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 9

Green eyes opened, looked around the room. The space was dim, all blinds and curtains pulled as tightly closed as possible, shutting out the world and Willow's own fears.

She turned over in the bed, looking out over the mess she'd made. Her clothing lay scattered as she'd pulled it off, may it land wherever. The bedside clock readout said it was almost eight-thirty, which surprised the blonde. She'd been up most the night, either sitting in the chair in the corner thinking, or tossing and turning, her mind unable or unwilling to shut off.

Sitting up, eyes instantly closing at the pounding at her temples. Taking slow, deep breaths, she tried to get the pounding under control, feeling the pulse in her neck beating time with it, making her entire neck hurt. She knew she would have to get rid of this herself, medicine not really an option right now.

"Okay," she moaned, slowly pushing the covers back and tossing her legs over the side of the tall bed, bare feet making contact with the fuzzy rug placed over the tile under her bed. Making slow progress to the bathroom, she rinsed a washcloth under ice cold water, placing it around her neck. She grimaced at the new shout of pain at the cold sensation, but it quickly ceased, giving way to slight relief.

Finding some clothing that would resemble an outfit, she gathered her courage and strength, tugging them on like a shield, and headed out to face a new day, and her host.

Willow had a lot of time to think about things the night before. Her stomach was filled with nausea and undecided emotions. Yes, she had been angry at Christine for doing that, the unexpected kiss, the unexpected tingle of the loss of it.

Why had Christine done that? To what end had she hoped for? Willow went over the events just prior to in her head again and again until it had led to the migraine she had at waking. The perfect night, the fun they'd had, the comfort they'd felt. The beach, the romance of the ocean. Had it just been something that happened, or had the singer lured her to the island in hopes of just such a thing? Had it all been orchestrated? Is that why a famous, beautiful, rich woman like Christine Gray, who got anything she wanted, had taken interest in a faceless nurse in Oklahoma? Far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

"Uh, stop," Willow groaned, leaning against a wall in the hallway, holding her head in her hands. The march of thoughts through her head again was making her want to throw up.

Making her way down the stairs, she heard nothing but the tick of the huge, round clock that graced the wall by the kitchen. Coffee had been made, the little green light glowing in invitation. Luckily Christine only drank decaf, so it all worked out.

Glancing around, Willow realized that everything from the night before had been cleaned up and put away. Impressed, she moved on.

Pouring herself a mug, the blonde headed out to the deck, figuring that's where she'd find the singer. They needed to talk, and they needed to talk badly. She didn't want to lose their friendship, and only understanding the previous night could stop that from happening.

One side of the French doors was open a crack, allowing the sounds of the morning ocean in just a bit, the closer the blonde got to the doors.

Willow's heart began to beat double time as she got closer, making her head pound worse. She stopped for a moment, closing her eyes to allow herself a calming moment so her blood would slow down and not all try and push through the closed arteries all at once, making the migraine worse.

"Okay," she breathed, feeling everything settle again, and she began to move forward once more.

The morning was gorgeous, and for just a moment Willow was able to forget everything, and get lost in what her grandmother would call God's perfection.

"Beautiful out here, isn't it?"

Willow turned at the voice, the strange, not Christine's voice, voice. Parker Davies-Dubois sat in one of the metal chairs, feet up and crossed on the table, cup of coffee cradled against her stomach. She was smiling up at Willow, blue eyes squinting against the morning sun.

"Oh, uh, yeah. It really is." Willow managed to smile through her surprise, setting her cup on the deck railing. "Is Christine out running?" she glanced out over the beach far below, looking for the little jogging speck.

Parker chuckled inwardly. Out running. Nice choice of words. "No, she's not."

Willow turned to her, brows drawn. Something was wrong. "Where is she?" The blonde had remembered seeing the door at the end of the hall open, which meant the singer wasn't in it.

"Please sit down," Parker said, her sandaled feet hitting the deck, and setting her cup atop the glass. Wary, Willow pulled out a chair diagonally to the author's left. She sat, also setting her cup on the table top.

"What's going on, Parker?" the smaller blonde asked, her voice quiet and grave.

"Christine left-"


"Hold on," the author raised a hand. "Let me finish. Okay?" Grudgingly Willow nodded, her head pounding even more. "She came to me early this morning, pretty upset. I don't know what happened, she didn't want to talk about it, but she felt awfully bad."

"So bad she could stick around to talk to me about it?" Willow asked bitterly.

"Honey," Parker sat forward in her chair, concern written on her face. "I've known Christine for about four years now, and I know what a good person she is, but she, like everyone, has flaws and faults. One of her most grievous faults is she tends to run when she feels cornered or bad about something."

Willow looked down at her hands, feeling bad about her comment. She readjusted the warming rag on her neck, knowing she'd have to re-cool it soon.

"She asked me to be here when you got up to take you to the airport, or let you know that you're welcome to stay here as long as you want. Or, and this is from me, if you want to talk, I'm certainly willing to listen."

Willow met the other woman's eyes, seeing nothing but genuine compassion and concern there. She gave it a serious moments thought, then shook her head.

"If you don't mind, Parker, I think I want to be alone for a bit." She smiled apologetically, and found her hand wrapped in two warm ones.

"I understand. Listen, before I go I want you to know something,"


"Christine cares about you, and I know she'd never do anything to intentionally hurt you. She considers you a real friend, and sadly for her, real friends are far and few between, so I know she'd never do anything to jeopardize that." That said and a kind smile, Parker stood, grabbing her coffee cup and headed inside, only to return a few moments later to take her leave via the stairs. At the bottom, she looked up at the nurse who hadn't moved.

"When and if you do need something Willow, I wrote my number on the dry erase board in the kitchen." And she was gone.

Willow sat where she was, absently sipping her coffee, wondering what she should do. She also was battling with her emotions internally. Should she be angrier at Christine for the kiss or for abandoning her in paradise?

"Crap," she muttered, then stood to head inside. Sure enough, there was a number written in large, balloon numbers, and a happy face that made the blonde smile. She dumped out the rest of her coffee in the sink, loading the mug into the dish washer, which she realize belatedly was filled with clean dishes. When had Christine done all this? Cleaned the kitchen, washed all pans, put food away, and ran the dish washer.

Maybe she, too, was up all night. When had she left? Willow couldn't help but feel betrayed by finding Christine gone. Why couldn't she have stuck around so they could talk it out? Yeah, Willow had heard Parker's explanation, and she understood it quite well, a little too well, perhaps. After all, she was on Quenby Island, wasn't she? But still.

Rinsing her washcloth out, all the water in the material grown room temperature from Willow's body heat warming it. Almost drooling at the cold water that ran over her hands as she rinsed out the rag, she reapplied it, then headed upstairs. Maybe a nice, cool shower or warm, relaxing bath would help.


The journey into wakefulness was quick and startling. Willow looked around, unsure of where the hell she was for a moment, and what had wakened her. She realized she was on one of the white leather couches in the large living room, a string of drool leading from her lips to the pillow beneath her head.

"Crap," she cleaned it off with her hand, which she drew across her mouth. Blinking in rapid succession, she also realized someone was at the door.

Making her way over there, she saw a man standing there, dressed in white from head to toe, a bundle at his feet, and a smile on his handsome face.

Curious, she opened the French door, looking up at him. "Um, can I help you?"

"If you're Willow Bowman, you certainly can." His smile was radiant, bright as his clothing, which almost glowed in the intense, noon sun.

"I am,"

"Fabulous!" Grabbing his bundle, he pushed past her, talking all the while as he unpacked his equipment. "I'm Freddie Sanchez, and I hear you've got quite the noggin ache, so I'm here to make your day lovely again." He smiled again, dark eyes twinkling, and little peak that rose from his Caesar hairdo bobbing with the motion of him violently shaking out a white sheet, which he spread over the blue, padded table he'd set up.

"What?" Utterly baffled, Willow took a step back. Was he insane?"

"Come on, honey. Let's get you out of those clothes and onto my table," he said, pulling out numerous glass bottles with cork stoppers from the bag he'd had hung over his shoulder. He lined them up in no order the blonde could discern, on a folding table that had been packed with the folding padded table.

"You want me to undress? I don't under-"

"Honey, I am not going put my hands on your sweet skin through cotton, I'm sorry," he looked at her with accusing eyes, hand on hip. Understanding dawning, Willow sighed relief.

"Uh, who called you?"

"Parker, of course. Isn't she a doll? I just love her. And her son is going to be a heartbreaker just like his daddy, someday." Freddie had begun to uncork a few of the bottles, pouring some sort of fragrant, thick green liquid on his palms, then rubbed them vigorously together. "Come on, snap, snap," he ordered, turning his back to her to afford her a bit of privacy.

Looking down at herself, Willow, still stunned by the handsome whirlwind, decided what the hell. Quickly, and shyly, shrugging out of her clothes, she snagged the white sheet that Freddie now held out to her, his back still to her. Wrapping it around herself, she walked over to him and the table.

He turned around, looking her up and down. Oddly, Willow didn't feel uncomfortable with his attention.

"Mm, mm. Fabulous." He grinned, big and disarming. Stepping toward her, he raised strong, manicured hand, rubbing a few strands of blonde between thumb and forefinger. "Who does your hair, sweetling?" he asked, running his hand through the thick strands.

"Uh, Cost Cutters, usually," Willow muttered, brows drawn as she wondered what the hell he wad doing now. She wasn't used to such focused attention, and wasn't entirely sure what to do with it.

"No," he blew out, bending down to look her in the eye. "You let those oafs touch this gorgeous golden fleece?!" She laughed, nodding. "Oh, honey. Now that is pure evil sin right there." Dropping his hand, he shocked her by smacking her on the ass. "Okay, girl friend, jump up on that table for me, please."

Doing as asked, Willow climbed up, laying on her back.

"Turn over, sweetling," he instructed softly, adjusting the sheet for her, keeping her privacy as long as possible.

As Freddie began to work his hands into her tender flesh, yammering on and on about who his hands had been on, why he wouldn't touch if his life depended on it, and who he'd do anything to get his mitts on, Willow allowed her mind to wander.

She thought about Kevin, wondering where he was today, what he was doing, and thinking. What was she going to do once she got home? When was she going home? Where was Christine? Why had she left? She knew what Parker had told her, and she understood that, but why couldn't they just work it out amongst themselves? Why had Christine drug Parker into this, then leave the poor woman in the dark about what had happened?

Her eyes drifted shut, a soft purr growing from her throat as Freddie began to find her most tense areas.

"That's right, sweetie," he murmured. "Let Freddie fix everything,"

"Hmm," she responded, eyes growing heavier and heavier, mind wandering further and further out into space. Her shoulders relaxed, fingers uncurled at her sides, and her breathing evened out. Peace.

The sound of the ocean hitting the surf is wonderful, crashing into my ears, the salty air fills my nose. All I can do is sigh in satisfied contentment

The sand seeps in between my toes, a feeling I hadn't realized I like so much until I got to paradise.

The palm trees sway, wild flowers make the air fragrant. Down the beach I see someone, and I smiled, recognizing the nature of movement.

"Kevin!" I yell out, hurrying my barefoot steps in his direction, though he's still just a shimmer in the heat. I begin to run, curious as to why he hasn't gotten closer, and I'm impatient to tell him about my big news. I don't know what my big news is, but I know it's big, and I know he needs to know about it.

He raises his hand in greeting, a big arch of a wave. Even though I'm running, I'm not getting any closer to him, and I feel frustration bearing down on me.

"Bear down, Willow! Push!" he screams, but I'm having trouble with it. My body is too relaxed, I can't move, I can't push. Looking between my spread legs, I see blue eyes looking back up at me from the apex.

"Christine," I plead, breathless fear clenching my gut as Kevin paces restlessly behind her, is eyes never leaving the main attraction between my legs. "Save my baby,"

Like a lion ready to pounce, Kevin paces closer to me, covering shorter distance, fingers flexing and re-flexing, knuckles popping.

"I need you to relax, sweetling," Christine says, though it's not her voice. "Sweetling,"

Willow's eyes popped open, and she was immediately met with very concerned dark brown.

"Are you okay, honey?" Freddie asked, his hand gently combing back locks of hair that were stuck to the blonde's tear-streaked face.

She sniffled once, trying to stop the flow of emotion, though was only half-successful at it.

"I'm sorry," she tried to sit up, Freddie helped her, keeping her sheet in place for her. Running hands through her hair, Willow tried to smile away her embarrassment. The masseuse saw right through it.

"Want to talk about it, doll?"

"I don't know," she sniffled, then laughed nervously again. "I bet I'm the first to cry on your table, huh?"

"Well, actually no. It's not horribly uncommon, but it's usually tears of release, not," he gently swiped a falling tear with his fingertip. "tears of pain or distress. I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"No. In fact, I think it's because you had me so relaxed and it felt so good I couldn't push."

"Say what?" his brows shot up. She chuckled.

"I'm pregnant, my husband doesn't want it, so I dreamt Christine was trying to deliver my baby and kept telling me to push but I was too relaxed." Her eyes began to leak again at the memory of seeing Kevin's face, so vicious, ready to take her baby away from her.

"Oh, honey," he sat next to her, shoulder almost brushing hers. "I'm so sorry." The look of compassion she saw on this strangers face was her undoing. The dam fell again, and she dissolved into a pool of self pity. The feel of his strong, yet gentle arms around her felt good.

Getting herself together, she sniffled, wiping her hand across her nose before smiling shyly. "I bet you don't deal with this kind of thing often, huh?"

"Are you kidding?" he waved her off. "Honey, I'm like a bartender- when I work I'm a captive audience, so who better to tell your woes to?" He smiled with a wink, and she smiled back.

"Thank you."

"No worries, beautiful. Let's say I finish up, huh?" He nudged her with his shoulder, and she nudged him back, nodding.


Willow sat on the deck, curled up in a padded lounge tucked against the rail, cup of decaf cuddled against her chest. The sun had set hours ago, and she was basking in the ocean breeze, which cooled off over-heated skin. She'd frolicked on the beach for most of the day after Freddie had left. It had been nice, but she was lonelier than she could ever recall.

The massage and relaxing day had helped to clear her mind a bit, and get her ready for the return trip, and for getting back into her daily life of the hospital.

She also had to meet with Kevin so they could come up with a plan of action. She felt strongly that they needed a separation until either he could get whatever was up his ass out, or she could garner the courage to make a final decision on the fate of her marriage.

Sighing, she grabbed the cordless off the chair's thick arm and dialed the number she'd just memorized from the dry erase board in the kitchen.


"Thanks, doc."

As the door to the small room closed, Robert Knowles examined his face, turning from one side to the other.

"Your plastic surgeon has a nice ass," Sandra said, re-crossing her legs and adjusting her pants to drape over the top of her boot just so.

Bob glared at her through the mirror, then turned back to his own reflection. "This better fucking heal right or I swear I'll take her for everything she has," he muttered, as if to himself. Standing, he put on the light-weight dress jacket that hugged his broad shoulders just right. It helped to fuck a clothing designer.

"Let's go," he said, hating that the bandage on his nose was so stark against his tan, making it all the more apparent. Sandra stood, pulling the thin straps of her purse onto her shoulder and digging out her car keys.

"How does it feel?" she asked, stepping through the examination room door that Robert held open for her.

"It's fine. It feels just fucking peachy." He grumbled, following her down the hall that would lead to the private exit of Dr. Rae's office, for important clients like himself, who didn't want it splashed all over the fucking newspaper the next day that they'd had a bit of medicinal help.

"Well, perhaps you can learn to keep tactless comments to yourself," Sandra suggested, hitting the button on the private elevator, glancing over her shoulder at the smoldering man at her side. He glared at her, dark eyes full of fire.

"Don't start, Sandra." The warning was low, dangerous. The designer laughed off the unspoken meaning, but she shut her mouth all the same.

After being dropped off at his downtown offices, Knowles caught the elevator, groaning internally as the sleep, polished elevator car stopped short of the twenty-first floor, and opened at seventeen. A man of short stature and big attitude stepped inside.

"Hey, Bob. How are you?" Dennis Weinz asked, bushy brows narrowing to form a furry caterpillar across the bridge of his nose. "What happened?"

"Tennis accident," Bob smiled, secretly despising he Fox exec.

"Ah," the shorter man drew out, obviously not believing a damn word, but knowing full well he'd come up with the same lame excuse if he were so inclined to go with the putty job. The doors dinged open on nineteen, and Weinz smiled. "Watch that serve, huh?" He disappeared with the sound of his own laughter.

"Prick," Bob muttered, punching the button unnecessarily for twenty-one again. Stepping into the offices he'd had professionally decorated by a wonderful designer before he'd gone off one of those horrific reality TV decorating shows. He'd have to yell at Jeff Probst the next time he ran into him.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Knowles," Katrina, the newest cool, drink of water hired at Knowles Group, said, light brown eyes twinkling with a knowing glint. He wiggled his brows.

"Kat." He remembered how those long, nineteen year old legs had felt wrapped around him. She may not be able to carry a tune in a tin bucket, but was she ever a good fuck.

He collected the latest calls and messages from her flirtatious fingers, fighting the urge to take her right there on that desk she sat at, her tight pencil skirt hiked up around her hips ... He shivered at the thought, forcing it away as he had work to do.

Unlocking the frosted glass door that led inside the frosted glass walled office, he sorted through the messages, tossing most into the trash. Everyone wanted something for nothing. The important ones were given a place of honor in the center of his blotter calendar. None from Christine.

"Bitch," he muttered. He had given her a week to contact him and apologize. She hadn't. Alright. She had her chance. Sitting in the expensive chair, liking the sound of the leather creaking under his weight, behind his even more expensive desk. Booting his computer, flat screen monitor perched at the corner of the desk, he grabbed his handheld from the briefcase he'd brought in. Using the stylus, he scrolled through his address book until he found what he was looking for.

Eyes still on the number, he grabbed the phone and quickly dialed.

"This is Brine," came the quipped answer.

"Mr. Brine," Bob leaned back in his chair, the spring bouncing his weight. "Robert Knowles with Knowles Group Agency here."

"Right, how are you, Mr. Knowles?"

"Fine, fine. Quite well, actually. How quickly can you meet me at my downtown office?"

"Well, if you can give me an hour to get past deadline-"

"Fine. Then I'll see you at," Bob glanced at his Rolex. "two-thirty."

"I'll be there."

"Wonderful. Come ready for a cover story." With a wicked grin Knowles gently laid the receiver in its cradle.


The streets were quiet finally, many of the tourists gone home for the weekend, the locals at home. Aspen nights were chilly at the end of summer. All the same, Christine strolled, hands in the pockets of her loose chords, button up shirt untucked and unbuttoned three down.

She gazed at the closed shop fronts, seeing their displays and wares, knowing that most of it was highly overpriced with under quality. Mugs, art work, pottery and 'local clothing' met her eye.

Moving on, Christine ran a hand through her hair, the thick, dark strands falling back into place with no frizz. The great thing of having her hair professionally treated once a week. She remembered the days when after a good rain she looked like a rose bush.

Smiling at the memory and image that conjured, she crossed the street, pausing for a Lexus to pass, then went into Sonny's, a wonderful little bakery that stayed up late. They had the best mocha breves in the world- so rich and smooth. Her mouth watered just thinking about it.

White nondescript bag of croissants in one hand, and a twenty ounce mocha breve with extra whipped cream in the other, Christine headed back to the street where she'd left the rented yellow Hummer. Sliding into the huge vehicle, she set the bag on the console between the two front seats and sipped her drink, wincing as it stung her tongue.

"Damn it," she hissed, sucking in mouthfuls of cool night air to chill her tongue. "Well, there goes about a hundred taste buds," she muttered, sliding the large cup into one of the many cup holders in the big truck. Turning the ignition, she got the beast rumbling beneath her, and pulled away from the curb.

Flying directly into DIA in Denver, after she'd randomly picked a state from a map, she'd found the nearest car rental place that rented the big guys, and off she went, traveling around the state, killing time and thinking. Ending up in Aspen for a couple days, she'd enjoyed the atmosphere. It had been awhile since she'd been there, maybe three years since she'd landed the slopes.

Traffic was light as it was after ten. Christine turned the CD player up to near deafening levels and sang along with whomever came up on her MP3, which had over one hundred songs on it by various artists and styles.

Fingers fumbling with the GPS, a map of the United States popped up, the camera zooming in to where she was, listing surrounding states as it did. Oklahoma popped across the screen for a partial second, then was gone.

A stabbing pain hit her heart, nearly making her choke up. Again. Sighing heavily, she grabbed her cell phone from one of the drink holders, flipped it open, not even glanced at it as she hit the number 7 key. Putting the phone to her ear, she listened to the pause as the long distance was covered, then finally a ring. Then two, followed by a third and a click.

"Hi, you've reached out, but you can't quite touch me as I'm not available to take your call. Leave something at the beep. Bye." The long beep that followed her own voice.

Christine waited a heartbeat, then spoke. "Willow? Are you there? If you are, please pick up." She waited, one beat, two. Sighing, her shoulders slumped. "Guess I missed you." Clapping the phone shut, she tossed it to the seat next to her, not caring as it smashed into the bag of croissants. She thought about the thing that had haunted her every step of her journey over the past week. How had she managed to fuck things up so horribly? She knew better, and yet had let her emotions lead her anyway.

"Stupid," she hissed for the zillionth time. Willow was right- all the shit the blonde was going through and all Christine could do was make it worse. How could she have kissed her!? She knew Willow wasn't into that, and even if she were, she's married!

Christine raised a hand, swiping at the tear that tickled the skin of her left cheek. She worried that she'd ruined what she knew intuitively would have been a wonderful, life-long friendship, the kind she'd never thought she'd find again. When she'd met Adam she'd had the innocence of youth and desperation to act as the glue for them. As an adult, friendships like that were next to impossible. Adults learned to not trust already, and don't let someone in to that emotional level.

Willow was different. The signer knew that she could trust Willow with anything, tell her anything, unburden herself of a past that still dogged her steps. A past she had to lie about in just about every article when she was asked where she came from, questions about her parents, siblings.

Willow knew the truth now, and still hadn't turned her back. No, instead Christine betrayed that mutual trust and stepped over a line that should never have even been drawn, let alone crossed.

It was better this way, Christine told herself, sniffling back the rest of the tears that threatened. Willow could go back to her life in Oklahoma, work things out with Kevin, or move on in her life and not have such a troublesome burden tagging along. With friends like that....

Christine turned the music up to a level that almost hurt her head, the sound pushing her thoughts out.


"Kevin, I mean it." Rachel looked up at the man who had shown up over the past three nights, her hand pushing firmly against his chest. "She's trying to work and you're going to get her in trouble if you keep hanging out here, hoping for a glimpse."

"She won't return my calls, Rachel," he said, brows drawn. "Damn it, how are we supposed to work on this if she won't talk to me?" he threw his arms out in exasperation. Rachel felt bad for what she was about to say, but it needed to be said.

"Maybe she doesn't want to work it out, Kevin." Her voice was quiet, almost gentle. His face crumbled, but he took a deep breath, keeping it together.

"I see." He stood straighter, backing away from the redhead, her hand falling to her scrub-clad side. "Well, she needs to get hold of me. She and I need to talk, regardless."

Rachel nodded. "I'll talk to her."

"You do that." With that, he turned and strode out the main entrance, leaving Rachel to watch him go. She sighed, hating that she was put in this position. It wasn't fair to her, or to Kevin, for that matter. She went off in search of her cowardly friend.

"Stay out of it, Rachel," Willow muttered, looking at a chart for a ten year old who had just been brought in with seizures that they couldn't get to stop, her epilepsy medication all out of whack. What the hell was her neurologist thinking putting her on Tegretol, Dilantin and Diezepam all at the same time!

"I can't stay out of it, because you won't talk to your damn husband!"

"Would you lower your voice?" Willow hissed, looking around the bustling hall of pediatrics. Clearing her throat apologetically, Rachel continued.

"Look, Willow, I don't agree with what he's been doing and what he did, but the guy deserves an answer or at the very least a decision. No matter what that is, you both need to be able to move on from this."

The blonde sighed, shaking her head. She had no idea what she wanted to do.

"What's going on with you lately? You've been so secretive and indecisive. It's not like you at all, Wills. How can I help you if you won't let me in? Ever since you got back from your trip three weeks ago you've been like a zombie. You came back upset, you don't want to talk about it. Fine. Kevin comes in nightly you won't talk to him. Fine. But now you won't even talk to me. Not fine." She studied her friend's profile, waiting for Willow to look at her, but she never did. Sighing in frustration, she threw her hands up. "Fine. Whatever, Willow. I'll see you later."

Willow watched the redhead huff down the hall. If she hadn't been the cause she would have found it amusing. As it was, she indeed felt like a zombie, unsure of which way to turn, and doubting her anger at Christine more and more each day. No, the singer shouldn't have done that, but in retrospect, Willow believe it was just a heat of the moment thing, and that nothing had been expected. She also had to come to grips with the simple fact that Christine had been a handy outlet for a lot of pent up anger and hurt with Kevin.

"Great," she muttered, turning back to the chart. "Pissing everyone off."

Her day was long, but finally came to an end. She found Rachel and they headed home together. Sitting in Willow's truck, they were both quiet, the redhead staring out the window, watching the dawn of a new day. Willow glanced over at her a few times, trying to decide what to say. She knew she had to say something.

Sighing, she began. "Okay. You're right, you do deserve an explanation." Rachel looked at her, eyes blank. Willow chewed on her lip for a moment, staring out the windshield, trying to decide where to start.

"Alright," Rachel said, her voice very quiet, though stale in the confines of the truck cab.

"What I'm going to tell you cannot leave this truck, Rachel." At a red traffic light, the blonde looked at her friend, expression absolutely serious, demanding acceptance of these terms.

"Okay. I promise." She would stand by that promise, but the gossip in her was now standing at full alert, curiosity gnawing at her.

"Okay. Here goes. Christine took me to an island off the coast of Belize, a private island that she and a few other very rich folks bought for privacy."

"Oh, wow," Rachel breathed. "Where the hell is Belize?"

"In the Caribbean."

"She took you to a goddamn tropical island!?"

Willow laughed, nodding. "Yes, now shut up. Anyway, so it was wonderful, amazingly beautiful, and I want her house there. I mean, she is so generous. She offered me anything in the house, use of anything, just amazing."


"Yeah, and she brought me breakfast in bed! Fresh fruit, it was fantastic." Willow smiled at the memory, a wave of sadness washing over her. "God, she is such a sweet woman," she nearly whispered. Rachel glanced over at her, surprised by the vehemence in that simple statement. "She introduced me to a friend and neighbor." She smiled. "This may not mean much to you as I know you're not much of a reader. But do you know who Parker Davies-Dubois is?"

Auburn brows drew. "Author, right? I saw he on Oprah one day."

"Yeah, and one of my favorites to boot. Anyway, so we had dinner with her, had a great time, then when she left Christine suggested we go walk on the beach, so we did."

Here she paused, mind wandering back to that night, how beautiful and magical it had been, the moon just right, ocean churning with life and mystery. She sighed.

"It was perfect, Rachel," her friend had to really listen, Willow's voice almost a whisper. "Romantic in another life." She sighed again, glancing at the redhead. "She kissed me."

"Hmm," Rachel said absently, then it penetrated. Her head snapped around. "What?!"

"Yeah. I said some bad things, Rach. Some things I regret now."

"Like what? Why did she do that? Is she after you?"

Willow shook her head, bangs falling into her eyes. She brushed them away. "I don't think so. I did at first, like when it happened, you know? I accused her that very thing, in fact."

"What did she say?" Rachel's voice was also quiet, sensing that this was a huge hump in the burgeoning friendship.

"Not much, really. But I could see it in her eyes, Rach." She risked another glance at her friend. "She was just as stunned at her actions as I was."

"Then why did you get upset? Why do you think she did it?"

"I got upset because that was my knee-jerk reaction. I think I let everything that had been boiling over the last weeks spill over onto her. She didn't deserve that. And as for why, like I said, it was a beautiful, romantic night; I think she got caught up in it."

"Oh boy." They were quiet for a moment, each in their own head, thinking the situation through. "Have you apologized?" Rachel asked finally. Willow shook her head, again the hair falling into her eyes. She was amazed at how fast her hair grew now, all those wonderful hormones.

"What would I say? She hasn't gotten hold of me, either, so my guess is she's done with me. I was a bitch, and accused her something that was really messed up. How can I take that back?" Willow clicked on the turning signal, waited for a couple cars to go by, then turned onto Rachel's street.

"Well, you can't. But you can try and make things right-"

"No, I can't. It is as it is, and now I get to live with it." Turning into the driveway, the blonde pulled the parking break and cut the engine. She turned to find her friend's gaze on her. "What?"

"Nothing." Shaking her head, Rachel got out of the truck, tugging her massive, everything but the kitchen sink bag with her.

"No, what's on your mind?" the blonde asked, following her, closing the newly unlocked front door behind them. "Come on, Rachel, out with it."

"Alright, fine." The nurse set her bag on the sofa then turned to her friend, hand on hip. "I think Christine was turning out to be a great friend to you, intuitively I think she would have been a big part of your life. I think you're throwing it away, and all for stubbornness."

"I am not being stubborn,"

"Aren't you?"

"No, I don't feel that I am." Willow held her ground, but it was shifting under her feet.

"Willow! What are you always telling me? You won't know unless you try, right? I mean, shit, take your own advice. If she slams the phone in your face, at least you'll know, and you won't be throwing a friendship away unnecessarily. Right?" Willow muttered something under her breath. "What?" Rachel flipped her ear slightly forward, making a show of making her friend repeat the heard comment.

"I said I know you're right."

"Good. I'm glad we finally agree." Rachel smiled wide and satisfied, making her friend roll her eyes. "Now, what do you want for breakfast?"

Willow muttered something else under her breath as she followed the pesky redhead to the kitchen, though this time she didn't repeat it.


The man in the cheap gray suit, black and green tie loose under the unbuttoned collar, notebook in hand, stuck out like a green thumb.

Residence of the neighborhood sat in the cool shadow of tenement archways and falling porches, smirking at the shoes the yahoo was wearing, way not practical for the streets of Queens. Dumb shit.

The conspicuous white bread walked up to a woman standing on the corner, her long, thin black hair piled unskillfully on her head, a smattering of love marks mingling with scars on her neck and bare shoulders.

Hearing him stumble his way up to her, the woman known on the street as Molly Tamale, turning and looked white boy up and down- cheap suit hanging from thin shoulders like a shirt hung badly on a wire hanger. His hair, strawberry blonde, combed back to look slick and sophisticated, instead making him look like Rick Astley mated with the mob.

She turned away. No way she sleep with that.

"Excuse me," he said, his voice soft and filled with California sun. She graced him with another dark-eyed appraisal. "Hello," he extended a thin fingered, very pale and freckly hand. "I'm Kenneth Brine, and I'd like to ask you some questions if I might."

She studied his offered hand, trying to figure out what his game was. No way he was a cop, or if he was, he wouldn't be lasting long.

"So what," she said, ignoring the hand and turning her attention back to the street before her.

"Uh, well, uh, Miss Tamale, is it? I can compensate you for your time,"

A flash of green caught Molly's eye. He had her full attention now. Sighing in relief, Kenneth continued.

"Do you know her?" he pulled out a five by seven glossy. Dark eyes moved over the features, so familiar to everyone in the neighborhood for one reason or another.

"Who don't?" she asked, flipping the wisps of hair over her brown shoulder.

"Uh, true. Um, how well do you know her?"

Molly met his desperate blue eyes and smirked.

"How well you want me to know her?"

Kenneth Brine grinned. "If you'll step into my office?" and he led her toward his rented car.


Willow ran her fingers through her hair, stomach in knots, lunch ready to make an encore appearance. Lifting her face to the light streaming through the skylights in the kitchen, she sniffled, tears glistening in the late afternoon sun.

Mackenzie Deaton's card, of Century 21, lay on the table next to her hand. She looked at the glossy card through liquid eyes. How could this have happened?

Wiping her face down, she pushed back, the chair gliding easily over the wood floor on its coasters. She remembered Mac's message on her voice mail. An offer had been made, and it looked very promising. He'd be by later in that afternoon with the prospective buyer to finalize details and stipulations.

Walking over to the window above the sink, she looked out toward the stables, seeing the lone horse, head bent, munching on hay.

"I'm sorry, girl," she whispered, swiping yet again at her wet cheeks.

"Thank you for coming," Kevin says, standing from the recliner by the fireplace. He looks good, though tired.

"It's my house, Kevin." I say, my voice probably more harsh than I intend, certainly my comment. I can tell it stung as he gets quiet, jaw muscles working.

"Well," he says finally. "thanks for agreeing to talk." Sitting again, he rests his hands on his knees, almost as though he's ready to bolt at any moment. I figure he probably is. I can tell he's nervous. We haven't spoken since the night of the accident nearly a month ago.

Deciding to reign in my anger, bitterness and profound disappointment, I sit on the couch. I would have laughed at my posture were this a different situation- legs pressed firmly together, back ram-rod straight and arms almost wrapped around myself. Guess I'm nervous, too, and need reassurance from the only other person in the room.

"How have you been?" Kevin asks, crashing through my amused thoughts.

"I'm alive," I hedge. "And yourself?" He shrugs, glancing out the window, then down at her hands, which work nervously on his knees.

"I'm okay. It's been tough, trying to keep up with work and this place," he indicates the house around us.

"Yes, it is hard work. The house hasn't burned down, so I guess you've kept it up."

He doesn't find my little joke funny. "Are you coming home? I don't see any bags with you," he says instead, eyes pinning me to my seat. As I look back at him it occurs to me that he hasn't asked a single question about the baby- is it okay, how's the pregnancy going, can I be a daddy?

"Do you still mean it?" I counter, looking at him just as intensely. His brow wrinkles in confusion.

"Do I still mean what?"

"What you said about the baby, that you don't want it, don't want to be a father."

He sighs, running a hand through his newly cut hair, the short strands spiking in its wake. He sighed, Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed hard. "I can try-"

"No try, Kevin. It either is or it isn't." Feeling my confidence and resolution coming in full force, I raised my chin just a tad, just enough to exert control over the situation. He looks up, eyes filled with ... tears?

"So that's it? Just like that," he snaps his fingers, "you can put ultimatums on this? Either I be the perfect Hallmark card father in two point three seconds or we're finished?"

"Try three months, Kevin," I say, my voice raising just a bit. "You've known about this child for three months and yet you couldn't bring yourself to even care, let alone become father of the year."

"I do care!" he exclaims, pounding his fist on the arm of the chair he sits. I shook my head.

"No, you don't."

"Damnit, I love you, Willow. I was at the fucking hospital every day to see if you were okay, or if I could talk to you." His eyes are a vibrant blue as his anger rises.

"Kevin, it's not just about me anymore," I wonder if I sound as hopeless as I feel. "What about this child?" I rest my hand on my belly, still mostly flat. "We're a package deal now."

He says nothing, resting his chin on his knuckles and looks out the window again. I study his profile, strong, rugged features. He truly is a handsome man. God, I thought we'd be together forever. The seconds tick on, the crack in my heart growing wider and wider.

"Then I think we need to separate," his head snaps around at my words, but I hold up a hand to stop anything he has to say. "You make far more than I do, so I think it's only fair you find another place to live."

"Don't do this to us," he says, his voice trembling. For a moment I'm ashamed at how calm I feel, how right this decision is. What I said is true- it's not just about me anymore.

"I didn't do this to us." I say nothing more, letting my words penetrate and hit their mark. I don't want to hurt him, it's not my intention to be a cruel, uncaring woman. I just need for him to understand the breadth of what he's done, and profound betrayal.

It had started slow, the money tricking thin. First Buster had been sold for a stud horse, which had helped. Next it was shaving off small pieces of the land, then bigger pieces, and another horse. Next Willow had to make the most difficult decision of her life- sell the ranch.

Various folks had tromped through her sanctuary, cheapening it somehow. Refinancing the paid off ranch had seemed like such a good idea four years ago. All the repairs that had needed to be made could be made, a new truck for Kevin, and that trip to Greece.

"Damn it!" she exclaimed, pounding her fist on the table, startling the quiet in the house. The prospective owner wanted Star in the deal, and how was Willow's desperation to say no?

She heard gravel under a pair of cars' tires. Hurrying over to the kitchen sink, she wet a dishtowel and scrubbed at her face, trying to hide her utter devastation. Clearing her throat, she ran her hand through her shaggy hair a few times, then after a deep breath, headed toward the front door where her unwanted guests would be ringing.

Sure enough, within moments the muffled voices got louder, Mac's very easy to pick out, loud, boisterous and deep

"I agree, it is lovely," he said, followed by several sharp knocks. The door opened, and Mackenzie Deaton burst into the house filled with vigor and looking fresh, cheeks tinted rosy red from the bright, Oklahoma sun. "Hello, hello, hello!" he bellowed, spying his current client and quickly making his way over to her. "How are you? You look beautiful today," he gushed. Willow smiled shyly, always overwhelmed by his radiant personality.

"Thank you, Mac."

The realtor leaned in conspiratorially. "You are going to die when you see who is interested in your spread," he winked, then stood at his full height. "Willow Bowman, may I introduce to you Christine Gray."

A tall figure stepped inside the entryway, casual in faded, comfortable jeans and boots, and a fitted spring yellow tee. Dark hair tossed back over her shoulders, Christine smiled shyly.


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