Before Sunset
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Before Sunset

Chapter 1
The young woman stretched and shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She felt as if she had been traveling forever. In reality it had been slightly over 24 hours since she'd left her home and everything she knew; 24 hours in the air and in airports. She was tired. No, not tired, exhausted.

Despite her weariness, the voice of the pilot brought a smile to her face, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we are preparing for our final approach into Sunset Beach Airport. Local time is 11:15…" Olivia didn't hear the rest. Quickly she adjusted the time on her cheap watch and turned to look out the window. California. She'd finally made it. With two changes of clothes and about $416 to her name, she didn't know where she'd spend the night much less how she would support herself. It didn't matter. She'd make it somehow. She'd come too far and there was no turning back…

Bette stomped her foot in impatient frustration. Del was late. Not that she was surprised. Del was usually late unless there was money to be made. She had already claimed her luggage and now she glanced at the ring on her finger. Why did she still wear it? The divorce papers were signed. She'd walked out and she had no regrets. Still she couldn't bring herself topart with the symbol of her vows. Perhaps that would be admitting defeat, herown failure to make the marriage work. At least she could say it had ended on friendly terms. Bette smiled despite her irritation with her brother. It was good to be home. And California was her home in spite ofthe fact she'd grown up in Texas. Maybe that was the real reason the marriage hadn't worked. He'd taken her from the one thing she loved more than him - Sunset Beach.
Gregory was bored. He could hardly believe he'd looked forward to this all term. In his final year of law school, he knew without question that he could pass the bar. Now, watching the two incompetents argue. he wondered if any third grader of average intelligence couldn't pass it. That seemed to be the level these two were on. The "judge", in reality a grad student like the others, seemed incapable of controlling the fiasco. Finally Dr. Baber stepped in and separated the two students before the argument came to blows. Gregory knew the entire class would suffer through a long, dry lecture on courtroom behavior. His turn to present his case in the mock trial would likely be postponed. He made a mental note to search for any precedence that the victim's own stupidity might be used as a justification for murder. If there was anything, he would gladly rid the world of his two classmates…
"Finally!" Bette sighed and rolled her eyes as Del walked slowly into the terminal, looking for all the world as if he had nothing to do and nowhere to go. He could have at least pretended to be hurrying, made some lame excuse about being stuck in traffic. But not Del Douglas. He was far too self-centered to be concerned with the fact he'd left his sister sitting in an airport for almost an hour.

She didn't bother to speak to him as he loaded her luggage and the cart and pushed it toward the exit. She turned to glare at him as she walked and bumped into someone, sending personal belongings of them both scattering across the floor.

"Oh! I am terribly sorry." The voice was soft and accented.

Bette started to respond when she noticed the look of open admiration on Del's face. She turned to face the beautiful stranger. "It's alright. I wasn't watching where I was going. If I can get my brother to stop drooling long enough, we'll help you pick up your things."

Olivia smiled gratefully, blushing as the man's eyes traveled the length of her body. She composed herself quickly and flashed him a charming smile.She knew men found her attractive and right now that was one of the few things she had going for her.

Chapter 2
Having run into the young Brit, Bette felt the least she could do was to offer her a ride to wherever she was going. It was Del's idea to treat them to dinner before dropping her off. Olivia, for her part, thought both ideas were wonderful. After all, the money she had wouldn't last long as it was. By the time dinner was over, Olivia had a place to stay. None of them knew exactly how it happened or whose idea it was (although Bette was certain Del had something to do with it and that his motives were less than honorable.) Del had recently bought a house on the beach and assured both ladies it had plenty of room for the three of them. Bette decided it was best not to ask him where the money had come from. She was certain she didn't want to know. Del was always involved in some scheme to make money... Both Del and Bette helped their new friend get settled into her room. She was obviously exhausted from the trip and they had kept her up pretty late talking.

Downstairs, Bette lectured Del on his behavior towards her... "My word, Del, could you be any more obvious? I'm surprised Olivia wasn't terrified to stay here with the way you've been leering at her all day."

"Leering?" Del laughed. "I admit, she is one attractive lady..."

"Just back off and leave her alone. I like her and I won't have you doing anything to hurt her."

"I like her, too. And I want to help her as much as you do. Didn't I offer to help her get a job at the hospital?"

"I'm just wondering what's in it for you..."

Elaine fidgeted nervously with her hair. She knew AJ Deschanel was out of her league, but she couldn't stop thinking about him. He was so sophisticated and charming... Not at all like her ex-husband. She glanced at her little girl, the only good thing to have come from her marriage as far as she was concerned. But Paula made it all worth it. Elaine wouldn't trade her beautiful toddler for anything in the world. Not even a chance to be with someone like AJ... But tomorrow, for one perfect night, Elaine would forget everything and live a dream. She'd been invited to THE party by AJ himself. Okay, so it wasn't exactly a date... Still, it was a step in the right direction.
Olivia awoke slightly disoriented, unsure where she was at first. Slowly it all came back. Del and Bette... They were wonderful and had made her feel at home and welcome. She was certain Del had other things than brotherly concern on his mind when he'd offered her a room in his home, but she wasn't worried about him. He seemed harmless enough. As for Bette, she already considered her one of the best friends she'd ever had, and they hadn't known each other for 24 hours yet. She dressed quickly and made her way downstairs. Bette was just pouring some coffee in a cup and smiled as she handed one to Olivia.

"Morning, Toots. Sleep well?"

"Yes, thank you. I hardly remembering lying down. I abhor traveling." She smiled and accepted the offered crossaint. "Isn't Del awake yet?"

"Oh, he's up. Up and out looking for trouble I'm sure. By the way, do you think you'd be up for a party this evening? A costume party..."

"Costume party? I wouldn't have anything to wear."

"It's a Star Wars party, actually, and we'll find something. I don't have a costume yet, but Del is insisting we have to be there. AJ Deschanel is going to be there and I'm sure Del is looking for away to talk business with him."

"AJ Deschanel?" Olivia asked, clueless to what importance the name might hold in Sunset Beach.

Bette spent the next hour filling her in on the Legend of Sunset Beach and all the gossip of the town. By the time she was done, Olivia felt as if she knew many of the residents personally and wouldn't have missed the party for the world...

Chapter 3
Olivia and Bette spent most of the morning shopping and trying to design their costumes for the party. Throughout the day Bette had Olivia laughing so hard that she was in tears. Initially it had been decided that Olivia should go as Princess Leia, but then they better of it. There were likely to be at least a dozen Leias and Bette and Olivia wanted to stand out. So, in the end, they both decided to go as aliens of their own design. It would be easier to get costumes thay way, as they could have the aliens look however they chose.

For lunch they stopped into Elaine's newly opened Waffle Shop. Bette was delighted to see Elaine and Olivia hit it off so well. Elaine was one of Bette's dearest friends. The three decided to meet at Elaine's as soon as she closed to help each other in preparing the costumes.

"I hadn't even thought about the fact everyone would be trying to go as the main characters. I love your ideas for the costumes. The three of us are definitely going to be different than the rest." Elaine laughed after being talked into joining the other two in their costume design.

"Do you have a sitter for Paula yet?" Bette asked.

"Yes, I've gotten a girl from the high school to come stay with her. She's kept her a couple of times when I couldn't take her to the day care and she is wonderful with her."

"Then there's nothing at all to distract us from having a prefectly sinful evening." Bette said, clapping the other two on the back.

Olivia and Elaine exchanged knowing glances. Neither of them were quite sure they trusted the evening's plans in Bette's hands.

Gregory glared at the paper in his hand. Yes, it was going to be a big party and he could make some important contacts. But... AJ Deschanel? The name made him physically ill. The two had been enemies since high school. Gregory tried to remember why, but it escaped now. It didn't matter what had started it, the fact was he absolutely despised the man, couldn't stand to be in the same room withhim. There most likely wouldn't be anyone interesting there anyway, he reasoned. "I'd rather have my fingernails pulled out." He stated firmly, ripping the invitation in half.
Del hated costume parties. He always had and most assuredly always would. But the fact remained - the Deschanels had started this town and they were still the most influential, wealthy, and powerful family in it. If AJ Deschanel was going to be there, then Del Douglas was, too. Especially if the stories weretrue and the senior Deschanel really did make an appearance. Maybe the night would be even more profitable than Del hoped. If he could impress either or both of the Deschanels to bankroll his latest project, Del could be set for life.
AJ looked at himself in the mirror. The costume wasn't bad... He was going as a stormtrooper. Gregory Richards would probably show up as Darth Vader, he frowned. He'd been forced to invite his adversary by a simple dictate of society. Like it or not, the law student was already starting to be mentioned in the legal circles. "He hasn't even passed the bar yet!" AJ grumbled aloud. It bothered him that the arrogant upstart was showing promise. Not that AJ was a slouch in his studies. He made the highest marks and had already begun to take a leading role in his father's company. Maybe it was knowing that while he'd had his family to support and help him along the way, Gregory Richards was doing it all on brains and talent. Well, he wouldn't let Gregory ruin the evening for him. Perhaps Richards wouldn't even show up. Of course, if he didn't it would be a very big mistake in his fight for standing in the social structure of Sunset Beach. Gregory hadn't made a mistake yet...Maybe he was due one.
Del arrived at Paula's 20 minutes later than he'd said he would. This time there was no chiding for not being on time. The girls weren't ready themselves. He shook his head in frustration as they tried to get Elaine's hair just right and Olivia's lipstick perfect. Then it was decided that Bette would look better in the blue wrap that Olivia was wearing and they had to change. Even after everyone was ready there was the baby to kiss goodbye and last minute instructions for the sitter.

"Would you just come on already!" Del grumbled for the 10th time.

"Oh, Del, Darling, don't be cross. We really are trying to hurry." Sang Olivia's light English accent, mingled with just the right touch of flirtation. For added effect she brushed his cheek with a light kiss on her way by. Bette and Elaine were brought to fits of giggling by the look on his face. Olivia had missed it, but they would fill her in later.

"I think Del may have actually met someone who can keep him in check." laughed Elaine.

Bette wasn't quite as sure. She knew her brother enough to know he could be dangerous and she hoped Olviia wouldn't push him too far. She'd made it clear she was after much bigger game than Del Douglas. And Bette knew Del was anythingbut a good loser.....

Chapter 4
Olivia was in heaven... They'd been at the party for almost an hour and she'd been dancing nonstop since she walked in the door. Bette introduced her to a number of people and she knew she'd never remember any of their names. At the moment she was dancing with R2D2... She had no idea who he was or what he looked like, but his costume was wonderful. She was amazed at how elaborate some of the costumes were. These people had obviously spared no expense. At first she had felt horribly inadequate in her homemade, self designed alien costume, but no one seemed to notice or care and she had relaxed and decided to enjoy herself. Bette didn't seem at all disturbed by the comparatively simple design of the costumes and was flirting outrageously. As for Elaine, she danced a few times, but seemed preoccupied.

Elaine was watching the door. AJ had not yet arrived, but she knew he was coming.... He would be here and he'd promised her the first dance. Of course he may have only been flirting.. She was never sure rather he was serious or just being polite. Often when he stopped in he made light-hearted comments about the Waffle Shop being his favorite place in Sunset Beach. It was probably just her imagination that he might consider her a reason for it being. Her thoughts of AJ stopped immediately when Marian Campbell waved her over. There'd been a phone call from the sitter... Paula was running a fever... Elaine quickly found Bette. She assured her their was no reason for her to leave, Paula was just teething and fevers were par for the course. She tried not to be too disappointed that she'd had to leave before she even saw AJ, but her child came first...

Fifteen minutes after Elaine departed, the long anticipated Armando Deschanel, Jr - known to everyone as AJ - made his appearance. It took another twenty minutes for anyone to realize that one of the many stormtroopers in the room was from the most prominate family in Sunset Beach. Bette noticed the crowd gathering and pulled Olivia away from Luke Skywalker the tenth to point him out. "That's AJ. I wish I could find Del to introduce us. I need to let him know why Elaine left."

Olivia looked, but wasn't impressed. As far as she could tell he was nothing special. He wasn't even as tall as some of the other stormtroopers. Still, he was a Deschanel and it would never hurt to make contacts, especially if she intended to find her way into the social structure.

"Well, I don't see why we need Del to introduce us. We are Elaine's friendsand she asked you to give him the message. Let's just.. go over there." She sounded a lot more self-confidant than she felt.

They'd barely reached the circle surrounding him when AJ glanced toward them and smiled, "Finally, original costumes. May I inquire as to which planet the two of you are visiting us from?"

Olivia was speechless but Bette was never at a loss for words, "We are Princesses from the planet God's Gift and we bring you a message from our Queen, Elainietta..."

Olivia gave her a look that asked if she had completely lost her mind and AJ laughed, "You have to be Bette. Elaine has told me so much about you. I'm afraid you'll have to introduce your friend." As he said it he turned and looked at Olivia, awaiting the formal introduction. He missed it completely however, having forgotten Bette completly in his fasination. He had never seen such eyes.. They were the most beautiful blue-grey he had ever seen. As he stared he saw them sparkle and noticed a small smile play at the corners of the perfect mouth. Olivia had completely read his mind....

Uh-oh.... That was the first thought to enter Bette's mind when she saw the look on AJ's face. It was quickly replaced by much more expressive thoughts when she saw the look on Olivia's. "We were supposed to tell you that Elaine was sorry she missed you..." Bette stated a bit louder.

"I'm sorry... Elaine isn't here?" AJ was back to his usually charming self.

"She had to go home..."

"The baby wasn't feeling well." Interrupted Olivia. Bette glanced at her. Was the accent a little more pronounced than usual?

"I'm sorry to hear that. Is she going to be alright?"

"She's fine... Elaine said it was just her teeth, but she was upset that she missed you." Bette explained, nudging Olivia enough to tell the younger woman to back off. Olivia flashed her an innocent smile that was quickly answered by an 'I-ain't-buying-it' look from Bette.

Del, watching from the other side of the room couldn't help but smile. Even from his position he could see that Deschanel had more than a passing interest in the Brit. He was jealous, but only for a moment. He was smart enough to see that his chances with Olivia were slim. Perhaps he could find a way to use AJ's attraction to her, and her ambition, for his own benefit....

Chapter 5
AJ alternated dances between Bette and Olivia for almost an hour. He found them both to be wonderfully entertaining. Olivia was charming and incredibly attractive while Bette was fun and flirtatous. Finally Olivia begged out of dancing, insisting that her feet would not last another song. AJ glanced at his watch and then toward the door, "You're right. Enough dancing. Why don't the two of you allow me the infinite pleasure of treating you to wine and escargot?"

Escargot? Bette hated escargot, but there was no way she was saying no to AJ. It had taken her all of ten minutes to see exactly what had Elaine so enamoured with the young man. She smiled up at him, "I would love that."

They both turned to Olivia, "I think it sounds wonderful. I don't believe I've ever had any before..."

So the trio left the party, not even bothering to let Del know, and headed to what would easily be the mostexpensive restaurant either Bette or Olivia had stepped into.

AJ was just pulling out of the parking lot when the limousine pulled in. It hadn't been a rumor at all, the senior Deschanel was making an appearance at the party after all. Del almost dropped his glass when he saw him walk in. This was the opportunity he'd been waiting for... If he could just talk to the man for a moment he was sure he could convince him to let Del in on one of his business ventures. Del slowly made his way over, looking for an opening that wouldn't make him look too desperate.

At the restaurant, AJ, Bette, and Olivia talked and laughed for hours. So much so that Olivia didn't even realize that Bette hadn't touched the escargot. Olivia was certainly eating her fair share, to Bette's amusement. She knew her friend hadn't the foggiest idea that the delicious course infront of her was nothing more than fancifully prepared snails. With as much wine as she'd consumed, Bette was about ready to eat the disgusting things herself. It wasn't until the wee hours of the morning that AJ drove the ladies back to Del's house and dropped them off with a promise to call on them again.
Early the next morning, everyone seemed in good spirits. Del was bustling with the news that he actually had an interview later in the week with Armando Deschanel and Bette spent hours teasing Olivia mercilessly about what she'd eaten. Olivia had initially felt physically ill when she'd been told, but it had passed. She had enjoyed herself and that, she decided, was what mattered. Elaine called, wanting to hear all about the party, and even managed to hide her disappointment at not being included. She really was happy that her friends had hit it off so well with AJ, even if she wished desperately she could have been there. Del even remembered to arrange for Olivia to work at the hospital and she received a phone call asking if she could start training the next day. The announcement added to the festive mood of the house. Perhaps she wouldn't be so concerned with counting pennies when she had a regular source of income. No one even thought to mention she might find a place of her own. She had become a part of their family and belonged in that house as much as either Del or Bette.
AJ walked into the Waffle Shop just as the lunch crowd was leaving. He sat on a barstool and winked at Elaine as she took the last customers' payment and wished them a wonderful day. Elaine smiled, her heart racing as she walked over. "What can I get you today, AJ?"

"Nothing, actually. I've already eaten. I just stopped in to tell you how disappointed I was that I missed you at the party. I hope Paula is all right."

"She's fine. Thank you for aasking. She's just teething and runs a fever sometimes. Still, I hate to leave her with anyone else when she isn't feeling well..."

"I understand, and that's how it should be." He smiled. "I just hope that you'll let me make it up to you. Bette, Olivia, and I went out after the party and I know it would have been a lot more fun if you could have joined us. Perhaps we can all do something this weekend, if Paula is feeling alright..."

"I can't think of anything I'd like more." It wasn't the absolute truth. she would have much prefered if AJ had wanted to spend time alone with her. But she would never admit it, not even to herself...

As it turned out, Bette and Olivia were both occupied that weekend. Bette had managed to get a small job in the editorials section at the newspaper and Olivia was working long hours at the hospital. She would have complained, but every time she looked at her meager bank account, she determined to spend as many hours there as necessary. Actually, Olivia enjoyed the work. She'd been placed in the Neonatal Unit and adored the babies. Since she wasn't a nurse her duties were limited, but she did get to feed and care for the infants. Except for the dent it made in her social life, Olivia had no complaints at all. She hardly even noticed when she worked four weekends in a row.

While Olivia was taking care of the newborns, AJ was spending more and more time with Bette and Elaine. Bette could see that Elaine was crazy about AJ and pushed her own feelings aside. She loved Elaine and knew how bad her marriage had been. Who was she to get in the way of a budding romance with Prince Charming himself? Besides, she had found her own prince... When visiting Olivia at the hospital for lunch, Bette had caught the eye of a young intern. The two were becoming fast friends and Bette was finding it easier and easier to let Elaine chase after AJ.

For AJ's part, he decided Olivia was obviously not interested and turned his attentions towards Elaine. He enjoyed spending time with her and wouldn't deny a certain attraction. When the invitation arrived for a weekend party in the mountains, he didn't hesitate to ask her, and to provide the sitter for her young daughter... Warning bells went off in Elaine's head, but she couldn't bring herself to refuse. A whole weekend with AJ... She knew he didn't feel the same way about her that she did him, but some time away from Sunset Beach and the responsibilities of parenthood sounded too good to pass up. She was always responsible.... Just this once she was going to enjoy herself...

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