A string that pulled me
Out of all the wrong arms right into that dive bar
Something wrapped all of my past mistakes in barbed wire
Chains around my demons, wool to brave the seasons
One single thread of gold tied me to you
– invisible string, Taylor Swift
Britt closed the door, then leaned her head against it with a soft exhale. “I’m getting really tired of this.”
She scowled at Nikolas as he stepped out of the bedroom of the hotel suite he’d arranged and folded her arms. “You keep saying that. It’s been months, Nikolas—”
“And it’ll be a little longer.” He crossed to her, rubbing his hands from her shoulders to her elbows, then back again. “What did Faison say?”
“It’s what he didn’t say. There’s nothing I can do to get him to open up about the Cassadines. He refuses to tell me anything.” She sighed. “I’m sorry. I’ve been a disappointment as a partner.”
“I’m able to keep Faison in my sights thanks to you,” Nikolas said with a shake of his head. “That’s not nothing, Britt. Besides the reason I asked you to meet me here—the box is missing.”
“What?” Britt blinked, stepped back. “Wait. You said she was dead—”
“She is. Andre assured me that the box I had was the only one in existence, but when I went back to Greece to check in—” Nikolas’s face was grim. “It was gone.”
“Oh, God—” She pressed a fist to her mouth. “There’s only one place it could be. Can you find a way to stop it? To stop Chimera?”
“I can try, but not without giving up my cover and I’m not ready for that.” Nikolas prowled the living room. “We need more. Even if I could get to Elizabeth in time—I still have to take down Valentin.”
“Then I’ll go. I’ll—I’ll go to Patrick. He won’t believe me, but I can—”
“No, I’ve thought this through. I think our best chance—the best one we have—Elizabeth needs someone on her side whose only loyalty to is to her and the boys. Patrick has the heart, but he doesn’t have the muscle or resources. I know exactly who that is and so do you.”
Britt tipped her head. “He’s still in that coma—”
“And that’s where you come in.” Nikolas crossed to a table and picked up a folder. “This is Robin’s protocol. I managed to get a copy from the labs. This is how she woke up Helena, Stavros, and Drew Cain.”
“Well, Robin would—” She pressed her lips together and sighed. “That’s really why you came to me, isn’t it? Because I’m a doctor. Nikolas, that’s not the kind of medicine I practice—”
“Helena planned Chimera for the Nurse’s Ball. That’s not until May. We have time, Britt. You just need to study this—”
“And how do we get Jason out of that clinic to do this?”
“You’re not just a doctor, Britt. You’re Faison’s daughter. Everyone knows you’re on the run with him. You go to the clinic and tell them you’re there on his behalf. I know how well you can lie,” he reminded her and she grimaced.
“It was different before,” Britt said. She sank onto the sofa. “I lied to Patrick and to you because I wanted to get something. I was playing with feelings. Pretending my supervillain father sent me to wake up someone the Cassadines have kept hostage—”
“I’m working on that. I’ll get you the leverage you need, Britt—” Nikolas perched on the table in front of her. “This is our chance. I know who’s behind this. It’s Valentin. I don’t know what he wants Chimera for — it can’t be Helena’s revenge. I can’t be worrying about Elizabeth and the boys. About my family at home. I need someone there to help. We wake up Jason, we tell him the situation, and we send him back.”
“You’re sure he’ll come through?”
“When we tell him Jake is alive but Helena is trying to kill him again from beyond the grave? Yeah. He’ll come through. Are you in, Britt?”
“A lot of this rides on me figuring out this protocol and waking Jason up in time for the Nurse’s Ball,” Britt murmured. She took the folder from Nikolas. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she admitted.
“I don’t know if I can pull it off,” she clarified. “But I’m willing to try. Hell, it’s worth a shot.”
Sunday, December 31, 2017
Metro Court Hotel: Ballroom Entrance
Anna smiled down at the picture text message from Emma holding her baby brother, then looked up to find Robert striding off the elevators towards her, looking as rakish ever in his tuxedo. “Hello, gorgeous.” She greeted him with a kiss on the cheek. “You’re late.”
“I had an unexpected appointment at the hospital and then I wanted go over some old files,” he said, lowering his voice slightly as he slid his arm around her waist, steering her into the room where the party had gathered. He grabbed two champagne glasses from a passing server, handed one to her, then sipped his own.
“Is everything all right?” Anna asked, furrowing her brow. “You’re not ill, are you—”
“No, no—” He paused, scanning the room, his eyes falling on the table where Monica was sitting with Michael and Nelle. Jason and Elizabeth were standing next to her, and Monica’s eyes passed over Robert lightly, then turned back to her son.
“I thought we were going to wait—” Anna pressed her lips together. “Robert, you can’t really think that Monica Quartermaine put an innocent toddler into the system to get rid of him. She raised Jason—”
“As you said, my dear, this was before your time.” Robert exhaled slowly. “I wanted it to be Tolliver,” he said finally. “He was bothering Lila, and I liked the old gal. When we caught him going after Heather—it seemed to fit. I looked over those reports and Ashford is right. If he’d lived, we’d have been laughed out of court.”
“You did the best you could—no one knew about twins,” Anna said. “And don’t tell me it was there if you looked—Curtis Ashford knew he was looking for twins. He had every reason to start at the beginning. Based on what you knew about Susan Moore, who would ever think she’d leave another million dollars on the table?”
“It’s a hell of thing, Anna—” Robert finished his champagne. ‘”I let the boy down. Both of them,” he added. “What would their lives had been like if they’d known each other?” He gestured with his empty glass where Jason had gone over to talk to Jordan, Curtis, and Drew near the terrace.
“And what if I hadn’t hidden Robin from you for five years?” Anna asked. “If I hadn’t pretended not to be her mother? It’s a tragedy they were separated, Robert, but you can’t take that weight on.”
“I let them both down when they were boys and then the agency I dedicated my life to—that I sacrificed raising my daughter to protect—” Robert’s mouth twisted. “It let them down all over again. More than that. It took apart their lives. It nearly destroyed them.”
“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” Anna promised him. “And we will make it right. I promise you that.”
“We can’t ever make it right, Anna. What did Drew say? We could just make it over.” His sigh was heavy. “So let’s make sure we don’t take this bloody case into another year. 2018 is the year we end the Cassadines for good.”
She raised her own champagne glass. “I’ll drink to that.”
Metro Court Hotel: Ballroom
Across the room, Jason had updated Drew and Curtis on Spinelli’s conversation with Patrick Drake, and then gone across the room to make sure that Carly knew Michael had brought Nelle.
“Not being in the middle of that drama might be the best thing about you not being Jason Morgan,” Curtis said, as they watched Drew’s brother catch the blonde at the entrance to the ballroom. Carly’s eyes darted over the crowd, her lips thinning, and the irritation was evident even from their vantage point. Then she turned and left the room. Jason grimaced and followed. He returned a few minutes later, shaking his head.
“It’s strange,” Drew said slowly. “I had the memories of constantly cleaning up after Sonny and Carly, so I kept doing it, but I never wanted to. It’s why I cut ties.”
He looked around the ballroom, at the glitter and glitz of the celebration. “And here I am, back in the room where it all went crazy two months ago.” He shook his head, looked down at his wine. “Was it only two months ago?”
“A little more than that, but yeah. It’s Port Charles,” Curtis offered. “You either got buckle up or get run over.” He located Jordan in the crowd, finding her with Portia Robinson and a few other doctors from the hospital. He slid his hand into the pocket of his tuxedo and drew out a velvet box, flipping it open to reveal a diamond ring. “What do you think?”
“I think my divorce isn’t final yet,” Drew quipped, “but I appreciate the offer—” He snickered as Curtis rolled his eyes. “No, it’s great. I didn’t think you guys were there yet—”
“I am. She’s not. Still not a fan of Aunt Stella,” Curtis admitted, “but, uh, you know, she’s an acquired taste.” He slid the box back into his pocket. He paused. “You sure you made the right choice moving out?”
“For right now,” Drew said. He looked around the room, but he wasn’t surprised that Sam wasn’t there. She’d isolated herself since everything had happened—had barely left the penthouse. Sam wasn’t ready to face the world the way it was now, and Drew didn’t think anything would change unless he made it happen.
“We need to figure out who we are with all of this,” Drew added. He looked at Curtis. “Thanks. For all the extra legwork and time you’ve put into this. I know you juggled your actual work to do this for me—”
“No, let me—” Drew hesitated. “Almost everyone in my life—they knew me before. It’s hard to know what’s real friendship and what’s not. Some of it—it’ll be okay. Eventually. But you—you never knew the other guy. I don’t know if I would have pushed looking into my mother’s death if you hadn’t done the work.”
“Whatever you find out there, Drew, it’s gonna suck. But I’ll be here with you when you get those answers.” They both looked at the Quartermaine table, then Curtis frowned, noticing that Elizabeth and Michael had left the table and gone a bit away—Elizabeth’s face was flushed as she said something, and Michael scowled at her, storming back to his table.
Drew’s eyes passed over Monica. Their eyes met for a moment, then Monica’s eyes dropped to the table. She looked at Nelle and offered a nervous smile. Drew’s stomach rolled. He didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t feel good.
“What’re you gonna do if it was her, man?” Curtis asked.
“I wish I knew,” Drew murmured. “If she killed my biological mother, that should matter, shouldn’t it? But it was—it was forty years ago, Curtis, and she’s been my mother for two years. She’s my kids’ grandmother.” He hesitated. “She’s buried three children. A husband.”
“You think maybe the universe has been punishing her all along?” Curtis asked quietly. “You can just let it go?”
“I don’t know.” Drew raised his champagne. “Maybe. But maybe if my mother had lived, she was coming to get me.” He met Curtis’s understanding expression. “I don’t remember growing up in the group home, but I do remember waking up without a family. Without memories. Without an identity. How much harder would that have been as a kid?”
“Then I guess we’ll find out what we need to find out, and let karma take care of the rest of it.”
Metro Court Hotel: Carly’s Office
When the knock on her office door came, Carly turned away from the window, expecting to find Jason there. He’d followed her out of the ballroom, but she’d told him she wanted to be alone and he’d left.
It wasn’t Jason or her husband, but Elizabeth.
“Hey, I hope I’m not interrupting,” Elizabeth said, hesitantly. “I just—Jason came back in, and he seemed upset, and you seem upset, too. And I just—” She made a face. “I don’t know. I tried to talk to Michael—”
“There’s no talking to him,” Carly said. She sighed. “Thank you. Michael did say that you’d tried a few days ago—and it almost got to through to him, but—” She paused. “I don’t know what happened. He went from promising that he wouldn’t try to make me accept Nelle to just—the same argument over and over again.”
She folded her arms, and turned back to look out the window. “I deserve this,” Carly said. “For what I did to my mother and Tony, don’t you think?”
“Deserve what, exactly?” Elizabeth asked. Carly heard the other woman’s heels click across the hardwood floor as she drew closer to the desk. “What do you deserve for having an affair a thousand years ago, Carly?”
“I didn’t just have an affair,” Carly said, with a level of scorn she rarely turned on herself. “I came to town and exploited the problems that already existed in their marriage, set my sights on seducing my stepfather, and then making sure that my mother’s life crumbled around her. I humiliated her. Over and over again.” She exhaled on a puff of air. “And I want to pretend that I have some sort of moral high ground over Nelle? Because Nelle did what she did after I lost Morgan?”
“BJ had already been gone for two years by the time I showed up,” Carly said, “and I know Bobbie and Tony had their issues even before that. But Tony was ripe for what I wanted because he’d been broken by losing his kid.” She turned back to Elizabeth, her eyes hot with tears. “How am I better than Nelle?”
“Maybe you’re not,” Elizabeth offered, and Carly scoffed. “But I don’t see what that has to do with any of this, Carly. We don’t work like machines. We don’t have calculators that add up the crimes and then spit out emotions to match. What happened with Tony was more than twenty years ago. Morgan was a minute ago.”
Carly closed her eyes. “It feels like that, you know? I feel like I saw him yesterday, and then in the next minute, I struggle to remember the last time I saw him. It comes back,” she added. “Eventually. But there’s always the minute when I couldn’t remember.” She exhaled. “Michael doesn’t think that I get it, you know? That he sees something in Nelle worth saving. He thinks I’m ignoring it for spite.”
“I think it probably makes it worse that you do get it,” Elizabeth said. “And you can’t make it change anything about how you feel. Carly—”
“I don’t know why you’re being so nice to me,” Carly muttered, swiping at her eyes. “Michael said you were looking out for me, and we both know I don’t deserve it.”
“Carly, seven years ago, I had an affair with my brother-in-law,” Elizabeth said dryly. “I could have stopped myself. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to get married to Lucky again, but I didn’t really know what else I was supposed to do. And Nikolas was—” She stared off into space. “He was there. And then it just—it kept going wrong. And I kept hurting people. Lucky and Nikolas could barely be in the same room for years. You don’t have the market cornered on destruction, Carly.”
“No, I guess we all have our crimes.” Carly pressed her lips together. “I’m sorry. For what I said at your house a few weeks ago. For a while, I was mostly sorry that anyone heard me. But I wasn’t sorry about what I said.”
“I didn’t think you were.”
Carly’s smile was faint to match Elizabeth’s. “But I am now. I just wanted Jason to let me help him. He never asked me for help, not when it matters. It’s because I’ll mess it up. I’ll do what I think is right, not what he wants me to do, so he just leaves me out of it. He was never going to ask me with any of this. He didn’t have to. He had you.”
“And I hate that it gets to me,” Carly continued. “That I obsess over making sure that I’m the one that helps Jason. Or that I’m the one that Michael listens to, or that Joss confides in. I have to be the center of it. The center of everything. And I know that drives everyone insane.”
“So why do it?” Elizabeth asked.
Carly paused, then exhaled, her breath shaky. “I know who I am, Elizabeth. I’m not someone with a lot of friends, and the people who are in my life—it’s mostly a hostage situation, I think. I make sure they need me. Because I know if it was just about wanting me around—” A tear slid down her cheek. “I don’t think I’d win that fight.”
“I think you’d surprise yourself, Carly,” Elizabeth asked. “You’re not the only one with issues. I’m always drawn to broken and damaged people and then I spend way too much energy trying to them better. Because if I can fix them, then maybe—” She paused. “Maybe they’ll stay.”
Carly stared at the other woman for a long moment, then nodded. “Well, I guess we’re all insane in our own way. It’s kind of comforting—”
“Hey.” Jason stopped in the doorway, looking at Elizabeth curiously before looking at Carly. “Michael said you yelled at him and left the party, so I figured I’d find you here.”
“Your nephew is an entitled brat sometimes,” Elizabeth muttered, folding her arms. “Sorry. I’m going back to the party,” she told Jason. “Why don’t you and Carly talk?”
“Uh—” Carly held out a hand. “No, you should stay—”
“Nope.” Elizabeth slid past Jason, smiled brightly at them both, then disappeared down the hallway. Jason stared after her, then looked at Carly.
“You really don’t have to ask me that.” Carly held her arms around herself, bracing herself with a smile. “It’s fine. Elizabeth and I were being nice, I promise. I was behaving—”
“Carly—” Jason came into the room. “That’s not what I asked. I’ve talked to Elizabeth—and to Sonny. I know what’s going on with Nelle now.” He paused. “You didn’t tell me about last year. About her part. I just thought she was Michael’s girlfriend.”
“I was supposed to dump all my problems on you the minute you came home?” Carly scoffed, then stared at the ground. “You had enough to deal with.”
“Jason, you know, it’s exactly what Monica said two months ago,” Carly continued. “I never stop to think about how she felt with AJ. I watched my son get destroyed by someone he trusted. Morgan absolutely believed in Ava—and she screwed up his pills. And now—” She closed her eyes. “Now I get to watch it happen all over again, and it’s worse. I didn’t even know what Ava was doing, you know? I only found out six months ago. With Michael and Nelle—I can see the train coming off the tracks, and I can’t stop it, Jason. I can’t stop him from getting hurt.”
She paused. “I deserve this because everything I’ve ever done. I had this coming. And I doubt Monica’s the only person out there laughing about it.”
“Whatever happens with Michael, we’ll keep our eye on him,” Jason promised. “And we’ll stop it before it gets too bad. I’ll find a way, Carly.”
“You know—” Carly paused. “Michael said that Nelle and I were the same. That the only thing that made us different was that I had you.”
“He’s right, of course,” Carly said with a scowl. “You never, ever let me fall. Even when you should have. Even when it should have been easy to cut me out. You let me ruin your life, judge your choices, and generally just be a giant pain in your ass. But you also saved me, Jason. The only reason I am who I am today is because of you.” Her voice faltered. “And I hate that you can’t say the same about me.”
“There are times,” Jason said, slowly, “that my life would have been simpler without you. And I almost did cut you out, Carly.”
“But you never thought of me as damaged.” When Carly frowned, Jason continued, “Before you came along—before Sonny—everyone else—they thought I was less. Even Robin and Sonny still looked at me as someone to teach. Someone to help. Everyone wanted to fix me. Not you. You thought I could save the world, Carly, and you asked me to repeatedly.”
“Constantly.” Carly’s lips curved into a small smile. “So my neediness and selfishness was a good thing?”
“Not always,” Jason said, with a shake of his head. “But I didn’t know how much I needed to know that I was—not just normal—but capable. I could do jobs for Sonny—but those were easy. You made me live in the world and be messy. Make mistakes.”
“This sounds wonderful,” Carly muttered.
“I am who I am today because you pushed me,” Jason told her. “Not always in good ways. And not always in the ways I wanted to go. But I never stayed still. You are my best friend. And, at this point, there is nothing you can do to change that.”
“Well.” Carly took a deep breath. “Since we’re being nice to each other, I think—” She paused. “I’m glad that whatever I brought to your life—that you’ve found some benefit in it. But we both know there were a lot of times I could have chosen to be a better friend, and I usually chose the low road.”
Jason tilted his head to the side, nodding in quiet acceptance.
“In the last two months, I’ve been so proud of you,” Carly said. “I was scared for you, worried about you, angry for you—but watching you get your life back on your own terms, fall in love with your son—become part of the world again—” She paused. “We both know that it wasn’t anything Sonny or I really did. And I think that we’ve both learned that life is too short not to hold on to the people who make it worth living. So if there’s something you’ve been waiting to say to someone—” Carly waited for their eyes to meet. “Don’t wait anymore.”
Metro Court: Ballroom
Kristina laughed and wiggled her fingers at the pretty blonde on the dance floor before returning to the table she was sharing with Molly and TJ as well as a few others from the hospital. “I think I might let her persuade me to go home with her,” she declared, reaching for the champagne.
Molly wrinkled her nose. “You just met her.”
“That’s the fun part.” Kristina frowned. “Put your phone away—”
“I’m just—I’m texting Sam. Mom has the kids because Sam was supposed to come tonight—” Molly looked up and peered around the room. “She’s still not here.”
“Stop—” Kristina put a hand over the screen. “She made her choices—”
“Krissy, it’s not that simple—”
“It is for me. She wants to sit at home, boohooing because Drew isn’t going to let her hurt his family, well, at least someone is standing up to her. Sam gets away with murder because we let it happen.”
“She’s our sister—”
“And I love her. But loving her does not mean she gets a blank check.” She sipped her drink. “What she actually needs is someone to slap the silly shit out of her, but Mom told me I’m not allowed so I’ll settle for ignoring her when she’s being a bitch.”
Molly sighed but then set the phone down. “Maybe you’re right,” she said begrudgingly. “I feel like if I go over there now, I’ll end up patting her head and telling her she’s right, and I don’t think she is. I just—I feel sorry for her.”
“I do, too. But it won’t help. We need to be strong.” Kristina tossed back the last of her champagne. “I’m going back out there. Come with me.”
“Fine. But don’t make me dance.”
Jason scanned the room — looking past Michael sitting sullenly at his table — past Drew dancing with Jordan and Sonny who had pulled Diane out onto the dance floor—
He found Elizabeth finally, trying valiantly not to get her toes stepped on as Spinelli twirled her around, her gold dress flashing under lights, her face creased in laughter as the tech swung her back into his arms with a grin of his own.
“Stone Cold!” Spinelli said cheerfully as the pair left the dance floor. “I love you!”
“How much has he had to drink?” Jason asked Elizabeth who laughed again.
“Just a few, just a few—” Spinelli’s face was permanently etched with a silly smile that only grew when he spied someone across the room. “Ah, I see my Maximista and the Blonde One across the room. I leave the Fair Elizabeth in your capable hands.”
Jason watched him go, a reluctant smile on his face as the younger man reunited with his other friends. Maxie started to tell him a story, her hands flashing as she gestured wildly.
“Sometimes I think he’s one of the best things that ever happened to you,” Elizabeth said, drawing his attention back to her. She was smiling up at him, looking much happier than she had when she’d left Carly’s office.
“You can’t be too serious around Spinelli.” Elizabeth leaned up and brushed her fingertips against the side of his mouth. “I used to be able to tease you like he does, but he definitely knows how to make things lighter. You needed that, Jason. And I’m so glad he came home.”
“Me, too.” Jason slid his hand through hers, lacing their fingers together. “About being the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. Carly was right. Life was too short to leave things unsaid. “We should talk about that.”
Elizabeth drew her brows together, her expression lightly quizzical. “What?”
“I want—I need to talk to you. Can we—can we go to my place? I mean, I know there’s the party, but—”
“No, it’s—” she smiled at him. “This was fun, but we’ve been here a few hours. All I need at midnight is you.”
Penthouse: Living Room
Sam curled up in a ball, clutching a pillow against herself as she stared at the television screen. She was barely watching the celebration in Times Square, but the flickering sounds and images filled the emptiness, the screaming silence—
She’d started to dress for the party but then remembered how many people there hated her. She didn’t have a friend in the world. That was a good thing, wasn’t it? It was better to be alone. If you didn’t count on anyone, they couldn’t let you down.
“I don’t need anyone anyway,” she muttered. She leaned over to nab the bottle of whiskey on the table and twisted off the top.
Still, she looked at her phone, waiting for it to light up with a message from Molly. Or maybe Drew. He knew she was supposed to be there.
But the phone remained silent and dark. No one called. No one cared that she wasn’t there.
Fine. Good. It was good to know where she stood. Who she could count on. Not her mother or her sisters. Not Drew or Jason. Not Sonny.
It would make it that much easier when she burnt it all to the ground and took what was hers.
Safe House: Street
Across the street from the house where Jason had been staying since he’d returned to Port Charles, a car slowly parked and shut off it lights just before a dark SUV turned down the street.
He’d known where they were going as soon as he’d spied them leaving the hotel. It wasn’t yet midnight, so they were coming to the house where Morgan kept the bike. He’d watched them for weeks—watched as Morgan stepped into the place that should be his. He’d waited for his chance to take back what belonged to him.
He watched as the SUV turned into the driveway and the lights went dark. He saw a car door open, and then Morgan came out, went around the other side. He disappeared from sight.
Franco waited and waited for the garage door to open, for the motorcycle to roar down the driveway as it had so many nights before—
But nothing. They’d gone inside and weren’t coming back out.
Franco curled his fingers around the steering wheel, his knuckles white with rage. If she thought she could toss him out like garbage and move on—
It was time to teach Elizabeth a lesson.
Safe House: Living Room
Jason took Elizabeth’s coat and hung it up, wondering if he’d gone insane. Had he really taken her from the party and brought her across town to the house where—
“You know, when Sonny told me you were meeting at the safe house—” Jason turned to find Elizabeth leaning against the back of the sofa, a brow arched. “I didn’t realize you’d kept this place. I would have thought—”
“I almost sold it after—” Jason put his hands in his pockets. “But I told myself that you still lived nearby. The boys—I still wanted a place if you needed to get out.” He paused. Here was something he could tell her. “That’s what I told myself.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean—” He stepped towards her. “I kept it because it was ours. A place no one else knew about. I used to come here sometimes right after—” After he’d walked away.
“Jason?” she asked when he didn’t say anything else.
Jason honestly didn’t know how he would even go about asking for what he wasn’t entirely sure he deserved. Another chance. Or maybe the first chance. Had they ever really had one?
He approached her, reached for her hands and looked down at them.
“Jason?” she asked again, nerves lacing through her voice.
He raised his eyes to meet hers. “I’m sorry. I want this to be right. I want to say the right things. The words you deserve. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to give you what you deserve.”
Her expression softened. “That’s usually because you keep worrying about what you think that is. Jason, just tell me what you’re thinking. Like you used to.”
“When I met you, when I really met you that night in Jake’s,” Jason added, “I didn’t know how much you’d change my life. How important you’d become. That you wouldn’t just save my life, Elizabeth, but that being around you would remind me of everything I still wanted to do. To see. To be a part of.”
“You did the same for me, Jason. You know that. We saved each other.”
“And we’ve been doing it ever since,” Jason continued. “Because—” And he waited until their eyes held. “Because when my life falls part, I look for you.”
A tear slid down her cheek at the echo of the words she’d spoken to him the night they’d created Jake. “Jason—”
“I look for you because I know I’ll be able to breathe. That you’ll be right there when I figure out how to take the next step. How to keep going. You did that almost twenty years ago and you’ve done it every day since I came home. I’m sorry I didn’t stay before. That I didn’t hold on tighter. I thought I knew better, that I could protect you better if I wasn’t there.”
“I am always better when you’re with me,” Elizabeth told him, her voice low but fervent. “I hurt without you.”
“I know. I do, too.” And with that, his breath left his body in a rush. “I need you to trust me again. To give me just one more chance to stay. I promise I won’t let go again. Not even if you want me to.”
Her lips trembled slightly as they fell open. “Jason, what are you—”
“I love you,” he told her. “I will always love you.”
On a sob, she threw herself into his arms, burying her face in his neck as he wrapped his arms around her waist, pressing her against him, feeling the way they fit together. The way they’d always fit.
“I won’t let go either—” Elizabeth drew back slightly, framing his face with her hands, their eyes searching each other’s. “I love you, too.” She slid her fingers into his hair and kissed him. He’d forgotten how she tasted, how her scent and flavor seeped into him until they felt like they were part of his own body—
When Jason felt a familiar need rising inside—one that he’d been fighting for weeks—he stepped back, his breath shaky. He set Elizabeth back down on her feet, sliding his thumbs down her cheeks, across his soft skin. He wanted to tell her they’d take this slow—that they’d maybe go back to the party—
But he couldn’t stop himself from dipping down to kiss her again, their mouths brushing against each other, almost clumsily as she laughed, her pulse racing so fast he could feel it when his fingers lightly encircled her neck, angling her head to the side so Jason could deepen the kiss—
Her hands crept under his suit jacket, pushing it off his shoulders, and then her hands were undoing the buttons of his shirt — and intentions to do anything but carry her upstairs and show her exactly how much he loved her vanished entirely.