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 Three: Oh, The Drama!

Cassie threw the phone on the table and was halfway to the door when a voice stopped her. "Momma, where are you? You was gonna tuck me in!"

Oh, no! Abby! Cassie thought glumly. What a fine time for this to happen. Turning around, she saw her daughter running toward her with Nina right on her tail. Cassie caught her daughter, settling her on her hip. "Hi Cookie. I know I promised to come up and tuck you in, but I need to go over to Uncle Taylor's house for a bit."

Abby looked at her mother for a second and then buried her face in her mother's chest. "But you promised!"

"I know honey, but..." Cassie wasn't sure how much she should tell her daughter. She really needed to have left already, because as time passed she was becoming more and more frantic about Taylor, but at the same time, while she knew Abby would let her go if she knew that there was something wrong with Taylor, she didn't want to frighten the child either. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. While she would normally never condone lying to Abby, in this particular case, she made an exception. "One of Taylor's neighbors called and said his dog was barking a lot, so I'm going to make sure Uncle Taylor and the puppy and the kitties are all okay."

Cassie watched her daughter's face as she processed it in her head. At last, she said, "Okay Momma. Calla's a good dog, and she don't bark for nothin'."

Cassie smiled at her daughter and said, "Go on upstairs. Nina will be up in a second."

Abby gave Cassie a kiss on the cheek and ran up the stairs to her room. "To be sick and have that kind of energy," Nina said with a laugh, but her expression changed when she saw the panicked look on Cassie's face. "What is it? What's wrong with Taylor?"

"I don't know!" Cassie said sounding terrified. "He just called, and said he needed help, and that he was in pain, and what the hell am I doing still standing here?! Nina, call 911 and send them over to Taylor's house!"

"Cassie be careful," Nina warned. "Don't endanger yourself by doing something reckless too." However, Nina's advice fell on deaf ears as Cassie was already out the door by that point. "Those two," Nina said with a sigh, referring to Cassie and Taylor, "are definitely a pair."

While Nina was calling an ambulance, Cassie jumped into her Mercedes and backed out of the garage onto the street. Usually a very prudent driver—preferring to leave the lead-foot antics to Taylor—Cassie stomped on the accelerator and drove as quickly as she could to Taylor's, managing to cut down a thirty minute drive into fifteen. As she was nearing Taylor's house, she managed to attract the attention of not one but two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, who both flipped their lights on and followed her. Cassie, who was only a quarter-mile from Taylor's, decided that she would risk the ticket, and felt right then that the consequences be damned, so she kept going. Besides, if the ambulance hadn't arrived yet, maybe the police officers could help Taylor with whatever happened to him.

Arriving at Taylor's house, Cassie pulled into the drive behind Taylor's BMW and hopped out. Spotting his body lying on the ground, she dashed over to him and dropped to the ground by his side. "Taylor? Taylor, answer me!"

She started to shake his body, but was grabbed from behind by a police officer and dragged to her feet. "What the hell are you doing?" Cassie shrieked. "Let go of me!"

"Lady, I don't know who you think you are, but we clocked you at twenty-five miles over the speed limit on the highway, and..."

"Look, can we discuss this later? Right now, my friend is kind of unconscious over here!!" Cassie yelled.

"What? Oh my God! Rich!" the officer yelled to his partner. "Call an ambulance!"

"I already did that," Cassie said, trying to control her temper. "Why do you think I was driving so quickly? I'm sorry, but the 405 and the Indy 500 do not look the same, and it is highly unlikely I would confuse the two."

The officer glared at her. "Very funny. You know, you remind of that woman I saw on TV once. What was her name? Cassidy Sanders?"

"It's Saunders," Cassie said, reverting to professional mode, "and pleased to meet you."

The officer's eyes went wide. "It is you! I thought you looked familiar! Yeah, my wife is always reading stories in the papers about you and that other guy—the gay one."

Cassie's eyes went cold and hard. "If you weren't a police officer, I'd deck you. The 'gay one,' as you so eloquently put it, is Taylor Jeffries, who at the moment is currently lying on the ground unconscious, and you are doing absolutely nothing about it!" Cassie spun on her heel and went back to Taylor's side. "Our tax dollars at work, Tay." She stroked the back of his head and was horrified to discover blood on her hand when she pulled it away. "Oh, God. Officers! He's bleeding!"

The second officer, whom she only knew as Rich, came running over. "The ambulance will be here momentarily. I'm Officer Stanton, ma'am. Do you know what happened here?"

Cassie shook her head. "All I know is that Taylor called me, said he needed help, that he was hurt, and that was it before his phone went dead or he dropped it. As you know, I got here the same time you and that idiot over there did."

Officer Stanton ignored Cassie's comment and began checking Taylor for a pulse. "He's still got a pulse, so that's a good sign, and here's the ambulance!"

The ambulance pulled up to the curb and two people jumped out. "Clear the way!" one of them yelled. Everyone backed away from Taylor, including Cassie, who did so begrudgingly.

Cassie ran over to her Mercedes and grabbed her purse from the front seat. As Taylor's body was loaded into the back of the ambulance, Cassie came up and said quite clearly, "I'm going with you."

One of the medical technicians looked at her and said, "Are you family?"

Thinking quickly, Cassie said, "He's my brother." When they shot her a funny look, Cassie said, "He's adopted. What? Do you want proof now? He needs to go to the hospital!"

"Get in. Let's go," the medical technician said at last.

Cassie got into the front of the ambulance and began to pray that Taylor would be all right. Furthermore, she hoped that whomever had done this to Taylor knew how to hide well, because if she ever found them, there would be some serious hell to pay.

News travels fast in Tinseltown, especially when celebrities are involved. By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital, there was an entire media contingent waiting for them. Flashbulbs began popping the minute Cassie stepped out of the ambulance. The media always seemed to love getting pictures of Cassie at her worst, and this was not exactly one of her best moments. Ignoring them completely, she ran to the back of the ambulance where Taylor was being offloaded. She followed them inside the hospital, but was waylaid by a doctor who told her that she would have to go into the waiting room and fill out some paperwork, and they would bring her word once they knew something.

With a heavy sigh, Cassie resigned herself to the agony of waiting for an update on Taylor's condition. Every time someone walked in the room, Cassie's head flew up, hoping it was someone with some sort of news. In the meantime, she tried hard to focus on the papers she was filling out, but the longer she read, the more all the words seem to run together. Taking a break, she went over to the pop machine to get something to drink, ignoring the stares from the other people in the waiting room who had either figured out who she was or just weren't entirely sure. Wandering around, she finally found a secluded area and called Nina. She was ever thankful that the media couldn't get inside and make this nightmare even worse. As soon as Nina picked up, Cassie said, "Nina, I'm going crazy here! No one will tell me anything!"

"Shhhhhh. It's going to be okay. Now, take a few deep breaths and get yourself together. You're not going to be able to help Taylor any by falling apart now," Nina said quietly.

"I know Nina, I know," Cassie began, "but it's driving me nuts! The hospital isn't saying anything, the media is camped outside, and the people in the waiting room are really starting to creep me out."

"I understand that Cassie, but you need to be strong for Taylor. Just promise me that as soon as you find out anything, you'll call me."

"I will Nina," Cassie said. "Has Abby gone to sleep?"

"Finally. I don't know where she gets all of that energy from!"

"Me either," Cassie chuckled. "All right. I had better go to the non-information desk and see what I can't find out."

"Cassie!" Nina scolded.

"Sorry. I'll talk to you later," Cassie said before hanging up.

She stowed her phone back in her purse and went back into the waiting room. She had just barely sat down when a doctor walked in and came over to her. "You're Miss Saunders, Mr. Jeffries' sister, correct?"

"Uh, yes," Cassie said, standing up quickly. "How is he?"

"I'm Dr. Jean Carter," the doctor said with a smile, "and we think he's going to be just fine. Now, he did take a rather nasty blow to the head, which led to a mild concussion, and he does have a couple of broken ribs, but all of that will mend with time. Now, we're going to keep him here overnight for observation, just to make sure he doesn't slip into a coma, but otherwise, he can probably go home tomorrow."

"Oh, thank God," Cassie said in relief. "Is he awake? Can I see him?"

"He has woken up, but he's a bit addled by the drugs. However, I don't see any reason why you couldn't go in." As Cassie stood up, Dr. Carter said, "By the way, I do have one question for you."

"What's that?" Cassie asked.

"What's up with Dylan and Rebecca? I thought they were getting divorced, but now they seem to be all over each other?"

Cassie burst out laughing. She couldn't help it. This was definitely not what she expected to hear from the doctor. "Uh, I don't know. Maybe your patient would have better insight to that than I would," Cassie said with a smirk.

"True, but it would help if he was fully coherent," Dr. Carter replied with a twinkle in her eye.

"I take it you're a fan of the show," Cassie said.

Dr. Carter grinned. "Yeah, and it's too bad Taylor doesn't like women. He's too adorable!" In a lower voice, she said, "And if you ever tell anyone else I said that, I will deny it!"

"No worries," Cassie said. "Your secret is safe with me, but if you know me then you know that I'm not really his sister, so how come you're still letting me go see him?"

"Doctor's prerogative," Dr. Carter said. "Now go. I'm guessing he'll be glad to see you."

"Thanks," Cassie said, giving the doctor a close-up view of her patented smile.

"He's in E-42," Dr. Carter noted as she looked on her paperwork. "Keep it brief though."

Cassie watched as the doctor left the room, and she slowly collected her things and made her way down the hallway. Arriving at Taylor's room, she quietly let herself in. It had been really dark when she had arrived at Taylor's house, so it had been hard for her to see how badly hurt Taylor was. Now that there was proper lighting, she could see that his head had been bandaged as well as his ribs; there was also quite a bit of bruising covering his muscular chest and washboard abs. Cassie knew it was going to be quite a while before Taylor would be able to take his shirt off on camera again, much to the dismay of women and gay men across the country.

"Cass?" she heard Taylor mumble as his eyes slowly flickered open. "Is that you?"

"Yeah, it's me sweetie," Cassie replied. "How you feeling?"

"Like I've been run over by a Mack truck," Taylor said. "Did anyone get the license plate?"

Cassie chuckled. She knew Taylor was cracking jokes to keep her from worrying, but the mom inside of her prevented that. Pulling up a chair next to his bed, Cassie sat down and grabbed his hand. "Taylor, what happened?"

Taylor put a hand to his head and rubbed it. "It's a little blurry," Taylor began, "but I had just come back from dinner, and..."

"Oh! That's right!" Cassie exclaimed. "I forgot all about it! So who's the mystery man?"

"Cassie, I don't..."

"Come on, Tay! Tell me!" Cassie pleaded.

"It was me," said a voice from behind them.

Cassie turned her head toward the door and her mouth fell open in shock. "I...I...I don't believe it."

Justin walked a few steps into the room and began to babble. "I got here as soon as I could. I just heard about it on the television and came right away, but if this is a bad time, I can come back, because I'm sure you two have some stuff you want to talk about, and I don't want to intrude or anything, and..."

"Justin, shut up and sit down," Cassie said bluntly, and the speed in which Justin took a seat made her laugh. "I meant over here," Cassie said a little more softly, motioning Justin to come sit next to her. "I don't bite, I promise. Well, unless it was you who did this, in which case, I bite HARD!"

Justin shook his head, picked up the chair he was sitting in, and came to sit next to Cassie. "No. I would never do this to anyone. Is he going to be all right?" Justin asked.

"I'll be fine, as soon as the room stops spinning," Taylor said, putting a hand over his eyes.

"Okay, so one mystery solved," Cassie said, glancing at Justin. "So, how did the date go?"

"Fine," Justin said, blushing profusely.

"And?" Cassie prompted.

"We talked, we ate, we laughed, we left," Taylor said irritably.

"No wonder someone whacked you," Cassie said lightly. "You've got a bad case of PMS—Pissy Male Syndrome."

"Cassidy Elena Saunders, be thankful I'm in this bed and am in too much pain to move, because if I weren't..."

"Don't even try to pull the middle name game, Taylor Antonio Jeffries, because I can do that too!"

Justin sat back and watched the two argue with each other. Had he not known that the two weren't related, he would have sworn that they truly were brother and sister. They definitely acted like it, and he wondered whether someone in the casting offices at their studio somehow saw this in the two of them, or if it had just been sheer dumb luck. Either way, the bond between the two of them was truly amazing—and somewhat frightening—to behold in person. On television was one thing, but the real life pairing was way more entertaining.

"So anyway," Taylor continued, "I came home and was surprised to find a young woman waiting for me."

"A young woman?" Justin asked. "What was she doing at your house?"

"She seemed to be a fan, and I thought she might want an autograph or something, but she turned it down when I offered. That's when someone hit me in the back."

"So she was a decoy to distract your attention," Cassidy said angrily. To Justin she said, "It's common knowledge that Taylor will always take time to stop and talk with fans, unlike a lot of daytime princes and princesses who think they are too good for the rest of the world."

"Did you get any names? Do you remember what they said? Do you remember what they looked like?" Justin prompted.

"Uh, his name began with a J, I think. Umm...John? Joe? Jed? Jim? Jimmy! His name was Jimmy and hers was Madeleine. I don't know why, but that stuck in my head for some reason."

"What did they look like?" Cassie asked.

"I don't remember," Taylor said. "It was kind of dark. I never really saw the guy, but the girl was shorter than you, short brown hair, and she was wearing jeans and a denim jacket." Taylor got really quiet and then said, "That's all I remember. That, and..."

"And what?" Justin asked.

"As the guy was hitting me, he told me that he was beating me up because I was a fag and that I should stay away from you and Abby or else they might come after you too."

This bit of information infuriated Cassie. Not only had someone beaten up Taylor because he was a homosexual, but that they had threatened her and Abby! "Taylor, you are not a fag, and I never want to hear you say that again. Ooh, I swear to God that when I find the people who did this to you, may the Lord have mercy on their soul because I sure won't!"


"No one, and I mean no one gets away with doing this to you and threatening my daughter!" Cassie continued.

Glancing over at Justin, Taylor said, "I want to know who's been slipping testosterone into her food, because right now I think she has more than I do."

Cassie glared at Taylor for a moment and then said, "Well, one of us has to have it darling."

Taylor started to smile, but then winced in pain. "Cassie! Don't make me laugh. It hurts too much."

She stopped laughing and said, "Sorry Taylor. Well, look at the bright side. At least they didn't mess up that pretty mug of yours." Cassie knew that while the studio would be able to work around Taylor having to be clothed in order to hide the bruising, there was no way they'd be able to hide any damage to his face. Cassie and Taylor both knew that something of that magnitude could have quite possibly spelled the end of his daytime soap opera career.

Justin was also thankful, but for a different reason. He liked Taylor just the way he was—stunningly attractive. While Cassie joked about how Taylor's sexuality should have been obvious, it came as a complete shock to the entire world. Taylor seemed to have that All-American, boy next-door charm, and to even suggest that he was anything but straight seemed absolutely silly—until he came right out and said it.

The room fell into momentary silence before Taylor said, "Justin? How did you get them to let you up here?"

Justin laughed. "Hello? I'm Justin Timberlake. Everyone bends over backward to do things for me. I told them I was a good friend of yours and they sent me right down here."

Cassie rolled her eyes. "I had to tell them I was your sister before they'd even let me in the ambulance," she grumbled.

"You are," Taylor said, "on camera and off. Just because it's not legal doesn't mean anything."

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever," Cassie said, but there was no mistaking the smile that had appeared on her face.

"Taylor, any idea who would do this to you? I mean, do you have any enemies or something like that?" Justin asked.

Taylor remained silent, thinking it over. "Well, aside from that special section of the country that thinks I'm now demon spawn, I can't think of anyone who I would say is an enemy of mine." He thought for a second and said, "Well, I take that back. There is one person, but I don't think even he would stoop this low."

"Who's that?" Justin asked.

Taylor said nothing, but stared straight at Cassie. Cassie was no dummy; she knew who Taylor was talking about, and while she didn't want to admit it, especially after the conversation she'd had with Orlando hours earlier, there was a very tiny part of her that had to wonder whether he had any involvement in this.

Justin, who was also no idiot, saw the exchange of looks between Taylor and Cassie and put two and two together. "You mean her husband?" Justin inquired.

"Ex-husband," Cassie said, emphasizing the first syllable. "I'm inclined to agree with Taylor. While the man has done a lot of nasty things to both of us over the years, I just have trouble imagining that he would have someone come after Taylor like this. What purpose would he have for that?"

"You mean besides trying to keep me away from you?" Taylor noted. "If he were to ever decide that he wanted to try to get back with you, he knows that I'm a rather large stumbling block to deal with."

Cassie shuddered involuntarily. Taylor had a point—a rather large point—and it astonished her how Taylor seemed to hit the nail so squarely on the head. She guessed that he knew that deep in her heart, she still loved Orlando, and probably that Orlando still loved her too. She also knew that Taylor was, and had always been, incredibly, incredibly protective of her and Abby, having been witness to countless fights between Cassie and Orli when they had been at their worst, and Orlando would have had to know that Taylor would not make it easy for her to get back into a relationship with him whatsoever.

"Do you really think it could be him?" Justin said, shaking Cassie from her thoughts.

"I don't know," Taylor said. "We'll just have to wait and find out."

It was at that point Dr. Carter entered the room. "So, how's my patient?" she asked as she looked at his chart.

"Just fabulous," Taylor said sarcastically. "This is just how I wanted to spend my night."

"You know, Mr. Jeffries," Dr. Carter said, "sarcasm isn't a very becoming trait on you."

"Oh no!" Taylor moaned. "Cassie's multiplying!"

Cassie burst into laughter, since she remembered having said those exact same words earlier that day. "See. Told you so," she said with a smile.

"They're against me," Taylor said to Justin. "They're all against me."

"Miss Saunders," Dr. Carter said to Cassie, "the press is anxious for an update on Mr. Jeffries' condition, so the hospital has organized a press conference downstairs. I'm sure they are going to want a statement from you."

"Oh joy," Cassie said sarcastically.

"Nope," Dr. Carter said after a second. "It's not a becoming trait on you either."

"You had to get the one doctor with an attitude, didn't you Taylor?" Cassie said with a smirk.

"Yeah, and they're all jealous that I got a hunk of a man like him," Dr. Carter said, eliciting a blush from Taylor. "Now, Miss Saunders, if you choose to be present, it's starting in five minutes. Oh, and you might want to do something with your hair," she pointed out as she left the room.

In all the excitement, Cassie hadn't taken the time to fix her hair from when she had fallen asleep on the couch, and it had flattened out in a couple of spots. "Our public awaits," Cassie said with a sigh. Leaning over, she gave Taylor a kiss on the cheek. "I'll be back."

Cassie exited the room, leaving Justin and Taylor alone. Justin stood there silently, staring at Taylor's muscled body. What had been left to his imagination at the restaurant was now mostly on full display for him. Justin silently took a deep breath; he knew now more than ever that he wanted Taylor to be his boyfriend. He just needed to find a way to make the feeling mutual.

"Don't stare too long," Taylor said lightly. "You might give me a complex."

Justin blushed a new shade of red and averted his eyes. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"What I'm trying to decide is whether you're staring at my injuries or just me in general," Taylor pressed, watching Justin's face turn an even deeper red.

"I would be lying if I said you weren't attractive," Justin said quietly.

"If memory serves, you said I was 'hot' in your letter. Oh dear. It looks like all this bruising has caused me to be downgraded," Taylor said, trying to make a joke.

"Well, you are," Justin admitted, "but it's kind of hard for me to say it out loud."

"I understand," Taylor said, "and if you know what's good for you, you won't. I was afraid something like this might happen. All it takes is one person to decide that they know what is best for everyone and then do something about it. Like this Jimmy guy thinks that just because he whacks me a few times that I'm suddenly going to decide to be straight?" Taylor groaned as he shifted in the bed. "If only it were that easy."

"Taylor," Justin said, taking the larger man's hand in his, "I just want you to know that you're not in this alone. I know Cassie's by your side, and I'm ready to help in any way. Just let me know."

"I appreciate that Justin," Taylor said warmly. "I really do, but I was serious when I said that being around me might be a bad idea. It's different for Cassie. No one suspects anything different about her because she's female and has a kid. Being a single guy and hanging around a gay guy is only going to start rumors—one your reputation probably doesn't need right now."

"Taylor, there are some things more important in life than your career," Justin said emphatically, "and besides, I like you a lot, and I'd like to get to know you a lot better. You just have to let me." Taylor said nothing and stared at the ceiling. Looking over his shoulder at the door to make sure no one was watching, Justin bent over and gave Taylor a quick peck on the cheek. "Get some rest. I'll see you later."

Justin made a quick exit out the door, leaving a shocked and stunned Taylor in his wake. Slowly shaking his head, he said quietly to himself, "Why do I get the feeling this is just the beginning of things to come?"

As Cassidy walked down the hall in search of a public restroom, her mind was in a good bit of turmoil. To say she was shocked that Taylor's mystery date had turned out to be Justin Timberlake would have been the understatement of the year—no, screw that, the millennia. While she had never been big on "boyband" music, she would have had to be living under a rock not to know that Justin Timberlake was considered one of the most eligible bachelors on the planet. If word of his sexual preference ever got out, the parents of America—and about fifty gazillion Justin Timberlake fans, Abby included—would go totally apeshit, and things would only go downhill from there. But Cassidy's mind wasn't on Justin and his current dilemma; no, her main concern was for her best friend. Taylor had already been through so much pain already, from his parents disowning him to catching his last boyfriend in bed with another man, that Cassidy was sure he wouldn't be able to deal with the fallout if things went south with Justin.

And to think I forced him to go on this damned date, Cassie thought as she tried to tame her hair into some semblance of order. If things went badly for them, she would not be able to live with the knowledge that Taylor's heart being broken yet again was her fault. She dabbed in a bit of lip gloss, giving herself a last little once over before she went back into the hall to go in search of someone who could tell her where this little impromptu press conference was.

Cassie quickly flagged down a nurse who directed her to the first floor conference room where the assembled media had gathered for their latest feeding frenzy and tale of Tinseltown woe. It was no secret that Cassie had a more than healthy disdain for the worst of them—the ones who had sent her to the hospital after her accident and into early labor came to mind—but she was a professional when it came to handling them. She'd developed such a thick skin that she could smile pretty for hours for the bastards while silently thinking about just how badly she'd like to spit in their faces, and no one would be the wiser. Pasting on the best of her fake smiles, she prepared herself to enter the room where the press lay in wait for her like ravening wolves panting after a helpless sheep. Just as she was about to enter, she felt a hand on her arm and turned around with what Taylor and Nina laughingly called her "Hollywood" smile plastered firmly in place.

"Ms. Saunders? Dr. Michael Prescott," the tall, somewhat handsome man in the white lab coat said, clasping her hand so tightly she almost had to ask him to ease off before he broke her fingers, "and may I say what an honor it is to have you here at our wonderful institution. I wish this meeting had been under different ..."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Dr. Prescott," Cassie interrupted graciously, groaning inwardly at the thought of having to share space with yet another panting, drooling fool who couldn't get his eyes above her bustline. Smiling prettily she said, "Who exactly is in charge of tonight's feeding frenzy?"

"That would be me Miss Saunders," an older African American woman said, extending a hand for Cassie to shake. "My name is Bernadette Thomas and I'm the Director of Public Relations for the hospital. I'm sorry to have to be meeting under such unfortunate circumstances, but due to the notoriety of you and Mr. Jeffries, the hospital felt it necessary to go forward with this conference as soon as possible. We will understand if you'd prefer to return to your friend's bedside, though."

"No, no, no... I'm fine for now. I would, however, like to just get this over with so I can get home to my daughter before she sees this on television," Cassie said calmly. "Now, if everyone who is involved is ready to go, I'd like to get this done so I can visit Taylor for a few more minutes before I have to leave."

"Of course," Ms. Thomas stated, moving around Cassie to grab the door handle. "Whenever you're ready Miss Saunders."

Cassie squared her shoulders, her smile courteous but concerned as she nodded to both Dr. Prescott and Ms. Thomas. "There's no time like the present."

With that, the doors swung open and Cassidy was on display for the entire civilized world to see. As soon as she stepped into the room, flashbulbs started going of at a rate close to the speed of light, temporarily blinding her but quickly shaken off, as reporters from every major news source in the country began hurtling questions her way. Cassie grimaced at the ensuing pandemonium, wishing for the millionth time that she had gone into another line of work as she quickly made her way to the makeshift announcer's table that had been set up in the front of the room.

Ms. Thomas stepped up to the podium, which was almost hidden under a blanket of microphones, a hastily prepared statement open in front of her. "Ladies and gentlemen of the press, welcome to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. My name is Bernadette Thomas, the gentleman standing to my left is Dr. Michael Prescott, the chief of Emergency Medicine, and of course you all know Miss Cassidy Saunders. I'll be reading a prepared statement before opening the floor to your questions.

"At approximately nine forty-three this evening, actor Taylor Jeffries was brought into the ER here after having sustained serious injuries during an altercation with an unknown individual outside his Hollywood home. Mr. Jeffries sustained severe bruising and multiple lacerations and contusions, along with three broken ribs and a concussion from being beaten with a blunt object. The Los Angeles Police Department has been notified and is currently conducting a thorough investigation into this incident. At this time it is requested that all members of the media direct any requests for information to the hospital's public relations office. I'll now open the floor for a quick question and answer session."

She pointed at a young reporter from the local affiliate of ABC. "Your question Miss Hayes?"

"Is it true that this was actually a hate crime on Mr. Jeffries because of his sexual orientation?" the reported asked, holding her microphone out.

Ms. Thomas turned to look at Cassidy briefly, seeming to wait for her permission before answering. At Cassie's nod, she said, "At this time we're not certain what prompted this attack, but based on information Mr. Jeffries has been able to provide, that is the assumption. Yes?" she said again, pointing at Ian Robinson from MTV.

"Hi. This question is for Miss Saunders," he said, causing Cassie to look his way with a small smile. Few outside of her immediate circle knew of her relationship to Ian—they were second cousins through her late father—so she felt safe in answering any questions he might have for her. "Have you seen Taylor, and if so, how is he?"

"Yes, I have seen him, and he's in as good of spirits as you could expect for someone who's just been beaten almost to death with whatever the hell it was they used," Cassie said calmly enough, but the members of the press could see just how tight a rein she had on her temper. Of course, they were all chomping at the bit to get her to lose it, but Cassidy was too much of a professional to let that happen, and even given the current situation, she was not about to let these vultures get under her skin.

"Next question please?" Bernadette Thomas said, casting a worried glance at Cassidy. She was a huge fan of Temptations herself, so she knew of the close relationship between its stars, but nothing prepared her for the kind of anger she could feel rolling off of her favorite actress in waves. She indicated a reporter from the NBC affiliate, saying firmly, "And this one will be the last one for right now."

"Miss Saunders, seeing as how your name has been inextricably linked to Mr. Jeffries in the eye of the public for so long, how do you feel this attack will affect your joining him as his date for public functions in the future?" the reporter asked. Cassie stared at the woman like she'd lost her mind for several ticks of the clock, her face betraying her fluctuating emotions.

What the hell do you think, you stupid cow! Cassie thought, rolling her eyes inwardly before she spoke. "Taylor Jeffries is my best friend," Cassie said, her voice trembling, "he is my daughter's godfather, and my brother by choice. If he and I choose to continue to be seen together in public, I believe that is our prerogative. However, I will not now, nor will I ever, allow one person's bigotry and hatred to dictate who my friends will be. So to answer your question, yes, Taylor and I will continue to be seen together... and anyone who doesn't like it can go to hell, and I hope they choke on their hatred. Now, if that's all ladies and gentlemen, I have a friend to visit and a child to get home to. Thank you all for coming."

With those words, Cassidy flashed one more dazzlingly seductive smile at the assembled masses before walking out the double doors without a glance backwards to see how her exit had gone over with the crowd. She breathed a sigh of relief that this part of the evening was finally over, but relief turned quickly to panic when she remembered that Abby tended to like to turn on the television while she tried to fall asleep. Saying a quick prayer that Nina was still awake, Cassie ducked into a small reception area to use her cell phone to call Nina to give her an update and to derail Abby's usual nocturnal behavior.

"Come on Neen... still be up," Cassie repeated as she waited for Nina to answer. Finally on the fourth ring, Nina's sleep slurred voice came over the line. "Nina. It's me. Don't say anything. I need you to go into Abby's room and make sure her TV is turned off, or at least turned down."

"Cassie what's going on?" Nina asked, struggling to wake up. She made her way into Abby's room, but stopped when she saw that Abby had fallen asleep watching 'Toon Disney. "She was watching Disney. Cassie, what's happening?"

"Taylor's been hurt," Cassie replied, turning to make sure the door to the room was closed firmly and locked before she collapsed into a chair, running her hand through her hair.

"Is he okay?" Nina asked, her voice trembling with fear—and a healthy dose of anger. Cassie knew that Nina loved Taylor like her own child, so naturally she would be concerned about Taylor's condition. She almost debated telling Nina the truth, but decided that telling her would be the best thing, since Nina's temper could rival her own for sheer ferocity where one of her "babies" was concerned.

Cassidy sighed in frustration, wishing she were someplace where she could take one of her infrequent smoke breaks. Since quitting when she'd found out she was pregnant with Abby, she'd seldom touched the things, but tonight would be an exception. "Well he has a slight concussion and a few broken ribs, but they didn't do any serious damage."

"¡Da gracias a Dios!" Nina exclaimed, crossing herself quickly. "But how the hell did this happen Cassie? Who would do something like this to Taylor?"

"I have no idea Neen, but I have every intention of finding out," Cassidy stated, her eyes narrowing to slits. "When Tay got home from his date, he said he found some strange girl in front of the house. He didn't think anything of it until she started acting weird, but by then her boyfriend or whoever had already attacked him with a damned baseball bat."

"Those bastards had better pray la policía find them first!" Nina snapped, pacing her bedroom like a caged tiger.

"That's not the worst of it," Cassie stated, her anger building to new levels as she contemplated anyone hurting her baby. "T-Taylor told me that as the guy was beating him, he said he was doing this because he was a fag and...the bastard threatened to hurt me and Abby if Taylor doesn't stay away from us."

"I wish the asshole would try to hurt you or my Abby!" Nina shouted before she quickly lowered her voice. "I'd rip their balls off and shove them down their throats before I'd let anything happen to either of you!"

"Calm down Mom," Cassie teased gently, trying to defuse Nina's anger as she stood and stretched her aching back. "Look Neen, I'm gonna go visit with Taylor for a few more minutes before they kick me out. I'll try to get out of here as soon as I can. If Abby wakes up before I get home, tell her I had to stay at Taylor's so Calla wouldn't be lonely or something. I also think it would be a good idea for Tay to come stay with us, at least for the next few weeks while he's healing up, so I'm gonna need you to fix up one of the spare bedrooms."

"Do you think he'll go for that?" Nina asked, smiling as she pictured the determined look on her friend's face. Cassie snorted, rolling her eyes at the phone, even though Nina obviously couldn't see her. "I mean, you know how independent he is. Do you really see him agreeing to do that?"

"I don't recall it being a choice," she said dryly with an amused smile. "He knows better than to argue with Momma Cassie. Anyway. I'll call you when I'm on my way home. See you guys soon. Kiss my baby for me, and I'll see you as soon as I can."

"All right cariña. Give Taylor my love," Nina said as she waited for Cassidy to hang up the phone.

Once she was sure Cassie was gone, Nina hung up herself, but she no longer felt any need to sleep, which she'd been doing a pretty good job of when the phone had awakened her. She continued to pace, her mind racing as she tried to come up with a valid explanation as to why this had happened tonight of all nights. Had his date somehow been involved? Taylor had seemed to be enjoying himself when he'd called to check up on Abby earlier, but that could just have been a ruse for her benefit. There were many, many people who were probably rejoicing that this had befallen Taylor, especially once he'd been outed, so Nina couldn't honestly say she was surprised. In reality, she had almost been expecting it. Ever since Orlando had outed Taylor, she had been harboring a secret dread that in some way, somehow, one of those fanatical hatemongers would find a way to get to Tay and try to hurt him. Things had been quiet for the most part, except for the practical deluge of hate mail Taylor, and by extension Cassie, had been receiving almost nonstop since the Emmys some two months ago. So, she wasn't really surprised that it had happened, only that it had taken as long as it did.

"I just hope for Taylor's sake that they find el hijo de una puta who did this," Nina muttered, sitting in her favorite easy chair and turning on the TV while she waited to make sure Cassie arrived home safely, her mind racing as she considered a possibility that, if found to be true, would rock Cassie's world to its core.

Please, please, please... don't let him have been involved in this, she prayed fervently, picking up a book and opening it as she continued to wait.

Cassie sat with Taylor for another hour until the charge nurse insisted that she leave and get some sleep herself. She'd left reluctantly, not wanting to chance anything else happening to Taylor in her absence. As she leaned over to kiss him goodbye, she promised him that she would come back the following morning to pick him up before grabbing her purse and walking to the door. She paused briefly, looking back at her best friend lying there like a small child, his body beaten and bruised, but his fighting spirit firmly intact. Her heart went out to him, and she became more determined than ever to make him stay with her until he was completely healed from his injuries, and if he didn't like it, well too damned bad for him. What Cassie wanted, Cassie usually got, and nobody knew that better than her best friend/partner in crime. It wasn't until she got downstairs that Cassie recalled that she'd rode there in the ambulance with Taylor and now had no ride.

"Son of a bitch," she snapped, walking out into the chilly Los Angeles night. She glanced around, hoping that there was a cab nearby, but the only vehicles in the lot were an ambulance disgorging one of the losing combatants in a shootout with the police and a sleek black limousine. Sighing, she pulled out her phone to call for a cab, but stopped short when the driver of the limo got out and approached her cautiously.

"Miss Saunders? I have your ride," he said courteously. Cassie stared at him for a second, her mind beginning to go blessedly numb from shock, which had finally begun to settle in.

"Someone from the studio I suppose," she mumbled as she followed the driver, who was standing patiently while he opened the door for her, and then waited until she was settled in the plush seat before closing the door behind her. Cassie leaned her head back against the headrest with her eyes closed, relaxing for the first time since Taylor's call had come in earlier that evening. So relaxed was she that it took her mind a few moments to register that she wasn't alone in the car. Her eyes popped open in surprise when a hand closed over hers, almost screaming until she was about to make out Justin's face in the dimly lit interior of the car as they started to move.

"Jesus Justin, you scared the crap outta me!" she snapped angrily, her bottom lip trembling as she fought an onslaught of fear. Justin stared back at her, silent and shocked for a second but recovering his composure quickly.

"I'm sorry Cassie. I didn't stop to think I shoulda said something right when you got inside. I just wanted to make sure you had a way home, so I had my driver bring me back to the hospital. If you'd rather I left..." he blurted, making Cassie laugh.

"Justin, breathe for goodness sake," she teased, smiling at the obviously nervous pop star. She took one of his hands in her own, "I don't want you to leave. In fact, thank you for being so thoughtful. I was just about to call a cab, so you saved me a cab fare since, ditz that I am, I forgot that I rode here in the ambulance and left my car at Taylor's house."

"Okay," Justin said, smiling as he squeezed her hand before they settled back into a comfortable silence. He glanced over at her and said, "You'll need to give my driver directions to Taylor's house, since I'm totally clueless as to where he lives."

Cassie depressed the intercom button, waiting for the driver's voice to come on before she gave him the address to Taylor's house. He asked a few questions about the best way to get there and, after thanking Cassie for her patience, informed both of the car's occupants that they would be arriving at the house in about twenty minutes. Cassie thanked him and settled herself back to enjoy the ride, her mind still churning in turmoil. The very idea of losing Taylor made her want to fall on the nearest shoulder and weep uncontrollably, but by an act of supreme will, she willed the threatening tears away, needing to stay focused on something besides the memory of her best friend lying in a hospital bed, his body a convenient punching bag for another person's anger and bigotry. She'd meant every word she'd said during the press conference back at the hospital. Taylor's friendship had gotten her through some of the toughest times of her life, like the accident when she'd given birth to Abby almost a full month early, and more recently her divorce, and she'd be damned if she wouldn't continue to love and support him in every way possible. Taylor's love had made her life bearable during a time when worrying, and the constant arguing with Orli, had made her wish she could just walk away from everything, so she owed it to him to be strong for him now.

Cassie was so lost in her thoughts that she'd completely forgotten about Justin sitting beside her, nervously wondering about the thoughts that had made her go from smiling to looking so sad. She's probably worrying about Taylor, Justin thought as he watched her face in the flickering lights outside the window. I wonder if she knows what an expressive face she has?

"Justin, can I ask you a question?" she suddenly asked, her eyes hidden in the shadows, but Justin could feel those haunting green eyes watching him unflinchingly.

"Sure...I guess," he replied uncertainly, not exactly sure of what to expect from the woman next to him.

"Do you really care about Taylor, or are you just looking to fuck him and run?" Cassie asked with her usual candor. Justin sat frozen for several seconds, not sure if he wanted to answer or laugh in her face. Judging from the look on her face, laughing would not be in his best interest, so he decided honesty would give him a better chance of escaping with his balls still firmly attached. "If it's the former, well I'll reserve judgment, but if it's the latter, then I'll just tell you now to walk away before you hurt him," Cassie said fiercely, her eyes flashing in the dim light provided by the rapidly passing streetlights.

"Cassidy, I really do like Taylor. I think he's an amazing man, and I think I'd like for him to be my boyfriend...but honestly, I don't think he likes me the same way," Justin replied earnestly, his face sad.

No, not sad. Wistful, Cassie thought, smiling at the younger man. "You've been bitten by the Taylor bug," she stated with a smile, squeezing the hand that still rested on her thigh, bumping his shoulder playfully before she got serious again. "Just give him some time, okay? Taylor's been burned a few times, so he tends to push people who say they care about him away, even though he knows they love him. I know this for a fact 'cause I've seen him do it. It's just his way of protecting his heart, but it can get old after a while, ya know? So do whatever you have to do, and make sure to be sweetly, lovingly persistent; no matter how hard he tries to dissuade you, don't give up on him. In spite of what he might have to say to the contrary, he has a lot of love to give to the right man. Let him see that you aren't going anywhere, and I think he'll open his heart to you. Just know that I will be watching you, and if you hurt him, I'll rip your dick off and hand it to you gift-wrapped. Understand?"

"Yes ma'am!" Justin replied, barely suppressing his laughter at the thought of the diminutive woman carrying through with her threat, until he saw the icy green stare she gave him. Hell, she might actually try it...and I'd be too much of a punk to stop her!

The rest of the ride went by in silence, and upon arrival at Taylor's, Cassidy agreed to allow Justin and his driver to trail her back to her house in Beverly Hills, not that she'd had a choice though. Justin had insisted on it over Cassie's very vocal protests, and Cassie had finally capitulated when it became apparent that Justin could be, and oftentimes was, just as stubborn as she was when it came to getting his way. As she drove toward home, she contemplated giving them the slip, but decided that it was easier to just deal with it than to fight it. Besides, knowing her luck, Justin would rat her out to Taylor, who would in turn snitch to Nina, and then—well, let's just say that hell breaking loose would be preferable to enduring one of Nina's tirades.

When she arrived at the house, she pulled into her parking spot, happy to finally be back in her comfort zone again. She still had to worry about what to tell Abby about Taylor's injuries, provided he agreed to stay with her, but she would cross that bridge when she came to it. Abby was one smart little girl, so she wasn't keen on lying to her, but at the same time, she didn't want to frighten her baby by revealing the truth that her "Uncle" Taylor had been beaten with a bat just because he didn't love who the world thought he should love. Cassidy was suddenly bone-weary, almost too tired to go another step as she unlocked the front door, completely ignoring Orlando's car in its spot in front of the garage as she went inside and made her way to the wet bar in the living room, desperate for something to drink that would calm her nerves enough to allow her to sleep through what was left of the night.

"I just need one glass of wine... Just one," Cassie mumbled as she poured the wine into a goblet, savoring the taste as she tried to will her fluctuating emotions to cycle down.

"Darling, are you all right?" Orlando's voice said from behind her, causing her to shriek in surprise, dropping the glass in her hand, one hand clutching her pounding heart.

"Damn it Orli, you scared me!" she shouted angrily, lowering her voice as she thought of Abby sleeping upstairs. "What are you doing here?"

"I-I heard about Taylor on television and I wanted to make sure you were okay," he replied, walking over to her and touching her cheek. For one brief second, Cassie allowed that soft touch to lull her into an old sense of security—almost allowing him to slip past her hard won defenses, and Orlando sensed it. That soft touch, the simple caress that threatened to break through the wall Cassie had erected to keep her anger and hurt over Taylor's beating at bay. But she couldn't—no she wouldn't—break down in front of him. Not in front of the one person in the world who could, and often had in the past, hurt her the most—no matter how much he claimed to have changed.

Orlando sensed the change in her, felt the invisible barrier that she'd erected around her heart snap back into place, so he moved to put some space between them again, leaving her staring out into the darkness, totally silent and still, lost wherever she had retreated to mentally. He'd only seen her like this one other time—when he had been in the hospital after he'd lost a foolish bet to a friend and had fallen from a second story balcony, breaking his back. Cassie had come to England on the first plane, not even stopping at their flat before coming to the hospital, her quiet strength surprising him until she'd been allowed to see him for the first time, lying helpless in his hospital bed. She'd held it together until he'd looked at her, his eyes full of pain, and then she'd lost it, crying until she was ill as he comforted her as best he could. It was in that moment that Orlando had realized how much he truly loved Cassie, and it was also when he realized just how fragile she could be emotionally where the people she loved were concerned. Her ability to love him so completely had stolen his heart, and to this day, she held it fast, but he knew she would never believe him if he told her that, so he chose to just be there for her as a friend—for now.

"Hey Cassie? Is everything okay in here? I thought I heard you scream... Oh, hello," Justin said nervously as he came face to face with Orlando Bloom. He extended a hand to him, smiling. "Justin Timberlake. It's cool to finally meet you. I loved you in Pirates of the Caribbean."

"Thanks," Orlando replied warily, shaking the proffered hand. "Your CD's one of my favorites. 'Still on My Brain' is a beautiful song," he said softly, his eyes straying to his ex-wife, his expression softening as he watched her. "I can definitely identify with how much you must have loved the woman you wrote... I mean, I can identify with how you felt when you wrote it."

"Thanks," Justin said with a huge grin, the look of longing in the other man's eyes not lost on him. So he's still in love with her, he thought as he watched Orlando stare forlornly at Cassie's back. "Well, I just wanted to make sure everything was okay in here. You should come lock up behind me..."

"Cassie, are you home?" Nina called downstairs as she came down, stopping in her tracks when she spied the two men in the room with her. Her eyes grew enormous when she recognized Justin, but her expression remained neutral. Orlando's jealousy was almost legendary, so she waited patiently to see how this would play out.

"Well, I need to be going," Justin said awkwardly, moving toward Cassie, who still stood staring out the window, her back to the room. "Cassie? I'll see you tomorrow. You try to get some sleep, okay?"

"What the hell do you mean 'I'll see you tomorrow?'" Orlando snapped, his cold brown eyes raking over Justin. "Are you sleeping with my wife, you bastard?"

To be continued...

Oh, what will happen next? Will Orlando jump to the wrong conclusion and have it out with Justin, or will Cassie or Nina intervene? Or worse, will he tell Orlando his own secret? Will Cassie and Taylor ever find out who attacked Taylor, and will Cassie be able to 'persuade' Taylor into staying at her house? What impact will this incident have on their show? Will Justin ever break through the barrier surrounding Taylor's heart? Drop Rob or Nicole a line and let us know your thoughts.

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