The next morning, Nick kissed his lover's neck before straightening up and heading for the door.
"Where're you going?" a sleepy voice asked.
Nick turned around and smiled but did not move back towards the bed knowing he wouldn't be able to leave easily if he went back. "I'm meeting a friend for breakfast. I still have to swing by my place and get changed. I don't want to be late. Go back to sleep baby. I'll call you later alright?"
When he saw the nod of acknowledgement Nick smiled and left, absently mapping his day out ahead of him.
Nick sighed as he drove towards his father's house. He'd had a good, relaxing day and didn't feel like ending it over dinner with his family. He chuckled to himself, ‘what family? Dad's the only one I care to see.’
Parking his car Nick got out and gave his reflection in the window a passing glance before striding to the front door and pressing the doorbell.
The door was opened by the housekeeper Cynthia who greeted Nick with a chilly smile.
Nick smiled brightly at her. "Good evening Cynthia how are you on this lovely day?" he asked knowing that she couldn't ignore his question since he was her employer's son.
Cynthia twisted her lips in a parody of a smile, "Good. Yours Mr. Carter?"
“I’m having an excellent day, thank you so much for asking," Nick replied.
"Mr. Carter is out on the terrace," Cynthia said before turning and starting to lead the way.
"Thanks but I can find the way own my own," Nick said stopping her mid step. He smiled innocently and walked around her in the direction of the terrace knowing it was killing her to let him wander through the house unsupervised.
Standing by the open doors Nick watched his father who was looking out over the garden. He tapped lightly on the door and smiled.
Robert Carter turned his head when he heard a soft knock and smiled when he saw his child standing there. Moving towards him he held his arms open delighting in the fact that his grown son had no problems in giving his old man a hug.
"How are you my son?" Robert asked softly.
Nick pulled back and smiled, "How do I look?"
Robert laughed at Nick's standard line, "Sexay as always kiddo."
Nick chuckled and shook his head, "I'm doing good dad. How are you? You look tired."
Robert sighed and shook his head, "It's been a tough couple of month’s son. Lot's of work to be done."
Nick frowned, "Shouldn't it be easier with Richardson around to lighten the load for you and share responsibilities? Isn't he pulling his weight?"
Robert nodded, "Oh he definitely is Nicky. He's a very competent young man and has a lot of good ideas. It took awhile for everyone in the company to welcome him and realize that young though he may be, he knows what he is talking about."
Nick rolled his eyes, "You're talking about Stanton when you talk about everyone aren't you?"
Robert smiled, "You are one smart cookie. Yes I'm talking about him."
"So how did Kevin win him over?" Nick asked curiously.
Robert hid his surprise at Nick using Kevin's name so easily and answered, "He didn't. When Stanton kept up with questioning Kevin over everything he did Kevin put his foot down. He started answering Stanton's questions with 'Because I wanted to', with variations as and when needed."
Robert knew his son would enjoy this piece of news. Nick didn't disappoint and began laughing gleefully. Nick had worked at Carter-Richardson during his school holidays since he was in junior high, starting from the mailroom and slowly working his way up. He'd clashed with Maurice Stanton on more than one occasion. Each resulted in an argument more memorable than the previous. Robert had stopped counting, once he'd reached ten, the number of times Maurice had complained to him about Nick. Each time his complaint had been unjustified. And each time Nick had turned the tables on him by complaining to his own supervisor that Stanton was being unfair by taking his complaints of a lowly employee like Nick to the big boss. Needless to say Nick hadn't won any goodwill with Stanton, something that he wasn't upset about at all.
Robert took in Nick's overall look and categorized the changes the young man had gone through in the 7 months it had been since he'd seen him. He'd lost whatever little baby fat he’d still had from his face but still looked younger than his 19 years. His blonde hair that he'd worn on the longer side for awhile now was cut short and spiked messily atop his head. His body didn't look just lean anymore but more fit. He smiled and shook his head, his son had grown up.
Nick smiled at his father's perusal, "Yes dad, I've grown up."
"You look good Nick. I like the hair."
Nick brought a hand up but stopped short of touching his hair, "Yeah? I got bored of always wearing it shaggy."
"It definitely looks good. Very grown up and very you," Robert said with a proud smile.
Nick grinned, his eyes lighting up with a mischievous glint. "I've made some other grown up changes too dad."
Robert eyed Nick warily, that smile warned of the shock he'd probably be getting soon, "What did you do?"
Before Nick could answer they were interrupted by Cynthia announcing that Monique was waiting for them in the dining room.
As soon as Cynthia left Nick turned back to his father, "What, no drinks first?"
Robert shook his head, "I told Monique no drinks. You know I don't like you drinking until you're of age kid."
Father and son shared a smile and walked in together all the while Nick cheered in his head. 'Yes! Dad, I love you! By making her skip the half hour spent on drinks you are letting me get out of here earlier. You're a genius!'
Schooling his features into an appropriately normal smile Nick entered the living room and moved through into the dining room. He took in his step mother standing near the table in a royal blue floor length dress with gold liberally splashed throughout the outfit as well as glinting from her ears, neck, wrists and fingers. He fought an internal battle to not roll his eyes and barely succeeded.
"Nickolas darling," Monique greeted him.
"Monique, thank you for inviting me over," Nick said while moving his face on either side of hers in the obligatory air kiss routine.
He winked at his father over Monique's shoulder knowing he was curious and aching to know exactly what other changes Nick had made. While he didn't mind telling his father about some of them others, like his lover would remain a secret for awhile. There was no way he was going to risk that news getting out and while he knew his dad wouldn't tell anyone, in this house even the walls had ears.
"How are you darling? You left in such a hurry last night I didn't get to talk to you," Monique said while running her eyes over Nick to make sure the changes she'd noticed last night were indeed real. She smiled coolly and sat down in the chair that Robert had pulled out for her.
Nick waited until his father had sat down at the head of the table then sat on his right side, opposite Monique. He crossed his fingers under the table hoping that whenever Annaliese showed up she'd sit next to Monique and not him. He looked at the place setting; there was one set next to him and one next to Annaliese. He wondered if someone else was going to be joining them too.
"I'm doing good Monique, thank you. The party last night was nice, kind of like a welcome home thing for me. I got to meet quite a few people in one go, saved me the work of having to call everyone and let them know that I was back in town," Nick said sweetly, knowing the last thing Monique would have wanted was to save Nick from having to go through any trouble.
Monique smiled slightly, "I wish you'd confirmed with me that you were coming though. I could've invited more people and planned a proper welcome home party for you," she said.
Nick laughed internally, 'Yeah you'd have loved that. A party to show off Annaliese and me and make sure enough of your friends were there to irritate me.' Out loud he only said, "I did confirm with dad. He must've forgotten to give you the message," Nick smiled at his father before turning his attention back to Monique. "It was a lovely party all the same, don't worry about it not having been enough."
"Hello all," Annaliese said breezily as she sashayed into the room, her heels making clicking noises on the floor.
"Hello Annaliese," Robert said.
"Evening," Nick said politely.
Robert and Nick stood up as Annaliese joined them. Annaliese gave Nick a frosty look for standing up and smiled at Robert before bending to kiss her mother's cheek. Nick was not an alpha male and as such didn't need to stand up when a woman entered the room. Nick allowed himself a small smirk before schooling his features back. He did it anyway because he considered it good manners to stand up.
"Hello sweetheart," Monique said, "Did you have a nice day?"
Nick sat back in his seat ready to enjoy the show, knowing that when a deliberate question was asked by either mother or daughter they wanted attention. He smiled at Mary the cook as she set a plate of appetizers onto the table.
"It was good mother. I had a really good time."
Monique smiled at Nick, "She spent the day with Kevin Richardson. You met him at the party last night, do you remember?" she asked.
Robert looked at Nick, waiting to hear what he said. He knew that his wife wanted Annaliese and Kevin to be together but his plans were quite different from that.
Nick nodded, "He came with Corey and Matt right?"
Annaliese immediately spoke up, "You shouldn't call him Matt, Nickolas."
Not wanting to argue Nick only said, "He's my best friend's fiancÚ Annaliese. And he asked me to call him Matt," effectively ending that line of discussion.
Annaliese waved her hand as if to say she didn't care.
"Of course he did," Monique said, smiling at Annaliese and Nick.
Nick nodded his head and didn't comment further.
Annaliese smiled, "We spent the day together. He’s such a gentleman. He didn't want to let me go but I told him that my baby brother was joining us for dinner."
Nick smiled back sweetly, "That's nice. You should've asked him to join us that way he wouldn’t have had to be apart from you."
Annaliese glared at Nick while Robert took a bite of his appetizer to keep from laughing.
Monique looked at Annaliese silently enquiring why Kevin hadn't come with her.
"He had dinner plans..." she quickly thought, "with an investor," she said with a smile.
Nick decided to be nice and not poke holes in what she'd said, just nodded and accepted it. He took a bite of the paprika mushrooms on his plate. He looked at Mary who was setting a glass of wine in front of Annaliese and complimented her. She smiled and thanked him before retreating to the kitchen.
Once the appetizer plates had been taken away and before the main course could be served Monique brought up Kevin again.
"So Nickolas, what did you think of Kevin?" she asked, looking at him to make sure she could catch any shift in his features.
Nick lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug, "He seemed nice enough."
Monique narrowed her eyes slightly, but Nick caught it all the same.
"What are your plans for after dinner darling? Maybe something with Corey and Matthew?" she asked knowing that Kevin was quite friendly with them.
"Nothing concrete as yet. I didn't make any plans that might cause me to have to rush through with dinner," he said with a smile at his father.
Robert smiled back.
Nick began eating the next course. He was thankful that Monique and Annaliese had stopped their subtle warnings about Kevin. Like he cared to know about the stories his step sister was concocting. ‘So like her to confuse wishful thinking with lying,’ he thought with a smirk.
40 minutes later Nick tucked into his dessert, ignoring Annaliese who was watching him enviously. Being a model she was constantly watching her weight and what she ate. With a twist of her lips she stuck to drinking coffee, resisting the urge to have another glass of wine or tuck into the chocolate dessert herself.
"Nickolas you'll put on weight if you keep eating like that," she said with a slight smile. Ignoring her mother's sharp look she smiled, "Not that there's anything wrong with that." It simply wouldn't do for Robert to think she was being mean to his precious child. She needed the credit cards he provided her with too much to say much to Nick in front of him.
Nick smiled, "I never watch my weight. I always eat whatever I want to." He slowly ate another piece of the warm chocolate mud pie while looking at Annaliese. The last thing he would do was torture someone in this manner if they couldn't eat something but Annaliese didn't even come into the category of 'someone' with him.
A few minutes later amidst idle chit chat that Nick knew Monique was trying to steer in a particular direction he felt his cell phone vibrating. Excusing himself he moved away and answered the call.
Nick smiled, "Hey Cor, what's up?"
"Not much just finished dinner. Are you done with dinner?" Corey asked.
"Yeah. What'd you have in mind?" Nick asked knowing that Corey had called for a reason.
"Matt, Alice, Pam, David, Kevin, Paul," Corey replied quickly.
Nick smirked at how Corey had slipped Kevin's name in between David and Paul's. "Sure Cor, sounds good to me."
"Great! We're meeting at Matt's place ok?"
"Fine by me. Are you already there?" Nick asked.
"Nope had dinner at home with my parents," Corey said knowing Nick would understand his need to get away after spending an evening with his family.
Nick winced, "You want me to pick you up?"
"Yes please. How much longer do you need to play dutiful son?"
Nick smiled, "It would've been a lot longer if you hadn't called. I'll pick you up in 20 minutes ok?"
"I'll be ready. Bye Nicky."
"Plans with your friends Nickolas?" Monique asked.
Nick sat down and smiled, "Yes, I'm meeting Corey in a little while." He provided her with the answer to her next question not wanting to drag this conversation out.
"Oh, that's nice," Annaliese said.
Nick nodded. He disliked the way she always said 'Oh' as if it was a chore for her.
"So Nickolas," Monique asked brightly, "are you seeing anyone?"
Robert narrowed his eyes at his wife before looking at Nick.
"No, I'm not," Nick replied. His mind flashed to earlier that day when he'd left a warm bed and even warmer body.
Monique looked like she was getting ready to launch an all out inquiry into his private life which Robert was quick to prevent.
"You should get going if you're going to be meeting Corey son. You shouldn't keep him waiting," he said with and winked surreptitiously at Nick.
Nick chuckled, "That's a good idea dad. You know how much Corey hates to be kept waiting," he said while standing up. "Thank you for dinner dad, Monique."
Monique came forward and kissed the air on either side of his face, "You're welcome darling."
Nick smiled politely at Annaliese before walking out with his father.
Robert hugged Nick and kissed his forehead. "Have fun and drive safe."
Nick smiled and nodded, "I will dad."