09:37 am

"Hey Sam," Jude greeted her sister as soon as she opened the front door and immediately headed inside. She knew her respect was lacking but Jude had gone over this encounter a thousand times in her mind and every scenario had ended badly. Apparently, there was no simpler way to get this done. Sam had refused to give up her belongings in the past but this time Jude had to make sure she got exactly what she came for.

"Hey Jude," Sam was genuinely surprised to find her sister had been the one ringing the doorbell impatiently. Twenty-four hours had not passed since the wedding so there was no reason for Jude to be on her doorstep. She was supposed to be on her honeymoon with her husband.

Unless…

This was bad.

Sam composed herself before closing the door. If things had not gone according to plan, Hanna should have called to inform her of this. Then again she should have known better than to trust anyone associated with the Henri household. They only cared about themselves.

Checking her appearance in a nearby mirror Sam smoothed her clothing before heading towards Jude's old bedroom. The chances of this conversation going exactly how she wanted it to were slim to none but she knew how to twist arguments involving her sister in her favor.

"Have you had breakfast as yet?" Sam asked as she arrived in the doorway. "I was just about to scramble some eggs so if you're hungry I can make you some as well."

"I already had breakfast but thanks," Jude continued searching the bedroom for what she was looking for. To her, the need for pleasantries was not necessary. Things were not the same. Not after what she'd experienced with Reese.

"Want to tell me what you're searching for?" she tried a different angle as Jude's behavior didn't seem out of the ordinary. Maybe Hanna's plan didn't fail after all. Maybe Jude was married to Reese and he had allowed her some time to get the remainder of her things. She couldn't tell if there was a ring on her finger as her sister's sleeves were covering most of her fingers. "I can help you look."

"Have you seen the stuff that I asked you to bring the last time we had breakfast together?" Jude shifted her attention to another side of the room while completely ignoring her sister's cry for attention.

"Why am I not surprised?" Sam mumbled but ensured her words were clear enough for Jude to hear her disapproval.

"Stop acting as I asked for your help, Sam. You volunteered to remember?"

"Jude I haven't seen or heard from you since that time I came over to your apartment for dinner. Can you blame me for wanting to spend time with you?"

Jude continued searching as if Sam hadn't spoken. She didn't hate her older sister for what she'd done but everything about their relationship was just scattered. Getting back to where they used to be might never happen.

"So you're just going to pretend that I'm not here?"

"Are you going to pretend that you don't know the location of what I'm looking for?" she finally turned to look at Sam. Jude knew her passiveness would annoy the heck out of her sister but that was what she was aiming to achieve.

"Why don't you just tell me what you're upset about and get it over with?" she edged closer hoping the façade was working. Jude was talking to her after all. "We always disagreed in the past when it came to some of your decisions and sometimes those arguments got a little heated and I ended up saying things I didn't really mean but we were always able to patch things up."

"Okay then let's talk about why you hate Gabriel so much."

"He doesn't like me, Jude. You saw how he treated me at dinner."

"Do you know why he treated you like that?"

"Because he knew I came to force him to marry you and he clearly doesn't believe in any of that. You saw that with your very own eyes."

"All I saw was you lying to my face and him calling you out on everything you were saying."

"So the attitude and disrespect was my imagination?"

"The attitude and disrespect were because he figured you were up to something."

"My disapproval of that relationship Jude was never a mystery so of course he would be suspicious when I appeared out of nowhere trying to play nice."

"So did you or did you not steal my apartment key when you came by that night?"

"Let me guess, he told you that?" she folded her arms to add to her defense.

"This is not one of those scenarios where you can create a story and it magically adds up Sam. My key went missing that night and you were the only other person there."

"Jude I didn't steal your key. I only borrowed it."

"Why?"

"I didn't like the idea of you being alone with him so I took it in case I needed to check up on you."

"Is that the story you're going to run with?"

"Was I supposed to watch you ruin your already tarnished reputation with another Henri?"

"Okay, next question. When did Hanna approach you about her ingenious plan?"

"Jude I honestly don't know what you're talking about."

"So the fact that you stole my key one day and my biological mother somehow having access to my apartment the next day with the said key is all just a coincidence?"

"You have and always will be a Forlaine. All this talk about some random biological mother is a bunch of nonsense."

Jude sighed. She had no idea why Sam continued lying. This was not helping the already dwindling trust she had in her.

"How long did you know Reese before convincing yourself that he'd be the perfect addition to your idea of a family?"

"Reese was a recommendation from a friend of mine and after hearing enough about his character I decided he was worth a shot."

"Did this person also tell you that he would try to kidnap me in a public place?"

"Jude, what are you talking about?"

"Were you aware that Reese was an abusive piece of shit who didn't think twice to put his hands on me the second the opportunity presented itself?!" she was getting riled up just thinking of how he'd hurt her. "Can you honestly say that you had nothing to do with the plans my biological mother and father had to gain access to the money that Tristan gave to me?!"

"I'm not sure what you're talking about but I had nothing to do with it."

"Where is the envelope that I'm asking for?" Jude lowered her voice back to its natural level to prove she was over arguing with her sister. This was not getting anywhere.

"You are honestly out of your mind if you think he has your best interest at heart."

"Give it a rest Samantha."

"No, you give it a rest! Ever since meeting Tristan they are all you care about! You allowed him to lead you on for so long that you couldn't even figure out that you were just his plaything. Imagine being so caught up in this dream of marrying him that you never saw the way he was destroying our family name."

"Are you going to give me what I'm asking for?"

"As for Gabriel, you can't even see the sniveling, lying, womanizing piece of shit that he is. You think he can fill the void Tristan left behind but newsflash Jude, that asshole will never love you or make you his wife like you believe he would!"

"How exactly did you think I escaped your trap to marry me off to that lunatic?"

"You can accuse me of that all you want but I was never involved in that situation you keep mentioning."

"Let's just settle on you denying you were involved and me not believing your claims."

"I can't believe you're blindly taking the word of that asshole over the one person who has stood by you no matter what you were going through."

"You may see things that way but I'm actually taking the word of my husband who protected me through all this over the word of my adopted sister who's pretending she did nothing wrong. Now, are you going to give me the envelope like I asked or do I have to resort to calling my lawyer in order to get you to give it up?"

(((())))

11:00 am

Van flicked his lighter open and stared at the fading flame. His intentions had been to light the cigarette he'd just placed in his mouth but stopped himself because he knew smoking wouldn't fix a damn thing. His stress levels were at an all-time high and the one person he knew could reset his mind the way his sanity needed it to be done was her. The girl with the blonde hair, brown eyes and the ability to make him smile.

Jude had left the apartment around nine to meet up with her sister while he went to deal with Greg. He had wanted to talk her out of going because to him finding his father's diary wasn't important anymore but he knew she wouldn't let it go. So convincing her to stay at home had been out of the question.

It's not that he wanted to control her every move. Van knew Jude was capable of making sensible decisions. He just knew that what she needed was in the direction of Samantha Forlaine and that woman would go to the end of the earth to get her younger sister away from anything Henri related. The biggest problem with that was that she was now married to one. Getting her away from anything Henri was borderline impossible at this point.

That was something he had to make that clear to Greg and everyone else who thought they knew what was best for him.

When he arrived at their meeting this morning he'd assumed it would only be his publicist but Greg had brought out the big guns. Van's Manager Brian had also appeared out of thin air. They had both tried to reason with him about Jude being the worst thing for his career but the moment he mentioned they were married all talks had shifted from her being a phase to them planning damage control. Greg had tried a few times in between to go back to getting rid of Jude but each time Van had motioned to leave their little get-together, Brian had to be the one to talk them both down. In the end, Van had won. Both Brian and Greg knew there was more to lose if he walked away due to the fact that the youngster was Dark Ages.

Van pushed the cigarette back into the box and dropped both that and the lighter on the table. It was approaching noon and Jude was not back yet. He wanted to call but decided against it. He trusted her to handle Samantha. There was nothing Sam could possibly do to change her sister's mind anyway.

Just as he was reconsidering if to have that smoke the door opened and in walked the girl who had dragged him back into the light. She seemed exhausted but nothing beyond that to hint that things went downhill.

"Hey you," Jude dropped all of her things between the front door and the balcony and went straight in for a hug.

"Hey yourself," Van closed his eyes, placed his chin on top her head and immediately felt his demeanor switching. He missed her. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I'm tired that's all," she remained in his arms longer than usual. "Enjoying the afternoon sun?"

"As always," Van thought about his answer and realized he really was on the balcony a lot.

"Did you sort everything out with what's his name?" she finally took a step back and looked out at the city. The skyline was beautiful. It was, after all, the reason she fell in love with the place.

"Everything's organized. How'd it go with Sam?"

"Not so good. She'd initially refused to hand over the items Tristan mailed to me so I called Ro about it and he said to not worry and that he would take care of it. After leaving her place she called me back and gave me everything I was asking for."

"Jude Ashley Forlaine did you threaten to take legal action against your beloved sister?" Van couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"I'm not the naïve little girl you met a week ago Van. I'm quite aware of my sister's part in kidnapping me to get you out of the picture."

"Your sister was playing a game she didn't understand with people she couldn't keep up with."

"You know she admitted to stealing my key that night she came over for dinner but she denies her part in all this."

"What exactly do you think she did?"

"She was the one who released you that day."

"Why do you know she was the one who released me?"

"Think about it, Gabriel. If you take the one thing a supposedly mentally unstable person is trying to protect and it involves tying this person up, who would be the one to release this guy?"

"Do you think that you're so cute that you can refer to me as mentally unstable and I would let it slide?"

"Stick to the question at hand here. Who would be the safest bet to release you? It wouldn't be Hanna because she's had a fair share of crazy you. Charles-"

"Charles wasn't involved in your kidnapping so for him it's a no."

"Which leaves Sam. Am I right?"

Van remained silent. Her relationship with Samantha was something he still didn't understand so giving her an actual response was not going to happen.

"You think you're so cute that saying nothing is going to make me believe that Sam wasn't there?"

"I don't just think I'm cute Jude, I know I am."

"Okay Mr. Vanity," she rolled her eyes at his response. "So you think I wouldn't hold her responsible for her actions?"

"You're a Forlaine and she's the sister who's manipulated you since forever-"

"I'm actually a Henri now thank you very much."

"Henri huh? And who exactly made you a Henri?"

"Some guy that married me for my money," she returned the stupid smile knowing he was teasing her. However, that didn't prevent the hurt from creeping in. Nothing had been discussed regarding what should happen next. Jude still had no idea of if their union was just a means of protecting her inheritance or if he actually wanted to try going beyond their friendship. Yes, everything about their friendship had crossed into relationships territory but there was still nothing solid to go on.

"That guy must feel like the luckiest man alive."

Jude sighed internally. The way he mixed his words with his expressions always tilted her emotions in one direction. She shouldn't allow herself to fall further into something so undefined. Yet it was all she wanted. Something she couldn't ignore for much longer.

"Anyway…. as Ro took care of our Samantha situation I'm thinking we can begin looking for where this goes," she produced a small gold key. It was one of the items received in the envelope she'd been trying to get back from the very beginning.

"You just don't know when to relax do you?" he took the key from her to have a look but gave it back to her just as fast. It was pretty small for a key but he could tell it wasn't useless. "Any breakthrough ideas on where you think it might go?"

"I thought about it on the drive over here but nothing I can think of makes sense so I'm stumped."

"The only thing I can say is that it's something simple because Tristan wasn't that creative. He was secretive but if he wanted you to know something then you would."

"Yea but a key that size couldn't possibly open anything."

"Maybe it's the key to my heart."

"You don't have one remember?"

"As your husband-

"Wife," she corrected with a smirk but he continued without acknowledging her so-called correction.

"I will not be tolerating any snide remarks without some form of compensation for my bruised ego."

"Says the most exhausting guy to have any conversation with ever."

"Why does everyone keep saying that?"

"You're a spoilt child Gabriel. When you can't get what you want out of someone you either get physically abusive or verbally abusive."

"That's because everyone you've witnessed me talking to is either a fucking idiot who wanted something and assumed I would give it to them without thinking or a fucking moron who tried something and assumed I wouldn't see through what they were doing."

"Was that your way of saying there are people who exist that you can be friends with?"

"Very funny Jude," he slipped both hands into his pockets before changing the topic. There was no more delaying what he was about to say. "Anyway…after meeting up with my publicist and my manager this morning I was informed that I have a few engagements that I can't get out of."

"I guess that explains why you were out here thinking of smoking," she placed the key on the table and walked closer to prove she was okay with the topic. This was the conversation she'd been dreading but knew it was going to happen sooner or later. "So when's your flight?"

"Upper management is sending out the jet to ensure I'm dragged back to L.A. so the flight's tomorrow morning."

"Oh," was all she could bring herself to say. He was leaving sooner than she expected. "And how long would this engagement be?"

"It's a lot of promotional stuff for the new album followed by our upcoming tour so I'm guessing around nine months to a year. When I land I will have a better idea of the lineup and how all of this is supposed to work."

"What about the diary and finding your real mother?" Jude could feel her heart breaking. Nine months was a really long time. Did he want her to go with him?

"I've thought about it and decided that maybe I should have listened to Tristan in the first place. During the last conversation we had, I asked him about my mother and he tried to get me to leave it alone but I was a bit hard headed about it you know."

"Just a bit?" she teased with a raised eyebrow.

"Just a bit," he confirmed with a smile. "Anyway after dealing with all the fucking secrets, my extremely fucked up family and nearly losing myself to my anxiety, I think it's best if I take that piece of advice a bit more seriously."

"Why do you think Tristan didn't want you to know about your mother?"

"He didn't say but I think deep down he knew I couldn't handle it. Bottom line is she didn't care."

"Gabe you don't know that."

"So why hasn't she ever come looking for me? Even your crappy mother came looking for you."

"My crappy mother only came looking for me because she saw an opportunity to get rich."

"Your crappy mother still came."

"If you're so jealous about it then you can have her you know," she got him to smile even though she could tell he was still bothered by it. "So now that the diary is canceled I guess that just leaves the key."

"What about what you needed from the diary?"

"I'm not going to continue pursuing something that could possibly affect your mental health Van."

"You think I'll crash and burn if you found it?"

"Actually I'm not sure what to think," her approach to this question was careful. Everything she knew so far about the way he grew up had contributed one way or another to the anxiety she now knew he had. Jude didn't think he'd ever talked about it with anyone. "Have you ever seen anyone about your anxiety?"

"I'm a rock star Jude. Think of what that will do to my reputation if I said the word anxiety out loud," he joked hoping it would make this discussion easier but she didn't buy his nonchalance.

"Maybe it's time you did?"

"I already know what my problem is," Van knew therapy wouldn't help anything. His problem was a little more precise than that. He'd never spoken to anyone about his mental struggles before so no one actually understood the way his mind worked in conjunction with his emotions. He had also accepted that it was his greatest weakness so being open about it was not something he'd ever planned on doing. Jude, however, deserved an explanation. "There are times my brain takes stress, filters it into my emotions and when my emotions get out of control my off switch gets disconnected. When I get to that point my body and my mind goes haywire. Does that makes any sense to you?"

"And what do you think causes the stress?"

"Loneliness. It's why I was searching for my mother. But the more I thought about it the more I stressed. I also knew if I didn't find the answers I was looking for then eventually things would go right back to the way they were."

"Which is what?"

"The guy who was never good enough. The man who depended on all the drugs just to survive every day," he stretched before looking at his watch. He was tired of talking about this. Van was feeling vulnerable and he hated it.

"Gabe?"

"Hmm?" Jude's voice brought his attention back to her. She was looking down at her feet. There was only one thing that triggered her shyness this way. And that was the way she felt about him.

"What am I to you?"

"Is my hopeless romantic asking me to spew squishy words at her?"

"That's not what I meant you big dummy," she rolled her eyes to hide the oncoming blush as he was wearing that dangerous smile that always gave her butterflies.

"So then what do you mean?" he moved to sit down as their boring conversation had just switched lanes. Jude was cute when she got all starry-eyed with him.

"Look I know from your perspective I'm like this never-been-in-a-relationship-crazy-in-love-with-you girl but I'm still the girl who believes in marriage and babies and forever after..." she shrugged, still trying to find the right words. How could she tell the one person who didn't believe in the values behind a relationship that she wanted an actual marriage without feeling like an idiot?

"Are you asking me if I love you?"

"Of course not," she denied, laughing awkwardly before continuing. "I mean you can't possibly feel that way about me because we barely know each other but you're leaving and we're married and having tons of…"

"Sex?" he asked while standing back up thinking it was time to put an end to all the talking. Jude was going in circles.

"I want to be more than just the girl you feel the need to protect because I inherited some of your father's fortune Gabe," she ignored his need to make her uncomfortable and finally just said what had been bothering her since yesterday.

"Jude Ashley Forlaine-Henri are you in love with me?" he walked a little closer so she couldn't lie to him.

"Van you knew from the very beginning that I wasn't the girl to pursue if you just wanted to sleep with me," she put her hand up to block him from getting closer. Being the cocky and self-centered bastard he was Van pushed her hand away knowing it was her last line of defense.

"So what girl do you want to be? The girl who wakes up next to me every morning and finds me snuggled beside her because that's where it's most comfortable? Or is it the only girl that makes me feel safe when I don't feel like I'm in the right state of mind? Or did you mean the only girl I can't seem to stop thinking about?" she tried to interrupt him but he stopped her before she could say anything. "Or are you referring to the only girl who gets to call me Gabriel because I secretly love how she says my name. Or is it the one who guys aren't allowed to look at because she's mine?" he focused on watching his hand run slowly through her hair. "Or do you want to be the girl with the stunning hair, the crazy beautiful eyes and one's whose kisses I always enjoy?" his hand arrived at her cheek and brought her face a lot closer to his. "Or is it the girl I make love to because she's my wife and it's my duty to protect her and that fucking money no matter what she thinks?"

Jude said nothing. She bit her lip.

"Was that squishy enough for you sunshine?"

"Extra squishy," she began kissing him gently. Jude had heard every word he'd said and to her, it was enough to calm her mind of all the uncertainties regarding their relationship. Leave it to Van to be so unconventional with expressing the way he felt.

"Jude?" he ended their moment but didn't move away. He wasn't quite done enjoying her nearness.

"Yes, Henri?"

"Go out to lunch with me?"

"Are you going to try to kidnap me afterward?"

"Hey I'm being serious here," he smiled at her comment but that was it. There was no silly remark like usual. "Go out with me."

"On one condition."

"Which is?" he didn't think he had a choice in what she was about to ask.

"Promise you'll always talk to me if you're stressed."

"Promise," he pressed a kiss to her temple as assurance. "Now can I take you somewhere expensive to eat and force you to spend some of that money you're pretending you don't have?"

"This is your date, Van. I'm not paying for anything."

"Of course you are," he reached for his cigarettes and the lighter and saw the key lying there as well.

The key and the lighter were gold. How could he have missed this?

Without a second thought, he checked the lighter and found a very small keyhole on the underside.

"Jude I think I found the answer to our gold key problem."

"Yeah?" she wasn't far behind. "What is it?"

"The only other thing that's small and gold," he was already trying to unlock the thing.

"Does that even make sense? I mean why would Tristan make a key for a lighter?"

"No idea," the base of the lighter made a click before he flipped it open. When he saw what was in it both eyebrows rose.

"Well, what is it?"

"This is definitely not my style," he emptied the contents into his hand revealing a ring. One with a single square shaped pink rock sitting at the top.

"Where the hell did Tristan get this?" she was amazed by the size, shape, and color. "And why hide it there?"

"No idea," he took her hand and slipped it next to the one he'd given her yesterday. Only then did Van realize how impressive Tristan's ring actually was.

"Van it's probably a family heirloom," Jude noticed the difference as well. If the pink stone was real then the value of the ring was off the charts. "Maybe you should hold on to it."

"Or maybe you should hold on to it for me," he checked his watch again. "Ready for our lunch date wife?"

(((())))

Author's Note: Hey all. You have permission to kill me. That is all. Love you guys.