She heard a familiar voice utter the words that were often said at a dance, much like this one, but these words were rarely directed towards her.
This time they were.
"May I cut in?"
She hadn't expected to see him there, but she had hoped that he would make an appearance. After all, it had been only a few weeks since his wife had passed away in childbirth.
But there he was, asking to dance with her.
He looked at her, clearly awaiting a response. She blushed and looked down at her high-heeled feet. She had been taught dance etiquette when she was but a young girl and had practiced it for years, but the sight of the man that she had loved since she had been a young girl was enough to make all of her lessons fly straight out of her head.
"Yes, Ethan," she replied, raising her head to meet his gaze, "I would love to dance with you." She quickly thanked her previous partner for the dance before she was whisked away in Ethan's embrace.
It had been a number of years since they had last danced together, but it was as if nothing had changed. She still fit perfectly in his arms, still knew all of the steps by heart, still knew him by heart.
As the final chords of the song reverberated in the crisp night air, the two looked at each other and asked, "Can we talk?"
Both laughed, grabbed the other by the hand, and slowly walked off of the makeshift dance floor. She looked around for a quiet place to talk, but it was of no avail.
With a burst of inspiration, she quickly led Ethan over the grassy lawn, into the nearby mansion, and up to her bedroom.
"What did you want to talk about, Gwen?" he asked, taking a seat on her fluffy bed.
"I—I wanted to say that I was sorry. Ethan, I did some things that I'm not proud of in attempts to keep you away from Theresa, or to steal you away from her. Since her…" Gwen cleared her throat, looking for an appropriate word. "…passing, I've realized just how petty and childish my actions were. Also, I wish—"
"Gwen," Ethan interrupted, placing a single finger over her mouth. "It's alright, you don't need to apologize."
She looked deep into his eyes and saw the raw emotions lying there. Love and grief, happiness and sorrow—they all seemed to be there.
Slowly, his head began to drop, and she knew without a second thought that he was going to kiss her. She knew that he didn't love her anymore, that he was still grieving for Theresa, but she still wanted him to kiss her and to love her as he had once loved her.
And he did.
"Dammit, Gwen!" the familiar voice of Antonio Lopez-Fitzgerald roared into her ear the following afternoon. "Please don't tell me that you were stupid enough to sleep with Ethan. Tell me that you're joking!"
He knew that Gwen had loved Ethan for most of her life, but he had come to believe that those feelings were beginning to fade. Apparently, he had been wrong.
Gwen sighed. "Tony, I'm not asking for your permission here. You called to ask me how the wedding went, and I told you about *all* of the events—including those that went on into the early morning."
"Gwen," he groaned in frustration. "Ok, let's forget for a moment here that you've completely lost any shred of pride that you had left after your very messy and very public breakup. Let's forget that his wife died barely a month ago while giving birth to their baby girl. Let's forget how much he hurt you the first time around." He paused for a moment to let his words sink in. "Dammit, Gwen, what the hell were you thinking?"
"What do you want me to say, Tony?" Gwen replied irritably.
"The truth would be nice."
"You want the truth?" she asked incredulously. She took a deep breath before continuing. "Remember when I met you, Tony? I was so sloppy drunk from trying to forget that I ever knew Ethan Winthrop that I didn't even know my own name—but I still knew his. I have loved him for the better part of my life, Tony, and, honestly, I think that I always will.
"He's hurting, Tony, yes, but he needs me to help him heal. He needs a woman who knows him, a woman who loves him. He needs me, Tony, and I'm not about to let him down."
"How can you be so sure that he wants you, Gwen? I don't want to have to postpone this job to come rescue you and your broken heart."
"Don't worry about me, Tony—I'll be fine. You see, Ivy is insisting that Ethan take a trip to one of the Crane cottages in Europe to pull himself back together for his children. She and Pilar are going to take care of little Ethan and Isabela."
"So you won't be seeing him again, I take it?" Tony asked, breathing a sigh of relief. Gwen always made the mistake of making herself too vulnerable when she was around that damned Ethan Winthrop. She trusted him above all things, but he knew instinctively that Ethan would eventually hurt her yet again.
"Not exactly, Tony. You see, Ethan has invited me to come with him." Gwen grinned victoriously. That would show him for not trusting in her and her instincts.
She heard a soft gasp of shock before the line went dead. She shook her head, suppressing a laugh. It was just like Tony to do anything he could to avoid admitting that he was wrong.
She knew that he felt the need to protect her, and she was grateful for that. After all, in the past few years, he had quickly become her best friend and confidant. She had always been able to tell him anything—anything but this, it appeared.
Well, who cared what Antonio Lopez-Fitzgerald thought? She loved Ethan, and she knew that deep down, he loved her too. She was going to Europe with him, and damn anyone who tried to get in her way.
How are you doing? It's been so long since I've talked to you. I'm sorry. I know I haven't been writing you like I should be.
Ethan and I are both doing well. Everything is wonderful between us—almost as it used to be before… well, just before, I suppose.
We should be back in the States sometime late next week. I'll be sure to come visit you as soon as I'm able. I have something very important that I must ask you—something that must be said face-to-face. I can't wait to see your smiling face again, Tony.
All my love,
What the hell did she mean everything was wonderful between them? That couldn't be, could it? After all, it had only been two short months since Theresa had died. Ethan couldn't have moved on that quickly, right?
He prayed to God that Gwen was simply putting up a brave front, not wanting him to admit that he was right. She was so damn stubborn that it would be just like her to do that.
But if it wasn't her stubborn streak shining through, it meant that she was ignorant as a post, unable to see how Ethan truly felt. And the mere idea that that could be the case scared him.
Gwen was a strong woman, yes, but she had a fragile heart. She had long ago built high walls around her heart, but he knew that Ethan had had the key for years. With a simple ignorant word, Ethan could bring Gwen's hopes and dreams crashing down around her.
Tony just prayed that it wasn't too late.
"Tony?" Gwen called, tapping lightly on his office door. "Your secretary said I could come in. I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
He looked up from the architectural plans that lay on his desk. He could fix them later. Right now, he had something more important to take care of.
"Gwen, I'm so glad that you're here," he greeted her, quickly walking around his desk to wrap her in his warm embrace. "I missed you."
"I missed you too," Gwen agreed, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
"So where's Ethan? I figured he'd want to tag along."
"No, he's looking for a hotel. He knew that I needed to talk to you alone," she replied, unconsciously biting her lip.
"Gwen, what's wrong?" Tony asked, as he pulled out a chair to help her sit down. He knew her well enough to know when something was bothering her.
"Nothing's bothering me, Tony," she replied, attempting a smile.
"Like hell there isn't. Gwen, I'm your best friend—tell me what the problem is, and we'll fix it."
She let out a long sigh, her eyes dropping to the floor. After a moment, her eyes met his, and she informed him, "There isn't a problem *yet*, but there might be in a moment. It all depends on you, Tony."
Tony's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. What the hell was she talking about?
"Just spit it out, Gwen."
"I'm getting married, Tony—and I was hoping you'd be willing to be our best man."
"Who are you marrying, Gwen? Ethan?" She nodded, and he swore under his breath. "Are you pregnant or something?"
Dammit, he had hurt her. He could see it shining in those gorgeous blue eyes of hers.
"Gwen, I'm—" he began.
"No," she cut him off, with tears welling up in her eyes. "Do you really think so little of Ethan that you think that the only reason that he would want to marry me would be if I was pregnant?"
"Gwen, that's not what I meant," Tony tried to explain.
"Then what the hell did you mean, Tony? Please, try to explain what you meant, because I would love to be able to believe that my best friend is *not* an immature asshole."
"Gwen," Tony began, placing a consoling hand on her arm, "Ethan was married to my sister for almost four years, and they have two children together. She died only a few months ago, and you seem ready to believe that he's ready to move on with his life—and more specifically, that he's ready to move on with you."
"So? What's so bad about him moving on with me?" Gwen asked, quickly standing up to get out of his reach. "Am I not good enough for your younger sister's widower?"
"That's not what I meant and you know it," Tony argued. Why couldn't she just understand what he was saying? Gwen and Ethan didn't belong together—not anymore. He saw that clear as day—but how could he make her see that?
After taking a deep breath, he attempted to explain it to her. "You and Theresa were nothing alike. She was a dreamer, who believed that fate would get her everything she'd ever dreamed of. You believe that people make their own luck, their own fate. You're an independent woman, who doesn't need a man to coddle her every step of the way—Theresa wanted exactly that, and she found it in Ethan."
"So what if I'm nothing like Theresa? Who the hell cares? The important thing is that I love him, Tony—and he loves me. I've loved him for years, Tony, and now I finally have my chance to have the man that I've always loved. And this time nothing and no one will take him away from me."
"Dammit, Gwen," Tony swore, running his right hand through his curly black locks and he stood up to face her. "You're not the same woman that you were back when you loved him. You've changed—and so has he. You may have fit perfectly into each other's lives before, but you don't belong together anymore. Why can't you see that?"
Gwen set her lips in a tight line and counted to ten under her breath before she replied. "Look, we're not going to agree on this, so I think that I should just leave before we both end up saying things that we don't mean. I'll see you around, Tony." With a flick of her wrist, she turned the doorknob and walked out of his office, leaving a bewildered Tony in her wake.
What the hell had just happened? Was it possible that she was just too blinded by the memories that she had of her first love that she just didn't see how wrong she and Ethan were for each other? It was crystal clear to him, and that made him wonder how she was able to overlook it herself.
As he collapsed into his office chair and buried his head in his hands, he knew that he would have to find a way to fix this. No matter how much he disapproved of their relationship and their marriage, he would have to forget his misgivings and try to mend his friendship with Gwen.
With a moan, Gwen finished pouring her mug of coffee and headed towards her hotel room door. Who in their right mind would want to talk to her at this hour of the morning?
Peeking through the peephole, she saw the one person that she had been hoping to avoid for the rest of her week, rest of her trip, perhaps the rest of her life.
It was hard to believe that she didn't want to see the man who had become her best friend over the last few years, but it was true. She didn't want to listen to him tell her what she shouldn't do with her life. It was her life, dammit!
With a defeated sigh, Gwen opened the door just wide enough so she could stick her head out into the hallway. "If you've come here to insult me and my decisions again, you can leave right now. I'm not in the mood."
"I'm not here to fight with you, Gwen. In fact, I come bearing gifts—well, gift, anyhow," he amended, extending a beautiful bouquet of flowers in her direction. Raising an eyebrow curiously, she took the bouquet and inhaled their beautiful prairie scent.
"Ok, Tony," she began warily, "what's going on?"
"Look, I was out of line yesterday. What you do with your life is none of my business, and I shouldn't have tried to tell you what to do. So I came over here to beg your forgiveness," he explained, flashing her his dimpling smile.
Gwen had planned to make Tony beg for forgiveness, but he could always get to her with that adorably sexy grin. "So flowers are the groveling gift of choice?" she asked curiously.
His grin widened, hoping that she had forgiven him. That had been easier than he'd thought!
"Well, I know diamonds are a girl's best friend," he began, "but I didn't want to show up your fiancé or anything."
"Fiancé?" Gwen asked quirking an eyebrow.
What the hell did she mean by that? Tony wondered. Had they eloped last night? What was going on?
"Yeah, Ethan. Isn't he your fiancé?"
"Not anymore he isn't," Gwen replied, an amused grin playing on her lips.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean? Dammit, Gwen! Did you elope last night or something?"
Gwen couldn't hold in the laughter anymore. She nearly doubled over laughing, placing a hand on Tony's chest for support.
"No, Tony, we didn't elope. I called off the wedding."
Had he heard her right? Did she actually call off her wedding to the man that she had sworn that she would love forever?
Seeing the surprise written on his face, Gwen chuckled again. "Yes, Tony, I am being serious here. I thought about what you said last night. I was so mad at you, and your words just kept running through my head. I realized that you're right—we're almost nothing alike anymore. Theresa changed both of us, and we don't have a happily ever after—at least, not with each other. Besides, I also realized last night that Ethan's not the man I love, not anymore."
Tony's heart skipped a beat, causing him to panic. What was that about? He didn't love Gwen. She was simply her best friend, as she had been for years.
But was that all that their relationship was? Merely a simple friendship?
No, somewhere along the way, his feelings for her had begun to deepen into something more. Every new thing that he learned about her fascinated him. He loved spending time with her. He loved talking to her.
Simply, he loved her.
Perhaps that had been a part of the reason for his dramatic reaction the day before. Unconsciously, he had been jealous of Ethan, afraid that the man that Gwen was beginning to get over was staking a claim on her heart yet again.
But Gwen had never said that she loved him. She had said nothing of the sort. Rather, she had simply said that she wasn't in love with Ethan.
Hoarsely, he asked who it is that she loved. He was afraid of what she might say, but he had to know. If it wasn't him, he'd find some way to deal with it and be happy for her. After all, he couldn't lose her in his life, not if he could help it.
"Well," Gwen began slowly, "I met this really sexy guy at a bar awhile back. I was drunk, so when he hit on me I responded enthusiastically to every one of his advances. Once he realized how many drinks I'd had, he, being a perfect gentleman, backed off." She paused to look into his eyes, and Tony almost felt as if she could see into his soul. "I'm in love with you Antonio Lopez-Fitzgerald, and I can't believe that I didn't see it sooner. I'm through denying my feelings for you, Tony."
Tony let out a sigh of relief. It was him that she loved. Thank God.
Wordlessly, he pulled her to him and descended his mouth upon hers. As their tongues danced in the morning glow of the rising sun, two hearts were united as one.
Perhaps there was such a thing as fate, Gwen mused. Ever since the fate-spouting Theresa had stolen Ethan from her life, she had been convinced that fate couldn't have existed. After all, if fate did exist, why would it be so cruel?
But now Gwen realized that the pain and heartache that she had suffered years before were inconsequential when compared the joy that filled her heart at this moment. Fate had taken Ethan away from her, yes. But fate had also given her Tony, the man that she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt she would love until her dying day. Fate may be twisted and convoluted, but in the end it brought her to what would be her own happy ending—Tony.
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