Stifling a yawn, Austin stumbled into the hallway, hastily snapping the button of her jeans before heading for the living room. The pounding in her head had finally given way to the sounds of Cheyanne in the living room, playing with Baylee and Olivia. Pausing just before entering, she stifled another yawn behind her hand, cringing when she smelt the foul stench of a hangover against her palm. The last coherent memory of her birthday celebration had been leading AJ and Kevin out to the dance floor. After that, it was all a blur. This probably explained why she was wearing AJ's t-shirt, not to mention the fact he had been snoring loudly from the floor at the foot of the bed. Jerking a hand through her tousled locks, she stepped into the living room. Cheyanne was sitting at the coffee table with Baylee, coloring books and crayons spread from one end to the other as Olivia practiced her pushups on a blanket nearby.
"My Angel, y'sure you otay?" Baylee questioned softly, tapping her knee gently as he glanced up from his coloring. Seeing Austin, he immediately shot to his feet. "'Rincess! My Angel hurt!"
“Darlin’, you are such a troublemaker,” Cheyanne sighed heavily as she reached to grab him before he could go squealing about her injuries. Keeping Howie calm had been hard enough, especially as she dealt with the throbbing remains of her mild concussion. Using a mirror to assess the laceration, she assumed she had probably needed a few stitches to deal with the issue. But she would never tell the others that, leaving the injury alone and stuffing her curls into one of Howie’s baseball caps to shield the mess. Now, Howie had gone off for a long walk since she refused to let him near Nick’s door, not caring that it was raining outside. Everything just seemed to be a mess when she was involved.
"Hurt how?" Austin asked, stooping to kiss the top of Baylee's head. "What happened, Chey?" Taking in her friend's paleness and the tiredness that shone in her eyes, she sat next to her, deciding Kevin could wait for his coffee a little longer. "Did you and Howie get a little too freaky—"
“Don’t I wish,” Cheyanne breathed as she scooted Baylee between her legs, leaning over carefully to indicate which picture she wanted him to color next. Though, the slightest shift in pressure sent a blinding pain washing over her skull.
"Nicky hurt her!" Baylee declared, slapping his crayon down with a thump. Crossing his arms indignantly, he glared up at Austin for suggesting that Howie had harmed Cheyanne. "He threw a bottle and she fell—"
“Darlin’,” Cheyanne chided painfully, reaching to tug the bill of the cap down to shield her face. How the child managed to overhear these conversations was ridiculous, especially when Cheyanne just wanted to bury it deep. Glancing sideways, she hoped that maybe Olivia would cry out in hunger. But, the infant was far too amused with the small dolphin toys attached to her blanket, causing her to giggle.
"When was all this?" Austin questioned, launching to her feet. "Where is he?"
Before Cheyanne could even open her mouth, Baylee quickly chimed in with the answers to Austin's questions. "This morning! My Angel gots a 'cussion! He's in him's room—"
"Stay here," Austin instructed, already halfway across the living room. She should have known better than to think that Nick had truly changed. She had given him two chances, which he had quickly broken. This was the final straw. He was showing himself to be the asshole she had always known he was. "I'm going to have a little talk with Mr. Carter."
“Austi, wait! For God’s sake they have a show tonight,” Cheyanne sputtered as she attempted to launch herself off the couch in order to protect Nick. Though, a wave of nausea quickly swept over her with an air of vertigo, causing her to hold onto the back of the couch so she didn’t crumble. “Austi, please--” Cheyanne’s voice halted when she heard the turning of the living room door, glancing to see Howie entering. “Tea! Tell her to calm down, please?”
"I don't fucking think so," Austin stated calmly, stepping past Howie en route to Nick's room. Glancing over her shoulder when she heard him clear his throat, she was satisfied when she saw he was right behind her. "Honest to God, I'm going to kill that man. He keeps fucking with Chey and I keep letting it happen. This is it, City Boy. I'm through cleaning up the messes he leaves behind when he breaks her heart—"
"I'm with you," Howie informed her, not daring to glance behind him to see Cheyanne's face. He knew she would be upset that he had joined Austin in her pursuit of justice. The dampened walk he had taken had done little to cool the rage within. If anything, it had only helped fuel the fire even more as he ruminated on all the things Nick had done to Cheyanne in the past.
“Damnit, y’all!” Cheyanne cursed in shock as she reached to pick up Baylee, scooting him into his father’s bedroom before pounding on Kevin’s door. “Kevvy! They’re going to kill Nick and you guys have a show tonight!”
The door was flung open a moment later by a drowsy looking AJ. "What's the matter, Chey?" he yawned loudly, idly scratching his bare chest. "This ain't Kevin's room…"
"I swear to God, if he throws something at me, I'll castrate him and send it to the place that has Rasputin's dick in a jar," Austin threatened as she rattled the doorknob of Nick's room loudly.
“AJ…” Cheyanne groaned as she slipped past him to find Kevin out on the veranda. She knocked on the glass doors impatiently, holding her head as Kevin opened the doors. “Would you please go wrangle your fiancée and my fiancé? They’re going to kill Nick and it’s going to be all my fault!”
"Why are they killing him?" Kevin questioned, quickly ending the call to his mother before she answered. "What the Hell's happened now?" he groaned, reaching to rub his throbbing temples as the clouds parted to allow a ray of sun hit him directly in the eyes.
“Nothing happened, they’re just trying to kill him. Would you please go put an end to it?” Cheyanne stressed as she heard a door give way with a cracking sound, followed by a sharp string of Spanish curses. “Kevvy, please!”
"If nothing happened, then why—"
"YOU MOTHERFUCKING SON OF A WHORE!"
Kevin flinched at the roar of his fiancée's voice, unable to imagine in his present state what was happening that incensed her so. Knowing Cheyanne wouldn't budge on telling him, he shoved his phone into her hands, striding quickly past a startled looking AJ who was just pulling his jeans on. The sight gave him pause, but a chorus of feminine screeches from the next room caused him to hurry his steps. The sounds had roused Brian, who was shuffling quickly down the hall, blue eyes wide with worry as they both reached the doorway. Upon looking in, Kevin could only groan. "Sweet Jesus…"
Catastrophe was a mild term for the chaos ensuing within Nick’s room. Broken glass and a ruined breakfast were strewn about the floor from Cheyanne’s earlier entrance, but the litter of clothing, alcohol, and tiny bags caused Kevin’s stomach to knot with disgust. Upon breaking in, Austin had leapt on the bed to find three intoxicated whores pleasuring Nick in ways that she had only seen on the dirtiest of channels. Unable to control her temper, she ripped the covers off the bed, sending more bottles crashing to the floor as she yanked each woman away by the roots of her hair. Howie seemed in tune with Austin’s decision, grabbing Nick and throwing him hard into the nearby wall.
"Ow! Goddamnit, Howie—"
"Out!" Austin barked, shoving clothes at the women as they struggled to regain their equilibrium from her hard pushes. Viciously dragging one to the door, she glanced out to see that Cheyanne and Brian were already scooping up the little ones to shield them from any unpleasantness, despite Baylee's insistence that he wanted to see. Waiting until they were down the hall, she forcefully herded the woman to the door of the suite, pushing her into the hall without another word. The blonde's Swedish epithets bounced off the closing door, and she turned to see the other two hurrying to slip out. "Fucking whores!" she cried, storming back to Nick's room. When Kevin caught her arm, she glared up at him. "Let go. I swear, Kevin, I'm going to kill him—"
“What the fuck is going on?!” Kevin immediately interrupted as AJ stepped behind him to see the commotion, cursing in shock when Howie’s fist landed hard into Nick’s jaw. Slipping underneath Kevin’s arms, AJ scurried over the broken glass to leap at Howie, attempting to get him away from Nick.
"That sorry pissfuck hurt Chey! He threw a goddamned bottle at her, Kevin! Now let go!" Austin demanded, jerking her arm free of his grasp. AJ fell to the floor with a pained groan, and Austin looked up in time to see Howie's fist make contact with Nick's jaw once again. Finally, she thought, taking a deep breath. Finally, the man had grown some balls.
“He threw a what?” Kevin blanked in shock.
"A bottle! When are you going to fucking realize that your so-called little brother is nothing but a sorry ass drunk? Or are you so damned blind that you just don't care?!" Austin shouted, flinching slightly when Nick's head slammed against the wall loudly. "Look around, Kevin. Isn't it fucking obvious how he spent last night? Surrounded by his booze, his drugs and his whores—"
“CHEYANNE GRACE, GET YOUR ASS IN HERE RIGHT NOW!” Kevin bellowed in sheer disbelief, running his hands repeatedly through his dark, raven locks. His mind was reeling with the possibilities and all the evidence piled within Nick’s room. If anything, he deserved the heavy beating that Howie was giving him. But, Cheyanne, to blatantly lie when she had been hurt again...
"She's gone," Brian stated from behind him. "She took Skipper and Scooper out for a walk—Howie!" he shrieked, pushing past Kevin in order to grasp the Latin man's shoulders. "Easy, man…" he trailed softly as Nick crumpled to the floor with a ragged breath, blood trickling from each nostril as well as the corner of his mouth. "Stop… Just take a deep breath—"
"Don't tell me what to do! He hurt her, Brian! AGAIN!" Howie exploded, one foot shooting out to make contact with Nick's stomach, though Brian pulled him away before the toe of his shoes could brush the younger man's body. Shaking with rage, he flexed his fingers, glaring down at Nick. "If you ever come near her again, I will kill you," he warned carefully.
“I didn’t even do anything,” Nick sobbed painfully as he curled into a tight ball on the floor, shielding his face from any heavier blows. Raw pain raced around his spinal nerves like fireworks, causing him to gasp for sharp breaths of air. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had even seen Cheyanne. “Where’s Sweetheart? She’ll tell you!”
"The Hell you didn't do anything! She came to bring you breakfast hours ago, out of the goodness of her heart. I can't fucking believe I told her to do it! How was I to know she'd find you in the midst of a drunken orgy?! You threw a fucking liquor bottle at her, Nick! So hard it shattered and she fell! She has a fucking concussion because of you!"
“I wouldn’t hurt her!”
"But you did!"
"Do you want me to go get the blood covered towels to fucking prove it?!"
“Just get the fuck away from me and let me talk to her!”
"Oh Hell no," Austin interjected as Howie struggled against Brian's restraining arms. "You ain't going within ten fucking feet of her anymore."
“YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”
“You need to clean yourself up and get this place straightened, Nick,” Kevin suggested stiffly, reaching to draw Austin backwards so she wouldn’t be tempted to do anything drastic. The man seemed to have been hurt enough.
"I need to talk to Sweetheart—"
Sighing, Nick closed his eyes, nodding almost imperceptibly. "Just go…"
“You need help, Nick--”
Kevin nodded with understanding as he motioned for the others to leave. “I’ll come back to make sure you’ve got everything cleaned up later.”
“Can we try a burnt cookie after you’re done getting me all dolled up?” Austin inquired happily, latching onto her fiancé’s arm as he weaved her through the expensive district of Italy. It had been a week since Nick’s reckoning with the group and the tension was still heavy when they were gathered in a social setting. Kevin, Howie, and Austin spent most of their energy separating Nick from Cheyanne, knowing the girl was far too sweet to resist Nick’s company if he asked. Her concussion had been healing slowly as the knot gradually reduced in size. Though the headaches were prevalent along with the nausea. Each time either attacked, it just flared Howie’s anger toward Nick. So, Kevin thought it was in his best interest to keep Austin away from the fire, especially when he suggested Howie take Cheyanne and Olivia out for the day, too. Besides, it had been a long while since he kept Austin’s company to himself. He needed to relax, though, it seemed as if that was a rarity with his fiancée.
"Burnt cookie?" Kevin repeated, sidestepping so Austin would avoid walking into a stand of bright flowers. Pausing, he plucked out a bouquet of lilies, paying the vendor with a murmured thanks in Italian. "Why the Hell do you want a burnt cookie?" he questioned with a smile, offering her the flowers.
“Those biscotti-jiggers that Bill Engvall talks about. He says they taste like a burnt cookie,” Austin explained as if Kevin’s IQ had dropped several points before sticking her nose in the lilies. She inhaled the soft fragrance and smiled with appreciation. “Thank you, Pretty Boy.”
"Welcome… And they don't taste like burnt cookies, Princess," he stated, sliding his arm around her waist so he could direct her into the first stop on his list. "And don't embarrass me in front of these people by hollering out 'Holy Hell that jigger's expensive!' Okay?" he teased, leaning to kiss her cheek as she rolled he eyes.
“Now I’m going to do it just to spite you, y’know that, right?” Austin tempted, glancing up to read the sign.
"I wouldn't put it past you," Kevin sighed, pulling open the door with Versace embossed in gold across it.
“Holy Hell, d’y’think that’s real gold?” Austin teased loudly as they stepped inside.
"I'm just trying to bring some culture and refinement into your life is all, Princess," he murmured, escorting her into the quietness of the sitting room. "Yet you're cracking jokes…"
"I ain't ever going to be refined, Pretty Boy. I'm just a hillbilly," Austin informed him. A hillbilly very uncomfortable in the plush, expensive surroundings he had thrown her into. Biting her lip as she looked around, she took in the fresh flowers, the gilded molding, heavy drapes pulled back to allow the afternoon sunshine in. The carpet was thick beneath her feet, and when she sank onto the small couch, she sucked in a breath. "Holy Hell, Pretty Boy… I don't belong in a place like this."
“You’re my fiancée, so you do belong in a place like this,” Kevin chided, waving toward a classy woman as she motioned toward a luscious dressing room. “C’mon, Princess, I already had some things picked out for you. Go ahead and try them on. I’ll wait here.”
"Can't you come with me?" Austin requested, though she stood and handed over the flowers and her purse. Leaning over, she gave him a soft kiss, smiling slightly at the thought of belonging where he belonged. Tracing his cheek with her palm, she lost herself in his eyes for a moment before following the woman into the dressing room. Gasping when she saw the large rack of clothes waiting for her, she bit down on her bottom lip. Unable to resist, she turned in the doorway. "You're going to spoil me!" she hollered.
“I’m buying you Princess lessons if you don’t mind your manners,” Kevin answered back, smiling apologetically at the women fluttering about the store. Austin was going to be the death of him.
Giggling, Austin stepped back into the dressing room, staring at the rack of clothes she was certain totaled to more than the house she and Cheyanne owned. "Suddenly I feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman," Austin breathed as the woman helped her into the first article of clothing, a black dress. The watery fabric clung to her as though it were a second skin, falling to her knees in a wave of silk. Glancing at her reflection in the mirror, she sucked in a breath of surprise as the woman secured the gold collar. Reaching up, she briefly touched the design of the cool metal.
"You would of course wear your hair up," the woman stated in thickly accented English, already reaching to twist Austin's hair. From her pocket came a comb which Austin hoped was encrusted with rhinestones, though the gems glittered unmistakably like diamonds as she watched her reflection. "I have selected hosiery and shoes to match," she said, stepping away to retrieve a box. "For such a tall man, you will need tall heels so you do not disappear at his side."
Austin bit back the urge to tell the woman that when she was at Kevin's side, she did everything but disappear. Wordlessly, she pulled on the silk stockings and stepped into the black high heels, glancing down to see they had gold heels to accentuate the gold collar of her dress. Starting at her reflection, she felt her heart flutter with nervousness over what Kevin's reaction would be. Suddenly, for the first time, she truly felt like the Princess he constantly told her she was.
"Magnifico!" the woman declared, stepping back. "Now, go show him."
“Show?” Austin yelped slightly, though she wasn’t given a chance to disagree as she was shooed from the large dressing room. Stumbling slightly in the thin heels, she immediately straightened when she met Kevin in the sitting room. For once in her life, she finally understood Cheyanne’s shy nature, especially as Kevin’s eyes critically looked over her form.
“Well…” Kevin drew with a low timbre, crossing his legs as he leaned back. “It’s official…”
"I look like crap, don't I?" she questioned, biting down on her bottom lip. "No big, I can go get back in my jeans—"
“Are you going to let me finish?” Kevin interrupted with a bemused smile as Austin’s jaw instantly clenched. “I was going to say that you are the most beautiful woman in the world… And, it’s official that I have to take you out for a cultured evening wearing that outfit, because you’re stunning and I want the world to be jealous.”
"Kevvykins," Austin breathed, her cheeks flushing a deep pink at his words. "I don't deserve you, y'know?" Tiptoeing across to him, she cupped his face in her hands, offering the softest of kisses. "And I don't need a fancy schmancy dress to make me feel beautiful… I have you to do that," she whispered.
“You’re still getting the dress and I’m still taking you out for a night of elegance. So, would you stop acting like my daughter and start acting like my Princess instead? Utterly thrilled that I’m spoiling you rotten?” Kevin teased gently, offering her another kiss.
"I try to be all sweet and loving and what's it get me? More demands," Austin sighed with a smirk, kissing him once more before skipping back into the dressing room. Turning at the door, she gave him a brilliant smile. "Are you taking me to the opera? I've always wanted to see an authentic Italian opera from a posh box seat with lots of champagne—"
“I’ll see what I can do,” Kevin chuckled, not really having the heart to say no.
Rolling her eyes dramatically, Austin disappeared into the dressing room once more. Kevin gave his approval on each outfit she stepped out in, to the delight of the woman who handled more of Austin's backside than she normally did on her own. Clinging to his arm as he signed the slip, she listened to him speaking fluent Italian, wondering how he had come to learn the language. Stepping back out onto the street, she leaned against him, taking occasional whiffs of her lilies. "I love you," she announced as they strolled past an elaborate fountain.
“So, you’re not going to regret marrying me then?” Kevin questioned as he threaded her arm through his, affectionately patting her hand.
"Nope," she answered with a smile, twining her fingers with his. "I can't wait to marry you. As long as you promise not to have a repeat of last week…" she trailed, glancing up at him to see him draw in a breath of disgust.
“I still say AJ is full of shit,” Kevin growled with contempt. If it hadn’t been for the video…
"I started it," Austin admitted with a heavy sigh. "I should never have—"
“It’s not a big deal,” Kevin interrupted, leaning down to kiss her. “As long as AJ doesn’t sell the tape on Ebay.”
"Speaking of the tape… I sneaked onto his bus last night during the concert…"
"Did you know he has a picture of you in bikini underwear from at least a few years ago? Showing off your tattoo…" Austin clicked her tongue as she shook her head in disbelief. "I won't even ask why you were posing…"
“I was drunk and needed the money?”
Rolling her eyes, Austin elbowed him gently. "But I found the tape. And it's in a safe place now."
“Broken into a million pieces?”
"Are you stupid?! I'm saving that!"
"I haven't watched it yet!"
“Well let me give you the play-by-play!”
"Well? Give it to me!"
“My ass wasn’t just hurting ‘cause I slept on the remote!”
Austin paled as his words sunk in. "You…" Clapping a hand over her mouth, she quickly averted her eyes, looking over at the splashing water. "Well… It's not like it was your first time?"