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Chapter 32 – Fanfare

The warm sun filtered through the leaves, pushing away the damp chill that had hung in the air since the morning's rain. There, nestled in the midst of one of the world's busiest cities, there was peace. Children darted along the paths, followed quickly by their mothers, splashing in the puddles and squealing with glee. College students had blankets spread on the grass, taking the opportunity to work on their tans. An elderly couple, each using a cane, leaned more on each other than the support given them by their doctor. None noticed the four people walking slowly towards the playground, a blonde toddler with them chattering incessantly. Nor did they notice the burly man walking a safe distance behind them.

"Are you glad you dragged your butt out of the bed for the afternoon?" Kevin murmured low in Austin's ear as they strolled behind Howie and Cheyanne. He had to smile at the sight of Baylee walking between them, clutching Cheyanne's hand and keeping Howie from even touching her. It was just too cute, he decided as Austin twined her fingers with his with a gentle smile, Baylee's adoration of Cheyanne. He could tell, just from watching her with him, that little Olivia would have a wonderful mother. When the younger woman turned to make sure they were still behind, he caught sight of her protruding stomach. Shifting his gaze to the woman at his side, he wondered suddenly what she would look like pregnant.

“I’m just thankful that I was actually invited out on the adventure,” Austin teased wryly, stepping closer toward Kevin, having to take two quick steps just to compare with his one. She didn’t mind though, especially as he broke their hands to wrap an arm around her shoulders, reaching with his other hand to hold hers. She had to even giggle when he bent to brush a kiss to her cheek, overjoyed with New York’s pleasant atmosphere. “I thought Baylee was going to manage to con everyone out of going but Chey. I mean, he weasels himself into her arms before anyone else has a chance to get close. He’s even taking her away from me, Pretty Boy. The only creature he lets near would be Moth…” Austin laughed though as she glanced ahead, to see Howie holding Moth’s leash as he danced excitedly beside Baylee and Cheyanne.

"Are you jealous of a two year old?" Kevin questioned with a laugh, steering her to the side to pass a stroller.

"You think? Hell, I had to wait twenty minutes to be able to snuggle with her this morning while you were on the phone with your Momma. I swear, he slept with her last night…" Austin trailed, shaking her head. "Honestly. Oh, remind me to kiss your cousin when we get back to the hotel, okay?"

"My Angel swing?" Baylee asked hopefully, tugging gently on Cheyanne's arm to lead her to the swings.

“I’d love to swing with you, Darlin’,” Cheyanne laughed as Baylee hurried the pace of his steps, hoping to get to what he thought was a primer swing. She glanced back toward Howie with a mere shrug of her bare shoulders, almost as an apology, though Baylee took the attention away immediately. Tugging on her jean capri’s, he motioned for her to sit, which she obliged, then he reached upward. “We’re swinging together, huh?” Cheyanne approved, reaching down to bring Baylee into her lap. Holding onto one of the chains, she made sure to wrap another protective arm around Baylee’s body as he circled his arms around her. Resting his head on her chest, he giggled as she started to just swing them gently within the warm breeze.

“Excuse me? You want to what?” Kevin finally asked, attempting to pull his gaze away from Cheyanne and Baylee. He couldn’t have imagined Cheyanne looking any lovelier with her long honey curls tied into a loose ponytail, several falling to frame her sweet face. Her sapphire eyes sparkled in warmth as Baylee held onto her tightly. Both actually dressed in light green tank tops, per Baylee’s request, and jean shorts, though Cheyanne wore capris. If he didn’t know better, Kevin would have thought Cheyanne was Baylee’s mother, which Brian probably would have enjoyed more. But, he was flabbergasted at his girlfriend. “Kiss my cousin? Brian? You know my cousin is Brian right?”

"Duh," Austin said, rolling her eyes as she pulled him towards a bench. "I can kiss your cousin, can't I?" she asked with a smile. She was certain, once she told him her reason, Kevin wouldn't look so much like a choking fish. But part of her enjoyed teasing him, tormenting him. Once seated, she looked up at him with a smirk. "Or do you think the Wicked Bitch of the East would kill me?"

“I… You think he’s the Spawn of Satan, why the Hell would you kiss him?” Kevin earnestly replied, still confused by the entire situation. He didn’t know whether it was jealous or disbelief, but it didn’t feel good whatsoever. Even when Howie seated beside them, just watching Baylee and Cheyanne at a close distance with Moth attempted to hop on the bench for Austin and Kevin.

"Oh Lord. You think--I want to kiss him for being sweet to Chey," Austin informed him, biting back laughter at the outrageous expression on his face. Was he jealous? Over Brian? Lifting his hand to her lips, she gently kissed the tips of his fingers. "Unless, of course, you have some kinky fantasies involving Brian?"

“God, don’t answer that. For the sake of everything pure in this world, just don’t,” Howie breathed, overhearing just a few pieces of the couple’s conversation. Though, most of his attention was a few feet away, with Baylee and Cheyanne. He wanted to go over and push the two on the swing, but mostly keep a protective eye over them. Drew may have been several feet away, but Howie still worried sincerely about Cheyanne, no matter what. But, the idea of Kevin and Brian… He voluntarily shuddered at the image, attempting to reach down to lift Moth with hopes he wouldn’t be bit.

Austin glanced over as Howie pulled Moth into his lap, perching precariously on one knee so he could keep an eye on Cheyanne. Returning her attention to Kevin, she patted his thigh reassuringly. "Don't worry, Pretty Boy. I have nothing remotely resembling an attraction to the Spawn of Satan." Leaning against him, she immediately pulled away when she saw two women near Kevin's age slowly approaching.

Kevin furled his dark, thick brows in uncertainty at Austin’s immediate change of posture. She stiffened sharply and he glanced upward, noticing the women. He tried to hide his smile, wondering what Austin was thinking, doing his best to drown the pride at her sudden streak of jealousy. “Princess, are you okay—”

“ ‘Rincess!” Baylee suddenly shouted loudly, for a moment diverting the attention from the slightly stalking lionesses. His eyes were wide with excitement as he released Cheyanne’s hand for the briefest moment, jumping slightly against her legs. “C’I have my toys? My Angel and I play kick ball!” It seemed to catch Austin’s attention, who reached to collect the bag for Baylee, though her eyes never strayed from the woman. Baylee didn’t seem to care though, producing a somewhat small rubber kickball. He grinned with triumph. “Ready, My Angel!”

“We’re going to be taking a good nap today, Darlin’,” Cheyanne laughed softly as the little boy dropped the ball to kick toward her. It shot upward easily, but she managed to bounce it down from her knee, stabilizing it beneath her foot like an advanced soccer player. Smiling, she kicked it softly toward Baylee and Moth started chase to help.

Austin watched the women pause a few feet away. Seeing Kevin's smile she gritted her teeth, quickly biting back the nasty remark on the tip of her tongue about the women. When one stepped forward, Austin saw she was holding a small baby. Looking at Kevin, she wondered if maybe he was keeping a few secrets.

"Excuse us… Kevin and Howie?" the woman asked softly, a nervous smile touching her lips. Adjusting the baby in her arms, she looked from one man to the other.

“You caught us,” Kevin answered ruefully with a handsome smile, reaching an arm around Austin’s waist to keep her planted. He could feel the protective, jealousy energy radiating from her burning aura. And, he knew if he laughed, Austin would clock him hard against the side of the face. So, he did his best to maintain, though the smirk grew against the corners of his lips. “What can we do for you?”

"See, Anna, I told you it was them!" the woman said with a soft laugh. "We thought it was you two, and we just wanted to say…"

"Say what, sweetie?" Howie asked, rising to his feet to greet them. He made sure to keep an eye on Cheyanne and Baylee, however.

"Did he just call her sweetie?" Austin whispered at Kevin, only to be ignored as he, too, rose to greet the women.

Austin felt as if she had been slapped when Kevin completely ignored her question as he reached to actually hug the two women standing in front of him. Since she had only just blossomed her relationship in private with him, she wasn’t accustomed to the lifestyle of fans just approaching. In fact, she could hardly call for Cheyanne as she slid off the bench, just waving frantically at her friend. Cheyanne stopped playing with Baylee for a moment, arching her light brows at Austin’s furious movements. She then finally noticed Howie and Kevin interacting so intently with the pretty woman. She felt her heart fall at that moment, immediately shaking her head when Austin gestured for her to come over.

With a quick sigh, Austin stepped over to stand with Kevin, tentatively touching his arm as he spoke to the women. If he dared ignore her now… All tension left quickly when he placed an arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer to him.

"…And don't think I'm being mean or anything, but I was kind of glad to hear of your divorce," the woman with the baby was saying. "But I am sorry she wasn't the one for you."

Kevin nodded in appreciation of her words. "Thanks. I think I can honestly say I've found the one now, though," he added with a quick grin, lightly squeezing Austin's bare shoulder with his fingers. Her hand landed on his chest in a gentle caress, and he was relieved she was standing by his side instead of backing away as Kristin always had.

"I can't wait for the new album," the other woman said softly, fiddling with the antenna of her cell phone. "It's been too long, you know."

"We sure hope you enjoy it," Howie said, relaxing with their conversation. Cheyanne, he noticed, was gently kicking the ball with Baylee, and Moth had gone to join them, bouncing around Baylee with enthusiasm.

"I know I will." Shifting the baby in her arms, she smiled. "I downloaded a couple of songs off the internet last week, and they just blew me away."

"What songs?" Howie and Kevin asked quickly, both eager for any fan input on the music.

"Never Gone was one, and the other was… Oh… Anna, what was the name of that song?"

“The one that Howie sang lead on,” the other woman mused with a proud smile, glancing to Howie with obvious adoration. “Your voice is just so beautiful. I don’t know why you don’t sing more… Oh! The name is right on the tip of my tongue… Oh! Welcome to My Heart--”

“Darlin’! You just squished Moth with the ball!” Cheyanne’s southern twang interrupted the conversation with a joyous laugh as the bright blue ball bounced in between the group of four adults. She hurried over as best she could, gently holding her small protruded bump of a belly. She shook her head in disbelief as Baylee giggled with hysterical delight, rushing to pick the small puppy up in his arms for an apology. Though, when she bent down, she noticed Howie quickly stooping to catch the ball for her and heard the name of her favorite song. Her sapphire eyes instantly danced with delight as she tucked the fallen honey curls behind her pierced ears. “That is the best song in the world!” But, when she noticed the two women looking at her, she blushed furiously with embarrassment. “Sorry…”

"I think so too," the woman agreed with a grin. "Honestly, though? Why don't the two of you sing more often? It's a shame--"

"Because the other three are microphone whores," Austin muttered. Clearing her throat, she smiled sweetly. "And Welcome to My Heart is Chey's song," she said softly as Baylee came rushing up, Moth at his heels. Cheeks flushed with exertion, he gazed up at the strange women shyly before tugging on Cheyanne's pant leg.

Welcome to My Heart isn’t my song,” Cheyanne disagreed with a firmer blush haunting her already rosy cheeks. She looked mortified with Austin’s declaration, till she felt a sharp tug on her capri’s that caused them to fall a few inches. With widened eyes, she glanced down to see Baylee fidgeting as he thrust his arms sharply into the air, obviously wanting held immediately. Cooing softly, she knelt to answer his request, Moth somewhat displeased, though he found entertainment by biting on Howie’s shoelaces. Cheyanne was oblivious though, kissing Baylee’s forehead several times. “You’re okay, Darlin’.”

"Is this your son?" the woman with the baby asked Howie, her eyes on Baylee. She had noticed instantly the resemblance between Cheyanne and Baylee, and didn't miss the way Howie draped his arm around her shoulders.

“Howie would kill himself if Baylee was his,” Austin laughed softly against Kevin’s shoulder, wrapping her arms around him in a playful squeeze. She couldn’t help but comment as Howie shot her a short glare. But, it was obvious that Howie was slightly jealous of Baylee, who seemed to command Cheyanne’s attention. Even now, his tiny hands curled in her tank top with his head resting so comfortably on her shoulder, hiding against her for protection. “He’d never get any loving!”

"My Angel," Baylee said softly, sneaking a glance at the two women.

"He's just so adorable."

Clearing his throat, Kevin lightly tickled Austin's neck. "Baylee is Brian's son," he explained. "We're just all taking him out for a while to give Bri a little rest."

"Oh," the women said in unison.

"Have you been fans for a while?" Cheyanne asked softly, adjusting Baylee on her hip as she gave the women a shy smile. The way they kept looking at Howie and Kevin respectively told her that at one time, they'd had the men's posters on their bedroom walls. Probably still did, she thought with a bubble of laughter.

“Is it that obvious?” Anna asked with a small laugh, continuing to anxiously play with her cell phone. “We definitely grew up on their music, but they’re beautiful men, how could you not stick with them, right? Besides, we can’t be that big of fans if we didn’t realize that Howie was going to be a Daddy so soon…” She gestured lightly toward Cheyanne’s rounded belly that Baylee was rubbing with a tender smile.

Before Austin could open her mouth with a witty response, Howie cleared his throat loudly. Drawing Cheyanne closer, he gave the women his most charming smile. "It's not really public knowledge yet. Honey's a little shy," he told them. He felt Cheyanne relax next to him, and quickly kissed the top of her head, cringing when he felt a hot, wet tongue on his ankle. "Moth… yuck," he muttered, pulling his foot away from the puppy.

“Moth want love, Uncle Howie,” Baylee whispered with a bemused smile, attempting to push Howie away from Cheyanne as the women laughed, finding the encounter far too adorable for words.

"We should get going," Anna said, reaching to take the sleeping baby from the other woman. "Come on, Kat. Hope you guys enjoy your day in the park. We'll be first in line to buy the new album when it comes out," she assured them.

“It was very nice to meet you,” Austin and Cheyanne called in unison, causing Howie and Kevin to chuckle with amusement.

"Would you kill me if I get a hug from Kevin?" Kat asked Austin with a sweet smile. "I know I'm pushing thirty, but he's my favorite--"

"I don't mind," Austin assured her, poking Kevin in the side before stepping away.

“You should consider yourself lucky, she doesn’t let just anyone hug me,” Kevin teased with a laugh, squeezing the woman and planting a friendly kiss to her cheek. “She loves me too much, y’know?”

"I can tell," Kat said with a smile, squeezing him gently before pulling away. "Thank you, so much."

"Howie," Cheyanne said softly, giving him an amused smile. When he gave her a glance, she eased his arm from around her shoulders. "I think you should give Anna a hug," she murmured, further endearing herself to the woman for remembering her name. "As long as she doesn't try to steal you away from me," she added with a delicate blush.

"I wouldn't dare," Anna assured her with a laugh as Howie gave her a quick hug. "I saw that smile you put on his face."

“You should see the smile she puts on his face after a shower…” Austin ridiculed, unable to truly help herself. Her verbal abuse seemed just as bad as Baylee’s attention stealing, causing Kevin to roll his eyes with disbelief. She was just over the top.

"Austi!" Cheyanne screeched in mortification. The two women laughed appreciatively, giving small waves before leaving. Turning to her friend, Cheyanne stared, open-mouthed at her. Struggling to find words, she finally blurted, "Howie told you?"

“City Boy and I are best friends, Chey,” Austin answered with a wicked grin of delight.

“You told her?” Cheyanne accused Howie with disbelief, pushing his arm away from her shoulders. Her cheeks tinted with sheer mortification, wanting to beat him silly at that very moment. If it wasn’t for Baylee holding onto her so tightly. Boy, was he lucky.

"No… I told Kevin," Howie said meekly, putting on his best look of innocence. "He swore he would never tell anyone…"

“Uncle Howie lie!” Baylee shrieked in defense of his favorite woman, pointing an accusatory finger. “No more My Angel for you!”

"Honey… Come on," Howie said with a nervous chuckle. "Are you saying that you don't tell Austi about the things we do?"

"Hell no she doesn't," Austin muttered.

“You are so busted,” Kevin chuckled with far more pleasure than he anticipated. Howie floundering like a fish was usually a rare sight. He was quite smooth when speaking with the female persuasion. Latin Lover had been his nickname after all. But, everything he seemed to produce around casual women seemed lost when he was with the woman he truly desired.

“I figured you’d tell the guys that we… I mean, AJ is always emphasizing, so it wasn’t a big deal… You have a lot to brag about… But I didn’t know I’d be like the ‘must see TV’ story or anything…” Cheyanne trailed as Baylee whispered in her ear about going off alone to play.

Sighing, Howie nodded timidly. "I'm so sorry, Honey… We were just talking, and he said something about how Loud Mouth over there showed her appreciation for the necklace and stuff he gave her, and I knew that couldn't compare to what you… Lord… I'm such an ass. Shoot me?"

“Get my water gun, My Angel,” Baylee announced in a loud whisper, holding a hand out when Howie even attempted to step a mere inch closer.

"Did Howie just call me Loud Mouth?" Austin asked Kevin, nudging him gently when he laughed at Baylee's request.

"Honey… I'm so sorry. Let me make it up to you. You like jewelry, don't you? I'll buy you a lot of jewelry…"

“I don’t want a lot of jewelry,” Cheyanne immediately disagreed, shaking her head with a small smile. Howie was too adorable sometimes. There was no way that she could be upset.

"Flowers, then? Chocolates? Anything, Honey. Just say the word, and--" Howie cut off abruptly when Cheyanne stepped forward, leaning up to give him a gentle kiss despite Baylee's protests.

Wriggling away, Baylee slid to the ground, his lips pursed into a pout as he looked to Austin and Kevin for help. "Kevvy, dey kissin' again," he grumbled, folding his arms over his chest.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Kevin laughed.

*~*~*


“Hey, where’s your extra sack of confection sugar that’s usually attached to your hip?” Austin announced loudly as she appeared in the living room area of the penthouse, noticing her best friend lounging on the couch, alone. It was a startling discovery to see Cheyanne alone, no one pawing for her attention. So, Austin wasted no time hurriedly rushing over to playfully launch herself onto the couch, curling down in Cheyanne’s embrace. Much like Moth did, she wiggled to get snuggled comfortably, then released a pleased sigh. She had missed being able to hold Cheyanne, especially with Howie and Baylee hogging all her attention. Moth was easy to fight off, but Howie and Baylee were wily. “Now this is beautiful.”

“You’re safe. Darlin’ is out to dinner with his Daddy,” Cheyanne explained with a rueful laugh.

"And where is your Tea?" Austin questioned carefully, looking over her shoulder. She half expected him to appear out of nowhere, demanding she move so he could take her place. "Don't tell me you're letting him shower alone?" she teased lightly, lifting her head when she heard one of the bedroom doors open. Rolling her eyes, she mentally kicked herself. "Duh, Austi! He and Kevin have that interview jigger for the charity, right?"

“Yes, Austi,” Cheyanne giggled, loving how she hardly ever had to answer the questions Austin posed, because, like always, she seemed to answer her own questions. Cheyanne just needed to confirm the details occasionally. But, her thoughts sidetracked when Howie appeared, attempting to adjust his outfit. Her breath immediately caught against the lump in her throat, amazing at how handsome he looked. The interview would be formal with a dinner, so he dressed appropriately in a black suit, golden dress shirt, and black tie. His curls were slightly gelled and messy and he was freshly shaven. She couldn’t hide her smile of pleasure as she slipped from Austin’s hold, moving to help him fix his collar and tie. “You’re gorgeous, Sweet Tea…”

"You think so?" Howie asked, brushing a dog hair off his sleeve. Moth had claimed the bed as his napping place, and when Howie had laid out his suit, the dog had instantly curled upon it, leaving tiny remembrances of himself. At Cheyanne's nod, he felt himself relax.

"Absolutely gorgeous, City Boy," Austin put in from the couch. Pulling one leg under her, she gave him a smile. "You'll be beating the women off with a stick."

"Where's the stick that Moth brought from the park?" Cheyanne questioned with a giggle, smoothing her hand over his shoulders.

“I snuck it in AJ’s bed while it was extra slobbery,” Austin confided with a proud smile, obviously quite comfortable with tormenting the man.

“Guess you wouldn’t look too dapper with a sloppy stick in your hand, huh?” Cheyanne sighed softly, reaching to fix his tie once more. She was too afraid to wrap her arms around him, nervous that she might ruin his sexual appeal. He looked so handsome. So perfect. Everything that she wasn’t. She hardly dressed up. In fact, it was a rarity to even see shoes or socks on her feet.

"I'd look great if I had you on my arm, though," Howie murmured, pulling her to him. Wishing for the thousandth time she had accepted his invitation. Pressing soft kisses along her cheek, he felt her slight tremble, cupping her face in his hands before bringing his lips to hers. "You sure you don't want to go?" he asked.

"After I just spent an hour getting ready?" Kevin stated from the doorway. "I would be so crushed if you stood me up, D."

“He’s got two arms, I’m sure he’d still hold your hand,” Austin teased, immediately popping up with delight at the sight of him. Seeing him dressed so formally warmed her entire body and she couldn’t resist wrapping her arms around him. He was perfection dressed in a crisp black suite, black dress shirt, and a bold emerald green tie with golden tiepin. The hint of bold color accented his soft green eyes with a warmth and radiance that couldn’t go unnoticed. He was flawless.

“You already have a date,” Cheyanne told Howie softly as she watched Kevin and Austin passionately embrace from the corner of her eye. Attempting to offer a brave smile, she leaned up slightly to kiss him again, smoothing her fingers over his lips as if to keep him mint. She did regret declining his invitation to the formal affair, but knew it was in their best interest. After all, she wasn’t exactly well received by the public as Nick had rudely confided and she knew she would be uncomfortable. She didn’t exactly think she fit into this portion of his life. She was better kept as a little secret.

"Don't get me wrong, Kevin is a great guy, but I just can't see myself being invited into his room for a nightcap," Howie teased, tugging playfully on one curl before giving her one last kiss. Time spent with her always flew by, and he knew they were running late. But he couldn't resist holding her next to him, feeling Olivia's gentle movements as he gently rubbed Cheyanne's back.

“Right…” Cheyanne trailed softly, having no idea what he was speaking of, but feigned an innocent smile as if she knew. Though, she noticed his gaze flicker briefly to the wall clock, realizing she was keeping him. “Have fun tonight, okay? Just… Don’t be too suave with the ladies that you don’t end up coming back to me…”

"Oooh, dessert," Austin murmured against Kevin's neck. "If they have some yummy cheesecake, Pretty Boy, sneak a slice out for me?" she asked. "Oh, and try not to embarrass Howie. Don't drink too much, either. Or say anything stupid. In fact, it may be best if you just keep your sexy mouth closed until asked a yes or no question," she teased softly, her lips moving to his earlobe. "And try to--"

“You could write a whole book on rules for me, Princess, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve done this before,” Kevin interrupted with a hearty groan, shifting to capture her lips in another quick kiss. “You just make sure that Angel lies on that couch and doesn’t move an inch. Don’t let Nick anywhere near her. Don’t let Nick get anything for her. Don’t let Nick even look at her--”

"I am perfectly capable of taking care of Chey, Pretty Boy. And as for the moving an inch, well… If she has to go take a leak, I'm certainly not going to stand in her way," Austin informed him as she walked him to the door. "Be careful. Have fun. Be sure you're ready for some loving when you--"

Kevin leaned forward to capture her lips in another sultry kiss, drowning her words with a quick caress of his tongue. He smiled wickedly at the light flush of her cheeks, affectionately rubbing her shoulder. “You sound like my wife, Austin Leigh… D, let’s go!”

"Is that a proposal, Kevin Scott?" Austin teased as Howie moved to the door.

“Would you say yes?” he countered.

"Ask me and find out." Austin's eyes glittered with amusement, though she found herself holding her breath.

“I’ll consider the proposal,” Kevin chuckled, already knowing what her answer would be. In fact, he probably would have hit his knee in a mere instant if it wasn’t for being legally declared divorced from his wife and not having the proper ring to adorn her finger. He attempted to brush those thoughts aside though, glancing to Howie. “Did you get enough support from Baylee’s Angel?”

"He's all yours," Cheyanne assured him, hugging Howie tightly one final time. "Y'all have fun, okay?"

"You sure you two won't be bored? I mean, here you are in New York--"

"Good Lord, just go. If we get bored, we'll start swapping sex stories," Austin said, shooing them into the hall. "Love you," she cooed to Kevin.

Cheyanne watched with slight trepidation as Austin closed the door on their men, forcing them to proceed to their benefit for the evening. It hurt every time she watched Howie leave, no matter how short the duration. She allowed Austin to lead her back to the couch no less, easing down amongst the pillows. Chewing on her bottom lip, she rubbed her stomach to ease the queasiness that she felt. “He’s going to have a good time, isn’t he?”

"I'm sure he'd rather be right here with you," Austin assured her, curling up next to her. "The poor man didn't want to leave. Now. What are we going to do?" she asked softly. She had already checked the guide to see what was coming on, and nothing had sparked her interest. "Want to order up oodles of food and gorge ourselves until they get back?" Lifting her head as a bedroom door slammed, she groaned. "Ah, shit fire and save matches. Those two stooges are still here."

“Don’t mention them, otherwise--”

“Ladies!” Nick announced loudly as if he had heard himself being mentioned through conversation, sauntering into the living room with a bold smile. He had been waiting like a wild animal stalking its prey, watching for Howie’s shadow to dissipate from the penthouse. And, when the coast was clear, he pounced, making a signal to AJ that it was time to amuse themselves. “What are we doing this evening? No boyfriends to entertain?”

"Well, actually--"

"We were planning on entertaining each other, so if you don't mind…" Austin trailed suggestively, snuggling closer to Cheyanne.

It took a moment for her words to register, then Nick's eyes widened. "Oh, yeah? Don't you think it would be much better if you let me entertain you?" he asked.

"Are you going to break into song and dance?" Cheyanne queried with a soft laugh, playfully pushing Austin away.

"Please, no one needs to endure that torture," AJ said as he strolled in. "Especially when everyone knows I'm the better dancer," he added with a smile before flopping next to Austin. "Whaddya say, babe? Want me to show you my moves?"

“I don’t think you could possibly measure up to Kevin’s remarkable standards,” Austin answered smoothly, propping her legs on the coffee table. “Not to mention width, length, power, and stamina…”

"Ouch. Score one for Austi," Nick said with a grin. Easing himself down beside Cheyanne, he casually draped his arm across her shoulders, only to snatch it back quickly when he felt fingernails pinching his skin. "Ow! That hurt!"

"Good," Austin hissed. "Hands off the merchandise."

"We could play a game," Cheyanne piped up. "I saw a bunch of board games in the--"

"Cards?" AJ offered quickly. "We could play poker…"

“Poker?” Cheyanne repeated, immediately wrinkling her nose in distaste for the suggestion. “I’ve never played that before…”

Leaning forward, Nick met AJ's eyes, his own gleaming with sudden interest. An unspoken question was sent to his friend, and they both immediately grinned.

"Strip poker!" they cried in unison.

"Holy Hell. No," Austin insisted.

"It's easy," Nick assured Cheyanne. "I'll tell you each hand what to do."

“No,” Austin emphasized with a sharp growl, immediately moving to pull Cheyanne off the couch. “The only thing easy about that game is how you’d be able to get her naked. You’ll just be telling her how to remove her clothes during each hand. So, no. No way in Hell. Howie would murder you and Lord knows we can’t have the microphone whores maimed in any way.”

"What's the matter, Princess?" AJ questioned, a playful gleam in his eye. "Scared you'll lose?" He knew she would never be able to turn down the offer after hearing that. Knew that she had a competitive spirit.

"Scared I'll lose? Please. I could beat your skinny ass at poker with one hand behind my back." Intrigued at the challenge, Austin let her hands fall from Cheyanne's, resting them on her own hips in a defiant stance.

"As long as it's reaching back there to unhook your bra, babe," AJ informed her, getting to his feet. "Nick, get the cards."

“Austin…” Cheyanne trailed with worry as they all moved toward the dining area, removing the place settings and whatnot to give them ample room. She didn’t know what to say as AJ and Austin immediately took their seats, defiantly staring at one another. In the pit of her stomach, Cheyanne knew this was beyond all bad ideas ever conjured, but Austin could never resist a challenge. Especially by a man.

“Chey, sit down, we’re kicking some ass,” Austin barked.

“But you just said…”

“Chey, sit!”

“I don’t know how to play…”

"Don't worry, Sweetheart," Nick assured her, holding a chair out for her. "I'll make sure you don't lose." Tossing the deck to AJ, he claimed the chair next to her, drumming his hands on the table with excitement. "We need snacks. And drinks." Tipping his chair back, he snatched the phone off the base as Austin began demanding that she shuffle. This was almost too easy, he thought with a grin as he dialed room service.

“Well… How’s does this work anyway?” Cheyanne drawled as she watched Austin hurriedly cut the deck, tossing out each person’s divvy of cards, catching them underneath her hands. Usually, when Billy and Jeff declared a night of cards, Cheyanne would merely sit by Jeff’s side, watching the movie they rented to go along with the festivities. She just didn’t truly pay attention when it came to such frivolous games of debauchery. Though, now she feared she’d be paying the ultimate price as AJ and Nick rushed toward the door for the quick room service. “Austi… Can you just toss me some Ace’s, ‘cause they’re good, right?”

"That's cheating!" AJ declared loudly, returning to the table with a tray of sodas and ice. "You can't cheat, baby girl," he insisted, reclaiming his seat.

"And why not?" Cheyanne asked sweetly, oozing southern charm as she gave him a smile.

"'Cause he plans on cheating," Nick said, dropping the bags of chips on the table before sitting. Draping one arm on the back of Cheyanne's chair, he reached for his cards. "C'mon, lemme see what you got."

“Why am I so afraid that you’re going to be mighty accustomed to that phrase by the end of this game?” Cheyanne sighed softly, picking her cards up in a pile and offering them toward Nick. She watched him fan them out in a decorative display in his large hands, glancing over her hand. She wrinkled her nose as if she were staring at a complex physics problem, leaning over his shoulder as Austin and AJ stared each other down like aggressively territorial beasts. So, Cheyanne knew she only had Nick to rely on. “Are they good?”

"Ah, shit," Austin muttered next to her, causing Cheyanne to glance at her. Slapping her cards down on the table, she glared at AJ. "You stacked the deck!"

"You're the idiot that shuffled, not me!" AJ countered. "What'd you get?"

"Bite my--"

"Are they okay?" Cheyanne asked Nick, saw he was plucking two out of her hand. "But they're--"

"Trust me, you'll have better luck with those three," Nick assured her, tossing the pair of Queens face down on the table. Giving her his most charming smile, he handed the three low numbers back to her before reaching for his own cards.

Cheyanne nodded softly, shifting slightly in her chair as she eyed her layer of cards. She didn’t know exactly what was in her hand, but hoped that Nick wouldn’t purposely sabotage her, especially considering how invested Austin was in the game. So, she just waited patiently as Nick sifted through his own cards, making quick decisions. Chewing on her bottom lip, Cheyanne finally reached over Nick for a cup of ice to chew on. “How do we know who wins?”

"Whoever has the best hand. Everybody else has to take off one piece of clothing," Nick said softly, glancing at AJ. When AJ simply sat there, staring at his hand, he impatiently slapped the table. "Dude, it's your go!"

"I'm staying," AJ informed him with irritation creeping into his voice. Waving his hand over the table slowly, he rolled his eyes. "What do you think this means?"

"You're a fucking idiot?"

“Down boys,” Austin growled, looking as if she might jump into the battle to settle both men back into their seats. Hard. She wanted to play a wholesome game of sheer entertainment value, not argue who’s penis was a longer length.

“Well, how do you know what’s the best hand?” Cheyanne questioned again as everyone went through the motions, Nick playing with his cards as well as hers, until everyone was ready to show their hands. Shrugging, Cheyanne laid her cards on the table as instructed, sitting back in wonderment.

"I win!" AJ shouted triumphantly, grinning from ear to ear. "Thought you knew how to play?" he teased Austin, a wicked gleam in his eyes as he looked her over. Seeing the angry look on her face, he quickly glanced down, assessing the clothing situation. "I think you need to lose the jeans, babe…"

"So Austi's the only one who has to take off something?" Cheyanne asked sweetly, brightening at the idea. Maybe, with Nick's help, she wouldn't lose so many clothes…

“Oh, no, Babe, everyone who looses sheds a piece of clothing,” AJ chuckled with obvious delight and amusement over the situation. His dark brown eyes quickly glanced toward her for emphasis, though he immediately turned back to Austin while scooping up the cards for his deal. “Let’s go, Baby Girl, I want those jeans.”

“Wait… He gets to pick?” Cheyanne frowned. “We can’t choose?”

With a huff, Austin scraped back her chair, grateful she was wearing one of Kevin's oversized baggy t-shirts. Reaching for her fly, she glanced over at Nick and saw he was making wild hand gestures to AJ, blatantly pointing to Cheyanne's shirt. "Oh Hell no," she said, shaking her head. "If I lose my pants, everybody loses their pants."

"Is that an invitation?" AJ grinned, leaning back in his chair to look at her.

“Only in your wet dreams, Skinny,” Austin growled, hurriedly unzipping her jeans. She let them fall to the floor with a soft whoosh, Kevin’s baggy t-shirt falling to kiss the middle of her thighs, leaving AJ to barely peek at her unmentionables. He immediately frowned at the dissipation of excitement, which caused her to grin as she stooped carefully to retrieve her jeans. She then tossed them to the middle of the table, seating herself modestly. “Let’s go, Boobah. Pants. Now.”

"Ladies first," Nick insisted, waving to Cheyanne before reaching for a bag of cheetos.

"But… But… Don't you think it would be better if you went first?" Cheyanne squeaked, trying to delay the inevitable as long as possible. "I mean… You can show me how it's done," she added with a simper that would have made Scarlett O'Hara proud.

“Carter, let’s go,” AJ barked with annoyance, hurriedly shuffling the deck. “It isn’t like you don’t walk your lard ass around this penthouse in just a pair of boxers. We’ve seen your goods so many times that they seem like part of the fucking family. So, let’s go.”

Rolling his eyes, Nick sucked the cheesy powder off his fingers, getting to his feet. "Wait a minute… What if I'm not wearing boxers?" he asked, eyes wide. "I mean, I wouldn't want to put you to shame, J…"

“Either you do it or I do it for you, because, I’m definitely not waiting to sneak a glimpse at your fat ass when we’ve got beautiful ladies on either side,” AJ growled menacingly.

Muttering a curse, Nick yanked his sweatpants down, dropping into his chair to kick them off as Austin made gagging noises. "Shut up," he grumbled, rolling his pants up to toss in the center of the table. "Need some help?" he asked Cheyanne, once again reaching for the cheetos.

“I’m fully capable of undressing myself,” she promised, immediately slipping of out her chair, her cheeks already flushing as she glanced downward. She was still wearing her green maternity tank top that bared just a small inch of her growing abdomen and her low-riding, jean capris, so there was no way to spare the men’s gazes from her undergarments. Sighing softly, she undid the button fly, easing the jeans from her body. Oblivious to Nick’s closeness, she bent down to grasp her jeans from the floor, fully exposing her small, round behind to him. The firmness of her gluteus muscles seeming to charm Nick from underneath her cherry printed bikini briefs.

"Cheyanne Grace!" Austin screeched, leaning over to gently push her back into the chair. "Sweet Jesus, girl, you had your ass in Boobah's face!"

“What?” Cheyanne breathed in confusion as she folded her capris, placing them on the pile.

“Lord have mercy how’d I ever let her keep them britches on?” Nick panted out of no where, slumping in his seat to furiously rub his face as if to imprint the memory in his brain.

Leaning over AJ, Austin retrieved a glass of ice and a canned Pepsi. "Would you go ahead and deal already?" she muttered, her can rolling from her hand when she felt his fingers on the hem of her t-shirt. Swatting him away as though he were an offending fly, she shot him an icy glare before retrieving her can. Luckily for AJ, Moth scrambled into his lap at that exact moment. Not wanting to frighten the poor dog, she instead grumbled a list of expletives as she sat back, angrily popping the top of her can. "Deal!"

“Just making sure you didn’t have any testicles considering you’re so damn testy,” AJ chuckled with amusement, scratching behind Moth’s ears to thank his savior. Unable to erase the wicked grin from his face, he merely shrugged, hurriedly tossing out the necessary amount of cards, and snuck Moth a pretzel off the table.

"Austi? Have testicles?" Cheyanne repeated, clapping one hand over her mouth to muffle her laughter.

"Kevin doesn't strike me as the sort who would enjoy that," Nick muttered, reaching for his cards. However, instead of red diamonds and hearts, he saw cherries. Clearing his throat, he looked around the table. "Who goes first?"

“Nick… Make sure I have a good hand this time,” Cheyanne emphasized as Austin volunteered. Leaning over his broad shoulder, she rested her chin against him, holding out her cards. “Please?”

Glancing briefly at her cards, Nick automatically pointed two out. "Get rid of those," he said softly, watching in horror as she did so. Holy shit… The girl had three Kings in her hand. Fuck, fuck, fuck… And when he saw the two cards AJ dealt her he nearly groaned.

"Nick?" AJ interrupted his thoughts, his tone bored. "Sometime today, man…"

“I’m making sure she has the best hand possible,” Nick sharply answered, glaring at his older friend. AJ immediately held his hands up in mock innocence, though Nick turned his gaze back to their sets of cards. He had no idea how he was possibly going to make this work. “Unlike you, J, I’m not here to see her naked.”

"I'm not here to see Chey naked," AJ intoned seriously. Leaning close to Austin, he rested his head on her shoulder. "I'm here to see Baby Girl naked."

“You are so lucky that Moth is covering your twig and giggle-berries,” Austin hissed, rolling her shoulder sharply to drop his head from her shoulder. The sudden movement almost caused him to fall from his chair, causing Moth to yelp. Austin reached immediately to catch the puppy, curling him into her embrace for means of protection.

"I'm telling ya," AJ whispered conspiringly to Cheyanne, reaching into his pocket to pull out his cigarettes. Tapping one out, he tucked it in the corner of his mouth, his brown eyes vivid with amusement. "I get no respect."

"And kindly take that damn cancer stick out on the balcony. I'll not have you ruining Ollie's lungs," Austin said with a superior air, adjusting Moth against her chest.

“If he wants to smoke, I have no problem folding my hand or whatever you call it,” Cheyanne instantly offered, placing her cards on the table and moving to stand. She found it slightly amusing that Austin now termed it a cancer stick, when she had been an avid smoker just months before. But, wanting the best for Cheyanne and Olivia, she quit, especially considering how dangerous it was and how sick it made Cheyanne. “I can go watch a movie in Howie’s room--”

"No, stay!" Nick requested, reaching to catch her arm. "AJ can go outside. He really shouldn't be smoking in here anyway." Shooting his friend a quick glare, he eased Cheyanne back in her chair. "Come on, you're going to win this hand…" Giving her an endearing smile, he snatched up her cards and handed them to her.

“So this one is better than the last?” Cheyanne asked hopefully as AJ moved for a quick cigarette break. Her sapphire eyes sparkled hopefully at the thought of winning, reaching to affectionately kiss his cheek. If she won, she would let Austin have the selection of clothing to be lost, knowing it would delight her best friend.

The heat of her lips on his cheek elicited a grunt from Nick. "Oh. Yeah," he muttered, remembering all too well the hand she had. With a sigh, he glanced over at AJ's cards, half tempted to reach over and—

"Touch my cards and you're dead, Carter," AJ warned from the doorway.

Rolling his eyes, Nick petulantly drummed his fingers on the table, wrinkling his nose when he saw Austin making kissing faces at Moth. "Does Kevin know you make out with dogs?"

“He enjoys the doggy breath,” Cheyanne giggled with amusement as Austin flipped her middle finger sharply toward Nick as if she wanted him to sit on it and rotate. “Says it reminds him of home… Or maybe that was Brian waking him up on Christmas morning… Not sure, really…”

"Brian doesn't have dog breath," AJ defended from his place just outside the door. "Actually, his breath is rather minty first thing in the morning--"

"And you would know this how?" Nick questioned incredulously, turning to stare at AJ.

“Don’t get jealous, Lover, I always come to you every night,” AJ responded with a growl of appreciation toward Nick, taking several deep puffs before crushing the butt of his cigarette into the railing before returning.

"Holy Hell," Austin groaned before dissolving into laughter, her laughter increasing to guffaws of glee at Nick's beet red face. Cheyanne looked slightly confused but giggled in appreciation. Composing herself, Austin leaned over to place Moth on the floor, watching him scurry towards his food bowl before looking at AJ. "I always thought you walked funny… Can we continue the game now?"

“Sure,” AJ agreed, flopping down into his seat. Leaning back, he licked his lips toward Nick, loving to egg on the younger counterpart. “What do you have, Hot Stuff?”

"Y'know what, Aje? You can go to Hell… And I have a pair of tens," Nick muttered, tossing his cards over with a rueful sigh. Looking to Cheyanne, he reached for a drink.

“You knocked my ass out,” AJ sighed, throwing his meaningless hand toward the table. “Chey?”

“Three Kings, that’s good right?” Cheyanne asked excitedly, pressing her hand to the table.

"You got three Kings with an Ace kicker and you're asking if it's good?" Austin asked with a groan, tossing her hand down. "Trust the one who's never played poker before…"

"I won?" Cheyanne turned to Nick, grinning widely. "I won! Whooo!"

“Yeah, whoo!” Nick sarcastically returned, holding his can of soda in the air as if he were toasting, quickly chasing down any foul words with the bubbly caffeinated beverage.

“You’re fantastic!” Cheyanne cooed nonetheless, throwing her arms around him to press several kisses to his face. “Thank you, Nicky!”

"Okay, enough with the Boobah love! Seriously, your lips are going to rot if you keep kissing him… What have I got to take off now?" Austin asked, mentally assessing her outfit. Holy Hell, why hadn't she worn more clothes? All she had on was Kevin's t-shirt, a camisole, and a little pair of lacy thongs that didn't amount to much. "Chey? Chey! For the love of all things Holy, please stop kissing the man!"

“Hey, you pipe down over there!” Nick growled, flipping his own bird toward Austin while curving his arm around the small of Cheyanne’s back. He felt his heart flutter with excitement at the feeling of her silky lips across his skin, suddenly cursing Howie for being such a lucky bastard.

“You could--”

“Don’t even finish that sentence, Skinny, ‘cause Moth isn’t your lap protector anymore,” Austin threatened sharply.

“Damn…”

“Oh!” Cheyanne suddenly giggled, finally pulling herself away from Nick’s embrace, though his hand still lingered on her body. “I want your…” Cheyanne glanced toward her friend’s wardrobe with a worried pout, knowing she couldn’t humiliate Nick and AJ without humiliating Austin. “Favorite piece of jewelry?”

Nick bit back a groan. "But I'm not wearing--"

"Sounds good to me," Austin said, reaching behind her neck to unclasp her necklace.

"Here, allow me--"

"Touch me and you'll be singing falsetto for ten years, Skinny."

“Is that what you said to Howie when he first nailed your precious little girl?” AJ huffed in surprise, leaning back as he stripped off his favorite necklace. “Because, he doesn’t need any help in that department, though, he seems a little more high pitched now since visiting you…”

"Ugh, AJ, you are such an asshole. Here," Austin said, turning her back to him and sweeping her hair up to expose her neck. "I can't get it, Chey's too busy laughing and I'm not about to let Nick touch me with those dickbeaters of his."

“My pleasure,” AJ growled with delight, bending to nibble on the chain. Only, Austin’s sharp elbow into his thin stomach caused the wind to catch in his lungs, causing him to squeak. Unable to catch a breath, he muttered a high pitched curse, unclasping the necklace and hurriedly tossing it to the clothes.

"You want to deal?" Nick asked Cheyanne, handing her the deck after tossing his watch in the pile.

"Um… Sure," Cheyanne said softly. Leaning back in her chair, she cleared her throat when she felt his hand still lingering on her back, smiling sweetly when he pulled it away. Passing out the cards, she yelped when Moth licked her ankle. Leaning over, she scooped him up, giving him a quick cuddle before pushing him into Nick's lap. Resuming her dealing, she glanced over to see Moth try to get to the snacks Nick had stashed before him, succeeding in only knocking the cards she'd dealt the man to the floor.

“I got them,” Nick assured, booting the puppy back to the floor as he snuck another cheese curl into his mouth. Stooping down, he noticed that his cards had fluttered underneath Cheyanne’s chair. Reaching to collect the cards, his eyes couldn’t help but linger on Cheyanne’s long legs. She had them crossed daintily at the ankle, causing the well defined muscles tighten slightly. The warm glow of a light tan warmed her skin all the way up her lean thighs, disappearing beneath her bikini briefs. He could only imagine how she managed to evade tan lines so easily. Then Nick could only imagine how those silky, powerful legs would feel wrapped around his body as he throttled her with ecstasy. Wanting a taste, he ran his hand over her lower calf, smiling at how silky smooth it was. “Damn, you’re like cream…”

Nick!” Cheyanne yelped in surprise at the feeling of his gentle caress, causing the cards to spurt from her hands, fluttering in every direction for a messy game of fifty-two pick up. “What are you doing?!”

Leaning over, AJ peered under the table, letting loose a low whistle when he saw Nick copping a feel. "Dude, Howie's gonna--"

"Y'know," Nick continued, ignoring AJ as he moved his hand upward. "You really should get a tattoo. Right… About… There," he said, sucking his bottom lip between his teeth as he pressed his thumb to her inner thigh. Beneath his finger he felt her muscles tighten, heard her soft squeal of surprise at having his hand so close to her intimate areas. Smirking, he let himself visualize how those muscles would tighten further, how her squeals would turn into screams of delight as he—

"Nick!"

“If you don’t get your hand off her thigh, I’m going to have to rip your dick off, ram it in your ass, then take your testicles and shove them down your throat till you start choking,” Austin threatened sharply as she collected the cards on the floor, glancing over to see where Nick’s hands had landed. She felt her face flush with anger as she reached to point the thongs for the bucket of ice threatening toward his bulge. “I swear to God, Nick--”

"Alright, alright! Sheesh! I was just teasing, you don't have to go pulling a Lorena Bobbitt on me!" Nick cried, backing away from Cheyanne's delectable legs. Crawling into his chair, he released a quick sigh, one hand snaking across to snatch up AJ's cigarettes. "I'll be back," he announced as Cheyanne tried to straighten the deck.

“Bathroom and a Playboy Magazine might help you better!” AJ called with a wild hyena-like laugh of sheer hilarity.

Pausing at the door, Nick turned to give his friend a grin. "Playboy's for wimps, J… I read Hustler!"

“He’ll still be jacking off to the image of Chey’s thighs later tonight,” AJ stressed to Austin with a wiggle of his eyebrows. “I caught him in the bathroom when you two girls first got here and Baylee claimed Chey territory.”

"You know what, AJ? The mental image of Nick jacking off followed by the mental image of Nick jacking off coupled with Baylee's name is really not a good thing," Austin said with a roll of her eyes. Propping her elbow on the table, she gave him a smile. "And you? Have you done any jacking off since we arrived?"

“Can we keep our number of masturbations as well as technique, location, and length to a bare minimum?” Cheyanne announced with a frown, wrinkling her nose in distaste as she hurriedly flipped out the cards. She could still feel Nick’s hand between her thighs, causing her to shiver with slight annoyance. Thank God Howie wasn’t there…

"Aw, Chey-Chey, you ruin all the fun," Austin teased with a giggle. "Would you rather talk about the mutual masturbation you seem to enjoy?"

“I don’t masturbate,” Cheyanne mumbled, dropping her gaze immediately as her cheeks flushed crimson.

"So what do you do?" AJ pressed, leaning close. "I mean, Howie said you guys can't bang the headboard, and he's still smiling, so you have to do something."

“We can’t bang the headboard?” Cheyanne repeated in confusion as everyone gathered their cards for assessment, her sapphire eyes glazed with innocence.

"You can't grind his--"

"You can't have sex?!" Nick asked, eyes wide. "You mean you and Howie--"

“Thanks, Austin Leigh,” Cheyanne snapped with a small amount of hurt, immediately concentrating her gaze on her cards, feeling the feverish burn of her cheeks. She didn’t understand why her sex life was so interesting, much less the fact why Austin and Howie seemed so keen on using it as pillow talk.

"You know, if Howie can't rise to the occasion, I'd be more than happy to--"

"For God's sake, drop it, Nick!" Austin cried, leaning over AJ to embrace her friend quickly. "I'm so sorry, Chey-Chey. Honest, I was just teasing. All in good fun. You know I'd never--Skinny, you better get your damn hand off my ass--purposely try to hurt your feelings."

“You’ve got on black lace thongs for Christ’s sakes, like that wasn’t an open invitation!” AJ snorted loudly, shuffling his cards.

Rolling her eyes, Austin kissed Cheyanne's cheek gently. "I sorry," she cooed, sliding back to her seat. Pausing halfway, she shot an irritated glare at AJ. "Kindly remove your hand from my thigh. Or I'll be forced to--"

"To what?" AJ wanted to know immediately.

“Tell Pretty Boy,” Austin threatened coolly.

AJ grinned. "Yeah? Do you think he'd blame me?" he asked gruffly, slowly sliding his hand up.

"Oh Lord," Cheyanne muttered, shaking her head in disbelief. "The man wants to die."

“Then I’ll take care of it,” Austin growled, grasping AJ’s hand and bending it backward in an awkward position without the hint of warning. AJ immediately shrieked in pain, but Austin merely delighted in the sound, kicking on his chair to throw him backward on the floor. Stunned. “Don’t mess with me, you skinny asshole.”

Tapping his cards against the table, Nick reached for his soda. "Are we playing a card game or not? Jesus, J… Get your ass off the floor…"

“I fold…” AJ squeaked, just staring up at the ceiling with disbelief, refusing to move for fear that he was paralyzed.

“Good, then I win,” Nick decided with a hoot of delight, throwing his cards to the table to display a straight flush. He immediately started to do several pelvic thrusts of triumph, motioning toward Cheyanne with wicked delight. “I want the shirts. Let’s go!”

Groaning, Austin stood, glancing down at AJ's prone form. "Oh, please, I barely freaking touched you," she said, nudging his leg with her bare foot. "You could at least show some enthusiasm for the strip show I'm about to perform…"

“Y’know, if you caused him spinal cord damage, he’d have an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm for your strip show,” Cheyanne educated with amusement, thankful that Austin had diverted the attention away from her. “Men get priapisms with spinal cord damage… Just a fancy word for erection.”

"I've got an erection alright… But it's not from any spinal cord damage," AJ muttered, pulling himself to his feet. Turning his chair right, he sat down, facing Austin fully. "Alright, Baby Girl… I've got some fifty dollar bills waiting to get in those thongs!"

“Well, pull them out,” Austin insisted, smirking as AJ immediately reached to thumb through his wallet. Preoccupied with his busywork, he never noticed Austin peel off her baggy t-shirt, exposing her sleek black cami and matching black lace thongs. He could only mutter a sharp curse when he glanced up to be faced with Austin’s bare rounded behind, swaying seductively before rubbing against him. “Let’s go, Skinny, I want some fifties!”

"Austin Leigh!" Cheyanne shrieked in horror, hiding her face at the sight of her friend's antics. "What the Hell are you doing?!" Peeking between her fingers, she was duly mortified to see AJ's hand sliding over Austin's hip, tucking a crisp bill inside the elastic of the thongs as though it were nothing out of the ordinary.

“Making money for Ollie’s college fund!” Austin emphasized, seating herself on AJ’s lap with amusement. She languidly wrapped her arms around his neck, feeling another crisp bill slide against her opposite hip and then against the ‘T’ back of her thongs. “Skinny and I have an understanding, Chey.”

“Yeah, that you’re both going to buried ten feet under when Kevvy finds out,” Cheyanne threatened, shaking her head in disbelief.

"Looks like the bathroom and a Playboy are in order for AJ," Nick murmured, reaching to tug lightly on the hem of Cheyanne's tank top.

"Why the Hell would I need a Playboy, when I've got this sexy thing in my lap?" AJ questioned, letting his fingers trace the front of Austin's thongs before tucking another bill there. Holding his hand against it, he took the opportunity to nuzzle her neck, felt her tense slightly at his touch. Encouraged, he rested his other hand on her thigh. "You've got two hundred already, Baby Girl… Want some more?" he asked suggestively.

“I’m satisfied,” Austin stated easily, removing herself from AJ’s lap as if she were a feline who lost interest in her favorite toy. Plucking the bills from her underwear, she smiled and affectionately kissed his cheek. “But, thanks for the ride. It’ll fuel me up to give Pretty Boy some extra hard loving.”

Adjusting the aching bulge in his jeans, AJ cleared his throat loudly. "Glad to know one of us is satisfied," he muttered, making a mental note to keep his iPod volume as high as it would go when he got in bed. He certainly didn't want to hear the noises coming from Kevin's room later. "Your turn, Chey," he said, turning to look at her.

"Woo hoo!" Nick cried, still tugging on Cheyanne's tank top. "C'mon, Sweetheart… Off with the shirt!"

Cheyanne immediately attempted to push Nick’s hands away from her shirt, blushing furiously with embarrassment. “I only have a bra underneath and I don’t think you want to see a bloated whale…”

"You're far from a bloated whale," Nick assured her, pulling his hands away so he could enjoy the view fully. "Besides," he added with a gregarious grin, "I think pregnant women are the most beautiful women on the planet."

“Besides, you’re such a tiny little thing, Chey-Chey, and that bump ain’t no bigger than Baylee’s tiniest kickball,” Austin laughed.

“But…” Cheyanne was at a loss for words, exhaling softly as Nick made her stand. She adjusted her bikini briefs slightly, finally reaching for the hem of her tank top. There was no possible way that she could just run away from the situation. So, holding her breath, she peeled away the final layer of clothing.

"Trust me, D, they've probably gone to bed," Kevin's voice said softly from the opening door in the living room. "I told you not to worry," he continued as keys rattled and the door shut with a thump. "Princess won't let Nick get within ten feet of her…"

"I know… I think I'll go get her a drink to go with the cherry cheesecake I got her," Howie's voice replied, and the four in the dining room heard his footsteps nearing.

“Good God,” AJ breathed in horror, watching Nick jump up to help Cheyanne with her tank top, which was already peeled away, leaving Nick in a precarious situation. And, AJ would not be involved in that massacre, considering the large bulge already throbbing in Nick’s boxers. Immediately snatching his cigarettes from the table, he fell back in his chair, causing it to slap hard to the woodwork. Stumbling backward from the table, he raced hard toward the balcony, leaping outward as if the room were about to blow up. Then, furiously closing the glass doors, blocking them with the chairs as means of defense.

"Pussy," Austin muttered under her breath as Howie stepped in.

Jerking to a stop, Howie did a double take when the scene before him registered. The dining table, littered with cards, empty soda cans, chips, and, most importantly, a pile of clothes. Austin perched in a chair wearing only a cami and thongs, stuffing money into her cleavage. Cheyanne… Standing in only her panties and bra, her face stricken with shock. Nick, standing right next to her, one hand on her chest, the other clutching her tank top… Wearing a pair of boxers… "What the fuck?" he sputtered.

“THIS IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE!” Nick screeched, glancing down to his hands. Jerking away from Cheyanne, he tossed her tank top across the room as if that would hide the evidence, and then popped his hands up as if he had been cornered by police. He attempted to shift slightly to hide his growing erection from feeling Cheyanne’s supple breasts, but it seemed impossible to hide something so palpable.

"What the Hell's going on?" Kevin asked, stepping into the room. His hand shot up to catch the article of clothing flying his way, and he looked down at it, brows furrowed. "Well, Hell, Angel, you could have waited until I got in the room before you started stripping," he said with a chuckle, his humor dying instantly when he saw the disarray before him.

"Not what it looks like? I suppose there's a perfectly logical explanation as to why my girlfriend is half naked! Honey, what's going on?" Howie asked heatedly, quickly taking assessment of her appearance. "Nick," he growled, seeing a large smear of orange powder on Cheyanne's thigh. Glaring at the younger man, he stepped forward. "You little--"

“HEY! CHILL OUT!” Nick shrieked, falling back into the large table as Howie advanced. “Why do you automatically think it’s my hands on her inner thigh! I mean, AJ high-tailed it outta here like a bat outta Hell the second he heard your voice! It was him!”

"AJ's hands aren't as big as yours," Austin said simply from her seat, biting back a laugh. At Nick's horrified stare, she shrugged. "What? It's true!"

“Don’t even make me get into what you were doing!” Nick threatened sharply, though it turned to a sharp squeak when Howie’s fist wrapped into his shirt, yanking him to his knees. “Damnit, D! She was ALL OVER ME! Leaning on my shoulder, kissing me, sticking her sweet ass in my face--”

"I thought you were supposed to keep Angel on the sofa?" Kevin asked Austin, stepping over to give Cheyanne her shirt. "She wasn't supposed to move an inch, remember? And we find her in here… Both of you half naked… AJ standing out on the balcony fully dressed… Jesus, Princess, what the Hell got into you?"

"Me?! Blame those two pissfucks! It was all their idea!"

“And yet you went along with it?” Kevin exclaimed with disbelief as Howie yanked Nick into the living room for a private moment. Kevin remained ignorant to whatever happened there, rifling through the pile of clothing. He handed Cheyanne her pants and then tossed Austin’s items of clothing at her. “And what the Hell are you doing showing them those thongs I bought you?! …You’re grounded!”

"Grounded?" Austin repeated, staring at him. "What do you mean, grounded?" Yanking on her shirt, she stood, reaching to grab her necklace off the table as Cheyanne meekly pulled her pants on.

“It means exactly what it sounds like!” Kevin exploded, reaching to grasp the expensive necklace before she could get her hands on it. In fact, he scooped up AJ’s necklace as well, tucking it in his back pocket. “Get to the bedroom, Austin Leigh. Now.”

“But--”

NOW!”

Stepping into her jeans, Austin looked over at Cheyanne. "Are you going to be okay?" she asked softly, backing towards the door.

“I’ll be fine…” Cheyanne trailed with a docile nod, watching Kevin lift Austin into his arms to lumber toward their room. Exhaling a slightly painful breath, she buttoned the fly of her jeans, glancing to see AJ still waiting out on the balcony, smoking several cigarettes in a long chain. Knowing he wouldn’t be any help, she moved to start cleaning the table, ignoring the final whelp released from Nick.

The balcony door eased open, AJ leaning in carefully. "Psst! Chey! Is it safe?" he whispered loudly.

Cheyanne lifted her head from her task, glancing to the door when Howie stepped in. He shot a hateful glare at AJ, who quickly shut the balcony door and replaced the chairs for his safety. Worriedly chewing her bottom lip, she stacked the glasses on the tray. "Did you hit him?" she asked softly, sneaking a glance at Howie's face.

"Austi beat me to it…"

“He was being really nice tonight. He was helping me play the game, because I didn’t know how… Without him I probably would have been naked…” Cheyanne attempted to defend the youngest man, though Howie’s eyes told her not to go any further. Sighing softly, she let her shoulders slump forward. “Are you mad at me?”

"How could I be mad at you, Honey?" he asked honestly, stepping over to her. Taking the tray from her hands, he set it down on the table, pulling her to him. "If I'd walked in and seen you giving him a lap dance, I wouldn't be mad at you… Nick, however… Well, let's just say he won't be bothering you again." Cupping her face gently, he gave her a smile, brushing her lips with his. "But why did you get dressed? I was hoping we could take a shower…"

“Austin gave AJ the lap dance… I just had Nick suggest where would be the best place for a tattoo…” Cheyanne confessed, curling her arms around his neck with relief. “But why are you back so early?”

"I was worried about you. I felt so guilty for leaving you here," Howie admitted, resting his chin on her head as she snuggled closer to him. "Wait a minute… Austi gave AJ a lap dance?"

“She made two hundred dollars, too.”

"Good Lord," Howie muttered, shaking his head. Smirking, he ran his hands over her back, sliding one forward to cup her breast. "I think I've got some spare cash…"

Howie!” Cheyanne gasped in disbelief, all too aware that AJ was watching through a now foggy window pane. She blushed furiously as her body immediately reacted to the softness of his hands, pooling warmth between her thighs.

"So that's a yes?" Howie whispered, dipping his head to nibble gently at her earlobe. "We should move to the bedroom… Unless you want to put on a show for AJ?"

“Not like he already doesn’t know what we do,” Cheyanne answered, curling against Howie’s body with a shiver of delight. “They had quite a time talking about our extracurricular activities.”

"Though I love performing for an audience, Honey, there are some things I'd like to keep private." Lifting her up carefully, he tucked her legs around his waist, carrying her from the room. "Unless, of course, you want to make a tape…" he trailed with a chuckle as he opened their door.

“You’re definitely not that shy, city boy I met in North Carolina when you rescued me from that boulder,” Cheyanne murmured in amazement, looping her arms around his neck as she leaned to offer tender kisses to his jaw line. “Besides, what kind of tape could we make? I’m not exactly cleared for entry till Cinnamon decides to move out.”

Pausing only to kick the door shut, Howie carried her to the bed, laying her down gently. Staying with her, he slid his hands under her tank top, his lips trailing over her neck. "Oh, I don't know… How about 'Hand Sex--Tips and Tricks For Bed Rest'?" he asked.

"Howie!" Cheyanne squealed.

“I love you, Honey,” Howie chuckled, moving his mouth to hers as the passion kindled a lovely heat throughout the room.
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