Even three years later, that moment in time haunted him. She’d been so young, so innocent. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her–hadn’t set out to do so. But he’d done it just the same.
What she wanted could never happen but he didn’t know how to explain that to her without breaking Sonny’s trust. Even if he could get past the five year difference–which at fifteen and twenty seemed impossible–Sonny would never allow it.
He’d left after that night, her tearstained cheeks haunting his every thought. He didn’t tell Sonny why–just that he couldn’t be around right now. For whatever reason, the older man agreed and Jason had been sent to coordinate some territory Sonny had taken control of in Puerto Rico.
He raised his hands to grip her shoulders and push her away but her tongue touched his bottom lip and he found himself kissing her back instead. He tugged her closer and tilted her head back to deepen the kiss.
She moaned a little and the sound snapped him back into reality. He abruptly broke the kiss and stepped back, breathing hard. Fifteen, he reminded himself, she was only fifteen. “Elizabeth, this can’t happen.”
She blinked and shook her head. “No, no–you…you kissed me back. Jason–”
He held his hands up to ward her off when she stepped closer. “No,” he said firmly. “You’re fifteen years old, Elizabeth. And this isn’t going to happen.” He pulled open the door the led back into the house. “We’d better get back inside before your father notices we’re gone.”
“Jason,” Elizabeth protested. “I don’t understand. You feel something for me. Why are you denying it?”
“Just…” he took a deep breath. “Elizabeth, just accept that this isn’t going to happen. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“It’s a little late for that,” she hissed at him. She pushed him out of her way and stormed into the house.
She was eighteen now–six months past her eighteenth birthday actually. They hadn’t spoken since that night and he hadn’t seen her since he left.
Just as Sonny had told he and Ric three years ago, on Elizabeth’s eighteenth birthday, he’d announced her engagement to Alexander Castellano and the wedding was set for eight months from the date. Three months from now.
Adela Corinthos was the first person Jason saw when he stepped inside the only home he’d ever known.
She was fussing over some planter next to the stairs and she looked exactly as he remembered–dark brown hair peppered with gray and still as slender as the day she’d married Ric’s father probably.
She heard the door open and when she saw Jason, she grinned. “Mi hijo!” she cried and swept him in a tight hug. “You’ve been gone too long.”
“Good to see you, Mama,” Jason said, calling her the same name he’d called her his entire life. He’d tried calling her Mrs. Corinthos, Mrs. Lansing and even Adela but she’d insisted on Mama and one didn’t argue with her. “Where is everyone?”
“Brenda and Michael are in the garden with Elizabeth arguing about the ceremony,” Adela informed him. “You can go back.”
Jason hesitated and she read his trepidation in his face. “Ah, don’t fret, hijo. Brenda doesn’t bite.”
“Where’s Ric?’ Jason asked instead. He could see his best friend–that would put him in a better mood. Ric knew the reason he’d left. It’d be okay.
Adela shook her head. “He and that wife of his are out of town. Don’t be silly. I take your bag. Go see the family.” She tugged his duffle out of his hand.
“Okay, Mama,” Jason sighed. There really was no arguing with Adela Lansing. He kissed her on the cheek and headed towards the back of the house.
The garden had been transformed in his absence. There was a large wooden altar being built in one corner and there were gardeners everywhere planting who knows what all over the yard.
Brenda Corinthos was standing with her back to Jason and directing some people. She’d had one child a year and a half ago–the son that Sonny had always wanted. Michael Corinthos, Jr. He was perched on her hip, his hair dark and his skin tanned. He was busily chewing on some rubber toy.
Sonny was near the altar but Elizabeth was nowhere in sight and sadly, he preferred it that way. “Hey.”
Brenda heard his voice first and she turned, a huge smile breaking across her face. She and Sonny had come down to Puerto Rico on more than one occasion and the petite brunette had won him over with her seemingly boundless faith in her husband and her determination to make him a decent human being. Besides, she was the only person who’d tell him anything about Elizabeth.
“Well, if it isn’t Jason Morgan,” she said cheerfully. She looked at little Michael. “Hey, Mike, this is your uncle Jason.”
Mike peered at the new person and waved a chubby arm at him. Jason grinned. “Hey, there.”
“Here, take him for a second and I’ll go tell Sonny and El that you’re here.” She shoved Mike at him and Jason took him without argument. He balanced the toddler in his arms and turned to look in Brenda’s direction.
Sonny was now joined by a tiny brunette–he recognized her immediately. Her long curly hair had been replaced with a cut to her shoulders and it was straight and looked smooth and silky. She was a little taller–definitely had filled out more. She wore a simple black dress with some jewelry and light makeup.
The tearful fifteen-year-old girl had been replaced with an eighteen-year-old woman. She laughed and then turned to Brenda who gestured towards him. He was jolted a little when she settled her cool blue eyes on him.
She stepped away from her father and stepmother and moved towards him. “Jason, hello. It’s good to have you home.”
“It’s good to be home,” Jason said hesitantly. “You look…” he trailed off, not sure of the proper etiquette for speaking to someone whose heart you’d broken three years ago.
“All grown up?” she supplied. She smiled then–a polite smile. One you’d use for an old acquaintance rather than the boy you trailed after in a white dress with a ragged hem at age five. “Three years does a lot of a difference. A lot of things can change.” She raised a hand and smoothed a hand over Mike’s smooth black hair. “Having a little brother changes things. Especially a brother in this family.” She raised her eyes to meet his and he understood. Where once an only child, she’d been the center of Sonny’s universe, little Michael was the heir to the empire now. And she was shuffled into a marriage to guarantee a larger empire.
“You look good though,” he told her with aching sincerity. “Real good.”
“So do you.” She tucked a piece of hair behind her ears. “So, you home for good? Or just for the wedding?”
“It depends on if your dad needs me to stick around. You should come to Puerto Rico sometime,” he suggested. “You’d like it there.”
“I don’t think that’ll be possible,” Elizabeth murmured. “Alexander doesn’t like the heat.”
He stiffened at the mention of her fiancé. “Well, it was just an idea.”
“Jason,” Sonny said, sticking his hand out. “Good have you back.”
Brenda took the baby from him and Jason shook Sonny’s hand. “It’s good to be back. I’ve missed it here.”
“We’ve missed you,” Brenda assured him. “I’m sorry you didn’t make it home for Carly’s wedding last year.”
“Yeah,” Jason rubbed the back of his neck. “How is she?”
“She’s good,” Elizabeth supplied. “Pregnant actually. Something about this family–everyone gets pregnant early.” She managed a fake smile. “Guess that’s good news for the Castellano family, huh?”
Brenda flushed. “Well, it’s more our family than yours. My mother got pregnant with me before she was even married.”
Elizabeth shrugged and looked back at the altar. “I should…go get ready. Alexander is picking me up in a few hours for the opera.” She kissed her father’s cheek, gave Brenda a hug and tugged on Michael’s ear before moving inside without a word to Jason.
“I’m going to get back to the workers,” Sonny told his wife. “Why don’t you go and get Jason settled back in?”
“Come on,” Brenda said to Jason. “I have so much to tell you anyway.”
Sonny narrowed his eyes. “Brenda.”
She glared at him. “Michael.” After a tense moment, she tugged on Jason’s arm and moved him inside.
“I see you two are still at it,” Jason remarked as he followed Brenda through the kitchen and into the hallway. “After three years?”
“He still thinks he can control me,” Brenda told him. “I give him enough leeway with his job. He doesn’t seem to understand that his daughter is miserable.”
Jason halted. “She looked fine to me.”
Brenda turned and looked at him sadly. “The woman she is now is not the girl you remember. She was once a very innocent and sheltered child and now…” she lifted a shoulder. “She knows all too well her father’s wrath.” She shook her head. “I’ll tell you more upstairs.”
Brenda set the baby on the floor to crawl around and sat on the bed while Jason unpacked. “I almost wish I’d had a girl,” she remarked softly.
“So Sonny’s favoring Michael more?” Jason asked.
“I don’t think he does it consciously but…” Brenda sighed. “Women in Sonny’s world aren’t held up on a pedestal, you know? Sonny adores Elizabeth but she is just a girl and Michael is his heir now. He always wanted a boy.”
“Yeah…Ric said Sonny always resented Lily a little for not being able to give him a boy.” Jason shut his drawer and set the duffle bag in the closet. “How did Elizabeth take the news of the engagement?”
“By the time that happened, a lot of the fire had gone out of her,” Brenda remarked. “Carly and I–we took her under our wing but there was only so much we could do for her. Once Ric was married and he moved out and Carly was spending so much time with AJ, I was pregnant…Elizabeth was very much alone and I think, to a degree, she became a little depressed. And once she got it in her head that it her fault you left…whatever spark was left was gone. So when Sonny presented the engagement to her, she just accepted it.”
“It wasn’t her fault,” Jason protested. “I had to go.”
“Because you knew what was going to happen on her eighteenth birthday and you were already falling in love with her,” Brenda said, voicing the things he’d only thought and never said.
“She was only fifteen, Brenda. I was twenty. It felt wrong then. I didn’t…” He drove his fingers through his hair. “I didn’t realize I’d loved her for so long. She was just a child when I met her.”
“And so were you,” Brenda reminded him. Michael tugged on her skirt and she lifted him into her arms. “Mama once told me a story about Lily and Sonny. That Lily was seven when they met but she’d boldly announced to her that she was going to marry her son one day. And Mama agreed–because she understood it was possible to find someone like that even at a young age. In today’s society, finding your happily ever after at age seven is a laughable idea. How could you have any idea what you’d want when you were older at that age?”
She shook her head. “It’s so much better to fall in love when you’re children. It’s more innocent, more lasting that way. There’s a reason people always remember their first loves. There’s no shame in admitting you’ve loved her since you were ten.”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter now. I knew then it wouldn’t work because Sonny would never allow it. I work for him and she’s his daughter.”
Brenda hesitated. She’d never repeated to anyone what Monica Quartermaine had told her that night. Because she’d been so caught up in Jason’s exit that she’d forgotten it at first and once he was gone, there was no reason to bring it up. “Jason, would it surprise you to know that almost everyone except Sonny expected you to marry Elizabeth?”
Jason frowned and peered at the brunette. “How do you mean?”
“The night of the Quartermaine’s party…Monica Quartermaine told me that Lily had believed you were going to marry Elizabeth and that…business-wise, it would be the most sound decision. Because you didn’t have the full trust of some people because you weren’t part of the family–because you were just a kid Sonny took in. She told me that if you had married her, that your place in this world would be secure. That you’d be accepted.” Brenda smiled. “It was only until Carly married AJ Quartermaine that she even accepted, despite being Sonny’s sister-in-law.”
Jason sighed. “Yeah, I knew all of that. But it never mattered to me. I didn’t intend on marrying someone just to make other people feel comfortable about me.”
“I’m just…it seems odd that Sonny would know that and still arrange for this marriage.” Brenda shrugged. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. The marriage is set and Alexander isn’t so bad, I guess. He’s a little stiff–a little too proper and yet…” Brenda hesitated. “I just hope Elizabeth isn’t entering a marriage where the man doesn’t practice fidelity.”
Jason frowned. “What would make you say that?”
She shrugged. “Because I’ve heard rumors that he’s a ladies man. That he likes to have a good time with a lot of women and I know that would devastate her.” Her mouth twisted into a ugly grimace. “I don’t care that some women turn a blind eye to it. I would castrate Sonny in a heartbeat but I’m just worried she’s so…sedate now…so…cold and so withdrawn that she’d just let him do whatever he wants.”
Jason sighed. “Well, I’m home now. I’ll help in anyway I can.”
“Good.” Brenda stood and wrapped her arms around him, trapping baby Michael between them. “She needs you–even if she refuses to admit it.”