Written in 57 minutes. Final scene took a bit more time.
Time seemed to be flying faster than ever as the days marched towards the end of the year, and the first snowfall of the year threatened the Port Charles annual Christmas assembly. Elizabeth had paced in front of their parlor window, praying that the weather would not keep them out at the ranch. She’d helped plan the harvest festival in September, but that had been at Lila’s side. This assembly had been the first event in which Lila had handed over the full reins, and it would do much to establish Elizabeth as a capable hostess, worthy of taking up the reins of the Morgan family legacy.
Jason had listened as Elizabeth explained the stakes of this evening but with a slightly quizzical expression that suggested he either did not understood or accept that she simply had to be in attendance or it would be more difficult for Elizabeth to make a place for herself in Port Charles. To his way of thinking, he’d married her and his family accepted her just fine. Everyone should just get in line.
But he hadn’t said it out loud, and she’d appreciated it. He was always so kind to her, always so considerate. He really had been the perfect husband and father, and while he might understand right now, he would if the assembly was a disaster. He had never lived without the approval of the world he lived in. He was a man, and it was so much harder for them to fall from grace.
For a woman, it was if they were born at the bottom and had to climb their way to the top, to earn their way into positions men were granted from birth.
The weather cleared and the snow was packed hard enough to travel upon. Cameron was overjoyed at the chance to bring his sweet greyhound puppy, Pip, to spend the evening with his great-grandmother, being spoiled rotten, as his parents attended the assembly.
Jason hoisted Cameron into the winter sleigh, and cautioned him to hold the dog tightly. Then, instead of holding out his arm to help Elizabeth down the porch stairs and over the icy front walk, Jason lifted her. “Oh, this is—I can still walk—” Her cheeks flushed, Elizabeth gripped his shoulder. “I’ve walked on ice before—”
“I wasn’t there to carry you,” Jason said, and she sighed. His overprotective nature could be quite bothersome at times, but it also warmed her soul. She worried, still, that she was little more than the convenient wife foisted on him by his impulsive cousin and lonely grandmother. It had been months, really, since she’d been plagued with those thoughts, but every so often, they returned. She always chased them back by reminding herself that kindness and good upbringing only went so far. Jason could have done nothing beyond marrying her and providing a home.
“We’ll see how you feel about that when I’ve grown as large as the porch,” she muttered, and he just laughed at her, settling her in the sleigh. Before long, he cracked the reins and they were off to town.
Several hours later, Elizabeth felt quite pleased with herself as she watched dancers swirl around the wooden floors of the town hall, enjoying the beat of the informal orchestra gathered for the evening. On the fringes of the dance floor, couples and groups milled about. The weather had cleared enough for many of the area’s ranchers to come in for the evenings with their families.
“Here—” Jason appeared at her side, handing her a cup of the punch he’d gone to fetch. “This is, uh, good, right?” He swept his eyes over the crowd. “It’s what you wanted?”
“Yes.” She beamed with pride. “It’s precisely what I wanted, and how your grandmother told me it should be. I was so nervous when she said she would step back, but—oh, your friend Sonny is gesturing at you.” Elizabeth touched his sleeve. “You should go—”
Jason made a face. He hadn’t left her side all night—that overprotective nature again— “I can see Sonny any time—”
“Yes, but you don’t.” And the neighboring rancher hadn’t exactly warmed up much to Elizabeth, she thought. Well, this would be a good opportunity to change that. “Please. I’ll be fine.”
He hesitated, then nodded and squeezed her hand before heading over to Sonny. Elizabeth decided to make a loop around the room to be sure everyone was having a wonderful time.
Halfway around, she came across Robin Scorpio stepping off the dance floor. “Elizabeth!” Robin said. She turned to her dance partner. “Uncle Mac, go find Aunt Felicia.” Her uncle melted into the crowd.
“I was hoping to see you tonight,” Elizabeth said, linking her arm in Robin’s. “I wanted to thank you for all your help tonight—”
“Of course. You’ve done a wonderful job—” Robin paused as a pair of women crossed their path. Her warm brown eyes darkened. “Britt.”
“Doctor,” Britta Westbourne said with a a false smile. “It’s nice to see you out of your office. I wasn’t sure you knew how to dress up for a party anymore.”
“It is nice to see you, Robin,” the blonde next to Brita offered, and Elizabeth dimly remembered that Robin was connected to Maxie Jones in some way. “Mrs. Morgan.”
“Yes, Mrs. Morgan, good evening.” Britt flicked her cold stare to Elizabeth, the expression at odds with the smile on her face. “You always seem to pop up out of nowhere, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry?” Elizabeth said, lifting her brows.
“Well, of course, not quite out of nowhere. After all, you’re an old family friend, aren’t you?” Britt tipped her head. “You’ve known them forever.”
“My grandparents were old friends with Lila, yes,” Elizabeth said coolly. “How fortunate for me to be able to continue the connection.”
“And how fortunate for your son.”
Elizabeth’s face remained blank. “Excuse me?”
“Britta just means that it’s nice that you were able to get married again,” Maxie said in a rush. “And that your son shares a superficial resemblance to Jason. He won’t feel left out.”
“Yes, I’m sure Britt is, as always, concerned with the well-being of others,” Robin said. “If you’ll excuse us—”
“How odd that Jason never mentioned an arrangement with a widow from back East,” Britt said as Robin attempt to pull Elizabeth away from the two women. “He certainly never indicated to me that there was another claim on his affections.”
Another claim—Elizabeth drew her brows together. “I’m sorry?”
“I just find it unusual that Jason never spoke of a betrothal to anyone else. He certainly had ample to time to inform interested parties.”
“I want to introduce you to my parents,” Robin said, gently tugging on Elizabeth’s arm. “Come on.”
Bewildered, Elizabeth allowed herself to be drawn away from the women and in the opposite direction. Another claim? Interested parties? Did she mean—
“Pay zero attention to Britt Westbourne,” Robin murmured. “I had more of claim on Jason’s affections, and that was ages ago—”
“He might not have said anything to anyone—” It was as if a bucket of ice water had been thrown over her. Perhaps Jason had been interested in the other woman—maybe it had been new and unknown to his cousin, too soon for him to think of marriage, but it might have blossomed if Elizabeth hadn’t been dropped on his doorstep—
Somehow, Elizabeth made it through the rest of the evening, pasting a smile on her face as Robin introduced her parents, Robert and Anna Scorpio. Then Jason came over to claim her for a dance, and she must have done an admirable job of keeping her emotions masked for Jason didn’t ask any questions.
As the evening wound down, Jason convinced Elizabeth it would be all right to leave and return to Lila’s home where they’d spend the night. She was relieved to get out of the room, eager to get away from the worries and suspicions that somehow she’d derailed the trajectory of Jason’s life, upending the plans he had made for himself. All those old worries and insecurities had returned in a rush, swamping her.
“You shouldn’t worry,” Jason said that night as she sat at the dressing table Lila had moved into Jason’s childhood bedroom. “Everyone was having a good time.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth murmured, drawing out the pins from her hair. One by one, the metal clinked into a small dish, and the heavy, curling mass dropped down. She reached for a hairbrush. She wouldn’t ask. It was none of her business, after all. Jason had made vows in front of God and his family, and he was an honorable man. She had no right to ask or demand more than he’d offered.
But, oh, how it hurt to wonder if he’d been on the edge of falling in love with someone else, and that her presence had ruined everything. If it had just been her, maybe Jason would have sent her own her way, returning her to the dredges of Port Hamilton or maybe sending her on to San Francisco.
Instead, she’d had a little boy whose story had captured his sympathy, and Jason had a lot of love to give children. Everyone spoke so wonderfully of his relationship with his nephew. So he’d married her instead of sending her away.
It would do no good to dwell on what might lay in Jason’s heart, she argued with herself. It could only hurt—
“Did you have some sort of understanding with Britta Westbourne?”
The question fell from her mouth before she knew that she would ask it, and her cheeks flamed as she caught sight of Jason the mirror, standing at the bed with his eyes wide.
“Nothing. Nothing.” Elizabeth rose and dragged a shawl around her shoulders, the winter chill seeping into her skin, despite the fire he’d laid and the thick wool gown she wore. “Just a silly—nothing.”
“It’s clearly not—”
“I should get some rest. It was a long day—” She drew back the counterpane, but Jason tugged it towards his side. “I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”
“You’re my wife,” Jason told her.
“Yes.” Her shoulders slumped, but Elizabeth forced a smile. She’d received her answer. “Yes, and I count myself fortunate—”
Jason gritted his teeth and rounded the bed. “That’s not what I—of course it’s your business, and no. The answer is no—”
“I shouldn’t have asked—”
Jason caught her hands in his, and waited, but she would not look at him. That would only make all of this worse. “I did not have an understanding with her,” he repeated. “When my grandmother asked me to consider marrying, when I gave her a promise, yes, Britt was someone that I looked at. Someone I considered—”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yes. I understand—”
“You don’t.” Jason exhaled, drew her into his arms, but she couldn’t allow herself to relax. Couldn’t find comfort in his embrace. “I don’t know if I ever intended to keep my promise to my grandmother. If Dillon hadn’t brought you here, I’d likely still be just where I was a year ago.”
“You don’t owe me any explanations,” Elizabeth insisted. “I just—”
“When I realized I couldn’t see a future with Britt, she was angry, and I don’t think she ever forgave me. I didn’t care, to be honest,” he told her. “I had never made her any promises, and we’d only gone out walking a few times. I escorted her to a few assemblies. But I didn’t want anything else. And I couldn’t do it just for my grandmother. I’m sorry if she said anything to suggest differently.”
Elizabeth bit her lip. “So there was no one—” She hesitated. “When I arrived, there was no one you had to disappoint?”
“Just Dillon,” Jason said and she smiled at that. “And we really should think about revenge. He’s been walking around too smugly all these months. I told you that first day — I went to that hotel room to explain the misunderstanding and to promise anything you needed for a fresh start somewhere else.” He brought her knuckles to his mouth. “And then you gave me my walking papers. I knew that I had to take a second, closer look.”
Some of the doubt and worry dissipated, and now her smile was more genuine. “And it was worth it then? That second look?”
“Best decision of my life.”