The Glamorous Life

by Nicole & Rob

Standard Disclaimer: This story is a complete work of fiction. The authors do not know any of the celebrities mentioned in this story, their sexual preferences, or any other such things that are quite frankly no one's business but their own. This story may contain descriptions of sex between consenting adults of both genders, so if you are under the age of eighteen, depictions of such acts are illegal in your area or are contrary to your beliefs, this is as far as you go. Don't say you weren't warned. Now, with that said, on with the show!

Chapter Four: Friends and Lovers

"Answer me damn it! Are you fucking my wife?" Orlando asked again, his fury reaching a fevered pitch when neither Cassie nor Justin would reply. He walked over to where Cassie still stood with her back to him, seemingly lost in contemplation of the inky darkness outside the window. He grabbed her arm, pulling her around to face him, his face mottled with barely suppressed rage. "Cassidy! I asked you a question: are you shagging Justin Timberlake now?"

"No," Cassie finally replied, her voice faint but hollow as she stared at him, her eyes wide and vacant.

"Well, then why the hell is he seeing you tomorrow?" Orlando demanded to know, totally oblivious to the signs of shock in his ex-wife. "What the hell is going on around here?"

"Dude, I think you need to calm down and get your damn hands off of her," Justin said menacingly, his temper flaring now that he had seen with his own eyes just how Orlando treated Cassidy. Orlando regarded him through narrowed eyes, almost daring him to make a move as he maintained his hold on Cassidy's arm. Justin was sorely tempted to put his lights out, but one look at Cassie's woebegone face and his anger dissolved as he watched her, concerned when she seemed to look right through him. He touched her face gently, turning her to face him. "Cassie, are you okay?"

"Yes," she replied, her voice still barely above a whisper as she carefully detached Orlando's hand from her arm, missing the look of fury on Justin's face when he saw the faint but fast disappearing bruises Orlando had left with the death grip he'd had on her. She seemed to snap out of the trance she was in, smiling at Justin like she wanted to reassure him that she would indeed be fine. "Thank you for bringing me home tonight Justin. I really do appreciate it."

"No problem Cassie—I'd better be going though. I have company coming and I totally forgot," Justin said with one last look at Orlando that threatened him with grievous bodily harm if he laid hands on Cassidy again. He pulled out a business card, scribbling something down quickly and then handing the card to her, smiling as he hugged her again. "These are my home and cell numbers. You call me if you hear anything about our friend...or if you just need to talk," Justin said softly, his eyes flickering briefly over Orlando before settling on Cassie again.

Cassie smiled sweetly, her dimples showing, her eyes twinkling with mischief. "Don't worry about me Justin—I can handle him," she whispered conspiratorially. "On the other hand, you might want to pray for him though, cause I'm about to lose my temper."

She watched in amusement as the color drained from Justin's face and he began to backpedal toward the door, almost falling over a small divan in his haste to leave as he made his way back the way he had come. "I-I'll catch you later!" he said over his shoulder as he hurried out to where his driver had parked in the driveway and, waving one last time, he got inside the car. Cassie watched the car disappearing into the chilly Los Angeles night, once again astonished that Fate had conspired with some Higher Power, albeit one with a warped and wicked sense of humor, to make Taylor's mystery date turn out to be no one other than Justin friggin' Timberlake. Every time she thought of it, Cassie couldn't decide if she wanted to burst out laughing or burst into tears.

I think I'm either dreaming or having one of those waking nightmares I hear so much about, Cassie thought as she made her way back into the living room to face her now furious ex-husband. Of course, this could always just be the beginning of a well-deserved nervous breakdown.

"Do you care to explain to me what the hell that little bastard was doing with his hands all over you?" Orlando asked, his tone indicative of someone who was on the brink of losing whatever modicum of control he had left. Cassie shot him a look that would have lifted road kill off of asphalt, but he didn't seem to notice as he continued to rant. "I came home expecting to find my wife in anguish about her best friend, but no! Instead I find her practically hugged up with some blond boyband member! Now explain to me what the hell Justin Timberlake was doing here Cassidy, and you explain now!"

"It's ex-wife... Awwww, is little Orli jealous?" Cassie asked with a malicious grin as she fixed herself another drink, slipping Justin's business card into the pocket of her jeans. She wondered briefly what her darling of an ex would have to say if he knew the real reason Justin had been at that hospital, but never in a million years would she be the one to enlighten him. It was obvious from the way that he'd reacted around her at the hospital that Justin was still closeted, and since he had decided to try to win Taylor's love, she now numbered him among her friends, and as such, he was now someone she would kill to protect—even if said killing included Orlando.

"Damn it Cassidy! I asked you a question! Are you fucking Justin Timberlake?" Orli asked harshly, his eyes glinting dangerously. Cassidy whirled around to face him now, all vestiges of amusement now long gone, and anger turning her eyes a brilliant jade green.

"You bastard! How dare you accuse me of messing around when you spent the last two years of our marriage screwing anything you could get your dick in!" Cassie shrieked, unmindful of Abby's presence upstairs as the stress of the past few hours finally gave way and she vented all her anger and frustration on her unsuspecting ex. "Even if I was screwing Justin, which I'm not, fuck you very much, it's none of your business, you insufferable prick! He told you that he just gave me a damned ride home, but you just couldn't leave well enough alone, could you? You just had to keep picking and picking! And you haven't even asked me about Taylor! He could have died tonight, but you don't care do you? My best friend was beaten to within an inch of his life, and all you care about is whether I'm shagging Justin fuckin' Timberlake! You make me sick Orlando Bloom! Get out and I hope I never lay eyes on you again!"

When Orlando seemed to be in shock, Cassie advanced on him, slapping his arms as she propelled him towards the door, tears flying. "I said leave, damn you! I don't want you here!" Nina watched the scene with a swiftly mounting sense of horror as she fully grasped the level of anguish that Cassidy was feeling. She knew that Cassie wasn't thinking clearly, and while she might mean what she was saying right now, once the stress of the day wore off and she recovered from everything that had happened to Taylor, Nina knew Cassie would be mortified at the things she'd said, so she decided to step in and defuse the situation before Cassidy did, or said, something she would regret.

"Cassie, that's enough!" Nina said softly, putting her arms around Cassie and holding her close. It worried her anew that the fight seemed to extinguish itself as soon as Cassie settled into her embrace. She led the now unresisting woman over to the couch, making her sit down and having a seat beside her. She looked up at an obviously distraught Orlando and for the first time in months, her heart actually went out to the man. He looked like someone had sucker punched him, and Nina could tell that while he was shocked by Cassie's outburst, but he was also shaken by how badly she seemed to be hurting over almost losing Taylor.

But this should not have come as that big a surprise to him, Nina thought as she comforted Cassie, holding her close as she spoke softly to her in Spanish. He knows how much Taylor means to Cassie—hell, to all of us for that matter. Her head snapped up, groaning inwardly when she realized that they still had one more hurdle to cross. And we have yet to explain this to Abby.

When Cassie seemed to drift off to sleep, Nina finally took pity on Orlando, walking over and hugging the visibly shaken young man, who seemed to cling to her much the same way his daughter did when she was frightened. "Maybe you should come back tomorrow when she's feeling better," Nina whispered softly, walking him silently to the door, but stopping him before he left the house. "You do realize that she didn't mean a word she just said, right? She only said those things because she's still stressed about what happened to Taylor."

"I know—but I never should have accused her of sleeping with that Timberlake fellow either," Orlando stated softly, his head lowered dejectedly. He looked up at Nina, his whole countenance that of a man who was torn about what he should do next. "Nina, will she be okay? I mean I don't want her to suffer anymore because of this. Is there anything I can really do to help her to get through this?"

"You can be there for her," Nina replied solemnly, casting a quick glance over her shoulder to where Cassie lay stretched out on the couch, sleeping peacefully for the most part. "She is going to need your strength in the coming days, and Abby is going to need all three of us to help her understand what happened. We haven't even told her what's going on yet."

"Have you guys decided what you're going to tell her about all this?" Orlando asked, concern for his daughter making his heart race as it hadn't since the day Cassie had almost died bringing her into the world. "How much of this does she really need to know about? I mean, besides the fact that Taylor got hurt, do we really need to tell her that it's because he's gay?"

"That will be up to you and Cassidy to decide," Nina replied. "But I will tell you this—Abby is a very bright little girl. She will pick up on it if you try to withhold this from her. I think you should just give her as much information as she asks for, but don't volunteer anything you feel she doesn't need to know. She may or may not want specifics, but I do think it would be a good idea to wait until Taylor is here with you to get into this."

"You're probably right Nina, but I'm just scared of how Abby will react once she finds out what really happened," Orlando explained, running his hands through his hair. "She's just an innocent child, and I just don't want my little girl to lose that innocence before she has to."

While Taylor Jeffries was not one of his favorite people and they had had their share of arguments over the course of his relationship with Cassie—okay, to be honest, he hated Taylor's guts, and he was quite positive that the feeling was mutual—but rancorous feelings aside, Orlando really hated that someone had taken it upon himself or herself to hurt his wife's best friend, someone that she loved and trusted implicitly, just because he was homosexual. Even if he did blame Taylor, his constant presence, and the undue amount of influence he wielded over Cassie for the breakup of their marriage, no one deserved to be beaten just because of whom they chose to love.

"Nina, will you do me a favor? Could—could you tell her how sorry I am for being such a pompous ass?" he begged, his expression somber. He'd known as soon as the words had come out of his mouth that he was wrong to attack Cassie the way he had, especially with all the stress she was under from dealing with the Taylor situation, but seeing Justin Timberlake walking into his—okay, her—house, acting as if he belonged there no less had thrown him for a serious loop. His jealousy and insecurity had gotten the best of him and, instead of calmly asking what was going on, he'd attacked. Foolish assumption and pride aside, Orlando had felt compelled to jump in and fight to make Cassie see that he still loved her and, as such, he would battle any foe he had to so that he could be a part of her life again. But now it felt like instead of bringing them closer again, all he had done was drive a wedge between then and their newly rediscovered feelings, and now his only desire now was that Cassie could forgive him for his foolishness.

"Of course I'll tell her," Nina replied graciously, smiling warmly, "but I can safely say that you'd probably have a better chance of actually being forgiven if you tell her yourself."

Orlando looked abashed for a moment, and his normally confident demeanor belied his sudden nervousness at the prospect of asking Cassie's forgiveness himself. His usually cocksure smile became self-deprecating as he kissed Nina's cheek. "You are probably right, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. I'll see you later today," he said with some astonishment when he glanced at his watch and saw that it was now well after midnight as he headed for his car, his mind flooded with images of Cassie's tirade. As he pulled away from the curb, he stopped and looked at his reflection in the rear view mirror.

"I'm sorry Cassie...and I love you," Orlando whispered as he drove away from the house.

Nina watched until Orlando's car was out of the driveway before closing the door and leaning heavily against it. As upset as she was about everything that had happened to Taylor, her mind was now focused on the little girl sleeping undisturbed in her bedroom. She too was worried about how Abby would react to the news about her "Uncle" Taylor's injuries, and even more so about how they would explain Taylor's sudden absence from Cassie's everyday life since, for as long as Abby could remember, Taylor had been at their house if not daily, then at least every other day.

With a heartfelt sigh, Nina locked the door, setting the alarm as an added protective measure. This showed the seriousness with which she had taken the threats against Abby and Cassie since, in the almost five years that Nina had worked for Cassie and Orlando, they hardly ever used the alarm system. Since they lived in a pretty secure gated community that required authorization from the owner of the house for admittance, they had both decided that it was really unnecessary to set it every night. She remembered Cassie's fear-filled words about the threats with a fresh burst of anger as she moved from room to room, turning off lights as she went. Though Nina would never admit it if asked, the threats Taylor's attacker made against Abby and Cassie scared her, but she had meant every word she had said about hurting anybody who tried to harm her family—but the words had chilled her nevertheless.

I just pray nothing else happens to Taylor... I don't think Cassie could take it if she lost him, Nina thought as she watched her friend sleeping softly on the sofa. She could see that the events of the day still haunted Cassie, even in her dreams, as she whimpered and twisted about, seeking something she couldn't seem to find. Nina covered her with the discarded afghan from earlier, smoothing her hair in much the same way she did Abby's when she had nightmares, which seemed to calm her as she settled into a fitful sleep. Nina adjusted the lamp on the table beside the couch to its lowest setting and settled herself in the recliner across from the couch. Soon she was drifting off into a troubled sleep of her own, her mind filled with images of Taylor, Abby, and Cassie.

Justin made the ten-minute drive back to his own home in the Hollywood Hills in relative silence, his mind focused solely on the man that he had just left at the hospital. It amused him greatly to think that after the lengths he had gone to in his quest to get to know Taylor, all this time he had been living practically next door to the best friend of his biggest crush, but the laughter died as he remembered the sadness he had seen in Taylor's eyes, and later in Cassie's too. He prayed that nothing too horrible had happened once he had left Cassie's house, but for the life of him he couldn't seem to focus on anyone or anything right now except Taylor and his growing feeling for him. As hard as he might try, Justin could not seem to shake the feelings of helplessness and anger that threatened to drown him in despair every time he recalled Taylor's battered, though not broken, body and spirit lying helpless in that hospital bed. The intensity of the attraction he felt for Taylor frightened him, and yet it also excited and rejuvenated him in ways he had not thought possible. Just the thought of Taylor's blue eyes and his beautiful smile—not to mention his rock hard body—well, they made Justin want to stop and thank God that he had finally found someone he hoped he could fall in love with, and someone who could understand his own precarious predicament as far as fans were concerned.

Justin had to admit to himself that he had the best fans in the world. They had stuck with him and the rest of *Nsync through all of the legal wrangling with Lou Pearlman when they thought that the group was over before it had really had a chance to begin. More recently the fans had stood behind them one hundred percent when Joey's daughter Brianna was born, and now with the group officially on hiatus, they had flocked in droves to support Justin's solo release, "Justified". To be honest, there were times when Justin almost believed that they would love him no matter what he did, as last year's "wardrobe malfunction" disaster at the Super Bowl had proved to him that his core fan base would pretty much forgive him for anything. Sure, some fans has been outraged, but the vast majority had accepted his sincere apology at face value and seemed content to move on to the next chapter of their lives, but the problem of his true sexual preference was something else all together. If word got out that he was gay, even his most ardent supporters might be disinclined to accept him—in fact, he believed they would be more inclined toward going totally ballistic...and that was putting it mildly.

More likely that they would go completely fucking insane and have a "let's kill the fag" bonfire, and I could probably kiss my career goodbye, Justin thought morosely. I can't even talk to the guys about this one since none of them are talking to me right now.

Justin knew that the current state of affairs with his band mates, with the exception of Lance, was his own fault. In spite of his magnanimous protestations to the contrary, JC was so pissed with him that he was refusing to even return his calls, let alone be seen with him. Sure he had shown up at the Grammy's last year when Justin had managed, by the grace of God he believed, to win three statues, something that he had never been able to do as a member of *Nsync, but JC's presence there had been none of his doing. It had taken the combined begging of his mother and JC's wife Nicole to get him to show up at all. The two of them had smiled pretty together for the camera, but as soon as the cameras had disappeared, so had JC, and he had not been seen or heard from since. Scuttlebutt had it that he was in Sweden working on his new solo album, but Justin had no way of knowing that for sure unless he called Nicole, and seeing as how she had her own set of issues to deal with as far as JC was concerned, Justin just decided that it was best to just leave well enough alone.

"Oh shit!" he exclaimed suddenly, grabbing his phone and dialing frantically. When the other person finally picked up, sounding groggy and disoriented, Justin began babbling at warp speed. "Scoop, dude I am so sorry! I totally forgot you were at the house. I'm on my way home right now and I should be there in a few minutes."

"It's okay Justin," Lance Bass stated, grinning when he heard the panic in his friend's voice, and he couldn't resist teasing him just a bit. "But it's a good thing I always travel with my spare keys to everybody's houses or I would have been stuck waiting for you out in the freezing cold."

"Damn!" Justin snapped, running a hand through his hair in frustration as guilt washed through him. "I know... I suck as a friend."

"Relax Justin. I was only kidding man," Lance remarked as he threw the covers back on the bed he was using and stood up, stretching his newly tightened frame. "So, who was the lucky lady this time?"

"Ummmmm—no one that you know," Justin replied evasively, which instantly put Lance on alert. Usually Justin was almost carelessly nonchalant about name-dropping, especially when it came to the never-ending wave of women who seemed to troop through his life over the past few years. His reticence to talk about this one let Lance know that this one was more than just a casual date.

She must be special if he's not spilling his guts about every single aspect of this date tonight, Lance thought, coming back to reality with a start when Justin spoke again. "Listen, I'm pulling up in front of the house. See you in a few."

Lance pressed the "end" button on his cell, staring at it with a thoughtful expression before grabbing his robe and heading for the first floor of the house Justin had originally shared with Cameron Diaz. Every since their split four months previous, Justin had become something of a hermit, not leaving the house unless it was to go to the studio to work on his new album or to attend some charity events. It was reports from Justin's best friend Trace that had brought Lance out to the coast to check up on his friend. The hopelessness that seemed to linger around Justin since his breakup with Cameron had caused all kinds of alarms to go off in Lance's head when they had last spoken, and the conversations with Trace had confirmed that something was indeed wrong with Justin, and Lance was determined to find out what it was.

And I'll be damned if I leave California before I find out too, Lance thought as he heard Justin's key turning in the lock just as he reached the step that led down into the sunken Spanish styled living room, which was done in a variety of muted earth tones. He walked directly over to the bar, fixing himself a Scotch and Justin a JD on the rocks. He made himself comfortable on the overstuffed couch, smiling when Justin came in and flopped down next to him, one arm covering his face for a moment as he accepted the drink with a brief sideways grin. They drank in companionable silence, and Lance was startled at the almost one hundred eighty degree improvement in Justin's demeanor since just the last time they had seen each other a few months ago. He seemed distracted, as if he were struggling with something he couldn't quite come to grips with, but that could just have been something work related. No, something was definitely different about him, but Lance couldn't put his finger on just what that change was. It was like he was depressed, but at the same time there was a marked improvement in his attitude. The sadness was still there, but Justin looked at peace with himself.

What's going on with you little bro? Lance wondered as he waited for him to say something. Justin stood up suddenly, pulling Lance to his feet and engulfing him in a tight hug. They had been friends for so long that no words were needed, but Lance could sense that something was bothering Justin more than he was ready to admit.

"Hey Scoop—it's been too long man," Justin mumbled against his neck as they continued to embrace. Lance simply held him, content to offer whatever comfort he could to Justin, who seemed in desperate need of it. "I missed you."

"I missed you too Curly," Lance stated, holding Justin until he released him. He watched his friend Justin sit down on the couch like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and it made him want to hold him again. "Justin, are you okay? You look upset."

"Naw man—I'm cool," Justin replied, smiling brightly. Lance's expression clearly showed that he wasn't impressed by Justin's obvious attempts to fool him, and by degrees the smile began to slip until it disappeared completely. "I guess I'm just tired. Recording the album is not going as well as I thought it would, and the schedule Dallas and Tim got me on is kicking my ass, but I'll be okay."

"Are you done bullshitting me now? Cause I'm about to drown in it," Lance stated, smirking at the incredulous expression on Justin's face. "Don't look so shocked Curly. You know I know you better than that. Other people might buy that load of crock, but I know you. So just do us both a favor and tell me the truth."

"There's nothing to tell Scoop," Justin stated, his tone letting Lance know that the subject had been changed and he should just drop it. "Listen, I would love to sit and catch up with you all night, but right now I need some serious sleep. We'll talk in the morning."

"You bet your ass we will," Lance muttered, watching Justin's retreating back as he disappeared upstairs, his face showing determination to get the truth. He followed a few minutes later after cleaning up the mess he had made when mixing their drinks. As he turned off the lamp, his mind replayed the night's conversation, and his desire to get to the bottom of Justin's problems grew. "This isn't over by a long shot Justin."

Lance was awakened from a sound sleep by the shrill ringing of Justin's house phone. Groaning, he reached for the extension, knowing that if he didn't answer it Justin would sleep straight through it. Turning on the light, he peered over at the clock, groaning again when he saw that it was barely even five o'clock in the morning, meaning that he had only been asleep for a little under four hours.

"Whoever this is had better have a damned good excuse for waking me up this time of the morning," he snapped into the phone, instantly awake when a woman's frantic voice came over the line.

"Ju-Justin this is Cassie. I'm at the hospital. I-I really need you to come, okay?" the obviously distraught woman stammered. "They... he... please, I really need you to c-come now."

"I'm not Justin, but hold on while I get him, okay?" Lance stated as he threw the covers back, jumping out of bed and hurrying to Justin's bedroom, forgoing any formalities as he opened the door without knocking and shaking Justin until he woke up. When Justin's eyes opened, Lance shoved the phone at him, explaining quickly, "It's some woman named Cassie and she said something about being at the hospital. I think you need to take this. She sounded really upset."

Justin came awake completely at the mention of the name Cassie, grabbing the phone and turning his back to Lance as they shared a frantic whispered conversation that left Justin shaken and pale when he hung up. Justin began dressing, looking around frantically for his pants and shoes, flinging clothes around like a madman in his search for one missing shoe.

"The fuck is it?!?!" he shouted, collapsing on the bed and burying his face in his hands. Lance took pity on him, locating the errant shoe under a pile of discarded clothes and handing it to Justin, who put it on sans socks and, grabbing his wallet and keys, headed out the door without a backward glance at a now confused Lance.

"Justin, what the hell is going on?" Lance asked, following Justin out into the hallway. Justin totally ignored him—seemed in fact not even to hear him as he mumbled and dashed away tears as he went down the stairs, taking them two at a time. Lance ran back to his bedroom, grabbing his pants and pulling them on, sticking his feet in his shoes and then racing back down to find Justin sitting in the living room staring off into space. Justin looked at him, his eyes wide and frightened, face tear-stained and red splotches high on his cheekbones, so Lance took charge of the situation immediately.

"What hospital?" he asked as he pushed Justin out the front door and helped him get settled in the passenger seat of his Mercedes E-Class, backing out of the driveway and gunning the engine. Whoever this Cassie is, she must be really important to Justin. I have never seen him like this before, Lance thought, glancing over at the now silent man. "Justin, you need to tell me what hospital I have to go to so I can get you to Cassie."

"Cedars-Sinai," Justin whispered, staring blankly out the window as Lance drove, keeping up a steady stream of nervous conversation.

"I'm sure Cassie is okay...she sounded okay on the phone," Lance said by way of comforting his friend. In reality, he was more concerned about Justin's welfare than the mysterious "Cassie"—even though her voice had touched something in him. She's probably gorgeous and nice and shit! Why does Justin have all the luck with women? He always has the most beautiful women in the world falling all over him. Lucky bastard.

When they finally pulled up outside the hospital, Lance led Justin inside, where he finally seemed to perk up, punching the button for the fifth floor and waiting none too patiently for the elevator to come. The two of them rode up in silence, Lance content to give Justin the space he needed—for now. The doors opened in front of the nurse's station and Lance was about to ask for anyone who was registered under the name Cassie when a woman came out of the waiting area and practically collapsed in Justin's arms.

Lance felt his heart do a summersault in his chest, stopping and then tripping a staccato beat before resuming its normal rhythm, and when she looked up at him, he was literally lost for words. Her eyes... damn, Lance thought, struggling to form words as he listened to their conversation. Justin really is one lucky son of a bitch.

"Cassie what happened? They said he was gonna be fine when we left!" Justin cried as Cassie held him close. Whoever she was, it was obvious to Lance that she cared at least as much about Justin as he did about her, and based on the way they were holding each other, it was likely that there was much more than friendship at work between them.

"I don't know! They won't tell me anything and I'm scared Justin!" Cassie cried, holding on to Justin for dear life, her fingers playing in the short hairs at the nape of his neck. "I can't lose him!"

Lance couldn't help the tiny stab of jealousy that went through him at the intimacy of the gesture. He only hoped God would forgive him for lusting after his best friend's girl as he guided the obviously distraught duo back inside the waiting area assigned to family and friends. How long they waited he had no clue, but when an attractive older black woman came in and made a beeline for Cassie, Lance breathed a sigh of relief that the two of them finally saw fit to untangle themselves from each other.

"Miss Saunders?" the woman said softly, smiling down at Justin and Cassie. Cassie looked up, relief flooding her face as she recognized the doctor, and she began firing questions at her.

"Dr. Carter, how is he?" she asked, her voice panicking again. Dr. Carter sat down next to her, taking her hand and meeting Cassie's worried gaze dead on, her expression grave.

"Taylor's injuries were a lot more serious than we were able to detect at first. The blow to the back of his head caused some jarring of the brain, and there was some swelling of the brain tissues. Right now he's in a coma, but we have every reason to believe that it's only temporary," Dr. Carter explained. Cassie looked stunned for a moment, slumping back in the chair and staring down at the floor as the doctor continued to explain to Justin the extent of the injuries someone named Taylor had suffered. Cassie seemed to have zoned out, only offering the most perfunctory of answers when spoken to.

"Can I see him?" Justin practically begged, ignoring the looks he was getting from Lance. Here he was worrying about some stranger when his girlfriend obviously needed his support. "Please? I'll be really quiet and I promise not to get in the way or anything."

"I think that would probably do him more good than all the medicine in the world right now, Mr. Timberlake," Dr. Carter said kindly as she touched Cassie's hand. "Are you sure this is okay with you, Miss Saunders?"

"Make sure you tell him I'm here Justin," Cassie whispered, her eyes filling with tears as she held his hand in her own. "Tell him I love him and that Abby and Nina love him...and he has to come back to us," she cried, her eyes vacant as Justin kissed her cheek one more time before turning and following the doctor out of the room, and much to Lance's shock and amazement, Cassie didn't really seem to mind at all.

If she were my girl, I would never leave her alone at a time like this, Lance thought, touching Cassie's hand as the doctor led Justin out of the room. When she latched on to him, holding on to his hand like a lifeline, he felt that jolt of electricity race through his body again, but all thoughts of budding attraction flew out the window as Cassie's eyes filled with tears again.

"This is all my fault!" she said suddenly, snatching her hand away from him and pacing back and forth in the small waiting area briefly before she collapsed into the stiff plastic chair again, her face dissolving into tears. "I never should have forced him to go on that date and now he might die because of me! God, how could I have been so damned stupid! This is all my fault!"

"Cassie, I'm sure that's not true," Lance stated, smiling as he looked into her eyes, reaching out to wipe a tear from her cheek. He was startled anew by the deep jade color of her eyes, and had to almost physically restrain himself from kissing her cheek. "You and Justin only wanted to spend some time together. That's normal when you're a new couple and I'm sure that Taylor understands that."

"Why in the world would Justin be out with me when he's gay?" Cassie asked, seeming confused for a moment before the despair took over again. "No! Taylor could die because of me! If I hadn't forced him to go out with Justin because I wanted to know who wrote that stupid letter, none of this would have happened!" Cassie ranted, wrapping her arms around her body as she rocked back and forth. "If we had just stayed home and studied our scripts like we always do, Taylor would be okay and... and... God! Why is this happening?"

Lance sat there in stunned disbelief at what he had just heard. Something in his face must have registered through Cassidy's shock, because suddenly she became even more hysterical, pleading with him not to tell Justin she had told him. "Please don't tell him I told you! God, I am such a total fuck up! I can't even keep this a secret and I knew that Justin... damn it! Please promise me you won't tell him I told you!"

Lance didn't know whether to be upset because Justin had kept something of such importance from him—or relieved because Cassie and Justin were not a couple, so he settled on a happy medium. Justin being gay would explain why he had been so moody and withdrawn, and also why he seemed not to care about anything or anyone lately. Lance looked down at the woman in his arms sobbing her eyes out, and his heart went out to her. It was clear she had not intended to reveal Justin's secret, and he wanted to put her mind at rest.

"I promise I won't say anything. I just want you to calm down, okay?" he said with a smile, his eyes sincere as he continued to hold Cassie close to him. She began to relax, her breathing returning to normal. As he held her, he began to thank his lucky stars that this woman was indeed single. "Thank You God!" he said out loud, earning a weird look from Cassie.

"Thank God for what?" Cassie asked, her face and voice showing only mild curiosity. Lance's face went beet red as he realized that he had spoken aloud, his mind panicking as it raced to find a way to fix his foul up.

"Um... I was just thanking God that... um, that Justin has calmed down," he stammered, groaning inwardly when Cassie's expression morphed from one of mild curiosity to one of patent disbelief before she seemed to think better of what she was going to say and settled back against his shoulder. Way to go Bass, he thought sarcastically as they waited for Justin to rejoin them. When Cassie drifted off to sleep, Lance picked up a magazine, thinking that having something to read would help pass the time while they waited for word from Justin about Taylor, and was pleasantly surprised to see Cassie's distinctive green eyes gazing up at him from the latest issue of Soap Opera Digest® Magazine, and it suddenly dawned on him why she had seemed so familiar.

"Wow, I had no idea you were the Cassidy Saunders," he said softly, careful not to wake her as he flipped through the pages to find the cover story, skimming it briefly. He smiled as he read, enjoying Cassie's genuine warmth and caustic sense of humor, not to mention a body and smile most women—and quite a few men—would probably kill to have. He glanced down at the sleeping woman, smiling as he tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "You have definitely gotten my attention beautiful lady—the question now is how do I get yours?"

Lance turned the page and was surprised to find another face staring back at him—one of a very attractive man with a killer smile. Reading further into the paragraph, he discovered that, as in most cases, one couldn't talk about Cassie without talking about Taylor. Well, Justin even has good taste in guys, Lance thought with a small smirk. While Lance had no interest whatsoever in men, he could at least see what Justin saw in the man. He's definitely good-looking. Lance continued to read and had to smile at the comments Taylor made about Cassie. He soon began to understand why Cassie was so distraught. Taylor wasn't just her friend, but was like a brother, and somewhere, in the back of Lance's mind, he figured that if he ever decided to make an attempt at winning Cassie's heart, he was probably going to have to go through Taylor first. I hope he's as nice in person as he seems to be in this article, or I'm going to be in for a long, hard road. Lance looked over at Cassie and smiled. If she's willing to have me, I'll fight for her! he thought determinedly. He decided to finish the article when a statement caught his eye that almost made him drop the magazine.

"And in the latest episodes of Temptations, the chemistry between Dylan and Francesca gets so hot and sultry that it makes one wonder about what is really going on with the actors themselves. While the revelation about Taylor Jeffries being gay came out only a month ago, we're not entirely convinced it's nothing more than a PR ploy to get fans to watch ."

"Oh crud," Lance said softly, tossing the magazine onto the table. Glancing back at Cassie, he sighed softly, shook his head, and said, "So what is the real story with you, anyway?"

Dr. Carter led Justin to Taylor's room. She opened the door and ushered Justin in. "You've got five minutes," she said quietly.

"Five minutes?" Justin whined. "Is that all?"

Dr. Carter smiled sadly at Justin. "I know it seems short, but right now, since we don't know the complete extent of his injuries, we have to keep it brief. We don't want to take any chances on him getting worse."

"You make it sound like I would do something to hurt Taylor," Justin said angrily.

"No, no, that's not what I meant," Dr. Carter said, slightly taken aback at Justin's interpretation of her words. "I think you have nothing but his best interests at heart, but what I'm saying to you I would say to Miss Saunders as well. As soon as we know completely what we're dealing with here, we'll reassess the visitor situation."

Justin sighed. "Okay. Fine. I'm sorry I got all snippy with you. I'm just a bit stressed over all this."

"It's quite all right Mr. Timberlake. I'm used to it. Taylor is lucky to have a friend like you."

"Thanks Dr. Carter, and please, call me Justin."

"Certainly Justin. I'll leave you two alone now." Dr. Carter patted his shoulder, flashed him a warm smile, and then left the room.

Justin made his way to Taylor's side and sat down in one of the chairs next to the bed that he and Cassie had vacated only hours before. Taylor, who, while battered, retained his fighting spirit earlier, now seemed incredibly fragile and frail. Justin was almost afraid to touch his hand, but his overwhelming desire to do so gave way to his fears as he slowly placed his hand in Taylor's.

"Come back to us Taylor," whispered Justin. "Cassie wants me to tell you that she loves you, and so does Abby, and Nina, and..." Justin trailed off, picturing the words he was about to say in his head, but he was having difficulty voicing them. At last, he said in a barely audible voice, "And maybe I do too."

If Taylor had been conscious, such a revelation would have shocked the hell out of him. After all, he had only met Justin not even twelve hours earlier, and the idea that Justin could have possibly fallen in love with him in such a short amount of time would have blown his mind. As a matter of fact, Justin would have to later thank his lucky stars that Taylor couldn't consciously process those words, because it would have more likely scared him away than anything else. Taylor's track record with relationships was not very good, and he wouldn't dare let someone get close to him very easily, lest they hurt him like others had before.

Justin sat silently, staring at Taylor and absentmindedly stroking the palm of his hand. "I can't believe someone would do such a thing to someone as sweet and innocent as you," Justin said as he continued to stroke Taylor's hand. "I also can't believe that this is the follow-up to our first date. I was kind of hoping for the beach, actually," Justin said with a chuckle.

Justin was about to say something else when he heard a timid cough come from the doorway. He looked up to see Cassie standing there with a small smile on her face. "I'm sorry to interrupt," she began, "but I finally decided to pull myself together and see how he was."

Justin scrutinized Cassie's face and noted that her eyes were a little less puffy. "No, it's okay. You have more right to be here than I do," Justin said quietly.

"Oh, Justin, stop that," Cassie said as she came in. She had only woken up moments earlier, so her sense of balance was still a little off, which was why she would have to be forgiven for stumbling over an extension cord lying on the floor. "Damn cord!" she muttered under her breath.

"You all right?" Justin asked with concern as he stood up and helped guide Cassie toward a chair.

"I'm fine," Cassie said, taking a seat. "That was a really sweet sentiment," she continued. "I don't know why, but I never pictured you as the romantic type."

"People make a lot of assumptions about me that aren't founded," Justin said. "I'd figure you of all people would understand that."

Cassie was taken aback at the candidness of Justin's statement, but considering some of the things she had said to him earlier, she decided she probably had it coming. "Touché," Cassie said. Her eyes shifted from Justin to Taylor, and the tears that she had been fighting with earlier began to wage a war with her willpower to stop them. However, Cassie should have known it was a lost cause to begin with, because it only took about thirty seconds or so before the dam burst and the tears began to flow. "This is all my fault!" Cassie whimpered.

"What on earth are you talking about?" Justin asked. "How is any of this your fault? You didn't ask that Jimmy guy to go beat him up, did you?"

Cassie looked at Justin like he had lost his mind. "Of course not! It's my fault because if I hadn't forced him to go on that stupid date with you, he would have been at my house studying our script like every other night instead of getting the crap beaten out of him!"

Justin knew that Cassie was being irrational, and he knew that no manner of rational thinking was going to break the cycle she was in, so he tried a different approach. "Cassie, you know for a fact that Taylor would never hold anything against you, and you know it is not your fault. Besides, I bet that, this aside, he will end up thanking you for making him go. How else would he have met the wonderful person that I am any other way?"

Cassie snorted. "You? Wonderful? Maybe, but my jury is still out on that for the time being. However, you have been a great friend to Taylor and I so far, and I would definitely like to get to know you better. I'm sure, in time, that my opinion of you will come pretty close to matching your opinion of you, if tonight is any indication."

"It's like I told you earlier," Justin began. "I really like Taylor, and I know your opinion matters greatly to him, so I'll do whatever is necessary to prove to you that I'm right for him."

"You're sweet Justin, although I think you need to prove it to him first," she said, pointing to Taylor. "Man, are all boyband members this nice? Your friend out there has been really great to me, and he doesn't even know me!"

"Yeah, Lance is a really good guy," Justin said. "He's one of my best friends. Were it not for him, I never would have made it here in one piece."

Cassie smiled. "He's a little weird, but I think it's a good quality in him," she said, starting to babble, which was a little known quirk about her when she was either extremely nervous or incredibly stressed. "He hardly even flinched when I told him you Oops." Cassie blushed heavily and looked away from Justin. She hadn't exactly meant to tell him that, but her accidental revelation and the guilt that ensued was weighing on her mind, so it shouldn't have surprised her too much that she would somehow admit her mistake to Justin.

Justin also turned bright red, partially from anger and partially from embarrassment. "You did what?" he asked in a near-whisper.

"Oh Justin, don't start getting all dramatic on me," Cassie said as she felt her blood pressure start to go up. "I didn't mean to tell him. It just came out, like me telling you now. I didn't mean to tell you that either."

Justin stood up and started pacing. "Cassie, I can't believe you! Why stop at Lance? Why not tell the whole fucking world while you're at it?"

Cassie glared at Justin. "Hey! I made a mistake, all right? You think all of this is easy for me? I'm going out of my freaking mind here, so cut me some slack, all right?"

Justin was about to say something else when Dr. Carter rushed into the room. "What is going on in here?" she asked, rushing past the two of them toward a machine that had started beeping wildly. "Out! Both of you!"

"But..." Cassie started to say, but Dr. Carter cut her off.

"I said out! I don't know what is going on between the two of you, but I could hear you all the way down the hall, and unless I miss my guess, something you've said penetrated Taylor's subconscious and has caused his blood pressure to go up as well as causing his heart rate to increase." She studied the monitor for a moment before turning back to them and saying, "Are the two of you deaf? I said leave! Taylor does not need any stress right now. I hate to do this, but if you don't go willingly, I will have you escorted out."

"Um, yes Dr. Carter," Cassie said meekly as she slowly rose from her chair. "I'm sorry we got out of hand. It won't happen again. We'll, um, be in the waiting room."

Dr. Carter didn't exactly smile, but she was no longer frowning at her either. "All right. I'll be out in a few minutes. Take Mr. Timberlake with you."

"Come on Justin," Cassie said, grabbing Justin's arm. Justin was in so much shock from being scolded by the doctor—and the fact that his argument with Cassie may have harmed Taylor—that he momentarily forgot that he was angry with Cassie and allowed her to lead him out of the room.

"Good going Cassie," Justin said at last once they were halfway down the hall. "Look at what you've done."

"What I've done?" Cassie exclaimed. "Justin, get a grip on yourself. I made a mistake. I admitted that. At least I only told what's-his-name. Besides, why should I have been the one to inform him of this? Why hadn't you already told him? I thought he was your best friend?"

Justin went silent. He felt a bit guilty that Lance had to hear something like this from Cassie instead of him, and he knew that Cassie unfortunately had a major point, whether he was willing to admit it or not. Besides, he knew he had to remain on Cassie's good side if he was ever going to stand a chance with Taylor. As much as this annoyed him to no end, he was going to have to let it go. "Look, don't worry about it. I'll deal with Lance later. He was going to find out soon enough anyway, I suppose."

"He seems like a good guy," Cassie said. "He didn't flip out about it at all. Maybe you're not giving him the credit he deserves?"

"I don't know," Justin said as they made their way to the waiting room. "I guess I'll find out in a moment."

The two entered the waiting room to find Lance sitting uncomfortably in a hard plastic chair. As the two walked in, Lance spotted them out of the corner of his eye and ran over to them. "So what's the story?" he asked.

Cassie and Justin glanced uncomfortably at each other. "Um, they're still not entirely sure what all is wrong with him," Cassie said, "but they think he'll be fine."

"Well that's good," Lance said warmly, "although I wasn't expecting you back quite that soon."

"He needs his rest," Justin said quickly, hoping that Lance wouldn't notice the increasingly uncomfortable looks he was exchanging with Cassie.

Lance, knowing Justin well, realized quickly that something had happened, but he decided not to pry on that subject. Instead, he decided to go a different direction. "You both are great friends to him," Lance said, "although I never knew he was a friend of yours, Justin. You've never mentioned him before."

Justin's eyes shifted from side to side as he tried to find a way out of this conversation. "It's kind of a recent development," Justin said. "We just, well, kind of clicked, you know?"

"Did you now?" Lance asked suspiciously.

Justin sighed. He knew what Lance was driving at, and he still found it difficult to say the words that were on the tip of his tongue. Glancing around the empty waiting room, he said quietly, "Well, Taylor's just too darn cute. Who wouldn't like him?"

Lance grinned. "It's about time you told me," he said lightly, eliciting another blush from Justin.

"Well, yeah, you know..." Justin stuttered

"Justin, just so you know, it doesn't matter to me who you love," Lance said softly, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I just want you to be happy."

"Thanks Lance," Justin said. "Too bad the rest of the world doesn't see things that way."

"Justin, don't worry about the rest of the world right now," Cassie said. "Focus on yourself and Taylor, and the two of you can deal with others later."

"So you and Taylor are a couple now?" Lance asked.

"Not...exactly," Justin said. "Last night was our first date, and I thought things went fairly well..." Justin then remembered his last few words with Taylor before he had left the restaurant and he started to blush heavily. He couldn't believe he had practically propositioned Taylor on their first date!

Lance was about to tease Justin with some smart remark when his attention was drawn to the doctor he had seen earlier who was marching into the waiting room, and the look on her face was most unpleasant.

"Mr. Timberlake? Miss Saunders? Would you come with me to my office please?" Dr. Carter asked evenly.

"Uh, okay," Cassie said hesitantly. While Cassie was normally calm and cool in almost any situation, the menacing glare from Dr. Carter made her nervous. She knew they had screwed up royally, and that they were probably in for a serious tongue lashing.

"Do you mind if my friend comes with us?" Justin asked.

Dr. Carter looked up at Lance and said, "If you feel Mr. Bass should be present, that's fine, as long as you don't mind him hearing what I have to say." When Justin and Lance looked incredulously at the doctor, she said, "Just because I'm a doctor doesn't mean I live under a rock. I know who you are."

Justin and Lance exchanged looks. "It's okay, Justin. I can wait here," Lance said.

"No. No more secrets between us," Justin said. "You're one of the few friends I have, and I don't want any more secrets."

Cassie started to smile as she saw a friendship very much like the one she had with Taylor between Lance and Justin, and then the thought of Taylor made her start to cry again.

"What's wrong Cassie?" Justin asked as he put a hand on her shoulder.

"It's nothing," Cassie sniffled as she wiped her eyes. "Just me having a dramatic moment." Turning to Dr. Carter, she said, "Let's go."

The trio followed behind the doctor down the hallway. No one spoke a word the entire time. Dr. Carter ushered them into her office and closed the door. Taking a seat at her desk, she stared at Justin and Cassie and said, "You'll be happy to know that, aside from the momentary raised blood pressure and heart rate, Taylor is as fine as he was when you went in, Mr. Timberlake."

"What happened?" Lance asked.

"Um, Justin and I had a little argument," Cassie admitted, "and I guess it upset Taylor."

"You're quite right," Dr. Carter said, her brown eyes boring into them, "and in the future, I recommend that the two of you not visit him together."

"What? Dr. Carter, I don't think that's necessary. I assure you it won't happen again!" Cassie pleaded.

"Absolutely. You know we would never do anything that would harm Taylor," Justin chimed in.

"And yet you did," Dr. Carter shot back, glowering at the two. "Look, I know you two care about Taylor, and I'm sure that the two of you probably would never do that again, but I can't take that chance. You either will visit him individually, or not at all."

"But..." Justin began, but Dr. Carter cut him off.

"Mr. Timberlake," Dr. Carter started to say, but the look from Justin caused her to correct herself. "Justin," she said, getting an approving nod from the man, "my primary concern is for the health and well-being of my patient. I am not about to subject him to any risk of any sort. I don't want to forbid you from seeing him, but if I have to, I will."

"All right," Cassie said. "Fine. It's not that big a deal. Now, more importantly, when do you think he'll wake up?"

Dr. Carter sighed as she clasped her hands together and laid her head against her hands. "I don't know the answer to that, Cassidy. As I said before, we think it's only temporary, but it could be hours, days, weeks, months, or possibly even years. There is also the very minor possibility he may never wake up at all."

"What?" Cassie shrieked, jumping to her feet. "That can't be. He has to wake up! You said he would! He has to!"

Lance and Justin both stood up and guided Cassie back into her seat. "Calm down, Cassidy. Things will be okay," Lance said.

"What the fuck do you know?" Cassie yelled, glaring at Lance. "Taylor might never wake up. Do you understand what the fuck that means?!"

"Cassie, I know you're freaked. I am too, but you're not going to help Taylor by having a conniption in here," Justin said.

Cassie sniffled a little, slumped in her seat, and sighed heavily. "I know. I just feel so damn helpless. Taylor was always there for me when I had a problem, and look what good I'm doing for him. Nothing."

Dr. Carter leaned over and said, "Cassidy, was it not you who made sure that help got to Taylor quickly? Was it not you who stayed here almost all night trying to make sure he was okay? Was it not you who helped with the media frenzy? I think you've done quite a bit for your friend."

Cassie knew she was right, but she still felt like she should be doing more. "Yeah. Well, I guess we'd better leave you to your work. You'll call me as soon as you know anything, right?"

Dr. Carter smiled, the first time she had done so in a while. "Of course. Go home and get some sleep. It's after seven-thirty."

The three excused themselves and walked out. As they were walking, Lance said, "So now what?"

"I don't know," Cassie said, "but..." Her thoughts were cut off by the sound of her phone ringing. "I wonder who that is?" She pulled her phone out and saw the name "Carrington, A." on the caller id. "What the hell does Alex want?" she wondered. Answering the phone, she said, "Hi Alex. What's up?"

"Cassie! I just heard! How is he?" came Alex's panicked voice.

"He's a bit banged up," Cassie said, "but they avoided his face."

"Thank God for that," Alex said, breathing a sigh. "So, what time will you two be at the set today?"

"Ummm, about that," Cassie said slowly. "We won't be. Taylor is in a coma."

"HE'S WHAT?" Alex screeched.

"He's in a coma, and they don't know how long he might be out," Cassie said.

"This is just great," Alex said with a sigh. "Now what do we do?"

"I don't know. You'll have to write me and Taylor out for the time being."

"Write you out? WRITE YOU OUT!? I can't write you out, Cassie. You and Taylor are the stars of the show!"

"Well, then at least Taylor. You can leave me in, although I don't know how much good I'm going to be to you."

The line went silent for a moment before Alex said, "You know, we could make this work. You think the hospital will let us come in and do some shots, maybe with you visiting Taylor in the bed? We can say he was in a car accident or something, to preserve the storyline. We could even make it look like Ashley caused it."

Cassie was so horrified by the fact that Alex would even propose such a thing she nearly dropped the phone. When she collected herself, she said through gritted teeth, "I am not going to dignify such a horrendous suggestion with a response, and if you know what's good for you, you won't talk to me for a while." She then hung up the phone without a further word.

"What was that all about?" Lance asked.

Cassie was starting to fume even more as she thought about what Alex proposed. "Alex, our director, in order to 'preserve the storyline,' wanted to bring a camera crew down here to take shots of Taylor."

Justin was so stunned that he immediately stopped short. Lance, who was right behind him, wasn't paying attention and ended up walking right into Justin. "Hey! Watch where you're going!" Justin shouted at Lance.

"Sorry. I didn't realize you had stopped," Lance mumbled.

"Well, pay attention then!" Justin snapped.

"Sheesh. What crawled up your pants and bit you in the ass?" Lance muttered.

Justin, however, was no longer paying attention to Lance, but was instead staring intently at Cassie. "What kind of bastard do you work for?" he yelled as they walked outside the hospital.

"It's better I don't answer that," Cassie said slowly, "because I will probably regret whatever I say later."

"This Alex guy sounds like a jerk," Lance said as they headed for the parking lot.

Cassie sighed loudly. "Alex isn't a bad guy, but he just doesn't think sometimes." Arriving at Cassie's car in the parking lot, she turned around and said, "Thank you for coming Justin. I really am sorry about what happened earlier."

"Look, don't worry about it," Justin said warmly as he pulled Cassie into an embrace. "Besides, you were right," he whispered into Cassie's ear.

Cassie grinned. "Of course I was. I always am. You'd do good to remind your boyfriend of that when he comes to."

The smile on Justin's face fell. "He's not my boyfriend, and probably won't be, considering he keeps telling me to get lost."

Cassie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "He's just trying to protect you, Justin. That's what he does. When he wakes up, you just have to show him that he doesn't need to protect you."

"Yeah, if he wakes up," Justin said.

Cassie, who had placed her hand on Justin's left arm, started gripping it very tightly. "WHEN, Justin. WHEN he wakes up. He is GOING to wake up! HEAR ME?!"

"Cassie! Stop! Let go of his arm!" Lance yelled, grabbing Cassie's arm and moving it away from Justin. The moment Cassie's hand was gone, Justin winced as he placed his right hand over the spot where Cassie had grabbed. "Hey. Why don't you go home? Get some rest."

"You're right. You're right. Um, thanks, uh..." Cassie stared at Lance, desperately trying to remember the man's name.

"Lance. Lance Bass," he said, his green eyes twinkling as he stared into Cassie's equally vibrant jade green eyes. It's like looking into a mirror, he thought.

"Thank you Lance. You've been so sweet to me," Cassie said coyly, fluttering her lashes flirtatiously.

Lance's stomach started doing somersaults. "Uh, yeah. Listen, we should probably let you go, but once we know Taylor is going to be okay, would you, uh, like to have dinner with me sometime?"

Justin nearly burst out laughing. Man, this guy has no idea what he is up against, he thought, thinking about his earlier altercation with Orlando.

Cassie seemed taken aback for a moment, but it passed as soon as it came. "It's a possibility," she said diplomatically, "but right now, I'm more concerned about getting back home to my daughter. We'll discuss it some other time." With that, she unlocked her car and got in. A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she reviewed the scene in her head. Yeah, I've still got it, she thought as she started the car. She was about to pull out of her spot when she realized Justin was knocking on the window. Rolling the window down, she said, "Yes?"

"Do you want us to follow you home?" he asked.

"Justin, I appreciate the offer, but I don't always need an escort. I'm a big girl. I'll be okay. Promise."

"All right, all right," Justin said, holding his hands up. "Point taken. Have a good morning Cassie." As Cassie drove away, Justin noticed Lance follow the car with his eyes until it was out of sight. "Interesting little thing, isn't she?" he asked.

"Uh huh," Lance uttered, not paying attention to what Justin was saying.

"She's quite attractive," Justin continued.

"Uh huh."

"You've got a thing for her, don't you?"

"Uh huh." After about two seconds, Justin's words clicked in his head. "Say what?"

"Never mind," Justin said with a grin. "Never mind."

Orlando was sitting in his apartment, staring at the television. The news of Taylor's attack had spread through the media like wildfire, and it seemed that was all anyone could talk about. It was starting to drive him crazy. He didn't like Taylor one bit, but he still wouldn't have wished this on him—at least most days. Nonetheless, there was a small part of him that was glad to see Taylor get what was coming to him. That smug bastard had it coming, Orlando thought as he downed a shot of scotch.

Glancing at the clock, he realized it was nearly seven-thirty, and he had decided that morning that he would keep his promise to Abby and take her horseback riding. She deserves a day of fun, poor thing. Getting up from his couch, he stumbled over his coffee table, cursing the entire way to his bedroom. As he put a shirt on, he cursed again as his phone started to ring. "Who the hell is that?" he muttered as he answered the phone. "What do you want?"

"Good morning to you too sweetheart," came the voice on the other end of the line. "You sound like you're having a great morning."

"Just peachy," Orlando said. "Make it quick. I have to go pick up my little girl."

"Well, I was just calling to tell you the job is done."

"Job? What job?" Orlando asked in confusion.

"You know, our mutual problem—Taylor Jeffries. Well, I had him taken care of, just like we discussed."

Orlando's knees buckled as he sank onto the bed. "Say what?" he whispered. "I never..."

"Oh darlin', don't you remember? Three nights ago? We were talking about how Taylor was destroying your life and how you wished you could get him out of your way forever, and then I told you all about how he made me look like a complete and utter fool to all of my friends when you outed him? I said I could arrange it and you said okay."

Smacking his forehead, Orlando said, "Lady, I was drunk! I didn't know what I was saying! Yeah, I wish Taylor would drop off the face of the earth, but that didn't mean I wanted you to whack him!"

"Too late darlin', but the deed is done... Oh, and Jimmy wants fifty for doing the job."

"Fifty bucks?" Orlando asked.

"Darlin' you must be trippin' on something good this morning. Fifty thousand, in cash, by tomorrow."

"But I..."

"You're not going to back out now, are you?"

Orlando's mind was racing. If Cassie ever found out about this, not only would she never speak to him again, but she'd probably find some way to take their daughter away from him. "I had nothing to do with this," Orlando said firmly. "I never told you to do that. You took that upon yourself."

"Nice try Orli, but no dice. Oh, and if you want me to keep this quiet from your precious Cassidy, I want twenty-five grand."

"You're blackmailing me?" Orlando thundered.

"You catch on quick, cutie. Now, I suggest you start scraping up that seventy-five thousand. You've got twenty-four hours. Have a nice day." Before Orlando could say anything else, there was only a dial tone on the line.

Orlando replaced the phone on the cradle and stared at it. "Shit, am I in trouble."

To be continued...

Oh, what will happen next? Who is the caller on the phone and what is their relationship to Cassie and Taylor? Will Cassie ever find out about Orlando's involvement, and why kind of holy hell will be raised if she does? Will Taylor regain consciousness, or is Cassie doomed to discover a life without her best friend by her side? Are Justin's developing feelings for Taylor for real, or is it just lustful desire? Does Lance really stand a chance of gaining Cassie's affection, or will Orlando prove to be too much of a stumbling block to overcome? Drop Rob or Nicole a line and let us know your thoughts.

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