View Full Version : Finding the Milky Way (Sheridan and Luis)

4.30.07, 8:44 PM
Another AU Shuis fic of mine--which means it's another dangling WIP.


Still, with the seeming shortage of Shuis fics around, I thought I'd give you guys something else to read.

Hope you enjoy it.

And if it seems a little familiar, there's an explanation. ;)


Father Lonagin preached of a beautiful Heaven.

It was different than Theresa’s Heaven. There weren’t rosy-cheeked angels chatting happily on white, cottony clouds while enjoying towering cones of rainbow ice cream. The Milky Way wasn’t the twinkling pathway to the Pearly Gates, and God didn’t live a stone’s throw away from Santa Claus.

But there was no pain. No sorrow or worries. Just peace.

Closing his eyes and picturing his mama wearing a serene smile, Luis felt the crushing pain in his own heart lessen just a little bit. It certainly wasn’t the same as having Mama next to him, alive and breathing and scolding him in the affectionate way only she could, but it hurt less than remembering her in her last hours when the pain was too much to bear and tears filled her eyes. When her only worries were of her children and their lives after her death.

Quiet and big-eyed, Paloma curled into Luis’s side, clutching her ragged teddy bear Buttons close to her small chest. At four years old, she was too old to be sucking her thumb, but Luis allowed her the small consolation.

On his other side, her long dark hair a curtain around her flushed, tear-swollen face, Theresa sobbed her heart out as she had for two days straight. Her belief in fairy tales and a magical cure for their mother’s cancer shaken, his nine-year-old sister looked at the world with older eyes now, the dreams that once sparkled in them dulled by the finality of seeing Mama lying in front of them so still and so quiet.

Staring straight ahead, eight-year-old Miguel was every bit as stoic as Theresa wasn’t, his big brown eyes sad but tearless. His little hand crept across the minute space separating him and Theresa, and the small gesture of offered comfort made Luis’s throat tighten with emotion. Miguel’s chin trembled slightly when Luis lovingly ruffled his hair, but he didn’t cry. Instead, he disengaged his hand from Theresa’s momentarily and patted down the wayward black strands he’d carefully washed and arranged for Mama this morning, and inexplicably, the action choked Luis with tears that refused to fall until Paloma lifted one tiny hand to his cheek and broke the dam with an innocent whisper.

“Shh. Mama’s sleeping.”

Chapter 1

It was raining as the Crane limo crawled along the streets of Harmony, leaving the somber scene at the church far behind.

God’s tears, Sheridan thought. God himself couldn’t keep a dry eye after witnessing such heartbreak. The grief of Pilar’s children as she was laid to rest beneath mounds of sodden earth was forever etched in her memory. And Ivy’s, she suspected, glancing at the older woman, seated beside her with a handkerchief held to her cheeks, blotting her tears. Sheridan held out her hand, and Ivy took it gratefully.

“Oh, Sheridan,” Ivy spoke in a trembling voice. “I can’t believe she’s really gone.”

“Neither can I,” Sheridan answered her, feeling her own blue eyes well up with fresh tears. If there was one person in this world she loved as much as the mother she could barely remember, Pilar was that person, and now, now she felt a vise squeeze her heart with the knowledge that she’d never see her again. “I should have come home sooner. I should have been here. I…” she faltered as her chin wobbled and her vision blurred with her tears.

Ivy opened her arms to her young sister-in-law. While she’d lost a dear friend, Sheridan had lost the only mother figure she’d known for much of her eighteen years, the only real ‘parent’ in her life. She was devastated, and Ivy felt the unselfish need to comfort her. She rubbed Sheridan’s back with one hand and stroked her short blond hair back from her tear-streaked face with the other. “She’s in a better place, Darling, a place where that godforsaken cancer can’t cause her anymore pain. She’s with her Martin. Think of how happy she must have been to see him again.”

The thought brought a brief, shining smile to Sheridan’s face until memory made her throat tight again. Lifting her head up from Ivy’s shoulder, she posed the question that was on everyone’s minds. “But what will happen to the children?”

Chapter 2

Three days after the funeral Luis was still pondering the question of the children.

He was twenty years-old, a junior at Harvard struggling to make up the difference that his scholarship didn’t pay with two part-time jobs. His dream of law school had always seemed just beyond his reach, but now it seemed impossible, especially with the added responsibility of his little brother’s and sisters’ well-being.

It was too much to think about, too overwhelming, especially on an empty stomach. Luis didn’t remember eating anything all day, and if he hadn’t eaten, likely the kids hadn’t either. Rising from his seat at the kitchen table, he walked over to the refrigerator and started rummaging through the countless casseroles and dishes that had been dropped off by well-wishers who seemed to operate under the idea that no one should starve in their grieved state. Pulling out a green bean casserole, he opened the door to the oven and slid it in, turning the dial to 350 degrees. Definitely not any of their favorites, but eating was just a necessary evil these days anyway.

Blinking against the sunlight as he walked outside, Luis searched the small backyard area for evidence of the kids.

Underneath the shade of the lone tree in the yard, Miguel sat Indian style dirty knees to dirty knees with Kay, listlessly tossing a softball back and forth to her. With her backwards baseball cap, mud-smudged, torn overalls, and scuffed sneakers, the pigtailed little girl looked like she had been through the wringer. Miguel looked worse.

Clearing his throat, Luis announced his presence. “Want to stay for dinner, Kay?”

Kay smiled, showing him a mouth missing a baby tooth or two, and stood up, brushing the dirt off the back of her overalls. “Sure. What are we having?”

“Green bean casserole,” Luis fought a smile at her grimace. “But I think we still have some strawberry shortcake left for dessert.”

“I’m in,” Kay reaffirmed, tugging Miguel to his feet and dragging him toward the house. “Can we have dessert first?”

“Do you really expect me to say yes?” Luis retorted, following them both inside.

“It worked with my dad when my grandpa died,” Kay shrugged, and Miguel looked stricken while Kay remained oblivious to the impact of her words. “Come on, Miguel. Let’s go watch some cartoons before dinner.”

Seeing them safely to the couch, Luis continued his quest, walking down the hall to the bedroom Theresa and Paloma shared and knocking on the closed door. Turning the knob and pushing the door open slightly, he came up empty-handed and whirled on his heels, drawing his bottom lip between his teeth thoughtfully, pondering his little sisters’ whereabouts. He sighed heavily as he spied the closed door to their mother’s bedroom and walked the few feet with purpose.

Wrapped in Mama’s favorite lace shawl, her nose buried in Mama’s pillow, Theresa slept curled in a small ball, drained from another day of crying. Crouched beside her, alternately stroking her long brown hair from her sticky, flushed face and pressing kisses to her feverish cheek was Paloma, wearing the mismatched purple plaid shorts, orange and blue striped shirt, and black Mary Jane’s she had dressed herself in this morning. She acknowledged Luis’s presence with mournful brown eyes and a lift of her arms. “Teesa’s sad. Kiss it better.”

Luis pressed a kiss to her tangled dark hair and settled her on his hip, keeping one arm wrapped around her tiny waist while he used his free arm and hand to pull the blankets that still smelled like Mama up and over Theresa’s slender shoulders. Pressing his lips to Theresa’s forehead, he murmured of his love and wished it was that easy.

Chapter 3

Father and Julian were interviewing candidates for Pilar’s old housekeeping job, and Sheridan felt sick, anger coiling her stomach up in knots, that they believed they could replace her so easily, that she was even replaceable at all.

Yesterday had been the one month anniversary of Pilar’s death; Sheridan had felt her loss every passing day of that month.

Sheridan stumbled up the stairs in her haste to get her unfeeling father and brother out of her sight. She flung her bedroom door closed behind her and dropped onto her bed, scooping up her pillow and sobbing into it until the shadows cast by the sunlight spilling in through her open windows changed, growing longer. Finally, she released the pillow from the stranglehold she had over it and rose from the bed, crossing the room to the window on feet that were now bare.

The sun outside sparkled over the sprawling acres of the Crane Estate, over the stables, the tennis courts, the swimming pool, over the small cottage Pilar and Martin used to stay in while they still lived on Crane grounds.

Sheridan found herself thinking again of Pilar’s children.

From the bits and pieces she’d gleaned from conversations with Ivy, they were doing well. As well as could be expected at least.

Pilar’s oldest son Antonio still hadn’t been located, so his younger brother Luis was taking a leave from school to look after the children, and neighbors and family friends were pitching in.

Sheridan only knew of Luis through the stories she’d begged of Pilar in the past and the stolen glances at him at the service, but she admired the sacrifices he was making for his family.

She wished she could help somehow. Maybe Ivy would know of a way.

Slipping her sandals back onto her feet, she pulled her door back open and went downstairs, her step much lighter than it had been a mere hour ago.

Chapter 4

Luis’s steps were heavy and tired as he let himself into the house after a day of hard labor meant to clear his mind and pad his suffering wallet.

Regretfully, it had failed to work on both counts.

Loosening the hem of his tee-shirt from the waist of his faded jeans, Luis walked into the living room, puzzling over the fact that no one seemed to be around. Deciding to grab a drink from the fridge before he sought them out, he groaned when he saw how empty its shelves actually were. Filling a glass with cool tap water, he raised a hand to his forehead, trying to rub the worried furrow in his brow away, but it only deepened as his mind scrambled to think of ways of earning more money and putting food on the table.

Odd jobs obviously weren’t working, but he couldn’t bank on something more permanent with his future, all their futures, such a question mark.

Luis knew he could still take Sam up on his offer of a loan, but pride was a universal Lopez-Fitzgerald trait. That option was his absolute last resort.

How then could he take care of three kids and himself? How had Mama done it all by herself?

Gulping down some aspirin with his water, Luis drained the glass and set it in the unusually empty sink. Smiling at the welcome sight, he reminded himself to show Beth his gratitude for her help, maybe invite her to stay for dinner. But only if he could make it clear the invitation was extended from him to her as a friend.

He cared for Beth, even loved her in the way most first loves look upon each other fondly, but lately he got the disturbing idea that Beth was getting the wrong idea. He’d seen more of her in the past month than he had when they dated back in high school.

Grabbing the day’s mail from the kitchen counter as he went, Luis sorted through it and his conflicted thoughts as he made his way through the house.

There was a racket coming from the bedroom Theresa and Paloma shared, and Luis’s footsteps quickened as he neared the closed door. The mail forgotten, he twisted the knob and flung the door open without warning, startling the room’s occupants into stunned silence.

Bedlam. That was the only word for what he’d interrupted.

Luis’s brown eyes zeroed in on each and every face in the room, and what he saw made the furrow in his brow deepen impossibly further.

Theresa’s face was flushed, her large dark eyes filled to brimming with tears. The sight had become commonplace to Luis; of them all, Theresa was taking Mama’s death the hardest.

What struck his heart cold in his chest though were the tears streaming down Paloma’s smooth cheeks, the little fists clutched at her side, and the accusation in her brown eyes as she looked at Beth. He realized then Theresa’s tears were tears of anger. Not the usual tears of sadness.

Beth’s face was a study in contradiction. All at once, she looked guilty, apologetic, indignant, exasperated, and confused.

Dragging in a deep breath, Luis threw his hands up in the air. “WHAT is going on here?”

Crowding close to Luis and distancing herself from Beth with a pointed glare, Theresa tugged Paloma along with her, and Luis knelt at their feet, taking Paloma’s hands in his and massaging the tiny fists away.

Shoulders quaking and chin trembling pitifully, Paloma wailed and pointed in Beth’s direction. “She killed Buttons!”

Luis looked at Beth, spotting for the first time Paloma’s beloved friend fallen at her feet, one fuzzy arm dangling by a thread and his stuffing spilling out on the floor.

“It was an accident,” Beth winced.

“No it wasn’t,” Theresa glared. “She did it on purpose.”

“Theresa,” Luis scolded.

“She did,” Theresa insisted hotly. “Beth tried to make Paloma change her clothes, and when she wouldn’t, she tried to take Buttons away, and she pulled his arm really, really hard.”

“He hurts real bad,” Paloma sniffled. “He needs a doctor.”

“Her clothes don’t match,” Beth narrowed her eyes at Theresa. “I just wanted her to look nice for dinner. I thought we’d go to the Lobster Shack this evening,” she told Luis.

Luis stood back up, scooping Paloma up in one arm. “It’s a school night, Beth, and it’s already getting late. We have homework to do.” And I can’t afford to take myself to the Lobster Shack right now, much less you and three kids, he thought to himself silently.

“We can stay here then,” Beth suggested. “I’ll make us all dinner, and I’ll stay after to help clean up AND help you do homework.”

Luis felt Theresa grab his hand and squeeze it frantically, and when he looked down into her big brown eyes, they were frantically pleading with him to reject Beth’s offer. Luis sighed because he realized he felt the exact same way and gave Beth an apologetic smile. “Maybe some other time, Beth. I’m dead on my feet, and I’m not up to having company.”

“Okay,” Beth blinked, feeling the sting of Luis’s dismissal. Her face fell as she swept past Luis and the girls.

Guilt made Luis blurt out an invitation to join them for dinner at a later date, and he was still questioning the wisdom of that action long after Beth had left and he’d retrieved Miguel from the Bennett home, fed the kids, helped them with their homework, and put them to bed.

By the time he climbed into bed himself, his mind still whirling with questions that seemed to have no clear-cut answers, he’d come to one conclusion rather easily.

Beth was the least of his problems.

Chapter 5

Ivy Crane entered the small Harmony Police Station on a mission.

When Sheridan had approached her two days ago, Ivy hadn’t had all the answers, but she’d had plenty of suggestions and just as much desire to help in some small way.

Pilar had always been a proud woman, never one to accept charity, and it stood to reason that her son Luis possessed the same trait, Martin having been an equally proud man.

They’d talked and they’d brainstormed and they’d finally come up with a solution of sorts, she and Sheridan.

Ivy Crane was going to offer Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald a job—indirectly, of course.

That’s where Sam Bennett came in. He was going to put the bug in Luis’s ear about the job.

Spotting Sam busily working at a far corner desk, Ivy made her approach on silent cat feet. She admired the photographs lined up around the periphery of his desk and picked one up, commenting, “Your children are beautiful, Sam.”

Sam looked up at Ivy with deep, searching blue eyes and laid the pen in his hands down beside the folder he’d been scanning and scribbling some notes into. He accepted her compliment with a smile and leaned back in his chair, studying the features he’d once memorized with his own hands, by his own touch. She was the one that got away, the first girl he ever thought of marrying. “Thank you. What brings you by?”

“Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald,” Ivy replied enigmatically.

“What about him?” Sam leaned forward again, his defenses raised and ready where Luis was concerned.

Ivy smiled, touched by his loyalty, and warded off any further suspicions on Sam’s part with a raised hand. “I want to offer him a job.”

“So why not offer it to HIM,” Sam asked, amused.

“I was afraid he’d view it as an act of charity,” Ivy sighed.

“Well, is it?” Sam queried.

“If paying someone an exorbitant amount of money for doing basically nothing is considered a charitable act, why then yes. I’d say it was an act of charity. But a well-meaning one,” Ivy said kindly. “Becoming the primary caregiver to three children overnight is an awesome undertaking. I’d venture to say he needs all the help he can get right now. Am I wrong?”

“Job description?” Sam answered her question with a question, pen again ready in hand.

“I’d say the job defies description,” Ivy smiled. “And it’s completely up to Sheridan.”

“What does Sheridan Crane have to do with any of this?” Sam wanted to know.

Ivy gave him a half-shrug in response. “She has this overwhelming desire to play the part of Luis’s guardian angel. “

5.1.07, 11:05 PM
Chapter 6

The next evening, a Friday after he’d picked Theresa and Miguel up at school, Luis steered his beat-up old car through the gates of the Crane estate without incident, wondering the entire time how much of the day had been dream and how much had been reality. When Sam had called him this morning, Luis had reacted in disbelief. Truth be told, he still was.

Maybe the impossibility of it all had been what compelled him to bring the kids with him for the job interview. After all, what did he have to lose when already he didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell?

Theresa sat in the passenger seat to his right, one elbow propped against the side of the car door, chin resting in her open palm as she gazed outside the open window. She was too quiet. Too subdued. Used to be she’d be spinning her own brand of fairy tales about the much fantasized about castle on the hill and her role as the new princess.

Luis worried fairy tales were dead to his little sister forever.

Miguel and Paloma were safely buckled in the back seat, Paloma in her booster seat with a recuperating Buttons snuggled in her arms.

God bless Grace Bennett, Luis thought to himself, smiling again at the teddy bear’s patched up arm and the white sling around his fuzzy neck. Buttons’ recovery, she’d cheerfully informed Paloma, would be quick and pain-free as long as he didn’t partake in any strenuous activity like skydiving from the backyard picnic table or bravely venturing into the dryer as he had once before when he’d very nearly lost an eye. So far, Paloma was taking the job of nursing Buttons back to health very seriously.

The Crane Mansion loomed ahead, larger than life, and Luis glanced in the rear-view mirror to discover Miguel’s brown eyes were just as wide as his were. “It’s big, isn’t it?” He’d thought time and the loss of innocence would make the Mansion seem smaller in his eyes, less awe-inspiring. But he still felt like the little boy he’d been when he’d last lain eyes on it.

Miguel squirmed in the backseat, tugging at the seatbelt snugly wrapped around his hips and pushing the shoulder strap behind his back as he leaned forward to get a better look. “Does the President live here?”

Theresa’s lips twitched, but she didn’t smile when Luis replied with laughter lurking in his dark eyes, “No, but I’ve heard he visits now and then.”

“What about a princess?” Miguel’s curiosity wouldn’t be satisfied. “Like in Mama’s stories?”

Luis mulled that one over as memories of Mama’s stories about the Mansion on the hill drifted back to him, and finally, he decided a little harmless fantasy wouldn’t hurt any of them. “Yes.” And it was true. In a manner of speaking.

“Wow,” Miguel mouthed, settling back in his seat. He remained quiet the rest of the way, until Luis pulled up to the garage as the gatekeeper had instructed him, right behind a cherry red convertible. “Look, Paloma,” Miguel pointed, his small voice cracking with excitement that hadn’t been in evidence in what seemed like a very long time. “There’s the princess’s car.”

Interest finally sparked in Theresa’s brown eyes as she leaned over the edge of the window to get a better look at the vanity plates on the car and read the letters aloud curiously. “S-C-R-A-N-E. S. Crane. Who’s S. Crane, Luis?”

“Me, “ a soft voice answered her question before Luis had half a chance, and four sets of brown eyes were immediately drawn to a face befitting a princess. “I’m Sheridan Crane,” she smiled, and her blue eyes danced as she made a likely assumption, extending a delicate hand forward for Luis to grasp. “Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald? You’re here about the job?”

Luis could only stare at her hand.

Chapter 7

Pilar’s son was standing beside her, and Sheridan didn’t know what to say.

Words usually didn’t fail her; she’d long ago learned how to carry on a conversation about practically nothing along with other acceptable social graces.

But she had no words now, standing beside him and pretending she didn’t notice his dark eyes watching her intently. So she stroked Lancelot’s velvety gray chin as he chomped on the apple she’d procured for him from the kitchen where they’d deposited the children for safekeeping until their tour was completed. And she waited for him to say the first word, break the silence. He didn’t disappoint her.

“Why me? Why not somebody else? And what is it,” Luis paused to take a breath, “that you want me to do? You have a gardener. You have a stable hand. You have a house full of servants. Why am I here?”

Sheridan turned unblinking blue eyes on him. “Because you’re Pilar’s son. And James, Matthew, and the others work for my father. You’d work for me.”

“Running errands? Catering to your every whim? Thanks but no thanks. I’m not interested in taking orders from…” Luis left the rest of his statement unsaid but the implication was clear and stung like a slap to the face.

He started to walk away, and Sheridan felt the disappointment of his rejection deep in her bones. Sure, he’d offended her pride, much like she’d probably offended his pride with her offer.

His manner, his speech, the look in his deep brown eyes as he surveyed his surroundings and listened to her speak, they all spoke of his intelligence. He was obviously nobody’s fool, but she’d made him feel like one for a brief moment of time with her thinly veiled extension of charity.

Sheridan hated herself in that moment, for making him feel if only for a moment like someone less than he was. Still she couldn’t let him walk away. She needed to help him and the children. Somehow.

“Wait.” The single word startled her almost as much as it startled him, and her blue eyes caught the silver glint of an object blinking in the fading sunlight.

Luis caught it too, and he took an unconscious step toward her, question in his eyes.

The light was coming from the cottage, and Sheridan smiled as she felt the beginnings of an idea come to her.

“I might have a job that’s more worthwhile.”

Chapter 8

“I don’t know, Man,” Hank shook his head doubtfully as Luis crouched before the charred, crumbling remnants of the cottage’s kitchen wall. “The place looks beyond repair if you ask me. You’d be better off bulldozing it down and starting all over.”

Hank’s words held some truth; the cottage was a burnt-out shell of the home Luis still remembered in his idealized dreams, dreams filled with the faces of his mama and papa, his brothers and sisters, together and not scattered to the far reaches of the earth and beyond. But it was still salvageable. At least in Luis’s eyes, and though Hank and others would disagree, he was seeing more clearly than he had in weeks. His brown eyes sparkling with challenge, he grinned over his shoulder at Hank. “A little hard work now and then won’t KILL you, you know.”

“Hard work?” Hank scoffed. “You think it was easy convincing Katie Nixon to let me French kiss her in the seventh grade? I’m no stranger to hard work.”

Chuckling, Luis straightened up and wiped the soot from his fingers on his pants leg. “That wasn’t the type of hard work I was talking about.” Pacing around the perimeter of what used to be the cottage’s living room, Luis felt the years drifting away and the memories come flooding back.

He and Antonio used to open presents in front of that window, racing each other to the Christmas tree and crawling underneath, checking every square inch of space for holiday loot.

Where was Antonio now?

Shaking his head, Luis forced himself back into the present, raising a black brow at Hank as he leveled a smirk that felt as old as time on his old friend. “Besides, it shouldn’t be THAT hard.”

“In a perfect world,” Hank rolled his eyes, shouldering past Luis with a well-aimed, good-natured shove. “In a perfect world, I’d have HER begging ME to be her personal errand boy, and I wouldn’t say no. What the hell is the matter with you, Man? Are you blind? Did your eyes even see the babe standing before you? What I wouldn’t give…”

Luis’s jaw stiffened. Was it the resurrection of his stung pride or the road Hank’s words were heading down? Either way he didn’t like the fact that a woman, a girl really, he’d known for a total of 24 hours—knowing OF her didn’t count—could make such strong feelings surge within him. Playing it cool, he dismissed Hank’s innuendo-laden comments with a shrug of his shoulders. He’d be damned if he got paid to be some poor little rich girl’s goodwill project of the month.

“Introduce us, Buddy. Give me a fighting chance. If you don’t want to snag the little princess up for yourself, it’s your loss,” Hank ribbed with a grin. “My gain,” Hank whistled under his breath.

Luis’s head snapped up, and he felt every nerve in his body jumping with awareness as he watched her approach. But the tentative wave she sent in his direction made his mind up for him. “Cut it out, Hank. She’s just a kid.”

Hank’s brown eyes widened in disbelief.

When he would have refuted Luis’s statement, Luis stopped him cold with his implied warning. “I need this job, Hank.”

Translation: Leave her alone.

Hank backed off.

And Luis breathed a questionable sigh of relief.

Chapter 9

Sheridan was used to the attention of men; she was attractive enough, nice enough, and RICH enough. The attention of men, from that of her father’s colleagues to that of the younger college and fraternity set, come with the territory. What she wasn’t used to was the indifference with which Luis treated her.

He noticed her. He noticed EVERYTHING about her it seemed. But he just didn’t…care.

Sheridan wished she was afforded the same luxury.

As a child, stories of Luis’s and Antonio’s childhood adventures had been the fairy tales Sheridan had sworn by, the stories Pilar would spin as she tucked her snugly into her bed.

Pilar’s voice would soften with maternal affection as she talked about both of her young sons, but it was when she talked about Luis that Sheridan would close her eyes, lay back against her pillow, and dream about a boy so small and brave, so dedicated to his mama and his family.

In the past, and now, taking care of his younger sisters and brother, Luis was a hero of sorts to her.

She cared. Maybe a little too much.

As she walked inside the cottage, she could feel Luis’s friend’s eyes on her, but she could feel Luis’s entire body attuned to whatever she might say, whatever she might do. Clearing her throat, she clasped her hands behind her back and smiled, first at the friend and then at Luis, brimming with hopefulness.

“Can you do it? Can you restore the cottage or is it impossible?”

Luis looked at her then, his brown eyes boring into her, his dark head tilted to the side as if he were sizing her and her motives up, and Sheridan’s smile faltered then blossomed when he answered her. She felt as if she had passed a test of sorts.

“Nothing’s impossible.”

“I feel the same way,” Sheridan extended her hand for Luis to take. After a second’s hesitation, he did, and they shook on it, Sheridan feeling the tingle of anticipation and perhaps, something else, all the way down to her toes. “I’ll see you here Monday?”

Luis nodded. “I have to drop the kids off at school first, but yeah. You’ll see me here Monday.”

Sheridan beamed and backed out of the cottage door slowly and reluctantly. She couldn’t be sure but she had this feeling that wouldn’t go away, this feeling that made her feel happy and important somehow. She could almost swear on it…somewhere in Heaven, Pilar wore a smile just like hers.

Chapter 10

Monday came, heralded by clouds and fat raindrops that beat against the windowpanes and played their own brand of melancholy music.

Sheridan skulked around the Mansion, and neither her morose mood nor her quiet disappointment escaped Ivy.

Or Julian.

In a rare exhibition of brotherly concern, Julian had instructed the cook to bake some of Sheridan’s favorite chocolate chip cookies to cheer her up. What he failed to realize was that the cookies lacked their most important ingredient: Pilar’s love. When the new housekeeper delivered the cookies to Sheridan, and she burst into tears, her heart aching with missing Pilar, Julian gruffly excused himself to his library and his familiar tumbler of brandy.

The misguided gift of the heart only served to make Ivy’s own heart feel large and sore in her chest; her husband, though not uncaring, didn’t know his sister’s heart like he should, like he could.

Ivy wanted to shake him. Hard. And open his eyes to what he was missing out on.

But she didn’t.

She kept Sheridan company as she waited by the phone for Luis’s call.

And thought of what she was missing out on.

5.13.07, 8:17 PM
Chapter 11

Monday had never been Luis’s favorite day of the week. Mondays set the tone for the rest of the week. A bad Monday could often mean a bad week. If you were a pessimist. Or a realist. Luis liked to argue these days.

Luis woke up Monday to the wet sensation of raindrops falling steadily on his nose; his pillow and bed sheets were damp and his hair wet.

He’d put off repairing the leak in the roof too long.

Miguel had creeped into Luis’s dark bedroom on bare feet that made boards in the floor creak, the bearer of familiar, frustrating news. “Theresa says she’s dying, and you can’t make her go to school. Can I stay home with her? I’ll take care of her. I promise. I’ll make her chicken soup just like Mrs. Bennett.”

Groaning, Luis threw back the covers and climbed out of bed, steering Miguel out of the bedroom on bare feet of his own. “No, you can’t stay home with her because Theresa’s going to school. She’s missed too many days.”

Miguel’s small shoulders slumped, and to Luis’s keen eyes, he looked like he carried the weight of the world on his small frame, or maybe it was just guilt. Miguel stayed silent, his eyes cast to the ground as he shuffled into the bathroom and shut the door behind him.

The sound of the tub filling receded to the background as Luis pushed the girls’ bedroom door open and walked inside.

In her Barbie pj’s and his work boots, Paloma stood up from the floor where she’d been busily scribbling in her coloring book and clambered toward him, her tiny feet stomping in the too-big boots. Presenting the Rugrats coloring book to Luis proudly, she pushed her tangled dark hair back from her face impatiently with sticky hands. “I made you a pwesent.”

Luis took one look at the misshapen heart and the large, crudely drawn P at the bottom of the page and melted and pretended not to notice the spilled milk and Cheerios scattered on the floor. Squeezing her tight as he scooped her up in his arms, boots falling from her feet and landing on the floor with a loud thud, Luis promised her masterpiece a prominent spot on the refrigerator. Then he turned his attention to the Theresa-shaped lump under the pink and white comforter of the only occupied bed in the room. If you didn’t count Buttons still snuggled under Paloma’s covers. “Rise and shine before Miguel uses all the hot water in the bathroom.”

Theresa answered him with a pitiful moan and several strangled coughs. When he tugged at her socked foot peeking from beneath the covers, she whined, “Luis, I can’t go to school. Can’t you see I’m dying?” With great dramatic flair, she lifted her tousled head from her pillow and pointed at what would have been ominous red stains had Luis not already seen the half-empty glass of cherry Kool-Aid stashed behind her nightstand. “I think…I think I’ve got consumption. That’s what it is. Consumption. See there, Luis. I can’t possibly go to school. This might be my dying breath. You never know.”

Stamping down a smile, Luis yanked Theresa’s covers down and nudged her out of bed. “Then we’ll have Dr. Russell take a look at you. AFTER school.”

“Luis,” Theresa looked up at him with big, pleading brown eyes.

“After school, Theresa,” Luis held firm.

“I could be dying, you know. Really dying,” Theresa cried, her voice rising along with her hysterics. “And you wouldn’t care. Some brother you are. You’d rather be at Harvard than with us. That’s why you haven’t told them to quit calling. You’d rather be there than here.”

“Theresa, that’s not…Theresa,” Luis shook his head as he heard the bathroom door slam and then the lock click into place. When he walked out into the hall, Paloma still in his arms, Miguel looked at him with too-serious eyes, his small hands clutching the towel wrapped around his small shoulders, and Luis looked from one to the other, Miguel to Paloma. “It’s not true,” he protested. “She’s just upset. I’m not leaving you. Look, I’m not. I’m staying right here. I promise.”

Miguel looked unconvinced and Paloma simply lay her head down on his shoulder.

From the bathroom, Luis could hear the sound that made his heart ache and his own eyes sting with tears. His little sister’s grief and her utter disbelief in him.

He really hated Mondays.

Chapter 12

It rained for three days straight, but the sun peeked out on Thursday when Luis showed up bright and early at the Mansion, Paloma and Buttons tagging along.

“I hope you don’t mind I brought her along. Her sitter was busy, and…” Luis trailed off uncomfortably, sweeping Paloma’s shiny dark curls back from her face.

“I be good. Pwomise,” Paloma pleaded earnestly on her own behalf.

And it was then, in that very moment, Sheridan felt the first stirrings of love swell in her heart for Pilar’s baby daughter. Kneeling in front of Paloma’s feet, she took the little girl’s tiny hand in both of hers and smiled. “Would you like to meet my friend Lancelot? I was just on my way to see him and feed him his morning treat. You can help if you want.”

“Pwease, Luis. Pwease,” Paloma tipped her dark head up expectantly.

“You can see the stables from here,” Sheridan appeased Luis’s worries. “I won’t keep her long.”

“Okay,” Luis gave his grudging permission. “But if she’s any trouble…Paloma, remember what I told you,” Luis wagged a finger in front of her button nose then tapped it, making her giggle.

“I ‘member,” Paloma smiled back at him, threading her teeny fingers through Sheridan’s trustingly.

Luis’s smile for his little sister still lingered on his lips when he met Sheridan’s eyes, and Sheridan felt her heart do a somersault within her chest; it was the first time she’d seen him wear such an expression. “We’ll be back soon.”

They left, and hand in hand, wandered toward the stables, where Lancelot greeted them with a jovial whinny. The horse gratefully accepted their gifts of apple slices and sugar cubes, tickling their palms with his muzzle and making them laugh lightheartedly.

Though she could hear the echoing rap of his hammer, Sheridan somehow knew Luis’s eyes never left them, and all of her senses tingled at the sensation.

They returned to Luis later, bearing gifts of their own. Warm, buttery biscuits and tart muffins and paper cups they filled with fresh orange juice.

They sat on the cottage’s stone steps, Paloma between them, and picnicked for breakfast with the birds chirping and singing of their happiness for the newly arrived spring. A butterfly flitted past on gossamer yellow wings, and Paloma leapt up to chase it as it visited the fragrant rosebushes dotting the cottage’s small yard, one by one.

With Paloma’s departure, all traces of Luis’s smile disappeared, and he stood up to take his leave from Sheridan again, all business. “You don’t have to hang around. I’ll keep watch of Paloma myself. I’m sure you have to go to the Country Club or something like that.”

Sheridan bristled at the suspicion in his voice and his incorrect assumptions but swallowed down any angry, indignant retorts to make him an offer. “I can help. I want to help. Just,” she looked around warily at the various tools lined up just inside the cottage’s door and prayed he wouldn’t suggest anything TOO strenuous or dangerous, “find me something to do and I’ll do it.”

Something sparked in Luis’s dark eyes this time when he looked at her, and he didn’t hide the fact that he was looking her up and down, from golden-curled head to her pink-painted toes peeking forth from her summer sandals. Humor laced his voice as he considered her options aloud. “You can help me tear that wall in the kitchen down. Or,” he paused long enough to make her bite her lip fretfully, “you can prune the rosebushes. They’re getting a little too out-of-control.”

“I just happen to have the greenest thumb around these parts,” Sheridan boasted with merry blue eyes.

“Uh huh,” Luis glanced back at her skeptically before walking back up the steps and inside the cottage.

Sheridan blushed ten different shades of red when he turned around at the last moment and looked at her with a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. “You’ll see,” she insisted, to cover up her embarrassment. She whirled around, her back to him, and her eyes slammed shut. Caught red-handed admiring her new employee’s backside. She wondered if that constituted sexual harassment, and the thought made her blush a deep maroon color; her thoughts were definitely taking a decidedly unhelpful direction.

Thankfully, Paloma appeared at her side again, like the little whirlwind of energy she was, and the pair set about pruning the rosebushes. Or they tried, which, when all is said and done, is really all that matters, right? Without a pair of gardening gloves between them or the knowledge of what to actually do, they ended up with a handful of colorful, perfumed petals, a couple of pricked thumbs, and a few glittering tears.

Sheridan patched up Paloma’s thumb with a pink band-aid and a kiss, with the feeling that she was somehow earning the little girl’s lifelong devotion. Paloma cuddled close to her in a grateful hug, smelling sweet and feeling even sweeter in her arms, and Sheridan didn’t want to let her go when Luis crouched beside them and pulled Paloma into his own arms to inspect her battle wounds.

“Just for being so brave, I think you deserve a cookie. Buttons too. Tell Alice I said it was okay,” he said, pressing a kiss against Paloma’s sweat-dampened temple. “Off you go,” he shooed her away, watching as her little legs carried her all the way to the Mansion and inside before he moved intense brown eyes on Sheridan and reached over to take her hand, rubbing his thumb gently over hers where a tiny droplet of crimson still clung.

Sheridan held her breath, mesmerized by the sight of his hand lightly holding her own and prayed Luis couldn’t see her pulse fluttering wildly at her neck or feel it racing out of control where he gripped her wrist. She felt strangely lightheaded when he smiled at her, with perfect white teeth and eyes of sparkling brown, and rubbed her thumb again with a touch that was more a caress than anything. Until a feeling of foolishness threatened to bowl her over when it hit her like an incoming wave when he returned her hand to her lap and issued a teasing laugh.

“Green thumb, huh?”

Sheridan groaned and silently cursed Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald for making her feel like such a child.

Chapter 13

Two Sunday afternoons later found the Lopez-Fitzgerald brood at the Bennett household for a home-cooked dinner.

Watching Theresa help Grace Bennett as she fussed with the napkins and the arrangements of the silverware made Luis miss his mama even more, and Sundays made him miss her plenty already.

He blinked away the moisture in his eyes when, out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Hank sit down beside him.

“She loves this stuff,” Hank gestured to Grace, looking a little harried and maybe a little harassed with Noah and Kay squabbling back and forth on either side of her, but happy all the same, with a smile on her lips that spoke of comfort, patience, and faith. “She takes being compared to Martha Stewart as a compliment. If you ask me, there’s something SO wrong about that.” Turning to face Luis fully with twinkling brown eyes that belied the affection he felt for his sister-in-law, Hank grabbed Luis’s hand in his in a firm shake that said welcome-home. “Haven’t seen much of you lately. Your new boss must be working you hard.”

“Hank,” Luis spoke warningly. He stood up when he spotted a familiar female figure lurking in the kitchen doorway. “Beth. I didn’t know you’d be here.”

Hank stood up as well, and after both men had hugged Beth hello, he gave Luis a grin that made his stomach twist up in knots. “I invited her. You don’t mind, do you, Luis?”

With Beth hanging on his every word nervously and Theresa frowning at their interaction across the room, her duties as Grace’s helper obviously forgotten, Luis delivered the only answer he could in the circumstances. “Mind? Of course not. It’s good to see you, Beth.”

Beth released a pent-in breath of relief, Theresa an aggravated huff, and Hank an oblivious sigh while Luis felt like he was holding his breath. A feeling that did not go away, even through dinner.

Sam and Grace sat at opposite sides of the table, happy smiles on their faces, while Kay, Jessica, Noah, and Hank sat on one side, Luis, Theresa, Miguel, and Paloma on the other with Beth’s seat scooted impossibly close to Luis’s own seat.

Jessica said grace, and dinner began in a flurry of activity, hands reaching and grabbing and manners belatedly remembered in some cases.

Luis couldn’t reach for his glass of iced tea without his arm brushing hers. Each time he apologized for the contact, Beth smiled into his eyes and whispered her forgiveness. He was almost ready to bolt when Sam rescued him by taking over the conversation, asking him about his new job renovating the cottage.

“My bwudduh works for a pwincess,” Paloma explained around a mouthful of macaroni and cheese, eyes enormous with admiration. “And she’s weal nice, itn’t she?” she looked to Luis, waiting for his agreement.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Theresa gently admonished her little sister with a glance in Grace’s direction, basking in the smile she received from the motherly woman. “It’s not polite.”

“You can tell us the truth, Luis,” Hank winked. “I bet she’s a real slave driver.”

Luis felt Beth flinch beside him and some sense of forgotten loyalty to their past relationship drove him to keep his tone impersonal and detached when he spoke about Sheridan; even though, and this thought disturbed him greatly, her open friendliness and willingness to help him and Paloma was beginning to get to him. “It’s a job. The pay’s good. She’s been nothing but professional and fair.”

“She told me I could swim in her pool anytime I want. Luis too,” Paloma made a timely revelation, beaming.

All eyes zeroed in on Luis, but it was Hank’s knowing smirk that Luis most wanted to knock off with his fists, and Sam’s arched brow seemed to say, ‘Professional? Really.’ Clearing his throat, Luis forced a weak smile onto his lips. “Like Paloma said. She’s real….”

“Nice?” Beth supplied.

“Nice,” Luis nodded, fighting the urge to wince at the flash of hurt Beth couldn’t hide from him.

Chapter 14

Ivy witnessed love unfolding over the next several weeks—Sheridan’s love for a little girl.

Paloma soaked up the love Sheridan so willingly and freely gave to her like a water-thirsty sponge and loved Sheridan just as fiercely in return.

It was a bond that worried Ivy, and, she could tell, just by taking one look into Luis’s guarded dark eyes, that it worried him as well. Still, he allowed the pair to remain in each other’s company until the day he experienced a revelation; hurt, pain, disappointment lay ahead in the path Sheridan and Paloma were taking, and he wanted to spare them both.

So he stopped bringing Paloma with him, leaving her instead, Ivy later learned, with Grace Bennett while he worked.

And the tentative bridges Sheridan had built to his heart started to crumble and erode.

Sheridan left him to work at the cottage; Luis worked all day until he went home, tired and slump-shouldered.

Each day saw them drifting back to their opposite shores, and Ivy couldn’t help but feel the need to stop them, that they were somehow meant to change each other’s lives.

They needed each other.

They needed each other’s help.

It was never so apparent as the day Ivy learned of the social worker’s visit to Luis.

Chapter 15

Luis was upset.

Sheridan could tell. She didn’t know how she knew or when she’d acquired the ability to read his moods, but she had a feeling that it wouldn’t take a genius to figure it out, especially if he or she were privy to the information she had just learned.

Luis was upset, and she knew it had everything to do with the social worker’s recent visit to his home.

Each step Sheridan took was careful, careful like she was walking on broken glass, and she guessed she was, in a way. Only the pieces she was so careful not to tread on were the pieces of Luis’s broken heart.

Luis missed his mother.

Sadness lingered around his eyes, and day-by-day, she had watched his strong shoulders bow a little more from the weight of the world that had unexpectedly been thrust upon them.

He needed someone to help him carry that weight; deep in Sheridan’s heart, she knew she wanted to be that someone.

She’d wanted to be that person from the beginning, from that rainy day she’d watched him say his goodbyes.

But Luis was a proud man. Proud and tough. And strong.

The lines were blurring for Sheridan, slowly over time. Admiration and attraction was becoming a little more. Her hero was becoming flesh and blood to her. He was becoming real.

She wanted to help him, him and the children, and she pleaded with him to let it be so. “Let me help you.”

Luis’s back was straight, his stance closed off to her, his hand clenched around the heavy hammer she’d heard him pounding furiously against the crumbling foundation of the cottage walls as she’d made her approach. “You can’t help,” he said simply.

“I can pay you more, make it so you won’t ever have trouble making the payments on your house again,” Sheridan offered. “Then the social worker can’t say anything about the children not having a home to call their own, about stability. I’ll loan you the money to pay it off, no interest. I’ll help you find a nanny, “ Sheridan continued desperately, not noticing the quietly building fury in Luis’s dark eyes, now unmoving from her face, or the rain that was starting to fall in fat drops around her, drenching her clothes and her hair, streaming down her cheeks along with tears she hadn’t realized she was crying. “She won’t be the same thing as a mother, and she can never replace Pilar, but the social worker won’t be able to argue that the girls don’t have a strong female personality in their lives, a mother figure. And Miguel can use my old tutor to get his grades back up; he won’t charge anything because he loves to teach. I can help you, Luis. If you’d only just let me. Please let me.”

Luis was silent, a brooding black cloud, darker than the clouds gathering strength and fury around them, and he stole forward with deadly strides. Then his hands closed, vice-like around Sheridan’s upper arms in the same instant that thunder boomed and lightning zigzagged through the sky, touching the ground in a crackling display of nature’s fury.

In that instant, fear dominating her blue eyes, Sheridan screamed.

5.24.07, 7:33 PM
Chapter 16

Luis was annoyed.

Because it’d been a month, and Paloma was still asking to visit the nice princess on the hill, crying tears she hadn’t cried when Mama died, tears that belonged to Mama.

Luis was upset.

Because Theresa had missed so many days it’d caught the principal’s attention, and she was the one who’d called the social worker in the first place when her letters to Luis suggesting Theresa work through her debilitating grief under a therapist’s guidance had never reached Luis’s hands.

Luis was angry.

Because Miguel’s grades had been steadily falling, even with his nightly help on homework, even under his careful supervision. The first letter, he’d learned, was buried in the backyard underneath the shade of the tree and the picnic table; the second letter, Miguel had confessed, had become nothing more than ashes flushed down the commode one day when he and Kay had tried their hand at playing with matches; the third letter Grace had found hidden away at the back of Kay’s closet while cleaning the girls’ room; the last letter had arrived via the social worker herself.

And Luis was ***damn furious.

Because the girl-woman he had a death grip on knew it all, knew all of his troubles, knew all of his worries, and without having the audacity to apologize for butting into his life where she didn’t belong, she stood before him, trembling and shaking in his arms, pleading with him to let her help him.

The world had gone mad.

“I don’t want your pity,” Luis ground out as another blinding flash of lightning lit up the darkening sky, so close he could smell the pungent odor of ozone burning.

Sheridan had the good sense to look guilty then. But not the sense to keep her mouth shut. “You need help. Why not take mine?”

Luis wanted to shake her for that comment, and he did, scaring them both when he shook her so hard her teeth rattled. Loosening his grip on her upper arms, he rubbed the tender skin there in apology, with the sinking feeling that the fear that now resided in her eyes had nothing to do with her fear of the storm surrounding them but her fear of him. His throat felt tight and hoarse, and he made a painful admission, one that felt like a cold stone settling in the bottom of his gut. “Because then I’ve failed her. I’ve failed Mama. And I’ve failed them.” He looked into her blue eyes, so willing to understand him and listen to all his fears, and he didn’t shrink away from her touch when she lifted a warm palm to his cheek and tried to convince him that he was wrong.

“You haven’t failed, Luis,” Sheridan told him. “You haven’t failed any of them. You just can’t do it all by yourself.”

Removing her hand from his cheek, Luis turned his back on her, a thousand thoughts assaulting his brain.

The social worker had accused him of not being able to commit to raising Theresa, Miguel, and Paloma on his own, not wanting to; she’d used his reluctance to completely withdraw from his classes at Harvard as a prime example. She’d used his youth and inexperience against him, disregarding his love for his family, his friends’ love for them all. She’d suggested he think about settling down, if he had any thought to staying the kids’ long-term caregiver, because his dreams were now secondary to their well-being, and Luis had railed against her shortsightedness, when deep down he recognized a kernel of truth in her words of advice.

A thousand thoughts assaulted Luis’s brain, and tired and weary and just wanting the chance to hand over some of the immense load he’d been carrying since Mama’s death to someone else, he shut off his brain and refused to let another thought make his head and his heart ache for the peace that he missed.

Luis stopped thinking and came up with perhaps the most foolish, rash, impossible, ridiculous idea that had ever crossed his intelligent, analytical mind. Turning around slowly, he looked at the girl in front of him who hadn’t quite come into her own as a woman and decided, for once in his life, to take full advantage of what was being offered to him. And he asked her just how far she was willing to go to help him, him AND the kids.

Unhesitatingly, Sheridan gave her answer, breaking his heart with her innocence and unsuspecting manner. “Anything. I’ll do anything to help you. Anything you ask.”

Luis was nervous, and, for the first time in a long while, hopeful.

“Marry me.”

Chapter 17

As proposals went, Luis’s proposal was the most unromantic proposal Sheridan had ever heard uttered.

It was nothing like the fairy tales she’d secretly longed to live as a lonely child. It wasn’t hearts and flowers. It wasn’t a question borne of love.

It was none of those things, and yet it still stopped her heart from beating. It still took her breath away.

Standing there in the pouring rain, Sheridan wondered at the near-painful flutter Luis’s question caused her heart, and she reached a hand out to Luis, a hand that shook from the enormity of the moment, and his name slipped past her lips in a soft question. “Luis?”

Her voice was lost in the fury of the wind whipping around them; Luis’s answer was equally unreadable in the disconcerting darkness that had descended upon them.

They were at a crossroads, frozen in uncertainty, as the world around them erupted into chaos.

Offering her hand to Luis again would mean all bets were off, would put Sheridan’s world into a tailspin like it had never experienced, one she might not escape unscathed.

Her head warned her not to make a decision that could only cause her heartache.

But her heart was hanging wide open, desperately waiting to be filled with love and hope and belonging.

Swallowing hard, Sheridan held out her hand again and felt Luis enclose it in his strong grasp.

Chapter 18

The rain fell in sheets, blurring and distorting the world outside, but under the shielding roof of the cottage, everything was beginning to come into clear focus for Luis.

It was crazy, but somehow he knew that this girl, huddled before him with her arms wrapped protectively around her updrawn knees, shivering and trembling from the cold and nervous anticipation of his next words, was going to change his life.

His shirt molded to his upper body, clingy and clammy wet, and Luis stripped to the waist as he paced in front of Sheridan with the frustrated energy of a confined tiger, and his hands clenched in fists at his sides as he worked out all the knots and kinks in his plan in his head.

Lightning continued to flash rapid fire nearby them, too close, and the energy crackling in the air seemed to fuel Luis’s frenetic motions, and Sheridan lowered her blue eyes, resting her chin against her knees, as she waited for the world to stop spinning out of control on its axis and return to its normal rotation. But Luis hurtled her through space when he finally broke his silence.

“It’ll take some work but I think I can convince Sam to pull some strings. We can be married by the end of the week.” Luis barely registered the shell-shocked expression on Sheridan’s pale face, his own excitement dulling his sensitivity to any misgivings she might have on the matter. “We can rush the licenses and the blood tests through and have a justice of the peace perform the ceremony.”

Sheridan’s dreams of a church ceremony, pledging her unwavering love to her chosen husband in front of her friends and family and God started to blur out of focus, and she blinked away the tears she felt threatening, hiding her face in the crook of her arm. The horrible ache she felt lodged in her throat only lessened when Luis spoke of the children, mentioning that they would be his witnesses, and a picture of Paloma in frothy lace and irresistible curls imprinted itself on Sheridan’s closed lids, making a smile appear on her lips as she felt her heart being lifted and her courage restored with the conviction that she was doing the right thing, they were doing the right thing: keeping a family together. And she wanted Luis to see that, so she stood up on feet that were still a little unsteady and stilled his agitated movements with a hand to his arm and a smile of acceptance. “I’ll be there, Luis. Just name the time, the place, the actual day,” she laughed a little, “and I’ll be there. I’ll marry you.”

Luis took the hand she trustingly offered him with the thought that he had just caught a glimpse of the woman inside the girl.

Chapter 19

Standing before her bedroom mirror that night, with the windows open and the cleansing scent of rain still in the air, Sheridan searched long and hard for that woman. For surely the girl that had woken up that morning with barely a glance to her reflection had ceased to exist.


She looked long and hard, ever-critical and watchful, but she couldn’t detect any differences in the Sheridan she had been with the dawning of morning and the Sheridan that had witnessed the evening sunset with the man she would marry.

The man she would marry.

A gasp stole the breath from her throat, and Sheridan thought she saw something, some minute change in the pale blue irises that shouted ‘I’m engaged! I, Sheridan Crane, am going to marry Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald.’

The moment passed with the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall outside, and she readied for bed, images of her new life with Luis coming to her in dreams that were unending.

She searched for that woman again the next morning but the only evidence of her existence was the bright, telling flush to her cheeks, last night’s dreams recalled.

And so it was, between bursts of furtive planning and bouts of apprehensive doubt that she spent long moments in front of that mirror, searching for the woman Luis must have seen, the woman he thought capable of helping him venture through one of the most difficult periods of his life. Yet each time her efforts proved fruitless.

She didn’t catch another glimpse of that woman until the eve of her wedding, in blue eyes that were determined.

Chapter 20

Luis hadn’t told the children of his plans; he hadn’t known how. And here he was, standing before the small bathroom mirror, arguing with his reflection whether he should wear a tie or not.

Frustrated with his lack of success, he decided a tie wasn’t necessary and reached a hand out to open the medicine cabinet, withdrawing some shaving cream and a razor.

Methodically, he began to shave. His thoughts had been preoccupied lately; he hadn’t given much thought to shaving, and so he’d embarked on this life-altering Friday evening with a five o’clock shadow that was very unusual for him. He wondered if maybe he shouldn’t shave, if permitting the growth of facial hair would somehow make him feel less like a bumbling college fool unfit to raise three kids and more like a father figure, more like a husband, and quickly decided he SHOULD shave when an image of his future wife flashed before his eyes. Sheridan had delicate, smooth skin, skin unmarked by time or worry, youthful skin; the whiskers might abrade her delicate skin when he kissed her as his bride.

Luis lowered the razor then, the course of his thoughts unsettling him. Never before had he let his thoughts go down that road, and now, faced with the reality of the situation, he felt panic coiling within his gut.

He’d given thought to sharing his life with Sheridan, however long as it took. What he hadn’t given thought to, perhaps avoided with great, unconscious concentration, was sharing his bed with Sheridan.

Sheridan was beautiful.

To deny that fact, Luis would be more than a fool. He would be a lying fool.

But Sheridan’s beauty was the untouchable beauty of a porcelain figurine, a china doll, her innocence a division between them.

Porcelain, no matter how highly protected or guarded, was breakable, and Luis wouldn’t willingly bear the responsibility of breaking her, though his heart whispered of inevitable truths he refused to hear.

Shaking his head to clear it, Luis returned to his task of shaving and made a decision as he scraped the blade carefully over his jaw.

He wouldn’t share his bed with Sheridan.

Or his heart.

He’d protect them both.

5.27.07, 12:08 PM
Are you gonna continue this one? huh? Are you??


And I really want you to finish it =)

mr peepers
5.27.07, 10:41 PM
I remember this story! In the absence of watching the show I must have had a temporary brain burp of this one as well. It is one of my favorites, and like all of yours it is so darn awesome!

1.9.08, 4:50 PM

There had better be more of this one!!!

1.23.08, 5:29 AM
please please updat this i love it

3.17.11, 1:46 PM
Hi guys.

I just recently realized that I hadn't posted the rest of the chapters of this story (the ones I had written anyway). My original plan had been to wait, post the chapters in increments of 5 as I had been doing, but since this fic has been stalled for ages, I thought it wouldn't hurt to go ahead and post what I have.

Who knows? Maybe one of you will read the new (to you anyway) chapters and clamor for more. ; ) And I'll win the lottery tomorrow.


Anyway...hope you enjoy.

Chapter 21

Deep down, Ivy Crane was a sucker for romance, so her heart was rebelling just as much as she knew Sheridan’s was when they walked through the door leading to the judge’s chambers.

The small room was dark, austere, and uninviting, hardly the place for a wedding. Hardly the place a young girl dreamed of being married in.

Yet Sheridan surprised Ivy, as she had surprised her countless moments since her breathless confession a few nights ago, when she first revealed to Ivy her and Luis’s plan to marry.

She drew in a deep, steadying, stubborn breath and smiled. Her blue eyes didn’t see her surroundings; they saw only Luis, the children, waiting for her. They saw a future of possibilities her heart didn’t want to openly admit to hoping for, yet.

Ivy’s eyes saw that Sheridan’s road to happiness would be filled with twists and curves, perhaps a few wrong turns. But it was a road that could be traveled.

Though Theresa’s brown eyes were glassy and her demeanor closed off, there was hope in the shy way Miguel extended his small hand to Sheridan, a welcome of sorts, and there was a feeling of rightness that squeezed Ivy’s jaded heart in the way Paloma flung herself into Sheridan’s open arms and peppered her cheeks with jubilant kisses. There was a feeling of calm that Ivy knew, by rights, she shouldn’t feel when Luis gently took Sheridan by the elbow, by the heart really if Ivy were to be completely honest looking back on the moment with the clarity that only comes with hindsight, and claimed her as one of his family, though the official ceremony wouldn’t happen until later.

Fate, dare she admit to the foolish romantic notion long faded away with her own girlhood, was at work, and as Sam came to stand beside her in their common duty as witnesses, as the justice of the peace hurried through the formalities of his last service of the day, and Sheridan pledged her love to a young man and family she barely knew, Ivy knew, however impossible it might be, already there existed a kernel of truth in those words.

And maybe, Heaven and Pilar had a plan.

Feedback is love.

Thanks so much for reading!!!

6.10.11, 11:35 AM
Updates... please?? Pretty, pretty please?!

8.14.11, 12:48 PM
Since you asked so nicely, TritonPrez...


Sorry this is so late.

I only recently stumbled upon your post.

It's short and (maybe a little bitter) sweet.


Chapter 22

It was a small house.

Stepping over the threshold, Sheridan felt she should feel different, older, wiser, more adult. She should have taken up more space; she was Luis’s wife now. But she couldn’t remember ever feeling more small herself, more insignificant.

Theresa shoved past her with no apology, heading silently toward what Sheridan could only assume was her bedroom.

Recovering from the slight stumble in her step, Sheridan gamely offered a good night to the girl that went unanswered and a brave smile to Luis when he spoke the first words he’d uttered since irrevocably binding their lives together in a ceremony that had been short, simple, and devoid of any romantic frills.

“She’ll come around.”

Luis had been stoic, steady, resolute earlier in his speech; in one brief sentence, Sheridan picked up on all his carefully guarded uncertainties and felt a painful tug at her heart. With a slight nod of acknowledgment, she reached a hand out to ruffle Miguel’s dark hair and felt an even more potent tug at her heart when the solemn-faced little boy stiffened at her touch and followed Theresa’s suit, though in a much more polite manner. Feeling her throat grow tight with disappointment, she fixed her gaze on Paloma’s sweetly slumbering face and, tucking a black curl behind one small ear, commented in a voice that sounded thin and strained even to her own ears. “Long day.”

“Long day,” Luis echoed, staring at her until she lifted her eyes to his face.

Sheridan waited patiently while he cleared his throat softly and shuffled his feet uncomfortably.

“I hope you don’t mind if we skip the tour tonight.” Not giving her a chance to respond, he rushed on, “There’s not much to see; it’s nothing like the Crane Mansion. But it’s clean and comfortable. Mama worked hard to keep this roof over our heads.”

Luis’s last statement was delivered in an emotion-choked voice, and Sheridan’s hand strayed from Paloma’s cheek to cup Luis’s granite jaw. In a low whisper, her thumb stroking Luis’s smooth, warm skin, Sheridan made a tearful admission that made Luis’s deep brown eyes glitter, but only momentarily. “I miss her too, Luis. Sometimes, I ache with missing her. I know…”

Lowering Sheridan’s hand from his jaw, Luis shook his head, disagreeing with her and leaving Sheridan feeling stung and doubtful about the situation. “You can’t know,” he dismissed her. “She wasn’t YOUR mother.”

“No,” Sheridan agreed quietly. “She wasn’t.” Luis didn’t respond; she hadn’t really expected him to. Her eighteen years had been short, but they had already taught her a valuable if not painful lesson: lofty expectations inevitably led to supreme disappointment.

But Sheridan was forgetting something else she also knew as she prepared to spend her first night as Luis’s wife under the roof of the small house where she felt impossibly, inexplicably smaller, and it was an equally valuable lesson to keep in mind.

Miracles didn’t happen overnight; like all things worthwhile they took a little time.

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8.28.11, 8:06 PM
Chapter 23

Saturday morning Luis was awakened by a scream.

Leaving his own bedroom and tearing down the hallway in a near-panic, Luis had to lurch to his right to avoid stumbling into young Miguel's sleep-sluggish body. Reaching the open doorway to Mama's bedroom, Luis opened his mouth to demand what was going on but sheer astonishment rendered him unable to speak a word for several seconds, seconds in which Theresa continued to scream in uncontrollable hysteria, fat tears rolling down her face.

"Get out! Get out! This isn't your room! You have no right to be in here. Luis," Theresa looked to him, desperate rage reddening and contorting her face, "tell her. Tell her to get out of Mama's room." Whirling back to face Sheridan, Theresa didn't wait for Luis's response. "Nobody wants you here. Luis only married you because he had to; he doesn't love you."

Grabbing Theresa roughly by the shoulders, Luis snapped, "Theresa! That's enough." In a calmer voice he admitted, "I told Sheridan she could sleep in here last night so blame me. Sheridan didn't do anything wrong. Apologize."

Theresa's chin trembled and her shoulders set stubbornly as tears cascaded. "It's Mama's room. Not hers. She can't…Luis, don't let her…"

Sheridan interrupted, apologetically and diplomatically. "It's okay. Really, Luis."

Luis's eyes were drawn to Sheridan's face then, before she could hide the hurt in her eyes from him, and the guilt that seized his gut made him avert his eyes. "No, Sheridan. It's not okay. Theresa," Luis demanded.
"Apologize. Now. I said now, Theresa."

Refusing to look at any of them, Theresa twisted her hands together, her knuckles white with tension as she complied with her brother's demands. "I'm sorry."

Luis tried to hug her, tell her she had done the right thing, but Theresa jerked out of his embrace and turned on her heel, only pausing at the doorway, the expression on her face hidden from them by her veil of dark hair.

"You'll never be my mother. Never. So don't even try to take her place because it won't work." Her large dark eyes glittering with tears, Theresa made a solemn vow as she turned, staring into Sheridan's wounded blue eyes. "I promise it won't work."

The door slammed behind her as she left, a picture falling from the wall, its glass shattering from the force of Theresa's rage.

Kneeling, Luis brushed the shards of glass aside, feeling his throat grow tight as he looked at the happy, smiling faces that seemed such a distant memory. In that moment, he came to a decision, and stood up, lingering beside the closed door, his hand on the knob.

"She's right. You can't stay here."

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