrieved some cotton balls and rolled them up to place in my nostrils before I stripped off my clothes. I ran out to fill the kitchen sink with water. I added some detergent before I placed my top and jeans in to soak.

I muttered mainly to myself. "That bastard better not have ruined this outfit."

Jill was frantic. "Sara, what did he do to you?"

I heard my phone ring and saw it was Jane.

Oh shit, I forgot about her.

I held up my index finger at Jill indicated she needed to give me a moment.

"Oh my God, are you ok? What happened?" Jane screamed as soon as I answered.

I tried to reassure Jane but I'm sure my anger didn't help. "I will be I think. Just a bloody nose."

Jane gasped. "He hit you?"

I sighed, "no. Yes… no, he’s drunk and we were fighting over a bottle and it hit me in the face and busted my nose. He didn’t mean to do it."

I could hear the worry in Jane’s voice. "He’s gone off the deep end."

My voice started to tremble. "You think? He looks terrible sis. You really need to check on him."

"I just ran everyone out. I'm closing early. I’ll be there in a few. I’m coming to check on you first."

I tried to sound confident. "Don’t worry about me. Jill's here and I'm fine, go check on him. I'm worried."

"Okay, I'll call you once I get him sorted out. Love you."

"Love you too."

After hanging up with Jane I called Ellie but much to my disappointment it went straight to voicemail.

Jill took a seat at the breakfast bar as I tried to rub out the blood from my clothes. "He looked terrible."

I sighed and finally broke down. "I know but what can I do?"

Jill walked around the bar to give me hug. "I understand. Let me finish washing these. Go lay down, you've had a long day."

I smirked, "I don't think laundry duties are in a Personal Assistant's job description."

Jill laughed. "Maybe not but it's in a friend's job description. Look at yourself, you are standing in the middle of the kitchen looking like you have two tampons in your nose wearing nothing but your bra and panties. You need to just go take a shower and relax."

I hugged Jill again. "Thanks. Oh and don't you dare tell Lily about this."

Jill appeared puzzled. "Not a word but why?"

I sighed, "Cause she'll tell Matt and he'll fight Adam and one of them will get hurt."

Jill nodded. "Yeah, I can see that happening. I won't say anything."

Three agonizing hours later Jane finally called.

"How is he?" I asked warily.

Jane sighed. "He’s hurting sis, but I finally convinced him to get some sleep."

I felt my anger rise. "Why's he hurting? I’m the one who got smacked in the face with a whiskey bottle."

"He loves you and thinking he caused you pain again almost pushed him over the edge."

Any residual anger I harbored toward him slipped away as I spoke. "I don’t understand him. The only pain he caused was when I saw him with her. Nothing else has been his fault." I remembered seeing that picture of her on his coffee table. "Well… Seeing that pic of Nikki at his place didn't feel real good."

Jane sounded tired. "He doesn’t see it that way. He swears he didn't put that picture there. He doesn't know where it came from. I tried to ask him about the way he's been acting and he tried to explain himself but it still didn’t make a lick of sense."

"What'd he say?"

Jane sighed, "It doesn’t matter. His reasoning's so lame it'd only make you mad."

I whimpered, "I miss him Jane."

"I know you do."

"I love him so much."

"I know that too but do you love him enough to get past this?"

"I don’t know, possibly, maybe. Actually, I kind of doubt it. I really don’t know!" I began to cry, "he deserves better."

It sounded like Jane slammed her phone down on a table and let loose with a flurry of colorful phrases before she picked it back up. "Not this shit again."

"Well! It’s true!"

"Not hardly, how many times do I have to tell you this. You're the best thing to happen to him since sliced bread."

A giggle escaped my lips and Jane spoke again. "He loves you more than you know."

"I wish I could be so sure. If he does then he has a funny way of showing it."

---

I released a scream that would wake the dead when I looked in the mirror. The reflection that greeted me as I brushed my teeth horrified me. Both of my eyes were black. I was supposed to have a photo shoot with Robert for the single the next day. What was I going to do?

I walked back into my bedroom to get my phone and call Jane.

Jane answered groggily, "hello?"

"Get down here NOW!" I knew she spent the night at her brother’s place to keep an eye on him.

She was suddenly wide-awake. "What’s wrong?"

"Get down here and I'll show you. Come alone, do you hear me?" My anger and panic was unmistakable.

"I'm on the way."

Jill rushed in the bedroom. "Sara what's…Holy shit!"

I turned to her. "I know right?"

"You have that photo shoot tomorrow."

I leaned back to the wall and slumped to the floor. "I know. This is messed up."

Jane let herself in using her key and ran into the bedroom to join us.

"Sweet Baby Jesus," she exclaimed upon seeing my face.

"Yeah, you think he can fix this before tomorrow? What am I going to do?"

"I don't know. Your makeup probably wouldn't take care of it."

A memory popped into my head and I started to stand. This wouldn’t be the first time I had a bruise before a photo shoot. Razor had left more than a few during our time together.

Jane noticed my expression change. "What is it?

I shrugged, "an idea. I need to get some good cover."

A look of confusion crossed Jane's face. "Cover?"

I shrugged. "I mean concealor. Jill, before you go to the office tomorrow I'm going to need you to get me some good concealor. The cheap stuff from department stores won't work. I need the best you can find."

Jill nodded nervously. "No problem."

Jane appeared lost in thought, "Oh yeah, good idea."

I started to stand. "Good thing it's Sunday so nobody has to see me."

Jill pointed at my purse. "If you do have to go out just keep those huge sunglasses of yours on and you should be fine."

Jane lifted her phone up and snapped a picture of me.

"What the hell? Why'd you just take a picture?"

Jane was resolute. "To show my idiot brother what he did."

"It wasn’t his fault." I implored.

"Yes it was, if he hadn't tried to take that bottle from you it wouldn’t have happened." Jane argued.

I countered. "If I hadn't taken it from him in the first place it wouldn’t have happened either."

Jane began screaming at me. "You're hopeless! If you don't use your head, you might as well have two asses. Stop making excuses for him!"

Chapter Twenty-one

After Jill left to go see Lily I realized I had no plans for the rest of the day. I looked out the floor to ceiling windows and noticed what a beautiful day it was so I decided it was a perfect time for a run and day of vegging out afterwards.

As usual I used the time running to sort things out in my mind.

What am I doing?

Why can't I seem to get over Adam?

Kevin's a really nice guy…

I need a nice guy…

I miss Hunter…

I wish he'd come see me like he did Daddy…

It's nice having Jill around…

Home doesn't feel as empty at the moment…

I wonder how Adam is holding up…

He looked terrible…

I wonder if it's my fault or hers…

It's probably mine…

I wonder what Jane is up to…

I miss Ellie…

She deserves to be happy…

Adam always had a way to make me happy when I was down…

I hope Gabe sells me the company…

Maybe I should move back to New York…

Maybe he's right and I would be better off there…

Jill and all my other employees could keep their jobs if I move…

It would hurt too many people I love for me to move…

I love Gabe and Anna too though…

Nashville is home…

Kevin's lined up so many appearances for Robert and I…

I'm glad Robert and I get along so well…

I'm not going to have time to think soon…

That's probably a good thing…

I need a drink…

No I don't…

I drink too much…

I wonder what Adam is doing…

I should call Matt while I have time tonight…

I was so busy thinking that I never noticed the portion of the sidewalk I was running on had buckled from a tree root growing underneath it. My foot caught the edge and I ended up sprawled across the ground.

The pain in my ankle was intense. As I attempted to get back to my feet, I realized it was even worse than I first thought. I couldn't put any weight on it whatsoever.

I managed to make my way to the tree that caused the problem and rested against the trunk. I reached for my phone but it was no longer in my waistband. I looked back toward the sidewalk and noticed it in pieces where I fell.

"Just great!" I thought to myself as tears started to fall.

A familiar rumble filled my ears and I looked up to see Big Red, my father's old Cutlass rolling down the street. I felt relieved Daddy was here to save the day and started to wave him over until I noticed a blonde behind the wheel.

My heart sunk when I realized they woman who had become my worst nightmare was driving the car of my childhood. Daddy never let anyone behind the wheel, not even me. The sense of betrayal from my father's actions was worse than anything Adam did.

I looked up to heavens and screamed. "Anything else you want to hit me with?"

I had no more finished screaming than I noticed an artic blue Evoque traveling three cars behind the Cutlass.

I looked up again to the sky. "That was metaphorical Lord."

Adam saw me and pulled over quickly before he jumped out and ran to my side. "Are you okay?"

Through tear stained eyes I replied, "no, I think I twisted my ankle."

Adam bent down and took me in his massive arms and started to lift me when I tensed up. He sounded hurt as he spoke, "I'm only trying to help."

I shook my head. "I'm not your concern."

His grip on me tightened. "You're always my main concern. Please let me help you."

I again tried to break away. "I'm fine. You didn't have to stop."

Adam leaned his head against mine. His voice sounded weak. "Yes I did. I'll always stop everything for you. Please don't be so stubborn and let me help you."

I sighed as I wrapped my arms around his neck and forced myself to relax. I laid my head on his shoulders and his smell was intoxicating. I started crying even harder. "I miss you so much."

Adam tenderly kissed my forehead. "I miss you too baby. Let's get you to the hospital."

I shook my head. "I don't think it's that bad. I just need to put it up."

Adam nodded and easily carried me to his SUV. I reached out and opened the door before he gently placed me in the seat before softly buckling me in.

"There is the man I fell in love with." I thought as he walked around to the driver's side.

After we started back to the Terrazzo Adam glanced at me. "Do have anything to wrap your ankle with?"

I shook my head. "No, this has never happened before."

"I have something at my place. Let me take care of you before I take you home."

I was not sure if it was the pain or the effect of seeing the caring side of Adam again but I couldn't say no. I placed my hand over his. "Thank you."

Once we parked I tried to get out but Adam was having no part of it. He rushed around and affectionately lifted me from my seat. He refused to set me down until we were inside his apartment.

After he placed me across his couch with my ankle elevated he left toward his bathroom.

I looked around and saw no sign of the flowers or picture from the night prior. It put my mind at ease to know they were gone.

Adam returned with some aspirin and a glass of water. While I took the medicine he tenderly removed my sock and shoe before securely wrapping my ankle. He reached up to remove my sunglasses.

I stopped him. "Baby, you don't want me to take these off."

Adam frowned and softly stroked my hand. "Yes I do. I have to see for myself."

I removed my hand and allowed him to remove the barrier. His eyes immediately began to water and he buried his head in my stomach. "I'm so sorry Baby. I never meant to do that."

I lifted his head out of my lap so he could see my eyes. "I know that. You'd never hurt me on purpose."

He had such pain in his eyes and I needed to do something to ease it. I pulled him closer and passionately kissed the lips I had been missing so badly. In that one kiss all the pain from recent events dissipated.

Adam returned my passion tenfold. I paused only long enough to moan, "I love you so much."

Reacting on instinct I reached down and started pulling his tee shirt over his head. "I love you too."

Adam released a deep rumbling moan and lifted me in his massively ripped arms, never breaking our kiss. He hurriedly carried me up the stairs to his bedroom.

I winced as he tossed me on his bed roughly, but the only pain I truly felt at that moment was from my desire to reestablish a deeply personal connection to this amazing specimen of a man who held the key to my heart.

I quickly shed my clothes while he did the same. I licked my lips in anticipation as soon as my eyes witnessed he was every bit as ready as myself. He started to crawl up the end of the bed toward me, pausing when he reached the junction of my legs.

I buried my hands in his thick black mane. "No Baby, I have to feel you. I'm ready now."

In an instant his massive frame covered mine and a tear of joy fell from the corner of my eye as he entered me completely without hesitation. His body sheltered mine from all past aches as he began to work my body in ways only he could.

We have made love too many times to count but this time was different. There was a raw emotion filling the air, and any gentleness from our past encounters was gone. I don't know how else to describe it other than to say we fucked the pain away. Ten days of pain and anguish were being released between our writhing bodies. It was perfect.

His low growl became deeper as I wrapped my legs around him and dug my nails into his back. I moaned loudly as he ruggedly grasped a handful of my hair and roughly jerked my head to the side so he could gain access to my neck and ear, which he bit without abandon.

I wrapped my arms around his waist and spun him to his back and took my place on top of him enjoying the exquisite ride I had been missing. Even though it had only been ten weeks, it felt like an eternity since we last made love. In that one moment all was right with my world.

I knew I shouldn't be so rough with my ankle being the shape it was in but I felt nothing other than the connection Adam and I were sharing.

I looked down at the gorgeous love of my life and saw nothing but pain and guilt in his deep brown eyes. He reached up and gently rubbed my eye with his thumb and started to speak.

I didn't want to ruin our moment. I covered his eyes with one hand and placed a finger over his lips with the other. "Shh, don't spoil this. There is time to talk later. Let's enjoy each other for awhile."

Adam silently nodded as I leaned down to place a kiss on the lips I had been missing so greatly. He closed his eyes, pulled me closer and flipped me back over to resume his exquisite assault.

Shortly afterward his groans deepened and his thrusts quickened. I reached down and cupped his cheeks in both hands and held on as if my life depended on it as together we fell over the edge into ecstasy.

We were lying in bed trying to catch our breaths with him still covering me like the finest security blanket a girl could ask for when his pile of clothes next to the bed started to ring. Adam didn't even flinch.

"Are you going to get that?" I asked through a ragged breath.

Adam didn't say anything, he only shook his head.

He tried to move to my side but I enjoyed where he was so I held him in place. "Stay right here."

Once again his phone started ringing and once again he didn't flinch. Instead he gently moved some stray hairs while staring into my eyes. "I love you so much."

I smiled up at him and caressed his face. "I love you too baby."

Adam again began to frown. "I need to…"

Again I placed my finger over his lips. "There will be plenty of time for talking later. Let's just enjoy this moment."

Adam nodded and rested his head on my shoulder. A minute later the phone next to his bed started to ring.

"Sounds like someone really needs to talk to you."

Adam still didn't move. "The machine will get it."

I listened intently as the machine went through it normal greeting waiting to see who needed to speak to him so badly.

"Hi Sweetheart." I pushed Adam off me when I heard her voice. The voice that so often taunted me in my sleep sent cold chills down my spine. I fell to the floor and gathered my clothes as I listened to the rest of her message. "I wanted to thank you for breakfast this morning and let you know I took that test you bought me." Nikki's voice started to break. "I'm going to be a mother. Thank you for promising to support me through this."

There was an innate sadness in her voice that made me feel terrible for this woman I hated so. I've been in her shoes and hearing her talk brought back a conflicting flood of emotions from when I was a scared twenty-four year old finding out I was about to become a mother.

I tried to stand in order to put my clothes back on but the pain of my ankle came back with a vengeance only surpassed by the pain in my chest. Adam attempted to calm me but I was inconsolable. "Get away from me. Why couldn't you just leave me on the side of the road?"

Adam reached out to grab my arm. "Baby, it's not mine."

I studied Adam while getting dressed. Although every visual cue he gave me told me he was telling the truth I didn't believe him. I hopped on one leg toward the door. "Yeah right, you agreed to support a child that's not yours."

Adam ran to me and grabbed me in his arms. "She's scared and alone. I couldn't just abandon her."

I squirmed trying to escape his grasp. "Because you still love her. Let me go."

Adam refused to lighten his grip. "Yeah but that's only natural we were together a long time. I can't let a child suffer for the mother's mistakes."

As I struggled to get away he pulled me closer. All I could do is scream. "So you admit you still love her. Dammit just let me go!"

Adam's hold stayed strong as he stared in my eyes. "Yes a part of me still loves her, just like a part of you still loves Razor."

I freed myself enough to be able to slap him, "You Son of a Bitch! I have no love for that man."

Adam didn't even flinch, "Yes you do. We've both been damaged by out pasts but once you feel love for a person it never fully goes away. You're too kind-hearted to not feel at least a small amount of pity for him and I can't help but feel pity for Nikki and her unborn child."

There is a fine line between damaged and broken.

There was a time when my head knew it was over but my heart held out hope. For a few years after I moved to New York, I wanted to Razor to knock on my door and tell me he was sorry. It wouldn't have been easy and I would have made him work for it.

If he worked hard enough though, I would have forgiven him and dumped whomever I had been dating to give him another chance. The few people I dated between Razor and Adam had merely been distractions that I never really invested in.

Even when I moved past those feelings I still held a small amount of love because he was the father of my child but that died with my son. If he walked up today and told me his only shot at heaven was to regain my love, I'd pour him a glass of ice water and offer my condolences on an eternity in hell.

I was broken, Adam was merely damaged which meant Nikki could repair what they had if she worked hard enough and from what I've seen since she moved back to town, she was a workaholic when it came to him.

I lost all hope of working things out as my body went limp. "You can't love both of us."

Adam's voice became urgent. "Our love is special and once in a lifetime but I just can't leave her and a baby to fend for themselves."

I looked up at him, "Adam, let's just call it what it was. I was a nice distraction and an attractive back-up while you waited, but she's back. Stop trying to make us both happy and let me go."

Adam's anger was evident and his hands dug into my arms as he started shaking me with his eyes growing darker by the second. "Why can't you see how much I love you? Yes Dammit, I love her but I love you more."

He started to scare me and in my desperation to escape his grip, my knee made contact with the area that gave me such pleasure earlier and I went sprawling across the floor as he released me. I crawled to the front door feeling despicable with myself for not having more pity for the woman whom I shared blood with. "Adam you have a big heart but there's not enough room for both of us. It's either me or her."

Adam was still bent over trying to recover. His voice was overflowing with anger I knew was for me alone. Deep black pits once again rested where warm brown eyes should have. "I have to help if I can. How dare you give me an ultimatum, I refuse to choose between you, and doing what's right."

I managed to get to my feet and turned the knob before looked back at him, "What's right for us or what's right for you? They are two very different things and now that I know you've made your choice I wish you the best."

I made it to my good foot and hopped to the exit before I looked back with my heart breaking all over again. "I never thought it was possible that I could let someone hurt me like Razor did but you have hurt me more than he ever managed."

Chapter Twenty-two

Once home I grabbed my home phone and called my father. I might as well get all my anger out all at once.

My mother answered. "Hey Lib, you want to come over later?"

I didn't even attempt to hide my feelings. "Can I speak to your husband please?"

She quickly jumped into protective mode. "What's wrong?"

I didn't care if I got Daddy in trouble. "Do you know where Big Red is?"

Mom suddenly became defensive. "He let someone borrow it why do you ask?"

"Do you know who he let borrow it?"

"Yes. She needed a way to get around since she's having a hard time finding work." Her tone sounded accusatory.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I think you know Lib. Look, I'm not thrilled about all this, but we raised you better than your actions are showing."

"My actions?"

"Yes. That poor girl is nothing to me, but she is your sister and you steal her husband then sink her career before it can start?"

My heart broke at her confirmation of Nikki's relationship to me as well as again thinking the worst of her only child. "You believe that? You think all this is my fault?"

"I don't know what to believe, she sounded pretty convincing."

I was wrong before about ultimate betrayal. Having my own mother doubt me broke me completely.

I started crying and Mom spoke again. "Well, are you going to explain yourself?"

My voice became nothing more than a whisper. "I shouldn't have to. I thought you knew me better than that." I hung up without saying anything else and pulled the cord from the back of the phone so I wouldn't hear it ring.

I walked to the bathroom and dug into my stash of painkillers left over from my stabbing. I grabbed the container before making my way to the bar and retrieving a bottle of vodka.

How did my life become such a mess? My son was gone. My parents thought I was a horrible person. My best friend considered me a bad influence. My boss wanted to close the office. I was going to cause a lot of people who depended on me to lose their jobs unless I abandoned my friends and family here. The man I loved planned to help raise a child that was not his.

I hopped over to the couch. Everything was collapsing around me and I only wanted to escape from the intense sorrow overwhelming me. I took one pill to help me sleep chasing it down with the alcohol. My hope was to be able to sleep without any nightmares.

Everything felt right again as I collapsed into a deep relaxing sleep.

"Hi Mom"

I opened my eyes to see my precious boy.

I started to sit up. "How did you know I wanted to see you? Thank you for coming."

Hunter smiled. "You can thank the Goddess."

I gave him a confused expression. "What do you mean?"

Hunter shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know, she asked me to watch you and open the portal when you fell into a deep sleep. I think she needs your help."

"Help for what?"

My sweet child shrugged again. "I don't know. I was just happy for the chance to talk to you again."

I hugged him tightly. "I am too."

A bright light formed in the middle of the field we were in before Zaria stepped out of it. "Hello again Sara."

I nodded nervously. "Hello Goddess."

The majestic woman moved to my side. "Poor child, it seems that no matter how we try to help you something interferes with your happiness."

My expression became stern as I stared at the goddess. "What does that mean? How long have you been manipulating events in my life? Are you the reason for my career resurgence?"

Zaria sighed. "Manipulate is a strong word. We wanted to make sure your gift was put to the best possible use. Everything you accomplished was of your own accord but yes we did open doors for you but it was your decision to walk through them."

She sat down next to me on the ground. "I understand you know of Callista and Danica so you appreciate there are gifts that others hold."

I nodded. "Yes. Cali, Dani and Adam have explained your world to me."

"When my daughter Polina used her gift on you, she accidently bestowed the gift of music on you. Your voice makes people stop to listen and your words can reach others on a level that will genuinely help those in need. I know you have heard others tell you they feel it is selfish of you not to share your voice, that is the reason they say such things."

I frowned as I considered what she said. It was depressing to know that my love of music was forced upon me and my popularity that I did not even want was because of an accident.

As if she read my mind, Zaria started talking again. "If you will remember you loved music before you met my daughter. Gifts, when manifested in someone born human, latch onto the person's finest qualities and enhance them. Gifts from my realm are only manifested in females and that is why you have a gift and Reginald does not. Understand that in the rare cases where powers are given, a gift will only emerge in those strong enough to handle it. Take Cali for instance, as a man Ty was strong, agile, and fearless. He was also compassionate with a fiery temper. Normally only one gift might manifest but Cali has almost every gift imaginable. We knew she would be powerful because she received a gift from me and the gift of life from Danica but because of reasons that we are not yet entirely sure of, every trait she possible has manifested."

"Your voice is the same as if you had been born female but the reality is that Sean was never a gifted singer no matter how well he wrote or played music. You have always had the ability to affect people with your writings, the popularity of your words when sung by others is proof of that. Your gift only provided a voice to match the power of your songs."

I nodded in understanding though nothing she said made any sense. I was wondering why she sent for me.

Once again the goddess answered my unanswered question. "I want to talk to you about Adam. I made a mistake when I gave him his new life. I never should have placed Nikki in it and I fear she is causing trouble on a grand scale."

"No shit." I muttered under my breath.

Zaria nodded knowingly. "I apologize for that. Adam does love you more than anything. As a favor to Callista I did not apply any of the coping mechanisms most people who have been changed are given."

She raised her perfect brows at me and grinned slightly before she cut off the question I was about to ask. "Yes, you had coping mechanisms in place… although I do not approve of the ones my daughter provided."

Zaria took my hand in hers. "Adam is having harder time adjusting than anyone expected. You are his saving grace when it comes to his sanity. He has darkness in him. I believed that we had rid him of the curse but I fear that in his diminished emotional state it could come back."

His black eyes suddenly made more sense to me.

I looked at the goddess intently. "I have seen it. It shows in his eyes, they change color."

Zaria sighed and it was obvious she was as worried as me. "I have to ask, do you love him?"

I nodded my head as I filled with worry over Adam. "With every fiber of my being. What do I need to do? I will do anything."

Zaria smiled. "Let him know you forgive him. Show him how much you love him and convince him that you two belong together forever."

Before I could reply the goddess adopted a concerned expression prior to a bright light appearing and her stepping into it.

Out of nowhere a raven haired woman reached out to me with a kindness that was reminiscent of Jane. I couldn't help but to stare at the otherworldly beauty this being possessed. She had the blackest hair I'd ever seen flowing down her back, her sepia skin tone and dark brown eyes reminded me so much of the man I loved.

Somehow I instinctively knew it was Adam's sister Sarah. "My brother is a good man. I know you can help him." She turned to leave but paused and looked at me again. "Please look after my siblings. They both need you."

She walked back to embrace Hunter and I. "You look after my family down there," she smiled at the angel in my arms, "and I'll watch over yours up here."

I nodded to her as Hunter squeezed me tighter. "It's time for you to go, I love you. Tell Granny she may not see me but I'm there."

I smiled. "Could you visit her in a dream one night when you aren't too busy?"

Hunter released his embrace. "I'll try Mom." His look became concerned. "I'll try to visit your dreams when I'm allowed but I can't promise. Something is wrong, you have to go. I love you."

I hugged my precious boy one last time. "I love you too. I'll think of you often."

"I know Mom but remember no tears."

I shook my head. "No tears."

I suddenly felt someone shaking me violently. When I opened my eyes I saw Jane's body on top of me and was shocked to find her in near hysterics as she tried to wake me.

Jane's eyes were wide and full of panic as she launched into me wrapping her arms around my neck. "Oh thank God, I was worried when you wouldn't wake up. Something has happened to Adam."

I suddenly sat up straight as my heart filled with dread. "What do you mean? I just saw him a couple of hours ago."

"The police found the Evoque down by the lake. It looks like it was torn apart by hand before it was struck by lightning, but there haven't been any storms. He's not home and the bike is still downstairs. I tried calling him but he's not answering his phone. What kind of mood was he in when you saw him?"

I told her about the message I heard but left out the reasons behind being at his place to be able to hear it in the first place.

Nobody has ever accused Jane of being anything but brilliant so it didn't take her long to connect the dots. "What have you been up to? You're hopping around on a hurt ankle and you have hickeys."

I quickly pulled my hair over my neck. "Oh do I?"

"What are you not telling me? It might be important."

I sighed and told Jane all the events of my day.

Jane suddenly became Adam's sister first and foremost which was only the right thing to do given what I told her. "Oh wow." she turned to face me. "Poor guy. He's probably in knots right now."

I nodded. "I have to find him and talk to him."

Jane started crying. "I'm worried about him."

I held onto her with a shared fear. "Have you tried calling Nikki?"

She shook her head. "I have no idea how to get a hold of her."

"I might." I said as I reached for my phone and turned it on so I could call my parents.

There was a knock on the door before I had the chance to place my call.

"Do you know where Adam is?" I asked as soon as I realized it was a crying Nikki waiting in the hallway.

She shook her head. "I don't know where he is but I know who he is with. I know I have no right to ask for your help but I didn't know who else to turn to. He told me you knew the truth about him so I figured you would be the only person to believe me. Adam has changed somehow and is with a God named Augustus."

I grabbed the hysterical woman by the hand and pulled her into the apartment with a certain knowledge that I was going to need help.

I did the only thing I could think of and sat down at my piano. Jane and Nikki looked at me as if I had completely lost my mind as I started playing one of my son's favorite songs.

As soon as the smell of Curves for Men filled the room I looked to the open spot I always left for him next to me on the bench. "Hunter I need you to get Zaria. I need her immediately, it's an emergency."

My darling boy let me know he heard me by banging a few of the keys on the piano.

I sighed with relief as I looked at Nikki. "Help is on the way. Wait until she gets here before you tell us everything you know."

Jane stared at me in disbelief. "Were you talking to your son?"

I nodded and was about to explain when a bright light filled the room. When the light dimmed Zaria was standing in the middle of the room holding Hunter's hand.

Chapter Twenty-three

Hunter rushed to give me another hug while Zaria first placed a hand on Jane causing her to fall asleep before she walked over to Nikki and took her hand.

"What are you doing here?" I asked my son.

He smiled sheepishly. "I hitched a ride when she wasn't expecting it. I wanted to make sure everything is okay."

I frowned at my mischievous son. "You shouldn't have done that, it might not be safe for you here."

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Nikki talking to Zaria before the goddess placed her hand on Nikki's cheek before she slumped down like Jane.

If anyone other than Zaria had done that to them I would have been worried.

Hunter ran from my arms into my back office and soon had the Les Paul Silverburst guitar I had bought him for his birthday in his hands.

I smiled that he finally got to hold the present I had not had the chance to give him.

"Do you like it?" I asked

He nodded with a wide, perfect smile. "Yeah Mom, I do. I've been wanting to play it ever since my birthday. I have been beside you every time you play it wanting to get my hands on it."

Zaria interrupted us with a very concerned look on her face. "Something has happened that may be connected to Adam. I must go but will be back soon. In the meantime Hunter may stay with you. Your friends will sleep until I choose to wake them up. I do not foresee you having any problems but to be safe, do not answer your door if anyone knocks."

With that she was gone.

Hunter's smile grew even wider. "This is so cool. Mom can I ask you a favor?"

I nodded. "Of course baby."

"Can you fix me some pancakes? Nobody makes them quite like you do."

I smiled and leaned over to hug him before I stood up. "Of course Baby."

For the next half hour my life felt normal. I could easily convince myself that the past year never happened and I didn't have a care in the world as my son and I talked while I made his favorite breakfast.

I laughed as he told me funny stories from his time in the Elysian Fields.

With only a small amount of denial I could tell myself that he had only been away at a summer camp.

After Hunter finished his last bite he rubbed his belly. "Thanks Mom, I really missed those."

I laughed as I reached into the fridge and retrieved his favorite dessert that I had made a few days prior as a surprise for Matt.

Hunter’s eyes widened. "Oreo Truffles! If I had known you had these I wouldn't have made you make pancakes."

I smiled as he rushed to take them from my hands before digging into them.

A bright light filled the room and I knew my brief reprieve was over. Even though I didn't want to say good-bye I knew it was needed as soon as I saw Cali looking panicked as she stood next to Zaria.

I hobbled to my son and hugged him tightly. "I think it is time for you to go. I love you so much."

Hunter returned my embrace as his tears started to fall. "I had forgotten how much I loved just spending time with you. I love you too Mom."

There was a small sense of relief in knowing that my son would always be as he was. He never had to grow up or have his heart broken or worry about anything. He could just focus on being the same happy boy forever.

I would always miss him more than anything but I also knew he would always be safe and happy.

I found peace in knowing death was not the end and something better waited for all of us who led a decent life.

Hunter looked up. "Do I have to go? Can't I just stay since I'm already here?"

No matter how much I wanted to keep him by my side, I knew it was not meant to be and did not want to appear ungrateful so I shook my head. "No Baby, we were lucky to have this time together. Very few get to have what we just shared. We will be together again in time. I need to know you are safe while the Goddess and I face whatever it is that took Adam."

Hunter huffed and stomped his foot. "I'm already freaking dead. It's not like I could get hurt or killed."

I looked at him sternly. "Hunter Robert Collins you better watch your mouth."

Zaria spoke up. "Your mother is correct Hunter. There are worse fates than death if you are not careful. You need to return to the Elysian Fields right now. It is for your own good. You may take your musical instrument and the treats your mother made."

Hunter started to pout as I hugged him tightly. "I love seeing you and treasure every moment we share but if the goddess is worried then I believe you need to do as she says. I promise to play you a song as soon as all this is over."

He nodded and kissed my cheek. "Okay Mom. I'll go but you need to be careful."

I smiled to reassure him. "Didn't you tell me it would be a long time before I joined you?" I nodded my head as I kissed him on the nose. "Yes you did so you already know I am going to be fine. I love you."

"I love you too." He said before Zaria placed her hand on his shoulder and he disappeared.

I looked up at the gorgeous goddess. "Thank you for bringing him and thank you for allowing him to believe he got away with something. Even if it was for such a short time, I am eternally grateful."

She frowned. "I hate to say this but I believed it best to show you the best of humanity before we embark to find your love."

My posture straightened. "What do you mean?"

Cali, who had been holding Nikki's hand much like Zaria did earlier, walked over and hugged me tightly. "It's Adam, he's lost it. He has taken Dani and is threatening to harm her unless we give him back the life that was taken from him."

I stared at her not understanding how Adam could be strong enough to abduct Dani. From my limited knowledge I thought both Dani and Cali were quite powerful.

Zaria pulled Cali into a comforting embrace as she spoke to me. "When Ryan became Adam he was a hybrid between a human and a Thetan. Thetan's are strong male race who believe themselves far superior to females. Thetan's possess dark gifts which we believed we had suppressed in Adam. From my understanding, after you were stabbed a Thetan named Augustus Galatore could sense Adam's distress and made contact with him."

"Apparently Adam rebuffed him in the beginning so Augustus manipulated your half sibling into trying to win him back at all costs. He used the love Adam falsely held for Nicole that I had placed within him to disrupt the bond you two share. After the two of you briefly reunited then fought this morning he was finally able to convince Adam that a mortal life was too painful."

Cali started sobbing. "Adam caught us by surprise. He hit us both with bolts of lightning before I could react. With me incapacitated he grabbed Dani and threatened to kill her unless we gave him his old life back with no knowledge of our world."

I looked to Zaria. "Well just give him his old life back. I don't care what body Adam is in."

The goddess sighed sadly. "I can do a great many things but that is not one of them. The Fates closed the book on Ryan Crews when he was buried. I can allow brief moments with a single person such as what you experienced with your son but to reset the universe like nothing happened isin impossible."

My tears started to flow as I filled with worry over what Adam had become and the part I played in it. "What can I do to help?"

Cali took my hand in hers. "I can't get through to him anymore and I think you are the lone person who can. I know Ryan better than anyone but you know Adam. You are the only one who can reach his soul."

I glanced at Adam's sister, who appeared to be peacefully sleeping on my couch. "Shouldn't we also get Jane? She knows Adam better than anyone."

Zaria shook her head. "He does have genuine feelings for her but those feelings started off as false. I fear she would not get through to him plus she can't remember that prior to his changes she was alone and a hollow shell of the woman you have become so close to. She has already had more pain than a normal woman should bear."

I wanted to hug my strong friend who patiently listened to me whine about my problems while she had endured much worse. Saving Adam became even more vital in that moment.

My face took on a look of fierce determination. "What are we waiting for?"

Zaria placed her hand on my shoulder. "Before we go you need to know that at the moment he is not himself. The person you see might frighten you and it will be dangerous. You could be killed or something worse. If you do not feel you can do this we will find another way."

My anger started to rise at her audacity. "Let's go. We are wasting time."

Zaria's look was doubtful. "You might find you do not love the person you see when we get there."

My inner redneck came out in full force as I glared at her for doubting my desire to save Adam. "Bitch you better save your fancy warnings. How dare you question my love? That is my man we are talking about. Do you think I would run when he needs me the most? I love him more than anyone on this planet and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt he would drop everything for me if my life were in danger. I would walk through the gates of hell buck naked in a firestorm to save him so shut the hell up and take me to him right this second."

Zaria nodded as she placed her hand on me and a warm tingle flooded my body. "We need you in top physical condition before we go."

Cali smiled knowingly as the room filled with light. "I knew we were kindred spirits. Let's go."

---

"Damn I hate this place." Cali muttered as we appeared in the middle of what looked like the ancient ruins of a temple.

Zaria nodded as she looked at her daughter-in-law. "It is where the first temple to Theos was located and as you well know, it is also where he died. Since he was the founder of the sect, it has since become somewhat of a revered site for all Thetans."

Out of the corner of my eye a sudden movement caught my attention. I spun around quickly to see what I would consider a caricature of man walking over the remains of a wall. He was extremely tall with long dirty blonde hair. His chin, jaw line and Adam's apple appeared to be overly exaggerated.

"Auggie, oh no." Zaria uttered in shock as soon as she saw the man I was staring at.

The man nodded toward Zaria. "It has been awhile Bug. You will address me correctly as Augustus." His eyes appeared to focus on Cali. "I see the murderess has returned to the scene of her greatest crime. I can see why you have taken her in."

The sight of an angry Cali was not to be taken lightly. I jumped back as I noticed her hair appeared as if it was on fire.

She glared at the man as she slipped her stilettos from her dainty feet. "Where is my wife?"

The massive man made a Tsk noise as he shook his head before he placed a helmet on. "Watch your temper vile creature. I have been warned of what you are capable of so I have taken precautions."

He snapped his fingers and there was a sudden lightning strike beside him before Adam appeared with a pair of identical but differently dressed women who were bound and gagged. Adam held a sword in his hand tightly as he glared at the women who were with me.

Zaria pushed me behind her for protection as she yelled with a fury only a mother concerned for her children could muster. "I granted you clemency and this is how you thank me? Release my daughters and walk away if you wish to continue another day of your miserable life."

I stared at the man I loved and gasped. Gone were his kind brown eyes and in their place were empty black pits of despair. His movements were stiff, as if they were not his own and the only emotion he seemed to be showing was hatred.

Augustus started to laugh an evil laugh that would put fear in the most courageous of beings. "Bold words Bug. I will not only continue my life, I will be hailed as a hero among my kind for being the one who finally brought down the leaders of your realm."

"Don't count on it." Cali shouted as she slowly and deliberately moved toward Augustus while Zaria moved toward him from another direction.

Adam placed his sword against the throat of the twin that was wearing a lavender colored tank top that was the same shade of her fear filled eyes.

"Back off Tyler or I will kill the woman you love." Adam snarled.

Cali stopped dead in her tracks and raised her hands in front of her body.

"Ryan no. Don't do it, you can't come back after you take an innocent life. You will be a Common forever." She screamed in desperation.

"Why would I want to go back? My new life is nothing but pain where I can do nothing right." Adam said as his sword broke through the skin on who I assumed to be Dani's neck and brought on a trickle of blood.

In my desire to save Dani but mainly to save Adam I rushed toward him. "Don't do this Baby. I can't live without you."

Adam looked up in shock at the sound of my voice. "What are you doing here Sara?"

I launched myself at the man I love and wrapped my arms around him tightly. "I've come for you. I want you to come back with me."

At the exact moment I distracted Adam, A tall red haired woman with grey eyes appeared behind Augustus and removed his helmet before Cali moved quicker than humanly possible and buried the heel of her stiletto into the enormous man's temple.

Adam turned when the man screamed and his body stiffened as he watched Augustus fall into Zaria's arms as blood seeped from his head.

Adam dropped his sword before grabbing me by the shoulders and throwing me to the ground forcefully. He placed his boot on my chest as he retrieved his weapon and held it to my throat. "You used me. You used my feelings for you to divert me from what was required. You are no better than they are, I should kill you right now."

"Put the sword away Ryan. Please don't make me hurt you." Cali said as she cautiously moved toward Adam.

Adam turned toward her. "If you cannot give me Ryan's life back then do not call me by the name. All of your kind are evil, you took my old life and now you have taken the woman I love from me."

I looked up at him. "They did not take me Adam. I am right here. I am lying here trying to save you. This is not you, the man I love would never hurt a friend much less me. Come back to me Adam I know you are in there."

"We were not the ones who took Ryan's life. Let us help you." Cali pleaded.

The statuesque red haired woman untied Dani and Polina before the three of them also started to surround us.

I looked to my left and saw Zaria was also approaching.

"I made an error in judgment, Adam. I did not realize the strain your false feelings would cause in you." Zaria said. "Allow me the chance to correct my mistakes and I promise your pain will disappear."

He surveyed his surroundings before shaking his head. "No, you have done enough damage. The Thetans were correct about your kind all the long. Look at what Polina did to Sara and what you have done to me. I will do everything within my power to make sure nobody suffers at your hand again."

"I am happy with who I am now Adam." I said in the hopes of reaching the man I fell for. "I would not go back for anything. Do I wish it never happened? I can't say anymore because I have lived this life longer than my other one and show me a single person who does not look back on their youth without a certain amount of nostalgia. I can't go back to my old life just like you can't become Ryan again. My life is with you, Baby."

He removed his foot from my chest and dropped his sword to his side so I took the opportunity to get to my feet.

I grabbed his free hand and I stared into his dark pits hoping to see a sign that the man I adored was still in there somewhere. "You taught me how to embrace the present, and that's what you need to do. You only need to grasp the life you have now and live it to the fullest. If you can do that Baby, I promise I will love you forever."

He looked down at me and for the briefest of moments his eyes flickered brown before he shook his head and the black returned. "I don't believe you. You are in league with them."

I nodded. "Yes I am, but only to help you."

He surveyed the women again before he raised his hand above his head. "You hurt me and then admit you are with them. I cannot trust you."

Lightning streaked across the sky toward Adam's upraised fingertip and I dove at him trying to push him away from the danger. Next thing I knew the bolt had struck both of us.

Chapter Twenty-four

A split second later I dropped to the ground and expelled what little food I had in my stomach. When I noticed green grass underneath me I sat back to take in my surroundings.

We were no longer standing in the midst of temple ruins. Instead we were in the middle of a lush forest and I wondered how we arrived there.

"Why did you attempt to attack me?" Adam roared as he glared at me.

I stared back in shock. "Attack you? I was trying to save you."

Adam's large hand grabbed me by the neck. "You lie!"

Tears started falling from my eyes as he started to tighten his grip. "Baby, you are hurting me."

His only response was an angry sneer as he continued to squeeze the life from me.

"Sing, Mom. Your voice will reach him." I heard Hunter say in my head.

I looked at the shell belonging to the man I loved and hoped I could reach Adam as I started singing Out of the Dark.

His gripped tightened. "How dare you sing a song you have sung for others? I thought that was our song until you sang it with that old man."

My tears increased as I suddenly realized he felt the same betrayal from my singing our song with Robert as I did knowing Nikki had been on our bike.

I reached deep in my heart as I started to voice my feelings for him in a song that was his alone.

When we met I wanted to run

I didn't know if it was to or from

You and your oh so sexy way.

I managed to get some distance but…

His grip on my neck suddenly relaxed as his listened to me but I continued singing.

You invaded my dreams at night

And my thoughts during the day.

Once you entered my life, I could not get away.

When life pulled me under you gave me a hand

And lifted me up from my personal quicksand.

You are the finest man I have ever known

And in you my love has grown.

Adam blinked a couple of times and he released me as his eyes slowly returned to normal. I rejoiced knowing my man was back as he looked at his hands then at me with tears flowing down his cheek.

We were about to embrace when there was a bright light and the five women emerged into the woods around us.

Adam's eye instantly turned black again before he grabbed me. "Stay back or I will hurt her."

Not knowing what else to do I started singing again.

Our love is real our love is right

I only want to feel you all through the night.

When we are together I forget about the strife

Everything is perfect so long as you are in my life

We can start off fresh and begin anew

You can't leave me after all we have been through

His grip on me loosed again and he looked to Cali. "Please stop me. I can't control it and if I hurt the woman I love I will never forgive myself or you."

"I can't without hurting you Adam. You have to stop yourself." Cali replied.

Adam's arm latched around my neck again. "He can't stop me, nobody can. Especially not your kind."

I started singing again.

I am yours; heart, body, and soul

I promise to never again let you go.

We both made mistakes we will never make again

Come back to me baby so we can end our pain

We are better together than we ever were apart

Come home Baby, back into my heart.

"If our friendship ever meant anything then kill me Cali. I am begging you. It is better that I die instead of Sara." Adam pleaded.

"No Adam, you can't die," I screamed.

He shoved me to the ground before he charged Cali. "If you don't kill me then I will kill you!"

Before Cali could decided what to do, Polina placed her hand on Adam and he fell to the ground.

I screamed in despair as I stared at the lifeless body of the man I loved.

I glared at the woman who had once again ruined my life. "You killed him you fucking bitch."

Zaria walked to my side and lifted me in her arms. "He is not dead, only incapacitated."

Polina frowned as she approached me. "I have caused too much pain in your life. I couldn't kill him and add more, besides I have always considered him a friend."

For the first time in nineteen years I looked at the woman with a smile. "Thank you."

Her expression did not change as she began to reply. "Please do not thank me. I am not worthy of a kind word from you. I owe you the greatest of apologies. I only meant to change you for a month or so before changing you back regardless of what Reginald felt, but something happened to me and I had no choice but to act on a thought that was not my own and ended up in a marriage that prevented me from using my gifts. Unfortunately it also forced you from my thoughts since my only focus was on the man I believed I loved."

Polina sighed sadly. "In a case of what some would consider poetic justice, I was trapped in an abusive relationship with a horrible man who verbally and at times physically abused me. Like the life that I forced upon you, I could not escape because of an act by someone else."

I should have been glad to know she suffered as much or more than I did but I didn't. What I felt was a shared pain and true understanding of what it was like to lose free will. She had it much worse since my love for Razor was my own doing because I could walk away anytime I wanted. I stayed with Razor because I was stupid and confused the feeling of being able to speak freely about my past with love. She did not force me to stay long after I should have gone, that mistake was all mine.

Seeing what anger had done to Adam made me realize that holding onto bitter feelings was only hurting myself. I needed to let go of the things I had no control over and learn for to forgive.

"Apology accepted." I said as another question popped in my mind. "How did you break free?"

She smiled as she looked toward her sister in law. "Mother came to me when someone kidnapped my sister's wife. After Cali was rescued I spent a few days with her and Dani. It turns out Cali has that same gift as the man who cursed me. She can plant ideas in people's mind and also take them away, even if placed by others."

I raised my brows impressed by such a power before I jokingly turned to Cali. "You have never used that on me have you?"

Cali shrugged nervously which made me nervous. "Only once but you fought it off. You have a strong will when you want it."

I stepped back. "What did you do? When did you do it?"

Cali sighed. "The day I met you at the restaurant you were too uptight so I gave you the desire to loosen up but you fought it off in the club."

My anger started to rise again. "So you are the reason Adam and I got together?"

The petite red head shook her head violently. "Not in the slightest. I was the reason you got so drunk, I was the reason you were dancing onstage and got the free tee shirt but as you arrived with your cousin that night, I noticed how different you were and it made me physically ill that I was the cause of your condition."

Her eyes widened slightly as she stared at me with awe. "I went to remove what I done but realized the manipulation was no longer in place. If it was still in place you would not have been able take charge like did when you first left and you damn sure would not have been able to walk away from him at the after party when he turned on his charms. You are the first person that anyone knows of that can shake off a manipulation and also the only woman I know of that was resistant after Adam had you in his sights. You are stronger than you ever realized."

Her words confused me since I never really thought of myself as that strong.

Zaria decided to speak up. "As I told you when we talked before, you have thrived when almost any other person in your position would have wilted under the pressure. You truly need to give yourself more credit than you do. You are an amazing person that I am honored to know."

A slight snore escaping from Adam shifted my attention away from myself. "What happens to Adam now?"

Zaria sighed as she looked to Cali. "In order to truly contain the residual evil we must remove it but in order to do so he will have no memory of his life as Ryan and must not know of our realm." She cut her eyes toward me. "He also cannot know of your changes. Everything will remain the same between you except that any mentions of either of your past lives will be wiped from his mind. His personality will lose the small traces of Ryan that were part of the man you loved. I do not know how it will affect how he feels about you. I must warn you that you must keep your distance from him for awhile to make sure the changes take full effect."

Tears started to trickle down my cheek. "Will he be able to have a normal, happy life?"

Zaria nodded. "He will."

"Even if it is not with me?"

Zaria nodded again. "Once I am done the Fates will determine the direction of his life."

"I guess I am fucked then." I muttered under my breath before I stared at Zaria. "So long as he is happy, that is all I want."

Zaria reached out and pulled me into her arms. It sounded almost as if she wanted to cry. "I truly understand how difficult this decision is. I wish I had a better alternative to offer."

Cali and I walked over to a sleeping Adam. My heart broke as she stooped down to kiss his cheek.

"Even though you won't remember me just know I will never forget you and will always love you brother."

As she rose into her wife's arms I dropped down and placed a loving kiss on his lips. "Please find me after you find yourself. I will wait for the rest of my life if need be. You are worth it. I love you always and no matter what."

After I stood Zaria gave me a sad smile. "Jane and Nicole will have no memory of anything that happened so you must never reveal our realm. I will not place any type of block as I trust you to keeps us a secret."

I nodded. "I will never betray your trust. Will Nikki still cause trouble?"

Cali nodded sadly. "When I removed her compulsion in the apartment I noticed it was very weak which means most of what she did was of her own accord so I would expect there to be little change in her demeanor."

I sighed in defeat. "Thank you for trying. Please keep in touch as I am sure we will need each other to lean on through this." I finally turned to Polina. "I really do forgive you."

As soon as I finished speaking I was surrounded by a bright light before I found myself back in my living room alone.

Keeping my promise to my son, I sat down at the piano and started playing him a song with tears pouring from my eyes.

Knowing he would be upset with me for crying I looked up as the smell of his cologne hit my nostrils. "Please don't be mad at me Hunter. I didn't break my promise because these tears are not for you."

Chapter Twenty-five

Jill walked into the living room from the kitchen and handed me a cup. "It's chamomile tea. I've been doing some research on the web and from what I've read it helps you sleep."

I apprehensively tasted a sip and was surprised by the flowery taste. She must have added honey because there was also a hint of sweetness as well.

I smiled at my caring assistant. "How old are you? I thought I was supposed to be helping you when I asked you to move in."

Jill laughed lightly. "I'm the oldest in my so-called family so if one of my siblings were sick when my parents were working or doing something for church I'd have to take care of them. Besides, friends help each other. You want to talk?"

I finished the tea as I told her about Kevin. Jill didn't say anything, she didn't tender advice nor did she offer a perspective. She simply let me vent. I felt much better afterward and nothing in my place was broken.

The combination of a long day and the effects of the chamomile finally kicked in. I turned to Jill and gave her a hug. "I'm going to turn in. Thanks again, see you in the morning. I love you."

Jill's body tensed and she pulled me closer with a tear in her eye.

"What's the matter?" I asked, confused by her actions.

Jill smiled. "Nothing at all."

"Come on now, I know you better than that. What did I just do?"

Jill appeared embarrassed, "You told me you love me."

My confusion didn't lessen, "Well yeah. I do. Hasn't anyone told you that before?"

Jill shook her head.

If there was anything I learned from everything I had been through, it was to let those people significant to my life know how I felt so that if anything ever happened I'd never have to live with the regret of them not knowing how important they were to me.

It was heart wrenching to think of any child, much less one as sweet as I pictured Jill being, never being told she was loved.

Jill suddenly looked years younger, much like a sad teenager. "Never? Not even by your parents?"

Jill looked down at the floor and kicked an imaginary piece of dirt. "My family weren't exactly touchy feely. The only love they professed was for God."

"Oh you poor thing." I reached out to this sad little girl and pulled her to my chest. "I'm so sorry. You're too good of a friend for me not to let you know how I feel but if it makes you uncomfortable I'll try to quit."

Jill hugged me tighter. "Don't you dare. I love you too. You're the cool big sister I always wanted."

I laughed. "Thank you for not saying aunt."

Jill joined my laughter before she pulled away. "You're too young for that. You need to get some sleep. Sweet dreams."

"Thanks, you too."

That night, thanks to Jill's tea, the nightmares I feared so much never came even though I cried myself to sleep.

---

I pulled into the parking lot of the Hunture about thirty minutes later than usual since I had to swing by and get a new phone that morning. Thankfully I kept my phone updated regularly so all my contact information remained intact.

I rested my head on the steering wheel of my 911 when I noticed my father's Harley in the lot. I didn't have it in me for another fight, especially with him. It took everything I had within me not to just back out and work from home, but knew I would only be delaying the inevitable.

Given the emotional numbness that enveloped me, it was easy to steel myself when I saw the mountain of a man who helped raise me waiting in the lobby of my office. He rushed toward me with arms wide, ready to hug me.

I raised my hand to stop his progress. "Hello Father. What can I do for you?"

He appeared angry. "I need to talk to you in private."

I nodded. "Yes, that might be a good idea." I casually walked over and accepted the coffee Jill already had prepared for me. "Would you like some something to drink?"

My father shook his head as I turned back to my personal assistant, "Please hold my calls Jill."

She nodded silently as I continued into my office. Once we were inside I reached inside my desk for some Irish crá¨me to add to the drink Jill made. I had a feeling I was going to need something stronger to get through the morning.

I looked up again, "Are you sure you don't want any?"

My father reached across my desk and attempted to wrestle the coffee cup from my hand. "You don't need this."

I pushed my feet against my carpet and was able to wheel away from his grasp. I hugged my drink to protect it from him. "What do you care Father?"

His anger intensified as he stared at me. "Have I done something to you?"

I had no idea how I was able to remain so calm under his gaze. "Where is Big Red?"

He became defensive. "That's my car and I'll do whatever I want with it."

I took a big gulp of my coffee. It burned all the way down and felt fitting since I was in hell. "Good point Father."

He slammed his large fists on my desk. "What is going on with you? I've never seen you like this and stop with the Father shit. I'm Dad or Daddy to you."

I laughed realizing I need to cut out the negative parts of my life if I wanted to truly be happy again. "Mother gave me the riot act already so you can just stop acting like you give a shit. My Daddy was a man who always had my back and who promised me I would always come first."

I stood and walked around the desk so we face to face. "My Daddy was someone who would never believe the rumors going around. My Daddy would know that if I was involved with a married man, I would have never known about it til it was too late. My Daddy would know that if I did something to get someone fired from a job, the person involved must have done something to me to provoke it. My Daddy would be a man who never would have waited two days to check on me to see if I'm okay."

My mask of composure started to break and I was beginning to doubt I was as strong as Cali suggested. "My Daddy is a man I really miss right now."

He reached for me but I turned away and walked over to my door to open it. "That being said Father, I think you need to leave."

My father slowly stood up and leaned into me as he reached my side. "Oh, Baby Girl."

I turned away. "Don't, I'm not your Baby girl anymore. You need to leave, I have to work."

He started walking through before he hesitated. "You need to call your Mom, she's worried."

I shook my head. "No, she let me know how she feels about me. Have a nice day."

I collapsed on my couch after I watched him walk away a broken man. I shouldn't have unloaded on him like that but I could not hold it in anymore. They did just fine without me in their life for nineteen years and they would be just fine again.

By the time Jill came in to check on me I had become numb again. I built my walls high enough that nobody could see in and no emotions could get out. I was at my desk working on a proposal as she walked to my side. "Are you okay? Do you need me to cancel any appointments?"

I smiled politely. "No need to cancel anything I'm fine. Thanks for your concern but it's not necessary."

She stared at me while I drank the last of my coffee. I handed her the cup. "Would you be a dear and get me another refill?"

"Sure, not a problem." She said as I started back on the proposal.

As soon as she reached the door I looked up. "Jill, how attached are you to Nashville?"

She stared at me blankly. "I don't want to move to New York if that's what you're asking."

I frowned. "Just thought I'd ask."

Chapter Twenty-six

The next few weeks that followed the singles release were a complete mess. Jane was working more than ever since Adam rarely stepped foot in the club anymore. Ellie still wasn't taking my calls. Lily had a break in touring so Jill was spending every spare moment with her. Anna and Gabe were spending a month in Italy so I didn't hear from them, and I refused to answer calls from my parents.

Because of my fame I once again became a recluse who only left the house to go to work.

'Out of the Dark' skyrocketed up the charts. Turned out the record was every bit the hit Kevin predicted. Most weekends were spent joining Robert wherever his concerts were or flying somewhere for promotional stuff.

What was supposed to be something pleasurable to take my mind off my pain ended up hurting me more than I thought possible.

I was genuinely happy when I saw Matt's face light up the display on my phone. "Hey boyfriend."

Matt's soothing voice warmed my cold heart. "Hey girlfriend. I saw the latest garbage on newsstands today. How you holding up?"

I was quickly becoming public enemy number one because the tabloids started having a field day claiming Adam and I split because I started seeing Robert. According to them I was the reason for Robert's split as well as my own. I was being vilified at every turn.

I attempted to laugh it off. "You know I never read that junk."

Matt sighed. He could read me like a book. "Try again Boo. You forget who you're talking to. I'm about to go tell them the truth so everyone knows how great you are." He knew anything negative only reinforced my insecurities.

It was said I had dated Adam, Robert and Kevin in order to jump-start my career. That my actions were the desperate attempt of a sad has been who had nothing left after the death of her son.

I huffed angrily in the phone. "Don't bother. It's not worth it. Hopefully everything will go away when the single loses popularity."

Just about every tabloid ran pictures of Adam looking miserable while showing different pictures of Robert and I, or Kevin and I smiling and laughing. They would often run stories of how heartbroken Adam was of my betrayal and how heartless I was to flaunt my new "love" in his face.

"You're only helping them propagate the lie you know." Matt responded.

Everyone tried to explain to me that is was because Adam wore his emotions on his sleeve while I had become a master at hiding my feelings from the world. Everyone saw me as being unaffected by all the turmoil and drama. They wanted to leak the true reason for our split but I refused to allow it. There was no way I would let Adam endure the wrath I was receiving if I could help it. I was afraid he was not strong enough.

I blew my new bangs away from my face. "Whatever. I'm done talking about it. Tell me how that hot boyfriend of yours is treating you?"

With that Matt took me away from troubles and allowed me to share in his wonderful life for a little while.

---

A few days later as I was walking back from my afternoon run I was met with a few sneers and some rude comments about the type of person they considered me to be. I was confused why people spewed such hatred in my direction until I found Jill and Jane waiting for me when I walked in my apartment.

"What are you two doing here? Don't you both have a life to live or something?" I was slightly hurt that I had not seen much of them lately. I stormed toward the stairs to hop in the shower when Jill intercepted me and lead me to the couch.

Jane handed me a drink as Jill handed me a print out from a popular website that suggested Razor was justified in his attack. The article, which quoted Razor himself, stated that I worked behind the scenes to destroy the chemistry of the band and hid my pregnancy and that I refused to allow Razor any contact whatsoever with his son. It went on to say that after I found out the band had reunited I once again worked to destroy the chemistry Razor had worked hard to rebuild and I manipulated everyone into orchestrating the ambush on him.

"Damn him." I mumbled after I read the last sentence where he proclaimed his undying love for my precious Hunter. I collapsed on the couch behind me, any fight I had in me evaporated in that moment.

Jane sat on the edge of the sofa beside me. "What are you going to do about this?"

I sighed. "Nothing, what can I do?"

Jill sat next to Jane. "We can tell the truth. I'm sure your friends will stand up for you."

I laughed. "What friends? It's just you two, what can you do?"

Jane shoved me. "We are not your only friends. We are just the only two who are too stubborn to let you push us away."

I turned my back to them. "Why are you so stubborn Jane? I mean I totally understand why Jill puts up with me but not you."

Jill pulled me back so I was facing them again. Her face was flushed with rage. "And just why, pray tell, do I put up with you?"

"Because you have to. You're afraid of losing your job."

She shook her head. "Is that what you think? It never crossed your mind that it could be because you are the only person to help me for no other reason than wanting to see me succeed? It couldn't be because you are the only person to love me regardless of how I choose to live my life?" Tears started to fall from her baby blue eyes. "And it damn sure couldn't be because you gave me hope when I was ready to give up?"

I reached up and pulled her into my arms. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

While I held onto Jill, Jane leaned over to place her arm over my shoulder. "Why am I so stubborn? It's because you are the kindest soul I know. You make me a better person. You give with no thought of yourself. You pulled my brother from his downward spiral. You gave me peace about my sister and you are my best friend."

I smiled up at her. "I love you too."

Both Jane and Jill pulled away when Jane patted my arm. "So what are we going to do about this?"

I was scared that if I went on the offensive it would push Adam back to that dark hell he had been in.

I shook my head. "Nothing. Everything about Razor will come out in his trial so I'm not worried about that and to tell my side would hurt Adam. I can't do that. I can handle it, I'm not sure he can. So we're not going to do anything."

Jill nodded sadly and looked at Jane. "Your brother never deserved her."

Jane frowned. "No he didn't."

---

I stood firm on my decision until a week later.

"What time is my first appointment?" I asked Jill as I walked in my office.

She shifted nervously. "You have a clear slate. Everyone cancelled."

I dropped my head and sighed. "Can you call Jane and see if she'll come by as soon as she can?"

I wanted to retreat to my condo and never leave again but I needed to tell my side of things. Maybe if I agreed to a sit down with a major network for a no holds barred interview where I shared my entire story I could regain a shred of my dignity and save the career I worked so hard to build.

"Anything you want me to tell her?"

I nodded. "Tell her to contact whoever she knows. You two win, I have to tell my side."

Jill smiled brightly. "I'll get on that right now."

After I sat down behind my desk I dug out my cell phone and dialed a number I never thought I would use.

"This is Polina." Said the voice on the other end with a light European accent.

"Hi Polina, this is Sara Collins. I need a favor." I replied.

She sounded pleased but not surprised to hear from me. "Hello Sara, I am happy you contacted me. I have feeling I know the nature of your call. Please rest assured Reginald will no longer be problem for you. It seems that, with a little urging on my part, a red haired mutual friend of ours compelled him to do the right thing. He is in negotiations to make plea arrangement as we speak. Within a week or two that part of your life will only be another bad memory. Another memory that sadly is the result of my actions."

I smiled as I leaned back in my chair. "Thank you very much."

Polina's tone took on an edge of excitement. "Please no thanks are necessary but I must tell you what else I have done. I believe only you could appreciate it. I have restored some of Regina's prior beauty but left Reginald in his male body. He should be quite popular among his new peers."

Oh it was mean and even though I should have felt bad for him, I did not. I loved it. "That seems quite fitting."

Her enthusiasm dissipated as she spoke. "He had more opportunities to succeed than you did due to the way society treats men compared to women but he wasted his chances. He could have led a good life. Instead he became the very person he railed against when he was a woman."

"Yes he definitely did." I replied bitterly.

Polina sighed. "I know I have said it before but I cannot apologize enough and anytime you need me please do not hesitate to ask."

I tried to reassure her. "What you did is in the past and I can't move forward if I keep looking behind me. I have forgiven you. I can't imagine a life other than what I have now and I have you to thank for that. It's not perfect but it is mine."

We continued talked for another few minutes and she told me Cali was still upset about losing Adam from her life but since she had Dani she would be okay.

I told her about keeping my distance like I was told and how hard it was to do so.

She encouraged me to be patient and if it was meant to be we would reconnect.

I did not say it aloud but her words sounded a lot like what I would tell Ellie after each of her breakups. When I knew whatever relationship she was in at the time was really over but had nothing more encouraging to add.

---

The network interviewed me in my condo. I didn't hold back, nor did I try to sugarcoat my past. It was raw and honest. They seriously hyped the interview and promoted it as a two-hour special to be aired on a Sunday night.

The night it aired Jill and Jane gathered at my apartment to offer their support. They knew I would be hearing some things for the first time and wanted to be there for me.

In a lot of ways I was glad it was only these two wonderful people by my side as I told the world my feelings for the first time.

The first parts were embarrassing as I revealed my ugly past for the world to see. Watching them talk to all my friends from back then was mixture of funny and heartbreaking.

I wanted to hug my parents when they reappeared and communicated their pride in how I turned my life around in New York and how they lived for the times when my son and I would come for a visit. They made clear their elation in my telling them we would be moving back.

I smiled when they showed pictures of my precious child growing up. I laughed often while telling stories to illustrate how wonderful he truly was.

I almost couldn't take it when the topic turned to Hunter's death and the time that followed. The world saw me crying almost uncontrollably as I relived that terrible day and the ones that followed.

I cringed when my family told of how I acted at the funeral home and how I shut down. My coworkers told of how I always put a smile on in the office but my fake cheeriness was transparent. They talked about how I tried to make everyone at ease but kept them at arm's length to hide my sorrow.

I folded myself as tightly as I could into my couch as I watched my family talk of their worry for me. It was painful to hear how they were expecting a call at any moment saying I had voluntarily joined my son on the other side.

I relaxed when I witnessed myself fondly telling of Adam finding me in the elevator and how he and his sister brought me back. I hugged my dear friend as Jane talked about the despair she felt when she saw me the night Adam called her.

It was bittersweet to watch myself telling stories from how Jane and Adam slowly brought me back to the now. Everyone laughed when I talked about how I ran from Adam initially and how his kind heart finally won mine.

Jane squeezed my hand while we watched her speak of her joy at seeing our love blossom.

The love I still held for Adam was obvious to anyone watching when they watched me speak of our time together.

The room filled with tension when the interviewer asked me about the night of my performance and I spoke of the elation of seeing so many friends and the regret of leaving as I did. Gracie and Liz spoke of their joy and told how I had Adam fool them with the poster. Both girls smiled at me when the producers interspersed clips of the three of us discussing how it felt when I stepped on stage.

My emotions were mixed as I viewed Tim and Jess smile as they discussed seeing me perform and how it made them feel like time reversed itself. Their happiness turned to remorse when they talked about how maybe they could have prevented everything had they only been more vocal in the beginning.

I couldn't look at the screen when I told of my anger at Razor's tribute and how Adam had to hold me back. Everyone told of their rage upon hearing him say what he did after knowing Razor had never even acknowledged having a son.

The network made it a point to show how far he had fallen from his glory days when we were together to his multiple drug related and domestic violence arrests prior to the band's brief reunion. They included a few interviews after Hunter was born where he always expressed his disdain for children and that he never wanted to be a father. I believe they did it to combat what Reginald had told the press.

Due to the fact that Razor had not yet gone to trial I could not share the specifics of what happened in the room that night. I could only talk about the aftermath.

The fear of the night returned when I shared how his attack felt and what was running though my mind before I lost consciousness. I talked of waking up in the ambulance wanting to see Adam and the paramedics' urgent words as we got close to the hospital.

My heart broke watching Ellie share her panic at watching what she thought was my death in front of her. Tim and Jess expressed their guilt at once again not being able to protect me.

I reached out to Jane when she broke down in front of the cameras as she talked about her fear while watching me being tended to and watching what she believed to be my lifeless body being wheeled out of the club.

I had to step out of the room as Mom and Dad talked of receiving the call from Ellie telling them to get to the hospital if they wanted to tell me goodbye.

I couldn't control the tears as Jane and Ellie told of the looks the paramedics gave them as they wheeled me in. My tears became worse as they told how all my friends reacted when the same paramedics came back out to talk to them explaining that if anyone believed in prayer I needed a lot of them because it didn't appear likely I would make it.

I was thankful Adam declined to be interviewed because there was no way possible I could have listened to the pain he endured.

I spoke of waking up in the hospital after the incident but did not speak of seeing Hunter. Everyone spoke of their elation when the doctor emerged telling them I would survive.

I told of the humility I felt from the outpouring of love I received in the aftermath.

I reached out to Jill when she told of her experience seeing me onstage and the chaos afterward. She laughed about how the office reacted to finding out and cried when sharing how important I had become to her and how it hurt her to see so many lies being told. Once again she began to cry when she told how she had personally witnessed most of the recent events and none of what was being said was true.

I walked over and gave her the biggest hug possible for her support.

I walked in the kitchen while on the screen I talked about my recovery and how I would never had made it without Jane and Adam. While getting a drink I heard Jane talk about my mental state after Adam and I split. Telling everyone how devastated I was. She didn't come out and say it but strongly implied that I had a good reason end it.

I was caught off guard when Robert and Kevin spoke of the night Robert and I performed the impromptu duet. They called me the ultimate performer, saying how I could paste a smile like nobody else when the spotlight was on but I couldn't hide the sadness when I thought nobody was looking.

I was horrified when I saw Jane speaking about my diminished emotional state. Both Jill and Jane quickly embraced me and cried as they listened to Jane explain how lost I had become without Adam in my life.

It suddenly occurred to me Adam might be watching. I reached over and grabbed Jane. "Get upstairs and make sure he's okay." Jane jumped up. "Shit, I wasn't thinking, everything just spilled out as I was talking."

I turned my attention back to the television as Jane ran out the door. The interviewer asked me point blank about the rumors of Robert and I.

I explained how we were nothing more than very good friends and how I had no desire to date because after Adam any other man just didn't quite measure up. I expressed my hopes that with time I would be able to get over it but as it was, I planned to remain very single for a very long time.

The rest of the show focused on the rise of the duet and once again went back to all my friends emphatically stating that the person portrayed in the tabloids was not the person they knew.

Anger flooded me and I couldn't help but feel as if I'd been ambushed as I saw an advertisement for a tabloid news show that featured Nikki's face on screen.

While Jill and I were waiting for the local news to end so we could hear what she had to say, Gabriel and Anna called expressed again their love and support. They could not believe I had managed to keep so many things to myself. I articulated my deep love and thanked them for everything.

My door bell rang causing both of us to jump. Jill ran to answer it as my parents rushed in hugging me and apologizing. I continued to tell them it was okay. While still not sure if I could trust them as I once did, it was nice to have them in my life again.

Jill sat quietly in the corner until I walked over and pulled her into the group explaining that she was now part of my family. Mom and Dad embraced her and told her she was a welcome addition.

We were very relaxed and happy until the show came on. Nikki told how her and Adam were still married. She spoke of my threat in the restaurant and then of our exchange on the video shoot and finally of my decision to "abandon" Adam after he agreed to support her unborn child causing him to push her from his life. Never once did she mention that the child was not his but she was quick to play up the fact we were related for sympathy.

She sounded rather convincing, but I still could not believe my parents could believe I was capable of doing all the things she said.

After the show ended Jill and I fumed over the fact Adam's ex had been so blatant with her lies and the show aired them without asking my side of what she said.

Since I had never discussed any of the topics, my parents still didn't seem entirely convinced. Mom looked at me with a small amount of trepidation. "Can we talk about all this? Did that really happen?"

Before I had a chance to respond Jill leapt from the couch and got into Mom's face. "Seriously Mrs. Collins? If she has to explain her actions to you, of all people, then I think you need to leave."

Mom's pushed my friend away. "This is none of your concern Jill."

I stood and walked to my front door. "I think it's time for you both to leave. It was good to see you."

Mom flew into a rage and stormed over to me and slapped me like she used to do when I was a teenager. "We are going to talk about this young lady."

I laughed as I grabbed her hair. "Oh Mother Dear, I'm not a little girl anymore. Nobody gets to lay a hand on me. Get the hell out of my home."

Before Dad had a chance to react I dragged her outside of my apartment. As soon as we were in the hall my father was at my side. I shoved her into him. "Get out of my building. If you are going to even consider that waste of Collins DNA over me then stay out of my life."

My father started to protest. "We just need to hear your side of the story Liberty."

I shook my head. "No you don't. You've already made up your mind about what kind of daughter you raised."

I spun around to my mother. "And you! She's not even your blood and you're so quick to assume to worst from me." I moved my eyes between my parents. "Both of you can go to hell."

They didn't make a move to leave when Jill rushed to my side.

I grabbed Jill's phone from her hand. "If you don't leave I'm calling security."

With a sigh they turned toward the elevator and I walked back in my apartment.

After I calmed down, I finally called Jane to find out about Adam. I didn't tell her about my parents since I figured she had a full plate and I was right. She told me she couldn't talk but quietly confirmed he was every bit the mess we thought he would be. I quickly asked if he had seen the show with Nikki. I could tell from the string of profanity that escaped her lips he had. She told me she'd call later and had to get back to Adam.

After that I tried calling Ellie to thank her for all her kind words but yet again she did not answer.

Chapter Twenty-seven

When my alarm went off the next morning Jane walked in with a fresh cup of coffee. I could tell immediately she hadn't slept and was almost at her breaking point.

I jumped up and pulled her to me. "Is he that bad?"

As if opening a relief valve Jane burst into tears. "I've never seen him like this. He wouldn't stop crying and I've never seen him cry except when we thought you were going to die. I'm so scared, I don't know what to do."

I felt terrible for my friend, and incredibly guilty because I knew Adam's mental state was all my fault. "I'm sorry, should I go talk to him?"

Jane shook her head. "No, I don't think he wants to see you. If he had any doubt how much you love him, it was erased last night. He told me he expected you to trash him after everything that happened. It tormented him when your eyes sparkled when speaking of him and your voice was so full of the love he knew."

I pulled back to look at Jane. "If he knows I love him then why won't he see me? All he has to do is ask and I will come running."

"Because he believes he is bad for you and that all he does is hurt you. He told me you were right and he knows he needs to grow up but he says he doesn't know how. He can't live without you but he thinks you are better off without him."

I immediately stood and held out my hand to Jane. "Give me your keys."

"What? Why?" She asked with surprise in her voice.

"I have to go talk to him."

She shook her head. "He's not home. He took off on the bike about twenty minutes ago. He said he needed to clear his mind."

I sank back into my mattress. "What am I going to do?"

Jane sighed and slumped down beside me. "Would you be willing to wait for him to grow up?"

I nodded. "Definitely. I'm willing to wait until the end of time."

We were interrupted when Jill ran into the room carrying her laptop. "Sara you have to read this."

I looked at the screen she slid in my lap and saw where Curt, the director of the video, went straight to his personal blog immediately after the interview aired to tell the entire story of the video shoot.

Jane laughed as Jill opened another window. "And look at this."

I was shocked when I realized someone at the restaurant the day Adam and I split had recorded the entire episode and shared it with a news site. Jill then clicked on another story that told how quite a few of Nikki's acquaintances stepped forward to state that there was no way Adam could have fathered her child since she was traveling with Xenolith during the time she would have become pregnant. Jill finally clicked the last one where members of Adam's former band stepped forward to defend him saying that she had left him many months before he and I started dating.

"Just so you know, after their little show last night, I forwarded every one of those to your parents. Let them choke on that." Jill said bitterly.

I shrugged. "Oh well, the damage's been done now. I don't care what they think anymore."

Jane looked at us. "Have I missed something?"

I tried to give Jane the short version of my parent's visit but Jill interrupted with a full play by play.

"That's just… I don't even know what to say." Jane said after Jill finished.

I stood up so I could hop in the shower. "I know, sis. I know."

---

As soon as I arrived at the office Jill informed me that my mentor had already called.

Not the best way to start the day but whatever I thought as I sat behind my desk and reached for the phone.

"Good morning. Jill said you called, what can I do for you?" I said brightly.

Gabe sounded rather unhappy. "Caro, I am hearing bad things."

I sighed. "Not you too. Please tell me you don't believe that junk."

"About what that terrible girl said? No, not for one second. I want to know about your progenitore."

I rubbed my forehead. Mother must have called Anna already.

"What have you heard? Who told you?"

"Your madre phoned Anna this morning and said you assaulted her and kicked them out of your home."

"I hope she told you why I did it."

"She only said she was worried for you."

"Gabe, you know I love you and Anna so out of respect I will tell you that my mother provoked me by slapping my face. She and my father have made it quite clear what type of person they believe me to be and I have reached a point in my life where I refuse to allow anyone in my life that can't be a positive influence."

"But they are the only family you have left caro."

"That is where you're wrong Gabe. You and Anna are my family. The two of you have done more for me than they ever did. This is not negotiable."

Gabe sighed. "Why must you be so hard-headed? If your decision is final then you must return home with us where you belong."

"Sorry. That is not an option. I'm not leaving my friends. I told you before, my life is here now."

"If that is your decision then know I will start informing your clients this afternoon that their accounts will be handled from this office since I'm closing your branch within the month."

My anger spiked and I did something I never thought possible.

I stood up to Gabe.

"I love you and have nothing but respect for you, but you need to understand I am not the helpless, broken girl Anna brought home. You taught me everything you know, including how to be ruthless when the situation calls for it."

"You taught me how to be independent and self sustaining. You pushed me out of your nest so I could thrive but now you want to hide me in your lonely tree again. If I have learned anything from all I've been through it's that running is never the answer. I'm sorry Gabe, but I can't do that and it's wrong for you to force me."

I took a deep breath to steel my resolve. "So, with that being said, I respect your decision Mr. Moretti and you had better respect mine. I am staying here and starting my own agency. The way I see it is you have two options, you either allow my employees and myself out of our non-compete clause or I will be forced to sue you for termination without cause."

"Also, remember it was your idea I invest in real estate to diversify. Remember who owns the building this branch is located in? Mr. Moretti, you can either relinquish your lease without penalty or I expect to receive payment on the remaining nine years of your lease within three months of your shuttering this office."

Gabe gasped. "You are serious aren't you?"

"Yes sir, very much so. You taught me everything you know, and if you add that into everything I have learned along the way, do you not think I can do the few things needed from your office until I can build a staff fully capable?"

When he said nothing, I continued to rail. "I have been trying to bring our company into the twenty-first century for awhile now, and if you want to continue to be a stubborn old man I'll just have to show you with my success that I'm smarter and stronger than you ever imagined."

Gabe was silently for a moment. I was about say something else when he spoke again. "I want to be sure I understand. Are you are telling me you refuse to move?"

I leapt to my feet and screamed into the phone. "I'm not going anywhere."

"And if I close the office, you will take me to court."

Once again I my emotions were in overload as I started to cry angrily into the phone. "Damn right I will. This agency is all I have left and I'll be damned if I'll let you take it away on a whim."

Gabe's voice remained calm. "Can you explain to me why you would do such a thing?"

"Because I'm tired of taking care of everybody else. It's time I take care of myself. My career is all I have and I'll be damned if I leave it in the hands of someone who has such a warped view of what is right for me."

Gabe sighed loudly into the phone. "I'll call you later with my decision."

Jill entered as soon as she saw I ended the call. "I guess you're moving."

I frowned. "What makes you think that?"

She shrugged sadly. "You got kinda loud."

I started to smile. "No, the only moving we might do is to a different office."

Before she had a chance to ask, I explained everything.

Jill laughed. "Wow, I can't imagine standing up to my boss like that."

I arched my eyebrow as I stared at her. "Excuse me? I think you have before."

She shifted nervously and giggled. "You're different. I couldn't see myself even thinking about talking to Mr. Moretti like that."

I laughed again. "You need to understand, I see him how you see me. I have not done anything for you that Gabe and Anna have not done for me."

Jill nodded appreciatively but still seemed nervous about something.

"What's on your mind?" I asked.

"What's what?" She responded defensively.

"There's something you want to say or ask. I can't tell what it is, but I know you have something going on up there."

Jill shifted from side to side. "Lily wants me to move in, but I don't know. I mean, I don't want to leave you alone."

I became panicked. "You're not quitting are you?"

She gasped. "Oh no. Are you kidding me? I'd never leave this job. I was only talking about moving out of your apartment."

I released a sigh of relief as I studied her closely. I only wanted what's best for her but they had not known each other that long but by the same token, she spent most of her time there anyway. "Is that something you want to do?"

She stared at me is as I were missing a few brain cells. "I think so. I love her but don't want to leave you while you still need me."

I chuckled and shook my head. Was I becoming so hardened by life that I couldn't recognize young love when I saw it? I did the same thing at her age and nobody could have talked me out of it but this wonderful girl was willing to say no so she could take care of me. I didn't deserve such a friend.

I walked around my desk and hugged the amazing young woman who had become such an important part of my life. "Don't worry about me, I'm fine. I only want the best for you. Just know that if anything happens, I'll always have a room for you."

Jill smiled as tears filled her eyes. "I can't believe you'd think I could just quit like that."

I shook my head sadly. "I'm sorry. Life has trained me to expect the worst from those I care about."

She hugged me tightly. "You're my big sister and all the family I have. I'm not going anywhere."

I returned her embrace. "I feel the same way."

I turned when my private line started to ring. Only seven people had that number. Two of them were kicked out of my apartment last night, two were in New York, one hasn't tried calling it in over a month, one only texts me then I call her and the last was standing beside me.

Jill reached for it immediately before I stopped her. "This can't be good." I sighed before picking up the receiver. "Sara Collins."

"I made my decision." Gabe said without any of the normal niceties.

I braced myself for the worst. "Yes sir, and what would that be?"

Gabe laughed with delight. "I have no doubt that you can do anything you set your mind to. You truly are stronger than I ever imagined. You make me proud."

Jill looked on with confusion as I visibly relaxed as I responded. "What do you mean?"

I could feel his smile through the phone. "I mean you, dear one, are everything I could hope for you to be. You are finally the fierce woman I knew you to be. I wondered if you would ever see it for yourself, but now that you have, you fill this old man with such pride. I could not imagine loving my own child more than I love you."

I filled with warmth. "I love you too, but let's not change the subject just yet. Where do we stand?"

Gabe laughed joyously. "I'm not closing anything on one condition."

I braced for the worst. "What is that?"

I felt like I was talking to different man than I was not twenty minutes prior. "I insist you join the board of directors."

I collapsed in my chair. "Join the board? Why?"

"For three reasons caro. One, your mind has too much knowledge for me not to use. Two, you are headstrong enough to do the right thing even when I might disagree and three, I can be guaranteed to see you at least once per quarter."

I laughed. "I'd come visit you anyway."

Gabe laughed again. "I know but now it will be more often."

"Thank you Gabe."

"It is I who should be thanking you for showing this old man right from wrong. You need to call Anna soon, she worries for you."

I smiled into the phone. "I'll call her tonight. I love you."

"I love you too." Gabe responded before he hung up.

As I placed the receiver back into the cradle Jill shook her head. "Did what I think just happened really happen?"

I smiled. "If you mean not only is the office staying open, but I also received a promotion, then yes it did."

Jill smirked at me. "Does that mean I'm now an Executive Personal Assistant?"

I laughed. "I guess it does. I need to check, but I'd say there might be a raise included since you'll probably have to travel to New York with me at least once a quarter."

Her eyes lit up. "You mean a raise and free travel?"

I nodded as her excitement level increased. "I believe so."

She jumped from her seat. "I need to get back to work. Can I get you anything?"

I thought for a moment. "Hold all my calls until I say otherwise. I need to look over some things I have been putting off."

"Sure thing."

When I first began investing in blighted buildings Gabe suggested we find a small firm that would be willing to form a partnership and would work solely on my projects to ensure that my satisfaction were their primary concern. I let him handle the details in the beginning because he was much better at such things than I could ever be.

He found such a partnership with a small outfit we renamed Top Vision. In the beginning Top Vision was called McPhee Construction and was owned by three brothers. The only brother I had met personally was Nick. He had always come across as a very likable and honest guy. He always made me feel as if I could trust him and respected my wishes without hesitation.

I called Gabe back after I looked into my properties and found a few things I didn't like. He suggested I set up a meeting with my contractors to discuss a few critical delays and troubling budget increase requests.

The rest of the day progressed without a hitch. The phone at the office rang off the hook with prospective new customers wanting to set up meetings. It was a long day but thankfully I was so busy I didn't really notice.

Chapter Twenty-nine

My phone buzzed as I walked in the door of my apartment

"what time will u b ready?"

I immediately called Jane. "Hey sis, what’s happening?"

"Where are you?" Jane sounded like she was crying.

"I'm at home. What's wrong?" Her tone scared me.

Jane sounded desperate. "I’ll be there in a few, don’t go anywhere."

"I can come to you, where are you?" I wasn't sure I wanted her to drive in her state.

"No, you draw too much attention these days when you go out. I’ll come to your place." Jane insisted.

She had a point, ever since the duet took off I couldn’t go anywhere without being surrounded by autograph seekers. I knew if she needed to talk, here would be the best place for that.

"Okay sis, be careful."

Jane used to her key to let herself in. She looked horrible. I thought she looked bad after I got stabbed but that paled in comparison to pain in her eyes when she finally closed the door behind her.

I rushed to wrap my arms around her, her tears released as we embraced.

My first thought was that something happened to her brother. My heart sank to my stomach. "What's wrong sis? Did something happen to Adam?"

Jane shook her head. "Nothing other than losing his damn mind."

"What happened?"

Jane sobbed. "He sold the bar!"

I stepped back aghast. "He did what?"

"He sold the bar, no warning or anything. I thought we were supposed to be partners. I don’t know what I'm going to do."

"How can he do that? The lease is nontransferable." I asked.

"He fronted all the money so everything's in his name. I was so stupid. I trusted him and he left me high and dry."

"What was he thinking?" I suddenly became concerned he was slipping back to the evil version of himself.

"You know I was worried about him when he left this morning. I was at his place waiting for him to get home and he just walked in a few minutes ago saying it held too many memories and handed me a check saying it was for my share. He says he's moving away."

I quickly realized selling the bar was probably the best thing Adam could do for his mental well being but I could not say that to Jane.

I clamped my hands on hers. "What can I do?"

"I don't know. I just need to talk."

I led her to the couch. "Of course, sis. I'm always here for you. You know that."

I stepped to the bar and mixed her a drink as she vented. "I don't understand him. Like I said, ever since the photo shoot fiasco he's been different. He totally ignores the girls who hit on him. Nikki stopped by right after he walked in and they went into his office to talk. I was scared they were getting back together but she came out ten minutes later in tears mumbling to herself something about never measuring up to older models."

I laughed to myself when I handed her a drink and took a seat in the chair across from her as she continued. "I've never seen him like this. It's like he doesn't care about anything anymore. Not the club, not personal hygiene, not me, nothing. He only showed up when he felt like it and even when he was there he was so grumpy everyone wanted him to leave again."

I frowned and wanted to interrupt her and ask how much of his actions were my fault but this was about her, not me.

Jane looked up and saw my face. "I know you well enough to know you're blaming yourself for this but you can't. My brother's a grown ass man and needs to learn to handle his own shit storms. I've been there for him his entire life and he thanks me by taking away my livelihood without even a warning. If he'd just told he what he was considering I'd have either bought him out or helped him sell it. What kind of man does this to his sister?"

I leaned forward. "I don't know. I'll be more than happy to help you sis, you know that."

Jane shook her head. "I'll be fine. I don't need your help."

"And why not? Lord knows you've helped me enough."

Damn it, she's going to let me help her!

"That’s different!"

I glared at her. "How?" I crossed my arms over my chest. "Please Jane, tell me how it's different. I see someone I love who needs help I can provide. How's that any different from what you've done for me?"

Jane shrugged, "I don’t know, it just is."

I shook my head. "No it isn’t and you know it. Just for the record I'm every bit as hard headed as you are so you just need to sit back and say ‘Thanks, sis.’"

Jane laughed as she wiped her eyes. "Thanks, sis."

"Sit down, let me get us another drink."

While I mixed a couple of drinks I tried to formulate a plan on how to best help my best friend. She'd always taken care of everyone else, she needed to take some time to take care of herself. I had an idea. I just needed to convince her.

"How much do you have saved up?" I asked her as I returned with her beverage.

"A little, enough to get by for a few months maybe more with the check Adam gave me."

Jane reached in her back pocket and handed me the check Adam gave her. The check was for three hundred thousand dollars. Adam didn't exactly leave her high and dry but she was so raw and emotional that I didn't mention it.

"Do you still want to run the bar?"

Jane shrugged, "I don’t know, I don’t enjoy it like I used to."

"If you want to keep the bar I'd be happy to become a silent partner. All you have to is give the word and I'll refuse to sign a new lease."

Jane stared at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. "What do you mean refuse a new lease?"

I smiled. "I own the building."

Jane shook her head. "No you don't, we rent from Hunture Holdings."

I nodded. "I know, that is the company I set up to manage my properties. Gabriel wanted me to start investing for the future and since Hunter was my future I couldn't think of a better name."

Jane laughed wickedly. "I should do it just to teach him a lesson but I'm not sure. I only did it for him to begin with."

"If you don't then do you have any ideas what you would rather do?"

"I have a few ideas I might try, I’m not sure."

I saw my opportunity to put my plan into action.

"How attached are you to your apartment?"

Her look was puzzled. "What kind of question is that?"

I kept my expression stern. "Just answer my question."

"It’s a place to lie my head, why?"

"When's your lease up?"

"Actually I am supposed to sign a new one next month. What are you getting at?"

"Well," I took a drink, "You're here most of the time anyways, we get along great, and I have that spare…"

Jane waved her hands at me "Oh no, I can’t move in here!"

"Why not?"

"This is your place plus you have Jill. I'd be in the way."

"So what? Jill's moving out tonight and it’s lonely here by myself. Just think of the money you'll save while looking for something else."

Jane stood and shook her head. "I can’t do that."

"Yes you can, it'll be fun. We get along great, we already know we wouldn't get on each other's nerves since you lived here while I was recovering, what’s the difference?"

I knew I was getting through when she pouted at me. "Good point."

I smiled across up her, "I know it is. Besides most weekends I'm off performing somewhere with Robert so you’d have the place to yourself or since you're not working you could go with me."

Jane nodded. "That’s true."

I looked at her pleadingly, "You know how much I hate being alone. It gives me too much time to think and we both know what happens when I think too much."

Jane laughed, "you start thinking then start drinking."

I nodded. "Exactly! So you'll move in?"

"You don’t mind?" She asked timidly.

I was emphatic. "Hell no, I'd love it! I hate living in this big place by myself."

Jane finally gave me the smile I'd been looking for. "Then yes, I’ll move in roomie."

"Yay!" I jumped up to hug her neck as I moved into phase two of my plan.

When Jane started acting as my manager and refusing to be paid I contacted my lawyers to deduct ten percent of everything I made from the deal and placed it into an account in Jane’s name.

I pulled the last statement from my desk and handed it to her. "That reminds me, I put the money my manager should have received into escrow in the name of the person who's been acting as my manager."

Jane screamed in anger. "You did WHAT?"

I maintained my cool demeanor. "I told you what I did. So now between this and the check Adam gave you, you have a nice little nest egg to get by on."

Jane stomped her foot, which made me laugh thinking of Hunter’s fits, before she shrieked. "I told you I didn’t want any pay. I did that as a friend!"

I felt a smirk cross my lips. "And I did this as a friend. I told you that I wanted to pay you. How many times do I have to tell you? I am not hurting financially."

I explained things further. "Between the profits from the ad agency, my multiple investments, the money I made from Bellero and Annihilation, the money from other artists recording my songs, the payoff from the record labels and the settlement from the company that owned the truck that killed Hunter I've become wealthier than I ever let on. I have money invested all over the place. I could retire right now and live comfortably for the rest of my life if I wished."

Jane looked bewildered. "That’s not the point."

I dismissed her argument with a wave of my hand. "Look, I don’t care. The fact is the money is there and it's in your name. You can use that money to do anything you want and more gets added as the song climbs the charts and more copies are sold as well as every time I get paid to sing at one of Robert's shows. You can take all the time you need to figure out what it is you want to do next."

Jane prepared to speak again but I cut her off.

"I am not taking no for an answer. You've helped me in ways that you'll never know. You saved my life and my sanity more times than I can count. I wouldn't be here right now if not for you. Good Lord Jane, after everything you've done for me please let me do this."

Jane allowed a small grin to cross her lips. "You really aren't going to let me say no are you?"

"Nope." I responded before sticking my tongue out at her.

Jane shook her head, obviously still overwhelmed. "Can I ask you a question? You don't have to answer if you don't want."

"Of course I will, what do you want to know?"

My dearest friend appeared embarrassed. "How rich are you?"

I knew she would keep my secrets. That woman could hold her tongue like no one else. "You know how your brother likes to brag about his bank account?" She nodded so I continued. "Well, I paid almost that much in taxes last year."

She leaned back. "I'd have never guessed. That explains why you never seemed impressed when he brought it up."

"Gabe taught me it's better if nobody knows how deep your pockets are, else their hands will try to dig deeper."

"Makes sense."

"You do know I'm not letting you leave tonight don't you?"

Jane laughed. "I kinda had that feeling."

I smiled. "Good, now we don't have to fight about it. I'll order a pizza and we can just relax with a good movie or something and not worry about anything til tomorrow."

Jane shook her head as she looked at the statement again. "From the looks of it, I won't have to worry about anything for a long time."

I leaned into her shoulder. "That was the idea."

Chapter Thirty

"Damn, do you have an important meeting today or something? You look like hell in high heels." Jane exclaimed as I reached the kitchen.

"Something like that. I have to deal with a problem today and figured since I need to be a bitch I needed to look the part."

Jane examined my black pants and matching tailored jacket that covered a red silk top. She laughed when she noticed me wearing four-inch pumps. "You're going for a TPS aren't you?"

I looked at her questionably when she explained. "A Total Power Switch. You want the men to know who's in charge don't you?"

This was not going to be pleasant conversation and I had prepared myself for a fight. "Damned right I do. I feel sorry for anyone who tries to railroad me today."

Jane handed me a cup of coffee. "You go girl."

---

I called Gabe for last minute advice as I drove to the office of Top Vision.

"Mia Cara. Just be the strong woman you have recently shown yourself to be. If you feel they are trying to bamboozle you then don't hesitate to pull your business and demand payment for your share of their company."

I laughed at how my mentor made everything sound so cut and dried. "It can't be that easy can it Gabe?"

"Yes it can. Remember, they work for you. Someone in their company is stealing from your pocket. Demand that heads must roll if they wish to continue doing business. We employ powerful lawyers for a reason. This is your company so you must do what you feel is right and I will support whatever decision you make."

"I'm pulling into the parking garage so I need to go. Thank you Gabe. I love you, please send Anna my best."

"I will. I love you too dear one."

I placed my phone back into my purse as I stepped into the elevator and hit the button for the top floor. One floor later the doors opened and to my surprise, Ellie's boyfriend Greg stepped in before hitting the button for the same floor I had already pressed.

"Hello Greg." I said after he moved to the opposite corner.

He turned and appeared surprised as well as less than pleased to see me. "Hello Liberty. I'd say this was a pleasant surprise but I would be lying. If you are coming to see Ellie then you will be disappointed."

I rolled my eyes. "I'm not here to see either of you but since you brought the subject up. You mistreat her in anyway and I will find a way to hurt you. You have her so twisted she can't see you for the bastard you are."

His eyes filled with rage as he started to lift his hand as if to strike before the doors opened to our destination. "If you will excuse me, I have an important meeting to attend. Unlike some people I actually have to work for a living. Not all of us can survive off royalty checks and settlements."

I followed him out of the elevator ready to unleash to furies of hell until I saw my cousin staring stone faced at me. "What are doing here Lib?"

I brushed past her. "Don't get all self-righteous. I'm not here for you; I have business that I need to conduct. You've let it be known where we stand so I'm done trying to help those who don't want it."

Greg grabbed her tightly by the arm before she had a chance to respond and led her down the hallway.

While waiting for the meeting to start, I focused my anger into a renewed purpose. I was going to get satisfaction from this meeting if it was the last thing I did.

I walked into their conference room with confidence. A calm surrounded me as the secretary escorted me to the table where the brothers McPhee waited.

Nick rose quickly and pulled back my chair. "Hello Sara. Good to see you again."

I smiled. "Nick, you too." I nodded to the other brothers. "Hello gentlemen."

Nick pointed to a man similar to himself with a large build and sandy brown hair. "This is my brother Gary."

He then started to point to his other brother who looked as if he were staring at ghost when I smiled. "Hello Greg. You seem surprised to see me?"

Greg straightened his jacket and nodded. "Get out of here, Liberty. I don't appreciate you barging into my place of business to cause trouble."

I looked to Nick who was bewildered to the point of immobilization. "You need to explain to your brother who is the money behind this operation."

Nick snapped back to reality and glared at Greg. "Sara is the sole investor of The Hunture Group and as such you will treat her with the respect she deserves."

I stepped away from the seat Nick had offered and made my way to head of the table. They expected an informal discussion and I needed to set the proper tone from the beginning. I reached for the papers in my briefcase and handed copies to all three men. "Gentleman, we have problems."

Nick and Gary stared at me in bewilderment as Greg's posture straightened. "What do you mean?"

I shifted my entire focus on him. "What I mean is… If you and your brothers think you can get away with embezzlement then you are sorely mistaken."

Greg's brothers looked on with concern. "What are you talking about?"

"If you look at the pages I handed you. You will notice the discrepancies I have found and I find it very disappointing that after all this time you feel the need to resort to theft. I believe I have been more than fair as far as our partnership is concerned. We have been in business together for many years and we have all profited greatly, but rest assured, I will not hesitate to exercise my rights to replace the three of you with people I can trust."

Greg quickly became indignant. "How dare you walk in and threaten us. You have no right."

I laughed as I stood and leaned across the table toward him. "I have every right when I own controlling interest and you attempt to steal from me. Contrary to what you believe, I'm not someone who rested on my laurels. I bettered myself and every building this company has worked on is mine. Every dime you have made in the last seven years has been because of me. So next time you want to cast your judgmental eye, you make damn sure you know who you are looking at."

Nick slammed the paper I handed him on the table. "What did you do Greg?"

Greg glared at his brother. "Me? What do you mean what did I do? I have done nothing. You can't tell me you actually believe her? She's only trying to cause trouble to hurt me"

I glared at him. "Why would I do that? I didn't even realize you worked for me until a few minutes ago. I'd much rather have things continue the way they had for the past six and half years where I could trust your company to abide by my wishes but since that's no longer possible, changes have to be made."

Gary shook his head as he continued to scan the numbers of the sheet. "Greg this explains so much. We wondered how you could afford everything you've been buying lately. The budget is your area. No wonder we have been having such a hard time getting supplies. You've ruined us."

Greg turned to his brother. "I haven't done anything other than increase our profits."

Nick jumped from his seat. "Don't act like this was a group effort. I've lost money in the last six months because we haven't been meeting our deadlines."

Gary looked over to me. "I apologize Sara, this is my fault. I should have known what is happening right under my nose. You'll have my resignation letter in the morning."

Nick nodded. "Mine too. We can clear out today or we can wait until you have found suitable replacements."

Greg jumped over the table at me with his fist clinched. "You're a fucking lying troublemaker just like I told Ellie. You can't fire me." He screamed.

Nick dove to grab his brother as I stepped forward unafraid. I stared down into his beady eyes. "Go ahead little man. Hit me if it makes you feel better but rest assured I will be the last woman you lay your hands on."

I shifted my attention to Gary and Nick. "I'm not going to fire anyone if you agree to my terms. As it stands right now, I am willing to leave you two in place." I turned back to Greg who appeared poised to attack again at any second. "I want you assigned to a lesser role within the company and I will arrange for an outside accounting firm to handle all finances. I will also expect repayment for all money stolen but we can make an arrangement so that it doesn't totally devastate you."

I jumped as Ellie burst in the room but quickly turned my attention back to Greg. "I'd just as soon put your ass on the street but it wouldn't only be you I was hurting. I love her too much to cause her any more pain but I guarantee you that if you so much as lay a finger on my cousin I will ruin you. You may not have known who I am but a lot of people do. How easy do you think it will be to get a job once I file charges for theft and let it be known what type of man you truly are?"

Greg's head dropped in defeat so I turned to Nick and Gary. "Gentlemen, would you consider this a fair agreement?"

Both men nodded as I gracefully moved to collect my briefcase. "In that case, my lawyers will be in touch with the new arrangements. Have a good day."

I stopped when I reached Ellie's side. The look of hatred she aimed at my direction hurt worse than any punch Greg could have thrown. "I know you hate me and I don't blame you, I've been a terrible friend."

I reached up to lightly run my finger across a knot above her eye that she obviously tried to hide under her makeup. "He did this to you didn't he? I know abuse when I see it and I don't care how much you try to deny it." When she didn't respond I sighed. "I've done all I can and you've been warned. You can do so much better than someone like that. I'm sorry about all this, you can let him hurt you but I'll be damned if I let him run over me."

I knew from the fire in her eyes that she was about to unleash on me but I didn't want her to say things that could never be unsaid so I raised my hand. "Don't. I love you too much to let you say anything that could make me hate you." I noticed her fist start to clinch. "And don't even think about hitting me because I will whip your ass all over this office and you know it. I'm leaving and you'll never hear from me again until you want me too. When you are ready you know where to find me."

I turned toward Greg again. "You listen, and you listen good, you sorry excuse for a man. I will be watching you like a fucking hawk and if you place so much as a toe out of line I will unleash my fury upon you. You already think I am a bad influence who ruins people's lives, but you ain't seen nothing yet. You should see how much I can ruin someone when I set my mind to it. Mistreat my cousin one more time and you will soon realize that I have powerful friends from coast to coast and beyond so there will nowhere to hide."

I strolled from the office with my head held high and heard the brothers arguing behind me.

I made it to the elevator before I dropped my wall and let the tears flow freely.

Chapter Thirty-one

It was nice having Jane around. When the single started to slide and fewer demands were made for my time, she helped to keep my thoughts away from how lonely I was, and how much I still missed Adam. It had been over six months and yet I still ached for him daily.

He moved away shortly after selling the club so I didn't have to worry about running into him but every time the elevator doors opened I selfishly prayed to see him standing there.

Some days were worse than others, one particularly bad day I decided to play my piano to take my mind off things.

"That’s a beautiful song, sounds kinda sad though. What is it?" Jane asked as she took a seat on the couch.

I shrugged, "I don’t know, it just kinda came to me as I sat here the other day."

"Are you ok?" Jane inquired.

"Yeah, why?"

"I don’t know, you've seemed lower than a snails butt the last few days."

Jane was right. I'd been down. I saw a blue Evoque two days ago being driven by an attractive young woman which made me realize Adam had actually moved on.

"No, I’m fine."

"You sure?" Jane pressed.

I put on my fake smile. "Yeah, I’m good. You heard from your brother lately?"

Jane immediately knew the reason for my melancholy and smiled sympathetically.

"Yeah, I talked to him earlier. He sounded pretty good, he's started a new business."

"Really? What type of business?"

Jane shrugged. "I’m not sure, he didn’t go into it with me."

I knew she was lying but I was in no mood to push it.

"Is he seeing anyone?" I prayed her answer was no but we're talking about Adam so the answer's probably yes.

"I don’t think so but then again I doubt he'd tell me if he was." Adam stopped talking to Jane about his personal life when he and I split.

"Good point."

"Play that song again, I really like it."

I start playing it again, this time humming the words I'd written to myself and Jane stopped me.

"You have lyrics too?"

I nodded sheepishly "They aren’t that good, I was just trying to get some feelings out."

"I want to hear them." She said eagerly.

I shook my head. "I don’t think so, I’d be embarrassed."

"Please?" Jane begged, "I won’t laugh I swear."

I sighed, "OK, please don’t judge me. I never let anyone hear my songs anymore."

"I won’t, I promise." She made a cross over her heart.

"Remember, you asked for this."

Jane smiled as I began to play.

"I lived my life in my own little shell,

Afraid to let anyone see my personal hell.

Then I met you and the pain began to fade.

But I resisted, scared of being played.

You came into my life and saw through my disguise.

I was helpless when I gazed into your eyes.

You kept pushing, I couldn’t fight your pull.

Our love was great, you made my life full.

We were perfect, you made me whole

We belonged together. Mind body and soul

My love for you will never stray

It only grows stronger with each passing day

We're meant to be together, you and I,

I'll love you til the day that I die.

You picked me up, my confidence grew

Your love turned me into someone new

I started to crave your tender touch

I never knew I could love so much.

Times got hard, you pulled away

I didn’t know what to do,

Didn’t know what to say

I didn’t want our love to go away

We were perfect, you made me whole

We belonged together. Mind body and soul

My love for you will never stray

It only grows stronger with each passing day

We're meant to be together, you and I,

I'll love you til the day that I die.

I ached so much I wasn’t sure I could survive

I missed the way you made me feel so alive

But you made me strong before you went astray

I had to leave though my heart wanted to stay

You were mine and I refused to share

To think of you with anyone else wasn’t fair

I trusted you with all my heart

Only to have you rip it apart

I did what my head said was right

But oh does my heart put up a fight

I miss you baby; I miss you so bad I ache

I fear my heart will never overcome this break.

We were perfect, you made me whole

We belonged together. Mind body and soul

My love for you will never stray

It only grows stronger with each passing day

We're meant to be together, you and I,

I'll love you til the day that I die.

I moved on and so have you

I should be happy but I’m so blue

I'm questioning my decision to flee

I don’t think it’s worth this misery

We were perfect, you made me whole

We belonged together. Mind body and soul

My love for you will never stray

It only grows stronger with each passing day

We're meant to be together, you and I,

I'll love you til the day that I die"

I chanced a look over at Jane as I finished and noticed a tear in her eye.

"That was beautiful," she sniffed.

"Thanks"

"I guess I don’t need to ask who that was about."

I dropped my head. "No you don’t"

"You want to talk about it?"

"No I don’t. It has to be this way."

"No it doesn't." She replied vehemently.

"I don’t want to talk about it."

"You still love him." Jane said more as a fact than as a question.

I sighed. "Yes. I always will."

Jane wisely decided to drop the subject. "Did you say you had other songs?"

"Yeah."

"Can I hear some of them?"

"Why?"

"Because you're good and I love to hear you sing."

"Let me a get another drink first."

"I’ll get it, you just play."

I stood up and retrieved my songbook from under the piano stool and waited to play another til Jane brought my drink.

"Wow, you have an entire book?" she asked.

I shrugged my shoulders, "I've had a few feelings to work through in the last year."

Jane nodded sadly. "Yeah, I guess this has been a crazy year."

I looked over at her with an incredulous glare, "That would be an understatement."

Jane folded her feet underneath her and leaned forward. "So, play me another."

---

"I know a music publisher who would love to hear these." Jane stated after I finish my third song.

"I don’t know, I just wrote them to work through my emotions"

Jane leaned forward. "Others have felt those same emotions, maybe by hearing these songs you'll help someone else."

I dropped my head, "I doubt anyone would record them."

"There's only one way to find out. So would you meet with them… for me?" A pleading expression washed over her face.

I gave in easily since I knew she'd keep after me til I did anyway. "Okay, just tell me when and where and I'll be there."

---

"Thanks for meeting with me David, I'll get my people to work up some examples of your changes as soon as possible," I said as I escorted David Reid from my office. "I'll call you and set something up when they're ready."

David smiled and offered his hand. "Sounds great Sara. Just let me know."

"Will do."

Business was going great. The deal finalizing my purchase had been completed a few weeks earlier. Gabe had decided to retire and offered me control of the company but I refused, explaining I already had a full life and didn't want the pressure of running the entire company. After realizing I wouldn't change my mind he offered to sell me the Nashville branch for the massive sum of one dollar before he sold the rest of his company to a rival firm.

We gave the local office the option of staying with me or transferring to New York. Proudly all the employees chose to stay on after I assumed total control. I was planning on promoting Jill soon in the hopes of grooming her to eventually take control.

Ellie had finally come to her senses about a month after I demoted Greg. Actually, it was Greg who dumped her. He believed that if she was no longer in his life then I would lessen my attention on him, but he was wrong.

With me no longer having to worry about how things would affect my cousin, I could go after him without abandon if he tried anything else…which he did. He went around to other investors letting them know how much we had bid on other properties in exchange for a price.

By the time my legal team had finished with him, he could not get a management job anywhere.

Ellie and I were not yet back to where we used to be but we were working on it and thankfully she accepted my offer to pay for her to return to school while also working part-time in the office doing whatever was needed. My plan was to eventually have Jill and Ellie as my right and left hand with both being able to run things if life took me in a different direction.

I might have let it slip to Matt that Ellie was single again and Matt might have told Jesse about it because about two weeks afterwards Jesse surprised me in the office and then stuck around until Ellie showed up.

They have been seeing each other ever since.

I picked up my messages and saw where my father had called. We were back on speaking terms, he came to me a few days after our blow up and were able to have a civil discussion about our feelings. Daddy showed genuine remorse and felt tremendous guilt over his actions, I forgave him but things have never been the same.

Mom and I were polite with each other but that was the extent of it. I think she still thought I ruined Nikki's life but never mentioned it again. I wouldn't say we were on good terms but at least we weren't on bad ones.

After everyone exposed Nikki as the trouble maker she was, her life fell apart. After a few conversations with her mother Becky I anonymously paid for her to get the therapy she needed as well as providing her with a job at one of the companies I owned.

A small part of me saw what could have happened to me if I had not had the goddesses steering the direction of my life, and I wanted to make sure Nikki had someone open a few doors for her.

Before I returned to my office Jill stopped me. "Sara, Jane called and says you have a meeting with some people from ANEW Publishing at five this afternoon, it’s at the ‘Sparrow’. She wants you to call her if you can’t make it."

"Why in the world it be there?" I thought aloud.

"It seemed odd to me as well, tonight is the night they host a show for writers."

"Oh, that explains a lot. Thank you Jill, do I have anything else scheduled at that time?" I asked.

"No, Mr. Reid was your last meeting for the day. Do you need me to go with you?" This was Jill’s subtle way of finding out the topic of my meeting. I smiled thinking how eager Jill always was to accompany me to anything associated with my music career.

"Is this meeting business related?" she asked.

I smirked at her, "Yes Jill, just not this business. I think it’s an informal meeting to discuss publishing some songs I've written."

Jill’s eyebrows lifted slightly, "I think you might need your assistant with you."

I couldn’t help but to laugh at her excitement. "Yes Jill, I believe I would."

Chapter Thirty-two

The Sparrow was one of the world’s preeminent listening rooms and the venue had gained worldwide recognition as a songwriter’s performance space. Located in a small strip mall outside of downtown Nashville, the hundred-seat venue was unassuming in appearance. Being so early, the crowd was rather sparse when Jill and I entered.

"Hey sis, hey Jill. I can’t believe you actually agreed to come." Jane exclaimed as she approached us.

I laughed. "You had that look last night. I knew I might as well get it over with or I'd never hear the end of it."

Jane giggled. "You know me too well, come. I have a few people I want you to meet."

I looked toward the booth Jane was leading us to and everyone sitting there looked so familiar but I had no idea where I knew them from.

"Sara this is Annie Weber, she is A&R with ANEW." Jane said as she introduced me to an unassuming thin brunette wearing a black tunic sweater and jeans.

I extended my hand to her, "Nice to meet you Annie."

"Great to finally meet you properly Sara." Annie said as she shook my hand eagerly.

Jane pointed to a younger sandy haired man in jeans and a tee covered with a red flannel shirt, "And this is Troy Chriss, he's the licensing agent."

I nodded. "Nice to meet you Troy."

"It’s an honor." Troy replied.

Jane then pointed toward a man who appeared to be my age. His copper hair and hazel eyes looked familiar somehow. He was better dressed than his counterparts in dark trousers, white button up oxford and blue sports coat. "And last but not least this is Terry Foust, he's the VP of ANEW."

I looked at Terry with a puzzled expression. "Nice to meet you Terry, have we met before? You look very familiar."

Terry grinned slightly as he stood to greet me "I believe we met at an after party awhile back, but you didn't stay very long."

I frowned thinking it was the night I had been stabbed before it dawned on me where I had met them all before. "Of course, I remember now. How nice to see you all again."

As if it wasn't bad enough that it seemed everywhere I turned something reminded me of Adam. Sitting at a table with his friends that he introduced to me the very first night we met only reinforced how much I still missed him.

Before I lost my nerve and ran away screaming I turned toward Jill who had been standing behind me. "Everyone this is my personal assistant and friend Jill Abernathy."

Everyone politely waved to Jill as she waved back.

We took our seats and ordered a drink when Terry began. "Jane tells us you have quite a catalog of songs you've written."

I nodded. "Yes, it was mainly just my way of dealing with things going on in my life. I’m not sure how good they are," I cut my eyes to my best friend, "but Jane was rather insistent."

Jane smirked at my remark.

Terry smiled warmly. "Yes she can be very persuasive." He glanced down when his phone beeped and he ever so slightly lifted an eyebrow toward Jane who appeared to nod in acknowledgement. I could be wrong, as their gestures were slight.

Terry turned his attention back to me, "We're still waiting on one person, he just informed me he was running late and to start without him. Sara would you do us the honor of playing one or two of your songs?"

Jane stood to excuse herself saying she needed to use the restroom. Before walking away she gripped my shoulder and leaned into my ear, "Play that first song you sang last night. The one about perfect."

I nodded and then made my way to the piano on the stage. The few people there gasped as they recognized me and realized I was about to sing. I couldn’t remember being so nervous performing before. I'd always had people surrounding me while I was on stage. First I was just a dancer with Annihilation, then I had Gracie and Liz with me and later I was always on stage with Robert. Even at the Jazz club I had a band around.

I took a deep breath as I sat behind the baby grand. "This one's called ‘Perfect’"

As I started singing I poured all my heartache into my voice. I noticed Jane greet a tall well-built man at the door with a hug. He had short dark hair and a goatee. I couldn’t get a really good look at him since I was still too vain to wear my glasses in public. He was wearing sport coat over a tee shirt and I assumed it must be the company president as they made their way to the table arm in arm.

The short haired man walked to the stage before I finished, I still wasn't able to get a good look since the room was dark and I had a spotlight in my tear stained eyes. Once I finished singing he stepped up to my side and pulled me into an embrace.

I recognized the feel immediately. Only one man ever had this effect with just a touch. I looked up to meet Adam’s crying eyes and wrapped my arms around his neck.

"I've missed you so much," I sobbed into his shoulder.

"I've missed you too, baby. I was lost without you."

Adam placed a finger on my chin and tilted my face so that my lips met his. I ran my fingers through his sheared mane as I kissed him with all the passion and pain of the last few months. He returned my passion with his own.

After what felt like an eternity our kiss ended. I pulled back and once again ran my hand through what was left of his locks. "What happened to your hair?" I asked.

Adam grasped my hand and started to lead me to a corner table so we could talk in peace. "I cut it off, you told me to grow up so I did." He took a step back and motioned over his entire body. "What do you think?"

He looked better than ever. If someone had told me that he could look better than he did before I would have called them a liar but here he was, standing in front of me looking absolutely scrumptious.

I seductively licked my lips before responding, "I like it."

We sat down and Adam placed my hand in his. "I'm so sorry Sara, I've been miserable without you. A part of me died the day you left. Can you ever forgive me? I'll never hurt you again. I swear I'll never hurt you again."

I peered into Adam’s pleading dark eyes. "You hurt me, you hurt me worse than I ever thought possible."

Adam interrupted. "I know I did. I betrayed your love for me but I promise to make it up to you."

I gave Adam’s hand a squeeze. "Let me finish. I have to say this."

Adam nodded apologetically before I continued.

"That pain caused me to grow. I'm not the same woman you fell in love with. I'm stronger, I believe in myself now because of what you did. Have I been just as miserable as you? Yes, I have. I love you Adam, with all my heart, but as God is my witness if you ever do anything like that to me again you won’t get a third chance. Am I clear?"

Adam nodded his head. "Yes, I understand and I promise I will never so much as look at another woman ever again."

I laughed lightly. "Let’s not go that far. You're a man after all. You can look but if you touch so help me God, I'll cut something off that you need."

Adam chuckled, "yes Ma’am."

My expression turned serious again. "What now?"

Adam reached into his breast pocket and retrieved my engagement ring.

I placed my hand over his stopping him. "Adam, I’m not sure I'm ready for that back yet."

"Baby, if it’s not you then it’s not going to be anyone." Adam said as he dropped to his knee beside me. "You're my light, you're my day and my night. You once told me I could spend the rest of my life making up my mistakes to you. I've changed and it was you who changed me. I was a shell without you. I was such a fool.”

"I was the luckiest man alive and didn't realize it. I'm on bended knee before you begging for the chance, begging you to be my wife. Please say yes. I love you, I love your mood swings, I love the way you squinch your nose when you try to lie. I love how you fidget and lick your lips when you get nervous, I love how you look after your friends, I love how you get sassy after having too much tequila. I love how you twirl your hair in your fingers when you're deep in thought, I love how cling to me like a life raft after you have a nightmare, I love how you always made me a better man but most of all I love how you love me."

I gazed down at this humble, beautiful man who I loved more than I ever thought possible. He finally found his way back to me. I fell to my knees and wrapped my arms around my imperfect man as tears fell freely down my cheeks. "I love you so much."

"Is that a yes?" Adam asked as I tried to smother his face with kisses.

I placed my hands on either side of his face and gazed into his gorgeous eyes. "Yes, that is a yes. I will marry you."

Adam leapt to his feet and embraced me again, lifting my feet off the ground. "Oh baby, you've made me the happiest man alive."

I kissed his forehead and he spun me around "And you've made me the happiest woman."

Epilogue

"Elizabeth Jane Carson! I don’t hear you practicing!" I shouted out from the kitchen.

Lizzie giggled as she yelled, "It’s Daddy’s fault."

"Sorry Mom, you need to fuss at me. I had to get my hugs and kisses for the day, she's been slipping," Adam explained to me while laughing.

I walked to the living room from the kitchen where I'd been cooking and laughed as I saw my daughter’s long brown curls toss from side to side and I beamed as her bright blue eyes filled with happiness. Nothing warmed my heart more than hearing her laugh.

I knew my life was perfect as I sat beside my husband and daughter on the couch.

"Are you finished already?" I asked Adam before giving him a kiss.

"Just about," my husband sighed contently as he hugged his little girl tighter. "I hope we don’t have to do this again for at least another thirty years or more."

"Will Kevin be my uncle now?" Elizabeth asked excitedly.

I smiled at her, "He will be after tomorrow." I reached over and tickled my precious girl, "and you're going to be the prettiest little flower girl ever!"

"Is JJ going to be there too?" At four years old, my little girl was always so full of questions.

JJ stood for Jesse Junior. He’s Ellie and Jesse's son and is only two months younger than Elizabeth. They are best friends.

"Yes darling, he'll be there." Adam responded.

I leaned over to give both of them a kiss before I stood up. "I need to get back in the kitchen or I’ll never have everything ready in time."

"I still don’t understand why you didn’t just hire a caterer. It’s not like we can’t afford it," Adam said as I walked away.

"Honey, it’s not every day that your sister, my best friend, gets married. I want to make sure everything's just right. When she asked if she could get married here I knew that it was the least I could do. Plus I need to get everything done before our company arrives."

"Who are these people anyway? You have been in knots over their visit for a week now." My husband said with a questioning glance.

"Just some old friends. Two of them are the best makeup artists in the world. Like I said, I want everything to be perfect."

Adam tossed his hands up in defeat as I looked out the door to survey how our large back yard had been transformed. I loved how the arch was positioned in front of the lake.

Adam walked up behind me and wrapped his arm around me. "Do you regret the quick trip to Vegas?"

I peered over my shoulder and gave him a loving kiss. "No baby, not for a second. I haven't regretted a single moment since I said yes."

Adam stepped behind me and pulled me close, wrapping his massive arms around me. "Good, I haven’t either."

I remembered something I needed to tell Adam. "Oh, subject change. Jill called earlier, she managed to land that big contract I'd been helping her with."

"That’s great, I bet she’s happy."

I laughed, "That would be an understatement. I feel better knowing she’s in charge while we do that mini tour this summer."

"You did schedule a few extra days off when we stop off in New York didn't you?"

"Of course I did. I didn't even book a hotel for us. We're staying with Gabriel and Anna. They insisted." I laughed. "They can be very persuasive. I'm just glad they aren't traveling then."

Adam nodded, "me too. Before I forget to tell you, your album has jumped three more spots."

I smiled. "It'll be great seeing Matt, and Tim. I can’t believe they agreed to be my backup band."

Adam snorted, "Well, considering their lead singer still has another five years before he's eligible for parole I’d say they were free."

I started to laugh "I wonder what he said when he found out they became my band."

Adam joined in my laughter. "According to Zack he doesn't really say very much these days since the other inmates have been using his mouth for other purposes."

I laughed as I thought of how much my old bodyguard must be loving his new job as a prison guard. He gets to witness Razor's misery.

Eager to change the topic from the man who did not deserve on second of my thoughts, I looked in the living room at my beautiful daughter. "You think Lizzie will be ok with all this traveling?"

Adam spun me around to face him. "Are you kidding? It’s all she’s talked about for the past three weeks. Plus your mom and dad will be there to watch her while you're on stage or doing interviews. Ellie and JJ will be there since Jesse is in your band and don't forget, I'll be there too. If only to make sure they don’t spoil her too much."

I smacked his chest. "Oh please, you spoil her just as bad as they do. You come home almost every day with a present for her."

Adam’s brows lifted. "Oh that reminds me." He yelled over his shoulder, "Elizabeth honey, don’t you have something for your mom?"

"Oh yeah Daddy I almost forgot. I’ll be right there."

Elizabeth ran in the room wearing a bright smile carrying a box. "Mommy this is for you."

Adam smirked at me. "She saw it and had to get it for you. I tried to talk her out of it but she stomped her foot."

"Mommy, I saw a picture of my brother holding one like it once so I knew you’d love it."

I knelt down and accepted the box from my gorgeous girl and opened it to see the most beautiful mosaic color stone decorative frog I'd ever seen. Tears of joy filled my eyes as I thought of my son and pulled my daughter to my chest.

"I love it sweetheart. It’s perfect just like you. Let’s go outside and find the perfect spot for it."

"I'll get it." Adam said as the doorbell rang.

I tried to get to it before he did but I was too late.

He stared at the identical twins for a moment before looking down at the petite red head with the prism colored eyes. "Welcome to our home. I am Sara's husband Adam."

I released a small sigh of relief as he showed no recognition.

He shook both Dani and Polina's hand before he unexpectedly lifted Cali off the ground with a hug.

My loving husband suddenly sat Cali down while his face turned beat red. "I am sorry about that, for some reason I just had to hug you."

Cali's smile was breathtaking as her eyes started to become glassy when she replied. "It is quite alright, please feel free to hug me anytime you wish."

I rushed over to greet everyone and found myself shocked that the three looked exactly the same as they did six years ago. "I'm so happy you all could make it. Do any of you ever age?"

Polina shook her head slightly and laughed. "It helps to be a renowned makeup artist. I can make anyone look young."

She leaned closer so only I could hear. "You caught a touch of that yourself. Why do you think everyone believes you to be younger than Nicole?"

I laughed as I thought of the half-sister that I was now on speaking terms with. We weren't as close as we could be because of a few issues, including the fact I have aged more gracefully than she had but at least we were friendly on the occasions we saw each other at family gatherings.

Dani hugged me. "We don't really age but Cali is not yet comfortable talking about it. Thank you for inviting her. She's been walking on air waiting for this day."

I nodded and turned toward Dani's wife. As I leaned down to hug Cali she whispered, "thank you for inviting us. His mind might not know me, but his heart still does and that means the world to me. I've missed him, but it has been worth it to see him so complete. We used to talk about what we wanted from life, and he has everything he ever desired. I'm glad he has the life he always deserved."

I glanced at my husband who lifted our daughter into his arms. "We have a perfect life, and I'm glad I could share it with him."



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
72 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 82204 words long.