It had been three years since Lauren became sober. Sure, over that period, she had temptations and sometimes even got as far as having the drink poured in front of her but she never touched a drop. The hardest period came within the first few weeks at home; living opposite the Vic proved to be a constant temptation to just step in and have one tiny drink. Eventually, she admitted the truth to her parents who instantly felt guilty as they couldn't afford to move. Max, however, knew Lauren admitting to the temptation, it was her way of asking for their help so he had to do something.
"Thanks for coming, Joe." Max had called Joey, asking if he could talk to him about Lauren.
"It's no problem. Is everything ok? You said it was fairly urgent on the phone." Joey had rushed over after work; Lauren didn't work Fridays due to the fact she still had her weekly counselling sessions as it had only been three weeks since she left rehab.
"I never thought I'd have to do this but I need a favour; well, it's for Lauren more than me." Joey looked at Max to continue, knowing he would do anything for Lauren. "I need you to take her in. She can't stay here; there are too many bad memories and temptations. She already admitted she nearly brought a bottle of vodka the other day to help take the edge off after an argument with Lucy."
"Absolutely. Do you want me to ask her alone or do you want us both to do it?" It didn't bother Joey her moving in with him as he too had noticed she was spending more time there, avoiding going home.
"She might feel less kicked out if it comes from just you." Max suggested as he looked out of the car lot cabin window.
"Is she home now?"
"She should be. Joey, thanks." The younger Branning nodded and went to find his girl.
Lauren was home alone watching TV, trying to relax. She had had a rough session today and felt particularly weak. He counsellor said it was normal to have temptations and she shouldn't beat herself up over it but to Lauren, she felt being weak was a failure. She was a failure. Running upstairs as she went over everything again in her head, she dug into an old bag in her wardrobe and pulled out a full bottle of vodka. It would help her, wouldn't it? Going to unscrew the lid, needing to feel the burn in her throat, she stopped; her eyes catching sight of the ring from Joey. No. She was stronger than this. She wouldn't hurt him again. Grabbing the bottle, she rushed back downstairs, needing her Dad to get rid of the bottle. All other alcohol in the house had been removed or locked away. Opening the door, she almost ran into the person outside the door.
"Joey!" Her arms were around him in record time as he stayed still, trying to register what was happening before moving them back into the house and closing the door. "You need to get rid of this. Please, Joey. I got tempted but then I thought of you and I couldn't do it. Just get rid of it please." She had pushed the glass bottle into his hand. "I'm so sorry."
Wrapping his one arm around her waist, he held her close as his other hand held the torturing item.
"Come on." Taking her hand, he led her down to the kitchen. Emptying the contents down the kitchen sink, he left the bottle in the sink and pulled her back to him.
"I'm so sorry for nearly ruining everything." She kept her face hidden in his chest.
"Lauren, listen to me. Stop focusing on the negative. Yeah, you almost slipped up but the important thing is, you didn't. You were strong enough to say no. That's huge for you. It doesn't matter what made you stop, you chose to stop. If anything, I'm more proud of you for that, than just staying sober." His hand remained on her head as he felt her sigh, her tears soaking into his shirt.
"I thought of you. Us. I don't want to throw it all away for one drink. I see that now."
"You know, I was actually coming over to talk about us." Joey started, knowing he had to do this now. She needed him to do this. "I was coming over to ask you to move in with me. It makes complete sense."
Lauren finally pulled back, sniffing. "My Dad's said something, hasn't he?"
Joey half shrugged as his hands went into his pockets. "He might have mentioned something; he thinks it might help you to have a new start. But that wasn't the first time the idea had come into my head. Actually, the first time I ever thought about it was after our first time, on that first night; holding you in my arms; I wanted to feel that way every time I woke up. So what do you think? Do you wanna move in together?" Joey asked, hoping she wouldn't be upset by his honesty.
"I'm gonna drive you crazy, you know that right?"
"I think I can handle crazy. So is that a yes?" He looked at her hopeful, his arms having already moved to her waist.
"It's a big fat yes." He picked her up in his arms, her arms locking around his neck as he swung her around and kissed her.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
The two never regretted moving in together. Yes, they had to learn how to live together and compromise on things, which led to a few petty fights that were usually then resolved in the bedroom later. Living together gave them even more time to get to know each other better. Lauren had also found being somewhere new reduced her temptation and as Joey wasn't a huge fan of drinking, rarely ever drinking because of his obsession with being healthy, she never felt like she was holding him back, unlike with her parents.
Another issue they had had to overcome, well Joey at least, was working together. At first it had been a complete disaster.
"Are you ok?" She hadn't stopped fidgeting from the moment she got into the car. She had stayed over at Joey's the previous night, although with slight hesitation having only just got back together a couple of days before, to make it easier to get into work, especially for her first day.
"Just a bit nervous. What if people think I'm a miserable cow?" Joey shook his head.
"Then just moo at 'em." Lauren gave him a 'don't be an idiot' look. "What? I'm serious." She slapped his thigh with the back of her hand. "Fine. They won't think that of you; who can resist that charm of yours? Besides, I hear the boss is easily bribed with sexual gifts."
"Don't push it, Joseph Branning. I'm not screwing things up by screwing you at work."
"Oh, come on. Where's your sense of fun gone?" He was trying to distract her and she knew it was working. "What if I gave you a bonus?"
"Paying me for sex again? Already been through all that hassle before; not going to fall for the same trick twice." She commented.
"And you enjoyed it. Having sex with practically a stranger." He fired back; they and Alice were still the only ones aware of the deal that brought these two together. Her Dad had almost found out after overhearing part of a conversation but they managed to worm their way out of it; just.
"You were hardly a stranger! Besides, you were the one, who despite knowing from the off I was your cousin, who wanted sex." The car stopped and Lauren already felt a little better than when they left, having been distracted by the playful conversation that took place between the couple.
"I'm a guy. You're a hot chick. Cousin or not, we had chemistry and I wasn't going to miss a shot."
Shaking her head, Lauren jumped out the car. "Do you want me to come in after you? You know, avoid questions and all that?"
Joey walked round to her and grabbed her hand, locking his fingers with hers. "Now, why would I want to do that? I want to show everyone you are my girl. Anyway, of anyone even glances at you with an interested look, they're gone."
"I won't screw this up, Joey."
"I know you won't, Babe. Just remember, if you need me at any point, either just come find me or send someone to fetch me." Joey told her as they walked into the offices.
"Ok, let's do this." She squeezed his hand and smiled a smile Joey knew she reserved especially for him.
It was eleven am and Joey was struggling. He'd gone to check up on Lauren an hour after they arrived, checking she was settling in ok. He didn't disturb her but instead observed her from a far. She looked so happy, confident and full of life; seeing her like this made him fall in love with her all over again.
That had only been two hours ago but knowing she was so close in proximity to him was becoming unbearable.
"Mary, I'm taking a long lunch; I'll be back to meet Mr Matthews at two." He shouted as he grabbed his coat and headed towards the design department. "Is Lauren around?"
The head of design, Leigh, looked at her boss. "She's around somewhere."
"She's having a long lunch." There was no room for question in his demand. Stomping over, he tracked her down quickly.
"Joey, what are you-" He cut her off.
"You are taking a long lunch." Lauren looked at him amused as he grabbed her things.
"Joey!" She tried to pull him to a halt.
Pushing her into an empty meeting room, his lips found hers instantly. "Working in the same building might take some getting used to."
Lauren rolled her deep dark chocolate brown eyes. "I'm still not having sex with you."
"Spoil sport." Joey pouted as he moved back up from her bare neck where he'd left a small mark, unbeknownst to the girl in his arms. "If I can't get sex, can I at least take my very sexy girlfriend for lunch?"
"Hmm, I suppose so. But don't make a habit of dragging me around the office."
"What if I tell you it's a working lunch? Part of the contract? Does that sound like a better deal?" She shook her head at him.
"Ok, here's a deal, I'll have lunch with you every day, if you're available, but you have to leave me alone for the rest of the day. Do we have a deal?"
"Fine, deal." Kissing her to seal the deal, he let her take his hand and lead them out of the office. He was going to have to work on ignoring the effects she had on him, whenever she was near. It was going to be hell for him.
Work gave her a new purpose and a new focus which on top of Joey's and her family's support , she found it easier as the days went by to avoid falling off the wagon and getting tempted to start drinking again; even through tough times. Joey, however, argued she did still have a temptation and an addiction; it had just changed from alcohol; his body being her new temptation and sex the addiction. She had just rolled her eyes at him. She wasn't quite the nymphomaniac he made her out to be.
However, despite things soon becoming normal, Lauren had picked up on Joey's hesitation to them having sex again straight after they got back together. At first, she appreciated not rushing things, but as the days went by, her doubts starting sneaking in as to why he wasn't making a move. Initially, she had thought he was no longer attracted to her but he soon revealed that wasn't the case and what his real reasons were.
Lauren sighed as she collapsed on their bed; Joey was working late tonight so she was home alone for a few hours. She was getting frustrated; not frustrated at not drinking anymore, sexually frustrated because every time things started heating up between her and Joey, he backed off. They'd been back together just over a month now and the closest they had come was that day in the office when she knocked him back; something she was now regretting if she'd have known he wouldn't do the deed any other time or anywhere else.
She couldn't help but question whether the reason he hadn't tried anything was because they'd had their initial fun and excitement when they were hooking up casually, without any other serious baggage and commitment, and now he needed something new; someone fresh, with a lot more sexual experience than she had and that could give him excitement. He had been open about not having had any previous committed relationships as had her cousin Alice warned; maybe he couldn't do commitment. Deep down, Lauren knew it wasn't true; he would never cheat on her. But if she couldn't do it for him anymore, maybe she seriously needed to consider their relationship; could either of them cope without sex in their relationship, long term, and stay faithful?
Thinking it over, the young woman knew it wasn't just sex; it was the intimacy, the closeness, the overwhelming feeling of emotions that took over her body whenever they made love. To her, it stopped being just sex after that first night when she knew she felt more for him as did he for her.
"Urgh!" Standing up, she knew she needed to do something because just sitting and thinking about it made it even worse. Not knowing what else to do, she grabbed a towel and headed for the bathroom; maybe a hot shower would help take some of her frustrations away.
Joey walked into his place around eight pm; he had had to stay behind to finish up a deal ready for the morning so Lauren had headed home alone. He hated having to do leave her alone knowing she wasn't a fan of him working late and being home alone due to her fear of one day slipping up and hitting the bottle again if there are any problems.
"Lauren?" He called out, noting the dark rooms. "Babe, you home?"
Walking ahead, he soon heard the shower running and sighed in relief; at least she was home. Sighing, he shrugged his jacket off and went to relax in front of the TV while waiting for her to finish her shower. Normally, he would have already been stripped off and going to try and join her in the shower but now, things were different; he couldn't bring himself to do it.
Shaking his head, he flopped down, trying not to think of the naked girl in his shower. He wanted her so bad.
Stepping out the shower, Lauren wrapped the white flannel towel around her. The shower had helped a little to calm her down but also helped her come to a decision; she just had to man up and ask Joey what was going on. In rehab, she was told not to keep her emotions bottled up and it wasn't like she had many friends she could turn to that felt comfortable about her relationship with Joey who could help.
Hearing the TV on in the living room, she knew the man getting her so worked up was home. Giving her wet hair one last rub with a towel, she allowed her hair to fall loosely around her face while pulling her towel tighter. Deciding there was no time like the present, she made sure her feet were dry, (she didn't want to slip and make a fool of herself any more so than normal), and headed off to confront Joey.
"Why didn't you come join me?" Her voice startled him as he jumped, turning around to face her, giving his attention to her fully.
"Are you trying to give me a heart attack, woman?" She smugly smiled; well at least it would be a reaction to her.
"I asked you a question first." Joey stood up, trying his best to keep his control; something he was getting better at doing and learning to hide well over the past few weeks.
"I didn't want to disturb you." He offered for a reply, which only caused her to frown.
Crossing her arms over her chest, she glared at him, "That's bull. Joey, what's going on? Why haven't you tried pushing for sex? I miss you, us, the closeness. It's been a long six months since we were last together intimately; I want to remember what all that was. Do we need to make another deal because I'm getting that desperate that I would consider it? Or do you find me that unattractive and boring now that you need more. "
Joey sighed and moved closer to her, unwrapping her arms and pulling her close. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to make you feel pushed away. You're crazy if you think I could ever want anyone else; I only want you. I love you. You don't know how hard these last few weeks have been for me too; I wanted you, believe me. " Lauren pulled back from his embrace so she could see him.
"Joey, please talk to me. Tell me what's wrong then." She dropped the anger from her voice, her hand gently stroking his cheek, wanting him to open up to her so that they could maybe start to move on from all this.
"I didn't want to push you into anything. I wanted to take things slow, build the trust up again after I hurt you. Plus, you needed to focus on your recovery; adjust to life out of rehab. I wanted you to be fully ready. Sex tends to complicate things and we kind of rushed into it first time round and look how that ended up." She knew everything he was saying was valid.
They had rushed into things first time round; obviously they didn't know it was going to be more than a one night thing then but still. The whole nature of their relationship had started and was based on him loaning her money in return for sex. Wasn't exactly the best foundation to build a relationship on. Yeah they had built up a relationship but they were both confused emotionally and having to adjust who they were personally as a result of their feelings for one another. And she had struggled readjusting to life outside rehab and everything, living a life of sobriety.
"I'm sorry." She whispered, feeling bad for trying to take things further without evaluating everything as he had done.
"It's not your fault. I just want this time things to be different; our first time again to be special. Take you somewhere special or do something special for you. I want to make love to you; show you just how much I love you, if that is even possible. I want nothing more than for this to be the start of our future, together, for the rest of our lives." The honesty and love shone through his eyes with every word he spoke, making her feel dizzy with emotion.
"Joey, I don't need anything special. I love you and I'm ready for us to take that step again. I want you to make love to me." Her voice was quiet still, speaking any louder felt like it would ruin the moment. Looking up, Lauren stared into his eyes, really stared, for what felt like the first time since they got back together. She felt her stomach flip because in his eyes, she saw hope, love, trust, and comfort. She saw his support and encouragement to succeed with her recovery. She saw their future.
Joey knew from one look she was ready. They were ready for this again. They were in this for the long haul. Running his hands up and down her arms, he leaned forward to capture her lips in his own, his arms slowly wrapping around her waist on top of the only thing stopping him from seeing all her beauty again, that towel. Her hands roamed through his hair and over his shirt covered chest, her fingers soon making work of the buttons, before slipping it off him. Lifting her into his arms, he carried her back towards their bedroom knowing the sofa wasn't the place for this.
Lying her down on the bed, Joey ran his soft fingers over her face, pushing her hair back so he could take in her features as they broke their contact. Kissing her forehead gently, he moved to place a gentle kiss on various parts of her before finally re-attaching their lips; it was moments like this that she cherished, being touched in such a loving way.
"Joey?" Joey looked at her, concern filling him in case she changed her mind.
" I need you."
Not needing to hear anything else, Joey slipped the towel from her body, taking in her beauty; it was like sweet torture looking at her after so long, her body even more beautiful than he remembered, and he wanted more. He needed more just as much as she did. He was ready to let himself go but at the same time, he wanted to make sure that their first night being back together like this, was a memorable one like their first night together; one neither would soon forget but this time for all the right reasons.
Their clothes, well Joey's clothes, had been discarded within minutes. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Joey knew this wasn't going to be quick, he wanted to please her, feel her, remember every moment. Looking down at her, he looked at her for reassurance that she still wanted this. Giving him a knowing look of encouragement, he gently connected their bodies.
Starting off in a slow, steady momentum, he felt her body arch into him, her long pale leg wrapping around his waist to pull him closer, "Joey." He couldn't help the smirk that settled on his face hearing her gasp; he knew he was the only one who could make her feel this way.
Feeling the speed increase as the six months worth of pent up sexual frustration pressure increased, they both panted louder. They had missed this.
"Lauren, oh, Lauren."
Knowing her release was growing closer, her grip on his back tightening while her short nails started to dig into his back, he picked up the pace. They both needed this. They would have time later to make up with a slower pace, to explore each other's body more but right now, that wasn't the focus anymore.
Feeling her clench around him, her inner muscles contracted as her orgasm ripped through her body, forcing Joey to reach his own high. Feeling the sensation, Joey was trying to remember his reasons that had stopped them doing this sooner.
Pressing soft kisses against her neck as he rested his head on her shoulder, he closed his eyes; the two basking in their afterglow while feeling closer than they had in a long time. She knew he wasn't asleep, feeling the affectionate kisses he still kept giving on her shoulder and neck.
Both knew, lying together in a tangled mess, that things were finally getting back on track.
Being drawn back to the present, she turned to attention out the window, hearing guests arriving and mingling with each other outside on the warm summer's night. She never thought in her wildest dreams she would experience this but Joey had changed her mind and made all this happen. Glancing at the large rock, which sat atop of her left ring finger, she remembered the all the drama just over a year ago as though it was last week, even yesterday, when she had convinced herself their relationship wouldn't work,
Joey had been avoiding her again. It wasn't rocket science to figure it out. Their daily lunch dates at work hadn't happened for three weeks now; Joey claiming he was 'busy working'. At home, he was barely in when she was; always busy at the gym or with friends. The odd times he was home, he was still working. They had gone back to no sex, Joey not up to it for the past two weeks.
She had now convinced herself that he was definitely bored of her and had found himself someone else who was more interesting. It was only then did things start making sense. Hearing his phone buzz earlier that morning, she saw a text on his phone from someone called 'Megan', telling him it was sorted and to call her to let her know what time he would be visiting her this morning.
Deciding she couldn't face him or the hurt, knowing he had already left this morning for 'work' (looking rather casual in jeans and a shirt rather than full suit attire), she grabbed her phone and called in 'sick' and made a decision. Packing up a bag, she left his house; it was either follow through with her decision and leave the house or head to the closest pub and get wasted. She couldn't get over the fact he was cheating on her and it was happening on what should have been a proud landmark in her life. She wasn't going to throw her life away again because he let her down' she was stronger and better than that.
"Taxi." She called out as she saw a black cab stop a few feet from her. " St Pancras station, please."
She needed to escape but this time physically, not just escape into her drawings.
"So, what do you think?" Joey asked.
The twenty six year old had taken the day off work to finalise his plans for the weekend. He was currently in Walford with their family, unbeknownst to his girlfriend. To celebrate Lauren's first year of sobriety, he wanted to do something extra special for her. However, it had taken a few months to perfect but in the last few weeks, his paranoia and sheer panic over having to keep it a secret from her were beginning to show.
"Joey," Alice started, welling up. "She will love it." His sister finally commented as the box he had collected that morning was passed around Max and Tanya's living room.
Yes, he was finally going to propose to a now nearly twenty year old Lauren. The ring had been custom made, leading to more paranoia in case she hated it; Alice had helped him and the jeweller with the design.
"You think so?" He asked, needing reassurance. Tanya handed the box back to him, which he placed safely back in his pocket, despite it feeling like it weighed a ton knowing what it represented.
"Joey, Lauren's going to love it; it's perfect. She isn't the type of person who needs something to look specific and you managed to get the eternity ring right last year, didn't you?" He nodded, thinking back to how scared he had been giving her that ring but now that felt like a walk in the park compared to this. "She really doesn't suspect anything."
The only person who didn't know about the impending proposal, aside from Lauren, was her sister, Abi; she tended to blab any surprises to Lauren. It wasn't too hard to hide it though because she lived away at uni, although she was still based in London.
"Thank you for all the support you guys have given me and your blessings. I don't know how I would have done this without anyone's input." Their family had helped him and Alice with discussing the final design, colours and even cut.
"You just make sure you keep looking after and making my daughter." Max told him, slightly hating the idea of his little girl being all grown up and getting married now herself.
Joey smiled as he stood up, feeling to check for the ring once more before answering, "You got it, Uncle Max. You know it's not hard to do because she makes me happy too."
Leaving the house, Joey drove away from the square, eager to spend time with his neglected girlfriend, who really had been pushed aside so she didn't find out his secret.
"Lauren? Babe, you home?" Joey stood confused; where was his girl? She was always home by now.
Pulling his phone from his jeans pocket, he dialled her number but frowned when he received her voicemail. "Hey, it's me. Just wondered where you are. Call me when you get this. Love you."
An hour later and Joey still hadn't heard anything from her, regardless of the numerous attempts at phoning her. He called her friend Leigh who she worked with in the design department to see if she was working later or if they had gone out but his worried only increased, Leigh informing him that she called in sick today. Something didn't feel right to Joey.
"Hey, Uncle Max, it's Joey. Have you seen or spoken to Lauren? She's not at home, isn't returning my phone calls and even called in sick today but she seemed well this morning to me." He heard her Dad sigh.
"No we haven't, mate. Has she left any notes or anything?" Max could be heard filling Tanya in the background.
"Nothing. Can't see any of her stuff missing. Her clothes are still in the wardrobe."
"Joe, Tanya said maybe you should try some of the local bars and pubs." Joey shook his head, not wanting to believe what Max was saying; surely she hadn't fallen off the wagon, had she?
"You think she's probably off getting drunk?"
"I know it's hard but it's what would happen; she would disappear for hours upon end and wander back in sometime through the night. She usually can't remember where she's been by the time she gets into that state." Max explained, recalling his daughter's past behaviour.
Joey knew he wouldn't forgive himself if she had gone off track with her recovery after all the hard work she had put into herself because he'd got sidetracked and pushed her away, suddenly remembering last time he pushed her away for work. "So you think I should check around locally or then just wait until morning if I can't find her?"
Max sighed, "Yeah but it's your decision at the end of the day you have to be comfortable with. I'll call around and see if anyone else had heard anything. If you find her, give us a call and I'll do the same if we hear anything."
Joey hung up after agreeing, trying her phone one last time to no avail.
Lauren stepped out the station. She was sick of doing what everyone expected; she needed some adventure and excitement back in her life again; something that made her feel as good as drinking did. Pulling her scarf tighter, she took a deep breath before she stepped out onto the streets of Paris. Paris; she had always wanted to go and Joey said he would take her one day but she decided she had nothing to stop her going right now; why shouldn't she do something to reward herself for being strong? She wanted an immediate change and excitement and hopefully Paris would give her that; if only for a few days. Leaving the Gare du Nord behind her, she pulled her small roll along suitcase behind her and just let her converse covered feet guide her.
Lauren Branning wasn't one for planning and as she had decided to hot foot it to France, on the off, the first thing she needed to sort out now was a hotel for the weekend. This weekend was for her; her way of celebrating not drinking for a year and she would not let Joey Branning or anyone else ruin it for her.
Joey walked into Max and Tanya's the following morning in a bad state; Lauren hadn't returned home nor had he heard from her.
"Do you think I should call the police? What if something has happened to her?"
"Joey, calm down. Look, just stop and think; over the last few weeks has she said anything that might give you any ideas about why she left? Was she happy still? Was she planning anything? Was she sick?" Tanya asked, trying to calm the young male in front of her while assessing her daughter's behaviour.
"Yeah I think everything was ok with her; she hadn't said anything although we haven't spoken a lot recently. I can't think of anything which would have made her leave." He willed himself to remember something that might help him.
Tanya suddenly had an idea although she hoped she was wrong. "Joey, has she behaved different; been quiet, put on weight maybe?"
"No, if anything last time I saw her, she looked like she had lost weight." In truth, he really had neglected her that he couldn't even really remember what she was wearing.
"You don't think she could be, you know..." Max and Joey looked confused. "Pregnant?"
"Fairly sure she's not; she was ranting on the other day about how it sucked to be a girl because of periods; I remember that much. Not the kind of conversation you really want to have over breakfast." Joey was fairly sure she wasn't pregnant; well as sure as a guy could be.
"Mum?" The trio heard Lauren's younger sister Abi yell followed by a slamming of the front door.
"In here, Abs." Abi walked in the room while Tanya looked at her quizzical. "What are you doing home, sweetheart?"
"Why's Lauren in Paris?" Abi asked innocently, completely confused and ignoring her Mum's question.
Joey's head shot up and jumped to his feet, "You're spoken to her?"
Abi nodded, "I called her and she said she couldn't talk long because it'd cost me a fortune as she's in Paris. She said she needed to get away for a while; she had things to figure out in her own head. Why are you not with her?" It dawned on Abi that Joey was there rather than with her sister as it suddenly registered the shock in her cousin's voice. "Why didn't you know?"
"Doesn't matter. Did she say anything else?" Abi shook her head. "Call me if she lets you know anything else." He instructed, rushing out the door.
"Where are you going?" The younger blonde Branning asked, shouting after him.
"Is someone going to tell me what's going on?" Max smiled at his youngest daughter's frustration at being out the loop. However, his mind was on his nephew and eldest daughter; he hoped things would be ok between the couple and Joey could find her and bring her back home, safe.
Ok so Paris was a fairly big place when you were looking for an individual and had no idea where to start. Joey had tried calling her but she kept cutting him off; he thought it was a step up knowing she was getting his calls now rather than just straight her voicemail. He had caught the next train to Paris in a desperate hope of finding her. Trying to make even simple decisions were proving difficult on only an hours sleep; he couldn't sleep knowing she wasn't there next to him, safe and loved.
Standing on a lookout point, opposite the Eiffel Tower, he sighed as he tried her phone again and unsurprisingly got her voicemail, "Lauren, it's me again. I'm in Paris looking for you."
"You're not looking very hard then, are you?" Joey jumped in surprise hearing an answer from the familiar voice.
Spinning around, he pulled her into his arms before she could do or say anything else, "I've been so worried about you."
"How did you know where I was?" Lauren pulled back, coldly.
"Abi. Babe, what's wrong? Why did you leave without saying anything? We've all been worried sick about you."Joey tried to take her hand in his but she pulled away.
Scoffing, Lauren turned to the side, looking at the view rather than at Joey, "I know about the cheating."
"Wait, what?" Joey was baffled by her comment.
"Don't bother lying. Why else would we have become so distant? I saw the text as well to arrange meeting up with her yesterday; 'Megan' wasn't it?" Her voice was filled with spite.
Joey's hand shot to his pocket to feel for the ring as suddenly things clicked.
"Lauren, look at me. Please." She turned but kept her arms folded across her chest. "I'm not cheating. Megan was just a person helping me plan your surprise. That's what made me pull away from you so I didn't ruin anything." Her face was puzzled. "Lauren, do you realize what today is?" She nodded not knowing what to say. "I wanted to do something special for you and I've been thinking about this for a while so I guess I may as well do this before you disappear again. Obviously, this isn't quite how I planned it but it'll work."
"Joey, I don't understand." She dropped her arms to the side, relaxing her stance, allowing him to take her left hand in his.
"I made a promise to you that one day I would add to this lone ring on your hand. From the day I first met you, I knew you were special; I just didn't know how special. When we're together, everything feels right and nothing else matters. This past year, I've fallen even more in love with you, if possible. I want to be with you, forever, which is why I have something to ask you." Lauren's eyes widened and her cheeks burned with nervousness and embarrassment at being in public, as Joey lowered onto one knee, pulling the box from his pocket and opening it to reveal the custom designed ring, "Lauren Branning, will you make me the happiest guy in the world and marry me?" She knew they were drawing a crowd but she didn't care anymore.
"Deal." Joey beamed, hearing her response as he slipped the ring onto her left ring finger. "I'm sorry for leaving but I love you so much."
"I'll forgive you on one condition; this deal's forever." He had stood back up, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist as her own went around his neck.
"Double deal." Smirking, he pulled her closer so he could join their lips and seal their deals.
Yep, Lauren definitely knew being sober was so much better and rewarding than being drunk.
It hadn't been a conventional proposal but it fit their unconventional relationship. She never saw herself as settling down young but that was before Joey. She knew Joey, at twenty nine, was ready and she knew that Joey accepted she could cope with marriage but there was no way she wanted to go the whole hog yet by throwing kids into that mix; not until a few years down the line. At twenty two, she was only just learning how to fully look after herself.
"Are you hiding away already?" Lauren turned to see her new husband, who had done so much for her already in their short life together, leaning against the door frame.
"Just needed a breather." Joey moved to warp his arms around her, her head falling to rest on his chest as she breathed in his scent. "Shouldn't you be entertaining our guests?"
"Yeah but I was more worried about you, wifey." She rolled her eyes at the nickname.
Lauren felt being Mrs Branning didn't exactly feel new or different although she knew the title was new and showed she was officially Mrs Joey Branning. As a result of that conversation a few weeks ago, Joey came up with the nickname wifey instead as a joke but instead, it became her nickname instead of Mrs Branning and so he automatically became 'hubby', aka Mr Lauren Branning.
"Well, hubby, not that today hasn't been amazing, because it has, I'm ready to collapse. It's hard to feel quite as buzzed as everyone else without a drink." He kissed her lips softly, tenderly letting her know it was ok to feel that way.
"How about we both hideaway up here for a while? I'm sure the wedding party won't be missing the bride and groom now." Lauren nodded, letting Joey lead her to the kind size bed in the five start hotel room.
She leaned up as they lay down, grateful he was so patient with her, whispering seductively in his ear, "Actually, I can think of something much more interesting I'd rather be doing."
The two lay quietly, cuddling on the bed, knowing they would have to make a reappearance downstairs at some point but neither had any intention of moving just yet. Lauren smiled as she remembered their conversation that had taken place earlier in the day.
"Can I borrow you for a moment?" Lauren asked, interrupting Joey and his sister Alice.
"You don't have to sneak off to make out today; it's your day so you can do whatever you like, you know." Alice called after her brother and new sister-in-law/cousin.
Once they were alone, Lauren stopped and spoke, "I have something for you." Joey looked blankly at the folded up piece of paper she had handed him. He shook his head as he read the cheque in his hands. "I told you I'd pay you back, eventually."
It may have taken over three years to pay him back but it was a weight off her shoulders to say she had done it, even if he still rejected it.
Joey just smirked, "As much as I appreciate the gesture, I will not take it; I told you a thousand times it was a gift." Holding the cheque in front of her, he tore it up. "Besides, what's mine is yours now, babe."
"Hey, babe?" Joey's voice brought her back to their current content positions.
"Hmm?" Lauren opened her brown orbs so she could meet those of the man she loved.
"I've got a new deal for you." He started as a smile formed on her face.
"Really? And what's that then?" She raised her eyebrows at him.
"I'll give you all my love forever and promise to support, help and make you happy in return for your love forever and more awesome nights of passion. Do we have a deal?"
She grinned, "Deal."
A/N: First of, congrats to David Witts on winning Best Newcomer at the NTA's but seriously, why did people boo his girlfriend; that was just petty!
Anyway, hope you liked this final chapter. I've loved all your reviews and the support you guys have given me throughout this story so a big, big, THANK YOU! In regards to a sequel, same answer as always, who knows. Not planned at the moment but in the future it might happen if I get a sudden idea.
Hopefully I will be back soon with more stories but in the meantime, if you want, follow me on twitter Lucia_18 (send me a PM if you have an account on here so I know who you are) .
See you soon! :)