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Author's Chapter Notes:
Sincere apologies for this month's chapter being late. I had a lot of trouble finishing my part of it.

Thank you so much to all the people who've been reviewing and giving us such encouraging feedback :)

A heartfelt thanks to our awesome betas - Linda and Bryan.

Any mistakes left are my fault.
Annaliese held her breath and slowly tugged the fitted dress down her body. Breathing as gently as possible she fixed the thin straps around her neck. Standing back she admired the way the red raw silk dress fit her body and clung to her curves and breasts.


She clicked the speakerphone button when her phone rang.


"Hello," she purred.


"Darling!" Her best friend Trisha Adams' voice floated out to her. "It fits like a glove right?"


Annaliese slipped several bangles on her wrist and smiled, "No darling…"


"What!? But Sully did the alteration himself!" Trisha screeched in panic.


Annaliese laughed, "It doesn't fit like a glove Trish, it fits like second skin!"


Trisha sighed in relief before both girls shared a laugh.


"Joshua is going to be furious when he sees the dress but it's going to be worth it right?" Trisha asked.


Annaliese laughed lightly as she once again looked at the way the fabric was moulded to her body, "Absolutely! This evening is definitely going to be worth Joshua’s anger.”


"You're sure that Nickolas," Trisha said his name as if it alone could give her an ulcer, "doesn't have anything of Joshua's to wear right?"


"Very sure. Joshua went to the Bahamas just before Nickolas came into town. If Nickolas does have something of his then it's definitely last seasons."


Both girls shared another laugh before hanging up with promises to see each other later.


'Tonight's going to be my night,' Annaliese thought while putting on another coat of mascara.



-x-




"Would you two stop that? You boys really need to learn how to switch off from work mode."


The two 'boys' in question Matthew Sigmond and Kevin Richardson raised their eyes from where they had been clicking the keys on their PDA's. They looked at each other before raising their eyebrows at Robert.


He sighed and squeezed the bridge of his nose. “We’ve been in this car for fifteen minutes and you two have been on the phone for seven of those and then emailing or texting the rest of the time!” Robert said in fond exasperation.


"Sorry Robert," Kevin and Matt said in unison.


Robert rolled his eyes at them when they started laughing.


"So tell me again why I'm being dragged to this little shindig?" Kevin asked while carelessly dropping his phone onto the seat next to him.


"I have to go so you do too," Matt said quickly.


Robert started laughing at the look on Kevin's face. Matt winked at Robert and joined in the laughter when Kevin smacked his arm.


"It's a fund raiser. Proceeds from the event will be split between a number of hospitals and shelters. And you have to be there for it because Carter-Richardson has long supported these causes. And…" he trailed off.


Matt and Kevin exchanged a look, "And?" they asked expectantly.


"And your mother will kill me if I show up without you," he said with an unrepentant smile.


Kevin couldn't help but smile at Robert's expression. "So what will happen at this event?" Kevin asked, trying to prepare himself for a boring evening of socializing with people. He was sure that a lot of them would say, ‘So you’re Kevin, Jerald and Cara’s son.’ It wasn’t something he was looking forward to.


"There will be a fashion show where a few designers will show selected pieces…”


As Kevin listened to Robert’s explanation he sighed and thought, ‘Great! A night of fashion. Just what I need.’



-x-



Corey looked at Nick before turning his attention back to the mirror.

"Do you think I should drop down a size before the wedding?"


The soft and hesitant question caused Nick to look at his friend who was putting eye drops in his eyes. He frowned and shook his head, "Definitely not Core! If anything, I think you need to gain some weight."


Nick stood up handed Corey a napkin and watched him dab the excess drops from his eyes. "Has your mom been saying stuff to you again?" Nick asked.


Corey sighed and shrugged before meeting Nick's eyes in the mirror, "She and Peter," Corey said referring to his mother and stepfather, "have been more annoying than usual lately."


"Oh Corey," Nick said before wrapping his arms around Corey from behind.


Corey slid his own hands over Nick's before turning and wrapping his arms around Nick. "They've been interfering with the wedding plans, haven't they?" Corey asked Nick.


Nick's sigh sufficiently answered his question.


"Little things," Nick said, "like changing the size of your suits, changes to the menu, room arrangements..."


Corey took a few deep, calming breaths, "And?"


"And Kyle's assistant notes down their ideas and promptly puts them into a file marked 'Suggestions unsuitable for Jacobs – Sigmond wedding,'" Nick answered honestly.


Corey sighed in relief. He wasn't close to his parents or step parents. Nick and Robert were the only ones who understood exactly what he needed. They were his true family which was why he'd had no problem in asking Nick to help him plan his wedding. In spite of how busy Nick was he’d said that he would be honoured to help and excitedly jumped into helping with the plans. Robert too had always made himself available to help Corey.


"Were the ideas bad or just too different than mine, ours?" Corey asked.


Nick rolled his eyes, "They weren't bad Core, they were very bad. And completely different than yours. It wouldn't have felt like YOUR wedding if we would have incorporated their ideas."


Corey nodded, understanding what his best friend meant.


"I won't let anything ruin this for you Core," Nick promised softly and kissed Corey's forehead.



-x-



As soon as Robert stepped out of the limo photographers and reporters began screaming his name. He laughed they got louder once Matt stepped out behind him. Matt exchanged an amused look with Robert. They laughed when the photographer’s screams increased to a deafening level as Kevin joined them on the green carpet.


Kevin bit back a smirk and stood next to Robert which made the photographers go crazy. They had already decided on the caption to go with it. 'Accomplished businessman Robert Carter accompanied by Matthew Sigmond and Kevin Richardson.' The only thing missing from making it a perfect picture were two people – Corey Jacobs and Nickolas Carter.


"Robert! Robert! Where's Nick?"


Robert motioned for them to stop shouting so that he could answer, "He's running a little late and Corey's waiting for him, they'll be here soon."


Satisfied with his answer they started directing their questions to Kevin and Matthew.


Kevin and Matt simply smiled at the questions being thrown at them about their future plans, if Kevin had a date, how the wedding plans were coming along.


Robert waved at the reporters and photographers before walking towards the doors of the hotel with Kevin and Matthew behind him.


Robert led them towards their table. He smiled when he saw Monique seated at table number 2 enjoying a glass of champagne.


"Darling, there you are!" Monique said with a smile.


"Monique, this certainly is a surprise. You've actually reached somewhere before me," Robert said with a smile.


Monique laughed, "I came with Annaliese. She wanted to be here early. You know how close to her heart this event is."

Kevin and Matthew didn’t let their expressions mirror their surprise at Monique’s appearance and words. The woman was dripping in jewels. A heavy ruby necklace set off a low cut maroon gown. Matching ruby ring, bracelet and earrings completed her ensemble.


Both men politely bent down and air kissed Monique's cheeks.


They were quickly joined by Annaliese and another woman.


If Monique's appearance had shocked them, Annaliese's almost left them speechless. Dressed in a blood red dress that clung to her body, revealed a bit too much cleavage, with a slit that went up to her thigh Annaliese was definitely pushing hard at the envelope of decency and class of the event. If you added her bright gold bangles, earrings and necklace to it… well it left the patrons pretty divided. Half of them were busy drooling over her while the other half were turned off by such a blatant dressing style.


Annaliese came forward and brushed her lips against Matthew's cheeks before going and pressing herself up against Kevin.


"Hello darling," she purred while caressing his arm.


Kevin smiled politely while taking a step back, "Hello Annaliese."


Annaliese smiled and indicated her friend, "Kevin, Matthew, I'd like to introduce you to my best friend Trisha Adams. Trisha meet Matthew Sigmond and Kevin Richardson."


Trisha stepped forward and brushed her cheeks against Kevin's before giving Matthew her complete attention.


"Matthew, we've met before," she said while looking at him from under her lashes.


Matthew, who preferred Corey's honest, wide eyed look to this practiced one, smiled, "We have?"


Trisha nodded and tried to jog his memory, "At Joshua's last showing."


Matthew nodded, "Oh I remember attending that one. My fiancÚ was the show stopper for it," he said innocently.


‘Why did I have to mention that show?’ Trisha thought and closed her hand into a fist causing her long nails to dig into her palm.


"Of course! And didn't he look lovely!" she said with as sincere a smile as she could. "Speaking of, where is young Corey tonight?" Trisha asked placing emphasis on the word young.


Matthew smiled, "He's coming with Nickolas. He should be here at the perfect time though."


Ten minutes later they were being asked to take their seats, the event was about to start.


Monique knew Trisha and Annaliese well enough to know that they would shamelessly ignore the seating arrangement at table number 2 and sit in the empty seats next to Matthew and Kevin. She smiled, “Why don’t you girls sit next to Matthew and Kevin,” she said sweetly before quickly adding, “Just until Corey and Nickolas get here. It looks bad if all of you are sitting by yourselves.”


Annaliese and Trisha smiled at Monique before sitting down in the chairs next to Matthew and Kevin where Corey and Nick were supposed to sit.


Kevin and Matthew exchanged a subtle look before turning their attention to the runway set up in front of them.


"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to…"


Alexander Alden welcomed everyone present to the annual event organized by the Dare to Dream Corporation. He reminded them that all the money raised that night would go to several charities across America and that the Dare to Dream Corp. did not accept any payment for organizing the event. So he asked people to be generous with their money to help out their favourite charities.


"Let us open this splendid evening with a fashion show by one of America's top designers. Featuring Kelli Dorjee's top pieces from her Summer Frolic collection and some from her new one, Winter Wonderland."


The audience watched in approval as beautiful women strutted up and down the runway in glittering dresses.


Kevin held his hand under the table and let his fingers fly over the keys of his phone.


Matthew did not react to the slight vibration he felt and discreetly held his phone where it was almost hidden by the tablecloth as he checked the text message he had just received.


::How long::

Matthew quickly sent back an answer.


::Food will be served in 20 mins::



-x-



Kevin smiled slightly and applauded politely as Sarah Connell’s collection ended and the designer took her bows. Matt had been spot on about the timing. The designers weren’t showing more than eight to ten pieces as most of the evening was to be dedicated to dinner, dancing and socialising.


“And now, our last designer of the evening before we serve the appetizers. We have with us Mr. Joshua Chasez!”


There was complete silence once Alexander had finished speaking. Even those who weren't interesting in Joshua Chasez's work or fashion had heard about the man who'd never had a bad season from the moment he'd stepped into the industry. He was very guarded about his work and supposedly no one got to look at his collection until he was ready to show it. Not even his mother!


Thunderous applause and excited whispers broke out across the room.


Annaliese and Trisha exchanged a confused look. If Joshua was showing a few of his pieces why hadn't they been asked to model them? The answer came soon enough when female models began walking out. Two of them were in dresses that were identical to the ones Annaliese and Trisha were wearing except for the alterations they had gotten made to them and they were in better colours. They only just resisted the urge to pout and glare at the models that had gotten lucky and grabbed such a job opportunity.


After a moment’s thought Annaliese decided that it was a good thing that she was not up there because sitting here she could at least keep working her charms on Kevin. She exchanged a smile with Trisha and Monique as male models who had been showing the best seller's from Joshua's summer line exited the runway. That smile turned into a confused one when Alexander began speaking.


"And now my dear friends we have a surprise for you. Mr. Chasez has very generously offered us a peek into his fall – winter collection which he will be showing next week. He has three pieces for us…"


It was unheard of for a designer of Chasez's talent and fame to be showing pieces from an unreleased line to such a large audience. Robert began applauding with Matt and Kevin almost immediately joining in as if they had planned it that way.


Kevin, who didn't follow fashion much, took his cue from Robert and Matt but also from something within him that found it ridiculous that people were too busy gossiping and speculating rather than welcoming the designer.


Annaliese and Trisha seethed with jealousy. The fall – winter line! How could their agent not have known about this?


'He's probably only showing the men's line,' Monique thought while smiling and applauding. She decided that now was the perfect opportunity to voice her thoughts.


"I cannot believe Corey and Nickolas are missing this!"


Annaliese and Trisha quickly agreed, "It is such irresponsible behaviour!" Annaliese exclaimed.


"And embarrassing too! We're sitting at one of the first few tables," Trisha quickly chirped in.


Matthew and Robert exchanged a glance while Kevin kept his eyes firmly on the runway so that he wouldn't have to comment.


"Here's the first piece to be shown from Joshua's unreleased fall – winter line!" The lights dimmed low and a spotlight trained at the entrance from where the model would step out. "It's worn by Alex Santis!"


People watched in stunned silence as a beautiful young man walked out in a casual look. He made his way down the runway without music, seemingly completely at ease with the number of people watching him. He was dressed in tan colour pants with a white turtleneck sweater. He paused at the end of the runway and looked out across the room before making his way back.


"The second piece is worn by Corey Jacobs!"


Silence spread across the room once again before people quickly began whispering while a few of the bolder ones stared at Matthew who stared expressionlessly at the runway.


On stage Corey slowly made his way down the runway. He stopped and let his eyes rest at the table where he knew Matt was sitting before moving on. When he turned to go back he stopped and slid his hands into the pockets of the black pants that he was wearing. He slid his hands back out while turning to walk back up the runway. Those few seconds were more than enough for people to notice the sparkling ring on his finger which was set off beautifully under the bright spotlight. It complimented the black pants, tight black knit tee shirt that stretched across his chest and toffee coloured blazer.


Kevin smiled and began applauding, happy about how confident the quiet, young man looked. When he looked at Matt he could see that his friend was smiling.


Robert was thankful that Joshua had agreed to turn the lights up with every model that walked out. He was enjoying watching the way several people reacted to what was happening on the runway.


Monique caught Trisha's eye and indicated that she should control herself. It wasn't the end of the world that Matthew's precious boy had pulled such a stunt. Though outwardly calm, internally Monique was furious. Nick had to have known that Corey had agreed to do this. Nick knew everything Corey did and Corey in turn did not take any big decisions without asking her darling stepson.


"Ladies and gentlemen please welcome Lia Hadley!" Alden said as a young woman who looked like an absolute vision dressed in billowing gold silk walked out. She wore no jewellery; her hair was swept up in a simple style that showed off the beauty of the dress and the woman wearing it.


She glided down the runway. Eyes the colour of melted chocolate sparkled as she looked around the room once she’d stopped at the end of the runway. It was as if she was looking for someone.


Experienced fashion enthusiasts, especially Joshua Chasez fans knew that he had a story behind every set of pieces that he showed in a line. They wondered what the end of this story would be and couldn't wait to find out more at his show next week.


The room went dark. "We have one more surprise for you ladies and gentleman," Alden said.


Annaliese was seething at not being asked to wear the gold gown. The fact that Lia Hadley had been asked to wear it and had not even hinted at it when she and Trish had been rude to her the previous day annoyed her a lot. 'The only way this night will get better is if Nickolas walks out now.’


Kevin and Matt stiffened and looked at Annaliese who finished off her third glass of champagne while not realizing that she’d said thought out loud.


“It is with great pride that I’d like to present Joshua’s show stopper. It is the companion piece to the one worn by the beautiful Miss Hadley. Please welcome Nickolas Carter!”


Lights brightened the room. A figure stood at the end of the runway and looked from one end of the room to the other as if he too was searching for someone. He turned and walked back; stopping at the other end of the runway he turned to face the room once again and held out his left hand.


Lia smiled and slipped her hand into Nick's. They shared a smile before slowing walking down the runway together as if they were walking down the aisle. They stopped at the end and looked at each other before looking out at the people who couldn't seem to look away from how well Nick's black suit and blood red shirt matched Lia's gold gown. They turned and surprised their already surprised audience further when Nick held up his right hand. Lia caught hold of it and slowly began to twirl back up the runway.


Thunderous applause broke out across the room as seconds after Lia and Nick had disappeared behind the curtain it parted once more to reveal Joshua Chasez walking out arm in arm with Lia. Alex, Corey and Nick accompanied them.


Monique reluctantly stood to join the standing ovation. She glanced at Annaliese and Trisha who defiantly remained seated. She let her eyes flick to the other people at their table who were also standing. With a huff Annaliese and Trisha stood up and clapped – a polite golf clap.


Blue eyes focused on Monique, Trisha and Annaliese before focusing on Matthew and Robert with a smile. They turned curious when they looked at Kevin.


“Strike one.”