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Thread: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

  1. #25
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    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 25





    Lightning zigzagged across the darkening sky in the distance, and gusts of warm air swept the tree branches back and forth in a frenzied dance, leaves rustling and limbs creaking against the unexpected force of the gales.

    Humidity made the short blond strands of Sheridan’s hair curl around her face, and her skin was damp with sweat wherever they touched, making her shiver slightly with each new blast of air.

    One particularly violent shiver had Luis tightening his arms around her. His lips brushed her forehead as he murmured, “Maybe we should go inside.” When Sheridan’s only response was to nuzzle her nose deeper into his neck, he opened the palm that rested against the small of her back, his fingers tracing absent patterns on the skin bared by his questing hands. “The storm’s getting closer.”

    “Not yet.” She shifted against him, the hand cupping his shoulder moving to cradle the back of his head in her hands, and her nails lightly scratched his scalp as she feathered slow, languid kisses across the line of his jaw.

    “Sheridan,” Luis groaned, feeling his blood start to heat in a familiar way at her touch. The whine of the hammock faded to the background as the sound of his own increasingly labored breaths filled his ears.

    “Hmm,” she answered, her teeth catching lightly on his earlobe.

    Luis’s fingers clenched in the thick material of the blanket they’d laid across the green blades of grass earlier, and he shuddered, feeling the drag of her nails across his naked chest, down to the waistband of the jeans he wore. “Sheridan,” he protested halfheartedly when he felt her hands slip beneath the waistband and travel around the back. “I’m getting too old for this.” Of their own volition, his hands had found their way to her hips.

    “Too old, Luis?” Sheridan teased his mouth with kisses. Her blue eyes danced at him as she pulled away, her bare legs sliding across the heavy denim covering his thighs and her hands coming to rest again on his chest. “You’ll never be too old for this,” she smiled, dipping her head to kiss him again.

    Losing himself in the sweet meeting and clinging of their lips, Luis felt all awareness of the gathering storm slip away. His hands moved from her hips to slip beneath the soft cotton of her tank top, and he grinned into the kiss when he felt the answering shiver the movement elicited. “No bra?” he teased when she broke away gasping. “The evidence suggests this seduction was premeditated.”

    Drawing her bottom lip between her teeth, Sheridan couldn’t help letting her eyes flutter shut when the full force of the onslaught of sensation hit her. “Your mother…asked,” she sucked in a shaky breath when he switched tactics, sweeping the pale pink shirt over her head and tossing it onto the grass behind them, only to return his hands to her skin mere seconds later. “I couldn’t…I couldn’t say no.”

    “Just can’t refuse a Lopez-Fitzgerald, can you?” Luis laughed, pretending to be hurt when she playfully smacked him in the shoulder. “Ouch,” he rubbed at the tender spot. “Kiss it better?”

    Rolling her eyes at the hope he failed to disguise, Sheridan pressed a kiss to her fingertips then pressed them lightly against the wound, shrieking with laughter when he captured her hand and pulled her down to him, attacking her sides and tickling her mercilessly as he rolled them over until she was beneath him and gasping for breath, pleading with him. “Luis, stop. Stop. Uncle, okay? Uncle.”

    “Now will you kiss it better?” Luis grinned, tucking a curl behind her ear and letting his hand linger there.

    Blue eyes dancing wickedly at him, Sheridan smirked in response. “I can think of other places to kiss.”

    Luis groaned when he felt the button of his jeans pop open and the warmth of her hand delving inside to hover along the waistband of his boxers.

    “Now who can’t refuse a Lopez-Fitzgerald?”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    Ali was still giggling about her little brother passed out cold in their daddy’s old bed muttering about airplanes and clouds and Superman when Theresa plopped down beside her on the sofa, her own smile just as bright.


    “I guess he liked the plane.”

    “Guess so,” Ali grinned, curling happily against Theresa’s side when she held her arm open to welcome her. “I’m glad you’re staying tonight, Aunt Theresa.”

    “Me, too,” Theresa replied. “It’s been too long since we’ve had a sleepover. Right, Loma?”

    “Too long,” Paloma agreed, sitting down on the other side of Ali with a bowl of popcorn in her lap. “Mama says start the movie without her. She’s still trying to get Hope down for the night.”

    Ali fished the remote control to the DVD player out from between the couch cushions and handed it to Theresa. “She’s afraid of storms,” she told Paloma, grabbing a handful of popcorn from the bowl and tossing a few kernels into her mouth. “Cristian usually is too.”

    “Poor thing,” Theresa giggled. “Guess he’s just too tired to care.”

    “Uh huh,” Ali nodded, stretching her legs out in front of her and wiggling her toes. “What movie are we watching?”

    “Something about being 13 going on 30,” Theresa answered absently as she bumped shoulders with Ali. “I have some new pink polish if you want me to paint your toenails,” she told her niece.

    “Okay,” Ali grinned so broadly her nose scrunched up.

    It had to be, Paloma decided, one of the most absurdly cute expressions she had ever seen. Still she couldn’t let the moment pass without a little teasing. Her sister really did make it easy sometimes. “Great. Flip that around, and it could be your autobiography.”

    “Ha. Ha,” Theresa said. “If we’d have let you pick the movie, we’d be watching ‘The Sound of Music’ right now.”

    “Funny,” Paloma mused, scooping up a handful of popcorn in her palm. “I always thought the nuns could have been singing about you. You know that part where they’re trying to solve a problem like Maria? Should have been Theresa if you ask me.”

    “Oh!” Theresa tossed a pillow in Paloma’s direction, missing by a good mile and a half and making Ali giggle helplessly. “Eat your popcorn and hush, Loma. The previews are almost over.”

    “Fine,” Paloma huffed with a good-natured roll of her dark eyes. “Chicken,” she accused, tossing a handful of popcorn Theresa’s way.

    “Oh, this means war,” Theresa’s eyes flashed as she grabbed another pillow from the armchair nearby and brought it down over Paloma’s head, making her squeal in protest and Ali scramble off of the sofa and out of the way, laughing so hard she could barely breathe.

    “Girls!” The warning from Martin was yelled with humor and affection and paid absolutely no heed whatsoever. “Don’t make me come out there!”

    “Come on, Mija,” Pilar shook her head slightly, arriving in the midst of all the hoopla. She took Ali’s hand, leading her into the relative safe haven of the kitchen. “We’re going to need more popcorn,” she muttered.

    Now Ali could never be 100% certain, but she trusted those handy Lopez-Fitzgerald instincts her daddy had passed on to her. She could have sworn her nana just winked!




    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “I was a free man today, Babe,” Hank baited his wife over the remainder of Chinese takeout. “Aren’t you going to ask if I stayed out of trouble?”

    Gwen rolled her eyes at him, closing the carton of sesame chicken and pushing it back across the table to him. “Luis didn’t call asking me to post your bail,” she muttered dryly. “I imagine you stayed out of trouble just fine.”

    Hank feigned hurt, clasping a hand over his heart. “And here I thought I filled your every thought. Aren’t you even curious where I took Abby on our clandestine meeting? Come on, I know you’re dying to know all the details.”

    “Hate to disappoint you, Bennett,” Gwen smirked, “but frankly, I don’t give a damn. How you choose to woo a woman impregnated by and hopelessly in love with another man is your business, not mine. Do anything else interesting today?”

    “Damn,” Hank grinned proudly as he scooted his chair across the tiles and bumped knees with her. “I just love how secure you are in my feelings for you, Babe. Have I told you lately how sexy I think that is?”

    “Once or twice,” Gwen tried valiantly not to smile but couldn’t help it when he tried, and failed spectacularly, to pick up some rice with his chopsticks and bring it to her mouth. “Hank,” she shook her head at him with twinkling brown eyes. “I’ve never really found someone else feeding me sexy,” she said, taking her napkin and wiping away the small mess he’d made.

    “Not even chocolate covered strawberries?” Hank looked crestfallen, but then again, he was excellent in the art of fakery.

    “Not even chocolate covered strawberries,” Gwen laughed, framing his goofy face between her hands and kissing him soundly. “I wouldn’t mind some wine though. Pour me a glass?”

    “One glass of wine coming right up,” Hank mock saluted her, pushing his chair back from the table and standing up to fulfill her request. “Go on to the living room. I’ll put the leftovers in the fridge and be right out.”

    “Are you sure you don’t mind?” Gwen bit her lip, brushing a loose strand of blond out of her eyes as she gazed up at his much loved face.

    “I’m sure,” Hank answered her with a kiss to the forehead. “Go,” he shooed her away. “It’ll be the most interesting thing I’ve done all day.”

    “Oh, Hank,” Gwen smiled, capturing his hand as he moved to leave and pressing a kiss to his palm. “I…”

    “Yeah, Babe?” Hank smiled back at her, brown eyes dancing as the flashes of lightning flickered across his features.

    “I was insanely jealous. Insanely,” she reiterated.

    “Good.” He seemed pleased at the thought. “For a minute there, I was afraid I was losing my touch.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~





    Lightning flared again in the distance, and Abby imagined she could see the tumultuous sea waters churning and roiling against the sand and rocks lining Harmony’s ocean front. She turned from the windows when she heard his voice.

    “Won’t be long before the storm gets here.”

    “It’s funny, isn’t it?” she wondered aloud, turning once more to face the spectacular scene displayed outside.

    “Funny how?” Nick asked her, hovering just behind her, his hands fisted at his sides as he resisted the urge to touch her.

    “How something so violent could be so beautiful,” Abby whispered, meeting his gray stare in the reflection of the windows. “Kind of like me,” she mused softly. “And her father.”

    Nick tensed further at the mention of the daughter she’d lost and the relationship that had borne her, and he couldn’t help feeling things would have been different if he’d only known her then. He didn’t know how; he just knew it would have. Maybe…maybe there’d be a little girl with Abby’s eyes waiting to be tucked in for the night in the bedroom he’d come to think of as the nursery. Maybe there wouldn’t be a little girl at all. Either way, he liked to think the pained tightness of the voice she always used when she spoke of her past wouldn’t be there, would fade away into nothingness. It was moments like these he wanted to break free of the stranglehold his head had over his heart and tell her, tell her…tell her that he cared for her, more than he’d ever cared for any other woman in his life, and that he’d sooner die than lose whatever it was that they shared. But he was strong-willed. And stubborn to a fault. And he’d never experienced someone like her in his life before.

    “Maybe…maybe,” she said, sounding lost and young and all the things that made his heart ache inside his chest, “maybe I didn’t deserve to be her mother. Things happen for a reason, right?” she turned to him, hazel eyes shining in the darkness. “Maybe He saw that and decided to take her away from me, and she’s in a better place. A place where that bastard can’t hurt her anymore, and her fool of a mother…”

    “Shh.” His hands slid around her slender shoulders, pulling her trembling body close and tucking her tawny head beneath his chin. “Shh,” he soothed as he felt her arms wrap around his back, clenching fistfuls of soft cotton beneath his shoulder blades.

    “Maybe…”

    “No,” Nick cut her off, holding her shoulders even more tightly and pressing his lips to her hair. “No more maybes.” He only hoped she believed him.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    Thunder boomed loudly overhead, rattling the windowpanes and making the house shudder on its foundation as two sopping wet figures burst through the kitchen door, heads bowed against the driving rain.


    Sheridan jumped as a particularly vicious strike of lightning lit up the night sky, and the lights they had left on in the kitchen flickered then died. “Luis,” she fumbled for his hand in the darkness.

    “Right here,” Luis answered her, wrapping his fingers firmly around her wrist and pulling her along behind him. “You okay?” he questioned when he heard her softly uttered cry behind him.

    “Fine,” Sheridan assured him. “Just found Cristian’s missing bat.”

    Luis grinned in the darkness when he felt her wrap her arms around his waist from behind and shuffle her feet forward cautiously. “That bat was never missing. He just wanted you to think it was. I never thought I’d say this…”

    Sheridan said it for him, softening the edges of her laughter with a gentle squeeze to his hands, “Cristian doesn’t like baseball.”

    The now constant flashes of lightning were the only illumination they had as they made their way from the kitchen into the living room.

    “There are other sports,” Sheridan reminded him when he remained silent. “Basketball. Soccer.”

    “Soccer’s Jake’s thing,” Luis replied, swearing softly under his breath when he stubbed his toe on the coffee table. “Besides, from what I hear Cristian seems to like flying just fine.”

    Sheridan reached one hand behind her and tossed a pillow aside when she felt her legs bumping up against the couch. Still holding onto Luis’s hand with her other hand, she smiled up at him even though she knew he couldn’t make out the expression on her face. “You should have seen his face.”

    “I can imagine,” Luis’s free hand sought out her face in the darkness. Stroking his thumb across her cheekbone, he leaned in close and pressed his mouth to hers, the blind action just awkward enough to make Sheridan giggle girlishly when they bumped noses in the process. “Stay here,” he brushed his lips against her forehead. “I’ll be right back.”

    Dropping down to the sofa below, Sheridan brought her legs up, wrapping her arms securely around them, and shivered without Luis’s welcome body heat nearby. “You were right,” she called, digging her bare toes into the cushions of the couch and chafing her hands over her goose-bump pebbled flesh.

    “I’m always right,” came Luis’s muffled answer. “What was I right about?” he asked a few moments later, bending at the waist to light the candles on the coffee table.

    How was it, Sheridan wondered, that her husband could make ratty, hole-ridden gray sweatpants look so attractive? Taking the plush towel he offered her, she rubbed it briskly over her hair. “We should have come inside sooner.”

    “Come on,” Luis teased her as he collapsed onto the sofa beside her. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” His brown eyes eyed her appreciatively as she peeled her wet tank top from her body to replace it with the soft, equally worn out black tee-shirt she’d proclaimed her own early on in their marriage.

    Sheridan let the towel slide to the floor with her wet clothes, promising herself she’d clean up later. Later, when the chill was gone from her skin, and her husband didn’t look so invitingly warm and cuddly. The thought made laughter bubble in her throat, and she couldn’t say what caused her to shake more: the cold or the thought of Luis as a uniform clad teddy bear.

    “I’m not even going to ask,” Luis muttered, pulling her into his arms and tucking her head beneath his chin.

    Burrowing deeper into his open arms, she pressed her cold nose in the crook of his neck and was rewarded with an answering shiver from her husband. “You wouldn’t appreciate the humor anyway,” she mumbled against his skin.

    They lapsed into silence and watched the brilliant lightshow Mother Nature was putting on outside. Gradually, the lightning seemed to calm, but the rain still fell heavily.

    Lulled to a relaxed state from the steady beat of the rain, Sheridan yawned and hugged her arms more tightly about Luis’s middle before letting her fingers dip into the waistband of his sweatpants and rest lightly there.

    Giving her an answering kiss to the top of the head, Luis trailed his fingertips up and down the length of her arm. “So much for movie night,” he chuckled lightly, referring to the night of fun Theresa had planned for Ali’s sleepover.

    “I’m sure your sisters have other ways of keeping Ali entertained,” Sheridan laughed. “She loves spending time with them.”

    “She does, doesn’t she?” Luis mused.

    Sheridan smiled to herself, knowing how much Ali’s close relationship with Theresa and her growing fondness for Paloma meant to him. “Luis,” she captured his hand with her own, threading their fingers together. “Have you given anymore thought to the trip?” She sighed when she felt him tense in response to her question before willing himself to relax.

    “It’s too soon.”

    “I know it feels like it,” Sheridan lifted their joined hands to her mouth and pressed a kiss on the inside of Luis’s wrist. “But it’ll be good for Ali to have a little fun after the year she’s had, and think of how Theresa will feel if you don’t let Ali go. Chad and Paloma are both going, and they’re taking Jake along.”

    “I’ll think about it,” Luis said. “I’ll think about it some more,” he smiled when he felt and heard her exasperation. Changing the subject, he urged, “Tell me more about Cristian’s first flight.”

    “Well,” Sheridan began, sitting up beside him, her blue eyes sparkling with humor in the candlelight. “He wants to be Superman when he grows up.”

    Luis laughed, his fingers finding their way into Sheridan’s hair and stroking lovingly as she regaled him with the details of her day with their young aviator in training. “Superman. Last year it was Spiderman. What else?”

    “A man approached me about giving him flying lessons…”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “Children don’t get to choose their parents.”

    “Doesn’t seem fair, does it?” Nick murmured, his lips brushing against Abby’s forehead as he spoke. They lay lengthwise on the couch, Nick’s head resting against the arm, Abby’s tawny head nestled on his chest, a comfortable tangle of limbs. That’s where they had been for the duration of Abby’s earlier emotional outbreak, and that’s where Nick continued to hold her close, his hand stroking calmingly up and down her back, slipping occasionally beneath the soft cotton to splay against the small of her back and the sunburst design that served as a constant reminder of the past. “Nobody in their right mind would choose me.”

    Abby raised her head, her hazel eyes boring into Nick’s unwavering gray gaze. “You can’t really believe that.” She traced the neckline of his tee-shirt with her fingers, finally cupping her palm around the curve of his jaw. “I’ve seen the way children react to you. They adore you. Ask Ali. Ask Lanie.” Her eyes sparkled, and the lightning illuminated the smile on her face. “Is it true? Am I really one of your favorites?” she teased, unprepared for the seriousness of his answer.

    “THE favorite,” Nick covered her hand with his own, bringing her hand to his mouth and pressing a tender kiss to her palm.

    Abby’s breath caught in her throat as his fingers slid into her hair, and he stared at her with an emotion she didn’t dare name in his gray eyes. Her thumb caressed the corner of his mouth, and her lips parted as they pressed sweetly against that same corner seconds later.

    Nick stilled beneath her, through sheer force of will letting her take the lead. Only when he felt her gently sigh into his mouth did he respond in kind, letting the kiss build and build and fill him with aching warmth. He groaned when her soft curves settled more fully atop him, his breath escaping in harsh pants as she leaned her forehead against his own.

    With Hank’s concerns and the memories of the resurrected past still whirling inside her mind, Abby felt as if she were freefalling, and she desperately wished to place her feet on solid ground again. But she couldn’t do that. Not if they continued on the path they were on, one already traveled. It had to be different this time—different than all the times before. There was too much at stake. “We can’t do this,” Abby frowned, fingers digging painfully into the bunched up muscle of his shoulders. “I need to keep my head. I need to do what’s best. For this baby. For me. For you. We can’t do this. We can’t complicate things with sex. I can’t think straight when...,” her hands slid up to cup his face again, and she implored him, “Nick, please.” She kissed him again, tears filling her eyes as she pulled back. “I don’t want to lose another child because I’m too weak to make the right choice, and I don’t trust myself to be strong here. Not when I can’t tell up from down or what you want from me or this relationship. We can’t do this. *I* can’t do this.” Her eyes pleaded with him to understand.

    Wordlessly, Nick gently guided her head back to his chest and wrapped his arms tightly around her, offering what comfort he could afford her, a difficult choice decided in that moment, the only choice he felt he had the right to make. If Abby couldn’t be strong, he’d be strong for her. Even if it killed him.

  2. #26
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
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    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    New*New*New*New*New*New*




    Chapter 26



    Watching through the small window above the kitchen sink, Martin chuckled at the amusing spectacle of his wife and daughters fussing over securing Cristian in the backseat of Chad’s car while Chad waited patiently in the driver’s seat. He shook his head and dipped the rag in his hands back into the dishwater when a belated realization struck him. Beside him atop a small stool, Ali was unusually quiet, and the smile on Martin’s face slipped away as he pondered what was worrying her so. “You don’t have to help me with these dishes, Lass. I can handle them if you want to go finish your movie,” he said, referring to the movie that had been started and never finished last night when the storm had blown through, plunging the house into darkness and putting a premature end to the festivities Theresa had had planned.

    Ali merely shook her head, biting her lip fretfully. She picked Hope’s baby monitor up and quickly put it back down when Martin held the plate in his hands out to her. “Grandpa Martin?”

    “Hmm?” Martin answered, carefully transferring the wet plate to Ali’s waiting hands.

    Drying the plate and rubbing it until it shone, Ali placed it on top of the growing stack before her on the kitchen counter and turned to face him with a furrowed brow. “What was Uncle Antonio like?”

    Unprepared to immediately answer the unexpected question, Martin continued to rub at the last plate in the tepid dishwater with the cloth in his hands, albeit a little bit absently. Finally, he turned to face his young granddaughter, his expression thoughtful, or at least what he hoped passed for thoughtful; he didn’t exactly consider himself to be the authority where Antonio was concerned. He wondered what had brought on the question and deduced that Theresa and talk of the wedding had definitely played their part.

    “Nobody ever talks about him,” Ali continued. “And Daddy gets upset whenever anybody mentions his name. Why, Grandpa Martin? Did he do something bad?”

    “No, Mija,” Pilar answered softly, startling them both as neither had heard her enter the kitchen. Taking the stack of plates from Ali, she set about putting them away, her face carefully devoid of expression. “Your uncle did nothing bad.”

    Flinching slightly at the condemnation in her dark brown eyes, Martin focused his attention on the dish in his hands, his shoulders and neck tightening as he felt the heat of his wife’s stare and a new tension slowly permeate the room.

    Taking Ali’s small hand in her own, Pilar helped her down and led her to the kitchen table where she sat down, pulling Ali into her lap with a small groan. She stroked a hand through Ali’s wispy blond curls, marveling again at how the years seemed to be passing by so quickly and how hardly a trace existed of the chubby cheeked motherless cherub she’d nurtured and loved so dearly during such trying times. “Your uncle Antonio did nothing bad.”

    “I don’t understand,” Ali frowned. “If he didn’t do anything bad or wrong, why did he leave?” Her trusting blue eyes searched her grandmother’s face for answers.

    Shrugging slightly, Pilar gave her the only answer she could, the only answer she believed in. “He felt like he no longer belonged here in Harmony. That he needed to find his own place in the world.” Her eyes connected with Martin’s over the top of Ali’s head, and an uncomfortable, lingering silence descended on the room.

    Sensitive to the change in mood, Ali looked from one grandparent to the other, finally settling back on Pilar’s face and uttering worriedly, “Nana?”

    For a moment, Pilar didn’t answer her, the words seemingly frozen on the tip of her tongue, until she felt the gentle pressure of Ali’s hand in her own, squeezing worriedly, and the tickle of her hair against her cheek when she bent to lay her head against Pilar’s shoulder.

    “Maybe Aunt Theresa’s right. Maybe Uncle Antonio will come home for the wedding, and we’ll all be together. We’ll all be a family.”

    “Oh, Mija,” Pilar breathed, bittersweet tears stinging her eyes as she felt her heart swell painfully with love for her son, the child in her lap, and the man staring at her across the room with regret in his eyes. “I don’t…”

    “Maybe she is right,” Martin interrupted before Pilar could say any more. “Maybe our son is coming home.”


    ~*~*~*~*~




    Locking the doors and activating her car alarm with a touch of a button, Sheridan tugged her purse over her shoulder and began walking toward the Youth Center, head down as she sorted through the keys in the palm of her hand. Rounding the corner, she barely avoided a head-on collision, dropping her keys in surprise. “Oh my goodness! Lissy, I didn’t see you there.”

    Tawny hair trailing down her back in braids, Lissy bent at the waist to retrieve the keys and offered them to Sheridan with an apology and a sheepish smile. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

    “You didn’t scare me,” Sheridan smiled back. “Just surprised me a little,” she said, fitting the appropriate key in the lock. It opened with a creaking sound that seemed much too loud and out of place for Sheridan amidst the cheerful singing of the birds and rustle of the gentle breeze that had arrived on the tail-end of the previous night’s storms. “What are you doing here so early?”

    Lissy followed her in, hovering close to her side until she hit the light switch, chasing away the intimidating darkness. “Daddy had a meeting, and Grandpa had to go to therapy. I didn’t want to stay with the babysitter. I’m too big for one. I like coming here with you better,” Lissy muttered under her breath as an afterthought, ducking her head and avoiding Sheridan’s eyes.

    Sheridan lifted the little girl’s chin with a gentle hand, struck with the memory of teary chocolate eyes and whispered wishes in her office in years past of a longing she safeguarded deep in her own heart. “I like having you here, Sweetie. You know you’re always welcome, don’t you?” She waited for the little girl to nod, finally coaxing a smile out of her. “And you’re not too big for a babysitter. Not to me,” she winked, giving one pigtail a fond tug and delighting in the reaction her words elicited as brown eyes rolled and just a hint of white appeared with the pleased smile that couldn’t be tamped down. “Come on. You can help me get things ready for the kids.”

    Side by side, they walked deeper into the Youth Center, Lissy’s young voice echoing in the stillness. “Do you think you could teach me how to do that thing.”

    “What thing?”

    “That thing,” Lissy giggled, gesturing with her hands and moving to imagined music.

    “Oh,” Sheridan nodded with an amused laugh of her own. “That thing.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Fresh from her morning shower and scrubbed free of makeup, her skin shone in the mirror’s reflection. Her tawny hair hung in damp waves around her shoulders. Her hazel eyes were critical as they traveled down her length, her hands following suit. They fluttered briefly over her lace-encased breasts, and one brow arched back comically at her. If she wasn’t mistaken…Nah. Had to be wishful thinking on her part. She was forever doomed in that department, never was she going to gain a cup size. Just wasn’t in the stars apparently. Nope. It seemed the weight Maggie had insisted she’d gained had traveled straight to her waistline. Slowly she turned to the side, as she eyed her own reflection, her hands hovering over her abdomen. Yeah. Right…there. She jerked her hands and her eyes away at the unexpected sound of his voice, whirling around to face him.

    “You have a bump.”

    “It’s barely there,” Abby protested, narrowing her eyes at him in mock accusation as he entered her bedroom without her invitation, looking good enough to eat in his navy scrubs and setting off all types of alarms in her head. Dammit! What had she said about sex the night before? She couldn’t even look at him without wanting to…She groaned as she whirled back around and tried desperately to ignore the fact that she could literally feel the heat from his body as he came to a stop behind her and joined her in looking at the mirror’s reflection. Just why the hell was she standing here clad only in her underwear with the door to her bedroom wide open anyway? She was asking for it. Begging for it. And yet…She shivered as his hands came to rest lightly over her own, sliding across her skin and down to her belly with its barely there roundness.

    “It’s right there,” Nick’s whisper was full of reverence as he stroked her skin absently with his thumb. “That’s our baby.”

    For a second, just a split second, Abby let herself lean back into him, let him hold her, let herself believe in things she’d long ago written off as foolish dreams, but then their eyes met in the mirror, and the intensity of the moment overwhelmed her, making her slip free of his arms and snag the first article of clothing she could find and pull it over her head. “There,” she announced with a too bright smile. “Peep show over.”

    Forcing himself not to show his disappointment, Nick smiled back at her and allowed himself just a glimpse of her bared legs before he turned around to offer her some small measure of privacy as she searched the messy room for a pair of pants, shorts, anything. “Your shirt’s on inside out.”

    “Stop smirking,” Abby grumbled behind him, swearing when she stubbed her toe on the edge of her dresser. “It looks like a bomb went off in here.”

    “I’m not smirking,” Nick lied, thankful she couldn’t see him. “And it’s your room. It was never this messy when…”

    “Don’t even,” Abby warned, edging past him in a pair of blue running shorts, shirt still inside out. “It looked worse, with clothes everywhere and the bed…” she gestured wildly with her hands, unable in that moment to produce adequate words. “You’re going to have to learn how to control yourself or our kid will never set foot in our bedroom. It’ll get lost. Not to mention be horrified at the thought of its parents…you know,” she trailed off, only belatedly realizing what she had said. She was still floundering for words when Nick rescued her with a twinkle in his gray eyes.

    “Me?! Lady…”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~








    “It’s not everyday the owner of the store pulls double duty.”

    Theresa handed the customer in front of her the rest of her change and a receipt and turned to Beth with a smile on her face. “This coming from the woman who’s never missed a day of work at the Book Café,” she teased.

    “Good help is hard to find,” Beth smiled back at her, unloading her chosen items onto the counter for Theresa to ring up. “Sorry for stealing Julie back from you this morning,” she referred to the employee they both shared in common, “but one of the other girls had some last minute things to take care of with summer school, and Julie’s been there the longest. She can pretty much run the Book Café by herself in my absence.”

    Theresa couldn’t hide the surprise on her face.

    Beth’s lips twitched. “I had a doctor’s appointment. Nothing’s going on,” she rushed to assure Theresa when she noticed the worry in the younger woman’s brown eyes. “Just a routine check up,” she said.

    “Good,” Theresa released a sigh of relief. “That’s good.” She held up a dress of lace and ribbons and material in a sky blue color and practically cooed, “Hope will look adorable in this.”

    “I thought so too,” Beth agreed softly as she pulled her credit card from her wallet. She was thankful Theresa made no mention of the fact that most of her purchases were, in fact, for Hope. They’d all been guilty of spoiling Sheridan and Luis’s youngest since her premature arrival months ago, though Ethan often teasingly accused her of taking it too far.

    Theresa’s hands stilled, however, when they came to a white christening gown that cost more than the rest of her purchases all together, and she looked to Beth curiously. “Beth,” she tilted her head to the side with a growing smile, “Are congratulations in order?”

    Beth blushed and took the christening gown from Theresa’s hands with a giveaway twitch of her lips. Shyly, she answered with shining eyes, “I think congratulating Ethan for trying for a baby would embarrass him. Don’t you?”

    One giggle escaped, then another, until the two women found themselves sharing in giddy laughter while curious patrons looked on in confusion.

    “I can just imagine the look on his face.”




    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “Ethan.”

    Ethan blinked as a hand appeared in front of his face, and his name was repeated, this time with a tinge of exasperation.

    “Ethan, what is the matter with you?” Gwen sighed as she walked across the room, closing the door to his office behind her quietly and affording them a little privacy. “You hardly said two words the entire meeting, and just now…” she shook her head. “Did you know that was the fifth time in the last minute that I had called your name?”

    Rubbing his hands roughly over his face, Ethan peered at Gwen with uncertain blue eyes, seemingly waging an internal battle with himself over whether to open up to her or not.

    Gwen took the decision out of his hands, perching on the edge of his desk and crossing her arms across her middle as she met his uncertain look with an expectant one of her own. “Spill it. Friends talk,” she reminded him when the doubtful expression on his face lingered.

    Covering his face with his hands again, he summed up the entire reason for his being so off-balance the whole morning in a few muffled words. “We’re trying for a baby.”

    “Ethan, that’s wonderful news,” Gwen squeezed the hands that now rested awkwardly in front of her encouragingly. “Isn’t it?” she prodded gently, concerned when the smile he responded with was wan at most.

    “I like children. I want children of my own, our own, but…”

    “But?” Gwen prompted when he seemed loathe to continue. “Ethan, if this is about that conversation we had, don’t be silly.” When Ethan looked mildly offended, she rolled her eyes at him and shook her head, softly chastising, “Don’t you see? It all makes sense now. There never was anyone else, Ethan. The reason for Beth’s strange behavior is obvious.”

    Ethan’s brows rose at her statement, and he leaned back in his chair, mirroring her earlier posture and crossing his arms across his chest as he waited for the rest of her explanation. Nothing about this situation seemed obvious to him. Then again, he’d never been an expert at understanding what made women tick, especially not the women he’d loved. “Really? If it’s so obvious, enlighten me.”

    Smirking at the realization that the man in front of her had changed so much and yet not that much, Gwen took pity on him but kept her tone teasing. “Your wife’s not seeing another man, Ethan. Not unless you count her doctor. Beth’s been acting strangely lately because she’s been trying to find a way to clue you in to the fact that she wants a baby, and you’ve just been missing all the signals.”

    “What signals?” Ethan regarded Gwen skeptically, frowning when she erupted into laughter.

    Her laughter gradually calming, Gwen decided to make herself comfortable. Pointing out and explaining the signals, it seemed, was going to take a while.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    She’d missed this, Sheridan mused, glancing around at the hubbub of activity that swirled around her, the day at the Youth Center still young.

    In a relatively quiet corner, Simone patiently oversaw a session of finger-painting with some of the younger children.

    Beyond her little congregation and directly opposite from Sheridan’s own even smaller group, Dylan and a group of the older boys engaged in a spirited game of basketball on the court.

    A little too spirited, Sheridan decided, sternly reminding the boys to play fair and avoid all the unnecessary roughness.

    Lissy and a couple of the younger girls flanking her giggled.

    “What?” Sheridan’s question was one of puzzlement.

    “You used your mom voice,” Lissy grinned, chocolate eyes twinkling at her.

    “So I did,” Sheridan’s lips twitched with humor. Clasping her hands in front of her, she allowed her smile to escape. Wondering again how she got roped into teaching a bunch of giggling preteens how to dance the tango, she nodded at Lissy. “This was your idea. Music or no music?”

    Several hands went up in the air, chorusing along with Lissy. “Music!”

    Someone started the CD player, and Sheridan’s smile was glowing as she remembered the first time she had danced to the song, here, in this place with Luis. Across the Youth Center, she caught Simone’s own knowing smile and noticed that their little group had captured the attention of the rest of the Youth Center’s occupants. Moving to the music, she explained each step as best she could to her rapt audience, Pilar’s voice patiently explaining the same steps echoing in her mind. She imagined Luis’s arms around, and his eyes staring intently into hers, but she felt silly dancing by herself. And she could see that the girls were having a difficult time ‘seeing’ what she tried—and failed—to find the words to describe. Letting a frustrated sigh escape, she started to turn off the music when one voice rang out loud and clear above all of the other protests and made everyone turn and stare.

    “Don’t.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “You’re starting to show.” Katie’s comment as she walked up to Nick and Abby, saying their goodbyes, was delivered with the giddiness of a schoolgirl.

    Giving the soft cotton tee-shirt she’d finally managed to put on right side out a self-conscious tug, Abby frowned at the bubbly young ponytail-sporting blond with her fresh-scrubbed face and thought she looked the world like a high school cheerleader. “I am not,” she muttered, thankful she’d at least recovered her wits enough after her embarrassing show of vulnerability this morning to change into more work-appropriate attire when Nick’s gray eyes smiled at her. The same softness that had made tears threaten this morning was back, and it was unnerving the hell out of her. “I am not,” she repeated with more force.

    “Relax,” Katie bit back a grin. “I’m not calling you fat.”

    “Then what are you calling me?” Abby crossed her arms across her chest, her hands itching to give her tee-shirt another self-conscious tug.

    Nick finally jumped into the conversation, answering for Katie. “I think she’s trying to tell you that you’re starting to look…well…pregnant.”

    “And whose fault is that?” Abby grumbled, her stomach flip-flopping at the grin he wore at her words. God, even the tiny crinkles at the corners of his eyes were attractive. Hers? Not so much. “Okay,” she said when the question only seemed to make his smile—and the matching smile on Katie’s face—grow that much more. “It’s creepy how much you’re both enjoying this.”

    “Babies make me happy,” Katie shrugged unapologetically, green eyes twinkling. “You two getting along…that makes me happy too.”

    “If you call me ‘Mom,’ I’m going to kick your ass,” Abby warned, launching an elbow at Nick’s ribs when the threat and Katie’s flippant response to it made him chuckle.

    Nick fended off the blow by taking her arm firmly in his hand and tugging her close. Shooing Katie away with his free hand, he didn’t take his eyes off of Abby’s face as he reminded the young nurse, “Rounds in five minutes, Katie.”

    “Meet you at the desk,” Katie responded, acknowledging his instructions. “Lunch?” she called to Abby over her shoulder as she left.

    Abby opened her mouth to answer, but Nick beat her to it.

    “Sorry, Katie. She’s got plans.”

    “Plans?” Abby’s brows climbed to her hairline, and her hazel eyes narrowed.

    “Yeah,” Nick smirked. “You’re having lunch with me.”

    “Awfully presumptuous of you,” Abby muttered, trying not to smile. There was something wrong with her; against her will she found that irritating smirk of his sexy—and it was playing havoc with her insides.

    “You are having my baby,” Nick reminded her.

    “I am,” Abby agreed, an unbidden smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. How could she not smile when he said it like that? He looked so damn happy with himself that it was hard not to find him adorable. The thought was her undoing, and she laughed as she let him take her hand in his own and play with her fingers. “That hardly means I want to share every meal with you.”


    “No,” Nick granted, “it doesn’t. You’ll do it because you like me.” Squeezing her hand before letting it go, he kissed the top of her head and stepped away from her.

    He was halfway down the hall before Abby recovered her ability to speak. “Nick,” she called, and he paused, turning around. “What about you?” A slow grin transformed his handsome features, and Abby nearly melted on the spot.

    “What about me?” Then, more softly, with a tender expression in his eyes, he made an admission. “I like you too.”

    She couldn’t but think—hell, it had to be wishful thinking again—those weren’t the words he wanted to say.
















  3. #27
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 27



    “Thanks, Simone,” Sheridan called over her shoulder with a smile as she entered her office. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.” She closed the door behind her, and the sound of children’s laughter and excited chatter gradually faded away, leaving only a peaceful, lingering silence. Planting one hip atop her picture-cluttered desk, she stared at him with wonder in her blue eyes, finally daring to ask the question she’d been dying to ask from the very moment he’d swept into the Youth Center and charmed her into his arms, “Where did you learn to dance like that?” Without waiting for his answer, she continued, a becoming mischievous twinkle in her eyes, “You’re almost as good as my husband, but don’t tell him that.”

    That comment earned her a smile. “I don’t think there’s any danger of that.” Looking beyond her, his dark eyes focused on a silver frame, and the blue-eyed angel that smiled back, minus a couple of front teeth. “Is that your daughter?”

    Picking up the silver frame, Sheridan’s smile became softer somehow, more achingly tender, as she noticed anew the changes the last few years had wrought. The babyish chubbiness of Ali’s cheeks was all but gone now, and the missing baby teeth had long been replaced. Her pale hair had once trailed down her back; now short, wispy curls framed her pretty face. “That’s my Ali,” Sheridan placed the frame in his large hands, eyes shining proudly, “when she was about six or seven. She’s nine now, and her hair…it’s shorter.” Suddenly, she felt tears threaten, and her voice sounded strained and high to her own ears as she turned her back to him, struggling to recapture her composure. “I have some more recent pictures around here somewhere, even some with Hope. Lots with Hope,” she said, whirling back around and presenting him with another frame, this time displaying a photograph of three beaming, pajama-clad children.

    Hope’s toothless smile brought smiles back to both of their faces. “They have your eyes. The girls,” he elaborated. “Cristian has Lu…your husband’s eyes, but the girls have yours.”

    “Cristian is his daddy made over,” Sheridan agreed. She watched the play of emotions on his face and wondered again how well he knew Luis when he echoed the sentiment. “So,” she put the frame back in its rightful place when he held it out to her, “what brings you here today? Have you changed your mind about the lessons? I’m sorry for making you wait, but you have to understand, my family and my obligation to the Youth Center come first.”

    “I haven’t changed my mind.” His answer was quick, delivered with a smile and shrug of his broad shoulders. “Guess I was just feeling a bit nostalgic. Spent a lot of time here as a young and stupid kid.”

    “Really?” Sheridan perked up with interest. “So you tell me. Has this place really changed so little? Luis swears it hasn’t, but sometimes I think he’s too close to it to notice.”

    Folding his arms over his chest, he leaned back in his chair and considered her question and his answer carefully, finally settling for a quietly spoken nugget of truth, hoping she wouldn’t press him for more details, “It’s changed. Everything changes. Some changes you just don’t notice until you gain a little perspective.” He decided, in the ensuing silence, that her eyes were what he liked about her best, for they clued him in to her thoughts, like the enigma she’d clearly decided him to be. He breathed a little sigh of relief when, without a moment’s notice, she abandoned the questions lurking in her eyes in favor of offering him a dazzling smile.

    “I was thinking of dropping in on Luis at the station for lunch. You’re welcome to join us, do a little catching up.” The invitation extended, she slipped her purse strap onto her shoulder and indicated the door.

    “I’m afraid I have to take a rain-check,” he said, genuine regret in his voice. At his full height, he was startled to realize, her blond head could comfortably fit beneath his chin. “I kind of already promised a friend I’d meet her for lunch,” he explained.

    “Oh,” she answered. Her smile dimmed just the tiniest fraction before it brightened again. “Some other time then.”

    He took the hand she offered and gave it a gentle squeeze. When he opened his palm, he was surprised to find a small slip of paper in it, a phone number neatly written there. Holding it up, he raised his brows in question.

    “Call me in a couple of weeks. Or sooner,” Sheridan told him as she exited the small office, and he fell into step beside her. “We’ll set up those flying lessons, maybe a dinner between friends.” As she reached the bottom of the Youth Center steps, she turned around, a teasing smile on her face. “Tell your friend she’s welcome to come too.”

    “It’s not like that.” Inexplicably, he felt the need to clarify himself. “We’re just…” he trailed off, realizing he owed her no explanations; even entertaining the notion was ridiculous. Now, his friend on the other hand…one glance at the watch on his wrist told him he was going to owe her more of an explanation than he was ready for if he didn’t get moving soon. “I’ll tell her.” The promise fell from his lips with surprising ease. Already, he was beginning to understand how it came to be that Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald had willingly married a Crane. At least this Crane.

    “That a promise?”

    Chocolate brown eyes twinkling back at her, he grinned. “It’s a threat.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~


    “Next week then?” Abby knelt in front of Mr. Homan’s wheelchair, a hand on one thin, knobby knee to balance herself as she searched his kind, weathered face for acceptance. Glancing up at the young woman patiently gripping the handles of Mr. Homan’s chair, she proudly told her, “We used the walker today.”

    “That’s wonderful, Mr. Homan,” came the cheerful congratulations. “Lissy will be so pleased.”

    The mention of his young granddaughter seemed to make the old man’s chest puff up with pride. “Told that girl I’d be running circles around her by Christmas.”

    “Now, Mr. Homan,” the young woman began, only to be interrupted.

    “Tell her, Kathy,” Mr. Homan looked to Abby for support.

    Abby’s hazel eyes connected with the concerned eyes of Mr. Homan’s young caregiver, and she gave the other woman a small shake of her head, returning the affectionate squeeze that Mr. Homan gave her hand tenfold. “Maybe by Lissy’s birthday,” she suggested. “Didn’t you tell me you owed her a dance?”

    “The child’s done had her birthday,” the old man frowned.

    “Her next birthday then,” Abby smiled brightly at him. “Think of what a great present it’ll be.” She covered the hand Mr. Homan rest on her cheek with one of her own.

    “She’s got your smile, Kathy. It’s really amazing, considering,” he mused, his faded eyes growing even more fuzzy and unfocused. “Janie-girl,” he tossed a disgruntled frown over his shoulder. “Where’s my lunch?” He looked at Abby again, his brows knit together in agitation. “This one would let me starve to death if I didn’t remind her. A man’s got to eat to keep his strength. You look awfully familiar. What’s your name again?”

    Gently, Abby patted the hand that now rest in Mr. Homan’s lap. “You remember me, Mr. Homan. I’m Abby. Your therapist,” she offered helpfully.

    “Abby,” Mr. Homan tried the name on for size. “That’s right. We have an appointment…”

    When he struggled to remember, Abby voiced a soft reminder, standing up and rubbing her palms against the pants leg of her scrubs. “Next week. Same time, same place.”

    “Same time, same place,” Mr. Homan echoed, dropping his hands to the wheels of his chair. “Don’t just stand there,” he cast a frustrated glance over his shoulder.

    “See you both next week,” Abby waved as the elevator doors closed, and they were gone. Sighing, she glanced at the watch on her wrist, realizing that despite Mr. Homan’s tendencies toward disorientation, he was actually right about the time. It was lunchtime, and Nick was nowhere to be found. As if on cue, her pager chirped annoyingly, and she couldn’t contain her disappointment at the words that she read. “Dammit,” she muttered.

    “I hope everything’s okay.”

    “Eve!” Abby willed her heart rate to slow down, all the while berating herself for being so silly.

    ”I’m sorry, Abby,” Eve apologized softly, the smile on her face and the hand on Abby’s arm calming. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”


    “It’s alright,” Abby replied sheepishly. Tapping her index finger against her pager screen, she said, “I was distracted.”

    “Just a little,” Eve mused, eyes alight with amusement. “I hope everything’s okay,” she repeated sincerely, letting a laugh escape when Abby only grew more confused. “Your message,” she elaborated.

    “Oh! Oh, it’s nothing,” Abby answered with a half-hearted smile.

    “Hardly seems like nothing,” Eve declared, eyebrow raised.

    “Really,” Abby insisted. “It’s nothing. Nick had to cancel lunch. His patients are really important to him.”

    “Abby.”

    Eve’s brow rose even higher, leading Abby to wonder how the hell she managed such a feat, and a furrow developed between her own brows as she tried to read the other woman’s eyes.

    “You’re just as important to him.”

    “The baby’s important to him,” Abby corrected her. “He likes me well enough, but he’s in love with this baby.” A fluttery feeling behind her ribcage confirmed for her that she’d spoken the truth. Why else would he have looked so absolutely besotted as they’d argued over the existence/non-existence of the ‘bump’ that was their child? Catching Eve off-guard with the change of subject, she was reminded once again of the lunch hour by the indignant growling of her stomach and blurted an invitation. “Want to grab lunch? I’m eating for two, you know.”

    “I’d like that actually,” Eve responded. “Just let me make a few quick calls. I’ll meet you there?”

    “Sure,” Abby smiled. “But don’t hate me if I start without you.”

    “As a woman who’s been there, I promise not to be offended.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~




    “Ellie!” Katie hissed, trying without success to draw the other nurse’s attention away from the closed exam room door. “Don’t you have patients to check on?”

    “They’re eating lunch,” Ellie waved her off.

    “You know,” Katie said, crossing her arms about her middle, “it’s not professional to eavesdrop. But then…nothing else you do is really…professional.” She bit back a smirk when Ellie’s head whipped around, Exorcist style. She knew she was being childish, but in this instance, she couldn’t help herself.

    “I thought you had lunch plans with the fiancé. What happened? He lose interest once the thrill of the chase was over?” Ellie sneered.

    Narrowing her green eyes, Katie opened her mouth but the planned retort died on her lips with the abrupt opening of the door. Hastily grabbing the nearest object she could find, the chart of one of Ellie’s patients, she pretended to be wholly absorbed and kept her eyes down as Nick and a couple of the hospital’s higher-ups passed by her.

    Ellie, meanwhile, huffily excused herself and headed back to the nurses’ station, her glare boring holes into Katie’s back.

    “Thank you again for speaking with us, Dr. Taylor.”

    Out of the corner of her eyes, Katie noticed Nick shake hands with both of the older gentlemen, but when she noticed Nick’s glance in her direction, she subtly turned her back to the three men, at least she prayed the action came across as subtle.

    “In the short time you’ve been employed at this hospital, you’ve made a fine contribution, Dr. Taylor.” The voice this time was different, more rich in tone than the previous one.

    Katie frowned. It sounded like…no, couldn’t be. Could it? She gripped the chart in her hand harder and fumbled through the pages, lest she look any more suspicious than she guessed she did.

    “Our loss, Colorado’s gain.”

    It was the first voice again, and the other voice soon joined in, echoing the sentiment, but Katie found her ears deaf to the rest of the conversation. She nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt the weight of a hand on her shoulder.

    “You can stop pretending,” Nick said, relieving her of the chart and placing it back in its cubbyhole. “Katie,” Nick caught her eyes with his and held them, “I know you were listening.”

    “I was listening alright,” Katie snapped, anger making her eyes glitter. “How, how could you?”

    “It’s not what you think it is, Katie,” Nick defended himself. Under the heat of her stare, he continued, “I’m not gone yet.”

    “No. You aren’t. But you’re already halfway there.” The realization only served to fuel her anger, and she jerked away from his touch.

    “You don’t understand,” Nick sighed heavily, scrubbing his hands roughly over his face. “It’s complicated, this thing with Abby. I need to keep my options open. I want…”

    “What do you want, Nick?” Acid practically dripped from Katie’s tongue, and she found some kind of perverse pleasure in the fact that Nick seemed to physically flinch at her biting words. “A life free of complications? Is that it? ‘Cause I hate to break it to you, but it doesn’t exist. Life isn’t easy. Love isn’t easy.”

    “Katie, I…” Words failed Nick, and he looked away, but his reprieve was only momentary.

    “Don’t,” Katie held a hand up. “Maybe that’s it. Maybe you really don’t love her.”

    Nick’s jaw tightened at the accusation, but again, he said nothing, powerless to put into words what he felt for Abby. Distantly, he realized Katie was stalking away from him, and her words pricked and tore at his flesh like barbed wire that he couldn’t avoid.

    “If that’s the case, go to Colorado. She’s better off without you.”

    Unable to find his voice, Nick let her go and wondered just how and when things, with Abby, the conversation with Katie, had spiraled so badly out of his control.



    ~*~




    “Whoa there!”

    Strong hands clasped around Katie’s upper arms, and her green eyes snapped up in surprise when the delayed impact of colliding with another body finally registered. “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going.” Her apology softened to a whisper when she heard a familiar but rare sound, and her fingers unconsciously tightened in the soft cotton she still clenched.

    Chuckling, Miguel let his hands fall from her arms. “That much is obvious.” The humor in his dark eyes gradually faded away at something he must have noticed in Katie’s own eyes and demeanor, and without thought, he lifted a concerned hand to her shoulder. “Hey,” his voice dropped a register. “Is everything alright?”

    “Yes.” When it became apparent the knee-jerk answer hadn’t satisfied Miguel, Katie sighed in resignation. “No,” she admitted, her frown deepening. “Nothing’s alright. Nothing.” Belatedly realizing the placement of her hands, Katie released the bunched up fabric abruptly, made a half-hearted effort to smooth the wrinkles she’d created, and dropped her hands to her sides, turning her back on Miguel and the worry her words had dredged up.

    “Is it Kendall?” Miguel’s fingers inadvertently brushed against Katie’s neck before landing back on her shoulder.

    Katie suppressed the unexpected shiver that threatened at his touch, a grateful smile crossing her lips at his efforts to comfort her. Turning back around to face him, her green eyes flitted over his features and found him still troubled on her behalf, and she reached a hand up to squeeze the one still awkwardly resting on her shoulder. “It’s not Kendall.”

    “Noah?” Miguel hesitantly questioned, casting his eyes toward his feet.

    Biting her lip at his discomfort—suddenly, she could clearly see him as a shy, ten-year-old—she shook her head, grabbing the hand that had drifted again to his side and making him look at her. “No, Miguel. It’s not...Noah!” Katie stepped around Miguel and found herself gathered tightly in the arms of the man in question.

    “Don’t know why she’s so surprised,” Noah shrugged, silver eyes dancing as they landed on Miguel. “I warned her I was coming. Miguel,” he reached a hand out.

    Miguel shook the hand his former brother-in-law offered. “Noah,” he greeted, unable to stop his eyes from straying to Katie’s face.

    Tucked snugly against Noah’s side, Katie shook her head slightly, her green eyes imploring Miguel to abandon the questions she knew he still itched to ask her. Tipping her chin up, she studied Noah’s handsome, much loved face, an easy smile coming to her lips as she teased, “Guess I forgot. Some of us actually work at our jobs.”

    “You think all I do at the police station is drink coffee and eat donuts, don’t you?” Noah grinned, chasing the smile on her lips in hopes of scoring a kiss. Thwarted when Katie ducked her head in embarrassment and nodded in Miguel’s direction, Noah downplayed Katie’s concern with a wave of his hand, “Come on, Katie. If Miguel can’t handle seeing us kiss, he’s not coming to the wedding.” He laughed against her tightly drawn mouth and winked at Miguel. “Mom’s not going to be thrilled with this weird stage fright you seem to be developing.”

    “Noah Bennett,” Grace chided as she joined them, Joshua perched on her hip, thumb gravitating toward his mouth and brown eyes melancholy. “Leave the poor girl alone.”

    Mouthing a thank you to Grace, Katie left the security of Noah’s arms to stand in front of the quiet little boy, hoping to coax a smile out of him. “Hi, Joshua. Whatcha been up to? He had therapy today, didn’t he?” Katie looked to Grace. “How’d it go?”

    “Okay,” Grace sighed. “The last couple of sessions have been…they haven’t gone quite the way we wanted since…” she trailed off, sneaking a look at Miguel out of the corner of her eyes.

    Reading in her silence the words, the name she refused to give a voice, Katie found herself growing angry anew, but she pushed the feeling down and settled for nodding in acknowledgment. Feeling Noah hovering close by, she let his presence calm her, ground her. To Miguel, she reassured, wondering how much of her own words that she really believed, “It will all work out in the end. You’ll see.”

    “I got a great idea,” Noah spoke up, settling his hands low on Katie’s waist. “Katie and I were going to grab a bite to eat. Why don’t you join us?”

    “I don’t know,” Miguel started, only to be cut off by Grace’s eager acceptance of the offer.

    “That’d be wonderful,” Grace’s smile returned. “Katie and I can talk about the wedding.”

    Laughing at the grimace Miguel failed to hide, Noah clasped a hand on the other man’s shoulder and pulled him along behind the two women. “The price I pay to see her waiting for me at the end of that aisle.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “Chad.” Across town, sharing a lunch of hotdogs and potato chips with her fiancé as they walked Harmony’s sidewalks, Theresa pouted over Chad’s repeated refusals to open up about the surprise he, Paloma, even Cristian, had been hard at work on for much of the morning. “Please? Just one little hint?”

    His grin growing exponentially the bigger her pout became, Chad merely shook his head and settled his arm low about her waist as they walked along, enjoying the slight breeze that had replaced the stagnant heat of the day before. “Might as well give it up, T-girl,” he teased. “Ain’t getting nothing out of me,” he jerked a thumb in his own direction, smirking when she practically flounced away. Catching up with her, he gently but firmly grasped her arm, “You’re not going to sweet-talk it out of Cristian, either.” He was laughing when she pulled away from him again, the truth of her intentions shining plainly in her large, dark eyes.

    “I wouldn’t do that to an innocent little boy,” Theresa huffed, tossing the remainder of her hotdog in the trash receptacle in front of her then grabbing Chad’s own foil-wrapped lunch and disposing of it as well. “I hate surprises,” she said, effortlessly affecting a pout again. “You know that.”

    “What I know,” Chad chuckled as he hooked his thumbs in her belt loops and tugged her to him, “is that you *love* surprises. Even more so when they stay surprises,” he said pointedly, watching the pout on her lips twitch traitorously. “And you’ll love this one that much more if you’ll just leave it to me, Paloma, and Cristian a little while later. Just until the wedding.”

    “Just until the wedding?” Theresa whined. “The wedding is still months away. We haven’t even set a real date yet. Paloma’s right. Who plans a wedding after Thanksgiving? Oh my god,” her eyes grew round with the realization, “Chad, there’s still so much to do.” She was still babbling after Chad pressed a kiss to her mouth to quiet her. “I have to go,” she said, pulling away from him with a panicked but determined expression on her face. “I’ll see you tonight. Don’t forget to pick up cat litter,” she reminded him as she backed away.

    “Cat litter for Smoky. Got it,” Chad replied, shaking his head in amusement when Theresa nearly plowed over an unsuspecting pedestrian in her haste. “Damn girl,” he muttered to himself with a helpless smile. He didn’t know what the hell had gotten into her and whipped her into such a panic, but it had definitely seized control of her coordination along with her common sense. “Watch where you’re going!” he warned her. Not missing a beat, he called, “Where are you going?”

    “To see Whitney,” Theresa tossed back along with a wave and a kiss. “Chad, the wedding’s only…”

    “I know, I know,” Chad waved to her with a grin, watching her hurry across the street with the handful of people returning to their jobs following their lunch hour.

    The wedding was only a few short months away.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~



    Whitney breathed a sigh of relief when she stepped through the door of the Book Café, and she was hit with the aroma of rich, brewing coffee. The day had already stretched on long and been one of the more hectic ones to date, and in an effort to preserve her sanity, she’d decided a brisk walk to the Book Café on her stolen lunch break in search of some revitalizing caffeine was in order. She smiled back at Julie when the young woman greeted her with a bright if harried smile.

    “Your usual?”

    “Please.” A sigh escaped Whitney without her bidding, and she and Julie shared a look of understanding.

    “Long day, huh?” At Whitney’s ready nod, she indicated the three-ring circus at the back of the establishment and bit her lip. “I’ll bring it to you as soon as I take care of this order. Forgive me, Ms. Russell, but the last thing those kids need is more sugar. I don’t know what your sister is thinking.”

    Whitney noticed, for the first time, Simone seated in the middle of the chaos, looking as tired and generally overwhelmed as Whitney felt. Feeling guilty for the evasion but knowing in her heart her sister would forgive her this once, Whitney ducked behind one of the taller bookshelves and waited impatiently for Julie to return. She held a hand to her heart when a small voice startled her.

    “Can you hand me that magazine?” Lissy’s nose and forehead were scrunched in concentration as she raised on tiptoe to no avail. “I’m not tall enough to reach it.” Her small fingers closed around it gratefully when Whitney retrieved it for her. “Thanks,” she grinned, huffing at the strand of tawny hair that fell in her eyes. Poking her head around the bookshelf, she glanced again at Whitney as she said, “They’re never this loud with Ali’s mom.”

    Chancing a glance for herself, Whitney had to agree. “Think they’re afraid of her?” she asked, her eyes straying to the front page of the magazine clutched in Lissy’s hands.

    “Maybe,” Lissy shrugged, chocolate eyes narrowed in thought. “I think they might be more afraid of her dad. You know. Since he’s the Police Chief.”

    “Could be,” Whitney agreed, waving to get Julie’s attention when she passed them by, frowning in confusion at Whitney’s apparent disappearing act. “I think now’s your chance to pay for that,” she tapped the magazine Lissy held to her chest with her index finger. “I’ll let you cut line in front of me,” she offered.

    “That’s okay,” Lissy smiled, “I just want to look at it. They’re giving me a headache.”

    “Me too,” Whitney admitted, lips pursed but eyes smiling at the grown-up tone of voice the wisp of a girl had adopted when speaking to her. “Have fun with your magazine, Lissy,” she said distractedly when Julie held up her coffee and smiled in her direction. She watched as the little girl slid to the floor and thumbed through the glossy pages. “I think your hiding spot’s safe a little longer.”

    “Thanks,” Lissy called without looking up.

    Realization dawned on Whitney when she was halfway back to the hospital, the memory of one of the titles making her heart ache a little inside her chest: “Growing up Without Mom.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~




    “This is the way rumors start.” Sheridan sighed as Luis’s fingers tickled up and down the bare skin of her arms.

    “Hmm?” Luis murmured contentedly against her brow. Shifting slightly with her still in his lap, he winced at the way the wheels of his chair groaned under their combined weight.

    “The door’s locked. The blinds are closed. It’s just you and me, alone, in your office,” Sheridan spelled it out for him with a teasing smile.

    Luis took great pleasure in kissing the smile from her lips. When the kiss was over, he pulled back to look in her blue eyes and shrugged. “We’re married. Let them think what they want to think.”

    “You really have loosened up in your old age.” Sheridan smirked at the way his dark eyes widened in shock, wrapping her arms around his neck tightly and muffling her squeal against his broad chest when he threatened to toss her from his lap for that remark.

    They were both laughing and gasping for breath by the time Luis righted the chair, and the knock at the door and Quinlan’s concerned ‘Chief, everything okay in there?’ only served to make it that much more difficult to breathe.

    Luis’s answering ‘Fine’ had Sheridan burying her face in the curve of his neck. “We have to stop meeting like this,” she finally pulled away with a smile.

    “How’s that?” Luis found himself smiling back at her.

    “I feel like we’re having an illicit affair,” Sheridan told him, eyes dancing at the expression on his face. She rolled those same eyes at him when he followed up by running a fingertip along the neckline of her shirt and giving her an exaggerated leer. “Luis, behave,” she groaned, stilling his wandering hands with her own. “Sometimes, you can be such a goof.” She cupped his face between her hands lovingly and pressed a kiss not to his lips, much to Luis’s disappointment, but to the tip of his nose.

    Luis tightened his arms around her when she trustingly rest her golden head upon his shoulder. “I called Mama to check on the girls.”

    Sheridan’s lips twitched; the gesture was so Luis. “And?”

    “Papa said Hope’s sleeping the day away. You know what that means, don’t you?” His hands traveled up and down her back in broad sweeps.

    “It’s going to be a long night,” Sheridan mused with a sigh. “What about Ali?”

    “Papa said Mama took her to Lighthouse Park. They were going to meet up with Paloma and Cristian,” Luis informed her.

    The mention of her sweet little son reminded Sheridan again of his unbridled excitement at taking to the skies and of the stranger that intrigued her so. “I ran into your friend again.” She frowned when she felt Luis tense beneath her, and his hand stilled on her back. Rubbing soothingly at the nape of his neck, she lifted her head to look deeply into his troubled eyes. “He dropped by the Youth Center. Helped me out with the kids,” she elaborated. “I invited him to lunch with us, but he already had plans.”

    “Oh.”

    Luis’s hand resumed its movements against her back, but Sheridan could tell he was distracted by thoughts he wouldn’t share with her. Forcing back a sigh, she changed the subject, pressing her lips to his cheek and combing her fingers through the dark hair at the nape of his neck. “Luis, take me dancing.”

    “Dancing, huh?” Luis grinned at her with a ridiculous wiggle of his brows that had her laughing again.

    “Yes, Luis,” Sheridan answered, forehead to forehead with her husband. “Dancing.”

    “I don’t know,” Luis whispered against her lips. “Think I can manage dancing in my old age?”































  4. #28
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Thanks to the lovely few that responded to the last chapter (I know you guys are reading, lol)! Your continued interest and support is, sadly, the only inspiration I have left besides Ann's daily postings of Shuis pics of old.

    Much love.

    And now, the new chapter. Chapter 29 will pick up soon after this one (when I get it written, hehe). You'll figure out why.

    Enjoy!








    Chapter 28






    “I don’t know, Sher,” Gwen called to the woman in the other room. “I still think Bennett is up to something. His voice sounded kind of…odd…on the phone.” Distractedly, she pried Hope’s tiny fingers from the strand of pearls around her neck and smoothed a hand over the baby’s dark curls when her lips jutted out in a disappointed pout, blue eyes growing bright.

    Appearing in the hall just outside her bedroom, Sheridan deftly sidestepped her son as he torpedoed past, Max hot on his heels. “Cristian, what did Daddy say about running in the house?” she called, smiling at the sheepish apology that reached her ears seconds later. “Where’s your sister?”

    “Right here, Mom,” Ali announced, giggling when her mother nearly jumped out of her skin at her sudden materialization behind her.

    Gwen’s laughter joined Ali’s, and she balanced Hope on her hip as she stood up and approached the pair where they stood. Hope gurgled happily when Sheridan pressed a kiss to her forehead, rubbing at the lipstick mark left behind with gentle fingertips. “So…dancing, huh?” Gwen asked, when Ali had hugged Sheridan’s waist tightly and disappeared into the living room with a smile. “Nice dress, but I *love* the shoes,” she complimented, winking wickedly at the blush that stole across Sheridan’s cheeks. She was grinning as she followed Sheridan into her bedroom, unable to resist teasing, “Just what kind of dancing are you planning?”

    Sheridan rolled her eyes at her friend’s suggestive tone and walked into the bathroom, Gwen following closely. Slipping on a pair of earrings that sparkled and pulling out a tube of lipstick to touch up her makeup, she met Gwen’s dancing brown eyes in the reflection of the mirror. “You and Hank…” she trailed off.

    “Me and Hank what?” Gwen prodded, frowning slightly in concentration as she retrieved her necklace once again from Hope’s seeking hands.

    “Nothing,” Sheridan smiled, whirling around and plucking her disgruntled daughter from Gwen’s hands before the frustrated tears welling in her eyes could spill over. Bending at the waist, she snagged a stuffed toy from the bed as she passed it by, snuggling it next to Hope’s cheek and making her smile again. “There you go, Angel.”

    “Will you please stop it with the cuteness?” Gwen groaned, unable to resist cupping the tiny bare foot in her hand and making silly faces at the youngest Crane-Lopez-Fitzgerald offspring. “No wonder Beth has baby fever,” she muttered, meeting Sheridan’s knowing eyes. “Look at that face.”

    “Maybe Beth isn’t the only one.” The suggestion lingered in the air between them, and Sheridan searched Gwen’s thoughtful expression for any hints of truth to the statement.

    Gwen lifted her shoulder in a shrug. “Sometimes I wonder; that’s all. I’m more than content with the three monsters I have. They’re handful enough.”

    Sheridan laughed, thinking nobody else except Hank could say the same with so much affection in their voice. “Speaking of handfuls,” she said, when a ruckus could be heard coming from the vicinity of the kitchen.

    Max was still barking up a storm when the trio arrived. No doubt due to Her Royal Highness. From her perch high atop the refrigerator, Miss Priss alternately growled low in her throat and hissed tauntingly at the canine. Gizmo, meanwhile, lounged beneath a kitchen chair, seemingly unaffected by the commotion.

    Ali and Cristian watched the whole thing with big eyes.

    “Cristian,” Sheridan quickly took charge of the situation. Though the day was growing long, and dusk was approaching, she made a suggestion. “Why don’t you take Max outside until Beth and Ethan get here.”

    Cristian obediently obliged, tugging on the golden retriever’s collar and pulling the whining pooch toward the door.

    “Beth and Ethan?” Gwen remarked with a raised brow. “You didn’t tell me they were coming over.”

    “Didn’t I?” Sheridan frowned, clasping Hope close she crossed the distance to the fridge and rummaged inside it, grabbing one of Hope’s bottles. The baby fretted when the bottle disappeared from her view but was soon distracted by her sister’s smiling face. “I mentioned our plans when I stopped by the Book Café, and Beth volunteered to watch the kids with Ethan. I thought I’d give Pilar a rest,” she said, winking at Gwen when Ali protested.

    “I was good! Nana said she needs more grandchildren like me.” Ali’s blue eyes twinkled as they met her mother’s stare, and soon, both were laughing.

    Removing Hope’s bottle from the microwave, Sheridan tested it. Satisfied with the temperature, she handed the bottle and, more carefully, the baby to Ali and shooed them off to the living room. “I’ll be right there. Hold her like I showed you,” she reminded.

    “Good to see her spunk’s returning,” Gwen grinned, leaning casually against the kitchen counter and watching Sheridan putter around the kitchen, tidying up here and there. “Looks like things are getting back to normal, although I have to say, I never thought I’d live to see the day that this,” she glanced around at their surroundings, “would be normal for either of us.”

    “Me either,” Sheridan answered her, a happy half smile on her lips. She absently stroked Miss Priss’s fur when the feline descended from her lofty perch in search of the affection that was rightfully hers. “It’s almost too good to be true. When Ali was sick,” she paused to look down at her feet, her voice growing painfully tight, “when Ali was so sick, I thought this is it, I’m waking up, and the dream is over.”

    “Oh, Sher,” Gwen moved closer, pulling her friend into her arms.

    Chin on Gwen’s shoulder, Sheridan clutched her tightly, tearfully murmuring, “Sometimes, I’m still afraid I’ll wake up, and this will all be an elaborate dream, and none of it will be real.” Pulling back, she stared into Gwen’s own teary eyes and made a painful admission. “I don’t think I’d survive if all of this was taken away from me.”

    “You’re making me cry, dammit,” Gwen grumbled, rubbing her knuckles beneath her eyes and blinking against the sting of more tears. “Don’t say that. You’re one of the strongest people I know. You want proof that this is real? I’ll give you proof,” she said and proceeded to do just that, bursting into laughter at the resulting look of outrage in Sheridan’s blue eyes.

    Rubbing at her arm, Sheridan was incredulous. “I can’t believe you pinched me!”

    “You’re welcome,” Gwen grinned at her.

    “Mom?” Ali’s concerned voice called.

    “It’s nothing, Ali,” Sheridan responded, with a grin of her own creeping onto her face. “Don’t let Hope take her bottle too fast.” Turning her attention back to Gwen, she whispered her gratitude. “Thank you. I needed that.”

    “What are friends for?” Gwen pulled her into another hug and quickly released her, reminding her of the real reason for her visit when Max’s joyful barking alerted them to both the timely arrival of Ethan and Beth and Luis. “You better put those files in a safe place. I wouldn’t want Ethan getting the wrong idea.”

    Sheridan bit her lip, grabbing the files and tucking them beneath her arm as her eyes searched for an appropriate temporary hiding place. “Or Luis.”

    Gwen held out a hand. “Here. I’ll find a place for them. I think you should pinch that husband of yours, make sure he’s real.”




    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “How’d it go with Whitney?” Chad asked, sliding his arms around Theresa’s waist from behind and pressing a kiss to the top of her glossy dark head.

    “The way it always goes with Whitney,” Theresa leaned back against him with a sigh, readily accepting the kiss he bestowed upon her cheek. “I filled her ears with all my usual crazy talk, and she brought me back down to earth.”

    “Crazy talk? Who said it was crazy talk?” Chad turned her around in his arms and lifted her chin, searching her luminous eyes.

    “Nobody,” Theresa shook her head, sliding her arms around his waist in a hug. Mumbling against the fabric of his shirt, she admitted the source of her troubles. “She thinks I’m dreaming if I think Antonio is going to come home for our wedding.” Feeling him stiffen momentarily then relax in her arms, Theresa pulled back to look at him. “You do too, don’t you?”

    “Maybe,” Chad reluctantly confessed. “But T-girl,” he reminded her gently, “a lot of your dreams have already come true. Who’s to say this one won’t?”

    Reaching up on tiptoe to press a grateful kiss on Chad’s mouth, Theresa again circled her arms around him in a hug, squeezing tightly. After several seconds of yawning silence, she fisted the material of his shirt in her hand and affected a pout. “I’m hungry.” When Chad laughed in response, she could feel it reverberating beneath his skin. “What are you making me for dinner?” she batted her eyes beguilingly at him.

    Hands on her shoulders, Chad held her at arms length and smirked at her expression. “I was thinking of something different.”

    “Different?” Theresa perked up. “There’s a new Thai place in Castleton. Some of the girls at work have been, and they all say it’s wonderful.”

    “Different than that,” Chad raised a brow, threading his fingers through hers when she held out her hand.

    Theresa’s forehead scrunched up in thought. “Different how exactly?”

    “How ‘bout a home-cooked meal?”

    There was something about his expression that made Theresa incredibly curious. “I thought you weren’t cooking.”

    “I’m not.” Chad scooped his keys from the kitchen counter and dangled them in front of her. “The good Dr. Russell is.”

    “Whitney? Chad, Whitney can’t cook. Besides, she’s still at the hospital, said she had to pull a double shift,” Theresa crossed her arms across her middle. “You’re not talking about…you can’t be…” she trailed off in disbelief, and the beginnings of a smile began to tug at the corners of her mouth.

    “Dr. Eve Russell invited us to dinner,” Chad divulged, unable to resist smiling back at her when her smile became a full-fledged grin. “Along with Whitney and Simone. I don’t think she realized Whitney had to work though.”

    “Oh, Chad,” she cried. “That’s wonderful. I mean…what I meant was….oh,” she held a hand to her mouth. “I’m just so happy for you.”

    “Don’t kid yourself, Theresa.” The warning was gentle but serious.

    Theresa grabbed his hand again, squeezing it reassuringly. “Things might be a little awkward. Okay, uncomfortable,” she conceded. “But Chad,” she beamed at him. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

    She looked so hopeful, so earnest, Chad couldn’t help but adopt her attitude. Tucking her beneath his arm, he led her toward the door. “C’mon. We don’t want to be late.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    She was grabbing a quick bite to eat from the cafeteria when she saw him, head in hands, brow furrowed, in an otherwise deserted corner. Quietly, her own tray in her hands, she wandered through the tables until she reached his and cleared her throat. “Would you like some company?”

    “Whitney, hi,” Nick smiled in greeting, looking up from the source of his intense study.

    Whitney’s eyes flickered to the official-looking paper before focusing back on his face, and she started to retract her offer when she realized Nick’s smile failed to reach his stormy gray eyes. Turning to go, she started, in an apologetic voice, “You’re busy. I’ll just…” Looking down when she felt Nick’s hand gently grasp her arm, she searched his face for any indication he was just being polite when he told her to stay.

    “Stay,” Nick insisted. He rubbed a hand across his face tiredly, looking as if the weight of the world rested upon his shoulders. “I could really use the friendly face.”

    She settled in the seat across from him, straightening her shoulders primly. “What?” she wondered, at the slight smile that touched his lips, more genuine than its predecessor.

    “Is that all you’re eating?” Nick gestured toward her salad, and the small cup of fruit at the corner of her tray. “To Abby, that’s an appetizer.”

    Whitney frowned. “She’s eating for two.” Picking at the lettuce with her fork, she soon abandoned the task, choosing a grape from her fruit cup instead. “How’s she doing?”

    “Abby?” The expression on Nick’s face was conflicted, and he avoided meeting Whitney’s intelligent eyes. “She’s great. The baby’s great. We’re all great.”

    Unconvinced, Whitney chose not to comment any further, and as silence descended upon them, she found herself watching the comings and goings of the different staff and visitors in the cafeteria. Finally, when she couldn’t stand it any longer, she spoke. “It’s late. Busy day?” Her eyes strayed again to the paper Nick couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of, and she could tell by the way he weighed his words that it was troubling him greatly. “Want to talk about it?”

    “You mean you haven’t heard the rumors?” Nick’s laugh was hollow, harsh.

    “I try to ignore them when I can,” Whitney answered him with another frown. There were, she knew, some pretty outlandish rumors about herself circulating this place, and the experience had taught her not to believe everything she ever heard, unless it came straight from the person in question. “You’re not bothered by silly rumors, are you?” she asked in disbelief.

    “Some of them have an element of truth to them,” Nick sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face again. “But the details are all wrong. The motives.” When she looked slightly bewildered, he didn’t bother to explain, deciding it best that she be kept in the dark too, lest her view became biased. He wanted an honest, uninvolved opinion; she needed only the barest of facts.

    “Nick, I’m not sure I’m following. Maybe I should go.” Whitney started to stand when Nick thrust the paper into her hands. Letting her eyes skim over the words, she fell back into her chair, her brow furrowing in confusion. Looking up at him, she shook her head lightly. “I don’t understand. What is this?”

    “Look at the second page,” Nick instructed, gray eyes stormier than ever. “It might make things clearer.”

    Whitney did as he requested, her dark eyes widening with each successive word. “A letter of resignation? Abby hasn’t mentioned…”

    Dawning realization cut her words short, and Nick experienced a realization of his own. Her answer, it was obvious, wasn’t going to make him feel any better about himself. Softly, he made a shamed admission. “Abby doesn’t know.”

    “Yet,” Whitney’s voice was firm as stood back up, her eyes void of understanding softness. “She doesn’t know yet.”

    Nick couldn’t help wondering how much longer that would be true.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    “Yes, Shane,” Abby rolled her eyes as she spoke into the receiver. “I’m eating my vegetables.” Staring longingly at the orange sherbet she’d found herself craving on the way home from work, she ran her little finger through the melting dessert and sucked it into her mouth. “Hmm?” she asked distractedly, when she became aware of her brother’s voice at her ear again. “Carrots. I’m eating carrots. I know I hate carrots,” she grumbled irritably, rolling her eyes again. “No, I’m not rolling my eyes. I’m not,” she insisted, mightily resisting the urge. “Well, I can’t eat while I’m talking to you.” Sighing in relief, her voice softened, “Yeah, yeah. I love you, too. I’m sure he’ll be home soon. Bye. I gotta run,” she unfolded her legs and slowly stood up from the sofa when she heard the doorbell ring. “Someone’s at the door. I’ll call you tomorrow. Promise,” she vowed, disconnecting the line. The doorbell rang twice more before she reached the door, and she was scowling when she yanked the door open to find Katie outside, hand poised to knock.

    “Noah,” Katie called over her shoulder. “She’s here.”

    For the first time, Abby noticed Noah lurking in the hallway, wearing a sheepish smile.

    “Is this a bad time?”

    Glancing down at the short shorts and ratty tee-shirt that made up her attire this evening, Abby smirked at him, at the two of them, and with a lift of her shoulders that hinted otherwise—her sherbet was melting, dammit, said, “No. Come on in. Where’s the kidlet?”

    Noah answered her, crouching down to greet Lucky with a scratch between the ears. “Mom’s got him. Took him over to Miguel’s to play with Joshua. He’s been a little…well, he’s not been himself lately.” The expression in his silver eyes when they met hers was a mixture of apology and faint reproach.

    Finally, Katie spoke, a hand to her fiance’s arm. “Noah, I don’t think…”

    “No, Katie,” Abby interjected, ignoring the pleading look in the other woman’s green eyes and meeting Noah’s assessing gaze head-on. “It’s okay. It’s okay to talk about them, mention their names around me. I’m sorry they’re hurting. I’m sorry I caused some of that hurt. But I’m not sorry for what I did, Noah, because it had to be done. I can’t take Kay’s place in their lives. It was wrong of me to even pretend to, no matter how much I wanted to make things easier. You don’t have to like what I did; I just hope you understand, just a little bit.” Sighing deeply, Abby closed her eyes then reopened them with a smile as she bent to retrieve the orange puddle that was her dessert. “Let a pregnant woman enjoy her ice cream, will ya?” Hazel eyes narrowed at Katie, she brandished her spoon as a warning as she plopped back down on the sofa. “If you say one thing about this not being good for me, I’ll…”

    Hand to her lips, Katie made a zipping motion, green eyes sparkling as she seated herself beside her friend. With her encouragement, Noah claimed the armchair as his own, relaxing in a casual slouch that had both women smirking.

    “There’s more in the fridge if you want some,” Abby offered, spoon scraping against her bowl. “In fact,” she grinned winningly at him, “you can get me some more when you fix your bowl. Just a teensy bit.” She laughed as he rolled his eyes good-naturedly at her and climbed to his feet to do her bidding. “You’re training him well, Katie,” she remarked, just loud enough for Noah to hear. Burrowing her cold toes between the couch cushions, she turned to Katie with a raised brow, a hand resting low on her belly as she tucked a pillow beneath her head. “Spit it out,” she prodded. “You looked like a woman on a mission when I opened that door, and I know you weren’t delivering Lover Boy to my doorstep to make my every wish come true.” When that comment failed to get a reaction—neither girlish giggles nor the shy flush of Katie’s cheeks, Abby straightened up, wrapping her arms protectively around her legs and propping her chin on her knees. “Katie, you’re starting to make me a little nervous here. Please say something.”

    Ducking her head, Katie couldn’t meet Abby’s eyes as she said what she was about to say. “There’s something you should know.”

    “Something I should know?” Abby frowned, taking hold of Katie’s fidgeting hands. “Katie, I’m afraid you’re going to have to spell it out for me. I’m a lot of things, but mind-reader, regretfully, is not one of them.”

    “It’s about Nick. And you. It involves you both. At least it should,” Katie blurted, at last raising pained green eyes to Abby’s (for once) serious face. “I don’t know how to say this. I…” she broke off again as she searched for the right words, and the lingering silence was soon filled with Noah’s purposeful footsteps and authoritative voice.

    Snapping his cell phone shut, Noah answered the unspoken questions in both women’s eyes, but not before apologizing for cutting their visit short. “That was the station. Somebody spotted a suspicious-looking man matching the description of the Book Café vandal lurking along the docks. I’m going to have to check things out.”

    “Go on, Katie,” Abby encouraged, though not without a little bit of frustration, especially when she saw what looked to be a sigh of relief escape the young blonde. “We’ll talk later.” Following the pair to the door, she promised to lock up behind them, rolling her eyes and brushing aside their worries. “I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself. Now you,” she patted Noah’s chest teasingly while giving Katie a one-armed hug, “are just a wee wittle wookie so don’t go out there saddles blazin’. This one’s counting on you to make an honest woman out of her, right Katie?”

    “Right,” Katie replied. If Abby noticed her answering hug was a little tight, she didn’t say anything, and Katie found herself thankful for small miracles even as worry for Noah started to invade her thoughts. “You sure you’ll be okay?” she lingered in the doorway as Noah’s feet beat a hasty path toward the elevator.

    “I’ll be fine,” Abby waved her concern off. “Nick should be here soon. Go. He’s waiting,” she said as the elevator dinged loudly and Noah stepped inside, holding the doors open for Katie. “Go fight some crime,” she jested, giving the younger woman a friendly push. “You know I can kick your ass, don’t you Katie?”

    Holding her hands up, Katie backed away, laughing even as the elevator doors started to close in front of her. “I’m going. I’m going.”

    When the doors had closed completely, Abby shut her own door, making sure the locks were engaged and secure before turning her back on it with an uneasy frown.

    Laughter hadn’t hidden the guilt in Katie’s green eyes.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    With a glance over her shoulder to make sure no one was looking, Lissy pulled the magazine out from under her shirt and held it close. Fear and adrenaline made her heart pound in her ears and it got harder and harder to breathe the farther she got away from the Book Café. What if she were wrong, and Julie really had seen her? What then? What would her dad think? Her grandpa? Ms. Sheridan? The thought of Ms. Sheridan finding out what she had done made Lissy’s stomach lurch. Panicked tears started to fill her eyes, blurring her vision so much so that, when she turned a corner on the docks, she didn’t see the man until it was too late.

    Large, gentle hands helped her up, and the perplexingly comforting scent of leather lingered in the night air around the stranger.

    Blinking back her tears, Lissy apologized, raising guilt-ridden chocolate eyes to a handsome face, a face she was startled to find out she recognized. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. I didn’t mean to…you’re the man from the Youth Center.” Tucking her tawny hair behind her ears, she worried her lip between her teeth as more tears obscured her vision. “Ms. Sheridan’s friend.”

    Hurried footsteps, more than one set, clattered in the distance, and the eyes that stared back at Lissy darkened with alarm.

    Lissy felt that same feeling of dread intensify inside herself, and she glimpsed the fallen magazine at the stranger’s feet. Her mouth grew dry and her palms sweaty, her voice scraping her throat in a whisper as her guilt spilled forth, “They’re coming for me. They’re going to take me away from my dad and put me in jail.” All because she had stolen a stupid magazine! As bad as being motherless was, the thought of now losing her dad was even more horrible, and Lissy couldn’t contain her sobs.

    Voices grew nearer and footsteps louder.

    Lissy was vaguely aware of a pair of strong, muscular arms lifting her up and cradling her protectively close before she found herself in darkness, with only the stranger’s kind eyes glittering at her. She didn’t dare breathe as his hand settled over her mouth, and she wrapped her arms around his neck tightly when he removed that same hand, supporting her weight as he held her.

    “I won’t let them take you to jail, but you have to be quiet. Think you can do that?”

    Lissy nodded, hiding her face in the crook of his neck. She gasped, whimpering when they both heard the whine of a police siren. “Don’t let them get me,” she whispered into his ear.

    The voices were disturbingly close now, and recognizable, for the man stiffened along with Lissy when, over a static-filled channel, one voice cut through all the others.

    “Noah, this is Luis. Can you give me a pinpoint on your location?”

    “I want you to hold on tight. Understand?”

    Lissy felt two arms tighten reflexively around her as she followed his instructions.

    “It’s time to get out of here.”

    Then they were moving, and the world around Lissy was nothing but a blur.
















    Oh, a cliffhanger! Haven't had a real one of those in a while, have I?

    LOL!

    The whole world seems much bigger and scarier to kids (Lissy), doesn't it?

    Katie's efforts to tell Abby the truth were thwarted. Does this mean Nick will get another chance to own up and be a man?

    Thought it was time Chad and Eve started moving in a positive direction.

    What are Sher and Gwen up to? And Hank, being the sly devil that he is, is definitely up to something. You just know he is.

    Any guesses?



    Until next time.

    Thanks for reading!!!


    P.S. Mistakes are mine. Let me know where they're at (especially if they're enormously distracting) so I can clean them up.

  5. #29
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Dubuque, IA
    Posts
    118

    Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Lissy's whole "they're going to put me in jail" was so sincere, but I don't understand why Antonio would help her out, and why he would have broken into the Book Cafe.

    I think Nick will fess up that he had put in resignation, but will also tell her that he has retracted it, to stay with her and the baby.

    Chad and Eve making amends is a nice start - I didn't know Whitney followed in her mom's footsteps and was a doctor, too. Was it mentioned before? I don't think I would have missed that.

    Sheridan and Gwen....dancing....I think they are taking "special dancing" lessons, like with a pole??? No, I really have no idea.

    Hank bought some land? Or he is starting/buying a business?

    Shae - next chapter please!!!!
    PS I didn't see any mistakes, looking good as always!

  6. #30
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Dubuque, IA
    Posts
    118

    Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Just reread the last chapter and noticed, what are Gwen and Sheridan hiding from Luis and Ethan? Or is it supposed to be Hank?
    Again, I can't help thinking that Beth and Ethan should move into the house that was once Luis and Sheridan's, now Gwen and Hank's.

    Please Shae, I am missing my favorite story, and can't wait for more!!!!

  7. #31
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    So sorry for the long wait. As I explained in a post on the new FF boards, things have been hectic and I've been a little rundown lately (that yucky junk going around didn't help); also, a recent death in the family delayed the chapter further.


    That said, the new chapter has officially arrived, and before moving on to it, I wanted to say a quick thanks to the lovely readers that replied to the last chapter on both boards. You guys continue to be an inspiration to me to finish this story, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate you.

    I hope you enjoy.
    Not my favorite chapter, but it's a long one.




    Chapter 29



    “You think your mom will notice it?”

    Jake eyed the ugly painting that now hung crookedly on the wall at the end of the hallway and wondered how anyone, least of all his mom, could miss it, sighing, “Maybe we should just tell her the truth. How mad can she be?”

    “Mad about what?” a familiar voice behind them asked.

    Busted, Jake thought, following his dad’s example and whirling around to face his mom. With a glance at his dad out of the corner of his eyes, Jake held back a sigh—he was really too big for this kid stuff—and stepped forward with the biggest, most charming, rascally grin he had tucked up his sleeve and wrapped his arms around his mom’s waist in a breath-stealing hug. “Mom! You’re home!”

    Automatically, Gwen’s arms lifted to return Jake’s embrace, the needling feeling of suspicion she’d been nursing the entire evening growing more insistent in the pit of her belly. Combing her fingers through the mop of her son’s brown hair, she narrowed her eyes at her husband and his apparent reluctance to look her fully in the eyes for more than two seconds. “Hank?”

    “Didn’t hear you come in, Babe.” Hank matched Jake’s grin, throwing in a teasing wink for good measure. “How’d you sneak past Gus?”

    “Living in this house has taught me a trick or two,” Gwen answered, releasing Jake and stepping around her husband. Or at least she tried to. For the next several seconds, the two of them engaged in a dance that recalled her youthful days at boarding school and those dreadful lessons until she managed to slide past him, her mouth dropping open in horror. “Bennett,” her voice was low with warning. “What have you done?”

    “Nothing,” Hank replied innocently, “just thought such a work of art deserved a better place than the back of our bedroom closet.” Elbowing Jake for rolling his eyes, Hank carefully schooled his expression into a neutral one when Gwen glanced back at him, aghast.

    “You can’t be serious.” Swallowing in shock, she searched for something further to say but words eluded her, and her eyes were drawn back to the monstrosity covering her wall. Finally, she blurted, hand shielding her eyes, “It’s a picture of pigs!”

    “A token of Becs’s affection,” Hank deadpanned. Beside him, Jake choked back a laugh, ducking his head and hooking his thumbs in his belt loops when he felt the heat of his parents’ stares. Swallowing back his own chuckle with difficulty, Hank placed comforting hands on Gwen’s shoulders and gave Jake a look that plainly said cool it. “Like Becs herself, the picture grows on you.”

    Gwen groaned, covering her eyes again. “Hank Bennett, so help me God…” she began, only to be cut off by the sound of the front door opening and slamming shut.

    Barreling down the hallway at a breakneck pace, Emily and Sara were chattering a mile a minute, the excited words leaving their mouths barely distinguishable as part of the English language, except for a few recognizable Mommy’s and Mom’s scattered throughout.

    In a much more sedate stride and overall manner, Jonathan Hotchkiss approached his daughter, a twinkle in his eyes as he nodded at his son-in-law and young grandson. “It really does grab your attention.”

    Emily, having only just recently viewed Charlotte’s Web, piped up, “Look, Mommy! That one looks like Wilbur!”

    Showing none of the restraint Hank and Jake had fought for so valiantly, Sara smirked then let loose a naughty giggle, exclaiming, “It’s the ugliest picture I ever saw!”

    “Now, Sar,” Hank failed miserably in his efforts to keep a straight face, “that’s not a nice thing to say.”

    “Well, it is,” Sara stubbornly insisted, feet spread wide and stance challenging him to deny the truth. “Mom thinks so too. Right, Mom?” Under her breath, she mumbled, “The hole was much cooler.”

    “I…I…wait a minute,” Gwen’s head whipped around when her mouth had finally caught up with her brain. Quickly honing in on her daughter’s suddenly impassive face, she questioned, “Did you just say hole?” Eyes snapping to Hank’s equally blank face, she practically growled, “Bennett?”

    Jonathan’s lips twitched when Jake piped up in doomed rescue.

    “The pole! She meant the pole.”

    Clearing his throat, Hank couldn’t quite keep the smirk off of his lips and ducked his head to avoid the heat of the glare his wife was aiming at him. “Sorry, Babe. I didn’t think it was appropriate to…you know...in front of the kids. Although…I hear it’s an excellent way to stay in shape.”

    “Daddy?” Gwen pleaded.

    “Your mother wants me to check into having one installed for her.” Jonathan chuckled when Jake covered his ears, seconds too late, and his daughter cringed. Hank, meanwhile, hung his head even lower, all traces off his earlier humor gone.

    “Now that was a mental image I could have done without.”

    Recovering her ability to speak, Gwen sweetened her approach, scooping Emily up in her arms. “Emmy,” she twirled one brown braid between her fingers, “can you tell Mommy about the hole?”

    Small fingers tangling in the pearls at her mother’s neck, Emily bobbed her brown head, and Jake groaned, muttering something about the weakest link as he beat a hasty retreat to his room before the you-know-what hit the fan. “Uh huh.” Letting go of the necklace, she pointed a finger at the eyesore that was the center of everybody’s attention.

    Not trusting herself to look, Gwen glowered at Hank over the top of their daughter’s head, and Hank guiltily stepped forward, Jonathan falling in line to assist him. Staring into Emmy’s shining brown eyes, Gwen whispered, “Is it a really big hole?”

    Mouth parted, features uncharacteristically solemn at her mother’s demeanor, Emily nodded slowly.

    Glancing at Sara, Gwen was distantly aware of a gentle breeze caressing her face as she asked, “Am I going to be mad at your dad?”

    “Real mad,” Sara grinned. “Grandpa said he’s gonna have to turn his house into a ‘fugee camp.” Frowning slightly, she muttered, “Whatever that means.”

    “Daddy?” Gwen ventured without looking in his direction. “How bad is it?”

    “You might want to take a look yourself, Sweetheart,” Jonathan suggested gently.

    Frozen in inaction, Gwen could only stare in her daughter’s brown eyes, until Sara tugged excitedly at Emmy’s dangling foot and practically squealed.

    “Emmy! Emmy! Look! A squirrel!”

    “Bennett!”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “Need any help?” Ethan asked from his position in the nursery doorway.

    On the changing table, Hope pouted, blue eyes welling, as Beth carefully removed her wet diaper. Kicking her small feet out and flailing her bunched fists, she voiced her displeasure with small whimpers and fat crocodile tears that slipped into her dark curls.

    Ethan didn’t wait for an answer, moving deeper into the room and easily falling into the role of Beth’s assistant. Between the two of them, they made short work of outfitting Hope in a fresh, clean diaper, the scent of talcum powder tickling at their noses. With a pleased grin on his face, he told her, “We make a pretty good team.”

    “Practice makes perfect,” Beth colored with embarrassment, murmuring against Hope’s forehead as the baby fretted in her arms. “I’m a little rusty.” When Ethan raised a brow at her in question, she explained, “I did a lot of babysitting in high school.”

    “That should come in handy,” Ethan declared. With a hand at the small of her back, he led her to the rocking chair in the corner and watched as she seated herself. “My experience with children is pretty much limited to Ali, Cristian, and this one,” he rubbed Hope’s tiny shoulder comfortingly when she continued to cry.

    “Ali and Cristian!” Beth remembered and started to get up. She gave Ethan a puzzled look when he took her by the shoulders and gently pushed her back into the rocking chair.

    “Relax,” Ethan smiled. “They’re fine,” he assured her. “I left them in the living room playing Candy Land. Ali’s letting Cristian win.”

    “That’s sweet of her,” Beth smiled back at him, feeling lulled herself by the peaceful rocking motion of the chair. “What?” she asked when she noticed the twinkle in Ethan’s blue eyes.

    “Ali’s a great big sister to Cristian, yes, but she’s also Luis’s and Aunt Sheridan’s daughter.” Elaborating on his thoughts, he stated it plainly, “She’s very competitive. I had to promise I’d play Monopoly with her later.”

    “Well,” Beth digested that tidbit with a smile that quickly morphed into a grin. “Nobody’s perfect.” She fell silent, her eyes widening momentarily with the belated realization that all was quiet. Dropping her voice to a whisper, she looked up at Ethan, “I think she’s asleep.”

    “Not quite, but almost,” Ethan whispered back, cupping a palm over the base of Hope’s skull. “Let me,” he held his hands out to receive the baby, and with painstaking care, the transfer was completed within seconds.

    Beth stood up slowly, shushing Hope when she fussed, and holding her breath waiting to see if it’d worked. Connecting eyes with Ethan, she nodded at Hope’s crib, hand resting on his upper arm as he lowered the baby from his shoulder and into her bed. Leaning her chin against Ethan’s shoulder, Beth watched the flutter of the curly black lashes and lost herself in the reassuring rise and fall of the tiny chest as Hope settled down. She had tears in her eyes when she slid her hand down Ethan’s arm to tangle their fingers together. “I can’t believe we’re really going to do this.”

    “Me either,” Ethan brought their hands up to his mouth, kissing the back of hers. He turned around, his back to the crib, and followed Beth to the window when she disengaged their hands. Her face was pale in the moonlight, contemplative. “Beth?”

    “What changed your mind?” When that question only seemed to further stir Ethan’s confusion, she made a clarification. “You weren’t exactly sold on this idea when you first saw those pamphlets. I’m getting older. You’ve always said our age difference doesn’t matter, but it does in this. It’s going to be a lot harder for me to get pregnant now than it would have been if I were twenty. We both know that. Yesterday, earlier today,” she stared into his unblinking blue eyes, “it was like your mind wasn’t completely made up. But now you seem sure, confident. What’s different now? What or who changed your mind?”

    “Gwen,” Ethan blurted. “Gwen changed my mind.”

    Shaking her head, Beth frowned. “I’m not following. What does Gwen have to do with us having a baby?”

    “Nothing,” Ethan was quick to say. “At least not directly.” Taking Beth’s tightly fisted hands between his own once more, he squeezed them gently, dropping his gaze. Shamefully, he admitted the source of his previous reservations. “You’ve been different, distracted, lately. I thought maybe you were seeing another man—that you wanted out of this marriage.”

    “Ethan,” Beth tugged at her hands but he refused to let them go, and she willed herself to relax and look him in the eye as she spoke, even though her heartbeat was gaining force and speed behind her ribcage. “What made you think such a thing?”

    “The errands for one,” Ethan answered. “The errands and the phone calls and the late nights.”

    Addressing the most damaging evidence, Beth reminded Ethan, “Most of my girls are still in school, Ethan. Some of them, like Julie, even have other jobs. They’re kids and they deserve to have some time to be kids. I’m perfectly capable of closing the Book Café so they don’t have to.”


    “I know you still work at the Book Café because you enjoy it. I understand that and appreciate it,” Ethan replied. “But Beth,” he looked imploringly at her. “It’s a job.” Gently, he told her, hoping he wouldn’t offend her, “It’s not your life anymore.”

    “No,” Beth conceded. “It’s not.” Sighing, she placed their clasped hands against Ethan’s chest and whispered an apology. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I made you feel…”

    Ethan cut her off with an apology of his own. “I was wrong to think what I did. I know now I should have trusted you, that we have no secrets between us.” Letting go of one of her hands, he guided her head to his shoulder and wrapped his arm around her, holding her close. After a moment, he pulled back to grin at her. “Want to come watch a nine-year-old take me to the cleaners?”

    Beth traced her fingertips over the edges of his smile and leaned in to kiss his cheek. “In a minute.” Picking up the nearby baby monitor and handing it to him, she let her gaze wander toward the crib and the sleeping child inside. “I just want to make sure she doesn’t wake up and wonder where we’re at,” she murmured, trailing her fingers down to his collar and straightening it. “In a minute, I promise,” she returned his smile, shooing him from the room.

    “Beth,” Ethan lingered in the nursery doorway again.

    “Hmm?” Beth turned to acknowledge him.

    “You’re going to make a great mom,” he said, then left.

    Alone, in the shadows the moonlight didn’t reach, Beth covered her face with her hands and allowed her smile to slip away. In her pants pocket, her phone continued to vibrate, unanswered.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “More mashed potatoes, Theresa?” T.C. held up the bowl in offering.

    Theresa wasn’t sure she wouldn’t turn into an Idaho potato if she ate anymore, but she didn’t tell T.C. that, only lifted her plate with a big smile. “Please.”

    Behind her napkin, Simone’s lips twitched, and her large eyes shone with humor as they connected across the table with Chad’s eyes. Feigning a cough, she grabbed her glass of water and looked down at her own plate to find her dad had replenished her supply of mashed potatoes when she wasn’t looking. “Daddy,” she complained.

    “You’re getting too skinny,” T.C. retorted, “chasing all those kids down at the Youth Center.”

    “How was the Youth Center today, Sweetheart?” Eve joined the conversation mid-stream, carefully setting a steaming peach pie down in the center of the table.

    “She needs a real job if she’s going to stay in Harmony, Eve,” T.C. interjected. “I know you’re doing a good thing for Sheridan and those kids, Sugar Bear, but volunteering won’t pay the rent.”

    “She’s welcome to stay here as long as she wants,” Eve interrupted her husband before he could get carried away. Frowning, she prodded, “Tell her, T.C.”

    “What your mom said,” T.C. sighed, digging into the peach pie and whistling when the first distracted bite scalded his tongue.

    “Careful,” Eve chastised with a meaningful look. “It’s hot.”

    Watching the interplay and glancing at Chad out of the corner of her eyes, Theresa bit back a smile, leaning forward and making a suggestion. “You could work at Over the Rainbow. A couple of the girls are going to be leaving for college out of state soon, and I could use the extra help.”

    “Thanks,” Simone said. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Turning to her mother, she made an effort to get their conversation back on track and draw Chad out of his self-imposed shell in one-shot, knowing what she had to say would be of interest to him. “The Youth Center was fine, Mom. A couple of the kids wanted Sheridan to teach them how to tango, and it wasn’t going too well until one of Luis’s old friends dropped by and danced with her. He wasn’t as good as Luis, but he was pretty close. The kids loved it. It was all they could talk about the rest of the day.”

    Her interest piqued, Theresa blurted a question before Chad could comment. “One of Luis’s old friends? Really?”

    Simone nodded. “I didn’t catch his name, but there was something familiar about him that I couldn’t place. Sheridan seemed pretty comfortable with him.”

    Theresa failed to notice the way T.C.’s brows rose at that particular statement, but Chad didn’t, shifting beside her uncomfortably. He smiled tightly and nodded when Eve offered him a piece of pie, immediately attacking it with his fork. When Theresa rest her hand upon his thigh and squeezed, Chad interpreted the signal for what it was and blurted the first safe thing he could think of to say. “Auntie’s a pretty good dancer. She should give lessons.”

    Thinking about how well-loved Sheridan was by the children, Simone agreed, “She should.”

    “She really should,” Theresa agreed as well, beaming as the beginnings of an idea began to form inside her head.

    Uh oh, Simone thought, stifling a groan. The long years Theresa had been Whitney’s best friend meant she knew exactly what that smile forecast: another Theresa dream in the making. Glancing at her mother, Simone knew that she recognized the look as well and was doing her best to hide her own knowing smile as Theresa practically bounced in her seat.

    “It’s perfect. I don’t know why I didn’t think about this before.”

    “Think about what?”

    T.C., it seemed, was the last person to clue in to Theresa’s train of thought as Chad was already indulging her whims with a patient grin, gently reminding her that Sheridan more than had her hands full at the moment. “T-girl, Hope’s four months old.”

    “Almost four months old,” Eve corrected him with a smile.

    “Close enough,” Chad conceded the point. “Point is…” he sighed, train of thought stalling at the way Theresa’s bright smile was wavering uncertainly.

    “I’ve been wondering what to do with the studio, and Sheridan would be the ideal person…”

    Surprisingly, it was T.C. to the rescue, fork paused in front of his mouth. “Right now those babies need some time with their mama just as much as she does with them.” It was exactly the right and the wrong thing to say; their conversation stalled to a complete stop as everyone mulled the words, and the past year, over.

    The room sprang back to life, though, when Simone picked one word out of the thread of conversation and spun it off in a completely new direction. “Speaking of babies…”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Babies, Abby would admit only to herself, she loved; pregnancy not so much. Groaning, she pulled herself to her feet, swaying just slightly, and flushed the toilet before grabbing a cloth from the shelf at her side and holding it under the running faucet. There was a tiny tremor in her hand as she raised it to her face and blotted at her feverish skin with the cloth. Her face was pale and her eyes stared tiredly back at her in the reflection of the mirror as she lowered her hand. Closing her eyes, she took a deep steadying breath and willed her heart to cease its pounding and return to a normal rhythm. They opened slowly at the nearby sound of his voice.

    Moving into the small confines of the bathroom, Nick took the cool cloth from her hand and gently moved it over her skin, his other hand anchoring on her hip and helping to hold her upright. “I thought the worst of this was over.”

    Huffing a small laugh, Abby leaned into his tender touch, her smile wry. “Me too. Guess your kid doesn’t like the smell of garlic. Too bad, too,” hazel eyes blinked up at him. “I was trying to make you dinner.” Unconsciously resting against him, she tracked his movements as he squeezed some toothpaste onto her toothbrush—predictably from the end and not the middle—and held it up in offering. “Trying to tell me something?” she raised a teasing brow at the gesture, swallowing back the wave of nausea when she stuck the toothbrush into her mouth. Finishing the task as quickly as possible, she spit the toothpaste from her mouth and rinsed with the glass of water he pushed into her hand, resisting the overwhelming urge to be sick. “I hate you, you know,” she muttered into his side when he tucked her under his arm and walked them both out of the bathroom and into the living room.

    “I know,” Nick’s smile didn’t quite reach his eyes as he settled her on the couch, pulling at the blanket tossed into the corner when he noticed the shiver she couldn’t control.

    Tugging her legs up and tucking them close to her chest, Abby hugged her arms around her knees and shook her head, feeling the sting of bile rising in the back of her throat. “I’m not cold. I…” she paled again, eyes snapping shut and fingers clenching and unclenching, her knuckles whitening. “Could you…” A slow inclination of her tawny head indicated the kitchen, and the tone of her voice was pleading.

    “I’ll be right back,” Nick promised, disappearing from her sight. Several minutes passed, and when he returned, her color was a much more human shade, her position a little more relaxed. “Better?” he questioned, easing onto the couch beside her and opening his arms. He brushed a kiss to the top of her head when she tucked herself around him, laying her head over his heart.

    Letting the even beat of his pulse soothe her, Abby nodded after a few seconds’ hesitation. It was better. Releasing a slow breath, she cuddled further into his arms. “What did you do with it?”

    Nick tensed momentarily then relaxed, a sheepish laugh escaping as he admitted, “I threw it away.”

    Slapping at the hand that sought her fingers in mock-outrage, Abby grumbled, “Shows what you think of my cooking.”

    “Well, I’m not the one it was making sick,” Nick teased, combing the fingers of his other hand through her soft hair. “No more spaghetti or garlic bread until baby says so, okay?”

    “No more,” Abby muttered, swearing softly under her breath when just talking about it made her stomach muscles clench.

    “Want to watch some tv?” Nick kissed her again, this time on her forehead, the touch sweet and lingering. Glancing at the remote on the coffee table, he hoped she said no; he was loathe to disturb the simple moment of peace between them, reluctant to let the evening lead him into a conversation he realized he wasn’t ready for, not tonight anyway.

    “Mind if I just use you as a pillow for a while?” Abby yawned against his shoulder, unconsciously seeking his hand and lacing their fingers together as she shifted into a more comfortable position. “So tired,” her words started to slur as her heavy-lidded hazel eyes drooped.

    “Sleep,” Nick told her, staring ahead at their distorted reflection on the blackened screen of the television, a lump forming in his throat at the trust she still showed him, even though he’d yet to be as giving with his own heart. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

    Abby sighed and relaxed completely against him. “Better be.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    “Katie.”

    Miguel sounded as surprised as Katie herself felt to find herself here, crying on his doorstep. Thankfully, he didn’t mention the tears that she brushed away carelessly with her knuckles, only stepped aside to usher her in.

    Katie’s green eyes took in the worn-looking sofa and the toys littering the floor, and the general absence of children’s voices didn’t register with her until Miguel spoke again, chasing away the silence.

    “Grace took them,” he informed her, bending and grabbing toys by the handful, clearing a pathway as they went further into the house. “She mentioned calling you, checking if you minded Kendall spending the night with her and Sam.”

    Shaking her head slightly, Katie finally spoke. “I left my cell phone in the car with Noah.” Off Miguel’s confused look, she continued by way of explanation, “He’s on a case.”

    “How…” Miguel began, only to falter, chiding himself that it was none of his business. Instead, he offered her something to drink and found himself surprised when she nodded and followed him into the kitchen. He was aware of the intermittent drip-drip of the faucet and the ticking of the wall clock as he searched his cabinets for a clean glass. She took the glass he filled for her, wrapping both hands around it and staring into its depths. He didn’t know who was more startled, him or her, when she suddenly seemed to find her voice again, answering his unfinished question.

    “I walked here. From the Book Café. I couldn’t stand the waiting, so I left, and somehow I ended up here.” She lifted reddened green eyes to his face and kept them there, attempting and failing to form an apologetic smile.

    “You thought Kendall was here.” Miguel meant it as a statement of fact, but it came out sounding much more like a question.

    “I thought Kendall was here,” Katie confirmed with a little, rasping sigh. Repeating herself, she looked away in embarrassment and held the glass out to him, “I thought Kendall was here, and he isn’t. And I’m so sorry to come in here like this, and…I’ll just…I’ll just go.”

    Miguel took the glass in one hand, held her motionless by the wrist with the other. Swallowing hard at the sparkling sheen of tears in her green eyes, he let his fingers slide down until they touched hers and gave her hand a tiny tug, leading her back into the living room. When she was settled on the couch, he took a seat beside her, and waited for her to talk. “Are you,” pausing to clear his throat, he continued, “are you upset about Noah?”

    Katie’s only response was a quizzical look.

    “Kay,” Miguel forced her name from his lips past an emotion-tightened throat, “always said the waiting was the worst. Being the child of a police officer gave her a better appreciation for how short life really is. It also gave her a new sense of respect for her mother. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to never know…”

    “If he’s coming back?” Katie finished for him in a whisper. Then, more quietly, “Yes, you can. You know exactly how hard.” The tears collecting in her eyes spilled over, and this time, she didn’t bother to wipe them away. She sucked in a shaky breath when she felt the fleshy pad of Miguel’s thumb brush across her dampened cheek.

    “Tell me what’s wrong,” Miguel implored gently, concern in his warm brown eyes.

    Biting her lip, Katie captured his hand and squeezed it gratefully, lowering it to her lap. “No,” she said resolutely. “You’re sweet to worry, but I shouldn’t be bothering you with this.” When she stood, Miguel joined her, and Katie realized their hands were still clasped. Reluctantly, she withdrew her hand from his, instantly missing the warmth of his touch.

    “Is it about today?” Miguel ventured a guess. “At the hospital,” he elaborated. “You were upset about something, before Noah came.”

    “Today,” Katie finally managed a tiny smile, finding her voice. “Yesterday, and the day before that. I guess I’m letting my own past experiences have too much influence over my feelings about situations that are really none of my business.” Her smile broadened and lightened with affection when she noticed the bewildered expression he wore, and she stood on tiptoe to press a kiss to his cheek, her hand lingering on his shoulder as she pulled back. “Thank you, Miguel,” she said softly.

    “For what?” Miguel returned her smile, eyes clouded with confusion and concern. “I didn’t do anything.”

    “You did plenty,” Katie disagreed, her own green eyes still wet and glistening. Glancing over his shoulder at the door, she murmured, “I better go.”

    Walking her out, Miguel stuck his hands in his jeans pocket and shrugged bashfully when her kiss inadvertently brushed the corner of his mouth in lieu of his cheek. He was blushing as he told her, “The offer still stands. Anytime you want to talk…”

    “I know where to find you,” Katie nodded. “You’re a good guy, Miguel. Take care of yourself.”

    Miguel watched her go, hoping she’d do the same for herself.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    Leaning through the rolled down window, Luis reached for Sheridan’s face, cupping her jaw in his palm. Meeting and encouraging her kiss, he pulled back with a sigh and a promise. “I’ll be right back. Call the club, see if they can push back our reservations.”

    Sheridan watched him go, tugging at the collar of his shirt and unbuttoning the top two buttons as he approached Noah and a couple of other officers standing beside a squad car. She waved at Noah and Quinlan when they nodded at her in acknowledgement, then fished through her purse for her cell phone. Its screen reflected the flashing strobe-like red and blue lights as she scrolled through the phone book and selected the correct number. Lifting the phone to her ear, she flashed Luis a quick smile before speaking to the voice that answered. “Hi, this is Mrs. Lopez-Fitzgerald. I’m afraid something’s come up, and my husband and I are going to have to cancel our reservations. I’m sorry too,” she couldn’t help releasing a small sigh. “Thank you for your understanding. We will.” Lowering the phone from her ear, she returned it to her purse after noting she had no new voicemails and deciding it wouldn’t exactly be a vote of confidence in Beth’s and Ethan’s combined abilities to watch her children if she kept calling and keeping tabs on them. Instead, she withdrew her day planner from her purse and flipped through its pages idly.

    T-ball practices occupied most of her upcoming afternoons, with days at the Youth Center taking up much of her days. Hope’s pediatrician wanted to see her soon, and Cristian’s flying lessons were due to start at the end of the month if all went well.

    Sheridan wore a soft, fond smile whenever she thought about Cristian’s flying lessons. Her little son was more excited than she had ever seen him, and she was looking forward to spending some more one on one time with him. In fact, it was something they both sorely needed. Soaring through Harmony’s blue skies had proven to be a welcome release she hadn’t realized she’d lacked, and she’d felt a certain kind of peace knowing that she was passing on something she loved to her little boy. Her musings were interrupted when Noah appeared at her window.

    His smile was sheepish and his silver eyes were rueful. “Sorry.” His long, blunt fingers wrapped around the door’s edge and he ducked his head. “I know you guys had plans.”

    Sheridan dismissed his regrets with a wave of her hand. “It doesn’t really matter what we do in the time we spend together,” she said. And it was true, the years lost to her had taught her that. “Besides, I kind of like seeing him in action. As long as he’s not writing me a ticket.”

    Noah matched her smirk, tossing a look over his broad shoulder. “He’s one of the best. Ranks right up there with my dad. But don’t tell him I said that,” he warned, his grin making his silver eyes dance as Luis approached.

    “Are you flirting with my wife?” Luis looked askance at Noah as he opened the driver’s side of the SUV and climbed in beside Sheridan.

    Noah merely pressed his lips together and winked at Sheridan when he thought Luis wasn’t looking. “So what if I am? I think the missus looks very…”

    “Don’t finish that thought,” Luis cautioned, turning the key in the ignition and making the SUV’s engine rumble to life.

    Undaunted, Noah forged ahead, both sincere and teasing, “…beautiful tonight as always.” Picking up Sheridan’s hand, he decided to lay it on thick, pressing a noisy kiss to her smooth skin and causing her to erupt into helpless laughter when Luis’s long arm swept past her to push Noah bodily out the window.

    “Cool it, Casanova,” Luis rolled his eyes, a smile threatening at the corners of his mouth. “You have witnesses to question, work to do. Quinlan promised to lend a hand so he could get home to his family and you could take Katie home at a decent hour.”

    “Say hello for me,” Sheridan requested, re-fastening her seatbelt low around her hips when Luis put the vehicle in reverse and Noah started to backpedal to the squad car.

    “I’ll do that,” Noah assured her. Saluting Luis, he turned to go, “Chief.”

    “Get to work,” Luis ordered gruffly, feeling Sheridan’s palm hover over then settle upon his own. “And you,” he playfully squeezed her fingers, refusing to let go of her hand, “stop encouraging him by looking so damn beautiful.”

    Blue eyes twinkling at him in the darkness, Sheridan ran her free hand down the skirt of her dress and played coy. “So you like my dress?”

    Teeth gleaming white, brown eyes hungry, he returned his attention to the road in front of him with extreme difficulty while she did her best to stir up mischief an arm’s length away, knowing damn well he liked her dress. “Someone else sure seemed to like your dress,” he remarked knowingly.

    Beneath the smirk run a current of unfounded jealousy, and Sheridan softened her teasing, a new sincerity in her demeanor as she lifted their joined hands and lay her cheek against them, murmuring his name.

    “I don’t like your dress,” Luis responded, finally chancing a glance in her direction.

    Sheridan held her breath and waited, wondering if she’d taken her earlier teasing a little too far. But Luis’s next words were all the reassurance she needed.

    “I love your dress.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    The docks weren’t safe, for the moment the Book Café was off-limits, and anywhere else familiar meant his chances of being seen by the wrong people were too great. He was all out of options, and his lungs burned with the exertion of trying to flee the inevitable—with a sobbing child in his arms.

    The beach seemed like the safest place, and the water pulled and swirled around his ankles, washing his footprints away.

    The girl’s iron grip never lessened, not even when he collapsed against a craggy wall of rock, the ocean’s cool spray misting over them. She curled into the shielding comfort of the jacket he wrapped around them both, tears hot against the skin of his neck.

    “I think we lost them,” he spoke into her soft, disheveled hair. Tawny strands tickled at his chin with each breath that he dragged in, and her small chest heaved against his own. “Come on, sweetheart,” he tried to soothe. “Don’t cry. We lost them. Nobody’s going to take you away.” Coaxing her to look at him, he felt his heart twist when she raised her head enough for him to stare into her teary chocolate eyes.

    Chin trembling, she relaxed her desperate hold on his neck just enough to grab handfuls of his collar.

    Then she whispered the first words he’d heard her speak since this whole crazy game of cat and mouse had begun, words that reminded him she belonged to somebody, and if he didn’t safely return her soon, he’d be in a helluva lot more trouble than he’d bargained for when he’d dared set foot in this place again. In that moment, she looked more like five than the nine or ten years he’d guessed her to be.

    “I want my daddy.”

    “I know you do, sweetheart. I know you do,” he murmured against her brow, carefully shifting her weight to his other arm. Wincing at the pins and needles sensation that traveled up and down the newly unburdened extremity, he placed it between her shoulder blades, tracing slow, calming circles there. “I’ll get you home to him soon,” he promised. “What’s his name?”

    Her sobs had gradually faded into sniffles, and her answer was muffled against his neck. “Christopher.”

    “That’s a good name,” he said, easing them into a more comfortable position and using the weather-hewn rock as a bench of sorts. “You never did tell me yours.” He’d heard her name at the Youth Center, of course, but, admittedly, he hadn’t been paying much attention to the children. “Wait, I think I remember.” Lynnie? Libby? Lizzie? “Lissy?” Trying the name out, he was relieved to find his memory wasn’t as faulty as he’d previously surmised when she moved her head in a slow nod. “Pretty name. Is it short for something?”

    “Alyssa,” she mumbled and lifted her head again, the ocean winds whipping her tawny hair about her flushed face. “But only Mommy called me that.”

    Her eyes glittered at him in the darkness, and he prayed the tears wouldn’t make a return appearance. Thankfully, they didn’t, and she dropped her head tiredly to his shoulder, shivering in the cool night air. Unconsciously tightening his arms around her, he turned slightly, protecting her from the elements with his body. Gazing up at the stars that lit the navy sky, he forced himself to relax, to settle in, and wait. “Sleep. I promise I won’t let anything happen to you, Lissy.”

    “You can call me Alyssa if you want,” Lissy half-sighed, half-yawned, burrowing deeper into the warmth he provided.

    “Alyssa.” He smiled at the honor, and the name displayed on his vibrating cell phone when he retrieved it from his inside jacket pocket. Playing it safe, he waited until the vibrations stopped and listened to the voicemail for the familiar voice before releasing a breath of relief, knowing their wait would soon come to an end. Calling the number back and leaving a message of his own, he closed the phone, placing it back inside his pocket and sneaking a glance at the child that slept so trustingly in his embrace.

    Lissy barely stirred as he made an offer of his own.

    “You can call me Tony.”
















    Hope I wasn't the only one that got a giggle out of the Bennett family scene. LOL! I thought, and apparently a scarily like-brained reader of mine (you know who you are...I swear you're reading my mind, or maybe I'm just that predictable) thought it was well overdue. But my sense of humor can be a little strange sometimes. Remember School Daze?


    Beth and Ethan have cleared the air. Or have they? What's the verdict on what kind of parents they'll make?

    Dinner with Eve and T.C. Awkward much? Poor Chad sure does have a twisted family tree. And Theresa's just dreamin' all kinds of new ideas.


    Uh oh! Gray Eyes missed another chance to come clean. Methinks he better act soon, don't you?

    What's up with Katie? And poor Miguel. Have I tortured the poor soul enough yet?

    Sheridan and...Noah? Nah. LOL! Sorry, girl has to play sometimes. I'm not too pleased with this section of the chapter, couldn't quite get it to go the way I wanted to, but if I'd waited until I was completely happy with it...well, you still wouldn't have a new chapter. Jealous Luis can be kinda fun though.

    And the ending! Who called it from the get-go? Like I said, I can be pretty predictable sometimes (and I've been hinting around at him making his debut in this series for what seems like foreeevvveeerrrr). What do YOU think? Who's his friend?

    Your thoughts and feedback are much appreciated and treasured.

    Typos are all mine.

    As always, thanks for reading!!!

  8. #32
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    I'm cheating because I'm only posting half of the chapter I wanted to post, but since it's been over two months (egads!) already, I didn't want to make you guys wait any longer.


    So sorry for the snail's pace. I just haven't managed to recapture the inspiration that made me begin this series in the first place; the fact that I haven't watched/enjoyed the show in years probably doesn't help (I'll cling to my memories/fantasies, thank you very much).

    I'm trying though, and I have a long weekend coming up. Maybe I'll hit paydirt? If the right kind of inspiration comes along, lol.

    So...sorry again for the long wait.
    Enjoy the chapter.








    Chapter 30




    They were arguing.

    Lissy forced her eyes to stay shut, scarcely dared breathe at all at the realization.

    “I thought I told you to keep a low profile. Going to the Youth Center …”

    “Nobody recognized me.”

    Lissy recognized the low rumble of the man’s words, designed to soothe and ease his conversational partner’s worries.

    “Well, it wasn’t the smartest idea. Practically stalking her isn’t the smartest idea either,” came the resigned sigh. “I thought you didn’t want anybody to know you were back.”

    “I don’t. Not yet. And I didn’t mean to involve the kid. I turned a corner and literally crashed into her. What was I supposed to do? Something had her scared to death.”

    “And having her chased by the police helped?”

    “Again, what was I supposed to do? She was scared, and there wasn’t any time. I couldn’t just leave her there, Beth.”

    The identity of the female voice revealed, Lissy couldn’t help but draw in a sharp breath, and the two adults went silent. It was only when she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder, and Beth’s soft voice near her ear that she gave up trying to feign sleep and let her eyes blink open.

    “It’s okay, Lissy. I know you’re awake.” Beth’s smile was equally as soft as her voice, and she helped Lissy sit up on the sofa, pushing a pillow back behind her shoulders.

    Lissy curled into herself, drawing her knees tightly to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. Her chocolate brown eyes stared over Beth’s shoulder, focusing on the stubble-darkened face of the man that had rescued her last night, the kind eyes, and the strong, gentle hands. Guilt made it difficult to meet Beth’s eyes, so she studied her own small, white-knuckled fingers as she spoke. “Mr. Tony was only trying to help me.” Oblivious to the look of surprise that passed between the two adults, Lissy continued, mumbling, “Don’t be mad at him. Be mad at me.”

    Sighing, Beth lifted Lissy’s chin with her fingers. “I’m not mad at either one of you. You just had me worried. What were you doing out that time of night all by yourself?” When Lissy failed to answer her, Beth climbed to her feet, combing her fingers through her hair as she paced and thought aloud. “Your father must be worried sick.”

    “I bet he hasn’t noticed I’m gone,” Lissy muttered miserably. She loved her dad dearly and knew that he loved her, but sometimes he got carried away with his work and taking care of her grandpa and didn’t have much time for her. She hadn’t needed to sneak out of her bedroom window the previous evening; it’d been much too easy to walk out the front door without anyone stopping her. “He probably thinks I’m at Ali’s anyway.”

    “Ali? Isn’t that…”

    “Ali and Lissy are friends,” Beth interrupted with a nod.

    This time, Lissy didn’t miss the significant look that passed between the two, and she frowned in confusion as she corrected Beth, “Best friends.” Suspiciously, she noted, “I thought you were a friend of Ali’s dad.” Her tawny brows pinched together and she looked to Beth when her comment seemed to gather no response from the man she knew only as Mr. Tony.

    Beth’s eyes widened momentarily before she answered the question for him. “He was. He is.” She smiled reassuringly and lowered herself to the sofa beside Lissy. Coaxing the girl’s hands into her own, she gave them a gentle squeeze.

    “Then how come…”

    “I’m sure there’s more than one Ali living in Harmony, Lissy,” Beth reminded her.

    Lissy just ducked her head sheepishly, hiding her face behind a veil of tangled tawny hair. “I guess so,” she murmured, pulling her hands from Beth’s hold and wrapping them back around her knees. She didn’t say anything as Beth got up, and the sofa cushion shifted from the movement. She didn’t say anything more until Beth had left, promising to return with breakfast for the three of them, and her curiosity got the best of her. It was just the two of them, and her question was practically a whisper released into the too-quiet room. “What did she mean when she said you didn’t want anybody to know you’re back?”




    ~*~*~*~*~




    “Kids up?” Sheridan questioned sleepily and stretched beneath the tousled covers, blinking against the early morning sunshine beginning to peek through the drawn blinds. She felt the bed dip beneath Luis’s additional weight then the warm cocoon of his body and something else as he fit himself against her back. With a blossoming smile on her face, she slowly rolled over to face him, only to find a tiny pair of feet pushing into her abdomen and a pair of eager, equally tiny hands reaching and tugging at the front of her nightgown.

    “Ali and Cristian are still out cold, but I found this one having quite the animated conversation with Gizmo,” Luis grinned as he scooted over in the bed, settling their daughter between them. “I think they’re planning on making a break for it.”

    Hope chose that particular moment to coo loudly at her parents and launch her youthfully uncoordinated body closer to her mother.

    Sheridan’s fingers played with the buttons down the front of her nightgown, and her blue eyes lingered on Luis’s face as he replaced her hand with his own, slipping the buttons free one by one. Cradling Hope’s curly dark head in her palm, she gathered her even closer, watching her with a tender expression as she began to suckle greedily and make little snuffling noises. Smile still on her lips, she shifted her gaze to her husband, watching him watch her nurse their daughter, and teased, “It isn’t always easy being the baby of the family.”

    “Looks pretty easy to me,” Luis smirked, leaning over and capturing her lips with his own when she rolled her eyes in response. Drawing back, he let his gaze rest back on Hope for a few seconds before giving his wife an apologetic look. “I’m sorry.”

    “Hmm,” Sheridan hummed distractedly, trailing a gentle finger across Hope’s chubby cheek. “What are you sorry for?” she asked, transfixed when her daughter opened her blue eyes and wrapped her small fist around that same finger seconds later. “We danced.” The smile curling her lips upward turned wicked. “We just didn’t have any music.”

    “Mrs. Lopez-Fitzgerald,” Luis chided with a grin. He kissed her laughing mouth before bending to place a kiss to Hope’s fuzzy-curled head. Tossing one of her oft-muttered protests back at her, he reluctantly crawled from the warmth of the bed. “Not in front of the baby.” Catching the stuffed toy she hurled at him in mid-air, he admonished, eyebrows raised in amusement, “Behave.”

    “Me?” Sheridan pretended to be affronted. “Always, Buster, and you know it.”

    “Never,” Luis scoffed good-naturedly, stepping into his pants. Slipping a white muscle shirt over his head, he then shrugged on the familiar, wash-faded brown shirt that made up the rest of his Harmony PD uniform and started methodically fastening the row of buttons. “And I’ve got the mug shots to prove it.”

    “You just like me in cuffs.” Sheridan’s eyes danced as she teased her husband, and she slid her hand into his hair when, placing a knee onto the bed and bracing an arm just above their lazily content baby daughter’s head, Luis breached the small distance between them, his face hovering just inches above hers.

    “Are you trying to torture me, because I think it’s working,” Luis growled gruffly.
    Groaning, he didn’t let the awkward angle deter him from giving her a goodbye kiss she felt all the way down to her toes. Breathing hard, he pulled back to stare at her, unable to speak for several seconds due to the well of intense emotion she inspired in him. With blinding clarity, he knew in that moment that there’d be no recovering from losing her again, and the notion seized his heart, bringing unwanted, stinging moisture to his eyes as he gazed at his innocent little girl, completely oblivious to the selfish turn of her father’s thoughts.

    Sheridan must have read the worry and the guilt in his eyes, for she touched her hand to his chin with a reassuring smile. “We’ll be waiting for you when you get home. Go, or you’ll be late for work.”

    He lingered in the doorway, his reluctance to leave rooting his feet firmly to the floor. “Sheridan?” He felt his throat tighten further when she answered him before he could utter another word.

    “Love you too.”




    ~*~*~*~*~




    Bathrobe still tied loosely around her waist, Gwen tilted her head to the side and considered their new window to the outside world. Her brows furrowed and her eyes narrowed shortly before a tiny startled gasp was torn from her throat. Recovering her ability to speak, she hissed as she heard her husband’s cautiously approaching footsteps, “Bennett, what the hell…”

    “That,” Hank said, scratching absently at his bare chest as he stifled a yawn, “is Simon.”

    “Simon?! Bennett, it’s a…”

    “Chipmunk,” Hank grinned. “Exactly. You should see Theodore. He’s the girls’ favorite.” Piping down his amusement at her answering glare, he held out the mug in his hand as a peace offering.

    Resistant at first to his efforts at charming her, Gwen couldn’t withstand temptation long. As a thin curl of steam rose from the mug and the heady aroma of the brew assaulted her senses, she started to relax, but only slightly. She still jumped in surprise when another small—too rodent-esque for her—head appeared, and she lifted the mug to her lips, muttering under her breath, “Midlife crisis, and he goes extreme home makeover on me.”

    Hank’s expression was a little sheepish as he protested, “It’s not a midlife crisis, and if you think this is extreme…”

    Reluctant affection tempering her tone, Gwen couldn’t help but soften toward him. “Then explain it to me, Bennett. If it’s not a midlife crisis, then what…” she waved her arm at the hole in their wall, at a temporary loss for words. “It’s a little low for a skylight.”

    “We need more room.”

    “We need...” Gwen started to nod her head then stopped, slowly turning to face her husband. “What?!”

    Hank repeated himself slowly, as if talking to a child, and held up his hands defensively to fend off any physical action she might take against him—past experience really should have told him not to attempt his little home makeover during this particular time of the month. “We…need…more…room.”

    “Really?” Gwen dragged in a few deep breaths in an effort to calm herself. “You can sleep in the backyard then.”

    “Ouch,” Hank winced, a low whistle escaping his lips. “Babe, you wound me.”

    “Flesh wound,” Gwen snapped. “What were you thinking? Were you thinking?”

    “I was thinking we’d outgrown this house before we ever moved in it,” Hank was quick to retort. “It was too small for Sheridan and Luis and their two children at the time. Babe, we have three.” Undaunted by the exaggerated roll of his wife’s eyes, he doggedly continued to explain himself. “The girls aren’t always going to want to share a room. Sar already hates the pink walls that Emmy adores.”

    “And a can of paint wouldn’t have sufficed?” Gwen raised a brow at him, challenging him to shoot down her perfectly reasonable suggestion though—and she wasn’t about to let him off the hook so quickly, dammit—she was rapidly beginning to sway to his line of thinking. After all, it wasn’t hard to see the merits in an argument she had already raised herself. The worst thing, however, was that he knew perfectly well she had previously entertained the idea of adding on to the house, and that this dispute would ultimately end in his favor. Sighing, she conceded defeat, but only a partial one. “Couldn’t you have called some contractors?”

    “Yeah,” Hank drawled, lips twitching desperately to smile. “I could have,” he admitted. “But where’s the fun in that?” Prepared for her imminent attack, he caught her wrist in his hand before she could do any damage (with what he called her love taps) and pulled her to him, slipping his other hand beneath her loosened robe and wrapping his arm around her slim waist. He smirked when she only struggled for about a minute before relaxing in his embrace and draping an arm across his shoulders. “You’re not planning on pouring that down the back of my shorts, are you?”

    “The thought briefly crossed my mind,” Gwen replied as snottily as she could manage with the smirk threatening to emerge traitorously on her own face. She carefully removed her arm from his shoulders and cupped the coffee mug in both hands while Hank slipped both arms underneath her robe and around her waist. “Teach you better than to parade around in your underwear,” she told him, a decidedly naughty glint in her brown eyes.

    “I like it when you threaten me,” Hank grinned, swooping in and stealing a kiss from her mouth before she even had time to protest. “Still mad at me, Babe? Can Daddy close his ‘fugee camp?” he asked, recalling Sara’s words of the night before.

    “Yes and yes,” Gwen answered him, melting when he pulled out those damn puppy dog eyes of his and the pout their son, unfortunately, had inherited. “But just a little.”

    “I can live with just a little,” Hank said. “Think of it as my last hurrah before the girls leave me in the fall.”

    “Oh, Hank.” Love and pity warred within Gwen, and she leaned forward to plant a lingering kiss on his bittersweet smile, watchful of the steaming mug still cradled in her hands. “They’ll never really leave you; they adore you.”

    “I know,” Hank mumbled against her mouth, returning her kiss with one of his own. “Who wouldn’t adore me?” he quipped. Forehead resting against hers, he pressed another kiss to the corner of her mouth. “Want to have some fun before you have to get ready for work?”

    “Depends on what you’re suggesting,” Gwen bit her lip as she saw his brown eyes gravitate toward the subject of their now settled (more or less) argument. “Bennett, where are you going?” she asked when he released her abruptly, taking her coffee mug with him. “What on earth…”

    “The hammer’s still around here somewhere.”



    ~*~*~*~*~


    Abby woke to warm sunshine on her face, and Nick’s dark head resting lightly against the tiny bump of her pregnant belly, his gentle inhalations and exhalations tickling her bare skin. Sleepily, she noted, “You’re still here. Wherever here is.” Combing her fingers through his thick, dark strands, she turned her head to the side, squinting against the morning brightness to make out the alarm clock on her nightstand. She relaxed when she saw that it was still early. “I don’t remember coming to bed.”

    “I carried you.” Each word spoken caused Nick’s lips to brush against her skin and Abby to subsequently shiver. “You were pretty out of it.”

    “Out of it enough to forget you undressing me?” Abby smirked, resuming the absent movement of her hand through his hair. “What did you do to my shorts, Gray Eyes? I’m feeling a little naked here.”

    Nick bit back a smile at her resulting groan when he dipped his fingertips below the waistband of her panties to rest them against her hip, deciding to play it cool. “Just what are you insinuating, Lady? That I took advantage of you?”

    Saucily, Abby inquired, “Did you?”

    Rolling fully over and bracing his elbows on either side of her hips, Nick rest his chin and his large hands low on her belly and lifted intense gray eyes to her face. “If I wanted you naked, you’d be naked.”

    Abby swallowed hard, shifting her legs restlessly against the mattress and cursing herself when they made contact with his own gloriously bare, sun-warmed skin. “Maybe I would,” she huskily admitted. “That doesn’t give you the right to gloat about it.”

    Her honesty made Nick chuckle, but he didn’t speak, content instead to study her in the golden glow of the sunlight.

    Flustered, Abby grumbled, “What’s so damn interesting down there anyway?” Flinging an arm behind her tawny head, she missed the way Nick’s gray eyes darkened and the way his breathing seemed to grow uneven. In fact, by the time she returned her irritable gaze back to his handsome face, it was like he’d had no reaction at all, and his non-reaction made her hands itch to slap him, or at the very least pinch him for having the nerve not to be affected to their close proximity. She’d said no sex, and it appeared he was taking her request to heart. Why, then, did she feel such a suffocating feeling of disappointment? She opened her mouth to rail (unfairly) at him when he bent his head to her stomach, and started to…kiss it? “What the hell are you doing?”

    Slight embarrassment coloring his cheeks, Nick shrugged as he sheepishly replied, “Saying good morning.”

    “To the…” Abby bit her lip, sudden tears filling her hazel eyes. “To the baby?” Mortified at her emotional reaction at his slight nod, she covered her face with both hands, unable to stop a small sob from escaping her lips. She turned her head from side to side in a thwarted effort to avoid his concern when he shifted on the bed, crawling up her body and prying her hands away.

    “What is it?” Nick whispered. “What did I do now?” Cupping his large hand around her jaw, he wouldn’t let her look away. His thumb caught one of her tears as it slipped down her cheek, and his gray eyes grew stormy at the thought of hurting her again, however unintentional. “Abby,” he breathed, dropping his forehead to her forehead. “What…” he began, only to be interrupted when she found her voice again.

    “You do love it.” One of her hands found its way into his hair again, and other curled over his heart. He was so close that she could see the striations in his pale irises. He felt like an extension of her own body, and the thought scared her so much so that, against her will, she began to cry in earnest.

    “It’s ours, Abby,” Nick followed the path of her tears with his lips, his body resting in the cradle of her thighs. “We created it, you and me. Why wouldn’t I?”

    Because you don’t love me, Abby’s heart cried as she let herself be swept up in his comforting embrace, powerless to stop him. No matter his inability or reluctance to voice feelings of love for her, he loved their baby, and she found herself falling even harder for him than before.














    Verdict?


    At least half worth the wait?

    LOL!

    Not too happy with the first two sections (they were so much better in my head, hehe), but I particularly enjoyed writing Hank and Gwen this time.

    What about you guys?

    Any favorite parts?

    Thanks, as always, for reading!!!

    Here's hoping the continuation of the chapter won't be as long coming.
    Shae

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