Author's Notes: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'm so sorry for the long delay in updating this story. Real life continues to kick my butt and I can't tell you how much I miss the days when I used to be able to while away the hours writing.

Anyway, in honour of One Tree Hill's series finale which is airing tonight, I thought it fitting that I post something since this show has given me my ultimate OTP and I've written more stories for them than all my other fandoms combined. (Thanks, by the way, to those of you on Twitter who voted for an update to this particular story.) It's also provided me with so many amazing friendships and I'll be eternally grateful to it for that. Thank you and goodnight, One Tree Hill!

Thanks to all of you who took the time to review the previous chapter. I really appreciate it and I'm glad to know you enjoyed it. :)

On a separate note, I'm still posting all of my new stories on my personal fanfiction archive. I know this site has disabled external links so the easiest way of finding it is probably via my Twitter page (I'm deviousnsinning over there). The link to my website is in my profile. Other than that, just Google "The Anticipation Kills Me" and you should find it.

Chapter Twenty-Four

"Deb, it's good to see you," Vernon Jeffries said, standing up to greet the woman as she entered his office.

"It's good to see you, too," she told him, taking his offered hand and firmly shaking it. "Really good."

The lawyer's eyes widened slightly at her flirtatious tone. With the exception of Dan's funeral, it had been some time since they had last seen each other so he wasn't expecting her to be quite so... friendly. Their year-long affair had been insanely passionate and while he would've loved to have carried on seeing Deb, he'd begun to worry that his wife was becoming suspicious and so had ended the relationship. The blonde had taken the news relatively well and said she understood his reasons but the few times they'd bumped into each other at the country club, he'd detected a touch of bitterness from her. Thankfully, his wife hadn't picked up on the awkwardness between them and she was still none the wiser, something he wanted to keep that way, especially given her most recent suspicions about him and one of the firm's junior partners. Walking to the mini-bar in the corner of his large, spacious office, he poured himself two fingers of scotch. "Can I get you anything?"

"I'll have the same as you," Deb replied. She waited until he'd poured their drinks and was heading back towards her to unbutton and remove the black, knee-length raincoat she was wearing, letting it fall down her arms onto the carpeted floor, and she tried her best not to laugh out loud when Vernon's mouth dropped open and he stopped dead in his tracks. "You always did love me in anything black and sheer and I figured that probably hasn't changed."

"Good God," he mumbled, his eyes roaming all over her, soaking up the sight of his former lover dressed in a see though black negligee which she'd teamed with a matching garter belt to hold up her sheer black stockings. Unconsciously, he licked his suddenly too dry lips and thought about how she looked even better today than the last time he'd seen her dressed similarly. You'd never guess from looking at her that she was on the cusp of turning fifty.

"Like what you see?" Deb asked, sashaying towards him and then taking her drink from his hands. Fixing her gaze on him, she sipped slowly at the expensive scotch.

"Uh... I-I can't do this," he choked. "Lucinda and I... We had a little... bump in the road a couple of months ago and we're trying again so if she found out about this..."

"Found out about what, Vern?" Removing the remaining glass from his hand, she placed it – along with hers – on the corner of his desk before running her palms up and down his chest. "She didn't find out about us before... you know how discreet I can be."

"Deb, please... you're not making this easy."

Laughing softly, she cupped him through his pants. "No, I'm making it extremely hard, aren't I?"

His eyes fell shut as the blonde continued to stroke him. He moaned in the back of his throat when he suddenly felt her bare skin on his erection. She already had him so mindless with lust that he hadn't even realised she'd lowered his zipper.

"Have you missed me?" Deb whispered. Leaning up, she nuzzled his chin with her nose before brushing her lips over his.

"Yes," he admitted.

"I've missed you, too," she lied. While Vernon was still as handsome and distinguished as ever with his lean physique and slightly greying hair, she had moved on and if it wasn't for Melinda's suggestion that she get in touch with him, she wouldn't have given him a second thought.

"The door..." he mumbled against her lips in between kisses.

"Don't worry, I locked it," Deb whispered, making herself sound breathless. For her plan to work, she needed Vernon to believe she still wanted him as much as he wanted her because by the time she'd finished with him, he would be telling her everything she needed to know about Dan's Will and whether or not it had anything to do with Nathan's marriage.

If he didn't, well, she'd just have to tell his darling wife what her husband was getting up to behind her back. Fingers crossed, the Dictaphone in her purse, which she'd left open and positioned on the chair by his desk, was picking all of this up.

Leverage, after all, was everything.

Arriving home from work and not finding Haley, Nathan entered his office to deposit his briefcase and he smiled when he saw her sitting behind his desk. "Hey, baby."

Pausing from what she was writing, she looked up and smiled at her husband. "Hey. You're back early."

"Yeah. My last appointment got cancelled so I thought I'd come home. One of the perks of being the boss," he said, flashing her a wink. Walking over to her, he perched on the desk and lowered his head as she tipped hers back and they shared a tender kiss. "So, what are you doing?"

"My college application pack arrived today so I'm filling in the forms," Haley replied, beaming. "There seems to be a chance I'll be able to pick up where I left off and won't have to repeat anything."

"That's great news." Brushing away a stray lock of hair, he stroked her face. "How about we go out to eat? With my mom here I know things have been a bit awkward so we should definitely take advantage of her absence."

Awkward was putting it mildly, Haley thought to herself. "Speaking of your mom, do you have any idea where she's gone?"

Nathan shook his head. "No. She just said she had some business to attend to and would be back in a couple of days. I figured it was probably best not to ask. So, you up for going out tonight?"

Smiling, she replied, "Yeah, that sounds good. I'm in the mood for Chinese."

"And what if I don't want Chinese?" he teased.

"Tough," she joked.

"You're lucky I love you."

Feeling that familiar heady rush at hearing those three words from him, her smile threatened to split her face in two. "Yeah, I am," she whispered.

"C'mere," Nathan said, getting up from the desk. Taking her hands in his, he gently pulled her up out of the large leather chair. "You know, we don't really have to go out to eat."

"Mm, what do you suggest?" she asked, feigning ignorance. As if she didn't know what he was suggesting.

"I think we should work up an appetite and then order in," he told her, his fingers toying with the buttons on her fitted blue and white plaid shirt.

"Is that so?"

"Uh huh," he said, popping the first button and then the second.

"What if your mom comes home?"

"The front door's locked so she'll have to ring the bell." Kissing along her cheek until his mouth was right by her ear, he whispered huskily, "Let's not even think about her..."

Scratching her blunt fingernails along his scalp, Haley's eyes fluttered shut and she gave herself over to the delicious sensations he was already creating within her.

Savouring the taste and feel of her husband as he stripped them both of their clothes, Deb Scott was the furthest thing on her mind.

Following her encounter with Vernon, Deb returned to the hotel room she had booked herself into in Charlotte. She was grateful that the lawyer's offices were located there and not in Tree Hill because she really didn't want to risk seeing anyone she knew and them asking her a lot of questions she didn't want to answer.

After taking a long, hot shower, she dressed in a pair of designer jeans and a silk button-up blouse. She chuckled to herself as she brushed her hair and then put in her silver stud earrings. Vernon's reaction was better than she could've anticipated and she'd already listened to the tape she had made at his offices. The sound was a little muffled in places but, other than that, you could easily tell what was happening and who the two voices on it belonged to. It would've been easy to play her hand right then and there but she decided to bide her time. Things had to be put in place beforehand. With Vernon having been Dan's lawyer, she was fairly sure he had his own share of dodgy dealings and it would be madness not to protect herself before she told him exactly what she wanted from him. What he'd told her about trying to make his marriage work made things even better for her. He was a wealthy man and she was quite certain that he wasn't willing to part with at least half of everything he owned over a simple one-night-stand and an affair that had ended years ago.

Pulling on her raincoat and tying the belt, Deb grabbed her purse and after checking she had everything she needed, she left the room.

As devious as her ex-husband had been, she was sure giving him a run for his money.

"Wow!" Haley exclaimed, her breathing ragged and heavy. Resting her forehead against Nathan's bare shoulder, she giggled at the rapid rise and fall of his chest demonstrating his own over-exertion at their fast and furious coupling.

"I think you're gonna have to peel me off this leather chair," he told her which made her laugh even harder.

"Hey, you're the one who sat down in it and pulled me onto your lap. We could've always used the floor."

"The floor's too hard on my back."

"Aww, I'd forgotten you're an old man now..."

Nathan pinched her side and smirked at her yelp. "I didn't hear you complaining about my age a few minutes ago."

Rubbing her thumb back and forth along his cheekbone, Haley closed the short gap between them, fusing her lips to his. She mewled into his mouth as his slightly calloused palms massaged all over her back and shoulders. Kissing the side of his neck, she quietly said, "I wish it could always be like this."

"What, baby?"

"I, uh, just said I love being with you like this."

Winding his fingers in her thick, auburn hair, Nathan directed her face back towards his and he suckled on her bottom lip, nipping it with blunt teeth. "Same here." Kissing her fiercely, he poured everything he felt for her into it, his hands holding onto her tightly. A moment later, it was his turn to moan as she took him in hand and lowered herself down onto him again before tantalizingly circling her hips. "God... Hales..."

One of Haley's hands gripped the chair's headrest while the other cupped the back of Nathan's neck, holding him to her. The feel of his hot breath against her feverish skin as she slowly moved on top of him was driving her crazy and when he finally took her left breast into his mouth she released a deep, guttural moan. Her fingers were digging so hard into his biceps she was sure he was going to have bruises there tomorrow but she didn't ease her hold on him. She couldn't.

In the recesses of her mind was the knowledge that a certain someone was going to be returning some time soon... whether it be tonight, tomorrow or the day after and all she wanted to do was savour every single minute she and Nathan had alone together.

The next morning saw Deb up bright and early. Later that day she had a meeting scheduled with Vernon, although he didn't know it. She'd used a fake name when she'd made the appointment with his secretary since she had a feeling he wouldn't want to see her. A one-off fling he could write off but if she arranged to see him, he'd probably think she wanted to start things up with him again and that would be much more difficult to hide from his unsuspecting wife.

Deb slipped into the black and lilac halter-neck dress she'd bought during her shopping trip in Chicago and she admired her reflection in the mirror, smoothing her hands over the soft, silky fabric. The neckline gave a teasing glimpse of her ample cleavage without being too obvious, although after the outfit she'd worn yesterday... this might as well have been a nun's habit, she thought to herself with a smirk. Stepping into a pair of black heeled pumps, she pulled on her raincoat again, buttoning it up so that, like previously, she was hiding what was beneath it. She might as well have a little fun with Vernon before she dropped her bombshell.

Once today was over, she could go back to Chicago and get back to pestering her daughter-in-law who, she was absolutely certain, wasn't going to be holding that title for much longer.

"D-Deb? Uh... what are you doing here? I'm actually expecting someone el—"

"Yes, a Mrs Cooper. That would be me. I thought it best to make the appointment under a different name. For some reason, I thought you might refuse to see me."

"Of course not," Vernon said, chuckling lightly.

Deb raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. She could tell from that fake little laugh that she had been spot on. "I have a little business I need to discuss with you, Vernon."

"Okay. Why don't we take a seat," he said, beckoning her over to the chair opposite his own executive leather chair. As he passed his desk, he suddenly remembered what had taken place on it just yesterday and he coughed to clear his throat. Like the previous afternoon, he went over to the mini-bar but instead of pouring himself an alcoholic beverage, he retrieved a bottle of water from the small fridge beneath it and after breaking the seal and uncapping it, he took a healthy drink of the cold liquid.

Hiding her smile, Deb played with the end of her belt and when he was facing her way again, she slowly began untying it.

"Uh, Deb... I don't think..." His words died away when he saw the dress she wore beneath the coat and he breathed a sigh of relief though it held a slight tinge of regret. A part of him would've loved to have again seen her in next to nothing.

"Is everything okay, Vern?"

"Yes... yes. So, what can I do for you?" he asked, taking a seat and lacing his fingers together, resting his joined hands on the legal pad in front of him.

"I need a little information," she started. "About Dan's Will."

"Ah, I'm sorry, Deb. Even though Dan's no longer with us I can't divulge its contents. He instructed me to keep certain things private and to only discuss them with the people who were directly affected. You and Dan were divorced for many years prior to his death and all of your legal matters were settled so there's really no need for you—"

"I thought you might say that," she interrupted, "which is why I took the liberty of making this." Opening her purse, she removed a small envelope from inside of it and slid it over to him.

"What's this?"

Smiling, she tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "Why don't you open it and find out." She watched with baited breath as he carefully opened the plain brown envelope and removed its contents.

Frowning, he repeated his previous question as he held up the small cassette tape between his thumb and forefinger, "What's this?"

"It's a tape recording... from yesterday."

Vernon swallowed past the lump in his throat. "You mean... of us?"

Deb gave a slow nod of her head. "Yes."

"I-I can't believe you did that."

"Really? And here I was thinking you knew me only too well. I'm sorry, Vernon, but drastic times called for drastic measures."

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I take it you intend on sending it to Lucinda if I don't tell you whatever it is you want to know."

"Ah, you do know me," she said, smiling. "What you're holding is a copy... the original is somewhere safe along with evidence of our previous affair. Remember all those personally written little cards you wrote me which accompanied your gifts of flowers and jewellery? I kept them all and I'm glad I did... they'll come in very useful should you decide not to assist me."

"Why are you doing this?" he asked. He watched as Deb uncrossed her slender legs and got up from the chair, crossing over to the bar whereupon she picked up a bottle of gin and began preparing herself a drink.

After pouring some scotch into a second crystal tumbler, she walked back to him, setting his drink in front of him before sitting down again and sipping her gin and tonic. "It's nothing personal."

"So was it all a set up? Yesterday, I mean."

Smoothing her free hand up her bare leg and then idly playing with the hem of her dress, Deb answered him with a slow smile. "If it helps any I had a good time. A very good time."

"That doesn't really answer my question," he told her.

"Fine, it was a set up. I knew if I just asked you about the Will you'd feed me the confidentiality line so I needed a little... leverage to get you to tell me everything I need to know."

Swirling the amber fluid around in his glass, Vernon brought it up to his lips and downed it in one. "Which is?"

"Is Nathan's marriage a sham? Did that son-of-a-bitch include a clause forcing my son to get married?"

Releasing a heavy sigh, the lawyer finally nodded. "Yes."

"I knew it!" The sense of triumph she felt in that very moment was overwhelming and she almost felt giddy. Not even attempting to hide her smile, she leaned forward in her seat and said, "Tell me everything."

On the way back from the airport to Nathan's house, Deb decided to pay Melinda a visit and fill her in on what had happened in Charlotte. After all, her friend had been the one to suggest she get in touch with Vernon.

"So, how did it go?" Melinda asked eagerly as she led the blonde into her kitchen.

Deb was about to answer when she saw the glint in the other woman's eyes and it gave her pause for thought. While Mel was a very close friend, she was also one of the biggest gossips and she was pretty sure that as soon as she was out of the door, the redhead would be on the phone telling everyone she knew about the situation and she wasn't having that. She needed the matter to stay private if she was going to use it to get rid of Haley.


"Sadly, it didn't go the way I'd hoped."

Melinda frowned. "Why don't we get comfortable. Can I get you some coffee, tea or maybe something a little stronger?"

"Coffee will be fine. I think I'll save the alcohol for when I'm back home. Lord knows I'm going to need it when I'm dealing with her."

After Melinda put on a pot of coffee, she took a seat at the kitchen table opposite her friend. "So, what actually happened with Dan's lawyer? Did he give you anything useful?"

Shaking her head, Deb replied, "He said he couldn't tell me anything otherwise he'd be breaching confidentiality which is still in place even though Dan's dead."

"Well, we'd already guessed that would probably be the case and I thought we decided that you'd use your feminine wiles to get around it." She smiled coquettishly.

Doing her best to school her features, the blonde shrugged. "Believe me, I tried but I must be losing my touch because he didn't fall for it. He just waffled on about not wanting to make his wife suspicious. Apparently, she already thinks he's screwing someone at the office so didn't want to risk doing anything with me in case it got back to her."

"So, you're none the wiser about Nathan and the little minx?"

"No," she lied. "It's unfortunate but that's the way it goes, I guess. I'll just keep doing what I've been doing so far and hope Haley cracks before too long."

"It sounds like you're planning on being in Chicago for a while, then."

Deb smiled. "I'm here for as long as it takes. I doubt Nathan will like it but I'm sure he'll thank me in the long run."

"Well, well, what do we have here?" Deb asked when she walked into her son's kitchen the following afternoon and found Haley apparently baking up a storm. "You really don't need to be consuming all those extra calories now, do you, dear?"

Haley had her back to the door and she froze when she heard her mother-in-law's voice. If only she'd remembered to lock the door after Nathan's departure. At least then she would have had some warning.

"Cat got your tongue?"

"No. I just wasn't expecting you back so soon."

"Hmm, well, I didn't want you to get too comfortable. I'll just bet you've enjoyed the past few days with me out of the way, haven't you?"

"Yes, actually." Haley smiled, straightening her back. "We've had a blast without your spiteful comments and interruptions."

"I think you mean you've had a blast. But I'm back now, sweetie, and the honeymoon's over." Walking to the refrigerator, Deb removed the bottle of Pinot Noir and set about opening it and pouring herself a glass.

"A little early in the day, isn't it?"

Deb gave her a pointed look. "Mind your own business."

Haley laughed though there was no humour in it. "Funny. You don't seem to mind butting your nose into my business wi—"

"Nathan is my business and don't you ever forget it, young lady." Taking a large gulp of wine, she savoured the familiar buzz of the alcohol working its way through her system. "When I'm done with you, you'll wish you'd never set eyes on my son." After another sip, she added, "Now, I'm going to go and unpack and then take a nice long bath. I think I'll ask Nathan to take me out to dinner tonight so we can catch up... you won't mind staying home. You have had him to yourself for the past couple of nights so I think it's only fair." The blonde walked out of the room, taking the bottle of wine with her, before Haley could utter a word.

"Bitch!" Haley said, not caring if the sound carried and Deb heard her. Removing the apron she was wearing and then turning off the oven despite the fact the last batch cookies inside of it weren't done baking yet, she picked up the phone and speed-dialled her husband's cell phone; smiling when after a couple of rings she heard his dulcet voice on the other end of the line. "Hey, baby. I was wondering, how 'bout I come and meet you at the office and we catch a movie?" As she listened to Nathan's response, she glanced across at the stairs. Two could play this game.

Deb was fuming when she came downstairs a couple of hours later and discovered Haley's note stuck onto the front of the refrigerator informing her that she was meeting Nathan and they were going to the movies. She had to hand it to Haley; the girl had grabbed the opening she'd inadvertently given her and run with it which was something she herself would've done had their roles been reversed.

Let her have her fun tonight, Deb mused. With the knowledge she'd gained from her little trip to Charlotte, she knew she had the upper hand but, as eager as she was to get things moving and get rid of Haley once and for all, she knew she needed to show some restraint and be patient.

Walking down the street hand-in-hand as they made their way to the car from the restaurant they had just eaten at, Haley felt free and part of any other regular, young married couple. Before she'd arrived at Nathan's offices, she'd bought a local paper from a nearby news-stand so they could check the movie theatre's listings. Perusing the paper, she'd laughed to herself as she thought about the look on Deb's face when she discovered the note she'd left for her. It served her mother-in-law right!

"What are you smiling at?" Nathan asked, glancing at her while he unlocked the car and opened the passenger door for her.

"Just thinking about what a good time I had with you tonight."

Ducking his head, he kissed her lips. "I had a good time, too and I'm glad you suggested it. We definitely need to do it more often. Not that I mind staying in, of course," he told her, smirking.

"Uh huh," Haley murmured, pushing herself up onto her toes and kissing him; her fingers lightly combing through his hair.

"Let's go home," he said, practically bundling her into the car which made her giggle.

After he'd closed her door, she sighed, her smile instantly disappearing. "I wish we didn't have to," she whispered, knowing what waited for them once they were back at the house.

"You okay?" Nathan asked, sensing the change in her mood as he got into the car and started the engine.

"I'm fine." She was about to tell him she was just feeling tired but she didn't want to use that excuse again. There were only so many times she could say that before he'd realise she wasn't being honest with him, something she'd always been with him up until Deb's arrival. Intertwining their fingers, Haley rested their joined hands on his thigh as she laid back against the headrest, her face turned towards his.

He watched her for a moment, again noticing how quiet she'd become and it was on the tip of his tongue to ask her if anything was wrong when she broke the silence.

"Take me home, baby."

The slow, shy smile she suddenly shot him made his body thrum and he smiled back at her, feeling slightly reassured that maybe he was just imagining things. They'd had a great night together and the last thing he wanted was to spoil the mood.

"You think you're so clever, don't you?" Deb accused her daughter-in-law, barging into her son's bedroom the next morning after he'd left for work.

After the late night they'd had, Haley had decided to sleep in for a while longer but it looked like that wasn't going to happen now. Sitting up in bed, she rested against the headboard. "Good morning to you, too, Deb."

"You knew I wanted to spend some time with my son last night."

She bit her lip to try to keep from laughing at the look of outrage on Deb's face. "Oh, I'm sorry. I must've forgotten to mention to you that we already had plans. Oops!" Throwing the covers back, she climbed out of bed. "If you don't mind, I'm going to take a shower and then head into town to buy a dress for the awards ceremony Nathan's taking me to on Friday evening."

Deb laughed. "You really think you'll be going? So far, has he introduced you to any of his employees or clients?" Before Haley could answer, she continued. "No, I didn't think so. And do you know why that is? It's because he's embarrassed that his wife is a mere child. He'll be a laughing stock. If you love him so much, do you really want to humiliate him like that in front of so many important people?"

Haley's mouth dropped open in shock at the older woman's words and she felt her skin heat up. "He wants me to come... he told me to buy a dress and—"

"He's just being polite. I can already imagine the raised eyebrows and sniggers the two of you will evoke when you walk into the place."

"Stop it, Deb! Just stop it!" Her head was spinning and she felt her stomach roil. It would serve her mother-in-law right if she threw up on her shoes.

"I'm only thinking of you, dear, and of Nathan, of course. This is an important night for his company and I just think it would be better if someone else accompanied him."

"That someone being you, I suppose?"


"Don't you think it'll be just as embarrassing for a thirty-year-old man to take his mother along with him?" Haley asked, tilting her head to the side.

Deb ignored her question. "I already have a dress for the event and I just so happen to have an appointment at the hair salon for Friday afternoon."

"Wow, what a coincidence. And what do you propose I tell Nathan about why I don't want to go with him?"

"You'll come up with something," she told her, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "I'm sure you can be quite... persuasive when you want to be." With that, she turned on her heel and walked out of the room.

"Ugh!" Haley exclaimed, slamming the bedroom door closed and then locking it. Grabbing her cell phone from the nightstand, she scrolled through her contacts and selected a familiar number. She sat down in the armchair by the large bay window and waited for the call to connect. Tears stung her eyes the second she heard her mother's voice on the other end of the line. "Hi, Mom."

"Haley-bop, how are you? I've been meaning to give you a call but Vivian, Mark and the kids have been staying with us so things have been a little crazy."

"H-how's everyone?" she asked. "You're all good, right?"

"We're all fine," Lydia told her. "What about you? How's married life treating you?"

Haley couldn't speak past the lump in her throat.

"Haley... sweetheart, what's wrong? C'mon, you can tell me."

"I-I... I want to come home," she choked out. "I don't think I can take this any more."

"Take what? Has Nathan done something 'cause if—"

"No, no," Haley quickly cut in. "It's not Nathan... He's been great. It's, uh... it's..."

"It's what?" she prompted.

"It's Deb."

"His mother? But she's back in Tree Hill."

Haley brushed away the tears that were rolling down her cheeks with the back of her hand. "No, she's not. She's here in Chicago and she's making my life a misery."

"And what's Nathan doing about it?" Lydia asked.

She could hear the anger in her mother's voice. "He, uh, doesn't know. I mean, I think he suspects that something's not quite right but..." She coughed to clear her throat before admitting, "I haven't told him what's been going on."

"And why the hell not, honey? The Nathan I witnessed in Tree Hill didn't hesitate in calling his mother out on her crap and I can't believe he wouldn't throw her out on her ass if he knew what she was doing to you when he's not around."

"I-I know, Mom, and that's why I haven't said anything. I don't want to be the reason his and Deb's relationship deteriorates even further than it already has, you know. I don't know what I'd do if he ended up resenting or hating me for it."

"Oh, honey." Lydia sighed. She wished she was with her daughter so she could give her a big hug as well as give Deb Scott the ass-kicking she deserved. "Nathan could never hate you... I'd put money on it. You really need to sit him down and tell him what's been going on. He deserves to know the truth."

"I can't. And it would be her word against mine."

"You really think he would believe her over you because I don't. Not for a single second."

Haley desperately wanted to believe her mother's words but something was stopping it from happening. "I think I need a break... a little time away to think everything through."

"You do realise that Deb will see your leaving as a sign that she's won and will use it to her advantage."

Rubbing her hand over her face, Haley nodded despite knowing her mother couldn't see the action. "Yeah, I know but right now I don't care. I just need to get away and have some space to breathe."

"Then come home and spend some time with us. Maybe you could even bring Nathan with you and you can show him around all your old haunts," Lydia suggested.

"I'd love to but he's busy with work and he has some corporate event to attend on Friday."

"Well, he could always come down a little later and spend the weekend here."

"Yeah, maybe," Haley replied, already feeling better at the prospect of getting away and seeing her family. "So, uh, I'll call you once I've made the arrangements and know when my flight gets in."

"Okay, honey. One of us will be there to pick you up."

"Thanks." Haley hesitated before asking the question that had just popped into her head. "Um, can you promise me something, Mom?"

"Sure, what is it?"

"Don't call and talk to Nathan about any of this. Or Deb, for that matter. I know you probably think you'd be helping and I love you for it, but... I just need some time to think before I decide what to do."

"You know me too well."

Haley laughed softly. "Yeah, I do."

After chatting for a little while longer about the rest of the family and what the latest news was, Haley disconnected the call and sat in the chair, staring out of the window.

By the time she finally made it into the bathroom to have a shower, she had made travel arrangements using the internet service on her phone and had her duffel bag packed with enough clothes, toiletries and personal items to last her for about a week; being careful not to make the absence of those items look too obvious.

Knowing she would soon be back in familiar territory with the people she loved and who loved her back just as fiercely made the weight in her heart feel slightly less.

She just hoped Nathan would forgive her.