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 Six: Tell Me Where It Hurts

The silence that followed Abby's innocent questioning of Justin's feelings was profound—and somewhat unnerving for the young star. He was not used to that kind of question, especially coming from a child as young as Abby, but seeing whom her mother was, somehow it didn't shock him. Out of the mouths of babes, Justin thought wryly as he watched various emotions play across Taylor's face as he awaited Justin's reply. He was tempted to reach over and kiss the older man—if for no other reason than to reassure him that he was there for him and of course that he had no intentions of leaving him either—but he restrained himself only because he was afraid that, sick or not, Taylor would bolt if he just kissed him out of the blue like that—especially in front of Abby and Nina.

"How would you feel if I were?" Justin asked the little girl, fighting a smile when she appeared to ponder her answer before she turned a beautiful smile on him.

"I think I'd like that," she replied, grinning down at Taylor, who was regarding the duo with some trepidation. "Unca Taylor need somebody to help take care of him, and if you like him, then you can do that when Mommy and I can't."

"Abby, you and Mommy do a wonderful job of taking care of me. There's no need for Justin to go out of his way to help you guys care for me," Taylor interrupted, trying to give the young man an out, but Abby was truly the daughter of Cassie, and just like her mother, once she got an idea in her head, she ran with it full steam ahead.

"But Unca Taylor, you need a boyfwiend that can be with you all the time," she stated reasonably, almost making Taylor laugh at her very accurate mimicry of her mother. "If Justin likes you, why can't he be your boyfwiend?"

"Well Sugar, Justin and I just met, and we aren't really sure if things are going to work out between us like that," Taylor tried explaining, but Abby was looking at him like she thought he was mentally incapable of seeing what was obvious even to her four year old mind.

"But he said he likes you Unca Taylor. All you gotta do is ask him to be your boyfwiend just like the song... only he's a guy," Abby explained as patiently as she could, frowning when it seemed Taylor was just not getting the point. Justin sat as a silent witness to this exchange, fighting a serious urge to fall out laughing at the serious way Abby was explaining Justin's own feelings to her uncle. "Besides, Justin's cute, and you need a nice lookin' boyfwiend Unca Taylor," Abby pressed, not really understanding the problem with Taylor accepting Justin's proclamation.

"Oh my God... Welcome back little brother!" Cassie exclaimed as she came sailing into the room followed closely by a blond haired man that Taylor recognized as Justin's friend and band mate Lance Bass, preventing either Taylor or Justin from responding to Abby's statement, and for which Taylor for one was extremely grateful at this point.

She's entirely too smart for her own good, Taylor thought as he endured one of Cassie's bear hugs, smiling as she pushed his hair back.

"You know, you really had us worried there for a minute. I thought I was going to be a solo act from now on."

"Watch the ribs!" Taylor yelled, causing Cassie to jump back quickly, nearly plowing into Justin in the process. "You know I'd never allow that," Taylor said waspishly, his returning smile crooked as he regarded his best friend. "You're already the biggest diva on daytime. There's no way in hell I'd allow you to become the biggest diva in the world unless we share the title, darling. You know how much of a publicity whore I am!"

"Yeah right, you 'tard," Cassie said, laughing as she motioned Justin out of the chair beside Taylor's bed, sat down, and held Taylor's hand. "You know I would never be the same without my better half. Terrorizing the cast of Temptations isn't nearly as fun without you around. Oh, speaking of which, I guess I'd better go call Alex and share the good news!" With that, Cassie grabbed her purse and headed for the elevators so that she could call the show's producers to give them an update on Taylor's condition. Just as the doors opened, Cassie looked back and was stunned to see Lance watching her every move. When he caught her gaze, something in his eyes touched Cassie and almost made her run from the building screaming in horror.

There's no way he could be that enamored of me this quickly, Cassie thought as she hurried outside, the haunted look in Lance's eyes dogging her footsteps. He's just caught up in the whole 'Cassidy Saunders' trap. As she walked into the small courtyard outside the hospital, she fought a sudden desire to be anywhere other than there. Her mind began to replay everything that Lance had done and said over the past few hours while she waited for Alex to answer his phone, her frown deepening as she remembered all the times she had caught him watching her, his gaze assessing her in a way that suddenly made a lot of sense. He does like me, Cassie thought in astonishment, her heart racing momentarily before reality brought her crashing back to Earth with a resounding thud. But does he like 'Cassie,' the everyday girl who's a single mom, albeit a one who's worth millions and is famous no less, or does he like 'Cassidy,' the television star?

Cassie's concentration was broken when Alex finally answered, for which she would be eternally grateful. Nina, Orlando, and Taylor had all told her time and time again that obsessing about situations beyond her control was one of her biggest shortcomings, so it shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that she was busy yet again worrying herself to distraction about yet another, what seemed to her ridiculous, situation. Cassie, mentally deriding herself, brought her attention back to the situation at hand.

"Alex, he's awake!" she exclaimed happily, giggling like crazy as relief flooded her heart and made her feel like she was flying. "Taylor came back to us!"

"Thank God!" Alex practically cried as his fears of losing this plush job were finally laid to rest. He began firing questions at Cassie with lightening speed, something Cassie had always told him reminded her of Speedy Gonzales from the Looney Toons©. "When did this happen and why didn't you call me as soon as he woke up Cassidy? Never mind that... How is he? Is he still able to talk? Have they found any internal damage?"

"He only woke up a few minutes ago, and he seems just like his old self," Cassie replied, rolling her eyes and smiling as she answered Alex's questions about Taylor's physical status. "Yes, he can talk, and I left to call you so I haven't spoken to his doctor yet, so I have no idea if he has internal damage beyond the concussion and his ribs or not."

"Well at least we have the Dynamic Duo back again," Alex stated, relaxing now that the present crisis had been averted. "I'll send your shooting scripts for the next few days to the house. Should I send Taylor's there as well?"

"I'm not sure, but you could always send them to me and I can get them to him," Cassie replied, not really sure of her best friends plan's for when the time finally came when he would be released from the hospital, but her mind was already busily planning his stay with her. "Knowing my other half like I do, I can almost guarantee that he's going to oppose spending too much time at my house while he heals."

Alex gave a very ungraceful snort when he heard that, laughing into the phone loud and hard. "And knowing you like I do, Cassidy dear, it's not like our mutual friend is going to have much of a say in the matter, let alone if our favorite mother lioness is there with you when the pronouncement is made. You know, you and Nina remind me of the Pharaoh in the Ten Commandments. Your words are the law—so let it be written, so let it be done!"

"Gee, tell me what you really think of me, Alex darling," Cassie said with a smirk, the sarcasm in her tone making Alex smile. "And here I was thinking that you could see right through this façade to the sweet, innocent girl next door underneath."

"Cassidy, I love you like you're my daughter, so please take these words in the spirit in which they're intended," Alex began, the sarcasm in his voice a perfect match for Cassie's, "but darling, 'sweet' and 'innocent' are probably the last words I'd ever use to describe you. Don't get me wrong, you have moments when you can be incredibly sweet and thoughtful, but those moments are few and far between. I think I'd use words more along the lines of 'hell raiser' and 'tough as nails,' but no way, no how would 'sweet' and 'innocent' pass my lips in description of you on a regular basis."

"Gee... thanks bunches, darling," Cassie said sourly, pacing the small courtyard as she glanced up at the hospital again. She didn't bother to tell Alex that her motives for having Taylor stay with them were anything but altruistic—she knew better than to share anything of that magnitude with anyone besides Tay and Nina—but her mind slipped almost unwillingly back to Lance. This might work to my advantage in other ways, Cassie thought, her mind beginning to formulate all kinds of scenarios involving Justin having to spend extra time at her house—which would also require her green-eyed suitor to spend time at her house. She was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of one Lance Bass, and if it happened to require her to spend time listening to Taylor whine about not being able to take care of himself, well then so be it. I'm gonna figure Lance out if it kills me—or I happen to kill Taylor for whining like a baby first.

"Cassidy?" Alex said, his brow furrowed as he began biting his thumbnail, a bad habit that he'd never been able to break himself of when he was worrying, which was the case now since his star seemed about a million miles away. He'd been calling her name for a good minute and a half with no answer, and being the high-strung creature he was, he was engaged in his favorite activity with a vengeance. Where Cassie and Taylor were concerned, Alex was a very shrewd man—he certainly knew which side his bread was buttered on, that's for sure—but he also was genuinely concerned about their well being, both mental and physical. He knew better than most just how deep the bond was between his stars, so he was happy that Cassie hadn't had to go through losing yet another person she loved before their time. In light of everything her ex had put her through, in Alex's mind, it was a miracle Cassie was still standing, let alone still firmly entrenched atop the daytime television mountain and showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.

"I'm sorry Alex," Cassie said apologetically, her mind getting back to the task at hand. She looked down at her watch, sighing when she saw that it was now moving close to five o'clock. "Well I really need to get going now. Visiting hours are almost over, I need to get back upstairs and spend some more time with Tay before they kick me out, and I need to go grab Nina and Abby so we can go get the house ready for him too. Just have the service deliver his scripts to my house. Even if he ends up at home, he's at my house practically every day anyway, so it's not like he wouldn't get them. I'll call you tomorrow once I know more about his release details. Let everybody know the good news, and I'll see you all Monday bright and early. Talk to you soon!"

"Wait Cassidy! Before you go, I just wanted to apologize for suggesting we shoot footage of Taylor at the hospital the other day," Alex said haltingly, not used to having to apologize for his brashness, but once his wife heard what he'd suggested—and gave him an earful—he'd realized just how callously he had to have come across to the distraught woman. "I don't know what I was thinking. Sometimes I think I'm having regular out of body experiences when I say stupid stuff like that."

"It's okay Alex. I'm used to you and your crazy suggestions after all this time," Cassie said graciously, willing now to even put Alex's monumental lack of tact aside now that Taylor was out of the woods. The good Lord only knows he can be a complete idiot, but he is one of the best directors on TV, so I guess I can forgive him for being totally moronic at times, Cassie thought with a wicked grin. At least he does his job well and cares about Taylor and me—I think. But all silliness went out the window when she spoke again. "You're forgiven this time Alex, but see that it doesn't happen again."

Once she'd closed her phone, Cassie stood, looking up at the hospital building, a pensive frown marring her brow as her mind wandered back to Lance. For a very brief moment she allowed herself the chance to wonder about what her life might be like if she were to drop her guard completely and let Lance into her heart, but that moment passed quickly as all of her doubts and self-esteem issues came rushing to the forefront of her mind again, ruining her mood. From the outside looking in to her so-called glamorous life, no one in their right mind would ever in a million years guess that Cassidy Saunders had some serious issues with self-esteem where men were concerned—well, no one except Nina and, of course, her partner in crime that is. Ever since her father's death when she was three, for which her mother had gone to her grave blaming her, Cassie had labored under the false assumption that every man that she loved would eventually abandon her. It was in part thanks to years of conditioning by her mother that she'd been so reluctant to allow Orlando to be anything more than a friend for the first six and a half months of their relationship, and even once she was certain he loved her it had been a constant battle for her not to give in to her demons. For a while after they'd gotten together it seemed that things had calmed down, but with the dissolution of the marriage, all her doubts about herself had come back full force. And it was times like now, when she was alone and no one was watching that everything she feared about her ability to love and be loved came rushing back with a vengeance.

I have got to stop this, Cassie thought in desperation as the doubts, voiced by her mother no less, began taunting her again, telling her over and over again that she would never be pretty enough or smart enough to get Lance to like her. "Stop it!" she begged, her hands covering her ears in an effort to drown out the sound of her inner demons badgering her. "Please just leave me alone!"

"Cassie? Are you okay?" a voice asked, touching her shoulder gently. She whipped around, collapsing into Nina's arms with tears streaming down her cheeks.

"I'll never be good enough for him," she babbled, sobbing uncontrollably as Nina guided her down onto a bench in the secluded corner of the courtyard. "He... can't stand... me. Why... do I... even bother?"

"Cassie, stop this!" Nina commanded sternly, shaking Cassie gently before embracing the distraught woman again. She'd seen Cassie like this enough to know that her mind was being pulled into an abyss of despair by her memories of her mother's harsh words and treatment. "You are more than good enough for any man who's lucky enough to win your love and your trust! Just because Orlando was too foolish to see what a gem he had does not mean someone else won't come along and make all your dreams come true."

"No! I can't get involved with anyone again. It's too soon, and I—I just can't," Cassie stated, standing up and letting her professional mask slip back into place, but it was a wasted effort since Nina was not so easily fooled. "I guess I should get back upstairs before Taylor starts thinking I've abandoned him or..."

"Taylor's with Justin and his doctor, so he's fine. Cassie, you can't run from what could develop between you and Lance just because you're afraid," Nina stated, her gaze unflinching as she watched Cassie digest her words. "I believe he truly cares about you and I think he would make a good friend at the very least. He's even gained Abby's trust, so he can't be all bad, not to mention she thinks he's really cute."

"Abby's just a child Nina. She has no idea about who she should or shouldn't trust yet!" Cassie exclaimed, frustration giving her voice a sharp edge that Nina either didn't hear or simply chose to ignore, given Cassie's current state of mind. "I can't base who I date on whether or not my daughter likes him and thinks he's cute!"

"Cassie, you have to let go of the things your mother filled your head with. I know she was hurting when your father died, but she had absolutely no right to blame you for his death just because you survived that accident! If you continue to allow her ghost to rule how and who you love, you'll live your entire life too afraid to reach out to people who might genuinely love and care for you because you'll be too afraid they're only after you because of what you can do for them," Nina said patiently, sighing deeply as she stood and looked down into Cassie's eyes, her hands cupping Cassie's face much like she did Abby's as she continued speaking. "Lance is a good person and he's never asked you for anything except for your friendship. I think those things should speak for themselves. I'm not saying you should marry him tomorrow—hell, I'm not even saying you should be more than friends. You're an adult and I can't choose your friends for you, but you can at least give the man a chance. If he ends up hurting you, he catches a Big Nina beat down—but if he doesn't, well then mija, you've made a new friend, and maybe you've met the one man who'll put that sparkle back in your eyes. Think about it, cariña. I'll see you upstairs."

Cassie stared after Nina's retreating figure with a pensive frown once again, her brain battling with her heart as it tried to overcome years of the mental abuse that her mother had subjected her to. She could feel the change in her mood as gradually her heart won out over a mind conditioned by years of being told in no uncertain terms that she would never be good enough to find lasting love. Suddenly she stood, shaking off the depressing thoughts without a backward glance. As she walked back inside the hospital, she cast off her mother's shadow once and for all. I am good enough Mamá! Nothing you say or do will ever change that!

Upstairs, Taylor was fit to be tied. Ever since Justin's admission—after Abby's none too subtle probing, that is—he'd had the singularly uncomfortable pleasure of being almost alone in a room with a man who had all but admitted that he was interested in more than just a friendship with him. Cassie's departure and Lance's odd behavior since she'd left in such a hurry had not been lost on him, but he figured that Cassie would explain that when she was ready. Ever since Cassie had run out of the room, the blond bass singer had been looking like he'd lost his best friend, and Taylor was praying that nothing bad had gone on between his volatile best friend and the younger man, but knowing Cassie as well as he did, he was willing to bet his house that either one or the other was sporting a serious crush and was feeling rejected in some way. I just hope she hasn't gotten herself into something that could potentially blow up in her face, he thought as he turned his attention back to what Justin and Lance were talking, or rather arguing, about.

"Curly, I'm not going to discuss my nonexistent love life with you now!" Lance snapped, his skin mottled with barely suppressed rage with Justin's constant harping on the subject. "My non-relationship with Cassie is none of your business, so just leave it alone!"

"Scoop, I'm just trying to help you man. I know she likes you; you just have to be patient with her and..." Justin began, but that was as far as he got before Lance lost it.

"God damn it Justin, why can't you just leave well enough alone!" he yelled, standing up suddenly and frightening Abby, who scampered back up onto the bed and buried her face in Taylor's side. Abby's fearful reaction shocked Lance, who looked at the little girl and smiled in spite of his inner turmoil. "I- I'm sorry I scared you Abby. I didn't mean to yell like that. Do you forgive me?"

"I guess so," Abby said reluctantly as she got off the bed and came to stand in front of Lance. She reached out and touched his cheek, her smile beaming bright. "My mommy said that you have the bestest voice in *NSync—well, when we can hear you sing anyway. Right, Unca Taylor?"

"That's right Sugar," Taylor replied with a slight groan as he shifted, not quite sure about what the little girl was up to, but knowing that Cassie and Lance were in serious trouble if Abby had set her mind on getting the two of them together. At least that would take the heat off of me, Taylor thought with a smug grin, determined to help the little girl if it kept her and everyone else from meddling in his business. But with my luck, I'd have Cassie, Nina, and Abby involved in this, and that's the last thing I need right now!

"Taylor? Are you awake?" Justin asked, concerned for the man he was starting to believe would eventually be his boyfriend. Justin had been a little nervous about letting Taylor fall asleep, all things considered, but Dr. Carter had insisted that the only way Taylor would get better was with lots of rest. Fortunately for Justin, Taylor's answering smile made his heart skip a beat, and even Taylor had to admit that deep down, he was hoping that Justin's words to Abby were more than just talk.

"Yeah, I'm here—just wondering what on Earth is taking Cassie so long to come back," Taylor said with a worried frown as he glanced at his watch. "She's been gone for over twenty minutes and I know it wouldn't have taken her that long to get in contact with Alex. I just hope she's okay and nothing bad happened to her on the way back up here."

"Cassie is fine, cariño. She was talking to Alex when I came upstairs," Nina said from the door, her expression neutral. Something in the way she spoke must have meant something to Taylor because his gaze went to Nina's, searching for answers to something. The silent communication between the two of them not lost on either of the room's two other adult occupants. Justin glanced over at Lance who simply shrugged, as clueless as his best friend about what was not being said about Cassie's whereabouts, but determined to get to the bottom of this mystery too.

I guess I will have to be Scooby Doo to his Shaggy, Lance thought with a sardonic grin in Justin's direction, his earlier ire about Justin's constant meddling dissipating as he began to worry about Cassie's welfare when another five minutes went by and she was still nowhere to be found. It took all his self-control not to go running all over the hospital looking for her since he was well aware of his part in her sudden disappearance. I never should have made her think I didn't care about her. She's everything I could ever hope for in a woman, but realistically, do I even have a chance when I know she's still at least a little in love with her ex?

Lance's lingering glances at the door were not lost on Taylor either, and as much as Taylor was dying to get Cassie alone to ask what was going on, he knew that it was not really his place to interfere in his best friend's love life, or her lack thereof—not that it ever stopped him before. I just hope she's not slipping back into one of her funks because of her mother, Taylor thought, his heart hurting for his friend, but something about the way Nina had spoken put his heart at ease. He was certain that Nina had found her before she'd gotten too far-gone for anyone to reach, and hopefully Nina's pep talk had done the trick. Whatever else was going to be said was interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Carter, who was beaming broadly at him.

"Welcome back to the land of the living," she said with a smile, greeting the adults in the room before turning her attention to Abby. "And just who might this little beauty be?"

"I'm Abby. Pleased to make your aquian—acquaintance," Abby replied formally, curtseying and then climbing back onto the bed with Taylor. "Is my Unca Taylor gonna be okay?"

"Well Miss Bloom, I need to run a few tests to be sure, but I think your Uncle Taylor is well on his way to being as good as new," Dr. Carter replied as she helped Taylor lean forward and listened to his heart through her stethoscope. She glanced at Abby, smiling as she removed the earpieces from her ears and offered them to the little girl. "Would you like to listen?"

"Yes please!" Abby said as she placed the earpiece in her ears and listened for a few seconds before beaming at the doctor. "I can hear it!"

"And what's your prognosis, doctor?" Dr. Carter asked with a grin at the little girl who was the spitting image of her mother. "Is the patient healthy enough to be discharged tomorrow?"

"I think we need to run some tests to make sure," Abby replied, making Taylor, Justin, and Nina snicker at the appropriateness of her answer. Even Dr. Carter seemed impressed with the little girl's answer, but given who her mother was, it didn't really come as any great surprise to her that Abby would know the correct procedure for her to follow—especially since Cassie's character on Temptations worked as a doctor.

"I'll see to it right away doctor," Dr. Carter said with appropriate, at least in Abby's mind, seriousness. She turned to the nurse who had followed her into the room and began firing off a series of tests to be run on Taylor. "I want an EEG, CAT scan, and an MRI as well as a level one neurological assessment done as soon as possible. Let me know when those tests have been scheduled. That will be all for now."

"Yes Dr. Carter," the young nurse said, scribbling notes on the chart in her hands. When she was done she looked up, and her eyes became owlishly large when she spotted Taylor, and then grew even larger when she saw Lance and Justin sitting there regarding her. She struggled to regain her professional detachment, but all hopes of her not turning into a total fan were shot to hell when Cassie came sashaying back into the room with a flourish. "Oh my God! You're Cassidy Saunders! I'm such a huge fan of your work!"

"Why thank you!" Cassie said graciously, winking over the obviously star struck young woman's shoulder at Taylor, who sat watching the interaction with more than a little amusement. "It's great to run into someone in your profession who enjoys what I do every day. How long have you have watched Temptations?"

"Oh my gosh, since the very first episode," the nurse replied, slowly calming down as she and Cassie talked about the show and what it was like to work in the soap opera industry. She was over the moon when Cassie autographed several 8x10" photos and then convinced the men to do the same, as well as take a few photos with her. Once they were done, she was still saying her 'Thank Yous' as she hurried back to the nurse's station to make the arrangements for Taylor's tests.

"That was fun," Cassie said to no one in particular, sitting on the side of Taylor's bed. "So Dr. Carter, when can we expect this big lug to be getting out of the hospital? I need to know so I'll be able to come pick him up..."

"There's no need for you to pick him up," Justin interrupted, his hand covering Taylor's possessively. "I'll pick him up and take him home."

"That's nice of you to offer Justin, but I wouldn't want to put you out like that," Taylor said hastily, heading off the inevitable showdown between the strong-willed duo staring daggers at each other across the bed. When Cassie grabbed his other hand, he had a quick glimpse into how torn the child in the biblical story of King Solomon and the two harlots felt. Luckily for him, Nina read his desperation and jumped in to help him before things got too out of hand—but as it turned out, her solution would not sit very well with him either.

"Justin, it's nice of you to volunteer to come pick Taylor up, but he's going to be staying at the house with us while he convalesces—and I don't want to hear a word out of you about it Taylor," Nina said resolutely when it seemed that he was about to protest. "You know that you won't be able to do very much for yourself, and it would help both Cassie and I, and probably Justin too, to rest easier if you were somewhere where at least one of us could be there to keep an eye on you all the time." When Taylor began muttering under his breath, Nina's normally placid expression morphed into one of indignation. "I said I don't want to hear it Taylor! You're staying with us, and that's final!"

"Oh, all right," Taylor snapped huffily, rolling his eyes at both of the women in his life. He held Abby close to him and whispered, "Your mommy and Nina are stubborn and pigheaded when they think they're right."

"It's okay Unca Taylor, they do the same thing to me when I'm sick too," the little girl said soothingly, patting his cheek like just like Nina and Cassie had done her a million times in the past.

"Now that that's settled, could we get back to discussing when I'm getting sprung from this place?" Taylor asked petulantly, his bottom lip threatening to slip out. Nina and Cassie stood side by side, each leveling a look on Taylor that said in no uncertain terms that his whining would not only not be appreciated, but might be cause for his continued stay in the hospital. "I don't care if you don't like it! I'm an adult and I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I don't always need you two to look after me like I'm a five year old!"

"Taylor, if you don't stop that whining Dr. Carter's going to be treating you for a whole new set of bruises and contusions!" Cassie snapped, her expression relaying to her best friend just how serious she was about inflicting some serious bodily harm on him if his whining did not cease and desist. "You're staying with us and that's really final!"

"Taylor, maybe Cassie's right," Justin interrupted, smiling down at the man in the bed. He hurried to add, "It would help me a lot if I didn't have to be worried about you being at home by yourself. I mean, what if something happened and you couldn't get to a phone to call for help? Would you please stay with Cassie—without complaining—until you get better, for me?"

It was on the tip of Taylor's tongue to refuse even Justin's sweetly worded begging, but something in the younger man's eyes stopped him. Taylor could see just how much his safety meant to Justin, and just how badly Justin had been shaken when he'd thought Taylor might not regain consciousness, and it shocked and humbled him to know that his very presence in someone's life who wasn't Nina, Cassie, or Abby could affect them so deeply. Looking into Cassie's eyes, he could see that she was still frightened of losing him, which was why she was so adamant about having him in her home while he convalesced so that she and Nina could keep a close eye on him, Taylor decided in that moment to throw his pride aside and accept Cassie's offer to stay at Mayfair, if only for her peace of mind—that, and to shut Cassie and Nina up for the time being—and if it meant that Justin would come by to spend time with him every day, well, he would just have to reconcile himself to seeing more of the sexy younger man. Not to mention that it would give me a chance to see what the hell's going on with her and Lance, and possibly help it along if I can, Taylor thought as he surveyed the room's occupants, or put a stop to it if it's necessary.

"All right Justin, but only because you asked me so nicely," Taylor acquiesced, grinning at his best friend and surrogate mother before turning his attention to the one he hoped would be more than a friend soon. When Justin turned on the full wattage of his smile, Taylor felt a jolt of something that made him feel a combination of fright and exhilaration, but he decided to concentrate on the exhilaration. Ever since his last boyfriend had cheated on him, he had been afraid to allow anyone into his life and heart, but the one thing that this episode had taught him was that life was too short to allow fear to override the joy that was inherent in living. Starting today, I'm going to just relax and see where this thing with Justin could take me, Taylor thought as an answering smile bloomed on his face. I'm not going to be afraid to let him in, and I'm no longer going to be afraid to love!

"Remind me again how I ever let you talk me into this?" Taylor grumbled as trudged into Cassie's house the following day. After a battery of tests, Dr. Carter had finally consented into releasing Taylor, and he, for one, was never more pleased to leave somewhere in his life. While he would rather be at home, he knew right now that was not an option. While he had to admit that Cassie, Nina, and Justin did have a point—he really wasn't in the best of shape and would have a difficult time taking care of himself—that didn't mean he was going to make life any less difficult for Cassie. After all, that was his job.

"Because if you had stuck your ground and said no, we'd be in surgery right now," Cassie replied smugly as she held the door open for Taylor.

"Surgery?" Taylor asked aloud as he stopped for a moment to look Cassie in the eye. "What for? To remove your foot from my ass?"

Cassie, who was ready to jump in with the exact same smart remark, felt her jaw drop as Taylor began to laugh. "Heh," Cassie uttered as she rolled her eyes. "Aren't you the funny one today?"

"You're just mad because I beat you to the punch line," Taylor said with a sly smile.

"Whatever," Cassie replied flippantly. "Take a seat while I go get your bags."

"D'oh!" Taylor exclaimed. "I forgot about the bags. No, Cassie. I'll get them. They're heavy."

"Don't even think about it. Dr. Carter would come down here and tan my hide if she ever got wind that I let you lift something heavy. She said you need to take it easy for the next couple weeks while those ribs heal."

"Just—be careful, all right? We don't need both of us down with injuries, okay?" Taylor said, the concern in his voice clearly evident.

Cassie smiled. "No worries, bro. Besides," she continued as she looked out the window, "I think some help has just arrived." Outside, Lance and Justin pulled up in Lance's Mercedes, and Cassie watched the two as they got out of the car. "Ooh, and Justin's bringing someone some flowers!"

Taylor groaned. "I'm not ready for this. I'm not ready for this!"

"Who said they were for you?" Cassie said with a smirk. "Maybe they're for me!"

"Maybe they are," Taylor replied dryly. While Taylor was considerably more willing now than he was previously about letting Justin get closer to him, he wasn't sure if right this second was quite the moment he was ready to do it. "Or maybe he's just holding them for Lance."

Cassie's head snapped in Taylor's direction, a look of confusion on her face. "What do you know about this?"

"Apparently not enough," Taylor said. "I was hoping you could fill in some of the details I seem to be missing."

"Well, I..." Cassie began, but she stopped as Justin and Lance entered timidly through the open front door.

"Hi Cassie," Lance said shyly, hiding behind Justin.

"Um, hi Lance," Cassie said, returning his awkward greeting. The two locked eyes for a minute, neither willing to turn away as the atmosphere began to get tenser by the second.

"Hello? Cassie? Cass-a-rino?" Justin piped in, waving his hands in front of Cassie's face.

Cassie jumped back about a foot and a half. She had momentarily forgotten that Justin was there, so his words and actions spooked her. "Justin!" Cassie shrieked, her usual composure restored as she went over to give him a hug. "How are you?"

"Good. Better now that I've had some more rest."

"And who might these be for?" Cassie asked coyly as she took a step back, pointing at the flowers.

"Um, uh..." Justin stammered as he stared at his feet while his cheeks turned bright red.

"He's in the living room," Cassie said with a smile, and then she bent over and whispered menacingly into his ear, "I'm watching you. Hurt him, and you're dead." Cassie stepped back again, breaking the embrace completely. "Lance, why don't you and Justin go keep Taylor company in the living room while I go get the big baby's bags out of the car."

"I heard that!" Taylor called from the living room.

"Damn him," Cassie muttered. "He hears everything. I swear he has sonar."

"I heard that too!" Taylor called.

"If you don't knock it off, you'll be hearing something else!" Cassie called back. "Now, go on," she prodded.

"Actually, why don't I go get the bags for you?" Lance asked, desperate to find a way to get away from Cassie until he could find a way to collect himself. Every time she got near him, it was like his body would completely freeze up. He couldn't breathe; he couldn't think; he couldn't do anything except stand there and stare at her.

"Why, that's very sweet of you," Cassie said, throwing in a little southern drawl for added effect. "I do declare, you are a gentleman, aren't you?"

Lance blushed furiously. "I'm just, uh, going to, um, go get those bags now," he said before scampering out the door.

"Boys," Cassie said, shaking her head. However, in a small way, she was glad Lance was gone. While she found his obvious flirting with her cute and a little exciting—and there were times where she found herself flirting back without realizing it—there was much to this that still scared her. After all, Orlando had poured on the charm in the beginning as well, and, of course, the whole world saw how that turned out. No, the only man she could trust her emotions to was Taylor, but she still wondered how a relationship with Mr. Lance Bass might fare. Maybe I should put him through the Taylor test, Cassie thought. If Taylor gives the green light, then maybe I'll try this whole dating thing again.


Cassie turned around upon hearing someone call her name. "Huh?"

"Cassie, are you coming?" Justin asked as he motioned his hand in the direction of the living room.

"Oh. Yeah. Come on in."

The two had barely made it to the entrance of the living room when a flying blur appeared out of nowhere and tackled Justin's legs, sending him crashing to the floor.

"Justin!" the blur shrieked. "Justin! Justin! Justin! Justin!"

"Good afternoon Abby," Justin said as he disentangled his legs from the little girl's arms. "How's my favorite little girl today?"

"I'm good," Abby said with a smile. "Did you see Unca Taylor is here?"

"I did. I was just going in to say hello," Justin replied as he stood up.

"Are those for me?" Abby asked, pointing at the flowers.

"This one," Justin said as he pulled a yellow rose from the bouquet, "is for you. The rest of these are for Taylor."

Over on the couch, Taylor's face was becoming more crimson by the second. None of his previous boyfriends—bearing in mind that it was an incredibly short list to begin with—had ever gone to quite this much effort to romance him. Most of them were pushing to get him into bed as soon as they could, and there was something about the fact that Justin was moving more slowly that Taylor liked. Maybe this might not be so bad after all, he thought.

"Oooh. Look, Mommy. Justin gave me a flower," Abby said.

"I see that Cookie. It's very pretty. Let's go find a vase and some water to put it in, okay?"

"No," Abby replied. "Put it in my hair so I look pretty."

Cassie smiled at her daughter. "Okay, Cookie. Let's go find some scissors so we can cut the stem shorter and cut all the thorns off."

Abby stared at the flower, then at her mother, and then at the two men in the room. "Okay Mommy. Justin an' Unca Taylor need to be alone." Cassie started to grin, wondering how it was that her daughter happened to be so damn smart when, as she should have known, Abby said something that caught them all off-guard. It was times like these when Cassie wished she'd had a camera. "Unca Taylor," Abby said, turning to the man, "Mommy an' I are gonna go away for a minute so you an' Justin can talk, but no smoochin' Justin until I get back."

The looks on the adults' faces were, to the outside viewer, absolutely hysterical. Cassie was completely stunned. Out of the mouths of babes, she thought. Taylor had turned a bright red while Justin was starting to turn a rather unhealthy shade of purple.

"Breathe, Justin! Breathe!" Taylor hissed from the corner of his mouth

"Remind me how to do that again?" Justin hissed back.

As soon as Cassie and Abby left the room, however, the crimson in Justin's cheeks started to fade away, but it was only momentary, for once Cassie was out of sight of the men, she burst into raucous laughter, which only made Justin blush again.

"You know the only person here who is worse than Cassie is that little one," Taylor said, "and that's only because she hasn't discovered sarcasm yet."

"She's definitely something," Justin replied, "although what I find interesting is that while you're not Abby's father, you can see quite a bit of your personality in her."

That remark had come out of nowhere, and it caught Taylor off guard. "Uh, that's really her mother you're seeing," Taylor stammered. "It's not like I had anything to do with..."

"Come off it Taylor. You and Cassie have a lot in common, but I've watched Abby, and there's a part of her personality that has to come from you, because I don't see it in Cassie and it's definitely not in that twit Orlando."

Taylor noticed that Justin was starting to get upset. "I take it the two of you have met?"

"You could say that," Justin said, the venom in his voice easily noticed by Taylor. "To be honest, I don't trust that man as far as I can throw him."

"Welcome to the club," Taylor muttered, rolling his eyes.

The two fell silent for a moment before Justin looked at the flowers he was still holding in his hand. "Oh! Um, these are for you," he said, holding out a bunch of yellow roses. "I wasn't sure if red would exactly be appropriate, so I got these, but if you don't like them, or would rather have red, I can always go get some more, unless of course you'd like a different color, in which case..."

"Justin!" Taylor yelled, breaking Justin's babbling stride as he took the flowers from the younger man. "They're lovely, quite appropriate, and I thank you for not only bringing them to me, but giving one to Abby as well. I guess you are right about her, by the way. I think I've been a bigger part of her life than her father ever was, but I don't think I would ever say that too loudly if I were you. That man has a nasty temper, and it doesn't take much to get him started."

"You're telling me," Justin mumbled. "I ran into his temper the night you were admitted. I followed Cassie home, just to make sure she got there okay, and Orlando..."

"...assumed you were her new beau and was about ready to pound you into mincemeat?" Taylor finished.

"Uh, yeah," Justin said, a little shocked at the way that Taylor had finished his thought. He was about to same something else when Lance entered the room.

"Good grief!" Lance said between deep breaths as he took a seat on the loveseat. "What the heck did you pack in those bags? Weights?"

"Of course," Taylor said with a grin. "I have to keep up my appearance, you know. A body this good doesn't come from luck alone." When Lance frowned at him, Taylor began to laugh. "No. It's actually clothes, mostly, with some other things as well. Since I don't know how long it will be before the warden lets me go home, it doesn't make much sense to have to keep people running back and forth between the houses to fetch things. I still have to figure out what to do with Calla and the cats though."

"Why don't you give me a key to the house, and I'll make sure they're taken care of," Justin offered. When he noted the surprised look on Taylor's face, Justin stammered, "Well, uh, that is, if, uh, that's okay, um, with you, uh, that is, um, yeah."

"That's very kind of you Justin, but I'll make Cassie do it, since she's holding me captive here anyway," Taylor replied with a smirk. That's a good excuse Taylor! he thought. This guy certainly does move fast. Although he was certain that Justin's intentions in that statement were completely innocent, Taylor wasn't sure he was quite ready to give Justin a key to his house, just yet. I am getting better though, Taylor thought with a small bit of pride. Normally I just would have said no. At least this gives some room for interpretation that it could happen later on, right?

"So what were you guys talking about?" Lance asked.

"My favorite person," Taylor replied, rolling his eyes, even though he was a bit thankful that Lance had changed the subject. "Orlando Bloom," Taylor continued, qualifying his statement.

"I met him yesterday," Lance said. "He seems like an interesting character."

"And he's the devil himself if you get on his bad side," Taylor said, staring Lance in the eyes. "I'm already on his permanent bad list, so there's no hope for me, but I would tread lightly around him if I were you, Lance, especially if you have your heart set on Cassie."

Lance gasped and felt like all the air in the room had been completely sucked out. "I, um, don't know what you're talking about, Taylor," Lance stammered in a quiet voice.

"First of all, Mr. Bass," Taylor said, narrowing his eyes at the singer so harshly that it made the other man start to tremble out of sheer nervousness, "if your goal is to date Cassie, lying to either of us, especially me, is a very, VERY bad idea. Now, if you and Cassie want to dance around each other and pretend that neither of you has feelings for the other, then that's your choice, but I expect you to be completely up front and direct with me, or I will make life incredibly unpleasant for you. However, treat her properly, and you and I will get along fabulously. My only interest is in making sure that her best interests are protected, not yours. Do I make myself absolutely clear?"

"Crystal," Lance squeaked as he shrunk back into the loveseat as far as it would allow.

Justin, who was sitting next to Lance, had seen quite a few sides to Taylor, but this forceful, protective side both intrigued him and kind of turned him on too. I wonder if that's a bad thing, considering his current state, Justin wondered.

"Good," Taylor said, the smile returning to his face. "And now that my evil twin has had his moment for the day, let's hear what the real story is between you and Cassie."

Lance swallowed hard as the lump in his throat seemed to swell. "But she's in the next room!" When Taylor shrugged his shoulders and motioned for Lance to continue, Lance took a deep breath and said in a low voice, "Well, it's like this..."

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Orlando was having one hell of a day. As soon as the sun was up, he was out of bed and into the shower. He then got dressed, down a shot of scotch to get him started, and then headed for downtown. His destination was the bank, where he was about to make a rather sizable withdrawal. After all, his connection—even though it was never his intent to be connected in the first place—could never be found out, especially by Cassie. While he knew that there were many things that Cassie would be willing to forgive, albeit over time, this was one thing that would earn him a permanent spot on her hit list, and that was a place he couldn't afford to be; after all, it would be a bit difficult to win her heart if she hated his guts completely, and even more difficult to do it from jail, since that's where he would end up if anyone ever found out his role in this.

How do I get myself into these things? Orlando asked himself as he navigated his way through the busy streets that Friday morning. Well, I'll get that bitch her money and then they'll leave me alone. It will all go away.

It was just then his cell phone rang. He flipped it open without thinking to look at the number. "Hello?"

"Good morning, darlin'," said the voice on the other end of the line. "Are we having a good day?"

"Fuck you," Orlando snarled. "No, we are not having a good day," he mimicked in a nasty voice. "I'm on my way to the bank so I can get you your damn money."

"Such a good boy," the voice cooed on the other end. "Who's a good boy? Who's a good boy?"

"You are such a bitch," Orlando snapped as he wove through traffic.

"Excuse me?" the voice replied. "What did you call me?"

"You heard me."

"All right then. For that, the amount you owe has now doubled. Bring me one hundred and fifty thousand instead."

"You can't do that!" Orlando shouted. "We had a deal!"

"So you admit to your part of the whole thing?" the voice replied.

"No! Yes! No! Wait!" Orlando took a second and tried to clear his head. This lady was trying to confuse him. "You said it would take seventy-five thousand to shut you up about this whole thing—some money for you, and some money for what's-his-face. That was our agreement."

"You fail to realize, Orli, that I hold all of the cards here. If you want this quiet from your precious Cassidy, then you'll need to cough up."

"I could turn you in," Orlando threatened, but he knew that it was a feeble threat at best, and the other person recognized it for what it was.

"Yeah right. You try to bring me down, and I will destroy you."

"Fine. You win. I'll have your money. I'll bring it to your house at noon."

"No. Not here. Let's meet somewhere a little more public. How about Eduardo's on Sepulveda?"

"I don't have time for that, you rotten bitch," Orlando said. "I'm just going to bring you your money and leave."

"Fine. Whatever, and I wouldn't go there if I were you," the voice replied in a singsong voice. "You wouldn't want the price to go up again, now would you?"

Orlando sighed. "No. I'll see you at noon," he said dejectedly before hanging up. He took a right turn from where he was, drove a couple of miles, and then pulled into the parking lot of the bank. As he stepped out of his car and closed the door, he stared at the bank entrance with a depressed look on his face. "I will get you somehow, you wench. I don't know how, but I will make you pay for this. No one gets away with blackmailing me!"

"I don't know what else to say," Lance mumbled. "I really like Cassie, but she'll never notice me."

"Oh I think she's noticed you," Justin said. "Like Tay said, you two are just dancing around each other, trying to pretend that neither of you has any attraction for the other."

"Tay?" Taylor said in surprise. "When did I become Tay?"

"Uh, um, well, I heard Cassie call you that, and, well, I thought..."

"Does he always stutter like this?" Taylor asked Lance. "He seems to do this often."

"Any time he gets embarrassed, then, yeah," Lance said with a smirk.

"It's okay Justin. I'm just not used to hearing people other than Cassie calling me that."

"Well, if you'd rather I didn't, I won't."

"It's not that," Taylor said. "It just takes some getting used to." Taylor turned to Lance, who had suddenly resumed a melancholy state. "You okay, Lance?"

"I guess. I just wish I could find the nerve to tell Cassie..."

"Tell Cassie what?" Cassie asked as she entered the room.

"Uh, how beautiful your house is," Lance said suddenly, silently congratulating himself on his great cover, but when he glanced over at Taylor, the frown on the other man's face once again made him nervous. "So," Lance continued, turning to look at Justin, "does anyone have any plans for today?"

"I think I'm going to lie down for a while," Taylor said as he slowly got to his feet.

"Here Taylor," Justin said, jumping to his feet. "Let me help you."

"I'm not an invalid, Justin! I can do it myself!" Taylor shot back before thinking better of it. "Wait. I'm sorry Justin," Taylor said as he watched the younger man's eyes widen and then turn to look at his feet. "I didn't mean to snap at you. I'm just not used to this 'people wanting to do things for me' thing."

"Way to go, Tay," Cassie said sarcastically. "That's the way to make friends."

"Shove it, Cassie," Taylor retorted with a roll of his eyes. Ambling over to Justin, he put an arm around the smaller man's shoulder and said, "It would be very nice for you to help me get my things upstairs Justin, as long as it's okay with you."

Justin looked up and met Taylor's eyes. The soft, caring look in them made Justin want to melt on the spot. "It's fine," Justin said breathlessly, a goofy smile forming on his face.

"Oh yeah," Lance said under his breath. "He's a lost cause."

"Unca Taylor!" Abby cried as she ran into the room. "You wasn't supposed ta get mushy until I got back!" As usual, Abby said the right thing to lighten the mood of the room, though that was not her intent. "Unca Taylor, see how pretty I am wiv my flower?"

"You're gorgeous, Sugar. Now, why don't you come upstairs with Justin and me, and after he puts my bags into my room, you can show him your bedroom?" Taylor suggested.

"Really?" Abby squealed. "I can't wait to show you, Justin!" she exclaimed as she took off for the stairs.

Turning to Justin, Taylor said, "Sorry man, but sometimes, sacrifices have to be made, and today was your day."

"No sweat," Justin said. "She's a cute kid. How much trouble could she be?"

Taylor glanced up at Cassie and the two exchanged a knowing look. Justin simply had no idea.

"Well, Justin, let's get moving and leave these two to talk," Taylor said as he started to make his way slowly to the stairs. "Ugh, these are going to b a miserable few weeks with these broken ribs."

Cassie, who had been enjoying the exchange between the three men, suddenly froze when Taylor suggested leaving her alone with Lance. "Uh, Taylor? Maybe I should help Justin with some of those bags?"

"No worries, Cassie. I got them," Justin said as he started to collect Taylor's bags.

"No, I really think..." Cassie began, but Justin cut her off.

"I got them just fine Cassie. Now sit down and play nice with Lancey-boy over there."

"Uh..." both Lance and Cassie started to say, but the two of them immediately fell quiet, trying their absolute hardest not to look at each other.

"This should be interesting," Taylor whispered to Justin before Justin took the bags ahead of him, making it easier for Taylor to take his time coming up the stairs.

Once the two left the room, Cassie slowly turned her head to look at Lance, who was staring at Cassie, yet trying not to stare at her.

"So," Lance said quietly.

"So," Cassie said back. Bunch of great conversationalists we are, she thought. This is going to be a long afternoon.

Orlando pulled his car into the drive of a nice condominium on the south side of Malibu. Pulling a large briefcase from his trunk, he slammed the trunk lid hard before marching up the walk. He rang the doorbell and pounded on the door repeatedly until the condo's occupant yanked it open.

"I see you had no trouble finding the place, sweetheart," the woman said as she opened the door.

"Cut the charm crap Ashley," Orlando said as he stormed into the house. "Here's your god damn money. Are you happy now?"

Ashley Tomlinson sauntered into the living room, taking a seat on her sofa. "Come sit down with me, Orli. Would you like something to drink?"

"No. I don't want anything to do with you or this mess. Just take your money so this can all be over with."

Ashley stood up and advanced upon Orlando. "Oh, I'll take the money, but this isn't over. You're in just as deep as the rest of us, but as long as you keep your mouth shut, so will we. After all, heaven forbid Cassidy should find out that you ordered the attack on her best little buddy, Taylor."

"I did no such thing," Orlando retorted. "I never told you to do that."

"Orli, Orli, Orli," Ashley said condescendingly, "we've had this conversation over and over, and quite frankly, it's starting to bore me."

"You know what? I almost don't care anymore. You're determined to screw me one way or another, no matter what I say or do. So just take your money and leave me the fuck alone!"

"Oh, you're right," Ashley said. "In more ways than you think."

"What do you mean by that?" Orlando asked, a confused look spreading across his face.

"There's one more thing I want besides this money, which you were so good to get for me in a timely fashion."

"What else could you possibly want?" Orlando boomed. "A house? A car? A country? What?!"

Ashley sauntered up to Orlando, pulled him close, and planted a large kiss right on his lips. "Why, you of course." When Orlando pulled back from her in shock, Ashley smiled wickedly and said, "And that part of the deal is non-negotiable."

To be continued...

Oh, what will happen next? What's the deal with Ashley and Orlando? Is she really interested in him, or is this just another trick? Will Orlando play along with Ashley's new plan, even if it means eventually losing Cassie in the process? Will Taylor drive everyone crazy while he recuperates, and will he finally drop his guard enough to see what everyone else sees: the complete attraction Justin has for him? Will Cassie and Lance ever figure each other out, and will one finally admit what neither is willing to say? Drop Rob or Nicole a line and let us know your thoughts.

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