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 Seven: Something in the Past...and Present

The silence in the room was deafening. Cassie and Lance stared at each other, waiting for the other one to say something. A number of times, one or the other appeared to be about ready to start talking, and then the moment would pass and the silence continued. Cassie, at last, got completely fed up and decided that if Lance wasn't going to do it, then she would.

"So, how's your business going?" she asked politely.

"Oh, fine, fine," Lance replied, still nervous about saying the wrong thing. He had quickly figured out that Cassie often had a short fuse and it didn't take much to get her riled. He wanted to avoid that at all costs, lest he blow his chances with her. Of course, the irony in the situation was that the silence was driving Cassie more nuts by the second.

'Fine?' Cassie mimicked inside her head. That's all he gives me? 'Fine!' Cassie let out an audible sigh. Okay Cassidy, let's try something different. "So Lance, tell me about Justin."

Lance immediately sat forward, eyeing her suspiciously. "What do you want to know?"

"Just the basic stuff. You know—his family, his friends, his work, and his life in general."

"If you're fishing for a reason to keep Justin away from Taylor, you're barking up the wrong tree," Lance said without thinking. Cassie narrowed her eyes, and Lance immediately recognized the unequivocally stupid thing he had just done. Way to go, Lance. That'll win her over.

"I was just making conversation," Cassie said in a huff.

"I'm sorry Cassie. It's an automatic thing. People have been prying into our lives for so long that when others ask personal questions, it's like a red flag goes up and everything else shuts down. It's pure hell being famous sometimes."

"No kidding," Cassie said. "I went into early labor with Abby because some stupid paparazzi chased me and ran my car off Santa Monica Boulevard into a light pole. Now I know how Princess Di must have felt."

This was news to Lance. He hadn't done a lot of reading up on the public information about Cassie, and the fact that the media had done something so terrible to her made him angry. "I'm so sorry Cassie. Man, I thought we had it bad."

"Fortunately, unlike Princess Di, I am still alive to tell the tale." Cassie fell silent for a moment before jumping back into the conversation she had originally initiated. "So, again, tell me more about Justin."

Taylor grimaced as he ascended the top step of the flight of stairs leading to most of the bedrooms in the house. Ever since Taylor and Cassie began their late night script studying sessions, the two has slowly started to establish rooms of their own in the other's home. Taylor's room was at the end of the hall, across from Abby's and next to Nina's. Fortunately for him, his bedroom had a bathroom attached to it, so that when Orlando used to live there, Taylor didn't have to leave the room until he was certain Orlando wasn't around or was passed out drunk in bed. Now it was more a matter of convenience these days than anything else, but it would be even more helpful now that his ability to move around was fairly restricted. Granted, it wasn't anything like the one in Cassie's room, but it was adequate nonetheless.

Taylor slowly made his way down the hallway to his bedroom. "Did they extend the hallway while I was gone?" Taylor wondered aloud. "I don't remember it being this long." Taylor finally made it to the room, let himself in, and collapsed on the bed, wheezing while he tried to catch his breath. Taylor was normally in excellent shape, and something as simple as going up a flight of stairs would never have winded him before, but the tight bandages around his torso and the funny position he had to hold himself in to prevent his ribs from hurting too much made breathing difficult.

Taylor was just starting to let his muscles relax when a voice called out, "Hey Taylor?"

Taylor groaned as he sat up. "In here!" he called before letting his body fall back to the bed again.

Justin came in, lugging one of Taylor's bags behind him. "Remind me why I agreed to bring your bags up here?"

"Hey, you offered!" Taylor said with a smile. "I was going to bring them myself, but no-o-o-o! You wanted to do it, so I let you."

"I wish you had talked me out of it," Justin said as he wiped some sweat from his brow. "These things are heavy."

"Should have saved the lightest ones for last instead of taking them first," Taylor said with a smile. "Fortunately, that was the last one."

Justin collapsed into a chair in the corner of the room and had barely settled in when a voice rang out through the upstairs. "Justin! Where are you? You said you was comin' to see my room!"

"The princess calls, and I believe you agreed to a command performance," Taylor said with a smirk.

"Do I have to?" Justin whined.

"Are you going to tell her no?" Taylor asked.

"No," Justin said. "Hold on Abby! I'm coming!" Justin called before he left the room.

Once Justin left the room, Taylor began to laugh. His ribs started to hurt almost instantly, but he didn't care. Just the look on Justin's face was enough to set him off, and the fact that he knew what Justin was walking into while Justin didn't know himself made it even funnier.

Orlando's head was in a spin. He was having trouble believing the day he was having. He had even pinched himself a couple of times to check to see if he was dreaming. It was bad enough that he was in this predicament to begin with, and he was furious over how he had been dragged into it, but then he had actually gone over to the bank, withdrew a huge sum of money, and took it over to Ashley Tomlinson's house as hush money! As if that weren't bad enough, the delusional woman was also hot for his bod! At this point, all Orlando could think of was getting the hell out of that house and back to his house so he could drink his memories of this day away.

Ashley, however, had other ideas. "Come in, sweetie. Why don't you have a seat and get comfortable?"

"I really have to go," Orlando said as he started to back away from her.

"Oh, but you can't leave yet," she said, licking her lips seductively. "We haven't even gotten to the best part!" With one deft stroke she grabbed Orlando's half-buttoned shirt and ripped it all the way down to the bottom, exposing Orlando's defined chest.

"What are you doing?!" Orlando shouted, rage beginning to set in. He knew this woman was nuts, but how nuts obviously remained to be seen.

"You know what I'm doing. You know what I want. I told you that this part was not negotiable," Ashley said slyly.

"Look, I'm supposed to do something with Abby shortly, and I can't be late," Orlando said, making up a lie on the spot.

"Today's not Friday," Ashley said, a bit puzzled.

Damn! Orlando thought. Why does Cassie feel the need to tell everyone every little detail of our lives? "Well, I had to make up for the short day we had on Friday. Besides, Cassie has her hands full with Taylor now that he's out of the hospital." Even though Orlando felt rather bad about what happened to Taylor, he still despised the other man.

"Yeah, the big baby is going to make things rather difficult for you, now isn't he? I mean, with him on her hands, she's going to have absolutely no time for you. Such a pity. Doesn't bother me though, because that means I can have you all to myself."

Orlando backed away again. "Listen, I really have to go. You've got the money, and here," he said, taking off the remains of his tattered shirt. "You can have this as well." He turned, ran for the door, flung it open, and ran outside. "Bye!" he yelled. "You stupid bitch," he muttered under his breath as he jumped into his car.

As he pulled out of the drive onto the street, ignoring the catcalls from female drivers passing by, he shook his head and pounded the steering wheel hard, pissed off at how he had managed to get himself into this predicament. Sobriety is completely overrated, he thought as he gave the car more gas, dashing through a yellow light and taking a dangerously sharp left turn onto the on-ramp for the 405. "Just get me home to my best friend Jack, and life will be good!" He had just purchased a large bottle of Jack Daniels the day before, and it was about time to put that bottle to some good use!

The conversation had grown a little less tense, but only slightly. Lance stuck to short answers and shorter questions, while Cassie felt her patience meter getting unbelievably low. However, she reined herself in constantly, for while she was getting annoyed by the conversation, or lack thereof, she still found herself mesmerized by the man's piercing green eyes and boyish charm. In some, small ways, Lance reminded her of Orlando when she first met him, but the main difference was that she believed it in Lance. Orlando had proven time and time again that he could not, should not be trusted, but why was it that, given the right moment and circumstances, she could feel herself being drawn back to that man over and over again as if she had no free will of her own?

Get a grip Cassie! she chided herself. Those days are long gone. Living in the past will get you nowhere fast! She glanced at Lance, who was looking at her as if she was supposed to say something. Then she realized he must have asked her a question. "I'm sorry, dear, I missed that last part." She watched Lance turn three shades of red. Nice save, Cassidy! she thought with a sly grin.

"I was asking how the custody thing was working out with your ex?" Lance asked. Cassie's face fell faster than a dress on prom night. Lance knew he was pushing his luck with some of his questions, but he was being rather deliberate about them. He needed to know where the lines were drawn, and this was the only to do it. He just hoped that he wouldn't step on a land mine in the process.

"Well," Cassie began, "it seems to go all right. Orlando takes Abby on Fridays and also for a couple of weeks during the summer, plus any other special occasion that I happen to agree to."

"Have you had any problems so far?"

"Not particularly, aside from Orlando not coming sometimes because he's passed out drunk. I mean, Abby knows well in advance if Orlando is going to be gone because of a movie or something like that, but how do I explain to a four year old that Daddy isn't coming because he got plastered the night before and is hung over?"

"Well, I think Abby is lucky to have such a great mother like you," Lance said truthfully, although if it scored him any extra brownie points with Cassie, he'd take those too. Then, just to try to add a little icing to the compliment cake, he said, "And from what I understand and have seen, she adores Taylor. If I didn't know better, I'd almost say he thinks of her as his own daughter." Cassie grinned widely. YES!!!!! Lance yelled in his head. SCORE!!!!

"I wouldn't trade my little girl for anything, and I adore her dearly, but there is always a part of me that wonders what she would be like if Taylor truly were her father. Of course, that would really make our relationship awkward, so it's probably best that ideas like that only get left to the imagination. The bond Taylor and I have is special, and I wouldn't want anything to destroy that." Cassie paused for a moment before she burst into tears.

Immediately Lance jumped to his feet and rushed to her side. Kneeling next to her and clasping a hand over hers, he asked softly, "What's wrong Cassidy? Is it something I said?"

Cassie sniffled a few times before saying, "I'm sorry. I'm still a little stuck in what happened to Taylor. To think I could have lost him..."

"But you didn't," Lance replied soothingly.

"BUT I COULD HAVE!" Cassie shrieked before knocking Lance aside, jumping to her feet, and dashing upstairs.

Lance sat on the floor and stared at the stairs which Cassie had traversed only moments before. He contemplated his next move, all the while marveling at the complexity that was Cassie. He knew that both Orlando and Taylor would be stumbling blocks in his conquest to win Cassie's heart, but he wavered back and forth as to which one would be the more formidable foe. However, after that bit of theatrics, it became fairly obvious. Orlando, headstrong and impulsive, would be nowhere near the same type of challenge that Taylor would be. Orlando, he reasoned, could be dealt with on a much more primal level in direct confrontation, and while Cassie still seemed to care about him, it wasn't with the same depth of affection she shared with Taylor. Taylor, on the other hand, seemed much cooler and more calculating—much like Cassie in many ways—and that meant he was going to truly have to win him over. In fact, he thought, maybe I'm going about this the wrong way. Maybe I should start making friends with Taylor first, and then Cassie will fall in line after? Lance decided it was worth a shot. After all, how often has anyone won someone's heart when their best friend wasn't on board?

Lance started to ponder this when he heard a voice singing upstairs. "I guess he gave into that little girl," Lance said aloud when he realized, in surprise, that it wasn't Justin.

Taylor had sat down on the bed for quite a while, listening to the high pitched giggles emanating from across the hall. "Those two make a good pair," Taylor said aloud with a smile. Then, in a lower tone, he said, "And if it keeps them out of my hair for a minute or two, so much the better." It sounded much more callous to the outside observer than he meant it, but he had been doted on so much over the past couple of days that he couldn't take much more attention. Even though he tended to be quite the prima donna every now and again, every princess has her, uh, his moment where enough is enough.

Flipping through the channels and finding nothing but the torrid trash other channels pretended that their soap operas weren't, Taylor shut off the television and flipped on the radio. Spinning the dials a few times, he eventually landed on his favorite station, 102.7 KIIS-FM. The station was currently on commercial, so he left the radio alone and wandered over to his bags. He knew it was going to be some time before he would be sprung from Cassie's prison, so he figured he might as well make the best of it.

"I wonder why I never had this room decorated," Taylor mused aloud, fussing over the drapes.

"Maybe because you never had to stay here long enough to care?" Cassie said with a half-smile as she gracefully sauntered into the room and ungracefully collapsed onto Taylor's bed. "Besides, are you telling me that you don't approve of my estilo de adornar?"

"Para el resto de la casa, sí; para este sitio, no," Taylor replied without batting an eyelash. "For the rest of the house, yes; for this room, not a chance!" He, like Cassie, was fairly fluent in Spanish, since he had learned it at a young age. Unbeknownst to almost the entire world, Taylor's parents, Ana and Kenneth Jeffries were not his biological parents, but were the only ones Taylor had ever really known. Ana had taught him Spanish as a little boy, and it came in handy every now and then.


Taylor's real parents had died in a tragic boating accident on Lake Mead one weekend when Taylor was three. He had but vague glimpses of what his real parents looked like, but that was all a distant memory now. Unable to locate any of Taylor's family, he had been placed in foster care for a brief period of time before being adopted by the Jeffries'. The tragedy behind him, Taylor had grown up quite well-adjusted. He was a fairly good student, excelled in sports, and was incredibly popular. It was during his freshman year of college that everything in his family life changed for the worse.

He had applied and been accepted to the University of Southern California, or USC, on both an athletic scholarship and a couple of academic ones as well. He had been scouted from his high school in Henderson, Nevada and was quickly courted by the school to join their football team. Taylor was ecstatic, of course, and his parents were beside themselves with pride. However, it wasn't very far into the school semester when things began to change. Taylor, while popular, had never had much interest in relationships, always saying he was too busy for that and that he didn't want to leave a trail of broken hearts. He went out on dates from time to time, but he never became enamored with anyone. It was in, of all places, the men's locker room after practice where the realization of his sexuality whacked him upside the head. He had stayed late with another teammate, Jake, after practice one night, and by the time the two were done, they were hot, sweaty, and tired. They trudged into the locker room together, laughing and jabbering away about the big game the next day, the chemistry exam the two were certain they were going to do badly on, and assorted other topics. The duo removed their gear, took off their clothes, and headed to the showers, each trying their hardest to avoid looking at the other man's body. This lasted only for a minute or so, because by the time the two had their showers turned on and running, the men themselves were turned on as well.

At first, Taylor caught Jake staring at his body, which caused Taylor to blush slightly. Even with as fantastic as he looked, he was still a bit self-conscious. When Jake realized he had been caught, he blushed even harder than Taylor. The two then stared at their feet, trying desperately not to look at the other. All of a sudden, from what seemed to be a far-off place, Taylor heard Jake say, "Do you want some help washing your back?"

At first, Taylor was stunned, but then a twitch in his groin made him a bit curious. Since no one else was around, he figured why not? "Uh, okay," Taylor replied hesitantly and, as they say, the rest is history. The two were all over each other—groping, fondling, kissing, and exploring parts of the male anatomy they had never dared to touch or think about except on their own bodies. It was a liberating moment for each of the men, but very short-lived. The team coach, who had forgotten his playbook in his office next to the locker room, heard odd sounds coming from the showers. Needless to say, he was not at all thrilled by what he discovered. Yes, it was California and 1995, but not everyone was a liberal thinker, and the coach especially was not one.

It was quietly suggested that Taylor leave the team only, but Taylor had no intention of doing so. He stated so very clearly, and was told that if he did not quit the team, his athletic scholarship would be pulled. However, if he left the team under the guise of a 'sports injury,' no one would have to find out about his late-night indiscretion, and his scholarship money would remain in place. Afraid that his exploits would be broadcast across campus, especially since he wasn't truly certain if he was gay or not, he accepted the university's offer. This did not, however, prevent the campus from sending a letter to Taylor's parents, addressing what had occurred. Taylor received a call from his parents the night they received the letter, demanding their son tell them if the story was true. When Taylor admitted the truth, the line went silent briefly before he heard a choked sob from his mother and then his father's voice telling him that he was no longer welcome at home. His things would be shipped to whatever address he wanted, cash on delivery.

That was pretty much the last time he had heard from his father. He had run into his mother two years later, not long after he had won his first small role as the neighbor on a sitcom called Just Us, which portrayed the wacky antics of a suburban Cleveland family. The show was short-lived, running for only one season, but Taylor's potential as a soon to be rising star could hardly be missed. His mother was proud of the success her son had attained, and wished him the best. She had given him a post office box address to write to her, so his father wouldn't know, but he never received a response. After three months of trying, he gave up when the letters started to come back with messages bearing the words, 'Box Closed. Return to Sender.' From that point on, Taylor gave up. His family obviously didn't want anything to do with him, so he stopped trying. It was terribly hard on him, but it only made him more determined to succeed.

**End Flashback**

"Well fine then!" Cassie said in mock anger, rolling her eyes. "I invite you into my home, do everything I can to make you comfortable, and this is the thanks I get?"

"Don't buy into your anger," Taylor said teasingly. "It's not worth anything."

"Oh knock it off, you," Cassie exclaimed, tossing a small pillow at Taylor's head. "I'm just so glad you're all right. I just keep imagining what could have happened if..."

"STOP!" Taylor thundered. "Stop right there Cassidy Saunders! Don't play the 'if' game with yourself. You'll drive yourself crazy doing that. 'If' didn't happen, remember?"

"I know," Cassie replied, "but..."

"No buts," Taylor said. "I want to hear absolutely none of that. Instead of moping, we should be celebrating. We haven't heard a word out of Alex in over twenty-four hours, and I think that is something we should seriously be celebrating."

As if by fate, Cassie's phone rang. Glancing at the number, she grimaced and said, "You spoke too soon, man." Putting on her professional face, which only made Taylor break into small fits of giggles, Cassie glared at him, answered the phone, and said, "This is Cassidy."

"How's my favorite star today?" Alex asked.

"Oh, I'm doing better today, now that the baby is home safe," she replied.

"Actually, I was talking about him, not you, but thanks for the update," Alex said with a grin. It was rare that he could get digs into Cassie, she being so sharp-tongued, that he relished his occasional victorious moments. Granted, it wasn't very fair since she had her guard down, but he had to take advantage of his moments when they appeared.

Alex listened to the silence on the line before he heard Cassie say, "If I talk to him any longer, I'm going to kill him. You talk to him!"

Fits of laughter overcame Alex as Taylor came on the line. "You know just how to work her sometimes, don't you?" Taylor asked rhetorically. "I'd commend you for it, but that might be the signing of our death warrants, so I'll lay off for now. What's up?

"I just wanted to find out how you were and when you think you'll be ready to start back again. We're on hiatus until you two come back. There's no point really in trying to continue without you. We might be able to pull off one episode—two at the most—but that's it."

"Give me until next Friday, and we'll see how it goes," Taylor said.

"Great! I'll let everyone know that we start shooting with the others on Thursday, and you and Cassie on Friday. Thanks Taylor!" Alex chirped before hanging up.

"But I... Damn!" Taylor exclaimed. "He did it again!"

"What? Twist your words around to fit his own demonic needs?" Cassie asked.

"Yeah, that," Taylor said. "What can you do, though? He's the best in the business."

"Or the worst, depending on whom you ask," Cassie said with a laugh. The room fell silent before the two heard a voice introducing a familiar song about to come on the radio. "Taylor! Turn it up and sing to me!"

"No way Cass," Taylor said. "I don't think I'm up to it."

"Come on! Please?" she begged, batting her eyelashes.

"I hate it when you do that. The only one worse than you is Abby," Taylor admitted in a sulky voice, but Cassie could see him smiling. He went over to the radio and turned the volume up. The song, which had just been out for a short while, was by newcomer Jesse McCartney. Cassie had never heard the song until her first wedding anniversary after the divorce had been finalized. Nina had taken Abby to a friend's house while Cassie moped around the house. Taylor had shown up with a bunch of assorted, non-red roses, a copy of Sleepless in Seattle, and a CD. After handing her the flowers, Taylor had popped in the CD and began to sing along. He admitted the whole charade, the song included, seemed rather silly, but Cassie loved it. Ever since that day, whenever she heard that song on the radio, she always made Taylor sing it to her.

"So you're going to sing, right?" she inquired.

"Yes, especially if it'll shut you up," Taylor remarked. Taylor took one large step to the left, avoiding another pillow lobbed at him, and then began to sing.

I don't want another pretty face, I don't want just anyone to hold
I don't want my love to go to waste, I want you and your beautiful soul
You're the one I wanna chase, You're the one I wanna hold
I won't let another minute go to waste, I want you and your beautiful soul

I know that you are something special, To you I'd be always faithful
I want to be what you always needed, Then I hope you'll see the heart in me

I don't want another pretty face, I don't want just anyone to hold
I don't want my love to go to waste, I want you and your beautiful soul
You're the one I wanna chase, You're the one I wanna hold
I won't let another minute go to waste, I want you and your beautiful soul
Your beautiful soul, yeah

You might need time to think it over, But I'm just fine moving forward
I'll ease your mind, If you give me the chance
I will never make you cry come on let's try

I don't want another pretty face, I don't want just anyone to hold
I don't want my love to go to waste, I want you and your beautiful soul
You're the one I wanna chase, You're the one I wanna hold
I won't let another minute go to waste, I want you and your beautiful soul

Of course, much to Taylor's chagrin, his voice carried throughout the house, causing the rest of the household to come and investigate. It didn't take Abby and Justin long to make their way in, and even though he wanted desperately to stop, he knew it would upset Cassie if he did. What surprised him, though, was that Justin started to sing along with him.

Am I crazy for wanting you? Baby do you think you could want me too?
I don't wanna waste your time
Do you see things the way I do, I just wanna know if you feel it too
There is nothing left to hide

I don't want another pretty face, I don't want just anyone to hold
I don't want my love to go to waste, I want you and your beautiful soul
You're the one I wanna chase, You're the one I wanna hold
I won't let another minute go to waste, I want you and your soul

I don't want another pretty face, I don't want just anyone to hold
I don't want my love to go to waste, I want you and your beautiful soul (Oh, oh.)
You beautiful soul, yeah (Oh yeah)
You beautiful soul (yeah)

"Well, don't you two sound marvelous together?" Cassie said with a grin.

"I can't believe you talked me into that, and don't expect it to happen again," Taylor said, turning his attention to Justin.

"I didn't..." Justin began, but Taylor cut him off.

"And for your sake, don't!" Taylor said. "Now, everyone out!"

"But..." Justin protested, but the stony glare he received from Taylor told him in no uncertain terms that it was not up for discussion.

"I need to lie down for a while. It's been a long day," Taylor said as he started to hustle people out the door. "Besides, I know y'all are going to talk about me, and I would prefer you do it out of earshot."

"Man he's grumpy," Cassie said. "Must be that time of month."

She and Justin burst out laughing while Taylor shook his head. As he went to shut the door, his eyes caught Lance's in the hallway. The two locked onto each other for a moment before Taylor shook his head again, burst out laughing, and closed the door. Lance couldn't be absolutely sure, but he was sure that laughter was directed at him. He just wasn't sure why.

Orlando pulled up to the front of his house, pulling into his parking space and stopping the car. He sat there for a moment, staring at himself in the mirror and wondering for about the millionth time that day how he'd managed to get embroiled in the mess that was Taylor's "accident". As he sat there, his mind went almost unwillingly to the last time he had seen Cassie and Abby and his heart shattered yet again at the anguish that he had, however inadvertent it had been, caused his daughter. Try as he might, he could not shake himself of the memory of his daughter in his ex-wife's arms, crying like a baby at the thought of losing her "Uncle."

I really need a drink, he thought desperately, ignoring the way his hands shook slightly as he was climbing out of the car and hurrying into the small, but tastefully decorated bungalow he'd purchased to serve as his home base during his time in L.A. Granted, he much preferred his loft in the Chelsea section of London, but as long as Cassie insisted that he not leave the country with Abby unless she was able to accompany them, he was stuck in L.A. for the duration.

Maybe I'll take Abby back to England to visit my parents for the summer, he thought as he let himself inside and made a beeline for the bottle of Jack Daniels© he'd left sitting on the bar the previous evening. He knew that it would take some fancy talking to convince Cassie to allow Abby to go, but he was convinced that, if nothing else, convincing Cassie to do as he asked was his specialty. He shivered slightly as the cool air in the room hit his skin, but any thoughts of putting on another shirt were pushed to the wayside as he grabbed a glass from the kitchen, foregoing any other nods towards civility as he poured himself a healthy serving of his chosen narcotic and took a deep drink. As the fiery liquor burned its way down his throat, his mind was finally calmed by its usual dosage of liquid anesthetic and he was able to think clearly about his potentially problematic situation with Ashley.

That bitch has another thing coming if she thinks she's getting into bed with me, he thought sullenly as he finished his drink and turned to pour another. Downing it in one go, he relaxed as his mind began to formulate ways to extricate himself from this mess. Just as he had formulated what he believed to be a fool proof plan, there was a knock at his front door that almost scared him out of his own skin.

"Who the hell could this be? No one knows I'm home," he muttered as he threw open the door without making use of the peephole—and immediately regretted his hasty action as Ashley burst into the room dressed in a black trench coat and carrying a small bag that she sat on the coffee table before facing him. "What the hell are you doing here Ashley? I thought I made it clear that I wasn't interested in sleeping with you?"

"And I thought I made it clear to you that the terms of our little agreement were non-negotiable," Ashley retorted, smiling wickedly as she eyed his still uncovered chest like a lioness with a gazelle in her sights. Orlando suddenly regretted not covering himself when he'd first come in the door, but there was nothing he could do about that short of kicking Ashley out while he dressed. He backed away from the woman who slowly advanced on him, frowning at the look she was giving him. Ashley licked her lips and smiled seductively as she loosened the belt of the coat and let it fall open, revealing a skimpy black bustier and panties set, topped with black thigh high stockings and five inch black PVC boots. The outfit was shockingly similar to one that he'd purchased for Cassie when they'd first gotten married, and Orlando stared helplessly, fighting to ignore the tightening in his groin.

Damn Cassie and her big mouth anyway, he thought irritably, his discomfort increasing as his pants grew tighter, and in spite of the malice he bore for the woman, the tightening grew to become almost unbearable.

She can never be Cassie. I don't give a damn how hard she tries, he thought disgustedly as he looked away from the scantily clad woman in front of him, determined to get her out of his house as quickly and painlessly as possible.

"Come on Orli, I'm not that bad," Ashley stated in what he guessed was her rendition of Cassie's seductive whisper. Mistaking his disgust for capitulation, Ashley moved in for the kill. She stood in front of Orlando, letting the coat pool around her feet as she wrapped her arms around his neck, whispering into his ear as she continued her ploy to enchant her arch nemesis' former spouse into her bed. "Would it really be such a horrible thing to have a young, beautiful woman to share your bed with again Orlando...? You'd get the chance to get back at your bitch of an ex-wife, and I would get to see if you're as good as Cassie bragged you were all those years on set. You know you want to—it's not like the Ice Queen is going to give it up to you anytime soon, so let's take this chance to screw her before she screws you again."

"Ashley, I don't know what the hell you're on, but it must be the good stuff," Orlando stated, bending down to grab her discarded coat. He grabbed her by the arm, steering her toward the door while wrapping the coat hap hazardously around her shoulders in an attempt to cover her near nudity. When she realized what he was about to do, Ashley dug in her heels, facing him defiantly but with a pleading look on her face. "Whatever lies or madness you're about to spew, save them for your next episode of Temptations because I don't want to hear them. You are not now, nor will you ever be as beautiful, strong, or as talented as Cassie. You aren't fit to wipe the gum off her shoes, so just shut the fuck up about her! I don't know what the hell's gotten into you, but you need to leave my home before I have you arrested for trespassing."

"I'm twice the woman that bitch will ever be, and if you were any kind of man, you'd stop mooning over some slut who obviously hates your fucking guts and come claim what I'm willing to give you!" Ashley spat as Orlando once again succeeded in propelling her towards the door. Her hate filled words about Cassie had him seeing red, and even if on some level he had been entertaining the thought of sleeping with her—if only to ease the loneliness he was feeling at the moment—her venomous hatred of the woman he loved had put the ice on that immediately, but Ashley's next words put a chill in his heart that would be impossible to shake. "All right, I'm sorry about what I said about Queen Cassie, but the deal still stands—either you sleep with me or I'll make your life a living hell, and if you kick me out, I'll make you pay in ways you can't even begin to imagine. I can fix it so that Cassie never comes back to you—and not only that, I'll make sure she never lets you see your daughter again either. When I get done ruining your life, you'll regret the day you ever said no to what's it gonna be Mr. Bloom? Hurry up because the clock's ticking."

"I hope you know this is never going to happen again," Orlando stated, staring daggers at the now victorious woman before him. Ashley's smirk told him just how much she thought of his feeble protestations as she moved in to claim her prize.

"If you say so Orli," Ashley said as she claimed his lips, relishing her temporary victory over not only Cassie, but in some small way, Taylor too. She glanced over at her overnight bag, smiling evilly when she saw that the red light was indeed blinking on the video camera she'd hidden inside her bag—just in case.

Let the games begin, she thought with a malevolent smile as she pushed Orlando back onto the couch and slowly disrobed him. I can't wait to see Cassie's face when she finds out just how much her precious Orlando really loves her.

Cassie and Justin were still laughing as they walked down the stairs arm in arm, chatting away like two old friends. Lance followed slower, fighting an overwhelming urge to snatch Cassie away from Justin and run off with her. When she turned and smiled at him, he'd almost tripped down the stairs—and sent Cassie and Justin flying in the process. Lance just couldn't figure out what it was about the raven-haired beauty that had intrigued him so, but he was determined to find out more about her. Mumbling something about having to use the bathroom, he retraced his steps and soon found himself outside of the door that he was looking for. He watched for a moment, fighting a grin as he took in Abby's appearance. She was wearing what could only be described as a wide skirted, antebellum southern belle's dress—with hoops no less, and complete with a tiny shawl and a sun hat that was at least two sizes too big for her head. She was obviously waiting for someone, and based on the way she was looking at the clock beside her bed, said someone was late. Since there were already several guests—including two oversized teddy bears and a beautiful china doll, he guessed correctly that a tea party was in the making. Lance couldn't help but laugh at the way the stuffed animals were arranged, as if they were sitting there merely awaiting their small mistress' orders that they might do her bidding, and it occurred to him that this would be a perfect time to sit and get to know Abby one on one.

"Hey Abby—do you mind if I come in?" he asked the little girl who sat playing with her dolls at the elaborately decorated table. Abby beamed, waving him into the room and then running over to him.

"Please do," she said formally, curtseying as she held her doll up for him to see. "This is Lady Annabelle Rumpleskins, and we were just about to have our tea party. Would you like to join us?"

"Why, I'd be delighted, young Miss Bloom," he replied, purposely allowing his accent to become as thick as maple syrup in January. Abby burst into giggles, which caused the sun bonnet she wore to tilt precariously. She caught it just as it was about to swallow her entire head, frowning as she readjusted the wide bow beneath her chin. Her smile blossomed again as she led him over to the table and stood waiting patiently as he held a chair out for her and then made himself comfortable. He picked up the small china pot, surprised to see that it actually contained enough tea for at least three people. "There you are Madame. Now, how do you take your tea?"

"Two sugars and cream, thank you," Abby replied, tossing her feather boa around her neck and smiling prettily. Lance could see just how easy it would be to love the little girl, and it was then that it dawned on him that loving Cassie would mean making room in his heart—and life—for Abby too.

It wouldn't matter to me, he thought as he sat the tea cup down in front of Abby and sat back to enjoy his own tea, though the thought of that much responsibility gave him pause. It would be an awesome responsibility, but she's so much like Cassie that I'd be willing to give it a shot—if Abby would have me that is.

"Sorry I'm late for tea—oh! Hello Mr. Bass," Nina stated as she stopped just inside the doorway of Abby's room. Lance smiled when he saw that Nina's garb was similar to Abby's, including the wide hoops. Nina adjusted her own bonnet, returning Lance's smile as she joined the duo at the table. Lance hurried to pull out her chair, bowing as she settled in and accepting a steaming cup of tea from the young man. "Why thank you sir. Your manners are as wonderful as your smile."

"Ummm, thanks," Lance stammered, blushing ten shades of red at Nina's Tejano-flavored Southern drawl. Nina's eyebrow went up as she watched him blush with a measuring glance. She waved him into his seat, accepting the sugar bowl from Abby and adding two lumps to her tea. "Well, what brings you to our little gathering, Mister Bass? Usually it's just me and Miss Abigail, or Miss Abby and Cassidy. What, pray tell, brought you in here this afternoon?"

"Well Ma'am, I was intrigued when I glanced in and saw Abby's dress," Lance replied, wrinkling his nose at Abby. "I was so taken with her wonderful warmth and grace; I just couldn't resist joining her for an afternoon cordial. It is okay that I'm here, right? I wouldn't want to intrude on your party. If you'd prefer me to leave—"

"As long as you are not here for something other than the tea and company, then you are very much welcome to stay," Nina replied, her soft Southern drawl doing nothing to disguise the hidden menace in her words. Any thoughts he might have had about questioning the little girl flew out of his brain faster than Flo Jo running the one hundred yard dash. "After all, what can a little girl tell you that someone who's very much an adult can't?"

"Understood," Lance muttered, squirming uncomfortably under the death stare Nina was giving him before breathing an almost audible sigh of relief when she turned her attention back to Abby. He shook off the lingering aftereffects of that glare and turned his attention back to his tea, sufficiently chastised for the time being.

And I thought I was protective of Justin, he thought dourly as he relaxed and began to enjoy his time with Abby. He caught Nina's gaze, and something in her steely brown eyes told him that she would not hesitate to rip him a new one if she ever thought he'd try to pull something like this again. Man, if Nina had worked for us, we would have been the most feared group in the world. And I thought Lynn and my Mom were scary—yikes!

"Oh man, Tay's gonna strangle us!" Cassie said through another fit of giggles as she and Justin finally made their way into the living room and collapsed side by side on the overstuffed sofa. It suddenly dawned on her that Lance was no longer tailing behind them and she turned to Justin in confusion. "What happened to Lance? I hope he didn't get lost or something... I mean, I know the house is big, but it's not that big!"

"He's not lost—I think he's in the bathroom," Justin replied, giggle-snorting at the idea of Lance being that slow. "No, I think he's upstairs with Taylor—that is if he didn't get waylaid into attending Abby's tea party."

"Oh crap! I totally forgot about the party!" Cassie exclaimed as she stood up and ran back upstairs, Justin hot on her trail. "I hope Abby isn't too disappointed. It's not very often that I'm even home to come to her parties, and here I go screwing up yet again. I swear, sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky that she doesn't hate me."

"Cassie, you're being way too hard on yourself," Justin stated, grabbing her arm just as she was about to enter Abby's room. "Abby is an intelligent little girl who knows that her Mommy has to go to work every day. She knows you would rather be here with her, so she doesn't begrudge your time away."

"I know that Justin—really I do, but sometimes it's hard not to beat yourself up about the way you raise your kids—especially when you work in this industry," Cassie stated, sighing deeply as she faced Justin. "I mean, I look around and I thank God every single day that I was lucky enough to have a beautiful little girl who loves me and is well adjusted in spite of having a workaholic mother and an almost nonexistent father. It's only because I was fortunate enough to find someone like Nina to help me raise her that she is as wonderful as she is. I don't even want to think about where we would be if Nina hadn't come along to be like a Mom to me and Taylor and the grandmother... the grandmother Abby never had."

"Cassie, are you okay?" Justin asked as Cassie's glazed over and she seemed to zone out on him. "Cassie! Talk to me!"

"Wha—what did you say?" Cassie asked, shaking her head slightly as she fought off her last memory of her mother before she'd gone to her grave yelling obscenities at her about being the one who'd killed her father.

"What happened just now?" Justin asked, worry etched across his forehead. He stared at the shaken woman, frown deepening when it seemed she wasn't going to answer him. "Cassie, I like you and I consider you a friend, and I would like to think you can trust me too, so please, whatever's bothering you, you can tell me. I promise it goes no further than me."

"It's just me being a total spaz and getting all discombobulated thinking of how hot your body is," Cassie stated with wolfish grin, trying to laugh her momentary slip off, but the laughter died when it because obvious that Justin wasn't buying her act. "Really, it's nothing important Justin—just please, leave it alone."

"If that's what you want, but this isn't over by a long shot," Justin stated as he pushed open the door to Abby's room and stopped, grinning at the sight in front of him. "Oh man—how freaking cute is that?"

"How cute is what?" Cassie asked, peering around Justin so that she could see, coming to a complete stop at the sight of Lance, Nina and Abby enjoying afternoon tea. Abby seemed to be having the time of her life with the blonde-haired singer, laughing and talking a mile a minute while Nina and Lance bantered back and forth. Just seeing Lance and Abby together brought a short-lived smile to Cassie's face. Suddenly she gasped as memories of the last birthday she'd shared with her mother and father—her sixth, to be exact—came flooding back along with long suppressed memories of the accident that had changed her life—and her relationship with her own mother—forever.

Growing up as the only child of well-to-do parents had posed no hardships for Cassidy Saunders. Painfully shy as a child, she had grown up with a procession of nannies over the first four years of her life—nannies who had wanted nothing more than to work for her father in the hopes of replacing Cassie's mother as the current Mrs. Dr. Robert Saunders. Amélia Hernandez-Saunders was a strikingly beautiful Mexican and Native American woman—self absorbed, spoiled, and coddled by her devoted husband; admired by men and gossiped about by jealous women; gentle of word but harsh of action when the need suited her, and it had suited her often. She had always been concerned more about her social calendar and the season's latest fashion blip than she was with her only child, so the nannies were a necessary, albeit not always welcomed, nuisance. The nannies had shown genuine affection towards Cassie for the most part, but Cassie's mother had been no fool, and as soon as each nanny had shown her true colors, they had been swiftly and efficiently replaced, usually while Cassie was visiting friends—if only to minimize the amount of crying her mother would have to do, if nothing else.

Although Cassie was a mere blip on the radar screen of her mother's life, her father had doted on the little girl, bestowing lavish gifts on his only daughter at the drop of a hat. As she'd gotten older, Cassie had come to realize that the gifts were her father's way of apologizing in his own way for her mother's woeful neglect—neglect that Cassie had scarcely felt once her final nanny, Lena, had arrived on the scene. Lena was the one who had taken Cassie into her heart and had loved the shy little girl with a fierceness that would later come to define Nina's love and devotion to Abby. In fact, it was Lena who suggested that Cassie have the birthday party that had killed her father.

"Madame, it will be a chance for her to be with children of her own age," Lena had explained patiently to Cassie's mother, who barely gave the woman time to get the words out before agreeing so she could be on her way out the door to yet another of her social gatherings.

Cassie and Lena had single handedly planned the entire party—right down to the outfits the family would all wear. The day of the party had dawned sunny and warm, perfect for the outdoor barbecue that would serve as the main attraction for Cassie's party. Cassie had woken up that morning in typical six year old fashion—excited about her party, but nervous about being around so many children her own age. With Lena's help, Cassie had showered and dressed, racing through each step so that she could finally get to her party. As soon as she was able, Cassie had rushed into her parents' room, intent on getting them up and moving as early as possible so her party could begin. The party had gone off without a hitch, with most of upper class San Antonio showing up to wish Cassidy a happy birthday. It was after all of the guests had gone and Cassie was in bed that she'd jumped awake when she heard the loud peal of thunder flash across the boiling Texas sky. She had gotten out of bed and gone in search of Lena, only to find her in bed with her father. Cassie's screams had brought her mother, who had promptly gone ballistic, slapping and hitting Cassie's father, calling him vile names that while Cassie was too young to understand, she knew were not good for adults to use. That was the first time Cassie ever saw her father strike her mother, and it would haunt her for many years that she had been the cause of it.

The yelling had gone on for several hours, with accusations of infidelity flying like birds in the spring from both sides; all the while Cassie had hidden in her closet, afraid that her mother would come to hurt her next. When it seemed that things had finally calmed down and the screaming and glasses breaking had stopped, Cassie had emerged from her hiding place to find her mother asleep with a vodka bottle on the floor beside the bed. She went in search of her father, determined to know why he had done those things with Lena. She found him in Lena's room helping the frightened woman pack her belongings. Cassie had understood then that her nanny was leaving, but it had shocked her to see her fathers' suitcases standing next to the ones her nanny was using.

"Daddy, please don't leave me here!" Cassie shrieked, running to her father and wrapping her arms around his midsection. "I'll be a good girl Daddy. I promise I will! Please don't leave me alone!"

"I'm not leaving you mijita," her father had replied, hugging her as he showed her the other, smaller set of suitcases hiding behind his and Lena's. "See? Lena and I were about to come look for you. I'd never leave you here with that—your Mother. Now, dry your eyes mijita, and then I want you to go with Lena so she can help you get changed and we can get the hell out of this prison."

Cassie had only let go of her father reluctantly, taking Lena's hand and accompanying the woman up to her room where Lena had already laid out clothes for her to travel in. Cassie hurried to wash and change, afraid that if she took too long that her father would change their minds about letting her come with him. Even though she was young, Cassie knew without a shadow of a doubt that her mother was at best indifferent, and at worst filled with an unspoken malice toward her daughter that would eventually destroy her if she stayed with her mother after her father left, so she resigned herself to making new friends wherever it was that they were traveling to.

The Texas thunderstorm was raging full throttle when they drove away from the house on the hill, but the look of relief in her father's eyes—and in her own heart—let Cassie know that this had been the right decision for them. She realized that she might never see her mother again, but it was a risk Cassie was willing to take. She knew that even though Lena was only a paid employee, she probably cared more about her than her own mother did, so being Lena's daughter really wasn't that much of a stretch for her mind to make. It would be just like their tea parties, only now she wouldn't have to worry about her mother coming home to ruin their fun, and that was one concession Cassie was willing to make.

Cassie never saw the semi swerve into their lane, she only heard her father swearing and Lena's prayers as their car skidded out of control on the rain slicked highway. She heard herself screaming, and felt herself go flying as the car smashed into the highway divider, exploding on impact and killing the only two people in the world she was certain would ever truly love her for herself. The shock had been too much for her, and she'd lost consciousness, only to awake in the hospital two days later with no memory of the accident, and having to face her mother's barely suppressed fury over her supposed "defection" to her father's side with no one there to shield her from the full brunt of it. When Cassie was discharged, her mother had packed the family up and moved back to her hometown of New York City, effectively cutting Cassidy off from her father's family, who had offered on several occasions to take custody of her until she came of age.

Over the years to come, whatever tidbits of affection Cassie had received from her mother had dried to nothing, and even worse in Cassie's mind, her mother had become her bitterest enemy once she'd turned sixteen. It wasn't until Cassie turned eighteen that she's found out her the real reason for her mother's fury—her father's estate had been held in trust for her until she'd turned eighteen, and her mother was no longer the executor. Simply put, her mother no longer controlled the very lucrative cash flow from Cassie's inheritance, and she was not pleased.

Cassie hadn't wasted any time in taking control of her money—and her life. She had walked out of her mother's home, vowing never to return. She'd moved to L.A., determined to follow her dream of being an actress by whatever means necessary. It would be ten years before she would see her mother face to face again, during which time she had made it to the top of daytime—winning two of her three Daytime Emmys and several Soap Opera Digest awards in the process. She'd gone to her mother's bedside against her own better judgment, leaving Abby home with Nina—not even allowing Orlando to accompany her as she faced the final specter of her past. Cassie had spent her entire flight praying and hoping that if this was indeed the last time she would see her mother that they would finally be able to reconnect and rebuild their relationship, but as soon as her mother's eyes had opened, Cassie had known that her dreams would never become a reality.

"You little whore! What? Come to make sure I'm dying?" her mother had snapped almost as soon as Cassie had walked into the room. Cassie stopped in her tracks, her face frozen in shock at the animosity shining in her mother's eyes. "Are you mute now too? Answer me!"

"I—I just came to see you Mamá," Cassie muttered, sitting in the chair the nurse had just abandoned. She stared into the eyes of the mother she had come to despise, her face expressionless as her mother returned her gaze without a single shard of love or affection in her flawless blue-green eyes. "I wanted to see... to ask if..."

"Wanted to see if I was what?" her mother demanded harshly, making Cassie squirm in her seat like she was six years old again. "Well? Spit it out or leave! I don't have time for your stupidity Cassidy."

"I just wanted to know why you don't love me Mamá!" Cassie exclaimed, choking back tears. "All of my life, you made me feel like I wasn't good enough or pretty enough for you, and I want to know what I did to deserve that!"

"You were born," her mother replied, shaking Cassie to her very soul with the venom in her voice. "Your father forgot I existed after you came, and I wanted you to pay! It was always 'Cassie this' or 'Cassie that'—never about me! I was the one he loved before you came, you little bitch..., and then you were born and ruined my life!"

"How did I ruin your life? I never asked you to have me you hateful—no! No! I'm not going to do this!" Cassie snapped, grabbing her purse and striding towards the door with her chin up and shoulders back. "You have a granddaughter that you'll never see, and it's a pity because she beautiful and so smart Mamá... and you want to hear something that's really funny? She looks just like you," Cassie stated, staring at the frail woman in the bed. Suddenly all of the anger she'd carried fell away and she saw her mother as her father must have seen her all those years ago—young, beautiful, incredibly intelligent and full of life—much like people described Cassie herself on a daily basis.


"Yes, Mrs. Saunders?" Cassie replied, never taking her eyes off of the door.

"Does...does your daughter really look like me?" the reedy voice asked, shocking Cassie for a split second.

"Yes she does," Cassie stated coolly, gripping the door handle until her knuckles turned white.

"Well, at least you did one thing right," Amélia spat with enough venom to kill Cassie where she stood. "Just make sure she doesn't kill her daddy like you killed yours! Remember that night? He died because you were in the car with him! You're a fucking curse and I wish you'd never been born! You're the one who should have died that night, not my Robérto! He never wanted you, but you just had to come and ruin everything! I hate you! You killed him! You killed him, you little bitch! Robérto! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

Cassie ran out of the room, her hands over her ears to drown out the sound of her mother's hate filled words, but the damage had already been done. She had left Los Alamos, the city Amélia had retired to not long after Cassie left home, on the next flight out, emotionally exhausted and mentally numb from the encounter with her mother. When Nina and Orli had met her at the airport, they had been stunned at the sudden and complete change in Cassie's normally loving and gregarious nature. Nothing Nina or Orlando said could get Cassie to open up about her trip, and every day it seemed as if she were slipping a little farther away from them. The normally boisterous prankster was gone, replaced by a mere shell of a woman who, while she maintained an almost Stepfordish normality to everyone else, had begun to withdraw farther and farther into herself, until not even Nina or Orlando could reach her. The call two days later informing her of her mother's death had only served to worsen the situation. Cassie had stopped eating and left bed only to go to work every morning, but even that was beginning to suffer.

Alex, Ashley, and everyone else on the set seemed to think everything was fine and were content to maintain the status quo, but Taylor could see that something was destroying his Cassie's spirit, and it was he who decided that enough was truly enough and staged an intervention. He, Nina, and Orlando had waited for Cassie to return home from work on the last Friday before their six week summer hiatus and had done everything in their combined powers to break through the walls she had built up and stop Cassie's downward spiral, but nothing they did seemed to be reaching her. Cassie had listened to what they had to say patiently, and then shocked them all when she simply left the room without having uttered one word, leaving them sitting there in shock while she had gone upstairs to her room, lying on her bed fully clothed, staring out the window at nothing. That was how Taylor found her ten minutes later when he'd come to look for her. He'd had an idea and had stopped at the nursery to get the one person in the world who could always reach Cassie, no matter what kind of pain, anger or frustration she was feeling: Abby. He'd opened the door carrying the baby, who slept peacefully in his arms, oblivious to the pain her mother was experiencing.

"You need to snap out of this Cassie," Taylor stated softly, lying Abby in Cassie's arms and backing away before she could hand the baby back to him. He gave her the sternest look she had ever seen, smiling briefly when Abby woke up and looked up at her mother. "Cassie, you know Nina and I both love that baby more than anything in the world, but you are her mother! I know you're hurting because of the things your mother said to you, but sweetie, you have to snap out of this! Abby needs you: not her father, her nanny, not me. She needs you just like you needed your mother; the difference is that you actually care! I'll leave you with your daughter now."

"She...she said I killed him," Cassie said in a voice so soft that Taylor thought he had imagined it. He turned to face Cassie, watching silently as she hugged Abby tight. "She—she told me that it—it was m-my fault he died and...and that Abby w-would probably be just like m-me."

"Wha—let me guess, your father?" Taylor asked, lowering his head in pain when all Cassie did was nod. He sat down beside his best friend, taking her hand in his. "Cassie, your mother was wrong to say that to you. Your father's death was not your fault! It was an accident, and you could just as easily have been killed had you not been thrown out the back window when you were, but you were saved from that accident because your life was destined to be everything your father believed it would be. Look at where you are: you have the number one rated show in daytime, Abby is a living dream, and even your marriage is working better than ever. You have people everywhere who love you and who only want to help you get over this, but you have to be willing to let us help you!"

"I-I don't know how to let anyone help me," Cassie stated, looking anguished as she glanced down at a sleeping Abby. "I've been on my own since I was fifteen, Tay. I've never had anybody to lean on, and I don't want anyone now! Just please, leave me alone!"

"We can't do that, my love," Orlando said from the doorway, standing shoulder to shoulder with an implacable Nina, whose eyes shone with unshed tears. "Do you remember our wedding vows Cassie?"

"Of course I do!" Cassie snapped, frowning as he came to kneel beside the bed and look into her turbulent emerald green eyes. "But what does that have to do with—"

"It has everything to do with this," Orlando replied softly, looking down at Abby. "You said that it would be me and you against the world, but it's not like that now. You... you're hurting, and God—I want to help you but you won't let me! I love you Cassie, and I swore that I would love you no matter what, but you're shutting me out love, and I—I don't know what to do to be there for you... please, don't let this be the end of us."

"It's not—it won't be," Cassie stated, tears streaming as she rested her forehead against Orlando's. He tenderly wiped her eyes, kissing the tears as they fell down her face. "I love you so much, but she was right... I'm cursed, and if you stay, I'll just end up hurting you too—just like I hurt my Daddy."

"Cassie, what happened to your Dad was not your fault!" Orlando snapped, forcing Cassie to look into his eyes. "Your mother was a bitch to say those things to you, and I know that you would never hurt me like that."

"What about Abby? She's going to end up like me if I don't let her go now," Cassie cried in anguish, looking down at the baby in her arms. "She's just a sweet innocent little girl, and she deserves someone who can raise her to be the best person she can be—and that's not me! It can never be me!"

"No! You listen to me Cassidy. You are not a bad influence on Abby! She loves you because you're her Mommy!" Taylor stated, kneeling beside Orlando. "Look at her there Cassie. She's sleeping peacefully in your arms. She doesn't do that for anyone else—not me, not Nina, hell, not even for her Daddy! Do you think that baby would sleep like nothing in the world can harm her if she didn't trust you completely? Cassie, if you don't believe a word we say now, then you have to believe what your daughter is telling you without saying a word. You are not cursed, you are not bad, and you are damned sure not evil. Your mother was a hateful bitch with ice where her heart should have been, so you take her words for what they were—nothing more than her pathetic attempt to make you just as miserable as she was!"

"Cassie, your mother was the one with the problem, not you," Nina said, speaking for the first time since she had followed Taylor and Orlando upstairs to try and talk some sense into Cassie. "And Taylor and Orlando are right. You are nothing like your mother, and everything I have seen tells me that you would rather lay down your life than to ever do anything to hurt Abby. Please, don't allow her hatred to destroy what you've worked so hard to build, because then she wins."

Cassie glanced down at the baby resting so peacefully in her arms and had realized that everything Orlando, Nina, and Taylor had been trying to tell her was correct. She was not a curse, evil, or any of the other vile epithets her mother had heaped on her as she lay on her death bed. In fact, she realized now just how broken her mother had been, and for the first time in her life, she was able to look kindly upon the woman who had given birth to her and realize that she had been even more damaged by her husband's death than she had been willing, or able, to admit, and it was in that moment that Cassie was finally able to put the past behind her and open up to her husband and two best friends about the pain she had carried for over twenty years.

"Cassie? Yo! Earth to Cassie...come in Cassie," Justin said with a worried frown when Cassie didn't answer him. "Cassie, you are really starting to freak me out here! Say something! Taylor!"

"Wha—Cassie, what's wrong?" Taylor called out as he hurried over to where Cassie stood staring blindly at Justin. He took her hands, rubbing them together as he led her over to the window seat that looked out over the back lawn. "Justin, what happened to her? She was fine a little while ago!"

"I know that—and she was still okay until she looked in and saw Lance sitting with Nina and Abby," Justin said in an urgent whisper, not wanting to alert the little girl in the next room that her mother was having a mini meltdown. "Next thing I know, she's a space case and nothing I can do will get through to her. Tay, what's wrong with her?"

"I don't know, but help me get her into my room," Taylor said, taking one of Cassie's hands in his. Justin was just about to help when the door to Abby's room opened and Lance walked out into the hall with a small porcelain teapot in his hands. He froze when he saw Cassie staring into space with a blank look on her face. "Justin, help me get her into my—what are you doing out here? Go back inside with Abby!"

"I was just going to get more tea when I heard you guys out here... Cassie?" Lance said softly, putting the teapot on the nearby sideboard and coming to her almost like a moth to a flame. "What happened to her? Is she okay?"

"Go back in Abby's room Lance! This doesn't concern you!" Taylor snapped softly, his voice carrying a deadly calm that made the hairs on Justin's arms stand on edge, but Lance just frowned. "Go on before Abby wonders what happened to you!"

"You can go to hell Taylor, because like it or not, I'm not going anywhere until I'm sure she's okay," Lance stated firmly, stepping up beside Justin and helping him lift Cassie. "Now, where should we put her?"

"In my room," Taylor said, smirking as he watched the two men carrying Cassie. Twenty points for you Mr. Bass, he thought with a chuckle as he hurried into the room and closed the door before anyone became suspicious about Cassie's whereabouts. Now, if I could just get those two to realize they like each other, then all would be right with the world!

To be continued...

Oh, what will happen next? Will Cassie allow her past to destroy her from the inside out? Will Ashley truly get what she wants, or will she end up destroying everything? Will Lance and Cassie finally see what the others see, and is Taylor finally starting to drop his guard around Lance? More importantly, will he ever learn to drop his guard around Justin and finally, and completely, let himself accept the affections that Justin wants to give? Will Lance be able to convince Nina that his feelings for Cassie and Abby are genuine? Drop Rob or Nicole a line and let us know your thoughts.

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