Archive | July 2013

What Matters Most~ Chapter Twenty-Four

Tony practically scowled as he watched Eden sip her Martini. He seriously doubted she had become refined in the years since she left Springfield. “So how did you get my number Eden? Should we add stalking to your list of crimes?”

Eden glanced across the small table at Tony who was staring daggers into her. He always had fought the attraction between them. Until that one day when he had finally let that tight rein on his control go. And it was that memory that she clutched tight to her now. She made him lose control once, she could make him do it again. “Hardly Tony. In case you forgot, I work here. Your phone number is easily accessible.” She grinned mischievously, “I could have always called you at home. I am sure you and Marah are listed.”

Ignoring the taunt Tony pressed forward, “So what do you want Eden? Money? Go ahead and name your price.”

Eden laughed at his blase attitude. She knew she had disrupted his perfect little life. But both of them were cut from the same cloth, domestic suburban life would bore him before long. Really she was saving him from a life of the mundane. He would see it in time. “Money would be nice, a girl can always use some nice spending cash. But I was thinking about something more…exciting.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. Two can play at this game. “So what, you want a car? A mansion in the hills? A pet tiger? Spell it out for me Eden I don’t have all day.” He pulled at the collar of his shirt, suddenly feeling as if the thermostat had gone up thirty degrees.

“I want you Tony! I have always wanted you.”

Yeah he figured as much. “Well you can’t have me. You said that when you came back to Springfield the first time and my answer is still the same. I am in love, with my wife.”

Eden rolled her eyes. She was as bored now with his broken record routine as she had been then. Time for Tony to get a little history lesson. “Yeah you certainly loved her up on that roof.”

Tony leaned forward while lowering his voice to a level that could only be classified as menacing. “That was a mistake and you know it. I regretted it then and I sure as hell regret it now. If you came back for me than you wasted your time, I don’t want you. I never have…” Tony paused in his tirade. Something was definitely off here. The other patrons in the bar that had served as background noise began to buzz in his ears like bees in a hive. The buzzing continued to get louder even as Tony looked around at those around them. He shook his head to clear but that only served to make things even more fuzzier, like his head was stuffed with cotton. He needed to get out of here. Adrenaline kicked in and he pushed away from the table unsteadily. “I have to go.”

But making an exit was easier said than done. His legs felt like lead and each step felt harder than the next, but still Tony was desperate to keep moving. Slender arms came around his waist and helped him remain upright when he stumbled. Through narrowed and blurry eyes he saw blonde hair and sighed. “Marah.”

“That’s right. How about we go lie down? You’ve had too much to drink tonight.”

To Tony that sounded like Heaven and so he allowed her to lead him towards the awaiting elevators…

***

Once she hauled Tony inside the room she had reserved for the day she let his heavy body fall on the bed. He made a slight groaning noise as Eden jostled him around to remove his cell phone from his pocket, but he still remained blissfully unaware at what was happening around him. The drug that John had procured certainly was effective. According to him it was the latest in designer party drugs, it would sedate the user for several hours while remaining virtually undetectable. Not wasting any time Eden sat on her heels beside him on the bed. Leaning over him she surveyed the object of her obsession and sighed, he was so handsome he took her breath away. He was completely wasted on Miss Perfect, she would never understand him like she did. “But we’ll fix that. ” She began removing his shirt, which was no easy feat considering he was literally passed out cold. But still, she hummed in approval at what she revealed under his clothing, rubbing her hands along his muscular chest. “You still work out I see. Very nice.”

She trailed her finger along his chest and down his sternum. Flattening her palms on his stomach she turned her attention to his belt buckle. “And I am sure you are just as delightful under here as you were back on that rooftop.” She continued to remove his clothes methodologically until Tony was wondrously nude on the bed. When Tony began moving on the bed Eden was spurned into action. She quickly divested herself of her own clothes and slithered next to his prone body. He automatically turned his body into hers and she once again smiled. Very much the cat with the canary. She checked the time, the drugs had about an hour before they would wear off. Just enough time for phase two. She picked up the cellphone she had placed on the night stand earlier and began to type.

***

Marah was sitting at her desk working when her cell phone chimed alerting her to a text message. She picked it up and smiled. After their fighting this morning it was just like Tony to want to do something romantic to alleviate any doubts she had about him, about them. She read the message again.

Towers. Room 217 @ 5:30. Don’t be late. XO

Considering it was already four-thirty he wasn’t giving her much time. Plus she still had to go home and freshen up and let the dog out. She started gathering up her stuff for the day.

“Got some place to be?”

Marah turned her attention to her mother who was watching her with an amused smile on her face. “Guess Tony planned a date night. Since I am the one who signs your paychecks that means you get to go home early.”

Reva whooped while she did a half spin in her chair. “There are some perks to nepotism.”

***

Tony groaned. He felt like he had a rock band pounding away in his skull. An aspirin the size of Missouri wouldn’t fix that sucker. When he felt brave enough to open his eyes he was shocked to find he was not at home. In fact, he wasn’t sure where he was. A warm arm slid across his bare stomach to cuddle closer. And he wasn’t alone. He turned his head slowly to ask Marah what was going on only to see that his bed mate wasn’t Marah at all. It was Eden.

His headache was forgotten as Tony felt his heart drop down to his stomach. No,no, no, no, no! He couldn’t have….he wouldn’t have made that mistake again. He practically flung himself out of the bed only to discover that he was in fact naked. He quickly scanned the room before locating his clothes on a nearby chair. Grasping the comforter from the bed he wrapped it around his waist as he made his way over to the chair. “What in the hell is going on here Eden?”

But whatever Eden was going to say was interrupted by the sound of Tony’s world coming to an end from the doorway. “No Tony, I think that’s my line.”

What Matters Most~ Chapter Twenty-Three

The next morning Tony was bleary-eyed as he stared into his second cup on coffee. Danny, Rafael, and he had been up to nearly one o’clock strategizing until he finally dragged his exhausted butt home. He had gotten maybe five hours of sleep before was finally awoken by nerves and an even more disturbing emotion, guilt.

He had run out on Marah last night after had gotten that text message. She was going to be spitting mad this morning and he was going to have to grovel his heart out. When all this was over and they could go back to being the happy duo they were destined to be he could finally breathe easier.

“Who is she?”

The harsh words were so unexpected Tony jumped and sloshed his scalding hot coffee on his hand. But he ignored the sting. He was more focused on what Marah had said. “What?”

“I said,” Clearly Marah wasn’t just mad she was scathing mad. “Who is she? Because that is the only explanation I could come up with for why you would forgo sex with me and leave home in the middle of the night.”

Tony quickly got to his feet but when he tried to approach his wife she backed away. This was not just bad this was epic bad. “Marah I swear. I would not cheat on you.”

Marah kept the kitchen island between them as she made her way to the back door and grabbed her car keys. “Sweet words Tony. But I don’t believe you.”

She opened the door with such force Tony was surprise it didn’t fly off its hinges and he became desperate. “Marah please,” He slowly moved towards her keeping his voice gentle. “Let’s talk about this. This stress can’t be good for the baby.”

She whirled on him a mass of wounded fury. “How dare you! I was left waiting for you in our bed last night Tony while you crept out of here like a sneak. I told Michelle that you were hiding something from me but I never expected this.”

The sight of the tears forming in her eyes was like a punch to Tony’s gut. He had done this to her. Worse is that he couldn’t blame Eden. He could have come clean and dealt with her fury weeks ago but in trying to spare his wife pain he had ended up causing her even more. Her thinking he was cheating on her was just the tip of the iceberg. If he told the truth about Eden now it would play in to her suspicions perfectly. He was well and truly screwed. “Marah when I told you that you were the one for me the night I took you to prom I meant it. Nothing has changed. Even now. You will always be the one for me. Why would I cheat on you when you are the only one I need?”

“Yeah I was the one for you. You slept with Catalina how long afterwards?”

Direct hit. Marah wasn’t pulling punches if she was bringing up Catalina, his first big mistake. “We both made mistakes Marah but we still loved each other. Have we ever stopped?”

Marah’s mask of fury crumpled into one of sadness. The keys fell from her hand as she brought both of them up to cover her eyes. Her shoulders shook as she began sobbing. “No I never stopped loving you.”

Unable to stop himself Tony went to Marah and pulled her into his arms. He kissed her forehead and cheeks, tasting the salt of her tears. Brushing the hair off her forehead he looked into her eyes and smiled. “You are mi Corazon. Without you I am nothing.”

Marah reached up anchoring her hands to his that were framing her face. Tony pulled her in close, tucking her in tight to him. “I met with Danny and Rafael at Infierno. Last minute powwow before his business meeting.”

Marah pulled back and looked at him earnestly. “Don’t ever do that to me again.”

He kissed her tenderly then with all the unleashed passion he felt for her. That he’d always felt for Marah. Forever. “Never mi vida.”

***
When Tony entered the Towers’ lounge his focus zeroed in on Bill Lewis who looked liked he was trying to drown his troubles in the bottom of a bottle of Budlight. As if this day could get any worse. Now he had Marah’s family as witnesses.

He joined Bill at the bar and signaled to the bartender indicating he’d take a beer. This day called for whiskey but he needed to keep his faculties about him. “Hey Bill.”

It took the other man several minutes to acknowledge his presence. As if he were too caught up in the answers the amber depths provided. “Tony. So did you hear? Eden is back on town.” Bill punctuated the question by chugging the rest of his drink and signaling for another.

“Yeah I heard.” If Bill only knew.

“She came by the house. My house man. Where I live with my wife and kids. Said she wanted to ‘catch up’ whatever that means. Lizzie nearly had a fit.”

Tony kept silent a took a drink of his beer. He didn’t know Elizabeth that well but from what he remembered having fits was a specialty of hers. Though he couldn’t fault Bill for wanting to protect his wife and kids, he himself was doing the same thing.

Bill turned his tipsy eyes towards Tony and sighed. “I never told Marah about you and Eden in case you were wondering.”

Well hell. If it was possible to feel lower than dirt Tony felt it now. “It was a mistake that never should have happened. I love Marah, I always have.”

He nodded. “I know.  Why do you think I never told her?  But just so you know, if you hurt her again I will personally round-up every Lewis male to kick your ass.” Though Bill’s tone remained friendly considering what had happened Tony knew he meant every word.  The Lewis men didn’t play.

Toby saluted him with his beer. “Duly noted.”

Bill finished his beer and threw some cash on the bar. But before he left he turned to Tony. “I don’t envy you. Because even though she toyed with me I could tell I was just that, a toy. My guess is you are the prize.”

Toby gritted his teeth. Bill was hitting too close to home. “Well she won’t win. I won’t let her.”

Bill slapped him on the shoulder. “Watch your back. Like Eden itself, there are snakes just waiting to strike if you’re not careful.”
***
Like Eden itself there are snakes just waiting to strike….” Tony polished off his beer with Bill’s words echoing in his head.  If only Bill had any idea how appropriate those words were, how close they hit to home.

The same bartender from the other night, John something or other, placed another drink in front of him. Without looking Tony in the eye he mumbled a terse, “Sorry man.” then walked off.

Before Tony could question the comment Eden was sidling up next to him at the bar. “Hope you haven’t been waiting long.”

Well it looked like it was game.  Tony gestured to the neighboring tables. “How about we move away from the crowded bar.  Or do you want half of Springfield to know how you are destroying my life?”

Despite his animosity Eden smiled coyly. “By all means Tony.  Lead the way.”

What Matters Most~ Chapter Twenty-Two (Part Two)

Marah had soaked in the tub for nearly thirty minutes before once again donning her seductive lingerie. Then she had spent another twenty minutes applying lotion. As her mom would say, she had polished herself to a fine shine. She was a woman on a mission and that mission was seduction. Tony had been coming to bed late for days now, and though their earlier talk seemed to alleviate some of the widening gulf between them she missed the intimacy between them. So she was trying to see if perhaps a second time was the charm for this silky number. She even arranged several candles around the room to set the mood before striking a provocative pose upon the bed. She was more than ready to ravish her husband.

But as more time passed her eyes began to grow heavy and the candles melted down and soon she fell asleep…

She awoke with a start and was surprised that Tony was not yet beside her in bed. In fact, his side of the bed showed no indication that he’d been there at all. Checking the alarm clock she was shocked to see that it read 11:30.

She descended the stairs and was once again surprised by how quiet the house was. Checking rooms she called out his name. “Tony?” She looked in the dining room hoping that maybe he had fallen asleep doing paperwork. But that room, just like all the others, was empty.  The evidence was pretty clear, Tony was gone.

***

Carlos Riviera sat watching the large estate house for any movement but saw nothing but the wind rustling the trees. The mansion was an imposing figure in the darkness nestled away from the road from any prying eyes of curious Springfield residents. Though from the looks of things no one had set foot on the property except for vandals and vermin. It was perfect for what he had planned.

Lifting the large crime scene box in his arms Carlos carefully made his way through the foot-high weeds. Hidden among the foliage and forgotten to time was a For Sale sign. The sign was rusted and barely recognizable due to fading. He would have never been able to see it himself it the moon wasn’t so bright. Clearly the interest, besides that of dubious nature, was extremely low.

Whether due to teenagers finding the house desirable because of its secluded location or simply due to neglect, the large front doors barely hung on their hinges and one strong push admitted entry into its vast interior. And flipping on the flashlight he also carried showed just as much neglect as on the outside. To his right he heard rather than saw various rodents scatter and hide as his footsteps echoed down the large cavernous hallway. And although he was sure the family had taken some furniture with them, and the house had no doubt been looted through the years, some broken furniture remained. It was as if the family who lived there just had gotten up and left everything behind.

Carlos set the box upon the floor and surveyed the large living room. This would be the place where he would dole out his vengeance. How fitting that he was bringing it back to where it all started. It was almost poetic. For the next two hours he cleared trash and debris from the room like he was processed. And perhaps he was. His revenge was so close he could almost taste it.

When he was satisfied with his work he placed his box upon the fireplace mantle as if it were a place of honor. And for him it was. Or it soon would be, when the time was right. Finished for the night he secured the outer doors before fastening them with a padlock. No longer concerned about the potential wildlife lurking the weeds Carlos stomped his way back to his vehicle whistling before driving into the night.

***

Tony paced in his office in Infierno like a mouse in a cage.  Out of the three men assembled he was the only one who was wide awake and full of restless energy.  His life was spinning out of control and he couldn’t seem to stop its trajectory into hell.

Danny tried to stifle his yawn but both he and Rafael had been woken up in the middle of the night and summoned here for a ’emergency meeting’.  He wasn’t really firing on all cylinders just yet. “Tony would you sit down? You’re making me even more tired just watching you.”

Tony stopped pacing but couldn’t sit. He just faced two of the men he trusted most.  If ever he needed guidance it was now. “She texted me. How she got my number I have no idea, but Eden texted me. She wants to meet me tomorrow at Towers.”

Well that certainly got their attention, Danny and Rafael were instantly awake both sitting upright in their chairs. They had both known this moment was coming, when Eden would make her move, but they had hoped to have formulated a plan by now. Rafael was the first to speak. “Son have you figured out what her angle is yet? Because let me tell you, I have given her nothing but shitty shifts and grunt work and she does it with a smile on her smug face. She knows she has us over a barrel and is happier than a hog in shit.”

“Rafael is right. Eden bas always been trouble but I doubt I have to tell you that.” Danny shook his head at his cousin. “I am actually surprised you told us. Usually you try to handle things on your own.”

Tony let out a frustrated breath.  Funny thing is that Danny wasn’t that far off the mark, that idea had gone through his head.  But he had quickly discarded it.   Not listening to Danny last time had cost him so much, he didn’t want to go down that road again.  Hence the emergency meeting. “Yeah well we all know how that usually turns out.”

Rafael sighed in resignation. This was not a good situation and he didn’t foresee it getting any better any time soon. “My contact in the bureau is giving me the runaround regarding your friend Eden August.  I think it may be time for me to make a trip to D.C. to pay him a personal visit.”

“It all comes back to Tony. She wants what she never got the first time of that I am sure.”

“Well she can’t have me. And I am not the same person I used to be. Hell she knew I regretted our one night stand the minute it happened!” Tony one again pushed out of his chair and resumed his pacing.

“I have half a mind to cancel my business meeting tomorrow. I shouldn’t be in Bay City with Carlos Riviera when you are walking into the viper’s den.”

Tony eyed his cousin. Always holding the weight of the world on his shoulders. “I am a big boy Danny. I can handle Eden. We need to keep good relations with the wine guy.” He turned to Rafael. “Can do me a favor?  Can you keep an eye on Marah? I don’t know what Eden’s game is but I certainly don’t trust her where Marah is concerned.”

“Of course I will. You have my word.” The older man stood and embraced Tony tightly. “Watch your back, Tony.  That’s all I can say.  Watch your back.  That girl has something planned I can feel it.”

Tony could feel it too, he just hoped he didn’t go along with her plans willingly.

What Matters Most~ Chapter Twenty-Two (Part One)

I have had requests from some Guiding Light fans to reverse a certain plot angle that really did make no sense. This is one of the bigger twists in the story and might not go over well, but I certainly tried to make it believable.

Marah was sitting on the couch rubbing her stomach through the baby’s more acrobatic movements. The butterflies and flutters had quickly turned to somersaults and elbow jabs particular at night. She looked at her husband who was hunched over the dining room table going over some business papers. “Are you scared at the idea of becoming a dad?”

Tony looked up at the question and seemed to think about it before answering. No doubt he was worried his answer would set out her hormones which were eternally in flux these days. But in the end he nodded. “In some ways. I mean I didn’t exactly have the best role models growing up and now I am responsible for making sure that our child will grow up safe and happy.” He got up from the table and joined her own the couch. Snuggling up behind her and resting his larger hands beside hers on hers.”And okay, not going to lie Marah but the ultrasound pictures kind of weird me out sometimes. First I can’t find my own child in a grainy photo and now the idea that you may birth an alien baby sometimes gives me the chills. So yeah I am scared. But I am excited too.”

“Promise you won’t judge me?”

“Honey I would never judge you.”

Marah looked over her shoulder so she was looking in his soft brown eyes. “I am scared too at times. Sometimes she still seems like a vague concept even though I spent weeks puking my brains out and I’ve seen the ultrasound pictures. And I’m not going to lie either, having someone living inside me is so weird. But also really cool too.” As if their daughter was listening she chose that moment to let loose one of her more acrobatic movements which made Tony’s eyes widen in amazement. “Woah.”

They sat together in comfortable silence, just the two of them and their unborn child- who made her presence known in the only way she could. After several long moments Marah stood up with a groan. “I am going to go take a bath while you finish your work.” As she made her way to the stairs she looked over at her husband and eyed him seductively. “Oh, and Mr. Santos? Fair warning. I will be ravishing you tonight, no excuses. So you better finish your work fast.”

Tony saluted cheekily. “Thanks for the warning Mrs. Santos.”

Marah continued her trek up the stairs. “I do what I can. I do what I can.”

***

Carlos hadn’t lingered over the fact that Marah caught him earlier coming out the grocery store. His story was solid and if she had any linger doubts well then screw her, He had more important things to contend with. Which was why he was currently lurking in an alley in the infamous Fifth Street neighborhood awaiting the delivery of one of the most important packages of his life. A soft rap on his car window signaled that his package finally arrived. He unlocked the door admitting entrance to the newcomer. “Did you bring what I asked you to?”

John Anderson held up the large box in his hands. “Right here. Did you bring the cash?” John hated working for Riviera but he needed the money. Bad. Not only had he built up a mountain of debt in college expenses but he also owed a hefty sum to his bookie who was currently breathing down his neck. He may not like being Riviera’s lackey but he reaped the payoffs.

Carlos reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick envelope which he tossed to the younger man. “Five thou as promised.” Chump change considering what Anderson handed over. The kid had his uses, working for the Springfield PD was one of them. It was always wise to have someone working for you on the inside. Though the box was marked with police tape and stamped with the word ‘evidence’ it was the priceless object inside that mattered. And the box looked like it hadn’t been touched since it had been sealed years ago. Good. That meant it was intact. “Good work Anderson.” Business settled he signaled the man to exit the car. “Until the next time.”

John Anderson sulked to his own pos car hoping that there wouldn’t be a next time but knowing that there would be. There always was.

***

Eden ran her hand along the cold granite tombstone. She had gotten the call while she was living under another alias in some town she couldn’t even remember but until this moment she never really allowed herself to accept that he was gone. Her brother was truly gone forever. The anguish that burst forth was primal and raw, full of remorse and sorrow that she could not stop even if she tried. So she let it overtake her while the tears flowed down her cheeks unchecked. “Oh Nicky. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. You were supposed to enjoy being a Spaulding. ” She collapsed on the ground resting her head on the cool granite. “I knew you would never have been happy being a Santos, never have been at peace after they killed our father. So I changed the test. Though I must admit Lucia was pretty convincing, but enough money makes anyone convincing I guess.”

That had been the hardest part, watching her brother walk towards his new family knowing it was all a lie. She had watched Lucia play her part well, when the truth was the woman probably had no clue who was the true father of her son. Alan Spaulding and Miguel Santos had both been notorious womanizers. But Eden had remembered the hushed words spoken about her brother among her father and his cop friends. About sins of the father and she had known even before Danny and Gus’ shared peanut allergy. Her brother was a Santos. So when her brother started searching for his birth parents and began suspecting he was a Santos, she intervened. It was the least she could do.

And after all the times she was suspected of crimes it was the one time she flew under the radar. No one looked her way and even now she was the only one who knew the truth, her and Lucia Renaldi. And she wasn’t talking. “I may not have been a member of the Harley fan club but I am surprised that you two didn’t make it.” She looked around to make sure she was alone before she continued. “Guess you are wondering why I am back. I can’t tell you because then I know I’d begin to hear your brotherly advice, telling me why I can’t do what needs to be done.” She stood and brushed the grass from her backside before lovingly kissing her fingertips and pressing them to the name etched in the stone. “I never was one to listen to advice. But I still loved you and always will brother.”

A Bright Light ~ A Marah and Tony Short Story

I love soap names!! Especially when they are not your basic “run of the mill” names but something unique and sometimes even funky. Though I did learn that Marah IS a real name that means ‘bitter’ (go figure huh?), The story was that Reva combined Marah’s two grandmother’s names to create a unique name for her daughter, which is a much sweeter story. After I decided to give Marah and Tony their first child I thought ‘how would these two go about picking out a name?’ and the idea for a short story was born.  This Marony short takes place in that one month gap between Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen.

Marah sat on the floor of the bedroom they planned to use as a nursery and watched as her sexy husband rolled dark pink paint on the walls. “Looks good. I think they finally got the color right.”

Tony laughed but kept on painting, “Yes it was the guy at the paint department’s fault. Couldn’t be that you changed the color three times.” He paused to reapply paint to his roller before continuing, “I think I actually saw him cringe the last time we were in there.”

“I just know what I want. I got vision honey and don’t you forget it.” As if that would ever happen. He came home two weeks ago to find her painting this very room purple. It wasn’t so much the shade of ‘Dawn’s Embrace’ on the wall that shocked him, though it was indeed shocking. No it was the sight of his pregnant wife standing on a stepladder wielding a paint roller. Tony swore she cost him at least five years off his life that day and since then had taken over all decorating duties, even if it drove her batty. He would have banished her completely during painting but the weather was nice and the two large windows provided enough ventilation he didn’t get too worried. Though she looked the picture of contentment sitting there with her hand rubbing absently over her protruding belly.”I think Jellybean likes it. She’s kicking up a storm.”

“You know we can’t keep calling her Jellybean. Jellybean Santos just doesn’t have a nice ring to it. Imagine the playground taunts!”

Marah laughed, “Well lucky for you husband I brought along some baby name books. We can accomplish all kinds of things today.”

“What do you say we carry on a tradition? Your mom combined your grandmother’s names to get Marah. Danny and Michelle combined their names to get Danielle. Could we do something like that?”

“And name our child what? Marony? I don’t think so. What about Caitlyn?”

Tony paused in his painting, “Um, Marah? You do know that Caitlyn is an English form of Catalina right?”

Well that certainly ruled that name out! Like hell would she ever name her child after the woman who had destroyed Tony and her’s lives. “Moving on. Guess we’ll have to turn to the trusty books I brought with me.” She picked up the book next to her and was surprised to find a piece of paper tucked within, “What’s this?”

Tony dropped the paint roller so fast Marah was surprised ‘Pink Blossom’ didn’t go flying everywhere! He made a frantic grab for the book, or more importantly, what was tucked inside. “Here let me have that!”

Marah held it out of his reach. Well, as out of reach as she could, they both knew he wasn’t going to try too hard out of concern for her baby belly. She slowly opened the piece of folded paper, “Well what do we have here?” Marah looked at her husband and was shocked to see him blushing. He never blushed. “A list of baby names? Aw honey this is sweet.”

He rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously before moving to sit beside his wife. “I couldn’t sleep one night and just started jotting down names that sounded like they would suit our bambina.”

Marah briefly scanned the list in her hands, “Anita? That’s almost as bad as Catalina!”

Tony raised an eyebrow at that one, “Really? Did we have an Anita who tricked ‘me’ into getting her pregnant that I didn’t know about?”

She knew he was referring to the replacement Tony, especially when he used air quotes when referencing himself. “No Anita was the mother of a man who was supposed to my dad’s best friend. The way my mom tells it is that when Will kidnapped me as a baby he took me to stay with his crazy mother. I don’t see that one going over very well with my family.”

“And I thought the Santos family had an interesting history.”

“Well my mother never shot me and my grandma never took out a hit on me either. The Lewis family is less lethal and more colorful. Like the kooky aunt that collects cats.”

Tony held up his hands in surrender as he laughed boisterously. “Touche. You are right, the Santos family was more of a ‘internal conflict’ kind of family.” Most days he was able to forget, for just a little while, just what messed up genes he was passing on to his daughter. Just what kind of family ‘legacy’ he would have to explain later on as she grew up and started asking questions. He didn’t know how Danny handled it…

Marah grabbed Tony’s face between her hands. He already had a five o’clock shadow going at two in the afternoon which she found completely sexy. She forced herself to keep her focus and looked into his eyes, “I know what you’re thinking and you need to stop. Our baby is going to be safe and loved and that’s all that matters. Being a Santos isn’t going to change that. I think we have established that my genes are just as um, interesting, as yours anyways.”

Tony didn’t know how he ever managed to survive as long as he did without Marah. “How did I ever get so lucky to have met you?”

“Something naughty I’m sure.” Marah picked up the baby book again, “Now let’s pick a name for our baby!”

***

Hours later Tony walked into the living room carrying bags of take out, “How about the name Alice?” When he saw what his wife was doing sprawled out on the couch he stopped dead in his tracks, “Are you… knitting?”

Marah sighed in frustration. “It’s supposed to be soothing. And since your daughter has decided to do gymnastics on my bladder at all hours, and you took away all my decorating duties I had to find something to keep me occupied. No one told me it was frustrating as hell!”

Tony handed Marah her dinner before joining her at a safe distance, “My mom used to knit. Or so Ray told me. It must be true because growing up I had this blanket I slept with every night that she made. Finally had to throw it away when it was the size of a rag.”

They were both silent while they reflected on another sad bit of Tony trivia. “I think our daughter should have the name Luz.”

Tony first looked shocked, than his face broke into a pleased smile before sobering, “Really? Won’t your mom be mad?”

“My mom will get to see her grandchild. Be a part of her life and watch her grow up. Luz is part of who you are, a part that you sadly lost too early in life. I would be proud to have my daughter named after her. She gave me you after all.”

“On one condition then. How about as a middle name? That way your mom won’t try to murder me in my sleep.”

“Deal. Now we’re halfway done, all we need is a first name.”

***

Five hours later…

Tony nudged his wife awake, fully aware he could lose the arm. “Marah? I think I’ve got it.”

Marah groaned and hugged her pillow tighter, “I don’t care what you’ve got. Your daughter just got done doing her tumbling passes on my insides. I am taking advantage of sleep when I can.”

“Why is she my daughter when she’s doing her gymnastics routine?”

She just groaned louder though most of it was muffled by the thick pillows. “Because it just confirms my point that she is most definitely going to be a daddy’s girl. Now go to bed.”

“Lanie. I think we should name our daughter Lanie.”

Marah raised her head off her pillow and could just make out her husband’s mused hair through the moonlight streaming through the large bedroom windows. He should have been exhausted after all the work they did today but he was as bright-eyed as ever, “Why Lanie?”

“Well I was just reading in the book that it means ‘Bright’. And my mother’s name means Light. I always say you are the light to my darkness, Lanie would be…”

Suddenly all sleepiness fled from Marah’s body and she leaned over and kissed him soundly, “A Bright Light. Honey that’s….perfect. Absolutely perfect.” She placed a hand on her stomach, “And judging by the somersaults Lanie is suddenly doing I think she loves it as well.”

Tony placed his hand over Marah’s, “Lanie Luz Santos. I can’t wait to meet her. I bet she’s as lovely as you.”

From beside the bed Toby began to wag his tail. Tony looked over and sighed, “Seems our other kiddo wants out.”

Marah rolled back over and hugged her pillow to her cheek, “That’s a daddy wag if I’ve ever heard one.”

“Traitor.”

From beneath the covers Marah giggled, “You bet your ass.”

What Matters Most~ Chapter Twenty-One (Part Two)

Marah had just finished ordering Lucy Spaulding’s new living room set when the bell above the door chimed and in stepped a woman Marah had never seen before. Since her mom had left to take Collin to his doctor appointment she was at the office alone so she stood up to greet the stranger. “May I help you?”

The woman smiled. “Yes I’d like a room remodeled.”

Marah picked up her notepad and pencil ready to jot down notes. “Any idea what you are looking for?

After eyeing some of the fabric samples and some of the framed photos of finished decorating she’d done the stranger sat in the chair designated for clients. “Do you do sound proofing?”

Strange but who was she to judge. “We contract with Lewis Construction and they would be able to meet your needs.”

“Well that’s good. Because I have a room in my home that I need completely sound proofed.” She leaned closer as if sharing a secret. “And I mean completely sound proof. You know how the good people of Springfield are. Wouldn’t want them to get nervous when I host my parties.”

Okay now Marah was really curious and couldn’t hold back. “Parties?”

But it was as if the woman hadn’t heard her. “Can you also have doors reinforced? Steel reinforced doors will deter…misbehavior.”

Was this woman some kind of dominatrix? She certainly had an air of authority about her, as if she had faced the world alone and had acquired a backbone of steel to weather its harshness. But her smile was friendly and open. Marah searched her memory for who this elusive woman could be because she looked somewhat familiar but still Marah couldn’t place her. “What did you say your name was?”

The other woman smiled. “I didn’t.” Then to add to the ever-growing puzzle she stood and walked to the door and called out. “Would you come in? The joke was funny at first but now she just looks terrified.” She made her way back towards Marah, who still sat shocked in her seat, and held out her hand which sported an impressive diamond solitaire on her ring finger. “Hello. You probably don’t remember me from back in the day. I’m Dinah Marler Lewis. Soon to be Lewis again.”

Both woman turned when the door opened and Marah felt tears come to her eyes. The man who entered her business smiled widely when he saw her. “Hello Marah.”

It had been so long since she had seen her little brother, though he wasn’t so little anymore. At one time it had been just them two against the world, their father too busy searching for their wayward mother. But she could always depend on Shayne, and he on her. Marah couldn’t hold back any longer. She rushed up and engulfed him in a hug that he returned with equal enthusiasm. “I am so glad you’re home.”

***

Tony made his way towards Marah’s design business still wondering if his brother may have a point. Marah didn’t want a martyr, she’d told him that before. That she was more than capable of thinking for herself and fighting her own battles. But Tony couldn’t ignore the fact that he was the one who started this mess. Eden wouldn’t even be an issue if he wouldn’t have been so weak and fallen into Salerno’s trap. So for now he would bide his time. He’d protect his family while deciding on how best to resolve the Eden problem before it blew up in his face.

He had just walked past Marah’s big picture window when he saw red. There was his gorgeous wife hugging another man. Hugging with extreme delight hat is. Oh he didn’t think so! He pulled the door open disturbing the love fest going on. “Am I interrupting something? Should I come back when you’re not hugging other men?”

Marah narrowed her eyes at her husband in anger. “What is the matter with you?”

“What is the matter with me? I come to take my wife,” He turned and shot a look at the man Marah had been embracing, “Yeah that’s right buddy she’s married!” Facing Marah again he continued. “My pregnant wife at that, to lunch and find her hugging another man!” He gestured at the stranger who looked like he was covering up a grin behind his hand. Which just fueled Tony’s anger. “Do you find this situation funny?”

The stranger dropped his hand but kept the grin. “In fact I do.” He looked at Tony with critical eyes. “The last time I was in town you were dead. And the time before that you were breaking her heart.”

Marah interjected between the two of them. “It’s a long story. A really long story.”

From her chair next to Marah’s desk Dinah piped in. “I’d really like to hear it. And I’m sure Shayne would love to be filled in on all the Lewis family antics.”

Tony looked at the man and swallowed. Oh shit Tony had a feeling he had just stepped in it, big time. “Shayne? When did you get so…big?” Tony knew he could hold his own in a fight if need be, but Shayne was no weakling.

Marah crossed her arms across her chest while simultaneously tapping her foot. “That is what you have to say? What am I going to do with you?”

Shayne decided to take pity on Tony and looped his arm around his sister’s shoulders. “Aw sis don’t be too hard on him. I know I’d be a mite perturbed if I saw someone hugging Dinah. This is alright Tony? Me putting my arm around Marah? You’re not going to challenge me to a duel at daybreak are you?”

Smartass. But Tony took it all in stride. “My dueling pistols are in the shop so we’re good.”

“That is a relief. I didn’t come all the way home from Europe for nothing.”

Shayne eyed his fiance with a grin. “Thanks sweetheart. Love you too. ” He turned back towards his sister and her husband. He couldn’t believe she was married to Tony Santos. That the man had somehow come back from the great beyond. This story had to be epic. “So how about we all go grab some lunch and you can fill us in on this long story about how Tony cheated death and how you became Mrs. Tony Santos?”

Well there went his plans at coming clean to his wife.  But he could tell she was excited about having her brother back home so how could he possibly say no?  And if truth be told, he wasn’t exactly eager to confess all to Marah.  If there was one thing he never wanted to do again it was hurting Marah and the truth would hurt.  A lot.  So instead he smiled and placed his arms around Marah’s shoulder, “Sounds great.”

What Matters Most~Chapter Twenty-One (Part One)

It didn’t take Tony long to realize that working from home was not for him.  First came the pacing.  Like a caged tiger he would spend hours pacing back and forth trying to think of some way to rid himself of the possible ruination of the very thing he held dear.  He knew Danny was working on things on his end which just brought more frustration.  He missed working alongside his cousin.  He missed Rafael.  He missed the camaraderie they had formulated together.  Rafael might not have been born a Santos but he might as well have been.  He had been informally adopted as one anyway.  And though Tony would never admit it aloud but he kind of liked when the older man called him ‘son’.  Must be a throwback to the days growing up without a father.

Then after the pacing came the talking to the dog.  Toby had loved having his master home during the day, at least at first.  But after a while he quickly god bored with his new daytime friend.  Tony could swear the dog rolled his eyes at him now but Marah just said he was seeing things.

Fed up with not accomplishing anything for the day Tony grabbed his gym bag and headed for the front door. “Alright Toby I am going to head over and see Ray and hit the bags.  Watch the house for me.” Another dog eye roll from man’s so-called best friend.  Tony shook his head as he closed the door. “Seeing things my ass.”

***

Tony was already in his workout gear and pounding the bag hard when Ray joined him.  “Still no answers little brother.”

Tony continued to beat the punching bag mercilessly.  “None that come to mind.” Tony paused and gathered his breath. “The happiest time in my life and I can’t even savor it.  Instead I am trying to figure out how to protect Marah from figuring out how much of a screw up I was.”

When Tony would have resumed punching his invisible demons Ray moved the bag out of his way. “Was Tony.  You screwed up in the past but you are not that guy anymore.  I just don’t see why you don’t tell Marah the truth.  It was years ago.  I am sure she would understand.”

Tony walked over to the nearby benches and sat down.  Ripping the boxing gloves off his hands he then threw them to the floor before guzzling water as if he’d been out in the sun for days.  “What am I supposed to say Ray? ‘Hey Marah after we broke up the last time I screwed your friend on a rooftop.  The friend I said was up to no good, the one everyone warned us about.  I regretted it immediately and that was why I couldn’t get back together with you that summer.  That was why I left Springfield.  That was how Romeo got me.’ I don’t see that going well.”

Ray looked at his brother sympathetically but still he persisted. “At least it would be the truth.  Lying to your wife is not a good path to go down Tony.  If the truth does come out, and the truth usually does, she will be more hurt that you didn’t tell her now when you had the chance.”

“I am not letting Eden get near my wife, my pregnant wife, until I know what she wants.”  And Tony had a sinking suspicious that what had brought her back to Springfield had everything to do with him, what had transpired between them that fateful day.  Nevermind that she knew he regretted it and she knew he was married to Marah now.  Eden always had been a mercenary little wench.  I think I’m going to hit the showers then pop on over and see if I can take my wife out for lunch.”

Hoping to lighten his brother’s heart, at least a little bit, Ray enfolded him in a hug.  “You are a good man Tony.  Like I said the other night, I always believed that you and Marah belonged together just like I believed in Danny and Michelle. ”  Ray eyed Tony’s gym shirt which had clearly seen better days. “Please tell me you brought an extra shirt with you.  Because that thing you are wearing is one washing away from becoming a rag little brother.”

“Ha ha.  It just so happens I planned ahead.”  He reached into the gym bag at his feet and felt around.  Strange.  He was sure he packed an extra shirt in there this morning before heading over.

Ray looked at the perplexed look on his brother’s face and raised an eyebrow. “Problems?”

“I can’t find my shirt.  I am sure I packed it too.”

Ray shrugged before slapping his shoulder. “No biggie.  Shower up.  By the time you finish I’ll be back with a t-shirt from the rectory.  Can’t have you taking my sister-in-law to lunch in something that make you look like a bum.”

Tony laughed and batted his eyes. “Oh Ray you are too good to me.”

“Smartass.”

***

Eden clutched Tony’s t-shirt to her chest like a memento.  Slowly she brought it up her face and inhaled his familiar scent.  A potent mixture of his spicy cologne, aftershave, and underneath it all his raw maleness.  It was risky following him here but as she clutched her trophy tighter, the reward was worth it.