AN – Okay guys, I know it has been so long and I can only apologise for that. For some reason my inspiration for this story was momentarily (well I guess temporarily is probably more apt) lost. I tried to write but in all honesty, nothing was coming out like I wanted and so rather than give you guys something which I'm not happy with, I decided to wait. I do want to thank you all for the lovely reviews and encouraging PM's you've sent my way while you waited patiently for this story to update.

And while we're on the subject of stories, I just wanted to let you all know about something very exciting. My friend Rebecca (some of you may read her stories - she's love of escapism on this site) and I have begun a new story which we are writing together. It's called Butterflies and Hurricanes and the prologue is now up! If you want to take a read (we're really excited about the story we've got planned) then just find your way to my profile by clicking on my name at the top of this web page and you'll see it listed on there.

And as per usual I want to thank those of you without accounts who left a review for the last chapter, because I couldn't respond to them personally... Kelly – I'm so pleased you enjoyed the last chapter and that you're excited to see Nathan confront Haley, hope you enjoy the update! Haylie – I'm so glad you were excited about the last update, sorry this took so long but I hope you enjoy reading it! Keeta – Hope you got the preview? Glad you're enjoying this story still, and that you guessed Nathan would find the ring! Hope you like this chapter! Ann – So pleased you liked the last chapter and I hope you enjoy this update too! Lauren – I'm so pleased you enjoy this story and sorry for taking so long to update. Hope you enjoy the update! Naley 3 – Glad to hear you're enjoying the story and I hope you like the new chapter! tlovesnaley2 – I'm so pleased you enjoyed reading the story and I really hope you like the new chapter!

As always, major thanks go to Rebecca and Kristen who do a fabulous job reading through for me before I post the chapter.

I hope you guys enjoy the update and thank you once again for being so patient with me, I really appreciate it!

And Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Haley was completely confused as to why Nathan was emitting waves of hostility like an earthquake had rumbled deep inside of him. The atmosphere inside the elevator was completely stifling, the air so thick with tension that she was finding it incredibly hard to breath. The ride up to the apartment felt like it was taking an absolute eternity, and when the elevator doors finally opened, she raced out so that she could take a deep breath of some fresh air.

Nathan's mind was racing, what the hell did that ring mean? It couldn't be an engagement ring... but of course it was. He was being an absolute idiot if he thought he could disregard it for something else, he knew that. But, if it was an engagement ring, then it couldn't be Haley's, could it? Because she couldn't be engaged, not after she had told him that she'd left her boyfriend. But then why else would it be in her purse? It's not like you just offer expensive, diamond rings to other people for safekeeping. And if you did, you'd hope that the other person would keep it somewhere other than a purse for crying out loud.

Haley walked around the corner towards the apartment and glanced behind her when she didn't hear the sound of the suitcase rolling on the floor, like she expected. She walked back towards the elevator and watched as the doors began to close, with Nathan still standing inside of it. What the hell was wrong with him? "Nathan?" She called out, and watched as he jolted himself out of his thoughts and then stuck his arm in between the closing doors, meaning that they opened once again. She rolled her eyes and continued to walk towards the front door to the apartment, pleased to hear the sound of Nathan's footsteps and the suitcase behind her this time.

Once Nathan got to the door, he put his key in the lock and opened it, walking inside while rolling the suitcase and Haley's handbag behind him. He was more confused than he'd ever been in his life, because he couldn't seem to add it all together in his head. He didn't really know where he was or what he was doing. He was simply acting on autopilot, his mind racing with thoughts as to what that ring could mean.

Something was obviously wrong with him. Haley had worked that one out herself rather easily. But how his mood could change so drastically from him stepping out of the car and walking inside of the building was a complete mystery to her. She didn't know what the hell had happened, but she assumed it had been the phone call he had received which had caused him to act like this, because she was finding it hard to come up with any other suitable explanation. She closed the door behind her and placed the small bag she was carrying down on the floor. "Is everything okay, Nathan?" She asked curiously, hoping that if something was wrong he'd talk to her about it. She wanted to be able to help him, because it was clearly serious, judging by the way he was acting.

Nathan knew he needed to talk to her rationally about this. He needed to calm himself down because the only explanation that fit was the one which he dreaded to think about. The ring had to be hers. And as much as he wanted to run out of the apartment and just get the hell away from her, he knew he needed to remain strong and stay right here. He took a deep breath and decided to just ask her about it, rather than procrastinate. "What is that ring?" He asked as he rested the suitcase upright and turned himself around to face Haley.

Haley furrowed her brow. Ring? What the hell was he going on about? "What ring?" She asked, clearly not understanding whatever the hell he was asking her. She racked her brains for what he could be referring to but she was completely coming up blank.

"The ring inside your purse. What's it for?" Nathan asked again, wondering how she could act like she didn't know what the hell he was talking about. It clearly wasn't a freeby from a cracker; the damn thing had to mean something to her.

Haley's eyes grew as wide as saucers and she glanced away from Nathan as she realised all too quickly what ring he was going on about. It was the ring she'd carelessly left in her purse, the one she had completely forgotten about. God, how could she have been so stupid, letting him get some change out of the purse when they were outside, how had she not remembered that she'd left the thing inside of it? She felt this surge of anger bubble up inside of her, directed mostly at Tom. Why had he given it to her in the first place? She wanted to blame him for all this mess, because if he'd never asked her, then she wouldn't be in this situation right now. But, then she quickly realised that she had said yes, when she could have just said no. And so, she couldn't really blame Tom for all of this, even though she desperately wanted someone else to shoulder the responsibility. However, she knew that it was her fault for leaving the damn thing in her purse. That had been her decision and hers alone, and in hindsight it had been an incredibly stupid one. But she honestly hadn't known what else to do with it; she wasn't exactly going to wear it on her finger!

"Well?" Nathan asked, after what had to have been far too much silence. He could see the panic in Haley's eyes and it was only making him feel a thousand times worse than he already did. It was like confirmation of what he already knew, despite the fact that he hadn't wanted to believe it, and despite the fact that she hadn't actually verbally confirmed or denied it. But her expression told him everything he needed to know, if he was being honest with himself. However, he wasn't being, and he was holding onto the last shred of hope he had, dangling from the thin rope with complete and utter desperation.

Haley was looking down at the floor, concentrating hard on regulating her breathing. She felt like her entire world was crumbling around her and she could feel all of her surroundings become more and more distant as the seconds ticked on. She heard Nathan speak, jolting her somewhat out of her haze but his voice sounded so far away. This was it, she was finally losing him. After fighting and breaking up with Tom, she was finally losing her entire reason for it all. She bit down on her lip as the tears began to well in her eyes, making her vision incredibly blurry. She still hadn't found the courage to connect her gaze with Nathan's, she couldn't bring herself to see the hurt and confusion she knew would be residing in his beautiful blue eyes. She couldn't take the fact that she was hurting him.

Why wasn't she saying anything? Nathan wanted nothing more than to walk over to her and shake this reasoning out of her. He wanted a damn answer and he couldn't take waiting for it any longer. He could feel the dread, the confusion and the pain rushing through his body, weighing him down, so much so that he felt like his feet were rooted to the spot. He ran an incredibly frustrated hand through his raven black hair and then tested himself by taking a tentative step forwards. For some absurd reason he felt like he was wading through sinking sand. It took a tremendous amount of effort for him to shuffle one of his feet forward, and so eventually he stopped himself from walking any further towards Haley. He could hear the clock from the kitchen ticking on, the noise of it taunting him until he couldn't take the silence any longer. "Haley, what the hell is going on?" He asked, the bewilderment, frustration and fear clearly evident in the tone of his voice.

Haley took a deep, steadying breath in an effort to calm her nerves and chanced a glance up at Nathan. She felt one of her tears drop down her face when she saw just how broken he seemed and she had to look away again. She breathed in once more, only this time it was incredibly shaky and it was only then, as she listened to the sound of her breathing, that she realised her entire body was trembling. She knew that she needed to explain, she knew that it was time for Nathan to know the truth, and so, still looking down at the ground, being cowardly and unable to look at him, she began to explain. "The ring is mine, Nathan..." She began, but she was prevented from going any further because Nathan interrupted her.

"Fuck, Haley!" Nathan roared. He ran his hand through his hair again, only this time his fingers lingered in his locks and pulled sharply on the strands as if he were trying to pull it completely from his head. The anger he felt was bubbling swiftly along his veins, overtaking every single emotion he could possibly feel in that moment. He looked at her, completely disbelieving and exasperated with her, and he didn't know what the hell to do with himself now that she'd told him that the ring was hers. What on earth did that mean? He was so confused because she'd told him that she'd broken up with her boyfriend, so what the hell was she doing with an engagement ring in her purse? "What... I mean... how... God, Haley, what the hell?"

Haley visibly winced as Nathan's loud, booming voice echoed all around the apartment. She felt more tears fall from her eyes and she closed them for a brief moment, allowing him a second for his anger, after all, she deserved to feel his wrath. When he stopped shouting at her, she opened her eyes and looked over at him, seeing him staring at her expectantly, like he was waiting for her to provide him with an answer to all of this. She gulped, because although she knew that she needed to tell him, although she knew that he needed to know the truth, she was still battling with herself, because there was this tiny voice in the back of her head which was telling her to lie to him, purely to save her own skin. She felt sick with guilt as the voice continued to resonate in her mind and she worked hard to push it away, to silence it. She cleared her throat before she began to speak again. "My ex wasn't my ex-boyfriend; he was my ex-fiancé. He asked me to marry him and I was so shocked by it that I found myself somehow saying yes to him. But you have to understand Nathan, that it wasn't what I wanted; I don't even know why I said yes to him in the first place..." She explained, her eyes pleading with Nathan's, begging him to understand where she was coming from.

"But you were engaged? When we started seeing each other?" Nathan asked, really wanting the answer to his question to be a no. He didn't want to hear that she had properly belonged to another man, that she had given herself to someone else while they were building a relationship with each other. It just seemed wrong on so many levels and he felt completely betrayed by her. How could she do this to them? To him? How was he supposed to trust her now?

"Yes." Haley answered honestly, and her face crumpled when she saw Nathan's entire body slump under the weight of her words. She absolutely hated herself in that moment, wishing that she'd just pushed through his disregard when she'd tried to tell him before, wishing that she had fought with him and made him listen to her. She was so angry with herself for waiting for him to find out about it, especially like this, especially when they'd just managed to sort through things and were finally getting their relationship on track. The timing sucked completely and she couldn't feel more frustrated and furious with it all. Wouldn't it have been so much better if she had told him, rather than him finding out for himself?

Nathan couldn't breathe. He tugged on his t-shirt, as if he were trying to free himself, give himself some much needed space for the air to travel down into his lungs. He breathed in and out deeply for a few moments, needing to take the time to try to calm his racing heart, needing a second to gather his thoughts. His head was spinning uncontrollably and he didn't understand what was going on. He had to look away from her because as he continued to stare at her, the pain only seemed to get worse. He wasn't sure what this meant for them now. Just a couple of moments ago, everything was fine, he was buoyed up from the time they had spent together in Vegas and had been really looking forward to starting to build on their relationship at home in New York. But he just didn't know what was happening now, he felt like any control he'd had on his life had just slipped right through his fingers.

Haley hated to see Nathan this way; it was absolutely killing her that she was the cause of all his pain. She bit down on her lip and looked away from him as the events of the past couple of months came back to her. She remembered meeting up with Nathan before work each day in the coffee shop by the office, seeing Tom, Nathan kissing her for the first time, Lucas offering her a place to stay, realising that she was staying in Nathan's home, that horrible moment at the engagement party Tom had thrown for them, breaking up with Tom and finally managed to sort through things with Nathan. It was as these events ran through her head that she realised that she'd been wrong with what she had told Nathan, and given that she was having a moment of honesty with him, she decided to correct herself. "Actually, I got engaged after you kissed me for the first time." She said, amending the earlier answer she had given him.

Nathan turned to look at her with a completely bewildered expression on his face. He didn't know what she was expecting him to do, what he was supposed to say to all of this. His head was a complete mess, and he shook it from side to side a couple of times, trying very hard to clear the hazy fog which had built up inside of it. He then scoffed as he looked at her, really pissed off that she had an expression on her face as if to say that the fact that she'd got engaged after he'd kissed her somehow made it all better. "You think that you getting engaged after we'd kissed makes it okay? Huh? I mean, Jesus fucking Christ Haley, what the hell do you expect me to say?" He said, his voice getting louder and louder with each word which came out of his mouth until he was back to shouting at her again.

Haley felt like she should cower away from him. Her eyes moved over his body and she could see that he was shaking uncontrollably with rage, there was a fire in his eyes, burning harshly as his eyes glared right at her, as if he wished he could scold her from just a look. His hands were now clenched in fists at his sides, and she had to look away from him because he was actually starting to scare her now. But she resolved with herself that she wouldn't walk away and leave, she needed to tell him all of it, no matter how much her brain screamed at her to run. She cautiously brought her eyes back to his body after a few seconds, but any hope of seeing a slightly calmer Nathan were quashed when she saw him still trembling violently. "I.... I... I don't know what I expect you to say Nathan, honestly, I mean, I don't really expect anything. And I don't think that the timing of my engagement makes it all better... honestly I don't..." She stuttered but was saved from saying anymore when he interrupted her again.

"Well good, I'm glad to hear it because in fact the timing of it all makes it worse, Haley, not better!" Nathan fumed. He could feel his body shaking still and he had no idea how he was going to be able to control the anger he was feeling rushing through his veins relentlessly. He decided that standing still wasn't helping and so, taking a deep breath and hoping that his body wouldn't feel as heavy to him as it had done earlier, he took a testing step to the right. He was mildly relieved when he was able to move his legs without much effort, and once he realised this he began to pace up and down in front of Haley, trying desperately to think coherently about all that he had just learned. He was toying with the idea of just running out of this apartment, but he knew that if he did he wasn't sure if he would be able to come back. He knew it was the cowardly thing to do and so he was determined to stay here and talk this crap through with Haley before he made any rash decisions. For once he decided to be rational, and even though he didn't want to admit it to himself in that moment, he knew deep down that the only reason he was choosing to stay was because he loved her so much.

Haley watched as Nathan paced up and down in front of her, and she desperately wanted to reach out to him and stop him for a second. She could see that he was just working himself up more and more, and she knew that it wasn't doing him any good. But she didn't touch him because she didn't know what his reaction would be, she didn't know if he would want her to touch him. She was incredibly terrified of what his reaction would be should she reach out her hand to him, and she didn't want to even think about how she would feel if he moved away from her, or told her to leave him alone. So instead she continued to watch him, wondering if she should say something, wondering what she could say to make him feel better than he did right now because she really didn't like seeing him this way. She was about to open her mouth to say something, she wasn't even sure what it was, she just wanted to fill the uncomfortable silence with something, but Nathan spoke before she could begin to blabber about absolute nonsense.

Nathan stilled his pacing for only a second, just so that he could throw another glare in Haley's direction, before he started up again, his mind working overtime trying to keep up with the thoughts which were racing through his head. "I mean, seriously, Haley, what the hell am I supposed to do with this?" He asked, wanting her to give him an answer because he sure as hell had no idea what he was supposed to be doing or thinking about this, he was just completely puzzled by everything. He felt like his entire world had just shattered, like he'd been knocked completely off kilter and didn't know which way was up anymore.

God, how could he think that she had any answers to that question? He'd stopped his pacing entirely now and was looking right at her. She felt the guilt stirring uncomfortably in her stomach as her eyes ran over his face, taking in his sombre expression. He looked so desolate, so lost and so empty, yet so full of confusion and hurt at the same time. "I…. I… God, Nathan, I really don't know. I just…" She didn't know what the hell to say. What could she say? How could she make him feel any better about all of this?

"You just what, Haley?" Nathan asked completely exasperated with this whole situation now. He was still fighting with himself to stay where he was, still battling with the temptation to just run right out of there, find a relatively quiet bar and drown his sorrows, but then he remembered what had happened the last time he'd done that, and had somehow managed to leave with a bar whore latched onto his arm and the idea suddenly seemed really unappealing to him. He didn't want anyone else. He just wanted Haley, only he wanted the blissful version of her he'd had before, when she'd broken up with her boyfriend, not a fiancé and had promised herself to just him, not someone else.

Haley shook her head and looked away from Nathan, staring down at the floor again. She shuffled on her feet, feeling the uncomfortable glare coming from Nathan, which made her feel even worse than she already did. Eventually, she gathered her resolve and lifted her head, looking him right in the eye. She had to let him know how she felt, she had to make him see that none of what happened before mattered, all that mattered was how she felt now, how much she wanted him, how much she loved him. Surely he knew that? She took a deep breath and could feel the anger resonating off his body, but she tried very hard to concentrate on what she was about to say. "I know I should have told you, and God, Nathan, I tried, but every single time I brought the subject up, you just shied away from it. I…"

Nathan couldn't help the fact that his mouth dropped open. There was no way that she was trying to shift the blame onto him, surely? That was just completely preposterous and utterly ridiculous. He had to interrupt her before she even uttered another word, because there was no way in hell that he was going to let her get away with that. "And do you know why that was, Hales? Do you know why I didn't want to know? It was because I didn't like hearing about you being with anyone else but me. I didn't want to know a thing about that asshole you stayed with for reasons completely unbeknown to me. But that was when I thought he was just some guy. Not someone you'd promised to be with for the rest of your life. I mean, seriously Haley, what the fuck am I supposed to think? I can remember how depressed you were when you were with him, so then why, when I made my feelings for you crystal clear, did you then agree to his proposal? Agree to be his husband for God's sake?" He seethed. God, he actually couldn't remember a time when he felt this angry and hurt and he absolutely hated being this way.

Haley could feel more tears pooling in her eyes, but she knew that she needed to fight for this, she knew that she couldn't just give up because Nathan meant so much to her. "Nathan, he doesn't mean anything to me. I don't even know why I agreed to the proposal in the first place but I was so confused… and I broke it off with him when I realised that I didn't want to be with him, that I couldn't be his wife or even his girlfriend for that matter. It's not him who I want to be with, Nathan, it's you. You are the one that I want, the one that I want to spend the rest of my life with, not someone else." Haley pleaded with him to understand, she didn't want to fight with him. She knew, obviously, that he was angry and upset at her and she didn't want him to stop feeling that way because she knew he had the right to, but she just wanted him to realise that she knew what she wanted and she knew who she wanted to be with. There was no doubt in her mind at all.

Nathan shook his head at Haley as he absorbed her words. He wanted to believe her, but how the hell could he? How could he trust someone who said yes to an engagement when they wanted out of the relationship in the first place? It just didn't make sense to him at all. "That's all very well, Haley, but I still don't get it. I still don't understand what the hell you were thinking when you said yes to him." He sighed heavily and resumed his pacing, hoping that the movement would help him to wrap his mind around all of this.

Haley watched once again as Nathan paced up and down in front of her, her eyes following his every move. "You know what, Nathan, I don't understand why I said yes either. I don't know what the hell I was thinking." She said honestly. She really hoped he understood that she couldn't' give him any more than that. She couldn't even begin to comprehend why she'd said yes to Tom in the first place. It had to have been the most stupid thing she'd ever done in her entire life.

Nathan continued to stare at her, the frustration he felt towards her reaching unbelievable levels. "Well if you weren't thinking then why the hell did you say yes?" He returned, completely not understanding what she was saying to him. How, when accepting a proposal can you not be thinking about things? How can you not be questioning whether you can actually see yourself in a relationship with this person, how can you not be thinking about whether you can see yourself with this person for the rest of your life? Surely that was the first thing which would run through your mind?

God, Haley was finding this conversation absolutely infuriating. She could understand why Nathan was mad at her, of course she could, but searching for answers she honestly didn't have wasn't going to get them anywhere. "I don't know why I said yes, Nathan. But does it honestly really matter why I did? I mean, it happened, I'm not with him anymore and all I want is to be with you. Isn't that what's..." Haley started but she was cut off by the sound of Nathan's phone ringing, the ringtone filling the quiet space of the apartment now that she had stopped talking.

Nathan sighed heavily, knowing that the person on the phone would be his brother, wondering why he wasn't at the office yet. His secretary had called him about fifteen minutes ago, telling him that Lucas was having some kind of crisis and that he needed to get into the office as soon as he could. He didn't even think about answering the phone though, because whatever crisis Lucas was referring to, it could wait. The whole damn company would just have to wait, because he was sure that whatever problem Lucas was having, it was nowhere near as big as the one he was currently dealing with here at home. The ringing phone eventually stopped and he looked over at Haley again, waiting for her to continue.

Haley watched Nathan look over at her once the ringing phone stopped, and she knew that he was just waiting for her to say something. She didn't know what else she could say. She felt like she was waiting on a knife edge and she just wanted some guidance, she just wanted someone to tell her exactly what she should say to make all of these problems go away. But she didn't have anyone who she could ask. This was all her own doing and it was going to be up to her to sort it all out. She took a deep breath and tried again, really hoping that this time she'd get through to him. "I just don't know what to say. I mean I'm really, so sorry for not telling you about this sooner Nathan, and I don't know, I know that it's all my fault. But I don't want to lose you, I can't... you mean so much to me. I love you, so much and I just..." She started, but once again she was interrupted by the ringing of Nathan's phone, the piercing noise once again resounding from his pocket.

Nathan wanted to chuck the damn phone out of the window. He was actually going to kill his brother. He knew that if he didn't pick the call up, then Lucas would only keep on ringing and so he threw Haley a somewhat apologetic look, though he wasn't too sorry because quite frankly he was still so furious with her, and then he reached inside his pocket to grab his noisy phone. He rolled his eyes when he glanced at the caller display and as he had predicted, saw his brother's name flash up on the screen. He didn't apologise to Haley when he pressed the connect button, because he didn't think that she deserved one. "What?" He snapped into the phone once he had brought it up to his ear.

"Nathan, where the hell are you?" Lucas said once his brother had finally picked up his phone. He was really pissed off that he hadn't arrived at the office yet. Didn't he understand the severity of the situation?

"At home." Nathan responded as he ran a hand through his hair. He could tell by the tone of his brother's voice that whatever had happened wasn't just something trivial, it was most definitely something serious. He just wanted to find some sand and bury his head in it. Hadn't he dealt with enough today already?

Lucas sighed in complete frustration at his brother. "Well hurry up and get your ass over here. It's important, Nathan. What the hell are you still doing at home?" He said, wondering why his brother wasn't jumping in a car to get over here. Any other time when they'd been even a hint of a problem, he would be right over at the office as quickly as he could get there, so what the hell was he doing now?

Nathan shook his head, really thinking that it would explode if he had to take any more shit today. He clenched his eyes shut and rested his hand on his forehead. "Fine, I'll be there in fifteen, I'm leaving now." He said and then hung up the phone, placing it back in his pocket.

Haley could feel her eyes filling with tears as she listened to what he was saying to whoever he was on the phone to. He was leaving her here? God, she most definitely didn't want him to leave her, not when everything was so up in the air like it was. She looked away from him as she saw his eyes begin to slowly return to her and concentrated on looking down at the carpet. She had to bite down on her lip in an effort to stop the tears from falling down her face, but it wasn't working and she felt the fat tears begin to roll down her cheeks. She didn't want him to walk out of the apartment, not when she had no idea what was going on with their relationship. She didn't know if things were okay between them or if they weren't, she didn't know if he wanted to be with her still or whether he wanted to finish with her. It was all so unsettling.

Nathan sighed as he left his hand in his pocket where he had just placed his phone. He ran his other hand over his face, as if he were trying to clear the last half an hour or so from his mind. "Er, that was Lucas, I need to go to the office." He said. He really didn't want to leave, not when he didn't feel like anything had been sorted out between them both. He didn't want to leave without them reaching some kind of resolution but he knew that a resolution would take much longer than he could give her right now, especially as he knew that if he wasn't in Lucas' office in fifteen minutes his brother would only keep on calling him until he arrived, which wouldn't be the best way for him to sort through all that he had just learned.

Haley just nodded her head at him, not bothering to lift her head up so that he could see her. She didn't want him to see her crying because she felt rather guilty for shedding tears over it all. What did she have to cry about? She was the one who had kept this huge secret from him, she was the one who had evaded the truth and elected not to tell him that she was engaged. She sniffed once and wrapped her arms around herself as she continued to stare down at the floor, really wishing that he didn't have to go to the office, wishing that he would just stay and tell her that everything was okay.

Nathan frowned when he heard Haley sniff, and he knew without even having to ask that she was crying. Despite all that had happened, he couldn't help but feel this overwhelming need to wrap her up in his arms, to comfort her. He wanted to be able to tell her that everything was going to be okay, he didn't want her to be upset about it all, he wanted to be able to tell her all the things that he knew would stop her from feeling like this. But he also knew that he couldn't lie to her. He couldn't say that he was fine when he clearly wasn't. But even so, he didn't want to leave her alone like this. "Hales." He said in a much softer tone than he'd used with her ever since they'd walked into the apartment. He took a couple of steps towards her but stopped when he saw her retreating away from him. He grew incredibly confused, why was she shielding herself from him?

Haley could feel Nathan walking towards her and she instinctively took some steps backwards, trying to get herself away from him. She heard him say her name, and he didn't sound angry, which although it was a relief to her, she somehow felt that she didn't feel worthy of hearing anything else from him. And as he walked forwards she knew that he was trying to offer her some form of comfort, but she didn't feel like she could take that from him. Not when she wasn't sure of what he thought of her at the moment. She didn't want him to feel sorry for her; she deserved to feel like this. She cursed herself when, as if on autopilot, she reached one of her hands up to wipe the tears from her cheeks. She really didn't want Nathan to see her like this.

Nathan decided to go to her, because he had just seen her wipe her cheeks and so he knew for certain now that she was definitely crying. He continued to walk towards her and saw her begin to turn herself away, but before she could turn around, he grabbed onto one of her wrists and pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her, resting his chin on top of her head as she sobbed into his chest. He felt a thousand emotions rush through his body as he held her, confusion, fear, pain, longing, betrayal, but the strongest emotion, despite all that had happened since they'd got back to the apartment that he felt overtake his body was love. He loved this woman who was crying her heart out in his arms more than anything in the world.

Haley couldn't think of anything as she allowed herself to sob into Nathan's chest. She felt his arms wrap around her back, she could feel his chin resting on top of her head but inside, emotionally, she couldn't make any sense at all of what she was feeling. "Please don't leave me." She kept on repeating this as her shoulders shook violently, making her entire body tremble.

Nathan knew that he needed to get to the office, he knew that Lucas would probably call him in a second to check that he had left, but as he heard Haley mutter quietly to his chest, his heart broke that little bit more. He gently pried her away from his body, his hands on her shoulders, wanting to look at her, but her head was still bowed. He tentatively moved one of his hands and lifted her chin with his fingers until she was looking him in the eyes. He didn't want to tell her that everything was fine when he knew it wasn't. But he wanted to offer her the words he knew he could say in that moment, the words that he knew were true. "I could never leave you."

~*~

Nathan sat in Lucas' office, staring into space as he twiddled his pen between his fingers. He was aware that he was supposed to be listening to the so-called problem that had happened while he had been in the air flying back from Vegas but it just didn't seem to be of any importance to him now. All that mattered to him was his relationship with Haley at the moment.

The shock of her revelation had worn off somewhat and he found that some time away from her had allowed him the chance to actually think about things rationally, to not be clouded by the pure anger and pain which had been residing inside of him when she had first told him of her engagement. He was able to ponder and think about things with a much clearer head. As he thought over his relationship with Haley, he realised that she had been right, that she had tried to tell him about this a number of times and each time she had begun to talk to him, he'd told her that he didn't want to know, that it didn't matter. Wasn't he being a complete hypocrite now with the way that he had acted over it all? And besides, she'd broken up with the dude now anyway, she wanted to be with him, and all that he'd ever wanted was to be with her. So where the hell was the problem? Previously engaged or not, did it really matter? He'd known when he had first got involved with Haley that she had someone else, he'd initiated their relationship so why had he reacted the way that he had?

Lucas looked over at his brother as he waited for his input, only he was swirling that stupid pen of his around his fingers and didn't appear to be listening to a word he was saying. Didn't he understand how much of a serious issue this was? The land which Carly had showed him was absolutely perfect for the new development they were considering, and if they missed out on acquiring the land then the whole project would have to be changed completely. "Nathan? Are you listening or what?" He snapped, seeing his brother jolt out of his haze and flash him a somewhat apologetic glance. He just rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. He knew that he was going to have to repeat himself all over again. "Will you make sure you're listening, please? This is really important."

Nathan felt incredibly sheepish that he had been caught not listening. He put his business hat back on and did his best to push thoughts of Haley and his relationship with her out of his mind. Well, they wouldn't leave entirely but he really did try to push them to the far recesses of his brain and concentrate on what Lucas was saying to him. "I'm sorry bro, just got a lot on my mind at the moment. But I'm all ears now, I promise." He said as he flashed a more sincere look at Lucas, much more apologetic than the first one he had thrown his brother's way. He cleared his throat and sat up straighter in his chair, giving Lucas his full attention. He even put his pen down on the table in front of him to stop himself from playing with it.

Lucas nodded his head at his brother, pleased that he finally had his attention. He cleared his throat and was just about to launch into his speech again, but he was interrupted by Nathan's mobile phone which began to ring from his pocket. He flashed him a look of complete and utter exasperation and annoyance, and watched incredulously as he reached into his pocket as if he was going to answer it. "Are you seriously going to take the call?" He asked, unable to hide the disbelief from his voice.

Nathan gave his brother a very pointed look as he fished his phone out of his pocket. He glanced down at the name which was flashing across the screen, and seeing that it was Haley, he threw another apologetic look in Lucas' direction. "Sorry, Luke, I really need to take this." He said as he pushed himself out of the chair and walked out of the office. He really was sorry, because he knew that he'd spent the last hour or so not listening to a word of what Lucas was saying to him, but quite honestly, he really needed to talk to Haley. He didn't want them to argue with each other, he just wanted them to move past this and get on with their life together. After all, he knew for certain that there was no way in hell that he'd be able to live without her, and he didn't want to either. He loved her, so much, and he really needed to tell her that.

Haley really didn't want to bother Nathan. She knew that he would be incredibly busy with work but she was having all these doubts which were swirling around in her mind. She could feel them weighing her down incredibly and she didn't know what to do. It was getting to the point where she couldn't even see clearly, her entire mind becoming this field full of fog where absolutely nothing made sense. She'd scalded herself every time she had reached for her phone, telling herself that he would come back eventually. But how did she know that he would come back? How did she know that he wouldn't just walk out on her and leave her there? She hated feeling this way but she knew that the only way she'd be able to calm her fears would be if she were to talk to Nathan. So the sixth time she reached for her phone, she gave in to herself and allowed herself to dial his number. She waited with baited breath as the phone rang, she wasn't even sure if he'd pick it up to speak to her. She didn't know what she'd do if it went to voicemail. Somehow that would be even worse than her having not called him at all.

Nathan walked out of the office and pressed the connect button, bringing the phone up to his ear as he answered it. "Hi Haley." He said. He wasn't sure why his voice sounded so strange. Maybe it was because any other time he'd spoken to Haley on the phone, they hadn't been in the middle of a huge argument. He didn't really like the way his voice sounded though. And so he cleared his throat, resolving to try to make his voice sound a little friendlier when he next spoke to her. However, there was a very angry thought which flashed through his mind, asking why the hell he should be friendly to her? He should stay mad and livid at her because after all that she'd done, she deserved that kind of treatment from him, didn't she?

Haley breathed a tremendous sigh of relief when she heard the call connect. She winced slightly at the tone of Nathan's voice, because he still sounded mad at her, but she reasoned with herself that he had every right to stay angry with her for as long as he wanted to. It wasn't up to her to decide when he should forgive her, that was his call. However, she knew without a shadow of a doubt that she would wait around for as long as that took. She didn't care if it took her entire life for him to forgive her, she would wait for it. She couldn't see herself with anyone else anyway, he was all that she wanted, so she would do whatever it took for things to be right between them again. "Hi Nathan. I'm sorry I called. I shouldn't have called you, should I?" She mumbled and then she rolled her eyes at how anxious she sounded. She hated the fact that she sounded so nervous around him, and she was just about to berate herself for it but then she reminded herself that her feelings were probably warranted given all that she had been through in the last couple of hours.

"No, no, don't worry about it. In fact I'm glad you called." Nathan responded. He breathed in deeply as he walked away from Lucas' office so that he could have some privacy while he talked to Haley.

"You are?" Haley asked, completely surprised by his admission. She thought that he would have been anything but pleased to hear from her. However, his words worked to calm down her nerves somewhat and she even managed a small smile as she sat herself down in the living room on the sofa, curling her legs up underneath her body. She waited for him to speak, but all she could hear was the sound of his long breaths coming through the phone.

Nathan didn't know what to say to her now. It was so easy for him to sit in Lucas' office and go over in his head all that he wanted to say to her when he finally got the chance to speak to her. It had all seemed so simple when he was mulling it over in his mind then, but now that he actually had her on the phone, now that he had his opportunity to say what he wanted, the doubts were beginning to creep into his mind again, reminding him of how angry he had been earlier. It was completely infuriating because he didn't want to feel this way, he just wanted things to go back to some kind of normality with her. He sighed in defeat and just said what was running through his mind in that moment. "I don't want to argue with you, Hales."

Haley bit down on her lip as she fiddled with a strand of her hair. "I don't want to argue with you either." She whispered, closing her eyes for a second in relief before she opened them again, staring around the apartment.

"Good. I just... I mean, there are still some things I think we need to talk about, you know, I don't think things can simply go back to how they were before right away, but I just don't want all the drama. I want us to talk about this properly, no shouting and arguing and all that crap. I just want you to be entirely honest with me. That way we can just deal with it all and move past it, you know?" Nathan said as he walked up and down the narrow corridor he found himself in, aware that he was rambling slightly but given how fast his mind was working he guessed that was to be expected.

"Thank you, Nathan, that's exactly what I want too." Haley returned. She couldn't believe that she was getting this second chance with him, it was more than she ever thought she'd get, more than she'd even hoped to dream about. He truly was amazing. "I agree completely with you, I want to be able to explain it all to you and I don't want to hide things from you anymore. I just want us to be able to move past this and then concentrate on our relationship and our future, not worry about the past."

"Okay, well I need to get back into Lucas' office because he's probably freaking out right about now, but I'll be home soon." He looked at his watch and pondered over how long he thought his impromptu meeting with his brother would last. "I should be home at about sixish, that sound alright?" He asked as he began to walk back to Lucas' office.

"That's fine. I'll go out to the grocery store and pick us up something nice for dinner, seeing as there's nothing in the fridge for us to eat." Haley returned as she hoisted herself up off the sofa. Before she went out she was going to unpack her suitcase and do a load of laundry, and then she'd also tackle Nathan's.

"That sounds perfect." Nathan said with a small smile on his face. It was amazing how a bit of time to sort through his thoughts alone in a rational manner could completely change his perspective on things. And despite knowing that they still had a fair bit to talk through, he felt a thousand times better about their relationship. "I love you, Haley."

Haley could feel the smile spread across her face, her footsteps faltering as she walked towards the hallway where her suitcase was waiting for her. She breathed in deeply, the relief a truly welcome feeling. "I love you too, Nathan, so much." She returned to him.

"I'll be home soon." Nathan said as he pushed open the door to Lucas' office, seeing his brother looking at him with a completely exasperated expression on his face, but he honestly didn't care about what he was thinking in that moment, he'd just have to get over it.

"Okay, I'll see you at six." Haley replied. "Bye."

"Bye, Hales." Nathan responded softly, waiting until he heard Haley disconnect the call before he lowered his mobile from his ear, placed it back in his pocket and then flopped himself back down into the chair he had vacated to talk to her, waiting for Lucas to dive back into whatever fire he needed to extinguish. He watched his brother's mouth move, beginning to explain something about Carly and land... but his mind was wandering back to his gorgeous girlfriend. He was so pleased that they were moving forward with this and weren't allowing the past to consume their future.

~*~

After having picked up some groceries, Haley was walking back to the apartment, feeling a hell of a lot better after her phone conversation with Nathan. She could feel the weight slowly being lifted off her shoulders and, she had to admit it to herself, was rather surprised at how he was reacting to all of this. If she was being honest with herself, she had expected him to just finish with her the instant he found out about the fact that she'd been engaged. She'd been waiting with baited breath for him to run away from the apartment and never come back. But luckily for her, and she did feel like the luckiest girl on the planet, he hadn't done that. He had become very angry and was incredibly upset with her but she understood why. She would have felt the very same way if it had been her who had just received that news about Nathan.

She shifted the bags from one hand to the other, trying to distribute the weight more evenly as she continued walking towards the apartment. She'd picked out the ingredients so that she could make Nathan a really nice meal, a small way she could say sorry for all the crap and a way of starting to make amends for her wrongdoings. She was aware that she still had to tell Nathan about Tom, as in tell him just who she had been engaged to, but she thought that the worst of the news was over. It wouldn't matter who it was she'd been engaged to, but she wanted Nathan to know all the same. It might help him realise why she'd been a bit reluctant to tell him earlier too, might help explain the position she'd been put in a little better.

Haley had felt absolutely devastated when Nathan had left to go into the office. Of course, she knew that the business was extremely important and given the way that his phone had rung repeatedly while she was trying to talk to him, she knew something serious must have happened. But the thought of him leaving was absolutely horrible, and she'd completely broken down in front of him, unable to wait until he'd left. However, after speaking to him on the phone, she felt rather pleased that they had managed to have a couple of hours away from each other. It seemed to have let the dust settle a little bit and have given both of them some much needed time to digest all that had happened, Nathan especially.

Eventually, she made it to the apartment building and pressed the button for the elevator, waiting patiently for it to arrive. She was feeling better and better by the second, Nathan's words resounding in her head each time a horrible thought entered in her mind. "I could never leave you." She had felt such relief when she'd heard him say those words before he had left, and each time she repeated them in her head, she felt the worries fade further and further away. They would be alright. They had to be. She loved him far too much to not do all that she had to do to make this relationship work.

The elevator chimed as it reached the ground floor and the doors opened with a swish. She stepped inside, placed the heavy shopping bags on the ground and pressed the button for the floor which housed their apartment. She'd bought two bottles of wine, and had even picked up some candles, candle stick holders and some flowers, eager to make tonight as romantic as she could. She'd planned an extravagant meal and couldn't wait for Nathan to get home so that they could just relax in each other's company and finally begin their life together with no secrets hidden in the closet, with nothing holding them back.

Once the elevator reached the correct floor, she picked up her shopping bags and carried them down the hall to the apartment. She felt the smile slowly creep across her face, the happiness that she was still sharing a home with Nathan after all that she had told him was too strong for her to deny herself acknowledging it for a second. She put the key in the door and stepped through, before dragging the shopping bags inside. Closing the door behind her, she then carried the bags through to the kitchen and began to unpack them. Placing the items she wouldn't need in the correct cupboards and the fridge, she then turned her attention to the meal she was planning to make. She grabbed the chopping board and began to cut up an onion, and then placed a frying pan on the stove, placing some butter in the pan.

She was humming to herself as she began to prepare some more ingredients, and then decided that she could do with a glass of wine right now for herself. Opening up the fridge, she pulled out one of the bottles of white she'd picked up at the store and grabbed herself a glass. Once she'd got the cork out, she poured herself a large glass, before placing the bottle back in the fridge to chill. She took a sip of the wine and glanced over at the clock on the wall, wanting to make sure she had her timings right as she wanted dinner to be ready for when Nathan said he'd be back. She still had an hour or so which would be more than enough time for her to get dinner cooked, lay the table and clean herself up a little bit.

She took another gulp of her wine and could feel herself beginning to relax, the wine working its wonders. She licked her lips and saw that the butter was now ready. She was just about to put her glass of wine down so that she could place the onions in the pan when she heard a noise coming from behind her. She paused what she was doing and listened again, wondering if her ears were just playing tricks with her. When she didn't hear anything other than the sizzle of the butter in the pan, she shrugged, telling herself that she was being incredibly stupid. Nathan wasn't due home for another hour and no one else would be here with her. She rolled her eyes at herself, sure that she had heard something though, but she shook the feeling off and was just about to put her glass of wine on the countertop when she heard a noise again coming from behind her.

"Hello, Haley."

Haley's grip on her glass of wine completely faltered and she watched as it fell to the ground, shattering and spilling wine and glass all over the tiled kitchen floor. She felt a shudder run through her entire body as the dread coursed its way rapidly through her veins. She'd recognise that voice anywhere, and the fact that he was here, in the apartment with her was incredibly concerning. Questions started to race through her mind, most of them revolving around how the hell he'd managed to get in and what the hell he wanted now that he was here. She couldn't bring herself to turn around and face Tom and so she continued to stare at the pan which contained nothing but melted butter.

And suddenly, as if her mind had completely shut down from all the thoughts which had been running through it regarding Tom, the only thought she could muster was the fact that the butter had started to burn and she'd have to throw it out and start again.

AN – Uh oh. What the hell is Tom doing at the apartment?!

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Don't forget to check out mine and Rebecca's new story Butterflies and Hurricanes – we'll be posting the next chapter of that story on Monday 12th April!