Chapter Twenty-Seven

Alexis recognized the figure walking out of the Grille just as she as
heading towards the entrance. "Eliana?"

"Alexis." The two women met in front of the restaurant doors and hugged

"Having an early dinner?" Alexis asked.

"No, I just finished up a business meeting with Carly and Laura. I'm just on
my way to drop some papers off at the office, and then I'm on my way back
home..." she paused, stammering a little, "I mean, to Jason's penthouse."

"Well, my business day isn't quite over yet." Alexis said. "Luckily, all I
have to do is get some contract clauses approved and signed by a client. It's
been a long day. How have you been?"

"Better." Eliana said. "I'm getting better. Things have been pretty good."

People had been coming and going from the restaurant as they talked, but for
a brief moment, they were alone. Suddenly there was a voice and a presence
behind them. "Excuse me." A man's voice said. "Ms. Salazar?"

Alexis was startled by the intrusion, but she watched in dismay as Eliana
jerked around. She nearly jumped out of her skin; Eliana gasped aloud, her
hand moved to her purse. Alexis remembered her friend had been carrying a
weapon on that night. Alexis put one hand on her arm to steady her.

"I'm sorry, I didn't meant to startle you. I just wanted to say goodnight and
to tell you I look forward to our next meeting." The man said.

Eliana drew a deep breath and managed a small laugh. "It was nothing," she
insisted. She said goodnight to them then. As the businessmen continued on
their way, Alexis drew Eliana to one side. Once they were gone, she looked at
her friend inquisitively, feeling sorry at her reaction.

Eliana ducked her head under Alexis's gaze. "All right so doing better
doesn't mean I'm completely over what happened. I'll be all right. I will."
She insisted.

"What were you reaching for?" Alexis asked. Eliana looked at her for a
moment, then reached into her bag and pulled out a slim, palm-sized object
that Alexis didn't recognize at first. Eliana flipped her wrist and a thin,
deadly looking blade flicked out of its burnished wood hilt.

"A knife?! Now you've taken to carrying a knife? And now you want to tell me
you're okay?" Alexis studied her friend carefully. "If you want, I can cancel
my appointment and go with you back to the penthouse. We could pop some
popcorn and watch some old movies and just relax. Or talk -- or whatever."
Alexis wasn't sure if she was convinced that Eliana was as all right as she
claimed to be, but the younger woman shook her head.

"Look, it makes me feel safe, that's all. And I do know how to use it. If
only I'd have been carrying it that night..."

"Sorel might have killed you instead."

"Or maybe it might have been the other way around." Eliana shrugged and put
the blade away. "Go take care of your business. I'm finereally. The popcorn
and movies, the talkwe'll do another day, but not tonight, okay?"

Just then, a group of arriving customers stepped out of a limo. As they
sorted themselves out, Alexis spotted Ned among the group. Her eyes touched
his for an instant, but there was no answering spark of recognition in his.
Instead, he broke his eyes away from hers and, with his party, walked past
them without a second glance.

Alexis hadn't realized she'd been holding her breath. She exhaled now, not
knowing if her sudden light-headedness was from lack of oxygen or of Ned's
determined lack of recognition.

Eliana watched the exchange, or lack of it, carefully. "Things are that bad?"
she asked carefully, her eyes full of empathy. "I'm sorry."

Alexis shrugged with a lightness she certainly wasn't feeling. "Don't be."
she said. "This wasn't your fault. If anything, you were only the flashpoint.
What's going on between us, or I should say, not going on between us is all
about Ned's refusal to see who I really am, and accept me for myself."

"Is it over between you two?" Eliana asked.

Alexis shrugged again. "I don't know the answer to that one yet. The ball, as
they say, is in his court." She changed the subject deliberately. "Why are
you out here alone? Doesn't Sonny have a guard on you?"

"Yes." Eliana looked guilty for a moment. "But I told him I would be with
Carly, she, Laura Spencer and I had a meeting with some ad execs from New
York -- that guy was one of them -- so he didn't have to worry and to give me
a little space." She glanced at her watch. "He should be here to pick me up
any minute now.

"That's not very smart," Alexis said. "The guard is there for a reason."

"I know, I just wanted a little breathing space for a moment. I mean, it's
not like they are up in my face, but just knowing that guards are watching
me, well, sometimes, it's not easy getting used to." Even as she spoke, a car
pulled up in front of the restaurant and Francis, one of Sonny's personal
guards, stepped out.

"You ready, Ms. Salazar?" he said. His eyes went over their surroundings
efficiently. "Pardon me for saying so, but you should have waited inside. I
would have come and gotten you and it would have been safer. Mr. Corinthos
and Mr. Morgan have both made it very clear that your safety is important."

"I'm ready, Francis, thanks. I just wanted some fresh air, and as you can
see, I'm perfectly fine." Eliana turned back to Alexis. "See, everything is
fine. Quit worrying about me, mother hen." She finished in a teasing voice.
She squeezed Alexis' hand in reassurance before saying goodnight and walking
to the car.

Alexis continued on into the restaurant. Her client was already seated at a
table waiting for her. He signaled to her and they quickly got down to
business. As she had said to her friend, the meeting was relatively
straightforward. The clauses were read thoroughly, agreed upon and signed and
after a quick half an hour, a satisfied client was on his way. She snapped
her briefcase shut after depositing the last of the paperwork inside and sat
back, relieved. She signaled to an attentive waiter and ordered herself a
vodka martini. Just one, she thought, and she'd head on home for a nice hot
bath and maybe an early bed.

Her drink came quickly; Alexis glanced around as she sipped at it gratefully.
There was Carly and Laura, going over papers and folders. Alexis found
herself studying Carly, then shook her head ruefully, laughing at herself. It
looks like Eliana was right, she was going into serious mother hen mode. It
must be all her worry over Zander. He was still missing and there was not a
single hour of the day didn't go by without him coming into her thoughts.
Where was he? Was he safe? Was Sonny right and he was just laying low, not
contacting anyone he knew to keep them all safe from Sorel? What a stupid.
Courageous, selfless thing to do. And so like him.

She smiled to herself, as she thought about the younger man. Just like Carly,
they put on that tough exterior, but underneathshe wondered how Carly had
handled the episode with the Quartermaines. She knew how vicious they could
be, Ned had told her stories that she couldn't believe. Then again, being a
Cassidine, she did believe them. Carly was not one of her favorite people,
but she still felt sorry for what happened to her when the Quartermaines had
attacked her in front of her son. Her first instinct had been to protect him.
It was obvious how much she loved him. And just as obvious she loved Sonny.
And he loved her, even though Alexis knew she must drive him absolutely crazy
at times. When she was still living across the hall, she'd heard their voices
raised too many times not to know that they butted heads on a regular basis.

Laura's cell phone rang and she answered it. With a nod to Carly, she excused
herself from the table and walked out into the lobby to take the call. Seeing
Alexis, she smiled at her as she passed.

Alexis stood, hesitated a moment, then went over to their table, slipping
into the seat that Laura had just vacated.

"If we use lead crystal for the pure essence of the perfume bottles, but
only, say twenty percent crystal in the cologne versions, the profit and
marketability of both products would be enhanced by at least twenty to thirty
percentoh!" Carly hadn't looked up, until who she thought was Laura hadn't
responded. Her expression quickly changed from enthusiastic to suspicion.

"Hello, Carly." Alexis said, trying for a neutral tone. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, Alexis." Carly said warily. With her usual bluntness, she came
straight to the point. "What do you want?"

Alexis didn't know what she wanted, what she was doing sitting here. She and
Carly had no love lost between them. But she meant a lot to Sonny, and Sonny
was her friend, she guessed. Maybe a little advice wouldn't be out of place.
Turned out, she was wrong. "I just wanted to say thatwell.I'm sorry that you
and Sonny seem to be out of sorts lately. The two of you are both very
intense people. And that can be a good thing. I mean, it seems to work for
the two of you. Except for now; maybe if you would just back off a little and
give him some space"

"You're going to give me advice on married life." Carly's voice dripped with
sarcasm. "Alexis, if you were married, then maybe, just maybe I'd listen to
you. But since you aren't, never have been, and don't have any likely
prospects in the near future, what makes you think that you're qualified to
give me marital advice concerning my husband? Stick to your legal briefs from
now on, okay?"

"I knew this was a bad idea." Alexis murmured to herself as she began to
stand up. "For what it's worth, Carly, I just wanted to make sure that you
were all right after the other day at Kelly's and to tell you how sorry I am
that it happened."

"Concern noted, okay Alexis? Thanks for asking." Her voice said exactly the
opposite. She began shoving papers into her briefcase. "Don't bother getting
up. I'm so outta here."

Carly snapped her case shut with a hard click just as Laura returned to the
table. "Laura, I'll have the final figures for the cost analyses first thing
in the morning. We can go over them then."

Laura looked at both of them, confused. "I thought we were going to have a
working dinner?"

Carly stared straight at Alexis as she answered. "I guess I just lost my
appetite all of a sudden." She swept out of the restaurant.

Laura exhaled on a long sigh and sat down, gathering her own folders and
papers together. "Working with that woman is a trial some days. She's got the
smarts, even a flare for the business, although I'd never admit it to her
face, but her people skills definitely need working on."

Alexis gestured to the seat and Laura nodded for her to join her. The waiter
brought over her drink. Joining her, Laura ordered a glass of white wine. "In
spite of all of that, Carly is not as bad as everyone depicts her. I admit,
I'd heard too many stories about her before I'd met her myself, and I let
that color my opinion of her. I didn't think I'd want her for a partner in
Deception. But when she puts her mind to it, she's actually shown a
brilliance I didn't expect."

"Just be careful, Laura." Alexis said. "Carly has a tendency to see what she
wants, and go after what she wants, and doesn't always think of the
consequences of her actions. She gets a plan into her head, and heaven help
anyone who is in her way."

"I'm not blind to her faults. It's just that now, I can see her potential
too. Let's just say I've come to understand Caroline-Benson-Spencer-Corinthos
a little better."

"Heaven help you, then" Alexis said with a smile.

Laura smiled back in complete understanding. She took another sip of her
wine. "I should be getting home to Lulu soon, but today had been so
productive, I just wanted to bask in the glow of it a while longer. I'd hoped
to do that with my partner, but I guess that was just a little too much to
ask. But I know she's been going through some rough times lately. Everyone
gets a little thin-skinned when that happens."

"Is Deception business going well?" Alexis asked.

"Better and better every day. I feel like I am accomplishing so much. And
this is mine. I am building this almost from the ground up. The foundation
may have already been in place, but I - we, Carly and I-are renovating
Deception, and when we're done, it will be a whole new company. Something
that I built with my own two hands."

Alexis understood her enthusiasm. The Cassidines may have bankrolled her
education, but her law practice was something she'd built on her own.
Sometimes that could be a very important thing to a woman. Despite all the
help and support that Stefan had given her, it had been a thrill to see her
name on the door of her first law offices, knowing it was her hard work and
her brains that had put it there. It represented her independence from the
Cassidines. Event though the male influence wasn't quite the same as hers,
Stefan being her brother, while Luke had been Laura's husband, Alexis
suspected this was the same for Laura; Deception was her first taste of
success that had nothing to do with Luke. Her declaration of independence.
She raised her drink to Laura and they touched glasses in a silent toast.