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CJ finally settled down for a nap in the room on the floor of the hotel Nick was occupying in Detroit. His last conversation with Brian was just running through his head. He looked one more time at his watch. It's been 3 days since anyone had heard anything from Lexie. She had left AJ's and just seemed to disappear. Howie and Leah were worried sick and so was he. It didn't help that Howie was calling nearly every hour on the hour, hoping that Lexie had turned to him for help. She hadn't. Nick could hear the pain in Howie and Leah's voices when they called each time. Brian had said they hadn't slept since she left.


Nick's cell phone rang in his hand and he realized it was about time for them to call. He picked it up in two rings.


"Hello?" he asked, steeling himself for Howie's sorrowful heavy voice.


"Nick?" he heard her ask with her teeth chattering.


"Lexie, is that you? Baby, where are you?"


"I'm in Detroit. What hotel are you at?" she shivered.


Nick offered to send a driver for her, but she refused. He finally told her where he was at and he contacted his own security to meet her in the lobby. Two hours later and he was glad he hadn't called Howie yet. He was nearly convinced she wasn't coming at all. When one of his people told him she was here, he ran to her as she stepped off the elevator. He took her in his arms and held her close. He felt her hands on his sides and she pushed him away.


"Can we talk?" she asked as they stood in the hall with about 20 other employees of his.


"Yes, sure, come on." Nick took her back to his suite at the end of the hall. She dropped her purse on a chair and walked to the sliding glass door that led onto the deck. "Your dad has been calling for days. Where have you been?"


"Out. Look, I'm out of money. Can you get me a flight back to L.A.?" she asked, turning to face him.


She looked like shit. He never imagined he would ever see her like this. In her eyes, there was no trace of the girl he knew. She had been replaced by something so completely guarded; she didn't look the same.


"I need to call your Dad." He began, pulling his phone from his pocket.


"NO!" she snapped, running to snatch it out of his hand. He easily pulled it out of her reach.


"Will you call him, then?" he asked, lowering his hand with the phone slowly.


"Nick, are you going to help me or not?" she demanded, settling her hands on her hips.


Nick had heard and seen a lot of things from Lexie, but nothing like this. She was nervous and twitchy like she was about to be caught doing something wrong. She was still wearing the clothes Howie had said he had last seen her in. They were fine for Orlando at this time of the year, but not Detroit.


"Your parents are worried sick. . ." He pleaded.


"I don't really care right now."


"AJ is asking about you. . ."


"I don't give a rat's ass." She said sarcastically.


"I'm not going to help you unless you call your parents." He demanded, crossing his arms across his massive chest.


"Fine." She walked toward her purse, slung it on her shoulder and headed past him to the door. He grabbed her arm, but she couldn't look up at him.


"They're worried sick. Let me call." He said softly.


"No, I don't want to talk to them."


"Lexie, what is wrong? You can tell me. You can tell me anything."


"I don't want to talk about it. Nick, are you going to help me or not?"


"Do you have any other way to get back?"


"No." she admitted quietly.


"When is the last time you ate?" He asked, but she didn't answer him. "Let me order you some food. . ."


"All I need is a flight home."


"Orlando?"


"No, L.A."


"Please tell me what's wrong."


"Nick. . ."


"All right! I'll book you a flight to L.A., but not until tomorrow night. I want you to stay here a little while. Amuse me, okay?" he sighed with frustration.


He ordered up a late lunch and she sat in silence as she waited for it. Room service wheeled the food in, but she skirted away from it like a wild animal being asked to eat from a human's hand. They left and Nick found himself standing opposite of her with the food between them.


"Eat something." He said.


She moved toward the food and lifted a cover from plate. He had ordered a couple of deli sandwiches and some soup.


"Sit down." He added, but she never did. "I have to go into the other room. . ."


"If you call them, I'll walk right out!" she said, slamming down the cover of one of the plates.


"Damn it, Lexie, they are worried about you!" he snapped, turning back to her.


"Fine, call them after I leave tomorrow. I'm not dealing with them right now." She snapped back.


"Tell me why?" he begged.


"No." she said.


His frustration with her had run its course. He grabbed her upper arm. Why wouldn't she call her parents? Why was she acting so strangely? What had gone so wrong that she was so unlike herself?


"Is this the real reason CJ's mother left you?" she spat at him.


Nick let go of her to reveal a nasty red mark. He hadn't realized how hard he had grabbed her. He knew that with enough force he could've just snapped her bone. Her words had stung him. She edged herself closer to a chair and sat down with a sandwich. Nick couldn't help but start pacing the floor in front of her. He ran his hand over his slicked back hair, pulling his ponytail over his shoulder then back again. Suddenly, he reached for the hotel phone and she made a running dive for her purse. He threw himself on top of her and pinned her to the couch. He called out to the hotel and ordered a buyer to get a dress and accessories for her, then hung up.


He got off her and she screamed at him at the top of her lungs, "You son of a bitch."


He slapped her face.


"Watch your mouth, CJ is asleep in the next room." He growled at her.


She stared at him like she was possessed.


"You'll get dressed when they get here and you're going to the show tonight." He ordered.


"Like hell I will."


"You want that ticket?" he snapped. He had her and he knew it. She had no money and he could tell she was plenty hungry when the food got here. "When CJ gets up, you better be on your best behavior or I'll have security remove you and I won't give a rat's ass how you get back to L.A." He threatened. Nick knew she believed him, because he would do it. The sooner he could find a way to call Howie, the sooner Howie could get there. He knew if he left her at the hotel, she'd leave. He'd have to take her with him to keep an eye on her. Nick hoped Howie could get to Detroit soon enough.


The hotel sent the dress and a hairdresser up for Lexie. They disappeared into his bedroom to get ready. As soon as the door closed, he yanked his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. He hit Howie's speed dial.


"Hello?" Howie answered.


"Howie? It's Nick. She's here."


"With you? Thank God!" Howie gasped.


"Look, I don't know what's going on with her, but you better hurry out here. She wants to leave and leave bad."


"Why? What did she say? Where has she been?" Howie asked.


"I don't have a lot of time. I'm taking her to the venue tonight so I can keep an eye on her. Howie you have got to get here. I said I'd book her a flight to L.A. tomorrow. Can you get here before then?" Nick said.


"Of course, no problem. I'll take AJ's plane. . ."


"Good, hurry Howie."


"Nick. Thanks, man."


"Sure, bro." Nick said.


The hairstylist came out of the room an hour later. She closed the door behind her and told him they were all done. Nick tipped her and when she left, he walked over and knocked on the door.


"Come on, they are bringing the car around." He said.


She opened the door and stood there. She was incredible. Her long slender legs revealed themselves under the short dress, shaped nicely by black silk hose and simple black pumps. Her long straight hair was curled and piled on her head. Her black eyes shone from her incredibly beautiful face. AJ's eyes.


"Are you done staring?" she asked sarcastically.


"You look beautiful." He said quietly, almost in awe.


"Well, I never thought of you the as type who liked to play dress-up."


"Be nice, Lex." He said sternly, realizing the nastiness in her voice.


She strode past him, the top of her head reaching just under his nose. She picked up the matching purse and dropped her own items into it. CJ came from her room and told Lexie how beautiful she looked. Lexie knelt down, kissed her cheek, and told her how beautiful she was. It was obvious to Nick; CJ had no idea what was going on.


CJ held Lexie's hand as they left the suite and went into the elevator. Nick picked CJ up and carried her as they were ushered to the limo by security, past a screaming mob and flashing cameras. Lexie never looked at him, never talked to him the entire trip to the venue. CJ chattered on and on, oblivious to the lack of interaction between himself and Lexie.


CJ stayed with Lexie all evening. He looked out into the audience and saw CJ singing along as she sat in Lexie's lap. Lexie said very little to anyone backstage after the show. No one really knew who she was and she skirted the issue all night. It was late when security came to him and told him it was time to leave. Apparently, a crowd of protesters was gathering around the car.


Nick was having labor problems with this tour and when he cancelled and rescheduled the first six dates, national unions had been angered by his decision. He decided to pay his regular crew, because it wasn't their fault he had delayed their jobs, but he hired non-union labor for the rest of the tour after the union people walked off the job.


Nick couldn't blame it on anyone but himself, they had asked his opinion and he told them to fire the union people to get the show back on the road. Every city he had been faced with the same protesters. Nick could hear them outside the backdoors. He picked up CJ and held her close, he kept Lexie directly behind him. One of his own security people came up to him.


"Man, Nick, we can barely keep a path to the limo clear. You guys are going to have to make a run for it."


"It's cool. Are you ready?" he asked Lexie.


"Yes." She nodded. He positioned himself by the door, behind two bodyguards, reaching blindly behind; he took Lexie's hand. She tightened her grip on his hand as the bodyguard put his hand on the door.


"Just run for it, don't wait for anything. I'll be right behind you." The guard said.


Nick and Lexie just nodded. The door opened on the angry mob and it roared like a multi-headed monster. Lexie ran forward with Nick, her face only inches from his back. The crowd moved in on them rapidly and someone caught Nick by the tail of his sports coat. He stumbled back into Lexie and it became clear quickly that they had a tight grip on him. Lexie let go of his hand and saw a bodyguard waving franticly toward her. A path opened up between her and him. She twisted around in front of Nick and grabbed hold of CJ.


"Let her go!" Lexie screamed. CJ was crying frantically and clutching on tight to Nick's lapels.


"NO, NO!" he yelled at her. "GO ON!"


"Give her to me!" Lexie screamed, slipping an arm around CJ's waist.


A bodyguard was able to get back to Lexie and he slipped an arm around her waist. Lexie yanked on CJ's arms and Nick finally started disengaging CJ from him, but she wasn't letting go. Someone grabbed Nick by his hair and his head whipped back and the force of him being snapped back forced her little 4 year old hands to let go. Lexie whipped her around and pushed her tiny body into the chest of the bodyguard and he took off with her. Another bodyguard got the grip broken on Nick's ponytail and when someone grabbed her arm; she swung out with a closed fist connecting with an unknown face. Nick had fallen to the ground and she grabbed his shirt and hauled him up. He got to his feet, grabbed her by the waist and pushed forward toward the car. She was pressed between the limo and his chest as the door closed in front of them. Nick pulled himself off of her and yanked her to one side, yanking on the door handle. A bottle smashed close to them at their feet. A second one hit her in the back, shattering into a million shards. Nick got the door open and pushed her inside. He crawled in behind her and slammed the door shut. He pounded on the driver's window.


"Where is CJ?!" he demanded. The driver handed him a phone. The person on the other end told him that she was safely on her way to the hotel. He ordered her to be taken directly to the airport and ordered a bodyguard to take her back to L.A. immediately.


The angry mob outside was still yelling and roaring. Lexie could hear bottles still hitting the limo as Nick ordered the driver to run them down if he had to. Suddenly, the rear window was smashed, and Nick threw himself on top of her, covering her with his own body. He reached down and tucked her legs beneath him. She had one loose hand that had reached above him, holding his head down and close to hers. He reached back and tucked it under him, too. He buried her face into his chest and kept his own head tucked down.


The back window never totally broke out, but the one door window directly above them did. The brick came down and glanced off Nick's shoulder, but by then the car was slowly moving out. They were nearly to the hotel before Nick even looked up. The phone in his pocket was ringing. He levered himself off her slightly, reached in his pocket, and pulled the phone out. He nodded, made a few acknowledgements and hung up. He looked down at her, almost studying her face and then slipped the phone back into his pocket. He brought that hand to the back of her head and pulled her back under him.


"They are going to take us to a new hotel." He said, his voice visibly shaken. Lexie said nothing. He never got off of her and never asked how she was.


When they got to the new hotel, the staff brought them in the back door and up to a top floor suite. When they were finally alone, the silence was deafening. Her back was to him as he closed the door and when he turned to face her, he could see her trembling. Her hair had fallen, her dress torn, blood running down her legs in small rivers. He closed the distance between them and took her in his arms. She pressed her face into his shoulder keeping her arms tucked between them. He brought his face close to her ear and whispered, "Are you going to be all right? Let's take a look at those cuts."


She turned out of his arms and he followed her into the bathroom. She bent slightly in front of him and without any hesitation, she reached under her skirt and rolled her left stocking down. It snagged a couple times on some dried blood and glass still embedded in her leg. She sat on the edge of the tub and slid her shoes off. She began inching the stocking off, slowing wincing and picking the glass from her flesh. He just stood there watching and she didn't seem to care if he did or not. As the silk pooled at her ankle, she pulled it the rest of the way off and tossed it onto the vanity. She stood and reached under her skirt again for the other. It too found the same obstacles as the first. She winced painfully as the stocking snagged on some dried blood at her knee. He moved toward her, kneeling on the floor beside her.


"Let me." He said softly, his gentle hands covering hers. She pulled her own hands away, recoiling from his touch. He turned his back to her and reached for a wash cloth. He ran it under some warm water and began to clean her leg as he rolled the silk toward her ankle.


He startled as he felt her fingertips trace a line from his forehead to his ear, tucking the hair that lay wildly in his face behind one ear. He heard a familiar snap of his clip and the rest of his hair fell about him, spilling out down his back and across his shoulders. He felt the goose bumps rise on his skin.


No.


The silk pooled in his hand as he rolled the last of it past her ankle. She drew her legs up; her knees brushed his chest. He found himself frozen. Every rustle of her dress sounded as loud as cannons' fire. Her fingertips traced a slow line from his ear, down his ridged jaw to his lips.


"Lexie, don't." he whispered hoarsely.


"Nick." She murmured.


No.


"Lexie, stop." He said, his voice barely a croak.


"I can't." She whispered.


Her finger traced his bottom lip as he looked up into her eyes. Was this the same girl he remembered or still the stranger who stumbled into his hotel earlier? He watched her eyes close as her face drew closer to him.


No.


He shot to his feet and began to stumble backwards. He found his back pressed against the closed bathroom door, his head moving side to side as if saying 'no' to her. She stood before him, reached out, and cupped his cheek with her hand. Her fingers drew back into his hair and Nick's eyes fluttered closed and he couldn't remember the last time a woman had touched him.


This was wrong.


Nick's eyes flew open, but he found his feeble attempts to resist her melting away. His mouth fell to hers and she took him. As she groaned against his mouth, his fingers buried themselves into her hair, gripping hold and pushing the fallen pins from them. His arms held her feminine body pressed against him. She peeled his suit jacket from his shoulders and began to untuck his shirt from his slacks. He shrugged his shoulders back to let the jacket fall on the floor behind him. She pulled open his shirt and her touch on his chest drew a heavy groan from his throat. He removed his dress shirt to let it fall where the jacket lay.


He pulled her to him with his left arm and his right hand went to the hem of her dress. He lifted her to the vanity, pulling up the hem of her dress as her slender legs wrapped around his waist. She groaned a desperate sound in his ear and Nick could feel the blood rushing to his most private parts. He stopped and leaned back to look into her face. He saw his own passion mirrored in her eyes and he gripped the hem of her dress, removing it the rest of the way.


How you have dreamed. . .


He could no longer deny it. He had fantasized about this moment in his dreams and sometimes in his waking hours. He had carried those guilty pleasures with him for months and now there was nothing to stand between him and them. Did she know? Did she know about the fantasies he had of her? Did she know he dreamed of having her beneath him? Calling his name, begging for his attention?


He lifted her into his arms and carried her into the bedroom. He stood her beside the bed and cupped her face in his hands. His eyes closed as he kissed her one last time, before everything between his reality and his fantasies changed. As they made love, Nick knew that no other man had been where he had been. How could it be any more incredible? Any more perfect? Any more beautiful?


Her breath warmed his ear as he lay spent in her arms. "I love you." she whispered.


His head dropped down farther on her shoulder and he felt all that he was, well into his chest. He chased the unbidden tears away from his eyes as he lifted his head and looked into her eyes.


"I love you." He whispered to her.


He did.


He had since the moment he first saw her in the apartment nearly a year ago.

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