Chapter 88

"You were a godsend today," Carrie said as she added more scarves to her empty display rack. The sale had been a huge success. She and Lisa had been busy most of the day and if Simone hadn't shown up, both women were positive they would have collasped by early afternoon.

"Yes, I suppose I was," Simone shrugged. She finished folding up the few remaining blouses and then moved to stand beside Carrie. She held out her hand and said, "Now, give me those. Lisa and I can take care of it. Good-bye, Carrie."

"I'm not leaving. I can't leave, yet. Look at this place. It's a sty-"

"But, Mrs. Hardy is right," Lisa said as she returned from the stock room, carrying several hangers of skirts. "Don't you need to get ready for the video showing tonight? We could handle it if you left."

"I'd hate to leave you both with so much work to do-"

"Carrie, you're getting on my nerves," Simone interrupted her. "Would you please just go?!"

"Well, far be it for me to want to get on *your* nerves," Carrie replied with a small laugh. "I'll leave now. Will I see you two at Jacks tonight?"

"Not me," Simone said, shaking her head. "But tell Dawn and the kids that I'll watch the broadcast at home so I'll be with them in spirit."

"I'll tell them, and what about you, Lisa?" Carrie asked, looking at her young employee. Carrie smiled as she took in how much the young woman had changed in the weeks since she'd join Carrie. Gone was the all black attire and make-up, and in its place was the face of a fresh-faced teenager. Carrie smiled again and said, "The invitation was extended to you, too, of course. If you'd like, you're more than welcome to go with me."

Lisa smiled and as she was about to accept Carrie's invitation, a light tap sounded against the glass pane on the door.

"Hold that thought," Carrie said as she turned away to answer the door. She parted the blinds to see who was out there and a deep sigh escaped her when she saw the face of Stefan Cassadine smiling back at her. She unlocked the door and opened it slightly. Her eyes danced with merriment and remembered passion as she said, "May I help you?"

"Yes," came his husky reply as his eyes centered on her full lips before traveling slowly up to look into her brown eyes. Her lips parted, silently tempting him and unable to resist the urge, he leaned against her and lightly brushed his lips against her cheek.

"What do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit?" she asked. The slight tremor of her voice and the deep breath she took were the only outward signs she allowed to demonstrate just how deeply his touch and nearness affected her.

"Yes, Stefan. Why did you stop by?" Simone asked, suddenly appearing at Carrie's side. A teasing smile lifted the corners of Simone's mouth as she said, "You missed the sale, but I'm sure you could still find something you'd like..."

"Thank you, Simone, but I have all that I need. To answer your question, I came by to see if you would require an escort to the engagement this evening. If so, I would be honored to oblige," he said, his eyes on Carrie as he waited for her response.

"Thank you, Stefan, but as you can see, I'm not even dressed, yet. I have to go home and change and then, there's dinner..."

"I know that this is rather presumptuous, but I was hoping that we could dine together," he said, and when she looked as if she might object, he quickly continued. "I have a brief meeting and in that time, you could ready yourself. I have to be honest and tell you that I couldn't imagine you looking more beautiful than you do right now."

Simone's eyes widened at Stefan's bold compliment. She looked at her friend to see her reaction and she was not surprised to see that Carrie had fallen for it...hook, line and sinker. Simone felt a laugh build in the pit of her stomach and in an effort to prevent its escape, she coughed as she moved away to join Lisa as she counted the cashbox. She and Lisa exchanged a knowing glance before they directed their attention to preparing the bank deposit.

"" Carrie faltered as she tried to catch her breath. She wondered how they'd respond to each other after their passionate embrace the night before. She'd prepared herself for Stefan's indifference. She now realized that she had been mistaken in doing so. She should have prepared herself for his interest. Maybe if she had, she wouldn't have been reacting like a schoolgirl with her first crush. She took a deep breath and tried again. "You're much too kind," she said with a smile. "Dinner sounds heavenly, but Lisa and I are going to Jacks togeth-"

"Um, actually I can't, Mrs. Jensen," Lisa said after Simone nudged her arm. "I have plans tonight."

"I thought you were going," Carrie said with a frown.

"No," Lisa said, shaking her head. "I was just about to tell you that, Mr. Cassadine came by. I can't."

"Well, if you're sure..."

"I am. I'll see you tomorrow," Lisa reassured her.

Carrie didn't need to be told twice and after Lisa gave her the night's deposit, she and Stefan left, leaving Lisa and Simone in the empty store. Simone and Lisa moved quickly around the store. They straightened the racks, swept the floors and restocked the shelves. By the time they were done, the store was ready for its next day of business.

"Ready?" Simone asked, her hand on the door.

"Yeah," Lisa said. She followed Simone onto the sidewalk and then turned around to lock the door. She tested to make sure it was secure as she asked, "Do you need a ride home? My scooter is parked right over there."

"No thanks," Simone frowned. "I'll take my chances walking."

Lisa laughed softly at Simone's no nonsense tone and she shrugged. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow, too, then I guess."

"Yeah. See you later. Just be careful on that thing," Simone called as Lisa jogged to her scooter.

"But where's the fun in that?" Lisa laughed as she pulled her helmet on. She swung her leg over the seat and soon, she was off roaring into the early evening. Simone shook her head as she watched her.

"You don't approve?"

"Excuse me?" Simone said, startled.

"Oh, pardon me," the man replied. "It was not my intention to frighten you."

"You didn't frighten me," Simone said, stiffly. She clutched her coat tighter around her and keeping her eyes focused ahead of her, as she strode off.

"Wait!" the man said, walking briskly to keep up with her fast pace. "Don't I know you?"

"No," she said, shaking her head. "You don't."

"No, last night," he persisted. "At the have a son. He has an older paramour. You do not approve. We spoke for quite some time. Don't you remember? Simone is your name, no?"

Simone slowed her steps and looked at him. She hadn't recognized him before, but he was the same man from the night before. "John?"

"Yes," he smiled. He gave a slight nod of his head. His gray eyes were warm and apologetic as he told her, "I apologize for alarming you. I shouldn't have been so thoughtless."

"You weren't thoughtless," Simone said, reassuring him. "Maybe I shouldn't have been so jumpy. Besides, there's no reason for you to apologize. But, what are you doing here?"

"Would you believe I'm lost?" he said, with a charming smile. "I decided to go for a walk and somehow, I've gotten confused."

"Well, where are you going? Maybe I could help," she offered.

"The Port Charles Hotel is where I'm staying," he said, watching her closely as he waited for her reaction. When she didn't produce one that he could distinguish, he said, "But of course, I could not ask you to go out of your way-"

"It's no bother," she shrugged. "It's on my way. I'd be happy to walk with you."

"I would like that," he said. "Perhaps in exchange for your generosity, you would accept an invitation to dinner."

"I...I'm not so sure about that," she said, suddenly overcome by shyness coupled with a twinge of fear.

Juan wanted to reach out a hand to her and reassure her that she was fine. She was safe with him. He would never allow any harm to come to her. She had his word. He wanted to say those things to her, but he willed himself to keep his declarations silent. Aloud, he said, "Well, if you would rather not, I understand. However, the invitation is an open one. I would very much enjoy the pleasure of your company. Perhaps we could talk again, but of course, the decision is yours. If you would rather not-"

"Please," she said, raising a hand to silence him. "You're rambling. Let me think about it, okay? I'll let you know when we get there."

"Very good," he smiled. But on the inside, a torrent of emotions raged. The raised hand to silence him infuriated him, as well as, the 'rambling' comment. In the second when she returned his smile, a beautiful sight he'd never had extended to him from her before, he decided to forgive her for the slight, but in the future, he might not be so indulgent.

Part 2

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