In The Land of Gods & Monsters
Author's Note: I will just say this from jump. This is not for staunch Lily/Cane shippers. At all. So, if you are apart of the Lane Army, I respect their fanbase but they should skip this one. It's not for them. So, read something else. PLEASE. If you love Lane, exercise common sense and do not read.
It took about seven months, but this came from the Y&R "What If?" episode that aired and was so enthralling and…different. I was most surprised at the fact that of all the women for Nick to be married, it was…Lily. Not only was Josh and Christel's chemistry ON POINT but I wondered just how a marriage between these two came out. Of course, the show made it superficial – Nick as the powerful mogul and Lily, the pretty young thing he married because well, he could.
I tried to do my best to stay within the AU universe in their characters but still, give them little characteristics of who they were in the Real Genoa City universe. Hopefully, I succeeded. I tried to give their outward superficial relationship a depth that nobody but them knew was there. I made sure to create backstories for them to explain how they got to where they were. The AU was supposed to be campy but I tried to ground them.
But this IS however, for the people like me who saw it differently and thought they were awesome and held on to the idea of what could be. This is for my Twitter Lick Crew. We're tiny but lit. Thank you. After seven months, it's done. Enjoy. It's alternate universe so I had fun with it.
Disclaimer: I am doing this for entertainment purposes. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is mine on any level. Nope. All that's mine is the plot, really.
Summary: They weren't saints or sinners. / Or, Nick & Lily Newman in heaven, hell and the purgatory in between. NickLily. [AU]
The anger over his mother's drunkenness made Nick work harder to be untouchable. The devastation of his father being absent made Nick work hard to be so powerful and feared that the name Victor Newman would be a foreign name on anyone and everyone's lips. Yet the guilt of not being there the one time Victoria needed him to be sat so heavily on his chest, he thought it might just crush him. It was a stupid thought and yet the image of Victoria a bleeding, shaking mess begging him to make it stop remained branded in his mind. His mother was drowning in a rock bottom he'd be happy to kick her back into.
The first and best thing Nick did when taking over Newman Enterprises was setting the portrait on fire. This was the great portrait nobody could touch with eyes that seemed to follow a person wherever they went. Nick was not going to his father's shadow looming here either, so he stood there and watched the orange glow of the flames tarnish the frame first. The embers blackened and twisted the paper until his father's youthful face melted under the heat.
This painting always held with reverence, viewed as something sacred for as long as Nick could piece together his first memory, was being destroyed in front of his eyes.
The Great Victor Newman could be erased and destroyed popular to contrary belief. It was a myth and it was all too satisfying to shatter that myth to pieces and write a chapter of his own – actually, multiple volumes of the Nick Newman Memoir Series with ownership of the Green Bay Packers.
Nick stood there in winter cold, gloved hands deep in his pockets. He stood there until the portrait became a pile of wood and ash. The big, hot flames died into tiny embers. It was satisfying as if Nick could erase Victor Newman from his mind as easily as he had done so with his mother.
It was positive in retrospect. Nick had set fire to those emotions and out of those ashes arose a man determined to never be his mother's son. There was the matter of being his sister's keeper that ate at him. It was a decade old itch that was never quite scratched. The guilt festered and sometimes, in his mind's eye, Nick saw the angry kid so frustrated with his timing, he'd punched a mirror and given himself bloody knuckles.
The scars were there, and there was one more prominent than the others. It was a light pink one now and sat across his middle knuckle, the biggest one. Nick had always been the one to beat up the drunken assholes fresh off his mother who would turn around to prey on his sister. He remembered beating one of them twice. Nick had seen red with anger as every punch he landed broke a nose. Broke a jaw. Caused the man to spit so much blood his teeth were stained red. He remembered a foot that wasn't his – but it was his, and it felt like his – landing into a rib with so force, Nick swore he could hear it fracture when he wanted to hear bone actually break.
Nick made sure to take a mental picture of that man's face in his mind.
The barely existent lips. The silver ring on his sausage looking pinkie finger. The hairline that seemed to recede and the dark brown hair. The nose – with the slight bump on its bridge. Nick broke it until blood spurted on the floor and finally, the drunk piece of shit had a gold tooth that shone when he smiled. When he smiled, it turned Victoria's stomach, she would tell him later and he nodded understandingly, because Nick felt repulsed too.
A distant pain ache presented itself near the pink, faded scar. Absentmindedly, Nick rubbed it through his glove. It was time to fix this mistake – one that had festered way too long.
First, Nick had companies to buy, more money to make and a wife – who for reasons beyond his, and maybe, hers – loved him. Perhaps, the fourth time was the charm.
Nick turned around and walked away from the scrap yard.
The trash was truly where it belonged. He walked a short distance away from the twisted metal, broken glass that refused to die and drove away.
This woman was going to break. Nikki was going to break, and Lily knew it.
Lily turned wide brown eyes filled with questioning, on her husband when her mother-in-law turned away and left dejectedly out of the office, through the elevator until the older woman with the sins of the past and the struggles of the present on her shoulders, disappeared.
"Don't," Nick looked up from his phone, with a warning glare that asked her not to wander into territory not meant for her. "Don't tread there, Lily."
Lily replied, softly with a hint of conviction in her tone, "You're the one afraid to tread anywhere."
"I'm not afraid of anything." Nick laughed, and went back his phone.
"Yes, I know. The name Nicholas Newman scares people. Strikes fear into the hearts of many," she rolled her eyes, and placed both hands on her hips through the fabric of her white off-the-shoulder dress. Lily narrowed her eyes, challenging him. "But the man behind the name is scared, too. You're scared to offer your mother a helping a hand – even the smallest one – because it means you love her, still, and you can't deal with that, not when you resent her. You burned your dad's portrait so he didn't have to be a shadow over you!"
She didn't hear him and continued, "Westmore Industries," she said, finally letting a breath out that she hadn't realized had sat on her chest, and churned her stomach. It was anger. It was frustration. It was love. It was sanity and insanity all at once. Lily let the words she said next barrel out, hoping that if this did not cause a chink in Nick's armour nothing would. "You want that company even more than you want Jabot."
"So? It's business," Nick replied, coolly, putting his phone in the breast pocket of his suit. He shrugged. "Sometimes, you take other people's shiny toys and make 'em shinier, and besides, who said I gave up crushing my brother-in-law into dirt? If I don't kill him, Billy will eventually do it himself."
"He's the father of your niece, and nephews."
"Westmore, Nick!" Lily finally yelled. "I looked into this! You want that company because David Westmore is running it! He's the son of the man your mother let rape Victoria all those years ago!" Lily crossed her arms. "I didn't go into this marriage blindly like the other three. I knew your baggage. Just like you knew mine," she sighed, eyes glittering with unshed tears as she watched something dark settle behind her husband's eyes – hatred, anger, guilt and a whole lot of revenge. Nick's eyes landed on her. It scared her but Lily held her ground as well. Survive, Lily. Just survive, baby, she could hear her mother's voice calm her. "You're going to take that family's livelihood and tear it to shreds."
"Just like that," Lily confirmed, snapping her fingers.
"Just like that," Nick nodded, looking her in the eyes. "He raped my sister. The mother," he spat the word out like acid on his tongue, "you want me to be kind and charitable towards let that happen."
"You're going to kill him for raping your sister? Then what? It makes your guilt go away for not saving your sister that one time?"
"That offer for alimony is still on the table if you don't stop right now."
"I didn't marry you for the damn money, Nick! You know that!" Lily admitted angrily, more to herself than him. She understood that the upper echelon of Genoa City society thought she was just a model who married Nicholas Newman for the money, and she let them think so. But she knew her motives and her reasons for accepting Nick's proposal, complete with a lavish wedding on the Newman private island. Glancing down at her wedding ring, Lily was sometimes, enthralled by the cut and carats of her diamond. Other times, Lily thought this ring was a shackle. "Give me alimony later, but right now, I am your wife! Give me the truth if that means anything to you. Not like I'm obligated to testify against you."
Nick raised an eyebrow, and smiled, "And if you could, would you?"
God, he was as frustrating as he was charming.
"We'll never know, will we?" she answered, voice clipped and she shook her head.
Why was this news to her? Lily rubbed her arm lightly, trying to make the goose bumps go away. He dropped his gaze, and Lily watched as Nick rubbed that scarred knuckle. He rubbed it and chuckled, "Yeah, I'm gonna kill the guy," and then added sarcastically, "Yeah, Lily. I'm gonna kill all of the Westmores and hang their heads on my wall since you've got it all figured out."
Finally, something in Lily unravelled. She wasn't in this tower, married to this rich, powerful mogul. She was back home, watching her dad struggle with his alcoholism about to swallow her entire family. Lily felt suffocated again as the walls of this office were closing in. Nick had years of poison in him, and it would probably kill them both from the inside out.
"Oh my God," Lily's voice came out as a whisper, not because she was horrified, because it was late for that. Honestly, nothing Nick did shocked her much, but she wasn't a passive person. It was the fact that her instinct had always been right. It never failed her and she was thankful for that. Especially now. Lily just needed to say the words to make them real. For Nick, the words that flew out her mouth were already real – already in motion. He always did have a dark sense of humor and used that to deflect. "As we're having this conversation, they're being killed tonight."
Nick looked directly at her, and answered seriously, "Yeah. You are my wife, but don't ever imply that I am wrong for doing this. Ever."
Lily loved the man – not the name, not the power – but the actual man buried beneath. However, if Nick made one more crack about another buying a diamond tennis bracelet for her, she was going to slap him.
She angrily walked over to the table and grabbed her purse before stopping short of the door. Nick calmly walked over to his desk and sat in the chair.
"I'm not implying anything. You do what you have to. But hopefully, when you're done ruling all of this," Lily paused to gesture to the air around her, "you can come home and be my husband. Happy 2nd anniversary. Second drawer. Besides the gun you keep. Your gift is in there."
Finally, Lily walked out closing the door behind her.
She didn't stop walking for she feared if she did, she'd call her father and tell him how much she missed him. Lily was also scared that she was still – motionless even for a second – she'd feel her mother's presence and that hurt way too much.
Instead, she was going to go home and have a glass of white wine.
When Nicholas told his mother he thanked her, he truly did mean it.
He beat up more drunks and the punches got more forceful, more purposeful. They caused blood to stain his knuckles, and sometimes, streaks of red streaked the backs of his hands. Soon, Nick's hands stopped shaking at the sight of another person's blood on his hands. He stopped being held back, and that was it. Freedom. His mother had given him a freedom that allowed him to shed blood and spill more – physically and metaphorically.
It took him until college during a fight. He stopped blacking out and starting being aware. He was suddenly acutely who he was hitting and why. Nick was aware of the aches in his fists and the adrenaline so he didn't feel anything until later.
During that fight, he left the other guy writhing on the floor in pain for breath. Perhaps a broken rib on top of the bloody face he had – Nick didn't care all that much. He wiped the blood away from his lip again the back of his hand streaked a light red. He was buzzed, still, a little drunk. Nick may have had sex with that dude's girlfriend.
That wasn't relevant although hilarious.
Nikki gave him this freedom to not care, and that was the greatest gift of all.
But he did love his sister. Nick could still hear Victoria crying and asking him to make the burning and the hurt stop. She was older, but he still felt how small and brittle she was in, only for her to act the next day that nothing had happened. The next day Nick found Victoria halfway through Nikki's favourite vodka. Her reasoning: it would make Nikki angry and could very well kill their mother on the basis of self-defence. Victoria was slurring and she giggled the whole time.
Cassie called him a nyctophiliac one day, one who found comfort in darkness. She always did get to him, past the layer of hardness around his heart and got to the soft parts. I wish you'd let people see what I see. Not the evil corporate overlord – Mariah's words, not mine – the kind-hearted man, the best father and the guy with a lot of light inside him. She'd visited him and he held her hand with a diamond engagement ring on it. Nick felt as he had swallowed rusty razor blades and was about to throw them up, knowing who her fiancée was. David proposed, Daddy, and I said yes. Nick had found a way to smile, because his daughter's happiness truly did make him smile. I'm happy for you, Squirt, he'd said but the words didn't sound like his own.
The anger welled up in his chest again and Nick hugged his daughter a little too tightly. I want what's best for you, Nick had whispered in Cassie's ear before he kissed her cheek.
Victoria was a drunken, moody mess on medication but he loved her anyway. Cassie was half the best parts of him, while Mariah came from the part of him that saw the world for what it was: a cruel place where it was kill or be killed. For some reason unknown to him – or Sharon, for that matter – Noah was a kid with a really strong moral compass. He had fallen for a woman named Marisa in Barcelona and chose to live there. Faith was this smart child, wise beyond her years and she found ways to truly amaze him.
If he had to be sorry, Nick was only sorry that he would break his child's heart. If he had to be sorry, he would choose to be sorry for watching his daughter shatter. It was already difficult watching Summer do it while blaming him for something that was a lost cause.
He opened the drawer with the black semi-automatic handgun in there, and furrowed a brow, as there was a medium sized black box, tied with gold ribbon. Nick chuckled a little, despite himself. Black and gold. The colour scheme of their wedding. Of course, Lily was meticulous and sentimental that way. So, it took you going to Paris and finding the fourth wife to finally make that cold, dead heart grow at least five sizes, Mariah had told Nick at a pub in Germany. She had wanted to travel and backpack all over Europe, so he met his daughter in a pub in Berlin, over beer.
Nick swallowed the beer and chuckled.
She was odd and quirky and he loved that about her.
Any possibility you could be trying to get a motorcycle from my cold, dead heart?
Mariah had frowned and cursed into her beer, Well, what's the point of having a dad who's rich and powerful if there's no motorcycle out of it?
Yeah. Nice try, kid.
Can't blame a girl for trying to lowball you for a Mustang instead, Mariah conceded with a light smirk and a shrug. She paused and rolled her eyes, in that way when Mariah weighed the pros and cons of what she was about to say before the benefits – according to the inner working of Mariah's mind – won out.
Okay, she leaned forward, serious tone. Truth time? Don't mess this one up. I'm travelling because you know, I'm finding myself. My truth. Just...find your truth in getting hitched this time. You didn't with Mom, with Phyllis or this third clusterfuck. You don't care what anyone thinks. I respect that because really, who the hell cares? But find whatever the hell works for you and live in it.
I do love you, Nick had admitted, and Mariah playfully rolled her eyes before softening.
For a dad, you're alright, too, and then she had smiled softly, the rare one Mariah reserved for just him because they were on the same mental wavelength that way. And ditto. With the love thing.
Nick remembered ordering another final round of beer for the both of then and. He enjoyed Mariah laughing at the men who strolled by in lederhosen and well, her company.
He enjoyed her being happy and laughing. Not the brilliant commentary.
Spoiler alert: Nick sort of did, but he could always blame the beer.
Find your truth and live in it.
Gently prying the lid open, Nick pulled out what was inside. A compass. It was an antique gold compass with a small needle that pointed toward whatever direction it chose. But ultimately, the choice was his. Nick twirled the card in his hands between his fingers and before he sighed and read it to no one in particular.
"Nick, I saw this at an antique shop in London and thought of you. The world isn't so defined, so black and white. There are just perspectives. I hope that you find one that isn't so dark, one that makes you happy and truly fulfilled," he read out to no one, and he then smiled at the last part of her note as something like familiarity hit him. "There are banks of roses underneath the cypresses. Find them. Love, Lily."
He hated and loved having a wife that could actually see through him and for some reason, believed he was a decent well-rounded person. The light caught his silver wedding band and he twisted it around his finger in thought.
Glancing at his desk, Nick saw the picture of his wife on his desk, beautiful in a black dress – it was one of her model pictures and his favourite one ("You look at any man but a photographer that way, and I'll kill him," he half-joked and Lily laughed with a playful roll of those beautiful brown eyes he realized he loved so much, while she straddled his hips and kissed him. She had replied between kisses that he was the only man she'd come home to, and proceeded to slowly unbutton his shirt to show him) – and then remembered the black and white polaroid of her that was playful, had her grinning and so happy Nick swore she glowed. That one stayed in his study drawer.
Nick stared at the picture of his wife, yet when he closed his eyes, the black and white polaroid stayed engraved in his mind. He opened his eyes, sighed, and picked up the black receiver of the phone on his desk. He hit a few buttons and on two rings, Nick got an answer.
"Has the first phase of our deal been handled?"
"Yes, Mr. Newman. Everything's been taken care of. It was a clean process."
He felt relief and a sense of happiness wash over him, and he leaned back into his chair and expected to hear the news story break of a tragic yet fatal accident of that poor, upstanding pillar of the community. But he knew better. Nick didn't want to know the details, but had to ask for his own peace of mind, and on some level, for Victoria. She had asked him to make the hurt stop and make the burning stop, so he did. I did it for you, Vick.
"Did he suffer?"
"Yes, he suffered. I made sure to take my time with it and be discreet. I took what you asked to be taken from him," answered the voice on the other end. The female voice had a tone of amusement in it. "I told you. I'm the best at what I do. Phase One is complete. I'd like a little faith. Come on."
"Don't you mess this up, Grace," Nick warned. "I won't have this go wrong. Do you understand me?"
Grace's tone became wistful, and she dropped the formalities, "Nick, don't you know? You call, and I come running. I'd do anything for you," her voice took on a solemn tone which was rare for her, "I know how important this is to you."
"It's good to you I can count on you," he said, genuinely and added another important question. "How's Phase Two?'
"Well, still in progress. Say the word and I'll handle it too."
"No," Nick said, and this time it was Cassie's smile that assaulted his thoughts. "Not yet. I'll handle from here."
Grace's voice took on a confused tone. "I don't understand."
"You will…when I get there. Just hang tight. You're a good friend."
"Like I said," Grace answered, "I'd do anything for you," and then she said, seductively. "You can call me for other equally satisfying collaborations when Lily isn't your wife anymore. Or still is. I'm…flexible."
Nick laughed, actually genuinely laughed. Grace could always do that. It was the one of the bright spots of their relationship.
"I'll see you in thirty, Grace."
She sighed, and it wasn't one of offence because she laughed too, even though she was serious on the offer to have sex. Nick knew that. They had done it before. Before he was walking around in a wood of dark cypress trees and was comfortable. Before a bronzed goddess of a rose locked eyes with him a fashion show after party in Paris and pressed the tied stem of a cherry – done with her tongue, by the way – into his hand on their twelfth date in London. Not that Nick kept count because he didn't.
"Yes, Boss. Anything for my favourite ex-husband."
Lily Winters Newman (read: the story of how and why that happened made her chuckle to herself despite how quickly and oddly they had met) sat by the window seat of the mansion that rested on a hill overlooking all of Genoa City and sipped a glass of wine. White wine was her favourite. The way the taste hit her tongue calmed her down and made her think. Seeing her mother-in-law in that way rattled something in Lily. Lily wished someone had helped her mother at that hiking trail, which is why she was insistent Nick help his mother, who was a mess, put alive and breathing. But Nick had silenced her, turned that hard, cold veneer on her. It stunned her into silence. She had seen this warm, soft heart she knew he had – but didn't show for anyone but her and his children – harden into one of stone. It wasn't silence or offence or even anger. It went beyond losing five million dollars for a charity that was actually really dear to her.
Instead, Lily hid her reaction. The past tried to claw its way into the forefront of her mind. The encounter between Nick and his mother made her think of her mother and why she had left home. The uncertainty of her mother's death and the lack of closure made Lily unable to breathe in their small town. Her father's alcoholism just about suffocated her, so she left.
She travelled everywhere and anywhere to chase dreams of being a ballet dancer like her mother had been until she'd found her own dreams of modeling. The flash of the cameras, the grueling work of photo shoots and the glamorous life let her be free enough to make money for herself, book a few indie movie jobs here as modeling bled into acting. There was also the dream of going to graduate school. It would stay that. Just a dream. Or, owning a dance studio with her mom.
The modelling world was a glamorous one but it also had ugly sides to it that could consume a girl whole. She did everything she could to avoid falling into the death spiral of eating disorders, the lull of drugs and general cattiness. So, Lily had to claw her way upwards for her own survival – to get the appointments with designers, to get the opportunities to walk down runways.
It was at one of those fashion shows – in Paris, where she felt the most free, really and where she roamed the cobblestoned streets and soaked in everything like a sponge: the Eiffel Tower, the little eateries that had the smell of fresh croissants long after morning, the accordion player that seemed lost in his own creation, and the Seine a beautiful backdrop – that Lily locked eyes with a man with one of the nicest smiles she'd ever seen. His eyes danced with a sort of amusement that intrigued her and Lily didn't mind the dimples.
Therese, another model that was so statuesque it reminded Lily of an Amazon warrior appeared, sipping a martini and eating an olive from it.
Her dark hair was braided into an intricate style while Lily's hair stayed in a flowing half updo. She wore a two-piece dress with a black strapless top and a floral skirt. Therese was one of the few people she got, because modelling was her stepping stone to, believe it or not, engineering.
"That's Nicholas Newman. He just ended marriage number 3 and the word is he's dangerous. He's clearly checking you out, but avoid him…"
"Thank you for telling me," Lily replied, and she meant it. "But it's my choice."
"Okay," the other woman shrugged before she flounced away. "I tried."
For the longest time, Lily was the girl who never took any risks or never did anything that pertains to colouring out of the lines. The slight suffocation in her chest reappeared after years of being away. She often thought of her dad. Last they had spoke, he'd started a jazz club and was getting help for his alcoholism and that he was proud of her. But however, Lily couldn't go back to the town where everything reminded her of her mother. She'd created a nice shield for herself, created her own perspective on things and understood that things weren't just black and white when it came to a person or a life.
However, Lily couldn't bear too much ambiguity, especially since her mother under circumstances no one knew or quite understood. When Lily tried to unravel what had happened, it had hurt her heart more than her head. She will admit that she had accepted cocaine and done a line so she could get through a photo-shoot. Lily would also admit that she didn't quite like how it made her feel, so that was her first and last encounter with the drug.
If Nicholas Newman was dangerous with a problem with keeping marriages long enough to actually mean something to him, then Lily was the dumb model stupid enough to casually slide over to him and flirt with him. Because, you know, models were whorish enough to flirt with powerful men for their own purposes.
Instead in a room full of people, Lily saw this man with full of complexities in a place that was full of the brim with everything superficial and vapid. He made her laugh, made her think as he spoke of Nietzsche and The Rolling Stones at the same time. There was something boyish about him and he had dimples when he smiled. She loved Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby was her favourite – and still, flipped through fashion magazines.
"This doesn't look to be your kind of scene," Lily said, first breaking the silence. She smiled, coyly, sipped at her drink while Nick nursed his whiskey. For some reason, he refused tequila, and hated vodka more. She mentally shrugged. Wasn't her business.
"Fashion show after party with beautiful women. How could it not?" he answered with a laugh. "It is now," his gaze landed on hers, and she lowered her gaze as this man took her hand in hers. A light pink blushed coloured on her cheeks, despite herself. Nick brought the back of her hand to his mouth and kissed it, "especially when there's a model as gorgeous as you."
Lily laughed, taking her hand back, and downing the last of her drink.
She raised an eyebrow, "You say that you all the women you meet, don't you?"
"Well, you are a breathtaking woman. Surely, there's a name?"
"Lily," she said, playing with the stem of the red cherry at that bottom of her glass, "Lily Winters."
"Ah, Lily – like the flower. Both beautiful," he held out his hand, and she returned it with a polite shake only to hold on to it a little longer to press his lips to the back of it. "Nick Newman."
She giggled this time, and Lily put the bright red cherry in her mouth. She chewed a couple times and swallowed as the remnants of the cherry disappeared and all that remained was the stem. "I know who you are."
Nick's face had amusement in it, and Lily felt her inhibitions slip away. It had been a long day where she had to keep it together and she just wanted to be the girl who danced with her mother within the confines of a studio, just the two of them bonding over the synergy of music and the body while loving each other. She wanted to be the girl who wanted her dad to read her stories of fictional characters who did extraordinary things inspiring to real people. Lily wanted to twirl a hula-hoop around her waist with her straight-laced doctor aunt, who discovered she was good at it and laughed, loudly and freely.
"Of course," she had answered, laughed and shook her head before she eyed him curiously, resting a cheek in her palms with her elbow on the bar. "CEO of Newman Enterprises. My friend said you were dangerous and I am left wondering how a man with such a reputation can have a mind like yours."
"Mmm. Mind like mine?"
"A beautiful one," she had blurted out, mentally blaming the onset of alcohol. She recovered at his confused look. Did Nick always furrow his brow like that? "I can respect a man who appreciates a little Tolstoy in his life."
He looked surprised, "You read Tolstoy?"
"In between photo-shoot schedules and the occasional indie film script, yeah."
There was that boyish smile again, as a song she couldn't quite remember – maybe because of the adrenaline of the show long before it was over, the slight buzz of alcohol, or how there was a kind of electricity in the air – came on over the speaker and he offered his hand and asked her to dance and Lily had accepted. Nick's hand was soft in her hers until they guided each other to the dance floor, and let an infectious beat take them away.
Lily never stopped dancing with Nick Newman since. She had danced with him into more dates, more travelling adventures in between his running Newman Enterprises and her modelling career. She had danced in between media reports and rumours of the new woman that had captured his heart and wondered if there would be a fourth wedding in the works. Lily realized that there would be, but on their own terms. Discovering this man was a dance all on its own with choreography that seems to change from day to day. His emotions was a maze while his past – when he did feel ready to open up to her, and she promised not to hold anything against him – was dark, way too dark for one person to navigate.
Lily knew Nick had a brightness about him he kept hidden. He was a goof, really laidback and quiet dinners at her New York apartment where he cooked was better than going out. Of course, Lily cooked herself but she would admit she enjoyed watch Nick cook sometimes. She always held his hand when out and about, and on occasion when she had broken the heel of her boot in SoHo, Nick had carried her all the way home. Lily had squealed a little and protested that he put her down. He simply looked her when he stopped walking and said seriously, "Not a chance," kissed her, and continued walking.
Nick had been in one of his moods on the night he had proposed to her.
Dinner had been quiet. She drove them to her apartment in his car, and when they got here, Lily had finally had enough of this dance. Maybe it was time to stop this one dance. The choreography of Nick's mind and actions was getting to complicated for her to catch up. She sighed angrily, threw her clutch on her couch and shrugged off her coat, revealing a backless, purple dress. She was way too angry to peel off her heels. If she did, they'd probably be thrown at him.
"Nick, what is the matter with you?"
"I can't do this."
"Do what?" Okay, the choreography had become simple for her again. Nick was going to dump her. He was going to dump her and leave. Therese was right. Maybe Nick was dangerous with a woman's heart. Lily shook her head, feeling incredibly foolish and thanked whatever instinctual thing inside of her for holding whatever feelings she had back. Her instincts had told her to let the feelings she had developed for him back. Lock them away, and open the box a little only to close it just as quickly. Nick looked away from her, his gaze on her carpet. Lily asked again, more firmly. If he was going to waste a year of her life, then he was going to do it as quickly as he took other companies, and leave. She was a big girl. She could take it. "You can't do what?"
"I can't…" he started, slowly and it made Lily impatient, therefore angry, "I can't care for you," and then Lily's anger slowly dissipated and it turned into confusion.
"No, listen!" he said, loudly. Lily stayed rooted to her spot, not sure whether to go to him or stay back. Nick stayed silent for a moment, the kind of silence that got to him when he got into his head. Finally, after what felt like years even though the silence just lasted a couple of minute he started up again, "I can't care about you. I can't find you amusing in the best way. I can't think you're beautiful with no makeup on. I can't…love the way you wear my shirt after we have sex – it's not even that for me anymore. I can't love how your laugh sounds long after I've heard it. I'm supposed to push you away and you're supposed to take the hint and leave. But I can't because I don't want you to go."
Nick was starting to ramble. Lily's heart was starting to race and she wondered what the hell was happening? Was this a breakup? What this a rare moment when someone as emotionally locked up like Nick needed to say what he had to because it was her, and not a therapist he'd have to pay for? They had a silent of rule of not judging the other on anything – past, right now, or even the future if there was one – but she didn't know what was occurring at this moment. It was intriguing and frightening, as Nick often caused both emotions in her.
She opened her mouth to speak, and then the next thing out of Nick's mouth kept her mouth frozen in a perfect O shape and the words failed to assemble themselves, and the anger and annoyance intended faded away.
"I can't walk around with a ring in my pocket right now because it's bothering me that one is missing from your hand," and then Nick looked her in the eyes, and saw something genuine in them. "I can't fall in love with you."
"You've…fallen in love with me," she said the sentence like fact – something she herself was trying to process. Maybe if she said it that way, instead of shedding the stereotypical happy tears, she'd process them better since the words were real, living and breathing suddenly taking on the shape of an elephant, visible to her eyes only. Lily cleared her throat, and fixed him with an inquisitive stare of her own. "You…love me?"
All of a sudden, another eighth count had been thrown into this year long dance Lily had been doing with Nick and now, things had shifted again. Perhaps, things had paused altogether.
"Don't make me say it again."
Lily's anger surfaced again, and she glared daggers at him, hands on her hips.
"So, you've fallen for me, and you have a ring. And that means, you want to marry me," Lily stated, quietly and then yelled, "What the hell is wrong with you? Are you insane? No! You're bluffing! There's no ring. You are out of your damn mind."
"Oh, sweetheart. I never bluff. And sane is boring."
"Really?" Lily countered, and then proceeded to hit him. "You wouldn't do this if you wanted to truly propose!" she yelled, landed more hits on his chest, and didn't care if that suit was expensive enough to be Armani. "For once in your life, you'd act," another hit, "like a," another hit, even though Nick laughed when nothing was funny was humorous to her, "sane person!" Lily hit him and he caught her wrists, with a smirk. She sighed, deeply as he let go and Lily frowned, and rubbed her temple.
"My rose has thorns. I like it."
"Shut up. I'm not your anything!" Lily angrily replied, turning away from him. She turned away, facing the window, the Statue of Liberty prominent against the New York skyline. Any other time Nick attempted to be smooth with her would have flattered her. This was just confusing and a bit offensive. At least, in her mind. "You're not proposing. You're a frustrating bastard, Nick."
So, Lily did after counting to five, sometimes ten like her dad taught her to when getting rid of anger. Lily turned around and froze to find Nick on one knee, a little velvet red box open with the biggest, most stunning diamond she'd ever laid eyes on. It sparkled and gleamed as light caught it.
"Oh, my God."
Nick smiled, confidently, "Told you I don't bluff, so," he said, seriously now as his eyes locked with her teary brown ones, "would you, Lily Winters, do me the honour of marrying this frustrating bastard? I asked you to dance in Paris and you accepted. I want to dance with you forever," Nick then laughed, which in turn made her laugh, as a tear rolled down her cheek. "And for reasons unknown, you get me. You don't judge me. You keep me sane – well, as close to it anyway – and I've never had any woman kick my ass before getting a proposal. You challenge me in a way that makes me wanna be better when I find it hard to be. Not only is that refreshing, it's sexy as hell. I meant what I said. I love you and—"
"Shut up. Yes," Lily breathed out, and then said it again, nodded, getting on her knees on the carpet with him. She held his face in her hands and kissed him. With every kiss came a "Yes, yes," and finally, when she kissed Nick against his smile, while smiling herself. "Yes, I'll be your wife, Nick Newman."
"Okay, then," Nick pulled the ring out of its box, and slid it on her left ring finger. "Perfect fit. Damn, I'm good."
Lily gazed at her ring.
Yes, he was good. Even though he hid it from everyone else. Lily knew better.
"If I didn't say it before, I love you, too," Lily admitted to him and it was who kissed her and there were always sparks, always electricity and always warmth in all Nick's kisses.
"I'll give you the world, y'know," he whispered, and then kissed her forehead. Lily found his hands and took them in hers. She pressed a kiss to the knuckle, the biggest one with the light pink scar. Nick was a scarred man, and in turn, she was a scarred woman. It wouldn't be a perfect life. It wouldn't be an easy life. Lily didn't marry him for his money or the power behind his name. He was a hard man to love, a complex one who frustrated her. He did have really kind eyes she saw only and a heart that so big he often tried to fortify and shrink it.
She stroked the scar gently, knowing he had more unseen. But it was okay, because together they were a bit damaged and running from the monsters of their pasts.
Nick understood how she felt about her mother's death, while she understood how he felt about his father. His mother was a desolate alcoholic, while her father was trying but still, Lily stayed out of reach where his alcoholism couldn't touch her. She wasn't ready for that, and maybe, it made her selfish. But were all human beings have a bit of selfishness is them? Perhaps, they were kindred spirits, floating around and weaving in between seven billion other people on this planet until they found each other.
"As long as I'm with you, I'm fine. We'll be fine."
Nick smirked, "So, if we – and I'm saying this hypothetically, of course…"
She chuckled, and nodded to humour him, "Of course, it's all hypothetical. Because you're always hypothetical about everything."
"You'd be fine being with me, right, so you'd be fine with us having sex on this really nice floor, right?" Nick flirted, his eyes darkening with desire for her. "Hypothetically, of course."
Lily pretended to ponder as she began to slowly take off his jacket, and then work at loosening his tie and unbuttoning his shirt. She kissed Nick, teasing him with another kiss to his jawline. Another two to his neck and a spot behind his ear before Lily whispered seductively into his ear, "I'm more than fine than having sex here. The floor and the fiancé are mine, after all."
The intensity of the emotions she felt two years ago in that New York apartment snapped her back to the present. She felt loved, safe, happy and the most fulfilled she had been in a while. Lily found that her wine glass was empty and when she tore her eyes away from the window, she glanced at her phone on the center table. It hadn't vibrated or rang in the hour she realized she'd been by this window. Lily strained her ear to hear the creaking of the iron gates, tires crunching gravel or even the familiar sound of Nick's keys. But all she got was silence.
That, or the maid was getting better than hiding herself.
"Mrs. Newman? Anything you'd like done before I go?" the maid, Annie, had made her presence known as she rounded the foyer into the living room. She was quiet and mousy, a redheaded with light blue eyes. Lily had gotten to know Annie: in college working on a Master's degree and engaged herself. That was all Lily could knew in between modelling and chairing charity events.
"Uh, yes," Lily replied, with a polite smile, but absentmindedly played with the ring set on her finger. "Are there any messages from my husband?"
Annie smiled, faintly, shook her head no, and took the empty wine glass away from her and reassured, "I'm sure Mr. Newman has business related matters to take care and will be home shortly. I'll take care of this," the other woman referred to the wine glass. "Oh! Although he did leave your anniversary present upstairs and asked me to see to it that you get them. They're in your room already."
Annie shrugged, and nodded, "It's no problem. I'm just doing my job. I'll leave you to retire for the night and take care of the wine glass. Happy anniversary."
Annie nodded and left again, while Lily sighed, heart beating in her chest like the rapid wings of a hummingbird in flight.
She grabbed her heels, held her phone in between her fingers. Lily headed up the long winding staircase, heart racing the way it did the night he proposed – although it was for an entirely different reason. It was worry that was the underlying emotion. Lily smiled softly at their wedding photo framed on the mantle: her in a champagne coloured mermaid style wedding gown, him dapper in a suit that co-ordinated with her dress with touches of black and them in a kiss that easily could have said for richer, for poorer, forever and always.
There was always blood on Nick's hands. That's how the corporate world seems to function and thrive. For her own sanity, Lily asked Nick not to tell her the gory details – he respected her wishes – and on nights like tonight, Lily wanted the truth no matter how terrifying it completely was. In that case, Nick became a steel trap yet an open book she had learned to read. He was like a book of braille a blind person had to read, feeling out bump and ridges on a page while putting sentences together.
He had the Newman Empire on his shoulders, and Lily was proud Nick he managed it – actually ran it with an iron fist. And yes, it was beneficial being the wife of a man who was fearsome. Being the Queen of the Kingdom was fun. However, even great kings fell and empires fell into oblivion. Richard III. Demise of the House of York, she remembered from a history book read long ago. The floor felt like ice under her little feet, and as Lily glanced at her phone and continued to loathe its silence.
Halfway up the staircase, Lily stopped and turned around, staring at the window again. It was a flash – something of a blink and you'll miss it type moment, a collision of 1485 and 2016. Lily looked out past the gates and saw it: Nick's decapitated head, as if an enemy company had brought it on their doorstep and left it there.
She gasped, hand on her heart. It still raced under her palm.
"That's it," Lily resolved, and tapping her phone and sliding a slender finger over the number to call it. She held the banister of the staircase, and each ring sounded like a gong. She rolled her eyes, frustrated. "Of course…voicemail. Nick, it's me. If I don't hear from you in an hour, I'll come looking for you. That's it. You want to be Victoria's keeper. You want to do this for yourself. Great. But you're my husband. Do not… and I mean, do not, put me through imagining the awful things that could happen to you," she said, and finished authoritatively. "You're human, Nick and you have to be reminded of that. One hour. I'll wait."
Lily continued up the stairs and still in her white dress, padded down the hall to their master bedroom where anniversary gifts awaited her.
Sixty minutes. Fifty-nine minutes. Fifty-eight minutes. Fifty-seven…
Nick sat on the floor and leaned against the wooden desk of his office, while Victoria rested her head against his shoulder. He could sit anywhere he wanted, he was the boss and it was always nice to have Victoria visit. He watched the fingers of his sister dance across the lines of the scars on her wrist until he gently touched her hand to stop her.
"You're gonna me ask me why, aren't you?"
"Yeah," he replied, gazing down at her when she lifted her head from his shoulder, smile on her face. Victoria's blue eyes were large and twinkling. Nick stared at her, mentally wondering if she was drunk – because according to her, it was five o'clock somewhere – or off her anti-depressants – she hated how they made her feel. Nick sighed, taking her hand in his and she held it. "Why'd you slit your wrists, Vick?"
There was a pause, as if she was trying to assemble her words. There was a furrow in her brow as if being hyper aware scared her, but she wasn't crawling over to the bar to drink the brandy in there. That was progress, perhaps. Victoria looked down at her wrists again, the scars faded enough to know it had been a while but she'd done it anyway. It was serious enough that Billy had called him to tell him to get down to the hospital – that Victoria had slit her wrists and was in the hospital, sedated in a bed and in restraints. When Nick finally saw her, Victoria looked so small and fragile in that bed and instead of being sad, the hatred for his parents – different reasons, same bullshit end – intensified.
Victoria started speaking again, and answered, "An experiment."
Nick grew confused, "Experiment for what?"
She played with her hair. It was a nervous tick of hers – when she hadn't had a drink, or smoked in a few hours or when she was scared. Frustrated.
"To see if I would be scared to die. That's why I did it," Victoria laughed. "But they thought I was crazy or sick. Said I was supposed to be on suicide watch, and I was dangerous to others and myself. I wasn't crazy. It didn't just happen. It wasn't something spontaneous. I planned it. My experiment was a success. I'm not afraid to die, Nick."
"I'm sorry," Nick apologized, feeling it was the right thing to say. His brain didn't quite catch up to his mouth in that moment. He wasn't a CEO at this point. He was just a brother trying to protect his sister from the demons that plagued her. Nick didn't protect from the one that got to her and he'd always be sorry for that. It also hurt that he could not protect her from her kind of darkness when Nick tried every day to not give into his, but he didn't try to push them away, either.
Victoria shook her head, wiping her away her tears. "No," she said, softly, holding his hands in hers. "This was my choice," she grinned, fully now. "Besides, I didn't feel anything except how sad you would be if I died the most. I didn't want you to be alone. I didn't want to leave you, Nick. It's me and you forever and always, remember? I wanted to keep my end of the promise. I'm the one who should be sorry."
"Because I'm so messed up and you've spent your whole life protecting me. It's not fair," Victoria said, and frowned. Tears collected in her eyes. "Promise me something."
"I love you but if I eventually do something and I don't come back, you have to love me enough to let me go. Take care of my children. Tell them in my own way I loved them."
"No. No," he shook his head, adamantly. "I'm not promising you that."
"But you'll accept a French-speaking escort from me?"
"That's not a life or death situation, Vick."
Victoria placed a good-natured hand on his shoulder. "You enjoyed Angelique very much because she told me so and she rather enjoyed you. How and when? Not important," she waved a hand, dismissively and got serious. There was a flash of fear in those eyes that said more than her mouth ever could. I'm not scared. I'm going to die. You have to accept it. "You have to promise. Just in case. Treasure this moment of realism."
Nick nodded, wiping a tear from her face with the pad of his thumb.
"Okay," he conceded, with a sigh that almost physically pained him. "I promise. Just in case. I love you, Vick."
"Love you, more," Victoria replied, and put her head back on his shoulder. She chuckled, making Nick smile, despite himself. "I like my new therapist. Really, like him in a way that doesn't make me want to sleep with him, although he's cute and I would. He listens. Says a lot of profound things that make sense. Sometimes, he lets me talk."
"So, where do you go from here?"
"I don't know," Victoria answered and then paused. Nick knew his sister so well he could almost hear wheels turning in her head, words and phrases trying to piece themselves together. She raised her head, looking at him with furrowed brow and combed a hand through her hair. "Dr. Crawford says I have to find clarity. Make peace with myself and he'll help," she snorted, a laugh on her lips. "Peace…what is that? Besides, I like my chaos."
Nick mused they were Newmans so they weren't allowed to be peaceful. Or, sane.
Victoria looked at him with amusement and rolled her eyes, playfully. She studied him, making Nick raise an eyebrow in inquisition. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Because it took four wives for you to fall in actual love. Lily. You found your peace. It's weird to me but you've found her That makes me happy. All I get is the dysfunction at home, a whole bunch of meds I hate, and my therapist."
Nick raised an eyebrow and Victoria shrugged.
She giggled, "You're looking at me like I'll sleep with this one, too."
He laughed too, with a knowing look on his face. This caused Victoria to hit him in the bicep but it was a playful hit, although it still stung.
"I wouldn't. Not this one."
"And if the opportunity presented itself?"
"Then I'd be stupid to pass it," Victoria deadpanned, and then let a pensive look rest on her face. She sighed, speaking with seriousness. "I don't know, Nick. For once, I'm not in that mode. He's nice but he's sad too. I sense it. I don't use people I care about for sex. It doesn't matter that I love my husband in my own way, yet care for this man. It's not about Travis bearing his soul to me although he does. He's like me. Imperfect with his own monsters. You think our monsters would be friends?"
A wistful look came on her face, and she sighed. Nick could see some of the broken pieces trying to come together but not enough for Victoria stop dancing with the shadows of sex, and drugs.
"Travis. He's good. Makes the voices in my head quiet down. He's Sharon's brother."
"Yeah?" Nick asked, as if it was something new to him.
"Yeah," she answered, and glanced down in uncharacteristic shyness. There was a kind of softness in her face that Nick hadn't seen in years. He had gotten used to her edges and she wasn't wrong to have them as razor sharp as she did. Victoria's big blue eyes shined and she giggled, quietly. "I feel okay with him."
"I'm glad, then, Vick."
There was silence and then softly he heard, "I lied. I'm having sex with him. Don't take him away from me, Nick."
Nick found Victoria's head on his shoulder again. That wasn't surprising. What had surprised him was the steady breathing, her eyes shut and her face serene. She had fallen asleep. He didn't move in the two hours she had slept in case her nightmares came back.
"How is it in there?" Nick asked Grace, slamming his car door shut when the blond met him outside of one of the Newman Enterprises warehouses on the edge of the town. Nice and secluded.
Grace smirked, satisfied. "He's not going anywhere. His father is dead like you wanted, agonizing. He was stupid enough to not pay attention to a gas leak in the cottage so the rest was easy," she explained, with a carefree shrug. She stuck her gloved hands in the pockets of her red jacket. "Douglas Westmore III died in an explosion due to a gas leak not paid attention to. As for his kid, he's tied up, duct taped and here's what you asked for." Grace went into the inner pocket of her coat, revealing a manila coloured envelope. "Here's the contract for Westmore Industries. Not quite signed but it's yours and legal once he signs it."
Nick went to grab it from her, but Grace – damn her quick, feline-like reflexes – held it out of his reach.
"Tsk, tsk…" Grace chided, playfully. "I killed a man and got you a company you want to destroy. Sixty thousand alimony bonus this month sounds about fair, yes?"
"Forty-five thousand. Final offer."
Grace countered, smirking although she was defiant. "I'm going to need time to, you know, unwind and relax. After all, murder is hard work. Maybe on a beach somewhere to unburden myself with a margarita—"
Nick cut her off, impatiently and sharply. "Before I give you a damn dime, show me proof he's dead."
She blinked, her playfulness gone and she frowned. "Now, you just offend me," she glared, stalked away, around the side of the warehouse and reappeared with middle sized, blue box wrapped in a white satin bow. Grace dropped it at his feet, and stood back up, confidentially. "Kind of hard to be alive if you don't have your head."
Nick gazed at his ex-wife, remembering that it wasn't love that had drew together, but a business arrangement that had turned into a strange sense of endearment. He had to respect that nothing really fazed her and she did what she did without reckless abandon, yet Grace Turner was methodical and calculating too. There was a balance there that worked for her. There was no dark past. No abuse. No absentee parent or another in love with the bottle. There was a childhood seemingly normal. It turned out Grace was just a beautiful psychopath and legitimately killed people for a living.
She understood the darkness, and it intrigued Nick – how something like that hid behind a beautiful face. They also had a mutual understanding that even though the marriage was not for love – they didn't quite love each other; he loved her talents and she loved the protection his power and name provided her. They laughed a lot and the sex was good. Actually, amazing – mutually beneficial.
Nick furrowed a brow and then crouched down, his hands protected from the cold and fingerprints. He lifted the top of the box and suddenly, Nick gazed at the decapitated head. The hair was grey now, but the features matched the picture he held onto all this time. The skin was grey and Nick suddenly felt warm blood on his hands again.
"You'll get your sixty thousand," Nick said, and looked up at Grace. "Why?"
Now, it was Grace's turn to be confused and she raised an eyebrow.
"Why did I decapitate him?" she asked and then laughed, darkly, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "You know me. I go above and beyond. It's an art form." An especially bitter wind blew through this place in the middle of nowhere. There were gravel roads behind and in front of them, a wooded area that was heavy with trees and easy to get lost in. Easy to have a body or two buried in. Grace pulled her coat closer to her body. She walked over and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You asked me why. He had creepy eyes."
Nick merely closed the box, got up and handed it over to Grace who took it.
"Burn it with the rest of him."
"Okay," Grace replied, and told Nick to go into her left pocket as she balanced the box, containing the human head of Douglas Westmore III, under her arm.
Nick smiled playfully, "I'm not going to find a condom or a vibrator in there, am I?"
"You used to like sticking hands anywhere when it came to me. Consider it a surprise, and confirmation that yes, you can always trust me."
He looked Grace in the eyes, saw that rare sincerity in them and went into the pocket. Nick's hand felt something thin and long. A vial. He pulled out, examining it for the clear liquid it contained. It wasn't full, not even halfway full.
"What is it?"
"It's dimethyl mercury. I've been already poisoning him with over months like you asked. He'll be dead soon," Grace smiled, ear-to-ear. "I figured you'd want something just like this. A gift. It's hard to detect in the body, too. Almost invisible."
Nick also loved Grace for her resourcefulness.
"I'm putting that sixty grand of yours in an offshore bank account. Get out of here. I'll see to it that you're protected."
"I like to think we're friends or something like it. And I like Cassie. Always have."
At the mention of his daughter's name, Nick felt warmth. Love. He was going to break her heart, piece-to-piece bit by bit. The sound of Summer screaming tearfully that he let her mother die still reverberated in his brain. She had sobbed that she loved him, but couldn't live here and made the decision to live with her Aunt Avery in New York for a while. But Nick would give anything to have Cassie hug him right now and for Summer not look at him, as she did now. It was Summer's choice. She was an adult.
Nick kissed Grace's cheek and slid his car keys and the vial of clear poison into the middle of her palm. He had another Escalade just like this car in the garage and a cop he paid would call him and tell him, it had been "abandoned". She gave him a wry smile, and hugged him before she nodded and made a move toward the car. Besides, it wasn't his favourite.
Before she left, Nick reached out and grabbed her wrist, forcing her to cause her straight blonde hair to fan out behind her as she turned around as well as she could with the box containing a human head in there. Grace's eyes sparkled with amusement and nostalgia, smirk on her lips. "Ah, there he is," she gently released her wrist from Nick's grip. "Do my eyes deceive me or do I sense fear?"
Nick suppressed a chuckle, but could not hold back the smile that stretched across his face. He reached out, stroking the side of her face as if to remember what she looked like on the off chance she was found dead by one circumstance or the other. What a beautiful loose end she was.
"Nah," he shook his head. "I'm just really going to miss you."
"I know you will. I will miss you, too," she replied, understanding the double-edged meaning in his words. "It's nice that we always did know each other. I like to think we still know each other, right?"
He dropped his hand and Grace smiled in satisfaction. He gazed at her and roughly pulled her into a kiss. It was slow and he could hear the gasp that barely escaped the lips against his. It wasn't a kiss of love, nor one it was one of infidelity. It was one that sealed their secrets, sealed their mutual inclinations and one that sealed their threats. Grace still tasted like expensive champagne with the sharp sting of acid that would destroy them both. They built each other up with bloodshed, and could easily tear each other down the same way.
She pulled away, his bottom lip between her teeth but not hard enough to draw blood. Nick caught a familiar gleam in her eye and he fingered a blonde strand of her hair.
"We know each other, Grace."
"Always a pleasure doing business with you, Handsome," she placed a kiss to his cheek, and added with a breathless whisper by his ear, as if throwing another secret from herself to him. "I'm always open."
Grace gazed at Nick, and then walked away with box hitched under her arm until she disappeared into the black car with a slam of the door.
The sound of wheels also spinning against gravel grew harder to hear. Grace Turner went away out of his life again like another shadow. If Nick did have any guilt, he hoped that Cassie would eventually forgive him. Her heart would break, but the heart was resilient.
If there was such thing as a god or a higher power, Nick hoped there was forgiveness for him there. Like a present he never expected.
He laughed sardonically and shook his head, "Nah."
The Man Upstairs had no vacancy for him.
Nick entered his favourite warehouse to do what had to be done. He couldn't save his sister, but Cassie would be.
Nick would admit that he felt his wedding band slightly tightening around his ring finger through his glove, silently wished Lily would understand.
Lily would have to as much as he loved her, and if she didn't then…oh well. He was tired of carrying the guilt that lived and breathed, had a heartbeat and some nights where sleep actually made him lower his guard, it yelled at him. Blamed him.
It gave Nick satisfaction to know that something chemical was burrowing itself into David Westmore's body, slowly and painfully, when it would ultimately kill him. Victoria would get a laugh at the irony. They always did find things to laugh at when it was dark and scary. They shared their deepest darkest secrets and always swore to take it to the grave. Nick wondered, though, if it was cool to take a selfie with a dying, yet still living man about to have no real company. You know, for posterity.
She stripped away the white dress, long put the heels away and let the soothing steam of the shower calm her. Lily let the jet stream of water massage her skin, but it did nothing. Ten minutes had passed by the time she had reappeared in the master bedroom in a plush lavender coloured robe.
Now she sat on her bed in jeans and a navy blue cardigan, hair tied in a high ponytail. Lily sighed, finally sitting down on the king sized bed, opening the velvet box. She usually expected diamonds glittering back at her, and yes, something beautiful glittered back at her. Lily gently pulled out the necklace. It was a pair of diamond-studded ballet slippers with its ribbons tied in a bow on a thin silver chain.
She let a smile rest on her lips. Lily glanced at her cell phone timer.
Time continued to count down as she pushed the image of Nick's decapitated head as far away as she could and she imagined Nick's fingers brushing her collarbone and shoulders as he clipped on the necklace and the ballet slippers rested against her chest. Lily stuck a finger under the flap of the envelope and pulled the contents out. Her brown eyes scanned the words, before she read them.
"Thank you for being the girl who smiled across a room and danced with me. Here's to fifty more years of dancing – although I think I'll find the secret to immortality – and we can literally dance forever. Thank you for being the girl who somehow manages to make the dark spaces a little brighter. Love, Nick," she reads, and sighed and allowed the card to fall on the grey coloured duvet.
She glanced towards the window, the moon out but shrouded by clouds. Lights of other Genoa City twinkled below. Towering over the little twinkles of light, rose of Newman Towers and Jabot Cosmetics. Lily had a habit of counting the little dots of light and separating them from the gaps of dark in between. Maybe, geographically, she could figure out where Nick was.
Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight—
The high ringing disrupted the mental counting in her head, and Lily jumped before running to her phone. Usually, she would have glanced at who it was, but she didn't and instead of hearing Nick's voice, she heard Cassie's.
"Oh, hey Cassie."
"Hey, Lily," she paused, before starting again. But she was tentative. "I know it's your anniversary and I didn't want to bother you. David left for a business trip. He called me once to say he was back and it's been a while," Cassie's voice carried all the worry and apprehension Lily's almost felt, but tried to not let show. "I tried to call the office, but Dad's secretary said he was out. His phone would go straight to voicemail. I thought of calling the police, but it wasn't 48 hours yet. I just figured Dad could have his people find him, y'know – jump red tape. Have you seen him?"
"I did. Earlier. We had a small fight," Lily answered, telling the half-truth because the truth would hurt more. She liked Cassie. Thought of her stepdaughter as more of a friend. "It was," she smiled, and it physically hurt, "nothing major. But I left and he wasn't with me. I haven't seen him since."
"But—but I'll try to get to your dad and find him. Don't worry."
Cassie said, "I know you're trying to reassure me, but you're worried too, aren't you?"
Lily glanced at the beautiful necklace, still glittering.
She let her eyes travel to the card. Thanks for making the dark spaces brighter, it said. Lily let her body drop, the edge of the bed capturing her weight.
This time, Lily could not lie because it was her truth, too.
"Yes," Lily answered, more to herself than Cassie. A lump formed in her throat, painful when she swallowed. "Yes," she said, again, aware that Cassie hadn't hung up. "I'm not going to lie. I'm worried. But I'm going to go look for him. He'll be mad at me for it but I don't care."
The other voice laughed. It sounded like an equal balance of happy, sad and knowing.
"I'd go with you, but Mariah is talking me out of it. I'm only letting her because she offered to go for me," she then sniffled. "My dad's a hard man. He's hard to read. Hard to figure out. I check on my grandmother just to make sure she's okay but never tell him because it hurts him. My dad's not a monster. He's not," Cassie said, voice optimistic although she could hear the other woman sobbing, and the tiniest bit of self-doubt. "He's just…my dad. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be dumping this on you but…"
"No, it's not," Cassie answered, and sighed. "It's just that it's nice that someone else sees my father the way I do. Faith is a kid. Noah sees him as our dad but from afar – physically and emotionally, and they get each other on their own level. Mariah… well, I think, she's okay with our father being a monster. They have dark, dry senses of humour and I find it disturbing yet funny. But he isn't. He's just hurt – he's a good person," Lily could hear the smile in Cassie's voice again, while she sat on this bed, biting her lip to silence herself. What was she going to do? Scream? Cry? Tell Cassie about the chill that about ran up her spine when it looked like Genoa City stopped twinkling bit by bit, and the dark spaces grew? "I think you're good for him."
Lily smiled at that, genuinely, "That's sweet of you. Thank you. Nick and David will come home to us. Think positive."
"You do the same. Goodnight."
Lily hung up, feeling now she was dancing on the razor's edge and was alone.
"Damn you, Nick," she cursed, out loud. Lily then steeled herself – she was Mrs. Newman, she'd blow through whatever red tape she had to find him even when he didn't want to be found. Lily pulled on simple black ankle boots, shrugged on a leather bomber jacket of hers, and hastily grabbed her car keys and phone. Before she left, however, Lily looked at the ballet slippers on the thin chain. She took that, clipped it on and liked how the pendant rested against her chest. She pulled out her phone from her back pocket as she let the bedroom door slam behind her. Lily quickly descended the steps and on the third ring, the person on the other end answered. "This is Lily Newman. You're his new secretary, right?"
Lily found out her name was Vanessa Rodgers. Okay.
"Y—yes," Vanessa stammered, startled. "Mr. Newman won't be back for a couple hours. He'll be back, however, because he's working on a farm deal—"
"I don't care about the damn deal," Lily nearly hissed, cutting the woman off. She should have been sorry if given the chance to be, emotionally, but anger and adrenaline didn't allow it. "My husband told you where he went. Tell me now and I will not have him fire you."
Vanessa hesitated, "Mrs. Newman, I assure you, I don't know where—"
She smirked, although she stared daggers at the front door and hoped Nick felt them wherever he was hiding. Lily knew he had killed tonight and would kill again. It was a matter of life or death. It was a matter of family – her family. For no particular reason at all, Lily imagined herself squeezing the truth out this assistant by choking her. It was Nick's death Lily didn't want to imagine, much less face.
"Listen, and listen well. You like your job, right? You like Genoa City? It's a nice place to live, but do not waste my time. If you continue to parrot what my husband told you to say, I swear I will ruin you," Lily threatened, seriously this time. "Tell me where my husband went tonight."
Vanessa sighed and then caved, near tears, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Newman. Mr. Newman went to a Newman Enterprises warehouse. He was emphatic that he was heading there to handle business related matters and he didn't want to be bothered."
Lily countered automatically, "There are several. Which one?"
"The one out near past Twin Lakes and more toward Paddock Lake. It's not even in Genoa City," Vanessa finally confessed. "It's in Kenosha. Heavily wooded with a creek. That's where Mr. Newman is."
Of course, it would be out of Genoa City. The police couldn't handle anything out of their jurisdiction. But, Lily conceded that that it was the only solution, knowing how calculating her husband's mind was. It seemed the legal system couldn't handle Nick at all.
Lily sighed, relieved, "Thank you. I'll protect you. He won't fire you."
"You're welcome," came the soft reply. "Happy anniversary, Mrs. Newman."
The assistant hung up, and everything clicked into place.
The cypresses without the roses. The dark places.
It all made perfect sense, and Lily knew she had no time to waste now.
Time only marched forward, not backward – although, sometimes, Lily watched it could rewind itself, go backward to a certain moment in time and sometimes pause.
Lily glanced at her phone and quickly scrolled to a number she hadn't dialled in a long time. She inhaled deeply and when the deep yet familiar voice answered, she spoke, "Hey, it's me. I know it's been a while but I need a favour from you. I wouldn't ask if it were serious."
There was a pause.
She heard screaming, raw and guttural and then the sounds of possibly, bone breaking. Finally, Lily heard gargling as if there was drowning but she knew they weren't choking on water.
It was as if they were taking to find breath when it was about to be taken.
Lily heard his soft laughter and fondness in his voice, "Baby girl, you know I'd do anything for you."
"Thank you, Uncle Malcolm…"
The torrent of rain sounded against an angry hissing against the windows. Actually, it beat down on the whole mansion.
Thunder rumbled, and at a crack of lightning, Lily screamed a little.
There were two things she learned about herself: one, that she was still Lily Winters – the girl afraid of lightning and thunderstorms. And two, she had a pretty damn good arm still when she hit Nick in the chest for laughing at her. She felt a thrill of satisfaction when he reacted and cursed under his breath because it hurt.
"Are you seriously laughing at me right now?"
"Um, yeah. Although, I find thunderstorms funny in general," he pulled Lily in close to him, and Lily liked the way he intertwined fingers into her hair. He pressed a kiss in it. It was soothing. Comforting. Still, Lily glared at him through the darkness. "Alright, look. It wasn't cool for me to laugh at you. To deal, I make them funny to me."
Thunderstorms were dangerous. Life threatening. She still remembered the stories Aunt Liv told her of people coming into the emergency room for electric shocks that stopped their hearts and sometimes, died. She failed to see how a human beating so fast under the jolt of nature's shock and then stopping, was funny.
Lily took solace in resting her head against Nick's chest and listening to his heartbeat instead. It was strong, and steady, accompanied by the rise and fall of his chest.
Another rumbling of thunder and a crack of lightning came through as the window was illuminated with a blue light and then gone.
"The old bastard is mad at me because I burned his picture. I like to think he's raging up there – or in hell, it doesn't matter to me."
Lily shifted again to meet Nick's eyes and gently stroked his jawline with her hand. He grabbed it, pressed a kiss to the fingers.
"What does matter to me is you, though," Nick held her close, pulling her in so she caught the lingering scent of his cologne and body wash. "This king will protect his queen – even though you don't need to be protected. You're a buzzsaw – my sexy as hell…buzzsaw."
Lily snuggled into him, her fear of the passing thunderstorm melting away and being replaced with sleep. It settled within her and made her relaxed, as she was floating on an open clear blue sea and none of the monsters beneath could touch her. She closed her eyes, feeling the need to grab on to the threads of sleep now. A childhood memory pushed itself into her mind. "Shadow puppets," she finally said in the dark. "When I was a little, my cousin Nate and I used to make shadow puppets on the walls." Lily chuckled, and yawned, the thunderstorms further and further away regardless of the rain still a downpour outside, "Who knew that you were such a gentle romantic?"
"You did but I'll deny it," Nick yawned, tone full of sleep and playful bravado, "if you say otherwise to anyone else."
His voice was laced with sleep, and said nothing more, but continued to hold Lily's body as she felt his warmth. The rain had slowed down and there was no longer thunder and lighting. It was odd, but sometimes, like tonight, Lily liked to take little mental photographs of Nick asleep. It was her modeling mindset – how light enhanced some things and brought out things that weren't even there to begin, how shading and one's features were different even though they belonged to the same person.
Nick's face seemed at peace, even more youthful than it already was. He didn't sleep with his brain constantly turned on and plotting the next ten corporate power moves, it seemed. It looked as if he had dropped the weight he was carrying around down for the night and it made Nick lighter just for however long he was going to remain asleep.
She shifted again, only slightly because she did not want to ruin this picture she was still developing in her mind. It was still assembling in Lily's brain be still, she couldn't help by press her lips ever so lightly to his cheek. The stubble tickled her nose. Lily did love him – honestly, she could say that without questioning it even for a minute now and being horrified by him – and wished that morning did not come. But he was who he was. There was no judgment in their relationship – just choice and complete free will.
"I'm going to protect you, too, Nick. Even from yourself."
Whether or not Nick caught her promise to him in his subconscious or not, it was fine. She just had to say them for her own peace of mind. As Lily raised her hand in the dark, her diamond ring set managed to catch whatever light somehow remained, and it glinted back at her.
Because Lily was here, she thought as sleep finally came and claimed her.
For better or for worse, she was here.
People had this really weird misconception of warehouses. People seemed to think they were dank and dirty places with mildew that climbed the walls and standing water that seemed to still drip from the ceiling sometimes. Walls that did not look stable from the inside yet were built with brick from the outside. No, this was not the case with this particular warehouse.
It was pretty bare, but could be lived in if Nick suddenly decided to become a recluse. But he had a lot of time to decided that was the life for him: after a completed version of his memoirs, a couple stadiums named after him, the key to Genoa City and ownership of the Green Bay Packers.
He nodded at the two guys, guarding the inner door. They nodded back and closed the door. There were just two chairs, a silver file cabinet and a light fixture that illuminated the room.
His phone wouldn't stop ringing and finally, when Nick saw the phone, it was Cassie.
Of course, it was. Because she had to be worried her fiancé had come home. David Westmore was awake now, fighting against the restraints that held him to the chair and the duct tape that stayed taped against his mouth.
"Dad," Cassie replied, tone worried. "Oh my God. I've been calling you all evening. Where have you been? I need your help. Please," Nick glanced with disgust at the man in the chair glaring back at him and hated that this was the reason his daughter was panicked and scared. Nick took a deep breath, focusing on his daughter instead of the overwhelmingly urge to kill his future son-in-law. He had his father's eyes. He had that piece of shit's eyes and Nick should have shot him between them.
Here, the blind anger of a teenager collided with the simmering rage of an adult man but Nick had to temper this and be a loving father – that was genuine. He'd die for all of his children and not think about it. But he could just as easily kill for them. Feeling the manila envelope with the contract resting in the inner pocket of his coat, he focused on being a dad. That was safe. That was familiar.
"It's David. I can't report him missing because it hasn't been 48 hours, but I'm worried. He came back from a business trip. He called me once to say he was on his way home, but that was a few hours ago. I called Lily to see if she'd seen you, but she hadn't," Nick resisted the urge to curse. Stay away, Lily. Damn it, Lily, stay away. "I need you to help me find him. Please. I'm scared he's in danger."
The scar across Nick's middle knuckle started to bother him again. This man's family had infiltrated his already shattered sense of what it meant to be or have family. Victoria had been violated, and Nick had been marked. Now, he was just waiting to get the call that Nikki – because he had no mother – had realized her life was worth not living and ended it. Only then would he give his mother money just to make sure she was comfortable rotting six feet under. He'd spend all the money in the world for her inevitable funeral.
"Hey, relax," Nick assured, gently, like he used to when she was little and truly one of those children afraid of monsters underneath her bed, and Mariah laughed at her for it. No monsters had existed underneath her bed, or in the closets. No monsters walked across the walls in the form of shadows. He was going to get rid of them. "I'll take care of it. I love you."
Nick heard Cassie sniffle and something in his chest twisted itself. "I love you, too."
Nick hung up, pocketed his phone and proceeded to rip the duct tape off his mouth.
David yelled out, catching his breath. "Does Cassie know what a crazy fuck you are? Untie me!"
"Shhh," Nick hushed, and slapped David's cheek twice, harder than for it to mean it was just a playful gesture between two men. "Nah. I'm just playing. Yell as loudly as you want. No one will hear you."
"It's super remote out here. I like it. The fresh air."
"You're insane. This is insane!"
Nick raised an eyebrow, and then broke out in a full grin, "Insane, no. Proactive, maybe. I also like to think I'm a nice guy. I am a nice guy. I did warn you not to be stupid and just take my offer," he chuckled and then laughed, as David struggled against his bonds. Nick calmly walked over to the silver file cabinet and pulled out a black lock box, opening it. He felt the cool metal and the weight of the gun in his hands, loaded a new magazine into it, and loved to hear the click when he pushed it in with the heel of his palm. His voice turned cold, with the simmering rage to match. "It's stupidity that makes me not want to be nice."
Nick removed the manila envelope with his free hand, and then the Westmore Industries contract. He did mean it when he said he was going to enjoy this, and like the instant high of a drug, the endorphins set in. Compasses. Perspectives. Balance of wrong and right where there was s grey area in between.
"You're going to sign your company over to Newman Enterprises," Nick said seriously, cocking the firearm with a gloved hand. "It will be less painful than a bullet between the eyes."
David's eyes focused on the barrel of the black gun over him. His tie was loose and his shirt stuck to him due to sweat. His dark hair was disheveled now and David could smell his own body odour. He remembered coming in from San Francisco, landing in Genoa City and then a vixen of a blonde woman flirting with him as she sipped on a tumbler of whiskey neat and he had a Moscow mule.
Of course, he was engaged but it didn't mean he couldn't look. David remembered that blonde's charm, her laugh, and the way she touched his forearm and traced a seductive path down it. Then it all went black until he woke up tied to this chair trapped in this warehouse apparently at the order of his fiancée's father.
He had no concept of time and space right now and to be honest, he felt quite nauseous. His skin felt as though it was peeling away from his body. David's head pounded and for a moment, he thought he had been hit with the butt of that gun. But no, it was just his head feeling as if it was being split in half. David should have been afraid, but for some reason he laughed. Through the pain and slight double vision, he laughed.
"Cassie will know. She's worried about me."
"Yeah. My daughter is good-hearted that way. Seriously, no one taught about you about Stranger Danger?" Nick shook his head. "It pains me to have to walk my child down the aisle and give her away to you."
David answered, defiant, "I love her."
"But you love the idea of marrying a Newman more. She's your insurance. So, I'm doing this to get some insurance of my own," Nick retracted his gun, and set it down on the file cabinet behind him. David felt a relief settle in his gut, but an alarm rattle in his chest. David watched the man take out a silver pen and sign on his side of the contract, pressed on a clipboard. "When you sign, it will be a union of the Newman and the Westmore families. You sign, Newman takes care of the company while you do everything in your power to make my little girl happy. You have a lot of making up to do since you do cheat on her. Now, hey," he threw up in surrender and David set his jaw, "I don't judge. Neither will my daughter but the question is, will she be happy with the six women and three men you've cheated on her with? She'll hate you for the lies more than anything."
"You're judging me for lying, cheating and infidelities? She'll hate you too."
Nick smiled, "Cassie's my flesh and blood. I'll risk it. Besides, the difference between us is my infidelities are out there already. Nobody is surprised by that. It's old news. You, the pristine Ivy League kid…not so much. Your family has a lot of secrets."
David narrowed his eyes, and shook his head. "I'm not signing like I told you."
It was crazy to defy a man with a gun, but David wasn't about to sign over his company. Not when it was built on generations of his family and his father had trusted him with it. Besides, Cassie was his fiancée, and he truly did love her. He wasn't his father, yet David knew he was selfish and did not deserve Cassie. He loved her to a point, a point where he looked into her eyes and could go no further.
He felt a twinge of regret, and by twinge, he meant that regret worked underneath his skin. It was an argument on what they wanted. She wanted to keep working at the Public Relations Department at Newman, and he wanted her to work with him at Westmore. It had been an argument of loyalties and family, and Cassie had yelled that while she loved him, but would not control her. She loved him, but Newman was her family. Something snapped inside of him and before he had realized, he had struck the same face he had held in his hands with care so many times. It was only one time and before David had realized his hand had struck her in the face, it was too late. Cassie never looked at him quite the same. She simply walked away and returned with an overnight bag, car keys in hand, telling him she was going to sleep at her sister's currently unoccupied loft apartment. She needed to be alone and so did he.
When he proposed, she simply blinked at him, before she looked away from him, hands on her flat abdomen and said yes. He had gone to put the ring on her hand, but Cassie did it herself. David went to kiss her but Cassie pulled back and told him not to kiss her because she had morning sickness. In three days, Cassie was back to her sunny self and tried to believe in them. But David could see that it was shaken ever so slightly. David tried to conjure up Cassie's face in his mind, but it physically hurt.
Nick sighed, and sank down into the chair opposite him, "Okay. I have to respect your persistence in refusing me. You love your family. You love my daughter," he tapped the pen against the surface of the clipboard, and David flinched at the sound. It made his head seem like it was in a vice. "I'm a flexible guy, so I'm going to give you incentive."
"I don't want your incentives."
"Not even if it could save sister's life? I have a sister – two, actually, and I don't hurt women although I'm close to one and not the other. I hate it honestly, so this is not fun for me. Stephanie's her name, right? Eighteen. Freshmen in college at UCLA with her whole life ahead of her. I truly hope she gets to be a vet but that's up to you."
His only sister, really his only sibling. David forced the image of his only sister's face to come into focus against the chemical induced blur. The almond shaped green eyes she got from their mother, the chestnut coloured hair they both got from Dad. The way it fell in long ringlets down her back. Her bubbly personality and the sound of her laugh.
"Like I said, I have two sisters," Nick said again, and David swore he saw something shift. Something flicker that was genuine and for a brief second, he wondered if the devil could be human. But that could have been the nausea and the headache as his guts felt as if they were turning to soup, slowly and painfully. "Sign to protect Stephanie. Let's do this as two smart businessmen. Don't force my hand."
"Yet you're blackmailing me, and you've poisoned me, I'm sure."
"Incentive," Nick corrected, with a smile, "and I don't have any knowledge of you being poisoned. You probably pissed off a lot of people. You know the business world isn't a nice place, right?"
David set his jaw again, glaring at the pen held out before him.
"We both love Cassie. You love your kids. Swear on them that when I sign you don't hurt my sister."
Nick held up three fingers with his free hand. "Scout's honour," and he added, stone-faced, as David took the pen with shaking hands, and in a one moment where he felt lucid enough, scrawled his signature on the contract beside Nick's on all the pages. He watched Nick detach the sheets of paper from the clipboard, threw it somewhere so it landed with a hard, clattering sound in the corner of this room, and folded the contract, pocketing it – David has just signed his life away. "Although, I could hurt your sister just because your father raped mine. But like I said, I'm a nice guy."
David looked at Nick, tried to refute that claim because his dad wouldn't do this. Of course, there were extramarital affairs but the money softened the blow.
Then the sound of his hand striking Cassie's cheek took up every part of his sense of hearing, could feel his eardrums about to burst and finally, of no control of his own, he threw up. He glanced down. David could see the crimson that stained his shirt and his mouth tasted like metal.
Lily gripped the steering wheel as she drove through roads, highways and gravel pathways at some point. This black car was generic like every other black car other there in the world so she hopped in that one, and drove. She drove far away from the house that overlooked the hills and when the gates creaked when they opened, Lily shuddered. She had driven in and out of the mansion grounds numerous times and it caused no emotional reaction for her.
Her brown gloves were stark against the grey of the steering wheel and Lily chose her favourite red coat to brave the cold. At another red light, Lily heard her phone ring as it charged in the car, and a slender finger tapped the screen to answer it. It was an out of area number. A small bit of hope had wrapped itself around her like a jacket warmer than any physical one ever could. Then it was gone again. It wasn't Nick, but Mariah. Cassie's twin. Mariah was abrasive, direct and she had no filter. She had a way of seeing and saying things, and it was hard to not be offended. Nick told her that was when she was nice and his daughter's social skills were shot but she was just being protective.
Nick told Lily a story of a ten-year-old Cassie being picked on at the playground and Mariah swinging her backpack heavy with homework, in the face of the schoolyard bully. It resulted in a bloody face for the other girl, and a three week long suspension and anger management classes for Mariah that evidently had no effect. Getting to know this woman with edges, Lily could see that as if she had been there on that playground during recess herself.
"Listen, Lily. I'm annoyed, jetlagged and mildly freaked out. Where the hell is my dad?"
She sighed, speeding a little down a road of a place she didn't even know was the right place. Lily was just going on memory, using the distant memory of Nick showing her a wooded area with a running creek. It was bare now but when she looked at him curiously and asked where they were, Nick simply kissed her and spread his arms, grinned, and replied, The place where I plan to build us the best cabin. It's not like our place in the Hamptons, but it gonna be pretty damn close.
"I don't know, Mariah," she nearly snapped. "I wouldn't be out here if I knew!"
"Well, I'm right behind you so we'll get lost in the creepy woods together. I…just," Mariah started, and then she started to curse quite loudly, "I hate the dude Cassie about to marry, but I don't want the man dead. Not this way anyway."
"Why? What do you mean?"
Mariah answered, "It was one fight. Cassie actually fought back and he hit her."
Lily's blood ran cold and hot at the same time. Even at her father's worst bouts of drunkenness, Neil never raised his hand to her and any woman. He only seemed to abuse himself the most. It was different kind of blow against her heart that hurt her instead, and brought back the resentment she thought she'd long buried when it was evident, she hadn't.
"Oh my God. Nick doesn't know, does he?"
"God, no! If my sister is gonna lose her fiancée, I don't want to be the reason."
"Nobody's the reason," Lily argued, focusing her eyes to follow the headlights. Lily slowed down until she could see a structure's outline in the distance. "He's always dead set on doing what he has to anyway, I don't want him to feel any more justified," she sighed, resigned. "He was going to do this anyway."
Lily quickly turned her eyes to the rear-view mirror of her car to see if Mariah was truly behind her, following her. She honked her horn twice and heard a distant honking of a silver hybrid do the same. Maybe Lily wondered to steel herself for what would not happen as if Lily were walking on an all too thin tight-rope.
Small talk. That is what this was going to be.
"You're not a hybrid kind of girl."
"My sister's car. I litter," Mariah replied, flippantly. "And I thought for sure, he'd give you some bedazzled…something," and then she declared in her prickly, edgy way as Lily saw a silver car pulled up ahead of her. She got out, remembering there was a metal flashlight in the glove compartment and grabbed that to meet a girl with red hair, brandishing a bottle of vodka, her clothes all black. "Okay. Trophy Stepmom. Let's do this."
Lily tossed a side-glance at her. "And you're going into the PI business?"
"Making a career out of finding other's dirt is fun. Just not my dirt."
"She…saw me. She'll see you."
Nick raised an eyebrow and sighed, "Hurry up and die so I don't have to listen to you anymore."
David coughed, spitting crimson on the floor involuntary. His breath became laboured, a rattling in his chest.
"Cassie saw me. She'll see…you."
Compasses allowed people to see from difference perspectives. Sometimes, one saw the future. Sometimes, Nick saw his present even with the house – well, estate on the mountain, to be accurate – and there was the past. He remembered the hand of that decapitated turd on his shoulder, calling him son. It caused Nick to snap when they were alone, "Don't ever call me son again. I will kill you one day."
Nobody ever knew Nick Newman to be weak so this wasn't rocket science.
Pick up gun. Pull trigger. Shoot between eyes.
Nick breathed in, his finger on the trigger, poised to squeeze. A feminine voice with all of its edges pounded its way into the room, into his head. He was sure he was hallucinating until Mariah touched his other arm and felt her.
"Dad, don't shoot him! He's already dead. Give me the gun. I'm jetlagged but I'm here. Cassie's asleep. He's dead," Mariah's voice was softer, still matter of fact. She offered an outstretched hand. "Nick. It's me. I get it. If you shoot him, we can't cover this up right. Give me the gun."
Nick dropped his arm, and turned to look at his daughter.
"You're supposed to be in Ireland."
"And you're supposed to be with the wife. But here we are," Mariah answered with her typical sharpness. "Cassie's not okay. She won't be when she realizes that," she gestured to the dead man in the chair, eyes open and looking at nowhere, "isn't walking through the door but shit happens. This is the story: an arsonist burned this place down because you screwed him in a business deal. It happens. You've got enemies. He confessed and will be killed in jail by a fatal guard stabbing when he is processed. Kevin will come through there. He's sort of my boyfriend but that… it doesn't matter. I did some things with the warden and it's better you not know…" she closed her eyes, and Nick watched her shudder. She exhaled, and continued while this was one of the few times in his life Nick was rendered speechless. "Meanwhile, David will stay missing," Mariah explained, an understanding no father should ever have with his daughter, passing between them, "until the body is too decomposed by the water to identify a couple months later found by 'diligent' police. Meanwhile, those dirty cops you have under your thumb will 'continue' the investigation for the time being."
He blinked and then protested, calmly, "No. Leave. Get on the jet."
"Shut up and let me do this! I can't hop on the jet now. It's suspicious," Mariah argued, nearly snapping at him. She cast a downward glance before she looked at him, emotion in her eyes when Nick knew she wasn't that way. "Cassie is naïve and sees the world through glitter and rainbows but she's not stupid. Besides, I have my reasons. You have yours. We have the same goal. We both hate him. Respect me on that level. Besides," Mariah brandished a full bottle of liquor with a smile, "I've already made my choice. Like you've made yours. Go," she jerked a thumb towards outside. "Lily's waiting for you."
"You've thought this out, huh?"
"I can deal with the guilt," Mariah replied, resolutely even when there was a bit of fear and hesitancy in her voice. "I can deal with my sister hating me. She will. Cassie is a lot of things. Stupid is not one of them. There's a kid floating inside of her. We have to handle this right."
Nick said nothing. Not that it was needed.
He merely pressed a kiss to the side of his daughter's head, as she groaned, may have even rolled her eyes but deep down liked it. There was a synergy between them. Mariah was fearless and even when as a child Nick didn't want her to venture into places that would hurt her. She did. The memory of his 8-year-old wearing a neon green cast due to a fall from a tree branch entered his mind. She wasn't panicked. She wasn't scared and Cassie seemed to cry and worry for the both of them. There was Mariah smiling, laughing and even arguing with the nurses as long as she finally could climb the hardest tree on the property.
He released her and slid the gun into Mariah's hand, making his hand free.
"I've got this, Dad. I'm with you," Mariah assured, with a nod. "Cross my heart and all that."
Nick half-joked, "Stick a bullet in his eye?"
Mariah let out a groan, combing a hand through her red hair, "How fucking morbid is this?" She opened the bottle of liquor and Nick watched as she took a deep gulp of it – perhaps, courage of her own –and winced as it burned her throat and then pour the rest of the liquor on the body and in surrounding areas. "I can feel the fatherly pride radiating off you. Disappear, Nick. Can't have the timeline going to shit. And yes, I love you, too."
Nick finally took a last look at his daughter, doing what she set out to do and then he strode out.
He made it to the outer area of the warehouse and the two guards nodded at him.
"You answer to my daughter, understand? Do what she says. Make sure this goes off without a hitch. If anything doesn't go to plan or go smoothly at all, I'll kill your entire families," Nick threatened, with a chuckle and a dangerous glint in his eyes. "And then easily, both of you." Nick then laughed, "Oh, wow – you actually believed me. Needed to break the tension there. Relax. I actually like you. Where's my wife?"
"Up the trail waiting with the car, sir."
"And Reggie," Nick said to the slightly shorter guard. "Good to know Kendra's on the Dean's List. I like when my investments produce results. Get my daughter's car back to her house and then make sure, Mariah is safe when this is over."
He could still hear the splash of accelerant hitting the surfaces of the warehouse.
Nick felt better right now than he had in twenty years and in this moment, didn't want to be in the dark anymore. Something would always tether him to it, pull him back and hell, he'd be selfish and give in.
Today, he'd acquired a shiny corporate toy, killed two people and it was his second wedding anniversary. It was time, in this moment, to be celebratory.
"No, no!" Nick yelled, into the phone. "That doesn't work for me. Or Newman Enterprises," he frowned, running a fingertip around the rim of the tumbler of bourbon. "I don't pay you to complain. You're expendable. Make that acquisition work by end of business today or get the hell out of my building!"
Nick slammed the phone down, and chose to let the bourbon burn him rather than the anger. He winced as it burned his throat when he downed it and sighed. It seemed to be a day where losers and idiots masquerading in suits.
He heard the tapping of heels and snapped, shouting, "Claire, you're fired if anyone opens this door!"
"Her name is Robin," Nick heard his wife correct with a laugh before he turned his chair to see her, looking especially like a knockout in a royal blue dress that emphasized the curves he loved to explore. She closed the door before she strode over to him. "And secondly, I'm on the committee for the Happy Heart Gala. Open that heart and that check book for a donation."
Of course, it was charity after charity. Person after person.
Bleeding heart after bleeding heart.
"First of all, she looks like a Claire," Nick answered, flirtatiously and with one smooth movement, pulled Lily into his lap. He could look into those big, beautiful eyes and take in the smell of her perfume. Run his hands through those soft curls. He took in the neckline of her dress and the cleavage that it teased him with. "And secondly, I'm not in a giving mood. Too many bleeding hearts."
"Oh, poor baby," Lily playfully replied, and Nick watched her slender finger dance around the knot in his tie. "The Abbotts are donating two million for a new hospital wing. Surely, three million is enough for charity and your name on a hospital wing."
"You're exploiting me."
"How?" she laughed, and it was a beautiful sound to his ears. She let both of her arms, loosely rest around his neck, as Nick pressed a light kiss to the inside of her wrist. "Enlighten me, husband."
"Well, wife, for one, you know I like my name on big buildings so the Abbotts are small and insignificant. Two, you're wearing the dress I like. You," he pressed another kiss to the soft profile of her jaw, whispering against her skin, "smell really, really good."
He could hear the seductive tone. He loved and hated her for teasing him, "I'm only taking a page out of your play book, aren't I? Lull your victim into false sense of security before going in for the kill," Lily held Nick's face and kissed him, deeply, slowly, pulled away before whispering against his lips. "Was that worth a three million dollar donation?"
"Four – five if you coincidentally wear that black leather thing I like."
"Or," Lily pressed another kiss to his cheek, before sliding off his lap, and smiled brightly, "be happy four million dollars is doing some good in the world. As for what I wear at home," she raised an eyebrow, playfully tapping a finger on her lip in thought. She shrugged and then smiled a smile that could have illuminated this entire office, "you're going to have to be patient."
He laughed, and Nick actually needed that today.
He sighed, and rolled his eyes in jest. "Patience is not my thing. The grasshopper has become the master."
"I'm a grasshopper?"
"Cute, sexy one."
Nick kissed the back of Lily's hand, and said seriously, "I love you."
"I love you, too, Nick. Get the assistant's name right though, please?"
"Mmm," he felt Lily smile against his lips. "I'll think about it. She does look like a Claire."
With a final kiss that was all too short in his opinion, Nick watched his wife walk away. It was as if she'd dropped a little bit of sunshine into his really aggravating day. It was nice. As Lily closed the door behind her, his office was quiet and his thoughts went dark again.
There was an irony in Lily wearing a red coat as Nick walked up to her, his hand feeling the smooth circular surface of the compass in his jacket pocket.
He gazed down and noticed the necklace, jewelled ballet slippers glittering and against her chest. There was a silence that hung between he and Lily. One that felt as if they had planned this beforehand, but she threw his arms around his neck. He held her form and he breathed her scent in.
She pulled away from him, and searched his eyes with hers.
"Are you okay?"
Nick understood the phrase. It was one that asked if he had done what he planned.
"Yeah, yeah…I'm okay."
Yes. He had. He had done what he planned, complete with flames. He was more than okay. While it was all going to burn against the backdrop of the woods and a dark sky, Lily offered her hand with a barely there smile, "Let's go home."
So, he took it. He took Lily's smaller gloved hand and allowed her to lead for once.
The emotions of what had happened tonight had to be put aside.
Now, there was just logic. She yanked off her gloves, throwing them anywhere. Annie would be back to pick them up.
The only emotion running through and emanating off of Lily was the need to make sure this was wrapped up. She had a protectiveness that bubbled up and drove her to pace as the next few moves took shape in her head and aligned themselves like stairs. One step would lead to another higher than the last and ultimately, to the endgame.
Nick was on the phone with Mariah. Lily watched the shock on his face and he cursed under his breath. Then he became stoic, his eyes cold, as he nodded slowly.
"Okay," Nick finally replied, evenly. "You did what I would. Goodnight, kid."
She stopped her pacing to question her husband, "What?"
"Mariah handled things. Killed Reggie and Leonard to keep them quiet."
Lily sighed, closing her eyes and folded her arms. She shook her head. There was too much blood spilled today. Then the realization hit her. If she was with Nick for life, then she had to spill some of her own. Because she loved him and would do as she vowed, it had to be done.
"Do you realize you put me in a position to worry about you tonight?"
"Everything's over now."
She laughed, when there was annoyance. "No!" she snapped at him, "it isn't! Mariah got rid of two loose ends, but there are still others, Nick. You've avenged your sister and taken another company but there's a piece of what happened missing."
"Whenever you have plans like this, it's not impulsive. There are acted the way they are built in your head. Calculated and intricate," she theorized, more to herself than him, although she caught Nick's look of amusement. "Meaning you had help. So," she asked, with a sharp gaze, "tell me who helped you or I'll save you the trouble of telling you it was your ex-wife. Grace Turner. I had my uncle's people look into things."
Nick smiled, dimples on display. "I've been underestimating you all this time. Your uncle's pretty known. Respect him."
She walked over to the bar at the side of this grand living room, with a rattling in her chest so poured herself a tumbler of brandy and Nick one too, only he was a bourbon man. Lily walked back to the couch where Nick was seated, handed him his drink while planting herself on the marble coffee table across from him.
"Don't do it next time. Underestimate me or kiss her," Lily warned, and downed her drink in a gulp. She needed the liquid courage. "She'll be dead by morning. She's good. Not that good. I hate that I had to do this," she admitted, honestly. "But I hate the idea of our world being shattered even more. Out there, we can fool them. We love the façade. You can weave stories for them to hold on to. In here? It's just us, as we are. And I will sink as low as I have to protect what is ours. What? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"That fire in your eyes, and your claws. Damn. Do you know how sexy you are to me especially now?" he whistled, lowly. "I married the right girl."
"Nah. I'm dead serious – pun intended. I thought your gift meant I had to find a path already there, but I understand now. We're supposed to find our paths. Our own perspectives. You came through for me today and now I truly know," Nick said with a rare gentleness, as he set his drink down on the coffee table to the left of her. In his eyes, she saw his light in a whole lot of dark and she couldn't help but stroke the side of his face. "The only one I want on the path I carve is you," he lightly took her wrist and pressed a kiss to the inside of it. "Just you."
Lily met his eyes and felt like she was dancing in sync again with him. They understood each other's choreography and now, anticipating what the other wanted physically as it intertwined with the emotional. It was a beautiful chain of reactions, mired in shades of hell and touched by more heaven.
As she made love to her husband, she felt the coolness of the living room, Nick's warmth in the way he touched her. At the highest, Lily sailed the Seine with him and saw the explosion of Parisian lights.
Nick was selfish. He was a bastard on a good day and a soulless son-of-a-bitch on a bad one. He had thoughts of plans for Westmore Industries, and the beautiful woman that lay next to him all mixed up in his head. He heard a laugh, soft and tinkling as bells.
The blankets were soft although Nick was content to let his fingers dance against the soft curve of her bare shoulder.
"I just find it funny that we celebrated our engagement this way."
"Ah," Nick remembered and smiled wistfully. "Good times."
Lily turned up to look at him before she sighed, resting against him again. She groaned. "Okay. You're going to hate this, but you have to give your secretary a raise. She knows where you were tonight, honey."
"Can't I just threaten her family? Much more effective and it's free."
"No. You can't," Lily answered, her face serious. "It will draw suspicion and it will always put her in constant fear. Here, you give her a raise, and you look like a good boss at least from her point of view. She'll be grateful. From your perspective, you have her silence and most importantly, her loyalty."
He pondered it and let it ruminate in his mind. It did work in a Rubix cube kind of way. Money did make things happen and this assistant would be pliable – easy to bend to his will. It was actually a pretty brilliant plan and Nick kissed her hair again, amazed this plan had been sprung from Lily's pretty little head.
"As much as I love this, I have a charity function attend and you have to get back to Newman. Didn't you mention something about a farm and meeting this brother of yours?"
"I hate him, already," Nick grumbled. "He's from Idaho…or something."
Lily giggled and silenced him with a kiss, pulling away. "He's from Kansas, sweetie. Kansas," she ran her slender fingers through his hair softly. Her eyes twinkled and she shrugged, with one of her megawatt smiles. "I like to be well versed. Anything for the kingdom, right?"
"Anything for you."
The golden surface of the circular compass in between the cushions glinted as light bounced off it. Diamonds sparkled and took in light as it rested against skin.
Two lovers, neither sinners nor saints, danced again for the second time that night.