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 Five: Tempers Flare

Cassie arrived back home around quarter after eight. She let herself into the house and collapsed on the couch. Within moments, Nina was behind her, stroking her hair. "You doing okay, cariña?" she asked.

"Nina, please tell me that today is not happening," Cassie said with a sigh as she covered her face with her hands.

"So what did the doctor say?" Nina asked quietly as she came around the couch and sat next to Cassie.

Cassie glanced up at Nina and burst into tears. "He's in a coma," she blubbered, "and they don't even know if he's going to wake up!"

"Oh Cassie," Nina murmured as tears came to her eyes. "Taylor is a fighter. He will wake up. You know he will."

"Nina, I'm so scared," Cassie wailed. "I haven't been this terrified since that incident with the paparazzi years ago. I don't know what I would do if I lost Taylor."

"We won't lose him," Nina said firmly, "and that's all there is to say about that. Taylor will wake up, he will get better, and life will continue as normal." Cassie tried to smile at Nina, but it was barely a half-hearted attempt. "Besides, you need to be strong for Abby. When you eventually tell her, you're going to have to have ever ounce of composure you can muster, because you know she is not going to take it well."

Cassie sniffled. "Yeah, I know. I'm dreading it, but sooner or later I'm going to have to tell her something." Cassie looked around the living room and listened for sounds in the house. "Speaking of Abby, where is she?"

"Orlando picked her up fifteen minutes ago. He said something about taking her riding."

"Oh, okay," Cassie said as she relaxed back into the couch. Suddenly, a stray thought hit her. "Wait a minute. Today's Thursday! He's not supposed to have Abby until tomorrow."

"I know Cassie. I thought it would be best if he took her today. That would give you all day to compose yourself. You've had a very hard night and have hardly had any sleep. The last thing you need is a rambunctious four year old attached to your hip."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Cassie asked.

"Have I ever steered you wrong before?"

Cassie smiled. "Never. Sorry I doubted you."

"It's all right. Go upstairs and get some sleep," Nina said, pulling Cassie to her feet and guiding her toward the stairs.

"I will. Thanks again Nina."

As Nina watched Cassie go upstairs, she thought about the mess she found herself in. She was starting to suspect there was something going on with Orlando, considering his incredibly nervous behavior the moment she mentioned Taylor's name. What is he up to? Nina wondered as she climbed the stairs. Poking her head into Cassie's room, she noted that Cassie was sound asleep, not having even bothered to get undressed. Trudging on to her room, Nina lay down on her bed and wrapped a blanket around her. Listening to the sounds of the quiet house, she soon drifted off into a slumber plagued by terrible dreams.

The sun shone down on Orlando and Abby as they finished up their morning at the riding stable. While his present dilemma was still weighing on his mind, he was able to push it to the back while he focused on making sure Abby was happy. She was definitely feeling much better that day, since her fever had broken. Aside from a slight cough and a few sniffles, she was practically a picture of perfect health.

Abby was in four year old heaven. An avid horse lover, she was ecstatic to see all the horses in the stable. Orlando took her down to where they housed the small ponies, and the smile on Abby's face could have lit up a small city. Due to Abby's age, they stable wouldn't let her ride freely, so she had to stay in an enclosed ring with her father and a riding coach. Nonetheless, Abby was having the time of her life, and after two hours, Abby was raring to go for more, but Orlando was absolutely exhausted. Where does she get all this energy? He wondered. It must come from her mother's side.

"Come on honey. It's time to go," Orlando said as he pulled his daughter off the pony.

"But Daddy!" Abby whined. "I wanna stay an' ride some more!"

"Abby, the pony is tired. It wants to go take a nap."

"Oh. Okay Daddy," Abby said with a small pout. Turning to the pony, she patted its head and whispered, "Is okay, pony. Sometimes Mommy an' Nina make me take naps too."

"All right Abby. Let's go," Orlando said, grabbing Abby's hand and steering her toward the parking lot.

Abby looked over her shoulder and called, "Bye pony! I come back soon!"

Orlando rolled his eyes and wondered how on earth he'd be able to stand another riding day with Abby. "So honey," he said, "how about some lunch and maybe a stop by the toy store?"

"Yay! Toy store! Toy store! Toy store!" Abby shouted, jumping up and down.

"Well, I see that meets with your approval," Orlando said with a small smile as they approached the car. After he buckled her into the back seat, he closed the door and sighed. "Cassie, I don't know how you do this every day," he muttered before getting inside. Closing the door behind him, he buckled himself in and said, "Okay sweetheart. Let's go."

After lunch at McDonald's, where one would think Abby would have worn herself out in the PlayPlace, a regretful Orlando traipsed behind an overly enthusiastic Abby as she ran through the aisles at Toys 'Я Us, pointing at all the things she would like. "An' I wan' a Barbie, an' a Dream House, an' all her friends, an'..."

Orlando started to tune her out as she continued to request half the store. After a fussy moment when Orlando told Abby she could only pick out two toys—which led to a much prolonged stay in the store while Abby tried to make up her mind—the two were finally able to leave and head back to his house.

The two were in the parking lot heading for the car when the media deluge started. "Orlando! Orlando! What do you think about the attack on Taylor Jeffries?" one reporter yelled.

"Mr. Bloom? Isn't it true that you've had it in for Mr. Jeffries for some time?" another yelled.

"Hey!" Orlando hissed. "Not around my daughter, all right?"

However, it was far too late. Abby had heard what the reporters said. "Daddy? What they talkin' about?"

"It's nothing sweetheart," Orlando said as he continued to motion Abby toward the car. "It's just grown up stuff. Now, let's go home."

"Mr. Bloom? Don't you want to comment on Taylor's injuries? You didn't have anything do with it, did you?" a reporter called.

That was all it took. Abby burst into tears and began bawling at the top of her lungs. "What wrong with Unca Taylor? I wanna see Unca Taylor!"

"Not now honey," Orlando said through gritted teeth as he arrived at the car.

"Daddy! I wanna see Unca Taylor now!" Abby yelled, the panic in her voice starting to rise.

"Yeah, Daddy! Why don't you tell your little girl what happened to her mother's best friend?" a reporter yelled.

Orlando whirled around and glared at the group of reporters. Rolling up his sleeves, he said, "I suggest you leave me and my daughter alone before I do something you'll regret."

"You mean like you did to Taylor Jeffries?" a reporter shouted from the back.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with that," Orlando said evenly. "Now, if you'll excuse me." Orlando scooped up a wailing Abby, quickly put her in the car with their shopping bags, hopped in the car himself, and made as quick a getaway as he possibly could. Great... Just great, Orlando thought. Just my luck I get stuck with this mess.

In the back seat, the volume of Abby's cries continued to increase. "I want Taylor!" Abby cried again.

"For the last time Abby, no!" Orlando shouted, his patience wearing thin.

"Where's Mommy? I want my Mommy!" Abby screamed, the pitch of her yells causing Orlando to cringe.

"You'll see Mommy later, Sugar," Orlando said. Since he was trying to pay attention to the traffic in front of him, he didn't think about what he had just said.

"NO!!!" Abby screamed again. "Only Unca Taylor call me that. Not you!" Abby started kicking the back of Orlando's seat in a fit of hysterics. "I want Mommy! I want Mommy now! NOW! NOW! NOW!"

Orlando sighed. He was absolutely at the end of his patience, so he decided to give in and take Abby home. "All right Abby. We'll go find Mommy." Picking up his cell phone, he began to dial Cassie's number. And she had better be ready for this.

Justin was still a bit of a mess. After Cassie had left the hospital parking lot, Justin quickly fell into a funk as his mind flashed back to Taylor's condition. Lance literally had to drag him to his Mercedes in order to get Justin to move. The ride back to Justin's house passed in complete silence. Justin wasn't in much mood to talk, and Lance's thoughts were preoccupied with the green-eyed vixen he had just encountered. It was a bit ironic that both were thinking about the current objects of their affection, yet neither was wiling to discuss their thoughts with the other man. Once the two had arrived at Justin's, they trudged into the house and passed out on their beds, neither bothering to get undressed.

It was sometime around two o'clock when Justin was prodded awake by Lance. "Hey," Justin mumbled as he slowly stretched out the muscles in his body. "What time is it?"

"A little after two," Lance replied. "Sorry to wake you up, but I thought you might want to see this." Lance flipped on the wide screen television in Justin's bedroom and flipped it to E!

"What am I supposed to be seeing?" Justin asked as he watched a commercial for Coca-Cola.

"Hang on," Lance said. "Give it a minute."

Soon the commercials ended and whatever the show was came back on. "And here we have an interesting encounter with Orlando Bloom that happened a little earlier today. The man became defensive when questioned about his thoughts on the attack of his ex-wife's best friend, Taylor Jeffries. The animosity between the two stars is well known throughout Hollywood, which escalated when Cassidy Saunders divorced Orlando, but when he was asked whether or not he was involved in the attack, Orlando became extremely evasive. When asked again, he had this to say."

The picture cut from the show's host to a shot of Orlando looking very upset. "I suggest you leave me ... alone before I do something you'll regret," Orlando had said.

The picture then cut back to the show's host who, with a smug grin on his face, said, "Nice guy, isn't he? While at this time Orlando continues to flatly deny any involvement in the beating of Taylor Jeffries, many in Hollywood speculate that is much further from the truth than Orlando will ever let on."

The television then showed quick interviews with a couple of daytime stars, including some of the co-stars of Temptations, who each voiced an opinion that while they hoped it wasn't true, they could see Orlando doing something of this nature to Taylor.

Justin started to tune out the television. While this was hardly news to him—after all, Cassie and Taylor had speculated something of this sort while Taylor was still conscious—just the look in Orlando's eyes made Justin feel like Orlando knew more than he was letting on.

"So what do you think of that?" Lance asked.

"He's guilty," Justin said adamantly.

"Huh?" Lance said, startled. "What do you mean?"

"Orlando knows something," Justin continued. "Don't ask me how I know. It's a gut feeling, but I know he knows about what happened to Taylor."

"Justin, you had better be careful making accusations like that when you have no proof," Lance warned. "You don't want him to sue you for slander."

"He can do whatever the hell he likes," Justin sneered. "No one, and I mean no one, gets away with hurting my Taylor like that!"

Lance tried hard to stifle his laughter, but he couldn't hold out very long. He finally burst out laughing, earning him a nasty glare from Justin. "Your Taylor?" Lance asked between giggles. "Possessive, aren't we? Especially considering I don't think Taylor has consented to that yet, from what you and Cassie have said."

Justin blushed heavily. "Well, he will be, if I have anything to say about it. I just have to prove to him that I'm not out to hurt him. Besides, if the roles were reversed, you'd probably have said the same thing about Cassie."

Now it was Lance's turn to blush. "I..." Lance began, but Justin cut him off.

"Dude, don't lie to me. Even without your stunning admission earlier this morning, it was obvious to me that you like her. Good luck though. You've got one heck of a hill to climb."

Getting uncomfortable with the subject, Lance decided to take the conversation back to its original subject. "So, you think Orlando is guilty, huh? What are you going to do about it then?"

Justin sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. "I don't know," he said, opening his eyes and glancing back over to the television, "but I have to do something, and I think my best place to start is with Cassie."

"Cassie?" Lance asked. "Why do you say that?"

"Who else knows him better than her, besides maybe Taylor, and since he's not exactly up to answering questions at the moment..." Justin trailed off as thoughts of Taylor flooded his mind. Tears started to well up in his eyes as a powerful sadness overtook him. He turned away from Lance, trying not to show his friend his momentary loss of control over his emotions, but Lance was already sitting next to him, trying to console him.

"Hey," Lance said quietly. "It's okay. Shhhh... It'll be okay Justin. It's like you said earlier. You're not going to help Taylor by having a meltdown now."

Justin chuckled slightly. "My words coming back to haunt me," he said with a sigh.

Lance was amazed at the amount of emotion Justin was showing. It was very unlike him to get this worked up about anything or anyone. Taylor had somehow managed to capture Justin's heart rather quickly, and to say that Lance was astounded was putting it mildly. "So, are you going to head over to Cassie's?" Lance asked tentatively.

Justin sniffled a little, trying to regain his composure. "Yeah," he said with a nod. "I am. There's a mystery to be solved, and Detective Justin is on the case."

Lance smiled. "I see. So, does Detective Justin want a partner to help him solve this mystery?"

Justin eyed Lance carefully. "You just want an excuse to see Cassie again, don't you?" When Lance started to turn red again, Justin couldn't help but laugh. "All right, fine. You can come. You can be Scooby-Doo."

"Scooby-Doo?" Lance yelled. "What the..."

Justin burst out laughing. "Hey! You were a dog once. You can be one again." Lance rolled his eyes, crossed his arms, and began tapping his foot. "Okay, okay. Well, come on lover boy. Let's get going."

As Justin went to grab the keys to his car, Lance followed a few steps behind him. Were things not such a disaster right now, I'd kick his ass for that remark, Lance thought as he walked out the door.

Cassie awoke around half past one. She was feeling much better now that she'd had some proper rest. She wandered out of her bedroom and down the hall. She peeked into Nina's room and discovered she wasn't there. Shrugging her shoulders, she ambled downstairs and into the kitchen. Her stomach grumbling, she peeked through the refrigerator and cabinets and found nothing that suited her. Giving up, she grabbed an apple out of the basket sitting on the counter and took a bite. And the day starts all over again, Cassie thought as she took another bite.

Cassie went into the living room and sat down on the couch. Her eyes were drawn to the shooting script she had left there the night before. Picking it up, she stared at it before throwing it across the room. She started to lie back and fall into a moment of self-inflicted misery when a scolding voice from behind spooked her.

"Cassie! What did you do that for?" Nina said as she came into the room.

Cassie turned to face Nina, the anger on Cassie's face clearly evident. "I'm such an idiot, Nina. Do you realize that if Taylor and I had stayed in yesterday and studied our scripts like we always do that none of this would be happening?"

"Oh Cassie," Nina said gently as she sat down next to her. "You don't know that. If someone were determined to hurt Taylor, they would have found a way to do it. It would have just happened later instead of sooner."

"I suppose you're right," Cassie said, "but I just feel so guilty. Taylor doesn't need this in his life right now."

"Cariña, no one needs this in their life," Nina said, eliciting a small smile from Cassie.

"You always know how to make me feel better," Cassie said, giving Nina a hug.

"It's a gift," Nina said with a grin. Changing the subject, she asked, "So, when are you going to the hospital?"

"Sometime later this afternoon I guess. I should probably do it before Orli comes back with Abby," she mused. Then, turning to Nina, she said, "Do you want to come with me?"

"Of course," Nina replied with a grin. "Do you even have to ask?"

"I know, I know," Cassie said, "but just keep in mind he doesn't look very good right now. It might be difficult to see him this way."

"I'll be fine," Nina said. "Now, Orlando is supposed to bring Abby back sometime between five and six. That should give us some time to go visit Taylor."

"Agreed. Well, let me go take a shower and change into some different clothes." Cassie got up and headed for the stairs. As she was about to go up, she called out, "And if it's not too much trouble, could you fix me something simple to eat? I'm starving!"

Nina laughed. "I think I can arrange something. Now, go get ready."

"Yes Mom!" Cassie said with a salute as she ran up the stairs. Nina watched her go with a smile on her face. Life in the Saunders house was never boring.

Orlando was fit to be tied. Traffic in Los Angeles was normally impossible to begin with, and that day was no exception. The cars on I-10 heading toward Los Angeles weren't moving, and Abby was still hysterical in the backseat. This was the first time Orlando had ever seen Abby holler and scream like she was, and he was not at all impressed. Every method he tried to use to calm her down was met with more screams.

"DADDY! I WANT MOMMY!" Abby shrieked.

"Abby, for the last time, we'll see Mommy as soon as we get home, but right now, PLEASE BE QUIET!" Orlando yelled, losing his patience.

This just caused Abby to yell louder, and poor Orlando was at an absolute loss. He had absolutely no idea what to do, and while he normally loved every moment he spent with his daughter, at that moment he was more than ready to hand her back off to Cassie.

As he inched the car forward, he noticed that Abby's whining was slowly starting to subside. Staring at the overhead signs, he realized that they were still at least thirty miles away. Whole lot of good these car pool lanes are, Orlando thought miserably. He inched the car forward again, only to have the person behind him blast their horn.

"Where the hell does he think I'm going to go?" Orlando muttered as Abby started yelling again. "Great! This is just fucking great!"

Justin and Lance arrived at Cassie's and knocked on the door. After a few moments, Nina answered. "Oh, hello there. You're, um, Justin, right?"

"Yes. Justin Timberlake," Justin said, shaking Nina's hand, "and this is my friend, Lance Bass."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Justin. I'm Nina. Cassie's daughter Abby has all of your albums, I think. Please, do come in," Nina said, ushering the two gentlemen inside.

"Where's Cassie?" Justin asked.

"She's upstairs, getting ready. We were just about to head to the hospital."

"Oh, okay. If you don't mind, we'd like to join you," Justin said quickly.

"That's fine with me, although I think we should ask Cassie first. Are you a friend of Taylor's?"

Justin's mouth immediately went dry. He didn't know what Cassie had told Nina about the true nature of Justin's intentions toward Taylor, and he was still incredibly hesitant to say anything to anyone.

"We are," Lance said, answering for Justin. "We were both shocked to hear what had happened to him." Glancing over at Justin, he said, "You'll have to forgive Justin. He's taken this kind of hard."

"Yes, it's a very horrible thing to have happen to someone as wonderful as Taylor, but I know that in the end, everything will be okay. It's nice to know that Taylor has such good friends, although I don't ever recall him mentioning the two of you," Nina said with a slight frown. While Justin was trying to come up with a quick answer, Nina said, "Then again, I may have forgotten or wasn't paying attention when he said it. No matter. Anyway, I did want to thank you for making sure Cassie got home safely last night."

"Not a problem," Justin said, recovering from his momentary frozen state. "I was glad to do it. It's just too bad that asshole was here," he continued, the venom in his voice unmistakable.

"Don't forget that said asshole is still my daughter's father," Cassie said, coming down the stairs. "However, right now, that's the only thing he has in his favor. Otherwise, you are entirely correct."

"Well, good morning to you too," Justin said with a grin as he gave Cassie a hug.

"So what brings you to my doorstep?" Cassie asked, heading for the living room and taking a seat on the couch.

"You mean you don't know?" Justin asked in surprise.

"Don't know what?" Cassie asked, narrowing her eyes. Her gaze shifted toward Lance, who was staring at her intently. "What? Is something wrong with my hair?" Lance slowly shook his head, never breaking eye contact with Cassie. "Well, what is it then? You can come sit over here, you know. I've already had lunch, so it's not likely I'll bite you."

Lance mumbled something inaudible as he took a seat as far away from Cassie as he thought he could get away with. He desperately wanted to sweep her off her feet and kiss those delicate lips, but he had to restrain himself. This was certainly not the time, and besides, he had no idea how she felt about him, and he was not about to embarrass himself like that. So, he just put his emotions in check and tried to keep his eyes on Justin instead.

"You mean you really don't know?" Lance heard Justin say as the real world came back into focus for him.

"Know what?!" Cassie exclaimed as a confused and somewhat annoyed look appeared on her face.

"Oh my God, it's been all over the news!" Justin exclaimed.

"I haven't had the television on at all today," Cassie said, panic starting to creep into her voice. "What happened? Did something happen to Taylor?"

"Ummm, it's not about Taylor," Justin said slowly, trying to think of the best way to tell Cassie what he knew.

"Damn it Justin! Tell me what the hell is going on or else I'll... I don't know what I'll do, but it won't be fun for you unless you spit it out!"

"Well, Lance was watching television, and he saw this report was about to come on, so he came and got me, and when it came on, it showed Orlando and your daughter..."

"WHAT!!! MY BABY WAS ON TELEVISION?!" Cassie shrieked, jumping to her feet. "WHY?!"

"From what I understand..." Justin began, but he was cut off by the sound of a door slamming outside followed by a high-pitched yell.

"MOMMY!!!" came Abby's voice from outside.

"Abby?" Cassie said, running for the front door. Throwing it open, Cassie was nearly knocked down as Abby flung herself into her mother's arms. "Abby? Are you okay, Cookie?"

Abby looked away from her mother for a moment, and then looked back at her with a smile on her face. "I'm okay Mommy, but Daddy kinda mad."

Cassie frowned at her daughter, momentarily forgetting about what Justin was telling her. "Why is Daddy mad? Were you a naughty girl while you were with Daddy?"

Abby shook her head. "I'm a good girl, I am."

"Okay Cookie. Why don't you go in and see Nina? We have a couple of visitors you might like to meet, so be polite," Cassie said as she put Abby on the floor.

"Yes Mommy," Abby said as she ran into the house. Cassie stood there counting silently—waiting patiently until moments later there was an ear-piercing scream. "Justin Timberlake!!! Mommy, Justin Timberlake is here!!"

Cassie couldn't help laughing since she'd known exactly how her daughter was going to react. Justin and Lance had now been unknowingly roped into momentary babysitting duty with Nina while Cassie had a little conversation with her ex-husband as Justin's words suddenly came back to the front of her mind.

"Would you care to explain to me why in God's name you allowed those bastards to put Abby on TV?" Cassie shrieked, not really caring at this point who might have overheard her as she advanced on her hapless ex-husband. "Us on TV is one thing, but Abby?! What the hell were you thinking?"

"In case you were wondering, I just spent an hour stuck in traffic with our daughter screaming her head off, so excuse me if I'm not exactly in the mood to answer any of your fucking questions!" Orlando snapped, the last of his control slipping as the stress of the past few hours caught up with him. He stomped around to the trunk of the car, grabbed Abby's bags, and set them on the ground in front of Cassidy before slamming the trunk closed hard enough to make the car rock before turning his attention to Cassie again. "I didn't let anything happen, Cassidy. Those assholes ambushed us outside the Toys 'Я US and started asking me a bunch of questions, and before I could stop them, they started asking me about what happened to Taylor. Needless to say, when Abby heard Taylor was hurt she went ballistic and began screaming that she wanted to see Taylor, and when I wouldn't take her to see him, she wouldn't stop screaming that she wanted you, no matter what I did. I finally gave up and brought her home."

"Oh, my poor baby," Cassie said as she finally calmed down enough to think rationally about the situation, but her anger toward the reporters was still boiling beneath the surface. "How fucking dare those sleazy bastards do that to my baby! Damn all of them anyway!"

"I couldn't agree with you more, but we have a bigger problem to deal with," Orlando stated as he stared at the door his daughter had disappeared through morosely. "What are we going to tell her about Taylor?"

"I honestly don't know what we should say to her, but I do believe that it would be best for both of us to be there when we explain what's happened. That way, if she has any questions one of us isn't comfortable answering, the other can just step in and try to answer as honestly as possible. I would have preferred to wait until Tay was here with us to help explain this, but under the circumstances, I don't see how that's going to happen anytime soon," Cassie stated gravely, averting her eyes quickly so Orlando wouldn't see the misery in them. "I don't think we should give her any specifics, but I do think we need to tell her the truth as easily as possible."

"How about we just explain as much or as little as she wants to know?" Orlando suggested, his mind flashing back to Nina's words of the previous evening. "We could even take her to see Taylor so that she could see for herself that he's going to be okay."

"Orli, there are no guarantees that Taylor will make it through this, and even if he does, how will we explain to our little girl that someone did this to him just because he's gay?" Cassie asked with eyes swimming with tears as Orlando stared at her, his mind spinning at the possibility of something worse happening to Taylor.

"What do you mean 'there are no guarantees that Taylor will make it through this?' What's happened to Taylor?" Orlando asked with his heart racing at the thought that the mess he was in might turn into something much more serious than just a simple case of beating Taylor up. Cassie's next words confirmed his worst fears—and drove home the reality of the situation in which he was currently embroiled with startling clarity.

"Taylor slipped into a coma last night—and the doctor's aren't sure when, or even if, he's going to wake up," Cassie replied, finally giving in to the tears that she had been battling for the past several hours and almost collapsing into Orlando's arms.

"What?! How... I mean, when did this happen?" Orlando asked his mind racing as he thought of his own involvement, albeit unknowingly, in the current nightmare that was Taylor's attack. He was keenly aware of the clock ticking down on his blackmailer's deadline for the seventy-five thousand dollar payment to be made, but there was nothing he could do about that until he could get to a phone and call his accountant. That bitch had better not think this is going to be an ongoing thing either, he thought sullenly. She has just as much to lose as I do if the truth ever came out about what happened to Taylor—if not more. Cassie's voice snapped him out of his uncomfortable thoughts with a stark reminder of the gravity of the situation in which he now found himself.

"Th-they called me last n-night, and when I got to the h-hospital, they said he was hurt worse than they thought. The doctor told us that he might not wake up and... Oh God! Why is this happening?!" Cassie cried in anguish, so distraught that she didn't see the door open and Nina glance out, her expression troubled as she hurried to shut the door before she was noticed. If Orlando noticed, which was highly unlikely since his mind was about a million miles away, he didn't mention it to Cassie, who was busy battling her own burst of hysterics.

"I never should have pressured him to go on that date," she said miserably, shaking herself when it seemed Orlando was paying more attention to the grass than to her. "Orli?" she said softly, watching the parade of emotions crossing his face at warp speed with a thoughtful frown. When he continued to ignore her, Cassie finally lost patience with him and grabbed his arm and shook him gently.

"Orlando!" she shouted, looking at him with a mix of exasperation, irritation, and if he wasn't mistaken, amusement in her eyes when he finally seemed to snap out of his funk and focus on her again. God, she's beautiful, he thought as he watched the sun play though some stray strands of her hair, a soft smile lighting his face as he turned his attention back to the situation at hand.

"I'm sorry Cass... I sorta went wonky there for a minute," he said by way of apology, facing her and watching her expression morph from mild irritation to long suffering tolerance of his many idiosyncrasies. "I'm here now. What were you saying?"

"I said that if you wanted to talk to Abby, now would be as good a time as any unless you want to wait until Taylor wakes up to do it," Cassie repeated slowly, her underlying amusement reminiscent of how she had always spoken to him during the best times of their marriage, when they had still been madly in love and convinced that nothing could, or would, change that.

And yet something did change that, Cassie thought sadly as she watched Orlando mentally processing his available options. Somehow we both just stopped loving and caring about each other. Suddenly, Cassie remembered a quote that her mother always used, and which had always intrigued her as a young girl growing up in various places all over the world. "No sadder words of tongue or pen, than the ones, 'it could have been.'" I can see why Mamà always says that should be the epitaph of my marriage and life with Orlando, Cassie thought as the quote played itself in her mind over and over again. Until that moment, she had never been able to see the beautiful irony in those words, and for the first time in many years, it finally made perfect sense, and she understood her mother's comments about it.

"I guess we should probably go ahead and get this over with now," Orlando finally said, snapping Cassie out of the melancholic reverie she had slipped into. "I don't think we should put this off any longer than necessary, so let's go do it now."

"Okay," Cassie said softly, following him up to the door, but stopping suddenly when she remembered something important. She caught Orlando's sleeve, stopping him just before he entered the foyer. "Before we go inside, you should know that Justin Timberlake and his friend Lance Bass are in there, so could you please try to behave yourself? If not for me, then at least do it for your daughter. You know how much she idolizes Justin, so try not to antagonize him in front of her."

"Of course," Orlando said, smiling outwardly, but inwardly seething that Justin seemed to be spending so much time around his wife and now Abby. He remembered the previous evening's encounter, and while he did believe Cassie when she said that there was nothing going on between the two of them, there was just something about the situation that niggled him—and he intended to find out what it was, even if it meant going behind Cassie's back to do it.

Something's going on between those two—and I intend to find out what, he thought with a grim frown as he followed Cassie inside to face their daughter together.

After her initial outburst, Abby became the shy little girl that she normally was around strangers, standing beside Nina and watching Justin in awe now that the initial shock of him actually being in the house had worn off. She was dying to talk and ask him about a million questions, but she had no idea of how to begin, or what she could—or should—say to him. Sensing her discomfort, Justin and Lance decided to take pity on her and tried to put her at ease.

"So you're the little lady that Taylor was telling me so much about?" Justin said by way of introduction. Jackpot! At the mention of Taylor, Abby became animated again, her smile a carbon copy of her mother's, which caused more than a little consternation on Lance's part.

"Unca Taylor tole you 'bout me?" she asked, her face full of curiosity. Justin nodded, smiling at her as she began to relax and come from behind her nanny. "Unca Taylor says that I'm the prettiest and smartest 'lil girl he knows. Mommy says that Unca Taylor is, um, biased... D'you think Unca Taylor is biased?"

"Well if he is, it's only because he loves you so much," Justin replied with a grin, slightly amazed that a girl of Abby's age not only understood the word 'biased,' but was able to use it correctly. Sure enough, Abby was getting bolder as the minutes went on, telling him all about her life as a preschooler and how much she loved horses, as well as giving him a blow-by-blow account of her day spent riding with her father. Pretty soon, they were talking about *NSync and Abby was racing upstairs to her room to bring down her collection of memorabilia.

"You're really good with children, Justin," Nina said as she watched Abby run to get her storage case with the *NSync scrapbook in it. "Abby is usually very shy around strangers, but I must admit, you and Mr. Bass got her to open up faster than anyone else I've ever seen."

"It's the trusty Timberlake charm at work again," Lance quipped, laughing when Justin casually flipped him off. Watching them, Nina could see shades of Cassie and Taylor, which amused her more than she would ever admit.

"Abby reminds me of my little brother Jonathan. Since I don't get to see him that often, I tend to make up for that by spoiling other people's kids," Justin explained as Abby came running back into the room much slower this time since she was dragging a backpack behind her now. "Wow! What's all this, Abby?"

"This is my *NSync stuff," Abby said proudly as she sat the bag on the floor and began rummaging through it. "It was Mommy's before I was born, but when I got big enough, she gave it to me cuz I like *NSync so much. Mommy says that cuz I take such good care of my stuff that she's gonna take me to see your concert when you come to Los Angeles."

"Well, we'll have to make sure Mommy gets tickets before everybody else," Justin said as Abby settled between him and Lance on the couch and opened her scrapbook. As they thumbed through it, they were amazed at the amount of clippings that Abby, and probably Cassie and Nina by proxy, had been able to save over the years. It covered every phase of their career as a group, and also had some pretty extensive coverage of their various post-group career moves.

"Man, we were so young back then," Justin mused as he looked through the book, laughing at some of the pictures of the guys in crazy poses. Each of the pictures had a story behind it, something that only four other men in the world could relate to. There were times since the beginning of his solo career that Justin had regretted his decision, and now, looking through Abby's scrapbook, it brought home the sense of loss that looking back on his memories of that time inevitably invoked.

If I'd only known then what I know now, Justin thought as he continued to turn pages. It wasn't that he disliked his solo career—far from it actually. No, what he missed was the sense of camaraderie and closeness that they'd all shared—that sense of unity and brotherhood that had sadly been lacking from his life for some time, and which he'd give almost anything to get back to with his friends.

When this crisis with Taylor is over, I'll be mending some fences, Justin thought with a smile over Abby's head at Lance. Lance returned the smile—glad to see the haunted look gone from Justin's eyes at last, but he was more concerned that Cassie hadn't returned from talking to her ex-husband yet and was unsure how to broach the subject with her housekeeper. When Nina had excused herself and came back a few moments later looking pensive, his desire to know as much as he could about Cassie won out over his usually reserved nature, and so the questions began.

"So Nina, how long have you been with Cassie?" he asked, mostly out of curiosity, but primarily because he was looking for as much information about the woman who had bewitched him as he could get.

"Since a little after Abby was born," Nina replied, watching the pale eyed young man carefully. If I didn't know better, I'd say that he had a crush on her, she thought in amusement as she refocused on him. "I was hired as the nanny, but I'm sort of a Jill of all trades around here."

"Okay. So does Cassie have any brothers or sisters?" he asked, curiosity getting the better of him as he got to know Cassie without actually having to fight his better nature while around her.

"No. Both she and Taylor are only children, but they love each other so much that they might as well be siblings in real life," Nina stated softly as she watched Lance transform in front of her eyes from a shy, wary stranger to an almost love struck puppy—all in the blink of an eye. She could barely suppress her amusement as the young blond man peppered her with question after question about Cassidy. Oh yeah, he's got it bad, she thought sardonically as she patiently answered everything he asked, careful not to reveal any more than was already common knowledge. If he wants to know more than this, he's going to have to ask Cassie himself, she thought resolutely as Cassie and Orlando finally came back into the house and made their way over to the couch where Abby sat chattering like a little magpie about everything *NSync.

"Hi Daddy. I was showin' Justin and Lance all my *NSync stuff. See?" Abby chirped happily from her seat next to Justin, turning her favorite scrapbook around so that Orlando could see what she was showing Justin. "Justin said that Mommy and me could come to his concert and he would make sure we got weally, weally good seats. Right Justin?"

"I sure did say that Abby," Justin replied, smiling as he extended a hand to Orlando to shake. I might not like the bastard, but Cassie's right. He is Abby's father, so he can't be all bad, Justin thought as he shook hands with the man. "It's nice to see you again Orlando. Abby tells me you took her riding today."

"It's nice to see you as well Justin," Orlando stated graciously, as determined as Justin to remain civil in front of his little girl. I'll be nice to the pompous little bastard even if it kills me, Orlando thought, grinning like a feral cat in Justin's direction briefly before turning his attention back to Abby. "We had a wonderful time with the ponies today, didn't we Abby?"

"Uh huh," Abby replied, oblivious to the tension in the room among the adults. Cassie narrowed her eyes at her ex, leveling a look on him that would have peeled the paint off the walls—and threatened him with grievous bodily harm if he didn't behave himself. The smile Lance gave Cassie from his seat next to Abby did not go unnoticed by Nina, her suspicions about his feelings for Cassie now confirmed, and judging from the resultant anger that flashed across Orlando's face when he noticed, Nina would bet her next paycheck that Orlando was feeling the heat.

"Abby, could you come here please?" Cassie said softly, saying a soft prayer for strength to go through this one last ordeal. Please, don't let this upset her too much, she thought sadly as Abby came and stood in front of her, her toffee colored eyes filled with curiosity but seemingly unconcerned about whatever it was her mother wanted to discuss with her. When Cassie opened her arms, she climbed onto her lap, snuggling into her mother and hugging her tight.

"I love you Mommy," Abby whispered against her neck, kissing her on the cheek. Cassie's eyes filled with tears and she couldn't help saying a brief 'thank you' to whoever had seen fit to give her such a beautiful child. I know I didn't deserve her, but thank you for my own little piece of heaven, she prayed as she hugged Abby close to her heart. When Abby finally pulled back, she touched Cassie's face gently, wiping away tears she hadn't even realized she'd shed.

"No cry Mommy... Unca Taylor be home soon," Abby said, shocking all of the adults present except for Nina, who was certain that while Abby was comforting her mother, she probably didn't really comprehend the gravity of the situation.

Cassie stared at her for a second in shock, and then she smiled down at Abby as she kissed her cheek. "Abby, do you know what's wrong with Uncle Taylor?"

"The men said he hurt... Is he hurt Mommy?" she asked earnestly, almost bringing on a fresh wave of tears as Cassie struggled to control her voice to answer.

"Yes, he's hurt Cookie," Cassie replied just as earnestly. When Abby's eyes began to fill with tears, Cassie hurried to add, "But Uncle Taylor is strong and he's gonna come back to us."

"He pwomised to take me to the zoo," Abby sobbed as Cassie rocked, her own tears falling as she tried to comfort her baby.

"And he will as soon as he gets better Abby," Justin interrupted, earning a glare from Orlando, who sat with his arms around his ex-wife and daughter. "If you want, I can go with you guys when you go."

"I wan' Unca Taylor!" Abby shrieked, flailing against Cassie now, her infamous but seldom seen temper rearing its ugly head. Cassie held her as she vented her fear and pain over Taylor's attack in the only way she knew how, her own tears returning as she held Abby. By the time Abby had finally calmed down, there wasn't a dry eye among the adults in the room. Even Orlando was hurting to see his daughter in so much pain, and that it was his fault—even though the fact that no physical harm was done by his own hands—brought him no end of grief.

I'm sorry baby. I never meant for any of this to happen, he thought miserably, unaware of the three sets of eyes watching him with varying degrees of mistrust and uncertainty. When he finally met Justin's eyes, the malevolence he found there threw him for a loop briefly, and looking first into Nina's and then Lance's eyes, he saw the same combination of emotions reflected back at him in varying levels of intensity. Orlando almost shrugged it off, but something about the way Justin was regarding him with such obvious anger piqued his curiosity. Why should he give a damn about what happened to Taylor? He thought as he continued the silent battle of wills with the younger man. I mean, it's not like he and Taylor are even friends... One thought did occur to him, but it was so farfetched that he dismissed it almost as soon as it came.

There's no way Timberlake's batting for the other team, Orlando thought as he continued to help Cassie console their daughter, but something wasn't right about this, and Justin's reactions to the current situation just didn't jibe with what little information Orlando had been able to glean from having shared the house with not one, but two crazed *NSync fans for the better part of five years. Sure, there had been rumors of infidelity during his relationship with Cameron Diaz, but nothing in Orlando's knowledge of Justin Timberlake could even lead one to the conclusion that he was gay. Whatever the hell is going on, it might pay for me to keep my eyes opened— just in case, Orlando thought as he refocused on the conversation at hand.

"Mommy, can I go see Unca Taylor?" Abby asked, her eyes filling again. Cassie shared a look with Orli, not sure of how to answer her, but certain that a visit from Abby might be just the thing to help Taylor get better faster.

"Let me call and make sure it's okay first. If his doctor says that it's okay, then I don't see why not," Cassie replied, handing Abby over to her father and going to the phone to call Taylor's doctor. After a brief conversation, it was decided that Abby could visit as long as one of her parents were present. Turning to Abby, she said, "Cookie, you run upstairs to get your jacket while Mommy talks with Nina and Daddy."

"Okay Mommy," Abby said as she hurried to put her scrapbook back inside her backpack and made her way upstairs to her room. Cassie turned to Orlando, already anticipating that he would rather have a root canal, sans anesthetic, than be anywhere in the vicinity of Taylor's room, so she was not surprised when he begged off, making up some flimsy excuse about having to see his accountant about a new tax shelter. Cassie was so absorbed in making preparations to leave that she totally missed the looks that were exchanged between Nina, Lance, and Justin.

"I guess I'd better go hurry Abby along before we miss visiting hours," Cassie said to no one in particular as she made her way upstairs to her daughter's room, her mind full of worries that, unfortunately for all present, had everything to do with everyone currently involved in this mess.

He's definitely up to something, Lance thought as he watched Cassie leave the room to get Abby. He couldn't help staring at the gentle sway of her hips as she climbed the stairs, and when she turned briefly to smile at him, it was all he could do not to rush up those stairs, sweep her off her feet, and kiss those full lips until she begged for mercy. She has to see that I'd love to make her mine, and I'd do anything just to see her smile, Lance thought with a wistful look on his face as he made himself comfortable. I'd even love to be Abby's stepfather if Cassie would have me. I have to show her somehow that I'd love to be the one to be there for her and Abby...but how?

Justin and Nina sat watching the parade of emotions crossing Lance's face with varying degrees of amusement, but their amusement was tempered by what they both knew of Cassie's relationship with Orlando. Nina knew better than anyone just how devoted Cassie still was to her ex-husband, and even given how much he had put her through during the last year of her marriage, Cassie's loyalty to and love for Orlando might prove to be too insurmountable an obstacle for Lance to climb. Nina prided herself on being an excellent judge of character, and even though she had only just met Lance, she had a gut instinct that the young man would walk through fire for Cassie—but only if Cassie could be gently persuaded to see just how taken with her he was.

Seeing as how 'gentle persuasion' is my forte, I guess I'd better get busy, Nina thought just as Cassie and Abby returned to the living room. Abby was carrying her favorite stuffed rabbit, one that Taylor had won for her at a carnival in the Valley when she was still just a toddler. Nina knew just how much that rabbit meant to Abby; she never went to bed without it, so it intrigued her to see her small charge carrying it so determinedly.

"Where are you taking Bun-Bun, cariña?" she asked as Cassie began herding them all out to her SUV. Abby grinned from her spot next to her mother, who smiled down at her daughter, nodding to indicate she should answer.

"I takin' her to Unca Taylor," she replied proudly, clutching her bunny like it was worth its weight in gold. "Bunny can watch over 'im 'til he come home."

"I'll bet your Uncle Taylor will really appreciate you giving him your bunny too," Lance stated, smiling down at the little girl. Abby gave him a huge grin in return, her dimpled smile reminding him so much of Cassie's that he had to shake himself before he said something to embarrass himself. This is gonna be a long day, he thought as he got into the back seat, his luck not holding out as he was almost forced by Justin to sit behind Cassie, who was in the driver's seat. I think I'm gonna need a drink.

Once all of the adults were settled into the truck and Abby was secured into her booster seat, they set off to see Taylor, each lost in their own little world as Cassie drove the miles to the hospital. Conversation consisted of answering questions from Abby and Nina, which both Justin and Lance found odd since most of Nina's questions were directed at Lance personally. She seemed intent on finding out as much as she could about him, his family, his upbringing, and everything else she could, and even though Cassie was ostensibly supposed to be keeping her eyes on the road, she managed to slip in a few questions of her own here and there.

It's almost like she's interested in getting to know me as well, Lance thought as Cassie pulled into the parking lot and quickly found a spot in a shaded area. Everybody climbed out of the truck and hurried into the hospital, anxious to see Taylor and reassure Abby that he was indeed going to be okay. Mindful of the doctor's admonition about seeing him at the same time, Cassie and Justin decided amongst themselves that she should go inside first since neither Abby nor Nina had seen Taylor yet.

"Come on Cookie. Let's go see Uncle Taylor," Cassie said, taking Abby's hand in her own and leading her down the hall to where Taylor lay sleeping. She stopped outside the door, squatting in front of an obviously nervous Abby. "Now remember Cookie, Uncle Taylor looks like he's sleeping, so you don't have to be afraid. And he can hear you, so if you want to talk to him, you can."

"'Kay Mommy," Abby said as Cassie pushed open Taylor's door and allowed Abby to precede her into the room. Taylor lay in much the same position as he had the night before—his sandy brown hair almost completely obscured by the snowy white bandage adorning his head and connected to a myriad of medical gizmos that monitored everything going on inside his body.

Abby looked up at her mother, not certain of what she should do until Cassie went to sit in the chair beside the bed, motioning to her to come sit on her lap. Abby climbed onto her lap, staring at Taylor in rapt fascination. This was the first time she had ever seen Taylor so still and quiet, minus the many times he'd slept over at their house since she was a baby. But this... this was something altogether different that her four-year-old mind was having a difficult time processing.

"M-Mommy... I scared," she whispered, clinging to Cassie's neck with a death grip. Cassie rubbed her back, allowing Abby the time she seemed to need to get comfortable being inside the hospital room.

"I know Cookie... So am I," Cassie whispered, taking Taylor's limp hand in her own and stroking it while Nina took up vigil on the other side of the bed, her lips moving in silent prayer for Taylor's recovery. Cassie watched Taylor breathe, smoothing his hair with her free hand. "Hey little bro... I brought some people who wanted to see you. Abby's here and so are Nina and Justin. You have to meet his friend Lance. I think you'd like him. He's a really nice man... In fact, if I thought he was gay, I'd hook you right up with him, but c'est la vie. Anyway, I'm babbling again. I just want you to know that I miss my partner in crime. You gotta get better Tay. Who else am I gonna terrorize half of Hollywood with?"

"Hi Unca Taylor," Abby said shyly, emboldened by her mother's one-sided conversation with her Uncle. "I brought you my Bun-Bun. She take good care of you like she do for me, 'kay? But you wake up soon so we can go to the zoo like you pwomised we would."

"He's coming back to us Cookie. I just know he is," Cassie whispered fervently, hugging Abby tightly. "And when he does, we're gonna have him the biggest, bestest party ever."

The three of them sat there, carrying on various one-sided conversations with Taylor before Cassie looked at her watch, gasping when she saw that they'd been in with Taylor for almost an hour while Justin and Lance sat waiting patiently in the family room. She put Abby down in the chair, kissing her softly before she headed out to make sure the two of them were okay. She found the two of them in deep conversation, which instantly put her on high alert since she could hear her own name popping up into what was becoming a rather spirited exchange.

"Scoop, I'm telling you, she digs you man," Justin stated, his eyes shining with mischief when he saw Cassie come into the room, but not letting on that he'd seen her to Lance. It was his sincere hope that the two of them get together, not only because it would keep Cassie occupied, but because he could sense just how much his friend cared about the green-eyed vixen that it seemed held his heart fast. "You really should tell her that you like her. She wouldn't bite you—well, she might if you asked her nicely, but you get the idea."

"Justin, I just met this woman—and besides, it seems to me that she's still at least a little bit in love with her husband," Lance said, sounding dispirited. "Did you see how she hung on to him back at the house when they were comforting Abby? I don't stand a chance against that kind of emotion."

"You'll never know unless you try," Justin said simply, winking as he stood up and approached a rather nonplussed looking Cassie. He hugged her briefly, whispering, "He's a good man who would walk through hell and back for you. You just need to give him a chance." With those words, he kissed Cassie's cheek and then left the stunned woman to her own devices, whistling as he walked down the hall to Taylor's room.

"Okay... what was that all about?" Cassie asked, confusion and a teensy bit of amusement creeping into her eyes as she watched Lance fumbling for a suitable answer to her question—and which, hopefully would be one in which he did not tend to incriminate himself.

"Just Justin being Justin," he finally replied cryptically, sliding away from Cassie when she sat down in the chair next to him. Cassie looked even more confused by his actions, which hurt Lance probably more than it should have, but he could not risk being close to her while he was battling so hard to rein in his feelings for her since he didn't want to do something that might really ruin his chances with her. "So, any change in your friend's condition yet?"

"Not yet," Cassie replied, trying to hide her own hurt at Lance's sudden dislike of her behind a sunny smile. "But I'm sure he'll be waking up soon. We'll just have to continue waiting and praying for him until he does." When the uncomfortable silence that had fallen between the two of them had stretched on long enough, Cassie stood abruptly and made her way to the door of the waiting room. "I'm going to get something from the cafeteria. Would you like anything?"

"No thank you Cassie," Lance replied stiffly, studiously avoiding the penetrating look she was leveling on him before she turned and sashayed down the hall, her hips swaying to an unheard beat that begged every pair of male eyes within a fifty-block radius to watch. Once she was out of earshot, Lance heaved a frustrated sigh, running his hands through his hair as he tried in vain to erase the look of hurt in Cassie's eyes from his mind's eye. God how I wish I could just hold you and say "I'm sorry" until you believe that I never meant to hurt you, he thought as he settled down to wait for Cassie to come back, berating himself the entire time she was gone.

For Justin, it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. While he felt no remorse about what he'd said to Cassie about Lance, he was having a hard time reconciling himself to the fact that he wouldn't get the chance to be alone in Taylor's room since Nina and Abby were still there spending time with him. All the while he sat holding Taylor's hand, he could feel Nina's keen gaze on him, assessing his every move in such a way that Justin was certain she knew his secret, but was allowing him the chance to tell her in his own time.

"So how long have you known Taylor, Justin?" Nina asked casually, when in reality the query was anything but. While she was almost certain that Justin's interest in Taylor was more than just friendship, she had no real proof, and as such, Nina considered it her duty to do what she could to protect Taylor any way she could, even up to discouraging Justin's attention if it were deemed inappropriate.

"Ummm, we've haven't really known each other for very long, but it feels like I've known him forever," Justin answered as earnestly as possible, not wanting to get on Nina's bad side by lying. Nina nodded wordlessly, smoothing Abby's hair. Abby sat a rapt witness to this conversation, not really understanding what Nina and Justin were talking about, but captivated nonetheless.

"Did you know Taylor's ex-boyfriend ran off with his lover?" Nina pressed on, watching to see what kind of response this elicited. Justin remained noncommittal, preferring to allow Nina to lead the conversation wherever it seemed she was trying to go, even though inside he was dying to ask about what had happened. "I would hate to see him get his heart broken again by someone who is only using him for a quick screw. Taylor is one of the kindest people I know, and he deserves to be loved by someone he can count on unconditionally. If that someone isn't serious, then they need to just walk away now before they hurt him. Hurting him could be hazardous to that person's health, you know."

"Nina, trust me when I tell you that the 'someone' is very serious about winning Taylor's love and trust," Justin stated soberly, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth as he battled the older woman with the iron will. No wonder Cassie and Taylor respect her so much. She loves and protects them like she would her own children, Justin thought as their stare down continued. Suddenly Nina's eyes narrowed thoughtfully, reading Justin in much the same way she did Cassie, Taylor, and Abby, which soon had Justin squirming uncomfortably. Once she was satisfied that Justin knew whom it was he was dealing with, Nina seemed to relax and enjoy her time with Taylor.

Justin exhaled the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, not only because he'd been properly put in his place, but also because he could sense a friend in Nina who would protect his secret—but who would also not be afraid to correct him if the need arose. I'd hate to face those eyes in a dark alley, Justin thought wryly as he watched her continue to interact with Abby and Taylor. I wouldn't put it past her to kick my ass if I were to hurt him either. His attention was drawn back to the present by Abby singing softly as she sat beside Taylor on his bed... and he couldn't help smiling when he heard what she was singing.

Your love is like a river
Peaceful and deep (peaceful and deep)
Your soul is like a secret
That I could never keep
When I look into your eyes
I know that it's true
God must have spent...
A little more time
On you...
(on you, on you, on you, you..)
God must have spent...
A little more time
on you
(on you, on you.
A little more time
on you...ohhh

Justin's eyes never left Taylor's face while Abby sang. He wanted to commit that face, so serene in repose, to memory so that he could draw upon that memory to keep him strong during this ordeal. He was staring so hard that when Taylor's eyelids fluttered, he dismissed it as a combination of his imagination and a desperate desire for it to be true, but when Taylor reached out to touch Abby's cheek, it was then that he knew that his prayers had been answered. Taylor had come back to him.

"Thank you, Sugar," Taylor whispered, his voice barely audible as he smiled at the little girl who flung herself at him.

"Madre de Dios!" Nina exclaimed, reaching for Justin's hand as he laid his head on the bed and let the tears come. "You're awake mijo! Thank God you've come back to us!"

"W-where's C-Cassie?" he whispered as Abby clung to him as tightly as the various machines would allow.

"I'll go get her. She's going to be so happy to see you awake cariño," Nina said as she stood up, ready to go in search of her employer to share the good news. Justin sat beside Taylor, holding his hand as thought he would never let go of it again. Abby watched this in silence, happy to have her "Unca" Taylor with her again, but also curious about just what was going on between the two of them.

"Justin, are you in love with my Unca Taylor?" she asked innocently enough, but Justin was sure he felt the room begin to spin as Nina and Taylor both watched him raptly, awaiting his answer.

To be continued...

Oh, what will happen next? Out of the mouths of babes, Justin gets put on the spot. What will his answer be? Taylor has awoken from the coma, but is the danger over? Orlando, ever suspicious of Justin, has added a possible new suspicion to his mind. Will he ever find out how close to the truth he really is, and what bearing will that have on Justin's possible future with Taylor? Will Lance find the strength to pursue Cassie, even with Orlando not far in the background, and how receptive will Cassie be? Most of all, will Nina be able to keep any semblance of order in the house once everything starts to break loose? Drop Rob or Nicole a line and let us know your thoughts.

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