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Playing With Fire

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Playing With Fire
by
OKDeanna

     

Chapter Eleven

Gwen looked at the blue and white clock on her office wall for what had to be the one -hundredth time that morning. She seemed to be counting the hours until she was supposed to meet Tony at the Seascape for dinner, which as of right now was still five hours away. They both had so much to do today that they decided it would be easier to just meet at the restaurant. She knew Tony had to go to the airport in Boston to pick up his car this morning and then he planned to go see Luis at the hospital. She figured he would want to spend as much time with Luis as possible given the fact that Luis had almost died.

So much had happened over the last few days, she thought running a hand through her straight blond hair, she wasn't sure what to think of it. When she had arrived back in Harmony, she never dreamed she would find Tony here. In fact, he was the last person she ever expected to see again. She wasn't entirely comfortable with the fact that he was Theresa's brother, but she planned to work on it. She really wanted a relationship with Tony and if that meant she had to put aside her pride over losing Ethan to Theresa then she would do it. It wasn't like she still loved Ethan anyway. She knew he had made the right decision in calling off the wedding and after seeing him and Theresa together last night, she knew he was right in choosing Theresa. Even she could see how much they loved each other.

She sighed and closed her eyes to block out the painful memories of the day that was supposed to be the happiest day of her life. She remembered looking into the mirror and asking herself if she was doing the right thing by marrying Ethan. She would never admit it to anyone, but a small part of her had been relieved that he had called it off. Her mother had gone ballistic of course and demanded she make Ethan realize the mistake he was making. But she hadn't been able to see past the pain to do anything. Instead of standing up and confronting them, she had run out of the church, her wedding dress flying behind her, and checked into a hotel for a few days. No one had known where to find her and she was grateful for that. She had needed those few days to get herself together. Once she had, she had gone to the mansion to get her things.

She would never forget walking into Ethan's bedroom and seeing Theresa in his arms. It was like a slap to the face and that was when her pain had turned to anger. They had both humiliated her and she wanted to hurt them both. So she had lashed out, saying anything and everything she could to hurt them. But she hadn't really hurt them. She had hurt herself. She could still see the pity in Ethan's eyes... and the regret in Theresa's.

Looking back, she knew Theresa hadn't meant to hurt her. She just fought for the man she loved. Even though it was the same man Gwen had loved for most of her life, she had to admire Theresa's determination. No matter how impossible it seemed Theresa had never given up hope and in the end, she was rewarded, because she got Ethan.

Gwen sighed again and wiped away the tears from her cheeks. She supposed it was time she cried those tears. She hadn't back then. She hadn't been able to let go of her anger long enough to deal with the pain. But that had all changed last night. When she had seen Ethan put his arm around Theresa and kiss her forehead, she hadn't been able to conjure up one iota of feeling, no anger, no pain, just nothing. She knew the reason. It was Tony. Somehow, he had managed to do the impossible - he'd gotten her to forgive the two people she had every reason in the world to hate. And he hadn't even had to ask her to. She'd done it freely and she even knew why. Somehow, someway, without meaning to, without wanting to, she had fallen in love with him and it scared her.

She had sworn after Ethan that she would never love another man again, but in truth, she had known that night six months ago that Tony was more than just a one-night stand. She had to wonder if that was the reason she had pushed Ethan to take Theresa to Bermuda and then to the prom. Had she secretly wanted Ethan to call off the wedding? Had she secretly wanted him to be in love with Theresa? She hadn't understood how she could have been so blind to Theresa's feelings for Ethan or his for her. But maybe she hadn't been blind. Maybe she had known all along and wanted him to make a choice. Maybe she had wanted him to be in love with Theresa, because deep down she had known she was in love with Tony, a man whose last name she hadn't even known until two days ago. It sounded so crazy and yet, it all made perfect sense.

Now all she had to do was find out if Tony felt the same way.



Antonio started to open the door to Luis' hospital room, but stopped just as his hand reached for the handle. He knew if he walked in that room right now, Luis would be able to tell something was wrong. He didn't want to burden Luis with what he was about to do. God, he thought running a hand over his freshly shaven face, he didn't want to say goodbye to Gwen tonight, but he knew he had to. He could never be the man she deserved. He didn't want to hurt her, but tonight he knew he would. He would give anything if things were different. He would give anything if he could be more like Luis, a guy capable of committing to one woman. But he wasn't like Luis and he never could be. He'd tried once. He'd tried to commit to a woman, but in the end he had screwed it up. He just wasn't cut out to be the forever kind of guy.

He shook his head to clear it then pushed open the door to find Sheridan and Luis locked in a passionate embrace. An image of him and Gwen locked in the same embrace flashed through his mind, making him grip the edge of the door so hard his knuckles turned white. After tonight, he would never see her again let alone be able to touch her and hold her in his arms. Regret washed over him, but he forced himself to ignore it. He was doing the right thing. She deserved better than he could ever give her.

He cleared his throat then stepped further into the room. Sheridan was blushing and Luis was looking at him through narrowed eyes. He just smiled knowingly. "Did I interrupt something?"

"Yeah, you did." Luis said not even bothering to hide his irritation. "Why don't you leave and come back in about twenty minutes?"

"Luis!" Sheridan said playfully hitting him on the shoulder. "You stop that. There will be plenty of time for... fun after you get out of the hospital."

Luis groaned and Antonio felt a pang of sympathy. "Sorry little brother. I didn't meant to intrude on your... fun."

"That's okay." Luis said giving him a small smile. "If it wasn't you, it would have been the duty nurse. I swear the woman has radar. Every time Sher and I get nice and cozy, there she is coming in to check my vitals or so she says. Personally, I think she just wants to check me out."

Antonio threw back his head and laughed. "Spoken like a true Lopez-Fitzgerald."

"On that note," Sheridan said getting up from Luis' bed and giving him a small kiss. "I think I'll go get something to drink. Do you want anything?"

Luis shook his head. "Just you, but I can't seem to do anything about that right now."

Sheridan laughed. "Aw poor baby. Don't worry, you'll be out of here before you know it."

Antonio just shook his head. They were something else. Anyone could see they were made for each other. He still couldn't believe it took them so long to realize it. He supposed it took them so long because both of them were so strong willed and too damn stubborn for their own good. He wished he could have been there for the fireworks. He would have loved to see the look on Luis face as he realized he was in love with a Crane. He'd heard all about the arguing and bickering they used to do. He knew it had to have been highly entertaining.

"So" Antonio said watching Sheridan walk out the door and taking a seat next to his brother's bed. "Did the doctor say when you get to go home?"

Luis nodded. "They ran some more tests this morning and if everything comes back okay then they said I should be able to go home tomorrow."

"Hey, that's great!"

"Yeah," Luis said eyeing him curiously. "Antonio, no offense, but you look like hell. What's going on?"

Antonio blinked in surprise then tried to cover it up with humor. "Gee, thanks Luis. I come to see you and you insult me?"

Luis shook his head. "Don't try to con me, Antonio. Come on, what gives? You and Gwen have a fight or something?"

Not yet bro, Antonio thought rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, but they probably would get into one hell of a fight tonight. Then again, maybe Gwen would agree with him. Yeah right, if you thought that you wouldn't be so worried about how she was going to react. God, there was no way he could talk to Luis about this. He would only try to change his mind. "No, we didn't have a fight."

"But?" Luis asked when he didn't continue. "You sound like there is a possibility you might get into one? Tell me what's going on. Maybe I can help."

Antonio shook his head. He didn't want to talk about this with Luis, but he knew his little brother wouldn't give up until he got some answers. It was the cop in him, he supposed. But damn, a lecture from Luis was the last thing he needed right now. He was already doing a good job of that himself. No, he couldn't tell Luis about his plans. Not until he talked to Gwen. The least he could do is keep it between them. "You can't. It's just something I have to work out for myself."

"Are you sure?" Luis asked in a worried tone.

Antonio nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure. But thanks for the offer."

"Anytime, big brother, Anytime."

An imaged flashed in his mind. One of him handing Gwen back her purse she had forgotten in her car. "Thank you." she said her golden brown eyes sparkling in the moonlight and her smile as bright as the stars above. "Anytime, sweetheart, anytime." He'd said. In truth that was the only thing he had been able to say. Another image of her walking up the stairs leading to her hotel room popped into his head and he wished it hadn't. The sight of her backside was a little more than he could handle right now, especially since he knew that after tonight, he would probably never see it again.

Antonio groaned then jumped up from the chair and started pacing the room. He saw surprise and worry on Luis' face, but he didn't dwell on it. Too many images were flashing in his head. Gwen backing him up against the wall in New York City, Gwen hugging him at the hospital, him kissing her in the car, him laying her on the bed, her kissing her way down his chest to his -

"Tony?" Luis said breaking into his thoughts. "Tell me what's wrong. I can see that whatever it is, it's tearing you up inside. I don't think I've ever seen you like this. If I didn't know any better I would think... "

"You would think what?" Antonio asked when Luis suddenly stopped talking.

Luis let out a laugh and Antonio had the distinct impression it was aimed at him. "You're in love. That's what has got you so tied in knots. You've fallen in love with Gwen. Hot damn! And you said it wouldn't happen. Ha, you're eating your words now, big brother."

"Your crazy. I am not in love with Gwen."

"No? Then why are you wearing a whole in that floor and looking as if you're about to lose your best friend? Are you afraid she won't feel the same way?"

No, it was the exact opposite actually. He was afraid she did feel that way. If she did... then tonight he was going to end up breaking her heart and that was something he would never forgive himself for. "Me afraid? Please Luis. You forget who you are talking to."

Luis furrowed his brow and his voice took on a big brother tone, which was ridiculous since he was two years younger. "I didn't forget anything. I know you like to hide behind that macho image of yours, but I'm not someone you can easily fool, you know. I have the training to know when someone is afraid of something and you, big brother, are afraid. Now why don't you sit back down and tell me why."

Antonio narrowed his eyes. "I am not afraid and I am not in love with Gwen! I'm not."

"Who are you trying to convince? Me or yourself?"

He didn't need to convince himself. It simply wasn't true. He refused to let it be true. Yes, this morning he had realized he could see himself falling in love with her, but he hadn't fallen yet. That was the whole reason he was about to walk away. He couldn't fall in love with her. He just couldn't. And he prayed she wasn't in love with him. It seemed impossible given the fact that they barely knew each other, but he'd seen that look in her eyes last night at the hospital and then again in that hotel room as they were making love. If she wasn't in love with him already, she was on the verge of it and that's why he had to break it off. He would only end up breaking her heart and he couldn't... wouldn't be the one to cause her that type of pain. "Luis I -"

The door creaked open behind him and he turned to find Sheridan. "Hey beautiful, you're just in time. I've got some things I have to do. I'll talk to you both later."

He sprinted out of the room before Luis or Sheridan even had a chance to say goodbye. He thought he heard Luis yell his name, but he didn't stick around to find out. He needed some time to get his thoughts together before he met Gwen tonight. Something told him he would need to have a very level head tonight and be in complete control of his emotions. He gave a slight chuckle at that last thought. Where Gwen was concerned, he had never been able to control his emotions. She could touch him and his mind would go completely blank. He would definitely have to make sure that didn't happen tonight. He knew the longer he waited the harder it would be on both of them when he walked away. But actually walking away... That was going to be the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. He only prayed he had the strength to survive it.


Two hours later, a completely together Antonio was seated at the bar of The Seascape restaurant. He knew he was a few minutes early, but he just hadn't been able to wait any longer. He wanted to get dinner over with as quickly as possible. He took a sip of his wine and the looked toward the door much the same way he'd been doing since he'd got there. He kept looking for Gwen. He glanced at his watch and saw that he still have a few minutes before she was due to arrive. Taking a deep breath, he got up from the bar and asked the matridee if their table was ready. Just as he was about to follow him to their table, a familiar feeling washed over him. He turned to see Gwen standing in the doorway. His gaze traveled from her black high heel shoes to her shapely legs sheathed in black hose to the hem of her silky fits-like-a-second-skin black dress over her hips to the soft mounds of her breasts. His gaze lingered on the cleavage their for a few seconds then he finally forced himself to raise his eyes to her face. The look in her golden brown eyes literally too his breath away.

When he finally got himself under control and started to walk toward her, a man stepped up behind her and placed his hand on the small of her back. He narrowed his eyes, but then relaxed when he realized the man too old for her. Antonio took a deep breath as she started walking toward him, the man following closely behind her. He forced a smile onto his face as Gwen and the man stopped in front of him.

"Antonio," Gwen said giving him a bright smile then turning toward the man beside her. "I'd like you to meet my father, George W. Hotchkiss."

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