Written in 56 minutes.
Tuesday, February 1, 2000
Elizabeth swirled the last paintbrush in the sink, then set it aside to dry. She glanced over her shoulder at the canvas on the easel across the room, studying it with a critical eye. It was her third attempt at trying to recreate The Wind which had been destroyed the day the PCPD raided the penthouse, but she hadn’t quite recaptured the way she’d felt that first time.
That first try had been messy with some splatters and drips, but it had felt right. Every other attempt just felt like she was copying her own work.
She exhaled on a huff, then checked the clock. Her morning classes were over, and she was supposed to meet Jason for dinner—if she didn’t leave right now, she’d be late. While things were quiet on most fronts, she knew Jason hadn’t yet dealt with Sorel. It had been a little over two weeks since the disastrous wedding reception, and the tension still hung in the air. With Sorel, with Sonny—
She shoved all of that out of her head, covered the canvas with a sheet, then tugged on her jacket. Time to stop thinking about all of the things she had no control over and go home to meet her husband.
Elm Street Pier
She jogged down the steps to the pier, crossing towards Bannister’s Wharf and the parking lot where the car waited. Several feet behind her, a guard trailed. She always felt bad for the guards assigned to her — they were supposed to follow her around, but she had such short legs. How did they stay behind without basically dragging their own feet?
Distracted for a moment by the thought of the tall, blond, muscular Francis Corelli keeping the pace of a turtle, Elizabeth didn’t hear the other footsteps until two men stepped out from the steps leading up to the wharf. She stumbled to a stop, and almost as quickly, Francis stepped up and slid in front of her.
“Ah, Mrs. Morgan.” Joseph Sorel smiled, flashing his even white teeth. “What a lovely surprise.”
“Out of the way,” Francis stated simply, taking Elizabeth by the elbow. “Now.”
“This is a public dock,” Sorel murmured. “I can walk where I wish.”
“Let’s just go back,” Elizabeth told Francis. They’d go back to the studio or towards Kelly’s. Francis nodded, and they started to turn.
“I’m surprised you’ve returned to your, ah, studio.”
“Ignore him,” Francis muttered, and Elizabeth agreed. They were already at the stairs with Francis almost shoving her onto the bottom step.
Then Sorel spoke again. “Those bad manners are showing again. No greeting, no goodbye. You don’t even let a man finish his sentence before you hang up.”
Elizabeth froze, turned just a moment to meet Sorel’s eyes. Hang up.
She’d hung up on him that night at the studio, when it was clear that he’d be of no use to her. He’d claimed it wasn’t him, but she’d always known it was. She’d heard his voice that night at the reception and recognized it, the smooth lies over the oily tone. Insincerity oozing from every word.
He’d chosen his words carefully to remind her. To carry a message. He’d gotten to her in the studio. In the limo. Today on the docks.
If not for a bad charge on the bomb on New Year’s, Elizabeth might already be dead.
“When you show me a man worth respecting,” Elizabeth said coolly, “then we can discuss manners.” Then she turned away, continuing her climb, her heart pounding, Francis’s boots echoing in her ears.
Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room
Jason’s fists were clenched as he shoved the door open to the penthouse and stalked inside. “What?”
Sonny scowled at the entrance, then crossed to the minibar. “I don’t know why you’re so angry with me already,” he bit out. “I didn’t do anything—”
“I have things to deal with—”
“And we need to talk about what happened on the docks.” Sonny arched a brow. “Or were you planning to just go out and shoot Sorel where you found him?”
His throat was tight as Jason just kept his mouth shut. Elizabeth and Francis had related the incident on the docks, and Sonny had called him over almost right away. He hadn’t even processed what had happened yet. Really taken in that Sorel had been stupid enough again to approach Elizabeth.
“Because I thought that was the plan two weeks ago,” Sonny continued when Jason had said nothing. “But you’ve done nothing—”
“He never goes anywhere alone,” Jason bit out. “And today was the first time he was out in public. He’s waiting. He knows I’m coming—”
“And so he decided to step out and taunt you today,” Sonny pointed out. “Look, you don’t have to trust or respect me—” His eyes flashed with a mixture of irritation and hurt. “But I still know what the hell I’m doing. He didn’t just show himself to Elizabeth. That’s not what Francis reported.”
“No.” Jason exhaled slowly, his hands going to his waist. “He accused her of having no manners. Of being the type to hang up on someone. He chose those words deliberately, and she knew it. If he’d just wanted to insult her, he would have just called her rude for walking away. But we never told anyone that Elizabeth hung up that night. They know she claimed to hear from Sorel, but the hangup—”
“It’s something only Sorel would have known about. He wanted you to know that he was behind it, Jason. Either he’s arrogant to the point of stupidity or he’s planning something—” Sonny hesitated. “I’m worried if we just take him out now, if there’s a back up plan. If something gets triggered if he goes missing—”
“I can’t worry about that. I can’t,” Jason repeated. “And you know it.”
“I just—” Sonny shook his head. “We need to be ready for anything. I want him gone, too. That’s three times he’s gone for Elizabeth. I don’t want her in danger either. I never wanted that—”
“It was just a risk you were willing to take,” Jason bit out.
“And it’s one you were, too,” Sonny shot back. “You married her, didn’t you? You could have left. Yeah, things would have gone to hell with Carly, but she would have been out of it with Sorel, and you knew it. You decided to stay.” His eyes burned into his. “I told you to go, didn’t I? Stop being so pissed off at me because we knew this would happen if you did!”
Jason didn’t have an answer for that. Of course not. He’d stayed because Elizabeth had wanted him to, because he hadn’t wanted to go. But the only way to be sure Sorel wouldn’t use her was not to be in town. He’d put her in the middle of everything by marrying her.
“That doesn’t change what you did—”
“No, but I’ll be damned if I take any of the blame for her being in this situation in the first place.” Sonny tossed back the last of his bourbon. “You were the one that stayed in her studio even after people knew you were there. You used her to stay out of sight.”
Jason scrubbed his hands over his face. This wasn’t getting them anywhere. “I don’t want to fight about this anymore,” he growled. “It is what is.” And damn it, Sonny had a goddamn point. The reception was his fault, but everything else—
“When you make the hit,” Sonny said, and Jason focused on him, “we need to make sure everything is covered. Elizabeth doesn’t make a move without Francis, and we might want to add more plain clothes protection. For both of you.”
“And let’s make sure this son of a bitch doesn’t get another chance at Elizabeth.”
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Elizabeth paced the area in front of the fireplace, twisting her hands, waiting for Jason to return from Sonny’s. She hadn’t even been able to tell him more than the content of the conversation before he’d had to leave.
Maybe she shouldn’t have stopped. Or maybe she shouldn’t have gone to the studio. They’d said it was okay, that there was security—
The door opened and Elizabeth spun around to find Jason quietly closing the door behind him. He leaned against it for a moment, meeting her eyes from across the room.
“Is, um, everything okay?”
“Yeah. Sonny just wanted to check in.” Jason flicked the lock, then approached her. “You okay?”
“I’m fine. I guess. I don’t know,” she added when he just raised his brows. “It was just…weird, I guess. I did what I’m supposed to do. You know, I just turned and left. I didn’t say anything to him until—”
“Until he reminded you of New Year’s.”
She winced. “Yeah. I don’t know why hearing him confirm made me feel jumpy. Or why it makes you so mad. We both knew he did it—”
“Yeah—” He slid his hands from her shoulders down to her elbows, then repeated. His touch calmed the jitters in her stomach. “But today, he made sure we didn’t have any doubt. He tried to kill you. Almost did.”
“Yeah. With everything that’s happened since then—” A month ago. That’s all it had been. A month earlier, she’d been worrying herself silly over sleeping with Jason and made a nearly fatal mistake in returning to the studio alone. What a lifetime it seemed now. “I never really sat with it. Carly started making her threats—”
“And then we got married,” he murmured, “and the PCPD—” Then Carly again, but they didn’t say anything about that. Better to think of Carly as something they’d already dealt with. Elizabeth knew Jason wasn’t going to say another word about the baby until those paternity results came in. And why Jason believed Carly would play any of this straight—
No room for that conversation today either.
“You did everything right,” Jason reassured her. “You followed Francis, you didn’t engage in conversation. Sorel wanted you to take a message. You did that.”
“I did kind of get snippy with him at the end,” Elizabeth reminded him.
“Yeah, well, he had that coming.” He kissed her forehead, but lingered, his fingers tightening at her shoulders. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not sorry we’re standing where we are,” he said, drawing back for a moment. He took her hand in his, his fingers tracing over her wedding ring. “But Sorel is going after you because of me. And Sonny reminded me—” Jason’s eyes clouded over. “The reception might be his fault, but the rest of it—”
“It’s no one’s fault—”
“When I was going to leave town,” Jason told her, “it wasn’t just because of Carly. I knew if I were out of the picture permanently, Sorel would lose interest in you. I stayed.”
“I made you,” Elizabeth insisted. “And I knew—”
“You made a case,” Jason corrected, “and I agreed. I wanted to be here. With you,” he added, and she flushed at that, but managed smile. “But I knew that it meant you’d still in the middle of this. That Sorel might see you as someone to use. I could have stopped it. I didn’t.”
“The only way to stop it was to lose this.” Elizabeth leaned up on her toes to kiss him. “And I’ll never be sorry I fought to keep it.”
“Me either.” He tangled his hands in her hair and kissed her back.
Quartermaine Mansion: Family Room
AJ sipped some water and perused the day’s papers, reading the sections he’d skipped earlier that morning. The house was quiet for once—his grandfather at ELQ, his parents at the hospital, and Carly had gone shopping with Michael. It wasn’t often he got to sit by himself, with his own thoughts.
“Junior. I was hoping to find you in here.”
AJ looked up, grimacing as Ned sauntered in. “Why?” he wanted to know, folding the paper and tossing it aside. “What do you want now?”
“I’ve had some time to think it over.” Ned sat on the sofa, leaning back and crossing one leg over his high. “I wasn’t going to say anything,” he continued, “but the longer I sat with it, the more I decided I should at least tell you what I’m thinking.”
“If this is about the pharmaceutical proposal—”
“It’s about Carly.”
AJ got to his feet, shook his head. “I don’t want to listen to any more of how I’m letting Carly ruin the family—”
“If you go through with pretending you’re the father of this child, it won’t just ruin your family. It’ll ruin everyone else’s.”
AJ stopped at the doorway, turned back to Ned, then closed the door. “I’m not pretending.”
Ned stood with a shake of his head. “You are. And I don’t blame you. There’s karma in this, I get it. Jason took a year of Michael’s life away from you. And we both know he’s still the ghost in your marriage. For the last year, Carly’s schemed to get Jason back. If you hadn’t made her sign that prenup, she’d already be gone.”
AJ’s throat was tight. “Maybe. But she’s here. And we’re making it work.”
“She’s not a terrible mother, so I get why you’re doing this. I barely see my daughter.” Ned grimaced. “Divorce is hell, even when it’s civil. I’ll never be the father I wanted to be for Brooke Lynn, not as long as she’s in New York with Lois. I get that you don’t want that for Michael—”
“Get to the point, Ned—”
“Jason was a good father,” his cousin said softly, and AJ scowled. “It doesn’t matter that he didn’t have the right. He was good to Michael—”
“And if he were the father, which he’s not, it would mean he had an affair with my wife,” AJ bit out. “You think he needs to be rewarded for that—”
“You married Carly knowing that was probably going to happen. Jason doesn’t owe you fidelity or loyalty. Especially after you slammed his head into a rock—”
“Carly made you those promises. She’s the one that broke them. And right now, she’s the only one getting away with it. How is that fair to anyone?”