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The next morning was Sunday and Jake was packing himself and Dwaine up to head back to Kentucky to be with their folks for a couple days. He'd come back in three days, finish out his internship in Orlando, then fly back to Seattle to head back to school.


Kim and Rachel were staying on for another week with Marta and Aria. Lexie had planned to take Alex back and then return, but with Nick in town, she told them that she might have to stay in Orlando to help AJ out. Jake only slipped her a silly grin. Nick took CJ, Lexie and Alex back in his rental car.


After the kids fell asleep, Nick confessed to Lexie as he drove.


"You were right." He said.


"Oh?"


"CJ looks great. She's really gotten some sun."


"You could stand a little yourself." She smiled, reaching over and taking his hand.


"I just might. AJ has a pool, maybe I'll just park myself poolside for the next week." He smiled at her.


"That would be good for you." She agreed.


"Are you staying at Howie's?"


"Sometimes. I flip back and forth between there and AJ's. I take the boys over there when Mom needs a break. I've even gotten to take Caroline out, so she and Dad can have some private time."


"I bet they appreciate it."


"Well, we usually end up at either John's, Angie's or AJ's. AJ's kind of getting a kick out of having a little girl around." She smiled.


"Is he thinking he wants more children?"


"I have no idea what he wants. I think he's still concerned about his skills just to raise Alex on his own. There isn't a woman in sight right now for him any way."


Nick chuckled, "That won't last long."


"I hope not. He seems kind of lonely." Lexie sighed.


"That won't last long either." Nick laughed. Lexie laughed with him. "Are you two really getting along as well as he says?"


"Yes. He's not exactly a father figure. Howie is still the one who nags me about everything, but he's a good friend now." Lexie said.


"How do you think he'll react?"


"I don't know. He's asked me several times if I'm seeing anyone. I think he might be okay with it."


"What about Howie and Leah?"


"Lord. Mom, I think she'll be the first one to be okay with it. I hope that she'll be able to bring Dad along. I don't think he's going to be very happy at all. When are we going to tell them?"


"I don't know. What do you think? Should we wait?" he asked.


"Yes. Let's get through your cases first; see where we want to take this. Try to get a few things settled." She nodded.


"I guess you're right. How are we going to make this work? I'm still living with Aaron."


"Why?"


"I guess I just moved in and stayed."


"You have the same amount of press there as you do at your house. CJ wants to go home to her own bed. She has told me that."


"Yeah, I know. She's told me that, too. I just couldn't get the energy up to make any decisions. It was just easier to let Aaron and Jill do that."


"Well, according to Brian, you were hot footing it out of there the night before." She smiled.


"That's when I though CJ was in danger."


"She still is. She's in danger of being unhappy." Lexie said.


"I'll think about it next week."


"When you're sunning yourself poolside at AJ's?" she smiled warmly.


"Damn straight, girlie." He laughed at her teasing.



Lexie called AJ from the car and told him the plan worked and that Nick was staying the week at his house. He was excited about that. She also told him that she was going to spend her first night back with her parents and that Alex would be with Nick when they arrived. He wanted Lexie to come to his house to spend the night and stay up talking with him and Nick. Lexie reassured him that she and Nick had already talked and they were friends again. Besides, Lexie didn't have any clean clothes at his house and she was missing her brothers and new little sister. AJ made her promise to come over and help get some spatulas to flip Nick over when he got done baking poolside. She laughed and said she'd help peel him off the deck furniture.


AJ was in the driveway with a bodyguard when Nick pulled up. Nick didn't know if AJ knew Aaron had security on them, but he did feel better knowing someone was watching the house that he could actually see.


AJ hugged Nick before he opened the car door and pulled Alex out of his car seat. Alex got so excited to see AJ that he let out this remarkable noise that sounding like a cat crying.


"Good god!" Nick laughed, holding the car door for CJ. AJ was laughing as he headed up the driveway to the door.


"He does that all the time." AJ laughed back to him.


"Jesus. That was just horrible." Nick laughed as he grabbed his and CJ's bags. CJ pushed the door closed.


"I know. It's sounds awful." CJ said, running up in front of him and into the house.


"There's a guest room upstairs and all the way at the end of the hall to the right. The one on the left is Lexie's room." AJ said, pointing the way. "The room directly next to her's is the one CJ has stayed in. Go throw your stuff in there. Wanna drink or something?"


"Yeah, that would be great."


"Get some trunks on and take a swim. CJ! Get your suit on, okay?" AJ yelled as CJ ran up the stairs in front of Nick.


"Okay, Uncle AJ!" she yelled back.


Nick just smiled and shook his head. So, this is where she learned to yell through the house!


Nick made it to his guestroom and dropped his bags off. He took CJ's back downstairs because most of it was dirty. Nick almost fell over when AJ took him to the laundry room and started doing CJ's laundry himself.


AJ McLean at a clothes washer! Will the wonders ever cease?!


"What?" AJ laughed as he dumped detergent in the washer and closed the lid.


"You do laundry?"


"Sure. It's not like I forgot how or something. CJ's been here and I do wash her clothes. She's not being neglected." AJ laughed.


"I would've thought you'd hire someone. . ."


"There's no point. Oh, I have a service come in twice a week, but I do everything else myself. It's not like I’m on tour or something. I haven't recorded in a couple years, now. . ." He sighed. "I have Alex to take care of. I was smart. I invested when we were younger. I'm fine."


"Good for you, AJ." Nick smiled.


"Go get some trunks on. It's still plenty hot outside!" AJ joked as they left the laundry room.


"Uncle AJ! I can't get into the pool!" CJ yelled from the deck.


"It's still locked. What did I tell you about waiting for an adult, CJ?"


"I know. I'm sorry." She mumbled.


"Okay. Go help your Dad pick out some trunks and get his big butt down so I can give him the key." AJ laughed. CJ wasted no time racing through the house and yelling for Nick to hurry up!



Nick couldn't remember when he had been more relaxed. He had no doubt that Mrs. Dorough's leftover enchiladas and the half a dozen drinks AJ put in him helped a bit. Nick felt safe for the first time as he watched CJ and Alex play and AJ tended to them. He hadn't even realized he had fallen asleep until AJ woke him and it was dark.


"Where's CJ?" Nick asked startled.


"She's already in bed. Come on, its time for her Dad to hit the sack as well." AJ smiled.


"Thanks, AJ. Thanks for everything."


"Sure, Nick. Any time, bro." He smiled back.



Nick spent the next week in bliss. He and Lexie got to see each other everyday, although they had no private time together. A stolen kiss here and there, seconds spent in each other's arms. It didn't bother either one of them. They both knew the truth and nothing would change that for them. AJ seem genuinely happy that they were on speaking terms. He told Nick several times he felt Nick was responsible for giving Lexie back to him. Nick notice that a couple times when the kids weren't around, Lexie had called AJ 'dad'. He thought it was sweet and when he mentioned it to her, she denied she had said it. She told him he was hearing things.


By Friday, Nick had decided to have Aaron send his things back to his house where he and CJ were going to head back to. CJ would stay behind with Lexie for one more week and then she would fly CJ back in AJ's plane. AJ gave Nick the use of the plane to take him back to L.A. so he could avoid a commercial flight. CJ stayed with Howie and Leah when Lexie drove Nick to the airport.


She helped carry one of his bags across the tarmac and into AJ's plane where all the window shades had been kept down. He came up behind her and took her in his arms and she turned to him. His lips gently pressed against hers and she opened to him.


"I'm going to miss seeing you everyday." He smiled, touching his forehead to hers.


"I'll miss you, too. I'll be back in a week." She smiled.


"I'll have security send a van for you guys. I don't want you driving yourself to my house." He said.


"It's going to be tricky getting in and out of your house." She sighed.


"I know. It probably won't happen much." He agreed.


"What about your place in Malibu?" she asked.


"I sold it."


"What?! Nick, that's one of your favorite places."


"Yeah, well, not anymore." He sighed, straightening himself.


"What else is gone?" she asked.


"The house in Kentucky, the condo is Maui and both boats." He sighed.


"What? Jesus, Nick!"


"Well, it couldn't be avoided." He shrugged.


"The Prowler?"


"Well, Brian bought that from me. I can get it back any time." He said with a half smile. "The only property I have is the house in L.A."


"What about the private lake house. . ."


"Oh, I sold my part of that to Aaron and BJ years ago. My folks still live there." He shrugged.


"I'm so sorry." She said quietly.


"Don't worry about it. It's only stuff. I can always get more stuff." He smiled. "Besides, if we actually get accepted by your fathers, I'll probably have to buy a place here in Orlando."


"That would be great. Wouldn't it?" she smiled softly for him.


"I love you, okay? No matter how long it takes to get this all worked out. You'll remember that, right?" he said.


"Not distance, not time." She smiled back at him. He leaned in and kissed her gently. "I promise, Nick."



The next week just flew by for Lexie. Nick called CJ everyday and could catch up with Lexie if CJ could remember where she was. She went back and forth between AJ's and Howie's, but finally settled down at AJ's for her last night there.


"Is it okay with Howie that you're here?" AJ asked her, setting a dinner plate in front of her.


"Yeah. He's driving me and CJ to the airport tomorrow."


"Have you seen enough of him this summer?"


"Of course! AJ, don't worry about it."


"I just don't want Howie to get upset. . ."


"AJ, Howie knows you're my father. He's accepted that we have a relationship. He knows I love him. He's my Dad." She shrugged.


"I'm glad. I don't want to cause any problems."


"AJ, stop that!" she scolded him. He sat next to her on the same deck chair Nick had camped out on the week before.


"Well, I just wanted to say that." He said, filling his fork as they watched the kids play in the yard.


"I love you too." She said sideways at him.


"I know that." He sighed.


"I'll miss you too, AJ." She chuckled, knowing what he was thinking. He looked over at her and laughed.


"I'm just glad you and Nick are still friends." He smiled, shoveling food into his mouth.


"Oh yeah. He's just going through some stuff. He'll be fine, though." She said, starting to eat herself.


"He seemed the happiest I've seen him in a year. That must have been some fight you guys had in Detroit." AJ said.


"Well, I was messed up. It's behind us now." She said.


"Lexie? What did you do for the three days before you contacted Nick?" he asked.


"Huh?"


"When you left, no one heard from you for three days before you contacted Nick. Where were you?"


"Orlando."


"What?" he asked, stunned.


"I was in the airport for three days. I couldn't decide where to go. Detroit or L.A.?" she said, "I only had enough money for one ticket and I needed to see him, so I went to Detroit and demanded a flight to L.A."


"That's nuts." He said.


"Well, so was I." She chuckled.


"What did you guys fight about?" he asked.


"Me going to L.A., me leaving Orlando, me not wanting to talk to Dad." She sighed.


"That's it?"


"Why all the questions?" Lexie asked.


"You guys just seemed so close before you left. When you were gone, I actually thought Nick knew where you were but he wouldn't tell us."


"What?! Nick would've never done anything like that for all those months! AJ!" she said stunned.


"I know, I know. I know better now, I'm sorry."


"Is that what you and Dad have been saying? That Nick's been lying to you all this time?"


"No, no! I never mentioned it to anyone before now. Howie's hinted around that something else might have happened between you guys, and I figured that's what he meant."


"Well, that's stupid AJ. Nick would've been the first person to track me down if he knew where I was." She said, putting her plate down.


"Lexie, I'm sorry. I was just trying to figure out what Howie meant. . ." he said as he watched her get up.


"Do you understand how much Howie didn't want me anywhere near you guys? Nick was the first Backstreet Boy in my father's house, not including himself. AJ, Howie was scared he would lose me to you. And Nick. And Kevin and Brian and all that was the Backstreet Boys." She sighed. "Do you have any idea how hard it's been to convince him I still love him like a father and that I wasn't going to leave to be with you? I've spent all these months trying to keep you two balanced and now you think Nick was lying the entire time?"


"I'm sorry, honey. I didn't mean it like that. I'm just trying to explain how I was feeling at the time."


"No, AJ. Nick didn't know where I was until Brian called him after he got off the phone with you." She said, gathering up her plate and glass. AJ got up and followed her back into the house.


"Lexie, you aren't being fair. We were so worried about you. . ." He began.


"I'm sorry AJ. I'm not mad at you." She sighed, putting her full dish in the sink. She turned to him. "I just wouldn't want you thinking about Nick like that."


"I don't, I swear." He said.


"Good. He didn't do anything wrong in Detroit. He just tried to be my friend." She said. "I'll tell you the same thing I told Nick when he asked me if he was the reason I left Detroit. Nothing would've stopped me. Dad, I was scared, I was hurt, and all the pain blinded me. Nothing Nick could've done would've made me stay. I was leaving, regardless of anything Nick Carter would've said to me."


"I'm sorry. I was wrong." AJ sighed.


"I'm sorry too. Don't be upset with me." She said.


"I’m not. I shouldn't have said anything. It was stupid."


"No, not really. At least it's out in the open now." She sighed.


Sorta.



Howie picked up CJ and Lexie at AJ's in the morning and drove them to the airport. CJ was excited to be going home to her own house and Lexie was looking forward to seeing Nick. CJ ran ahead of them on the tarmac and Lexie stopped Howie from starting up the stairs into the plane.


"Dad? Can I ask you something?" she asked.


"Sure." He shrugged.


"Did you think that Nick knew where I was all that time and wasn't telling you?"


"What?! Of course not! Nick would never do anything like that. That's insane, Lexie!" he said, stunned.


"I'm sorry I asked."


"Lexie, what would make you think I would think something like that about Nick?"


"Something AJ and I talked about last night."


"Did AJ say that about Nick?"


"Don't go and get upset. . ."


"Lexie, tell me."


"Yes, but he said it was just a feeling he had. He said you kept hinting that maybe something else had happened in Detroit that Nick hadn't told you about." She said.


Oh no. Howie thought. He had thought that. He'd had a feeling about the two of them for two years, although he had known they weren't speaking until recently. Did AJ have the same thoughts? Had AJ gotten the same feeling Howie had gotten when he first saw them together?


"I don't think I mentioned anything to AJ." Howie shrugged. Lexie just shrugged.


"I just wanted to tell you that nothing Nick did made me leave. I was leaving before I ever got to Detroit. Nick just got me a ticket back to L.A." She said. "There was nothing he could've said that would've made me stay."


"I know, honey." Howie nodded.


"Thanks Dad." She said, throwing her arms around his neck. "I love you. Take care of everyone for me!"


"I will, baby. I promise." He smiled, kissing her cheek as CJ hollered for her from the plane.



Nick's van rolled up to AJ's plane as it landed and the security employees help get Lexie and CJ into the van. CJ ran straight out of the van and into the house yelling for Nick. Lexie followed her a little more quietly. The guard left Lexie's bags in the van for her ride back to the campus.


Nick had been in his den, waiting for their arrival. Nick was carrying CJ down the hall toward the door into the garage when Lexie walked in. He smiled warmly and kissed her cheek.


"You guys have a good flight?" he asked them.


"It was just fine." Lexie said.


"I like Uncle AJ's plane. It's fun." CJ laughed. Nick put her down and patted her behind.


"Why don't you go check out your room?" he suggested. She ran down the hall and up the back staircase.


"Did you leave a surprise?" Lexie smiled.


"Yes. I got her some new toys. She deserves them." He smiled. He took her hand, led her back to the den, and closed the door behind them. He took her in his arms and kissed her. Lexie realized that all the shades were drawn in this room. "Stay with me tonight." He breathed in her ear.


"I don't think I can." She said, her words muffled as his mouth found hers again. "Nick, there was press piled up outside your gates."


"The van has tinted windows. No one saw you. . ." he murmured.


"My Dad is expecting me to call him tonight. . ."


"You can call from here. . ."he insisted.


"What about CJ?" she asked.


"She's six. What is she going to figure out?" he asked her with a raised eyebrow.


"This is CJ we're talking about. Your exceptionally bright and talkative daughter." Lexie reminded him.


"Let's have dinner, put CJ to bed and then we can talk about it. Okay?" he asked jokingly.


"Okay, after CJ goes to bed." She smiled as he kissed her one more time.



Cook prepared a pleasant dinner for them and they were able to share it together in the dinning room, although the shades were all drawn against prying eyes and cameras. It was so natural, so right, Nick couldn't believe he thought he could deny himself this. CJ sat across from him and Lexie to his right and it was all he could do not to reach out and hold her hand for the entire meal. Her and CJ had such a rapport, it was amazing. She belonged with them and in this house and now Nick knew that. If he could only convince her to stay tonight.


Nick drew CJ's bath and cleaned her up while Lexie called her Dads and talked to both of them. When she was done, she sat on the vanity while Nick finished up with CJ and they all chatted away. CJ insisted that both of them read her a bedtime story, since Lexie has been doing it for the last couple weeks. So with CJ tucked in her own bed and sandwiched between them, Nick held the book as Lexie read it.


It didn't take long for CJ to fall asleep, she had had a really long and tiring day. Lexie and Nick got off her bed, each kissing her cheeks and left silently into the hall. Nick closed the door as Lexie stepped away from him, placing the book on a hall table because she forgot to leave it in the room. He closed the distance between them and slipped one finger under one of the thin straps of her sundress and the other unknotted the bow in the back. His lips found her warm, sun-kissed skin and she moaned under his attention. She turned to him, he took her hand, and she followed him down the hall.


Nick's room was at the very end of the hall, nearly at the opposite end of the house. The door was already ajar, he simply pushed it open and led her in. She stopped in her tracks as she looked around.


It was as large as some hotel suites, decorated in creams and muted blues. It was decidedly masculine, but incredibly sensuous. He took this moment to kiss her gently, cupping her face in his hands.


"What about CJ?" she whispered.


"She's sound asleep, she won't hear a thing." He murmured.


"Are you sure?" she asked.


"Yes, Lex, I'm sure." He giggled.


He kissed her amused face again and she returned it this time. He thought that maybe he should stop. It's been a year, he should ask first. He shouldn't just assume she wants to spend the night with him. She's probably scared. His doubts disappeared as her hands began to pull his silk shirt from his slacks. When her hands stopped, he stood back from her and pulled it the rest of the way over his head. He stood there, holding the shirt in his hand and she didn't move back toward him. He saw her hands rise toward him, then hesitate.


"Touch me." He whispered. "Please. I can't tell you how long I've waited. . ." his sentence ended in a groan as her hands slipped over his ribs and up his chest.


She pulled his ponytail over his bare shoulder and unclipped the rest of his hair. He couldn't escape the sensation of her hands on his skin. Until now, all he had were the memories of their first night together. When her lips found the center of his chest, he dropped the shirt and ran his fingers through her hair. He lifted her face to him and kissed her. "I love you so much. Let me show you." He whispered. She simply took his hand and led him to the bed.


With her back to him, he reached and untied the bow in the back of her dress. The zipper glided down her tanned back to reveal a simple pair of white cotton panties that hugged her hips. His lips began at her warm shoulders and continued down her back as the dress fell to her feet.


Lexie closed her eyes.


She breathed.


She barely believed.


He was here and he loved her.


She loved him so much, she felt the tears well silently behind her eyes. His name escaped her lips and she found herself in his arms, being folded back onto the bed. He had removed his shoes and slacks and they remained where her dress was. As she breathed again, she knew that it was the last breath she would ever have to take alone.


Nick used all his soul to love her, to somehow communicate what he had felt all this time. When she lay spent in his arms, her sleepy black eyes told him that she was his. Body and soul.


"Not distance, not time." He whispered. "I swear I will always love you."


"I know. I know that now." She whispered back.

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