Julian closed the door and eyeballed Fox. The young man looked as smug as the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary. Julian sucked in a breath, pulse points pounded angrily in his neck. He didn’t know what brought his son here, or what he thought he knew, but he’d be damned if he’d allow this miscreant to just show up and throw a wrench in all of his plans. Eve was expecting him soon, and there was no way he’d keep her waiting. It had been weeks since he saw her beautiful face and held her in his arms, and he wouldn’t wait a moment longer than necessary to do either again. His gaze met his son’s. “I would like to stay here and entertain whatever wild ideas have you so self-satisfied, but I have somewhere to be,” he explained.
“Yes, yes, you’re on your way to the cottage to meet your lady love. Yeah, I heard that,” Fox remarked, clearly making no attempt to leave as he rested on his elbows on the bed.
The tips of Julian’s ears grew hot. This boy was determined to push the envelope. He marched towards the bed and Fox immediately sat up. “What the hell are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay away from Harmony.”
Fox strolled to the dresser and nodded. “Yep, you did, but I felt compelled to come back to town for the festivities, and what wonderful festivities they are going to be. Chock full of surprises, I’d say. Wouldn’t you, Father?”
Julian watched as Fox reached for the jewelry box that contained the wedding bands he had created and inscribed specifically for his and Eve’s special day. He snatched the box away. “What do you want?”
Fox paced a few feet, tapping his chin. “What do I want?” He turned to Julian. “I want to know what you think you’re doing? Who are you meeting and at what cottage? I have my suspicions, but I want you tell me I’m wrong.”
The tiny bit of patience Julian held on to slipped away. “You expect me to read your mind?” he ground out.
“I expect you to tell me you don’t think you’re going to marry Dr. Russell tomorrow,” he said, his look daring Julian to deny it.
How Fox managed to form that conclusion was a mystery, but Julian refused to show the slightest hint of his enormous surprise. Instead, he dismissed Fox’s assertion with a derisive laugh. “I have three words for you, son, ‘Just say no.’ I don’t have time for this.” He made his way to the door.
“That’s right, you don’t want to keep Dr. Russell waiting, but you don’t want to dismiss me, either, Father.” Julian continued to the door, and pulled it open. “If you don’t want to hear what I have to say, I have a strong suspicion Rebecca will!” Julian came to a stop at the slightly ajar door. “I thought that would get your attention,” Fox added.
Julian closed the door and turned to Fox. The urge to pounce upon the young man was as strong as a starving lion’s desire to devour a bloody side of beef. He inched toward his son, reading the fear, determination, and smattering of smugness that filled his eyes. “You don’t want to test me,” Julian cautioned, his voice sounding as menacing as he hoped it would. “Whatever you think you know, you will keep to yourself. I assure you, this intimidation you think you’ve mastered will not work on me.”
“All I want is answers.”
“I don’t owe you a damn thing!”
“No, well what about Dr. Eve? What do you owe her? Before, all I had was speculation, but I’m certain now, you really plan to marry her tomorrow, don’t you?”
“Where--where did you get this idea?” Julian asked, a lot more agitated than he wanted to let on. “You come in here from God knows where with this….”
“California--L.A to be specific. That’s where I was when Coach and Dr. Russell showed up to tell Whitney they were getting a divorce, and that’s where I’ve been, giving Whitney support and a shoulder to cry on as she dealt with the dissolution of her parents’ marriage. That is, until the Crane jet brought us back to Harmony for your big event.”
“You were in L.A.? You were the young man who flew in with Whitney?”
“Didn’t I tell you to stay away from her?!” Julian railed.
“You should be glad I didn’t listen. In fact, you owe me a great big thank you for not listening. Whitney was in no mood to fly back to Harmony after her parents left, but I talked her into it.”
As much at this pained him, Julian realized he needed to hear Fox out. What was going on with Whitney, and could it halt his plans? “You talked her into it? What do you mean?”
“I mean, coming to Harmony for a wedding when her parents marriage was ending was not at the top of her list of things to do. She was heartbroken and disillusioned. Even though she knew her parents hadn’t been happy for quite a while, the news of the divorce hit her like a ton of bricks. I managed to make her see that although she was upset, her parents know what’s best for them, and if they aren’t happy together, they needed to be apart. Whitney wants her parents to be happy.”
“Then, she’s okay now?”
“She’s better. You know, she’s genuinely happy for you. The tale of woe you shared in the elevator about losing your true love affected her profoundly, and she’s thrilled you’ve found this special love you thought you’d never have again.” Fox grunted a half-laugh. “Funny thing, Whitney thinks the person responsible for your happiness is Rebecca, she has no clue it’s her mother--that the love you lost is actually the love you’ve found once more.”
“I still don’t understand how you’ve come to the conclusion you have.”
“Oh, about you and Dr. Eve? That’s simple. I’ve seen you two together, several times, remember? Hearing about your wedding to Rebecca was strange; I know you don’t love her, so news about the upcoming marriage got my attention. Whitney sharing your insistence that she come to the wedding was even stranger. Even with your time in the elevator, there’s no point in her being here. Then, the Russells show up and announce they are getting divorced, and the little wheels in my head started turning,” Fox said, twirling his forefingers about the sides of his head. “I remembered something else Whitney mentioned you said, that your bride would want her at the wedding. Not Rebecca, but your bride. Rebecca would scarcely recognize Whitney on the street, so who else could this bride be?” Fox folded his arms at his chest. “Are you now ready to acknowledge I’m right?”
Julian closed his eyes, groaning. Damn. Fox was too smart for his own good. “Fine, you’re right,” he grudgingly admitted.
“I knew it!” Fox shook his head. “What I don’t understand is why Dr. Russell didn’t tell Whitney about this wedding.”
“Eve doesn’t know about the wedding.”
“It’s a surprise for her.”
“A surprise?” Fox laughed. “Well, you’re going to be the one surprised come tomorrow, because there’s no way in hell Dr. Russell is going to marry you.”
“Eve loves me.”
“That may be, but she also loves her daughters. Given the fact Eve knows nothing about this wedding and her children know nothing about you, I think it’s safe to assume you could possibly be left standing at the altar.”
Worry simmered in Julian’s stomach. Fox had a point. He didn’t doubt for a second Eve would marry him, but if Simone or Whitney had a problem with it, she would definitely make him wait. He couldn’t imagine waiting longer than tomorrow to make Eve his wife, to welcome her back to his bed after too many years; to finally be married to a woman he loved, the woman he loved. There would be no more waiting. He’d have to make her girls understand without ruining Eve’s surprise. But how?
Julian checked his watch. He had to get to Eve. “Look, I have to go. You just keep your mouth shut and stay the hell away from Rebecca. I’ll find a way to deal with everything else.”
“Deal with it? How do you plan to do that?” Fox questioned.
“With the truth. You…” Julian released a regretful breath, “you go back to the penthouse and keep Whitney company,” he directed. “You said she’s happy for me, help her to understand her mother could be just as happy, maybe even sooner than she thought.” He raised a warning finger. “I swear if you ever do anything to hurt her, you will answer to me.”
“I would never hurt Whitney. I love her.”
Julian frowned. “We’ll talk about that later, too.” He was almost to
the door again when he turned back to Fox. “Keep your cell phone on, you’ll
be hearing from me.”
Eve looked at her watch. She had been waiting over five minutes and still no Julian. He was always so prompt; more often than not he was early. With all the hoopla she heard about this upcoming ‘wedding,’ she imagined Rebecca must have sidelined him with some detail as he headed for the door. Eve decided to give him a few more minutes before calling his cell.
Extricating the spare key from the hidden compartment beneath the wall-mounted mailbox, Eve let herself in. For the middle of summer, the room’s temperature was cool and pleasant. The cleaning lady probably forgot to turn it off. A quick sweep of her surroundings took her mind off Julian’s tardiness. The cottage was different. A hint of fresh paint hung in the air, there was new furniture and art on the walls, and bouquets of fresh flowers including roses, lilies, carnations, and daisies filled crystal vases and adorned the fireplace mantle and every corner table in the cozy living room. Cozy?. The house was cozier than she remembered, as if extra special care was being paid to it. Eve smiled. She really liked it here.
The sound of the doorknob jiggling ended her perusal of the house. Joy filled her heart. “Julian.” She raced to the door and flung it open.
“Eve, my darling.” Julian entered the cottage and gathered her in his arms. “I’ve missed you so much.” Lowering his head, his lips found hers. Eve’s heart pounded and pulse raced at the pleasure she found in Julian’s arms. He cupped her face, and as natural as breathing she parted her lips in consent to deepen the kiss. His active tongue slipped into her mouth, rediscovering all the places she loved for it to explore. The scent of his aftershave filled her nostrils, inebriating her with his uniquely masculine scent. Julian’s fiery kisses and tender touch fueled her need for more of his intoxicating brand of affection.
She pressed her body against his, desperate to be as close to him as possible. The persistent throbbing against her upper thigh proved he was as willing as she to take things further. Her fingers brushed the smooth, graying locks of his hair. A soft sigh passed from her lips to his.
“Julian,” she whispered against his lips, “Let’s go to the bedroom.”
He moaned softly against her lips, and then pulled away. “My beautiful Eve, I would like nothing more, but I’m afraid I can’t stay,” he said, brushing his thumb against her tingling lips.
“What do you mean? You just got here. Julian, we’re both single now.” Still reeling from the desire he stirred in her, Eve nuzzled his neck, and began to unbutton the few buttons of his light blue pullover. “We can make love all night long, it’s okay now. And I know you want me,” she said with a knowing grin and glance to the bulge in his slacks. “TC is no longer a consideration, and Rebecca is….”
“Rebecca is expecting a wedding tomorrow.”
Her fingers stopped working on his shirt. She took a step back. Clearly, she heard him wrong. “What?”
“Eve, we have to finish the plan.”
“Finish the plan? Marrying Rebecca wasn’t a part of the plan. I’m divorced now, the plan is over.” She shook her head. “Julian, I don’t understand.”
He pressed her finger to her lips. “My darling, everything will be clearer tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? When all the world thinks you’re going to marry Rebecca? I don’t get this. It can be clear now. I’m divorced and you’re still single. What’s tomorrow going to change?”
“Everything,” Julian said. “It’s going to change everything.”
“I’ve been thinking about that, maybe you should spare Rebecca this humiliating fate. She’s horrible, but we don’t have to do this to her. I can only imagine the absurd amount of money Rebecca through into this wedding. The idea was only to coddle her until I got my divorce, now I have it. This plan can end tonight, right now, actually.”
Julian shook his head vigorously. “No, it can’t!”
“I’m sorry.” He kissed her cheek. “I can’t really go into it, but all I can say is you have to trust me. You do, don’t you?”
She grazed her forefinger against his jaw. “You know I do.”
“Do you still want to spend the rest of your life with me?”
“Every second of every day,” she answered.
He smiled. “Good.”
“I need to tell the girls. The sooner they know about us the sooner they can deal with what it all means. I know they are going to be hurt by what they perceive as my moving on too soon, but I can’t and won’t deny my feelings for you any longer.” Eve grimaced. “Do I sound as selfish as I think I do?”
“No, you’re not being selfish at all. I can’t tell you what it means to hear you say this. I want the girls to know about us, too.”
“Good, we can tell them tomorrow. I didn’t want to tell Whitney over the phone, but since she’s in California and….”
He silenced her with a quick kiss. “Don’t worry yourself with minor details. We’ll talk to Whitney and Simone after we deal with Rebecca.”
Eve groaned. She really didn’t get the point of finishing this plan. Why was he so adamant in seeing this plot to fruition? “Julian?”
“Trust me, my love, tomorrow will culminate in the biggest and most important part of my plan. We’ll be rid of Rebecca and have a wonderfully happy life to look forward to. I promise you.” He gave her another kiss, sweeter and more tender than the one from before. “Now, you play a huge part in my plans for tomorrow, too.”
“I do?” she said breathlessly.
“Most definitely. I don’t want to tell you too much, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy all of it. As much as Rebecca will hate it, I’m sure.”
His eyes sparkled with glee. “Julian’s what’s going on with you? You’re not acting like yourself. The twinkle in your eyes is almost blinding.”
“You make me happy. Is something wrong with that?”
She smiled. “No, not at all.”
“Good, because you’ll be seeing this look for many years to come. Now, before I leave, I want you to be aware of something.”
“That sounds ominous.” She braced herself; fearful she was about to hear something she didn’t want to. “What is it now?”
Julian stroked her shoulders and chuckled. “Eve, relax, it’s nothing bad.” He took her hands and held them to his chest. “It’s just some things are going to happen tomorrow you might find strange, but I need for you to go along with whatever it is. You have to promise me.”
“Promise to go along with whatever strangeness happens tomorrow?”
He nodded. “Yes, it’s of the utmost importance.”
She was a little uneasy with this, but agreed nonetheless. “Okay, I guess I can do that.”
“Good. What are your plans for tomorrow morning?”
“I had hopes to spend it in your arms, but my second choice was to have breakfast with Grace. Why?”
“No reason, just curious. At the B & B?”
“Alright. About what time do you think, eight o’clock?”
“I guess.” She looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Julian, why do you want to know this? You’re starting to worry me.”
“My love, fear not, everything will be fine. And when you see me tomorrow, my behavior will make complete sense.”
Eve groaned. “Tomorrow. I’m going to need you so much tomorrow, and not just with the girls.” She paused for a moment. “When I have breakfast with Grace, I’m going to tell her about everything.”
“Everything? You mean the whole blackmail with Ivy, too?”
His eyes widened. “No!”
“Julian, what is wrong with you?”
“It’s….” He released a haggard breath. “Eve, you just can’t do this tomorrow. Wait a couple of weeks.”
“A couple of weeks?”
“At least,” he impressed.
“Julian, I told you how hard it is for me to look Grace in the eye knowing all the torment she’s going through is my fault. She’s my best friend.”
“I know she’s your best friend, which is why you cannot tell her this tomorrow.” He held up his hands. Please, Eve, please, just hold off telling her for a while longer.”
“Why?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Because I asked you to, and because--because you might need her after talking with the girls. Eve, please, just tr--”
“Trust you, I know.”
“Yes.” He glanced at his watch. “I really have to go. There are some matters I have to attend to.”
“About your plan?” she remarked sardonically.
“As a matter of fact, yes.” He pulled her into a hug and gave her a lingering kiss. “This time tomorrow, everything will be clear. You’ll see. I love you, Eve. I love you so much.”
“I know. I love you, too.”
“Have you looked around the house?”
“Somewhat,” she answered. “I smell paint and I noticed the flowers, furniture and art.” Eve glanced around the room. “I really like the changes. Things were great before, but they’re even better now.”
“I’m glad you like it. There are a few more changes, too. Look around and stay as long as you like.” He gave her one last kiss. “Until tomorrow, my darling.”
Eve stared at the door long after he left. Miffed her anticipated night
of passion was severely curtailed, but even more perplexed by Julian’s
strange behavior. She shook her head and gnawed pensively on her bottom
lip. What was going on with him, and what in the world did he have planned