So this was a silly little idea that came to me as I was sitting at the hairdressers. Actually it was mainly the first line of the story that I thought of and it just sprouted from there. It was supposed to be a small one shot but it morphed into this. Enjoy!

Oh and everything is a little different... just go with it.


"Harder Lauren..."

I resist the urge to roll my eyes and inside my head I'm calling him every name under the sun but I just look at Joey Branning and smile sweetly; or as sweetly as I can when I look like I currently do.

My name is Lauren Cross. I'm nineteen years old and I'm an alcoholic. This is my second attempt at straightening myself out in rehab. My first attempt I was there for twenty six days and then I left and returned home, immediately forgetting everything I'd been told about building a support network around me so I quickly fell back into my old bad habits. It led to me losing my job, a lot of my family and most of my friends. And then the depression began and I drank even more. For a while I stopped that too, the depression making me unable to leave the house and then I turned to food as my source of comfort. All in all I wasn't living an entirely healthy lifestyle and by the time I'd rediscovered my liking for alcohol and ended up in hospital with alcoholic hepatitis, my weight had ballooned. Gone was the svelte figure I used to have to be replaced by a body I barely recognised complete with generous curves and many excess pounds. My parents quickly packed me off to my current residence to try and kick the booze for good.

That was forty five days ago and so far I felt happier with the progress I'd made than I did with my first effort at a different place. The first week had been hell as I coped with the withdrawal and the counselling began then in my second week there, the torture really started. That was the week I'd met Joey Branning... or Joseph as the sign on his office stated... but he said to call him Joey and on the odd occasion I did call him that. There were other times when he was every bad name I could think of but of course that was all internal.

Joey Branning was the bane of my life. My counsellor had booked me a meeting with him on day nine of my stay here and I had gone with some trepidation to see him. Some of the other residents had said about this god-like man who was responsible for the diet, fitness and general well-being of everyone here. I hadn't seen him until that meeting so I had no idea what I was expecting. And I went to his office with a great deal of anxiety, feeling self conscious of how I looked. I'd tried to cover all of my flaws to the best of my ability by wearing the baggiest jumper I had but that plan was blown to pieces when he started the meeting by making me get on the scales. As if meeting possibly the most gorgeous guy in the whole wide world wasn't mortifying enough when you look like I do, now he wanted to know how much I weighed as well. I stepped on the scales and he moved the scale along. I steadfastly refused to look at his face as it went further and further up the scale. Will the floor please open up and swallow me now? I could feel my face burning and there were definitely tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. He'd stopped moving the scale and my eyes looked at it. Wow, had I really put on that much weight? My depression and comfort eating had certainly gained me a new friend; the pounds I'd added meant I had added another half a person onto my figure to who I was beforehand. Well, if I wasn't miserable before, now I certainly was.

Joey told me to sit down and then he started asking me questions about my diet. I opened up to him, I'm not sure what it was that made me do it... I certainly hadn't done with my counsellor but something told me I could trust him. So I told him how I had fallen into a pattern of comfort eating when all my friends abandoned me and then, just to add to my misery, I burst into tears. He had reached for my hand and squeezed it before pulling me into a hug, his hand brushing up and down my back. It was a mixture of being in heaven and hell. The strength in his arms as they held me, his scent that wafted down my nose and set my insides alight felt like being in heaven until I remembered he would be able to feel every lump and bump I possessed as he tried to comfort me and I wanted to tear myself from his arms and run back to my room... and if I should happen to find the biggest bar of chocolate known to man somewhere between here and there, then even better. I pulled away from him and shifted uncomfortably in my seat. He asked me how he could help and while I wanted to tell him he could take me here and now, I refrained from doing that and instead I told him I wanted to lose the weight, I wanted to be the person I used to be. So he came up with a diet plan and an exercise regime and so began the torture that was my life from that day forward. There were definitely high points, getting to see Joey once a day being one of them but I could do without the miniscule food portions and the way my 'care packages' from home were scrutinised by the staff before I received them. Joey had given the staff a list of items I was no longer allowed and chocolate was one of them. Along with crisps and the bags of Haribo that Abs would send. In other words anything that was vaguely appealing and nice was on the embargo list. Another thing I could do without would be the torture Joey laughingly called a work-out. I preferred calling it some form of sadomasochism for his own benefit because he seemed to enjoy seeing me go through the pain.

So that leads me back to my current position... running on a treadmill... something I'd been doing for the last ten minutes and I would give anything... but especially a bar of dairy milk... for him to let me stop. He seemed to be in a bad mood today and he's definitely pushing me more than he usually would.

"I said harder Lauren..." he said, angrily stabbing at the buttons on the treadmill and changing the settings so I'm now running on an incline. I hate this man at times.

"What's got your pants in a knot?" I gasp and he scowls in my direction.

"We're not here to discuss my personal life, Lauren, we're here to get rid of that fat ass of yours..." he snapped.

Now before you start judging him for his harsh words... please don't. Saying those things to me actually works and he knows it. Sometimes being nice to me just doesn't motivate me... in fact it makes me not want to do anything. His cruel words make me work a little harder and I find myself pushing myself more, just like he'd been asking. And his methods are working... I've already lost twenty nine pounds. I'm beginning to see the differences and I feel better about myself than I have for ages. I glance down at the screen and I can see I've burned off a lot of calories. Maybe they'll let me have a treat. I look at Joey's face and know that's very unlikely... in fact a miracle would have to occur before he gave me anything I wanted.

Ten minutes later he pressed the screen again, reducing the slant of the machine gradually and after five more minutes I was back on a flat surface and the pace had definitely slowed. Once the machine stopped I bent over, my whole body shaking as I tried to catch my breath... actually even remembering how to breathe was an issue at the moment so I concentrated on that instead.

His hand settled on my back as I pulled myself upright and handed me a bottle of water which I quickly drained. Then it was over to the weights and the torture started all over again. It was another hour before I was released from his presence and I quickly made an exit, glad to be able to go.


I stared in the mirror in my room and my heart sank. I looked... God, I would give kids nightmares if they could see me now. My face was bright red and I was sweaty... my clothes were drenched and clung to me so unattractively. I grabbed a towel and went to have a much needed shower.


I felt a little better after my shower and once I was in a clean set of clothes. Fortunately after telling my mum about my weight loss she had sent me some new clothes this week as the ones I'd brought with me now swam on me. So now I felt much better and the clothes I was wearing actually fit me and flattered my still too curvy figure.

I walked from my room down to the main foyer. I wanted to see if there was any post for me. I was hoping for a letter from Peter. He was the only one of my friends who was still talking to me and there was a little bit of me that wished we could get back together. It seemed easier than trying to find someone new because Peter knew everything about me, the good and the bad. He'd seen the best of me and the worst of me and he was still my friend. Maybe that's the wrong thing to base a relationship on and it certainly hadn't worked when we'd tried it a couple of years ago but I needed someone. I was lonely. I needed someone to love me and accept me – even with my faults. So I may have written a letter to him laying out my feelings. That was a week ago and I was still waiting for him to write me back.

I sighed when I saw there wasn't any letter for me and I decided I'd go for a walk around the gardens. Now my drinking and need for it was under better control and I felt a little bit more like the person I used to be, I didn't hide myself away as much as I used to. I walked out of the side door and took a deep breath. It felt good to be alive again. My sketchpad was under my arm and I sat on a bench and began to draw. It was the first time I'd drawn anything since I arrived but like I said, I was feeling more like me today so I'd grabbed it before I left my room.


I noticed the time and saw it was nearly time for dinner. I sighed, another meal of lettuce leaves and not much else. I started to walk to the front entrance of the building and as I rounded the corner I paused when I saw a car sitting waiting near the front door. I don't know what it was that made me stop but I did. A couple of minutes later Joey walked out of the building and he got into the passenger side of the car. As the door opened and he climbed in I caught a glimpse of the driver and saw it was a beautiful girl. She looked stunning and she was obviously his girlfriend because he leant over and kissed her... and my heart broke. The feelings that ebbed through me as I watched him kiss her surprised me. I hadn't realised I felt that way about him... I mean, yeah, sure he's good looking... gorgeous definitely... but sometimes he can be really horrible and he's never shown any interest in me. Then again, why would he be interested in me, I usually look a mess when he sees me. Fuck my life.

I'm drawn back to awareness as he shuts the door and the engine starts. The car pulls out of the driveway and I continue my journey into the building. Suddenly I have a lot to think about.


Over the next few days I felt awkward every time I was around Joey. And to make matters worse he was being nice to me which was about the last thing I needed. My feelings for him were complicated I'd decided and I wondered if I was just latching onto him because of the way he looked. So his being nice to me was just confusing me even more. And he wasn't even available, he clearly had a girlfriend so it was all wishful thinking on my part. It was certainly a nice dream to have though.


One week after my revelation I was in his office again, waiting for him to arrive and I could tell as soon as he walked in that he wasn't in a good mood. "Miss Cross..." he said, putting his bag on top of a cupboard.

"Since when have I been Miss Cross?" I said. He looked at me and if I had to put one word to how he looked I would say tired. "Are you okay, Joey?" I asked him in concern.

"I'm fine..." He snapped and his tone of voice brought tears to my eyes because it had been several days since he'd spoken to me that way. I lowered my head so I was looking at the floor and bit my lip. "Sorry..." he said. "Maybe we should start this again..." he added.

"I can go back to my room and come back if that helps?" I whisper to him.

He sighed and dragged a chair over to where I sat. He turned it and straddled it, leaning on the back of the chair as he sat in front of me, "I'm sorry for taking my bad mood out of you, Lauren. I didn't mean it, you know that, right?"

"Do I?" I asked, glancing up at him and seeing the expression on his face.

He hung his head, "Lauren Cross..." he said softly.

"Joey Branning..." I whispered.

He looked at me and smirked, "You're a funny girl, Lauren..."

"That's me... the funny fat girl..." I reply and even I can hear the self-loathing in my voice.

"You aren't fat, Lauren..."

"Yeah, right... like you'd even know how I feel... I'm sure you've always been gorgeous." I realise what I've just said and slap my hand over my mouth, unable to look at him now.

He laughed softly and it made me feel worse, "Do you want to know a secret?" he said softly. "I was bullied by the kids at school until I was about ten. I was a porky kid... my parents were going through a messy divorce and I was piggy in the middle. Piggy being the operative word because I comfort ate to make myself feel better. Over the next couple of years I had a bit of a growth spurt and I was bigger than the other kids so I could stand up for myself and then my uncle took pity on me and I started going to his boxing club. He showed me something to do other than eat and boxing became my new addiction. It was what I would turn to instead of food and it helped me get fitter."

"You can box?" I asked.

"Yeah..." he looked at me, "Have you ever boxed? It's a great work out..."

"No but I'd love to try it..." I told him.

"I'll bring some gloves and pads in tomorrow... you can give it a try..." he looked at his watch, "Now, on the scales, Lauren..." It was my turn to sigh and I got to my feet and stood on the scales. As usual I refused to watch as he slid the scale across. "Another three pounds, Lauren. Well done." He said, making a note on my record.

I looked at him again, "You look tired, Joey..." I say, forgetting for a second that we don't talk about his personal life.

"I've got a lot going on..." he said, glancing at me before returning to his notes and writing something else down. "We should review your exercise plan, Lauren... change it up a little." He said, "Variety is the spice of life and all that... Can you come and see me again tomorrow afternoon? We'll try the boxing at our usual session in the morning and then we can discuss it in the afternoon and see if you'd like to include that for the next few weeks. I have a few other suggestions we can discuss as well, okay?"



I was back in the garden that afternoon, drawing again in my pad... not that I was really paying attention to what I was drawing. I looked at the paper and I'm stunned to see Joey's face staring back at me. How the hell did that happen? I shut the book quickly, wanting to try and forget what I just drew. Something stops me from tearing the page out of it though... I don't want to throw it away. It's not something I understand and I push the thoughts away for a later time... hopefully never.

It's time to go back inside and as I head to the front of the building the same car is parked on the driveway. I stop and watch as Joey leaves the building. Call me a masochist but I couldn't stop watching. I really am a glutton for punishment. He opens the door but it's different this time. He doesn't kiss her for starters and I can tell from where I'm standing that she's pissed off. She doesn't look too happy at all and Joey really slams the car door after he get in. With the doors shut I can't hear what's going on but I'm pretty sure they're having a row. The car drives off and I go back inside. Even more for me to think about.


I walk into the gym the next morning and Joey's already there. He turns as he hears the door shut and smiles. His whole face lights up when he does and I pause. "Come on in, Miss Cross."

"I thought we established yesterday that you don't call me Miss Cross?" I said, folding my arms. I watch his face and for a second I could've sworn I saw his eyes drop to my chest but that would be ridiculous. Right?

"Sorry... Lauren..." he said, stressing my name. "Come on then." He held the gloves in the air and I walked over to him. He put some bandages on my hands and then pushed the gloves onto them. He spent the next few minutes showing me how to punch... standing ridiculously close to me, I might add. Am I reading too much into this? Obviously I am... because he wouldn't be interested in me. After that he walked away from me and picked up two red pads from on the floor, sliding them on his hands and turning to face me again. He held his hands in front of him, as if he was holding his hands up for the police and smirked at me, "Punch the pads..." he said softly.

I stared at him, "What?"

"Punch the pads, Lauren... like I just showed you..."

"What if I hurt you?" I whisper.

"That's what the pads are for..." he replied, smiling at me. "Now throw a punch..." I take a deep breath and lift my gloved fists. My right fist swings out and I hit the pad on his right hand. He lifts an eyebrow at me, "What was that?" he asked.

"A punch..." I said carefully.

"That was pathetic, Lauren..." he told me, "Try again..." I did as he said, my fist connecting with a little more force this time. "Again..." he repeated. My right fist flies across again and his hand moves back as I strike it. "That's it... but you can still do better." He said.

He was beginning to piss me off now and I frowned at him. There was a sparkle in his eyes, "I know what you're doing..." I said.

"And what's that, Lauren?" he asked.

"You're trying to goad me..."

"And why would I do that?" he said, smirking at me.

"So that I lose my temper and punch you."

"And is my grand plan working?" he asked.

"Nope... I'm not rising to the bait," I tell him serenely.

"Really?" The smirk on his face grew.

"Yes, really." I confirmed.

"We'll see about that..." He turns away from me and removes the pads from his hands. He then picks up another pair of gloves and he's soon putting them on his own hands. Once he's done he turns back to me and holds his hands in front of him. I look at them and up at his face, a frown firmly in place. "Do the same..." he said. I do and he then tapped the top of my gloves softly with his. "Now, hit me..."


"Hit me..."

"I'm not hitting you, Joey..."

"Why not?"

"Because..." Why couldn't I think of an appropriate reason not to? I doubted I could tell him I didn't want to hit him because I fancied the pants off him. Somehow I knew I shouldn't be telling him that sort of thing. I took a deep breath and draw back my left fist and let it fly... straight into his face. He hadn't been expecting that apparently. He stumbled backwards and shook his head. "Joey..." I was at his side in an instant, "Did I hurt you?" His eyes look dazed, "I'm so sorry... I didn't mean to hit you so hard... I thought you would stop it..."

"I'm fine, babe..." he said softly, pulling me against his chest as I lose the battle to control my emotions. His arms wrap around my body and his gloved hand brushes up and down my back.

"Oh god... I can't believe I did that..."

"I think you took us both by surprise, Lauren." he chuckled.

"I'm so sorry..." I tell him softly.

"What for? You did exactly what I told you to do..."

"I hurt you..."

He pushed me away from him and yanked one of the gloves off his hands. He lifted my chin so I had to look at his face, "Do you see any blood?" I shake my head, "Then no harm done..." He smiled at me again, "Glad to see my plan worked though... who knew you had that in you, eh, Lauren?" His smile turned into a smirk.

I moaned and stepped away from him again. "I hate you..." I tell him, backing away from him.


"This is all a game to you, isn't it?" I whisper, "Make fun of the fat girl..."

"Do I look like I'm laughing at you, Lauren?" he said softly, stepping towards me. His hand lifted and he brushed some of my hair back off my face, tucking it behind my ear. "And what did I say before... you aren't fat, Lauren..."

"I'm hardly stick thin, am I?" I reply.

"You're beautiful..." he whispered, staring into my eyes intently. My mouth ran dry... never had I expected him to say something like that... to someone like me.

"Don't lie to me..." I'm finally able to say. "I've had people lie to me my whole life... I can't have you do it too..." His thumb brushed the side of my face and I instinctively turn my face into his hand, "I need to be able to trust you, Joey..." I tell him.

"You can trust me... I promise, I will never lie to you, Lauren." he said. For a second there was silence between us and then he pulled away from me and things got a little awkward. I wasn't sure what had just happened. He cleared his throat and put his glove back on his hand, "Let's try that again then, shall we?" he said softly.


I go back to my room after I'm done with the boxing and, as usual, my first port of call is the shower. There is a lot on my mind today though, mainly to do with what happened between myself and Joey. I still don't really understand it. After we went back to me hitting him there was a tension that seemed to build between us. And he stopped smiling at me and went back to being the ass he can sometimes be.

I'd stopped in the foyer on the way back and I had some post today. Two letters. One was from Abs and the other looked like it was from Peter. By the time I was dressed again I'd given up trying to understand everything with Joey. I picked up the letter from Peter and read it. What he'd written tore my heart to shreds and I ended up screwing up the letter and throwing it away. I put Abi's letter to one side, deciding I'd read it later. My thoughts were now on the letter from Peter. His words were really hurtful and if it wasn't for the fact I recognised the writing, I would've suspected it was Lucy who wrote it. Tears ran down my face and I curled up in a ball on my bed.


I skip lunch and I'm sure Joey will be happy about that because I've lost my appetite. By half three in the afternoon I make my way to Joey's office. I knock on his door and hear him call me to come in. He's on the phone so I pause in the doorway.

"We can talk about this tonight..." He says and his voice sounds strained. "Yes... I fully understand what you're saying and I'll sort something out..." He sighed, his forehead resting on his hand as he leant on his desk, "I've got to go..." he said, "Look, I'm busy, alright..." He stabbed his thumb on the end button and tossed his phone onto the desk. He looked up at me and saw me lingering in the doorway. "Come in, Lauren." he said, his voice sounding softer as he spoke to me.

He got up from his chair and walked over to a filing cabinet, opening a drawer and pulling out what I assumed was my file. I sat on the chair and was surprised when he came and sat opposite me like he had the other day. "I enjoyed the boxing earlier, Joey."

"Good... I'm glad about that." He said. He glanced up at my face and I saw the slight frown that appeared. He turned back to the file, "I think we should change some of your exercise sessions." He told me.

"Change them? How?"

"In the last couple of weeks your weight loss has slowed a little... don't get me wrong it's still good but I think if we change it up a little we could get it back to the five or six pounds you were losing a few weeks ago." He looked at the file again, frowning as he looked at the first sheet, "You skipped lunch today?" he asked, looking at me in concern.

His question reminded me of the reason for my absence and I could feel the tears threatening and a huge lump in my throat, "I just wasn't hungry," I croak, unable to look at him.

"Lauren?" he asked softly, putting my file to one side and focusing on me. Focus I don't really think I can handle at the moment. "Talk to me, babe..." he whispers, his hands reaching for one of mine and clutching it inside them.

"I had a couple of letters in the post..." I tell him.

"Was it not good news?" he asked, a thumb brushing the back of my hand.

I shake my head, "I couldn't read the one from my sister..."

"Who was the other one from?" he asked. I wince at his question and he must notice, "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to... but I can see you're upset and that upsets me."

"It was from a friend from home..." I tell him softly. "My only friend... or so I thought..." I added. He squeezed my hand and the tears started to fall. I barely take a breath and then he's pulled me against his chest, his arms wrapping tightly around my body. "I'd sent a letter to him last week... we used to date and I asked him if he wanted to try again," I whispered into his T-shirt. "His reply wasn't what I expected him to say..."

"What did he say?"

"That he only ever went out with me as a bet and now, after everything that came with my alcohol problems, he wants nothing to do with me." Tears fells down my face, soaking his shirt, "He said that he would rather die than be with me in that way again; that the thought of it churned his stomach..." Giant sobs ran through my body after telling him that. Peter's words had confirmed my worst fears. No one could ever love me, looking like this.

"Darling, your friend... he's an idiot." He said to me softly, his lips right by ear. His voice was so soft and it ignited something within me. I lifted my head off his shoulder and looked at his face.

I think at this point I had some sort of mental break because I press my mouth against his, closing my eyes as I kiss him. He doesn't kiss me back and it's his lack of reaction that brings me back to awareness, "I'm so sorry..." I gasp as I pull away from him. I get to my feet quickly and make a move to the door, desperate to get out of the room and run back to my room. My need for several bars of dairy milk has just climbed even higher than it was after reading Peter's letter.

"Lauren..." he calls after me as I move towards the door. I ignore him but then he's grabbing my hand and pulling me back towards him. "Don't go... not when you're upset like this." He said softly.

"I've just made a complete fool of myself, Joey... why would I not want to leave? I just want to go back to my room and die of shame." I whisper, unable to look at his face.


"Why what?" I ask, puzzled by his question. Surely his answer is obvious.

"Why did you think you've made a fool of yourself?" he asked.

"I kissed you... it was a mistake..." I admitted.

His fingers lifted my chin and I have to look at him, "Was it?" he said gently. I'm not sure what he was trying to say to me and then his lips pressed against mine and we're kissing again. This time though, he made the first move and I can't tell you how much that means to me. Time seems to stand still and then I'm aware that my back is against the wall and he's pushing his body against mine. I think I've died and gone to heaven. He's breathing heavily as we pull apart and he's not the only one.

"Did I just dream that?" I ask him softly.

He smiled at me and his hand reaches up and pushes my hair behind my ear, "No you didn't... but..."

"There's always a but..." I mutter.

"I like you, Lauren... I hope that much is obvious..." he said softly.

"You have a girlfriend..." I state.

"How do you know that?" he asked in surprise.

"I saw her collect you from here a couple of times..." I admit.


"Why did you kiss me? Do you feel sorry for me?"

"I kissed you because I like you... and I wanted to kiss you..."

"Even though you have a girlfriend?" I ask sharply.

"I don't have a girlfriend..." he said and I quirk my eyebrow at him, "We've split up. It was her I was on the phone with when you came in..." he said softly. "I'm in the process of moving out of the flat we shared..."

"Oh..." I whisper. I don't really know what else to say. "So why did you say 'but' earlier?"

"You're a resident here, Lauren... nothing can happen between us while that is still the case..." He said. "I could lose my job if anyone found out..."

"So it's not because I'm..."

"If the next word out of your mouth is fat, I swear..." He growled and I had to close my eyes as the sound he'd just made did wonderful things to me. "Fuck it..." he whispered. His mouth crashes against mine again and it surprises me as my eyes were still closed. His body is pressed against mine again and I moan into his mouth as first his tongue brushes against mine and then I feel his arousal digging into my stomach. He ended the kiss but only moved millimetres from me, "You are an amazing girl, Lauren... I like you... and I think we could have something special together... but not until you've finished your treatment."

"So that was..."

"Me ignoring the brain in my head and letting my heart rule what I do for a minute..."

"It could be a long time before I'm ready to leave here..." I whisper, "The thought of leaving and going home again scares me..." I admit.

"Then in the mean time we get to know each other more..." he says softly. "Does that sound okay?" I nod my head, "Now are you okay to sit back down so we can decide on what changes we make to your exercise plan?"

"Okay..." I tell him. He takes my hand in his and we walk back over to his desk, taking our seats again.

"Is there anything you'd like to do?" he asked, "I kind of get the impression that running on the treadmill doesn't interest you that much?"

"I just find it a bit boring..." I tell him, "Even with you standing there..." He smirked at me.

"So what do you like to do?"

"Well, I do like running... but maybe not in a gym..." I murmur, "And I like to swim... and the boxing was fun..."

"Okay... well, I can work with that." He replied, "Tell me about yourself, Lauren... what did you use to do for fun before you came here... apart from drink."

"I used to love to dance..." I said, "My friends and I would go clubbing most nights. Admittedly I was usually very drunk at the time but I loved being in the middle of the dancefloor and feeling the music ebb through my body."

He leant forward and kissed me softly, "When you're out of here I'm going to take you dancing and we'll dance all night..." he told me. "Why does the thought of leaving here and going home scare you so much?"

"The last time I was in rehab I didn't last there very long and when I went home I really struggled to fit back in. I didn't have the support I needed. I'd lost my friends and most of my family weren't really around either. Before I went to into rehab I pushed them all away and I wasn't a very nice person so they weren't that interested in being around me when I got home again. I became depressed and that was when I turned to eating... you know the rest."

"So going home...?"

"I'm worried that I'll fall into the same habits..." I tell him.

"Have you spoken to your counsellor about this?" He asks and I shake my head. "Why not?"

I shrug, "I don't know..."

"I think you should. She might be able to give you coping mechanisms..." His lips press against my forehead. "I should really stop that..." he whispers.

"I like it..." I admit.

"Me too..." he murmurs, kissing my forehead again. He looks at the time, "You should be going, Lauren." he breathes, "I'll work on a new plan for you tonight and we can discuss it tomorrow..."

"Okay..." I stare at him, biting my lip. I take a deep breath and kiss him again. This time he responds when my lips meet his and I moan as his tongue licks my bottom lip. He's staring at me as we pull apart and I know I should leave, "I'll see you tomorrow then..." I whisper.

"See you tomorrow..." he said, smiling at me tenderly, "I've got some paperwork to do before my mate picks me up and I go and collect the rest of my things from the flat." I stand up and walk towards the door, "Oh and Lauren..." I turn back to look at him, "No more skipping meals... it's not good for you, I promise."

"Okay." I answer.


I'm feeling so much better when I get back to my room and I pick up the letter from my sister. My mood has plummeted just minutes later and I'm leaving my room. Only one destination in mind. I open the door to his office and he looks up, surprise on his face as he obviously wasn't expecting me.

"Lauren?" he asked in concern, obviously seeing the tears on my face. He's moved to stand in front of me, tugging me into his office and shutting the door behind me. I collapse against him and he lifts me off the floor. The next thing I know he's sitting down and I'm on his lap. "What's wrong, babe?"

"I read the letter from my sister..." I tell him. "Mum and dad are splitting up... again and Ab's says it's like living in a war zone at home. Mum's moving away and taking my baby brother with her. I can't go back there, Joey... I'll be taking a huge step backwards in my recovery..."

"Sshh..." he whispered, "You don't have to make any decisions now, babe... this is all something we can work out when you're nearly ready to leave... but if you don't want to go back there, you don't have to."

"I can't stay here forever..."

"Like I said... let's worry about that closer to the time, okay."

I rested my head on his shoulder, breathing in his scent. I believed him... I trusted him which was more than I could say about pretty much anyone in my life. He held me tightly in his arms and we sat in silence for a while. "I guess I should go back to my room," I tell him softly.

"Probably..." he whispered. I moved on his lap to get up and he moaned softly. He pulled me back against him and then we were kissing again. His hand caressed my face as he deepened the kiss.

"What are we doing, Joey?" I ask him as I drag my mouth from his.

"I know it's wrong and I could get in so much trouble... but I want you, Lauren..."

"You want me?" I whisper. He grabs my hand and places it on his groin and I realise what he means. "You want me?" I repeat.

"Did that not give you a clue?" he asks with a smile.

"You want me?" I ask... I think I might be in shock.

"Why is that such a surprise to you?"

"Because I'm..."

"I swear, Lauren... if you're about to say the F word, I'm going to kill you."

"I think you'd definitely get the sack if you did that..."

"Whereas what I'd rather do wouldn't get me into any trouble at all?" he said.

"I should go..." I whisper to him.

"Stay..." he said, his arms wrapping around my waist a little tighter.

"You said we shouldn't, Joey... I don't want to get you in trouble..." I tell him.

"I want you..." he whispered to me.

"I want you too..." I tell him because I really do and not just because it's been a long time since I've had sex (which it has) but he makes me feel so safe and special. It's only been a few hours since we first kissed but this feels different to every relationship I've had before. I move on his lap and stand up before him. Taking a deep breath I push down the leggings I'm wearing and his fingers graze down my legs. "How long before your friend is here to collect you?"

"We've got time..." he replied.

My hands move to his jogging bottoms and he lifts his hips so I can pull them down his legs. His boxers are quick to follow and then there he is... in all his glory. I practically tear my knickers from my body and I climb back on his lap. "Do you have anything?" I ask him.

"In my wallet..." he breathes, his eyes focused on my body which would weird me out if I wasn't feeling pretty much the same about his gorgeous length. He pulls me against his body and reaches around me, picking up his wallet from his desk. I watch his face as he tries to locate the condom. I heard him sigh and he removed back in his chair. "Do you want to do the honours?" he asked, holding the foil square between two fingers.

"Can I?" I asked him softly.

"Of course, babe..." he said to me. He watched as I tore open the square but before doing anything else I wrapped my hand about his cock and stroked him firmly. He groaned and his head rolled back on the back of the chair as I continued to squeeze his length in my hand. After a while I removed my hand and carefully rolled the condom down. He moaned again and then lifted his head and kissing me softly. "Can I touch you?" he whispered.

"I'll be pissed if you don't..." I told him. Joey reaches for me, brushing his fingers over my opening and I gasp. It feels so good for him to touch me. I now realise what I've been missing. I rest my forehead against his as a finger enters me, stroking me exactly where I need him to. The second and third fingers soon join the first and then he's kissing me. "Joey... I don't think I can wait much longer..." I gasp as I feel my body begin to tighten.

He pulled his fingers from me and then he's guiding me down on him. I feel so full and he's stretching me in all the right places. "Lauren..." he breathed in my ear and his voice alone could make me come. His mouth found mine and he managed to say so much more with his mouth against mine than any words could communicate. "So good, babe..." he murmured.

"I know, Joey..."

"I love you..." he breathed in my ear and my body clenched around him because he'd just verbalised what I was feeling.

"Show me, Joey..." I gasp, kissing his jaw softly. He stands, lifting me in his arms and then he's laying me on his desk and his hips start to pound against me. A hand brushes up under my top and then he's cupping one of my ample breasts and he moans against my neck. The desk is creaking beneath me as we both edge closer to our peaks. I stare up at his face and I fall in love with him instantly. He's gorgeous and he's staring at me so intently; his eyes boring into mine and I don't doubt his emotions and what he's said to me. My back arches off the desk and I moan his name softly. His face buries in my neck and then he's kissing my neck and I run my fingers through his hair, holding his head in place as I feel him start to throb inside me. He collapses on me as our peaks fade and although it isn't comfortable I just don't want to move. We have to though and it's his mobile phone that pulls us apart.

"I think we were longer than we should've been..." he breathes against my shoulder, his lips caressing the skin.

"Is that your friend?" I ask, although neither of us has moved.

"Yeah." He reluctantly pulls from my body and pulls on his clothes. He helps me up from his desk and redresses me when I appear to have lost the function of any of my limbs. We stand in the middle of his office and he kisses me again, his hands cupping each side of my face, "I'll see you in the morning." He murmurs and I nod.


I walk back to my room with a smile on my face and even though the two letters I got in the post today were upsetting, I feel like today has been a huge milestone in my recovery for me.


I was worried that things might be a little awkward between me and Joey the next morning but I'm relieved that it isn't. Yes, maybe his hand lingers on my arm slightly longer than it had before yesterday and he stares into my eyes and there's a shine to them that I know is because of me and no one else but other than that we're still the same Joey and Lauren we were the day before. We're in the gym again today and I'm back on that dreaded treadmill but as I run he's talking to me about my new exercise plan.

Tomorrow is swimming and I'm glad I asked mum to send me a swimming costume with the new clothes she got me. Then it's the gym again with boxing the day after.

Joey cuts short my agony on the treadmill though, surprising me. "I thought we could go for a run..." he said.

"What have I been doing for the last quarter of an hour?" I gasp, sipping on the bottle of water he'd given me.

"I meant a run that wasn't on the treadmill... you and me... together..."


"Around the grounds..." he said. "Does that appeal to you?"

I stare at him... the most appealing thing in the world, "Hell yes..." I say eagerly and I'm actually talking about the run... it would be great to get out of here for a while. "Let's go..."

"Okay... I just need to go past my office and grab a couple of things." We walk out of the gym and back to his office. I follow him inside and he pushes me back against the door as it shuts, kissing me deeply, "I've wanted to do that since you walked in the gym..." he moaned. "I think I'm addicted to you..." he whispered.

"That sounds like a pretty healthy addiction to have, in my opinion... and coming from a person who's got more than her own fair share of addictions, I should know." I whisper. "It's one I might share with you... because I'm definitely addicted to you... and no rehab is going to cure that."

"I'm glad about that..." he breathed, "Now we should really go on our run."

"Okay..." I tell him. He grabs the keys to his office and he locks the door and we walk out of the building. He starts to run, I'm run slightly behind him as we start to jog up the driveway. I may well be staring at his ass as we're running, so sue me. He's gorgeous. Then he turns around, jogging on the spot, waiting for me to catch him up so I lose the opportunity to partake in my fun any longer.

"Keep up, Lauren..." he said, laughing as he no doubt saw the pout on my face as I sulked slightly about not being able to stare at his bum anymore.

"You're always telling me what to do..." I murmur.

"And you like me doing so, don't tell me you don't..." he said softly.

I sighed because he was right... there was a large part of me that did like him telling me what to do. "So you're going to tease me all the time, are you?"

"I may do..." he said, a definite smile on his face. I stop running and watch him run away from me, my eyes drifting slightly lower than I meant them to. He realises I'm not beside him and turns around, running back towards me. My hands were on my hips as I watched him approach me. "Don't look at me like that..." he said softly.

"Why not?"

"Because it makes me want to have a repeat of last night..."

"And that would be a bad thing because?" I ask him, not sure I understood his reluctance.

"I told you yesterday, nothing can happen while you're a patient here..." he whispered, his hand lifting and brushing a strand of hair behind my ear.

"Then I'll leave..."

"Even though you're not ready to go yet?" He asked, frowning at me.

"I thought about it last night and you're more important to me than being here..." I whisper.

A silence falls between us. "Come with me..." he says, turning and striding further down the pathway. He doesn't turn back to see if I'm doing as he's ordered... and disturbingly I find I am. It turns out Joey Branning is very hard to resist, even when he's bossing me around. We walk for about five minutes until we're out of sight of the main house and away from prying eyes. He turns to face me again and when I'm close enough he pulls me against him, kissing me passionately. "You can't leave, babe..." he breathed as we pull apart.

"Why not?"

"I don't want to be the reason you don't get better properly..." he breathed, kissing me softly.

"You won't be, Joey... you're the reason I want to get better." I tell him.

"Then you need to stay here..." he whispered in my ear, kissing just in front of it tenderly.

"But staying here is going to be torture if I can't be with you..."

He pulled away from me and stared into my eyes. I'm sure he could probably hear my heart pounding... the blood was rushing through my veins, I could hear it so clearly. I was also having problems breathing. This was the affect he had on me. He took my hand in his and squeezed it.

"We're going to have to be really careful then... I guess," he whispered. His eyes were staring deeply into mine and I could see his love for me shining from them.

"Really?" I whispered, biting my lip, hoping the pain of that would detract from the pain his threat of us not being together had caused.

He moaned and crushed his mouth against mine, his hands cupping my face as his tongue pushed into my mouth. I clung to him tightly, feeling every contour of his body against mine. He lifted me off the floor and his strength was shown to me again... after all he lifted my hefty weight off the floor which was no mean feat... although probably easier than it would've been when I met him forty four days ago. "Yes, really..." he breathed against my mouth. "You're far too tempting for me to stay away from..." he murmured.


We never did finish our run that day. I may have found another way to burn off the calories instead though. Sex in the open air is quite liberating... as Joey showed me several times that day. Another thing that was cathartic was letting Joey see me... all of me... I had dreaded that moment... dreaded what he would think when he saw what I considered to be the less than perfect me but the look on his face as his eyes ran over my body. He truly saw me as beautiful... it was written all over his face and he made me believe it.


Today was day sixty five of my residence at the rehab, day fifty six since I met Joey and day twelve since we started a relationship. I am also another seven pounds lighter. Things were going great between the two of us. It had been surprisingly easy for us to let our relationship develop... whereas I used to dread the times I had to spend with Joey, the work out sessions of torture, now I'd go to them with renewed vigour... my need to see him making the time I spent with him less painful. I even didn't mind that he would see me when I was all sweaty. I tell you, I have it so bad for the guy.


I got in the swimming pool and started to swim lengths. Joey wasn't here yet but he only made me swim lengths anyway so I might as well get started. And hopefully it would lead to me not embarrassing myself this time. Not that it was my fault, I mused as I started another length. I can hardly be blamed for how my body reacts when I see my boyfriend in just his trunks, can I? BOYFRIEND... don't you love that word? I do... almost as much as I love him. It's official... I love him... I just haven't told him that yet.

I hear the door end at the room open as I start another length. I can't stop myself from looking, my eyes drawn to him as always. I stop swimming, treading water instead as I watch him. Could he look any hotter if he tried? He was wearing black swim shorts that seemed to cling to his figure... and were practically indecent they hung so low on his hips. Really, it was an intoxicating sight. He dived into the pool, looking as graceful as he did with every action he made. He swam over to me and smirked as he saw my face... obviously I must be drooling again. It was a common problem but he didn't seem to mind. He pulled me into his arms, his feet settling on the bottom of the pool as I wrapped my arms and legs around his neck and waist. His mouth was on my neck, kissing the soft spot that never failed to reduce me to a quivering mess... when he kissed it anyway. I'd never reacted that way with any other boy. Joey is definitely special.

As usually happened he slipped his fingers inside my swimming costume, stroking me gently. I gasped into his mouth and his tongue took advantage of the situation and brushed against mine. "Am I going to get my reward for being such a good patient?" I whispered to him.

"Well you have been a good girl..." he breathed against my temple. "My good girl..."

He pushed me back against the side of the pool and ground himself against me, his solid length pressing against my body. "Joey..." I moaned, my fingers running through his hair.

"This isn't getting your exercise done." He said softly.

"Do you want to stop?" I ask him, kissing along his jaw.

"No but we should..."

I pull away from him and stare at his face. "You're saying no, aren't you...?"

"I'm saying you need to do your exercise first... then we can be together."

Well, I'd already done four lengths before you arrived..." I tell him.

"Then you have twenty one left to do..." he said softly.

"Slave driver..."

"And you love me for it..."

"I do..." I whisper.

"I know..." he said with a smile but I realised he wasn't paying attention to what I'd said so I tried again.

"No, Joey..." I whispered, my hand caressing the side of his face, "I love you... I've not said it before... but I do love you." I kissed him softly, feeling him respond with fervour.


Sometime later, after I'd finally finished my required lengths I made my way back over to Joey. He was leaning against the side, his arms on the edge of the pool. I could see the desire on his face as I swam over to him. "Was that good enough for you?" I asked with a smirk.

"You have no idea..."

"Do I get my reward now?" I whisper as I drape my body against his. My lips kiss his jaw again, really I'm addicted to kissing him here... and on his mouth. His jaw is a sensitive spot for him though... just a couple more and there you go – he moans loudly into my ear and his hands brush over my body. He slid the strap of my swimming costume off my shoulder. It was at times like this I regretted having a one-piece costume... but I just wasn't confident enough with my new figure just yet for me to think about wearing a bikini. However much it would make the sex easier.

It didn't take him long to remove my costume... really the man is a magician, he makes everything appear effortless and simple. My one task is to remove his shorts and yet I'm all fingers and thumbs, my hands completely useless. He chuckles into my hair and shoves them down his legs, kicking them to one side. "Come here, Miss Cross..." he whispered, lifting me off my feet and turning around so I was now pressed against the wall of the pool. He eased himself into my body and yet again it takes my breath away... this feeling will never get old. The water ebbs around our bodies as we move against each other. We kiss and touch and moan throughout and it doesn't take long before he's coming inside me. I never want this to end.


Today was day eighty five of my residence at the rehab, day seventy six since I met Joey and day thirty two since we started a relationship. I am another nine pounds lighter... so for those of you keeping count that makes forty eight pounds lost so far... that's almost three and a half stone. I feel amazing and it's got nothing to do with the fabulous sex I'm having... okay, it might have a little to do with that.

Today is a big day for me... for many reasons really... but the main (and scariest) is I'm being allowed out of the facility for four hours. I'm nearing the end of my rehab now and this is all part of the process. It's to see how I cope with being on my own for a few hours... of course if my counsellor had any idea how I was planning to spend my 'free' afternoon she probably wouldn't be quite as worried. You see I don't plan on being on my own at all.

Joey has taken a today as holiday and if I have my way I plan to be in bed with him all afternoon. He says there's something he wants to discuss with me too... and this is also scaring me quite a lot if I'm being honest but I'm trying not to. He looked all serious when he said it though and I'm a little scared he's going to end things between us.


I got the bus from outside the facility into the centre of town. Joey was meeting me in Starbucks and we'd get a coffee or something and then we'd go back to his flat... for our talk. I'm nervous and I have been all morning. I spent twenty minutes on the treadmill this morning just to work off some of the excess energy that was zinging through me when I woke up. Well, I say woke up but really, I barely slept. By the time I'm walking through the door of Starbucks I think I'm going to puke. He's sitting at a table and he has two coffees in front of him and a slice of chocolate cake. CHOCOLATE!

I sit down and smile at him. "Are you okay?" He asks in concern, "You look a little pale..."

"I'm fine." I murmur.

"I got a slice of cake for us to share..." he said, "It's chocolate..." he added, somewhat unnecessarily. I think he knows I'm the expert when it comes to chocolate.

"Who are you and what have you done with my boyfriend?" I ask with a soft smile.

"I thought you deserved a treat..." He told me, "and we're sharing it. Anyway I know you've been worried about today."

"You wanted to talk?" I whisper, picking up a fork and taking a large chunk of cake before he can take it away from me. I have a feeling I'm going to need this lovely sweet gooey goodness.

"Let's finish this and go back to my flat and then we can talk." He says, reaching across the table and squeezing my hand.

"Okay..." I breathe but in reality I feel sick. I force myself to eat the cake though... it's been a long time since I've been allowed anything this amazing and I'm not missing out now; regardless of how much I feel like puking.


I feel a bit like I might be in a sugar coma as we leave the coffee shop and I guess Joey must spot how quiet I am. He's been holding my hand since we got back out on the street and he squeezes my hand again. Really, I wish he'd just end this misery now. Tell me so I can go back to the centre; rip it off like a plaster so I can start to heal. I've been hurt before and I dealt with it then. I can deal with it again. Okay, I guess you could justifiably say that I didn't deal with it that well before but I'm a different person now and I'm not going to let this break me.

My last statement is a complete lie of course... THIS IS GOING TO KILL ME.


He opens the door to his flat and his hand on my back ushers me through the door. "Sit down, babe..." he says before disappearing into another room.

I stand in the middle of the room. When he comes back he stares at me. He looks puzzled. "Are you finishing with me?" I ask him softly.

"Why would you think that?" He asked, frowning.

"You said you wanted to talk and you wanted to wait until we were back here before we 'talked' and something has been on your mind for a few days." I tell him in a rush. I'm breathing deeply and I can feel the tears building. "It's okay, Joey... I don't mind. I'm used to people leaving me when they don't want me in their life anymore." The 'I don't mind' was the breaking of me and the tears started flowing.

He rushed over to me and swept me into his arms, holding me in place when I tried to struggle against him, "I'm not breaking up with you, babe... I don't know what gave you that impression, I really don't."

"So why have you been acting strangely?" I whisper into his shirt.

"I've been thinking about our future." He whispered to me and I froze.

"Our future?"

He pulled me over to the couch and sat down, me on his lap. "It's coming to the end of your time at the centre... I know you're still unsure about going home to your family and you're worried about being around them when they're still going through their issues." He pressed his lips to my forehead and his hand brushed some hair behind my ear, "I was wondering if you wanted to stay down here after you're released... I was hoping you would move in with me."

"Move in with you?" I whispered.

"I don't want you to go, babe. I like having you here... I like seeing you every day and knowing that I get to kiss you every day. I don't want to let that go; to let you go." His lips kissed mine softly and I melted slightly, "I want to wake up with you every morning. I want to come home from work and for us to go for a run together. I want to make love to you every day... sometimes more than once... and I want to end every day with you in my arms again."

"You do?"

"I do..." He confirms, "Is that a yes?"

"I think you should show me around this flat..."

"You do?" he asks.

"Well, I'd like to see the place I'm going to live..."

"Really?" he whispered. I look at him and see the vulnerability on his face. It makes me fall in love with him all over again. I nod and he kisses me enthusiastically. I'm lying on my back beneath him less than a minute later and he's tearing the clothes from my body. I want to protest but I just can't bring myself to do so.

Joey pushes his length into me and my back arches off the couch. His words to me already have me on edge and I know this is going to be very quick. His mouth is all over me... my face, my neck, my chest. His hands are also caressing my body. It's like I'm on fire... my whole body is tingling. I love it. I love him. His hips moved faster against me and I closed my eyes, moaning as the pressure built within me. I cry out his name moments later and he's soon moaning into my neck as well. He collapses on top of me and we lie there, breathing heavily as we calm down.

"Joey?" I whisper, my hand brushing through his hair. He lifts his head and he looks at me. "I love you..."

"I know you do, babe..." he murmurs, kissing my mouth softly.

"Do you think people will think we're rushing into it when we move in together?" I murmur.

"I think if people see us together they will see how much we love each other and they'll know it's the right thing for us." He tells me. "Are you having second thoughts?" he asks, slightly worried.

I shake my head, "I'm really looking forward to us taking this step in our relationship."

"So am I..." he says, smiling at me.

Finally I feel like I belong somewhere... for the first time ever I know I'm loved by someone. I love him and he loves me. Life is perfect.


My name is Lauren Cross. I'm twenty years old and I'm a recovering alcoholic. It has been three hundred and sixty five days since I had my last drink. I am officially one year sober. Three hundred and fifty six days ago I met the love of my life and we have been living together for two hundred and seventy days. They have been the happiest two hundred and seventy days of my life. Yes, my parents weren't happy with me not returning home after leaving rehab but I've seen them both since then and they can see how happy Joey makes me. Forty five days ago Joey made me even happier when he asked me to be his wife. I didn't hesitate to say yes. In nine days time I will become Mrs Lauren Branning; on the anniversary of the day I met him.

Since entering rehab my weight has fallen by an astounding seventy nine pounds. To be honest it had fallen to eighty four pounds but I may have put a little weight on recently. I know this sounds strange for someone who's been watching her weight for such a long time but I'm going to share with you a secret only Joey and I know so far. We're having a baby. I am eleven weeks pregnant. Joey has never been so pleased for me to put some weight on in his life. We are both so happy it almost hurts. In less than thirty weeks time our lives will be complete.


A/N: I hope you liked it because this story has caused me pain all weekend... I didn't think it would ever end. Let me know what you thought.