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phoebe

Bronze Member
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Posts: 15
Reply with quote  #1 

CHAPTER ONE


There was a loud banging on the door. Caroline sat straight up in bed and bit her lip.

"Caroline?"

Ridge. Damn.

"Caroline, I know you're home. Open up."

Caroline got up slowly from the bed, pulling the blanket up and around her bare shoulders as she inched towards the front door.

"Ridge? Go away. I'm very contagious."

Ridge had to stop himself from smiling.

"No you are not. You are hiding from me and you know it."

She leaned her throbbing head against the cool wood of the front oak door.

"Please, Ridge, I'm sorry. I know you need to finish the designs, like, yesterday."

"Thanks to your husband," he replied in irritation.

She sighed. For some reason she hated it when Ridge mentioned Rick.

"I just....I just can't do it. Not today. Not with you."

There was a pause, and then she heard him clear his throat. "Look Caroline, I need you. I know that what...what happened between us...I know it is a little confusing for you."

"A little confusing? For me?" she asked, pent-up anger starting to creep into her tone.

"I meant - look, I am not talking to a door. So you better open up."

She sighed, leaned one more time against the door, and then stood back as she opened it.

Ridge at first just stood there, staring at her.

"What? What is it?"

He looked at her carefully, taking note of the work clothes on underneath the blanket that she now held firmly about her as if for protection.

"Are you sick?" he asked with sudden, genuine concern.

"Oh great, why, because I look like hell?" she asked self-consciously, pushing her hair back from her face.

He kept staring at her.

"Stop looking at me, with those eyes - I mean it."

He gave a smirk and reached out to take her arm and she pulled back from him.

"What are you doing?" she said angrily, pulling her arm out of his grip.

"Relax, would you? Why are you so flustered?"

She shook her head at him. "Ridge, I'm not talking about it."

"About what?" he asked back almost innocently.

"About the elephant in the room. You are going to have to get your kicks some other way."

"Is that what you think I'm doing?" he asked quizzically. "What we're doing?"

"I think your ego is having a fun time at my expense," she replied.

"You need to sit down. You're looking...just...sit, okay?"

She sat down on the living room sofa and watched while he paced a bit before her.

"Caroline, I need to finish everything today. If I don't, I won't have done my best - and I will have left an opening for Rick to fill. And I will regret it."

"This is between you and your brother. Your father. But not me. I did my best, but I can't anymore."

"Caroline," he said softly, sitting down next to her and taking her hand, the hand he had become addicted to guiding through their designs together. "Caroline, I need you. You do me good. I won't ask more from you than you can handle. But I will give you everything I've got. I promise."

"That's what worries me," she sighed.

"You don't trust me anymore." He sat back and she grew uncomfortable again under his assessing gaze.

"Ridge, I trust you when it comes to the work. But these feelings - I don't trust myself anymore. And I hate that. And I hate myself for being so weak."

"It's not weakness," he said, squeezing her hand in his. "It's passion. It's what I - i mean, it's what makes you so special. You live in the moment, too. Like me. I'm not sure I knew that before. I'm not even sure you did."

"That is just a fancy way of defending cheating."

"Caroline, we have not cheated."

"We didn't NOT cheat," she said quietly, looking down at his chest, now unwilling to meet his gaze, afraid of what she might see.

"It's nothing irreparable. And it certainly doesn't have to interfere with the work."

She looked at him suspiciously. "I can't compartmentalize like you, Ridge. I just can't."

"Who said I can?"

"Ha!" she laughed almost bitterly, standing up and pulling her hand out of his as she did so. "You're serious!"

He tilted his head to look at her standing there before him. Her high-boned cheeks flushed with glow of her anger, contrasting attractively with the golden tone of her hair and skin and the pure white of her top.

"Ridge Forrester, if I know one thing about you, it's that no one is better at compartmentalizing than you."

He shook his head at her. "You're wrong. I feel it all. I do. It's what fuels me. My work."

"Well I can't work like that."

"Do it for me, please, Caroline." He stood up before her and she noticed not for the first time how similar in height they both were. How everything matched up so perfectly. How just standing there, before him, she felt drawn to him physically in a way that was not only novel - it was almost overpowering.

"Fine," she sighed.

His eyes lit up at the look on her face. "So you'll come with me?"

"Come with you?"

He nodded happily. "To Big Bear. To the cabin."

She stepped back from him. "I can't - I'm sorry, maybe the office - that's hard enough - but not the cabin."

He leaned in towards her, taking up so much space, something she noticed he had been doing a lot of lately.

"It's the work, Caroline. I need to be somewhere calm. Somewhere peaceful, without Rick breathing down my neck. For the work."

She had come this far down the road with him, and agreed to so much already, that something in her finally broke down.

"Okay," she said with a final sigh. "The cabin."


*************

Ridge arrived at the cabin first. By the time Caroline arrived, there was already a fire crackling at the end of the high-beamed room and the old coffee pot was percolating away. Caroline took one look at the fire and dropped her arms down as if in defeat.

"Ridge, really - a fire? It's still Indian Summer out there."

"I like it. It keeps me calm. It's evocative."

"Evocative of what...." she almost muttered to herself, then placed her design pad down on top of his on the pine coffee table.

"It's not too hot for you?" he asked, coming forward.

She shook her head and continued to walk about the room. She hadn't been there before, and touches of Brooke were all about them. She picked up a picture frame and then looked over at Ridge quizzically.

"I still have a key," Ridge shrugged almost innocently.

Caroline thought of all the women Ridge must have loved over the years - let alone the many she already knew about - and how many of them he must have taken to this very private, secluded place.

"So, let's start," he said quickly, having noticed the contemplative and anxious look on her face, and not wanting to risk her bolting away on him. "That design you showed Eric - the black dress with the side panels - he wants us to come up with a companion."

"Another structured piece?" Caroline asked.

Ridge nodded. "Yeah, another geometric twist - hey, it's funny - I don't even know how you like your coffee," he said, holding a cup out to her.

"Just milk."

He fished through the fridge, which was surprisingly well-stocked. "Guess Brooke has been up here a bit since the summer."

Caroline gave a small cough. She didn't like thinking about her late aunt's infamous rival. And as for Katie, she wasn't even letting her mind go there at all.

"You okay?" Ridge asked again. He was always so solicitous of her - and she knew that part of this was his need to keep her comfortable, and on his side, and producing the much-needed designs. But there was also something so sweet, the way he could so quickly show concern for her in his eyes and voice. As if, in that moment, she was all that mattered. Boy, he was good.

Caroline nodded, sipped her coffee and walked over to the coffee table.

"It is evocative, here, that's for sure."

"You're jealous."

"Excuse me?" She almost sputtered out her coffee.

"The minute I mentioned Brooke - your face completely changed."

"Ridge, don't. I mean it. If you want me to stay here at all, you better hold up your end of the bargain."

He smiled. "Alright, fine. Let's do this then."

They spread the pages out on the coffee table before them, and got to work. The first few designs were almost done, and just needed some minor detailing, which Caroline did while Ridge looked about for his old easel to prop everything up against. Then he pulled over a side table that was close to waist height, and they started the first brand-new design there, standing next to each other.

They quickly got through two new dresses, falling back into the strangely comfortable, hypnotic rhythm they had enjoyed for weeks now as they worked together. Almost as if they had always drawn like this, standing so close to each other, his hand over hers as she drew the lines across the page.

Caroline thought back to his visit earlier that morning at her house, when he had taken her hand in his as they sat together on the sofa and he had pleaded with her to keep helping him. There had been a new subtlety to his grasp, a looseness to his touch that she had not felt before. She hadn't said anything to him at the time, in part because she was always so flustered around him. But also because somewhere, in the back of her mind, she knew that with someone like Ridge, you had to come at certain things from a completely unanticipated direction. He was always just one step ahead, and on this one point she knew she would have to surprise him.

And so she let his warm hand rest softly on hers, continuing to guide it, sketching out the long lines of another structured piece, this one much more asymmetrical than the black cocktail dress. Their hands and arms were moving in complete unison, and it was impossible not to look up at him occasionally and see the pure joy and excitement on his face as their design took shape, from his mind to her hand.

They were sketching out a very narrow, long panel that touched the floor of the skirt when Caroline slowly stopped moving the pencil herself, and instead let the weight of Ridge's hand completely draw the line. She could feel him tense up, but still he managed to keep the pencil in place all the way down the length of the page.

The line was drawn. Ridge stepped back and brought his other hand to his mouth in surprise.

"Did you see that?" he asked her, his right hand now starting to tremble again.

She could feel tears starting in her eyes.

"You did it. All on your own. I knew you could."

He looked at her in consternation. "What if I - what if I can't...do it....what if it's just a fluke?"

She came over and placed her own right hand on his shoulder.

"It's not. It's time. I knew it."

He looked down at her hand on his shoulder, and then suddenly, passionately, grabbed it and kissed it hard.

"Caroline, I don't know how to thank you."

"I didn't do anything. You did it. You never gave up."

He shook his head at her.

"No, you're wrong. You're the reason. You're the reason, for so much."

"Please don't," she said, the tears now starting to fall from her eyes. "Please don't make this about me."

"About us," he corrected her. "Just try and stop me."

Caroline turned away and wiped the tears from her eyes. For some reason she hated Ridge seeing her this vulnerable, even though she had allowed herself to be so open with him from the start of their working relationship. Something about what he could teach her - what she could learn from him, his instincts, his creative drive - had helped her expose herself emotionally to him, in order to absorb it all.

Ridge had noticed that, and surely had taken advantage of it. Why wouldn't he? She had to be honest with herself - Rick, if in the same shoes, would have too. And worst of all, she knew all this about Ridge and his intentions, and still she was letting him get too close to her: letting him in, bit by bit, until he had such a unique and peculiar window into her soul that she almost felt as if she had made a pact with the devil.

They were none of them perfect in this scenario. Not one of them.

Ridge came over and placed his hands on the back of each of her shoulders, then leaned forward. She could feel the rough stubble of his beard brush against her cheek, and her breath caught in her throat.

"Ridge...."

He held her tight, and the safety and calm she felt in his arms was only exceeded by such an intense need to be with him, so completely, that she feared it would obliterate them both.

"Ridge," she started again, then found the strength to turn and face him. He was smiling at her, his head tilted, his grin belying the fact that he knew he had her, no matter what she might say otherwise.

"You are adorable when you're flustered."

"I'm not...flustered."

He shook his head at her, and she could tell they had passed through to something so intimate between them, that lying from here on in was going to be close to impossible.

"Where did you tell Rick you'd be today?" he asked, pulling her closer to him.

She looked down at his chest, afraid to meet his eyes. "I told him the truth. The cabin."

"You what?"

She nodded quickly. "I texted him we needed one more day to finish, and this was the best place."

"So he could show up here any minute?" Ridge took a step back from her and grabbed his jaw with his hand.

"Of course. Why? Is that a problem?"

"Caroline...."

"Ridge, you made me a promise. And now the work is done, just like you asked of me. And I am so glad you are starting to really be able to draw again. I have learned so much from you, and I'll never forget any of it. But that's all it can ever be. You know that too."

Ridge narrowed his eyes and hesitated. "So we just move on, then, and go our separate ways."

"We can't be this selfish."

"I can," he replied.

"I know that too."

"Caroline, I think you want me to be selfish. I can see it in your face. You look - you seem to me - so sad."

She stood there so still, and he came closer again, until they were standing as close to each other as they could. As if that was all they would allow of themselves, and would be allowed.

"I am sad. Sad to see our collaboration end. I hate good-bye's. If you knew me better, you'd know that."

She stepped back from him just as he started to move his face closer to hers, his eyes intently on her lips.

"I can't do this. I can't do this to Rick," she practically whispered.

His voice grew husky. "Is that all that's stopping you?"

She nodded quickly and went and grabbed her red clutch. "It's enough. It's more than enough. It's everything."

She got to the cabin door and started to open it, but he was right behind her, and slammed the door shut while it was still in her grasp. She felt him breathe in deeply and then lean hard against her, moving his lips in her hair. She dropped her purse and put both her hands up against the glass screened door, and leaned her forehead against its coolness while he moved his mouth down along the back of her neck. His strong arms encircled her, his hands clasped over each of her much smaller ones, his hips against her lower back. He kept kissing her neck, sensing her tenseness relax into something much different, a waiting, an openness to him, and he took his right hand and reached under her blouse while continuing to kiss her. Finally she turned to him and he caught her lips between his and lifted her up into his arms.

She loved Rick, a voice kept saying to herself in her mind as Ridge took over every last inch of her slender body. She loved her husband. He was the first man she had ever loved. It was love - it had to be. How could she have got it wrong?

This thing with Ridge - it wasn't love. It couldn't be. It made no sense.

Somehow, as dizzy as she felt, the blood rushing to her head with the intensity of his kisses - somehow they made it to the floor just in front of the fire. She kept thinking of all the blinds half-way up throughout the cabin, and how Ivy knew where she was....and Rick...it was so dangerous...it was so wrong.

But somehow, just like when they designed together, Ridge seemed to have this intoxicating power over her. She felt like he somehow now knew her better than anyone else - and she felt, so strangely, as if she now belonged to him as a result. That their intimacy through drawing had brought them so close together, that what they were doing now with their bodies was simply the culmination of something so beautiful, so irresistible. So inevitable.

Arching his body over hers, Ridge pulled her camisole top up over her head while she started undoing the buttons on his shirt. He removed her bra expertly, then pulled her up to him until their bodies practically fused together from the heat of the fire and the electric passion that had been building between them for weeks.

Now he was kissing her all over, kissing her as if he had never touched another woman before - and somewhere far away a small voice was urging her to not give in completely, to remember that in the end Ridge was only about Ridge, and that it was just as inevitable that she would be the one to get hurt in all this. And yet the pain at the idea of not feeling him as part of her, as one...the pain at thinking this moment would ever have to end...the pain of having to go back to another man, and share herself with anyone other than Ridge ever again...

...the pain of having to go back to Rick...

Caroline started to push against Ridge's chest, and he responded at first by trying to kiss her even harder, and she started to shake her head and managed to turn just enough away from him.

She lay there crying, almost silently, but she didn't say anything. He knew.

Finally he fell back next to her, and they both lay there, looking up at the ceiling of the log cabin, looking for an answer. Looking for anything to hold onto, if it wasn't going to be each other.


phoebe

Bronze Member
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Posts: 15
Reply with quote  #2 
CHAPTER TWO

Caroline got home late to find Rick already asleep. She crawled into bed next to him and tried to sleep, but it was futile. She leaned forward to kiss his shoulder, and then pulled on her housecoat and grabbed her iPad from the bedside table.

Walking softly back into the living room, she noticed that the curtains had been left open, and the red-orange globe of the harvest moon beckoned outside like some strange talisman from a far-off world. She felt, strangely, as if she had returned from a different world itself, with its own rules and strictures. Or no rules, more like it.

Something funny happens to you, she thought to herself, when you ignore all the rules. It's as if you can never go back to the way things were before. You can try, and appear to, and even fake it to some extent. But it was as if all these damaged souls who had known betrayal were wandering around the bare plains, silhouetted for all to see. Branded, in a way, if only by themselves. Even if they were the only ones who knew.

To sit here, on the sofa, with a glass of red wine, all alone with one's forbidden thoughts, while one's innocent husband slept like a baby in the next room...and knowing all the while what she really wanted. What she craved.

It was a form of addiction, it must be. Because there seemed to be no reasoning oneself out of it. For all their promises and protestations to each other, she and Ridge had caved as thoroughly as if they had in fact set out to do exactly that. What was the point, Caroline wondered, for all the rules, if one could violate them at someone's slightest touch, or voice, or look.

The way Ridge looked at her. It unfolded her, so thoroughly, and left her so exposed and vulnerable and aching for him to pick her up and literally put her back together: put her thoughts, and her mind, and her heart, and her body, all back together so that she could remotely function again. Because without Ridge right now, she was floundering, and she needed his presence to steady her. Even though, ironically, he was the one that had thrown her completely off-balance to begin with.

She sipped her wine, and let the tears fall down her cheeks, and stared at her phone. They had had to end their collaboration, after what had happened earlier at the cabin. They had had to say good-bye. And now this phone, and the office hallway, and the occasional meeting at work was all they would be left with.


*********

Katie had fallen asleep in Will's room. Ridge let the door slowly close and returned to the bedroom. He sat down by the open French doors that led out to their balcony and stared at the burning moon in the late October sky. The curtains were blowing back into the room gently with the balmy midnight breeze, and for a second he felt completely alone.

Except lately he was never alone, not even in his thoughts. He thought about Caroline all the time - he wasn't even sure when this had first started. It had snuck up on him so stealthily, like some bizarre counter-attack to his own original ploys.
And this unnerved him. Because, no matter what, Ridge was used to always feeling in control. He had lost out in the past, sure - and his heart had been broken along the way. But in the beginning, he always was sure-footed and single-minded and got what he went after.

Until Caroline.

His own brother's wife, he sighed to himself. And not just any brother - one with whom there was already such acrimony and resentment, that their entire relationship was more defined by what it lacked than by any real affection.

Why had Caroline married Rick? he now asked himself. Certainly as part of his attempt to encourage her crush, he had asked her this very question more than once. But truth be told, he had in fact always wondered. Rick was so obvious where Caroline was so obviously authentic. Caroline wore her heart on her sleeve - Rick's heart was buried beneath so many ambitions, needs and insecurities that he would always need an extreme level of devotion from whomever he finally was able to even minimally trust. The two of them were different in so many ways, and his own ego and sudden possessiveness refused to accept that they complemented each other.

Ridge let his thoughts travel back to their bodies pressed hard together against the glass door of the cabin, and lying entwined together by the fire, and the way she met him - his mouth, his touch - as if he was the only man to really touch her. As if he was the only one who completed her.

Ridge looked down a the sketch pad on the round glass coffee table. The design was one of his and Caroline's first attempts, and one of their best. There was such a subtlety and elegance to Caroline's vision - she had rapidly become comfortable restraining the lines to the most achievable level of simplicity. He had taught her that. But the skill was already there, nascent, waiting for its chance to shine.

The upcoming couture show would showcase this level of shared vision, and they would inevitably have to finalize everything together, in close quarters.

But he was damned if he would simply sit back and wait until then.

He picked up his phone, walked out onto the balcony, and stared at the night sky. Then he pressed the last number dialled on his phone and waited to hear her voice.

"Hi," he heard her say. her voice so soft, yet wavering with hurt and emotion.

"Hey," he replied just as quietly. There was a pause that he knew he would have to be the one to fill. "Are you okay?"

He waited for her again - waited to see how thick the wall was going to be between them, and how hard it would be to break it down.

"I guess." She sighed. "Not really."

He could tell she had been crying. One of the things he had always liked about Caroline was her unique combination of poise and energy. There was a brightness about her, like Brooke - and a quiet elegance about her, like her namesake.

"Caroline, I--"

"--please don't, Ridge," she interrupted him.

"I have to. I'm sorry. I just don't know - I mean, what with my Dad's big announcement tomorrow, who knows when we'll get the chance to talk in private again."

"Where's Katie?"

"Asleep with Will."

The tension filled the space between them, and the pain came in part from knowing that that space should never - could never - be crossed again. Not without hurting people they both loved.

"Look Caroline, what happened today..." he started again.

"It's okay Ridge, really. We knew it was wrong, and we stopped it."

"We went too far," he added, his voice catching a bit in his throat and sounding even more husky than normal.

"I know."

"I mean...." He hesitated, and closed his eyes against the warning red of the moon. "I mean, I think it's too late for any of this."

She sighed again. "That's why it hurts so much. But it's no excuse not to stop, and no reason to hurt other people."

"So what am I supposed to do, at work, with everyone around? With you, always there...?"

She could hear the anger and resentment starting to creep into his voice.

"We'll do what we always do. We have to."

He held the phone with the crook of his neck and grabbed hard onto the balcony railing with each hand. He noticed the light in the window of Will's room suddenly flicker on, and he felt the pressure of rapidly fading time - and opportunity.

"Caroline, whatever happens, you need to know how much I care about you."

But she did not say anything back.

"Caroline....promise me....no matter what..."

"I know," she finally replied.

"You promise you won't forget that?"

She nodded to herself. "Yes."

"I have to go."

"I know," she said again.

"Caroline, staying apart is not reality - you know that, right? This is our life - our lives - and it's necessary. But if things were different --"

He grabbed on harder to the railing.

She had hung up.


**********


"Is this true?"

Eric was glaring at Ridge, while Carter, Hope and Ivy took a step back from the conference table, keeping their heads bowed down.

"Dad," Ridge started, but stopped himself. A quick glance at Caroline's face, so pale against the black of her blouse, made him hesitate. She was shaking as she turned towards Rick, keeping her back to the rest of the room.

The minute the words were out of her mouth - the minute Rick's entire world came crashing down around him - everyone standing about knew their company would never be the same.

Eric shook his head, and turned back to Ridge. "Son, answer me. Is this true?"

Ridge could not see Caroline's face, but he knew that she had just confessed to the physical moments between them because right now, no matter what, she was determined to try and save her marriage. It was the kind of stupidly courageous move that Caroline would make - her heart on her sleeve, her mind hell-bent on protecting everyone but herself.

Ridge looked at his father just long enough for Eric to make a wide sweeping gesture with his hand. "Alright, that's it: everyone out of here. Maya, you first."

The three of them were left standing alone in the room. Rick was staring at Caroline with tears in his eyes, and Ridge stayed frozen where he was.

"Do you love him?" Rick asked his wife.

Caroline kept her eyes downcast, her right hand grabbing onto Rick's arm. "Rick, it just got so....complicated. So intimate."

"Answer me!" he almost yelled, his voice so tightly coiled and seething.

She shook her head. "It's not love."

Rick cast her arm off in anger and moved slowly towards Ridge, the two men never breaking their stare.

"You just had to have it all, didn't you? My wife, my job, my life. My God, what kind of brother - what kind of man - are you?"

Caroline turned around and Ridge glanced quickly at her, wishing so desperately that he could somehow make this alright. But that was impossible: he didn't even know what he really wanted in the end, let alone how to fight for it.

"You touched my wife - you kissed her, and held her, and used her, didn't you?"

Ridge saw the look of panic and hurt in Caroline's eyes, and he had to make a choice, or he doubted he would ever get to see her again.

"It didn't mean what you think," he answered.

"You used her," Rick repeated.

"Is that what you're upset about?" Ridge tried to deflect, knowing how hard his lie was about to hurt Caroline.

"This is not about me," Rick hissed.

"It's always about you, Rick," Ridge responded, and Rick breathed in deeply and swung a sharp right hook at Ridge's left jaw. The cracking noise as his fist hit the bone reverberated through the empty boardroom, and Caroline brought her own hands to her mouth.

Ridge stood there, rubbing his jaw, and took the last real look at Caroline that he knew he was going to be allowed - the last honest look - for a long time.

"It was nothing - we were tired and run down. It happens sometimes. You know that as well as anyone."

Rick looked like he was about to take another swing at him in response, and Caroline came forward quickly and caught his right arm in the air. Rick started to tremble with emotion.

"How could you fall for his games?" he asked sadly, not looking back at her.

She said nothing, just kept looking down at the floor.

"Tell her," he turned back to Ridge. "I know you, better than anyone. I know how much you wanted the CEO role. I know how much you wanted to mess with me. Tell her what you really wanted."

Ridge had a choice: he could support Caroline and bring down Rick's wrath on them both for their emotional affair, or he could take the fall himself.

Ridge looked at Caroline, at the dark shadows of grief now cast across her face.

"I wasn't honest with you, Caroline."

She refused to look up at him.

"Say it," Rick continued.

"I used you," Ridge said, then glared at Rick.

"Get out," Rick uttered, and Ridge took one last long look at Caroline, knowing he needed to leave them alone. The pain and confusion in her eyes was almost too much for him, and he hurried past her as he left the room.

Rick went over to Eric's desk and leaned over it, his arms bent, his head down.

"Rick, I made a mistake," Caroline started, tears streaming down her cheeks, her entire life unravelling before her. "I am so unbearably disappointed in myself. You don't deserve any of this."

"Of all people," Rick was muttering to himself.

"I am so sorry," Caroline sobbed.

"Not as sorry as I am."

"Just tell me what to do - I'll do anything - just tell me how to make this up to you."

Rick turned to face her one last time.

"That you could let him touch you - that you could fall for his manipulations. That what we had - what we shared together - was so small, to you, that he could get between us..."

He shook his head at her.

"You threw away our marriage - our life - for NOTHING!" he finally yelled. She stood there, trembling before his fury, her heart in her throat, completely powerless at what to do or how to fix any of it.

He stormed past her and slammed the office door shut. Caroline collapsed to the floor in sobs.
phoebe

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Posts: 15
Reply with quote  #3 
CHAPTER THREE


Ridge sat alone in his office, ostensibly working late. But really he was merely buying himself time. He knew that the minute he arrived home, Katie would be eagerly awaiting him, ready to celebrate, perhaps still ignorant of what had really happened at work that day. Certainly Maya had probably lost no time in telling many colleagues about Caroline's public confession - but there was a reason for the expression "the wife is always the last to know."

There was, of course, another reason why he had stayed behind late at the office, long after everyone else had gone home. Because if the look he had given Caroline hours earlier in the boardroom was the last time he would be able to face her as the man he really was - with all the attendant feelings, and confusion, and guilt - then tonight was the last time he would be able to seek her out without Katie's watchful eye and panicked tears

He was used to Katie's tears - she had a remarkable facility for keeping her emotions constantly running, overflowing even. She lived the most aggressively emotional life of anyone he knew. Everything, for Katie, was about how she felt - what she needed - what she believed of those to whom she had given her heart. How else to explain her past history with Bill? When Katie loved, she loved completely, irrationally - and blindly.

Caroline, to his mind, was a different type of person. On the surface so bright and happy in her own skin. Yet her love for Rick was not blind: he was convinced of that. She simply had the grace and good intentions to treat every day as a gift, and a chance to do things better. She was more like him than he had ever suspected: living life, every day. Trying to, at least. And she was taking Rick on that journey too: bringing out the best in him when she could, but realistically aware of the threats to their marriage from both within and without.

He loved Katie, sure. But she was not realistic in the least. And on some level he felt the pressure to be the knight in shining armour - the ever so loyal, and honest, and devoted hero - when right now, after his accident, he was being more his own flawed self than ever before.

He heard a door open and close in the empty hallway outside, and his heart winced at the possibility that he would find her, alone. And at what she might say to him.

He got up slowly from his desk and approached the darkened hallway. The light was on in her office, and with every step he took towards the fluorescent glow of the threshold, he had to keep repeating to himself - as if a mantra - that he would do no further harm.

He pushed the door open gently to find her there, sitting at her desk, her head in her hands, bathed in the yellow light of her desk lamp.

"Caroline," he started, but she did not look up.

"Ridge, go away, please."

"I know how upset you must be, but we need to talk."

She finally looked up at him, so pale, absolutely no trace of make-up left on her wan face and tear-stained cheeks. If possible, she looked even more beautiful than usual.

"There's nothing to say," she replied sadly. "I understand everything now. A little too late, perhaps. I mean, after all, the damage has been done." She sighed. "You just couldn't have held back, huh Ridge?"

He knew it was not the time to revisit what had happened between them, the weird alchemy of inexplicable events and choices and desires that had brought each of them to the breaking point in the cabin.

"I was responsible for what happened. I know that."

She gave a most bittersweet smirk. "How comforting."

"How is Rick doing?" he asked, hoping to change the subject.

"He is destroyed. I destroyed him. Why - why there, in front of everyone?" She started to cry again. "On top of everything, I had to humiliate him like that..."

"It was a reflex," he offered. "You were being attacked. Maya is so dangerous - and you know that."

"The art of war," she replied. "I certainly tried to neutralize the enemy. But pretty much destroyed myself - and Rick - in the process."

"You'll get through this, Caroline. You are the strongest, happiest, least selfish person I know. That's not for nothing."

"Although that, right now, is all I'm left with." She stood up and came over and leaned back against her tiny desk, coming just a few feet within distance of him.

He could tell that she was now talking about him and her, and what she had risked in developing feelings for him, and what she had lost in trusting that he had feelings for her. He wanted so badly to reach out to her, but he had severed that physical connection to service Rick's ego and escalating insecurity, and he would now have to pay a steep price for such bizarre selflessness on his part.

"Why, Ridge? Why toy with me like that?"

He looked down at the darkened space between them. "Caroline, no matter what - no matter how badly I wanted the CEO position - you have to know that I did not set out to hurt you. Even Katie warned me--"

She jerked her head back as if he had struck her.

"What did you say? Katie?"

He had committed himself to a specific line of action, and he was going to have to stay firm if there was to be any chance at all for her to save her marriage. If that really was, indeed, what she wanted.

He nodded slowly, looking at her from under his thick brows. "I told Katie about how you had, you know, a bit of a crush on me....and how important your support was clearly going to be...."

She stared at him disbelievingly. "Oh my God - Katie knows? She's known all this time?"

Something in her snapped, and she went to swing at him with her right hand, and he had to catch her wrist in mid-air to stop her from having impact.

"You bastard!" she almost yelled. "You screwed with me, and this whole time you've been sharing the gory details with your fiancee?"

"Not everything, obviously," he quickly broke in.

"Just what you wanted her to know," she said angrily. "Always looking out for yourself, huh, Ridge? Just you being Ridge, as always." The tears now streamed down her cheeks. She tried her hardest to pull her arm out of his grasp, but he held her tight and refused to let her go.

"It was probably a turn-on for you," she was saying, staring back icily at him. "God knows what else that accident has done to you. i guess every little bit helped."

He grabbed her tighter to stop her words. "Don't Caroline, please. You are not this unfair. Or cruel."

"No, you're right. I'm not. But I am an idiot."

He pulled her closer, wanting desperately to undo all the damage, wanting desperately to shift things back to where they had been only days before. But there was no turning back, he saw that now.

"Caroline," he started, staring into her eyes, dark with both sadness and anger. He leaned in closer to her, the way he had always liked to, feeling her body respond to his every move, as if they were calibrated in rhythm together. He reached out with his left hand to tuck the wavy strands of hair back from her face, and she reached up with her own hand to touch his. They kept staring at each other, each trying to hide so much emotion and regret and longing from the other. And then something in her shifted, like a pawn on a chess-board, and finally some of the fight in her revived itself, and she moved as close to him as she possibly could, until their faces were almost touching. She looked up at him seductively, at the way he couldn't stop staring at her lips, his head moving ever so slightly from side to side, his every breath both pledge and resistance.

"Good-bye," she whispered, tilting her head until she felt his lips move forward, and then pulling back.

And in that moment, he saw who was the real idiot.


************


Ridge sat in his car, wondering when everything had started to go so very, very wrong. The accident last summer seemed to have set off a cascading chain of events - a runaway train - that he was powerless to get off. He had never felt so out of control.

And now he sat here watching the CEO title literally slip between his fingers.

Eric had changed his mind. And Katie was not talking to him. Caroline neither, for that matter. Or Rick.

He had tried his best to be honest with Katie following Maya's big reveal. He had nothing to gain by evading or hiding anything from her. Yet, for all that, he still could not bring himself to tell her the whole truth. He had not disabused her perception that it was indeed more than just a kiss - but he was still doing his level best to portray his intimacy with Caroline as temporal, a function of close working quarters, an aberration. To both Katie, and his father - and even himself - he talked about Caroline as almost a by-product of a situation beyond his control. Thinking about her as a person - as a woman - was more than he was willing to do. Because there was truly nothing to be gained from it.

Ridge watched through the windshield of his car at mid-day, noting all the comings and goings at Forrester Creations at the end of a long work week. Katie was not returning his texts, and he was hesitant to return home right now. Suddenly he saw Rick's car pull up at the far end of the parking lot, and watched in confusion as Rick got out of the car and then waited for Maya, who had pulled up alongside him in her own car, to do the same. Ridge watched in astonishment as Rick leaned in close to Maya to say something to her. Ridge practically flinched to see Maya give a very self-satisfied smile and kiss Rick hard on the lips. Rick's reaction - equally smug and imperious - was almost as astonishing.

What the hell was going on?

So here he sat, completely alone, at odds with his father, fiancé, brother and company, and Rick was already cavorting publicly with Maya? Rick, who presumably was suffering so greatly from his wife's betrayal that Eric now wanted to hand him the CEO position as a consolation prize? Rick, who a day earlier had shed tears over Caroline kissing another man, and had sat in mighty judgment alongside Maya at the real feelings that had developed between Ridge and Caroline, despite all their best efforts otherwise?

It felt like some kind of a sick joke. And immediately his mind turned from his own troubles to Caroline - and he was equally caught off guard by this sudden selflessness on his part. But he felt deeply responsible for the pain Caroline was enduring. He had used her at first, and encouraged her feelings, and then set things up so that they could be alone together, knowing all the while how hard he was finding it to resist her - and how susceptible she seemed to any overtures on his own part, big or small. And he had stood by helplessly in that boardroom as her marriage publicly imploded, forcing her to witness not only their secret being revealed to one and all, but also the obvious humiliation that had caused her husband.

Ridge felt sick to his stomach - what game was Rick up to now? Did Caroline know about any of this? Or was she about to endure her own very public humiliation? Ridge sat there with both hands gripping the wheel, wondering what to do. Katie's anger at him notwithstanding, it was not his place to seek out Caroline and warn or even comfort her. It would only make both their relationships worse. And this was, perhaps, the greatest punishment of all, that he could not reach out to her or help her, not one little bit. He suspected she was feeling extremely alone right now too, whether she knew what Rick and Maya were flaunting or not.

And so on top of all this, there was the irony that the one thing he and Caroline had tried so hard too keep from happening, had spectacularly blown up in their faces. Ostensibly, right now, with the way their significant others were acting, they could actually be together - but he couldn't do that to Katie, and he suspected (despite his own ego and desires) that Caroline would still continue to fight for Rick. He let himself wonder - even hope - for just a second whether Caroline would fight quite so hard if things were to remain at such a standstill between him and Katie. And if Katie called it quits for good, what would he do next? Fight to get her back?

He was at the worst kind of emotional impasse, completely blocked, unable to take even one step forward without moving two steps back. In any direction there were land mines ahead, and there was no way to know what one wanted, or what to do next.

If only Rick had had the same kind of paralyzing problem. Clearly he was going to now forge ahead with some of his most stupid executive decision-making yet, and be taken in by the notoriously scheming Maya to boot. Rick's immaturity, selfishness and weakness of character did not really surprise Ridge, but he had a hard time understanding why on earth Caroline still wanted the man. Ridge saw that his little game with Caroline - the words "he's not on your level" designed to both flatter her and cause her to doubt - were coming back to haunt him. Not only did Rick not deserve Caroline: he was showing himself capable of emotionally abusing her in a way that Ridge simply could not abide. And not only was there nothing, truly, that he could about it...

Caroline now wouldn't even let him anywhere near her to try.


**************


Caroline was in her new office as lead designer and vice-president. Rick had been on a warpath ever since the boardroom reveal and Eric's sudden reversal on making him the new CEO. Rick still came home at night, but often having been out too late, drinking, and slept in the spare bedroom. And during the work-day he was exacting from her full emotional revenge. She was also starting to hear rumours that he and Maya had grown close again - Caroline was sickened at the thought of this. Even if just as friends, Caroline knew it was only a matter of time before Maya exacted her own particular form of revenge against her.

She hadn't seen Ridge in days. Rick had moved around the entire team, relegating Ridge to lead design partner along with her - gone was his own vice-presidency, But for all this corporate shuffling around, she and Ridge had managed to steadily avoid seeing each other. With the designs finished for the upcoming fashion show, most of their communication right now could be conducted by phone or email. Probably much to Rick's chagrin. He seemed to triumph in the notion that she and Ridge were fighting their desire to see each other - and the weird twisted way in which he derived pleasure from their mutual avoidance confused her.

Where, on god's plain earth, had the love gone?

She had lately started doubting if the love had ever even been there, at least on Rick's part. If he was even truly capable of love. It now seemed as if the only person he could truly love was himself, and even then in a most toxic and unhealthy way. Yes, she had made a huge mistake in getting as close to Ridge as she had - and allowing him to influence her - but she could never in a million years intentionally hurt Rick the way that he seemed to now revel in hurting her.

Clearly her betrayal and the consequent public humiliation had pushed Ridge over the edge emotionally. Between his gleeful wounding of her, and the realization that Ridge had indeed used her - even to the point of confiding in Katie of his little ploy - Caroline had never felt more humiliated and alone.

She heard a sudden knock and looked up to see Carter standing there with the strangest look on his face.

"Oh god," she sighed, "what is it now?"

Carter shut the door behind him gently, then came over and stood before her with his hands held out almost plaintively.

"I've been debating whether to tell you this..."

She felt her heart leap into her throat and a sick feeling start in the pit of her stomach.

Carter was staring at her sadly. "But the last time round, I feel I could have done more - could have helped - if I had only spoken up and said something."

"About Maya....," Caroline offered softly.

He nodded. "About Maya." He cleared his throat. "Caroline, she and Rick - this is so hard - I mean, you don't deserve --"

Right away she knew what he was going to say. The strangest calm came over her, as if she only now realized how long she had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even tricked herself into thinking that perhaps Rick simply needed time. It was almost a relief, she heard a strange foreign voice inside her head start to mutter. After all, at least this was final...a rupture...a gauntlet being thrown down, severing their life together in half...

But then another voice inside her started to scream, and Caroline picked up the Venetian glass paperweight on her desk and threw it right at the closed double doors to her office. Carter rushed around to her side of the desk just as she started to heave and collapse to the floor.

There was a commotion outside in the hallway, and Ivy and Hope opened the doors just enough to see Caroline in full break-down. She was sobbing so loudly, not caring who heard, and the feeling that she might be sick kept coming over her in waves. She could hear Ivy start to say something, and then there was another commotion, and she felt Carter release his hold on her and another set of arms, strangely familiar strong arms, was now holding her tight in its grasp. There was the sound of muffled voices, which she caught at a distance between her heaving sobs, and then the doors to her office shut again and there was suddenly silence. Just deadly, cold silence.

She was on her hands and knees, her hair falling over her face, and Ridge slowly started to say "Shhhhh," and she could feel the coolness of his breath on her forehead and his familiar gentle pushing back of her hair from her face, giving her her own room to breathe.

After what felt like minutes, she allowed the full weight of her body to rest against the side of her desk, and he released his hold on her and half-stood up before her.

"Did you know?" were the only words she could manage to get out.

He hesitated, his eyes narrowing at her in concern, and then he nodded. "I didn't know what to do. I didn't know for sure, and I didn't want to say anything and make things worse for you and Rick than they already were. But I swear to god, Caroline, I could punch his goddamn face in for doing this to you."

"I deserve it," she finally muttered.

"That's just what he wants you to think. Maya, too. They're two of a kind, I swear."

As sick and overwhelmed as she felt, the irony of this latest twist of events was not lost on her.

"So this is the marriage I am fighting for, huh?"

"I don't know what to say," Ridge replied, reaching forward to tuck another long strand of hair - now wet from her tears - behind her ear, only to have her now start to slap his hand away in anger and frustration.

"And you? And Katie?" she asked, knowing full well she did not want to hear the answer either way.

Ridge shook his head at her. "It's not relevant."

"Ha - not relevant. Fine. At least the entertainment portion of the show is over for te two of you."

"Caroline, my god, you have to believe me - I never used you like that, not in that way. Not as a joke. Not one little bit."

"I don't believe you. Give me one fucking reason why I should believe you."

Ridge flinched at her swearing, and then stood up and turned from her. He had no idea for once what to do or say. He couldn't encourage her in any way. not after what she had just heard and the state she was in. But he simply could not bear to say anything that would push her away from him either, even a little bit. He missed her terribly, and not being able to be with her again was surely punishment enough for both of them.

"What do you want me to say?" he finally asked instead. "God Caroline, please, tell me - I will say anything to you. Anything rather than see you as upset as this. I can't stand it."

She stood up and wiped her mascara-stained cheeks and smoothed down the black folds of her silk skirt.

"I don't want you to say anything. I mean it. I just want you to go away. Go on, go back home to Katie. I doubt she will try and hurt you in this way. I guess you win yet again."

"Caroline, don't. Don't make any of this sound like a stupid competition. I've lost enough too, you know."

"Oh yes," she smirked, the sarcasm heavy in her tone. "The almighty CEO position. Your father's good graces. The boundless trust of your bride-to-be. I feel so sorry for you."

The emotional distance between them at this point felt so vast, and yet the desire to touch her - to smell her hair, and kiss her lips, and feel the soft golden skin of her shoulders - physically consumed him. The intimacy they had forged through the long hours of working together had been so intense, as to cause his heart to actually now ache at the absence of her. And he just as quickly deflated at the realization that he did not feel any of this at all for Katie, if he ever did. He loved her, and admired her, and had a history with her that could never be taken away. But for him, Caroline had seemed the sudden unexpected promise of a different kind of future - one he had not even known existed. One that he now doubted ever would.

"Don't be cruel Caroline," he said gently, tapping his fingers on the edge of her desk as he started to step away from her. "You are the least cruel person in all of this. Please don't let it change you."

"I honestly can't begin to understand why you would even care."

He sighed. They were this far apart.

"There is glass everywhere, by the door, everywhere." He leaned forward and looked down into her eyes, eyes so dark with pain, and he let himself kiss her quickly on the cheek, sensing her body tense up all the while.

"Don't hurt yourself," he almost whispered, leaving her there alone.

Caroline waited until the office door shut once again, then sat down at her desk and buried her head in her hands at the sheer absoluteness of everything and everyone in her life.


phoebe

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Reply with quote  #4 

CHAPTER FOUR


The dress for Maya was the last straw.

Caroline had never felt so bereft in her life. It seemed as if Rick wanted to destroy her, even more than he wanted to annihilate Ridge. Wanted to hurt her so badly that she would somehow just up and disappear: because then he wouldn't have to deal with her in any way.

Because dealing with her would mean having to think about her, and about what she and Ridge had done. And Rick clearly refused to do any of that, even for a second.

She saw this in their meetings together. The cold, steely glint in his eyes at any mention of her and Ridge's work together. The sudden changes in topic whenever talk steered too close to her. The promotion of Maya, suddenly, as some sort of beautiful saviour on a pedestal that she, Caroline, was now only worthy to crouch before, sketchbook in hand, designing a gown as testament to their new lead model's unbeatable beauty.

The irony in all this was that Caroline finally no longer cared about Maya. No longer saw her as a real threat. The threat, for once, was from within: from within the questionable heart of her cold, insecure, ever-so-damaged husband. Rick in the end was the one doing all of this: falling prey to Maya's manipulations and wickedness, punishing her, overthrowing Ridge, kow-towing to their father, lying about his motives, and generally abusing his staff.

She didn't wonder if there was now dissension in the ranks. Carter for one looked ready to bolt at any minute, and Ridge would probably not be far behind. But they had this collection to unveil first, and it was not acceptable for any of them to leave Forrester Creations in the lurch at the eleventh hour. The work would of course speak for itself: the passion and intense creativity that had marked her sessions with Ridge showed in every line, every form, of those dresses. That she had to redesign one more dress would simply have to be stomached, even a dress for Maya. She would have to respect her inner artist and simply suck up all of Rick's abuse for this higher end.

She was kneeling on the floor, Maya standing there simpering, a constant smug look on her face. Rick waltzed in and then took a step back to admire the tableau before him.

"Now that's what I like to see: cooperation! Ladies..."

Caroline did not look up at him, just kept scribbling notes in her pad, moving the material gathered about Maya's short waist.

"Wait...." Rick started in an irritated tone.

Here it comes, Caroline thought to herself.

"Oh....no no no no no!"

Caroline sighed and finally looked up.

"This material, the colour - Caroline, really, what are you thinking?"

Maya smiled at Rick, her big eyes aglow with victory and sweet revenge. "Oh darling, you're so good to get involved. I've been saying the same thing. To no avail, of course. Ridge and Caroline always seem to have their own, ah, ideas..."

Rick went over to the desk and grabbed some study boards with fabric samples fixed to them. "Ah, now this one....see, the gold? Love it. Brings out the beautiful tones in Maya's skin...my love" (Caroline jerked her head up at this endearment one used exclusively for her) "what do you think?"

Caroline stood up and grabbed the board back from Rick.

"We're not doing gold. It's the showstopper. It has to call attention to itself in another way. Gold is...so obvious. So easy. But, if that's what you're going for..."

Rick tsked her with his finger and reached out to take the board back. "Now Caroline, be careful how you speak to your superiors around here." His voice grew cold and snappish. "It's not a request."

Tears started in her eyes as the stress and anxiety of the past few weeks overwhelmed her. She grabbed the board back from him and as she did so she stumbled, losing her balance and hitting her side hard against the desk.

Rick didn't move a muscle to help her.

She tried to straighten up, but the breath had been knocked out of her, the pain starting sharp in her side. The tears started to flow now and she could feel Maya and Rick both watching her with smug and triumphant looks on their faces.

The door to the office opened suddenly, without a knock.

Ridge.

He took one look at Caroline bent in pain over the desk. "What's going on here?" he asked angrily, staring at her to the exclusion of everyone else.

"Well good afternoon, big brother," Rick smirked. "So you managed to roll out of bed today after all? I guess we can call off the APB. But be careful: I am not one for tolerating truancy."

Ridge came over to Caroline and held out his hand.

"Are you alright?" he asked, and he stood there as if they were the only two people in the room. Which, come to think of it, was probably the only way one could deal with people like Maya and Rick.

She nodded quickly, but still stood there, hunched over the desk, the design board still in her hand. He took the board from her and threw it hastily aside, then put his arm about her waist and led her to the sofa under the skylight.

He stood there for a few seconds, watching her, silent concern etched all over his rugged handsome features.

"She's fine," muttered Rick. "She's always been melodramatic."

Ridge turned on his heel to face Rick.

"Look little Ricky, we all know how hurt you're feeling, but you're not winning any sympathy treating your lead designer this way."

"Um, I think I get to decide how to treat my employees," Rick arrogantly replied.

"You know baby brother, one day we are all going to walk out of here - out of our family business - and although I am sure Maya has some discernable talent" (and here he gave a highly suggestive cough) "designing and managing are not among them."

"Don't talk about Maya like that. Ever."

Rick took a step towards Ridge. Caroline made as if to stand up again from the sofa, and Ridge put his hand out to motion her to sit back down.

"Then stop talking to, and about, your wife the way you have been. If you want to take your bruised ego out on someone, take it out on me. I'm the one responsible for all this."

Rick scoffed and shook his head at Ridge, then held up his hand to Maya to help her down from the modelling stand she was on.

"Come my love, let's head out for the evening. You deserve a special night after all the hard work you've been doing."

The two of them left the office, letting the door slam shut behind them.

Caroline started to cry the minute they were gone.

"Shhh," Ridge said softly, coming back to the sofa and sitting down next to her. "Don't cry, please. He's not worth it. I wish he was. I really do. For your sake."

There was a long moment of silence as Caroline leaned against Ridge's shoulder. All he could do was keep stroking her hair, over and over again, while she cried.

"I'm sorry," she finally half-whispered, and lifted her face up to him.

"Why Caroline?" he asked her, sounding almost hurt. "Why on earth do you still want him?"

"I don't know. I feel such guilt - if only..."

"What? If only you'd behaved better? Then he wouldn't be doing any of this to you?"

She nodded, so sad, so ethereal, so subject right now to the whims and will of others. Possibly, he wondered, still his.

"Caroline, this isn't you. This is Rick. Always has been. If not over this, he'd have flipped out over something else. And used you as collateral of some kind."

The look in her face darkened. "Oh right, because you never have."

Ridge rubbed his jaw and stared at her. His look was that of someone singleminded, and calm, and thoroughly inscrutable. She was beyond confused: he had used her, yes, even admitted that himself. And surely his engagement to Katie had frayed a bit as a result. But the way he was always there for her, and protected her, and tied to comfort her - if Katie were to ever witness any of this, Ridge would have a hard time explaining it away. So why take the risk, Caroline asked herself - why risk anything at all, just to try and make her feel better?

"Ridge," she started to say, her voice softening as he continued to look intently at her, his dark eyes surveying the delicate features of her face as if he found her equally hard to read.

And just like that, it happened, all over again. He reached out to her and started to stroke her left shoulder. She remembered the dream - it felt so long ago - the dream of him sitting down on her bed and reaching forward to touch her shoulder, before he touched her hair, before his mouth so sweetly sought out hers. Feeling his hand now on her skin - seeing the look in his eyes, a deep unfathomable look, so intense, so complete - made Caroline forget anew all the bargains, and promises, and rules she had set up for herself. The power he had over her was still there - had never left her, in fact. She could see that now. There was a connection between them, borne out of tragedy and need, and now holding strong despite everyone's attempts to sever it. Despite even their own.

His hand was moving slowly up and down her arm, and he was staring down at the soft golden skin of her sleeveless shoulder, and she was damned if she was going to be the one to make the first move. It was all she had to hold onto - it was all she had left to say in defense of herself. But he didn't say anything, and didn't ask her to. Didn't ask anything of her at all. Just kept rhythmically stroking her arm with his hand, that hand that she had so often felt guide hers across the paper, leaving such a lasting, indelible impression of their strange and beautiful bond.

And then he sighed, almost in defeat. Pushing her hair back from her tear-stained face, he slowly reached forward to take her chin in his hand. She kept staring up at him, saying nothing, not making a move - and now in outright resignation, he started to trace her lips with his thumb, gently, persistently, feeling them soften and open at his touch.

"God..." he finally murmured, almost to himself, and then he pulled her mouth to his, hard and gentle at the same time, and she gave in to his touch. She craved everything about him, every taste, every sensation - and in this moment she came alive with the final acceptance that, despite everything, he craved her too. He must - it was the only thing that made sense, given everything she had just lost and everything he was risking by just being there.

He must want her, she was rationalizing in her head, as his hands pulled her tightly to him, and he hungrily explored her mouth with his. There was something here, between them, that would not die. They couldn't destroy it - and neither could Rick. Perhaps that, in the end, explained her husband's bizarrely self-destructive behaviour - perhaps he knew, already, on some level that the closeness between her and Ridge would never go completely away. That she might move on, and ignore her impulses, and so might Ridge. That they would present to the world all the contrition it demanded of them.

But this moment, here, in the office, the moonlight starting to shine through the skylight window above on this late Fall day - this moment was the symbol of their now permanent desire, and the culmination of their need. This moment was theirs alone, to do with it what they would.

He pushed her back and looked so deeply into her eyes, straight through her, burning himself and his desire onto her confused mind, almost daring her to disappoint him. She reached forward herself now, needing his mouth, needing to feel that closeness - and he pulled her down onto him, the moonlight now shining on her hair, his hands reaching up along her thighs, his mouth demanding what he now knew was his.

"Caroline...." he muttered between kisses.

"Shhh," she was now the one to say. "Don't say anything...I don't need it. I've lost everything...if it was ever mine..." She started to undo the buttons on his shirt and kiss his chest. It was as far as they had ever gone. They were crossing into uncharted territory without a compass, and not even a twinge of regret.

"I can't promise you anything," he was murmuring, pulling her blouse up over her head and unclasping her bra.

"i don't want anything...." she was saying to him again, but she hardly heard herself, her need to have him inside her was so overwhelming. "Ridge, please, I want you so much....god help me, I do...."

He pulled her skirt down and let her fumble with his belt buckle beneath her hips, but he wouldn't let go of her, just kept pulling her half-naked body down hard against him, probably complicating matters with his eagerness but not caring. Somehow he had become convinced they had all the time in the world, to make love, and make up, and then do it all over again. He was there with her, in this moment, living completely. Regretting nothing. Throwing everything away.

And just then, right at that moment, the moment when he almost fully had her - when he would take her with him, and make her his, and never let her go...

...just then his phone rang.

It was Katie.


****************


Ridge froze, his head now turned away from Caroline's. The name of his fiancee vibrated aglow on the tiny iPhone that lay on the coffee table nearby, a silent bomb detonating the small world they had suddenly found themselves in.

Caroline pushed her slender arms back from his bare chest, and they stared at each other. There were an untold number of emotions on each of their faces, and yet they both warily watched the other. trying to determine first what would win out this time, afraid to reveal their own hand or make the wrong gamble.

The phone finally stopped its incessant, demanding noise and became silent again, the explosion having passed for now.

Ridge sat up a bit against the edge of the sofa, Caroline's head now turned from him. He was still watching her, his head tilted slightly, his dark eyes narrowed against the glow of the moonlight above. She had pulled herself into the opposite corner of the small sofa, her arms clasped hard about her knees, her head bent as if in shame or embarrassment.

"Put your blouse back on," he finally said, almost gruffly.

She nodded and stood up and buttoned her blouse back up with her back to him. He did the same with his pants and shirt, and then sat there silent for a few seconds, until she picked up her clutch and moved as if to leave.

"Where do you think you are going?" he asked, his voice growing more stern by the moment.

She shrugged. "Don't worry about me Ridge."

He sighed outwardly. "That's all I seem able to do, lately, Caroline, and you know it."

She turned to him, her hands almost white as they gripped her purse. "I don't know anything anymore," she responded. "Least of all about you."

"Caroline...." He stood up and tucked his shirt into his pants and came and stood close before her in that special way he had. As if he was trying to get close to, and stay apart from, her all at the same time.

She shook her head. "Just go home, okay? You have someone waiting for you. Don't wreck that."

He reached forward with his right hand, found the small of her back, and pulled her tightly to him.

"I've been waiting for you," he said, so softly she hardly heard him. "Don't you see?"

She was still shaking her head. "You're lying."

"I don't lie, remember? I have been waiting for you, for weeks now. For even longer than that, if I am really honest with myself. But I needed you to be sure. Needed you to figure out who Rick really is - and how little he deserves you."

"And every night you go home to Katie...."

Now he shook his head, and leaned forward to kiss the long golden curve of her neck, muttering between kisses, "Not like that. Not....like this."

She breathed in quickly at his words, and they stared deeply into each other's eyes, so deeply that she felt like she would lose herself in him forever. And then he pulled her in for a long, searching kiss, a kiss that held all the heat of the past few minutes and the searching promise of more.

He finally pulled back from her, and said, almost haltingly at first, his voice hesitant with emotion,

"I have been waiting for you - even pushing you away. Doing what you needed. That's not a lie. It's the truth. I wanted you to see the truth, of Rick's feelings. Of yours."

Tears started to stream down her face as the reality of what he was saying washed over her in a tidal wave of relief.

"But I thought I was crazy, such an idiot...." she half-sobbed. "And worse, Rick and Maya always just standing there, in the corner, mocking me for it too...and you, Ridge, always there, and yet not there. I couldn't get a read on you, couldn't allow myself to hope that you were..."

"Shhh," he whispered, wiping the tears from her face. "It's all over - it's in the past. Don't torture yourself. Just be here, finally, with me."

"But Katie...." she started to say.

"That's not why I stopped, just now," he interrupted her firmly. "I need to be with you, need it more than I've ever needed anything. But I don't want to be...here. I want to be away from work, and all the pain it's put you in. I don't want to be an escape," he added, almost hurt, almost boyishly. "I want to be a choice."

She started to cry and they leaned their heads together, finally allowing their purest, most naked want and need to take them both over.

"Where can we go?" she whispered, her eyes still full of confusion and pain and yet also resignation to the reality of what they were to each other.

He took her right hand, the hand that had saved him, and clasped it in his. Then he led her out of the office and down the hall to the deserted parking lot outside. They got into his car, quickly, her hand steadily in his. As the car veered out onto Ventura Boulevard, she stayed leaned in close to his side, her hand still in his, Ridge's other hand gripping hard onto the steering wheel.

The seat belt hung loose about her as she stayed as close to him as she could while he was driving. He looked over at her and smiled, that slightest hint of a smile that she had grown to love in him these past few months. "Put your seatbelt on, Spencer," he said in mock disapproval, but she stayed right where she was. She didn't ask where they were going. She didn't care. Her mind for once felt clear and calm - there was no more recrimination, no more guilt, no more despair for the bomb Rick had taken to their marriage. Let him and Maya work it out to the death, for surely that assignation could only end badly. There was no real love there, no real concern or care.

It was different with Ridge - perhaps it always had been. What was it Ivy had once said to her? "Maybe you felt something kissing Ridge you'd never felt before?" And she had, and she could finally admit that to herself. She had felt an intensity, inextricably mixed with both tenderness and passion, that had never been there with Rick. Ridge had awakened something in her that had lay hidden even from herself - that he alone seemed to have suspected. They had connected first as artists, but their connection went deeper than that, for all they had told everyone that they had simply got caught up in the intimacy of creating.

She wanted Ridge more than she had ever wanted another man - more than she had thought possible. And keeping her hand tightly in his, feeling his strong grip caress her fingers, she felt their connection burn up and obliterate everything else in their lives. It was just the two of them, now, this night - but it was real. It was the real life they were living - he had said that to her on the phone, after the cabin. He had pleaded with her to not forget how much he cared about her, no matter what happened or how anything else might look, That this - this connection, this feeling they had for each other - was reality. Nothing else. Not the angry, petulant man who no longer called himself her husband. Not the patient, stoic, misunderstanding Katie. Not the mask of apathy and game-playing Ridge had mock-confessed to that day in the boardroom, at Rick's angry insistence.

And she saw now that Ridge had been more concerned for her these past few weeks than he had let on. She felt so safe with him - he was so experienced, and knowing, and in control. Sure he was flawed - they all of them in this sordid scenario surely were. But Ridge was nothing if not his own man, refusing to be subject to anyone else, yet giving himself wholly to her. The power she felt over him, over someone so confident and assured, was intoxicating to her young and giving self.

She leaned her head against his, smelled the musk scent of his hair, buried her face in thick brown locks, kissed the edge of his jaw - and she could feel him smile against the constant touch of her lips. She knew now, finally, that he felt the same way. And to feel his insistent claim on her, his overpowering need for her, kept her body hard-wired for his own responding touch. She would not leave his side now, not ever again, the rest of their lives be damned.


phoebe

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Reply with quote  #5 

CHAPTER FIVE


The car sped high up the twisted roads of Laurel Canyon into the reaches of darkness. The occasional lights of a household staying up late shone through the trees like far-off beacons. Caroline sat there with her head on Ridge's shoulder, silent, the windows half-way down, breathing in the cool night air mixed with the fragrance of ancient Douglas fir trees. Their hands still rested together in Ridge's lap, tightly clasped, and Caroline still refused to let go, making him take the hair-pin turns a little slower than he would have liked in his hurry to reach their destination.

Eventually Ridge pulled the car into a long secluded drive and Caroline could see up ahead a very low, one-level glass house cut into the large overhanging willow and stately oak trees. Ridge opened the driver's side door and she clambered straight out after him, her high-heeled shoes left behind on the floor of the car. They walked up to the front entrance and she felt the red clay earth of the drive beneath her bare feet.

"Where are we?" she asked, looking about. Up ahead she could glimpse the darkness of the canyon through the glass walls of the house, which angled sharply around a back courtyard and the hint of an infinity pool.

"It's a friend's - he's on sabbatical in Beijing, until the spring - said I could use it while he was gone." Ridge hesitated ever so slightly. "Katie doesn't know."

Caroline stopped and stared at him curiously.

"How long have you had this planned?" she asked.

"This?"

She shook her head at him in mock-annoyance: he was not going to make this part easy for her, she could tell.

"Our being together...here..."

He smiled. "Ever since you smashed that glass paperweight against your office door, as if it was Little Ricky's skull."

"As long ago as all that, hmm?"

Part of her knew she should be angry with him, but the rest of her was just so glad he had waited for her, and not done anything irreparable himself. Not like her husband.

She finally let go of Ridge's hand, but not before reaching up and sensually stroking the warm, waiting skin of his chest, just above the open collar of his dark shirt. He gave her a wonderful, intense look - as much a question as a dare - and she patted him lovingly against his shirt pocket one more time, wrinkled her nose at him in response, and then walked into the main living room ahead of him.

The first thing she noticed as Ridge turned on the lights were all the Asian artifacts in the alcoves and the teak and walnut furnishings that punctuated the large half-empty room and the adjacent dining area.

"Very masculine," she said, then turned to smile back at him.

He came forward and put his arms around her waist. "Do you like it?"

"I think so..."

They were looking about themselves now as designers, wondering how they would have done things differently, gauging the use of space, assessing both its functionality and its sparseness.

"One thing I know I like...." he started, pulling her to him in her bare feet, "is how private it is up here. Just us. No bad memories."

"Just us," she repeated, reaching forward and giving him a long, slow deep kiss, smiling as she felt his strong arms tighten about her. "Ridge..."

"Hmmm," he muttered between kisses, then lifted her into his arms and started to move towards the back of the house.

"Do you know where you're going? I mean....," she half-laughed, then shyly turned her head into his shoulder as he carried her, "it's a pretty big place. You might get tired, lugging me about like this, opening and closing doors..."

"I don't feel a thing," he said firmly, holding her tight, marching straight down a narrow high-windowed corridor. Outside Caroline saw how the moonlight reflected in the infinity pool, making the sky seem to be below the surface of the water, as if the whole world had turned upside down.

And it had, truly. She was with Ridge - something she had hardly even allowed herself to dream about until now. And not only were they together, but he was holding onto her as if he would never let her go. How on earth had this all happened so fast? Just a few weeks earlier she had despaired of ever being in the same room as him again.

And just like that, safe and secure in his arms, she realized that she no longer cared
about the past. It no longer mattered why Ridge had at first encouraged her crush, and told Katie about it, and tried to play her off against her husband. All that mattered was what he had told her tonight - how he had waited, how he did not feel for Katie what he felt for her. How he needed to be with her more than he had ever needed anything else. How she was his.

She wished she was a better person. Wished she felt bad for what this would mean for Rick, if he ever became able to see things clearly again without Maya's suffocating embrace. But Caroline was officially tired of trying to say all the right things, and make amends, and pay for her transgressions. She was a woman, nothing more, nothing less - and being with Ridge had awakened in her a most complete and feminine response to his attentions. He was the most masculine, powerful, and assertive man she had ever met - single-minded of purpose and, for all his own agendas and obligations, focussed fully on her.

He reached the threshold of the spare bedroom at the very back of the house, with its view of the canyon laid out below like an abyss. He carried Caroline straight to the bed that lay close to the floor, and they fell onto it together, laughing, then taking off shirts and blouses and pants as quickly as possible, until they were fully naked and entwined together.

Ridge pulled the sheets about them and lost himself in finally being with Caroline, completely making her his. He knew she had given up a lot - lost a lot - to be with him, and it only made him love her more. He saw her as this incredibly brave, authentic, but realistic young woman, and he suspected he didn't need to teach her a thing.

Caroline moved her lips against his broad shoulders and chest in response, then moved downwards, kissing where his hips narrowed in, determined to lose herself in him, too. She saw what he had sacrificed to be with her, and it emboldened her to share everything with him. And finally she also saw that Rick had never evoked such feelings in her - for he had not changed, not one little bit, in order to be with her. Whereas she had had to cut herself, literally of late, to try to be with Rick.

But Ridge...just by being himself, he made Caroline want to throw away everything in her life that had nothing to do with him. And she firmly believed that he would do the same for her. They were a team, he had kept saying to her, back at the beginning. But it was true, now, in so many ways, large and small. After all, he had carried her here, high up into the hills of the canyon, far far away from the entire rest of the world. Had staked his claim to her, turned his back on his past, and with his love-making was committing to her as fully as she had ever dreamt possible.

Her mouth moved down further, past his hips, and she felt him tremble beneath her touch. She wanted to both give him everything, and take it all away. She was intensely aware of her physical power over him at this moment, with just the lightest touch of her lips. Lips that made him moan aloud, a new and unfamiliar and most incredibly sexy sound, a sound which invoked her and her alone. And a sound which cut through to her own most innermost being, overt and humble in its pleading for her to not stop, to never stop.

And just at the point where he could hardly stand it any longer, she pulled away and let him grab her back, so tightly, into his arms. Pushing hard against each other, they brought their bodies to the point of total abandonment to this moment, the moment they had craved for months. The moment that must have been there all along: the impermeable, never-changing, absolute moment of need for the other, in this most absolute act of completion and desire.

*************

They woke up to the sounds of birdsong in the high trees outside, and the sunrise refracting its natural colours against the brown-grey of the carved canyon walls. But the sun snuck inside nonetheless, piercing through the long glass box they found themselves safe inside. Safe from the chaos of Forrester Creations, and their families, and the people they had now so completely, and thoroughly, failed.

"I was in Paris," Ridge was saying, still almost half-asleep, as they lay together in bed, "and I had this bike, one of those city motor-bikes that you can rent, on the fly, you know?"

She nodded, moving her head against his chest, letting him stroke her hair down the length of her naked back.

"And there was this couple, getting their photo taken, by that bridge, the one with the locks. All those locks, like you had with your locker in school. And they were getting their engagement photo taken, I think, and they saw my bike and asked to borrow it, for the photo. I remember thinking how young they were."

"Younger than me I hope," Caroline whispered, and in her voice he could hear the pain that had made her the woman now lying there with him, belonging to him at great cost. Making her grow up far beyond her years.

"Yes," he smiled, squeezing her tight, "very young. Too young, I think, to get married. Although what the hell do I know."

She looked up at him with curiousity.

"Anyway...," he continued, "they took a long time, trying to get the right photo. And they were laughing - man, how they laughed. And the photographer was laughing too. And they were in no hurry, no hurry at all. It was as if they wanted to stay in that moment forever, live in it, its own little world, with bikes to borrow, and a bridge full of locks..."

Caroline traced the hard, strong lines of his lips with her finger, and he sighed at this touch, and at the memory of what they had just shared.

"And I just stood there, like an old beat-up fool, wondering where it all went wrong. Wondering why such moments have to leave us. Wondering if I'd ever feel anything like it again." He kissed her fingers softly and smiled.

She realized finally what he was saying, and her heart broke a little at what it meant. She wondered how much she really knew Ridge - wondered at the age difference, the many different lives he had led, the disappointments and the memories, both good and bad. And if she had once said to Ivy, "There's something about Ridge," she saw now that he was, for her, the most unique person. A man who lived in the moment to such an extent, that he blew everything else away with his intense energy. So in the moment, that everything right up to and after that moment could at any minute be obliterated by such passion. He was a true artist, and her heart sunk at the notion that - for as much as she was attracted by this passion - it could never be sustained forever.

He must have noticed the small frown across her brow, because he tipped her chin up to look back at him.

"What?" he asked. "What is that look about?"

She shook her head and smiled. "Nothing lasts forever. As sweet as your words are..."

He sat up against the pillows and pulled her closer. "Caroline, don't you think I know by now what lasts, and what doesn't?"

"What's Katie, then, hmm?"

He grew uncomfortable at the mention of his fiancee.

"We're going to have to talk about this?" he asked quickly with a frown.

"We're going to have to talk about this," she just as quickly repeated, as if their words were an echo in the small glass room that crested the abyss of the canyon outside.

"I wish I had all the answers, Caroline, for what I've done. For my decisions. But I don't."

She tried to squirm a bit from his tight embrace, but he wouldn't let her.

"That's a cop-out," she sighed instead. "You say you wonder where it all went wrong. You say you worry you'll never feel it again." She looked intently at his eyes, assessing his gaze, realizing this was not the first - and surely not the last - time that she would have trouble reading him. "How do I know? How do I know you're not getting it wrong again?"

He leaned her back down against the pillows and started to stroke her inner thigh. "What is this, Spencer - buyer's remorse?"

She smirked as he started to move his hand beneath the sheet.

"We're not just lovers, Caroline..." he said seductively, reaching around to the small of her back with his other hand and pulling her as close as he could. "We're a team, like I said. We're artists. We helped each other. More than that: you saved me. Only you. No one else. How could there ever be anyone else, after all that?"

She wrapped her long golden legs about him, and they lay on their sides staring at each other, his hand continuing to explore along her thighs, their heartbeats quickening in anticipation yet again.

"When I am in a room with you...in that boardroom, everyone yelling at each other...Ricky flying off the handle...all the perks," Ridge added with a grin, "in those moments, I see only you. I care only about you."

Caroline remembered the many meetings of late, how Rick had thrown his weight around, and how Ridge always stood there in the eye of the storm, so calm, so cool. As long as he was close by, she always felt safe, and protected. Rick had never made her feel like that. He had never made her feel like this, either...

They continued to stare at each other as their bodies came together, and she felt the fullness and the completion of this aching desire for him that had so surprised her - and then overcome her - these past months. She wanted to stay this physically close to him for as long as possible, the demands of the world outside be damned.

She couldn't believe that his body was now hers - and she almost blushed to recall how she had given herself over to him. Her mind was still overwhelmed with the newness of it all. How many times had they been working so close together, and secretly she had craved his touch, his smell, the taste of him. She would go home afterwards and dream of him coming into her bedroom, seducing her slowly, kissing her so sweetly, yet insistently, possessively. And now here they were, only aware of each other, only needing each other. It felt dream-like, still, in a way. Alone together high up in the hills, in this secret place, sharing every last inch of their bodies with each other.

Making it impossible for either of them to ever leave the dream again.
phoebe

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Reply with quote  #6 


CHAPTER SIX


Rick stood at his new desk as CEO and buzzed for his assistant.

"Where the hell is Caroline?" he practically barked as the nervous young woman entered the room.

"Sick day," she meekly replied.

"Sick day?" Rick repeated angrily. "Why, that's the second one she's taken in a month." He paused. "Where's Ridge?" he asked next, trying to soften his features ever so slightly, practically against his own will.

"In his office, I believe. He just got in."

"Get him in here. Now."

Rick sat down while the young woman scurried for the door, pad of paper in hand. He whirled about in the desk chair and randomly picked up one of the framed photos on the credenza belonging to Eric's tenure. A photo of Ridge.

"You bellowed?" It was Ridge, standing in the doorway, ever so calm and collected and cool.

Rick wanted to strangle him.

"Where's Caroline?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"Why aren't you answering me?"

"You've got to be kidding. What is this, the inquisition? What makes you think I know what is up with your wife?"

Rick glared at him. "She's off sick again. Apparently. Second time this month. I should have her fired."

"Why don't you?" asked Ridge.

Rick stared at his older brother in astonishment. "She's roadkill, for you, isn't she? But then again, aren't we all!"

"Don't be an idiot," Ridge replied, approaching the desk. "And don't throw around spurious, fake threats, either. You need Caroline here as a designer and you know it. And besides, Ricky, is it any wonder she's called in sick? Many a lesser person would have outright quit right now because of you, fashion show deadline or not. Speaking of lesser persons, where's Maya?" Ridge added with a smirk, pretending to look around.

"I'd watch what you say," Rick stood back up to reprimand him. "And your tone."

"I mean, she rarely lets you out of her sight," Ridge continued blindly on. "Joined at the hip, you are. Two peas in a pod, huh?"

"Leave Maya out of this."

"You mean like you did, baby brother."

Rick sat back down. "You can go. But if you see Caroline....let her know, from me, that I expect a doctor's note for her many absences. Refer her to HR if she has a problem with that."

"I'm not your stand-in, Ricky."

"Oh, you're not, huh? Because I thought there was a bit of swapping going around. You know, a bit of compare and contrast. Maybe Caroline is just working her way through the company directory -"

Ridge sprang forward and grabbed Rick hard by the shoulder.

"Shut up, you insecure little brat."

"Ridge, let go of me. NOW." Rick's eyes narrowed in anger. "She's not worth it, you know."

Ridge stared at Rick in disgust and let go of his hold, then turned on his heel to leave.

"Give her my concern when you see her," Rick yelled after him, determined to keep control of the room. "She's certainly acting pretty whacked out of late."

Ridge waved his hand back at Rick dismissively, then slammed the door shut behind him.


*************


Caroline sat outside by the infinity pool, a towel wrapped around her. The weather for early November was still quite warm, and she had spent most of the afternoon dozing by the pool and swimming in her bra and underwear. Not knowing the owner of the house at all, she hadn't felt comfortable rifling through drawers and closets to find anything fresh to wear.

"Hey."

She opened one eye to see a small boy right at the foot of the teak lounger, standing over her. She smiled, loving how children had no sense of physical space.

"Hey yourself," she replied.

"Are you Mrs. Eves?" he asked, casting a yo-yo up and down while he talked. Caroline had to blink twice - she hadn't seen a yo-yo in years.

"No, sorry - I'm not. I'm just visiting."

"Visiting who? Mr. Eves is in China."

She sat up and pulled the towel about her. "I know. I'm sort of visiting the house, I guess."

The boy cocked one eyebrow at her inquisitively but said nothing in return.

"Do you live nearby?" she asked, looking about at the tall trees and wondering where the nearest neighbours were.

He nodded. "Yep. There. The yellow house." He jerked his head to the side.

"Do your parents know where you are?"

"Do yours?"

Caroline laughed. "Yes. That's quite a nice yo-yo you've got there. Wood, right? It looks new, but old at the same time."

The boy stared down at the toy in his right hand. "It is new. It's meant to be old-looking. All my toys are old-looking. My mums believe that older is better."

Caroline's face broke out into an even wider smile. "I have two mums too!"

The boy's eyes narrowed against her. "Honest truth?"

She nodded quickly. "Honest truth," she repeated.

He suddenly sat right down on the edge of the lounger and patted the towel over her leg. "Mr. Eves has the best pool. He lets us use it sometimes. We don't have one."

Caroline nodded seriously. "I don't have one either. It's a real treat." She looked about, then leaned in a bit towards him. "Shouldn't you be in school?"

He shook his head. "I'm home-schooled."

"Oh I see."

"Mr. Eves teaches me history sometimes. But he's gone to China for a year. Do you have kids?"

Caroline smiled at him, at the way his mind bounced about. "No. Not yet."

"Do you want any?"

Caroline nodded. "Very much."

"Are you married?"

Her smile faded ever so slightly.

"I was...married. But it didn't work out."

The boy nodded solemnly. "My mum Katherine's first marriage didn't work out either. Was he mean to you?"

Caroline breathed in slowly. "No, not really. Just at the end. But I think we were both mean to each other, at the end."

The boy stood up. "Do you have a boyfriend?"

Caroline looked up at the sky, wondering for the first time what it was she and Ridge were. "I guess so. Yes. Yes, I do."

"Is he nice to you?"

She nodded. "Yes. Very much."

"That's good. Well, I gotta get back. This was my recess. They're always worried I'll get scooped up by a coyote or something. They worry a lot."

"Parents always worry," Caroline agreed. "My mums are the worst."

He stared at her, then stood up and let the yo-yo zip up and down one more time. "I can do tricks with it."

"I bet you can," she smiled, watching his little back disappear into the woods. She lay back down again and pulled the towel tighter about her, and closed her eyes to the mid-afternoon sun.

She couldn't wait for Ridge to get back. She had been the one to want to stay back at the house, letting him head into work without her. Ridge could deal with Rick and Maya - she didn't want anything to ruin this little oasis they had carved out for themselves. And so they had agreed in the morning that they wouldn't say anything at all about what had happened, not to anyone. Not until after the upcoming couture show.

They had made love one last time and then Ridge had quickly made her a latte and rushed for the office. She hadn't heard from him all day, but that was as it should be. Work was a separate world, and right now she only wanted Ridge when she could have him all to herself.

She must have dozed off again, because she awoke to the sound of car tires on the front driveway. She jumped up and ran around the corner of the house and straight into Ridge's arms.

"Hey, what's this?" he laughed, holding her towel-wrapped figure tight in his arms.

She was kissing him hard, and he started responding in kind, half-carrying her to the back of the house.

"No....no, inside..." she whispered to him between kisses. "There's this kid lurking about..."

Ridge slid open the back sliding doors and they made their way to the bedroom. She didn't ask about work, or Rick, or any of the goings-on at the office. She let him throw the towel to the floor and lift her onto the bed, then lay there fully clothed next to her in the bra and underwear still damp from swimming. He kissed her stomach, then moved his lips back up between her breasts, pulling her bra back slowly.

"What kid?" he finally murmured, as if thought was just catching up to him now, caught in the throes of lust.

"A neighbour's kid. A boy. Eight, maybe? Funny kid...asked a ton of questions...lonely, I think..."

"Shhh," he whispered, and she sighed in response. For some reason she loved the way he said this to her sometimes, when she was getting a little worked up.

Ridge kept kissing her stomach, moving slowly but surely down to the sharp bones of her hips, pressing down on them with each of his hands. "A kid," he was muttering. "A kid would be nice...."

Caroline laughed. "Ridge, I don't think you can make babies with what you're about to do."

Ridge shushed her again.

"I'm just getting started...."

phoebe

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Reply with quote  #7 
CAPTER SEVEN


Eric stood in what was now Rick's office, wondering his own version of when it all went so wrong. Ridge, his first choice for CEO, was back to being lead designer after one day in the boss's chair. Rick's marriage to Caroline had been decimated by the rumours and accusations that Maya had so opportunely managed to levy their way. Maya and Rick were now a couple themselves, flaunting it flagrantly, proud to have snatched victory from the jaws of humiliation and defeat. Ridge and Katie Logan....well, Eric knew, if he knew nothing else, that that particular engagement must be in a state of stasis, neither partner wanting to admit what was really going on.

The room filled up slowly with different members of the team. It was the day before the big Forrester Creations Spring/Summer show, and things were getting down to the wire. Ridge and Caroline were the last to arrive.

"Dad?" Rick asked petulantly. "Do we need these two?"

Eric waved his hand at him and Rick was just barely perceptive enough to pick up on the traces of irritation and unease in his father.

"Of course we do," Eric replied. "Ridge, Caroline - take a seat. Let's get started, Rick, shall we?"

Eric sat back while his younger son started to go over the logistics for the next couple of days. Eric had resumed his old place at the opposite end of the long boardroom table, and this gave him an interesting view of the different players in the room. He noted how Maya now always sat right next to Rick, leaning towards him, smiling ingratiatingly, and he wondered at the sudden rise to power of this transparent young woman.

If Eric had feared for his company in the transition to a new CEO, he now saw its leaders as almost Shakespearean in the scope of their tragic flaws and pitifully predetermined fates. Clearly Maya was taking advantage of Caroline's disgrace to make herself as emotionally indispensable to Rick as she could. It was actually painful to watch. And Eric sighed inwardly, because he had always thought that marrying Caroline was the smartest decision his young son had made. Smarter than Eric had perhaps even thought him capable of.

Eric looked over at Caroline. The last time he had seen her had been in this very office, a month earlier. Back then, Maya's accusations - and Caroline's racked confession - had poisoned the air and the tenuous relationship between his own two sons. Caroline looked different to him now - thinner, sadder - or maybe it was just disappointment at her lot. Or at Rick succumbing to Maya's deceptive ways.

Try as he might, though, he could not quite get a read on her. She sat at the table, with her head down, not looking towards the end where Rick and Maya sat so happily ensconced at so many other's expense. Across from Caroline sat Ridge.

Eric watched his older son most carefully. Ridge's eyes kept coming back to Caroline, as if he was checking on her, assessing the emotions in her quiet inward gaze. Eric wondered at this, given all the chaos of late - Ridge really should be doing his level best to avoid showing any overt interest in Caroline at all.

Eric gave a small cough and then, as if right on cue, the energy in the room shifted.

"Dad?" Rick asked again, stopping his little speech.

"Oh nothing," Eric replied. "I guess I'm just a bit concerned about John's attendance, from the L.A. Times. It's not like him to wait until the last minute like this to confirm. Is the rest of the list in good stead?"

Wyatt and Hope started to give a run-down on the state of the invite list, and the table turned towards the young couple. This was Eric's desired effect. As all eyes turned to the centre of the table where they sat, he watched Caroline and Ridge - for the merest of seconds - watch each other.

Eric thought he saw the slightest of blushes colour Caroline's cheeks, and he quickly checked on Ridge, who was staring intently at his partner opposite. Eric knew that look: lust, possession, want and need all rolled up into one. Eric had been as culpable as anyone in the course of his own career and marriage to fall victim to something unpredictable and - despite one's best efforts - uncontainable by everyday life. This type of attraction often felt like quicksilver in the end, slipping through one's fingers and leaving no mark. But just as often....

Eric watched Caroline look quickly down and away, and then Ridge followed suit. The elder patriarch felt like he was almost trespassing on something painfully private and forbidden, and he smiled ruefully to himself at wondering what Stephanie would have said about all this. She had never been one to mince words, never been one to fail on the pick-up.

Would she have told him to leave well enough alone and stick with Ridge as his choice for CEO? Would she have reminded him that it was Ridge's - and Rick's - lives to lead, and no one should ever try to influence the normal course of events? That to judge what was best for another human being - whom to love, and whom to leave, and whom to love again - was hubris and arrogance of the highest order? It was playing God, she would have reminded him, as he sat there with the CEO title his to bestow or retract. The power of that possession - had he abused it in the end?

Certainly Ridge had abused his power as mentor and idol in Caroline's eyes - but now Rick was doing the same, abusing his power as Caroline's betrayed husband to manipulate and harm her. And Maya...well, that was something altogether harmful, in more ways than one, and in ways still too early to fully calculate.

The meeting ended, and everyone started to clear the room. Caroline and Ridge hung back, and Eric paid attention to their body language. He had not been at the centre of hiring and firing at Forrester Creations for so many decades for nothing. He could tell that they were in no hurry to go back to their separate offices - and he watched the almost protective way that Ridge held the office door for Caroline, looked back at her with the smallest of smiles, and then half-guided her with his free hand out the door.

Eric sat down at his old desk and sighed. What had he done, in moving around the chess pieces in his own desired order? What had he wrought? And what, now, was very slowly, and intimately, being forged nonetheless?


*************


For all of Eric Forrester's musings, Ridge and Caroline had both headed to work earlier that morning determined to act as if nothing between them had changed.

They had got dressed slowly around each other, putting back on their clothes from two days ago, Ridge having borrowed one of Glen Eves's buttoned-down shirts for his single appearance at work the day before. Every time Caroline passed him, as she did up her skirt, or fastened the buttons on her blouse, Ridge would reach out to touch her. He had not felt like this in years. In fact, his need for Caroline - for her good opinion, her faith, and her body - felt amazingly singular to him. And he saw that his old worry of getting things wrong, and letting relationships slip through his fingers, might have not been so self-defeating after all: for it had led him to this point where such a slender young slip of a girl had been waiting for him all along.

They had left the glass house in Laurel Canyon locked up, unsure when exactly they would be back there again. They had so much to do: there was a fashion show to put on, and hopefully the success of their shared designs to celebrate. And then there would be Katie's heart to break, and animosity between brothers to worsen. But all of that inevitable pain, Caroline and Ridge had promised each other, would have to wait until after the show.

As they drove back down the hill towards the highway leading to L.A., Ridge grew very quiet in the car. He was not looking forward to any attempt by Rick and Maya to intimidate Caroline at the office. And he doubted he would be able to resist coming to her defense, for all her convincing him that she could handle it.

Suddenly Ridge swerved and pulled the car over to the side of a secluded bend in the canyon road. He stopped the engine, held the keys thoughtfully for a second in his hand, and then turned to face Caroline curled up in the passenger seat next to him.

"I don't know how I'll get through the day, not touching you," he said without his usual smirk.

She had bit her lip, reaching forward to lay her right hand against his broad chest. She then slowly moved her right hand inside the buttoned edge of his shirt and felt the heavy beat of his heart. He watched her intensely and with total encouragement as she let her hand reach further still inside his shirt, stroking his chest, then moving further down still. And he leaned back against the head rest and smiled at her.

"That's not helping," he had sighed.

"A little counter-productive?" she almost teased. She was so glad to have finally found her sense of humour again, after so many weeks of being too miserable to enjoy anything.

He raised his own right hand to her face and tucked her beautiful golden hair behind her ear, then leaned forward to kiss her, so softly, so longingly, that she felt her entire body weaken at his touch. He pulled her closer with his other hand, then reached under her skirt and played seductively with the edges of her underwear.

"Normally I'd worry someone at work would recognize my clothes from two days ago," Caroline uttered between little intakes of breath. "But it's like I've become invisible around there."

Ridge let her move her own hand down along the side of his hip, and then start playing with his belt.

"Well, you're not. You never could be," he replied softly. "You're all I see."

They kept kissing, keeping their mouths open and searching - longing desperately - for that sweet exquisite taste of each other, while their hands explored their bodies, so primly suited up for work. Ridge finally had to admit to himself that his attraction to Caroline was not resolvable - and try as he usually did to let life just take its course, his need for Caroline was not going to let him stay so calm and cool this time. The idea that he could lose her if he wasn't careful - that Rick might suddenly come to his senses, and prey on her guilt and mutual history, and perhaps even try to win her back - was starting to torture Ridge. They had agreed to take the next few days one minute at a time - and not do anything to upstage the big fashion show. But Ridge was not one for holding back his actions when it came to other people. He was particularly not used to postponing happiness. And so he found himself now, so greedily touching Caroline, taking what he could and demanding more, demanding that she do the same for him.

As he touched her, craving her with all his senses, his entire body attuned to her own touch, questions were finally beginning to formulate themselves in his mind. For the past two days alone with her, he had actually ignored the world outside and stopped himself from trying to analyze any of it. But now, on the cusp of having to return to real life, the questions were coming to the forefront of his thoughts: when had he become convinced that he alone truly knew and understood Caroline? That she was the one to save him? That what they shared was so pure, so life-sustaining - and so inevitable - that it was all he could do not to stay up in the hills of Laurel Canyon, neglecting the hard emotional work with Katie ahead? In the answers to these questions lay their future, simple and unalloyed, if only they could both be brave enough this time to truly acknowledge how they felt.

Eventually they both gave in. Ridge pulled Caroline onto his lap, so little space left between him and the steering wheel and yet none of it necessary. They were barely hidden from the road, and Caroline was muttering something about coyotes and lurking kids in the trees, but Ridge didn't care at all. Didn't care one bit who saw, or knew, or suspected. And finally he understood that, for all his ostensible responsibilities in life, and the hard road up ahead, he might as well just stay up in these hills with Caroline after all.

For there was nothing - absolutely nothing - in that other world that would ever compare to this.
phoebe

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Reply with quote  #8 
CHAPTER EIGHT

Caroline entered her house at the end of the day with a heavy heart, the memories of the good times with Rick playing havoc with her mood. She pushed the front door open slowly, but immediately she could tell he had not been home in days. For one thing, the liquor had not been touched on the sideboard at all. And the sheets on the bed and towels in the bathroom were just as she had left them.

She walked back into the living room, poured herself a glass of wine, and sat down on the sofa. She missed Ridge terribly, but knew she should not call him, not until after the big show the next day. That was when Ridge was going to break off his engagement with Katie: once the press had all left and life at Forrester Creations moved on to its next round of business. With Rick not seeming to care where she was or what she was up to, Caroline recognized that she had much less than Ridge right now to worry about.

After the hopefully successful show, she and Ridge had planned to meet back at the house in Laurel Canyon. Caroline slouched down on the sofa and lay her head against its cushioned back and closed her eyes. She let herself relive what it was like to be loved by Ridge - to be so physically consumed by him, and so desired, and so very much still needed.

It felt strange, in a way, to be so important to someone else. The fact of their marriage had certainly been important to Rick: her family connections, her looks, the way she fit his ambitions and aspirations. But Rick saw her only in terms of how she fit his life. Ridge, on the other hand, loved her so intensely despite her not fitting into any of his plans. This made the stakes for him loving her that much higher, and their love for each other that much more intense. There was something to be said for a forbidden love: she was clear-headed enough to realize this was part of the attraction. And although he had not yet told her that he loved her, this struck her less as an oversight than a redundancy. The way that he kissed her, and craved her body, and made love to her, was all the proof that she needed to turn her back on her marriage to Rick once and for all, just as he already had, and commit her heart to Ridge.

Her phone started to vibrate on the coffee table before her, and her heart leapt to see who it was.

"Hey, can you talk?" Ridge asked quickly.

"Yes, of course - can you?"

"Yeah, Katie stepped out." He paused, and it sounded like he had walked out onto the balcony. "I miss you."

"Me too," she smiled.

"Have you seen Rick?" he asked with the slightest note of uncertainty in his voice.

"No, not at all. He avoided me all day at the office, and I don't think he's been home in days."

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"I'm fine. Really." She sighed. "I miss you so much Ridge."

He smiled. "I know, you just told me that."

"Oh, right," she smiled too. "I think I'm just nervous."

"About the show tomorrow?"

She shook her head. "No, that I think will go very well. I meant, I'm nervous about us. Katie, Rick, what will happen when the truth gets out. All of it."

"It's a passing," he replied. "We just got to get through it. But we're a team, remember? And Caroline, I have never felt before that someone so had my back, as I do with you. Maybe it's because that's how we started - you keeping my secret for me, even from Rick."

"It wasn't as hard to do as I made it out to be," she said thoughtfully.

He smiled again. "You know, I wondered as much sometimes. When did it start?"

"My little crush, as you like to call it?" She laughed, the brightest laugh he had heard from her in quite some time. "I think it was the dress we started from the back, remember? I remember watching you, so closely, your hand over mine, and it felt like we were one person, one heart, one mind. It was a little" - and here he would have loved to have seen her blush - "a little like making love. It made me feel what that might be like. And knowing how intimate and sexy designing was with you, I could only imagine what it would be like, to be with you."

Ridge was standing on the balcony and now turned to lean his back against the wrought-iron railing, the moon and the stars behind him. He closed his eyes and recalled that very morning in the car, high up in the hills, before they had had to come back down to earth. Her face and long hair above him, the steering wheel pushing her hard against him, his hands feeling every last bit of her under her skirt for work.

"Tomorrow night," he finally said, firmly.

"Tomorrow night," she repeated.

"It'll all be over," he added, "and we'll meet back at the house, and we will never be apart again. Not like this."

She nodded. "Never like this."

"I should go."

"I know. Ridge - I love you."

"I love you too, Caroline. I don't know why I haven't said that yet. I've felt it for awhile, you know."

"When did it start for you?"

"Hmmm. I really don't know. I do know, that time we kissed - the second time, after you tried to take a swing at me -"

"Ouch, sorry," she interrupted.

"Don't apologize. You were adorable, And then you kissed me, and...I don't know....I can't think of the words. It was like, coming home, and getting lost, all at the same time."

"I like that," she replied.

They both hung up and Caroline finished her glass of wine and leaned her head against the sofa again. She tried to picture being back at the house with Ridge, lying there in bed with him, the sun shining through the glass walls and bouncing along the edge of the infinity pool. He would touch her the way that he did, so slowly, so surely - he knew now how to bring her to a point of such exquisite yearning. Almost to the point of pain - closer than she had ever felt her body get - but then a pulling back, and a release of every emotion that only he had the power to evoke in her. Only he knew how to make her feel this way.

Just one more day.

bluegaze

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Reply with quote  #9 
I was pleasantly surprised to see two new chapters. I love reading them and look forward to

more!


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jam

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Reply with quote  #10 
I'm going to read this tomorrow on my lunch hour!!

June
phoebe

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Reply with quote  #11 
I think I wrote close to twenty chapters of this between November and February, so will post the rest of it when I can. Right now I am preoccupied with writing a new #EJabby fan fic during the caridge drought : )

p.s. I just LOVE it when people give up their lunch hour to read my stuff : )


***********

CHAPTER NINE


Eric came backstage to the private dressing room, to find Ridge and Caroline standing very close to each other, Ridge's chest breathing hard just behind her right shoulder.

"Well get out there Ridge - you have another huge success on your hands," Eric beamed.

Ridge looked back at Caroline and smiled broadly, then turned back to his father.

"Not without Caroline," he replied.

"Fine, get," Eric grinned, then stood by to let the two co-designers approach the runway.

"You're sure?" Caroline whispered into Ridge's ear as they neared the wing.

He tilted his head at her and narrowed his eyes. "I'm trying hard to figure out why you're resisting," he said quizzically.

"First-time jitters," she replied quickly, her voice catching in her throat.

"Don't be nervous," he smiled. "You earned this. And I'm right here."

She let him walk out first, and as the applause quickened he stepped to the side and motioned for her to come forward too. They were both joined by two of the models, one on each side - but not Maya, Caroline was grateful to notice. Then they all headed down the runway together, their arms around each other's shoulders.

Caroline looked over at Ridge and could see that he was in his element. For all that they had shared recently, his ambition was still as strong as ever - and if she was completely honest with herself, the decision to put their relationships in neutral until after the show had been at least half-driven by Ridge.

But right now, she too was glad of it. Glad to enjoy this moment in the sun, after the months of hard work and the very high cost to their private lives. But most of all, she was so glad that Ridge's gift - his great talent as a designer - was fully back and being deservedly celebrated. She had played a part in all this, of course - but ultimately it was Ridge's genius that was behind the S/S 15 couture collection.

When they returned backstage Eric was still there, waiting for them.

"Feel good?" he asked Caroline with a wide smile.

She nodded, then looked over at Ridge. "Thank you," she said softly.

He winked at her subtly, then turned back to Eric. "Hey dad, maybe you should get upstairs to the after-party and work the press."

"Just a minute, son. I have a proposition to make."

"I dunno Dad," Ridge grumbled. "There's been quite a lot of propositioning lately, from all sides."

"Not so fast, Ridge. You're going to want to hear me on this." He looked at his son and then Caroline. "I want the two of you to design the Fall couture line. Every design a collaboration. All in. What do you think?"

Caroline stared at Eric in confusion. "Does - does Rick know?"

Eric waved his hand in the air dismissively. "Don't worry about Rick. I'll take care of him. Well? What do you say?"

Ridge saw his chance. "Can we talk it over first?"

"Of course," Eric replied. "I'll give you a minute. But not much more than that - I want to build on today's success with some PR tomorrow on the very bright future of Forrester Creations."

He started to leave the dressing room, then turned back to the two of them with a very serious look on his face. "Look, I know what this will mean, for both of you. And I know it'll be messy."

"That's an understatement," added Ridge gravely.

"Sometimes things that are worth it, though, are messy," Eric replied with a wink, then let the door shut firmly behind him.

Ridge came over to where Caroline was standing and put his arms around her from behind, then buried his face along the long cool elegance of her neck. She turned her face back up to him while her arms rested in his, and he reached down and softly kissed her from behind.

"You okay?" he whispered in her ear between kisses.

"Mmhmm," she muttered back. "A little in shock, I think."

"It's a high," he replied. "Enjoy every minute of it. It'll end soon enough. That's what I've learned, at least, after all these years. They never let you celebrate for long."

"Ridge, about what your father said..."

"Shhhh," he said quietly, holding onto her even harder. "We don't have to decide right this second. We have all night, remember?"

She turned around in his arms and smiled at him. "That's what we're going to do, later? Discuss career strategy? You forget that I know you, now, Ridge Forrester: you can't slip anything by me now. And talking is the LAST thing you're planning on doing."

He stepped back and leaned against a make-up table. "Well, I think Dad makes a good point. And I think we should do it." He then took a step forward to her again, and started to kiss her seductively along the inside collar of her black leather jacket. "There, see? We're half-way to a decision already."

"Rick will be furious," she said almost absent-mindedly, distracted by his kisses.

"Don't worry about little Ricky. He has this coming to him. The way he's been treating you lately, it's a wonder I haven't knocked his smug little head off."

"And Katie?" she asked, always hesitant to bring his fiancee up. For some reason, Ridge never wanted to talk about Katie. On one level, she understood this reticence - but other times he made her question what had pulled him to Katie to begin with. She liked Katie well enough, and thought her own Uncle Bill had already caused the woman enough heartbreak. But Katie and Ridge, to her, had always seemed a relationship in the background. Just there. No magic. And part of her felt almost spiteful, for trying to judge someone else's love life, as if it was her right to do so simply because she had fallen for the same man. Their relationship had nothing at all to do with her, she had to remind herself: not the good, and certainly not the bad.

"Katie'll be fine, eventually," he said in quick response, then pulled her to him for a long, lingering, very deep kiss.

"How am I supposed to get any thinking done about Eric's proposal...." she somehow managed to say with a laugh, breaking clumsily from his kiss.

Ridge smiled too, then remembered to check his watch. "Caroline, I'm sorry, but I should go get this over with, with Katie, now. And we still need to stop by the after-party first."

For some strange reason tears sprung to her eyes, catching her completely off-guard. "And you'll call me, later, once you're on your way to Laurel Canyon?"

He nodded. "Are you going to bother trying to pin down Rick at all?"

She shook her head sadly. "It won't matter. That's all over. Let him hear about it tomorrow. I'm sure they're already taking bets of some kind for the office pool."

"Who's going to end up in whose bed?" Ridge offered.

"Who'll get pregnant first..." she replied ruefully.

"Who'll smash up their office."

They rested their foreheads against each other's, and Caroline took a deep breath.

"Call me," she repeated again.

"Don't worry," Ridge replied, kissing her one last time. "I've got it all under control. And I will be back to deal with you later."

She watched his back disappear through the dressing room door, then checked her own watch. She would head quickly home after stopping at the after-party too. Just to pack a light suitcase and her portfolio, before heading to their new little home high up in the Hollywood hills, to start their new life, together.


*************

CHAPTER TEN


Caroline arrived at the house as it was getting close to sundown. She had no idea when Ridge would arrive, and she suspected he would not be in the mood for celebrating once he had broken the news to Katie. So she put the bottle of champagne she had brought to the back of the fridge, and didn't touch the groceries - once again she had no appetite, what will all the stress and change of late.

The nights were getting cool, so she grabbed a light sweater and went out onto the back deck to sit by the pool. Glen Eves had a fantastic old CD collection, and she put on one of her mums' favourite Stevie Nicks albums and left the glass doors open to the outside air.

Sitting back in the lounger, she breathed in the rich scent of pine and watched the colours of twilight stream across the canyon. The last time she had waited here, Ridge had come home from the office and she had run straight into his arms in her towel from swimming. He had taken her straight to bed, lying there fully-clothed next to her while he slowly ran his hand along the length of her body, clad only in her bra and underwear from her afternoon by the pool.

"I feel at a competitive disadvantage here," she had murmured to him as he continued to caress her arm and then the dip just before the deep curve of her hip. But he said nothing in response, just smiled and continued to stroke her, and she had sighed in mock-defeat as he reached the edge of her black underwear.

"Caroline, you are so damn beautiful," he said finally. "So easy to fall in love with. Far too easy."

She inched her lean body towards him and started to undo the buttons on his shirt. It would be their last night together in the glass house for who knew how long, and she couldn't think of anything else right now but being with Ridge, in this bed, closer physically to him than she had ever let herself be with anyone else. After she had removed his clothes, he pushed her playfully down against the pillows, moving his lips across her breasts, taking everything he could.

They had made love that night not knowing what the future held. If the first time together had been complete resignation to their fate, and to this attraction they simply could not tame, then that second night had been a commitment to that same future, both unpredictable and unknown. But Caroline didn't care that she couldn't see the horizon ahead, both the possibility of joy as well as imminent threat. Ridge made love to her as if nothing could ever touch them again. As if they alone had the power to hurt each other and - as now - bring each other to this point of almost unbearable intensity that lived just at the edge of both relief and pain.

Outside through the open windows she could now hear the words to a most haunting song....

"I turned around, and the water was closing all around
Like a glove, like the love that had finally, finally found me

Then I knew in the crystalline knowledge of you
Drove me through the mountains
Through the crystal like a clear water fountain
Drove me like a magnet, to the sea...."

She closed her eyes and imagined her life with Ridge. He was so steady, so self-assured. He would never let anyone hurt her - she felt that implicitly. Having watched Rick for so many weeks just stand there and smirk while Maya insulted her, Caroline wondered, not for the first time of late, if she had ever really known her husband. She had wronged him, and broken the spirit of her vows, and deserved for him to never trust her again, should he so choose. But to so aggressively set out to ruin and destroy her, to humiliate her in front of his mistress, and to treat he as if she was somehow below Maya - Maya, who had slept with Rick apparently within hours of this first most serious rupture in their young marriage - this was not something Caroline felt she could ever forget.

She started to wonder how Katie was reacting to the news, and selfishly stopped herself. Perhaps if Rick had not put her through so much devastating pain of late, she could have turned her mind outward as she normally would have done. But she was cocooning, she could feel it: trying to reduce her life to this new home, and Ridge's powerful presence, and cutting out any sense of the world outside. She was emotionally preserving herself, saving herself for the one thing she knew - that she could not be without Ridge ever again. And so everything she did right now, and thought, and dreamt of, had to pivot in that direction, or else it was just wasted energy.

She heard footsteps coming round the side of the house and jumped to her feet.

"Oh, hello again," she said with surprise.

The young boy from next door was standing there.

"Did you have supper?" he asked out of the blue.

"No," she smiled, sitting back down on the edge of the lounger. "I'm not that hungry. Did you?"

He nodded. "Spaghetti." She could see the traces of tomato sauce around the edges of his small cupid-like lips and running down the front of his t-shirt in random streaks.

"It's getting dark."

He nodded again. "I saw your light on. I told my mums I'd be right back."

Caroline looked about at the looming dusk and stood up and took his hand. "Why don't I just get you back, then - is that alright?"

"What are you listening to?" he asked as they walked past the sliding doors to the sunken living room and rounded the corner of the glass house towards the front drive.

"Just a song."

"What's crystalline mean?" he asked, looking up at her.

She thought for a second. "Pure. Clear. And, maybe....the beginning of something? Of really understanding or knowing someone."

The boy was quiet for a moment, and gave a slight yawn, before asking,

"Is your boyfriend coming?"

Caroline nodded. "He's coming later."

"What does he look like? Just so's I know."

She smiled. "Well, he's very handsome. Very dark. Big. Big chest, shoulders. Lots of hair., dark dark waves of it."

The boy's hand went automatically to his own buzzed blond head. Then just ahead, through the ancient oak trees, she spied a large driveway full of bikes, a mini-trampoline and a wagon.

"Run inside, then, and get a good night's sleep," she said, giving him a soft pat on the back as he ran towards the side door and disappeared inside.

She headed back through the trees, and as she approached the house she heard the music again.

"Drove me like a magnet, to the sea..."

It was now getting dark outside, and she sat down at the edge of the pool and looked down into the black water. The moon was hidden tonight behind an array of grey clouds, and there was no reflection on the water, nothing to see but the deep, implacable darkness of night. She pulled her knees up to her chin and rested her head on them, and wondered when Ridge would finally get there.

*************

When Caroline woke up she found herself on the sofa with a blanket over her. She sat up and started to vaguely recall coming inside at some point and lying down. Her face felt raw and tear-stained, and the light from the stereo system was still on. There was no birdsong outside and the sun shone high in the sky - it must be later in the morning than she thought.

She looked about at Glen Eves's home, the home she had dreamt of sharing with Ridge, at least for a few months. Tears started to flow down her face again as she thought of him for the first time. For a second it felt like she had dreamed it all: the nights in this house, the chance to work together again, the plan to tell Katie. For a second she almost wished she had. Because as the realization dawned on her that Ridge had never come home to her as he had promised, so too did the foreboding sense that things all along must not have been quite as they seemed.

Certainly not with Ridge and Katie. She recalled that old truism, "you never know what goes on behind closed doors," and much as she hated to admit it to herself, there must have been some bond, some closeness, between Ridge and Katie all along. After all, he had proposed marriage to her. It was serious. It wasn't Maya and Rick, and it could not be so easily dismantled either.

But then Caroline thought back to all the times she and Ridge had made love. She had such a hard time reconciling the intensity of those moments - the way he had looked at her, and kissed her, and claimed her body as his - with his failure to live up to his promise to her. If Katie had a hold on him that she, Caroline, did not understand, she just knew it could not be physical. Not that she thought that was all that she and Ridge shared. But it was a connection she knew that she would never feel again - and doubted he ever had.

There had also seemed to be something so very genuine, and pure, about what they shared. And this, then, was what made the tears now flow the most: the dawning realization that perhaps it wasn't quite so pure after all. That perhaps Ridge's own needs and emotions were more complex, and less simple, than he had been willing to share with her. And in this way he had hurt her, perhaps even more than Rick had. Because there was little love or admiration left for Rick at this point. But Ridge...

Well, Ridge had become more to her, in a just a few short months, than even her husband. Ridge had not only awakened and cultivated in her a talent for design that she hadn't thought possible: he had changed her perspective as a woman. The moments of loving Ridge had shown her how complete trust and vulnerability to a man translated into a physical absolution that made looking back almost impossible. All she wanted, now - all she craved - was the next moment with Ridge. Life had shifted, in this way, to a promise of time with him - nothing mundane could ever interfere with the overwhelming need to feel Ridge inside her, taking possession, claiming her his and redeeming all the risks she had taken to be with him.

And so the absence of Ridge meant the absence of hope, of a future. And the tears now streaming down her face were her penance for not understanding, or being too optimistic, or even too confident of where she fit into Ridge's life. She must not have been so special after all - she must not have affected him quite as much as he had led her to believe.

Caroline dropped the hand-woven blanket to the floor and walked into the kitchen. She put on the espresso machine, knowing full well that she was about to embark, at best, on a toast and coffee diet for the next few days as she lay low in the glass house and took stock again of her life.

She was standing in the kitchen, staring out the window above the sink, when her phone started to ring.

Rick.

She just kept staring at the phone, letting the call go into voicemail, not having the energy to deal with her estranged husband right now. Not after the night she had had - and not after the long day ahead.

After a couple of minutes she poured out the coffee, took a sip, and then picked up the message with a long, sad sigh.

"Hey, it's me. Look, we need to talk. I'm....ready, to talk. I'm still really angry with you, but stuff's been...well, what did you say the other day? Anger fades? Anyway, give me a call, soon - okay?"

She put the phone down and leaned against the cool granite of the kitchen counter. She had no idea what had brought this on. Rick had certainly been doing his best to alienate everyone at work of late, even including Eric. She knew this was a form of self-sabotage, and saw now, very clearly, just how much of a child Rick still was. He seemed catastrophically incapable of controlling his emotions and not letting his hurt and pain get the better of him. He needed, for some reason, to indulge every emotion he felt - to take it to its nth degree, as if in doing so, he maintained some weird level of control. When anyone about him could see that, instead, his emotions were controlling him.

She was still pondering the purpose of the call, when there was a light knock outside. She quickly checked the clock on the stove, then headed for the front door. There stood the little boy from next door, with a red wagon behind him containing an oversized teddy bear.

"Good morning," she said, then looked past his shoulder to see a woman of about her age waving from the driveway though the trees. She waved back, then looked down at him to see him staring back at her curiously.

"You look sad," he offered.

"I'm okay. Are you in school today?"

"Mmhmm," he replied. "In a bit." He tried to look past her into the house. "Where is your boyfriend?"

"He didn't come," she replied, not even trying to couch her words.

"Hmmph. My moms figured as much."

Caroline smiled in spite of herself. "Your mums sound very smart."

"They are. Mama Katherine is a nuclear...physician...?"

"Physicist," Caroline corrected him.

"Physicist," he repeated, as if it was a tongue-twister. "At Cal tech."

"Nice," she replied. "Do you want to be a scientist too when you grow up?"

He grabbed his teddy bear out of the wagon and now walked inside right past her.

"No, a racing car driver."

Caroline let the door swing shut behind her. "Of course. Would you like something to drink, some juice or something?"

The boy sat down on the sofa and waited patiently as she went back into the kitchen and then reappeared with their drinks in hand. She was just about to sit down and join him when she heard a rustling at the front door and looked up to see Ridge.

He looked like he hadn't slept all night, his face full of shadow and beard stubble, and she recognized his shirt from the fashion show the day before.

"Ridge," she said simply, not wanting to make a scene in front of the child.

Ridge looked at her, then at the small boy on the sofa staring back at him, and then back at Caroline again.

"Is this the kid?" he asked gruffly.

She nodded, then passed the tall glass of juice to the boy. "I don't even know your name," she said quietly.

"Aidan," he replied.

"Aidan," she repeated, then turned to Ridge with a glare. "This is Aidan. My friend."

"Caroline," Ridge started, and he took another step forward.

"Ridge, honestly, just go back home," she said sadly, looking down at her coffee.

"Caroline, we need to talk. You need to listen to me."

Aidan stood up. "You heard the lady."

"What?" Ridge half-laughed. "Seriously, Caroline - the kid?"

"Ridge, please. There's nothing to say."

Ridge came over to her and she took a step back. "No, Ridge, not now. It's too late. Please just go."

Ridge shook his head at her. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Are you MAD at me?" Caroline asked, confused and astonished at the same time. She turned to Aidan's little blond head: "Your mums must be getting worried about you. Plus it's a school day."

Aidan just kept staring at Ridge, his big blue eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"Okay. But I'm leaving Oliver here." He nodded to the bear while continuing to stare at Ridge, then headed out the front door. They could hear his little wagon being dragged along the front drive.

Ridge lifted up the bear, almost amused, then threw it back down on the sofa.

"Let me guess," Caroline started, flopping down into a nearby armchair so that he couldn't sit next to her. "Katie was upset. You couldn't stand it, seeing her in so much pain. You remembered all the promises, all the dreams for the future. Not ours, of course."

Ridge turned to look out through the glass walls of the living room to the increasingly grey November day outside.

"Sorry - did I steal your speech?" she asked indignantly. "How thoughtless of me..."

Ridge came over and half-kneeled before her and tried to grab her hands.

"Listen to me. Rick's - dad's given him an ultimatum."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning Rick might finally see the light of day and cut out this garbage he is doing with Maya. And want you back."

"How do you know this?"

Ridge sat back a bit on his heels. "Apparently there was a big blow-up, at the after-party. With Dad. Stuff got said. Look, all I know is what Pam told me..."

She stared at him in confusion. "I'm sorry, Ridge, let me try and understand: are you trying to get me to go back to my husband?"

He rubbed his jaw, a look of both frustration and sadness in his dark eyes. His calmness, his swagger even, seemed gone.

"I'm just trying to keep you from doing or saying anything to Rick that would make a reconciliation impossible."

"From doing or saying anything....you mean, doing YOU?"

"Caroline, please..."

She stood up and pushed past him. "You bastard, you want to weasel out, and you're so afraid that I'll decimate my marriage myself, and then the guilt - right Ridge? The goddam GUILT you'll feel, if I end up losing my husband for someone who doesn't really want me..."

Ridge came right up to her and grabbed her hard to him and buried his lips in her hair. She tried to break free but he was too strong for her, and he was not letting go.
He kept kissing her, his hands clenched hard against her back, and she felt the tears spring back into her eyes. She was beyond confused - part of her now hated him, hated him for having such power over her. The power to bring her back to him the second that he so wanted it.

"Caroline, please," he was still muttering to her. "You have to believe me...this was none of it a game, or a lie...I love you. I will love you forever." He sighed. "I will never love again, like this. I am old enough to know that, at least."

She was so confused. What could have happened, to bring him here to her in such a state, to cause him to confess so much yet be so distant from her? To have failed her last night, after the time they had spent together, the promises made, the love that had finally found them....

She breathed in sharply. "Katie's -"

"Pregnant."


bluegaze

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Reply with quote  #12 
 B&B without TK is like a day without sunshine! I have seen his performances over and over

to help pass the dry spell ,even watching B&B reruns on the French network , the voice of

Ridge in French is super sexy too.! Phoebe, when can we expect more of your dazzling

romance tale of CaRidge ?


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phoebe

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Reply with quote  #13 
***********

CHAPTER ELEVEN


Eric took one look at Katie and lifted his eyebrow gallantly. "Why Katie, you are positively glowing."

Katie turned to Ridge at her side and then smiled back at Eric. "I have no complaints," she said beaming. "Your home looks beautiful this Thanksgiving, as always," she added. "Thank you so much for having us."

"And I see the string is finally gone," Eric grinned, nodding at the large sapphire ring on her left hand.

Katie laughed and Ridge joined in, shrugging his shoulders. "Just waiting for something special enough, Dad."

"That's my son," Eric nodded, pleased that his eldest boy's life was finally settling back down again after all the scandals of the past few months. "Oh, I see Taylor's arrived - excuse me, will you both?"

Katie squeezed Ridge's arm and leaned into him to say, "Thank you, Ridge."

"For what?"

"For making all my dreams come true. My dream of a life with you."

He smiled back at her and kissed her forehead. "You deserve it, Katie, You really do."

"Oh God," she suddenly sighed, "There's Bill. I better make the rounds and get our news over with."

She left Ridge standing alone by the fireplace with the large portrait of Stephanie hanging above. Ridge looked up at the commanding presence of his mother, and wondered what she would think of him right now. He had stepped up, and on the one hand his self-sacrifice would have impressed her. But his mother was perhaps even more impressed by the renegade, the risk-taker - the one to never give up a fight.

And he had given up. Caroline had stared at him in the glass house, completely crushed by Katie's news, and in that one final moment he had had his chance - and he had not taken it. It had all been too much, and the idea of abandoning Katie, pregnant with his own child, was too much right now to bear. Especially when his younger brother was now so determined to win back Caroline. This way - this sad, sorry solution - was the safest thing for all of them. He was convinced of that.

"Will you go back to Rick?" Ridge had asked in spite of himself, as Caroline had sat slowly down on the sectional sofa in Glen Eves' sunken living room and pulled the worn, oversized stuffed bear onto her lap and against her stomach. She had looked up at him, with those beautiful almond-shaped eyes - eyes strangely the same shape as his - and he could have flinched physically from the hurt and pain he had put there.

"You have no right to ask me that now," she had coldly and quietly responded, as if it took every last ounce of energy in her to get the words out.

"I have no right to ask you not to, but I need to know you are going to be alright. I am worried about you, Caroline. I think you must be in shock."

"Stop it, Ridge, I mean it. Stop talking to me like I am child that fell out of a tree or something. I know I just got dumped on my ass, but at least leave me some dignity."

Her words had struck him to the core precisely because they were so true, and it was so beyond him to do anything about it.

And now here he stood, a few short weeks later, celebrating Thanksgiving with the Forrester, Logan and Spencer clans. He and Caroline had not seen each other or exchanged even a word in all that time. He watched Katie showing off her ring to Hope and Pamela and Ivy, and he knew it was only a matter of weeks before she would also start sharing the news of the baby. Life was still that runaway train, hurtling down from the mountain, completely out of his control.

The doorbell rang and Ridge eyed the foyer carefully. He watched as Eric approached the door to welcome more guests.

Rick. And Caroline.

Ridge felt his neck tighten immediately in anger, and his grip on the fireplace mantle hardened. This was ridiculous, he thought to himself: he was the one who had told Caroline that Katie was pregnant, and that Rick might want her back, and not to do anything that might ruin a reconciliation with her husband. And now here he was gripping the cool marble of the mantle as if trying to smash it between his hand.

Caroline let someone take her light wrap and entered the living room on Rick's arm. Rick looked almost as pleased with his new lot in life as Katie did with hers. He was still CEO, Maya had justly been neutralized, seeming to spend most of her time down in the model's studio or with Carter, and Caroline - this most beautiful, amazing, magnificent woman - was back by his side.

Ridge stood there alone, conscious of Katie's meandering gaze, and nodded curtly to his brother. Rick and Caroline were speaking with Pam and Charlie, and Ridge felt safe in continuing to be nearby, silent and unobtrusive. He needed time to process what he was seeing, and to manage his anger: anger at Rick for throwing such a massive tantrum, anger at Caroline for taking him back, and anger at himself for not being strong enough to fight for her.

But Stephanie would have fought him on that, her reigning image above reminded him. She would have pointed out how children are our everything, and they take precedence over our whims and inclinations. That our job is to build a home and a family for them - and never to bring them into this world in chaos. And his dad, he knew, for all his own chaotic choices in life, would have urged him to do pretty much the same.

Katie now had her back turned to him, and Ridge snuck a quick look at Caroline. She looked thinner than usual, and her wavy golden hair looked even longer than he remembered. She wore a backless off-white dress of her own design, cinched at the shoulders with gorgeous gold clips designed by Ivy for the new collection. The white of the fabric seemed to highlight the wanness of her complexion, making her appear even more ephemeral than usual, as if she could just float away.

In fact, that was how he now felt about all the times they had shared together, in private, and especially in what for one very brief, unbelievable moment they had hoped might be their home together. He felt like all of it had simply floated away, carried by the waters of the infinity pool, suspended above the canyon, cloud-like and weightless and...nothing. He was left with nothing.

He blinked and caught himself staring at Caroline just as she raised her eyes up to him from under her bent head. The conversation was loud and jocular all about them, and their eyes met for just one second. A second which carried in itself all that they were left with between them: that tight, but thinly fraying, line of connection between them, that made the two of them always most keenly aware of the other, no matter who else was in the room.

He wanted to hold her gaze for just one second longer - was one more second really so much to ask for? - and to see her smile at him. He wanted to stand close to her, and smell her hair, and feel the softness of her shoulders. Just one more time, that was all he asked. Just one more chance to feel that strange, most intoxicating connection - that intimacy - that he had never in his life felt with anyone else.

He gripped the mantle even harder.

Just one more chance.


**********

Ridge was sitting at the long, draped dining table. Katie was to his left, and the seat on the other side of him remained empty. At some point nearly everyone had taken their places, and Ridge realized Caroline and Rick were the only two left to do so.

There was some confusion beside him, some words between Caroline and Hope, and then Caroline and Rick. And then before he knew it, Caroline herself was sitting right next to him as if he had planned it.

Rick seemed the least perturbed of everyone by this final seating arrangement. Ridge had to give it to Rick. His younger brother seemed the picture of confidence on this day, as if all the pain and betrayal was far behind him. Ridge would have doubted Rick's ability to move on if he wasn't seeing it with his own eyes.

Ridge intentionally got close to Caroline whenever he turned to talk to Eric at the opposite end of the table. Leaning in ever so slightly, he could just catch the fragrance in her hair. Once or twice, as he spoke, he saw her cast her eyes downwards and a little towards him. It was at one of these moments when he couldn't stand it any longer, that he turned to her and coughed a bit, then asked, so quietly that no one else would hear,

"You're good?"

He saw her swallow hard and nod, but she didn't turn to look at him.

"Things with Rick...." he started again.

She gave a small shake of her head. "Don't."

"I just wanted too make sure -"

"- How are the wedding plans?" she interrupted him. "That's quite a rock on Katie's finger."

Now it was his turn to be abrupt.

"That's really what you want to talk about?" he asked gruffly. "When we..."

"When we what?" she asked under her breath, barely managing to keep the anger out of her voice.

"When we have so little time together."

"That was your choice, Ridge."

He flinched a bit at her words. He could tell that Katie, Bill and Hope on the other side of them had quietened down and might be able to hear what he and Caroline were saying. So he turned back to their conversation with a wide grin on is face as if nothing had just happened.

At some point during the meal, Eric stood up to make a toast. All eyes were on him as he surveyed his large and extended family and co-workers.

"Thank you all for being here today, and sharing in our gratitude and good fortune. I think back on all the many holidays that we have celebrated here at the house, all the good times, and it is the laughter, and the smiles, and the faces that I remember most.

"It's been another interesting year at Forrester Creations, full of challenge and success and struggle. As you all know, I made the very difficult decision to finally turn over the chief executive role to someone much more dynamic, and young, and hungry. Rick-" and here Eric turned to his youngest son and lifted his glass of wine too him - "you have grabbed onto the reigns of responsibility and hard work with all you've got, and I'm proud of you my son. And you sit here tonight with your lovely bride of exactly one year, and Caroline, I can't tell you how happy I am that you have joined our family today, and forever. You are such a talent, and such an asset, both to Forrester Creations and to my boy. May this next year of marriage bring you both its deepest and most lasting rewards."

Ridge was looking towards Eric, but out of the corner of his eye he watched Rick carefully. Something seemed off about him, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He was too secure, too calm - not once did he glance in Ridge's direction, or try to overhear what he and Caroline might be saying. It was almost as if their brief emotional affair hadn't even happened, as far as Rick was concerned. Which was strange, for Ridge had never seen anyone made so upset and vengeful by a spouse's indiscretion as Rick had been only a few short weeks earlier.

Caroline now had her back to Ridge, and it was all he could to keep himself from occasionally resting his right hand on her bare shoulder, something he was used to doing so many times when they had been alone together, drawing, or arguing, or trying to resist their attraction.

Rick turned to Caroline as his dad finished his speech, and leaned forward to kiss her. "Happy Anniversary, Caroline," he said, his voice thick with emotion.

Ridge sat there, feeling his neck tighten again with anger and frustration. He had to give it to Rick: for all his tantrum-throwing and misbegotten insecurity, he certainly knew how to show his emotions. Ridge wondered at Caroline's susceptibility to that. He himself had spent the better part of the past several months doing anything but reveal his true emotions to her and, when he finally had, it had turned out to be too late. The rest of his life had moved on without him in control, and he was now subject to the needs and wishes and demands of others.

Hope stood up, struck her spoon against her water glass, and wavered a bit on her high heels. Wyatt looked about the table and laughed, "I keep telling my lovely bride that pregnant women have to give up the Louboutins, but Hope'll have none of that kind of talk."

Everyone laughed, and Hope struck her glass with her spoon again.

"So, in continuing with Thanksgiving family tradition, I'd like everyone to share with the table what they are most grateful for this year. AND...." she added quickly, as all the men started to moan, "AND to also share with the person on their right something about them that has made a difference in their life. A good thing," she added quickly, with a wink.

Wyatt went first, expounding on his new bride, and the baby on the way. For a second Ridge thought he saw Quinn outside the French doors, lurking among the palm trees and hyacinths with a large tupperware container in her hands, but tried to think the better of it.

There was a lot of laughter as Oliver and Liam spoke about their respective girlfriends, each trying to outdo the other, and Ridge watched carefully when it was Carter's turn. Sometimes he worried about Carter - worried about his aloneness in the world, the quiet inexplicable hankering after Maya, the almost resistant approach to taking any risks and truly starting his life.

When it came time for Caroline to speak, Ridge felt his jaw clench and he kept his hands in his lap, trying not to look anxious in any way.

"I am very thankful for my new and my old family, all of you here in LA, making such a safe new home for me since I moved from New York. I have learned so much, and found some great new friends, and I am grateful to go to work everyday with so many wonderful people."

Ridge gave an almost imperceptible cough as she turned to Rick on her right.

"And I want to thank my husband, Rick, for being there for me, completely. Giving me his all, every step of the way. He is a man unafraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, but keeps me safe and protected. Thank you, for all your love."

Caroline and Rick kissed again, and then suddenly she turned right round to face Ridge and said, with the slightest of smirks, "Now you're in the hot seat."

Ridge stared at her quickly, and then composed himself and spoke about being grateful for getting his talent back, and rediscovering his love of design. He looked at Katie on his left and mentioned how glad he was that they were finally able to focus on living the life they had planned together. He stopped talking, and Hope raised an eyebrow at him.

"And Caroline, on your right?"

Ridge narrowed his eyes at Hope, knowing what she knew about the botched bid for CEO and Maya's boardroom reveal of his and Caroline's intimacy.

"Of course. And Caroline was a huge part - the most important part - of my recovery. The best friend and design partner that one could ask for. Completely selfless, and focussed on the craft. I wouldn't be here today without her."

The talk moved to Katie, and then Bill, but Ridge wasn't really listening anymore. He barely even heard what Katie said to him, or what Bill said to her.

He was instead looking down at his right hand, resting low between his chair and Caroline's, and he could feel her own hand there, so close, so open to his touch.

Suddenly he grabbed her hand before he could stop himself. She didn't pull away at first, just let him hold it tight, and there it was all over again: that electric pull of attraction between them, that connection, that overwhelming intimacy that would always be there.

She could smirk at him, and shut him down, and put up walls against him. She could move on with Rick, and he with Katie, and their lives would go on as planned. But it would always be there, waiting, this connection that they shared. And he saw the futility in fighting it: for fighting it only seemed to feed it even more, and make it bigger than daily life and the mundane passing of time. And ignoring it seemed, tragically, to do the same: make it bigger than ever before, leaving them unprotected and thoroughly unprepared for exactly moments like this.

After a few seconds Caroline gently, slowly, pulled her hand out of his, and he thought about the chance he had just taken. And in that moment he looked over at Stephanie's portrait and winked at her.

He had got his chance, after all, and he had taken it.
bluegaze

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Reply with quote  #14 




And the plot thickens...... this chapter was well worth the wait! I'm anxious to read what

comes next.

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phoebe

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Reply with quote  #15 

CHAPTER TWELVE


Ridge walked through the many rooms of the Forrester mansion, hoping to find Caroline. Rick he had seen out on on the terrace leading from the dining room. his right hand held muffled over his cell phone, his words too quiet for anyone else to hear. Something about his posture showed Ridge that he was stressed, either from arguing with someone or trying to desperately convince them of something. But it wasn't a work day, so unless it was a foreign distributor or supplier, Ridge had to wonder what was getting Rick so riled up. Especially when he had been the picture of calm and collected during Thanksgiving dinner.

Ridge could feel his hands start to sweat as he tried to stroll casually from room to room, making small talk with so many people along the way, trying to act completely casual and nonchalant. At one point he came up to Katie and Bill and when his longtime nemesis made a crack about him, Katie had laughed, almost at Ridge. He had slightly raised his eyebrow at her, and she shrunk a bit in mock-apology.

"What? It was funny," she added.

"So when's the big day?" Bill asked them, and Katie looked at Ridge to answer.

"Whenever Katie wants. The sooner the better."

"Really!" Bill smirked. "That's quite a change of tune."

"Bill..." Katie interrupted, admonishing him.

"No, no, I'm glad," Bill continued. "You deserve a big splashy wedding, and a firm date, and a commitment. Even if it's to this guy."

Katie made another face at him, and Ridge moved on, not really caring what Bill had to say. Not really even listening to any of it.

Eventually he reached the far end of the mansion, past the study and then the enclosed conservatory where Eric and Stephanie had loved to sit with their morning coffee. From the conservatory there were several granite steps down into the garden, full of climbing hibiscus and purple daisies still in bloom enclosed by a natural stone wall. He had always loved this part of his mother's garden, this small secret place whose southernmost wall then opened out onto several terraces cut into the hill leading towards the pool and tennis courts.

Ridge stood on the stone steps and looked out at the full harvest moon. He remembered the last time he had seen the moon that strange, almost ominous, blood-orange colour: it had been months ago, following the final drawing session at the cabin with Caroline. He had wanted her so badly, and they had come so close to throwing away everything for that one chance to be with each other completely and irrevocably. And then just days later Maya had happily hurled the accusation that had imploded not just their little world together, but the lives of those they both loved.

Ridge thought back on how everything had got to this point. He had started with the most benign of intentions: mentor a young designer while his own skill lay dormant. Then he had seen Caroline's talent first-hand, and it had been too easy a decision to work with her on the upcoming couture line without anyone else knowing just how much he was leaning on her. And then he had been sorely tempted to capitalize on her growing feelings for him, her idol and now mentor, in his bid for the CEO position.

And somewhere right around then the tables had turned. Ridge remembered that first kiss - "When we kissed," as he had once tried to tell her - and in making their connection physical, Ridge had been the one to then lose control of his emotions. What followed were weeks of attempts to see Caroline again, be close to her, and save her from the vengeful and unforgiving wrath of her husband. And all the while they had both told the world that what had happened between them was simply artistic temperament run amok, the spilling over of intense emotion and creativity, a line that could be crossed and then just as easily retraced back again. Simple.

Of course, that was when the lying had really started. And in the glass house, free of their respective worlds, they had forged a new bond, and a new world, entirely their own. And in his heart Ridge knew that he would have given up Katie, and his father's good opinion, and turned his back on it all in order to be with Caroline. It had all been planned out, and Caroline had waited for him, bravely turning her back on the very husband with whom she had been trying so hard to reconcile. They had come so close, and perhaps this was what now caused the greatest pain: the sense of being ready to make huge decisions, and working through that mental stress, and then having to undo it all when Katie announced her pregnancy.

Ridge thought he caught sight of something white and shimmering in the walled garden, and he stepped down and moved quietly along the stone pathway until he reached the old wooden gate.

Caroline was standing near the wall inside the courtyard garden, smelling the fragrance from the trumpet-like blossoms of the hibiscus, her eyes closed to the night sky.

Ridge stood there for a second and didn't make a sound, wanting to almost burn this image of her onto his brain. She was so beautiful: he had never in his life seen a woman both so stunning and so wonderfully feminine in her beauty.

Finally she opened her eyes and he coughed as if in warning, and she turned in her bare feet to face him.

"Where are your shoes?" he asked, almost tongue-tied.

She nodded over to a nearby stone bench where her high heels sat primly next to each other on the seat. Then she just kept he standing there, keeping her hands clasped behind her back.

"You startled me."

"Were you expecting Rick?"

She shrugged. "I wasn't really expecting anyone."

"Well that's good," Ridge started circling her, like a panther, and she turned a bit as he moved about her. "Because he looked knee-deep in intense conversation on his phone last time I checked."

She made a face. "Probably business," she replied in irritation.

"Sure," Ridge said curtly.

"What are you implying?" she sighed.

"Just that, for someone for whom we both felt tremendous guilt and responsibility in this whole mess, he seems too be coping remarkably fine. Especially for Rick."

"Stop being so mean and cruel."

"I'm not being either of those things," he said quickly, his voice rising. "But haven't you noticed how thoroughly he seems to have moved on, as if nothing had ever happened?"

"Oh my god, the ARROGANCE!" she exclaimed. "You pretty much told me to go back to Rick, urged me not to do anything irrevocable - and now you are unhappy because he's not unhappy enough? What is wrong with you?"

"You're angry."

"You're perceptive."

"Look Caroline," he started again, "I'm just surprised at how easily and quickly it has all worked out. I'm worried, I guess, that things won't continue in this way for long, especially if Rick is not dealing honestly with the emotional fall-out."

"I don't think Rick's the one having trouble dealing with emotional fall-out, as you call it."

He watched her closely as she spoke, and he could swear there were tears in her eyes.

"Caroline," he pleaded, taking a step towards her.

"I'm sorry Ridge, but you gave up any right to be concerned about me weeks ago. And I know it's just like you - just you being Ridge - to want to tangle with more than one woman at once. But if I am going to make my marriage work, when it's all I've got, then I need to stay far away from you."

"It's not all you've got."

"Excuse me?" she asked sharply, and even in the moonlight he could see the look of disapproval in her eyes.

"You heard me. Your marriage: it's not all you've got." He sighed and took another step closer. "You didn't need to go back."

"I wanted to."

"Because of me."

"Oh my God, you arrogant son-of-a-" She threw her hands up into the air and started to walk away from him. He moved to the side to block her and then grabbed her left arm with his right.

"Let go of me,"" she said angrily.

"Stop what you're doing then."

"Stop what? Stop moving on with my life? What, so only you and Katie get to build a life together? I just get to sit on the outside, is that it? Only content to look in the window at all the happy couples..."

"Caroline, there is something up with Rick. I can feel it."

"Let go of me!" she exclaimed again, louder this time, but he just pulled her even closer."You're just trying to mess me up again, like always. You just can't stand to lose anything, can you Ridge?"

He put his right hand inside the open slit at the back of her white blouse and pulled her tightly to him.

"I think something is up with my brother, and I am going to see to it, goddammit, that if I can't have you, then whoever does better deserve you."

She was staring at his lips, and he wanted so badly to kiss her.

"Well, that's not you," she said, and he could hear the slightest note of a challenge, a dare, in her soft voice.

"Caroline, we are not going to play around like this. You know how I feel - that hasn't changed. I -" he stopped himself, as his voice grew husky with emotion. "Nothing has changed. Not one bit of it. Not how much I love you, not how much I want to feel this body next to mine..."

"Everything has changed," she said, keeping her eyes down at the rapidly diminishing space between their bodies. "I won't come second-best, not to a pregnant Katie - not to anyone. And with Rick I at least don't have to worry about that. He has pledged himself to me, fully and completely, and is determined to make up for everything he has done. Done out of anger, justifiable anger, towards me. I have to own that. You do, too."

"I don't have to own anything. I am going to prove to you what you really deserve."

She finally pulled free of his grasp. "Good luck with that." She turned and grabbed her shoes off the nearby bench, then hesitated one last time before the gate leading back to the real world and their respective others.

"And for the record, you've done a lousy job of it so far."

She left him standing there in the moonlight, watching her shimmering back fade into the night, determined to prove himself right to her if it was the last thing he did.


****************

CHAPTER THIRTEEN


Eric entered the CEO office late, Pam having waylaid him along the way to try one of her new key lime bars. Everyone else was mostly already seated, with Rick sitting pompously at the head of the long boardroom table. Eric was a little surprised to see Maya there too, especially given Rick and Caroline's recent reconciliation. But, admittedly, Maya had been a big help during last month's extremely successful couture launch, andEric suspected Rick wanted to keep as much of his "team" about him as possible.

Ridge entered a few minutes late, and before taking the empty seat next to Eric wondered aloud if he really needed to be there.

Rick walked back to close the door after Ridge, then as he started to sit back down stated, "Absolutely. Dad specifically requested it."

"Fine," Ridge said, looking around the table, only to quickly avert his eyes as his glance came across Caroline.

"So," Eric started, standing up. "Last month's show was, as you all know, unprecedented in the history of Forrester Creations. Thanks, of course, to our two co-designers."

At this Caroline looked across the table at Ridge, but he still kept his eyes firmly fixed on Eric.

"And so," Eric continued, "I have decided that we would be remiss to try and reinvent the wheel. With their permission, then, I'd like Ridge and Caroline to be our official lead design team for Fall/Winter 2015."

Ridge looked quickly at Rick, who had his eyes fixed on some spreadsheets on the table before him. Again, Ridge found his younger brother's behaviour so odd of late.
Less odd - and more dangerous - was Maya's reaction. She looked about ready to burst with yet another tawdry and overblown accusation. Ridge wondered at Maya's recent strange behaviour: ostensibly still the lead model, she moped about the office as if directionless and cast adrift ever since Rick had gone back to Caroline. There were times when Ridge could have sworn Maya was practically biting her tongue to keep from blurting out something inevitably cruel and malicious.

"You're sure?" Caroline was asking Eric.

"Do you need more time to think about it? No? Then I'm sure." Eric stood up with a smile. "Well, I will leave you all to it - I've got a golf game to get to."

The room started to buzz over the news and eventually emptied out until only Rick, Ridge and Caroline were left sitting at the table. Rick was shuffling papers and checking the messages on his iPhone. Caroline was trying desperately hard not to look over at Ridge, who was staring intently at Rick's bent head.

"Hey, little brother - what's so captivating over there?" Ridge asked him gruffly.

Rick gave a subtle smirk and pushed all the papers into a folder, then stood up. "Well, I guess this was inevitable. Dad always puts the company first."

"Rick, you said it was okay," Caroline started to plead with him, but he immediately put up his hand as if there was nothing to explain.

"No, Caroline, really - I'm good." He seemed so cool - almost cold - to her. "I'll leave you two to it - I am sure you're simply brimming over with ideas, and could go at it all night if left to your own devices."

He left the boardroom quickly, letting the door slam shut behind him.

Ridge was still sitting across from her, and she could feel his dark eyes on her.

"What? What is it?" she asked in irritation.

"We certainly know how to clear a room," he tried to smile.

"That's all over - nobody's even thinking about that. You, you have a wedding and a baby on the way. It's all just back to business."

"Is it?" he asked cryptically. "And your husband - is he always so curt and dismissive of you?"

Caroline stood up and walked over to the large mahogany banker's desk, leaning her back against its edge.

"He's just got a lot on his mind, being CEO and all."

"And I don't?" asked Ridge, standing up too.

"I'm really not worried about what's on YOUR mind, Ridge."

"Caroline," he started again, taking a step closer, and she held up her hand to stop him.

"Ridge, I said everything to you at Thanksgiving that I needed to say. And you need to focus on Katie and the baby."

He was looking at her now so sadly, so bereft at the distance both physical and emotional between them.

"What have I done - what have I let happen to us?" he muttered almost under his breath.

She sighed. "You're not the only one in control, Ridge."

He thought of stopping her from leaving, of stepping in her way and half-blocking her with his body, but instead stopped himself. The distance between them seemed now completely unbridgeable.

************

Eric strolled into the office later that night, still a little out of breath from the long golf game in the cool L.A. winter air. Ridge was sitting at the draughtsman's table, hunched over, sketching, and Eric watched him for a second.

"You okay son?" he asked after a few seconds.

Ridge looked up and then quickly back down at the design he was working on. "Just stumped with this piece."

"Well, it's a good thing you'll now have Caroline to work with again."

There was not a trace of irony in Eric's voice, and Ridge now sat back and started tapping the pencil against his other hand.

"Dad, are you sure that is really such a good idea?"

"Why - aren't you?" Eric sighed at his oldest child, now middle-aged himself. "For God's sake Ridge, tell me there's nothing to worry about."

"With me and Caroline? No, dad, I can assure you: there is absolutely nothing to worry about. But Rick...it's just...he's still being pretty hostile to her."

Eric went over to his desk drawer and started pulling out some papers.

"Rick's fine. He just needs more time. But he'll get there. He knows he'd be a fool to lose someone like Caroline."

"Yes, he would," Ridge half-muttered under his breath. He watched as Eric absent-mindedly traced the edge of a frame holding an early picture of Stephanie. "It doesn't get any easier, does it, dad?"

Eric looked over at Ridge in surprise. "No, it doesn't. I just wish I'd been a better husband to your mother."

"We could all be better husbands," Ridge replied with a smile.

Eric sat down in the large swivel chair and turned to look at the night sky. "Yes, we certainly could. They deserve at least that much. That's why it's so important to marry someone who brings out the best in you: who inspires you to be a better person. I think Katie can be that person for you - I hope so."

Ridge threw the pencil down with a slight smile. "Because there's still room for improvement, huh, dad?"

"There's ALWAYS room for improvement," Eric smiled back warmly. "But you, Ridge, I don't worry about. You find your inspiration from within, your motivation, and your drive. You make mistakes - sure, we all do - but you own them fully. And you never do anything that doesn't begin and end with you. And I don't mean that selfishly. Rick on the other hand..." Eric hesitated, looking back down at the papers he had just removed from the desk, wondering whether to tell Ridge their contents. "Rick is so different from you, Ridge. He is the most reactive person I have ever known. His motivation is all from without: his fears, his sense of betrayal, his need for vengeance. That's one reason why I encouraged his reconciliation with Caroline. He needs someone to steady him, to keep him from losing himself so easily to the whirl of outside events. To give him a center, and a home." He paused, and looked back at the photo of Stephanie again.

"It's the worst kind of loss, dad," Ridge offered.

Eric looked over at him and smiled sadly. "I forget, son - I'm so sorry that I do - that you know this only too well yourself."

Ridge shifted uncomfortably on the stool he was perched on. He rarely spoke about his late wife Caroline. For everyone else in his life, her loss was now decades old, and now merely a part of history and family lore. Without a child together, without some continuing presence, she had faded for most others into a perfect ghost-like memory. For him, though, the hurt came from how little that memory had faded after all.

"You know, Ridge, Caroline made you grow up. You had been quite the playboy up to that point, if you remember," he chuckled lovingly. 'She was so elegant, so poised and in control. There was not an ounce of insecurity in that woman. Not a whit. She was so good for you."

Ridge gave a slight cough and stood up and started to close his sketch book.

"I'm sorry son - I know you don't like talking about her."

"It's okay dad. It's all safely in the past." Ridge headed for the door, then turned back one last time. "Just do me a favour, dad, would you? Rick and Caroline: don't make any assumptions about them, or any hasty decisions. As you said, Rick is going to need a lot of time. That's my fault, sure it is. But you've set them up a little ahead of their time, to protect them - I get that - but there's a risk to that, too. They might not be ready - and that could mean hurting each other all over again. Marriage is hard enough."

Eric nodded thoughtfully and put the papers back in the desk drawer, closing it with a sharp thud. "Marriage is hard enough," he repeated, taking one last look at the photo of Stephanie before him.


**************

CHAPTER FOURTEEN


"Don't do that."

Ridge turned back from the sheer white curtains blowing into the bedroom from the balmy mid-summer breeze. Caroline's thick blond hair, cut into her signature Grace Kelly-ish bob, fanned out behind her on the pillowcase.

She was smiling at him. She often smiled at him like that - just the faintest curl to her lips. A most patient, understanding, and loving smile. He couldn't believe it possible that one day, soon, he would never see that smile again.

"Don't do what?" he said back, coming over to sit by her and taking her delicate hands.

"Don't put yourself down like that. You do that, you know. A lot." She squeezed his hands with hers. "And it doesn't suit you. Not you. The "great" Ridge Forrester."

"I was such an arrogant piece of work when we met, wasn't I?"

"No self-confidence problems there!" Caroline laughed. "I blame Stephanie. Wives get to do that, of course: always blame the mother-in-law."

"She loves you, too. But you know that." Ridge felt the tears starting up in his eyes and blinked hard. Caroline had rarely seen him break down and he was adamant she never would. He had one goal in life now, to be strong for her, to give her whatever she emotionally needed in these last final days. It was all he could do.

"Yes. I know."

Caroline sat up for a second and he passed the glass of water to her from the bedside table. The pain medication was making her mouth constantly parched, and she still craved water, but her interest in food was almost completely gone. His constant panic and pain came from knowing the doctors had warned that lack of appetite would be the final stage.

"We are both very lucky," she continued, "to have parents who love us so completely, and our complete selves."

"With you it's easy, and makes sense. Sometimes I think I am loved for who I can be. As if their love is trying to get me there."

"That's what love is, you silly boy." She leaned her head back down against the pillow and closed her eyes again. "I'm getting very tired."

He stood up quickly. "Do you want me to close the curtains? Do you want me to leave?"

She shook her head and patted the space on the bed next to her. "No. Never. Just stay."

He sat back down on the bed next to her and pulled his legs up onto the thin space of bed blankets left alongside her, until they were now lying next to each other. He put his left arm around the back of her head and started to stroke her hair.

"You've been a wonderful husband," Caroline said weakly. "A boyfriend and fiance? Mmmm, not so much. But as a husband you've been the man I knew you were. Knew you could be."

"You got me there," Ridge replied. "Only you. No one could do it. No one else ever will." He could feel the tears on his face now, but it was okay: she couldn't see him.

"You would've got there eventually. And you'll get there again. It's in you - it always was. It's why I fell in love with you. You love more exquisitely, more intensely, more completely than anyone I've ever known. "

He shook his head and leaned back against the hard wrought iron bars of the headboard. "You did that. You brought that out in me. Don't you see?" And here he started to cry, because every conversation like this he feared would be their last. They had so much unfinished business. She would leave him, soon, and he would remain unfinished, a work in progress, forever searching for someone like her all over again. Because she was perfection.

"Don't I see what?" she asked softly.

"I loved that way because of you. That's why we fit. I could never love like this again."

"Well that's just not true. Of course you will. It's in you now, because of me or not. It's all there. There's no going back in life, Ridge. We don't move backwards. You will take your memories of me, and our love, and what we shared, and you will carry it around with you forever. And life will give you new experiences - and yes, it is going to be so hard, and it might take longer than you think you can handle. And, knowing you" - and here she laughed, for the first time in days - "there will be huge mistakes along the way. But one day you will love again."

He shook his head firmly. "No, no I won't. And I don't want to talk about this anymore. It's not honouring you, or our marriage, to have to say things like this. I am so damn angry, that you have to even think about things like this."

She found the strength to look back up at him and saw the tears on his cheeks.

"I'm angry too," she said, wiping away his tears with her right hand.

"Caroline Spencer Forrester does not do angry," he tried to smile.

"This is me angry, Ridge. Angry that your life too is being cut short. And it's so scary to me, what's going to happen to you, if you don't move forward. You have to move forward. Not right away," she laughed again, this time through tears of her own, "but in time, when you're ready. We started something together, something so incredible, and you take that with you and carry it inside you. And so, in that way, I am always with you. And you will honour me and my memory one day by loving again - by doing the very thing you right now are convinced is gone from you forever. And, when you do, when you fully open yourself up to life again, well, then - THEN - I can truly rest. Because this - what we share - it just can't be for nothing. And it can't be your prison, either. It's your home, Ridge - just like with your parents. It's your home, and your starting point, and the foundation for you. I love you. I love everything about you - the good and the not-so-good. And I know you better than anyone. You have to love again. And you will. And, please, please Ridge, don't ever worry that it would hurt me if you did. Because I know what we have - and no one can ever take that away from us. We didn't choose any of this, it's the last thing either of us wants. But to not live your own live fully, and honestly, and according to your very human needs and wants - well, that just becomes more of this very life that we didn't choose. It will only compound the pain - it won't take it away, or solve any of it, or bring me back."

He was really crying now, burying his face in her hair. She felt so weak and thin in his arms, as if she might just float away, as if she was already half-gone to that other world.

"There's no one else like you, Caroline. I will never find anyone else like you ever again."

"You're not supposed to..."

"But you're all I want," he sobbed.

They lay there in the small white bed together, the summer sun shining brightly in, a harbinger of the life and the world outside. She fell asleep in his arms, and he lay there with her for hours, crying into her hair, committing her words to memory, every last one of them, so that he would carry them around with him forever in his heart and his mind, a pure memory of her and the selfless way she had loved him.

They were the last words she ever spoke.


****************


Ridge looked up quickly from his desk - what on earth had made him think back to all that?

He had many memories of his beautiful late wife - many wonderful ones. He had held onto every single happy memory that he could. But he had tried to forget all the pain.

So much for the man who swore to himself that he would remember every last word of hers, every last dying wish. Ridge saw now that he had buried that man, right along with his beloved bride. Morbid, but undeniably true. He had moved forward, yes, and just as he had promised her - but mostly by allowing himself to be distracted. Distracted by a multitude of shiny objects. And by the business of life - and the business of designing. His life, his passion. But a business nonetheless.

The wives, the many exes, the children - he had experienced it all. If you lined it up on a ledger, the profits surely outweighed the deficits. He had come out ahead, in the end, mistakes and all. It was complicated - sure. But it was still a life, right?

So why all this now? Why all this wondering about what could have been, when there was a new life starting with Katie, another child to love and cherish? Why think back to Caroline and those last precious words: her wish for him, her prayer. A benediction in a way. And the extraction of a promise.

He had made her those promises, and he saw now that he had fooled himself into thinking he had indeed honoured her in their carrying out. He had lived a full, messy life that constantly moved forward - moved forward so fast, in fact, that he never had time to look back.

He supposed that had been the point, in the end.

Until Caroline, now.

Caroline took Ridge's cool heart of stillness and outdid him one more. But it was more than that. It was her poise and elegance - the allure of her quiet, waiting centre, her own forgiving heart - that reminded him so much of his late wife...

The sudden realization of this took him aback: how had he not seen any of this before?

He pushed back from the desk and looked about himself, as if scared at where his thoughts were taking him. All he could hear was the staccato whir of the vacuum cleaner in the hallway as the night staff wrapped things up. He leaned his head down, glad for the privacy. Glad that no one at work could see the confusion and anguish in his eyes.

For a second he feared he was losing it - that the past few months, the loss of this Caroline, the suppression of his real emotions in support of Katie and the pregnancy, had taken some unmeasurable toll, and he was about to pay a steep psychological price. Because it suddenly became clear to him that in living a full life to the world outside, he had neglected the inner life - the real, wanting, knowing heart of it. He had found it once, years ago, with the first Caroline: and he saw now that he had found it again, with someone just as captivating. And the psychological toll came from not knowing where one ended and the other began: what was real, and what was most surely not.

And perhaps, beyond the obvious, this was also why the sudden loss of his ability to draw had hit him so hard: he had not lived a life invested enough to experience real loss. He was not prepared for it - he had not done the hard work his late wife had exhorted him to do, before leaving him for good. And so he had been particularly lost and adrift this Fall, until Caroline had come along and challenged him again, in that same exact way.

Not to cast aspersions on his past loves - he had known many a wonderful, loving woman. And Brooke and Taylor in particular had given him the home and the children that he needed to keep centered in the moment. And they had supported his career and his ambitions. They had done their best. But those relationships, after all these years, had run their course. Perhaps because he had never fully, completely given himself up. Always holding something back, always prevaricating: always hurting the ones he loved, intentionally or not.

Would the marriage to Caroline have eventually ended then, too? Would they have had children, and a home, and eventually been pulled apart nonetheless by the same inevitable challenges to marriage?

Somehow, in his heart, Ridge knew the answer. And he recalled those last words of hers: "You have to love again...and don't ever worry that it would hurt me if you did. Because I know what we have - and no one can ever take that away from us. We didn't choose any of this, it's the last thing either of us wants. But to not live your own live fully, and honestly, and according to your very human needs and wants - well, that just becomes more of this very life that we didn't choose. It will only compound the pain - it won't take it away, or solve any of it, or bring me back."

He thought back to Brooke, the woman he had married after Caroline - back to when she was so young and ambitious, living that stolid middle-class life, yearning to be close to Caroline and the life that the Spencers and Forresters represented. Brooke was a truly self-made woman: she had earned the hard way every laugh-line, every accolade, every dollar. She had known from the time she was a young girl what she wanted, and she had gone after it with everything she had. And he admired her for that - he always had.

And he had chosen to love her for reasons now both clear and unclear with the cold hard passage of time. He had built a carefully-constructed life, with all the bells and whistles, all the shiny objects that most men get distracted by. And this life had been material, and tangible, and sheltered him from a certain degree of pain. That, too, had been the point.

And losing his child, Phoebe....he now saw that that had been his undoing. Because the carefully-constructed world had come crashing down around him, and the women in it had not been able to help him past it. It was, as he had so long ago promised Caroline, a life of his own choosing - a full life - but not an honest life. Not so long as he was spending so much of it trying to evade any pain.

The pain of losing Caroline so young, and so early in their marriage, had set him on a path of forward momentum, but in the end it had led back in a circle to right back here: right back to that sense of loss so deep, so singular, that one wanted to die oneself. In evading this pain of loss, he had ended up not moving forward at all, in the end. He was still back in that small white bedroom, the scent of lilies - her favourite flower - in the air, her golden face still impossibly aglow. Only she alone had had that unique ability to bring out the best in him. To make him want to be the best man he could be.

Only she alone, until this Caroline. His Caroline.

And in that moment Ridge knew what he had to do - knew why he was suddenly revisiting nostalgia, combing through the wreckage of the past trying to glean new lessons.

He had to truly let this Caroline go, too. Had to let her move on, with Rick, if that really was what she now wanted, for whatever reason. It didn't matter that he was only with Katie because of the pregnancy - he couldn't have it all. He had to be the better man.

Caroline made him feel this way - no one else. Until now, he had lived life for himself. Not always selfishly, but more selfishly than he should have. It was time to grow up, and stop pushing others so much. Time to let them live their own lives, and accept that he wasn't going to be able to have everything he wanted. Especially not if meant hurting Caroline in some way, or even Rick. If Rick really had grown up too, and really was trying to make his marriage work, then all Ridge could do was step aside. He hadn't stepped aside earlier that Fall, when his passion for Caroline had taken over him. And look at what that had wrought.

He was mad at Caroline for moving on so quickly without him, and mad at Rick for punishing her so rabidly, and mad at himself for being weak at so many key moments that he had lost control of his life. But he had to rise above all that. If what he felt for Caroline was true love, then he had to do everything within his power to give her a happy life. A conflict-free life. Just like the first Caroline had wanted for him. A full life might mean more chaos and heartbreak - and an honest life might mean telling both Katie and Caroline what he really wanted. But full and honest love made more room for the other person than one's own self would prefer to take up. True love meant caring for someone, and wanting their happiness, more than one's own. He had known this with his children, and with his late wife: he would gladly have given his life for any of them.

And so it was now, so late in the year, and on the cusp of the new one, that he put his pencil down, and closed his sketchpad, and made his own, most private, resolution.
bluegaze

Platinum Member
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Posts: 1,820
Reply with quote  #16 
Phoebe, I  was pleasantly surprised to see more chapters! I did not know you had

written more... your CaRidge story is riveting! Please continue posting when you have

time, thanks.

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phoebe

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Posts: 15
Reply with quote  #17 
Sorry, forgot to post more - got sucked into writing a new EJabby fan fic the past few months [smile]

Apologies in advance for any "continuity" errors with this story - I don't re-read what I write so I sometimes repeat or forget stuff!


************

CHAPTER FIFTEEN


The human mind has an incredible propensity to heal itself - but the cure was often as much a poison as anything else. Caroline had stood on the brink of the precipice of her marriage, with Ridge seemingly right next to her, and jumped - and the freefall, damaged and ultimately alone, had driven her right back into her marriage. Ridge had chosen someone - something - else, and she had begun the slow, rocky progress back up the precipice, back to the life she had known before. A life she had enjoyed to an extent - a life she might have remained satisfied with, if she hadn't been so weak as to look for the dragons at the end of the world, like those most ancient explorers before they crashed their ships against sudden rocky shores.

Everything she did now was a conscious choice to make up for the past. And if she now knew one could be happier than one thought, she also understood that one could be so much more miserable, too. She had chosen Rick once happily, and betrayed him, and sent him careening off his own personal brink of despair. And everything that had followed was, in some significant way, attributable back to her. So surely she owed it to both of them to help Rick climb back up too - and to be waiting there for him once he did?

Of course, the past several weeks had shown her that she might have to wait a lot longer than she would have liked - but wasn't that, too, part of her punishment? Wasn't waiting for as long as it took exactly what she now owed him? When it came to the intimacy with Ridge, she knew that any half-decent marriage counsellor would have told her, point-blank, that only Rick got to decide how much time he would need to get past it. That was the deal, now. And Rick seemed quite content to enjoy his half of it.

And so she could put the affair with Maya, the cruel behaviour at work, behind them, because she saw it all as stemming from her initial sins. She had gone looking for dragons - no one had made her - and if a fiery mess now rose up to meet her, she had no one else to blame. All she could do was wait, and withstand the flames, and give Rick the time he needed.

After all, the corresponding cruelty on his part had stopped. He had called things off with Maya, and tried to fire her at work, and had taken great strides towards reestablishing their own social persona as a couple. At work he was still sometimes curt, even cold, towards her, especially around Ridge, but that was all part of the waiting game. Once enough time had gone by, surely he would see that she had come back to him for a reason - that she had made choices of her own - and that the love had not died in the fall.

But as Caroline lay in bed, this New Year's Day, thinking back on the bewildering events of the previous year, she wondered at the slumbering body next to her. Rick seemed more than exhausted by his new role as CEO: he seemed not even himself anymore. He felt gone from her, as thoroughly as if they had never even been married to begin with. There was no warmth between them, none of that playful banter and intuitive understanding that had marked their newlywed days.

Caroline placed her right hand on Rick's left shoulder, burrowed beneath the extra blankets on the coldest days in the L.A. calendar. She tried to shake him gently awake, but he did not budge. She sighed and gave up, then closed her eyes against the sudden memory of Ridge.

She remembered running straight into his arms, wet from swimming, and he practically catching her as she rounded the side of the glass house...his tracing his drawing hand along the length of her naked body as they lay facing each other in bed...sitting curled up tight against him as his car took the hairpin turns of the Laurel Canyon drive...feeling the steering wheel pushing hard against her back as they stole one last moment together before heading back to reality...the last moment they would ever share, in the end...

Her feelings now for Ridge were at best complex - sometimes she felt like she hated him, and other times she could weep at the heartbreak inside her, hidden from everyone else. Thank God they had kept their affair secret, given how everything had since spun out. She wondered how Katie and Ridge were doing - if they, too, had lost any of the intimacy that typically binds couples together. But then again, there was a child on the way for all that.

Caroline got up and looked out the window at the rising sun. She wanted a child, too - and it wasn't going to be with Ridge, that at least was clear. And she and Rick had always planned on starting a family, even from the earliest days of their marriage. So what was stopping her?

She took another look back at Rick still deeply asleep, his back turned to her as it now always was, and she thought back to Ridge again, back to that last conversation in the boardroom. He had seemed to zero in on Rick's coldness to her, his usually intrepid, cool self suddenly jumpy as he started to pester her with questions. Questions about her life that he had lost all right to ask.

He seemed to not want her anymore and yet at the same time to not want anyone else to have her. She felt like a mere possession, just another one of the many shiny objects that Ridge had accumulated in life. She wondered now if everything - that first kiss, the almost affair, the coming to her rescue - all stemmed from his ego and overweening talent. He certainly spoke often enough of the great creative imperative, the stealing from others to satisfy the demands of art. Maybe he had stolen her soul just to satisfy the needs of the couture collection, and overcome his sudden disability, and have a meaningful shot at the CEO position. She had worried about all that at the beginning, when she did not yet really know Ridge, and now she was right back to worrying about all that again.

Finally she heard Rick stir and she went straight to his side of the bed and sat down next to him.

"Hey, sleepyhead...." she started.

Rick sat up a bit and squinted his eyes against the morning sun. "What time is it?" he asked, still keeping one eye half-closed.

"Time for me to make you breakfast in bed."

"Crap, no, seriously - what time is it?" He jumped up and grabbed his watch from the bedside table. "Ah damn, sorry, this isn't good."

"It can't be work - it's, like, the one day in the world that everyone gets off."

Rick rubbed his hands through his hair and pulled his t-shirt off. "I'm sorry, Caroline, but I promised Tokyo the last quarter results before their office closes tonight..." He headed for the shower.

"Rick!"

"What babe?" he said quickly.

"You'll be back soon, though, right?"

"Sure, as soon as I can - I just don't know what state Finance left everything in for me...could take a few hours to unravel it all...."

He disappeared into the bathroom, and Caroline lay back down on the bed with tears in her eyes. She wanted to do better by Rick, wanted to be the best wife possible. Wanted to forget all about Ridge, and never yearn for him again. In fact, if she could go back and do it all differently again, she would have. Of course she couldn't go back, but at least here she was being given the next best thing: a second chance.

So why on earth did Rick not seem to care if she took it or not?


*************

Ridge could not fail to see the irony that, just as soon as he had resolved to leave Caroline alone and suffer in silence, he was drawn right back into the thick of things with her all over again.

"Do you love her?"

They were in the living room, having just returned from Katie's second-month check-up. There was some concern about her heart health, but the doctors assured them that with enough rest and monitoring, there was no reason for alarm. They should prepare for the possibility of bedrest, though - and Ridge could hear Bill's voice escalate on Katie's cell-phone as she had updated him on the drive back.

Ridge turned from the fireplace, where he had been standing having his own quick work phone call with Caroline.

"What?" he asked absent-mindedly, determined to stay calm.

"Caroline," Katie persisted. "Do you have feelings for her?"

Ridge shook his head at Katie with the slightest of bemused grins. "Where on earth is that coming from?"

Katie shrugged, her hands never leaving her belly. "You're different, around her. I can see it. Now more than ever."

"Katie, honestly - what's going on? Do you mean the phone call, just now?"

Katie nodded determinedly.

"It was all of fifty seconds!" he continued, his voice starting to rise.

"You counted."

"Oh my god," Ridge said under his breath, and he tapped his hand a few times on the mantlepiece as he turned away from her. "Is that what this is about, this mood of yours?"

"Don't you dare try and chalk it up to hormones, Ridge - not you of all people."

"I don't know what it is, but you are not yourself."

Katie sighed knowingly. "I could say the same about you."

"Katie, honey, please - come sit down." He sat on the sofa and patted the seat next to him, but she remained standing.

"Ridge, this is exactly what I'm talking about - you're always so jumpy, around her, on the phone with her - your energy, it's completely at loose ends." She shook her head at him. "Don't even bother protesting that one. You are the most calm and collected person I know - Bill practically has steam coming out of his head 24/7 - but lately you seem, I don't know..."

"Katie, these last few months....losing my ability to draw...Caroline helping me and the two of us getting stupidly caught up in that: you know all this. It's been hard on everyone -but we're finally settling back down, you and I. And Caroline and Rick are too."

"How do you feel about that?" Katie asked, arching one eyebrow.

"About Caroline and Rick? I feel happy - happy for the two of them. I just want Caroline to be happy. Whatever that is."

"Why do you think that is?" she asked, still standing on the other side of the coffee table from him.

"I don't know," he sighed, his voice growing husky. "Because I feel responsible for what happened - for taking advantage of her, for jeopardizing her marriage."

Katie finally came and sat down next to him. "Ridge, I love you, I really do. But these past few months, you have seemed not just distracted - you've seemed somewhere else altogether. Here, with me, and at work. And in bed."

Ridge looked down at his hands, now grasped tightly between his knees, and lowered his head to feel the blood rushing through it. This was not what was supposed to happen now. This was not what should happen - there was a baby on the way, and he was the father, and the last thing that should be happening was anything to threaten all that.

"Katie," he started again, and she sat back against the corner of the sofa to look at him.

"Just now, on the phone - you should have seen your face. You thought I was checking the mail, and I was, but I could see it. And the energy, so hard-wired, the jumpiness - like you were having to contain the biggest secret in the world."

Ridge refused to look at her, as he softened his voice. "Katie, this is ridiculous, I'm telling you - we just listened to the baby's heartbeat, we are building a life together, the life we've been planning for months now. You can't just pull the plug on it, not like this, not over the way I talk to someone on the phone."

"That's only because that's all I've got - that's all you let me see."

"There's no more, Katie, I swear it. There's nothing more."

"You've felt so distant from me," she continued, as if she hardly heard his protestations, "for months now, starting with the injury, and then the tough road to recovery, and the blow-up with Rick. And Caroline. Be honest: we haven't been truly a couple for a while now, not in the way that we were."

"What are you saying exactly, Katie, hmmm?"

"Ridge, I want this baby - our baby - more than anything. I can't wait to give Will a little brother or sister. But more than that, I want to give him a family. A real family, that nothing can tear apart. That will be there together, day in and day out. And god help me, knowing my luck with pregnancies, there is no way I want to be hammering out ANY of this with you once the baby has arrived. But I can do it now, while I still have the strength and energy to resist your every protestation and argument."

Ridge sat back and leaned his head back against the sofa, looking up at the ceiling as if wishing there was a clue up there for him - some hint of how best to proceed, what if anything to confess to: what to try and walk away with.

"She's very pretty - very young. Actually, she reminds me a lot of your other Caroline..."

"Katie, for god's sake, don't do this. You're above all this."

"Are you?" She smiled almost enigmatically. "It's okay, really - I'm okay. I couldn't do this otherwise. I was very young when you were married to Caroline - remember, those days when I was in the background, Brooke's insecure teen sister? I had a crush on you even then - we all did. But it was different with Caroline, wasn't it?"

Ridge sat there taken aback - he rarely ever discussed his late wife with anyone, and here it was happening again, first with his father and now Katie.

"I don't have it in me, Ridge, to come second-best again, not even with you. Bill's a mess, sure - but in the moment he is all there. I don't know what the future holds, but I do know I can't look forward to one if we aren't even making our best efforts in the present."

"This is my best, Katie - I swear it. If you only knew - if I could only convince you. We can do this. We can make it."

She came over and kissed him lightly on the top of his head. "Oh, sure, we can pull it off, and cobble something together - something that might last. even. Something good enough. But I can't settle for just good enough. And you can't, either, even less so than me."

He hesitated, as what he really wanted started to do battle within himself with what he knew Katie deserved from him at this moment. "Katie, I'm begging you, I'm not hiding anything from you. This is my life, here, with you. And our baby. You are my life. Please - please don't give up on me now."

Katie sighed, stood up, and started to play with the red string around her ring finger. "I don't know, Ridge. Sometimes I think I don't know anything anymore. But I guess the one thing I do know, is that I need some time. Time to think - time to figure out what we're all about. And what we have left."

"Just" - and here he could hear the panic in his own voice, the fear that the carefully-constructed world about him, his armour against the external pain and regret, was about to implode and leave him completely alone and vulnerable - "just don't make any rash decisions, okay, please? Just give us both some time."

"Sure, I can do that. Well, this is not how I thought 2015 was going to start out. But maybe it will only get better from here."

She left him sitting there, staring at the fire, wondering on earth that could be possibly end up true.


*****************

CHAPTER SIXTEEN


Katie kept up her end of the bargain, and Ridge went to work every day acting just as if nothing had happened back home to upend the comforting picture of domestic unity.

This was Ridge's crow's nest, like the one in the toy pirate ship he had once given to R.J. as a gift: a little protected perch from which he could oversee the rest of his life without any of his true vulnerabilities or needs on display. Ridge liked to be in control, or at least appear so: it was a matter of pride for him that he never show his hand, unlike the so obviously-apparent Rick.

If he was honest with himself, Ridge admitted as he watched Caroline sketching at the desk in Eric's old office, he was also determined to never look like the loser to his younger insecure brother in any way. Right now, Rick had Caroline - all of her. She had gone back to him, and Ridge was self-aware enough to realize that on some level his ego would have been most highly gratified if - despite him forging ahead with a family with Katie - Caroline had decided to keep her world small and in service to the memory of him and what they had shared together, even for just a little while.

That she had so quickly returned to her home with Rick - and to his bed - was the undercurrent to Ridge's constant sense of dissatisfaction with his life. Katie had been right. There was more to EVERYTHING. More than he even wanted to admit in silence to himself.

And so Ridge walked around the office determined to act as if everything was fine - and when he offered to Caroline that he was happy that she and Rick were making a go of it again, he half-meant it. For one thing, it helped him keep his distance from her, while giving off a slight whiff of confidence and bravura.

"Hey, I like that," he muttered, standing a few feet back and watching as she added some beginning strokes to the skirt on the bodice he himself had earlier created.

"You do? Thanks," she said quietly, not looking back at him, staying in her own protected perch.

Ridge took in the full length of her lithe, golden figure - the way her beautifully soft, long blond hair fell over the page as she worked, the elegant way she sat there with her shoulders and back so regally straight. He loved her poise and calm, centred energy, coupled with her natural cheerfulness towards life. He felt calmer always just being around her - and he realized that no one else had ever really made him feel this way, at least not since...

Ridge snapped himself out of his reverie. Caroline was continuing to sketch unaware. After a few seconds, he came up behind her and took her hand casually, as if he allowed himself to touch her like this every day. Just as his hand covered hers, the same insistent, electric spark lit up between them, and he could feel her right hand tighten in response.

He let himself stay standing there just a second longer, holding her hand in his - let himself look piercingly into her eyes as she looked up at him in that adorable way that she always did.

"Ridge," she started to say, half under her breath.

He pulled back immediately, then watched with hidden disappointment as she quickly shook out her hands and then wrung them together.

"You okay?" he said, trying to change tack.

"Mhmmm," she replied, continuing to bend over the desk, her face hidden by her hair.

Ridge hesitated, thinking about how Katie was so close to setting him free, and how Rick now had the one thing Ridge was starting to realize he could not live without. His baby brother, Little Ricky. That insecure, Machiavellian little snot. Ridge knew he should feel more guilty than he did for wreaking havoc with his brother's marriage, but Rick made it so darn hard. He almost dared everyone to try and stay and work it out. He was the classic case of someone who is so scared of being unlovable, that he tries to be just that - tries to push people away as hard as he is capable of, so that, if they stay nonetheless, he finds some weird comfort in knowing he made it as hard as possible for them to stay and yet - and yet - they did. That seemed to be the only way that people could prove their love to him.

A weirdly effective form of insurance against desertion, Ridge had to admit - especially when he was the master of doing the opposite: giving people too much freedom, acting as if they didn't matter, certainly not as much as the craft did, as the calling to be a world-class fashion designer. Unlike his baby brother, Ridge gave people far too much freedom, because he wanted just as much - if not more - in return. If you were still there, waiting for him at the end of the day with a glass of wine by the fire, all the better - but he was certainly never going to arrange his life around in service to that. Until now.

He leaned back against Eric's banker desk as Caroline continued to draw, stopping to erase much more furiously and frequently than she was usually given to. And he realized that not only had he arranged everything in his life out of complete and total
subservience to Caroline and his idea of what she wanted and needed - he was in some ways actually MAKING UP a life right now that did not even exist in order to keep doing that.

Putting her needs - needs he resented and didn't even fundamentally agree with - ahead of his own had become so commonplace of late, that Ridge hardly recognized his old self in his actions. And again he thought back to that final, foretelling conversation with his late beloved wife - thought back to how she had started his path to becoming a better man. And how this Caroline now before him -this young, vibrant, spirited woman - was doing the same without even trying. Just by virtue of being her.

It was both the easiest - and the most difficult - of resolutions. He was being made better by his love for her, and yet his love could not afford expression. If it did - if he brought the pressure of his emotions down onto her again - he would be undoing this very achievement of hers.

It was a puzzle and a trap all in one. He was the only one who knew this, and the one person who did not have the key to the way out.


**********


Rick was still being quite cold to Caroline at work, leaving her walking around on eggshells all the time, and confusing everyone else.

Caroline and Ridge continued to be nothing but professional towards each other - gone was the easy intimacy of the past five months, and in its place was a tightly-coiled, repressed energy of sorts. Ridge in particular found it almost impossible to look directly into Caroline's eyes, for fear of getting lost in them and showing his true feelings. It was becoming another hallmark of success for him, to remain above the fray and appear to be his usual coasting-along self, despite the secret upheaval at home.

Caroline was now so focused on her marriage, that in a way things were easier for her. She was the child of a strong, lasting union, one that had lasted precisely because her mothers had regarded their relationship almost as a religion, something so much bigger than the sum of its parts - something requiring absolute devotion. Now that the madness of that brief interlude with Ridge was over, tucked firmly away into the most closed-off recesses of her mind, she saw very clearly how her and Ridge had both chosen a similar, absolutely moral, route. Ridge had gone back to his family, and so had she, and family was not to be neglected or forsaken for the temporary madness of passion.

As for Ridge, he was keeping his and Katie's secret a little longer than Katie might have preferred, but he needed to not be a spectacle yet again. He also did not want to complicate things for Caroline any more than he already had. Just as he had vowed on New Year's Eve, he wanted more than anything to give her the space she needed to rebuild her life.

This was why Rick's cool behaviour at work towards Caroline frustrated him. Ridge was doing everything he could to help them, Caroline was doing her utmost as well, and yet Rick seemed to regard her with a level, dismissive gaze half the time. At least Maya was nowhere to be seen anymore in the corporate offices - that was a good start. But Rick's attention towards Caroline still seemed split, at best.

Ridge could not abide this. He watched Caroline reaching out to Rick after meetings, watched her trying to get his attention over lunch in the company canteen, watched her more than he knew he should. But she didn't seem to notice, so preoccupied was she with getting close to her husband again.

So when Rick managed to put her in her place during the latest company meeting, Ridge waited until everyone else - including a despondent Caroline - had left the boardroom and then tore into his kid brother.

"What exactly are you trying to prove?" he asked angrily.

"Excuse me?" Rick looked up in surprise, as if how dare Ridge talk to the CEO this way.

"Caroline is trying her damndest -"

"-stop. Stop right there." Rick stood up and shuffled some papers together. "I will not discuss my wife with you, of all people."

"You're hurting her, can't you see that? What is wrong with you? My god, you got her back, this incredible, amazing woman -"

"- I said shut up!" Rick yelled this so loud, he took a quick glance back at the double boardroom doors to make sure they were firmly closed. "You are the LAST person who gets to lecture ME on how to treat a wife. You with your pathetic romantic history - the women, the exes, the cheating - my god, your really think you're somehow above it all, don't you!"

Ridge took in a deep breath. "This is not about the past, Rick - not mine, not yours. This is about what you have, a family, and what it could be for you - and what you and Caroline both need to do to get it there."

Rick scoffed at him, half-amused, half-disgusted. "Talk to Caroline about it then. She's the one who messed up. As you well know."

"My god, Ricky, how many times have I told that was all my fault? All I see now is a woman so committed to you, and you keep treating her like you're doing her such a big favour, letting her love you. Caroline is special and you know it. She doesn't owe you anything more than her very best efforts going forward - this is not a court of law, you didn't win some kind of verdict allowing you to keep punishing her for her transgressions. They weren't a crime. And you are only human, just like her - and, just like her, one day you too will want absolution for something."

At this Rick got strangely quiet, and Ridge was astute enough to realize he had hit some strange nerve.

"She messed up, and she has to pay." Rick said this so unemotionally, yet tears were clearly starting in his eyes.

Ridge shook his head at him in anger. "That's all any of this is, to you, isn't it? It's just transactional: 'you fuck me over, I'll fuck you.' That's all you care about, coming out on top."

"That's choice, coming from you," muttered Rick.

Ridge threw his pen down on the boardroom table between them. "Look, this is none of my business, but you are going to only push her away with your behaviour. Caroline is the most confident, self-assured person I know. Right now she is hurting from the guilt of what we put you through - but that guilt should not remain forever, not if she is doing her best. And you just stomping all over her well-intentioned efforts: trust me, Little Ricky, she won't put up with it for long. You're either all in or not. Reconciliation is not an excuse for revenge."

"Who said anything about revenge? So I'm in a bad mood sometimes - that's no crime either."

"What is criminal" - and here Ridge had to swallow hard to keep his real emotions from overtaking him - "is losing someone like Caroline. She is the best thing that ever happened to you, and even you can't be too stupid to see that."

"You know, I find it every interesting how you take such an interest in her. She's not so easy to forget, hmmm?"

The smirk on Rick's face as he said these last words: Ridge had absolutely no idea what to make of it. All he knew was that if Rick usually wore a mask around his intentions, with his emotions way too close to his heart, this time there seemed to be no inner battle. The young man appeared hell-bent on a mission of some kind, completely committed to his own cause, and there was clearly no talking him out of it.

Ridge threw up his hands in frustration and headed for the door. "Keep at it, Rick - I'm sure you'll win. Not sure what, exactly. But don't worry: no one will ever make a fool of you again. You're not going to give anyone, not even your wife, even an inch - and that will leave you with a very small kingdom to rule over in the end."

Ridge left the boardroom and slammed the doors behind him.

"It's you," he said quickly, seeing Caroline sitting on the small chair in the foyer, across from Pam's desk.

"What were you two talking about?" She looked so sad and strangely fearful, sitting alone there, her hands folded together primly in her lap, like a schoolgirl waiting outside the Principal's office.

"It's nothing."

"Ridge, please."

He stepped back to take a good look at her. He could see the tell-tale shadows beneath her eyes, and the new down-turn to her perfect lips, and it was all he could do not to take a step towards her and pull her to him.

"I don't like the way he's treating you, and I told him."

Tears now started in her own eyes. "God Ridge, how could you? Don't you see - this is just going to drive him even further from me..."

"Why is that? Why is there this distance? You told me everything was fine."

"It is fine."

"And that's enough for you, hmm?"

"I get to decide what's enough for me, right now, just like you do. You had your reasons for going back to Katie, and I have mine. And mine are every last bit as valid as yours."

"I never said they weren't. That doesn't stop me from wanting more for you."

At this she started to cry. The stark difference between how Rick and Ridge were each treating her was suddenly too much for her to bear.

"Caroline, please, please stop crying. I hate seeing you cry. If I could...." But he let his voice trail off as she stood up before him and pressed down the folds of her skirt.

"I have to go. I have to see Rick."

"Hopefully I didn't do too much damage. Maybe he just needs more time."

"Maybe," she replied quietly.

She crossed the hallway to the boardroom doors, then disappeared without taking a look back. She had asked for the meeting - she had seen something on Rick's phone that morning while making him coffee: a tiny lit-up message on his phone from Maya that he clearly thought no one else could see.

She couldn't know, in leaving Ridge to confront her husband, just how much her life was about to change.

bluegaze

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Reply with quote  #18 
 Phoebe, again a great read!! Please continue as soon as you can...


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