Julian approached Whitney and Chad, dancing closely, and tapped Chad on the shoulder. “May I cut in?” He grinned.
Chad stepped back. “Sure, but just one song,” he teased.
Julian chuckled. “I don’t blame you. I didn’t want to let anyone dance with Eve, either, on our wedding day.”
Julian gathered Whitney close, and they danced. Father and daughter…a dream come true for Julian, not only to dance with his firstborn daughter with Eve on her wedding day, but to have her in his life, accepting him as her father. He smiled as they danced. ‘Life was good.’
TC watched Julian and Whitney dance. He had to admit the man didn’t seem like the same Julian he’d known all his life, and Whitney sure seemed drawn to him. Maybe it was time he let the past go and made a fresh start. Sipping his drink, he looked up and frowned when he saw Eve, who appeared to be completely undecided on what outfit to wear to this occasion, walking hand in hand with another man…Julian’s lawyer.
He shifted uncomfortably, not knowing what to make of this ‘friendliness’ between them, as they approached him. TC smiled politely, staring at Eve…and then down at her hand in Ben’s. He cleared his throat and took another sip of his champagne, deciding it was best to pretend he didn’t notice.
Ben grinned; he knew exactly what TC was thinking. “Enjoying the wedding?” he asked.
“Uh, yes. It’s better than I thought it would be,” TC replied, avoiding Ben’s eyes. At that moment, he felt like smashing his fist into him, but it wasn’t Ben’s fault. Like him, it appeared now that Julian was a victim to Eve’s wandering eye, and in public too…and they accused him of having problems!
TC drained his drink and then stared at Eve. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer. “I know this is none of my business, but…”
“TC Russell, I would like you to meet Tracey,” Ben interrupted with a smile, placing his arm around her waist.
TC blinked. “What?”
“That is why you are so uncomfortable, isn’t it? You think this is Eve,” Ben replied.
TC straightened up. “It isn’t?” he asked, confused. “What are you talking about? Of course it’s Eve.” He looked at her. “Eve?” he said, suddenly not so sure.
“It’s true; I am not Eve Crane. My name is Tracey Rozz, and it appears, though I have yet to meet her, that Eve and I could pass for twins,” Tracey explained, hugging Ben’s arm.
TC’s face reddened suddenly. “Oh no, you must have been the one I spoke too…” He looked away, embarrassed with the way he had acted when he first ran into her and thought she was Eve.
“Think nothing of it. You weren’t the only one who mistook me for Eve. She doesn’t need to know. I won’t tell a soul.” Tracey smiled kindly.
“Thank you so much. I feel like such a fool,” TC said, his eyes suddenly following an African-American woman walking past them. “Who is that?” he whispered, his mouth going dry.
Ben turned. “A friend from New Jersey, I believe.”
“Beautiful…” TC murmured absently, as he rudely left Tracey and Ben to follow her.
“He seems smitten,” Tracey remarked.
“Yes, it appears so.” Ben stared after TC.
TC’s eyes stayed glued on the woman a few feet ahead of him. He had to get her name.
A waiter carrying a tray of champagne stood in front of him, blocking his path. TC, irritated, tried to step around him, but to his annoyance, the waiter tried the same thing, and they kept stepping in each other’s way. Finally, TC stopped. “You go…” He motioned as he stood still.
The waiter smiled apologetically and quickly rushed off.
TC looked around for the woman. “Where did she go?” he wondered, glancing around.
Walking a few feet, he searched the crowd, but to no avail. Disappointed, he decided to look for Simone so they could make plans to leave. Turning around abruptly, he knocked a woman off balance. “I am so sorry.” He reached out to steady her.
The woman he had been searching for raised her eyes to his. “No, I wasn’t looking where I was going. Forgive me.” She smiled kindly.
TC stared. “No, no need to apologize, really. My name is TC.” He held out his hand to her.
She placed her hand in his and smiled. “My friends call me Miss Sip.”
“Miss Sip…” He rolled the name off his tongue, savoring it.
“It isn’t my real name. To tell you that, I will have to get to know you better,” she replied with a grin.
“Well, that can certainly be arranged, if you are interested, that is,” TC offered, his heart pounding with excitement.
“Why not? It’s a lovely day.” She turned and gestured that they walk.
“So…” TC began. “How do you know the Cranes?” he wondered, holding his breath.
“I am a psychologist from the rehab clinic in New Jersey where Eve recuperated from the poisoning that almost killed her. We became friends, and I also got to know Whitney and Chad during that time…” Miss Sip explained as they walked.
“So you are a shrink.” TC smiled.
She chuckled. “I suppose you could say that. Why? Do you need a shrink?”
“I am beginning to think that might not be a bad idea.” He laughed.
“Ah, nothing electric shock won’t cure I am sure.” She chuckled at the look of horror that crossed his face. “I am only teasing.” She brushed his arm gently.
“Maybe you could take a crack at me over coffee sometime?” TC returned with a grin.
“I think that would be very nice.” She smiled as they continued to walk the garden paths of the Crane Estate.
Simone watched her father walk with the stranger. He genuinely seemed happy. Her heart pounded with joy. Maybe this was going to be a new start for him. Maybe, finally, he could put the past behind him and move on. She turned and watched Chad claim his bride from Julian, and the two started dancing again.
“They make a beautiful couple, don’t they?” Fox Crane stood next to her and nodded at the dance floor.
“Uh, yes. Yes they do,” she replied, a little uncomfortable.
Fox nodded. “Where is your date?”
“I came with my father. I didn’t bring one,” she replied.
“Oh, that’s rough. I am sure your boyfriend wishes you had.” A sly smile crept onto his face.
Simone turned and looked at him, blushing. “I don’t have one. I have been too busy for that.”
“Too busy for boys? What could possibly keep you too busy for that?” he asked, folding his arms, ready for the long version of her life’s story.
“You don’t want to hear about my boring life.” She waved a hand to dismiss the idea.
“No, really, I do. Why don’t we go for a walk or something, and you can tell me all about it?” he suggested, with a devilishly charming smile.
Not used to this kind of attention from such a handsome young man, she nodded numbly and took the arm he offered and walked with him.
Whitney and Chad grinned happily at the exchange between Fox and Simone.
“I really think Simone is going to be OK.” Chad smiled, kissing her cheek.
“Yeah, I think so too. Just like you and me.” Whitney hugged him close.
Eve wiped Evan’s mouth and then kissed him on the cheek. “Now, Aunt Sheridan wants to take you home to play with Martin. Would you like to stay with him for the night?” She tucked his shirt in properly.
Evan nodded eagerly.
Sheridan and Luis approached.
“Are you ready for some fun?” Luis picked Evan up.
He nodded shyly.
“We are going to take Sandy to the Crane House first and help her get settled in quickly. Then we will head on home. I hope that is OK,” Sheridan explained, taking the overnight bag Eve handed her.
“That’s fine. Just don’t let him loose. He is hard to catch when he starts exploring.” Eve laughed.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let him out of my sight.” Luis smiled.
Eve walked with them to the car, and once more kissed Evan before buckling him into the car seat. She waved and watched them drive off of the estate. “Now, where is my husband?” she mused, looking over the dance floor. Seeing Whitney with Chad again, she figured he was mingling with the guests. Smoothing her gown, she went to search for him.
Eve turned and smiled as Sam and Grace approached her.
“Sam and I are heading home,” Grace puffed, her face glowing.
“It’s still early,” Eve objected.
“I know, but I need to get off my feet.” Grace smiled.
“Why? You’re not ill are you?” Eve asked, concerned.
“No,” Sam replied and hugged Grace close. “Shall we tell her, honey?” He grinned.
“Tell me what?” Eve looked from one to the other.
“I’m pregnant!” Grace beamed.
Eve’s mouth dropped and tears sprang into her eyes. “How can this be?”
“A miracle. Sam and I, we prayed so hard, and it looks like God heard our prayers.” Grace wiped her own tears. “Cause, I really am pregnant.”
Eve stepped close and hugged her. “I am so happy for you.”
The two friends cried, sharing the happy moment, as Sam smiled, looking on, waiting patiently to take Grace home so he could pamper her and make sure she got all the proper rest that the doctor had instructed her to get. He was a happy man indeed.
Ben and Tracey danced under a canopy of trees, away from the dance floor, enjoying the privacy they provided.
“How about I go get us some champagne, and we can celebrate what we have?” He grinned happily at her, moving her slowly to the rhythm of the music.
“I would like that.” She smiled.
“OK. I will be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” she returned, leaning against a massive willow tree.
She watched him walk, wondering how
on earth she got so lucky to find a man like him. She turned to sit on the nearby
bench when she heard a rustling in the bushes. Curious, she looked around for
a moment, and then decided there wasn’t any harm in checking it out. Carefully
approaching the shrubs, she moved some branches to look. Suddenly, a hand reached
out and pulled her off balance, onto the ground. Before she could scream, a
set of lips settled on hers, kissing her passionately.
Meanwhile, at the bar, Ben picked up a couple of glasses of champagne. He turned and almost ran into Eve. “Eve!” he exclaimed. “Sorry about that.”
“Have you seen Julian?” she asked, looking around.
“Yes, a few times, but not recently.” He glanced around as well to help her look for him. “Listen, Eve…” He gave up the search. “I want to introduce you to Tracey.”
“Tracey?” Eve sighed and gave up looking for Julian as well.
“She is really special. I want you and Julian to meet her.” He smiled, walking with her to where he left Tracey. “She is right over…well… She was here a minute ago.” Ben scanned the area. “Wonder where she is?”
Eve shrugged and glanced around as well, not having any clue who to look for.
In the nearby bushes, on the ground, Tracey lay stunned, unable to conceive what was happening. Was she being raped? If so, well, he was the most tender, gentle… He smelled so good… His tongue was…his tongue?!? Tracey’s closed eyes flew open, and she beat against his chest, finally coming to her senses. “Stop it!” Tracey cried, breathlessly.
“Ah, my sweet Eve, I know you said we could set the bed on fire later, but I can’t wait another moment. I want you so much.” Julian nibbled at her throat.
Raising her knee, Tracey made good solid contact with his groin, and Julian rolled off of her, gasping in agony.
Wheezing in pain, Julian tried to speak. “E…vvve,” he groaned.
Hearing Tracey cry out, Ben dropped the champagne and rushed toward the bushes, with Eve close at his heels. “Tracey…” he dropped to his knees to help her up. “What happened? Are you OK?” His voice was filled with concern.
She nodded and pointed to Julian lying in the underbrush.
Ben’s scowl turned to humor when he saw who it was.
Eve rushed to help Julian. “What happened? What did you do?” She froze when she saw Tracey. “Oh my…” She stared in shocked silence.
‘Eve…” Julian finally managed to collect himself as he stumbled to his feet. “What did you do that for?” He was still in considerable pain.
“I didn’t, Julian.” Eve tried to comfort him. “She did.” She stepped back so he could get a good look at Tracey.
Julian stared from Eve to Tracey and back. He touched his head. “I think I am more hurt than I realize. I think I need a doctor,” he finally said and shook his head.
Ben stepped up. “No, that is why I have been trying to get you to meet Tracey - so you don’t get mixed up in a mess like this. You are not seeing double. She just looks exactly like Eve,” he tried to explain.
Julian backed away when Tracey tried to approach him.
“I’m sorry. I thought you were trying to take advantage of me. It was clearly a misunderstanding, as we can all see. It is rather amazing that we look so alike…aside from the different dresses.” She offered her hand in truce. “Forgive me, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Oh, yes you did.” Julian hesitated, and then finally grasped her hand. “But I understand. I should be the one to apologize.” he said.
Eve was too stunned to speak, too stunned to realize what had just happened.
“Eve?” Julian touched her arm. “Are you OK?”
“What?” Eve stared at Julian. “I am fine.”
“You don’t look fine,” Julian replied.
Shaking her heard, Eve suddenly snapped out of it. “What happened here?” She couldn’t help but keep glancing at Tracey, trying not to be rude.
“Well,” Julian began sheepishly, “I thought I saw you standing by that tree over there.” He pointed. “I made a racket to get your attention. Though, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why you kept changing gowns.”
Julian continued to explain and was thrilled that Eve wasn’t mad at him, and neither was Ben, for that matter. Finally beginning to relax, Julian invited them into the mansion for a private drink in his study.
Tracey, however, tried to keep a decent amount of distance between herself and Julian, clinging to Ben’s arm for the rest of the evening.
Much later, when most of the guests had gone home, and Chad and Whitney had boarded the Crane Jet and headed off to Paris for their honeymoon, Ben and Tracey politely refused to stay at the mansion for the night. Julian tried to make them stay, but Tracey wasn’t about to spend the night in the same house with a man who kept mistaking her for his wife, and Ben wasn’t about to refuse her wishes.
Waving as Ben and Tracey headed off down the Crane driveway; Julian turned to Eve and pulled her into his arms. “Alone at last,” he whispered, kissing her softly.
“Yeah,” she agreed, stroking his cheek. “It’s been an exhausting day.”
“In more ways than one.” Julian grimaced as he remembered Tracey’s knee. “I think a little TLC is in order, from my favorite doctor.” Julian grinned, pulling her toward the stairs.
Eve laughed. “I am so sorry that had to happen to you, Julian, but you really should have waited until now, like I told you to.” She wrapped her arm around his waist.
“I promise I will make it up to you…for disobeying,” he teased, tickling her side.
Eve wiggled out of his grasp and raced up the stairs. At the top, she paused. “Aren’t you coming?”
“I will be there in a minute.” He smiled tenderly. “I just want to take a moment and thank God for being so good to us.”
“All right, but don’t be too long.” She winked.
The room was aglow with the softness of candlelight flickering against the gold toned walls and the king-size, burgundy clad bed.
Eve pulled the covers back and patted the pillows. Then, she smoothed her hair and the navy silk negligee she had changed into, which was short, about mid-thigh. She smiled when the door creaked and locked behind her.
Julian approached Eve from behind and wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her beautiful black hair. She had taken her pins out of it, and it was now down around her face. “Hmm, you smell wonderful.” He kissed her neck.
Eve turned in his arms, her eyes lifting to his, shining with love. “Hmm, so do you. It’s been a wonderful day, and I couldn’t think of a better way to end it than to be in the arms of the man I love with all my heart and soul.” She pulled his head down for a kiss.
His mouth moved gently over hers, kissing her passionately, loving her. He thanked God that through it all, through the good and the bad, she was his and his alone, and nothing and no one would ever change that. “I’ll always love you, Eve,” he whispered as they fell back on the bed.
“And I, you,” she returned.
They spent the night in each other’s arms, filled with love and passion and hope for the future, not only for themselves, but for their children as well.