Long Way to Perfect (Whitney/Ethan)-Ch 5
Whitney was rather enjoying the eagerness and almost giddy anticipation emanating from Nicholas’ body. He leaned forward, towards her, his elbows unceremoniously on the table, his eyes bright and glistening. She smiled inwardly, thinking he truly couldn’t realize what she was about to say.
“Nicholas, I know how you feel about Theresa,” Whitney started.
In that moment, Nicholas dropped his arms off of the table, abruptly sitting back at the mention of his ex-stepmother. Could Whitney possibly know what he’d managed to keep hidden all of this time? If she’d discovered his secret, then he would lose all of the leverage and debt he’d worked so hard to gain...
“Yes, Whit, you know how I feel – how I’ve always felt about Theresa...” he let his voice trail off, trying not to betray his sudden discomfort. He was probing, exploring, trying to discover what she did - and didn’t - know.
“Well, Nicholas – I think I’m starting to share those feelings.” Whitney stopped, waiting for the Crane son to respond. They sat that way for long moments, each gazing at the other. Anyone no privy to their conversation would think they were lovers, so intense were their stares at one another.
Nicholas cocked an eyebrow.
“Are you serious? You and Theresa used to be so…so close.”
“Oh, knock it off! You know we fell out a long time ago! We haven’t really had a civil conversation since Ethan left town!” Whitney admonished him.
As if suddenly understanding, Nicholas started nodding his head, slowly up and down.
“Now I see where this is going, I think,” he stated. “I know what you’re going to say…”
Before he could say anything else, Whitney gave him a warning, sharp look.
“Don’t you EVER say that! You have NO CLUE what I’m about to say! God, I wish everyone around here would stop saying that!” she shook her head in disbelief.
“My apologies,” Nicholas laughed. “So, seriously, what is it you want to propose to me? I’ll assume it’s about Ethan, and we can go from there.”
“Well, you’re partly right. It is about Ethan. But it’s also about Theresa.” Whitney halted, before forging ahead.
“Look, what does anyone in this town want more than Theresa getting her just desserts?” Whitney quizzed him.
He thought for a moment, shook his head, “Nothing but that – a huge taste of her own medicine, I’d say,” he offered.
“Exactly!” Whitney slapped the table with her open palm, smiling in triumph. “You catch on quickly!”
“So what does Theresa’s getting her due, have to do with us?” Nicholas fired back, still not drawing the lines and connecting the dots.
“Well, Nicholas,” Whitney drawled, a bit frustrated that he wasn’t making the logical leap for her. (What was it with these Harmony men? Was it in the water??) She hated to have to spell it out herself – being devious simply wasn’t in her nature. The whole situation with Chad and Simone had been so not like her – she’d felt like Theresa’s twin throughout that entire ordeal, and never wanted to feel that way again! But there had been something in the way Theresa had belittled and demeaned her that morning in front of Ethan, that had finally turned Whitney’s fear to brittle, iron resolve.
“What I was thinking about, was a way of finally, finally breaking Ethan away from her hold, while at the same time making him happy,” she said. There! She’d done it – she’d laid her cards out on the table.
Nicholas leaned back again in his seat, drumming his fingertips on the metal table top.
“I would be all for that idea, Whitney, you know that. I truly detest Theresa. But so does everyone else – so why ask me? You could ask anyone in Harmony – and I mean *anyone * to help you out – they’d all do it for nothing in return! Julian, who adores you, Ivy, who’s so happy with Sam she’s about to wet her pants and would do anything kind, now that she has her man. Hell, I bet even a couple of her brothers would sell her up the river, if the price was right!” Nicholas raised his brows at her again.
“So, why me?” he finally asked.
Whitney paused – this was what she’d anticipated minutes ago, when quickly formulating her proposal to present to him. This would be the hard part, for she had never, NEVER blackmailed anyone.
“I want you to help me win Ethan. He cares about me, and I care about him. I know that might not make me any better than Theresa in her heyday, when she and Gwen were at each other’s throats, but, if I’m correct in what I’m thinking about Ethan’s feelings for me, then I won’t have to work that hard at it,” Whitney finished, starting to take a sip of her coffee, then realizing there was none left. She put the mug down and looked expectantly at Nicholas.
“And why, pray tell, do you need ME to do that? You can do that on your own, Whitney,” Nicholas disagreed.
“Well, actually, I can’t…” Whitney started. Confusion spread across Nicholas’ lovely features, as if to say: why not?
“I need you, because I want to make Ethan realize that I won’t wait for him – he needs that push to help him make a final decision. I won’t wait for him as long as Gwen did, I want to fit quickly, swiftly and hard. But not long. Do you understand?” Whitney prayed he did, for she was losing her nerve with each passing minute.
“Are you going to try and use me to make him jealous?” Nicholas guffawed, his tone incredulous. “That’s crazy!! He’d be so thick-headed, he’d think ‘Oh, well, I guess she wants Nick, so I’ll let him have her!’ You’d cause the opposite of what you really want!”
Whitney huffed, blowing her breath out impatiently. “That’s not my entire proposal, Nicky…there’s more.”
“Well? Let’s hear it! I don’t have all day, despite what the wagging, gossiping tongues say about me!” he laughed again.
When Whitney didn’t initially say anything, Nicholas’s smile began to slowly disappear until finally, he narrowed his eyes and glared at her again.
“You know something, don’t you?” his voice was sharp, and if Whitney wasn’t mistaken, she thought she detected a slight note of fear.
Should she play her hand, revealing to him that she didn’t really know anything, share with him her blossoming theory, or should she lead him on, let him think she knew something? But what, and how? She wasn’t very good at the bluffing game. Although many in Harmony were.
What the hell? She could take a gamble – the worst thing that could happen is that Nicholas would laugh at her, and say “no” to her petty little idea. She had some theories she’d been trying to work out, based on some things here and there that didn’t just add up, and some things that Theresa had said to her unwittingly, when they’d still been friends, after Nicholas had returned to town. Some things she’d observed, when used to go pick up Theresa from Crane Industries, where both she and Nicholas worked. And now, Nicholas never showed up for work anymore – or hardly ever, anyway. So she decided to take a gamble. It was about time she stopped living so timidly and fearfully!
“I know about the secrets, Nicholas,” she said simply. Please, please buy that! She silently prayed.
For a long moment, Nicholas said nothing. His eyes went through a series of acrobatics – narrowing, then growing wide, then narrowing to slits again, his face slowing starting to flush. Whitney knew she had him, but with what, she couldn’t tell.
Oh, God, help me! How am I ever going to pull this off! she thought
– but now, it was too late…