DISCLAIMER: This is an Otalia-Uber fiction. The characters in this story portrays the physical and some personality attributes of the characters Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera from Guiding Light but they belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Blue for her great beta-ing skills!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Nothing means anything to me but her."
Kristen did not know what else to do. After recounting her conversation with Jack to everyone, she had asked Nell if she could spend the night in Frances' room. So here she was, lying in Frances' bed, trying to wrap herself up in Frances' scent, imagining that everything was all right. Except that it wasn't.
Nothing felt right without Frances.
Kristen hugged a pillow to her chest and burrowed her face in it, inhaling deeply. She had to believe that Frances was all right. Jack would call her the next day; surely he would not give C&C up. If she could have Frances back, she would gladly sign everything that she owned over to him.
In a bid to think about something other than Frances' absence, she thought back to their first meeting and subsequent run-ins. Her lips twitched when she recalled an annoyed Frances retaliating with her own brand of snark. If they hadn't kissed, perhaps none of this would have happened. But if they hadn't kissed, she would have missed out on one of the best things that could happen to anyone. She couldn't, wouldn't, trade this for anything.
A knock on the door broke Kristen's reverie and she scrambled off Frances' bed hurriedly with a wild hope that Frances had returned.
"Hey, how're you doing?" Nell asked gently, noting the way Kristen's face fell when she saw her.
Stupid, Kristen admonished herself--as if Frances would knock to enter her own room. "I... don't know how to answer that," she answered Nell's question honestly. Nell's face was wrought with worry that reflected her own.
"Sorry, stupid question," Nell mumbled under her breath. Ramsey and Nell's mission had drawn a blank as well; no one they had spoken to had seen Frances on the day of her disappearance. Nell tried to shake off her growing despair and remembered what she wanted with Kristen. "Remember Frances' friend, Izzie? She's here and... you should come talk to her. She has your knives."
Kristen lifted a brow at that. "What? How?" She followed Nell out of the room to the veranda, where Nell had left Isobel.
"Hey, I heard about Frances," Isobel said in a small voice. "I can't believe what's happening," she said, shaking her head.
Kristen reached for a familiar looking knife bag on the coffee table. "How did you get this?" she asked in a dull voice.
"My brother took them," Isobel said, grimacing slightly. "A few days ago, I overheard him talking to his boss about Taters and Frances..."
"Frances?" Kristen's heart skipped a beat at the mention of Frances' name. "What about Frances?" It wasn't that she didn't care about Taters, but it came a far second to Frances.
"Doug didn't say much about that. He told them that he wanted no part of whatever they were planning. He already feels bad enough about Taters' vandalism. He didn't think that they would go that far with it. They were gonna chuck your knives so he took them instead."
Kristen stared at Isobel grimly. "He was the one who gave them the restaurant's security code," she said. "What else did he tell you?"
Isobel shrugged, trying to recall her brother's words. "He thought that would be it, you know? But they kept asking for more information on Taters..."
"What about Frances? What else did he say about Frances?" Kristen demanded impatiently. Isobel flinched unconsciously.
Kristen knew that none of this was Isobel's fault but she could not help the tone of her voice or her rigid stance. "I'm just really worried about Frances right now," she said by way of explanation. She rubbed her temple and exhaled. "I think... do you think you could ask Doug over? I'd really like to speak to him."
Isobel glanced at Kristen fearfully. "You're not gonna report him to the police or anything, are you?"
Kristen almost rolled her eyes at that. "Isobel, I just want Frances back. I couldn't care less about Doug." She pulled out her mobile, her mind racing. "Please call him and ask him to come over. We just want Frances back."
Isobel nodded mutely and went to place the call. Kristen exchanged a look with Nell. "I'm calling Russell. Do you... Is it okay if he comes over?"
"Of course. This is Frances' house too." Her voice shook slightly. "This is so messed up," Nell muttered, shaking her head. She squeezed her eyes shut and bunched her fingers up in her hair. "Oh darl... please be okay..."
"I'm going to Jack's hotel. It'll all be over soon, Frances," Liam said with an apologetic shrug of his shoulder. "I'm sorry about this."
"You do what you gotta do," Frances said, shrugging his empty apology aside.
Liam massaged the back of his neck uncomfortably. "What do you want for dinner? I'll grab something on the way back..."
Frances shook her head. "Not particularly hungry," she said. "Being held against your will hardly gets your appetite going, you know?" Then she made a show of rolling her eyes. "Oh, of course you don't."
"You said you understood why..." Liam began, only to be interrupted by Frances.
"My Dad and Kristen must be worried sick by now. What if Dad does something stupid, like... stick a knife into Jack Canning?"
Liam shook his head. "I told you, they only realised that you're missing yesterday. Russell's called the cops and Kristen's looked Jack up. Everything's going to plan, just not to schedule. It'll all be over soon. Trust me."
Frances shot him an incredulous look. "I would never trust you again, Liam."
He gave her a look of regret and closed the room door behind him wordlessly, sliding the lock into place.
Frances kicked hard at the stout timber door with the flat of her foot. The impact rang up her leg but the door did not budge. Frances growled in frustration and she sat down, thinking hard.
She went into the bathroom and narrowed her eyes at the only unbarred window within her reach. If she could get up there, she just might be able to squeeze through it. She couldn't care less about Liam's plan now. All she could think about was her father, Nell, and Kristen.
Benjamin stifled a yawn. He had had a long night. With the end in sight, however, he was determined to see it through. He had everything that he needed now to make a deal with Jack. Heart pounding hard against his ribcage, Benjamin exited the escalator and made his way to Jack's room.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" Jack asked when he opened the door to Benjamin. If he was surprised, he did not show it; he had been expecting the other Cameron sibling.
"You've been busy, Jack," Benjamin said, strolling into the room. He looked around casually and was glad to find that Jack was alone. He did not want external influences for this meeting.
"Speak quickly. I have things to do, people to see," Jack said dismissively.
Benjamin smirked. "All right. Sure thing. Actually, I won't be doing much talking. You, on the other hand... have been talking... a lot." He produced a small digital recorder from his pocket and hit the 'play' button. Jack shot him a curious look--one that quickly turned incredulous when he realised that it was his own voice he was listening to.
Frances had to admit that this wasn't one of her finest moments. She had stacked everything that she could fit into the small bathroom to lend her height and had finally reached the window. Employing all her upper body strength, she had heaved herself up on the tiny ledge after she had gotten the window open, losing her makeshift ladder in the process.
Her lips twitched at the random thought of Kristen if she were to see her now, with her ass in the air and her legs sliding futilely against the tiled bathroom wall. Shaking her head, Frances wiped her head clean of distracting thoughts and focussed all her attention on getting out of her prison.
The window was narrow, of almost equal length and breadth. Frances took a deep breath and pushed herself through some more. Her arm muscles were screaming with exertion.
"Fuck!" Frances swore under her breath, grunting loudly. Her shoulders were through but her hands were under her, stuck between her midriff and the sill. She considered the possibility of Liam finding her in this position and the thought egged her on to move quickly.
Taking a moment to calm her breathing and assess her surroundings, Frances noticed a tree branch that looked within reach. The ground beneath her didn't look too friendly but she would have to take her chances with it. She tucked her elbows in as much as she possibly could and kicked her shoes off. Her bare feet gave her a better grip against the tiled wall.
"Just a little bit more, Frances," she mumbled under her breath. Sweat rolled down her face and she shook her head to clear her view. Her elbow scraped painfully against the window and she grimaced. She was doing well; she was halfway out.
Ever so slowly, she slid one hand from under her and palmed it against the outer brick wall. Giving her scraped elbow a quick glance, Frances blew out a breath. She could handle some blood and torn skin. It was the landing that concerned her. She could end up breaking her neck.
"Okay. Steady," she said as she reached for the tree branch and was gratified when it held. With its help, she managed to pull more of herself out. Her heart was pounding in her ears. "Easy..." She slid her other hand out from under her and grabbed onto the branch. A soft creaking sound alarmed her but there was no turning back now.
She squirmed, putting more and more of her weight onto the branch, which wasn't taking the extra weight all that well. Finally, she was stretched out between the house and the branch. Frances took a few deep breaths, psyching herself for her next move. She tightened her grip on the branch and swung towards the tree with all her might, hoping to catch hold of the trunk with her feet.
A loud crack sounded as she was swinging, making Frances swear loudly under her breath. She squeezed her eyes shut as she fell, willing her body to relax to minimise any injuries.
"You had my room bugged?" Jack asked incredulously, his eyes darting nervously around the room.
Benjamin shrugged. "It really isn't that hard these days. Bugging devices can be bought over the internet quite easily."
"This cannot be legal," Jack said, outraged.
"A lot of the things you said in these recordings aren't legal. I think we're finally on the same page, Jack," Benjamin informed him with a lifted brow.
Jack seethed, dark eyes flashing. "What do you want?"
"I want you out of our lives. Sign C&C over to me and leave Kristen and her friends alone," Benjamin said simply.
"Or all of this will go to the right people and you can imagine that action will be taken against you, my friend."
Jack sneered. "I did not take the girl."
Benjamin shrugged. "Does it matter? You surely sounded convincing enough. What were your words? Oh, right, you wanted Frances to disappear and Taters off the fucking map? And what happens next? Taters gets hit by a series of sabotage attacks and Frances goes missing. That's incriminating enough, don't you think?"
Jack clenched his jaw and Benjamin scoffed, shaking his head. "Let's cut the bullshit, Jack. I haven't got all day. Give me what I want and you won't get into trouble. Come back and stir shit up again... and all of this will go to the authorities."
A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. Benjamin looked up warily and Jack sighed. He went to the door and let Kristen in. Seeing Benjamin here in Jack's room surprised Kristen. She looked at her brother quizzically and her stomach turned. "What are you doing here, Benjamin?" He could not be working with Jack, could he?
"Your brother's been busy," Jack said, eyes flicking from Benjamin to Kristen speculatively. It felt as though they were at a stand off of some sort. Maybe all was not lost.
Benjamin shook his head. "Just finishing things up, Sis."
"He's framing me for something I didn't do so I would sign C&C over to him," Jack said quickly. "I think I know who took your little girlfriend."
"Benjamin?" Kristen asked incredulously, not knowing what to believe. "What's going on?"
"Trust me, Sis. I promise, I'm on your side," Benjamin beseeched Kristen. He turned back to Jack, eyes hardening. "So? Do we have a deal? You leave Kristen and her friends alone and I won't give this," he said, holding up the digital recorder in his hand, "to the authorities."
"Don't act like you're some kind of hero, Benjy," Jack said. "You don't care about Kristen or her girlfriend. You just want C&C. You're no better than me. Actually, you might be worse--pretending to be a good guy when you're evidently not."
"Benjamin? You better tell me what's happening or... God help me..." Kristen said, her voice shaking.
Benjamin blew out a heavy breath as he contemplated his next move. He finally decided that this was the endgame--there was nothing anyone could do to change anything even if he revealed it all.
"Like I said, I've been gathering information against Jack ever since Taters' vandalism. All that stuff about the rats, getting people to stir up shit at Taters, cancelling your food orders, tripping the fuse box... I have recordings of Jack instructing people to carry out all that mischief."
"And Frances? Where's Frances?" Kristen asked, almost desperately.
"She's safe," Benjamin said finally after a long look at his sister. He saw her breath out a sigh of relief before she turned on him with blazing green eyes.
"You've been lying to me all this while? You took her and you had all of us out of our minds with worry..." Kristen almost shouted.
"It's for the greater good, Sis. Jack said he wanted Frances to disappear. I just pre-empted him," Benjamin said, throwing a dirty look at Jack.
Jack scoffed. "Guess you can't trust anyone these days, huh, Kristen? Not your husband, your wife, your best friend, your blood..."
Kristen pinched the bridge of her nose. "Shut up, Jack. You're the last person to talk about trust. Benjamin, where's Frances?"
"She's safe, Kristen. I'll take you to her once this is over, I promise. So what's it gonna be, Jack?" Benjamin asked, wanting this confrontation to end while he still held the advantage.
Jack thought for a long moment. "Fine. I'll sign my share of C&C over." Benjamin blew out a quiet breath of relief. This was going the way he had hoped it would. "But not to you. To Kristen." Kristen and Benjamin shot him looks of surprise at that. "She'll have control of the company. And she can decide if she wants you, her beloved, trustworthy brother, to run the show."
Benjamin's mind raced. He could force the issue; Jack had nothing to negotiate with. But when his gaze fell on his sister, he sighed inwardly. He had a feeling that if he forced the issue, he would be proving Jack right and he would lose her forever.
"Fine," Benjamin said finally. "Let's do it. You sign your shares over to Kristen and promise to leave us alone, and this will not come back to bite you in the ass."
"I'll have my lawyer draw up the papers," Jack offered before Benjamin shook his head.
"No way. You'll sign papers that I'll have drawn up, thank you very much."
Jack clenched his jaw. This was checkmate. "When do you want to do this?" he asked finally. Maybe if he had time to think, to regroup...
"Right now," Benjamin said, flipping his mobile open. "I just need to make a call."
Jack looked at Benjamin, impressed despite the way things were going for him. "Just how long have you been planning this?"
"I learned from the best," Benjamin replied flippantly. "Excuse me."
When Benjamin left the room, Jack scoffed and looked at his wife for a long moment. "Drink?" he offered. When she frowned at him distrustfully, he rolled his eyes. "I'm done. He's got me by my balls. Might as well have a bloody drink while we wait."
"Fine," Kristen relented. Her head was reeling; everything felt surreal. Benjamin was the last person she had expected to have taken Frances. He had had her taken on Sunday and had put on an act for her when he had come over to her place on Monday, conveniently leaving his watch behind so that he could come back again the next day to monitor things. The knowledge sickened her.
Jack wandered over to the mini bar. "Who would have thought that it would come to this?" he said with a mirthless chuckle and a shake of his head. "Certainly not me." Whilst handing Kristen her drink, he sighed. "I do love you, Kristen," he murmured, dark eyes trailing down Kristen's features. "Despite everything."
Kristen studied his dark, handsome face. She had loved him once, with an abandon that she had not thought possible; she had wanted to be with him for the rest of her life once. A heavy sense of regret settled upon her chest.
"Everything that I've done, I did out of love. For you," Jack continued, knocking his drink back.
Kristen shook her head as she considered his words. "Not just love. Ambition. Pride. Vindictiveness." She took a sip of her drink, grimacing at its bitterness and the trail of heat down her throat. "You just can't handle the thought of me being happy with someone else."
"A woman, Kristen? Really?" Jack asked, shaking his head. He did not correct her, however.
Kristen gave him a dark look. "A beautiful, loving person whom I've fallen in love with," she said quietly. "And yes, she happens to be a woman. What's that got to do with anything?"
Jack snorted. "How can she ever give you what we had?"
Kristen shrugged. "She can't. What she and I have is different to what you and I had. You hurt me, Jack. You made me lose any trust that I had in you, in myself... in the sanctity of marriage... With her, I'm learning how to trust again. She challenges me. She makes me see the world in a different way. But above all, she makes me want to believe in... everything that you caused me to stop believing in."
Jack was gripping his glass so hard that his knuckles were white. "I really fucked things up, didn't I?" he asked. Kristen looked at him with surprise. Jack did not wear self-deprecation well.
"It takes two to fuck a relationship up. Maybe I didn't give you want you needed and you chose to look for it elsewhere instead of talking to me about it. But everything that you've done to Taters... that was despicable... and all you." Kristen finished her drink. "I don't know that I could ever forgive you for that," she said honestly.
"Why did you leave me, Kristen? If you had stayed, maybe..."
Kristen shook her head. "It could never have worked out, Jack, not after you betrayed my trust."
"We vowed to be with each other, through thick and thin..."
"I recall something in there about faithfulness as well, Jack," Kristen said, lifting a brow.
"It was that one time..." Jack murmured, knocking back his second drink. "It was a mistake."
Kristen stared unseeingly at her hands. "It's too late now. What happened to you, Jack? How did you get this way? Or have I just never known this side of you?"
"I'd do anything to get you back, Kristen," Jack said in a low tone.
Kristen shook her head. "I can't be possessed, Jack. I'm astounded that you honestly thought I'd come back to you by sabotaging Taters. How does that work?" she asked, shaking her head incredulously.
Jack did not answer. Benjamin came back into the hotel room then. "Everything okay?" he asked warily, looking at Kristen.
"You have a lot of explaining to do, Benjamin," Kristen said, throwing him a sharp look.
Benjamin had the decency to hang his head while they waited for the legal papers to be brought to them. Kristen could not believe that there was a time where she would have trusted these two men with her life. Now, she wondered if she had ever truly known them... if anyone could ever truly claim to know anyone else.
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