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Story title: Faith

Type of story: Long fiction

Main characters, Nicole, Geoff, Annie, Ruby, Aden,

BTTB rating: A (L SC V)

Genre: friendship, romance, drama,

Spoilers: None

Warnings: None

Summary: Nicole Franklin has been away from the Bay for a long time. She left in secrecy and returns in the same manor. What is she hiding?

'Cause I gotta have faith... George Michael

Nicole Franklin caught the last bus out of the City. She had sold everything worth selling, including her car, to buy the ticket and give her the money to live on until she could get a job. She was going home.

She looked out of the window at the night sky and sighed. It had reached the point where nothing was making a difference to the stuff she had bottle up inside, not the booze nor the men or the endless parties. She had lived a lifestyle that was wild and uncontrolled and had a freedom about it but now she needed to grow up. She thought about the last time she had been in Summer Bay. Fighting with Leah who was only trying to help her, with Aden over her wild romance with a rock star and then watching in horror as her one true love had discovered a romance with her best friend. That made her determined to do something bigger with her life than sleepy Summer Bay. She’d gone to Liam and told him to leave with her and after some persuasion he had agreed.

The tabloids had caught them and feasted on the story of the Rock star and his 18 year old nymphet. She’d hated it at first, especially when they had tried to drag Roman’s history into the limelight but she had grinned at each headline and then given them something wilder to write about. She shifted in the uncomfortable seat and thought not of her father but of the Bay. She wondered if the sea was the same shade of blue as she remembered, if the Diner was still exactly the same and if Miles were still teaching.

With her thoughts drifting to Miles she grimaced and tried to block out that last memory. But the flash went through her head like pictures from a photo album. She lowered her head feeling the stain of shame on her face.

“Summer Bay next stop.” The driver called out.

Nic lifter her head up and forced a smile to her face. She caught sight of a woman looking at her and she smiled.

“Going home?” she asked.

Nic nodded, not trusting her voice.

“Long time away?” she said.

“Yes.” Nic said quietly.

“You might need this.” The woman said kindly and offered her a tissue and it was only then Nic realised that she had been crying.

She accepted with a nod of thanks and wiped at the tears. Pulling out a small compact she checked I the mirror and corrected the black streaks under her eyes.

“Much better.” The woman smiled.

“Thank you.” Nic said softly.

“Just remember dear, everything will work out in the end.” She murmured to her. “There is a plan for all of us.”

Nic looked up.

“Why do you think that?” she asked puzzled.

“Don’t know. I just know you gotta have faith.” She murmured.

“Summer Bay. All off for Summer Bay.” The driver called pulling over to the stop at the side of the road.

“Thank you.” Nic said and hurriedly dragged her bags out of the overhead compartments. She moved down the bus and went down the steps and placed her feet in Summer Bay for the first time in three years.

The driver moved to the luggage compartment and lifted out her large pink suitcase. She thanked him and took the case perching her other bags on it and somehow managing to put her favourite Chanel handbag over her shoulder. She looked down the road, first in one directed then in the other before taking a step. The bus pulled slowly away and for a second she felt like calling it back and climbing back on.

Taking a seep breath she walked down the road. She looked up and saw the sun peering over the horizon. It was time for a fresh start she told herself. She got herself to the beach and sat on it for a time her luggage scattered around her. She saw the waves crashing on to the shore and sighed with the each wave. The air tasted so good, no city pollution, no smog. The only sounds coming from the ocean and the birds flying overhead. She wouldn’t miss the honking of car horns from impatient drivers, the theme tune of the city.

She stood up and collected her bags turning and making her way to the Diner. She walked in through the doors and smiled a little at seeing it just the same.

“Oh my stars.” Irene said and dropped the cup she was holding. It smashed into a million pieces on the floor and shattered the silence that had enveloped the diner.

“Hello Irene.” Nic said bravely.

“What are you doing back?” she hissed.

“I’ve come home. I still have the house here.” She said referring to the property that her Dad had assigned to her.

“Well you can go there because you aren’t welcome in here. I’m not having people have to put up with your shenanigans.” She told her.

Nic resisted both the urge to cry and the urge to run away. She raised her head and looked at the other woman.

“I would like a coffee. And I will sit over there with my feet on the floor and my clothes on.” She said proudly. “And after I have had my coffee I will go.” She added.

“Well strike me.” Irene muttered. “You got a bit of nerve.”

“My coffee please Irene.” She murmured ignoring the comment and the looks from the only other customer in the place. She moved slowly to the table she’d indicated and sat down expectantly. “And can you make it Decaff.” She added.

Irene grumbled some more before bringing the coffee over.

“Thank you.” Nic said politely.

Irene gave her a look before moving away. She swept up the fragments of the dropped cup and sighed.

Nic took a sip of the coffee feeling sick and nervous. She took a breath and remembered what the woman on the bus said. She knew what she was doing right? So she just had to have faith.

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Warning contains sceens of sexual violence

Always believe in, you are indestructible – Spandau Ballet (Gold)

Nicole made it to the house and perched on her case for a moment and rubbed her aching feet. She had chosen to wear flat shoes but she hadn’t walked this far for a long time. She acknowledged that despite the expensive gym membership, and she went there twice a week, she was really unfit. Still some time back in the Bay and she could focus on the important stuff and leave the gloss behind her.

She put her shoes back on and rearranged her bags and pulled them up to the door. Taking a deep breath she raised her hand and knocked on the door. She looked at the designer watch on her wrist, a birthday present from Liam that she hadn’t wanted to sell when she had got rid of everything else and sighed. Maybe she had missed him and he was at work. She lifted her hand to knock again when the door swung open.

“Well well, Nicole ….what is the name now?” Aden sneered at her.

“It’s Harris.” She said simply in the face of his hostility.

He looked up at that.

“Slumming it Princess?” he asked with another sneer.

“No I’ve come home.” She denied and resisted the urge to turn around and run away. Not that it was hard to resist she had no where else to go.

“That is really funny considering that you stopped visiting him and stated in one of your famous interviews that he was dead.”

She lowered her gaze to the floor and registered that there was a new carpet. She wondered when he had changed that but then remembered the last time they had been here like this and the bottle of red wine she had spilt all over the carpet.

“Roman understood.” She said and proudly lifted her head.

Aden shook his.

“So what are you doing here?” he asked and then “Oh no Princess!” he exclaimed. “You can forget that.” He added.

She shook her head.

“Sorry.” She murmured, because she was, she didn’t want to disturb his life but there was no where else for her to live and she did own the house.

He shook his head and began closing the door.

“Aden.” She protested.

He sighed and pulled the door back.

“Fine, but only because Roman would have wanted me too.” He said.

“Thank you.” She said.

“Politeness? From you.” He muttered.

“We can’t do this if you are going to snipe at me all the time.” she said before she could stop herself.

“Do what? Just because I’m letting you in does not mean that you will be staying here.” He pointed out.

She looked at him.

“I have no where else.” She told him. “And it does belong to me. All I want is a room to stay in.” she pointed out.

He looked at her again and took his time before he said anything.

“Fine you can have Roman’s room. And before you say anything it’s the only room that has a spare bed in it. So take it or leave it.” he said harshly.

She nodded.

“Thank you.” She said again.

She moved inside and dropped her handbag on one of the sofas before moving her bags inside. She carried up the holdalls making two separate trips before looking at her suitcase.

“Glaring at it won’t get it upstairs.” Aden muttered.

She nodded.

“Thank you I’m aware of that.” She murmured staying calm despite her churning stomach.

He looked at her.

“So what else has Princess Nicole been up to? Despite dancing topless on the top of the Formula 1 drivers car?” he paused before adding. “Oh yes and there was the other sex tape.”

Nic closed her eyes against the sudden tears before she blinked and looked at him.

“What’s the matter are you jealous?” she asked. “Oh no you can’t be because we don’t go there do we? We don’t mention S-E–X? Despite all the times you used me that last night? What was it? Hasn’t anyone else let you call them Belle while you are using them to ease your frustration?” she muttered and then paled at the look of raw anger on his face.

“B*tch!” he exclaimed. “You just can’t let things be can you?”

She stood up and backed away a frightened look on her face her hand protectively clutching the material of her silk dress.

“You started it Aden. You dragged up gossip and threw it at me. I danced on that car but I wasn’t topless and do you think I’m stupid enough to get caught by someone else filming me having sex?” She shook her head and backed up even more. “I’m going upstairs.” She told him.

He looked at her, seeing her for the first time since she had walked through the door.

“Whatever.” He said still angry. “I’m going out. The food in the kitchen is mine so don’t even bother touching it. you pay your own way.” He added and moved to the door. He had to step past her and could have sworn she flinched from him but then he put that down to his imagination and slammed the door behind him.

She took a breath before running up the stairs and collapsing on the bed. She pulled a pillow towards her and started crying. Her thoughts going back.

“You can’t go.” He slurred and reached for the bottle of red wine to take another long drink not bothering with a glass.

She took a sip of her own and sighed.

“There is nothing left for me here Aden, I failed my HSC and well everyone is going to move on. Liam is offering me a chance at a life outside the Bay.” She murmured and moved over to sit next to him.

“What if I told you to stay for me?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“It wouldn’t work. I’m not Belle. We would drive each other mad.” She said not mistaking the look in his eye.

He shook his head and pushed her back on the sofa. His lips on hers. She resisted for a moment but then passion flared between them and she was as hungry for him as he was for her. She pushed at his clothes and he pulled up her skirt.

“Slow down” she said quickly trying to ease back.

“No now.” He slurred. “It has to be now.”

She pulled away and tried to move.

“Aden no, not like this ok.” she said peacefully.

He looked at her then.

“I’m not going to lose you.” He said.

She shook her head.

“No I’m here for you.” She murmured without full understanding.

He jammed his knee against her sex forcing her legs apart roughly.

She moaned at the pain that flared briefly and reacted on pure panic pushing at his shoulders. Her flaying arms knocked over the bottle of wine and she watched the red liquid spilling out one the carpet as he forced her. He reached his peak and called her Belle in an unsteady voice and she lay there watching the wine make a bigger and bigger stain on the pale carpet. He collapsed crying on top of her and she held him ,her love for him bigger than her pain. They had made love again slowly before he passed out.

There was no choice now she had to go.

She came back to the present with a start and imagined that she could smell her dad’s aftershave lingering on the pillow and it eventually lulled her to sleep, that and imaging that he was there to hold her in his arms and call her his little Princess again.

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Yesterday I cried –Meredith Brooks (B*tch)

Nicole woke up at the sound of knocking. She stumbled downstairs and opened the door cautiously.

“Well it’s not a rumour then.” Ruby said to Annie who was standing a way off.

Nic blinked and stood up straighter.

Ruby pulled back her hand and slapped her round the face.

“That is for what you did.” She snarled. “This one is for running away.” She added and slapped her again.

Nic stood there and let her vent.

“Have you finished?” she asked finally refusing to put her hand to her stinging face.

“Have you any idea what you did to us?” Annie said softly. “You just left.” She muttered.

Nic nodded.

“I had to go.” She said finally, offering no other explanation.

Annie shook her head. Her hair flying about her face in its own poetic wave of distress.

“How could you do that to us? We were your best friends.” She cried out.

Nic took a step back. She kept her eyes lowered hiding the tears that had sprung in them.

Ruby pushed past her and strode to the kitchen she began making drinks.

“I can’t touch that it’s Aden’s.” Nic gasped.

Ruby looked at her.

“I’m sure he won’t begrudge you some coffee.” She said.

Nic shook her head, causing Ruby to look at her.

“So tell us about the party lifestyle then?” She said suddenly.

“It wasn’t all that fun.” Nic murmured.

“Not even dancing on the Ferrari?” Annie asked her.

Ruby turned to Nic.

“Annie has a scrapbook off all your press cuttings.” She warned her. “She’ll ask you questions about everything.”

Nic looked over at Annie who was blushing.

“I’m not that bad.” She muttered and then smiled at Nic. “Are you back for good?” she asked the one question that others had avoided.

Nic looked at them and wanted more than anything to tell them the reason she had left three years ago. To confess everything.

“Yes I am.” She murmured huskily.

Annie and Ruby exchanged looks.

“Well it’s going to be fun if nothing else.” Ruby said.

She poured out the coffee and smiled.

Nic took a sip of hers before placing the cup firmly on the table.

“I can’t pretend that the last three years haven’t happened.” Nic said to them. “I left here without saying good bye to you.”

Annie nodded.

“And you didn’t answer your phone.” She added.

“I think Nic was trying to say something.” Ruby pointed out. “I wonder if Aden has any biscuits?” she mused looking in his cupboards.

“I lost my phone.” Nic pointed out quietly.

Ruby found a packet of chocolate chip cookies and took them out of the cupboard. She skimmed the label reading the ingredients before opening the packet. She took one and then offered the packet to Annie and then Nic.

Nic reached for one before she stopped herself.

“He won’t kill you.” Ruby told her. “It’s just a biscuit.”

She shook her head.

“I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye.” She said quietly. “There were other things going on.”

“And is that the only explanation we are going to get out of you?” Ruby asked her.

Nic shook her head.

“It’s all I can tell you.” She said.

Annie and Ruby exchanged a look.

“Miles went off the rails after you left. You know like he did the other time.” Ruby told her softly taking a seat at the table. “Are you sure there is nothing you want to tell us Nic?”

She shook her head again.

“Nothing I can tell you Rubes.” She murmured and looked at her.

Ruby nodded slowly.

“Ok then.” She said softly. “And Geoff?” she asked the one question Nic dreaded.

“I’m sorry I can’t talk about him.” She said and stood up agitatedly.

“Can’t talk about a lot of things?” Ruby muttered.

“Why did you do it? You knew I loved him?” She screamed.

“I’m sorry.” Nic said to her. “I didn’t mean for it to happen.”

“That’s a pathetic excuse. Geoff and I were engaged and you slept with him Nic. You couldn’t bear to see him happy with someone else could you?”

“Ruby.” Nic said in appeal.

“I hate you Nicole Franklin. I hope you rot in hell.” She screamed beyond control. “You were my best friend.”

“Ruby please.” Nic begged. “I need…” she started to say.

“No there is no please. And you need nobody but yourself you selfish B*tch.” Ruby said and reached out and slapped her, not once or twice but so many times she lost count.

“I was going to marry him and you took that away from me for sex. Just another lay to you. How many have you slept with now?” she said hysterically.

Nic shook with pain and self-loathing.

“It isn’t what you think.” She stuttered. “It..” she stopped unable to frame the words.

Ruby howled out her grief and moving swiftly away from her and she ran out of Summer Bay House and into the dark night beyond.

“Please Ruby…” Nic said quietly to the closed door. ”I’m pregnant.” She murmured. “And I don’t who the father is.” She said the words aloud to the now empty room. “Because..” she stopped and collapsed to the floor .”I was raped.”

Nic turned and looked at them.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry that it happened Ruby. There were a lot of things going on that you don’t know about. And Annie, I’m really sorry I didn’t say goodbye. I needed to leave I couldn’t stay.” She said softly and held out her hands in appeal.

Ruby looked her in the eye.

“Will you tell us one day?” she asked after a long pause.

Nic nodded not trusting her voice.

“Then welcome home Nic.” Ruby said quietly.

Nic nodded once more and then gasped as Annie stood up and ran over to her to enfold her in a hug.

“I missed you anyway.” Annie told her.

Nic laughed.

“I missed you too.” She murmured.

After a moment Ruby joined them putting her arms around Nic and Annie.

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Tell me who do you think you see – Christina Milian (When you look at me)

Nic walked to the store and bought enough food for the next week. She carried the box all the way form the store and had to knock on the door for Aden to let her in.

He opened the door and gave her another glare.

“Thank you.” She said sweetly and moved into the kitchen. She placed the box on the table and sighed with relief.

Aden glared at her some more before moving into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water and handed it to her.

“Thank you.” she murmured again.

He glared at her.

“Why have you come back?” he asked finally.

“Because I have no place else to be.” She replied.

“So we are what, your last resort?” he muttered.

She nodded.

“Something like that..” She turned and looked at him. “Why ask the question if you think you know the answer?”

“Maybe I need to give you the benefit of the doubt. But you have to realise too that when you left everything was a mess.”

She nodded.

“I was a mess.” She admitted. “I was in the worst place of my life and there was no one I could turn to.” She murmured quietly.

“I always find you crying.” Geoff said softly.

She looked up at him.

“You’re just lucky that way.” She tried to grin but more tears fell.

“Ah, Nic.” He said emotionally sitting next to her on the beach and putting his arms around her.

She gave into the sobs she had been holding inside and let herself fall apart in his arms.

“Tell me what the matter is Nic, you know you can trust me.” He whispered.

She shook her head and sighed.

“I can’t.” she cried feeling hysterical. “It’s too awful.”

Geoff turned to her and placed a finger under her chin and lifter her head towards him. He lowered his head and kissed her gently on the lips.

“Tell me.” He said again.

“I was…” she began.

She collapsed against him sobbing once more.

“Nic.” He whispered

She looked at him then.

“Geoff I was raped.” She said.

He gasped in shock.

“Oh Nic.” He cried.

She shook her head.

“Don’t say anything because I’ll fall apart.” She warned him. “There is more.” She added in a small hurt voice. “It’s worse than just that.”

He put his arms tighter around her and held her trembling body against him.

“What could be worse than that?” he asked her.

Realisation dawned on him and he gasped.

“No.” he said.

She nodded.

“I’m pregnant.” She moaned through fresh tears.

“It will be ok Nic, I’ll help you anyway I can.” He said.

She shook her head.

“How will Ruby feel about that?” she asked him.

He smiled.

“She’ll understand.” He said confidently. More confidently than he felt.

She shook her head once more her distress evident

“No.” she stated clearly. “I can’t Don’t you understand?” she murmured

He looked at her then and smiled slowly.

“I have feelings for you too Nic.” He said quietly. “That’s why I won’t let you go through this alone.”

She trembled some more in his arms until he did the only thing he could think off to stop her shaking. He lowered his lips to hers. The first kiss was pure comfort. The second kiss was loving. The third kiss was passionate. He pulled away and looked into her eyes.

“Nic.” He said.

She nodded and pulled away.

“It’s ok.” she told him. “I won’t tell Ruby. It was just one of those things.”

He shook his head.

“That wasn’t what I was going to say.” He denied.

She looked at him, her lips trembling no matter how much she tried to still their quiver.

He leaned forward and pressed her gently in the sand kissing her again.

“I was going to say” he began and looking into her eyes. “I love you Nic. I’ll take care of you and the baby.”

She looked into his eyes and placed her hand on the side of his face.

“Ok.” she said, knowing inside that she wouldn’t let him.

He kissed her again.

“And if you like.” He murmured. “You can pretend that the baby was conceived tonight.” He added.

She held him in her arms as they made love, knowing she was cheating on her best friend and cheating him. There was no way she would let him sacrifice his life or his plans for her. She kissed him back holding the words that she loved him inside. She waited until he slept before she left him there, walking all the way to the Summer Bay house knowing that there was no choice except to leave now.

“You could have turned to me.” He murmured.

She shook her head.

“You were still grieving. I tried to talk to you but it didn’t work out very well.” She told him.

He turned his head and looked at the spot where the red wine had stained the carpet.

“I’m sorry Nic.” He said into the silence.

She turned to him.

“Aden I love you. Lets forget that night.” She whispered.

He looked at her then.

“I can’t. I know that I hurt you. And now you tell me that you came to talk to me.”

She moved then and placed her arms around him.

“Aden, please. I don’t want to drag that night up again ok. We are past that.” She begged him huskily.

He looked into her face for a long moment before nodding and putting his strong arms around her.

“Tomorrow is the day I visit Roman.” He mentioned, changing the subject.

She smiled.

“Would you like to come?” he asked in strained voice.

She shook her head.

“Roman knows why.” She said. “It is ok Aden.” She comforted him.

“Are you going to tell us why you left?” he said eventually.

She shook her head.

“I don’t know.” She said honestly. “I need to put that behind me.”

He nodded moving away restlessly.

“So what are your plans?” he asked.

She turned to the box and pulled out the newspaper.

“Find a job.” She said.

Aden laughed.

“I think they want people who have worked before.” He muttered still grinning.

She glared at him.

“I have my HSC you know and I’ve had a job for the past 18 months.” She muttered defensively.

“Wow.” He exclaimed surprise all over his face.

She grinned at his expression.

“I need to put my stuff away.” She told him gently. “Which cupboard?” she asked him.

“Any of them. I’m sorry I was mean about the food.” He added. “Help yourself to anything.”

She smiled at him.

“How about we set up a kitty for shopping and bills and stuff?” she asked.

He smiled in surprise again.

“Whatever.” He grinned. “I’ll see you later.” He added moving to the door.

He paused and reached on a hook just behind the door and tossed something to her. She caught it in shock and grinned when she saw it.

“My old keys.” She said.

He nodded.

“Thought you might need them.” he smiled and moved out the door.

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Papa don’t preach – Madonna

Nic walked into the diner and bumped straight into Miles. She gasped in shock and looked at him for a long unguarded moment seeing a range of emotions cross over his face.

“Nic.” He said huskily.

“Hello Miles.” She murmured. “How are you?” she asked out of politeness and then realised she really wanted to know.

“I’m ok. Still working at the school.” He told her not quite meeting her eyes. He collected his cup of coffee and moved to the door.

“Wait Miles.” She said and spun around.

He paused.

“What for Nic? Didn’t you say it all before?” he asked his tone bitter.

She paled.

“Please.” She said huskily.

He shook his head and continued out of the door and away from her.

She walked down the long staircase with her bag and dropped it on the foot of the stairs collapsing onto the bottom step. She heard Miles in the kitchen and she sighed. This was going to be hard and she didn’t know how to tell him she was leaving with Liam. She squared her shoulders and walked through into the lounge, her bag in her hand.

“Hey Nic.” Miles said and then looked at her. “What’s going on?” he asked.

She looked at him.

“I’m leaving.” She blurted out.

“Nic?” he said puzzled.

“I’m sorry I never meant it to come out like that but I’m leaving Miles. I need to go.” She added the last three words in a desperate tone.

“You can’t.” he muttered. “I promised your Dad I would take care of you Nic. I can’t let you just leave not like that.”

She nodded.

“I know that. I’ve been so grateful that you have been there but Miles I need to go. I can’t stay any longer.” She said and pressed a hand to her stomach.

The pregnancy was starting to show although she had hidden the symptoms for weeks she knew it was only a matter of time before someone would put two and two together and then there Geoff. He head ended his engagement to Ruby and was pushing her to make a decision about them.

“Why Nic?” he asked softly.

She looked into his kind eyes and sighed.

“Just please believe that I wouldn’t do this if there was any other choice.” She moaned.

Miles moved towards her.

“Please tell em Nic.” He murmured.

She shook her head as tears fell from her eyes.

“Miles I can’t ok.” she gasped before bursting out sobbing.

He took her in his arms and led her over to the sofa to sit down. Cradling her as her Dad would and not as someone who was forced to look after her. That made her cry harder.

“I’m pregnant.” She gasped out.

“Oh Nic.” He said.

He said just that and nothing else. Nothing condemning about using birth control or taking care of herself, or even what was she going to do. It was the perfect response but it made her cry harder.

She looked up after a moment and saw the looked on his face.

“Nic I will be here for you no matter what.” He said simply.

She nodded.

“I know that but its not simple.” She said. “I..” she stopped unable to bear another soul knowing.

He patted her back and sighed.

“You can tell me anything Nic.” He told her.

“I was raped and I don’t know who the father is.” She gasped out.

“Nic.” He muttered. “I am so sorry.” He said.

She looked at him.

“Really?” she asked.

“Yes Nic. It shouldn’t have happened to you.”

“So you don’t blame me?” she asked in a small voice.

Miles shook his head and looked at her his eyes kind.

She took in the words.

“I still can’t stay.” She said. “There is the baby.” She moaned.

“We can keep the baby. I’ll be a good surrogate dad you know.” He smiled at her.

“I’m not sure I can keep the baby. I’m thinking that it might be better if I give the baby up for adoption.” She said quietly.

“Nic you can’t.” he said. “Look give it some thought ok. I promised your Dad and he wouldn’t want his grandchild out there somewhere.” Miles murmured.

Nic pulled away form him then and pushed him away.

“Don’t tell me what he want’s ok. If he cared he would be here not you. I would be able to talk to him not some second rate substitute trying to control my life.” She muttered angrily.

She stood up and grabbed her bag storming out of the house and into the dark night thinking that she would never come back to Summer Bay.

Nic ordered a coffee and to go and raced outside. It took a few minutes before she caught up with Miles.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I’m so sorry.” She cried.

The wind carried the words to him and he stopped turning around.

“Nic.” He said quietly.

She ran to him.

“Miles you were there for me and you didn’t judge me and you weren’t a substitute ok. You were wonderful and I’m sorry I hurt you. I needed to leave so I let myself get angry at you otherwise I would have ended up staying and it wasn’t the right time.” she burst out, “I’m sorry I hurt you and I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

He looked at her.

“Ok.” he said and shrugged.

She smiled then and ran towards him putting her arms around him.

“Thank you Miles, for then and now.” She said softly.

“I have to ask.” He said quietly. “What happened?”

She pulled back and looked at him.

“I know. I’ll tell you soon, when I’m ready.” She murmured.

He nodded accepting her words.

“I have to go Nic but you know where I am.” He said and moved away.

“Your always where I need you to be.” She said and saw him smile. Not the polite smile she was used to seeing on people but the happy and genuine smile and she felt some of the weight she had been carrying around leaving her.

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Please don’t stop the Music – Rhianna

Nic took a long drink from the champagne flute in front of her and smiled up at the man who had brought her the drink. She couldn’t remember his name but he was cute, if she put her head to one side and squinted. Liam had left an hour ago, claiming a headache leaving her there to party. She took a long swallow enjoying the aftertaste of the expensive alcohol as it slid down her throat.

“Tell me where do you go to when you leave here?” he asked her.

“To a place far far away.” She said with a giggle.

She looked into her glass and it was empty.

“Oops.” She said.

He smiled and placed his hand on her knee.

“Would you like to come back to my place I have another bottle in my fridge just waiting for someone as lovely as you.” He murmured in a seductive tone.

She smiled at him and put her hand on top of his, caressing his long fingers.

“Sorry.” She said, charmingly. “But I have a rule that I never ever break.” She stood up and began moving away.

“Hey.” He said angrily and moved suddenly to grab her by her upper arms.

“Ouh, just what every girl likes brute force.” She muttered.

He swung her round and pulled her against his hard body.

“Are you some sort of tease Nicole Franklin?” he asked her.

She pulled herself upright and spun around.

“I don’t tease. I never promised you anything. Leave me alone.” She stated clearly, her voice no longer slurred. “Or do you have to force yourself on girls to get your rocks off?”

He looked into her eyes and recoiled.

“Hey!” he said. “I don’t have to force anyone.” He told her softly. “I’m sorry Nicole.” He added.

She shook her head, her long blonde hair flying around her face.

“It’s nothing.” She stated and pulled her arms out of his grip.

He nodded.

“Ok.” he said as he moved away.

She watched him go before she went to the bar and asked for a bottle of water. She put it on Liam’s tab and swallowed it down thirstily before looking over at the dance floor. She made her way there and started dancing letting the music fill the empty place within her. She heard the tunes and moved her body this way and that, letting the beat of the music become her heartbeat, her feet pounding on the floor in time to the primitive rhythms coming through the latest dance tunes. She heard the lyrics and took bits into herself filling up on them. Each line meant something, each word was her life in poetry. With tears in her eyes she put her life aside and let the night be her new life. There was no past. There was no Summer Bay, no Geoff Campbell, no home calling her back.

She sang loudly to the songs, pulling the words into her heart because there was nothing left inside her since she buried her baby daughter. Nothing to hold on to. She cried as she danced, kicking off the expensive designer shoes to dance barefoot. She danced until her feet bled because she had too. Her arms moved and she swirled and dipped and then the music stopped and was no more.

“Don’t stop the music.” She cried. “Please.”

She sank to the hard wood floor and began to cry unable to pull herself together. One of the DJ’s came over and helped her to her feet. He guided her over to some seats gathering the rest of her things together. He saw the state of her feet and called for the first aid kit kept behind the bar and cleaned up the cuts on her feet and added plasters to them before putting her shoes on.

She stopped crying and looked at him.

“I’m sorry you must think I’m a made woman.” She tried to smile but more tears threatened.

“No it’s ok. I’ve called a friend to come and talk to you.” He smiled. “It’s ok Nicole.”

“You know my name but I don’t know yours.” She said.

“It’s Gary.” He murmured. “We’re cleaning up the club soon so I’m going to take you to the café up the road. Did you have a coat?”

She nodded.

“I checked it in.” she routed in her purse and pulled out the claim stub.

He took it from her fingers and went to the cloakroom and fetched her coat for her.

“Can you walk?” he asked putting her coat around her shoulders.

She nodded thinking the question odd until she stood up.

“What did I do?” she gasped.

“You cut your feet dancing.” He told her.

She nodded.

He placed his arm around her shoulders and helped her to the café. They ordered drinks and she sipped her coffee sitting in silence when the door opened and she saw him.

“Hey.” Gary called out.

She starred not believing her eyes.

“Hello Nic.” Geoff said quietly.

“What are you doing here?” she gasped.

“I left the Bay not long after you. I do counselling work here at the church.” He told her.

“I guess you two know each other then.” Gary grinned. “Great I’ll be leaving you in good hands.”

He stood and pulled on his jacket before looking at Geoff.

“So this is Nic?” he asked softly.

Geoff nodded.

“Goodnight Nic I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon.” He said and left them sitting at the table.

“You talk about me?” she said feeling something spring into life inside her.

Geoff nodded once more.

“Tell me what happened?” he said finally.

She looked into his eyes.

“After I left Liam took me in and looked after me.” She began and missed the sudden hurt look on Geoff’s face. “He was like a big brother.” She added.

Geoff reached over across the table and took hold of her hand. She felt the warmth and strength of his grip and smiled.

“I lost her.” she said finally feeling the words torn out of her. “She was too small and she died.”

Geoff moved round the table suddenly and sat next to her putting his arms around her.

“I am sorry Nic.” He murmured.

“Up until she was born I didn’t know whether I could love her you know.” She said crying. “But she was beautiful.”

“I’m sorry Nic.” He said again, unable to find other words just hoping that she would know how heartfelt those simple words were.

Nic looked at him.

“I should get home.” She said.

“I’ll take you.” He grinned.

“You don’t even know where I live.” She murmured.

“That’s ok I can’t think of anything else I would like to do.” He told her.

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Personal Jesus – Johnny Cash (Original by Depeche Mode)

Geoff waited outside while she got changed. She came out a moment later surprisingly dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt and big fluffy slippers. Her hair pulled into a ponytail and her face scrubbed free of make up.

“Sorry.” She said explaining. “I need to relax after work.”

He looked anxiously at the door as though any minute Liam, the rock star god, could walk in.

“He’s away.” She murmured.

Geoff looked at her in surprise.

“You have an interesting relationship.” Geoff commented.

She smiled and moved over to the plush sofa and searched for the remote.

“You could say that.” She said not enlightening him further.

Geoff cleared his throat and looked at her.

“What exactly is you relationship?” he asked the words escaping before he could censor them.

She smiled at him her face shinning.

“He’s my landlord and my friend and he’s like my big brother.” She explained. “He takes care of me.” She added.

And as soon as he felt relief he also felt the flutter of jealously.

“Really?” he asked.

She nodded and clicked on the tv.

“What film did you want to watch?” she asked.

He looked at her as if he’d forgotten the whole reason he was there.

“I don’t know.” He finally said. “James Bond?” he asked indication the selection he’d bought over.

She nodded and walked over to the cupboard near the TV and put the movie on. She moved into the kitchen and took out a big bowl and opened a packet of popcorn tipping it in and then settling on the sofa.

“Oh sorry.” She said. “Did you want a drink? I have soda or beer or coffee or something?”

“Nic.” He said with a smile.

She looked at him then the first time her eyes met with his,

“Are you as nervous as me?” he asked.

She nodded.

“You are supposed to be married to Ruby and have a wonderful life Geoff.” She said finally.

“Is that why you left? Did you think I would have any of that without you?”

She nodded.

“I couldn’t give you what she could.” She finally said in a quiet voice. “I still can’t.”

Geoff moved then and sat next to her.

“What do you think I want?” he asked her.

She shook and looked at him.

“A family.” She said, “A home. I’m not good at that kind of stuff.”

He looked around the room and saw flowers on the table and plants in the kitchen and a comfortable throw on the back of the sofa, doubting those touches were something Liam bought into the house.

“I think that you put yourself down too much Nicole Franklin.” He murmured.

She looked at him and smiled.

“I can’t love you Geoff. Not the way you want. This is silly I shouldn’t have arranged for you to come over.” She started babbling and he noticed that she rubbed her hands together.

“I’m glad I came over. I would like a soda.” He said ignoring the other stuff, that seemed to be causing her distress and giving her something to do at the same time.

She got up and poured out the soda in a glass and brought it to him placing the drink on the table in front of him. She sat next to him and he reached for the throw and placed it over her lap.

“How did you know?” she asked curling her legs up on the sofa.

He smiled.

“Dunno, just seemed as thought there was something missing when you sat down. Now are we going to watch the movie?” he asked.

“And ignore the conversation we started a moment ago?” she asked him.

“I’m here Nic and I’m not going away. We have time for you to tell me stuff.” He murmured softly.

She looked into his eyes.

“I can’t you know. Not since.” She said obliquely.

He looked at her.

“Since the baby or since the assault?” He asked carefully

She tried to stop the words feeling them welling up in her but she needed to tell someone and this was Geoff the man who held her when she cried.

“It was dark I was walking home from the surf Club.” She began. “He grabbed me from behind and pulled me on to the beach. I kept struggling and I screamed but he covered my mouth. He had his arm around my neck.” She said, the first time she had ever spoken about it to anyone.

Geoff reached out and held her hand and waited.

She looked at him then expecting something in his eyes, pity or something but she was struck by the blaze of love flaring there.

“He ripped my clothes and lay on top of me.” She stopped. “I fought him.” she said slowly the words torn out of her. “But he was so strong.”

Geoff squeezed her hand gently and she found it so comforting, more so than any words.

She smiled for a brief second.

“He did it.” she said. “I couldn’t believe what he’d done and I turned my head and closed my eyes not wanting to know who it was. I heard him do his clothes up and move away.”

Geoff sighed and eased back on the sofa. He pulled her into his arms and held her.

“Tell me what to say Nic that makes this better.” He asked her. “Because I need to.” He added.

She sighed.

“This is good.” She said. “I’ve never told anyone.” She murmured.

He kissed the top of her head.

“But you have made love since.” He said quietly.

He thought of that time on the beach and sighed. He’d wanted to make everything ok and had made love to her.

She nodded.

“I know. But I don’t feel it inside.” She said equally as quietly.

She didn’t add apart from with you.

He nodded his understanding and she snuggled closer to him.

“And your daughter? Are you ready to tell me about her?” he asked after a long silence.

She looked at him and tears began to fall from her eyes.

“Her name was Faith Belle Harris.” She said. “She was born too early. I don’t know who the father was.” She said but knew that was a lie. Only one man could have fathered her baby. And it wasn’t the man who had been her attacker. She wondered if there would ever be a time to tell him.

His arms tightened.

“Harris?” he asked.

She nodded.

“I changed my name when I started to live here.” She murmured. “I wanted to be someone different.” She tried to explain and looked at him then.

He nodded his understanding.

He leaned over and pressed a kiss to her lips. Gentle and loving. His lips were soft on hers and she felt a thrill going through her.

She eased back and saw the smile on his face.

“It’s the same for you isn’t it?” he asked.

She looked at him and nodded.

He grinned.

“Can we see where this goes?” he asked her.

She shook her head.

“I want to but well I’m not any good for you.” She told him.

“Why would you think that? You are beautiful and kind and caring and I just like being with you. Surely you have to admit that us being together again is a sign.”

She starred at him.

“From God?” she muttered unbelievingly.

He shook his head.

“No, just from fate. “ he smiled at her.

She shook her head again.

“Geoff it doesn’t work between us, we tried ok? And well things are different now.”

He leaned over and kissed her again, just another soft gentle kiss to her soft beautiful lips.

“I’m willing to try, can’t you just take that little step?” he asked her. “Just to try.”

She looked at him then and saw that at some pint she had put her arms around his neck without knowing.

“I guess so.” She said with a sigh. “But you need to know that I don’t want kids.” She said. “Not ever.”

He nodded.

“That’s not a ‘I’ll go along with her nod’ is it?” she asked narrowing her eyes.

He didn’t tell her how cute she looked then her nose all scrunched up or the fact that she still had her arms around him or that she was pressed against him or even that the film had ended and neither of them had watched it. No, he was Geoff Campbell and she was Nicole ..er …Harris and they were together by a trick of fate and he was in love with her so he told her the only thing that was on his mind at that moment.

“I love you.” He whispered and lowered his head to kiss her again.

She shook in his arms for a moment.

“Oh Geoff.” She said with a sigh and kissed him back. “This isn’t trying its full out war and you are not playing fair.”

He grinned.

“I promise to go home at some point, and text you to arrange a proper date.” He grinned. “And then who knows?”

She chuckled and leaned her head on his shoulder.

“Want to watch that film again I think we may have missed some.” She told him feeling happiness inside her for the first time since, well since she had lost her daughter.

“What are you smiling at?” Aden asked her.

“Just how funny life is sometimes.” She said. “Are we watching this film?”

“You know me I’m a sucker for a good action movie and James Bond is always good.” He grinned.

She settled onto the sofa and pulled a throw over herself.

He looked over at her and saw her smile again.

“I have no idea what has gone through your mind but it must be good.” He smirked at her.

“Nothing like that.” She said. “And you Aden Jefferies have a dirty mind.”

He laughed and moved into the kitchen to open up a bag of popcorn. He reached for a bowl from the cupboard and overbalanced. Catching a hold of the top he stopped himself from falling and knocked her handbag on to the floor. A shower of items fell out of the bag and he looked at them in horror.

He swore and dropped the bowl onto the top with a loud clatter.

“What is going on?” she asked moving into the kitchen.

She paled as she saw the bag and contents on the floor.

“What are those?” he asked his tone angry.

“None of your business.” She said trying to pick them up.

“Nic, don’t you dare tell me it’s none of my business. Those are pills. What are you on?” he said. “Oh God I can’t do this again.” He moaned sickly.

She paused and looked at him.

“Aden.” She said trying to get his attention. “Aden” she said again.

He looked at her pain in his expression.

She moved quickly covering the space between them to put her arms around him. She felt him shake.

“They are vitamins.” She told him.

She picked up the bottle and showed him the label.

“See.” She murmured.

He read the label and tried to absorb the information.

“Vitamins?” he echoed.

She nodded.

“Aden they are just vitamins.” She told him quietly. “I wouldn’t do that to you because I know how much it would hurt you.” She whispered.

He looked again.

“But why are you taking prenatal vitamins? Are you pregnant?” he asked trying to force his brain to work properly.

She nodded and placed a hand on her flat belly.

“Yes I am. I’m pregnant.” She said softly.

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When I'm feeling weak and my pain walks down a one way street I look above and I know I'll always be blessed with love - Angels (Robbie Williams)

“How!” Aden exclaimed.

Then after a pause he blushed and looked at her and saw her raise an eyebrow and look back at him.

“I guess I know how but when? And who?” he asked.

“I’m eleven weeks and as for the who.” She grinned. “I’m not saying.”

He groaned.

“So why haven’t you told anyone?” he asked her.

She looked to the floor for a moment before taking hold of his hand and leading him to the sofa. He sat awkwardly and waited.

“I was pregnant before and the baby died.” She began.

“Oh Nic.” He said and pulled her into his arms.

She eased out of the embrace and placed her hand on his knee.

“It’s not all.” She said and looked down at a spot on the floor.

“Nic?” he asked after a moment. “Princess?”

She looked at him then and smiled.

Him calling her Princess was better than a hundred hugs. It was comfort and familiar and loving and she’d missed it as much as she’d missed him.

“I was raped.” She told him.

He flinched and stood up pacing across the room.

“Aden no.” she said quietly. “Please sit.”

He flinched again before sitting next to her.

She took hold of his hand and gave it a squeeze.

“I was walking home one night and someone grabbed me. They put their arm around my throat and well, you can imagine the rest.” She murmured. “I left Summer Bay because I didn’t know whether the father was him or someone else. Liam took me in and looked after me.”

“Nic you have to tell Ruby and Miles.” He said quietly. “We hated you for leaving. It felt like you were running out on us.”

She smiled at that.

“I was running.” She murmured.

Aden pulled her to him and held her.

“I never told anyone about the attack Aden until.” She stopped.

He pulled away and looked at her.

“Until?” he asked.

She smiled again.

“I bumped into an old friend. He helped me mourn my daughter and get better.” she said softly.

“Keep your eyes closed.” Geoff murmured.

“I’m trying to but it’s so hard.” Nic murmured and felt Geoff laugh beside her. “You know that isn’t what I meant.” She added pouting.

He moved behind her and placed his hands over her eyes. He guided her forward his body moving in sync with hers. The late afternoon sun was shinning and she felt her feet touch soft ground. She gasped as she moved forward.

“Ok.” he said softly.

She stood feeling his body pressed against hers and she felt safe. For the first time in a long time she felt safe in a man’s arms. She sighed.

“Keep your eyes closed for just a moment longer.” He said softly.

“Geoff I can’t. Just let me look.” She groaned.

“Ok open your eyes.” He said to her.

She looked and saw a small garden surrounded by a wall. She looked at roses and daisies and other flowers and then she saw what he wanted her to see.

“Geoff?” she said questioningly.

He smiled.

“I hope its ok.” he murmured gently. “This is a remembrance garden that the church came up with. Every one of the plants was put in here by someone who had lost a loved one, they say its like they can sit with them when they visit the garden.”

She knelt down not caring about the expensive designer trousers as she rubbed her fingers over the small plaque.

“Remembering Faith Belle Harris.” She read the words.

She traced the bark of the cherry tree and turned to him with tears pouring down her face.

“Geoff I can’t believe you did this for me. Thank you.” She whispered.

He nodded awkwardly before sitting on the grass with her watching as she opened her handbag and pulled out her purse. She opened it and showed him the only photo she had of her baby.

“Ah Nic, she was beautiful.” He told her.

She smiled.

“Even with all the tubes and the wires.” Nic grinned.

“She looked like you.” Geoff told her stroking her hair back from hr face.

“I had her christened.” She confessed potting the picture slowly away in her bag.

He smiled.

“Then I am sure she is in heaven. Although being your daughter she would have got in anyway.” He told her.

“This is wonderful.” She told him her eyes shinning with happiness. “I can’t believe you did this for me.”

“And why wouldn’t I do something wonderful for you?” he asked her. “You are wonderful Nic.”

She chuckled.

He stood and pulled her hands until she was standing. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her slowly. She pressed herself against him and held him to her. She smelt his clean fragrance and felt no panic, no sense of shame.

He eased back and looked at her.

“Shall we go?” he asked her.

She nodded not trusting her voice.

He took hold of her hand and led her out of the garden. She turned at the entrance and took another look at the tree.

“Thank you.” She told him again.

He grinned.

“You’re welcome. I hope that I didn’t step over the boundaries.”

She pulled his arm around her and leaned against him as they walked along the street.

“I feel very honoured that you did that Geoff. It meant a lot to me.” She told him.

He smiled and stopped.

She turned and looked at him and smiled.

Leaning to her he pressed his lips to hers and she wound her arms around him.

“Thank you Geoff.” She whispered softly kissing him back.

He eased back once more.

“Its ok.” she told him. “I feel safe with you.”

He looked into her eyes and stroked her cheek with an unsteady hand.

“Thank you Nic.” He told her.

“We should go?” she asked.

“We could go to my place if that isn’t too crass a question.” He murmured and a slow blush crept over his face.

“No I would like that.” She told him.

He grinned and took hold of her hand once more leading her along side streets, until he stood outside an old house.

“We’re here.” He said to her.

She looked up at the building.

“This is..” she said trying to sum up the words.

“Old and dilapidated.” He grinned.

He pushed open the door and she saw the hardwood floor gleaming with polish. The walls painted a soft peach colour. He gestured to a room to the side and she walked in there while he closed the door.

She moved across the room and sat uneasily on a sofa looking around the room.

“I share with others. We haven’t got round to doing the outside yet.” Geoff told her.

She looked up at him and smiled.

“It’s lovely.” She told him.

He grinned.

“It reminds me of home.” He murmured.

She stood and walked to the end of the room catching sight of a picture of Annie.

“I never said goodbye to her.” she said quietly, catching his eyes on her.

“Annie will understand.” Geoff told her. “Would you like a drink?”

She grinned.

“Can I get a coffee?” she asked him.

He nodded.

“We might even have wine if you want a glass.” He offered.

She shook her head and followed him as he moved into the kitchen. She saw some pots in the sink, the only sign of untidiness in the place.

“Gary’s girlfriend moved in and we cleaned up our act after that trust me.” He chuckled.

“DJ Gary?” she asked.

He nodded.

“So that is how he knows you.”

“That and well, we were in college together.” Geoff grinned.

“College?” she groaned softly. “I never even thought to ask you what you’ve been doing since you left the bay.”

He chuckled.

“Well I hooked up with a rock star and danced on top of a Ferrari.” He punned.

She glared at him before laughing.

“So come on what did you do?” she asked.

Geoff focused on making the coffee before answering.

“I moved here took a few jobs, joined the church and the Reverend asked me if I was interested in running a youth programme. From there I went to college and did some counselling courses and now I work for the church full time.” he filled her in and handed her the cup.

She wrapped her hands around it feeling the warmth fill her.

“Better than me.” She said.

“Nic I hope you aren’t going to start putting yourself down because I’d hate to have to tell you how much you’ve done in the past two and a bit years, coping with something traumatic along with losing your daughter. Your strength is amazing.” He told her his voice ringing with truth.

She blushed and moved restlessly into the lounge.

“What do you want to eat?” he asked her changing the subject.

She grinned at that and eased down on the sofa feeling it dip as he sat next to her.

“Takeaway?” she asked him.

“Are you sure? I can cook.” He informed her.

She nodded and eased against.

“Just want something easy.” She said and blushed when he looked at her and grinned.

“I did not mean it that way.” She told him.

He picked her cup out of her hands and placed it on the table next to his before pulled her against him and kissing her slowly. He ran his hands down her back and smiled against her lips as she touched him in return.

“Would you like to stay tonight?” he asked. “And I don’t mean for this, we can just hold each other.”

She smiled and touched his cheek.

“I would like to stay.” She said. “And I would like to make love if that is ok.”

He smiled at her.

“That is very ok.” he whispered.

“It won’t be awkward for you.” She asked him blushing.

He smiled.

“It’s not something I do every week but for you I will make an exception.” He told her.

She pulled away and glared at him.

“I meant with your beliefs and your job.” She muttered.

“I don’t sleep around.” He began. “That is true but Nic you are special and I want to be with you.”

She shook her head.

“I’ve changed my mind. We shouldn’t make love.” She told him.

“Ok.” he agreed.

He caught a look of disappointment in her expression and only just stopped himself from grinning before standing up and moving to the kitchen to pick up takeaway menus. He came back in and saw her standing looking out the window into the back yard.

“Chinese or pizza?” he asked.

She turned and he saw tears on her cheeks.

“Nic?” he asked.

“I want to make love to you Geoff and I don’t know if I’m making an issue about your religion because I respect it or ‘m scared.”

He nodded and held out his hand.

“Nic I want to make love to you and it had been an emotional day so please just stay with me and have some food and relax ok. If we are going to make love it will happen. If not at least I got to hold you in my arms.”

“Ok you need to stop this.” She grumbled.

He grinned.

“Why?” ha asked simply.

“Because I don’t want to fall in love with you.” She said and gasped when she realised it was too late she was already in love with him. Had probably always been.

“Good.” He told her. “Because I sure as hell love you Nicole Harris.”

“And is that why you are back?” Aden asked her.

“I’m back to have my baby here. Hopefully a few people will accept my apologies and let me make it up to them for leaving like I did.” She murmured.

“Who is the father?” he couldn’t resist asking. “Because if the idiot isn’t around then I will be. You know scans and stuff.”

She laughed and took hold of Aden’s hand placing it on her belly, slightly rounded already.

“Thank you.” She said without answering his question. “We would like that.”

He laughed.

“Not telling, huh?” he murmured.

Nic grinned and shook her head.

“Are you going to tell people soon? Because you know if there is a problem you can tell everyone the baby is mine.” He decided suddenly.

She felt tears welling up in her eyes.

“No lectures about dirty nappies and how a baby will cramp your style.” She asked.

“I think a rug rat will be cute.” He murmured looking into her eyes.

She grinned.

“Well I’m waiting a few more weeks before I tell people.” She said. “I haven’t registered at the hospital yet so I need to do that soon.”

He nodded.

“We could turn the other bedroom into a nursery.” He suggested.

She grinned at him.

“Woah there. Slow down. Lets focus on the next few weeks first.” She cautioned but couldn’t deny how happy he looked.

He laughed.

“Sorry. It’s just that this is like wow. Nic you are going to be a Mum.” He told her still grinning.

She laughed.

“I’ve already been a Mum.” She told him. “This is well, and unexpected blessing.” She whispered to herself.

“I’m sorry.” Aden said calming down immediately.

She stood and moved to her handbag pulling out her purse. She opened it up and pulled out the worn snapshot. She placed it in his hands.

“Her name was Faith.” She told him gently. “She was perfect except for being too small.”

Aden looked at the photo and stroked it lovingly with his thumb.

“I’m sorry Nic.” He said.

She took hold of his hand and squeezed it.

“Thank you.” She told him.

He found himself turning the photo reading the words on the back.

“Faith Belle?” he asked her.

She nodded.

“I hoped that if I named her after Belle she would be just as feisty.” Nic murmured.

“I’m sure that Belle is taking care of her for you.” Aden told her stroking her cheek gently.

Nic started crying.

“I hope so.” She said. “I really hope so.”

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Yes, it's true, loneliness took me for a ride – Aerosmith (Angel)

Nic met Aden at the hospital for her appointment with Rachel. The nurse came to fetch her for the exam and she grinned at Aden when he stood up too.

“Sorry this bit I do alone.” She murmured to him.

“Why? ” He asked a puzzled expression on his face.

She glared at him.

“It’s an internal exam.” She told him.

“Oh.” He said cottoning on.

He blushed and eased back.

“I’ll let you go then although I have seen everything.” He smirked.

“Not quite everything.” She told him with a fierce glare.

She moved away from him her heels clicking on the tiled floor. He grinned and felt himself getting excited at the prospect of being a substitute Dad to her baby. Although the thought of being in the delivery room with her was a little daunting. He suspected that the Doctors would fell the same way once they’d met her. He sat back down and waited. Picking up the magazine she was looking through he started reading idly flicking through the pages. He came across an article on Liam and groaned. So that was what she was looking at earlier. How could he abandon Nic when she needed him. Didn’t he know she was having his baby? He thought and groaned again just as the Nurse came back.

“You can go in now Mr Jefferies.” She murmured.

He nodded and left the magazine on the chair and stood walking into the room. He saw Nic sitting on an examination bed and smiled at her.

“Hey.” She said.

“Is everything ok?” he asked.

She nodded.

Rachel smiled at him.

“Nic has told me that you aren’t the biological Father Aden but that you are to be included as her birthing partner.” She told him softly and watched as the panic washed over his face.

“It’s ok.” Nic told him. “You don’t have to go in the delivery room. There is plenty of time for you to decide.” She grinned at him.

Aden looked at her.

“Ok.” he said softly.

She chuckled and looked at Rachel.

“Ok lets have a look at the baby shall we?” she murmured to them.

Nic adjusted her top ready and Aden watched as gel was placed on hr belly. He felt a ripple of unhappiness that he wasn’t here with Belle but that passed as he felt Nic take hold of his hand and give it a reassuring squeeze.

He found himself looking into her big blue eyes and seeing her heart shinning through them.

“Nic.” He said softly.

She nodded and he knew she had understood.

He smiled and then the screen of the ultrasound caught his attention

“Oh my god Nic” he gasped out.

She turned and looked at it herself.

“Yes that is the baby.” She told him smiling.

“You are between 12 and 16 weeks pregnant.” Rachel told her.

Nic smiled.

“14 weeks exactly.” She told her and then blushed at Aden’s knowing look.

She turned looking at the small screen seeing the baby for the first time and felt herself tearing up.

“It’s ok Nic.” Aden said softly. “It will be ok. I’ll take care of you.”

She looked at him and smiled even though she remembered.

Nicole sat by the crib in the SCBU. She watched each rise and fall of her baby’s chest breathing with her. She reached in once more and caught hold of the baby’s hand.

“Come on sweetheart.” She murmured to her.

“Nicole.” Liam called softly from the doorway.

She looked up and saw him with the hospital Chaplain and she nodded. Liam stepped inside the room and stood next to Nicole and the nurse who had come over to help them. She picked up the baby and placed her in Nic’s arms and watched as a bittersweet look came over her face. It was the first time she held her daughter in her arms and she was only doing it because she was having her christened.

The chaplain stepped forward and began with a prayer when he’d finished he looked at Nicole and saw tears pouring down her face as she murmured the Amen.

He paused before he began speaking again.

“ Lord, we humbly ask you to enfold in your protection this little one. Surround her with your radiance, shower upon her your spiritual strength and be very near to her.” he stopped and looked at them.

“What name have you chosen?” he asked.

Nic looked up.

“Faith.” She said softly.

Liam moved then and put his arm around her.

She looked up at him before continuing.

“Faith Belle Harris.” She told them her voice stronger.

The chaplain moved to them and made the sign on the cross on the baby’s head.

“I hereby christen you Faith Belle Harris.” He said and flinched as the beep from the machinery interrupted them.

The nurse rushed over and took the bay out of Nic’s arms. They worked on her tiny body for nearly an hour then. Nic refused to leave the room watching as they tried to save her daughter until the nurse came over and placed her hand on Nic’s arm.

She nodded her understanding and saw the anguish in each face of the medical care people as they had to let her daughter go. The nurse moved back over and unhooked all the wires and tubes and wrapped her in the blanket and brought her over to Nic. She held her daughter and sat back in the chair rocking her back and forth as she said goodbye. Eventually it came time to let her go and she placed her ion the crib and made her slow way out of the room. Liam rushed over to her just as she fell to the floor all strength leaving her.

“Nic.” He murmured sitting next to her on the floor.

“You want to know about the name don’t you?” she asked.

He nodded.

“If you want to tell me.” He said quietly.

“I thought it was him.” she said. “You know.” She stopped and looked at Liam and saw his understanding.

She took a deep breath.

“But her father.” She paused. “Was.” She said using the past tense and feeling her heart break inside of her. “Angelo.” She said to him.

Liam reached out and took the sobbing girl in his arms. He held her for the longest time.

“How?” he asked crassly.

She looked up at him.

“He gave me a lift home from Aden’s.” she began.

Liam was struck by the thought of the baby being conceived in the back of the police car and almost groaned aloud.

“He was really kind. He said the right stuff to me, after all he knew what it was like to be on the outside. It was just after I made a fool of myself over Sid.” She stopped speaking her mind going back to those days.” And then we would have coffee sometimes catching up just as friends. But something changed and we met up on the beach.”

She felt Liam’s arms tighten and looked up at him.

“Hey, I know the boundaries between us Nic.” He said in his defence. “But allow a guy to be a little jealous ok.”

She knew that at any other time she would have smiled but she was struck by the thought that maybe all her smiles were gone now.

She looked at him and rubbed at her eyes. The tears still falling.

“We had sex and I got pregnant.” She finished in a cold voice. "But it wasn't sleezy or..." she stopped and remianed silent.

Liam looked at her then and knew she was remembering the attack/. He helped her to get to her feet. He led her out of the hospital and back home. Putting her in her bed he watched as she turned to the wall and closed her eyes.

He left her there and moved into the lounge. Pouring out a drink he looked at the glass for a long time before pouring it down the sink and making himself coffee instead. He rang the hospital and spoke to them to find out what arrangements they would have to make.

Nic and Aden made their way to the diner. Aden had a copy of the scan and he kept looking at it.

“Put it away before everyone sees.” Nic hissed at him.

He grinned.

“You should tell people.” He murmured.

“Only because you want to tell people!” she groaned.

“Can I help it if I’m excited.” He grinned at the look on her face.

“What’s that?” Ruby asked joining them at the table.

Annie walked up behind them and caught a better look at it.

“Oh my god Nic!” she exclaimed. “Aden?” she questioned shock now in her voice.

“Annie.” Nic said quickly trying to stop her blabbing.

“Your pregnant!” she exclaimed loudly.

A silence went round the diner at the words and Nic glared at Aden.

He smirked.

“Now are you telling people?” he asked her.

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Aden opened the door and let Ruby and Annie in. A few minutes later Miles arrived.

“Hello.” Nic greeted them walking slowly down the stairs.

“Nic.” Miles murmured.

She smiled at them.

“I suppose you’re wondering why you’ve all been brought here tonight.” Aden said and grinned as he heard Nic groan.

“Did you offer them a drink?” she asked him moving into the room.

“Actually no.” he shrugged. “My bad.”

Annie giggled.

“I did it.” she said. “I confess. It was in the billiard room with the candlestick.”

Nic laughed before taking a seat facing them.

“Aden drinks.” She prompted.

He nodded and moved into the kitchen.

“We have fruit juice, sodas and beer.” He called out before turning to them again. ”Or I could make coffee?” he asked unenthusiastically.

“Soda.” Annie said feeling Ruby glare at her. “Well I’m thirsty.” She muttered defensively.

Ruby sighed.

“Can I get soda too?” she asked.

Aden smirked.

“Miles beer?” he asked and the other man nodded.

Aden handed out the drinks before he took a seat next to Miles.

“As you’ve heard I am pregnant.” Nic began hearing Annie chuckle again. “But what you don’t know is that I was pregnant when I left.” She added and heard Annie and Ruby gasp.

“Go on Nic.” Miles said softly already know part of the story.

“My baby died after two days. She was born premature.” Nic murmured and caught Miles’ sympathetic glance. “So that is why I’ve come home.”

Ruby moved quickly off the sofa and held her.

“I can’t believe I slapped a pregnant woman.” She said.

“Three times too. I’m almost tempted to make you my birth partner in retaliation.” Nic said with a grin.

“Hey!” Aden grumbled.

Annie looked at her wiping a tear from her cheek.

“So Aden isn’t the dad?” she asked.

Nic shook her head.

“No. I’m not saying who the dad is.” Nic told them.

She caught sight of Ruby looking at her a calculating expression on her face.

“And don’t even think about trying to tickle the information out of my Buckton.” She muttered and Ruby went and sat back in her seat.

“What about..” Miles began and broke off.

Nic looked at him and gave him a wry grin.

“Well there is more to the story.” She began.

Ruby leaned over and took hold of her hand.

“What is it Nic?” she asked softly.

Nic took a breath and tried to tell them but the words wouldn’t come. She looked over to Miles and Aden.

“Want me to tell them?” Miles asked her.

Nic nodded.

“Nic was raped before she left. She didn’t know who was the father and she needed a fresh start.” Miles murmured. “That’s right isn’t it.”

She smiled and him and nodded.

“Oh my god Nic.” Ruby cried and once more hugged her.

“It’s ok.” she said give Ruby a hug in return.

She eased back and looked at her.

“Who was the father?” she asked quickly.

“You have been hanging around with Charlie way too much.” Nic muttered.

Ruby laughed.

“Not so much now she and Angelo are married. They have a little baby too.” She grinned.

Nic smiled unaware that Miles had caught sight of her expression a moment before then.

“It wasn’t the attacker that much I’m certain.” Nic said quietly. “Anyway you know everything now.” She told them.

Miles chucked.

“Not quite. I’m still waiting for you to tell us who the father is now.” He grinned, “Or at least some cake.”

Nic laughed and stood moving towards the kitchen.

“I may have cookies.” She told him.

He smiled at her.

“I may have cookies.” Geoff grinned

“Not good enough I need chocolate.” Nic groaned.

She kicked off her shoes and rubbed at her feet.

“Tough day?” he asked.

She nodded and pouted.

“Like you wouldn’t believe.” She groaned theatrically.

Geoff laughed.

“I like the front by the way.” She told him having noticed that the front of the house was being tided up.

“We thought ti was about time. Want to help?” he asked her.

She grinned at him.

“I’m wearing high heels my best blouse and my favourite short skirt.” She told him.

Geoff nodded.

“I know I was planning to have you climb the ladder in case you were wearing one of those thongs.” He grinned at her.

She reached out and slapped him in the chest.

“Geoffrey Campbell.” She said laughing.

He grinned and sat next to her on the sofa. He leaned over and picked her legs up moving them over his lap so he could rub her feet.

“Ouh that is bliss…” she sighed the words slowly.

He continued the massage for a long time until he at last eased her legs down and stood up. Extending out his hand she took it within hers and he led them upstairs to his bedroom.

“I wasn’t planning this.” He grinned.

“I know.” She murmured.

“Feels right though.”

She nodded and waited for him to kiss her.

His lips descended to hers and she moaned against the caress of his lips.

“Geoff.” She gasped.

“Is this ok?” he asked her.

She nodded.

He leaned forward and pulled her into his arms holding her loosely and she smiled at the gentleness he was showing her.

She kissed him back and led him guide them to lie on the bed. In his arms she forgot about everything, including birth control……

Miles cornered her in the kitchen out of ear shot of the others.

“Angelo.” He said and saw he flinch.

“Please don’t say anything.” Nic begged.

“Your secret is safe with me you know that. “ he whispered. “Now why don’t you tell me who the attacker was?” he asked softly.

She shook her head.

“It was dark I didn’t see who it was.” She told him her voice rising.

He smiled and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“You saw enough to know who fathered your baby.” He pointed out. “Come on Nic he shouldn’t get away with what he did to you.” Miles murmured.

She shook under his warm comforting hand and Mi8les let the matter drop.

“It’s ok.” he said to her and gave her a brief hug before going back into the lounge.

Nic looked out the window and the back and screamed dropping the plate she was handling.

Aden and Miles ran in.

“What is it?” they asked at the same time.

“Sorry.” Nic gasped leaning back a hand pressed on her chest trying to slow her breathing. “I thought I saw someone out there.” She told them.

Aden reached into a drawer and pulled out a flashlight before going out and checking.

“Nic.” Miles said softly.

“I’m ok.” she told him.

“Ok then. Brush and dustpan?” he asked.

She pointed to the utility room and he fetched it cleaning up the broken plate.

“Nic?” Ruby asked.

“Sorry everyone. It’s just me being silly.” She said just as Aden came in.

“I couldn’t see anything.” Aden told her.

She nodded biting her lip.

He moved then and took her in his arms feeling her shake.

Miles moved to the door and locked it before pulling down the blind.

“Would you ladies like an escort home?” he said to Ruby and Annie.

Ruby looked at Nic.

“Call me ok.” she said to her. “I can come over or you can come to me.”

Nic nodded.

Miles waited patiently while they said their goodbyes before he took them home.

Nic looked up at Aden.

“It’s ok Nic.” Aden told her.

She nodded.

“I think I’ll go to bed.” She murmured.

Aden watched her go before clearing the table and stacking the pots away in the dishwasher. He wiped down the tops before he heard the soft knock at the front door. He went and answered it and as expected it was Miles.

“What did you see?” He asked Aden.

“A boot print in the soil.” Aden told him.

“I think her attacker knows she is back.” Miles told him,

Aden nodded.

“So what do we do?” he asked the other man.

Miles shrugged.

“I don’t know but I’ve got an overnight bag if you want an extra person in the house.” He murmured.

Aden grinned.

“Thanks.” He said and stepped back to let Miles in.

Closing the door he locked it and put the security chain on for the first time since he had been in the house.

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