When are you going to make up your mind
When are you gonna to love you as much as I do
When are you gonna make up your mind
Cause things are gonna change so fast
Winter, Tori Amos
Lavinia Peach's cottage
"The lass is all tucked in, safe and sound."
Peachy had returned to the cozy sitting room. As in most of the older cottages, space was at a premium and upon purchasing this one she'd renovated and knocked down walls to dispel the claustrophobia…all except for this particular room. It was perfect just as she'd found it and was her favorite. A previous owner at some point or other had replaced the tiny, boxed windows with a set of French doors looking out on the south side of the house at a neglected garden she'd since restored to something of its former glory. In the afternoons, the room filled with sunshine and she'd sat and enjoyed many a spot of quiet, even on rainy days when the brightly painted walls and wood stove provided comfort. A haven it had turned out to be during her retirement. Settling down now in the overstuffed chair across from Kimberly, she reached for the teapot to pour them both another cup.
"And tomorrow the three of us will do the town. Live it up," she said with a bright smile, which Kimberly returned halfheartedly. "But tonight, I'd like to hear what is troubling you."
The concern in Peachy's voice was just as Kimberly remembered it and she yearned to unburden herself. After all, this was the one woman she knew she could trust with her doubts, who wouldn't judge her or express dissatisfaction if Kimberly dared to question anyone's motives, notably those in her family she was beginning to suspect had an agenda. She'd spent hours examining her own prejudices since her conversation with Anna.
Admittedly, her brothers' circumstantial evidence displayed Tony in the poorest light possible and despite all the fuss they'd made, he'd been innocent of kidnapping Hope. And they'd not been in any hurry to apologize either. Why were they so convinced…so determined? Was this some kind of transference, as Anna suggested to prove to themselves they were doing everything in their power to keep their families safe by nailing a DiMera, any DiMera and being Stefano was out of the picture, they'd settle for Tony?
It might not be right but after twenty years of being hounded by the DiMeras; of losing loved ones and children and time that could never be replaced, Kim understood their motivation.
But Pop…that was a different story.
Ever since the day she'd learned about what transpired during Stefano's funeral and the reading of the will, she'd been unable to squash the tiny voice in the back of her mind telling her something wasn't right. Pop certainly had no love for Stefano but he'd treated the man's children with fairness. Whether it was to set an example, or genuine affection, he'd always welcomed them into the fish market and later, the pub, which made his sudden hatred for Tony all the more bewildering to Kimberly.
Naturally, both her brothers tried to explain it away…it was Pop's love for John who he still treated as a son along with his fondness for Colin. They told her that Pop felt Tony had corrupted the young man though from everything else Kimberly heard of her cousin, it sounded as though he didn't need much help in that department, and besides, there was the other problem neither Roman or Bo could categorize so easily…Pop's refusal to explain his behavior to anyone…even Ma.
Kimberly had to admit she was beginning to agree with Shane. Her father was hiding something and if she didn't know the man so well, she'd think he was ashamed instead of frightened as her brothers insisted.
And apparently, Shane had made an effort to speak to Pop and whatever the form of her father's refusal, it served to heighten Shane's suspicions.
Since their conversation several days ago in Paris, Kimberly realized she found many of Shane's arguments valid. And there were similarities she'd been ignoring too. So much of the evidence Bo and Roman gathered to convince themselves that Tony and his sister kidnapped Hope had been flawed, and so far the evidence they dug up to show him responsible for Colin's murder followed the same pattern. All of it was circumstantial and if he was innocent of the first offense, why not the second? What real proof did they have than he was guilty…other than Pop's virulent insistence that Tony was his father risen from the ashes to continue the old man's reign of terror.
Had Tony truly changed as much as Pop and her brothers and John claimed?
It was certainly possible. She had only to look at the direction her own life had taken to realize how wrong she could be about someone she thought she knew far better than she knew herself.
The problem was, Tony was someone she suspected she didn't know at all. But Anna did. In fact Anna knew Tony and his family to an extent the Bradys never had and that made her behavior over the last several months particularly revealing. She was covering for him. Kimberly was even more certain of it after their conversation in Paris…after hearing Anna's bitterness over the way Tony was being treated, talked about, ridiculed. More than her obvious sham of an engagement, it was Anna's sympathy that swayed Kimberly. Anna had never shown an abundance of that. She could be extremely loyal but only to those she trusted implicitly and Kimberly guessed that list was quite short.
Hearing Andrew's news earlier only made matters worse. It took her no time at all to jump to the conclusion that Anna had come to Shane and talked him into meeting Tony in Montreal.
A hand touched hers gently and her gaze flew up to meet Peachy's familiar and trusting countenance.
"I was quite relieved to hear you were making the trip out here," the old woman observed with a subtle prodding not lost on Kimberly, and not entirely sure how to respond honestly, she gave her friend a nod.
"Did you come to straighten things out?" Peachy continued, "Or was it that you wished to speak to Shane in person…face to face?"
Already on edge, Kimberly sensed a hint of chiding in the question. "He was beginning to avoid my phone calls, Peachy…"
"And you knew," said her friend, in a kindly but sad way, "if you offered to bring his daughter for a visit, he'd be unlikely to put you off."
Kimberly bristled instantly at the idea she'd stoop to manipulating Shane in such a manner. After all, he was welcome in LA at any time, even when he'd arrived unannounced. On top of that, he knew perfectly well she was upset when she spoke to him about coming, and why, so merely the idea she'd pressured him into this was ludicrous except for the guilt she'd been feeling all week.
"Maybe," she admitted. "Nothing I say seems to get through to him lately and I'm well aware his children mean the world to him. I guess I was hoping if he spent time with Jeanie and Andrew, it would wake him up and impress upon him that he's putting their family at risk."
Peachy remained silent this time. She searched Kim's face for another few seconds before sitting back, waiting patiently for the younger woman to say her peace.
"I fear coming to speak to you about this was presumptuous on my part," Kim said and then hesitated, not quite sure how to broach the subject without putting her friend in a position where she'd feel torn. "But frankly, yes I'm worried and I've had two conversations over the last week that have led me to believe I have good reason to be."
Peachy frowned. "With Shane?"
"No…well, yes I've had arguments with him too since my father's heart attack but…" Kim eyed her friend and knew even if it was a long shot her input would be useful. "Do you by any chance remember Count DiMera's ex-wife?"
Thoughtfully, Peachy took a sip from her steaming cup. "Blond…elegant…" her brows knit together, "If I recall correctly, she had a tongue that could strip the most resilient ego."
Kim couldn't help but smile at the description. "That's her."
"The jealous type too," added Peachy.
"Curiously enough, that is what has me troubled."
And this produced a look of curious interest in older woman's eyes. "You don't believe she has designs on the laddie."
"Oh no," laughed Kim, some of it aimed at herself for having considered the idea at all when she'd first run into Anna. "No, she is however displaying quite the protective air for a woman who is not only divorced but on the verge of marrying someone else."
"Protective of Tony DiMera?" came Peachy's question, which sounded very non-committal.
"As protective as you've been of your ex-husband?"
Though it shouldn't have caught her off guard, the casual observation was like getting a glass of cold water thrown in her face. "Okay, that is true but…"
"That is in your nature," said Peachy with a warm smile, "whereas the former Contessa displayed her narcissism openly."
Kim's cheeks turned a rosy shade of pink at the compliment. "That's not quite how I was going to put it," she hurriedly explained. "I just know that Tony provided her a number of reasons to hate him, running off as he did and shipping divorce papers through the mail, saying cruel things to her in the letter he sent her that explained his decision, not to mention, marrying that harpy. Anna isn't the type of woman to stick up for any man who caused her that kind of grief."
"Unless she was still in love with him."
The words were said gently, in the kind of soft tone Peachy used occasionally when she sensed her point could be applied to the person she was speaking to as well as the person she was speaking about and sure enough, the comment made Kimberly squirm uncomfortably in her chair. "I guess that is what I'm suggesting," she agreed after an awkward moment of silence between them.
"Where did you happen to see Mrs. DiMera, by the way?"
Kim set her cup and saucer down on the tray and unconsciously folded her arms across her chest. "She was at Shane's home in Paris when I arrived."
While Peachy's manner was sympathetic, it was doing little to provide Kim much comfort or peace of mind. They'd been friends far too long and through too many situations where one or the other was forced to keep secrets for Kimberly to miss the extreme care Peachy was exercising, She wanted to help but obviously Shane had taken her into his confidence.
She raised her head to find Peachy gazing back at her, a gleam of concentration in her weathered face and intelligent eyes that made Kim hold her breath.
'The other conversation you mentioned, was it with Andrew by any chance?"
"Yes," said Kimberly, seeing no reason to pretend since he'd already brought up the subject with Peachy. "He told me that Shane was in Montreal at the same time as Tony DiMera this last New Year's."
"And did he mention to you that Shane's trip wasn't work related?"
Kimberly frowned. "You make that sound as though Shane traipsing off to speak to the DiMera currently toying with my family ought to put my mind to rest." As the words tumbled out of her mouth, she could feel her patience being sapped, as was so often the case lately whenever Shane's motives were in question.
"I do understand your frustration with the laddie…" Peachy began.
"But you can't tell me what he's doing."
Peachy hesitated, and Kimberly assumed that it was her way of acknowledging the reality of the situation but it lasted barely a moment before the older woman shook her head.
"About Shane, no. But I can provide you with what I believe is news of a positive nature."
"There is absolutely nothing about this situation that could wipe away the fact that Shane is providing aid and comfort to Tony DiMera, and is lying about it to me and every member of my family."
"So you've come around to your brothers' point of view then, and John's, that the Count is a threat."
"I…" Kimberly meant to say yes, but she knew it wasn't quite the truth. She had plenty of reservations about Tony, but she had almost as many when it came to Bo and Roman and her father though she felt guilty the moment she admitted it to herself. "I don't know," she said finally.
"You asked me a moment ago what I remembered about the Contessa," said Peachy after a brief silence, "and there was one glaring reality I haven't mentioned as yet…the opinion she held of her father-in-law."
Even without the benefit of their conversation so recently, Kim was also well aware of Anna's feelings for Stefano. "She despised him."
"I'm not sure where this is leading if the man is dead."
"Do you believe that he is?"
Since Peachy could easily read the doubt in her eyes, Kimberly saw no reason to pretend and shook her head. "Given his tract record, not really."
"And if the Contessa suspected that to be the case as well, or that Tony were involved with his father, would she show him the support you've indicated?"
"I know she wants to believe in him, but that doesn't make him innocent."
Peachy cocked her head to the side thoughtfully. "Innocence never seemed part of his make-up…"
"No," Kimberly agreed quickly with a wry smile. "It most definitely was not."
"What if I told you that after Andrew came to speak to me, I discovered the reason Tony DiMera was in Montreal last New Years was to get married?"
"To who?" breathed Kimberly, thoroughly shocked at the news.
"He married Anna in secret?"
Peachy nodded and then waited patiently while Kimberly considered the implications.
She'd known Anna's engagement was a farce as soon as she'd heard about it, and practically right on the heels of Tony's reappearance. How many years had this guy been chasing Anna according to Carrie and suddenly at precisely the instant her ex-husband turns up alive, she accepts his offer but continues to postpone the date set for the wedding. It was all the more suspicious when Carrie confided in her aunt that Anna's husband-to-be was an old friend of Tony's from when he'd lived in Europe. And Shane…
"He took Anna to Montreal, didn't he?"
"I believe so, yes," replied Peachy, not bothering to ask whom Kimberly was talking about.
The women gazed at each other and Kimberly could feel her eyes begin to burn in earnest now. "Anna wouldn't do this to help him to trap Tony," she murmured, not realizing at first she'd said it out loud until Peachy set her cup down on the table and reached over to do the same with Kimberly's, easing the saucer out of her grasp so she could take the younger woman's warm hand into her older, wrinkled ones.
"You spoke to her a few days ago, you said." Peachy's penetrating eyes bore deeply into hers. "What did your instincts tell you?"
Anna's voice in her ear was still there, especially the pain she'd let slip…
…you have a tangible, amazing reminder of what the two of your shared together and what it created instead of the constant reminders I'm faced with every single time the subject of my ex-husband is brought up by you or any other member of your family. You tell me how that would feel if you had to deal with it on daily basis, especially if it came from your own daughter who in my case, is being told by her father on every occasion he is able to fit the subject in, what a monster I was married to once upon a time."
It's true, thought Kimberly, letting herself believe it completely now and the realization opened a floodgate. She could no longer contain the emotions, the hope reawakening in her heart. It was bursting and she barely felt Peachy squeeze her hand, or the tears streaking down her face. "She's helping both of them."
Peachy didn't confirm her statement except to smile and it beamed in the room, warming it with a kind of heat the tiny fire in the grate couldn't compete with.
"Oh Peachy, I was so afraid that he…"
"I know dearie." And with that, her cool practicality was discernable once more. Things were on the right tract but discussing it further would lead to questions she couldn't answer. "Now." She tugged on Kimberly's hand, and helping her to her feet, Peachy walked her briskly to the door leading to the hallway. "I want you to get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow is going to be exhausting enough for all of us thanks to that scamp of yours." She gave Kim a quick hug and kiss and with a gentle push, sent her off in the direction of the guest room.
The study was dark except for the dying fire that cast flickering shadows and light across the floor, the alternating flashes gleaming against the black leather of Tony's boots. He lounged in the old leather chair directly in front of the mantle. In one hand, he was balancing his empty glass and turning it in his fingers as he stared into the embers. In the background, a cd played. Occasionally, a familiar melody would cut through the haze in his mind stirring emotions and old memories.
He was good and drunk.
In his condition, he suspected he'd insulted both Gene and Shane to a degree that would probably require apologies tomorrow. God, how he wanted to call Anna…to imagine the way her eyes would light up when she answered the phone instead of having to see the disgust in Marlena's eyes replay itself one more time in his memory.
"I don't want to fucking care," he hissed at the fire, which simply hissed back at him as it settled and what was left of another log disintegrated into ash.
He'd spent several hours trying to drink the images away and after consuming an entire bottle of scotch, he wasn't any closer. Like it's ever worked before, you fool. And then there was Gene's plan which had Tony almost believing this mess could be over in twenty-four hours, at least the part requiring he keep up this charade with his children's mother, though if she did remember, he'd still have to explain to her that she couldn't share any of it with either Cassie or Rex, and neither could John. He had a good idea how that would go over.
And not that Marlena getting her memory back would solve his problem with Anna.
Damn it, he'd promised her that whatever games his father had up his sleeve, it wouldn't come between them. Except this one was his own doing. Tony knew she'd recognize that fact immediately too and call him on it and playing on her jealousy wasn't going to sidetrack her, not when it came to Marlena. Trying to explain she had no reason to feel insecure in light of the twins would be rather like trying to explain quantum physics in ten easy steps...an exercise in futility…
"I don't suppose you'd like to try that one over again."
Tony glanced from the letter in his hand over to Anna where she was sitting behind her desk at Anna DiMera Designs. "Perhaps I should translate."
"Don't treat me like an idiot," she snapped at him.
Taking a deep breath, he nodded. "Fine darling." He turned and set it on her desk, meaning to leave it for her to reread on her own but she set her hand on top of his to keep him from pulling away. "Okay, now what?"
"What is the matter with you today?"
"Nothing," he said, his patience running thin now.
"You've been a beast since you woke up this morning."
"Me? How about you and the, 'it's all your fault I slept late this morning because you kept me up all night?'"
"Well, you did."
Tony glanced down at her hand that had begun caressing his. "Next time, my darling, perhaps you ought to warn me you have a meeting at such and early hour."
"Then you'll make me go to bed early."
"We did go to bed early."
She couldn't help snickering at the memory. "You're impossible, Tony DiMera, you know that, don't you?"
"So I've been told," he reminded her, slipping his hand from beneath hers and giving it a pat before he went to leave.
"Wait a minute."
Her eyes twinkled mischievously. "Read me the letter again, please…"
"You have a secretary for that."
"True but he doesn't have your lovely accent or your business acumen."
"How come you use words like that but you need me to repeat that silly paragraph that amounts to no more than we're late on providing the order that was promised and now they're…
"Subtracting the five percent that was agreed upon in the contract, yes, I know."
Though still sitting behind her desk, she'd moved the chair back far enough so he had a perfect view of her legs, both quite shapely with one crossed over the other and since she'd worn a shirt with a rather provocative slit up the side, he knew that another inch further were the straps holding up her silk stockings.
"You don't need me to read the bloody letter." And now she pouted, very prettily too he had to admit. "You're shameless, my dear."
"I know," she grinned and then jumped up. "Lock the door."
"Like that will stop Calliope? She'd just pound on the damn thing until someone opens it or break it down herself." In spite of his complaints, he strolled over and flipped the lock on the handle.
When he turned back to her desk, he found her sitting on top of it. Minus the skirt.
"My, my," he murmured, leaning his back again the door and just admiring the view. "I see you've made a remarkable recovery from staying up all night."
She'd begun unbuttoning her blouse now, slowly, one button at a time to reveal a lacy black bra that accented her creamy skin and already had his heart pumping as he remembered the taste of her on his lips. With her silk blouse draped across her back, and her hands flat on the desk, she was irresistible. "My darling, I think in another life you must have been a siren."
Her green eyes were half closed though he could see her gazing seductively at him from beneath her long lashes. "As in the Iliad?"
"Close," he told her, taking his time and soaking in every inch of her sinfully luscious body. "They tempted Odysseus and his crew on their way home from Troy and you, my Anna…oooh, you could tempt any man to do whatever it was you desired."
She reached over to take his hand and pull him closer. "Anything?" she whispered and the husky timber of it sent a shiver through him.
Tony closed his eyes and with a sigh, laid his head between her breasts. He wrapped his hands around her and drew her even closer, inhaling her warm, enticing scent. "Ummm," he murmured, "absolutely anything. You could make him beg you to drag him down to hell if you wished."
"Lucky for you, I'm only interested in your body."
"Is that all," he said, letting her unfasten his belt buckle and then the button of his pants.
"You know exactly what I want, Count DiMera"
He glanced down a second as she tugged his zipper down, and the grin on his lips was so delicious, she leaned over and brushed them with hers. Letting his eyes drift closed again, he met her kiss with the hunger he'd lived with since the day he'd first met her. It never strayed far from his senses and he had to control himself when they were in public or the same room together because he suspected it was too easy to read in his glances. Sometimes it felt as though he were walking around with a sign plastered on his forehead saying 'I want to fuck my wife and never stop.'
Her lips drove him to distraction and the only cure he'd found was losing himself in the way her tongue swirled playfully in his mouth, a dance to rival even any other feeling he'd experienced in his life. He truly believed he could die a happy man if her lips were on his at that moment.
"Promise me something?"
Long lashes swept up to reveal his dark melting eyes and the love shining in them brought tears to hers. "Anything." A ghost of a smile played on his lips.
"If I end up in hell, you'll be right there with me."
"Guilty conscious?" he whispered, amused.
A mischievous twinkle appeared. "Heaven without you would be hell for me so lead the way, Contessa…"
A knocking on the door startled Tony out of his stupor. "Yes?" he called.
"It's me," came his daughter's muffled voice from the other side.
He hated for her to see him like this. "Is there something you need, darling?"
"No, I just wanted to say good night and let you know that we're both home."
What kind of crappy father gets so drunk he can't face his children, he chided himself and dragging his body from the chair, he did his best to walk to the door and unlock it. She stood in the hallway, a sweet smile forming when he appeared. "I'm afraid I'm not in any shape for chatting," he told her honestly.
"That's alright, Daddy." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Sweet dreams."
"You too, my darling." And he watched with an aching heart as she turned and disappeared in the direction of her own room.
Gene, he thought, rubbing at his eyes and feeling generally lousy, I need this plan of yours to work.
Lavinia Peach's cottage
She was back knocking on the door to Donovan Manor. She was certain that's where she was and he'd be happy to see her, despite the fact she'd arrived at this ungodly hour in the morning. He'd told her to come after all. No…that wasn't right, he'd asked her to come with him and she'd chickened out when her sight began to blur upon her arrival at the airport. It frightened her and so she'd run home…back to the market and her family but in the end her heart won out and here she was. She'd knocked once already and did so again, a little more vigorously this time.
He looked adorably ruffled as though he'd just gotten out of bed.
That's not right she thought…that's not what she'd said and Shane wasn't acting as he should have either but she couldn't remember all of the sudden what he was supposed to say. This dream was wrong but she didn't mind in the least. His smile was brilliant and it made her want to dance…grab him and spin him around she was so happy. I'm home, she thought, and he's waiting for me…he's been waiting for me all along, he just couldn't say it…
The raincoat she had on was a bit frumpy but as he stood in the doorway gazing at her, she began to feel a blush creep up her face. "Captain Donavan, if you're going to undress me, perhaps you could invite me inside first.
"What?" He looked as though he were in a daze.
"Oh yes…" He extended his hand to her and escorted her through the foyer and into the living room. There was no fire at this hour but she certainly didn't feel cold. Helping her off with her coat, he tossed it on the leather couch. "I thought you decided you didn't want this…"
Her eyes were shining even in the gloom. "I just needed a little push I guess."
"Push?" He frowned.
She looked down to try and clear her head. "You can be formidable, Captain," she explained, a smile curving her lips unbeknownst to her. "And that is as confusing as it is enticing." She faced him again.
"I don't want to frighten you, Kimberly."
"I know, but you're as complicated as…"
She nodded, still smiling but he gulped with misery.
"I'm going to screw this up."
"We both will, but you can't let go of me, Shane." And his hand reached for hers…
Kim woke with a start as her youngest jumped on the bed.
"It's late. Peachy is downstairs making breakfast, hurry."
And planting a kiss on Kim's cheek, Jeanie flashed her happiness and vanished as quickly as she'd come, though her giddy excitement remained behind like the most incredible gift Kimberly had received in years…