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Long, Long Journey

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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.”

 

E**S

 

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.”

 

E**S

 

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?”

“Highly doubtful.”

 

E**S

 

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.”

 

E**S

 

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?

 

E**S

 

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.”

“Okay.”

“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.”

 

E**S

 

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.

 

E**S

 

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.”

“Thank you.”

“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.”

 

E**S

 

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.”

“Thank 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.”

 

E**S

 

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.

“This room.”

“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.

“Yes.”

“How?”

“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.”

 

E**S

 

“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.

“Sorry, Granddad.”

“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.”

 

E**S

 

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.”

 

E**S

 

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.

“Eric?”

“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.

Only Eric. 

Always and for the rest of her life, Eric.

Chapter Text

Stephanie stirred and blinked against the bright light of the sun shining through the open french doors of the bedroom balcony.  Wondering what woke her, she smiled when she felt a soft touch against her cheek.

“Happy birthday, Sweetheart.”  Eric whispered as he caressed his thumb across her lips.

Stephanie reached up and cupped his cheek.  “Thank you, Honey,” she told him softly, her keen eyes taking in the sadness in his dark ones.

“I’ve brought you breakfast in bed.”  Eric told her before leaning down to kiss her.

Stephanie hummed her approval then smiled when he pulled back.  “What did you bring me?”

Eric smiled as he got up and went to where he’d set the tray down.  Returning to the bed, he chuckled as Stephanie grumbled at the sheet when it wouldn’t stay where she wanted it.  “I can give you your nightshirt, Stephanie, if you want it.”

She grinned at him and shook her head.  “No.  This sheet will co-operate.”

“I’m sure it will,” he laughed. 

Stephanie smiled once she’d accomplished her task then patted the bedside.  “Now, I want to see what you brought me.”

“Your favorite.”

“Papaya,” she whispered as she looked at the bowl of her favorite fruit.

He nodded.  “And a mimosa.”

“Mimosa?”

“Well, it is your birthday.”  He smiled at her.

“Aww,” she breathed then pointed to the second bowl on the tray.  “And this?”

“That,” he said as he picked up the bowl.  “is my breakfast.  Grapenuts.”

She snarled her nose.  “Those things are like eating rocks.”

Eric laughed and kissed her nose.  “You’ve always said that.”  A sudden sadness washed over him.  “Oh Stephanie, I…”

“Shh,” she breathed as she cupped his cheek.  “Eat your cereal, Honey.  You still have to finish your birthday ritual.”

Taking a deep breath to stop the tears that threatened, he looked at her.  “Making love to you after breakfast in bed.”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“I love you, Stephanie.”

“Aww, Honey.  I know.  I love you, too.”  She took a bite of fruit.  “Especially since you brought me papaya.”

Eric laughed.  “Why do you think I’ve always brought you that for your birthday breakfast?”

“So now I know,” she chuckled, happy that he’d gotten into the game.

“Of course.  Did you really think I brought it to you because it’s your favorite?”  He took a bite of his cereal.

“So I wasn’t the only one with a bill of goods to sell?”

Eric watched her eat for a few minutes, quietly eating his own breakfast, before answering.  “No.  You’re weren’t the only one.”  His voice was low as he placed his bowl back on the tray, reaching out to take a drink of his orange juice. 

Stephanie sensed his sadness, and placed her fork down.  “I’m full,” she informed him.

Taking the tray, he sat it down away from the bed, then untied his robe and laid it across the foot of the bed as he walked around to his side.  Sliding in beside her, Eric stared at her.  “It wasn’t a bill of goods, Stephanie.”

Settling down against her pillows, she held him close when he joined her.  “Oh, Honey, I know that.”  She caressed his face, memorizing once again the line of his jaw, the arch of his eyebrows, the shape of his lips.

Eric closed his eyes, letting her touch ease the sadness he felt in his heart.  Her fingers in his hair sent shivers across his nerves, something that had always happened.  There was just something so sexy about it.

Stephanie’s breath caught when his warm hand cupped her breast and began to gently knead.  “Eric,” she whimpered when his tongue traced her jaw before he nibbled on the lobe of her ear.

Kissing his way from her face to her breast, Eric rolled the taut nipple between his tongue and the roof of his mouth as his hand slid down her side to the curve of her hip.  Bringing their bodies closer, he felt her leg lifting over his, giving him the signal he needed to know that she was just as ready as he was.  Slowly and gently, he thrust his hips forward, joining their bodies with a moan.

Stephanie opened her eyes, staring into the dark eyes of her lover.  “I love you, Eric.  Thank you for making this birthday the best I’ve had in a very long time.”  She caressed his face.  “Not because of the papaya, or because of this…”

Eric caressed her face.  “Then why?”

A tear rolled down her cheek.  “Because you’re here with me.  Because it was your handsome face that I saw when I woke up this morning.”

Feeling his own tears wet his cheeks, Eric leaned his head toward hers, capturing her lips in a kiss full of the love he felt for her and the passion their kisses and touches had ignited.  “I’m always going to be here.  Always,” he promised.

Stephanie closed her eyes and kissed him, their bodies moving perfectly together in a rhythm they both knew by heart.  She knew this lazy pace, loved how slow and easy it all was.  These were the times when Eric’s hands touched every inch of her gently, sensuously, almost worshipfully.  In these moments, she experienced the greatest pleasure.

 

E**S

 

Taylor was startled to see Eric standing in her office.  “Eric?  You’re my one-thirty appointment?”

Eric nodded as he walked across the room to stare out of the office windows.  “I’m your patient with all that implies.”

“You’re starting to frighten me, Eric.”  Taylor spoke softly as she walked up beside him.

Eric handed her a check.  “This check is for the full amount of your fee.”

Taylor felt her heart begin to race as she looked at the check Eric held out to her.  “Eric, tell me what’s going on.”

“Take the check, Taylor.”

Swallowing down her rising panic, Taylor took the check.  “Alright.  Now tell me.”

“You’re bound by your oath to keep what I say to yourself.”

“I swear on my children’s lives that I won’t breathe a word of what is said.”

Eric, seeing that she meant it in her eyes, turned back to stare out at the city below.  “I’m going to lose the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Taylor blinked in surprise at his words.  “What do you mean?”

“I’m going to lose Stephanie,” he whispered, his eyes filling with tears.

“You aren’t making any sense, Eric.  The two of you just got back together.  Why would you lose her?”

“Because I’m being punished,” his voice shook.  “She’s being punished to punish me.”

Taylor stood in front of Eric, gripping his arms to shake him, but stopping when she saw the anguish in his eyes.  Her breath caught.  “My god, Eric.  How is she being punished?”

“She’s,” his voice caught on a sob and he closed his eyes.  “She’s dying,” he said it in a barely audible voice.

Taylor stumbled a bit, bumping into the window behind her.  “Dying?  Eric?” her voice caught.

“Stage four lung cancer that’s spread to her brain,” he whispered.

Taylor closed her eyes, her tears slowing making streaks down her face.  “How long have you known?”

“We found out yesterday after she took a fall at Ridge and Brooke’s and lost consciousness.”  Taking a few steps, he sat down on the sofa.  “Brooke just left her lying there on the floor.  Didn’t call for help.  Didn’t believe that something was wrong,” his voice trembled.  “All those years I took Brooke’s side.  All those times I hurt Stephanie for Brooke’s sake.  I,” he started then stopped, his head dropping into his hands.  “My god, Taylor, what kind of man am I?”

Taylor, still reeling from the news that her best friend was dying, took a deep breath and pulled herself together for Eric’s sake.  Sitting down beside him, she slid an arm around his shoulders and rested a hand on his arm.  “I’m sorry, Eric.  I’ve always known what kind of person Brooke is, but I never thought she’d be that cruel.  Does she know about Stephanie?”

Eric shook his head.  “No.  I’m the only one who knows,” he finally looked up.  “Well, until now that is.”  He saw the pain in Taylor’s eyes and reached out to squeeze her hand.  “I’m sorry, Taylor.  I shouldn’t have told you, but I just didn’t know who else to turn to.  I can’t let Stephanie know how I feel.  I have to be strong for her, but I don’t know how.  She’s always been the strong one.”

“You don’t have to apologize, Eric.  I’m glad it’s me you came to.”  She squeezed his hand.  “I can’t tell you what kind of man you are, Eric.  Only you can answer that.  I don’t believe that this is punishment for anything that you have done.”  She took a deep breath.  “Maybe it’s an opportunity for you and Stephanie to grow as human beings.  To see some of the things you’ve done wrong and make them right.  Maybe it’s a chance for all of us to learn and grow as humans and as a family.”

“She doesn’t plan on telling the family any time soon,” he sighed.  “I don’t know if she’ll ever tell them.”

Taylor nodded.  “She will because her children know her.  They’ll know something is wrong.”  She smiled sadly.  “I wouldn’t be surprised if Thorne is the first to question her about it.”

Eric smiled sadly.  “Thorne always has been our most sensitive.  He’s already questioning what’s going on with her.”

“Why?”

“She wants a birthday party tonight, at the house.  I’ve made all the plans.  I have one more person to invite after you.  I was told to make sure you’re there.  You and Whip.  She says she has a surprise for us all.  Even I don’t know what she’s planning.”

“We’ll be there, Eric.”  Taylor assured him.  “And I can understand Thorne’s questioning this.  But what about Ridge?  Isn’t he a bit suspicious?”

Eric frowned.  “You don’t know?”

“Evidently not.”

“Stephanie and Ridge aren’t exactly on good terms at the moment.  She signed over her shares of FC to Ridge.  She offered it to Thorne, but he didn’t want it.  He chose to leave the company with his mother and Steffy.”

“Steffy?”

Eric nodded.  “She signed over her shares to Thomas.  I signed what’s left of mine over to Ridge.”

Taylor sighed.  “Why did this happen?”

“Because Thomas took Brooke’s side and Ridge showed his pride.  Together they showed complete contempt for Stephanie.  She saw it in their eyes.  They hurt her, especially Ridge.”

“And she realized that he doesn’t care about her like she does him.”  Taylor guessed.

Eric nodded.  “Then she went to Thorne to give him her shares.  She told him she’d been wrong to always choose Ridge over him and the other children.”  He leaned back and let his head rest on the sofa.  “It’s like she’s suspected something was wrong.  I don’t know.”

“Sometimes we subconsciously know that something isn’t right, but we ignore it.”

Pulling Taylor into a hug, Eric kissed her head.  “I’m sorry, Taylor.”

Hugging him back, Taylor felt her tears return.  “I’m sorry, too.”  She pulled back and kissed his cheek.  “Just love her, Eric.  Loving her will give you what you need to be strong for her.”  She smiled sadly.  “But don’t be too strong.  She knows you, Eric.  If you’re too strong, she’ll suspect that you’re holding back.  You can’t do that.  Let her see you hurting, it shows her that you care.  Cry with her.  Hold her and let her know that she doesn’t have to be strong with you.  Let her know that it’s okay to fall apart when it’s just the two of you.”

Eric nodded.  “I do love her, Taylor.  I’m realizing just how much I’ve always loved her.”

“I’ll see you tonight.”  She smiled as they stood up, hugging each other once more.

“You always were her favorite daughter-in-law.”

“All I did was love her, Eric.”

He nodded.  “Something the rest of us have forgotten to do more often than not.”

 

E**S

 

“Stephanie wants me there?”  Pam asked Eric.

“You’re her sister, of course she does.  Why wouldn’t she?”

Pam looked down at her hands.  “Eric, Steph and I haven’t been getting along all that well lately.  You know that.”

“All of that doesn’t matter for tonight.  She wants all of her family at her party, and that includes her baby sister.”

Nodding, Pam looked up at Eric.  “She was right about Stephen,” she admitted quietly.

“She’s right more often than not, Pam.  We’ve all just been too blinded to see it.”

“Yeah,” she agreed.  “Tell her I’ll be there.  I’ll get her something special.”

“She doesn’t want gifts, Pam.”

“Well, she’s going to get one anyway.  It doesn’t seem right not to get someone something on their birthday.”

Eric shook his head.  “You are your sister’s sister.”

Pam laughed.  “That sounds funny.”

Eric smiled.  “Yes, it does.  We’ll see you at six.”

“I won’t be late.”

“Bye, Pam.”

“Bye, Eric,” she told him.  “Oh, wait,” she called just before he shut the door.

“Yes?”  Eric asked as he stepped back inside.

“Do I dress up?”

“Nothing fancy.  It’s just family.  Just dress like you would for dinner.”

“Okay.”

“Bye again.”  He smiled at her and closed the door.

Pam sat on the sofa and frowned.  Her sister wanted a birthday party.  Why did it feel like something wasn’t right? 

“Because Steph doesn’t like attention for herself,” she answered her own question as she looked at the picture sitting on the end table of her and Stephanie.  “What’s going on, Steph?”

 

E**S

 

“Hello, Ridge.”  Stephanie greeted her son, the tension there despite her best efforts.  “Where’s Brooke?”

Ridge blinked in surprise.  “I was told not to bring her,” he answered tersely.

“Oh.”  Stephanie answered, shocked herself.  “I’m sorry.  Why don’t you call her and tell her to come on over?  It is for family, and I know you’d prefer to have her here.”

Eric frowned at his son from his place behind Stephanie.  If Ridge agreed and invited Brooke, he’d regret the decision.  He didn’t care that Stephanie had told their son to do so, Brooke wasn’t welcome in this house.

“Sorry, Mother, but she’s having a night with her sisters.”

“Well, okay.”  Stephanie nodded then turned and smiled at Eric behind her.  “Hello, Honey.  Everything looks wonderful.”

“I told you I’d make sure you would like it.”

“I do, very much,” she breathed as she caressed his cheek and kissed him.

Ridge rolled his eyes and walked past his parents.  “I’ll be in the living room when you come up for air.”

Eric pulled out of the kiss and rolled his eyes.  “Is he really too old for a spanking?”

Stephanie couldn’t help but laugh even though her eyes showed her sadness.  “Yes, Honey.  He’s too old.”

“I’m sorry about his attitude, Sweetheart.”

“No need to apologize, Honey.  It isn’t your fault.”  She smiled up at him.  “I wish the girls could have made it.”

“I do too, Stephanie.  They promised to come as soon as they can.  Felicia said that Dino is missing his grandma.”

“Dino’s grandma has been missing him,” she sighed as she leaned against Eric, a coughing spell sneaking up on her.

Eric rubbed her back, his eyes focusing on Taylor as she stepped through the open door.  He could see her worried expression then watched as she schooled her features.  “Come on, Stephanie.  Let’s get you something to drink for that tickle in your throat.”

Stephanie nodded and pulled away, smiling when she saw Whip and Taylor.  “Taylor,” she greeted the younger woman with a hug.  “Whip, I’m so glad you could make it.  I know how crazy things have been for you with everything going on at Jackie M.”

Whip nodded and kissed Stephanie’s cheek.  “I miss you around there.  In the midst of all of this, you would be our calm reasoning.”

Stephanie laughed then coughed as she patted his arm.  “I’m sure you’re doing a fine job of keeping things as sane as possible.”

“I’m trying, but it isn’t easy.”

“I know.”  Stephanie shook her head and looked up at Eric who gave her a knowing look of his own.

“Come on.  Let’s go get that drink.”  Eric pressed a hand to her back.

“Go on in.  There’s drinks and hors d’oeuvres.  Oh, and Ridge.”

Taylor couldn’t help but laugh.  “That good, huh?  I think I’ll settle for a drink.”

Stephanie shrugged.  “His mood is foul, just be wary and don’t ask where Brooke is.”

“Not a problem.”  Whip assured her as he escorted Taylor into the other room.  “Happy birthday, Stephanie,” he called.

Stephanie shook her head then started to follow Eric when she saw Steffy come through the door.  “Steffy.  Hello, Honey.”

Steffy rushed to her grandmother, hugging her.  “Hello, Grandma.  Happy birthday.”

“Thank you, Honey.  What’s this?” she asked when Steffy handed her a package.  “I said no gifts.”

“Granddad told me that.”

“But since she’s just like the woman she’s named after…”

Stephanie rolled her eyes as she looked up at Eric.  “Behave, Mr. Forrester.”

“Yes, Mrs. Forrester.”

Steffy laughed at her grandparents.  “Come on, Grandma.  Open your present.”

Stephanie smiled at her granddaughter.  “Alright,” she agreed and pulled at the ribbon, then lifted the lid from the package.  “Oh, Honey, it’s beautiful.”

Eric looked at the item Stephanie pulled from the box, his heart catching in his throat.  In her hand she held a beautifully crafted glass figurine of a woman holding a small child.  “It’s lovely, Steffy.”

“It made me think of Grandma and how she was with us kids.”

Stephanie felt her eyes water as she handed the gift to Eric and pulled Steffy into a hug.  “I love it, just as much as I love the wonderful young woman that gave it to me.”

Steffy felt her eyes water.  It wasn’t often that her grandmother was this emotional, and it made her wonder if something was wrong.  “I love you, Grandma.  I just wanted to give you something to show you how much.”

Stephanie pulled back and looked up at her granddaughter, wiping at the tears on her cheeks.  “You don’t have to buy me things to show me how much you love me.  I know how much you love me just by your actions, Honey.”

Steffy nodded.  “Still,” she started.  “you’ll have something to look at and remember when I’m not around.”

“I’ll keep it right by my bed so that I see it every morning.”

Steffy smiled.  “I saw Whip and Mom’s car outside.”

Stephanie nodded.  “They’re in the living room with your father.”

Steffy sighed.  “I suppose he has to be here,” she mumbled.

“Steffy, don’t hold this against him too long.  He’s your father and loves you, even if he doesn’t show it right now.”

“Yes, Grandma.”

Eric watched his granddaughter walk away then placed the gift box down on the foyer table.  “She’s turning into a perfect replica of you.”

Stephanie shook her head.  “I don’t want that.  I don’t want her to be me.  I want her to be free from all the bitterness that I’ve always carried around.”

“You’ve had good reason, Stephanie.  So does she.”

“But it’s not the life I want for her.  I want her to have what,” she stopped and shook her head.

Eric cupped her cheek.  “You want her to have what you never did.  She already does, Sweetheart.  And some day she’ll find a man who will love her unconditionally, the way her grandfather never loved her grandmother,” he whispered.

“Shh,” she soothed as she pressed a finger to his lips.  “You love me now, Eric.  It’s all I need.”

Thorne watched his parents from his place just inside the door.  He’d overheard part of their conversation, and it only made him more sure that something was going on.  Clearing his throat, he put on a smile when his parents turned their attention to him.  “Happy birthday, Mom.  Hi, Dad.”

Stephanie couldn’t help but chuckle.  “You’re the first one that’s remembered to greet Eric.”

Eric shrugged.  “I’m used to it by now.  You’ve always been the favorite.”

Stephanie rolled her eyes.  “Oh brother,” she mumbled then smiled back at Thorne.  “Are you just going to stand there?”

Thorne smiled and walked into his mother’s open arms.  This was the only place in his life that he’d ever felt truly loved, even though she’d always shown favoritism for Ridge.  He had never doubted his mother’s love for him, even if he hadn’t always appreciated the way she showed it by trying to interfere in his life.  “I love you, Mom.”

“Oh, Honey, I love you too.”  Stephanie smiled and patted his cheek.  “Go on in.  I’m going to go check on the caterers.”

“Okay.”

“Be careful around your brother, Thorne.  He’s not happy to be here by himself.”  Eric warned.  “Don’t mention Brooke.”

Thorne rolled his eyes.  “That won’t be a problem.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie held up her glass of champagne.  “Everyone, may I have your attention please?”

Whip leaned over and whispered in Taylor’s ear, “What’s going on?”

Taylor shrugged.  “I don’t know.”

“First of all,” Stephanie continued.  “I want to thank you all for coming here tonight.  I’m just delighted and tickled pink that you’re here to celebrate my birthday.  And then I guess I should say, that all the years I have been married on and off again to Eric, I never allowed him to make a big celebration on my birthday.  But this year I decided to say yes…I was tired of saying no.”

“And I was tired of hearing it.”  Eric quipped making everyone laugh.

Stephanie smiled at him.  “This year, however, my birthday wish is not going to be that things would turn out exactly as I want them to be.  My wish this year is that we will all find joy and happiness in things exactly as they are.  After all, we only have the moment.”  She smiled at her family.  “And now, I have something to tell you.  What I’m about to say will surprise you, but, well, recent events have given me a new perspective on things, and I feel compelled to share this with all of you.”

Eric cocked his head to the side, mimicking what everyone else in the room was doing at the moment.  “What have you got up your sleeve, woman?”

Stephanie smiled at him.  “Patience, Mr. Forrester.”

“Yes, Mrs. Forrester,” he answered, earning a laugh from the others in the room.

“Oh, don’t look so worried,” she continued a few moments later when everyone had stopped laughing and were again staring at her.  “I mean, we have had a few unpleasant surprises these past few months, and we’ve had some difficult times for the family, that’s true, and I’m sure there will be difficult times ahead, but not tonight.  Tonight is a celebration of my life.”

“And your modesty.”  Eric added with a grin.

Stephanie chuckled.  “My extraordinary modesty.”  She smiled when everyone laughed.  “And my extraordinary family, and my super-duper, well, not husband.  Lover?” she questioned earning groans.  “Oh, sorry.  I guess you didn’t really want to know that, huh?”

“Not really, Mother.”  Ridge spoke up with a grimace.

Stephanie shrugged her shoulders and chuckled.  “Sorry to burst your bubble, but how do you kids think you got here?”

Thorne laughed.  “Touché.”

“Stephanie,” Eric laughed.  “behave.”

“Yes, Mr. Forrester,” she mimicked his earlier response.

Steffy laughed, “Grandma, go on with what you were saying.”

“I woke up this morning, and I felt so alive and so young,” she looked at Eric, a knowing smile on her face.  “And I thought, “Oh my god, I’ve got all these fabulous experiences to live.”  Then I remembered something.  I remembered a request that was asked of me by every single child and grandchild, and I always said no.  First to Ridge, then to Thorne, and on down to the youngest grandchild.  And I’ve realized, I’m tired of saying no.”  A knock on the door made her pause and smile before continuing.  “Aha, this is your lucky day.  Do you remember?” she asked as she pointed to Ridge.  “Do you remember?” she asked pointing at Thorne.  “You always used to say to me, “It would be so awesome if we could come down off that landing and slide right into the living room.”

Thomas’ eyes widened.  “Oh oh.”

“Tom, go get the door, fast as you can.”

“Oh,” everyone chorused as they started to guess at what was going to happen.

“You’re all going to be surprised.  Hurry up!”

Thomas laughed as he opened the door, his eyes registering his surprise as he looked at the men and what they held.

“Did someone order a slide?” the man asked as he and his partner entered the room.

“Yes!”

Pam shook her head.  “I don’t believe it.”

 

E**S

 

Eric shook his head as he watched the last of the men leave, promising to return in two hours to retrieve the slide.  Looking at Stephanie, he saw the happiness on her face as she watched their family.  This was all she’d ever lived for.  The family she had created with him.  The family that he had left her to raise while he concentrated on his work.

Taylor squeezed his arm as she walked up next to him.  “She’s pretty amazing,” she whispered.

“She always has been, Taylor.  I just wish I hadn’t forgotten that’s part of what drew me to her.”

“It happens to all of us, Eric.  We all make mistakes, even her.”

“But the mistakes she made were to protect our family.  I can’t really fault her too much for that, even if some of the things were a bit awful.”

“Don’t make a saint of her, Eric.  She won’t like that.”

Eric chuckled.  “No, she wouldn’t.”  He watched Stephanie kiss Aly.  “Look at her.  She’s beautiful.”

“Yes, she is.”  Taylor agreed.  Stephanie had always been a beautiful woman, no more so than when she was surrounded by her family.

“I can’t believe how much Aly looks like Stephanie.  I’m glad she’s back from studying in Europe.  Stephanie has really missed her.”

“From the looks of the way Aly is clinging to her grandmother, I would say the feeling is mutual.”

“Aly always was very fond of her grandma.  Especially after that first Christmas without Darla.”

“Stephanie was always there for Aly, just as she has been for every child and grandchild in this family.”

“It was horrible what happened with Stephanie’s father and mother, but it made her a wonderful mother and grandmother.”

“Yes, it did.  Even if her children didn’t like the over protectiveness.”  Taylor laughed.

Eric chuckled.  “I think it was a little more than that, but they understand now, and are glad she was the way she was.”

Taylor nodded.  “I’m going to go see if Whip is going to do this.”

“I’ll bet he does.”

“I’m sure he will.”  Taylor laughed as she walked away.

Eric held out his arm when Stephanie came up to him.  Wrapping his arm around her shoulder, he kissed her head.  “You amaze me.”

She smiled up at him.  “I just want them to have some fun and be happy for a while.  Even Ridge is having fun.”

Eric shook his head.  “You going to do this?”

“No,” she shook her head.  “I’m too old.  You?”

“No,” he frowned.  “If you’re too old, then so am I.”

She laughed.  “Oh yeah, you are older than me.”

Eric squeezed her and squinted his eyes.  “Behave, Mrs. Forrester.”

“Yes, Mr. Forrester,” she chuckled.

Eric caught sight of Ridge at the top of the slide.  “I think Ridge is getting ready to go.  Looks like Steffy isn’t going to be the first to go down after all.”

“He always did want a slide in here.  Remember the blue prints?”

“Yes, I do.”  Eric chuckled.

Taking Eric’s hand, Stephanie led them over to the side of the slide and watched and cheered with the others as Ridge made his way down. 

Eric watched the joy on his Stephanie’s face as each member of their family made the trip down the slide, laughing with her when Pam came down in her crazy way.  For the rest of his life, he would remember this moment, and the selfless way his ex-wife was making happy memories for their family.

“Come on, Grandma, you have to do this!”  Steffy shouted, bringing Eric out of his revelry.

“No.”  Stephanie shook her head.

“Stephanie.  Stephanie.  Stephanie.”  A cheer rose up, and she sighed, looking at Eric for help.

Eric shrugged.  “I can’t help you now.  If you don’t go, this mob will riot.”

“Thanks a lot, Mr. Forrester.”

“Not at all, Mrs. Forrester.”

Stephanie rolled her eyes then turned her attention back to their granddaughter.  “Oh, alright.  But only once!”

Steffy nodded and tugged at Stephanie’s hand, leading her to the stairs amid cheers from the others in the room.  “It’s so much fun, Grandma.”

“For you maybe.”

“Oh, no.  You’ll enjoy it.”

“Fine, but you have to promise to talk your grandfather into doing this.”

“You got it.”  Steffy agreed as she helped her grandmother position herself on the slide.

Stephanie looked at the faces around her, all of them filled with anticipation.  Taking a deep breath, she held her nose as Pam had and pushed her way off.  As she slid down, she felt free and young once again.  Laughing when she came to a stop on the soft cushions, she smiled at those around her, hugging them all in turn then kissing Eric’s cheek when it was his turn for a hug.  “That was fun.”

“You were great,” he told her, pride in his voice.

“It’s your turn, Granddad.”  Steffy looked at him with the look he’d never been able to say no to.

Eric rolled his eyes.  “You are too much your grandmother’s.  Did she teach you that look?”

Stephanie rolled her eyes.  “Don’t blame me.  I don’t do that look.”

Eric looked at her.  “Oh yes you most certainly do.  That look is how we wound up with this house.”

Steffy laughed.  “Come on, Granddad.”

“Oh, alright.  But just like your grandmother, I’m only going down once.”

“That’s fine.”

Stephanie watched Eric as he made his way upstairs.  She knew that he was hiding his sadness, and she was very proud of him.  As he slid down, she laughed and cheered with the rest of the family, wondering if it was right to want him with her through all of this. 

Was it right of her to make him watch her suffer as this disease slowly progressed and got worse?

 

E**S

 

Eric sat beside Stephanie as she opened the presents that Thorne, Aly, Pam, and Taylor had brought.  He laughed at the silly slippers Pam got her.  “Minnie Mouse?  Is that a hint for something, Pam?”

Stephanie laughed.  “Eric, behave.”

“Yes, Mrs. Forrester,” he answered in the same deadpan he had used all evening.

Pam smiled as she leaned forward and hugged her sister.  “You bought me a pair of these when we were younger.  You knew how much I loved Minnie Mouse and you used your allowance to buy me a pair of slippers with her on them.  We had to keep them hidden because Mother would have thrown them out.”  Her eyes watered as she hugged Stephanie again.  “I love you, Steph.  Happy birthday.”

Stephanie caressed her sister’s hair.  “Oh, Pammie.  I remember.”

Taylor hid her face in Whip’s neck, her tears soaking his shirt collar.  She wasn’t going to be able to bear losing her best friend.  Seeing Stephanie with her family, and the memories she was making and sharing with them, was only making it harder.

Whip held Taylor close, pressing a kiss to her head.  Something was bothering her, he knew that from this afternoon and how she’d clung to him as she sobbed, unable to tell him just exactly what it was due to patient doctor confidentiality.  He hated seeing her like this, and as he watched Stephanie and Eric, he began to wonder if the thing that was bothering his wife somehow involved the couple currently laughing at the slippers Stephanie had put on her feet and was wiggling around.

Eric kissed Stephanie’s cheek as he laughed.  “Those are so sexy,” he whispered in her ear.

Stephanie shook her head and laughed as she turned to stare at him.  “I’ll be sure to model them for you later,” she whispered back with a wink.

“Behave, Mrs. Forrester.”  Eric warned her with a smile.

“You started it, Mr. Forrester,” she reminded him.

“Okay, enough of that!”  Aly chirped as she took Pam’s place beside Stephanie.  “Here, Grandma.”

Stephanie smiled and opened the package, gasping as she lifted out the contents.  “Oh Aly.  It’s beautiful.  Look, Eric,” she held the sketch up so Eric could see.

“Portofino,” he whispered, remembering well the times they shared there. 

“Hotel Splendido at night.”  Stephanie added.

Eric nodded then looked up at their granddaughter.  “It’s beautiful, Aly.  You’ve turned into a very talented artist.”

Aly smiled.  “I got the best of both of you, I guess.  Looks from Grandma, talent from Grandpa.”

Thorne laughed.  “Hey!  I have talent, too, you know.”

Aly turned and smiled at her father.  “Which you got from Grandpa.”

Stephanie laughed.  “She got you there, Son.”

Thorne smiled.  “I suppose she did.”

“It really is beautiful, Sweetheart.  Thank you.”  Stephanie patted Aly’s cheek.  “But when did you go to Portofino?”

“One of my art classes took a field trip as a reward for how well we had all done on our mid-term projects.  When the teacher asked where we wanted to go, I suggested Portofino and it didn’t take much to convince the others that’s where we should go.”  Aly looked at her grandmother.  “I remember hearing stories about how Grandpa won you back in Portofino by romancing you and I remember hearing you talking about how much you love the Hotel Splendido.”  She shrugged.  “I was missing you and I thought maybe going and seeing the places I’d heard you talking about might make me feel better.”

“You could’ve called, Honey.”  Stephanie reminded her as she pulled her close and kissed her head.

“I know, Grandma, but calling and hearing your voice only made me miss you more.”

Stephanie felt her eyes water as she rested her face against Aly’s head.  “Oh, Aly,” she whispered.

Eric squeezed Stephanie’s shoulder, knowing that she needed his strength to help her keep her emotions under control.  Out of all of their grandchildren, Aly was the one who could easily break Stephanie, and he knew that she didn’t want that.  “We’re glad you’re home, Aly.”

Aly sat up and smiled at her grandpa.  “I’m glad, too, Grandpa.  No more studying abroad for me.”

Stephanie smiled and chuckled as she patted Aly’s hand.  “You’ll meet a boy some day and he’ll whisk you away.”

“But never so far away that I can’t go visit my grandma any time I want to.”

Eric had to bite his tongue as he gently pressed a hand against the small of Stephanie’s back.  “So, who’s next?” he asked, hoping that whoever was next wouldn’t have a gift so full of emotion.

Taylor sat down beside Stephanie and smiled at her best friend.  “You’ve always treated me like a daughter, even when things were tense.  I love you and decided that I wanted to treat you to something I know you love.”  She handed Stephanie an envelope.  “I didn’t know what Aly’s gift was, but mine sort of goes along with hers.”

Stephanie frowned as she opened the envelope, her eyes widening in surprise as she pulled out two airline tickets for Portofino.  “Oh, Taylor,” she whispered.

“You deserve a trip away with Eric.”  Taylor smiled as she leaned over to hug her friend, holding on just a bit tighter as she thought about how this was probably going to be the last birthday they’d have with Stephanie.

“Well, now I can romance her all over again.”  Eric smiled when Stephanie turned to look at him.  “And this time, no separate suites.”

Everyone laughed as Thorne took Taylor’s place.

“I didn’t know what to get you, but I assure you, I already had this before Dad told us no presents.”

Stephanie frowned as she looked at the book Thorne handed her.  “What in the world?” she wondered as she opened the book, surprised to find a picture of herself staring back at her.

“I wanted you to see how much I love you.”  Thorne told her, knowing by the look in her eyes she remembered their conversation the day before.

Try as she might, Stephanie couldn’t stop the tears that rolled down her cheeks as she looked through the pictures and articles that her son had collected over the years.  There were several pictures of just the two of them together that she’d often wondered where they’d disappeared to.  “Oh Thorne,” she whispered as she pulled him into a hug.  “Thank you, Sweetheart.”

Eric pulled out his handkerchief and handed it to Stephanie as she leaned back against him.  Pressing a kiss to her head, he smiled at their son.  “Thank you, Thorne,” he whispered then turned his attention to the rest of the family.  “Thank you everyone for the gifts.  They mean a lot to Stephanie, and to me.  They show just how much you love her.  Thank you.”

“Dance with Grandma, Granddad.”  Steffy spoke up as she wiped at her eyes.

“There’s no music.”  Stephanie informed her.

“There’s always music.”  Eric smiled and nodded to Steffy who went to the stereo. 

“I have a gift for you, as well, Sweetheart,” he told Stephanie as he pulled her up and led her out away from the furniture.

Stephanie cocked her head with a puzzled look then smiled when she heard the music start.  She would know that piano playing anywhere.  “Oh, Honey,” she whispered.  “When?”

“Oh, I’ve been working on it for a while now.  I wanted to surprise you with it for your birthday.  I had lunch with Mick a month or so ago and he asked me if I was ever going to make a cd like you kept saying I should, and it hit me.  A cd would be a wonderful gift for your birthday.”

“This song,” she breathed.

“Yes, this song,” he answered as he pulled her close, gently swaying her to the soft strains of his rendition of Elton John’s Blue Eyes

Thorne watched his parents and noticed his brother slipping out the front door.  Anger filled him as he followed.  He didn’t know what was wrong with Ridge, but enough was enough.

“No, Thorne.  Just let him go.”  Taylor whispered as she caught Thorne’s arm.

“But Taylor.  She’ll be hurt when she realizes he’s gone.”

“I don’t think she will, Thorne.  Ridge hasn’t been much fun tonight, with the exception of the slide.  I’m guessing Stephanie will breathe a bit easier with Thomas and Ridge gone.”

Thorne blinked and looked back into the living room.  “When did Thomas leave?”

“When everyone was watching Stephanie open her presents.”

Thorne sighed.  “They’re going to regret this.  One day, they’ll regret the way they’ve acted.”

Taylor didn’t say anything but nodded her head.  Yes, one day they would regret their actions.  If only they knew just how close that one day was.

 

E**S

 

“Donna?”  Eric said the name in surprise as he looked at the woman standing on the other side of the door.

“Hello, Eric.”

“What are you doing here?”

Donna walked into the house, turning to face Eric.  “I came to tell you that I want you back.  I still love you, and I know that you still love me after what you said the other day.”

Eric closed his eyes.  “Donna, I,”

“Oh, I know.  You think you’re happy with Stephanie, but how can you be?  She’s already bossing you around, making you give up your company.”  She moved to press herself against Eric.

Stephanie took a deep breath and turned back upstairs, walking slowly to her bedroom.  This was all she needed to do what she’d been thinking about doing since earlier this evening.  Eric could go back to Donna and have a young wife who wouldn’t leave him alone and sad.

Eric sighed.  “Donna, I was wrong the other day.  I do regret our marriage.  I regret every marriage I’ve had to any woman but Stephanie.  I’ve hurt her enough.  It’s time I grow up and be the man she’s always seen in me.  Please leave and don’t make a fool of yourself.”

Donna glared at the man she thought would surely take her back.  “You’re going to tell me you prefer that old bag to me?  What can she give you?  She,”

“Just stop.  You couldn’t possibly understand.  Love is so much more than sex, Donna.  Hell, sex isn’t love.  And sex is all there was between us.”  He rolled his eyes.  “Sex I had to use pills to achieve.”

Donna narrowed her eyes.  “Don’t try to tell me you don’t have to use pills with her.”

“I never said a word.”  Eric told her, pointing to the open door.  “Leave, Donna, and don’t come to this house again.  The only Logans welcome here are my children, and only if they can respect my relationship with Stephanie.”

“Then I wouldn’t count on seeing your son.”

“I have no doubts you are right about that.  Goodbye, Donna.”  Eric watched the woman storm away, knowing in his heart that she’d only wanted him back for the status being his wife provided her.

Hearing noise on the stairs, he shut the door and turned to see Stephanie standing on the bottom landing staring at him.  “Hey, Sweetheart.  I thought you were going to bed.”

“I was, but,” she paused and made her way down the rest of the stairs.  “we need to talk,” she finished as she made her way into the living room.

Eric followed with a frown.  “What is it, Stephanie?”

“You need to leave.”  She was blunt and to the point, it was the only way.

Eric started in surprise.  “What?  Stephanie, what is this about?”

“You need to go back to where you belong.”

“Back where I belong?”

“Donna, Eric.  You belong with her.”

“Stephanie, you aren’t making any sense.”

“Don’t argue, Eric.  I know she still wants you.  She’s young, she,”

“She’s vapid and greedy.”

“Eric, don’t try to tell me you wouldn’t take her back.  This just isn’t working.  You’re better off with her.”

Anger filled Eric and he lashed out.  “Damn it, Stephanie!  Stop trying to rule me!  You have cancer.  You’re,” but he couldn’t say it.

She could.  “I’m dying, Eric.  Say it.”

“Damn it!  Stop this!” he yelled as he moved to grab her, but she was already making her way out of the room up the stairs.

Thorne stood outside the front door, his knees too weak to hold him up as he slid down to the steps, his eyes blurring with tears.  Dying.  Cancer.  His mother.  Bowing his head, tears dripped from his eyes, splattering on the concrete beneath him.

Eric heard a sound outside the door and frowned.  Looking up the stairs, he shook his head, deciding that maybe Stephanie needed some time before he went up to try and talk to her.  Hearing the noise outside the door again, he walked over and opened it, startled to see his son sitting there, his shoulders shaking.

“Thorne?  Son?” he questioned as he squeezed the younger man’s shoulder.

“Is it true?”  Thorne asked as he looked up at his father.  “Is Mom really,” he couldn’t say it, just stared at his father.

Eric swallowed.  “Yes, it’s true.  I’m sorry, Son.  You weren’t meant to find out this way.”

“Where is she?”

“Upstairs.  Go on.”  Eric encouraged, knowing that only Stephanie could help their son now.

 

E**S

 

Thorne found his mother sitting and staring out the open french doors in her bedroom.  Going to her, he knelt down in front of her, finding himself staring up at her like he did as a small child.  “Mom?”

Stephanie was startled by Thorne’s presence, and even more startled to see the tears in his eyes.  “Honey?  What is it?  What’s,” she stopped.  “Oh god, Thorne,” she breathed, pulling him into her arms when she realized he knew about her cancer, that he must have overheard her and Eric’s argument.

“Mom, when?  Why didn’t you tell us?  I,” he sobbed as he buried his face in her neck and held tight.

“Shh,” she soothed, just as she had when he was a little boy.  “Yesterday, Darling.  I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want this.  I didn’t want you to hurt.”

Thorne gripped her blouse in his fists, the pain in his heart nearly taking his breath away.  “How,” he started then took a deep breath.  “How long?”

“Without treatment, they can’t say for sure.”

“With treatment?” he asked.

“Six to eight months, but I would be very ill and unable to enjoy the last precious moments with my family.”  Stephanie held her son to her as he cried, remembering all the times she had held him down through the years.  “I remember the day I brought you home,” she whispered as she caressed his back.

Thorne pulled back and sat down on the floor.  “Tell me,” he whispered, tears still rolling down his cheeks.

Stephanie smiled at him and caressed his face.  “I was so happy to be home.  I’d missed my own bed and those nurses,” she sighed.  “They always seemed to be bothering me.”

Thorne nodded.  “They don’t give you much chance to rest.”

“No, they don’t,” she agreed.  “Anyway, I was tired.  Your father had left Ridge with friends so that I could rest.  He helped me to bed and put you in the cradle.  It didn’t take me long to fall asleep.  I woke about half an hour later to the sound of your cries.  I picked you up and you settled a bit.  After making sure your diaper didn’t need to be changed, and knowing that you weren’t hungry, I laid down with you on my chest.  You quieted down and snuggled your face into my neck.”  Reaching out, Stephanie wiped at Thorne’s tears.  “That’s how you always slept when I let you sleep with me.  It’s what you always did when I would hold you when you were crying.  When you got older, you would do it just to sniff my perfume.”  She smiled.  “I think you saw your father do that a time or two and were mimicking him.”

Moving onto his knees again, Thorne held his mother, his face against her neck.  “You can’t leave us.”

“Shh, Honey.  It’s alright.  I’ll never really leave,” her voice was gentle as she pressed her hand to his heart.  “I’ll always be here.  You gave me the scrapbook of the pictures and articles you’ve collected about me, those are some of your memories, Honey.”  Cupping his face when he pulled back to look at her.  “And every time you look at Aly, I’ll be there.”

“In those magic blue eyes,” he whispered something he’d heard his father once say.

Stephanie kissed his forehead.  “Go on home to Aly.  Just promise me that you won’t say anything to anyone.  I want to do that myself.  I can’t stand the thoughts of another one of my family finding out the way you did.”

“I won’t tell, Mom.”  Thorne kissed her cheek.  “I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you, too, Honey.”

 

E**S

 

Eric stood watching Stephanie as she looked through the sketch pad he’d given her the day before.  “I’ve had that pad full of sketches for years, adding to it when something caught my eye or some new thing happened in our life.  I left the hospital yesterday to get it because the gift shop didn’t have anything.  I didn’t want to leave, but you’d asked me to sketch you something, and I just couldn’t disappoint you.”

“You’re still here?” she asked, her voice quiet.

“Yes, I’m still here, Sweet girl.”

The use of the nickname was her undoing.  The pad slipped to the floor as Stephanie’s hands came up to cover her face, her body shaking with sobs.  Everything she’d been holding in was now pouring out of her and she clung to Eric when his arms pulled her against him.

“Let it all out, Stephanie.  I’m here and I’m not leaving.  I don’t want to be anywhere but here, with you, holding you and loving you through whatever lies ahead.”

“I’m sorry for trying to push you away,” she whispered.  “I don’t want you to leave me.  I need you.”

“I know that, Sweet girl.  I’m sorry for yelling at you.”

Still crying, but quietly now, Stephanie listened to the sound of Eric’s heart beating.  She remembered the first time she’d heard the sound, the night they made love for the first time.  The sound had soothed her then, and it continued to soothe her now.

Eric cradled her head in his hand, his own tears rolling down his cheeks, landing in her hair.  The feel of her in his arms still felt just as wonderful as it had that very first time.  All the years since then, the times that she had clung to him when she was hurting were the ones that seemed to mean the most.  In these times, when she was the most vulnerable, she needed him and the strength he could offer.  It was true he had never been a strong man, but there was enough strength in his embrace for her to always seek it out for comfort.

“Sweetheart,” he whispered, smiling when she looked up at him.  “I have another gift for you that I didn’t want to give you in front of the kids.”

Stephanie frowned.  “What in the world couldn’t you give me in front of the family?”

“This,” he whispered as he pulled a velvet box from his pocket.  Opening the box, he held it for her to see.

“My first engagement ring,” she breathed.

“Yes.  The very first one.  Its stone isn’t as big as the others, but I,”

“I loved this ring.  It was always my favorite.”

“Why?”

“Because you used the last of your money to pay for it.”

Smiling at her, he caressed her face.  “So, will you marry me again?  Let me put this ring back on your finger?”

Stephanie hesitated.  “I don’t want you marrying me because I’m sick.”

“I’m not.  I’ve had this planned for weeks.  I was always going to propose to you tonight.”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Not exactly like this, but still, I promise that this was what I originally had planned for your birthday.”

Stephanie smiled and nodded her head.  “Then yes, I’ll marry you again.  I’m tired of no one knowing what to call me when referring to you and I.”

Eric chuckled.  “They could call you my lover.”

“That embarrassed the children,” she reminded him.

“My kept woman?” he suggested.

“Absolutely not.”  She shook her head and snarled her nose.

“My best friend?”

“Most definitely.”

“I really like lover, though.”

Stephanie shook her head.  “Being your lover is wonderful, but it’s still embarrassing to those around us.”

“Then I guess we’ll just have to make you my wife so there’s no question about how to refer to the two of us.”

Holding out her hand, she smiled as the cool gold band slid on her finger.  “It fits perfectly.”

“Of course it does.  I took one of your rings in for the jeweler to get the right size.”

“Sneaky.”

“Yes, I am, but I had a very good teacher.”

“Oh,” she huffed and wrapped her arms around him.  “I love you, Eric Forrester.  Thank you for not leaving me when I tried so hard to push you away.”

“No matter how hard you push, I’m not going to budge.”  He cupped her face.  “I love you, Stephanie Forrester.  I always have, even when I’ve been too blind to see it clearly.”

Caressing his lips with her thumb, Stephanie stared up into his dark eyes.  “Are you going to do what you did the first time you gave me this ring?”

“Even though the rest of my plan changed, that part hasn’t,” he assured her.  “I’m going to make love to you slow and sweet, just like that first time.” 

Chapter Text

Stephanie held Eric’s hand as they stared at the entrance to Angels Flight.  “Why haven’t we done this before?”

“I’m not sure we should be doing it now.”  Eric held her close.  “Are you sure you’re going to be okay doing this?”

“I’ll be fine, Honey.”  She smiled at him.

Eric nodded and reached in his pocket for the two quarters it would take for them to make the ride.  “It’s a nice day for this,” he commented quietly after they climbed aboard the funicular. 

Stephanie nodded as she moved to stand at the front so that she could see the sky as they climbed to the top.  As they began to move, her mind was flooded with memories of the man sitting behind her.  The life they’d lived together, through the divorces and the marriages, came back to her with startling clarity.  Each embrace, each dance, each kiss was relived as though each moment happened within the last few minutes instead of in the past.

Eric watched Stephanie, a coughing fit causing her to lean forward and grip the railing a bit tighter.  Memories of the painful times in their past flashed through his mind.  Every time he left her for a younger woman, every time he caused her blue eyes to fill with hurt, the pain that flashed in those eyes the day he told her that he didn’t need or want her. 

Carefully standing, he moved behind her and slid his arms around her waist just as they reached the crest.  “Beautiful,” he whispered against her ear, not really speaking of the scenery.  “I’ve been such a fool over the years, Stephanie.  So many times I’ve hurt you all for the sake of,” he shrugged.  “my ego, I guess.”

Stephanie patted his hand.  “A step closer to Heaven,” she whispered.

Eric blinked at her response.  “You were always my Heaven.  I’ve just been a little slow realizing it.”

After the car came to a stop, Stephanie turned in his arms and smiled up at him.  “Your ego?” she smirked.  “Is that what you’re calling that these days?”

Eric reached up and caressed her cheek.  “I suppose it was all about sex.”

She nodded.  “And I take part of the blame.  I couldn’t give you what you needed.”

“You gave me everything you could, Stephanie.  I should have been man enough to help you instead of just acting like a fool and finding what I thought I needed somewhere else.”

“It’s alright because it’s over, and in the end, you’re in my arms, no one else’s.” 

“Ready to go back down?” he asked after a tender kiss.

Stephanie sighed and nodded.  “Yes.  We need to be at the house before the family.”  Her eyes watered as she thought of what lay ahead.  “I don’t want to hurt them.”

“It will only hurt them more if they find out the way Thorne did.”

“He’s going to be the strong one for the rest of them.”

“He’s more his mother’s son than we realize.”

“He’s more of the both of us than any of the other children.”

“It’s amazing, really,” he commented as they sat down for the trip back down to the exit.

Stephanie rested her head against Eric’s shoulder.  “What is?”

“That we only have one child that’s a perfect blend of everything good about us.”

Stephanie shrugged.  “Maybe we just got things right when we had Thorne.”

Eric sighed, “Who knows.  All I know is that I love them all, no matter how they act.  Even Ridge.”

“Who is acting a lot like his father,” she mumbled, thinking of Massimo.

“He’ll come around, Stephanie.”

“But will he really?  He’ll be shocked that I’m sick, angry that Thorne knew first, and he’ll probably apologize for his actions, but,” she turned her head into his neck.  “I don’t want him to pretend just because I’m sick.  I want my son back, but I don’t believe that will happen.”

Eric heard something in her voice.  “Sweetheart, what is it?”

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I’ve always favored Ridge over the other children.  While I believe I was right about how he’s never cared for me like I have him, the contempt he showed the other day,” she shook her head.  “It’s been there ever since he learned what I did.”

“What you did?  Sweetheart, what do you mean?”

“I mean that he’s hated me deep inside for trapping you into marriage, and then that only grew when he learned that he wasn’t yours.  Then it became all about how I’d trapped you using a child that wasn’t even yours.”

“Stephanie, no.”  Eric denied as he helped her stand, holding her shoulders as he looked down at her.  “He doesn’t hate you.”

“Yes, I believe he does.  I don’t think we’ve ever really confronted his true feelings about what I did.”

“You didn’t trap me, Stephanie.  I know that I’ve said that you did in the past, but you didn’t.”

Looking up at him, a tear rolled down her cheek.  “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Sweetheart.  Now come on.  If we leave now, you can rest for a little while before the family all shows up.”

“A nap sounds wonderful.  You kept me up late.”

Eric stopped and stared down at her with raised eyebrows.  “I kept you up late!  Stephanie Forrester!”

Stephanie laughed as she snuggled back against his side.  “I guess it was me who kept us up late.”

“Damn right, it was.”  Eric growled, playfully patting her hip.  “But I’m not complaining.”

Smiling up at him, Stephanie felt her heart swelling with the love she felt for him.  “I’m not complaining, either.  You’ve been wonderful.”

“I have a lot of time to make up for.”  Stopping beside their car, he turned her to look at him and cupped her face.  “I want you to know that I do need you and that I do want you.”

Stephanie felt her eyes watering as she remembered that day in his office when he’d told her that he didn’t want her, didn’t need her.  She remembered how her heart had broken in two, how she’d laid in bed that night and cried herself to sleep.  “In all the years we’ve been together and apart, you hurt me the most that day.”

Caressing her cheek and catching a tear with his thumb, Eric closed his eyes.  “I was an idiot, Stephanie.  A damned idiot.”  Cupping her face in his hands, he opened his eyes and stared into her blue depths.  “I’m slowly realizing I’ve been a horrible man and I’m not proud of it.  I’m learning, but I hate that this is the cost of my lessons.”

Placing her hands over his, Stephanie smiled at him.  “You’ve never been a horrible man, Honey.  Just a little misguided.  I’m learning things, too, and I’m realizing I’ve not been the kind of woman I should have been.”

Tears on his cheeks, he sighed, “Why has it taken you getting sick for us to realize how wrong we’ve been?”

“I don’t know, Honey.  I don’t know.”

 

E**S

 

Eric blinked in surprise as he stared at his youngest child.  “Felicia?  Baby, when did you get in?”

Felicia wrapped her arms around her father, hugging him tight.  “An hour ago.”

“Why didn’t you call us and let us know you were coming in?  We could have had a car there to meet you.  Or at least one of your brothers could have been there.”

“I wanted to surprise everyone.  Where’s Mom?”

Eric moved to close the door, thanking the driver with a tip for bringing Felicia’s luggage in.  “She’s upstairs.”

“Why aren’t the two of you at work?”

Eric frowned.  “You mean you haven’t talked to anyone?”

“I stopped in Florida to see Kristen, and Thorne and I talked a couple of days ago.  Why?”

“Your mother and I are no longer part of FC.  Neither are Thorne and Steffy.”

Felicia’s eyes widened.  “What the hell happened?”

Eric laughed and shook his head.  “It’s a long story, Baby.”

“One that I should wait to hear.”

“Yes.”

“Fine.  I’ll just go up and see Mom.”

“Uh, Baby,”  Eric started.

“Yes, Daddy?”  Felicia asked as she paused on the stairs.

Shaking his head, he sighed, “Never mind.  Go on.”

Studying her father a few moments, Felicia shrugged then rushed up the stairs, anxious to see her mother and share her news.  Stopping in the doorway of her parents’ bedroom, her breath caught as she watched her mother changing the bed linens.  Instantly she flashed back to the last time she’d watched her mother change the sheets on a bed, her bed, after her accident when she was fighting cancer.

Cancer.

Mother?

No.

Those were the three thoughts that immediately followed the memory, and no matter how much she tried to dismiss the thoughts, they wouldn’t let her be.

Stephanie looked up.  “Baby?” she whispered and held out her arms.

“Mom.”  Felicia rushed into her mother’s arms.  “I’ve missed you so much.”

Stephanie squeezed her daughter tight and kissed her head.  “I’ve missed you, too.  What are you doing home?” she asked as they pulled back from the hug.  “And why didn’t you tell us you were coming?”

“I wanted to surprise you.”

“Well you did.”  Stephanie smiled as she went back to making the bed.  “Help your old mom?”

“Sure.”  Felicia answered as she went to the opposite side of the bed and pulled up the sheet.  Following her Mother’s movements, she noticed that Stephanie was moving slower and looked a bit pale.  Her hair was wet and she was in her robe.  A shower in the middle of the day?  What was going on?

“What has you frowning, Baby?”

“Oh, nothing.  You know how much I hate to make beds,” she joked.

Stephanie smiled as she remembered the many fights they’d gotten into down through the years over Felicia not making her bed.  “Yes, I do.”

Felicia laughed.  “So how are things,” she started then the sunlight streaming through the window caught her mother’s engagement ring.  “Mom!” she shouted as she climbed across the bed, making a mess of the sheet they’d just finished putting into perfect place.

“Felicia!  You just messed the bed up!”

Felicia shrugged and grabbed Stephanie’s left hand.  “You’re engaged!”

Stephanie smiled at the excitement she could hear in her baby’s voice and see in her eyes.  “Yes.  Eric asked me last night.  None of the other kids know.”

“You mean he didn’t ask you at your party?”

Stephanie sat down next to her daughter and shook her head.  “No.  He saved it for after they were gone.”

Felicia smirked.  “Wanted to do it privately so he could get you in bed afterwards.”

“Felicia!”  Stephanie scolded then coughed and shook her head when it kept going.

“Mom?”

Stephanie pointed at the water pitcher sitting on the nightstand as she pressed a hand to her chest trying to get the coughing to stop.

Felicia poured her mother a glass of water then sat beside her as she drank.  “Are you okay, Mom?”

Taking a breath after she finished drinking, Stephanie patted Felicia’s knee.  “It’s alright, Baby.”  She smiled and changed the subject.  “Where are you staying?  Here or one of the guest houses?”

“The guest house I always stay in.”

Stephanie nodded.  “Well, help me finish making the bed.  I really need to get dressed.  The rest of the family will be here pretty soon.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.”  Stephanie answered, not explaining further.

Felicia started to question her mother further, but something deep inside told her not to.  Again her earlier thoughts came back.

Cancer.

Mother?

 

E**S

 

Thorne was the first to arrive, bringing Aly with him.  He’d held his mother a little tighter as he hugged her, struggling to keep the tears at bay.  “Momma,” he whispered, not caring that it sounded childish for a grown man.

Stephanie caressed Thorne’s head.  “Your sister’s here,” she told him, patting his cheek when he pulled back.

Looking up, Thorne smiled as he let go of his mother and held out his arms for his sister.  “Hey, Fifi.”

“Don’t call me that!”  Felicia groaned, temporarily distracted from the odd exchange between her mother and brother.

Aly studied her grandmother a few moments before hugging her.  Holding her just a bit tighter, she felt tears threaten.  Something was going on and deep down she knew it wasn’t good.  Sniffing, she smiled as her nose was filled with the scent of her grandmother’s perfume.  It was a scent that always soothed her because in her mind it was linked with comfort and love.

Patting her granddaughter’s face, Stephanie chuckled.  “I believe you take after your father.”

“What do you mean, Grandma?”

“You were sniffing my neck.”

Aly blushed and Thorne laughed. 

“I think you mean she takes after her grandfather since I’m sure that’s where I got it.”  Thorne winked at his father.

Eric shrugged.  “What can I say?  She smells great and I just can’t resist.”

Stephanie rolled her eyes.  “Oh brother.”  Pushing a hair away from her face, her ring caught the light.

“Mom!”  Thorne shouted, echoing his sister’s earlier reaction.  Moving to his mother, he held her hand and studied the ring on her finger.  “I remember this ring.  It’s the first one.”

“Yes, it is.”  Stephanie whispered.

Thorne looked at his father, understanding the significance of the ring.  “So when did you ask her?”

“After you guys left last night.”  Felicia answered.  “He wanted to get her into bed afterward.”

“Felicia!”  Stephanie scolded again.  “Not in front of Aly.”

Aly laughed and hugged her grandmother before taking her hand and studying the ring.  “It’s alright, Grandma.  It doesn’t bother me.  This ring is your very first engagement ring?”

“Yes.”  Stephanie answered.  “Your grandfather spent the last of his money to buy it for me.”

“Aww,” the young woman cooed.  “That’s so sweet and romantic.”

“Very romantic.”  Stephanie agreed.

The doorbell rang, stopping any further discussion.

Eric opened the door to find his oldest son and Brooke standing on the other side.  “Ridge.  Brooke.”

“Dad.”  Ridge greeted as he nudged Brooke through the door.

“Ridge.”  Stephanie greeted her son.  “Brooke.”

Brooke stared at her mother-in-law, wondering what all of this was about.  “Stephanie.”

“Mom.”  Ridge returned the greeting then noticed Felicia.  “Hey, Sis.  When did you get in?”

Felicia frowned.  “What the hell is going on?  Why are you so cool toward Mom?” she asked, completely ignoring her brother’s greeting and question.

“Don’t, Felicia.  It isn’t important now.”  Stephanie’s hand on her daughter’s arm stopped her.

Studying her mother, Felicia was even more sure that something was wrong.  “Okay, Mom.”

“Hey, Grandma.”  Steffy called as she came in.  “Aunt Felicia?  I didn’t know you were going to be here.”

“No one did.”  Felicia smiled at her niece.  “I came in as a surprise.”

Thomas, followed closely by Hope, came in after Steffy.

“All that’s left is Pammie.”  Stephanie said then smiled when her sister appeared.

“Here I am.”  Pam smiled.  “What’s going on?” she asked then noticed Felicia.  “Hey, Felicia.”

“Hi, Aunt Pam.”

“Why don’t we all go into the living room?”  Eric suggested as he closed the front door.

Stephanie watched their family as they walked into the other room.  “I don’t want to do this,” she whispered when Eric joined her and took her hand.

“I’m right here, Sweetheart.  I’ll help you tell them.”

Looking into his dark eyes, she drew on the strength he was offering her.  “Let’s get this over with,” she sighed as they walked into the living room.

“So, what’s this about?”  Ridge asked.  “Is it to tell us you’re getting married again?”

Stephanie shook her head as she and Eric sat down on the sofa.  “No.  Although,” she held up her hand.  “we are.”

“Congrats, Grandma.”  Steffy smiled.

“Thank you, Sweetie.”

Pam studied her sister.  “Steph?  Why are we all here?”

Looking down at her and Eric’s joined hands, Stephanie swallowed.  “You’re all here because I have something to tell you.  It isn’t easy for me so you’ll have to forgive me if I stumble a bit.”

A feeling of dread gathered in the pit of Felicia’s stomach, and by the looks on the faces of those around her, the same thing was happening to the rest of her family.  With a few exceptions.  Namely, Brooke.

“I fell two days ago after being short of breath.  I lost consciousness and had to go to the hospital.”  Stephanie began.  “The doctor was worried about the dizziness and shortness of breath, so she had tests done.”

“Mom?”

“Grandma?”

Stephanie heard her children and grandchildren’s voices blending together in their questions and she closed her eyes, leaning into Eric.  “I can’t do this,” she whispered.

“It’s alright, Sweetheart.”  Eric assured her as he kissed the side of her head.  “What Stephanie is trying to say, is that the tests,” he paused to take a deep breath then looked at Thorne because he knew he wouldn’t see the look of shock on Thorne’s face that he would the others.  “Your mother has cancer,” he whispered.

Stephanie heard the gasps of breath, the quiet sobs, and the murmured denials.  Feeling a hand on her lap, she opened her eyes, the pale blue eyes of her baby staring up at her.

“Momma?”  Felicia whispered, feeling just like a child.

“It’s true, Baby.”

Closing her eyes, Felicia leaned up and rested her head against Stephanie’s chest.  “No,” she whimpered.

“Shh.”  Stephanie tried to soothe.

“Mother?”  Ridge questioned.

“It’s true, Ridge.”

“Oh please.”  Brooke rolled her eyes.  “You’re going a bit far with this, aren’t you?  When are you going to stop this madness?  You’re not even with FC anymore.  Why do you care about what I do now?”

Eric ground his teeth and started to say something, but Thorne stopped him.

“Ridge, if your wife opens her mouth one more time, I’ll personally pick her up and carry her out,” he told his brother, his voice calm and eerily quiet.

Ridge looked at his wife.  “Brooke, why don’t you go wait outside?  I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Whatever.”  Brooke shrugged.  “She’s just playing you all.  Just like she’s done time and time again.”

Stephanie sighed and held Felicia tighter when she felt her daughter starting to get up.  “No.  It’s alright, Baby.  Just leave it alone.”

Eric glared at his oldest son.  “I don’t know why you brought her.  And right now, I don’t care.  Just know this.  She isn’t welcome in this house, no matter what’s going on.”

Ridge studied his parents.  “She told me about Mom’s fall the other day.  How Mom was faking and trying to blame her.”

Eric closed his eyes.  “There are CT scans in the doctor’s office that prove otherwise.  I was there, Ridge.  I walked in and found your mother lying on the floor where Brooke had left her after she fell.  Brooke didn’t call for help, didn’t help Stephanie up when she asked her to.  She just walked off and left her.  Stephanie’s breathing wasn’t right and she was pale.  Your mother can’t fake something like that, even if she tried to.”

“She faked a heart attack.”

Stephanie rolled her eyes.  “I’m not faking, Ridge, but the fact that you believe your wife says a lot about what you feel for me.”  She swallowed and sighed.  “I know you hate me for Massimo and that whole mess.  You can’t hate me anymore than I’ve hated myself over the years.”

Thorne looked at his brother and sighed, “Why don’t you just leave, Ridge?  Mom has other family here that are stunned by this news and need to hear the rest of what she and Dad have to say.”

Ridge glared at his brother.  “You don’t seem as surprised as the rest are.”

“I’m not.  I found out last night.”

“Accidently.”  Eric informed them when he noticed Ridge’s face get red, a sure sign he was getting angry.  “I think Thorne is right, Ridge.  Just go on and take Brooke home.  If you want to come back later, that’s fine.”

Ridge shrugged and walked from the room, not sure what to think about what his mother had said.  How could she possibly know he hated her?  And didn’t he have every right to hate her for what she did to him?  And how was he supposed to believe her about the cancer?  After all, as he’d reminded her, she had faked a heart attack.

Pam looked at her sister after the sound of the door closing echoed through the quiet house.  “What kind?” she asked as she scooted closer to Stephanie on the sofa.

“Stage four lung cancer, Pammie.”  Stephanie wrapped an arm around her sister and pulled her close.  Looking at the rest of her family, she felt her eyes water as she watched the tears roll down their cheeks, even Thomas was upset as he sat down in a chair.

“Stage four.”  Felicia whispered.

“Yes, Baby.  It’s spread to my brain.”

Felicia closed her eyes.  “You can still beat this,” she whispered.

“No, Baby.  Even with treatment I’ll only have six to eight months.”

Felicia opened her eyes and stared up at her mother.  “You can’t talk like that.  I won’t let you.”

Stephanie caressed her daughter’s face and looked up at the others around her.  “Eric and I have been talking,” she paused and looked at Eric.  “Talking, crying, and arguing.”

“Only one argument.”  Eric whispered as he caressed her face.

Stephanie gave him a soft smile before turning her attention back to their family.  “We still have a lot of talking to do.  But one thing we’ve both agreed on, I won’t take chemotherapy.”

“But Mom,”  Felicia started but Stephanie stopped her with a finger to her lips.

“Let me finish, Baby.”  Stephanie took Eric’s hand.  “I know what chemotherapy will do to me.  If I were young and had small children, I would consider it, but I’m not.  I’ve lived a very full life.  Not so happy at times, overjoyed at others.  I’ve raised my children, had the privilege to see my grandchildren grow and become wonderful people.”

“But Dino’s not grown.”  Felicia reminded her, her voice trembling.

“Oh, Honey.  I know that, but he’s old enough to remember me and he has all of you to tell him stories.”  Stephanie closed her eyes against the tears. 

Eric squeezed Stephanie’s hand.  “I know that you want to keep her here for as long as possible, but the chemotherapy she’ll have to take will be horrible.  And the months and weeks it might give her won’t be spent with the family because she’ll be too sick.”  Tears slowly rolled down his cheek as he looked at the woman beside him.  “I’ve only gotten her back, I don’t want to lose her, but,” he stopped and took a deep breath.  “If this is her time, then I want her to be able to spend each and every moment enjoying her children and grandchildren and her sister.”

“And what about spending time with you?”  Thorne asked.

“Oh, we’ll have that, too.”  Stephanie spoke up again.  “I have an appointment with my doctor tomorrow and we’ll discuss me possibly having surgery to remove the primary tumor, which at this point will cause me the most discomfort because it’s in my lungs.  I’ll ask more questions about the brain tumors and we’ll go from there.”

Pam laid her head on Stephanie’s shoulder.  “I can’t believe this is happening.”

Stephanie kissed her sister’s head.  “It is a bit surreal.  But you won’t be alone, Pammie.  You’ll have my kids and Eric.  They’re your family and they love you.”

Aly took Felicia’s place on the floor in front of Stephanie and stared up at her grandmother with teary blue eyes.  “Why, Grandma?  Why you?  I,” she stopped on a sob.

Stephanie felt her heart breaking as she pulled Aly into her arms.  “I’m sorry, Sweetie.  I can’t answer that except to say that I would rather it be me than Eric or any of you.  I watched Felicia suffer and nearly die, I don’t want to do that again.  I don’t want you to have to watch while I go through this, but for selfish reasons, I’ll gladly be the one it’s happening to.  This way I know you’re all okay and have the chance to live the rest of your lives and grow old with your families.”

Aly clung to Stephanie as her heart broke, her sobs echoing in the hearts of the others in the room.  No one noticed Steffy standing and shaking her head.

“No!  No!  No!”  Steffy shouted as she ran from the room.

“I’ll go after her.”  Thomas said as he stood up.

“No, Tom.  Let me.  I think she needs her grandma right now.”  Stephanie kissed Aly’s head as she stood up, handing the girl off to her grandfather then walking over to where Thomas stood.  “Thank you.”

Grabbing his grandmother in a hug, Thomas cried into her shoulder.  “I’m so sorry, Grandma.”

“Shh, it’s alright.”  Stephanie pulled back and cupped his face.  “No more apologies.”

Thomas nodded.  “Yes, Grandma.”

Smiling, Stephanie patted his face.  “I’d better go find Steffy.  Although I don’t think I’ll have to look very hard.”

“The tree house.”  Thomas whispered.

“Yes, the tree house.”

Pam frowned.  “Tree house?” she asked after Stephanie had left the room.

Felicia smiled as she cuddled up next to her father who had Aly curled up against him on the other side.  “Oh yes.  Dad had it built for the boys shortly after they moved here.  He got tired of them trying to climb the trees only to fall and hurt themselves.”

“So, I hired someone to come in and build them a tree house around one of the trees out on the grounds beyond the pool.  The boys tried to keep Kristen out and a fight ensued.”  Eric rolled his eyes.  “Stephanie, as always, had the perfect solution.”

Thorne laughed.  “Yes she did.  And it worked, too.”

“Well?  What was it?”  Thomas asked.

“She told us that our days to play in the tree house were Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Kristen and her friends got Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.”

“Who got Sunday?”  Pam asked.

“No one.”  Felicia laughed.  “Mom said that day was for spending with the family all together.”

“And it was.  We always did things together on Sundays.  She made sure to do things that she knew we wanted to do.  Picnics, days at amusement parks.  Always, always it was about us.”  Thorne looked at his daughter.  “And then she did the same with each grandchild.”

“And my other children.”  Eric whispered as he thought about how Stephanie had accepted Rick and Bridget.

“Speaking of which, where are they?”  Felicia asked.

Hope, who had been quiet the whole time, finally spoke up.  “Bridget couldn’t make it.  She’s coming over later.  Rick won’t be coming.”  She stared at Eric.  “I’m sorry for Mom.  I should have left when they did, but, I,” she dropped her head as her tears rolled down her cheeks.

“It’s alright, Hope.”  Eric smiled at the young woman.  “And you don’t have to apologize for Brooke.”

“I should still go.”

“She loves you, Hope.  She’s always loved you as one of her own.”

Felicia nodded.  “After all, she did help deliver you.”

Hope’s eyes widened.  “She did?”

“You didn’t know that?”  Thorne asked a bit shocked she had no idea about that part of her history.

Hope shook her head.  “No clue.”

“Well,” Eric started.  “Your mother went into labor up at Big Bear.”

“What is it about that place?”  Felicia asked, interrupting the story.

Eric shrugged.  “No idea, but it does seem to be the place for births.”

Hope smiled.  “So, go on with the story.”

“Anyway,” Eric began to recount the story, all the while wondering how Stephanie and Steffy were doing.

 

E**S

 

Stephanie stared at the steps leading up to the tree house where she could hear her granddaughter crying.  She hadn’t been up these steps in years but was glad that Eric had had the foresight to have them built like regular stairs because there was no way she could have climbed up the normal ladder type steps usually found with tree houses.

“Steffy, baby girl.”  Stephanie whispered a few minutes later as she carefully lowered herself to the floor and pulled her granddaughter into her arms.

“It isn’t fair!  They made a mistake!  You aren’t…” she started.  “You can’t…” she sobbed as she fisted her hands in Stephanie’s blouse.

“Shh, baby girl.”  Stephanie gently rubbed Steffy’s back.

“You can’t leave me.  Phoebe’s gone.  Dad doesn’t care about anything but Brooke and the company.  Thomas has turned into a young version of Dad.  I have Mom, but you’re,”

“I won’t leave you, Steffy.  I’ll always be here.  Right here,” she rested her hand over Steffy’s heart.  “You have memories of me, of my love, something that will never leave you no matter what happens to me.”  She smiled when the young woman looked at her.  “And you have my name.  You have my spirit and loyalty to family.”  She caressed Steffy’s face.  “Just don’t keep the bitterness, baby girl.  I want you to be the Stephanie I never was.  Let go of it all.  You’ve taken the first step by leaving FC.  For me, live a happy life with a man that loves you and no one else.  Start that business of yours but don’t ever forget to live life outside of business.  Don’t make it all you have.”

“I promise, Grandma.”  Steffy reached up and mimicked a gesture she used to do as a child.

Stephanie smiled when she felt her granddaughter twiddling a piece of her hair between her fingers.  The first time she’d done that had been when she was a baby.  “The first time you did that, we all thought you were going to grab a fistful of hair.  Taylor was all set to scold you and take your hand out of my hair, but I told her to wait until you’d actually pulled my hair.  You never pulled, just twiddled the bit of hair you had between your little fingers.”

“I remember you holding me when I was sick and humming to me.  I had my fingers in your hair.  I remember thinking how soft it felt, like my favorite fuzzy blanket.”

Stephanie laughed.  “Thankfully my hair wasn’t fuzzy.”

Steffy’s smile was a bit wobbly.  “No, never fuzzy.  Just soft.”

Stephanie caressed Steffy’s hair away from her face.  “Why don’t we go back in, baby girl?  If I stay down here much longer, we’ll never get me up.”

Steffy smiled and stood up, reaching out to help her grandmother stand.  Holding Stephanie’s hand, she stared at her ring.  “It’s a beautiful ring, Grandma.”

“I’ve always thought so.  Mother and Father weren’t impressed by it because it was simple and small.”  Stephanie’s face took on a dreamy look as she thought back to those early years.  “I didn’t care that it was simple or that it was small.  Eric had spent his last dime on it and to me that made it more precious than any large expensive ring could ever have been.”

“He really loved you back then.”  Steffy commented.

“To be honest, Steffy,” Stephanie sighed.  “I’ve never been sure.  I’ve wondered over the years.  But it doesn’t matter because he loves me now.  We can’t undo the past or change the mistakes we’ve made, we can only realize those mistakes and change the way we act in the here and now.”

Hugging her grandmother, Steffy’s tears returned.  “I’ll keep my promise, Grandma.”

“That’s my girl.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie smiled at the baby as he cooed up at her.  “Hey there,” she whispered as she caressed his face.  “You’re a handsome little man.  I believe I see some of your grandpa in you.”

Bridget smiled.  “You do?”

“Yes.”  Stephanie nodded and held up Logan’s little hand.  “Long graceful fingers…piano player’s fingers, just like his grandpa.”  Caressing his little nose, which twitched at the soft touch, she chuckled.  “Thankfully his nose takes after his momma, although it twitches like his grandpa’s does when you touch it.”

Bridget laughed.  “Dad’s nose twitches?”

“Oh yes.  I found that out by doing just what I did to Logan.”  Stephanie smiled over at Eric who stood by the fireplace.  “I was tracing his features one day because I wanted to memorize them.  He was asleep so I was doing it very softly.  When my finger ran over his nose, it twitched and he smacked at it in his sleep.”

“Aww, how sweet.  And how funny.”  Bridget smiled at Stephanie then Eric.  Noticing a sad smile on her father’s face, she studied him a moment then looked back at Stephanie.  “Stephanie, why did you want us all here today?”

Stephanie pressed a kiss to Logan’s tiny hand and watched him sleep.  “I’m sick, Sweetheart.”

“How sick?”  Bridget asked quietly, her eyes filling with tears.

“Stage four lung cancer, Bridget.”  Eric whispered as he came over to join them.  Sitting beside Stephanie, he caressed his grandson’s head.  “It’s spread to the brain.”

Bridget closed her eyes, tears rolling down her cheeks.  As a doctor she knew what the statistics were, what the odds were that Stephanie would survive.  “I’m so sorry,” she whispered as she opened her eyes and looked at the woman who had always been more of a mother than her own flesh and blood mother had ever been.  “He won’t get the chance to know you as his grandma.”

“I’ll love him as much as I can and then you’ll tell him about me.”  Stephanie handed the baby to Eric then held out her arms for Bridget.

Gladly moving into the embrace, Bridget cried against Stephanie’s shoulder.  “I wouldn’t know how to be a real mother if it wasn’t for you.”

“Yes, you would, Sweetheart.  You’re a natural.”  Stephanie kissed her head and smiled when she sat up.  “I’m going to ask a favor of you, although I shouldn’t.”

“I’ll do anything, Stephanie.”

“I know you will.”  Stephanie caressed her face.  “I’m sure that Whip already knows about this by now because of Taylor, but Jackie and Nick and Clarke need to know.  You were all my family during those lonely months after I left FC.  You all stood by me when I had my stroke and made sure that you accepted Pammie into the crazy little world of Jackie M.”

“You want me to tell them?  It’s alright if you do.  I know how much of a toll this has to have taken on you just telling all of us.”

“Thank you.”  Stephanie sighed.  “I know I should do it, but, I just can’t be the bearer of bad news to anymore people I care about.”

“I’ll tell them when I leave here.”

“We really appreciate it, Honey.”  Eric smiled at his daughter as he handed Logan back to Stephanie.  “There is a bit of good news in all of this sadness.”

“Oh?”

Stephanie smiled and held up her left hand.  “We’re getting married.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“It was my first ring.”  Stephanie informed her.  “Eric’s being a romantic again.”

Bridget smiled at her father.  “The artist and musician in him.”

“I guess so.”  Stephanie nodded then kissed Logan before handing him to his mother.  “He really is a beautiful baby, Bridget.  I’m so happy you finally have the child you’ve always wanted.”

“Yeah.”  Bridget sighed.  “I just wish I hadn’t screwed up to get here.”

“Just learn from it, Sweetheart.”

“I have, believe me.”  Bridget sighed as she stood up to put Logan in his carrier.  “I’m going to go ahead and go.  You look like you need some rest and I need to catch the others while they’re all still at work.  It will be easier to get them all in one place that way.”

Eric stood up to help her, and gently grabbed her arm as she walked to the front door.  “Do me a favor, Honey?”

“Anything, Dad.”

“Try to talk to your mother and make her see that Stephanie isn’t faking this.  As long as Brooke doesn’t believe her, Ridge won’t either, and it’s hurting Stephanie.”

“I’ll do whatever I have to, Dad.”  She assured him, rolling her eyes that her mother was causing drama at a time like this.

“Thank you, Honey.”

“No thanks necessary, Dad.  You know how I feel about Stephanie.”  Kissing her father’s cheek, she walked out the front door, grumbling about how stupid her mother could be at times.

 

E**S

 

“I wonder why Felicia came home.”  Stephanie whispered as she rested her head on the pillow in Eric’s lap.

“I have no idea.  She never really got a chance to tell us.”  Eric answered as he pulled the throw over Stephanie.  Caressing her arm with one hand, the other smoothed her hair from her face.  “Rest, Sweet girl.  Your Jackie M family will all be converging on us after while, I suspect.”

“Mmm, probably,” she murmured as the gentleness of Eric’s caresses lulled her to sleep.

“That’s it,” he whispered.  “just rest.”  Watching as her eyes closed and her breathing evened out, Eric felt tears rolling hot and wet down his face.  

His beautiful Stephanie had spent most of their life together often wondering if he’d ever really loved her. 

It was amazing that he’d been so daft all of his life, that he couldn’t even let the woman he’d fell for the minute he saw her, know that his heart had been hers the moment their eyes met across a crowded room.  He could still see her, standing there in that royal blue dress that made her eyes shine brilliantly, like two perfect sapphires staring at him.  He had never met anyone like her.  No other woman that he’d ever laid eyes on matched the beauty of the one standing across the room full of people at a campus party.

He still wasn’t sure what Stephanie had been doing there.  As a Freshman, he was positive she hadn’t been invited.  Or maybe she had.  After all, everyone that heard her name and where she was from, instantly knew she was from money.  Anyone that looked at her could see that she was wealthy.  The clothes she wore, while not fancy, weren’t off the rack, either.  Or maybe it had been just him that noticed that part.  Maybe it was the designer in him that noticed how the clothes fit her curves to perfection, accenting all the right parts of her body while still being classy and modest.

He shook his head as he looked down at her.  She had influenced his designs even before he ever truly met her.  Just seeing her, the grace, the poise, the class, it had all added up to what he wanted to create.  He wanted women to feel sexy but in a modest, classy way.  Stephanie had been the epitome of that. 

“Always,” he whispered. 

Even as her body had changed over the years, the grace and class were still there.  So was the sexy, although she would scoff at that.  With good reason.  He hadn’t really given her much cause to believe it with the way he’d cheated on her off and on after the business had gotten on its feet.

He shook his head.  Why hadn’t he told her how beautiful she was more often?  Was she right about his feeling trapped?  Had he really known what real love was in the beginning?  Had what he thought was love, been nothing more than his fascination and lust for the beauty of the creature that appeared to be a goddess come down to earth to help him create his dream?

“No,” he denied.  “I did love her.”  And in that moment, he realized that while he had loved her, the way he loved her had scared him.  The way she slipped into his heart so easily, the way her face filled his dreams, his every waking hour.  The way he became half of a whole, the way his soul depended on hers to be happy and fulfilled.  It had all added up to frighten him because he’d never known anything that was so all consuming.  He didn’t think anyone was ever fully prepared for that kind of thing, although he was sure that some people were more ready to accept it and believe in it. 

Stephanie had been, he knew.  She had accepted the all consuming love she felt for him, let it become her world.  He understood now how she had been so ready to accept it, her parents had left her with a desperate need for that kind of love.  And yet, when he had been the one to hurt her, she hadn’t turned her back on him as she’d done her parents after their marriage.  While they had visited her parents, it hadn’t been frequently, or cheerfully, only dutifully.  It had been more for Pam’s sake than anything. 

Still, when he’d cheated on her that first time, she hadn’t turned her back on him and gone about their marriage out of duty, she had forgiven him.  Forgiven him and continued to love him.  “Gave me another child,” he whispered as he thought about how only six months after that mistake of a one night stand with a model, Stephanie had come to him with the news that he was going to be a father again.

Angela.

The child that he had never known.

He’d been so angry at Stephanie when he’d learned that Angela hadn’t been stillborn as she’d claimed.  But after the ordeal with the fake Angela, he slowly began to realize that Stephanie had only been doing what she had always done, protect him.

“Because no one ever protected her,” he whispered as the sudden realization dawned on him.

It fit now.  All of the times she protected him, their children.  They had all complained about her being over-protective, but it all made sense.  She had grown up with no one to protect her from the abuse of her father, not even her mother, so she had become a woman who was fiercely protective of those she loved.

Shaking his head as he leaned over, he pressed a soft kiss to her ear.  “You’re an amazing woman, Stephanie Forrester.  If only I’d made sure you knew that.  So many wasted years apart.  So many memories lost because of my stupidity.”

So many things left to do to show her that he had loved her.  That he still loved her.

“And I always will, my sweet girl.”

 

E**S

 

Jackie’s face showed how she felt as she walked into the Forrester mansion foyer, followed closely by Nick and Clarke.

Staring at her one time nemesis, Jackie couldn’t keep her tears a bay.  The woman had become a dear friend, and to know that she was dying was just so unreal.  “I’m so sorry, Stephanie,” she whispered as she sat down and hugged her friend.

“Thank you, Jackie.”  Stephanie smiled at her friend when she pulled away.  “We sure have come a long way, huh?”

Jackie laughed sadly.  “Yes, we have.”

Nick sat on the coffee table in front of Stephanie and took her hand.  “I never thought I’d see the day that I would like you again after what happened, but something changed in me the day I found you at the harbor.  The sadness I saw in your eyes,” he stared into those same eyes.  “I’ve come to care about you a great deal, Stephanie.  This is just unfair.”

“Life is never as fair as we’d like it to be, Nick.”  Stephanie patted his face with her free hand.  “I don’t think I ever really thanked you for your kindness that day or for taking me into your company and giving me a chance to prove I was still needed.”

Clarke’s sparkling eyes stared at her as he sat on the other side of her.  “You’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever met.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but I’ve never stopped respecting you or caring about you.”  His voice lowered.  “Never.”

Stephanie smiled as she caressed his face, remembering how he had shown her that she was still an attractive, desirable woman when Eric had turned to another woman so many years ago.  “You’ve always been a pain and a dear, Clarke.”

Clarke laughed at that even as his eyes watered.  “I’m going to go see Sally.  She needs to know about her Queenie.”

Stephanie laughed and rolled her eyes.  “Her and those nicknames.”

“She was just showing how much she cared about you.”  Clarke smiled.  “She was another person that never thought she’d like you.”

“Yet we became the best of friends.”  Stephanie whispered as she looked at Nick then Jackie.  “I know the two of you aren’t speaking or getting along,” she started.

“Stephanie,”  Jackie tried to stop her but sighed when Stephanie gave her a listen to me look.

“I know what you were going to say, Jackie, but I can’t just not say anything.  I care about the two of you and I don’t want to see you torn apart.  I know that this thing with Owen and Bridget and the baby, and the scandal that has ensued, has been hard on all of you, but don’t lose what you’ve always had.  You love your son, Jackie.  I’ve seen how much.  Is this crazy thing you’ve got going with Owen and Bridget really worth losing the man you gave birth to and love?  He is your family, your baby, Jackie, even if he is a man.  Don’t be like me and choose the wrong thing.”

Jackie and Nick frowned as they stared at Stephanie.

“What?”  Nick questioned.

“In my case it was bitterness and choosing one child over all my others.  It was a mistake, one that has cost me on several occasions the man I love, a granddaughter, and a son.  Don’t do that to yourself.  Either of you.”

Jackie looked from Stephanie to her son, then back at Stephanie, finally realizing that Stephanie was right.  Nick had always been her whole world and she’d hurt him by choosing this crazy thing with Owen over him.  She had been so desperate to hold on to her husband, that she’d forgotten that her son loved her unconditionally as no one ever had in her life.  “You’re right, Stephanie.  You’ve been right from the very beginning of this mess.”

Nick kissed Stephanie’s cheek.  “Always the mother,” he whispered and chuckled when she raised an eyebrow at him.  “Well, in Mom’s case, best friend.”

“That’s better.”

Jackie laughed and hugged Stephanie.  “Thank you.”

“The only thanks I need is for the two of you to fix this mess.”

“You got it.”  Nick assured her.  “Have you told Dad?”

Stephanie sighed.  “No.  I’m not sure that I’m going to.”  She shook her head.  “I don’t really need him coming in and aggravating Eric with his posturing.”

“He still needs to know, Stephanie.”  Jackie told her.  “I’ll call him for you, if you’d like.”

“It’s alright, Stephanie.”  Eric smiled at her from his place across the room.  “He’s Ridge’s father, and he loves you in his own strange way.  He deserves to know.”

Stephanie sighed and nodded.  “Alright then, you can tell him, Jackie.”

“I’ll tell him as gently as possible.  He really does love you.”

“I know.  He always loved me more than I did him.  He was in love with me, and I just loved him as a friend.  Even if I was a little confused for a while.”

“It’s easy to do.”  Clarke smiled at her and kissed her cheek.  “I need to go.  I’ve got an early flight that I still haven’t packed for.”

“Tell Sally not to leave that island and her cabana boys.  Tell her to just keep having fun, and to have a little extra for me.”

“I’ll tell her, although I’m not sure she’ll listen.”

“Make her listen, Clarke.  I don’t want her coming back here for this.  She’s happy where she’s at, and I want her to stay that way.  Tell her Eric is with me and taking excellent care of me along with my family.  She can call me, but under no circumstances is she to show up on my door step.”

“Like she’ll listen to me.”  Clarke frowned.

“Then when you get there and after you’ve told her I’m sick, call me, and I’ll tell her that she has to stay put.”

“It’s a deal, not that I think she’ll listen to you, either.”

Stephanie laughed and hugged him.  “You’re a good man, Clarke.  Don’t forget that.”

“I won’t,” he assured her, caressing her face, his hand lingering just a bit as he stared into the blue eyes that had always captivated him.  “Bye, Stephanie.”

“Have a safe trip, Clarke.”

Eric watched the man leave, and wondered what it was between Clarke and Stephanie that felt as though they’d been more than friends.  It was something he’d have to ask Stephanie later.

“I should go, too.”  Jackie stood up.  “You need your rest, and I have that phone call to make.”

“Thank you, Jackie.”

“I’ll be by to see you in a few days.”

“I’ll be around here somewhere.”  Stephanie winked.  “Eric won’t let me out of his sight.”  She held up her left hand.  “He thinks he owns me now.”

Jackie smiled.  “So he’s asked you to marry him again.  I was wondering why he hadn’t done that already.”

“I had to have that ring resized and re-plated, which takes time.  And I wanted the time to be perfect…what better time than her birthday?”

“It’s a beautifully simplistic ring.”

“It’s my first ring.”

“Oh how romantic.”  Jackie sighed.  “I’m very happy for the both of you.”

“Thank you.  Goodnight, Jackie.”

“Bye.”

Nick watched his mother leave then turned his attention to Stephanie.  “Thank you for understanding and not being angry at me over Bridget.”

“Oh Nick.  She made a mistake, and you were hurt.  I’m not angry at either one of you.”

“Amazing,” he whispered making Stephanie chuckle.

“Well, you were once my drinking buddy.”

Nick laughed.  “Falling down drunk, we were that night.”

“Horrible hangover.”

“Never got that drunk again.”

“Me, either.”  She patted his hand.  “Felicia is home, if you’d like to go and see her.”

“I’d love to see her.”

“I’m sure she’ll be glad to see you, too.”

Standing up, Nick leaned over and kissed Stephanie’s cheek.  “If you need anything, anything at all, I’ll be here.”

“That means a lot, Nick.  Thank you.”

Eric shook Nick’s hand.  “Thank you, Nick.”

“See the both of you later.”

“Bye.”  Eric and Stephanie called after him, sighing when the door closed behind him.

“I’m so glad this day is over with.”  Eric sighed.

“So am I.  I’m glad we decided to get this over with all in one day.  Spreading it out over several days would have just made it harder.”

“We still have Kristen, Tony, and Zende to comfort when they get here.”

“Yes, but we’ve got the majority of the family taken care of, although,” she shook her head.  “Oh never mind.  I don’t even want to think about that.”

“Oh Sweetheart.”  Eric murmured as he stood in front of her, holding out his hand.  “Come on.  Let’s go to bed.  I’m in need of a good snuggle.”

Stephanie took his hand, standing up and smiling at him.  “A good snuggle sounds wonderful.  I need the comfort of your arms.”

“And I need the comfort of your warm body next to mine.”  He kissed her head as she leaned into him while they walked out of the living room and up the stairs.

“Maybe after a little catnap, I’ll make love to you.”  Eric whispered as they rounded the corner of the upstairs hallway that led to their bedroom.

“Catnap?  Are you planning on setting the alarm?  We’re both so tired, I don’t think we’re going to be taking just a catnap.”  She smiled up at him as they entered their bedroom.  “Although making love with you sounds wonderful.”

“Then we’ll sleep until we wake up, and then I’ll make love to you.”

“It’s a date, Mr. Forrester.”

“A date, Mrs. Forrester.”

Chapter Text

Felicia sighed as she sat down beside her mother.  “I have something to tell you, Mom.”

“The reason why you came home?”  Stephanie asked as she smiled at her daughter.

“Yeah.”

Stephanie studied the younger woman.  “What is it, Baby?”

Felicia smiled at her mother.  “Are you ever going to stop calling me that?”

“Well, probably not.”  Stephanie chuckled.  “Now, tell me what’s bothering you.”

“It’s about Dino.”

Grasping her daughter’s hand, Stephanie studied her.  “He isn’t sick, is he?”

“No, Mom.  He’s okay.  It’s just that…well…”

“Spit it out, Felicia.” 

“He’s not Dante’s.”

“What do you mean, he’s not Dante’s?  The DNA test proved that he was.”

“But it was wrong.”

“I think you’d better start at the beginning because I’m confused.”

Felicia shrugged.  “I’ve always been so sure that Nick was the father, even after the test said he wasn’t.  I pushed the feeling to the back of my mind and ignored it, but deep down, Dante being Dino’s father didn’t feel right.  While I was in Europe and visiting Dante so Dino could have time with his father, I kept noticing little things.  The biggest one being, Dino doesn’t look anything like Dante.”  She looked up at her mother.  “He has blond hair, Mom.  Blond hair like Nick.”

“Baby, he could get his blond hair from me.”

“He has Nick’s nose and hands.  The DNA test I had done in Europe proved he isn’t Dante’s.  He’s Nick’s, Mom.”

“You haven’t told this to Nick, have you?”

Felicia shook her head.  “No.  I want to do a DNA test first just to have absolute proof.”

“Oh, Felicia.  You can’t put Nick through this again.  He’s going through so much right now with Bridget and her baby not being his.  He’s been hurt badly, Baby.”

Felicia looked down at her hands.  “I know.  I won’t hurt him again.  I promise.”

“Just be careful and don’t have the test run here.”

She laughed and hugged her mother.  “I’ll be careful, and I’ll have the test run in Florida when I go pick up Dino.”

“Why did you leave Dino in Florida?”

“Because I knew that I would be meeting with Nick to get what I needed and I didn’t want Dino in the way.  I,” she paused and fidgeted.

Stephanie squeezed her daughter’s hands.  “You didn’t want Nick to see Dino because you’re afraid he’d see what you see.”

Felicia nodded.  “Yeah.”

“Baby?”  Stephanie asked.

“Yeah, Mom?”

“Are you still in love with Nick?”

Felicia’s eyes widened.  “You’re not supposed to do that,” she whispered as she hugged her mother.

“What?  Read you like a book?”

“Yes.”

“Baby, I’ll always be able to read you like a book.  There’s too much of me in you.”

Felicia pulled back and smiled as she reached up to caress a line by her mother’s eyes.  “In your magic blue eyes.”

Stephanie shook her head.  “Thorne said that same thing.  Where did you get that from?”

“Daddy.”  Felicia smiled as she leaned her head on Stephanie’s shoulder.  “We were all supposed to be in bed, but we knew something was going on with you and Daddy, so we waited until the two of you were in here then snuck down and sat on the steps.  We listened quietly, me all snuggled up on Thorne’s lap.”

Stephanie laughed.  “You were always snuggling up on Thorne’s lap when you were all sneaking around.”

“Probably because when we were that young, he was carrying me most of the time.”

“Probably.  Finish your story.”

“Anyway, the two of you had been fighting and had tried hiding it from us, but we knew.  I think we were all afraid you were going to split up.”

“I’m sorry for that, Baby.”

“Don’t apologize.  It wasn’t your fault.  We all knew about Dad’s wandering eye.  Even as little as I was, I had seen it enough to know he was doing something he shouldn’t be…not that I understood exactly what that something was.  You had been so sad, and when Daddy came home early that night, you were a bit shocked.  We had dinner and enjoyed Daddy playing the piano for us then you sent us to bed.  The older kids weren’t too happy with that, but did it anyway.  We could hear Daddy telling you that he was sorry, that he knew he was wrong.  He said the model had tried to get him to sleep with her, but the picture he kept of you on his desk fell over when he leaned back and when he looked down, there were those magic blue eyes staring up at him, and he couldn’t do it.  So he’d pushed her away and told her to forget it, that nothing was going to happen.  Then he came home to spend time with us and apologize to you.”

Stephanie sighed.  “I remember that night, but not the magic blue eyes comment.  And I don’t remember you kids sneaking down to eavesdrop, something I usually knew without looking.”

“You were a bit upset that night, Mom.  What Dad told you hurt you.  I didn’t really understand what he’d said, but I could tell by Thorne’s reaction, that it wasn’t good.  The boys sent Kristen upstairs with me and stayed behind to see what happened.”

“What happened was that your brothers saw your father getting down on his knees in front of me to beg me to forgive him for nearly messing up again.  I never considered it then, but I think he always felt like losing Angela was his punishment for having a one night stand with a model just six months before Angela was conceived.”

“That’s exactly how I’ve always felt about Angela.”  Eric chimed in as he came into the room.  “And I remember that night, too.  Those magic blue eyes nearly killed me when they filled with tears as I told you what almost happened with the model.”

“They’re not magic.”  Stephanie whispered as she looked up at Eric.

“Yes, Sweetheart, they are.  At least to me, they are.”

“They are to us kids, too, Mom.”  Felicia smiled and kissed her mother’s cheek.  “I’m gonna go.  Nick and I are having lunch.”

Stephanie patted her daughter’s cheek.  “Have a good lunch, Baby.”

“Always do when there’s a handsome man involved.”

“Felicia!”  Stephanie laughed and swatted at her daughter who narrowly escaped.

“Hey!  No hitting the offspring!”

“Go!”  Eric laughed and kissed Felicia on the cheek as she walked by him.  Shaking his head when the front door banged shut, he turned back to Stephanie.

“Hello, Honey.”  Stephanie smiled.

“Hi, Sweetheart.”  Eric returned the greeting as he sat down beside Stephanie and kissed her.  “Mmm, sweet as candy.”

“Oh good grief.”  Stephanie huffed then laughed.  “You’re so cheesy.”

“I thought you liked it when I’m cheesy.”

“Mmm hmm,” she hummed and nodded.  “I do.”

“Guess what I realized shortly after I left?”

“What?”

“I didn’t make love to you last night, or this morning.”

“Ooh, you’re right.”  She pouted.  “What are you going to do about it?”

Eric looked at his watch.  “It’s well past time for a nap,” he breathed with a soft smile as he tucked her hair behind her ear.

Stephanie faked a yawn.  “And I’m getting rather tired,” she suggested quietly.

Standing, Eric held out his hand.  “Join me upstairs in our big bed for a, uh…nap?”

Laughing softly, Stephanie stood up and took his hand.  “That sounds…” she paused, her voice lowering as she pressed her body close to his.  “like an invitation I can’t pass up.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie sighed as she snuggled closer to Eric’s warm body.  The breeze coming in through the open balcony doors had cooled off and from the look of the sky, a storm was moving in.  She didn’t want to move, but the doors really needed to be closed.

“I’ll close the doors, Sweetheart.”  Eric kissed her head as he carefully slid out of bed.

Stephanie rested on her pillows and watched Eric walk across the room.  She smiled at the sight of him.  Completely nude, and not even caring.  “You’re still as handsome as you always were,” she whispered.

Eric shook his head.  “Now who’s blind?” he asked.

She chuckled and rolled her eyes.  “Come back to bed, I’m cold,” she whispered while shivering to make her point.

Eric hurried with the doors then quickly made his way back to bed, sliding in next to Stephanie and pulling her close.  “Is this better?” he asked as he rubbed her back.

“Mmm, much better,” she hummed and pressed a kiss to his chest.  “How many years has it been since we’ve spent an afternoon in bed?”

“The last time was after our trip to see your mother.”

“Oh yes, I remember now.”  She smiled sadly at the thought.  “We hadn’t slept much on the plane and then had talked to the kids after we got back home.”

“And you were emotionally exhausted from the exchange with Ann.”

“You were exhausted from your part of the confrontation, too.”

“So I told the kids we needed to rest and they all went home, but you couldn’t sleep,” he whispered as he kissed her head.

“I suppose I was too tired.”

Eric shook his head.  “No, it wasn’t that.  You had too many emotions swirling around inside you and you needed an outlet.”

“Sweet girl, what is it?”  Eric asked as he pulled her close, wrapping his arm tightly around her to keep her from tossing.

“I’m so tired, Eric.  I just want to sleep, but I can’t.  Why can’t I?” she asked as she looked up at him.

“Because you haven’t let it all out, Sweetheart.  You’ve had a very emotional day and you’ve bottled all those emotions up.”  He caressed her cheek.  “It’s okay to cry or yell, I’ll be here to hold you.”

Tears filled her eyes.  “I don’t want to yell.  I don’t want to cry.  I just want,” she stopped and closed her eyes.

“What, Sweet girl?  What do you want?”

“I want you to hold me.  I,”

Eric pressed a finger to her lips.  “Shh, it’s alright.”  Scooting down so that they were face to face, he wiped the tears from her cheeks.  “I’ll gladly take it all away, if only for a few moments.”

Running her hand up his bare chest, over his shoulder, Stephanie tangled her fingers in his hair.  “Yes, please, take it all away.  Make me feel something more than this anger and pain.”

Staring into her pleading eyes, Eric unbuttoned her nightshirt, gently rolling her onto her back before pushing the material away.  “It’s been so long,” he whispered as he brushed his thumb over her nipple causing her breath to catch.  Watching the tears roll down her cheeks, he stopped and wrapped his arms around her.

“Shh, Sweetheart.  It’s okay.  Let it all out.  Just let it all out.  I’ve got you.”

Stephanie, her emotional control gone, sobbed.  The pain and hurt she’d been holding in since she was a little girl came flooding out as she let the warmth and weight of Eric’s body surround her.  He knew the truth, yet he was here, he’d defended her.  She was safe.  Safe.  Safe.  Only love.  Eric’s love.

Eric felt her shudder beneath him and felt his heart breaking with the thought of what she’d suffered as a young girl.  “I love you.  No one will hurt you anymore.  You’re safe.  You’re safe.  I’m here,” he whispered.

“Show me,” she whispered through her tears.  “Show me.”

“And show me you did,” she whispered.  “even as I continued to cry.”

He smiled at her.  “You weren’t the only one crying.  I think we both needed to let go.  I’d been holding in the way I felt about your abuse since I learned of it.  All I’d really wanted to do after Taylor told me was hold you then go outside and scream at the cruelty of it all.  Then I wanted to hold you again and cry with you for the pain you’d suffered and the innocence you’d lost.”

“I saw it all in your eyes, and when you wrapped your arms around me, all I wanted to do was curl up next to you and forget everything.”  Sighing, she watched her fingers drawing aimless patterns on his torso.

Eric kissed her head and rubbed his hand softly up and down her arm.  “What did Felicia want?  There was more going on than just her coming by to say hello.”

Stephanie nodded.  “Yes, there was more.  She was telling me about something she learned in Europe.”

“Oh?  What would that be?”

Her hand pausing its movements, Stephanie bit her bottom lip in debate before deciding that she wasn’t going to keep anything from Eric.  “She told me that deep down she’s never really believed that Dino is Dante’s.”

“Really?”  Eric asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes.  She said that she had just ignored it, even though it didn’t feel right.  She went along with Dante being Dino’s father…until she took Dino to see Dante just before she came back home.  She said that she started noticing little things.  Like he doesn’t look like Dante.  He has blond hair.”

“He could have gotten that from his grandma.”

“That’s what I said.  Then she pointed out that Dino has Nick’s nose and hands.”

“So that’s what she’s going on?”

“Well, no.”

“Steph?”

“She had a DNA test done while in Europe.  Dante isn’t Dino’s father.”

“Oh my god.  Then that means,”

Stephanie nodded against his shoulder.  “Yes.  That means Nick really is Dino’s father.”

“Has she told,” Eric started to ask, but stopped when he heard the doorbell.  “Who in the world?”

Stephanie sighed as she sat up.  “I have no idea, but I’ll go get it.”

“No, Sweetheart.  You stay here and rest.  I’ll get it and send whoever it is away.”

Stephanie nodded and laid back against her pillows.  “Just hurry.  I’ll miss you.”

Eric smiled and leaned over to press a kiss to her bare shoulder.  “I’ll be back as fast as I can.”

 

E**S

 

“She’s resting, Massimo.  Can’t you come back tomorrow?”

Massimo glared at Eric.  “No.  I have to see her today.  It’s important.”

Eric sighed, knowing that he would be acting the same way if he’d just learned that the woman he loved and shared a child with was sick.  “Alright.  Go on in to the living room and fix yourself a drink.  I’ll go tell her you’re here.”

Frowning at the how easily Eric gave in, Massimo knew that things were as bad as Jackie had said they were.  “Thank you.”

Eric nodded before turning and heading upstairs, only to stop and shake his head with a smile at the woman standing on the landing smiling down at him.  “I thought you were going to wait for me?”

Stephanie shrugged and walked down to meet him.  “I was lonely and a bit hungry so I decided to come find you.”

“Well, you have a visitor that’s very anxious to see you.”

Stephanie nodded.  “I heard.”

“Go on and talk to him.  I’ll go fix us something to eat.”

“Not very much,” she whispered as she kissed his cheek.

“Maybe some tuna salad on toast?”

“That sounds good.  I like your tuna salad.”

Shaking his head and laughing, Eric kissed her.  “I wonder why?  It couldn’t possibly have something to do with you being the one that showed me how to make it.”

“Couldn’t possibly be that,” she laughed.

Eric patted her cheek with a smile before heading off in the direction of the kitchen, hoping that Massimo didn’t upset her.

Stephanie took a breath then made her way into the living room, thankful that she’d put on a pair of warm pajamas before coming down.  “To think, I nearly came down in nothing but my robe.”  She grimaced at the thought of Massimo’s reaction.

Massimo looked up when he heard Stephanie enter.  “Cara,” he whispered as he walked to where she stood.  “Tell me it isn’t true,” he pleaded.

“Oh Mass,” she sighed.  “I can’t do that.”  Walking to the sofa, she sat down and patted the spot beside her.  “Sit down.”

Massimo did as she told him to, taking her left hand and staring at the ring on her finger.  “You’re going to marry him again?”

“Oh, Mass, please,” she sighed.  “I love him.  I’m in love with him.  And now,” she paused and looked up at her friend.  “I need him, Mass.”

Massimo, for the first time, saw in her eyes what he’d refused to see for so many years.  Love, like none he’d ever known, all for the man that had taken her away from him.  “Forgive me, Cara.”

“There’s nothing to forgive, Mass.  Just be happy for me.”

Looking away from her, he swallowed to gather the courage for what he was about to do.  “Cara, there is something.”

“What is it, Mass?  You’re as white as a sheet.”

“I’ve done something.  Or rather, I did something.”

“What is it?”

“It’s about…I,” he pulled away and walked over to the open french doors.  “I changed the DNA tests, Stephanie.”

Stephanie frowned.  “You did,” she started then stopped, finally realizing what he was talking about.  “Why?  How could you do that to me?  Do you know what that cost me?  Do you know the hell I went through?” she asked, her voice trembling as she thought of the pain she’d felt when she’d learned that Eric wasn’t Ridge’s father.

Moving to her, Massimo knelt down and grasped her hands in his.  “Please, Cara.  You have to understand.  I couldn’t stand seeing you with Eric.  I knew that we had been together that one night just before you broke up with me.  I hated that you were with Eric and that he’d gotten you and the child.  I was jealous because he took you.  He took your love.”

“Oh Mass, do you realize the damage you’ve done?  Do you know how much I’ve hated myself all these years for what I’d done?  I became what I’ve always hated in Brooke.  I trapped a man with a child.  A child that hates me for what you made us believe I’d done.  I’ve lost my son, Mass.  He doesn’t even believe that I’m sick.  He doesn’t care.  All because,” she pulled her hands away and covered her face.

Eric stood staring at Ridge, both of whom had walked in just as Massimo was confessing what he’d done.  Neither had moved out of sheer shock, until Stephanie began to cry.

“Marone, I believe you should leave now.  And don’t come back.”  Eric commanded, his voice brooking no arguments as he moved to Stephanie’s side, pulling her into his arms.

Massimo stood and nodded, turning to leave and catching sight of Ridge.  “I’m sorry.”

“Just leave.”  Ridge ground out, still too stunned to really have any words to express what he felt for the man.

Eric held Stephanie, pressing kisses to her head as he rocked her.  “It’s alright, Sweet girl.  It’s alright.”

“No.  Oh god!  No it’s not!”  Stephanie cried as she clung to Eric, the pain almost too much.  Ridge was lost to her because of a lie.

“Yes, Stephanie, it is.  Shh.”  Eric soothed as he watched Ridge leave.  He could see on his son’s face that he wasn’t leaving out of anger, but because he knew that Stephanie needed time with just her and himself to deal with what had happened.

“My god, Eric.  Ridge is yours.  He’s yours,” she whispered through her tears as she looked up at him.  “All these years everyone has thought I was no better than,” she started but Eric’s finger stopped her.

“I don’t care what everyone thought.  I only care what you thought.”  He caressed her face.  “Have you really hated yourself all these years?”

Laying her head back against his chest, she nodded.  “How could I not hate myself?  I did to you what I’ve always hated.  I thought I had used another man’s baby to trap you into a marriage you always seemed to be trying to get out of.”

“My god, Stephanie.  No.  I thought we worked this all out?  I never once thought you intentionally set out to use another man’s baby to get me to marry you.  I know that you thought he was mine.”  He took a deep breath.  “My god, he is mine.”

“Yes,” she nodded as she leaned back to look up at him once more.  “He’s yours.”

Holding her a bit tighter, Eric pressed kisses to her forehead and face.  “He knows, Sweetheart.”

Stephanie frowned.  “Who knows?”

“Ridge,” he told her.  “He came in about the same time I came from the kitchen.  We were both just in time to hear Massimo’s confession.

“But yet, he didn’t stay,” she whispered.

“No, he didn’t, but he’ll be back.  He knew that you needed time with me.”

“Are you sure?  What if he hates me even more now?”

“Why would he hate you more?  He knows the truth, Sweetheart.  He’s going to be apologizing a lot for the way he’s been treating you.”

“I wonder why he was here to begin with?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe he’d decided to believe us.”

Stephanie sighed and settled back against Eric’s chest.  “Who knows.”

Kissing the top of her head, Eric gave her a slight squeeze.  “Are you still hungry?”

“I don’t think I could eat after what just happened.”

“You need to eat something, Stephanie.”

She sighed and nodded.  “I know.  Okay.  But only half a sandwich, and only if you promise to sing to me after we finish eating.”

“I’ll do whatever you want, Sweet girl.  Whatever you want.”

 

E**S

 

Ridge stared at the man he’d thought was his brother.  A man he couldn’t stand.  “Nick.”

Nick frowned.  “What are you doing here?  Come to spy on the competition?”

Ridge rolled his eyes.  “To be truthful, I have no idea why I came here.”

“You aren’t making any sense.”

“Right now, my life makes no sense.”

Nick shook his head.  “Would you stop talking in riddles?”

“Massimo’s in town.”

Nick nodded.  “I knew he was flying in to see Stephanie.  Oh, that’s right,” he started as he glared at his brother.  “You don’t believe she’s sick.  What the hell’s the matter with you?”

“Do you know how strange it is to hear you talking like that?  To hear you on Mother’s side?”

“I consider her a second mother in a way, Ridge.  She’s been very kind to me even after all of this mess with Bridget.  We’re friends.  You, brother, are an idiot.”

Ridge made a snorting nose.  “That’s just it, I’m not your brother.”

Shaking his head to clear it of the merry-go-round Ridge had him on, Nick gave him a exasperated look.  “Would you stop this nonsense?”

“It isn’t nonsense.  Massimo just confessed to Mother that he changed the DNA test.  I’m not his.  Not a Marone.”

Nick’s eyes widened.  “You mean you’ve been Eric’s all along?  All the hurt Stephanie and Eric went through was because Father,” he didn’t finish just shook his head.  “Damned fool.  When is he going to learn she doesn’t love him?  That she never has?”

“Well, he knows now.”

“So, what are you doing here?”

“I suppose I thought I’d come by to tell you about this mess.”

“Is that all?”

Ridge shook his head.  “No.  I wanted to say thank you.”

“Thank me?  For what?”

“For being what I should have been to Mother.”

“Like I said, Ridge.  I consider her to be a second mother.”  He laughed, “Or at the very least, an excellent drinking buddy.”

Ridge frowned.  “What?”

Nick smiled and shrugged.  “You’ll have to ask her about it.”  He studied Ridge.  “You do believe her, don’t you?”

“I don’t know what to believe anymore.”  Ridge whispered as he turned and walked out of Nick’s office.

Nick sighed and shook his head.  “Damned fool.”

“Who’s a damned fool, Darling?”  Jackie asked as she came into the room.

“Ridge.”

She mumbled something under her breath then nodded.  “Yes, he is.”

“He just left.”

“What was he doing here?”

“He said that he came to inform me that we aren’t brothers.”

Jackie sat down in one of the chairs across from Nick’s desk as she frowned.  “What?  I know he doesn’t like you, but I thought he’d gotten past that.”

“Apparently Father confessed to changing the DNA tests to make Ridge his instead of Eric’s.”

“Oh my god.  Does the fool know what he’s done to the woman he claims to love?” she groaned.

Nick shrugged and shook his head.  “Love can make us do stupid things.”

Smiling sadly at her son, Jackie nodded.  “Yes, it can.”

 

E**S

 

Wondering why they were all gathered in Ridge’s office, Steffy rolled her eyes.  “I’m not coming back, if that is what this is about.”

Thorne shook his head.  “Neither am I.”

Thomas shrugged his shoulders.  “I don’t know.  I haven’t talked to Dad since,” he shook his head, unwilling to go on.

“It’s alright to talk about it, Thomas.”  Thorne told his nephew gently.

“I was awful to her.  I hurt her and all the while she,” his voice faltered.  “I finally see how right she’s always been, though.”

Steffy frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“Grandma’s always said that the Logans do nothing but turn us against each other.  Maybe not in those words, but it’s what she meant.  And she’s right.”  He rolled his eyes.  “They’re nothing but shit stirrers.”

Thorne couldn’t help but laugh.  “That’s true, but I wouldn’t let your dad hear you say that about the Logans.”  He laughed again.  “And I wouldn’t let your grandma hear you say that word.  She never has been very fond of it.”

“What word would that be?”  Ridge asked as he came into the room, followed by Felicia.

“Shit.”  Thorne informed his brother.

“No, she doesn’t like that word.”  Ridge agreed as he grimaced in remembrance of the first time his mother had caught him saying it.

“What’s this about?”  Felicia asked.  “I have a flight to catch.”

“Where are you going?”  Thorne asked.

“To Florida.”

“But they’ll be here in a couple days.”

“It doesn’t matter.  I have something I have to do while I’m there.  I’ll just fly back with them.”  She shook her head.  “I can’t believe they couldn’t come back because they’re all sick.  My poor baby.”

Thorne nodded.  “Yeah, Kristen was pretty upset, but I told her that everyone would understand.  She,” he sighed.  “She isn’t taking it well, Fifi.”

Felicia hugged her brother.  “I’ll bring her home, Thorne, and we’ll be there for her, just like we’re always there for each other.”  She narrowed her eyes as she looked at Ridge.  “Well, some of us anyway.”

Ridge held up his hands.  “Stop and let me tell you why I brought you all here.”

“We’re waiting.”  Felicia said impatiently.

Thorne squeezed his sister’s hand.  “Well, why are we here?”

“I found out today that I’m not Massimo Marone’s son.  All the years I’ve hated Mother for what she did to Dad,” he shook his head.  “She didn’t do anything to him.”

“Wait a minute.”  Thorne held up his hand.  “Back up.  You mean Mom was right?  You’ve hated her all these years?  You’re her favorite, always have been.  Who the hell do you think you are hating her for a mistake that she didn’t even realize she’d made?”

“I thought she’d trapped Dad using another man’s child.  She was no better than she’s always accusing Logan of being.”

Felicia rolled her eyes.  “You damned idiot.  Our mother is nothing like your Logan.  Mom didn’t intentionally get pregnant so that she could make Dad marry her.  How could you think that she would knowingly pass off one man’s child as another’s?  Do you even know our mother?”

“So, you’re not Massimo’s?”  Steffy asked with a puzzled look on her face.  “But I thought there was a DNA test.”

“There was.  Massimo had it changed.”

“How do you know this?”

“I overheard Massimo telling Mother.”

“What were you doing at the house?  I thought you didn’t believe Mom.”

“I’m not sure what I believe anymore.”

Felicia rolled her eyes.  “Well, when you figure it out, call me.”  She kissed Thorne’s cheek.  “I’ve gotta go.  Pick me up at my place in half an hour?”

“I’m leaving too.”  Thorne told her then looked at Ridge.  “I’m still not really sure why you called us here, because at this point I don’t care who your father is, but I hope that you think long and hard about the way you’ve been treating Mom.  She’s not going to be around forever, Ridge.  She is sick.  Stop listening to Brooke and really look at Mom.  You can tell that she isn’t feeling well.”  He took one last look at his brother and followed his sister out of the room.

Steffy shook her head.  “You’re different, Dad.  And it’s not a good different.”

“She’s right, Dad.”  Thomas looked at his father.  “You’re different and it’s because of Brooke.  If you weren’t, you never would have been okay with what happened with Oliver or with her pushing Grandma.”

Ridge frowned.  “I thought you were on Brooke’s side.”

“I was, until the day Grandma and Grandpa told us about Grandma’s cancer.  I saw how hurt she was by your reaction.  Grandma doesn’t cry easily, and things aren’t hard for her to say, but yet Grandpa is the one that had to tell us she has cancer.  If Grandma was faking, she wouldn’t have had any trouble telling us.”

“But you left her party early.  She was crying that night too.”  Steffy reminded.

“I left because I was starting to feel guilty for the way I’d acted.  We hurt her, Dad more than me because he’s always been her favorite.  I acted the way I did, not because I care about Brooke, but because I was angry that Mom gave you her shares of the company.”  Thomas sighed and returned his attention to Ridge.  “I hope you’re happy with just Brooke and RJ, Dad, because that’s all you have left.”

Steffy watched her brother leave then looked back at her father.  “How does it feel, Dad?”

“How does what feel?”

“Having all that you ever wanted.”  Steffy whispered then turned and walked out of his office.

Ridge shook his head and mumbled, “I suppose this is the perfect end to this bizarre day.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie sighed as she rested her head on Eric’s shoulder.  “You know, maybe you can take up singing and piano playing as a career.”

Eric shook his head and laughed as he finished the song he’d been playing.  “No.  I’m too old to start a new career.  Besides, I have a beautiful woman to spend all my time with, I don’t need anything more than that.”

Sitting up, she gave him a sad smile.  “I’m sorry we won’t have more time to enjoy together.”

Feeling his eyes water, Eric caressed her face.  “So am I, Sweetheart,” he whispered.  “But I’m going to give you all of my attention and love in the time we do have.”

Kissing his hand, Stephanie sighed and nodded.  “Where did you go today?”

“I had to make plans for our wedding.”

“Oh?” she asked and studied him.  “What are you up to?”

Eric laughed at the suspicious look she was giving him.  “Why do you think I’m up to something?”

“Honey,” she cooed.  “the tips of your ears are red.”

Eric shook his head.  “Caught again.  Alright,” he gave in.  “I wanted to do something special for this wedding.”

“Isn’t the fact that we’re getting married again, special?”

“Oh, yes, very special.  I just thought it would be nice to have our wedding somewhere different this time.”

“And where would that be?”

Tracing her lips with his finger, he stared into her eyes.  “On a yacht at sunset out in the harbor.”

“Oh, Eric,” she breathed.

“Just the two of us and the crew.  The captain will perform the ceremony and then we’ll sail to Catalina.”

“Catalina?” she whispered in surprise.  “We haven’t been there in years.”

“I know.  I’ve rented a nice little beach side bungalow for us.”

“To spend all day and night making love in?” she asked with a sultry look in her eyes.

“Well,” he breathed as he kissed her neck.  “I don’t want to spend all day and night in the bungalow.  I intend to make love to you on the beach, too.”

“Mmm,” she hummed as she let her head fall back to give him better access.  “I love the sound of that.”

Cupping her face in his hands, Eric kissed her softly.  “A moonlight stroll on the beach then making love under the stars.  That’s how we’ll spend our wedding night.”

“Romantic,” she whispered as she combed her fingers through his hair.

“That’s what I want the whole week to be.”

“A whole week?”

“Yes.”  He nodded.  “You’ve had your follow up doctor’s visit.  We made all the arrangements then, and he said that you didn’t need to come back to him before surgery which you’ll be going in for soon.  I wanted to spend time with just the two of us beforehand.  Besides, I know how much you love the beach.  I thought you would enjoy it.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’m going to enjoy every second of it.”  She smiled at him.  “Although I’m not sure how much of the beach I’ll enjoy.”

Eric threw his head back and laughed.  “God, I love you,” he breathed as he pulled her against him, holding her tightly.  “Come to bed with me, Stephanie,” he whispered as he kissed the spot just behind her ear that he knew had always excited her.

Stephanie shivered in his arms.  “Bed sounds wonderful,” she told him a bit breathlessly.

Standing up, Eric took her hands and helped her stand.  “We’ll worry about everything else tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” she agreed.  “Tonight is just us celebrating.”

“Celebrating?”

“Yes.  You have your son back and we’re going to be getting married in a few days.  Those are two very good reasons to celebrate.”

“Very excellent reasons,” he agreed.  “But the best reason to celebrate is because you love me.”

Chapter Text

Eric sighed as he watched Stephanie sleep.  She’d had a bad night, waking up drenching wet and gasping for air.  It had scared him, but he’d pushed it aside and helped her with a cool sponge bath then into new pajamas before settling her in the lounge chair by the windows while he changed the sheets on the bed.  Then they’d settled back down, and he’d held her as she cried.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she held his hand to her heart.

Eric kissed her shoulder and spooned their bodies closer.  “Sweetheart, why are you apologizing?”

“I scared you.”

He sighed, “Yes, I was scared, but you don’t have to apologize for something you can’t help.”

“It isn’t fair to you.”

“Shh.  None of that.  We’ve been there, done that.  I’m here and I’m staying.  That ring on your finger means you’re mine to take care of, no matter what happens.”  He reached up and caressed her hair.  “No matter how many times this frightens me.”

“It’s only going to get worse,” she warned.

“I hope that the surgery fixes that, but if it doesn’t, I’m still not leaving.  These arms are going to hold you for as long as we have together.  I’m going to help you with everything that comes along, more episodes like tonight, and anything else.”  His voice shook as tears rolled down his cheeks.  “You’re my sweet girl.  I love you, Stephanie.”

Turning in his embrace, Stephanie caressed the tears from his face.  “Thank you,” she whispered.

“For what?”

“For talking to me.  For admitting that you were scared instead of denying it.”  She pressed a kiss to his lips.  “For loving me.”

“I made a promise to myself when I asked you to come back to me.”  He took her hand and pressed it to his heart as he stared into the blue eyes that had always held a bit of magic.  “I promised to always tell you everything.  To never again let miscommunication, or no communication, cause problems for our relationship.”  Leaning his head forward, he rested his forehead against hers.  “I promise, Stephanie.  Even when I’m being my weak old self, I’ll always be truthful with you.”

“I promise to always be open and honest with you, too, Eric.  We’ve wasted too many years doing things the other way.”

Smiling at her when her eyes fluttered open, Eric reached out to caress her cheek.  “Morning, Sweet girl,” he greeted her quietly.

“Mmm,” she hummed and turned her face into his hand.  “How long have you been lying there watching me sleep?” she asked as she moved to snuggle against him.

Eric shrugged.  “I’m not sure.”

“You should have woke me up.”

“No.  You needed the rest.  Besides,” he whispered before kissing her.  “I like watching you sleep.”

Shaking her head, she sighed, “You silly man.”

“Not silly.  Just very much in love with the woman lying next to me.”

“How about you show that woman just how much,” she suggested.

“Are you sure?” he asked, his face showing his worry.

“Oh, I’m positive.  The extra sleep you let me have gave me all the energy I need.”  She smiled as she drew a hand over his hip.  “Besides, I missed making love last night.”

“I missed that, too.  Although it was nice just holding you.”

“It was wonderful being held.  I needed that just as much as I need this,” she whispered as she brushed her hand against him.

“Stephanie,” he breathed. 

“Yes?”

Narrowing his eyes at her innocent act, he grabbed her hand.  “Behave,” he growled.

Wiggling closer, she raised an eyebrow.  “I thought you liked me naughty?” she asked as she ran her now freed hand up over his bare chest.

Caressing a hand over her buttocks, he pushed her lower body tighter against his.  “I don’t like you naughty.”

“Oh really?”

“Really,” he answered as he leaned closer.  “I love you naughty,” he breathed against her ear.

“Then stop talking and show me.”

Unbuttoning her pajama top, he cupped a breast.  “Gladly.”

 

E**S

 

“This is wonderful, Honey.”  Stephanie smiled just before taking the bite of french toast Eric held out for her.

“The toast?”

She dipped her head and grinned up at him.  “Of course the toast,” she answered huskily.

Taking the next bite, Eric shook his head at her.  “I’m so glad you’re feeling better.”  He caressed her face then gave her another bite.

Swallowing the bite, she nodded.  “I do feel a lot better.  Your love makes all the difference.”

Smiling as he gave her the last bite, he pushed the plate away and wiped a bit of syrup off her mouth.  “What do you want to do today?”

“Can we take the convertible out for a drive?  Maybe go to Malibu?”

“To the beach for a stroll?” he asked as he reached over and cupped her cheek.  “Top down or up?”

Smiling, she got up and moved to stand between his legs, wrapping her arms around him and combing her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck.  “Down.  It’s been a long time since we did that.”

“I believe you’re hair was still blonde.”

She laughed, “I think it was.”

Combing his fingers through her hair, he smiled.  “I love your hair.  No matter what color it is.  Have I ever told you that?”

“Uh hum, although it’s been a while.”

“I’ll remember to tell you more often.”  Resting his hands at the small of her back, Eric stared up into her sparkling blue eyes.  “I’m glad you’re letting it grow out.  Gives me more to run my fingers through.”

“I’ll remember that.”  She smiled.  “Do you want to take a picnic lunch for the beach?”

He shook his head.  “No.  We’ll eat at that little diner we used to eat at.”

“Oh, I remember.  It’s still there?”

“Yes, it is.  Still the same as it always was.”

“Then it sounds like a plan.”  Pulling back, she held out her hand.  “Shower with me?”

Taking her hand, Eric stood and pulled her close.  “I’d like nothing more.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie sighed as she leaned her head back against the head rest, the wind blowing through her hair as Eric drove them back home.  They’d had a wonderful and relaxing day.  Eric had taken the long way to Malibu then they’d stopped for lunch and then headed to the beach where they’d strolled hand and hand for hours just enjoying each other’s company.

“Today has been wonderful.”  Eric told her as he reached across to take her hand.

“It has.  When are we going to tell the kids about the wedding?”

“After Kristen gets here.”

“Which should be some time tonight.  So maybe over breakfast tomorrow?”

“That sounds like a plan.”  Eric agreed then glanced at her out of the corner of his eye.  “Why don’t you rest, Sweet girl?  We’ve still got an hour before we get home.” 

Stephanie let her eyes close.  A rest sounded nice.  The salty air, coupled with the slow and easy pace Eric had set for their day, had made her relax to the point of being sleepy.  She caught the sound of Eric humming with the radio and smiled as she let sleep completely claim her.

Eric took a quick look at Stephanie before turning his attention back to the road.  Her hair was mussed from the wind, her face a nice rosy color from the time they’d spent in the sun, and she was more beautiful that she’d ever been.  He chuckled to himself; he’d been thinking that a lot lately.  But it was the truth.  With each new day he spent with her, she grew more beautiful to him than she’d been the day before.

He shook his head.  How had he ever been such a fool to fall for the Logans and Lauren and Sheila and Jackie…and on and on the list went.  He wasn’t just a fool, he was a damned fool.  He’d had the most wonderful woman in the world right by his side and he’d been blind to it.

He frowned.  What the hell was it about the Logans that had kept drawing him back to them so much so that he’d gone through all but one of the women in the family?  Been with Beth, then Brooke twice, then Donna.  And he didn’t even want to think about the scare that Katie might possibly be his daughter.  Thank god that had been Beth’s dementia talking.  Stephanie would’ve been crushed.

Was it guilt for the way he’d just dropped Beth when Stephanie had come into the picture?  Stephanie and her money, that is.  While he had loved her, his fear had kept him from letting the love consume him.  It hadn’t kept him from taking advantage of the fact that she was rich and that getting involved with her, and possibly marrying her, would give him the money he needed to start the business he’d always dreamed of.  Of course, he hadn’t counted on her getting pregnant that weekend on the yacht. 

He shook his head.  The ease with which he seemed to get women pregnant made him all the more glad that he’d had the vasectomy all those years ago.  He couldn’t even begin to imagine a child with Sheila, or Donna for that matter.  He loved his children with Brooke, but now that he saw her for what she was, he found himself wishing there wasn’t that tie between them.

His mind went back to the Logans, Storm and Stephen this time.  Storm had shot Stephanie while Stephen had used Pam and had tried to get her to shoot Stephanie.  And it all lead back to him – Eric Anthony Forrester.  If he’d never gotten involved with Beth again and then her daughters, a whole lot of things, not just Stephanie being shot and nearly shot, never would’ve happened.

Pulling into their drive, he parked the car and unbuckled his seatbelt.  Getting out and going around to Stephanie’s side, he opened the door then reached over to unbuckle her seatbelt.  “Sweet girl,” he whispered as he brushed his fingers across her cheek.  “We’re home.  Wake up.”

Stephanie slowly opened her eyes and smiled when she looked into his dark eyes.  “Mmm,” she hummed.  “I’ve always been able to trust you to get us safely home.”

“I had precious cargo sleeping beside me, I had to be careful.”  He held out his hand.  “Come on.  Let’s go inside and settle you in for the rest of your nap.”

“Nap with me?” she asked as she took his hand and stepped out of the car.

“I’ll gladly snuggle down for a nap with you.”

“I could get used to this,” she sighed as she leaned against him for the walk into the house and up to their bedroom.

Eric kissed the top of her head.  “Used to what?”

“Lazy days spent with you.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie shook her head as she coughed.  The coughing fits were coming more frequently, but she was determined not to let them interfere with spending time with her family.  She smiled at her granddaughter when she handed her a glass of water.

“Here, Grandma.”  Steffy spoke softly as she helped her grandmother hold the glass steady so she could drink.

Stephanie drank slowly, the act helping her to calm enough that the coughing subsided.  “Thank you, Honey.”

“Are you okay?”

Caressing Steffy’s face, Stephanie sighed, “It’s all a part of it, Honey.  These coughing spells should go away after I have the surgery.”

“So you’re going to go through with it?”

“Just the surgery, Steffy.  I still won’t take the chemo treatments.”

Steffy looked down.  “I hate this, Grandma,” she whispered as her eyes filled with tears.

Reaching over and lifting her granddaughter’s face, Stephanie smiled sadly at her.  “I don’t much like it, myself.  I’ve just gotten my home back.  Eric finally realized he loves me.”  She sighed, “Your father is really Eric’s.  I don’t want to,” she started but didn’t finish, just shook her head. 

“Granddad’s changed.”  Steffy commented as she wiped at her tears.

“Oh?”

The young woman nodded.  “He’s,” she frowned as she pondered the right words.  “He’s more,” she shrugged, giving up.

“He’s more mature.”  Eric provided as he came into the room.  “He’s more attentive to his Stephanies.  He’s more attuned to everything around him that he’s been ignoring in favor of Logans all these years.  Including his second son.”

Steffy blinked up at her grandfather.  “I’m sorry, Granddad.  I didn’t mean,” she started but stopped when Eric held up his hands.

“Don’t apologize, Steffy.  It’s all the truth.  I’ve been a terrible husband, father, grandfather,” he shrugged.  “businessman.  If my mind hadn’t been on, well, sex, all the time, Forrest Creations wouldn’t be about to go under.”

“Is it really that bad, Honey?”  Stephanie asked.

Eric nodded as he sat down beside her.  “Yes, it is.  The clientele have all learned that you’re no longer there.  They’ve seen my latest designs and have learned that they’re my last.  They all have declared they’ll buy only my designs out of the latest line and then that’s it, they won’t order anything from FC anymore.  Those orders won’t keep the company afloat.  Oh, did Pam tell you she quit?”

Stephanie sighed and shook her head.  “At least they know how wonderful your designs are.”  She caressed his face.  “And no, Pam didn’t tell me she quit.  I haven’t seen or talked to her since we told everyone about the cancer.”

“She’s taking this pretty hard, Grandma.”  Steffy spoke up.  “She’s been spending a lot of time with Mom.”

“Who I haven’t seen since my birthday.”

“Mom wanted to let you have time with the family.  She’ll come see you, I promise.”

Stephanie smiled and nodded.  “Eric told me that he went to see her as a patient so that she couldn’t tell anyone because he’d promised me he wouldn’t say anything.”

“But he needed someone to talk to.”  Eric patted her hand and smiled when she turned to look at him.  “I needed help, but the one person I’d always turned to was the one person I couldn’t go to for help with this.  At least not then.”

Steffy smiled at her grandfather.  “I love this new version of you, Granddad.”

“I’m liking the new me, myself.”  Eric winked at her making her laugh.

Stephanie reached over and caressed his face.  “I’ve always loved whatever version of you that was around, but I definitely like this one the best.”

“Which is a good thing, since you’re stuck with me.”

Steffy shook her head.  “This is what I remember.”

Stephanie looked at her granddaughter with a puzzled expression.  “What do you mean?”

“I remember the two of you being playful and happy together.”

“That’s because back then we were at a point in our lives where I had realized just how much Stephanie meant to me.  I loved her and had nearly lost her to a stroke.”

“Phoebe and I were born then.”

Stephanie nodded.  “Yes, you were.  You were named after me because of how close it came to me not making it.”

“Not just because of that.”  Steffy smiled at her grandmother.  “Mom did it because she loves you and because she said that I was like you, a fighter, even then.”

Reaching over and cupping her granddaughter’s face, Stephanie stared into her teary eyes.  “Just don’t be me, Steffy.  Remember to be the Stephanie I never was.  Live your life for you until you find the right man.  Don’t let the bitterness eat at you and make you live for nothing but revenge.  When you become a mother, remember, love your babies but don’t spoil them and never, ever, favor one of them over the other.  Be careful with your heart, Steffy, but not too careful.”

Steffy twisted up her nose when a thought occurred to her.  “Yuck.”

Stephanie was taken aback by the reaction.  “What?”

“I nearly,” she snarled her nose again and gagged.  “Rick is my uncle.”

Stephanie bit her lip and gave her namesake a sympathetic smile.  “Yeah, Honey, he is.”

“I nearly married him, Grandma!  I slept with him for hell’s sake.  I had sex with my uncle!”

“You didn’t know, Honey.”

Steffy shook her head.  “But still.  We were raised as family, I never should’ve been with him in the first place.”

“He was using you, Steffy.  Just as he was using Phoebe.  It’s what Logan’s do.”  Eric sighed.  “And unfortunately I wasn’t a very good role model for him, either.”

Looking at her grandmother, Steffy sighed, “I wasn’t very careful with my heart, Grandma.”

“But you have a second chance, Honey.  Forget Oliver and Liam.  Find someone that has never met a Logan.  Preferably someone who hasn’t ever heard of a Logan, but that will be hard to do.”

Steffy chuckled as she wrapped her arms around Stephanie.  “I love you, Grandma.  Thank you for the advice.  I made you a promise to be the best Stephanie Forrester I can be, and I’ll keep it, but I’ll never be as wonderful as you.”

“I’m not wonderful, Steffy.”

Steffy shook her head.  “You have always been a wonderful grandmother to us.  You even treat Hope as one of yours when she isn’t.”

“No one ever said Stephanie wasn’t a good mother and grandmother.”

Stephanie shook her head.  “I’ve been an awful mother.  If I had been a good mother, I wouldn’t have favored one child over all my others.”

Steffy shrugged.  “I think it’s what you said the other day in Dad’s office.  You’ve always favored Dad because he was the first person to love you unconditionally and need you completely.  Something you never had growing up.”

“She’s right, Sweetheart.  I loved you, but I didn’t need you as completely as he did.  By the time the other children came along, you were used to being loved and needed.”  Eric squeezed her hand.

“Maybe so, but I hurt my other children.”

“But we love you,” came a voice from the doorway causing everyone to look up.

“Kristen.”  Stephanie whispered as she watched her daughter struggle with her tears.  Opening her arms, she felt Steffy getting up from the sofa to be replaced by Kristen.

“Oh Momma.”  Kristen cried as she held tightly to Stephanie.

Stephanie felt her heart break at her daughter’s use of a name her children had long abandoned but had suddenly started using again.  “Oh, Kristen, shh,” she soothed.

“I’m sorry.”  Kristen finally managed to whisper.

“Why are you sorry?”

“Because I couldn’t come sooner.”

“You and your family were sick.  It’s alright.  You’re here now.”

“And we’re staying.”  Tony spoke up, smiling sadly at his mother-in-law.

“What about your jobs?”

“My job can be done via phone and video conferencing.  We explained the situation and everything has been worked out.”

“Besides,” Kristen spoke up.  “we both have a lot of vacation time built up.”

Stephanie looked at her grandson.  “What about Zende and school?”

“I’ve finished everything early, Grandma.  It’s alright.”  Big tears rolled down the young man’s face as he followed his father further into the room.

Eric held out his hand and scooted over to let their grandson sit between them.  “Here, Son.  It’s alright.”

“It isn’t fair, Grandma.”  Zende whispered as he reached up to caress her face.  “It just isn’t fair.”

Stephanie wrapped an arm around her grandson and pulled him close, kissing the top of his head.  “I feel the same way, Zende.  It isn’t fair, but I’ve lived a long life, and for the most part it’s been a wonderful life.”

“Can we stay in the guest house, Mom?”  Kristen asked as she reached across to hold her son’s hand.

“The second one, yes.  Felicia’s in the first one.”

“Thank you, Stephanie.”  Tony squeezed Kristen’s shoulder.  “Why don’t we go get settled in and let Steffy and your parents finish their talk?”

Kristen turned and smiled at her niece.  “Sorry, Steffy.”

“It’s alright, Aunt Kristen.  You don’t have to leave on my account.  I’ve had my time with Grandma, you need her more than I do at the moment.”  The young woman walked over and bent down to kiss Stephanie on the cheek.  “I’ll see you later, Grandma, and thank you for not making me feel stupid for what I did.”

“Not stupid, Honey, just young and naïve.”  Stephanie winked and patted her granddaughter’s cheek.  “Go see your dad and talk to him, huh?”

“I’ll do my best.”

Kristen watched her niece leave then turned to look at her mother.  Reaching up, she traced the contours of Stephanie’s face.  “I remember laying in your arms when I was about three years old.  I was sick and had been crying most of the night.  You were holding me and rocking me.”

Stephanie smiled at the memory.  “You’d settled some, but were still whimpering every little while, so I kept rocking you.  I had closed my eyes for a few seconds and you raised your hand…”

“And started tracing your face.”  Kristen whispered and pulled a folded piece of paper out of her pocket.

Stephanie frowned as she watched her daughter unfold the paper, then gasped at the drawing.  “Kristen?” she questioned as her daughter turned the drawing right side up so she could see it better.

Eric’s eyes widened.  “It’s your mother.”

“Just as I remembered her from that night.”

“When did you draw this, Honey?”

Kristen shrugged.  “I guess I was about thirteen.”

“Why have we never seen it?”

“I don’t know.  I guess because that was the age that I started pulling away from Mom.  This was in a box for a long time.  I found it one day and the memory of being held in Mom’s arms as she rocked me to soothe me to sleep came back to me.  I hadn’t realized that’s what this was of until that moment.”

“You mean you didn’t remember that when you drew this?”  Eric asked, amazed that one of his children could draw Stephanie as he had always done.

Kristen shook her head.  “No.  I never really knew where the image came from.”

“It seems your daughter inherited more than just the design talent from you.”  Stephanie patted Eric’s hand.

“It would seem so.”  Eric smiled and squeezed her hand then wrapped an arm around Zende.

“Mom?”  Kristen asked as she grabbed Stephanie’s hand.

Stephanie smiled as she watched Kristen look at her ring.  “Yes?”

Kristen smiled up at her sadly.  “You’re getting married?”

Stephanie nodded.  “Yes, we are.  Your father asked me on my birthday.”

“It’s your first ring.”

“Yes, it is.  I wanted your mother to know that this time was the last time we were going to do this.”  He laughed at the look Stephanie gave him.  “What?  I finally realized I was too old for all the back and forth nonsense.”  He reached out to caress her face.  “And then…” he closed his eyes.  “And then I realized it had always been you that I loved.”

“Oh Honey.”  Stephanie sighed as she reached across to wipe a tear from his cheek.

“I’m glad you’re marrying Grandma again, Grandpa.  I,” Zende paused and snarled his nose.  “I didn’t like Donna.”

Stephanie bit her lip to keep from laughing as Eric looked at their grandson.  She could see the horrified look on Kristen’s face out of the corner of her eye and squeezed her daughter’s hand to keep her from scolding the boy.

“To be truthful, Zende, I didn’t like her much myself.”

“Then why did you marry her, Grandpa?”

“I thought I loved her, but,” Eric shook his head.  “It wasn’t love.  I was just being my normal stupid self and letting yet another Logan use to me to hurt your grandmother.”

“So it was all about sex.”

Eric raised an eyebrow, a bit startled at the young man’s bluntness.  “You are way too much like your grandmother.  Blunt and to the point.”

“It’s true, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Zende.  It’s true.  That’s all it was about.  I hurt your grandmother more than I ever have all for sex.”

“I just don’t get what’s so great about the Logan women.”  Zende rolled his eyes.

“Smart boy.”  Stephanie smiled.  “But don’t be too hard on your grandfather.  I made it hard to love me.”  She shrugged.  “And I wasn’t always what he needed.”

“How the hell did we wind up talking about this with our grandson?”  Eric asked causing them all to laugh.

“Because he started it.”

Zende grinned and shrugged.  “I love you both and I just wanted to understand what had happened.”

“Now you know.”  Stephanie kissed his cheek.

“Gramma!” a little voice shouted as a streak shot across the room.

“Dino!”  Stephanie smiled as she caught the boy.  “Hello, Baby.”  She kissed his head as he wrapped his arms around her neck.

“Missed you so much!”  Dino told her when he pulled back, pressing his hands to her cheeks.

“I missed you, too, Baby.  Did you enjoy your time traveling with Mommy?”

The young boy frowned.  “No.”  He shook his head.

“No?  Why not?”

“Cause you were here.”

Stephanie laughed and kissed his nose.  “Well, now you’re here.”

Smiling brightly, Dino nodded his head.  “I am.  And I gonna stay here, too.”

“He’s convinced he’s spending the night.”  Felicia smiled at her mother.

“Then that’s what he’ll do.”  Eric smiled at the boy.  “Hello, Dino.”

“Hi, Grampa.”  Dino smiled and settled down on Stephanie’s lap.

Eric shook his head.  “I guess I’ll get my hug later.”

Dino grinned and shrugged.  “Not through lovin’ on Gramma.”

“That’s perfectly alright, Dino.  Give your grandma all the loving you want to.”

“We’re going to go, Mom.”  Kristen leaned over and pressed a kiss to her mother’s cheek.  “It’s getting late and we still need to get settled.”

“Join us for breakfast?”

“Sounds like a plan, Stephanie.”  Tony smiled and moved to kiss her.  “I’m happy to see you, but I hate the reason for it.”

Stephanie patted his cheek.  “It’s alright, Tony.  We’ll see you in the morning.”

Felicia watched them leave then turned back to her parents.  “Is it really alright for him to stay here?”

“It’s fine, Baby.”  Stephanie smiled at her daughter.  “I’ve missed him as much as he’s missed me.  It’ll be nice having him here.”

“I sleep with you?”

Eric laughed.  “You bet.  We’ve got a big ol’ bed we can all snuggle in.”

Dino smiled at his grandfather.  “Mommy too?”

Stephanie laughed.  “Well, I suppose if Mommy wants to.”

“No.”  Felicia laughed.  “Mommy is going to sleep in her own bed.”

Dino shrugged.  “Okay.  Means more Gramma for Dino.”

Eric pointed.  “See?  You’re always the favorite.”

Stephanie rolled her eyes.  “Oh brother.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie gently caressed the hair from Dino’s forehead as he sighed in his sleep.  “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a child sleep between us,” she whispered.

Eric shook his head.  “Not so long.”

Stephanie frowned.  “What?”

“This one slept with us a great deal while his momma was recovering.”

Stephanie smiled.  “Oh yes.  How could I forget?  He was all that kept me from losing it some nights.”

“He was what kept us all from losing it.”

“He gave his momma the strength she needed to fight.”

“His momma got what she needed from her momma.”  Eric reached out to caress her face.  “Felicia has your strength, she always has.  Even as a baby.  If it hadn’t been for your strength,” he sighed and stared down at his grandson, his mind lost back in time.

“Please,” her weak voice pleaded.

Eric felt his chest squeeze at the pain he could hear in his wife’s voice and see in her eyes.  She had been struggling for the last seventeen hours with labor that the doctors were trying to prolong as long as possible.  Her hair was limp, her face and body damp with sweat, and all he could think about was how beautiful she was.

“Do you want some more ice chips, Sweetheart?” he asked when she looked at him, her blue eyes filled with pain and exhaustion.

Shaking her head, she squeezed his hand.  “I don’t know how much longer I can do this, Eric,” she whispered as her eyes closed.

Wiping her forehead with a cool cloth, Eric pressed a kiss to the soft brow.  “I’m so sorry, Stephanie.  I wish I could do more than just sit here.”

Opening her eyes again, she gave him a tired smile.  “You don’t know how much having you,” she started then closed her eyes as pain shot through her.  “Oh god, something’s wrong!”

“Doctor!”  Eric shouted as he yanked open the door.  “Nurse!  Something’s wrong!” he shouted again, even though the doctor and nurses were already rushing toward the room because of the alarms that had gone off.

“Eric!”  Stephanie cried out to him, needing him with her as memories of Angela flooded her mind.

“I’m here, Sweetheart.”  Eric told her as he took her hand.  “I’m right here,” he assured her again as he caressed the hair from her forehead.

“You’ll have to leave, Mr. Forrester,” a nurse informed him.

Eric glared at the woman.  “Unless she’s going into surgery, I’m not moving.”

The doctor nodded at the nurse.  “It’s alright.  He can stay.”

“What’s happening, Doctor?”  Eric asked as Stephanie moaned.

“The baby’s in distress.  We can’t prolong the labor anymore.”

“Will the baby be alright?”

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure of that, Mr. Forrester.  You just concentrate on your wife.  She’s going to need you.”

Stephanie caressed Eric’s face.  “Honey?” she asked, getting his attention.  “Where were you?”

Turning his face and kissing her hand, Eric gave her a loving look.  “I was remembering when Felicia was born.  I was thinking about how beautiful you were and how frightened I was for you and the baby.”

“We nearly lost her.”

“I nearly lost both of you, but your fighting spirit pulled you back and then gave our baby the strength she needed to survive.”  His eyes filling with tears, he reached up and took her hand in his.  “Please promise me your fighting spirit will keep you here with me.”

Her own eyes filling with tears, Stephanie took a deep breath.  “I can only promise that I’ll fight to stay with you as long as I can.  I can’t promise how long that will be or that it will work.”

Nodding, he pressed a kiss to her hand.  “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Sleep now, Sweetheart.  We have no idea if he sleeps through the night or not.”

Stephanie chuckled.  “If he’s like his momma, he’ll sleep through the night, but he’ll be laying on top of one of us before the night is over.”

Eric smiled and nodded.  “How well I remember those days.  That would be why Felicia wasn’t allowed to sleep with us unless there was a very good reason.”

Stephanie yawned as she settled down against her pillow, their joined hands resting gently on Dino.  “She’s always been something special.”

“Uh hum.”  Eric agreed as he watched sleep claim Stephanie.  “Just like her momma.”

Chapter Text

“Whoa!”  Stephanie said in surprise when RJ rushed at her.  “Slow down.  What’s wrong?”

“They’re lying, Grandma…aren’t they?” he asked.

Stephanie shook her head in confusion.  “Who?”

“Mom and Dad.”

“Honey, you’d better start at the beginning because Grandma is confused.”

RJ let her go and stood staring at the floor.  “I heard them talking.  Mom said you are faking being sick, but Dad says that maybe you aren’t this time.  They kind of got into an argument about it.”

Stephanie sighed as she took her grandson’s hand and led him to the sofa.  “Sit down with Grandma, RJ.”

RJ sat down and looked up at her.  “You are sick, aren’t you?” he asked quietly.

Cupping his face, Stephanie nodded.  “Yes, RJ, I am.  Your mother doesn’t believe me, and she has every reason not to, but it’s the truth.  I’m sorry you found out this way.  They should have brought you with them the day we told the family.”  She sighed, “But I suppose your mother thought you didn’t need to be here since she’s believed I’ve been faking it since this all started.”

Fighting the tears that filled his eyes, RJ struggled with being a sixteen year old guy and a little boy.  “Grandma,” he breathed as his lip trembled.

“It’s alright to cry, RJ,” she whispered as she pulled him into her arms.

“Mom, I,” Ridge started as he came into the room, sighing at the sight of his son being rocked back and forth by his mother.

“Ridge, why didn’t you tell him?  He had to find out from the fight you had with Brooke.”  Stephanie tried not to sound like she was scolding, but wasn’t successful.  She was tired of this nonsense with her son and his wife.

Ridge gripped the bridge of his nose and sighed.  “I’m sorry.  It was wrong to argue about that where he could hear us.”

“No,” she shook her head then patted RJ’s face when he sat up.  “Honey, why don’t you go see if you can help Grandpa and Dino with breakfast?”

“Sure, Grandma.”  RJ nodded then kissed her cheek before standing up and heading out of the room toward the kitchen.

“It wasn’t wrong to argue about it where he could hear you,” she continued once RJ was gone.  “it was wrong not to tell him in the first place.  Of course, since I’m faking, I guess it didn’t seem important that you tell him.”  She moved to the balcony and stared out over the grounds of her home.  A coughing spell caused her to grip the railing as she struggled to get it under control.

Ridge watched his mother, the sound of her coughing making him realize he’d been a fool to think she would fake having cancer after what happened with Felicia.  Pouring a glass of water and taking it to her, he helped her hold it until her hand was steady.

Stephanie sipped at the water then stared up at her son as the coughing subsided.  “Thank you,” she whispered.

Setting the glass down, Ridge turned back and pulled his mother into his arms.  “I’m sorry.  I should never have doubted you.  Thomas was right, if you were faking Dad wouldn’t have been the one to tell us.”

Tears rolling down her cheeks, Stephanie held her son, thankful to have him at least partially back.  “I’m sorry for being so harsh earlier,” she apologized.

“No, you were right.  It was wrong of me not to tell him so that he could make up his own mind.”  Taking in the smell of her that had always comforted him as a child, Ridge sighed, “I’m sorry for treating you the way I have been.  I was wrong.”

Stephanie shrugged as she pulled back.  “You love your wife.”  She shook her head.  “You’ll always choose her, that’s something I’ll just have to try and accept.  My life is too short to continue this nonsense with Brooke.”

“Mother, I,”

“No, Ridge.  Let me finish.”  She held up her hand.  “Your father won’t let her in this house, or anywhere near me, after what happened.  And quite frankly, I’m grateful for that.  After today, I won’t say another thing against her.  She left me lying on the floor of your home, Ridge.  I asked her for help, and she left me there.  I called her Honey…since when do I do that?  But she still left me on the floor without calling for help.  She is what I’ve always said, and yet she’s still a part of this family.  Love her, stay with her, but don’t expect me to forget.  All I ask is that you don’t let her keep you and RJ away from me.  You saw how upset RJ is,” she paused when a cough snuck up on her then continued after taking another sip of her water.  “I love you, Ridge.  I’ve not been the best mother to my children, I know that.  I played favorites with you to the point of making you hate me and making my other children feel neglected.  I was wrong, but I can’t change the mistakes I made.  I won’t play favorites anymore.  I need you just as I need the rest of my family.  I don’t want to,” her voice broke.  “I don’t want to die with the regret that I didn’t spend time with all of my children.”

“I can make Brooke believe you’re sick, Mother.”

She shook her head and sighed, “I don’t want you to make her do anything.  I don’t want to have to deal with her and all the drama she brings in whatever time I have left.  Just promise you’ll spend time with me when you can.  That’s all I ask.”

Ridge nodded.  “Alright.  I promise.”

“Thank you.”

“Stephanie, are you,” Eric called as he came out onto the balcony but stopped when he spotted Ridge.  “Oh, Ridge.  You’re still here.”  He looked at Stephanie and noticed the tears on her face.  Moving over to her, he wiped at her cheeks.  “Sweetheart, are you alright?”

Stephanie nodded as she patted his hand.  “I’m fine.  What was it you wanted?”

“I was going to ask you if you were going to come help us finish breakfast.  Dino’s been asking for you and the others are here.”

“I’ll join them after I wash my face.” 

Eric nodded and kissed her before she left.  Turning his attention to their son, he frowned.  “Why was she crying?  Were you arguing with her again?”

“No, we weren’t arguing.  I just apologized for not believing her.”

“It’s about time.  But Brooke still isn’t welcome here.”

“Mother’s already made that clear, although I think you’re both being unfair.  I can make Brooke see that Mom isn’t faking.”

Eric rolled his eyes.  “You just don’t get it.  You didn’t see your mother lying on the floor struggling to keep from losing consciousness.  You didn’t see the look on Brooke’s face when I asked if she’d called for help.”  He closed his eyes.  “She was cruel, Ridge.  She left your mother lying on your marble floor and went upstairs.  Stephanie lost consciousness but we don’t know for how long because Brooke left her alone.  I don’t care if Stephanie has faked a heart attack in the past.  I don’t care that Stephanie doesn’t like Brooke.  If Brooke was the wonderful person you and I have always said she was, she wouldn’t have just left Stephanie lying there.  I’m not blinded by her anymore, Ridge.  I see what she truly is, and I don’t want her here.  She’ll upset your mother and the rest of the family, and I won’t have that.  I won’t have anything unnecessarily upsetting Stephanie.”

“I’ve promised Mother to visit without Brooke and not bring her up when I do come over.  That’s all I can do.”

“If you feel that way, fine.  Just remember to make it clear to Brooke that she’s not to try and sneak over here to confront Stephanie.”

“I’ll tell her.”

“Don’t just tell her.  Make her understand that she won’t like what happens if she steps foot in this house.”

Ridge studied his father.  This wasn’t the man he’d known for most of his life.  He seemed to be a whole new man.  “What’s gotten into you?”

“The love of my life is,” his voice broke.  “dying, Ridge.”  Eric swallowed as he looked away.  “That changes a man.”

 

E**S

 

“Where’s your father?”  Stephanie asked Ridge when he entered the kitchen.

Ridge stared at her, his face pale.  “He’s out by the pool.”

“What is he doing out there?” she asked then noticed Ridge’s face.  “What is it, Ridge?”

“I think you should go to him.”

Stephanie closed her eyes.  “What happened?”

“We were just talking.”  Ridge shrugged, unsure himself of what had happened.

Looking to her other children, she sighed.  “Keep working on breakfast,” she told them as she turned to leave, stopping when Dino tugged on her pant leg. 

“Gramma?”

“What is it, Baby?”

“Can I go with you?”

Leaning down, Stephanie pressed a kiss to his forehead.  “No, Baby.  You stay here and keep helping Mommy with the biscuits.”

Frowning, Dino sighed.  “Okay.  I make one specially for you.”

“That’s Grandma’s boy.”  Kissing him once more, Stephanie stood up then hurriedly made her way out to the pool.

Felicia glared at her brother.  “What did you say?” she whispered.

Ridge shrugged again.  “We were just talking.  I apologized to Mother earlier and we were discussing that.  Then I asked him what had gotten into him because he’s different.  He said that,” he stopped and looked at Dino then shook his head.

Thorne rolled his eyes.  “Always a problem.” 

Kristen sighed.  “Always has been,” she agreed, knowing that her brother was talking about Brooke and Ridge’s obsession with her.  “Hello, Ridge,” she greeted her older brother.  “I understand that you’ve gotten some news recently about who you are.”

“Yeah.  Was a bit of a surprise.”

“I’m sure it was.  Didn’t really make you change your mind on things, though, did it?  Didn’t make you see just what that kind of crazy obsession can do.”

“If by that you mean, Brooke, then no.  I haven’t changed my mind.  She’s my wife.  I love her.  That’s how it is.”

“You’re an idiot, Uncle Ridge.”  Zende spoke up before leaving the room.

Ridge, startled by the outburst, raised an eyebrow as he looked at Kristen.  “What have you been telling him?”

“I haven’t said a word.  No one has.  He’s eighteen, Ridge, and he’s very astute.  He has access to the internet and magazines.  He’s seen what’s been going on.  Tony and I don’t have to tell him anything.”

Tony laughed.  “You’re not the only one, Ridge.  Eric got it earlier.”

Kristen couldn’t help but laugh.  “I was mortified.  My son was talking to my parents about,” she lowered her voice so Dino wouldn’t hear.  “sex.”

“So your son takes after Mother in other words.  Blunt and to the point.”

“That’s what Dad said.”

Felicia chuckled as she continued to keep Dino’s mind occupied with the biscuits they were cutting out and putting on a cookie sheet.  “If it’s the truth, why sugarcoat it?”

Ridge shook his head and rolled his eyes, grumbling, “Way too much like Mother for your own good,” as he walked out the door.

“So I guess it isn’t going to be a family breakfast?”  Felicia asked with sarcasm making the others laugh. 

No one noticed one little boy sneaking out of the room.

 

E**S

 

Stephanie found Eric standing and staring down into the pool, the water gently rippling in the wind.  Reaching out to touch his arm, she whispered, “Honey,” and was startled when he pulled her into his arms and held her, his body trembling against hers.

“I can’t lose you.  I can’t.  I need you too much.  You’re the other half of me.”

Stephanie felt her heart breaking at the breathtaking sadness she could hear in his voice.  “Shh,” she soothed as she held him, her fingers gently caressing his head.

Burying his face in her hair, Eric inhaled, breathing in the scent of her shampoo.  “I can’t lose you,” he whispered again.  Pulling back, he traced her face as he stared into her blue eyes.  “Ridge had to ask why I’ve changed.  He just doesn’t understand.  When I explained,” he paused and leaned his forehead against hers.  “When I explained it hit me again and I just,” he shrugged.

“It’s alright, Honey.”

“I’ve been an awful example for my sons.  Ridge has never loved someone so much that she’s the other half of his soul.”

“He says that’s what Brooke is,” she reminded him.

“If that were true, he wouldn’t have had to ask me why I’ve changed.  He would have understood.  He wouldn’t have tried to make me see that he can make Brooke believe you’re sick.  I told him how she treated you.  How she left you lying there.  This was the second time that I told him, but he just doesn’t see the kind of woman she is.”  Tracing her face again, Eric kissed her nose.  “I can’t lose you,” he repeated barely loud enough for her to hear.

“Oh Honey,” she breathed.  “I wish I could say this was all a bad nightmare, that I’m not dying, but,”

“Gramma?” a tiny voice interrupted her, startling both adults.

“Dino?  Oh baby.”  Stephanie’s heart broke as she watched a big tear roll down her grandson’s face.  “You’re supposed to be inside with Mommy.”

Eric calmed at the sight of his grandson and bent over to pick him up.  Wiping at the tears on the boy’s cheeks, he wondered just how much Dino had heard and understood.

“Gramma, is…” Dino looked down as more tears rolled down his cheeks.  “is you gonna go to Heaven?”

Stephanie swallowed the lump that formed in her throat as tears filled her eyes.  Moving closer, she rested her hand on his back.  “Not today, Baby.”

“But you’s sick.”

She nodded.  “Yes, I’m sick.”

“Grampa said he couldn’t…couldn’t,”

“I said I couldn’t lose her.”  Eric finished for him.  “That’s because I’m sad that she’s sick.”

“That’s because her’s gonna go to Heaven.”

“Yes, Dino, Grandma’s going to go to Heaven.  But we’re going to have days and months with her before that happens.  She doesn’t want you to be sad all the time.  Can you do that for Grandma?”

Reaching his arms out, Dino wrapped them around Stephanie, his tears soaking the collar of her blouse.  “I try, Gramma.  But when I sad…can I snuggle with you?”

“Oh yes, Baby.  You can snuggle with Grandma any time you feel sad,” her voice was shaky, her eyes filled with tears as she held him close.

Eric wrapped an arm around Stephanie and pulled her close, holding her and Dino within the circle of his arms.  “How about we go back inside for some breakfast now?  Huh?  Grandpa has some good news for everybody.”

Dino let go of Stephanie’s neck, putting his little hands on her cheeks, his tiny fingers wiping at her tears.  “I loves you, Gramma,” he told her softly then leaned forward and kissed her nose like he’d watched his grandpa do.

“And I love you, so very much, Baby.”

“Is you gonna tell us somethin’ about ‘dis?”  Dino asked as he patted his grandma’s ring.

Eric laughed and kissed the boy’s head.  “Well, they all know about the ring, but it has to do with that, yes.”

“Happy stuff.”

“Yes, Baby.  Happy stuff.”

 

E**S

 

Felicia felt her heart break as she watched her baby learning that his beloved grandma was sick.  “Dear God, I should have told him.”

“You didn’t know that he would understand, Fifi.”  Thorne assured her as he wrapped her in his arms.  “I think, maybe, this was the best way for him to learn the truth.  Look,” he pointed.

Felicia smiled at the way her son wiped at his grandmother’s tears and kissed her nose.  “He saw Dad do that.”

“If you had told him, it would have been hard because you would have tried to think of some way to do it to make it easy for him to understand.  But this way, he heard the honest truth, and from the looks of things, understands quite well what’s going on.  Mom has years of wisdom with things like this, so she knows how best to answer his questions.  Remember when Grandma Forrester passed away?  Remember how gently Mom explained things to us?”

“Yeah.”  Felicia nodded.  “Dad was a wreck because he was trying to help his father and upset about Grandma.  He didn’t know how to tell us, but Mom did.  She just told us the truth but did it very gently and made sure I could understand because I was the youngest.”

“And she’s doing that very same thing with Dino.  Dad’s helping this time.  He really has changed.”

“I just wish Mom hadn’t had to get sick for him to realize that it’s always been her.”

“I wish that too, Baby.”  Eric whispered from behind them.

Felicia blinked and turned around, startled that she hadn’t noticed her parents leaving the pool area.  “Dino, come here, baby.”  She held out her arms, taking her son and holding him close.  “Mommy’s sorry for not telling you about Grandma.”

Snuggled on his mother’s shoulder, Dino sighed.  “Is okay, Mommy.  Gramma and Grampa told Dino all him needs to know.”  He sat up and smiled at his grandparents.  “Now is time for happy stuff.”

“Happy stuff?”  Felicia asked as she looked at her parents with a raised eyebrow.

Eric winked at his grandson.  “Yes, happy stuff.  Let’s go help finish getting breakfast on the table and then you’ll find out what the happy stuff is.”

Thorne smiled at the grumble from his sister.  “You never were very patient, Fifi.”

“Don’t call me that,” she grumped at him even as she smiled.

Dino giggled.  “Fifi.”

“Hey!”  Felicia playfully glared at her son.  “It’s Mommy to you, Mister.”

A mischievous twinkle in his eyes, Dino grinned.  “Yes, Mommy…Fifi.”

Eric laughed.  “Just like his grandma.”

“Hey!  I wouldn’t do that.”  Stephanie jabbed Eric in the ribs, thankful to be laughing and joking.

“Maybe not, but that twinkle in his blue eyes is all from his grandma.”

“I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”

 

E**S

 

“You’re not going to let us be there?”  Felicia questioned, a frown on her face.

Eric held Stephanie close as he looked at his youngest daughter.  “It’s not about letting or not letting, Baby.  It’s about wanting this wedding to be about your mother and I.  None of our weddings have been about just us.  The first time was about making sure Ridge wasn’t born out of wedlock so that your mother’s reputation wasn’t damaged.  The second time, well, I screwed that one up and it never happened.  The third time was about my fear of losing her.  Then we married because we love you.  This time,” he paused to press a kiss to Stephanie’s head.  “This time I want it to be about how much I love Stephanie.”

“But wouldn’t this time be just like when you married Mom after her stroke?”  Kristen asked.

Eric shook his head.  “No.  I had already made up my mind that this wedding was going to be just about us before all of this happened.  I didn’t ask Stephanie to marry me because of what’s happening.  I had the proposal planned, even before I asked Stephanie to come back to me.”  Looking down at Stephanie’s shoulder, he sighed, “I made a mistake leaving Stephanie and I realized it on the day of my wedding as I looked out at her, but I pushed it aside and buried it.  I made myself believe that I had what I wanted, that Stephanie could no longer provide me with that.  And because of my stupidity, I hurt her more than I ever have in the past.  I brought another woman into this house and for the first time, I told my best friend that I didn’t need her or want her.”  Lifting his head, he stared at each of his family.  “I’ve been a fool more times than I can count, but I’m not a fool now…” he smiled when Stephanie looked up at him.  “Well, yes I am.  A fool for your mother and the love she gives me.”

Stephanie chuckled and titled her face up to kiss his chin.  “No more a fool that I am for you and your love, Honey.”

Eric pressed a kiss to her lips then returned his attention to their family.  “Please understand why I want this.  Can you?”

Thorne smiled and nodded his head as he wrapped an arm around Aly.  “I understand, Dad.  I think we all do.”

“Sure, Grandpa.”  Aly smiled.  “I think it’s romantic,” she sighed.  “A yacht out in the harbor.  Saying I do just as the sun is setting the water on fire.”

Stephanie shook her head.  “She’s got your romantic soul, Honey,” she chuckled as she looked up at Eric.

Smiling down at Stephanie, Eric shrugged his shoulders and caressed her cheek.  “It must be the artist in us.”

Stephanie rolled her eyes with a smile.  “Must be.”

Zende smiled at his grandparents.  “I think it’s cool, Grandpa.  Maybe I’ll use the idea some day when I find a woman who captures my heart like Grandma did yours.”

“You do that, Zende.”  Stephanie smiled at her grandson.

“It is romantic.”  Felicia agreed.  “And I do understand, Daddy.”

“Thank you, Baby.”

“So when?”  Kristen asked.

“Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  The fashion show is Friday, we’ll leave on Saturday.  We’ll be gone a week.”

“Where are you taking her?”  Thorne asked.

“Santa Catalina.”

“The island of romance, romance, romance…” Thorne sang.

Stephanie laughed.  “I’d forgotten that old song.”

“I’ll sing it to you on the beach.”  Eric whispered as he pressed a kiss to her ear.

“Not in front of the offspring, please.”  Felicia piped up.

“This from the daughter that asks us if we’re having,” Eric started then looked at Dino, smiling when he noticed the young boy had fallen asleep.  “sex again.”

“Okay, so since you’re doing the wedding all by yourselves, you have to let us throw you a party on Friday.”  Felicia grinned as she changed the subject.

“Can’t that wait until we get back?”  Stephanie asked.

Felicia shook her head.  “Nope.  We’ll have another party then.”

“Baby, we don’t need two parties.”

“And why not?”  Kristen asked.

“Yeah, Grandma.  Why not?”  Steffy and Aly asked.

Eric rolled his eyes.  “You’d better just nod your head and agree, Sweetheart.  All of our girls are impossible to beat.”

“Alright.”  Stephanie agreed with a nod.

“Well that was no fun.”  Felicia pouted.

Stephanie laughed.  “I was merely doing what your father suggested.”

“I think it’s time for a nap.  She’s too tired to fuss at you all very much.”

Stephanie nodded.  “A nap sounds wonderful.”  She smiled at Dino.  “Go lay him down, Baby.  That can’t be comfortable.”

Felicia stood up, a wicked smile on her face.  “Are you sure it’s just a nap?”

“Felicia.”  Stephanie sighed.  “Behave and go lay him down.”

Thorne chuckled and shook his head.  “One minute she’s telling them not to talk about that in front of the offspring, and the next minute she’s asking them if their nap is more than a nap.”  Smiling at his parents, he shrugged.  “Are you sure they didn’t switch her at the hospital?”

Stephanie and Eric both laughed as Eric helped Stephanie stand. 

“She’s ours.  No one else’s child could have those eyes.”  Eric answered as he stared down at Stephanie.  “Come on, Sweet girl.  The kids will all be back tomorrow.”

“We’re going to spend this afternoon getting things taken care of for tomorrow.”

“What do you mean?  I’m cooking like I always do.”

“Mom.”

“Grandma.”

“Don’t Mom and Grandma me.  Your father will be helping me and won’t let me over do it.”

“Dad?”

“It’s alright.”  Eric reassured them.

“Okay.”  Kristen nodded.

“I can make an apple pie or two, Grandma.”  Aly spoke up.

“That would be wonderful, Aly.”

“I’ll bring some cheesecake, Grandma.”  Steffy smiled.  “Pumpkin.”

“Oooh.”  Stephanie moaned.  “My favorite.”

“Suck up.”  Zende teased.

Kristen laughed.  “I’ll bring the salad, Mom.”

“Thanks.”

“Thanks, kids.  We’ll see you all tomorrow.”  Eric winked at them then pressed his hand to the small of Stephanie’s back.  “Come on, Sweet girl.”

Stephanie sighed as she leaned against Eric, walking with him out of the room.  “I’m so tired, Eric,” she told him quietly so their family wouldn’t hear.

“I know, Steph.  I suspect at least Thorne guessed you were trying to hide it.”

“Dear Thorne,” she sighed.  “We’ve been terrible parents to him over the years.”

“Yes we have, but not anymore.”

“No,” she shook her head and yawned.  “not anymore.”

Eric rubbed her back when a cough followed the yawn.  “Easy, Sweetheart.”

Stephanie continued to cough as they walked into their bedroom, sitting down on the bed when Eric told her to.  She was tired of being sick.  Tired of these damned coughing spells.  Tired of being tired.

“It’s alright, Stephanie.”  Eric whispered as he knelt down in front of her.  “Easy,” he soothed as she sipped the water he handed her.  Setting the glass down, he reached up to wipe a tear.  “Go ahead, Sweet girl.  You don’t have to hold it in.”

Closing her eyes, Stephanie buried her face in Eric’s chest when he sat down beside her and pulled her against him.  “I don’t want to leave my babies and grandbabies.  I don’t want them to have to put on brave faces for me.  I don’t want,” a sob caught in her throat.  “I don’t want to leave you.”

Holding her close, Eric gently rocked her back and forth, his own eyes filling with tears.  He had no words to try and soothe her because he felt as she did – he didn’t want her to leave him.  He didn’t want their children and grandchildren to lose her.  He didn’t want to have to live a life without knowing she was on this earth.  Always before, when he’d been stupid enough to divorce her, he knew that she was still around.  That he would have her to lean on when things weren’t going the way he wanted or planned.

What were they all going to do when she wasn’t here?

Her wonderful smile wouldn’t greet them when they came home.  Her beautiful face wouldn’t be the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes early in the morning.  Her sweet laughter wouldn’t echo through the halls of this house anymore.

Pulling back, he pressed a kiss to her forehead.  “Lie down, Sweet girl.  I’m going to go get some more water.”

Nodding as she slipped off her shoes, she moved back on the bed and settled against her pillows, tears still rolling down her cheeks.  All she wanted was to curl up against Eric and let his embrace warm the sudden chill that crept over her.  Lying on her side, she coughed a bit and sniffed as she tried to control the tears that seemed to be endless.

Eric stood watching her, his heart breaking at the tears that she couldn’t stop.  Setting the pitcher of water down on the night stand, he slipped off his shoes.  Pulling the light blanket on the foot of the bed up over her, he slid in beside her, spooning his body to hers and holding her close.  “I love you, Stephanie,” he whispered as he kissed her ear.  “I love you.”

Stephanie held the hand that caressed her, lifting it to her lips and pressing a kiss to the back.  “Just keep loving me.  It’s my strength.”

Chapter Text

Thorne smiled out at the crowd of buyers and press.  “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” he greeted them.  “Welcome to today’s Elegance Fashion Show.  As you all know, this is the last time my father’s designs will grace this runway.  Before the show begins, we’d like you to watch a video that takes us back in time to the beginning.  All of the family got together and created this as a tribute to the two people who brought Forrester Creations to life.”  He turned as the lights slowly went off and the screen behind him lit up.  “Eric and Stephanie Forrester.”

Stephanie looked at Eric as a picture of them from their wedding appeared on the screen.  “Did you know about this?” she asked as the pictures continued to change with Steffy’s voice telling the history of the company.

Eric shook his head and wrapped his arm around Stephanie.  “No, Sweetheart.  This is as much of a surprise to me as it is to you.  Although we should have known our kids and grandkids would do something like this.”

She nodded as she wrapped her arms around him, resting her head on his chest as they watched the video.  “All those years,” she whispered then groaned, “Oh god.  Why did they put that picture in there?”

“You were a beautiful pregnant woman.  That’s you pregnant with Thorne.”

She shook her head.  “No, that’s Angela.”

“Our angel,” he whispered as he kissed her head.  “Building this business into what it was, cost us a lot.  I missed out on so much of our children’s lives.”  His eyes grew a bit misty as he thought about Stephanie being alone as she gave birth to Angela and dealt with the news that she was sick.  “I’m so sorry that I wasn’t with you that day, Stephanie.  I was an idiot.”

Stephanie didn’t have to ask what day he was talking about, she knew.  “I told you to go, Eric.  You can’t blame yourself.  Neither of us had any reason to think something would go wrong.”

He sighed, “I still shouldn’t have gone on a trip that close to your due date.”

Stephanie caressed his cheek before pressing a tender kiss there.  “It’s all in the past now, Honey.”

Eric nodded and squeezed the hand he held.  Sometimes she was just too understanding.  Turning his attention back to the video, he smiled as he realized that their family had left out anything to do with the Logans.  There were several large gaps in the timeline that they had very effectively covered, although he knew that the media and buyers realized the missing pieces.  Looking around the crowd of people, he saw several smiles and nods, but none of them seemed to be thinking too much about the gaps. 

“Why would they, Honey?”  Stephanie whispered as she caressed his arm.  “These are your biggest fans.  These are the people who have been loyal to us from the very beginning.  None of them will mention what wasn’t included in the video.”

Pressing a kiss to her head, Eric patted her hand.  “You’re right, Sweetheart.”

The video ended with a picture of Eric and Stephanie taken at the party Eric held to celebrate Stephanie and ask her to come home.  Thorne appeared back on the runway as the lights came back up.

“I hope you enjoyed that little bit of history.”  He smiled out at the crowd.  “And now, Forrester Creations presents the Elegance Collection, featuring the final designs of Eric Forrester.”  He turned and held out his hand as the music began.  “Enjoy.”

 

E**S

 

An hour later, Eric stood at the end of the runway, the models wearing his designs surrounding him.  “Thank you,” he said loudly to be heard over the applause.  Using his hands to quiet the crowd, he smiled out at them.  “I’m so glad you liked the show.  These are, in my opinion, my best designs ever.”  He smiled out at Stephanie and held out his hand.  “And this woman is the reason.”

Stephanie shook her head as she took his hand and walked up the stairs to stand beside him.  “Now, Eric,” she started but he stopped her.

“She doesn’t like the attention.”  He smiled at her.  “She’s shy,” he quipped earning laughs as flashes lit up the room.  “No, seriously,” he began as he looked out at the buyers and media.  “When I asked Stephanie to come back to me, and she for some reason agreed, I started thinking about her and our past and all of the sudden my designs just started flowing out of me.  Looking back over the years, the years that Stephanie was my inspiration were the years of my best creations.  Recently I realized that this woman,” he looked down at Stephanie.  “This woman has inspired me from the moment I saw her.  She’s class, elegance, sexy, all wrapped up together.  I knew from that moment that was what I wanted to give all women.  I wanted them to be sexy, but classy and elegant.”

Stephanie smiled up at him and reached up to caress his cheek.  “How sweet,” she whispered.

“Mrs. Forrester!” a reporter shouted when Stephanie’s ring caught the light.

Stephanie turned and smiled at the woman.  “Yes, Anna?”

“Is that what I think it is on your finger?”

Eric laughed and nodded as he held up Stephanie’s hand.  “Yes, Anna.  It’s what you think it is.  I asked Mrs. Forrester to marry me, and well,” he chuckled a bit.  “Tomorrow she’s going to become,” he shrugged with a grin.  “Mrs. Forrester.”

Stephanie shook her head and rolled her eyes.  “Honey, that was lame.”

From the back of the room, a voice no one expected changed the atmosphere with one insensitive question.  “Is it true Mrs. Forrester is dying?”

Stephanie’s breath caught as she grabbed Eric’s arm.  “Bill,” she whispered.

Eric wrapped his arm around Stephanie and held her close as he narrowed his eyes and glared at the man standing with a cocky grin on his face.  “Who let you in the building?”

“Why, my sister-in-law of course.”

Eric sighed, “Damn her.”

“Is it true?” was chorused at them from every media representative present.

Stephanie steeled herself and swallowed.  “I have stage four lung cancer,” she informed them so quietly they had to strain to hear.

“Sweetheart, you don’t have to do this.”

“He’s forced our hand.”

Bill rolled his eyes.  “My sources say you’re faking, Mrs. Forrester.”

Stephanie grabbed Eric as he started off the runway, calling out to Thorne as he rushed passed them.  “Thorne, Honey, don’t.  He isn’t worth it.”

Thorne stopped and took a deep breath before turning to his mother.  “I’m only going to escort him out, Mom.  I won’t do anything stupid.”

Jarrett fumed at the insensitivity of his boss and threw down his notebook.  “This is going to cost me my job, but enough is enough!” he shouted above the din.  “Mrs. Forrester, I’m sorry.  I knew about this, but chose not to question you about it because I was asked not to.  But now that it’s been so rudely brought up, I understand that you’re going to have surgery after you return from your honeymoon.”

Stephanie smiled down at Jarrett.  “Thank you, Jarrett.  And you’re correct, I am having surgery after we return from our honeymoon.”

“Again, I’m not trying to be insensitive, but,” Jarrett stared at Eric.  “Your daughter nearly died from colon cancer five years ago, would Mrs. Forrester be so cruel as to fake having cancer after what your family went through?”

Holding Stephanie’s hand, Eric looked down at her.  “No,” he whispered.  “She’s made mistakes in the past, but never would she do something like this after willingly offering to donate part of her liver to our daughter at the risk of her own life so that our daughter would have a chance to live and fight her cancer.”  Looking back up at the reporters then out at Bill, he took a deep breath.  “My daughter-in-law has problems and has decided to use Mr. Spencer’s desire to regain ownership of Forrester Creations to further her agenda, whatever that may be.  Her problems are hers, and hers alone, and I won’t discuss them further.  Stephanie isn’t faking, she is sick, and we are,” he swallowed and looked away.

Stephanie squeezed his hand.  “And we are going to spend every moment we have enjoying our retirement, our lives together, our children, and grandchildren.”

Thorne glared at Bill as he pointed to the door.  “Leave.  Security is waiting to escort you out of the building.”

Bill shrugged.  “You no longer work here, you can’t make me leave.  I’m a guest of someone who does work here.”

Thorne simply motioned with his finger and crossed his arms as two security guards gripped Bill’s arms and forced him out of the room.  “You forget who the employees around here are loyal to.  They don’t take kindly to people intentionally hurting Mom and Dad.”

Bill tried to jerk his arms away from the guards, but found it to be futile.  “Let me go.  I’ll sue.”

“Sue away.  Remember?  I don’t work here anymore.”  Thorne told him just a bit too gleefully, watching as Bill disappeared out the door.

“Mrs. Forrester?”

Stephanie cleared her throat.  “Yes, Will?”

“I’m sorry.  Our magazine won’t be printing Mr. Spencer’s question or the truth about your being ill.”

Stephanie felt her eyes water as the others in the room nodded their heads and agreed.  Looking up at Eric, she saw that he was as amazed as she was.  “Thank you.  All of you.  I appreciate your kindness.  I promise, Will, when we decide to go public with the real story behind my illness, you’ll be given the exclusive with the rest of you getting the story from him and being given the chance to ask further questions if you want.”

“I didn’t do this for an exclusive.”

Eric smiled at the man.  “We know that, Will.  You’ve always been one of Stephanie’s biggest fans.  We still have the first edition of your magazine where you featured her on the cover.”

Will smiled.  “Ah yes.  She’s wearing the leather pants and blouse you designed.”

“I remember that cover.”  Jarrett spoke up.  “I remember thinking how beautiful the woman was when I saw it on the news stand.”  He chuckled, “I kept going by and looking at it until I finally had enough money to buy the magazine.  I got the last one.”

Stephanie shook her head.  “You couldn’t have been much more than a boy, Jarrett.”

He grinned.  “Why do you think I was so fascinated by the gorgeous woman on the cover?”

Eric laughed.  “Teenager, were you?”

“About fourteen.”

Stephanie shook her head and rolled her eyes.  “I’m not sure I want to hear more of this story.”

Jarrett laughed.  “I still have that edition.  I believe it’s now a collector’s item.”

“You mean, a relic?”

“No.”  Jarrett shook his head.  “I mean, there are men out there that still think of you as their fantasy and wish that they were the ones by your side, not Mr. Forrester.”  He smiled at her.  “You are what Mr. Forrester said.  Class, elegance, and sexy all in one wonderful woman.  Why do you think you’ve been on so many magazine covers over the years?  You’re a woman of mystery, Mrs. Forrester.  Those blue eyes intrigue men and women alike.”

Eric wrapped an arm around Stephanie.  “Thank you, Jarrett.”

“Mrs. Forrester?”  Anna asked, wiping a tear from her cheek.

“Yes?”

“Would you let us do a photo shoot with you and Mr. Forrester after you return from your honeymoon?”

Stephanie looked up at Eric and smiled when he nodded.  “We return next Saturday.  Would Sunday be alright?”

“Sunday is fine.”  Anna smiled.  “Thank you.  I’m going to do a story on the two of you and your love story, if that’s alright.  I think women everywhere will be inspired by it.”

“That’s fine, Anna.”  Eric smiled at her.  “Now, if there are no further questions, I need to get my fiancée home.  Our family is throwing a pre-wedding party for us.”

“Will we get pictures?”  Will asked.

“I promise, you’ll get pictures.”

“What about wedding pictures?”

Eric laughed.  “I’ve made arrangements for that.  Once we’ve reached our destination, the photos will be sent to all of you.”

“Thank you.”  All the media reps chorused as they gathered their things and left, leaving only Eric and Stephanie’s long time friends and clients behind.

“Something seems different this time, Eric.” 

Eric smiled at his long time buyer from England.  “It is different, Harold,” he told him as he looked over at Stephanie.  “I’ve finally grown up and realized I’ve always had everything I need right by my side.”

“It’s about damn time, man.”  Pierre smiled up at them.

Stephanie laughed. “Ah, Pierre.  Don’t be too hard on him.  It hasn’t been all his fault.”

“It’s about damn time you realized that.”  Viola piped up as she joined the others.

“It’s nice to see you, Vi.  It’s been too long.”  Stephanie smiled at her friend.

“Yes, it has.  But Eric hasn’t had any designs that really caught my eye until now.”  She looked at Eric.  “These designs show the change in you, my friend.  It’s a shame they’re your last.”

“If I design anything now, it will be for Stephanie.”

“Or a wedding dress for a certain daughter or one of our granddaughters.”  Stephanie smiled and squeezed his hand.  “I’m trying to convince him to take up piano playing and singing as a new career.”

“Stephanie.”  Eric warned and squeezed her close.  “Behave.”

“Yes, Mr. Forrester.”

Their friends laughed then bid them farewell, leaving the couple alone in the dimly light room.

Eric turned and wrapped his arms around Stephanie, holding her close.  “You’re beautiful, Sweetheart.”  He kissed her forehead.  “I’m sorry Bill Spencer showed up and hurt you.”

“It’s alright, Honey.”  She caressed his back.  “Take me home.  I want some alone time with you before they start setting up for the party.”

Eric smiled.  “Alone time,” his voice lowered.  “I like the sound of that.”

 

E**S

 

Ridge glared at his wife.  “What the hell were you thinking?”

Brooke shrugged.  “Ridge, you know she’s faking.  Why are you playing into the game?” she asked as she moved closer to him, using her body as she always did.

“I don’t believe she’s faking this time, Logan.  She wouldn’t use cancer, not after what we went through with Felicia.”

“Fine, you believe her, but I don’t trust her,” she used her seduction voice as she moved against him.

“You shouldn’t have told Bill about Mother.”

“I didn’t.  I told my sisters.  Katie must have told Bill.”

“I suppose your sisters have told your father.”  Ridge sighed.

“I’m sure they have.”  Brooke pulled back, her hand caressing his chest.  “Why?”

“You know how he feels about Mother.”  Ridge shook his head, pulling her body closer.  “If he shows up at the house,” he sighed.  “Dad’s not the same man, Brooke.  He won’t put up with Stephen or anyone bothering Mother.”

“Daddy can handle himself.”

“You need to tell him to just stay away from Mother and Dad.”

“I’ll tell him, but that doesn’t mean he’ll listen.”

“He’d better listen.  I’m not lying, Brooke.  Dad is a completely different man.  He made a threat about what would happen if you tried to go anywhere near Mother.”

“And you let him?” she asked as she pouted.  “Ridge,” she whined.

“He shocked me.”  Ridge shrugged.  “We don’t have to worry about finding out just exactly what he meant because you aren’t going to go to the house or anywhere Mother might be.”

“So what are we going to do for Christmas?  You can’t possibly be thinking of leaving me alone.”

“I’m going to go to Mother and Dad’s for a little while and then I’ll leave and we’ll have Christmas with your family.”

“It isn’t fair,” she whined as she wiggled against him.  “How are you going to make it up to me?”

“Let’s go home and I’ll show you.”

“Ooh, Ridge.  I like the way you think.”

 

E**S

 

“Eric.”  Stephanie panted as she gripped his shoulders.  “Please,” she nearly begged when his hand cupped a breast, his fingers tweaking a nipple.

“My god, Stephanie,” he moaned against her neck.  “I can’t seem to get enough of you.”  His body tensed when hers tightened around him.

Tangling her fingers in his hair, Stephanie whimpered his name as her climax rolled over her making her back arch her body up against his.  She heard his groan, felt his embrace tighten around her as she collapsed onto the bed, completely spent from their love making.

Eric took a deep breath as he moved so that only part of his body was lying on Stephanie’s.  “I’m glad we had time for this now.”

Stephanie frowned.  “You make it sound as though we haven’t had the time lately.”

He chuckled as he caressed her arm.  “That isn’t what I meant.  We’ve had plenty of time.”  He pressed a kiss to the breast that cushioned his head.

“Well then what were you talking about?” she asked as she combed her fingers through his hair.

“You know that the kids won’t let us stay together tonight.”

“Why would they keep us apart?  It isn’t as if you won’t be the one taking me to the yacht.”

Eric shrugged as he traced aimless patterns on her skin.  “This is our children we’re talking about,” he reminded her.

She sighed, “True.  I don’t want to spend the night alone.”

“You won’t.  I’ll sneak back in after they’ve all gone home.”

“That’s my man,” she laughed when he looked up at her with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh you,” he growled then bit at her neck.

“Hey!” Stephanie giggled and tried to squirm away.  “We don’t have time for this!  They’ll be here any minute and if they catch us like this…” she let the words trail off.

Eric pulled away and sighed.  “I know.  I suppose we should get up and start getting dressed.”  Rolling away, he stood up and held out his hand.  “Take a shower with me?”

Stephanie shook her head and took his hand.  “How about you take a shower while I take a bath?  That seems the safer alternative.  If we shower together we’ll never be ready.”

Frowning, Eric nodded.  “You’re right.  But just so you know, we’re taking all of our baths and showers together while we’re gone.  Got to preserve water, you know.”

Stephanie laughed and caressed his face before kissing him.  “You’re crazy, and I love you.  Now let’s go.  I don’t want to be caught standing in the middle of our bedroom naked anymore than I wanted to get caught in the bed making love.”

Eric threw his head back and laughed then grabbed her to him.  “God, I love you, Stephanie.  I can’t wait until I can call you my wife again.”

Smiling up at him, she wrapped her arms around him, all the love she felt shining in her eyes.  “I can’t wait, either.  I want the title wife to go with the last name because just the last name isn’t enough.”

“It’s never been enough for you.  It’s always been about being my wife, my lover, my friend, not the prestige the name brought after the business got started.”

“It’s always been about you, yes.  I love you, not your name.  You.”

Caressing her face, Eric stared into her blue eyes.  “And, even though I’ve never really showed it, it was never your money.  It was always you.  Always,” he whispered as he pressed his lips to hers in a tender kiss that said more than mere words ever could.

 

E**S

 

“To our mother and father.”  Thorne held up his glass.  “To the people that gave us life and love, we wish for you the same.”

Felicia sniffed and held Kristen’s hand.  “Here, here,” she whispered with the others as she looked at their parents.  “The last time we had a party for a wedding it was because of me.  It doesn’t seem fair that someone’s always sick when the two of you get married.”

Eric smiled at his daughter and held Stephanie a bit closer.  “It does seem to be the way it goes, but,” he paused and looked down at Stephanie.  “This has changed the both of us, and for the better.  We’ve learned things about ourselves that neither of us liked much.  I’ve realized that my fear of the intensity of your mother’s love scared me so much so that I wouldn’t let myself give into it, even though I felt it myself.  For years I stayed with Stephanie because of her father’s money, but I wasn’t faithful, I cheated and used the excuse that she just didn’t give me what I needed.  And then, one day, I uttered the words that would change my life.”  His voice cracked, his eyes watered.  “I told my best friend that I didn’t want her, or need her, anymore.  The minute the words left my mouth, something in my heart died.  I ignored it, though, because I was sure I had what I wanted, but the more I ignored it, the more my life proved just how wrong I had been.  I did need her, and I slowly realized, I did want her.  By the time I asked her to come back to the company, I was desperate and afraid that I’d ruined it, that I’d pushed her too far.”  He reached up to wipe a tear from Stephanie’s cheek.  “But then she told me that she would never truly be happy until she was in our home; until she was the only one in my heart.”

“And then you asked her to come home.”  Steffy whispered and sniffed.

“And then I asked her to come home.”  Eric nodded.

“And in front of us all, she said yes.”  Thorne smiled as he hugged Aly to him.

“When I saw Stephanie lying on the floor that day, my heart stopped.  I’d only just gotten her back and the thought of losing her,” he paused and shook his head.  “And then our world came crashing down around us with the doctor’s diagnosis.  With each hour that passed after that, I began to realize how many years I’d wasted.  It was in the quiet moments of watching her sleep, that I began to realize that I’d been running from our love ever since the day I first saw her.  I realized that I regret all the other women that I’ve been with over the years because they hurt the one I was always supposed to be with.”

“Oh Honey.”  Stephanie whispered, tears rolling down her cheeks.  “It isn’t all your fault.  I know that I’ve not been the most easy woman to live with over the years, and at times I’ve been impossible.  Don’t ever think that the love we have never scared me – it did.”  She shrugged.  “I didn’t know what love was.  I had never experienced love.  Yes, I dated and was with another man, but I didn’t love him.  He was a friend, I understood that, knew what that was.  But what happened to me the moment I saw you,” she paused and closed her eyes as a shiver ran across her skin.  “I can’t explain what happened.  I was hot, cold, happy, sad, nauseous, ecstatic, every emotion one person can ever feel all in one single moment of time…and all from just one look at a strange man across a crowded room.”  She opened her eyes and looked back up at Eric.  “I was scared to death and wanted to run, but something kept me there, kept me from missing out on the best thing that ever happened to me.  You rescued me from a life that had been planned down to the very last dot by my parents.  You saved me from being abused.  Do you remember?  Do you remember that day we told my parents about the baby and that we planned to marry?”

Eric frowned.  “I do, but how did I stop you from being abused?”

“Father was angry, he’d been drinking as usual.  When he demanded that I go to Europe and get rid of our mistake, I shook my head and told him no.  I told him our baby wasn’t a mistake, that I loved you, that we were going to build a life together.  He had his hand raised to strike me when you came into the room to ask if I was ready to leave.”

Eric closed his eyes and thought back.  “Dear god, I remember now.  I knew I’d walked in on something, but never dreamed that was what it was.”

“Father never touched me again after that.  Being your wife kept me safe from his abuse.  My father might have thought you a weak man, but there must have been something he saw in you that day that told him you wouldn’t allow him to hurt me anymore.”  She caressed his face.  “Yes, your cheating hurt me, but I stayed with you, I loved you, if for no other reason than that you kept me safe.  Even though it was so much more than that.”  She kissed the hand that wiped a tear from her face.  “I’ve done things, things that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  Things that make me ashamed of myself.  I’ve hurt my children by playing favorites with a child that has never cared for me the same way I have him.  I hurt my children by being too much of a mother.  So many years lost with first Kristen then Felicia because of my being overbearing.  Thorne,” she turned to look at their son.  “Our dear sweet Thorne has been pushed aside for his brother to the point of nearly forgetting he exists, and yet, he still loves me.  For that I’m grateful for his wonderful heart.”

Thorne smiled at his mother.  “You know, Mom, I for one can’t really complain too much about you being overbearing or overprotective at times.”  He swallowed and looked down.  “I’ve never really thanked you for going to jail to protect me.”  He looked back up.  “It was me you went to jail for.  Not Ridge, the favorite, but me.  You could have let me be arrested and face what I’d done because I’d shot your favorite, but you went into mother mode and protected me.  You loved me enough to risk the ridicule of your peers and jail time for a shooting you didn’t commit.  No matter how many times I’ve gotten upset over the years about being pushed aside for Ridge, what you did for me has always been there as a reminder that you love me.”

Stephanie opened her arms, wrapping them around Thorne when he walked to her.  “Oh, Son.  I’d do it again, over and over, if it was asked of me.”  She cupped his face when he pulled back.  “I do love you.”  She kissed his cheek then looked at all of her other children.  “I love all of you, I always have, even when I’ve not shown it.”

“We know that, Mom.”

“Now, enough of that!”  Felicia bubbled as she wiped at her tears.  “Dance with Mom, Dad.”

Stephanie rolled her eyes.  “What is with your fascination with your father dancing with me?”

Aly smiled and answered before Felicia could.  “It’s romantic, Grandma.  No matter if you and Grandpa are together or apart, when you dance, it’s,” she shrugged.

“It’s magic, Aly.  It’s magic.”  Thorne finished for his daughter. 

“Just like Grandma’s blue eyes.”  Steffy whispered.

“It’s magic, Stephanie.  Holding you in my arms has always been magic.”  Eric whispered as he pulled her close, resting their joined hands over his heart as he slowly swayed them to the music Steffy had turned on.

Thomas watched his grandparents and sighed, feeling as he had when he was little and watching them from the stairs after he was supposed to be in bed.  He still felt terrible for the way he’d treated his grandmother, but she’d forgiven him, and had welcomed him back into the fold as if he’d never done a thing.  He sighed, his father was a different story.  He wasn’t here tonight, Thomas knew why, but it still didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt his grandparents.  He had seen the sadness in his grandmother’s eyes when she realized Ridge wasn’t coming.  He had also seen the anger flash in his aunts’ and uncle’s eyes when they saw the pain their mother was in. 

RJ sat, his face resting on his hand, and watched his grandparents dance slowly around the floor.  It wasn’t often he was allowed to be at parties outside of the holidays, but tonight he’d been invited.  He hadn’t bothered to tell his parents where he was going, his mother wouldn’t have been happy about it, and his father…he shrugged.  His father was an idiot these days.  He rolled his eyes, all his mother had to do was giggle and wiggle and his father was mush.  He shook his head, disgusting.

“We’re being watched, Sweet girl.”  Eric whispered as he nibbled her ear.

“Then do you think you should be nibbling my ear?” she asked with a chuckle.

“As if they haven’t seen more than nibbling,” he returned.

“That doesn’t mean they need to see more now,” she countered.

Eric laughed.  “I love you, Stephanie.  I can’t wait for tomorrow night,” he whispered as he held her a bit tighter when the song changed to a slower song.

“Just us, the beach, the moon,” her voice lowered and trailed off.

“Dancing, kissing, making love,” he finished, his breath warm in her ear.

Stephanie sighed as she laid her head on Eric’s shoulder and closed her eyes.  Enjoying being in his arms, she smiled at the way she felt, and wished that their children weren’t so intent on keeping them apart tonight.  She wanted nothing more than to leave this party, go upstairs, and make love with Eric until the wee hours of the morning.

“I want that too, Sweetheart,” he whispered in her ear before kissing her gently as he stepped back at the end of the song.

“It’s late.”  Thorne commented.  “Dad, you coming with me?”

“Now why would I do that?  I’m staying right here.”

“You can’t stay with Mom.”  Felicia scowled at him.  “You can’t do that until tomorrow night.”

“Oh good grief.”  Stephanie huffed.  “He can stay in a guest room.  There are several here, you know.”

“And we’re supposed to trust him?”  Kristen asked with a raised eyebrow.

“This is ridiculous.  I’m not leaving this house.”  Eric growled at their children, glaring at them playfully.

“Oh all right.  But we’d better not find out you snuck back into Mom’s room.”

“It happens to be our room, thank you very much.”  Stephanie informed their family.

“I was wondering, Mom…”  Felicia started.

“Wondering what, Felicia?”  Stephanie asked with a warning glare.

“Why did you pick your old room when the master bedroom had been moved down the hall?”

“Felicia!”  Eric exclaimed and rolled his eyes.

“The master bedroom is the room your father and I now share.  It’s never changed.”

“But it isn’t the room he shared with,”

“Don’t, Felicia.”  Eric warned on a sigh as he interrupted her.  “I never shared the master bedroom with her because I couldn’t.  That bed belonged, and still belongs, to Stephanie.  That room is our room.  Stephanie decorated it, made it a welcoming room.”  He looked at Stephanie.  “But it wasn’t welcoming after she was gone.  It was cold and empty.  The other woman wanted to move into that room, wanted to put a new bed in and buy new furniture, but I told her no.  I told her that no matter what she did, that room would always belong to Stephanie, that even though we were together, I’d never be able to think of anyone but Stephanie in that room.”  He shrugged.  “She believed me and settled for the room down the hall.”

“And that was the room I moved into when I moved home.”  Stephanie finished.  “Now, let’s go to bed.  I’m tired, it’s been a long day.”

“I’ll walk you up, Sweetheart.”  Eric told her as he wrapped an arm around her.  “And then I’ll go to my own room.”

“But not the one down the hall.”  Felicia insisted.

“The one down the hall has a new bed, just so you know.”  Stephanie glared at her youngest daughter.

“But, no, I won’t be staying in the room down the hall.”  Eric threw over his shoulder as they walked up the stairs.

 

E**S

 

Eric rubbed his eyes and turned on the light by his bed.  “Dino?” he asked.  “What are you doing here?”

Dino sighed and pulled his bear close.  “Dino was gonna sleep with Gramma, but him can’t.”

“Why can’t you sleep with Grandma, Dino?”

“Her bed full.”

Eric frowned.  “Her bed is full?  Dino, what are you talking about?”

“Come see, Grampa.”  Dino tugged at Eric’s hand.

“Okay, hold on.”  Eric shook his head and grabbed his robe as he sat up.  Standing up, he slipped his arms inside then tied it and followed Dino.  “Okay.  Let’s go see what you’re talking about.”

“Carry me?”  Dino asked on a yawn as he lifted his arms up toward Eric.

“Sure.”  Eric yawned as he bent down and lifted his grandson up.  “Come on.”

Quietly they walked down to the master bedroom and carefully opened the door.  Shaking his head, Eric smiled at the sight that greeted him.  There on the bed was his wife, their daughters on her left side, their granddaughters on her right, and Thorne at the foot of the bed, with Thomas and Zende on the floor in sleeping bags.

“I guess they intended for Grandpa not to sneak in to stay with Grandma tonight.”

“Silly.”  Dino mumbled and shook his head.  “Dino’s tired.  Can I stay with you?”

“Why don’t we stay here?  Over there by the window.  You can sleep in the lounge chair with Grandpa.”

Dino looked across the room, the moon shining in enough that he could see where Eric was pointing.  “We get cold, sleepin’ over dere.”

“I’ll get us a blanket.”  Eric whispered as he made his way across the room, setting Dino down on the lounge chair.  “I’ll be right back, be real quiet.”

“Okay, Grampa.”

Eric returned two minutes later to find his grandson sound asleep, curled up in the middle of the lounge.  Shaking his head, he carefully lifted the boy, sat down, spread the blanket out then got as comfortable as he could with Dino settled on his chest.  If all of his family was going to be in one room, he wasn’t about to be left out.

Chapter Text

Stephanie woke and yawned then laughed at all the bodies around her.  She’d fallen asleep in an empty bed; a bed that wasn’t so empty now.  “Good grief,” she grumbled when she couldn’t move.

Eric smiled at her from his place across the room, Dino still asleep on his chest.  “They’re all yours,” he said just loud enough for her to hear.

“Oh really?” she asked and shook her head.  “They’re all yours,” she quietly countered.

“They’re half and half.”  Eric winked at her when she smiled. 

“What are you doing in here?” she asked as she managed to move her arm.

Eric pointed at Dino.  “He wanted to sleep with Grandma, but her bed was full.”

“Aww,” she cooed.  “Poor little man.”  She motioned to Eric.  “Bring him here.  At least let him wake up with Grandma.”

“Are you sure?  He’s heavy,” Eric warned.

“I’m sure.  He won’t sleep for much longer after being moved around.  Besides, someone needs to wake these nuts up.”

Eric smiled as he walked over to her, gently laying Dino on her chest and smiling as the boy snuggled up under her chin.  “They’ve all loved that spot,” he commented then leaned over.  “I’m quite fond of it myself,” he whispered before kissing her gently.  “I’ll wake the boys first.”

“No need to wake me, Grandpa.”  Zende popped up and smiled at his grandparents.  “I guess we sort of had a pajama party.”

“I guess you did.”  Eric patted the young man on the head.  “I’m surprised RJ isn’t in here.”

“I am,” came a muffled voice then a head popped out from under the bed.

Eric covered his mouth to keep from startling the others with his laughter.  “RJ!  What in the world are you doing under the bed?  There’s plenty of room on the floor.”

RJ grinned and ducked his head.  “I started off where Thomas is but I guess I rolled,” he shrugged.

Zende shook his head.  “Man, you’re lucky Grandma makes sure to clean out the dust monsters.”

RJ frowned.  “Dust monsters?”

“Don’t you mean, dust bunnies, Zende?”  Eric asked.

Zende laughed and shook his head as he moved to where he could see Stephanie.  “I meant dust monsters, just like I said.”

Stephanie smiled at her grandson.  “Dust monsters,” she agreed and nodded her head.

“Sounds like a story.”  Thorne spoke up from his place on the foot of the bed.

Stephanie shook her head.  “It’s a good thing I’m not as tall as your father.”

Thorne smiled as he sat up and rubbed his eyes.  “That was the whole point of me sleeping down here.  Dad couldn’t sneak in.”

“So you were the first to sneak into my room?”  Stephanie asked.

Thorne nodded.  “Aly and I were the first ones here.”  He shrugged.  “I have no idea when the others showed up.”

“Did someone say something about a story?”  Thomas asked as he sat up and yawned while rubbing a hand over his head.

“I believe Zende was about to tell us a story about a dust monster.”

Thomas yawned again and frowned.  “Dust monster?  Isn’t it dust bunny?”

“Dust bunnies?”  Aly and Steffy asked as they yawned and stretched.

“Noisy, all of you.”  Felicia grumbled and elbowed Kristen as she turned over.

“Hey!”  Kristen growled as she yawned and batted at Felicia.

Eric rolled his eyes.  “Just like when they were kids.”

“Except our bed was much smaller and one or two of them would always wind up in the floor.”  Stephanie chuckled.

“Gramma?”  Dino asked as he blinked his eyes against the light.

“Yes, Baby.”  Stephanie kissed his head as she managed to sit up against the pillows.

Dino sniffed and snuggled closer.  “Smells like Dino’s Gramma.”

Stephanie rubbed the boy’s back.  “It is Grandma, Baby.  Open your eyes.”

Dino slowly opened his eyes and looked up at Stephanie then smiled.  “Yep, is Gramma.  I wanted to sweep with you but bed was full.”

“I know, Baby.  But you got to sleep with Grandpa.”

“Him warm.”

Eric laughed.  “Sounds like his grandma.”

Stephanie laughed when the kids groaned.

“It’s too early in the morning for that.”  Felicia growled.  “Why were you talking about dust bunnies?”

Thorne laughed.  “Zende, I think you’d better tell your story.”

Zende grinned as he climbed on to the foot of the bed by Thorne.  “I’d only been part of the family for about six months and was here with Grandma.  For some reason the cleaning hadn’t been done for a while so she had me helping her.”

“Zende, can you use this and sweep under Grandma and Grandpa’s bed with it?”  Stephanie asked as she handed the boy a dust mop.

Zende nodded as he took the dust mop then got down on his hands and knees so he could see what he was doing.  “Grandma!” he yelled as he backed up and away from the bed.

Stephanie came back into the room.  “What’s wrong, Zende?” she asked when she noted the look on the boy’s face.

“There’s a monster under your bed!”

“A monster?”  Stephanie asked as she got down to see what he was talking about.

“Yes!  A dust monster!”

Stephanie laughed.  “It’s a dust bunny, Zende,” she informed him as she looked under the bed and pulled out what he’d seen.  “Although, as big as this one is, it might just as well be a monster.”

Everyone was laughing when Zende finished his story, his eyes suspiciously moist as he looked at his grandmother.

“From then on, they were dust monsters no matter how big or small they were.”

“What for brea’flast?”  Dino asked.

“It’s breakfast, Dino.”  Felicia corrected him.

“Oh, leave him alone.”  Stephanie nudged her daughter.  “I seem to recall his mother saying it that way until she was about eleven.”

“Mom.”  Felicia rolled her eyes.

“Don’t Mom, me.  It’s the truth.”

“Alright, enough.”  Eric laughed when his wife and daughter glared at each other playfully.  “What do you want for breakfast, Dino?”

Dino looked at his grandpa.  “Gramma’s cakes.”

“Pancakes?  Is that all?”  Stephanie asked.

Dino moved his little mouth back and forth as he thought.  “Bacon?”

“Anything else?”  Eric asked.

Dino grinned as he patted Stephanie’s cheek.  “Pya.”

Stephanie hugged the boy to her and kissed his head.  “That’s my boy.”

“Pya?”  Zende asked.

“Papaya.”  Eric answered him.  “It’s your grandmother’s favorite fruit.”

Felicia smiled as she looked at her baby all snuggled up to her mother.  “It’s Dino’s favorite, too.  And no, I didn’t tell him.”

“Well where did he have it?”

“His nanny gave him some one day.  He loved it.  I have no clue how he knew you like it, though.”

Dino smiled.  “Dino heard Grampa and Gramma talkin’ ‘bout it.”

Stephanie kissed his head.  “And this would be why we always said, “Little pictures have big ears.”

“So, who’s gonna go get breakfast started?”

“Why don’t you kids go to your old rooms and get yourselves presentable enough for the breakfast table and your father and I will go down and start breakfast.  Dino did say he wanted, Grandma’s pancakes.”

“No funny stuff.”  Felicia warned.

“We promise, now go.”  Eric pointed to the door.  “All of you.”

Thomas raised an eyebrow.  “But we don’t have old rooms here, Grandpa.”

“You boys go with Thorne and you girls can go with Felicia and Kristen.”

“You know, it’s just not fair we don’t have our own rooms.”  Steffy pouted, her eyes sparkling with mischief.

“Go!”  Stephanie laughed as she handed Dino to his mother.  “I’ll see you in a few minutes, Baby.”

Dino smiled from his mother’s shoulder.  “Okay, Gramma.”

Eric moved to the bed and sat down beside Stephanie as the kids all filed out of the room.  “Good morning, Sweetheart,” he whispered as he leaned over to kiss her.

Stephanie tangled her fingers in his hair and held him close as she deepened the kiss.  Moaning when his hand cupped a breast, she arched into him.  “I want you, Eric,” she sighed when he broke the kiss for air.

Eric kissed her neck, his hand kneading her breast, his fingers tweaking the taut nipple.  “Not half as much as I want you,” he breathed as his free hand moved to the buttons of her pajama top.

Feeling his warm hand on her bare breast, Stephanie shivered.  “We can’t do this,” she panted.  “The kids.”

Eric groaned as he pulled away from her.  “How many hours until we’re married?” he asked as he leaned his forehead against hers.

“Too many,” she answered as she took his hand in hers.  “We’d better go do what we have to and then get downstairs and get breakfast started.”

Eric leaned back and looked at the clock with a chuckle.  “Well, I think it’s more like brunch.  We all slept later than we thought.”

Stephanie looked at the clock and raised an eyebrow.  “Eleven?  My goodness.  We did sleep late.”

Standing up, he held out his hand.  “Come on, Sweetheart.  Let’s get this started.”

“We still have to pack.”  Stephanie sighed as she took his hand and stood up, walking with her arm around him as they made their way to the bathroom.

“That won’t take long.”

“How do you figure that?  We have to pack for a week.”

Eric turned her to him just inside the bathroom.  “You won’t need to pack anything but toiletries.”

She frowned.  “Honey, I know we plan to do a lot of making love, but I think I still need clothes.”

Eric laughed and kissed her nose.  “You’ll have clothes.”  Caressing the hair behind her ear, he smiled at her puzzled expression.  “I’ve designed you a whole wardrobe for next week as well as what you’ll be wearing for the wedding.”  Lowering his voice, he leaned forward.  “And I’ve designed the lingerie you’ll be wearing at night.”

“Oh, Eric,” she breathed as she caressed his face.  “It’s been a long time since you’ve designed lingerie for me.”

“I know, but you’ve inspired me.”

“I can’t wait to see what you’ve designed for me.”

“You’ll be the beautiful, sexy woman you always were, and still are.”

“Only in your eyes, Honey.  Only in your eyes.”

 

E**S

 

Breakfast had definitely turned into brunch, and the kids had lingered for a couple of hours afterwards to just talk and share memories before finally leaving so that Stephanie and Eric could pack.

“Honey?”  Stephanie called from the bathroom.

“What is it, Sweet girl?”  Eric asked as he came into the room.

“Did you forget these?” she asked as she held up a prescription bottle.

Eric smiled as he reached out to take the bottle from her.  Shaking it, he shook his head as he looked up at her.  “No, I didn’t forget them.”

Stephanie looked at the bottle filled with little blue pills.  “You didn’t?” she questioned, not sure what to think.

“I haven’t used these once since we’ve been back together,” he told her, watching as what he said slowly started to sink in.

Stephanie stared at him, her heart racing at the implications of his words.  “Honey?”

Tossing the bottle in the waste basket, Eric wrapped his arms around Stephanie.  “I wasn’t supposed to use those again after my heart attack, but I did a few times because she just wouldn’t stop.  I knew it was dangerous, but I could only take so much of her whining before I would give in and take one of those pills to do what I had to do.”  Cradling her head in his hand as he held her to him, he inhaled the soft fragrance of her shampoo.  “With you, the pills weren’t needed.  I’ve wanted you from the moment I kissed you the day you came back to FC.  I think it’s because you don’t expect anything of me.  You only want me to love you.  I don’t have to live up to some young man for fear of losing you.”

“Oh, Honey,” she whispered, her eyes filled with tears.  “Do you know what it means for me to know that I can do this for you?  Not that I would have been upset if you did have to have help.  You do know that, don’t you?”

“I do know what it means to you,” he assured her.  “And it wouldn’t bother you if I had to use them?”

Stephanie shook her head.  “No, it wouldn’t have.  It’s like you said; I only want you to love me.  There are more ways to be intimate than just the traditional way.”  She smiled.

“Only with you have I ever had that.  Only you have ever been happy with just cuddling and whispering our love by the fire or under the stars.”  He smiled as a memory crossed his mind.  “Or in the dark, lying in our bed.”

“Because love is so much more to me than the physical act.”

“Because love is why you’re with me, not my name.”

“Exactly.”  She smiled.  “Now, go on and finish what you were doing.  I’m going to finish putting my medicine in my bag and then I think I’m going to take a bath.”

Eric frowned and groaned.  “That isn’t fair.”

“What?” she asked, already knowing exactly what he was talking about.

“Oh, don’t play innocent with me.  You know what you in a bath does to me.”

“You can be strong, Honey.  It’s only a few hours and then we’ll be married and at our bungalow.”

“On the beach out under the stars making love.”

“Mmm hmm,” she hummed.  “Go on now.”

Leaning over, Eric kissed her and caressed her face.  “I love you.”

“I love you.”

 

E**S

 

Eric heard Stephanie start to cough and held his breath, waiting to see if it would stop, then sighed it out in a rush as he headed for the bathroom, stopping to fill the glass on her nightstand with water from the ever present pitcher. 

“Easy, Sweet girl,” he soothed as he pulled the lever to drain the tub and grabbed a towel.  “I’ve got you.”

Stephanie struggled to breathe as she coughed, sipping slowly on the water Eric had brought her.  Letting him help her up, she clung to him as he wrapped the towel around her, the coughing continuing as he helped her out and stood holding her.

Rubbing her back, Eric held Stephanie as she leaned against him for support.  This was the worst coughing spell she’d had in quite a while, and it made his heart ache at how weak this all made her.  Stephanie wasn’t a weak woman, but when she started coughing all she wanted to do lately was cling to him until the episode passed.

Stephanie felt herself calming, the coughing subsiding and sighed as she moved closer to Eric.  She hated feeling so weak and needy, but these spells scared her and Eric’s arms and presence gave her reassurance and strength that her body seemed to lose when she was seized by the coughing.

“Are you okay?” Eric asked when she finally stopped coughing, her breathing slowly going back to normal. 

Stephanie nodded against his chest.  “Yes.  Thank you,” she whispered.

“No need to thank me, Sweet girl.”  Eric lifted her face and smiled down at her.  “Now, why don’t I pat you dry and we’ll put you in one of my pajama shirts and you can rest for a while before we leave.”

Stephanie nodded, smiling at how caring he was.  She was always completely wiped out by the really bad coughing spells and Eric always made sure she rested after one.  “You take such good care of me,” she whispered as he quickly patted her dry, placing the towel over the rack before leading her into the bedroom.

Eric smiled.  “It’s my job.  A job I do willingly and freely because I love you,” he told her as he pulled one of his pajama shirts from the top drawer of their dresser.

Stephanie put her arms through the sleeves of the shirt and sniffed the collar as Eric buttoned it up.  “This one smells like you.  Hasn’t it been washed?”

Eric smiled.  “I put it on the other night then changed my mind and put it back in the drawer, deciding that you might like that it smells like me.”

“I do like it, very much,” she assured him.

Finished buttoning the shirt, Eric helped her slip beneath the covers, pressing a kiss to her forehead, he caressed the hair from her face.  “Rest now, Sweet girl.  I’m going to finish packing and getting ready.  I’ll wake you in plenty of time for you to get dressed.”

“Mmm,” she hummed as she fell asleep, her breathing slow and easy.

Eric placed his hand on her chest over her heart and closed his eyes.  Her heart was beating rhythmically, her breath slow, not as deep as he knew it should be, but calm and even enough so that he could breathe easier himself.  Her attacks scared him, something she knew, something he couldn’t control, but something she seemed to find comfort in the knowledge of.  Maybe Taylor had been right, Stephanie could see his love for her through his letting her see his fear and see him when he would struggle with the thoughts of her leaving him.

Leaning over, he kissed her gently before standing up to finish his packing and getting ready. “Please don’t let her have anymore attacks,” he whispered as he stood watching Stephanie sleep. He wanted her to enjoy their week away together on what was only their second honeymoon. He shook his head as he turned away. All the times they’d been married and they’d only had one honeymoon before now. And that one really didn’t count as it was after their vow renewal.

Taking one last look at his sleeping fiancée, Eric whispered, “I love you,” then walked into the bathroom to take his shower, anxious to get things done and the hour over with so that they could begin their journey.

By nightfall, the woman sleeping peacefully in their bed would be dancing in his arms as his wife once again.

 

E**S

 

Stephanie stared at her reflection in the mirror and shook her head.  “My god,” she breathed.  Eric had created an outfit that made her feel more feminine than she’d felt in years.  Looking down at her feet, she laughed as she wiggled her toes.  He had insisted that she not wear shoes.  She shrugged.  It wasn’t as if anything but her toes were visible since the pants were long and full.

Picking Eric’s ring up off the dresser in front of her, she fingered it a moment before sliding it onto her thumb.  “Well, here I go,” she whispered as she turned and made her way back up on deck to meet the love of her life.

Eric’s breath caught as he watched Stephanie walking toward him.  The long sheer jacket of her outfit billowed around her in the gentle breeze as she made her way to him, the setting sun making the metallic blue material of her top and pants sparkle and her hair glow.  But it was her eyes that caught and held him as she looked up at him.  Those eyes were on fire as she smiled, all the love she had for him there in those magical windows to her soul.

Stephanie’s smile widened when she looked down and saw that Eric’s feet were bare as well.  She had no idea why he’d wanted bare feet, but she wasn’t about to ask him his reason now.  Reaching out, she took his outstretched hand, shivering at his touch and the way he looked at her.

“You’re more beautiful than I imagined you would be when I designed this.”  Eric told her as he pressed a kiss to her hand.  “Ready to become Mrs. Forrester in more than name?”

“Oh yes,” she breathed.  “More than ready.”

Eric turned to the captain, who smiled at the couple.  Turning his attention back to Stephanie, Eric kept his gaze fixed on her as he listened to the words the captain was saying.  “Ladies first,” he whispered when it came time for them to say their vows.

Stephanie smiled.  “We’ve done this so many times before, the words should come easy.  But this time is different.  This time we’ve both done a lot of soul searching.  I’ve always loved you.  Loved you the moment I caught you staring at me from across a crowded room.”

Eric chuckled.  “I wasn’t staring.”

“Oh, Honey, you were most definitely staring.”  She leaned closer and lowered her voice.  “You were practically drooling.”

Laughing, he sighed, “Okay.  Yes, I was staring and,” he winked at her.  “I was drooling before you looked up.”

Stephanie laughed and squeezed his hand.  “Your love rescued me from the nightmare that had been my life growing up.  It scared me because I didn’t know how to love.  I didn’t know what it was.  I let it happen and took it because I liked how it made me feel.  I finally felt safe.  As we got to know each other, my love grew to be more than just being with you because you made me feel safe, but I still didn’t really know how to love, so there were problems.  I couldn’t let go enough to give you all of myself because I needed to keep control of me and the things happening to me.  Even love.”  Reaching up, she caressed his face.  “But that’s all over now.  Now I give myself to you completely.  All of me for as long as I live.”  The last words were whispered as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Eric swallowed and reached up to wipe away her tears.  “I’ve done more soul searching than you because I’ve had more to regret about things I’ve done to hurt you over the years.  I was so scared by the intensity of our love, that I wouldn’t give in to it completely.  I sought what I thought I was missing outside of our life and hurt you, but you kept holding on.  If I’d been half the man you deserve, I would have realized that there was something there, something that held you back, and then helped you.  But I wasn’t.  I loved you in a way, but I loved the money your father had supplied us with, more.  It gave me the opportunity to build the company of my dreams.  Except now, looking back on it, you were what built the company.  The inspiration you gave me made me the designer I am today.  Your grace.  Your beauty.  The sexiness that is there without you trying.  You’re all class and elegance with a whole lot of natural sexy mixed in, and now that I see you and our love the way I always should have, I realize just what kind of fool I’ve been over the years.”  Cupping her cheek, he smiled at her.  “I love you, Stephanie.  I’ll show you that love in all the ways I can for as long as we have together.”

Moving closer, the couple followed the captain’s instructions, slowly sliding the rings on each other’s fingers, anxiously waiting for the moment when they could touch their lips in a kiss to seal their vows.

“You may kiss your bride,” the captain whispered.

Eric held her face in his hands, staring into her eyes for a moment.  “My wife,” he whispered before touching his lips to hers in a tender kiss.

Stephanie gripped his arms with her hands as she closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the feel of his lips caressing hers.  Taking a deep breath when he broke the kiss, she opened her eyes and stared up at him.  “Your wife,” she whispered with a smile. 

Eric noticed that they were alone and heard music start to play.  “Listen,” he whispered as he pulled her into his arms, slowly swaying them to the melody as the words filtered out around them.

“City lights shine on the harbor, night has fallen down, through the darkness and the shadow, I will still go on.  Long, long journey through the darkness, long, long way to go.  But what are miles across the ocean to the heart that’s coming home.”

Stephanie felt tears hot against her cheek.  “Oh Eric,” she breathed. 

“I heard it and all I could think about was us.”  His breath was warm against her ear as he held her closer while the song finished.  “My heart has come home, Sweet girl.  You are my home.”

Pulling back so she could look up at him, she stared into his dark eyes.  “You’re my home.  Always have been.”

Eric kissed her then held her close again.  Humming with the music, he felt the yacht begin to move faster than it had been and smiled.  “We’re moving faster.  We’ll be on Catalina in an hour.”

Stephanie nodded.  “Honey?” she asked after a few moments of quiet.

“What is it, Sweetheart?”

“Why no shoes?”

Eric smiled as he looked down at her.  “Because shoes would have ruined the effect of your outfit.”  He shrugged.  “I don’t know, really.  I just never envisioned you with shoes when I was designing this.”

Shaking her head, she sighed.  “Silly man.”

“Maybe I am.”  He caressed her face as he slid his free hand under her jacket then top.

“Honey, they could be watching.”

“No.  They aren’t.  I made sure to hire people that would leave us alone.  The only time anyone other than the captain was watching, was during the ceremony.  One of the crew is also a photographer and took pictures to send to our media friends once we reach Catalina.”

“I didn’t even notice anyone else being here.”

“I never saw him, myself.  I was too busy watching you,” his voice lowered as he gently caressed her back, loving the feel of her soft skin.

“Touching me like that makes it hard for me to wait until we reach our destination.  I’ve wanted you all day,” she admitted and shivered as his hand slipped beneath the waistband of her pants, resting on the curve of her buttocks.  “Eric,” she breathed.

“I’ve wanted you since we danced last night.  I need to at least touch you.”

“We’re playing with fire,” she warned as she moved closer, feeling his arousal pressing against her through their clothes.

“I know, but I can’t help it,” he admitted, shivering himself when her warm hands moved inside his jacket.

“I can’t, either.  I’m anxious to celebrate,” she whispered, smiling up at him when she moved against him, causing his breath to catch.

“Hey now.  That’s not playing fair,” he growled at her as he slowly moved his hand up over her ribs, brushing against her breast before moving his thumb over her lace covered nipple.

Stephanie caught her breath.  “Is this why you always design lace bras for me?” she asked in a husky whisper.

Eric smiled down at her.  “Of course it is.  If I can’t touch your bare flesh, the lace at least gives me a way to tease you.”

“Touching me, whether it’s my bare skin or through my clothes, is enough.”  She moaned when his thumb moved over her nipple again.  “Eric, this is insane.”

“Yes, it is,” he breathed as he pulled back.  “You’re beautiful, Stephanie.”

Stephanie smiled as she rested her hands on his chest.  “Only because of you.  This outfit makes me feel more feminine than I’ve felt in a very long time.”

“Don’t be mad at me, but,” he paused.  “You’re softer than you’ve been in a long time.  I think that’s what drew me back to you.”

“I’m not mad, Honey.  Why would I get mad at you for telling the truth?” she asked.  “I’ve tried to be more of a woman,” she looked down.  “I thought it might win you back.”

Eric sighed and pulled her to him, holding her close.  “Even after I said those awful things to you?” he asked quietly.

“That’s when I subconsciously started changing.  I didn’t realize it at first, but Clarke commented on it one day and then so did Nick.”

“Sweetheart, can I ask you something?”

“You can ask me anything, you know that.”

“Did something happen between you and Clarke?”

Stephanie sighed.  “Years ago, it nearly did, yes.”

“Stephanie?” he asked as he pulled back and looked down at her with a raised eyebrow.

Stephanie walked to the railing and looked out over the water.  “You were neglecting me.  You had found Beth again and were involved with her.  I had hired Clarke for Kristen, but he was more attracted to me.  He wanted to give me what you weren’t.  To show me that I was still desirable.  The more you neglected me, the more tempted I was to give in to him.  His kisses clouded my mind.”

“And did you let him give you what I wasn’t?”  Eric asked quietly as he moved behind her, his hand resting on her shoulder.

“No,” she answered as she turned to look up at him.  “It’s true that I was attracted to him, but I loved you.  I wanted you, and he was supposed to be involved with Kristen.  I couldn’t do that to her.”

“But he made you feel beautiful?”

“Yes, he did.”

“Then I’ll have to thank him.”

“Honey?” she asked in surprise.  That wasn’t the response she’d expected.

Eric smiled as he drew his fingers down her cheek.  “You heard me right.  He made you feel wanted and beautiful at a time when I was hurting you and taking that away from you.  I wouldn’t have been angry if you’d told me that you had an affair.”

Stephanie cocked her head to the side.  “You wouldn’t?”

“No.  It would make me a hypocrite, don’t you think?  After all, I was having an affair.  No one could have blamed you for turning to someone else.”  Pulling her close, he caressed her hair away from her face.  “But you didn’t because you still loved me.”

“Because I loved you,” she echoed as she settled against his chest, his hands once again caressing her beneath her top.

“Look, Sweet girl,” he whispered as he pointed with his free hand.  “Catalina.”

“I can’t wait.”

“I can’t, either.  I have something special waiting for you in our bungalow.”

She looked up at him.  “A negligee perhaps?”

He grinned and winked at her.  “Royal blue lace.”

“You and your lace,” she chuckled and shook her head.  “Do you think maybe we should go put some shoes on and get our things from below?”

Eric nodded as he turned her into his arms.  “I love you, Mrs. Forrester, and soon I’ll show you just how much.”

“I can’t wait.”

 

E**S

 

Once again, Stephanie found herself staring at her reflection.  Her husband had outdone himself.  The negligee she now wore, was nothing but lace tied together at the shoulders and waist with thin satin ribbons.  The lace was a delicate pattern that hid all the right parts and left the rest visible, not that she was sure why he’d designed it that way since there were no sides.  She felt exposed, but not uncomfortably so.  Slipping her arms in the billowy sleeves of the sheer cover, she laughed as she made her way from the bungalow down to the beach where Eric was waiting.

“You, my dear husband, have see-through on the brain,” she whispered as he came into view.  Her eyes widened as she took in the scene on the beach.

Eric smiled as he watched his wife moving closer, his body instantly reacting to the sight of her in the negligee and cover he’d designed for her.  Far surpassing his vision of her, he held out his hand to her.  “Beautiful,” he whispered.

“Eric, this is amazing.”  Stephanie gasped as she looked around at the table that held champagne and fruits for them to snack on.  “The bed.  How did you do that?” she asked as she let her gaze move over the four poster bed with gauzy material in all the colors of sunset forming a canopy and curtains around the bed to protect them as they slept.

“I’ve been planning for weeks where I was going to take you.  While we were sailing here to the island, this was all being set up.  It’s here for as long as we are,” he answered her as he pulled her close, his arms moving under the sheer material that covered her negligee.

“Oh, Honey.”  She smiled up at him, shivering when his fingers caressed her bare sides.  “This negligee is,” she shook her head.  “You made me feel beautiful with the outfit for our wedding and now, with this, you’ve made me feel desirable.  Thank you.”

“Don’t you see?  This is how I see you.  To me, you are the most beautiful woman in the world.  You’re sexy, desirable…you make me crazy just to touch you.”  His voice lowered.  “I see you didn’t put anything on under this,” he whispered against her ear, his hot breath making her shiver.

Stephanie gripped his arms and swallowed.  “You didn’t leave anything else with it,” she breathed.

Cupping her face, he titled it up to look at him.  “Less for me to fuss with to get to you.”

Smiling, she raised an eyebrow as she nodded.  “Yes, I noticed the way this just ties.  You aren’t going to waste any time.”

He shook his head.  “No.  I intend to take my time making love to you, not getting you out of your clothes.”  He caressed her face.  “Welcome to your honeymoon, Mrs. Forrester.”

“Our honeymoon, Mr. Forrester.  Our honeymoon.”

Eric smiled as he pushed the sheer cover off her shoulders, catching it as it fell from her arms.  Moving away from her for just a moment, he placed the cover and his robe in a wicker chest at the foot of the bed.  “This way they won’t blow away if the wind picks up later.”

“You’ve thought of everything.”

“Everything.”  He nodded.  “Tonight is about showing you how special you are to me.  How much I truly love you.”  He took her back into his arms.  “How very much you mean to me.”

Tangling her fingers in his hair, she pulled his face down to hers, pressing her lips to his in a kiss that showed him her passion.  “Just having you hold me and stand by me through my being sick shows me all of that.  You didn’t need to do all of this.”  She waved her hand around them.

“But I wanted to.  I wanted to give you a honeymoon like you deserved and never really got.”  Taking her hand, he held it over his heart.  “Dance with me.”

Smiling, she nodded and rested her head on his shoulder.  “Sing to me.”

Pulling at the ribbon that held the side of her negligee closed, he untied it and slipped his hand inside, sighing at the feel of her warm flesh against his hand.  “Yes, much better.”

“Sing to me,” she asked again even as she shivered at his touch.

As his hand caressed her curves, Eric began to softly sing one of her favorite songs.  “How would you like to be down by the Seine with me?  Oh what I’d give for a moment or two under the bridges of Paris with you.  Darling, I’d hold you tight far from the eyes of night.  Under the bridges of Paris with you, I’d make your dreams come true.”

Stephanie sighed and kissed his warm chest.  “I love Dean Martin, but his singing doesn’t do to me what yours does,” she whispered.

“I’m glad.”  Eric told her, his voice low and full of the desire he felt.  “Do you know that you’re the only woman I’ve ever sung to?”

Stephanie looked up at him, her eyebrow raised.  “Really?  I always thought you would have used it as a way to woo the ladies.”

He shook his head.  “No.  I would play the piano in front of my friends, but if we were to go back and see all the people from my years at college, only my roommates would be able to say that they’ve heard me sing.”

“But, Honey, why?  You’re voice is wonderful.  Why did you hide it?”

Shrugging, he held her close, dancing them slowly back to the bed.  “I wanted to be a designer.  I’d hated taking piano lessons as a boy, and being in the boys choir until my voice changed, didn’t really make me like singing, either.”

“So what made you sing to me that first time?”

“I’ve never been sure.”  He smiled and caressed her face.  “But I’m very glad that I did.  The way your eyes darkened, the way you shivered,” he sighed.  “For the first time in my life, I enjoyed playing the piano and singing, and I kept on doing it just to see your reaction.”

“I’m glad.  I love when you sing to me.”  She pressed a kiss to his hand.  “And how many times have these hands played songs to calm me?”

“More times than I can count.”  He pulled her close.  Untying another ribbon, this time the one at her shoulder, Eric held her close to keep the lace from falling as he untied the ribbon on her other shoulder.  “Now all I have to do is move,” he whispered, doing just that and watching with hungry eyes as the lace fell away, his hand catching it to keep it from being carried away in the light breeze.

Stephanie closed her eyes and took a breath, shivering when she felt his body move against hers.  Opening her eyes, she stared up into his dark eyes, eyes that were almost black with desire.  “Eric,” she whimpered when his hands skimmed over her ribs, cupping her breasts and kneading before resting on her waist as he pulled her even closer.

“Slow and easy, Sweet girl,” he breathed as he gently laid her back on the bed.

Stephanie settled against the pillows and sighed, “I love when you’re slow and easy.”

Eric let his hand roam her body as he kissed her, a deep kiss that drugged their senses, making her whimper yet again as she tangled the fingers of one hand in his hair while the other hand rested on the small of his back.  His mouth was wicked as he left her lips, nibbling at her ears then kissing down her jaw line.  Tugging at the soft skin of her neck, the kisses touched all the right spots to make her moan and move beneath him. 

Stephanie bent her leg, cradling his body between her thighs as she let her control go and let herself feel the sensations of what Eric’s hands and mouth were doing to her.  She could feel her pulse quicken as his mouth found a taut nipple, his teeth gently nipping at the sensitive flesh as his hand moved lower, and lower still, until her breath caught.  Letting her hands fall to the bed, she gripped the sheets in her fists, biting her lip to keep from crying out as she was led to the height of climax only to be brought down before her body could achieve the release it sought.  Slow and easy was going to drive her completely mad.

Eric could feel her body tensing, her inner muscles contracting around him with each touch of his hands against her sensitive flesh.  She was beautiful in the throws of her passion, her body glistening in the moonlight.  He could watch her all night, if his body would let him, but his control could only go so far.

“Please, Eric!  Please!  No more teasing!  Please!” she begged, her voice echoing out through the night surrounding them.

Giving in to her pleas, Eric gave her what she wanted, smiling in satisfaction as her back arched, his name escaping her lips in a cry that the wind caught and carried out to the ocean behind them.

Stephanie’s heart was pounding in her ears, her head was spinning, and her breathing was quick and shallow as she became aware of the feel of Eric’s lips on her forehead, his fingers caressing her cheek.  Opening her eyes, she blinked a few times then smiled.  “Mmm,” she hummed as she gripped his hand.

“The wind knows my name now,” he told her then chuckled when she blushed.  Caressing the damp hair from her forehead, he kissed her gently.  “No need to blush, Sweet girl.  It’s sexy to hear you cry out my name.  Lets me know I’m loving you just right.”

Lifting her hands, she cupped his face.  “You’ve loved me perfectly,” she breathed as she pulled his face down to hers for a kiss.  “but I want more.”

Smiling, he nodded.  “I want more, too,” he whispered as he moved over her, joining their bodies and sighing as he watched her eyes darken.

Stephanie’s body trembled as he moved against her, her eyes closing as she lost herself once more in his touch.  Feeling his breath, warm against her skin, she shivered when his mouth touched the spot just behind her ear that always made her a bit crazy.  Tangling her fingers in his hair, she was startled when he moved away and began to sit up.  “Eric?” she asked as she opened her eyes.

“It’s alright,” he assured as he pulled her with him.  Keeping their bodies together, he positioned her between his legs, her own wrapping around him as she smiled.

“I know this position,” she whispered as she caressed his face.  “But we’ve never,” she started, his finger against her lips stopping her.

“No,” he shook his head.  “we haven’t.  I’ve never used this with anyone.  It’s too intimate.”

“But you’re using it now,” she whispered, her heart racing at the implications.

“Yes, because I’m giving you all of me this time.”

“Oh, Honey,” she whispered, her voice a bit shaky as she leaned forward, capturing his lips in a kiss full of her love and passion.

Eric tangled one hand in her hair as he cradled her head, his other hand busy caressing the curves of her body that seemed to drive him crazy each time he thought about the way they felt pressed against him.  Moving his hand up, it joined the other in her hair as he broke their kiss.  Looking into her eyes so dark and full of passion, he let his thumbs caress her cheeks.  “I love you, Stephanie Forrester.  I love you more than I’ve ever loved you.”

Stephanie smiled and reached up to caress his face.  “I love you, Eric Forrester,” she whispered as she leaned forward, resting her head on his shoulder as they began to move together in a slow rhythm that enticed and excited their bodies.  She sighed at the feel of their slick bodies pressed together, his solid chest pressed against her full, soft breasts.  This was making love in its purest form, something that she had never realized she was missing until now.

 

E**S

 

Eric caressed Stephanie’s shoulder, sighing in contentment as he thought about their love making.  Frowning when he felt something hot and wet on his chest, he lifted her face so that he could look at her.  “Sweetheart?  Why are you crying?”

Stephanie sniffed and snuggled closer into his embrace.  “Because you’ve made me feel like a woman.  You’ve made me feel beautiful, wanted, sexy,” she paused, more tears rolling down her face as she continued.  “loved.”

“You’re all those things and so much more.  This is what I wanted for you.  I wanted to show you all of these things because I know that down through the years I’ve robbed you of them.”

She caressed his chest.  “You’ve slowly been giving them back to me over the last few weeks, tonight just finished what you’d started.”

Pressing a kiss to her head, Eric sighed as he looked out over the moonlit ocean.  “Not finished, Sweet girl.  I’m going to keep showing you.”

Looking up at him, she raised her hand to cup his face.  “I like the sound of that.”

Smiling, he turned his face and pressed a kiss to her hand.  “Let me up,” he whispered as he moved to get out of bed.

“Where are you going?” she asked, watching as he moved away from their bed.

“I’m going to get the champagne from the table.”

“Oh,” she chuckled.  “I’d forgotten about that.  I was a bit distracted.”

“Just a bit?” he questioned as he returned with a tray bearing their champagne and strawberries, chocolate, and powdered sugar.

“Powdered sugar?  Honey, that’s so messy.”

Eric laughed and shook his head.  “Which is a very good reason for the tray.”

“Smart ass.”

Eric laughed again, shaking his head before kissing her.  “I love that mouth.”

Stephanie laughed and gave him a knowing smile.  “I know you do,” she countered with a husky voice.

“Stephanie,” he breathed.

“Yes, Mr. Forrester?” she asked.

“Behave, Mrs. Forrester.  We need to eat and take a rest.”

“Yes, Mr. Forrester,” she agreed with a smile, opening her mouth for the chocolate covered strawberry he held out for her.

Eric smiled and leaned forward to lick away the bit of chocolate that had landed on her chin.  “Mmm,” he murmured as he watched her.

“That isn’t playing fair, Mr. Forrester,” she scolded, watching as he took a bite of the strawberry.  Seeing a bit of juice on his lip, she leaned forward, kissing the sweet liquid away.

Eric sighed, “Now who isn’t playing fair?”

Smiling sweetly at him, she shrugged.  “Two can play this game.  Besides, you forgot napkins.”

Eric laughed and shook his head.  “You’re some kind of woman, Stephanie Forrester.”

“I’m your kind of woman.”

“Most definitely,” he agreed then raised an eyebrow when her stomach growled.  “I think you need more than just fruit and champagne.  I believe dinner was waiting for us inside.”

“I never noticed.”  She shrugged.

“Just a bit distracted again?” he asked with a laugh, knowing that he’d been just as distracted as she had been.

“I suppose you noticed?” she asked, that smirky little grin on her face that always made him shiver.

“I love that grin,” he told her as he got up and grabbed his robe from the wicker chest.  Slipping it on and tying the belt, he smiled at her.  “I didn’t notice it, either.  I just happened to remember that I’d asked for it to be set out.  I’m going to go get it so you can get something substantial to eat.  This fruit just isn’t enough.”

She shook her head.  “You fuss too much.”

Leaning over her, he rubbed his nose against hers.  “I fuss because I love you.  Now hush.  I’ll be back in a few minutes since I’m sure I’ll have to reheat it.”  He winked at her laugh.  “We need to call the kids, too.  They’ll want to know that their momma is okay.”

She growled and nodded.  “You’re awfully bossy, but I suppose I’ll let you get by with it.”

“Good girl.”

“Oh go on!” she slapped his chest, humming at his quick kiss then sliding down against the pillows with a sigh of contentment.  Tonight had been what he’d promised and so much more, and it had only just begun.

Looking out at the moon, a tear rolled down her cheek as she whispered, “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Stephanie laughed as she leaned her head against Eric’s shoulder.  “I just realized something.”

Eric kissed her sun warmed head.  “What is that, Sweet girl?”

“We never took a moonlight stroll on our wedding night.”

Eric frowned until he remembered what he’d said.  “No, I suppose we didn’t.”  He smiled and held her closer.  “My mind wasn’t exactly on a walk on the beach.  I had more important things to do.”  He stopped and turned her to face him.  Caressing her face, he stared down into her blue eyes that seemed to reflect the ocean beside them.  “I was thinking about making love to my wife and showing her just how very happy I am that she’s my wife again.”

Stephanie shivered at the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes.  “Oh Honey,” she breathed.  “You’ve shown me that over and over again this week.”  She smiled as she reached up to trace his lips.  “And not just when we’re making love.  I’ve seen it in the way you look at me.  I’ve felt it in the way you hold me when we’re just sitting and listening to the ocean.  I’ve heard it in your voice as you’ve sang to me.”

Kissing her finger, he took her hand in his.  “You look beautiful in this dress.”

Stephanie looked down at the dress she was wearing, the shimmering material changing colors as it rustled in the wind.  “I can’t believe I’m wearing a dress.  It’s been years.”

“Yes, it has.  Far too long, really.”

“Eric,” she sighed.  “I don’t have the figure for dresses anymore, you know that.”

Eric looked at her with a raised eyebrow.  “I know that you look beautiful and every bit the sexy woman you are in this dress.”

She shook her head and patted his face.  “I have one question.”

“And what would that be?”

“Didn’t you have any other color fabric than blue?”

Eric laughed and shrugged.  “I did, but blue was the color I saw as I designed your clothes.  Must be because of those eyes of yours.”

“Must be,” she murmured as she snuggled her head against his shoulder.  “I noticed something the other night.”

“What?”

“The stitching on one of my negligees.”

“Oh?” he asked, wondering where she was going with this line of thought.

Looking up at him, she stared into his eyes.  “I know that stitching, Eric.  You made them yourself.”

Caressing her face, he smiled.  “You never forget anything,” he whispered.

“How could I?  You made all of your designs those first years when we started out.  I helped you trim the threads.  Besides that, your old machine made a distinct stitch that these new machines don’t.”  She smiled.  “I didn’t know you still had it.”

He returned her smile.  “I kept it to remind me.  And yes, Sweet girl, I made them all myself.  I didn’t want anyone else seeing them.  I always made all of your lingerie myself for the same reasons.”

“Even the cutting?”

“Even the cutting.  It may be years since I’ve done the actual cutting and sewing myself, but I haven’t forgotten how.”

Tears rolled down her cheeks and she looked away.  “Oh Eric,” she whispered.

Puzzled, Eric lifted her face up to his.  “Sweetheart?  Why the tears?”

Wrapping her arms around him, she closed her eyes.  “I’m just overwhelmed, Honey.”

“Overwhelmed?” he questioned as he held her.

She nodded against his chest.  “Yes.”

“Steph, I don’t understand.  It’s not like I’ve never designed clothes specifically for you before.”

Looking up at him again, she gave him a tearful smile.  “But don’t you see?  You haven’t, not really.  At least not in a long time.”

“I designed your outfit for the night you came home,” he reminded her.

“But it was the same type of outfit I’ve been wearing for years.  A suit.”

“I’m confused, Stephanie.”

Resting her head back against his chest, Stephanie stared out at the ocean.  “When you were designing the outfits, negligees, and lingerie for this week, what did you see?”

“I saw you.”

“Which me?”

Her question startled him, and then it hit him.  “Oh Stephanie,” he breathed as he held her close.

“For the first time you were designing things to flatter me the way I am now.  Everything I’ve worn since our honeymoon started has made me feel like a woman.  You’ve made me feel sexy, and it’s been years since I’ve felt that way.”  She held him a bit tighter.  “You’re seeing me as I am now, instead of seeing the me of the past.  The me that was young, blonde, and thin.  The me that turned you on with just a glimpse of my hips swaying as I walked by, with just a flick of my hair.”

“But you still turn me on, Sweet girl,” he whispered as he cupped her face and lifted it.  “Your smirky little smile when you know you’re right.  The blue eyes that watch me when you don’t think I’m paying attention.  The curves that fill out my shirts when you wear one to sleep in.  The way you whisper my name.  And yes, even your hair and your walk still turn me on.”  He laughed when she raised her eyebrows.  “Your hips still sway, Sweet girl.  And your hair is still just as soft to run my fingers through as it was when it was long and blonde.”  Caressing her hair behind her ears, he leaned closer.  “But the thing that turns me on the most,”

“Yes?” she asked when he paused.

“The thing that turns me on the most is…” he leaned closer still, his warm breath against her ear.  “your love.”

“Eric,” she breathed, a shiver going down her spine.

“Come back to the bungalow with me, Stephanie,” he whispered, his tongue lightly tracing her ear.

Stephanie gripped his waist.  “Let me get my legs back under me first,” she breathed causing him to chuckle.

Nuzzling her neck, Eric smiled against her skin.  “I’m that good, huh?”

“Mmm,” she hummed, her eyes twinkling.  “Maybe.”

“Hey!” he scowled at her then laughed.  “God, I love you.”

Smiling at him, Stephanie pulled back and took his hand.  “Don’t just tell me, show me.”

Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, Eric pressed a kiss to her head as they made their way up the beach to their bungalow.  “You bet I’ll show you,” he whispered.  “It’s my favorite past time.”

 

E**S

 

She’d forgotten just how wicked his mouth could be, but he was slowly and skillfully making her remember and driving her crazy with lust and want and desire and every other adjective her slowly dissolving brain cells could think of.  “Dear god, Eric!” she cried out as her back arched, her fingers pulling at his hair.

Eric kissed his way up her body, leaning over her and smiling in satisfaction when her eyes fluttered open.  “Hello,” he whispered.

“You’re going to short circuit my brain,” she breathed even as her mouth turned up in a smile that told him just how much she still wanted him.  “I’d forgotten how very good you are with your mouth.”

He nodded sadly as he caressed her face.  “I know.  I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed making love to you this way.  The sounds you make are different and your body’s responses are different.  I’m going to have to do this more often.”  He lowered his voice.  “I love that little growl you do in the back of your throat just before you cry out.”

Stephanie felt her face flush.  “I do not,” she mumbled.

He smiled and nodded.  “Oh, believe me, you do.”

Trailing her hand down his back, she let it rest on his waist.  “I want more,” she whispered.

Moving his hips, he smiled in satisfaction at her hiss of breath.  “This what you want?”

Tangling her fingers in his hair, she held his gaze.  “Yes,” she answered him on a breathy moan when he began to move against her.

Feeling her body contract around him, Eric groaned and rested his forehead against hers.  “If you keep that up, I won’t last,” he warned.

“Kiss me,” she whispered as she did it again.

“Stephanie,” he warned even as his lips took hers in a kiss that took the breath from their lungs as their tongues mimicked the movements of their bodies.

She could feel her body begin to tingle, her muscles begin to tighten as her climax burned fast and hot over her.  Her whimpers vibrated in her chest as she gripped his shoulders.  “Eric!”

Eric lost his control and gave in at the cry of his name and the feel of her climax.  It was as though she was coming apart in his arms and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop himself from following.

Holding him when he tried to move away, Stephanie caressed his head.  “Stay,” she whispered.  “Just stay a few more minutes.”

“I’ll hurt you,” he told her as he looked up, caressing a damp tendril of hair from her cheek.

Joining their hands, she brought them to her lips, pressing a kiss to the back of his.  “No you won’t.  Please?”

Never being able to tell her no when she was looking at him as she was now, Eric nodded and rested his forehead against hers, pressing soft kisses to her lips.  “Just a few minutes.”

“Thank you,” she sighed in contentment, her lips smiling against his.  “I just need the extra time to hold you.  Can you understand that?”

Pushing up a bit, Eric traced her features.  “I understand, Stephanie.  No need to explain your reasons.”  Kissing her, he smiled.  “I like being held in your arms.”

Feeling tears threaten when he settled his head against her shoulder, she held him a bit tighter, the sudden reality of their world crashing in on her.

Eric felt a hot tear against his forehead and lifted their hands to his lips.  “It’s alright, Sweetheart.  Go ahead and cry.  I’m here.”

Turning her face further into his hair, she let her tears fall as she held his hand tighter.  “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to do this,” she whispered.

“We’ll make love as long as we can, and then, when it’s no longer possible, I’ll hold you and tell you of the times we’ve been together.  I’ll use my words and my sketches to remind you of how wonderful you were in my arms.”  He moved to his side, pulling her into the curve of his body.

Stephanie closed her eyes as she spooned her body tightly against his and held the hand that wrapped around her.  “Just promise me that you’ll never let me forget, no matter how sick I am.”

“I promise, Sweetheart.  I promise.”

 

E**S

 

“Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger…you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know, you know even then, that somewhere you’ll see her again and again,” his voice was soft as he sang in her ear, their bodies swaying gently as the ocean provided the perfect backdrop to their moonlit dance.

“It was enchanting,” she whispered as she snuggled closer, their entwined hands resting over his heart.

Eric smiled and pressed a kiss to her head then continued with the song.  “Some enchanted evening, someone may be laughing, you may hear her laughing across a crowded room, and night after night as strange as it seems the sound of her laughter will sing in your dreams.”

Stephanie sighed in pure contentment as he sang softly to her.  There was something almost magical in the way he sang to her.  His voice had always comforted her in moments of fear or sadness, but when he sang to her, there was something about the way his voice softened that had always given her a sense of rightness, she supposed.  She remembered the first time he’d sang this song to her.

Stephanie bit her lip to keep from crying.  His dark eyes were shining with such love and joy that it nearly overwhelmed her.  “So you’re truly happy?”

“How could you think I wouldn’t be?” he asked as he rested a hand against her stomach.

“Well, the first time was such a shock and forced us into marriage.  I,” she shrugged.

“Yes, it was a shock, and admittedly I reacted badly at first.  You were only seventeen and I was getting ready to graduate.  I’d been careless and was going to pay for it.  But,” he lifted her face.  “I don’t regret it.  After the shock wore off, I was happy, Stephanie.  I love you and I love our son.”  He smiled as he pulled her close, gently swaying her.  “Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger…you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know, you know even then, that somewhere you’ll see her again and again,” he sang to her.

Stephanie felt the tears she’d been fighting break free of her control and slowly fall.  “Oh Eric,” she whispered as she settled against him, listening to the tenderness in his voice as he finished the song.

“This is us, Sweet girl,” he smiled down at her as he pulled back.  “And now this new baby will add to the happiness we’ve found.  Neither of us have to worry about upset parents or society looking down on you if we don’t marry.  We’re married this time, we’re settled,” he laughed when she raised an eyebrow at him.  “Well, as settled as we can be with a new business.”  Moving his hand to her stomach once more.  “I’m extremely happy, Stephanie.  You’ve been wonderful as a mother, as a wife, as a partner.  Now we just have to make sure we don’t overwork you for a few months.”  His eyes twinkled.  “I guess I’d better get started on some new designs for my wife’s wardrobe.  Those tight dresses aren’t going to work anymore.”

She laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him.  “Oh god, I love you.”

“And I love you, my sweet girl.”

“Sweetheart?  Where are you?”  Eric asked, noticing that she was staring off in the distance.

Stephanie smiled.  “Oh, just remembering the first time you sang this song to me.”

Eric smiled, he too remembered that.  “The day you told me about our second baby.”

“I remember how scared I was that you wouldn’t be happy.  Things were crazy with the business still being so new and I could still remember how you’d reacted when I’d told you about Ridge.  I just wasn’t sure about what to expect.”

“I remember how joy just seemed to spread through me and I wanted nothing more than to lift you up and spin you around,” he laughed.  “I managed to contain myself, remembering how certain motions made you sick when you were pregnant with Ridge.”

Stephanie nodded.  “I’m very glad you did.”  She grimaced.  “It wouldn’t have been a pretty sight if you’d spun me around.”

Eric laughed again, holding her tight.  “You were beautiful and the envy of every woman we met.  I remember hearing women’s comments about how they wished they had a husband who made them clothes that made them look that beautiful while they were pregnant.”

“And you would smile and tell those husbands that you were sorry, but the designs were exclusive to your wife.”

“I had no intentions of creating a maternity line.” 

Stephanie laughed.  “Why?  I don’t think I ever really understood, myself, why you wouldn’t.”

“Because the designs were inspired by you as I watched the changes happening in your body with each passing month.  I couldn’t very well spend all my time with all those pregnant women to get the right inspiration.”

A smile bloomed on her face as she caressed his cheek.  “Oh Honey.  I loved wearing your designs, but I always felt different wearing the maternity clothes.  I felt cherished, I guess is the word.”

“Because you were,” he whispered as he cupped her face.  “You were never more beautiful than when you were carrying our children and I wanted you to feel that way.  I wanted you to know that I knew you doubted yourself and your looks after you started showing.  I wasn’t completely blind.  A bit stupid at times back then by not loving you enough, but not blind.  And I wanted you to know how very much it meant to me that you were the mother of my children.”

Settling back against his chest, Stephanie closed her eyes.  “Finish the song,” she whispered.

Pressing a kiss to her head, Eric did as she asked.  “Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love, when you hear her call you across a crowded room, then run to her side and make her your own or all through your life you may dream all alone.  Once you have found her, never let her go,” he paused, cupping her face and lifting it so that he could stare down into her blue eyes.  “Once you have found her, never let her go,” he finished the song.  “Never, Stephanie.  Never again will I let you go.”

Chapter Text

Stephanie stretched and yawned then turned her head to look at the man lying next to her still asleep.  He’d made love to her late into the night then sang to her as she drifted off to sleep.  Today they would be going home, back to the real world and their family.

While she loved her family, and had missed them, she had enjoyed this time with just Eric away from the reality of what was going on in their lives.  She smiled as she thought of how much time they’d spent in bed.  Taking a deep breath, inhaling the fresh ocean air, she reached out and softly drew her finger over Eric’s shoulder.

“Do you know how much I love you?” she whispered as she settled against him.

“I believe you just showed me,” he answered, his eyes darkening with the memories of their love making.

She blushed.  “Eric.”

Caressing her long blonde hair over her shoulder, Eric smiled.  “You’re beautiful, Stephanie.  This last hour,” he shook his head.  “Amazing.”

“That’s how you made me feel.”

“Because you are.”  His hand caressed her shoulder.  “I guess we should get up and get dressed.  I’m surprised the phone hasn’t rang.”

Stephanie laughed.  “I’m surprised someone hasn’t come knocking on the door.”

“Maybe they started to and heard us,” he suggested then chuckled when she blushed.

“Oh god, I hope not,” she groaned as she buried her face in the crook of his neck.

Eric rubbed Stephanie’s back.  “Don’t you think they’re used to hearing us doing this in here by now?”

“I suppose they are.”  She smiled up at him.  “We do have a tendency to get a bit carried away when we’re left alone in here for very long.”

Eric chuckled.  “Just a bit?”

“Well,” she murmured and blushed.

Suddenly filled with a need to have her again, Eric pulled her on top of him, smiling up into her startled face as she stared down at him.  “I want you,” he whispered.

“Again?” she asked, her voice low, her body beginning to move against him.

“Again,” he answered, his hand moving up to cup her breast.

Closing her eyes, Stephanie let her head fall back with a sigh.  She loved their time together, no matter where they were, but making love in his office always seemed to turn her on even more.  She opened her eyes, looking down at him with a moan as he slid inside her.  It always seemed to turn him on even more, too.

“What are you thinking about, Sweetheart?”  Eric whispered as he reached out to trace the lines of her face, bringing Stephanie from her thoughts.

“Good morning, Honey,” she greeted as she leaned over to kiss him.

“Mmm,” he hummed into the kiss, his fingers tangling in her hair.  Pulling back, he smiled and raised an eyebrow.  “That was some kiss.  Was that what you were thinking about?”

Stephanie laughed.  “Well, sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“I was remembering one of the times we made love in your office.”

Eric pulled her closer and traced her lips.  “Oh?  Which time would that be?”

“The day you gave me the emerald earrings.”

“Ah,” he sighed.  “I remember that well.”  Smiling, he pressed a kiss to her lips.  “I remember all of our times together in that office down through the years.  You were always so amazing.”

“I remember all of our times together,” she breathed, moving her body against his.

“So do I, Sweetheart.  From our very first time, to the last time we made love last night.”

“And soon we’ll add this morning to the memories.”

Eric smiled as he caressed a hand over her hip.  “I’ve loved every minute we spent making love this week.  Just seeing you let go and be free and completely open with me,” he shook his head, his voice catching.

Caressing his face, Stephanie returned his smile.  “You loving me wholly and completely gave me a reason to be free and open.”

Eric pressed his body tighter against hers, his hand tracing her curves before resting on her hip.  “I want you, Sweet girl,” he whispered.

Caressing his cheek, Stephanie stared into his dark eyes.  “I’m yours, Eric.  Take me,” she told him, her voice low and sultry.

Positioning her leg over his, he gently thrust forward, moaning as he slid inside her.  “This is a wonderful way to start the day.”

Tangling her fingers in his hair, Stephanie rested her forehead against Eric’s and moaned, “Ooh, yes.  Wonderful.”

 

E**S

 

Eric pressed a kiss to Stephanie’s head.  “This is something I want to continue when we get home.”

“What?” she asked as she tilted her head back to look at him.

“Taking baths and showers together.”

Stephanie laughed.  “Honey, if we do that, we’ll never get ready on time.”

“Well,” he chuckled.  “I know we can’t do like we have been here, but at night we can take a long soak before bed.”  Tracing a soapy finger down her shoulder, he felt her shiver against him.  “I don’t want to lose this, Stephanie, just because we’re home.”

“I don’t want to lose it, either.  I’ve enjoyed these long soaks as much as you have.  Just spending time in your arms, talking quietly about anything or nothing at all, has been wonderful.”  Nuzzling his neck, she sighed.  “I’m going to need this in the next weeks, Eric.”

“Then it’s settled.”  He smiled and wrapped his arms tightly around her.  “This becomes part of our nightly routine before bed.”

She smiled.  “Or after bed,” she whispered and winked.

Eric shivered at the implication.  “Or after,” he breathed and nodded his head.

Pressing kisses to his neck, she moaned when his hands cupped her breasts, his fingers gently tweaking their taut nipples.  “Ooh,” she whimpered.  “We, ooh, we can’t do this,” she managed to remind him.

Groaning his frustration, Eric let his head fall back, his hands stilling their actions.  “We won’t be on deck for the trip home,” he told her.

Stephanie chuckled.  “Well it won’t be the first time we’ve made love on a yacht.”

Eric smiled as he lifted his head and looked down at her.  “No, it most certainly won’t be.”

“Although this time I can say with certainty that I won’t be getting pregnant.”

Throwing his head back, he laughed and held her tighter.  “I love you, Stephanie Forrester.”

Smiling at him and giving in to her own laughter, she squeezed his hands.  “I love you, too, Eric Forrester.”

Eric sighed then kissed her before nudging her.  “I suppose we should get out of here.  We still have to pack and get things ready to leave.  Besides,” he paused, his eyes twinkling.  “You’re turning into a prune.”

“Hey!” she laughed as she gently elbowed him.  “As if you aren’t.”

“So I am.”  He kissed her nose.  “But you’re a better looking prune than I am.  Those blue eyes of yours,” he sighed.

Moving to let him stand up, Stephanie watched the bubbles run down his body.  “You’re right,” she murmured as she stood and took his outstretched hand when he turned back to her.

“I am?” he asked as he wrapped her in the large fluffy towel he’d pulled from the rack.  “About what?”

“We won’t be on deck for the trip home.”

 

E**S

 

“Eric!”  Stephanie cried out his name, not caring if any of the crew could hear her.  Her fingernails dug into his skin as he moved against her, his mouth busy nipping at her neck.

Eric felt her body writhing beneath him, her inner muscles clutching at him, and gritted his teeth to keep hold of his control.  “Steph,” he moaned her name when her nails drew paths down his back, something that only turned him on further.

Urging him to go faster with a murmur in his ear, Stephanie arched up into him, her orgasm overtaking her, sending her careening over the cliff into oblivion as she cried out his name once more.  “Eric!”  The cry reverberated around the cabin, echoing in his ears.

Eric felt her climax and gave in to his own, letting go of his control as he went over the edge with her.  “Stephanie,” he breathed as he collapsed against her, his face in her neck.

Stephanie lifted a hand, tangling her fingers in his damp hair.  “I think,” she paused to take a deep breath.  “I think maybe the crew heard us.”

Eric chuckled even as he gulped air to get his thudding heart under control.  “Maybe, Sweet girl, but I don’t give a damn.  They know we’re newlyweds.  What else do they expect?”

Stephanie chuckled this time.  “Honey, we’re hardly young kids, and we have just spent a week alone on a secluded island.”

He shrugged as he moved to her side, his head continuing to rest on her breast.  “Don’t care.  I love you.  So what if they heard how much.”

Smiling, she tugged as his hair to get him to look up at her.  “I don’t care, myself.  Which is surprising.  I should be embarrassed to have been so vocal with others around.”

Eric grinned at her.  “I like when you’re vocal.”

“I know you do.”  She grinned back then sighed.

“What is it?” he asked as he caressed a damp tendril of hair from her forehead.

“How close do you think we are to being back?”

“I don’t know.  I told the captain to call us when we’re twenty minutes out.”

“So I guess we don’t need to hurry since he hasn’t called.”

Eric nodded.  “That’s right,” he told her as he laid his head back against her, taking her hand in his.  “Do you think the kids will still have the party tonight?”

She sighed, “Yes, I do.  I think they’ll have invited more than family this time, too.”

Eric snarled.  “I was afraid of that.”

“We’ll have time to unpack and rest a bit before we have to get ready, I’m sure.”

“Rest?” he asked as he leaned up to look at her.

Stephanie laughed and drew a finger over his brow.  “Well, our version of rest, anyway.”

He laughed.  “That’s more like it.  Although you’ll have to be much quieter.”

She snarled and slapped his arm.  “Eric.”

“What?” he laughed as he gently pinched her.  “You know as well as I do that our children will be there when we get home, and that there will be people there setting up for the party.”

“Hey!” she grabbed his hand when he went to pinch her again.  “I know.”  She bit her lip in concentration.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked, knowing that look on her face.

“Well, I was just thinking…”

“Yes?”

“Well, if we take a shower together,” she smiled at him.  “I won’t have to be quiet.”

Shaking his head and laughing, he leaned over and kissed her, his hand wrapping around her hip.  “God I love you,” he whispered as he pulled back, staring into eyes that were sparkling with mirth and lingering passion.  “You know, you said earlier that we aren’t teenagers, but we’ve been as insatiable as teenagers these last few days.”

She caressed his face.  “Yes,” she chuckled.  “I suppose we have.”  She looked away, growing serious.  “We have a lot to make up for and time to store up for.”

“Sweetheart, shh.”  Eric turned her face back to him, caressing a tear from her cheek.  “None of those thoughts.”

Sniffing, she nuzzled her face into his hand.  “I can’t help it.  They just seem to sneak up on me.”

“And I’m here to chase them away, right where I’m supposed to be.”

Kissing the palm of his hand, Stephanie reached up and covered it with her own.  “Just keep reminding me.”

Smiling and pressing a soft kiss against her lips, he nodded.  “You bet.”

 

E**S

 

“Oh my god!”  Felicia exclaimed as she looked up and caught sight of her mother on the stairs.

Stephanie looked at Eric then at their baby.  “What’s wrong, Baby?”

“Whoa!”  Thorne whistled, stopping in his tracks.

Eric grinned at his wife when she looked back at him again.  “What is wrong?  Did I forget a piece of clothing?  Put something on backward?”

“My god, Mother!”  Kristen stared at her mother with wide eyes.

“Alright!  What is the matter with all of you?”  Stephanie asked as she stepped off the last step into the foyer.

“Grandma!  You’re beautiful!”  Aly smiled as she rushed to her beloved grandmother and wrapped her arms around her.  “I’ve missed you!”

“I’ve missed you, too, Aly.”  Stephanie hugged her granddaughter close, pressing a kiss to her head.  “You look gorgeous.  Grandpa’s?”

“You have to ask?”  Aly laughed when Stephanie shook her head.

“No, not really.”

“I see you’re wearing one of Grandpa’s too, only it’s different.”  Aly commented as she studied the stitching and beading.

Eric shook his head.  “Her eye is as good as her grandmother’s.”  He smiled and pressed a kiss to Aly’s forehead.  “Yes, it’s different.  I made it.”

“We know it’s yours, Dad.”  Felicia told him as she moved to study what her niece was looking at.  “She’s right, it is different.”

Eric shook his head.  “And where does she get the denseness from?” he asked Stephanie as he looked down at her.

“My mother?”  Stephanie asked making Eric chuckle.

“Must be,” he murmured as he kissed her nose.  “Felicia, I didn’t say, I designed it.  I said, I made it.  There’s a difference, you know.”

Thorne looked at his father then moved to study the stitches.  “My god, you did, and on your old machine.”  He smiled at his mother.  “Wow, Mom.”

Stephanie smiled and moved to hug her son.  “That’s what I thought.  He’s spoiling me.  He hasn’t pulled that machine out in years.  I didn’t even know he still had it.”

“Finally getting it right, Dad.”  Felicia smiled at her father.  “This is gorgeous and makes Mom look stunning.”  She looked up at her mother.  “Makes her eyes sparkle like these crystals.”

“Did you do the beading by hand, too, Grandpa?”  Aly asked.

Eric nodded.  “I did.  Lots of time spent with my glasses and a magnifying glass.”

“Oh Honey.”  Stephanie whispered.  “What I want to know is…why wasn’t this what I wore for our wedding?”

“Because it’s too much for a simple wedding on the deck of a yacht.”

“True.  So, what did you have in mind for this when you started it?”

“This,” he held out his hand toward the party getting started around them.  “I knew that there would be a party for us once we got married.”

“Smart,” she whispered and patted his cheek.  “Now, where are the others?”

“Well, Steffy said she was running a bit behind.  Thomas is on his way.  He went by to pick up Aunt Pam.  We didn’t want her driving this late.”  Felicia answered.

Stephanie chuckled.  “Thanks, Baby.”

“And who else have you invited?”

“Well, they invited us.”  Taylor called from the doorway, Whip close behind.

“Wow!” he commented as he saw Stephanie.

“That seems to be the consensus tonight.”  Stephanie sighed as she hugged Taylor.  “Hello, Honey.”

“Hello, Stephanie.”  Taylor kissed her friend’s cheek then looked her over.  “He’s right.  You’re stunning.  I take it Eric’s been busy making you a new wardrobe.”

“Very busy.”  Stephanie told her.

Taylor’s eyes twinkled as she leaned forward and whispered in Stephanie’s ear, “That tone tells me it’s more than what we’re seeing.”

“Taylor.”  Stephanie admonished, her cheeks blushing in spite of her best efforts to control it.

Taylor chuckled and gave Stephanie another hug.  “I’m so happy for you.”

“Thank you, Taylor.”

“Eric, you’d better not let her out of your sight tonight.”  Whip told the older man as he leaned over to kiss Stephanie’s cheek.  “You look amazing.”

Stephanie smiled and patted his cheek.  “Thank you, Whip.”

Eric winked at Stephanie when she looked up at him.  “I fully intend to keep her right by my side all night long, Whip.”

“He’s a bit greedy.”  Stephanie whispered then laughed when Eric growled and nipped at her neck.  “Eric,” she whispered.

“Daddy!  Not in front of witnesses!”  Felicia scolded then hugged her parents.  “I’m so happy to see you so in love with each other.”

Kissing the side of her head, Stephanie patted Felicia’s back.  “Not half as happy as we are, Baby.”

“Now,” Eric started as he looked around.  “when are we going to start this party?”

“The rest of the guests are starting to arrive, Grandpa.”  Thomas spoke up from the doorway as he followed Pam through.  “We pulled into the drive just in front of a long line of cars.”

“A long line.”  Pam echoed as she moved to hug her sister.  “Oh Steph!  You look beautiful!”

“Thank you, Pammie.”

“A long line?”  Eric asked, glaring at his daughter.  “I thought this was supposed to be small.”

“Well,” she started then looked at her brother.

“I told you.”  Thorne held up his hands.  “I had nothing to do with it.”

“Thanks, brother.  Thanks a lot.”  Felicia growled.

“Enough.  It is what it is.  As long as we have family and none of the other guests are media, we’re fine.”  Stephanie broke up the fight.

“Well, there are a few media types, but they’re your friends.  I couldn’t not invite them.”  Felicia defended herself.

“As long as they were told they’re here as friends only.”

“They didn’t even ask to be anything else.”

“Good.”  Eric took Stephanie’s hand.  “Come on, Sweet girl.  I’m thirsty.”

“So am I,” she agreed and followed him into the living room.

“Wow.”  Steffy whispered as she came through the door a couple of minutes later.  “You’ve really gone all out.”

“Why not?”  Felicia asked with a smile.

“No reason.”  Steffy told her as she hugged her mother then Whip.  “Where’s Grandma and Granddad?”

“In there.”  Taylor told her as she pointed toward the couple just as Stephanie turned around.

“Whoa.  That’s some outfit.”  Steffy whispered as she took in her grandmother’s silvery blue satin pants and top.  “Is that beading on the jacket?”

“It is.”  Thorne answered.  “Go on.  Go see for yourself.  Your grandpa made the whole outfit.”

“Made it?”  Steffy asked with wide eyes.

“Made it.”  Felicia confirmed with a nod.

“How long has it been since he’s made anything himself?”  Taylor wondered.

“Years.  The last time was for Mother too.”

Everyone turned at the sound of the voice, amazed to see him standing there.

“Ridge?”  Kristen asked as Tony and Zende came in behind her.

“It’s me.”  Ridge answered as he looked past them to where his parents stood talking to his daughter.  “I knew Dad had been working on something before, but I didn’t realize it was something he was making.  I just thought he was designing it.”

“From the way they were talking earlier, I think Dad made all of Mom’s clothes for their wedding and honeymoon.”

“That would explain why he was behind on his designs.”  Ridge studied his parents.  “She looks like she’s feeling good.”

“Dad said she didn’t have any coughing spells while they were gone.  He thinks the ocean air was good for her.”

Ridge looked at his brother.  “Maybe it was, but maybe it was just being alone with Dad.”

“Maybe.”  Thorne whispered as the brothers walked in to talk with their parents while the girls started greeting guests.

 

E**S

 

Eric watched Stephanie, his ears picking up her cough even though she tried to cover it up.  He hadn’t let her out of his sight, but he had let her wander away from his side to visit with some of the ladies.  Deciding that her coughing was only going to get worse, he started to make his way to her when he heard her excuse herself.  Sighing, he sat down his champagne glass and followed her.

“Daddy?”  Felicia caught him.

“It’s alright.  She’ll be fine.  Just let me go to her.”

Felicia nodded.  “We can end the party if we need to.”

“I’ll let you know, Baby.  Now go on.  Take care of your guests.”  He patted her hand and kissed her forehead then turned and went down the hall, finding Stephanie sitting and coughing just outside the back door.  “Sweetheart,” he whispered as he knelt down in front of her.  “Here,” he held out a glass of water for her.  “Easy.”

Stephanie sipped the water, her hands shaking beneath Eric’s as he helped her hold the glass steady.  Finished with the water, she leaned her head back and closed her eyes.  “Why now?”

“I don’t know, Sweetheart.  Maybe it’s all the people and the different perfumes and colognes.”  Eric sat down beside her, pulling her against him.  “Are you okay?  Or do you want to end the party?  Felicia said we could if need be.”

Stephanie shook her head.  “No.  They worked so hard.  I’m okay now.  Just don’t let me wander off again.”  She smiled at him.  “I’m going to need to hold onto you.”

“Are you really sure?  They’ll all understand, Steph.”  Eric caressed her face.

“I know.  And I’m sure.  As long as I have you to hold onto, I’ll be okay.”

“Alright, but we’re staying close to the balcony.  Maybe if we keep you near the fresh air it will help.”

She nodded and took his hand when he stood up.  Leaning against him, she sighed, “The party’s been wonderful so far, hasn’t it?”

“It has.  All the men keep telling me how lucky I am.  They can’t keep their eyes off you.”  He winked when she frowned up at him.  “What?  It’s the truth.  Even your sons keep staring.”

A smile turned up her lips.  “I’m so glad Ridge came.  I didn’t think he would.”

“I didn’t think he would, either, but I’m happy that he did.”  Eric kissed her head.  “Ready to go back?”

Stephanie nodded and followed him down the hall, the sounds of the party growing close.  “Have I told you how much I love you?”

“Not in the last few minutes, but you’ve been a bit busy.”

Looking up at him, just as they entered the living room, she smiled and patted his cheek.  “I love you, Mr. Forrester.”

Eric smiled then laughed when the sound of tinkling glass reached his ears.  “I do believe they expect a kiss.”

“Well then we’d better give it to them before they break the glasses.”  Stephanie countered, a small chuckle slipping from her lips.

Kristen cheered with the rest of the gathered crowd as she watched her parents kiss, knowing that her mother was weak from her coughing spell by the way she was holding onto Eric’s arm.  “She’s putting on a front for all of us so she doesn’t ruin the party.”

Tony studied his mother-in-law.  “Let her have it, Kris.  Your dad won’t let her over exert herself.  I’m sure they discussed this before coming back in.  She looks like she’s alright, just a little weak.”  He wrapped an arm around his wife.  “He won’t let her go.”

“No, he won’t,” she whispered.  “I’ve never seen them so in love, Tony.”

“Never?  They seemed pretty in love when I met them.”

“They were, but not like this.  It’s different this time.”

“Because he’s facing a future that might not have her in it.”

Kristen looked up at her husband, tears pooling in her eyes.  “I know how he feels,” she whispered as she reached up to caress his face.

“Shh, Kris.”  Tony soothed her, knowing just how close her feelings were to her father’s, wishing there was a way to keep her from thinking them, and knowing that there wasn’t.

 

E**S

 

Stephanie leaned back against Eric as they stood on the balcony, listening to the sounds of the quiet night around them.  Inhaling, she sighed and patted his hand.  “The party was lovely.  Our daughters did a wonderful job.”

“Yes, they did.  They learned from their mother – the best party giver in LA.”

“Well,” she laughed.  “I wouldn’t go that far.”

Nuzzling her neck before pressing a kiss to her temple, Eric smiled.  “I would.”

She shrugged.  “I loved showing you off.”

“Just as much as I loved showing you off.”  Swaying them slightly, Eric cuddled her close.  “How are you feeling?”

“Mmm,” she hummed.  “Absolutely wonderful right now.”

“Yes, you do,” he whispered against her ear before nipping at the lobe.  “We have a photo shoot tomorrow.”

She nodded.  “I know.  What am I going to wear?”

“A few of the outfits from our honeymoon.”

“But they need to be cleaned.”

“I know.  That’s why I sent them out while you were napping before the party.”

Reaching back, she patted his cheek.  “Smart.”

“You bet,” he agreed.  “They’ll be here in the morning.  The photo shoot isn’t until one.  Plenty of time to decide which ones.”

“I bet you already know which ones you want me to wear.”

He chuckled and nodded.  “I do.  Not your wedding outfit; they already have pictures of you in that.”

“And not any of the intimate apparel.”

“Most definitely not,” he growled and nipped her neck making her giggle softly.  Eric squeezed her.  “I love to hear you giggle.”

“I don’t giggle,” she denied even as a smile spread across her lips.

“You do,” he argued.  “It turns me on.”

She shook her head then tilted it up to look at him.  “What doesn’t turn you on?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Hmm,” he hummed as he pondered her question.  “Seeing you hurt or sick.  Those things only make me sad.”

Stephanie turned in his arms, wrapping her arms around him.  “I love you, Eric.”

Tracing the line of her brow then down her nose, Eric smiled at her.  “I love you, too, Stephanie.”

Yawning, she leaned against him.  “I think I need to go to bed.”

“I think you’re right, Sweet girl.”  Pressing a kiss to her forehead, he moved back then took her hand.  “Want a soak before bed, or just bed?”

Stifling another yawn, she blinked sleepy eyes up at him.  “Just bed with you holding me.”

“That’s a given.”

“And one of your shirts.”

He chuckled, “That’s just about a given, too.”

Chapter Text

Stephanie stared down at her feet then up at Eric.  “I am not having my picture taken barefoot.”

Eric chuckled.  “But that’s how you wore this outfit.  Besides, you had your picture taken barefoot for the wedding,” he reminded her.

She scowled.  “That was different.  From the distance those pictures were taken, you couldn’t see I wasn’t wearing shoes.  This time you can see it clearly, especially in this,” she pointed down at the skirt of her sun dress.  “It’s bad enough I’m wearing a dress.”

“A dress you look stunning in, Mom.”  Thorne told her as he came up behind her, gently squeezing her shoulders as he pressed a kiss to her temple.  “Shoes would ruin the look.  This is a dress for the beach, and shoes don’t work well at the beach.”

“You are not helping,” she looked back at him, her eyes soft with love for her son.

“I am.  I’m telling you how beautiful you look to give you the courage to go out there barefoot.”  Thorne smiled at her and tugged at her hand.  “Come on.  They’re getting restless.”

“And there’s only one more outfit to go.”  Eric winked at her.  “Then I believe the girls have a surprise for you.”

Looking between her two men, then back down at her feet, Stephanie sighed and gave in.  “Alright.  Let’s get this over with.”

“That’s my girl.”  Eric whispered as he took her other hand, winking at Thorne over her head.

“And your polish matches the dress, Mom.”  Thorne chuckled when she scowled up at him.

“Oh hush.”

Kissing her cheek, Thorne let go of her hand and went ahead of them.  “I’ll tell them you’re on your way.”

“Thanks, Son.”  Eric called out to him then looked down at Stephanie.  “Are you having fun, Sweet girl?”

Smiling up at him, she nodded.  “Actually, I am.  Bare feet, aside.”

Eric laughed.  “You have cute feet.”

“I do not.  They’re old feet.”

“Still cute feet.”

She shook her head.  “Let’s just get this set over with.  What outfit am I wearing next?”

“The loose pants and top.”

“The one that the top won’t stay on my shoulder?”  She smirked up at him.  “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”

He shrugged.  “Can I help it if I like to have easy access to your soft skin?”

“You’re hopeless,” she sighed, titling her face up to kiss him lightly on the lips, not realizing they were being caught on camera.

Thorne smiled, knowing that his parents probably wouldn’t allow the picture to be used, but knowing that he was going to get a copy of it for his own personal collection.  “Alright, you two.”

Stephanie chuckled as she pulled back and looked at her son, all signs of them having been caught gone as the photographer had moved to where he wanted them for his official shots.  “It’s all your father’s fault.”

Eric shook his head.  “I can’t help it that I’m so in love with my wife.”

“Sap,” she murmured as she followed him to the garden.

Eric stood looking down at Stephanie as they waited for the photographer, again unaware they were being caught on camera.  His mind was memorizing how beautiful she looked among the flowers of her garden, the sun glinting off her hair.  This was another of those moments that would wind up in his sketch book.  “You’re beautiful,” he whispered, reaching out to pick a flower, tucking it behind her ear.

“Eric,” she murmured.  “They won’t want that in my hair.  Besides, I’m too old for that sort of thing.”  She reached up to remove the flower, then paused when she heard the photographer tell her to leave it.

“Leave the flower, Mrs. Forrester.  At least for one shot.”  Carmen smiled at her.

Stephanie sighed, “Why do I feel like I’m being ganged up on?”

Carmen laughed along with Thorne and Eric.  “It’s lovely, Mrs. Forrester, and it fits with the theme of this set.  I promise you can take it out after I get this shot.”

“Alright,” she gave in, smiling at the man.

“You do realize she’s going to have your head when she sees the candids, right?”  Thorne whispered.

Carmen smiled as he lifted his camera.  “No she won’t.  Not when she sees how beautiful she looks.”

 

E**S

 

Eric pulled Stephanie close, holding her so that she was resting easily against his chest, his hands holding hers as they stood facing the camera.  “I think this is my favorite of your new outfits,” he whispered just before the camera flashed.

Looking up at him, she smiled.  “I thought that lace number was?” she countered, her voice low.

Eric felt the heat rise inside him at the mention of the lace negligee she’d worn on their wedding night.  Lifting their hands, he curled their arms around her and squeezed gently.  “Will you wear it for me,” his voice dropped even lower as he finished, “later?”

Stephanie’s blue eyes sparked with passion as she looked up at Eric just in time for Carmen to snap a shot.  Startled by the flash, she looked away from Eric and found Carmen and everyone around them smiling stupidly at them.  “That doesn’t go in the magazine,” she told them.

Thorne nodded.  “Yes, it does, Mom.”

“Thorne,” she warned.

“Mrs. Forrester, please?”  Carmen asked, deciding to give up the secret of his candid shots from the whole day.  “I have a lot of shots of the two of you, wonderful shots, but not what we’re looking for.”  He bit his lip then continued.  “Then I have candid shots that I’ve gotten of the two of you when you didn’t realize I was watching.  They’re beautiful.  They’re alive.  They’re exactly what the article needs.”

Stephanie blinked in surprise then looked up at Eric, her cheeks flushing as she thought of some of the things they’d been doing when they thought no one was paying attention.  “Carmen, I,” she started, but the photographer held up his hand.

“I promise there aren’t any really intimate ones, but, Mrs. Forrester…this is about a love story.  This is to show women of all ages that true, real, love is possible.  The clothes you’ve been wearing today were designed for you by your husband and you can see the love that went in to each design by the way they fit you, compliment you, bring out the beauty of those stunning eyes.  Every woman wants to believe that they can go through troubles and trials and still have the love of their life.  The two of you are the perfect example of that.”

“Let’s just look at the shots, Stephanie.  He’ll let us choose which ones to use.”  Eric lifted one of her hands and kissed it.  “I want the world to know how much I love you, and if it shows in the candid shots, I want to use those.”

“But not too personal?” she asked, turning to look back at Carmen.

Carmen shook his head when she looked at him.  “I promise.  The most personal thing I have is a few shots of the two of you sharing some kisses.”

“Okay.  We’ll look at them and see.”

Eric smiled at her.  “Thank you,” he whispered before gently kissing her, chuckling when he heard the snap of the camera.

Stephanie sighed, “We’ve been caught again.”

“I suppose we have.”  Eric whispered back before turning to look at Carmen.  “Now, since we’ve decided to do the candids, do you need more shots of us in these outfits?”

“No.  I have plenty.  While you go and change, I’ll get things set up for you to view what I’ve got.”

 Stephanie cleared her throat and coughed, looking up at Eric with a frown as she squeezed his hand.  She didn’t want to have a coughing spell in front of all these people, but it would seem that it was inevitable because there was no way she would be able to make it inside while coughing like she was.

Eric held her close, his hand gently rubbing her back.  Whispering thank you to Thorne when he held out a glass of water, he helped her sip from it, then handed it back when she was done.  “Easy, Sweet girl.  Easy,” he soothed as he continued to rub her back, holding her steady against him.

Stephanie sighed, thankful that this spell wasn’t one of the bad ones, but drained none the less.  Resting her forehead against Eric’s chin, she felt him tilt his head down to press a kiss to her hair.

Carmen couldn’t help it, the pose was too wonderful to pass up, one that he just knew was the perfect pose to end the article with.  Stephanie’s face was finally calm, her skin a bit paler than normal, as she rested against Eric.  The top of her outfit had slipped again, showing off a lovely, pale shoulder.  The light breeze that had picked up, moved the loose fabric of her clothes about her as Eric pressed a kiss to her forehead, his arms holding her close as she rested her hands on his chest.  Snapping a couple of shots, he turned to find Thorne staring at him.

“If we can convince her to let you use that shot, the magazine will need a second printing.”  Thorne whispered, following when Carmen turned away, moving to where his stuff was sitting on a nearby table.

“Your mother doesn’t realize how beautiful she is, does she?”  Carmen asked as he sat down, opening his laptop to get started setting things up for them to view the pictures.

Thorne looked to where his parents still stood, his father easily comforting his mother.  “No, she doesn’t.  She never has.  No one has ever given her reason to.”

“He is.”  Carmen whispered as he looked up to see Eric tenderly caressing Stephanie’s face.

“Yes, he is.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie opened her eyes, smiling when she looked up into the blue eyes of her baby.  “Hey,” she whispered.

“Hey.”  Felicia echoed.  “Are you ready for your surprise now?”

“I thought I’d ruined that.  I’m sorry.” 

“You didn’t ruin it.  Just delayed it a bit, that’s all.”  Felicia kissed her mother’s forehead.  “I’m going to go tell the others you’re awake.”  She got up and headed for the door.  “Don’t rush.”

“Okay.”  Stephanie sighed and sat up, smiling when she heard the door open again.  “Hello, Honey.”

“Hey,” came his quiet response.  “How are you feeling?” he asked as he sat down beside her, caressing her cheek.

“Rested.”

“Good.”

“So, do you know how I should dress for this surprise of mine?  I know your shirt won’t work.”

Eric chuckled.  “The loose pants and top will work.”

“You just want to see me fuss with it falling off my shoulder.”

“Well, that does sound appealing, but no.  I won’t be seeing you fussing with it.  At least for a while.”

“Oh?” she asked, an eyebrow raising in question.

“Yes.  And that’s all I’m saying.  Now, go on.  Get dressed.  I’ll be right here.”

She smiled as she stood up, leaning over to kiss him softly.  “Thank you for today.”

“For what?”

“For helping me when I started coughing.  You knew I didn’t want to have an attack in front of everyone and you kept me from getting upset.”

“Just doing what I’m supposed to as the man who loves you; taking care of you.”

“Supposed to?” she asked.

Eric nodded.  “Supposed to.  Wants to.  Loves to.”  He stood up, taking her in his arms.  “Needs to,” he whispered.

“Why needs to?”

“Because,” he started then rested his forehead against hers.  “Because I have so much to make up for.  So many years of neglecting you, taking you for granted.  I need to do this to make you see that I’ve changed, that I know how much I’ve hurt you in the past.”

“Shh,” she breathed as she touched her fingers to his lips.  “I do know.  You don’t have to keep proving it to me.”

He nodded.  “Then I need to keep proving it to me.”

Smiling, she kissed him then pulled away.  “I’m going to get ready now.  We don’t want our daughter coming up here thinking we’re doing something naughty.”

Eric chuckled.  “And she would too.”

“Most definitely.”

Watching her grab her clothes from the chair he’d laid them on, Eric sighed when she stopped to wink at him just before she disappeared in the bathroom.  Moving to his side of the bed, he opened the bottom drawer of his nightstand and lifted out the sketch pad and pencil he kept there.  A sketch pad Stephanie didn’t know about.  Sitting in the chair by the window, he opened it, smiling as he caressed the face in the image that greeted him on the first page. 

“God, why did you give her to me?” he whispered as he stared at the drawing he’d done of Stephanie lying on her stomach with nothing but a sheet draped over her lower body, one leg peaking out, bent at the knee.  He could close his eyes and still see her lying this way after their first time.  The gentle rocking of the boat had lulled her to sleep after their latest love making, and he’d gotten up to look outside to make sure things were okay.  When he’d turned back, he had stopped and stood staring, mesmerized at the stunning beauty of the woman he’d held in his arms through the night.

Flipping through the images to a blank page, he began to sketch again, another intimate memory of his wife, this time from their honeymoon.  It was the same pose as the very first image, a pose he’d sketched several times down through the years, each one only changed by the passing of time.

“Daddy.”  Felicia called, catching him off guard.

Hurriedly closing the pad and walking over to put it back in its hiding place, he turned just in time to see his daughter poking her head inside the partially open door.  “What is it, Baby?”

“Is Mom okay?”  Felicia asked, studying her father, wondering what it was he’d just put away.

“I’m fine, Baby.”  Stephanie answered for him as she came into the bedroom.  “I was just getting ready.”

“Okay.  I thought maybe you’d started coughing again.”  Felicia bit her lip.  “Are you sure you’re up for this?  We can change it to tomorrow.”

“Taylor’s going, isn’t she?”  Eric asked as he reached for Stephanie’s hand.

Felicia nodded.  “And so is Bridget.”

“Then your mother will be fine,” he reassured her then turned to Stephanie.  “Just make sure to keep the strong smells to a minimum, and try to keep her as close to the fresh air as possible.”

Stephanie smiled up at him as they followed Felicia down the hall.  “You sure you aren’t the doctor, Honey?”

He winked at her.  “Well, I am the one that’s around you the most, and we proved last night that a lot of strong smells in a closed area bother you.”

She nodded.  “True.  So what set me off this afternoon?”

“Maybe the flowers we were standing by.”  He looked down and frowned.  “I probably set it off by putting the flower in your hair.”

Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, Stephanie tugged at his hand to get him to look at her.  “Don’t, Honey,” she whispered.

Looking into her loving eyes, he got lost.  “I just hate that I was so careless.  I should have thought that it might bother you.”

Kissing his chin, she smiled up at him.  “You can’t know it all, Honey.”  She shrugged.  “I wasn’t thinking, either.  It’s hard to remember that things I’ve never had a problem with can now set off a coughing spell.”

Taylor smiled at her friends.  “Once you have your surgery and get used to not having full lung capacity, the coughing spells should go away, and the things that trigger them now won’t bother you anymore.”  She hugged Stephanie.  “Until then, we’ll all be more careful of how much perfume we wear.”

“Something that all of us have done today.”  Bridget spoke up as she and all the others came into view.

Stephanie looked around and smiled.  “What’s this?”

“This is a girls’ afternoon out.”  Jackie smiled at her friend.  “We want to hear all about the wedding,”

“And the honeymoon.”  Taylor added.

“Yeah, Steph.”  Pam chimed in, smiling widely at her sister.

Felicia and Kristen groaned.  “Uh, well,” they started making everyone laugh.

Steffy smiled.  “I like that idea.”

“Me, too.”  Aly added.

“Why is it our granddaughters have no problem when it comes to, well,”  Eric started then shrugged.  “But yet our daughters do?”

Stephanie shrugged.  “Oh, well, Felicia doesn’t really have a problem with it.  She is the one that asked us if we were having sex again when she caught us kissing at Christmas a few years ago.”

“Oh yeah.”  Eric laughed.  “She is.”

Pam stuttered and coughed.  “She did what?”

Kristen stared at her sister.  “You asked them that?” she asked, her eyes wide. 

Felicia shrugged as she glared at her mother.  “Well?  What was I supposed to think?  The way they were going at it right here in the foyer had to mean something.”

Stephanie rolled her eyes.  “We were not going at it, as you say.  We were simply standing, holding each other, and kissing.  You know, things married people do.”

Jackie laughed.  “Come on, ladies.  Let’s take this discussion and go.  Our limo is waiting.”

“Limo?”  Stephanie asked.

“Limo.”  Eric smiled.  “How else do you suppose all of you ladies will get where you’re going?”

“Come on, Grandma.”  Steffy and Aly said as they each took a hand.  “We need to go.  You can keep teasing aunt Felicia on the way.”

“Hey!”  Felicia scowled as they all laughed.

“Bye, Sweetheart.  Have a good time.”  Eric winked as he pressed a kiss to Stephanie’s waiting lips.

“What are you going to do?”  Stephanie asked as she returned his kiss.

“I’m going to enjoy some time with my son, son-in-law, and grandsons.”

“Grandsons?  All of them?”

“All of them.  Even baby Logan.”

Stephanie looked at Bridget.  “Are you sure you want to leave the baby with these guys?” she asked, only half in jest.

“Hey!”  Thorne protested.  “I still remember how to take care of a baby.”

“So do I.”  Eric growled.

“We’ll be fine, Stephanie.”  Tony smiled at her.  “Remember?  I’m from a big family.  I helped take care of the babies.”

“Okay.”  She shook her head then turned and followed her granddaughters, daughters, sister, and friends out the door.  “So…where are you taking me?” she asked as they all climbed into the limo.

“Well, we thought we’d spend a few hours at the spa getting massages, pedicures, manicures, all of that stuff.”  Taylor answered, a twinkle in her eyes as she watched the dreamy look cross Stephanie’s face.

“A pedicure and manicure sounds lovely.”  Stephanie smiled at all of them.

“Not a massage, Stephanie?”  Jackie asked, also noting the look on Stephanie’s face.

Stephanie narrowed her eyes.  “What are you two playing at?”

“Who?  Us?”  Jackie and Taylor asked simultaneously.

“Yes,”  Stephanie started and pointed at them.  “you.”

“Why not a thing, Darling.  Not a thing.”  Jackie answered, drawling out her accent making Stephanie roll her eyes.

“Oh brother.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie looked at her fingernails and shook her head.  “How did I let you talk me into this?” she asked as she held up a finger, it’s bright pink polish with bright yellow flowers glinting in the sunlight filtering in through the open terrace doors.

Aly giggled.  “I like it, Grandma.”

“Me, too, Grandma.”  Steffy smiled when Stephanie wrinkled her nose at her.

“Eric will like it, I think.”  Jackie added.  “What do you think, Taylor?”

“I think he will.”

“Daddy will love it, Mom.”  Felicia assured her mother.

“Especially when he notices that your toes match.”  Kristen laughed at the look her mother gave her.

“Maybe he’ll design and make you another outfit to be worn with no shoes.”  Bridget added with a chuckle. 

“You can tell him that we kept you in the open air while they were doing it so you didn’t cough.”  Pam smiled at her sister.  “And I like Bridget’s idea.  You’ve already got two outfits he designed to be worn without shoes.  You know, your wedding outfit…” she reminded.

Stephanie sighed, “Oh brother.  I knew I’d hear about that sooner or later.”  She snarled her nose.  “And Eric said no one would notice I wasn’t wearing shoes.”

“Well, he was wrong.”  Taylor laughed.  “But it was only one picture,” she soothed her friend’s grumble.

“We hear there are pictures coming out from your photo shoot earlier today that have you barefoot in them.”  Jackie whispered, barely able to contain her laugh when she saw the look on Stephanie’s face.

Stephanie narrowed her eyes as she looked at her daughters.  “And I wonder where you heard that from?”

Kristen shook her head.  “Don’t look at me.”

“Ah, come on, Grandma.  Those were wonderful pictures.”  Steffy winked at her.

“Yeah, Grandma.  You and Grandpa looked cute standing there in the grass with no shoes.”

“Oh brother.”  Stephanie sighed.

“And your polish matched your dress.”  Felicia chimed in.

“Now you sound like Thorne.”  She shook her head and looked down at her toes.  “That’s the line he used to get me to go along with the barefoot pose.”

“Great minds, you know.”

“Silly minds, is more like it.”

Felicia laughed and moved to hug her mother.  “Now that all of our nails are dry, who wants a massage?”  The question got a positive response from everyone but Stephanie.  “Mom?  This is the second time you’ve reacted this way at the mention of a massage.”

Stephanie looked out the terrace doors, her face softening as she smiled.  “I don’t need a massage.”

Jackie raised an eyebrow.  “It was that good, huh?” she asked, her voice low and conspiratorial.

“Mmm, magic fingers.”  Stephanie answered, not really paying attention.

Jackie’s eyes widened as she looked around at the others, all of whom sat with the same expressions on their faces.  “Just exactly what did you do on that island?” she asked, still keeping her voice low in the hopes that they’d get more out of Stephanie before she realized what she was doing.

Stephanie sighed and closed her eyes.  “Made love in a four poster bed he had set up on the beach, took walks in the moonlight, danced, made love, cuddled and,” she stopped and opened her eyes, glaring at the women staring intently at her.  “Oh for the love of,” she grumbled.  “That was uncalled for.”

Pam giggled.  “Now, Steph,” she started, pausing to laugh again.

Taylor burst out laughing along with the rest of the ladies.  “What?  We’re your friends, Stephanie.  We wanted to know.”

“Not all of you are friends.  Remember my daughters and granddaughters are here?  And my sister?”

“And I think that’s the most romantic thing in the world, Grandma.”  Aly smiled and wiped a tear from her cheek.  “A bed on the beach so you could make love and cuddle in the wide open outdoors,” she sighed, a dreamy look on her face.

“Under the stars, with the ocean crashing in front of you.”  Steffy added with a sigh.  “I always knew Granddad was romantic, but wow.”

“They’re right, Steph.  You’re one lucky lady.”  Pam sighed.

Kristen reached over and clasped her mother’s hand.  “I’m so happy that you had such a beautiful and wonderful honeymoon, Mom.”

Felicia sniffed  as she got up and moved to her mother, wrapping her arms tightly around her.  “I know you’re embarrassed, but thank you.”

Caressing the tears from her baby’s cheeks, Stephanie rested her hands there.  “What for, Baby?”

“Because it gives me hope.”

“Oh, Baby.”  Stephanie pulled her close once again, smiling at the others around them.  “Alright.  I’ll tell you more, but nothing very intimate.”

“So, I guess that means we won’t get to hear about the lingerie Eric designed for you for the honeymoon?”  Taylor asked, her eyes twinkling with mischief when Stephanie sputtered and the others laughed.

“Well, now…maybe that should be left for when it’s just you and I, Taylor.”  Jackie winked at her.  “Maybe we can even talk her into showing them to us.”

Stephanie shook her head.  “Most definitely not.”  She smirked.  “Those are for Eric’s eyes only.”

“I think some of what he designed is showing now.”  Bridget pointed at the lacy strap on Stephanie’s shoulder.

Stephanie huffed and pulled her robe up on her shoulder.  “I think Eric must have called ahead and told them to give me a robe that wouldn’t stay on my shoulders.”

“He does seem to have a fascination with your shoulders judging from the outfit you wore here.”  Pam chuckled and patted her sister’s shoulder.

Waiting until she was alone with just Jackie and Taylor, Stephanie sighed.  “He does.  There was the outfit I wore here, and then three of the things he designed for me to sleep in that all have big necklines so they’ll slip of my shoulder.”  She got up to follow them out of the room.  “He makes me feel alive, something that I need more than I ever have in my life.”

Taylor grabbed her hand, stopping her.  “You are alive, Stephanie, and you’re going to stay that way.”

Squeezing back, Stephanie smiled at her friend.  “I’m going to try.”

“And we’re all going to be right here helping you.”  Jackie took Stephanie’s other hand.  “Don’t forget that.”

“I won’t,” she promised.  “You both have to promise to look after the kids and Eric.  He doesn’t really have anyone outside of the family he can confide in.”

“We will,” both women whispered, each wiping a tear from their cheeks.

“Now, we’d better go join the girls or they’re going to come looking for us.”

“We’ll just tell them you’ve been sharing secrets.”  Jackie winked.

“And it won’t be a lie.”  Taylor laughed.

Stephanie smiled at her friends, thankful to have them.  “So what am I going to do while you get your massages?” she asked as she followed them down the hall.

“You could tell us more about your honeymoon.  The less intimate parts.  Like the walks you took.  Surely those would be safe enough to talk about.”  Jackie chuckled.

“I could do that.”

“You could also tell us about the sketch pad we found.”  Taylor looked at her friend when she turned startled eyes on her.

“You found that?  I thought we put it up before we left.”

Taylor shook her head.  “No.  You didn’t.”

“Sketch pad?”  Jackie asked as they entered the room where the girls were already started with their massages.

“Yeah, Mom.  Tell us about that.”  Kristen spoke up.

Stephanie sat down and waited for Taylor and Jackie to get situated on their tables.  “Well, I didn’t know about it until Eric brought me home from the hospital.”  She settled further back into the comfortable chair, her eyes staring off into the distance outside the open windows.  “I knew he was worried by everything that was going on, so when I drifted off to sleep, I asked him to sketch me something.  He couldn’t find what he needed in the gift shop so he went home and got a sketch pad.  While I was sleeping, he did a few sketches.”  She chuckled.  “You know, I never have made it that far into the sketch pad’s pages.  Anyway, I had forgotten about it because shortly after I woke up was when we learned about,” she paused and shook her head.  “Anyway, when he went to fix me something to eat, he reminded me about it.  While he was in the kitchen, I picked it up and opened it to find a sketch of me from the first time he saw me.”

“That’s what the first sketch of you is?  The very first time he saw you?”  Felicia asked.

“Yes.”  Stephanie answered.

“So he went home and sketched you?”  Aly asked.

“No, Honey.  At least I don’t think so.  He didn’t really tell me when he started the sketches.”

“We’ll have to ask him.  And you’ll have to let me see it.”  Jackie whispered then moaned when her masseuse hit a particularly sore spot.  “I didn’t know Eric ever did anything but the design sketches.”

Stephanie smiled.  “Oh, he’s always done more than just those.  We have some of his scenery sketches somewhere.  He didn’t start off studying design in college.  He studied art, which meant doing a little of everything.  There may even be some of his paintings up in the attic.”

“Daddy did paintings?”  Felicia asked, lifting her head only to have it gently pushed back down.

Stephanie chuckled.  “Yes, he did.  Your father is very good with a paint brush.  Just because he made his living designing clothes doesn’t mean he can’t do other things.”

“But his best is people.  You especially.”  Kristen smiled at her mother when she sat up, wrapping her robe back around her.  “I’ve watched him sketch women all my life as he was designing each new collection, but the only one that ever seemed to be alive on the paper was you.”

“She’s right.  Those sketches in the pad were so vivid that it was like we were there.”

Kristen sighed.  “I loved the one of us when I was a baby.”

Felicia sat up, pulling her robe on.  “What was the one of you laying in a bed in what looks like the hospital?”

Stephanie looked at her baby, her eyes soft in memory.  “That was from the day you were born.”

“Even though you can tell you were in pain, you look beautiful, Stephanie.”  Taylor whispered as she finished with her massage.

“Tell us about that day, Grandma.”  Steffy said as she and Aly sat up.

“I’d like to hear it too, Steph.”  Pam chimed in as she pulled on her robe.

“Me too, Stephanie.  I’ve heard Dad mention something about the pregnancy being hard for you when I was going through all those miscarriages.”

“Yes, Stephanie.”  Jackie said as she sat up, the last to finish her massage.

“Why don’t we go outside and get some of those wonderful smoothies?  I’ll tell you while we sip on those.”

“Sounds like a plan,” they all agreed and got up to follow Stephanie down the hall and out onto the terrace where lounge chairs were spread about, pitchers filled with different flavors of smoothies waiting for them.

“So?”  Felicia asked as they all settled down, pulling their chairs close to Stephanie so they could hear her clearly.

“You always were impatient.  Even before you were born.”  Stephanie smiled.  “You decided you just couldn’t wait any longer, so you came early,” she started then sipped her drink, settling into a more comfortable spot.  “I wasn’t thinking about having a baby that day, so I’d gone about things as usual, although I’d had to cut way back because I’d had such a difficult time.  I’d missed a few meetings that week, so I had gone into the office to take care of the important ones.  Well,” she sighed and looked at Felicia.  “I hadn’t gotten through even the first meeting when someone decided it was time to make her appearance.  Thankfully I was with our buyer at the time.  Poor Ben.  He went rushing out of my office, his eyes wide, shouting for Eric.  Half the place was in my office before Eric made it.”

“I remember Ben.”  Kristen laughed.  “He was an old dear, but very high strung.”

Stephanie nodded.  “Very.”

“So?  What did Grandpa do?”

“Well, Eric was only marginally better than Ben.  He kept insisting I couldn’t possibly be in labor because it was just too soon.”

“I’m sure you set him straight very quickly.”  Taylor chuckled.

Stephanie laughed and nodded.  “When I growled at him and gripped his hand, he stopped and helped me up and out to the car.”  She took another sip from her glass.  “He was like a wild man as he drove to the hospital.  I thought for sure he’d get us killed, but we made it.”  She frowned.  “My doctor decided he’d try to stop the labor.  We thought it was working when the contractions stopped, but six hours later, they started again and wouldn’t be stopped.  So, then he decided he’d slow it down as much as he could.  He wanted to prolong the labor as long as possible because of how early the baby was.”

“How long?”  Felicia asked quietly.

“They prolonged it for about seventeen hours before you became distressed and they had to let it go.”  Stephanie reached out and caressed Felicia’s face.  “The sketch you saw was of me just before that happened.  I didn’t know if I could continue because I was so tired and my body was weak.  Eric kept assuring me that I could and kept telling me that he wished he could take my place.  When things went crazy, it was Eric’s voice that kept me calm.  You were the only baby he was in the delivery room for.  The doctor let him stay because he’d been there when Angela was born and knew that I had to be thinking about that time.”

“But nothing went wrong, right?”  Steffy asked as she pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them.

“Oh, everything went wrong.  She was so little and wasn’t breathing.  We nearly lost her.”

“We nearly lost you.”  Kristen whispered.

“How do you know that, Honey?  You were so young then.  And we never told you kids how close it had come.”

“We all knew, though.  We heard Daddy telling Grandpa.”

“Oh, Honey.  I’m so sorry.  Why didn’t you come to us?”

“Because we saw how upset Dad was.  We all just clung to each other.”

“How close is nearly, Mom?”  Felicia asked, her blue eyes holding her mother’s.

“I don’t remember anything after you were born.  I nearly flat lined.  Only Eric’s voice telling me we had a baby girl kept me from slipping away.”

“Momma.”  Felicia whispered, moving from her chair to Stephanie’s and leaning over to hug her mother.  “You,” she whispered, her voice shaky.  “You fought for me.”

“Yes, I did.  And then I had to fight for you even harder after they stabilized me.  Eric kept telling them to let me talk to you, but they kept arguing that they couldn’t do that.  Finally the doctor gave in and they let me hold you.  When they handed you to me, you were barely breathing and struggling to do the little you were.  Eric helped me hold you, and as I whispered to you, you calmed and started breathing a little better.  When they put you in the incubator, they were all amazed at the difference.”

“And did Daddy tell them he told them so?”  Felicia asked as she sat up and moved back to her chair.

“Yes, he did.”  Stephanie smiled.  “You were in the hospital for a few weeks before we got to bring you home.  Everyone kept calling you the miracle baby.  Eric just shook his head.  He knew you were a fighter.”

“Just like her mother.”  Taylor smiled at her friend.  “I think my favorite of the sketches is the one of you sitting on the terrace.  It looks like it’s from when you had your stroke, although you aren’t in your wheelchair.”

Stephanie shrugged her shoulders.  “I haven’t seen that one, so I don’t know.”  She finished her drink.  “How do you think the men are doing?”

Bridget laughed.  “I’m sure we’ll find Logan and Dino both all in one piece when we get back.”

“Baby Logan may have his diaper on backward.”  Stephanie chuckled.  “Eric never was much good at that.”

Bridget laughed.  “So that’s why I have a picture of me in a backward diaper.”

“Yes.”  Stephanie nodded.  “No matter how many times I showed him, he never did remember.”

Jackie chuckled.  “If he can’t remember the right way for a diaper, how does he get his underwear on the right way?”

Stephanie smirked.  “I put his initials in the back?”

“Oh god, Mom.”  Kristen groaned then burst out laughing, everyone laughing with her.

God it felt good to laugh.

 

E**S

 

“Did you have fun, Gramma?”  Dino asked as he sat beside Stephanie, watching her with baby Logan.

“Yes, I did.  Did you have fun with Grandpa and the guys?”

Dino nodded.  “Did.  Zen helped me beat unca Tony and unca T’orn on da Wii.”

Stephanie frowned.  “Since when do we have a Wii?”

Zende laughed.  “It’s mine, Grandma.  I have a Play Station, too, but thought that the Wii would be better for Dino.”

“That was very thoughtful of you, Honey.”  Kristen smiled at her son.  “So, what did you play, Dino?”

Dino looked at Zende.  “We played little funny peoples drivin’ cars.”

Stephanie chuckled at her grandson’s description, patting baby Logan’s back when he fussed.  “I think someone probably wants his mama.”

“Him fussed at Grampa when him changed his diaper.”  Dino informed them.

Bridget’s eyes grew wide as she looked at Stephanie.  “You don’t think?” she whispered as she pulled out her phone.

Stephanie shook her head.  “Surely not,” she muttered.  “Thorne knows how.  Tony knows how.”

Thorne shrugged.  “I told him I’d do it but he insisted he knew how.”

“Told me the same thing.”  Tony added.

“Oh god.”  Bridget laughed as she pulled Logan’s jeans down, finding what she’d suspected and snapping a picture.

“Eric, good grief.  Even after all these years, you still can’t get it right?”

Eric shrugged, a sheepish grin on his face.  “It’s a really good thing you took care of our babies.”

Stephanie patted his cheek before kissing him.  “A very good thing,” she whispered then turned back to hand the baby to Bridget.

“Go fix the poor thing’s diaper.”

“What I want to know is, why didn’t Thorne check the diaper?”  Kristen asked as she looked at her brother then at her husband.  “Or you?” she asked.

Thorne shrugged.  “How was I supposed to know Dad hadn’t learned to put a diaper on right by now?  I mean, it’s not like they’re straight on both sides like they used to be.  And baby Logan’s even have the little scoop in the front to keep it from rubbing against his sensitive belly button.” 

“And I didn’t know the man couldn’t put a diaper on the right way.”  Tony gave his excuse.

“Gramma?”  Dino asked as he climbed up on her lap.

“What is it, Baby?”  Stephanie asked as she cuddled him close. 

“Dino’s tired.  Can him stay here?”

“Grandma’s tired too, Baby.  You can stay here if Mommy says you can.”

Dino looked at his mother.  “Pwease?”

“Are you sure, Mom?”

“I’m sure.”  Stephanie smiled at her daughter. 

“Alright.  You can stay, Dino.”

Dino smiled.  “T’ank you.”

Thorne yawned.  “Are you ready to go, Aly?  If we stay any longer I won’t be able to drive.”

Aly grinned.  “We could always have another slumber party.”

“Oh no you don’t.”  Eric grumbled and shook his head.  “I’m not spending the night sleeping on the lounge chair.”

“Me, neiver.”  Dino mimicked his grandfather making everyone laugh.

“Granddad’s just greedy.  He doesn’t want to share Grandma.”  Steffy chimed in earning her a playful glare from Eric.

“I’m sharing her with Dino.”

“Yes, but he’s little and doesn’t take up very much room.”

“She’s got you there, Honey.”  Stephanie winked at him.  “I promise we’ll have a night where everyone stays here.”

“Well, until then, we’re heading home.”  Thorne yawned again.  “I think you’re going to have to drive, Aly.”

“Sure, Dad.”  Aly agreed as she got up and moved to hug her grandma.  “Promise we’ll have that night before your surgery?”

“I’ll do my best, Honey.”  Stephanie kissed her forehead.  “Go on now.  Take your dad home before he falls over.”

Aly chuckled and nodded.  “Bye, Grandpa.”  She hugged Eric when he stood up and kissed her head.

“Night, Aly.”

“We’re going too.”  Bridget told them as she kissed each on their cheek.

“Be careful going home.”  Eric kissed her forehead then caressed his grandson’s cheek.  “Bye, little man.”

Stephanie hugged each of her children and grandchildren as the rest said goodnight, leaving just her, Eric, and Dino.  “Are you ready for bed, Dino?”

Dino nodded his head.  “Me is.”  He held up his hands to Eric.  “Carry me?”

Eric smiled down at the little boy and lifted him up.  “Sure thing, Dino.  Come on, let’s go get into our jammies.”

Dino reached out his hand to Stephanie.  “Come on, Gramma.  You wear the shiny pink ones.  Dino likes Gramma in pink.”

Stephanie laughed and shook her head as she moved to Eric’s side, his free arm wrapping around her shoulders.  “You, little man, are going to grow up to be an artist just like your grandpa.”

Dino shook his head.  “Wants to learn how to run t’ings like Gramma.”

Eric smiled at the look on Stephanie’s face.  “I think that sounds like a very good idea, Dino.”

Stephanie swallowed past the lump in her throat and looked away for a moment.  “You boys go to the bathroom and get ready while I get ready in here,” she finally managed when they entered the master bedroom.

“I loves you, Gramma.”  Dino whispered as he leaned over and wrapped his little arms around her neck.

“Oh, Baby.  Grandma loves you too.  Very much.”

“We’ll be right back, Sweetheart.”  Eric pressed a kiss to her head, holding her close a moment before moving to his dresser to pull out his pajamas and the small pair they kept there for Dino.

“D’ers my dinos!”  Dino shouted, clapping his little hands.

Stephanie laughed.  “Were you missing your dinosaur jammies, Baby?”

Dino nodded.  “Was lookin’ for dem de o’der night.”

“Well now you know where they are.”  Eric chuckled as he headed into the bathroom.

Stephanie let the smile fall from her face, the tears she’d been holding back rolling down her cheeks as she looked at herself in the mirror.  “Oh God.  How am I going to do this?” she whispered as she stared at her reflection.  “I don’t want to leave my family.”

Reaching for a tissue when she heard Eric and Dino coming back into the room, she moved to her dresser and pulled out the pajamas Dino had asked her to wear.

“Gramma!  You not in your jammies!”  Dino exclaimed as he ran up to her, hugging her leg.

Smiling down at her grandson, Stephanie caressed his hair.  “I guess Grandma got a little sidetracked.”  Bending down to kiss his head, she patted his cheek.  “You go on and climb in bed with Grandpa.  Maybe he’ll sing you a song or tell you a story.  I’ll be right back.”

Eric watched her as she walked past them, seeing the signs of her tears before she managed to wipe them away.  Sighing, he shook his head.  He hated seeing her like this, but knew that they both were going to have many more days and nights like this.  “Come on, Dino.”  He held out his hand to the little boy.

Dino took Eric’s hand and slowly followed him to the bed.  “Grampa?” he asked as Eric lifted him up.

“What is it, little man?”  Eric asked as he sat down beside Dino.

A sad look crossed the little boy’s face.  “Gramma sad.  She sleep in middle so Grampa can snuggle her.”

Caressing the hair from his grandson’s forehead, Eric smiled at him, his heart swelling with love for the tender hearted little boy.  “Maybe we’ll both cuddle her, okay?”

“Okay, Grampa.”  Dino agreed as he settled into his spot, Eric putting extra pillows beside him to keep him from rolling off the bed.

“Now, do you want Grandpa to tell you a story?”

Dino shook his head.  “Nope.  Dino wants Grampa to sing.”

“What do you want me to sing?”

Dino thought for a moment.  “Luldaby.”

“Rock-a-by Baby?”  Eric asked, laughing when Dino snarled his nose and shook his head.  “Not that one, huh?”

“No.  Dat for babies.”

Stephanie smiled as she came into the room.  Standing beside Eric, she rested her hand on his shoulder.  “How about Sleep My Child?”

Dino frowned.  “Don’t know dat one.”

“It was your mama’s favorite.”  Eric told him.

“Dat one d’en.”

“Grandma, come on.  Let’s settle in.”

“What’s this?”  Stephanie asked as she pointed to the pillows by Dino.

“Gramma needs to be snuggled so her sleep in the middle.”

Eric took her hand.  “Come on, Sweetheart.”

Following Eric around the bed, Stephanie slid in the middle, smiling when Dino snuggled up against her.  “Grandma won’t get cold tonight.”

Eric spooned his body against hers and wrapped his arm over her waist.  “No, you won’t.”

“Sing, Grampa.”

Eric shook his head and chuckled, “Impatient just like his mama.”

“Yes.”  Stephanie whispered as she reached out to caress Dino’s face, leaning back against Eric when he began to sing the lullaby from long ago.

Eric watched Dino fall asleep, slowly singing the last of the song, before stopping and pressing a kiss to Stephanie’s head.  “You’ll teach him, Sweetheart.  Everything he needs to know.”

“Oh Eric,” she whispered, her tears returning.  “How?  If I’m gone,”

“Shh,” he hushed her, pulling her close.  “Whether it’s through videos you make for him, or letters you write to him, you’ll teach him.  You’ll be there for them all in pictures, memories, in the business.”  Kissing her temple, Eric clasped her hand with his.  “I’ll make sure of it.”

Pulling their joined hands up to her chest, Stephanie held them close.  “Will you sketch him like this?”

“I’ll sketch you both like this so that he’ll always have the memory.”  Eric promised quietly.

“I love you, Eric.”

“No more than I love you, my sweet girl.”

Chapter Text

Waking slowly, Eric looked out the balcony doors at the sun starting to peak through the trees.  He couldn’t believe it was the morning of the day of Stephanie’s surgery already.  The week seemed to have flown by much too quickly for all of them.  That night spent with Dino snuggling his beloved grandma because he’d known she was sad seemed a lifetime ago.  He sighed as he held Stephanie close.  Feeling her stir, he caressed her arm.  “At least I got to sleep with you this time,” he whispered before kissing her ear, making her chuckle as she blinked against the light.

Patting the hand that rested on her stomach, Stephanie sighed as she looked around at their children and grandchildren.  “They’re all afraid, Eric,” she whispered back.

“I know they are, Sweetheart.  So am I.”  He pulled her closer to him.  “I know that I should be telling you everything is going to be okay, but I just can’t do that because,” he stopped, his voice catching.

“Shh,” she soothed.  “I’m scared, too, and I don’t want you to lie to me.  I’m glad you told me you’re afraid.  Let them put on the brave faces.  You just be my husband; the man that promised to always tell me how he’s feeling and not hide anything from me.”

Nuzzling his face against her neck, Eric let his tears fall, his quiet sobs muffled by the collar of his shirt that she had insisted on wearing to bed much to their children and grandchildren’s delight and chagrin in turn.  Feeling her turn in his arms, he felt her hand wiping at his tears, her lips gentle against his.

“Oh, Eric.”  Stephanie whispered as she placed gentle kisses on his lips and face, tasting his salty tears.  Her own tears were rolling down her cheeks as she held him close, both sharing in their fears for the day that lay ahead of them.  “I’ll do my best to come back to you, to them, but if I don’t,”

“Please,” he pleaded.  “Don’t say it.”

“I have to, Honey,” she told him gently.  “If I don’t, you have to promise me you won’t hold it all in trying to be strong for the kids.  You have to let Taylor and Jackie be there for you.  They promised me they’d take care of you, now you have to promise that you will let them.”

“I,” he started, his voice catching as he reached up to caress the tears from her cheeks.  “I’ll do my best.  It’s all I can promise.”

“And it’s all I’ll ask,” she assured as she pressed her head to his chest.  “We should probably start waking them up.”

“No need.”  Thorne answered from his place on the chaise across the room.  “We’re all awake.”

Stephanie turned so that her back was to Eric again, his arms holding her close as they both looked out at their family.  “We’ll have breakfast together and then you have to give Eric and I some time alone.  Okay?”

Every head nodded but one, and that one belonged to the youngest member of the family who was still asleep.

“Grandma?”  Steffy asked as she looked up into her grandmother’s blue eyes.

“What is it, baby girl?”

“Will you and Granddad tell us about this sketch?” she asked as she handed Stephanie the sketch pad Ally had picked up from the nightstand.

Eric looked at the sketch, his heart twisting as he remembered what had happened to put that look on his wife’s face.  “Can’t you pick a different one?” he asked, his voice low as he rubbed Stephanie’s shoulder.

Stephanie stared at the sketch of herself, the look on her face one that she didn’t recognize.  “Eric, Honey, when was this?” she asked as she turned on her back so that she could look at him.

Eric closed his eyes and answered her quietly.  “It’s from the day we went to see Ann.”

“The day you learned Mom was abused by her father.”  Thorne whispered.

Eric nodded.  “Yes,” he answered softly.  “That look haunted me for months.  I’d never seen Stephanie so,”

“So vulnerable,” she finished for him as she reached up to caress his face. 

“Why did you sketch it?”  Kristen asked.

“Because I never wanted to forget.”  Eric answered then hung his head.  “But I did.”

“Shh.”  Stephanie soothed as she pressed her fingers to his lips.  “It’s over now.  You’re here.  I’m your wife again.  It’s all in the past.”

“Grandma?”  Ally whispered.

“What is it?”  Stephanie turned her attention to her granddaughter, a smile on her face.

“What about the picture at the very beginning?”

Stephanie smiled as she looked up at Eric.  “That’s when your grandpa first saw me.”

Steffy smiled.  “We want to hear the whole story,” she whispered, the rest of the family joining in with their agreement of the idea.

 

E**S

 

Eric caressed a soft strand of hair behind Stephanie’s ear.  “I love you,” he whispered as he stared down into her pale blue eyes that held a hint of the fear she felt.

“Show me,” she breathed softly against his ear.  “One last time…show me.”

“Not the last time, Sweet girl,” he corrected her as he cupped her face.  “We’ll make love again when you’re healed.”

Closing her eyes against the tears, Stephanie bit her trembling bottom lip.  “I hope so.  I,” she started then stopped, unsure if she should go on.

“What is it, Sweetheart?”  Eric asked as he held her close.

“I’m afraid I won’t be the same,” she admitted.

Eric frowned.  “Of course you won’t, Sweetheart.  This has changed us both, and will continue to change us.  But it’s been a good change.”

She shook her head.  “That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what, Steph?”

Snuggling closer, she held him tight.  “I’m afraid that,” she shook her head.  “Just make love to me and promise to not give up on me.”

Eric frowned as he pulled back and looked down at her, cupping her face.  “I’ll never give up on you or us, Stephanie.  Not again.  I’ve done that too many times in the past.”

Tears in her eyes, Stephanie nodded then pulled his face to hers, kissing him, her tongue tracing his lips before she gently nibbled on the bottom one.  “I don’t want to talk anymore,” she whispered then smiled.  “Well, unless you’re whispering sweet nothings in my ear.”

Eric caressed her face, his thumb wiping away a tear.  Gently caressing her, he leaned forward, his breath warm against her ear.  “I’m going to touch every inch of you and make you scream my name,” he whispered.

“Eric,” she whimpered.

“Shh,” he hushed her.  “We’re alone, Sweet girl.  You can scream and no one will hear you.”

“Felicia, Kristen,” she murmured only to be hushed with a kiss.

“They’re all gone, Sweetheart.”

She stared up at him, her heart racing as she bit on her lower lip.  She had screamed his name on several occasions during their honeymoon, but they’d been alone with no chance of anyone accidently hearing.  But here, in their home…she bit her lip at the thought.  Could she let go and enjoy his attentions that same way here?  Looking up into his dark eyes, trying to hide the fear in her own, she nodded.  “Make me scream, Eric,” she whispered.

Eric saw the fear she tried to hide but didn’t question her about it.  Instead he began to touch her and kiss her in the way he knew always sent her head spinning.  His hands kneaded her breasts, his lips tugging at the taut nipples as he slowly made a path lower and lower.

Stephanie felt her heart begin to race as she gripped the sheets, letting Eric’s touch and kisses take her higher and higher, her breath catching when his warm breath rushed over her as he skimmed down her legs, his fingers then lips teasing her inner thighs.  She knew from experience he wouldn’t move to where she most wanted him…not this soon.  Not when he wanted her to scream.  He’d make the path back up her body, his lips tugging at the soft flesh of her neck right behind her ear to turn her on even more.  He’d trace the line of her collar bone and back again, something that he’d discovered early on always took her breath and made her chest heave in anticipation.

Eric knew that Stephanie knew what he was going to do and smiled as he proceeded to caress and kiss his way back up her body, once again bypassing her center with just a mere tease of his warm breath.  Tracing around her navel, he felt her fingers tangle in his hair as she trembled.  Making his way up her body, he paused at her breasts, a hand cupping and kneading one while his mouth teased and suckled the other.  Continuing his trek, his tongue traced the outline of her collar bone to the hollow of her throat then moved to the soft flesh behind her ear, tugging at it with his lips, moaning when her breasts brushed against his chest as she squirmed beneath him.

“Eric, please,” she whimpered.  “Oh god,” she moaned, her voice rising in pitch when his hand moved across her collar bones then back again making her chest heave.

Eric continued his torment, her pleas egging him on.  Moving his kisses back down her body, his hands trailed ahead gently pressing against her legs to give him better access.  Teasing the soft flesh of her inner thighs, he felt her muscles twitch at his touch, his own arousal going up a notch when he heard the keening sound she made in the back of her throat.  God how that turned him on.  Nipping at her thigh, he moved up until his nose nudged her center then around to the other thigh to repeat the teasing.

She could feel her head spinning, her muscles twitching and quivering as he continued to tease and torment her.  Every part of her strained for the release he was building her up for.  Her toes and fingers began to tingle and a sound started low in her chest, her breath coming faster as her chest heaved.  Crying out when his mouth finally covered her, her breath caught when his tongue flicked against the sensitive bundle of nerves.  Teasing her with his mouth and then adding his fingers, the sound in her chest moved to her throat until finally she was screaming his name as her back arched and her body grew taut with orgasm.

Eric continued moving his fingers over her as he sat up to watch as her release washed over her.  His heart pounding as she screamed his name, he trembled with his own need for release as he watched her back arch.  Moving his hand away when she collapsed back against the bed, he moved up to lay beside her, gently caressing a damp tendril of hair from her face then pressing feathery kisses over her eyes, nose, and forehead.  “Open your eyes, Sweet girl,” he whispered.

Stephanie swallowed and took a deep breath then slowly opened her eyes, her cheeks warm with the sweet rush of arousal that still filled her.  Reaching out, she caressed his face.  “I believe I screamed louder this time than last,” she told him softly.

Eric chuckled and nodded.  “You did.  I’m not sure that the neighbors didn’t hear you.”

“Eric!” she scolded and playfully tapped his shoulder.

Rolling over, he sat up against the pillows then tugged at her.  “Come here.”

Stephanie raised and eyebrow.  “Eric?”

Nodding, he smiled at her.  “Come on.”

Titling her head to one side, she moved until she was straddling him.  Resting her hands on his chest, she gently caressed him with her thumbs.  “Is this what you wanted?”

Gripping her hips, he moved her until he was able to gently slip inside her warmth.  “No,” he shook his head then gently moved against her.  “This is what I wanted.”

“Eric,” she breathed as she gripped his shoulders.

Sitting up a bit, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close, his hands gently caressing her.  “I love you, Stephanie.  No matter what happens, that will never change.  I told you once before, when the time comes that this is no longer a part of our lives, I’ll tell you of these times.  I even have sketches to help you relive the moments.”

“Sketches?” she asked as she gently moved over him.

Caressing her hair from her face, he nodded.  “Yes.  I have a secret sketch pad that has more intimate moments sketched in it.  I’ll show you later.”

Smiling softly at him, she nodded and laid her head on his shoulder.  “Love me, Eric.  Slow and easy.”

Tracing a finger down her spine and back again, he pressed a kiss to her head.  “Anything you say, Sweet girl.  Anything you say.”

 

E**S

 

Felicia couldn’t help but stare at her father as they sat in the waiting room waiting to hear something about her mother.  Her parents didn’t know, and she wasn’t sure she’d ever tell them, but she’d heard them that afternoon.  She’d come home just a few minutes before her mother screamed her father’s name and she’d cried as she listened to the tenderness in his voice as he assured his wife that he’d keep his promise.  And she’d cried some more when she heard her mother begin to cry as he made love to her.

“Hey, Sis.”  Kristen whispered as she sat down beside Felicia.  “What are you thinking about?”

Felicia sighed then looked at her sister.  “I heard them this afternoon, Kris.”

“Heard them talking?”

Felicia shook her head.  “No.  Not talking.”

“Oh.”  Kristen whispered then looked over at their father.

“He made her scream, Kris.  She screamed his name in a tone of voice I’ve never heard before.  And you know how many times I overheard them when I was younger and sneaking in or out of the house.”

Kristen chuckled, “I remember.”

“But this time was different.  Then I heard him reassuring her of a promise he made to her.”  Felicia felt her eyes water.

Kristen reached out and squeezed her sister’s hand.  “What was it, Fifi?”

Felicia blinked at her sister’s use of the nickname then sniffed.  “He promised her that,” she started then had to stop to regain control of her emotions.  “He promised that when the time comes that she’s no longer able to make love with him, that he’ll tell her stories of their times together.”  She looked back at their father.  “He has a secret sketch pad, Kris.  I think I know where he keeps it.  I think it’s what he was sketching in when I came in to their bedroom the day we took Mom to the spa.  He hid it quickly before I could see anything else.”

“What in the world would be in it that he’d keep it a secret?”

“Sketches of them, Kris.  Intimate sketches.”

Kristen nodded.  “I think I understand now.  He’ll use it to show her as he tells her the stories.”

Felicia nodded, her eyes filling with tears when Eric sighed and caressed the picture he held in his hand.  “He’s been holding that picture since she went into surgery.”

Everyone’s heads snapped toward the door when they heard a code go out over the p.a. system.  The anguished cry that filled the waiting room had the children looking at their father, all of them realizing that something had gone wrong with their mother.

“Stephanie!  No!”  Eric cried as he rushed out of the waiting room.

Thorne and Ridge ran after him, desperately trying to stop him.  “Dad!” they both shouted after him only to be ignored.

Eric stopped only when two orderlies stepped in his path telling him he couldn’t go beyond the doors that led to the operating room.  “But you don’t understand.  She needs me.  If she can only hear my voice.  Please,” he pleaded.

“I’m sorry, Sir, but you can’t go back there.”

“But you don’t understand,” he repeated.

“Let him through,” Dr. Lewis’ voice sounded behind them causing them to look at her a bit strange before moving as she’d asked.

Eric followed her, nearly running, his heart in his throat.  “What happened?”

“We’ve lost her, Mr. Forrester, and we’re having trouble bringing her back.  I suggested bringing you in.  The nurse will help you scrub in.”

Eric nodded, hurrying even faster as he followed behind the nurse, letting her help him.  “Thank you,” he whispered as he tied the mask around his mouth and rushed into the OR.  Watching as the doctors worked to bring Stephanie back, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath before moving over to her.  Leaning over so that his mouth was next to her ear, he pressed a tender kiss there.  “Sweet girl, you can’t leave me like this.  You have to come back to me.”  His voice shaking, he paused to swallow.  “Please, don’t leave me,” he pleaded with her.  “Please.”

Dr. Lewis squeezed his hand, a small smile on her face when he looked up at her.  “We’ve got her, Mr. Forrester.  She heard you.”

Eric felt light headed as he nodded.  “Thank you,” he whispered against Stephanie’s ear before moving away.

“You’ll have to leave now, Mr. Forrester.  Go back and tell your children their mother is okay.”

Eric bit his lip as he looked down at Stephanie.  He didn’t want to leave her, but he knew that she would want him to be there for their children.  “Alright,” he gave in and turned toward the door.  Praying as he went, he walked slowly as he tried to think of the best way to tell his children what had happened with their mother.

 

E**S

 

Nick, Jackie, Taylor, Whip, Clarke, and Pam joined the family and were all waiting to hear what had happened, but there was still no sign of Eric.  Felicia clung to Nick, thankful to have him there for support.

“Where are the kids?”  Jackie asked when she noticed the grandkids missing.

“Mom didn’t want them here.  She made them promise to take Dino to the amusement park.”  Ridge answered.

“She doesn’t want them to think about what’s happening.  She,”  Kristen paused to gain control of her shaking voice.  “She didn’t want them to be here if something happens to her.  If she doesn’t make it,” she finished quietly.

Jackie bit her lip and squeezed Nick’s arm.  “Oh my.”

“And something did happen.  Just like she feared.”  Felicia whispered.

“Fifi.”  Thorne whispered.

Nick saw an opportunity to change the subject and looked down at the petite woman in his arms.  “Fifi?”

Felicia scowled at him then at Thorne.  “That stupid nickname,” she growled.

“Ah come on, Fifi.”  Thorne joined in, noting to himself that he would have to thank Nick later.

Nick grinned when Felicia growled again.  “So?  Who called you Fifi first?”

Felicia sighed, “Thorne.”

Thorne laughed.  “Actually, it wasn’t me.  I just started using it.”

Felicia frowned.  “Then who?”

“Grandpa Forrester.”

Felicia’s eyes widened.  “Grandpa?”

Ridge picked up the story, smiling at his sister.  “Yes, Grandpa.  He’d always loved Mom, he sensed something about her I think.  Anyway, he loved all of us, but there was something about you.  Maybe it was because you were the last.  Or maybe it was because you and Mom nearly died,” he shrugged.  “I don’t know.  All I know is, you were his favorite.”

“It was her eyes.”  Eric answered from the doorway.

“Daddy!”  Felicia cried as she rushed to him.  “Momma?” she asked.

Pulling his baby to him, Eric held her tightly, resting his face against her hair.  “Your momma is okay,” he whispered.

Felicia squeezed him, feeling him tremble.  “Daddy,” she nudged.  “She wasn’t okay…was she?”

All the others gathered around the two, close enough that they could hear his answer.

“Dad?”  Thorne asked, his hand going out to squeeze his father’s shoulder.

Keeping his eyes closed, his arms tightly wrapped around his daughter, Eric took a deep breath.  “They lost her,” he started, gasps and cries interrupting him.

“Daddy, no.”  Felicia clung to him tighter still.

“That’s why you rushed out of here.”  Kristen whispered as she held on to Tony’s hand.

Eric nodded.  “I felt her slip away.”  He swallowed back the tears.  “Dr. Lewis was coming to get me as I rushing out of here.  You boys saw what happened.”

Ridge nodded.  “She let you through.”

“They were having trouble bringing Stephanie back and she thought that hearing my voice would help.”

Pam, having been quiet through the whole thing, smiled as she looked at her brother-in-law.  “Of course hearing your voice brought her back.  You’re her heart, Eric.”

Eric smiled tenderly at his sister-in-law.  “Thank you, Pam.”

“So everything is alright now?”  Jackie asked, her hand squeezing Nick’s.

“They’re finishing the surgery and then her doctors will be out to talk to us.”

“Eric?”  Pam asked as they all sat back down.

“What is it, Pam?”

Leaning down, she pulled the sketch pad from her bag and flipped to a page.  Showing the sketch to her brother-in-law, she smiled at the look that crossed his face.  “Tell us about this sketch?”

Thorne grinned when he saw the sketch.  “I remember that day.”

Ridge chuckled.  “So do I.  Mother was fit to be tied.”

“What happened?”  Tony asked.

Eric shook his head.  “I got a little um,” he paused, trying to think of a way to discreetly describe what had happened.

“He was frisky.”  Felicia helped him, earning a glare.

Thorne nearly choked on his laugh, but nodded just the same.  “She’s right.”

“So, anyway,” Eric continued.  “I wasn’t as discreet as I thought I was.  It was after a fashion show, one that had gone extremely well.  I was very pleased and wanted to celebrate with Stephanie because she’d done so much to make it happen.  I checked to make sure we were alone.”

“Except they weren’t.”  Kristen broke in with a laugh.  “I still remember the fight they had.”

Eric sighed, “A picture of me kissing Stephanie, one hand in her hair, the other,” he frowned.  “Well, anyway, that picture would have wound up on the next day’s tabloid, but the guy was clumsy and tripped as he was leaving.  Stephanie jerked away from me when we heard the crash, her eyes wide.”

“And she was still shouting at him that he’d better get used to sleeping in another room and living without sex because it was going to be a long time before she let him touch her again.”  Ridge laughed.  “God us kids about died.”

“I’m still shocked she didn’t hear Felicia’s burst of laughter.”  Thorne chuckled.

“Oh, believe me, she heard.”  Eric mumbled, a grin on his face.

“But Steph doesn’t look angry in the sketch.  She,” Pam paused.  “She looks,” she shook her head, unable to find the right word.

“She looks as beautiful as she was that night.  I did the sketch after I caught her staring out the windows in our bedroom.”  Eric stared down at the sketch.  “The moon was shining into the darkened room and made her seem like she was glowing.”  He caressed her face.  “She never did follow through on her threat of making me sleep in the other room.”

Felicia rolled her eyes.  “Or the no touching.  You two really needed to sound proof that room.”

Eric sputtered then scowled as the others in the room fairly howled with laughter.  “Felicia Elizabeth Forrester!”

Jackie smiled.  “Her mother’s blue eyes and her mother’s middle name,” she whispered.

Thorne smiled at the older woman.  “Aly has her grandma’s eyes and middle name, too.”

“Thorne, dear, your daughter has more than just your mother’s eyes and middle name.”  Jackie winked at him.  “Seeing these sketches of a young Stephanie, my word.  If you were to put some of her clothes on Aly,” she paused.  “Wait a minute!  That’s a brilliant idea!”

Everyone looked at her with raised eye brows.

“Uh, Mom?  What?”  Nick asked, just as confused as everyone else.

“Eric, you still have all of the Forrester originals Stephanie wore in the early years?”  Jackie asked.

Eric frowned.  “Yes.  I’ve kept all of them.  Why?”

“Have them brought out and pick a few of them for Aly to wear.  Do a photo shoot that copies poses Stephanie has done in them.  Then pick some of the others and have Steffy and your daughters wear them, but pick ones that accentuate the features they have like Stephanie.  Ask one of your media friends if they’ll do up a special magazine using the photos as a present for Stephanie.”

Felicia grinned.  “I know a niece with her grandma’s blue eyes and first name that will love this idea as much as I do.”

 “While Aly may be a replica of her grandmother in looks, Steffy is her replica in attitude and love of family.  Kristen is the softer side and Felicia is her mother’s wilder side.” 

“Mom?  Wilder side?” all four of his children parroted at him.

Eric laughed and grinned wickedly.  “Most definitely.”

“Ugh!”  Felicia groaned and snarled her nose.  “Way too much information!”

Eric simply smiled and shrugged.  “But the truth.”

Taylor laughed and shook her head.  “I do believe it’s a good thing Stephanie isn’t here to hear this.  She’d have your head, Eric.”

Jackie agreed.  “Yes, she would.  But let’s get back to the idea I had.  Do you like it, Eric?  We’ll all help.”

Eric smiled at his friend.  “I do like the idea, Jackie.  Thorne can contact Carmen, I’m sure he’ll be happy to do the photos.”

Thorne nodded.  “Most definitely.  He’s always loved taking pictures of Mom.  I think he might be a bit in love with her,” he chuckled.

Eric shook his head.  “I know that, but it doesn’t bother me.  He takes wonderful photos of her because of it.”

“Do you think you could get the photographers that took some of the originals to take the ones of Aly?”  Jackie asked.

“I can.  The older ones have retired, but I believe they’d do this for us when we explain.  I’ll get on it as soon as possible.”  Thorne smiled at her.  “I really like this idea.  It can be a family Christmas present to Mom.”

“We can dress the whole family up in past designs.  You boys can wear things I wore and pose in some of the photos with the girls.  Thomas can be me in some of the pictures with Aly.”  Eric added his own spin on the idea.

Taylor smiled at Jackie and nodded.  The woman had effectively done just as Stephanie had asked them to do.  She’d made the family think of something else and drawn Eric out of the worry they all knew would drive him crazy until he heard more about Stephanie’s condition.

 

E**S

 

Eric sat by Stephanie’s bedside, his hand busily sketching in the pad he kept hidden from everyone.  He was sketching his most recent intimate memory of Stephanie to add to the many he held dear and had sketched down through the years.  His hand sketched the graceful arch of Stephanie’s back as the image of her getting lost in the ecstasy of their love making flashed before his eyes, his body reacting to the memories.

Stephanie, lost in memories of her own, began to panic, her heart rate increasing until her eyes snapped open, and she gasped for breath, struggling against the wires and tubes, setting off alarms.

“Stephanie!”  Eric shouted, the pad falling to the floor as he rushed to try and calm her.  “It’s alright, Sweetheart.  It’s alright.”  The blank look in her eyes when she looked up at him, scared him.  “Sweetheart, it’s Eric.  Shh,” he soothed, his hand gently caressing across her forehead.  “That’s it, Sweet girl.  That’s it.  It’s just your old teddy bear,” he whispered, using a name she’d called him years ago when they’d spent a week stuck up at Big Bear snowed in and doing a lot of cuddling.

Dr. Lewis rushed into the room, her hand going up to stop the rest of the people rushing in behind her.  The alarms were still going off, and they would have to be taken care of, but for now, she wanted to let Eric continue to calm his wife with his gentle touch and tender words of assurance.  “I’ll handle this.  Go on,” she told the nurses.

“Dr. Lewis is here, Sweet girl.”  Eric told Stephanie, his voice soft as he continued to caress her face.  “Is it alright if she comes over and turns off all these alarms and makes sure you’re okay?  I’ll be right here.”

Dr. Lewis walked quietly over to the couple, turning off blaring alarms as she moved around to Stephanie’s free side.  “Stephanie,” she said her patient’s name and smiled when Stephanie looked at her.  “Eric will stay right here the whole time, but I need to make sure nothing has been disconnected.  Alright?”

Stephanie weakly squeezed Eric’s hand and blinked at the doctor.  She didn’t understand what was going on, but she knew that she could trust the doctor as long as Eric was there.  She gagged around the tube in her throat and panic started to surface again.

“Shh.”  Eric whispered.  “It’s just a tube to help you breathe, Sweetheart.  It has to be there for a little while.  It’ll be okay.  Just relax.”  He felt her squeeze his hand, a tear rolling down her cheek as she stared up at him.  “I know, Steph.  I know.  But I promise it’s okay.  Do you want me to sing to you?  Will that help?”

She blinked at him, hoping he understood that she did indeed want him to sing.  His singing soothed her, always had, and now more than any other time in her life, she needed to hear his mellow voice.  The physical situation she found herself in wasn’t what had her so upset, it was the nightmares that had plagued her while under the anesthesia.  She couldn’t understand why she was having nightmares of her father.  Hell, she couldn’t understand why she remembered what she’d been dreaming about while in a drug induced sleep.  That had never happened before.

Eric saw the frown crease his wife’s brow and the fear that flashed in her eyes.  Caressing her forehead, he softly began to sing the song that had played for their first dance as they celebrated being married once again.  It had become sort of a theme song for them as they followed the new path their lives had suddenly taken.  Keeping his voice soft, he caressed her face and hand, his eyes never leaving hers.  Something was wrong with his sweet girl, but what?

Chapter Text

Stephanie cried out in her sleep, disturbing a sleeping Eric.  Rushing to her side, he sat on the bed and caressed her face.  “Sweetheart, wake up.  It’s Eric.”

“Don’t touch me!” she screamed and jerked away from his touch.

Eric grabbed her shoulders, gently but firmly holding her down so that she couldn’t hurt herself.  “Stephanie!  It’s Eric!  Wake up!”

Pulling away from him, her eyes open, wide and unseeing, Stephanie moved to the other side of the bed, shaking and crying.  “Don’t touch me.  Please!  Father!  Please!  Please!”

Feeling his heart pounding, Eric closed his eyes against the onslaught of nausea that assailed him at the thought of what his wife’s words meant.  Knowing that he wasn’t going to be able to help her, and knowing that she wouldn’t want their daughters to see her like this, he did the only thing he could.

Grabbing the phone, he dialed the one person he knew would have to help them through this.  “Taylor, I’m sorry to call so late, but we need you.”  Eric listened to her tell him she’d be there in a few minutes then told her goodbye and called one other person, realizing that this might just take more than one of Stephanie’s friends.  “Jackie, I know it’s late, and I’m sorry for that but,” he paused as he listened to her assure him it was alright.  “Stephanie,” he bit his lip.  “Just please come to the house,” he finally asked, his voice quiet.  Closing his eyes when she told him she’d be there, he sighed, “Thanks, Jackie,” before hanging up the phone.

Looking back at Stephanie, Eric felt tears roll down his cheeks.  “Steph?” he whispered her name, only to have her move further back on the bed.  Not sure if she was fully awake, or in a half dream half aware state, he stayed where he was.  Not moving or speaking again, he watched her through the tears that continued to fall as he pondered all of the reasons why she would be having such nightmares.  None of the answers to his pondering gave him comfort.

There were only two reasons why his wife would be screaming out in her sleep as she was.  Only two reasons why she would react to his touch the way that she had.

“Dear God, please, no,” he pleaded, turning when he heard the door to the bedroom open.  Grateful that Taylor still had the key and gate code, he moved so that she could see Stephanie then squeezed Jackie’s hand when she came in a few seconds after Taylor.

“Eric, what happened?”  Taylor asked quietly, noting the state her friend was in.

“I’m going to go over to her and see if I can’t get her to calm down while the two of you talk.”  Jackie told them softly as she dropped her jacket and purse on the bench at the foot of the bed.  “Stephanie?” she whispered, moving carefully around to the side of the bed Stephanie was currently huddled on.  “It’s me.  It’s Jackie.”  She reached out, her hand gently touching the frightened woman’s arm.  “It’s alright.  No one here will hurt you.  We all love you.”

Calming somewhat, Stephanie looked at Jackie as she grabbed her hand.  “Jackie?” she whispered, seeming to come out of her nightmare.

Jackie smiled gently and nodded.  “Yes.”

“What are you doing here?”

Taylor, finished talking with Eric, nodded at him as he quietly slipped from the room.  Turning her attention back to the two women across the room, she smiled as she joined them.  “Eric called us, Stephanie.”

Stephanie frowned.  “Why?” she asked then noticed where she was on the bed.  “Why am I all the way over here?”

Jackie looked at Taylor then turned back to their friend.  “You don’t remember anything?”

“You were having a nightmare, Stephanie.”  Taylor told her as she moved closer, climbing onto the bed to sit next to Stephanie.

Closing her eyes, Stephanie felt tears threaten.  “I remember,” she whispered then opened her eyes again.  “Where is Eric?”

“He went downstairs.  He’s pretty upset.  You frightened him when he couldn’t wake you from the dream.”  Taylor answered her query.  “What was the dream about?”

Stephanie shook her head.  “Please, Taylor,” she pleaded softly.  “Not tonight.  Maybe tomorrow?” she suggested.  “I really just want Eric to come back so that I can tell him I’m sorry and that I’m okay.”

Taylor sighed, “You aren’t okay, Stephanie.  This is the fourth night since you came home from the hospital that you’ve had a nightmare.  And this one was the worst one you’ve had since the first one at the hospital.”

Squeezing her friend’s hand, Stephanie held her gaze.  “Please, Taylor?  I know you want to help me, and I promise I’ll try to let you, but later.”

Jackie winked at Stephanie then looked at Taylor.  “I think, Taylor, that our friend here needs the arms of her husband more than she needs us right now.”

Stephanie smiled.  “Thank you, Jackie.”  Moving, she winced then snarled her nose at Taylor’s reaction.  “Oh go away,” she snapped playfully.  “It’s fine.  I think I must have bumped my side in my thrashing about.”

“Just let me check it to make sure.”  Taylor told her, her voice and look brooking no arguments.

“God,” Stephanie groaned.  “Why were you always my favorite daughter-in-law?  You’re a pain in the ass.”

Jackie laughed, “I think that’s my cue to leave.  If she’s calling her favorite a pain in the ass,” she shrugged.  “Well…”

Stephanie laughed, “I really do appreciate you both coming over here in the middle of the night, or rather, the wee hours of the morning.”

Jackie smiled.  “No thanks are necessary, Stephanie.  We’re your friends.  We promised.”  Leaning forward, she kissed Stephanie lightly on the cheek.  “I’ll go tell Eric he has someone waiting to see him.”

 

E**S

 

Eric stood staring into the cold fireplace, his thoughts with the woman upstairs.  He was worried that she’d hurt herself in the struggles during the nightmare, but more than that, he was afraid of what her dreams meant.  Hearing movement behind him, he turned and smiled tiredly at Jackie.

Jackie felt her heart twinge at the sadness she saw in her friend’s eyes.  Moving to him, she rested a hand on his arm.  “She’s asking for you.  She’s back to her normal self.  When I left, she was calling Taylor a pain in the ass.”

Eric chuckled a bit.  “Thank you, Jackie.  I’m sorry for getting you up in the middle of the night,” he frowned.  “Or getting you up this early, whatever it is.”  His voice caught as he turned away, staring back into the empty fireplace.  “She was just so lost in the nightmare.  I couldn’t help her.  I,” he paused, his words getting stuck in his throat.  “I couldn’t help her.”

Jackie heard the tears before she moved closer, seeing the evidence of them on his cheeks.  “But don’t you see, Eric?  You did help her.  Even if you weren’t able to pull her from the dream, you stayed with her and called her friends.”  Wiping the tears from his cheeks, she placed a kiss in their place.  “Go on.  She wants you.  She seems to think she needs to apologize to you.”

“Apologize?  For what?  She didn’t do anything wrong.”

“You know that, and I know that, but she obviously doesn’t.”

Eric sighed, “Jackie?”

“Yes?”

“The dream she was having,” he started, pausing when he wasn’t sure he should go on.

“You can tell me, Eric.  You know that I’ll keep it between us.”

He nodded.  “I don’t think it’s a dream.”

Jackie blinked.  “You don’t?”

“No.  I think she’s remembering something.  It’s too vivid, the fear too real.  I’m afraid,”

“You have every reason to be, Eric.”  Taylor broke in as she came into the room.  “Stephanie’s remembering something from her past, although she isn’t acknowledging it.”

“How do you know that, Taylor?”  Jackie asked.

“I heard the nightmare she had at the hospital just before she was released to come home.”  Taylor rested her hand on Eric’s arm.  “I’ll come back and talk to her later today.  You go back upstairs.  She’s asking for you.”  Pressing a kiss to his cheek, she smiled at him.  “She needs you.  She’s upset that she frightened you.”

“Jackie told me that she wants to apologize.”

Taylor nodded.  “She does.  Let her.”

“But Taylor, she doesn’t need to apologize.  She can’t help what she dreams about.”

“Tell her that and hold her close.”  Hugging him, Taylor whispered, “This is going to be a long, hard process, Eric.  Whatever happened to her had something to do with her father.”

Holding Taylor a bit tighter, Eric closed his eyes.  “I’ve already figured that out.  I don’t like what my mind keeps telling me.”

Pulling back, Taylor looked from Eric to Jackie then back to Eric.  “Jackie and I made a promise to Stephanie, Eric.  We promised that we’d be here for you.  We intend to keep that promise.  We’ll be here with the both of you through everything that’s coming.”

Jackie nodded.  “Whenever you need us, don’t hesitate to call.  We’ll be here.”

 

~*~

 

Stephanie held out her arms when Eric came back into their bedroom, her eyes shining with tears.  “I’m so sorry,” she whispered when he sat down beside her.

Eric felt her trembling as she held him tightly, crying into his neck.  “Don’t hurt yourself, Sweetheart,” he whispered.  “There’s no need to apologize.  You couldn’t control what was happening.”

“But I hurt you,” she argued as she pulled back and caressed his face.

“You scared me, Steph, you didn’t hurt me.”  He leaned his face further into her hand.  “What hurt me is the thoughts of what you were dreaming about.”  Covering her hand with his, he moved it to his lips, pressing a tender kiss to the soft palm.  “Can you talk about it?”

Closing her eyes, she shook her head.  “No,” she whispered.  “Please?”

“Shh,” he soothed.  “I won’t press.  Just promise that you’ll talk to Taylor.  I don’t want this to keep happening to you.  I can’t stand seeing your frightened and having nightmares.”

“Come to bed and hold me.”

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

She shook her head.  “You won’t.  I don’t want to sleep alone anymore.”

“I don’t like sleeping alone, either, but I’m afraid of hurting you.”

“I promise that you won’t.”

Eric gave in, not being able to say no to her when she looked at him as she was.  Standing up, he untied his robe.  “Get under the covers,” he told her softly as he slipped his feet out of his slippers.

Stephanie, snuggled under the blankets, turned on her side, a pillow placed under her as she’d been shown, and waited to feel Eric spoon his body behind her.  Sighing when she felt the warmth of him against her, she pulled his arm up, her hand holding his against her chest.  “Thank you for giving in.”

Pressing a kiss to her neck, Eric moved closer to her.  “How could I say no to that face?  You know what it does to me when you give me that look.”

She chuckled a bit and nodded.  “Yeah.  I do.  I’m glad it still works.  It didn’t for a few years.”

Nuzzling her, Eric sighed, “It never stopped.  I just pretended it had no affect.  But it always did.”  Kissing her ear, he whispered, “Always.”

“Do you know how much it hurt me to think that I couldn’t affect you anymore?”

“I do and I’m sorry.  I was an utter fool.  But not anymore, Sweet girl.”

She snuggled closer.  “I’m cold.”

Draping a leg over hers, he moved his hand away long enough to pull the blankets closer.  “Do I need to start a fire?”

“No.”  She shook her head.  “Just keep holding me like this, you’ll warm me up.”

“You go it, Sweet girl.”

“Mmm,” she hummed.  “Have I ever told you how much I love you calling me that?  Teddy bear,” she added quietly.

Eric smiled.  “No, you haven’t in words, but your eyes lighting up when I say the name, has always assured me that you like it.  I kind of like it when you call me Teddy bear.”

Kissing his hand, she sighed, “You are.  You let me snuggle up to you and keep me warm.  You’re my best friend, always with me.  You’ve got cute dark eyes, not quite a button nose, and you can get a little furry if I don’t make you trim your hair and shave your face.”

Eric laughed, “I love you and I love being your teddy bear.”

Stephanie yawned, her eyes closing.  “Don’t give up on me,” she whispered as she slipped into sleep.

“I promised.  I won’t, no matter what.”  Eric pressed a kiss to her ear, listening to her breathe, wondering just how fragile she was going to become as the months wore on.

 

~*~

 

“Hello, Eric.”  Taylor greeted him with a kiss on the cheek.  “How is she?”

“She’s still sleeping,” he answered, closing the door behind her.  “I’m glad you came over, I have some things I need to do, but I didn’t want to leave her alone after what happened.”

“I want to try and get her to talk to me.  We need to get whatever it is that’s causing her nightmares out in the open.”

Eric looked off into the empty house.  “Do you think it’s what I fear it is?”

Grabbing his hand and holding it, Taylor tugged until her looked at her.  “Yes, I do.  But we’ll take care of her, just like we did before.”

“But this is so much worse than before.  If it is,” he started then swallowed.  “If she was,” he stopped again, swallowing around the lump in his throat.  “I don’t know what it will do to her.”

“It will devastate her.  It will hurt her.  It will probably make her pull away from you.  But you can’t give up on her.”

“She keeps asking me not to give up on her.  She asked me to promise before she went into surgery, and she asked me again as she went to sleep after you and Jackie left.”

“She’s scared, Eric.  Her mind is remembering something that happened to her but she’s not yet ready to accept it or face it.”

“Why didn’t she remember this when she remembered the abuse?”

Taylor took a deep breath.  “I don’t think it was her father, Eric.  He may have let it happen, but I don’t believe he was the one that,” she stopped and shrugged, not wanting to utter the words.

“Dear god, Taylor.  Why now?  Why when she’s,” he swallowed, tears rolling down his cheeks.  “Just help her, Taylor.”

Hugging him tightly, Taylor let her own tears fall.  “I promise, Eric.”

Holding onto the woman who always seemed to fix his family, Eric took a few moments to gather his emotions back.  “I need to go.  I think it would be good if you were with her when she wakes up.  The sooner she gets help, the sooner we get her on the road to recovery.”

“I can’t force her, Eric.”

Eric wiped at his face with his handkerchief.  “I know, and I don’t want you to.  I just don’t want you to let her be her usual stubborn self and try to ignore it.”

“I won’t let her.  I didn’t let her before.”

“Thanks, Taylor.”  Eric kissed her cheek.  “Take care of my girl.”

“Promise.  Go on.”  Taylor smiled at him as he grabbed his keys and walked out the door.  Looking up the stairs, she sighed.  This was going to be the hardest thing she’d ever done in her life.  For one moment she considered calling someone else in to deal with this, but she’d promised Eric, and she knew without a doubt that Stephanie wouldn’t open up to anyone else but her.

 

E**S

 

Stephanie reached for Eric but found cool empty air in his place.  Opening her eyes, she blinked a few times to make sure she saw who she thought sitting in the chair by her bed.  “Taylor?  Where’s Eric?”

Taylor saw the look in Stephanie’s eyes and sighed, this was going to be a long road.  “He had some errands to run and didn’t want to leave you alone.  When I came over to check on you, he asked if I’d stay with you while he was out.  He’s worried about you.  We all are.”

“Why didn’t he just ask one of the girls?”

“And have them see you as you were early this morning?”  Taylor asked.  “He didn’t want them to know about your nightmares.”  She smiled.  “He’s protecting them like their momma always has.  And protecting their momma in the process.”

“I really scared him, didn’t I?” she asked as she rolled onto her side.

“Yes,” Taylor nodded.  “You did.  You scared all of us.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, Stephanie.  You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“But I did,” she whispered.

Taylor blinked then moved to sit on the bed beside Stephanie, her hand resting on her arm.  “What did you do?”

“It was all my fault.”

Seeing that Stephanie was lost in some memory, Taylor held her hand, keeping her voice low.  “What was?”

“He almost lost everything because of me.”

“Eric?”  Taylor asked.  “Stephanie, he didn’t lose anything.  He loves you.”

“He was so angry.  So very angry.  He frightened Mother and she left with Pammy.”

“Your father?”

“So angry.  Marone came over.  Was yelling at Father.  Over and over they argued about something.”

“Stephanie?”  Taylor asked as she squeezed her friend’s cool hand.

“Where’s Eric?”  Stephanie asked as she blinked and looked at Taylor.

Taylor, her heart in her throat, swallowed a few times before answering.  “He’s out, Sweetie.  Remember?  He’s running errands.”

“Oh.”

“Why don’t you let me check your bandages and then get you something to eat?”

“You’re a pain in the ass.”  Stephanie mumbled even as she turned so that Taylor could do as she asked.

Taylor smiled.  “I know you think so, but I’d rather be a pain in the ass and make sure you’re okay, than not be and let something go wrong.”

“I love you, Taylor.”

Satisfied that Stephanie’s bandages were alright, Taylor caressed her cheek before kissing her forehead.  “I love you.  Now, I’m going to go fix you something to eat.  Why don’t you call the girls?  We don’t want them getting anxious because they haven’t heard from their momma.”

Stephanie huffed, “The girls?  More like Thorne.”

Taylor chuckled.  “He’s a regular momma’s boy.  Call him first then.”

 

E**S

 

“Eric, I know you don’t want to hear his name, but you have to call him.  I think Massimo holds part of the key to helping Stephanie this time.”  Taylor listened to Eric growl over the phone.  “I know what he did, but we have to do what’s best for Stephanie.  Besides, all of this might explain his obsession with her.”  She smiled when he sighed and gave in.  “You can always ask Jackie for her help.  Bye Eric.”

“What was that all about?”  Whip asked as he came up behind her.

“It’s a long story and one I can’t go into.”

“Something to do with Stephanie?”  Whip watched his wife’s expression.  “It’s alright.  Just promise that she’s okay.”

“She’s as good as can be expected after major surgery.  She grouches at me for wanting to check her bandages, but she lets me then smiles and pats my hand.”

Whip chuckled, “Calls you a pain in the ass, I’ll bet.”

Taylor smiled sadly as she leaned into him, her head resting on his shoulder.  “You know her well.”

“Tay, what is it?  What’s bothering you?”

Taylor shivered at the use of the nickname.  Whip only used it when he was worried about her.  “She’s struggling with something, with a memory,” she paused and swallowed, holding tighter to her husband.  “It’s going to hurt her and Eric.  It already is and she hasn’t even fully remembered yet.  At least not consciously.”

Nuzzling her ear, Whip pressed a tender kiss to her head.  “You take care of her, and the rest of us will take care of Eric.”

Looking up at her husband, Taylor caressed his cheek.  “I love you.  Thank you for understanding that I can’t tell you everything.”

“I’d be any idiot if I couldn’t understand that since I willingly married a doctor.”  He winked at her and wiped a tear that tracked down her cheek.  “Why don’t we get dinner and take it over to them?  I know you spent most of the day with her, but I haven’t seen her since she came home, and I think maybe Eric could use a friend.”

Taylor kissed him, thankful that she’d let herself fall in love with someone as good and wonderful as Whip.  “Yes, he needs all the friends he can get.  You call for the food, I’ll call and tell Eric we’re coming over.  Maybe I’ll call the rest of the family and we’ll all go over and visit with them.  We need to discuss what we’re doing for Christmas.”

“You got it,” he agreed, kissing her one last time before going to the desk to find the list of their favorite take out places.

 

E**S

 

“The photo shoot is finished.”  Thorne told Eric quietly, both men watching Stephanie as she listened to Dino telling her stories about what he’d been doing with Nick.

“Good.  The magazine should be ready by Christmas then.”

“Yeah.  I can’t believe it’s only a week away.”  Thorne sighed, “I hope she’s feeling better.  I want her to enjoy the holiday.”

“She will, Thorne.  We’ll all make sure of it.”  Eric chuckled when Dino grinned up at Nick.  “It would seem Dino likes his new daddy.”

“Felicia said Dino had no trouble understanding that Nick was his dad not Dante.  I’m not sure, but I don’t think Dino really liked Dante this last time around.”

“I’m glad they’re both happy.  Nick was always good to Felicia and he’s wonderful with Dino.”

Thorne nodded.  “I’m happy for Felicia.  She’s always loved Nick.  I just hope this doesn’t upset Bridget.”

Eric shook his head.  “It won’t.  She knows that she and Nick can’t ever be together again.  She hurt him too badly this time.  I think once she finds out, she’ll be happy for them.  Bridget’s not like her mother.”

Thorne rolled his eyes.  “Brooke is definitely not going to be happy about Nick and Felicia.”

Eric shrugged.  “Who the hell cares?”

Thorne laughed, “I like this new you, Dad.  You’ve really seen the light when it comes to that woman.”

“She-devil as your mother calls her.”

Laughing again, Thorne slapped his dad’s shoulder.  “Oh yeah.”

Eric sighed, all humor gone.  “Thank you for coming over tonight.  Stephanie,” he paused and looked down at his hands, moving the glass he held around, swirling the amber liquid.  “She’s having nightmares, Son.  I don’t want you to tell the others, or even let your mother know that I’ve told you, but you need to know because I’m going to have to look to you for help when we do finally tell the others.”

“Dad?”

“They’re bad, Thorne.  She had the first one in the hospital shortly after her surgery.  And she’s had several since then.  She’s had four just since she came home.  They’re not just nightmares, they’re memories.  Memories of something that happened to her.”

Thorne bit his lip.  “Dad?”

“It involves her father and Marone.”

“Massimo?  What the hell?  What did they do?”

“I have no idea, but Taylor thinks that Marone may hold a key to helping Stephanie.  I called him earlier.  He’s going to be here some time tomorrow.”

“I bet he was surprised to hear from you.”

“He was.  I had to call Jackie to get his number.”  Eric chuckled when Dino looked from Jackie to Stephanie and frowned.  “Wonder what Dino’s frowning about?”

Thorne laughed, “Probably trying to figure out what to do with two grandmas.  All he’s ever had was Mom.”

Eric nodded.  “She’ll make sure he loves Jackie just as much.”

 

E**S

 

“Gramma?”  Dino looked at Stephanie.  “You’s my gramma, but,” he frowned and looked at Jackie then back to Stephanie.  “So’s her.  What do me call her?”

Jackie chuckled and caressed the little boy’s head.  “Nanna would be alright.”

Dino twisted his little mouth in concentration then looked at Stephanie.  “Gramma?  Is it okay if I calls her Nanna and loves her too?”

Stephanie felt her eyes water.  “Oh yes, Baby.  It’s more than okay.  Jackie is your daddy’s momma, just like I’m your mommy’s momma.”  Pressing a kiss to his head, she looked at Jackie, the other woman’s eyes also filled with tears. 

“I promise I won’t try to take your grandma’s place.  I know she’s your favorite.”  Jackie smiled at the little boy as she reached up to wipe a tear that had escaped.

Dino reached out, his tiny finger catching a tear.  Staring at it for a few minutes, his own eyes filled with tears as he looked back up at Stephanie.  “When,” he started, stopping to sniff as his tears rolled down his cheeks.  “When Dino’s Gramma goes to Heaven, Dino will still have his Nanna and won’t be so lonesome.”

Jackie covered her mouth when a sob tried to escape.  “Oh god,” she whispered as she looked up at Stephanie.  “Stephanie,” she breathed.

Stephanie, swallowing back her own sobs, patted her lap.  “Come here, Baby.”

Dino climbed up on her lap, being careful like he’d been told to so that he didn’t hurt his beloved grandma.  Burying his face in her chest, he cried, his little hand clutching at her shirt.

Jackie scooted closer, one arm going around Stephanie’s shoulders, the other around Dino.  “Your grandma isn’t going to leave for a very long time.  We’re going to make sure of that.”

Stephanie pressed kisses to Dino’s head, her eyes haunted as she looked up at Eric.  “Nanna’s right, Dino.  Gramma isn’t going anywhere for a long time.”

Looking up at his grandmothers, Dino sniffed and blinked his eyes to clear the tears away.  Yawning, he settled his head against Stephanie.  “I sorry,” he whispered around another yawn.

Caressing his cheek, Jackie smiled at him.  “Don’t be sorry, Sweetheart.”

Dino grinned sleepily.  “Gramma, Nanna gave me new nickname.  Is what Grampa calls you.”

Stephanie chuckled even as she caressed his back.  “So she did, and yes he does.  Baby, why don’t you let Mommy take you home to bed.”

Sighing, he snuggled closer, still careful not to hurt Stephanie.  “Can’t me fall asleep snuggled here with you?”

“Not tonight, Baby, but I promise that soon you can spend the night with Grandma.  You’ll just have to give Grandma more time to heal.”

“Come on, Dino.”  Felicia whispered as she bent over to take him from her mother.

Reaching his arms out, Dino snuggled against his mother’s shoulder.  “Daddy?”

“I’m right here, Son.”  Nick told him as he caressed his head.

“Comin’ to tuck Dino in?”

“Of course I am.”

“Maybe Nanna could come too?”  Stephanie asked, smiling at Jackie and giving her a wink.

Dino half smiled then yawned.  “Her know good stories?”

Nick chuckled, “The best.  Where do you think Daddy learned them?”

Jackie leaned over and hugged Stephanie.  “Thank you.”

“No need to thank me.  Once he gets to know you, he’ll love you as much as he does me.”  She squeezed Jackie’s hand.  “Now go on.  If you wait much longer, he’ll be asleep before you tell him a story.”

Eric waited until they’d left then sat down beside Stephanie, holding her as she cried on his shoulder.  He watched as the rest of their family quietly left, thankful that they understood the need for Stephanie and he to be alone.  “Come on, Sweet girl.  Let’s get you to bed.”

“I,” she paused to wipe her tears.  “Will you build a fire and just hold me?  I don’t really want to sleep yet.  I’m afraid of having the nightmares again.”

“Alright.  At least go up and change into your pajamas.  That way you’ll be comfortable.”

She smiled.  “Will I find one of your shirts laid out for me on the bed?”

Caressing her face, wiping away the last remnants of her tears, he returned her smile.  “I might have left the one I was wearing earlier on the bed for you to sleep in.”

Kissing him, she caressed his cheek.  “Good.  It’ll smell like you.  Maybe it’ll chase away the dreams.”

“I hope so, Sweetheart.  I hope so.”

Chapter Text

Stephanie smiled as she watched her friends and family open their gifts.  The squeals of delight from her grandchildren made her laugh, the bug eyed looks from her children made her proud that she and Eric had been able to surprise them.

“Mom.”  Thorne whispered.  “Really?”

Eric smiled at Stephanie then looked at their family.  “Yes, really.  We decided that a family vacation was what we need.  I know that Steffy’s company is just starting, and that several of you are involved with that, but after the holidays, we’d like to just take off on the yacht and go wherever everyone decides on.”

“A yacht.”  Felicia shook her head.  “Is it the family’s?”

Stephanie chuckled, “No, Honey.  We found one that will be available for us to use whenever we decide to take our trip.”

“And it’s big enough for all of us?”  Kristen asked as she held Tony’s hand.

“All of us.”  Eric nodded, smiling over at Nick and Jackie.  “Even Nick and Jackie.  They’re family now.  Dino can’t go traipsing around the world with one grandma and leave the other one behind.  And he sure can’t leave behind his daddy.”

Nick smiled down at the little boy snuggled in his lap who was looking at up him with a big grin.  “What do you think, little man?”

“Dino thinks is a good idea.”

“Dad?”  Thorne asked as he looked to his mother.

Stephanie narrowed her eyes.  “What are you looking at me like that for?”

Eric nodded.  “We all have a surprise for you, Sweetheart.  But first,” he said as he got up and walked to where he’d stashed the present he had for her.  “I have this for you.”

Stephanie’s eyes widened as she looked at the size of the gift.  “Eric, what in the world?”

Sitting down beside her, he held the gift out for her to tear the paper off.  “Open it and see.”

Giving him a look, she shook her head then reached out and tore away the paper, her breath catching at what was revealed.  “Oh my god.  I,” she started then stopped, unable to find the words.

Eric never took his eyes from her face but saw his family out of the corner of his eye moving to get a look at the painting Stephanie sat staring at.  “I couldn’t get this image out of my mind.  I’d like for it to hang by the fireplace.”

“My god, Eric.”  Jackie breathed.  “That’s breathtaking.”

“Stephanie, you’re beautiful.”  Nick smiled down at her when she looked up at him with a quirked eyebrow. 

“It’s Eric.  He makes me that way,” she whispered as she looked back at the painting.  “Is this from our honeymoon?” she asked as she studied the scene.

“Yes, it is.”  Eric answered as he reached out to caress the hair from her cheek.  “I’d gone inside to fix us something to eat.  When I came back out, I found you standing out staring at the sunset.  You took my breath away.”  Using his finger under her chin, he gently turned her face to his.  “You are beautiful, Stephanie.  I didn’t do anything except paint what I saw.”

Thorne wiped his eyes then knelt in front of his mother.  “We have something for you, too, Mom.  It’s from all of us.”  He handed her the box they’d put the magazine in.

Stephanie let Eric take the painting as she looked down at the box her son had placed on her lap.  “What in the world?” she whispered then looked up at her son when she saw the magazine cover.  “I don’t understand.”

Aly smiled.  “It was Jackie’s idea.  That is the first issue of a special edition of that magazine.  It hits stands tomorrow.”

“It’s you.”  Stephanie smiled as she looked at the picture of her granddaughter.

Aly nodded.  “Posed just like you were on the cover of the first edition.”

Stephanie opened the magazine, amazed at the pictures of herself side by side with those of her granddaughters and then daughters.  The pictures of all of the family, even Dino, made her eyes water as she looked up and around at all of her family.  “This is wonderful.  Thank you.  You girls look much better in these outfits than I ever did.”

“Now, Stephanie.”  Jackie scolded.  “The pictures of you beside them, prove otherwise.”

Nick nodded.  “If I were older,” he started then stopped when Felicia elbowed him.

Eric laughed, “You’d better watch it, Nick.”

Nick shrugged.  “What?  I was simply going to say, if I were older and had met her before Eric, he would have had to fight me for her.”

Stephanie laughed and shook her head.  “While you are a very handsome man, Nick.  Once I laid eyes on Eric, no other man stood a chance.”

Nick smiled at her.  “Ah well.  I have my own woman.  And she’s every bit as beautiful as her mother.”  He smiled down at Felicia.  “Do you think maybe you should tell them now?” he asked her quietly.

Stephanie narrowed her eyes.  “Tell us what?”

Felicia smiled.  “Well,” she started then took Nick’s hand.  “Daddy, how do you feel about designing a wedding dress?”

Eric smiled and stood up, his arms stretched out for his baby.  “Oh, Baby!  That’s wonderful.  You know I’ll be happy to design your dress.”

Stephanie smiled when Felicia sat down beside her and wrapped her arms around her.  Cradling her head, she gently rocked her.  “You don’t have to hope now, Baby.  He’s the one,” she whispered then kissed her ear, caressing a tear from Felicia’s cheek when she pulled back.  “Happy tears?”

Felicia nodded.  “There’s something else, Mom,” she whispered for her mother’s ears only.

“I know.”  Stephanie whispered back, a light in her eyes as she saw the happiness in her daughter’s.

“Oh Momma.”  Felicia murmured as she wrapped her arms around Stephanie’s neck.  “You have to keep fighting.  This baby needs her grandma.”

“Her?”  Stephanie questioned as she stared at her daughter.

“Uh hum.  Her.”  Felicia clasped Stephanie’s hand.  “Stephanie Elizabeth Marone.”

“Baby,” Stephanie started, her eyes watering.  “Don’t you think we have enough Stephanies?”

Felicia chuckled, “We’re going to call her Liz or Anie, we haven’t decided.”

Eric frowned as he picked up the last part of the quiet conversation.  “Liz?  Anie?  Who are we talking about?”

Felicia giggled as she got up and moved into Nick’s arms.  “You tell them.”

“He won’t shoot me?”  Nick asked.

Felicia laughed and shook her head.  “No.”

Nick winked and kissed her nose then looked up at the rest of the family.  “We’re going to be adding to the family.”

Jackie’s eyes widened and she smiled as she threw her arms around her son.  “Oh, Nickie!”

Nick held his mother just a bit tighter, his eyes drifting to Stephanie who sat smiling at him, seeming to know what he was thinking.  “I take it you’re excited to be Nana again?”

Jackie pulled back and laughed as she caressed her son’s cheek.  “Very happy.”  Turning her attention to Felicia, she pulled her soon to be daughter-in-law into a hug and held tight.  “Thank you so very much, Felicia.  It’s been such a hard year for him.  This means,” she choked up.  “This means so much.”

Felicia smiled as she pulled back from the hug.  “I know and I promise we’re going to be happy.”

Eric clasped Nick’s hand.  “Congratulations, Son.”

“Thank you.”  Nick smiled at the man his father had always hated.  “Dad said to apologize for not making it.  He said he’d be here by New Year’s day.”

Eric nodded.  “I understand business.  He didn’t have to apologize.”

“I know, but I think he just wanted to make sure you understood he wasn’t backing out.”

“It never crossed my mind.  Not when it involves Stephanie.”  Eric whispered then turned to look at his daughter and held out his arms.  Holding her tight, he kissed her head.  “Congratulations, Baby.  I know how afraid you were this would never happen again.”  Smiling down at her when she pulled back, he caressed her cheek.  “So, how soon do I need to start work on the dress?”

Felicia chuckled, “Well, soon if I want to look good in it.  How fast can you get it done?”

“If you just want me to design it, I can have that done in a day.  If you want me to design it and make it myself,” he thought for a moment.  “Maybe two weeks.”

“It’ll be less if I help him.  And he will be making it himself.”  Stephanie piped up.

Felicia nodded.  “No question.  I definitely want Daddy to make my dress.”

“We can all work together to get everything ready in two weeks.”  Kristen smiled at her sister as she pulled her into a hug.  “I’m so happy for you, Sis.”

“Thanks.”  Felicia smiled as they pulled back.  “I want you as my matron of honor.”  She looked at her nieces all standing and waiting to hug her.  “And I want all of you as bride’s maids.”

Nick looked around at the young men that would soon be his nephews.  “And I want all of you as my groom’s men.”  Looking at Thorne, he smiled.  “I’d be honored if you’d be my best man.”

Thorne shook his hand.  “You bet.  Anything for the man that’s made my sister so happy.”  He pulled Felicia into a hug.  “I’m so happy for you, Fifi.  He’s a good guy and he’ll take care of you just like you should be without cramping your style.”

Felicia laughed and elbowed him in the stomach.  “Hey!”

Thorne laughed, “Just stating facts, little sister.”

“What’s going on here?”  Ridge asked as he came into the room.

Felicia stared at her brother, still cool toward him even though he’d made semi-peace with their mother.  “Christmas is what’s going on here.  Where have you been?”

“Don’t start with me, Felicia.  I do have a wife and child to have Christmas with.”

“A child that should be here with his grandmother.”  Felicia growled.

“Fifi.”  Thorne whispered.

Dino moved to where Ridge stood facing off with his mother.  Staring up at his uncle, he frowned.  “You made Mommy grumpy.”

Nick bit his lip to keep from chuckling as he moved to pick up his son.  “It’s alright, Son.  Mommy’s okay.  She’s just a little upset with your uncle Ridge for being late and not bringing RJ.”

“He didn’t bring me, I brought myself.”  RJ told them as he came in.  “Dad forgot that I can drive.”

“Enough!”  Eric hissed at them.  “I won’t have Christmas ruined by this petty bickering.  Ridge, we’re glad you here.  RJ, why don’t you come give your grandma a hug.  She’s missed you.”

RJ smiled at his grandfather as he nodded and moved to Stephanie’s side.  Sitting down by her, he hugged her and kissed her cheek.  “Did you like the magazine, Grandma?”

Stephanie patted his cheek.  “I did, very much.  Did you have fun taking all those pictures?”

RJ laughed and nodded.  “I did.”

“Good.”  She kissed his cheek then looked around at the rest of her family.  “Who’s hungry?  Everything should be ready by now.”

Eric nodded and held out his hand to her when she stood up.  “May I escort you to the table, Madame?”

Shaking her head at him, she took his hand.  “You silly man.  Yes you may.”

RJ chuckled with his cousins.  “They’re great.”

Thomas nodded.  “Yeah, they are, little brother.  Where’s Hope?”

RJ sighed and shook his head.  “Decided she’d better not come, at least not yet.”

Steffy rolled her eyes.  “RJ, I love you, but your mother,” she growled.

“Don’t get me started.  I’m seriously considering moving out and living here with Grandma and Grandpa.”

Steffy shook her head.  “No, don’t do that.  Grandma wouldn’t want you to.  I know your mother is probably bad mouthing Grandma a lot, and Dad is probably letting her, but you have to just ignore it.  Listen to your iPod a lot, or something, but don’t move out.  It would only make Brooke madder at Grandma, and might even make Dad mad at her again, and she doesn’t need that.”

RJ nodded.  “You’re right, but dang.  It’s not just Mom.  Grandpa Stephen has been doing a lot of ranting, too.”

Thomas and Steffy looked at each other then back at their half brother.  “What’s he been saying, RJ?”

“I don’t know.  He rambles a lot and I can’t make it out.”

“You have to pay closer attention to him, RJ.  You know how he feels about Grandma.”  Thomas told him.

“I know, and I will.  Let’s go before they send someone after us.  You know that Grandma will suspect us of going into the den to watch tv.”

Thomas laughed and patted his brother on the back.  “Yes she will.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie cooed at the baby in her arms, laughing when he cooed back.  “That’s my little man.  It’s so good to see you.  I’ve missed you the last couple of weeks.”

Bridget smiled as she watched Stephanie with the baby.  “I didn’t want to bother you, and I knew you’d want to hold him, something that you couldn’t do so soon after your surgery.  That’s why we waited.  I hope you know I wasn’t keeping him from you.  I wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh, Honey, I never thought any such thing.  I know you were doing it for me.  It’s alright.  You brought him to see us for Christmas, I’m happy.”

“I brought someone else too.”  Bridget whispered then tapped the send button on her phone to signal her surprise.

Eric felt his heart nearly burst when he saw his youngest son walk into the room.  Looking at Stephanie to see if she’d noticed, he smiled as he watched the scene unfold.

“Stephanie.”  Rick whispered as he moved to kneel in front of her.  “I’m sorry for the way I’ve acted in the past.  I should never have forgotten who it was that took such good care of Budge and me.”  He swallowed past the lump in his throat as he looked down at his hands.  “I’m so sorry for Phoebe, for what I did to Steffy, to…to everyone.”

Stephanie handed the baby back to Bridget and cupped Rick’s face in her hands, lifting it so that the young man was looking at her.  “I loved you the first time I saw you because you were Eric’s.  And then I loved you because you were such a sweet baby,” she winked.  “Well, most of the time.”

Rick chuckled and sniffed back his tears.  “You loved me all the way back then?”

“I did.  I told Eric once, that I felt that you were partly mine because you were a part of him.  It’s how I’ve always felt about you and your sister.”  She reached over and gripped Bridget’s hand.  “I may not have given birth to the two of you, but I have loved you as much as I’ve loved my own.”

Rick nodded.  “But I forgot.”  He snarled.  “I sort of let the Logan in me out.”

Stephanie laughed and pulled him to her for a hug.  “You did, but that’s in the past with everything else.”

“I have some news of my own to share.”

“You’re back with Amber.”  Stephanie winked at him.

Rick frowned.  “Now how did,” he started then shook his head.  “You know, you could have made a fortune being a psychic.”

Stephanie grinned and winked at him.  “No.  It only works when it involves my family.”

Rick nodded and smiled.  “Yeah, you’re right, I am with Amber again.  It feels good and right.”

“You’ll have to bring Amber over to see me.”

“I will.”

Eric smiled at his son when he stood up and turned to look at him.  “Thank you, very much.  You don’t know what you’ve done,” he whispered as he pulled Rick into a hug.

Rick hugged his father, happy to have him back in his life.  “I think I do.”

 

E**S

 

“It’s just us now, Sweet girl.”  Eric whispered as he snuggled Stephanie close, the fire in the fireplace making the room cozy. 

“Mmm hmm.  It was so nice having everyone here all day.  Well, almost everyone,” she sighed.

“Shh.  At least he came, Sweetheart.  He could have let her use her wiles to keep him away completely, but he didn’t.  He’s slowly coming back to us, just don’t get discouraged.”

She nodded.  “Just keep telling me that.”

“I promise.”

“I’ve been asking you for a lot of promises lately.”

“That’s alright, Sweetheart.  You’re entitled,” he told her as he rubbed her arm and kissed her head.  “I haven’t had a chance to get the truth out of you about your breathing exercises, so I’m asking for the truth now – how are your breathing exercises really going?”

Stephanie sighed, “They’re okay.  It’s hard to get used to.  When I,” she paused and studied his hand.

“What, Sweet girl?  When you,” he prompted her.

“When I breathe too deep, I start coughing, and,” she started but he finished for her.

“And that scares you and you start to panic.”

She nodded.  “It feels like I’m being strangled.”

“Would it help if I were there?”

Tilting her head back, Stephanie gave him an upside down smile as she nodded.  “I think so.  You always helped me stay calm when I’d have a coughing fit before the surgery.”

“Then I’ll be there for your breathing exercises from now on.”  He wrinkled his nose at her and winked.  “Grouchy Nurse Ratchet aside.”

Stephanie bit her lip and giggled.  She couldn’t believe he’d heard her mumble that.  “Oh my god.  I can’t believe you heard me.”

He nodded.  “I did.  And I have to agree.  If she’s like that this next time, we’ll be finding a new nurse.  I won’t have anyone talking to or treating my sweet girl that way.”

“I can take care of myself,” she reminded him, a smile on her face at his protectiveness.

“I know that you are more than capable of taking care of yourself, but it’s my turn to take care of you.  You’ve always been the one who took care of our children and me, now it’s time to let someone else be the caregiver for a while.”

She nodded.  “I love you.”

Eric smiled and kissed her gently.  “I love you.”

Yawning, she moved her head back and forth against his shoulder trying to get comfortable.  Feeling her eyes grow heavy, she sighed, “I think bed is calling my name.”

Eric chuckled, “It’s been a long day.  Come on, Sweet girl.  Let me bank the fire and secure everything down here then I’ll be right up.”

“Okay.  Don’t be too long.  I don’t want to fall asleep without you.”

“I promise.  Go on now.”  Eric patted her bottom as she walked passed him, winking when she turned and gave him a raised eyebrow. 

“Hey, watch it.  That’s private property,” she told him, her eyes twinkling.

“I know,” he nodded.  “because it’s mine.”

“Oh!” she laughed carefully as she slowly made her way up the stairs.

Eric watched her go, happy to see her eyes shining with mirth and happiness for the first time since her surgery.  Christmas had always been her favorite holiday, and the family had gone all out this year to make sure it was a happy one for her.  Although the ruckus with Ridge and Felicia had nearly messed the day up, he was sure that he’d stepped in soon enough to keep it from totally ruining her day.

Hurrying with the fire and then the lights and doors, he headed up the stairs to the woman he knew would be waiting in their bed, his pajama shirt her night shirt, the pants waiting for him to climb into after starting the fire in their bedroom’s hearth.  He smiled knowing that she’d be waiting for him to slip beneath the covers and hold her.

“And sing her to sleep,” he breathed as he neared their bedroom, his mind going to what song she might ask him to sing to her.  This had been a ritual they’d started early in their marriage, one that had fallen by the wayside when their marriage had started falling apart, one that they’d started again when he’d married her in the hospital after her stroke.  One that was always there when they were together, even when they’d only been married in name only.  He’d still sang her to sleep that Christmas because it had been one of the hardest Christmases they’d faced as a family…their baby had been dying.

Stephanie smiled at Eric when he entered their bedroom.  “Hurry, I’m cold,” she told him, chuckling when he moved a little faster.

“I’ll start a fire to help you get warm.”

She shook her head.  “The fire isn’t what I want to warm me up.”

Eric smiled at her just before he bent to light the fire.  “I’ll be right there, Sweet girl.  Just have to change clothes.”

She yawned and nodded as she settled down onto her pillows.  “This Christmas is ending so much better than the last one,” she whispered sleepily as she waited for him.

Eric sighed as he pulled off the last of his clothing, stepping into the pajama bottoms he had known would be waiting for him.  “Why is that, Sweetheart?” he asked softly.

“Because,” her voice slurred.  “Because I’m not going to cry myself to sleep, missing you.”

Sliding into bed behind her, he spooned his body to hers and held her close.  “No, Stephanie, you won’t ever have to cry yourself to sleep on Christmas again.  I’m never going to be anywhere by right here.”

“Mmm,” she hummed.  “Sing to me.”

Eric shook his head, half asleep and she still asked to be sung to.  “Sing what?” he asked.

“Merry Little Christmas,” she murmured.

Pressing a kiss to her head, Eric did as she asked, quietly singing the words to the song that fit them so well.  “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light, from now on our troubles will be out of sight,” he paused as he decided to skip to the end of the song, the words of the last verse choking him up.  “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow, hang a shining star upon the highest bough.  And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”

Chapter Text

 

 

“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.”

“Thanks, Massimo.”

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.

 

E**S

 

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.”

“Thanks, Marone.”

 

E**S

 

“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.

“Damn it!”

“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.

 

E**S

 

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.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Felicia studied her mother’s reflection in the mirror as she fussed with the closers of her wedding dress.  Something was wrong with her mother, she could tell from the sadness that dulled her eyes even though she was trying to hide it with the happiness she felt for her baby on her wedding day.  “Momma,” she whispered, catching her hand to still her movements.

Stephanie looked up and smiled.  “What is it, Baby?”

“What’s going on?”

Stephanie freed her hands and finished her task then turned Felicia to look at her.  “What’s going on is my baby is about to get married to a wonderful man and I’m helping her get ready.”

Caressing her mother’s cheek, Felicia held her gaze.  “Momma,” she said the name again, softly and tenderly.  “Is it your health?  The cancer?”

Resting her hand over her daughter’s, Stephanie gave it a gentle squeeze.  “It’s nothing for you to worry about.  I’m fine, Baby.  Today is your day.  You’re only to worry about walking up the aisle on your daddy’s arm and not tripping, and making it through the ceremony without kissing your groom before it’s time.”

Felicia frowned at her mother’s obvious diversion tactic.  “When it’s not my day anymore, when Nick and I get back from our honeymoon, I want the truth.”

Placing the veil on her daughter’s head and situating it just so, Stephanie kissed Felicia’s cheek.  “I love you.”

Felicia sighed, her mother was so stubborn.  “I love you, too,” she whispered as she leaned forward and kissed her cheek.  “Where’s Daddy?”

“I’m right here, Baby.”  Eric smiled when she turned to look at him.  “Even more beautiful that I’d imagined you would be.”  He looked at Stephanie, his gaze softening.  “Makes me think of your mother, how beautiful she was on our wedding days.”

Stephanie smiled at him, her lower lip trembling.  “Oh Eric,” she whispered.  “She’s much more beautiful than I was on any of those days.”

“No, Mom, I’m not.”  Felicia smiled when her mother looked at her.  “Neither of us girls have ever held a candle to your beauty, but that’s okay.”

“You’re right, Sis, it’s perfectly okay.”  Kristen smiled when she came into the room.  “Everything’s set and ready to go.  Just waiting on you and Dad.”

Kissing Felicia’s cheek, Stephanie squeezed her hands.  “I love you, Baby.”

Eric smiled at Stephanie when she walked past him, looking up at him with tears in her eyes.  “Our baby’s all grown up, Momma,” he whispered.

“I know, Daddy,” she whispered back.

“Go on.  Thomas is waiting to escort you to your seat.”  Handing her his handkerchief, he winked at her.  “Wipe your eyes.  The little man won’t be happy to see his Gramma crying.”

Stephanie smiled as she wiped her eyes.  “He won’t see me until he brings the ring in.”

“He’s already in the foyer.”

“Oh.”  Holding his gaze, Stephanie found the strength she needed.  “I love you,” she told him quietly before slipping out of the room.

Eric watched her go, wishing he could have held her close, but knowing that at this stage in their lives that wasn’t possible.  “I love you, too, Sweet girl,” he whispered, even though she was already out of sight.

“Daddy?”  Felicia asked, looking at her sister over his shoulder.

Kristen shrugged.  She had no more of an idea about what was going on with their parents than Felicia did.  “Dad?” she said his name and tapped him on the shoulder.  “It’s time.”

Eric shook himself from his thoughts, smiling at his oldest daughter.  “Go on.  We’re right behind you.”

“Don’t trip.”                          

“I’ve never tripped before.  It’s your sister you should be telling that to.”

“Hey!”  Felicia complained as she took her father’s arm.

Eric patted her hand before giving it a gentle squeeze.  “Come on, Baby.  We don’t want to keep Nick waiting.”

Felicia smiled up at her father.  “I’m getting married, Daddy.  It’s really happening.”

“Yes it is, Baby.”  Eric kissed her forehead before leading her out of the room and down the hall.  Carefully maneuvering them down the stairs, he caught sight of Dino and stifled a chuckle at the way the little boy was staring at his mother.

“Momma?”  Dino whispered in awe.

Felicia smiled as she bent over to his level.  “Yes, it’s me.”

“You’s pretty.”

Caressing his cheek, she kissed his head.  “Thank you, Baby.  Now, are you ready?”

Dino nodded.  “I ready.”

“Remember walk slow like Daddy showed you.”

“I ‘member.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie sighed as she watched Eric dancing with Felicia.  He was such a wonderful dancer.  Every move he made was graceful and easy.  She missed his arms, missed him.  She coughed and took a sip of her sparkling water, then looked down when she felt a tug on her pant leg.  Smiling at her grandson, she caressed his head.  “What is it, Baby?”

“Daddy told me to be a,” he frowned and twisted his mouth.  “A gentleman,” he tried the word then nodded, sure he’d gotten it right.  “I’s supposed to ask you to dance.”

Smiling at the little man standing in front of her in his little tux, Stephanie turned and sat down her glass before taking his hand.  “I’d love to dance with you.”

Grinning, Dino held her hand as he walked with her out to where others were dancing.  Not sure what to do, he stared up at his beloved grandma, then grinned when she whispered for him to stand on her feet.  Holding tightly to her hands, Dino’s gaze never left his grandma’s face.  “Some day, Gramma, I’s going to be big enough to dance with you like Grampa is dancin’ with Momma.”

Stephanie swallowed down the sudden rush of tears, knowing that her little man would never get that chance.  “I like the way you’re dancing with me now,” she managed to whisper.

“Gramma?”  Dino asked, sensing her sadness.

“What, Baby?”

“Dino won’t get to dance like that with you, will him?”

Stopping, Stephanie moved him off her feet and bent down to his level.  Pressing a kiss to his head, she caressed his face.  “No, Baby, you won’t.  But you’ll have Nana, and she’ll be proud to dance with you like that.  She loves you just as much as Grandma does.”

Tears pooling in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks, Dino patted Stephanie’s cheek.  “I love Nana, but,” he started then stopped, not sure he should say what he was about to.

“Dino, my boy, would you like to dance with Grandma properly?”  Massimo asked as he came upon on the scene, having heard most of the conversation.

Dino looked up at his other grandfather.  “How?  Dino’s too little.”

Smiling, Massimo bent down and lifted the boy in his arms.  “Like this.”

Stephanie smiled up at Massimo, her eyes clouded with tears as she moved into Dino’s waiting arms, adjusting them so they could move with the music, Massimo helping as he rested a hand on her back.  “See?  You’re dancing with Grandma.”

Dino cuddled his head next to hers, and sighed as he held tightly to her.  “I love’s you, Gramma.  Is me really gonna get to stay with you tonight?  It’s been so long since Dino got to stay with his Gramma.”

Stephanie caressed the boy’s back.  “I love you, too, Baby.  And yes, you’re really going to stay with me tonight.”

Dino sat up and patted her cheek as he grinned down at her.  “I’s so happy!  Dino’s missed you!”

Stephanie smiled and chuckled at his enthusiasm.  “I’ve missed you, too, sweet boy.”

Massimo smiled at Eric over their heads and nodded when he mouthed his thanks.  “Dino, why don’t you and Grandma go sit down.  We don’t want to make Grandma too tired.  Remember, she’s still recovering from her surgery.”

Dino nodded and wiggled to get down.  “Come on, Gramma.”

Stephanie chuckled as she followed the boy, shaking her head when he led her over to one of the chairs.  “Can you go get my water?  I’m a little thirsty.”

Dino nodded.  “I be careful,” he assured her as he turned and went to where he’d seen her set the glass down.

Stephanie looked up to see Massimo standing in front of her.  “Thank you so very much for that, Mass.  I appreciate what you’ve done tonight.  Felicia was asking questions before the wedding, she’s getting suspicious.  I don’t know what I’m going to do if she wants to know why I haven’t danced with her father.”

“Well, you can simply tell anyone that asks that you don’t feel up to dancing.  What you did with Dino was special and the only dance you’ll be doing tonight.”

Stephanie nodded then looked toward Jackie.  “Go dance with Jackie.  Maybe Nick’s parents need to spend a little more time together.”

Massimo raised an eyebrow at her.  “Matchmaking, Cara?”

Stephanie smiled.  “You made a baby with her, Massimo.  I know you, you had feelings for her.  I think you still do.  You just have to remember she can’t be controlled.”  Squeezing his hand, she studied him.  “This time, she’s not in love with someone else.  I think you might find she’s willing to give it a try.”

Shaking his head, Massimo sighed, “You know me too well, Cara.”

“I’m your oldest friend, Mass,” she reminded him.  “Go on now.”

 

E**S

 

Nick looked at his wife, watching as she stared out the window.  He’d cancelled their honeymoon plans just moments ago, knowing instinctively that his wife wouldn’t want to leave her parents after witnessing their odd behavior tonight at the wedding.  He had been just as concerned as Felicia when he’d realized that not once had Eric touched Stephanie or danced with her.  To the outsider that wouldn’t have been odd, but to the family, it was more than odd…it was cause for concern.  Stephanie never missed an opportunity to dance with Eric, and since their re-marriage, it had been very rare to see them together and not see them touching.

“Felicia,” he whispered as he moved behind her, his hands lifting to rest on her shoulders.

“Something’s wrong with her, Nick,” she whispered, shivering as she leaned back against him.  “I asked questions, but they both avoided answering.  That or they lied to me.”

Wrapping his arms tightly around her, Nick rested his chin on the top of her head.  “I agree that something is going on.  It’s odd that Dad was the only one she danced with.”

“And I think that was only because he was holding Dino.  Did you see the look my father gave yours?”

“I did,” he nodded.  “My father seems to know what’s going on.  It’s bit strange that our fathers are getting along as well as they are.  That tells me that whatever is going on is very serious.”

Felicia nodded.  “Taylor knows, too.”

“Maybe your mom is just struggling with being sick and that craziness with Stephen.”

Felicia shook her head.  “No, it’s more than that.  Mom can chew Stephen Logan up and spit him out without batting an eye.”

Nick laughed at that.  “I suppose you’re right.  Your other siblings didn’t seem to know what was going on, either, so it’s not just you.”

“Thorne will find out.  He’s always been more sensitive to Mom, even if he hasn’t always paid attention to it.”

Kissing her head, Nick turned his wife to face him.  “Then let Thorne take care of it.  At least for tonight.  I’m sure that whatever is going on, your parents have kept it from you so that today wouldn’t be an upset.”

Smiling, Felicia lifted a hand and cupped his cheek.  “I love you, Dominick Marone.”

“And I love you, Felicia Marone.”

 

E**S

 

Jackie cried as she held onto Massimo, her face buried against his chest.  She’d demanded to know what was going on with Eric and Stephanie, and having been given permission to share the truth with her by Eric, Massimo had filled her in on what had happened the day Stephen had held Stephanie at gun point.

“Dear god,” she whimpered.  “I feared something like this, but,” she bit her lip as she pulled back and looked up at him.  “I understand so much about you now, Massimo.  You’ve protected her all these years by keeping the truth to yourself.  I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“Because, that had to hurt you.  Seeing your father hurt the girl you loved, the girl that was your best friend.”

Pulling her back against him, Massimo held her tight and buried his face in her hair.  The pain he’d felt all those years ago came flooding back and he shivered as he remembered the horror of his discovery.  “I should have realized; should have noticed the way he looked at her.  All those odd discussions between Douglas and my father.  I just thought they were talking about business.”

Resting her hand over his heart, Jackie gently caressed his chest.  “How were you to know they were discussing Stephanie in that way?”

Massimo grasped her hand with his and held it to his face.  “My mother tried to tell me what kind of man my father was, but I didn’t understand.”

“If she didn’t come out and tell you, and you were young, how could you?  You idealized your father as many young men do.  Why would you think that he was a degenerate?  No young man thinks that of their father.”

“I still should have noticed the way he acted around Stephanie.”

Cupping his cheek, Jackie held his gaze.  “She doesn’t blame you.  Has never blamed you for not protecting her.  You saved her from it happening again.  Stephanie has always loved you for that, even when she didn’t remember.”

Pulling Jackie close, Massimo held her tightly.  “I know she doesn’t blame me, but I’ve lived with this guilt all of these years.  I can’t forget what my father did to her, especially now that she’s remembered.”

Gently squeezing his arms, Jackie sighed and changed the subject.  “Why did you dance with me?”

“Because a certain someone pointed out that I might still have feelings for you.”

“Stephanie?”  Jackie asked, already knowing the answer.  “You danced with me because Stephanie told you to?  Is that also why you brought me home?”

“I did dance with you because Stephanie suggested it.  She didn’t tell me to bring you home.  I did that on my own.”  Pushing her back, he lifted her face.  “She was right, Jackie.  And don’t you think that Dominick and our grandson deserve us at least giving it a chance if there’s something here?”

“So you’re doing this for them?”

“Stephanie pointed something out to me tonight, Jacqueline.  She said that I had to have had feelings for you to have created a child with you.  She was right, I did.”  Massimo traced her face with a gentle finger.  “I still do.  I want to give us another try.”

“Massimo, I,” she started, stopping when his finger rested against her lips.

“She also pointed out that I needed to remember you’re an independent woman and not try to control you.”  He chuckled when Jackie raised an eyebrow.  “She knows us both far too well, I think.  I do remember that, Jackie.  I promise not to make the mistakes I made before.”

“You weren’t the only one that made mistakes, Massimo.”  Studying the man, she bit her lip.  “Can we take this slowly?”

He smiled.  “As slow as you want.”

“Then I’m willing to try.”  She sighed and leaned back against him.  “I think we’re both going to need someone before this is all over.”

Holding her close, Massimo stared out the window.  “I think you’re right.”

 

E**S

 

“Eric, he won’t understand.”  Stephanie whispered.

“It’ll be alright, Sweetheart.  We’ll just simply make sure he’s asleep before we go to bed.”

Hanging her head, she turned away and walked out onto the balcony.  The air was chilly tonight and she felt it all the way to her bones.  She was tired.  So very tired.  Nightmares plagued her on most nights, and on the nights they left her alone, she couldn’t sleep because her bed was cold and lonely.  And yet…she still couldn’t bear the thoughts of being touched by Eric.

“Sweetheart.”  Eric said the name gently as he walked out onto the balcony.  “It’s alright.”  He held out his hand in front of her.  “Take my hand and hold it.  Just hold my hand.”

Stephanie stared at his hand, her body trembling as she forced herself to reach out and take it.  She reacted as they both knew she would, but instead of pulling back as she always did, she held tighter.  “I do love you,” she told him shakily.

“I know you do,” he assured her, feeling her hand trembling in his.  “I’m always going to be right here, Sweet girl.  I’m not leaving.  We’ll get passed this just like we have everything else.  Taylor’s helping us.”

“The kids.  They all suspect something.”

“Thorne was questioning me like Felicia did you earlier.  Kristen was busy keeping Ridge from being his normal self and demanding answers.  I saw Tony scowling at him a few times.”  Eric studied her when she looked at him.  “We need to tell them all, Steph.  Nick called, Felicia won’t leave because she’s worried.  They cancelled their honeymoon.  Well, he cancelled when he realized that Felicia wasn’t going to leave you not knowing what’s going on.”

“Oh Eric, I,” she closed her eyes.  “I didn’t want to ruin this for them.”

“I know you didn’t.  But Sweetheart, she loves you and is worried.”  Squeezing her hand, he smiled tenderly when her eyes opened.  “Remember how Taylor told them all when you remembered your abuse?  How worried you were?  Remember how they were all waiting for us when we got back home from Chicago?  The hugs, the kisses, the reassurances that they love you?  Taylor has offered to tell them.  And this time she’ll have Jackie, Massimo, and Pam with her.  You know that Pammy knows.”

Stephanie nodded.  “Pammy remembered that day.  She remembers how mother drug her out of the house to go shopping when the arguing got so loud.  She told me that she cried and screamed all the way to the car because Mother was leaving me behind.”

“Pam loves you, just like the rest of us.  Massimo assured me that he will tell them what he knows.”

“Ridge isn’t going to like him being there.”

“Ridge will have to get over it.”  Eric growled.

“When Brooke finds out,” she shivered.  “Dear god, Eric.  She’ll,” she swallowed.  “They’ll all,” she shook her head.  “I couldn’t bear it, Eric.  I couldn’t bear it.”  Her hand squeezed his tightly as she trembled at the thoughts of what the Logans would do with the knowledge.

“We’ll make sure that they all understand that the Logans are not to find out.”  Eric studied her.  “Rick and Bridget need to be here with the rest of them.  They love you.  They both think of you as a mother.”  He rolled his eyes.  “You’re really the only mother they’ve ever had.  Brooke hasn’t been much of a mother to any of her children.”

“Ridge will definitely not like this.”

“You let Massimo and I deal with him.”

“I’m afraid, Eric,” she admitted quietly.

“I know you are.  You don’t have to be here.  I’ll take you up to the cabin.  We can spend some time up there.  All that snow and a fire.  Everything you like.”

Looking at him with a sad smile, a tear trickled down her cheek.  “Not everything.”

“Oh, Sweetheart,” he murmured, wishing with all his heart he could reach out and wipe away the tear then pull her to his chest and hold her.  “You’re holding my hand, that’s a start.”

Looking down at the hand she held, she lifted it to her lips, pressing a soft kiss to the back.  “I couldn’t do this without you.”

“You could, but you don’t have to.”  He smiled at her.  “Come on, let’s go check on our boy.  I don’t hear him playing anymore so he may have gone to sleep.”

Stephanie nodded, still holding his hand as they turned to go back inside.  “Eric?”

“What is it, Sweet girl?”

“Spend the night with me?  Dino will be in the middle.  I think it will be alright.  Besides, if I have a nightmare I don’t want to frighten him.”

Eric nodded.  “Anything you want, Sweet girl.  Anything you want.”

Stephanie smiled when they spotted Dino.  “Eric, look.”

Eric shook his head at the position their grandson had fallen asleep in.  “If I were to sleep like that, I wouldn’t be able to move for a week.”

Stephanie chuckled as she studied the odd angle of Dino’s head as he leaned forward over the little toy truck he’d been pushing around.  “I’d be the same.”

Bending over, Eric carefully lifted the boy, smiling at Stephanie when Dino snuggled into the crook of his neck.  “Just like his momma.”

Stephanie nodded.  “Come on, let’s see if we can get him changed into his pajamas without waking him up.”

“Should be able to.”  Eric winked at her.  “You always managed with the other kids.”

“I had more practice then.”  Stephanie whispered as they entered the bedroom.  Moving to where she kept his little pajamas, she smiled, remembering the last time he’d been there, insisting that he wanted new dinosaur jammies cause his old ones were too small. 

Eric watched as Stephanie gently changed their grandson’s clothes then smiled when she looked up at him.  “You’ve still got it, Grandma,” he whispered as he tucked Dino in.  “I’m going to go change.  I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Stephanie nodded.  Watching him go, she felt her heart swell with the love she had for him.  No man should have to go through what she was putting him through, yet he was still here, still by her side even though tonight had been the first time she’d let him touch her since she’d remembered what Massimo’s father had done to her.  She thought about Pammy, and the pain she had seen in her sister’s eyes tonight, knowing that it was there because once again her sister was blaming herself for something she couldn’t possibly have done anything about.

So many people, so much hurt.

“Steph?  Sweetheart?”  Eric whispered as he came back into the room and found her standing staring off into space.  “What’s wrong?”

Shaking her head, she sighed, “Nothing.  Just thinking about Pammy.  I really need to spend the day with her soon.”

“We’ll call her tomorrow.  Now, go change and come settle into bed.  It’s been a long day for both of us and I know you have to be tired.”  He yawned.  “I know I am.”

“Be right back.”

Eric watched her go and sighed as he walked to his side of the bed and climbed in, careful not to disturb Dino.  Picking up his phone, he sent a text to Taylor, asking her to check on Pam to make sure she was alright.  Turning his phone down, he placed it back on the bedside table then settled against his pillows just as Stephanie was coming into the room.  Smiling when he noticed the pajamas she was wearing, he winked when she raised an eyebrow at him.

“What are you smiling about?”

“You’re wearing Dino’s favorite pajamas.”

Settling on her own pillows, she looked at Eric across from her.  “Just because he was asleep and didn’t get to ask me to wear them, doesn’t mean that he won’t be expecting me to have them on in the morning.”

“Goodnight, Sweetheart.  Sleep well.”

“I have two of the most important men in my life with me.  I should sleep wonderfully.  Just promise to get him out of here if I start having a nightmare.”

“I promise.”

“I love you, Teddy bear.”

Eric smiled.  “I love you, Sweet girl.”

Chapter Text

Taylor carefully watched the people gathered in the Forrester living room.  With the help of Massimo and Pam, she’d just finished telling the family what had been happening with Stephanie, and her heart broke at the sobs she heard from the girls and the silent tears she saw on the faces of the guys, with one exception.  Ridge.  Ridge was angry.  Angrier than she’d ever seen him.

“Ridge?” she asked when he got up and paced.

“Why didn’t she tell us herself?  Where is she?” he demanded as he glared at her.

“Ridge,” Taylor started only to be stopped by Thorne.

“She didn’t tell us because she couldn’t.  Ridge,” he started, his voice breaking.  “Our mother was raped as a little girl.  Could you tell your children that?  Could you stand to see their tears?  Their hurt?  You know she’s always protected us.  It was hard enough on her being there and trying to tell us about her cancer.  Dad had to finish that because she couldn’t hurt us.  This is no different.”

“Your brother is right, Ridge.”  Pam whispered, her face still stained with tears.  “Steph couldn’t bear the thoughts of the pain this would cause you all. And,” she paused and bit her lip.

“And she was afraid of what you would think.”  Jackie spoke up, squeezing Massimo’s hand tightly for strength.

“But she should know that we love her.”  Kristen spoke up, voice shaky as she wiped at her eyes and nose with a tissue, thankful for Tony’s arm around her shoulders.

“She does know that, Kristen.”  Massimo smiled at the young woman.  “You have to understand how difficult this has been for her.”

“This is why you and Dad are so friendly.”  Felicia whispered.

Massimo nodded.  “I’ve grown up the last few months, Felicia.  It seems your father and I had a lot in common.  We hadn’t grown up yet.”

Pam smiled at the man she’d known all her life.  “He was just keeping a promise he made to Steph.  He’s always protected her.  For all these years he’s kept this to himself to protect her because she didn’t remember.  He’s never been a bad man, just a little misguided.”

“Oh please.”  Ridge snorted.  “Don’t make him out to be some sort of prince among men.  He faked blood tests to make him my father.”

“Yes, Ridge, I did.  And I lost my best friend because of it.  I would still be on the outs if memories hadn’t resurfaced that forced your father to call me.”

“Where is she?”  Ridge asked again.

Taylor sighed, “She’s with Eric, Ridge, and that’s all I’m going to say.  You are not going to confront her while you’re this angry.  And what I’m about to tell you is going to make your even angrier.”

Bridget sniffed.  “You don’t want us to tell anyone outside of those of us that are here.”

“That’s right, Bridget.  Brooke isn’t to be told.”  Taylor looked directly at Ridge.  “Your father made it very clear that I was to make sure you understood that none of the Logans, with the exception of Bridget, Rick, and RJ, are to know anything about this.”

“That isn’t fair.”  Ridge growled.  “They get to know, but my wife doesn’t?”  He pointed angrily at each of his in-laws present.

“We won’t use the information to hurt, Stephanie.”  Nick told him calmly.  “I’m not your brother, so I don’t have to be nice.”  His voice lowered.  “If you don’t start acting like a human being and show some care, love, and concern for your mother and stop being angry about your damned wife, I’ll punch you and throw you out.”

Ridge glared at Nick.  “I’d like to see you try.  This is my family’s home, not yours.”

“Enough!”  Massimo boomed.  “This is insanity!”  Grabbing Ridge and turning him to face him, he stared at the man he’d claimed as his own for so many years.  “You’re a fool, Ridge.  Is Brooke Logan really worth losing your family?  Is she really worth hurting your mother?  Do you think for one minute that she would feel anything but giddy about this?  She doesn’t believe Stephanie has cancer, why would she believe this?”

“She believed Mother was abused by her father.”

“Yes, but that was before.  This is now.  If Brooke did happen to believe, do you really think she wouldn’t go straight to Bill Spencer and have it splashed over every headline in every magazine he owns?”  Massimo sighed and shook his head as he dropped his hands.  “I thought you had started to come around?  What happened?”

“Brooke wrapped her legs around him.”  Felicia snarled.  “What does she have down there?  Gold?”

“Felicia!”  Kristen shouted.

Zende spoke up for the first time.  “She’s right, Mom.  None of us are too young to hear that.  I’ve always wondered myself what the big deal was about the Logan women.  All I could ever figure out was that they must be hell’a good in bed.”

“I’m leaving.  And I’m telling my wife.”  Ridge ground out.

RJ rolled his eyes.  “Go head, Dad.  Be an idiot,” he mumbled.

Steffy, angry and upset, stepped in front of her father.  “I thought you stopped hating Grandma.”

“Steffy, it’s not about that.  It’s about the fact that Brooke is family and deserves to be treated as such.”

Thomas joined his sister and wrapped an arm around her.  “No, she isn’t, and doesn’t.  She is married to you, but she isn’t family.  Family doesn’t act the way she has.  Grandma is sick, Dad.  She’s dying.  And now she’s learned that she was raped while her father sat back and let it happen.  She doesn’t deserve what Brooke and her family will do with that knowledge.  But you know what?  You go right ahead and tell Brooke.  Go on home and screw her brains out then confess it all just like you always do.  We’ll just keep Grandma hidden away.”

“And if you do,”  Thorne jumped in before Thomas could finish.  “Don’t you ever step foot in this house or anywhere near Mom again.”

“You can’t say that to me.”  Ridge ground out as he glared at his brother.

“Oh, but I can.  As the second born, it’s my right to protect my mother when the first born is being an ass and intends to do something to hurt her.”

Ridge snarled then turned and stormed out leaving behind a weeping daughter and an angry son and brother.

“I don’t understand.”  Pam frowned.  “Stephanie said he had come to her and apologized and was starting to fix things.  What happened?”

“Brooke.  Everyone was right.”  Taylor sighed as she watched Thomas comfort his sister.  “She has always controlled him with her body.  She uses sex to get what she wants, always has.  She didn’t like that Ridge was starting to see the light so she turned up the charm and has him back in her clutches.”

“If he tells her,” Pam started, tears choking her at the thoughts of what it would do to her sister.

“I won’t let it happen, Pam.”  Massimo smiled at her as he reached out and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.  “I promise.”  Looking around at the others, his gaze stopped on his son.  “I’m going to go.  You take care of them, Son.”

“I will.”  Nick nodded.

Jackie followed Massimo.  “What are you going to do?” she asked as she stepped outside with him.

“I’m going to go to Ridge’s and make sure he understands a few things.  Stephanie has been hurt enough to last a life time, and right now, Ridge is acting just like John Douglas.  I’m going to point that out to him.”

“Just don’t do anything that will hurt Stephanie.”

“I promise.”  Massimo pressed a kiss to her forehead.  “Go back inside and help our son take care of his new family.”

Jackie nodded.  “Call me later?”

“I’ll come by later.  I think I’ll probably need your company.”

“Be careful,” she whispered as he walked away.  Turning to head back inside, she found Nick standing in the door looking at her.  “What is it, Nicky?”

“What’s going on with you and Dad?”

“Don’t worry, Darling.  We’re taking things slowly to see if there’s still something there.”

“Are you sure?”

“I loved him once, Nicky.”

“But what about him?”

“He cared for me or you wouldn’t be here.”

“What about Stephanie?”

“He’ll always love her, Nick.  She’s been in his life since they were children, and they have a whole lifetime of things that tie them together, but he knows she’s in love with Eric.  He’s made his peace with it.  He’s the one that came to me.  And after the mess of the last few years, I’m willing to give us another try.”

Nick nodded and held out his hand.  “Was he going where I think?”

“Yes.  He said that Ridge was acting like John Douglas.”

“Ouch.  Maybe if he tells him that, Ridge will get his head out of Brooke’s,”

“Nick!”  Jackie scolded, cutting him off.

“Well, you and I both know it’s the truth.”

“I know, but there’s no need to say it.”  She tugged at his hand.  “Come on.  Let’s go back and see what we can do for the family.”

“Where is Stephanie anyway?”

“Eric took her to the cabin.”

Nick nodded.  “That’s where I thought, but wasn’t sure.  They like the beach too.”

“They do, but Eric thought the snow and a fire might be more what Stephanie needed right now.”

Nick looked at his wife as she sat snuggled against her brother.  “Are Stephanie and Eric going to be alright, Mom?  It’ll break Felicia’s heart if something happens.”

“They’re going to be fine, Darling.  Eric isn’t the same as he once was.  He isn’t going anywhere, no matter what happens.”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie sighed as she laid on the sofa staring into the fire Eric had built the minute they’d arrived.  She could hear him fussing around in the kitchen softly humming one of her favorite songs and tears filled her eyes.  She frowned, she’d been doing a lot of crying lately.  Not being a woman given to tears, she found it frustrating to find them filling her eyes nearly every time she turned around.  Yawning, she blinked away the tears then let her eyes close, giving in to the tiredness.

Eric peeked in on her a few moments later, smiling sadly as he noticed the sign of tears on her cheeks.  He hated when she cried; it broke his heart.  Her tears over the years hadn’t been frequent, but they had always broken his heart, even when he was too stupid to admit it.  Sighing, he pulled the throw from the back of the sofa and covered her with it before turning and making his way back to the kitchen to finish their lunch.

They’d gotten her latest test results this morning before leaving which had only added to the stress of the situation.  The results weren’t good as far as the tumors on her brain were concerned.  She’d been quiet since they’d left the doctor’s office and he’d left her to her thoughts, his own thoughts turning to the plans he’d been making the last few weeks.  They had the trip to Italy from Taylor that they still needed to take, and he’d been working on setting that up along with the vacation with their family that Stephanie had talked about taking.

Quietly finishing their lunch, he left it warming in the oven to give her time to rest.  Sitting in the rocking chair, he stared into the fire, remembering another time they’d come up here just to get away.

Watching her sleep peacefully on the sofa, Eric sighed.  She’d been quiet all the way to the cabin, holding his hand as if her life depended on it.  He’d started to ask what was wrong, but hearing her sigh, and seeing the look on her face, he decided to just wait for her to talk to him when she was ready.  So far, she hadn’t opened up.  Sitting down in the rocker, he gently set it in motion as he stared into the fire.  Their lives had been wonderful lately.  The business had just reached the kind of success both of them had always dreamed of, and their children were getting a long fine in school as well as learning the business from designing, to cutting and sewing, to supply and shipment. 

So what had his wife so upset?  He hadn’t done anything lately.  No flirtations.  No affairs.  He hadn’t even been spending a lot of time at work, at least not without her there with him helping to get things done in any way she could.  He’d taken to sending her notes to thank her that had little doodles on them, things that she’d loved when they were younger.  Frowning when he remembered seeing her crying one day while looking at one of the notes, he shook his head.  Something was wrong with his wife.

“Eric,” she whispered, bringing him out of his thoughts.

Moving from the rocker, Eric sat down on the floor beside the sofa.  Caressing her soft hair, his thumb traced her cheek.  “What is it?”

Clasping his hand and holding it to her, she stared into his dark eyes.  “You know that I haven’t been feeling well lately,” she started.

“Yes, I do.”  His heart began to pound.  “Sweetheart?  Is something wrong?”

Closing her eyes, tears spilled from beneath the lashes.  “I,” she began then stopped, not sure how to go on.  “I thought at first I was pregnant again, even though we’d been told by the doctors that it couldn’t happen after Felicia.”

“But?”

“Eric, I,” she bit her lip to keep it from trembling.  “I can’t,” she paused when his finger covered her lips.

“Shh,” he soothed.  “It’s alright.  You’ve given me five children, Stephanie, four of which have grown into the most wonderful human beings I’ve ever known.  You’ve done that, Sweetheart.  I don’t need anymore children.”

“I don’t feel like a woman anymore,” she admitted softly.

Eric smiled as he let his hand trace the line of her body.  “Oh, you are most definitely still a woman.  You know that being able to bear children isn’t all that makes you a woman.”  Cupping her cheek, he held her gaze.  “Why is this bothering you so much?”

Closing her eyes, she sighed, “Because I’m getting old and my body is changing.  I’m afraid.”

Feeling his heart break a little, Eric helped her sit up and sat beside her on the sofa, pulling her across his lap.  “I’m so sorry for that, Sweetheart.  I know that you’re afraid because of my wandering eye.”  His hand played with her hair.

Letting her eyes close, Stephanie sighed at the sound of his heart beating in her ear.  Feeling his hand gently cup a breast, she looked up at him.  “Eric?”

“Let me show you that it’s you that I want.  Let me show you what your body does to me.”

She whimpered when his fingers tweaked a nipple through her blouse.  “It’s been so long, Eric.”

“Because we’ve been busy and tired, not because I don’t want you,” he whispered.

Eric came out of the memories with the sound of Stephanie screaming his name.  Jumping up out of the rocking chair, he rushed over to her, careful not to touch her.  “Stephanie!  Stephanie!”

“Eric!  Please!” she screamed as she sat up.  “Hold me,” she whispered.

Not thinking about it, Eric sat down beside her and pulled her against his chest.  “I’ve got you.  You’re safe.”  He gently rocked her as his hand came up to cradle her head.  “Your teddy bear has you,” he whispered.

Calming, she went limp in his arms.  For the first time in weeks, she felt completely at ease with Eric’s touch.  “You saved me,” she whispered.

“I only woke you from your nightmare, Sweetheart.”

She shook her head.  “No.  In the nightmare.  It was you that stopped him.”  Nestling further into his embrace, she sighed, “Oh Eric.”

“Are you hungry, Sweetheart?” he asked after a few moments of silently cradling her body close to his.  “I made a simple chicken casserole.  It’s warming in the oven.”

“Maybe a little.”

Pressing a kiss to her head, he smiled when she didn’t jerk away at the touch.  “Go wash your face, Sweetheart.  I’ll fix our plates.  Want some wine with it?”

She nodded.  “Maybe a,”

“I know,” he interrupted her.  “Maybe a little bit.”

Stephanie chuckled as she pulled back and stood up with him.  “I’m beginning to sound like a broken record.”

“It’s alright.  Go on now.”

Holding onto his hand until she was almost out of reach, Stephanie turned and smiled at him.  “You held me,” she whispered.

“Yes, I did.”

“And I didn’t wince or pull away.”

“No,” he smiled.  “you didn’t.”

Walking away, she paused again at the door to their bedroom.  “Teddy bear?”

Eric turned from the kitchen doorway and smiled.  “What, Sweet girl?”

“Can we spend the night here?”

“On the sofa bed in front of the fire?”

She nodded.  “With your arms wrapped around me.  I’ve missed that.”

“I’ve missed it too, Sweet girl.  We can stay.  We can do whatever you want.”

“That’s all I want,” she called as she disappeared beyond the door.

Eric sighed as he turned and finished his trek to the kitchen.  Pulling the dish out of the oven, he set it down before getting plates and glasses from the cabinet.  For the first time in a long time, he felt light hearted.  He’d touched and held Stephanie without her pulling away and she wanted him to hold her while they slept in front of the fire.  Pulling his phone out, he sent a simple text to Taylor.

She’s healing.

 

E**S

 

“Taylor?  What is it?”  Felicia asked when she saw the smile cross her former sister-in-law’s face.

“It’s a text from your father.”

“What does it say that it made you smile?”  Thorne asked as he held Aly against him.

“It simply says, She’s healing.”  Taylor’s eyes watered.  “Something must have happened.”

“Something good.”  Jackie whispered.  “I should be going.  Dino is probably anxious.”

Taylor chuckled, “I believe it’s Nana that’s anxious.”

“Oh.”  Jackie huffed with a smile.

“Are you sure you’re up to keeping Dino tonight?”  Felicia asked.

Jackie smiled as she nodded.  “Massimo is staying as well, so Dino will have both of his grandparents.  And I did raise Nicky on my own.”  She winked at her daughter-in-law.

Felicia smiled and nodded.  “Okay.  Thank you for letting him stay with you.”

Nick wondered how his wife hadn’t picked up on the fact that his father was staying the night with his mother.  Starting to say something about it, he jerked at the feel of Felicia’s fingernail poking him in the side.  “Ouch,” he hissed in her ear.  “What was that for?”

Looking at him, she merely raised an eyebrow before turning her attention back to her mother-in-law.  “You two have fun with Dino and don’t let him stay up too late.”

Jackie chuckled, sure that her son had been about to ask about his father spending the night only to be stopped by his wife.  “We won’t.  I believe Papa, as Dino calls Massimo, bought a Wii and Dino’s favorite game.”

“Papa?”  Nick asked, trying hard not to smirk.

“Well he calls me Nana so by his logic, Massimo should be Papa.”  Smiling proudly, Jackie continued, “And Massimo likes it.  He says he’s never been Papa before.”

Felicia smiled at her husband.  “See?  Even your father can be a big old teddy bear when it comes to Dino.”

Nick chuckled, “Your father is a teddy bear with your mother.  He’s just a fun grandpa with Dino.”

Felicia’s eyes clouded at the thought of her parents.  “I don’t want them to lose what they just got back,” she whispered as she clasped Nick’s hand and looked at Taylor.

“They aren’t going to, Felicia.”  Taylor assured her.

“Do you really think Mom will be able to get past this and,” Kristen bit her lip, not finishing the thought.

“Grandma and Grandpa will be okay.”  Aly spoke up.

Steffy nodded as she wiped the tears from her cheeks.  “Everyone has always talked about Grandma’s strength.  Some of that comes from us.  We’re all going to have to stand by her and love her.  She and Granddad need all of us.”

Thorne kissed Aly’s head.  “We will all be right here waiting for them when they come home.”

Kristen frowned.  “All of us except Ridge.”

Rick rolled his eyes.  “Stupid ass,” he muttered.

“Rick.”  Bridget scolded.

“What?  I’m simply stating the truth.  I may have had my problems with Stephanie in the past, but Budge, she’s the only real mother we’ve ever had.  She treated you and I like we were hers even though the reason we existed was because our mother stole Dad from Stephanie.  Dad was wrong too, but at least he’s grown the hell up.  What’s Mom done?  She still does that,” he snarled his nose.  “thing and Ridge falls all over himself.”

Bridget sighed, “I know.”  Wiping at the tears on her cheek, she fussed with her watch.  “Maybe I’ll go over and try to talk to Mom.”

“I’m coming too.”  Hope spoke up, holding her sister’s gaze.  “Stephanie hasn’t been like a mother to me, but she has treated me like one of her own grandchildren.  She doesn’t deserve any of this.  Maybe I can help you talk to her.”

“Maybe.”

 

E**S

 

Eric caressed Stephanie’s shoulder.  “Comfortable?”

Snuggling closer, she nodded.  “I am now.”  Staring into the fire, Stephanie sighed at the feeling of ease that had been missing for so long and had finally returned tonight.  “I’m sorry for everything I’ve put you through the last few weeks.”

“Hey,” he scolded gently.  “None of that.”  Tilting her face up so that she was looking at him, he caressed her cheek.  “You’ve through hell the last few weeks, Stephanie.  I can’t be angry with you for anything that’s happened.  How were you to know that your mind had blocked that out?  How were you to know that something that awful had happened to you?  I don’t know what it was that triggered the memories, but now that they’re out in the open, we’re going to keep working with Taylor to help you.  And I’m going to keep being right here by your side.”  He kissed her forehead lightly.  “I will admit to being happy that I can hold you again.  That was my hell.  You were hurting and all I could do was stand by and watch as Massimo, Taylor, or Pam comforted you.”

“I think my dream tonight changed that.”  She let her head rest back under his chin.  “I can’t promise that I won’t wake up in the middle of the night and be startled to find you here with me, but don’t give up.  I do need you.  Massimo told me that it was your turn to save me.  He’s right.  It’s you that I need now.  You and your love.”

“I’m right here and I’ll give you all the love you need.  I’ll always save you.”

Sighing, she relaxed completely against him.  “Eric?”

“Yes?” he asked, his fingers gently combing her hair.  “I love your hair,” he whispered.

Smiling, she closed her eyes.  “You’ve told me that before.”

“I seem to recall telling you I needed to tell you more often because it’s the truth.  I’ve always loved your hair.”

“Mmm,” she hummed.  “Eric?” she asked again.

Eric chuckled, “What is it, Sweetheart?”

“What were you doing why I was napping before the nightmare woke me?”

“Well, after I put our lunch in the oven to keep it warm, I came in here and sat down to watch over you.” 

“To watch over me?”

“Yes,” he nodded.  “I wanted to make sure you were okay.  Then as I sat here I started thinking back to another time I brought you up here when you were troubled.”

“What time was that?  There have been a few down through the years.”

Smiling, he nodded.  “Yes, there have been.  This one was the day you told me you couldn’t give me anymore children.”

“Oh,” she whispered.  “I remember that day.”  She rolled her eyes.  “I remember that whole month.  I had been confused for days thinking that I was pregnant and then upset when I learned it wasn’t that, it was just my getting older and changing.  The change.  Geez,” she grumbled causing him to chuckle.  “Change is right.  I hated how I felt and I hated how it affected us.”

He patted her hip.  “It didn’t affect us that night.”

She shook her head against him.  “No,” she sighed.  “it most certainly didn’t.  You outdid yourself that night in your efforts to prove to me you didn’t care about that, that I was still as much of a woman as I always had been.”

“And did my efforts work?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

“Oh,” she huffed and poked him.  “You know they did.  My god.  We spent most of that weekend here in this bed in front of the fire.”

“I wanted to make sure you understood me.”

“I understood you very well by the time you took me home.”  She chuckled slightly.  “Did you know Felicia wanted to know what was wrong with me when we got home?  She asked why I kept smiling for no reason.”

Eric chuckled, “Thorne didn’t ask, just gave me a knowing look.  Ridge just snarled and rolled his eyes.  You know him.  One minute he was okay with us having sex, another he didn’t want to think about it.”

“Sort of like Felicia.  Thorne and Kristen have always been the ones who don’t seem to care or mind.”

“They always have been more laid back than the other two.”

“Must be because of their hair color.”

“Oh brother.”  Eric growled and rolled his eyes.  “I don’t think their hair color has anything to do with it, silly woman.”

Stephanie sighed and settled closer to him, a yawn creeping up on her.  “You make me silly sometimes.”

“We make each other silly.  And that’s a good thing.  If we can’t be silly with each other, than who else?”

She nodded.  “Eric?”

“Yes, Sweet girl?”

“Sing to me.”

He smiled, having already figured out that she was going to ask this of him.  “What song would you like to hear?”

She sighed, “You choose.”

Cuddling her closer, he kissed her temple.  His voice was low and mellow as he began to hum an old tune.  Tenderly caressing her back, he quietly sang the words to her, feeling her smile against his chest.  “I love you for sentimental reasons, I hope you do believe me…I’ll give you my heart.  I love you and you alone were meant for me…please give your loving heart to me, and say we’ll never part.  I think of you every morning.  Dream of you every night.  Darling, I’m never lonely whenever you’re in sight.”

Stephanie sighed at the sound of his voice, the words of the song making her eyes misty.  With all her heart she wished she could promise they would never part, but she couldn’t.  She could promise that her heart was his, it always had been.  And she smiled sadly, she loved him for sentimental reasons herself.  They were both nothing but a couple of sentimental old fools sometimes, but at least now they were old fools together.  Closing her eyes, she let sleep slowly claim her as Eric’s voice continued to softly fill the room.

Knowing she was asleep, Eric stared into the fire, the song finished, his thoughts turning to the way this day was ending.  He’d received a text from Taylor telling her that their family had been told, and that all of them had responded much as they had when they’d learned that her father had physically abused her.  She’d hinted at trouble with Ridge, but hadn’t been specific.  Not that she needed to be.  He knew exactly how his son had reacted when he’d been told that the Logans weren’t to be told.  He was sure that Ridge would have been angry that Kristen and Felicia’s spouses were allowed to know, and that Rick, Bridget, and RJ even though they were Logans were allowed to know.  But damn him!  What did he expect when he was married to a woman such as Brooke?  From the beginning she hadn’t believed Stephanie.  She’d tried to hurt them in the press by telling Bill Spencer about Stephanie being sick, and her own father had tried to kill Stephanie.  Of course they’d want to keep the truth from her.

Sighing, he settled further down on his pillows, pulling Stephanie closer.  He wouldn’t let their son’s ridiculous obsession with Brooke hurt Stephanie.  No matter what he had to do, it wasn’t going to happen.

Chapter Text

Ridge stared at his wife.  “What are you doing?”

Opening her top just a little more, Brooke turned and smiled at him.  “Talking to my sister,” she lied easily.

Narrowing his eyes, he studied her.  “I heard what you were saying.  You were talking to Bill.  You were telling him about Mother.”

She shrugged and began to unbutton her top again.  “You know that she’s lying.  She’s just trying to get more attention.”  Letting her top fall to the floor, Brooke continued undressing as she walked toward him.  “She’s nothing but an attention whore, Ridge.  I never did believe she was abused by her father.  It was all just to make sure she had Eric where she wanted him.”

Something inside Ridge snapped and he reached out and grabbed Brooke’s arms and shook her.  “Don’t you ever talk about my mother that way again.”  Letting her go, he turned and started walking from the room.  “Put your clothes on and get out,” he growled as he pulled his phone from his pocket.  He had some damage control to do.

Brooke stood staring at her husband’s retreating back.  “What just happened?” she wondered.  Sexing him up always worked before.  What had gone wrong?  Had he been somehow sucked back into his mother’s web of lies?  She rolled her eyes as she finished taking off her clothes.  “Ridge!” she shouted as she chased after him, sure that her nude body would lure him back.

But he wasn’t there to lure back. 

Ridge Forrester had finally found his brain.

No more would he be tricked.

No more would his head be turned by a woman who had done nothing but manipulate him and every man in his family from the day she walked into the Forrester mansion.

 

E**S

 

Eric squeezed Stephanie’s hand as he helped her from the car.  “It’s going to be alright, Sweet girl.  Look,” he nodded toward the front door which had just opened to reveal their family.  “I told you they’d be waiting for you.”

Stephanie turned and felt tears fill her eyes when her baby rushed her, clinging tightly to her.  “Shh, Baby.”

“Oh Momma.”  Felicia cried against her mother’s neck.

Eric watched as Thorne and Kristen came out and wrapped their arms around Stephanie and Felicia.  Anger swelled within him at the thoughts of their missing son.  He knew from the text he’d gotten from Taylor that Ridge had left last night and planned to tell Brooke.  Looking up to see Taylor standing in the doorway with Pam, he left his children with their mother.  “What the hell happened, Taylor?”

“He was angry, Eric.  Angrier than I’ve ever seen him.  He demanded to know where Stephanie was.  Wanted to know why she wasn’t the one telling them.”

“He said he was going to tell Brooke, Eric.”  Pam’s voice quivered as she looked up at her brother-in-law, her hand squeezing his arm.  “She’ll hurt Steph.”

Cupping his sister-in-law’s cheek, Eric held her gaze.  “I promise I won’t let her be hurt, Pam.  I’ll take her away if I have to.”

“Massimo took out after Ridge.”  Taylor informed Eric.

“Then I may not have to worry about taking Stephanie away.”  Eric shook his head.

“Eric.”  Pam whispered.

“What is it, Pam?”

“Ridge was,” she bit her lip, tears rolling down her cheeks.  “Ridge was acting like Father.”

Pulling Pam into his arms, Eric held her close.  “It’s going to be alright, Pam.  I’m sure Massimo saw the same thing you did and I’m positive he won’t hesitate to inform Ridge of the fact.”

“She’s dying and her son,” but Pam couldn’t finish and buried her face in Eric’s chest as she sobbed.

“Pammie?”  Stephanie whispered as she walked up to them.  “Sis, what is it?”

Eric turned Pam into her sister’s arms, caressing Stephanie’s face.  “She’s just upset about everything, Steph.”

Stephanie nodded.  “Come on, Pammie.  Come into the living room with me.”

“Go with them, Taylor.  Help Stephanie calm Pam down.  Please?”

Taylor nodded.  “Let Massimo handle him, Eric,” she warned, her hand on his arm.

“I have no intentions of going anywhere near Ridge.  I have too much to do to control the circus I’m sure his wife will have started by passing along this information to Bill Spencer Jr.”  Eric sighed and shook his head.  “I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Bill Sr.  The man may have been insufferable in his pursuit of my wife, but at least I never had to worry about him hurting her.”

“I’m sorry, Eric.  We all tried to reason with him.  You should know that Thorne told Ridge never to come back here or anywhere near Stephanie if he told Brooke.”

Eric smiled sadly as he looked out at his children.  “Thorne takes after his mother in that respect.  Always protecting those he loves.”

“All of your children take after their mother in that respect.”

“Except Ridge.”  Eric sighed. And rubbed a hand over his face.  “Sadly he takes more after me.  Always thinking about himself first and his needs in the bedroom.”

Squeezing his arm, Taylor smiled at him when he looked at her.  “You’ve changed, Eric.  He’ll learn just like you did what kind of woman Brooke really is.”

“But at what cost to his family?”

“I can’t answer that, Eric.  I know that he’s hurt our children.  It’s going to take a lot for them to forgive him for this.”

Patting Taylor’s hand, he gave it a squeeze.  “Go on and help Stephanie with Pam.  I’ll take care of the rest.”

Taylor nodded.  “Take a little extra time with Steffy.  Get her to let out all the emotions she’s bottling up.”

“Just like her grandma.”  Eric whispered as he walked away.

Taylor sighed and nodded, “Yes, just like her grandma.”

 

E**S

 

“Massimo, I don’t have time for this.”  Ridge growled at the man.

“You have time.”  Massimo shook his head.  “You do realize that you are acting like John Douglas.”

Ridge frowned then scowled at the older man.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

“The anger, the showing no care or concern for anyone but yourself.  That is what John Douglas always did.  Everything was about him.  He had a horrible temper, a temper that always cost Stephanie.  She’s always said it was the drinking, but it wasn’t.  Today, when you were shouting and trying to bully Taylor into telling you where Stephanie is, it was as if John Douglas was standing in the room.  I can say these things because I knew the man.  I didn’t know he physically abused Stephanie, or I would have done something long before he handed her over to my father.”  Massimo shook his head.  “Your wife is trash, Ridge.  She had me fooled in the past, but I’ve come to see her true colors.  She is what Stephanie has always said, the slut from the valley.  She wants nothing more than money and a name that gives her prestige.  The only problem is, she’s ruined the Forrester name with her constant so called mistakes.  And now, thanks to you telling her about Stephanie being raped by my father, she’s going to hurt the woman that gave birth to you.  The woman that tried all of your life to protect you from what a woman like Brooke could do to you, and has done to you.  But sadly you’re too much like your father.  It’s always been about sex with you and getting it no matter who you had to hurt.  Eric has finally learned that Stephanie is all he needs, but at what cost, Ridge?  Your mother is dying and there is so little time for him to make up to her for all those years he hurt her.  What is it going to take for you to learn?  You’ve already lost a daughter.  Do you have to lose the rest of your children?”

Ridge stared at the man as he walked away.  His heart was racing.  Was he really like John Douglas?  He remembered the sick feeling he’d had when he’d learned that his grandfather had abused his mother.  He slumped down onto the step, his head hanging down.  Why hadn’t he felt sick this time?  His grandfather had handed his mother, a young girl, over to a man to let him rape her.  And for what reason?  Because he blamed her for what had happened in a business deal?  Dear god, what kind of monster could do that?  He didn’t want to be like that man even though they shared DNA.  He loved his mother, always had. 

What the hell had he done?

Lifting his head, he dialed a number, hoping he could get some help.  “Hey.  It’s Ridge Forrester.  I need help with a problem.”

 

E**S

 

“Karen, I’m sorry to disturb you, but there’s a situation arising here that needs your attention.  Your brother is completely out of control.”  Eric went on to explain the situation to the sister of his one time daughter-in-law.  “You have to do something, Karen.  This will devastate Stephanie if the media gets hold of this.”  Listening to her reassurances that she was on her way as soon as her private jet could file a flight plan, Eric sighed, “Thank you.  While you’re here, don’t forget to come by here.  Stephanie would love to see you.” 

Massimo waited until the call had ended before letting Eric know he was there.  “I talked to Ridge.”

Eric turned to look at his visitor.  “And how did that go?”

“I don’t know.  I have no clue if I got through to him or not.  He’s more like John Douglas than I ever realized.”

“And me.”  Eric whispered as he drug a hand over his face.

“The old you, yes, I agree.  I even pointed that out to him.  I reminded him that he’d already lost a daughter and asked if he needed to lose the rest of his children before he learned.”

“Learned the lesson that I’m learning the hard way.”  Eric’s voice broke and he turned away from Massimo.  “Her latest tests didn’t go so well.  At least the CT scans.  We’re still waiting on the results from the other tests.”  He paused to gather his emotions before continuing.  “She’s coughing again,” he whispered as he stared out the window of the den.

“The tumors in her brain are growing faster?”  Massimo asked.

“Yes.”  Eric nodded.

“When did the coughing start?”

“A couple of days ago.  She’s been hiding it from the family.”

“Could it just be that she’s still healing from the surgery?”

Eric swallowed.  “Oh god, I hope so.”

“And if it’s not?”  Massimo asked, his normally booming voice suddenly low and subdued.

“We’ll continue with the plans she’s asked me to make for the family vacation.”  Eric looked at his one time enemy.  “She won’t want fuss, Massimo.  If the coughing is a sign that the cancer has returned, then she’ll want to continue as if nothing has changed.  This vacation will be the last and she’ll want to take it before telling the family.”

“I won’t say anything, but you must tell me if the cancer has come back.”

Eric nodded.  “We’ll tell you, Taylor, and Jackie.  We’ll need help to keep the family from learning the truth.  Especially Thorne.”  He smiled sadly.  “He’s always been our intuitive one.  And very connected to his mother, amazingly enough.”

“I’ve always found that he was a perfect mixture of you and of Stephanie.  Makes for an amazing man.  Always wondered why you stuffed him down in the basement.”

Eric chuckled slightly.  “Because we were fools.  We’ve both always favored Ridge.”  Smiling in remembrance, he sighed, “Although she hasn’t always overlooked Thorne.”

Massimo frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“Thorne and Ridge had been fighting over Caroline.  She had been engaged to Ridge first, then something happened which caused her to break off the engagement.  Thorne knew about it, was her friend through it all and stood by her.  They fell in love and married.  Ridge didn’t like it.  Anyway, it came down to Ridge playing an ill thought out trick and it led to Thorne shooting him when he found out.”

Massimo raised an eyebrow.  “Thorne shot his brother?”

“In a drugged sleep walk, yes.”

“What?”

“He’d been having trouble sleeping so had asked Stephanie for some sleeping pills.  She gave them to him.  Unbeknownst to her, he’d started drinking later.  The alcohol mixed with the drug affected Thorne in such a way that he woke the next day with no memories of anything that had happened in the night.  Stephanie had trouble waking him and then realized he didn’t remember shooting Ridge.  I had no clue what had happened because Stephanie had seen it happen from our bedroom window while I was showering.”  Eric shrugged.  “Anyway, the gun he used was Stephanie’s so to protect Thorne she wiped his prints from it, put hers there then put it up.  When the cops came around and wouldn’t leave things alone, she finally confessed that she was the one that had shot Ridge.  She told them that she thought he was an intruder and shot before she realized that it was Ridge.  She was harassed by the detective in charge because he didn’t believe her, was sure that Thorne had been the one to do the shooting, but she was adamant that it was she who had pulled the trigger.  The detective stuck her in lockup and left her over night.  I got her out as soon as possible the next day and we covered our absence up by making the children think I’d taken her to a hotel for a night alone.”

“Wow.”  Massimo breathed.  “So do the boys know this?”

“Yes, the children all know about it now, but they didn’t for a number of years.”

“Explains a lot.”

“What do you mean?”  Eric asked.

“Thorne was ready to hit Ridge earlier.  I could sense it, but he held back and merely used his words.  He’s very protective of his mother.  It was Thorne that told Ridge never to come back here, to stay away from Stephanie, if he went home and told Brooke what you’d asked them all not to.  There was a menacing tone to his voice.  Ridge must have heard it too because he backed down after a small come back.”

“I just hope that Karen can get control of her brother.”

“I have a judge on it, Eric.  He’ll find some reason to keep Spencer from going to print.”

“What can he possibly find?  He can’t stop Spencer from printing the truth.”

“I don’t know, but there has to be something.  We both know Spencer isn’t a clean businessman.”

“I know he isn’t, but will it be fast enough?”

“Maybe you should take Stephanie back to Big Bear.”

“I’ve thought about that.  They’ll find us.  Our cabin up there isn’t a secret.”

“Then take her to mine.  It is a secret.  No one knows I own the place.”

“Thank you, Massimo.  I’ll talk it over with Stephanie.”

“I’ll do anything you need to help protect her.”

“I know you will, Massimo.”  Eric told him then turned to smile at the man.  “I believe there’s a little man waiting to see you.”

Massimo smiled and shook his head.  “Who knew we’d be sharing a grandson?”

“Who knew we’d ever stop being enemies?”

 

E**S

 

Stephanie sighed as she caressed her sister’s hair.  Pam had fallen asleep against Stephanie’s shoulder after crying her heart out.  Whatever had happened here today had nearly undone her sister.  “Oh Pammie,” she whispered as she kissed her head.  She smiled as she thought back to the day her baby sister had come home from the hospital.  Nothing could have prepared her for the love and amazement she felt when the baby she’d been peering down at opened her eyes and stared up at her.

“Hello, baby sister.”  Stephanie whispered as she studied the blue eyes that stared up at her.  “I have a feeling you and I are going to be best friends.”  She laughed when the baby’s hand gripped her finger.  “I’ll protect you, Pammie.  I promise.  No matter what, I’ll always protect you.  I’ll always be here.  I’m so happy you came into my life.  Now I won’t be so lonely.”

“Steph?”  Pam whispered as she sat up.  “What are you thinking about?”

Stephanie smiled as she stared down at her sister’s hands.  “I was remembering the day they brought you home and I got to meet you for the first time.”  Looking up, she wiped a tear from her Pam’s cheek.  “I wasn’t sure what to make of you until you opened your eyes and stared up at me.  I felt love and amazement, something I never felt before, at least not like that.  I made a promise that day to always protect you, to always be there.”  Squeezing her sister’s hands, she felt her eyes water.  “I’m so sorry I wasn’t always there, that I’m leaving you.”

Pam reached up and wiped a tear from her sister’s cheek.  “You kept your promise, Steph.  You protected me.”

Stephanie shrugged.  “Mother did more of that than I did.  She always took you away.  At least she got something right.”

Pam nodded.  “But I remember one time she didn’t take me away,” she whispered.

Stephanie frowned.  “When, Pammie?”

“I was four and I was looking for you.”

“Teffy!  Teffy!”  Pam called out for her big sister as she walked through the living room.  “Sissy?” she whispered as she neared the den and heard her sister crying.  Sneaking into the room, her eyes widened.  “Sissy!” she cried out when their father lifted his belt, hitting Stephanie across the back.  The noise startled her and she bumped into an end table, knocking over the lamp.

“What are you doing in here?”  John Douglas yelled at his youngest child, his anger now directed at her.  “Look at what you did!” he growled as he moved toward her.

“Father!  No!”  Stephanie cried out as she moved to her sister, covering her just as their father’s belt lowered, catching Stephanie’s neck and upper back.  Over and over she bore the brunt of his anger, her baby sister cuddled against her, crying into her shirt, clinging to her in fear.  “Shh, Pammie,” she whispered as she fought against crying out to keep from scaring her sister even more.  Taking a deep breath when her father finally stopped, she waited, listening for him to leave.  Hearing the rattle of ice in his glass, she looked over her shoulder to make sure he was across the room before she moved.  “Come on, Pammie.  Let’s go to Sissy’s room.”

“Oh my god, I’d forgot about that.”  Stephanie breathed.  “You were so little.  And breaking the lamp wasn’t your fault, he’d scared you by hurting me.  It was his fault but in his anger, he didn’t see that.”

Wrapping her arms around Stephanie, Pam rested her head against her shoulder.  “What he did to you,” she paused, her voice catching.  “It would have…I was so little…Oh Steph.”

Kissing her sister’s head, Stephanie held her close.  “I knew that, Pammie.  My back was bleeding, but he could have seriously hurt you.”

“I remember how you told me never to go into a room when he was yelling.  I never did, but Mother usually took me away so I didn’t really have a choice.”

Pushing her sister back, Stephanie cupped her face.  “I love you, Pammie.  I always have, even though I left you behind.”

“I knew you loved me.  I know you love me now.”  Pam’s voice broke.  “I know that you don’t want to leave me.  I’ll try to get better at not panicking when I think about it.”

“You won’t be alone, Pammie.  I promise.”  Stephanie smiled as she smoothed her sister’s mussed hair.  “You’ll have a new niece to tell about her grandma.  You know all the stories of the young me, Pammie.  The stories that will help keep me alive for my children and grandchildren.  And I know that you have old pictures that they’ve never seen before.”  Cupping her face once again, Stephanie held her gaze.  “I promise I’ll always be here.  I’ll be here in your memories of me.  When you feel a breeze brush across your cheek, that’ll be me letting you know I’m watching over you.”  Her voice lowered as she let her forehead bump against her sister’s.  “I’ll never really leave you, Pammie-cakes.”

Pam gave a choked giggle and a wobbly smile when Stephanie uttered the long ago nickname.  “Pammie-cakes,” she repeated as she had all those years ago when Stephanie had first called her that.  “I was two when you called me that the first time.  I remember repeating it and giggling.”

“And I said it again just to hear you giggle.”  Stephanie remembered that day, too.

“I love you, Sis.”

“And I love you, Pammie.”

Taylor wiped at her tears as she slipped back out of the room.  After what Eric had just told her about Stephanie coughing again, she suspected that her friend was preparing things for a final goodbye.  She knew, without being told, that Stephanie would leave with Eric and spend her remaining days alone with her husband, protecting her family from watching her grow weaker and suffer.  Wiping her face as more tears fell, she sat down on the stairs and dropped her head into her hands.  She didn’t want to let her friend go.  Just as Pam was scared of Stephanie’s leaving, so was she.  Stephanie had been their rock for so many years, even when they were fighting, Stephanie had still always been there holding them all up.

What were they going to do once she was gone?

 

E**S

 

“What the hell is this?”  Bill growled as he looked at the paper his sister laid on his desk.

“This is the document stating that you have been removed from your position at Spencer Publications.”  Karen told him, an angry edge to her voice.

“You can’t do this.  Father left this to us equally.”

“Yes, with stipulations.  Stephanie was off limits.  I know about the dvd Dad left you.  You haven’t done what he asked, you’ve done just the opposite.  After I found out about the dvd, I let things alone because you hadn’t really done anything other than break Stephanie and Eric up.   I knew about Eric’s affair with Donna, so I didn’t see what harm it could do for Stephanie to get away from him.  But this,” she snarled her nose.  “This latest is the last straw.  You’re hurting Stephanie this time.”  Karen stared at her brother.  “She’s dying, Bill.  Dad wouldn’t want her to spend some of her last days dealing with the fall out from this.  I know you never cared for him, but I did.  And I love Stephanie and her family.  I won’t let you hurt her or them with this.  Besides, what you’re printing I assume you got from Brooke which means it more than likely has more libel in it that it has truth.”

Bill rolled his eyes.  “You’re too late to stop this.  It’s already gone to print.  You can remove me, but it won’t stop the truth.”

“Oh but that’s where you’re wrong, Brother.  You see, I have a few loyal people working here.  When Eric called me, I made a call before leaving.  It would seem you have a problem with the printers.”

“I would have been told.”

“No, you wouldn’t have.  Because again, I have people.”

Bill growled and stood up, staring down at his sister.  “How can you be fooled by that woman?  She’s faking this.”

“I’m not fooled by Stephanie.”  Karen stared up at her brother, not flinching under his hard stare.  “What I want to know is, when did you become a champion of Brooke?  Even after you married Katie you were still calling Brooke a whore.  Which by the way, is the proper description for her.  So?  What changed?  Are you screwing her behind Katie’s back?”

“Oh please.  I want Forrester back for Katie.”

Karen rolled her eyes.  “So now Katie is telling you what to do?”  Shaking her head, she pointed to the door.  “Get out, Bill.  I’ll have your things packed and sent to you.”

“You can’t stop the truth from coming out, Karen.”

“I don’t want to stop the truth from coming out.  I only want to stop you from printing lies.  Eric and Stephanie have a right to their privacy.  This is a family matter, Bill.  The rest of the world doesn’t need to know.  Besides,” Karen shrugged.  “If you want Forrester back, why haven’t you bought it?  It’s up for grabs now.  When Stephanie left, it went down the drain.”

“I don’t want the shell.  I want Forrester Creations.”

Karen nodded her head, finally understanding.  “Sorry, brother.  That will never happen.  When they got the company back from you, they had their name copyrighted to them so that no one can use the Forrester Creations name ever again without being a legal Forrester.  You’ll have to give your precious Logan brat something else to appease her need for power.” 

Watching her brother storm out of the office, Karen sighed and picked up the phone.  “It’s taken care of, Eric.  I stopped the magazine from going to print.  Take care of Stephanie.  I’ll be by to see her later.”

 

E**S

 

Ridge stared at his father.  “I’m sorry.”

“I thought Thorne told you not to ever come here again.”  Eric growled as he stepped outside the house, closing the door behind him so that Stephanie wasn’t disturbed.

“He did but I,”

“But what, Ridge?  You want to have your way and our way too?  It doesn’t work like that.  We barely averted your mother being torn to shreds in the media because of your obsession with Brooke.  Why can’t you see what she’s done to you?  Is it going to take losing,” he shook his head.  “Hell.  Who would you lose that you care more about than her?  She’s taken first place over your children for so long, you’ve forgotten they exist.  And when you do remember them, you hurt them like you hurt Steffy yesterday.”  Studying his son, Eric shook his head.  “Watch out, Son.  You may find yourself in my position.”

“Dad, wait.”  Ridge called after Eric when he turned to go back inside.  “Please.  I really am sorry.  I caught Brooke talking to Bill on the phone, telling him about Mother.  We argued and she finally admitted that she’d never believed Mother was abused by her father.  She said she’d just acted like she did.  I’m sorry.”

“But what are you sorry for, Ridge?  Sorry that she did what she did?  Sorry that you were a blind fool?  Sorry that you argued with her?  Are you sorry that you caught her and learned the truth of what she really is?  Where is she now?  At home waiting for you with something skimpy on?  If she is, go home.”

“I don’t know where she is, Dad.  I kicked her out.”

Eric blinked as he turned to look back at his son.  “You did what?”

“When we argued she tried to use sex to make me forget but it didn’t work this time.  I finally saw,” he looked toward the door.  “I finally saw what Mother has always seen.  How could I have been so blind for so long?”

“Sex.”  Eric answered honestly.  “It’s what Brooke does best, and what we sadly fall for.  You’re too much like me when it comes to that.”

“That’s what Massimo said.”  Ridge sighed and looked at his father.  “That and he told me I was acting like Grandfather Douglas.”

“That’s what Pam said.  You really upset her.  She’s inside with your mother now.  Hasn’t left her side since we came home and Stephanie took her inside to try and calm her down.  I don’t know what you said and did, and I don’t particularly care, all I care about is that your mother isn’t upset anymore than she already is.  If you go in there, if I let you see her, you had better not leave this house and go straight back to Brooke.”  Giving his son a look, Eric could see in his eyes that he got his meaning.  “I promise you that you won’t like the consequences.  I’ll do anything I have to do to protect Stephanie.  Son or not.”

Ridge stared at his father, for the first time seeing a man that wasn’t a pushover.  In the man standing here before him, he saw a strength he had often saw in his mother.  It was as though his parents had suddenly switched personalities.

 

E**S

 

Stephanie pressed a hand to her chest as she coughed, her eyes closing as she struggled for breath.  Feeling the bed move beside her, she opened her eyes to watch Eric pour her a glass of water.

“Easy, Sweetheart.”  Eric whispered as he helped her sip the water.  Rubbing her back, he waited for her to take another sip before turning to put the water back on his nightstand.  “We’re going to the doctor tomorrow, no arguments.”

Frowning at him, Stephanie nodded as she settled back against her pillows.  “We’ve already been, but fine.”

Sighing, Eric settled against his own pillows.  “Come here, Sweetheart,” he whispered as he held out his arm, waiting for her to move into his embrace.  Kissing the top of her head, he held her close.  “Are you okay?”

Stephanie knew he wasn’t asking if she was okay physically.  The visit from Ridge had been very emotional and draining.  “Things will never be the same with us, but I’m okay.  He’s slowly facing the mess he’s made of his life because of her, and it’s going to take him a long time to fix it.  I just hope he doesn’t get dragged back into her web.”

“Me too, Sweetheart.  What about Pam?  Is she going to be alright?”

“She will be.  She has her own healing to do over what happened.  She knew something bad had happened because of how close we always were, but she was so young that there was nothing she could do.”  Stephanie snuggled closer.  “She spent the night with me in my bed that night and several nights after.  Mother always made her start off in her own bed.  After Mother and Father went to bed, Pammie would sneak back into my room and snuggled up next to me.”

Caressing her hair, Eric smiled.  “Those were good memories in the midst of the bad.  You liked having her with you, didn’t you?”

“I did.  She was warm and would snuggle up to me and ask me to whisper her a bedtime story.  Her little fingers always managed to find their way into my hair.  For a long time I had a permanent curl where she twiddled a strand of my hair over and over each night she slept with me.  I’d have to carefully untangle her fingers so I could move.”

Eric laughed at that.  “I’m glad the years spent apart haven’t damaged your relationship.”

“They didn’t, but her relationship with Stephen Logan very nearly did.”

Sighing, Eric caressed her hand.  “But it didn’t and you have your baby sister back.”

“And I’m leaving her.”  Stephanie sighed as she closed her eyes.  “Can you fix it so Pammie and I can have a day away, just the two of us.”

“I won’t let you go off with just her, but I’ll take you anywhere you want to go and stay out of your way.”

“Why won’t you let us go without you?”

“Because I don’t want something to happen and Pam be the only one with you.  It will scare her and I don’t want that.”

Looking up at her husband, Stephanie lifted a hand to cup his cheek.  “I love you, Eric Forrester.”

“Never as much as I love you, Stephanie Forrester.”

Chapter Text

Eric smiled at their family as they sat around telling stories.  It was the last night he and Stephanie would be at home, the last time their family would see her.  None of them knew that, of course, with the exception of Taylor, Jackie, and Massimo.  He would need help when the time came to tell the rest of them what he and Stephanie had planned.  Looking at Felicia, he sighed.  She was going to be the hardest.  She had so wanted Stephanie to be here for the birth of the newest Stephanie, but it just wasn’t going to happen. 

With each passing day, Stephanie worsened, and she didn’t want her family to see her worse than she was now.  It was why she had made the decision to leave for Italy sooner than they’d planned.  The time they’d spent on the yacht with their family had been wonderful for all involved.  Stephanie had been thankfully in good health for those ten days, due in part he was sure to the absence of pollution.  The sea air had been good for her just as it was on their honeymoon.

“Tired, Sweet girl?”

“Mmm.”  Stephanie hummed.  “But don’t tell them to go just yet.  Let them finish these stories before we break their hearts.”

“Hey.”  Eric rubbed her arm.  “They’ll understand.”

“Mom?”  Felicia broke into their quiet conversation.  “What is it?”

Stephanie swallowed as she squeezed Eric’s hand.  “Come here, Baby.”  She held out her hand.

Felicia moved to sit beside her mother, feeling her eyes water as Stephanie placed a hand on her stomach.  “Momma?”

“It’s time, Baby.”

“Mom?”

“Grandma?”

Eric heard their family’s questions and held up his hand.  “Shh,” he quieted them.  “You all know that Taylor bought us tickets to Portofino for Stephanie’s birthday.”

“Yes,” they all answered.

“Well, Stephanie and I are going to leave early in the morning and take that trip.”

Felicia’s lip trembled as she placed her hand over her mother’s.  “You aren’t coming back,” she whispered.

“No, Baby.  I’m not.”  Caressing away a tear, Stephanie’s own eyes filled.  “I know you wanted me to be here for her birth, to meet her, but I just can’t stay.”  Looking up at the others staring at her with tears, she blinked to clear her eyes.  “I can’t bear the thoughts of you seeing me as I will be when the end comes.  I want you to remember me with happy things, not wasting away.  It will be bad enough that your father will see me that way.”

Aly sniffed and leaned into Thorne.  “I don’t want you to go, Grandma, but I understand.”

“Me too, Grandma.”  Steffy whispered.

“Grandma?”

“Yes, Zende?”

“Can we have one last slumber party?”

“Zende, I don’t think,” Eric started but stopped when he felt Stephanie tug at his hand. 

Smiling up at Eric when he looked down at her, she nodded before turning back to look out at their family.  “You can.”

Dino sniffed as he climbed down off Nick’s lap and made his way over to Stephanie.  “Gramma?”

“Yes, Baby?”

“Dino spend one more night snuggled up to you?”

Stephanie nodded as she, with the help of Eric, pulled Dino up into her lap.  “Yes.  You and Mommy can sleep in the bed with Grandpa and Grandma.  I don’t think Mommy could spend the night on the floor.”

Dino looked at his mother and giggled sadly.  “No.  Dino don’t think so either.”

Felicia smiled at her baby.  “Come on then, Little man.  Let’s go with Daddy and change into our pjs.”

“I wear the ones Grampa made?”

“Yes.  We’ll both wear the ones Grandpa made.  How about that?”

Dino nodded then kissed Stephanie’s cheek.  “We be back, Gramma.”

“And we’ll be waiting for you in the big bed.”

“Nick.”  Stephanie called after her son-in-law before he left the room.

“Yes?”

“I expect you to come back.”

Nick shook his head and chuckled a bit.  “You’re a bit scary when you do that.”

Stephanie shrugged.  “I know you, Son.  You were going to tell Felicia you’d stay home.  But you’re family, and this is a family slumber party.”

“Besides, I’m sure RJ can find you a place beside him under the bed.”

“Oh, Grandpa!”  RJ frowned as he crossed his arms.  “I’m not going to sleep under the bed.”

“You have the last two times we’ve had a slumber party with all of you here.”  Steffy reminded him.

Zende nodded.  “Maybe you should take Uncle Thorne’s place at the foot of the bed.”

“Oh no.”  Eric shook his head.  “If the boy rolls enough that he winds up under the bed, I won’t have him rolling over us in the middle of the night.”

Ridge raised an eyebrow as he looked at his son.  “How did you wind up under the bed, Son?”

RJ shrugged.  “I’m not sure, really.  I was by Thomas, then the next thing I know, I was waking up, it was morning and I was under the bed.”

Ridge shook his head.  “Maybe you should sleep over by the wall instead.”

“Are you staying, Dad?”

“I am.  I’ve missed out on the others.”

Stephanie smiled at her oldest son.  “Then you sleep by him.  If he rolls over someone, it might as well be his father.”

Eric laughed at that.  “Come on.”  He stood up and helped her up.  “Let’s go get ourselves changed and settled in to bed.”

“Grandpa?”

“Yes, Aly?”

“If we all hurry and come up and settle in, will you sing to us?”

“And tell us a story?”  Thorne chimed in.

Eric smiled at his family, all them looking at him expectantly.  “Yes, but you have to hurry.”

 

~*~

 

Stephanie caressed Dino’s back as he snuggled closer to her in his sleep, her was back pressed against Eric’s chest as he held her close.  Reaching over, she laid her hand on Felicia’s stomach, feeling the small life within moving about.  “I can’t believe Felicia is asleep.  Baby Stephanie is being very active.”

Eric nuzzled her neck then kissed her ear.  “She’s used to Dino,” he whispered earning a chuckle.

“I suppose,” she started the stopped when her voice caught.  “I so wanted to meet this little one.”

“I know you did.”  Eric held her a bit closer.  “We can stay.”

Stephanie shook her head, swallowing back her tears.  “No.  I can’t do that to them.  This will be hard, but seeing me waste away, having me not know them in the end,”  her voice caught again.  “I can’t.”

“Shh,” he soothed as he caressed her hair.  “We don’t want you to get upset and have a coughing spell.”

Taking a few shallow breaths, Stephanie sighed as she closed her eyes.  “I should have known they’d want to stay with us.”

“We both should have.”  Eric whispered.  “Rest now, Sweet girl.  We’ve a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Mmm,” she murmured.  “Must remember to thank Mass for the use of his jet.”

“We will.”

“Okay,” her voice trailed off, her breathing evening out as best as it could in her condition.

Eric let his hand drift down to rest over her heart, it’s steady rhythm soothing him, his own eyes closing in sleep.

Kristen buried her face in Tony’s neck to hide her crying.  She’d overheard her parents’ conversation and it broke her heart.  “It isn’t fair,” she whispered.

“No, Honey, it isn’t.”  Tony told her as he caressed her back.  “But she’s doing what she’s always done.  She’s protecting her family from the most hurt, and you know, as well as I do, that watching her fade away to nothing and getting to where she doesn’t know you, would hurt all of you worse than her leaving is going to.”

“I know.”

From his place at the foot of the bed, Thorne wiped at his eyes.  Out of all of his siblings, he knew that Felicia was going to struggle the most with this.  Out of the kids, Dino more than any of the others because he was so young.  He knew that Steffy was struggling, but Aly had stepped up, and together both girls were helping the other.  His Aly, so much like her mother, yet more like her grandmother with each passing day not just in looks but also her fierce loyalty to family.  Between her and Steffy, the next generation of Forresters would have one hell of a matriarch.

 

~*~

 

The family was still laughing as they made their way to the airport.  RJ had managed to roll over his father in the middle of the night, and this time it was Thomas that would up under the bed, trying to escape RJ.

“Gramma?”

“Yes, Dino?”  Stephanie asked as she patted his knee.

From his perch on his grandpa’s lap, Dino studied Stephanie.  “You gonna go to Heaven?”

“Soon, Baby.”

“Leave Dino here?”

“Yes, Baby.  You have to stay here with Mommy.  She’s going to need you to help her with baby Stephanie.”

“Anie.”  Dino told her.

“Anie then.”  Stephanie smiled at the little boy, knowing that he’d just made the decision for his parents about what they were going to nickname the baby.  “You’re going to be her big brother and she’ll need you to teach her things.  You’ll protect her like uncle Thorne and Uncle Ridge protect Aunt Kristen and your momma.  That’s what big brothers do.”

Dino sniffed as he reached out to grab Stephanie’s hand with both of his.  “I tell her about Gramma too.  Tell her how Gramma made the best cakes for brea’flast.  Teach her to like pya.  Tell her how good Gramma’s hugs was.  The best hugs in the world.”

“Oh Baby.”  Stephanie pulled him into her arms, holding him close.  “You tell her how much Gramma loves her even though I never met her.  Hmm?”

“Promise, Gramma.”

Aly, having brought along a sketch pad, sketched the picture hastily so that Dino would always have a reminder of his last moments with his beloved Gramma.  She hadn’t really known why she’d grabbed the pad, but now as she continued to sketch, she realized that something had told her she’d need it.

Eric watched his granddaughter, her pencil moving quickly over paper.  She was so much like him, sketching scenes from their lives to remember.   None of his children had inherited this part of him, and it made him proud to see that at least one of his grandchildren had.

“Gramma?”

“Uh huh.”

“Dino loves you.”

“And Grandma loves Dino very much.  As much as she loves all of you.”  Stephanie added as she looked at the others in the car.

“We know that Mom.”  Ridge told her as he wrapped an arm around Steffy.

“We do, Grandma.  We’ve always known.”  Aly smiled at her as she finished her sketch and tore the paper out.  “Dino.”

Dino sat up and turned to look at Aly.  “Yes, Alwi?”

Aly smiled at the way the boy said her name.  “Here.”

Dino took the paper his cousin handed him and stared down at it.  “It’s Dino and him Gramma.”

“Yes, it is.  It’s for you to keep.  Mommy and Daddy can buy you a frame so you can keep it in your room.”

“For me to keep?”

Aly nodded.  “Yes, for you to keep.  You can show it to Anie when she gets older.”

“Thank you, Alwi.”

“You’re welcome.”

Eric winked at his granddaughter, smiling at her as he mouthed, “Thank you.”

Stephanie stared at the sketch and shook her head.  “It looks like you’ve got some competition, Honey.”

“I believe I do.”

“Oh no.”  Aly shook her head.  “I’ll never be a designer.”

“Well, be that as it may, you’re still as good as I am sketching like this.”  Eric pointed at the paper Dino still held.

Aly blushed.  “Thank you, Grandpa.”

“Grandma?”

“Yes, RJ?”

“I think I’d like to do what you did in the business.”

Stephanie smiled.  “Well, there is no more Forresters, but maybe your sister will let you learn working for her.”

Steffy smiled and nodded.  “Uncle Thorne has Grandma’s business sense, you can help him.  He’ll teach you.”

“I learned from the best.  Can’t draw worth much, but I’m good at what I learned from Mom.”

“Well at least one of my children had to take after me.”  Stephanie winked at him.  “Sorry that you didn’t get the artistic gene, though.”

Thorne shrugged.  “I can draw good enough to mess around, just not to design.”

“Well none of us design anymore.”  Thomas reminded him.

“Well,”  Nick broke in.  “Jackie M is looking for a few good designers.”

“And I’m not going to be much good for a few months.”  Felicia chimed in.

“Really?”  Thomas asked, a glint of excitement in his eyes.

Felicia smiled at her nephew.  “Yes, really.  Kristen has already said that she would.”

“Kristen?”  Stephanie asked as she looked at her oldest.

“We’re moving back, Mom.”

“But what about Zende’s schooling?  And Tony’s job?”

“I can do my job from anywhere, Stephanie.”

“And I can go to school here.  I also have a job working for Steffy.”

“And Ridge?”  Eric asked his oldest.  “What about you?”

“I’m going to do nothing.  I’ll take requests to do wedding dresses or special events, but that’s it.  Maybe in a few years my association with,” he shrugged.  “Well, anyway.  I’ll enjoy the break.”

Eric nodded.  “Just promise not to travel for a while, hmm?  You’ll be needed here to help Thorne take care of the family while I’m away.”

“I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, Dad.”

Stephanie squeezed Eric’s hand, smiling up at him.  “Thank you, Honey.”

 

~*~

 

Eric pulled the blanket up around Stephanie.  Saying goodbye to their family had exhausted her and she’d laid down as soon as the all clear had been given after takeoff.  Felicia hadn’t taken things well, as he’d known would happen, but he also knew that Nick, Thorne, Ridge, and Massimo would take care of her while Taylor and Jackie took care of the girls.

He worried about Steffy.  She was too much like her grandmother at times, always holding things in when she was hurt the worst.  And she was hurting deeply, he knew.  He wasn’t sure but what she wasn’t hurting more than his daughters and sons were.  There was a different sort of bond between his oldest granddaughter and Stephanie than that of the ones shared by their children.  While Ally looked like Stephanie, she was more like her mother and father in temperament.  Steffy looked like her mother, but was as much like Stephanie as Stephanie herself was.  Even more so than Felicia, who had always clashed with her mother because of how much alike they were.

Which is where the difference lay.

While Felicia had clashed with Stephanie because of their sameness, Steffy had always embraced it.  She’d always used it, and been proud of it.  She’d been proud to be named after Stephanie, the woman she looked up to, the one person she held in the highest regards.  If anyone of them had ever understood Stephanie, it was Steffy.

He smiled as he thought about Steffy and Phoebe as babies.  Steffy had always preferred Stephanie, Phoebe had always preferred him.  Not that Phoebe hadn’t loved her grandmother, she had.  All of their grandbabies had.  There was just something about her that made children, whether their own, or a stranger’s, like Stephanie.

He couldn’t help but chuckle as he thought about the little boy in the park that they had walked by.  The little guy couldn’t have been but two, yet he was flirting with Stephanie.  When she had noticed, she’d winked, sending the little guy into a fit of giggles.  His mother had been shocked because the little boy was usually very shy and didn’t like strangers.  He could still remember hugging Stephanie close to his side and telling the lady that it was just the way children always responded to his wife.

And now that he knew of her past, he knew why.  She made them feel safe because she’d never had that with any of the adults in her life as a child.  His wife was some kind of woman.  Life without her…

Wouldn’t be life.

Chapter Text

“It’s so beautiful, Eric.”  Stephanie sighed as they stood on the balcony of their suite.

“Yes, it is.  Taylor knows us very well.  This is the same suite we always had when we were here together.”

Stephanie nodded.  “She does know us.  I’m grateful to her for all of her help.”

“She loves you.”

“She’ll take good care of our family.”

“Yes, she’ll help, but I think it will be Jackie and Massimo that takes care of them the most.”

“You have to promise to let them help you.  And to take care of Pammie.  You’re the only one right now that can help her.”

“Shh.”  Eric whispered as he wrapped his arms around her from behind, pulling her back against him.

Stephanie sighed as she let herself rest against the solid body of her husband.  He’d been her rock these last months, even when he felt he’d been weak, that had been when she found him the strongest.  “Remember when you paid those musicians to play for us?”

“I do.”  Eric whispered as he gently flicked the earring she wore with his tongue.  “It’s the night I gave you these.”

“Mmm,” she hummed.  “Teddy bear?”

“Yes, Sweet girl?”

Turning in his arms, Stephanie stared up at him.  “Make love to me,” she whispered.

“Stephanie, I,” Eric started, stopping when she put her finger over his lips.

“Shh.  One last time, Honey.  I’ve been feeling good all day and I want this one last time with you.”

Caressing her face, Eric stared into her blue eyes, getting lost as he always had.  “We’ll go slow and easy and I’ll stop if I think it’s too much for you.”

Cupping his cheek, Stephanie smiled sadly at him.  “Always taking care of me.”

“Always.”  Eric whispered, his voice cracking, a tear trailing down his cheek.  Turning his face into her hand, he pressed a kiss to the palm.  “Your medicine.”

Stephanie shook her head.  “No.  Not anymore,” she whispered.

Eric studied her, more tears falling as he realized what she was saying.  Nodding, he held her hand as he led her to their bed and slowly began to undress her.  Helping her beneath the covers, he undressed himself then lay beside her.  “Are you sure?” he whispered.

“I’m positive, Honey.”

Gently caressing her, Eric’s lips moved against hers, careful not to take her breath.  Slow and easy, he’d told her, and slow and easy it would be.

 

E**S

 

“Nick.”  Felicia growled.  “Nick!” she nearly shouted as she tried to pant through the contraction burning across her abdomen.

Nick blinked his eyes open and sat up when Felicia hit him.  “What is it?”

Felicia scowled at him.  “The baby.  I think she’s decided it’s time to make her appearance.”

“Oh.”  Nick breathed as he jumped up and began to hurriedly dress.  Coming around the bed, he finished pulling his t-shirt over his head before helping Felicia up.  “Do you want me to call for an ambulance?”

“No.  I want you to call Kristen and tell her to send Zende over to stay with Dino.  Once he’s here we’ll head for the hospital.”

“Okay.”  Nick nodded dumbly, doing as he was told, though he wasn’t really aware of what he was doing.

Felicia couldn’t help but laugh.  Her usually very sane, calm husband was walking about like some cartoon character with his head twisted around backward.  Moving carefully, she picked up the clothes she’d laid out across the chair in the corner of their bedroom.  Hearing a knock at the door, she smiled as she called out, “Come in,” knowing it was Kristen on the other side. 

“Tony and I are going with you.”  Kristen informed her sister as she helped her change.

“I think that’s probably best.  Nick’s a bit,”

“A bit fuzzy headed.”  Kristen finished with a chuckle.  “I never thought he’d be one of those type of men.  He’s a sailor for heaven’s sake.”

Felicia shrugged as she laughed then moaned as she bent over a bit, her arms across her stomach.  “Ooh.”

“Easy, Sis.”

Felicia panted through the rest of the contraction then sighed when it ended.  Squeezing Kristen’s hand, tears filled her eyes.  “I want Mom.”

“Shh.”  Kristen soothed as she kissed her sister’s forehead.  “I know you do, that’s why I’m going.  I’m not her, and I can’t ever replace her, but I can still be with you all the way if you want me to…just like she would have been.”

Felicia nodded.  “I want you there.  Someone needs to call the rest of the family.”

“Tony called Taylor.  She’s going to do the rest.”  Kristen knelt down to help Felicia with her shoes.  “Come on now,” she said as she stood back up and held out her hand.  “Let’s go.”

“The next generation Stephanie is getting a bit anxious.”  Felicia moaned as she gripped Kristen’s hand and bent over with another contraction.

 

E**S

 

Stephanie sighed as she settled back into the bed, feeling warm and cozy after the bath she’d just shared with Eric.  He’d made love to her like never before, and her body had cooperated so that she could enjoy one last time with him, then he’d run a bath for them to share.

“What are you thinking about, Sweet girl?”  Eric asked as he lay down beside her.

Smiling up at him, Stephanie patted his cheek.  “Just how wonderful you’ve been.  Thank you,” she whispered as she snuggled against him, her head resting on his chest.  “I love you, Eric.”

“I love you, too,” he whispered as he pressed a kiss to her head.  “How are you feeling?”

“Warm and comfortable.”

“Hurting?”

Stephanie shook her head.  “No, not at the moment.”

“Good.”  Eric told her then frowned when his phone buzzed on the nightstand.  “What in the world?”

“Felicia.”  Stephanie whispered.

Eric grabbed his phone, blinking in surprise when he saw the text.  “How did you know?” he asked Stephanie as he settled back, letting her read what Felicia had said.

“I just did,” she whispered as she took his phone and typed out a reply.  I’m with you, Baby.  Just as I always will be.  Daddy and I love you, Mom. 

Eric read Stephanie’s reply before putting his phone on the nightstand and settling back against his pillows, wrapping Stephanie in his arms once again.  “She’ll be fine, Momma,” he whispered as he felt a hot tear soak his shirt.

More tears fell as Stephanie snuggled closer to him.  “I know but,”

“Shh.”  Eric soothed as he rubbed her back in gently circles.  “She’s your baby, I know.”

“She never thought she’d be able to have anymore children after Dino and now that a miracle has happened, I can’t be there with her to see this new baby make her appearance in the world.  I wasn’t there for Dino and I,” she stopped and turned more into Eric, her face in his neck.

“Oh Sweet girl, I’m so very sorry.”  Eric whispered, not telling her that she could have been there, that it was her decision to leave their family.  He knew that she knew that, but he had also known, when she made the decision, that if she was still with them when the time came for little Anie to be born, this would be what happened.  It was just the way his wife worked.  She protected her family, even if it was at great cost to herself.

 

E**S

 

“Oh god!”  Felicia cried as she squeezed Nick’s hand through another contraction.  “Mom should be here, Nick.”

Wiping at Felicia’s forehead and face with a cool, damp cloth, Nick nodded.  “I know, Sweetheart.  I also know that she’s probably upset right now, wishing she were here.”

“She’s here in spirit, Fifi, you know that.  She told you she was.”  Thorne smiled at his sister as he kissed her cheek.  “I’m going to go.  Kristen will be back in.  I know she’s not Mom, but you need her here with you.  No offense, Nick.”

“None taken, Thorne.  Can you send Mother in?  At least one grandma should be here.”

“I’ll send her in.  I think Mom would like that.”

Felicia felt another contraction and whimpered when her water finally broke.  “She’d better hurry.  My water just broke.”

The nurse in the room smiled as she moved to Felicia, checking monitors and such.  “I’ll go get the doctor.”

“Thank you.”  Nick told her then turned his attention back to Felicia.  “Getting close.”

Felicia tried to smile but another contraction washed over her and she ground her teeth as she tried to breathe through it.  “They’re nearly one on top of the other now,” she managed as she relaxed back against her pillows.

The doctor and nurse came into the room, followed by Kristen.  “Hey Sis, getting close?”

“Mmm, I hope so.”

The doctor chuckled and winked at Felicia before making his examination.  “Very close, Felicia.  If there is anyone else you’d like in the room with you, I suggest you send for them now.”

“I’m here.”  Jackie informed him as she came in, smiling at her son and daughter-in-law.  “Thank you,” she whispered.

“You’re wel…oh god.” 

“And that would be the signal that it’s time to begin.”

Felicia looked up at her sister, “Tell Dad.”

“Done.”  Kristen told her even as she was pulling out her phone to text their father.

 

E**S

 

Eric handed his phone to Stephanie, not even bothering to read the text beforehand.  “Well?”

“It’s time to push.”  Stephanie read.  “It’s from Kristen.  Won’t be long now.”

Taking his phone back, Eric turned to put it on the nightstand then moved back to his original position, pulling Stephanie close.  “Then rest now, Sweet girl.  They’ll text again when Anie is born.”

“I know.”  Stephanie took a deep breath then relaxed against Eric.  “I love you, Teddy bear,” she whispered.

“I love you too, Sweet girl.”

Stephanie let her eyes close, her breathing evening out, easier than it had been in weeks.  She was in the arms of the man she loved, rest would come easy now.

 

E**S

 

“Momma!”  Felicia cried out just as she gave her final push, her baby taking her first breath as her cries filled the room.  “No!”

“Felicia, what is it?”  Kristen asked as she wiped the sweat from her sister’s brow.  “What’s wrong?”

Felicia looked down at the baby they placed on her chest, tears rolling down her cheeks as she caressed the tiny face.  “She’s gone, Sis.”

Kristen blinked as she looked up at Nick and Jackie then back at Felicia.  “I don’t understand.”

“Mom.”  Felicia answered.  “I felt it just as Anie took her first breath.  Mom is gone.  The original Stephanie died just as the new one was born.”

Kristen’s eyes filled with tears as she caressed a hand over Felicia’s damp hair, her free hand caressing the head of her new niece.  “She’s beautiful.”  Her voice caught as she whispered, “She has Mom’s nose.”

Nick looked at Jackie, gripping her hand as his eyes filled with tears.  “Do you think?” he whispered.

Jackie wiped at her tears with her free hand, the other squeezing Nick’s as she nodded.  “Thorne and Felicia are connected to Stephanie in ways that we can’t explain.  If she felt her mother going,” she left the rest unsaid.

Nick nodded then turned back to look down at his wife and daughter.  “She’s beautiful, Felicia, just like her mommy.”

Felicia looked up at Nick, tears still rolling down her cheeks and a sob escaped.  Holding her baby close, she buried her face in her husband’s neck and wept.

 

E**S

 

Eric had felt Stephanie leave him, had known that she would when she’d refused her medicines.  She’d had such an easy day, for which he was thankful.  He’d feared that Stephanie would suffer and get to where she wouldn’t know him at the end.  Hearing his phone vibrate, he picked it up, tears filling his eyes as he read the text from Kristen.

Stephanie had left them as the new Stephanie was born.

How fitting.

Pressing a kiss to Stephanie’s forehead, he got up and went to the desk, pulling out his sketchpad to make one final sketch of them and their last time together.  Finishing the sketch several minutes later, he pulled out the other sketchpad and sketched what he knew would bring tears to his daughter’s eyes, but would help her heal in the days ahead.  Tears blurred his vision as he sketched his wife cradling her new namesake, a smile on her face,  a tear on her cheek.  He was thankful Kristen had sent a picture with her text so that he could do this one last thing for his baby.

He knew he should probably answer Kristen’s query about her mother, but he couldn’t.  Confirming what they already knew would only hurt them more.  It was better to wait.  Finishing the sketch, he closed the pad and placed it with the other.  Opening the top desk drawer, he pulled out the letters he’d written to each of their children and grandchildren, Stephanie having left her letters at home to be given to their family once they’d learned she was gone.

Finished at the desk, he wrote a quick note to the manager of the hotel, then pulled one last item out.  Staring at the bottle, he took a deep breath before opening the lid and dumping out the pills.

Everything was taken care of.  His family was secure and in good hands with Massimo and Jackie.

This long, long journey had begun a life time ago when a blue eyed blonde had caught his eye across a crowded room.

Now it would end with that woman wrapped in his arms, starting a new journey and waiting patiently for him to join her.