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Look to the Future


Red Ranger 1

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Hope you enjoy this one, could be a while before I'm ready to post anything else!

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

When Irene arrived home, she could hear the raised voices as she walked up behind the house.When she entered, she was greeted by the sight of a furious Olivia face to face with Billie, with Chris desperately trying to get between them.“Get out!”Olivia roared, pushing her chair towards Billie in a way that suggested she didn’t intend to stop when she reached her.

  Chris put out a hand to stop her forward momentum.“Liv, Liv.She’s still pregnant, remember?”

  “Oh, like I care!We don’t want her here!”

  “I do,”Irene said sharply.She looked questioningly at the older girl.“Billie?”

  Billie slowly nodded.“Tell them.”

  “Billie was raped.”

  There was shock on both Chris and Olivia’s face but a small amount of caution as well.Chris glanced back at Billie, perhaps remembering a previous time he’d comforted her after a supposed assault.“Are you sure?”he asked Irene.

  “Got it from the horse’s mouth,”Irene replied,“The father is Mick.My son.Billie’s carrying my grandchild.So it doesn’t matter how it came about or what she’s done, she’s family and she’s welcome here.”

  Olivia’s anger had disappeared but she seemed to be struggling to know how to react.In the end, she just turned away, wheeling her way up the ramp to her room.

  Chris turned back to Billie and held out his hands awkwardly.“Can I..?”She nodded and he held her in a comforting hug.

***

VJ was at the counter in the Diner, looking glum.Leah looked at him with sympathy.“Oh, VJ.”

  He sighed.“I just can’t believe she’d do this to me, Mum.”

  “I know, I’m sorry, but this isn’t your fault, okay?”

  “Yeah.I’m just wondering what I do now.”

  Leah’s attention was drawn to the doorway by a new arrival.“Irene, what’s up?”

  Irene stood there awkwardly.“I need to talk to you about Billie.”

  “Is she still staying with you?”Leah asked bluntly.

  “Yeah, love, she is.I can’t kick her out, she’s pregnant and she needs people around her and…and I’m the baby’s grandma.”

  The last comment threw Leah.She thought hard about what Irene could mean…and the answer she came up with shocked her.“Mick?”she gasped.Irene nodded.

  It took VJ a moment longer to realise what Leah had.When he did, he felt sick to the stomach.“You mean he..?”

  “Yeah, love,”Irene confirmed,“I’m afraid he did.”She put a comforting hand on his arm.“It doesn’t change what she did to you, it doesn’t make it all right and she’s sorry for all that.But you understand why I can’t turn my back on her?”

  VJ nodded.

***

Dexter and Lottie were cuddled up on the sofa.With Irene’s announcement in the Diner, news was spreading around the town like wildfire, the news of the real reason for Billie’s pregnancy.“Been quite a day,”Dexter remarked.

  Lottie nodded.“Does it make me a bad person that I’m kind of glad it was something like this?I mean, I liked Billie and I encouraged her to tell the truth when she said she had a secret.I didn’t want her to have tricked VJ for no good reason.”

  “No, it’s okay, I get it.”

  “I can’t imagine how hard it is on her, though.”

  “Yeah, I was on the fringes when it happened to Bianca.She was pretty much a mess for a while there.”

  “And if she can go through all that and stay standing, not a lot for us to be scared about.”Lottie seemed to come to a decision.She stood up and pulled Dexter to his feet.“Come on.”

  “Er, where are we going?”

  “Yabbie Creek.Bikini shop.”

***

Billie heard the sound of someone coming into the house, turned round…and stopped.It was VJ.“Irene told us what happened,”he explained.

  Billie nodded.“I don’t want you feeling sorry for me,”she told him,“I still did what I did.”

  “Yeah but I kind of get why you didn’t want people knowing the truth.But…why did you say it was me?”

  Billie sighed.It was a question that she’d asked herself many times.“Marty was asking so many questions about who the father was…I thought if I gave him a name, someone he knew, then that’d stop it.I actually thought that’d be the end of it.I wasn’t expecting you to stand by me, I wasn’t expecting your family to accept me the way they did…Pretty much every other guy I’ve ever been with would have run a mile but you didn’t.And from that point on, I really wanted this baby to be yours.”

  “Why did you tell me it wasn’t?”

  Billie shrugged.“I just began to realise that there were too many ways you could have found out.I knew I had to be the one to tell you.I love you too much to let you find out from someone else.”

  If the declaration had an effect on VJ, he didn’t show it.“Do you think if you’d told me straightaway I’d have still stood by you?”

  “I don’t know.Would you?”

  VJ shrugged.“I guess we’ll never know.”

***

Dexter and Lottie stood a few feet from the sea, Dexter in just his board shorts, Lottie in her newly acquired bikini.“I’m not sure if I can do this,”Lottie admitted.

  Dexter glanced sideways at her.“Well, we can always call it off and go back to the farm.Because…that new outfit is giving me a lot of ideas.”Lottie slapped him on the arm.“Got to learn to think before speaking.”

  Lottie took a deep breath.“Okay, I can do this.”She looked back at Dexter.“Go with me?”

  Dexter nodded and took her hand.“On three.One…two…three!”They ran into the sea, stopping when they were up to their waists and then splashing each other.

  Lottie gave a squeal of delight as the water cascaded across her body.She threw herself into Dexter’s arms and kissed him.“I love you.”

  “I love you too,”Dexter told her seriously.Then they both smiled and he dropped her into the water, as they began splashing each other again.

***

Billie was sitting alone in the lounge when Olivia came out of her room.“I thought I heard VJ,”Olivia remarked.

  Billie nodded.“He was here.”

  Olivia rolled over and parked near where she was sitting.“Maybe he’ll come round?”

  “Maybe.”Billie looked at her with a slight air of bemusement.“What about you?Do you still hate me?”

  Olivia sighed.“I want to, believe me.But I can’t really in the circumstances.You…you must have got together with VJ not long after it happened.I mean, for the dates to match…”

  “A week or so.”

  “How?”Olivia seemed to realise she was being intrusive and backpedalled slightly.“I was raped,”she explained,“More than once.When I was young.A friend of my uncle’s.”

  Billie’s eyes were full of sympathy.“Olivia, I…”

  Olivia shook it off.“It’s okay.But…I loved Hunter.And yeah, I enjoyed…that side of our relationship in the end but at the start it was difficult, it reminded me of what had happened to me.How did you..?”

  “I don’t know, maybe because it wasn’t my first experience…”Billie paused, collecting her thoughts.It was as if she needed to talk about it, to understand herself.“It wasn’t the same,”she said at last,“What Mick did to me and…being with VJ.I didn’t love him back then but…I liked him.It took me a long time to admit it, because he was younger.But after the rape, it didn’t seem to matter.What I had with him…He was the first person ever to make love to me.Every other guy I’ve been with, even when it was consensual, even when they were actually pretty decent, it was just sex.We might have both enjoyed it but none of them really loved me.VJ…I could tell it was his first time and he wasn’t really sure what he was meant to be doing but he was trying so hard to be gentle and loving and sweet…”She sighed.“Being with him was about as far away from being raped as you can get.”

  Olivia had listened in silence to the speech.“You really do love him, don’t you?”she asked.

  Billie nodded.“The only guy that I’ve ever trusted not to hurt me.So I hurt him instead.”

  Olivia thought for a moment.“I think there’s something I need to do.”

***

Hunter sat in the visitors’ room of the juvenile detention centre.It wasn’t like he hadn’t had visitors before.Zac came most weeks, sometimes bringing Leah with him.But this was different.

  He managed to stifle a gasp when he saw Olivia.The last time he’d seen her she’d been lying bleeding on the drive outside the house.She looked better than she did then but that wasn’t saying much.The sight of a girl in a wheelchair attracted a lot of attention from the others present but she just ignored it, rolling over to his table and stopping on the other side.

  He swallowed hard, not sure what to say.“How have you been?”he managed at last.

  “Disabled,”she bit back.He lowered his gaze in shame and she softened slightly.“You?”

  Hunter shrugged.“Well, at least people know where to find me now.”

  Olivia kept his gaze for a long time.“How did we come to this, Hunter?”she asked at last,“You were meant to be the guy that didn’t hurt me.”

  “I didn’t mean to hurt you,”Hunter argued, but the words sounded hollow even to himself.

  “Guess a lot of things happened that we weren’t expecting.”

  “You will be okay, won’t you?”

  Olivia’s first instinct was to fire off a retort.But then she stopped and thought.“Yeah,”she said at last, feeling a new determination,“I think I will.”

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Well, all the things I keep expecting to come along to take up my free time aren't happening yet so I've managed to get another chapter together for you!

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

The gym was closing.Billie had let the rest of the staff go home, promising that she’d tidy up.She was starting to regret it.Her pregnancy was well advanced and bending down to pick up discarded towels wasn’t something she was particularly built for.She was about to stretch out for another one when a male hand reached down, picked it up and handed it to her.She looked up and found herself staring Ash in the eye.“Thanks,”she said awkwardly.

  His eyes had an almost haunted look that he tried to keep out of his voice.“No problem.”He scooped up the rest of the towels.

  Billie went over to the counter, aware of his gaze following her.“You know, don’t you?”she sighed.

  “Heard it around town,”Ash confirmed,“Wasn’t sure to believe it or not.I thought if something like that had happened you’d have told me.”

  “I know,”Billie admitted,“I should have told you.If not at the time, then now.Irene was just easier to talk to and…it kind of snowballed from there.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “I was worried what you’d do.You’d probably ring up some mates inside and get them to beat him up.” She looked suddenly worried.“You haven’t, have you?”

  “Thought about it.Kat doesn’t like me doing that sort of thing.You’re gonna press charges though?”

  Billie shrugged.“He’s already in jail.I’m not sure if I could face reliving it.”

  “Fair enough.”Ash paused before voicing the next question.“And the baby’s his?Not VJ’s?”

  “Yep.Which means VJ and I are over.”

  “Want me to sort him out for you?”

  Billie checked that he was smiling and smiled back for a moment.“No, he did more than I had the right to ask him to.I’m the one that stuffed it up.”

  Ash wrapped his arms around her in a hug.“Well…you’ll always have me.”

***

“So, did talking to Hunter help?”Irene asked, once she and Olivia were both back at the beach house.

  “Yeah, a bit,”Olivia agreed, as she manouvred her way carefully around the front room,“I think there was a sense of closure in there.”

  “Well, anything that helps you move forwards, love.”

  Olivia was about to answer when she heard footsteps from the back door.She turned round, expecting it to be Chris coming home or maybe Billie.When she saw who it was instead, she gave a cry of delight. “Uncle James!”Smiling, she wheeled herself towards him…but then she stopped.He wasn’t smiling.

  “Hello, Olivia,”he said formally.She gave him an awkward smile.He managed to return it but his disappeared pretty quickly.“Get your things,”he told her.

  Olivia’s face fell.Irene took a step forward.“Now hang on, James, just hold your horses for a minute…”

  James stepped round Olivia and looked at Irene angrily.“I let Olivia stay here because you convinced me that she’d be safe, that you’d look after her.And instead this happens!You let her date someone that’s unstable and thanks to him she’s crippled for life!”

  “Hunter loved her, no-one thought he’d do anything like this, it was an accident…”

  “An accident?From what I hear, he ran her over while trying to get away from the police.He burned down a house, he stabbed someone and you thought he was the sort of person that should be around my niece!”

  “Oh, because you were great at making sure no-one like that came near me!”Olivia snapped angrily,“I was eleven years old and I was being raped and you knew nothing about it!”She stopped, realising what she’d just said.James stared at her aghast as silence filled the room.

***

Kat found Ash sitting on his own in the lounge.With Nate and Tank both gone, it was just the two of them in both the house and the flat.It had its advantages but it also meant Ash was short of friends to talk to. She was all there was.“Did you talk to Billie?”

  Ash nodded.“Why didn’t she tell me earlier?”he asked angrily,“If she had, I’d have found that dirtbag and…”He noticed Kat’s look.“Given him a good talking to,”he finished.

  Kat sat down next to him.“Sometimes people are ashamed, even when they have no reason to be.I saw plenty of it when I was in the police.”She sighed.“It’s why I let Dylan get away with it for so long.”

  “But I’m supposed to be her brother, I’m supposed to look after her.How did I not know what was going on?”

  Kat put her arm round him.He leaned against her and she kissed the top of his head.“She’s lucky to have you,”she told him quietly,“We just have to make sure she’s all right from now on.”

***

Olivia was sitting on the couch, her wheelchair parked next to it so she could slide into it easily if she needed to.James approached her cautiously and sat down in the chair nearby.“Was it Neil?”he asked quietly.

  Olivia looked at him with some surprise.“How did you know?”

  “Two years ago, there was an…incident at the hospital he transferred to.He sexually assaulted a young patient.”

  Olivia was shocked.“Is he in jail?”James nodded.“Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “I thought of all the times he stayed over at ours…I was scared that he’d done it to you.And I was scared to ask you, to find out.I guess I didn’t want to know.”He sighed.“I’m sorry.Maybe I should have left you with your grandma after all.”

  Olivia shook her head.“No, Mum wanted me to be with you.And she was right.You gave me the loving home that Grandma never could have done.Neil…What he did to me was horrible but it doesn’t change that.And now…now Irene’s done the same.”

  James took in her words.“Do you really want to stay here?”

  “Yes.It’s not that I don’t love you…”

  “I get it.This place meant a lot to your mum.”He got up.“I’m checked into the motel but…can I come and see you again while I’m here?”

  Olivia nodded.“I’d like that.”

  James bent down and hugged her.Then he went through into the kitchen where Irene was waiting.“Irene, I owe you an apology.”

  Irene sighed.“Not really.After all, you were right.I tried to keep her safe and I failed.”

  “I guess we both failed at that.”

  “And you’re right about Hunter as well, I knew all the stuff he’d done, but…I convinced myself that it was okay to let her spend time with him, that he wouldn’t hurt her.”

  “We’ve both made that mistake.”He gave her a hug.“Good to see you again, Irene.And I think Chloe would be glad that you’re looking after her.”

***

Lottie and Mason entered a patient’s room with big smiles on their faces.“Hello there”-Lottie checked the patient board-“Mr.Stathakis.I’m Lottie Ryan, this is Mason Morgan.We’re medical students.”She noticed the worried look on his face.“Don’t worry, we’re not going to be treating you.We just want to look at your notes until Dr.Morgan comes to check on you.”

  “Doctor Morgan?”Mr.Stathakis repeated, shooting a curious look at Mason, who’d come round to the opposite side of the bed from Lottie.

  “My big sister,”Mason confirmed,“You’ll love her, she’s great.”

  Lottie looked over the patient’s chart.“Hmm, gall stones.Painful.”

  “I’m sure they’ll have you up in a surgical ward soon,”Mason told him reassuringly.

  Lottie looked across the bed at her friend.“So, I haven’t seen Livvy in outpatients today.”

  “No, her appointment this week’s on Friday,”Mason confirmed.He saw Lottie smirking.“She’s just a patient who I helped!”

  “An ex-patient and rather a pretty one at that.”

  “Maybe we should talk about you spending your break times in the linen cupboard with a nurse?”

  Lottie glanced at a bewildered Mr.Stathakis.“Male nurse,”she clarified,“Not that there’d be anything wrong if it wasn’t.”

  Mr.Stathakis looked from one to the other.“Do you want me to go somewhere else?”

  “That’s fine, Mr.Stathakis, you stay right where you are.”

  Tori entered.“Good afternoon, Mr.Stathakis, I hope these two have been looking after you.”

  “They’ve been very entertaining,”he replied.

***

Leah and Zac were cleaning up in the kitchen while VJ sat at the table, staring into space.“Don’t you have some revision to do?”Leah asked.

  VJ glanced up.“Yeah, probably.”

  “Maybe you could go shoot some hoops for half an hour,”Zac suggested,“Clear your head.”

  VJ got up, still looking a bit listless, and headed out the door.

  “This business with Billie has really knocked him for six,”Leah noted.

  “It would do,”Zac pointed out,“He thought he was going to be a father, now he’s not.It’s a lot to get your head around.”

  They were interrupted by a squeal as Evelyn came in from the interior door, Matt chasing her.He grabbed her playfully around the waist…before they realised they had an audience.“Hi,”Evelyn noted, an embarrassed grin on her face,“We didn’t realise anyone else was home.”

  “We were upstairs,”Matt added helpfully.

  “So I gather,”Leah noted.

  Evelyn turned to her boyfriend.“We should go down the beach,”she decided and they hurried out.

  “Should we be worried about that?”Leah wondered.

  Zac shrugged.“They seem to be handling it okay.”

  “What were we talking about anyway?”

  “Parenthood.”

  Something in his tone set off an alarm bell in Leah’s head.She turned to him.“Zac…”

  “I just thought now that we’re not going to be grandparents, it might be the time to think about expanding the previous generation.”

  “You know it’s not that simple for me.Dan and I had to have IVF and then I miscarried anyway.Getting pregnant with Miles was a one in a million chance and then I lost that one too.I’ve pretty much accepted that VJ’s the only child I’m going to have.”

  “I know but…you’ve had all these years with him.I didn’t know Hunter existed until he was 16 and now I need a visiting order to see him.”He sighed.“Can you…just think about it?”

  “Okay,”Leah agreed,“I’ll think about it.”

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CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Olivia picked up the popcorn from the kitchen bench of the caravan park house and wheeled herself back to the sofa where VJ was sitting.She handed him the bowl, then slid herself off her chair onto the sofa next to him.“Did you have to keep the popcorn on the top shelf?”she complained.

  “Sorry, Mum’s idea,”VJ answered,“Guess she didn’t think.”

  “No, people don’t,”Olivia grumbled,“The world’s geared for people who can stand up.”She saw his awkward look and softened.“Okay, rant over.”

  VJ took a handful of popcorn and munched it.“So how did your visit to Hunter go?”

  Olivia sighed.“As well as can be expected.We cleared the air a bit.What about you and Billie?”

  “Well, the air’s a bit clearer but it’s still tense.”He sighed.“I just do not get how we got to this.She was my first girlfriend, the first person I’ve ever…been with.”He looked at her awkwardly.“You?”

  Olivia shrugged.“I haven’t been a virgin since I was eleven but Hunter was the first time it was consensual.”

  VJ kicked himself mentally.“Sorry.”

  “It’s okay, I need to face up to it.I just think about everything we went through, the abortion…Can you imagine if I’d kept the baby?I’d have to explain to it that Daddy’s in jail because he put Mummy in a wheelchair.”

  “Guess neither of us has done particularly well with that one.”

  “Have to do better in future.”

  VJ looked at her curiously.“How does that work for you now anyway?”

  Olivia gave a gasp of amused shock.“It’s not like I’ve got no feeling from the waist down!I’m just as capable of having a good time as the rest of you.”

  “Okay, just wondered.”

  “What, you want to test it?”

  VJ looked at her, confused.“How do you mean?”

  Olivia smiled, then leaned over and kissed him.After a moment, he kissed her back.

***

Leah handed Tori her coffee.“You heading home now?”

  Tori nodded.“Finished a very long night shift and looking forward to some rest.So the caffeine’s probably not a good idea but I’ve been drinking it all night, too late to stop now.”

  Zac, standing at the counter, nodded pointedly to Leah and then at Tori.Reluctantly, Leah spoke up.“Ah, Tori, can we ask your advice on a medical matter?”

  Tori gave a faint smile.“Having to sing for my coffee, eh?Okay, my bed can wait a while longer.”

  “It’s just…I had an accident a long time ago and I got an infection and it ended up with my tubes being damaged.So we can’t conceive naturally.”

  “So we were wondering about IVF,”Zac concluded.

  “It certainly sounds like you’d be candidates,”Tori agreed.

  “I went through it once before,”Leah explained.

  “Well, I can put you in touch with someone at the hospital, arrange an appointment?Just to talk things through.”

  “Yeah, that sounds okay,”Leah agreed.

  “I’ll be in touch.”Tori picked up her takeaway coffee and headed out.

  “You are on board with this?”Zac checked.

  “I said I’d look into it,”Leah reiterated,“But I’m not sure.I mean, how’s VJ going to react?”

  Zac shrugged.“He’s probably got other things to worry about.”

***

VJ and Olivia were lying on his bed kissing.VJ pulled back and looked at her with more than a trace of bemusement.“Are you sure about this?”

  Olivia gave him a mock offended look.“I’m beginning to think you don’t fancy me.”

  “If I remember, I fancied you the moment I saw you.You were the one that chose Hunter.”

  Olivia grimaced.“Yeah, as choices go that wasn’t one of my best.”

  “But you’re like a mate now, it’s…weird.”

  Olivia leaned in closer.“Well, pretend I’m not a mate.Imagine that we’ve just met on the beach and I’ve convinced you to steal a bike and give me a tour of the town.What were you thinking of doing back then?”

  VJ hesitated, then started kissing her again, as they slowly began to undress each other.

***

“You cannot make me give up my chess set,”Dexter insisted as he and Lottie walked near the surf club.

  “All right, I’ll sell mine then.”

  “You can’t do that either.”

  “Well, it’s silly having two.What do we need them for?”

  Dexter floundered slightly.“Suppose in the future we have two kids.And we only have one chess set to pass down to them.Do we play favourites or do we keep a second chess set so they can have one each?”

  Lottie looked at him, bemused.“That’s what they call planning ahead.”She noticed Billie and Ash near the surf club.“Hey, look, there’s Billie!”She dashed over, dragging Dexter along behind her.

  Billie gave a small smile as she saw them.“Hi, Lottie, Dex,”she said, sounding slightly subdued.

  Lottie stopped a short distance from her, looking concerned.“Are we still friends?”

  “Of course,”Billie assured her,“You were right.I wish I’d had you to look out for me in the first place, then I might not have stuffed things up with VJ.”

  Ash looked at her with slight confusion.“That matters to you?”

  Billie sighed.“Yeah, Marty, it does.I actually had a decent guy and I ruined it.”She turned to the other two and nodded to Ash.“My brother, Marty.”

  “Ash,”he amended as they shook hands.

  “Don’t get too down,”Dexter advised her,“VJ’s probably miserable about now.”

***

VJ and Olivia lay next to each other in bed, laughing uncontrollably.“Did we actually do that?”VJ asked.

  Olivia nodded in between bursts of laughter.“We had sex!With each other!”

  VJ shook his head in disbelief.“It was…nice?”he offered.

  Olivia mulled the word over.“Yeah, I’ll take that.”She stopped, her manner becoming serious.“Billie was right about you.”

  VJ raised an eyebrow.“What, she gave me marks out of ten?”

  “She loves you,”Olivia asserted,“I’m sure of it.The way she talks about you…I don’t think she was faking everything.You should talk to her.”

  “Maybe,”VJ replied, not wanting to discuss it.He looked around the room.“We should get dressed.”He slid out of bed and began pulling his clothes on.“Do you want me to get your chair from downstairs?”

  “I want you to get me my clothes within reach!”

  VJ began scooping up her discarded items of clothing and throwing them up onto the bed.“Do you want me to help you put them on?”he asked with a trace of mischief.

  “I’m not that helpless!”she protested.

  “Well, I helped you take them off…”

  Olivia laughed again.“Enough!”

***

Billie was working late in the gym;the area was officially closed for the evening and she was just finishing off the paperwork in the office.She heard someone in the main gym and looked round, expecting to see Ash.Who she saw instead surprised her.“VJ!”

  He smiled:Not one of the wide affectionate smiles he used to give her, but one with warmth all the same. “How are you?”

  “Um, okay.”She got to her feet and came over to him.“What are you doing here?”

  “I wanted to see you, I guess.”He leaned against the counter.“You’re looking well.Glowing.”

  “So they tell me.I’m not sure if I believe them when I feel the nausea.”

  “I remember.”

  “I believe you though,”she said quietly,“I know you wouldn’t lie to me.”

  “No but I might be…diplomatic at times.”

  Billie found herself smiling.“So how have you been?”

  “Getting there.HSC’s finished so that’s one less thing to worry about…until I get the results and Mum starts asking me what I’m going to do next.”

  “She means well.”

  “Yeah, I know she does.”He was silent for a moment, his expression becoming more serious.“I miss you,”he said at last.

  Billie nodded.“I miss you too.”

  “Us…I’m not ready to talk about that yet.But…can we be friends?”

  “I…think I could cope with that.”She paused.“I do love you, you know.”

  “I believe you.”He hugged her, and when she buried herself in his embrace she felt safe.

***

“I don’t know where it came from,”Billie told Irene and Olivia when she got home,“But I really think he meant it.It feels like he’s…I dunno, forgiven me.”She looked at Olivia.“Do you know of anything that could have changed his mind?”

  Olivia put her best innocent face on.“Nothing that I can think of.”

  “I’m pleased for you anyway, darl,”Irene said, patting her on the shoulder,“You and VJ are friends and soon you’ll have the little bubs here.And you’ve finished your HSC, Livvy, and Chris is…well, Chris.I would say that this household is finally on the up.”

  At that moment, there was a knock on the door.Billie went to answer it.“Yes?”

  “Is Irene there?”

  Billie nodded and let the newcomer in.Both she and Olivia stared at the short, dark-haired and clearly very pregnant young woman, with no idea who she was.

  But Irene knew and stared at her with shock.“April?”

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Introductions had been made and April was sat at the table with Irene and Billie.Olivia was parked nearby.“Love, what are you doing here?”Irene wondered,“Last I heard you were settled in Paris, loving every minute of it.”

  “I was,”April confirmed,“And it was great to spend time with Dad.But then I got pregnant and…I didn’t want to have the baby out there.I kind of needed to have people around me, and Dad’s too busy so…I thought of you.”

  “What about Bianca?”Irene pressed,“Does she know you’re back?”

  “No,”April admitted,“And she doesn’t know I’m pregnant.”

  “Your sister?”Olivia checked.April nodded.

  “Well, if that’s how you want to play it, then no-one will tell her,”Irene agreed.

  “But I learned the hard way recently that secrets tend to come out,”Billie added.

  They were interrupted by a loud male voice coming in the back door.“Greetings, fellow beach housers!I was…”Chris stopped as he saw their guest.“April?”He pulled her to her feet and hugged her, before noticing her new addition.“Hey!Who’s the lucky guy?”

  “Hi, Chris,”April returned,“It was just one of the guys from my protest group.We weren’t really together and he’s got his own life over there so we agreed I’d bring up the baby on my own.”

  “You two know each other?”Olivia asked.

  Chris nodded eagerly.“I tried to chat April up once.”

  Olivia rolled her eyes.“That figures.”

  Chris turned his attention back to April.“So, are you going to join us living here?”

  “Well, I was thinking about it but if you’re here and Billie and Olivia…”

  “Love, if you need somewhere to stay we’ll fit you in,”Irene insisted.

  “I could move out,”Billie suggested,“I mean, two pregnant women in the house might be a bit much.”

  April shook her head.“You’re the one that’s carrying Irene’s grandchild.”

  “Yeah, but by the sound of things you haven’t really got anywhere else.”

  April sighed.“That’s true.”

  “Where would you go though?”Irene asked,“Your brother’s?”

  Billie grimaced slightly.“Well, I guess Marty would be okay for a back-up.Actually, I might ask Dexter and Lottie if I can move back into the farm.”

  “Dexter?”April repeated,“Dexter’s back here?”

  “Er, yes, love,”Irene confirmed awkwardly.

  Billie and Olivia were confused.“Did I miss something?”Billie asked.

  It was Chris that provided the answer.“They used to be married.”

***

Dexter and Lottie sat on opposite sides of a chessboard, staring hard at the pieces approaching end game. Dexter moved his knight, taking a pawn that was obstructing his path to Lottie’s king.He gave a deep sigh of satisfaction.“I think you’ll find I’m now four moves away from mate.”

  “I think you may need to recalculate.”Lottie moved her queen so it was in a direct line with his king. “Checkmate.”

  Dexter looked closely at the board, taking in the fact that all the squares his king could be moved to were covered by her other pieces.“Ouch,”he declared.

  “How does it feel getting your bottom kicked, Walker?”

  Dexter glared at her.“It feels like I need to pay you back for that.”He grabbed her wrist and pulled her in for a kiss.They leaned over sideways until they were lying on the floor, the kiss becoming more passionate as they tugged at each other’s clothes.“Here?”he checked.

  “That’s the plan,”Lottie confirmed.

  They resumed kissing…but were interrupted by a knock at the door.Dexter sighed.“Can we pretend we’re not here and hope they go away?”

  The knock came again.“Better not,”Lottie decided, scrambling to her feet,“Tuck your shirt in.”

  They answered the door together to find Billie standing there.“Hi,”she greeted them,“Did I interrupt something?”

  Dexter sighed.“What could you possibly be interrupting?”

  Apparently not noticing the sarcasm, Billie walked past them into the house.“How do you feel about a housemate?”she asked them.

  “You?”Lottie checked.

  “Yeah.I mean, I’d pay rent and everything…”

  “Well, we could use a hand with the bills.”Lottie glanced at Dexter.“But we’d need to talk it over.”

  “Fine but…can I use your bathroom first?”

  “Of course, you know where it is.”

  Dexter waited until Billie had gone before asking,“Really?You don’t like it just being the two of us?”

  “Yes, of course, but we could do with the extra money and Billie’s a friend.”

  “You realise that what we were doing just now would have to be saved for the bedroom?”

  “She won’t be here all the time and I’m sure we could live with that.”

  “Plus soon she’s going to have a baby.I was here when Marilyn was trying to adopt George and the result was not pretty.The noise and the smell…Makes me glad I missed out on those years with Sasha.Not that she wasn’t noisy and smelly when she did live here…And what happened to her living with Irene?”

  “Maybe we should ask her.”Lottie turned back to Billie as she emerged from the bathroom.“Why aren’t you staying at Irene’s?”

  “Well…someone called April turned up and needed the room.”

  Dexter and Lottie exchanged a look.“April?”Dexter repeated.

  “Yeah,”Billie confirmed awkwardly,“Said she was your ex-wife.”

***

Leah and Zac were in Samantha’s office at the hospital as she scanned over their file.“I’ve looked at the ultrasounds you had after your last miscarriage,”she noted,“And while it’s true that it would be difficult for you to conceive, I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to carry to full term.I understand you had IVF before?”

  Leah nodded.“Before I met Zac.I fell pregnant but I miscarried.”

  “But you did have two full-term pregnancies before that?”

  “Yes but that was before my tubes were damaged.”

  Samantha closed the file and looked at them both.“I can’t see any medical reason why this wouldn’t be possible.”

  “So we can go ahead?”Zac asked eagerly.

  Samantha glanced at Leah, as if trying to guage her views.“If it’s what you both want.But you do need to consider the psychological impact of failure.Sometimes IVF just doesn’t work.How many cycles would you want to attempt?”

  Zac looked at Leah.“Three?”

  Leah looked nervous.“I’m not sure.”

  “Perhaps you’d like to go away and discuss it?”Samantha suggested.

  “Can you just give us a minute?”Leah asked.

  Samantha nodded.“Of course.I’ll just be outside.”

  When she’d gone, Zac looked at Leah with a certain amount of confusion.“You’re still not sure about going ahead?”

  “Can we afford three cycles?”

  “Maybe not,”Zac admitted,“But we can manage one?”

  “I’m just worried about what will happen if it doesn’t work.”

  Zac sighed.“Look, I get that it might not work.I’ve accepted that.But I think we need to at least try.”He paused, waiting for her response.She remained silent.“Okay, I’m not going to pressure you.If you don’t want to do it, we won’t do it.So…what do you think?”

***

“Do you have to keep moving houses?”Ash complained as he and Chris carried boxes full of Billie’s belongings into the farmhouse.

  “I promised to shout you a pizza for helping out,”Billie reminded him as she and Kat trailed the pair in.

  Dexter directed them from the living room doorway.“Keep on moving through, end of the corridor.”

  Billie paused with Kat in the hallway.“Brings back memories being here, huh?”

  “I was just thinking of when I first moved in here, with Hannah and Denny and Phoebe.I’m pretty much the last one left standing.”

  Billie put an arm around her.“Come on, let’s go and tell the boys where to put things.”

  Dexter meanwhile had wandered out onto the veranda where Lottie was standing alone.“Is everything okay?”he asked,“You are still okay with Billie moving in here?”

  “Yes, I’m just not sure I’m okay with April being back.”

  “Well, by the sound of things, she’s got a lot to worry about.The pregnancy…”

  “Is that anything to do with you?”

  “I haven’t seen April in two years!”Dexter protested.

  Lottie sighed.“I just remember the last time she found out we’d got close.She suddenly decided she wanted you back and she got her way.You went back to her.”

  “Hey.”Dexter turned her around.“Whatever April and I had, it’s long over.You’re everything I’ve ever wanted, okay?”He paused and then got down on one knee.“Marry me.”

  Lottie looked at him in shock.“Dex!”

  “What?It’s not that crazy an idea, is it?”

  “No, no, it’s not…”Lottie took in the hopeful look on his face and found herself smiling.“Yes, I’ll marry you.”

  At that moment, Ash, Kat, Billie and Chris appeared in the doorway and took in the scene.“I get the feeling we just walked in on something,”Kat noted.

  Billie gestured to the pair.“Are you..?”

  Dexter helped Lottie to his feet and smiled broadly.“We’re engaged!”

  “Wahey!”Chris rushed over and gave Lottie a hug.“We don’t really know each other well enough to do this, do we?”

  “No,”Lottie confirmed.

  “Fair enough.”Chris released her and shook Dexter’s hand.“Congratulations, mate, and if you need any advice on the bucks do…”

  “Congratulations, both of you,”Billie added.

  “Enjoy your last days of freedom,”Ash advised.

  Dexter smiled at his new fiancè.“I think I’m going to enjoy what comes after more.”

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Hope you all like this one!

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

“Go on, let’s have a squizz,”Irene encouraged.She, Alf and Roo were crowded around the happy couple. The farmhouse was playing host to their engagement party and the front room was packed with Summer Bay residents.

  Lottie showed off the engagement ring and Roo gave a gasp of surprise.“Oh, Lottie, that’s beautiful.Did you pick it?”

  “We thought it might be the best thing,”Dexter confirmed.

  Alf gave a knowing smile.“Very wise.Start as you mean to go on.”He gave Lottie a brief hug. “Congratulations, love.”

  April was standing by one of the doorways, Chris near her.“Feels a bit weird, huh?”he asked,“Seeing the ex that happy.”

  “No kidding,”April confirmed,“He looks exactly like he used to with me.”She glanced at Chris, seeing his expression was unusually serious.“You know, there’s more to you than meets the eye.”

  “The Chris has depths that very few are allowed to see,”he confirmed.He noticed Dexter heading in their direction.“And I think that’s my cue to give you some space.”

  “I wasn’t sure you’d come,”Dexter remarked once he and April were reasonably alone.

  “Not quite sure why I did,”April admitted,“Guess I thought if I didn’t it’d send out the wrong message.”

  “So how far along are you?”

  “Six months.”

  Dexter nodded.“You’ll be a great mum.”

  “Thank you.”April gave a slight smile.“And I think you’ll make Lottie a good husband.”

  Nearby, VJ came over to Billie and handed her a glass of orange juice.“You looked like you needed this.”

  Billie looked surprised…pleasantly so.“Thanks.”

  “So, how do you think you’ll cope living with a married couple?”

  Billie gave a slight smile.“If they can cope with living with a single mother.”

  Leah, Zac at her side, was watching the exchange from across the room.“You look worried,”he commented.

  “I am,”Leah agreed,“I don’t think it’d take very much for him to go back there.”

  “Well, is that such a bad thing?Being a step-parent isn’t the worst that can happen.”

  “Mmm.I wonder.”

  Olivia had also seen VJ and Billie’s interaction and smiled to herself.Chris sidled up to her.“Don’t look now, Wheels, but I think you’ve got an admirer.”

  Olivia wondered who he was talking about…then saw Mason watching her.He quickly looked away. “Just ask her out,”Brody hissed.

  “Not now,”Mason hissed back.

  Justin looked bemused.“Does he like the kid in the wheelchair?”

  Samantha gave him a reproachful look.“Because that defines her?”

  “Hey, I’ve got no problem with it.I built her a ramp.”

  “Can I have your attention, please?”Roo asked loudly,“It’s been pointed out that these two were both my stepchildren…”

  “Oh, and mine!”Marilyn cut in,“Sort of.”

  Roo gave her a bemused look.“Do you want to step in?”

  “No, no, sorry, you carry on.”

  Roo cleared her throat.“They met up when they were younger and things didn’t quite work out then, but sometimes you come back stronger the second time.And Dexter and Lottie, well, they’re clearly mad about each other, and love each other as much as we love them.So, raise a toast to Dexter and Lottie!”

  “Dexter and Lottie!”everyone echoed.

***

“It was so lovely to see them so happy,”Marilyn gushed to John the next morning as they were clearing up after breakfast,“I remember when Lottie came to live with us, she was such a nervous little thing under it all, and Dexter’s such a lovely boy…”

  “He’s landed on his feet with her, that’s for sure,”John commented.

  Any answer Marilyn could have given was interrupted by a knock on the door.She went to answer it, to find a young man and woman there with a young child.She gave a gasp of delight.“Casey!”She took the child out of his mother’s arms and bounced him.“Oh, I have missed you!And Ricky and Kyle, how lovely to see you again.”

  “You got out then?”John asked casually.

  Ricky gave a slightly forced smile.“Yeah, it’s been decided that we’ve paid our debt to society.We got out around the same time.”

  “Which was helpful,”Kyle noted,“since I needed somewhere to stay.”

  “What about Brax?”John checked.

  “He’s still got a while to go as yet,”Ricky admitted.

  “But you’ll be okay when he gets out?”Marilyn asked.

  “To be honest, I don’t know.I mean, he’ll always be part of Casey’s life but with this latest upset…I’m not sure I want that to be my life anymore.”

  “And how’s Phoebe?”John asked.

  “We’ve been to see her,”Kyle confirmed,“I guess things worked out the way she wanted, her confession got me out.”

  “It seems like there’s so many old faces back here now,”Marilyn remarked,“Dexter and Lottie, and April, and now you two…”

  Kyle and Ricky exchanged a confused look.“April’s here?”Kyle asked.

  “Well…yes.”

  “I thought she was still in Paris?”

  Ricky nodded.“We saw Heath and Bianca only the other day, Bianca didn’t mention anything.Does she know?”

  John and Marilyn looked at each other, wondering if they’d said the right thing.

***

“So, you got any plans for today?”Irene asked April, who was sitting at the table in the beach house, staring at her laptop.

  April sighed as she closed the screen.“I was just looking up birthing classes on the internet.Of course, it would help if I actually had a birthing partner to go with…”

  “Somebody call?”asked Chris as he came down the stairs.

  April gave him a long look and seemed to swallow hard.“Actually, I was going to ask Irene if she’d go with me.”She looked beseechingly at her landlady.

  “Sure, darl, if that’s what you want,”Irene agreed,“But isn’t there someone else you could ask?”

  April was prevented from responding by a call from the back door.“Hi, Irene!”Ricky greeted them as she and Kyle entered, Ricky carrying Casey again.

  Irene gave a gasp of delight.“Well, look at you!”She gave Ricky a quick hug.“How have you all been?”

  “Well, things were a bit tricky for a while there but we’re okay now.”

  “Have you spoken to Nate?”Chris asked.

  Ricky looked slightly embarrassed.“I heard he was in the city now but no, we haven’t seen him.”

  Kyle focused on April.“Hey there,”he greeted her.

  April nodded awkwardly.“Hey.”

  “We had no idea you were back here until John and Marilyn mentioned it,”Ricky commented.

  “I’ve been a bit under the radar.”

  “But she’s still on the lookout for birthing partners,”Chris interjected before anyone could stop him.

  Kyle looked at April in shock.“You’re pregnant?”

  “Yeah, it happened while I was out in Paris.”

  “Congratulations, I guess.”

  “Well, we’ve got a lot of people to get around,”Ricky remarked,“but nice seeing you all again.”

  April waited until the group had gone before sighing.“They’re going to tell Bianca, aren’t they?”

  “Well…love, would that really be such a bad thing?”Irene asked.

  April didn’t answer.

***

Even though she was only carrying a cup of coffee, Olivia still needed to rest it in her lap since she needed both hands for steering.She reached Mason’s table and put the coffee down in front of him. “There you are!”she announced triumphantly, preparing to head back to the kitchen.

  “Er, can you wait?”Mason asked,“Take a seat.I mean…stay there.”

  Olivia parked herself next to his table and put the brake on.“What’s up?”

  Mason stayed silent for a moment before blurting out “Will you go out with me?”

  Olivia looked at him in surprise.“What you mean like..?”

  “Like a date.”

  “Where?”

  “Don’t know, hadn’t thought that far ahead.”Mason gave a nervous grin.“Movies?”

  “Not sure if that’s a good idea, I have to go down the front and you’re too close to the screen.And going dancing’s out…”

  Mason smiled at her.“I bet you’d kill a dance floor.Well…how about going out for a meal then?”

  “Yeah, okay, I can handle that.Saturday, after my shift?You can pick me up here at seven.”

  “See you then, then.”

  Roo looked at Olivia knowingly as she headed back towards the counter.“Looks like you got a result.”

  “I just thought it might be fun to hang out with him, that’s all.”

  “Hey, I’m not criticising, you go for it.”

  “Hey there, stranger!”greeted Ricky as she and Kyle entered with Casey.

  “Hey!”Roo echoed,“Good to see you all.Are you back here?”

  “No, we’re still in the city,”Kyle explained,“Just wanted to see the place.”

  “Well, not much has changed.Except, you know, the people.”

  Matt and Evelyn came in behind them.“Ricky, Kyle!”Evelyn greeted them cheerily, giving them both a hug.

  Ricky smiled sympathetically.“I hear we’re both prison widows now.”

  “Er, not exactly.”Evelyn put her arm around Matt’s waist and he put one around her shoulder.

  “Not a problem, I hope,”Matt commented, with a challenging tone.

  “Fine by us,”Ricky replied.

  “I gave you a chance at Angelo’s and you didn’t let us down,”Kyle agreed.

  Matt relaxed slightly.“Thanks, mate.”

  Ricky turned back to Roo.“So what do you know about April?”

***

Leah was laying down on the couch in the treatment room, Zac sat next to her.“You okay?”he asked.

  “Bit uncomfortable,”she admitted.

  “You do still want this, right?I mean, I know I pressured you a bit…”

  Leah shook her head.“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want to.I do want us to have a baby together, even if it is a bit of an adjustment.I had VJ young, I didn’t think I’d be having another one this late.”

  Tori came in.“Hi, I’ve been told to ask if you’ve got any questions?”

  Zac looked at Leah, who shook her head.“I think we’ve got it clear,”he noted.

  “You’ve been doing your injections?”

  Leah nodded.“VJ’s probably wondering why I’ve been so moody.We haven’t told anyone what we’re doing.Just in case…”

  “That’s understandable,”Tori agreed,“We’ll harvest your eggs and fertilise them with the sample Zac provided, then they should be ready for implantation by this afternoon.”

  Zac looked at Leah.“You ready for this?”

  Leah managed a ghost of a smile.“Let’s get on with it.”

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Billie went to answer the knock at the door and was surprised at who she found there.“VJ!”

  VJ nodded politely to her.“Can I come in?”

  “Yeah, yeah, of course.”Billie stood aside and showed him into the house.

  VJ sat down on the sofa and Billie settled herself next to him.“What you did…it hurt me,”he said at last, “I spent so long believing that…that this baby was mine, that we were going to be a family and then…then you took all that away from me.”

  “VJ, I’m sorry,”Billie said wretchedly,“I did want us to be a family, I did want this baby to be yours.I knew deep down that it wasn’t but I guess I tried to convince myself that no-one would ever find out.”

  “I know.I believe you.”VJ looked at her straight.“I love you,”he told her,“And what you did, that hasn’t changed that.You’re still the person I fell in love with and…I still want to be with you.”

  Billie felt her heart flutter but she didn’t want to get carried away.This could all go wrong so easily. “What about the baby?”

  VJ placed his hand on her now extremely swollen stomach.“I’ve been there since the start,”he pointed out,“I’ve seen this baby growing and…I was going to be a father to it.So…I guess I still could be, if you want me to.”

  Billie smiled at him.“There’s no-one I’d rather have as the father but…I need to be sure.Because you can walk away from me but I can’t let you walk away from the baby.So if that’s what you’re going to do, then we can’t start this.”

  VJ shook his head and gave a reassuring smile.“I’m not going to walk away from either of you.”He kissed her, gently at first but growing in intensity.She wrapped her arms around him, responding to his touch.They got to their feet, continuing to kiss and caress each other, and took a few steps towards her bedroom.

  Billie stopped.“Wait, we’re actually going to have make-up sex?”

  VJ raised an eyebrow.“Sounds good to me.”

  “I’m the size of a house here!”

  VJ looked at her seriously.“You still look beautiful to me.”

  And then they were kissing again and this time they didn’t stop.

***

Zac was watching Leah from across the Diner counter.She gave a weary sigh.“Is there something you want to ask me?”

  “Just wondering if you were feeling anything?Morning sickness, cravings, dizzy spells?”

  “No signs as yet.And you know I need to wait a week before taking the test.”

  “Yeah, I know.”Zac looked slightly contrite.“Sorry, I know I’m getting ahead of myself, it’s just all this is new to me.”

  Leah smiled reassuringly.“It’s okay, I understand.”

  Mason came in, dressed in a dark shirt and trousers and nervously carrying a bunch of flowers.“Is Olivia here?”

  “Olivia!”Leah called out,“Someone for you!”

  Olivia emerged from the kitchen, wearing a long pink dress.She smiled at Mason.“You made it then?”

  “Yeah.”Mason held out the flowers.“These are for you!”

  “Aww, thank you!”Olivia took them from him and then looked around, uncertain what to do next.

  Leah took them from her.“I’ll put them in water for you and you can pick them up in the morning.”

  Olivia smiled gratefully.“Thanks.”

  “Can your chair go in a car?”Mason asked her.

  “Yeah, if you help me in and out.Why?”

  “There’s a place in Reefton Lakes I was thinking of trying out.”

  “The Gardenia?”Leah asked,“Impressive.”

  Olivia smiled.“Well, show me the way!”

  Leah and Zac watched the pair leave before Zac turned back to her.“Do you think we should tell VJ about what we’re doing?”

  “Not just yet,”Leah replied,“He’s got enough to worry about at the moment.”

***

VJ and Billie lay next to each other in her bed.Billie suddenly sat upright with a gasp of shock and pain. VJ sat up and looked at her in concern.“Are you all right?”

  Billie’s reply came as a kind of strangulated gasp.“You know one good way of bringing on labour?”

  “No?”

  “What we just did.”

  VJ spent several seconds processing this, then his eyes widened with shock.“Now?”

  Billie nodded.

  “Okay, well, then we need to get dressed and get to hospital.”He quickly slipped out of bed and began retrieving his clothes while passing her hers.

  “VJ, you don’t have to come,”Billie told him.

  VJ stopped and looked her straight in the eye.“I meant what I said before.You and the baby…I’m in.”He leaned over and kissed her lightly.

  Billie smiled and then gave another gasp.“I think we’d better hurry.”

  VJ nodded before a worried expression crossed his face.“Um, you know I can’t drive?”

***

Mason and Olivia were sat together at their table in the Gardenia, waiting for their food to arrive.“So how have you been getting on since you left the hospital?”Mason asked.

  “It’s an adjustment,”Olivia admitted,“but I’m getting used to it.What about you, how are you adjusting? All those years in witness protection…”

  “Yeah but that’s a good adjustment,”Mason pointed out,“We used to be living in hiding, not allowed to tell anyone things.It still feels a bit weird discussing it with you.”

  “Well, how are you going at the hospital?”

  “It’s okay.I haven’t stuffed up lately, which is good because Tori’s really cracking the whip at the moment.I think she’s still missing Nate.And I’m enjoying working with the patients.”

  “You’ve certainly got a good bedside manner,”Olivia noted.She saw Mason smirk and blushed slightly. “I mean…you’re good with the patients.How did you get into medicine anyway?”

  “Tori, I guess.I know I tease her, we pretty much all tease each other, but I can see it means a lot to her.I just wanted to be a part of that.”

  Olivia nodded.“Yeah, I saw that with my Uncle James.I’m not sure I’d wanted to be a part of it though.I mean, it pretty much took up his life.His girlfriend left him, we barely spent any time together…”

  “You can lose balance, yeah.Any idea what you do want to do?”

  “I don’t know, I’m still waiting on my HSC results.Uni, I guess…”She stopped as a waiter approached with their meals.

  “Talk later,”Mason suggested.

***

Billie was sat in the hospital bed, VJ at her side.“You don’t have to be here,”she told him.

  VJ gave her a frustrated look.“Can you stop expecting me to run away?I’m still here, aren’t I?”

  Billie managed a smile.“Yes, you are.”

  “I told you:I love you and I love this baby and I’m not going anywhere.”

  Tori came in with her clipboard.“I’ve spoken to the obstetrician and she says you’re doing fine.Things should be happening soon.”She glanced back into the corridor.“And, er, Ash is still waiting out here.”

  Billie nodded.“Tell him he can come in.”

  A moment later, Ash was in the room.He glared suspiciously at VJ.“You make sure you look after her.”

  “I will,”VJ confirmed.

  Ash looked back at Billie.“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?”

  “No offence, Marty,”Billie remarked,“but you’re pretty much the last person I want in the room when there’s stuff going on…down there.”

  “Fair enough.I’ll be just outside.”

  As soon as Ash had gone, Billie gasped at a contraction.VJ gripped her hand tightly.“I’m right here,”he promised her.

***

Olivia led Mason into the beach house.The downstairs seemed to be deserted.“Thanks for a fun night,” she threw over her shoulder.

  “Yeah, I enjoyed it too,”Mason agreed,“We should do it again some time.”

  “Yeah, yeah, I’d like that.”Olivia paused, not entirely sure of the etiquette.“Do you want a drink?”

  “No, I’d better get going.I’ve got an early start at the hospital in the morning.”

  “Right, of course.I guess I’ll see you then.”

  Mason hesitated, then turned Olivia’s chair to face him and crouched down in front of her.Then he leaned forward and softly kissed her.She responded to the kiss, feeling the pleasure of his touch.When the kiss ended, they were both smiling.“I’ll be in touch,”Mason promised as he straightened up.He walked backwards out of the house, neither of them wanting to stop smiling or break eye contact, until he was outside.

  A moment later, Irene came downstairs.“Ah, good, you’re back.How did your date go?Never mind, tell me later, we’ve got to get to the hospital.”

  “The hospital?”Olivia repeated,“What’s happened?”

  “Billie’s in labour.”

***

Billie and VJ sat on the hospital bed, cradling their newborn baby boy.“I can’t believe he’s here,”Billie said quietly.

  “He’s great,”VJ agreed,“What are you going to call him?”

  “I don’t know.I thought about Luke, after my brother, but I’m not sure it fits.”

  “You could always name him after my dad.”

  Billie gave him a suspicious look.“Weren’t you named after your dad?”

  “Yeah.Could be the start of a dynasty.Vincent Patterson III.”

  Billie didn’t seem convinced.“We can call our next son Vincent Patterson III.”

  VJ was quick to pick up on the implication.“You think that’ll happen?Us having another kid?”

  “Well, yeah,”Billie confirmed,“Don’t you?”

  “Yeah, yeah, I just wasn’t sure if you were sure.”He slid off the bed and went to the chair where his jacket was hanging.He took a box from the pocket, turned towards Billie and opened it.It was an engagement ring.

  Billie gave a gasp of shock.

  “I was always planning to do this when this happened and…things didn’t quite go as I expected but I’m still here and you’re still here.So…will you marry me?”

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Hopefully no-one sat up waiting for this because it's less "evening" and more "middle of the night".And if you're wondering about the longer chapters, this isn't one.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Irene, Leah, Zac, Chris and Olivia all hurried down the hospital corridor.Kat was waiting outside the room.“What’s going on?”Irene asked,“Are they all right?”

  Kat nodded.“Ash is in with them now.Ash?”

  Ash emerged at her shout and saw the crowd waiting outside.“Yikes,”he noted.He called back into the room.“Billie, are you up for…a lot of visitors?”

  VJ and Billie, sat cuddled up on the bed with their baby, exchanged wry looks.“Let them in quickly,”VJ suggested.

  The group in the corridor all crowded in.Irene gave a gasp.“Oh my god, is that..?”

  Billie looked at VJ and smiled before answering.“Our son.”

  Leah looked at VJ with a small amount of concern.“‘Ours’?”

  “We’re back together,”VJ confirmed.

  Billie held out her hand to display the ring.“And engaged.”

  “Hey, congratulations!”Chris cheered.

  “We’re right pleased for you,”Irene agreed.

  “Absolutely!”Olivia echoed.

  VJ smiled at the thanks but looked at Leah.“Mum?”

  Leah hesitated then nodded.“If it’s what makes you happy.”

  Billie smiled and looked down at her son.“How about you say hello to Grandma Leah and Grandma Irene?”

  Leah hesitated.“Just…give me a minute.”She headed out into the corridor as Irene and Ash moved over to greet the new addition to the family.

  Zac followed her out.“Are you okay?”

  Leah sighed.“I just hope he knows what he’s getting himself into.”

  “I think he does.Or if he doesn’t, he’ll soon find out.”He could see Leah wasn’t convinced.“He loves her.”

  “Yeah, he does,”Leah admitted,“And Billie is a lovely girl, despite all the lies.Guess we’ve just got to support them, don’t we?”

  Zac smiled.“Guess we do.”

***

Next morning, Irene, Chris, Olivia and April were all around the breakfast table.“Oh, you should have seen him,”Irene was saying,“Such a gorgeous little mite.Billie deserves to have something go well for her after everything that’s happened and VJ, you could tell he loved that baby like his own…”

  “It sounds really lovely,”April agreed.

  “Be you next,”Chris pointed out,“Unless there’s someone I’ve forgotten.”

  “Definitely not me,”Olivia commented.

  “Oh, yes, and what was that smile I saw on your face after your date last night?”

  April smiled at Olivia’s brief discomfort.“Ooh, this looks like it could be juicy.”

  “A lady never tells,”Olivia retorted.

  Irene patted her on the shoulder.“Good on you, love.”

  “Can I get going, Irene?I want to go back to the hospital.”

  “To see lover boy?”Chris asked teasingly.

  “To see VJ,”Olivia insisted,“And maybe Mason at the same time, if he happens to be there.”

  “I think she knows he is,”April remarked to Chris conspiratorially.

  “Oh, stop teasing, you two!”Irene warned,“Yes, Livvy, of course you can go.”

  Before Olivia could leave however, two other people came in the back door.Bianca and Heath.“April?” Bianca asked in astonishment,“Ricky told me you were here but I didn’t believe it.Why didn’t you tell me you were back?”She seemed to suddenly realise the rudeness of her entry.“Hi, Irene.”

  “Hi, love,”Irene replied bemused.

  April got to her feet.“I’m sorry, Bianca, I know I should have let you know but things have been a bit hectic lately.”

  Bianca looked her up and down.“It’s true, isn’t it?You’re pregnant.”

  April sighed.“Yes.I’m doing it on my own, with Irene and…Chris and everyone.”

  “You’re not on your own,”Bianca insisted,“Is she, Heath?”

  Heath seemed to take a moment to realise he was being spoken to.“Er, no, right.”

  April gave a reluctant smile.“Thanks, Bianca.”

***

VJ and Billie lay on the bed facing each other, the baby nestled in between them.“So have you thought about giving him a name?”VJ asked.

  “Well, I guess he’ll need one at some point,”Billie agreed.

  “So you decided against Luke.Anything else?”

  “I dunno.I thought about naming him after Oscar.I mean, he was the first person who was there for me after the rape.”

  “Yeah, Oscar was a good bloke,”VJ agreed.

  “But then I thought maybe Evie might want to name her son after Oscar if she has one.Do you have any ideas, except for Vincent Patterson III?”

  “I think Mum might appreciate something Greek.”

  Billie considered this.“Give me some ideas.”

  “Well, my uncle’s Alex, Alexei.My grandad’s called Theo.My other uncle’s Christos, Chris.”VJ thought for a moment.“What about Stefan?That’s not too out there.”

  “Stefan.”Billie rolled the name.“Yeah, I like it.”She looked down at her son.“What do you think?Do you want to be a Stefan?”He continued to lie still and peaceful.She looked up at VJ.“Stefan it is.”

***

Zac was waiting outside the bathroom, feeling oddly like an expectant father.A few moments later, Leah emerged.“Well?”he asked her.

  Leah held up the pregnancy test.“Negative.We can go to the doctor’s, get it confirmed, it might be wrong…I remember when I was first pregnant with VJ a test came back negative and it turned out to be unreliable…”

  “But you don’t think so, do you?”Zac asked.

  Leah shook her head.“No, I…I don’t think it’s going to happen.I’m sorry.”

  Zac swallowed hard.“You’re…talking as if this is it.As though we’re not going to try again.”

  “It’s just…now that VJ’s back with Billie and their baby’s here, it feels like we should be focusing our attention on them.If we had a baby now, it’d be younger than theirs.It just feels wrong.I’m sorry.”

  Zac shook his head.“No, no, I get it.At least we tried, hey?We’ve got VJ and Hunter, I guess they’re just going to have to be enough.I can handle being a grandparent instead.I think.”

  Leah hugged him and they stood there in silence for a moment, thinking of what might have been.

***

VJ and Billie had been joined in the hospital room by Dexter, Lottie and Olivia.“I can’t believe we’re engaged at the same time,”Dexter commented.

  “It is the second time round for you,”VJ pointed out.

  “Yeah.”Dexter grimaced slightly.“Best to get it right the first time round.”

  “Come on, let’s see it,”Lottie encouraged Billie, who showed her the ring.

  “Don’t go comparing stone sizes,”Dexter complained,“I don’t want to end up feeling inadequate.”

  “Oh, you’d never do that,”Lottie assured him.

  “Know what you should do now?”Olivia asked,“A double wedding!”

  The two couples looked at each other.“That’s…not a bad idea,”Billie admitted.

  “Yeah,”VJ agreed,“You two hadn’t set a date, had you?”

  “No,”Dexter admitted,“We were planning to have it at the farm.If you two want to do the same…”

  VJ and Billie looked at each other awkwardly.“About that,”VJ began,“there was something we needed to talk to you about…”

  “We were wondering if VJ could move in,”Billie finished.

  “Well, yeah, we kind of figured he would,”Lottie agreed.

  “The more the merrier,”Dexter added.

  “Well, looks like you’ve got it sorted,”Olivia noted,“I need to get going…”

  “Hang on, I’ll go out with you.”VJ followed her into the corridor.

  “So what’s up?”Olivia asked.

  “Would you be my best man?Or…best woman or whatever?”

  Olivia looked surprised.“Me?”

  “Yeah.Well, it would have been Jett once.Or Hunter.But…you’re my best friend so I’d really like you to do it.”

  “If you want a girl in a wheelchair as best man then…yeah, I’m in.Equality.”Olivia gave a slight smile. “Is it normal for the best man to have slept with the groom?”

  VJ smiled back.“Guess we’re trendsetters.”He headed back into the room.

  Olivia caught sight of someone further down the corridor.“Hey, Mason!”She wheeled herself after him as fast as she could.

  Mason looked round and smiled.“Hey, Liv.”

  Olivia stopped, feeling a bit nervous.“I had a good time last night.”

  “Me too.”

  “I wondered if maybe you wanted to go out again some time?”

  “Yeah, I could live with that,”Mason confirmed with a smile,“Any idea where you want to go?”

  “Well, there’s a band playing in Yabbie Creek on Friday night, why don’t we go there?”

  “Okay, I’ll text you when I know when I’m free.”Mason leaned down and kissed her.They both smiled. “Speak to you soon.”

***

April came back from the bathroom to find Heath sitting on his own.She looked around, remembering that Irene and Chris had gone to the Diner, but aware there was someone else missing.“Where’s Bianca?”

  “She went to see Leah, wanted a catch-up.”

  April nodded and walked away from him, over to the couch.Heath followed her with his gaze. “Something you want to ask me?”she asked.

  “You know there is,”he replied irritably.

  “Oh?And what might that be?”

  “Come on, April, don’t mess me around.Who’s the father?And don’t give me all that bull about some guy in Paris that disappeared.”

  “Really?You think that’s not what happened?”April looked at him angrily.“You know, I’ve only ever been with two people.Dex and you.And I haven’t slept with Dexter in two years.You, on the other hand… Paris?About seven months ago?Ring any bells now?”

  Heath almost seemed to visibly deflate.He’d known it deep down, she was sure of that, but hearing it said out loud had left him…she almost wanted to say scared.“You haven’t told anyone else this?”

  “What, Heath?That the two of us got naked on the couch?That you cheated on Bianca with me?It’s not something that I’m proud of, believe it or not, and I’d really like to pretend it didn’t happen.But it did and there were consequences and now I’m pregnant with your child.”

  “You’re what?”They both looked round at the voice and found themselves staring into a face of pure anger.Bianca was standing in the doorway.

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Thank you for your comments and hope you like this one!

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Bianca looked at them both in a fury.“Is this for real?”She looked at Heath angrily.“You slept with my sister, again?You got another woman pregnant, again?”She turned on April.“And you…you were just a stupid kid who didn’t know any better when you first got with him.What the hell’s your problem now? He’s my husband, did you not think that meant he was off-limits?”

  “I’m sorry,”April protested desperately,“We didn’t plan it…”

  “We had that fight,”Heath continued,“You wanted to cut the trip short because of work and I got fed up of you putting it before our family the whole time.You stormed out, Darcy and Harley were with those friends of April’s…”

  “And I got home and I’d had a horrid day at the hospital,”April took up,“And I was just glad to have someone to unwind to at last, I was all on my own out there most of the time, Bianca, no husband, no kids, and Heath was just there for me, he was just comforting me at first, that’s all, and then…then suddenly we were kissing and it just felt so…familiar…”

  “I don’t want to hear it!”Bianca interrupted,“I don’t want to know, I don’t want to hear all the…details!” She looked at them both in disgust.“My sister is having my husband’s baby, how the hell am I supposed to deal with that?”She shook her head.“I’m through.”

  “No, Bianca, you don’t mean that,”April protested.

  “Come on, Bi,”Heath continued,“we can work something out…”

  “Four children by four different women?”Bianca pointed out,“That’s you, Heath.And I am done putting up with it.You can get your things and clear out.As for you, April…you’re welcome to him.You deserve each other.”She walked out.

***

VJ and Billie entered the farmhouse, VJ carrying his bags, Billie carrying Stefan.“This is it,”Billie noted, “If you feel like backing out…”

  “I don’t,”VJ promised her,“I’m in this for the long haul, okay?In a couple of months, we’re going to be married and it’s going to be the happiest day of my life.”

  Billie smiled at him.“Mine too.”She looked down at Stefan.“Although meeting this one is pretty high on the list as well.”

  They were interrupted by the sight of Dexter and Lottie coming out of the doorway to the kitchen, kissing passionately and oblivious to the fact they had company.VJ coughed pointedly and they sprang apart.“Hi!”Dexter greeted them awkwardly,“We didn’t know you were going to be here this early!”

  “It’s still okay, isn’t it?”VJ checked.

  “Yeah, make yourselves at home.You can look after yourselves, can’t you?”

  “Cos we’ve got a few things we need to be getting on with,”Lottie added.

  “Yep, you just carry on,”Billie agreed.

  The pair smiled and slipped past them into the bedroom, closing the door firmly behind them.

  “Are they always like that?”VJ asked.

  “Pretty much,”Billie confirmed.

  “Guess we could put on a show of our own?”

  Billie sighed.“You get that it’s gonna be a few weeks before we can get up to anything like that?”

  “That’s okay.”

  “And that with Stefan, we’re going to be having a lot of sleepless nights that are…a bit less fun?”

  VJ kissed her on the forehead.“It’s okay,”he repeated.

***

“Why did you have to come here?”April demanded angrily.

  “What, did you think that we’d never see each other again?”Heath retorted.

  “I don’t know!I just thought if I could hold it off, come up with a decent story…But you just had to keep pushing it and pushing it and Bianca overheard…”April sagged.“Oh god, Bianca overheard.What must she think of us?Of me?”

  She sat down heavily at the table.Heath took one of the seats near her.“Look…I get that it’s a bit early to think about this but I’ll be there for you and the baby, okay?You won’t be alone.”

  “I wasn’t alone anyway, I had Irene and everyone here…but now Bianca…”

  “Look, that’s my kid you’re carrying.And Darcy and Harley, they’re its brother and sister…”

  “Darcy and Harley,”April groaned,“What’s going to happen to them?”

  “I’ll sort them too.”

  April looked at him sceptically.“How?”

  “Don’t know.But I’ve got a bit of an idea.”

***

“Martin Ashford?”

  Ash and Kat looked with a certain amount of bemusement at the burly man that had knocked on their door.Ash had an odd feeling he knew him from somewhere.“Yeah?”

 “Heath Braxton.”Heath walked past them into the house.He looked at Kat.“This your missus?”

  “Kat,”she confirmed.

  “The cop?”

  “Ex-cop.”

  “Look, um, great as it is to finally meet you, Heath, what are you doing here?”Ash interrupted.

  Heath hesitated.“It’s just the two of you here now, right?And the flat’s empty, Nate’s moved on?”

  “Yeah, that’s right,”Kat confirmed.

   “How do you two fancy moving in there?’Cos…I could kinda do with the house back.I’ve got two kids I need to house plus another one on the way.”He paused before adding awkwardly,“April.”

  “Hang on, you got April pregnant?”Kat asked.

  Heath seemed to search for an appropriate answer before settling on “Yeah.”

  “Didn’t you marry her sister or something?”asked Ash, confused.

  Heath looked annoyed.“Look, can we have the place or not?”

  Ash drew Kat to one side.“What do you think?”

  “What do you know about him?”Kat asked.

  “Just that he’s Brax and Kyle’s brother.”

  “That’s not much of a recommendation.”

  “I think we should help him out,”Ash concluded.Kat sighed and nodded.Ash turned back to Heath.“You got yourself a house.”

***

Mason and Olivia were sitting at a table near the front as the band played, Olivia cheerfully swinging her arms back and forth in time to the music.She noticed Mason giving her an amused look and blushed slightly.He grinned.“Look at you, strutting your stuff.”

  “Shut up,”she retorted with a smile.The band finished their set and she applauded a bit harder than she needed to.

  “We’ll be back with you after a short break,”the lead singer announced.

  Mason leaned in closer.“So, what were you telling me about April?”

  Olivia took a deep breath.“Well.It turns out the father of her baby is her brother-in-law, they had some passionate one night stand, and now her sister’s found out and she’s gone off, so April’s moving in with this guy and, get this, he’s got two kids already!”She noticed Mason’s smirk getting larger.“What?”

  “I’m just glad to hear you taking such an interest in something.”

  Olivia rolled her eyes.“I’m going to have to watch out for your teasing.”

  “Makes things interesting.”

***

April stood in the centre of the beach house with her bags packed.She looked around with mixed feelings, before her gaze settled on Irene and Chris.“Guess I should thank you for having me.”

  Irene gave her a small smile.“It was a pleasure, love.And if things don’t work out, then you can always come back here.”

  “Yeah.”April sighed.“I don’t know what I’m doing to be honest.I’ve ruined things with Bianca, the only member of my family who’s always been there for me.I’m pregnant without actually being in a relationship and I’m moving in with the father who’s…Heath.I’m surprised you’re still talking to me.”

  “Love…you did the wrong thing by Bianca, you and Heath both.No use pretending otherwise.But we go back long enough for that not to make any difference between us.”

  “Them’s the breaks,”Chris agreed.

  “What he said.”

  April hugged Irene.She was slightly surprised when Chris hugged her as well but found she didn’t mind.

  A moment later, Heath appeared at the front door.With him were a very sulky-looking Darcy and a bemused-looking Harley, who was staring around as if wondering how he got there.“You ready?”he asked.

  “Yeah, I’m ready,”April confirmed.She looked at the two youngsters.“Hello again.”

  Darcy pulled a face and turned away.Harley gave her a smile and she bent down and hugged him.

  “Oi, buggerlugs,”Irene snapped.Heath looked up, curious.“Don’t mess this one up, you hear me?”

  Heath saluted her briefly.“Loud and clear.”

***

Olivia led Mason into the Morgan house, bumping a bit as she went down the step inside the door.“Well, that’s another successful night out,”she commented.

  “Yeah.”Mason looked around, slightly confused.“Didn’t you want to go home?”

  “No, here’s fine.”

  “Do you want me to get you a drink?”He made a move towards the kitchen.

  “No.I want you to kiss me.”

  Mason smiled.He crouched down in front of her and kissed her, softly at first but growing in intensity. He stopped for a moment.“Are you really sure about this?”

  “Help me up.”

  Mason helped Olivia out of the chair, holding her upright.She put her arms around his neck and kissed him again.“Let’s go to your room,”she suggested.

  Mason looked at her awkwardly.“Olivia, we don’t know…”

  “If you’re going to suggest that I’ve been living like a nun since the accident, then let me tell you, you’re wrong.”

  Mason relaxed a bit.He kissed her again, then lifted her up into his arms and carried her towards the bedroom.

***

April had just finished putting her things into what she suspected was Casey’s old room.When she came back into the living area, she found only Darcy there.“Where’s your dad?”

  “He’s settling Harley,”Darcy replied bluntly.

  April nodded, wondering how she was supposed to deal with a young teenager who was the half-sister of her unborn child.“Darcy, have we got a problem?”

  “You!”Darcy snapped,“You and Dad!We were finally a family and now you’ve taken that away from us!Bianca’s gone and…and I don’t want you!”

  “I’m sorry,”April said quietly,“But…it won’t be so bad.I mean, it’s not the same but we’re still a family. I’ve got your half-brother or sister in here.”

  Darcy snorted.“Yeah, another kid that Dad’s done everything to be there for.Why wasn’t he there for me?”

  “Come on, Darce, you know he was young then, not much older than you.He’s done his best to be there for you and I’ll do the same.”She went to touch Darcy’s arm but Darcy pushed her away.

  “Hey!”The voice was Heath’s bristling with anger.He glared at Darcy.“You know what I told you, you need to be gentle with April.Go to your room.”Darcy stomped out.

  April gave a slight smile.“Thanks.”

  “No worries.Can I get you anything?”

  “No, I…I think I need to go to bed.”April walked away, trying hard not to think about the chaos that her life had become.

***

Mason came out of his room the next morning dressed only in his boxers and with a happy smile on his face.He flexed his arms in satisfaction…and then realised his sister was standing at the breakfast counter, sipping a coffee and looking amused.He quickly did his best to cover his body with his arms.“Tori!Didn’t see you there.”

  “I’m glad to hear it.So, I take it you had a guest over last night?”

  “How did you know?”

  “Apart from the dopey look on your face?The wheelchair in the middle of the front room.”

  Mason blushed slightly.“I was just going to take it in for her.”

  “Don’t let me stop you.”

  Mason took the chair into his room.Tori stood waiting for a long while, hearing the occasional raised voice through the door, until the pair emerged.Mason had put on a t-shirt and shorts and was pushing Olivia, who had hastily thrown on a dressing gown over her underwear.“Hi,”she greeted Tori, sounding a bit embarrassed.

  “Hi yourself,”Tori echoed,“I’m hoping Mason has been a gentleman and offered you breakfast?”

  “He’s been great, yeah,”Olivia confirmed, causing Mason to blush a bit more.

  “Am I interrupting?”asked a voice from the doorway.

  Tori and Mason gaped at who was standing there.“Cousin Frank?”Mason asked in surprise.

  “Yep.You’ve certainly grown up a lot since I last saw you, Mason.”

  Tori came forward and gave Frank a hug.“It’s good to see you again.And thanks for the tip about this place.”

  “That’s okay.How are you finding Summer Bay?”

  Olivia picked up on the comment.“Have you been here before?”

  “Yeah, I lived here for a bit,”Frank confirmed,“Must be nearly thirty years ago now.”

  “Did you know my mother, Chloe Richards?”

  “No, sorry, I don’t remember that one.”

  “Irene Roberts?”

  Frank’s face cleared slightly.“Yeah, I’ve met Irene.We weren’t here at the same time but I’ve been back for visits since she moved here.”

  “This is Olivia, Mason’s girlfriend,”Tori explained.

  Olivia suddenly felt a bit self-conscious.“And I need to get dressed,”she concluded, heading towards Mason’s room.

  “So, you just here for a visit?”Mason asked Frank.

  Frank nodded.“Yeah.”He looked around with mixed emotions.“Renew a few old acquaintances.”

***

April had found herself alone in the house.It left her with a lot of time to have thoughts and she wasn’t liking the ones she was having.So she was quite grateful when a dark woman a few years older than her appeared.“Hi, you must be April?I’m Kat, your neighbour or…housemate or…something.”

  April managed a smile.“Yeah, never quite managed to work out whether this was one house or two.”

  “You here on your own?”

  April nodded.“Irene’s keeping an eye on Harley, Darcy’s out sulking and Heath’s…not here.”She sighed.“And somehow, I have ended up back wondering when Heath’s going to turn up.It’s like I’m seventeen again.”

  “Life works out funny sometimes,”Kat admitted,“I didn’t think I’d end up with someone like Ash…”

  “I’m not with Heath,”April insisted.She shook her head wearily.“We’re living together and we’re having a baby together but we’re not…”

  “Whether you are or you aren’t,”Kat went on,“Look, I’ve done all the cliches.I dated a cop, I dated a doctor…and Ash has treated me better than either of those.So maybe Heath isn’t the guy you were expecting to take home to your parents.It could still work.”

  “I know he’s going to be a good father,”April admitted,“Heck, he already is.And I was the one pleading his case to Bianca when she wanted to cut him out of Rocco’s life.And…I thought I was in love with him once.Maybe I actually was.This is just not how I imagined my life turning out.And where is he?”

***

Where Heath was was in the middle of Salt, staring around himself in bemusement.Brody noticed him and approached.“Something up?”

  “You changed the name,”Heath realised.

  “We changed the menu too.”Brody handed him a card.

  Heath looked over the menu in which he only recognised about one word in every ten.“You still do beer?”

  Brody sighed.“Yes, we do.”He went behind the bar and poured him a pint.

  Heath accepted it and handed over the money.“My family used to own this place.”

  “The Braxtons, right?”

  “You’ve heard of us?”

  Brody gave a slight smile.“I’ve heard stories.”

  “We get that.”Heath scanned the restaurant and noticed a waiter and waitress who seemed to have sneaked out onto the balcony for a kiss.He realised he recognised them.“Hey, Page!”

  Matt and Evelyn quickly turned round.“Heath,”Matt greeted him in strained tones.

  “So, you two together now?”

  “Yes,”Evelyn replied,“Do you care?”

  Heath shrugged.“No, not really.”He turned back to the bar.

  Ash entered and went to join his new housemate.“I’ve got this,”he told Brody before turning his attention to Heath.“You all right?”

  Heath took another gulp of his beer.“This time yesterday, I had a wife and kids.Now, my daughter hates me, my wife hates me and I’m sharing a house with her sister.Take a guess.”

  “Look, I helped Brax out of trouble a few times…”

  “Got him into trouble a few times too, from what I hear.”

  “True,”Ash admitted,“But if you need someone to talk to…”

  Heath nodded to the stool next to him.“Take a seat.Gonna be a long talk.”

***

“Have a nice day!”Roo called after a customer in the Diner.

  Marilyn sidled over to her.“Ah, Roo, you do remember that you weren’t actually meant to be in this early?”

  Roo gave a strained smile.“I do, yes.But Matt and Evelyn were in the flat, which is a good reason for me not to be.”

  “Ah, yes, I can see why that would be awkward.I remember when Skye and Tank…”

  Marilyn broke off as a group entered the Diner:Tori, Justin, Mason, Olivia…and someone neither of them were expecting to see.“I texted Brody,”Tori was explaining,“But he’s busy at Salt.”

  “And you really don’t want to come between him and his restaurant,”Justin noted.

  But Frank’s attention was focused elsewhere, on the two old faces staring at him.“Roo, Marilyn.”

  “Frank,”Roo returned with a hint of ice in her voice.

  “You know each other?”Mason asked.

  “Yes,”Roo confirmed,“We used to be married, didn’t we, Frank?”

  “Wow, you were telling the truth about having been here before,”Olivia remarked.

  Frank gestured to a table.“Can we have coffees over here?”

  “I’ll bring them over,”Roo answered.

  “Is that really Frank?”Marilyn asked her in a hushed voice.

  “That’s him,”Roo confirmed.

  “Gosh, I don’t think I’ve seen him in about twenty-five years!Not since you two broke up and he came back here for Bobby.”

  “Thanks, I needed reminding of that.”

  “So what are you going to do?”

  “What you normally do when an ex-husband turns up in town.”

  Marilyn considered this.“Which is?”

  Roo sighed.“No idea.”

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Thank you for all the comments.I think with this chapter the story has now overtaken Where the Heart Lies to be the longest story I've written on here in terms of chapters, hope you like it!

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

“So, I hear there’s going to be a wedding here?”Indi asked loudly as she and Sasha entered the farmhouse.

  They were greeted by the sight of a large group around the breakfast table:Dexter with Lottie sat on his lap, the two of them devouring a large plate of croissants together, while Billie sat across from them giving Stefan his bottle and VJ sat next to her munching on a bowl of cereal.“You heard right,”Dexter confirmed.

  Sasha smiled.“Aww, look at you two, aren’t you adorable?”

  “We certainly are.”Dexter turned and kissed Lottie softly, just long enough to make his sisters uncomfortable.

  “Starting to remember why I don’t live with you anymore,”Indi commented.She turned her attention to the other old face at the table.“Wow, VJ, you…”

  “I’ve grown, I know,”VJ interrupted.He gestured to his family.“This is Billie, my fiancè, and this is our son Stefan.Billie, this is Dexter’s sisters, Indigo and Sasha.”

  “Hi,”Billie responded,“Hope you don’t mind us sharing your brother’s big day.”

  “What’s one more disgustingly happy couple?”Sasha countered.

  “So where are you staying?”VJ asked,“I mean we’ve got spare rooms here…”

  “Yeah, I’ll stay here if you don’t mind,”Indi agreed,“Dad’s just flying back for the wedding, he wasn’t able to get much time off, so he won’t be here overnight.”

  “And I called Irene,”Sasha added,“Apparently a room just became available at hers.”

  “Yeah…do you know who was staying there before?”Dexter asked.

  “Chris?”

  “Nope, he’s still there.April.Who’s now pregnant by Heath and is living with him.Separate rooms.”

  Indi raised an eyebrow.“Wow, you’re lucky to be out of that one.”

  “That’s what I always tell him,”Lottie agreed.

  “I’ll give you a hand with your bags,”VJ offered, getting up to show Indi and Sasha the spare rooms.

  Dexter turned back to Lottie.“Sorry your dad couldn’t make it.”

  Lottie shrugged.“I didn’t really expect him to.At least Mum’s coming over from the city.Anyway, the most important thing is that you’re there.”

  “Well that I can promise you.”

***

“So you’re still here then?”Roo asked Frank as she served him and Justin their coffees.

  “Looks like it,”Frank agreed.

  Justin made a noise like sucking air through his teeth.“Watch it, mate, looks like someone’s trying to get rid of you…”

  “I just wondered if you were sticking around for the wedding,”Roo attempted.

  “Well, I’ll probably be around,”Frank confirmed,“but I haven’t been invited.”

  “Okay, I’ll invite you now,”Leah cut in.

  Frank looked at her, surprised.“Are you sure?”

  “Course I am.Sally would never forgive me if she found out I hadn’t made her brother feel welcome.” Leah gave a wistful sigh.“I still can’t believe my little boy’s getting married.Seems like only a few years since he didn’t even reach this counter.”She wandered off into the kitchen.

  “That all right with you?”Frank asked Roo.

  “Nothing to do with me, is it?Just lucky Lottie’s dad can’t make it or I’d have both my ex-husbands there.”She sighed slightly.“Watching your child get married.Must be something.”

  “Yeah, never happened for us, did it?”

  “I didn’t even make it to Martha’s wedding, it all happened so quickly.”

  Frank sighed.“If only, hey?”

  Justin looked at them both in bemusement.“Well you two are a barrel of laughs.”

***

A large gathering of females were assembled at the beach house.Kat poured wine for Evelyn, Indi, Sasha, Lottie and Olivia.She looked at April and Billie.“Sure I can’t tempt you to a small one?”

  “Pregnant,”April pointed out.

  “Breastfeeding,”Billie added.

  “Okay.”

  “All the more for the rest of us!”Indi noted cheerily.

  Olivia looked askance at her.“How many has she had?”

  “I lost count after the first six,”Sasha admitted.

  “I think I’ve had a few as well,”Evelyn noted, with a grin.

  Olivia saw April heading into the kitchen and followed her.“Are you okay?”

  April sighed.“I’m just…not sure I should be here.I mean, it’s my ex-husband that Lottie’s marrying.”

  “Hey, you’re part of the gang now,”Olivia told her,“If we’ve actually still got a gang.”

  April smiled gratefully.“Thanks.”

  In the living area, Indi had taken hold of Lottie’s face and was examining it carefully.“You are so pretty,”she noted,“Just like me.I’m so glad my brother’s marrying you.”

  “I’m pretty glad too,”Lottie agreed.

  “Maybe tone it down a bit,”Sasha suggested.

  April and Olivia were coming back over to them when April stopped and gasped.Billie looked at her curiously.“Okay, having been there myself recently…was that a labour pain?”

  “I don’t know,”April admitted,“I…aah!”

  “I think we should get you checked out,”Sasha suggested.

  “I haven’t been drinking, I’ll drive you,”Billie offered.

  Sasha looked at Indi.“Yeah and I need to get this one somewhere safe.”

  Evelyn got up.“I’ll go to the Diner and see if Matt’s free to service me.”

  Sasha winced.“I didn’t need to hear that.”

  Billie took April’s arm and helped her towards the door, Olivia following them.“Call Irene!”April requested,“And Heath!”

***

“I hear there’s a bucks party going on here?”Xavier asked, sticking his head round the door of the farmhouse.

  “Hey, yeah, come in!”Dexter confirmed, putting an arm round his friend’s shoulder,“Let me introduce you.Ah, you know VJ.This is Ash, VJ’s marrying his sister.That’s Zac, he’s VJ’s stepfather.That’s Matt, he was VJ’s foster brother.That’s Justin, Brody and Mason.Three brothers.”They exchanged knowing looks.“And that’s Chris.He brought most of them.”

  “Consider me the party organiser extraordinaire,”Chris confirmed,“I still think Palmer would have been a laugh.”

  “Well, he’s let me stay with him and Marilyn tonight so I guess I shouldn’t say a bad word about him,” Xavier noted,“Still can’t get used to the idea of them two being married.”

  “They’re certainly entertaining,”VJ agreed.

  Xavier grinned at him.“And what about you, mate?I hear you’ve bagged yourself a right hot one.”

  “Be very careful what you say next,”Ash warned him.

  Dexter put an arm round Xavier’s shoulder.“Of course, as my best man, you’re obliged to sleep with one of the bridesmaids.And as I recall you did have a thing for Sasha once…”

  “Hey, Ruby would kill me if I did that.”

  “And most of us had a thing for Sasha at one time or another,”Matt added.

  Brody looked sideways at Justin.“What have we let ourselves get dragged into here?”

  “We need a flow chart,”Justin agreed.

  “Are you looking to hook up at the wedding?”Xavier asked them.

  “No, I’m sleeping with VJ’s best man,”Mason replied.

  Xavier blinked.“Okay.Well, all for alternative relationships.”

  Everyone laughed.“My best man’s a girl,”VJ explained.

  “Right.That’s okay as well.You know, I almost expected to see Heath here given what you told me.”

  Dexter grimaced.“That really would have been weird.”

  “He’s on babysitting duty,”Ash added.At that moment, he got a text message and checked it.“Ah, but not any more apparently.April’s in labour.”

***

Heath was in the delivery room with April, holding tightly onto her hand as she let out groans of pain.“I’m really glad you’re here,”she told him.

  “Yeah, you don’t have to worry,”Heath assured her,“I’m not going anywhere.I’m here to the end.”

  “That’s not the reason,”April replied,“It’s so I can hit you for getting me into this.”

  Heath smiled slightly.“That too.”

  At that moment, Darcy came running into the room.“April, are you all right?”

  Heath did a double take at her.“What are you doing here?You’re meant to be with Ash and Kat.”

  “Snuck out and caught the bus.April, I’m really sorry that I was mean to you.You’re having my brother or sister and I don’t want us to fall out.”

  April managed a smile.“That’s okay, Darce.I want us to be friends too.”Her calm façade evaporated as another contraction hit her and she groaned with pain.

  “Um, Darce, you might want to sit this one out,”Heath suggested.

  Darcy nodded.“I’ll go and sit with Irene.”

  “She’s a good kid,”April noted once Darcy had gone.

  “She has her moments,”Heath confirmed,“Now let’s see about meeting another good kid.”

***

Chris arrived back at the beach house to find only Sasha there, sat in front of the television.“No hens?”he asked, before sighing theatrically,“And I thought I was onto a winner coming back early.”

  “Things kind of broke up when April’s waters broke.And Lottie and Billie are staying with Alf, Leah and Zac overnight so they had to get back there.”

  Chris sat down next to her.“So how’s uni life been treating you?”

  “It’s going surprisingly well really.No distractions.”Sasha hesitated.“I’m sorry I wasn’t here when everything went down with Hannah.”

  “I got your e-mail.It meant a lot, thanks.”Chris’ mood lightened.“By the way, I just spent the evening with a couple of your exes and if you’re in for some wedding romance…”

  “See, this is what I’ve missed.You thinking you’re helping and being completely inappropriate.”

  “Would you have me any other way?”

  “Surprisingly, no.There have been times when your…bluntness would have been quite refreshing.”

  “Aww, it must be love.”

  “And what about you, Chris?You miss me?”

  “Yes, I’ve missed the constant aggravation, the three hour weight in the bathroom, the rows of hair dye…”

  Sasha pouted at him.“Must be love.”

  “Must be.”

  They both laughed, then stopped, looking each other in the eye.Slowly they leaned forward until their lips touched…then they heard clattering at the back door and sprang apart.“I should go upstairs,”Sasha announced, quickly hurrying up to her room.

  Chris looked round as Irene and Olivia entered.“Hey, how’s April?”he asked.

  Irene smiled.“She’s had a beautiful baby boy.But looks like she’s going to miss the wedding.”

  “What about you?”Olivia asked,“Keeping yourself out of trouble?”

  Chris sighed.“Sadly, yes.”

***

Heath arrived at the hospital first thing in the morning and headed for the room where April was waiting with their son…a concept he was still struggling to get his head around.“I called Kyle and Ricky,”he explained,“I’m kind of waiting a bit before calling Mum.”

  April was sitting on the side of the bed and winced at the comment.“No offence but I’m not looking forward to that conversation.”

  Heath shrugged.“She’ll probably like you.Maybe.”

  “I suppose I should tell Bianca.”

  “Ricky said she’d cover that.In between yelling at me for the way I’ve treated her.”

  “Guess we can’t really blame her for that.”

  “Guess not.”Heath sat down next to her.“So, any thought about names?”

  “What do you think of Chandler?”

  Heath looked at her in surprise.“Didn’t you want to choose something Italian?”

  April pursed her lips slightly, as though she was counting to ten.“French,”she corrected him,“It’s an old French name, it comes from the French word for candle.”

  “It was the funny one in Friends, right?”Heath noticed April looking at him suspiciously.“Mum used to watch it,”he added hastily.

  “Apart from that…”

  Heath mulled it over.“Chandler…what are we having for a surname?”

  April looked awkwardly.“Well, Scott-Braxton worked for Rocco…”

  Heath sighed.“We are one seriously messed up family.Okay, Chandler Scott-Braxton it is.”

***

Dexter stood next to Xavier at the front of the congregation.“You nervous?”Xavier asked casually.

  “Of course,”Dexter replied,“I’m always nervous.”

  On the other side of the aisle, VJ stood with Olivia.“Are you nervous?”she asked him.

  “No, I’m actually not,”he admitted,“I kind of can’t wait to do this.”

  Olivia smiled.“Guess it must be love.”

  Ash and Melissa led Billie and Lottie to the other end of the aisle.Trailing them were their bridesmaids: Indi and Sasha for Lottie, Evelyn and Kat for Billie.Slowly they processed down towards their grooms. Evelyn smiled at a look from Matt, while Sasha tried to avoid one from Chris.

  Zac leaned over to Leah, who was cuddling Stefan.“Feels weird seeing your son getting married, huh?”

  “A bit,”Leah admitted,“I’m not quite willing to admit he’s old enough.”She saw the look in his eyes. “I’m sure you’ll get to see Hunter get married one day.”

  “Yeah.”Zac tickled Stefan under the chin slightly.“And at least we get to look after this one tonight.”

  Marilyn nudged Roo.“Don’t look but I think Frank’s watching you.”

  “Probably remembering his own wedding,”John mused.

  “Which one?”Alf snorted.

  “Yeah, thanks for that, Dad,”Roo sighed.

  The two brides were in place next to the grooms.“We are here to celebrate the weddings of Vincent and Belinda, and Dexter and Charlotte,”the celebrant noted,“But first the couples would like to say a few words.”

  VJ cleared his throat.“Billie, every day I look at you and I wonder how I ended up with you.I just feel like the luckiest guy alive and I love you and our baby so much, so I just want to do everything I can to make you happy.”

  Billie smiled.“VJ, you’ve made me feel special in a way that no-one ever has done before.I love you more than I ever felt possible and spending the rest of my life with you and our son is something that would make me happier than I dreamed.”

  “How can I top that?”Dexter mused,“Lottie…we’ve kind of taken a roundabout route here, made mistakes along the way but I’m sure that I really do love you and I want to make you my wife and do lots of husband and wife things.”

  “And I really want to do those husband and wife things too,”Lottie confirmed,“You’ve made me feel like I really belong somewhere, with someone who’s as nutty as I am, if that’s even possible, so no doubts from me.”

  The celebrant took her cue.“Dexter, will you take Charlotte to be your wife?”

  “I will.”

  “Charlotte, will you take Dexter to be your husband?”

  “I will.”

  “Vincent, will you take Belinda to be your wife?”

  “I will.”

  “Belinda, will you take Vincent to be your husband?”

  “I will.”

  “Then I hereby pronounce you husbands and wives.You may kiss your brides.”

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Thanks, guys, hope you like zis one! (Er, and JT, hope you don't want to gouge your eyes out too much...)

CHAPTER THIRTY

The group had headed to the surf club for the reception, where two happy couples were dancing.Billie smiled at VJ.“You make me very happy, you know that?”

  VJ returned the smile.“Right back at you.”

  Billie looked worried for a moment.“You are sure about this, aren’t you?I mean, I know I’m the only person you’ve ever been with…”She noticed VJ give a rueful grimace.“What?”

  VJ looked sheepish.“Well, we were on a break…”

  Billie followed his gaze to where Olivia was sitting with Irene and Chris.“Seriously?”VJ shrugged.“Well, thank goodness she didn’t mention that in her speech.”

  Sid went over to where Dexter and Lottie were dancing.Dexter looked round at him.“You’ve got your ‘I need to be somewhere’ face on.”

  Sid looked embarrassed.“I’m sorry, I really wish I could spend more time with you.”

  “We’re just glad you were here.”

  “I’m glad I was here too.I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look as happy.And you, Lottie…welcome to the family.”

  Lottie smiled.“Thanks, Doctor Walker.Or do I call you Dad now?”

  “We’ll work on that one later.”

  Mason went over to Olivia.“So, am I going to get a dance out of you?”

  “I don’t think my footwork’s as good as it used to be.”

  Mason took hold of her hands and gently pulled her.“Come on, surprise me.”

  “Ah, you realise if you pull me the chair doesn’t come too and I end up on the floor?”

  Mason let go of her hands but continued to look expectantly at her.With a sigh, Olivia followed him onto the dance floor.They faced each other and he took her hands again, the two of them swaying back and forth in time to the music.Olivia rocked her chair from side to side experimentally, smiling sheepishly as she did so.

  Chris took a deep breath, got to his feet and went over to the table where Indi and Sasha were sitting. “Two bridesmaids who haven’t been asked to dance?”

  “Do not even go there,”Indi warned him,“Far too much awkward history.”

  Chris’ attention was already focused on Sasha.“Well then?”

  Sasha reluctantly took his hand and let him help her to her feet.Indi got up and headed over to where Justin, Brody and Frank were waiting.“You know how you go to one of these weddings and it’s full of old faces you were hoping you wouldn’t see again?”

  Brody stared at her.“Sorry, who are you?”

  “Indigo Walker.Dexter’s sister.”

  “Brody.My brother Justin and cousin Frank.I own Salt now.”Brody sighed as Indi just looked confused. “Used to be called Angelo’s?”

  “Oh, right, yeah.Do you know I worked there when it was actually owned by Angelo?”

  “You any good?”Justin asked.

  “No, I kind of got sacked for selling alcohol to a minor, as a minor…”

  Chris and Sasha continued to slow dance.“So, I was thinking about The Kiss,”Chris mused.

  “Can we not?”Sasha sighed,“You’re my idiot big brother, I’m your annoying little sister, that’s the dynamic.The two of us together would be…”

  “Hot?”

  “No.”

  “You kissed me before.”

  “I was blindfolded and thought you were Spencer!”

  “It was kind of nice though.”

  Sasha sighed.“Yes,”she conceded.

  Chris leaned forward and kissed her softly.Sasha responded, gently caressing him.

  Leah and Irene exchanged looks.Irene sighed.“It’s been far too long a day for me to worry about that.”

  Indi was also staring at them.“Okay, that’s just wrong,”she complained to Brody.

  Alf’s attention was focused elsewhere.He nudged Roo.“I think that Frank Morgan’s looking at you.”

  Roo rolled her eyes.“Dad, I’m not seventeen anymore.I can handle Frank Morgan.”

  “Make sure that you do.”

***

Sasha and Chris kissed as they arrived back at the beach house.Sasha tried to head towards the downstairs bedroom but Chris stopped her.“Olivia’s in that one now.I’m in your old room upstairs.”

  Sasha sighed.“Okay, is there anything about what we’re doing that isn’t completely messed up?I’ve been with your brother, you’ve been with my sister, we lived together for however long…”

  “Well, I’ve liked having you back here.”

  “Yes and I’ve liked being back here with you.But is that just because we’re friends that get on or…” Sasha was silenced by Chris kissing her.She glared at him.“Okay, you doing that is not helping my concentration.”

  Chris smiled.“Fair enough, this could be a terrible idea and we could regret it completely.On the other hand…”

  “On the other hand?”Sasha prompted.

  Chris kissed her again.“This does feel kind of nice.”

  Sasha sighed and then surrendered to the kiss as they headed upstairs.

***

Roo looked sideways at Frank as they reached the top of the stairs to her flat.“Thanks for walking me back,”she noted as she unlocked the door.

  “What happened to that young guy you live with?”

  “Well, I saw him and Evie sloping away early.Which I suspect means I’ll be needing the earplugs to sleep tonight.”She saw Frank stifling a smile.“What?”

  “Just wondering when we became the middle-aged ones.”

  “Yeah, a lot’s changed since we left the town together.”Roo paused in the doorway.“Well, um, good night then.”

  “Good night.”Frank stood at the top of the steps, not looking like he was going anywhere.Then he leaned in and kissed her.

  Roo sighed.“I promised myself I wasn’t going to do this.”

  “I can go if you want.”

  “I don’t want.”She kissed him again and pulled him into the flat.

***

Dexter and Lottie arrived at the Sands.Dexter rapped loudly on the counter.“Mr and Mrs Walker and we are booked into the Honeymoon Suite!”

  The receptionist handed them the keys.“Welcome to the Sands, we hope you enjoy your stay.”

  Dexter paused.“We’re in the Honeymoon Suite because we just got married!”

  The receptionist looked up briefly and gave the smallest of smiles.“Congratulations.”

  “That’s it?Congratulations?No free champagne?Rose petals?Mexican band?Complimentary holiday to the Carribean?”

  Lottie tugged at his sleeve.“Come on, Dex, let’s go find our room.”

  Dexter let his new wife lead him away.“You’re destroying all my fantasies,”he fired over his shoulder.

***

VJ and Billie were kissing as they headed into the farmhouse.“So, Stefan is spending the night with Mum and Zac, who are having some quality grandparent time,”VJ mused.

  “And Dexter and Lottie are at the Sands having quality married couple time,”Billie continued.

  “So what are we going to do with a whole house to ourselves, Mrs Patterson?”

  Billie raised an eyebrow.“I don’t recall agreeing to use that name.”

  VJ smiled.“I don’t care, so long as we’re married.”He looked at her seriously and ran a finger through her hair.“You are the most amazing person I’ve ever known.”

  Billie smiled back at him.“And that’s exactly how I feel about you.”Her expression became playful. “So…how exactly do I compare to Olivia?”

  “Well, maybe you could jog my memory and we could find out?”

  Billie kissed him again and they began walking towards the bedroom.

***

Lottie came out of the bathroom, where she had changed into a tight-fitting negligee.Dexter had removed his jacket and sat down on the end of the bed, where he was currently engrossed in the hotel’s subscription channels.He glanced back at her.“They’ve got Syfy.”

  Lottie gave him a bemused look.“Really?”

  “Yep.Looks like there’s a Stargate Atlantis marathon tonight.”

  “Do they have a record option?”

  Dexter studied the remote control as she sat down next to him.“Looks like it.Why?”

  Lottie kissed him, slowly clambering on top of him and pushing him back on the bed.Dexter fumbled with the remote control and managed to push the right button, before turning his attention to other things as she started to undress him.

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