Alright people… Let's see now, gotta thank you guys, my loyal readers. Couldn't have written this w/o you guys…definitely my sis for proofreading this and assisting me in writing the ending…anyway enough of that, here is the long awaited for final chap…just letting you know from now, it is going to seem somewhat rushed because I felt it was time to just end it because if I made it any longer we'd be looking at another dilemma with a few more chaps and to be honest i'm not up for it…sorry
Also I really wanna move on to my next story. Its one that my sis and I co wrote on…of course it's a Serena/Darien and I hope it's as successful as this one was….back to this story now…here it is the final chap…
Serena hailed Mikou's doctor and one of her closest friends, a fairly young, quite captivating young woman in a white coat, heading down the hospital corridor. "Amy," she called, hurrying to cut her off so that she could have a quick, private chat with her.
The doctor turned, adjusted her small glasses, and then smiled, her light cheeks lifting in a smile when she saw who it was. "Serena," she said her high pitched voice in harmony with her small and womanly stature. "You're looking much better." She took her friend's hand into one of her vacant ones and gave it a squeeze. "I gather you've finally gotten yourself some sleep."
She returned the gesture. "Well, once Grandpa was out of danger, I managed." She neglected to mention how a certain, dark-haired pirate continued to invade her dreams, no matter how she tired to force him from her brain. "I just wanted to thank you, again. Grandpa's recuperating from his heart attack so well."
Dr. Anderson pursed her lips, nodding. "Extremely well, considering it's only been two weeks. I'd say much of it's due to the delightful Miss Shields how hovers about him." She chuckled. "She has the demeanor of a lovable puppy, but where it comes to your grandfather, she's a tiger protecting her cub."
"Yea," Serena agreed, abashed. She'd seen Jean berate everyone from his day nurse to the hospital food service staff. "I-I'm sorry about that. Aunt Jeannie's a little one-tracked where it comes to Grandpa." She paused, swallowed nervously. "What I wanted to ask was this. You know Jeannie and Grandpa are getting married today. What—what would you say his prognosis is—I mean, do you think he'll…" The words trailed off. She couldn't voice her fears.
Dr. Anderson smiled kindly. "As I've said before, your grandfather had given up on life in the rest home. He was dying, and there was nothing I could do for him. When he heard about your marriage—" She stopped, shook her head, knowing it was a sore subject. "Anyway, that news gave him a will to live. And when he wanted to see you, I knew there was no stopping him. Besides," she added, pushing her glasses more securely on her small nose, "I couldn't refuse him what I felt would be his last chance to see you." Her expression brightened. "Little did I know the effervescent Jean Shields would come bubbling into his life. Between you and that woman, he was starting to flourish."
"But—but the attack," Serena reminded her.
The doctor nodded. "Ah, yes. Well, the bad news about your marriage not being real was too much for him. He was still very weak." Touching her arm reassuringly, she added, "But I believe that with his new will to live, and with plenty of rest, good nutrition and sensible exercise, he can thrive."
Serena's eyes filled with tears of relief and gratitude. "Oh, god Amy. That's the best news I've had in—in…" She hugged her friend's small shoulders, unable to go on.
"There, there," she soothed. "As I've said before, medical science can only do so much. Be grateful to yourself and that irrepressible tigress sitting in there beside him."
Serena stepped away, wiping at a stray tear. "I—thank you, Doctor."
She removed her glasses and placed them in her coat pocket, nodding. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I have to tend to some patients who need me more than your grandfather does." She gave her a heartening grin and walked off.
Serena smiled tremulously, the doctor's words a balm to her bruised soul. She'd felt such guilt over the way her grandfather had found out about the marriage lie, she didn't know if she could bear it if he had died.
Shaking off the horrible thought, she looked down at her light blue linen dress, smoothing out tiny wrinkles more from jangled nerves than any real need. With a despondent sigh, she wondered why she couldn't rid herself of a nagging restlessness these days.
Tucking back a strand of hair that had escaped her ponytail, she reminded herself that all was well. She owed Darien a grudging debt of gratitude for having Mikou airlifted to Miami, she knew. And she'd get around to writing him a polite not of thanks—someday. But right now she was too hurt. How could he have believed she was the one who'd told Seiya about the fake marriage? She'd be the last person to do anything to put her grandfather's health in jeopardy with such a negligent act.
She shook off the distressing thought and took a heartening breath. Darien was well out of her life. Grandpa was doing fine and he was happy for the first time in years. Any minute, the minister would arrive to marry him to the woman he loved. She should be completely delirious.
She pivoted towards Mikou's room, but came to a stunned halt. Unable to believe her eyes, she stared, and then blinked. But the image refused to disappear.
Before her stood Darien Shields, a muscle throbbing in his perfect square jaw as he observed her approach. Her breath caught in her throat, and it was painful to breathe. The man was magnificent. There was no other word to describe him. A living, breathing monument to masculinity, he wore a classic black, custom-made suit that fit his athletic body impeccably. His shirt was snowy white and his silk tie a subtle pattern of gray, black and a shade of blue that set of his eyes to distressing perfection.
Under the fluorescent lighting, his jet black hair gave off the features of his face, making him seem even more perfect. Almost like a heavenly being rather than the hard-hearted business man he was.
"What—what are you doing here?" she rasped.
His lips lifted ruefully. "It's nice to see you, too."
No matter how she tried, Serena couldn't drag her gaze from his face. Why, oh, why, did he have to be so damn handsome? He was even more so good-looking than in her troubling dreams, though there was a definite cast of fatigue around his eyes. She felt a jumble of emotions. Some were soft and yearning, and that irritated her. "You're not welcome here," she objected.
He crossed his arms before him. "Perhaps not by you. But I was invited to this wedding."
She blanched. Why didn't she realize Aunt Jeannie would never consider getting married without Darien in attendance? She only wished she'd been warned. Maybe then she could have prepared herself, feigned icy indifference.
Belatedly trying for that, she lifted her chin and breezed past him. "I won't ruin Grandpa's wedding with a quarrel. However, I don't see how you can show your face—"
There was a halting grip on her wrist. "Serena," he cut in. "I'm sorry for thinking you told Seiya about us." She reluctantly faced him, surprised by his apology. "I know, now, he must have been the one eavesdropping on the beach that night." With undisguised contempt in his voice, he added, "It would be like him to wait for the most damaging moment to spring it on everyone."
Serena frowned. Though she wanted badly to hate this man, her heart betrayed her by rushing to the place where his flesh touched hers. "Well—" she began breathlessly. "At—at least you've owned up to one of your mistakes. She inhaled and lowered her voice to mask its trembling. "I heard you got the board to put off the voting until next month. That must have taken every ounce of your gift of gab."
He shrugged. "I still have a few supporters on the board."
She eyed heaven. "You continue to amaze me, Darien. You could talk a bull into giving milk."
Thoughtful dark eyes searched her face as he murmured, "Thank you."
"It's not a compliment!" Wanting the awkward contact between them to end, she jerked on his hold. "Please let me go."
"They've found something irregular in the audit," he said, ignoring her plea. "Diamond can't tell yet if it helps or hurts Mikou."
She stilled. "Audit? Don't tell me you're going through with that. Why would you?"
"I guess I want to know the truth."
She gritted her teeth, the anger billowing. "Though once you find out Mikou is innocent, nobody else will ever know!" She jerked again. "Let go! I see Reverend Gateway coming."
He did as she asked this time, but his fingers lingered against her wrist. It upset her that she was allowing it, that she was also delaying. With that appalling realization, she lurched toward the reverend with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, while her disobedient thoughts tarried on Darien.
Jean was as radiant as any bride had ever been, dressed in her Dolly Parton wig and a white silk sweat suit. She carried a bouquet of red hothouse tulips. She'd confided to Serena that, according to her Victorian flower book, red tulips symbolized a perfect lover, which, she'd shyly admitted, he darling Mikou was—and would be again once he was well.
She'd had a boutonniere made for Mikou, fashioned from one red tulip and a sprig of baby's breath. He looked darling in his crisp, yellow seersucker pajamas with the bright tulip pinned over his heart. Even though he was pale, having lost his tan, he'd gained a few important pounds and looked less frail.
Jean sat beside the hospital bed, holding his hand. The reverend had stationed himself at the foot of the bed and was reciting the marriage vows as thought he were delivering a rousing sermon.
Serena stood beside Aunt Jeannie, serving as her maid of honor, while Darien stood on the other side of the bed. Mikou's best man.
Serena's mind drifted from time to time, and her glance veered waywardly toward Darien. Once, he caught her looking at him and passed her a rueful grin. Disconcerted, she looked away.
Before she knew it, the reverend was pronouncing Jeannie and Mikou man and wife. The new Mrs. Mamou leaned over the bed and gave her husband a loving kiss on the lips, then once again on the cheek, whispering and cooing and patting his face. It was such a sweet scene; tears welled in Serena's eyes.
Suddenly something flew at her, and in a reflex action, she reached out to defend herself. A split second later she found herself clutching Jeannie's bouquet. "Well, my dear," Jeannie said, her cheeks bright with the blush of a new bride. "I certainly hope you and Darien take the hint and get your sweet selves back together." She took Serena's hand and reached across Mikou, beckoning for Darien to grasp her fingers. "You two can deny it all you want, but it know you were in love back there on Grand Cayman, and legal marriage or no, you belong together!"
Serena was mortified by Jeannie's declaration. She shot Darien a wide-eyed glance. He was watching her, his expression unreadable. He continued to do so even as he bent to kiss his great aunt's fingers. "I wish you and Mikou all the happiness in the world," he murmured, as though he'd thought nothing of Jeannie's admonition at all. Mr. Cool, Mr. Unruffled. When he withdrew his hand, he transferred his gaze to Mikou, squeezing the man's shoulder. "You're looking well, Grandpa."
The older man chuckled. "Thanks, my boy. But I can't say the same for you. You seem kinda worn down. If I was feeling a little better, I'd go give that Seiya Braxton a piece of my mind for giving you such worries."
Serena released herself from Jeannie's grip. "If you'll excuse me," she murmured. "I—I have to check on the cake." It was a flimsy excuse. They all knew the cake was across the hall in the nurses' lounge and didn't need checking on. But she couldn't stand being near Darien any longer. It was just too painful.
She hurried into the lounge, almost colliding with a hospital volunteer preparing to wheel in the cake. She told the woman to go ahead, then discovered she was still clutching Jeannie's bouquet. Dropping it on the card beside the cake, she escaped down the hall toward the most distant drinking fountain. She wasn't thirsty, but she decided the long trek would serve as a delaying tactic. Surely Darien could tell his presence upset her. If he were any kind of gentleman he would have his piece of cake and leave. Well, whether he was a gentleman or not, she planned to loiter out here until he was gone.
After a long, slow drink of water, she straightened in time to see Darien exit her grandfather's room. He stopped, glancing one direction, then the other. His features grew somber when he saw her, and he plunged his hands into his slacks' pockets, watching her watch him. His stare was intense, brooding, and Serena had the oddest sense that he was photographing her with his mind.
The strain of each ticking second that he continued to stare wore at her already abused nerves. Her lips began to quiver, and her pulse thrummed like thunder in her ears, but for some demented reason, she couldn't break eye contact.
Abruptly, his lips dipped in a deep frown and he pivoted away, his clipped tread resonating on the polished tile. When he'd disappeared around the corner, she felt a deep sense of loss, like a steel weight dropping on her heart.
Serena was starting over on a brand-new yacht with a brand-new boss—and, hopefully, a brand-new lease on life. It was the first day of December, one month into Mikou's recovery. Just that morning she'd seen the newlyweds off on a belated honeymoon cruise aboard the Silver Cat. Mikou looked wonderful and was so happy. She'd wanted to go along and cook for them, but Jeannie confided it would be inhibiting to have her groom's granddaughter on the yacht while they were honeymooning.
She smiled to herself and shook her head, wondering what Jeannie and Mikou had in mind that she would so inhibit them from doing. Her smile faded as she recalled Darien's amused comment back on Grand Cayman, when he'd suggested that Jeannie and Mikou were having more than they were. She bit her lip, trying to sweep all thoughts of Darien from her consciousness. She had a new job on an even more luxurious yacht, with the interesting name I Love You. The animated, pleasant captain had gotten the opulent yacht under way a couple of hours ago, and Serena had just finished preparing a sumptuous meal for two.
She hadn't me the yacht's owners—a newlywed couple—having been hired by their representative on Aunt Jeannie's glowing recommendation. The man had given her complete instructions as to the first meal—a gourmet feast by candlelight.
The one thing she regretted about he new job was that she would be working for a honeymooning couple. It would be touch tamping down memories of her own make-believe honeymoon while two young people, very much in love, would be there to remind her during this month-long Caribbean cruise.
When the buzzer sounded, signaling that the couple was ready to eat, she checked her appearance in the shiny surface of the stainless-steel refrigerator. It relieved her to see that for once she didn't have a streak of anything on her new white uniform.
She picked up the silver tray carrying the salads, wondering why she had such poor luck with stewardesses. The one that was supposed to be helping with dinner had disappeared just the way Mina always had on the Silver Cat. As she carted her burden down the hall to the dining salon, she wondered idly if there was a stewardess school somewhere that taught a course in Effective Disappearing When It's Time To Serve Meals.
Serena entered a salon resplendent with rich teak walls, fine linen and gold-accented sterling. She was all smiles, wanting to make a good first impression. But just inside the door her smile died as dismay flew through her.
Darien Shields was standing there, so casually handsome in white slacks and a grey polo shirt, it made her heart ache. He seemed his calm, collected self, his hands resting lightly on the back of one of the Queen Anne chairs.
"Hello, Serena," he said with a small smile.
In a shocked stupor, her glance slid to the table where there were two places set. Her heart turned to ice and dropped to her feet where it shattered into a million pieces. Had he married? Would she have to serve the man she loved on his honeymoon—with another woman? What sort of twisted vengeance was this?
Before she knew what was happening, he'd removed the tray from her stiffened hands and set it soundlessly on the tablecloth. "It's good to see you." He took her hand. "Why don't you sit down, you look pale."
The touch of his fingers snapped her out of her paralysis, and she staggered away from his touch. "What is this?" she croaked. "Why am I here? I have no intention of working for you!"
"Serena," he murmured, advancing on her and taking her gently by the shoulders. "Sit down." His eyes were compelling, his voice tender. "We have to talk."
She stiffened. "Darien, I can't think of anything you could possibly say that would—"
"I love you, Serena," he broke in softly, but not so softly that she didn't hear the words.
She stared, disbelieving. "What—did you say?" She asked the question with a stern edge to her words, anticipating one of his tricks.
He reached up to smooth a loose strand of her hair. "I said, I love you." Indicating a chair with a nod, he asked, "Now, will you sit down?"
There was a wild fluttering in her stomach, but she refused to believe him. The man was so full of guile she didn't know what to expect anymore. Shaking her head, she backed away. He was looking at her with a seductive gleam in his eyes. She was so confused. What in the world was his game? "No—you don't love me. This is some sort of—of a—"
"Proposal," he murmured. Stepping forward, he gathered her into his arms and drew her against him. "Marry me."
Before she could call for help, he'd lowered his lips to hers, his kiss slow and persuasive, draining the fight from her. She found herself pressed against his lean body, relishing the male texture of him, craving more.
He wrapped his arms more securely about her, his hands delighting the hollow of her back, quickly drawing from her the last shred of her resistance. She moaned, her brain battling with her emotions—her need at war with her good sense. Had he really proposed marriage? Had he meant it? And even if he had, could she marry a man with so few scruples? For a heartbeat she swayed between sweet temptation and painful truth, that knife-thin edge encountered by all lovers.
Issuing up all her disgust of his amoral business methods, she fought her desire, wrenching her lips from the wonder of his. "You have a colossal ego, Darien," she panted, promising herself she wouldn't fall prey to his infamous empty promises. "Now, let me go before I scream for help!"
"Who do you think will come to your aid?" he countered, his tone husky and disconcertingly intimate. "This is my yacht."
She shivered at the thought. He was right. She was at his mercy. Feeling miserable, she could only stare into his eyes, so near, so alluring. Why did she have to love him? Why did her body have to quiver from his touch? She could never give herself to a man she didn't respect. "I—I think maybe I'd better sit down," she managed at last.
He led her to a chair, then took a seat beside her. When his thigh brushed hers, she tried to move away, but found she was too weak even for that.
He chuckled. For the first time since she'd known him, his laughter was devoid of cynicism. "Your lie about being married to me was a stroke of luck," he said. "It got me to initiate that audit."
She shifted to focus on his face. He was looking at her with a tenderness she'd never seen before. And he seemed in a strangely good mood. Of course, he wasn't the one being held captive on a ship at sea!
"It was another stroke of luck that day in the hospital after you left Mikou's room," Darien went on, "when your grandfather reminisced about working for the company, about Seiya's father and grandfather, Clay and Seymour, the original bookkeepers. The remark about Seymour being a genius with figures, was what got me thinking."
Serena frowned, trying to follow what he was saying, but his scent clung to her, taunted her with every breath she inhaled, making it hard for her to concentrate. "Thinking?" she echoed.
He nodded. "About how a genius bookkeeper might be able to frame someone else for embezzlement."
Serena stared at him, uncomprehending. She tried to shake the cobwebs of longing from her brain. His nearness had become so debilitating, she couldn't even trust her hearing anymore. It as all garbled and sounded so far away. But it seemed as though he was telling her that someone named Seymour had been the real embezzler all those years ago.
Darien grinned. "I was afraid, for a while, it had been my grandfather." He shook his head, his smile fading slightly. "It's not as though Damon was an angel by any stretch of the imagination, but I needed to know if he was a thief, too."
Serena sat up, stunned. That was what he was saying! Seymour Braxton had embezzled from the company, and then framed Mikou for the crime.
"Of course, Seymour's dead," he explained. "But finding out about him go me curious about something else. That's when I ordered the confidential company audit. The report came back yesterday."
She stared blankly at him. "Yesterday," she repeated, at a loss as to what he was talking about now.
"The irregularities uncovered in Seiya's department went back for years. Kickbacks, out-and-out thievery. Obviously Seymour passed along his genius with fixing numbers to his son and grandson."
Serena's lips dropped open when she understood what he was saying. Seiya Braxton was not only a conniving sneak, but he was a swindler, too! She'd always blamed the Shields's—hated them—and all the time they'd been as innocent of wrongdoing as her grandfather!
"So," he went on, "as of today, I'm undisputed president of Shields Automotive Corporations and Seiya is facing fraud charges. The story should be making the newspaper headlines about now."
"Oh, Darien…" she breathed, his revelations finally piercing her benumbed brain. But her happiness was tainted. Mikou was innocent, yet he hadn't even mentioned that. Apparently that was insignificant as far as he was concerned. "Of course, I—I'm happy for you, but that doesn't change—" Finding strength in her feelings of injustice to her grandfather, she vaulted up and moved from his dangerous nearness. She couldn't forgive him for not publicly clearing his name. it was so little to ask, after all! "I insist that you turn this boat around and take me back," she blurted, heading toward the exit.
When he made no protest, she found herself slowing. The man had proposed marriage to her! How many times had she had that dream, only to awaken and find it disappear like a flimsy mist. Why had he done it? He couldn't really love her and treat her grandfather so heartlessly. To her, that was an unforgivable sin.
At the door she found herself going stock-still. Unable to help herself, she twisted around. "You have everything you want now," she accused, her voice ragged. "I hope it makes you happy…"
"I have everything—but you," he admitted, his gaze dark and earnest.
She felt stricken, torn, but knew she could never be content with a man so selfish and cold as Darien had been raised to be. "I couldn't love a man who would treat my grandfather with such indifference."
He seemed mystified, and gave her a searching look. "I was never indifferent, Serena. But in my own defense, I didn't know until yesterday whether I'd even have a company. After I was sure I did, I offered Mikou half my stock. But you know that. You know he turned me down, said we'd work something out that was fair."
"You—you're a liar," she stormed. "I don't know any such thing!"
She saw doubt flicker in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I honestly thought he'd told you." He ran a distracted hand through his hair. "Maybe he didn't say anything because I also said I loved you and I was going to ask you to marry me today." His lips lifted in a melancholy smile. "Possibly he thought I'd want to tell you, myself. He wouldn't be the first person in your family to make that mistake."
Something Mikou said this morning came rushing back to her. He'd winked, remarking cryptically, "Jeannie and I have a surprise for you, Messy Miss. But not here and now. If I don't miss my guess, it will find you." She'd been confused, but promptly forgotten it in her happiness for them. Could Grandpa have meant this?
Brooding, tender eyes ranged over her face. "Forgive me, Serena. I guess—" He broke off, his voice rough with emotion. Clenching his jaw, he got himself under control. "I guess I went about this backward. But the minute I saw you, I think I loved you."
Her breathing became shallow and painful, her whole body trembling. So much was happening so fast, she couldn't think. With a perplexed shake of her head, she cried, "It can't be…"
He wiped one hand wearily across his face. "There's been a lot of lying in our relationship, but this isn't one of them." Closing the distance between them, he took her face between his hands. "Serena, my grandfather made mistakes, my parents made mistakes, and so have I. I've had a twisted idea about love, marriage and family. Btu seeing you with your grandfather, watching you go to impossible lengths to help him, experiencing your loyalty through him—all that has shown me that it doesn't have to be the way it was with my family."
There was a bleak, unhappy beauty in his features that touched Serena somewhere she'd never been touched before. He was finally showing her an inner vulnerability that had been buried with his lost childhood, and the sight thrilled her to the depths of her soul. "I do love you, Serena," he promised softly. "If you'll give me a chance, I'll prove it to you—for the rest of our lives."
His fingers were warm and gentle against her face, his gaze hypnotic and loving. The passion she saw glimmering in his midnight eyes beckoned irresistibly. "You brought innocence and loyalty into my life, and I don't want to lose you. I love you and your messes—even your lies because they're only meant to ease the pain of those you love." He lowered his face to kiss first one eyelid and then the other. "I ask you again, Serena. Marry me."
Her thoughts spun and skidded, her senses reeled. "I don't believe you're lying." She sighed, her heart racing with joy. "I don't believe you are."
With a bewitching flash of teeth, he lifted her into his arms. "Oh, you don't?" he queried, a teasing not coming into his voice. "What's the name of this yacht, Serena?"
Confused, she murmured, "I Love You."
His chuckle was rich and deep, and she sensed he was once again whole. "I love you, too, baby," he vowed. "And I'll take that as a yes. Luckily my captain is also a minister."
She looked dreamily into his face, at last allowing herself to accept the enchanting reality that he loved her. She smiled back. "That is lucky."
"To be honest, luck had nothing to do with it," he confessed, nibbling at her earlobe. "I interviewed all night. Flew this guy in from California this morning."
A laugh gurgled in her throat. "You should be in bed."
"Suddenly that idea has a certain appeal," he whispered. "Now, kiss me."
She did as commanded, and his lips parted hers in a soul-searing message of undying devotion.
That evening, after a brief wedding ceremony, Darien and Serena began their married life together—no longer make-believe, and utterly devoid of lies. They were lovers destined to be only slightly less contented in the galley, creating gourmet feasts for the palate, than in their marriage bed, creating passionate feast for the soul
WHEW…I can't believe I finished that...thanks again sis couldn't have done it w/o ya….okay people you know the drill tell me what ya think, and don't forget to keep a lookout for my next story, Unexpected Guardian...We worked hard on it, we still are to be truthful, and I think it has a decent story line, but I'll leave that up to you to decide…till then :Kaci