"Joey?" She said again, her voice sounding hoarse and yet plaintive to her own ears. It had been over a year since she had last seen him. It was affecting her in ways she couldn't have anticipated. Her heart was hammering in her chest, her pulse was racing, her eyes were burning with tears. God, she might come undone and all over a man she had told herself she should exorcize from her system already. She knew hanging onto a dream that one day Joey could forgive her for what she had done to him and his family was just that - a dream and a dumb one at that.
"Aubrey, what are you doing here?" He asked, as he edged off the chair he had been sitting in and slowly, almost hesitantly, moved over to her. His blue eyes studied her and an inadvertent shiver went down her spine.
"I could ask you the same thing," she returned, trying to sound conversational but failing. She really did not want to tell him she was meeting Cutter and definitely did not want to tell him that she was here to work out the details for yet another con. She didn't want him to look at her with disgust even if she deserved that and more from him.
Joey slipped his hands into the pockets of his denim jeans. "Fair enough. I am here on an assignment. A freelance photography assignment actually. Someone liked my work enough to contact me in London. I realized I couldn't turn the opportunity down."
Aubrey nodded. "So what are you supposed to be photographing? There's not much around here that I can see."
"The landscape actually and this hotel more specifically. They want me to put together a brochure."
"A man named Mr. Rogers of all things," he said, quirking the smallest smile. "He owns a lot of property around these parts and also a conglomerate called The Janus Group."
"The Janus Group?" Aubrey echoed, feeling her face unconsciously contort in a grimace. Joey was working for the very man she was supposed to be conning. Great, just great.
Joey obviously didn't miss the expression on her face. "You know of it, don't you?" Why did his voice have to sound so accusatory?
Aubrey splayed her hands. "Doesn't everyone?" She said, sounding pathetic even to her own ears.
"I had actually never heard of the group until Mr. Rogers secretary called me up in London." His blue eyes watched her, seeming to see right through her. "There's something going on here, Aubrey," he said. "You haven't told me yet why you're here. In fact, you've been completely evasive."
Aubrey squared her shoulders. "I don't believe I owe you any explanations, Joey. You washed your hands of me -"
He shook his head indignantly. "I think I had a very good reason! You conned me into marriage - the whole while you were sleeping with your 'brother'."
Aubrey cringed. "I told you I was sorry for that. I feel guilty every day of my life."
"Sorry if that doesn't mean a helluva lot."
Aubrey shook her head. "When you left Llanview with Kelly, we seemed to be on better terms," she said. "You even seemed like ... Well, like maybe one day you could find it in your heart to forgive me. Why is all of this hostility coming up now?"
Joey stared at her for a moment and then nodded. "Yeah, you're right. You don't need me checking up on you and you certainly don't need me jumping all over your back. I'm sorry."
"You should never have to apologize to me, after what I did," Aubrey replied. "I meant it, Joey. I do feel guilty every day of my life for hurting you like that. At least you ended up with the right person in the end." She sighed softly. She hated thinking that Kelly had always owned Joey's heart and that she had just been a place holder until things inevitably worked out for them. She didn't have a right to hurt after what she had done to Joey, but she still did. She never knew true hurt until she lost Joey. She never knew true love until Joey had held her in his arms...
Joey nodded. "Right."
"You and Kelly ... How are you doing?" Why was she such a masochist? Why did she have to ask how he and another woman were getting along? They could be happily married again for all she knew. Kelly could be pregnant with his child or even have had a kid by now. It was all so disheartening thinking of how she had blown her chance forever.
"We're fine," Joey said quickly. A little too quickly. She tried not to read anything into his hurried answer but the way he shifted his eyes away from hers...
"That's good," Aubrey finally said. "You're happy? I mean you are happy, right?"
"Yeah," Joey said, still not looking at her. "I have everything a guy could possibly want." He then turned back to look at her. "Anyway, I think my turkey surprise is waiting for me so ..."
Aubrey nodded. "Right. Yum ..." She didn't feel hungry, especially looking at what the dinner consisted of. It was gray and lumpy and just really nasty looking. "I am afraid to ask what the 'surprise' part is."
Joey nodded. "You and me both. But at least there's wine." He walked back over to his table in the corner and sat down. He picked up his glass and took a long sip before turning and looking out the window at the dark, stormy night. She watched him for a moment. He looked sad, he looked pensive, he looked ... lonely. She wanted to join him but she didn't dare press her luck. Any minute Cutter would be coming downstairs and she had to try to head him off at the pass. The last thing she wanted was for Joey to have to see the other perpetrator in the nasty trick they had played on him.
Aubrey ended up sitting outside the dining room for what seemed like hours, waiting for Cutter to show up. Joey had long since gone up to his room and he had actually walked by her like he didn't really see her, like he was intentionally avoiding looking at her even. Her heart broke all over again. People would say she didn't have a heart, a soul, but something in her chest was literally aching at the thought of Joey still hating her or worse, possibly still hurting over her. He shouldn't be suffering because of her. Not at all.
She checked her little wrist watch yet again and saw that it was going on one a.m. She had asked the Hursts several times where Cutter was and they kept saying he should be along anytime. "Just eat your turkey surprise," they kept encouraging her but she couldn't force herself to eat that mess, even if she was still starving. She could only hope breakfast would be more edible.
She sighed, realizing Cutter had to been held up somewhere, doing god knew what or whom, and she needed some sleep. A headache was building right behind her eyes. She had drank the wine on an empty stomach and would surely pay for it in a bit.
She started towards the staircase and was heading up to the first flight when she spotted Joey. They nearly bumped into each other. He immediately jumped back like she had burned him, like he was afraid to even so much as touch her as if her particular brand of nastiness was contagious.
"Sorry," she murmured and noticed then that his handsome face was nearly green in color. "Joey?"
"Are you alright? You look sort of ... green."
"Yeah the turkey surprise ... I don't think it agreed with me," he murmured. "I am going to see if the caretakers here have any spare aspirin I can snag."
"I have some," Aubrey said. "Its in my purse ... Which is upstairs."
"In your room."
"Its okay," Joey said quickly. "I am sure the Hursts have some." He then stepped around Aubrey, giving her a wide berth as he started down the stairs.
Aubrey sighed and watched him go and then continued her hike to the third floor.
Joey sighed as he glanced back over his shoulder in time to see Aubrey's long, soft blonde hair and lithe body disappearing around the corner. He felt so confused seeing her here, very discombobulated, though he wouldn't admit it to her or anyone else. Seeing her so unexpectedly though had stirred up a bunch of old emotions he would have thought were long gone.
He reached the lobby and walked over to Thelma Hurst who was busying herself at the check in counter, seeming to tidy up for the night. Joey approached her and leaned heavily against the counter feeling a wave of nausea wash over him. "Excuse me, Mrs. Hurst?" he said. "You wouldn't happen to have an aspirin back there would you?"
Mrs. Hurst looked up at him with fluid gray eyes that seemed to pierce him and made him feel uncomfortable all at the same time. "Oh, did dinner not agree with you?"
"No, it was ... I think I just have the flu or something. The weather ..." His voice trailed off. It was likely her turkey surprise that had gutted him but he wasn't rude enough to tell her so.
"Oh I see," she said. "The weather around here takes some getting to used to, no doubt." She watched him for a moment almost covertly and he cleared his throat pointedly. "Oh right. The aspirin. Forgive me. I am not as good at remembering things as I used to be."
She went over to a little cabinet in the corner and pulled out a bottle of Tylenol. "How many?" She asked as she opened the cap and prepared to shake out the capsules.
"Two will be just fine," Joey answered and held out his hand. Two capsules fell into his palm and he pocketed them. "Thanks." He turned around and started for the stairs.
Suddenly Mrs. Hurst called after him, "You and the young lady ... Do you two know each other? I couldn't help but notice you two conversing earlier ..."
Joey stiffened. "I thought I knew her, once," he said darkly.
Thelma seemed not to notice his discomfort as she chirped, "Oh well tell her that her friend should be around tomorrow; I just have a feeling he'll pop up somewhere soon."
"Friend?" Joey echoed in spite of himself.
"Yes. She seemed insistent on finding this fellow. What was his name - hmm, it was something odd like Snipper or -"
"Cutter," Joey said. It wasn't a question. He already knew.
"Yes, that was it!" Thelma said with a wide smile.
Joey felt a deep frown tug at the corners of his mouth. He told himself as he climbed the stairs that he shouldn't care that Cutter was hanging around Aubrey even now but he did care. And it bothered him. A lot.