Stephanie sighed, ignoring the hurt she felt at the way her son and grandson were treating her. She could see it in their eyes, contempt. Well, if that’s the way things were, then so be it. She was through with this whole mess.
“Fine, then. I’ll be leaving,” she spoke softly, turning and staring a few moments at Brooke before walking past her and down the hall to the elevator.
Steffy stood staring after her grandmother then turned to her father. “How could you?” she asked before leaving much the same way her grandmother had, with one exception.
Stopping to stare at her step-mother, Steffy shook her head. “You’ve won. Don’t forget the champagne.”
“Steffy!” Ridge growled at her but received nothing in return, only her disappearing down the hall.
“Did Thomas really take my side?” Brooke wanted to know.
“Yes, he did. He’s grown up a lot and has realized that his sister and grandmother are wrong, as always.” Ridge smiled and pulled her into his arms. “You’ll be back here soon.”
Brooke nodded against his chest. “But don’t you think it’s odd that Stephanie didn’t argue anymore than she did? She just gave in. That’s not like her.”
Ridge shrugged. “Oh, she and Steffy will probably be plotting something, but it doesn’t matter. I run this company, it’s my decision that matters.”
Thorne was startled by his mother’s presence. “Mom? What is it?”
“I’m sorry, Son. I was wrong. All these years I’ve treated you as second best. Forgive me?” Stephanie asked as she cupped her younger son’s cheek.
Frowning, he stared at her. “Mom? What’s happened?”
Instead of answering the question directly, Stephanie just shook her head. “I’m leaving the company, Thorne. No matter how hard I try, she’s there at every turn messing things up. Thomas is even taking her side now. I know that it’s just because he’s angry that Taylor gave Steffy her shares of the company, but to side with Brooke in the name of family loyalty? What about his mother? What about how this makes her feel? All he cares about is how Ridge feels.” She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. That’s not why I came here.”
“Why did you come here?” Thorne asked, still a bit confused.
“Start packing your things, Darling. You’re moving to my office. As soon as I get the papers from my lawyer, you’ll have my shares of Forrester Creations. You’ll be where you should’ve been all along.”
“Mom, you can’t leave.” Thorne shook his head trying to process what all of this meant.
“Your father will be fine without me here, Darling.” She turned and stared out in the hall. “I’m tired, Thorne. Too tired for all this nonsense. I know that Eric will be thrilled with Thomas supporting Brooke, and then it will be the three of them against me once again. I just don’t really see the need to continue to beat my head against this brick wall. The Logan girls are always going to win, no matter how many times what I say will happen, happens.”
Thorne stood up and pulled his mother into his arms. There was something in the way she talked, something in her eyes, that frightened him. “I don’t want your shares, Mom. If you aren’t going to be here, I don’t want to be here. This company needs you. If you leave, the clients will leave with you.”
“I can’t stay, Thorne,” she told him quietly.
“Then give your shares to Ridge, because I don’t want them.”
Pulling back and looking up at her youngest son, she smiled sadly. “After all the years of being second best and stuck in the basement, why are you so loyal to me?”
“Because you’re my mother and…I love you.”
Steffy had much the same thoughts that her grandmother had and had called her own lawyer. If this was how things were going to be, then Thomas could just have her shares. This company wasn’t going to survive, and she wanted out before she went down with it.
Walking down the hall to her father’s office, she caught sight of her grandmother. “Grandma,” she called, causing the older woman to stop and give her a tired smile.
“Steffy.” Stephanie greeted her granddaughter. “I’m glad I bumped into you before going in to see your father.”
“Same here.” Steffy held up papers identical to the ones she saw her grandmother holding. “I’m turning my shares over to Thomas. I don’t want to go down with this sinking ship.”
“I offered mine to Thorne. He doesn’t want them. He’s packing up his office as we speak.”
“So it’s just going to be Granddad, Dad, Thomas…and Brooke.”
“I’m sure your grandfather will be beyond thrilled that Thomas has taken his place as a true Forrester male.”
Steffy rolled her eyes. “I just don’t understand, but I guess it’s because I’m a woman.”
Stephanie couldn’t help but laugh then coughed a bit and cleared her throat. “Shall we get this done and over with?”
“The sooner the better.” Steffy sighed. “You know, I seriously contemplated selling to Bill Spencer.”
“So did I.” Stephanie admitted.
“Then why didn’t we?”
“Because you worked too hard to get it back…even if your father and grandfather haven’t been very grateful for it and have let a Logan mess things up again.” Stephanie shrugged. “Let them have it all and prove us right as they sink.”
“Do you think the death of the company will make them see the truth?”
Ridge and Eric looked up when the door to the office opened, admitting both Stephanies.
Stephanie looked at Eric then at their son. “I’m here to give you this.” She placed the legal document on Ridge’s desk.
“What is this?” Ridge questioned as he picked up the document.
“I think you know what it is. I’m giving you my shares of Forrester Creations.” She moved to stare out the windows when he looked up at her with questioning eyes. “All these years I’ve spent choosing you over all my other children, over your father. It’s always been you. I don’t really know why,” she shrugged. “Maybe it was because you were the child that brought me the man I loved and held him to me. Maybe it was because you were the first being that loved me unconditionally. Whatever the reason, I was wrong. The look in your eyes today just brought it all home.
You’ve never cared for me the way I have you. I’ve never been as important to you as you have been to me. For years I’ve tried to make you see how wrong Brooke is for you, how much damage she’s done, but you’ve never listened. I realized when you took Brooke’s side the day I was in the hospital after she shoved me, that things were changing. Today, when you and Thomas looked at me the way you did, I knew that this was the end. I won’t bother you anymore, Ridge. Your disdain for me is perfectly clear now. I’ll let you live your life as you see fit. I’ll not say another word, even when she hurts you once again. Or maybe she won’t. Her last little, mistake, didn’t seem to bother you.” Closing her eyes against the sudden onslaught of tears, she took a deep breath to control her emotions then turned and faced her son. “I’ll have someone come in and pack my things. I believe the sooner I leave, the better things will be.”
Steffy watched her grandmother leave, her own tears rolling down her cheeks. “You hurt her, Dad. More than anyone else. I’m hurt, but,” she shook her head and turned back to her father, walking to his desk to put her own document down. “This is a document signing over my shares of the company to Thomas. I know he’s angry at Mom and I, although he doesn’t know all of the truth. Mom told me when things had settled down that I needed to share half of these with him. But none of that matters now. I don’t want any of them. I believe I’m going to start my own PR company. I might even start using Mom’s maiden name just so that I won’t be associated with this company.” Turning she stared at her grandfather. “Grandma believes you’ll be happy with Thomas’ decision to support Brooke. She didn’t say it, but the thought hurts her. What is it about the Logans that is so special, Granddad? What makes them more important to you and Dad than Grandma and me?”
Eric watched his granddaughter leave then turned to his son. “What is she talking about? What happened today?”
“Thomas stood up to the two of them and took Brooke’s side. He told Mother and Steffy that they’re the ones that are causing all the family drama by not letting this crazy feud go. I simply stated that I was proud of him. Mother’s just over-reacting. And as usual, Steffy is taking her side.”
Eric shook his head. “I think it’s more than that, Ridge.”
Ridge shrugged. “She’ll be back. She always comes back.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it.” Thorne spoke up as he walked into the room. “I’m here to tell you that I quit. You’ll have to find someone else to shove in the basement. This business is going down, and I for one don’t want to be here when it happens.”
“You threatened to leave once before.” Ridge reminded him.
“Yes, when Mother was forced out, but she wouldn’t let me.” Thorne stared at his brother. “Funny thing is…she offered me her shares but I turned her down. She didn’t ask me not to leave this time, just accepted my decision and came to see you.”
Again Eric stood and watched as another person left the office. “Ridge, something isn’t right. You’re mother doesn’t give up this easily.”
“She’s just up to her old tricks again, Dad. She’ll get over it.”
“No.” Eric shook his head. “Something’s wrong. I’m going to go find her.”
Stephanie felt her world spinning out of control as Brooke shoved passed her, knocking her off balance and sending her falling to the floor. Lying there, she felt disoriented, her head spinning as if she were on a carousel. “Help me up, Honey,” she managed to call out, only to be ignored.
She could hear Brooke rambling on about faking it again and other things, but none of it was truly processing. Hearing Brooke’s departing footsteps, she closed her eyes, succumbing to the darkness that now swirled around her.
Brooke came back downstairs, several minutes later, only to find Stephanie still lying on the floor where she’d left her. The woman was impossible, faking to the point of staying in that uncomfortable position on the hard tile floor. Rolling her eyes, she began to once again ramble at her mother-in-law about faking it, how she’d just done this two months ago. Then taunting her with, “Oh, Sleeping Beauty awakes,” when she heard her coughing.
Stephanie slowly opened her eyes, struggled for a moment to catch her breath and clear her head. “Are the Paramedics coming?” she asked.
“You don’t need a Paramedic, what you need is a good acting coach. Your performances get lamer every time you try one of these phony falls.”
“You push me again?”
“You’re faking again.”
“Well, whatever. If I have another concussion, it’ll be all your fault.”
“Nothing can kill you, Stephanie, except maybe a stake through your heart.”
Still trying to get her mind cleared, Stephanie heard the doorbell ring, and watched as Brooke walked past her. Closing her eyes, she slowly started to lose consciousness again, but a voice stopped her.
“Stephanie! My god, Brooke! What the hell happened?” Eric yelled as he rushed to Stephanie, kneeling down beside her. “Stephanie? Sweetheart, are you alright?” he questioned.
“She’s faking, Eric. It’s just another ploy of hers to try and get rid of me. She tried two months ago and decided to try again.”
Stephanie coughed and struggled to catch her breath. “Eric,” she managed.
“Shh,” he soothed as he gently cradled her head in his lap. “How long have you been like this?”
Stephanie shook her head, the struggle to stay awake almost impossible.
“How long, Brooke?” Eric turned his attention to the other woman.
“A few minutes, I guess,” she shrugged. “She’s just faking.”
“Does it look like she’s faking to you? Sound like she’s faking? There’s something wrong, Brooke.” He shook his head. “Have you at least called for an ambulance?”
“Why would I do that when she’s faking?”
“Dear god, Brooke,” he breathed as he reached into his pocket for his phone. Shaking his head as he dialed, he kept a hand on Stephanie’s head, gently caressing her hair as he told the dispatcher the address to send the ambulance to. Hanging up, he cringed when Stephanie took a deep breath and started coughing. “Help is on the way, Sweetheart.”
Brooke rolled her eyes. “Oh please.”
“Eric, help me up.” Stephanie whispered.
“I’m not sure we should move you.”
She shook her head. “Uncomfortable.”
“Alright,” he gave in. Standing, he bent over to help her up. Steadying her against him, Eric felt her trembling as he led her over to the sofa and helped her lie down. “Better?” he asked as he sat down beside her and caressed her face.
Stephanie nodded and closed her eyes. She could hear Brooke mumbling in the background, but her fuzzy thoughts were focused on Eric’s touch as he caressed her face, his thumb brushing across her lips after she coughed.
“I hear the siren now, Sweetheart. We’ll get you to the hospital and they’ll find out what’s wrong.” He turned to glare at Brooke. “I’ll tend to Brooke later.”
Stephanie shook her head. “No,” she whispered, her look pleading with him not to leave her.
“Shh, alright.” Eric didn’t know what to make of how Stephanie was acting. It was beginning to scare him.
What if something was horribly wrong with his sweet girl?
Eric stood and listened to the nurse asking Stephanie if there was anything she needed. He smiled when the nurse called Stephanie their favorite patient. Of course she was their favorite. The wing they were in wouldn’t exist without his ex-wife. But that didn’t matter now. What mattered was how much better Stephanie seemed to be.
Stephanie watched the nurse leave then turned her attention to Eric. “Thank you.”
Eric frowned as he walked over and sat down on the side of the bed, taking her hand in his. “For what?”
“For coming when you did. She wouldn’t believe me,” her voice was low. Looking down at their hands, she sighed, “I wasn’t faking. She brushed past me and I felt myself falling backward.”
Lifting her hand and pressing a kiss to the soft skin, he reached up and caressed her cheek. “I know you weren’t faking, Sweetheart.” Closing his eyes, he swallowed. “I was so scared when I saw you lying there.”
“Excuse me. I’m sorry to interrupt.” Dr. Lewis spoke up as she walked into the room.
Stephanie held Eric’s hand as he turned to face the doctor. “Well?”
“We want to run more tests since this is the second time you’ve been here in the last two months, Mrs. Forrester. I’ve ordered another CT scan and we’ll go from there.”
“Alright.” Stephanie agreed, squeezing Eric’s hand to keep herself from acknowledging the fear that had been near the surface since she’d started feeling short of breath at Brooke’s.
“What aren’t you saying, Dr. Lewis?” Eric questioned.
Dr. Lewis looked at Eric then down at the file she held. “I’m worried about the dizziness and shortness of breath. I want to make sure we didn’t miss something the last time.”
“They’ll be in to take you to radiology in just a few minutes, Mrs. Forrester.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
Eric looked down at the hand he held, his heart racing in his chest as thoughts of what might be wrong whirled through his mind. “I’m sorry, Steph.”
Stephanie blinked in surprise. “What are you apologizing for?”
He looked up into the blue eyes he’d been mesmerized by the first time he’d looked into them and every time since. “Steffy said that you think I’m going to be happy about Thomas taking Brooke’s side.”
“Eric, Honey, you aren’t making any sense.”
“I never knew, Stephanie. I always took her side because I thought you were,” he shook his head as he sat back down beside her. “I was wrong. She,” he swallowed, his eyes watering. “She just left you lying there. I know she dislikes you, but how could she do that? I’m so sorry. So sorry.”
“Shh,” she soothed as she cupped his cheek. “Stop, Eric. It’s alright.”
“No, it’s not.” He shook his head. “I’ve hurt you so many times by taking her side.”
Stephanie shook her head. “No more than I’ve hurt you by making Ridge more important than you.”
“I guess we’ve both been blinded.”
“Yes, we have.” Stephanie caressed his face, her thumb wiping a tear.
Eric leaned forward, placing a gentle kiss to her lips. “I love you,” he whispered.
Smiling at him, Stephanie felt a tear roll down her cheek. “That’s good, because I love you.”
Eric frowned when he looked up to see his daughter-in-law. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to make sure she doesn’t tell anymore lies about me. I didn’t push her.”
“Just like you didn’t push her the last time?”
Brooke blinked in surprise at the tone of his voice. “Don’t tell me she’s convinced you that I pushed her.”
“No, she did nothing of the sort. She said that you brushed past her and she fell because she lost her balance.”
“Why are you still here?”
“Because they’re running tests. Dr. Lewis doesn’t like that Stephanie was dizzy and short of breath.”
“She’s faking, for heaven’s sake. How much is she paying this doctor?”
Eric rubbed a hand over his face, looking up in time to see them wheeling Stephanie back to her room. “Just leave, Brooke. She’ll only get upset if you’re here. Go back home and wait for Ridge.”
“You haven’t called him?”
“Obviously you haven’t talked to him or you would know that the last person she wants to be here is your husband.” Eric shook his head. “I haven’t called any of the family. Stephanie doesn’t want me to.”
Cocking her head, Brooke studied her father-in-law. “What’s going on, Eric?”
“Nothing for you to worry about, Brooke. Just go home. Don’t tell Ridge about this. It isn’t your place. Stephanie will tell the kids in her own time if there’s something worth telling.”
“Fine, whatever.” Brooke shook her head then turned to leave.
Eric watched Brooke walk away and shook his head. How had she ever fooled him to what she really was? It was amazing just how unattractive she was to him now that he’d finally saw her in the same light Stephanie always had. “My god, I’ve been such a fool,” he whispered as he turned and walked down the hall to Stephanie’s room.
Stephanie blinked as she opened her eyes, Eric’s smiling face greeting her. “Hey,” she whispered.
“Hey,” he echoed.
“Can I have some water? My throat is sore from the tube.”
“Tube? I thought they were just going to do a CT scan. You sure were gone a long time.”
“They asked if I coughed, I told them yes. Then the next thing I know they were giving me a muscle relaxer and I was all, bleh ehhh, and then they were sticking a tube and scope down my throat.”
Eric handed her the cup of water he’d poured and caressed her hair from her forehead as she took a sip. “I’m sorry, Sweetheart.”
Sighing after another sip of water, she let her head fall back against the pillows. “I’m so tired, Eric.”
“Then rest, Sweetheart. I’ll be here.”
Letting her eyes close, she nodded. “You didn’t call the kids?”
“No. I told you I wouldn’t.”
“Good. I don’t want them worried.”
“Brooke was here.”
“She’ll tell Ridge.”
“I told her not to. I made it clear that it’s our business to tell them if there is something to tell.”
“Now, rest. I’m going to sit here and read one of these magazines,” he whispered as he took the cup of water, placing it on the small stand beside her bed.
Stephanie opened her eyes and shook her head. “Sketch me something.”
“I don’t have a pencil or sketchpad.”
“You can sketch with anything,” she countered a bit drowsily.
Eric smiled and pressed a kiss to her lips. “You go to sleep and I’ll make a quick trip to the gift shop. Maybe I can find something there. I promise I won’t be gone long.”
“Mmm,” she murmured, already nearly asleep.
“That’s it, my sweet girl. Sleep.”
Stephanie felt her world spinning once more. Cancer. Lung cancer. Brain tumors. Six to eight months to live with treatment. She couldn’t look at Eric – didn’t want to see the anguish she knew would mar his handsome face.
“Are you sure?” Eric whispered.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Forrester.” Dr. Rabin sighed.
Eric nodded. “Thank you.”
“If there are no other questions, I’ll be leaving.”
“Doctor?” Stephanie finally managed to speak.
“Yes, Mrs. Forrester?”
“Can I go home?”
The doctor blinked, not prepared for the question. He’d expected his patient to stay and request the further tests as soon as possible. “Yes. I see no reason to keep you.”
“I’ll have the paperwork filled out and send a nurse in when it’s finished.”
“We appreciate it, Dr. Rabin.” Eric watched the doctor nod then turn and leave.
“Get my clothes?” Stephanie asked, bringing Eric out of his wonderings.
“Stephanie, why are you going home? He wants to do more tests.”
“I want to go home, Eric. Please let me go home.”
Eric studied her, his heart rate increasing as he slowly began to realize why she wanted to go home. “You aren’t going to have the tests or take the treatments.”
Stephanie closed her eyes, a tear escaping and rolling down her cheek. “Please just take me home,” she whispered.
His heart breaking as he watched her struggle to keep her composure, Eric wiped the tear from her cheek. “Whatever you want, Sweet girl. Whatever you want.”
Stephanie stood staring at nothing in particular, memories of all the times spent in the open, spacious living room of her home, flooding back. Two strong arms slid around her waist and she leaned back against the broad chest of the man she’d loved most of her life.
“What are you thinking about, Sweetheart?” Eric whispered as he kissed her cheek.
“Don’t like the flowers?”
She shook her head. “Wherever I am, I’m always here.”
“This room is a beautiful room, you’re right. We’ve been in it a long time. I think you could blindfold either one of us and we would be able to find everything here, right down to the last paperclip.”
She chuckled then sobered. “I will never not be here…in this room, never.”
“Stephanie,” he sighed.
Patting his hand, she watched the sun slowly setting. “Remember that fight we had over a party Felicia wanted to attend? She asked me and I told her no, then she went to you and you told her yes.”
“Sweetheart, that happened all the time.”
Stephanie chuckled then coughed before continuing. “Yes, but this time we fought in nearly every room of the house. You stormed off to the den and I stormed upstairs. The other kids were out for the night.”
“It was cool that night,” he remembered. “I came in here and built a fire because I thought you might like it if you came back down.”
“I came down an hour or so later to find you sitting staring into that same fire. I had only come down to get something to eat because I hadn’t eaten any dinner, but you heard me.”
“And when I turned around, you took my breath away.”
“My god, Stephanie. You’re beautiful.” Eric breathed. Walking to where she stood at the bottom of the stairs, he reached out to caress her hair. “I’m sorry, Stephanie. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. I know that you always have very good reasons for telling one of the kids no. I should have known Felicia was playing us against each other like she always does.”
“It’s alright, Honey. I’m sorry, too. I hate fighting,” she whispered and walked into his open arms, resting her head against his chest as she wrapped her arms around him.
“What brought you back downstairs? You look like you’re ready for bed.”
“I am ready for bed, but I realized that I hadn’t eaten any dinner.”
“I’m sorry, Sweetheart,” he whispered, his dark eyes taking her in.
“Eric,” she breathed when his eyes roamed over her body.
“I’m hungry, myself.”
Stephanie took a deep breath and found herself being pulled tighter against him, his lips against her neck as he gently nipped at the soft flesh.
“I’m hungry for you,” he told her, his breath hot against her ear. Pulling back, he took her hand in his and led her to the living room. “Let me make love to you here, in front of the fire.”
“But what if someone comes in?” she asked, even as she followed him.
“There’s very little chance of that. The kids are all out for the night and it’s too late for anyone else to just show up.” He caressed her cheek. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had this house to ourselves.”
She nodded and closed her eyes as she leaned into his hand. “Your mother and father took the kids when they were small, just shortly after we moved in here.”
“I believe that was the weekend Felicia was conceived.” His eyes held a knowing twinkle.
“Right here,” she breathed as her robe slid down her arms and pooled behind her.
“Yes, right here.”
“Eric,” she moaned when his tongue traced over the pulse point on her neck. Fussing with the buttons of his shirt, she tugged at it to pull it from his pants then pushed it down his arms, whimpering at the loss of contact when he took his hands from her body to pull the shirt the rest of the way off.
Eric smoothed his hands up her arms, his fingers playing with the thin straps of her gown. “I designed this,” he whispered as he lifted the straps and watched as she moved her arms to let the satin slide to the floor around her feet.
“Mmm hmm,” she agreed as she worked at his pants, pushing them and his briefs down in one move.
“I believe I designed the rest of what you’re wearing too,” he groaned as he traced around the lace edged waistband of her panties.
“Just for me, you said.”
“Only for you,” he agreed, knowing that he’d never designed intimate lingerie for any other woman and that he never would.
Kneeling down on the soft rug in front of the fire, Stephanie held out her arms. “Love me, Eric,” she breathed.
Joining her, Eric wrapped his arms around her and held her close. “With everything I have, Stephanie. I’ll always love you.”
Stephanie shivered as she remembered the way he’d made love to her that night. “I can still feel the touch of your hands as if it only happened last night,” she whispered.
Eric pressed a kiss to her temple. “I can still see the way your skin glowed in the firelight. You were amazing.” He turned her in his arms, caressing her hair behind her ears. “You’re still amazing.”
Leaning into him, Stephanie met his lips in a kiss full of remembered passion and the love they shared. “I never did get any dinner that night.”
Eric chuckled, “Would you like some now, Sweetheart?”
Settling back into his arms, her head resting on his shoulder, she sighed, “I’m not really hungry.”
“You need to eat something, Stephanie. Maybe just a bowl of soup?”
“Tomato?” she asked.
Eric smiled and shook his head. It was always tomato. “Yes, tomato.”
“Then just a little bowl.”
“Why don’t you go sit down on the sofa and rest? You have a sketch to look at,” he reminded her before kissing her tenderly.
“I’d forgotten about the sketch with all the,” she started then stopped and shook her head. “Sitting down sounds nice.”
“I’ll be only a few minutes.”
“No rush.” She smiled and patted his cheek as she sat down on the sofa, sighing as she leaned back. Coughing a few times, she shook her head then looked at the sketch pad sitting next to her. Picking it up, she flipped the cover over and gasped at the sketch that greeted her. It was her as she’d been when Eric first saw her. Every detail was exact, as if he’d just seen the seventeen year old freshman only mere hours ago instead of years ago.
“Turn the page, Stephanie,” Eric’s voice echoed as he came back in the room.
Stephanie looked up at him as he sat their bowls on the coffee table. “It’s me.”
“Yes, it’s you. Turn the page,” he nudged.
Flipping the page up and over, she found another picture of her younger self. This time it was her after she’d given birth to Ridge, the hours old baby nestled to her breast. “I looked horrible after I gave birth to Ridge.”
Eric shook his head. “Keep looking. I’m going to go get us some wine.”
Stephanie flipped another page, this time it was of her holding Thorne snuggled close as they napped on the sofa. Another page showed her a sketch of her laughing as she lifted a four month old Kristen over her head, the baby’s face all smiles of delight. The next sketch made her breath catch. It was him sitting by her bed the day Felicia was born, the scene he’d once described to her. Flipping the page, she swallowed and felt her eyes sting with tears at the sketch that greeted her this time. It was her after their first divorce. She could see the pain and anguish in her eyes as if he’d been the one feeling the emotions. She hadn’t realized he’d noticed those things haunting her eyes.
“Yes, Stephanie, I noticed.”
Looking up at him, Stephanie caught the look in his eyes. “I never knew.”
“I ignored it back then, but I did notice it.” He took the pad from her. “You can look some more after you eat.”
Stephanie leaned forward, dipping her spoon in the soup then blowing on the steaming liquid before sipping it into her mouth. “Wonderful as usual.”
“Good old Campbell’s.”
Stephanie chuckled then coughed. “Always the best next to homemade.”
Eric nodded. “Eat some more, Sweetheart.”
Stephanie sighed and took another spoonful, although she really wasn’t in the mood to eat. Making sure to eat at least half, she put the spoon down and shook her head. “I just can’t eat anymore, Eric.”
Eric nodded. “Alright.”
Patting the sofa, she looked at him. “Come over here and sit by me. There’s something I want you to know.”
Putting his napkin down, Eric moved to sit beside Stephanie, taking her hand in his. “You can say anything you want to me, Stephanie. You know that.”
“That’s never really been a problem for me.”
“This is different?” he questioned.
“Because I’ve never asked for a birthday party before.”
“A birthday party? For yourself? Sweetheart?”
“Eric, I,” she started then looked away when his eyes clouded. “I want to make this a day the family will never forget. I have something I want to do to surprise everyone. Will you do this for me? Have a party here in our home with just the kids and grandkids? Just something simple.”
Reaching up to caress her face, Eric nodded as his heart broke a little. “You know that I will,” he whispered as he swallowed around the lump in his throat.
“Do you remember the first time we came here? How I fell in love with this house the moment I saw it?” she smiled when he nodded. “Just the way I fell in love with you the moment I saw you.”
“Well that will teach you to make snap decisions,” he tried to joke as he kissed her hand.
She pointed to the stairs. “The mattress was on the floor in the master bedroom, that’s how we slept. We had boxes all over the place.”
“Oh my god. It was so big and so empty,” he sighed.
“Oh, I never thought that. I could already hear the children running up and down the stairs. I could already see us growing old together in this house.” She looked at him with a sad smile. “I’m so glad we’re going to grow old together here.”
“Stephanie,” he whispered.
Patting his cheek then caressing down to his chin, she tapped it with her finger. “I think I’ve finally learned to accept you with all your faults.”
“Well, luckily for you, I’ve acquired a few skills of my own. Like, ignoring the insults from an unbearably overbearing, but unbelievably beautiful, woman.”
“Oh, Honey,” she sighed and leaned in to kiss him. As their lips met, she felt herself beginning to crumble. He was being so strong for her, even though she knew that this was hurting him.
Eric held her close as he kissed her, his heart breaking a little more at the thoughts that were swirling in his mind. His best friend, his lover, the mother of his children…was going to die. Pulling back at the thought, he caressed her face.
Stephanie frowned as she looked over Eric’s shoulder. “Brooke?” she questioned when she saw her daughter-in-law trying to sneak out of the house. “Have you taken to being a voyeur now?”
Eric bit his lip to keep from chuckling at the disgusted grunt from Brooke at Stephanie’s question. “Sweetheart,” he laughed quietly and squeezed her hand. “Do you want me to send her away?” he asked so only Stephanie could hear.
“No. I might as well get this over with.”
“Alright.” He stood up, looking at Brooke. “I’m going to go back to the office,” he informed her then turned back to Stephanie as he grabbed his jacket. “Lots of plans to make. You won’t be disappointed.”
“Thank you, Honey. I know I won’t be,” she assured him as she titled her face up to accept his soft kiss.
Brooke frowned as she watched Eric leave. “What is all that about?”
“None of your business.” Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Can’t a woman have some private time with the man in her life without being questioned about it?”
“Oh whatever. I would think you would still be in the hospital. You were doing such a good job convincing the doctors you were really sick.”
Stephanie turned away and shook her head as a cough crept up on her. “Is that why you’re here? To harass me about my faking?”
“Well, weren’t you?”
Stephanie sighed, “Of course I was. I paid off the hospital staff so they’d go along with me.” She turned back around and looked at the younger woman. “I guess I don’t need that acting coach after all.”
“So I was right.”
“You got me. Now will you leave?”
Brooke narrowed her eyes to stare at Stephanie a moment. “Something is going on in that head of yours. This is all too easy.”
“All that’s going on in my head right now is a headache from your continued presence in my home.”
“Does someone want to explain to me what’s going on?” Eric asked as he walked into the office to find Ridge standing there with no shirt and the others laughing.
“Not really.” Steffy chuckled, not ashamed in the least to be happy to have her father embarrassed in front of his father.
Eric shook his head. “I don’t think I want to know.”
“Probably a good thing.” Thorne commented as he came into the room.
“Alright, everyone, I want you to listen to me. I have some news.”
“Good I hope.” Thorne commented with a wry tone.
“Yes. Well, uh, you all know that tomorrow is Stephanie’s birthday. She has um, she’s asked for a birthday party.”
“What?” Ridge questioned with a frown.
“You’re kidding.” Thorne had a frown of his own. This was not like his mother.
“No, not kidding. She wanted to make all the plans, but I wouldn’t have it. I told her that I’d do it.”
“Wait,” Steffy interrupted. “Grandma wants a birthday?”
“Yes. All of us at the house tomorrow. The whole family.”
“Even after what happened?” Thorne questioned, more sure than ever something was wrong.
“Tomorrow we will all act as if none of that happened. All nonsense will be left at the door.” Eric looked at Ridge, then Thomas. “Understood?”
“I got it, Dad.” Ridge growled.
“Understood, Grandpa.” Thomas rolled his eyes.
“Is anyone else getting a bad feeling about this?” Thorne piped up.
“Grandma’s okay, right?” Thomas asked.
“You care?” Steffy snarked.
“Steffy.” Eric warned.
“So, is she okay?” Thomas asked again.
“Oh yeah, sure.” Eric answered, hating that he was lying, but doing so to keep his promise to Stephanie.
“This definitely doesn’t sound like her.” Ridge commented.
Eric shrugged. “A lot has happened for your mother. She’s back in the house, we’re together. She just wants to celebrate that.”
“I’ll be there, Granddad.” Steffy hugged him, placing a kiss to his cheek. “I’m gonna go. I want to find something special for Grandma.”
“She doesn’t want presents, Steffy. Just you at the house.”
“I’m still getting her something.”
Eric shook his head. “So much like the woman you’re named after.”
Steffy grinned. “Thank you.”
Thomas followed his sister. “I’ll see everyone tomorrow night,” he told them as he walked out.
Thorne and Marcus left next, leaving only Eric and Ridge.
Eric looked at his oldest son. “Brooke isn’t welcome, Ridge. I don’t want your mother’s party ruined by Brooke’s presence, and you know it will be if she shows up.”
“That isn’t really fair, Dad.”
“Fair or unfair, that’s how it is. And no, your mother has nothing to do with this. I’m the one making this decision.”
Ridge studied his father. “Why? You like Brooke.”
“I’ve had a sort of epiphany. Just do as I asked, please. It’s the least you can do after today.” Eric told him. “Which reminds me,” he started and pulled something from his pocket. “Here,” he handed the papers to Ridge.
“What is this?”
“What’s left of my shares of Forrester Creations. You now are the majority stock holder.”
“But Dad,” Ridge started but Eric held up his hand to stop him.
“I’m tired, Ridge. Tired of the constant messes this company seems to get involved in now. And I can’t stay after what I witnessed today. I just can’t. Let’s leave it at that.”
Ridge watched Eric leave and shook his head. “What the hell’s gotten into this family lately?”
“That’s what I’d like to know.”
Ridge smiled as he looked up to see his wife standing in the doorway. “Logan.”
“Let’s go home, Ridge.”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
Eric stared at the face in the sketches he’d drawn of what was to be his last line at the company he and Stephanie had worked so hard to build. The faces in every sketch were Stephanie’s and the dresses were the classiest and most elegant he’d designed in years.
“What am I going to do without you?” he whispered as he caressed her face. All of the sudden, everything he’d been feeling since he walked through the door at Ridge and Brooke’s and saw Stephanie lying on the floor, came rushing to the surface and he felt as though his world was caving in on him.
“Dear God, I just got her back.” His heart was in his throat as he stared out the window, tears rolling down his cheeks. Sobs shaking his shoulders, all of his reserve gone, he let out an anguished cry.
“Why God? Why?”
The cry echoed through the empty, dark halls of Forrester Creations, the building seeming to weep with the man. The ding of the elevator went unnoticed, the occupant feeling their heart break as they made their way to the only office with a light on.
Stephanie walked across the room, her hand on Eric’s shoulder causing him to start and turn to her. “Oh Honey,” she whispered as she pulled him tightly to her, holding him as he nearly crushed her in his arms and sobbed.
She had known when Eric didn’t come home after a couple of hours, that she would find him here. She had known that he’d break at some point, and that it would be when he knew she wouldn’t see him. Pressing a kiss to his head, she sighed. Trying to protect her from his feelings, when had their roles reversed?
“I’m sorry,” he breathed and pulled back, cupping her face in his hands. “I didn’t want you to know.”
“Oh, Honey,” she whispered. “It’s alright.”
“No,” he shook his head. “it isn’t. You need me to be strong, not weak like I’ve always been.”
“I need you to be you, Eric. That’s all.” She pressed a kiss to his hand then looked at the sketch on the floor. Bending to pick it up, she raised an eyebrow when she noticed the face of the model. “Me?”
“Only the most beautiful woman’s face could grace my finest designs. My final designs,” he added quietly, waiting for her reaction.
“What did you say?” she asked as she looked up at him.
“My final designs,” he repeated.
“Oh Eric, no.”
“Yes, Stephanie. Even if you weren’t sick, I couldn’t stay here after what I learned and saw today.”
“But, Honey, this is who you are. This is what you love to do. You love this company.”
Eric traced her face. “I love you. This business is no longer what we built together, it’s a shell. I helped to make it that, and for that I’m deeply sorry because I know how much you cared for this company and how hard you worked to make it all that it was. I can’t fix it. You can’t fix it. It’s time to let it go and concentrate on being the man you need.” He looked down. “Even if I am years too late.”
“Shh,” she pressed a finger to his lips. “I won’t push if this is really what you want.”
“It’s what I want. I signed over my shares of the company to Ridge.”
“Well, he should be happy. He’s got what he’s always wanted.”
Eric nodded. “Brooke and control of the company.”
Stephanie sighed, “Let’s go home. I’m tired and I want you to hold me.”
“Whatever you want, Sweetheart.”
Stephanie studied the hand that held hers. For so many years this hand had held a pencil to sketch the most sought after clothes in women’s fashion. This same hand had held hers through all the joys and trials they’d faced as a family. It had even caressed her in moments of passion and enflamed her blood. And now it trembled. Trembled because he was still hurting with the thoughts of watching her die.
“What is it, Sweetheart?” he asked as he pressed a kiss to her head.
Looking up at him, she stared into his dark but troubled eyes. “Make love to me,” she whispered.
Turning on his side to face her, Eric caressed her hair behind her ear. “Are you sure, Sweetheart?”
Nodding, she sighed, “Mmm hmm. Please? I want to forget all of this sadness for the rest of the night. I want to feel all the things we remembered earlier.”
“Do you realize this will be the first time for us since you came back home?”
She nodded. “I do, and I’m sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing?”
“Because I shouldn’t have kept you at a distance.”
“You were afraid I’d change my mind about wanting you back. I understood, Stephanie. You had every reason to keep me at a distance.”
“But I’m tired of keeping you away,” she breathed as she moved closer to him.
Eric gently rolled them until he was looking down at her, his lower body cradled between her thighs, his weight balanced on his arms. “I love you, so very much, my sweet girl, even though I haven’t always acted like it.”
Stephanie tangled her fingers in his hair, pulling his head down so that their lips could touch. Closing her eyes, tears rolled down her cheeks as their kiss deepened. She felt his hands unbuttoning her nightshirt, their familiar warm touch on her skin, exciting her, making her feel renewed and alive.
Eric pulled back, staring down into the tear filled eyes of the woman he loved. “I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused you. I,” he choked up, his own eyes filling with tears that spilled over. “I’m so sorry that it’s taken what happened today to make me realize how wrong I’ve been.”
“Shh,” she caressed his face. “No more words. Show me,” she breathed.
Eric nodded and moved to take off his pajamas, turning to her when the last piece of clothing was lying on the floor. “Sit up.”
Stephanie did as asked and shivered as her clothes joined his on the floor. “Eric,” she whispered then moaned when his hand cupped a breast, his thumb and forefinger rolling a taut nipple between them.
“So beautiful,” he breathed against her ear as he nibbled the fleshy lobe. “I’ve wanted you for so long. I’ve longed to feel the familiar curves, the softness of your skin.”
“I’ve wanted you, too, Eric. It was so hard for me to deny you.”
Burying his face against her neck, he inhaled, humming his pleasure as the soft womanly scent of her filled his senses. She’d always smelled of roses and spice. Never overpowering, just the perfect gentle mix of the perfume she wore and her own natural scent. “I’ve missed the smell of you. Soft and spicy.” He smiled as he pulled back to look at her. “Just like the woman.”
Stephanie caressed his face. “I love you, Eric.”
“I love you, Stephanie,” he returned the sentiment as he gently laid her back against the pillows, his body joining with hers as he entwined their fingers. Moving slowly against her, he thrilled at the sounds she made, the sounds that had always excited him.
Stephanie moaned low in her throat and arched beneath him as he moved against her in a way that he knew had always driven her a little crazy. Thoughts of the cancer, of everything else, drifted away as the feel of him, and what his movements and touches were doing to her, took center stage. This was what she’d wanted, to feel nothing but the passion and love that only Eric had ever been able to give her.
Always and for the rest of her life, Eric.