A warm, feathery touch upon his skin began to rouse him from the depths of a sweet, intoxicated slumber.
It came again, gliding up the length of his forearm until it halted at the crook of his elbow. And then, the path was retraced down to the inside of his wrist. But the tickling touch had changed to one of a gentle, sharp sensation. Sonny's brain and body grasped for clarity. It came in the distinct feel of Alexis's soft fingertips drawing a slow circle within the center of his palm. His fingers involuntarily twitched.
Sonny's groggy purr put a smile on her face. Her nails began to rake their way down each of his fingers, all the way to the ends until contact was broken.
"Please." He begged in a gravelly whisper. "Don't stop."
Alexis's heart skipped a beat. She'd begged the same of him, in the sparkling, rain-filled night, when her body couldn't bear waiting for the promise of his teasing, erotic touches to be fulfilled. And remembering the strength of her desire made her face tingle. She bit down on the inside of her lip as she gazed at Sonny's smooth, olive-hued, lightly dimpled face turned toward her on the edge of his pillow. Her fingertips returned to his palm and began to languidly glide their way up. His dimple grew, and Alexis suddenly found Sonny's eyes open and gazing right back at her in all their dark, sensual glory. She swallowed hard, feeling her face flush with want...and promise.
"Good morning." She murmured, nails traveling back down his skin.
Sonny sighed deeply, allowing his eyes to close once more. But the vision of Alexis's face stayed locked in front of his closed lids. It was flushed, radiant, sleepy, and a thing of devastating beauty. It was almost more than he could bear, being lulled awake by her touch to find her lying naked beside him under a tangle of sheets. And he was flooded with a heady rush of memories made throughout - memories of the devastating beauty of loving and being loved by her.
"It's the best morning." Sonny opened his eyes and settled them deeply into hers. "Because I died and went to heaven last night."
Alexis laid her palm against his, and their fingers instinctively interlaced.
"So did I."
"Over and over...and over again."
She gave him a seductively shy smile. "So did I."
Sonny smiled back as Alexis pulled at their clasped hands, tucking them underneath her chin. She sighed lightly, slowly running her tongue across her lips as her expression grew thoughtful. And he suddenly found her looking up at him as if she wasn't sure he was real. He knew he was probably looking at her the same way. It was all too perfect to be real. But it was real. And it was perfect. And he tried hard not to be afraid.
He turned onto his side and reached for her, brushing his fingertips across her brow and along the edge of her warm, velvety cheek. Her lashes fluttered, but her studious stare into his eyes stayed unwavering. Sonny's hand continued traveling, running back through the silk of her hair and over the smooth curve of her bare shoulder. And her lashes continued fluttering with the feel of his touch on each new part of her skin.
But as his palm found its bold way under the sheet to roam the plane of Alexis's back, her lids finally surrendered, closing under the weight of the sensual gift being bestowed upon her body. An appreciative moan resonated deep within her throat, and a dazzling, dimpled smile quickly overtook her face. It made the morning sun all but disappear. Alexis tightened her fingers, still intertwined with his, and bowed her head to press a kiss to the back of his hand.
Her smile, her kiss, her whisper sent Sonny's heart sailing. There was no fear of this perfection. There was only love - and overwhelming gratitude for having been blessed with Alexis. He leaned down and softly grazed his lips over the top of her shoulder. His tickling caress made her giggle. Her giggle made Sonny feel wicked. He grinned as he pushed her hair back and began to noisily nuzzle the side of her neck. Alexis squealed.
He laughed as he playfully nipped at her earlobe. Alexis threw her arm around him, pulling him on top of her as she rolled over onto her back. His mouth immediately lit down upon the hollow of her throat, kissing tenderly, moving slowly upward until his lips finally melded with hers. She lay her palm flush between his shoulder blades and drew it down the valley of his spine to the small of his back as their mouths parted.
Sonny brushed the tip of his nose across the flushed apple of her cheek before shifting his weight back and leaning into one elbow. Alexis's hand swept down from his back and her fingers resumed their light stroking of his arm that lay gently across her belly. For a long while, the new lovers laid in languid splendor, gazing into each other's eyes in reverent silence as if one more word given voice would wake them from a dream and steal their splendor away.
The silence was suddenly, unceremoniously broken by the muffled growl of Sonny's stomach. Alexis broke into peals of laughter. Sonny broke into a blush.
"I guess you really worked up my appetite last night - in more ways than one."
She arched an eyebrow. "I also fed it in more ways than one."
His hand snuck beneath the edge of the sheet and gave her hip a light squeeze.
"That you did."
Alexis ran her fingers through his hair, firming them against his head as she lifted herself up from the pillow. Their mouths met, and Sonny smiled against the softness of her. She leaned into him, deepening their kiss before pulling back to look at him with a light sigh.
"I'm afraid that unless leftover lasagna strikes your fancy, you're on your own as far as breakfast is concerned. Johnny didn't teach me diddley about cooking bacon and eggs."
Sonny kissed the tip of her nose. "I'll take care of breakfast. Anything you want - bacon and eggs, Belgian waffles with strawberries, French toast, an ome..."
Her eyes lowered from his face.
Alexis looked back into his eyes with a quick smile. "Nothing. Whatever sounds good to you is good for me."
"As long as I make you a cappuccino too?"
Her eyes widened, and she nodded emphatically. Sonny grinned as he brushed back the long bangs that fell against the corner of her eye.
"Well, that was a no-brainer."
She nodded again. The hair fell back into her face, and Sonny laughed. As he reached out to tuck it back behind her ear, Alexis leaned in to kiss HIM on the nose.
"Want to hear another no-brainer?"
Sonny nodded his head with vigor. Alexis smiled. He winked and set his chin into his palm.
"I love you." She murmured.
His smile softened, dark eyes locking into hers.
"Back at ya."
Alexis bit down on her lip, and then let it slip through her teeth as she gave Sonny an impish grin.
"Does that mean I get chocolate sprinkles on my cappuccino?"
"Nothing but the best for my spud."
Her grin spread wide. "You're too good to me."
Sonny resisted the urge to protest that there was no such thing as being too good to her. She deserved the best of everything. But he knew that if he spoke, Alexis would protest. It was still as difficult for her to feel deserving of good things as it was for him. So he stayed silent, slipping his hand under the sheet and smiling in appreciation of the smooth warmth of her feminine curves.
Alexis shivered lightly in response to the travel of his palm. She bowed her head to lay a kiss upon his throat, and then snuggled up close against his firm, strong body. The faint scent of smoke and cloves on his skin rekindled all her sense memories of the night...and made her yearn for the night to come again.
"I wish I could stay with you like this all day."
"Then stay with me like this all day."
She turned her face into his chest, fingertips gently running over the raised scar marring the smooth muscle.
"I...need to take care of a few things."
"They can't wait?"
"They could. But they shouldn't."
He waited a long moment before speaking, his fingers continued to lazily stroke up and down the plane of her back.
Alexis lifted her head from his chest and looked up at him with a hesitant expression.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be cagey."
"You don't have to tell me what you need to take care of."
"I want to." She ran her tongue across her lips, eyes briefly darting away from Sonny's. "I need to talk to Ned."
Sonny was silent.
"He wants...he thinks that we..."
Alexis took in a deep breath and released it with all the heaviness she felt in her heart.
"I'm going to hurt him again, and I hate that." Her eyes began to fill. "But I'd hurt him even more if I wasn't completely honest with him, and I need to do it today."
Sonny nodded in quiet understanding. It hurt to see the guilt and sadness in her eyes. And he hoped that Ashton wouldn't make the inevitable final break any more painful for her than it had to be.
"I need to be honest with you too, Sonny." She swallowed hard. "The truth is, I still love him. I just love him in a different way now than I did before. And if there's any chance in hell that he'll forgive me and want to stay in my life, as a friend, I really want that. I hope I haven't hurt you by saying that. It doesn't mean that I don't..."
"I know what it means, Alexis. And I know that you can't just...turn off your feelings for someone like you turn off the water in a pipe." He brushed a falling tear from the corner of her eye. "Besides, your huge heart is one of the things I admire the most about you. Ashton is lucky that no matter how he reacts to what you have to tell him, he'll always have a place inside that huge heart.
Alexis smiled, sniffed, and rubbed at her nose. Sonny wrapped his arms around her tight.
"But I'm luckier." He murmured.
"Will you be here when I get back this afternoon, or do you need to take care of some things at the warehouse?"
"I'll be here. All I need to take care of is you."
She looked up into his eyes with a sweet solemnity. "I can take care of myself, Sonny. All I need you to do is love me."
Someone's stomach growled.
"And make breakfast." Alexis added.
"Your wish is my command."
"While you're making your magic in the kitchen, I'll go jump in the shower."
Sonny frowned. "You mean, alone?"
She felt his palms firm against her behind as his hips gently rocked up against hers. She took in a sharp breath, and Sonny gave her a wicked smile. It was tempting. VERY tempting. But Alexis pulled back, breaking contact with his body - and taking the sheet with her.
"I think that's best."
Sonny made a quick grab for the end of the sheet, but Alexis prevailed in whisking it away, leaving him naked and wanting. She gave him a wicked grin of her own.
"I'd strongly suggest wearing an apron if you DO plan on frying bacon."
Sonny widened his eyes, pointed a finger her way, and playfully barked.
"No sprinkles for you!"
Johnny's head sharply turned as Sonny's door flew open and Zander tromped out into the hall.
"Johnny! Where's Sonny?"
"Uh..." He looked at his watch. "The warehouse?"
Zander shook his head. "I checked. Nobody's seen or heard from him yet."
Johnny pulled his cell phone out of his breast pocket. "I'll give him a call."
"Don't bother. Taggert tried, I tried - it's turned off."
Johnny's eyebrow arched with suspicion. "Taggert?"
"He was leaving a message on the machine, but I picked up the phone when I heard him saying that..."
"Dude." Zander took a step back, looking at Johnny strangely. "Chill out."
"Don't call me dude! And don't tell me to chill out! You NEVER pick up Sonny's personal line, do you hear me?"
"I don't pick up his line! I mean, I wouldn't have picked it up if I hadn't heard Taggert..."
"That line is private!"
"Okay, I get it! I'll never pick up Sonny's personal line again."
Johnny gave a satisfied nod of his head and slipped the phone back into his pocket. Zander scowled.
"You know, if I were you I'd be a little more concerned about the fact that nobody seems to know where Sonny is, the cell phone he always keeps turned on is now turned OFF, and his bed doesn't even look like it's been slept in. You're his body guard, right? Do you even know if he came home last night?"
"Right now I'm Alexis's bod..."
Johnny's voice abruptly halted. His back straightened, eyes slowly turning to the morning paper lying untouched on the table outside Alexis's door. And then, his focus shifted to the door itself. The corners of his mouth began to turn up.
"Uh...I'm sure whatever Taggert wanted can wait until Sonny turns up."
"Uh...no, it can't." Zander couldn't refrain from sarcasm. "Sonny would want to hear this NOW. And so would Alexis. So if she's home, she gets to hear it first."
He began to stride past Johnny, who stopped him with a quick hand on Zander's arm.
"Whoa...not so fast. Alexis isn't up yet."
"Trust me - she's not going to care if I wake her up."
He pulled his arm free of Johnny's grasp and again moved toward PH4. Johnny made a futile attempt to stop him, but Zander began to call out.
"Alexis!" He knocked on the door. "Alexis, it's Zander!"
"Dammit." Johnny cursed.
He knocked harder. "Alexis, I'm sorry to wake you up, but it's important!"
Johnny shoved his arm away, trying to keep him from banging on the door again.
"You got no respect, you know that?"
Zander angrily spun around. "What is your problem, Johnny?"
"The woman is recovering from the hell she went through in saving your sorry life and you can't even let her sleep, THAT'S my problem."
"I just saw her two days ago! She looked great. And she said she felt a hundred percent." He frowned. "Is there something still wrong with her and nobody's telling me?"
Johnny felt a strong wave of guilt. "No. No, kid. She's fine. But you know, you could be a little more considerate. Like, you could have called her on the phone instead of trying to break her door down."
Zander felt his face begin to flush. Once again, he was acting like a hothead, acting without thinking things through. But he hated admitting that Johnny was right. He cleared his throat and was about to make his mumbling way back to Sonny's apartment to give Alexis a call when her front door suddenly opened behind his back. He turned to see Alexis standing before him wearing a deep blue velvet robe and holding a coffee mug in one hand. Her hair was hanging over her shoulders in long, damp waves.
"Zander." She looked surprised to see him. "Hi."
He smiled sheepishly. "Hi."
Johnny stepped up. "Sorry, Alexis. I told him you weren't up yet, but he barged right past me and started making a racket."
"It's okay, Johnny. I was up." She lifted a lock of her wavy, damp hair. "See? Not only up, but showered - and eating breakfast...which you're welcome to join."
Alexis turned her eyes toward the sound of Sonny's protest emanating from behind her. So did Zander. So did Johnny, who quickly noted his boss's bare feet, unbuttoned shirt, and slicked-back hair that was just as damp as Alexis's. And he was about to grab Zander by the arm and hightail it out of there when Sonny suddenly smiled from his seat at the end of the dining room table and gave them all a single wave.
"Hi. How ya doin'?"
"There you are!"
"Here I am. But was it really much of a stretch to figure that out?"
Zander made his way toward Sonny, arms crossed over his chest like a perturbed parent.
"Did you know that your cell is turned off?"
Zander stopped dead in his tracks. And he stared for a long moment as Sonny calmly took another sip of his coffee. His arms slowly uncrossed.
"I didn't want to be disturbed, Zander. People normally turn off their phones when they don't want to be disturbed."
Sonny caught Alexis's eye, and she reflexively shifted her gaze away. It fell upon Johnny...whose expression was purely impish as he stood perusing the jumble of pillow, sheets and blankets strewn on the floor and the circle of burned-down candles surrounding the room. She felt her face begin to tingle with shyness, and she quickly turned her focus to the last few swallows of cappuccino still left in her mug.
"I take it the lasagna was a hit?" Johnny whispered.
A quick heat filled her cheeks. Alexis bit her lip, trying not to grin. She failed.
"You could say that." She mumbled back.
Johnny's smile took over his face. "I'm glad."
She gave him a shy, sideways glance. "Me too."
"What do you need, Zander?"
Sonny's strong voice turned both Alexis and Johnny's heads.
"Not me - Taggert."
"Yeah. He was trying to reach you." Zander turned to glance at Alexis. "He had news about Sorel."
Sonny rose from his chair and moved to Zander as Johnny stepped up close behind Alexis.
"What?" Alexis asked in a shaky voice. "What happened?"
"The grand jury came back this morning." Zander smiled wide. "Sorel's been indicted for the murder of Ted Wilson."
Alexis took in a sharp breath in surprise. Sonny's head dropped down in relief.
"Thank God." He whispered.
Alexis set her mug down on the desk and wrapped her arms around her surrogate son.
"You did it. I knew you could do it, and you did it."
"Because of you." Zander carefully returned her embrace. "Because you believed in me, fought for me, and kicked my sorry ass when I...I mean..."
Alexis laughed. "Yeah, that's what I kicked all right."
"I beg to differ." Sonny chimed in. "You coddled, I kicked!"
"Whatever." Alexis retorted. "Zander succeeded in taking a drug-dealing killer off the streets for good, and that's all that matters."
Zander pulled back and looked down at Alexis's face, which beamed up at him with more love and pride than he'd ever seen directed his way. And for once in his life, he felt he deserved it. The only thing marring the moment was the sight of the scrape on her forehead that had yet to finish healing. What she went through to save his life would always haunt him. And though he knew it was cowardly, he was glad he'd not been allowed to see her in the first days after her rescue. What he'd seen for himself when she came home made enough of an impact to last him a lifetime.
"I didn't do anything, Alexis. WE did it - you, me and Sonny."
She tilted her head. "Teamwork. It never fails."
Johnny touched Alexis lightly on the wrist. "Congratulations, Alexis."
She gave him a dimpled smile and smoothed down his tie.
"Thank you, Johnny. For everything."
"Uh...congrats to you too, boss."
"My friend." Sonny gave him a nod.
"You did all right, kid."
He held out his hand to Zander, who returned the gesture.
Johnny sighed. Zander smiled and shook his head as he took Johnny's hand.
"Psst. Hey, councellor."
Alexis looked Sonny's way. He jerked his head, beckoning her to come to him. She did...slowly.
"You just slayed your own dragon. Good for you."
"It's all over." She murmured. "Finally."
"Is it? Really?"
"Of course it is. Sorel's going to death row. There's no doubt in my mind."
"That makes it over for him. But is it over for you too?"
Alexis halted, gazing up at him with a solemn expression. And then, she nodded. Sonny nervously ran his tongue across his lips. He was sure he understood what she was saying, but he needed to ear the words. It seemed the tables had somewhat turned.
"Please say it out loud. I need to hear you say it to make it real."
She smiled softly. "It's over for all of us. I won't put myself or the people I love through any more unnecessary pain."
Alexis shrugged one shoulder. "After all, the state can't exactly carry out two death sentences on one person."
"That's no-brainer number three."
He grinned, reaching out to grab hold of the blue velvet belt tied in a bow.
"I'd rather not talk about no-brainer number three any more, if that's okay with you." She smiled up at him. "I'd much rather focus on no-brainer number two."
Sonny gave a gentle tug on his handful of velvet, and Alexis released herself forward into his arms.
"I love you." He whispered roughly.
"I love you too."
Zander's jaw dropped, eyes widening into saucers as he watched Sonny take Alexis's face in his hands and kiss her softly on the mouth.
He turned sharply to Johnny, who stood beaming unabashedly as he muttered under his breath.
"It's about time."
Zander's sputter stole Johnny's attention away from the public display of affection to the young man's incredulous expression. He shook his head.
"Come on, kid." He whispered. "Like the man said, was it really that much of a stretch to figure it out?"
"I think we're being discussed." Alexis quipped.
"Right in front of us, like we're not even here." Sonny added.
"Sorry." Johnny offered sheepishly.
"Yeah, sorry." Zander echoed.
"You and Tony used to that to me all the time when I was in the hospital."
"I know. And you used to yell at us." Sonny kissed her again. "You were cute."
Johnny grabbed Zander by the sleeve and gave him a tug.
"We'll just...give you some privacy."
The two men began to back up toward the open door, with Zander still staring at the surprising sight of Sonny and Alexis locking lips like it was the most normal thing in the world. Johnny gave his sleeve another pull. Zander began to parrot him again, for loss of better words of his own.
"Yeah, we'll just, um..."
"I was NOT cute! I was ticked." Alexis protested. "After all, it's the height of rudeness to talk about someone like they're invisible when they are, in fact, right there, listening to every single word you say."
"...leave you two crazy kids alone."
Zander's perky chirp made Johnny cringe.
"Oh." Sonny said flatly. "You mean, like...what we're doing right now to poor Johnny and Zander?"
Johnny's suddenly backed himself right into the doorframe. Zander stumbled over Johnny's foot and backed right into Johnny.
"Yeah, exactly like that."
Alexis turned within Sonny's embrace to laugh heartily at the two befuddled klutzes in the doorway. Johnny's eyebrow arched as he released a loud sigh. She tilted her head.
"No you're not."
Sonny chuckled. "That's what she keeps saying to me when I..."
She turned to shoot a warning look at him over her shoulder. He gently prodded her side with his fingertip, making her back straighten.
"Tickle her." He murmured into her ear.
Alexis cleared her throat and squirmed out of Sonny's arms with an embarrassed smile.
"Zander, I know you're more than a little taken aback by...this. Sonny and me, I mean. It took us a bit by surprise too." She gave Johnny a shy flash of dimples. "In fact, it seemed as if we were the last to know how we felt when everyone around us has known for quite a while."
"No. But that's probably because you haven't been around, at my insistence. I wanted you to go about your life - go about being young and in love and trying to make a plan for your future without worrying about me, because I was being very well tended."
"I thought...I thought it was because Sonny didn't trust me to not say or do something to upset you."
She gave Sonny a backward glance. "Well, I'm sure that was HIS motivation in wanting to limit your contact with me since I got back home. But mine was to keep you distanced from what happened to me until the grand jury came back - hopefully with news that would let you finally put all of this behind you. And it did. Go, team."
Alexis raised her palm upward with a grin. Zander grinned back, and slapped her palm in a high-five.
"Go team." He repeated. "And I'm glad that you and Sonny found something really special within all this mess."
Sonny stepped up behind Alexis and put his arms protectively around her.
"We surely did."
Alexis leaned her head back against Sonny's cheek, and Zander smiled a goofy grin to rival Johnny's. He scratched his head and his expression turned thoughtful.
"Come to think of it, the way Sonny was acting while Sorel had you was...I don't know. And him teaming up with Taggert? It all makes sense now."
"Please don't tell Emily - or anyone else, okay?" Alexis held her arms tight against Sonny's. "There are some people who shouldn't find out the way you did."
Zander nodded. He knew she meant Ned.
Alexis released a heavy breath. "So...I guess that must be my cue to go get dressed."
"Already?" Sonny firmed his arms around her.
She nodded. "Yeah. I need to just get ready and go without thinking about it too much first. Okay?"
"I'll get the car ready."
"Thanks, Johnny. Give me about half an hour?"
Johnny nodded. "You got it."
He touched Zander on the arm and jerked his head toward the hallway.
"Right." Zander smiled at Alexis. "We'll leave you two crazy kids alone for REAL this time."
"I just said that I was going to get dressed, Zander."
"Oh - right." Zander gave Johnny a wink.
"Cut it out!"
Johnny squinted at Alexis and took a step back toward the door.
"Hey, are you blushing? Did he make you blush?"
"I'm not blushing, it's just...a flush from the hot cappuccino."
"Boy, some people can dish it out, but they sure can't take it." Johnny teased.
"Don't you have a car to fetch?"
"Don't you have some clothes to put on?"
Alexis's mouth opened, but quickly closed without uttering a word.
"Heh." Sonny chuckled.
Johnny grinned and walked out the door. The pink hue of Alexis's cheeks deepened. She tossed her damp, wavy hair over her shoulder and gave Sonny a self-satisfied look.
"No...ahem." She cleared her throat. "For you."
Sonny widened his eyes and made a grab for his chest. Her left eyebrow arching, Alexis game him a dimpled grin, turned on her heels, and marched up the stairway. Zander laughed. Alexis's threat was far from cryptic, even if it was completely empty. Sonny turned and caught Zander's knowing smile. He pointed at the door.
"Go pester your own woman."
Zander as he shoved his hands into his pockets and strolled out into the hallway. Sonny followed behind in his path.
"Hey. You done real good. You did everyone proud, most of all yourself. You hold onto that pride, you hear me? Hold onto the fact that you proved yourself worthy of the faith that people put in you and the love they've seen fit to give you."
Zander stared at Sonny's face, into the dark, solemn eyes filled with a kindred tale of once being lost, but now was found. He and Sonny had both found the best men inside themselves. They'd found their honor. They'd found their worthiness of love. Zander wanted to speak, but he could not. He simply nodded his head, turned away, and quietly walked toward the elevator. He had a woman of his own to pester. One who loved him. And she had good news to hear.
Zander had done himself proud.