Ivy choked, a fairly remarkable feat as she had nothing in her mouth. "Wh-what?"
"That's right. Theresa is having my child."
Ivy felt positively nauseated. That duplicitous slut! That mongrel tramp! Pregnant? Again?! With her grandchild? By a different son?
Thank God it wasn't Ethan's child. Perhaps finally her eldest son would recognize that Theresa would stop at nothing to secure her place in the Crane Empire, even if that meant going through every male in the family to do it.
"Why am I not surprised?" Ivy sniffed.
Fox rolled his eyes. "Oh please, Mother. You didn't have a clue!"
Julian sank into his chair. "My own son? Fox, I don't know what to say. You and…and….Theresa? Now it all makes sense. Those times I noticed you and my young wife appearing closer than either of you would acknowledge. How you came to Theresa's rescue at the party…how you and she were inseparable at the hospital. Even today, I found the two of you in her office together. You backed her up when she strong-armed me. Everything finally fits!"
"I can't believe you imbeciles didn't figure it out sooner," Alistair commented. "Oh, but you knew, didn't you, Ethan?"
Ethan met his former grandfather's gaze. "Yes," he replied simply.
"What a sting that must be. Seeing your former lover pregnant with a child that isn't yours."
Ethan squared his shoulders. "I've seen it before," he said, trying to sound casual.
Alistair smiled. "No, you haven't."
Theresa's heart stopped.
He couldn't. He wouldn't!
Ivy narrowed her eyes. This was supposed to be her reveal, and Alistair was ruining everything!
Confusion filled Ethan's features. "What are you talking about, Alistair? Julian getting Theresa pregnant and then her lying about it is what caused us to break up in the first place."
"Tsk, tsk, Theresa. Yet another secret you've been carrying."
Alistair looked to Theresa's crestfallen face. Memories of her lost son flooded her mind. Without thinking, she rested her hand on her abdomen as though to shield the child she carried from those terrible memories.
"How could you? To use my child—my beautiful son—in some sick game is cruel. Even for you."
The older man looked amused. "But the truth must come out. All of it."
"What is he talking about, Theresa?" Ethan asked, his blue eyes flashing with emotion. But as he realized what the exchange was about, his heart sank. He had turned his back on Theresa when she was carrying his child.
Every possibility for a life together died when their child died. What he had done was unforgivable—yet something else he could add to the growing list of his sins. He abandoned the woman he loved most over his stupid sense of pride.
And what did he have? Nothing.
No wonder she was so upset the night he came back to Harmony. She had appeared shaken after seeing Bruce. Ethan remembered all too well how she trembled with anger and despair.
"That's what I would like to know," Julian snarled. "Is my father saying that none of us should ever have been saddled to you in the first place?" Julian wrinkled his nose at the thought of being a grandfather to his wife's child.
Theresa stood and leaned her fists against the table. "Does it make you feel good, Alistair, to try to make other people feel bad? Does it make you feel powerful to try to pull our strings like a puppeteer?"
"You forget, child, that I am powerful. I could squash you like a bug."
Theresa crossed her arms, preparing herself to call his bluff. "But you won't, and do you know why? I am carrying the Crane heir. Not Julian's child but Fox's."
"This child will be known as Julian's child," Alistair reasserted.
"Don't I get a say in this?" Julian asked raising his hand.
"No," Fox replied as he stood behind Theresa and placed his hands on her shoulders, "and neither do you, Grandfather."
Alistair snuffed his cigar in a tray and drew his hands together. "You have already caused the family enough embarrassment, Nicholas."
"Please," Ivy retorted. "It's not Nicholas. The source of every ounce of embarrassment this family has endured stems from Theresa. She was the one who sent my personal, private papers to the tabloid that revealed Ethan's paternity. She's the one who confessed to murdering Julian and went to death row. She's the one who regularly makes a spectacle of herself in public."
Theresa's face grew hot. How long had she endured Ivy's acid-tongued taunts? Enough was enough.
"At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am not the monster you make me out to be. I never had any contact with the tabloid, which is more than I can say for you." Theresa cracked her knuckles. "And since you mentioned confession, Ivy, I hear it's good for the soul, though in your case I'm not sure you have a soul…"
Ivy looked at her rival with cold eyes, her manner self-assured. "Don't be daft, Theresa. What on Earth are you talking about? What would I possibly have to confess?"
"Where you were on the night Julian was shot, for starters."
Ivy rolled her eyes. "That's not the issue at hand. What is at hand is how to deal with yet another predicament you've caused for the family."
Julian's brown eyes narrowed. "Nice try at dodging, my pet, but that is something I would like to know, as well."
"That's right, Mother, and you are the one who brought up that night," Fox added with the slightest hint of glee.
Ivy rolled her eyes, uncomfortable with the line of questioning. "I have nothing to say."
"Then how fortunate a picture is worth a thousand words. I was able to retrieve the security footage from the cannery. I saw the footage of my so-called husband being gunned down." Theresa paused for effect. "And I saw who was responsible."
Ethan looked to his mother, finally seeing her unveiled for the first time.
"So, by all means, go ahead and cast stones, Ivy, but be aware that I will cast them right back at you. And oh—my aim is better than yours."
Ivy looked furtively to her oldest son. "Ethan, you've got to do something," she murmured.
"It seems you've done plenty, Mother." His voice was cold, managing to send chills down Ivy's spine.
Alistair looked around at the chaos he had caused. "You've all been naughty boys and girls. It's time to pay a penance."
Anger welled in Fox. How many times had he heard his Grandfather's reprimands? How many times had Alistair shaken his finger and condemned them for their actions when he, himself, was guilty of unspeakable things? There were too many times to count. He worked to control their lives, to make them miserable, and for what? Stupidly, they had let him.
Alistair's hazel eyes widened with incredulity. "What did you say?"
Fox continued, "I said, enough. I'm cutting the strings. You are not the master of our fates. We are. Maybe it's been so long since you sold your soul that you've forgotten what it's like to have one. Something you apparently have in common with my mother. At any rate, let me make something clear enough. I don't give a damn if my relationship with Theresa sullies the family's reputation or angers you—or for that matter anyone else. I'm not going to jump through hoops for the rest of my life just waiting for the other shoe to drop."
"I will cut you off, Fox."
"Then do it!" Fox yelled. "But stop trying to control how we live our lives!"
Theresa turned to look at Fox, admiration shining in her eyes. How she loved him—his bravery, his devil-may-care attitude. If he had used it on anyone but Alistair Crane, she would have been convinced they would finally get some peace. But Alistair Crane wasn't known for his ability to let sleeping dogs lie.
She turned to study her father-in-law, expecting to see his lined face blotched with anger. Instead, she saw a look of amusement—and something else. If she didn't know better, she would think Alistair was pleased.
Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.
Alistair's large hands moved together, forming hollow applause. "Bravo! I was beginning to think no one in this family had any balls left."
Fox looked at his grandfather with uncertainty. Of all the reactions he thought he might receive, this was not one of them. Was Alistair yanking their chains once again? Only one way to find out…
"So what gives?"
Alistair stood from his chair at the head of the table and approached his only grandson. "I thought you to be reckless, and I was right. Carrying on an affair with your step-mommy, as you're so fond of calling Theresa, was a brash move on your part. The fact that you did it under the noses of everyone here shows you to be something else: shrewd. I should dispose of you for
the impudence you showed me tonight, but I'm not going to do that because I've seen something else in you that I like."
"And what's that?"
Fox shook his head in disbelief. "You and I are not alike, Grandfather."
"Well, you sure as hell didn't get your cunning from your father—or your mother. She wasn't smart enough to cover her own tracks before she started pointing fingers at others. And you, Theresa—I'm impressed with you, as well. Blackmailing Julian to get your dirt on Ivy was a brilliant move."
"That would not have been my first choice," Theresa admitted.
"But it worked. You were willing to get what you wanted by any means necessary."
Fox shuddered. "I'm not entirely comfortable with this love fest."
"Don't mistake my words of praise, Fox. I am not happy about the controversy this pregnancy is going to cause."
"But?" Theresa asked.
"But I am willing to ride it out, so to speak. Under one condition…."
"No, conditions," Fox asserted.
Alistair smiled. "Very well, then. With one request. I want you as my right hand man. I want to bring you into the fold, teach you my skills, and train you to someday be head of Crane Industries."
Fox shot a look back at Ethan. "That is a very interesting request, Grandfather."
"Do you accept?"
"I'll have to let you know after I talk things over with Resa."
"Don't take too long," Alistair cautioned. "You've passed one test, but there are many others that await you."
With that, the sturdy older man pulled another cigar from his jacket pocket, lit it up, and made his exit from the dining room.
"Wow. There's nothing like a warning to inspire confidence," Fox said glibly.
"And there's nothing like deceit to inspire nausea," Ivy replied. "Surely, none of you believes that I would be capable of attempted murder. I mean, the notion is completely preposterous!"
Julian quickly pushed his chair back and walked to where his ex-wife sat, towering over the slight woman in her wheelchair. "I'm half tempted to take care of you myself, but I won't dirty my hands with you, Ivy. Instead, we'll see just how 'preposterous' Chief Bennett thinks this is," Julian spat.
Ivy's blue eyes widened. "You can't be serious!"
"Why not, Ivy?" Theresa asked. "I have proof."
"Obviously, the tape is doctored! Ethan, you believe me, don't you?"
Ethan's steely gaze on his mother was cold. He walked from the room, finding solitude necessary to gather his bearings.
Ivy swallowed hard and looked to her second son. "Fox, you believe your mother, don't you?"
"The way you've believed in me? I should only return the favor. In fact, I'll be more than happy to dial the police station myself."
Tears welled up in Ivy's eyes, yet she held her chin high, determined that she would not lose her composure in the den of vipers. "I know I've not been the best mother. I know I've hurt you, but please let me make it up to you."
"There is no making this up to me. To be perfectly blunt, I don't even want to be your son anymore. I always knew you were cold, but framing someone to take the rap for a crime you committed and using that person's love against her—just like you're trying to use our so-called mother/son relationship right now for your own gain—is despicable."
The tears she'd fought so hard to control finally spilled over Ivy's cheeks. "Please! I'm begging you. If I could get on my hands and knees, I would."
Julian nearly snorted. "You? Humbling yourself, Ivy? How original."
Ivy glared at her ex-husband. "How dare you portray yourself as an innocent victim? You were alive, hiding out, just waiting for Theresa to be executed! You were willing to let her die, as well!"
"That was when I thought she was the one who killed me—er, tried to kill me."
Ivy bit her top lip. "This is insane. I'm going up to my room. All of this nonsense has given me a splitting headache."
Calmly and authoritatively, Theresa spoke. "Do go up to your room, Ivy, and start packing."
"You aren't the mistress of this mansion anymore, Theresa. Your marriage to Julian was a sham. He knows it, I know it, and Alistair knows it."
"Says the woman who stayed in a loveless marriage for how long? Twenty-five years was it?" Theresa looked to Fox and Julian. "I know both of you would like to see Ivy in prison, but I believe I've found something more fitting. Do you trust me?"
"Of course," Fox said without hesitation.
Julian shuffled his feet. "Well, I…"
"Do you really think I would let her get away with this scot-free?"
"Do what you wish," Julian finally conceded.
"Pack your bags for a warm locale," Theresa instructed her nemesis.
"Where?" Ivy asked glumly. "Hell?"
"Not quite that hot," Theresa replied, "but almost."
"I'll get you for this, Theresa."
Theresa rolled her eyes. "Oh, Ivy. I'm only doing what any good mother would do. Isn't that the excuse you've used time and time again? My child is so important to me. I can't have him or her being embarrassed by what his grandmother has done."
"How can you be so malicious? I didn't think that even you could stoop this low."
"I learned from the best, Ivy. You taught me everything I know."
"This isn't over, Theresa."
"Yes, it is. Now, do as I say, or you'll be gift wrapped for Big Bertha as her prison plaything. Do we understand one another?"
Ivy said nothing as she glared at her adversary. Disbelief washed over her. How was this possible? She lost….to Theresa…this she-demon who looked so innocent, a look which beguiled her true nature.
No, this wasn't a loss. It was a setback. Ivy would do as she was asked for now, but that was only temporary. There had to be some way out. Some way…..
"Oh, yes, Theresa. I understand you," Ivy replied haughtily. With that, she pressed the lever on her power wheelchair forward and left the dining room.
"You really have learned Ivy's tricks, Theresa. Deceit comes second nature to you, doesn't it?" Julian commented.
Theresa's eyes narrowed as she looked at her soon-to-be-ex-husband. "I'm sorry your pride is hurt, Julian, but you and I both know that our marriage never was real. It wasn't even consummated!"
"For something that wasn't real, you sure didn't see anything wrong with playing the part of lady of the manor."
Theresa admitted, "If I had to be miserable, I figured I might as well take you right along with me."
"How generous of you to spread the misery so freely," Julian replied wryly. "Just be sure that you don't make my son miserable."
"Father, leave Theresa alone. I pursued her, not the other way around. Though the circumstances might not have been ideal, I don't regret any of it."
Julian shrugged. "You are my son, Fox. Always had an eye for the ladies."
"Well, now it's an eye for just one lady in particular."
Theresa looked up at Fox and smiled.
"I still wish this were anyone but Theresa that you were in love with. I mean, she is my wife. That should have made her off limits to you."
Fox crossed his arms. "Don't be a hypocrite. That's Ethan's department. Besides, didn't you try to seduce Theresa in Bermuda knowing that she was planning to marry Ethan—the man you thought to be your son for twenty-five years?"
Theresa tilted her head. "Really, Julian, I thought you would be glad to be rid of me."
"But I'm not rid of you, am I? Not when you're carrying my grandchild." Julian grimaced. "It's so painful to say."
"What should we call you? Grandfather or Pa-pa?" Fox asked with a smirk.
"Maybe after a few more brandies, I won't care what you call me. Just a word of advice, though. Father extended himself to you tonight. He is not a man who does something without a specific reason. He has a plan for you—something you may or may not particularly want. Do be careful."
"My eyes are wide open," Fox assured his father.
"As are mine," Julian sighed. "As are mine." With that, he walked to the service cart and poured himself another drink before walking from the room. Under his breath, Theresa could hear him muttering about becoming a grandfather.
Fox watched him go and then took Theresa's hands. "We did it, Resa. We did it!"
"The worst is over."
The worst was just beginning. Ethan thought he had lived through the most terrible, but he was wrong, something he'd been making a habit of lately.
"How did I get here?" he asked, blindly looking to the stars in the night sky from where he stood on the terrace. "The possibilities used to seem endless. When I was with her, I used to wish on stars, and I believed those wishes would come true. She made me believe. And then I wouldn't even believe in her—and it most likely cost us our child."
He felt as though his heart would burst, the weight of emotions upon him placed such an enormous burden. A sob wracked his large frame.
"Why did I distrust the one I should have trusted most and believe in the ones who only told me lies?"
The voice was so soft and one he wanted to hear so badly, Ethan considered that perhaps his ears deceived him.
Ethan would have brushed the tears from his cheeks if not for his bandaged hands. Instead, he had to face the woman he loved without the dignity he so longed to maintain.
He simply said her name. What was there to say?
Would anything he said matter to her? Would it bring back the trust that had been broken between them? Would it bring back their son?
Theresa had a new life now—a life that she planned to spend with his half-brother and their child.
If there truly was such a thing as fate, it was infinitely cruel. It laughed at him. Spat at him. He once held the world in his hands. Now he held nothing. Literally.
"I…I had to see you," Theresa said taking a step forward from the French doors onto the terrace.
At one point, hope would have risen within him, but Ethan knew the meeting was an ending, not a beginning.
Ethan stood still, rigid. "I have so much I want to say to you. I don't know where to begin."
"Neither do I. I've been so angry, Ethan."
"With good reason," Ethan admitted.
Theresa wrung her hands. "Perhaps, but I know I've hurt you. Even when I don't mean to hurt you, I manage to do it. I didn't tell you the truth about Bermuda when I found out, and you got blindsided by Alistair tonight."
"You tried the night of the party, didn't you?" Ethan asked.
Theresa nodded. "It wasn't the right time."
"That's been our problem, hasn't it, T? Timing."
"Among other things."
Ethan cast his eyes to the sky, lost in another place, another time. "I remember a warm July night, looking up at the stars with you in my arms. We'd just made love for the first time, and we both thought anything was possible. Those stars represented the infinite possibilities."
Theresa sighed. That part of her life was over. Revisiting it, particularly as she planned a life with Fox, didn't seem appropriate or advisable. "Ethan, please. Let's not go there."
"I'm not trying to make you feel uncomfortable, Theresa. Honestly, I'm not. I just…I just don't know how to assimilate all of this information at once. I lost a child. I discovered that my mother is a liar and criminal. You're having my half-brother's child. I just don't know how to not reflect on what could have been."
"The best thing you can do for yourself and for me is to let it go. Don't let it eat you up inside. I did that for far too long. I made so many mistakes out of spite—spite toward your mother, spite
toward Julian, even spite toward you. I nearly destroyed myself in the process. Despite everything, I don't want to see you hurting. I want to see you happy, Ethan."
"Happy?" Ethan choked back a bitter laugh. "What in the hell is happiness? The only time I've ever been truly happy was when I was with you. Now I have nothing."
"You will rebuild, just like I did. You will move on, and you'll be stronger for it. Look, I have to go. Fox is right inside waiting for me. I just wanted to check on you."
Ethan's eyes fixed upon hers. "I appreciate it."
Theresa nodded before turning on her heels and going back inside the mansion.
"Goodbye, Theresa," he whispered.
Fox was frowning when Theresa met him inside.
"How's ol' Eth?" he asked casually.
Theresa could hear the strain in her lover's voice. "Upset. Shaken. I can't fix it, and I'm done trying."
"But is Ethan done?" Fox asked quickly.
Theresa paused, reflecting on her conversation with the man she once considered to be her prince charming, the core figure of this fairy tale existence she'd created in her mind. Letting go had been so difficult for her, but she'd managed. So would Ethan.
"I think so. Now we can begin to heal."
Fox rubbed his jaw, trying to force down the hate he felt toward his half-brother and the discomfort he felt in knowing that Theresa had asked to speak to him alone. Fox disliked being excluded from the conversation, but he also knew it was important for Theresa to have that time to truly put the past behind her.
Theresa noted his expression, one that she had a difficult time reading. "What are you thinking?" she asked as she circled her arms around his waist.
Fox looked down into her dark eyes and stroked her hair. "That I'd do anything for you."
Laura Avery was a plump, middle-aged woman whose silver streaked brown hair was pulled back into a severe bun. She spoke in what Ivy thought was a sickening sweet voice.
Ivy felt ill, though she wasn't sure if it was from the company, the circumstance, or the surroundings. It had been three days since she left Harmony, nearly every moment of which had been devoted to traveling to her place of atonement, Somalia.
"It is so good of you, Ms. Winthrop…."
"That's Mrs. Crane," Ivy interrupted.
"So sorry. It is so good of you, Mrs. Crane, to volunteer as a relief aid worker. As you can see, these people live in very humble circumstances. The basic necessities of life are difficult to come by, quite a change from the life you're accustomed to."
Ivy looked around her. A group of dirty, skinny children stood together, pointing and laughing. The clothes they were hung loosely on their bodies, some of them in shambles. Flies buzzed around them, only to be swatted off.
Small, wooden shacks lined the dirt street. Raw sewage puddled in some places.
Ivy sighed. "Yes, it is."
"Here at the World Relief Organization, we try to help these people learn to achieve the necessities of life. Education is such a valuable asset."
Ivy perked up slightly. "Will I be teaching? I do know some marvelous entertaining tips. And fashion—fashion is my forte."
Mrs. Avery cleared her throat. "While you do possess interesting skills, I do not think the etiquette of high society America is necessarily applicable here. Keep in mind that not only do these people live in humble circumstances, but you will live in humble circumstances yourself. I'm certain it will be an adjustment at first, but over time, you'll grow accustomed to the dirt floors in the hut and the lack of creature comforts."
No more one thousand count Egyptian cotton sheets?
No more bi-weekly facials at the spa?
No more endless supply of Dom Perignon?
"How can anyone live like this?"
"It's amazing what people can do when they have no choice." Mrs. Avery's words held a double meaning.
Ivy's eyes widened. This was no regular assignment. Theresa hadn't been kidding when she mentioned that she had arranged something special.
"And just what will I be doing?"
"During the day you'll be working in the clinic de-worming the orphans and picking lice from their hair. Yes, we'll put those perfectly manicured nails to good use."
Theresa looked up from the glass of juice she'd been staring at for the last few minutes to see her sister-in-law standing next to her table in the Book Café.
"Sheridan. Please, join me."
"Aren't you expecting company?" Sheridan asked as she pulled out a chair.
"In a few minutes. Fox gets to have his caffeine fix, and I get to envy him."
Sheridan let out an audible breath. "Ethan told me, but I had a hard time believing it. I never thought you would…." Her voice trailed off as she realized that her statement would smack of presumption.
"….let Ethan go?" Theresa finished. "It's okay. You can say it."
"You've certainly stunned me in more ways than one," Sheridan acknowledged as she ran her hands through her short, blonde hair.
"I know that you and Ethan are close, so I can only imagine what he told you."
"I think you might be surprised. He was very self-deprecating. He told me that he crossed the line with you and that he broke your trust."
Theresa merely stared at Sheridan.
"Look, believe me when I say that I am not in any position to pass judgment. My own experiences with family entanglements involving your brothers have proven that. I just wanted to say that even though all of this comes as a shock to me, I will support your relationship with Fox. Obviously, he's not the same spoiled, selfish person I thought him to be."
"Why don't you say those nice things to him, then? He acts like it doesn't bother him that people expect the worst from him, but I know that it does. All he's ever needed was someone to believe in him, Sheridan."
"And you do."
"With all of my heart. I know he has a past; so do I. But I also know that the past shapes who we are and who we become. There isn't a doubt in my mind that Fox loves me and our baby."
Sheridan's eyes widened.
"You mean Ethan didn't tell you?"
Sheridan cleared her throat. "He left out that one minor detail."
"Please don't say anything to Luis. I want to tell him myself. He's going to be less than thrilled."
"That's the understatement of the year," Sheridan concurred.
"No matter. I'm done letting others dictate my life choices."
"I can't believe it. I'm going to be a great-aunt. Oh my goodness! I'm too young to have a great-nephew! What about Julian? Is all of that taken care of?"
Theresa smiled. "We signed annulment papers yesterday. It's as though the marriage never took place."
"Wow. Things are changing so quickly around here!" Sheridan exclaimed.
"But they've been a long time in coming. Speaking of coming, look who's on his way," Theresa replied as she looked toward the door of the Book Café and saw Fox approaching.
"I have so much I need to say to him," Sheridan said as she sank lower in her chair. "I've been abominable to him."
"Now's your chance," Theresa responded as she stood.
Fox approached the table and placed a quick kiss on Theresa's cheek. He then looked to his aunt. "Auntie Sheridan, have you come to extol the virtues of Saint Ethan?"
"Hardly. Fox, if you have a few moments, I'd really love to talk with you," Sheridan replied softly.
"I'm going to get a juice refill," Theresa said before she made herself scarce.
Fox turned one of the wooden chairs around and staggered it with his long legs as he sat at the table with his aunt.
"So to what do I owe the pleasure of this lecture?"
Sheridan shook her head. "I'm not here to lecture you. I spoke with Ethan, and in doing so, I realized just how wrong I had been about you. I blamed you for causing his injuries, and it was unjust."
"You got it."
"I've also blamed you for other things over the years."
"I've played the role of profligate nephew with skill, Auntie."
"And I've played the role of disapproving aunt with expertise. I just don't want it to be this way between us. I thought maybe if we gave it a shot, we could get to know each other better, maybe find some things we have in common."
Fox looked to where Theresa stood at the counter. "I can tell you one thing we have in common."
"And what's that?" Sheridan asked.
"We both fell in love with Lopez-Fitzgeralds. I would do anything for her, Sheridan. Anything."
"I believe it," she replied earnestly. "And I know you've risked so much to be with her."
"Something else we have in common," Fox added. "Anything worth having is worth fighting for."
"Yes, but going against Alistair…" an involuntary shudder ran through Sheridan as she thought of her father. "….let's just say that I know how difficult that can be."
Fox lifted a brow. "Get this. Alistair was insisting that our baby be raised as my father's child. Can you believe that?"
Sheridan swallowed hard. "Yes, I can. His actions are frequently shocking, but I'm never shocked about being shocked. Does that make sense?"
"I get you."
A smile broke across Sheridan's features. "I bet my brother had a fit when Father was insisting he raise Theresa's child. How I wish I could have been a fly on the wall!"
"Knowing Grandfather, he's probably got a surveillance tape of that non-dinner party somewhere. Perhaps if you ask nicely he'll give it to you when hell freezes over."
Sheridan considered her nephew's statement. "That sounds about right."
"This is nice."
"Yeah," Sher agreed. "It is. We wasted a lot of time, you and I."
"I suppose we did. I've carried this huge chip on my shoulder for a long time," Fox divulged.
"For good reason. Why give me a chance when I never bothered to give you one? That's going to change, though. I know we don't exactly come from a closely-knit family, but I'd like us to get closer."
"I'd like that, too.'
"So how are things going, you two?" Theresa asked as she approached the nephew/aunt duo. Theresa rested her hand on Fox's shoulder.
Fox's brown eyes met Theresa's. "Well. Very well, in fact."
"We called a truce," Sheridan supplied.
A broad smile lit up Theresa's features. "I'm so glad!"
Fox looked back at his aunt. "Me too." He placed his hand over Theresa's, gently rubbing her fingers. "Well, auntie, I'm going to steal my girl away from this place. I have very special plans for her today."
"Oh you do?" Theresa asked. "This is news to me."
Fox shrugged. "You know me. Always full of surprises."
Sheridan laughed lightly. "Well, have fun, you two. But don't wait too long to talk to Luis. I don't want to keep anything from him."
"I won't Sheridan. Promise," Theresa assured.
"Almost there," Fox said holding Theresa's hand as the two walked along the picturesque cliffs overlooking the ocean. It was a clear day, with the exception of an occasional fluffy cloud or two. The salt water took on the color of the azure sky, while the waves crested against the rock to form white foam and mesmerizing sounds.
Theresa smiled. Fox had been completely tight-lipped as they drove the seven miles outside of Harmony along the Atlantic coast, refusing to answer any of her questions about what he was planning, except to reiterate that it was a surprise.
"You have your special places, and I have mine," he had told her in the vehicle.
The air, unusually mild for the time of year, provided a salty and sweet mixture of aromas. "This place is beautiful," Theresa sighed, noting the contrast of the blue ocean and the evergreen trees.
"I'm glad you like it."
They walked around a bend of trees along the rocky paths, and Theresa was taken aback by what she saw. In the clearing, parallel to the cliff, was a dining room table, elaborately set.
"Ooooh, you're surprising me with lunch!" Theresa assumed aloud giddily.
"Not exactly," Fox replied coyly.
Theresa poked at his ribs. "You are killing me! If you aren't surprising me with lunch, then what are you doing with a table and chairs there?"
"I wanted you to try them out," Fox said leading her to the setting. He pulled a chair back for her and waited for her to sit. She did so hesitantly. Fox then sat in the chair next to hers overlooking the water.
"So, how do you like the view?" he asked.
"You already know that I think it's beautiful."
"Good. So you wouldn't mind eating here every day?"
Theresa giggled. "Well, if you're wanting me to eat seaweed and pine needles, I might."
"No danger there. I wanted you to try this out because this is where the dining room is going to be."
"In our new house. I bought this land yesterday, though I've been designing a house with it in mind."
Theresa's jaw dropped. "Wh-what? Did I hear you right?"
"You heard me. I'm building a home. For us. For our baby."
"Oh Fox!" She practically leapt from her chair and threw her arms around him.
He stood, holding her waist. "Theresa, do you remember when we were lying next to the pool?"
Theresa's skin felt warm. Did he even have to ask? Of course she remembered! She remembered every touch, every sensation.
"Oh, you know I do!"
"I told you that I wanted you to be my family…and when you were free, I had a question I wanted to ask you." He dropped to one knee.
Tears of happiness shimmered in Theresa's eyes. She felt such love for Fox, and she felt loved.
"There's an old saying. Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer."
Through her tears, Theresa laughed. They had come so far. From disdain to lust to love, their relationship had grown by leaps and bounds.
"You aren't my enemy anymore. You haven't been for quite some time, but I can't help but want to be close. Sometimes, I feel like I can't get close enough. It's as though I want to be consumed by you…by this amazing spirit you exude.
"I love you, Fox."
Fox's brown eyes earnestly fixed upon hers. "I love you, too, Resa, and that is why I am desperate to ask you a certain question. Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? Please say you'll marry me."
"Yes, Fox! I'll marry you! In a heartbeat!"
A broad grin filled Fox's features as he scooped Theresa into his arms, feeling the need to be as close as possible to her. "You said yes?"
She nodded gleefully.
"You said YES!"
"Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" Theresa repeated.
He captured her lips with a kiss. It was soft at first but quickly gained an intensity that threatened to envelop them both.
Fox, pulled away looking rather pleased with himself, and teased, "So you're finally going to make an honest man out of me."
Theresa touched the cleft of his chin and arched an eyebrow. "Mmmmhmmmm. I sure am. As soon as possible. In the meantime, I'm going to corrupt you for as long as I can. Now you've shown me the location of the dining room." With a twinkle in her eye and laughter in her heart, she added, "Any plans to show me the location of our bedroom?"