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Chapter 49 – Facing Reality

Rubbing the back of his neck, Nick kept the wheel straight with his knees, as his other hand was occupied between Cheyanne's. Glancing over at her, he smiled, shaking his head in disbelief. She was filing his fingernails, of all things to be doing. But, she had blushingly mentioned they were a tad bit rough on her skin, and he'd been more than happy to let her give him a manicure. She could have asked him to dye his hair green and he would have obliged. Anything to keep that sweet smile on her face. "So, Sweetheart," he began, his hand returning to the wheel. "When do we start your guitar lessons?"

“I would say right away, but you’re leaving for the tour soon and I don’t think that’d be ample time to start lessons,” Cheyanne answered softly, concentrating on buffing his fingernails till they shined with a glossy finish. They had left the bed and breakfast over an hour ago, destined for Cheyanne and Austin’s home, but neither was anxious to return. Cheyanne assumed Nick’s hesitation was because of his heated conversation with her best friend, but never mentioned it. That air was silent between them as they simply enjoyed a lighthearted conversation. She would miss him when he returned to his life.

"I could always call Johnny and tell him I'm sick as a dog and get a few shows cancelled--"

“Kevvy would slaughter you,” Cheyanne immediately interrupted, glancing up from his nails with a rueful smile. “You have to go back, Nicky. Your fans are dying to see you again.”

"After you have Little Zombie, will you come on tour for a while? Keep me smiling?" he requested, glancing over at her with a hopeful smile.

“And what will I do with Ollie while you’re touring?” Cheyanne questioned, dropping her gaze back to his fingers. She smoothed her fingertips over the edges of each fingernail, making sure it was perfectly smooth and even. Loving the texture against her skin, though Nick’s request had caught her by surprise. He wanted her to go on tour with him…

"Bring her with you?"

Cheyanne wrinkled her brow in confusion, still keeping her eyes trained on his hand, tracing her fingers down his to touch the vine imprinted ring he wore. She couldn’t believe he was asking her this when Howie should have… Cheyanne shook her head at the thought, biting on her bottom lip. “You wouldn’t want a screaming infant on your tour bus when you’re supposed to be resting between shows, Nicky… And the bus wouldn’t be proper for a baby…”

"I was raised in a family with ten million kids, Chey… And we could set up a little nursery in the back… But I guess I'm jumping the gun, aren't I?" Nick pointed out, suddenly craving a cigarette. He hadn't smoked since setting foot on Cheyanne’s front porch two days before, and now his body nearly begged for it. "Sweetheart… I'm sorry."

“Why are you sorry?” Cheyanne murmured, glancing up to his dark ocean eyes when they stopped at a red light. She released his hand, allowing him to use both to steer once more if he decided to.

Keeping his hand on her knee, Nick glanced out the window as a slow moving tractor-trailer made a turn. Looking back at her, he reached for her hands again. "Because we both know I shouldn't be the one asking you on tour," he said, wincing at his own stupidity. "I mean… Damn, I don't even know what I mean."

“Nicky…” Cheyanne trailed softly, dropping her chin to study the way his hand grasped both of hers. The somewhat vague mention of Howie naturally caused her body to tense with worry, noticing once more that she had removed her beautiful engagement ring. She didn’t know what to really say. Nor did she now how to comfort him from that point. He was right. Howie should have been the one asking her on tour after Olivia was born, but he currently was ignoring her as if she had the plague. Of course, Howie probably should have been doing a lot of things according to Austin. That’s what the older woman told Cheyanne every day. But, then again, Cheyanne shouldn’t have been with Nick in such a manner. Things had gotten so complicated and she didn’t know what to say. All she knew was that she still loved Howie dearly despite the pain. And Nick was just as special in her heart.

"I'm sorry," Nick whispered again, pushing the thought that soon she would be back in Howie's arms from his mind. She was there, with him, her cheeks still lightly flushed from their last kiss. And though it was he who gripped her hands, the gentle pressure of her fingers against his comforted him. He knew they shouldn't have done the things they had, especially considering she was technically engaged to one of his best friends. But he wouldn't take any of it back for anything. She was special, had quickly snuggled past the multitude of walls he'd built around himself in the past years. He had high feelings of her, and knew life wouldn't be the same without her in his life. Tightening his grip on her hands, he hit the accelerator when the light changed, not quite ready to let go yet.

“It’s not your fault,” Cheyanne promised, tensing slightly at the increased pressure of his hand clutching both of hers. She assumed he was apologizing for the past weekend. For their first kisses. For their first sexual encounter. For their second touch of ecstasy. For their third chance at making the purest of loves. “…I should have stopped you… I’m to blame…”

"Do what?" Nick questioned, sending her a confused look. "What are you--Oh," he breathed when realization hit him. Easing his hold on her hands, he breathed a soft sigh. "I wasn't apologizing for that," he murmured.

Cheyanne pulled her hands away from his with an uncomfortable awkwardness, her cheeks flushing with a dark red of embarrassment. She was so lost when it came to the trouble she had created. Never in her life did she assume that she would make love with her fiancé’s best friend. She had never been one for infidelity, yet, she was guilty just the same. And, now she was making Nick suffer. “I didn’t know… I mean… What are you apologizing for?”

"For bringing him up… Do you regret what's happened between us?"

Cheyanne released a heavy breath of hurt, one that she seemed to have been collecting since Howie’s wayward shift from her. She looked so lonely and desperate as she shifted her gaze toward the passenger window, unable to face Nick’s piercing blue eyes. The same eyes that she loved to drown into before drifting into a peaceful slumber. “I want to regret what happened between us, because I know it’s wrong… But…” Cheyanne moistened her lips to stall for her answer, pressing her forehead to the cool glass. “I can’t, because it felt so right…”

It was with a shaky hand that Nick whipped the car into the nearest parking lot. Throwing on the emergency brake, he turned to look at Cheyanne. "Sweetheart," he whispered, reaching for her hand again. He hated seeing her so lost and lonely, regretting a million times for asking her. His heart slammed painfully in his chest when she pulled her hand away. "Chey…" Exhaling a deep painful sigh, he turned back in his seat, staring sightlessly at the odometer. "When I get you home, I'll go catch the next flight to Florida."

Cheyanne winced at the hopelessness that evaded Nick’s voice. The same pain and dread that had evoked his voice when he spoke of his past relationships and how much he struggled with life. Only, now she was the cause of the horrifying sense of loss that overwhelmed him. That very thought caused tears to pool against her murky sapphire eyes. She swallowed the hard lump in her throat, hating that she had pulled away from him when he was so desperately trying to hold on. She cared for him too much to just let him leave. “You told me you’d never leave me behind, Nicky…”

"But I'm causing you just as much pain as Howie," Nick murmured, trying uselessly to keep the hurt from his voice. "I've just totally fucked everything up, haven't I?" he muttered with a mirthless laugh, dragging his hands through his hair. "All I wanted to do was make you smile, and now I've reduced you to tears… Hell, we've got another hour or so on the road, I wonder what I'll say next to make you hurt even more?"

“…You’re too hard on yourself…” Cheyanne whispered, turning to face him. And, with great hesitation, she moved to slip her hand against his jean clad thigh. “It’s not your fault… Howie’s something I have to face… I can’t hide forever… But… My tears aren’t from that…”

"What are they from?"

“Because I’m hurting you…” Cheyanne confessed, tenderly rubbing his thigh after she realized he wasn’t going to push her hand away. “I never wanted to cause you that pain and I feel like in some way that I used you. And I never wanted to do that, Nicky. I care about you so much… You’ve got such a special place in my heart and… I’m fucking up worse than you are…”

"Sweetheart… Maybe we should just say we both fucked up?" he suggested with almost a light tone. Covering her hand with his, he lifted it to his lips for a quick kiss. "You're not hurting me, Chey. You could never hurt me, y'know? And, Hell, if what's happened between us was using me, you're more than welcome to use me anytime you wanted," he told her with a suggestive grin. "You ready for some lunch?"

“If you’re hungry we can stop,” she answered, not really famished but already knew Nick was probably starving.

Looking around, Nick jutted his finger to the diner right across the street. "Looks good?" When she gave him a smile and nodded, he squeezed her hand and reached to release the emergency brake. He would keep the feelings of hopelessness to himself, he decided as she reached to pull on her sandals. Letting his eyes travel up her smooth leg, he sighed ruefully. "I guess stopping on some deserted country road for a quickie is out of the question--"

“Nicky,” Cheyanne chided with a soft gasp as he hurriedly pulled across the road, weaving them into the nearest empty spot to the small diner. Though, her lips curved into a mischievous smile when he glanced back toward her while pulling the keys from the ignition. “…Not entirely out of the question…”

"Then we'll have to eat fast," Nick egged with a grin, hopping out. Walking around the car, he opened the door for her, reaching for her hand as she got out. "What did Austin have to say this morning?" he asked suddenly as they headed inside. He had stayed in the bathroom during the phone call, lest the woman wanted to attack him over the phone.

“Before or after she suggested me bringing you home in a body bag and she’d help me dispose of the body?” Cheyanne teased as she tucked herself close into his embrace, bringing their hands to her lips for a few light kisses.

"Aw, Liz, remember when we were young and couldn't get enough of each other like that?" an elderly man asked the woman at his side as they stepped past Nick and Cheyanne towards the exit. "Seems like only yesterday…"

"It was yesterday, you old poop!" The woman gave Cheyanne a knowing smile. "You sure have yourself a fine looking young fella," she informed her before stepping outside.

"Suddenly I have the urge to call Austin and tell her that I'm a fine young fella," Nick declared with a grin as a harried waitress showed them to a corner booth. Sliding in next to her, he dropped a quick kiss on her shoulder. "How in the Hell does she expect you to get me into a body bag?"

“I’m sturdy,” Cheyanne defended with a soft giggle, tucking a hand underneath her table to tenderly place against his upper thigh. She then gave a kind smile toward the waitress who brought back menus and two glasses of ice water, Nick quickly ordering two sodas before opening his menu. Satisfied with leaning her cheek against his shoulder, she looked over his menu. “You’d be surprised at what I’ve done in my life, Nicky.”

“Have you ever been to one of my concerts?" he teased, reading over the lunch selection in the menu. "Oh, Kevin said you wanted to go to Green Day concert? Their tour is starting in a couple of months…"

“Is that your way of suggesting I should spend some of my leftover money from working at the OBGYN office and buy myself a ticket? ‘Cause Ollie will most definitely need a Green Day concert t-shirt…” Cheyanne suggested, her sapphire eyes glittering in excitement. Who knew such a sweet little southern child would fall in love with a band like Green Day?

"My treat, Sweetheart. Maybe I can use my intense powers of persuasion and get us backstage? I'm sure Little Zombie would like an autographed concert shirt…" Signaling for the waitress, who was already heading over with their sodas, he gave Cheyanne a grin. "Of course, I think you should witness the awe inspiring greatness that is Backstreet before you go to Green Day…"

“I haven’t been invited to a fancy Backstreet concert,” Cheyanne answered with a shrug of her shoulders, allowing Nick to order for both of them. He even seemed to anticipate her cravings, ordering her a turkey club sandwich with extra pickles and hash browns. She was awed that he even knew, but maintained her composure as she attempted to lift his arm to drape around her. “But, it might be a good idea to get tickets… Austi’s birthday is coming up soon and she’s going to miss Kevvy something fierce… But you guys aren’t coming to North Carolina, are you?”

Sliding his arm around her, Nick drew her close, taking a swig of his Pepsi. Howie hadn't invited Cheyanne to one of their concerts? Holy Hell, he thought with a snort of laughter. "Um… I think the closest we'll be is Georgia… If that's close at all? Geography's not my best subject, Sweetheart. I could fly you out and get you in the front row, and of course y'all could hang around backstage," he offered, watching her peel the paper wrapper off her napkin. When she turned to look at him, blowing the wrapper into his face, he laughed, quickly throwing it back at her.

“I give!” she promised with a yelp, attempting to catch the paper wad and reaching over him to grasp the remnants of his. Quickly crumpling them together, she dropped them into his drink, smirking triumphantly. “But, Georgia is pretty close… Austi and I could road trip… That was always fun… I can’t fly though, Nicky. Not when Ollie’s due date is so close.”

"Hey!" Digging the paper out of his drink, Nick lightly tickled her side. "Alright… Road trip. But the front row and backstage still flies, right? Cause how else can I show off my guitar solo if you're not right up front?"

“You get a guitar solo?” Cheyanne giggled, squirming away from his fingers against her extremely ticklish side. “How’d you manage to pull that off?!”

"'Cause I am a rockstar!"

“So that’s the word for it?” Cheyanne giggled harder.

"Don't you realize that I have millions of fans around the world?! There are some women who follow us from city to city, just to see me!" Nick exclaimed, tickling her harder. "And you didn't mind my guitar solo yesterday morning!"

Cheyanne shrieked softly as he pushed her backward into the booth till she was flat on her back, him tickling her mercilessly. She attempted to catch his hands as her cheeks flushed brightly with exertion, unable to defend herself properly. “I don’t think many women would mind your guitar solo if they got your loving right afterwards either!”

"Are you coming to our concert or not?" he questioned, unable to resist nuzzling her neck gently, offering a few gentle nibbles to her earlobe before sitting back, pulling her back into a sitting position. "I'd sure love it if you tossed your panties onstage…"

“How could I possibly get my panties off with my shorts still on?” Cheyanne questioned incredulously as she cupped her flaming cheeks, tingling from the nibbles he had taken to her earlobe. Though, she was more concerned about the older women attending the concerts, remember AJ regaling a long tale about receive at least quadrupled size underwear on stage that caught to his heel throughout a dance number. “How do women do that, honestly?!”

"Wear a skirt… I think most of them just have an extra pair in their purse or something," Nick answered, as though he had pondered the question immensely. "Though I have had a few warm pairs hit me in the face while I was singing… And why haven't you answered my question?"

Cheyanne wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Are they damp, too?”

“Sweetheart, I didn’t go feeling them…”

“But if they were right on your face…” Cheyanne actually shivered at the thought. “God, what if you pulled them away and they had stains or--”

"I think that's enough on that subject!" Nick quickly interjected, rubbing his hands together when he saw the waitress returning with their food. "Now, answer my question."

“About going to one of your concerts?” Cheyanne questioned, murmuring a soft thanks as the waitress settled her plate down first, making sure to have the ketchup bottle within reach. Smiling, Cheyanne began unwrapping her eating utensils from the napkin holder and napkin, tucking the paper ring in the back of Nick’s shirt.

"Yeah, going to one of the concerts." Wriggling his shoulders, Nick made a face, finally reaching to grab the paper out of his shirt. Grinning mischievously, he slid his hand down her back, quickly pushing the wadded ring inside the waistband of her shorts. Picking up his large burger, he reached for the salt with an air of innocence.

“Nicky, that itches!” she whined, shifting uncomfortably in her seat to grasp the scratchy piece of paper.

"I've got it," he assured her gently as his hand returned to her shorts. Plucking out the paper, he tossed it aside before tucking his hand inside. "That better?" he murmured before biting into his sandwich.

“If I had the energy to rip a fart,” Cheyanne murmured, reaching for her fork to scoop some of the hash browns into her mouth. Though, she stopped halfway with a bite when Nick’s hand slipped lower to pinch the sweet flesh of her behind. “Nicky!”

"I'm still waiting to find out if I have to find two tickets for you and Austin or not…"

“I don’t want you going to the trouble to find tickets for us. Especially front row tickets when your fans are probably aching to get those seats. And backstage passes... It’s too much… I’ll just go home and look around at the venue sites… It’s my birthday present to Austi, so I should be the one doing the work,” Cheyanne explained simply, shifting in her seat slightly to avoid the pain of Nick’s tight pinch.

"Alright, if you're sure…" Nick trailed softly, lightly caressing her backside as he began eating his fries. Once they got to her house, he'd make a call to Johnny, see what he could round up for her. Maybe he could find a nice hotel for them to stay at. He knew from eavesdropping on Kevin and Howie's conversations that the girls were strapped for cash, and if she really wanted to go… Leaning close, he kissed her neck softly. "Eat up, Sweetheart… We have to go looking for a deserted country road…"

“Aren’t you exhausted yet?” Cheyanne questioned incredulously, trying to hide the shiver of delight that coursed through her from Nick’s gentle kiss.

"I bounce back quick…"

“Or I’m not that good of a lover,” Cheyanne laughed humbly, reaching to steal the pickle from his plate though she had plenty on hers. She quickly popped the pickle chip in her mouth before he could object, knowing he wouldn’t abandon his handful of fries nor his hand on her behind.

"You, Sweetheart, are an excellent lover… Need I remind you of my--what're they called?--multiple orgasms the other night?" Nick murmured, eyeing the pile of pickles on her plate.

“I thought you were just trying to make me feel good,” Cheyanne retorted, spearing some of her pickles into her mouth, watching his mouth practically water as he continued to munch on his fries. He looked so torn.

"I thought I did make you feel good." Stuffing the last three fries into his mouth, he quickly snatched the remaining pickles off her plate.

“Nicky!” Cheyanne exclaimed in horror as she attempted to reach for her salty morsels. “I was going to feed them to you! But fine! Eat them yourself!”

Swallowing hard, Nick dangled the pickles in front of her lips. "Tell me I made you feel good," he whispered, his hand trailing under her shirt. "Then I'll let you have them back."

“That’s blackmail,” Cheyanne observed with a displeased scowl, attempting to push his hand away. “Forget it. I don’t want to feed you no more. And I don’t want them, either.”

"You are so hard to please," Nick whined, dropping the pickles back onto her plate. "Have I got to go find a motel and--"

“For what?” she interrupted, hiding the satisfied smile on her face as she snuck another pickle chip into her mouth. She then glanced sideways to Nick. “Why a dingy motel?”

"To see if I can make you feel good--Hey! You said you didn't want them!" he cried, his bottom lip poking into a small pout.

“And you believed me?” Cheyanne teased affectionately, taking another pickle chip and offering to feed him. “But, we don’t need a motel. You made me feel better than just good. God, Nicky, I’m on fire with you.”

Sucking the pickle into his mouth, Nick gave her a satisfied smile. "That's good to hear. I mean, all those screams were nice, but sometimes a man just has to hear the--What the fuck?" Jerking, Nick dug into his pocket, pulling out his cell phone. He'd turned it on just before leaving the bed and breakfast. Having it on while he drove was as automatic as fastening his seat belt. Eyeing the number on the display, he quickly shut it off, stuffing it back into his pocket before reaching for his soda. "It was just Aaron," he lied. "I'll call him back later tonight."

“Maybe it was something important, though. That’s your little brother, Nicky, call him right now,” Cheyanne insisted, attempting to reach for his phone. She couldn’t believe he would just turn off his phone if his brother was calling. It was almost sinful.

"No, really, it's cool," Nick insisted, catching her hand and holding it in his. The look on her face was imploring, and he begrudgingly retrieved his phone, turning it on. Aaron would no doubt think he was completely nuts, but that was nothing new. Hitting the button to speed dial his baby brother, he gave her a sweet smile as it began ringing. If there was a God in Heaven, Aaron wouldn't—

"Yo, Nick!"

Fuck. "Hey, bro! Sorry 'bout that… Bad service out here, y'know… What'd you call for?"

“Sorry about what?” Aaron hesitated at first with confusion. “Dude, I didn’t call…”

Nervously flicking his tongue over his lips, Nick affected a relaxed demeanor, his arm draping across Cheyanne's shoulders once more. "Yeah, I'm still with Chey… Eating at a little diner before I get her back home…"

“Chey? Who the fuck is—Cherry-printed underwear?! That chick? You actually had the balls to go out and see her?!”

"Didn't I tell you? I took her out to a little bed and breakfast for a couple days…"

“…Isn’t she engaged to Howie?”

"And your point is what?" Nick muttered, reaching for the remainder of his burger. Cheyanne was still nibbling on her sandwich, watching him with a sweet smile as he talked to his brother. "So, that's why you called me?"

“I already told you that I didn’t… Wait, a bed and breakfast? For a couple days? Holy sweet fuck, Nick, did you… You fucked her, didn’t you?!”

Nick couldn't help the pleased grin that spread on his face. He always loved bragging to Aaron. "Hell yeah, I did… Jealous?"

“God, those pictures you sent of her… She is hot as Hell and you know she puts out ‘cause she’s knocked up… Damn, bro! You fucked her knowing she’s Howie’s property? You’ve got some serious balls of steel… C’you get me her number?”

"Are you fucking crazy? Why would I do that?!"

“Because you already had your share of her!”

"Bathroom, Sweetheart," Nick explained as he slid out of the booth. When she nodded, still giving him an amused smile, he headed in that direction. "You've lost your fucking mind, bro! Ain't no damn way I've had my share of her yet!"

“You’ve got to be tired of her loose--”

"Shut the fuck up. Now," Nick demanded. "Just because you've been fucking every little whore that comes around, doesn't mean I do, alright?" Glancing over his shoulder as he ducked into the men's room, Nick saw Cheyanne still sitting in the booth, helping herself to the rest of his fries. "Thanks for saving my neck, bro. I had a close call there for a minute."

“What kind of fucking close call?”

"Howie called me, and when I turned off the phone, I lied to Chey and told her it was you. She made me call you back."

Aaron laughed heartily. “You are so fucking dead, man. He probably found out you were stuffing his woman like a big ass Thanksgiving turkey! …Why the fuck isn’t he there anyway?”

"Fuck, man, he lied to her. Told her some shit story about promo bullshit for that foundation of his, but he's just chilling in Orlando."

“Knew he was too good to be true. Golden heart my left hairy testicle… Though, I figure that he might not be too happy knowing you fucked his fiancée’s brains out for him while he was resting.”

"Well he ain't gonna find out, is he?"

“How are you so sure about that?”

"You think I'm fucking stupid enough to tell him?"

“How do you know the little whore won’t?”

"You did not just call Chey a little whore. You little pissfuck--"

“Pissfuck?” Aaron laughed. “What the fuck is that?”

"Long story. Look, I'm hanging up now, before I get too fucking pissed with you. If you breathe a word of this, I'll fucking kill you. Got it?"

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…”

"Love you, bro. Later!"

Nick hurriedly slapped his phone shut before Aaron could murmur any means of a goodbye, not that he really cared. Aaron could be a snot-nosed punk when he wanted to be. Nick chalked it up to adolescence, though he would beat the younger brother heartlessly for calling Cheyanne a whore. But, that thought sidetracked as the phone started to vibrate loudly within his hand. Glancing to the sub-LCD, Nick cursed openly at the icon of a voice mail message flashing at the top. He already knew who it was from before he snapped the phone back open. But, he’d have to listen to it in order to delete it. Otherwise, there was a chance of Cheyanne discovering his lie while she was just simply looking for a game to entertain herself with.

Holding the phone away from his ear, he could clearly hear every word Howie had screamed into his voice mail. Words Howie had never said before, at least not into Nick's phone. Wincing at the threat of his manhood being chopped into pieces and sold on the internet, he hoped like Hell he wouldn't receive the same words from Austin and Kevin when they got back to the ranch house. Breathing a sigh of relief when the message ended, he hurriedly deleted it, checking his voice mail three times in a row before assuring himself the message was gone. Shutting off his phone, he slipped it into his pocket before heading back to Cheyanne. Better if they just forgot about Howie for the time being.

*~*~*


Austin collapsed onto the toilet after fishing through the medicine cabinet to find her small packet of monthly birth control. She had another week left and then her period would arrive, so she would have to finish this pack. But the new packs? Austin shrugged her shoulders, burying them deep into the trash can of the bathroom. She had spent the night contemplating her decision as she curled tightly into Kevin’s arms. She listened to the steady breathing and subtle beats of his heart and knew in her heart. She wanted a child more than anything. She wanted his child more than anything. Watching Cheyanne hold onto her abdomen so protectively as Olivia thrived inside. It was just so beautiful. How could she have been so blind? Though, looking at the trash can, she decided that she wouldn’t tell Kevin. It would be a surprise. Her lips curved excitedly with a smile, knowing how he would whoop with delight at the news. He would throw his arms around her and fall in love all over again. That’s what she wanted. More than anything.

"Princess?" Kevin called from the kitchen. "Lunch is almost ready!"

"Coming!" Shoving the pack with a weeks worth of pills back into the medicine cabinet, Austin glanced at herself in the mirror, trying to envision how she would look pregnant. Well, she thought wryly, stooping to cover her tracks in the trash can, her mother had always told her she had birthing hips. Satisfied no one would see her discarded pills if they should glance into the trash can, she headed into the kitchen. "Why do you look so worried?" she questioned immediately upon seeing Kevin's face. He was looking at the clock as he added the finishing touches to the salads he'd prepared to go along with the sandwiches he'd made.

“Nick left hours ago with Angel from the bed and breakfast. It was only two hours away… They should be home by now,” Kevin answered softly, biting down hard on his bottom lip as he turned to hand Austin the salads to carry to the table. He had forced Nick to tell him when they would be arriving back to the ranch house, because Cheyanne was just so fragile. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what Nick was doing with her. “…And I might have mentioned where Nick took Angel for the weekend when Howie finally decided to call…”

"You told him?!" Austin asked, her jaw dropping in shock. "What the fuck did you do that for?!"

“Like you weren’t raring to snatch my phone away to call him when Nick first left with Angel!”

"I was not! You were the one who was beyond pissed over the situation!" Setting down the salads with a thump, Austin sighed miserably. "Y'know Howie's probably going to kill Nick now…"

“Like you didn’t want to do that either,” Kevin growled, setting the sandwiches down as he moved to seat himself at the table. “You hate Nick, remember?”

"But he makes Chey happy. You saw for yourself how different she was after he got here and they were goofing around. I don't think I ever saw her that happy with Howie." Moving to the fridge, Austin got out the sweet tea, turning to pour some into his empty glass.

“So… What are you saying, Austin?”

"I don't know," Austin admitted as she settled into her chair. "Doesn't Chey deserve to be happy?"

“Of course Angel deserves to be happy,” Kevin agreed whole heartedly, reaching to rub her thigh underneath the table. “And if Howie would get his head out of his ass, then Angel would be happy. Their love is something I’ve never seen before, Princess. Angel makes him… She makes him whole… And, I think he’s just scared of leaving her again… Or… I thought I was doing right by telling him about Nick… Maybe to put a fire back underneath him to make him realize. Angel’s a beautiful girl…”

"You've pretty much adopted Chey as your own, haven't you?" Austin murmured, covering his hand with hers. "I just don't want Chey to get hurt. By anyone. And I know Howie's your best friend and all, but after the stunt he just pulled, I'm almost rooting for Boobah."

“Angel’s my little girl, Princess.”

"She was my little girl first, Pretty Boy," Austin reminded him gently, squeezing his fingers. "If Howie hurts her again…"

“I know,” Kevin promised softly, taking her hand up to his mouth for a few soft kisses. Though, for a moment, his eyes were pulled away from the soft coffee irises of his lover’s eyes when Moth came tearing out from the kitchen and to the door. He scratched furiously with several sharp barks, jumping around with whines so Austin would let him out. “I think our daughter’s home, Princess.”

"Finally," Austin murmured as Kevin scraped his chair back. She was just reaching the doorway leading into the living room when he flung the front door open, Moth dashing between his legs to greet Nick, who was just climbing out of his rental. Stepping onto the front porch, Austin wrapped her arms loosely around Kevin's waist from behind, peeking around his shoulder as Nick scooped up the puppy, greeting him exuberantly as he went around to help Cheyanne out. "See? He takes care of her," she hissed at Kevin, who merely grumbled in response. "I don't think he'd hurt our daughter."

“Sorry we’re late,” Cheyanne immediately apologized as she grasped Nick’s hand to step out of the car, smiling happily when he gave her Moth. She cooed excitedly toward her puppy, kissing him with adoration as he exuberantly licked her cheeks, obviously miserable that she had left him. Though, as she went to take a step toward the house, Nick bent to scoop her into his arms. “Nicky was hungry!” Cheyanne squealed in surprise.

"Hungry for what, I can only imagine," Kevin muttered.

Nudging him with her elbow, Austin went to retrieve the bag Nick had pulled from the backseat. "Did you have fun?" she questioned, already knowing the answer. It was plain by the flushed cheeks and happy glow about Cheyanne that the mini vacation had done wonders for her.

“I had a lot of fun!” Cheyanne drawled elatedly, her voice sugar coated with her natural honey dialect. It had been so long since she sounded so cheerful and alive, her sapphire eyes glowing with excitement as she held onto Nick’s neck. “Nicky took me for a carriage ride... Then he almost squished a squirrel!”

"It was the squirrel's fault!" Nick exclaimed as he stepped up onto the porch. Kevin barred the way inside, and he eyed his friend expectantly. "You mind moving? Sweetheart's looking for a tubby--"

"You and I need to have a little talk," Kevin informed him, his voice void of emotion as he stepped aside. "Princess can get Angel into her bath. You can go out on the back deck. Now."

The dark annoyance flickering in Kevin’s emerald eyes caused a frown to form on Cheyanne’s beautiful face as she slipped away from Nick’s hold. She actually made sure to stand in front of Nick, blocking him from Kevin’s brute force. Her sapphire eyes actually grew teary at the toughness Kevin was exuding. “Nicky didn’t do anything wrong… You’re not going to hit him, are you, Kevvy?”

"No, he's not," Austin answered for him. "He's going to go inside and finish eating his lunch before he finds himself sleeping on the couch tonight."

"Damnit, Princess, this--"

"Isn't really our concern, is it?" Poking Nick in the back, Austin sent Kevin a warning glare. "Go get your tubby, Chey-Chey. Pretty Boy's just acting holier-than-thou right now."

“I can wait…” Cheyanne answered, reaching behind her to find Nick’s hands. She knew that if she went to get a bath that Nick would have to wait outside. It wouldn’t be like the bed and breakfast. He would be vulnerable to Kevin’s brutality. “I don’t really need one…”

"Kevin, if you don't move and let them into the house…"

"Sweetheart, it's okay," Nick whispered, squeezing her hands gently. "Austin won't let him hurt me."

"Kevin? Move, please? Before I sic Moth on you…"

“I need to talk to Nick privately,” Kevin emphasized, stepping sideways just a few inches so Cheyanne could fit inside. “Angel, go get your bath.”

"Go," Nick murmured, giving Cheyanne's hands another squeeze.

Slipping past Nick, Austin shot Kevin a contemptuous glare before ushering Cheyanne inside. "C'mon, Chey, Boohbah can defend himself," she assured her friend.

"What's your fucking problem now?" Nick questioned as soon as Kevin pulled the door shut behind the women. "Jesus Christ, we're only a couple hours late--"

“Where the Hell were you and why the fuck was your phone turned off? It doesn’t take a couple hours to get from here to that bed and breakfast, no matter how much traffic is holding you up!” Kevin barked, narrowing his emerald eyes toward the youngest. Many years had passed since Nick’s innocence had been lost. Sometimes, Kevin assumed that maybe it was the music business that had broken it. Or perhaps the way his mother was. But, that gave him no right to tarnish Cheyanne.

"My phone was turned off because your woman in there kept calling me. We stopped at a diner to eat, and then Sweetheart wanted to take a stroll through the park up there," Nick defended calmly, his blue eyes glittering with anger. "So get off my fucking back already."

“I haven’t even begun to get on your damn back,” Kevin hissed, shoving Nick off the porch so they were away from the door, especially if Austin was pressed against the opposite side listening. “What did you do at that bed and breakfast, Nick? And don’t fucking lie to me.”

"We played video games, I bought her flowers, played a few songs on the guitar for her, we went out to eat, did the carriage ride," Nick replied, ticking each off on his fingers. "And I gave her a massage, because her back was killing her."

“Nick…” Kevin’s jaw clenched with sheer frustration and annoyance, wanting to throw a fist right into the side of Nick’s jaw. Only, he had to stop halfway, knowing Cheyanne would be furious with him if he did so. But Nick had to know. “Damnit… You may have done that… But, I’m… You had sex with her, didn’t you?”

"So what if I did?" Nick defended, taking a few steps back until he was sure he was out of danger from Kevin's fists.

Damnit,” Kevin hissed with disgust, slamming his hand against the railing of the steps so he wouldn’t reach out to Nick. “What the Hell are you thinking, Nick? She’s engaged! She’s fucking engaged to one of our best friends! And you just had to take advantage of her when she was so scared and alone? What the fuck are you thinking?! This isn’t some stupid game, Nick! She’s a beautiful young woman who deserves the whole world! Not your disgusting habits! Do you have any idea what your doing?! How you’re going to ruin her entire life?! Princess kicks herself every time she thinks of how Noah hurt her and raped her… And what you’re doing is no fucking different…”

"You think I just did it to say I banged my best friend's woman?" Nick asked carefully. "It's not like that, Kev. I swear, I wouldn't have fucking touched her at all if I hadn't--"

“Don’t you fucking touch her again, either,” Kevin interrupted, shoving Nick hard in the chest, oblivious to the band of bruising as the younger man hit the ground. “I don’t want you anywhere near her, you hear me?”

Gasping from the force with which he landed, Nick slowly pulled himself up, tenderly touching his bruised chest. "I think she has more say in that than you do," he stated calmly.

“Howie called earlier today,” Kevin answered firmly, ignoring Nick’s statement. “I told him where you took Angel for the weekend. You’re going to have to answer for that when we get back. Not to mention what you did with her while you’re there. She loves Howie, Nick. Loves him with everything in her. Don’t make it harder for her.”

"I guess my feelings don't matter, then?" Turning away, Nick released a pained sigh, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Fine, I'll leave her alone," he muttered insolently, heading for the car. He didn't want to think of what Howie would do to him, nor did he want to think of Cheyanne's undying love for the man. Reaching into the center console, he pulled out his cigarettes, aware of Kevin still watching him. "What? I said I'd leave her alone!"

“Why don’t you just go back to Florida now? Cool off before the tour starts? It’d be best for everyone concerned,” Kevin suggested, folding his arms sharply against his chest, defiant till the last stance.

Glancing derisively at his cigarettes, Nick threw them back into the car, slamming the door shut. It was useless to try and fight Kevin now. "Can I at least hang around long enough to tell her goodbye?" he requested. Not that it would matter what Kevin would say; he knew he'd stay around until he knew she'd be alright.

“Your stuff is already in the car. Just leave. Now.”

"Actually, my stuff is inside. We just took the one bag, remember?"

“Then I’ll bring the rest of it when I come back.”

"If you don't mind, I'd rather have it now. Knowing you, it'll come back with holes and burn marks."

Kevin’s jaw clicked with aggravation. “Then get it and get out. Now. Or I’ll throw you out myself.”

"Do you mind moving so I can get inside, then?"

“Don’t fuck around,” Kevin warned, finally stepping aside. “In and out. No more games.”

Biting back the urge to roll his eyes, Nick flew past Kevin, slamming the door behind him before rushing down the hall, hoping to see Cheyanne before Kevin dragged him out by his hair. Austin came from Cheyanne's room, eyeing him warily as he skidded to a stop. "Um… Where'd you put our stuff? Tight-Ass is making me leave."

“He’s making you leave?” Austin murmured, her own jaw tensing with aggravation for her lover. “So… This is his home now, huh? He paid for it? Saved all four years of college? Put his blood and sweat into fixing it up? Oh…Hell no! Cheyanne’s getting a bath, you make sure she’s alright while I yanking the stick from Pretty Boy’s ass?”

"Sure…" Nick trailed as she stomped down the hallway, already muttering a few choice expletives about Kevin. Smiling slightly, Nick thanked all things Holy that Austin was, for the time being, on his side before stepping into Cheyanne's room.

He was instantly greeted with the soft scent of vanilla lingering in the air, reminding him of his first night with Cheyanne. The comforter and sheets were still wrinkled from being slept in, Cheyanne never really bothering to make her bed if she was just going to crawl into it the next night. And, their duffle bag was atop the blankets. Moving to it, Nick started to divide their things, noticing the pregnancy mold resting in the crib as he heard Cheyanne’s sweet voice singing in the bathroom. And he had to smile.

Dropping his shaving kit onto the bed, he stepped over to retrieve the mold, holding it gingerly as he sat down in the glider. Kevin and Austin had already signed it, a drawing of Austin's hand over the curve of the stomach with a short, sweet message. Kevin's message just beneath it, though Nick didn't take the time to read it. Reaching for the markers, he sat back, balancing the mold in his lap as he tried to decide where to sign. Curving his lips into a smile, he shifted it in his lap, holding the cap of the marker between his teeth as he carefully sketched out a dolphin, humming along to the song Cheyanne sang. His song. Their song. Adding a wave beneath the dolphin, he began filling it in, working meticulously, wanting it to be perfect. Underneath it, he signed his name, adding a line from one of his favorite songs she had downloaded for him. You're a dream come true

“You signed my breast, didn’t you?” Cheyanne’s voice projected from the bathroom, startling Nick from his work momentarily. He glanced over to find her leaning in her doorway, the lavender terry robe wrapped comfortably around her body as her long delicate curls were tucked underneath a wrapped towel. Her cheeks were rosy from the heat of the bath. Or, perhaps, because she was endeared by the sight of Nick writing on her pregnancy mold.

"Guilty," Nick replied with an easy grin, capping the marker and moving to set the mold back into the crib. "I, um… Just came in to get my stuff… Kevin's already given me my walking papers," he murmured, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

“What do you mean?” Cheyanne questioned softly with obvious hurt. “You’re leaving?”

"I--"

"I don't give a flying shit what you say!" Austin exploded from the living room, followed by the loud slam of the front door. "He's staying!"

"I guess I'm staying," Nick told Cheyanne with a grin.

“Did Kevin hit you?” Cheyanne stated in confusion as she listened to Austin’s loud curses trailing back the opposite hallway, her door slamming just as hard as the front door, sending Moth scurrying into Cheyanne’s bedroom for protection. “Why’d he want to send you away?”

"No, he didn't hit me, he pushed me down when I… Um… He knows, Sweetheart," Nick sighed, dropping back into the glider. "What happened at the bed and breakfast," he added when he saw her perplexed look.

“He…” Cheyanne meekly nodded, knowing she didn’t have to repeat what they had done at the bed and breakfast. The color seemed to drain from her face immediately as she clasped her hands over her taunt abdomen, just wanting to crawl into bed and forget. It seemed as if nothing would ever go perfectly right in her life. Feeling faint, she moved toward her dresser drawers, searching for something to take a nap in, so she wouldn’t concentrate on her lightheadedness. “…How?”

"Sweetheart, I'm so sorry… But Kevin has this knack of getting the truth from someone whether they want to give it or not," Nick murmured, watching her yank on a t-shirt. Standing, he moved to clear their things off the bed, knowing she was going to lie down and take a nap now. "I'm sorry," he repeated, glancing at her.

“It’s not your fault,” Cheyanne whispered, fingering the first pair of boxers she had grasped from her drawer, recognizing they belonged to Howie. The first pair of boxers he had given her. The ones he had been wearing when they first made love. Heavy tears immediately clouded her sapphire eyes as she stuffed them deep into her drawer, pulling out her own pair of boxers to slip on. She should have known it would eventually happen. The group of men were so close and interwoven. She was foolish to have done something with someone Howie considered a ‘little brother.’ But there was no way that she could turn back now. The deed had already been committed and enjoyed. She couldn’t take it back, but, more importantly, she didn’t want to take it back. “Both of us consented… Is he going to tell Sweet Tea?”

"Honestly? I have no clue… Kevin told me he called this morning… He told him where we were." Shoving all his things into the duffel bag, Nick threw it into the hallway. "Maybe it would be best if I just left. I'll go to Asheville and see if I can get a flight home--"

“Do you want to leave?” Cheyanne questioned softly, interrupting him as she crawled onto her bed, reaching for the blankets to pull over her now shivering body.

"No, of course not." Reaching over, Nick pulled the blankets over her, holding them up so Moth could slip beneath for his snuggle. "I just don't want to screw things up anymore than I already have, Chey."

“Whatever you want to do, Nicky,” Cheyanne answered, reaching for Moth before he could slip under her shirt. She brought him close to her face, tucking him underneath her chin as she sniffled. As much as she loved Howie and knew the pain she would cause him, she couldn’t bear to see Nick leave. After all the comfort he provided her… To just see him walk away as if nothing had happened… That seemed to cut her worse.

Backing towards the door, Nick pushed it shut, fumbling momentarily with the button to lock it. "I want to stay," he said softly, kicking off his shoes before climbing onto the bed behind her. "Even if it's just one more day, that's one more day I get to hold you, isn't it?" he murmured, tentatively putting his arm around her. Snuggling close as possible, he buried his nose against her neck. Leaving her would be torture, he knew.

“Nicky… I didn’t want you to leave…” Cheyanne confessed with a heavy sniffle of relief, smoothing her hand over his that held her so close. She squeezed her eyes shut with relief, knowing she had to be strong, but wanting him to know how much he meant to her. How special he was, even if she was Howie’s fiancée. He had to know.

"Did you think I'd let you go that easily?" he murmured, twining his fingers with hers. "Just relax, Sweetheart. I'm not going anywhere right now," he promised, kissing the back of her neck affectionately.
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