And Playing the Role of Herself...  (Part 5)

For disclaimers, see part 1




I leaned out of my car and pressed the buzzer to the intercom outside Liz's gated estate in Beverly Hills, pulling back and saluting the camera mounted above the intercom.

"Good afternoon, Miss Harris," came a disembodied voice that I recognized as Risa, Liz's housekeeper.

"Afternoon, Risa. Is Liz in?  I know she's not expecting me, but I'd like to see her if she's around."

There was a long pause, while presumably Risa checked with Liz, and I glanced in my rear-view mirror, noting that the green sedan and orange, early model Volkswagen Beetle that had been tailing me most of the day were pulled up on the side of the road a safe distance behind me.

"Persistent little buggars," I muttered, squinting behind me and hoping neither car would try to follow me through the gate.

There was a loud click and the gate started creaking open. "Come on through, Miss Harris. Miss Stokely is most happy to see you."

"Thanks...ah," I glanced in my mirror again, "Risa? I've got some paparazzi on my tail - I don't want them to follow me in..."

"Don't worry, Miss Harris. Miss Stokley's lawyer made the last photographer who tried to sneak in very sorry...they won't follow you."

I drove through and the gate closed behind me with a solid clang, leaving my lurking paparazzi friends on the other side. At times like these, I understood the attraction of a gated property. I had no such barrier around my house, and I'd been dealing with groups of photographers and reporters hanging around my yard, as well as the wrath of my neighbors at having their lives disrupted, since returning from New York four days before. The neighbors had all been thrilled when I first moved in, excited to have a TV star in the neighborhood, but the crowds of press generated by my disappearance, added to this recent group of campers, had changed their minds, and I'd been seriously considering relocating just to get them off my back.

I pulled up in the circular drive and climbed the steps to Liz's door, pushing my sunglasses up on my head and shifting the bag I carried into the opposite hand. I rang the doorbell and in a few moments, Risa, her graying blond hair in its habitual severe bun, opened the door, smiling slightly.

"Miss Harris, nice to see you. How was the trip?" She stepped back and gestured for me to enter.

"Hi Risa." I smiled, and stepped past her. I reached into the bag and pulled out three eight by ten publicity stills of the anchors of the networks morning show, America AM. "Jane Lee, Ruben Halstrom, and Jim Yorn." I handed her the photos. "Oh, and this, too." I pulled out a rolled up t-shirt with the morning show's logo embroidered on the chest. "Lindsay Dole wasn't there, so I couldn't get all four...sorry."

The small smile she'd given me at the door got noticeably bigger; a rare occurrence for the normally stoic woman. "Oh...thank you, Caidence." She took the items carefully, handling the stills with extra care.

"You're welcome." I grinned, pleased at her reaction. The use of my first name meant I'd scored big points. "Where's the mistress of the house?"

"She's in the atrium," she informed me, still looking at the pictures. I nodded and headed in that direction, frowning when she called out after me, "Careful of the dogs."

I frowned. Dogs? Liz didn't have any dogs.

Puzzling over her warning, I walked past the stairway and rounded the corner, letting out a girlish scream when two large, hairy, furiously barking bodies threw themselves against the sliding glass door that led into the glass walled atrium overlooking the immaculately kept back lawn.

"What the fuck!" I leapt back, nearly dropping the bag I was carrying.

"Bonnie! Clyde! Down!" Liz spoke firmly, rising from the couch where she'd been reading and walking to the door. The two slobbering creatures from hell immediately quieted and lay down, morphing into two attentive and almost harmless looking German Shepherds.

Liz slid the door open, her eyes glinting with amusement. "Hi. Now did I, or did I not just hear you scream?"

"You did not." I scowl and stomped past her into the atrium, keeping a close eye on the two Shepherds in case they morphed back into the devil's spawn. "And whose dogs are these anyway? I thought you hated dogs."

"I hate yappy dogs," she corrected. "I love big dogs. Don't I, Clyde?" she said in a baby-talk voice I'd not heard from her before. She leaned down to scratch one behind its ear, triggering vigorous tail wagging. "Did you make Caid scream, sweetie? Hmm?"

"I did NOT scream."

With a final pat on the beast's head, Liz straightened. "I distinctly heard a scream."

"You were mistaken. I don't scream."

She laughed, raising her eyebrows. "That's between you and...whoever, Caid, and more information than I really need to know."

I scowled again, and, to my annoyance, blushed.

"Don't worry, Sugar." Liz patted me on the arm and walked past me. "Your secret's safe with me."

The dogs followed her across the room and lay down on the floor near her feet when she reclaimed her seat on a short leather sofa. I eyed them suspiciously, and lowered myself into the armchair to her right. One of them sniffed my sandaled foot, and then licked my toes and wagged its tail. I set my bag on the floor and tentatively reached down to stroke its head.

"That's Clyde," Liz told me, watching the interaction. "He's a big baby. Loves attention."

Jealous of the petting Clyde was receiving, the other dog sat up and shoved its nose under my hand. I scratched its ears while still petting Clyde.

"And that's Bonnie. She's usually a little shyer, but she seems to like you.

"You never did tell me - whose dogs are these?" I asked, continuing my ministrations. They weren't so bad, now that they weren't hurling themselves against the glass with bared teeth.

"Danny's. I'm watching them for a few days while he's out of town."

I stopped the petting and looked up. "Our Danny? Danny DeLorenzo?"

She nodded.

I straightened slowly, and tried to keep the incredulity out of my voice. "You're dog sitting? For Danny? You?"

"Yes, me." She gave me an annoyed look. "Don't act so surprised."

"I'm..." I almost said I'm not, but I was. Very surprised. I just didn't seem like something Liz would do. "I'm sorry, I just didn't know you liked dogs."

She gave me a pointed look, knowing that wasn't why I was surprised, but let it go. "Come on." She stood quickly, and the dogs scrambled up, clawing the top of my foot in the process. "Let's sit outside - there'll be some shade by now."

I picked up the bag and limped after her, smiling along with her when she opened the door and both dogs pelted down the steps and onto the lawn, growling at each other playfully.

We followed at a more dignified pace, strolling around a long, skinny pool where I knew Liz did laps every morning and settling into padded metal gliding chairs under a looming Chinese Pistache tree. One of the dogs came jogging up, a beat-up plastic buoy hanging from a tattered rope in his mouth. I watched in amazement as Liz took the toy and chucked it into the pool, and both dogs followed it in with a gigantic splash.

There were so many things off about this picture, I didn't know where to start. Liz taking care of someone's pets. Liz obviously enjoying taking care of someone's pets. Liz touching a ratty toy that had been drooled on, chewed on, buried and dug up again. Liz tossing said ratty toy into her pool, and laughing when hairy animals jumped into the pool - where she swam -  to retrieve it. It was just so...not Liz.

I shook my head and wondered what was going on.

Both dogs had a hold of the buoy now and were tugging in opposite directions, neither willing to give it up, and none of their splashing getting them anywhere near the end of the pool where the steps were to get out.

Liz was smiling fondly, not looking overly concerned that the two looked tenacious enough to keep it up until one of them drowned, so I shrugged and dug around in the bag, pulling out a bottle of wine and an ashtray.

"For your collection." I handed her the ashtray, and she took it and turned the heavy smoked glass over in her hands with a delighted smile. She ran her fingers over the hotel logo inside the dish and frowned, rubbing her fingers together and then holding them up to show me small black smudges of ash.

"Ew, Caid, it's been used. Were you smoking?"

"Crap - sorry about that, I didn't even think to check. No, I wasn't smoking...I'll have you know I went through great lengths to get that for you - they don't sell them at the hotel shop."

"So you got this one how? Stole it from someone's room?"

"Mmm, sort of," I took the ashtray from her, pulled up a handful of grass, and used it to wipe the glass clean before handing it back to her. "I talked a maid out of one."

She raised her eyebrows. "You?"

"I can be very persuasive."


I reached for the ashtray again. "Well, if you don't want it..."

"Ah-ah-ah..." she held it away from me. "I never said that. I was just concerned that it was previously used."

"That's what people do with ashtrays, Liz - they put out cigarettes in them. The fact that it's used just makes it more authentic. The lead singer of the Black Dolls was staying at the hotel while I was there...maybe it was hers."

"The lead singer of who?"

"Yeah, I hadn't heard of them either. But apparently they're very big in certain circles."


"And it's very possible that that ashtray was used by the lead singer."


I gave her a look. "Now is typically the time in the receiving of a gift where the recipient, that would be you," I pointed to her, "tells the giver," I tapped my chest,  "that would be me, in this case, 'oh, thank you so much for making the special effort to get this lovely, famous-in-certain-circles-used ashtray for me.'"

She laughed, and placed the ashtray on the table between us. "Thank you, Caid, for getting this for me. It's really quite lovely, and will fit nicely into my collection."

"You're welcome." I smiled slightly.

She looked down at the wine. "And what's this?"

"Ah that." I picked it up and looked at it for a moment before handing it to her. "Did you know there's 'wine country' in New York?  I had no idea. Anyway, it's a late harvest Riesling from a little winery in the Finger Lakes that Josh recommended. Well, actually his dad recommended it. He says it's a very nice dessert wine."

She looked at the bottle, and then up at me, the ghost of a frown on her face. "Josh's dad? As in Josh Riley? The Josh Riley that you swore you weren't involved with?" She lowered the bottle. "You met his father?"

I sighed. "Yes, that Josh Riley. And I'm still not involved with him, and no, I didn't meet his father. Josh just told me his dad liked this wine, so I looked around for it and bought some. Again, you're welcome."

"I'm sorry Caid, I just..." We both yelped as we were hit by a shower of water from the two dogs who'd returned from the pool and were shaking off excess water. "Ahh...damn." She wiped her face and flicked the excess water off, laughing. "I hate when they do that. Come'ere, Bonnie." One of the dogs trotted over to Liz and dropped the wet, slimy buoy in her lap. "That's a good girl..."

I watched for a moment and then threw up my hands. "Alright, Stokley, what's up?" I demanded, unable to keep quiet anymore. "A wet dog just dropped a drooly plastic toy in your lap, and you're laughing? Who are you and what have you done with Liz?"

She set down the wine bottle and rubbed Bonnie's ears, looking up at me. "I like these dogs, is that a crime?"

"No, it's not a crime, it's just...weird. Come on...when Jules brought her dog onto the set last time, you wouldn't even be in the same room, said it was dirty or smelly..."

"Because it was dirty and smelly. I swear she'd just walked that dog in a cow pasture. And it was out of control - did you see him take off across the parking lot after the squirrel? And I was wearing white for god's sakes - it was a black lab!" She gave Bonnie's ears a final scratch and threw the buoy into the pool again, sending both dogs barking after it. "These dogs are sweet, well behaved, and don't smell. I like them." She leaned back in her chair and pushed it back and forth a few times, watching the dogs. "And I like their owner, too."

"Well, hell, Liz, I like Danny too, but I don't know that I'd let his two huge dogs invade my house..." Liz looked over at me pointedly, and my eyes widened.

"Oh." I blinked. "Oh! You him, like him." I blinked again and settled back in my chair. "No shit. You and Danny?"

She looked across the lawn, then back at me and smiled softly. "Yeah, me and Danny."

It wasn't a pairing I would have predicted, but it somehow fit. Danny was loud and occasionally obnoxious, but he was also one of the sweetest men I'd ever met, and Liz's cool exterior held a surprisingly fragile and sometimes insecure woman who could use someone being sweet to her.

I smiled hugely, and reached over to smack her on the leg. "You little vixen. I think that's great."

She gave me a relieved smile. "Really?"

"Yes, really. I think Danny's a great guy. When did all this happen?"

She laughed a little. "Actually, it all started the night of Danny's party...when you didn't show up and we called and you said you'd crashed? The way Robyn flew out of there like you were dying or made me feel pretty shitty about myself when I hadn't done anything..." She shook her head at the memory and then smiled slightly. "I was all ready to call Walter and charge over to your house like some...I don't know...whatever Robyn was trying to be, but Danny talked me out of it, saying Robyn could handle it, and that she'd let us know if there was something seriously wrong...anyway, the two of us proceeded to get drunk as cooters, and I fell asleep on his bed..."

"Why, Liz Ann." I touched a hand to my chest in mock shock. "You are a vixen. A drunken night in Danny DeLorenzo's bed? I'm scandalized!"

She frowned at me, without any real censure. "Nothing happened, Caid. Get your head out of the gutter," she said primly, and I held up my hands in apology. "We spent the next morning together - neither of us was due in the city to shoot until after noon - I helped him clean up, we hung around the pool..." She smiled a satisfied smile that was much more like the Liz I knew. "Then things happened."

That would have been the day after my accident, when they'd brought over pizza. There had been nearly another two weeks of shooting and seeing both of them every day, our dinner at Crustacean, and the many other times I'd seen or talked to her since. And Liz had kept it to herself the entire time.

More completely non-Liz behavior.

"Damn, Liz, that was more than a month and half ago. You two have kept it quiet this whole time?"

"Well..." she brushed ineffectually at a wet spot on the leg of her cream-colored capris. "It hasn't been that whole time. We both felt a little weird about it at first, and didn't see each other for a while, but we've worked it out..." Her smile was reflexive and one of the happiest I'd seen grace her face in the whole time I'd known her. "And now everything is...wonderful."

I smiled back, genuinely happy for her, and leaned forward to squeeze her arm. "I'm happy for you, Liz. It looks really good on you. Danny's a lucky guy."

She tilted her head back and laughed. "I don't know about that...but he's being very patient with my...quirks, and I'm trying to be patient with his, and in between all that, we're having a splendid time together."

"I'm glad. And now I know the secret you were keeping from me at dinner the other night. Danny is who has you in such good spirits." I relaxed back in my chair. "Who'd a thunk it?"

"No one at the moment, and we'd like to keep it that way for a while, Caid, okay? It'll probably get a lot of attention from the press, and we just want some time without that, you know?"

I snorted a little. "I've been recently indoctrinated into what a feeding frenzy like that can be like, and I don't blame you one bit. I'll keep your good news to myself, I promise."

"Uh-huh..." She paused. "About that, Caid...Now that I've spilled my secret, why don't you come clean with yours?" She picked up the wine bottle and brushed her thumb across the label as she studied it, then looked at me and cocked her head to the side. "What's really going on between you and Josh?"

"Liz..." I shook my head in exasperation.

"Caid, just wait. Hear me out, okay?" I quieted, and with exaggerated politeness, gestured for her to continue. "I know you're not romantically involved with Josh. I know you - fairly well, I think - and you're just too damn nice to do something like that to Robyn." She smiled ironically. "Kind of funny, that - you've been painted as the bitch in this, and you're by far the nicest of the three of you. And the most innocent."

"Yeah," I muttered, "real funny, that." I frowned. "Innocent?"

"Yes, innocent." The dogs came running up again but Liz stopped them and had them lie down before they got close enough to give us another shower. When she'd dealt with them, she turned back to me. "Josh and Robyn both know how to work the system. They're not darlings of the press by accident, Caid - no one ever gets that much good press by accident." She set the wine down and gave me an affectionate smile. "You, on the other hand, are You say what you mean, you do what you want, not thinking about how you're perceived, because you just don't think that way. People think you're manipulative, Caid, because you're not. " She waved a hand. "Anyway, that's beside the point."

My frown deepened. "And what, exactly, is your point?"

"My point is this. You may not be involved with Josh Riley now, but that doesn't mean you don't want to be. I think you have feelings for him - I saw something between you two at dinner that night - but you're so damn noble you'll never do anything about it and you're going to end up getting hurt. I think you need to remove yourself from the situation, and get as far away from Robyn and Josh as possible."

"That's what you think, hmm?"

"Yes, that's what I think."

"Interesting theory."

When I didn't elaborate, she made a tiny noise of frustration. "Am I close?"

"No, not really. But I give you an A for effort, and I appreciate your concern."

In what I thought was rather freakish timing, my cell phone started ringing, and I held up a hand to forestall whatever tantrum Liz was about to throw. I checked the display, and couldn't hide the smile of pleasure I felt spread across my face. I stood and walked away a few yards before answering.


"Hey yourself," came the raspy reply. "Did you know that I had a miscarriage because you're sleeping with my boyfriend? You bitch." She was eating something crunchy, and I heard voices in the background, along with intermittent beeping.

Robyn and I had talked daily since I'd returned from New York, never really getting into anything serious, just talking about our days and getting to know each other better since we'd sort of skipped that step in our relationship. As we'd become more comfortable with each other, I'd found out that she was adorably goofy at times, and had a somewhat twisted sense of humor.

I laughed. "Yes, I think I read that somewhere. Where are you? Did they let you out of the asylum?"

"In line at the grocery store. We had a break, and I had a craving for potato chips."

"You're just standing in line in the grocery store, eating potato chips, and no one's bothering you?"

"Uh-huh." More crunching, and a swallow. "I'm in disguise. One sec." I listened with an absent smile as she interacted with the cashier, paying for her items and making the woman laugh about something. "Ok, I'm back," she said eventually around more crunching. "Whatcha doing?"

"I'm at Liz's. I had some gifts for her, and we've just been...chatting."

"Oh, well, tell her hi."

I heard a splash, and looked over to see Liz had gotten up and was tossing the buoy to the dogs again, the expression on her face clearly annoyed. "I don't think that's such a good idea at the moment..."

She stopped crunching. "Caid, what's wrong?"

I smiled at the concern in her voice. "Nothing. Liz has just finished telling me that since I obviously have a thing for Josh, I should stay away from both of you."

"You have a thing for Josh?  And just when were you going to tell me about this?"

"Ha, ha." I said sarcastically, and she laughed and bit down on a particularly crunchy chip.

"You know, Caid, it's okay with me if you tell her," she said after swallowing.

"It is? I thought we were still in stealth mode."

"Well, I'd rather not announce it in a full page ad in the New York Times, but I know it can make things...difficult...when you can't be honest with someone. I told Josh right away, remember?"


"I'm not telling you what to do, Caid, I'm just telling you it's okay. Okay?"

"Okay," I agreed, looking over at Liz thoughtfully. She looked back and I smiled, but she didn't return the smile, instead throwing the buoy with added viciousness across the pool. Yeah, maybe it was time to have a talk with Liz.

"So," Robyn's voice pulled me from my musings. "You're probably wondering why I'm calling in the middle of the day?"

I actually had been wondering that - the routine over the past few days had been a phone call around eight pm, just before Robyn went to bed. Not that I minded one in the middle of the day. "You missed me so desperately you just had to hear my voice?" I said flippantly, and then kicked myself at the resulting silence.

"There is that," she said finally, without a hint of teasing. "But," she added in a lighter tone, "that's not the only reason I called. Do you have big plans for the weekend?"

"Hmmm, let's see...I have some laundry to do, and I suppose I should wash my hair...oh, and sleep with Josh, I should fit that in somewhere, too..."

"Come spend it with me."

I sucked in a breath. "What?"

"Spend it with me," she repeated, and then rushed on nervously. "They don't need me over the weekend, I was thinking about renting a house on the beach - something private, and quiet, and we could, you know, just spend some time together..."


She paused in her nervous rambling. "Yes?"

"Yes. Of course, yes." I heard her soft sigh of relief, and shook my head. Had she actually thought I'd say no? Crazy woman. "When and where?"

I could hear the smile in her voice. "I'll call tonight with details."



We were quiet for several moments. "I should go...Liz is going to bust if I don't let her yell at me soon."

She chuckled. "Best not keep her waiting, then. I'll talk to you tonight?"

"Yeah. And Robyn?...Thanks. I'm looking forward to it."

"Me too," she said softly, before she hung up.

I stared at the phone for a full minute, a stupid grin plastered across my face, and didn't hear Liz until she was practically in my face.

"Goddamit, Caid, tell me what's going on or I'll toss you in the pool for the dogs to fetch!"

I smiled at the picture her threat conjured in my head, and waved her into her seat. "Okay."

Her eyes narrowed and she looked at me suspiciously. "Okay what?"

"Okay, I'll tell you. Just sit down."

She slowly did as I asked, eyeing me warily. "That was him, wasn't it?  You don't smile like that for anybody, Caid. I was right, wasn't I?"

I tucked my cell phone in my pocket and sat down. "You were half right. Yes, that was the person I'm...involved with, but it wasn't Josh."

She popped up out of her chair and threw up her hands. "Then who the hell is it? Damnit, the way you're keeping it a secret makes me think it's someone else you shouldn't be with..."

"It was Robyn." I dropped the name and sat back to watch the reaction.

She stopped and frowned as though she hadn't heard correctly. "What?"

"Robyn. It was Robyn on the phone just now."

"What does Robyn have to do..." she trailed off, still looking confused.

"Remember our conversation about kissing women?"

She nodded slowly. "You said you hadn't, but you wanted to..."

"And now I have."

"Oh. Oh." She sat down heavily. "Wow. Robyn?"


"But she and Josh..." she motioned vaguely with her hand.

"You said yourself, Liz - they know how to work the system. I won't get into particulars, but trust me when I say that what's between Robyn and I is not interfering in anything romantic between the two of them."

"I'll be damned." She stared into space for a moment, and looked over at me. "That explains some things. And what is going on between you and Robyn, Caid? Is this...just messing around, or is it for real?"

I shrugged. "I can only speak for myself, but for me, it's as real as it gets."

Her eyes showed surprise at the words but she didn't reply, instead looking away across the lawn to where the dogs were laying in the sun, panting. "I'd heard things about Robyn, but always just figured it was just random gossip..."

"You heard gossip about Robyn being gay?" I asked in surprise. Now why hadn't I heard that gossip? "I never heard anything..."

She gave me another affectionate smile, like I was a small child who'd just told a cute, albeit stupid, joke. "Because it was gossip, Sugar, and you never pay attention to it, so no one ever tells you anything good. And it wasn't about her being gay, necessarily, just...flexible, maybe."

"Flexible?" Well, she certainly was that, but I doubted that's what Liz was talking about.

"Yes, flexible. Occasionally seen at a women's bar, spotted with women known to be gay, that sort of thing. But hell, the majority of industry people in this town end up in a gay bar at one time or another, and it doesn't mean anything. I guess this time it did."

I smiled slightly. "I guess."

We were quiet for a while, watching as the dogs began to wrestle. Eventually Liz looked over at me, her expression serious. "You're happy?"

I didn't try to stop my smile. "Yes, I'm happy."

She nodded. "I'm glad for you then." She smiled wickedly and leaned forward. "Now spill it - was I right? Is she a screamer?"


"Mile marker..." Squinting against the sinking afternoon sun, I slowed and double checked the name of the road before turning. I kept an eye on my rearview mirror after the turn, half expecting cars to follow me as they'd done all over LA the past week. No other car turned behind me and I gave a satisfied nod that the precautions Liz suggested seemed to have been enough to throw the press off, at least for the time being.

Instead of flying out of photographer-laden LAX, I'd left my house at an ungodly hour this morning and made the four hour drive to Yuma to catch a commuter flight to Phoenix, then from Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale and onto a tiny prop plane that took me to Marathon. Connie hadn't batted an eye when I'd told her I needed to get away for a few days and asked her to arrange a car without using my name, and it had been waiting, just as she promised, in long-term parking with the keys under the floor mat. From Marathon it had been another thirty miles to this turnoff; I'd been traveling for nearly 14 hours and was more than ready for my traveling day to be over.

"Follow for a quarter of a mile..." I muttered to myself, looking around with interest at the tall palms and shrub trees that kept the road hidden and essentially secluded from the nearby overseas highway.

I followed Robyn's directions and turned into a small break in the foliage just before the turnaround, and the car sluggishly churned through the loose sand of a narrow lane lined with shiny-leaved brush and dwarf palms. The lane opened up into a wide, sandy driveway and I pulled my practical, mid-sized sedan up behind a bright yellow Mercedes convertible, smiling at our role reversal. If we went anywhere this weekend, Robyn was definitely driving.

The house was white and boxy, and Robyn's little convertible was nestled in an open-air carport that took up half of the lower level. I got out of the car and stretched, looking through the carport, surprised to see how close the beach was to the house. No one came to greet me but I noticed curtains billowing through an open sliding glass door on the second floor, so I pulled my backpack and small suitcase from the trunk and climbed the stairs to the wrap-around deck on the second story, pushing up my sunglasses as I stepped through the door and looked around curiously.

The house was clean and neat, with a small living room opening into the kitchen on one side, and a hallway that I assumed led to the bedrooms on the other. The walls were white, the tile floors gray, and the comfortable looking sofa and loveseat facing a wooden cabinet that housed a television and other electronic equipment had a subdued, floral print. The kitchen was large and connected to a screen enclosed area of the wrap around deck, and a delicious aroma of garlic and spices filled the house.

"Robyn?" I set my bags down and listened for a response. "Hello? Anyone home?"

My stomach grumbled and I followed the smell of food into the kitchen. A fresh loaf of French bread wrapped in paper sat on the counter, and a note was taped to the handle of the oven.

I knew this would get your attention. I'm down on the beach - come watch the sunset. There's beer in the fridge, bring one for me.


I smiled and shook my head. The woman had my number.

After taking a quick peek in the oven to find a bubbling pan of lasagna with white sauce, I picked up my bags and carried them down the hall, hesitating momentarily at what was obviously the master bedroom before walking past to the next room and depositing my bags on the bed.  I was dressed in faded jeans and a t-shirt  - I'd always disliked wearing shorts when I flew; something about the thought of my skin against the airplane seat just made me queasy - and I quickly changed out of my traveling clothes and into shorts and a tank top.

Back into the kitchen I snagged two short, squatty bottles of Negra Modelo from the fridge and rummaged around in the kitchen drawers for an opener that I finally found attached to the fridge door with a magnet. Laughing at myself, I plucked it from the door, pulled the caps off, and walked out onto the deck facing the ocean.

The beach was sandy - something I'd been told was rare in the Keys - with low vegetated rises bordering the stretch below the house and making it quite secluded. 100 feet from the house, near the water, two lounge chairs were set up looking out over the ocean. One was empty and the other occupied by a familiar dark-haired figure in a wide-brimmed hat.

A frisson of excitement and happiness ran through me at the sight of her, and I forced myself to keep a sedate pace as I walked down the stairs and out onto the beach. I came to a stop beside her chair and took a moment to just look, allowing myself the pleasure I'd missed the last time we were together.

Her dark hair was fastened in a long braid that spilled from beneath her straw hat and over one shoulder onto her chest. She wore a white, gauzy button down shirt with the sleeves rolled above her elbow and mostly unbuttoned, showing off a black bikini top and plenty of deeply tanned skin. My eyes took it all in, from burgundy colored toenails, up long legs, over the brown sarong wrapped around her waist, along her flat belly, lingering momentarily on small, high breasts in black fabric visible through the outer shirt, and finally up to the classic lines of her face. Black, oval-framed sunglasses hid her eyes and expression, but the tip of an arched eyebrow was visible just above the rim of her glasses, and a small smile curled the corners of her mouth.

"When you're through objectifying me, you're in my sun."

I gave her a skeptical look. "Unless the sun suddenly started setting in the north, lady, I'm nowhere near your sun," I said mildly, but moved anyway, lowering myself into the chair beside her. "For you, Madame." I handed her a beer, which she took with a nod of thanks and a murmured "Merci."

She seemed content to sit in silence and watch the ocean, and I was content to let her be content, so we watched the ocean and occasionally sipped at our beers as the sun sunk lower on the horizon. After several minutes she reached for my hand and brought it to her lips, kissing each knuckle and sending little sparks of pleasure shooting up my arm. She rubbed my hand against her cheek, and then rested it, palm down, on her stomach and let out a long, contented sigh.

I smiled but let the silence continue, tracing tiny circles on the skin of her stomach with the pads of my fingers until she stilled my hand with a gentle slap. "Tickles," she said softly, and pulled my hand back up to her lips to place an open mouthed kiss on the pulse point of my wrist. I shivered, her action doing much more than tickle, and heard a low chuckle. My arm was bent at the elbow, my palm resting against her cheek; I moved my hand up to cup the back of her head and leaned over at an awkward angle to bring our mouths together in a soft, exploring kiss.

"Hi," I whispered when I'd pulled back a few inches.

She smiled, and raised her sunglasses onto her forehead below her hat. "Hi." The smile on her face matched the one in her eyes and I kissed her again lightly before sitting back and letting out my own contented sigh. I found her hand and laced our fingers together, and we sat in silence, holding hands, watching until the last sliver of sun sunk below the sea.

She stirred as the sun disappeared, squeezing my hand before dropping it and pushing herself out of her chair. "Hungry? Dinner should be just about ready."

"If you're cooking? Always. Whatever you have in the oven smelled wonderful."

"Cajun seafood lasagna." She walked around to the other side of my chair and held out a hand to help me up. "You like spicy, right?"

"I love spicy." She pulled me to my feet, and our faces ended up inches from each other. I gave her a friendly peck on the lips. "And I love..." I stopped myself before the words I'd been thinking tumbled out of my mouth. "...that you don't mind cooking for me."

Whoa. Close one. Good recovery, Harris.

Things were so relaxed, so easy between us, that my mouth was running off without my mind's permission. I'd have to watch that. I wasn't going to screw this up by scaring her away.

She smiled. "And I love that you enjoy my cooking."

"Hmm. Sounds like we make a good pair." We started towards the house, swinging our loosely linked hands. "Maybe we should hang out."

We walked a few steps in silence and I caught the flash of her smile in the falling darkness. She raised my hand to her lips. "Maybe we should."


"Tired?" Robyn asked and kissed my hair, running her fingers lightly up and down my arm. "Been a long day for you."

"Mmm. A little, maybe." I leaned my head back to look at her. "This is nice, though."

"Yes." She kissed my forehead. "This is very nice."

We were sitting on the wooden porch swing in the corner of the mesh enclosed area of the deck, swinging idly back and forth and listening to the sound of the ocean and the distant murmur of the highway. I was half sitting, half reclining against her, a position we'd gradually come to over the last two hours since retiring to the swing after dinner. We drank a bottle of wine and cautiously felt each other out on topics of politics, religion, and musical tastes, and save a few glaring discrepancies in the latter, we were surprisingly in synch. I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, the fact that she still liked 80's hair bands was something I could live with, and my fondness for twangy hill country music was something she could overlook. Our conversation had wound down into sporadic comments, then to comfortable silence, and Robyn's question had been the first to break the silence in at least ten minutes.

I stopped the fingers that were rubbing my arm, interlaced them with my own and brought the hand to my lips briefly. "I'm on LA time, though, and you're not - maybe we should get you to bed."

I moved to get up but the arm around my shoulder tightened. "Caid?"

I relaxed back against her and tipped my head up again to see her face. "Hmm?"

"I noticed that you put your bags in one of the other rooms..." Her expression was uncertain.

"I..." I didn't think this was the time to get into my insecurities about this relationship meaning more to me than it did to her, or to ask for a definition of exactly what the relationship was. Sometime before Sunday afternoon I meant to get answers to those questions, but not tonight. I sat up and brushed a hand across her cheek. "I just didn't want to assume anything."

A look that was a mixture of annoyance and hurt flashed in her eyes, and she stared out the screened window behind me for a moment before looking back at me, smiling tightly. "Am I so hard to read?"


She stopped me with a finger across my lips. "I think we need to have a talk, you and I, about what this is, and where this is going, but we've done enough talking for tonight. Right now, I'd like to go to bed, and I'd like very much for you to be with me when I do." She stood and pulled me up beside her, smiling slightly. "And for future reference, I think that if there's anything you can assume about all this it's that I'll always want you in my bed. But if that's not what you want..."

"Oh no," I said quickly. "I want."

"Come on, then." She smiled shyly - a look I'd never associated with Robyn - and took my hand. "Let's go to bed."

At her words, I realized that for the first time, that's what we'd be doing. Going to bed. Not falling or stumbling into bed as the final destination of frenzied love-making, or happening to fall asleep together as we'd done in Big Bear. This was actual washing your face, brushing your teeth and putting on your pajamas kind of going to bed.  It sounded so domestic, so normal.

It sounded wonderful.

I smiled to myself and allowed Robyn to pull me through the house, turning off lights and locking doors as we went. When we reached the door to the master bedroom, she paused, looking slightly nervous. "Ah...the bed in here is bigger, is that okay?"

I kissed her lightly and pushed her into the room. "It's fine - I'll be in in a minute."

I used the second bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready for bed, and then stood in the bedroom where I'd put my suitcase, frowning at the boxers and silk tank in my hand.

"Oh, very sexy, Caid," I muttered in disgust. What the hell had I been thinking? I obviously hadn't been, or I would have packed something a little more...alluring. I'm sure I still have that red nightie thing that Toby liked so much...

"Caid?  Are you lost?" Robyn's teasing voice floated into the bedroom.

I caught the undercurrent of worry in her tone and after a last annoyed sigh, quickly stripped off my clothes and pulled on the boxers and tank. I crossed the hall to the other room, hit immediately by an attack of awkwardness that brought me to a stop just inside the door.

Robyn was sitting against the headboard with the sheet tucked loosely around her chest, flipping absently through a magazine. She looked up as I entered and her movements stilled, her eyes taking me in from head to toe.

After several moments of silence, I finally laughed nervously and gestured at my sleepwear. "I, right? I guess I should have brought something more...I don't know...lacey, maybe..."

"Caid." She interrupted with an amused smile. "Shut up."

I closed my mouth and blushed.

"Come here, you," she said softly, tossing the magazine on the floor and motioning me forward.

I hesitantly walked over, feeling stupid as well as awkward.

When I stopped next to the bed, she waited until I'd met her gaze. "Although the thought of you in lingerie is...intriguing," she said with a tiny smile, "this is you, and it's you that I find incredibly sexy, not your clothes." She tugged lightly on the leg of my boxers. "You won't be wearing them long, anyway."

I crossed my arms and raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Kind of cocky, aren't yo..."

In a move I wasn't expecting, she grabbed me around the waist and half pulled, half tossed me onto the bed, pouncing on me with a mock growl and attacking my neck with her lips and teeth. An honest to god giggle escaped my lips, increasing the volume and enthusiasm of her assault; I laughed and wrapped my arms around her, caught between amusement and arousal.

"Oh..." I breathed out when my hands encountered nothing but the warm skin of her back. "Hey, you're nekkid."

Her laugh vibrated against my neck and she raised her head, her dark eyes twinkling in humor. "I like that you're so quick."

I smiled and scraped my fingernails gently up her spine; her eyes fluttered shut and I kissed her, taking advantage of her momentary distraction. The slow burn that had started the moment I saw her on the beach instantly flared white hot, and she groaned deep in her throat and responded with matching fervor, rolling us over until I was on top, and then tugging at my shirt. "Off," she commanded hoarsely.

The demand rippled through me, turning on every switch I had but also reminding me of a promise.

"Whoa. Hang on." With effort, I pulled myself up and sat back, straddling her waist. She reached to pull me back down, and I gently slapped her hands away. "Just...wait."

She let out a huff of frustration and lay back. "Jesus, Caid, you're driving me crazy. What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong - but I remember someone promising me slow."

She looked at me like I was insane. "Please tell me you're kidding." I shook my head. "You want slow?" I nodded. "Now?" I nodded again, and she shook her head and reached for me. "Screw slow."

This time I caught her hands and fell forward, letting my weight pin her wrists above her head. I leaned down and nuzzled her ear, grazing my teeth across her earlobe. "That's the idea."

She shivered under me and I moved down her neck, nipping gently. "Now is it really so terrible," I murmured, moving to the other ear and tracing the outer edge with my tongue, "to go slow?"

"Uh..." She sucked in a breath when I switched my grip to hold her wrists in one hand and used my free hand to pull the covers down below her chest, circling a taut nipple with my fingertip and leaning down to follow with my tongue. "Well," her voice was faint; breathless. "Maybe I can work with slow..."



I woke the next morning lying on my stomach; the soft, lingering kisses along my spine and fingers tracing lazy patterns across my back drawing me pleasantly from dreamscape to wakefulness.


The fingers paused for a moment before resuming their tracing.

"Sleeping beauty awakes," she husked in my ear and kissed my shoulder. "I thought you might sleep the day away." Her hand swept down my back and up again, stopping occasionally to knead at a muscle. "God, I love your body."

"And my body loves you," I mumbled, too sleepy to care what that might sound like. I pried one eye open and blearily focused on the bedside clock. "It's seven-thirty. Seven-thirty is sleeping the day away?"

She moved over me to kiss the opposite shoulder, her breasts pressing into my back. "The sun's up and there's a big wide world out there to explore."

The gentle caresses changed to light scratching and I closed my eyes again, sighing in contentment. "I'm not going anywhere if you keep doing that."

The nails moved lower, scraping up the back of one thigh and over my butt. "Doing what?" she whispered in my ear, repeating the action on the other thigh. "That?"

My body arched into the touch and I knew, with just that touch, that voice, that I was wet again. I spread my legs slightly in reflex and heard the small hitch in her breathing near my ear.

She trailed fingertips across the inside of my thigh, brushing lightly against coarse hair. "What do you want, baby?" She brushed again, her touch more firm. "That?"

"Yes..." I hissed, my breath coming faster. "Yes."

"Tell me."

"Ah...god, Rob..." I tried to push against her to increase the pressure, but she pulled away.

"Tell me, Caid. What do you want?"

"I want you to touch me," I whispered. "Please..."

I clutched at the pillow under my hands when her fingers came back to where I needed them, stroking insistently and then lightly, bringing me to the edge of orgasm and keeping me there until I surrendered to it with a loud moan.

I buried my face in the pillow, slowly loosening my grip on the cover as my breathing eased and my body relaxed.

I could hear the smile in her voice as she breathed "good morning" in my ear and brushed her lips across my shoulder.

I let out a muffled chuckle, but didn't raise my head, embarrassed by how blatant I'd been.

"Caid?" she questioned after a few moments of silence, resting her hand on my back. "What's up, baby? You okay?"

"Mm-hmm," I mumbled into the pillow and then slowly rolled onto my side, giving her a shy smile. "A little embarrassed, maybe, about acting like a cat in heat, but I'm fine." I reached out to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear, wondering how she could look so damn good when she'd just woken up. "Better than fine. Stupendous, even. That was one hell of a 'good morning'." I leaned forward and kissed her lightly. "Good morning to you, too."

She gathered me in her arms and rolled onto her back, pulling me with her. I rested my head on her chest and draped an arm across her stomach, liking the rumble of her voice under my ear. "Don't ever be embarrassed about wanting to be touched, Caid, or about wanting sex. I love touching you, and being with you respond to me is a huge turn on."

Feeling strangely self-conscious considering what we'd just done, I kept my head down and traced small patterns with my fingertips on the skin of her stomach. "I guess I'm just not used to it."

"Not used to what?" The fingers that had been sifting idly through my hair as we talked stilled. "Sex?" She gave me her best southern drawl, which was a pretty damn good one. "Because honey, you sure don't seem like no novice to me."

I pinched her lightly on the arm in response to her teasing, trying for my own southern accent and failing miserably. "Well, goodness, Miss Scarlett, I'm so glad you approve..."

"Oh, I definitely approve." Her voice was low and husky, whispered directly in my ear, and sent my body humming yet again, highlighting the truth of my next words.

"I'm not used to...wanting so much."

She was quiet, and I listened to her heartbeat beneath my ear, the steady rhythm lulling me into drowsiness. "Neither am I," she said finally, and brushed her lips across the top of my head.

We were quiet for another few minutes, and I thought maybe now would be a good time to have 'The Talk' she'd spoken of, but before I could start, she kissed my head again and said briskly. "Cheese omelet okay for breakfast?"

I guess our little tête-à-tête would have to wait.

I tapped her belly with my fingers. "You're serious about this whole getting up and exploring the big wide world thing, aren't you?"

"'Fraid so. We need to be on Big Pine Key by 10:00."

I rolled onto my side and propped my head on my hand. "We do?"

"Mm-hmm."  She reached forward and brushed a hand absently through my hair, the obvious affection in her gaze making me smile.

"Well..." I sighed and leaned forward to kiss the tiny cleft in her chin. "If we must, we must. So. How far away is Big Pine Knot, and do I get a hint as to why we need to be there in," I checked the clock, "an hour and forty-five minutes?"

She rolled over, bracing herself on her arms above me, and kissed my forehead. "It's Big Pine Key, not Knot." She kissed my nose, which I wrinkled in response. "About thirty minutes." She kissed me soundly on the lips, lingering long enough to make me forget what we'd been talking about in the first place. "And no, you don't." She climbed off of me, leaving me with diminished brain capacity to match her answers to my questions, and padded across the floor to the bathroom.

"So..." I tried to get my brain to concentrate on something besides the feel of her lips against mine and the resulting havoc they'd caused. The sight of her nakedness as she crossed the floor was not helping. "Uh..." I pulled my eyes from the door as it partially closed behind her and stared at the ceiling. "What do I need to wear on this exciting outing?"


I shook the excess water from my hair and flicked it out of my eyes, just in time to see Robyn emerge from the calm blue water like some fantasy brought to life, her body long and tan in a brief black bikini and her dark hair sleek against her head, glossy with moisture.

"God. Damn." I muttered, enjoying the view as she walked through the shallow water towards me like a runway model at a Milan show. I shook my head in sheer amazement that this woman was here, with me, of her own volition.

She cocked her head to the side as she walked up, accepting the towel I handed her. "What's the headshake and funny look for?" She looked down at herself. "Do I have a lamprey hanging off me or something?"

"No..." I let admiring eyes travel up her body. "You're perfect. I was just wondering how in the hell I ever got so lucky."

Her mouth quirked in a crooked grin - one of my favorites in her smile repertoire - and with a flick of her wrists she looped her towel around my neck, grabbed the other end, and tugged gently, pulling me towards her. "Funny," she gave me a quick kiss, "I've been thinking the same thing all day."

I splayed my hands across her bare back, pulling her against me completely, and dropped my hands to cup her behind. "You say the nicest things," I murmured, and sampled the skin of her neck with my lips, tasting the saltiness of seawater. "So," I nipped lightly. "How private is this beach?"

She chuckled breathlessly and tried to push me away. "Not that private."

"Mmmm." I nibbled on her neck some more, then up along her chin, catching her lower lip between my teeth and tugging gently before releasing her. "Too bad."

"Uh-huh," she answered, staring at my mouth, which curled into a knowing grin. She pushed me away with a mock scowl and I laughed, happy to see I wasn't the only one whose brain became scrambled when we were together.

I dropped onto the closest lounge chair, stretching my arms above my head to loosen the muscles of my shoulders, leaving them in that position when I realized how comfortable it was. The late afternoon sun felt good on skin still chilled from my recent swim and I closed my eyes with a contented sigh, letting the rays slowly warm me.

It had been a wonderful day.

It had started with the scenic drive west on the overseas highway, the top to Robyn's little yellow convertible down and the light blues and greens of the shallow waters on either side of us stretching out to the horizon. When we reached Big Pine Key, a grumpy, weathered old man had met us at the marina with a motorboat and silently taken us to a destination in the channels of the backcountry, leaving us with a double-kayak, a map, a radio, and gruff instructions about getting back by sundown or they'd send someone after us.

We paddled leisurely through the day, past mangrove forests, sponge and grass flats, and an abundance of wildlife, talking occasionally but mostly enjoying the beauty and the quiet. A small island that was nothing more than a spit of sand became a picnic lunch spot, and after we'd eaten our fill of the sandwiches and fruit Robyn had packed, we continued our explorations, making in back to the marina by three.

Back at the house, we'd decided on a swim and some sun before figuring out what we would do for dinner.

"Jesus, Caid, you sure don't make it easy on a girl, do you? All day long I had that beautiful back in front of me, and now this?" Her words and frustrated sigh pulled me out of thoughts of our day, and I cracked opened an eye to find her staring down at my body which was covered in a red tankini that left a few inches of my midriff bare. I wasn't showing nearly as much skin as she was, but apparently it was enough to get her attention.

I turned my head towards her and opened both eyes, looking her up and down with a lazy smile. "Look who's talking, Miss show-off." I reached up to pluck at the material of her bikini bottoms, and then slid my hand up the back of her thigh, my fingers brushing lightly between her legs. "And if you keep looking at me like that, I'm not going to give a good god damn how private or not private this beach is."

"Hey!" She jumped away from my hand with a tiny squeak and wagged an admonishing finger at me, smiling. "Behave, Harris, or I'll be forced to punish you."

"And this would be"

I'd said it as a joke, but instead of laughing, the smile on her face faltered and she looked away, absently patting her neck and chest with the towel. "Is that something you like?"

"Huh?" was all I could come up with as a reply.

She looked back at me, searching my face. "Being punished."

Oh. I blinked. The intent look on her face told me this was important, and the flippant remark on the tip of my tongue would not be appreciated. I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the chair, motioning to the space beside me. She lowered herself slowly, her eyes wary, and I took her hand, lacing our fingers together.

"Are you asking if I'm into pain?" I asked carefully. She nodded, and I thought for a minute and then answered as honestly as I could. "I don't know."

She tensed and withdrew her hand from mine, turning her gaze from me to look out over the water for a moment before returning her eyes to mine. "I'm willing to...explore a lot of things with you, Caid. I want you to be happy with me...with what we do..."

"Honey, I am happy..."

She shook her head and held up her hand. "Just let me finish, please." I quieted, and she took a breath. "I'll do just about anything for you, Caid, but..." She stared down at her hands. "I was involved with someone once, and she asked for things..." She shook her head vehemently. "I don't think I could do that again."

"Hey." I grabbed her hand and held it fast when she tried to pull away. "Robyn, honey, look at me." Slowly her dark eyes rose to meet mine and I saw old hurts and new fears and wanted to strangle whoever this person had been. "Rob, I said I don't know, because honestly, I don't. It's not something I've ever done, or ever had a lover who wanted something like that. I can say that it's not something I've ever had the urge to explore, and while that might not mean I wouldn't like it if I did, it's probably a good indicator."

She frowned, looking perplexed, and I thought back over my last statement. Hell, I barely understood it myself, and I'd come up with it. I touched her cheek. "What I mean, I'm not into pain. I could never take pleasure from hurting you. I swear I won't hurt you like that person did."

She took my hand from her cheek and kissed it absently before putting it in her lap with the other. "She didn't hurt me, Caid. At least not how you mean. Inflicting pain wasn't her thing." She looked past me, her eyes clouded. "Receiving it was. She wanted me to hurt her."

She shifted restlessly and started to stand, but I held her hands in mine firmly. "Tell me?" I asked, stroking a thumb across the back of her hand. "Please?"

She sighed heavily and sat back down, staring at our joined hands. "It was all a long time ago."

"That doesn't make it any less important. It obviously still affects you."

She sighed again and looked out over the water for several long moments. "I met her in Paris, at a party...I was about twenty three, I guess, and just starting to realize that women were more my thing than men and I fell for her hard. God," she shook her head sadly, "I was so in love with her, and for a while, everything was so perfect..." She paused, her mind far away, and I stayed quiet, hoping to encourage her with my silence.

"She started asking me to do things...Light stuff, at first," she glanced at me quickly and then away. "Holding her down, being a little more...aggressive..." She shrugged, avoiding my eyes. "It was new and I'll admit, it excited me, the control - or what seemed like control at the time - but it wasn't enough. I wasn't enough." She paused, and then said quietly, as though speaking to herself. "I was never enough."

I could tell this story wasn't going to have a happy ending, and squeezed her hand in a show of support, despite the inappropriate and completely irrational stab of jealousy at hearing how much she had loved someone else.  Again I kept quiet, knowing there was more to the story, and realizing that what she was telling me had a lot to do with why she had not let herself love since.

After a moment, she continued, her voice stronger. "I was doing a lot of speed - most of us did - and chasing it hard with vodka. The more she wanted me to do, the more fucked up I had to get to do it, because it wasn't exciting anymore. I hated it, hated myself after...but I loved her so much and I tried, I really tried to be what she needed."

She stood abruptly and took a few steps away, folding her arms across her chest and looking out towards the ocean. "Finally she asked for something that I just couldn't do...I couldn't do it anymore, and when I told her..."

I could see her body tense at the memory and I rose to stand beside her; not touching, but there if she needed me. "What happened?"

She stared at the water for a long time before answering. "She laughed. She laughed and said she knew I would break soon, but she'd gotten more from me than anyone expected and it had been great fun taking me as far as she had." She looked over at me and smiled bitterly. "It had all been a big game. Let's see how far the stupid, naïve American will go for love...I had never been in control at all."

She shook her head in disgust, and this time I did touch her, slipping my arms cautiously around her waist from behind and resting my chin on her shoulder. "I'm sorry." I seemed a wholly inadequate response to what she'd gone through, but it was heartfelt, and when I felt her relax against me and her hands cover mine, I knew it was enough.

We stood like that for several minutes, Robyn lost in memories, and me thinking of how Robyn's past experience shed some light on her present-day behavior. Eventually she patted my arms. "So that's the whole sordid tale and probably explains all sorts of things about what an emotionally stunted slut I've been since then."

I felt a little guilty, having been thinking along similar lines, although not quite that harshly. I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Thank you for telling me."

"You're welcome." She turned in the circle of my arms and rested her forehead against mine. "I suppose you should know what you're getting into...maybe I should have told you sooner."

"Oh, Pish. Wouldn't have made a bit of difference. I don't scare away that easy."

She pulled back with an amused grin. "Pish?"

"Pish-posh, out with the wash," I recited, and her smile widened. I shrugged. "It's a grandma thing."

She laughed and hugged me hard. "God, you're cute."

It was good to hear her laugh again and I was pleased to be the one to cause it, even if I hated being called 'cute'. Puppies were cute. Kermit the frog was cute. That little four year old kid that rapped was cute. Creepy, I'll admit, but cute. I disliked being thought of as cute, but from her, I'd take it.

"Thank you for listening," she murmured in my ear, "and not freaking out, or thinking badly about me..." She pulled back and looked at me intently. "You don't, do you? Think badly of me?"

"Of course not. Why would I?"

She dropped her eyes. "Some of the things I did..."

"Robyn." I tucked my fingers under her chin and raised her gaze back to mine. "The only person I think badly of is the woman that you were with. And that's because of what she did to you, and how she hurt you...not because she got off on pain. I want to hurt her because she hurt you."

She smiled. "I'll point her out next time I see her and you can have at it, then. My money's on you."

I frowned, and dropped my hand to her chest, rubbing lightly. "You see her?"

She tilted her head back and forth in a nonchalant gesture, but the eyes that looked past me flared briefly with emotion before settling into feigned indifference. "Every once in a while. She has a house in LA, and we still have mutual acquaintances...I see her at parties, benefits, openings..."

"That must be...difficult."

She took a moment to answer. "It's gotten easier, over time, but yes, sometimes it's still hard. Especially if she's in a...playful...mood." She said the word with obvious sarcasm. "Then it gets especially fun. She calls me her petit sadique and wants to talk about old times."

"I'm sorry, baby." I kissed her gently.

"Thank you." She kissed me back, just as softly.

We stared at each other, and she slowly leaned in and kissed me again. When we pulled back from that kiss, minutes had passed and anyone watching our not-so-private beach had gotten quite an eyeful.

"Inside?" she asked hoarsely.

"God, yes."  I grabbed her hand and dragged her towards the house.

She tripped after me, struggling to get her footing in the sand. "Dinner..."

I stopped and rounded on her in exasperation. "Do you want dinner, or do you want me?"

She grabbed my face in her hands and kissed me. "Stupid damn question."

We didn't even make it to the couch - ending up in a tangle of limbs on the carpet just inside the door.




I would have been perfectly happy with leftover lasagna, cheese and crackers...hell, bread and water would have worked, as long as Robyn was with me, but at her request, and for what she called 'counter-propagandaism', we drove a few miles into Islamorada for oysters, stone crabs and clam chowder at a popular waterside restaurant. In Robyn's words, "What better way to show them we're not squabbling over Josh than to be seen having dinner together?"

I couldn't fault her logic; the only better way I could think of showing we weren't squabbling over Josh was perhaps for the two of us to jump each other somewhere very public, and that wasn't something either of us was ready for. We had a nice meal - as nice as a meal could be with numerous interruptions by autograph and photograph seekers - and then we'd come back to the house and Robyn had shown me how appreciative she was of my patience.

Dinner had been well worth the aggravation.

Robyn stirred and I reached out and ran gentle fingers through her hair. She was on her side, facing me, one arm curled around her pillow and the other stretched above her head, and I had been awake for nearly an hour, just watching her sleep. It was like every damn cliché about love that I'd ever heard. I felt full, bursting with love, like it was a palpable force, radiating out of me. I looked at her and my chest felt tight with emotion and I felt like crying and laughing at the same was exhilarating, wonderful and terrifying.

Dark eyes blinked open, regarding me sleepily. "Hey."

"Morning." I leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.

Her mouth curled into a smile and she rolled onto her back and stretched. "Been awake long?"

"A little while." I scooted closer and tucked myself in beside her, laying my head on her shoulder and draping my arm across her stomach. Her arms went around me immediately. "I was enjoying the view."

"The view of me drooling, and my hair looking so pretty?"

I turned my head slightly and kissed the skin near her collarbone. "It is very pretty. And you don't drool...much."

I felt her chuckle and a brief touch of her lips across the top of my head. After a minute of quiet she asked, "When do you need to leave?"

I sighed, not wanting to be reminded that I would be heading home soon. "Around one or so....the flight is a little after three."

She kissed my head again and tightened her arms briefly. "I wish we had more time."

"Me too." I raised my head and kissed her, sighing in pleasure when strong fingers threaded through my hair and she deepened the kiss, turning a brief peck into a slow, gentle investigation. She rolled onto her side and pulled me closer, tangling her legs in mine, and we spent long minutes in unhurried kisses, neither of us escalating the passion of the exchange.

"Mmm..." Robyn eventually broke the exchange, dropping light kisses on my cheeks and forehead before pulling away. She put a finger on my lips. "Stay. I'll be right back."

She unwrapped herself from our embrace and rolled off the bed; I watched her retreating form in languid appreciation until she disappeared behind the partially closed door of the bathroom.

Her slightly muted voice came from behind the door. "You have a long travel day...I was thinking maybe we could go for a run later this morning, get you some exercise before you have to sit all day. Interested?"

"When?" My tone was noticeably petulant, and I scowled at myself. It was a good idea, and would certainly be good for me, but I was enjoying our closeness this morning and didn't want it to end quite yet.

I could hear the smile in her voice. "I'm not in any hurry...just...later."

Satisfied that she was coming back to bed, I nodded, and then voiced my agreement when I realized she couldn't see me. "That sounds good...if you promise not to kick my ass."

"Well, I really wanted to run," came her muffled reply after a beat, "but I guess a walk would be okay..."

"Hey!" I protested, and heard her answering laugh. "Damn, Ward, that was cold. And to think all the people who read the rags think I'm the bitch."

She laughed again. "If only they knew that you're actually the sweet one."

I smiled and threw my legs over the side of the bed, stretching my back as I sat up. "That's what Liz said, too. I guess I'm destined to be misunderstood."

I heard the toilet flush, and running water. "So...did you tell her?  About us, I mean." Her voice was still muted by the door, but I heard the tentativeness of her tone.


I didn't say anything else, and she poked her head out the door a few moments later, a toothbrush in her mouth. "An? Wha 'she sa?"

I looked at her questioningly and she rolled her eyes and ducked back into the bathroom to spit out the toothpaste before opening the door wider and leaning against the jamb. "What did she say?"

"Huh?" Distracted by her nakedness, it took me a moment to respond. I blinked and dragged my eyes up to meet her smug gaze.

"I asked what Liz had to say..." she motioned with her hand, "about us."

", let's see...she said 'wow', and something along the lines of 'I'll be damned' and 'holy shit', and then she it was like."

"Did she?" Robyn sounded entertained by the idea and went back into the bathroom, her voice taking on a slight echo. "And just how did you answer that one?"

I leaned back on my hands, watching her through the bathroom door as she washed her face, and pondered just how honest I should be about what I had told Liz. 

What the hell, let's start our day out with a little shot of honesty.

"I told her it was none of her damn business..." She grinned at that, and patted her face with a towel.  "And then I told her that even if it was her business, I couldn't tell her anyway because I couldn't think of words to describe how fucking amazing it is to be with you."

She gave a strangled laugh and pulled the towel away from her face. "Oh, aren't you a sweet talker..." Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw the look on my face. "You're serious."

"Of course I'm serious."

She placed the towel gently on the counter and turned towards me. "You really told Liz that?"

"Yes I told her...and I meant every word," I added, trying to keep the nervousness out of my voice.

Her mouth formed a tiny 'O' of surprise. "Caid, I..." she stared at me for a moment, and then started towards me slowly, her gaze never leaving mine.

Now that you've started, you might as well finish it....

I pushed myself off the bed, wanting to be face to face with her when I told her the rest. She crossed the room and stopped in front of me, reaching out to brush my cheek. "You really told Liz that," she repeated, but this time it was a statement and not a question.

I cupped her face in my hands and laid the gentlest of kisses on her parted lips before taking a deep breath and stepping off the cliff. "I told her it probably had something to do with the fact that I'm crazy in love with you."

"Wha...?" Our faces were close enough that I could actually feel the whoosh of air as she drew in a sharp breath and blinked; a myriad of emotions running across her face, surprise the most immediately recognizable. She tried to pull back but I held her in place, my hands still cupping her face.

"I love you." I said again softly, surprised at how easily the words came. I placed another kiss on her stunned lips. "I am totally, completely, head over freaking heels in love with you, Robyn. I don't want to scare you, but I wanted you to know. You don't need to say anythi..."

The rest of my words were swallowed abruptly as Robyn crushed her mouth to mine, and the next thing I knew I was flat on my back in the middle of the bed, with six feet of warm, naked and very amorous Robyn Ward on top of me, raining kisses on my face, neck and chest.

"Say it again," she demanded suddenly, pulling back to look at my face intently, as though judging my sincerity.

I wondered, as she searched my face for proof, just how many times she'd been told those words. Considering her fame, her looks...more than a few times, I'd guess. How many others had told her they loved her in hopes of getting something from her? I knew of at least one who had professed love and lied, hurting her badly...had there been others?

I met her gaze squarely, wanting her to see everything I was feeling, needing her to believe me. I brushed her cheeks with my thumbs and ran my hands through her hair. "I love you, Robyn," I said clearly, bringing her head down for a soft kiss. "I love you," I said again and trailed my lips over her chin and down the long column of her neck. "I love you," I murmured, nipping at the skin just below her ear and feeling a slight shiver in response. I tilted my head back and found her eyes again, willing her to believe me. "I. Love. You."

She touched my face, trailing her fingers over my eyebrows and down my cheeks. "Oh, Caid..."

Her voice, to my ears, seemed apologetic and I fought back panic. Now, when faced with her response, my brave statements did not seem like such a bright idea. I pulled her head down and silenced her with a kiss, not wanting to hear what she had to say right now, not wanting her to feel pressured or obligated, and especially not wanting her to tell me she didn't feel the same. She could tell me how she felt later - right now, I wanted to show her how I felt.

I rolled us over, kissing her hard, and pushed my hands into her hair, tilting her head back so that I could kiss along the underside of her chin and down her throat.

"Caid..." Her words stopped in an expulsion of breath when I settled my thigh between her legs and pressed against her while I covered her nipple with my mouth, sucking and biting gently. I trailed my hands down her body and braced my arms on either side of her chest, lifting my body off of her slightly, pushing my thigh against her again. Her fingers threaded through my hair, tightening almost to the point of painfulness when I held her nipple gently in my teeth and flicked with the tip back and forth with my tongue.

"Ah...jesus..." She arched against me, lifting her leg and pushing against my sex roughly. I groaned and pushed back automatically, quickly falling into the rhythm she set. I let go of one nipple to move to the other, giving it a few minutes of attention before she dragged my head up and brought our mouths together in a panting, openmouthed kiss, her tongue meeting mine in time with our thrusts. Gradually the rhythm increased and our kiss slowed until we were just breathing in each other's air as we concentrated on the movement and feel of our bodies.

"Oh....yes..." she whispered, her lips moving to my forehead and her hands to my hips, urging me into her. I kept up the rhythm of my leg against her, riding her thigh, feeling the slickness of sweat and desire where our bodies touched.

"Oh...god, Caid..." Her leg shifted again and pushed into me harder. "I'm..." she sucked in a breath, "come with me, baby..."

Our movements became frantic; labored breathing interspersed with whispered nonsensical words and gasps, and I slipped one hand between us, drawing my fingers through her warm wetness and teasing the hardened nub of her clit with gentle strokes. She hissed out a breath and her body stilled at the contact, then jerked, and I felt the slight sting of her fingernails as she tightened her grip convulsively on my ass.  Her head was thrown back, the muscles in her neck corded and tense, and I watched, enthralled, as I continued my movements, amazed as always by how beautiful she was. Suddenly her hand was between my legs, and her fingers inside of me, just as she arched further and let out a shuddering moan, jerking inelegantly against my hand. The moan, her movements, her was all enough to send me tumbling after her into orgasm, whispering a final 'love you' before collapsing in a very ungraceful heap on top of her.

After several moments, she withdrew her fingers and her arms circled me in a loose embrace. We lay without speaking as the thundering of her heartbeat beneath my ear returned to a steady thump-thump, and the rise and fall of her chest slowed to evenness; as the sweat dried on our skin and the rising sun cast ever changing shadows on the bedroom walls.

It was a peaceful, blissful silence and I was loath to break it, but eventually the jangle of a ringing telephone broke the complacent stillness, the sound so incongruous after two days of quiet that it took my brain a moment to understand what it was.

Robyn tensed underneath me and swore softly. She started to move but I shifted my weight, stopping her. "Don't."

She sighed, and ran her hand up and down my back. "I'm sorry, baby, I have to. It must be something on the set...the only way I could talk Lynne into letting me have this weekend was if I let her know where I would be and promised to come in if they needed me. She's the only person I gave this number to."

I slid off of her reluctantly and she climbed out of bed, giving me an rueful look before snagging a t-shirt  - mine, I noticed - draped across the back of a chair and pulling it on as she trotted from the room.

"Damn." I sighed and rolled onto my back, listening to the sounds of Robyn's voice,

raised slightly in annoyance, in the next room. I doubted they'd be calling to chat about the looked like our little weekend was coming to an end even sooner than expected.

I sighed again and rolled off the bed, annoyed to feel a twinge of relief at being given a reprieve from Robyn's reaction to telling her I loved her.

Christ, I was such a chickenshit.

A few minutes later, after using the bathroom and throwing on some clothes, I found Robyn out on the back deck, phone still in her hand, looking pensively out at the water.

I walked up behind her and slipped an arm around her waist, brushing the hair from her neck with my other hand so I could kiss the soft skin below her ear. She turned her head and gave me a distracted smile, holding up the phone up. "Sorry."

I put my other arm around her and rested my chin on her shoulder. "Now it's my turn to ask...when do you have to go?"

"As soon as I can get there...they got a permit to shoot on-site in Key Largo but we've only got today."

"Damn." I wasn't surprised, but I had hoped for a little more time. I kissed her cheek with a sigh and held her tighter. "Thank you for this weekend."

She turned in my arms and ran both her hands through my hair. "Caid..." She stopped and looked at my face searchingly. I could see her struggle for words. Finally she looked away. "You're welcome. I had a great time."

A great time.

I'd used that exact phrasing to brush off a mediocre date more than once. I inwardly steeled myself, waiting for the "but..."

It never came, but neither did the hoped for profession of love.

Jeez Caid, what do you expect?  A minute ago you were relieved to not know, and now you're frustrated?

I hid my disappointment, and tugged her into the house. "Come on. Why don't you jump in the shower, and I'll fix you breakfast for a change."

She smiled seductively and pulled me back towards her. "How about you join me in the shower, and we skip breakfast?" she murmured, laying a light line of kisses along my neck.

I quashed my immediate reaction to her words and nearness, feeling a certain hollowness in her offer. My body was willing but at the moment, my heart just wasn't in it and I wasn't sure hers was, either.

"We'd never make it out of the shower," I joked lightly in an attempt to ease the disappointment and confusion that flashed across her face as I pulled away. "You have a long day ahead of you and need to eat." I pointed to the hallway and pushed her gently in that direction. "Away with you."

"Caid..." She frowned, her expression still betraying her confusion.

"Go on." I tilted my head up and kissed her lightly on the forehead before pushing her towards the hallway again. "I'll have something ready for you when you get out."

She hesitated a moment longer, staring at me intently, and then nodded slowly and walked past me and down the hall.

I sighed and walked into the kitchen, taking stock of what kind of ingredients we had on hand to make breakfast. There were eggs and some left-over seafood mixture from Robyn's lasagna that would make a decent enough filling for an omelet, and french bread for toast...I nodded to myself and pulled the items out of the refrigerator.

I rooted around in the cupboards and drawers for a skillet and a small mixing bowl, my movements getting slower and slower, until they stopped altogether.

What in the hell was I doing?

The woman I was in love with was naked in the shower, and I was about to make an omelet? I shook my head in disbelief. Robyn asked me to share the last of our time together making love, and I had said no.

Caid, you are a dumbass.

I put the food back into the refrigerator and walked down the hall, a smile building on my face until I entered the master bedroom and saw that Robyn wasn't naked in the shower at all. In fact, she was standing in the middle of the room, fully dressed, and apparently fully packed. The small duffel she had brought was slung over her shoulder, and she looked to be in the process of checking for any stray items she might have missed.

I stopped abruptly in the doorway and stared at her stupidly. "Wha...what are you doing?"

"Leaving," she said briskly, taking one last glance around.

" were showering...we were going to have breakfast..." I frowned in confusion. "Why are you leaving?"

She hitched the bag higher on her shoulder, finally looking at me. It was then I realized how angry she was. "I won't be manipulated."

That did not help my confusion at all. "What are you talking about? I'd never try to manipulate you."

"That's what I thought, too, until a few minutes ago." She shook her head sadly. "I really thought you were different, Caid. Stupid of me."

She moved towards the door and I stopped her with a hand on her chest. She gave the hand a look of distain that made me cringe, and looked at me coolly. "Get out of my way."

"Not until you tell me what the hell I did wrong!" I was starting to get worry now; I'd been on the receiving end of that look before, the night at her house when she'd told me nothing could happen between us. It was cold and resolute, and just like that night, I had no idea how to counter it.

"I won't let you use sex to manipulate me into saying what you want to hear. I enjoy you, Caid - I enjoy being with you. But sex is sex, and I can find it elsewhere. Remember that." She moved my hand and brushed past me roughly.

I didn't stop her, too shaken by the thought that maybe she was right. Not about the sex is sex part; that was a bunch of crap. I knew whatever was between us was something special, and went much deeper than physical. But her accusation of my withholding sex because she hadn't told me what I wanted to hear...was that why I had refused her?  As some kind of punishment for not returning my feelings?

I thought back to what I'd been feeling and shook my head. No, that hadn't been the reason. I'd refused because it felt...wrong. Like...she was trying to distract me, to avoid having to discuss issues that needed to be discussed.

She had been the one that tried to use sex to manipulate.

My worry was displaced by anger, and I followed her into the living room, grabbing her arm and turning her around. "I told you I loved you, damnit, because I do. Very much. And I thought you should know. I'm not trying to manipulate you, regardless of what you think. I didn't, and still don't, expect anything from you except honesty."

She glared at my hand but I continued to hold on to her - I wasn't finished. "Maybe you should take a look at your own behavior before you go accusing me of shit. I tell you I love you, and you don't want to deal with it, so what better way to distract me than to drag me off into the shower? You know the effect you have on me, and you tried to use it to your advantage. So don't give me righteous lectures about using sex as a weapon."

She shrugged my hand off angrily and grabbed her purse and keys from the table. "The cleaning service comes at three - make sure you're gone by then. Leave the key in the mailbox," she told me icily, and stomped to the door.

"Robyn." I had one more thing to address.

To my surprise, she stopped at the door and turned back, her expression stony.

She wouldn't be manipulated, but I wouldn't be threatened. "If you do find sex elsewhere...despite how much I love you, you'll never be with me that way again. I told you before that I don't like to share. Remember that."

A muscle in her jaw twitched, and she stared at me for a long moment, and then she was gone.


I thought - I hoped - that she would come back.

I actually sat on the couch for another half an hour, hoping, but was finally forced to face the reality that Robyn's fight or flight tendencies were going to take a lot longer than a weekend to counteract. I wasn't giving up quite yet...we didn't get this far to allow a misunderstanding as stupid as this to tear us apart.

I started planning my assault on Fortress Robyn as I changed into my running clothes, and as I set off down the hard-packed sand near the water, heading north and hoping the beaches connected for at least a few miles, my head was filled with nothing but thoughts of how I could get her to talk to me.

I waved at a man with binoculars on the beach one house over; nodded sympathetically to a couple overseeing four children building sandcastles several houses after that, and patted a few friendly dogs on the public beach I ran onto that ended sooner than I'd hoped, but was far enough to make it worth the run.

The run back went quickly, and once I'd gotten back to 'our' beach, I stood for a long time, looking out at the water, remembering what an amazing weekend it had been, and vowing to do everything in my power to make it happen again.

I eventually started towards the house, but stopped when I saw the man with binoculars from next door climbing slowly over the rise between the houses, struggling in the deep sand with a walking stick and a pronounced limp. He looked to be in his sixties, with a wide brimmed hat and Bermuda shorts that seemed to be the uniform of the older tourists in the area.

Curious as to what his mission was, and wondering if I could somehow help in his struggle through the sand, I started towards him.

"Hi." I called out, receiving no response, just resolute progress over the rise and onto the beach in my general direction. When I got closer, his face finally lifted to meet mine and I realized he wasn't as old as I thought - late forties, maybe - with pale blue eyes that stared at me with an intensity that made me uneasy.

"Hi," I said again when I was within a few yards. "Can I help you with something?"

He stopped and smiled, watching me approach. "As a matter of fact, you can."

If I hadn't had other things on my mind, if I'd been in the city, if I'd been expecting trouble...maybe things would have gone differently. As it was, I smiled expectantly, and watched as he flipped the walking stick into the air, caught it in both hands, and swung.

I realized what was coming at the last second - not nearly enough time to dodge the swing or even get my arm up in defense. Pain exploded in my head as the stick struck me across the jaw, spinning me around and sending me stumbling across the deep sand and dropping to my hands and knees.

What the...stunned from the blow, I stared dumbly at the blood on the sand beneath me, unable to comprehend what was happening. Another blow came down hard on my back and I hissed as pain shot from the point of impact and down my legs.

That can't be good.

A foot in my stomach knocked the wind from my lungs and I collapsed onto the sand as he kicked a few more times and took a few more swings with the stick.

All six of the main cast members of 9th Precinct had gone through a modified police academy curriculum, with self-defense and subduing techniques a large part of the training. I'd been good at it, and confident that I could use the knowledge if the need arose in real life, but none of that training had prepared me for the violence of this attack; it had been too swift; too unexpected. The only thought in my mind was to get away.

I rolled onto my stomach and struggled clumsily in an attempt to get back to my hands and knees, but a hand yanked my head back by the hair, and I stared into wild, feverish eyes.

"I saw you with her. I saw you touch her, you filthy bitch. You're sick! I saw you touch her! She's mine!"

He punched the side of my face, driving it into the sand. My vision blurred, and my face throbbed.

Thank god Robyn was the last thought to flit through my brain before another blow struck hard across the back of my head, and then...nothing.


So much many voices...and pain...

"Caid, baby, stay with me. Damnit, don't you leave me..." The frantic voice came from far away - it was familiar, I knew the raspy tones, wanted to respond...

"...need to load her in the ambulance now, ma'am..."

My body jolted and pain erupted in my head. I slipped back into blackness.


"...nurse, I specifically said family only. Why is this...woman...still here?  Call security, right now."

The loud, unwelcome voice pulled me groggily from unconsciousness.

Who... The voice was familiar. Sebastian?

My mind slowly came back into the land of the living and once it did, all I wanted to do was to go back to nice, pain-free darkness.

God, I hurt. And I was so, so tired.

"Mr. Harris...calm down. I'm sure we can work something out," an unfamiliar female voice spoke soothingly. I could have told her that wouldn't do any damn good - Sebastian always got his way.

I kept my eyes shut, cataloging the hurts. The pain in my head was excruciating...nauseating. It made it hard to think, hard to hear, hard to breath. And other areas of my body were chiming in on the pain meter, too.  My lower back, my stomach, my left wrist...I winced, and the movement brought a whole new set of aches to my attention - my nose, cheek, and jaw felt painfully swollen.

What happened? Why...

"Go ahead and call security. I'm not going anywhere." The voice was low and husky, tinged with irritation.


I wanted to giggle. No one talked to my brother like that.

At the sound of her voice, the throbbing in my head eased to a somewhat tolerable level and I let my eyes flutter open a little, finally finding something in this situation worth sticking around for.  Bright light and colors hit sensitive eyes and I shut them again as my stomach roiled. After a moment, I took a shallow breath and tried again. When my head didn't explode, and my need to hurl up whatever might be in my stomach passed, I opened them wider. Or at least as wide as I could, since I could feel that one was nearly swollen shut.

Christ, what had happened to me?

The blurred images around me gradually gained focus and I stared in dazed bewilderment at my surroundings. I was in a long room - a very white room - and weak light streamed through several narrow windows. On either side of me, stacks of instruments and machines beeped and pinged regularly, and a pale blue curtain stretched across the space to my left, bunched on a ceiling rail towards the end of the bed. My eyes dropped to my arms and I felt my brow furrow in confusion. My left wrist - the one that ached - was wrapped in some kind of splint and there was an IV line running out of the back of my other hand and something clipped to my finger.

Hospital. Something happened... I tried to get my brain to work, to piece together what was going on, but couldn't make any sense of the jumble, and trying made the pain in my head worse.

I shifted my gaze and focused on the man speaking across the room. Sebastian. My brother. This I remembered, but not why he was here. His dark hair was beginning to gray at the temples, but the square, strong jaw, thin, pinched mouth and intense green eyes were the same. He stood stiff with anger and outrage, glaring down at a dark-haired woman slumped in a chair.

Robyn. I let my gaze linger on her. I loved her. This I remembered, too.

A woman in brightly patterned scrubs hovered next to Sebastian, looking worriedly from one to the other. A nurse, I assumed, but didn't recognize her.

"Don't think I won't," Sebastian was saying. "I don't care how famous you are or what connections you have..."

Robyn's eyes wandered in apparent boredom as my jerk of a brother railed at her, eventually coming to rest on me and widening in sudden realization. She was out of her seat and across the room in seconds.

"Caid? Honey?" Her voice was hopeful and desperate, and she reached out a hand to touch me but drew back and grabbed onto the rail of my bed instead.

I blinked slowly. "He..." I croaked, my voice weak and raspy. I swallowed, and licked my lips with a tongue that felt three times too big for my mouth, flinching when I passed over a tender area that felt split. I tried again. "Hey...Rob."

Her face broke into a beautiful smile, and a tear slid slowly down her cheek. "Oh, baby," she whispered, gripping the rails of the bed tightly. "I'm so glad you're awake. God, you scared me..."

I tried to smile back, but it hurt, and I closed my eyes again.

"Caid? Baby?"

I was so tired...her words flowed around me and I let the beckoning darkness washed over me again.


"...I don't want visitation changed. I don't care who they are, Perry, they are not her family."

"But these are her friends! It might help her to hear their voices..."

"I said no, and that's final! She doesn't need to be around those kind of people right now. She needs her family, and our faith in God..."

The arguing voices drew me rudely from the safe, pain-free arms of unconsciousness into the distinctly non-pain-free world of consciousness. I groaned involuntarily in disapproval. Jesus. Those two never stop arguing. My eyes fluttered open, and blurry images gradually gained sharpness. Three startled sets of eyes were staring at me - two familiar, one not.

I tried out my voice - it was weak, but audible. "Will you...two...shut up."

"Caid! You're awake!" Perry hurried forward to hover uncertainly by my bedside.

" sleep...with you each other." I croaked out and swallowed, wishing for some water and some more nice, pain-free darkness.

He smiled tremulously. "How do you feel?"

I would have laughed if I wasn't sure it would have hurt like hell. Instead I grunted.

"Jesus Christ, Caid, you scared the shit out of me."

"Sorry..." I whispered, although I wasn't sure what I was sorry for.

Sebastian moved up beside Perry, frowning in disapproval. "Perry, you will not take the Lord's name in vain..."

I winced at the tone. "Jesus Christ...Sebastian...shut up." I told him wearily, and thought I heard a titter of laughter from the other room's occupant who I assumed was a nurse.

The disapproving eyes turned to me, narrowing in annoyance. My brain might be muddled, but pissing off Sebastian was second nature. "Well hello to you, too, Caidence. Nice to see the attitude survived intact. And you're welcome. I dropped everything to come down here to be with you and this is the thanks I get?"

I stared at him unremorsefully, blinking tiredly. We hadn't been civil to each other in years - I didn't see any point to starting now. Whatever his reasons for being here, I doubted my welfare was one of them.

The nurse pushed both men out of the way with practiced ease and moved up beside me. She glanced over at a console of machines to my left and smiled down at me. "Hello there. Glad to have you back with us. How are you feeling?"

I blinked slowly. "Crappy."

She smiled sympathetically and patted my hand gently. "Yes, you took quite a beating. You look a lot better than you did two days ago, if that's any consolation."

Beating?  Two days?

"Wh...what happened? I don't remember..." I frowned, trying to concentrate and the pain in my head intensified. I hissed softly in pain and closed my eyes.

"Shhh...don't worry. It'll come back to you. Just relax, and I'll be back a little later with the doctor."

I nodded, sleep already tugging at me again, and heard her move away.

"Gentlemen, could I speak to you outside please..."


"Caidence? Miss Harris?"

My eyes jerked open quickly and I flinched in pain, blinking up at a blond, athletic looking woman in a maroon scrubs with a stethoscope looped around her neck. She flashed a wide, friendly smile while light brown eyes swept over me in quick, professional perusal.

"I'm Doctor Reese. How are you feeling?" She looked down at a clipboard in her hands, flipping through pages, and then back up at me.

I coughed slightly and winced at the resulting twinge in my back. I cleared my throat carefully. "I've had better days."

She put the chart back with a chuckle. "I bet you have. Would you like some water?"


She nodded across the bed and I noticed another person in the room, the nurse from before. "Gail, could you grab that?"

The woman picked up a small pitcher on the table next to me and filled a plastic cup, dropping a straw into it and handing it to me. I drank gratefully, the liquid trickling down my throat in blissful coolness.

The doctor pulled the stethoscope from around her neck and fitted it into her ears, speaking briskly as she gently pulled aside the neck of my gown and laid the cool metal against my chest.

"Gail tells me you might be a little confused about what happened. Do you remember anything at all?"

I shook my head slightly. "No...nothing. My head - everything is so fuzzy."

She nodded. "I'm sure Gail told you that that's normal. You took quite a knock on the head. What's the last thing you remember?"

I frowned, trying to gather my stray memories into some kind of order. A paddle in my hands, turning my head and laughing at Robyn behind me..."I...we went kayaking..." Robyn across the table from me, smiling sweetly at a young girl and her mother who asked for an autograph... "We went into town for dinner..."

A possibility suddenly occurred to me and I straightened, trying to sit up and grimacing at the pain in my back. "Robyn," I ground out. "Is she okay?  We were together..."

"Whoa there," the doctor gently pushed me back on the bed, her hands on my shoulders. "Just relax. Your friend Miss Ward is fine. A little ticked off at your brother right now, and worried sick about you, but she's fine." I relaxed, and after watching for a moment to ensure I wasn't going to try to jump out of bed again, she released my shoulders and straightened. "Let me fill you in a little, okay, and maybe it will help a little with your memory."

I nodded gratefully.

"You're at Mid-Key Medical Center in Marathon, Florida. The ambulance brought you in at around eleven on Sunday morning."

"Sunday?" I forced myself to concentrate. Kayaking had been...Saturday. Sunday...what had we done Sunday? I'd been scheduled to fly out early that afternoon, and Robyn was due back on the set...

I throb of pain that seemed to engulf my entire head stopped my memory gathering and I shut my eyes for a moment, before opening them again.  "How long..."

She glanced at the watch on her wrist. "It's 9:45 pm, Tuesday."

Nearly three days. Whoa.

"What happened?" I asked slowly. "Why..."

"You were attacked and severely beaten. Miss Ward came with you in the ambulance, but she wasn't hurt - she apparently found you."

She had found me? Oh, honey. I couldn't even imagine what that must have been like.

"Beaten?" I said slowly. A flash of memory, and object coming towards my face and a flash of pain along my jaw...

"Is any of this sounding familiar?"

"Maybe..." I shook my head in frustration and she nodded sympathetically.

"I wouldn't worry...I'm confident your memory will right itself in time. Now," She hung the clipboard up and gestured to the nurse. "We'll just do a quick examination, and then we can talk about your injuries, and you can ask any questions, okay? I'm sorry, but some of this is going to hurt."

She was right. They poked, prodded, and maneuvered my body, and by the time they were finished, I had long since stopped trying to hide tears of pain and I was exhausted. She finished with a light test to my eyes, and a few simple questions then wrote in the chart for a minute before giving me her attention.

"Well Miss Harris, it might not feel like it right now, but you're one very lucky woman."

"I'd hate to know what it would feel like if I'd been unlucky," I mumbled.

She looked at me seriously. "Quite frankly, you'd be dead."


"You've got multiple contusions on the head, face, abdomen and back, but it doesn't appear that there will be any lasting physical damage from any of it. You're concussed, which is to be expected, but not severely according to scans. That's what's causing the confusion and memory loss you're should be temporary. You have a very hard head." She smiled slightly. "Despite the amount of trauma to your face, no bones were broken, although you sustained a couple fairly deep cuts...luckily we have a plastic surgeon on staff and he stitched them up nicely. If treated properly, they should heal without much scaring. Your abdomen is heavily bruised, but amazingly no ribs were broken and no internal damage...and we were concerned about spinal bruising from a large contusion on your back, but all of your reflexes and sensation seem to be within normal limits. A pelvic exam showed no signs of vaginal or anal trauma and your clothes were intact when you were brought in..."

I sucked in a sharp breath. Jesus...

She glanced at me sympathetically and her tone softened. "You weren't raped, which is good news in an attack like this. The most serious injury, besides the head trauma, was a fracture of the ulna in 2 places above the left've got a small plate and a couple of  screws in there to keep it together while it heals...all in all, very lucky, and you're in excellent physical shape, which should speed the recovery process."

I blinked slowly and suddenly felt very lucky indeed.

"How long..." I gestured at my body with my good hand.

She crossed her arms and cocked her head to the side. "A few weeks for the bruises to fade, five or six days before we take the facial stitches out, and then several weeks for those to heal completely, six to eight weeks for the wrist, and we'll have to see how the back feels when we get you up and around...Your head injury, it's hard to say - we'd like to keep you here a few more days for observation, and once you're released, you might experience headaches, dizziness, light-headedness for anywhere from weeks after to months after. You'll definitely need to take it easy for a while, and you might need a little help for a bit when you're released."

"The best thing for you right now is to rest," she continued.  "I'm going to restrict visitors for you for a little while...we've had some...issues, and you need the quiet. I've got you hooked up to a morphine that you're awake, you can manage that yourself. This button here," she pressed a button on one of the machines by the bed, and a moment later I could feel a tingling in my hand and a delicious lethargy flow through my body, "releases the drug into your's set up to allow you a certain amount an hour. Do you have any questions for me?  Anything we can do for you?"

They both looked at me expectantly.

I put processing the information about what my body had gone through on hold and contemplated her question, fighting fatigue and the slowly encroaching haziness brought on by the morphine.

There was something I wanted to ask...about Robyn...

I closed my eyes to concentrate and sleep took me again.


I woke briefly on and off over the next several hours; long enough for a nurse to ask me how I felt and for another hit of morphine before drifting off again.

When I finally woke with my head clear of haziness and my body rested enough that fatigue and pain didn't make me want to go right back to sleep, I was in a different room - a much smaller room - and the array of machines beside me was much less impressive. The sharp odor of antiseptic was overlaid by something sweet and floral; I looked around curiously and found that nearly every available spot of counter space, along with some floor space, was taken up by flower arrangements off all sizes and even a stuffed animal or two.

I tried to chuckle at that, which ended up as more of a wheeze, and a nurse who was scribbling something on a clipboard at the end of the bed looked up. She smiled. "Oh good, you're awake again. How do you feel?"

I thought about that for a moment before answering.

"Not great," I croaked, and cleared my throat. "But...better," I added, surprised that it was true. My head still throbbed but the nausea was gone, my face didn't feel quite as tight and swollen, and mind was much clearer.

She glanced at the display of one of the machines beside my bed and wrote something down, then looked back at me. "Good." She poured me a glass of water and I nodded gratefully when she handed it to me.

"What time is it?" I asked, noticing weak gray light coming in the room's one window.

She looked at her watch. "It's about a quarter after six. Wednesday morning," she added before I could ask. She hung the clipboard on the end of the bed and refilled the water glass I'd set down. "How does some food sound?  Maybe some toast...some juice?"

I nodded slowly, realizing that now that the nausea was gone, I was hungry. "I could eat."

"Great. I'll go fetch you something, and your brother was just in here...he went to find some coffee, I think. I'll let him know you're awake."

"Which brother?" I asked bluntly, not wanting to deal with Sebastian quite yet.

She smiled slightly. "Perry. He's been here most of the night." She motioned to the corner of the room where a messily folded blanket lay across the back of a chair. "I'm Kara, by the way. I'm on until eight. I'll be back in just a bit with your breakfast."

"Thank you, Kara." She smiled and pushed out of the room.

A few minutes later Perry poked his head hesitantly through the door, smiling uncertainly. "Hey. Morning, sleepyhead."

I gave him a wide smile in greeting, happy to see a familiar face, and flinched slightly at the pull on my right cheek. I raised my hand curiously, feeling the swollen tightness of my skin and the evenly stitched welt that followed the line of my cheekbone beneath my right eye. Exploring further I found another welt running along my jaw from below my right ear to the middle of my chin and a small, painful knot on my forehead above my right eye. The left side of my face in comparison felt smooth, with only a few tender areas of scrapped skin.

"Caid, you okay?" I blinked and glanced over at him. He had entered the room and was looking at me worriedly.

"Yeah...sorry. Just hadn't...felt the damage before. How does it look?"

He looked at me uncomfortably, "Uh...well..."

"That good?" I asked dryly. Perry looked at the floor and bit his lip. "It's okay, Per. I know I probably look like the bride of Frankenstein, but they tell me it'll all heal up fine."

He shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans, still looking at the floor.

"It'll be fine, Per, I promise. Didn't the doctor talk to you?"

"Yeah, she's been really cool." He nodded and was quiet for a moment, then looked up with a tiny grin. "She's a babe, too."

I raised an eyebrow - my left one. "Is she?"

"Oh, come on, Caid - I woulda thought you'd notice something like that, after your recent...discovery." His grin widened.

"My brain was a little scrambled when I met her," I smiled slightly, glad for the change of subject and Perry's brightened demeanor. "I'll try to pay attention next time."

He grabbed the chair in the corner and dragged it over next to the bed, dropping into it with a chuckle. "She's got some balls on her, too...Sebastian's trying to pull his crap on her, but she won't take any of it. And they say when he had Robyn tossed from your room, the Doc turned around and tossed him, too...oh, I would have loved to have seen the look on his face."

I frowned. "Robyn was here?" A vague memory of her worried, tearstained face surfaced, and her voice telling me to stay with her. "And Sebastian tossed her out of my room? Why?" I shifted restlessly. "And why the hell is he here, anyway? He should be in church thanking god that his sinning sister got what was coming to her."

He frowned. "That's a little harsh, Caid. He seemed genuinely concerned. He's an asshole, but you're still his sister."

It was nice to think that maybe somewhere, deep down, Sebastian still carried around familial feelings for me, but too much had passed between us and too much had been said for me to lay any bets on it.

I didn't respond and Perry watched me for a moment and then sighed. "It's kind of my fault he's here anyway...when I got the call on Sunday about what happened, I tried to contact mom, to let her know I'd fly down to be with you and not to worry. The contact number I had for her was some little inn in Switzerland...they said they weren't expecting her group for another couple of days - at least I think that's what they said - anyway, I left a message and then I called Steve. I thought he'd want to know, too..."

Steve was our father, although Perry had never called him such. "And dad called Sebastian," I finished. Which meant dad wouldn't be coming down himself. I gave myself a mental shake, annoyed that after all this time, it still could hurt.

Perry nodded. "I couldn't get a flight out until Tuesday, but since Sebastian's in Tampa, he got down here Monday morning and I guess he found Robyn in the room with you - the nurses said she'd been with you since you were brought in - and he threw a fit about visitors being family only, and since he is a blood relative, and the oldest sibling, they let him have his way. I tried to get him to lighten up, but you know how he is."

"Where is she?" I asked hopefully.

He frowned. "Who, Doctor Reese?"

"No...Robyn. I'd like to see her."

Since I'd woken in the hospital the day before, more and more of the puzzle pieces that made up my memory had fallen into place. Memories of our weekend -good and bad - had surfaced and I desperately wanted to see her, to know where we stood. She'd stormed out after our fight, but she must have come back - for some reason - since she was the one that found me. That gave me some hope.

"She left last night, after she heard you'd woken up for real and were doing good...I talked to her a little before she left, and she mentioned something about her director threatening to replace her...she said she'd try to make it back tonight."

I closed my eyes. Damn.

 "'s probably best that she did, anyway, a lot of the media people left when she did."

My eyes popped open. "Media?"

"Uh...yeah. I guess they tried to keep it quiet for a while, but..." he shrugged.

Just what I needed; more media scrutiny.


The pain in my head went from the dull ache I'd woken up with to a pounding throb, and went to rub my forehead with my palm, forgetting about the IV line and nearly jerking it out of my hand. "Shit," I muttered in frustration.

The door swung open and Kara pushed in, back first, with a tray in her hands. "Here we are." She smiled at Perry as he scooted the chair aside to give her room to place the tray on my table. "Toast and juice, as ordered."

I looked at Perry. "Is Sebastian here?"

He shook his head. "He went back to his hotel last night after Robyn left." 

I looked at Kara. "Kara, could you let someone know that I'd like to make my own decisions about who can and can't visit me? Sebastian doesn't need to be involved in that anymore."

She blinked in surprise at my abruptness. "Um...yes, sure..."

"And Robyn Ward is welcome to visit any time," I finished, and reached for a piece of toast.

She nodded hesitantly. "Okay..."

"Thank you." I took a bite and chewed slowly, marveling at how good a plain piece of toast could taste.

Perry sat quietly as I ate and Kara asked me a few question about my injuries. When she left, I glanced over and found him watching me thoughtfully.

I paused in my chewing and swallowed. "What?"

He just shook his head and laughed.

I shrugged, finished off my juice and reached for my last triangle of toast.

"It's Robyn, isn't it? The woman you were talking about...the one you're in love with?"

I stopped with the toast halfway to my mouth. My smile, as lopsided as it was, must have said it all.

"Holy crap," he said, and laughed again.

I bit into my toast, amused at the expression on his face.

"Holy crap. I can't believe I didn't figure it out before. She was in your room in Big Bear, you're always talking about her, and the way she's been freaking about you being hurt..." He shook his head again. "I guess she changed her mind about not being interested, huh?"

I just smiled, and hoped he was right.

"Holy crap."

I laughed and finished my breakfast.


Sebastian visited later that morning, and with Perry's words about his concern in mind, I did my best to be civil. We actually conversed for at least three minutes before we ran out of safe topics and he started in on my choice of careers and how the assault was basically my own fault; a direct result of my association with 'those people', and in particular, 'that woman.' I asked him to leave and don't bother to come back, at a volume that brought nurses running and with language colorful enough to even impress Perry, who had to step between the two of us and finally escorted Sebastian out.

The run-in shook me up as well as exhausted me and I slept into the early afternoon, waking to find two police detectives being ushered into my room. One was in his late twenties, tall and well-built with dark hair cut in a military style buzz and sharp brown eyes and the other was older, in his mid forties; short and fit, with thinning brown hair and a reddish mustache that he pulled at often. 

"I'm Detective Fischer," the shorter one introduced himself, "and this is my partner Detective Linden. We're with the Monroe County Sheriff's office..." His voice held a hint of the south and reminded me of Liz, which in turn made me wonder how she was taking this whole thing, or if she even knew. Perry had mentioned media coverage...

I realized the two men were watching me expectantly, and brought my mind back into focus. "Sorry..." I told them with a wry grin. "I was just sleeping...I'm still a little out of it."

They both nodded, and this time the tall one, Detective Linden, spoke. "Not a problem, ma'am. We're sorry to bother you. How are you feeling?"

"Like some crazy man beat the crap out of me with a stick," I said dryly, drawing a slight grin from Linden and the barest flicker of what might have been sympathy from Fischer.

"Can you tell us what happened?" he asked and pulled a small notebook from his pocket. "We have a good idea, but we'd like to hear it in your words."

I carefully reached out for the cup of water on the table by my side and took a few sips, gathering my still slightly jumbled thoughts. As my mind had gotten clearer over the last several hours, I'd remembered the attack, and the wild-eyed man who did it, but this would be the first time I'd put it in words.

"I was down on the beach...I'd just gone for a run, and was cooling down. I started back to the house, I saw this man - I'd seen him before, on my run, he was on the beach, one house over...he had a walking stick, and was limping, looked like he was having trouble getting over the rise, there, between the houses...I thought I could help him, and wondered what he was doing, what he wanted..." I paused for another sip of water and to clear my throat as the memory of his face came vividly to mind. I took a breath. "I said hi, and asked him if I could help him...he said yes, and started swinging with that damn stick." I shook my head and fought down a wave of nausea, closing my eyes until it passed. I blinked them open again. "Took me completely by surprise, knocked me down, kicked me a few times...I tried to get up and he grabbed me and punched me...then I got hit in the head, and that's all I remember until I woke up here."

"Did he give you any indication why he attacked you?" Detective Fischer asked.

I nodded slowly, choosing my words carefully. "I was staying with a friend for the weekend - Robyn Ward. Just before I was knocked out, he said, 'I saw you with her' he said it, his face...he meant her, I think. He was angry with me for spending time with Robyn."

 Both men nodded, as though I'd confirmed something, and Linden pulled a small envelope from his jacket. "We'd like for you to look at some pictures for us, and tell us if you see the man who attacked you?"

I nodded, and he opened the envelope and pulled out four mug shots, laying them carefully on the table beside me. Familiar, pale, wild-looking eyes looked back at me from the third picture, and I sucked in a sharp breath. Seeing him made everything much more real. I pointed at it with a shaky finger. "Him. That's the guy. Who is he?"

Linden hesitated, shooting a look at Fischer who nodded at him. "His name is Todd Massey." He glanced at me, his expression asking if the name meant anything. I shook my head slightly, and he picked up the pictures and slid them back in the envelope. "We picked him up in a public restroom on Long Key after we had a call about suspicious behavior...thought he was just some tourist off his meds but as soon as he started talking, we knew he was the guy."

"He confessed?"

"Yes ma'am, and then some. Guy won't shut up now, he's being pretty vocal, ranting about what he did to you, seems proud of it even. Turns out he's got a history of stalking...nothing violent in those, but sounds like it was just a matter of time. Three restraining orders against him in the last five years for harassing his subjects...he's a photographer for World Weekly, based out of New York. Paper says he was sent down here to get shots of Lonnie Colchev, but if the stacks of photos found in his hotel room are anything to go by, our guy seems to have developed a fixation with your friend, Miss Ward. Looks like he's been following her for a few weeks, developing some kind of fantasy that they're together...keeps saying he was protecting Miss Ward from you, which matches with what you told us he said during the attack."

From the carefully neutral looks I was getting from both detectives, I was betting Todd Massey had been saying quite a few other things about me and Miss Ward. And he was a photographer.


I closed my eyes wearily. I really wanted to talk to Robyn about this, but I wasn't going to lie if they asked me...I waited for the expected questions, but they didn't come. Instead I heard a rustle of clothing and opened my eyes to see both men had put away their notebooks.

"Sorry to have kept you so long, Miss Harris, we'll let you get back to your rest. Thank you for your time. If you need to get in touch with us for any reason, here's my card." Detective Fisher laid a card on the table, and stepped back. "We'll let you know if we have more questions." He hesitated a moment, and tugged at his mustache. "Miss Harris...I want to assure you that we're aware of the...delicacy of this situation, and all the information gathered in the course of the investigation will be handled with discretion."

I blinked slowly. So they definitely know. And they're going to try and be discrete about it. I wasn't very optimistic about this kind of thing staying discrete, but I appreciated the gesture. "Thank you," I said faintly, unable to think of anything else to say.

He nodded and the two moved towards the door, where the shorter man paused and looked back at me. "Hope you start feeling better soon."


He struggled slowly over the rise between the houses, struggling in the deep sand, leaning on his walking stick, limping painfully...suddenly his intense, pale eyes were just inches away, and I could feel hot breath on my face. "She's mine..."

I jerked awake, my eyes wide. The apparition from my dream faded in the dim light of the room, and I took a shaky breath, noting the sky outside the room's single window was dark. My back was knotted in pain and my face and head throbbed. I took even, steady breaths, and the pain slowly subsided as my body relaxed again. My mouth felt like cotton and reached for my water glass, pausing when I heard movement from across the room and realized I wasn't alone.

I glanced over at the noise, expecting to see Perry, but instead found Robyn staring at me, her dark eyes filled with more naked emotion than I'd ever seen, taking my breath away. She looked pale and exhausted, and her eyes were dark and haunted.

Seeing her brought an ache to my chest and for a minute, I just stared.

"Hi baby," I said softly, smiling as much as I could. "You look like hell."

She let out a strangled sound that was part laugh, part sob, and closed her eyes, sending a trickle of tears sliding down her face. When she opened her eyes again, they were full of love and I knew, even if she hadn't said it, how much she cared.

We stared at each other for a long time, until finally she whispered, "I thought you were dead. You weren't moving, and there was so much blood..."

She shook her head and looked down at her hands.

"I'm sorry." I said after a moment of quiet. "I'm sorry you were the one to find me, to see me like that..."

She shook her head vehemently. "I'm not. The police think it was the sound of my car pulling up that scared him off...if I hadn't have realized what a shit I had been and come back to apologize...he could have killed you. He would have." She stood and paced the room. "Fuck. If I hadn't have been such a shit in the first place, maybe this would have never happened."

She stopped pacing, her back to me, and said softly, "God, Caid, I'm so sorry. This is my fault...I should have been should have been me."

"Robyn." She slowly turned to look at me. "Come here." She didn't move. "Please," I added softly. Slowly she crossed the room to stand next to the bed. I held out a non-splinted hand for her and she took it hesitantly. The feel of her hand in mine was better than any drug, and I sighed and rubbed the back of her hand lightly with my thumb. She was looking at me as though she didn't quite believe I was real, and I tugged on her hand, pulling her forward a little more. I caught her gaze and carefully laid her hand on my chest in a spot that wasn't bruised. "I'm okay, baby." I told her, and covered her hand with mine. "See? Alive and well, just a little bruised."

She didn't move for several moments, and just stood looking at our hands together. Finally, some of the tension went out of her body and she sniffed and wiped at her face with her free hand. Her eyes ran over my face and down to my splinted arm. "Just a little bruised?" she said skeptically, the corners of her mouth turning up into a slight smile.

Relieved that she could joke and that the haunted look was gone from her eyes, I did my best to smile back. "Yep, just a little. Doc says I'll be good as new in no time."

She opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it.

"What?" I asked curiously.

She shook her head and gently extracted her hand from beneath mine and raised it to trail her fingers lightly along my left cheek, the tenderness in her gaze nearly making me cry.

"I was going to say I'm glad, which I am." She found my hand with her free hand and squeezed, looking at me intently.  "But that seems so...trivial, compared to what I really feel." She took a deep breath and leaned forward to brush her lips across mine ever so softly. "I love you, Caid. So damn much..."

The words ran like electricity through my body, and I took a shuddering breath, blowing it out slowly. I stared at her, knowing my eyes were filling with tears. My first reaction was to pull her down and kiss her until neither of us could breathe, but in deference to my somewhat incapacitated state, I slowly reached up and ran my fingertips across her cheek. "I love you too, sweetheart," I whispered, and threaded my fingers into her hair, pulling her down into another gentle brush of lips.

For a minute I forgot my injuries and tightened my grip on her hair, increasing the pressure of the kiss, and lifting my other hand to cup her cheek...a stab of agony from my wrist brought my movements to a halt with a hiss.

"Ow. Damn..." I froze, and so did Robyn, which is how the nurse found us when she walked in a moment later.

"Oh, hello Miss Ward. I didn't realize you were in here." She breezed in with nothing more than a curious glance in our direction.

I expected Robyn to pull away quickly, to make excuses, to explain away what the nurse had seen, but instead she barely flinched and stayed where she was, hovering above me with our lips nearly touching.

"Are you okay?" she asked softly, her eyes full of concern. "Did I hurt you?"

I swallowed convulsively at the intimate feel of her breath across my lips, and shook my head wordlessly. She nodded and slowly straightened, flicking a glance at the nurse. "Hi Gail."

Gail smiled at her and picked up my chart, transferring her attention to me. "Just coming to check are you doing?"

"Um...good, I think."

"And how's the head? Any nausea, dizziness, light-headedness?"

"Head hurts, but none of that, no."

"Great, great. Anything I can get you?" I shook my head. "No?  Okay then, just let me know if you need anything." She glanced at her watch, and then looked pointedly at Robyn. "You really should be resting now. Miss Ward..."

Robyn held up a hand and flashed a winning smile at the woman. "I'll let her rest, I promise."

Gail hesitated, looking between Robyn and me briefly. "Okay then," she said with a nod. She flashed a smile at Robyn and told her, "Nice to see you back, Miss Ward," before pushing out of the room.

I smiled slightly when she'd left. "You've made yourself quite a fan club. Of course, that doesn't surprise me - I'm rather fond of you myself."

Robyn toyed absently with the thin blanket on my bed, staring down at it. "The staff here - especially the nurses - they've been great to me...letting me sit with you when it was against the rules, keeping me in the loop about what was happening...Gail even let me stay after your brother laid down the family only policy, but when he saw me in your room..."

"Sorry about Sebastian," I said with a wince. "He can be...trying."

She chuckled and stroked my hand. "That's very diplomatic of you." Her face turned concerned and she looked up at me. "I heard you two went at it this morning...are you okay?  Sounds like it was quite the argument."

I shifted on the bed. "Let's just say no one can push my buttons quite like Sebastian...he's my brother, so on some level, I love him, but mostly I just want to kick his teeth in."

She raised a surprised eyebrow at that, and then looked down at our hands, picking mine up and bringing it to her lips before placing it carefully back on the bed and meeting my gaze. "I also hear that he was blaming me for this..." she stepped back from the bed and wandered over to the window. "And really, he's right. If you hadn't known me, if I hadn't left..." She paused, looking out the window, and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Caid. I'm so, so sorry."

"Sorry for what?" I asked with a frown. "For inviting me to spend the weekend with you? For loving me?"

She turned quickly and her eyes flew to mine. "No! God no! Loving you...I'll never be sorry for that. It's the only thing I've done right in this whole mess."

I smiled slightly, trying to lighten her sudden melancholic mood. "I hardly consider it a mess, and I can think of a few other things you've done right..."

I was rewarded with a tiny smile before her face saddened. "I just feel like this is my fault somehow..."

Well, that line of thinking definitely had to go. We had enough problems without her dragging a truckload of unnecessary guilt around for god knows how long.

"Damnit, Robyn, that's bullshit and you know it. Did you attack me? Club me with a walking stick? Kick me? Punch me?"

She visibly flinched.

"Did you?" I pushed.

She shook her head. "No," she said in a voice that was barely a whisper, "but..."

"No!" She blinked at the vehemence of my voice. "No buts. This is no one's fault but the man who did it. He did this. Not you. Do you understand me?"

After several long moments, she finally nodded.

I released a slow breath, suddenly very tired. "Good. Now get over here and kiss me."

A small smile played on her lips as she moved to the bed and looked down at me. "So demanding," she murmured, and leaned in to brush feather-light kisses across my forehead, cheek and finally my lips.

I closed my eyes and sighed. "God I love you."

When I opened my eyes, she was smiling that smile; the one that made it hard for me to breathe. "I love you too, baby. I'm sorry it took me so long to say."

"And now you've told me twice in ten minutes..." I reached for her hand. "I feel like I've won the lottery or something."

She laughed quietly and raised my hand to her lips. "I love you, Caidence Harris."

I closed my eyes and relaxed back into the pillow with a smile. "Oh my," I murmured. "Three times in ten minutes. Look Ma, I'm a millionaire."

She chuckled. "I don't know about that..." she paused, and I felt her lips touch my forehead again. "But I know of one who's available if you want her," she whispered.

I opened one eye. "A millionaire, huh?"

She shrugged nonchalantly. "Not as big a deal as it used to be, but yeah."

I opened the other eye and regarded her thoughtfully. "She hot?"

She blinked and let out a surprised bark of laughter. "Depends on who you ask."

"Uh-huh." I pulled her forward against the bed and released her hand so I could rest mine on her hip and brush my thumb lightly against the warm skin just above the waistband of her jeans. "Depends on who you ask?" I repeated skeptically. "Just who are you asking?  Dead people and live people?"

She laughed again and I closed my eyes with a happy sigh, loving the sound of her laughter and the contented warmth it caused. She brushed a hand through my hair soothingly and I relaxed under the caress.

I jerked awake a little later, not knowing if it was seconds that had passed or minutes, but the warmth of Robyn's skin was still under my fingers and I stroked absently, opening my eyes to find her looking down at me pensively.

"So," she asked hesitantly. "Do you want her?"

It took me a second to realize what she was talking about. When I did, I smiled slightly. "The hot millionaire?"

She smiled, but her eyes were worried, and I could tell she was unsure of my answer. She actually thought I would say no? Crazy woman.

I squeezed her waist. "Yes, I definitely want her. More than I've ever wanted anything in my life."

"She'll be very happy to hear that," she told me with a wide smile, and leaned down to kiss me lightly on the lips. "Now close your eyes and go to sleep."

"M'kay." I let my eyes flutter shut. "Love you."

"I love you too, Caid."

I smiled and snuggled into the pillow.


"Caid, baby...wake up." Soft lips pressed against my forehead. "Let me see those gorgeous eyes..."

The low, husky words were whispered in my ear, drawing me from sleep and bringing an involuntary smile to my face. I did as I was asked and opened my eyes, rewarded for my efforts by a soft smile and dark eyes hovering inches from mine.

"Ah...there they are. Good morning." She kissed my forehead again. "I need to head to the set, but I wanted to tell you I was leaving. Are you really awake? You're not going to go all Fatal Attraction on me because you didn't remember I said goodbye, are you?"

I blinked sleepily at her, my smile widening as I remembered what she had told me...she loved me. Robyn Ward loved me.

Hot damn.

I yawned and lifted my hand to stroke her hand. "I'm awake. Your rabbit is safe." I looked around the room. "What time is it?"

"It's 4:30..."

I furrowed my brow. "You stayed all night?  Did you get any sleep?"

"Some," she said with a shrug, but I doubted it. She looked tired and drawn, but her eyes were shining happily as they looked down on me. "I wanted to be here when you woke up. I'm sorry I have to go...I'd rather stay with you, but I'm walking on thin ice with Lynne as it is."

I gingerly shifted my body on the bed, twisting until I was facing her. "Rob, you know I understand...I'm just sorry if all this has screwed things up for you..."

"Shhh..." She reached out and let two fingers hover just above my lips. "No sorrys, okay?" I nodded and she leaned in for a brief kiss before pulling back. "Everything's fine, I just don't want to push any more than I have to. Can I come back tonight?"

I glared at her. "If you promise not to ask stupid questions like that one."

"Ooohh." She smiled. "Kinda feisty at four-thirty in the morning, aren'tcha?"

I did my best to waggle my eyebrows, despite the pain it caused. "Stick with me, baby, and you'll find out just how feisty I can be at four in the morning."

She suppressed a chuckle and a dark, elegant eyebrow inched up her forehead. "Is that so?"


"Well, I certainly need to stick around for that. Guess you're stuck with me for a while."

"Lucky me." I smiled up at her.

"Lucky me." She grinned down at me. Our eyes locked, and both of our smiles faded as electricity sparked between us, along with something deeper. "I love you," she said softly.

"I love you, too."

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath at the words, smiling radiantly. "I wonder if I'll ever get used it."

"To what?" I brushed my fingers across her cheek, and she opened her eyes. "To hearing someone loves you?"

"No baby..." She leaned down to brush her lips across my cheek. "To actually believing it."


Continued in chapter 22

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