"Very funny, Mr. Sherwood," Betty answered, just as wryly, "but I'm afraid the ear plugs that could drown out Craig haven't been invented yet," she chuckled ruefully, then sighed in exasperation. "I'm sorry for dragging you into all of this, but I just don't see a way out of it. At least it's only for one evening."
"That's all right, Betty. When he's gone, we'll have all the time in the world. I just don't understand how you could have been such good friends with him. He hardly seems your type." Scott dropped his arm around her shoulders and began leading her back to the office, figuring she might want to tell him all about Craig now.
Scott's instincts were correct. If he was going to help her out with Craig tonight, then he'd definitely earned the right to hear the whole story before going, Betty decided. They settled themselves comfortably in the two guest chairs in the office before Betty told Scott the whole truth.
"You're right, he's not my type. But you have to understand that Craig's changed a lot in the last two years. The Craig Atwater I remember was kind, thoughtful, and unselfish. I can't explain the change he's undergone; like I said, I haven't seen or heard from him in two years. Maybe it's all the success he's had at such a young age or the people he's working around that are a bad influence," she shrugged helplessly. "Who can say what made him change? I only know I miss the person he used to be."
Betty paused, taking a deep breath and Scott simply waited, sensing he was about to hear the part of the story that she'd held back earlier and knowing it would go more easily if he didn't interrupt. He reached over and took her hand in both of his, hoping the contact would make it easier for her to talk.
Betty smiled at him, grateful for his unspoken support. "Well, I think you've already guessed that I didn't tell everyone the whole story earlier. I really only left out one part, though. The part about me thinking of Craig as a friend was the truth, but unfortunately, he didn't feel the same way. The problem is, I didn't see it until it was much too late. In fact, the first and only time I saw it was when I won the writing contest to come here to WENN.
"I tracked him down to tell him my news, more excited about winning the contest than I'd ever been excited about anything else. My dream of being a real writer was coming true and Craig was my friend, so I figured he'd be happy for me," she sighed defeatedly, surprised to find that his reaction to her news could still hurt after all this time.
"But he wasn't?" Scott prodded gently.
"To say the least. He looked disappointed when I told him, even a little bit angry. I couldn't understand his reaction at all. He knew how much I loved to write and how much this opportunity meant to me. I told him all that and all he did was take a small, velvet box out of his pocket. He opened the lid and showed me the diamond ring inside. He said he'd been planning to ask me to marry him that night."
Scott shifted uneasily at this news and a look of wariness crossed his face. Was he prepared to hear the rest of this?
"I can't even tell you how surprised I was to hear him say that; I wouldn't have guessed that those were his intentions in a million years. I told him I didn't feel that way about him and that I wasn't ready to get married anyway. He was terribly hurt and angry and said some very rude things about a woman's place being in the home and that I shouldn't be looking for a career in the first place. Of course, that got me angry and we had a horrible fight. We haven't spoken since," she sighed in resignation. "I felt awful about not being more perceptive about his feelings and I certainly never meant to hurt him, but I couldn't be something for him that I wasn't," she looked deeply into Scott's eyes, pleading for understanding.
He returned her look, then slowly nodded his head. "Betty, you definitely did the right thing. If you'd stayed with him, you would have ended up unhappy and we would never have met," he tenderly traced her cheek with his fingers, causing her to blush. He dropped his hand back to hers and sat up a little straighter. "The way I see it, everything turned out for the best. Craig has a successful career, although his personality has the subtlety of a battering ram." They grimaced in agreement. "And you, well, you have a successful career as a writer, all of your friends here at WENN, and me. What more could anybody want?" he asked with a smile.
"You're right. I have absolutely no reason to complain and I am happy with my life. I wouldn't change any of the decisions I've made. I only wish I hadn't had to hurt one of my friends in the process. But I guess things don't always go as they should," she shrugged helplessly.
Scott decided now was probably as good a time as any. He wouldn't be able to speak with her privately tonight and this would most likely be his last opportunity today to have her all to himself. With a deep breath, Scott plunged in, "Speaking of things not going as they should, there's something I've got to tell you. I've been trying all day, but between the flowers and Craig Atwater and Mr. Eldridge, I've never gotten the chance," he paused and looked into her eyes, finding the courage he needed to go on. She frowned in concentration, conscious that he was about to tell her something that was of the utmost importance to them both.
"Betty, I'm..." Scott's words came to an abrupt halt as the office door swung inward, Hilary Booth framed in the aperture.
Placing one perfectly-manicured hand on her hip, she absorbed the scene before her. Betty and Scott leaned close together as if they were two conspirators whispering state secrets. He was tightly grasping her hands in his and their eyes had been completely focused on each other when the door opened. Now, however, they had turned their widened eyes to her, waiting for her to speak. Ah, a captive audience. Hilary decided to make the most of it.
She arched a supercilious brow at them both before turning her contemptuous eyes toward Scott saying, "Since this little tableau seems to have more than it's share of melodramatic elements, Scott, I wonder if you wouldn't mind sharing some of them with our listening audience. Or perhaps you've forgotten why you're here."
Momentarily, Scott had. He'd been so intent on telling Betty his feelings that everything else had ceased to exist. He was still a little unsure as to what Hilary was referring to, as evidenced by his retort to her tirade, a confused, "Huh?"
"Oh my gosh!" Betty exclaimed as she glanced at her watch. "The Hands of Time was supposed to start two minutes ago. We completely forgot!"
"Yes, well, I'm glad someone finally noticed that The Hands of Time had suddenly become a one-woman show. My fans would probably prefer it that way, of course, but the scripts never seem to cooperate. Come along, Scott," she ordered imperiously, "my audience is waiting." She turned with a flourish, leaving Scott with no choice but to follow. He cast one final, despairing glance towards Betty, feeling that surely, some power greater than either of them was conspiring against him. Well, that greater power obviously hadn't tangled with a Sherwood before. If it had, it would know that it didn't stand a chance.
The rest of the day passed in such a flurry of activity that Betty and Scott could hardly have described afterward how they'd arrived at their present situation. And what they were experiencing now, could afterward only be described with a shudder. For here they were, in a place they both normally loved - Carlton's Restaurant, site of their first date - having the most miserable time either could remember.
The problem did not lie with the atmosphere of the restaurant or the food; both were as intimate and wonderful as ever. The problem was not with each other, in fact, their only comfort that evening was the exchange of several amused, sympathetic glances across the dinner table. The problem was that they were not alone at that table. A third person had invaded their cozy circle of two with all the power of an elemental force and it made for a singularly unnerving experience.
That elemental force was Craig. He spoke volubly and at length in a diatribe which seemed to be a well-rehearsed continuation of his conversation at lunch. Betty had hoped he'd run out of stories about himself and was distressed to discover how wrong she was.
Scott, on the other hand, found himself staring at Craig in disbelief. He'd never heard anyone talk like Craig that wasn't a con man. After listening to him for a few minutes, Scott concluded that Craig was much too addlebrained to be running a scam. He was all sound and fury, signifying nothing (Ahh, Betty and her Shakespeare - Macbeth, wasn't it?). If it wasn't for her, he'd have taken a nap. After all, it wasn't as if he couldn't sleep with his eyes open. Still, he wasn't able to shake the feeling that Craig was definitely up to something, but that was all right, nothing ever got past a Sherwood.
Craig, oblivious to all that was going on around him, was adhering to his master plan. This little trip to Pittsburgh was not all business as he had led Betty to believe. The business he needed to conduct with his client here could have been completed over the phone or in the mail. His sole reason and purpose in coming here was Betty.
Not that he was quite willing to tell her that at this point. He was still testing the water. Craig hadn't counted on Scott Sherwood. He seemed far too persistent and protective of Betty to not be a threat to Craig's plans. Ah, well, the path to true love was never easy. Betty threw him that detour two years ago, but Craig was confident that he was winning her over now. How could she fail to be impressed with his career, his clothes, his friends?
There was just one other problem that he could foresee. She was so eager to read that letter from...what was his name again? Oh, yes, Victor Comstock. Then he'd overheard Betty talking about the letter with Gertie who had seemed to feel that it should have contained news of a more personal nature. This was definitely something he needed to explore. Well, there was no time like the present. And if his instincts were right, the mention of Victor Comstock might be enough to shake the unflappable Scott Sherwood.
"So, Betty, who's this Victor Comstock you got a letter from this afternoon? Are you hiding another boyfriend from me?" sniggered Craig.
Betty and Scott both jumped in their chairs. It was the first time Craig had questioned one of them and actually waited for an answer. Scott turned to Betty with a surprised expression on his face and couldn't help himself from feeling just a bit suspicious. She hadn't mentioned receiving a letter from Victor. What could it have said?
"Oh, didn't I tell you? Victor is the official station manager, but he's in Washington D.C. right now, doing some work for the government," she explained rather vaguely. She didn't care to elaborate on her past relationship with Victor. She might know now exactly what her feelings for him were, but she hadn't had a chance to tell Scott yet, which was a thing she wanted to do in private. Plus, it just wasn't any of Craig's business.
Craig continued for a moment or two with what he considered to be good-natured teasing about Victor before finally dropping the subject. He'd found out what he needed to know. Betty didn't appear to have any particularly strong feelings where Victor was concerned, but Scott had clearly been unsettled when he'd mentioned Victor's name. Maybe Scott wasn't as secure in his relationship with Betty as he'd originally suspected. That was all to the good for Craig. Well, time to break this little party up and test the effect of his considerable charm on Miss Betty Roberts.
"What's the matter, Scotty-boy? You look a little pale," Craig queried, feigning concern.
Scott was deep in thought, still wondering what Victor could have written to Betty. Finally, he realized Craig was questioning him this time. "What? Oh no, I'm fine. Just..."
"You're probably tired. You must be working too hard," Craig interrupted rudely. "Tell you what. Why don't you go on home and I'll walk Betty back to her apartment? That way, you can get to bed a little earlier and still be sure that she got home safely." Oh, he'd done that very well, Craig thought, it almost sounded spontaneous.
Betty suppressed a groan. The last thing she wanted was a late-night walk with Craig. But if Scott really wasn't feeling well, and he did look awfully preoccupied about something, then he should go home and rest. He was too much of a gentleman to leave her alone with Craig unless she told him it was all right. Trying not to feel like too much of a martyr, Betty made the sacrifice.
"Scott, if you're really not feeling well, you should go home. I'll get home all right," she smiled, attempting to be convincing.
This was too much. "Betty, I'm-"
Craig interrupted Scott's protest before it could even start. "Good, that's all settled then," he jumped out of his chair, thrusting his right hand towards Scott, who took it reluctantly as he stood. "Nice to have met you, Scotty-boy. We'll have to do this again next time." He was already grasping Betty by the arm and attempting to hurry her toward the exit.
Betty managed to wrest her arm from his grip and turned back toward Scott to say good night. She looked up into his eyes, concerned that he was coming down with something and clasped one of his hands.
"You'll get home all right? Maybe you should have some tea when you get there; it might make you feel better," she suggested anxiously.
Scott's heart warmed at her concern. When was the last time anyone had ever been worried that he might be getting sick? Was it any wonder he loved her? He reached up and caressed her cheek with his free hand.
"Sure, I'll be fine, Betty. Don't worry about me. What about you? Will you be all right?" he asked, lowering his voice and casting a glance over her shoulder to where Craig waited impatiently.
She couldn't quite stop herself from rolling her eyes, causing Scott to grin. "Oh, him? I can handle it. Piece of cake," she consciously used one of his better-known phrases.
Scott couldn't help himself. He bent and kissed her swiftly, noting afterwards with satisfaction that Craig was openly glaring at him. Yes, that guy was definitely up to something.
"C'mon, Betty, it's getting late and we mustn't keep Scotty-boy up past his bedtime," Craig practically sneered.
With a sigh, Betty tore herself away from Scott and allowed Craig to usher her towards the exit. He looked over his shoulder to throw Scott one last, withering glare. Scott watched them go, then shook his head in disbelief. If Craig thought he was putting one over on him, he obviously hadn't tangled with a Sherwood before.
Craig seemed to have lost the ability to speak upon exiting the restaurant; a loss for which Betty felt no remorse. He'd insisted that she take his arm, but beyond that had remained mute. Betty determined to take advantage of the silence to enjoy the beauty of the evening. The leaves were completely gone from the trees by now and the brisk breeze held the definite nip of a fast-approaching winter. December was just around the corner and Betty could hardly wait. If only Scott was here, she thought wistfully, this really would be a nice walk.
Despite Craig's outward serenity, however, she was beginning to sense that he was somehow agitated underneath. Nervous, almost. She searched her mind but could come up with no reason for his restiveness that she knew of. Well, he did drink several glasses of wine at dinner. Maybe they were affecting him oddly now. She smiled as she recalled an incident two weeks earlier at the same restaurant. She'd thought she'd been oddly affected by the wine that night; now she wasn't so sure that was the cause of her rather uncharacteristic behavior.
Craig actually was nervous, although he couldn't think why he should be. He'd handily gotten rid of that Scott Sherwood (kissing Betty in front of him like that, really!) and now was the time for him to broach the subject that comprised his entire object in coming to Pittsburgh. Craig felt confident that he'd won Betty over completely. She'd had an opportunity to compare him with Scott and he felt he'd shown himself to his best advantage. After hearing him talk about his life, how could she possibly think Scott Sherwood had more to offer her?
And she had played into his hands beautifully, insisting that Scott should go on home while she came with him. Obviously, she couldn't wait to be alone with him so they could discuss their future together. So why should he be nervous? There was no point in stalling; her hotel was just up ahead and if he didn't speak now, he might lose the opportunity forever.
"Betty," he came to an abrupt halt in front of the Barbican and faced her squarely. "I think it's time I told you my real reason for coming to Pittsburgh."
Betty looked up at him and couldn't help but feel a little stunned. "Aren't you here on business?"
"Oh, Betty, surely you saw through that sham of an excuse," he cried impatiently.
She could feel her brow knitting into a deep frown as she rapidly became suspicious. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked him straight in the eye. "What do you mean 'sham of an excuse'? Why are you here, Craig?"
"Isn't it obvious?" he demanded, grasping her by the upper arms. "I came here for you! Betty, surely you can't deny that we belong together. I know you made a foolish mistake a couple of years ago, but we can fix it now. I promise I won't hold the fact that you wanted a career against you. If you come back with me tomorrow, we can be married by the weekend," he announced with arrogant complacency.
Betty's temper was rapidly rising as she struggled to comprehend the meaning of Craig's words. Once she began to understand, she hardly knew how to begin to respond to his outrageous statements. While she was afraid she may not be totally coherent, she was confident that her feelings were so strong as to be obvious, even to Craig. "Married by the weekend? Of all the insane...I made a mistake two years ago? You won't hold my career against me! This is...is..." Betty groped desperately for the right word. "Intolerable!" she finally burst out.
She was distressed to find that she wasn't the only one groping. While she had been angrily remonstrating with him, Craig had been trying strenuously to snake an arm around her waist and draw her towards him. Betty pressed her hands against his chest and pushed desperately against him, but the effort proved ineffectual; Craig must be stronger than he looked. Afraid that physical resistance would not deter him, she tried to reason with him. "Craig! Have you gone completely insane? Haven't you heard a word I've said!" she demanded with mounting anxiety, struggling to keep him at a safer distance.
"Betty, I know how women are; they say one thing and mean another, but they never really know what they want," Craig interjected smoothly. She recoiled from him as his leering face came much too close to hers and she felt his sour breath on her cheek.
Betty tried to turn her face to the side and continued to strain against his embrace. "Maybe that's true for some women," she managed with a gasp, "but at least I know what I don't want." She tried another shove against his chest. "Oh, where is Scott Sherwood when I really need him?" she demanded of no one in particular, hardly realizing she'd spoken aloud.
Suddenly, from somewhere in the darkness that surrounded the struggling couple, a large hand appeared and landed heavily on Craig's shoulder, effectively stilling his movements. Scott slowly materialized out of the darkness, glancing over at Betty to reassure himself that she was all right, before locking eyes with Craig.
"You called, Betty?" His voice was low and soft but could not conceal the barely controlled anger that made it deeper than usual and his eyes never left Craig's face.
"Scott!" Betty exclaimed in surprise as relief flooded through her. "I am so glad to see you."
"I'm glad to see you too, Betty. But I'm even more glad to meet up with Greg here." Scott's voice was menacing now, matching the icy glare in his eyes.
"It's Craig," Atwater managed to groan, his eyes watering. The pain in his shoulder was becoming more intense as Scott ground the muscle and bone jarringly together. Craig was forced to drop his hands from Betty and she took the opportunity to move just slightly behind Scott.
"Do you honestly think I care?" Scott asked in utter disbelief. "Atwater, I'm going to tear you limb from limb," he threatened. Over his shoulder he said quietly, "Betty, move out of the way."
"Scott," she began hesitantly, afraid a street corner brawl would land them all in jail. "Maybe this isn't..."
"It's all right, Betty. This won't take long," Scott said with grim certainty.
"Don't be so smug, Sherwood!" Craig sneered. "I used to box in college," he announced self-importantly, primly raising his clenched fists.
Scott snorted derisively. "College boys! They don't know a thing about real fighting." He raised his own fists. "Anytime you're ready, Craig. I figure it's only fair to give you the first swing, since I'm going to have the last," his trademark grin lighted his features. This was going to feel good. Well, maybe not to Craig.
True to his word, Scott let Craig take the first swing. Unfortunately for Craig, it never made contact. Scott ducked swiftly out of the way and Craig's arm arced wildly, missing it's target by a mile. Craig stumbled forward drunkenly, thrown off balance by the force of his attempted blow.
Scott chuckled. "Is that the best you can do, Atwater? You should have joined the Merchant Marine instead of going to college. Then you would at least know how to do this," he sent a neat left jab to Craig's midsection, "and this," a left uppercut this time, directly to Craig's jaw, causing him to stand upright. "And of course this." Scott finally unloaded his right and connected solidly with Craig's chin. Craig reeled backward, arms flailing, before finally toppling to the sidewalk, out cold. Scott towered over him, shaking out his right hand, then nodded in satisfaction.
"Scott!" Betty rushed to his side from her place beside the wall of the Barbican. She grasped his right hand, turning it over in both of hers to inspect his knuckles. "Did you hurt your hand?" she inquired anxiously. Without giving him an opportunity to answer, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. "Oh, Scott, you have no idea how happy I am that you're here," she sighed against his neck.
Scott felt his own face beginning to relax into a smile as he brought his arms up to encircle her waist, drawing her just a little closer. He remained silent, perfectly at peace just to be holding her. Betty brought her head back so she could look into his eyes. "I was so scared and he wasn't listening to anything I said. All I could think was that I wanted you and then suddenly you were there. Don't take this the wrong way, Scott, but why are you here?" Betty was mildly aware that she just might be babbling, but the whole evening had left her shaken and at this point she didn't really care what she sounded like.
"It didn't take much for me to figure out that this Atwater guy was all wet. I'm a con man, Betty, reformed of course," he reassured her with a grin, "I can smell a scheme as dirty as this one a mile away. I only let you think I was going home, but I followed you instead. You didn't really think I'd leave you alone with that guy, did you?" He jerked his head towards Craig's prostrate form, which was just beginning to show signs of consciousness.
Betty looked at Scott appraisingly. "I should have known you were on to something. You gave in just a little too easily when Craig wanted to walk me home. I just didn't see it coming, though. He honestly thought I was going to go home with him to get married. I just can't understand it." She shook her head, perplexed, and looked down at Craig.
"I can understand part of it," Scott murmured softly as he intently studied Betty's profile.
She turned her head back around to face him. "What?" He'd spoken so quietly that despite their closeness she hadn't quite heard his words.
"Oh, nothing," he shook his head dismissively. "What should we do with him now?" Scott indicated Craig with a tilt of his head.
"Who cares?" Betty said, suddenly sick of everything pertaining to Craig Atwater. She snuggled in a little closer to Scott and laid her head on his chest, just enjoying how she felt with his arms around her. Warm and completely safe, enjoying that wonderful thrill that he always seemed to bring with him.
Scott kissed the top of her head and softly stroked her back, hoping to soothe her. He was afraid the whole evening had left them both a little overwrought. He knew she would have to go inside soon because it was getting late, but he simply wasn't ready to let her go yet. It felt too wonderful just to hold her and reassure himself that she was truly all right.
Scott never felt before the sort of rage he experienced just moments earlier when he saw Craig trying to put his arms around Betty. He'd almost been ready to burst onto the scene and throttle Craig before a strange calm overtook him. He knew exactly what to say and do. It was probably for the best. If he went with his first instincts, he might have scared Betty as well as Craig.
Betty slowly stirred and lifted her head from his chest. "Much as I almost wish we could, I guess we can't leave Mr. Atwater here on the sidewalk all night," she admitted reluctantly.
"If it was up to me, we would," Scott said unrepentantly. "Fortunately for him, we don't have to decide either way. He's already coming around." He nudged Craig's leg with his toe.
"Scott, I hate to ask it of you, but would you make sure he gets back to his hotel all right? He's bound to be a little groggy and, well, I can't help but feel a little sorry for him." She looked up at him, hoping he would understand. The Craig Atwater who had been her friend completely disappeared and she was greatly offended by his behavior today, but, for the sake of the person he used to be, she wanted to help him one last time.
Scott searched her face and somehow seemed to understand what she was asking. He slowly nodded his head. "Sure, Betty, anything for you," he said seriously.
She smiled up at him, glad he understood. Suddenly, she stood on her toes, pressing her lips to his. When she would have pulled away, he pulled her closer, needing to kiss her again. At last when he released her, Betty was surprised to find herself somewhat breathless and looked up to see Scott grinning at her almost mischievously.
"I hate to break up this romantic little interlude," said a muffled voice from below them, "but my jaw is becoming quite swollen and I think I'm in desperate need of a drink. Would either of you greatly object if I stood up now?" Craig queried humbly.
After exchanging an amused glance with Betty, Scott turned his attention to the figure on the sidewalk. "Sure, Greg. Feel free," he invited affably.
"It's...oh, never mind," Craig groaned in frustration, then pushed himself up with one hand while cradling his jaw with the other.
"Want a hand?" Scott offered him help, but Craig angrily pushed his arm away.
"Not from you," he huffed. "You did quite enough already." Craig finally succeeded in struggling off the sidewalk and began to walk away.
"Not so fast, Craig. I'm walking with you. If I was you, I'd stay right where I was," he sounded threatening, but Betty could see the gleam of amusement in his eyes as he turned back to her.
"Thank you," she said, smiling brightly at him. She cocked her head to the side. "Who would have ever thought that Scott Sherwood would be my knight in shining armor?" She reached up to straighten his tie.
That was when it hit her with all the force of an undoubted certainty. She was in love with Scott Sherwood - completely, totally, and beyond all reason. How could she not have realized it before? The realization was utterly new, but somehow the feeling had always been there, practically from the first moment she'd seen him walking so brashly into the control room at WENN, she'd just been too confused and frightened to admit it. She wasn't confused or afraid anymore. She knew without question that Scott was her destiny.
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