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UAgirl
4.29.07, 11:58 PM
Chapter 1



Blue eyes gazed out a tiny window. Fluffy, white clouds dotted the horizon. The vast, unending ocean stretched for miles and miles beneath. Pink lips twisted into a wry smile. She could almost imagine.she was among the angels.

"Ms. Crane? Ms. Crane?"

Agent Freeman's blue eyes flitted over her tired, pretty features. This whole ordeal.it had taken a lot out of her already. And it was far from over.

"Yes?"

"We'll be landing soon. Do you need me to go over the details again?"

She lay back against the headrest wearily. "I don't want to hire a bodyguard. I don't want this.person intruding on my privacy. Every minute. Every hour. Every day," she sighed.

Freeman snapped his briefcase shut with an answering sigh. "It's for."

"I know. I know," she interrupted. "My own protection. If I hadn't been so foolish in the first place."

"Ms. Crane."

"Please fasten your seat belts. We'll be arriving in Boston shortly," the bubbly brunette advised.

"Thank you." Her name tag read Sandy. ".Sandy."

"Okay.so maybe Jean-Luc didn't have this flashing neon sign on his forehead that said 'drug-dealing bastard.' But I shouldn't have been so willing to marry a man that from all accounts was a first-class, low-life creep," she whispered in shame. "What does that say about me? What kind of person am I?"

"Your fiance.former fiance." Hal paused. Former? Less than a week ago the man had been blown to kingdom come. With his mistress. Ms. Crane was lucky. " You are a very lucky woman. If the drug cartel hadn't mistaken."

"Go on. Say it. You don't have to walk on eggshells around me. There's a bounty out on my head. Jean-Luc's lies and cheating are the least of my worries right now. It's not the first time I've been played for a fool." But it will be the last, she vowed silently.

Freeman rubbed his eyes tiredly. "As I was saying.you are a very lucky woman. But there's no guarantee you'll be as lucky the next time. Be assured, Ms. Crane. The drug cartel will not rest until it is certain you no longer pose a threat to its livelihood."

"But."

Freeman anticipated her retort. They'd talked this thing to death during the inhumanely long flight. The woman beside him was as stubborn as a mule. "Ms. Crane! I've had enough of this. You will hire a bodyguard if your life means anything to you at all."

She turned to stare out the window once more. Her jaw set in determination. Arms crossed defensively. She resisted the overwhelming urge to argue back. She could be a real bitch when she wanted to. It was no use. She'd say yes. For now. And as soon as it looked like the drug cartel had forgotten her very existence.no more bodyguard. Simple as that. "Okay. You win. Happy?"

Freeman shook his head. Too easy. But asking for anything more was like pulling teeth. And that had never been a favorite past time of his. "Good. I knew you'd come around."

Icy blue eyes stared through him. "So sure of yourself, Agent Freeman."

You're a smartass. But you're not stupid. "You're an intelligent woman, Ms. Crane. I knew in the end you'd make the right decision," he said smugly. If you hadn't.I would have drug you kicking and screaming out of this airport. "We're here," he said. Releasing his safety belt. "Here. Let me help you."

She rolled her eyes and grabbed her bag herself. "I'm intelligent AND independent," she almost growled.

Freeman closed his eyes and groaned as she shouldered past him. "Ms. Crane! Ms. Crane!" he snapped impatiently. "I thought I made it clear.until I deliver you to the safety of your own home, you don't leave my sight."

"Fine!" she spat. Jerking her elbow from his grasp. Her angry blue eyes searched the terminal. Where was he? Father promised.

"Aunt Sheridan! Over here!"

She was really a stunning woman when she smiled, Freeman realized. Her whole face lit up with happiness.

"Ethan! I'm so happy to see you," she cried. Flinging her arms around his neck.

"Mr. Crane?" he inquired with an outstretched hand.

The young man's handshake was firm. "Thank you for bringing her home. I've already taken care of the arrangements we discussed over the phone. The Harmony Police Department promised to send their best man. He should be waiting for us back at the cottage."

"Arrangements! What arrangements? Ethan.I thought I could trust you."

"You can, Aunt Sheridan. With your life. That's why I hired the best man for the job. I can't be too careful when it comes to you."

The indignation died down, and her blue eyes melted. So, Freeman thought. The nephew was the soft spot in the prickly demeanor. And an ally. He hefted her bags into his arms. "Sorry to interrupt the family reunion."

"I'm sorry," Ethan apologized. "Charles is waiting for us, Aunt Sheridan. Are you ready to go home?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," she muttered.

He wondered what that was supposed to mean. But then again.with family like the Cranes, he didn't have to think too hard. "Show me the way."

The trip to Harmony from Boston was-thankfully-not as long and mind-numbing as the flight. But.Ms. Crane was putting forth her best effort to convince the young nephew that a bodyguard was pure folly.

Ethan didn't buy it. "I'm sorry, Aunt Sheridan. But I'm going to have to side with Agent Freeman and the FBI on this one."

Needless to say.he didn't know which was worse. The stubborn, argumentative woman who always had an answer. Or the sulky Ice Princess.

The gates to the Crane Mansion loomed ahead.

No warm welcome home. Only a formal greeting from the security guard.

"Father?"

Ethan patted her hand gently. "Grandfather had important business to attend to."

She looked all the world like a sad little girl at that moment.

He wondered if maybe this face was the true face of Sheridan Crane he was seeing.

"But he said he couldn't wait to see you at dinner tonight. You are coming, aren't you Aunt Sheridan?"

"I.I don't know, Ethan. It's been a very long week. The flight was especially draining," she stated. Casting a pointed glare his way. "Maybe I'll see him tomorrow."

He didn't stand a chance, and he obviously knew it. "Then I'll see you first thing in the morning," he smiled. Giving her an affectionate kiss on the cheek. "You don't mind."

"No. Go ahead. Don't worry about me. I need to go sleep off some of this jet lag anyway," she laughed lightly. "Maybe I can get rid of my shadow," she said in a stage whisper.

Ethan chuckled. "Don't let her give you a hard time, Agent Freeman." He grinned at her playful slap on the arm. "And you.behave."

"Yes, Sir," she saluted him. Her blue eyes twinkling mischievously.

"Are you going to heed his advice?"

"What do you think?" she said slyly.

He stepped out of the limosine and held the door open for her. "I didn't think so. Ms. Crane.this is where we part ways."

"I'm going to miss you so much," she deadpanned.

"Really?" he shot back with an arched brow. "I can stay if you wish." He had to laugh at the look of pure horror written across her face. "On second thought.I want to hang on to my sanity as long as I can. It's a plus in this business."

"Funny," she said as snottily as she possibly could. "Look.will you just.LEAVE!"

"It'll be my pleasure. But first.I have to check out Harmony's finest and see if he measures up."

She flung the front door to the cottage open and stomped inside. "Where is he? I'm dead on my feet. I'm sick of staring at you. Tell me, Agent Freeman. Do you ever smile? Are you always this pleasant?"

Me? he thought incredulously. Who was being the ultimate brat here? You're no walk in the park yourself. "All the time," he grinned. Mainly to irritate the hell out of her. Because he could.

"UGH!" she threw her arms up in the air. "Get out! Get out now!" she yelled. So loudly the window panes rattled. "I'm sure I'll be fine. Now...I'm going to take a long, hot shower and then I'm going to crawl into bed and not roll over until tomorrow morning."

"Are you sure, Ms. Crane?"

"I'm...AAAHHHH!"

Freeman crashed through the bedroom door. Gun drawn and ready. "Ms. Crane! Ms. Crane! Are you hurt?" His faded blue eyes searched the dimly lit bedroom for her figure as his free hand searched for a light switch.

Light flooded the room in the next instant.

And he couldn't help the smile that stole over his lips.

"Who the hell are you?" Sheridan Crane spat venomously. Clutching her unbuttoned silk blouse to her chest.

He knew the answer before a word was spoken.

"Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald. Your bodyguard," he stated. Making no effort to conceal his amusement. Or his admiration as his dark brown eyes roved her figure.. "You must be Ms. Crane. Don't be so shy. We ARE going to be living together."

If looks could kill...

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:01 AM
Chapter 2





"YOU are my bodyguard?" she eyed him suspiciously.

"Do YOU have a problem with that?" Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald smirked. His dark eyes gleaming.

Freeman held a hand to his brow. Great. He was toying with her. They were off to such a wonderful beginning. "Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald.have you been briefed on the situation and its particulars?"

Lopez-Fitzgerald cast a quick glance at Sheridan. His eyes drifting from her face lower. "They didn't tell me everything," he said dryly.

She glared back at him and pulled her blouse together. "Didn't your mother ever teach you it's not polite to stare?" she said angrily. Turning on her heels and vacating the room.

"How did you survive the flight from Paris?"

Freeman chuckled. "Ms. Crane's a handful, Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald. That's why I want you to always be on your toes. She's very resourceful. Don't let her out of your sight for even two seconds. That's all it takes," he finished soberly.

"She gave you the slip?" Lopez-Fitzgerald said in an amused voice.

"On more than one occasion," Freeman nodded his head.

"I'll keep that in mind," he said as they walked back into the living room.

He reached inside his jacket and withdrew a card. "Here. This is the number to my cell. If anything goes wrong.anything at all."

"Thank you, Agent Freeman. I'll make full use of it."

The men shook hands, and Luis watched as the limosine crawled away.

"Thank you, Agent Freeman," a voice mocked from behind him. Directly behind him. She had her arms crossed defensively across her chest, and her chin was set in determination.

"Let's get a few things straight here," he said in an authoritative voice.

Her blue eyes narrowed.

He could see her visibly bristling at his words. His tone of voice. "Like it or not, you're stuck with me. I'm stuck with you. I think it's in our best interests to learn to get along with each other."

"Our best interests? It's not in my best interests to be stuck with you. With any bodyguard for that matter."

His jaw clenched. "Oh," he said. A black brow arched. "But it IS in your best interests to be dead?"

"I didn't say that," she huffed. "Tell me something, Officer. Do you value your privacy?"

"In this case privacy will have to take a back seat to your safety."

She pushed a lock of blond hair from her eyes and tried another tactic. "What about your friends? Family? Girlfriend?" He wasn't wearing a ring. "I'm sure we can work something out. So you don't have to completely neglect her. You don't have to be my babysitter."

His laughter filled the cozy living room. "My friends and family support me, Ms. Crane. They know I can keep you alive until the drug cartel is caught."

Her blue eyes flashed at him. Nothing was working. He had an answer for everything. "But your girlfriend?"

He stepped in closer. Invading her personal space. "I don't have one. And if I did.she'd understand that I was only doing my job."

"Would she?" she challenged. "She wouldn't get the least bit jealous?" Okay, Sheridan. Where did THAT come from? Open mouth. Insert foot. Maybe he didn't notice.

He grinned at her. "Are you saying YOU would be jealous?"

"Of course not," she rolled her eyes. "You're not exactly God's gift to women," she said snidely. "Arrogance is not an attractive trait."

"So that's why you're still unattached," he shot back. Grinning at her open- mouthed expression of shock.

"I think it's time YOU got a few things straight here," she growled. "My personal life is none of your damn business."

"Au contraire," he whispered. Leaning in so close he could feel her breath on his face. "This assignment, I'm afraid, is up close and personal."

"Really, Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald?" she said in a husky voice. Her pink lips curling up in a smile. "Just how up close and personal?" she whispered in his ear. "Dammit! What the hell do you think you're doing?" she grit out between clenched teeth when he grabbed her upper arms and hauled her up against him.

"This assignment is my job. I take my work very seriously. This.little game is not going to work. You're not going to seduce me out of my job, Ms. Crane."

Her blue eyes glittered with rage. "Seduce you! Do you honestly think I would sleep with the likes of you?" she spat. His hands were burning a hole through the thin silk of her shirt. She rubbed her arms roughly when he let go abruptly. His handsome face dark with anger.

"I know you're used to snapping your fingers and getting exactly what you want," Luis said in a low voice. "But I don't work that way. I'm not going to go away just because you want me to. I'm sticking around. And I won't put up with your rich bitch, high and mighty attitude. Get dressed. Your father's expecting you."

"No man tells me what to do," she snapped. "I'm going because I want to," she hugged her sides.

Her bedroom door slammed shut behind her.

Luis dropped to the sofa. Groaning. "Damn Cranes," he muttered. "Daddy's spoiled princess." He pulled his cell phone from his jeans pocket and punched in the familiar digits. "Hey Marty.let me talk to the Chief. He isn't there. No. That's okay. Yeah. The pictures don't do her justice."

Sheridan leaned against the door frame. Listening attentively. A self- satisfied smirk on her lips.

"I've never met a more self-centered BRAT," he said. Sneaking a look in her direction. His brown eyes twinkled at her.

She stomped over to where he sat and yanked the phone from his hand. Stabbing at the OFF button. "Jerk," she growled.

He chuckled and stuffed the cell phone back in his pocket. "Are you ready?" he asked. Raking his eyes over her svelte figure. Clad in a low-cut, body- hugging white tank and a pair of snug black pants. "Nice outfit. I thought you Cranes went for a more sophisticated 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' style."

She shoved past him with an icy glare.

"Guess not," he muttered under his breath as he jogged to catch up with her. "Stay close," he said. Grabbing her by the arm. "Are you forgetting there's a price out on your head?"

She shrugged his hand off her arm. "No," she said snottily. "But I hardly think these criminal masterminds," she rolled her eyes, "would make it past Crane security. Besides.Father hates it when I'm late."

"Oh.I get it. You can't let Daddy down, huh?" he sneered. "Everything has to be perfect because you're Daddy's little girl."

She looked stricken.

He began to wonder if maybe he shouldn't have.

"Ethan!" she waved. A smile gracing her lips again.

His eyes narrowed, and he gripped her firmly by the elbow.

"Get your hands off of me, Officer. Before I." she hissed. "Ethan! I'm so glad you're here," she jerked her elbow from his hand and threw her arms around the young man's neck.

"You must be Aunt Sheridan's bodyguard. I'm Ethan Crane."

Luis shook the hand he offered. "Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald."

"Lopez-Fitzgerald?" Ethan's blue eyes showed recognition. "Are you."

"Ms. Crane! Ms. Crane!" Luis yelled as Sheridan disappeared inside. "Where does she think she's going?"

Ethan laughed beside him. "She's not going to make it easy on you, Luis. She doesn't want a bodyguard. But I'm glad she has one. Take care of her. She's very important to me," Ethan said earnestly.

Luis saw the caring in the younger man's blue eyes. "I won't let anything happen to her. But you're right. She's definitely NOT going to make it easy," he sighed as Ethan led him through a door, and he stepped into the Crane Mansion. He was sure his family's entire house would fit inside this room alone.

"Hello, Mr. Lopez-Fitzgerald."

Luis turned around slowly. Coming face to face with an elegant older man. Dressed to the nines in an expensive suit and giving him a disapproving look.

Sheridan stood behind him. "Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald.this is my father."

"Alistair Crane," Luis breathed. His dark eyes taking in every detail of the man in front of him. He wanted to commit the face of the man who was the cause of his father's disappearance to memory.

"I want to thank you, Mr. Lopez-Fitzgerald, for looking after my daughter. She's very precious to me," he said coolly.

Luis had the distinct impression the bastard was lying through his teeth. And Sheridan was eating it up. Looking up at her father adoringly. "I'm just doing my job, Mr. Crane."

"Will you be joining us for dinner?"

"I."

"No, Father. Luis won't be joining us for dinner," Sheridan answered for him. Daring him to pick a fight with her in front of the Almighty Alistair Crane.

What the hell, Luis thought. They'd have to go through the old snake first, and he was sure Alistair had his own head well-protected. "I'll be in the kitchen. Send for me when you're ready to leave," he told Sheridan.

She ignored him. Taking her father's arm and walking toward the grand dining room. "Father.I missed you at the airport today."

"My dear sweet Sheridan.you know I had very important business to attend to. I thought you understood."

"Yes, Father. I understand."

"Good," Alistair patted her arm. "Ethan? Is your mother still feeling unwell?"

"She has a terrible headache, Grandfather. She sends her regrets that she can't make it to dinner and welcome you back home, Aunt Sheridan."

Luis shook his head. Business! He stuffed his hands in his pockets and roamed the halls. In search of the kitchen.

"Luis! Mijo? What are you doing here?"

"Mama," he hugged her tight. "This is the new job I told you about."

"You're Miss Sheridan's bodyguard? Mijo.I'm so relieved. I know you won't let any harm come to her."

Luis slipped an arm around his mother's waist. "I won't, Mama. I promise. Now.I'm starved. Where's that kitchen?"

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:02 AM
Chapter 3



Luis stood at a distance. His arms crossed across his chest. Watching Alistair Crane interact with his “precious” daughter.

“Sheridan, dear…I know you’ve had a great disappointment lately. But you really should be more careful who you choose to consort with,” he said. Voice dripping with disdain.

“Yes, Father. But…”

“How do you think this makes us look?” he continued. Walking around his desk and lowering himself into the high-backed leather chair.

“I didn’t know he was…”

“Us Cranes. Involved in a drug scandal?” He removed a cigar from a drawer at his right, and Sheridan’s brother…Julian Crane…appeared at his side to light it.

“Grandfather,” Ethan interjected. “Don’t you think you’re being a little harsh? How could Aunt Sheridan have known Jean-Luc was such scum?”

“Ethan,” Sheridan said softly. Placing a restraining hand on his arm. “You’re right, Father. My taste in men is atrocious,” she lowered her head.

Luis couldn’t believe the transformation. This meek woman wasn’t the spitfire from the cottage.

Alistair Crane smiled at his daughter. “I’m glad you see things my way.”

“Yes, Father. I’m sorry for being such an embarrassment to you.”

“Aunt Sheridan,” Ethan protested. “You could never be an embarrassment. You’re one of us. We love you. No matter what.”

Luis narrowed his eyes and studied the Crane mogul’s reaction to those words.

To his surprise, Alistair rose to his feet and opened his arms. “Ethan is right, dear Sheridan. We love you.”

Julian looked skeptical in the background, Luis thought.

“Oh, Daddy,” Sheridan cried. Clinging to him. “I love you, too.”

Alistair’s cool blue eyes looked through him, and he turned to receive Sheridan’s kiss on the cheek. “Sheridan…I have a present for you.”

Sheridan’s blue eyes lit up like a child’s on Christmas Day. “A present for me?”

The drawer slid open slowly, and Alistair withdrew a tiny crystal container. “Your favorite perfume,” he smiled.

Perfume? What was so special about perfume, Luis wondered.

But Sheridan took the present from his hands like it was a treasure. “Thank you, Daddy.”

“That’s not all,” Alistair revealed. Picking up a key from his desk. “I hope it’s to your liking.”

Sheridan’s eyes grew round, and her mouth fell open as her father dropped the key in her open palm.

“I know you prefer to drive yourself instead of taking the limosine. So I took the liberty of choosing a car for you.”

“Aunt Sheridan,” Ethan spoke like an excited schoolboy. “You’ll love it. It’s a red convertible. With leather interior…”

“Why don’t you take it for a test drive?” Alistair suggested.

The smile on Sheridan’s face vanished the moment Luis spoke up.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Crane. But that is impossible. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that your daughter’s safety is the most important thing. And I don’t think it’s very wise for her to leave the confines of the Crane property.”

“How dare you!” Sheridan bristled.

“How dare I? I’m your bodyguard,” he said calmly. “And it’s my duty to keep you safe. It’s the job I’m being paid to do. And going out into the open air is like an advertisement that you want to be killed.”

“He’s right, Aunt Sheridan,” Ethan conceded.

Sheridan’s chin jutted out stubbornly, and she glared at him with icy blue eyes.

“Sheridan,” Alistair spoke. “Heed Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald’s instructions. For me,” he implored.

Luis watched. Amazed. Alistair’s words…they hypnotized her. And all resistance fled from her countenance.

“Yes, Father.”

“Now go along, dear. I have important business to attend to. Business you shouldn’t concern yourself with. Don’t give the kind Officer here a hard time. Cooperate,” he said. Picking up the receiver of the phone and pressing a number.

Just like that, they were dismissed.

The library’s doors shut behind them, and Ethan hugged Sheridan goodbye. “I’d walk you to your cottage, but I think Luis can handle it,” he smiled.

White-hot anger emanated from her in waves, and Luis wasn’t entirely happy when they left the relative sanctuary of the Mansion behind.

They slipped in and out of the shadows as they trudged to the cottage in silence.

He gripped her elbow firmly as the door swung open, and the lights flickered on.

She rolled her eyes. “Who’s going to get me, Officer? The Bogeyman?” she sneered. Jerking her elbow free and stalking inside.

He followed her. Barring her entry into her bedroom.

“What the hell is it this time? I’m exhausted! Will you just leave me alone long enough to get ready for bed?”

He held a finger to his lips, but she didn’t notice. Or maybe she just ignored him.

“Oh my god! I can’t believe you! I suppose you have to check under the bed and in the closet for monsters. Well…that’s it. I’ve had enough. Move out of my way, Officer,” she shoved past him. Resting the key and the perfume atop the smooth wood of the armoire. And pulling a flimsy nightgown from its drawers. “I’m going to bed now. Do your damn security check,” she muttered. Toeing her shoes off.

His black eyes glittered. She was infuriating. That’s what she was. And he had the irresistible impulse to wrap his hands around her slender neck and squeeze.

“Officer,” she huffed. “Fine,” she snapped when he didn’t bend to her will and exit the room. Her fingers unzipped the side zipper of her pants, and the black material pooled at her feet. Her white shirt fell from her shoulders.

He turned around. Loosening the buttons at his neck. A sudden wave of heat passing through his veins. The blood pounded in his ears, and he could hardly breathe when he realized he could still see her. In the reflection of the mirror.

Blood-red lace lingerie molded to her form. And his eyes traced the curve of her spine as her fingers unsnapped her bra. She eased the straps down her arms and…

His breath stuck in his throat when her blue eyes met his gaze in the mirror. And for an instant he could swear he saw desire flair up in their depths. Desire that matched his own. His fists clenched at his side, and he forced himself to break their intense stare. “Uh…I’m finished here. Do you have any extra sheets…a pillow I can use?” He heard the soft whisper of silk as she moved across the room.

“They’re in the closet outside. Let me get them for you,” she said softly.

“I can get them,” he told her. Breathing in sharply when his hand brushed against hers. “I’m sorry,” he apologized when she snatched her hand back. Like it had been burned.

“I can get them, Officer,” she insisted. “I hope you don’t mind the couch. It’s a little small,” she said. For no reason at all really.

The tension in the cramped hall made it hard to breathe.

So he did the only thing he could do…

Sheridan exhaled a sigh of relief once he disappeared into the living room. And twisted the knob on the closet door. Emerging seconds later. Arms laden with sheets and a pillow. "I hope these are…” Oh god. The shirt was gone. And the jeans fit his body like a glove, and she just knew she was instants away from spontaneously combusting.

“What?” he smirked. Rubbing his arms briskly. “You hope they’re what?”

Sheridan raised smoldering blue eyes up to his face, and she quickly looked away. “I hope these are okay,” she rushed. Setting the bundle down on the edge of the sofa and stepping back. Putting some distance between them and wrapping her arms around her chest self-consciously. “They’re all I have.”

“They’re fine,” he assured her. “Ms. Crane? Is something the matter?”

“Uh…huh?” she murmured distractedly. “What do you mean?”

Luis stuck his thumbs in the waistband of his jeans and leaned against the arm of the sofa. “I don’t know. You seem…kind of…quiet,” he grinned. His brown eyes sparkling at her teasingly. “I can’t figure you out.”

She lifted curious blue eyes to him.

“In the span of a few hours, you’ve went from bitchy to weak to…”

“Stop wasting your time,” she spat in irritation. Turning on her heel. “You aren’t going to be around long enough to find out.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that if I were you,” he called after her.

The door slammed, and he heard the lock click into place.

She was a mystery to him. Like a puzzle that’s pieces didn’t make any sense on it’s own. He wanted to find out what made her tick, he thought. And that realization made him curse under his breath. “Dammit, Luis. You can’t let her get to you this way. She’s just a job. Just a job,” he repeated. Feeling somewhat better. But at the back of his mind…

It just wasn’t true.

There was NO escape.

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:03 AM
Chapter 4





Long limbs sprawled at odd angles. A pale yellow sheet bunched at his waist. He tossed and turned restlessly. One bronzed hand shoved through black hair, and brown eyes popped open to survey his surroundings once more.

This wasn’t the home of a Crane.

Midnight sky was slowly giving way to morning as the sun’s rays painted the horizon outside in pale pastels.

Last night was the most restless night of his life.

And it had little to do with the fact that he was responsible for a human life. A human life steeped in fame. Fortune.

He closed his eyes as the sudden, unbidden image of her smooth, naked skin assaulted him. The ridges of her spine like pearls. The whisper of silk as she moved.

She was beautiful.

A woman with many, many layers.

Complicated.

She was untouchable, he told himself. Sitting up with a groan and swinging his legs over the edge of the sofa.

Bare feet padded across the living room.

The door to her bedroom was slightly ajar.

Sometime during the night she had unlocked it, he realized with a slight smile.

He pushed the door forward gently. Holding his breath as it creaked on its hinges.

Unable to breathe at all at the vision he encountered.

Her face was lax in sleep. Peaceful. Her chest rose and fell gently with each breathe she took. Her short blond hair curled around her face.

She was the picture of innonence.

But then…it just went to show…appearances COULD be deceiving.

Sheridan Crane was no angel. Hellion was a description more fitting.

He pulled the door shut behind him after quickly inspecting the room and walked into the kitchen.

Cupboard doors banged shut, and coffee mugs clattered against the tile countertop as he searched for a law enforcer’s staple. Coffee.

Finally…success!

The coffee percorlated, and it’s rich aroma wafted through the kitchen as he scanned the refrigerator’s interior.

He knew he shouldn’t be surprised to find it fully stocked, but he couldn’t help it. Things were SO different this side of the Harmony ‘railroad’ tracks.

He whistled a cheery tune under his breath as he cracked eggs into a bowl, and bacon sizzled in a pan on the stove.

“Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald!”

Luis winced as her shrill scream ricocheted off the walls of the cottage.

“I’ll have you know, you woke me from a perfectly wonderful dream. You didn’t waste any time making yourself at home, Off…” All thoughts flew out of her brain as she rounded the corner, and she stared slack-jawed at his…physique.

Luis turned around with a wicked gleam in his dark eyes. “Are you hungry, Ms. Crane?” he asked. Shifting his attention back to scrambling the eggs in the pan.

Sheridan’s tongue darted out to moisten her lips unconsciously. “I…I…” she stammered. How were words possible at this moment? He was standing before her. Cooking. In nothing save a pair of black boxers. She had a weakness for black boxers.

“Yes or no?” Luis queried. Spooning a heap of eggs into a plate to his right.

Sheridan had difficulty tearing her eyes away. She couldn’t possibly speak.

Luis fought the urge to laugh when he turned around to find her staring. “Here. I fixed you a plate anyway. How do you take your coffee?”

“Black,” she sighed. “No,” she rushed. “I’m sorry,” she said. Flustered as hell. “With sugar. Lots of sugar.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know where the sugar is. Maybe you can point me in the right direction.”

She moved toward him slowly.

It was almost as if she were afraid to be close to him, Luis thought.

“Uh…I’m not sure where it is,” she said. Averting her blue gaze and fixing it on a point on the wall.

He filled her coffee mug with the steaming liquid as she ransacked the cabinets for sugar.

“I found it, but I can’t…I can’t…reach it,” she huffed frustratedly.

Luis swallowed hard. His dark eyes fixated on the slip of silk riding up her long tanned legs as she raised on tiptoe stretching an arm out to the top shelf. He cleared his throat uncomfortably and crossed the room to stand beside her in two or three long strides. “I’ll get it.”

She sucked in a deep breath as his arm reached past her. Fleetingly brushing against her breast, and her cheeks instantly flamed with heat. “Thank you,” she murmured when he handed the sugar over to her.

After a few awkward seconds of staring at each other, Luis broke their gaze. “The food’s getting cold.”

She crossed her arms across her chest self-consciously as she seated herself opposite him and hesitantly picked up a fork.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” he asked.

She took a dainty bite of eggs between her teeth, and he rolled his eyes.

“At that rate, you’ll still be chewing on breakfast come dinner.”

“Haha,” she muttered. “Why Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald…I didn’t know you were a stand-up comedian.”

The bitch comes out to play early, he thought silently. “Loosen up,” he said instead. “I’m not going to bite. And I’m certainly not going to attack. I’m responsible for your safety. Remember?”

She picked up the pitcher of orange juice and poured a small glass. Lifting it to her lips and sipping. “How can I forget? When you keep reminding me? What’s in this for you, Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald? A hefty raise?”

Anger flared within him, and his jaw clenched. “Money doesn’t make me operate. Pride in my job does. I’m not doing this for the money, Ms. Crane. Although…I think anyone who spends more than a few days with YOU deserves some sort of medal.”

She slammed her glass down on the table in rage. Her blue eyes dangerously dark.

He grinned.

She was seething.

And he realized…he LOVED getting her all worked up.

“Oh really?” she bit out. “I don’t see people lined up outside to see you. If you’re such a popular guy, Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald, tell me. Where are they?”

He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms about his bare chest. Brown eyes glittering with amusement as she seemed to forget any other retort begging release from her tongue, and those blue eyes turned dark with something else. “Then you’d have a little competition. But don’t worry,” he uncrossed his arms. “I think you could take them. I think you’re stronger than you look. And being a Crane…I’m sure you know how to fight dirty. I mean, it’s something Daddy taught you way back when, isn’t it?”

“Go to hell,” she spat. Throwing her napkin at him and stalking out of the kitchen with angry strides.

What a view.

He didn’t even jump this time when her bedroom door slammed. It was something he’d already come to expect.

The dishes clattered as he gathered them up and placed them in the sink.

He twisted the tap, and warm water rushed out as he squirted dish detergent into the sink. He gulped down the last of his coffee and set the mug in the soapy water. Dipping the rag down and beginning to methodically wash and dry the pots and plates and glasses.

A muffled noise from the direction of Sheridan’s bedroom put him on alert, and he dropped the towel on the kitchen counter before easing along the edge of the kitchen wall. Gun in hand. Ready.

But it was the ear-splitting scream that made his heart race and his steps quicken.

And he crashed through the bedroom door. To a sight that made his jaw drop.

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:05 AM
Chapter 5





“Sheridan! Sheridan! Are you okay?”

Her blond hair was slicked back, and water dripped from her body. Her very naked body. She stood there in shock for a moment. Mouth gaping open. Blue eyes enormous. “Of course, I’m okay,” she spat. Tugging at the comforter from her bed. “Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald…Officer…LUIS!” she yelled.

It was his spoken name that did it.

His dark eyes blinked, and he lowered the weapon in his hands. “What happened?”

She glared at him. Yanking more fiercely at the comforter. “Ugh!” she huffed. “At least have the decency to turn around. Why the hell did you come bursting in here in the first place?”

“I’m sorry. What was I supposed to do? I hear the woman in the next room from me. Screaming bloody murder. BLOODY MURDER,” he emphasized. “The woman I am assigned to protect from a ruthless drug cartel who will stop at nothing to eliminate her from the picture…”

“Sure, sure,” she interrupted him. “I’m sure you’re sorry,” she said sarcastically.

He had his back turned, but he could see her rolling those blue eyes of hers.

“It’s my…”

“I know. Your job. I’ve heard this lecture how many times before in the last 24 hours? Hmm. That would be…a thousand times! And I’m sick and damn tired of it!”

He spun on his heels and said hotly, “Not this again. You, Ms. Crane, sound like a broken record.”

The floral comforter dwarfed her form.

He had to fight the urge to laugh. Not for a moment did he think she wouldn’t kick his ass. Let her try, he thought silently. He bet he could have her begging him for…..mercy. Forgiveness. His brown eyes lingered lazily on a bead of water that clung to the hollow of her throat just so.

“Broken record! I’ll show you broken…”

He let her rant. Shaking his head to clear it of the images that assaulted him. Him shutting her up with a kiss. A long, deep, wet, passionate kiss. Dark against light.

As they moved together in unison…He stifled a groan when she stepped nearer. God. This was insanity. Not even two days, and he wanted…

The perfect bead of water traveled slowly. To the valley between her breasts.

Her blue eyes glittered. A devious sparkle in them. “What is it, Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald?” she purred. “Cat got your tongue?” she questioned. Her own pink tongue darting out to moisten her lips.

He swallowed hard as her soft body brushed against his.

She trailed her manicured nails up his forearm.

And he shivered under her touch.

She gasped as his own hand grabbed hers and pulled her up against his hard chest.

Her lungs burning. Feeling as if they would burst as she held her breath.

“As much as I’m enjoying this little…seduction of yours,” he said in a low whisper. “It has to end,” he growled. Shoving her from his grasp. “NOW! Get some clothes on.”

She clutched the comforter to her shoulders. “I can’t.”

He rolled his eyes at her words. Jaw set in anger.

“What’s the matter, Officer? Can’t take a little temptation?” she laughed wickedly. “You’re no fun at all,” she grumbled.

“Well…you’re no walk in the park, either,” he muttered under his breath.

She couldn’t tell what he said. But she had her suspicions. None of them good. How was she going to survive much more of this? Cooped up in this tiny cottage. Alone. With him and only him.

It was exhausting.

The air between them hummed with electricity.

This…attraction she felt for him…it was like a live wire.

“You never told me what happened,” he said. Breaking the heavy silence.

“What?” she asked dumbly. She was so busy thinking up solutions to this unexpected problem, she didn’t hear his question.

He picked his gun back up from her armoire. Testing its weight in his hands. “Well…something must have frightened you. What was it? What on earth happened?”

She blushed furiously in embarrassment as she ducked her head. “It was nothing,” she said softly.

“Nothing! Ms. Crane…I get it,” he smirked. “This is all part of your little plan.”

“Oh, I HAVE to hear this,” Sheridan tapped her foot impatiently. “WHAT plan, pray tell, is that?”

“My! Aren’t we forgetful?” Luis crossed his arms. “I thought…and I’m using your exact words here, you wouldn’t sleep ‘with the likes of me’?”

Anger flared up in her blue eyes.

“Well? Did you change your mind?” he teased.

“Well what, Officer? You’re so smart, Einstein. You tell me,” she said.

His deep brown eyes darkened as he studied her. So intently.

It was unnerving. Like he was staring straight into her soul. As if he knew all her secrets. All her hopes and dreams.

Fantasies.

No. This was…this was…“This is absolutely ridiculous!” she cried.

Luis grinned. “What’s so ridiculous about wanting me?” That did it. She was steaming now. RED-HOT.

“Wanting you? WANTING YOU?! Why on God’s green earth would I want you? Really, Officer. There are so many reasons. Number one I don’t even know you.”

“Come on. You can’t say that,” he smirked devilishly. “After all…I’ve seen you naked,” he said in a low, appreciative voice. “You’re quite the little exhibitionist.”

“Me? What about you? At least I had a good excuse. I was in the middle of taking my shower when this enormous ta…I just got out of the shower. Why are you prancing around like you’re…Adonis or something? Too sexy for your shirt, Officer?” Sheridan! You did NOT just say that!

Luis’s teeth gleamed white against his dark skin when he smiled. “You think I’m sexy, Ms. Crane?” he waggled his eyebrows. “Why thank you.”

“Ugh!” she flailed her arms about in frustration. “Why do you always twist everything I say around? Not EVERYTHING is an innuendo. Do you take pleasure in aggravating me? Are you enjoying making my life miserable? Why couldn’t I get a nice, ugly, mute bodyguard that can’t give me orders?” she grumbled.

He chuckled. “Uh…Ms. Crane. I’d be a little more careful if I were you.”

She caught the comforter just before it slipped. Then stomped off toward the open bathroom door. Pausing just outside. “I’m going to finish my shower now.”

The smile on his face faltered somewhat as she visibly paled. “What is it?” he hissed. Creeping up behind her.

“N-Nothing,” she stammered.

His shoulder brushed against her arm as he leaned forward to do an inspection of his own, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. “Dammit! Would you stop that?”

“What?” he asked innocently.

Or maybe NOT so innocently, she thought to herself. Touching me, she wanted to scream. “Sneaking up on me and trying to cop a feel,” she muttered. Backing up against the doorframe.

His eyes twinkled as he said, "I’m more straightforward than that, Ms. Crane. If I wanted to touch you,” he whispered. Raising a hand to her cheek. “I would just do it.”

Her gaze darted back and forth between his lips and his eyes. Do something Sheridan. Do something before you make a complete fool of yourself and… “There’s a tarantula in my shower,” she blurted.

And the look on his face…

She could die from the mortification.

His lips twisted upward on their own volition, and he removed his hand from her cheek. “A tarantula? You nearly gave me a heart attack over a tarantula?”

Her cheeks burned hot as she stared at her feet. “It’s huge,” she shuddered. “I reached for the shampoo, and it was just…there.”

He laughed. Cute. She was embarrassed as hell.

“Don’t laugh. It was huge and hairy and it stared at me with these awful beady eyes,” she pouted. “Kill it,” she whined. Eyes wide with fright.

And blue as the ocean, his brain supplied. He was drowning. Mesmerized.

“Please,” she begged. “I can’t…Luis,” she cried. Hanging back nervously. “Just kill it.”

He pushed down his amusement and sauntered into the bathroom. “Where is this…monstrosity?”

Sheridan was so terrified she didn’t recognize the teasing quality of his tone. Maybe she just didn’t care. “In the shower, you idi…”

“Hey!” Luis held up his hands defensively. “No need for name calling. Simple question. What’s so hard about a simple answer?”

“Moron,” she muttered under her breath.

“Smartass,” he shot back triumphantly.

She shot daggers at him.

“Do you want me to kill the tarantula or not?” he sighed.

She swallowed her pride. “Yes,” she whispered. “It’s in there,” she pointed with a shaky finger.

Luis’s hand grasped the edge of the shower curtain, and slowly he pulled it back.

“Luis!” she groaned. “Hurry up and kill the damn thing!”

He flung the shower curtain back and…

She bit her lip. Hands covering her eyes.

“A tarantula?” Luis gasped for breath in between belly laughs. “You call THAT,” he pointed to the rather puny spider perched atop a shiny bottle of shampoo, “huge?”

“It is. I mean…it was. Shut up,” she huffed.

He snickered as he picked the spider up by one long leg. “A Daddy Long- Legs,” he shook his head. He opened the small bathroom window and dropped it outside. “Satisfied now?”

“No,” she grumbled.

He whirled back around to face her.

“You’re still here. G-E-T O-U-T!” she yelled. Shoving him out the bathroom door.

He grinned when it slammed shut in his face. He couldn’t resist. “I bet you LOVED ‘Charlotte’s Web’.”

“Fffffffffuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnyyyyyyy,” she shouted brattily.

“I try.”

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:11 AM
Chapter 6





Luis cursed under his breath as he hurried to catch up with her.

She'd emerged from her luxurious (what the hell else had she been doing in there for 30 minutes?) shower clad in a shimmering lavendar sundress that swirled around her slender ankles with every step. Pale purple-painted toes peeked from the edge of simple white sandles.

The smile on his face grew wider as his dark eyes traveled upward. She wore minimal makeup, and for a moment, he just admired her beauty. Until...

"Are you going to gawk at me all day, Officer? So pathetic," she muttered under her breath as she turned on her heel and stalked out the front door of the cottage before Luis could gather his wits about him enough to try and stop her.

Luis groaned at the devilish twinkle in her blue eyes as she practically sprinted across the gardens separating the cottage from the Mansion. "You're supposed to clear ALL outings with me," he growled. Cutting her off before she could go inside.

"Oh really?" she mused. "Does that go for EVERYTHING? There ARE some things a woman would rather keep...private. Or would you like rather violate that and shatter the mystique?"

His brown eyes rolled of their own accord. "What mystique?"

She ignored him. Jabbing a manicured forefinger into his chest. "What's the matter, Officer? Disappointed I didn't reward you for your heroics this morning by letting you watch? Learn to live with the disappointment...fantasies are the closest you're ever going to get to the real thing," she smirked.

"Are you sure about that?" he couldn't resist asking. Advancing on her and invading her personal space.

Sheridan's blue eyes flashed angrily at him as the Mansion's brick walls bit into her back. He was standing so damn close she couldn't formulate a proper thought. She held up a hand to his chest to push him away. He was TOO close, she realized. Blinking rapidly as his handsome face loomed in front of hers. What the...Handsome?

"Am I making you nervous?" he whispered.

"No," she lied through her teeth. Her senses were going haywire on her with just the slightest contact from him.

"You're not a very good liar," he told her. His voice dripping with amusement. "Are you sure you're okay, Ms. Crane?" he asked her with gleaming dark eyes as his fingers trailed the length of the delicate gold chain at her throat.

She almost stopped breathing as his fingers dipped into her cleavage to retrieve the locket attached to the chain. Her blue eyes were transfixed on his long fingers as they fumbled with the tiny latch holding the locket shut.

Luis studied the photograph nestled inside with curious eyes.

A vaguely familiar woman. Holding a tiny blond-curled child close. As if she were a treasure. The child's blue eyes...

He knew those eyes...

The locket lay in the palm of his hand as he leveled his gaze on her again. "You," he said simply.

Those damn blue eyes were pulling him in.

His heart gave a tiny lurch as her fingers brushed against his, and she self-consciously averted her eyes from his intense stare. "Your mother?"

The pale gold settled against her throat once more and the locket once again disappeared.

He tensed as he heard movement behind them.

The melancholy look in her blue eyes was quickly replaced with one of irritation as he raised a finger to her lips to keep her quiet, and she fumed silently as his hand went to the gun tucked in the waist of his pants.

A firm hand on his shoulder had him whirling on his heels.

Ethan Crane's blue eyes widened in fright when he felt the barrel of the gun pressed against his ribs.

"You idiot!" Sheridan lambasted. "What are you trying to do?" From the looks of things...Ethan was about to piss in his preppy chinos. "Put that horrid thing away. If you weren't so jumpy..."

Luis scowled at her out of the corner of his eyes while he tucked his weapon back inside his pants. Apologies flowing forth from his lips. "...just doing my job."

Ethan's jaw worked futilely as he tried to think up a response.

Sheridan crossed her arms about her chest defensively as she glared back at Luis. "See what've you done, Officer? You've scared my poor nephew into a complete stupor."

Ethan's cheeks burned brightly.

"Sheridan, Darling," a feminine voice interjected. "Like the man said...he was only doing his job."

Luis's dark eyes appraised the two women interacted as they embraced in greeting.

Slightly formal, but there was genuine affection present.

Sheridan kissed Ivy's cool cheek as she dropped her arms to her side. "Ivy," she breathed. "Are you feeling better? Ethan told us about your headache..."

Ivy waved her off. "Nonsense, Darling. There was NO headache. I just didn't think I could stand to look at your lovely brother's face one second longer than necessary," she said with a saccharine smile on her lips. "I thought we could enjoy a nice picnic lunch together at the gazebo, though. We have a lot of catching up to do. Why not enjoy this beautiful weather we're having here in Harmony while it lasts?"

"THAT sounds like the best idea I've heard all day," Sheridan smiled brightly. Looping her arm through Ivy's with a fleeting glance in his direction. "Unless..."

"Sheridan, Darling," Ivy smiled broadly. "Your bodyguard is more than welcome to join us."

The brilliant smile on her face dimmed somewhat. Actually...it resembled more of a grimace as he graciously accepted the older woman's offer with a pleasant smile. "Thank you. I'd really appreciate that."

Ethan chuckled when his aunt couldn't resist her childish impulses and stuck her tongue out at the man beside him.

"Damn brat," Luis grumbled under his breath as he watched the two women disappear around the corner. He made no effort to apologize when he remembered Ethan's presence. "Is she always so..."

"Stubborn?" Ethan supplied. "Luis," he grinned. "You haven't seen anything yet."

Luis raised his eyes skyward. "God grant me the patience..." To not kill her with my bare hands, he added silently.

Lunch was rather...interesting.

When he could relax enough to drop his guard and enjoy it. He was pleasantly surprised to find there was more than met the eye when it came his spoiled charge. More than once he had to stop himself from inflicting a little torture himself. He had the most insane urge to hum "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" under his breath several times.

She was intelligent, witty, and really quite pleasant.

To people other than him.

Her desire to give to others, especially children, seemed very genuine.

He was, he admitted grudgingly to himself, rather impressed, and he told her so.

Her snide response... "Flattery will get you NOWHERE, Officer. You can't order
me around like some...some...child!" She wasn't going to let him fool her. She knew he was being anything BUT nice.

Ivy hid her smile behind her teacup.

Ethan laughed openly in her face.

Earning himself a slap on the arm. "Oh shut up!"

Ivy's blue green eyes sparkled at her son and her sister-in-law as Sheridan rolled her blue eyes at Ethan and apologized for `attacking' him. Those two were more like siblings than anything else. "Finding everything in the cottage okay, Luis? Sheridan is more than welcome to stay in the Mansion, but she insisted..."

"Ivy," Sheridan shook her head. Interrupting her. "We've been through this. You know there are bad mem...I just feel more comfortable in the cottage. I enjoy my privacy."

"But the cottage must be awfully cramped...surely you'd enjoy more space...and protection..."

Luis watched. His dark eyes never leaving her hands as they twisted the napkin nervously.

"Mother," Ethan said pointedly. "If Aunt Sheridan wants to stay in the cottage, she can stay in the cottage. Luis is there to protect her..."

"...the nightmares," Ivy continued.

His gaze snapped to her face. Her pale face.

Her blue eyes...they were haunted. By some memory he couldn't see, couldn't know.

"Mother," Ethan warned.

Sheridan's fists clenched painfully. Her nails digging into her palms as she coiled the napkin tighter still. "I'll be...I'm fine, Ivy."

"She's safe with me," Luis said. Effectively ending the uncomfortable but intriguing discussion as he stilled Sheridan's anxious hands with his own. Enjoying the brief flicker of gratitude across her face.

"Of course," Ivy apologized hastily. "Sheridan, Darling...I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to..."

A small smile graced Sheridan's pink lips again as she accepted the sentiment. "No need. It's forgotten..."

"So Aunt Sheridan," Ethan grinned. "I never knew your favorite book was Charlotte's Web. You and Luis must be getting along famously then."

Luis groaned and inwardly cringed. Thanks a million, Crane.

The truce was fun while it lasted. All of five seconds.

"Famously," Sheridan answered. Through clenched teeth.

Not helping me out at all, Luis thought as he met her furious stare.

And it wasn't even noon yet.

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:12 AM
Chapter 7





For every step forward taken, there were two steps back. Always, Luis thought as he heaved a heavy sigh. The “Charlotte’s Web” incident was the least of his worries now. She was effectively driving him insane. Alternating between civility and downright brattiness/bitchiness.

“It’s been two weeks. Two weeks already, and NOTHING has happened. NOTHING! Why do you insist on keeping me cooped up in this place, on these grounds, when it doesn’t appear that I’m in any danger? Come on, Luis,” she whined.

He arched a brow at her use of his name. Officer, Moron…he was used to. But his name? Okay. She was pulling out the big guns.

“No. No, I am NOT taking you off of these grounds until I hear word from Freeman himself,” he told her.

The pout disappeared, replaced by a rather menacing black scowl.

Or at least it would have been menacing to someone else. To him? Oh, he was really shaking in his boots.

Sheridan Crane was many things. Many things that confused and irritated the hell out of him.

But menacing?

The mere thought was ridiculous.

This one’s bark was most definitely worse than her bite.

But still…

No one ever said she wasn’t a hell-raiser.

And he might just be tempted to, borrowing her words, “Chew off his own foot,” if he had to be witness to another temper tantrum.

“How about a nice long walk?”

Interest flared in her blue eyes for about a second before they were rolling at him. “Gee. I appreciate the offer, but no thanks.”

He threw his hands up in the air. “Okay. Fine. But remember…you had your chance.”

She watched him as he walked over to the sofa and plopped down in an ungraceful heap. She wanted to scream, yell, slap that damn smirk off his face that he tried, unsuccessfully, to hide behind yesterday’s edition of the Harmony Herald.

But…

She was going stir-crazy. So crazy, in fact, she was tempted to steal those cuffs of his and make sure he wouldn’t ever refuse her anything ever again.

NO!

Forgetting the fact that it wasn’t the same old nightmares being in this town, so close to Father and Julian, and the Mansion, usually induced keeping her up at ungodly hours of the night, she wasn’t dirty-minded.

Okay.

To be fair, the first dream had been pretty tame. A few stolen kisses.

Nothing to blush about.

Last night’s dream, though…

Oh God…she had to get out of this cottage now, or…

“Look. I’m sorry. Okay? Satisfied now, or would you like me to beg?”

Luis’s dark eyes glittered at her, and he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. Oh, the images that simple little question evoked. And the embarrassed flush of her cheeks. “Hmm…I’ll have to think about that one…”

“You are so disgusting!” she snarled. Stomping over to him and yanking the newspaper from his hands, rolling it up, and threatening him with it if he said another word.

“I’m so scared,” he teased. “Get over it, Princess. You served that one up on a silver platter.”

He chuckled as she attacked him with her ‘deadly weapon.’

Infuriating her all the more.

But the day was just beginning.

He thought she was going to rip his head off when he grabbed her by the wrist and tugged, landing her in his lap.

“Let go of me,” she growled. Twisting and squirming in the struggle and making them both infinitely more UNCOMFORTABLE.

“If you…dammit. Be still,” he commanded. Slamming his eyes shut as he tried to quell his unbidden responses to her closeness. The scent of her perfume, the blueness of her eyes, just the feel of her. So close. And alive. He couldn’t stop himself as his fingers loosened from her wrist, and his hand trailed up her bare arm. Skimming her shoulder before coming to rest at the nape of her neck.

Goosebumps pebbled Sheridan’s skin, and her breath quickened at the touch of his fingers as they played with the blond curls. “Luis…” she whispered. Bracing her hand on his chest as she gathered the strength to speak. She was having a little difficulty thinking at the moment.

Bit of an understatement really. She was having a hard time not melting into a puddle of mush at the moment.

The look in his eyes…

It was almost frightening in its intensity.

She was barely breathing as the features of his face swam out of focus, looming closer inch by inch…

Panic swelled within her.

Control. She was losing control. She couldn’t let that happen.

She shoved hard his chest. “Luis! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Luis blinked, and he shook his head.

Anything to clear it of the dangerous notions that were threatening to take his brain hostage.

He’d never been more thankful to hear a phone ring in his life than when the shrill noise shattered the awkward silence.

“Ethan…No. I’m okay…Out of breath? Don’t be ridiculous…Really?…That sounds wonderful, but I have to clear it with my prison warden first…Wait just a minute…”

Luis stared at the phone she held out to him.

She pulled back when his fingers brushed hers, almost sending the phone crashing to the floor.

Luis listened absently to the younger man’s voice as he presented his case. But his eyes were glued on her.

Watching her every move, breath…

Sheridan turned her back to him. Uncomfortable with his scrutiny.

This HAD to stop, and staying cooped up in this cottage all day was NOT going to help matters there.

“…Yes, Ethan. That DOES sound like a good idea…We’ll be there…Thanks,” he finished. Hanging up.

She whirled around, blue eyes confused.

“Well,” he shooed her with his hands. “What are you waiting for? Me to change my mind? We don’t have all day. Go.”

A genuine smile lit up her face, making her eyes sparkle a dazzling blue, and for a moment, he thought she was going to say thank you.

But the day was only starting, right?

And a girl couldn’t ruin her image.

She’d thank him later.

If she didn’t kill him first.

Luis shook his head as he heard the bedroom door slam behind her. Couldn’t let a crack show up in the Crane armor. It just wouldn’t be suitable.

He grabbed his duffel bag from the closet and began rifling through it.

She was crazy if she thought he wasn’t going to be right there. By her side. For every minute.

Thanks probably wouldn’t be forthcoming later, either, but it’d all be worth it to get out of this damn cottage before he did something monumentally stupid.

Thanks be damned, he thought with a grin, as he finally found what he was looking for.

It WAS particularly hot today in the town of Harmony.

He could use a good swim.

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:13 AM
Chapter 8





“Aunt Sheridan,” Ethan smiled, laying the courtroom potboiler in his hands down on the chaise as he rose to his feet. “So glad to see you,” he told her as he wrapped his arms around her in greeting.

The scowl on Sheridan’s lips disappeared as soon as she saw the haphazardly placed smudges of sunscreen dotting her nephew’s cheeks. “Is that the latest look?” she teased as she looped her arm in his. Effectively ignoring Luis’s very presence beside her.

Luis shook his head at her. If she weren’t such a child, she’d be a grade- A bitch. As it were, she was the biggest brat he’d ever met. “Forgetting something?” he jogged up beside the pair.

Her blue eyes glittered at him as she snatched HIS towel away. “So thoughtful of you,” she said with a saccharine smile.

Ethan’s blue eyes twinkled at the little display.

“My pleasure, your Highness,” Luis’s dark eyes were laughing as he lifted her hand to his lips.

He hid his smile when Aunt Sheridan yanked her hand free just centimeters shy of Luis’s lips. “Glad you could join us, Luis,” he spoke up when the daggers shooting from her eyes reached fever-pitch intensity. “There should be something suitable in the pool house if you want to swim a few laps.”

“Oh please. You can’t be serious. Officer Lopez-Fitzgerald…”

“Thanks, Ethan,” Luis cut her off. Smirking as he watched her pleased smirk turn into something else entirely with his next words. “I brought my own. Do you think you can keep an eye on her? I turn my back for one second, and she’s into trouble again.”

“Don’t I know…ahem. Yes. Yes, of course. Don’t take long,” Ethan said almost pleadingly as he found a good portion of the blond dynamo’s fury directed AT him.

Luis ducked as a bottle of tanning lotion whizzed past his head.

“…treats me just like a child. Ugh! I hate him. He’s like a damn fungus…”

“Aunt Sheridan, he’s only doing his job. And you can be rather…”

“And you, Buster. Who do you think you are? Taking his side?”

Luis chuckled as he closed the pool house door to the image of Princess Crane physically ‘attacking’ her flesh and blood.

Sheridan Crane was a hands-on kind of woman.

“Honestly, Ethan. You could be a little more supportive. The man is driving me up the wall. One second longer in that ridiculously small cottage, and you’d be defending me in a capital murder case. He’s just so…” Words failed her as she unwrapped the cerulean sarong from her waist and slipped her feet out of her flip-flops.

“So what?” a voice hissed against her ear, and Luis had to remind himself that his life and well-being might very well depend on his ability to keep his laughter at her reaction in-check at that precise moment.

“Dammit!” she swore as she whirled around and put some distance in between them. “Would you make a little more noise next time? Are you trying to do the drug cartel’s job for them?” she asked snottily.

“Don’t you think you’d be six feet under by now if that were the case?” his dark eyes gleamed devilishly at her as they openly admired her body. And the tiny blue bikini barely covering it. “You certainly don’t like to leave much to the imagination, do you?"

Ethan backed slowly away. To his own remote corner of the pool. And promptly buried his nose back in his book.

“You know what? I’m not even going to let you spoil my fun…”

“Fine by me,” he shrugged his shoulders. Hands going to the hem of his tank top. “You can have that end of the pool,” he motioned to the shallow end. “I’ll take this end,” he grinned.

“Hell no,” she growled as she shoved past him. “You take that end,” she ordered.

“”Whatever you say,” he said pleasantly. Peeling the tank from his torso.

“Bast…” Sheridan glanced back to shoot another glare his way and nearly choked on her own saliva.

“Did you say something?” Luis cocked his head to the side as he dropped the towel around his waist to the ground below. “What was that, Ms. Crane?” he smirked.

“Aunt Sher…”

“Like what you see?” Luis teased mercilessly as she continued to stroll along in a daze. “Which is it? Cat got YOUR tongue, Ms. Crane? I watch where I was going…”

Ethan flew from the chaise as soon as he heard the awful splash. “Aunt Sheridan! Are you okay?”

Luis chuckled as her blond head broke the surface, and her arms flailed about as she sputtered and gasped for breath. “Need a hand?” he offered with a smile. There was a split-second where he realized he should have known better than to trust the little minx.

Her hand slid into his too quickly. Her eyes sparkled too brightly. And her lips curved into a mischievous smile.

Seconds later he was choking up chlorinated water and watching her tight little derriere as Ethan helped her climb out of the pool. “Okay. So you got me that time. It won’t happen again,” he promised. “It won’t happen again,” he laughed to himself as she strutted to the far end of the pool and took the towel her nephew held out. He’d return the favor. Soon. At first chance. In the meanwhile, he decided a few laps around the pool would do his tension-filled muscles good.

Ethan shook his head as he listened to his aunt rant and rave about how much she despised Pilar’s son while her eyes kept peeking over the magazine she was pretending to read to watch him in the pool. He’d been accused of being obtuse sometimes, but he hardly thought the dumbest individual on the planet could miss the chemistry these two were fighting for all they were worth. It was exhausting just to observe.

“Mr. Crane,” a maid appeared at his side, holding his cell phone. “You have an important phone call. It’s Ms. Hotchkiss…”

“Take it, Ethan,” Sheridan nudged him.

“Gwen…Yes…Yes, I understand….Let me just…” he held his hand over the receiver as he spoke to his aunt. “Aunt Sheridan…you wouldn’t mind if I cut our day together short, would you? Gwen needs me at the office. She wants my legal opinion on a few matters.”

“Of course, I don’t mind. Ethan…go. You’re not going to disappoint me. I promise,” she smiled up at him. “You don’t have to worry about me. One babysitter is enough,” she said. Sending a pointed glare Luis’s way.

“But Aunt Sheridan…”

“Ethan,” she snapped impatiently. “For the last time…I’ll be fine!”

Ethan’s lips quirked up at the corners. “It’s not you I’m worried about. I’m kind of afraid you’ll kill Luis while I’m gone, and I really will have to defend you on murder charges. I’m not THAT kind of attorney, Aunt Sheridan,” he teased.

“Ethan,” she warned.

“Keep yourself out of trouble,” he grinned as he lifted the phone back to his ear and ambled after the maid.

Easier said than done, she thought silently as she watched the muscles of Luis’s broad back ripple and shift as he pulled himself out of the pool. And the way the droplets of water cascaded down his perfect bronzed skin.

And the damn smirk on his face!

“Alone at last.”

“UGH!” she groaned as she flopped onto her stomach to make sure she didn’t have to look at his infuriating face any longer. “I hate you, you know that?”

“Tell me how you really feel,” he grinned as he eased himself into the chaise opposite her.

“Don’t even talk to me.”

“Won’t be a problem if YOU’D just shut that mouth you SO love to shoot off,” he told her.

“Don’t make me kill you,” she hissed as she grabbed her things and stomped to another chaise a few feet away.

“All talk and no action,” he taunted her. “All talk and…oomph,” his mouth fell open when something hit him square in the face. He pulled his hand away, and…

A tiny blue bikini top dangled from his index finger.

“You were saying?” she smirked at him with glittering blue eyes.

Maybe he should have just kept HIS damn mouth shut, he thought as he shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“I thought so,” she boasted triumphantly. “Now who’s speechless? Moron,” she muttered into the arm carelessly strewn above her head.

Bitch, he thought.

There was obviously NOTHING childlike about the half-naked woman just a few feet away from him.

Damn.

This was going to be a LLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOONNNNNNNGGGGGGGGG day.

Maybe a swim wasn’t the best idea he’d ever had, after all.

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:14 AM
Chapter 9





She was asleep. Mouth slightly open, the side of her face flattened against her arm, wholly ungraceful in the moment, asleep.

But more appealing than ever, came the discomforting thought.

What the hell was happening to him?

He was actually beginning to enjoy being around her.

Too much.

People. Suddenly he wanted a crowd of people. Then maybe he could manage to tear his eyes away from her, he thought as he pulled himself to his feet and walked toward her.

“Sheridan,” he spoke softly. “We should…”

“Forget it, Officer,” she mumbled. Hiding her face in the crease of her sun-tanned arm. “Move. You’re blocking my sun,” she muttered as his shadow loomed tall over her.

“Sheridan…listen to me,” he snapped in exasperation. “We’ve been out here for hours, you’re getting burned, and it’s hot as hell…” his voice sounded rough to his own ears as she stretched lazily against the chaise.

“Do my back,” she murmured sleepily.

“Wh---“ Luis floundered.

Was she out of her damn mind?!?!

“Sunscreen, Dummy,” she grumbled. “Or is that too much for the big, bad policeman to handle?” she asked not-so-innocently. Biting her lip to keep from laughing when he snatched the bottle of sunscreen from her hand.

Was HE out HIS damn mind, he wondered as he squeezed a generous amount of sunscreen into his hands, rubbing them together before lowering them to her naked skin.

She jerked at the first touch of his hands on her, her heart speeding up in her chest, and her breath catching in her throat.

“You okay?”

“Just a little cold,” she said, realizing it was a lie seconds after the words left her mouth. Sure, the initial touch of the lotion on her back had been cool, but now…

Her skin burned wherever he touched it.

Luis’s brow furrowed in concentration as his massaged and kneaded her shoulders and back. Truth be told…forgetting ALL about the sunscreen as she relaxed beneath his ministrations.

Oh God, Sheridan thought, taking a shaky breath as his fingers brushed the hair at the nape of her neck away.

The man was deliberately torturing her!

“Shh,” his breath hissed against her ear as he leaned forward. “Still not finished,” he said as his fingers swept her sides.

She couldn’t control the moan that stole past her lips. Her blue eyes shot open when she realized…

The bastard was laughing at her!

“…the likes of me…remember?” he teased cruelly as he removed his hands from her body, standing up and grinning down at her when she rolled onto her back to glare at him.

Her fingers searched futilely for her discarded bikini top. “Where the hell…what did you do with it?” she growled.

“That little thing?” he shrugged his shoulders. “Haven’t seen it.”

She had her arms crossed over her chest as she backed him toward the pool. “Where is it, Luis? I know you…damn you,” she swore when she spotted the tiny scrap of blue material a few feet away.

Floating in the pool, of course.

The grin still hadn’t left Luis’s face. Even after getting the dunking of his life. Droplets of water cascaded down his face, into his eyes, as he zeroed in on the EXTREMELY pissed young heiress currently treading water to retrieve the garment.

Weeks of living with the brat had awakened his dormant childish tendencies, and he cut her off, snatching the top before her hands closed on it.

If looks could kill…

But Ms. Crane didn’t rely on looks.

Words worked just fine, too.

“I’m going to kill you!”

“Try it,” he challenged as he closed in on her, backing her into a corner.

Her blue eyes flashed dangerously at him when her back bit into the wall. “Give it to me,” she snapped as he dangled the top just out of her reach.

Luis’s dark eyes glinted at her devilishly as he transferred the scrap to his other hand and positioned it behind his back. “I’m not giving you anything,” he said, his eyes darkening as his thighs brushed against hers. Against his better judgment, he moved in even closer. “You’re going to have to take it.”

Sheridan worried her bottom lip between her teeth. That was EXACTLY what she was afraid of, she thought as her arm darted forward, around his waist. Reaching. Grabbing at air.

Luis’s eyes slammed shut of their own volition.

Each movement she made brought them closer together.

His hand shot out, stilling hers, and the annoyance in her blue eyes quickly fled as sensations flooded her body.

Chest to chest. The softness of her breasts were crushed against the hardness of his chest, and she couldn’t formulate a single sensible thought.

Her lips parted on a gasp as his hand at the small of her back urged her closer, and one of his legs slid between hers. Her fingers dug into his strong shoulders as her legs reflexively wrapped around his waist, and she moaned as the movement brought their lower bodies crashing together.

A droplet of water clung to her top lip, and he swiped his thumb across her lip, collecting the bead. Blue eyes changed colors before him, becoming smoky, darkening and deepening until he felt like he was drowning, and he couldn’t contain himself, couldn’t control the movement of his hips against hers, groaning as he felt her response.

Her breath came in short little pants as she rubbed her body sensuously against his, and her arms clasped behind his neck. She was losing all sense of control over her body’s reaction to him, spiraling out of control, fear combined with desire as she buried her face into his shoulder.

His lips brushed against her shoulder, and his fingers combed the hair at the nape of her neck in a touch so gentle, so tender…

It was almost caring.

And that thought stopped her heart.

They couldn’t…they couldn’t do this. They couldn’t hold each other like this. They couldn’t be close like this. They couldn’t care for each other.

Caring always led to hurt in her experience, and she’d been hurt enough already in her short lifetime.

Luis’s hands stilled their movements when he felt her tense against him, and his arms felt empty as she left them, hurriedly tying the blue top back in place. He itched to touch her, make her meet his eyes, but he knew her well enough at this point to know pushing her rarely got results. And he needed to regain his senses. Cool down. He couldn’t throw away his career. Not for ANYONE. So he resisted going after her as she rushed from the pool, pushing past the maid blindly in her efforts to get away from him. Probably running to Daddy, he couldn’t help the bitter thought as she disappeared within the Mansion. He cursed his body’s response to her, his inability to keep her at arm’s distance, as he rest his arms against the pool side and waited.

Going after her would HAVE to wait.

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:15 AM
Chapter 10







Goosebumps pebbled Sheridan's flesh as she stepped inside the Mansion, closing and locking the French doors behind her.

It wouldn't take Luis long to find and try another entrance she was sure, but she felt minimally better knowing she had done her part to annoy the hell out of him, if only for a few seconds.

Droplets of water coursed down her neck, traveling down her exposed back and just about every part of her, and she knew Father would be livid at her for not bothering to towel herself dry. But she hadn't exactly had the chance.

She had been too hell-bent on running away.

From Luis.

WHAT had happened in that pool?

She pushed the disturbing thoughts about what had been ABOUT to happen had she not come to her senses away and started walking in the general direction of Father's library, rubbing her arms briskly to ward off some of the chill.

One of the new maids scurried out of the open library door, her slightly spooked expression morphing into a reproachful scowl.

Sheridan could hear her silent words as clearly as if they'd been shouted. That look could only translate into one thing. 'Miss...you're dripping all over that dreadfully expensive, inhumanely ugly Persian rug.'

The maid's eyes narrowed, and she bustled past Sheridan with a shake of her mousy brown head when Sheridan couldn't contain her amused chuckle at her own silly addition to the woman's internal thoughts.

Sheridan raised a hand to rap her knuckles against the door, pausing mid- motion.

Father hated it when she interrupted his meetings.

She hugged her arms around her waist, wandering across the hall and coming to a stop in front of the ornate mirror hung above a fragrant arrangement of fresh flowers.

Was the mirror Father's or Julian's idea, she wondered.

A pair of deep blue eyes stared back at her, following her every movement, and when she lifted trembling fingers to touch the lips she'd wanted him to kiss so badly, the owner of those deep blue eyes mirrored her actions.

Sheridan's eyes fluttered shut as she imagined the feel of his mouth caressing hers, and a consuming ache coursed through her.

Remembering Luis's reaction to her only made the ache resonate more deeply.

When she opened her eyes, she was stunned by the undeniable purple tint of desire reflecting from them, and the flush creeping warmly up her chest and neck.

Dammit!

This wasn't happening!

She struggled to slow her erratic breathing and heart rates, gasping and whirling around quickly when Julian's face suddenly joined hers in the mirror, his dark eyes strangely troubled.

"Sheridan.I don't think you should."

"Yes, Julian. I am aware that I'm probably making a dreadful mess, but if I had to spend a moment longer in that infuriatingly stubborn and bossy ass's presence.I would have.I would have screamed," Sheridan's tirade against her brother died on her lips as she realized she may have spoken too quickly.

Not to mention.her word choice left something to be desired.

"I'm sorry, Julian. I didn't mean to.you didn't dese.I hate being babysat!" she cried, crossing her arms back over her chest and stalking past Julian.

Something was obviously bothering him, but the muscles of their relationship were old and tired sinews, shriveled from misuse, and she didn't feel like wasting her energy arguing with her lush of a brother.

Her father smiled at her-his frown at her state of undress only a momentary flicker--from behind his desk, the elegant fingers of one hand wrapped around a brand-new cigar while he reached forward with his free hand to disconnect the phone.

"Am I interrupting, Father?"

"No," Alistair answered her. "I'm glad to see you. You, on the other hand, look less than pleased."

Sheridan told herself she was only imagining the hollowness of his timbre, and she forced a smile of relief onto her face as she stepped further into the shadowed room. "Father, the bodyguard isn't working out. I'd feel much more comfortable if."

"Sheridan, Dear." Alistair interrupted her. "If Pilar's son is fired, another man will take his place. I know you enjoy your independence, but is it really that much of a hindrance when you take your well-being into consideration? You're my only daughter, Sheridan. I want you to be safe, and Pilar's son seems to be the most capable man available for the job. Give it some more time. If you still feel the same way in a couple of weeks, approach me again. The drug cartel may not even be an issue by then, and you'll have your cherished freedom again."

Sheridan sighed in resignation. Hopefully, Father was right, and the drug cartel would be captured and punished before she went berserk and tore Luis limb from limb. Or worse. "I'm sorry for inconveniencing you, Father."

"You're never an inconvenience, Dear," Alistair's voice was velvety smooth, and his smile was equally as polished as he beckoned her forward.

Sheridan joined him, looking outside the window at his back.

At the far end of the grounds was a construction site.

Scaffolds and glinting panes of glass, and men diligently working to erect the newest addition to the Crane estate-a greenhouse.

"The foreman says construction is progressing according to plan, but he needs someone to sign off on some last minute changes. Do you think you can handle it, Sheridan? I have a meeting with the Governor, and I couldn't reschedule on such short notice," Alistair explained. "Julian could do the job, but I thought I'd ask you first."

Sheridan smiled, basking in the warm feelings her father's words had created. Her. She was her father's first choice. "Don't worry, Daddy. I'll take care of it. You won't have to reschedule your meeting," she said, leaning forward to press a kiss to Alistair's strong jaw.

"Thank you, Dear. I knew I could count on you."

Sheridan left her father and the library, taking the servants' exit from the Mansion. Her happy mood over her father's acceptance and trust was dispelled only by her displeasure and surprise over seeing Luis emerge from the pool several feet away.

"Sheridan! Sheridan, where do you think you're going?"

She ignored him, the image of his sun-bronzed, water-slick chest already burned into her memory despite the protesting voice inside her head that warned her that continuing to let this THING that existed between them linger would only lead to trouble.

It was better to let the terrible attraction she felt for Luis Lopez- Fitzgerald die a slow death.

She WILLED it to die a slow death.

His feet pounded dully against the grass as he jogged to catch up with her, and she groaned softly when she felt his fingers close around her wrist and pull her around.

"Let go of me," she muttered, mouth drawn into a tight line and incensed blue eyes flashing.

Luis's brown eyes glittered down at her with anger and irritation. "No. I go where you go. I'm with you until this whole mess is over. One way or another. And I'll be damned if I let you die on my watch."

"Fine," Sheridan gritted out, yanking her wrist free from his grip and stalking forward. "You can come, but I don't appreciate you manhandling me. I don't want you to touch me."

Luis resisted the urge to curse her maddening, obstinate as a mule, ways, and ignored her request, order, whatever the hell it was, grasping at her hand and trying to pull her to a halt. "Sheridan.don't.don't run from me."

"I'm not running from you, you idiot," she rolled her blue eyes at him as they neared the skeleton of the future greenhouse. "The foreman needed a signature. I'm taking care of it. Did you actually think that.that 'incident' at the pool had any effect on me? You give yourself too much credit, Officer," she said, steeling herself to the cruel sting of her own voice as she delivered her next words. Steeling herself to the unexpected flash of hurt in his deep brown eyes. "You're not good enough for me."

Luis's hands dropped to his sides, and the hurt in his dark eyes was quickly replaced with white-hot anger. How dare she? "Nobody's ever good enough for the coldest bitch in town." Luis watched in horror as those vivid blue eyes dulled, filling with tears as his words cut her to the core. "Sheridan.Dammit," he swore as she whirled around, trying to regain her composure. "Sheridan, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."

"No need to lie now, Luis. You're not sorry. We both know you're not," she managed in a choked voice. "I guess I deserved it. I mean it's true. Isn't it, Luis? I AM a bitch. Hell. **I** even know that much. What I don't know is.why do you even bother? Do you REALLY care if I live or die, or am I another job to you? Tell me, Luis. Tell me," she demanded.

"Sheridan." Luis reached a tentative hand out to her.

Voices-voices of men working, lifting and maneuvering heavy panes of glass, started to sound louder.

The hair on the back of Luis's neck stood up, and his brown eyes left Sheridan's face, traveling upward.

One of the workers stumbled, losing his footing and jarring his grip on the pane of glass.

Luis heart twisted as the man's mouth opened in a silent scream of terror, and the glass seemed to hang in mid-air for several seconds before it started its descent.

And Sheridan was directly in its path.

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:17 AM
Chapter 11



The screams barely had time to cut through Sheridan's consciousness before Luis's solid body barreled into her.

Her back hit the ground hard, so hard her teeth were jarred, almost resulting in her biting her own tongue, poised to spew more venom against Luis.

Luis's body covered her from head to toe like a shield, and when her hips rose to buck his heavy weight off of her, he grabbed her wrists and pinned her down with his lower body. "Dammit, Sheridan," he hissed into her ear, his voice deadly serious.

Something told her this wasn't just another touchy-feely session of one- upmanship where they tried to see how far they could push each other. Just as quickly as little warning signals started exploding all over her entire body, they sputtered and died with the sound of shattering glass.

Luis's eyes were dark and unreadable, and Sheridan sucked in a deep breath of air as one hand left her wrist to stroke her cheek gently. His lips were moving, and words were being spoken, but she was suspended in a state of shock and arousal that made it difficult, impossible to hear what was being said. "Sheridan.did you hear me? Are you okay? Are you sure you're not hurt?" Luis's voice finally broke through the fog, and she nearly whimpered at the loss of delicious, tingling contact when he rolled off of her and held out a helping hand.

"Wh-what happened?" she stammered, her cheeks still flaring with heat, refusing the hand Luis offered and struggling to sit up on her own.

Luis's mouth set in a grim line as he dropped his hand back to his side, and he stood up, his deep brown eyes canvassing the grounds around them, suddenly filled with milling construction workers.

Sheridan stood on wobbly feet, brushing away the blades of green grass pressed against her skin, and her blue eyes widened as they landed on the shards of glass surrounding them. "Luis, you saved."

Luis cut her off abruptly, avoiding her touch of concern against his brow where a thin trickle of crimson slipped down the side of his face. "I wouldn't have had to save you if you weren't so damned stubborn."

Sheridan's eyes flashed with anger. "Are you implying this is my fault, Luis? That just because you can't order me around like a child.I'm not a child."

"I think your behavior speaks for itself," Luis gritted out between clenched teeth. "If you'd stayed with me like you were supposed to."

"This wouldn't have happened?" Sheridan scoffed, rolling her eyes at the sheer ridicule of it all. "It was an accident, Luis. I hardly think the poor man was trying to kill me, but if you think so, by all means, go question him." She laughed mockingly when his jaw flinched. She knew he was hesitant to do as she'd suggested because he didn't want to leave her alone. "Go on. I promise I won't run away like a bad little girl," she sneered.

"I'll stay with her, Luis," a breathless voice said behind her.

Sheridan tamped down the arguments rising in her throat when she saw real concern and worry in Ivy's blue-green eyes. She grasped Ivy's hand in her own, and all traces of attitude left her voice and her demeanor as she spoke. "I'm okay, Ivy. Nothing happened."

Ivy laughed shortly, incredulously, and gave Sheridan's hand a firm squeeze. "We saw it all from the Solarium, Sheridan."

Sheridan looked past Ivy and discovered Julian was half of the 'we' Ivy had mentioned.

Julian fidgeted in discomfort, escaping her level gaze as he walked toward the throng of anxious construction workers. He took one of the men aside, and they looked to be in deep conversation.

Sheridan noticed Luis, distracted from his questioning of the rest of the men, watching her brother and the unidentified man with curiosity that bordered on suspicion.

".If it weren't for Luis.you should be thanking him for acting so quickly, Sheridan. A second later, and." Ivy trailed off, unable to finish the thought.

Touched by Ivy's concern, Sheridan pulled Ivy into a warm embrace. "Luis's ego hardly needs stroked," Sheridan muttered, eliciting a laugh from Ivy's lips. "I'm not going to give him the satisfaction," she declared.

"I can vouch for that," Luis cut in, startling Sheridan.

Sheridan whirled around and glared at him, peeved at his ability to creep up on her without making a sound.

Luis's dark eyes smoldered with anger, and he drew his arms tight against his chest as he met her glare. "She's given me nothing but hell since day one. She's stubborn, ungrateful, and careless with her own life and the lives of the people around her."

Ivy's mouth twisted into a grimace as she sensed the explosion building within the young woman beside her, and she hastily excused herself, tromping across the grounds and grabbing Julian's arm to pull him with her on her way.

Sheridan ignored the blatantly curious stares of the men around them and crossed her own arms about her middle, crowding in so close to Luis she could feel the heat of his anger rising from his skin. "Stubborn? Stubborn!? Pot.meet Kettle, also known as Mr. My Way or the Highway," she practically growled.

Luis remained silent, uncrossing his arms and standing tall, a knowing smirk on his lips as her tirade all but stalled as her blue eyes did a quick perusal of his bare chest and her mouth hung slightly open. "And ungrateful," he reminded her, "Let's not forget careless."

"And you're just the epitome of all that's good and wonderful," Sheridan snarled in response, finally getting her tongue back in working order.

"No," Luis began, leaning in and letting his lips brush against her earlobe as he spoke.

Sheridan's eyes fluttered closed as his hot breath caressed her skin, and no matter how hard she tried to stop herself, the sensation made her shiver. Just a tiny shiver. So tiny, she.well, she hoped to God Luis didn't notice it, or. Her hands rose to his chest, and she weakly and ineffectually tried to push him away.

Luis's hands lifted and closed around her wrists, and he grinned wickedly at her when she put in her requisite struggle, bringing them into maddeningly closer contact. "But I haven't had any complaints either."

Sheridan was achingly aware of every inch of his body that touched hers, and she was also damned close to giving in.

In the interest of making him eat his words, of course.

"But none of that matters," Luis's hands closed over her wrists again, his thumbs tracing the delicate veins just beneath the surface of her warm skin.

"What?" Sheridan mentally flailed herself for that single word coming out sounding so.Marilyn Monroe.

"I'm not good enough for you," Luis reminded her.

Smart Ass, Sheridan thought with a scowl. "You.You.Luis!" she shrieked, her blue eyes wide with outrage when she tugged her wrists from his hands and made an astounding discovery.

Luis tossed her handcuff-linked arms around his neck and swept her, practically kicking and screaming and wholly furious, into his arms.

Catcalls and whistles went up around them, and Sheridan's icy death stare didn't even make an impression on the overpaid offenders. "Luis! Let me down. Take these damn things off," she demanded of deaf ears.

"I go where you go," Luis said, hefting her up higher in his arms and tightening his grip. "Since you fail to understand such a simple concept, and insist on being more trouble than you're worth.this is what you've reduced me to."

Sheridan squirmed in his firm hold, blue eyes flashing fire. "Consider yourself fired. Father will have you off these grounds and out of the force by."

"I have to give those drug-dealing thugs credit," Luis said cheekily. "Kidnapping and holding you for ransom would be a slow, painful death. With a hit, at least they don't have to listen to you harping about this, that, everything under the moon."

Sheridan's jaw set stubbornly, and she focused on a spot that wasn't his laughing, infuriating, gorgeous brown eyes. Not his long, dark lashes curved against his cheeks. Not the bronzed skin that looked soft to the touch. Not his luscious mouth."UGH!" she screamed one more time for good measure, and to release a tad of frustration. "I hate you!"

"You know you love me," Luis goaded her as the cottage loomed into view.

Torturing the Princess was the highlight of his LONG day.

And the cuffs weren't coming off anytime soon.

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:20 AM
Chapter 12





"For the last time, Luis.LET.ME.DOWN," Sheridan growled, struggling in his arms yet again as they paused outside the cottage door.

Luis couldn't help but let a little grin of appreciation pass over his lips as he held onto her tightly with one arm while his free hand searched the pockets of his swim trunks for his key to the cottage. From all her histrionics crossing the Crane grounds to reach the cottage, he'd suspected she would have worn herself out by now. But.she was still going strong. Her pigheadedness was infuriating and admirable at the same time.

"I'm telling you, Luis, if you don't let me down now I'm going to scream," Sheridan huffed angrily, her blue eyes shooting daggers at Luis as he leaned heavily into the door to push it open, pressing their bodies damnably closer if that were possible. "You don't believe me, do you? You don't believe I'll do it. I will," she threatened. "And I won't stop until you.Good. You're NOT as unreasonable as I thought," Sheridan muttered like a spoiled child, thrusting her handcuffed wrists underneath his nose and waiting impatiently for their removal.

Luis kept a firm grip on the cuffs encircling her wrists as he closed and locked the door they'd just entered. His lips twisted into a wicked smirk as he watched realization dawn in Sheridan's blazing blue eyes, and he braced himself, wholly expecting her to make good on her threat as soon as he tossed her over his shoulder effortlessly.

"Luis.Luis.WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?" Sheridan shrieked as the world suddenly turned upside down, and she felt all the blood rush to her head. Her cuffed hands dangled uselessly before her, and without any leverage, she could do no more than swat ineffectually at Luis's muscled back. "HELP! HELP! SOMEBODY HELP ME!" she screamed as Luis carried her through her own living room like a sack of potatoes.

"Go ahead and scream yourself hoarse.you'll be doing me a favor," Luis told her in a bored tone, wincing as one of her kicking feet connected with a pretty little novelty of a lamp en route to her bedroom and sent it crashing to the floor. "Break whatever you want while you're at it, too. I'm sure Daddy can replace it for you, and you won't even have to lift a finger."

"Luis, let me down," Sheridan demanded again, pushing frantically at his smooth skin as each step he took jarred her teeth. Her blue eyes widened in astonishment, and her scream of protest sputtered in her throat and died when she felt his strong hands grip her behind her knees. "What are you doing." Oh god, she thought as her heart hammered against her rib cage. As if she didn't have enough fodder for her overactive imagination already. The object of her unwanted fantasies had her tossed over his shoulder like a damned caveman, both of them were barely clothed, and her bed practically dominated the entire room. "Luis!"

"To answer your question, Princess," Luis gave her a sly grin, "I'm doing something that'll make us both feel better. A little tension relief."

Sheridan's blue eyes grew round as saucers, and she didn't dare breathe when she found herself flat on her back across the middle of her bed with Luis's wonderfully heavy weight on top of her.

Luis's knee slid between Sheridan's thighs, and he made no attempt to hide the frank approval in his gaze as his deep brown eyes swept across the blue bikini-clad body trembling beneath him. Where his skin touched hers, sparks flared, and Luis was positive he could feel the temperature of the blood in the veins of the delicate wrists he'd captured above her water tousled blond head escalating with each passing second.

Sheridan whimpered as Luis shifted them higher on her bed, his knee rising up and making the briefest of contact with her lower body, making her blue eyes flutter shut helplessly as she felt her breathing start to spiral out of control. She could feel Luis's fingers trailing feather-light up and down the length of her arm, and his warm breath ruffled the damp curls across her forehead. When she gathered enough courage to open her eyes again, she was ready for anything. She was on the verge of begging for a release from the tension that'd been building between them, like it or not, since day one, and she wanted nothing more than to forget all about the ugliness she'd worked so hard to keep between them. She wanted to brush her fingers across his brow, soothing away the sting of the tiny wound that served as a reminder of how much she was beginning to need his presence in her life. And the way he was looking at her.

It was like a veil was being lifted from her blue eyes, and Luis couldn't look away. He felt one silky thigh brush against his lower leg, and his hand raised instinctively to her face. He brushed the fleshy pad of his thumb across her pouty bottom lip, his dark eyes growing even darker with the unhesitant parting of her mouth. Mesmerized by the unusual openness of her eyes, the shadow of her pink tongue moistening her lips in anticipation of his touch, and the feeling of her so close, his head began to lower.until his dark eyes caught their reflection in the mirror.

They were beautiful together, lying against the pale yellow covers, and that only made things harder.

He was a cop about to cross the line.

For a Crane, no less.

It just couldn't happen, and he was going to have to make that clear in no uncertain terms.

"Luis?" Sheridan whispered uncertainly as something changed in those dark eyes of his, and her heart called on her mind to quickly resurrect all its safe, protective walls and start rebuilding themselves quickly, brick by brick, as he slid a hand beneath her back, lifting her flush against him again.

Luis pushed away the lingering regret he felt at the re-emerging distrust in Sheridan's piercing blue eyes and donned his best superior smirk. "You know I really hate to do this." he sighed, unlocking one of the cuffs around her wrists and sliding it around the headboard at their side, "but I'll feel a lot better knowing you won't get your stubborn debutante ass killed within the next couple of hours."

Sheridan's blue eyes snapped upward, to his face, when the lock clicked back in place, and she found herself unable to move from the bed. She lunged toward Luis in a rage, blue eyes flashing dangerously. "Luis," Sheridan spat warningly. "Luis, you can't.YOU CAN'T DO THIS. DAMN YOU! YOU PIECE OF.I HATE YOU! HELP! HELP! SOMEBODY HEEEEEEELLLLL.oomph."

Luis punched in the familiar digits to the Harmony P.D. as soon as he'd determined the makeshift gag was firmly in place, and Sheridan wasn't going anywhere. Marty came on the line, asking him to hold while he transferred Luis's call to Sam, and Luis grinned as he held his hand over the receiver, unable to resist torturing her a little more while he had the chance.

Despite her voice being muffled by the red silk scarf stuffed into her mouth by one dead Harmony cop, Sheridan continued to hurl more than a few obscenities in Luis's direction. When she got her hands on him.

"That's it. That's one way to get rid of all that tension. Keep screaming. Get it all out. You'll feel much better.," Luis assured her with deviously sparkling dark eyes, chuckling at her fiery mood and inability to do anything to help herself. She was completely at his mercy for as long as he wanted her to be. Life didn't get any better. God- willing, she'd wear herself out before she had the chance to exact revenge against him. "Hello? Sam. Listen.we need to have a talk about this assignment. Yeah, she's fine. Actually, she can't come to the phone right now." Luis covered the mouthpiece with his hand so Sam couldn't hear his bratty charge's muffled curses against males in general-it definitely wasn't pretty. "Sam, I have something I want you to check out.I'm not sure today's accident was purely accidental if you know what I mean.I think Old Man Crane's got his hand in this."

Father? Father couldn't possibly have had anything to do with what happened, Sheridan thought stubbornly, freezing as the thought invaded her consciousness.

Luis was ridiculous for even thinking it.

Wasn't he?

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:22 AM
Chapter 13



"Just as I expected," Luis shook his dark head in disgust. "Crane's alibi is airtight."

Sheridan's blue eyes sparkled triumphantly at him. The gag in her mouth prevented her from giving him the smart-ass smirk he so deserved.

"That's right, Sam," Luis agreed, his lips twisted into a wry grin as he glanced at Sheridan on the bed. "Everyone knows Crane has half the dirty- dealing politicians in this state in his back pocket. Even Governor Graham." He chuckled when Sheridan jerked at her restraints, the metal cuffs scraping and scuffing the finished wood of the headboard. "Just a 'Lucy' rerun, Sam. She just doesn't know how to stay out of trouble. Thank Grace for the invitation, but I think we'll pass and spend a quiet evening here. Besides.where Sheridan goes, TROUBLE follows." Luis laughed out loud at the murderous rage glinting in Sheridan's blue eyes. "You know that Lucy. She's a laugh a minute. Thanks, Sam. I'll check in later. Bye."

Sheridan kicked her feet out angrily when Luis loomed closer, and Luis grinned when she flopped back against the bed's pillows and glared at him after failing to make contact, his body just out of reach.

"You know, Princess.if you promise not to bite my hand off, I'll un-gag you," Luis teased. "Do you think you can control yourself?"

Sheridan rolled her blue eyes at him in impatience and turned her damp blond head to the side, not caring to look at his infuriatingly smug face or dancing brown eyes a second longer than she had to. The heat of his body, so close behind her, made her flinch, and she felt her nerves jump when he closed his long, warm fingers around the sore flesh around her wrists, gently disengaging the locks that bound her. The mattress shifted beneath the addition of his heavy male weight, and unbalanced, she fell back against him slightly in surprise, her stunned silence when he gently removed the scarf from her mouth lasting only a few milliseconds. Her mouth opened and closed while she tried to decide which insult to hurl his way first.

Luis saved himself the headache by cupping a lightning quick hand over her mouth. "A simple 'thank you' would suffice." He back hit the mattress forcefully seconds later, courtesy of her helpful, ladylike shove, and he winced slightly as he cradled his 'injured' hand to his chest. "I thought we agreed.no biting!" A small smile played upon his lips as his mind's eye recalled the fire in her blue eyes and her stubborn refusal to give even so much as an inch. The woman was going to be the death of him, whether it be through murder at her pretty, smooth hands or a self-inflicted gun shot wound, borne of frustration. She was driving him crazy in a thousand more ways than one. He pulled one of the pillows from the head of the bed, fragrant with her lingering perfume, and rolled it beneath his head, deciding to give her adequate time to finish throwing her temper tantrum. He let himself relax when he distinctly heard the furious clang and bang of pots and pans in the kitchen. As long as she kept up that racket, she was safe. She was still annoying the hell out of him, but he knew she wasn't going anywhere.

The shadows spilling across bedroom gradually grew longer, and the decibel level of the noise emanating from the kitchen eventually reached a humane level.

One dark brow arched high on Luis's forehead when he heard the approach of hesitant footsteps, but he kept his eyes closed, feigning sleep. One eye popped open, followed by the other one, when he heard her heavy, irritable sigh. "Miss me, Princess?"

"Hardly," Sheridan replied snottily. "It seems my fantasies weren't true, after all. You're still here," she grumbled in disgust, moving from the doorway and stalking to the closet. "Why is that?" she asked, pulling a tee-shirt over her head roughly.

The muscles in Luis's jaw clenched as he watched her fingers pull and tug the bikini strings at the back of her neck then slip underneath the soft cotton material to release the ties at her back. He showed no outward reaction when the tiny scrap of material landed in his lap, but his eyes burned black and dangerous when Sheridan stepped out of the skimpy bottoms, flashing him an evil smile. "Don't play with fire, if you don't want to get burned," he warned with a low hiss, slithering off the edge of the bed, and advancing on her predatorily.

"You wouldn't dare," Sheridan spoke haughtily, his past actions making her secure in her convictions as she whirled around, intent on searching her closet for a fresh set of clothes to wear to dinner at the main house. Her voice left her throat in a strangled gasp when she felt Luis's strong arms wrap tightly around her waist and haul her against his hard, unyielding body. His lips caressing her neck set off a firestorm of conflicted emotions within her, and she trembled at his low whisper.

"Would I?"

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:50 AM
Chapter 14




“Would I?” Luis repeated, something dangerous lurking in his tone.

Sheridan involuntarily shivered as she felt the slight nipping sensation of his teeth at the graceful curve of her neck, unwittingly playing right into Luis’s hands.

Keeping an iron grip around her waist with his left arm, Luis lifted his right hand to her face, dragging his knuckles across her cheekbone, along the line of her jaw, and down the curve of her neck, finally cupping her shoulder. “Are you really so sure anymore?” he whispered huskily into her ear, bathing the delicate shell with his warm breath.

The swatch of red fabric fell from Sheridan’s fingers, fluttering to the ground below and settling into a graceless heap. She wanted to lash out at him for his unwanted advances, but the breathy moan that escaped her lips when his able fingers tantalizingly brushed the side of her breast directly contradicted that thought.

“Are you so sure you WANT me to stop?” Luis murmured against her pulse point, his voice echoing his own inner thoughts. His left arm relaxed around her waist, the hand simply resting there, tracing teasing circles above her navel through the barrier of her tee-shirt. He smiled wolfishly when he felt her unconsciously relax in his arms, accepting his touch.

Sheridan’s smaller ivory hands covered Luis’s hands, their fingers lacing together as she directed his hands to her hips and leaned her tousled blond head back against the hard pillow of his shoulder. She was incapable of forming words, her breath stolen by the intensity of feeling crackling between them. Her right hand left Luis’s hand, and her arm snaked around his neck from behind, urging his face, his mouth closer to hers. She could feel her heart pounding relentlessly against her ribcage as Luis’s fingers crept across the smooth exposed skin of her thigh, traveling upward and inching the white material higher. Oxygen escaped her lips in soft pants as she sought his lips with her own, twisting in his arms until she could look him in the eyes, quickly looking away. Sadness pulled at the corners of her mouth as she studied her fingers’ fluttering motions across his exposed collarbone.

Luis touched his thumb to her lowered chin and swept his arms around her waist, molding their hips together with a gentle push to the small of her back. “Don’t ruin a good time, Princess, with serious thoughts.” He captured the hand tracing nervous patterns across his breastbone with his own, coaxing it around his neck as he pressed their bodies more intimately together, reveling in the heat licking at his limbs.

“Wouldn’t want the job to be a total bust, right?” Sheridan retorted, her lips trembling under the weight of her falseness as she tried to smile at him. Blue eyes closed to hide her breaking heart from his searching eyes, she pressed her lips against the corner of Luis’s mouth, frozen in the foreign expression of unexpected concern. Her arms slid free from his neck, criss-crossing across her abdomen in preparation of ridding herself of the tee-shirt and baring her body to him, and she smiled a brittle smile at him, her façade cracking slightly when she felt the impediment of his hand on hers.

“Sheridan, I…” Luis began, only to be interrupted by a distant noise. His hand fell away as the noise sounded closer, and his dark eyes darted to her bureau, looking for his discarded weapon. “Hold that thought,” he said, holding out a cautionary hand. “I’m just going to check out this noise, and I’ll be right back. Stay here. All right? Sheridan? Sheridan?” Luis whipped his head back around to extract her paltry promise to cooperate with him. “Sheridan?” he repeated, horrified to find her gone, the space she’d so recently occupied beside him disconcertingly empty. “Sheridan,” he hissed, the nagging noise forgotten, as his eyes swept frantically over his surroundings, “Sheridan, where are you? Where are you? Sheridan,” he gasped in relief when a feminine hand closed over his shoulder from behind. “I knew you were…Mama,” Luis blinked as he looked up into his mother’s worried dark eyes. “What…who…where’s Sheridan?” He could hear his heart pounding in his eardrums and feel his breath escaping him in panicked pants as he searched the room for Sheridan, frowning when he found the room strangely dark.

“Mijo,” Pilar looked away guiltily. “You were sleeping, and she wanted to go to dinner at the Main House. Mr. Crane is throwing a small party, and Sheridan’s been so cooped up…She assured me Crane security would look after her, and you looked so peaceful sleeping, we, I didn’t want to wake you.”

Luis cupped his palm around his mother’s cheek and gave her a brief hug. “It’s all right, Mama. I’m not angry with you. Sheridan’s the one that deserves…” he trailed off, not wanting to rant to his mother about his infuriating charge. “She knows better.” Luis’s breath caught in his throat at seeing Sheridan’s discarded bikini atop the pile of clothes in the laundry basket his mother had all but forgotten on the floor beside the bed, the details of his dream still lingering in his mind’s eye. Coughing uncomfortably, Luis rose from the bed, and noticed, for the first time, the elegant evening wear littered across every available surface. “How long has she been gone?”

“Not yet an hour, Mijo,” Pilar answered, following Luis as he stalked into the cottage’s cozy living room.

“What’s this?” Luis questioned, indicating the garment bag resting across the back of the sofa. “Mama?” he raised a brow at her as he started to unzip the bag and draw out the white men’s dress shirt.

“It’s a formal party,” Pilar wrung her hands. “Sheridan wanted you to have something suitable to wear if you decided to attend the party.”

“Decided?” Luis scoffed as he hurriedly donned the crisp white shirt, leaving it unbuttoned as he picked up the garment bag and carried it in the direction of Sheridan’s bathroom. “She left me no other choice.”

“Mijo,” Pilar placated from the doorway of Sheridan’s bedroom, the sliver of light spilling from the cracked bathroom door illuminating her solemn features. “I’m sure Sheridan’s fine. Ethan and Gwen and Ivy are there keeping an eye out for her. She’s surrounded by people,” Pilar reminded him as he stepped from the cavern of the bathroom and approached her, his untied bow tie hanging forlornly around his shoulders. “I’m sure she’s perfectly safe,” she spoke encouraging words as she patted his cheek comfortingly, his bow tie tied and straight. “Don’t give her a hard time, Luis,” Pilar pleaded, averting her eyes as her son tucked his gun in the waistband of his pants. “Luis,” she called out as he strode confidently and eagerly toward the door, “just…”

Luis opened the door with his eyes still locked on his mother’s face, the indulgent smile on his lips freezing as the terrifying shrill of an approaching ambulance’s keening sirens pierced the otherwise still night air.

“Luis,” Pilar looked to her son with frightened eyes.

“No, Mama. I’m going to give her hell,” Luis choked out, his own brown eyes wild as he sprinted out the door, not bothering to wait for his mother to catch up.

The damned brat never listened.

He prayed the cost wasn’t her life.

dumplin0608
5.31.07, 12:59 AM
am really enjoying this i hope u continue soon

iLoveET
1.18.08, 2:54 PM
This is too good Shae.
More to come? It is incredibly cute.