Eve blindly fumbled for her cell phone, desperate to end the infernal ringing that dared to interrupt her wonderful sleep and the erotic dream that accompanied it. “Hello,” she mumbled, her voice low and weighted with sleep.
“Good morning, my love.”
Eve smiled, no longer perturbed by the unexpected wakeup call, especially since the caller also starred in her spine tingling dream. The resonate tones of Julian’s silky voice defined the perfect way to start her day. Only his being beside her in bed and not on the other end of the telephone would have made it more perfect. She rubbed her eyes and checked the time on the digital alarm clock. The bright red display read six-fifteen. No wonder the room was cloaked in darkness. “You’re up bright and early.”
“You know what they say about the early bird. Besides, the sun will be rising in a matter minutes.” Julian laughed. “Today is a very important day, and I was too excited to sleep.”
“Ah, yes, the day your big plans for Rebecca are brought to light.”
“My plans for today are not just about Rebecca, I assure you,” he said, a notable lilt in his tone. “You didn’t forget what I told you last night?”
Eve sat up in the bed and combed her fingers through her hair, sighing. “You mean about going along with the strangeness you mentioned? No, I didn’t forget,” she said, her lack of enthusiasm coming through more than she expected.
“Do try and contain your excitement.”
“Come on, Julian. It’s a little hard to get excited about something when you label it strangeness. I’m expected to be understanding when you tell me you have these big plans involving your wedding to another woman, and when I ask questions, all you say is ‘trust me’. Then, when I want to spend the night showing you how much I love you, after not seeing you for weeks, and not making love to you in years, you want to run errands. If I wasn’t secure in my feelings for you and yours for me, I’d be a little hurt right now.”
Julian erupted in laughter. Eve stared at her cell phone, fighting the unbearable urge to hang up. “What is so funny?!” she demanded.
“You, my darling. Tonight, I promise, you can show me as often and in as many ways as you want how much you love me. You’ll have my total and undivided attention.”
“Yeah. But what if I’m not interested tonight?”
“You will be, trust me,” he replied, clearly unfazed by her blasé response.
Eve rolled her eyes. Those two words again! Certain she would drive herself crazy with wonder about Julian’s secretive plans, she changed the topic of conversation. “Did you know Fox was in L.A. with Whitney and Chad?”
Julian blew a long breath. “Not until just recently,” he answered, the lightness once filling his tone now conspicuously absent.
“You don’t sound happy about it.”
“I’m not. I remember how I was at Fox’s age.” He groaned. “I don’t want that around your daughter.”
“You’re being too hard on yourself, Julian. You had your shortcomings, but I still fell head over heels in love with you. That has to count for something.”
“Yes, it counts for me being the luckiest man in the world for you to still love me after all I put you through. I don’t want Whitney to go through what you did. I just think Fox will inevitably lead her down that road.”
“I disagree. From what I gather, Whitney and Chad are having problems, and Fox has been a very good friend to her. I’m glad he’s there, and I don’t think he’ll hurt her.”
Julian grunted. “Better not! If he knows what’s best for him,” he added under his breath.
“Julian, I heard that,” Eve chided.
“Look, I don’t want to ruin what’s going to be a wonderful day by starting it with talk of my wayward son. On to more pleasant things, like what I have planned for you today.”
“If you will,” he said laughing. “It also includes Grace, so make sure she follows your lead.”
“Follows my lead? Julian, what do you--”
“Eve, Eve, I have a million things to take care of, so I have to go. I just needed to hear your lovely voice and tell you again just how much I love you.”
“I love you, too, Julian, even though you’re making me really crazy right now.”
“All with good reason. Enjoy your day, my love, and I’ll see you later.”
“When later?” she asked, almost whining. “You’re being so mysterious. Why?”
“So many questions.” He chuckled. “All will be answered when I see you later today, I swear. Until then.”
The line went dead before she could say more. Eve groaned. What was
going on with him? She returned her phone to the nightstand and flopped
against the bed. The springtime fresh scent and the comfy softness of the
bedding relaxed her wandering mind and soothed her tense body. She had
twenty minutes before the alarm clock sounded. With any luck, she could
return to her wonderful dream and not dwell on Julian’s strange behavior
and secretive plans.
Julian checked his watch for the twelfth time in as many minutes, followed by a quick glance to the door of Book Café. He groaned. Damn! Maybe Simone changed her mind. He raised the steaming cup of espresso to his lips and took a gulp of the potent beverage. He didn’t suffer from pre-wedding jitters, but his nerves were shot to hell, and the ultra-caffeinated java only aggravated the condition. He returned the cup to the table.
Extending his thumb and middle finger across his forehead, Julian closed his eyes and massaged his temples. If he didn’t talk to Simone and try to gauge her reaction to the thought of her mother remarrying, there might not be a wedding. Even with Eve ready to go public with their relationship, and Julian certain she would agree to marry him, if either of her children expressed objection to it happening today, it would not happen today, of that he was certain. If Simone showed resistance when they talked, maybe he could change her mind before the ceremony, but first she had to show up. Nearly ten o’clock, she was almost thirty minutes late.
Julian dropped his hand from his face and met the brown-eyed stare of his long awaited guest. “Simone.” He flashed her a tight smile and smoothed his damp palms against his Armani clad thighs. “Please, join me,” he said, standing and extending his right hand to the empty chair in front of him. “I was afraid you weren’t going to make it.”
“Me, too,” she replied.
His pulse pounded in his ears as Eve’s youngest daughter gave him a suspicious once-over. Being stuck in the elevator with Whitney provided him with the opportunity to establish a connection with daughter one, but Simone didn’t give him an inch.
After several deafening quiet moments, Simone finally took him on his offer and eased into the chair. “I can’t imagine why you would want to see me twice in one week, but your call last night piqued my interest. What’s going on?” she asked, her glare unwavering.
Julian sat. The delicious scents of banana nut and blueberry muffins mingled with the varied aromas of flavored coffees and hot chocolate. Though, he wasn’t hungry and still nursed his espresso, he thought a little sugar and caffeine would lighten Simone’s mood. “Would you like some coffee, a croissant or muffin?” he asked.
Her expression went unchanged. “No, sir, just some answers.”
He met her mistrustful gaze with a friendly smile, hoping it would thaw her rigid demeanor. It didn’t take long to see it didn’t work.
Simone stood abruptly, frowning. “Why are you grinning at me?” Her hands found her hips. Disgust flashed in her eyes. “You know, my father had you pegged as a dirty old man, and it appears he was right!”
Julian’s chair scraped the floor as he shot up. Aroused customers turned to them. “Simone, you couldn’t be more wrong. I just—I really need to talk to you.” He pressed his hand to his chest in a gesture of heartfelt sincerity. “If I’m coming off as untoward I do apologize. I just wanted to show you I’m not an ogre.” He motioned to the chair once again. “Please, a few minutes.”
“Fine.” She pulled the chair a few inches from the table and sat. “You have five minutes.”
Curious eyes stayed on their table. Julian’s unhappy scowl turned the straggling onlookers away. He returned to his chair and met Simon’s gaze. “I got to know your sister a bit when we were stuck in that elevator, and—”
“And what?” Simone interrupted. “I’m not sweetness and light like she is?” She frowned.
“No, I wasn’t….”
“Look, I don’t need you to come to me and tell me how unlike Whitney I am. I get that enough from my parents. Actually, that’s about all I get from them. They have two children: Whitney and the other one.” Tears filled her eyes. She lowered her head. “You have no idea how it feels to be nothing more than an afterthought to your parents.”
Julian grunted. He understood more than she knew. Reaching into the breast pocket of his suit coat he extended his handkerchief. “Here you go.”
Simone took the handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. “Thank you,” she murmured.
“You’re welcome.” Julian rested his elbows on the table and placed his chin atop his clasped hands, studying Simone. She had a lot of her mother’s qualities. Simone’s sensitivity, strength, and the granite wall she built up to protect herself from hurt reminded him very much of Eve. With her wall crumbling, those Eve characteristics showed all the more. “You know, I actually understand what you’re going through, but there is a big difference between you and me. My father never gave a damn about my sister or me, but your parents love you.”
“I know they love me, they just love Whitney more.”
Julian shook his head. “I don’t think that’s fair.”
“I don’t think it’s fair my parents are divorced, but that doesn’t matter, they are still divorced. Just like I’m second best.” She hunched her shoulders. “Some things you just have to accept.” Simone pushed his handkerchief across the table. “What did you want to see me about?”
“Actually, I wanted your take on what we’ve been talking about; love and family.” He covered one hand over the tear-stained cloth. “Your parents are divorced now, how do you feel about that?”
“How do I feel?”
“I feel hurt. I feel like everything I care about has been taken away from me because of Whitney.”
“Yes! She stole Chad away from me, and then she moved to L.A. with him against Daddy’s wishes and with Mom’s blessing, with no regard to what that would do to their marriage. If only Mom and Dad would have listened to me all those times I tried to tell them that Whitney wasn’t perfect, that she was a little slut that wanted what she wanted, they would still be together, and Chad would still be mine.”
Simone’s reaction didn’t surprise Julian. On many occasions Eve shared with him her youngest daughter’s feelings on Whitney’s betrayal and how she always felt second best. Eve’s frustration in not being able to convince Simone that she loved them both equally and that Whitney didn’t intend to hurt her fell on deaf ears. Julian realized he could do scant little in the way of changing Simone’s mind about Whitney stealing Chad, but blaming her for Eve and TC’s divorce might be a little easier…at least he hoped so. “Simone, do you really blame Whitney for your parents getting a divorce?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Why do you blame Whitney? Do you truly believe your sister could end your parents’ marriage if everything was fine between them?”
Simone stared at him for a long moment, and then lowered her head. “No,” she mumbled.
Finally, some head way. Julian suppressed his smile and continued. “Could anything or anyone keep them apart if they wanted to be together?”
“I guess not.” She sighed. “My parents used to be so happy, but it’s been so long since then, I can’t even remember. I just….” her voice wavered and she sniffled. “I never dreamed they would get a divorce.”
More tears welled in her eyes. A sick feeling filled Julian’s stomach. This wasn’t going as well as he thought. As much as it pained him, and it pained him, he couldn’t in good conscience question Simone about her parents finding happiness with other people when just mentioning their divorce reduced her to tears. The poor girl already had too much heartbreak, and he wouldn’t be responsible for adding to her pain. He wanted to give her a big hug and assure her she’d be okay. That what she thought mattered to him. Julian offered his handkerchief once again. “Here, keep it,” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Crane.” She dried the tears from her eyes and gave him another once over. The intensity of her gaze remained the same, but uncertainty replaced the hostility. She tilted her head.
Julian asked, “Is there something on your mind, Simone?”
“Yes,” she answered with a nod as she continued to dry her tears. “Why are you being so nice to me? Has love changed you this much?”
He laughed. “Yes, as a matter of fact it has.” He cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, my happiness is going to have to wait a while.”
“Why?” She sniffled. “You seemed really excited about your wedding when we talked the other day.”
“I am, I’m very excited about my wedding, but there’s a surprise element I have planned for my bride that—well, it won’t make everybody happy. Two people in particular. If these individuals aren’t happy, my bride won’t be happy, and if she’s not happy, I’m not happy. So, I think my wedding will have to take place some other time.”
“Does Ms. Hotchkiss know about this?”
“Does Rebecca know what?” he asked, chewing his bottom lip and tasting the sugar from his espresso.
“That you’re going to postpone your wedding because some people have a problem with some special surprise you have for her. Don’t stop the wedding, Mr. Crane, just hold off on the surprise.”
Julian winced. “Uh, Simone, I think you—”
“No, no, no!” She waved her hand and shook her head. “You can’t change your plans. I can only imagine how this will devastate her. Look, you’re happy, incredibly happy. My daddy once said the love of a good woman can make a man better. He said that the night I wrecked your car when Whitney and Chad had that shared vision.”
Oh, yes, the night of the visions. That night and those visions he shared with Eve changed everything for him, and marked what would start their new beginning. “Yes, I remember that night well, and your mention of the visions.”
“Yeah, well, anyway, Daddy joked that no woman can make you a better man, not even a woman as great as my mother, but he was wrong.” Julian coughed. How ironic Simone would say that. She touched his hand. “Are you alright, Mr. Crane?”
“Fine.” He took another sip of espresso.
She didn’t seem certain, but continued nonetheless. “Whitney said you weren’t as bad as Daddy always said, I guess even she can be right about something.”
“I think you’re a little too hard on your sister.”
“I don’t. You only spent a few hours with her in an elevator, I’ve spent years with her.” She shook her head. “But this isn’t about Whitney; this is about you and your wedding. You have to get married today. Forget what anyone else thinks. You say you have a big surprise, huh?”
He nodded. “Yes, in fact I’d say it’s huge. Simone, I have to ask again, you think I should go on with my plans for today, even if it upsets the two people I mentioned?”
“You said it would make Ms. Hotchkiss happy, right?”
“It will make my bride happy, and it will make me extremely happy. This is something I’ve waited my entire life for.” Julian sighed deeply. “I can’t tell you how much I love this woman and what she means to me.”
“You don’t have to tell me, it shows. But you’re willing to put off your plans because some people might not like it?” Simone scoffed. “Look, you only live once. If these two people love her as much as she loves them, they’ll be happy for her, and not want you to cancel your big plans. Who knows, maybe one day my parents will be happy as you are right now. If not together, well, maybe with someone else.”
“That could happen sooner than you think,” he murmured. “At least for one of them.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“Just talking to myself,” Julian explained. “So, when I share my surprise at the wedding and these two people display their outrage, can I look to you for support?”
“I will stand up and tell them to butt out.”
He grinned. “Will you?”
“That’s right!” Simone laughed. “You’ve got me excited about these plans of yours, I can hardly wait.”
“Maybe you don’t have to.” Julian debated with himself for several moments. Then sighed. What the heck? He felt a kinship of sorts with Simone. “Can I tell you a secret?”
Simone smiled brightly. She had Eve’s smile, too. “Sure!”
“This is a big secret, but I’m going to trust you with it, okay?” She nodded as he eased further across the table and whispered, “I’m not marrying Rebecca.”
She waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Aw, Mr. Crane, I thought you were about to tell me something big. Why are you pulling my leg?”
“I’m not. I’m quite serious. I am not marrying Rebecca.”
Her jaw dropped. “You’re not?”
He shook his head. “Do you have any pressing plans for the rest of the day?”
“Only your wedding, if there’s still going to be a wedding. Is there?” she asked.
“You’ve given me reason to be cautiously optimistic. Do you trust I won’t make a move on you if I asked you to follow me to the mansion?”
She laughed. “With the obvious love you have for your potential bride to be, I’m pretty secure, yes.”
“Okay, grab your purse and follow me. I’ve got a story to share with
“Enjoyable Journeys Corporation.” Grace sighed. “Well, Eve, I can say this company certainly lives up to its name. I’ve never been so pampered in my life,” she said, sipping French champagne from a crystal flute as the luxurious private plane flew them back to Harmony. “If this is how the other half lives, I can get used to it.”
Eve almost hated to agree with that statement, but she could get used to it, too. Maybe that’s why Julian didn’t mention it. He knows she hates the frivolous spending of the wealthy, and if he mentioned it beforehand, she would not be party to it. But he didn’t mention it, and she enjoyed every minute of this day of decadent strangeness that started at eight o’clock this morning when a gentleman in a dark suit arrived at Grace’s door.
“I was told Dr. Eve Russell was here,” the man said.
Grace looked over her shoulder. “Yeah, she is,” she replied as Eve approached the door.
“I’m Dr. Russell,” Eve said.
“Dr. Russell, do you recall entering the Queen For A Day drawing at the Harmony Mall?”
“Queen for a day….” Julian’s mention of strangeness and her need to go along with it sprang to mind. What did he do? She decided to play along. “Yes,, actually, I do. The girls and I were out one day and there was a box at the makeup counter,” she explained to Grace. “ We all entered, I hardly remembered it was so long ago.”
“Well, Doctor, you won. There is a limousine waiting outside to take you and a guest out for a day of shopping and pampering.”
“Did you say a limousine?” Grace chirped.
“Yes, ma’am, and a private jet. You’re being flown to New York for the day.”
Grace’s eyes shined like two stars. “Eve, you have to go. It’s sounds like such fun.”
Eve couldn’t disagree. “Yeah, it does, but I’ll only go if you come with me. It is for me and a guest,” she said, remembering Julian’s insistence that Grace tag along.
Her friend’s smile matched her eyes. “I thought you’d never ask.” Grace turned to the man. “There is a wedding I’m supposed to attend at five thirty, will I be back in time?”
“Absolutely, ma’am, that will not be a problem,” he assured her.
Eve stifled a groan. Of course Julian wouldn’t want any of Rebecca’s guests to miss out on his ‘plans’ for her.
Ivy chose this moment to enter the room. “There’s a gorgeous, black stretch limo waiting outside the house. What….” She stopped talking and turned to Eve. “Eve, how are you doing this festive summer morn?”
Eve flashed the woman an icy glare. The last thing she wanted to deal with was Julian’s ex ball and chain. “Don’t start with me, Ivy,” she warned, her tone as chilly as her glare.
“Just being courteous.” The fake smile Ivy had come to master turned the corners of her lips. “Is there something about this day that has you in a tizzy?” Ivy pressed her forefinger to her cheek. “Could it be that Julian’s wedding to Rebecca is taking place today?” Anger boiled Eve’s blood. She wanted to wipe the insincere smirk off the pompous blonde’s face, but resisted. She wouldn’t let the woman push her buttons. Besides, Julian’s other ‘plans’ already had her rattled enough. “Oh, never mind.” Ivy studied the suited man, then turned to Grace. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“That would be none of your business,” Grace answered. “Are we ready to go, Eve?”
“Yes,” she answered, eager to leave Ivy’s presence.
“Wait!” Ivy’s wheelchair hummed as she approached Grace. Splotches of red invaded her porcelain cheeks. “Where are you two going? You can’t just leave me here. What about breakfast?”
“You’re in luck,” Grace answered. “I’ve prepared breakfast, and since Eve and I are not staying, you’re welcome to have it.”
“The jet is waiting, ladies. We should be going,” the man said.
“Jet?” Ivy screeched. “I insist you take me with you. You can’t just leave me here alone.”
Grace responded before Eve could.
“We can and we will. Besides, this is a special trip, Ivy, no bitches allowed.” Eve snickered. That was a good one. “Let’s go, Eve,” Grace said, walking out the door.
Eve opened and closed her hand to Ivy, getting a wonderful thrill from the woman’s disappointment and the look of shock on her face. “Bye!”
The limousine whisked them to Harmony Airport where they boarded a private plane, with the initials EJC inscribed in gold lettering on the side. Once settled inside, Eve was crowned queen with a sparkling diamond tiara, matching scepter and a royal blue cape. She felt rather foolish, but Grace couldn’t have been more impressed.
On the flight to New York, they were favored with every conceivable breakfast food known to man, and an assortment of fruit juices, coffee, and tea. Upon touchdown in the city, they were whisked by another limo to Saks Fifth Avenue, Gucci, Prada, Tiffany’s, and Bergdorf Goodman for the ultimate shopping spree. After shopping till they dropped, the limo sped them to one of the most exclusive day spas in the country for an afternoon of pampering. In between indulging in full body massages and wraps, manicures, pedicures, facials, and hair appointments with stylists the rich and famous had to book months in advance to see, they dined on mouthwatering morsels provided by Tavern on the Green.
Eight hours later, they were relaxed, refreshed, and looked as stunning as the models that graced the covers of fashion magazines. Eve never considered herself vain, but she couldn’t stop pulling out her compact to take another look at herself. The crown adorning her stylish up-do was a bit much, but coupled with the dark blue, silk pantsuit she got from Bergdorf Goodman, she felt like Miss America. She glanced at the diamond scepter cradled in her arms. This day’s strangeness topped high on the list of the most wonderful experiences she ever had. Her skin never felt so soft, nor her body so relaxed. She couldn’t wait to see Julian to give him a proper thank you.
At a quarter past the hour of four, the captain announced they would be making their descent at Harmony Airport in the next ten minutes. Eve sighed. She wondered if her feet would even touch the ground once she and Grace were no longer in the air. When they landed, the steward entered the cabin and asked that Grace follow him. Eve wanted to come with, but he insisted she stay put, that there remained one final aspect of her day she had to complete alone.
Grace hesitated in leaving. “Are you okay with this, Eve?” she asked.
“Remembering Julian’s words to follow whatever strangeness happened, Eve nodded. “Yes, it’s fine. You go on ahead.”
“Alright. Are you going to show up at the wedding?”
Eve shrugged. “We’ll see,” she said, hoping above hope Julian handled
his plan for Rebecca while she and Grace had a ball in the Big Apple. Two
minutes after her friend left, music floated in from the speakers and a
beautiful love song began to play.
For you I'd give a lifetime of stability
Anything you want of me
Nothing is impossible for you
There are no words or ways to show my love
Or all the thoughts I'm thinking of
'Cause this life is no good alone
Since we've become one
I made a change
Everything I do now makes sense
When all roads end
All I do is for you…
For you I share the cup of love that overflows
And anyone who knows us knows
I will change all thoughts I have for you
There is no low or high or in between
Of my heart that you haven’t seen.
‘Cause I share all I have and am
Nothing I said is hard to understand
What I feel I feel deeper still
And always will
All this love is for you….
As the song continued to play, Eve brushed away the tears that filled her eyes and spilled over to roll down her cheeks. She looked so beautiful when she left New York, now she probably looked like a raccoon. Hopefully, the makeup was waterproof.
I make a promise of fidelity
Now and for eternity
No one could replace this love for you
I take your hand and heart and everything
And add to them a wedding ring
'Cause this life is no good alone
Since we've become one
You're all I know
If this feeling should leave I'd die
And here's why
All I am is for you
Everything I do now makes sense
When all roads end
All I do is for you
Only for you.
As soon as the song ended, Julian made his way into the cabin. Tears blinded her vision, but Eve could see how handsome he looked in a gorgeous black tuxedo. He approached her with a big smile and a bouquet of red roses. “You look so beautiful, Eve.”
She continued to wipe away her tears. “I did,” she answered, sniffling.
“No, you still do.” He used the pad of his thumb to help brush away the tears. “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world, and if you listened to the words of the song closely, you know the meaning behind today’s strangeness and all my weird behavior is all for you. Only for you, Eve.”
He placed the flowers in her arms, and dropped to one knee. His hand covered hers.
“I have your hand, you gave me your heart, so it’s time for me to add something.” He reached into his tux pocket and pulled out a huge, sparkling diamond ring. “A wedding ring…well, engagement ring,” he corrected.
The tears she worked feverishly to stop returned. A shaky hand covered her agape mouth. Her heart pounded. She couldn’t believe this was happening.
“There’s an obvious question that goes with this piece of jewelry, but
I have to amend it slightly, and I pray I get the right answer.” Eve wondered
how he could have any question about her answer, but she would humor him.
Julian closed his eyes and released a long breath as she held hers in gleeful
anticipation. “Eve, will you marry me…an hour from now?”
Song Credit: “For You” Kenny Lattimore