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UAgirl
7.25.07, 10:00 PM
The story that started it all. ;)

Hope you guys enjoy the repost. Like my other older fics, I'll get as much of this one up as I can when I can until I find the time to do more (how'd you like that mouthful? lol).



Chapter One:







"Doctor! Doctor! Come quickly! She's waking up! The patient's waking up!"

The nurse's words made Dr. Nick Taylor's heart pound. It couldn't be. The patient in question, a Jane Doe the staff affectionately called Jenny, had been comatose for years. Unresponsive since the night the man first brought her in over three years ago. The night of the worst storm their small town had ever seen.

But it was possible, he thought as he found himself staring into two of the most gorgeous blue eyes he'd ever seen. Jenny was very much awake. And very confused. He stared at her dumbly as she asked, "Where am I?"

Nurse Molly Jenkins answered her question when it became apparent that he wasn't going to. "You're in a small town just an hour's way outside of Boston, sweetie. How are you feeling?"

She raised a hand to tuck a strand of her shoulder-length blond hair behind her ear and said, "Okay, I guess. Just a little tired, though." She looked down at the hospital gown she was wearing and met his eyes again. She smiled slightly at his inability to form two words in her presence. He felt his cheeks redden with embarrassment as he realized he was standing there, mouth hanging open like a fool. And that fact amused her. This woman he had tended and cared for all this time. "Why am I wearing this? Am I in a hospital?"

Molly looked to him before answering. "Yes, dear. You're in a hospital. Do you remember what happened?" They waited with baited breath as she furrowed her brow in concentration and grew agitated in a matter of seconds.

"The snow. It was blinding. I told him we shouldn't have been out in such conditions. But he insisted. Said it was very important I see something. He wouldn't tell me what. The car hit an ice patch on the road. Spun out of control. I remember screaming for someone. Oh, I can't remember the name."

Molly moved to the side of the bed and laid a comforting hand on the young woman's arm. "Shhh. It's okay. Don't get upset. You're probably just a little groggy still."

"Groggy?" she questioned, searching Molly's kind brown eyes. "Why would I be groggy?" Receiving no answer from her, she turned to him and said, her voice rising in panic, "What's going on here? Why are you both looking at me like that? Answer me. Someone tell me what's going on."

Finally, he found the words and said, "Calm down, Ms..." He looked to her to supply a name. He watched, horrified as tears welled up in her beautiful eyes and spilled onto her cheeks. "What's wrong with me? I can't remember my name. Who am I? Help me. Please."

She became frantic. All Molly's efforts to calm her were in vain. Especially after they could offer no answers to her questions. The realization that she didn't know anyone in the entire world frightened her so. He couldn't think of anything short of sedating her. He wouldn't do that. Couldn't. It had taken her far too long to wake up already.

He went to her bedside and pulled her into his arms, desperate to calm her fears. And stop her tears. Molly looked on in sympathy. "Call him. Now. Tell him she's woken up."

He rubbed soothing circles on her back as he whispered to her softly. Finally, she calmed somewhat. Exhaustion crept over her pretty features and he watched as she slipped into a fitfull sleep.

A shadow fell upon him, and he turned his eyes to the doorway. Standing there with a look of shock on his weathered face was the man that had carried her through this hospital's doors over three years ago. The man who visited her every week without fail. He looked one last time at her beautiful face. Dreams of a past she didn't remember haunted her. Then he moved to join the man watching them in concern.

"Martin."




Chapter Two:







He sighed deeply. Today was the day. The day he'd lost her. Three years ago the light had diminished in his life when she plunged to her icy death. He closed his eyes against that image. He refused to think of her that way. In his mind's eye, he pictured her brilliant smile that could light up any room. He could deal better this way.

He turned the car's engine off as he pulled up at the cemetary. He felt a jolt of surprise at the sight of a familiar vehicle. Grabbing the bouquet of roses from the passenger seat, he got out of the car and made his way to her final resting place.

"Eve," he said quietly, "are you okay?" Eve rose from her knees abruptly. She tried without success to hide her tears, but the tracks were still visible. "Luis." she said in surprise. "What are you doing here, Eve?"

"I came to pay my respects to Sheridan, Luis. It's been three years since the accident. I brought her some flowers." He looked down to the ground at his feet and said, "I know. I still remember that phone call like it was yesterday, though. It's real good of you to bring her some flowers. She really liked you, you know." He raised his head to meet her eyes and in them he saw kindness and empathy. "I liked her, too," she said softly as she placed a consoling hand on his arm. She hugged him. Then left him there. Alone.

He knelt by her grave and poured his heart out to her. Something he did all the time. He always talked to her in his mind. Imagined what she would think or say about everything he did. He missed her so much.

Finally, he said goodbye. And laid the flowers beside her stone. He didn't see the flowers Eve had mentioned. He found them resting on Julian's grave. Maybe she made a mistake, he thought. Still, he didn't remove the flowers. They stay where Eve left them. Sheridan wouldn't mind. She'd want him to leave them, he thought. She wouldn't begrudge her brother this one small kindness. With that thought, he rose to his feet and turned to go. With one last whisper of "Goodbye, Mi amor."

He drove in silence to the Crane Mansion. His throat constricted with tears as he drove past the cottage. The place of so many of their battles. So many of their happy memories, too. He pushed away the tears when he parked the car near the stables and got out of the car.

He raised a hand in greeting to Theresa who leaned on the fence gazing out at the picture in front of her. He hugged her close and offered her a shaky smile. "I love you, Luis," she breathed as she reached up to wipe away the lone tear slipping down his cheek. He pulled her to him again and hugged her tighter. He didn't know what he'd do without his family. "I love you, too, sis. Hey, let's quit this crying. Sheridan wouldn't want this. I know it." They turned back to the scene in front of them.

Her blond hair streamed behind her as she rode the pony. Her giggles were audible even from this distance. He felt a smile come over his face as he watched her. He waved back at Ivy. He saw her point him out, and a minute later, she was waving wildly, a huge grin on her adorable face, the familiar blue eyes sparkling.

This is my reason. My reason for going on. My reason for living, he thought as he held her in his arms moments later. He breathed in the sweet scent of her hair. This little girl in his arms was the reason the light in his light hadn't diminished completely three years ago. Sheridan lived on through her. His wife lived on through their daughter.




Chapter Three:





He gazed out the window with a wistful expression on his face. That could be him. He could have a family now. If only he hadn't been so stupid. Made his choice sooner. Before it was too late. He cringed whenever he remembered that time. No wonder Luis couldn't stand him. He was nothing but an arrogant snob. An arrogant snob stringing two women along.

The memories haunted him. He could still picture Gwen's face. Still hear her words. "I deserve better than this. For goodness' sake Ethan. We--me and Theresa both--deserve better than this. I've had it. I'm through with you. Make your decision. I don't care anymore." And she walked out of his life. He still saw her in social settings. She was polite to him. Quite the lady. But there was no more warmth in her eyes for him.

He'd gone to her. Theresa. And gotten the door slammed in his face. He'd waited too long. Cost her too much. She looked at him, and the love in her eyes was tempered with something else. Something he couldn't name. He lost them both in one night. And realized what a fool he had been.

She left for New York a month later. To follow her dream. The next time he saw her was Luis and Sheridan's wedding. He knew he was only there per his aunt's wishes. Luis couldn't forget the past. With good reason. Her brown eyes were sparkling with laughter as she congratulated the newlyweds and made a toast. The guilt he felt when that light dimmed was too much. He slipped away unnoticed minutes later.

It couldn't be avoided. Their paths had passed numerous times over the past years. Luis was never impolite to him. For Sheridan's sake. But he was always wary. Always on guard. Daring him to hurt his sister again. He hoped to someday win his respect. Luis had already won his. For making Sheridan so happy. And giving her Ali. But especially for allowing them to be a part of that little girl's life after Sheridan's death.

Three years ago, they had come to an understanding. Three years ago as they said goodbye to a woman they both adored. And Ethan said goodbye to the only father he had ever known. They came to realization that they weren't as different as they once thought. As they laid to rest two people who had had an enormous impact on both their lives. Ethan didn't expect friendship. But he was honored to have Luis's respect. No matter how grudging. They came to a compromise. Ali was still a part of their lives. She brought them together. And always would.

And gradually, he was winning Theresa's respect back as well. She was very close to her niece. They shared a special bond. A bond forged because of their loss. He looked forward to their visits. They gave him a welcome respite from his otherwise empty life. Life as the Crane heir was a lonely life. If only he could travel back in time and do it all over again, he thought as he watched them drive away. If only.



Chapter Four:





She heard the bells tinkle announcing a new arrival , but she didn't turn around. Julie could get it. She was busy. She grew annoyed when she heard someone clearing their throat. Couldn't they see she was busy? If she ignored them, surely they would go to someone else. Please let them go to someone else. She had so much work to do.

But they didn't. A throat cleared again, and she heard soft, barely contained laughter. They were getting a kick out of this. Well, she was going to give whoever it was a piece of her mind. With that thought, she whipped around prepared for war. And all her anger and ire fled as she met three pairs of very amused eyes.

"You look so funny," Ali giggled from her father's arms. A smile spread over her face as she took in her twinkling blue eyes and cute little grin. "Oh, you. How could I be mad at you. Now your daddy here. That's another story. Luis, why did you guys sneak up on me? And Theresa. Why did you let them?"

Theresa laughed and said, "You know my brother. Nobody's going to change his mind." Except one person, Beth thought as she tucked a loose strand of brown hair behind her ear. "So Luis. Ali. Theresa. What brings you guys by?" "Blueberry muffins!" Ali squealed. "Okay, your wish is my command, Miss Ali. Why don't you guys go find a place to sit, and I'll bring your muffins to you in just a little bit."

She watched them as they ate the muffins, laughing and talking. Just enjoying themselves. Or so it seemed. To someone who didn't know him, Luis seemed to be perfectly happy. But it was obvious to her and anyone else who had ever loved or cared about him that wasn't true exactly. He was coping. But he missed her so much. His sadness on this the anniversary of her death was plain as day to her. She was glad he had his sister and his adorable little daughter to help him through the tough times.

She was so focused on the picture in front of her she didn't hear Hank come up behind her. She jumped when he asked, "So. How's he doing?" Glancing back to where Theresa, Ali, and Luis sat, she said, "He's handling it pretty well. Putting up a good front. But he still misses her, Hank. It's finally sunk in just how much he loved, no loves, her. I never thought I'd live to see the day when I would wish Sheridan was here, laughing and having a good time with him. Enjoying their beautiful daughter. It's so sad. She'll never see Ali grow up, have her first boyfriend, get married, have her first baby. They didn't deserve this, Hank. Neither one of them. Why couldn't they be happy?"

She looked into his brown eyes and saw the same feelings that were threatening to overwhelm her at this moment. "I don't know, Beth. I don't know." She was grateful for his hug. "Thanks, Hank. I really needed that. You're such a good friend to me." She kissed his cheek and left without another word. He smiled at her retreating figure as she climbed the steps to her apartment. Then he joined his friends. Greeted by Ali's squeals of "Uncle Hank!"



Chapter Five:





He watched her as she dreamed. Tossing and turning. Never still. It was as if she were running to escape the nightmares. Tears streamed down her face in her slumber. He wondered what tormented her so. Was it memories of the accident? The accident that had brought her into his life.

He still remembered that night so clearly. Still hear the awful scream of the brakes as the car careened out of control right before his very eyes. Crashing through the guardrail and plummeting into the icy water below. It was a horrifying image. An image forever burned into his memory.

He didn't have time to think. He just reacted. Dove into the frigid waters. After the sinking car. There were two passengers. The man was dead when he reached the driver's side. He never saw his face. He was thankful he didn't. The memories were bad enough without a face.

And there was the woman. She was unconscious when he got to her. He pulled her from the car just moments before it sank from sight. He had to use all his rapidly fading strength to keep from getting pulled into the black waters below himself. He didn't know what possessed him to risk his life for this woman. But something within himself shouted it was the right thing to do.

He watched her restless sleep. What now? She had no family. No loved ones. In the three years since he'd rescued her, no one had come forward. Searched these parts for her. She was simply another Jane Doe in this sleepy little hospital. A staff favorite the nurses wove fanciful romances about. Surely they told him each time he visited her, their "Jenny" was too beautiful to be all alone in this world.

But they were so wrong, he thought to himself. His wife, the woman he'd been forced to leave behind, was beautiful. And she was alone. Tragedy struck the beautiful ones and loneliness befell them the same as it did ordinary people like him. And like Nurse Molly who poured all her energy the last few years into taking care of the young woman that lay in the hospital bed in Room #3.

He turned to look into Molly's compassionate brown eyes when he felt her hand on his shoulder. "She's going to need a place to live, Martin. Are you prepared to take her in? You are the one who found her. Just until she lands back on her feet. Gets her bearings. I'm going to miss her. To think, I love her as if she were my own daughter, and she only woke up today. Three years I've taken care of her. Three years."

He glanced at the young woman now laying with her back turned to them. Could he do it? Could he take her into his home? He didn't know if he could, but he felt he needed to try. "If she's open to the suggestion, yes I'll open my home to her. But only till she's gained her strength, found someplace better. My cabin's in the middle of the woods. She'll be sick of it after a few days, I'm sure. But I'll do it, Molly. You don't have to worry. I'll take care of her."

She kissed his cheek in thanks and left them alone. Martin didn't know how long he sat there. Minutes, hours. The sound of her voice made him jump in surprise. "You saved me." That was all she said. He could say nothing as he looked deep into her blue eyes. All he was capable of was a brief nod. She offered him a small smile of gratitude.

His heart ached for her as she whispered in a little girl's voice "Stay with me. Promise you won't leave me. Don't leave me alone." He took her hand in his and said as reassuringly as he could, "I'm not going anywhere. I promise. Now. Close your eyes. Get some rest. When you wake up, I'll be right here. Okay?" She searched his eyes for the truth of his words. Finally she was convinced of his sincerity. He held her hand long after her breathing deepened. Long after she shut her lids. He fell asleep with her hand in his.

UAgirl
7.25.07, 10:04 PM
Chapter Six:





"Noooo! Don't go, Auntie Theresa! Don't leave us! Stay here with me and Daddy! Don't leave," Ali wailed pitifully. Theresa hated this part. Saying goodbye. Especially to her adorable little niece. "Ali, sweetie. Sweetheart," she said as she tucked a strand of Ali's long blond hair behind her ear, "I'm so sorry. But I have to. You know I don't want to leave you. I hate leaving you. I really, really do. I love you," she murmured, looking into Ali's tear-filled blue eyes. Hoping she would understand.

"No you don't. You're a liar! If you hated it, you wouldn't leave. If you really loved me, you would stay," Ali yelled, her chin quivering and more tears gushing down her cheeks. Theresa felt horrible when the little girl turned her back on her and ran to her grandmother. Her mother. Pilar didn't say the words, but Theresa knew a small part of her felt the same way. She could see it in her eyes.

Pilar lifted her distraught granddaughter into her arms and rubbed soothing circles on her back. Whispered nonsensical words of Spanish into her ear. Hoping to calm her. Ali was a wonderful child. Normally well-behaved. But she had a hot temper--just like both of her parents, Pilar thought to herself with a small smile. Goodbyes weren't Ali's or Luis's strong suits. She stood in the background so that her two children might say their own farewells.

"I'm sorry about Ali. She doesn't mean it, you know. She loves you so much. You're her favorite person. The only person she likes more is Ivy," Luis said quietly. "Because she tells stories about her mother when she was little," Theresa said. More to herself than to anyone else. "Um, yeah," Luis said quietly staring at his feet. "Oh Luis, I didn't mean to..." Theresa apologized. "Shhh. It's okay. Instead of bedtime stories, I tell Ali stories about her mother. She loves to hear about her. And my memories are so vivid. It helps, you know. Keeps her alive in our hearts."

"Ali's right. I'm terrible. Leaving you guys. I hate this. The goodbyes get harder and harder," Theresa cried. The tears threatening since the scene with Ali finally spilling over. Luis pulled his little sister into his arms and hugged her tight. "It's okay. We understand. You're a very busy young woman. Ali knows that. And in a few days, she'll be fine. It's just tough. Saying bye to her favorite aunt." "Her favorite, huh? I AM very busy," Theresa said with a slight smile as her brother wiped her tears from her cheeks. She loved him and the rest of her family so much.

Luis watched in puzzlement as that slight smile grew into a full-fledged grin. Uh oh! His little sister was cooking up one of her grand ideas again. Theresa laughed aloud at the look of pure terror on Luis's face. Clapping her hands together, she exclaimed, "Luis, I just got the most wonderful idea! What do you say about a little trip to Boston next month? You, Mama, and Ali." Luis peered at her curiously until she offered an explanation.

"I'm opening up a new shop there. Remember? Anyway," she went on breathlessly, "you and Mama and Ali can come for the Grand Opening and celebrate with me and we can take in a game or something. Show Ali around. Have some fun. What do you say?" Luis looked at his sister, her dark brown eyes sparkling with barely contained excitement. And to his mother and young daughter who had rejoined him. Pilar arched a brow at him and shrugged her shoulders. Ali pouted at him, tear tracks still visible on her little cheeks. He couldn't say no to that face. Just couldn't. So he did the only thing he could do. Said "yes." He knew he'd made the right decision as he watched his daughter launch herself in his sister's open arms squealing with joy. Maybe it WOULD be fun. In any case, it made Theresa and Ali smile again. And that alone was worth it.

He hugged Ali's little body tight as they waved goodbye to Theresa. Waved until they could no longer see her. Continued waving until her plane lifted into the air and soared into the clouds. Then they returned home. And began making plans. For Boston. Ali couldn't wait. He couldn't help but feel a bit excited, too. Something was drawing him there. Pulling him. He didn't know what it was, but he couldn't wait to find out.



Chapter Seven:







"So," Molly said with a flourish, "how are you settlin' in at Martin's cabin? Everything okay?"

"Everything's fine," the young blond woman walking beside her said. A little too cheerily for Molly's liking. She didn't miss the quietly mumbled "But I still don't have my memory back." She decided to let it go. She didn't want Jenny on the defensive again. A wall seemed to go up whenever someone asked her questions about her memory. Or lack thereof.

But she worried about her. Too much, she guessed. She couldn't help it, though. She so wanted to restore the sparkle to Jenny's beautiful blue eyes. Wanted to help her remember her past. Martin reported that the nightmares still came. Actually, they had never stopped, he said. Jenny cried in her sleep.

He was worried about her, too. That's why he'd suggested Molly get her out and about for a few hours. And that's exactly what Molly had done. Even though it was only a trip to visit the children at the hospital. They needed cheering up just as much as Jenny did. Maybe they could help each other.

Later, as she watched Jenny talking and laughing with a dark-haired little charmer named Josh, she knew she had made the right decision. Josh watched her young friend's every move with adoring brown eyes. Jenny had a new admirer.

Josh wasn't Jenny's only admirer, thought Molly as she watched Dr. Taylor gazing at the graceful blond as she tickled Josh's tummy until he practically shrieked with laughter. The look in his eyes was a familiar one. It was the same look she'd seen for years now. She sighed deeply.

She loved both of these young people dearly. She didn't wish hurt or harm to either. But that's all she saw when she comtemplated the future. Jenny may not have realized it yet, but her heart was already taken. The great love of her past haunted her. And teased her. She was never quite able to grasp her memories fully, but the day would come when she would.

And that day, Nick Taylor's heart would be broken. She ached to think of the pain in store for them ahead. Because nothing could stop him. Sometime in the past three years, Dr. Nick Taylor had fallen in love with his patient. It didn't matter that he had fallen for his ideal of Jenny. He was falling in love with her for real now. Disaster loomed. Molly could feel it in her bones.

This was a complicated mess, she thought as she watched Nick comfort Jenny later when just the mere act of holding a crying toddler made her burst into tears of her own. She watched the young mother take her bawling child from Jenny's arms and back away in confusion and slight fear. The child clung to it's mother much like Jenny clung to Nick. And much like Nick stroked Jenny's soft blond hair, the mother stroked the baby's wispy blond curls. It made a striking picture. As tears flowed from two sets of gorgeous blue eyes.

A picture that made an impression on Molly's mind. It nagged and nagged at her. Jenny's reaction was so strange. So emotional to holding the blue-eyed blond child in her arms. It was almost if...

She shook the thought out of her head as she rushed to pull Jenny into her arms and away from the hospital. Take her back to Martin. Home. At least the only home she had known since her awakening. She didn't leave until Jenny was safely tucked in bed. Asleep. She kissed her forehead and said goodbye. Martin waved at her from the door as she drove away. She said a prayer for them all. That God might see to it that things would work out. For the best.





Chapter Eight:





Luis grinned over Ali's shoulder at the look on his mother's face. Pure exhaustion. She was at the end of her rope. Of course, that was to be expected after spending the entire day with the precocious four-year-old currently hugging his neck so tightly she was blocking off his air supply.

"Ali, honey," he choked, "you can let go now." He took a deep breath of air as he set his daughter on her feet and got his first REAL look at her mud- streaked face. "What have you been up to today?" he asked, wiping a smudge of dirt off her nose.

"Nothing," Ali giggled. He arched an eyebrow at her response. Causing her to giggle harder. He looked to his mother for a straight answer. "She and Jake thought it would be fun to make mud pies. You're lucky, Luis. Jake looked like he'd wallowed in a mud puddle."

He tried not to smile as he said, "I bet Gwen hit the roof." "Actually," Pilar said with a smile, "I don't have a clue. Hank took Jake home." She cringed in sympathy as she said, "Unfortunately, Jake didn't have a change of clothes here like Ali did. There's not an inch on that child's body not covered in mud, Luis. Poor Hank."

"Jake looked like a pig!" Ali squealed. "Well, AliCat, you don't look much better," Luis said as he threw his giggling daughter over his shoulder and kissed his mother's cheek. "Bye Mama. Thanks for having the patience of a saint and taking care of her for me. I love you. Ali, say goodbye." "Bye Nana," Ali waved. Upside down. "See you tomorrow."

"Bye Mija. Mijo. I love you both. Now go home. And get cleaned up. That's an order," Pilar said as she waved goodbye from the front door and watched Luis's car drive out of sight. Then closed the door behind her before collapsing in an exhausted heap on the couch. Already preparing herself for tomorrow. Another day with Ali. Who had immeasurable amounts of energy.

"Dios Mio. How will I ever make it until her teenage years?" she groaned. "That child is wearing me out. God give me--and Luis--the strength to survive," she said as she flung an arm across her eyes. "Please."




Chapter Nine:







"Come on, Ali. Let's get you cleaned up. Wait a minute. Have you had your dinner yet?" Luis asked. Hope in his eyes. It'd been a very long day at the station. He released the breath he'd been holding in relief when his daughter informed him she had already eaten. "Good. Go pick out your pajamas while I run your bath."

He adjusted the temperature of the water and added some of Ali's favorite bubble bath. "Ooo, bubbles. Thank you, Daddy," Ali said, big blue eyes sparkling. "Come here," he said, holding his hand out to Ali. "How did you manage to get so much mud in your hair?"

"Jake put it there. He's so mean. But I got him back, Daddy," she said excitedly, tossing her long blond hair back off her shoulders. "I..." "Shhh," Luis silenced her with a finger to her lips. "Not right now, Ali. The water's getting cold. We still have to wash your hair." "Oh, okay," Ali pouted. Rather dejectedly as she pulled her shirt over her head and rid herself of the rest of her clothes and climbed into the tub.

Luis smiled as she sang made-up songs to herself as she bathed. Continued singing at the top of her lungs--her disappointment over not getting to share her revenge against Jake forgotten--as he washed her hair and rinsed the rest of the shampoo out. He shook with silent laughter when she ordered, "Turn around, Daddy," as she dressed in her favorite pj's. Made especially for her by Theresa. She was a pink and white angel. He wiped the grin off his face when she said in all seriousness, "You can turn around now, Daddy. I'm decent." But it was hard. Very hard.

The grin was back to stay as she challenged, "Race you, Daddy," and he chased her to her bed. Scooping her wiggling, squealing little form up into his arms like she weighed nothing at all and kissing her silly. "Stop," she pleaded breathlessly as he tickled her tummy. "Please," she begged through fits of giggles. He finally relented. Out of breath himself. And pulled the covers back for Ali to crawl into bed.

He couldn't refuse her when she patted the bed for him to join her and lay back against the pillows as she snuggled up against him. A picture of her mother clutched in her tiny hands. "Tell me a story, Daddy. About Mommy. The first time you met," she said, gazing up at him with those familiar blue eyes so full of life and love. "How I met Mommy, huh?" he asked, stroking her still damp hair back from her face. "Let's see. How does that story go again?"

"Daddy," Ali admonished in exasperation, "you remember. Mommy crashed into your police car. And it was love at first sight." "Love at first sight," Luis repeated under his breath. Lost in the memory. The words at their first meeting echoing in his head. He smiled to himself as he said to his daughter--their daughter, "You've been talking to Aunt Theresa about us again, haven't you?" Ali's grinned widely and giggled. Despite shaking her head 'no'.

"Love at first sight?" he repeated a second time. "I guess you could say that, AliCat. Even though me and your mommy weren't very nice to each other at first, I guess your aunt Theresa's right. I started falling in love with your mommy's spirit from that moment on. But I had myself convinced I hated her."

"You hated Mommy!" Ali gasped. "No, sweetie. I didn't. I just pretended to. I was kind of mean. But the more I got to know your mommy, the more I loved her," he reassured her. He continued the story of his and Sheridan's first meeting, only to realize Ali had fallen asleep sometime during the middle of it.

He kissed her forehead and tucked the covers snugly around her. And whispered "I love you." He placed Sheridan's picture back in place on the nightstand. "And I love you. Always," he whispered tracing her beloved face with his fingertip. Then he turned the lamp off. Went to his own bed. To visit her in his dreams.


Chapter Ten:







Hank smiled to himself as he remembered the look of pure horror on Gwen's face when she laid eyes on Jake last night when he took him home. Covered in mud from head to toe.

Obviously, Gwen had never known the joy of making mud pies as a child, he mused. Getting down and dirty. No, he guessed wallowing in the mud was frowned upon at those high-priced boarding schools. He was relieved Gwen had rejected the idea of sending Jake thousands of miles away. For his education. And to refine him, Rebecca Hotchkiss always said with such disdain. He couldn't stand that woman.

Rebecca had been aghast to learn of Gwen's pregnancy. By Hank Bennett. A commoner. But Gwen stood her ground. And it didn't matter to her that Jake was the result of a one-night stand. A night where they took comfort in each other. Gwen was looking to banish her hurt over Ethan's callous treatment. He was just drowning in self-pity. What a perfect pair they were. Both running from their past hurt. Past mistakes. Maybe their actions had been wrong. But Jake was most definitely not a mistake.

He'd proposed out of a sense of duty. Compelled to not screw up. Yet again. But Gwen had seen right through him and turned him down flat. Determined to make it on her own. Not to make the same mistake twice. So...they became friends. And parents.

Jake had two loving parents. Two loving parents too afraid to fall in love. For Gwen, a second time. He'd never really fallen in love. Until he met his son. The love he felt for Jake was more fulfilling than any romantic love could be, he reminded himself everytime Rebecca lined up a new suitor for Gwen. To erase the damage she'd done to her standing in society. An attempt to make people forget about her indescretion.

How did a man go about telling the mother of his child he thought he could be falling in love with her without sounding like a fool? He was dying to know the answer to that question. Surely, she'd laugh in his face. They were great friends. And as unlikely as it seemed, greater parents. Could they have more?



It was all too much. Too much for him to handle. Too much for him to risk, he thought as he watched Gwen walk through the Book Cafe holding their son's hand tightly. He forgot all his troubles when he saw Jake's toothy smile. Saw his brown eyes light up at the sight of him. All his worries washed away--if only momentarily--as he hugged Jake close. He would think about it later. Right now was all that mattered. He had to make the present count.

UAgirl
7.25.07, 10:09 PM
Chapter Eleven:





"Martin," she said. Quietly. Hesitantly. "Tell me what happened. The accident. I know Dr. Taylor asked you not to. To let me remember things on my own. But I can't. I can't recall anything from that night. And so much time has passed. What if I have a family out there, Martin? People who love me. Miss me. It's been so long. Please, Martin. Please tell me," she pleaded.

He looked into her blue eyes and saw the pain there. The need and desire to know. He wanted so much to help her. In any way he could. But he knew so little himself. And surely, knowing that her only link to her past was dead would do her more harm than good.

No. He couldn't do it. Couldn't hurt her anymore. "No. I'm sorry, Jenny, but I can't do that. Go against Dr. Taylor's wishes. He said it's best if you remember things on your own. With no prodding. I can't just ignore his instructions."

Tears filled her eyes. Tears of hurt. Anger. But mostly frustration. She'd already known he'd refuse her request. Martin--in the short time she'd known him--never went back on his word. She respected that. Still, she had to try. Her stubborn nature.

"Alright," she said, not daring to meet his eyes. She didn't think she could bear to see the pity, the ever-present concern in them. "I understand. I need some air," she told him. He watched her through the window as she walked away. Looking so desolate. So alone. Until she crossed paths with Dr. Nick Taylor further on her way.

Trouble, he thought as he watched the two of them. Nothing but trouble. But he decided to leave it alone. Nick Taylor made Jenny smile, and precious little made her happy. Made her grace him with her brilliant smile. Maybe it wasn't wise to let the good doctor be encouraged. The way he saw it, though, the man was already attached. Already head over heels.

He put a smile on his face when the pair came back inside the cabin. Jenny was beaming. "Dr. Taylor, I mean Nick," she corrected with a smile, "invited me to go with him and some of the kids from the hospital to Boston in a few weeks. Isn't that wonderful? I just love Boston. It's been so long since I visited. Molly was going, but she had to go out of town and doesn't know when she'll be back."

She continued on, unaware of what she had said. But Martin had heard it. And so had Nick Taylor, he thought as he looked into the younger man's gray eyes. He had heard it, too. Martin couldn't help but feel sorry for him. Because, along with the immediate joy that leapt in his eyes at the possibility of Jenny's memory returning, there was sadness that she might leave them. Leave him. It was only a matter of time. Only a matter of time before the dam burst, and Jenny's memories came flooding back. They had to prepare themselves. The best way they knew how.





Chapter Twelve:





"Ali, I want you to be a good girl. No fighting with Jake. Okay?" Luis implored his young daughter. Hank was taking Gwen and the kids to a movie. Hank denied it was a date, but Luis had his doubts. A smile of amusement came over his face. They were taking in the latest Disney flick. Not your typical date movie. "You promise?"

"I promise, Daddy," she solemnly vowed. And hugged him tightly about the neck. He closed his eyes. Breathing in the scent of her. Her soft hair. A knock sounded at the door, and he crossed the room to answer it. Ali still in his arms.

"Hank. Jake. Gwen," he said, nodding his head in greeting. "Are you sure you know what you're getting into, Gwen?" he questioned. "Trust me. Going to a movie with these three is quite an experience," he said with laughter in his voice. Gwen smiled at him. "It's just a movie, Luis. What can happen?" He looked at Hank with a grin. He opened his mouth to tell her that so much could happen. Disaster for one. But Hank stopped him. "Luis, buddy. We'd love to stick around and chat, but the movie starts in less than an hour."

He raised his eyebrows at Hank's quick diversion. He held his laughter until they were gone. Hank was right. It wasn't a good idea to tell Gwen just how much trouble a little movie could be. She'd run screaming in the other direction, he was sure. He watched Hank's car drive away and turned around. Left the window. And only then realized how alone he was.

The house was so lonely, so quiet, without Ali. Ali brought a light, an energy, to this place. She'd only been gone two minutes. And Luis was terribly lonely. He settled back against the sofa and turned the television on. Countless channels and nothing was on. He sighed heavily. What was he going to do when Ali grew up? Moved out on her own? He shook those thoughts from his mind. He couldn't deal with that right now.

He turned the television back off and got up. He had to do something to occupy his mind. He decided to go up to the attic. Clean out some of the junk. It was something he'd been meaning to do for the longest time. Might as well get started.

He thought otherwise when he turned the light on. Saw just how much work he had ahead of him. Sheridan was right. The attic was attrocious. He felt bad then that he'd never gotten around to helping her. He'd thought she wasn't going anywhere. Neither was he. The attic could wait.

He walked over to the small window that overlooked the backyard. Noticed the ancient desk he'd found her sitting at too often to count. A smile on her face. Always writing in that journal of hers. He always kidded her about that. Teased her, saying he thought they had no secrets. Why'd she have to come all the way up to the attic? She'd just laugh softly and put the journal away. He hadn't thought about that journal until today. He wondered if it were still here.

The thick dust covering the desktop and the worn books lying on it made his nose tickle. He sneezed as he shuffled through them. Opened all the drawers. Finally, he had success. He pulled out the leather-bound book. Ran his fingers over her name on the front cover. Even though she was gone, he felt like he was intruding on her privacy. Guilt crept up on him. But curiosity won out. The need to feel close to her again was too much. He took a deep breath. Said "I'm sorry, baby." And opened the journal.



Chapter Thirteen:





A lump rose in his throat as he stared at the familiar, neat handwriting. Oh God, he thought, I can't do this. Not right now. This is too much. He closed the journal and looked around at all the things they'd collected. Mementos of their short time together. All the things gathering dust. Forgotten. But only for a little while. His eyes watered. He told himself it was from the dust. He knew he was lying to himself.

He tucked the journal under his arm and turned the light off. Then he went back downstairs. Back to the bedroom they'd shared. His eyes scanned the room. Pictures covered the walls. Pictures of him and Sheridan. Pictures of the three of them together. A family. Pictures of Ali.

Sheridan had all of Ali's milestones documented. All of Ali's milestones she lived to see. His favorite photo was of his wife and his baby daughter on Ali's first birthday. He'd taken that one. Chocolate cake covered their faces. Twin pairs of blue eyes sparkled. It was the last picture he had of Sheridan. The last photo of Ali and her mother together. The accident happened the week after the party.

He looked to the journal again. And made his decision. Settling back against the pillows with the lamp casting a soft glow about the room, Luis began with the first page. Christmas. The Christmas he'd thought he'd lost her. The Christmas she came back to him. His miracle. He remembered it so well. As he read, he could hear her voice. See the look in her beautiful blue eyes. She was here with him. He could feel her.

He skipped ahead several pages. Valentine's Day. That same year. That night, he knew what it meant to be completely, utterly happy. She was so beautiful that night. The night they first made love. He remembered every look. Every touch. Every kiss. If he hadn't known before then, he certainly knew that night. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Holding her. Making her happy. Making her smile that brilliant smile. For all eternity. He read on.

"It's me again. Tonight the most wonderful thing happened. Luis and I made love for the first time. I've never felt this way before. I didn't think I could love anybody this much. Love Luis more than I already did. I was wrong. So wrong. Luis is the sweetest, most loving man."

"I want to spend forever with him. Be his wife. Mother of his children. I can see our children. Our children of the future in my heart. They're so beautiful. Luis is beautiful. I love him. I don't think I can say that enough. I'll never get tired of saying it. He has to know. How happy he's made me. How I feel. I've already said the words. But I wonder if he realizes, truly realizes, that now he's a part of me. I can't let him go. Ever again. I won't."

A tender smile lit his face. Tears pooled in his brown eyes as he read her words. The entry ended with her signing goodbye. He remembered waking up without her. The panic he felt. The joy when he saw her. In the moonlight. Wearing his discarded suit shirt. Scrawling away. Looking so thoughtful. So serious. But so happy. He'd called out her name.

She'd looked up. Smiled at him and said, "I'm here, Luis." He'd held out his hand. Beckoning her. Took her hand in his as he pulled her back against the pillows. Back into bed with him. Her soft laughter filled the room. Her eyes shone in the darkness. He kissed her. Slowly, gently. Eased the buttons of her shirt--his shirt--open and bared her to him once more. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. They made love again. Their happiness so great, their feelings for each other so clear in their eyes. He didn't have to tell her he loved her. She didn't have to tell him. They just knew.



Chapter Fourteen:





"Gwen. Gwen? What? You not speaking to me?" Hank asked the woman sitting in the passenger seat beside him. He chanced a glance at her out of the corner of his eye. Her lips were in a tight line, and she had her arms crossed around herself. Oh great, he thought, she's still mad. Maybe I should have warned her.

Who knew Jake would throw Milk Duds at that old man? He couldn't help it. The corners of his mouth turned up as he remembered their disastrous 'date' to the movies. Ali was right. That old man was scary-looking. Ancient. With beady eyes and gnarled hands. Frown on his face as he stared at the screen ahead of him. What was he doing watching a Disney flick anyway? He had the look of a classic villian. Jake was just protecting Ali. That thought had him laughing out loud. He was sure Gwen didn't feel the same way. He forced the laugh down as Gwen shot a glare his way.

He peeked at the kids in the mirror. They were too quiet. Especially considering they'd consumed countless dollars worth of sugar and caffeine. He guessed they were scared of the way Gwen was acting. She was scaring him. Luis was going to kill him. Ali had talked throughout film. When she wasn't giggling. Or fighting with Jake. Not to mention the fact her clothes were ruined.

Five bathroom breaks during the movie. A short movie. And of course, Gwen had to be the one who took her. It wasn't like he could go in the ladies room with her. He only made it worse by buying her as much soda as she wanted. But that was only after Jake caused her to spill her entire soda on herself. Tears welled up in her big blue eyes, and she pouted for a while, but she wouldn't allow Jake the satisfaction of making her cry. Whoa, but she was one mad little firecracker. Hank had no doubt his son would pay. Someday very soon.

He could go on and on. Jake topped himself tonight. As soon as the movie was over, the manager had politely informed him they were banned from frequenting his theater. Gwen had been mortified. She stalked off in the direction of the car dragging Jake and Ali each by the hand. Come to think of it, he hadn't heard a peep out of them since. He tried to joke his way out of the doghouse. But that was such a mistake. The two steps back he'd made this evening were two colossal steps.

He sighed as he stopped the car in Luis's driveway. He got out and walked around to help Ali out of the car. "I'll be right back," he called out as he walked up the sidewalk holding Ali's little hand. He knocked on the door and was surprised when no one answered. Even more surprised when he bumped into Gwen behind him. He knocked again, then turned the knob in concern. He motioned for Gwen to stay behind with Jake and Ali and went inside.

"Luis? Luis, buddy? Are you here?" he yelled. "Luis?" He walked quietly down the hall to Luis's bedroom where a soft light glowed. He found Luis there. On the bed. Reading. And totally surprised to see him. "Hey Hank. What's wrong? Why are you looking at me that way?"

"Luis. Man. Did you not hear me knocking at the door? Yelling your name? That must be some good book you're reading, buddy. It better be. You scared me. For a split second, I was afraid Ali had lost her other parent." Regret contorted Luis's features. "Look Hank. I'm sorry I worried you." "That's okay, buddy, now what's that book in your hand? If it's that good, I might have to borrow it sometime. Cause Gwen's giving me the silent treatment. Man, she's so mad at me. I'd have to say that at this moment she hates me."

"Hank," a voice called out. A voice laden with concern. "Hank, are you okay? Is everything alright with Luis?" Luis looked at his friend pointedly. "I don't know about that," he said quietly as he closed the book and got up from the bed. Walked down the hall to where his daughter stood beside the woman in question, clutching her hand tightly in fear. "Sorry to alarm you, Gwen," he said with a small smile, "I see you survived." That smile grew as he watched relief flash through her eyes at the sight of Hank. Safe and in one piece. But it was only a very brief flash. Soon her eyes glittered in anger.

The smile on his face vanished, though, as his eyes lit upon his daughter. Ali's chin trembled, and a tiny teardrop trickled down her little cheek. "Hey, AliCat," he said in a voice so quiet it was almost a whisper, "what's wrong, Baby?" "Oh Daddy!" she wailed as she launched herself into his arms. "I was so scared, Daddy. Don't leave me." A pain tore through his heart as she sobbed in his arms.

Hank and Gwen quietly took their leave, barely noticed. Luis carried Ali to her room and held her until her tears subsided and her breathing deepened. "Never. Never, AliCat. I'll never leave you, sweetheart. Daddy'll always be here. Always. I love you, Baby. And nothing's going to take me away from you. Nothing." He watched her as she slept. Afraid to let her out of his sight. It was hours later before he could tear himself away. Hours before he returned to his room and lay down on his own bed. He meant every word. He'd do everything in his power to keep his promise. Everything, he thought as he fell into a fitfull sleep.



Chapter Fifteen:





He smiled warmly at the scene in front of him. Jenny and Josh. Talking and laughing. Josh's mother told him Jenny was a godsend. Josh wore an infectious grin every time Jenny visited. And Jenny visited often. Lifted Josh's spirits when he got down. Made him feel better, not so blue, about the gradual loss of his dark brown hair. His brown eyes shone with happiness whenever he was around her. Happiness and love. One look into Jenny's sparkling blue eyes, and anyone could tell the feeling was mutual.

He walked over to Josh's bedside when the boy looked up from his handfull of cards and grinned. Waving him inside with an exuberant "Dr. Taylor. I'm winning!" "You are, are you? That's great, Josh," he said smiling down at the young boy. "So, Jenny. How does it feel?" "How does what feel? Losing? I HATE it," she said dramatically. "But if I have to lose, I'm glad it's to Josh, here. He's a pro at this." Josh beamed at her words of praise. She knew just the right things to say, Nick thought.

He joined them in another round of cards. And they had a grand time. Laughing and teasing each other. They played until a nurse came by and glared at them. Shocked to see one of the doctors, gasp, was making so much noise. That fact only dazed her for a moment before she kicked them out of Josh's room so she could check his vitals. He stood at the door while Jenny and Josh said their goodbyes. Waiting for her.

They made their way down the halls and outside the hospital's doors in comfortable silence. She was a vision of beauty in the sunlight. He couldn't stop staring. "What? Do I have something on my face?" "No," he admitted. "I'm sorry for staring. Very rude of me." "Oh," she breathed in relief. Another smile lighting up her face. "Good. I was afraid there for a minute. Um...you're doing it again." "What? Oh, I'm sorry. Man, do I feel like an idiot. Such a stupid thing to do..." "Nick. Nick. It's alright. Really. No need to apologize. I need to be getting back. Martin will be worried," she said with a smile. Slightly uncomfortable but wanting to ease his nerves.

"Bye. Tell Josh I'll see him later this week, okay," she said as a farewell. And turned to leave. She got no more than two feet away before his voice stopped her in her tracks. "Jenny." She turned around. Slowly. Met his gray eyes with her blue ones. "Jenny, I was wondering, well I was hoping..." he stumbled over the words lodged in his throat. "What?" she asked quietly. Moving closer to him. Almost unbearably close. Staring at him with those impossibly big, luminous blue eyes. In expectation.

"Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me sometime?" he blurted. The woman in front of him was the only person capable of making him feel like a complete idiot. And he loved that. The way she made him feel. She hesitated. But only for a moment before squaring her shoulders and giving him an answer. "Yes. I would." He couldn't stop the silly grin that stole over his face. He was stunned she had accepted. But obviously not as stunned as she at what he did next. Without thinking, he bent down and kissed her lightly, sweetly on the cheek. He apologized profusely when he saw her eyes widen in shock. She waved him off and said her goodbyes again. And walked away. He could kick himself. But...he was so happy she said 'yes' he soon forgot all about it.

But Jenny didn't forget. The memory of his lips caressing her cheek stayed with her. Well into the afternoon. Something about his gesture felt familiar, she thought. But then she ridiculed herself. A kiss on the cheek was hardly anything out of the ordinary. Hardly enough to go on. Enough to remember her past. But why did it affect her so? Why did she imagine an oddly familiar voice asking in nervousness if he could kiss her? Kiss her goodnight. And why, as she lifted a hand to her cheek in remembrance, did she think of the most beautiful brown eyes? Shining with love. At her. When Nick's eyes were gray. What was happening to her? Who was she? And who was the dark, hazy figure in her mind with the beautiful eyes? She would give anything to know. Anything.

UAgirl
8.2.07, 11:39 PM
Chapter Sixteen:





"Guess what, Aunt Ivy!" Ali squealed with happiness and excitement. "Me, Daddy, and Nana are going to Boston next week. To visit Aunt Theresa. I can't wait. It's going to be so much fun." Ivy smiled at her enthusiasm. You just couldn't help yourself when you were around Ali. Whether she was being an angel or a little devil, you loved her all the same.

"Yes, sweetheart. I'm sure it will. You love your aunt Theresa. Don't you?" Ali's eyes sparkled as she said, "Uh huh." "I bet you do." I know someone else who cares for her, maybe even loves her. Just as much as you do, Ivy thought to herself as Ethan walked into the room. His face brightening at the sight of Ali. He held out his arms, and she laughed as Ali flew into them.

"And just what are doing here today, Princess Ali? I thought you were staying with your grandma Pilar," he said as he released her and looked into her blue eyes. "Nana had to go to the hospital." Worry creased his brow, and he turned to his mother. He still loved Pilar like a second mother, though their relationship since the whole Theresa situation had been strained.

"Don't worry, dear. Pilar's fine. Why don't you tell him what's going on Ali?" Ivy suggested. Ali scrunched up her face in concentration. Huffed in annoyance at the bothersome strand of blond hair that kept escaping her ponytail. "Uncle Miguel and Aunt Kay had to go pick out a baby." Ethan's brow shot up at this information, and he had a hard time keeping a straight face. He snuck a look at his mother on the sofa. She was trying desperately to stifle her laughter.

"What do you mean, Ali?" he asked in amusement. "You know silly," she scolded. "They went to pick out a baby." Ethan looked to Ivy for help. But all she offered was a smile. She was enjoying this conversation entirely too much. "Don't you mean your Aunt Kay went to the hospital to have her baby? Your cousin?"

"Nope," she qualified with a shaking of her head. More hair escaping the ribbon that held it back. She pushed it away in aggravation. "Everybody goes to that window. The one in the hospital. And they tell the nurse which baby they want. Isn't that right, Aunt Ivy?" Ivy was too far gone to answer her. Ethan finally lost his own battle and couldn't stop laughing himself. Ali's blue eyes flashed in anger. Her chin stuck out defiantly, and she crossed her arms.

Ethan knew that stance. So did Ivy. And Ali's resemblance to her mother at that moment was almost enough to sober them up. Almost. Ivy still sported a smile as she went to Ali and gathered her unyielding little body up into her arms. Hugging her tightly until she relaxed in her arms. "I don't like it when you laugh at me," Ali pouted. Her blue eyes wet with unshed tears.

"I'm sorry, sweetie," Ivy said as she brushed Ali's blond hair back from her forehead. "Me, too," Ethan agreed. Sitting down beside them on the sofa. "Do you forgive us?" he asked. Ali studied him from beneath her lashes and cast another glance Ivy's way before answering. Then she somberly said, "I forgive you." She hugged Ethan's neck tight as if to prove her words. "Now," Ethan said locking eyes with her, "what do you say I show you all your mommy's favorite places to play? All her hiding places? Then we can go look at some old pictures of her when she was little. Around your age. Would you like that?" Ali's blond head bobbed up and down. A smile lighting up her sweet little face. Ivy waved to them as they disappeared upstairs. Ali's giggles floating down behind them.



Chapter Seventeen:





Luis quietly slipped away. A wistful look on his face. He had a nephew. A beautiful new nephew. Certainly cause for celebration. And he was happy. For his brother. For Kay. Sam and Grace. Mama was so proud to have a grandson. He felt guilty for not totally focusing on the happy event. So he told Mama to say his goodbyes for him. And slipped out the door.

Only to run into Eve. Who wore a strangely similar look on her face. The moment was bittersweet for her, too. He didn't know why. He didn't know how he knew. He just knew. Maybe it was something in her voice when she said his name. Looking past him into the hospital room then quickly meeting his gaze again. "Luis."

"Good to see you, Eve. I'd like to talk to you more, but there's some things I have to do," he said as he brushed by her. "Bye, Luis," she called after him. But he was already gone. Heading out the hospital doors. Heading home. Heading to her.



He reached the Crane Mansion. In one piece. A miracle, really, considering he didn't remember leaving the hospital. Didn't remember the drive. Memories of Sheridan assaulted him. Memories that would not stop. Not that he wanted them to. He'd never wish that.

Sheridan. Telling him she was pregnant. Looking worried but so excited at the same time. The look of pure happiness in her blue eyes as he'd whooped for joy. Twirled her around and around. Then set her down. Afraid her may have hurt her. The baby. Her soft laughter as she reassured him she was fine.

Her mortification as her belly grew. And grew. She'd never looked more beautiful. More radiant. And he'd told her so. She'd scoffed at him in disbelief then tears would spring to her beautiful blue eyes. Realizing he meant every word. Her giggles as he kissed her tummy--their baby-- goodnight. Every night. The look of absolute joy and adoration as she first held their daughter in her arms. Their Ali.

Why did God have to take her away from him? When she finally knew real, true love and happiness. Why did He do that to her? To Ali? To him? He didn't know if he'd ever be able to comprehend it all. He just knew Ali helped him survive. The beautiful little angel now asleep in the passenger seat beside him kept him alive.

He stopped the car in their driveway and went over to the other side of the car to get his daughter out. Ali sighed sweetly in her sleep but didn't wake as he let them in their house and carried her back to his bedroom. His and her mother's. Only snuggled closer. Content in his arms. Tonight she wasn't leaving his sight. His arms. Not for a moment. He fell asleep with her clutched in them. Almost fearful she would vanish. Be a figment of his imagination.

As exhaustion stole over him, a leather-bound book fell from his hands. Hitting the floor with a thud. Open to the page that brought tears but also comfort to his eyes. Sheridan's voice echoed off the walls, resounded in his dreams as he slept.

"One person doesn't deserve to be this happy. As happy as I am. Married to the most wonderful man in the world. And carrying his child inside of me. A precious little baby."

"We're going to be parents. I can't believe it. The baby kicked for the first time today. The look of awe on Luis's face was priceless. This man, this man I love with all my heart and soul, is going to make the most wonderful Daddy. I'm not too sure of myself as a mother, but with Luis by my side, I feel I can do anything. He's going to be the most perfect father for our baby. Our baby girl. Our gift from heaven."




Chapter Eighteen:





Gwen tapped her fingers nervously on the tabletop. She didn't know what possessed her to do this. After all this time. Where was he? He'd promised to meet her here this afternoon. She looked at her watch. He was late. Five minutes to be exact. A war raged in her head as she debated whether or not to give him five more minutes. She was so busy silently arguing back and forth with herself that she didn't notice his presence. Until he cleared his throat.

"Gwen," he said. Politely. Curiousity lacing his voice. "Ethan," she breathed, getting to her feet. Standing there awkwardly. Wondering what to say. Trying to force something to come out of her mouth. Anything. WHY had she done this? she wondered again. Asked him to meet her. She didn't know why. She just felt it was something she needed to do. Something a long time coming. "Would you like to sit?" she finally asked. He looked wary as he settled opposite her.

She opened her mouth to speak, but the words stuck in her throat. "Want some coffee?" she forced out. That wasn't what she wanted to say. Not that at all. "Okay," he agreed. Answering her slowly. They gave their orders to Beth. Not making eye contact with each other until she was gone. Ethan waited until Beth set their steaming mugs of coffee in front of them and left to go back to the counter before he asked, "Why did you call me, Gwen? After all this time. What is it you want?"

She reached within herself. Deep within herself and said the words she knew needed to be said if she were ever to be free. "Ethan," she began haltingly. "Ethan, I asked you to come here today so I could say goodbye to you." Ethan's brow furrowed in confusion as he said, "What are you talking about Gwen? We already said our goodbyes. Years ago. When you told me you had had enough and wanted nothing more to do with me."

"Yes," she said. Her voice gaining strength. Her words more forceful. "At least I thought I had. But I realize now, that I was lying to myself. The truth is, I've never let go, Ethan. I've never let go of the memory of our time together. Over ten years, Ethan. Over half my life I loved you. Letting go of you was harder than I thought. Hanging on to that memory has kept me from being happy. Truly happy."

"Gwen, I'm so sorry. I was a jerk. I see that now. I never meant to hurt you. Either of you," he said quietly. She smiled sadly at him as she covered his hand with her own and said, "You weren't always such a jerk, Ethan Crane. You used to be the most wonderful man in the world to me. I loved you. I think a small part of me always will." Ethan looked up into her eyes and saw the sadness in the them. The sadness he had caused.

"But only a small part. My heart belongs to someone else now. My son. Jake is the love of my life, Ethan. And if you hadn't been such a jerk," she said with a smile, "I wouldn't have him in my life. I guess what I'm trying to say, Ethan, is thank you." "What?" Ethan said in disbelief. "Did I hear you right?" "Oh, you heard me right, Ethan, so wipe that stunned look of your face," she said with a laugh. "Yes, I'm thanking you for being a jerk. Stranger things have been known to happen."

"Gwen," he started. But realized he no longer had her attention. Her whole face brightened with a smile. And her eyes shone with happiness. Love. He turned around slowly to see what made her so happy. Eyes landing on two people who had just walked through the Book Cafe's entrance. Two remarkably similar figures. Jake Bennett was the mirror-image of his father. He saw Hank's eyes narrow as they settled on him. Then shift to Gwen in concern. He turned back to meet Gwen's gaze. "So this is goodbye? Goodbye, Gwen. I always valued your friendship. Maybe we can be friends again someday. I wish you all the happiness you deserve."

Gwen rose to her feet and hugged him. For the last time. And sighed in relief. Finally. Finally, she had closure. She waved to him as he walked away. Watched as he said something indistinguishable to Hank. Said hi to her son. Then he was gone. Gone from her life forever. She thanked Beth as she passed her. Smiling warmly at her. And walked up to the two most important men in her life. Then she took one of Jake's hands as Hank took the other. And together they walked out the door.






Chapter Nineteen:





"You know," she said, looking into his gray eyes, "you could have just told me the truth. That it was just going to be the three of us." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned around. He couldn't look at her. He felt guilty for misleading her. The trip to Boston wasn't just a way to spend time with her. He wanted to show Josh a good time. He really admired the kid's toughness. He was so sick. But he was a fighter. Just like Jenny.

He decided to tell her the truth. Not an easy decision. But the right decision. He turned when he felt her hand on his arm and met her blue eyes. "Jenny. I'm sorry. It was wrong of me. I know that. But the truth of the matter is..." He paused. Unsure of how to go on. Afraid of her reaction. "What? You can tell me. Anything. I won't judge you." She implored him to open up to her. Be honest.

"Okay. I'll tell you the truth," he said. "I knew if I told you that it was just me, you, and Josh, you probably wouldn't have agreed to go. You would have turned me down. And I wouldn't have blamed you. You don't really know me. And for all the time I cared for you as your doctor, I guess I don't really know you. But I do know that you're a beautiful person. Inside and out. I like to spend time with you. You make me happy."

He went on. Despite the look of astonishment on her face. He had to get it all out. "So I invited Josh. Got the okay from his mother. Josh really loves you, you know?" She smiled at the mention of the little boy who had stolen her heart. "I really love him, too. He's so brave," she said softly. "At first it was just because I wanted to make sure you didn't back out on me. But the more I got to know him, really know him, the more I liked him. I want to do something good for him, Jenny. And if you still want to go with us, well...that's just an added bonus."

They stood there. Neither saying a word. He ridiculed himself for being so stupid. For scaring her away. "I'm sorry," he said gruffly as he walked past her and back down the hall toward Josh's hospital room. "I'll go tell Josh you can't go." She stayed rooted to the spot. Dazed. She hadn't known he cared for her so. Only that he was a good and kind man. All the nurses loved him. He was well-liked. It never occurred to her his feelings went further than concern of a doctor for his patient.

She waited a few more minutes before she went after him. Went to Josh's room. Entered quietly. Careful not to disturb their fun. Their card game. "Hey, Jenny. I'm beating Dr. Nick. He's so bad at cards. You're much better." She returned his smile and crossed the distance to stand by his side. Her eyes stayed locked with Nick's as she said, "How are my two friends doing today?" Understanding--and a tiny, momentary flicker of disappointment--washed over Nick's face. Josh, however, beamed at her and said, "Great! I'm really looking forward to going to Boston with you guys. We're going to have so much fun. Even if Dr. Griffin gave me a lecture on what to do and not to do." She listened to his excited chatter. Praying she hadn't lost Nick. He was an important person in her life. A dear friend. She only hoped that was enough.




Chapter Twenty:





"Oh Daddy! Look at that!" Ali said breathlessly. "Can we go there?" Luis and his mother exchanged smiles over Ali's blond head. She didn't wait for an answer. Just continued chattering. So happy that this day had finally come. She was so excited. She just couldn't be still. Or quiet, he thought laughing to himself. His mother's patience was wearing thin. And he caught their driver rolling his eyes.

Sometimes he saw a bit of his little sister in her. Just a little. Her excitement about things. The way she would carry on. But Ali didn't take fairy tales at face value. She always wondered what happened next. He chuckled to himself as he remembered the way she always badgered Theresa with questions when she read to her. Ali always demanded an explanation.

She looked at him. Blue eyes wide with wonder. He ran his hand over her soft hair and pulled her into his arms. Settling her on his lap so she could see better. "Daddy, when are we going to see Aunt Theresa?" she asked. Her tiny hands framing his face as she stared into his eyes. "Soon, AliCat. Soon. Isn't that right, Mama?"

"Yes, Mijo. Mija. Theresita said she'd meet us at the hotel. Then she's going to take us out for dinner," Pilar said. Pride in her voice. "And tomorrow, AliCat, she's going to take us to her new shop. And a day on the town. Think you'll like that?" "Yes, Daddy," she answered. Laying her head on his shoulder. Yawning despite herself. She fought to keep her eyes open. But she didn't succeed. She was fast asleep when they reached their destination.

Luis grinned broadly as they walked into the lobby and found Theresa waiting. Theresa rushed to hug Pilar, and they clung to each other like it'd been years since they'd lain eyes on one another. She took in her niece. A tiny Sleeping Beauty in her brother's arms. "Aww. Luis. What did you do to her? I was certain she would be wide awake. Drinking everything in," she whispered. Stroking Ali's long blond hair back from her face and placing a kiss on her forehead.

"Nothing. I did nothing to her. She wore herself out. Hardly slept a wink last night. Too excited," he said with a smile. "She couldn't wait to see you. Come on," he ribbed goodnaturedly. "You know she's been looking forward to this day for over a month." Theresa looked lovingly at Ali and said, "I know. I've been just as anxious to see her again. I've missed you guys so much. Talking on the phone just isn't the same." She hugged Luis loosely about the neck. Careful not to wake Ali.

Then pulled away and said, "Come on. It's time to get you guys settled in. You're in a suite. Right down the hall from me." She laughed at Luis's look of surprise. A look that matched her mother's. "Mama, Luis, don't worry about it. It's no problem. I can afford it. I'm a successful designer after all. And don't even think about paying me back," she warned. Luis opened his mouth to protest. But shut it right away at the look on his baby sister's face. "Okay," he muttered. "You win." Theresa's dark eyes sparkled as she beamed with pleasure. "I knew you'd see things my way."

"Tada!" Theresa said dramatically as she opened the door to the suite they would be sharing. Pilar looked around in awe. A hand held to her mouth. Theresa put her arm around her and led her inside. Quieting her protestations against spending so much money on them. Luis left them to their discussion. And carried Ali off to bed. Poor little thing slept the night away. Dinner for Luis was room service while his mother and sister painted the town. He watched his daughter sleep and wondered what the new day would bring for them. Somehow, he knew it would change his life--their lives--forever. He just prayed it was for the better.

UAgirl
8.2.07, 11:45 PM
Chapter Twenty-One:



Voices sang out to her in her dreams. Voices she could not recognize. But voices she knew. How did she know them? Who did they belong to? She was desperate for answers. Answers just out of her reach. She was afraid. Afraid she would never find her answers. And in her dreams, she cried. They were so close. So close. Only to be ripped from her as she woke from slumber.

Jenny woke with a start. Sweat beading her brow. Panic in her heart. What if she never remembered? Never put the puzzle pieces back together? She threw the covers aside and crawled out of bed. Walking to the window to watch the new dawn. She hoped for a good day. For herself. For Nick. And especially for Josh, she thought with a smile.

And for Martin, she amended as she walked into the cozy kitchen. Catching him unaware as he studied something in his hand. A photograph it looked like. She moved softly across the room and came to stand just in front of him. "What makes you so sad, Martin? What is it in your past that won't let you go?"

He looked into her eyes. And she saw the inner struggle. The struggle over telling her or not telling her. He didn't answer her. Only gruffly told her that her breakfast was ready and wished her a happy trip. She sighed as he closed the door behind him. Escaping outside. Away from her prying questions.

She ate her breakfast. All the while wondering what the day held for her. She didn't know why, but today she felt confident she would learn something. Something perhaps about her own past. Maybe she would find the man with the golden brown eyes. The dark man of her dreams. Without a face. Without a name. His beautiful eyes haunted her. And she knew he was the key to her past.

She held on to that hope as the car pulled out of the drive, and she could no longer make out Martin's figure. Waving goodbye. She smiled brightly at Josh and listened to his excited chatter about all the things he wanted to do. To explore. She laughed as he and Nick sang off-key to the songs on the radio. And at their incredulous looks when she joined them. It was a happy beginning to their day. A day Nick promised would be full of surprises. And somehow, she knew he was right.



Chapter Twenty-Two:



"So," Luis said with a smile, "my little sister is a big success in Boston. How does it feel?" "Luis," Theresa laughed. A blush creeping into her cheeks. "Well, it's true. Isn't it Ali?" "Uh huh," Ali replied before popping another french fry into her mouth. "There were so many people there, Aunt Theresa," she said. Mouth full. "Mija," Pilar scolded. "It's not polite to talk with your mouth full."

"Sorry, Nana," Ali apologized between bites. Luis and Theresa burst into laughter at the disapproving look their mother gave Ali. That look only lasted a moment before it was replaced with a smile as Ali grinned at her grandmother. Ketchup all over her face. "What am I going to do with you? You are so much like both your parents. Incorrigible," she said. Ruffling Ali's blond hair fondly. Ali's blue eyes twinkled as she giggled at her grandmother.

Luis leaned back in his seat and sighed. Happily. He'd needed this. To get out. Enjoy time with his daughter. His mother and his sister. Though he had to wonder at their particular reasoning for choosing to grab lunch in such a crowded place as this. A mall no less. He should have expected nothing less from Theresa, he thought. Despite it all, nothing could ruin his mood. He was happy, almost carefree, for the first time in a long time. He hadn't been this happy since the last time he'd held Sheridan in his arms. Why was it that he felt so close to her today?

His breath caught in his throat. Three years had passed, and his heart still stopped beating. His breath still ceased when he thought--no, imagined--her walking past him. He couldn't stop himself from doing it. It was second nature to him to scan the crowd wherever he went and look for her. Three years, and he was still searching. For her incredibly blue eyes. Her bright smile. Still searching. Yet he had his own mirror-image of her sitting before him. Causing his mother to laugh helplessly at her silly antics. As his sister gazed on them with love.

He shook his head in amusement as Ali scampered off ahead of them. He kept one eye on her as he emptied their garbage into the bin and cringed as he turned his full attention back to his daughter. Ali was on a collision course. Theresa's shout of "Ali, look out" and Mama's "Mija! Watch where you're going!" were useless. It was too late. Ali crashed into a complete stranger. And fell to the floor.

Luis didn't hear his mother's gasp. Didn't hear Theresa's sharp intake of breath behind him. He paid no notice to the face of the stranger--the woman- -Ali had collided with. His only worry was making sure his daughter was alright. He rushed to her side to help her to her feet. "AliCat, are you okay? Are you hurt?" he asked. Almost frantically. A minor accident. But he couldn't bear the thought of her ever being in pain. No matter how little.

Ali paid him no mind. Her eyes were focused straight ahead. Her impossibly big blue eyes. Brimming with tears. "Ali?" he repeated. And received no answer. "Ali, what's wrong baby?" He watched in confusion as her tiny chin quivered, and the first tear spilled. Trailing down her cheek. He grabbed her by the shoulders. Still she paid him no notice. He looked past her. To his mother and sister. Their faces held the same look. Astonishment. Confusion. He didn't dare turn around. Until he heard a word that made his world turn upside down.

"Mommy?"










Chapter Twenty-Three:



Jenny's mouth hung open in shock. Her blue eyes were wide. Mommy. She called me Mommy. She lifted a trembling hand to tuck her blond hair behind her ear and stared. There were no words. They just wouldn't come out. Was it possible, she wondered as she searched the child's eyes. The hope she saw there made her heart pound.

Was it true? Her mind wasn't so sure, but something in her heart was crying out to her. Telling her it was. She felt her own eyes begin to water as she looked deep into those beautiful blue eyes. Everything in her was screaming she's yours. Your baby. She held her hand up to her mouth to muffle the sob that rose in her throat.

Her eyes shifted then to the man who had come running. Running to the rescue. The man whose voice held so much concern for the little girl. So much love. Her breath caught in her throat as he slowly stood and turned to face her for the first time. Oh god, she thought. His eyes. The eyes from her dreams.

She felt faint. And would have fallen were it not for Nick's steadying hand on her back. She rushed to assure him--and Josh--she was fine. And her eyes met the stranger's once again. Only...only she knew him. Her heart knew him.



He looked down at the little girl beside him and said with a catch in his voice, "Ali. Go to Nana. Okay baby?" The little girl looked back and forth from her to him in confusion before solemnly nodding her head and obeying his orders.

Without warning, she turned around and came running. To her arms. "Oh Mommy!" she cried. Over and over again. And Jenny's tears mixed with hers as the little girl hugged her neck tight and trembled in her arms. Clinging desperately to her. Afraid to let go.

Jenny didn't want to release her either. Holding her felt so right. Like it was what was meant to be, she thought as she buried her face in her soft hair. Breathing in her scent. She smelled so sweet. She felt a wave of love wash over her. And with that feeling came a flash of her.

Another time. Another place. Holding the same little girl. As a baby with the biggest, brightest blue eyes imaginable. She pulled back in surprise and looked into the tear-filled eyes. Stroked her cheek. Before crushing her in her embrace again.

She rose to her feet. Still clutching the little girl. And looked into his dark eyes. Gazed at his face. "Your eyes," she said quietly. "It's you. You're the man that haunts my dreams. Your eyes are the eyes I can't forget."

He looked at her. Just stared at her. And his face crumpled. The protective mask fell apart. "Sheridan? Is it really you? Tell me this isn't some insane dream of mine," he pleaded as he stepped closer. "Tell me this is real," he said. Raising his hand to her cheek. Wiping away her tears.

She had no answers for him. His name was a mystery. Her past still eluded her. She still had so many questions. So many questions that needed answered. She could only cry as he pulled her into his arms. This was right, her heart told her. She may have forgotten a lot of things. But she remembered this feeling.





Chapter Twenty-Four:



"You okay?" Nick asked Josh with a tug on his baseball cap. The boy looked the way he was feeling. Like the rug had been pulled out from under him. "Josh. Champ. It's okay. I know you're sad," he said. Trying to get Josh to meet his eyes. "You don't have to pretend with me." Josh looked up then. And Nick noticed the wetness of his brown eyes.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Nick. I'm glad Jenny found her family," he said quietly. Casting a glance to where his favorite person in the entire world sat. "But I don't want her to leave us," he said in a wobbly voice. "I don't want her to go." Neither do I, Nick thought as he hugged Josh. Neither do I.

He leaned back on his heels and gave Josh a friendly smile and was relieved to see Josh's toothy smile again. Even if it didn't quite reach his eyes. He nodded his head politely at Jenny's--no, Sheridan's--husband. Her husband. The words stuck in his throat. Luis. The man who had everything. Everything he had ever wanted, he thought as he watched Jenny with her daughter. Getting to know each other. She would always be Jenny to him. Not Sheridan.

But he couldn't hate him. Couldn't bring himself to do it. Especially after hearing his heartfelt thanks following the story of how Sheridan came to be "Jenny." The man loved her too much for him to hate him. He felt guilt instead. Guilt for his thoughts. His feelings. Guilt that his heart had sank upon the realization that his Jenny was indeed Luis's Sheridan. It gnawed at him. Because a small part of him still wished to win her heart. Despite it all.

He smiled as Theresa--that's what she had introduced herself as--tried to lift Josh's spirits. Her efforts finally paid off. Earning a genuine smile from his young friend. He turned to Luis in surprise when he heard his voice. "Will he be okay? He loves her. Adores her. It's plain as day. I can see it all over his face when he looks at her. And I can tell she loves him. Just as much."

"I think so," he replied, turning back around to the scene in front of him. Josh. Laughing. Enjoying himself. Playing with Jenny's daughter. While Jenny looked on with a content smile. Happy. They were happy. "It'll take him a while. He'll miss her like crazy. All of us will. She means a lot to us. But knowing she's happy will make it easier. Keep her that way."

Something he couldn't name flashed through Luis's dark eyes. Just a flash. Lasting only a few seconds. Then he held out his hand, and Nick shook it firmly. And watched him cross the room to Jenny. Soon she stood in front of him. Looking a bit overwhelmed, but happiness and hope shone in her blue eyes. She hugged him in gratitude. And goodbye.

He closed his eyes tightly as he held her one last time. Memorizing the feeling. "Thank you," she whispered. "For all that you have done for me. I'll never forget it. Never forget you," she said with a smile. A kiss to his cheek. The moment was too fleeting. Then she was on her knees. At Josh's feet. Gazing up into his dark eyes. Trying to make him understand.

"I'll visit all the time. I promise you," she said to him. Holding his hands in hers. Josh sniffled as he said, "It won't be the same. Not without you. I wish you could stay with me." "Oh, sweetie. I can't. This," she said looking around the room at Theresa, Pilar, Ali, and Luis, "is my family. I still don't remember a lot of things. And I may never remember everything. But I know I belong with them."

"I know," Josh said softly. "You'll visit? You promise?" She smiled at him and cupped his cheek in the palm of her hand. "Of course I will. We'll have to play a few hands of cards here and there." "You'll never win," Josh said with a grin. "I'll always beat you." She matched the grin on his face with one of your own and said, "We'll see about that mister." Josh laughed and threw his arms about her neck. Whispered something to her. And Jenny beamed at him as she waved goodbye.

In the car on the way out of Boston, Nick asked Josh what he had said to make Jenny smile so. Josh smiled a secret smile and told him, "I can't tell you. That's my secret. Mine and Jenny's." He laughed and gave him an affectionate pat on the shoulder. And turned back to the road in front of him. The road home.






Chapter Twenty-Five:



Luis checked the rear-view mirror for the upteenth time. He couldn't believe it. She was alive. He had his wife back. Ali had her mother back. Sheridan was alive and breathing. And at this very moment, listening attentively to Ali's excited chatter. Ali had talked non-stop. Hardly stopping for a breath since they left Boston. He looked at them. Together as they should be. He couldn't erase the goofy grin that adorned his face. It felt like a permanent fixture.

Not even his disappointment over not being able to meet and thank the man who had saved Sheridan's life three years ago could dampen his spirits. They'd driven to the small town. Driven to the cabin in the woods. To let Sheridan say her final goodbyes. Luis was struck by how close she had been all those years ago. In a little hospital not too far from the winding road where the accident occurred.

The cabin was empty. No one there. Only a note. Addressed to Jenny. Sheridan had opened it. Reading it slowly before folding it back up. A single tear slipping down her cheek. He'd wanted to take her into his arms. Comfort her. But he didn't want to frighten her. Make her uncomfortable by rushing things. He understood she needed time. To recover her memories. All of them. He was willing to give her all the time she needed. They left the cabin behind them. To return home. To Harmony.

He smiled as their home came into view. Squeezed his mother's outstretched hand. "We're almost home, Mommy!" Ali sounded. "I can't wait to show you my room!" His mother laughed softly. He stopped the car and breathed deeply before opening the door and getting out. He grabbed his giggling daughter in his arms and set her on her feet. Then took Sheridan's hand and helped her out of the car.

He looked into her blue eyes. She was nervous. "It'll be okay," he whispered. "I'll be with you. Every step of the way." She gave him a small, grateful smile. Told him "Thank you." And held on as he led her inside. She barely had a moment to catch her breath before Ali grabbed her hand. Dragging her off to her bedroom. "AliCat, slow down, baby," he yelled. Only to have it fall on deaf ears.

"Luis. Mijo," his mother said. "I'm going to go home. Give you and Sheridan and Ali some time alone.

I'm so happy for you son," she said. Hugging him goodbye. "Tell Sheridan I said goodbye. I'll see her and Ali soon. Okay?" "I will, Mama," he said. Kissing her cheek. Walking her to the door. He watched her. Made sure she made it to her car safely before shutting the door behind her. Closing his eyes as he leaned against it and thanked God for bringing Sheridan back to them.

He walked silently to Ali's room. Following the sound of their laughter. He stood in the doorway watching them. Mother and daughter were having a tea party. Wearing identical hats. They were all smiles. His heart was so full of love for them at that moment. He was sure it would burst. "Daddy!" Ali called. Noticing him spying on them. "Come have a tea party with us." He looked to Sheridan. Gazing into her eyes. Looking for an answer. And finding one. "Come on, Luis," she said almost shyly. Blue eyes twinkling with amusement. Just like Ali's.

So he did. And they had a wonderful time. After their tea party, Ali demanded a story. Just like every night. But this time, she looked to her mother. Smiling sweetly. "Goodnight Daddy," she said as he kissed her forehead and ruffled her blond hair. "I love you." He turned to Sheridan. Wanting to kiss her so badly. Like those nights so long ago. He leaned in. His lips drawing ever closer to hers. His heart pounding. Her breath almost stopping. Meeting her blue eyes and staring into them. He closed his eyes and kissed her softly on the cheek. "Goodnight," he breathed.

He listened from their bedroom to the sound of her voice as she read to their daughter. The tale more magical. More enthralling than ever. He listened. His heart in his throat. He hoped to never wake up from this beautiful dream. Never to wake up and have it all disappear. Have her gone from their lives again. He smiled tenderly hearing Ali's sweet voice. "I love you, Mommy." Hearing Sheridan a moment later. "I love you, too." And when he checked in on them some time later finding them fast asleep and snuggled in each other's arms, he hoped that if this were a dream, it would never end. He had his life back, he thought as he covered them both with a blanket. He said one last quiet goodnight, one last 'I love you' to them both and turned the light off. His whole life.

UAgirl
8.2.07, 11:54 PM
Chapter Twenty-Six:



He sat there. Alone. Fingering the small golden band in his hand. Wondering why he had never suspected. Wondering how one man could be so cruel. All those years. All those years he hadn't visited. Hadn't pretended to care. Because he didn't. Didn't care at all. Alistair Crane was an evil man. If he could be called such.

He'd let his daughter lie there. Year after year. Without letting her family--the ones who truly loved her--know she was alive. Still breathing. Still with them. Eased their pain. Martin didn't know what would have happened had they known. Would Jenny--Sheridan--have woken up sooner? He didn't have an answer. He never would have an answer. Alistair Crane had seen to that.

Anger filled him. Consumed him and wouldn't let go. That ruthless monster had ruined a lot of lives in his lifetime. He missed so much with his own children--his wife--because of him. Gone so long. He closed his eyes remembering the last time he saw his family. How they looked. How they felt in his arms that evening as he said goodbye. To answer Alistair's call. Just like he always did.

But that summons was nothing like the usual. Not at all. That evening was the beginning of the end for him. And only the tip of the iceberg for young Sheridan. The pawn of her father. And her weak-willed brother. He couldn't forget the image of her as a little girl. Hands bloodied. Horror in her eyes. They lied to her. Like they lied to everyone.

That image morphed into an image of her as he had last seen her. All grown up. Beautiful as ever. Pain of not knowing her identity and concern for him in her eyes. He studied the small golden band in his hand again. Lifted it closer to read the inscription once more. "To Sheridan. Love always, Luis." He gripped the ring tighter in his hand. Closing his eyes and damning Alistair Crane silently.

He'd stood here only a day earlier. Taunting him as he gave him the ring. Laughing evilly at the shock written plainly on his face as the realization overtook him. He'd thought he'd hated the man before. But that was nothing compared to the hatred he felt for him at that moment. Nothing compared to what he felt as he looked at a picture of his son. With his daughter. A daughter who looked so much like her mother. His granddaughter. And Alistair's.

Fear for them all had kept him from saying goodbye to her the following day. So he'd left a note. Hoping she'd understand. He watched from the shadows, from the forest surrounding the cabin. His heart pounding at the sight of his son. Luis. And his Pilar. Holding a tiny, blond-haired girl in her arms and watching Luis and Sheridan in concern. His family, he thought. So close, yet he couldn't touch them. Take them into his arms. He couldn't break his promise. Couldn't let Alistair tear the little family apart again.

It almost killed him. Almost. But he was determined, now more than ever, to find a way back to them. Back to them all. And until then, he would lie low. Lull the monster into a false sense of security. Somehow, he'd do it. Somehow. He slipped the ring in his pocket as he rose from his seat and went outside.





Chapter Twenty-Seven:



She awoke slowly. Unsure of where she was. Disoriented. She ran a hand through her tangle of blond hair and sat up. Taking in her surroundings. Remembering the night before. Coming home to this place. Playing with Ali. Her daughter, she thought as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and searched the room for her. Where was she?

She jumped when his voice answered her unasked question. "Ali's at my mother's. Playing with Jake." She fixed her blue eyes on him. Stared in confusion. "I'm sorry," he said. She thought she heard him swear under his breath. "Jake's the son of some friends of mine. Ours," he hurriedly corrected. "Um, I guess I'll go and let you get dressed. I made you some breakfast." She smiled at him as he pulled the door shut behind him.

She found him sitting on the sofa. With boxes and books at his feet. A simple breakfast tray waiting for her on the coffee table. He watched her expectantly as she took a bite. "These are good," she said after taking a sip of orange juice. He beamed at her and said, "I thought you'd like them. Considering you practically lived on them when I first met you. Scrambled eggs was the extent of your cooking expertise."

She laughed softly. "An accident. I seem to remember you calling them an accident." His whole face lit up in pleasure at her snippet of memory. "You remember." "Only bits and pieces. Here and there. Fleeting, really. It's so frustrating." His face fell somewhat as he took in her words. He reached for one of her hands and held it in his. Gazed into her eyes. "But you'll remember more and more. I know it. Starting today," he said as he squeezed her hand. Then let it go reluctantly to grab the first of the many books that rested at his feet.

"Here," he said. Offering the book to her. "Pictures of you. Us. Family and friends. I thought it wouldn't hurt. It might even help jog your memory." His brown eyes shone with hope that his wish might come true. Slowly, she eased the book open. And saw a picture of herself. With Luis. They were dancing. The corners of her mouth turned up as she looked at the picture. A laugh stole forth from her lips. She met his dark eyes in surprise when she heard his own soft chuckle.

"This was taken at my mother's birthday party. Right after we met. We got off on the wrong foot when you crashed into my police car. Twice," he said. His beautiful brown eyes dancing with amusement at her gasp of surprise. "I'll tell you about it one time," he promised. "Anyway, this is at my mother's birthday party. We sort of challenged each other to a tango. I was so sure you'd make a fool of yourself. You sure proved me wrong. It was like we'd been dancing together our whole lives."

She matched the smile on his lips with one of her own. And leaned in closer to him as he thumbed through the book. Explaining each and every one of the photos. She recognized Pilar and Theresa in some of them. And another young man who Luis revealed was his younger brother Miguel. He patiently told her the identity of each and every person in the pictures. She committed all their names to memory. Hoping not to embarrass herself whenever they should meet again.

Sometime later, she realized he had stopped talking. No longer looking at the album. But at her. Her breath grew shallow as she felt his eyes on her. She was afraid she'd quit breathing as he tucked a stray strand of her hair behind her ear. "I always wondered what you'd look like with long hair," he whispered. She swallowed nervously and turned slowly to look into his eyes. "You're so beautiful," he said seriously.

Her eyes fluttered shut as his face inched closer to hers, and she sighed softly as she felt his lips touch hers. Light as a feather. She opened them to find him staring at her. Tears in his eyes. "You are real. I was so afraid it was a dream. But it's not. You're here. With me," he said. Caressing her cheek. "I'm here. With you," she said. Leaning into his touch. "Oh, Sheridan," he sobbed brokenly. "I've missed you so much." Tears stung her own eyes, spilling over and trailing down her cheeks as she held him. Held him tight. Determined not to let go.





Chapter Twenty-Eight:



"Whoa! Hey, buddy. Where's the fire?" Hank said. Taking Jake by the shoulders. "Daaaaddd! I have to go. I got to hide before Ali finds me. I can't get beat by a girl. Especially Ali," Jake said in disgust. Hank smiled as his son scurried away. Intent on finding the best hiding spot.

He laughed aloud as Ali scrambled by. "Hi, Uncle Hank!" she waved. "Which way did Jake go?" "You know I can't rat on my own son, Al," he said, grabbing her up and tickling her until she giggled helplessly. He whispered something in her ear before letting her go. Causing a wide, impish grin to stretch across her sweet face.

"Hank Bennett. What am I going to do with you? Tattling on your own son. Just because a pretty girl batted her lashes at you," Pilar said in amusement. Hugging him in greeting.

"You know me so well," he teased her. Smiling at her soft laughter and taking her arm as they went inside. "I heard the good news," he said. Settling himself in the chair she indicated while she fixed them both a drink and checked to make sure the children were okay once more.

"Dios mio!" she exclaimed. He jumped up to see what had her so excited. Payback wasn't always a pretty thing, he mused as he watched Ali giving it to Jake in the back yard. He laughed. He'd known it was coming sooner or later. He just wished it'd come on Gwen's watch. She was never going to let him hear the end of this.

"Ali! Mija! Put that down. Now," she yelled to her granddaughter outside. He only laughed harder. Earning a disapproving look from Pilar. "Sorry," he sputtered. "Ahem. I'm sorry," he said soberly. His attempt was in vain. Ruined the moment she burst into laughter herself. Happy laughter.

"So...where's Luis? With Sheridan?" he asked. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she answered him. "Yes, he is. Hank, he is so happy. Happier than I have seen him in a long time. It almost doesn't matter that Sheridan doesn't have her memory. He's too happy to let it daunt him."

He digested that information before he said, "She really doesn't remember? Anything?" "She remembers bits and pieces. But nothing major. You should have seen the way she held on to Ali. She just knew Ali was her daughter. I can't explain it." "Well," he chuckled. As Ali marched through the door. A triumphant smile on her face. Jake following her. His own face so black with dirt he was almost unrecognizable. "Our Miss Ali is unforgettable," he laughed.

Pilar buried her head in her hands and groaned. Hank winked at Ali as he took Jake's hand. "Come on, Jake. Might as well get it over with," he said with humor in his voice. "Then we'll see if your mom wants to go get a pizza with us." "Pizza," Jake taunted. Sticking his tongue out at Ali. "So," she said. Crossing her arms and glaring at him. Trying to look mad but the twinkle in her blue eyes betrayed her.

"See you two lovely ladies later," Hank called as he and Jake went out the door. "Bye Uncle Hank! Bye Jake!" Ali yelled. Waving until they were out of sight. "Nana?" she asked. Patting Pilar's arm. "Can we have pizza, too?" "Oh, Ali," Pilar said laughing. Pulling her into her arms. "We can have whatever you want. Now. Give me a hug, Mija." "Like this," Ali giggled. Squeezing her neck tightly. "Just like that."


Chapter Twenty-Nine:



"Jake, buddy. At least try to wipe some of that dirt off. Your mother's going to kill me. Remember last time?" he said. Looking into his son's brown eyes. Trying to get his point across. "I already tried, Dad. It's not working," Jake said. Just picturing his mother's reaction. He wasn't really afraid of his mom. She was all bark. No bite. It was his grandmother he was worried about. The same thought was running through Hank's head.

They pulled up in front of the Hotchkiss Estate, and Hank killed the engine. Then turned to his son. Trying one last time. Deciding it was useless. And shaking his head. Man, they were in trouble, he thought as he rang the doorbell. Jake stood beside him. Nervously shuffling back and forth on his feet. The door flew open, and Hank cursed his rotten luck.

"Oh good Lord! Bennett! Must you always bring that child home looking like he's been playing in the city dump?" Rebecca screeched. He ignored her. Winking at Jake. "The dump is the coolest place to play. Isn't it Jake?" "Yeah, Dad. The best," Jake played along. His grin shining brightly from his dirty little face. "Oh my god!" Rebecca exclaimed in horror. Bringing her hand to her chest and rushing off. Leaving them standing on the doorstep.

"That was so much fun, Dad," Jake giggled loudly. Hank laughed with him. "Did you see your grandma's face, Jake? It was priceless." "Grandma's too easy," Jake said between breaths. Hank slapped his son affectionately on the back and led him inside. "Oh. Hello Mr. Hotchkiss," he nodded politely. "Grandpa!" Jake gleefully yelled. Running to his grandfather's outstretched arms.

"Well," Jonathan Hotchkiss chuckled. "This is what sent my wife screaming to the other end of the house. So, Jake--my boy--was it worth it just to see the look on her face? What about it Hank?" he questioned. A amused smile playing at the corners of his mouth. Jonathan Hotchkiss, Hank thought, wasn't all that bad. He was saved from answering when Jake piped in. "She had steam coming out of her ears, Grandpa." Hank shook with silent laughter. Answer enough, he guessed. All three of them laughed at Rebecca's expense.

"Daddy, what's wrong with Mother? Why was she so upset? So horri....Oh. Nevermind. Hank Bennett," Gwen said shaking her head. Sighing as she looked at her son's filthy face. Hank immediately sobered. Or at least tried to. But it was extremely hard while Jonathan Hotchkiss still rumbled with laughter. "Jake," she scolded as she took him from her father's arms. "Go upstairs and get cleaned up. I'll deal with you later."

"But Mom," Jake whined. "No but's, Jacob Henry. Get upstairs. Now," she warned. "I'll be up later," she said. Softening her tone and ruffling his unruly brown hair. She watched him ascend the stairs. A loving smile on her face. Then she turned back to Hank. Arms crossed. Face a blank mask. "Look, Gwen. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to let him get so dirty again. I swear," Hank rushed. "Go easy on him, Darling," her father said. Kissing her cheek as he passed by.

She stood there. Silent. Making Hank suffer. But inside she wanted to laugh out loud at the look of panic on his face. She listened to his excuses. Waiting to see what he came up with. She had already been warned. By Pilar via telephone. She had to give it to him. He sure was a good spinmeister. "Save it, Hank," she said. Totally catching him off guard as she came closer and closer. Now he really looked scared, she thought as she came to a stop in front of him.

Downright terrified. "But Gwen," he tried to say. "It wasn't really my fault. Ali was..." He couldn't get another word out of his mouth. Because she was kissing him. And he was so stunned he couldn't think straight. "Wow," he breathed as she pulled back and smiled at him. Smiled at the confusion in his eyes. "Wow," he repeated once more. Rubbing his finger across his lips. "What was that for?" "Oh, nothing. Just felt like it." "Well. Anytime you feel like it, just lay another one of those on me. I don't mind. Not at all," he said with a cocky grin.

She rolled her eyes at him and turned to go. To follow her son upstairs to get ready for their pizza date. She laughed softly to herself imagining the look that must be on his face. "And Hank. Shame on you. Trying to pin the blame on a four-year-old little girl. At least be man enough to take responsibility," she called out behind her. Grateful he couldn't see the enormous smile on her face. And wishing she could see the look on his.




Chapter Thirty:



"Hey, Gwen. Where's Sheridan?" Luis asked in curiousity. Looking around the living room and noting her absence. And Ali's and Jake's. "Gwen," he asked again. This time worry creeping into his voice. He'd only had her back for such a short time. Only a month. He couldn't bear the thought of losing her again. "Luis," Gwen soothed. "She's just in her room. She'll be out in just a minute."

"Oh," he said. Settling himself against the soft cushions of the sofa next to her. "So, where are the kids? It's awfully quiet around here." Gwen smiled. It was true. It WAS quiet. "Hank has them. In fact," she said, glancing at her watch, "I'm supposed to be meeting them in about ten minutes. Bye Luis," she said. Kissing his cheek and rising from the sofa. "Tell Sheridan to call me tonight and let me know how her surprise went," she said with a smirk.

"Surprise? What surprise? Gwen?!?!" he yelled. Growing annoyed at her refusal to answer him before she shut the door behind her. He crossed the room to look out the window. Watching her car pull out of the drive and disappear down the road. He was so lost in thought about the last few weeks that her quietly spoken "Luis" made him jump nearly a foot into the air.

His jaw fell open at the sight in front of him. "Luis. Say something," she pleaded. Running a nervous hand through her hair. Her short hair. "You cut your hair," he said. Staring at her in shock. She looked just like she had three years ago. Exactly the same. If he didn't know better, he would think the last three years were a dream.

"You don't like it," she said. Casting her eyes downward. "I thought..." "Sheridan," he said. Coming to stand just in front of her. Tilting her chin up with a finger. "Sheridan. Look at me. I love it. Just a bit surprised. That's all." "Really?" she asked. Blue eyes alight with so much--he couldn't name what was in her eyes. "Really. You look beautiful." He wanted so much to believe the look in her beautiful eyes was love.

"I thought," she began. "I thought it might help. You know. If I looked the way I did all those years ago. Maybe help me remember the way things were. I want so much to remember, Luis. Everything," she said earnestly. "Not just flashes here and there. I want to remember it all." "I know," he said. Taking her hand and giving it a comforting squeeze.

"So," he laughed, "was this the surprise Gwen was talking about? Your hair?" "Part of it," she said. Pulling him into the kitchen. And proudly showing him the candlelit table. A table set for two. "Um, I wanted to do something nice for you. Pay you back for being so sweet and understanding. Don't worry," she giggled. "I didn't cook the food. Pilar sent it over. All your favorite dishes." She gasped in surprise when he pulled her into his arms. Hugging her tightly. "Thank you," he breathed.

He pulled back. Conscious that he was practically crushing her in his embrace. "Sorry," he apologized. "And before you ask, I love your surprise," he quickly said. Earning a brilliant smile from her. He returned her smile and pulled her chair out for her. Then he seated himself. He poured them both a glass of wine and lifted his glass in celebration. "To second chances." The look in his dark eyes made her shiver as their glasses clinked together. "Second chances," she repeated. Softly. Taking a sip of her wine.

They enjoyed their meal. Talking. Laughing. Going over the events of their respective days. But mostly they talked about Ali. And Luis thought back to a night so long ago. When Ali came into existence. A night so much like tonight. Sheridan blushed at his admission. Sometimes--she wasn't sure if it were dream or fantasy--she imagined being in his arms. Waking up together. She nearly spilled her wine when he said, "Penny for your thoughts." He hid his smile from her. He was falling in love with her all over again tonight.

He rose from his seat and offered her his hand. "Dance with me," he said. Not an order. But a request. She slid her hand into his and stood up. Blue eyes locked with brown. He tucked her hand away and led her into the living room where he turned the radio on. Soft, romantic notes filtering through the air. A woman's voice weaving magic around the words. He pulled her body close. And they began swaying to the music. Moving closer and closer. Sheridan sighed. Relaxing in his arms completely. Luis responded by holder her tighter. Burying his nose in her hair as she melted into him.

He couldn't pinpoint the exact moment they stopped moving. The exact moment he pulled away to look into her eyes. Drowning in their blueness. All he could remember was the way she sighed as he ran his knuckles across her cheek. The way she closed her eyes as he planted tiny kisses on her brow. Her eyelids. The way she slipped her arms around his neck. Pulling him closer. Trembling as his lips descended on hers. How sweet she tasted. Their kisses growing bolder. More intense. Until the flash of a car's lights shattered the moment. And she pulled away. Her eyes a mixture of surprise. Confusion. Desire. The moment was over as soon as it began. He ran his hand through his hair as he went to answer the door. When he turned around--Ali's sleeping body in his arms--she was gone.

UAgirl
8.4.07, 10:34 PM
Chapter Thirty-One:





She leaned back against her closed door and shut her eyes. Tightly. Willing her heart to stop racing. Her breathing to slow down. What had happened? What had happened just moments ago with Luis? Her thoughts were muddled. Cloudy. So confused. She opened her eyes and looked around the room. Searching for answers. Clues to her identity. Wishing so hard she could just remember. Remember things the way they were.

She flipped the lamp on her nightstand on. Bathing the room in a soft glow. Reached for the photo and held it up. Studying their faces. It was a picture of her, Luis, and Ali. A family. Taken just a week before by Pilar. She ran her finger across Luis's handsome face and whispered, "Why? Why is it so hard?" She clasped the photo against her heart as she imagined the hurt she was sure was in his dark eyes the minute he discovered she was gone. She didn't want to hurt him.

But she couldn't help it. Every time she pulled away, every time she had to question him about something that held special meaning for them--as a family, as husband and wife--it hurt him. He tried to hide it from her, but she could see it in his eyes. Tears seeped from underneath her lashes. Tears of frustration. Would they ever have the love that she saw so clearly in all those pictures again?

She jerked at his soft knock. Clutching the picture closer. "Sheridan?" he called. Quietly. He didn't want to wake Ali. "Sheridan? Are you okay? Can I come in?" She tried to swallow around the lump in her throat. Tried to wipe away her tears before she answered. "Okay. I guess not," she heard him say to himself in a sad voice. "Goodnight."

"Luis. Wait," she called. Pulling the door open. "Don't go." He stopped in his tracks and turned around slowly. "You're not okay," he said in concern. Standing in front of her and tracing the path of one of her tears. His concern and tenderness only caused her to cry harder. "Shhh," he soothed. Taking her into his arms. Running his hands up and down her back in an effort to calm her. "It's okay. Go ahead and cry."

She buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed. Grateful he was there to hold her. Feeling selfish for being grateful. "Why do you put up with me?" she asked. Stepping out of his warm, comforting embrace.

He just smiled at her. Took one of her hands in his own. Threading his fingers through hers. "Easy," he said as he brushed her blond hair back off her face. "Because I love you," he answered steadily.

She gasped in surprise. The man standing in front of her was too wonderful. Almost unreal. "Even if I never recover my memory?" "Even if," he answered back seriously. "Luis," she whispered. "I'm sorry I ran." "It's okay. I'm sorry I let things get carried away so fast." "It wasn't just your fault. I let you kiss me. I wanted you to kiss me," she admitted with a shy smile.

"Oh, you did, did you?" he teased. Enjoying the blush that crept into her cheeks. "So...what do you say? Was that the best kiss in memory or what?" "Luis," she laughed. Blue eyes twinkling as she playfully punched him in the arm. "That was the only kiss in memory." "Well, we can fix that," he said pulling her close. "And how might we do that?" she said breathlessly. Gazing into his brown eyes. "Like this," he said. Planting a sweet, lingering kiss on her lips. "Luis," she called to him as he walked to his room just down the hall. "That was the best kiss in memory." He laughed. "Goodnight, Sheridan. I love you." "Goodnight, Luis." I love you, too, she thought with a smile.




Chapter Thirty-Two:





Nick sat on the bed's edge. Marveling at the joy written all over Josh's young face as he talked to her on the phone. Talking to her was the highlight of his week. Since she'd left them over a month ago, Josh's health had steadily declined. They were running out of options. The cancer was winning. Taking over his little body. Dark circles rimmed his dark eyes. And his already slight form was diminishing. Nick willed himself to push away his own sad thoughts. Determined to put on a happy face for his young friend.

"Oh, that's great! A few weeks? That's too long. No. I don't mind if you bring her. I can't wait!" he happily exclaimed. "Josh, honey," his mother admonished. "Not so loud. I'm sure Jenny doesn't appreciate you screaming in her ear." "It's Sheridan, Mom. And she said she doesn't think I'm screaming," he said, putting a hand over the receiver. "Anyway, I have to talk loud. Ali's friend Jake is over there. Sheridan said when they're together stuck inside on a rainy day like this, she can barely hear herself think."

Nick smiled to himself as he tried to picture the angelic-looking child he had met in Boston going wild and causing so much commotion. He had a hard time believing it. He bet she had her father--and his Jenny--wrapped around her little finger. He looked up when he heard Josh say, "Dr. Nick. Dr. Nick. She wants to talk to you. Wait a minute. I have to tell her something else."

He exchanged smiles with Josh's mother Christine as Josh whispered something that sounded suspiciously like 'I love you' into the phone. He wiped the grin off his face when Josh turned back around and handed the phone to him with a huge grin on his face. "Thanks Champ," he said. Giving his baseball cap an affectionate tug. A gift from Jenny. "Hi," he said into the phone. A bit nervously. He hadn't spoken to her in so long. Always busy before when her calls came.

He turned his back to Josh and Christine. Not wanting them to see the emotions he was feeling just from hearing her voice again playing over his face. "It's good to hear from you," he said softly. Closing his eyes as he imagined her. Standing before him. Looking up at him with those big blue eyes. He missed her. He laughed as he heard her yell something indistinguishable, and the racket on the other end quieted. But only a tiny bit.

"How's life treating you? Good, I hope," he said. Pleased when she answered him. In a voice filled with happiness. He wanted nothing but the best for her, but his heart twisted a little when he heard the words. Told him Luis was so kind. So patient. With love in her voice. She loved him. Even though she didn't remember all of her life with him. She never sounded that way when she talked to him, he thought with a pang. And she never would.

They made plans to meet for lunch when she visited with Ali in a few weeks. She asked about Molly. Asked him to check on Martin for her. And with a final goodbye, she was gone. He held the phone in his hand for a brief moment before replacing it on its receiver. A bittersweet smile on his face as he said goodbye to Christine. Looking at Josh. Fast asleep with a content smile on his lips. He was losing them both. And he didn't know how he was going to deal with that.







Chapter Thirty-Three:





"Bye Jake!" she waved at the mischievous little rascal. Smiling at the wide grin he sent her way. "Thank you so much for watching him, Sheridan," Gwen said. Hugging her. "Since Ali wasn't at Pilar's today, I didn't want to bother her. Jake can be quite a handful. He drives Mother crazy," she said with a smile.

Sheridan shuddered at the sudden image of Rebecca Hotchkiss screeching her head off that popped into her head. Wonderful, she thought. I can't even remember my own husband, but that, that woman stuck in my memory. "Call me later," she called to Gwen as she got into the car with Hank and Jake. "I promise."

She closed the door behind her and let out the breath she'd been holding almost all day. "Mommy," Ali giggled. "You look like Nana does when Jake goes home." "Ali," she laughed. "What am I going to do with you?" she said scooping her up in her arms and kissing her silly. "What do you say about a nice, relaxing bubble bath, sweetie?"

"Oh Mommy!" she squealed. "I love bubble baths." Grinning at her adorably. Then hugging her neck. Extra tight. "A bubble bath it is," she said. Setting her down on her feet and taking her little hand in hers. And leading her down the hall to the bathroom.

She sighed in pleasure as she sank into the warm water. A smile threatening to take over her entire face as Ali mimicked her every action. Right down to the expression of complete contentment on her little face. "Come here, baby," she whispered. Pulling her tiny body closer and squeezing her tight.

"I love you, Mommy," Ali said sweetly. Cuddling up against her. "I love you, too," she answered. Wiping bubbles on her cute little nose and laughing when she did the same. Soon they were engaged in an all-out bubble war. They were having so much fun neither one noticed Luis standing in the doorway. Sporting an amused smile.

Until they heard his soft laughter. "Daddy!" Ali squealed in delight. "You're home." Holding her arms out for a hug. He looked at her, into her eyes as if asking if it were okay. "Hi Luis," she said. She felt her heart speed up as he closed the distance between the tub and the door. Kneeling on the floor and hugging Ali's soapy little body close. Her heart pounded as he kissed her cheek.

"Missed my girls today," he whispered. Dark eyes sparkling. She blushed under his intense gaze. Looked away unable to meet his brown eyes any longer. Ali happily sang to herself. Blissfully unaware. She sighed in relief when the phone rang. Grateful he went to answer it. She was afraid her heart was going to beat right out of her chest if he didn't leave soon.

She washed Ali's long blond hair and her own. Then got out of the tub. Wrapping Ali's little body in a towel and laughing at the picture she made. The towel practically swallowed her whole. She slipped on her robe before picking her back up into her arms and carrying her to her room. "I'm so tired, Mommy," Ali yawned. By the time she finished putting her pyjamas on her, Ali was out like a light.

Softly she padded into the living room. Expecting to see Luis. Waiting for her. Waiting to tell her about his day. Hear about hers. About how she survived a day with Ali--and Jake--all by herself. She found him on the sofa. Fast asleep. She smiled at him tenderly. Running her fingers through his hair--a feeling of familiarity coursing through her veins. Then she switched off the lamp. Curled up against him. And closed her eyes letting sleep overtake her.





Chapter Thirty-Four:





"Mmm," she moaned lightly. Rolling over onto her side. "Luis. Luis. Ali's crying again. Will you..." She left the question unasked. Gazing hopefully into his dark eyes. He sighed. Before swinging his legs over the side of the bed and leaving her. Walking down the hall to get their daughter from her crib.

She rolled back over on her back. Staring at the ceiling above her. Listening. Ali's cries quieted, and she could hear her husband's deep voice whispering assurances to her. A feeling of complete contentment washed over her. Despite the sleepless nights. Despite her fear that somehow she would mess things up. She closed her eyes and made a wish. A wish that she would always be this happy.

She opened them to find Luis standing in the doorway to their bedroom. Their four-month-old daughter in his arms. Pinning her with her impossibly blue gaze. "Awww," she said. Reaching for her daughter. "Mommy hates to see her angel cry," she said as she cuddled her daughter close to her body and wiped the remainder of her tears from her tiny cheeks.

She kissed her sweetly on the forehead before leaning back in Luis's embrace. Sighing softly. Before she began to sing. A lullaby that always calmed Ali. A lullaby she remembered her own mother singing to her when she was afraid. Luis stroked Ali's downy blond head. And kissed her shoulder while she soothed their baby.

Ali's little eyelids drooped from exhaustion. She fought sleep the entire way. She smiled at her tenderly as she ran a finger across her tiny features. Her baby. Her and Luis's baby was stubborn to a fault. She laughed quietly when she heard Luis whisper in her ear. "Just like her mommy. She's one determined little girl. But I love that in her. And you."

She turned her head to meet his kiss. "Like her daddy, too," she whispered. Careful not to wake their now sleeping daughter from her slumber. He smiled at her in the darkness. "I love you, Luis. So much. I love you and our little girl. And I'll never forget this moment. Not as long as I live. It's unforgettable."

"Unforgettable," she mumbled. Instinctively cuddling closer into his warm body. Sighing against his neck as he hugged her closer. He stared down at her. Thanking God for the millionth time for bringing her back to him. And Ali. He loved her with every breath, every fiber in his being. Nothing was ever going to come between them again, he thought as he placed a kiss on the top of her head.

He looked up. Startled to find himself gazing into his daughter's confused blue eyes. "Daddy," she whispered. "Why are you and Mommy sleeping on the couch?" He smiled at her appearance. Her tangled blond mane and the too-big pyjamas. Before answering her. "I don't know, AliCat. I guess I was so tired I just fell asleep on the couch without noticing it."

"Did Mommy fall asleep with you?" she asked. Running a tiny hand across her mother's hair with love. "Yes," he answered with a smile. Not believing that this was really happening. That it was real. "Daddy..." she began again. But he quieted her with a finger to the lips. Rising to his feet. Lifting his wife in his arms.

He carried her into his room. The bedroom they had shared so long ago. Laid her down on its softness and reached a hand out to Ali. Beckoning her to come closer. "Daddy?" she whispered. "Can I sleep with you and Mommy?" He nodded his head and pulled the covers back for her to crawl under them. She snuggled close to her mother. Kissing her cheek. And shut her eyes. Sighing happily. He ran a hand down her soft hair, hers and her mother's, and lay his head down. The last thing he saw before falling into a deep sleep the beloved faces of his two girls.








Chapter Thirty-Five





"Gwen. Gwen? Are you listening to me?" Rebecca asked. "Gwen," she said again. Waving her hand in front of her daughter's face. "Oh. I'm sorry, Mother. What did you say?" Rebecca's rolled her eyes in disgust. "Don't tell me you're thinking about that lowlife." Actually, she was, she thought with a smile. "I can't believe you had the stupidity to get pregnant by him."

"Mother!" she exclaimed incredulously. "How dare you!" She stared at her mother coolly. Her feelings about Hank had always been clear, and she had ignored them before. But she wouldn't stand by and let her put him down this way. "I won't sit here and listen to another word, Mother. I can't believe you would say such a thing. I know you don't like Hank, but Jake is your grandson. My son."

"The son of a Bennnett. Gwen, dear. I had such high hopes for you. You already disappointed me by giving up Ethan without a fight. Then you had the poor judgment to sleep with that, that," "Stop it right there, Mother. Don't say another word. Or I will lose the last shred of respect I have for you." "Gwen!" "I mean it, Mother," she warned. "Don't make me do this."

"Do what?" her father questioned. Looking back and forth between the two. His grandson's hand in his own. Rebecca's eyes narrowed as she took in the look on her daughter's face. "I was just telling her she deserves better than Hank Bennett. She's ruining the Hotchkiss family name through her association with him."

"That's it," she said. Crossing the room and taking Jake by the hand. "I'm sorry, Daddy. I'll call you later. Let you know we're okay." Heading for the door. "Gwen! Gwen! Come back here this instant!" Rebecca shrieked. The only answer was the slamming of the door. "Hmph. She'll be back," she smirked. "I wouldn't be so sure of that, my dear," Jonathan Hotchkiss said. Passing by her. "I wouldn't be so sure." She stared at the front door. The truth of his words sinking in. Wondering where she'd went wrong.

Gwen glanced over at her son. Smiled into his brown eyes. "It'll be okay, Jake." "Are we not going to live with Grandma anymore?" "No," she answered gravely. She was totally caught off-guard by Jake's whoop of joy. "Yes!" he shouted. Causing her to laugh. "Jake!" "What?" "Nothing," she said. Shaking her head. Wondering what she was going to do with him. "Where are we going to live?" "I don't know." She really had no idea, she thought as the car slowed to a stop. Right in front of Grace's Bed and Breakfast. But all roads led right to Hank. She smiled as Jake ran straight to his father's outstretched arms. Smiled at how her worry left her the moment he smiled back at her. They were going to be alright.

UAgirl
8.11.07, 1:05 AM
Chapter Thirty-Six





"He's finally asleep. Man," he said. Rubbing a hand over his face. "Why didn't you tell me how tough it was to get that kid into bed--sleeping?" he asked. Taking a seat beside her on the steps and studying her profile. She laughed softly and said, "I thought it was some shared Bennett trait." A smile on her lips. He chuckled in embarrassment. Remembering that night. Holding her in his arms. Talking to her. Listening as she poured her heart out.

"You still haven't told me why. Why you and Jake just showed up here. With just the clothes on your back. Why Gwen? What happened?" he asked. Waiting patiently for her answer. Giving her all the time she needed. He watched in concern as the smile left her face, and she clasped her hands her knees. Staring. At something only she saw in her mind's eye. "You," she said finally. "It was you."

He took a moment to compose himself before he spoke. "Me? What do I have to do with this?" She took a deep breath. Turned to face him. Eyes boring into his. Before she answered. "Don't you know?" she said in a shaky voice. "It's all about you. It has been for a while now, Bennett. I left because of you." He was shocked. Speechless. He felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him as he looked into her eyes. Seeing the truth and sincerity in them.

She continued. Her voice gaining strength with every word. "I couldn't take it anymore. Mother said some things. Awful things. Against you. I couldn't let her talk about you that way. Because she's wrong. You're not everything bad like she thinks. You're everything good in my life," she revealed with a smile. He felt a lump develop in his throat at her words. He was the king of flippant remarks--the joker. And this woman nearly had him in tears.

"You've given me so many things," she said. "Your friendship. Helped me find myself. And most importantly you gave me Jake. This little boy I adore. This little boy who is so much like his father it isn't even funny," she laughed. He laughed with her. It was true. He saw so much of himself in Jake.

"I love him so much," she said. Taking his hand in hers and giving it a gentle squeeze. "And I think...I think," she paused. "What do you think?" he asked. Barely a whisper. Afraid to trust the hope he felt rising in his chest. Searching her eyes for an answer. "Gwen?" he asked quietly, wiping the single tear that had escaped from her eyes away with his thumb.

"I think I love you," she said quickly. Panic in her eyes. Panic and hope. "Just think," he said. His brown eyes twinkling. A grin appearing on his face. One he found impossible to erase. "A girl ought to KNOW when she loves Hank Bennett. He's a pretty special guy." His grin grew even bigger when she burst into laughter. Shoving him playfully.

"What do I have to do to convince you that you DO love me?" he asked. His laughter dying down. And they were serious once more. "Oh, I don't know," she replied with a slight smile. "Do I have to list all my hugely appealing qualities to remind you?" "No," she laughed. "Besides, you tend to be a little full of yourself at times." "Who? Me?" he asked in mock indignation.

"We have to get to the truth of the matter. Any way we can," he said. Leaning closer. Closing the gap between his lips and hers. Smirking at her when she replied. "Yes. Any way we can." Breathlessly. Her huff of annoyance when he stopped just inches from her lips only made him smile more. He loved teasing her. He loved her, he thought as he kissed her. Pulled her closer. Threading his fingers through her hair and kissed her for all he was worth.

He pulled back reluctantly. "So...what's the verdict? Did that convince the lady of her true feelings?" He waited expectantly. And was rewarded a moment later. "Yes," she said seriously. Leaning her forehead against his and closing her eyes. "There's no doubt. I love you," she breathed. Placing a gentle kiss on his lips. He sighed in relief and happiness.

"Sure took you long enough to figure it out," he joked. "I knew you wouldn't be able to resist me too much longer." "Hank," she groaned. Rolling her eyes. "Sorry, babe. You're going to have to learn to live with it. Comes with the territory. I knew there was a reason I loved you." This time she kissed him. Senseless. From the window a voice rang out. "Yes! Alright!" They broke apart. Laughing. Rose to their feet. And went inside. Hand in hand. "I should have known."




Chapter Thirty-Seven





"You doing alright back there, sweetie?" she asked. Glancing at her daughter in the rear-view mirror. "Yes, Mommy. Are we there yet?" She smiled at Ali's question. She'd already asked the same question countless number of times since they left Harmony this morning. "Not yet, baby. Just a little farther I promise." "Mommy, why didn't Daddy come with us?" "Daddy's really busy. He couldn't get away from work," she explained patiently.

"Oh," Ali replied quietly in a sad little voice. Then brightened up considerably as the car slowed to a stop. "We're here, Ali. You ready to go see Josh? You remember I told you he's very sick, don't you?" She paused. Letting Ali digest this information. Continuing after she nodded her head gravely. "We can't tire him out, okay?" "Okay, Mommy." "Come on, sweetie," she said. Helping Ali out of the car and taking her hand. Stepping back into the past as they walked through the hospital's doors.

In the hallway she came face to face with a dear friend. A dear friend she hadn't had the chance to say a proper goodbye to. "Molly!" she exclaimed. Hugging the older woman tightly. Then pulling back from the embrace to look into her kind brown eyes. "Jenny," she said. Cupping both sides of her face in her hands. "My sweet Jenny. Oh, how I have missed you. We all have. Terribly," she said with tears in her eyes.

"Actually, Molly, it's Sheridan," she told her with a smile. "Oh," Molly gasped in embarrassment. "Foolish, foolish me. I'm so sorry. Sheridan," she said. Testing out the foreign name. "It's okay," she rushed to assure her. "Would you look at you?" she said. Holding her at arm's length. "You cut your hair." "What do you think?" Sheridan asked. Running a hand through her blond hair self-consciously. "You look beautiful."

"And who is this adorable little girl here?" she asked. Noticing Ali for the first time. Ali giggled as she took Molly's offered hand and shook it. Just like a grown-up. "Molly," Sheridan said, voice laced with love and pride, "this is my daughter. Ali. Ali, sweetie. This is the woman who took care of me all the time I was away." Ali's bright blue eyes shifted from Molly to her mother and back. "Thank you for taking care of my mommy," she said. Shyly. "Oh. Aren't you the sweetest little thing. Come here. I want a hug." Ali willingly went into her arms. Kissed her cheek. As Sheridan smiled at them both.

"You're here," a voice called out. "Josh will be so happy to see you. So...this is Ali," Christine said. "I've heard a lot about you. Don't tell your mom, but I think he's looking forward to seeing you more," she said. Eliciting more giggles from Ali. "I promise." Then she hugged Sheridan. Whispered in her ear. Causing her to grow serious all of a sudden. Causing Molly's smile to disappear as well. Ali looked on in confusion. But didn't dare say a word.

Until they came to Josh's room. "Josh!" she squealed. Rushing to his bedside. "Ali," he said. "I'm so glad you came. I have something for you," he said between labored breaths. "You have something for me?" she asked in excitement. "Dr. Nick," he said. Reaching his hand out and taking his favorite baseball cap from Nick's hands and giving it to Ali. "Here," he said. "Your mom got this for me in Boston. I want you to have it." "Thank you," she said sweetly. Giggling as Nick put in on her head. Backwards.

"Look, Mommy." "I see, sweetie. It looks great on you. How's my buddy doing?" she asked. Settling on the edge of Josh's bed and smiling brightly at him. "Not too good. But I'm so glad you're finally here. I thought you were never going to get here." "Nothing and no one could have stopped me from seeing you," she said. Kissing his forehead. Then trying to wipe away the smudge her lipstick had left. "Mommy," Ali giggled. "You got make-up on him." "I know," she laughed. "I'm sorry, Josh," she said sheepishly. Josh only smiled at her in response.

"Miss Ali," Molly said cheerfully. "What do say me and you go for a walk? Meet some of the other kids?" "It's okay, baby. You can go. I'll be right here waiting for you. Molly might even let you meet some of the babies," she said. Tucking Ali's long blond hair behind an ear. "Bye, Josh. See you later," Ali waved. As Molly led her out of the room. And Christine followed them. Leaving Sheridan and Nick and Josh alone.

"Okay, Josh. Your wish is my command. Just name it. What do you want to do? Play cards? I'm sure I could beat you and Dr. Nick both." "Could not," he boasted. "No, I think I could beat you both," Nick bragged. "What do you say, Champ? Want to prove us wrong?" "No," Josh said. Shaking his head. "I don't want to play cards." "Well, what about cartoons?" Sheridan ventured. "Nope." "Checkers?" Nick asked. Again he shook his head no. "I'm running out of ideas here, Josh," Sheridan laughed.

"A story," he said. "A story," Nick replied. Dumbfounded. A smile lit Sheridan's face. "A story. Sounds wonderful. Any particular story in mind?" "Uh huh," Josh nodded. Producing a well-worn copy of a familiar book. One they had been reading together. Before Boston. She crawled into the hospital bed beside him and slipped an arm around his shoulders as she read. Taking turns with Nick at various times throughout the story. She felt tears clog up her throat when she gazed upon his small form. He was so tired. So worn from his battle. She forced the tears back down. Squeezing Nick's hand. Kissing Josh--who slept peacefully--goodbye. Her lips lingering on his forehead. "Love you," he mumbled. Only breaking down once she left the room. Falling apart in Nick's arms.




Chapter Thirty-Eight:





"Mommy?" Ali asked worriedly. "Mommy, what's wrong?" Her mommy was crying. She saw the tears. Saw her wipe them away as she drove. "Nothing, baby. Mommy's just sad." "About Josh?" "Yeah. About Josh." "Mommy? Is Josh going to go to heaven?" Her voice sounded funny when she answered. "Yes, sweetie. Soon Josh will be an angel."

She thought it over a minute. "Then he won't be sick anymore, will he?" "No, Ali. He won't," she said with a sad smile. Turning around to face her after she cut the car's engine. "He won't hurt anymore." "Don't cry, Mommy. Please don't cry." "Oh, sweetie," she said. Getting out of the car and opening Ali's door. Taking her in her arms. Holding her tight. "Mommy needs a hug right now. Real bad." "Shh, Mommy. It's okay," Ali whispered. Kissing her mother's cheek sweetly.

Sheridan hugged Ali's tiny body as close as humanly possible. "Mommy loves you so much, baby. So much." She leaned back and looked into Ali's big blue eyes. Then hugged her again. Smiling when Ali wrapped herself around her. "What would I do without you?" she sniffled. Then smiled. She didn't have to worry about that. Not anymore. She had her family back. Getting her memory back suddenly didn't seem as important. Because she had them back. They could make new memories. But first she had to say goodbye. Once and for all.

She kissed Ali lightly on the nose. Earning a giggle. And set her down on her feet. "I'm okay," she promised. Ali smiled in response and took her hand. "Where are we, Mommy?" she asked. Looking at the woods around her. "This is the place I stayed at when I first woke up, baby. I want you to meet a very special person. He took care of me. Like Molly and Nick. He was my friend." "What's his name?" "Martin." "Like Daddy's Papa?" she asked.

Sheridan stopped in her tracks. Stunned. No, she thought. Luis had mentioned the name Martin before. When he was going through the old photo albums. Telling her about his family. But there were no pictures. Nothing to remotely suggest that his Martin was one in the same as her Martin. "Mommy?" Ali asked. Frowning at her expression. "Like Daddy's Papa," she conceded. Her brain working overtime. Trying to make sense of her jumbled thoughts. She gathered her senses and raised a hand to knock on the door.

The door opened. She and Martin were face to face again. "Sheridan," he said. Her mouth hung open in confusion. She hadn't seen him since that morning. The morning before Boston. How did he know her real name? He seemed to sense her thoughts. "Nick's been keeping me updated," he supplied. And for the moment, she was satisfied. He looked at her strangely. Making her feel uneasy. But it was his reaction to Ali that baffled her. Tears pooled in his eyes. Sadness. Love. She didn't understand.

His voice shook as he kneeled. Eye level with Ali. And said "Ali?" Ali nodded her head. "You're beautiful. Just like your mother always was." She grinned at him. Pleased to know he thought she looked like her mommy. "Thank you," she shyly replied. Then did what she did best. Offered him a hug. If he held her a little too tightly, a little too long, Sheridan didn't notice. She owed this man so much. She owed him her life.

They stayed. Until the sun faded in the distance. Until dusk fell. Visiting. Catching up. Ali took to Martin immediately. And Sheridan was struck by an overwhelming sense of familiarity watching them together. Watching them interact. She knew surely her mind was playing tricks on her. Her eyes were deceiving her. But Ali's words rang in her head. Refused to give her peace. It was a relief when they parted ways. Said their goodbyes. A temporary relief.

Ali waved at Martin until she could no longer see him. No longer see his cabin. Not noticing her mother's preoccupation. She was too tired. Too happy they were going home to Daddy to really notice. She didn't see the look of horror on her mother's face. Couldn't see the images that flashed before her mother's eyes. Hear the screams that echoed in her mother's head. "No," she heard her mother whisper. Then say in a louder voice. "No." "Mommy," she said. Scared. "Mommy," she yelled. But her mother didn't hear her. Couldn't hear her. All she heard was the screaming. Julian! She couldn't see anything but images from that night over three years ago. Couldn't see the oncoming car's lights until it was too late.

"Mommy look out!"





Chapter Thirty-Nine:





He'd held his granddaughter in his arms. Talked with her. Played with her. He wondered if it was real. Hoped it wasn't a cruel trick of his imagination. No, he thought. It was real. True. Her sweet scent lingered on his clothes. Her mother's perfume hung in the air. Real, he thought with a bittersweet smile. But he couldn't reveal to them his true identity.

He crossed the room. To the place he kept the precious few reminders of his past and studied the picture again. Like he did everyday. "I met your family, Son. You've raised a fine daughter. Chose such a wonderful, caring woman to share your life with. I'm so proud of you," he said to the smiling face of his son. As he had been so many years ago. "I just wish I could tell you. Face to face. I..."

His thoughts, his words, were interrupted by the sound of frantic knocking. His heart pounded at the noise. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. He could feel it. His worst fears were confirmed when he opened the door to find a woman. So distraught she could hardly get the words ut. "A car...nearly hit us...head-on...swerved off the road into a tree...woman...little girl."

He grabbed her by the shoulders. Trying to calm her when he felt anything but calm himself. "Where? Can you tell me where?" Her green eyes looked tortured. Guilty as she told him. Confused by his reaction. "Just up the road. A mile or so..." She tried to yell. Catch his attention. Ask what she should tell the paramedics. The location. But he was already gone. Running in the direction she had just come from. She found the phone. Dialed 9-1-1. And shakily said, "There's been an accident."

He heard her desperate cries. Louder and clearer the closer he came. "No! Mommy! I want my mommy! No!" she screamed. Kicking. Frantically trying to escape the man's arms. Go back to the car. Where her mother slumped across the wheel. Unconscious. No, he thought as he saw the blood trickling from a gash in her forehead. Not again. God let her be alright. "Martin!" Ali wailed. Finally succeeding in breaking the man's strong hold.

"Martin! Help my mommy! Please!" she cried. He grabbed her up in his arms. Squeezed her tight. Then pulled back. Gently wiping the tears from her big worry-filled blue eyes. "Listen to me, Ali. Your mommy's going to be fine. I won't let anything happen to her. The ambulance is on its way, and the doctors will make her all better. You hear me, sweetheart? I promise. You believe me, Ali?" She looked at him with trusting blue eyes and nodded her head. "I believe you," she whispered. He hugged her tightly once more and left her in the man's care as he hurried to Sheridan's side.

Sheridan, he thought as he felt for a pulse. Hang in there. You're a fighter. You've come this far. "Don't break my son's heart again. Don't leave him to raise my granddaughter alone." "Oh," she moaned softly. Coming to. "It hurts." "That's it," he said with a smile. "Wake up, darlin'. Show Ali her mommy's okay. Don't make a liar out of me," he laughed. "I promised her you'd be fine. I don't want to break her heart. I can't stand to see tears in those pretty blue eyes of hers. Did I tell you how much she looks like you at that age? You could easily pass for twins."

"She was right," she whispered. Gasping as though the mere task of talking, breathing, caused her pain. "What's that?" he asked. Keeping her talking. Lucid. "Daddy's Papa," she grimaced. "Smart as a whip that daughter of yours. Proud to call her my granddaughter. Proud to call you," he said, brushing her blond hair off her forehead tenderly, "a daughter of mine."

"How? Why?" "Shh. Later," he said. Moving away to let the EMT get to her. "I promise," he said as her hand slipped from his. And they loaded her into the ambulance. I promise, he thought. As he took the cell-phone offered by a concerned bystander and dialed a number from memory. Praying it had not changed. His heart lodging in his throat as a much loved voice answered.

"Sheridan? Is that you, Mija? Are you and Ali okay? Sheridan? Sheridan?" Please protect them, he thought as he took a deep breath. And spoke to his wife. For the first time in a very long time.







Chapter Forty:





"Luis, it's your mother," Sam had said with a grim face. "There's been another accident." He vaguely remembered taking the phone from Sam's hand and listening. As his mother sobbed out the whole story. His mother was a strong woman. She didn't cry over nothing. He didn't let her finish the whole story before he was off. Gone out the door. And on his way to them. His wife and daughter.

He drove like a madman. All sorts of crazy thoughts invading his mind. Refusing to let him have peace. No, he thought. This couldn't be happening. Not again. They had found each other. As improbable as it might seem. They had found each other again. They were slowly putting the pieces back together. Becoming a family. Rediscovering love. This could not be real.

He'd only had her back, in his life for such a short time. Not enough time. He could never have enough time with her. Eternity would be too little. And Ali. He didn't know what he'd do if anything happened to his baby girl. His eyes stared straight ahead at the road in front of him. But his mind was somewhere else. Lost in memories. Memories they had made together since Boston.

"It'll be okay," he whispered. "I'll be with you. Every step of the way." She gave him a small, grateful smile. Told him "Thank you." And held on as he led her inside. And later...they were all smiles. His heart was so full of love for them at that moment he was sure it would burst. "Daddy!" Ali called. Noticing him spying on them. "Come have a tea party with us." "Come on, Luis." "I wanted to do something nice for you...Don't worry. I didn't cook the food." "Why do you put up with me?" "Easy," he whispered as he had that night. "Because I love you," he said. Wiping angrily at the tears he felt escaping from his eyes.

He didn't bother to shut the door as he jumped out of the car and ran into the emergency room of the small hospital. Barely had enough conscious thought to cut the engine. At the end of the hall he saw a familiar figure. Nick Taylor. Sadness in his eyes. Tear tracks still visible. Weariness plain in his features. "Where are they?" he shouted. Running down the hall toward him. "Ali and Sheridan. Where are they?"

"Luis, calm down," Nick said in a tired voice. But he didn't listen. "Don't tell me to calm down. I got a call telling me my wife and daughter were in a car accident. I need to know where they are." "Dr. Taylor," a timid voice said behind him. He followed the other man's gray eyes to the woman behind him. A woman with kindly brown eyes. Kindly brown eyes filled with tears.

"What's going on here?" he demanded. Looking back and forth between them. Growing more desperate by the moment. "Why won't anyone tell me anything?" he yelled. "Luis," Nick warned. Placing a hand on Luis's arm. "Lower your voice. Now. Or I'm going to have to have you thrown out of this facility." "The hell you will," he said. Angrily shaking Nick's restraining hand off his arm and stalking down the hall. Ignoring Nick's warnings.

"Don't go in there. There's something you should know first. Mr. Lopez- Fitzgerald. I'm warning you. Don't..." But it was too late. Luis opened the hospital door to something he never expected to see. He stared. Open- mouthed. In shock at the sight before him.

"Oh, Daddy! I thought you'd never get here," Ali exclaimed as she launched herself into his arms. Planting sweet little kisses on his cheek, his neck, everywhere she could reach. Hugging him tight. "I was so scared, Daddy. But Martin helped Mommy. Just like he did last time, Daddy. He saved her. Daddy, what's wrong? Daddy?"

Ali's blue eyes looked to her mother's in confusion. Then they returned to her father. And to the man she knew only as Martin. She slid from her father's arms and quietly crawled into the hospital bed. Into her mother's comforting arms. "Mommy," she whimpered. "Shh, baby. Everything's going to be alright," Sheridan said. Running her hand soothingly over her long blond hair. Her blue eyes widened in shock at the next word out of her father's mouth.

"Papa?"

UAgirl
8.19.07, 11:08 PM
Chapter Forty-One:





"Papa? Papa, is that really you?" Luis asked. Slowly. His words tinged with shock as he moved closer and closer to the man he hadn't seen in years. Many years. Too many years. Sheridan felt tears come to her eyes as she saw the tears in her husband's brown eyes. Tears in Martin's eyes. The man who had protected her. Saved her. Brought her back to her family.

Martin's voice shook with emotion as he answered his son. "Yes. Yes, Son, it's me." "Oh my god," Luis whispered as he looked at his father. Realized it wasn't all a dream. "You're really here. I'm not just imagining this," he said as he hugged his father. Hard. Closing his eyes and remembering the last time they had hugged this way. He was just a boy. Mama was so young. "Mama," Luis gasped. His dark brown eyes going wide. Pulling away to meet his father's eyes.

"Yes, Luis. I talked with your mother," Martin said with a grin. Twinkling eyes. "She was, she was surprised." "She was sobbing," Luis corrected. Backing away. Slight anger making his voice rise. "She's never given up hope," he said. Dark eyes glittering as he bore into his father. Trying to see into his soul. Get answers to all the questions. Find out why. "She lit a candle for you all these years. Convinced you were still alive. Her faith unshakeable. Why Papa? And where have you been all these years?"

Martin's eyes shifted to her. As if asking permission. She felt her throat tighten with tears as she answered for him. "My father, Luis. It was my father's doing," she said in a trembling voice. Pain ripping through her heart as she realized anew just how much hurt, how much pain her father had caused during his lifetime. She squeezed the hand Martin offered. Leaned into Ali's sweet embrace. Luis was silent. Unwilling to upset her any further.

"Later, Luis," Martin said. Promise in his voice. "I'll fill you--and your mother when she gets here, in on all the details later." "Mama's coming?" Luis asked. In disbelief. "Uncle Miguel's bringing her, Daddy. They're bringing the b..." Sheridan stopped her with a hand over her mouth. A grin stole over Luis's face. No doubt picturing the look on his mother's face when she came face to face with his father once again. And the look on his father's face when he met his grandson. His namesake. M.J. Sheridan's blue eyes sparkled with love and happiness at the joy written on Luis's face.

She was still smiling when she found herself alone with her husband minutes later. Ali and Martin getting reacquainted. As granddaughter and grandfather. "Sheridan," Luis breathed pulling her body close. "I have my Papa back. He saved you. Twice," he said. Releasing her. Barely catching the brief flash of discomfort, pain, that shone in her beautiful eyes. "Did I hurt you? I did, didn't I?" he asked. Concern in his dark eyes as he looked at her. Really looked at her for the first time since entering the hospital room. "I nearly lost you. Again," he choked. Fingering the bandage on her forehead.

She reached up and covered his hand with her own as it cradled her cheek. Leaned into his touch. "I'm still here, Luis. I'm never leaving you. Never again. My heart will always be with you," she whispered. Laughing lightly as he wiped the tears that escaped from her blue eyes away. "I love you," she said. Smiling brilliantly at him. At the tender smile that lit his own face. "I loved you then. I love you now. And I will always love you. No matter what. You're not going to get rid of me that easy, Buster. When I promised myself to you with our wedding vows, I meant forever."

"Our...you?," he began. Understanding dawning on his beloved features. "Oh Sheridan," he said. Cupping her face in his hands. "Welcome back. I've been waiting so long. Here I was, on the way to the hospital, cursing this day. Hating myself for letting you and Ali out of my sight. For even a minute. So scared I had lost you both. Forever this time. But I didn't lose you. Either of you. You're both okay," he said. Searching her eyes for verification. "Just a mild concussion and a few fractured ribs," she qualified. "Ouch," he said. Tracing her features with the tips of his fingers. Delighting in her soft sighs.

"You're both okay. Thanks to my father. My papa. Sheridan, Papa's back," he said in excitement. "Yes, he is," she said. Laughing softly. "This is the happiest day of my life," he said. Bringing his lips to hers. Kissing her tenderly. Sweetly. "Mine, too," she whispered. Leaning her forehead against his. Holding him close. Kissing him again, and snuggling close as he pulled her into his arms and lay back against the pillows. Wrapping his arms securely around her. Smiling into her shoulder when they heard a wonderful sound just moments later. A smile that was there to stay as they listened. As husband and wife reunited.







Chapter Forty-Two:





Just like that his life changed. In an instant. That day three years ago started like any other day. He woke. Alone. Went about his routine. As he always did. But something was different about that day. He could tell. His life would be forever changed. Again.

How could one person change a life so much? He didn't have the answers. Didn't pretend to understand it. Sheridan Crane had changed his life when she was only a child. And she changed it again just three years ago quite unexpectedly. This time she brought his family back to him. They were forever connected.

It all happened so fast. Like a whirlwind. He had his family back. And Pilar was in his arms. Laughing and crying. Clinging to him. Almost afraid to let go. His heart was full at that moment. Overflowing as he pulled back to look into her eyes. Words failed him as he wiped her tears away. So he did the only thing he could. Pulled her close again. And held on.

"Oh Martin," she said. Over and over again. Running her hands over his face. Touching him. Making sure he was real. He smiled at her. And her tears started all over again. She buried her face into his chest and sobbed. Until a tiny voice made her smile again.

"Nana, don't cry," Ali whispered. Taking her grandmother by the hand. Petting her. "Mija," Pilar answered. Sweeping Ali up into her arms. "These are happy tears. I'm just so happy to have your grandfather back. He's been gone so long," she said. Searching his eyes for clues. Clues to why.

"Too long," a strong voice answered. Startling him. Startling them all. Martin looked past Pilar--past Ali--and his eyes landed on a young man. "Miguel?" he whispered. Walking closer. Not believing his eyes. His youngest son was no longer the baby he had left behind. He was a man.

"Papa?" he said. Quietly. Uncertain. "You've grown into a fine young man, Son," he said proudly. "A fine young man." And he crumpled. As reality sank in. Martin hugged his youngest son tightly. Emotion getting the better of him. Both of them. They cried together. Unashamed.

"There's someone I want you to meet, Papa," he said. Stepping back. Putting his arm around a pretty dark-haired young woman. A small child nestled in her arms. "Papa, this is Kay. My wife." He brought her hand to his lips with a smile. Delighting in her soft laughter. "And this," Miguel said, taking the small bundle from her, "is my son. MJ. He's named after you."

He looked to Miguel in surprise. Then back to the tiny infant. Arms waving back and forth. Curious dark eyes studying him intently. An impossibly huge smile tugging at the corners of his mouth once again. "Can I?" he asked. Holding his arms out. Miguel handed the child over to him. Running an affectionate hand over the baby's downy dark head before stepping back. Allowing grandfather and grandson to get acquainted.

"Hello there, wee one. I'm your grandpa. The old man you're named after," he said in jest. Earning a smile from MJ. Then laughter. "He thinks you're funny, Grandpa Martin," Ali giggled. He looked at her in surprise. Getting used to being called Grandpa was something he was looking forward to. Very much. He just smiled at her before gazing into his wife's dark eyes. He had so much to look forward to. There were still many questions to be asked, and so many answers. But those would wait. Right now, he wanted to enjoy this moment. To the fullest.









Chapter Forty-Three





"So much has happened this week. The accident. Martin's return. The revelation he's Pilar's Martin. Regaining my memory. All good, and yet, my life this week has been touched by sadness as well. The same night of the accident--the night Luis got his father back--Josh passed. Nick didn't tell me until much later."

"I could tell he was upset that morning the moment I looked into his gray eyes. They were red and puffy, and he looked so tired. So sad as he asked Luis for a moment alone with me. I knew in my heart what was coming. I think I knew it the night it happened. Even in all my happiness I felt this emptiness. This emptiness that told me Josh was gone."

"I missed the memorial service. Didn't get to tell Christine how sorry I was. That was the day Martin revealed all to us. His family. Told us of my father's part in the whole tragedy. That's what it is and was. A tragedy. I'm so ashamed. Despite Martin's freeing words, shame filled me at the knowledge that my father was a murderer. I felt worse knowing he threatened Martin than I did knowing he used me as a scapegoat. Convinced me I was a killer. Me. Just a little girl. Guilty of murder."

"I worry what he will do now that Martin has broken his silence. He's done no wrong. But my father can make it seem differently. My father is a powerful man. Even from a hospital bed, Alistair Crane is a powerful man. He refuses to own up to the truth even though he is a shadow of the man he was, the stroke making him weak. And though I believe Martin wholeheartedly, there is no proof. No proof of a body. No proof of foul play. The murder of a man who got too close to the Crane secrets. The murder of a man too honest to keep them under wraps. A man who despite his fear, tried to come clean. An honorable act that caused his death."

"My father is guilty of so many things. But, as silly as it might seem, the thing I hold most against him is the fact that he withheld his love from me. Withheld the love of a father from a daughter. Cared so little for me that he was willing to sacrifice me to protect himself. Without another thought. Cared so little he let my husband think I was dead for three long years. My daughter grow three years without knowing me."

"But all that doesn't matter now. I have all the love I need. From Luis. And Ali. Pilar and Martin. Our friends. People I call my family. They are more my family than Alistair Crane ever was. And ever will be. He's dead to me. As sure as if we had lain him to rest. Luis wants payback. For all the unnecessary pain. But it is enough for me to know we have what my father will never have. Love. Security. Happiness. And Luis seems content enough with those things. He won't stop hoping for answers. He won't spend the rest of his life searching for proof either."

"Only one thing keeps me from the peace I want so badly. The way things ended with my brother. Julian and I came to an understanding in the weeks before the accident that took his life. And, in his own way, I know he loved me. He died trying to absolve me of my guilt. To take me to the truth. To Martin. And he did. Just not the way he'd planned."

"I remembered where I hid the key. The key to the rest of his secrets. And what I read shocked me. I went to Eve that same day. Yesterday. And learned the truth. Straight from her lips. And gave her an even more devastating truth. Her baby's death was a lie. Julian's son's death was one of the biggest lies of all. Orchestrated by none other than my father. Finding my nephew, trying the best way I know how to atone for the sins of my father, is something that won't let me go. Something I must do. For Julian. And I will, with Luis by my side."

She closed the book with a sigh. And looked to the man lying beside her. Sleeping peacefully. Unaware of her wakefulness. A smile on his face as he dreamed. His golden wedding band gleamed in the dim light. And a smile came over her lips as she looked down at its twin. Remembering his sweet words, the love in his voice, his eyes, his actions as he'd slipped the ring back on her finger earlier tonight. Back where it belonged. It was like getting married all over again as he vowed to always be there. Always with her. She tucked the journal under her pillow and turned off the lamp's light. Snuggling close. In his arms. Where her heart was.











Chapter Forty-Four





"Sheridan, it's so good to have you back to your old self," Ivy said. Hugging her. Sheridan smiled brightly at her. "It's good to be back. You don't know how good," she said. Hugging Ethan as well. They laughed when Ali made her presence known. "Mommy! Aunt Ivy! Look!" In her arms she held an adorable, tiny kitten.

"Ali," Sheridan laughed. "Honey, where did you get this little sweetheart?" she said. Taking the kitten from Ali's arms and cuddling it close. The kitten mewled softly at her. Causing Ali to giggle. "She likes you, Mommy." "You didn't answer my question, Baby. Where'd you get the kitten?"

"Well," she began. A huge grin lighting up her face. Blue eyes twinkling. Another giggle escaping when she looked at Ethan's face. Saw the finger he had raised to his lips. "I can't tell. It's a secret." "A secret, huh?" Ivy laughed. Catching the conspiratorial looks passed between Ethan and Ali. "I bet it's a secret."

"Oh, but it is, Aunt Ivy. I can't tell a soul. I promised," Ali said seriously. One look at Ethan's face, and Sheridan laughed out loud. "You are so busted. You're a terrible liar. Your face is an open book. Not setting a good example for my daughter, either, Ethan. What am I going to do with you two?"

Ethan swept Ali up into his arms and said, "I don't know. What do you think, Ali?" Ali looped her arms around Ethan's neck and said, "We're not in trouble, are we Mommy?" Pouting at her. Ethan wore an identical expression on his face. "Aww. Sheridan. How can you refuse those faces?" Ivy said with a smile.

"I can't," she muttered. Heaving an exaggerated sigh. "Oh, Mommy!" Ali squealed. "Does this mean we can keep her? Please say yes. Please." Sheridan looked at the tiny purring bundle of white fur in her hands to her daughter's hopeful blue eyes. And back at the white bundle. And her heart melted. "Yes. We can keep her."

Ethan set Ali down on her feet. Smiling as she reigned kisses on Sheridan's face and hugged her tightly about the neck. "Thank you, Mommy. Thank you. I can't wait to take her home. What are we going to name her? Where is she going to sleep? Can she sleep in my bed with me? Oh, I can't wait to show her to Jake. He'll be so jealous."

"Ali," she laughed. "Baby, that's not very nice." "Well, he not very nice to me, either. He's been bragging about the fish his dad bought him. But I think a kitten's much better. Isn't it, Aunt Ivy?" Ivy smiled in amusement before answering her. "Much better, Darling. Now, why don't you take your new friend outside and..." That was all she got out before she sneezed. "Play," she squeaked. Before sneezing again.

"Don't go far, sweetie. We're leaving soon," she waved as Ali disappeared. Out back toward the gardens with one of the housekeepers. "Ethan!" she said. Smacking him in mock anger. "What have you gotten me into? A kitten? You and Ali planned this, didn't you? That kitten looks strangely familiar. In fact, I think I remember seeing the same kitten last week. When you had lunch with me and Ali at the mall."

"If it's Luis you're worried about, don't bother. Pilar already ran the idea by him. Well...sort of. Okay. Not really. She asked him if he'd like to have a pet." "He meant a dog, you moron. What am I going to do? This morning it was just us three. Now I'm going home. With a kitten." "Relax. It's just a tiny, harmless kitten. It's not like it can do much." "Famous last words, Ethan. Famous last words," she called out behind her as she walked out the door. Leaving Ethan and Ivy behind. Having way too much fun at her expense.











Chapter Forty-Five





“Goodnight Daddy," Ali yawned. Nestled in her mother's arms. Stroking the kitten snuggled against her chest contentedly. "Night, AliCat," he whispered. With a kiss to her forehead. Ruffling her long blond hair and ignoring the purring white bundle she held close like a treasure.

Until Ali said, "Kiss the kitty goodnight, too, Daddy." Luis's mouth hung open at her request. His brown eyes traveled from Ali and the kitten to his wife's blue eyes. Shining with amusement in the dimly lit room. Her eyes were twinkling. Laughing. But she kept a straight face when she said, "Go ahead, Luis. She's part of the family now." She was good, he thought with an inward groan. Too good. He would have already cracked.

"How 'bout I just pet her instead?" "Nope," Ali said in all seriousness with a shake of her head. "She wants a kiss." He looked to Sheridan for help. Any escape. But he found none. She was having difficulty smothering her laughter. Ali's blue eyes watched him expectantly. Waiting. He didn't stand a chance. Ali giggled in satisfaction when he granted her request, and Sheridan's laughter rang out behind her as she carried Ali to her bedroom to tuck her in.

He was waiting for her when she returned. Several minutes later. Catching her by surprise when he grabbed her. Tumbling onto the bed and tickling her. Mercilessly. "Luis," she gasped between giggles. Giggles eerily like Ali's. "Luis. Stop. Please," she pleaded.

He ignored her. Instead pinning her arms above her head easily with one large brown hand and attacking her sides and stomach with the other. "No," he laughed as she squirmed beneath his hold. "It's your punishment. For bringing that...that cat home with you." "I knew it! The truth's revealed. Why didn't you just say so?"

He looked at her like she was crazy. Causing her to laugh even harder. "What? And break Ali's heart?" "Luis," she said with a smile. "Admit it. You're putty in Ali's hands." He grinned at her. Loosening his grip on her hands unconsciously. "Yeah, well. It's the eyes that get me. Those blue eyes do me in every time," he said. Gazing into hers.

"Thanks for the inside info," she said. From her new vantage point astride him. He laughed at her. Embarrassed to be had. "You tricked me." "Yeah. And it was so easy," she smirked. He ran his hands up and down her legs smiling wider when she shut her eyes. Completely forgetting what she was about to say. “Tell me something,” he said.

"Hmm?" she sighed. Enjoying the feeling of his hands on her. Cloudy blue eyes opening and staring at him when his movements stilled. "What?" He flashed a bright grin her way. Then he said, "What are you doing stealing Ali's pjs again?" "Argh! Luis!" she huffed. "These are mine. Thank you very much." Playfully smacking him before he captured her hand in his. Turned it over. And placed kisses on her wrist and palm.

He tugged at her arm. Pulling her closer. So close he could feel her soft breath on his face. "Did I say I didn't like them?" Slipping his hand underneath the back of the tank she wore. Leaning in to kiss her softly. "In fact," he whispered, punctuating each word with a kiss, "I love them." "Oh god," she moaned when he moved his hand up her rib cage to cup her breast.

"You're driving me crazy." "Good. Nice to see I haven't lost my touch." Kissing her again. Deeply. Loving the feel of her against him after so long. They broke apart. Breathless. She looked at him with hooded eyes as her hands went to the bottom of the tank she wore. Just about to pull it over her head when a voice stilled her movements.

"Mommy!" He groaned in frustration when he heard her next words. "The kitty had an accident." Sheridan laughed and moved off of him. "I'm coming, Baby." He grabbed her hand and pulled her back for another kiss. Grumbling as they parted. "Damn cat." She just laughed at him as she opened the door. And left. He sank back against the pillows and sighed. He knew he didn't like cats for a reason.

"Oh no. What are you doing with that thing in here?" he said when she came back in a few minutes. The tiny animal in her arms. "I'm putting her in our bathroom. With her litter box. That way Ali won't be able to sneak her back into bed with her." He laughed as he said, "She would, wouldn't she? Okay. Just don't leave the door open. I don't want to wake up with that ball of fur in bed with us." "Luis. It's just a kitten. A harmless kitten."

"Just a kitten," he muttered later. As it meowed. Continuously from behind the bathroom door. Sheridan laughed against his lips. "I'm sorry. I can't. You know. With the..." She fell against his chest. Helpless to stop her laughter. Shaking against him when she heard their daughter's voice at the door.

"Mommy? Daddy? Can I sleep with you?" What the hell, he thought. "Come on in, AliCat. What?" he asked when she paused in the doorway. A funny look on her face. She looked to Sheridan. Sheridan turned her blue gaze on him. "Okay. Go get her." "Thank you, Daddy!" Ali said excitedly before running to the bathroom and freeing the kitten from its prison. She scrambled into bed between them. The kitten purring in pleasure as it lay against her chest.

Ali and her brand-new partner in crime were fast asleep within minutes. He lay on his side. Watching his wife watch their daughter sleep. She kissed Ali's forehead sweetly and brushed her hair back off her face before meeting his eyes. He reached out and linked his fingers with hers. Giving her hand a squeeze. Before letting go. Closing his eyes. And drifting off.

UAgirl
9.3.07, 1:15 AM
Chapter Forty-Six




"Are you sure you don't mind watching him, Grace? He can be quite a handful at times," Gwen said. Searching the other woman's kind blue eyes for any sign--any tiny sign of doubt on her part. Surely she knew by now how Jake was. She loved her son, but even she had to admit Jake was exhausting.

"Will you excuse us for a moment, Grace?" Hank stepped in. Taking Gwen by the elbow and leading her to a quiet corner of the living room. "Are you trying to talk her out of watching Jake?" he laughed. "Cause she's starting to crack a little Babe, and I thought you were looking forward to tonight."

His brown eyes were dancing with amusement, and she couldn't help but smile back at him before she answered. "Hank, Jake runs wild on a normal day. But he's been out at the park with you, Luis, and Ali all day. And that's not always a good thing. Sugar is practically oozing out of his pores."

He ran his hand over his face. Realizing she was right. Then he looked up at her with a smirk on his face. "All the more reason we should cut out of here soon. This may be the last time Grace ever volunteers to watch our son. Man, she does not know what she's agreed to. Come on, let's get out of here while the gettin's good."

Her mouth hung open in shock. For at least a minute before she wiped the astonishment off her face and plastered a sweet smile on it instead. And walked over to Grace. Who stood with her hands on Jake's small shoulders. Hank kneeled to Jake's level and whispered something in his ear. Something that caused a wide grin to take over his face.

Hank's small yelp of pain went unnoticed by Grace when she pinched him in annoyance. Most likely he was planting ideas in Jake's head. She looked into Jake's mischief-filled brown eyes and shook her head. Poor Grace, she thought to herself. She could hardly look her in the eye after hugging Jake goodbye and making him promise to be good. For all the good it would do.

"Don't you even feel the least bit guilty?" she asked as they drove away. To their destination. He just laughed and took her hand. "It'll be alright. It isn't like he's going to set the house on fire. How much trouble can he get himself into in the next few hours?" He glanced over at her. Saw the incredulous look on her face. "On second thought, don't answer that."

She laughed softly. And noticed with surprise that the car had stopped. At the Seascape. "Hank? What are we doing here? You can't afford this." "I told you tonight was a special occasion. That means it calls for a special place. Only the best for what I have planned." "Oh, Hank," she said. Tears welling up in her eyes. "You didn't have to do this. Go through so much trouble."

He wiped her tears away as he gazed into her eyes. "I know I didn't have to. But I wanted to. For you." His lips met hers in a gentle kiss. They pulled away startled when someone knocked on the window. "Excuse me, Sir. Ma'am. Sorry to interrupt." She hid her smile as Hank talked with the valet.

She took the arm he offered. And they walked inside. She laughed inwardly as he mocked the stuffy, uppercrust host at the front under his breath. "Hank," she whispered as they followed the man to their table. "Stop it." Her pleas only made it worse. She laughed aloud. Causing the man to turn around and look at her oddly. "Is something wrong, Ms.?" She swallowed. Hard. "No. Nothing's wrong. Everything's perfect. Thank you for asking."

He seemed pleased with her answer and left them after showing them to their table. "Ouch!" Hank exclaimed a little loudly as she kicked him underneath the table. "What was that for?" "You know what that was for. You know, I wasn't sure before, but now I'm convinced. You ARE a little kid in a man's body." "And that's bad how?" She had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from bursting into laughter at him. He never stopped.

They enjoyed their meal. Talked. About anything. And everything. But mostly they talked about Jake. Hank reached across the table and took her hand in his. "You know I love you both, don't you? I'm not just saying that, either. That's why I planned tonight. I want," he said as he got up from his chair and came around to kneel in front of her, "to spend the rest of my life with you two. I don't want to ever be apart from you again. What do you say, Gwen? Will you marry me?" She wiped carelessly at the tears streaming down her face. Opened her mouth to answer. When she heard a familiar sound.

"Oh my god! Gwen Hotchkiss! Don't you even think about it!"



Chapter Forty-Seven






Anger filled her and without thinking, she jumped to her feet and glared at the woman in front of her. "Mother! How dare you say such a thing! This is none of your business. What I decide is my business so shut up." Rebecca Hotchkiss closed her gaping mouth in shock and raised a hand to her chest.

"I can't believe you're speaking to me that way. Your own mother." "Well, believe it, Mother. Get over yourself. I'm my own person. I make my own decisions. And," she said taking Hank by the hand and pulling him to his feet, "I choose Hank. Hank," she said. Turning her full attention on the man by her side. "I love you. Yes, I'll marry you."

"My life is over," Rebecca shrieked. Loud enough for everyone who wasn't listening before to hear her. "Jonathan, take me home this instant. I can't take anymore of this public humiliation." Jonathan Hotchkiss looked at his wife and with a smile said, "Take yourself home. You're perfectly capable of doing it yourself. I want to stay and celebrate my daughter's engagement. Welcome to the family, Hank."

Rebecca's eyes rolled back in her head, and she promptly passed out. Hank's mouth hung open in shock, but Jonathan just acted like nothing happened and said, "Some other time. You two kids get out of here. Go somewhere special and celebrate. I'll take care of your mother, Gwen. She'll be alright," he said. Nodding his head at the young man kneeling at Rebecca's side. Fanning her in an effort to wake her.

Gwen kissed her father's cheek in goodbye. "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm sure." They all turned at the distinct sound of someone moaning. Rebecca. "See. She's already coming to. You better get out of here before she wakes up." "I love you, Daddy." "I love you, too. Bring that grandson of mine to see me. Soon. Bye, sweetheart. Bye, Hank. You take care of my little girl."

For the first time since the whole scene began, Hank found his voice. "I will, Mr. Hotchkiss. I'll take the best care of her." "Alright now. Enough with you two. Hurry and get out of here while you still can." The grin on Hank's face grew impossibly wide at Jonathan's words, and once he and Gwen were safely in the car, he turned to her and asked, "Did I ever tell you how cool your Dad was?"

She just laughed. "He is pretty cool, isn't he? At least one of Jake's grandparents is not a total fruitcake. I don't know why it took me so long to realize how crazy my mother was. And it's all because of you." He smiled at her. Then started the car. They rode in silence. Until he brought the car to a stop. At the beach.

She took his hand and followed him to the shore's edge. The light wind whipped her hair around her face, and she laughed after many failed attempts to get it under control. Finally just letting it go. They stood there. Holding on to each other. Not saying a word. "Did you mean it?" he asked in a quiet voice beside her. "Or was it just for your mother's benefit?"

"Hank Bennett! How could you think such a thing? Of course, I meant it. Every word. I love you, and I would love to be your wife. Giving my mother a heart attack was just an added bonus." By this time, she knew he was certain of her sincerity. He wore the brightest smile on his face. A smile that matched hers as he slipped the ring on her finger. "And I can't wait to be your husband. Even if Rebecca will be the mother-in-law from Hell," he said with a shudder before leaning in and kissing her. "I can't wait, either," she whispered as she kissed him back. And it was true. She was more ready than she had ever been in her life. Marriage to Hank would be anything but boring.



Chapter Forty-Eight





"Oh, Gwen," Sheridan gushed as she hugged her friend in congratulations. "I'm so happy for you. You too, Hank," she said. Hugging him as well. "Yeah," he joked. "It only took two tries and almost six years for her to realize she couldn't live without me. Piece of cake," he laughed. "Besides. Somebody has to torture good ole Becs."

"Hank!" Sheridan gasped in surprise. Choking on her own laughter. "Okay, Buddy. What have you done now?" Luis asked. Looping his arms around Sheridan's waist and pulling her back against him. Playfully kissing her neck. Causing her to laugh more.

"Nothing," Hank said with a grin. "The only thing I did was ask her daughter to marry me. How was I supposed to know she was standing behind me?" "She wasn't!" Gwen laughed at Sheridan's open-mouthed expression. "Oh, but she was. The look on her face when I said 'yes' was priceless. Of course, that was before she fainted."

Sheridan burst into uncontrollable laughter at the image of Rebecca Hotchkiss passed out cold on the floor at the Seascape. "I'm sorry, Gwen. It's just..." "Too funny," Hank supplied. "It was quite...hilarious," Gwen said. Smirking. "Well," Luis asked, "what did she say when she woke up?"

"That's a complete mystery. We left," Hank said. "You just left her there?" Luis asked in disbelief. A smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He chuckled when Gwen and Hank looked at each other. Smiled. And said, "We left her there." "Hey, Uncle Luis," Jake said. Startling them all. They didn't realize he was standing there. "Want to see me do my impression of Grandma?"

"Luis. Buddy. You have to see this. The kid's good. Real good," Hank said. Proudly. Luis looked to Gwen. She just smiled back at him. "Okay, Jake. Give it your best shot." Jake's brown eyes twinkled with mischief as he raised a hand to his chest dramatically. Shrieked in a high pitched voice "Oh my god!" And fell in a heap to the soft grass below. Eyes rolling back in his head.

All four of them burst into fresh laughter. Jake scrambled to his feet and took a bow. Hank gave him a high five before he left to rejoin Ali across the yard. He turned back around. "Chip off the old block. Oh man. There's Grace," he groaned. Sheridan and Luis waved at her. Gwen looked down at her feet in embarrassment. Hank looked over at Jake. Just in time to see the stricken look on his face. "What?" Sheridan innocently asked.

"Let's just say after the great babysitting adventure, it's hard to look my sister-in-law in the eye," Hank said sheepishly. "You think that's some sort of punishment," he said. Nodding his head at the cake in her hands. Luis's face blanched when he recognized the offending item. "Isn't that..." "What, Luis? What are you talking about?" Sheridan asked in confusion. "Tomato soup cake!" he and Hank said simultaneously. Noses wrinkled in disgust.

Gwen covered her eyes. Horrified. "Tomato soup cake?" Sheridan said. Incredulously. "God bless those poor children," she whispered. Looking at Kay and Jessica who followed their mother just a few short steps behind with their families. "Dad!" Jake yelled. Running up to them. With Ali by his side. "Do I have to eat anymore of that stuff?" Ali's big blue eyes were even wider than usual. "It sounds so gross," she said with a shudder.

"Not if I can help it. Come here. I got a proposition for you two," he said. Kneeling down so that he was eye level with them both. "What's a prop..prop..." Ali asked. Stumbling over the big word. "I want you guys to do something for me." Jake held out his hand. "Oh god," Gwen groaned. "Hank, you are such a bad influence." He laughed as he pulled two fives out of his wallet and handed Jake--and Ali--one. "I know. But you love me anyway."

He leaned over and whispered something first in Jake's ear. Then Ali's. "You guys think you can handle that? Good," he said. When Jake shook his unruly mop of brown hair in agreement. Ali was a little more hesitant. Twirling a strand of her long blond hair nervously. Big blue eyes looking up to her parents. Waiting for their approval. "Mama'd kill me if she knew I was doing this," Luis mumbled.

"It's okay, AliCat. Isn't it, Mommy?" he said. Casting a pointed look at Sheridan. Sheridan glanced once more at the cake that now sat on the picnic table. Gulped. Then nodded her head at her daughter. "Hank?" she asked. "What have you put them up to?" as they watched their children walk away. "You don't want to know, Sheridan. You don't want to know," he said with a laugh.







Chapter Forty-Nine




"Aunt Kay!" Ali exclaimed. "Have you seen my new kitty?" Kay handed MJ to Miguel and kneeled down to Ali's level. "No, Miss Ali, I haven't. She's a real beauty," Kay said. Stroking the kitten's soft white fur. "Aww. What a sweet little kitty cat," Jessica gushed. "Look at the pretty white kitty, Faith," she told the toddler in her arms. "Isn't she pretty?" "Pretty," Faith cooed. Giving the kitten a wet smack.

Jake crept along the side of the picnic table. It was Ali's job to distract everyone else while he swiped the cake. Closer and closer he came. He stretched his little hands out to the cake. But before he could lay a finger on it, he heard a cheery voice. "Not right now, Jake. I know tomato soup cake's your favorite, but you'll just have to wait." Oh no! he thought to himself. Not again. He held his breath until his aunt Grace was out of sight. Close call.

"Hi, Ali," Simone smiled. Joining them. Eve scanned the yard for Sheridan. They had some really important business to discuss. She waved at Ali as she passed. Barely catching Kay's question to the little girl. "What's her name?" "Well," Ali began. Tossing her long blond hair back off her shoulders in annoyance. "Mommy calls her Miss Priss, but I want to name her Princess." "Those are cute," everyone agreed.

"Wonder what Luis calls it," Sam joked in a low voice to Martin. "Oh, I can tell you that," Ali solemnly said. "Okay. Miss Ali. Go right ahead," Sam said with a grin. "This ought to be good," he whispered to the man beside him. They all waited expectantly for Ali's answer. "Daddy calls her a pain in the ass."

Kay spit the diet Coke she was drinking all over Reese. "Oh...my...god," she gasped. Dying laughing. "I am so sorry," she said. Watching as her brother-in-law wiped the soft drink from his glasses. "Mija!" Pilar scolded in shock. Sam shook with laughter. Unable to contain it. Martin had to hide his smile from his wife.

"But Nana! That's what Daddy calls her. A pain in the..." Pilar stopped her with a hand over her mouth. Hauling her up in her arms and stalking off with her. Faith, who loved to mimic people, began chanting Ali's earlier words. To Jessica's horror. And everyone else's great amusement. Jake giggled as he crawled from his hiding place under the table. Boy was Ali in trouble. And now his little cousin wouldn't stop saying it either.

This time no one was watching the cake. His mission was successful. Carefully, he tiptoed away from the table. The cake perched precariously in his arms. He was almost home free when a voice startled him. "Jake Bennett! What do you think you're doing?" Uh oh! He'd been caught. "Um...um...nothing," he said. Without turning around. "Nothing at all, Coach Russell."

"Uh huh. Then let me see your hands. Turn around," T.C ordered. Oh man, Jake thought. Now Dad's not going to be happy. Taking a deep breath, Jake slowly began to turn around. The cake still in his hands. But God and Father Lonagin must have looking out for him. Because he tripped. Mid-turn. And landed flat on his face. On the offensive cake, of course.

"Yuck!" he said. Wiping as much of it off his face as he could. "Oh man," T.C. chuckled. "Little buddy, I think that's punishment enough," he said. Pulling Jake to his feet. "I hate this stuff!" he gagged while T.C. rumbled with laughter. The kid was hardly recognizable under all that goop. "Come on," T.C. Taking him by the hand. "Time to get you cleaned up. I hope your dad paid you well." "Not enough," Jake mumbled. "Not enough."





Chapter Fifty





"Mommy," Ali pouted. Indignant tears pooling in her big blue eyes. "Nana says she's going to wash my mouth out with soap. I don't want her to do it, Mommy. Make her wash Daddy's mouth out, too," she said in a tiny, trembling voice. One fat tear spilling over and trailing down her cheek.

"Oh, sweetie," Sheridan soothed. Taking her upset daughter in her arms and rubbing her back in comforting circles as Ali wrapped herself around her. "Nana just doesn't want you saying ugly words," she said. Wiping Ali's tears away from her silky cheeks.

"She did the same thing to me when I was little like you." "She did?" Ali sniffled. Looking back and forth from her mother to her grandmother. "Yeah, she did," Sheridan said. A slight smile on her face.

"But Nana's a big softie. She just said that to scare me," she whispered in Ali's ear. "I bet if you gave her a big kiss and a hug and promised never to say it again, she'd forget all about it."

"Really?" Ali whispered. Hope shining in her eyes. "Really," Sheridan said. Tapping Ali's cute little nose with her finger. "Why don't you try it," she said. Setting Ali on her feet. Smiling as she watched Pilar lift Ali up in her arms and hug her close.

"She's adorable, Sheridan," Eve said beside her. "You're a wonderful mother." Tears sprang to Sheridan's own eyes then. And she turned toward the older woman. Pinning her with her blue gaze. "Do you mean that? You really think I'm a good mother?"

Eve smiled at her brightly. "Yes, I mean it." "Thank you," Sheridan said. Catching Eve off-guard by throwing her arms around her neck. "I love her so much, and I want to be the best mother I can for her. Especially considering I disappeared from her life for three years."

"You're here for her now. That's what counts," Eve said. Pulling back and offering Sheridan another smile. Sheridan smiled back at her through her tears. "I'm so sorry. I know you wanted to talk to me. But not about this. Let's go someplace more private."

They left Ali and Pilar in the kitchen. But they were hardly missed with the arrival of Jake. Face covered in tomato soup cake. Sheridan turned the knob to Ali's room. Laughing. Sobering when she saw the look on Eve's face the moment the door shut behind them.

She grabbed one of Ali's stuffed animals off her bed and hugged it close. Taking a deep breath. "It's one dead end after another, Eve. Alistair Crane covers his tracks well. If Julian hadn't found out your son didn't die in the hospital that day, none of us probably would have ever found out the truth."

"But," she continued. Noticing the crestfallen look on Eve's face. "That doesn't mean I'm giving up. Your son is out there somewhere, Eve. My nephew. I'll find out the truth if I have to strangle it out of Father."

"He won't tell, Sheridan. He'll never admit it. The secret will die with him," she said. Wringing her hands nervously. "We won't let it," Sheridan said. Stilling her hands with one of her own. "Eve," she said gently. "Have you thought about telling T.C. and the girls? They need to know. Be prepared. You do want to forge a relationship with your son if we find him, don't you?"

"I...I...yes, I do," she said in a strangled voice. "If he's willing. But I've kept his existence a secret for so many years. So many long years. How do I tell them something so life-altering? I don't know if they'll be able to forgive me. I don't know how to do it, Sheridan."

"There's no easy way to do it. But...it's something you have to do. They love you. Your family adores you. They'll be hurt, and it might take a while, but I believe in my heart they'll forgive you. Move on. And they need to know before he shows up in Harmony on your doorstep. Because I mean it. I'm not giving up. In fact, I think it's about time I paid Father a little visit," she said. Squeezing Eve's hand and walking to the door and opening it.

"We'll get to the bottom of this. I plan on visiting Father very soon." She turned around. And ran right into Luis's solid form. His eyes were dark and unreadable. A few feet behind him stood Nick Taylor.

UAgirl
9.8.07, 12:07 AM
Chapter 51





He watched her blue eyes fill with confusion. She opened her mouth to say something but shut it just as quickly. The words wouldn't come. He knew how she felt. Because at that moment, words couldn't describe the feelings rushing through him. And he knew she could tell something was bothering him. He clenched his jaw when she shifted her gaze from him to the man behind him. Nick Taylor.

She cast one more questioning look his way before she walked past him. To greet their guest. "Nick! It's great to see you. I thought you said you couldn't come," she said. Leaning up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. He looked away. Locking eyes with Eve. "Nick?" she said. Extending her hand in greeting. "I'm Eve Russell. A friend of Sheridan and Luis. Nice to meet you."

Nick took her hand. Shook it politely. "Nick Taylor. Nice to meet you as well." "So," Eve began. Hoping to dispel some of the tension. "What field are you in? Sheridan told me you were a doctor," she asked. Walking down the hall. Toward the kitchen. Leaving Sheridan and Luis in their wake. Luis started to follow them. But Sheridan stopped him with a hand on his arm.

"Luis? What's got in to you? You're upset. I can tell." "What gives you that idea?" he asked. Staring into her eyes. She really didn't get it. He'd thought they'd seen the last of Dr. Taylor. He would be forever indebted to him for saving her life. But a blind man could see the man was in love with her. Why couldn't she? "Luis, answer me. You were fine earlier. What happened?"

"You really can't see it, can you?" he asked incredulously. "Forget I asked, Mr. Jekyll and Hyde," she said in a hurt voice. "By the way," she threw back over her shoulder as she walked away, her arms folded protectively over her chest. "You really need to watch what you say in front of our daughter from now on. She may be too little to understand the words, but that doesn't mean she won't repeat them."

He watched her later. With Ali. And Nick. They were so easy around each other. Comfortable. Laughing and having a good time with all the other guests. Nick was a hit. Theresa got along with him so well, he thought Ethan was going to turn green. No one could tell him any different after that little display. Ethan still felt something for his sister. His feelings were just as plain as the ones that shone in Nick's gray eyes.

"Hey, Buddy," Hank said. Giving him a brotherly slap on the back. "How you doing?" He turned to Hank silently. And just stared into his friend's eyes. "Ouch, Man. That bad? Listen. You have nothing to worry about. So the good doctor has feelings for your wife." "Feelings Hank? He's in love with her. And she's completely blind to the fact. Look at him. It's obvious. Everyone here can tell. Even Eve knew."

"So what," Hank said. "It doesn't matter. Because if there's one thing I know, Luis, it's that Sheridan loves you. No one else. The reason she's so blind to his feelings is because she doesn't think about him that way. You're the only man for her, Buddy. Stop worrying." What Hank said made sense. But he couldn't squash down the uneasiness he felt.

"Hey, Luis," Gwen said in passing. "Hank," she said. With a pointed glare. "You take this one." Dragging Jake by the hand. "Jake, what did you do this time?" Hank said. Jake looked down at the ground. Shuffling his feet. "Well...Dad, it's kind of a long story." "I got all the time in the world, Jake. Spit it out." A genuine chuckle escaped Luis's lips as he watched his friend interact with his son. God must have a really good sense of humor, he thought. Hank was dealing with his five-year-old self.

He wandered across the yard. Coming to a stop just feet away from his family. His eyes connecting with Sheridan's. As she held MJ in her arms. All his anger, all his jealously faded to the back of his mind as he watched her with his nephew. She looked at him. And he could tell what she was thinking. Remembering Ali at that age. There was such longing in her blue eyes. Such love. But then her face changed. He couldn't help the small smile that came over his lips. She was trying so hard to stay mad at him.

It was a fight she continued to fight the remainder of the day. She just wouldn't let him in. There were a few times she nearly cracked, but she managed to keep her guard up. It was going to be a long night, he thought as he watched her say goodbye to Nick. With a hug. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to meet the eyes of his father. "She owes him her life, Luis. She can't just forget that."

He digested what his father said before speaking. "Thanks Papa," he said. As he hugged his father in parting. "I think I needed to hear that. Especially from someone like you." "Mijo," his mother spoke up. "We're going to take Ali home with us. You and Sheridan have a lot to talk about. A lot to sort out." "Thanks," he said as he kissed her cheek. Tenderly brushed the hair back from his sleeping daughter's forehead and kissed her, too. "I know you'll take good care of our AliCat. See you in the morning," he waved.



Chapter 52





“You can’t ignore me the whole night,” he said. As she brushed past him. Her mouth set in a grim line. “Try me,” she muttered under her breath. Slamming the door in his face. He groaned and leaned his weight against it. Hitting his head against it in frustration. Before turning the knob and walking in. “Sheridan! Sheridan, I’m sorry.”

“Too little too late, Luis,” she said. “You acted like a complete jerk tonight. And,” she said. Throwing the pillow in her hands at him. Taking great satisfaction in the fact that it landed square in his face. “You’re sleeping on the couch.” “Sheridan! Sheridan, listen to me. I said I’m sorry. What more do you want?”

“For you to really mean it, Luis. Your behavior was uncalled for. Nick is my friend. I invited him. You could at least be nice to the man. He saved my life. He’s…” “He’s in love with you!” he yelled. She didn’t have an answer to that. And it dawned on him that maybe she wasn’t as blind as he first thought. Maybe she already knew.

“But I’m in love with you. Luis. Don’t you see that’s all that matters? Don’t you have faith in me? In my love? Enough faith that you wouldn’t feel threatened by Nick? I love you. I never looked twice at him,” she said. In a shaky voice. There were tears in her eyes. And he felt like the world’s biggest heel.

He moved forward. To touch her. But she stopped him by holding her hands up in front of her. “No, Luis. Stop right there. You’re not going to get off that easy. You were jealous of a man that is nothing more than my friend. A man who came to say goodbye. Forever. He’s leaving Luis. Moving. He hasn’t decided yet. But there’s nothing tying him down anymore. His flight leaves in the morning.”

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. Aching to take her into his arms and kiss away the tears that coursed down her cheeks. “I overreacted. I was the world’s biggest jerk. Please say you forgive me,” he said. Moving closer. Ever closer. “I love you. So much. And just the thought of losing you again…just the thought of losing you whether it be to another man or some other force I can’t fight, it scares me. More than you can ever know.”

“But I do know, Luis. I’m scared, too. Scared that this is all a dream. Too good to be true. And I’m going to wake up in that hospital bed again and have no memory of you and Ali. That I’ll wake up and never remember you. I love you both,” she sobbed. Resisting his comfort for only a moment before giving in and crumpling in his arms.

He held her as she cried. Gutwrenching sobs he realized had been a long time coming. She’d been through so much. They’d been through so much. But they’d ignored the feelings of sadness because of the overwhelming happiness of being back where they belonged. Together. “Shh,” he soothed. “It’s okay. I’m right here. You’re not going to wake up and find out this is all a dream. I promise.” “I believe you,” she whispered. Leaning her forehead against his and closing her eyes. They stayed that way for several minutes before she asked a simple question. “You really were jealous?”

He nodded his head. Too embarrassed to admit it aloud. “Luis, you have nothing to be jealous about. Even when I couldn’t remember you, I knew my heart belonged to you. Does that make sense?” she asked. Taking his hand in hers. “You were always in here,” she said. Placing his hand over her heart. “Always,” she breathed. Kissing him softly. Threading her fingers through his. And tugging him behind her as she led him down the hall. To their bedroom.








Chapter 53





She reached to turn the bedside lamp on. But he stopped her with his hand on hers. "Don't," he whispered. Taking her hand in his and bringing it to his lips. "All we need is the moonlight," he said. Tracing her lips with his finger. Leaning in. Capturing her lips with his.

His hands tangled in her hair. Pulling her closer. And closer to him. She sighed softly against his lips, and he took that opportunity to deepen his kiss. One hand slipping down to the small of her back. Then under the shirt she wore. Meeting her silky skin. Blazing fire in its wake.

"Luis," she gasped. Breaking away. Blue eyes smoldering with desire. Matching his dark ones. The look in his dark eyes made her pulse quicken. Her hands went to the bottom of her shirt. Helping him take it off of her. Then he crushed her to him again. Kissing her wildly. Passionately. Finally gentling his kiss when the need for air became overwhelming.

He linked his hands with hers. Squeezing them tightly before letting them go. His hand easing up her arm in a touch so light she almost didn't know it was there. But it made her dizzy all the same. "You're beautiful," he whispered. Smiling at the slight blush he knew was creeping into her cheeks. Even in the moonlight.

"I've missed you. So much," she whispered. Leaning into his touch. The hand that cupped her cheek. "Kiss me, Luis," she breathed. She didn't have to ask twice. Lips met lips. And hands were everywhere at once. His shirt fell to the floor beside her own. Their jeans soon adding to the pile.

He breathed in sharply at her touch. The tickle of her nails on his back. Her blue eyes sparkled. Glittered in the soft light that bathed them. He stared into them as he lowered them both on the bed. Covering her body with his just a moment later. In her eyes he saw his past. And his future.

“Do you have any idea how much I love you? Any idea?” he asked her. His dark eyes searching her blue ones. “If it’s half as much as I love you, then yeah, I do,” she whispered. Tears welling in her eyes. Making his heart ache. Swell with love for her at the same time. “Show me, Luis. Make love to me.”

And he did. Kissing her tears away. Shedding the last barriers between them and making her his all over again. No words were spoken. Because they weren’t needed. . Every look, every touch, every kiss spoke of their love for one another.

They lay together later. Limbs entwined. The sound of his heart beating a comfort to her. Proof that what they just shared was real. Not a dream. A smile played at her lips. It was better than any dream had a right to be. And she told him so. Earning one of those breathtaking smiles of his that made her knees go weak.

He kissed her until she was breathless. Again. "Really?" he asked. Amusement evident in his voice. Amusement mixed with a little bit of pride. She laughed softly. As he flipped them over. Kissing down her neck. His hands trailing down her body. Making her come alive again. "Really," she gasped. His touch searing her. The last word uttered before he claimed her lips again. And the fire consumed them.









Chapter 54



"Grandpa Martin? Are my mommy and daddy mad at me?" Ali asked in a tiny voice. "Ali," he said in surprise. The food in front of him momentarily forgotten. "Come here," he said. Patting his knee. Pulling her little body onto his lap and giving her a squeeze before speaking again. "Of course not. How could they ever be mad at you, Princess?"

"I just thought they were mad at me," she sniffled. "Sweetie, your mommy and daddy love you," Theresa said. Kneeling down in front of her father and niece. "They're not mad at you. I promise. Oh, Ali. Don't cry," Theresa said. "What do you say we go call your mommy and daddy right now, and I prove to you they're not mad at you? Good idea?"

Ali nodded her blond head yes. Taking Theresa's hand and walking out of the kitchen. Martin breathed a sigh of relief and looked across the table at his wife. "Poor thing. Do you think Luis worked things out with Sheridan?" "He loves her too much not to, Martin. He almost lost his mind when he thought she was dead. A little bout with jealousy pales in comparison."

"Yes," he said. Rising from his chair and coming to a stop in front of her. Offering her his hand. Smiling when she took it and pulling her in close for a hug. "It does. He loves her. Almost as much as I love you," he said. Looking into her dark, shining eyes. Kissing her sweetly on the cheek and twirling her in his arms to music only they could hear. Stopping when they realized they had an audience.



"Don't stop on our account, Papa. MJ here thinks you're quite the dancer," Miguel said with a smile. MJ laughed then. As if to show his appreciation. Martin grinned and took his grandson from his son's arms. Saying good morning. "Where's Kay, Mijo?" "At the airport seeing Reese, Jess, and Faith off. But she promised to swing by later, Mama."

"MJ!" Ali squealed at the sight of her cousin. Her face lit up like it was Christmas morning. Pilar laughed softly at the change in her. Relieved. "See. What did I tell you?" Martin grinned. Sitting down so Ali could see MJ better. "They weren't mad at you, were they?"



"Nope," Ali smiled. Giggling as MJ grabbed her pinkie. Not letting go. "Mommy was mad at Daddy. Not me." "Really?" Miguel asked in confusion. Confused she wasn't more upset. "Uh huh. But she's not mad anymore. She said Daddy made it up to her." Pilar shot Theresa a dirty look when she giggled and said, "I bet. I'm sure Sheridan made him pay."

Ali continued playing with her cousin. Completely oblivious to all the talk around her. "Uncle Miguel?" she asked. "Can I take MJ home with me?" "Why's that?" Miguel asked. Tickling her sides and making her giggle. "Dunno. I just like him." "Well...you know, he isn't always so happy. He cries sometimes, too."

"Please, Uncle Miguel. Pretty, pretty please." "You mean you still want him. Even though he cries?" "Uh huh," she giggled. "What about the smelly diapers?" "Mommy can change them. I'm too little." He laughed. Remembering Luis rib Sheridan about not having any idea how to change a diaper all those years ago. "She needs the practice anyway."

"Why do you say that, Ali?" Theresa asked. Voice filled with amusement. Where did Ali come up with this stuff? "Cause that's what I want for Christmas, silly. A baby brother." Pilar choked on the orange juice she was sipping. "Mija! It's a little more complicated than that. And besides. Christmas is a long way off."

"Jake says she can have a baby by Christmas. He says it takes nine months, and Mommy has plenty of time. He said she's probably already going to have a baby. Cause she and Daddy kiss so much." Theresa burst into helpless laughter. It was too much. Martin chuckled to himself. He seemed to remember Hank saying something along the same lines so long ago. Afraid of her answer but not able to stop herself, Pilar took a deep breath and posed another question. "What else does Jake say?" And Ali's answers kept them entertained for much of the day.





Chapter 55





Luis sighed heavily. Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. They were on their way to see Sheridan’s father. Alistair Crane. He glanced at Sheridan out of the corner of his eye and noticed her staring out the window.

“Hey,” he said softly. Taking her hand in his. “You know we don’t have to do this. Right?” He held his breath. Waiting for her answer. Praying she’d tell him to turn the car back around and head for home. And Ali.

“Luis,” she said. “I’ll be honest. This is the last thing I want to do. But it’s what I have to do. Father’s the only one, Luis. The only one who knows what happened to Julian’s son. I have to know. Eve has to know.”

“I still can’t believe Eve Russell and your brother were lovers. And that they share a child together.” She nodded her head. “I know. It is hard to believe. But I think Julian really did love her. He just didn’t have the courage to stand up to Father.”

“Like you did,” he said with a smile. Her only response was a kiss to his cheek. “Have I told you lately how much I love you, Luis?” “Hmm. Let’s see. I don’t think so. You were kind of busy this morning,” he grinned.

“Oh, you,” she blushed. Hitting him playfully on the arm. “What was that for?” he asked. Knowing full well what it was for. Note to self, he thought. Buy some new locks. Ali was two seconds away from catching them in the shower together this morning.

He laughed. Remembering what Mama had told him about Jake and Ali. He needed to have a talk with Hank. Where else was Jake getting this stuff? His buddy had quite a kid. Jake was something else alright.

"What's so funny?" "I was just thinking about what Mama told us the other day. About Jake. And Ali's Christmas wish." She joined him in laughter. "Goodness knows what else that kid has told her, Luis. I love him to death. But I kind of sympathize with Hank and Gwen. Can you imagine him all grown up?"

"Just like Hank!" they said in unison. Laughing again. Things quieted down again. It was a comfortable silence. "Luis," she said. So softly he almost didn't hear her. "Yeah," he said. Cutting the car's engine and turning to face her.

"About Ali's Christmas wish..." she paused. Studying her nails. Refusing to meet his gaze. "Sheridan," he said. Raising her chin with a finger. "Look at me. What about Ali's Christmas wish?"

"Well...I don't know how you feel about it. But when Pilar told us what she said, all I could think was 'that's something I want too'. I want to have another baby, Luis. Your baby. Our baby. I missed so much with Ali," she said. Blue eyes staring into his dark ones.

"But you're making up for it now," he said. Wiping her tears away with his thumb. She smiled at him. Then took a shaky breath and continued. "That doesn't change the fact that I missed so many of her firsts. I wanted to be there for all them, Luis." "Shh," he whispered. Pulling her into his arms. Comforting her.

"I know it's not the same. I'm not trying to make it that way. But I want a second chance. I want to make Ali's wish come true. Because it's my wish, too. Luis. Luis? You're not saying anything," she said. Pulling back and staring into his eyes again. "Luis, tell me what you're thinking. Please."

He looked at her. His heart filled with more love than he thought possible at that moment for her. He kissed her then. Softly. Tenderly. His lips lingering on hers. "I can't wait to make your wishes come true. Each and every one of them," he said. Earning a brilliant smile from her. And a hug.

"Thank you, Luis. I love you so much." "If I knew I'd get this kind of reaction, I would have done this a long time ago," he joked. Brushing her hair away from her forehead. "Another baby," he said with a smile. "I can't wait to get started," he said with a wiggle of his eyebrows. "Shut up, Luis," she laughed. Getting out of the car. Walking away. The smile on his face just wouldn't go away. Not even thoughts of Alistair Crane could ruin his mood. He'd be there with her. Every step of the way. The old monster wasn't going to hurt her. Ever again.

UAgirl
9.10.07, 9:49 PM
Chapter 56








"You're an embarrassment, Sheridan. An embarrassment to the Crane name. The only thing I regret is not killing Martin in the first place," he said. So much cruelty in his voice. His eyes. "That way you would have drowned in the accident. And I would finally be rid of you."

She'd never imagined one person could be so hateful. So heartless. She should have been used to it. Immune. Hardened her heart. But she couldn't. God help me, she thought as she stared out the window at the landscape passing by. Remembering his stinging words earlier.

He was her father. And as hard as she tried, she had not been able to abandon her hope that somehow, in some small way, he cared for her. Even just a little bit. Until today. When he'd told her she was better off dead. To her face. She felt her throat tighten with tears again, and she blindly reached out for Luis's hand.

Luis squeezed her hand in his. Cursing her father under his breath. A repeat of what he'd said earlier. She'd had to hold him back herself. Keep him from attacking Alistair as he cackled evilly from his hospital bed. Boasting that the secrets would die with him. The secrets surrounding Julian's son. Finally admitting he cared nothing for her. Knowing how much it'd wound her.

"Neither you nor Julian were ever worth a damn," she kept hearing him say. Taunting her. A sob escaped her throat then. And Luis pulled her to his side. His jaw set in a firm line. "If he wasn't already on his death bed, I'd kill the bastard," he ground out. Kissing her fevered forehead as he steered the car into his parents' drive.

"Sheridan. Baby. I'll be right back. I'm going to go inside and get Ali, okay?" She nodded her head and slipped from his arms. Desperately trying to wipe the evidence of her tears away before her daughter saw her. The car door opened a few minutes later, and she heard Luis talking to Ali quietly. Buckling her in.

Luis started the car, and they drove in silence. Clutching one another's hand like a lifeline. Ali said not a word from the backseat. She met her blue eyes once in the rear view mirror and saw fear and confusion in them. Fear and confusion and concern. "Luis?" she asked. As they passed the exit that would lead them home. "Luis? Where are we going?"

He said nothing. Only brought her hand up to his lips and kissed it. She looked to him in surprise when they finally reached their destination. He got out of the car and hurried over to her side. Taking her hand and helping her out of the car. Then lifting Ali up into his arms. They were at the beach. And the sun was slowly fading in the distance.

Ali's somber mood from moments before vanished as she took in their surroundings. She loved the ocean. Just as her parents did. For the first time since they'd left her father's hospital room, Sheridan smiled. She loved the man beside her so much. And their beautiful little daughter. "Daddy, it's so pretty," Ali said in awe. Pointing at the horizon. At the sunset. "Not as pretty as my two girls," he said. Pulling her more firmly against him. Looking at them both with such adoration it warmed Sheridan's heart.

Luis set Ali on her feet. And she ran to the waves. Joyfully running back and forth along the shoreline. Squealing as they surged toward her. Spraying her with their mist. "Ali! Be careful, sweetie," she called. Sinking back into his arms. He wrapped his arms around her from behind as they watched their daughter play.

She leaned even further back into his embrace and sighed in contentment when he placed a gentle kiss on her neck. Whispered "I love you" in her ear. She looped her arm back behind her. Caressing his face. "I love you, too," she breathed. "Thank you for bringing me here. With Ali. How did you know exactly what I needed?"

"I know you. You're worth a million of your father, Sheridan. Don't ever forget that. A lot of people love you. Our friends. Our family. Me. And Ali," he said. Laughing as the tiny person whose name just escaped his lips came running towards them. Her long blond hair damp. Tangled from the wind.

"Mommy! Daddy! Look what I found," she said excitedly. Proudly showing off the shells in her little hand. Her blue eyes sparkled and her hair shone like gold in the waning sun. "Looks like you found treasure, AliCat," he said. Grinning at her enthusiasm. She grinned at him in return. Her smile impossibly big. And infectious. She laid the shells down, and crawled into her mother's arms. Snuggling close to her. Close to her warmth. He wrapped his arms about both of them. Watching until the sun was no more.





Chapter 57








"I don't know why I bother with her, Hank. It's useless. She's never going to change her mind about you. My mother's a stuck-up snob." Hank nodded his head in agreement unconsciously. Then realized what he was doing.

He looked at Jake out of the corner of his eye. Cracking a smile when he realized his son was imitating his every move. Pilar and Luis had convinced him he had to be more careful around his son. He couldn't have Jake telling Bec he thought she was a snob. Never mind that Gwen said it first. He'd never hear the end of it. He had nightmares about her shrieking voice.

"Truth is, Gwen," he said. Already abandoning his good intentions. "I don't care what your mother thinks. About me. Or us getting married." I must be doing something right, he thought as she grinned at him. Then hugged him before getting in the car.

They were halfway home when she said something that totally shocked him. "Hank, let's get married." He grinned at her and said, "Babe, I already proposed. What more do you want?" Jake listened avidly from the back seat. Brown eyes watching everything with keen interest.

"No, Hank. You don't understand. Let's get married. Today." His mouth hung open as what she was saying really sunk in. "T-t-today," he stuttered. "You want to get married today?" he asked. Looking at her beside him in the passenger seat. "What about your family? I know your mother's a pain, uh your mother's not the easiest person to get along with. But you still love her. I know you do."

"Hank," she said. "I can't take Mother's theatrics." He chuckled. She had a point. "What about Jonathan?" "Actually," she began. The smile on her face getting bigger. "It was his idea." "It was?" She nodded her head yes. "Just do it, Dad," Jake yelled from the backseat. Making them both laugh nervously. "So...what do you say, Hank? Will you marry me?"

"What are we waiting for?" he said. After making her sweat, of course. He leaned over and stole a kiss. Jerking apart only at the blaring horn of the car behind them. Hank was too happy to care and grinned like an idiot and waved at the enraged man as he mouthed insults at them. Gwen’s cheeks burned as she shrank down in her seat.

“Wait a minute! You are we going to get to marry us on such short notice? And what about your dress? Don’t you want a traditional wedding? The whole works?” “Hank, all those things don’t matter. Well…we do need someone to perform the ceremony. But I don’t need or want ‘the whole works’. All I really need is you and Jake there. You two are all that matters.. Now…get on that phone of yours and call Luis. You know you want to,” she said with a smile.

Hank punched the familiar number. Grinning when he heard a familiar voice come on the line. “Hey, Luis. Buddy. What do you say about being my best man?”





Chapter 58




“Hank. Calm down, Buddy. This is not the Spanish Inquisition here. It’s your wedding. Do you hear me?” Luis asked with a grin. “Your wedding,” he said. Placing his hands on his friend’s shoulders and staring into his brown eyes. “But Luis. Man. I know Gwen said she didn’t want the whole shebang. That she just wanted it to be us. But what if she regrets it later? What if she wishes her family was here? At least her father?”

“I am here, Son,” Jonathan Hotchkiss boomed. Smiling at his future son-in- law’s stunned expression and open mouth. “But how…how did you do it? Where’s Becs? Um, I mean Mrs. Hotchkiss?” Jonathan chuckled. “Becs, huh? Kind of fits. She’s at home. I gave her free rein over the house. She’s been dying to redecorate.” Luis and Hank looked to each other and grimaced. “I know,” Jonathan laughed. “But it’s for a good cause. I have to give my baby girl away.”

“You’re not disappointed? Gwen deserves so much more, Mr. Hotchkiss.” “Hank, my boy,” Jonathan said. Straightening Hank’s tie. “You are one of the best. She loves you. You love her—and that grandson of mine to distraction. That’s good enough for her. So it’s good enough for me.” Hank was so touched he hugged the man.

The two men jerked apart at the sound of someone clearing their throat. “Sorry to interrupt your male bonding session,” Sheridan teased. “But Father Lonagin’s ready to start. He has another ceremony to perform in about an hour and a half. The guests are going to be arriving soon. So…are you ready, Hank? Because there’s a certain special someone who can’t wait to become your wife.” Hank looked into Jonathan’s kindly eyes, into those of his childhood buddy, then into Sheridan’s sparkling blue eyes, and took a deep breath. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m ready. Tell Gwen I can’t wait to see her walking down that aisle.”

Sheridan beamed at the trio and blew her own husband a kiss goodbye. She walked outside to the room where Gwen waited. Studying her reflection nervously in the mirror. “It’s not your typical wedding gown, but it’s beautiful, Sheridan. Thank you for lending it to me.” “You’re welcome,” Sheridan whispered. Tears in her eyes. Seeing Gwen in the gown she purchased in Spain on her and Luis’s honeymoon brought back memories of her own.

“You look so pretty,” Ali said with a smile. “Why thank you, Miss Ali. You look quite stunning yourself,” she said. Tucking a loose curl behind the little girl’s ear. “Sheridan, I think I have the most beautiful little flower girl in the entire universe. What do you think, Jake?” Jake looked down at his feet. Embarrassed. Still annoyed at having to wear his Sunday clothes. “Yeah,” he grudgingly muttered. “She looks pretty.” Sheridan and Gwen giggled when Ali mortified Jake by kissing him on the cheek. “Yuck!” he exclaimed. Wiping his cheek roughly. Face flaming.

They heard the soft strains of music begin, and Sheridan hugged her friend once more. "You're going to do fine," she said in a reassuring voice. "Come on, Ali. Jake. Time for the show to begin. You know what to do, don't you?" Ali nodded her head yes. Jake said, "Sure. I've seen it on movies a lot of times. I just don't want to trip, though, and lose the rings. Don't babies usually do this? I'm not a baby," he said. Screwing his face up in disgust.

Sheridan laughed. He was such an adorable little rascal. "Not always," she smiled. "Besides. Your mom wants you in her wedding. Don't you want to make her happy? You have a really important job." Jake grinned at the mention of importance and stood tall. Little shoulders squared. "I'm ready," he said in a proud voice. Walking away from Sheridan. Toward the sound of the music. Then turning back abruptly and asking in a loud whisper, "Which way do I go?" She laughed again and hurried over to his side. Holding Ali's hand in hers. Directing them on where to walk. Then she kissed Jake on the cheek. This time Jake didn't wipe it off. He practically beamed as he walked down the aisle to his father and Uncle Luis. Causing them to chuckle to themselves.

Ali strolled behind him happily. Tossing rose petals out of her basket. Sometimes watching as they fluttered to the ground. Sheridan came up behind her daughter and gave her a gentle push forward. "Ali, sweetie. We don't have all day." Ali's pace quickened, and soon she was standing beside Jake. Sheridan came to stand on the other side of Luis and Hank. And Luis lost himself in her eyes. "Hey, Buddy," Hank kidded. "It's my wedding. I can't have you guys upstaging me. Knock it off." Sheridan blushed and hid her smile when Luis ignored Hank's words. Staring at her more intently than before.

"This is it, Hank," she heard her husband whisper. And all eyes turned to the back of the church where Gwen stood. On the arm of her father. Jonathan Hotchkiss's proud smile grew with every step he took. And by the time they reached the altar, he was sure he would burst with pride. Tears gleamed in his eyes as he kissed his daughter's cheek. Then turned to Hank and said to Gwen, "Your in good hands now." The first of many tears slipped down Gwen's cheek as she whispered, "Thank you, Daddy." Then she took Hank's hand. And they both smiled as Father Lonagin spoke for the first time.

"We are gathered here today..."



Chapter 59





“My wife is cheating on me with another man,” Luis joked as Sheridan walked through their bedroom door. Sheridan just smirked at him. Climbing into bed beside him and cuddling up next to his warm body. “Jealous of a five-year- old, Luis? You need to work on those issues you have,” she laughed.

Luis kissed the top of her head in response. “So…did they finally fall asleep?” “Finally,” she sighed. “Gwen wasn’t exaggerating. It is hard to get Jake to sleep. I don’t know how he does it. Constantly going. You can just see the wheels turning in that brown head of his.”

“What about Ali?” he asked. Rubbing his hand up and down her arm. Pulling her closer into him. “She didn’t even make it through the first book. She was worn out. She’s going to be so mad at me in the morning. She didn’t want Jake to think she was a baby. Falling asleep so soon. I didn’t have the heart to wake her, though. She looked so sweet lying there with Miss Priss curled up next to her."

“You left the cat in there? Not a good idea.” “Are you saying you don’t trust Jake alone with the family pet, Luis?” “You said it. Not me,” he said with a smile. “On second thought, maybe it is a good idea.” “Luis!” she laughed. Smacking him on the chest. “Now I’m worried.” “Don’t be,” he grinned. “He’s just like Hank. Mischievous, sure. But there’s not a mean bone in his body. He won’t hurt the cat.”

“You’re sure?” she asked. “Quit worrying about that obnoxious bundle of white fur,” he growled. Rolling over so that his body covered hers. “When you could keep yourself occupied with much better things.” “Luis. The kids are just down the hall,” she said breathlessly as she felt one of his hands slip up under the tank she wore.

“So,” he said. His hand finding her. His touch making her feel like she was drugged. “We’ll just be quiet. You’re wearing my favorite pjs,” he smiled. Leaning down and kissing her lips slowly. "But.." "No buts. You locked the door, didn't you?" he asked. Kissing her again after she nodded in response.

She closed her eyes at the feel of his lips on her neck. Giving herself over to the feeling. Soon, her tank was history. And Luis's lips replaced his hands. She ran her fingers through his dark hair. Holding him to her. "Luis, we shouldn't be doing this," she protested. Weakly. She shivered when she felt his breath on her stomach.

"Do you really want me to stop, Baby?" he asked. Placing a kiss on her stomach. Just above the waistband of her shorts. Her eyes flew open, and he found himself staring into their passion-filled blue depths. She bit her bottom lip and shook her head no. Raising her hips to help him with the rest of her clothing.

He shed his own clothing. Sitting up and pulling her into his lap. Wrapping one arm around her. Running the other hand through her hair. To the back of her neck. Meeting her lips with his again. Only this time more passionately. "Luis," she gasped. "What are you trying to do to me? Kill me?" "At least you'd die with a smile on your face," he grinned. "Argh! Shut up, Mr. Wise Guy. Hank's rubbing off on you, isn't he?"

"It's not a good idea to talk about another man when your husband's making love to you, darling," he whispered in her ear. Causing her to laugh softly. "Making love to your wife with two very observent and inquisitive children just down the hall isn't such a good idea either, Buster," she teased affectionately. He smiled tenderly at her before brushing his lips gently against hers again.

He groaned against her lips when they heard a crash. Followed by a horrific meow. Coming from Ali's room. She leaned against his chest. Shaking with laughter. "Deja vu," she whispered. Disengaging herself from his arms and slipping her pjs and robe back on. She walked out the door, and Luis pounded his pillow in frustration before getting up himself and putting some clothes on. Ready to investigate. Kids and that damn cat were going to be the death of him.





Chapter 60








She loved the sound of his heart beating. It was so steady and strong. Comforting. She sighed. She'd never been so happy. So content. "Hank," she said softly. Lifting her head from his chest and looking into his brown eyes. "What, Babe?" he asked with a lazy grin. Trailing his fingers down her bare back.

"I'm happy," she whispered. Tears blurring her vision. "Hey," he said. Sitting up and bringing her into his arms. "I thought the usual sign of happiness was a smile. Not tears," he said. Brushing her hair back from her face. "I can't help it," she sniffled. "I've never been this happy before. I thought I was with...before. But being here with you, being your wife," she paused. Studying the golden band on her finger. "I can't even describe it."

"Man, I always knew I was good," he joked. "But not this good." She laughed. Wiping the remainder of her tears away. And smiled at him. "Now...that's more like it," he teased. Tipping her chin up with his fingertips and leaning in for a kiss. Easing her back down on the bed. Letting the covers slip away. "Again?" she teased back. Brow raised but eyes sparkling with happiness. "Just making up for lost time," he smiled. Pulling the sheets up over their heads and making good on his word.

The car lurched forward, and she woke. Eyes blinking against the sun. "Some dream you must have had," she heard him say. And the events of the last week rushed back to her. They'd gotten married. Almost a week ago. She smiled and turned to face him. "It was," she said softly. Linking her fingers with his and squeezing them gently.

"We're almost home," she said. No reason in particular. But she knew things would be different now. Her mother was bound to have learned their secret by now. Her father was one of the most wonderful men in the world. But he couldn't keep good news to himself. He found it impossible to do so. "Yeah," he said. "As nice as our honeymoon was, I can't wait to get home. See Jake."

"Me, either," she agreed. Laughing as she remembered talking with Sheridan on the phone the night before. "Poor Sheridan. She didn't say it. She didn't have to. Jake and Ali are a combination a little too potent to take twenty-four hours a day," she said with a smile. Hank chuckled to himself. Luis had been much more forthcoming in his phone call the previous night. Openly admitting Jake was pure and utter chaos. He grinned as he remembered his friend's words. "Sheridan's worried we're going to have to take that damn cat to a shrink. Can you believe it, Hank? Who chooses that as their profession? Maybe they'll want to commit the little pest," he'd said in a hopeful voice.

"What are you laughing about, Hank?" she asked curiously. "Nothing," he smiled. "Just something Luis said. He hates that cat, you know. Always plotting ways to get rid of it." "Sheridan told me the feeling was mutual," she laughed. "I don't see why he gets so bothered by it. It's just a harmless kitten. Kittens aren't annoying. They're cute. Now dogs. Dogs are another story. Slobbering all over you whenever you let them get near you."

"I knew it," he said. In a serious voice. "The honeymoon's over. We're headed straight to divorce court." And her heart stopped beating in her chest altogether. Until he said, "Becs...she's the mother-in-law from hell, but I can handle her. My wife not being able to cook...anything's better than Grace's cooking. But hating dogs...nope. I can't live with someone who has such hostile feelings toward man's best friend. Besides Luis, the best friend I ever had was a dog. I'll have the papers drawn up and sent to you, Babe. This is where I draw the line," he said. Finally cracking a grin when he saw her shaking with laughter.

She still wore a smile when they rang Sheridan and Luis's doorbell. He smirked at her. It sounded like a war party inside there. He rapped on the door. But still no one answered. So he turned the knob slowly in his hand. And the sight before them sent them into fresh hysterics. Jake and Ali wore paper Indian headdresses. And tied to a makeshift stake was the poor cat. Luis was nowhere in sight. Sheridan was in a heap on the couch. Looking incredibly exhausted. With a fussy MJ in her arms. "Help," she called out weakly from the sofa. Ah, the joys of home, he thought as his son ran to his outstretched arms. Sure it was chaotic. But he wouldn't have it any other way.

UAgirl
9.10.07, 10:00 PM
Chapter 61





“I can’t wait to see the look on her face,” Hank laughed. “When she realizes we’re married, or…” She left the question hanging in the air. Hank glanced at the rearview mirror. At Jake and Ali in the backseat. Separated by MJ’s carseat. “Well, I was talking about the moment she spies your ring, Babe. But you know what? She’s going to have a conniption when she sees the rugrats. You know what’d make it even better?”

“Oh,” she groaned. Head in hands. “What are you planning now? Wait. I don’t want to know.” “What? You don’t want to mess with Mommy Dearest’s head a little? Really, Babe. Live a little. It’ll be fun. She’ll be so panicked, she won’t say two words about us being married. And just think…I can almost guarantee we won’t be getting any invitations to family dinners. At least not for a while. So…what do you say? Are you game?” he asked with a grin.

She couldn’t deny it sounded appealing. So against her better judgment, she said, “Okay. BUT…if she attempts to murder you, I’m letting her do it,” she teased. “What’s this plan of yours?” He just smiled at her. “Jake. Ali. I need your help. Are you up for…” Gwen could only laugh helplessly. Mother was going to flip.

Hank’s brown eyes twinkled as he removed MJ from his carseat and handed him to Gwen. She rubbed the baby’s downy head and kissed his silky cheek. Smiling at her husband. She had to give him credit. Mother wasn’t going to speak to them for days. Weeks, maybe. Possibly even months.

Ali took Hank's hand, and Jake grinned up at his father when he said, “You guys know the drill. You do a good job, and I’ll take you all out for ice cream later. Deal?” “Deal!” Jake said. Giving him a high five. “Uncle Hank,” Ali pouted. Tugging at his hand. “I’m scared.” “Oh, Miss Ali,” he said. Lifting her up into his arms. “I promise I won’t let anything happen to you. If mean, old, evil Becs tries to hurt you, sweetheart, I’ll…I’ll bite her. Like this,” he said. Pretending to gnaw on Ali’s neck. Causing her to giggle uncontrollably.

Gwen rolled her eyes and rang the doorbell. The smile on her face full- blown when her father answered it. "Oh, if it isn't my little girl," he said. Opening his arms to her. A curious look coming over his face when he spotted MJ. And Ali. "I send you off on your honeymoon. And you come back with not one, but three kids. What's going on here?" he asked. Rubbing a hand over MJ's head and smiling at Ali in Hank's arms.

"Babysitting," Gwen laughed. "It was the least we could do after leaving poor Sheridan with Jake all week. She's probably lapsed into a coma by now." "Sheridan Crane? I don't know why I didn't see it sooner. You," he said. Waving his finger in front of Ali, "you're just as pretty as your mother." Ali beamed at him. And buried her face in Hank's neck shyly. "Who's this little fella here?" he asked. Nodding at MJ in Gwen's arms. "This is my nephew," Hank smiled proudly. "MJ's my cousin," Ali said quietly.

Jonathan saw them in and led them to the living room where he sat on the sofa and listened attentively to his grandson. Detailing what he thought of as "Jake's Grand Adventures." He chuckled to himself. Jake had a way of embellishing things and making them larger than life. He hid his smile when Ali spoke up. "Jake's been so mean to my kitty, Mr. Hotchkiss. He threw her off the top of my dresser," she tattled. Blue eyes wide. Serious as can be.

"Jake, my boy. I'm disappointed in you," he scolded. "But Grandpa," Jake shot back. "I just wanted to see if she'd land on her feet. I wasn't trying to hurt her dumb cat. Honest," he said. Sticking his tongue out at Ali. "Jake," he said sternly. Wanting so badly to laugh.

MJ fussed from Gwen's lap, and Jonathan's attention was diverted from his young grandson and Ali. He smiled in amusement as he watched Gwen and Hank work together to try to calm the baby down. But nothing would work. And soon MJ was screaming at the top of his lungs. And they all turned when they heard a voice say, "What on earth is going on here?"

Hank grinned. Getting up frm the sofa and walking over to his mother-in- law. Gwen coming to stand beside him. The bawling child in her arms. Rebecca's eyes were drawn to the gold band on her finger, and they grew wide as saucers. "Is that...is that what I think it is?" she choked out.

Hank slid his arm around Gwen's waist and said, "Yeah. We're sorry you couldn't come to the wedding. It was kind of a spur of the moment deal," he grinned. "You should have seen our Gwen, Mom. Pretty as a picture," he bragged. Watching as all color drained out of Rebecca's face. She held a hand to her chest. Cringing as MJ screamed in her face. "Whose children are these?" she asked. Noticing Ali in Jonathan's lap. Not able to ignore MJ.

"Jake," Hank said. "Help me do the honors, Son." Jake got up from the sofa, took Ali by the hand, and walked over to where his parents and grandmother stood. "Grandma, this is my new sister. Ali." Ali walked up to Rebecca and wrapped her arms around her legs. Squeezing her eyes shut tight. Hank didn't know what was funnier. Ali's fright. Or the look on Bec's face when he took MJ out of Gwen's arms and handed him to her. "And this is our new son. MJ," he said. Smiling broadly.

The look of pure horror on Rebecca's face was priceless. "You can't be serious," she said in a tiny voice. Holding MJ at arms' length. And shaking her leg in an attempt to dislodge Ali. "But Mother," Gwen said. "We are. The adoption papers just went through yesterday. Jake has a new brother and sister. Aren't you happy for us?" Rebecca looked like she was going to be ill. She thrust MJ into Hank's arms and pried Ali's little arms from around her legs. "Let...go...of...me," she said through clenched teeth. Finally freeing herself. "If you'll excuse me," she said. Smoothing her skirt. "I think I'll go jump off a rocky cliff now." And she turned on her heels. Leaving them all. They could only laugh as they watched her ascend the stairs muttering obscenities under her breath.

"I don't think your grandma's going to be wanting to visit us anytime soon, kids," Hank joked.



Chapter 62






He slipped his key in the lock and turned the knob. Stepping inside with a weary sigh. “Sheridan? Ali? Jake?” he called. But he was met with…quietness. Silence. Panic rose in his chest for a brief moment. Luis, he chided himself. You have your family back. Nothing’s going to take them away from you. Quit worrying at the drop of a hat. Yet his fears did not go away until he saw her. Curled up on the sofa. Fast asleep. A tender smile came over his face as he crossed the room and knelt on the floor. By her side. And ran his fingers through her golden hair.

She sighed softly in her sleep and shifted. Leaning into his touch. A smile on her own face. “Mmm. Luis. Is that you?” she mumbled sleepily. Eyes still closed. He laughed. She’d kill him if he ever admitted it, but he thought she was so cute in her half-asleep state. She hated to be called that. He traced her features with his fingertips. Outlining her brows, her eyelids, cheeks, nose. Coming to a rest on her lips. He let his fingers trail across her chin. Then he leaned in and kissed her lips softly.

When he pulled away, he found himself staring into her brilliant blue eyes. She rubbed her finger over his bottom lip. And leaned in for another kiss. Sweet. Chaste. He rested his forehead against hers. “Where are the kids?” “Gwen and Hank took them,” she said with a smile. “Not a moment too soon.” He laughed softly. Giving her another quick peck on the lips. “Come on,” he said. Standing up and pulling her to her feet. “I know just what we need.” She looked at him curiously. Then trustingly slid her hand in his.

He led her into their bathroom. Letting go of her hand momentarily to turn the water on. He adjusted the temperature and added some bubble bath as the tub began to fill. His mind drifting back to a time when he did the same for Ali. Before…before they found each other again. He didn’t know what he’d do if he ever lost her again. He didn’t know if he’d have the strength to go on. He turned to her. Tears shining in his dark eyes. And she took him in her arms. Held on.

“I’m sorry,” he said. Pulling away and looking into her eyes again. “Shh,” she said with a finger to his lips. “Don’t be.” She ran her hands down his chest. Coming to a rest at his waist. Before she tugged his shirt loose from his pants. Slowly, she unbuttoned each button. Biting her lip in concentration. When she was done, she moved to slide the shirt from his shoulders, but he stopped her. With his hands on her own. The look in his eyes making her weak-kneed.

He held his hand up motioning for her to stay and reached over to turn the water off. Then he pulled her to him once more. Backing up and sitting down on the toilet seat. He opened his legs, and she stepped closer. Not breaking the gaze they shared as she rid herself of her own shirt. She held on to his shoulders as he popped the button on her jeans and slid them down her hips. She stepped out of them and reached out her hand. And she smiled at him. Her heart still slammed against her chest every time they touched.

"Oh, Luis. This feels heavenly," she sighed as she immersed herself in the bubbles and leaned back against his chest. "That feels even better," she said blissfully as he kissed her neck. Massaging her shoulders. "How does this feel?" he whispered in her ear. "Oh god," she answered breathlessly. "Luis, you better stop now before..." "Before what?" he teased. Kissing along her jaw. Her eyes fluttered shut as she savored the feeling.

"What? Why are you stopping?" she asked. Turning around to face him. "You told me to," he laughed. Tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear. "Luis, you don't seriously believe I meant that, do you?" she asked. Slipping her arms around his neck and placing tiny kisses on his lips. She giggled against his lips when he pulled her more firmly against him and groaned. "We're never going to get clean this way," he said. Evading her kisses and reaching for the cup she used to rinse Ali's hair and her shampoo. She closed her eyes as he washed and rinsed her hair. Then she returned the favor.

She admired his long, lean body as he rose from the tub and stepped out. Holding out a hand for her. He grinned at her, and she felt her cheeks burn. "Like what you see, Mrs. Lopez-Fitzgerald?" "Definitely," she said. Flashing him a dazzling smile and stepping into his arms. She breathed in sharply when he ran his hands down her back. Then lifted her in his arms. She wrapped herself around him completely. Head to toe. And gave him a heart-stopping kiss. "Whoa," he said. Out of breath. “Keep that up, and I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

“I kind of like the sound of that,” she teased. Running her hands through his hair and opening her mouth over his. Luis blindly carried her to their bedroom, and her eyes opened when he laid her down on their bed. “Luis,” she whispered. Her arms open to him. He didn’t need to be told twice as he covered her body with his own. He jumped at the feel of her hands on him. Every nerve ending in his body alive. "I love you," he said seriously. Watching as a million emotions flashed through her beautiful blue eyes. She didn't say a word. But by the end of the night, Luis knew without a doubt she felt the same. And he wondered...was it possible to be so happy? Because right then, in that moment, everything was perfect. The way it was meant to be.



Chapter 63







Sheridan paused at the window. Watching Ali and Jake in action in the back yard. Jake was torturing the poor cat once again. For all the irritation Miss Priss caused Luis, Jake paid her back in spades. She laughed as she witnessed the cat seize its first chance of freedom and bound away from her tormentor. Her daughter and Jake were quite a pair, she mused. She wondered what kind of relationship they might have twenty years down the road. Gwen’s voice startled her from her reverie.

“Are you sure Luis and Jake didn’t sign a contract on that poor cat’s head?” she laughed. Handing Sheridan a tall glass of iced tea and joining her at the window. “It's possible,” she said. Smiling at her friend. Then turning back to watching the children. “I can’t wait to be Ali’s mother-in- law,” Gwen said. Laughing at the incredulous expression on Sheridan’s face. “What? You can’t tell me you don’t wonder about it sometimes, too,” she smiled. “He might tease her and what-not, but Ali is Jake’s best friend."

Sheridan opened her mouth to say something, then closed it when she realized Gwen was right. Laughing helplessly as Gwen smiled at her and said, "You're getting the raw end of the deal, though. Another Hank. Can you imagine what Jake and Ali's kids will be like?" "Whoa! Gwen!" she exclaimed. Holding her hands up in front of her. "Don't you think you're getting way ahead of yourself?" she laughed. "Just trying to prepare you, that's all," she teased as Sheridan settled down beside her on the sofa.

"So..." Sheridan said. Taking a sip of iced tea. "How are things? With you and Hank?" Smiling to herself at the radiant smile on Gwen's face at the mention of Hank's name. "Great. Wonderful. Never better. Though I am tired of living at the Bed and Breakfast. We're still looking for the perfect place. Someplace kind of like...kind of like yours," she sighed. "Really?" Sheridan asked curiously. It would be quite an adjustment from living at the huge Hotchkiss estate. "Yes, really," Gwen smirked. "You've proven to me that money isn't everything. It doesn't bring you happiness. I like your place. It's a home," she said. Looking around at all the little touches that said a family lived there.

"It is home," Sheridan sighed blissfully. "But it's awfully small," she said. Rubbing her stomach unconsciously. A gesture that didn't go unnoticed by Gwen. "Oh my god!" she exclaimed. "You aren't...you are...Sheridan, are you pregnant?" she squealed. Taking Sheridan's hands in her own. Practically buzzing with excitement. Her question struck Sheridan dumb. But only for a moment before the wheels started to turn in her mind. Was it possible? She hadn't been feeling well as of late. For a few weeks now. And she'd missed...She covered her mouth with her hand as it dawned on her Gwen could be right. She might be pregnant.

"Sheridan, honey. Don't tell me you didn't suspect before now. I mean, you had to have deep down. You and Luis have been trying, right?" she asked. A knowing smile coming to her lips as Sheridan nodded her head. "But Gwen...we've only...just for a short time. It isn't exactly easy to do such a thing with Ali around," she admitted. Cheeks burning red with embarrassment. Gwen laughed and said, "You're telling me. Hank wants to buy Jake a cowbell to wear around his neck." Sheridan burst into laughter at the mental image.

"You know what?" Gwen said. Rising to her feet. "You'll drive yourself crazy wondering if you don't do something about it. Come on, Sheridan." "What? Where are we going?" she asked in confusion. "The drug store to get you one of those pregnancy tests. Don't look so nervous. Luis is going to be thrilled," she said. Tugging Sheridan's hand and pulling her toward the front door. "You wait in the car. I'm going to run tell Hank where we're going." "Gwen! No!" Sheridan said in panic. Grabbing her arm. "I don't want Luis to be disappointed," she explained. "Relax. Hank's not going to squeal. He's pretty good at keeping things to himself," she revealed. Somehow, Sheridan felt this time would be different.




Chapter 64










Calm down, Sheridan, she told herself. You’ve done this before. It’s no big deal. Just follow the instructions and wait so many minutes. Piece of cake, she told her reflection in the mirror. But what if you’re not pregnant? What then? What are you going to tell Luis? He’ll be so disappointed.

Well, if Hank hadn’t proven Gwen wrong, you wouldn’t have to worry about that little problem. Luis wouldn’t be waiting on pins and needles outside with your friends and the children at this moment. Ready to call the entire family with the good news. As nervous as she was, she had to smile at that thought. Luis was already about to burst, and they didn’t even know if she was pregnant.

She shut the bathroom door behind her. And ran right into Luis. “Luis!” she exclaimed in surprise. “I thought you were outside with Gwen and Hank and the kids. What are you doing in here?” He grabbed her gently by the upper arms and stared into her eyes. His own dark eyes shining with anticipation. “I couldn’t wait. Do you know yet? Are we going to have another baby?”

She smiled at his enthusiasm and raised her hand up to cup his cheek. “Not yet,” she answered softly. “Luis. I don’t want you to be disappointed if I’m not pregnant. We can keep trying.” He laughed and kissed her palm. Leaning down to give her lips the same treatment. “I certainly have no problem with THAT. Baby or no baby,” he grinned.

She swatted him him affectionately on the rear as she passed. “Hey, where do you think you’re going? Aren’t you going to…” “Luis,” she shot back over her shoulder. “It’s not like it’s going to get up and walk away,” she teased. “Come on. Standing there staring at it is not going to make the time pass more quickly. We have guests outside. We shouldn’t totally ignore them. I’ll check back later.” “But Sheridan…” he whined.

"No buts," she said firmly. "Besides...I just heard the doorbell. Why don't you go see who it is while I go check on everyone outside?" she asked. Smiling back at him. Blue eyes twinkling. She laughed. Hearing him mutter under his breath. 'Damn. Those eyes again.' "You are too good for your own good, you know that Mrs. Lopez-Fitzgerald?" he said as he caught up with her and gave her a sound kiss on the lips before going to answer the door. "Too good," he laughed.

"Why thank you," she called out. Before going outside. She had to laugh at the looks on Gwen's and Hank's faces. "Not yet," she smiled. "And you," she said. Pointing at Hank. "I should be thinking up appropriate punishments for you, you traitor." Hank just grinned at her and threw up his hands. "I'm sorry. I just couldn't keep it to myself. And such good news. You and Luis deserve it," he said. Hugging her. "Luis. Buddy. What's the matter? You look like you've seen a ghost," he called. Releasing her and studying his friend.

Luis ignored him. Walking up to Sheridan and taking her by the hand. Leading her back inside. "Luis? Luis, what's wrong?" she asked. Voice rising with worry. "Is it your mother? Martin? Oh my god, it's Theresa. Or the baby. Is everything okay with MJ? Luis? Luis, please answer me," she pleaded. Growing frantic. "Shh," he said. Pulling her into his arms and squeezing her tight. "It's not them. They're all okay."

"But who is it?" she asked. Blue eyes searching his for answers. "Sheridan," he said. Taking a deep, steadying breath. "It's your father, Baby," he said. Running his fingers through her hair. "He's dead." He watched her concerned as her face lost all color, and she swayed on her feet. He caught her before she fell and eased her down onto the sofa. "It okay," he soothed. Running a calming hand up and down her back. "Cry if you need to. If you want to. He was your father. It's only natural to be upset."

She turned stricken blue eyes on him. And in a trembling voice said, "I'm numb, Luis. After all that he has done to me in my life, I have no tears. No more tears for him. Only tears of relief. Does that make me an awful person?" she asked. Tears shimmering in her eyes. Waiting to spill over. "No," he rushed to assure her. "You're a beautiful person, Sheridan. Inside and out. Don't cry because you feel guilty at not being able to cry over the loss of your father. Alistair Crane does not deserve your tears. He doesn't deserve anyone's tears."

"Sheridan? Luis? Is everything okay?" Gwen called. Walking into the living room. "I'm so sorry," she apologized. "I didn't mean to intrude. It's just Ali's getting a little worried out there, and Hank's tried everything he can think of to calm her." "Damn," Luis swore. Running a hand over his face. Ali was too sensitive and observant for her own good. Always picking up on her parents' feelings and moods. "Gwen. You stay here with Sheridan. I'll go outside and take Ali off of Hank's hands. Are you going to be okay?" he asked. Wiping the tears from Sheridan's cheek with the pad of his thumb. He kissed her forehead when she nodded 'yes'. And thanked Gwen on his way out.

Gwen sat down beside Sheridan. Placing a hand over Sheridan's own. Stilling her movements. "He's dead, Gwen. My father's dead. Can you believe it? I feel so terrible for feeling this way, but the only thing I can think is 'I'm finally free'. He can't interfere in my life anymore. He can't get to Ali. Or anyone I love ever again," she said. Squeezing Gwen's hand and rising to her feet. Going to look outside once more. At her family. The only close family she had left. "He ruined so many lives. And now...now Julian's son will never be found. Ever," she added softly. Spinning around at the sound of Gwen's voice.

"I don't know about that," she said in a shocked voice. Getting up and crossing the room to where Sheridan stood. "Sheridan," she began. Holding out some papers. Some important-looking documents she'd ignored earlier. Documents Luis had left for her. From her father's personal secretary. "I think you may have found what you've been looking for, after all," she said. Handing the papers over to her. Studying her face for a reaction as she read the name scrawled at the bottom. The name of Julian and Eve's son. She gasped in surprise, and the papers fluttered to the ground. Written boldly across the page was a name she recognized easily. A name she was familiar with: Chad Harris.




Chapter 65






She laid her pen down and clutched the book to her chest. This was goodbye. The last day they would walk through this house’s doors and call it home. It was a big change. But one she welcomed. “Sheridan!” she heard Luis yell. “It’s time to go.” She took one last look around. Closing her eyes and remembering all that had happened within these walls. She could still hear Ali’s sweet voice. Her excitement as she tugged her to her room. Her first night back. And Luis. Standing outside this door. Giving her a kiss to remember. To replace all her misplaced memories. Misplaced. Not lost. Because her life with Ali and Luis…it was unforgettable.

Luis’s brown eyes lit up when he saw her. He slipped an arm around her back. Pulling her close, and kissing the top of her golden head. “It’s not goodbye forever,” he whispered. “We’ll make brand-new memories in the new house. You’ll see. And if you ever miss this old place,” he joked, “you can always come and visit Gwen and Hank.” She laughed against his chest. Smiling at him with sparkling blue eyes. “Shh,” Luis said. Putting a finger to her lips. “Listen. I think I hear…yeah, I did. She’s groaning. Begging us to stay. Baby…our house is afraid of the Bennett boys.”

She shoved him playfully. Leaving him there and walking to there car where Ali waited. Singing sweetly to herself while she stroked Miss Priss’s soft white fur. “Are you ready, sweetie? Sure you got everything?” “Yes, Mommy,” she said solemnly. Looking one last time at the house she’d spent her whole life in before Luis started the car, and they drove away. To their future.

Sheridan sighed and leaned back in her seat. She opened her eyes again when she felt Luis thread his fingers through her own. “Are you feeling okay?” he asked. She raised their hands to her lips and placed a gentle kiss to his. “I’m fine,” she said. Smiling at him reassuringly. “Just thinking,” she said softly. “About Chad?” he said. Squeezing her hand tightly. And returning his eyes to the road. “He took the news pretty hard, Luis.”

Luis glanced back at her. Hoping the love shining in his eyes softened the blow of his next words somewhat. “Can you blame him? Your father—and your brother, to a lesser extent—were despicable men. He’s just being a little cautious. That’s all. He’ll come around,” he said. “You have to remember he’s had a lot to deal with in the past few months. Give him some time. Chad’s a good guy. He recognizes you’re not like the rest of your family.”

From the back seat, they heard Ali squeal excitedly, “Mommy! Daddy! We’re here!” Luis grinned at her enthusiasm. Proud of her for keeping their little secret. Sheridan really had no clue what waited for her beyond the doors of their new home. “Ali! Ali! Slow down, sweetie!” Sheridan called as their daughter took off running. Disappearing through the front door. “Oh, Miss Priss,” Sheridan sighed. Picking the purring bundle up in her arms. “She left you behind like an old shoe.” “Sheridan,” Luis said. “Don’t worry about the cat,” he laughed. Taking her by the arm and leading her up the walkway. “Well, somebody has to,” she pouted. Looking just like her daughter. “We’re both neglected in all this excitement.”

“Neglected? Neglected?” he scoffed. Pulling her firmly against him. Snaking his arms around her waist. “I’ll show you neglected,” he whispered. Lowering his mouth to hers. And kissing her ‘til she was afraid she had no more air left in her lungs. They broke apart. Laughing at Miss Priss’s protesting meow. She rubbed his lips with her thumb to remove the traces of her lipstick. Then placed the cat on her feet, and opened the door. Tears coming to her eyes at the sight before her.

Her mouth hung open in surprise as she took in the decorations. The family. The friends all gathered in the room. Smiles on their faces at her emotional reaction. Ali’s adorable grin the most noticeable of all. “You little sneak,” she scolded affectionately. Kneeling in front of her and tickling her sides. Making her giggle helplessly. “You and Daddy,” she said. Casting a loving glance Luis’s way,” knew all along.”

"You don't know how hard it was, Mommy," Ali giggled. "I wanted to tell you, but Daddy wouldn't let me." "You should be proud of her, Mija," Pilar said with a smile as she Sheridan rose to her feet and hugged her. "She's known for a whole week and didn't tell," Martin laughed. Ruffling Ali's long blond hair affectionately. Then lifting her up into his arms. "And you," she said. Looking at Hank and Jake wearing identical mischievous grins. "How did you two ever keep this quiet?" "Easy," Jake said. "Mom threatened Dad if either of us squealed." "Oh, she did, did she?" Sheridan said in amusement. "Uh huh," Jake nodded. "She told Dad no..." Kay laughed hysterically as Gwen clamped her hand over her cousin's mouth. She'd already heard it all. And Jake delighted in telling the story.

Luis watched his wife with MJ, and he couldn't help his excitement. Just a few more months. They had a lot to look forward to, and he couldn't wait. Miguel came up beside him. Grinning at the look on his brother's face. "So...do you guys know yet? Boy or girl?" "Sheridan's making me wait, Bro. She wants it to be a surprise." "What happened? I thought she wanted to know just as much as you." "She did," Luis laughed. "But you see...we have a little bet going on..." Miguel slapped his brother on the back. Dying laughing at the predicament he had gotten himself into. "You are so whipped, Luis. Don't even try to deny it. And you know what the funniest thing is? I don't think you mind. Not at all."

Luis's eyes connected with Sheridan's across the room at that moment. And he saw the happiness in them. Happiness he'd do anything to keep there. Happiness that grew tenfold with the new arrival. He watched aunt and nephew embrace, and he knew it was all falling into place. "You know what, Bro?" he said. Arm around Miguel's broad shoulders. "Maybe I am. Being whipped isn't such a bad thing. You should know. Kay's got you wrapped around her little finger. And don't you even try to deny it. You know it's true," he called back over his shoulder as he crossed the room. Meeting his wife halfway. He wouldn't change a thing.





The End (not really :D).

Check out the sequel: Always.