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Scene 112

Six forty-five.

She blew out the match and smiled into the flickering twin flames. Lighting the tall pillar candles was the last thing she had to do before he arrived. The dinner was prepared, the table was set, and Alexis had showered and dressed - after changing her clothes three times. She wanted to look perfect that night, but stood staring into her closet for what seemed like days with no clue at all what to wear. Sonny always managed to look perfect. How would he be dressed that night? Should she dress up or down? What would be perfect without looking like she tried too hard? Jeans and a sweater felt too casual. The jersey dress felt too formal. And the gold silk pajamas she eyed in the closet…well, THEY were certainly out of the question. Besides, he'd already seen her in them too many times.

Alexis finally decided on a skirt and blouse - a slim, red satin skirt and a sheer, white silk blouse with a fitted camisole underneath. It felt just right. And for better or worse, she'd let her hair dry on its own. She remembered the expression on Sonny's face the first time he saw it that way. He'd liked it. A lot. She hadn't understood why. With the wavy layers falling over her shoulders and against her face in willful disarray, Alexis thought she looked like she'd just gotten out of bed. But it slowly dawned on her that that was exactly why he liked it. What was messy to her was sexy to him. And the prospect of looking sexy that night felt good. So did the idea of making a change that was her choice to make.

The minute Sorel grabbed her, Alexis's life changed for good. She'd had no choice. But it wasn't until that day that she understood something profound - she wasn't as powerless as she believed. She had no control over other what other people did, but she had absolute control over how she responded - to Sorel's assault, to the dreams of Stavros, and to the frightening fragments of the past that taunted her. And Alexis had a choice about Sonny. She could hide from or embrace her feelings for Sonny. To hide would be to live a lie. Alexis wanted to live in truth. She wanted to Sonny to know it. The irony of it all made her smile. Sorel sought to bring pain, and in that he succeeded. But he also succeeded in bringing an unexpected joy - the joy of love. In that, Alexis has triumphed.

She chose to.

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Sonny sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the clock.

It was almost ten minutes to seven, and he'd been ready since six twenty-five. He was trying to ignore the fact that he was nervous as hell, but he wasn't succeeding. Sonny was sure that deep down, Alexis already knew. But once he'd said it out loud, there was no turning back. It would be real for both of them. Those three little words held an infinite power over the human heart, and when he said them to Alexis, he wanted everything about it to be perfect. She deserved a perfect expression of love. Once he'd said them, no matter what her reaction, their relationship would change for good. It was safe to love her in silence, but nothing about his life had ever been safe. And Alexis was worth the risk.

Sonny's eyes shifted to the mirror over the dresser, and his palms smoothed over his shiny, still-damp hair. The palms moved down to his cheeks, newly shaven and smooth as a baby's behind. He'd wanted his face to be touchable…and kissable. The memory of her hands on his face, her soft lips pressed to his, made him ache. He yearned to feel it all again. He turned his gaze back to the clock. Almost six fifty-five. Sonny smiled and rose to his feet. He'd be early, but he just couldn't wait any more to touch and kiss and speak those three little words of infinite power - once he got past his nerves.

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The doorbell rang.

Alexis jumped a foot. She quickly poked her head into the kitchen to check the clock. Six fifty-five. Butterflies suddenly winged their way around her stomach. Alexis swallowed. Her eyes shifted to the rectangular pan of lasagna that had been sitting on the counter at room temperature, as Johnny instructed, since six thirty. She didn't know which made her more anxious - Sonny's reaction to her cooking, or to her confession. Somehow, to Alexis, the two were inexorably intertwined.

The doorbell rang again.

Three words. Three little words given breath, and her life would change for good - again. She smiled as she ran her fingers through her tousled hair. She was ready for this change. And her feelings for Sonny were too strong to not take the risk. Alexis moved through the dining room, to the front door, carried on the wings of a million butterflies. And Sonny's dimpled grin was soon gracing her view.

"Hi." He murmured.

"Hi back."

"Am I on time?"

"You are."

Alexis stepped back and opened the door wider. Sonny slipped past her, his eyes appreciatively washing up and down the length of her body. Alexis didn't notice. She was busy giving Johnny a wide-eyed look that begged for reassurance. He gave her a wink, a nod, and smile. Alexis smiled back, mouthing renewed words of thanks to him as she pushed the door shut.

She turned to find Sonny shamelessly gazing at her legs. His eyes quickly shot back up to her face, and he gave her a shy, sweet grin. God, he was beautiful. His black, wavy hair shone, his smooth, olive skin glowed, and his soulful eyes sparkled. He looked like a Cuban god - if there was such a thing. And as his soft smile grew under her admiring gaze, the dimples that melted her heart began to deepen.

Sonny knew it was rude, but he couldn't help staring. Alexis was part angel, part seductress with her tousled, gold-glinted hair, smoky eyes, and full mouth lightly glossed the color of candied apples. He wanted to run his tongue across her lips to taste their sweetness. And her bare throat, slender and graceful, drew his eyes downward to the tempting tease of cleavage framed by the innocence of shimmering white sating veiled in a sheer, fluttery-sleeved blouse of the same innocent white.

The temptation continued in the deep crimson satin that hugged the curve of her hips and traveled down to just above her knees. And Sonny's mind wandered above and beyond the limitations of the view provided by the slit in her skirt that ended halfway up the back of her thighs. But when Alexis turned around and caught his stare, he felt like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He'd felt himself blush. And then, the sexy angel smiled. God, he loved her.

"Wow." Sonny whispered. "Just…wow."

Alexis's legs turned to rubber, and she felt her cheeks tingle with heat. She was suddenly a gawky little girl inside.

"You…" She cleared her throat. "You look pretty 'wow' yourself."

Sonny looked down at his midnight blue shirt. "What, this old thing?"

She laughed as she moved toward him. "You know I like you in that shirt."

"You know I like you in…well, anything." He reached out and touched the edge of her hair. "And you know I like your hair like this, all messed-up looking. In a good way, I mean."

"Thank you for qualifying."

"I especially like that you only let your hair be like this when you're with me."

She sheepishly toyed with her bangs. "It takes a little getting used to. I feel like I forgot to do something when I was getting ready."

"That's what I like about it. It's 'undone'. It's you. And you are just…impossibly pretty." His choice of words took her aback. 'Pretty' was such an innocently sweet thing to call her. And it somehow felt like the most profound compliment she'd ever had. The word was simple and genuine - without pretense. It was 'undone'. Alexis smiled and tilted her head. A lock of hair fell against her cheek. She let it lie. Sonny's tongue grazed the center of his lower lip as his dark eyes locked onto hers. The way he looked at her made her heart pound with a surge of feminine power. She felt sexy as hell, fueled by the unveiled desire in his gaze. His gaze beckoned her, and she slowly walked toward him without letting her eyes shift away from his.

"Hungry?" She murmured, stopping not two feet before him.

Sonny swallowed. She'd asked a loaded question - and the seductive way in which she'd asked it told him she knew. Her flirtation was deliberate…and Alexis was anything but a tease. Would she hold her ground if he flirted right back, or would she grow shy and laugh? He loved hearing her laugh, but that's not what he wanted right then. What Sonny wanted was to hear that sexy resonance in her voice, see the languid look in her eyes, and feel that palpably sensual energy of hers washing over him. He didn't want her to be shy - he wanted her to keep on looking at him like a woman who wanted a man. Sonny took a small step forward, all but closing the gap between their bodies. The light began to sparkle in Alexis's dark eyes, and he smiled as he tilted his head in the opposite direction from hers.

"Starving." He rasped.

His gaze shifted to her mouth. Alexis unconsciously mirrored him, and Sonny's eyes quickly shot back up to hers. She was still staring at his mouth. It made his dimples deepen.

"You look kind of hungry yourself."

Her eyes drifted back up to his. And then, her left brow arched almost imperceptibly.

"Mmm."

Alexis gave a single nod of her head as tip of her tongue grazed her lower lip. Every nerve in Sonny's body responded - among other parts of him. The sudden tensing in his lower region moved him to shift his weight to one leg. Alexis's dimples made a teasing appearance. Sonny's face hotly flushed. She was turning him into blushing fool, just like she'd done to Johnny. They were both powerless - both blushing, besotted fools over this captivating woman who'd stumbled into their lives.

"But before we have dinner, I have something else in mind that I think your mouth will enjoy."

Sonny's breath locked in his lungs in anticipation as he watched her eyes drift down to his lips one more time. A moment later, she began to move forward, ever so slightly. And then, Alexis gently brushed the edge of her body against his as she moved past him.

The light breeze carried the sweetly feminine scent of her into his nose as Sonny turned his head to look at her with a perplexed, and somewhat frustrated squint. Alexis was already casting a coy glance at him over her shoulder as she made her way toward the dining room. Her flirtation was intensifying…and she was anything but shy about it. Sonny smiled wide and quickly followed in her path like a happy puppy.

He knew he should be more frightened by the strength of her pull on him. His history should have made him know better. Not since Brenda had he felt so dangerously close to the brink of losing himself in his love for a woman. But as Jax had once thrown in Sonny's face, Brenda was really just a girl when they'd met. She was alone, drifting, and in need of an anchor. And Sonny was drawn to her beauty, her sadness, and the little girl lost. Alexis was different. She was a woman - a strong, confident, fiercely grounded woman who didn't need a thing from anyone. And Sonny was awe of her from the first minute they met. It made him want to rise up. It made him want to be better. And it humbled him to even dare wanting her and laying his love at her feet.

Alexis stopped at the end of the table and picked up the straw-wrapped bottle of Chianti that held court between the dancing flames of two ivory pillar candles. And then she turned to him with an assured smile.

"No authentic Italian meal is complete without Chianti." She suddenly frowned. "Unless you don't like Chianti. I have other kinds of wine, if you'd prefer. And I also have Scotch and vod…"

"Italian, huh?"

"Y-yeah."

"I knew it. Something smelled familiarly enticing when I walked in the door - besides you, I mean."

Her dimples flashed. "I appreciate you making that distinction."

"I love lasagna."

"So I'm told."

He widened his eyes and clamped a palm to his chest in mock shock.

"You have spies?"

"Just one. And he's on your payroll."

"Then he should have also informed you that I love Chianti. After all, no authentic Italian meal is complete without it." He reached for the bottle. "May I?"

"You may."

Alexis felt a light shiver run up her arm when his fingers grazed hers as he took the Chianti bottle from her hand. She quickly turned her face away and reached for the two crystal wine glasses beside their plates.

"Are you cold? Do you want me to light a fire before dinner?"

She glanced at the fireplace. "No, I'm not cold. But they're expecting rain later tonight, so a fire AFTER dinner might be nice."

Sonny popped the cork and set it on the table. "I like rain."

"Me too. And thunder, lightening…the whole works."

"Then a crackling fire it is." He gave her a wink. "After dinner…after Chianti."

As Sonny poured the red wine into the clear glasses, Alexis was flooded with the memory of the night they sat nestled among pillows in front of the crackling fire, talking for hours about anything and everything. It was also the night that his physical effect on her hit like a ton of bricks. It was nurturing and innocent, the way he gently took her foot in his hands and began to gently rub. She'd resisted, at first, feeling strangely shy - and certain her would tickle her. But as the fire popped, the fragrant wood burned, and Sonny's touch firmed, Alexis turned to putty in his hands. He was completely attentive, his eyes focused on the movement of his hands.

And when his fingers moved up, working their way over her arch to her ankle, it sent an unexpected current right up the length of her leg. It made her body jerk, and she was certain that he would somehow know why. Sonny didn't know. He smiled sheepishly, thinking he'd hit a ticklish spot and startled her. He'd startled her all right. But Alexis didn't want him to be sorry. She wasn't sorry at all. The part of her that she thought had died was suddenly alive, reawakened in nurturing innocence...and in love. Alexis suddenly felt a tiny tug on the end of her hair. She blinked and turned her eyes away from floor before the fireplace to Sonny's mischievous smile.

"A penny for your thoughts."

She swallowed. Her face was growing warm. Once again, she was sure he could read her mind.

"Cheapskate. My thoughts are worth at least a nickel."

"A nickel?" Sonny grimaced mockingly. "Sorry. That's a little too rich for my blood, so I guess you'll just have to keep your thoughts a secret."

He handed her a glass of the richly fragranced crimson wine.

"Unless…the Chianti lets your guard down and your thoughts out."

"Oh yeah?" She proudly tilted her chin up as she took the glass of sparkling liquid from his hand. "My will is mightier than the grape."

"Your 'will' is mightier than the Great Wall of China."

Alexis grinned and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as Sonny set the bottle back down on the table. But his hand didn't let it go. A then, a small crease appeared between his brows as he stared down at the straw-wrapped swell of glass. Her grin waned.

"Bad year for Chianti?"

He let the bottle go and turned back to her with a soft smile. "No. I…it just occurred to me that it might not be okay for you to drink so soon after…so soon."

It had occurred to her, while she and Johnny were shopping for the meal at the grocery store. And when they got home, she put in a call to Charlie to ask him.

"It's okay." She assured him. "Charlie said that a drink is okay. With the qualification that I not also drive."

"Or take a bath." Sonny quipped.

Alexis's eyes lowered. "I think I'm going to stick to showers for a while."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't tease."

"You have every right." She murmured.

Sonny's fingertips gently grazed down the side of her cheek, but it failed to bring her big browns back up to his. He sighed lightly.

"No, I don't. It was an accident, and it's over, and I promise I won't make you uncomfortable by bringing it up again."

Alexis finally lifted her eyes. Sonny smiled, raising his glass.

"To…"

"You." She quickly interrupted, glass rising. "For your kindness, your patience, your sensitivity…and for caring enough to give me a swift kick in the behind when I need one."

"If I left an owie that needs kissing, just let me know."

Alexis's eyes grew big. "Sonny!"

Sonny winked and flashed her a grand dimple display. Alexis sighed. She was powerless over the effect of those dimples. And the way he used them with her, Sonny surely knew it. He lightly clinked the rim of his glass against hers.

"To you - for your courage, your strength, your grace, and for knowing that it's only because I DO care that I'd ever cause you pain or risk letting you hate me."

"I never…"

"Even for a minute."

Alexis shook her head. "No, not even for a minute. I was mad, that's all. You were saying things that I didn't want to hear - things that were true. And I was scared by the way you left this morning. It felt like…that was it. You'd finally had your fill of me and all my crap, and you wouldn't be coming back for more."

Sonny moved a small step closer to her, eyes locked on hers.

"You'd need a crowbar to pry me loose."

She sucked the corner of her lip between her teeth as she lowered her gaze to stare down into the shimmering red wine.

"When the door slammed behind you, I felt…abandoned." A furrow formed in her brow as she lifted her gaze back to his face. "But I had no right to feel that way. It's ridiculous. I mean I told you to leave, and then I was upset because you did."

"Alexis? I repeat - a crowbar."

She smiled softly. "Back at ya."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Sonny touched his glass to hers once again. "I'll drink to that."

Alexis watched, her smile growing, as he took a sip of his wine. And then, she did the same. The rich, fruity taste filling her mouth was an almost forgotten sensation, as was the tannic warmth slipping down her throat. She couldn't remember the last time she'd drunk a glass of wine. It was nice to reclaim yet another part of her life back.

"Mmm." Sonny closed his eyes to enjoy the rise of the lush bouquet into his head. "This was a very good year for Chianti."

"It is nice."

Alexis took another sip. Sonny opened his eyes and smiled.

"Very. But I'd better warn you that I didn't eat any lunch today, so there's a slight change of the grape being mightier than my will."

"Well then I guess I'd better feed you before one of my lampshades finds its way onto your head and your bad boy reputation is totally shot to hell."

"I think that ship has already sailed. With you, at least."

"I hate to break it to you, but it kind of sailed with a whole lot of people in the last few weeks. But don't worry." She tilted her head and leaned into him with a whisper. "Your secret's safe with us."

The scent of her hair washed over him yet again. And as Sonny gazed into her sweet face and smoky brown eyes, so close and so beautiful, he was overwhelmed with the desire to trade the taste of wine in his mouth for the taste of her. But Alexis suddenly took a step back and set her glass on the table.

"Why don't you have a seat, relax with your Chianti, and I'll be right back with the lasagna."

"No, I'll help."

Sonny set his glass down beside hers and began to turn toward the kitchen.

"No, you won't." Alexis stopped him with a palm to his chest. "You'll make yourself comfortable like the guest that you are, and I'll serve dinner like the hostess that I am."

She moved behind the chair at the head of the table and pulled it out. Sonny chuckled. Alexis pouted.

"Don't laugh at me."

"I'm not…laughing at you."

"Yes you are."

"Okay, I am."

She sighed and lifted one eyebrow. He laughed even more.

"I'm sorry, I've just never had a woman hold a chair out for me before."

Alexis straightened her back in determination. "Well, there's a first time for everything, buddy. So sit!"

"Pleeeeease?" Sonny made a show of his dimples.

Alexis bit the inside of her cheek. He'd gotten her good. She loved it when he did that, though she wouldn't dare tell him. It would ruin the game that was only theirs. Instead, Alexis ran the tip of her tongue across her lower lip and back again, watching his eyes dart to her mouth. And then, she tilted her head to let a wavy lock fall against the corner of her eye. Sonny swallowed and shifted his weight. Alexis smiled. She'd gotten him back.

"Please?" She finally murmured.

Sonny stepped up in front of the chair, stared into her eyes for along moment.

"Your wish is my command."

He lifted the gold-lit curl from her face with one finger, and then let it drop right back down again. The butterflies in Alexis's stomach took flight once more as Sonny turned and sat himself down. The fragrance that was only his floated on the air - the spicy, sensual, masculine scent that made her want to close her eyes and drift on its current. She cleared her throat, leaned over his back, and let her palms come to rest on his shoulders.

"You may be sorry you said that."

Sonny could feel the soft ends of her hair brushing against the side of his neck. It made him crazy, along with the warm note of gardenias that taunted his nose. He turned his head to look her in the eye.

"There's nothing you could ask of me that I wouldn't do for you."

Alexis suddenly felt Sonny's palm set down on the backs of her hands. The current was rising, pulling her under as her heart pounded in her chest. What she wanted was to ask him to kiss her. Instead, she smiled.

"I know."

"Good."

His eyes briefly parted from hers and went once again to her mouth. He wanted to kiss her…but not just yet. They had the whole night ahead of them. Alexis began to move her fingers beneath his palms.

"But right now, all I want is for you to enjoy your dinner."

He didn't want to let her go, but he did, holding his breath as she moved away - holding the clean, sexy, feminine fragrance of Alexis inside of his head. And Sonny couldn't help remembering the night before, when the steamy heat and intoxicating scent hung in the air as he held her wet, warm body against his and struggled to cover all of her naked glory. He'd staunchly denied his eyes the feast set before them. And he was glad. Sonny wanted Alexis to give herself to him of her own choosing, in every way. He would take nothing from her that she didn't want to give - not even the knowledge of her body's full beauty…though his arms and hands had learned enough for his eyes to know what feast they were missing. Sonny yearned for his eyes to know all of her.

And more than that, he yearned for Alexis to know his heart. It had been so easy to confess his feelings while she slept, unaware of even his presence in the room, in the bed beside her, holding her in his arms through the night. But now, when she was wide awake and gracing him with such sweetly seductive glances, it was hard for him to know where to begin his confession that he loved her, wanted her and would change his life for her if she loved and wanted him too. The sudden tapping of her heels on the marble kitchen floor turned his head.

"Would you prefer the salad first or last?"

"Last."

He watched her lean across her place setting to put a basket of rolls and a large wooden salad bowl on the table. Her body moved with complete ease and grace, as if Sorel had never happened. It made Sonny smile.

"You?"

"Last."

"Copycat."

She smiled before disappearing again. A few short moments, Alexis returned and laid two plates of beautifully layered, richly aromatic lasagna. His stomach growled in appreciation.

"Wow. That smells as good as it looks."

Alexis bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling too hard and giving the secret away. She wasn't going to tell him until after the meal. If he knew that she'd made it, he'd eat every bite no matter how inedible it might be.

"Wait."

Sonny reached for her hand as she moved to take a seat beside him.

"What?"

He rose, stepped up behind her chair, and pulled it out for her.

"My turn."

"Such the gentleman."

"At times, painfully so."

Alexis sat down and Sonny pushed in her chair before returning to his. He laid his napkin across his lap, and Alexis did the same, keeping her lowered gaze aimed in his direction. He reached for his fork - she reached for fortification. And Sonny sat patiently, fork in hand, as he watched Alexis take a sip of her Chianti. She widened her eyes at him over the top of her glass.

"Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing's wrong. I'm just waiting for you to start first."

"Why?"

"Because it's…"

"The gentlemanly thing to do."

"Right."

"Ah. Well, I was waiting for YOU to start first because it's the hostessly thing to do." She frowned. "Is that a word?"

"I don't think so."

"Oh." She tilted her head and her hair fell forward over her shoulders. "I thought you said my wish was your command."

Sonny nodded with a smile. "Yes. Yes, it is. So I guess I'll start first."

She smiled back. As Sonny's fork sank into the thick square of layered noodles, she held her breath and laced her fingers firmly around the glass in her hand, resting the rim against her chin. The first bite he took inspired an unmistakable expression of approval and a sound of genuine appreciation.

"Mmm." He nodded, swallowing, and then reached for his wine glass. "Oh, that's good."

He said it was good! Alexis exhaled calmly, quietly, though she wanted to burst.

"Really?"

Sonny tipped his head back, letting a mouthful of Chianti slide down his throat.

"Absolutely. This is excellent."

Good, she could believe…but excellent? Alexis suddenly cast a suspicious glance toward the front door. Had Johnny spilled the beans? She eyed her own plate. Well, there was one way to find out for her self. She set down her glass and picked up her fork.

"There's just no substitute for fresh ingredients, you know? Like with this lasagna."

Her hand froze, fork mid-air.

"The tomatoes in here are fresh, and so are the mushrooms. I can always tell fresh from canned."

Alexis looked up to see Sonny taking another, rather large bite. It filled her with a strange, wonderful sense of joy. She'd tackled something that intimidated her, and succeeded in tackling it well. And she'd done it out of love. And she'd learned firsthand why Sonny enjoyed cooking for the people he cared about. He wasn't just feeding them, he was expressing his love in a special way all his own. It was her turn to express her love, in a special way all her own - and in a way he'd understand.

"You'd better eat too, before the wine goes to your head and lets all those high-priced secret thoughts go slipping out."

He winked. She grinned a crooked grin.

"I suppose I'd better."

And they ate, drank, talked and laughed as the candlelight flickered and claps of thunder echoed in the distance. Not once did they mention Sorel, Thomas, Stavros, or anything that would taint the perfection of the private cocoon in which there was no room for anyone but them. Nearly two hours later, as Alexis cleared the table, Sonny built a fire to keep away the chill of the approaching storm. She paused at the dining room window on her way back from the kitchen, looking up at the wide, dark sky in search of the signs of rain yet to come. There was so much more to come that night. A sudden, stronger clap of thunder made her jump. And it made her laugh.

"Hey."

She turned her eyes to him. Sonny stood before the fireplace, holding out his hand.

"I've got your fire going."

Alexis cocked her head. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah." He tossed his head with a grin. "So come here."

She let the corners of her mouth turn up as she slowly moved toward him, her heart pounding. It was time to tell him…but where she even begin? Her mind raced, searching for the perfect beginning as she reached out her hand to take his. Their fingers touched, and her mind went blank. She couldn't think. All she could do was feel. Sonny led her to the sofa and they sat side by side, their faces bathed in the glow of the growing fire that crackled and popped, lightly perfuming the air with the earthy burning wood.

"Thank you again, for a wonderful dinner."

"I'm really glad that you liked it." Alexis took a steadying breath. "Because I…"

"Did it come from the No Name?" Sonny interrupted. "I'm just curious because it tasted a little different than usual and I thought maybe they got a new chef and didn't tell me."

A staccato burst of thunder answered him back. Alexis took in a sharp breath, and then smiled. Sonny smiled back.

"No, it didn't come from the No Name."

"Oh. Raffalo's?"

She shook her head. "No, not there either. It isn't take-out. I made it."

He blinked…and then, he began to laugh.

"Good one!"

"I'm not joking."

"You did not make lasagna."

"I have a witness."

Sonny squinted. "You? Made lasagna?"

"Mm hmm."

"You can't even cook an egg."

"No, but I CAN cook lasagna." She said proudly.

He stared, perplexed. "How…"

"Johnny taught me. I know what a disaster I am in the kitchen, but I really wanted to do this for you and I asked Johnny to help me because I've never made a real meal for anyone in my life, not even for myself, and he supervised me every step of the way so you were never in any danger of ptomaine or botulism or anything else that would have made you think I was trying to kill you when in FACT, I just wanted to do something special for you and knowing that when you cook for me you put your heart into it and it means a lot to you to do it for me, I hoped that if I turned the tables and cooked for you, you'd know that my heart was…in it…for you too."

Alexis's took in a deep breath, refilling her dizzyingly emptied lungs. Sonny continued to stare at her with a strange, studious expression on his face. Alexis swallowed, fingers toying with the edge of the seat cushion as she waited for him to say something - anything. He didn't. And she suddenly heard her own voice echoing in her head and realized just how much she'd rambled.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you before dinner, but I was too nervous to admit to being the chef in case it sucked, in which case I would have let you take it up with Johnny because it was his recipe and…I'll just shut up now."

"You cooked for me?" Sonny murmured, the corners of his mouth softly curving up.

"Yeah."

He leaned into her and cupped her cheek in his palm, gazing deeply into her warm, chocolate eyes.

"That's the most special thing that anyone has ever done for me. And I…I…"

Sonny lost his tongue as his eyes began to mist. He was overwhelmed. And his heart was ready to leap into his mouth.

Alexis covered the back of his hand with her palm, holding it to her face, preparing once again to tell him the last secret thought she'd kept from him that night.

"I'm really glad that you liked it. Because…"

Sonny brought his other hand to her face, halting her voice. He held her gently while his eyes sank into hers like stones.

"No, I LOVED it. I love that you thought to do this for me, I love that you knew what it would mean to me, and…I love you, Alexis. I love you, and I'm IN love with you - so much that I can hardly stand it."

Alexis blinked.

"I only wish it hadn't taken me this long to work up the courage to tell you."

Alexis blinked again. And the room fell bracingly silent for what seemed like an eternity. Sonny's breath was frozen in his lungs, waiting for her to speak. She only swallowed. And then the tip of her tongue slipped between her lips and grazed them. A moment later, her chin began to quiver.

"Oh…damn."

Her voice caught in her throat. And Sonny's world began to crash.

"I wanted to be the one to say it first."

"W-what?"

Her eyes suddenly filled with sparkling rain. "I love you too. And…and…I was waiting all night for the perfect moment to tell you, and…and..."

A tear slipped free from the corner of her eye. Sonny released a quick sigh of relief, smiling wide through his own stinging wetness.

"And I was just about to say it when you beat me to the punch." She sniffed. "No fair."

Sonny laughed as his hands caressed her wet cheek over and over again.

"If you want, I can take it back so you can say it first."

"Don't you dare take it back!" She reached for his cheek and stroked his smooth, warm skin. "Not even in jest."

He leaned into her touch and firmed his hold on her soft, damp face, gently pulling her toward him.

"I won't. I'll never take it back." Sonny whispered, lips brushing against the saltiness of her cheek. "It's yours forever."

Alexis turned her mouth toward his, murmuring softly as their mouths began to meld.

"Back at ya."