For Now and Forever
The Grand Sunset Room
"Patterson, this really is a magical night," Lorraine sighed as she rested her head on his shoulder. They glided around the room while they danced to the romantic sounds of the orchestra.
"I hope it is." He kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I just want you to have a wonderful time. I want you to forget all about Trevor Callison." Suddenly, Patterson felt himself collide with someone else. "Oh, I'm so sorry. We were caught up in the song. I didn't even know you were there." He turned around slowly.
"Hello, Patterson. Hello, Lorraine."
Patterson and Lorraine quickly stopped dancing and stared right at Trevor and Grace.
"You must be Jillian's mother!" Annabelle gushed as she extended her hand to Leticia. "You must feel very lucky to have a daughter as bright and beautiful as Jillian."
"Why, yes, I do." Leticia smiled warmly. "Actually, I very proud of all my daughters, each in their own way. However, I've always felt closest to Jillian."
"I can tell you've raised her well." Annabelle took a sip of her champagne. "She's so refined."
"Why, thank you, dear. Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't get your name."
"Oh, I'm Annabelle Lake." She grabbed onto Leticia's arm. "So, tell me, what do you think about Jillian marrying Reginald. I can't believe she's set her sights so low."
"W-what do you mean?" Leticia studied her closely. "Do you know something about Reginald Callison?"
Annabelle laughed. "Oh, the stories I could tell!"
Jillian stood nervously at the doors to the lounge. She reached out for the handle, but hesitated to touch it. Her insides began to churn and she took a deep breath to calm herself. In one swift movement, she flung the doors open and gasped at what she saw...Reginald and Stephanie locked in a deep and passionate kiss.
"Oh, my god!" she muttered as Reginald turned to face her. His guilty look told her everything she needed to know. Jillian gasped as her hand flew up to her mouth. "Reginald, no! How could you do this to me? I believed you!"
Reginald pulled away from Stephanie who was desperate to hide her excitement. "Jillian, this is not what you think! You've completely misunderstood everything!"
"The only thing I misunderstood was your profession of love for me!" Her emotions grew more intense as she tried unsuccessfully to fight back her tears. "Apparently that was all a lie! What kind of fool have I been?"
"Jillian, this isn't what it looks like!"
"I-I was late for my own engagement party that I've planned months for so I could pick up a present for you." She reached into her handbag and pulled out a velvet box. "Well, you can have it! I don't want it or anything to do with you!" With one mighty swing, she threw the present at Reginald and ran from the room.
"Jillian! Wait!" He tried to follow her, but Stephanie clung to his arm and held him back. "Let go of me!" he spat as he tried to shake her off.
"Let her go," she cooed softly. "Let her at least calm down before you try to talk to her. If you try to say anything now, she won't listen to you."
Reginald knelt down and picked the velvet box off the floor. His hands shook as he opened it and discovered an expensive gold watch inside. He gently turned the watch over and read the inscription....all my love, for now and forever. He tried to swallow his tears, but found them to be too much to overcome.
"Reginald," Stephanie muttered as she put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Get away from me!" He pushed her away and turned to face her with fire in his eyes. "This was all a set up! You had this planned from the moment you arrived. You played on my sympathies to get me alone and then you crawled all over me in here trying to get me to sleep with you again! I wouldn't touch you if you were the last girl on earth!"
Stephanie cringed at his verbal beating. She looked up at him and tilted her head slightly. "But, Reginald, she never believed in you like I do. She can't love you the way I do. Surely you can see that now."
"All I see is a spiteful little girl playing games with other peoples lives! How in the world can you possibly think that I'd have anything to do with you after this? I could never love you! In fact, I-I hate you! I despise the sight of you!"
"R-Reginald, y-you can't mean that!" Her lip quivered as she felt her eyes begin to flood with tears. "I-I love you."
"Well, I hate you!" He turned and quickly began to walk away. "I'm going to find the woman I truly love."
"I don't know how she can act so innocent and self-righteous!" Stephanie threw her shoulders back and swallowed her tears. "She acts like she's perfect. She's not! She has her own secrets! She has things that she's never told you! How can she judge you and your past with me when she won't even be honest with herself?"
Reginald spun around and glared at her. "What are you talking about? What past?"
"Why don't you ask her!" She smirked slightly. "Why don't you ask her about her affair with Dane?"
"Okay, Francis, when are you going to tell me what's going on?" Mary Albany carefully analyzed her daughter as Francis glared at Annabelle across the room. "Every time that woman is within eyeshot, you look like you could wring her neck!"
"Don't give me any ideas," Francis muttered coolly.
"Well, what gives?"
"Nothing. I just don't care for her very much." Francis pulled her eyes away from Annabelle and refocused them on her husband as he stood and talked with one of his editors. "I wished Charles felt the same way."
"You're not trying to tell me that he's seeing that woman behind your back, are you?" Mary's eyes darted back and forth from Charles to Annabelle. "But she's so...so...brazen looking."
"Yes, I know."
"Honey, is Charles having an affair?"
"I-I don't know." Francis shook her head and took a deep breath. "I-I'm not discussing this with you! This is none of your business!" She shook her head again as she quickly hurried away.
Mary pursed her lips together and began to think. She needed to find out what was really going on between Francis and Charles before her daughter got hurt.
"What do you mean her 'affair with Dane'?" Reginald grabbed Stephanie's arm forcefully and began to shake her. "Tell me! Tell me, you little wretch, before I wring your neck!"
"Jillian had an affair with Dane!" she blurted out as he released his grip. "It was before you two ever met. She was in love with him, but she discovered he was cheating on her with Sara. She was so devastated that she ran back to Manhattan. She only came back to town to prove to him that he didn't matter to her. Then she met you. Dane's wanted her back ever since!"
"And you two have been working together to separate me and Jillian," he muttered as all the pieces began to fit together. "You really are sad. You'd betray your own cousin to get to me? Why, she's been almost like a sister to you!"
"I have to get Dane away from her!" Stephanie grabbed his arm and began to cry again. "He's no good for her! I have to get him back with Jillian so he'll leave Sara alone! I have to protect her from him!"
"You'd stab your own cousin in the back..." He shook his head in disbelief. "You know, you and Dane ought to run off together! You're both two disgusting peas in a pod." He tried to yank his arm away from her, but she held on tight.
"No! You can't do this!"
"I have to find Jillian." He said firmly as he pushed Stephanie away.
As she stumbled backwards, she tripped over the hem of her long dress and went crashing to the floor. "No!" she sobbed as she lay in a heap on the cold tile. She watched him run toward the door and her mind cleared enough to realize one very important thing. Reginald was going to find Jillian and he was going to tell her he knew everything about her and Dane. Dane was going to find out that she'd blabbed everything! He was going to know that everything was ruined and he'd never have Jillian...and it was all Stephanie's fault! This knowledge forced her to wail uncontrollably as she banged her fists against the floor.
"You must tell me exactly what you know about this Reginald Callison boy." Leticia was all ears as Annabelle lead her to a quite corner. "His family seems to be rather nice. I know he runs the local newspaper. Jillian loves him very much."
"Well, I've known Reginald for quite a few years now." Annabelle smiled sweetly as she allowed her voice to take on the tone of concerned friend and confidante. "But, I've never felt that he was the right man for Jillian. She's so sophisticated and classy. He's...well..."
"What are you trying to say?"
Annabelle sighed and leaned in closer to Leticia. "You see, he's had quite a reputation as a womanizer."
"What? I haven't been given that impression at all! He seems so devoted to Jillian."
"Oh, I'm sure it's nothing." Annabelle quickly looked around the room for Stephanie. She frowned slightly when she realized her daughter was no where to be seen. "But he's been known to have a way with girls."
"Let me ask you something." Leticia pulled away from her and examined her closely. "How do you know so much about Reginald and his romantic past?"
"Um, well, I don't know if I should mention this," Annabelle lowered her head slightly in mock apprehension, "but he used to be involved with my daughter Stephanie."
"I see, but we all have a past, dear."
"Yes, this is true." Annabelle softened her voice to a whisper. "But they were involved while Reginald was seeing Jillian."
Leticia's hand flew up to her mouth as she gasped. "Oh, my lord!"
"So, what do you think of Reginald?" Janet asked as she stood next to Judith.
"He's very attractive," Judith admitted. "He and Jillian make a very handsome couple. I'm not sure he's in the right social class for her, though."
"He seems just perfect for her, to me! Besides, how can you be so high and mighty about social class? Mark wasn't exactly one of the top names on the social register when you met him! His rise to prominence only happened after you were married. He's ridden along on your coat tails!"
"I beg your pardon?" Judith snapped her head around and glared at her younger sister. "I'll have you know that Mark had already begun to develop quite a name for himself before we ever began to date. His family is very respected. Anything that my husband has achieved, he's achieved on his own merits!"
"I can't understand you." Janet sighed as she watched Judith closely. "One minute you're talking about how horrible Mark is and how much you wished you never married him. The next, you're defending his honor and acting as if you have the most perfect marriage on the planet! Which is it, Judith?"
"My marriage is none of your business!" she snapped. "And how dare you pretend that you know anything? All you do is hide yourself away at home and paint! How in the world do you ever hope to find yourself a husband if you refuse to get out and live a little? There's more to life than just your brushes and canvases, Janet."
Janet felt the tears start to fill the corners of her eyes. She quickly lowered her head to hide her hurt and embarrassment. "I love my painting, Judith. I'm sorry I don't feel like I have to have a man to prove my worth."
"Maybe if you had a man in your life, you'd stop worrying so much about everyone else's!" Judith turned on her heel and quickly stormed away leaving Janet alone...as usual.
"You see, Reginald was involved with my daughter while he was dating Jillian." Annabelle confided. "Stephanie fell very much in love with him. She was devastated when he callously threw her aside for Jillian. My daughter didn't know how she could compete with her. She felt Jillian was far more sophisticated."
"B-but that's all something in the past." Leticia carefully analyzed Annabelle's words.
"Well, not exactly." Annabelle fought to suppress the glee that her revelation was about to bring her. "Stephanie vowed to get over Reginald and the pain he'd caused her, but he wouldn't leave her alone. He kept trying to see her, but she refused to have anything to do with him." She casually glanced around the room to see if anyone was close enough to hear their conversation. "She found it harder to resist his charms. Now, I don't know for sure, but I suspect that he's managed to worm his way back into her heart. I think he and my daughter are still seeing one another behind Jillian's back."
"Why are you telling me all of this?"
Annabelle patted her reassuringly on the shoulder. "Like I said, Jillian is a wonderful girl. I love my daughter very much. She's the most important thing in my life to me." It was the most truthful thing she'd said in the conversation. "I know you feel the same way about your daughters. I'm not the least bit happy about Stephanie's involvement with him. He's hurt her once and I know he'll hurt her again. I-I don't want to see Jillian suffer the same kind of pain."
"O-of course not." Leticia slowly absorbed the revelation. How could she have been so wrong in her assessments of Reginald? She'd truly thought he was a fine and upstanding young man.
"My daughter is very stubborn. I have a very difficult time getting her to listen to reason. I've tried to convince her what a cad Reginald is, but he's got her so enthralled that she can't see the truth." Annabelle smiled warmly as she flashed Leticia a look of false concern. "Maybe you'll have better luck with Jillian. Maybe you can spare her the heartbreak that I know my daughter is destined for." She slowly lifted the hem of her gown and casually strolled away leaving Leticia to worry about Jillian's future.
"Um, how are you doing, Lorraine," Trevor asked tentatively. "Patterson, good to see you again."
"I'm fine," Lorraine replied coolly. "All things considered."
Patterson glanced back and forth between the former couple. He casually slipped his arm around Lorraine's waist and pulled her closer.
"Lorraine, you know Grace, but I don't think they've met." Trevor motioned to Patterson and Grace.
"Yes, I've met Grace." Lorraine glared at the girl on Trevor's arm.
Grace began to feel more than a little uncomfortable and quickly looked away.
"Dear, I think we need to go get a drink." Patterson spoke up as he attempted to lead Lorraine away.
"What, Trevor?" Lorraine asked.
"I...I just want to apologize again for the way everything happened," He nervously played with the buttons on his jacket. "I wish things could have been different. Hurting you was the last thing I..."
"Save it, Trevor!" Patterson glared at him. "Your hollow attempts at atonement don't mean anything!"
Trevor's eyes grew wide at Patterson's sudden outburst.
"Good evening, Mr. Stokes," Dane spoke up as he approached Nelson. "It's so good to finally meet Jillian's father."
"Are you and Jillian friends?" Nelson reached out to shake hands and began to inspect Dane closely.
"You could say that." He smirked. "So, I'm sure that her entire family is very excited about this upcoming wedding."
"The word 'excited' probably doesn't accurately describe our feelings. So, do you know Reginald Callison very well?"
"Why, yes, I do." Dane took a sip of his scotch and soda.
"And your opinion of him?"
Dane smiled to himself. "Well, Reginald is a nice enough fellow and the Callisons are a very upstanding family." He paused for a second. "But I'm not sure if he's from the right social class for Jillian."
"Oh, really?" Nelson's interest was definitely peaked.
"I mean, not to take anything away from their standing in the community, but my father is a very prominent attorney in Chicago. You actually might be familiar with him---Nigel Manchester."
"Yes, actually, I am." Nelson's eyes lit up. "I had some dealings with him a few years ago over some business matters. I do have to say, your father throws some of the best parties. Your parents are very prominent members of Chicago society."
"I happen to share my father's belief that to get anywhere in life, it's all in who you know." Dane smiled. "All it takes is one misstep to completely ruin a person's standing in society. I hope Jillian isn't making that mistake."
"You have reservations about her planned marriage?"
"You could say that." Dane tried to hide the grin that was forming on his face.
"Patterson, I'll have you know that I am very, very sorry for the way things turned out between Lorraine and me." Trevor replied as he began to grow uncomfortable with Patterson's allegations. "I honestly wish things could have been different, but I cannot help how I feel!"
"Of course, to hell with how Lorraine feels!" Patterson snapped.
"Patterson..." Lorraine put her hand on his shoulder and tried to quietly lead him away. He remained steadfast and would not budge.
"That's not the way it was and you know it!" Trevor shouted.
"I know she loved you with all of her heart and that didn't matter to you! All you thought about was yourself! How could you use her like you did?"
"I didn't use her! That was never my intention!"
Grace nervously looked around the room and prayed for a way to escape the scene that was developing.
"You never deserved Lorraine!"
"That's the first thing you've said that I agree with." Trevor looked at Lorraine with pleading eyes. "Lorraine, I can't tell you enough how sorry I am for all of this. I never wanted to hurt you, but I can't deny the way that I feel."
"I know," she replied softly and lowered her head. "Some things just weren't meant to be."
"I-I'll leave you two alone." Trevor took Grace's arm and began to walk away, but he stopped and turned to face her again. "I wish you and Patterson all the best. Maybe he can be the man you really need."
Lorraine watched Trevor and Grace disappear into the crowd and began to think wistfully of things that might have been. Suddenly, she snapped her head around to face Patterson.
"How could you?" she questioned through clenched teeth. "How could you embarrass me like that?"
"Lorraine, I was just..."
"You were just taking up a cause that isn't even yours to begin with! Mine and Trevor's relationship is between us. It has nothing to do with you!" She glared at him. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need some air!" Lorraine snatched her arm away and stormed away leaving Patterson to wonder exactly what he did wrong.
"Well, hello," Mark Linford smiled when he noticed Sara standing next to him. "Are you enjoying this happy little party?"
"It is quite thrilling." Sara watched all the couples dancing in their fanciest clothes. "I've never been to such a glamorous affair before."
"I find that hard to believe. Surely a girl as beautiful as you gets asked to all the classiest events."
She blushed and lowered her head slightly. "Actually, no. I'm just a poor student. I'm only here because my mother knows the Callisons." Sara inspected him closely. He was very handsome. His dark eyes sparkled with a secret mischievousness.
"Well, a girl as lovely as you should be asked to all the finest parties. You should be in the presence of royalty." He downed yet another scotch and soda and turned to the bartender to request another. "So....as beautiful as you are, you surely must have a date. Where is he?"
"Um, I'm not sure." She quickly looked around for Dane and frowned when she couldn't see him. "Actually, he hasn't been around much tonight."
"What a shame." Mark reached over and stroked her cheek. "I can't believe he'd be foolish enough to leave you alone. Isn't he afraid someone might come along and steal you away?"
"There's no danger of that." Sara flinched at his touch. She'd found his attention quite flattering, but she was quickly becoming uncomfortable under his gaze. "I am very committed to my boyfriend and he knows that."
"But what he doesn't know..."
"Stop!" She pushed his hand away and turned her back to him. "I think it's best if you leave me alone."
"Ah, you've got spirit. I like that." Mark moved closer to her and leaned in to press his lips against her ear. "I like that very much."
"What's going on here?" the woman's voice interrupted. "Mark, answer me!"
Mark and Sara turned to find themselves the focus of Judith's fiery gaze.
"Hello, Charles," Annabelle cooed as she approached him. She quickly looked for Francis and was pleased to see her nowhere in site.
"I thought I told you to keep your distance from me." He looked at her coldly and turned to walk away.
"Why? What are you so afraid of?" She smiled smugly. "If what you claim is true...that you really don't want me...then why are you so determined to stay away from me?"
Charles swallowed hard. It was true that he found her deeply attractive. However, he loved his wife and had to remain true to that.
"That's what I thought." Annabelle moved closer and laid a hand on his chest. "Don't fight it, Charles. Give in to what you feel. No one will ever have to know."
"I'll know." He gritted his teeth and pushed her hand away. "Keep your distance from me, Annabelle. I gave you that invitation against my better judgment. Don't make me regret that decision." He turned and quickly walked away.
Annabelle smiled. "Oh, I'm sure you will regret it," she muttered under her breath.
"Oh, it's you." Mark sighed deeply and rolled his eyes as he stepped away from Sara. "You do have the ability to sneak up on a person."
"And, apparently, that's a good thing." Judith stood with her arms crossed and glared at her husband with Sara. "I see you've been busy carousing with the locals. So, sweetie, what has my charming husband been saying? Probably how beautiful you are and how you belong with royalty."
Mark flinched at his wife's words and looked to see Sara's reaction.
"I-I think I better go." Sara turned to walked away, but Judith grabbed her arm and held her back.
"Let's get one thing straight, shall we? Don't get any ideas about my husband. He's an incurable flirt. He doesn't mean anything by it." She shot Mark a hateful look. "Besides, what would a man of his social standing want with someone like you? Well...beyond the obvious."
"I'll assure you that nothing is going on here." Sara's blood began to boil. "But it appears to me that if you were able to take care of all your husband's needs, he wouldn't be looking elsewhere!"
Judith gasped as her hand flew up to her mouth, releasing Sara's arm.
"She really is a smart girl, isn't she?" Mark laughed as Sara quickly walked away.
"You're treading on very thin ice!" Judith was seething. "Don't press your luck."
"Jillian, wait!" Reginald called out as he grabbed her arm. "Please let me explain."
"There's nothing to explain! I saw everything! I saw you and Stephanie kissing." She turned away from him to hide her tears. "I thought you loved me."
"I do! I do love you!" He pulled her to him and wrapped his arms around her. "I didn't want to kiss her. That wasn't what was happening. She told me she wanted to apologize for everything. She told me she wanted to clear her conscience and get on with her life. I thought if I gave her that chance, she would leave you...us...alone."
"And you believed her?" she snapped. "After what she's tried to pull, you believed her? Stephanie Lake wouldn't know the truth if it slapped her in the face. I warned you what would happen if I found out you were lying to me about her! I told you it would be over!"
"No! You can't mean that! Jillian, I love you. You're my life." He hung his head and ran his hands through his hair. "She told me she wanted to beg for my forgiveness in private. She said she didn't want it to be a public spectacle. Once we got alone, she started to cry and I felt so sorry for her. I had been so wrong to use her like I did."
"And, of course, you just had to comfort her!" Jillian's eyes blazed as she stared at him. "Reginald, don't play me for a fool."
"I'm not." His voice grew softer as he looked deep into her eyes and reached out to brush away a wisp of hair from her forehead. "I felt so sorry for her that I held her to comfort her. I thought it was the least I could do, but...but she started to talk about how much she loved me and how she knew that we were meant to be together." He took a deep breath. "She was trying to seduce me, but I refused to let her. I didn't expect her to kiss me like that."
Jillian watched him closely and saw the earnestness on his face. Oh, how she wanted to believe him.
"I'm sure she wanted you to catch us like that. She knew how you'd react." He lifted his hand to his chin and began to think. "It must have all been planned. But how did she know you'd walk in when you did? How did she know you'd find us?"
Dane! Jillian thought to herself. Of course! Stephanie and Dane had been working together. Dane made sure I saw Reginald leave with Stephanie. "I-I don't know," she muttered.
"I told her she was a fool to think I'd ever love her the way I love you." He took her in his arms again as she began to sob softly. "I told her I hated her for hurting you...for trying to ruin what we have together."
"Oh, Reginald, how can I be sure you're telling me the truth?"
"Look at me." He lifted her chin so that their eyes met. "Look in my eyes. Can't you see all the love that I have for you? Can't you see that you're my world?" He swallowed hard and thought again about what Stephanie had said...
"Jillian had an affair with Dane! It was before you two ever met. She was in love with him, but she discovered he was cheating on her with Sara. She was so devastated that she ran back to Manhattan. She only came back to town to prove to him that he didn't matter to her. Then she met you. Dane's wanted her back ever since!"
"B-but she said something I find hard to believe." He suddenly grew nervous. "Something about you."
"What? What did she say?"
"It was about you and Dane Manchester."
Jillian's eyes grew wide with horror.
"Tell me, Jillian...tell me about your affair with Dane!" He looked down at her sternly. "Tell me! Are you in love with Dane Manchester?"
"Oh, Dane!" Stephanie sobbed as she ran up behind him. "Oh, Dane, it's all gone wrong!"
"What do you mean?" he snapped as he grabbed her by the arm and led her away from the crowd. "What have you done now? What have you done to ruin my chances with Jillian?"
"Dane, everything was going just the way we'd planned." She began to cry harder as she tried to wipe the tears away from her eyes. "Jillian followed us to the lounge just like you knew she would. I-I heard her at the door so I grabbed Reginald and kissed him just as she came in. She was furious with him. She accused him of lying to her the entire time! She really believed that he was still being unfaithful to her!"
"That's what was supposed to happen!" He stared at her coldly. "Where is she now? I have to go comfort her." He turned to hurry away.
"No!" Stephanie called out. "Reginald was furious with me. He realized it had all been a set up. H-he told me he hated me and didn't want anything to do with me ever again!" She dropped her head into her hands. "Oh, Dane, I was so upset! I was furious that he couldn't let go of her! I-I..."
"What? What did you do, Stephanie?"
"I told him that she had no right to judge him! Not...not when she had her own secrets!" She looked at him pleadingly. "I-I told him about her past with you."
"You idiot!" He grabbed her by the arm and yanked her to him. "That changes everything! My past with Jillian was my trump card! It was my way of holding on to her. She didn't want anyone to discover what happened between us."
"But maybe..." She paused. "But maybe he'll be so angry with her for judging him when she had no right to that he'll completely reject her! Maybe he can't forgive her own deception."
"Maybe you're right." Dane quickly began to formulate a new plan. "And since I'm not the one who blabbed the truth, maybe I can use that to my advantage. If I can convince Jillian that it was all you, I still could have a shot."
"You can't do that!" She began to grow angry. "It wasn't all me! You were behind this entire mess. How can you leave me to take all the responsibility for this?"
"Sweetheart, your ship is sinking fast," he smirked. "And I'm not about to go down with you. There's still a chance I can repair the damage you've caused, but not tonight. I have to give them a chance to cool off. Once Jillian discovers that everything's all out in the open, she's gonna come looking for me. I think it's best if I'm no where to be found."
"But what about me?"
"What about you?" He laughed coldly. "You've ruined your chances...now deal with it!" He stopped and hurriedly began to scan the crowd. "Now, I've got to find Sara and get out of here before this entire mess blows up in my face."
"You can't leave me to deal with this alone!"
He laughed at her again. "Watch me," he said as he quickly walked away.
"Oh, god," Jillian gasped. "Reginald, I can explain!"
"So it's true?" He shook his head in disbelief. "How dare you criticize my past with Stephanie when you've been keeping your own past with Dane a secret!"
"But that's just it! Dane Manchester is in the past!" She looked at him pleadingly as she clung to his arm. "I was a fool for ever getting involved with him. I was young and naive. I was so embarrassed that I believed all of his charms. When I finally saw him for what he is, I refused to have anything to do with him! Dane means nothing to me! I loathe him!"
"That's a pretty strong emotion to direct at someone who doesn't matter." He watched her cautiously as he listened to her story. "Were you in love with him?"
"Yes...well...I thought I was." She lowered her head to hide her embarrassment. "B-but I realized that everything I loved about him was nothing more than a lie! He's a liar and a cheat! He's nothing at all like you. Reginald, you are who I love. I've waited for someone like you my entire life."
"It sounds like we've both been fools." He held her securely in his arms and kissed her on the forehead. "I suspect that Dane and Stephanie have been working together for some time to destroy what we have together. I refuse to let that happen! I refuse to let go of the only true love I've ever known!"
"Oh, Reginald, please forgive me? Please say that you'll forgive me for keeping my past with Dane a secret?"
"How can I not?" He held her even tighter. "After everything you've forgiven me, who am I to cast judgment? I love you, Jillian, that hasn't changed." Their eyes met and they knew that their love was stronger than any stone thrown in their direction. "Jillian, please say that you still want to marry me? Please tell me that you still want to be my wife?"
"Oh, yes, Reginald, yes!"
"But..." He pulled away from her and gave her a look of warning. "If we have any hope of our marriage succeeding, we have to promise that we'll have no secrets from each other ever again. We have to be completely honest with each other about everything!"
"Yes! We have to be honest. I was so wrong to hide things from you. I never what to keep anything from you again!"
"Good." His look grew cold as he turned to look out into the room. "Now, there's a little matter I have to take care of." He clinched his teeth and thought about Dane and Stephanie's schemes.
"W-what do you mean?"
"There's a little score I need to settle with Dane." He tried to walk away, but Jillian grabbed his arm and tried to hold him back.
"No, Reginald, just let it all go!" she pleaded. "Let's forget about Dane and Stephanie! Let's just think about us!"
"I am thinking about us." He snatched his arm away. "I need to make sure that those two never do anything to interfere with our lives again!"
"I had a very interesting talk with Annabelle Lake," Leticia said wearily as she stood beside Nelson.
"Apparently, she's a friend of the Callison family." She nervously twisted her long strand of pearls. "Seems she's known Reginald for a long time."
"Oh, really?" He was quite intrigued by what information he could learn about Reginald's past. "Well, what did she have to say about our future son-in-law?"
Leticia swallowed hard. "Well, it looks like the man Jillian is in love with has a reputation of no good. I-I hate to admit this, but maybe he isn't the right man for our daughter."
"I knew it!" Nelson slammed his fist down into his hand. "That young man is going to hurt my daughter and I will not stand for it! Exactly what did this Lake woman say?"
"Well, she told me that her own daughter was involved with Reginald at one time." She watched as her husband nodded as he listened to her every word. "And that he was seeing Jillian at the same time."
"I'll rip him apart!"
"N-no, wait!" She put her hand on his shoulder to calm him down. "From what Annabelle said, Reginald callously broke her daughter's heart because Jillian was a better social match. The young girl tried to get over the pain he'd caused her, but he began to pursue her again...even though he was supposedly committed to Jillian! I fear he's been deceiving her this entire time."
"We have to put a stop to this!" Nelson burned with fury. He would not allow some reckless playboy to break his daughter's heart. "I need to find Reginald Callison and inform him that he will not marry my daughter!"
"Stephanie, dear, what's wrong?" Annabelle asked as she saw her daughter's distressed state. "You look like your entire world has come to an end."
"Oh, Momma, it has!" Stephanie broke down in tears. "I've ruined everything! My plan to breakup Reginald and Jillian was disastrous!"
"What?" Annabelle gasped. "What happened?"
"I-I fixed it so that Jillian would find us together. S-she saw us kissing...well, rather me kissing him. Oh, she was furious and ran out on him."
"Well, that's good!" Annabelle put her arms around her daughter. "Now he can start to get over that little snot and appreciate you for the wonderful young woman you are."
"No!" Stephanie wailed. "He figured out it was all rigged! He hates me! He doesn't want anything to do with me and he...he..." She caught herself. She couldn't tell Annabelle about Dane's involvement. Stephanie was afraid that her mother wouldn't be able to keep the truth from Sara. She couldn't bear for her cousin to learn what they'd been up to.
"He what, dear?"
"He hates me! Oh, Momma, I've destroyed any chance I've ever had to be happy!"
"Dear, you're just over reacting." Annabelle sighed and patted Stephanie on the shoulder. "Honey, we'll come up with some other way to get Reginald back for you."
"No! There is no other way! He won't have anything to do with me, now! He won't even speak to me!" She sniffled and tried to wipe her eyes. "Besides, why do I have to plot and scheme to be happy? Why can't happiness just come on its own?"
"Don't be ridiculous!" Annabelle laughed slightly. "Remember...the good Lord helps those who help themselves...and you're gonna help yourself to Reginald! Now listen, this is what we have to do...."
"No, Nelson!" Leticia cried out. "Not here. You can't ruin Jillian's party. She would never forgive you."
"But it's for her own good!"
"I know that." Leticia lowered her voice and gently stroked his back. "But you know how she is. Our daughter doesn't deserve that kind of public embarrassment. You have to wait and tell her privately. You have to wait to tell her what kind of man Reginald Callison truly is. Please don't do it here."
"You're right." Nelson nodded his head in agreement. "Even if this is for her own good, she's far too young to understand. She'd just see it as meddling. We've got to get her alone later to explain to her what kind of mistake she's making. She has to know the truth about that boy before it's too late."
"I agree, but just not here. Not now."
"Oh, why can't she find some nice respectable boy like Mark." Nelson thought about how proud he was of his son-in-law and his many achievements. "Now that is the kind of man she needs to marry."
"Mark has been a wonderful addition to the family."
"You know, Leticia, I met a young man earlier that reminded me a great deal of Mark." He rubbed his chin as he thought. "He said his name was Dane Manchester. Now that is the exact type of man Jillian should marry! Not a rouge like Reginald Callison!"
"How could you do that?" Lorraine asked as she glared at Patterson. "How could you cause a scene like that with Trevor?"
"He should be lucky I didn't punch him after the way he used you!" Patterson began to feel himself get angry over what had happened between Trevor and Lorraine.
"Patterson, he didn't use me! He was just confused about his feelings." She looked down at her hands a nervously began to twist one of her rings around her finger. The truth about Trevor had finally dawned on her. She hadn't been the cause of the breakup at all! It was just because Trevor's heart wasn't where it was supposed to be. Suddenly, she began to respect him for the strength it took to finally be so honest with his feelings.
"Lorraine, I was just protecting your honor!"
"My honor doesn't need protecting." She shot him an angry look. "Can't we just enjoy this night and not think about or talk about Trevor Callison? Can't we start to focus on us and our future? Besides, you've said yourself that Trevor is actually a great guy. I don't know why we can't all try to at least be friends."
"I don't know if it's wise for us to all try to be friends considering everything that's happened."
"Well, I want to try and still be friends with Trevor. Just because we're not together any more doesn't mean that I don't still care for him." She looked at him pleadingly.
"I think I understand now." he muttered. "You want to stay friends with him so you can hold on to him! You want to be available to comfort him if this thing with Grace doesn't work out! How do you think we can have a future if you won't let Trevor go?"
Lorraine looked at him blankly. His words had caught her off guard and she wasn't quite sure what to say.
There he is! Grace thought excitedly to herself as she saw Dane walking across the room. She'd hoped to catch a glimpse of him all night, but somehow he'd eluded her.
"Well, your face just lit up like a Roman candle," Trevor laughed as he watched her excitement. "What happened? Did I miss something?"
She sighed. "No. Nothing you'd understand, at least." She watched as Dane approached Sara and grabbed her by the arm. To Grace's shock, it looked as if Dane and Sara were fighting.
"What in the world has you so enthralled?" Trevor questioned. Slowly, his eyes followed her gaze and landed on Dane and Sara. "Oh, great! I hope Dane Manchester doesn't make some kind of scene. Why Father had to invited Stephanie Lake and her family, I'll never know. Sure, Sara's nice enough, but that barracuda aunt of hers and her snotty cousin really annoy me. And don't even get me started on my opinions of Dane!"
"What do you mean?" She spun her head around at Trevor's mention of Dane's name. "What about Dane?"
"Nothing, except that everyone knows he's the biggest ladies man in town! Well, not counting Dr. Rutherford at the hospital, but you didn't hear that from me!" Trevor chuckled a little. "How Sara Summers can put up with him and all of his other women, I'll never know. Surely she knows about them all."
"How do you know so much about Dane?" Grace eyed him closely. What he was saying about Dane couldn't be true, could it?
"I'm a reporter. It's my job to know things. Let's just say that I've heard more than my fair share of stories about Dane Manchester."
Grace turned to watch Dane and Sara again. Their argument had cooled to a mere conversation, but Grace couldn't help but wonder what was going on between them. Trevor had to be wrong about Dane. He had to be.
"Patterson," Lorraine finally spoke, "I'm not holding on to Trevor. Honestly, I'm not! But this is still all so new...so fresh. I know he won't come back to me. He loves Grace..."
"Then what's going on?" Patterson looked at her pleadingly. "Lorraine, I-I....I want us to be together again. I want us to work towards something special....something special for us...for Todd."
"Oh, honey, I know you do!" She put her arms around him and rested her head on his chest. "You mean so much to me and I absolutely love Todd."
"But it's all too soon!" She looked up at him and saw the sadness in his eyes. "The pain from my breakup with Trevor is still too fresh. Please give me time to get over it...over him. If we hope to have any chance of a future together, we have to go slow."
"Alright." Patterson sighed as he gave it. "I'm sorry, but I'm just so impatient. It seems I've waited for you forever. I can't help it if I want to make things right between us."
"Of course you can't." She glanced across the room and saw Trevor talking with Grace. A lump began to form in the pit of her stomach as she felt herself suddenly become jealous. "I just want to take things slowly." She watched the happy couple and carefully wondered if maybe Trevor would come to his senses. Maybe she did still have a chance.
"Jillian! There you are!" Janet Stokes grabbed her sister's arm as she walked by. "Everyone has been looking for you all night. Where did you disappear to? I know Mother and Father can be a bit much, but..."
"Janet, not now." Jillian shook her head. "Tell me, have you seen Reginald in the last few minutes?"
Jillian looked at her sister and swallowed hard. "I-I think he's going to do something rash. Tonight has been a complete disaster!"
"Honey, what's wrong?" Janet held on to Jillian while the younger Stokes bit her lip. "I know that between our parents and Mark and Judith, things can be a bit strained, but what's happened with Reginald? They haven't managed to scare him off, have they?"
"No, that's not it." Jillian began to shake. Suddenly, the tears started to flow uncontrollably. "Oh, Janet! I've made such a mess of things."
"Jillian, honey, tell me what's wrong." Janet took her sister in her arms as she sobbed on her shoulder.
"Remember that boy I was dating last year? The one that was so horrendous?"
"Yes, I do! His name was Don, wasn't it?"
"No! Mother could never remember his name and just called him 'Don'." Jillian inhaled slowly. "It was Dane...Dane Manchester! He's here!"
"Ever since Reginald and I got engaged, he's been hell bent on getting me back. Compound that with the fact that Reginald has a past of his own with a girl named Stephanie Lake, and...well....he was seeing Stephanie at the same time he started seeing me. He realized he loved me and he left her, but she still wants him back. Dane and Stephanie have been working together to separate me and Reginald."
"Oh, my lord!" Janet gasped. "And let me guess...they're both here!"
"Right. Stephanie pulled one of her stunts and then blurted out about my past with Dane..."
"Which Reginald didn't know anything about?"
"Yes." Jillian wiped her eyes and bit her lower lip again. "Reginald is furious with them for everything they've done. He's already torn into Stephanie and he's trying to find Dane now! I'm afraid what he's going to do! Oh, why can't Dane just leave me alone? Why does he have to make things so difficult?"
"Jillian, if you don't care anything about Dane, why are things so difficult?" Janet asked her pointedly.
Jillian stammered. Why did Dane still get to her even though she couldn't stand him?
"Why do we have to leave now?" Sara asked as she sipped her wine. "The night is still early. I've barely had a chance to even see you."
"This party is extremely dull." Dane looked around nervously. He hoped they could slip out unnoticed before Reginald found him. "I'm sure we could have a lot more fun back at my place."
"Dane, you disappeared the moment we got here! We haven't even danced together. This was supposed to be a special night for us. I know it's for Reginald Callison and his fiancée, but I'd hoped that it would be magical for us."
"It was magical! That's why I want to go some place quiet with you." He smiled at her and ran his index finger along her bare shoulder.
"I want to dance!"
He rubbed his forehead and breathed deeply. "Okay, okay...one dance! We'll have one dance and then we have to go!"
"See, that wasn't so difficult, was it?" Sara grinned as she took his hand and began to pull him toward the dance floor. "I bet that before this dance is over, you'll be having such a good time that you won't want to leave."
He grimaced and closed his eyes. "Don't count on it."
"I-I can't explain it." Jillian sighed and hung her head. "I absolutely abhor Dane Manchester, yet he...he still gets to me. Whenever he's around, I get all nervous and tense. I keep trying to tell myself that it's because he makes my skin crawl, but I'm not sure that's it."
"You're not still in love with him are you?" Janet looked shocked at her sister's revelation. "What about Reginald?"
"No! I'm not in love with Dane! I love Reginald!" Jillian started to slowly wring her hands. "That is something I know for sure. Whatever this feeling is that I have for Dane, it's far from love. I'd like to think it's more akin to disgust, but that's not quite right either. Janet, I love Reginald with all my heart. I've never been more sure of anything in my entire life."
"Then what is it about Dane?"
"Oh, I don't know!" Jillian looked for Reginald again. "Janet, how can someone utterly repulse you and yet still hold you so captivated?"
"Sweetheart, I wish I could answer that." She put a reassuring hand over Jillian's. "Don't worry. I'm sure everything will work out."
"Are you sure you haven't seen Reginald?"
"No, not since earlier."
"I've got to find him!" Jillian began to hurry away. "I've got to find him before something happens!"
"You!" Reginald shouted as he grabbed Stephanie's arm. "Where is he? Where is that sleazy louse?"
"Ow! Reginald, you're hurting me!" She flinched under the pain of his grip. "Who are you talking about?"
"Dane! Where is he?" His eyes burned with fury. "I know everything! I know how he's been tormenting Jillian. I know the truth!"
"Reginald! Let go of her!" Douglas rushed over and tried to pry Reginald's fingers away. "You're hurting her. What's the meaning of this? What's going on?"
"It's time you found out exactly what kind of manipulative witch you've been dating!"
"No, Reginald, please!" Stephanie pleaded. She'd lost any hope she'd had with Reginald. Douglas was her one chance to be happy. Now, she realized that her obsession was going to cost her everything. "Please don't do this to me! I told you it was over. I told you I'd leave Jillian alone!"
"Stephanie, what's over?" Douglas looked at her wide-eyed as she began to cry. "Stephanie, answer me!"
"There he is!" Reginald shouted as he pointed to Dane on the dance floor with Sara. "Come on, Steffi, it's time everyone knew the truth about what's been going on!"
Stephanie tried to pulled away from his iron grip, but he was too strong. As she fought in vain, he dragged her across the room and onto the dance floor to confront Dane. "Reginald, please don't do this!"
"You!" Reginald yelled as he released Stephanie to grab hold of Dane's jacket and spin him around. "You've tried to destroy my life for the last time!"
"Reginald, there must be some kind of misunderstanding!" Dane tried to back away from him as Sara stood by in shock over what was happening. "You've got this all wrong."
"No! I understand things perfectly." Reginald looked dead into Dane's eyes. With a determination formed in anger, he pulled back his fist and then slammed it into Dane's jaw. The impact sent it's target tumbling to the ground. In an instant, the orchestra stopped playing and a crowd began to form. "Get up! Get up, you lowlife, and take what you deserve!"
"Are you out of your mind?" Dane asked as he lay on the floor clutching his jaw. He looked down at his hand and was quick to see the blood that had come from a large gash in his lip. "Have you gone crazy?"
"You better believe it!" Reginald stood up straight and took a deep breath before looking out onto the crowd of partiers that had encircled them. "May I have your attention, please?" he called out.
"I think you've already managed that!" Sara cried as she carefully tried to wipe the blood from Dane's lip. "What is this all about?"
"That's what I'm about to tell you." Reginald locked eyes with Jillian as she pushed her way through the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you forgive this little interruption of the evening's festivities, but tonight I have become aware of some very disturbing information...information that could very well have made this entire party useless." He smiled at Jillian. He was going to be honest. He was going to set everything right. "But, fortunately, things didn't turn out that way. Now, I'm going to tell you exactly what's been going on here tonight!"
TO BE CONTINUED
Sara confronts Dane.
For Now and Forever
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