These Are the Days to Remember

 

Chapter 1: Nineteen-Year Old Niece

Jeb rolled over and felt the rest of the world take a nose-dive from his line of vision. Moaning out loud he looked at his alarm clock. No clock. Wondering if he dropped it he leaned over the bed and saw a carpet that did not belong in his flat. By this time Jeb was rapidly waking up, this wasn't his flat! What the hell he thought and sat up. Bad idea, because of the sudden movement his brain gained momentum, rocketed to the front of his skull and banged against the bone. The immense pain forced him to move a great deal slower in examining his new abode. He felt someone stir next to him and turned around. The beautiful face cleared his temporary amnesia. He picked her up during Sean and Sarah's wedding reception. But for the life of him Jeb couldn't remember her name.

He squinted around the room and saw their piles of clothes. Cursing at his very well documented weakness for pretty faces he wrapped a sheet around himself and made his way to her purse. ID card... "Georgina Middlesex." No luck as the name didn't ring a bell. He looked around the flat, it was familiar so he must have been here once before with Mademoiselle Middlesex. Looping the bed sheet around him like a toga Jeb went out to find some aspirin and water. He stepped out of the bedroom and labored slowly down the hall mentally berating himself for these all-too-familiar mornings. Still trying to recollect what happened the night before Jeb finally saw a door that looked like it led to a kitchen. He stepped into the room as was suddenly greeted with, "What the hell are you doing in my flat?" His head snapped up which once gain earned him a blast of pain from his skull. Megan was sitting comfortably in her wool robe and reading the morning papers.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Jeb shot back stunned to see her.

"I live here. This is my place bought with my money Jebediah." The second brother flinched, whenever Megan called him by his full name he knew he was in trouble. Megan stared at the man still demanding some sort of an explanation as to why he was in her flat naked save her bed sheet. "Georgie?" Megan whispered and Jeb went pale. "You slept with my niece?" She asked standing up; her eyes were on fire. "You shagged my niece?" Jeb started to retreat from the room as Megan began to unleash the notorious Addelson temper.

"I didn't know she was your niece..."

"That is total bull****! I introduced her to you blasted family last night! I was wondering where she disappeared! Jebediah Winters you are dead! She's nineteen years old!" Jeb nearly lost his death grip on the toga.

"She didn't say that."

"Really?! I wonder why!" Jeb was now in the corridor with Megan standing in front of him and there was nowhere to go but backwards.

"I thought she was twenty-something. That's what she said..."

"You shagged my nineteen-year old niece you oversexed git!" Jeb stumbled and nearly fell back into the guest bedroom. "And I am going to sue your whole bloody firm if anything happens to her!" Megan yelled on top of her lungs as he retreated into the middle of the room. Georgie was now wide-awake and quite pale. Jeb was so handsome and attentive last night, nothing like the Uni. boys she was used to! It didn't seem like a bad idea to fib a little and enjoy what was to be one of the best...

"Get out of my flat NOW!" She ordered the panicking man. Then she turned to her niece, "And you are going back home today!" Georgie dared not argue, her mother told her what temper Megan had. Jeb managed to dress himself in less than two minutes then rushed out of the flat and nearly collided with a constable who was patrolling the quiet neighborhood. The young man smiled after the disappearing figure, he heard Megan's screaming accusations from the streets. Jeb took a cab to his apartment trying to ignore the mistake he just committed. Moaning at the inevitable hangover and more importantly the social faux pas he just pulled Jeb crawled into his own cool sheets and fell asleep. For all about twenty minutes before his phone rang.

"Hello?" He croaked.

"This is Ben. What the hell did you do? I just got off the phone with Megan and she's looking for blood." Jeb confessed to the most sympathetic Winters about what had happened earlier. "You're a dead man. Better fill out one of those organ donation cards while you still have your fingers."

"Thank you Ben. What am I going to do?"

"I don't know but she's threatening to drop us from her clientele list so you better scramble. Imagine what Sean's going to do to you when he returns from his honeymoon and finds out that she's no longer representing us because you got happy one night with her nineteen-year old niece. Having one of them pissed off is scary, but both? That's beyond my power of imagination."

"She actually said she was going to stop being our solicitor?" Jeb asked his voice suddenly serious.

"No, she didn't say it. She screamed it actually."

"We can't afford that." He muttered to himself, "She's been with us too long and we can't just switch...I've got to talk to her."

"May I suggest a Teflon vest? Or even better a bodyguard? She's really upset my dear libertine and she's not going to calm down anytime soon." Ben cheerfully noted and hung up.

Jeb forced himself to take a shower and have something to eat though his stomach protested violently at the intrusion of food. It was almost six when he found himself, shaved and showered, in front of Megan's door. He rang and was buzzed in without a question. Have to tell her that she can't trust strangers...not that she can trust old family friends either!

"Door's open!" Megan cheerfully cried out from within and Jeb paused for a moment. What if she was waiting with a weapon? Convincing himself that the thought was ridiculous he entered the room and stopped dead short. Megan was dressed in a gown that was definitely not meant for him.

She turned around and froze, "What are you doing here?"

"I came to apologize for last night. Actually I came back to beg. I didn't mean you upset you Meggie and I should've known better of course but then when did I ever?" He used the old nickname in order to wheedle his way back to her good side. She could never stay angry with the Winters brothers for long though she tried, valiantly. "Please, tell Georgina that..."

"Excuse me." Jeb turned around and saw Mitch Henley standing behind him. To his undying mortification Jeb realized the man heard everything. "Megan, shall I come back later?" He offered but she shook her head.

"No, this conversation is over. I'll talk to you later Jebediah." As he heard the serious tone in her voice Jeb began to panic earnestly. But he couldn't delay the couple so he bowed out with what pride he had left.

Mitch Henley, now that was a shock for Jeb. Henley was one of Winters' fiercest competitors in arenas inside and outside of their business. Can't tell her who to go out with he told himself, and Mitch is the only son to the family fortune. Feeling sheepish and worried he returned to his flat and studied the reports from the firm. He would have to go back to work tomorrow and since Sean wasn't around it fell on his rather clumsy shoulders to make sure the firm ran smoothly for three weeks. I already lost our solicitor Jeb miserably thought, and I haven't even been to the office yet.

He forced himself to look at the papers in front of him and was soon lost in the calculations and printouts. It was only when the phone rang that he looked up from his work. Midnight! He wondered who it was and answered. "Jeb?" He gave a huge sigh of relief; Megan was calling him Jeb again.

"Hi Megan, sorry about earlier and earlier than that. I didn't know you were going out with Mitch Henley of all people."

"Mitch and I are old friends Jeb. We've been seeing each other for a while now." Jeb paused for a moment digesting her words. He always believed that Megan had a torch for Sean, ever since they were kids. So this bit of news was a stunner for him.

"Really? I had no idea you knew each other."

"We went to school together. He was a year ahead of me in class."

"I see." Actually Jeb didn't but he wasn't going to open his mouth and mess it all up again. "Well I am sorry if I made it uncomfortable between you two. But I did come by to apologize for what happened with Georgina. I had no idea how old she was and you know me."

"Yes I do Jeb and Georgina told me everything after you left. She was still sent back to her mom of course and you're still in trouble young man. But I won't quit representing the Winters firm." Jeb gave a huge mental sigh of relief.

"Thanks Meggie. I don't want everyone to pay the price because I was my usual idiotic self. Where did you go anyway with Mitch? I don't remember seeing anything on the social calendar worthy of the dress you had on."

She laughed, "It was a private reception held by the Henleys at the Museum. Few clients and the family sort of thing."

Jeb's curiosity deepened, "Really? Well he must be serious if he invited you to such an occasion. Good going Megan! So did you hear anything that the Winters firm need to know about?"

"Stick it somewhere else Jeb Winters, I don't kiss and tell."

"You should. It ought to be an interesting read."

"And you would buy the book wouldn't you?"

"At least a dozen and have you autograph all of them. Then I could brag to people that I knew you before when."

"Oh Jeb, your charm doesn't work on me. I knew you before when too. So save it for someone who will actually fall for your soft words and cultured tone. I remember when you used to come to my house crying because you and Sean got into a fight and you lost."

"I don't think I ever won." Jeb noted darkly.

"And you came looking for me because I was the only one who could stand up to Sean. Especially on your behalf, even when you deserved to get beaten by him."

Jeb grinned, "Yes, I remember that. You used to stand there and drown him out with your yelling. It's a miracle that you're still around."

"Well imagine how I felt seeing that boy come into my kitchen almost naked after having a night of sex with my only niece."

"Ouch Megan, that hurt."

"It's supposed to you idiot. Georgie isn't a kid anymore but you are way out of her league. Why of all things did you pick up my niece?"

"I don't know; I was drunk and I was stupid. More so than usual I think. It was weird seeing Sean get hitched. It was a perfect wedding, I'm not complaining about that but seeing him say I do and wear that ring..."

She began laughing hysterically, "Oh dear! Why, did you suddenly see yourself in his place? Felt that marriage noose tighten around your neck?"

"Something like that," He agreed shame-faced. "I always thought Sean would remain Sean Winters. Not Sean, the husband and future father."

"Be glad Jebediah Winters. Being alone is one thing, being lonely is another. Sean was lucky it didn't get too bad for him before Sarah came along."

The words pricked his conscience so he rushed to agree, "Of course I'm glad to see him with her finally. Heaven knows they've been through enough already. I still can't believe what her ex sent as his wedding present."

"I do, he's being a jerk but then all men are somewhere along their existence on this planet."

"Thank you professor Addelson. Why are we having this conversation anyway?"

"Because you're being a jerk." Jeb was tempted to hang up but refrained.

"I'll take that into consideration. I have to go now, have to get ready for the office tomorrow. It's going to be hellish without Sean."

"Why do you say that?" Megan asked, her voice reflecting her genuine confusion.

"Because Sean won't be around to pull the reins. He might be the world's ultimate puppet master but at least he knew what he was doing."

"Jeb, you've been around the office for almost as long as Sean. And Sean would have never left you in control if he didn't trust you. So stop playing the lesser-brother here and get to work. You're Jebediah Winters and you're second to none in that."

"Thanks Meggie. And I am really sorry about last night."

"Stop apologizing, it's weird to hear you say you're sorry. But I expect you to be your utmost proper self around me for at least a month. And stop calling me Meggie. I keep wanting to check my teeth to make sure my braces are gone every time you call me that."

"Will do Miss Addelson. Good night Meggie." He hung up on her cry of outrage.



He went to bed around one but not before he examined a photo album from his youth. Both Daphne and his father were crazy about taking pictures and since the sons were rather a handsome bunch there were no shortage of occasions where a Kodak wasn't taken. He found the one he was looking for. It was all the Winters brother and Megan with their arms around each other grinning happily by the sea. Sean wasn't even fourteen when the photo was taken but it was already obvious he was going to be a handsome addition to the Winters family. Jeb flipped through the thick pages and he found another of Sean and Megan sitting side by side talking to each other and totally oblivious to the world around them. This was during a winter break when both came home from school for the holidays. Megan was few years younger than Sean was but she excelled in her academics to such a degree that she was allowed early entrance to a school of her choice. So both entered their respective colleges the same year. By this time Sean had outgrown his brothers so much that the only companionship he could find was with Megan. And they found comfort in each other talking about familiar things while the rest of the brothers looked on with awe and no small envy.

Everyone wondered and hoped that the two would eventually marry and settle down. But nothing happened the way everyone thought. Megan married but not to Sean. Instead she fell in love with an artist who was dominating the London scene during the late eighties. The marriage was a happy one in spite of the fact that Megan and Ian were so different from each other. Then one night after a traffic accident Megan was alone again. Everyone then thought she would fall apart and fade away. Once more everyone was wrong. She somehow managed to crawl out of her own grave and finished her studies to become a solicitor. Her father promptly gave her a position in his firm and watched her star rise by her own hands. Now her name was as respected, feared and hated as his was.

Megan was impeccable in her work and her personal life. She hated being questioned about her private affairs so no one, not even the Winters family asked unless they knew they were invited to do so. Mitch Henley Jeb mused to himself. How did she ever meet up with a guy like Henley? And more importantly why is Henley after someone like Megan? The answers to those questions were rather obvious but Jeb knew better than to stay contented with what was on the surface. He put the photos away and fell asleep dreading the first day in the Winters firm minus Sean Winters.


The day went well, nothing catastrophic save an irate investor whom after a minute of blustering went away like a docile puppy. He was used to dealing with Sean's cool and sharp demeanor so he was totally unprepared for the rather suave and charming second brother. Jeb sat in his office and prayed fervently as the long hand ticked to a new position at five o'clock. When it reached the magic hour he gave a huge sigh of relief and began forwarding all incoming phone calls to his voice-mail. He was free now to pay attention to the workload still sitting in his in-basket. By seven he was done and was rather pleased everything went so well. He packed up his briefcase in the dark room but before he left the office he made a call.

"Hello?" Megan answered while preparing to make soup.

"It's me, Jeb. How about if I treat you out for dinner?"

"And what is the occasion?" She asked surprised.

"Well I survived the day without losing a client and I want to pay you back for your encouragement last night. Say yes." She looked at the soup can in her hand.

"Love to, when?"

"I'll come by in thirty minutes. Where do you want to go?"

"Kaya? I heard they have great shrimp tempura."

"Sounds good to me. See you soon Megan." She put the can away and turned off the gas stove. Megan could do many things but she couldn't cook to save her soul. Thus it was either microwaving something or ordering out for her. She even failed to boil eggs; instead she set the pot on fire because she forgot she had the stove on. So she had no choice but to make money. Eating out was rather an expensive habit when one has to do it as often as she did.

She saw his car pull up in front and went downstairs to stop Jeb from making a useless trip to pick her up. "So your first day at the office went well?" She asked and he leaned back giving a huge sigh of relief.

"Yes it did thank G-d. But am I glad to be out of there. Do you know where the restaurant is?" She nodded and gave him directions. The two found themselves in the middle of a crowded restaurant filled with students and struggling artists. Jeb looked around, "I didn't think you would enjoy this kind of scene. How did you hear about this place?"

"Read a review in the local paper. And I do enjoy this kind of scenery. It enables me to know what's really going on, outside of our rather well-padded world."

Jeb smiled a little and poured the tea. "We don't exactly live in ivory towers Megan. You know that."

"Yes and no, I think we get sucked into our jobs and our circle of friends so deeply that we forget sometimes that there are other things going on too. Beth is the exception to this rule but then she's the exception to every rule."

Jeb chuckled and took a sip of the hot corn tea. "I'll agree with you on that point."

"When are they going to get married?" Megan asked.

"I think they already are. They just forgot to tell the rest of us." Jeb replied then added, "I know Ben's been shopping around jewelry stores lately. Must be the wedding bug, bit everyone but me."

"Heaven have mercy on the girl who has you chasing her." Megan remarked flippantly but with a sly smile.

Jeb looked offended, "Why is that? I'm not exactly a bad catch you know."

"Yes you are." She countered still smiling. "The woman whoever she is must trust you enough to believe you'll never wander off to another bed. And unfortunately your reputation says otherwise."

"My reputation." Jeb said softly, "Do women talk about men as much as we do about you?"

"Oh yes, we're a lot more secretive about it. But men with certain reputation do have a place in our regular tete-a-tetes."

"Do I?"

"All of you do actually. But you're by far the worst. If you keep going the way you do no decent woman will approach you."

"Like I care." He replied with a sarcastic look. "I shall remain a bachelor ‘til my dying day. I have seen marriages and forgive me but I don't see the attraction."

"So your brother's was a mistake?" Megan inquired softly.

"No, Sean got lucky there but then he's always lucky like that. What are the chances that Sarah Runningdeer would be standing on the very same street where he would get mugged? Throughout that whole relationship the odds that were stacked against him were tremendous. But somehow he still managed to roar through and end up with Sarah whom by the way would have made me reconsider my stance about bachelorhood."

"You shouldn't hold grudge against him Jeb. It's not very kind or attractive." The younger Winters was ashamed, he thought he could hide it.

"You're right of course. I am just being a jealous second that's all. Sean worked hard for everything and everyone. And I am glad he and Sarah settled down. She did look happy didn't she?"

Megan smiled, "A radiant bride as the saying goes. Cheer up Jeb. Life isn't exactly leaving you out of her more favorable circles."

"No she isn't. Thank heavens for little favors and big ones."

"Cheers?" She raised her glass staring right into his blue eyes.

"Cheers Meggie. Thanks for letting me vent."

"You're welcome Jeb. Now stop this brooding and eat. You were always the thinnest of the whole lot."

"Hey, I try to keep my figure this thin on purpose. Not that I could do much about it; I'm just glad that fashion nowadays prefer thin men and not those butchers from East End."

Megan threw her head back and laughed at the image. Jeb grinned at her infectious humor and delved into his dinner. The two spent a companionable two hours discussing many things that crossed their lives, separate and joined. Throughout the meal and coffee afterwards Jeb wanted to bring up the subject of Mitch Henley but something prevented him from asking. He really wasn't sure if he wanted to know. What if she was serious about the man and planned to get married again? What if Henley was serious in his pursuit of Megan Addelson, Winters' closest, oldest and dearest friend? Their relationship would change irrevocably after such a union and Jeb couldn't help but feel anxious over such an idea. So many changes going on around him and he couldn't deal with it all. To lose a trusted mate like Megan was unacceptable to Jeb so he shoved the unpleasant thoughts aside and turned on his charm full blast onto his dinner companion. This was how Jeb dealt with personal problems, by focusing on something or someone else until the problem either worked itself out or it grew to such a size that he had no choice but to deal with it.

This rather problematic behavior was partially due to the fact he had an older brother like Sean, who dealt with obstacles with such thoroughness that few ever trickled down to the younger siblings. So Jeb grew up under this umbrella and though he matured like any other boy the remnants of this training was still ingrained in his basic personality. This was counter-balanced by his charm, which developed to a degree never witnessed in the Winters family. If he couldn't talk the problem away and he didn't want to deal with it, he would seduce it. This would have been an atrocious way of handling difficult situations but Jeb had cultured his charisma so he could use it to his advantage. And he did often to his favor. Unless the person was someone like Megan who knew him, his traits and the intimate reasons behind their existence. When faced with such a person Jeb would show his more humble and sometimes naïve self. Which was also part of his charm and the reason why he was able to keep friends like Megan no matter how badly he hurt them.

 

Chapter 2: Dinner, Dessert and a Plan

By Thursday Jeb had settled into a comfortable pattern in handling the firm's workload. But he quickly discovered why Sean usually didn't leave the office until it was past six or seven. After dealing with the daily crisis Jeb found the clock to be around four in the afternoon so he had to stay behind and deal with the actual work he knew he had to do. This was something he rather preferred, to be alone in the emptied building meant he could focus on what was in front of him without fear of interruptions. After having such a day Jeb drove home planning out his supper. When he reached his townhouse he saw the answering machine blinking furiously. Mumbling irritably to himself he checked his messages to see if there were any emergencies. Most were unimportant social niceties and then there was one from Lorien. And the good doctor sounded lonely if not bored. Jeb grinned a little, he already knew why the youngest Winters called him for no good reason.

He dialed his brother's number. "Lorien?" He asked when the other end went live.

"Jeb, doing anything tonight? Matt's gone and I am bored out of my mind. How about if we went out for a bite to eat? You just got home didn't you?"

"Yes, but I'm making my dinner. Why don't you come over and join me since you're fishing for an invitation to do something anyway."

Lorien smiled on the phone and Jeb could almost see it, "Thanks bro. I'll be there in fifteen minutes." Like most people Lorien hated cooking for one, there was something quite lonely about the whole process.

Jeb finished the call and changed into his jeans and sweater still planning out the menu in his head. But before he started warming up the frying pan for the meal he made another call. "Hello?" Megan answered as she flipped through the television channels.

"It's me Jeb. Listen, Lorien's coming over for dinner and we would like you to join us if you're not too busy."

Megan frowned, "What's up with all these meals? Trying to make me fat?"

"No you silly woman. I'm making Chicken French and tomatoes with Asiago cheese. I thought you might like to join us and cheer Lorien up. Matt's gone and he's depressed."

"Oh the little one's blue? We can't have that and the food sounds too good to pass up. I've tasted your cooking before and it's something else. Give me twenty minutes?"

"Done."

"Shall I bring a bottle of white?" She offered.

"No, I have a great red just waiting for a meal like this. See you soon Megan."

Jeb hung up the phone and stared at it for the longest time. Why did he invite Megan over? That was now twice in one week he was going to see her across a dinner table... He shrugged it off; I just want to make sure I am on the right side of the fence again. He heated up the frying pan with olive oil and began slicing the tomatoes. Of all the brothers he was the only one who could truly cook a grand meal. Nobody knew how he came about with this skill but Jeb could whip up plates that would make Sean actually sit down and eat slowly. While the rest needed cookbooks to guide them through the maze of spices and flavors Jeb knew instinctively what would go well with what flavors. Daphne said once that Jeb had inherited his mother's genes for love of food. This compliment touched Jeb deeply since he had no memories of his mother. He wanted to ask Sean many, many times about her but refrained from doing so for fearing of opening up wounds. Sean never called Daphne ‘mother' and it doesn't take a genius to figure out why.

The tomatoes were in the oven slowly roasting with the balsamic vinegar coating and Asiago cheese. He was getting the chicken breasts ready when the front doorbell rang. "Come in! It's open!" Lorien strolled in looking fatigued and well used. "On call last night?" Jeb asked looking at the dark circles under the eyes.

"And this morning and afternoon as it turns out. One of the patients crashed earlier and they kept me in the OR to make sure he doesn't bleed to death. It's no big deal. I wanted to make sure I had the weekend off when Matt returned and today guarantees it. That smells good, what is it?" Lorien asked peeking into the oven. "Something I obviously can't make." He added as he examined the curious dish.

The doorbell rang again and Lorien went to answer it. "Hey Megan! How are you?" He leaned over and gave a quick kiss, "Come on in. The chef's in his element making me feel useless and foolish."

Megan smiled and looped her arm around his waist, "But at least we get to eat the food. How are you?" The two talked companionably and made their way into the kitchen. Jeb was now focused on making Chicken French so his two guest watched. Their thoughts were remarkably similar. How assured the man was in the kitchen, a place where few males felt comfortable. And he always cut so close to his fingers, there were times when both thought he was going to lose a digit or two in the process.

"Jeb, I don't know what's in the oven but whatever it is if I don't have one in the next five minutes I'm going to hurt someone." Megan finally said no longer being able to just watch her dinner being made.

Jeb smiled broadly and opened the oven. Taking a plate he filled it up with the aromatic tomatoes and gave it to his guests. "It was supposed to be appetizers but I guess if my life's on the line I can spare a few."

Lorien grabbed two forks and handed one to Megan. "Did you ever think about taking those weekend cooking courses?"

Jeb shook his head, "Not really, though there's a pastry class I am interested in. But I won't have time for it. Besides I like experimenting." Megan nearly burned her tongue when she took a bite of the broiled and spicy tomato slice. She took a quick gulp of water to cool her mouth down. Lorien was also reaching for his glass as he too ate with abandon. Jeb gave both a small smile and returned to his work. It's nice to know one's culinary skills were so greatly appreciated...

Half-hour later the three were eating and laughing around the island. They dispensed with the formality of setting up the table in the dining room because none of them wanted to waste the time for such useless gesture. Megan examined both brothers carefully in these friendly surroundings. Jeb was so different when he forgets he is the second Winters. What was the quote? Yes, an Heir and a Spare, to be reminded that pointed fact all throughout his life must have done something to the man. But the damages that were inflicted weren't so visible unless one knew what to look for. With Lorien he was playful, funny and patient older brother, one who never judged but accepted rather well his brother's choices. Though it took Ben to reintroduce Lorien back into the family, it was Jeb who accepted the youngest stray with open arms.

While things were uncomfortable between Sean and Lorien for a long time, Jeb didn't mind at all about Matt or his presence in Jeb's personal life. This show of tolerance surprised everyone but Jeb himself. As far as he was concerned, as long as they didn't make homosexuality a law in England what did he care? And he had a friend who did die of AIDS. After watching the man fade away into less than nothing, body and mind he was as frantic as Daphne in trying to discover where Lorien disappeared to after he left the family. Silently he cursed Sean almost every single day for the youngest' disappearance but he knew that nobody could berate Sean more than Sean himself. And the oldest didn't fail to Jeb's shameful dismay. There wasn't a day when Jeb didn't see the haunted look in his brother's eyes and soon his anger melted away to pity. So when the prodigal son returned to them Jeb accepted the doctor whole-heartedly, especially to counter-balance Sean's more colder reception.

Lorien wasn't stupid; he knew why Jeb was making the extra effort in embracing not only him but also Matt into Jeb's private life. So he was grateful, more than he could say. And since Jeb was the only true bachelor left in the Winters' clan he was always good for a night out in London! Jeb poured another glass for his guests and finished cleaning up the plates.

"Dessert?" Lorien asked peeking over his brother's shoulder.

Megan ribbed him, "That meal was good enough on its own." Jeb grinned and pulled out a chocolate and mocha cake from the fridge.

"You don't understand, for Lorien the dessert and the appetizers are the best part of a meal. I should know that by now."

Lorien nodded like a happy puppy, "I'll make coffee, I think I'm going to need it after all." Megan nodded in agreement as she felt the drowsiness that always comes when one has a happy and full stomach.

Lorien brewed his usual mind-fusing hospital coffee, originally created to wake up overworked registrars and underpaid peons. Jeb didn't mind taste too much though his tongue curled inwards protesting the bitterness; the meal went well and that was all that mattered to him. Megan on the other hand managed to take three sips before setting the cup down, "Lorien, who are you trying to kill?" He gave a sarcastic look and threw her another sugar packet.

"Coward, can't drink coffee like the rest of us sleep-deprived physicians?"

"No and thank heavens for that! Give me some more milk too." Lorien made a face and passed her the small bottle.

"Why would anyone want to dilute the fine taste of coffee?"

"So they don't choke on it?" Jeb added, "This could poison a horse Lorien. I've had espressos shots but not in mugs. Please pass me the milk after you're done?" Megan chuckled and handed him the bottle.

"So what are you doing tomorrow night?" Jeb asked Megan with as much carelessness as he could muster.

"I am going out to see a play with Mitch." She replied blithely.

"Mitch?" Lorien asked, "Do tell, who's Mitch?"

"Mitch Henley." Jeb replied smoothly and watched as Lorien's eyes popped open.

"Henley? As in the firm Henley?" He turned around to the uncomfortable woman.

"Yes, I've been seeing him for a while now."

"Where did you meet him? I had no idea you were dating the enemy." Lorien got his ribbed elbowed again for the remark.

"I am not dating the enemy, I am seeing Mitch Henley and we met four months ago in a charity auction. He's a good man and you'd like him once you get to know him."

"I doubt it." Lorien replied and took another sip of his coffee. "He made too much fun of me when I fell into the Thames during the Regatta."

Megan laughed a little, "We all did Lorien. And you look so cute when you're embarrassed. Anyway I don't need your permission to date Mitch so let's switch the topic."

"Where are you going?" Lorien asked, now curious.

"We're going to see Medea, it's opening night so it should be exciting." Jeb remained cautiously silent as his mind turned.

Lorien made a face, "A play about a murderess? How exciting could that possibly be? Come out with us instead and we'll do the West End."

"No Lorien, I have a date and I'm planning to keep it. So stop trying to change my mind."

"Well I guess as long as he's paying for it you could make the sacrifice." Lorien replied with a sympathetic tone. Megan gave him a long hard look but failed to make the man regret his words.

"I should get going, I still have some work to do. Thank you for the dinner Jeb."

"I'll walk you out." He offered and took her hand. "Lorien doesn't mean it. You know that right?"

She nodded, "I'm too familiar with the scamp to think otherwise. And thank you again for the meal." She turned to him and gave a small kiss on the narrow cheek before leaving the figure on the doorway.

Jeb leaned over and watched her car turn the corner. "I had no idea about Mitch." Lorien said softly as he joined his brother. "Should we tell her?"

Jeb shook his head, "No. I don't want her to know and besides what good will it do to anyone, especially her? That's over now and it's best that we all forget it. Mitch probably does like her a great deal. What sane man wouldn't?"

Lorien heard something in the voice and turned to him, "But what if it isn't just mutual attraction between the two? We should tell her now instead of waiting around."

Jeb shook his head again, "No. I don't want her to know. It's going to strain our relationship and after my stunt with her niece we can't afford to do one thing wrong by Meggie. I don't think I could look myself in the mirror if she was hurt because of us. So Lorien, just keep quiet please. I know Mitch Henley and he's the kind that could appreciate a good thing when it crosses his path."

Lorien was still worried, "I don't know if Sean told you but Mitch made a play for Sarah." Jeb froze and stared at the youngest.

"He did what?"

"He made a play for Sarah during the Regatta. Nothing too obvious but it bothered Sean a great deal. I don't know Jeb. What do you think?"

The second oldest didn't hesitate, "Well I would definitely feel better if I saw them together."

Jeb paused for a moment then decided, "Do you want to see a play tomorrow night?"

Lorien smiled humorlessly, "Can you get us tickets?"

Jeb nodded, "That won't be a problem."

"Do we have any choice?" Lorien asked softly.

"No, not really. If there's a question about their relationship then we should tell Meggie but if we're both being paranoid then we keep quiet and back away."

"What are the chances of that Jeb? After all we're talking about Mitch and he's not the one to forget or forgive." Jeb closed his eyes and felt a frisson of panic go down his spine when he heard those words. "And he knows what Megan means to us." Lorien added. Jeb's face darkened as worry entrenched itself firmly into his mind. The violent scene that arose in Jeb's mind was also familiar with Lorien's. For both men were present to protect the third Winters and his new girlfriend from her ex-lover Mitch Henley.

Beth had gone out with Mitch for all of two months before she realized she made a big mistake. Mitch Henley was too controlling for her, too demanding and in many ways too insecure. She broke up with him and thought that he would get over it. She was badly, very badly mistaken. He left her messages on her answering machine, he would come up and try to talk to her on social occasions whenever possible. It had gotten to the point where she became frightened for her own safety. It was during this crisis when she met Ben Winters. Calm, cool, sweet and caring Ben who adored her but didn't make demands on her. Who sent her flowers and cards but expected nothing in return. Old-fashioned Ben with his outdated chivalrous ideas was like a balm to her worried and harassed soul. He was someone she could depend on without having to worry about paying back later for his kindness.

One night she broke down and told him everything. Ben read the letters, the cards, heard the answering machine messages that developed into something more than just a bother. Then he did the only thing he could. He took her to his flat, gave her keys to his place and free use of his home. She stayed in the guest bedroom of course and to top it off he hired a firm that specialized in criminal matters on her behalf so her name wouldn't be dragged into the mess until the last minute. He also made a private visit to Mitch and told him what course of action he would be forced to commit should the man even come within hundred feet of Beth. Jeb still remembered what Ben told him about his meeting with Henley and though it surprised him that the mildest of the brothers made such accusations he understood the reasons why Ben did commit such an act.

Everyone thought that would end it all and for a while it seemed like Ben's threats worked. They were all wrong and one evening violence erupted, which finally did put an end to it. The brothers were having dinner in Jeb's place when Jeb received a call. It was Ben's neighbor; he called Jeb because he thought Ben and his girlfriend were having a row worthy of police attention. It didn't take them long to figure out who the man was in Ben's apartment. They all drove to his place fearing what would be waiting for them and hoped they were not too late. As soon as they got off the elevator on his floor they could hear the screaming. Ben didn't bother with his keys and smashed through his front door to confront Mitch Henley who somehow made his way into Ben's flat. And he didn't even bother to step aside as the intruder swung at him. Instead he took the blow then dislocated his attacker's arm by grabbing it and twisting the shoulder out of its socket. Only after he had disabled his opponent did Ben actually calm down. Mitch was immediately sent to the hospital with Lorien and the rest stayed with Beth.

Mitch had waited until she was alone which meant he followed her for weeks to find such an occasion. He didn't physically touch her during their confrontation but she was afraid, very much so. Mitch never called her again and he all but disappeared from their lives. But the Winters brothers were always wary of this man, one who they knew blamed Ben for taking away what was in his mind rightfully his. Beth was ashamed of the whole incident and didn't want it discussed, partially out of pride, but mostly trying to live through the nightmarish existence. And everyone respected her wishes and never spoke of it again. Megan was kept in the dark because none of the Winters could see how this could ever concern their friend, until now.

"If anything does go wrong tomorrow we have to talk to Beth and tell her what's going on." Jeb said while washing up the dishes.

"I know." Lorien added, "But can't we just tell Megan? I feel a lot better if we did."

"You're forgetting something," Jeb warned, "We're talking about Beth here. If Megan knows about her and Mitch then sooner or later she's going to slip up and Beth will catch it. And she's sharper than all of us put together. Remember we promised Ben too."

Lorien threw the dishtowel on the counter and rubbed his eyes, "I never understood Mitch's treatment of Beth. What was he thinking?"

"He wasn't Lorien. The man thought he had it all then Beth walked away from him. This is not to his credit but I do believe he was in love with her, in his own way. He could have grown out of it since then, who knows? Maybe the whole incident with Beth forced him to look at himself and change his modus operandi. But I'm not going to risk Megan's safety on a hunch. One thing goes wrong and I'm going to talk to both Beth and Megan."

"Will she believe us?" Lorien asked suddenly realizing the full implication of what they're planning to do.

"No, probably not. That's why we need Beth. Megan will listen to her." Lorien nodded again and finished his glass of wine.

"This is so strange, I never thought Megan would have a serious relationship after Ian. That was the perfect marriage, do you remember?"

Jeb's eyes saddened, "Yes, I remember. It was a perfect wedding too, especially for October. Megan and Ian damn, what a pair they were. What was the title of that portrait Ian did of Megan? Um...Face of...Donna?"

"No, Profile of Madonna. It's hanging in her father's office. Probably the best portrait Ian ever did."

"Remember how worried Daphne was about Sean? That he would finally discover his lost passion for Megan and ruin the wedding?"

Lorien laughed, "Yes and it took Sean to convince her that he wasn't going to run away with the bride."

The silence that followed wasn't uncomfortable since both men knew each other so well. "When did it get so complicated Jeb?" Lorien finally asked, "When? One day we're all friends and playing silly games with each other and the next thing I know we have stalking ex-boyfriends, Sarah's stalking ex-husband...when did this all happen?"

"Don't you mean why?" Jeb correctly gently but without mercy. "If you could answer the why Lorien, the when is easy to figure out." Lorien placed the dried glasses in the overhanging rack.

"Sometimes I wish we were all kids again. Then maybe we could avoid some of our mistakes and our lives could have been...less exciting." Jeb didn't look at the youngest, he knew why Lorien was voicing such ideas.

"It wouldn't have mattered in the end. We are who we are and we would have made a different set of mistakes but we would have certainly made mistakes."

"Do you really think so? That we're predestined to be doomed?"

"I did not say doomed Lorien. I said we're capable of making mistakes no matter what we learned before. I wish Matt would come back tonight. You get into such depressing moods when he's not around."

Lorien went a shade pinker, "Yes you're right about that. And I had a bad day at work too, not to mention this situation between Mitch and Megan. I really hope we're overreacting."

"In all likelihood we are but it's the nagging one percent that I would like to put away. And that's why we're going to act like fools tomorrow."

"I hope Megan doesn't catch us. Because if she does, we're going to be in a small doghouse for the rest of the year."

"Join the club, I'm there most of the year because of someone." Jeb replied with humor knowing there was more truth to those words than he wanted Lorien to know.

"Well I better go home too. Thanks for the dinner Jeb."

"No problem, call me at work tomorrow and we'll figure out what needs to get done." Lorien left the townhouse, his mind churning with the night's events. Jeb finished putting everything away and sat in front of the television. But he wasn't paying attention to the flickering screen. Megan dating someone didn't bother him much, Megan dating Mitch Henley did. Megan dating Mitch Henley with that strapless dress bothered him even more. Suddenly his mind gave a mental image of what happened after the date and Jeb clamped down on it fiercely. That was a room where he did NOT want to enter. One because he knew Megan ever since he had a memory. Two because the situation would spin out of his control if he did.

But if he declared war on his id he already lost a major battle when he remembered her in the dress. There was always some tension between him and Megan. But Jeb didn't act on his instincts simply because Sean was around. Jeb had already been stung when he and Sean competed for the same woman once and Sean came out the clear winner in that battle. Wounded but wiser Jeb made sure it never happened again. And he and Megan were used to teasing each other about their private lives and lovers. But everything was just for laughs; nothing was ever serious between them. Now everything has changed with Sean's marriage.

Jeb moved his neck trying to get the tension and the idea out of his psyche. Megan was a friend, his best friend and imagining her in a more intimate situation seemed to Jeb almost sacrilegious. It was as if possibilities that were previously unimaginable suddenly came to life before his very eyes and it took Jeb every ounce of control from going down that seductive path. Who helped your sorry ass when you were getting an average level in Calculus? Who went with you to your college dinner because your girlfriend dumped you at the last minute? Who helped you find this very place you call home now? Who did so many favors for you that if you'd actually take the time and count them out you would be ashamed? Then another image came into his mind and this one was somewhat safer. It was when Sean took Sarah home from the party they threw on behalf of the firm and completely forgot about Megan who was his actual date for the night. Jeb feeling rather ashamed of his brother's conduct offered the puzzled and jilted woman a ride home. He had a convertible and opened the top because the night was so balmy. She was sitting by his side, enjoying the warm wind and allowed Jeb to charm her away from her anger at Sean and soon he had her forget about his brother's less-than acceptable behavior. It was that image, of her sitting next to him laughing uproariously at his stories, not caring about anything that haunted Jeb for the rest of the night.

 

Chapter 3: Little Jebby

Jeb finished the call and rang Lorien's pager. He knew getting tickets wasn't going to be that hard, after all they were offered to him twice this week alone.

Lorien called back, "What's up?"

"We have the tickets to Medea but we also have a date for the night. Her name is Marguerite Rysdale and she's a smash. I think you'll like her quite a bit. She's also looking forward to meeting with you tonight."

Lorien paused, "Whose date is she? Yours or mine because if she's mine I'm going to give her a peck on the cheek and that's about it."

Jeb grinned, "She's actually my date but since you're coming with us it's two Winters for the price of one."

Lorien sighed in relief, "Rysdale, why does that name ring a bell? Don't tell me she's the daughter of Lord Rysdale."

"Yes, the very one Lorien! See, I told you she's a smash."

"How do you meet people like her? I never understood how one meets the aristocracy in social occasions. The only time I see them is when they're on my table out cold."

"Don't ask, it's a long story." Jeb replied with a grin on his face.

Marguerite Rysdale was the illegitimate daughter of Lord Rysdale. When the Lord was a young man he had his last bachelor fling in Paris right before his arranged marriage to a beautiful and wealthy heiress (who left him rather cold in the marital bed.) The Parisian lady who swept his heart for all of twelve weeks became pregnant with Marguerite but never told her paramour about his child. Lord Rysdale's marriage failed miserably as was expected and the divorce was messy and expensive one. Years later he returned to Paris to see if his long-ago lover was still around. The only person he found was his daughter for her mother died some time ago.

Perhaps it was the feeling of grief, guilt and loss but the man adopted the twenty-year old woman and brought her back to England where she gave up none of her wild artistic lifestyle. She worked as a photojournalist for The Herald and was assigned to hazardous areas like war-torn Bosnia and Beirut. Then after much pleading from her father she returned to London and ended up financing plays that badly needed the patronage of rich and astute businesswoman. She was soon called Lady Midas and with the London economy finally returning to its former glory the profits got bigger with every investment. She met Jeb in a one-man show at a local art gallery and was delighted to find that he thought the sculptures were pure garbage, nonsense at best. Here was a man with wealth, intelligence and the mind to speak what he truly felt because he had no need to please anyone. And the only reason he would even try to be friendly with a person was because he wanted to be with that person. The privilege of financial security and good looks did have its advantages.

The Winters charm that was so abundant in the second brother did the woman in and soon she was seen with Jeb everywhere. But it didn't take long for her to figure out she could at best only be a fun dalliance for the man. Somewhere along his life Jeb had decided to hide the best part of himself, deep below the gorgeous surface of the man. But Marguerite knew how to appreciate people for whom they were and Jeb's shallow but beautiful surface was better than what others offered as their ‘souls'. So whenever she got the chance she would invite him to join her and now she was also going to be flanked with the most mysterious Winters of all - Lorien. She had seen his pictures and thought him to be a splendid and shy recluse. If Jeb wasn't emotionally available perhaps his youngest brother was. Either way the photo opportunity to be with both Winters was too good to pass for Marguerite. How many women can claim that particular triumph?



Jeb was putting on the finishing touches to his outfit for the night, an Armani ensemble that did justice to his lean frame. The jacket was tight fitting, so that many men, even those with a healthy build could not wear the pieces without looking like they were overweight. Putting on the cufflinks and trying to find his black shoes Jeb's mind ran myriad of scenarios on how to make sure about Megan's relationship with Mitch Henley. The front door bell rang to disturb his musings; It was Lorien at his doorstep looking fashionably disheveled. Jeb gave a small grunt, he might have taste and the body but Lorien could do one better in his sleep.

"You know you are very thin. Ever thought about having your metabolism checked?" Lorien commented aimlessly as he observed his brother. "Heroin chic is in but I never thought you'd join their ranks."

"Nothing's wrong with me, I eat like a horse and you know it. And what the hell is heroin chic?" Jeb bantered.

"What the fashion industry glorifies nowadays. You know, those thin pre-pubs with dark circles under the eyes, and limbs the size of saplings?" Jeb frowned in distaste.

"Heaven help us. I like my women to look like women. Not like some escapee from a prisoner-of-war camp. If I can't tell the person's a woman from the back, I'm not interested."

Lorien laughed out loud, "Like Catherine Zeta-Jones?"

"That's a woman, a real, va-voom of a woman. Remember her in last year's Oscars with that red dress? No mistake there, not one inch. Sorry, I don't like Grace Kelly wannabes. Thin might be nice in a flat glossy page but lying in your arms? I'll take Catherine over Gwyneth any day."

"That's your basic reproductive instinct talking but that's good. I've seen to many anorexic cases come across my desk for me to ever condone the fashion world's idea of beauty." Lorien added darkly. "They're killing kids, young girls are willing to die so they could look like Kate Moss. To be thin because you're exercising is one thing, to be thin by starving is another. What an insane industry, killing the very target audience you're aiming at." Jeb stared at his brother.

"You're serious. How many cases have you seen?"

"Last count, it was up to fifteen. One was actually a boy who was slightly, and I mean slightly overweight before he started on the death diet. His stomach shrank so much we had to do an operation to stretch it."

Jeb winced, "Stretch his stomach? Oh my G-d..."

"Exactly. Trust me, the medical world, especially the pediatric branch has a legitimate grudge against Calvin Klein and his kind. In the States it's a raging epidemic now and nobody seems to know how to counter-balance this cultural suicide. I'm hoping that the Amazons make a comeback and kick the thin little buggers right off the runway or beat them up in the backstage area. They frighten me with their height and build but at least they have a body to speak of." He sighed, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, "Please take away my soapbox before it ruins the night."

"Don't worry Lorien, you're not upsetting anyone here."

Jeb looked at his brother, "I know and I'm grateful for it."

The truth to those words made Jeb feel embarrassed for some reason, "Cut the crap, let me find my shoes then we'll go pick up Marguerite." He returned to his bedroom and riffled through the closet looking for the missing shoes.

"Marguerite, what a name. If I remember correctly didn't she shoot some soldier in Bosnia?"

"Shot and killed. She's very capable of protecting herself. Her father taught her well."

"This is going to be interesting." Lorien muttered under his breath then asked, "Was it self-defense?"

Jeb yelled from the bedroom, "Yes, the soldier tried to rape her. Somehow she got her hands on his gun and shot him at point-blank range. Then escaped into the mountains afterwards and managed to avoid the other soldiers in the unit."

"She's not coming armed to this thing is she?"

Jeb's laughter could be heard clearly, "No, she's leaving her AK at home. It doesn't go with her dress." Lorien made a sarcastic face to an empty room as his brother made that crack.

The two men climbed into Jeb's Jaguar and it roared to life within seconds. Marguerite saw the green fancy pull in front of her flat but declined to go downstairs. It's not everyday that two Winters come knocking on your door! In five minutes both men were in her place examining and appreciating her works which were prominently featured on the walls. Lorien was even better looking than his photos thought Marguerite as she put on the finishing touches with her make-up. And neither brother suffered from lack of charm nor style so Marguerite knew she would have a pleasant evening in their company. The West End Paparazzi was going to be in full force tonight and she was going to reap huge benefits from the frenzy. Medea was the play of the year and she spent nearly five hundred thousand pounds backing it up. Marguerite calculated that after the first month her loan would be paid back in full and every day after that will be pure profit.

The three entered the melee in front of the theatre and Marguerite was correct in her guessing. With Jeb on her right and the enigmatic Lorien on her left everyone wanted a picture for their society column. The three caused some ruckus entering the theatre and both men knew that it wouldn't be long before Megan heard about their presence in the building. So much for subtle observation Lorien thought as another camera was shoved in front of his face. The flash blinded him for a moment and he seriously considered taking the camera and pitching it out the balcony window. "Are you all right?" Marguerite whispered to him and Lorien turned to say he was. He found her face only inches away from his and the flash in her eyes rang alarm bells throughout his body. Oh hell this is going to be awkward he thought as he recognized desire in the pale green eyes. For the first time in his life Lorien hoped that his randy brother was true to form tonight so he could rescue Lorien from the clutches of this magnificent but definitely unwanted beauty.

The three took their seats on the eighth row and settled in comfortably. Both men looked around for Megan and her escort but neither spotted the couple in the jostling crowd. The theatre darkened and the audience became silent as the performance began. Soon both Winters were entranced with Cate Blanchett's performance as the lead character in the dark and tragic play. Intermission came two hours later and the crowd assembled at the Green Room to see and be seen. Lorien hustled over to the bar glad to be away from Marguerite. It was obvious to him her interest in his person was more than just friendly and he didn't know how to deal with such a delicate situation. He was still worried that his homosexuality will be ‘uncovered' by the press. Having to come out of the closet by his own volition was one thing, to be forced to do so was another. And he still craved Sean's open approval, one that will never come to pass if the press have their way with their private lives.

He returned with the drinks and the three chatted companionably about the stark scenery and the angled costumes. Jeb suddenly saw a pair of curious eyes staring at him from the bar and grinned. "Excuse me, I have to say hello to someone." To Lorien's sinking stomach he left the group and sauntered over to Megan's side.

"Well what are you doing here?" Megan asked not bothering to hide her curiosity.

"I was invited to come last week by Marguerite. Medea is the play of the year you know. It doesn't hurt to attend its opening night and do a little social round amongst the clientele."

Megan shook her head, "You work hard for the firm you know that? Sean does it in the office and you do it after-hours. So did you grab any prospective clients?"

"Two, Marguerite just agreed to sign on and the Watson Foundation has an appointment with us this upcoming Tuesday."

Megan's eyes widened, "The Watson Foundation? That's not bad for a night's work! When did it happen?"

"Before the performance." Jeb replied being willfully obtuse so he could tease her. It was successful as she gave him one of her sarcastic faces. "I've been working on it for a while. Sean's going to be dancing on his desk if this comes through."

The image brought a smile to Megan's face, "I would pay to see that. So is that the only reason you're here?"

The innocent question didn't fool Jeb for a second, "Nope, I also owe Marguerite a huge favor so when she asked me to escort her for this occasion I had to say yes."

"Then why is Lorien here?"

"Because he's got nothing better to do. Matt's flying in tomorrow and Lorien hates to spend an evening by himself." The answer satisfied Megan's curiosity because it made sense. Jeb saw her take in the half-truths and gave an internal sigh of relief.

"Jeb, I had no idea you were attending this performance." Mitch greeted from his back.

Jeb turned around and gave a luke-warm smile, "Why not?" The question though phrased innocently suddenly made the whole scene an awkward one and Mitch didn't know what to say next. Megan frowned a little but kept her peace as the two men examined each other. Something was wrong here but she couldn't figure out what.

The intermission is almost over." She mentioned quickly and took Mitch's arm, "We should get going."

"What are you doing after the play?" Jeb asked the couple. "We're going out for a bite." Mitch answered still not sure what game Jeb was playing. "Why don't you join us?" Jeb invited making it almost sound like a dare, "We're going to the Scarlet Room afterwards." Neither could think of an appropriate excuse to decline so they agreed. Megan's feeling of discomfort increased as the play progressed but she couldn't voice her opinion. First her loyalty to the Winters family prevented her from saying out loud her misgiving of Jeb's invitation. Second was the fact that she felt the tension was between the men and it seemed to have been contained between the two. She forced herself to watch the performance and was successful in immersing herself into the mesmerizing story.

Marguerite didn't mind that Jeb invited his friends to join them for supper. She was well aware of Megan's status in the Winters' family and didn't feel threatened by the woman. After all a family of brothers did need a sister-figure for comfort. The group made a handsome corner in the lush restaurant and to the couple's surprise the meal was more than pleasant. The Winters brothers pulled out their charm and even Mitch Henley relaxed and enjoyed the friendly sibling banter the two shared with each other. However Lorien was nearing panic during the whole ordeal. Marguerite was definitely feeling him up under the table and he didn't know what to do. He could handle aggressive women but this one was Jeb's ‘friends' and Lorien didn't quite know how to put out her fire without dampening the mood of the whole table. He also wondered about her feelings toward Jeb. Exactly what was she expecting from either brothers? Obviously she didn't feel too attached to Jeb, otherwise he wouldn't be trying to shake off her hand from his right thigh. Did she even care what Jeb thought about her or what she was doing to his baby brother?

Suddenly he had an idea and excused himself from the table. He returned in five minutes and started to pray that Ben would come through for him. The third Winters didn't fail in rescuing the fourth and in twenty minutes Lorien's beeper went off. Lorien glanced at the pager, "I'm sorry, that's the hospital. I must go now. Don't worry Jeb I'll take a taxi. Good night everyone!" He couldn't leave the table fast enough but everyone contributed his hasty departure to the hazards of his chosen profession. However Marguerite was definitely sad to let him go and planned to brush up again with the shyest of the Winters brothers. Bracing herself she turned her full attention to Jeb whom wasn't exactly a poor second prize.

Jeb and Lorien (while he was still present) made great effort to relax the couple so they could observe the body language between the two. Jeb learned a few things. One, they weren't sleeping together yet. Two, Megan was like a cat, she likes her own space and Mitch was smart enough to realize it. Three, it was obvious to both Jeb and Lorien that Mitch wanted to be more than a serious ‘boyfriend' so it was Megan who was thinking out the relationship and its course. This made Jeb feel a great deal better because it meant she still had control. But he also wondered how long that was going to last. Mitch was not the type to sit still and let somebody else dictate the needs of the relationship, especially if he was the other half of the equation.

The group disbanded after midnight and Jeb parted company with Megan and her date. But before she left his side he gave her a swift kiss whispering his goodnight. For some reason Megan felt uncomfortable with the familiar gesture of friendliness and left the restaurant feeling askew from the whole evening. Mitch noticed her silent but visible disquietude while he drove her home.

"Jeb and his family does throw one off now and then don't they?"

Megan turned to him, "Why do you say that?"

"They seem so sure of themselves, as if the laws of nature don't apply to them for some reason. I thought Sean was the worst of the lot regarding that behavior but Jeb comes pretty close after what I've seen tonight."

Megan wasn't sure she liked Mitch talking about Jeb or Sean in such a manner, "And that is because?"

"He's very territorial but I think they all are. You are after all their oldest and dearest friend. And I am their main competition in business so it stands to reason they wouldn't like me to be with you. I bet they even have someone else lined up to introduce to you. A pre-approved Winters Choice."

Megan laughed out loud, "They did actually. That's how I met Ian. For some crazy reason he was Sean's best friend during his stint at the university and we met by pure accident or so I thought at the time. As it turns out Sean was planning on introducing us and did a damn good job of it too."

Mitch stiffened a little, "And you married him?"

"Yes, I fell madly in love with the artist-friend. And I didn't give a whiff whether Sean approved of the relationship or not. The Winters family isn't territorial; they're very cautious group of people. Though Jeb and Lorien might act otherwise."

"I wonder why Lorien doesn't have a girlfriend yet. I know he's a surgeon but he must have time for somebody in his life." Megan didn't know what to say so she lied.

"Lorien is obsessed with his job. Like the rest of his brothers he has to be beyond perfection every time he goes into surgery. And I think he had a bad relationship before, one that hurt him enormously and left huge scars on the child." Mitch relaxed, she said ‘child' when she talked about Lorien, so there's no threat coming from that corner. That left Jeb...

"That's too bad. I like Lorien best out of all of them. He does have a softer side to his nature doesn't he? And he isn't afraid to show it either, unlike his older siblings. Well, I hope he survives the past and finds someone as rare as you." Megan smiled wonderfully at the compliment. Mitch pulled up to her building and she gave him a passionate kiss before she left his car. The driver stared after the woman; Megan was lying to him about Lorien. Why? Who was the mystery that was the youngest Winters? Mitch thought about it only for a second before coming to a swift decision. Out of all the Winters' clan Lorien was the nicest and obviously the most beloved of them all. He was also the youngest of the lot so it made sense that the other three were very protective of the cub. But why the protection? Why was there a quiet wall erected in front of the doctor? Unless it was to hide something...Mitch made a mental note to speak to a friend of his. The man had a private investigator follow his wife and soon had enough evidence to divorce her in his favor. He should still have the number for the investigator and Mitch Henley had a job for the man.



Jeb yawned loudly as he undressed, at least Megan wasn't suspicious regarding his presence at the performance he thought happily and that gave him some comfort. Then he was startled out of his tired thoughts by the phone.

"Hello?" He asked.

"It's me Lorien."

"I thought you were called into the hospital." Jeb replied puzzled.

"It's a long story, so what do you think about tonight?"

"Well I know they're not sleeping together."

Lorien gave a snort, "I meant something besides the obvious. Mitch hasn't forgiven us."

"I thought so too." Jeb replied soberly, "And that worries me. More than I care to admit. I know Megan's attributes but we're talking about Mitch Henley."

"Let's talk to Beth. Soon." Lorien voiced with a heavy heart.

"Agreed. We should have done that in the first case as you suggested. But I would feel better if Beth did talk to Megan instead of us. Any chance we can grab her without Ben?"

"Ever tried to swim across the ocean without getting wet?" Lorien replied, "We have to talk to Ben too. He can't be left out of this. None of us can but let's leave the honeymooners alone until they get back from Italy. It doesn't make sense to worry them."

"You're right of course. I can't think straight in this situation. It's Megan we're talking about and I don't want to hurt her." Lorien finally had to ask what was bothering him after he fled from the restaurant.

"You kissed her goodnight didn't you?"

The question made Jeb lose track of the conversation so he replied truthfully, "Yes I did. Why do you ask?"

Lorien didn't pause and charged on, "Why did you kiss her good night? Especially in front of Mitch Henley? That's rude and I bet it upset Megan."

Lorien's accusation made Jeb bristle, "What do you mean? I always kiss her goodnight. What is there to be uncomfortable about for heaven's sake."

"Stop barking at me. You know exactly what I mean. We're not kids anymore Jebediah Winters and she's not some twelve-year old tomboy with scabby knees."

Suddenly Jeb saw the trap in front of him thanks to his brother's grilling. "What are you exactly accusing me of Lorien?"

"That maybe your reasons for breaking up the two might not be as pure as you like. I watched you too tonight and it was very interesting to say the least. We can't keep her locked in our ivory tower forever Jeb. She's thirty-eight and is free to do as she chooses. If you hurt her she has the power to walk away from all of us and I don't mean just professionally. Be careful here Jeb, she isn't a stranger that we can ignore afterwards. She's Megan and she means the world to us."

Jeb looked out the window in front of him. "It doesn't make sense Lorien." He whispered confused and distracted. "She's Megan, I've known her all my life. But everything changed after Sean's wedding and I can't get my bearings straight. She looks the same, sounds the same but she isn't the same. I am confused aren't I?" Lorien didn't know what to say. "So maybe it's better that I stay out of this equation." That sentence was followed by a soft and sarcastic laughter from Jeb. "But that isn't going to happen. Megan has pulled my fat out of the fire so many times she's got burn scars on her fingers. I can't sit by and watch her risk her safety with Mitch Henley. I owe her."

"That's the first honest thing you've said so far in this conversation. We'll talk to Beth tomorrow and tell her what's going on. Don't worry Jeb, we'll get Megan out before Mitch goes ballistic again."

"I hope so because if we don't...I'm terrified of the consequences. Do you honestly think Mitch would've hurt Beth if we didn't come when we did?" For a moment Lorien was going to lie but he knew Jeb would know it the moment it fell out of his lips.

"Yes, I believe Mitch would have become violent with Beth. I've seen too many domestic violence cases to believe otherwise." Jeb closed his eyes and felt his throat constrict.

"If that b****** touches Megan I swear I'll kill him. It's Meggie and I won't have her hurt. I've seen her in the ICU and that was unbearable. Two weeks to see if she would die or live, and the rehab she suffered afterwards. Dear G-d that was even worse."

Lorien remembered it too, how Megan looked like hooked up to all those machines with their invasive plastic tubes and monitoring devices. He also remembered that for a while he thought Ian had better part of the deal by dying instead of surviving the crash because of Megan's painful recovery process. Meggie, their own Meggie stranded in the wheelchair, buried in her grief and mourning for a loss Lorien couldn't even begin to understand.

"Don't worry Jeb, she can take care of herself and she knows she could turn to us whenever she needs us." Lorien offered in order to comfort Jeb. Out of all the brothers Jeb was most indebted to the woman and they all knew it.

"Will do but let's talk to Beth and Ben tomorrow."

"Done." Lorien replied with more spirit. "I know this is useless but get some sleep."

Jeb smiled humorlessly, "I'll try my futile best. Goodnight Lorien."

"And apologize to Marguerite for running out on her earlier." Lorien added so he could test his theory.

"Marguerite's not here. I dropped her off at her place."

"I see, well next time you see her give her my apologies." Jeb just passed Lorien's test though he didn't know it.

Lorien ended the call and stared at the receiver hard and long. Jeb never fell in love; he fell into sexual affairs and reveled in them while he was interested. And when he got bored, he moved to the next best thing. Unfortunately this gave him rather an ugly reputation amongst the more genteel crowd but he didn't care. Jeb was handsome, talented, charming and had money to spend. Why would he care about the opinion of others, most of whom he would never bother to meet? However he did care about Megan's opinion, and would bend over backwards to get her to accept his apologies whenever he hurt her with his idiotic behavior. This was the way it always was, ever since they were children so no one questioned Jeb's conduct towards Megan. Until now. Lorien turned the light off his bed and nestled in the covers. Sleep eluded him though, as he remembered the scene at the Scarlet Room. The way Jeb behaved with Megan, it was a direct challenge to Mitch and his connection with their dear friend. And though Jeb didn't consciously know what he was doing it was obvious. Besides Lorien knew what he was looking for because he had witnessed that particular behavior once before, with Ian.

Jeb was young then; he just graduated from his University when Ian and Megan announced their engagement. Jeb was the only one who didn't approve of the match though he never voiced his opinion. His disapproval was lost in the good will and happiness that followed the announcement but Lorien remembered Jeb's cold behavior towards Ian and Megan. He thought Jeb was acting childish by choosing to blame Megan for abandoning their long-established friendship for a new husband. But now he knew the reasons for such behavior ran deep, far deeper than anyone suspected. Jeb had a very deceiving personality, because underneath the playboy attitude was a man with deep rivers running through his make-up.



The focus of both men was fidgeting in her bed. Megan couldn't get any sleep either. For one, she felt she should be angry with both Jeb and Lorien though she could not find any reason to feel such emotion. Second was Jeb's kiss, it was different from the usual light show of affection. It felt different and the message underneath the touch was something totally unfamiliar coming from Jebediah Winters. But once again she could not find justification for having this suspicion. Cool it she berated herself. It's Jeb. It's little Jeb with missing front tooth and runny nose. It's little Jeb with bad marks who came crying to you for assistance because Sean refused to help slackers. It's Jebby who hated that nickname and who got into fistfights with anyone who dared to call him that. And who got suspended twice because of his belligerent reaction. It's Jeb who pierced his left ear because it was cool and the chicks liked it. It's Jeb who was in my apartment wearing nothing but my sheets. Moaning into her pillow Megan knew she was in for a long night.

 

© 1999 Copyright held by the author.

 

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