Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven

On the way to Claudia-Michelle’s, Jessica cried in Aidan’s arms in the backseat while Claudia-Michelle drove. Nick was in his car behind them. At a stop light, Claudia-Michelle took down her hair and sighed wearily.

“¿Qué pasó, Claudia?” Aidan asked. What happened? He knew that Claudia-Michelle was upset, and he wanted to get to the bottom of things as soon as possible, but he didn’t want to distress Jessica, who he was going off to a tear-induced sleep. Or he hoped.

Claudia-Michelle raked a hand through her curly raven mane then spoke. “Él volvió a casa un poco temprano. Vinimos a la casa de Jessica y escribimos una canción. Salí la casa para comprar comida y no notamos el tiempo. Josh volvió y estaba muy enojado. Evidentemente, su encuentro con Danie no terminó bien.”

Aidan frowned, and looked down at Jessica’s messy blond head. Josh had a meeting with Danie that ended badly and he brought it home with him. Adding insult to injury was the fact that Danie’s older sister, to whom she was nearly identical, was there at his house. It sent him over the edge. Aidan understood, but that didn’t mean he sympathized with the bastard.

“¿Qué quieres hacer?” Aidan wanted to know. What do you want to do?

“Por ahora, Jessica es mía,” Claudia-Michelle replied. “Ella vivirá en mi casa hasta que quiera volverle. No más, no menos. ¿Tienes un problema con ese?”

Aidan shook his head. For now, Jessica is mine. She will live in my house until she wants to return to him. No more, no less. You have a problem with that? Claudia-Michelle was fast turning into Jessica’s older sister. “Es bueno, amor.”

“Bueno.” She glanced at him in her rearview. “This afternoon shook her up bad, Aidan. I thought…” Claudia-Michelle exhaled shakily. “I’ve heard Josh is under a lot of stress, but this is ridiculous. For a second, I thought he was going to hurt her.”

“You would have hurt him,” Aidan commented. “I saw it in your eyes.” Claudia-Michelle frowned but Aidan continued. “When you were clutching Jessica’s hand for dear life as he yelled at you. I was outside the house waiting for you when I heard him shouting. I guess…” He gave her an impish grin. “I guess there’s a knight in shining armor in me.”

“You’re not the only one.” She looked in her sideview at Nick, who still followed them.

Aidan sighed, and said nothing to that. Jessica had stopped crying, but the way she breathed indicated that she was still awake.

“I’ll make dinner,” he offered. “My treat.” He ruffled Jessica’s hair. “What do you say, love? I make a mean paella.”

“Whatever you want, Aidan.” Jessica’s voice was muffled. “I don’t feel hungry.”

“Oh, now. It would really hurt my feelings if you refused. Because my feelings are easily bruised.” He gave a long-suffering sigh. “Well, I guess Claud and I will suffer through it without you.”

“Lucky me,” Claudia-Michelle muttered, a little less anxious, and turned into her driveway.

* * *

After paella, Claudia-Michelle endured a back rub from Aidan, and Jessica was examined by Claudia-Michelle’s older sister with the same name while Nick sat in the armchair with his wounds. The doctor frowned over bruises and clucked her tongue.

“You all better hope I never run into this guy,” Dr. Jessica remarked. “He’ll have more bruises than this.” Jessica winced as the older Jessica pressed on the spot to make sure nothing was broken. “I’m sorry, Jessica. I want to make sure you didn’t break anything. It feels okay so far.”

“Well, he’s pretty bruised up, I assure you,” Nick commented as he took a swig of water. He couldn’t have alcohol until Dr. Jessica was done with him. Her orders.

“By your hand, I presume,” Dr. Jessica observed. “I’m sure a strapping individual like you knows how to throw a punch or two.”

“It’s a gift,” Nick retorted. Aidan snorted but Claudia-Michelle didn’t move. Her eyes were closed and she was silent.

“Try not to lose your brains over your brawn,” Dr. Jessica warned. She bandaged the spot where the skin had broken on Jessica’s hip. “And I think we’re done here. Your ankle is wrapped, so don’t walk on it tonight. Get some rest and stay off of it. Walk around in the morning and see how you feel. Your wrist is okay enough that I don’t need to bandage it. Move it around, stop if it hurts, call me if it continues.” She turned around and appraised Nick with aqua eyes identical to Claudia-Michelle’s. “Your turn, tough guy.”

“It’s not going to hurt,” Nick said.

It was Dr. Jessica’s turn to snort. “Keep thinking that.” She took out the rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab. “We’ll start from the top.” She put the cotton swab to the top of bottle and turned it upside down for half a second. “Now, if you swear, you owe me fifty bucks for every four-letter word you utter.”

“And you’ll give me two hundred if I don’t,” Nick countered.

“Done.” Dr. Jessica grinned. Both Aidan and Jessica, now feeling a little less raw, looked over in rapt interest. She dabbed the swab along his left eyebrow where there was a long, shallow cut.

Nick hissed, and curses filled the air.

“I do believe you owe me two hundred, tough guy,” Dr. Jessica calculated.

“One piece of advice for sparring with the Good Doctor, mate,” Aidan piped up. “Never bet against the house. The woman knows what she’s talking about. And she can make that stuff hurt down to the bloody marrow.”

“You’re damn straight, Bloom.” Dr. Jessica placed a couple of butterfly bandages over the cut and went to the next on his hand. “So Jessica—how long have you been married to the scumbag that hurt you?”

Dr. Jessica felt Nick tense. Instantly she guessed that he had feelings for Jessica. Jessica answered softly, “A little over a year.”

“Has he ever hit you?”

Aidan shook his head in exasperation. “Jess…” Dr. Jessica gave him a look and he didn’t speak for a while.

“No, he hasn’t,” Jessica replied. “He was just mad tonight. He had a meeting with…your sister and she pissed him off.”

“Well, yeah, I tend to have that effect on people.”

She stood at a statuesque six feet one inch without the low-heeled shoes she wore. Her kimono sleeve dress in black with royal purple ribbons brought out the color of her eyes perfectly, and her long hair sat on her shoulders. She looked around the room, giving speculative glances at Nick and Jessica.

“I’m Danie Thomas.” This she directed at Jessica. “Your husband overreacted, but I apologize for any hand I had in all this.”

Jessica shook her head. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“’Cause Josh is a lunatic,” Nick muttered. Dr. Jessica pinched his thigh. “Ow. What the fuck?!”

“Two hundred and fifty, that’s what the fuck,” Dr. Jessica snapped. “Now sit still. I’m not done with you. You better be lucky you don’t need stitches.” Nick went sullenly silent and didn’t protest anymore.

Danie came into the living room and perched on the arm of the couch. Claudia-Michelle’s eyes fluttered open and she gazed at her younger sister.

“And just what are you doing here? I thought you had somewhere to be tonight. And how did you get into my house anyway?”

Danie smiled like the Sphinx and didn’t address that last question. It was nonessential. “I came here because I have an offer you can’t refuse,” Danie explained. She stared levelly at Jessica who stared right back. “How would you like to be the first act I sign to my new label?”

Jessica’s mouth dropped open in shock. Images of fame and singing her own songs flashed in her brain. “What? Me? But…”

“I know it won’t be like being signed to some big-name label, but I promise to give you the creative freedom you need. And my help if you need it.”

“Well, I…”

“Take it and run before she changes her mind,” Dr. Jessica advised.

“I won’t change my mind,” Danie assured Dr. Jessica. “Not after Claudia-Michelle told me about her voice. I’ve got a feeling about this. We can make something big.”

“What about Josh?” Aidan asked. He knew everyone was thinking the same thing, but he was the only one with the guts to ask.

Danie grinned, a grin that implied that she was going to be up to no good. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and crossed her arms over her chest. “That jerk? Oh, leave him to me.”

“This is going to be interesting,” Nick commented. “Josh is not going to like this particular turn of events.”

Jessica managed a grim smile. “I’m starting to think they suit me just fine.”

* * *

Later on that night, Josh sat in his darkened den with the snifter of scotch. He was bloody, sore, and pissed. And drinking from the bottle.

After they had taken his wife, he had rolled around on the floor until the pain had subsided. When the pain had dulled, the anger had increased. It had taken all he had not to go to Claudia-Michelle’s house where he assumed they were hanging out and finish the fight.

They were laughing at him. He was sure of it.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. He climbed to his feet and limped to the door to answer it. He looked through the peephole and frowned.

He opened it to find a furious Katherine Cross on his doorstep, dressed to kill.

“Where the hell is he?” she demanded without a hello. She looked behind him as if it would give her some kind of clue to Nick’s whereabouts.

“Hello to you, too,” Josh muttered.

“I’m looking for Nick. I know he’s been here with your bimbo of a wife. Now where is he?” She started to push past him, but he grabbed her arm firmly, despite his drunkenness. She looked at him warily. “Take your hand off of me.”

“First of all,” Josh began, “this is my house. Second, Nick isn’t here. Neither is my wife. So we’re in the same boat.” He turned and limped away from her. “You’re more than welcome to come in for a drink, though.”

Made even more furious by the fact that he had walked away from her, Katie stormed into the house like she owned it. She slammed the door and followed Josh back into the den. When she made it to the room, Josh turned around with a glass in his hand. He raised his eyebrow at it. She took his offering and threw back her head. It was gone in one gulp, but Katie wouldn’t admit it didn’t go down easy.

“I think I’ll take you up on your offer of a drink,” Katie said to Josh. He nodded and poured another.

Unfortunately, Katie wasn’t that good with her drink. While they were sharing their grievances over their significant others, she ended up making out on the couch with Josh. She didn’t seem to care that it wasn’t Nick that she was groping.

“Should we be doing this?” Josh asked, out of breath.

Katie sneered, feeling the bloodrush of heady lust. “Does it matter? And just who would find out, huh?”

They rolled off the couch and had hot, drunken sex on the floor until they were too tired to move. Katie had forgotten that she had thrown out her birth control some months before. Josh had forgotten the condoms he kept upstairs. Little details.

* * *

The next morning, Josh awoke on the hardwood floor with a slew of aches and throbs next to Katie and his buzzing cell phone. He groaned as he reached across and looked at the LCD screen.

Daniella Thomas.

What the fuck?! A thousand possibilities raced through his mind, but he shook them away and flipped up the phone. “And just what the fuck do you want?”

He could hear the smile in her voice, its widening and brightening. “Oh dear Mr. Martin, I would prefer if you refrained from using such foul language. And to think, I thought I would be able to do business with you.”

“Get to the point, Danie.” Katie stirred beside him. “I haven’t all day.”

“I’ll get to it when I want.” The smile was back. “But for now, we’ll have a guessing game. Guess what aspiring singer I just signed as my first act for my record label?”

Josh pinched the bridge of his nose. “Gee, I don’t know. I don’t think I even care. Stop beating around the bush before I hang up on you.”

“Oh, but Josh, that’s the thing. You will care.” Danie paused, savoring the moment of suspense. “The first act on my record label is none other than the very talented Jessica Simpson.”

Josh’s eyes opened wide. His blood went cold in his veins and he could swear there was a sucking sound in his ears. “What?!”

Danie giggled on the other side. “Say hello to the competition, Jessica.”

Josh listened in disbelief as his wife said hello. He sat up sharply, ignoring his roaring headache and Katie’s hands. “How dare you?” he demanded. “You will pay for this.”

“Oh, I have, in some way. But the bigger the payoff, the bigger the return. So I’m prepared to allow Jessica to make the decision for herself as far as where she wants to be. I’m also prepared to give you a show. You and your colleagues, that is.”

“And why would they be interested in Jessica?”

“Because if they aren’t, they’re going to hear how you tried to bribe me to coming to the label with sexual favors.”

Josh could feel his head ready to explode. “Like hell they would believe it.”

“Would you like to try me? I’m sure I’d pull it off. Right, Jess?”

“Damn straight,” Jessica supplied in pure Dr. Jessica Thomas style.

Someone walked into the room at that moment, because glasses clinked on wood. Meanwhile, Katie sat up and murmured something suggestive in his ear. Josh shrugged Katie off of him and snarled into the phone.

“When the hell is this supposed to take place?”

“Next Friday at eight,” Danie told him. “At Corrigan’s. Be ready for beef stew and quite a bit of crow.” With that, she ended the conversation. Josh glared at the phone and threw it. It bounced off of the couch and fell to the floor. He put his head in his hands, wondering when the misery would end.

* * *

Danie clicked the end button and grinned at Jessica. “Now wasn’t that satisfying?”

Jessica, now in one of Claudia-Michelle’s shirts and a pair of pants, nodded. “It was. I hate to admit that it was, but it was.” She looked down at her left hand. “Do you think…?”

“I can’t answer that,” Danie admitted. “Only you can.” She gestured at a picture nearby of Nick and Claudia-Michelle grinning. “And I have a feeling that he might have a big influence on your answer.”

Jessica blushed, not able to deny it. “I…I still have feelings for Nick. He’s my first love.”

“Expected. But what are you going to do about those feelings? You are married at the moment.”

“That might change,” Jessica pointed out. “Josh and I… Things aren’t good between us.”

Danie sat back in the wicker chair and appraised Jessica. Jessica stared back, but did feel disconcerted under Danie’s scrutiny.

“You’re going to have sex with him,” Danie predicted. “I can see it in your eyes. You are ready to give up on your marriage—and after meeting the guy I don’t blame you.”

Jessica sputtered. “But… What…? That’s crazy! I would never break my marriage vows and sleep with Nick Lachey. I have some strong feelings for him, but I do have an ounce of decency.”

“But in the heat of the moment, can you honestly remember that?” Danie inquired. She waved a hand. “Look, I don’t mean to pry or anything. I just happened to pick up on the vibes between you. And they’re strong, Jessica. And I’m not sure that I myself would be able to resist if I were in your shoes.”

Jessica nodded, considering this. “But I’ll try. For my marriage.”

But she didn’t say, for my husband. Danie nodded also, deciding that she would change the subject. She figured that flattening her first act wouldn’t be the best way to ensure cooperation and a good working relationship. Jessica wasn’t weak, but she was just gaining her strength. Danie would let her do it on her own.

And wouldn’t tell her about the second voice her sharp ears had picked up in the background of the phone conversation.

“Perhaps we should talk about this performance at Corrigan’s,” Danie chattered, hand on her lemonade-colored sundress. “I think I have the perfect song for the occasion.”

It Doesn’t Hurt Anymore
Originally performed by Regina Belle
Antonina Armato, Rick Neigher

Me loving you
Was so easy to do
Now since you’ve left me
I’ll try to make it through
Every song I hear
Every where I turn
There’s a moment I have shared with you

All the pain
I thought it would never go away
Oh, but now the rain has stopped pouring down
I see a new day coming ‘round

It doesn’t hurt (it doesn’t hurt) anymore (anymore)
No, I can live my life without you
Everyday (Everyday) I grow stronger (I grow strong)
‘Cause I don’t need you any longer
Now I’m ready to face a brand-new world
It doesn’t hurt me

Safe in your arms
Talking all night long
I still remember
But now I’m not holding on
I won’t be afraid when love finally calls
‘Cause now I know the pain of losing it all

All my life
All I ever wanted was your love
Oh, but since you took all that away
I’ve been waiting for this day

It doesn’t hurt (it doesn’t hurt) anymore (anymore)
No, I can live my life without you
I’ve built a wall (I’ve built a wall) so tough (so tough)
Till you’re never gonna touch me
And now I’m ready to take what I deserve
It doesn’t hurt me

I used to cry when I heard your name (heard your name)
I couldn’t take it much longer
But when I knew you’d never come back again
I had to make my heart stronger

It doesn’t hurt (it doesn’t hurt) anymore (anymore)
No, I can live my life without you
Everyday (Everyday) I grow stronger (I grow strong)
‘Cause I don’t need you any longer
It doesn’t hurt (it doesn’t hurt) anymore (anymore)
No, I can live my life without you
I’ve built a wall (I’ve built a wall) so tough (so tough)
Till you’re never gonna touch me
It doesn’t hurt (it doesn’t hurt)
It doesn’t hurt no more (anymore, ooh)
Now I can live my life
I live my life without you
(Every day) Every day (I grow strong) I grow stronger (Ooh)
I don’t need you any longer (It doesn’t hurt anymore)
Baby, baby, I don’t need you no more
(I’ve built a wall) Every day (so tough) I grow stronger
I’ve built a wall so tough

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