For complete disclaimers see part 1.

If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at:



Kim Pritekel



Part 2


Knowing fingers moved across the keys, blue eyes closed, body swaying with the music she was creating.

Christine had written more music in the past two months than she had in two years. Brows drawing as the emotion passed through her, filling her with a peace that only music could give her, the creation and execution of it, giving her a sense of control that she didn't have anywhere else in her life.

During her stay at Promises, she'd started having the dreams again, and remembering things she thought long dead. Demons of her past, some self-invoked, others thrust upon her, haunting her and dogging her nocturnal steps.

Her therapist at the exclusive rehab told her that now that her body and mind was free of the poisons she'd been feeding it, it left the gates wide open for her to face whatever was causing her to run it the first place.

Therein lies the problem; she didn't want to face the ghosts.

Christine stroked the ivories with a lover's caress. Music was the only thing she'd ever had that hadn't betrayed or demanded from her. Music gave itself willingly to her, allowing her to bring forth into the world freely and willingly, never asking questions or wanting answers. It just was. Through music Christine could tell a story, share a part of herself without the vulnerability that a similar conversation would have.

No one knew the real her, and that was what she wanted. She had always been so grateful that when Bob had found her in that shit hole bar in Queens that she'd been doing her own stuff. She had been smart enough at fourteen to make sure he knew she would only do her own stuff, and that any covers he wanted her to do, he could shove up his ass.

That's basically where her creative freedom had stopped.

If she were to play the piece she played now for Bob, he'd laugh then tell her to burn it; it had no place in his show.

Christine didn't want to think about all of that. Those thoughts dogged her days as it was. Right now all she wanted to do was lose herself in her music and forget about all the things that were wrong in her life. That was part of the problem. She'd started to allow everything to weigh so heavily upon her shoulders, not dealing with any of it, that it had started to overwhelm and then finally control her.

Her counselor said that was why she'd turned to drugs. She wanted to numb herself to the internal turmoil and pain.

Christine snorted softly at the truth of those words. Music was becoming her new drug. One addiction for another. Her creative juices had started to churn within her soul, demanding to be let out. The singer was happy to oblige.

Her fingers came to a stand still as a knock sounded on the outer door to her suite.

"Come in!" she called, pushing the bench back and standing, carefully closing the lid of the baby grand as the door opened, then swiftly closed. "Good afternoon, Margaret."

"Hello, Christine. Were you practicing?" the older woman asked, arranging her bulk on the couch that faced its twin, where Christine seated herself.

"Composing, actually." The singer ran her arm along the length of the back of the couch, her head slightly tilted as she studied the brunette sitting across from her.

Margaret Olson looked at the white Baldwin, then to her patient. "I see no music." Christine tapped her temple.

"All up here." The singer smiled.

"Ah. If only I had one-tenth of your talent," the counselor said with a sigh, Christine chuckling. "Alright," getting down to business, the older woman opened a manila folder, searching through some papers as she spoke. "Last time you talked about the dreams that were coming back," she glanced up at Christine, then gazed back down at her notes from their previous session. "Have you had any more since last week?"

Christine blew out a breath, glancing out the French doors, which overlooked the beautifully manicured grounds of the posh rehab center. "Yes."

"When was this?" Margaret clicked her pen, which was poised over a clean sheet of legal pad paper.

"Sunday night," Christine said, her voice quiet, almost fearful. The counselor waited for her patient to continue, as she had come to learn she would in time. Her own time. As the singer began to speak, her voice remained quiet, almost a haunted tone. "The alley again,"

"Tell me about that alley, Christine,"

It's dark, the best time to be up and about. That's when it's easiest to score a little extra money. I hated to do it, but if I learned anything from those bastards who fucked and gave birth to me, you did what you had to do.

With a sigh, I headed down the dark streets of Queens, New York. It amazed me what a shit place this was considering it's named after royalty, or some such shit. Royal my ass. Well, royal pain in the ass, maybe. Speaking of, mine sure hurt.

Guy from the night before; what the fuck had I been thinking, letting him shove his dick up there? Jesus, and people get off on that shit? Oh well. He'd given me dinner for the next week from that. Backdoor man, that's what Adam called those guys.

I really needed to get a gig, and soon. This street shit was for the birds. Damn, it's cold. I wrapped my arms around myself, then quickly drop them. Dude needs to see what he's buying.

The streets were slow, a few cars passing now and then, and I was beginning to get impatient. The boots I wore, fake leather and extremely shiny, reached to my knees, my thighs bare to just below my ass, where the mini I wore ended. God, I hate dresses. My legs felt like they were about to get frost bite. Luckily this piece of shit outfit came with a little jacket. My tits may have been cold, nipples like rocks, but my arms were relatively warm.

Ohhhh, a car! Dark in color, the headlights nearly blind me as it pulls to the curb, squeaking to a stop next to me. The window rolled down with a mechanized buzz.

Walking over to the small sedan, I leaned down, making sure plenty of my size D's could be seen in the low cut shirt.

"Hey, sugar," looking in, I see a man, big surprise. His hair is short, kind of choppy, like his barber went a little nuts with the scissors. The thing that really catches my eye is his left cheek, all pock marked. It kind of reminded me of that actor guy from that movie, ‘Stand and Deliver'.

"How much, sweetheart?" he asked, his voice surprisingly high-pitched.

"Well, that's all up to you. What's on your mind?" I grinned, cocking an eyebrow. God he made my skin crawl.

"Stand back a little, honey, so I can get a look at you," he said, leaning slightly over the passenger seat. Standing upright, I hold my arms out, turning in a small circle, eyes never leaving his. Turning back to face the car, hand on hip. His face was buried in shadow, but I thought I could hear a small moan coming from the car. It took everything in me to not vomit on his front tire. "Get in," he said, his voice taking on an unmistakably aroused tone.

Stepping to the car again, I noticed the tenting action going on in his trousers. Rolling my eyes, I took a deep breath, hand on the cool metal of the handle.


I jumped, startled almost out of my skin. Glaring at my friend, Adam, telling him with my eyes that he better have a very good fucking reason for interrupting me.

Adam reached me, grabbing my hand and yanking me away.

"What the fuck are you doing?" I hissed.

"I don't trust this, Chris," he whispers, keeping an eye on the guy who my back is to. "This car looks like the one that Chantal drove off in before she disappeared." His dark eyes met mine, pleading with me. I sighed, not happy about this. Don't get me wrong, I was not looking forward to porking the dude, but I need the damn money. I knew my best friend would never steer me wrong.

"Fine." Turning back to the guy who had to be blue ballin' by now, I grinned sexily. "Sorry, but there's been a change in plans."

To my shock, he nearly drove over my foot, slamming the car in gear and screeching into the night.

"I'm so sorry, Chris, but I just had a really bad feeling about that guy," Adam said, his hand resting on my shoulder. Shrugging it off, I turned and started walking away. "Chris! Come on," I heard him running up behind me, but being the stubborn ass that I am, I didn't stop. All I could think about was I was going to use the money to add to my savings for my guitar.

It wasn't two days later when I was back on the street and a familiar silver car pulled up to the curb. This time, though, it was the light of day, and I could wear my pair of jeans. Man, it feels so good not to have my ass or tits hanging out.

"Hey, kid," a deep voice calls out as the silver car drives slowly along with my steps. I look over at the man behind the wheel, the familiar gesture of his fingers caressing the hair that connected his mustache to his goatee.

"Wanna date, stud?" I call out, winking and walking over to him. He pulls the car to a stop and rolls his eyes.

"Dream on, Christine."

"I'm dreaming, sugar." Leaning down to his window, I lift my sunglasses and put them on my head. "What's up?"

"Working on a case. You seen this guy?" Det. Harmon hands me a picture and my brows furrow in thought. Looking over him, seeing dark eyes, dead, dark eyes. He's not smiling, like it's a mug shot photo or something. He's a white guy, dark hair, long and messy, bits of gray in his eyebrows, which are thick and heavy over those dead, dark eyes.

"Nah, haven't seen ‘im," I'm about to hand the picture back when I look at it again. "Shit," I whistle between my teeth. The left side of his face is all scarred up, just like that actor guy.

"What's up, Christine? You've seen him, haven't you?" I nod, suddenly feeling sick to my stomach. My eyes meet the detective's.

"He killed Chantal, didn't he?"

"Who says he killed anybody?" The detectives' blue eyes look into mine, like he's looking through me.

"Come on, Mike. You're homicide." I wave the picture around. He smiles, nodding as he taps the steering wheel with his thumb.

"You know I can't tell you anything, kid. You seen him or not?"

"Yeah, I seen ‘im. Just a few nights ago."

"You telling me the truth, Christine? This is serious shit. Don't play with me." He leans his arm out the car, letting it dangle over the edge, hand lightly tapping the driver's side door.

"Don't worry, Mikey," I hand the picture back with a smirk. "You're too cheap for me to play with." He threw his head back and laughed, waggling his finger at me.

"Careful, kid, or I'll send vice after you."

Holding my hand up, I held it, palm to the ground. "See this, detective?" he glanced at my steady hand. "Controlled fear."

He chuckled. "Alright, alright. What'cha got for me?"

"Well," I look out at the street, almost like I think that bastard is going to pull at the curb, or something. "He tried to pick me up. I almost went with him. My buddy recognized his car from the one Chantal got into the night she went missing."

"Why don't you come downtown and tell me this, Christine?" he offers, hitching his thumb at the backseat of his car. I shake my head.

"Not happening, Mike. I got things to do today."

He sighs, also looking out over the streets. "Okay." Grabbing a pad of paper, he wrote down what I told him, then looks at me expectantly.

"What? What more you want?"

"What type of car was it? What was he wearing? Did you notice anything new about him? Hair style? Color? Eye color? Tattoos?"

"Whoa, dude. I didn't blow him right there, ya know. I never got into his car." For some reason I feel the need to tell him I didn't go through with it. Mike Harmon was the only guy with a good job I knew who didn't treat me like the trash I am.

"Alright. Start slow. Kind of car? Color and make," his pen was poised over the pad.

"I don't know what kind of car, but it was a sedan, a small one. It was a dark color, blue or black, I think."

"Okay," he scribbles in absolutely unreadable writing. "Hair? Color and style?"

"Dark and really short. The dude looked like someone had gone to his head with pruning shears or something," I laughed at the memory. "He looked like a dumb ass." Mike chuckled. I close my eyes for a second, trying to think of anything else that caught my eye about the guy or his car. "He had on dark clothes, but I noticed he wore a Chicago Bears shirt."

"Okay, good, good. Why didn't you go with him?" he was eyeing me and I shrugged.

"I was going to. Like I said, my buddy recognized his car and stopped me. He owes me big, too."

"He probably saved your life, kid."

"Maybe." I shrug, not figuring that's a huge save.

"Well, if you or your friend remember anything else, give me a call." He hands me a business card. Not bother to look at it, I tuck it into the back pocket of my jeans. "Here, kid. Get yourself some lunch."

Stunned, I take the five dollar bill, also tucking it into my pocket.

"Take care of yourself, Christine." He starts his car, and with a final wave, drives off. I watch him go, then hurry toward the McDonald's on the corner, my mouth already watering.

"These dreams are pretty vivid," Margaret said, her voice quiet, subtle. Christine nodded.

"Yes, they are." The singer sighed, running her hands through her hair, leaving it in disarray. The counselor was quiet for a moment, studying her patient, who hadn't looked at her during the entire telling of her story.

"How did you feel about that? The fact that you may have been his next victim?" Christine looked at the woman for a moment, not sure what to say to the kind, knowing smile she saw. She turned away again.

"I don't know that I would have cared. There wasn't much to save, you know?" Christine leaned back into the soft cushions, hands tucked behind her head and her eyes on the older woman.

"Did they catch him?"

"Yeah," she snorted. "But not before the bastard nabbed three more girls."

"Did you know the girls?"

Christine was quiet for a moment, her mind reeling back, then slowly she nodded.

"And what about your friend? Adam, was it?"

The singer couldn't keep the smile off her face. "He's fine."

"Present tense? You keep in contact with him, then?"

"Oh, yeah," she turned that brilliant smile to Margaret. "He's my boy, my kind of people."

"And what kind of people is that?" Margaret asked, putting her pad of paper aside and crossing her legs. She studied the woman in front of her. Such a lovely girl.

Christine smiled, looking down at her lap. "I'd rather not talk about that,"

"Alright. You look good, Christine. You've put on some weight. I must say, a woman of your height, what, five ten? should not weigh one hundred and thirteen pounds." Margaret couldn't help it as the mother in her came out. Watching her own daughter go through a terrible struggle with anorexia was a difficult thing to watch.

"Yes, well it's hard to keep the weight on when four lines of coke is dinner for three days and nights at a time."

The counselor smile, though it was sad. "How do you feel?"

"How do I feel, good question." Bringing her hands out from behind her head, Christine stood, walking over to the French doors and looking out. A few fellow residents were strolling around the grounds, talking with each other or alone. Sitting on a stone bench she recognized a fellow musician that she was stunned to see at Promises. "Interesting," she muttered.

"What was that?"

"Huh?" Realizing she'd been asked a question, the singer turned from the doors and walked back to the couch. "I feel okay, I guess. Very worn out."

"What are your plans once you leave here? You're to be released in what, three weeks?"

"So they tell me."

"Do you feel you're ready?"

The singer studied the older woman, taking in her caring features, concerned eyes and motherly bulk, and felt something she hadn't felt in many, many years- she wanted a hug.

Shaking that thought out of her mind, she shrugged. "To be honest, Margaret, I don't know a damn thing anymore. I'm void of all thought and understanding of myself."

"What does that make you want to do? How do you want to deal with that?" Margaret's soft voice made the singer smile. She knew what she was getting at.

"Don't worry, Margaret," she said quietly, smiling at the counselor. "I think I've learned my lesson."

"In what way?" Margaret uncrossed her legs, straightening the skirt of her dress, then re-crossing them.

"I could have hurt another person this time," Christine whispered.

"The nurse?"

"The nurse." Christine dropped her head, shame filling her.

"What about your fans? How do you feel about them? The last concert …" Margaret's voice trailed off, seeing the hurt and uncertainty in the piercing blue eyes, made electric by unshed emotion. If only Christine would allow herself to cry, to release her pain.

"They'll come back," the singer said, her voice so low the older woman almost missed it. "They always do. Bob will make sure of that."


"You about done with my air compressor, there, Kevin?"

Willow's head shot up from the fence she was working on. Her husband, wiping his forehead with his hat, headed on over to Richard Dean, their closest neighbor at three miles.

"Hey there, Dick. Yeah, sorry about that. Come on into the garage. I'll get it for you." The sandy-haired man said, patting the old man's back.

The blonde smiled as she turned back to her work. She had been telling Kevin for months to get the thing back to Dick, but it wasn't as if he listened. Stubborn male. She had no idea what he'd even been using the thing for in the first place.

"Ouch, dang it," she nabbed her finger away from the wire cutters that had pinched the skin on her index finger, making it bleed. She stuck the wound into her mouth, a mumbled curse aimed at the fence around the finger in her mouth. Examining her hand, she saw that she was fine. Just a small cut.

Once her work had been interrupted, the blonde realized just how hot it was. She looked up into the May sky, blue as a robin's egg. Snatching the doo-rag from her short hair, she wiped her face down with it, then beat the kerchief against her cargo-clad thigh and decided to head in for some iced tea.

The walk back to the house was a long one, but beautiful and peaceful. The soft whinnies and snorts of the horses could be heard, as well as the squawk of chickens in their pen. The dogs were out running, making those chickens squawk, but it was okay. Life over the past six days had been good.

Willow and her husband, Kevin, had taken some well deserved vacation time, trying to get to some of the repairs and improvements on the ranch they'd been wanting to do for a couple years, but had never seemed to find the time to do. It was Saturday, and she'd be going back to work Monday night.

"Hey, honey?" Kevin called, pulling Willow from her thoughts.

"Yeah?" she called back, stopping just shy of the square plot of grass that was their ‘backyard' on the two hundred and sixty-five acres of land they owned. Kevin came out from the shade of the garage, hand shielding his eyes from the sun.

"Have you seen the attachments to the air compressor?"

The blonde shook her head. "Nope. Did you look in your work bench?"

"Why would it be in there?" he rolled his eyes and headed back into the garage.

The blinded headed toward the house again. "Five, four, three, two,-"

"Here it is!"

She sighed, pushing the back door open, knowing damn well that he'd never admit to finding it in the Bermuda Triangle of Oklahoma known as his work bench. Heading over to the fridge, she pulled it open and surveyed the contents, looking for the jug of iced tea she had brewed the night before. Moving aside Kevin's gallon of Gatorade, she spotted the green top of the pitcher.

Sighing with contentment, she pulled the jug free, and poured the dark gold liquid into a glass, drinking half of it down before she could even get to the freezer for ice. Breathing heavily as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, she filled the glass once more, adding a few cubes of ice.

Kicking her hiking boots off, she padded around the cool Mexican tile of the kitchen with pleasure. She hated shoes and ditched them at every possible moment, hauling herself up onto one of their tall bar stools that sat before the breakfast bar. The paper had been tossed there earlier that morning, neither she nor Kevin having a chance to read it.

"He's a cool old guy," her husband said, near bouncing into the house, tugging his Gatorade out of the fridge and drinking straight from the plastic jug.

"Yeah, he is," Willow said absently, shaking the pages of the Williamsburg Gazette. Kevin walked over to the bar, Gatorade in hand.

"Give me the sports, will ya, honey?" He sat next to her, seeing his wife glance at him, only to do a double take, a grin spreading across her lips. "What?"

Without a word, Willow reached up with her thumb, wiping the red smudge from Kevin's upper lip. He looked away sheepishly.

"What can I say, I like my fruit punch Gatorade."

"Obviously. Here." Handing him his section of the paper, she went back to the leading stories of their small area of the world. She grazed the local stuff, not caring much about the local pig competitions or how large Meridath Graham had grown a squash this year, she made her way to national news.

A familiar picture catching her eye, she zoomed in on the short editorial.

Singer and song writer Christine Gray front woman of the group Twilight, who mysteriously dropped from public view last winter, has announced that the concert tour for her latest album, Swan Song, which was cancelled after she was hospitalized for fatigue and exhaustion last February, had been rescheduled.


Announced yesterday, "All those who had tickets to the cancelled performance, including those in Oklahoma City, will be valid to attend Miss Gray's concert in their respective cities," said Gray's rep, Mark Hutchins, who added that Christine is feeling great and in good spirits and is looking forward to seeing her fans.


Willow couldn't keep the smile from her face, resting her chin on her palm. She had thought about the singer often, wondering what had happened to her, where she'd ended up. Obviously the news was no help, nor E! or Entertainment Tonight.

Robert Knowels had done his best to keep things under raps at the hospital, let alone the rest of the world, she figured, She couldn't help but wonder how much that silence and privacy had cost Christine.

"Who's' that? She's pretty," Kevin said, resting his chin on his wife's shoulder.

"Christine Gray," Willow said absently, reading over the article again.

"Who?" His sandy brows drew in confusion.

"She's not country, honey, you wouldn't know her." The blonde grinned, gently patting her husband's stubbled cheek.

"Hey, I'll have you know I once shook the hand of George Jones!" he said, looking at her with narrowed brows. She loved it when he looked at her like that. In that moment she knew exactly what he had looked like as a young boy. Though she was filled with love, she wasn't through torturing him just yet.


"God, what kind of country girl are you? You do your state shame, woman," he muttered, turning back to his sports page. She snickered, turning back to her own paper.


Willow stepped out onto the wrap around porch of the light smoky blue two-story with the white trim. Something else she and Kevin had done during their working vacation. It had taken thirty years off the old farm house.

She smiled, closing her eyes as she inhaled the early morning air, hands wrapped firmly around her mug of mint tea. She loved the way two worlds were merging- the sounds of male crickets frantically rubbing their back legs together, desperate for a mate. Their song bearing witness to the night while the songs of the birds in the dozens of trees around the house birthed a new day as the sun peeked over the flat plains of Willow's beloved Sooner state.

This was her time, a time of peace and tranquility where she could regroup and gather strength from the dawning of new life.

She was usually just getting home around that time, always getting her tea and watching the day reborn. Come Monday morning Kevin would just be getting up for work.

She looked out over the pastures, hearing the horses start to wake, snorting, their hooves stomping lightly on the ground. In the distance she saw the headlights of Macy Allen's car as she delivered the morning paper to all the outlying farms and ranches; her own homestead was only about ten miles away. The blonde usually passed the small blue car on her way in.

Sipping from her mug, she made her way slowly down the stairs of the porch to the flagstone path that led to the edge of the landscaped part of their yard, and ended in the dirt road that led to the gates of their property.

She noted the colors that spread across the sky, pinks and oranges, stretching fingers through the clouds, with rays falling through the cracks, seeming to send a spotlight on the plains.

Memories began to flood Willow's mind of an earlier time. Her grandfather had been born in the farmhouse in 1918, his parents adding another story to the once tiny, one-room house as their family began to grow. Eight children later, everyone began to disperse and find their own place in life.

Willow's grandfather, Earnest, had stayed on, loving the land far too much to leave it. His brothers had gone off to fight in World War II, while he'd stayed on, not having to go as he was the sole son left to run the farm. His father, aged and weathered by that time, was far too weak to run things.

Earnest Wahl had lost three of his four brothers in the war or from just plain stupidity, and one sister, Rose, who had gone over as a WASP. The remaining sister, Lucille had married and moved off to New Jersey, Earnest's brother Carl had no interest in the life of a farmer/rancher, and made his west to explore the world of real estate, making his fortune in San Francisco.

Willow walked to the fence, which she needed to finish fixing today, pushing the waist-high gate open and headed across the dirt road to the mailbox on the other side, standing tall before the ditch filled with water for irrigation. Grabbing the paper from the yellow, plastic paper box mounted on the mailbox pole, she tucked it under her arm and headed back across the road.

Hours and hours and hours Willow had spent with her grandmother on this land. Myra Wahl, now that was an interesting woman.

Born in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, she was the middle of six children, born to poor farm hands. Having no interest in the farm life, she ran away from home at the age of sixteen, running of with the strong man at a carnival that was coming through Rifle, Colorado.

By this time World War II was over, and the country was desperate to have their spirits raised as so many of their young men didn't come home. The carnival was a great success, and Myra traveled all around the United States and Canada with Dale, she working as a weight guesser and dancer in one of the carnival's many shows.

Tiring of the carnival life, Myra decided to find her own way and began hitching rides along Route 66, where a lonely driver named Earnest Wahl picked her up. That had been in 1951. They'd been together until the day Earnest had died, October 2, 2000. Myra and Earnest had only one child, a bouncing baby boy, who eventually became Willow's father.

When Willow's grandfather had died, Myra had decided the ranch was too much to take care of, and since her granddaughter had always loved the place so much, and her son had his own life and home, the ranch in its entirety, repairs and all, had been willed to Willow.

Everything in grandma's house intrigued me. It was filled with big, sturdy furniture, every bit an antique. It amazed me how she had a set of pans, the silver kind with the copper bottoms, and after fifty years of use, the copper was as clear and unblemished as it had been the day the pans were made.

I sat on a stool in the kitchen, next to the counter, watching as grandma washed dishes, heavily corded hands lovingly scrubbing every bit of food, baked on or otherwise, from the pans, then dipped them in the hot rinse water, her skin beat red from the heat, setting the pan on the spread out towel. I grabbed the newly washed pan, drying it just as lovingly.

"How have you kept these so nice, grandma?" I glance over at her, setting the pan aside to grab for the bouquet of flatware she's just washed.

"Time and patience, my love," she smiles, winking a light blue eye at me. I roll my own eyes. I know that's her way of telling me it's her secret. She would always sprinkle something into the dish water from a corked bottle filled with white and blue granules of something.

We were silent for a while, the only sounds were the quiet, soothing splashing of water as grandma continued to wash the supper dishes. I never understand why she calls it supper when it's only two-thirty in the afternoon! See, with grandma there's supper then there's dinner. Dinner was served at five-thirty sharp. I'm never hungry when dinner comes along because I'm still so full from supper three and a half hours before.

It was dizzying, her logic.

"Grandma?" I ask, setting aside the glass casserole dish I had just dried.

"Yes, love?" she pulls the plug from the large, stainless steel sink, using the sprayer to get rid of all the suds.

"I was out with the horses earlier and it looks like Wanda is about to pop any minute," I glance up at her, seeing wrinkles of concentration marring her otherwise smooth forehead Though she was a year from sixty, she was aging very well, which was surprising considering she spent most of her life outside in the harsh sun. Grandma had a permanent tan that I was grossly jealous of. Grandpa had one, too, though it always made me laugh when he took his almost ever-present baseball cap off. He had a perfect line of white across his forehead just under his hairline. Grandma called it a farmer's tan.

"You think so, do you?" grandma asks, wiping down the counter and sink with a dry towel. I nod.

"She started to really stomp her feet when I was over there earlier. I don't know," I shrug. "I just feel it." Hopping from the stool, I put it where it goes, against the wall by the door to the kitchen, where grandpa always sat when he took his boots off. Grandma would fillet him for supper if he got mud in her immaculate house.

"Let's go have a look." Grandma kissed me on the temple as she neatly hung the towels on the magnetic hooks attached to the side of the fridge, then she led the way toward the door.

Willow's father had inherited his mother's wandering spirit of her youth. Throughout the duration of the blonde's own youth, he had moved them from this house to the next, one town to the next, and even spreading across state lines. She had no real childhood home to speak of, never living anywhere longer than a few years.

Once Willow had figured it out, and was stunned to realize she'd attended nine schools and had lived in more than a dozen houses or apartments.

The ranch had become her stability, always something that she knew she could return to, and it would be in the same place, look the same, feel the same, be the same. Willow spent nearly all of her summers there, and when her parents lived close enough, her weekends, too. Once her grandmother had even called Willow's own mother, Helen, to see if there was a problem at home because the girl waned to spend so much time at the ranch.

Helen had been hurt by the question, but the blonde hadn't the heart to tell her mother that it was because she felt she had no security with her own parents, and so sought what she craved with her grandparents.

It had been even worse when Willow's parents had divorced during her sophomore year of high school. She had felt lost and adrift. Once again the ranch had provided the emotional nourishment she had needed, even going so far as to consider moving in with her grandparents indefinitely. But by that time, Earnest was getting sick, and Myra had enough to deal with, so the blonde had stayed with her mother and Helen's new boyfriend, Shawn, who eventually became Willow's step-father.

"Wow, look at that," I breathed, eyes huge with what I was seeing. The new mother and her colt lay together in the hay, the baby trying her very best to stand, though it just wasn't working. Her thin, bony legs weren't cooperating.

"You were right, my love. You've got good instinct," Myra whispers, her arm slung around my waist. "Maybe you should be a vet instead of a nurse."

I shook my head adamantly. "I want to be a nurse. I can do far more for people than animals."

"A noble stance, Willow." She smiles at me, and I smile back, feeling the warmth of love and pride fill me. Grandma makes me feel like I can do anything and she'd still be proud of me. It was a good feeling. "What should we name her, my love?"

"Hmm," I chew my lip as I study the brown colt. As I look at her I noticed a splotch of white on her nose, it's small, but I know it'll get bigger, and it looks like a lop-sided star. "Star," I say, looking over at grandma, who I am proud to say is a wee bit shorter than me now. "See her nose?"

Blue eyes twinkle and grandma nods. "Star it is."

Willow walked over to the pasture, the horses seeing her coming, and walked over to the wooden rail fence.

"Hey, guys," she murmured, reaching a hand out to pet waiting noses. "How's my girl, huh?" The big, brown horse snorted, nuzzling her with a hairy nose, tickling Willow's face. The blonde smile, running her thumb over the bright, white marking that gave the horse her name. Star had three babies of her own now, all grown and making her a grandmother.

"Hey, you," Kevin's soft voice said from behind the blonde. She leaned back into him, smiling as warm arms snaked around her to clasp under her breasts. "I missed you this morning," he said into her ear, kissing the tip.

"Mm, sorry," she sighed in contentment. "I need to get myself back into a routine. Staying up all night Monday night will not be so fun if I don't."

"Hmm, true." Together they watched the horses, absorbing the warmth of the dawning day and of each other.

Kevin hated how often he awoke alone, even when his wife was off, but he understood her need for the alone time, so he did his best to not complain too often, though he had hoped they could have at least spent their last morning together in bed, before the real world of work encroached upon them. He decided to try.

"So I was thinking," he said, leaning down to nibble lightly at his wife's neck. "This is our last day together," he moved up to her lobe, encouraged as she tilted her head a bit. "And maybe we could spend it in bed." Green eyes closed as Willow's head tilted even more, feeling the soft lips and tongue spread to her jaw. A soft moan escaped the blonde as a large, warm hand cupped one of her breasts.

Kevin knew he had her. Her breasts were so sensitive, the nipple already pressing against his palm. The blonde turned in his arms, mouth finding his. Yeah, he had her.


Christine set the silver tray with its empty dishes out into the hall, just outside her suite door.

Belching loudly, she put her hand to her stomach, feeling full and content. She walked over to the French doors, knowing she'd miss the view when she left. It was amazing how colorful and beautiful things were to her again. Through the haze of the past ten years, the world around her had started to lose its color, flavor and beauty. How had she allowed herself to become numb to the sounds of life? Weren't they music of a sort?

Wrapping her arms around herself, she leaned against the open doors, not quite stepping out onto the balcony. She did one night, and nearly fainted. Looking down, it had reminded her entirely too much of a lost night in Oklahoma nearly four months ago.

It was almost time to go home, and the singer was glad of it. She wanted her own house, her own bed. Plus she missed Milly, which surprised her. The housekeeper had been with her for just over two years and had quickly become a cherished friend, as well as one hell of an employee. The older woman had no family in California to speak of, and her son was clear across the country in Nashville trying to become the next Kenny Chesney.

Christine shivered. Who one earth could listen to that country babble? The stuff gave her ulcers.

Glancing over her shoulder at the unexpected sound of a knock on the outer door, the singer pushed away from the door and headed back across the room, pulling the door open.

Blue eyes grew huge at the smiling face that waited on the other side.

"Adam!" Finding herself almost picked up in thin arms, Christine hugged her old friend for all she was worth, thrilled beyond words to see him there. Finally pushing him away, she held him at arms' length, looking him up and down, finally resting on the face, skin slightly darker than her own, white teeth blinding in contrast, and hazel eyes twinkling.

"Hey, gorgeous," he said, deep voice resonating through her.

"My god, come in, come in." Ushering him inside, she closed the door behind him, turning to just look at him. His dark brown hair was long, pulled back into a ponytail, slicked back from his broad face. "What are you doing here?" She walked over to him, taking him into another hug, this one warm, soft and comforting to them both. He held her, chin resting on top of her dark head, breathing in his past.

"I heard you might need a friend. So here I am, friend."

"I've missed you, buddy," she whispered, head resting against his narrow chest. After a long, contented moment, Adam slowly pulled away, taking his friend by the hand and leading her to the couch. He looked around the opulent room as he did so, amazed and awed by where Christine had ended up.

"Robert Downey, Jr. really stayed here, huh?" He grinned big at his friend, who rolled her eyes, smacking him lightly in the stomach. All joking aside, intense hazel eyes looked into Christine's. "What's going on, Chris? Why are you here?"

Sighing, the singer looked away, ashamed to face him. "I almost did it, Adam," she finally said, her voice quiet and alone.

"How?" he asked, voice almost choking over the single word. Christine chuckled ruefully, really unable to look at him.

"I jumped off this old, rickety bridge into a river."

Adam closed his eyes, Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed, trying to keep his emotions at bay. He couldn't keep the image out of his mind of a pale, bloated Christine from his tortured mind.

"Why didn't you call me?" he whispered. "I would have been there in a heartbeat."

"I know." The singer turned to her friend now, seeing the pain on his face. She hated herself knowing she'd put it there. "I know," cupping his prominent jaw, she made him look at her, brows furrowed. "I lost control, Adam." She shook her head to emphasize her point. "I lost it."

"What were you on?" his voice was low and serious.

"Everything. Anything." She sighed, glancing at the hand that grabbed hers, holding it tight. "I was taking anything I could get my hands on, Adam. I totally fucked up, bud. I may have ruined my career."

"I heard about the concert in Oklahoma City," he said quietly. She met his gaze, hers filled with terror.


"It was all over the news, in the papers. They said it was because you had worn yourself to exhaustion, but I knew something was wrong. I'm only sorry I couldn't get here sooner."

Christine closed her eyes, taking several deep breaths, her stomach in knots. Now she wasn't so sure she should have eaten as much as she had for breakfast.

"I'm just glad you're here," she finally said.

"And don't worry, Chris. There's no way you could ruin your career. They love you. Don't you know that?"

"I don't know, Adam. I just don't know anymore."

"How did you get out of the river?"

Christine grinned, feeling foolish. "A clown saved me."

"What?!" Her friend looked at her like she was crazy. "Jesus, you really were on some bad shit."

The singer laughed, letting it roll out of her throat with abandon. He grinned, confused.

"No, really. It was this woman, a nurse or something, who was dressed as a clown. Scared the shit out of me, too. I hate clowns."

"Oh man," Adam laughed. "Why was she dressed as a clown?"

Christine shrugged. "I have no idea. But I do know she saved my life. In a lot of ways," she blew out a breath.


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