“Don’t touch me!” Stephanie snapped as she jerked away, backing up against the wall.
Eric blinked in surprise. He’d felt her slowly pulling away from him over the last few weeks, but this…he shook his head. “It’s just me, Stephanie. It’s Eric.”
She shook her head as she moved along the wall to the other side of the room. “Please, just don’t.”
He held up his hands. “I promise. I won’t. Would you like for me to leave?”
Looking at him, she blinked. “I thought you had a meeting to go to.”
Eric frowned, not able to make sense of what was happening. “I do.” Studying her a moment, he sighed and shook his head. “I’ll be going. If you need anything, call me.”
She nodded. “I’ll be fine.”
“See you later, Steph.”
Stephanie watched him go, then moved to the sofa, her heart breaking. What had happened? What was wrong with her? Why was she acting this way? Why didn’t she want to be touched? She knew Eric hadn’t done anything to her, nothing except love her unconditionally, but thoughts of him touching her made her skin crawl. She sighed and let her head fall into her hands.
“Finally got you by yourself.”
Stephanie jerked in surprise and looked up at the unwelcome guest. “Stephen? What are you doing here?”
Stephen grinned manically at her as he pulled the gun from his pocket. “I came to do to you what you did to Beth.”
Stephanie frowned. “I didn’t do anything to Beth.”
“You shoved her. You’re the reason she drowned. You knew she couldn’t swim. You just wanted to get rid of her to hurt our daughters for taking away Eric and Ridge.”
Stephanie shook her head. “I didn’t.”
“Get up.” Stephen ordered as he motioned with the gun.
“No. You need to leave.”
“I have the gun, I’m giving orders. Get up and head out to the pool.”
Stephanie gave in and got up, making her way out to the balcony and the back stairs that led to the pool area. Take each step carefully, she let her thoughts drift to her children in the guest houses, wondering if they were home, praying that Dino was with his father or other grandmother. If she was going to die today, she didn’t want her sweet baby to find her.
Finally arriving at the pool, she stopped and turned to look at Stephen. “Now what?”
“You keep forgetting I’m in control,” he hissed as he moved closer, the tip of the gun barrel skimming down her cheek.
“Then get on with it,” she hissed back, even though she felt fear begin to bubble up inside her.
“You took my wife away from me. You’ve turned my grandson against his mother and me. You ruined Donna’s marriage. You’re the reason Storm is dead. You. It’s all your fault.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her mind back in time. “I didn’t mean to. Please, I’m sorry.”
Stephen blinked in surprise at the change in her. “What are you doing?”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Shut up!” he shouted.
Stephanie backed up, her body bumping into a chair, knocking it over. “Please. I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.” She continued to bump into things until she was standing pressed against the barrier wall. “Please,” she whispered as she trembled, her arms wrapping around herself.
“What the hell?” Eric shouted as he rushed down the stairs after having heard Stephanie’s earlier cries. “Stephen! What the hell are you doing here? And what have you done to her?”
Turning the gun on Eric, Stephen growled at him, “I haven’t done anything yet. I intend to make her pay for what she has done to my family, what she did to my Beth.”
Eric shook his head. “Don’t you see she’s not well? That something is wrong?”
Stephen shrugged. “She’s faking.”
“Good god, where have I heard that before.” Eric growled. “She is not faking.”
“Enough!” Massimo roared as he lunged at Stephen from the back, knocking the man over, sending the gun skittering across the floor.
Eric breathed a sigh of relief as he pulled out his phone and dialed Taylor then called for the police. “Here,” he sighed as he pulled his belt from the loops and handed it to Massimo. “Us that to restrain him.”
Massimo nodded and wrapped the belt around Stephen’s hands twice before buckling it as tightly as possible. “Damned Logans,” he grumbled as he stood up. “It’s always someone else’s fault. Stephanie didn’t push your wife.”
“And just how the hell would you know? You weren’t even here, Marone!” Stephen shouted, struggling against the belt, growling when Massimo restrained his legs with his own belt.
“I know the same way Eric knew…we know Stephanie. I have also been told the whole story by my son and by Stephanie. She tried to tell you that this wasn’t the place your wife should be, that she should be where trained professionals could help her and watch her, but oh no. You just had to stay here, had to get that last jab in against Stephanie. Well, now your wife is dead, Mr. Logan, and it’s no one’s fault but your own.”
Eric had been listening to Massimo’s tirade as he made his way to Stephanie. “Stephanie?”
“No, please. Don’t let him touch me, Father.”
Hearing the footsteps, Massimo and Eric both turned to see Taylor rushing down the stairs just before they heard sirens getting closer.
“I don’t want her exposed like this. Help me take him inside.” Eric looked at Massimo, trusting Taylor to take care of Stephanie.
Massimo nodded and leaned over to undo Stephen’s legs before he and Eric jerked the man up. “I’ll take care of him, you stay here.”
Massimo nodded. “I’ll be back when the trash has been taken out.”
Eric chuckled at that, then chuckled again when Massimo tugged at Stephen’s bound hands when the man tried to get free. Turning back to Taylor and his wife, he watched as Stephanie shook her head, crying out again.
“It’s Taylor, Stephanie. I won’t hurt you.”
Stephanie shook her head. “No. Please. Mother, please! Don’t leave me!”
Taylor’s eyes widened, her heart racing. Turning to look at Eric, she moved to where he stood. “She’s completely lost in the memory, Eric. No matter what we do, we become someone in that memory. Even though it’s going to hurt, we have to let her relive it.”
“Oh god, Taylor, no.” Eric pleaded.
“It’s the only thing we can do, Eric,” she whispered as she clasped his hand and held tightly as they watched Stephanie struggle through the memory.
Stephanie slid to the ground, her head shaking as she curled into herself. “Please, don’t hurt me. I didn’t do it on purpose. Please.” She jerked and wrapped her arms tighter around herself, struggling against some unseen person.
“Father!” Massimo shouted as he came storming over to where she was, remembering this painful night along with her. Reaching out, he acted like he was pulling his father away, then knelt down and wrapped his jacket around Stephanie, holding her close. “I’ve got you now, Cara. You’re safe. He’ll never hurt you again.”
Eric felt his stomach roll as he watched the scene unfold, his hand gripping Taylor’s. “My god, Taylor. It all makes sense now,” he breathed.
She nodded. “This is why Massimo has always been so very protective of Stephanie.” Walking over to where Massimo still knelt holding a crying Stephanie, she squeezed his shoulder. “You saved her,” she whispered.
Massimo shook his head. “No, I didn’t. I was too late. He,” he swallowed down the bile that rose in his throat at the memory. “He took her innocence that night. My very own father.”
Eric felt his stomach roll again, only sheer will keeping him from losing what he’d had for lunch. The thing he’d feared…dear God in Heaven. How could a man stand by and let his daughter be abused? No wonder Stephanie had always felt the way she had about sex. She’d never had a problem with making love with him, but he realized now that this was the reason she’d never had a sexual relationship with Jack, the only man she’d ever been seriously involved with after they’d divorced. Even though she hadn’t consciously remembered that horrible night, somewhere deep inside she knew and it kept her from forming a bond with any other man but him. He wondered how she’d been able to be with him.
“Stephanie?” Massimo whispered as he caressed her hair. “Cara, let me take you inside.”
Looking up at her friend, Stephanie nodded and stood up, clinging to him. “Why, Mass? Why did Daddy let him do that to me?”
“I don’t know, Cara, but I promise. I won’t let it happen again.”
Eric and Taylor followed behind, their hearts breaking as they listened to Stephanie reliving the memory. “Taylor, is she going to come out of this?”
“She’s a strong woman, Eric. Now that we know what happened, we’ll help her. She’ll be okay.”
“But she’s never going to be the same,” he whispered.
Eric sat on the ottoman, watching Stephanie’s chest rise and fall as she slept. Massimo had managed to get her to sleep, afterward he told them the whole story about that afternoon so many years ago when Stephanie had been just a young girl of twelve. He explained that John Douglas had nearly lost everything, and because Marone Sr. had been involved with the business deal that had fell through, he was out for Douglas’ blood. Massimo never did learn just why John blamed Stephanie, but she became the sacrificial lamb. He’d explained that he’d come by that day to take Stephanie out riding to get her away from John’s yelling, and he’d found the man calmly sitting in his office, Stephanie’s screams coming from down the hall.
“I got nothing out of him so I rushed toward where the screams were coming from…” he paused and closed his eyes, tears rolling down his cheeks. “I was too late. I was too late.” Looking up at Eric, he stared at the man he’d hated for so many years. “I made a promise to her that night. When you came along, I couldn’t keep that promise. And then she was pregnant and,” he shook his head. “All I ever wanted to do was keep her safe.”
Reaching out to caress her cheek, Eric paused and pulled his hand back, somehow knowing that Stephanie wouldn’t react well to the touch. The last thing he wanted to do was upset her again. Standing up, he moved to the balcony, staring out over the valley below their home. His tears fell as he thought about his wife, how horrifying that must have been to that frightened little girl she had been. Why hadn’t Ann said anything to him? When she came back to die, to make things right for the last time, why didn’t she tell them?
Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he turned to see Massimo watching him.
“Ann didn’t know, Eric.”
“How could she not have known?”
“I took Stephanie away. My grandmother helped me with her. By the time Ann returned home,” he shrugged. “My mother never knew, either. It was a secret kept between the four of us, and Stephanie was so traumatized by it that her mind blocked it from memory.”
Eric turned back to stare at the scenery. “If I’d known,” he whispered. “If I’d only known.”
“But you didn’t, and you can’t undo what’s in the past. All you can do is be the man you’ve become the last few months and stand by her through all this. I rescued her all those years ago, it’s your turn to rescue her now.”
“I don’t know if she’ll let me.”
Massimo smiled when Eric looked at him. “She’ll let you. Even though she may be pulling away from you, you’re still the one she’ll ultimately turn to for safety. She loves you, Forrester. I never understood it before, but I do now. I understand why she could never be in love with me. I was part of the world that hurt her, even though I had done nothing but protect her as best I could. You weren’t. You were as far removed from that world as anyone could be. You gave her a new world, free of the pain of her old world. Nicholas told me what Stephanie said about you, about how you’d kept her from being physically abused by John. For that alone,” he shook his head, not continuing, but not needing to.
Eric understood what Massimo hadn’t said. “I understand so much now about Stephanie and about you. Although I don’t understand why you never told me about this.”
“When I realized that Stephanie had blocked it from her mind, that she remembered nothing, I never uttered another word about it to anyone except my father. When I took the business from him, I made sure he understood that he would willingly retire without anyone suspecting anything. I reminded him that I knew what he’d done, that I knew about his perverseness. Once I had the business, the secret was locked away again, until today.”
“And that’s why the company has a morals clause.”
Massimo nodded. “It is.”
“You have to stay. She’ll need you.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“We can’t tell the children. Felicia and Nick’s wedding is in two days, I don’t want this ruining it for them. Or causing Felicia to cancel, and knowing my girl, she would.”
Massimo nodded. “She would. She’s so much like her mother. She’s what I’ve always imagined Stephanie would have been if her father hadn’t been like he was. No matter how much I’ve hated you over the years, I never questioned what kind of a father you were and are. You loved your daughters as a father should and protected them.” He looked out at the scenery that Eric had been staring at. “I won’t tell anyone. It’s between the four of us. It isn’t my place to tell your children. That’s for you and Stephanie to do.”
“Eric!” Stephanie cried out in her sleep. “Eric!”
Taylor brushed the hair from her friend’s forehead. “Shh, Steph. Shh.”
“Eric!” she cried out again.
Eric rushed into the room, kneeling down beside her. “I’m here, Sweetheart. I’m here. Shh. It’s alright.”
Opening her eyes, the tears that filled them spilled down over her cheeks. “Why? Why did he let that happen, Eric?”
His own eyes filling with tears, Eric didn’t notice them rolling down his face, his focus wholly on the woman he loved. “I don’t know, Sweet girl. I don’t know.”
“What happened? Why did I remember?”
“It must have been something that Stephen said as he was holding the gun on you.”
Stephanie closed her eyes as she thought back on what had happened. “He said it was all my fault.”
“Nothing was all your fault, Sweet girl.” He reached out, touched her cheek and she flinched. Feeling his heart break, he pulled his hand back, tucking it under his chest. “Taylor’s here. Why don’t you talk to her while I go fix you something to eat, hmm?”
“I’m not hungry,” she whispered, not realizing what had happened.
“You need to eat something, even if it’s just some soup.”
“You always get me with soup,” she mumbled. “Okay, but not very much.”
Eric smiled and stood. “I’ll be back in a little while.”
Taylor watched Eric leave, her heart breaking for the pain she knew he was in from the slump of his shoulders. Turning her attention to Stephanie, she pressed on her shoulder when she moved to sit up. “Let me look at you first. I want to make sure everything is still okay. You only got your stitches and staples out a couple of days ago.”
“Pain in the ass.” Stephanie mumbled even as she let Taylor look. “Well?”
“Everything is fine.” Taylor answered as she helped Stephanie sit up. Caressing her friend’s cheek, she held her gaze. “Talk to me, Stephanie. Don’t bottle it all back up inside.”
“Why should I talk about it? You already know what happened. I’m sure Mass told you.”
“He could only tell us the end not what happened to bring it all about.”
“I was,” Stephanie started then shook her head. “Why does anything else matter?”
“You were what, Stephanie? Until you say it, I can’t help you work through it.”
Glaring at the young woman, Stephanie stood up and moved to the fireplace. “Damn it, Taylor. What does it matter if I say it or not? We both know what happened.”
“You were,” Taylor started again.
“You were,” she pressed again.
“I was raped!” Stephanie yelled. “Is that what you wanted to hear? I was raped! I was raped, damn it!”
Moving to her friend, Taylor pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry, Steph. I’m sorry.”
Eric came into the room, his heart pounding. Hearing his wife yelling, then hearing what she was saying as he got closer, nearly broke him. Stopping when he saw Taylor hugging her as they stood by the fireplace, he took a deep breath. Wishing he was the one holding Stephanie, but knowing that it would be a long time before that happened, if it ever happened again, he turned and headed upstairs. He needed time to absorb everything, time to adjust himself to this new reality.
Stephanie sighed as she walked into their bedroom. Frowning when she didn’t find Eric, she wondered back out and down the stairs, thinking that maybe he was in the den. Not finding him there, or any other room downstairs, she made her way back upstairs. “Eric?” she called. “Eric?”
“What is it, Steph?” he asked, coming out of one of the spare rooms.
“What are you doing in there?” she asked, her face showing her confusion.
“Sweetheart,” he whispered as he moved to her. “I think you know what I’m doing. I’ve moved out of our room for a while.”
“I,” she started. “Is this because,” she turned away from him. “You don’t want to be near me anymore because of what happened.”
“Oh god, Sweet girl! No!” Eric told her. “Turn around and look at me.” He waited for her to do what he asked then reached out and touched her, watching as she flinched in response. “That is why I moved out of our room. You can’t bear for me to touch you, and I understand the reason.”
“But Mass,” she shook her head. “I don’t understand. I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“Massimo saved you and he isn’t the one you share a bed with. He can touch you and it’s alright because you know there’s nothing sexual between you. But, even when I’m not trying, there’s a spark there when I touch you. And as sad as it makes me, you and I both know that you can’t handle that right now. I’m here, I’m not going anywhere, but for now, it’s best for you if I’m not sleeping in the same bed.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she nodded her head. “I’m so sorry, Eric.”
“Sweetheart, stop apologizing. You spent so many years as a little girl doing that. I’m not your father, Sweet girl. I’m not blaming you. None of this is your fault.” He smiled and winked at her. “This old teddy bear will be here when you’re ready. I love you,” he whispered. “Now go on to bed and dream sweet dreams of our beautiful baby girl in her wedding dress in a couple of days.”
She smiled. “She is going to be the most beautiful bride thanks to her beloved daddy.”
“And her momma. We still have a bit of work to do on the dress. Are you up for it?”
Nodding, she held his gaze. “I love you.”
“I know that. Go on now.” He watched her turn and walk back toward their room. “I’ll leave my door open just in case.”
“Thank you,” she called and stopped long enough to look back at him, her hand over her heart.
Eric smiled as he placed his hand over his heart. “Goodnight, Sweetheart.”
“Goodnight, Teddy bear,” she whispered.
Eric sighed as he turned to go back into his room. “Dear God, let her sleep peacefully tonight,” he whispered as he walked over to sit on the bed. Picking up the picture frame setting on the nightstand, he stared down at the happy face of his wife. “It’s going to be alright, Sweet girl. It’s going to be alright.”
And with all his heart he prayed that he was right.