Eric caressed Stephanie’s face as he sat and watched her sleep. She’d had a nightmare again, one that had wrenched his heart…one that, sadly, she’d remembered. He could still see the tears in her eyes, the blue pale with her hurt. He’d held her, rocking her as he sang to her the lullaby he’d sung to their children, letting her cry out all the pain she’d caused herself. She’d cried herself to sleep in his arms, and he’d laid her back against her pillows, spooning their bodies so that she was held as close to him as he could get her. And then he’d cried himself to sleep.
Now, hours later, she slept peacefully and he was getting ready to leave her. He’d decided that he was going to marry her while they were here in Big Bear and had been making phone calls the last two hours, setting things up. Now he just had to go home and get a few things and run a few errands. He pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead and stood up, leaving the note he’d written and a flower on his pillow for her to find.
Moving about the cabin, he picked up the dishes they’d left behind after their late night dinner, taking them to the kitchen and quietly placing them in the sink. He knew Stephanie would wash them when she got up, no matter that he’d told her not to in his note, she couldn’t stand dirty dishes lying around…in the sink or not. He smiled and chuckled. She’d always been that way, and had always gotten very frustrated with him when he’d leave dishes about the house as he worked in a frenzy to get his designs done in time for a showing.
He’d never forget the all out row they’d gotten into after she’d followed him all over the house picking up after him, irritating him to the point of snapping at her. Of course, she’d snapped back, and he’d growled and huffed. Then she’d given him that smirky little grin and he’d grabbed her and taken her right there on the floor of the den. She’d laughed after they were through and told him that now that she knew how he’d react, she’d follow him around the house more often.
“God what a woman,” he murmured, checking on her one more time before quietly slipping from the cabin.
By tonight she would be his wife…again.
Stephanie yawned and stretched, her arm finding only air as she searched for Eric. Opening her eyes, she felt her heart thud against her chest until she saw the flower and note on his pillow. Taking a deep breath, she lifted the flower to her nose, inhaling the light fragrance. Eric must have been up and busy for quite a while if he’d had time to go walking out in the woods long enough to find this wild flower. Reading his note, she shook her head and sighed as she sat up.
“What in the world are you up to?” she wondered aloud as she got out of bed and stretched, yawning then laughing at the way her top fell off her shoulder. That had been a source of much fun for her last night as she teased Eric. She grinned as she remembered how he’d chased her around the sofa, sending her shouting and laughing into their bedroom, catching her and tackling her onto the bed.
“I’ve got you now,” he murmured as he nibbled at her neck.
Stephanie’s breath hitched at the feel of his hand sliding up her bare leg beneath the hem of her top. “Eric,” she whimpered, her body yielding to his as she trembled beneath him.
“We’ve eaten our dinner,” he whispered as he looked down at her. “Now I want you.”
Stephanie tangled her fingers in his hair, smiling up at him. “I can feel that,” she chuckled when he growled.
“Oh what you do to me, woman.”
“Don’t just let me lie here and feel, show me,” she encouraged as she tugged his head down, her lips pressing against his, showing him her own passion.
“I love you, Stephanie Forrester,” he whispered as he pulled from the kiss, resting his forehead against hers.
“I love you,” she returned, her eyes shining with the truth of it. “Make love to me, Eric.”
Stephanie sighed and felt herself tremble as she remembered how he’d made love to her, fiery and passionate, showing her how much he loved and wanted her with more than just his words. With the smile still on her face, she went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, adjusting the water to just the right temperature. Pulling her top up over her head, she stepped into the warm spray and let it flow over her.
A frown replaced her smile as her thoughts turned to the nightmare that had disturbed their sleep. Leaning back, she let the water flow over her head, mingling with the tears that suddenly appeared on her cheeks. The dream had been so vivid. She’d been in Eric’s arms then he’d been ripped from her, leaving her to die alone as an angry mob blocked Eric’s way back to her and laughed. She’d screamed and sobbed and that’s when Eric had pulled her from the dream, rocking her and soothing her as he sang her the same lullaby he’d sang so often to their children when they’d had a nightmare.
Even as she continued to cry, she felt her heart swelling with love as she remembered the way Eric’s body trembled against hers as he spooned her against him. She’d felt his tears against her skin, and knew that he was crying with her. Wiping the water from her face, she reached for her shampoo, laughing and shaking her head when she noticed which one it was.
“Sly fox,” she mumbled as she squirted some into her hand. He’d picked the one he favored, the one he had told her the scent of it in her hair always turned him on. “I suppose I should have expected it when I let him pack my shower things,” she laughed and closed her eyes, her fingers massaging the silky liquid into her scalp.
“Now…I wonder what my surprise is?” she mumbled as she rinsed the suds out of her hair.
“Eric? What are you doing here?” Jackie asked, surprised to see him after hearing that he and Stephanie had disappeared.
Eric smiled at the woman, glad that he’d run into her. “I had a few things I needed to do.”
“How’s Stephanie? Is she okay?” she asked, her hand on his arm in concern for her friend.
Eric patted her hand. “She’s still upset by everything, but she’ll be okay. I’ve got her tucked away in a safe place.” He winked when Jackie laughed.
“I’m glad you’re staying by her side.”
“I made her a promise, Jackie. And, I love her.” He shrugged. “I’m actually glad I ran in to you. I could use a favor.”
“Anything,” she told him with a smile. “Planning something for Stephanie?”
“I am.” He looked around to make sure no one was paying attention to them then leaned over to whisper in her ear. “I’ve arranged for us to get remarried.”
“Oh Eric,” she whispered and hugged him. “That’s wonderful. What can I do?”
“Have you ever noticed the little chapel in the woods up at Big Bear?”
Jackie paused to think, then nodded. “Yes. Quaint little place.”
“And just perfect for what I have in mind. Stephanie needs a friend to stand up for her, and you seem to be the only one she has left. Will you?”
“I’d be honored. Just tell me when and what color to wear.”
“Be there at a few minutes before seven and wear something blue.”
“Anything else I can do?”
“No, just be there. I have a friend that’s going to stand up for me.” He chuckled, “I almost didn’t have. Owen would have had to.”
Jackie laughed. “I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded. Is it alright if I bring him?”
“That’s fine. I wouldn’t want you driving up there after dark anyway.” Eric hugged her. “Thank you, Jackie.” He pulled back. “Stephanie will really appreciate this.”
She shrugged. “I think I can understand why Stephanie did it. Besides, I’m not a huge fan of Brooke’s, so why should I be angry at Stephanie?”
“Maybe you can take Stephanie to a spa in a few days? Just the two of you. Tell her you understand. She needs someone else besides me. She knows that I’m upset that she did this, but I’m doing everything I can to assure her that I’m not going to leave her. I told her that I understand why she did it. Maybe if someone else talks with her, it will help her. The family is all so angry with her that she can’t apologize enough. And they’re angry at me for not kicking her to the curb, so I can’t try to explain to them why she did what she did.”
“I’ll be glad to spend some time with her.” Jackie kissed his cheek. “You’d better go on with the rest of what you’re supposed to be doing. I don’t want you to be late.”
Eric laughed. “Thanks again, Jackie. I’ll see you later.”
Jackie watched Eric walk off and sighed. The man was trying his hardest to make the most of the mess their family was in. She’d never seen him like this and knew that Stephanie being sick had changed him. Feeling two arms go around her, she smiled. “Hello, Darling.”
Owen kissed her cheek. “What was that all about?”
“He’s planning a wedding.”
“He’s going to remarry Stephanie?”
“Yes, but in secret. There’s a small chapel in the woods up at Big Bear. He asked me if I’d stand up for Stephanie since she has no one else.”
“Yeah. I’d guess they’re all pretty angry with her. I’m surprised he isn’t.”
“Oh, he’s upset with her for doing what she did, but whatever anger he had disappeared. There’s something that happened that has him trying to reassure her that he’s not going anywhere. I told him that I understand why she did it. I think he understands more about it that he said he did.”
“And you aren’t really a Brooke fan.” Owen chuckled.
“No, I’m not.”
“So what time are you supposed to be there?”
“We, Darling. He said I could bring you. He doesn’t want me up there after dark by myself.”
“I’m glad.” Owen hugged her. “Now, what time?”
“A few minutes before seven.”
“Then that gives us plenty of time to finish our shopping and errands.” He took her hand and started walking toward the exit of the jewelry store.
She sighed and nodded as she followed him. “Yes, it does. Do you think Nicky will ever adjust to us living with him?”
“About as well as Stephanie has adjusted to Brooke.”
Stephanie heard the door close and smiled. Listening to his movements about the cabin, she sighed when she felt his presence behind her. “Hello,” she whispered when his arms slipped around her waist.
“Hello,” he echoed, his voice soft as he nuzzled her neck. “What are you doing?”
“Well, I thought I would get started on dinner since you missed lunch. What were you doing?”
“Oh, just a few things.” He frowned. “I got caught by Ridge, Thomas, and Taylor. They’re all arguing over your shares. Ridge wants them, Taylor is objecting, and Thomas is caught in the middle.”
“And they’re all very angry with you,” she guessed.
“Yes, they’re angry with me, not that I care how angry they are. Taylor is the only one that really has a right to be angry since she was the one caught in the middle of this mess without having anything to do with it.”
Stephanie nodded sadly. “I don’t think she’ll ever forgive me. Not that I blame her.”
“When she calms down, she’ll let you apologize, and she’ll listen when you tell her why you did it. She’ll come around, Sweetheart. We just have to give her time.”
“Yeah,” she sighed and leaned back against him. “So where were you that you ran into all of them?”
“Oh, I had something I needed to pick up at work.”
Turning her head to look up at him, she studied his face. “What?”
Eric grinned and kissed her nose. “Oh, just something.”
“Eric,” she growled.
“Ah, ah,” he laughed. “In due time, Steph. Now, tell me what you’re fixing.”
She huffed then looked back to the sauce she was stirring. “I thought I’d make your favorite chicken dish.”
“Ooh,” he hummed. “Sounds wonderful.”
“So are you going to give me a hint about what my surprise is?”
“You’ll find out at five thirty.”
She snarled her nose. “I have to wait that long?”
He chuckled and squeezed her. “That’s only two hours. You can do it.”
“Do I need to put a hold on dinner?”
“Well, go ahead and get everything ready to put together. Then we can put it in the fridge while we’re busy.”
“It would help if you’d just tell me.”
“You’ll find out soon enough. Now behave.”
“Fine,” she huffed and turned off the burner, covering the pan and setting it on the back of the stove. “Let me go so I can get to the rest of the preparations.”
Sniffing her hair, Eric moaned, “You washed your hair.” Burying his face in the soft strands, he let his hands begin to roam over her curves.
“Eric,” she sighed and shivered against him.
Turning her to face him, he covered her lips with his own, his tongue tracing the supple flesh before pushing inside her mouth and tangling with her tongue. His fingers tangled in her hair as he moved the kiss to her neck, then up to nibble at her ears. Slipping a hand under her top, he caressed up her back then moved to gently cup a breast.
“Oh god, Eric,” she moaned and gripped his arms. “We’re too old to be doing this in the kitchen.”
Eric pulled back, resting his forehead against hers, his hands on her hips. “You’re right. I’ll go cool off and let you get back to what you were doing.”
Tilting her face up, she smiled at him. “You don’t have to cool off. We could always just move this to the bedroom.”
“No, no.” He shook his head. “We’ll have plenty of time for that tonight after your surprise. I’m going to go before I give in to that look.” He kissed her then hurried from the kitchen.
“Oh!” she huffed and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath to calm herself. “You’re terrible!” she yelled, chuckling when he yelled back at her that she’d thank him later. “Later. Always later,” she mumbled as she went back to getting things prepped for their dinner. Whatever the man was planning it had better be good, was all she could think as she banged around trying to work off the arousal he’d built up with his kisses.
“Here you go.” Eric smiled as he held out a garment bag for Stephanie.
“What the…? Eric? What have you done?”
“This is why I was at Forrester earlier.”
Stephanie took a deep breath as she unzipped the bag, gasping it out as she saw the outfit inside. “Oh Eric. It’s beautiful,” she whispered as she fingered the soft cream satin of the top and pants. “Lace?” she asked when she touched the jacket.
“Handmade with Thai silk.” He helped her pull the outfit out, and watched her face as she looked at the lace shimmering in the light.
“It’s beautiful, Eric, but where did you get this lace? We don’t use anything like this.”
He shook his head and kissed her forehead. “No, we don’t. Thorne has been searching for it for weeks. He went to Thailand to personally pick it out for me after we saw a sample of the artist’s work.”
“Eric,” she breathed as she looked up at him, her eyes watering. “You did this for me?”
He nodded, reaching out to wipe a tear. “Yes, Sweetheart. I’ve had everything but the jacket finished for at least two weeks, but I wanted the outfit to be special, so I knew I had to have just the right kind of jacket. I didn’t want to go with the standard jacket like I always design for you. Not for this outfit.”
“Why not for this outfit?”
“Because,” he whispered as he turned to lay the outfit and garment bag on the bed. Turning back to her, he knelt down in front of her and looked up at her as he held out a box with a ring. “Because I want to marry you again. Because I wanted you to have something beautiful to wear when you walk down the aisle to me.”
Stephanie covered her mouth with her hand, tears rolling down her cheeks as she stared into Eric’s dark eyes. “It’s a new ring,” she whispered.
Eric nodded as he turned the box around to stare at its contents. The sapphire was the same blue as her eyes when she was lying in his arms after making love, the diamonds the most brilliant ones the jeweler could find. Turning the box back to her, he looked back up at her. “It’s a new beginning for us. A new chance for me to be the man, the husband, that I always should have been.”
“It’s beautiful,” she told him softly and held out her hand. “Stand up, Honey.”
Taking her hand, he stood up and pulled her into his arms. “Will you marry me again?”
Cupping his cheek, she smiled up at him. “Yes,” she answered in a voice that shook with the emotion she felt.
Taking the ring out of the box, he tossed the box on the bed, then slipped the ring on her finger, his eyes never leaving hers. “Get dressed, Sweet girl. We have a wedding to go to.”
Stephanie’s eyes widened. “Tonight?”
He smiled and nodded. “Yes, tonight.”
Narrowing her eyes, she studied him. “That’s what you’ve been up to all day.”
“Uh hum. Now, go on. We don’t want to be late.” He patted her hip, then watched her walk away. She was going to be so surprised with their wedding. He couldn’t wait to see her eyes when she saw what he’d done.