And Playing the Role of Herself...  (Part 6)

For disclaimers, see part 1



"Eroto what???" Liz looked at me blankly, the normally flawlessly smooth skin of her forehead furrowed in perplexity.

"Erotomanic Delusional Disorder." I repeated. "With..." I scrunched my face up, trying to remember what Detective Fischer had said. "Uh...attached Narcissistic Linking Fantasies."

She blinked. "Uh-huh. And is there an English translation for that? Something us simple folk can understand?"

We were sharing a carafe of coffee on the small back patio of the guest cottage on Liz's estate, talking and enjoying the cool morning air as had become our habit over the past twenty-three days since I'd been released from Mid-Key Medical Center. Liz had insisted I use her cottage as a place to rest and recuperate out of the public eye, and I had taken her up on her offer with very little argument. Since then, these early morning coffee sessions had become something of a ritual; every two or three days Liz would show up at the cottage door after my morning walk - running was still too painful - and her morning swim, carafe in hand, and we'd talk for an hour or so, until the coffee was gone. This morning when Liz knocked on my door, I'd just gotten off the phone with Detective Fischer.

I smiled slightly and took a sip of coffee. "Mm-hmm. Basically what it means is that Todd Massey thought he had some kind of relationship or friendship with Robyn, and the stories about Josh dumping her for me...that really pissed the guy off, insulted her and by extension, him. So that anger had been building up for weeks, and when he saw her with me, the supposed reason Josh had dumped her, he just...snapped"

She blew on her cup absently and nodded, her eyes flicking from my face to my splinted wrist. I had done a lot of healing since leaving the hospital - my face had returned to its normal size and shape, the welts from the cuts on my face had gone down and lost the angry, swollen red of a new injury, the large metal and bandage splint on my wrist had been downsized to an easily removable light-weight vinyl and canvas splint, and most of the bruising had faded to a faint, slightly jaundiced yellow - but evidence of Todd Massey's 'snap' was still very visible.

"And they're just going to ship him off to some loony bin? No trial for what he did?" She wrapped both hands around the mug, tapping gently with one long, blood-red nail.

"It's not official yet, but that's what it sounds like since they doubt he's fit to go to trial. And he's continued to be violent in custody, attacking two cell mates before they transferred him to a mental health facility that deals with that kind of thing." I delivered the information dispassionately, suppressing the churn of emotions that talking about Todd Massey and the attack brought on.

"And how do you feel about that?" Liz said carefully, watching me with concern.

I sighed and rolled the tension out of my shoulders. "To be perfectly honest, I'm relieved. The detectives and the DA think that with the violence of the assault and his behavior since the arrest, it will be a long, long time before anyone has to worry about him walking the streets; longer, they think, than what he might get if he actually went to trial."

"Maybe that is better, then."

I shrugged. "I think so...I wasn't looking forward to living through it again, and the media attention a trial would have brought..." I shuddered for emphasis. "I'm finally starting to be a non-entity again with the press - I'd like to keep it that way for a while."

I had thought the amount of attention I garnered for 'dating' Josh Riley had been intense, but I'd learned being attacked by a clinically insane erotomanic delusional with narcissistic linking fantasies ranked much higher on the scale of newsworthy things a celebrity could do to get attention. And add the extra titillation factor that the object of the attacker's fantasies and obsession was Robyn Ward, whose boyfriend I had recently stolen, and who I had been spending the weekend with when I was attacked...the fervor had been insane, and the speculation, mind-boggling. Rumors of a lesbian affair between Robyn and I had surfaced, but seemed to stem from previous rumors fueled by the season finale kiss and not by any new information. With nothing new to keep them alive, they never gained a good foothold, and although they never disappeared altogether, there was far less speculation in that area than I had expected, and I was glad to be proven wrong about the Monroe County Sheriff's Office's capacity for discretion.

"Yes, things do seem to be calming down," Liz mused. "Paula said you two swung by your house yesterday when you were out, and it was relatively press-free."

I nodded. "Nary a photog in site. My hydrangeas are decimated, and the front landscaping is a mess, but it was a beautifully empty mess."

"And the rest of the trip?" she asked casually, "everything go alright?"

Yesterday's trip with Paula was only the second time in twenty-three days that I'd left the fenced confines of Liz's estate. I knew Liz was concerned by my reclusiveness, but she hadn't pushed, and for that I was grateful. Last week, I'd finally forced myself to leave the property, accompanying Risa on a brief trip to the grocery store, and yesterday I'd tagged along with Paula as she ran some errands for Liz at a crowded shopping center, just trying to get accustomed to being surrounded by strangers again.

"Everything went fine...better than fine, really. I'm still a little jumpy, but it wasn't as bad as I expected, once I got over the initial weirdness of having people in my space. I'm actually thinking that I should move my ass home and stop hiding out here, especially now that my house is press-free. I've taken advantage of your generosity for long enough. I was thinking of moving early next week."

Liz paused in mid-sip and lowered her cup, reaching out with one hand to touch my arm. "Caid, you're not taking advantage of anything. You know you're welcome to stay as long as you want." She pulled her hand away and returned it to her cup. "I've enjoyed having you around, actually." She smiled. "The only other person who stays in this cottage is Mama, and you're much easier to deal with."

"Liz, I've met your mama. Being easier to deal with than her isn't much of a feat."

She gave me a mock frown. "Are you bad-mouthing my mama?"

I laughed. "No, ma'am. I'd never do that." We shared a smile and I reached out and tapped her cup gently with mine. "And I've enjoyed being here, Liz. Thank you again."

"Caid, you've already thanked me a hundred times..."

"So now it's a hundred and one." We were quiet for a moment. "Speaking of Mama Stokley," I asked curiously, "how'd she take the news?"

Two weeks ago, in an announcement that had surprised pretty much everyone, Liz and Danny not only went public with their relationship, but also announced their engagement. The resulting media flurry had done just as much, if not more, than my seclusion to get stories of my attack out of the lime-light, and despite Liz assurances to the contrary, I still wasn't convinced that the timing wasn't deliberate.

Liz laughed. "Oh, she's a little concerned that he's Italian, and Catholic, and that I'm rushing into things, but she's already talking to caterers and florists and bugging us to set a date."

"Well, it was kind of quick," I said absently, remembering my own surprise at the news, even though I knew Liz and Danny were together. Liz looked annoyed at my comment and I hastily amended, "I'm not saying it's good or bad, Liz...I'm just saying things happened very quickly, and you surprised a lot of people."

"God, if I had a dollar for every time someone's told me we're rushing..." She shook her head and looked out over the lawn, and then back at me. "I've been with a lot of men, Caid...a lot," she said matter-of-factly. "I knew right away it was different with Danny, and he knew it too, and we figured, why wait? Because other people think we should?"

I held up a hand in apology. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound like I think you're making a mistake - I don't. I've seen you two together, and I think it's good, Liz. Really good."

She contemplated my apology while she poured herself more coffee, and finding it satisfactory, moved on to other topics. "So, when is Robyn getting back?"

Robyn's filming had taken her to New York for sound stage work the day before my release from the hospital. We talked daily, but she hadn't been able to make it back even for a quick visit and I missed her intensely. To say I was looking forward to her return to LA would be something of an understatement; I'd been thinking of little else for the past several days.

"She's not positive yet, but sometime this weekend if everything stays on schedule." I nodded my thanks as she filled my mug.

"Bet you're looking forward to that, hmm?" she asked.

"You could say that," I said dryly.

"Uh-huh." She laughed. "Well, I don't know what y'all's plans are when she gets in," she raised her eyebrows suggestively, "but please make sure she knows she's welcome here any time - I've told Risa to expect her."

I blushed, but managed a smiled at her thoughtfulness. "Thanks, Liz."

She laughed again, and patted my hand. "Of course, sugar."

Liz left a little while later, and I passed the morning with a light free-weight workout and nearly an hour and a half of careful stretching, followed by lunch, some business-related phone calls, and another walk. It was late afternoon before I grabbed a book and settled into a large overstuffed armchair in the cottage's living room, tucked in sideways with one leg draped over a padded arm and the other stretched out along the floor, easing the pressure on my still tender back.

I'd become completely engrossed in the story when the shrill jangle of a phone sounded, tearing through the silence of the house and scaring the crap out of me.

"Shit..." The initial jolt of surprise brought a lance of pain from my lower back, but after taking a few calming breaths, the pain eased and I carefully lifted my leg from where it was draped over the arm of the chair and pushed slowly to my feet. I straightened with a wince and dropped the book onto the chair before crossing to the table where the phone sat in the foyer.

"Yes?" I answered curtly, trying and failing to hide my annoyance both at the pain the intrusion had brought and the interruption to my lazy afternoon.

"Hi." Liz's melodic voice came over the line, "sorry to interrupt your busy day, sugar, but your girlfriend's here, and I'm going to assume she's here to see you and not me."

"My wha...?" I blinked.

"Your girlfriend. Robyn. Remember her? Tall, dark and broody? The one you haven't seen in three weeks? I just told Risa to let her I hope you've showered today, and please tell me you're not wearing those atrocious holey sweat-pant things I saw you in earlier today...if you are, you have about 3 minutes to change into something that doesn't make you look like a reject from the cast of Rent."

"Robyn's here?" I repeated dumbly and looked down at my clothes, even though I knew that, yes indeed, I was wearing those holey sweat-pant things - once black bleach-spattered cotton sweats raggedly cut off at mid-thigh - along with a faded t-shirt with the neck and arms ripped out.


"You are wearing those things, aren't you?" I could hear the amusement in her tone, and scowled. "And I was wrong about the three minutes - the woman must be in one hell of a hurry, 'cause I can see her car already. I give you about 30 seconds. Maybe you've got time to brush that rats nest you call a hairdo?"

"Liz, you're a shit." I told her and hung up, smiling slightly when I heard her laughter as I put the phone down.

I thought about trying to change quickly but dismissed the idea, since my body wasn't able to do anything quickly at the moment. I used the hall mirror to try and put hair into some kind of order, and then opened the front door and leaned against the frame with my arms crossed, watching the green Range Rover roll past the main house and start down the narrow gravel lane to the guest cottage.

She pulled up twenty feet from the door and turned off the ignition, pausing for a moment to stare at me before slowly climbing out of the car and walking up the short path to the door, a grin building on her face that I knew was mirrored in my own. A moment later I was engulfed in her arms, surrounded by her scent and drowning in feel of her body against mine.

"Hi," she whispered into my hair.

"Mmmm...hi." I melted into her with a groan of pleasure. "You're early."

One of her hands went to the base of my neck and kneaded gently. "There was some screw-up with the scheduling of one of the studios, and we're not going to be able to get in until Saturday. Lynne gave everyone a couple of days. I have to fly back Friday night, but I wanted to see you."

"I'm so glad you're here..." I kissed the side of her neck and snuggled in closer. "God, I missed you."

"I missed you, too," she said in a husky whisper, and tightened her arms around me. It caused a twinge from my back but I didn't care. I could have stood right there, in her arms, for days.

And we did stand that way for several minutes, gently rocking back and forth, just soaking each other in. My good hand crept under the hem of her soft cotton tank-top and splayed across the heated skin of her back, pulling her closer, and she let out a sigh and buried her face in my neck.

At the sound of footsteps on gravel, we finally pulled apart, but to my surprise and pleasure, Robyn didn't pull back very far, keeping one arm draped over my shoulder as we turned to face Liz who was walking up the drive with a smirky grin on her face.

"Looks like your early arrival was well received," Liz called to Robyn as she approached.

Robyn glanced over at me with a smile and I wrapped an arm around her waist and squeezed, returning the smile. "Looks like."

When she looked back at Liz, the two shared a grin, and I sensed some kind of collusion.

"You knew she was coming?" I asked Liz curiously as she walked up.

"She called this morning when you were on one of your little was my idea to surprise you. You would have been a basket-case all day if you'd have known."

She was right, of course, and right now I was too damn happy to make a fuss.

Liz stopped in front of us and slipped her hands into the pockets of her long shorts. "Danny's coming over for dinner in a little bit...I was coming by to invite you to join us."

I felt Robyn stiffen slightly, and she looked at me and then at Liz. "I...uh...actually brought some dinner for us...I thought..."

I looked at her in surprise. "You did?"

"Mm-hmm. Indian."

"I love Indian," I told her and smiled.

She grinned back. "I thought you might."

We kept smiling at each other, and probably would have continued to do so indefinitely, if Liz hadn't pulled her hands from her pockets and clapped happily.

"Great!  We'll be over as soon as Danny shows up. Do you have any wine, or should we bring some?"

I knew Liz well, and recognized the playful glint in her eye, but Robyn had obviously not been exposed to Liz's more... mischievous side, and look on her face was priceless. I bit my lip to keep from laughing but Liz had no such compunction, and let out delighted peals of laughter.

"Liz, you're a shit," I told her good naturedly, and gave Robyn's waist a squeeze. "Don't worry, Rob, she's joking. She abhors Indian food, and I'm sure she and Danny have something much more interesting planned than dinner in with us."

Robyn looked between the two of us in consternation, and Liz finally stopped laughing, wiping the moisture from the corner of her eyes delicately. "She's right, Robyn, I was kidding." She favored her with a friendly smile. "I wouldn't dream of horning in on y'all's reunion. Actually, Danny's taking me to Matteo's, and then we're going to see what kind of trouble we can get into."

"Watch out, LA," I murmured, and Liz laughed.

Robyn regained her equilibrium and smiled along with us. "Congratulations, by the way, Liz. On the engagement. Danny's a good guy."

Liz smile softened. "I think so, too. Thanks." She glanced over at me, and back at Robyn, smiling slyly. "Congratulations to you, too."

I glanced furtively at Robyn, wondering how she'd react to our relationship being compared to Liz and Danny's engagement. All I could do was grin stupidly when Robyn gave me an adoring look, kissed me on the cheek, and then flashed a dazzling smile at Liz. "Thank you."

She kissed me again, this time on the temple, letting her lips linger and breathing in with a gentle huff of air, as though she were inhaling me. I closed my eyes and wrapped my other arm awkwardly around her waist as tightly as I could.

"I think that's my cue to leave," Liz said with a chuckle, and my eyes popped open guiltily.


"Oh, don't be." She waved my apology away. "Welcome back, Robyn. You two have fun tonight." As she walked away, she called over her shoulder, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

I let her walk a few more steps, and then said in a loud stage whisper, "Don't worry, babe, that covers just about everything."

Liz's laughter floated back to us, and she waved without turning around. I smiled and watched her for another few yards before turning back to Robyn.

"She's a lot...different off the set, isn't she?" Robyn asked, still watching Liz's progress thoughtfully. "I always kind of wondered why you two were such good friends - you seem so different - but now I guess I can see why."

I glanced affectionately at Liz's retreating figure and then back at Robyn. "Yeah, she just doesn't let many people see it."

She turned and draped both arms over my shoulders. "I look forward to getting to know her better, then," she told me, and kissed me briefly on the nose. As she pulled back, she paused and looked at my face with concerned eyes. She brought a hand to my cheek and slowly traced just below the two scars with gentle fingers. "Do these still hurt?"

I turned my head and kissed her hand. "A little tender still, but not too bad. I have to rub this scar-be-gone goop into them every day, and that hurts like hell, but most of the time they don't bother me."

"They're kinda sexy, now that the stitches are out," she told me, tracing the lines again and quirking a grin. "Especially in this outfit. Very tough."

I gave her a dubious look.

"I'm serious." She leaned in and kissed the scars lightly. "Very hot. And the rest of you?  How's your back today?" She paused, and stepped back from me quickly. "Ah, shit, I nearly crushed you when I hugged you...that had to hurt. Damn, I'm sorry, Caid, I wasn't thinking."

I stepped close again and put my arms around her waist, pulling our bodies back together. "It didn't hurt much, and it was well worth it. Honest," I assured her when she looked unconvinced. "Now, what was this I heard about dinner?"

"Ah," she said, tentatively returning her arms to my shoulders and running a hand through my hair. "Dinner is in the car. And a few movies to choose from, if you want..."

"You brought movies, too?"

"Yeah..." She looked almost shy. "I thought a night in with you, dinner and a movie, sounded...nice."

"It sounds better than nice." I smiled and let my hand drift under her shirt again, scratching gently across her back. "It sounds perfect."

She sucked in a breath and blinked rapidly, then dropped another kiss on my nose and stepped out of my arms. "Good," she said briskly, "The stuff's in the car. I brought some beer, too. Indian is always better with beer, I never could find a wine that went with it...are you still on pain meds? You shouldn't drink if you are...I didn't know what kind of movies you liked, so I got a mix...some action, some drama, and a foreign flick..."

I shook my head, bemused by what I realized was nervousness. I watched her walk to the car and fumble around with a few bags and a six pack of beer. "Need any help?"

"No, thanks..." She straightened quickly and hit her head on the inside of the car door. "Shit..."

I walked to the car and wordlessly took the beer from her. She gave me a sheepish look and immediately used the newly freed hand to rub her head. "Ow...damn, that hurt."

"Poor baby." I stepped in close. "Let me see." She stopped rubbing and with a slight pout, bent her head. I inspected the spot for a moment, and stood on my tip toes to kiss it. "There. All better."

"Thank you." She smiled, the nervousness of before gone.

I stepped back and tilted my head, gesturing towards the cottage. "Come on, Ward, I'm starving."

The cottage was a modified loft, with the large living room, kitchen, two bedrooms and bath on the lower level, and the master bedroom and bath on the upper level overlooking the living room. Robyn glanced around curiously, pausing in the foyer while I continued on to the kitchen.

"This is the guest cottage?" she asked with a laugh. "She must like her guests a hell of a lot."

I smiled as I put the beer in the fridge and walked back to join her. "She said, way back when, that it used to be a barn, but I think that's a load of crap." She was still gazing around in appreciation, and I took the bag of food from her unresisting hand and went back into the kitchen.

"Well, whatever it was way back when, it's damn nice now."

"Uh-huh...why do you think I agreed to stay here?  This place is way nicer than my house." I started unpacking different containers of food and placing them on the counter.

"I like your house. It's cute."

I glanced over to see she'd finished her perusal and was leaning in the entryway of the kitchen, watching me.

"I like it too," I said, and turned back to the food, "although I think I'm going to look for something else neighbors are ready to lynch me." I popped one of the containers open, breathing in the exotic spices. "God, Rob, this smells great. Where'd you...ohhh..." My voice trailed off into a tiny gasp as Robyn came up behind me, her body as close as she could get without actually touching me, and kissed the exposed skin at the base of my neck.

"You smell great," she murmured, the heat of her breath washing over my skin. She moved her lips to my shoulder, and then trailed them up under my ear, kissing the skin there and nipping lightly at my earlobe. "And you taste great, too."

The slam of arousal took me by surprise, and I closed my eyes, gripping the edge of the counter tightly with my good hand and laying the other palm down on the counter.


She laid her hands on the counter on either side of mine; I could feel the hardness of her nipples brush against my upper back, and feel how she moved slightly from side to side, her breath quickening as she rubbed against me.

"God, Caid," her voice was ragged in my ear. "I can't believe how much I want you right now."

I groaned, and she kissed my neck again, sucking gently. I let my head fall to the side, giving her better access and she took advantage of it immediately, sucking and kissing all along the exposed skin, up under my jaw, and back to my ear where she traced the inner curve with her tongue.

Through it all she kept the steady rhythm of her breasts across my back, some strokes firmer than others, but always the same, steady motion. The array of sensations was overwhelming and I could barely breathe. My whole body was trembling, and I reached to steady myself, gripping the counter tightly with my splinted hand and yelping in surprise as pain shot from my wrist up my arm, bringing tears to my eyes.

"Fuck," I hissed, and pulled my arm to my chest, cradling it. "Fucking fuck fuck fuck..."

Robyn jerked away from me as though she'd been slapped, taking a few quick steps away before hesitantly coming back to my side and hovering worriedly. "Oh, shit. Oh, god, Caid, I'm sorry..."

"S'alright," I said through gritted teeth, breathing slowly through my nose until the pain faded to a dull ache.

"No, it's not," she said angrily, and ran a trembling hand through her hair. "Jesus, you just got out of the hospital, you're hurt, and all I can think about is getting you into bed..."

I smiled slightly, despite the pain. She might think that was a bad thing, but I was inordinately pleased by her zeal to get me horizontal. It meant that, despite all I'd been through, and the possible permanent changes to my appearance, she still wanted me. I didn't even realize I had been worried about the alternative until her actions allayed my fears.

Still cradling my arm, I turned and leaned against the counter. "Rob, it's okay."

She took a step back from me and shook her head, staring at the floor.

"Honey," I took the steps to close the distance between us and cupped her cheek with my good hand. "Baby, look at me." After a moment she lifted her head and met my gaze, her dark eyes full of apology. I stroked her cheek. "Robyn, you didn't do anything wrong. I'm relieved, actually, that you still want me, after everything that's happened." She started to protest and I moved my fingers to gently cover her mouth. "Let me finish." When she settled down I continued. "I love you, and I want you as much as you want me. I've missed you so much...missed your touch and the closeness we had that weekend...I want that back, and I hope you do too."

I moved my fingers back to her cheek so she could answer, and she turned her head to kiss them before speaking. "More than anything," she said softly.

"Good." I smiled leaned in for a quick kiss. "We just need to be a little careful for a while, that's all. But please don't pull away from me...please."

She nodded slowly. "Okay."

I slid my hand down her arm until I held her hand in mine and squeezed. "Okay. How about we eat, watch a movie, and see what happens?"

She smiled slowly and squeezed my hand. "I can live with that."

What happened after dinner was that I fell asleep.

Drowsy from two beers, settled comfortably on the couch in the vee of Robyn's legs and leaning back against her, I fell asleep to the soothing rhythm of her breath on my cheek, the solid warmth of her at my back, and the feel of her fingers running absently through my hair.

When my eyes fluttered open, the DVD logo was bouncing slowly around the television screen, reminding me of a lazy game of pong, and sending flickering patterns of light across our sprawled bodies. I lifted my head and turned slightly to see if Robyn was asleep too, and found her watching me with a tender smile.

"Hey." She kissed the side of my head gently.

"Hey." I let my head fall back onto her chest, and lifted a hand to rub the sleep from my eyes. "Sorry...I'm being one hell of a date, aren't I?  How long has it been finished?"

I felt her shrug, "A while. I'm not complaining. It feels great, just holding you like this."

I grinned and tilted my head up to kissed the underside of her chin. "Robyn Ward, you're a sweetheart."

She chuckled and began to rub gentle circles on my stomach. "I've been called a lot of things, Caid, and sweetheart was never one of them."

"Times are changing," I said firmly, and laid another sloppy kiss on her neck before snuggling back into her body.

"That they are," she said softly and gave me a gentle squeeze. "We should probably get you to bed, hmm? Are you upstairs, or down here somewhere?" My body stilled, and the gentle circles on my stomach stopped. "Caid?"

"Will you stay?" I asked quietly, trying to keep from sounding too hopeful.

She resumed her caress. "I'd like to, but only if you want."

"Oh, I definitely want." I shifted my body around carefully and looked her in the eye. "Remember that thing you said in Florida about always wanting me in your bed? That works both ways, honey."

I emphasized my point with a hard, fast kiss. She blinked in surprise and I patted her cheek lightly with my splinted hand before sitting up and cautiously pushing myself off the couch. Once I'd straightened gingerly, I reached out a non-splinted hand to where Robyn was still sprawled on the couch, watching me with ill-veiled concern. When she didn't move, I wiggled my fingers at her. "Come on, woman. Time's a wastin'."

One dark eyebrow rose at that, and I couldn't help but grin. "Have I ever told you how much I adore your eyebrows?"

Another eyebrow went up to join its sibling. "I don't believe so, no."

"Well I do. They are truly wondrous things."

She smiled and took the offered hand, rising smoothly from the couch without any extra help from me. "You are a truly wondrous thing." She leaned in for a quick kiss. "Odd, but wondrous."

I smiled, taking it as the compliment it was meant to be. I tugged her towards the wide stairs, turning off the television and DVD player as we walked past. Robyn followed obediently for a few steps and then stopped.

"I've got a bag in the car..." she looked slightly embarrassed. "I brought it just...hoping, I guess. I've got some stuff to sleep in..."

"You won't need it."

That stopped her for a moment, and she looked at me uncertainly. "Caid, I know we talked about this earlier, but I don't know..."

"Robyn, please...stop thinking so much and just come with me," I asked quietly, and tugged on her hand. After a slight hesitation she followed, and I led her up the stairs that ended in a spacious bedroom with soft, thick carpeting and a huge, low-lying bed.

At the top of the stairs I paused and fumbled a little at a row of switches, surprised when I hit the one I wanted - the one that turned on only the four wall sconces positioned around the room - on the second try.

I took a few steps toward the bed, pulling Robyn with me, and then turned towards her and raised her hand to my lips. She watched with hooded eyes as I released her hand and ran light fingers across her abdomen, feeling the ripple of reaction in the muscles beneath, and stopped at the hem of her shirt. "I want to undress you..." I said softly, and held up my splinted arm, "but I think I might need some help."

She took a small step back, her eyes not leaving mine, and her hands went to the fastenings of her shorts. She undid the button and zipper and pushed the shorts, along with her underwear, down her long legs, kicking them to the side when they hit the floor. In one quick motion she pulled her shirt over her head and dropped it on top of the shorts, and her bra quickly followed.

My eyes followed the final garment's progress to the floor, and then slowly traveled back up the tan, smoothly muscled length of her legs, pausing briefly at the neatly trimmed thatch of dark hair at the juncture of her thighs, and continuing upwards, over the long, flat expanse of her belly, small, firm breasts tipped with dusky brown, and her long, elegant neck...She met my gaze with no sign of embarrassment or discomfort, her posture self-assured, and almost arrogant, and she had every right to be.

"You're amazing," I whispered reverently, stepping forward to run my hand up her side, across her breasts, and down across her stomach, stopping with my hand just above her navel. "So beautiful..." I ducked my head and tasted the skin of chest with my tongue, slowly moving lower until I captured a pebbled nipple in my mouth and sucked gently.

Robyn let out a growl of pleasure and her hands went to the back of my head, pulling me closer as I sucked hard on a nipple and then dragging my mouth away and dropping her hands to the hem of my shirt. "Now you. Arms up," she rasped, and I compliantly lifted my arms to let her pull my shirt over my head. She tossed it to the side and eyed my front-closure bra with a professional eye, making quick work of it and kissing the top of each breast as the scrap of material dropped carelessly to the floor. She slowly knelt and dropped a chain of kisses across my stomach, untying the drawstring of my shorts and letting gravity do the rest. Then she sat back on her heels and just looked. I stood quietly as she had done, trying for the same confidence and finding that the way she looked at me made it easy.

Love, desire, tenderness...all of it and more shown in the dark depths of her eyes.  I smiled gently down at her and touched her cheek. "Come here, you."

She slowly climbed to her feet. "I'm scared of hurting you, Caid," she told me softly. "I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't, baby." I smiled softly. "We'll figure something out."

And we did.

We lay face to face on the bed, sharing long, soft kisses and gentle touches, hands gliding over warm skin, reacquainting ourselves with each other.

"God I've missed this," Robyn murmured, skimming her palm from my thigh up over my belly to cup my breast, squeezing gently.

"Mmmm," I sighed deeply and mirrored her movements, brushing a thumb across her nipple and leaning in to initiate another long kiss.

The pace was slow and gentle, with no rush or urgency, and when our fingers finally found each other, the release was unexpectedly intense. We clung to each other, my face buried in her hair and hers pressed against my neck.

"God, Robyn..." I choked out in a half sob, half laugh, overwhelmed by emotion and how much she made me feel.

She pulled back and stroked my cheek with an unsteady hand, gazing at me in wonder. "How did I not know it could be like this?"

'Oh, baby..." I kissed her softly and pressed my face into her shoulder, unable to find any other words.

She carefully rolled onto her back and wrapped her arms around me, and after I maneuvered my splinted wrist to a more comfortable spot between us, I settled my head onto her chest and snaked my other arm around her waist, pulling us closer together.

She kissed my head, her fingers making lazy patterns on my back. "I love you, baby."

I turned my head a little and kissed her chest. "I love you too, sweetheart."

Robyn spent the entire two days of her break with me; I kept expecting her to tell me that she needed to go home, or she had things to do, but she stayed, and we fell into a routine of sorts. A short walk in the morning, reading the newspaper over long, drawn out breakfasts, another longer walk off Liz's property in the afternoon, a quiet dinner and a movie or television in the evening, and gentle love making before falling asleep in each others arms.

It was idyllic; as close to perfect as I'd ever managed to get, and I knew with overwhelming certainty that this was what I wanted. I'd never thought in terms of forever before, actually scoffing at the idea of one person making me happy for the rest of my life, but for the first time, I could imagine it. I'd found someone who could make forever possible, and when she was ready, that's exactly what I would ask for.




"Well." Connie blinked her light-brown eyes once, very slowly, her face expressionless.

She pulled off her thin, gold-framed reading glasses and tapped one ear piece against her lower lip a few times, regarding me speculatively. Sinking back in her chair, she dropped the glasses to hang from an intricate gold chain looped around her neck and steepled her fingers. "Well, well, well."

I smiled slightly and took a sip of the espresso her assistant had brought in a few minutes before, watching her reaction carefully while acting like I wasn't; like the possible repercussions from what I'd just shared with her didn't worry me one bit.

"You've certainly had an eventful summer, haven't you?" She swung her chair slightly to one side and stared at the wall for several moments. The question sounded rhetorical so I didn't answer, taking another sip of espresso and waiting. She swung the chair back and pinned me with sharp eyes. "You know," she tapped the tips of her steepled fingers together, "four months ago, you were by far my easiest client. Steady gig, liked your privacy, stayed out of the public eye, rarely needed anything..."

I grimaced apologetically. "Yeah, Con, I'm sorry to be such a pain all the sudden..."

She waved an imperious hand. "Oh, goodness, Caid, don't be sorry. This is what I do, and I quite like what I do. I also quite like you, which I can't say about many of my clients, but I'll tell you, it makes what I do even more fun for me." She smiled, and some of the tension that was knotting my shoulders drained away. "So." She leaned forward and rested her elbows on her desk. "How do you want to handle this? I'm assuming that's why you told me. And thank you, by the way. For telling me."

I nodded and let the corners of my mouth turn up in a tiny grin. "I know how much you hate it when people know more than you do."

"Damn right I do," she said with a huff, and we both smiled.

I set my cup down on the corner of her desk and sat back, crossing my legs. "That's one of the reasons I told you - Robyn is about done with shooting on Lost Key and due back  in LA soon, and I don't really know how things are going to play out, but I'm planning on spending as much time with her as possible. I wanted you to be prepared in case this whole thing leaks somehow; wanted to have some kind plan, I suppose you'd call it."

She nodded. "And the other reasons?"

"I guess..." I shrugged helplessly. "I guess I'm looking for some advice."

Pencil-thin eyebrows crept up her forehead. "About life?"

I laughed softly. "No...about how to keep my love life mine."

"Ah. Okay then." She leaned back again and cocked her head to the side. "Let me ask you first - is this something you want to go public with?"

"God no," I said with an emphatic shake of my head. "At least, not like going on to 20/20 and coming out to Barbara Walters kind of public, and not right now, either." I suppressed a shudder at the thought of the media attention that would draw. "I don't want to outright lie about it, but I also don't want to make a public statement...Gah!" I ran a frustrated hand through my hair. "It pisses me off that we even need to worry about this. This isn't news, it's my damn life!" I said angrily, and she raised an eyebrow at my vehemence. I calmed and gave her a wry smile. "Sorry."

She waved the apology away. I sat for a moment, and sat forward, resting my elbows on my knees. "Connie, this relationship is extremely important to me. There are already enough...complications," I said carefully, "without bringing the public into it. If things don't work out, I want it to be because of me and Robyn, not because of media interference or public opinion. I want to be able to work on this without the world looking on, and I want you to tell me how I can get the space to make that possible."

She searched my face for a moment, nodding slowly. "Okay." She picked up a pen and tapped the desk. "This is how I see it, Caid. You've got two things that need addressing. One," she waved the pen at me, "you're gay..." She gave me another sharp look and added, "or at the very least, bi-sexual, and although you don't want to lie about it, you also don't want it to be public knowledge at this time."

She waited for me to confirm her statement with a nod before continuing. "Now, if that was all we were dealing with, that's not nearly as hard as people think, especially now that you've been off the front pages lately. Ron Chandler, Tara Sun, Rena Kohlakis, Owen Lucio...all gay celebrities who have managed to be 'out' in their lives, without outing themselves to the entire world. A combination of keeping a publicly low profile and being discrete is usually all it takes, and I know you are very capable of both."

I nodded again. It was common knowledge in the industry that the people she listed were gay, but the press never mentioned it.

"What complicates things somewhat," she continued with a wry smile, "is issue number two: the fact that you have decided to embrace your newly found lesbianism by becoming romantically involved with an extremely visible public figure who, last I heard, was publicly involved in a relationship with another extremely visible public figure." She tapped the pen against her chin, frowning, and said carefully, "Mmm...what exactly is her involvement with Josh Riley, Caid?"

I smiled slightly, amused by her sudden delicacy. "You mean is Robyn cheating on Josh, and am I the 'Other Woman'?"

"Well," she squinted her right eye, the only sign that my question had flustered her. "Um...yes."

I let out a chuckle. "Robyn and Josh are not romantically involved, and Josh is very aware of our relationship."

She sighed in relief. "I figured as much about those two, but I wanted to make sure..."

"You figured..." I blinked. "You did?"

"Sure." She shrugged slightly. "I've been on the coordinating end of enough merks to spot one when I see one, although it's tricky with those two since they obviously like each other - sometimes it's so damn obvious that the people involved can't stand each other, it's pathetic..."

"Um..." I frowned, stopping her rambling. "Uh...merks?"

"Merkins," she clarified at my baffled look, giving me the same fondly indulgent look that Liz did when I showed my utter lack of entertainment business savvy. "As in, a woman dating a man to cover up her sexual orientation. If the man is gay, it's called a beard."

"You're joking." I stared at her. "There's a name for that?"

"Of course there is. We have a name for everything. And that kind of thing is fairly common practice..."

Well, I knew that. I'm not completely clueless. I just would never have guessed they'd have a name for it.

I reached for my cup and sipped absently.

And what in the hell was a merkin, anyway? Did someone just pull that name out of their ass? Sounded like some kind of termite exterminator....

"...with Josh Riley something that Robyn plans to continue? Because that might throw a little hitch in your plans for privacy - "

"Huh?" I said, pulled from my pondering of merkins.

She tapped her pen on the desk. "I was asking if those two planned on continuing their front. Because honestly, Caid, since she's the one in the public eye, it's going to be her actions, more than yours that dictate the amount of privacy you'll be able to have. To lead a private life, you need to be a private person, which means keeping away from clubs, premiers, parties and events with lots of paparazzi and reporters. If she can pull herself out of the public eye, and manage to do it without creating too many waves, then you might be able to get that space you want." She put the pen down and steepled her fingers again. "On the other hand, if she continues her public involvement with Riley, that will make her a top commodity to the press, which amounts to more scrutiny, and would certainly make any kind of privacy hard to manage."

"I..." I chewed the inside of my lip, embarrassed that I didn't know the answer to that question. "I don't know," I said finally and sighed. "I don't think they will, but we haven't really talked about it."

A tiny tic in her left cheek was the only outward reaction to my admission. "And would you be okay with it if they did continue?" she asked bluntly.

"I..." I stopped and shook my head. "No. I wouldn't."

"I didn't think so." She put her pen down softly, staring at it for a moment before looking up at me. "So," she said after a slight pause, "what you need to find out is what Robyn is willing to do, and then ask yourself what you can live with."

I held her gaze for a moment, and then looked out the window behind her. "Yeah," I said quietly. "I guess that's the question, isn't it?"


The sun hung low over the ocean to our left and a sluggish breeze had begun to blow in off the water, cooling the sweat on my skin and countering the oven-like effect of the sand on either side of the path that radiated swirls of hot, dry air up at us. The steady slap of my feet on the asphalt was soothing, and I took a deep breath and held it through several strides, feeling a smile of satisfaction form on my face.

It felt good to run.

I'd only been out a few times since the attack, each time able to go further, and today I was pleased that the slight ache in my back that had accompanied my last two attempts had yet to develop, even coming into our third mile.

I glanced over at my running companion, noting with a twinge of jealousy his easy, athletic stride and barely increased breathing. With chrome bug-eye sunglasses, a white backwards baseball cap, white t-shirt and long navy shorts, he looked barely twenty, and if his t-shirt didn't reveal a few dark spots of perspiration, I'd almost think he was wasn't even sweating.

Show off.

Josh's bid for the Wimbledon title had been cut short by a stomach virus that had hit him late in the second round of play, leaving him dehydrated and fighting cramps, nausea and fatigue. He'd struggled through the third round and eked out a win but his weakened state finally caught up with him in the fourth round against a spry young Australian and he'd lost badly in straight sets. We'd spoken a couple of times since his return to LA the week before, always talking about getting together, but today was the first time we could manage it. Josh had suggested dinner, but I'd wanted to get outdoors after the first day of shooting for the new season of 9P, so we'd compromised with a run along the Parkway, which we'd follow up later with take-out at his house in the hill section of Manhattan Beach.

I signaled it was time to turn around, and we turned a tight circle and headed back towards the parking lot and Twila.

"I know you can kick my ass, Josh," I zigzagged around a pair of walkers along the busy path. "You don't have to wait up for me. When you asked me to go for a run with you, I didn't actually expect to be running with you."

He grinned at me and shook his head as we dodged more pedestrians. "This is good, Caid. I'm still feeling some after-effects from whatever bug I picked up, and I don't want to push it just yet, especially in this heat." His gave me an appraising look. "How are you holding up? Back ok?"

I nodded. "Feels great. I think the heat is good for it, actually."

"Good. Robyn said she'd whoop my ass if I let you over-do it today."

"You talked to her today?" I asked curiously as we detoured through the sand to get around a large family strolling along the path.

"Yeah, she wanted to let me know she'd be back Thursday." He glanced at me. "You knew that already, right?"

I nodded and couldn't stop my wide grin. "Yep."

Josh caught the smile and laughed, shaking his head. "God, you two..." He made a snapping motion with his hand. "Whipped, whipped, whipped."

"Eh, shaddup." I backhanded him lightly on the arm, but my smile didn't fade. "You're just jealous," I said jokingly.

"Damn right I am," he replied seriously and smiled wryly at my surprised look. "I know I said all that stuff about focus and not letting myself get distracted by being involved with someone," he paused when a nearly naked man on roller blades shot between us and skated past. "...that doesn't mean I don't want to be," he finished as he eyed the tiny speedo and pelt-like back skating away from us with amusement.

"I'm sorry...whoa," I swerved slightly as a biker with long blond dreads and no shirt flew by. Josh held out a steadying hand and I settled back into stride, smiling my thanks before continuing. "When we talked about it before, I guess I just thought you weren't...into that kind of thing." I waved my hand. "A relationship or whatever."

"Oh," he laughed, "I'm into it. Too much so, which is why I get so distracted. I tend to forget about most everything else..." He trailed off with an embarrassed look.

"That doesn't sound like a bad thing, Josh." I smiled warmly at him. "Lucky girl, I'd say."

"We'll see. Thanks to you," he poked me in the arm, "it looks like I'm going to be diving back in to the dating pool again soon. Robyn told me she is no longer available to be my escort around town."

I blinked and almost stopped running. "She did?"

"She did." He confirmed. "She said it felt all wrong to even think about it."

"She did?' I repeated, a slow smile spreading across my face.

"Of course she did," he said, rolling his eyes at me. "Did you really think she'd keep doing things with me when she's crazy in love with you?"

"Well," I hedged, feeling guilty now about my insecurities and that I'd actually thought it was a possibility. "I'd hoped not, but we didn't talk about it..."

"Did you ask her?"

"" I looked over sheepishly. "Neither of us is what you'd call communicative. We talk a lot, sure, but not about us. I don't want to push her..." I paused as I realized the strangeness of what I was doing - talking about my relationship issues with my lover's ex-boyfriend. And the weirdest thing was that it felt completely comfortable. And probably no one knew Robyn better than Josh. With an internal shrug, I continued, "I'm afraid that if I do, she'll pull away...I don't want to lose her because I asked a question she wasn't ready to answer."

He shook his head as we detoured through the sand again, this time around a woman walking a herd of poodles. They yapped noisily at us as we went by. "I don't think you need to worry about losing her, Caid...she seems all-in as far as your relationship goes. But it's obvious that you have some unresolved really need to talk to her about them. I know she's not big on emotional discussions, but if you ask straight out, she won't put you off. "

All-in? Unresolved concerns?  "What are you, a poker-playing shrink?" I said with a slight smile.

He grinned. "Just call me Dr. Josh."

I laughed and unstrapped the small water bottle I was carrying on the belt around my waist and took a few gulps. "So." I offered him the bottle and when he declined, strapped it back in before continuing. "I shouldn't worry about Robyn backing off if I bring up these unresolved concerns of mine. Is that about right?"

"Uh-huh." He used his shirt to wipe at the perspiration on his forehead, and the resulting glimpse of well-defined abs sent a group of teenage girls in bikinis tittering as we ran past. I couldn't blame them, really. The guy was awfully well put together. "Caid," he said after flashing a smile at the girls and causing hearts to pitter-patter, "Robyn loves you. The fact that she's admitted that to me, and to you, is huge. I don't think you could get rid of her now if you tried. If you need to know something, just ask."

"You make it sound easy," I grumbled good-naturedly.

"I know." He grinned. "Isn't it annoying?"

"Extremely." I snorted, but I was smiling, both at his humor and what he'd told me about Robyn.

The parking lot came into view and I eyed the distance speculatively. I grinned at Josh, and slapped him in the stomach. Hard. "Race ya!" I yelled as I took off down the path, happy enough to believe I might even win.


"Settle people..." Nate said crisply, and a hush fell over the crew gathered in the makeshift alley that the production designer and art crew had created between two out buildings on the studio back lot. "We're rolling..."

For a few seconds, only the faint sound of steady, drizzling rain falling in the surrounding puddles could be heard. I closed my eyes, trying to relax and ignore my surroundings - ignore the cold drizzle soaking my skin and hair, and the moisture from the wet pavement beneath me seeping into my clothes. Suppressing a shiver, I cursed whatever stupid childhood dream had made me want to go into acting.

Please, please, please let this be the last take...


It had been six weeks since the assault, five weeks since I got out of the hospital, ten day's since I'd moved from Liz's cottage back into my house and three days since the start of shooting for the new season of 9P. My body had healed well and I hadn't had any problems with the physical aspects of my job or schedule, but my adventure in Florida was still causing problems because of the caps, blending, and covering necessary to hide the slowly healing damage to my face. The complicated application took an extra hour and a half each morning, forcing Jules and I to be on set by five am, and the additional time needed for touchups during shooting was throwing everyone off schedule, triggering all sorts of trauma within the cast and crew. When enough people complained, Grant talked to Dorn, Dorn talked to his writers, and the next day, the season opener was re-written to create a reason for my character to have scars.

The opener spanned two hours, one of those 'to-be-continued' episodes people bitched about but that drew great ratings.  The script brought all six main characters into an investigation of a series of execution-style murders that seemed to be linked to the Mexican Mob, La Eme. The original script called for the final scene of the first hour to be an assault on a witness to try to keep her from testifying. The writers switched the assault victim from the witness to my character Rita, and added a few bordering-on-sappy hospital scenes to the start of the second hour where Liz would get to act distraught, the guys would get to act stoic yet caring, and everyone would get to act confused when Robyn's character Judith showed up at the hospital to visit Rita.

The new scenes had been scheduled during the second week of filming, but Nate, in his infinite director's wisdom, had decided that this unseasonably cold and wet night would be the perfect backdrop for the mood he wanted to set for the attack. And that was why, at nearly midnight after a full day of shooting, I was sprawled in a soggy heap in an dark, dirty 'alley'; cold, wet, and thoroughly annoyed that my plans for the night with Robyn, who I hadn't seen in two weeks and who was finally coming home tonight after delays on the Lost Key shoot, had to be cancelled.

"Scene eleven-C, take five...mark!" someone called, followed by the distinct snap of a clapboard.

"Ready," Nate spoke again, "...and action!"

I forced myself to stay limp as rough hands gripped the front of my shirt, lifting me slightly off the ground and hot, cigarette-tinged breath blew across my face.


"Drop the case, bitch." The words were harsh and grating, underlined by another shake that I suffered bonelessly. "Forget you ever heard of the name Julian Hernandez."

My eyes fluttered open briefly, enough to see the cruel sneer and the dark, pock-marked face above me. The day-player who'd gotten the part of my attacker - David something or other - really was quite...intimidating, and I experience again, as I had in the takes before, a moment of unease when I opened my eyes and found his face so close to mine. I fought the accompanying urge to strike out in defense, reminding myself that Todd Massey was safely locked away in the Intensive Psychiatric Service unit of Laurel Hills Psychiatric Center in Tampa, and the man above me was not a threat. I gritted my teeth and forced out a soft moan, lolling my head to the side and exposing the fake blood on my cheek to the cold rain. The gooey mess immediately began to drip down my neck and into the collar of my shirt, tickling slightly.

"Rita?" a muted voice called, and sharp, quick footsteps echoed nearby.

The man swore unintelligibly and gave me one more shake before dropping me unceremoniously back to the wet pavement. I stifled a wince and lay still as the splash and slap of his footsteps receded into the night.

The quick footsteps came nearer, stopping abruptly near my head. "Rita! Oh god...Rita..."  Warm fingers brushed my forehead and then were gone in a rustle of clothing. A click, several beeps, and the voice came again. "This is Detective Jennifer Hastings, badge number 54162. I have an officer down at..."

Liz's voice rattled off a fictional address and other information while she knelt beside me, and I willed myself not to move as the tickle on my neck from the rivulets of fake gore and rain became harder to ignore. From the hours spent setting up, blocking, and rehearsing this scene, I knew the dolly camera was slowly pulling away, widening the shot, and soon we'd be done, if I could just keep still a bit longer.

A fat drop of water dribbled from my hair onto the side of my face, and I felt it start a slow slide towards my ear.

I hated getting things in my ears. They were extremely ticklish, and just the thought of that big fat drop trickling into one...

Not my ear, not my ear, not my ear, I chanted silently, keeping myself still with supreme effort. Goddamnit Nate, cut already....

Just as the drop trickled exactly where I didn't want it to, Nate yelled "Cut!" and lights and movement erupted around me, turning the seemingly deserted area into a hive of activity.

"Gah..."  I jerked into a sitting position and shook my head wildly, spraying water and film blood everywhere, frantic to get the water out. I dug into my ear with my pinky and shook my head again, finally getting the water out with a shiver and a sigh of relief. "God, I hate that..." My voice trailed off when I glanced over to find Liz staring at her red-spattered hands and clothes with appalled dismay.

"Oh...shit." I bit back a laugh and reached out hesitantly to flick a drippy red chuck of gore from her forehead, and another from her cheek. "Sorry. It was dripping into my ear..."

She scowled and rose swiftly to her feet, wiping her hands on her pants in annoyance. "Ew. Just...ew. Until about thirty seconds ago, I was actually feeling sorry for you." She turned and yelled over to where Nate was huddled under a clear plastic tarp with two other people, watching a replay of what we'd just filmed on the monitors. "Nate! We'd better be finished, 'cause Caid just...exploded all over me."

"And I'm freaking freezing!" I called grumpily as I crawled to my feet, careful to not put too much weight on my newly healed wrist. The orthopedic specialist had given me the green light to take the brace off if I was careful, but it was still fairly weak and prone to aching. Especially, I was finding, in weather like this.

Nate waved a vague hand, not looking up from the monitors. "Get out of the wet for a minute, and let us take a look at these. I think we've got a print, but give me a sec."

I grunted and followed Liz towards the improvised tarp shelter they'd thrown up to covered our chairs, a small table with a few empty trays of crumbs, and an urn of coffee. I slumped into my chair and a barely recognizable crewmember wrapped in a yellow rain poncho handed me a towel which I took it gratefully, leaning over and rubbing vigorously at my wet hair. When I straightened, still drying my hair absently, Liz was perched in the chair beside me, sitting patiently while Jules wiped away the last traces of the blood that I'd splattered all over her. Liz's eyes cut to me with a frown.

"You really did get soaked." She took in my soggy jeans and the short-sleeved, cotton shirt I wore that was plastered to my body and so soaked it was nearly transparent. Figures wardrobe would dress me in a white cotton shirt the night I have to lay out in the cold rain...I felt like a contestant in a wet t-shirt contest, and had already fielded several sniggered comments about my 'points of power' and 'twin weapons of mass destruction'.

"Yes, I really did get soaked," I agreed, shivering and wiping at my arms and neck but avoiding my face, although the sticky mixture of wet adhesive and makeup globed there was driving me crazy.

Jules sighed in aggravation and stepped over to peel off the oozing red acrylic appliance that had previously been attached to my cheek to simulate a wound. She dropped it into a container in her set kit with a wet slap and peeled another off my jaw, producing a wince when it stuck to the still tender skin beneath. "Sorry," she muttered as she worked, although she didn't sound or act particularly sorry. She stepped back and nodded at my towel. "You might as well just wipe the rest off - it's ruined now anyway."

As she stalked off I sighed and carefully began to swab my face, cleaning away the film blood and whatever else Jules had smeared on me. I hoped that in a few weeks, when all this extra effort wasn't necessary, that she'd stop being so damn cranky at me all the time. The thought of going through the rest of the season with the makeup specialist pissed-off at me was too depressing to ponder.

"New beau." Liz stated, her voice startling me out of my thoughts.

"Pardon?" I glanced over at her and held the towel away from my face, cocking an eyebrow questioningly.

"Jules. Has a new beau. Some musician, apparently." She tilted her head slightly and tapped her cheek, just in front of her ear. I wiped at the offending spot on my own face, and she nodded. "Having to be at the set so early is interfering with her love life. That's why she's being such a bitch to you lately."

I shook my head and stood, dropping the crimson-spattered towel into my chair. "You mean she's treating me like shit because she's not getting laid?" I was annoyed that I was being blamed for the current disruption to the schedule - it wasn't like I went out and got the scars on purpose...I'd been attacked for fuck sakes. It was, however, slightly heartening to hear that the cold shoulder might end when the schedules settled and regular nookie could commence.

"So says Drew, anyway," Liz said, and handed me the coat that had been hanging on the back of the chair. "Here, put this on before you freeze to death."

I nodded my thanks and pulled the jacket on, shuddering at the initial feel of the cold material against my already ice-cold skin. I zipped it up and rubbed my arms a few times, hoping my body heat would soon make wearing the coat warmer than not wearing it. "I guess Drew would know. Hell, if this script change gets things back to normal with everyone, then it'll be well worth laying in a puddle in the rain for three hours. But next time, you get the puddle." A violent shiver shook my body to emphasize the words. "At least you got a coat during takes."

The script had called for the assault to take place in the alley behind a bar that the squad frequented; the assailant nabbed Rita on her way to the bathroom, hence no coat for me. Liz had lucked out that the writers and wardrobe had deemed Jen smart enough to put on a jacket before searching for her partner, and that had kept Liz fairly dry throughout the drizzly shoot.

"Sorry," she said contritely and handed me a cup of coffee. "I promise, next time I'll lay in the puddle."

I took the coffee it in both hands, holding it for several seconds to warm my fingers and smiling slightly at the ludicrousness of that statement. Her sentiment might be genuine, but the chances of a script ever being written that called for Liz Stokley to lie in a puddle were slim to none. "I'll remember that," I said, and sipped at my drink, feeling almost warm for the first time in hours.

I nodded to David the day-player who came under our tarp for a coffee refill. "Nice job tonight, David."

He seemed startled that I had spoken to him and his hands jerked, coming precariously close to tipping the coffee urn over. "Uh...thanks." He smiled sheepishly, righting the urn and finished filling his coffee without further incident.

"You look had a part last season, didn't you?  You worked with Micah and Henry..."

We chatted idly for a few minutes, Liz interjecting comments occasionally, until Nate finally decided he had what he needed, thanked us, and told us we were through for the night. The entire crew heaved an audible sigh of relief and several started breaking down the set and light rigging, while Liz, David and I, along with the rest of the crew, headed en-mass towards the studio building's front entrance, the parking lot, or the trailers, all of which were in the same direction.

The drizzle let up as we walked along the side of the building, and we rounded the corner, chattering and joking about crappy timing. As the large crowd broke up into smaller groups bound for different destinations, Liz and I waved and headed for the row of actor's trailers which were set up as a subtle reminder of the 9P cast pecking order with Liz's being the first in the row and mine being the last. I stopped at her trailer to finish the conversation we'd been having, ribbing her gently about being willing to pay five thousand dollars for a wedding cake.

"Christ, Liz, I've heard you whine about paying a buck-fifty for a muffin..."

I could tell she was gearing up for a good comeback and looking forward to it when a wolf-whistle and several calls of greeting from the crew drew our attention to a tall, raincoat clad form emerging from a green SUV that I hadn't noticed parked in the lot's front row.

I hadn't recognized the car in the dark, but I certainly recognized its passenger. Even bundled in red gortex from the waist up, her form was unmistakable and a pleasant warmth stole through me at the sight of her.

"Isn't that Robyn?" Liz asked curiously. "I thought you cancelled your plans tonight."

I nodded absently at both questions. I had called Robyn and left a message about Nate's rearranging of the shooting schedule, telling her that I would call her in the morning. I hadn't expected to see her until then, and I was touched and pleased that she'd wanted to see me badly enough to brave the rain and the late hour. A grin spread across my face as she splashed through numerous puddles towards us, waving casually and returning the crew's greetings and comments but not pausing to talk to any of them.

Soon she was standing in front of me, smiling widely, her near-black eyes alight with pleasure. She pushed the hood of her coat back, absently freeing her hair from the confines of the hood with one hand and letting it cascade down her back. "Hey," she grinned, and moved towards me, hesitating when I instinctively flicked a glance at the several crew members who were suddenly not in such a hurry to get out of the wet. They watched us avidly, not even trying to conceal their interest.

I glanced back at Robyn nervously, not sure how public she wanted to be, and honestly not certain how public I wanted to be, either. She watched me carefully, as though waiting for some clue, and finally said softly, "I'm dying to touch you, Caid, and right now, I don't really give a damn who's watching, but I'll understand if you're uncomfortable..."

Her words melted my indecision instantly, and I stepped forward to wrap my arms around her before she even finished speaking.

"Whoa," she chuckled as her arms closed around me. "Guess that question is answered."

"Hi," I murmured into her shoulder. Her arms tightened briefly and then, deciding without having to say so that other, more involved greetings could wait until later, we both stepped back. "I didn't expect to see you until morning," I said, unable to stop myself from stroking her arm lightly. "I very glad to be wrong."

She smiled and shrugged slightly. "I got your message, but decided I didn't want to wait until tomorrow when I knew exactly where you were tonight." She hesitated, and then leaned forward and pressed her lips to my cheek, letting the kiss linger far past what could reasonably be construed as a friendly peck.  "Hi," she whispered as she pulled back.

I blinked in surprise, both at her boldness and the sweetness of the gesture. She squeezed my hand and glanced behind me with a friendly smile. "Hi Liz."

"Hi Robyn," Liz's amused voice replied. "Good to see you. Finally finished, hmm?"

I turned, embarrassed to have forgotten Liz was standing there, and met her amused look with an apologetic one.

"Yeah, finally." Robyn put her hands in the pockets of her jacket and rocked back and forth on her heels. "It was a cluster-fuck there at the end, but supposedly things are all done. And perfect timing too - they're in the middle of a heat wave in New York. When I flew out today, it was 98 degrees and something like ninety percent humidity."

Unthinking, I snaked an arm around Robyn's waist as she talked, and when I realized what I was doing, slowly started to withdraw it. She casually pulled a hand out of her pocket to snag the retreating limb and put it back on her waist, keeping it there with a gentle pat. "I was ready to get back to something at least a little drier..." She laughed and waved at the rain around us. "This is somewhat unexpected."

"No shit," I mumbled, suddenly reminded that despite the warmth Robyn's presence caused, under my coat I still wore a soaked cotton shirt and wet jeans. I shivered, and Robyn looked over at me with a frown, seeming for the first time to notice my bedraggled state.

Liz made a shooing motion and pushed us both down the line of trailers. "Go. You've been bitching about being cold for two hours - you don't need to stand out here and get even colder. Robyn, I'm glad you're back, and Caid, I'll see you in the morning."

I groaned, remembering that despite tonight's late shoot, we still had a 7:30 call time in the morning, which meant that I had to be here at 5:30. "Shit," I muttered and sighed heavily as we said goodbye to Liz and trudged down the row of trailers to the last one. I mounted the steps and unlocked the door, pushing it open and letting Robyn enter first. My brain was still grumbling about the early call time when I was yanked into the trailer, the door slammed behind me, and Robyn's deliciously warm, demanding mouth descended on mine.

After overcoming my initial surprise I gave as good as I got, even pushed up against the door as I was. Her kisses were, impossible as it seemed, even better than I remembered, scrambling my brain and sending heat surging through me. We fought for dominance of the kiss until eventually I directed us across the room and onto the couch where we fell, laughing, in an ungraceful heap with Robyn on the bottom.

I straddled her body and propped myself up on my hands, smiling happily down at her. "Hi."

"Hey." She grinned and ran her hands along my thighs, her smile turning to a frown as she rubbed my legs. "Caid, you're soaking wet."

I contemplated an innuendo-laden response, but settled for the facts instead, giving her a quick kiss before sitting up. "I've been lying around in the rain for three hours, of course I'm soaking wet." I unzipped my coat and shrugged it off, tossing it onto a neighboring armchair. "And I'm freezing. I was planning on taking a shower to warm up, but someone distracted me." I smiled to show her I wasn't at all upset by the distraction.

She reached up to finger the collar of my shirt. "Please tell me that's fake."

I looked down at my shirt, realizing that the collar and chest were stained with red, and there were red splatters dotting the rest of it. "Yes, it's fake." I plucked at the collar and sighed. "Shit. Now Zoe's going to be pissed at me, too."

She rested her hands on my thighs, rubbing absently. "What scene were you guys shooting tonight, anyway?  I thought I had the most recent script, but I don't remember anything that called for you to lie around in the rain, or get bloody."

"They must not have sent you the 'new and improved' script, then. Not too surprising, since I think they only made the changes yesterday, and we got the new sides today. Your scenes with me in the first half won't change, I don't think, but you've got some new ones in the second half..." I rubbed the raised skin along my cheek and jaw. "Covering these ended up being a butt-load of trouble, so they changed the script and had someone beat the crap out of Rita, to give her character the same scars. That's what we were shooting tonight - the scene where Rita gets attacked."

Her hands tightened on my thighs. "They wrote an attack on you into the script?" she said angrily. "Could they be any more insensitive? Jesus..."

I stopped her outburst with another quick kiss. "It's okay, baby. I told them it was fine. And if it gets things back to normal, I'm more than fine with it." She looked unconvinced. "It wasn't so bad...the damn rain and cold were the worst of it. Which reminds me..." I kissed her again and wiggled off of the couch, unbuttoning my shirt as I stood. "I need to get out of these wet things and take a quick shower." I pulled the tail of the shirt out of my pants to finish unbuttoning it, letting it hang open as I bent down and unlaced my boots, then kicked them off into a corner and worked at the buttons of my jeans. I glanced up from my unbuttoning and stopped, held immobile by the naked heat in Robyn's gaze.

"You're so beautiful, Caid," she said quietly, pushing up off the couch and crossing to where I stood. Warm hands pushed aside the edges of my shirt and rested on my hips, stroking gently. I closed my eyes, enjoying the gentle caresses and her lips claimed mine in a kiss that managed to be incredibly tender and soft, yet intensely passionate at the same time. She broke the kiss and leaned her forehead against mine, and we both sighed softly.

"Missed you."

"I missed you too, baby." I put my hand on her chest, realizing she still wore her damp jacket. I tugged lightly on the material and stepped back. "Why don't you take this off and get comfortable? I'll just be a few minutes, and then maybe we can grab something to eat...I haven't eaten since lunch."

Robyn took off her jacket and tossed it onto the chair with mine, cocking her head at me with a slight smile. "You do realize it's midnight, don't you?"

I shrugged. "It's LA. There's always something open...ah shit!" I smacked my forehead with my hand. "I have a 5:30 call time in the morning...damnit, I keep forgetting."

She crossed her arms and looked genuinely annoyed. "You have to be in at five in the goddamn morning after shooting this late?"

I looked at her apologetically, "I'm sorry, baby..."

"No, no..." She waved her hand. "I'm not mad at you, Caid, I just..." she slumped onto the couch and gave me a wry grin. "Damn. I had plans for you."

I quirked an eyebrow. "Did you now?"

"Mm-hmm." Her eyes perused my half-clothed state. "Definitely. But," she added, leaning back to spread her arms across the back of the couch and crossing one leg over the other, "I'll take a rain check. How about instead, I take you home, feed you, and put you to bed?" She suddenly looked uncertain. "You were planning on spending the night with me, weren't you?"

Her apprehension was misplaced, but kind of cute, and I crossed the room and I leaned down to capture her lips in a fast, rough kiss, pulling back a few inches and stroking her cheek. "Yes, I was planning on spending the night with you, and I still am. We just might be doing a little more sleeping than I originally planned."

She grinned lazily and hooked a finger in the waistband of my pants, pulling my mouth back to hers for a quick kiss before pushing me away. "Go, or this couch is going to get some action."

I laughed and stepped back, gesturing towards the back room. "There's a perfectly good bed..."

"Caid..." she said warningly.

"Alright, alright, I'm going," I said, laughing.

After shutting myself into the small bathroom, I stripped out of my wet clothes and stepped into the shower. I set the water hot enough to make me wince and stood under the blissful heat for a few minutes before starting to scrub at the red streaks on my neck and chest.

"What are you doing tomorrow night?" Robyn's question came from the other side of the shower curtain, startling me so much that I fumbled with the soap and nearly dropped it.


"You don't mind me coming in here, do you?"

", that's fine." I slowly resumed my washing, very conscious that Robyn was only three feet away.

"So...did you have plans tomorrow night?"

"I didn't have any set plans, no." I dunked my head under the spray and wiped the water out of my eyes. "Although," I added, trying to keep the uncertainty out of my voice, "I had hoped to be doing something with you." Tomorrow night and every night for the foreseeable future...

I tried to keep in mind what Josh had said - that I wasn't going to lose her by pushing - and told myself that wanting to spend the evening with someone you're in love with, who says they're in love with you too, after two weeks of not seeing each other, wasn't too presumptuous...

Christ, Caid - stop analyzing everything and just go with it...

I was so intent on my little internal dialogue that I didn't notice I had company in the shower until soft, warm skin pressed up against my back and long arms wrapped possessively around my waist.

"I hope you don't mind me joining you, but the thought of you in here, naked, was just to inviting to pass up. I'm only human, after all."

Her throaty voice so close to my ear sent waves of sensation through my body and I jumped a little, then relaxed back against her, humming at the feel of her skin against mine. I laid my arms across hers and squeezed, letting my head fall back against her shoulder with a smile. "No...I don't mind."

" feel good," she murmured, sucking lightly at the back of my neck, making me shiver. She held her lips there for a moment, and rested her chin on my shoulder. "I have to go to a sort of party tomorrow night...I was hoping you would come with me."

I turned my head slightly. "A sort of a party?"

Her hands began to stroke my torso lightly where the spray was hitting, from the top of my hips to just below my breasts and down my sides. "Trish and Mom opened the Santa Monica restaurant five years ago this week...Trish is closing for the night and having a little celebration in honor of the occasion. Diane is coming down, and Lori, and my Mom and Dad..." She hesitated, and kissed the side of my head and squeezed me tightly. "I'd like you to come with me."

Stuck in a strange but pleasant limbo between arousal and utter contentment, it took a moment for the words to sink in. When it did, I turned slowly in her arms and stared at her. It sounded suspiciously like she had just told me she wanted me to meet her family. The invitation certainly wasn't unwelcome, just surprising.

"Are you sure?" I asked cautiously.

She smiled slightly and ducked her head to press light kisses along my collarbone. "Yes," she mumbled into my skin, moving me forward so the spray wasn't hitting her face. "I'm sure." After one final kiss on my chest, she raised her head and looked at me hopefully. "Will you come?"

I stared for a second longer, and shook myself. "Of course," I told her, and she smiled widely.

"Good." She ducked her head again, this time focusing on my neck, and I shut my eyes and stroked my hands up and down her back, thinking about her invitation. I guess she wasn't actually bringing me home to meet the family, but it was a step in the right direction, both in becoming more involved in her life, and her willingness for me to be involved.

A thought struck me. "You know I'm not Trish's favorite person, right? I don't want to cause problems..."

She stopped me with a long kiss, and I'd almost forgotten what we were talking about by the time she answered. "Josh told me something like that," she dropped more light kisses along my chin and down my neck. "It'll be fine. Trish is more bark than bite."

"She really doesn't like me, Rob." I protested weakly, and gasped softly when her warm mouth closed over my nipple. I braced one arm against the shower wall and threaded the other through the hair at the base of her neck, increasing the pressure of her mouth on my breast. "God..."

"Caid?" My eyes fluttered open at her muffled voice, and then closed again with a groan as teeth scraped lightly across sensitive flesh. "I don't want to talk about Trish anymore."

Who needs sleep anyway? I thought dimly before her hands and mouth pulled me easily into a maelstrom of sensation.

Chapter twenty-six

Robyn walked to the large window and stood with her back to me, her arms crossed and her posture wary and defensive.

"I don't know what you want from me," she said abruptly.

Her charcoal gray suit and nearly black hair were stark against the light coming from behind the glass panes, adding to the bleakness of her tone and appearance.

I admired the effect for a moment before speaking.

"You kissed me, Counselor." I walked up behind her and stood to one side, reaching out a hand to touch her back and hesitating as though I thought better of it before stuffing my hands in my pockets. "That should be my question to ask."

She leaned slightly - almost imperceptibly - away from me, crossing her arms even tighter. "I don't recall hearing any objections from you, Detective," she said coolly. "In fact, you seemed quite amenable at the time."

I turned towards her and leaned one shoulder against the wall, careful to not lean too heavily despite assurances that the flimsy set wall would easily hold me. "I'm not saying I wasn't. And I'm not saying I'm at all unhappy that you kissed me. I'm just saying you started this, and you must have had something in mind when you did. So Counselor," I lowered my voice, leaning forward into her space a bit, trying to catch her eye. "What is it you want from me?"

"I..." She looked over at me, confusion and fear plain on her face, and then looked away quickly. "I don't know." Her voice was quiet, almost a whisper.

I nodded slowly, not saying anything for a moment, regarding her thoughtfully. "Lunch." I said finally.

She turned slowly, her arms still crossed, but some of the defensiveness was gone. "Lunch?" she repeated, cocking an eyebrow.

I so love that eyebrow, I thought to myself, but kept my expression serious. "Yes, lunch. It's eleven-thirty. Have lunch with me, Counselor. Consider it a pre-trial preparation. And if we manage to get through an entire hour without killing each other, perhaps you'd consider going to dinner with me sometime this week."

"I..." She blinked and scratched her arm nervously, then seemed to realize what she was doing and gripped her arm tightly instead. "Uh...."  She cleared her throat and her eyes darted around the set before finally landing on me again. "Yes."

God she's good, I thought, just stopping myself from beaming at her in admiration.

"Yes to lunch, or yes to dinner?" I asked, allowing a small smile to flicker across my face.

"Lunch for now." She returned the smile with some of her normal, cocky flair. "Ask me again in an hour, Detective."

"Fair enough." I nodded, letting my smile widen as I pushed off the wall. "And maybe, if you don't feel like it's too much, too could call me Rita."

She smiled.

"Cut!!!" Nate yelled from where he was watching the action on the monitors behind the flimsy plywood barrier that acted as one of the walls to Judith Torrington's office. "I like it...Let's get the camera set up over here - I want to shoot a couple from this side of the window. Robyn, Caid, can you take your marks by the window, so we can get the focus and lights?"

We both nodded and turned back to the window, standing casually while the operator pulled the boom mike back and people began scurrying purposefully around the set. Jules' assistant Kylie hurried over, eyed both our faces and hair, found them acceptable, and hurried off again. When she had gone, Robyn glanced over at me with a warm smile and I resisted the urge to put my arm around her waist and pull her into a long, unhurried kiss.

It was strange to think that this morning I'd woken in her bed, our limbs so tangled up in each other's that I could hardly tell which were mine and which were hers, and now I had to be cautious about even the most casual contact. Robyn hadn't seemed to mind the crew seeing us together the night before, but today things seemed to be different. It probably had more to do with professionalism than any concern about sparking gossip among the crew, but I still wasn't completely sure of the rules of public conduct I was supposed to follow. I had a feeling that the kind of contact I was wanting right now was well outside the rules.

I fell into buddy mode, which seemed to be acceptable behavior, and bumped her shoulder lightly with mine. "Nice take."

She smiled slightly. "You too. The lean-in was a nice touch."

I grinned, pleased she had noticed. "Thanks."

She slipped her hands into her pockets, glancing around casually. "How you holding up?"

I resisted the urge to grin and glanced around as she had done, lowering my voice although I doubted anyone could hear us over the commotion going on around us. "You mean, considering I only got two hours of sleep last night?"

Not that I was complaining. Despite my tiredness, the late hour, and the distinct lack of space to work with, last night's romp in the trailer's tiny shower stall was definitely the most fun I'd had in a shower in...well...ever.  And crawling into her bed to fall asleep in her arms...that hadn't been half-bad either.

Her smile turned self-satisfied. "Mm-hmm."

I couldn't help but laugh, drawing a few curious stares. I waited a moment, until people lost interest. "Proud of ourselves, are we?"

"We are," she said smugly.

I laughed again, quietly. "As well we should be," I murmured.

"Caid," Mariel, the 2nd AD called, popping from behind the wall, "can you go to the second mark?"

I nodded and took a step to my right and leaned against the wall, rolling my shoulders a bit.

"Will you be okay tonight?" Robyn asked quietly when again attention was no longer on us. "If you don't want to go..."

"I'll be fine," I reassured her quickly. "And I definitely want to go." I wasn't about to pass up the chance to meet her family.

 "Great." The smile she graced me with was one of those she seemed to save just for me, and the urge to touch her became overwhelming. I blinked and looked away for a moment, and when I looked back, she was staring at me intently, apparently reading my look correctly. Her eyes dropped to my mouth. "Lunch in the trailer later?" she said huskily.

I nodded quickly, and drew a calming breath as Mariel came from behind the wall again. "Ok, let's do it. Places, everyone."

I snuck a glance at my watch.


It was going to be a long two hours.


In fact, it was four interminable hours before we were allowed to break for lunch, and by then the 'lunch' I'd been looking forward to was reduced to a brief, heated kiss in the trailer before Robyn had to rush back to the IDT set for an afternoon table read and cast meetings. The morning delay in shooting caused the afternoon schedule to shift out as well, and as a result, Nate didn't let us go for the weekend until well after seven o'clock.

By the time I drove home, I was exhausted and cranky and pondered calling Robyn to tell her I couldn't make it, but I quickly dismissed the idea. I told myself to buck up, took a cool, rejuvenating shower, and was dressed and out the door, headed for Santa Monica by eight-thirty, but by that time Robyn, who had wanted to go to the restaurant early to have some time with her family, had long since left for the party. I had called her when I knew I was going to be late, and she'd assured me that I should just show up as soon as I could. As I slipped in and out of traffic along 110, I hoped that nine o'clock wouldn't be too late.

Main Street, Santa Monica was crowded at nine o'clock on a Friday night in August, but I managed to find a parking spot along the street, only three or four blocks from the restaurant. I climbed out of Twila and nervously smoothed my clothes, taking one last glance down at the form-fitting cranberry colored short sleeved top, shot through with thin strands of silver and tucked into simple but dressy pleated tan slacks, a wide brown belt, and pointy, two-inch heeled boots. It was too late to change now, and I prayed I wasn't underdressed, and I didn't look as tired as I felt. Taking a few deep breaths, I skipped across the street, avoiding puddles from the recent rain, and headed towards the restaurant, trying to remember all that Robyn had told me about the different members of her family and hoping to make a good impression, or at least get through the night without embarrassing myself or Robyn.

A tall, bald man dressed in a well-cut tuxedo and sporting a smile that didn't reach his eyes stopped me just inside the door, politely asking my name and even asking to see my ID before checking me off a guest list and asking me to wait a moment while he talked into a small microphone on the cuff of his jacket. He nodded at whatever response he got and waved me onto another tux-clad, muscle-bound man who quickly checked me over with a metal-detecting wand, asked me to please turn off my cell phone if I had one, and told me that if I'd brought a camera or camera phone, I would have to surrender those items for the duration of the party. I assured him I had neither of those items, showed him my phone, and after he'd made sure it was off he mechanically wished me a nice evening.

I shook my head, having been through that kind of security several times in the past at various industry gatherings, but curious as to why they'd need it here. At the top of the wide steps down into the main dining room I paused, running an appreciative eye over the changes made for the party. Swaths of rich colored fabrics hung from the high ceiling and covered the walls, combining with an intricate array of filtered lights to create a rippling affect, as though the cloth were caught by some phantom breeze. Several tables had been removed and the remaining rearranged to allow for serving stations and a bar along one wall and a jazz trio played in the corner, intent on their music and oblivious to the noise and crowd nearly drowning them out.

I was startled to see that the place was noisy and packed, with at least a hundred people standing in pairs and small groups, eating, talking and drinking at what Robyn had called a 'sort of party'. While I hadn't been expecting her family only, I certainly hadn't been expecting this many people, and I found myself a little annoyed that Robyn hadn't specified. The necessity for the tight security became clear, too, as I scanned the crowd and recognized numerous celebrities: local politicians, athletes, musicians, authors and of course several familiar faces from movies and television, along with many of the area's rich and idle were present, several of them dressed to the nines...I still wouldn't consider myself underdressed, but I'd have to remember to ask Robyn a few more question next time we went to a party together, since our ideas of what constituted pertinent information were apparently very different.

I stood scanning the crowd, searching for a glimpse of her, and smiled involuntarily when I spotted her across the room in animated conversation with a couple I didn't recognize. She looked stunning as usual, her hair gathered atop her head in an artfully messy pile and dressed in tight black sheath dress that was cut around the neck and arms like the wet suits I'd seen triathlete's wear, showing off well-defined shoulders, the long, graceful sweep of her neck, and plenty of tan, delectable skin. I noticed a hand resting casually on that skin and followed the hand to where it met an arm that was draped across her shoulder...


Standing next to her, laughing with her, his arm around her possessively as thought they were together.

With my woman.

Whoa there, Tarzan...


I frowned at myself and watched the two of them together, feeling a brief stab of jealousy. For people who weren't going to be a public couple anymore, they certainly looked like one, I thought with irritation, and then squashed my annoyance, thinking that Josh was going to have to rein in his touchy-feely impulses in public, or I was going to have to rein in my Neanderthal-like possessiveness. Probably a little of both was in order.

 "Caidence!" a feminine voice exclaimed just as I was about to go smack Robyn over the head with my club and drag her back to my cave. I paused and turned to find Sophie standing beside me, looking up at me in delighted recognition. She gripped my arms lightly and kissed me on both cheeks, then pulled me into a warm embrace. When she let me go she looked at me fondly and I smile back, very glad to see her.

"Sophie, buenas noches." I leaned in and kissed her on both cheeks, as she had done. "It's lovely to see you." I took in her flowing black dress, careful make up and elegant chignon. "You look muy hermoso, Senora."

She smiled and held my hands in hers, squeezing gently. "Ah, you flatter an old woman, but I will accept your flattery gladly." Her smile dimmed slightly as she caught sight of the still healing marks on my face. I'd spent several minutes in front of the mirror this evening, contemplating whether I should try to cover them up or not, and decided not to. People were going to look for them regardless; I figured I might as well make them easy to find. Sophie glanced around and pulled me into a less crowded space away from the stairs, then reached up and touched the scar on my cheek gently. I forced myself not to flinch, standing quietly and letting her trace the line with light fingers. "I am very sorry for your pain, Caidence," she said sincerely, and laid her palm against my cheek.

I smiled gently and pulled her hand from my face, holding it in mine. "Thank you, Sophie. And thank you for the flowers. They were beautiful."

"You are well?" she asked, still staring at me intently.

I nodded and squeezed her hands. "I am very well."

"Good...I was so worried for you. And Sabina..." she shook her head. "She was so terribly upset. I am glad she was there with you."

"Me too," I told her honestly, and squeezed her hands again.

"And speaking of my hija, I know she has been anxiously waiting for you. She has told us all to behave and not tell embarrassing stories, so of course we have all thought of some to tell..." She smiled widely and for a split-second it was Robyn smiling at me. I blinked away the vision as Sophie tugged at my hand. "Come, I will help you find her and then there are people I know she wishes for you to meet."

I let her pull me back towards the steps, smiling bemusedly.

"Miss Harris?"  The deep voice and polite inquiry were accompanied by a hand on my arm and I shied away violently, pulling away from Sophie and nearly bowling over a tiny woman in a bright yellow dress and precariously high heels who was coming up the steps near me. I steadied her with a hand and got a bleary thanks in response, then took a breath and turned to find another tuxedo-clad member of the security team standing beside me, this one tall and lean with less obvious muscle but no less intimidating, despite the contrite expression on his face.

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't mean to startle you."

I forced a smile and tried to calm my wildly beating heart. "Can I help you?"

He stood carefully with his hands clasped behind his back. "Miss Ward would like to speak with you for a few moments...would you mind following me, please?"

"What is this?" Sophie said sharply from behind me.

"It's okay." I eyed the man for a moment, then turned and gave Sophie an encouraging smile. "This will only take a minute."

She frowned and gave the security man a hard look but to his credit, he seemed impervious to the glare and stood watching me expectantly.

"It's okay," I repeated and squeezed her arm gently before turning back to the man. "Lead on," I told him, and followed after giving Sophie one last smile.

He led me along the edge of the dining room and through a set of swinging doors into the kitchen, past the cooks and wait staff and down a narrow hallway, stopping finally in front of a non-descript door where he motioned me into a small but well-appointed office.

I wasn't surprised to see Trish leaning against the desk, thumbing through a stack of papers and looking casually elegant and feminine in a navy blue pantsuit with a very masculine cut. As she raised her eyes to watch me enter the office, I acknowledged briefly that Trish wore clothes nearly as well as Robyn did, and wondered if she'd spent time as a model as well.

Her expression was carefully neutral as she looked at me for a moment, and then flicked a glance at the man behind me. "Thank you, John."

The man nodded and backed out of the room, leaving the door partially open behind him.

When he was gone, Trish looked back at me and said politely, "Caidence."

"Trish." I acknowledged, matching her even tone. "Congratulations on five years. You and your mother should be very proud. And the place looks amazing."

That seemed to surprise her, and she paused before responding with a slight inclination of her head. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." I slipped my hands into my pockets and leaned back against the door frame, waiting for her to get to the point of this little chat.

"I asked security to let me know when you showed up - I'm supposed to let Robyn know, too, but I wanted a chance to talk to you first." She put the papers down and circled around behind the desk, straightening random things as she went. Finally she stopped tidying and looked up at me. "It seems I owe you an apology. My mother, my sister, Josh...they all tell me I'm wrong about you."

If that was an apology, it was definitely one of the least enthusiastic I'd ever received, and I nearly laughed. "Your sincerity is touching," I said dryly and cocked my head. "But why don't you tell me what you think? That's really the issue here, isn't it?"

"What I think." She let her eyes wander over me briefly before meeting my gaze again. "I think mamá is easily swayed by good manners, Josh is a pushover for a pretty face and a pretty smile, and Robyn..." She shrugged. "I haven't quite figured out why she's so taken with you, but then again, she always was a little too trusting."

I held in the burst of anger her words caused, and instead raised a slightly quizzical eyebrow. "Not giving them much credit, are you? Your mother is an intelligent woman and seems quite capable of making the distinction between good manners and good deeds, and far prettier faces than mine have tried to sway Josh, I'm sure, and have not been successful. And don't know your sister very well if you think she trusts easily." I shook my head and tsked softly. "It sounds like you don't know any of them very well."

I was cranky and had added that last bit just to piss her off - it worked nicely. She leaned both hands on the desk and dropped the polite act, staring at me with obvious hostility. "I think I know them a hell of a lot better than you do, Caidence." She practically spit the name out. "I promised I would be nice to you, so I will be, but if they're wrong, and you end up hurting them..."

This was being nice?

I'd hate to see her on a bitchy day.

I didn't know exactly what I'd done to earn her suspicion, but I was starting to think it had more to do with the possibility of me stealing her family away from her than me stealing Josh away from Robyn. Whatever the reason for her attitude, it wasn't endearing her to me at all, and my patience was running low.

"Or what?" I threw up my hands in exasperation. "Is this where you warn me to stay away from Josh again? Or better yet..." Anger I didn't realize I'd been harboring bubbled to the surface and I pushed off the wall and stalked to the desk. I grabbed the handset of the desk's phone and thrust it at her. "Here. Is there someone you need to call with the press? To let them know that I'm here, about to steal Josh away from poor, trusting Robyn?"

Trish was taken aback by my outburst, opening and closing her mouth a few times like a fish, but not saying anything.

The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I dropped the phone back in the cradle and stepped back from the desk, crossing my arms. "You have no frigging idea the amount of trouble you caused that night, do you?  And not just for me, but for Josh, and Robyn too. Your own damn sister, for god's sakes! Did you think about maybe asking her if she needed to be protected from me before passing judgment and telling the whole goddamn world something that was completely untrue? Did you think about her at all before you made that call? Think about the crap she'd have to put up with?" My voice had risen steadily and I took a deep breath to calm down before continuing in a quieter, but still intense, voice. "Do you realize," I turned my head slightly and pointed at my face, "that this could easily have happened to Robyn, instead of me?"

She visibly paled, and I realized that maybe that had been unfair. She hadn't caused Todd Massey's attack, ultimately no one but Todd Massey was responsible for that. I couldn't bring myself to feel sorry for saying it, though. Her actions had set in motion a chain of events that certainly had contributed to his state of mind on that day, and it could have easily been her sister, and not me, who suffered for it.

"Do you want to tell me what the hell she's talking about, Trish?" Robyn's raspy, deceptively mild voice came from over my shoulder, causing us both to start. She stepped into the office and flashed a smile that nearly melted me on the spot.

"Hi." She stepped up and put her hand on my back, brushing her lips across my cheek. "Mamá said you were here - that some security person had whisked you away..." She gave Trish a hard look. "What's going on? I thought I asked you to let me know when she got here."

Trish looked uncomfortable, but stood up to her sister's glare. "I wanted to talk to her first."

"About what? And what exactly was Caid talking about before?" Robyn crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow in question.


A thunderous crash from the kitchen, followed by a voice yelling curses in Spanish and an answering voice yelling in English, saved her from having to respond.

"Damnit." Trish was by us in the blink of an eye, pushing past me none too gently and striding down the hall, hollering for someone named Julian.

When she was gone, Robyn asked, "What's going on, Caid? What did Trish want? If she's being a shit to you..."

I shook my head. "I think she was trying to apologize, actually, but things got a little off track. It's ok, Rob. It's just going to take a little while for me and your sister to get along." She frowned and I rubbed her back soothingly. "Don't worry about it, really. Now," She watched as I pushed the door shut with one foot, "do you think I could at least get a hug?"

"I think I could do that." She smiled and tugged me forward into her arms, her sister forgotten for the moment. She sighed. "I'm so glad you came," she murmured into my hair as we stood holding each other. She pulled back with a shy smile and grabbed my hand, reaching for the door. "Come on, I'd like to introduce you to a few people. Oh, and Josh is here, too."

"Yes, I saw," I said dryly, with more bite than I'd intended.

So much for reining in my possessiveness.

Her hand slowly dropped from the doorknob and she turned back to me, one delicate eyebrow arched in surprise. "You're angry."

I blew out a breath and shook my head. "No, I'm being an ass. Forget it."

"Caid," she took my other hand in hers and watched me closely. "Something ticked you to me, please?"

Way to go, Caid. Now you have to tell her what a jealous twit you are.

I sighed resignedly. "Keep in mind that I'm tired, and I'm in kind of a pissy mood, okay?"

"Okay," she said and nodded, frowning slightly.

"When I walked into the party, the first thing I saw was Josh with his arm around you." I squeezed her hands to stop her when she seemed about to interrupt. "I know you're him anymore, or whatever.  I know that, you know that, Josh knows that, but no one else knows that, because the two of you still act like you are. Plain and simple?" I shrugged. "I was jealous."

She blinked. "You were jealous?  Of Josh?"

"Yeah." I pulled my hands from hers and stepped back with another shrug. "I was jealous of Josh. Silly, huh? Well, not of Josh, really," I clarified, "but of what he's able to do that I can't. Like stand around in a crowded party with his arm around you...touch with you, and not have to worry about what people might think..." I trailed off and ran a hand through my hair in frustration.

She didn't respond for a moment, then stepped forward and took my hands in hers again, her impossibly dark eyes watching me intently. "Is that what you want, Caid?" she asked slowly, stroking her thumbs gently across the backs of my hands. "To be public? About us?"

"I..." I shook my head and let out a frustrated breath, looking down at our hands. This was probably not the time or place to have this conversation, but now that I'd gotten the ball rolling, I'd better just get on with it. After a deep breath, I met her gaze again, hoping what Josh had said about not losing her was true. "To be able to be with you publicly, without concerns...yes, someday I want that. I want that very much. But right now? Right now, we still have some things to work out, and I don't want the attention that kind of declaration would create while we're in the middle of trying to figure out how to be together. Because in the end, that's what is most important to me. To be together, with you." I brought her hands to my chest and covered them with mine. "I hope that's what you want, too, Robyn. If it's not," I shook my head and looked at her searchingly, "then I don't know what we're doing."

Please, please, please be what you want...

"Oh, baby..." She freed her hands from my grasp and wrapped her arms around me, pulling me close. "I can't believe you're worried about that," she murmured into my ear, rubbing my back gently before pulling back a little and cupping my cheek with one hand. "Of course that's what I want." She kissed me softly. "I love you, and I told you before that if you wanted me, you had me. I wasn't talking about a few days, I was talking long-term. As in a life together. I don't want to scare you, baby, but I've got plans for the future, and they all include you. Every last one."

I blinked. "You don't want to scare me," I repeated slowly, and almost laughed. She didn't want to scare me, I didn't want to scare her...we should have done this talking thing a long damn time ago. Would have saved me a lot of anxiety.

She frowned slightly, looking perplexed at my reaction. "I didn't want to push you into something you weren't ready for, no matter how much I wanted us to...mmph..."

I stopped her explanation with a kiss and after a moment of surprise, she responded wholeheartedly. When we broke apart, her hands were tangled in my hair and mine were wound tightly around her body.

"What was that for?" She asked, looking slightly dazed. "Not that I'm complaining..."

"Because I love you, and there is nothing you could do that would scare me away."

She smiled slowly and leaned in again, her grip tightening in my hair.

Our lips had just met when the door swung open.  We moved apart but not very quickly and not nearly in time.

'Oh. My. God."

I looked over Robyn's shoulder to see Trish staring at the two of us, her eyes wide with shock.

Shit. I sighed and started to move away from Robyn, but she turned to face Trish and put her arm around my waist, holding me where I was.

"Stay," she said quietly. "Please."

I glanced at her quickly in surprise but stayed where I was.

"Robyn, what the hell?" Trish looked at Robyn, then at me, and back to Robyn. "Are you..." she sputtered, and looked between us again.

I felt Robyn take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Yes, Trish, I am. And yes, we are." I could feel the tension in her body, but there was no evidence of it in her outward demeanor as she gave Trish a lopsided smile. " you know. Sorry, I didn't really mean for you to find out this way...that's one of the reasons I wanted to meet for coffee on Monday, to tell you about us..."

Her voice trailed off when she saw that her sister wasn't listening - Trish was too busy glaring at me in naked dislike. "I knew you were trouble. I knew it."

Robyn stiffened at the words and tone, and I rubbed her back soothingly. I bit back the 'told you she didn't like me' that was on the tip of my tongue.

"This has nothing to do with Caid, Trish," Robyn said flatly. "I've been into women long before I met her."

"This has everything to do with her!" Trish exploded, moving into the room and waving an accusatory finger at me. "She's using you, Robyn. Using your celebrity, your money..."

"Patricia, there you are!" We all jumped as Sophie came steaming through the door, her agitation at her eldest daughter very plain. "People are asking for you..." She stopped abruptly when she saw that both Robyn and I were also in the room and looked at the three of us curiously. "I am interrupting?"

Robyn's hand left my hip for a moment, and then settled back more firmly than before, as though she were anchoring herself. I felt her take another deep breath, but Trish spoke before she could.

"Oh no, Mamá, you're just in time. Robby was just explaining her...relationship...with Caidence."

"Trish, don't." Robyn said quietly, the warning in her voice clear.

Sophie looked from a scowling Robyn to a smug Trish, and frowned deeply. She settled her gaze on her eldest daughter and placed her hands on her hips in the universal mother-scolding-her-offspring posture.

"Patricia Elizabeth, why can you not be happy for your sister?"

Trish blinked and did her fish impression again. "Mamá, I..."

"No." Sophie shook her head. "Do not mamá me. Sabina has embraced your Enrique with open arms...why can you not do the same? Your sister has found someone who makes her happy, and you do everything you can to spoil it. This behavior you have towards Caidence, it is unacceptable. Your father and I, we did not raised you to be this way."

Sophie could not have shocked her daughters more if she told them she was an alien raised by dingoes in the Australian outback. If the situation hadn't been so tense, it would have been funny.

Hell, it was funny anyway, but I managed to stifle inopportune laughter. My sense of humor has always been a tad off.

" knew?" Robyn said faintly, her hand tightening reflexively on my hip.

I leaned into her and put my arm around her waist in support. Sophie glanced at me with a nearly imperceptible smile as she moved forward and reached up to cup Robyn's cheek, giving her a look of fond irritation. "Querida, I may not be young anymore, but I am not blind. Of course I knew. I am your mother," she said simply, as though that explained it all. "I am sorry you could not tell me."

"I..." Robyn blinked, her face still slack with astonishment. She covered Sophie's hand with her own, holding it to her cheek. "I'm sorry, Mamá. I..." she shrugged helplessly.

Sophie patted her cheek and withdrew her hand. "I know, cariña."  She glanced over at me and smiled. "I am very fond of your Caidence. She is good for you."

Robyn looked between the two of us in surprise before smiling and saying quietly, "I am very fond of my Caidence as well." Her arm tightened on my waist briefly and I squeezed back.

"I know that too, cariña." She smiled at both of us and then turned her attention back to Trish, who had been watching the scene unfold in stunned silence. "And now, Patricia, you know this too. And you will treat Caidence as someone your sister cares about deeply. Yes?"

Sophie's hands were back on her hips again and her tone brooked no argument. I had to fight the urge to straighten and say "yes, ma'am!"

Trish looked down at the desk uncomfortably. "Yes, Mamá." She looked up again and her expression held a hint of what could have been genuine apology when her glance touched Robyn.

"Good." Sophie nodded decisively and moved towards the door. "Now, Patricia, you must get back to the party - there were many people asking for you, and Julian and Mark, they are fighting again. You know they do not listen to me."

"Yes, Mamá," Trish said again obediently, casting a quick glance at Robyn and I. "Rob..."

Robyn held up a hand and shook her head. "Later."

Trish nodded, and with one last look at the two of us, left the office. Sophie eyed Robyn sternly. "Elora and Will are wondering where you are - they need to leave soon and get home to the little ones. They are out on the patio now. You will bring Caidence there, yes?"

Robyn flicked a questioning glance at me, and I realized she was asking what I wanted to do. I nodded slightly and she looked back at Sophie. "Yes, Mamá."

Sophie's dark eyes watched the interaction with interest and after a moment, she nodded briskly. "I should go see how Patricia is faring with Julian...he is such a big bebé, I don't know why she puts up with him."

We both watched the door for several seconds after she left, neither of us speaking.

"Hell of a party, huh?" Robyn said finally and pulled me against her, smiling wryly and dropping a light kiss on my temple. "I'm sorry about all this, Caid...I was planning on telling my family, but that wasn't quite how I'd planned it."

"No worries." I turned fully into her embrace and gave her a quick kiss. "Never a dull moment around you, that's for sure."

She smiled slightly. "I wouldn't want you to get bored with me."

"Not much chance of that." I grinned. "You're more entertaining than a six pack of Huber and bucket full of Legos."

Her mouth twitched and an eyebrow crept up her forehead. "Am I."

"Oh yeah." I gave her another quick kiss. "That's good stuff where I come from, baby."

She smiled fully and shook her head. "Damn I love you."

We smiled at each other and then she stepped back after a final squeeze. "Come on, sweet thing, let's go meet the family." She snagged my hand, talking over her shoulder as she pulled me towards the door. "Now don't believe anything they say about me thinking I was Wonder Woman for a summer, sticking peanuts up my nose, or eating mud pies. It's all a lie..."

I laughed and followed her out the door.


I trailed light fingers along naked, still damp skin, skimming Robyn's back from the sheet bunched at her waist, up between her shoulder blades and back down, watching the dappled, early morning light play along the smooth expanse. I couldn't remember the last time I felt so happy and content, and let out a long, deep sigh, sated and pleasantly lethargic from our recent activities.

"I do love how you say good morning," I said lazily, shifting a little under her weight.

Robyn, I'd discovered, was very much a morning person, and although I hadn't been one in the past, waking up to her touch could easily becoming addicting. She was sprawled half across me on her stomach, her leg thrown over my hip and her head resting on my shoulder; I kissed her dark hair absently and continued my caress, receiving a murmur of agreement and a tightening of her arm around my midsection in response.

"I had a good time last night - thank you again for inviting me," I said after we'd been quiet for a few minutes. "I really liked your family."

Despite the altercation with Trish, it had still turned out to be a nice evening, and my introduction to the Ward family a success. As Sophie had promised, most of Robyn's family was gathered in a small, cobblestone courtyard between the restaurant and the neighboring building. After a quiet "ready?" and a smile of encouragement, she had tugged me past potted flowers, small palms and a scattering of wrought iron café tables towards a group gathered around a cluster of tables. The group had greeted Robyn with noisy delight and eyed me curiously, and so had begun my introduction to the Ward clan.

Her father Rich was tall, dark and quite charismatic, still possessing model good looks and I gathered from a few stray comments that he had been approached to run for city council in Santa Barbara and was seriously considering it. He had a big laugh and a warm smile, and showed an easy, casual affection for his daughters that caused a brief pang of longing for something I'd never have. Her Aunt Paige was Rich's sister; Paige and her husband Darrin lived in Thousand Oaks and raised Golden Retrievers for show - they were affable and hilariously goofy, occasionally breaking into song when the mood struck, and managing to sound quite good together. Her sister Lori was very pregnant and very sweet, as was Lori's husband Will; they were a quiet, gentle couple who obviously adored each other and talked about little else besides their two children and the one on the way. The final member of the family I met was Robyn's sister Diane - she had an amiable smile, a dry wit, and sharp, dark eyes that watched me knowingly from behind small, rimless glasses.

They were all striking and dark haired, friendly and gracious, and each had some feature or mannerism that reminded me of Robyn - Rich's presence, Sophie's smile, Paige's goofy humor, Lori's voice and Diane's eyes...I liked them all immediately and was pleased that the sentiment seemed to be returned.

"Mmm." She stirred against me and turned her head to kiss my chest. "They loved you, Caid." I could feel her smile against my skin. "Paige and Darrin want to adopt you. When you knew the third verse to 'You are my Sunshine', I thought Paige was going to wet herself."

I smiled. "I'll thank grandma next time I see her. I also know 'Camptown Ladies' and 'Tiny Bubbles' on the ukulele."

She raised her head to look at me. "Really?"

"Really." I kissed her. "I have all sorts of useless talents. Kazoo, skipping stones, building card houses, hanging a spoon off my nose..."

"You can do that?" she asked curiously, pushing her hair away from her face and tilting her head to the side.


"My, my. I'm even luckier than I'd realized," she said with a smile.

"Uh-huh." I shivered as she leaned down to kiss my neck and her hair brushed along my shoulder. "I'm quite the catch."

"No arguments here," she mumbled against my skin as she kissed along my collar bone and laid her head back on my chest with a sigh.

I resumed stroking her back, and we lay in comfortable silence for several minutes.

"I love this," Robyn said quietly, breaking the silence. "I love going to sleep with you, I love waking up with you, sharing my morning with you..."

I pressed my lips to the top of her head and tightened my arms around her. "I love it, too, baby."

She rearranged the sheets and rolled onto her back, resting the back of her head on my arm. "Morning has always been my time," she said quietly, staring at the ceiling. "That little sliver of the day that was all mine - sometimes the only sliver that was all mine - and I've always hated sharing it." She turned her head to look at me and reached out to trace the line of my jaw with a long finger. "Now I look forward to spending it with you. Watching you drink your coffee while you read the paper, how you chew on your lip when you concentrate," she ran her finger over my lower lip, staring at it intently. "Waiting for you to share something you think is interesting or funny..."

I wasn't sure how to respond to that. I felt a little guilty for horning in on her me-time, but she also said she liked our time together...I kissed the finger against my lips and stayed quiet, sensing she wasn't done talking.

She withdrew her finger and turned her head back to stare at the ceiling. She opened her mouth, shut it, looked at me, then back at the ceiling.

I smiled slightly at the atypical display of uncertainty.

"Live with me." she said softly. She turned her head to look at me, her eyes holding both nervousness and hope. "Here, your place, some other place, I don't care. Just..." she reached out again and cupped my cheek gently. "Live with me."

My mouth fell open in shock. "Wha.."

She quieted me with a finger on my lips. "You make me happy, Caid." she said simply. "I'm happier in the last few months than I've ever been in my life, and I've realized that I'm happiest when I'm with you this way, sharing this much. Like in Florida, or at Liz's place...going to bed with you, waking up with you, spending my mornings, my free-time with with you."

Holy crap.

She'd caught me so off-guard that I was speechless, staring at her in astonishment.

This was it. Everything I wanted, everything I'd hoped for, wished for...everything.

At my continued silence, she smiled sadly and brushed the back of her hand against my cheek before pulling her hand back. "Well..."

Maybe it was too fast, maybe we were crazy, maybe we weren't thinking this through, but I wasn't going to give up this chance.

"Yes." I finally croaked out. I rolled over on top of her and peppered her face, neck and chest with kisses. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes..."

She let out a throaty, delighted laugh and threaded her fingers through my hair, tugging my head up. "That's a yes?"

I beamed down at her, my face nearly cracking in two. "That's definitely a yes."

She smiled up at me and I caught my breath.

Whatever happened, however this all played out, whatever the future would all be worth it, just to see that smile.


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