Chapter 16

The sunlight streamed in brightly through the white lace curtains, lighting the bedroom and waking one of its occupants. Ned was careful as he shifted in the bed, turning his back to the sun. He wondered again why Dara chose curtains which would diffuse the sun's morning light instead of diminish it. When he had voice his concerns, i.e. complained, she had told him that it complimented the room with batting eyelashes and a seductive voice which promised him that he'd be too busy in the morning to notice the sunlight streaming in anyway. Her not so subtle tactics of persuasion had worked. The curtains she wanted were up and so was he.

The frown on Ned's face quickly disappeared and a heavily dimpled smile took its place as he looked at his sleeping wife. The pregnancy had rounded her features and her cheeks and lips were a bit fuller. Dara would say that she had gotten fat, but Ned vehemently disagreed. She had become even more beautiful, something which he had never thought possible.

Brushing a strand of her hair from her forehead, he leaned over to give her a feathery light kiss on her slightly parted lips. She stirred only to sink herself deeper underneath the covers and Ned eased himself away from her and off the bed. He pulled the covers up more securely around her and then he padded to the window. Snow still covered the ground, blanketing the grounds in white. He wished he could find time that day to play in the snow with Brook Lynn, maybe sledding or building a snowman, but he knew it was not to be. The holidays were wonderful, but they didn't lessen his duties at ELQ. He and Brook Lynn would have another day to spend quality time together in the snow, he reasoned.

"Ned?" Dara said, her voice groggy from a good night's sleep.

Ned turned away from the window and moved to sit beside his wife on the bed. "Good morning, sunshine," he said before he leaned over her to give her a deep, meaningful kiss. She responded with a fervor which matched his, her hands in his hair as they deepened the kiss. When it was over, they looked at each other with satisfied smiles.

"Now, that's what I call a good morning," she said with a sleepy smile.

"Did you two have a good night's sleep?" he asked, laying his hand flat against her rounded abdomen.

Her hand covered his and soon their fingers were intertwined. She continued to smile as she said, "We most certainly did. A kick-free night. I'm sure our little one will make up for it today, though."

"Well, if he does-"

"Or she," she interrupted him with a playful frown.

"Excuse me," he acquiesced with a smile, "or *she* does, I hope you sit still and relax. You know, scratch that. I want you to promise me that you will do nothing but relax all day. No going over briefs, no calling the office. Just relax. Promise me."

"Oh, Ned..."

"Oh, Dara. Come on, now. You're in your third trimester. You're supposed to start taking it easy. You're off on maternity leave. If Schultz calls you, tell him to let someone else handle it. He has enough people working for him," Ned replied, determined that she listen to him.

"Yeah, but none of them are as good as me," she said with a pout and a hint of doubt.

Ned caressed the side of her face with the back of his hand. His loving smile and his caring words reassure her. "You're exactly right, my darling. None of them are...which is exactly why you need to rest."

"Oh, you!" she fussed. Her tone of voice didn't match her eyes which sparkled happily back at him. "Will you be gone all day?"

"I'll try not to be, but you know how Grandfather is. He's hating his new half-day schedule. He might call a meeting just so he can stay there all day," he said, chuckling.

"Well, he can stay there all night if he wants to, but I want you home before nightfall," she said, her voice stern. She cupped his face and brought it down to hers. She kissed him even more passionately than before, putting emphasis on her decree.

Knowing that his wife was creating something that she wasn't in a position to see to fruition, Ned reluctantly pulled away. His eyes were filled with desire as he hoarsely said, "Yes, ma'am."

Dara smiled at him, proud of herself and wishing that they didn't have to stop. In a few months, they wouldn't have to, she thought as she watched him saunter to the adjoining bathroom. Soon, their baby would make their little family complete and when Brook Lynn stopped fighting her on every turn, their lives would be perfect.


"Excuse me, do I know you?"

Tommy stopped in his tracks and rolled his eyes. He removed his hand from the refrigerator door and turned around to face his mother. With a bright smile on his face, he said, "Good morning, Mom."

"Don't flash those pearly whites at me," Simone said as she came into the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee. "Where have you been?"

"Upstairs," he said, confused. "You know, in my room...the third one down the hall on the east side of-"

"Don't get smart with me, little boy," she said, watching him closely. "I meant, where were you all day yesterday?"

"Ohh, yesterday," he said as he exaggerated the words. He laughed softly when she scowled at him. As he moved past her to get a glass, he patted her on the shoulder. "I was just out, you know. Just hangin'."

"Tommy," she said, her tone of voice telling him that he'd had his last warning.

He set the glass on the table and placed his hands on the back of the chair. He sighed as he said, "Okay, Mom. I give. I was at the Quartermaines'."

"All day?" she asked, disbelief written all over her face.

"Yes, Mom, all day," he admitted. He turned back towards the fridge and grabbed a carton of orange juice. He waited for the lecture he was sure to receive as he began to pour the juice into his glass. He was surprised when his mother remained quiet. With a shrug, he placed the carton back inside the fridge. He then picked up his glass and headed for the swinging doors which connected the kitchen to the dining room. His hand was on the door as she began to speak.

"I thought you and Emily had called it quits," Simone said, pulling out a chair. She sat down and began to sip her coffee as she watched her son's back stiffen in response.

"We did," he said. He was about to take another step when she stopped him again.

"Hmm. Really? So, why were you there all day?" she asked.

"You're not letting this go, are you?" Tommy asked, turning around to face his mother who looked back at him with an amused smile on her face.

"No," she said with a grin. She indicated that he should sit in the chair next to her. His slipper-covered feet dragged across the shiny linoleum floor as he did as she silently asked.

"Okay," he said, his voice flat as he willed himself not to react to her teasing. "Out with it."

"If you and Emily are no longer an item, why are you spending so much time with her?" Simone asked, her voice soft as the teasing light left her eyes and was replaced by concern. She had seen the way Emily and Nikolas had danced at the party. She could sense that there might possibly be something between them, despite Nikolas' relationship with Dawn, and she didn't want to see her son setting himself up for heartache without giving him a warning first.

"I'm not spending a lot of time with her. Geez, Mom, where do you get this stuff?" he asked with a frown, rubbing his face in a gesture of weariness and impatience with the topic.

"You'd better watch your tone, Thomas Hardy," Simone said, sharply. She reached over and covered his hand with hers. She squeezed his hand gently as she said, "I'm concerned, baby. I saw you dancing with her at the party, you took her home and now, you've spent an entire day with her. I just don't want to see you get hurt."

Tommy returned his mother's squeeze with a light one of his own. His usually teasing green eyes were serious as he looked at his mother. "I'm in no danger of getting hurt, Mama. Emily and I are just friends. That's all. I danced with her to get her away from Lucas. After I took her home from the party, I found the little creep hiding in their bushes. I went back yesterday to warn her about him. That's it."

"Just to warn her, huh?" she asked, keeping her expression unreadable.

Tommy wasn't sure if her question was rhetorical or not so he gave her a combination shrug and nod. He let go of her hand and grabbed his orange juice, drinking it with gusto.

Simone compared her son's words against his deeds. Things didn't add up, she decided as she rose from her chair. She placed a hand on his shoulder as she kissed his forehead. She moved to the swinging doors and turned around to face him again. "Baby, you might want to ask yourself why you had to warn her in person instead of placing a phone call."

Simone didn't wait for his reaction. She turned around and went through the door. The door swung back and forth for several seconds before it stopped and Tommy found himself glued to the small movement. He hated to admit it to himself, but his mother had a point. Why didn't the thought of calling Em on the phone even cross his mind? Why did he drive all the way over there when he could have just called, he asked himself.

As he slumped down into his chair and finished the rest of his juice, another question formed in his mind. Why had he spent his entire day there when he could have been doing something else? An answer was on the tip of his tongue when he abruptly pushed the thought away. Of course, Dawn was cute and a great boss, but he wasn't interested in her. Besides, she had a man and if she was having problems with 'Mr. Arrogance Personified,' A.J. seemed more than ready to take up the slack. A rectangle like that was *not* something Tommy had in mind, he told himself, even if the person in question was an interesting, beautiful, sexy older woman.

Chapter 17