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Chapter Twenty-One

“Go inside honey, Stefan and Demyan will stay with you. I need to get your groceries back to the hotel and then pick up food for the boys before the concert” Q instructed gently when they arrived at the arena. They had all gotten out of the car and he was getting ready to take Drake’s place in the driver’s seat. “Everybody knows what happened and is waiting for you.”

“Okay” Ava replied softly, trying everything she can to keep herself together for Jade’s sake alone. She doesn’t understand what happened at the grocery store, and Ava would like nothing more than to keep it that way. If she can get away with sheltering her from anymore trauma, that would be great. When she had her daughter out of her car seat and in her arms she turned and allowed Stefan, Demyan, and her mother to escort her into the arena while Drake took the front passenger’s seat. The officer had volunteered to go with Q and help him out.

As soon as they got inside and backstage, sure enough there was her family waiting for her. Ava’s eyes immediately sought out Nick first and foremost and she went straight into his arms. Nick, though slightly surprised, slid them around her waist and hugged her close to him protectively. He thought for sure she would’ve gone straight to her brother first, and from the look on AJ’s face, he can see he’s shocked too. She usually does during a crisis.

“Here’s my family…I missed you both so much,” He spoke, putting on a cheerful fašade for Jade. He was warned by Q via text message that Jade knows nothing and Ava wants it to stay that way. He couldn’t agree more, as his baby knows way too much all ready. He pulled back slightly and gently cradled Jade’s face in his hands.

“Did you have fun shopping at the mall?”

“Yeah, lots! Mommy bought me a new toy and Gramma got me lots of new clothes!” Jade answered enthusiastically.

“Nice! Daddy wants to see this new toy of yours; did Q leave it with you?”

“I’ve got it right here, I knew Jade would want to share it with Zara the moment she got the chance” Denise spoke up. Jade smiled up at Ava and Ava mustered a smile back and set her down, allowing her to run over to her grandmother who helped her get her toy out of the bag. While that was going on, Nick sat down on the floor with Ava sitting sideways in his lap and she gazed up at him. He placed his hand against her cheek and gently caressed it, silently conveying to her without words that everything is okay. Ava slid her arms around his neck and nestled her head against his shoulder. When Jade had the big box with her Barbie Fashionista limo inside it, and her Barbie, she managed to carry it over to her mommy and daddy and Nick couldn’t help but chuckle softy.

“That box is bigger than you, princess” He told her and she giggled. When she reached him, he gently took the box from her and looked it over.

“Ooh, awesome!” He told her, showing her his enthusiasm and making her smile even bigger. “You and Zee are going to have so much fun with this – daddy might have to play with you too when he gets the chance.”

“I didn’t realize you were into Barbie’s, Nick,” AJ commented amusedly as he sat down next to him and reached over and combed his fingers through his sister’s hair endearingly. She reached out and took his hand into hers.

“When your four year old asks you to play Barbie’s with her, you play Barbie’s with her.”

“Where is Zee, daddy, I want to show her my toy” Jade spoke up after a moment.

“On our bus with Drew watching a movie – should I take you to her?” Kathryn spoke up before anyone else could, and she looked at Nick and Ava. Nick nodded appreciatively as Jade answered.

“Yes please!”

Kathryn walked over and stood in front of Nick and Ava and Nick pulled his daughter into a hug and kissed her cheek affectionately.

“Mommy and I will be there in a little bit princess, okay? Daddy loves you.”

“I love you too daddy,” she told him and she looked up at Kathryn.

“Here honey, let me carry that big box for you so you don’t have to” she told her and as soon as she had it in one arm and Jade’s hand in her other one, she and Demyan set off for the tour bus while Stefan remained behind with Ava. As soon as Jade was gone with the door closed, Ava took her face out of Nick’s shoulder and looked up at him, suddenly showing her tears for the first time.

“He has someone following us, Nicky” She told him and he wiped away her tears and delicately caressed her cheek with his fingertips.

“It’s not something we didn’t expect baby…it’s going to be okay” Nick reassured and he shifted her so she was straddling him, before wrapping his arms around her waist, hugging her close to him affectionately, and resting his forehead against hers.

“What if he had attacked us and gotten Jade?”

“None of us were going to let that happen, first of all” Stefan spoke up gently. “Demyan and I are a force to be reckoned with. He’s not going to get through us that easily. Second of all, he wasn’t there to attack us or he would’ve tried it long before you saw him.”

“Knowing David, he let her see him on purpose and was just there to terrify her….bastard” AJ spoke up while rubbing his hand over Ava’s back.

“He certainly wasn’t making a huge effort to blend in,” Stefan agreed. Nick tilted Ava’s chin up and kissed her softly before gently making her rest her head against his shoulder and he hugged her a little tighter, wanting her to feel safe. Ava snuggled against him and took in his hugs and kisses. She missed him while she was gone and it’s the only thing she wants right now.

“Thank you for getting them both back here safely.”

“Yes, thank you,” AJ agreed and he leaned forward and kissed the back of his sister’s head.
“What’s going to be done about this guy?”

“He hasn’t done anything to justify arresting him yet, but Demyan and I both got a good look at him in the mall and the grocery store. We will find out who he is and keep an eye on things. He’s not getting anywhere near them” Stefan reassured. While Nick, AJ, and the guys sat there discussing things with Stefan, Ava sat quietly snuggling with Nick. By the time they were finished Q and Drake arrived with a box of subs and drinks from subway. Nick grabbed both his and Ava’s sandwiches as well as Jade’s and handed them to Ava before swiftly lifting her up in his arms so he is cradling her and he brought her onto their tour bus with Denise, Brian, and Raven all following.

“Baby J, Q brought you a sandwich come eat” Ava instructed her daughter gently when Nick had sat her on her feet. She and Zara had been sitting in front of the TV with The Little Mermaid on and they were transfixed with Jade’s new toy.

“You too Zee” Raven added and while Ava, Brian, and Raven worked on getting the two children settled at the table, Denise gently grabbed Nick’s arm and pulled him a good distance away from everybody where they couldn’t be overheard. Nick gave her a questioning look.

“Do you think you could get away from Ava for a couple of hours tomorrow morning before we leave for the next town?” She asked quietly.

“Yeah, I’m sure I could manage it…why?”

“You and I have some errands to run…its important.” Meanwhile over on the other side of the room, as soon as Ava had Jade settled at the table next to her best friend, the two of them happily eating their kids meal from subway, Ava who didn’t miss the fact that Nick was no longer by her side looked over at him quietly wondering what he and her mother are up to.

“Aren’t you going to sit down and eat honey?” Kathryn questioned when she noticed and she turned and looked at her friends around her to see them looking at her with concern.

“In a minute,” Ava answered and she turned her attention back on Nick. Brian chuckled softly.

“Sit down and eat honey, he’ll be over here in a minute. You two are crazy.” Ava gave Brian an innocent smile, though he could tell it was slightly forced. She’s still feeling shaken about earlier and just wants Nick. He is the only thing keeping her strong right now when she feels like a fragile mess.

“Where is my brother?” She asked, hoping to take the attention away from this fact. “He is usually right here keeping an eye on me at all times.”

“On his bus eating alone with Tierja” Brian answered with a small grin. “They’ve got a date after the after party and everything.”

What?” Ava asked in shock. “How did that happen? Not that I’m not happy for her or anything, because I am, but…”

“Green monster jealousy. Luke was getting a little too close to her and it pushed him to step things up.”

“He looked like he might hit him earlier,” Raven added. Ava stood there just taking in this new information. She goes away for a day and misses all of this drama. Not that she wasn’t busy getting into some of her own or anything…while she stood there thinking about it, she let her eyes wander back over to Nick. He felt her gaze and turned and looked at her and he smiled at her lovingly making her smile back slightly. He went over and slid his arms around her waist and planted a kiss on her forehead.

“Baby, why aren’t you eating huh?”

“Because I wanted you to hold me” Ava answered and she nestled her face in his neck. “I need you right now, Nicky.” She told him quietly so only he would hear.

“I like being needed,” he told her in her ear in return and he brought her over to the empty chair and sat down in it before taking her into his lap sideways. She rested her head against his shoulder and finally started to eat now that he was there and eating too.

“So, what were you and my momma talking about so secretly over there?” she interrogated when her mother joined them too. Nick laughed and rolled his eyes.

“You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t ask that question.” Ava eyed him and her mother, her eyebrow still raised and Nick kissed the tip of her nose. “Just about how much we both love you, nosey, that’s all…eat your food.”

“If that were the case, you wouldn’t be standing way over there looking so secretive” Ava insisted stubbornly. Nick shook his head amused and Denise immediately changed the subject, bringing up her son as she too found it weird that he wasn’t there.

As soon as everyone was finished eating and had gone off to do their own thing, and Jade was sitting on the floor in front of the couch happily playing with her new toy, Nick took Ava’s hand and brought her over to the couch and sat down before gently pulling her down beside him. She curled up into his side facing him and he tucked a curly strand of her hair behind her ear.

“Creepy stalker aside, did you have fun shopping with your mom today?” he asked gently.

“Yes, the time alone with her was much needed. I really missed her.” Nick smiled softly and slid his arms loosely around her waist and rested his forehead against hers and looked into her chocolate brown eyes, causing her to wrap an arm around his neck and snuggle closer.

“I’m glad…but as good as that was for you, you’re not allowed to leave me alone for that long ever again” He teased playfully and she laughed softly, a beautiful melody to his ears.

“I wasn’t gone for that long.”

“You and Brian keep saying that. Neither of you seem to understand that it was the longest day of my life, Ava Marie.”

“I’m sorry baby, what can I do to make it better?” she asked with a small amused smile.

“I can think of a number of things, none of which involve our four year old being in the room…but since she is, this is perfect. You’re perfect.” Ava gently placed her hand to his cheek and brought his mouth down onto hers kissing him softly and she tightened her arm around him as he deepened her kiss with his own. When he pulled away she rested her head against his shoulder and glanced over at Jade and he did too only for her to look at them in return and smile happily before going back to concentrating on her toy. Nick kissed Ava’s forehead affectionately and idly played with her curls feeling pretty happy himself.
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