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Thread: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Because there are really too many pairings to list, I limited myself to Sher/Luis and Gwen/Hank in the title line.

    This fic has way more pairings than that. : )

    I'll post chapters here as I find the time; maybe eventually I'll post all the prequels (lol).

    Hope you enjoy!


    Chapter 1

    Feline and man were locked in a brutal stare-down—THE most brutal standoff in a long history of similar events.

    The white Persian’s fluffy tail whipping back and forth tauntingly was the only movement in the sunny kitchen, and the continuous drip-drip of the coffee maker the only noise.

    Dark eyes narrowed menacingly at the creature of stuck-up regality over the top of a chipped ceramic mug proudly bearing the words “Bestest Daddy.”

    Cool blue eyes regarded him disdainfully in response.

    One of them had to break sooner than later, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to let the old Pain in the Ass get the better of him.

    It was a fight to the end, the ultimate battle of wills, the…

    “Grow up, Luis,” Sheridan advised him as she breezed past him en route to the refridgerator, the smart-assed smirk playing upon her lips tempered by the loving, if not exasperated, show of affection in her blue eyes. “Accept Miss Priss as the rightful master of this household, and all will be as it should be,” she told him, her laughter lighter and more carefree this morning when the possibility of bringing their baby daughter home from the hospital loomed closer day by passing day.

    Luis gave Miss Priss one last black scowl before getting up and walking up behind his wife. He pressed his lips to the crook of her neck in a tender good morning kiss, a chuckle rising up within him as he peered over her shoulder at the seemingly endless supply of breast milk overflowing from their freezer shelves.

    “Luis, don’t even,” Sheridan warned, sensing his playful mood could spell H-E-L-L for her. This had the potential to be one of those days where every word that left Luis’s mouth had the power to annoy her. She hated those days. Even if they did usually end in the most passionate nights.

    “Who said I was going to say anything?” Luis shrugged behind her.

    The phone’s sudden, insistent ringing interrupted any answering comment Sheridan might have made, and she started packing up the diaper bag she usually carried to the hospital, keeping one ear open, lest it be news from Harmony Hospital concerning their nearly three-month old daughter.

    “Lopez-Fitzgerald Dairy Service,” Luis greeted jovially, dark eyes sparkling teasingly at her when she whirled around to cast him a fiesty glare. “Morning to you too, Mama…let’s just say if looks could kill. Yeah, she’s almost ready…I’ll let you talk to her,” Luis said, covering the receiver with his hand as he leaned forward and claimed one last kiss from her lips. “I should be able to swing by around lunch. Don’t forget to give her my good morning kiss. I’m going to say bye to the kids.”

    Sheridan smiled at his retreating form and removed her hand from the receiver. “Pilar? Give me half an hour…”

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

    Ali fingered the short, baby soft wisps of pale hair on her head gingerly, a soft sigh escaping her pink lips as she dropped her hands back to her sides and studied her reflection in the floor-length mirror.

    The simple baby blue bathing suit was loose and baggy on a figure too slender, too small for her nine years. Her skin was pale and unhealthy-looking due to months in and out of the hospital. And her eyes…the weight she had lost made her normally large blue eyes more prominent than ever.

    Watching his young daughter from her open doorway, Luis recognized that, for now, post-cancer Ali was but a shadow of pre-cancer Ali. Physically at least. But in every other way that counted…Ali Lopez-Fitzgerald had more than proven she was a champion fighter with more heart and guts than most people had in their little finger.

    “I see you, Daddy,” Ali smiled, blue eyes twinkling in the reflection of the mirror as they connected with his brown gaze. “What do you think?” she asked him, twirling around and modeling the suit for him with a giggle.

    Luis swept her into his arms easily, feeling his heart swell almost painfully as he felt the whispering flutter of her lashes against his cheeks. “Perfect, AliCat.” Luis declared.

    “Daddy,” Ali’s tone was disbelieving, and her blue eyes fell to her own small fingers, lovingly straightening the brown collar of his police uniform.

    “Perfect,” Luis repeatedly adamantly, tipping his daughter’s stubbornly set chin up and forcing her to meet his eyes. “I thought Mommy told you to change into the suit when you got there.”

    Ali ducked her head guiltily. “She did, but Daddy…”

    Luis chuckled, hugging her slender frame even more tightly to himself and nearly making her squeak before she burst into giddy co-conspiratorial giggles.

    “Our secret, huh, Daddy?”

    Luis kissed each smooth cheek and set her back down on her feet. “Our secret,” he agreed. “Pack your bag. Nana’s already on her way.” Pausing at the door, he turned back to spy her stuffing all her little girl toiletries into the pink and white duffel bag usually reserved for trips to ballet class. Smiling, he left her room, walking a few feet down the hallway to Cristian’s domain.

    Just inside, Max lifted his golden head from its resting point on his front paws, greeting him with a friendly thump of his tail.

    Luis scratched behind the dog’s ears as he crept quietly into his son’s bedroom, not wanting to disturb Cristian’s current operation: stuffing all his dirty clothes and piles of toys underneath his bed. Cleaning up without actually cleaning up—one of the child’s most notable talents. With a controlled effort not to laugh out loud, Luis bid the five-year-old a good morning. “Not even monsters are brave enough to live under that bed.”

    Cristian jerked his dark, sleep-rumpled head up at the sound of Luis’s voice, bumping it soundly. His brown eyes were still soft with sleep, and his yellow and navy-blue tee-shirt and faded jeans looked suspiciously like his uniform of the day before as he padded over to Luis on bare feet. “My room’s clean,” Cristian muttered defensively. “You can’t see anything dirty, can you?”

    Luis ruffled his son’s haphazard black spikes affectionately. He had to agree with him there. Anything dirty was shoved under the farthest corner of the bunk beds. “Nothing but yesterday’s shirt,” he smirked, giving the shirt a swift tug over Cristian’s head.

    “Daddy!” Cristian cried out, his hands flying to his hair.

    Luis chuckled, hefting the little boy onto his shoulders and striding purposefully out the bedroom door.

    Sheridan rolled her blue eyes at them good-naturedly when they appeared beside her in front of the long bathroom mirror. Once she’d finished applying her makeup, she crossed her arms over her middle and watched, amused, as Luis set Cristian down on the bathroom counter and filled his palms with the hair gel he, and now her little son apparently, found essential to daily life.

    Cristian’s grin grew wider the higher Luis lifted the black spikes on his head, and he puffed his little chest out proudly.

    “You,” Sheridan smiled, winking at Luis as she talked to Cristian, “look more like your daddy everyday.”

    Cristian beamed with pleasure, hopping down from the counter and pausing only long enough to hug her loosely around the waist before he scampered back to his room.

    Sheridan looked back to the mirror just in time to catch Luis adding a little extra gel to his own spikes and shook her blond head at him. “Men and their hair. Aren’t you late enough already?”

    “Bye. Love you too,” Luis grinned as he starting backing out of the bathroom, realizing she was actually right. “Gotta make those rookies sweat a little. Besides…I’m their boss. What are they going to do? Fire me?”

    “Maybe,” Sheridan retorted teasingly. “Luis, go. You’ll see us, ALL of us,” she emphasized, her laughing demeanor suddenly turning somewhat sober, “around lunch.” She expelled a soft sigh as she grasped the hand he offered her.

    “Hey,” Luis chastised gently. “It won’t be much longer until she’s home where she belongs. You’ll see.” Heartened by her grateful smile, he released her hand. “Remember what I said and believe it, Baby.”

    “Believe it,” Sheridan echoed him, long minutes after he’d gone, and she heard Ali and Cristian greeting their grandmother at the front door.


    “Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh!” Joshua proclaimed over and over again as he bounced up and down on the bed, trying doggedly to wake the bed’s occupant from her restless slumber.

    Abby groaned, rolling onto her back and flicking a long strand of tawny hair out of her hazel eyes as she grabbed the exuberant little monkey and tugged him into a sitting position astride her waist. “I’m up already. Geez,” she proclaimed, annoyed to find her annoyance slipping away like water through her fingers. “Has MJ already left for school?” she asked slowly.

    Recognizing his older brother’s name immediately, Joshua nodded his head vigorously, the meaning of Abby’s question lost somewhere in the translation.

    Flashing the tiny boy an affectionate smile, Abby wrapped her arms around him and pulled him down to her in a bear hug. She looked up when a looming shadow blocked out the morning sunlight streaming in through the bedroom’s generous windows.

    “Ten minutes ago,” Miguel answered her earlier question, stepping inside the room and approaching the bed’s edge to extricate his giggling, wiggling son from her arms. “Breakfast,” Miguel reminded Joshua, signing out of habit as he spoke. When Joshua glanced longingly at Abby, Miguel shook his head. “Abby has to get ready for work,,” he told the dejected toddler, giving him a helpful push in the right direction.

    Abby heaved her sluggish limbs over the side of the bed, standing up quickly and teetering unsteadily on her bare feet. She held up a distancing hand when Miguel advanced in concern. “Nothing but a head rush,” she muttered, absently pulling the hem of her night-shirt down to cover the tops of her naked thighs.

    Miguel fixed his dark gaze on a silver framed picture of Kay and the boys directly over Abby’s right shoulder and felt himself relax marginally as she slid on a pair of worn-out jeans.

    Abby’s hazel eyes twinkled merrily at his discomfort, and she took pity upon him, disappearing into the bathroom to finish getting dressed. She re-emerged seconds later, toothbrush stuck in her mouth. Noticing the serious nature of his mood, she lifted one tawny brow in question, waiting for him to confess all to her—a confession that did not come. She slipped her feet into the pair of clogs at the foot of the bed and gave Miguel another assessing look. “He’s gone at the end of the month, and so am I. So no more free peep shows,” Abby teased gently, a sparkling smile lighting up her face at the slight blush Miguel couldn’t seem to control at her words.

    Miguel stopped fighting the grin creeping onto his lips and reached out a hand to pull Abby to him in a tight hug. “The boys love having you around. So do I. You don’t have to leave anytime soon,” he said sincerely, his arms dropping back to his sides as Abby stepped carefully out of his warm, friendly embrace, backing toward the open bedroom door.

    “Yeah,” Abby shot over her shoulder, a wicked twinkle glimmering in her hazel eyes as she delivered the parting words that would have Miguel laughing for several long minutes after her departure. “You just want my body.”


    Noah’s silver-blue eyes darted over his shoulder as he clicked the mouse nestled in his palm rapidly. Sighing as he scrolled through several pages of names without any luck, he didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed with his lack of results.

    “Any leads on the break-in at the Book Café?” Luis asked as he reached across Noah’s arm to retrieve the file.

    Noah quickly closed the window he’d been working in and whirled his chair around to face Luis, the knot already present in his gut tightening when he saw the suspicion glittering in his superior’s intelligent brown eyes. Chafing his sweaty palms against his pants legs, Noah decided it was best to come clean with his boss. Instinctually, he knew he’d be better served having Luis as his ally than as an adversary. “I wasn’t working on the break-in. I was working on something more…personal,” Noah admitted, looking up and meeting Luis’s unwavering dark gaze reluctantly.

    Luis handed the file in his hands back to Noah and continued on to his office without another word.

    “That’s it? You’re not going to lecture me…” Noah trailed off, too surprised at the lack of reprimand to say anything else.

    Luis turned around, taking several steps back toward Noah before answering his question. “First offense. You came clean. There’s nothing to say except advise you not to do it again and trust your word that you won’t…”

    Noah lowered his eyes from Luis’s level stare guiltily. His dark blond head jerked up in astonishment when he realized Luis wasn’t finished.

    “…Make it an official investigation. Have Marty or another one of our officers look into it,” Luis stated.

    Luis’s suggestion sounded logical, but Noah wasn’t convinced.

    “If it’s something serious, Noah…” Luis began.

    “It’s not. Really,” Noah said emphatically. “I’m looking for Katie’s ex. Kendall’s father,” he clarified.

    “Has he done something illegal?” Luis questioned, walking back around the desk and looking down at Noah in concern.

    “No,” Noah sighed. “I don’t think so, Luis.”

    “You don’t know?” Luis arched one dark brow at Noah in consternation. “You and Katie are getting married, Noah. Ask her.”

    “I didn’t want to upset her,” Noah said, raking a hand through his dark blond hair. “That and I wanted it to be a surprise, Luis. I need to find this guy so he can sign away his parental rights. On our wedding day, Katie’s not the only one I want to make mine. I want to adopt Kendall.”


    “I feel like the daughter trying to keep peace between her divorcing parents,” Katie declared, rolling her green eyes as Abby swept past her into the empty apartment. “How are you two ever going to work things out if you keep avoiding him, Abby?”

    “Simple,” Abby answered as she snatched the plain white envelope off of the kitchen counter and tossed it into the trash. “We won’t.”

    Katie plucked the envelope out of the garbage and removed the single sheet of unlined paper from it, her green eyes fluttering closed in disappointment. “When are you just going to tell her how you feel?” she muttered under her breath, shaking her head as she re-deposited the envelope into the trash. She heard the shower start in the bathroom and wandered over to the refrigerator intent on finding some sort of sustenance. “Abby?! Do you want anything?” she yelled, deciding on the menu herself when she couldn’t decipher Abby’s muffled reply.

    Toast, buttered and plain, scrambled eggs, and orange juice awaited Abby as she scurried out of the bathroom, fuzzy lavender towel tucked under her arms and tawny hair trailing down her back, dripping wet. She grabbed a piece of plain toast, stuck it between her teeth, and hurried to her bedroom before Katie could stop her.

    Katie paused outside Abby’s open bedroom door, watching amused as her friend huffed with the struggle to fasten the button of the pair of khakis then shoved them off her tanned legs in frustration, kicking them across the room. “Who’s the parent and who’s the child here?” she teased.

    “Katie, stop it with that damn analogy and find my swimsuit,” Abby ordered, yanking a pair of purple track pants up and over her legs. Her tawny head disappeared momentarily while she slipped her arms and head through the form-fitting white tank top, reappearing moments later to nod at Katie when she held up the black one-piece. “My bag’s over there,” Abby pointed, dropping to her knees to hunt for her missing tennis shoe.

    “Kendall’s neater than you, and he’s two years old. Two years, Abby,” Katie shook her head in amazement as Abby swept her arm under her bed. She placed the swimsuit on top of the change of clothes already in the bag and zipped it up.

    “Thanks,” Abby rolled her hazel eyes at Katie. “Why don’t you make yourself useful? Check my messages.”

    “Only if you promise to hurry, Bossy,” Katie answered easily, laughing as she witnessed Abby limp over to her dresser, minus one shoe, and plug in the hair dryer. “I don’t want to be late for my shift again.”

    “That was Lover Boy’s fault, not mine!” Abby shouted over the loud noise generated by the hair dryer.

    Katie hurried back into the living room in search of the answering machine in order to hide the tell-tale blush on her cheeks. She pushed the button on the small machine and listened as Sheridan’s breathless voice filled the room. Katie smiled at the anticipation so evident in the other woman’s tone as the message played, telling Abby to pick Ali up at the hospital where they were on their way to visit Hope. She forwarded past a couple messages for Nick and emitted an envious sigh as she listened to Shane’s morning greeting to Abby. Shane’s message finished, and Ivy Crane’s voice seemed to fill the entire apartment, at once commanding and full of steely resolve.

    “You’ve had your chance, Abby. No more waiting.”

    Katie turned around, open-mouthed, to see Abby’s ashen face and furiously flashing hazel eyes as soon as soon as the beep signaled the end of the message. Her green eyes widened in incredulity at Abby’s forthcoming condemning words.

    “Damn that woman. Damn her to hell.”

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 2

    Ivy slipped her cell phone back into her purse, covering up her calculating expression with one of concern as she watched Beth yank the yellow police tape down from the front door and flip the OPEN sign over, announcing the Book Café was back in business. “Don’t you think you should wait a few days before you start taking customers again, Dear?” Ivy asked, unable to keep her blue-green eyes from straying to the gaping hole left in the large front window by the so-called burglar. “It’d only be a day or two. It’s not like you NEED the money,” Ivy stated the obvious.

    “It’s not the money,” Beth declared adamantly. “This place hasn’t been closed a day since it opened, and it’s not going to be closed now. It’s a nice day outside. I think the…new addition…will be a hit. People will be able to enjoy the fresh air.”

    “Good morning, Pollyanna,” Hank greeted with a grin, prodding his twin daughters through the door gently.

    Emily’s arm dropped limply to her side as her little mouth opened wide in amazement, her dolly hanging upside down with its skirt over its head.

    Sara shrugged her dad’s hand off her shoulder, scampering over to Beth’s side to better marvel over the fact that she could now literally reach out and touch the little old lady walking carefully down the sidewalk. She jumped when the driver of a car passing leisurely by tapped his horn in greeting and offered her a quick wave of his hand. “Cool! I think you should keep the hole, Beth,” Sara chirped. “Dad,” she turned back to Hank with an overly eager expression on her young face. “I want to sit here so I can throw stuff at the birds.”

    “Don’t you mean feed the birds, Darling?” Ivy asked distractedly, digging through her purse to retrieve her ringing cell phone. Covering the receiver with her hand, she pointed toward the back of the Book Café. “I have to take this call.”

    Beth glanced down at Sara, noting the wicked, anticipatory gleam in her brown eyes. “You don’t want to feed the birds, do you?”

    Hank wore a proud smirk when Sara set the record straight once and for all.

    “No. I have a game today. I need to work out my arm. Right, Dad?”


    “No, Mother. You can’t rent out the concession stand. You’ll have to sit on the bleachers with the rest of us,” Gwen sighed, tapping her pen against the edge of her desk impatiently while she listened to her mother prattle on about the injustice of being made to sit with the rest of the ‘common’ folk of Harmony. A red light flashed on the phone, announcing an incoming call, and Gwen wanted to burst into a chorus of Hallelujah’s. “See you later, Mother. Goodbye.” Gwen huffed at the errant strand of golden hair freed from her elegant French twist during her animated discussion with her mother and pressed the flashing button. “Gwen Hotchkiss speaking…Ethan…Lunch at the Seascape?” Gwen’s golden brown eyes widened in surprise. “You want me to bring Daddy along? Ethan, at least tell me what this is about…You’ll tell me at lunch. I’ll be there. Bye.”

    “Lunch date?” Jonathan Hotchkiss questioned as he bent forward to kiss his daughter’s cheek.

    Something in her father’s blue eyes raised Gwen’s suspicions, and she leaned back in her chair, folding her arms across her middle and giving him a knowing look. “You’re keeping me in the dark about something, Daddy. What is it? What does Ethan want to discuss over lunch?”

    “You’ll find out at lunch,” Jonathan replied, giving her a non-answer. “Now, how’s that little granddaughter of mine? Is she excited about her first game?”

    Gwen sighed, scribbling down a reminder about the 12 o’clock appointment before looking back up to her expectant father. His grandchildren were Jonathan Hotchkiss’s favorite subject. She wasn’t going to know the truth behind Ethan’s invitation until Daddy WANTED her to know.


    “Looks good on paper,” Shane said, sliding the information-packed manila folder back to Ethan. “Do you think she’ll agree to it?”

    “I don’t see why not,” Ethan answered, thumping the folder against his knee in thought. “Hotchkiss approached me about the merger. Not the other way around,” Ethan reminded Shane. “Mother’s already on board. Chad’s interests lie elsewhere…”

    “How are things going with getting his recording studio off the ground?” Shane asked, his interest piqued. He’d only had limited interaction with Chad Harris, but he respected his drive immensely.

    “Well,” Ethan admitted, the admiration noticeable in his voice and manner. “Theresa’s helping him scout for talent,” Ethan revealed, letting a wide smile take over his entire face, “She’s planning this big event for the grand opening of her new boutique this weekend. I hear it’s going to be quite a show.” he chuckled, the pictures of the spectacle all-too vivid in his head.


    “What about some more streamers…right there,” Grace Bennett stretched her arm out, pointing out a relatively unadorned corner of the brimming shop.

    Sam offered Theresa an apologetic smile and shrug of his shoulders before mounting the ladder and climbing to the top to hang yet more streamers.

    Theresa whirled around to face Chad with enormous brown eyes, trying desperately not to burst into a fit of girlish laughter.

    “It could be worse. There could be Tomato Soup Cakes at every entrance,” Chad grinned, sweeping his hands down Theresa’s back and pulling her close for a lingering kiss.

    “My brother’s got a point, Theresa,” Simone agreed with a smirk. “Chief Bennett, the crew needs some help outside setting up the stage.”

    Theresa had to fight back the giggles again at the look of utter relief that flashed across Sam’s face as he practically leaped from the last few rungs of the ladder and hustled toward the building’s exit.

    “Helpful husbands are a dying breed,” Grace commented, sticking the vibrantly colored streamer between her teeth and climbing the ladder herself. “If you want something done, you have to do it yourself.”

    Theresa and Simone took one look at each other and erupted into helpless laughter, completely surprised by Grace’s uncharacteristic mutterings.

    “T-girl,” Chad shook his head as he grabbed his giddy fiancee by the arm and pulled her toward the exit. “What do you say we do a little sound check?”

    “There’s still some balloons that need blowing up, Simone,” Grace suggested, all business.

    Simone sighed, grabbing the bag of balloons from the cluttered check-out counter as she made a bee-line for the door and the helium that would save her a never-ending headache.

    “…somebody needs to make sure the venders know to be here at 7,” Grace said, content that she had the streamers JUST RIGHT. She frowned when she found herself alone. “That’s funny. Where did everybody go?”


    “Going to the chapel, and I’m…going to get married…” Theresa crooned into the microphone, winning over every unattached man within a mile radius despite the autobiographical nature of the song.

    She was every bit the attention-seeker Martin remembered from her long-ago days in the cradle, and he couldn’t help but chuckle. His eyes started twinkling even more when he looked up to see Hank making his approach on the sidewalk with his energetic twin daughters.

    “Mr. Fitz!” Emily cried, breaking away from Hank and racing toward Martin with arms outstretched.

    Martin lifted her up in his arms with a slight grunt and accepted her exuberant hug and kiss on the cheek. “Good morning, lass. You’re not looking your usual cheerful self. Did something happen?”

    Emily shot Sara an accusing glare, turning back to face Martin with an exaggerated pout. “Sara killed Mr. Flutters.”

    “Mr. Flutters?” Martin looked to Hank in confusion.

    “It was a stupid pigeon Emmy never even met, and I didn’t kill him,” Sara told him with a roll of her brown eyes. “Dad took him to the vet, and he said his broken wing would heal just fine. And he told me I have one helluva aim,” Sara declared proudly.

    “And she’s using bad words, too, Mr. Fitz,” Emmy tattled with wide eyes.

    “Sar,” Hank chided. “If Aunt Grace hears you, she’ll make you eat TSC. It’s the new soap,” Hank grinned at Martin, laughing when comprehension started to dawn on him. “What about that new granddaughter? I hear she’s a real looker.”


    “Here’s your beautiful girl, Mrs. Lopez-Fitzgerald,” Penny announced, handing her precious cargo over to Sheridan very, very carefully. “She’s getting big. Aren’t you?” the kindly nurse cooed to her favorite little patient.

    Ali’s blue eyes twinkled, and Sheridan smiled back at her brightly as she cradled Hope in her arms. With minimal coaxing, Hope latched onto her mother’s breast and suckled greedily, her long dark lashes fluttering against her cheeks.

    “She’s a hungry little thing, isn’t she?” Penny observed. “No wonder she’s getting so big. Those doctors don’t believe me when I tell them she’s ready to go home, but we know better don’t we, Mrs. Lopez-Fitzgerald? She’s having no problem eating, she’s gaining weight every day, and we haven’t had anymore major setbacks since that pesky infection last month.”

    Sheridan stroked a finger across her daughter’s silky smooth cheek as she nursed, Ali standing behind her and gazing down in awe at her baby sister. “She’s not the only one ready,” Sheridan sighed.

    Ali reached a tentative hand out but thought better of stroking Hope’s soft, curling dark hair and dropped her hands back to her sides.

    Sheridan smiled. Even now, Ali treated Hope like a priceless treasure that might disappear upon first touch.

    “Hey, Roo,” Ali greeted, using a nickname that had stuck from the early days of Hope’s ‘Kangaroo Care.’ “It’s me. Ali. Your sissy.”

    Tiny fingers grasped Sheridan’s pinkie, and sleepy lids struggled to open, revealing eyes as big and bright and blue as the two pairs staring down at her.

    “She knows me,” Ali whispered proudly.

    “Of course she knows you, Miss Ali,” Penny gave Ali an indulgent smile. “You’re the only one that calls her that.”

    “She’s so beautiful,” Ali breathed, her desire to lavish affection on her baby sister evident in her eyes and restless gestures as she admired the tiny infant dozing off in Sheridan’s comforting embrace. “Will she sleep this much when we take her home, Miss Penny?”

    “I hope so,” Sheridan announced, making the older woman laugh outright.

    “Right now this little lady is on her best behavior, but Mrs. Lopez-Fitzgerald…I’ve never seen a child with more energy or life in her,” Penny told Sheridan softly as she gently gathered Hope in her arms. “Come on, Honey. You rest up so you’re awake when that handsome Daddy of yours comes by to see you later. Maybe he can talk the shy little guy into coming inside with him,” Penny commented, smiling as she remembered the way Cristian had hid his face against Sheridan’s shoulder earlier.

    “He’s not shy, Miss Penny. Not really,” Ali giggled. “He just doesn’t like to wash his hands.”

    “He’s a little boy,” Penny winked. “The dirtier his hands are the better.” She glanced back at Sheridan, shaking her graying head slightly as she noticed the wistful expression in the younger woman’s eyes. “It’s not goodbye forever, Honey. You’ll see her again real soon. And, I have a feeling…you’ll have her home with you. It’ll be a miracle if this isn’t the most spoiled child in the state of Maine within a few more months,” she teased, causing Ali and Sheridan both to laugh softly. “I’m going to miss her.”


    “There’s that dashing young gentleman I told you about, Katie,” Abby winked, giving Cristian’s dark head an affectionate ruffle.

    “Abby,” Cristian blushed, looking up to Katie out of the corner of his eyes. “What does dashing mean?”

    Ali and Sheridan emerged from the nursery, and Cristian’s question was forgotten in the excitement as Ali divulged Penny’s prediction.

    “Mija,” Pilar looked to Sheridan hopefully. “Is this true?”

    “Penny seems to think so, and she’s been working in the NICU for over 15 years,” Sheridan said, lifting her hands to her mouth and taking a deep, slightly shaky breath. “Oh my God,” she breathed. “We could have our baby home with us in a few days, Pilar. I need to call Luis and tell him…this is…this is wonderful news.”

    The two women walked further down the hallway, only pausing at its end to share a warm embrace.

    “Abby, I thought you wanted to talk to Pilar,” Katie commented, standing upright after hugging both Ali and Cristian tightly.

    Giving Pilar one last rueful glance, Abby shook her tawny head, letting her hazel eyes drift back to Ali’s expectant little face. “It can wait, can’t it, Ali? We’ll be late for our appointment. Go tell your mom bye,” she instructed, giving Cristian a gentle nudge forward as well.

    Katie’s green eyes studied Abby closely, the tiny lines of fatigue around her eyes, and the unusual downward cast of the corners of her mouth. “Talk to him. Talk to me. Your brother. Talk to Sheridan, Pilar, Hank…anyone that will listen, Abby. Talk to Miguel. Just talk to somebody about whatever or whoever is bothering you.”

    Abby’s lips twitched, and she chose to play off Katie’s show of concern with a crooked smile and teasing remark. “You’re not charging enough by the hour. Worry about your wedding plans, Katie,” she advised, expelling a sigh. “Not whatever perceived problems you think I have. I’ll deal. I always have. Okay?”

    “No, but I don’t have all day,” Katie muttered. “You and Nick really ARE perfect for each other,” she added under her breath.

    “Whatever, Katie,” Abby said, picking up Ali’s duffel bag and slipping the strap onto her shoulder. Gripping Ali’s slim shoulder gently, she steered them both toward the elevators. “See you later, Katie. Tell Sheridan not to worry about picking Ali up. I’ll take her home.”

    Katie watched her friend leave and heaved an exasperated sigh. Getting Abby to open up was worse than having teeth pulled, and, she was beginning to have the nagging feeling, ten times more painful.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 3

    The terrace doors flung open, and Gwen stalked to the balcony’s edge in a fury. “I can’t believe this! I can’t believe he did this without telling me,” she growled, yanking her jacket off of her shoulders and tossing it at Ethan’s face.
    Ethan’s held a protective hand up, catching the material and draping it over his arm, waiting quietly for the storm to pass and Gwen to calm down once the initial shock had worn off.

    “And you! You went along with this, Ethan. Why?” Gwen demanded to know. “You know how much the company means to Daddy. Why do you want to take it away from him? We used to be friends, Ethan.”

    “And we could be again,” Ethan issued in a low voice. He leaned his back against the spindly railing, studying Gwen thoughtfully for a moment before speaking again. “You weren’t listening in there, Gwen. You heard the word ‘merger’ and let your defenses get worked up. Your father approached ME. This is HIS idea.”

    “But…” Gwen started to protest, pushing her arms against the terrace railing in frustration. “Daddy wouldn’t do this. He wouldn’t…”

    “He would, and he has,” Ethan reiterated. “The only thing standing in the way of making this deal official is your approval. It’s your decision.”

    Gwen’s hands clenched and unclenched on the rail, and her face was a tumultuous sea of emotion as she gazed straight ahead at the horizon silently.
    “He knows he isn’t getting any younger,” Ethan said, “and he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren. You and your children are what matter most to him now, Gwen. The company isn’t his pride and joy anymore. Jake and Emily and Sara are.”

    The hard line of Gwen’s jaw softened, and her golden brown eyes were liquid as she turned to meet his eyes.

    “No one is going to lose his or her job. I won’t let that happen,” Ethan promised. “And with you as my Vice President…”

    The corners of Gwen’s mouth twitched as she folded her arms across her middle. “Do you really think we can work together, Ethan?”

    Ethan’s blue eyes danced as he offered her his hand. “I know we can. What do you say? Make it official?”

    “What if I wanted your job?” Gwen smirked, her hand hovering over Ethan’s hand.

    “You’d have to prove you were the better woman for the job,” Ethan said seriously, grasping her hand and shaking it firmly before realization of what he’d just said started to slowly dawn.

    Gwen laughed at his reddening cheeks as she let her fingers slide free of his, tugging the jacket from his arm and heading back inside. “You do realize you just called yourself a woman, don’t you, Ethan?”

    “I’m going to have to watch what I say around you, aren’t I?” Ethan muttered.

    “This might be more fun than I thought,” Gwen grinned back at him slyly.

    “For you maybe,” Ethan groaned. Between his mother, Beth, Gwen, and Aunt Sheridan…


    “You heard what the nurses said back there, Luis. Hope’s another ‘Daddy’s girl’,” Sheridan reminded him somewhat disappointedly, taking up residence on what had become THEIR park bench.

    Luis grinned at her, recognizing the signs of jealousy. He handed the vanilla cone to her wordlessly, watching as she picked at the colored sprinkles in discontent. “Yeah,” Luis couldn’t resist teasing. “She loves me best.”

    Sheridan’s blue eyes flashed, and she pushed her elbow out, nailing him soundly in the ribs. “You’re making fun of me.”

    Luis’s brown eyes twinkled with just a hint of mischief, and he made a playful grab for her ice cream cone. “You make it so easy,” he laughed, slipping his arm around her shoulder. “Jealousy looks good on you.”

    “It’s silly. I know,” Sheridan sighed. “Not that I blame them. I’d love you best too.”

    “Really?” Luis wondered. His fingers played with the golden strands at the base of her neck as he gazed at her. “*I’d* love YOU best.”

    Sheridan’s blue eyes twinkled, and she felt her cheeks burning with embarrassment as she turned to look directly into his eyes, helpless to stop the smile tugging at her lips. “It’s your turn to tell ME to grow up.”

    “I wouldn’t do that,” Luis smiled back at her.

    “You would,” Sheridan retorted. “You’re still ‘Daddy,’ and you’ll probably always be…”

    Luis raised one dark brow in interest, his curiosity growing by the moment. He struggled to keep a straight face at her next, revealing words.

    “Ali called me ‘Mom’ today, and I could have cried. Like a baby. Like the baby I’m being right now,” Sheridan’s voice dropped to a mortified whisper. “You think I’m being ridiculous, don’t you?”

    Luis opened his mouth to refute her assumption, but, as usual, he didn’t stand a chance of getting in a word edgewise when his lovely, stubborn as hell wife was having one of her…moments. Hormones, the big let-down from the tumultuous roller-coaster ride they’d been on the better part of the last year, the insecurities her damned father had saddled her with as a child that lingered sometimes still—he couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause. The best medicine he could offer her though, was a listening ear and an open heart.

    “I didn’t have enough ‘Mommy’ time, Luis,” Sheridan murmured wistfully. “Time’s moving so fast. She’s growing up. Soon, she won’t need me at all. Then it’s Cristian after her. And Hope…”

    “Is in diapers and nursing,” Luis interrupted her with a chuckle, cupping his palm around the curve of her cheek as he turned her face to his. “They love you. I love you. And you’ll learn to love the sound of ‘Mom’ almost as much as ‘Mommy’,” he teased, walking his fingers down her arm and wrenching the forgotten ice cream cone from her fingers.

    “Thief!” Sheridan cried, surprised giggles escaping her lips as she tried to ‘wrestle’ the cone back from him. “Get your own ice cream. With chocolate sprinkles,” she said, shaking with laughter as he pinned her against the side of the bench and smeared ice cream across her nose, mouth, and chin.

    Luis tossed the melted mess into the trash bin over his shoulder, grinning as he wiped the smudge of vanilla, rainbow-colored sprinkles included, from the tip of her nose. Leaning in to kiss her, he remembered a playful exchange from their first date long ago, and his dark eyes danced at the light in her blue eyes as they relived the shared memory. “Are you kidding? Colored sprinkles rule.”


    “If you hurry and get changed, we might make a stop for ice cream before I take you home,” Abby proposed as she knelt at the pool’s edge, offering Ali her hand and tugging when the little girl took it. “With colored sprinkles,” she added, groaning softly as she pulled Ali to her feet. “Good Lord AliCat, what have they been feeding you? You’ve left those butterfly days behind. We’ve reached hummingbird status, Bay-bee,” Abby winked.

    Ali giggled, impulsively wrapping her arms around Abby’s waist and hugging her tightly.

    Abby combed the pale, wispy locks from Ali’s forehead with delicate fingers, and, overcome with a sudden onslaught of affection for the child, she bent to kiss her noisily on the forehead. “Don’t tell Kara this because it might hurt her feelings, but you’re a way better assistant than she is. Maybe even the best I’ve ever had,” Abby revealed with merry hazel eyes. “I think you deserve a raise. What do you think? Two scoops of ice cream?”

    Ali giggled again. “But Abby…I don’t do anything. Three scoops?” she bargained.

    “And ruin your appetite for the whole shebang after the big game? That’s what hotdogs and nachos are for,” Abby grinned, slipping an arm around Ali’s slender shoulders and leading her toward the locker rooms. “I have to make a quick stop before we get ice cream. It’s going to be close.”

    The last clients of the day were departing, raising their hands in goodbye as their family members escorted them toward the center’s main exit.

    “There’s Lissy’s daddy,” Ali announced, raising her hand in a friendly hello. “Can I go say hi?”

    “Be quick,” Abby told her, turning on her heels and immersing herself in idle chit-chat with Mrs. Honeycut, the resident gossip of her gaggle of misfits. She kept one eye attuned to Ali’s whereabouts, a silent mantra echoing in her brain as she hoped beyond hope that the former Mr. Pissy Pants, a.k.a. Christopher, would finally catch a clue and stop hinting around for a date. She was so over men, she had no desire whatsoever to hook up with another ‘nice’ guy on the rebound, not to mention the fact that sooner or later she would have no choice but to come out of denial concerning a certain alarming growing suspicion. Say, this afternoon, the nagging voice inside her head reminded her just before releasing an exclamation involving more than a few bits of foul language when it seemed Christopher still hadn’t wised up. “Damn,” she swore through her teeth, clenched and fixed into a fake smile as Christopher and Ali approached her and Mrs. Honeycut. “Christopher. Hi. Mr. Homan should be ready to leave soon. Kara’s…”

    “I can wait,” Christopher said with a smile.

    Abby had to admit it to herself. He wasn’t the complete donkey’s ass she’d pegged him as in the beginning. Normally, she’d consider that smile quite charming. If only she weren’t feeling a bit nauseous at that precise moment. She clung to Ali’s small hand, willing the feeling to pass and her heartbeat to slow down to a calmer rhythm as her hazel eyes connected with gray across what seemed like miles. Christopher’s voice faded away, dying beneath the roar of blood she heard rushing in her ears. Finally, she jerked her gaze away from Nick’s handsome face, damning him silently for making her feel like a weak little fool. Catching the tail-end of Christopher’s one-sided conversation, she decided the only way to rid herself of that awful feeling was to get over Gray Eyes once and for all. And the only way to do that…

    “…Lissy wanted to go the Grand Opening this weekend, and I thought it’d be nice if you joined us. Ali tells me her aunt Theresa throws a fantastic party. What do you say? It’s not really a date—just some harmless fun. You were going anyway, right?” Christopher finally paused to take a breath, flashing Abby another engaging smile.

    “Me and Lissy’ll have so much fun!” Ali exclaimed, almost bouncing with excitement at Abby’s side.

    With excruciating effort, Abby managed to avoid Nick’s piercing gray gaze as she mustered the brightest smile she could manage. “Bright and early Saturday. Do you have something I can write my number down on?”

    Christopher searched his pockets, coming up empty, and held out his hand, palm up, with an affable smile. “Will this do?”

    Abby took his hand, scribbling the number to her cell across his palm. When she looked back up, Nick was nowhere to be found.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 4

    “Is that all you have to say…Congratulations, you’re one of the one in…how many was it?” Abby practically growled, stalking around the confines of the small bedroom like a caged tiger. She glanced again at the small alarm clock on the nightstand, mentally calculating the remaining minutes until Miguel arrived home. “Yes, I understand there’s no guarantee of 100% effectiveness…”

    The faucet in the bathroom dripped steadily, and the breeze coming in through the cracked window made the light blue curtains flutter.

    Abby paused in front of the window, lifting one curtain edge up for closer inspection. She fingered the embroidered silhouette with a half-smile on her lips, noticing for perhaps the first time, the nautical theme of the room—lighthouses, ships, and the colors of the ocean, all courtesy of Grace Bennett, no doubt. The woman’s condescending voice continued to squawk at her through the receiver, and Abby moved the phone to her other ear as she dropped to the comfortable mattress in tired resignation. She twirled a heavy strand of tawny hair around her forefinger, biting her tongue to keep from screaming a litany of obscenities back at the woman. Finally, she disconnected the phone in disgust, flinging herself back against the mattress and covering her hazel eyes with her hands. “---DAMMIT!” she screamed suddenly, hurling the phone at the closed door with all her might.

    “I’ll not have that kind of language around my grandchildren.”

    Abby jerked upright in surprise, instantly regretting the motion. Her hazel eyes snapped shut, and she bowed her head, taking several deep breaths before addressing Pilar. “I’m sorry, Pilar. I…” Abby trailed off when she felt the gentle press of a cool cloth against her forehead. She took the cloth from Pilar’s hands with a grateful sigh.

    “It gets better. It doesn’t last forever,” Pilar uttered softly.

    “I know,” Abby muttered. “I mean…I’ve heard, and you know, read that it gets better. Wait a minute…How did you…Never mind. You don’t have to answer that question,” she said, exhaling a quick frustrated breath. She wore a wry smile on her lips when she continued. “I bought every test on the damn shelf, and I just left them lying there in the bathroom, for anyone to see.” Brilliant move, Abby, her inner voice nagged. Now she undoubtedly thinks you’re crazy. Just like the poor little checkout girl at the store. “I’ll take care of that,” Abby offered, standing up slowly and moving toward the bathroom.

    “All babies are blessings, Mija. Even unplanned babies,” Pilar told her with a gentle smile.

    The understanding in Pilar’s warm brown eyes both stunned and heartened Abby, and without even realizing her actions, she found herself seated beside Pilar once again. “As usual, my timing sucks,” she muttered. “I can’t be… s**t Abby exclaimed, giving Pilar an apologetic glance as soon as the word left her mouth. “Not now. Nick and I…Pilar, what am I going to do?”

    Pilar folded Abby’s hands in her own, giving them a reassuring squeeze. “You’ll do what’s right. Face this…challenge. Use that…refreshing honesty of yours.”

    One tawny brow lifted in questioning wonder, and hazel eyes sparkled, matching the amused smirk on Abby’s lips. Bless the woman for not clutching her ever-present rosary and reciting a prayer for her sinful ways. Abby knew her sailor’s tongue already kept Pilar’s panties in a constant uncomfortable twist. Surely, the irrefutable evidence that she’d enjoyed premarital sex many more times than once was going to send her straight to Hell in the older woman’s eyes. Yet, Pilar was doing her best to speak supportively. “Refreshing?” Abby scoffed. “Pilar, I think the word you’re searching for is something more like…brutal, startling, embarrassing,” Abby grinned. “I’ve made you blush more times than I can count. And this is more than a challenge. I’ve got way too many screws loose to be a mother. Forget being a good one.”

    An answering smile threatened to dispel Pilar’s normally solemn demeanor, and the older woman gave Abby’s arm a motherly pat before standing up. “Children have a way of changing a person,” Pilar stated, brown eyes starting to twinkle suspiciously. “And Dr. Taylor can only be a GOOD influence.”

    “So basically what you’re saying, no insinuating,” Abby paused, shocked laughter bubbling up from deep within her, “is that I AM a raving lunatic, and I can’t do this without Nick.” The prospect of telling Nick was a very sobering one, and Abby fell quiet for several seconds. “I don’t know how to tell him.”

    A car door slammed outside, and MJ announced his arrival a moment later. “Abby! Is my uniform ready?”

    “It’s on your bed!” Abby yelled in response, rising from the bed and joining Pilar at the door. “I better go make sure he eats something before the game. Preferably something I can stomach the smell of. IF such a thing exists anymore,” she muttered, brushing past Pilar.


    “Yeah?” Abby asked, turning around and holding her breath in anticipation of Pilar’s next words.

    “You’ll figure it out,” Pilar smiled encouragingly. “I think you’ll do just fine.”

    “As long as I keep my big mouth shut,” Abby tossed back. “I think I’ll make a $20 donation to the jar and MJ’s and Joshua’s allowance funds anyway. Sort of an apology kind of thing,” she explained. “Oh, and you should take a trip to confessional for lying and scaring the hell out of me.” Abby groaned, giving Pilar one last sheepish look. “And I’ll just add another couple dollars to that jar…”


    “I can’t believe there aren’t better seating arrangements,” Rebecca Hotchkiss grumbled disdainfully, climbing the bleachers behind Gwen and grabbing her shoulder forcefully a couple of times when her ridiculously high heels threatened to topple her over the edge.

    “Mother,” Gwen huffed. “It’s a tee-ball game, not a black-tie dinner. You’re going to break a leg in those things.

    “You’re the one who insisted on sitting on the top row, Gwennie,” Rebecca replied, plopping gracelessly down on the bench beside her daughter. It took only a few seconds for the heat of the evening sun to work its ‘magic’ on her. Fanning herself vigorously with her hands, Rebecca’s blue eyes narrowed in distaste as she glanced around at the growing crowd. “It’s absolutely stifling out here. They should make baseball an indoor sport."

    Biting her tongue, Gwen simply rolled her eyes, waving at her father when he appeared at the foot of the bleachers, Jake by his side. “Daddy! Up here,” she called. “Jacob Bennett, I told you no junk from the concession stand. Since you’ve already eaten, you can go home with Mother and Daddy after the game.”

    Jake’s mouth twisted into an annoyed scowl, and he reluctantly handed the nachos and hotdog in his hands to his grandfather before hopping onto the first step of the bleachers. He took up residence on the bottom seat, keeping a lookout for Ali’s imminent arrival.

    Jonathan Hotchkiss chuckled as he passed his grandson by, giving the strong young shoulder an affectionate pat before slyly slipping him a cheese-laden nacho.

    Jake popped the nacho into his mouth with an appreciative grin and quickly began to chew, without letting his mom see. Or so he thought. Moms, he grumbled silently when he heard her voice behind him. Not only did they have eyes in the back of their heads, his mom had X-ray vision too.

    “Jake…I see chewing,” Gwen said.

    “Chewing? What chewing?” Jake played it cool. “How can I chew if I didn’t have a nacho in the first place? See?” he said, opening his mouth wide for proof.

    “Jake, Little Buddy,” Hank chuckled as he sidled up beside him, “you got a little cheese right there…yeah, right there on the corner of your mouth.”

    “Oh man,” Jake muttered, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Dad,” he whined.

    “I thought I told you,” Hank smirked, “a guy can never put one over on his mom. She’s all-knowing.” He leaned in close to whisper in his son’s ear. “Dugout,” he nodded. “Keep your sisters from overdosing on sugar, will ya?”

    Jake eagerly scurried away, the twinkle returned to his brown eyes.

    “Hank,” Gwen said reproachfully as her husband advanced on her, settling down on the seat in front of her. “They’ll ruin their appetites.”

    Hank took her chin in his hand, giving her lips a quick, loving kiss, then grinned up at her. “Yeah, Babe?”

    “When did you become such a tightwad?” Gwen laughed, resting her hands on his shoulders and leaning in to bestow another kiss on his lips. “You have more layers than an onion, Bennett.”

    “Ah, young love,” Jonathan mused, blue eyes dancing. “Your mother and I were…”

    “Jonathan!” Rebecca shrieked, hands flapping excitedly in the air and lips puckered in disgust. “It’s disgusting. I never would have given it to him…get it out, get it out,” she demanded with a shudder.

    “…never quite like that,” Jonathan finished as he stood up, gallantly offering his wife his handkerchief to wipe off the excess cheese left behind by a curious toddler’s foray into the unknown, Rebecca’s ample bosom.

    Hank howled with laughter, much to Rebecca’s ire, and plucked a couple dollars out of his wallet, handing it to the mother of the now squalling toddler. “You’ll have to forgive my mother-in-law. Nannies,” he said, as if it explained everything, and apparently it did. “She never changed a poopy diaper. She would have considered it a traumatic experience,” Hank winked.

    “Why you…you, you SWINE!” Rebecca bellowed, as Gwen tried to tamp down her own threatening laughter.

    The game hadn’t even started yet. How in the world were they going to last through the home-stretch?


    “I’m going to get every out. I’m going to throw the ball to first so hard it knocks MJ down. I’m going to hit a kazillion home-runs, and Dad’s going to owe me a $100,” Sara’s brown eyes were round and filled with dollar signs as she chattered excitedly about her performance in the impending game.

    Jake stuck another sour straw into her mouth when she finally paused to take a breath, hoping like the devil to shut her up, but it didn’t work. She was making him so dizzy walking back and forth and jabbering her head off, he had to look away. He scrunched up his nose in disgust as he watched Emily group red M & M’s and red Skittles together, shoveling them all into her mouth at once. Her entire mouth and chin were bright red, and the wild look in her brown eyes put Jake further in mind of a vampire he’d seen in one of those movies he’d watched even though his mom told him not to.

    “Jake,” Emmy said suddenly, “Do you think if I run really, really fast when I hit the ball and throw the ball to Cristian real quick, we’ll get home in time to watch Spongebob?”

    Keeping in mind that the wrong could, very possibly, make his little sister erupt into tears at any moment, Jake decided to play it safe. Well…sort of. “Only if you run all the way to home without stopping every time. Right, Uncle Luis?” Jake waited for Luis to agree.

    Luis slid Cristian’s bat bag off of his shoulder, hanging it up on the fence beside the girls’ bat bags before issuing a distracted answer. “Yeah…sure. Run fast like we did in practice, Emily.”

    Cristian shyly nudged Emily over, taking a seat beside her.

    Emily promptly thrust a package of Starburst into his hands. “Daddy bought the whole team candy!”

    Jake snickered at the panicked look on Uncle Luis’s face and decided to make his getaway while he still had a chance. “Uncle Luis?”

    “Ali’s with Sheridan,” Luis knowingly answered. “They laid out a blanket by that old…shade tree,” Luis trailed off, laughing when he realized Jake was long gone.

    “Here, Daddy,” Cristian announced as he crammed an orange and a pink Starburst into his mouth. “You can have my yellow ones.”

    Thanks, Hank, Luis thought sarcastically as his son dropped the candy into his palm. All the kids were going to be ricocheting off the walls of the dugout before the first inning was over. What the hell had he gotten himself into, agreeing to help Hank, of all people, coach their kids’ tee-ball team? If Hank weren’t his longtime buddy…


    “Are you sure you don’t mind?” Sheridan asked, chewing thoughtfully on her bottom lip. “I know how to operate the camcorder, Gwen. You don’t have to…”

    “Sheridan,” Gwen interrupted, muttering under her breath, “give the damn thing to me. Mother’s driving me up the wall. If I have this thing in my hand, maybe she’ll shut up. And I’ll get some nice shots of Cristian from where I’m sitting,” she added. “Please. Save your best friend’s sanity.”

    “Anything for my best friend,” Sheridan quipped, blue eyes sparkling with humor. “Speaking of best friends…” she began, touching her hand to Gwen’s arm.

    A few feet away, Jake and Ali stood, smiling brightly at each other.

    Gwen recognized the nervous shuffle of her son’s sneakered feet and had to struggle to keep a straight face. “You realize Ali turns him into a pile of mush,” she commented in amusement, lifting the camcorder up.

    Jake’s brown eyes widened when he spotted the camera. “Mom!”

    “Come on, Jake. I know you’re not shy,” Sheridan teased, her smile growing wider when Jake blushed a bright pink.

    Ali giggled and waved at the camera.

    “It’s off,” Gwen lied quite convincingly, lowering the camera to the level of her chest. She kept the camcorder pointed in Jake and Ali’s direction, while Sheridan pretended to instruct her how to use it.

    “Are you getting it?” Sheridan asked.

    “Every mumble and goofy smile,” Gwen told her, biting her lip to keep from laughing. “Jake’s such a flirt. And Ali…Sheridan, she’s working him like a pro. I’ve never seen anything cuter. You’re going to have to make me a copy of this tape.”

    “I think the jig’s up, Auntie Sher,” Chad chuckled, making Sheridan squeal when he wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug from behind.

    “Looks like he’s right,” Gwen sighed, turning the camera off when Jake captured Ali’s small hand and tugged her out of sight. “Chad. Theresa,” she greeted politely. “Sher, I’m going to go check on Daddy. Make sure he hasn’t committed Mother to Shady Pines yet. I’ll keep an eye out for Jake and Ali, too.”

    “Okay. Thanks, Gwen,” Sheridan waved. She hugged Theresa quickly and tightly then held her at arm’s length, mischief lighting up her blue eyes as she spoke. “Everything set for tomorrow?”

    “Set and ready,” Theresa bubbled. “Luis is going to be so surprised.”


    Ali giggled breathlessly as she and Jake slowed to a stop beside the monkey bars. “I’ve never run so hard in my life,” she grinned at him, placing her hands on her knees and gasping for breath.

    “You okay, Ali? I didn’t mean to…” Jake’s voice held an edge of concern. “I shouldn’t have made you run, but I hate when Mom tapes me like that. It’s so embarrassing.”

    “It’s not so bad,” Ali smiled softly. “My mom likes to watch videos of me when I was younger all the time. That way she doesn’t feel like she missed so much.”

    Jake jumped up in the air, grabbing and catching hold of one of the bars. “That’s not so bad,” he agreed, dangling for a moment in mid-air. Grunting with the effort, he started to cross the monkey bars. His motions froze, though, when he heard the noise of gravel crunching beneath feet, announcing that he and Ali were no longer alone.

    “Look at Jakey, Boys,” Dylan instructed his gang of rowdy followers. “Trying to impress your girlfriend?” he taunted.

    Jake hopped down from the monkey bars and fitted his hand into Ali’s, tugging her with him as he headed for the slides. “Just ignore them, Ali.”

    Dylan stepped in front of Jake, the look in his green eyes matching the cruel smirk on his lips as he looked at Ali. “She the best you can do, Jakey? My old man has more hair than she does.”

    One of Jake’s hands gripped Ali’s tighter while the other clenched into a fist at his side.

    Ali’s blue eyes were wet with the sheen of tears, but she gave Dylan and the rest of the boys the biggest, brightest smile she could muster. “I’m really looking forward to coming back to school next year. Maybe we’ll have P.E. together or something.”

    One by one the boys hung their heads in shame, and Dylan averted his green eyes from Ali’s forgiving gaze in embarrassment, his bravado having vanished into thin air. “Uh…the game’s about to start. My mom will kill me if I’m not there to watch Caleb play so um…Boys, let’s go,” he said, stumbling over the command.

    Jake glared at them as they left, whirling on his heels to face Ali when they were gone. “How can you be so nice to them, Ali? They’re nothing but a bunch of jerks.”

    “I guess,” Ali said in a small voice, walking over to the row of swings and circling one before sitting down. She kicked her sandals back and forth in the sand at her feet, twirling the swing from side to side without meeting Jake’s intent gaze. “Being mean back doesn’t make you feel better.”

    Jake reached a hand out to stop the swing’s motion.

    Slowly, Ali raised her blue eyes to his face, her fingers going to the gold heart locket at her neck and curling it around her forefinger. Though her blue eyes still swam with tears, they clung stubbornly to her pale lashes, refusing to fall, and Ali’s voice was nothing more than a whisper when she posed a question. “Will you push me, Jake?”

    A lazy smile flitted across Jake’s lips. “How high do you want to go?” he asked, grasping the chains in either of his hands and pulling her back slightly.

    “To the moon?” Ali quirked a golden brow at him, clutching the chains tightly beneath Jake’s hands. “Ja-Jake!” she squealed as Jake pulled her farther and farther back. “I didn’t really mean it…I didn’t…JAKE!” she cried, shrieking with giggles when he let her go.

    And when Ali flashed him that magical smile of hers, her tears forgotten, Jake realized something he’d always known: Ali Lopez-Fitzgerald was the most amazing girl he’d ever met.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 5

    “Dr. Taylor. Nick,” Katie called, hurriedly signing out and ignoring Ellie’s jealous scowl. “Wait up.” She snatched her purse off the counter and reached down to grab her duffel bag, jogging down the hallway to catch up with Nick’s much longer stride.

    “What is it now, Katie?” Nick asked, not letting her impede his progress toward the stairwell. “More of your sage advice?” he sighed, arching a dark brow at her as he held the door open to the fire exit, stepping inside after her. “The letters were a great idea,” he muttered sarcastically. “I bet she doesn’t even read them before she throws them in the trash.” With a shake of his dark head, he took off down the stairs, taking them two at a time. “It doesn’t matter. I’m out of here in a few weeks anyway.”

    Katie clattered after him, stumbling and nearly losing her footing on the bottom step. She gripped Nick’s arm when he reached out a hand to steady her, refusing to let go. “What do you mean you’re out of here?”

    Nick’s gray eyes filled with regret, and his voice lowered to a soft, apologetic tone. “I took the job in Colorado. I’ve been sitting on my resignation for a while now. I gave my six weeks notice today.”

    “Does…does Abby know?” Katie stammered, letting her hand drop from his arm. “She didn’t say anything. She doesn’t know I know, but she’s read every one of your notes. She would have said something if you’d…Nick, what happened? If you’d just admit that you love her…I can’t believe you two!” Katie exclaimed in frustration. “You’re acting like a couple of kids.”

    “Abby doesn’t know, Katie. I just made my final decision a few hours ago,” Nick explained.

    “So you’re going to give up? Just like that? She was right, wasn’t she? You really ARE afraid to love her. So afraid you’d put hundreds, thousands of miles between you and her,” Katie muttered.

    “Katie, I…it doesn’t matter whether I love her or not,” Nick sighed in answer, averting his gray eyes from Katie’s incredulous expression. “Abby’s moved on. Maybe this guy Christopher can give her what I can’t. Look, Katie…I have packing to do, arrangements to make,” he said, leveling his gaze on her once more. “You’ve been a good friend, almost like a little sister to me.” Nick smiled and curled his fingers around her cheek as he leaned in close, pressing warm, soft lips against her forehead. “I know you’re meeting Noah this evening. Don’t keep him waiting.”

    Katie remained there on the bottom step, too dumbfounded to speak or stop Nick as he walked away. Angered, she finally found her voice, turning around and trudging back up the flight of stairs, “Yeah, well…some kind of big brother you are.” Abby and Christopher, she thought, shaking her head in dismissal at the very idea. What in the world was Nick thinking?


    “Tink!” Hank whistled in greeting, brown eyes roving up and down Abby’s slender jeans-clad figure in teasing appreciation. “Don’t tell the wife,” Hank grinned, snaking an arm around Abby’s shoulders and squeezing her tightly, “but you’re looking pretty hot today, Ms. Stone. Single looks sexy on you. What do you think, guys?” Hank turned to the ragtag team of youngsters lined up along the bench.

    Yeah, right, Abby thought, chewing self-consciously on her bottom lip when 12 pairs of young eyes suddenly locked in on her. What about single mom, she posed silently. She bet THAT’D look REAL sexy on her. A few more months and she figured she’d probably be the main attraction at Old MacDonald’s farm.

    “Daddy!” Emily gasped, brown eyes going wide, “I reject. I’m a girl!” she cried out indignantly.

    Sara rolled her eyes. “Big sissy.”

    “Hot?” Cristian queried, concerned. “Do you have a fever, Abby?”

    For someone that had such a smart Dad, MJ thought, some things just went WAY over Cristian’s head sometimes. “He means she looks good, Doofus,” MJ spoke up. “Pretty,” he mumbled when he realized Hank AND Abby were listening quite intently to what he had to say.

    Hank smirked, regarding Abby with twinkling eyes. “What an honor it must be,” he said, giving her a quick wink before glancing back at MJ, “being the Demon Seed’s first crush.”

    “Hey!” MJ scowled. “I don’t like Abby like that. She’s more like…she’s more like…” MJ paused, struggling for the right word.

    “The crazy aunt that lets you eat popsicles for breakfast and forgets you in the frozen section of the supermarket?” Abby finished his thought helpfully, thanking God she was able to cut him off before he said something remotely close to ‘Mom.’

    “Yeah,” MJ grinned, tossing the baseball in his right hand in and out of his glove.

    “Dad,” Sara whined. “When is the game going to start? I get to bat first. You promised. I’m not going to get rich sitting on this bench all day,” she huffed, standing up and planting her hands on her hips.

    “Sar, we can’t start the game ‘til the rest of the other team’s players get here. They don’t have enough players to play yet,” Hank explained rather patiently to his highly impatient little entrepreneur.

    “Well, they can have Emily and stick her out by the fence,” Sara volunteered. “You wouldn’t mind, would you, Emmy? You’d get home in time for Spongebob.”

    “Okay,” Emily singsonged. “Can I, Daddy?” she asked, gathering up her doll in one arm and glove in the other.

    “What do you think, Tink?” Hank chuckled at Sara’s suggestion as he snagged Emily around the waist and set her back down. “Actress, politician, or juvenile delinquent?”


    “You better watch that woman,” Rebecca leaned forward and hissed into Gwen’s ear. She and your swine of a husband seem a little TOO friendly if you know what I mean,” she disclosed, eyebrows raised in suspicion.

    “Why, Mother,” Gwen replied dryly, lowering the camcorder to her lap and turning it off. “I didn’t know you cared about my swine of a husband.”

    Rebecca bristled at the smirk adorning her daughter’s lips. “I don’t,” she blustered unconvincingly. “Nonsense. You and the children, Gwennie. I just don’t want you getting hurt again like you did with Ethan.”

    “Oh God,” Gwen groaned. “Wait ‘til Hank hears he’s reached Ethan status in your discerning eyes,” she exhaled with a roll of her own golden brown eyes. “Honestly, Mother, if I didn’t know you loved me…Ethan and Hank are nothing alike, Abby’s hung up on Nick, and I can’t believe you’re comparing Hank to Ethan,” she repeated again in incredulous exasperation.


    A couple of rows below, Theresa tried not to giggle aloud as Gwen and Rebecca’s ridiculous tiff continued.

    Chad grinned, popping another nacho into his mouth and chewing as his dark gaze drifted out onto the field where the kids were now warming up for the game. He nearly choked when Cristian ducked to preserve his head from the missile Sara had launched straight at him. “Damn,” he sputtered as Theresa slapped him on the back with one hand and handed him her soda with the other, “girl’s got heat.”

    “Protect your head, Sweetie,” Theresa yelled. “Hank, get him a helmet.”

    “Leave him alone,” Chad said hoarsely, ignoring the stinging of his nostrils and thrusting the soda back into Theresa’s hands. “T-girl,” he explained, “it’s a guy thing. Little Man’s got to prove he’s tough. No helmet, okay?”

    “I grew up with two brothers, and I still don’t understand men,” Theresa huffed. “Chad, what if he gets hurt?” she pouted. “I’m going to go make Luis switch him up with a different partner. If I can find Luis,” she muttered.

    Chad smirked, shaking his head as he watched her barely avoid disaster descending the bleachers. He sure wasn’t marrying her for her grace and coordination. “Just…”

    “Look for Sheridan,” Theresa took the words out of his mouth. “I know.”


    “And she did fine with the bottle?” Sheridan asked, moving the cell phone to her other ear so Luis could listen in on the conversation. “She did? The whole thing? That’s Luis’s daughter for you,” she said, laughing at the pleased expression on her husband’s face.

    Luis’s smile transformed into a full-fledged grin with Martin’s next words. “Are you sure?” He cupped his hand over the receiver and wiggled his dark brows teasingly at his disbelieving wife. “Papa says she smiled at him twice, and he swears it wasn’t gas. I told you she smiled at me today.”

    “Luis,” Sheridan shook her head, amusement sparkling in her blue eyes as she made a daring grab for the cell phone he’d taken over.

    Luis held the phone at arm’s length, just out of her reach.

    “And I suppose she’s already calling him Grandpa Martin,” Sheridan smirked. “Give it back, Luis,” she demanded, laughter still in her voice as she lunged forward, falling against his chest.

    “I think Sheridan’s eyes are…yeah, they are. Sheridan’s eyes are turning green, Papa. I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Luis laughed into the phone before tossing it to the far corner of the quilt.

    “How long has Martin been off the phone?” Sheridan asked, somewhat sheepish at her behavior. “You made the whole thing about Hope smiling at him up, didn’t you?” she grilled him when he couldn’t hide the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

    “Long enough,” Luis answered her with a soft press of his lips to hers, “and I only made part of it up. My daughter really did smile at me today, Sheridan. What can I say?” he shrugged with fake modesty. “She was happy to see me. I’m the man.”

    “Luis, you are so full of yourself,” Sheridan laughed softly as she wrapped her arms more tightly around his neck and brushed her lips against his grinning mouth. “And hopeless,” she added as they nuzzled noses. “She’s already got you wrapped so tight around her little finger it’s affecting the amount of oxygen reaching your brain. Otherwise you’d realize what we all know to be true.”

    Luis’s dark eyes reluctantly left her mouth to search her blue eyes for answers, and he couldn’t stop smiling when she collapsed against him in a renewed fit of laughter. Even as he continued to protest.. “I’m telling you, Sheridan. I know the difference between gas and a smile.”


    “I’m in the single woman’s version of Hell on earth. Apparently, I’m stuck in the Nation of Twitterpation,” Abby muttered. When she noticed Grace looking at her oddly, she explained even as she mentally flayed herself for uttering such corniness. Damn. The moment she started spewing random quotations from the ‘Cat in the Hat’ was the moment it was all over. She’d shoot herself or at least fantasize about it. Her? Somebody’s mother. Pfft! “Do the names ‘Thumper’ and “Flower’ ring a bell?”

    “Jessica always used to love that movie,” Grace remembered fondly.

    “It’s Joshua’s movie of the month,” Abby revealed. “He refuses to watch anything else. Even though MJ hates it.” And it’s really no surprise, Abby thought. Disney probably wasn’t the best substitute for grief counseling.

    “Kay hated it too,” Grace murmured. “As soon as she was old enough to realize and understand what happened to Bambi’s mother. She vowed to become a vegetarian, and she kept it up for almost a week. I was impressed,” Grace smiled, lost in the memory. “She was always so determined.”

    “MJ’s a lot like her. Well, a lot like the Kay I knew,” Abby said. “Joshua, too. I see more of her in him everyday.”

    “I think maybe you’re right,” Grace agreed, staring straight ahead, watching her littlest grandson follow Sam down the length of the left foul line. A small smile tugged at her lips when Sam swept the little boy up into hia arms, and the twosome proceeded to play airplane, seemingly oblivious the onlookers around them. “If you’ll excuse me, Abby, I think I’ll…”

    “Jeez. If you don’t like my company, Grace, all you have to do is say so,,” Abby teased, flipping her long tawny hair over her shoulder and tilting her head to the side to observe the approach of Katie and Noah in the distance, Kendall riding piggyback on Noah’s broad shoulders. “No need to make excuses.”

    Grace simply smiled in response, leaving Abby to join Sam and Joshua, now cheering the children on from the dugout as they continued to warm up.

    Even from here, Katie looked more than a little pissed, and somehow Abby doubted Grace could inspire such…damn, the steely expression on Katie’s normally serene face actually looked a little bit scary. In fact, Katie looked like she had had quite enough. Time to get out of Dodge, Abby realized, making a beeline for the mile-long concession line. As if her day could get much worse…

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 6

    “Oh!” Theresa’s hands flew to her mouth in surprise when she saw the mottled purplish, black discoloration of Cristian’s left eye. “It looks worse than it did last night. Chad,” Theresa glared accusingly at her fiance as she stooped down to closer inspect her young nephew’s injury. “I told you he needed a helmet.”

    Chad remained silent.

    “Does it look really, really bad, Aunt Theresa?” Cristian asked, a suspiciously hopeful ring to his childish voice.

    “Oh, it’s just awful,” Theresa cringed. “What are we going to do? You’re not going to be able to model in the fashion show like that,” she mused, standing up and pacing around the living room. She paused only to scratch an expectant Max behind the ears, letting out a frustrated sigh. “Chad, help me think of something here.”

    Sensing Theresa’s agitation, the golden retriever nudged her hand again with his nose, looking up at her with large golden eyes.

    Chad’s mouth quirked at the corners at the pleased grin Cristian couldn’t quite hide and the state his girl was already working herself into, and he crossed the living room, pulling Theresa down onto the sofa with him. “Breathe, T-girl,” he suggested helpfully, thwarting her efforts to stand back up and resume wearing a hole into the living room carpet by pulling her into his lap.

    “But Chad!” Theresa protested, shifting restlessly on his lap, “I’ve planned this day for the last three months. It has to be perfect. Nothing can go wrong, and Cristian modeling in the show with a black eye is…Chad, it’s just all kinds of wrong. What am I going to do? Who am I going to get to replace him on such short notice? I love MJ, but he can’t pull off the look I wanted. He doesn’t have Cristian’s innocence, and the clothes don’t even fit him. They’re too small, and…Chad, this is a disaster. It really is…”

    Chad’s dark eyes sparkled with humor as he slid a hand around the back of her slender neck and pulled her closer, fastening his lips to her babbling mouth. He fought the urge to smile against her lips when he felt her relax slowly against him, finally kissing him back.

    Theresa pulled away from the kiss with a pout on her lips and dancing brown eyes. “You did that to shut me up, didn’t you?” The unmistakable music of Ali’s soft laughter immediately filled the room, and Theresa looked over Chad’s shoulder to find Ali watching them, bright eyed and smiling knowingly.

    “Daddy does the same thing to Mom,” Ali giggled as she told her daddy’s ‘secret.’

    At the word ‘Mom,’ Theresa arched a dark brow in surprise, noticing for the first time that Sheridan had also joined them. “And it works?”

    “I like to let him think it does,” Sheridan stated with a sly smile, adjusting the thin straps of her pale blue sundress on her shoulders. Her fingers then went to the silver teardrop earrings dangling delicately from her earlobes. “Too much? It’s been so long since I’ve dressed up, I…I’m overdressed, aren’t I?”

    “Whoa, whoa! Hold up there, Auntie,” Chad said teasingly. “I think you look damn fine for a mother of three, and I think your hubby agrees,” he winked.

    Sheridan’s smile lit up her entire face as she felt Luis’s arms encircle her from behind, and she hummed with contentment when Luis brushed his lips against her bare shoulder.

    “It works,” Ali giggled into Theresa’s ear, “It always works,” she murmured softly as Theresa snaked an arm around her tiny waist and pulled her into a bear hug. Ali giggled some more when Chad tightened his arms around both of them.

    “Moving in on my girls, Chad?” Luis couldn’t resist commenting. He pressed another kiss to Sheridan’s cheek before releasing her.

    Just in case Luis was seriously going to pull the big brother act, Theresa scrambled from Chad’s lap, taking Ali with her and whisking her toward the kitchen, mumbling something about a busy day and the benefits of a good breakfast.

    Sheridan grabbed Cristian by the shoulders, and the pair followed Theresa and Ali into the kitchen.

    Chad stood up, offering Luis his hand with a chuckle. “You ready for this three-ring circus, Man?”


    “Did you tell Abby breakfast was almost ready?” Miguel quizzed MJ, carefully transferring the stack of plates to his son’s waiting hands. “Wait a minute,” Miguel laid a hand on MJ’s shoulder before he could take the few steps to the kitchen table, “Is Papa going to be able to make it, Mama?”

    Pilar wiped her hands off on the corner of a dishtowel and picked up a platter heaping with pancakes. “He’s meeting us later,” she answered, placing the platter in the middle of the table. She grabbed the pitcher of orange juice from the counter and began filling the various glasses lined up at one end of the table.

    Miguel released MJ’s shoulder, glancing down at him expectantly.

    “I told her, Dad,” MJ shrugged, “but she said she wasn’t hungry. I think she’s sick,” he said as he worked diligently at setting the table, Joshua acting as his shadow as he painstakingly placed pieces of silverware next to each plate his brother set down.

    Pilar read the concern in her son’s dark eyes. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious, Mijo,” she said reassuringly. “You and the boys start breakfast, and I’ll go check on her.”

    “No need to check on me,” Abby appeared in the kitchen wearing a twinkling smile and little else in Miguel’s estimation. “I’m not 100%, but don’t give me up for dead yet,” she smirked.

    “Bee!” Joshua exclaimed, wrapping his arms around Abby’s bare legs and holding on tight “Uh,” he said, lifting his arms up in the air for Abby to pick him up.

    “It’s Abby, Doofus,” MJ rolled his eyes at his little brother and propped his hands on his hips, eyeing Abby suspiciously.

    “Mijo, no name calling. Remember?” Pilar chastised gently. Noticing the pale pallor of Abby’s normally luminous complexion, Pilar scooped her littlest grandson up in her own arms and settled him down in his booster seat at the table.

    “Bee,” Joshua whined, arms reaching for Abby even as Pilar poured syrup over his pancakes and cut a piece, holding it up to his mouth.

    “Breakfast, Abby?” Miguel asked, indicating the vacant chair opposite his own seat with a nod of his head as he sat down. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he wondered aloud, noting the dark circles under her hazel eyes still faintly visible beneath her light makeup.

    “Worrywart, “Abby teased good-naturedly, “Of course, I’m fine,” she said, smiling warmly at him as she grabbed a banana from the fruit bowl at her left. “Christopher’s on his way over so as delicious as those pancakes look I don’t think there’s enough time.”

    “Christopher,” MJ snarled in disgust. “What about us?”

    “Mijo!” Pilar scolded, “Apologize to Abby this instant.”

    “MJ,” Miguel spoke warningly when MJ hesitated, wholly unrepentant.

    “Bee!” Joshua continued to cry agitatedly from his booster seat, tears of frustration welling in his big brown eyes.

    “Christopher asked me to go the Grand Opening with him and Lissy. It’s not even a real date, MJ,” Abby told her irate little friend, hoping to ease his almost glaring feelings of jealousy.

    “Does Christopher know that?” Miguel couldn’t resist asking.

    One tawny brow raised in surprise, and it took Abby several seconds to compose herself enough to answer so floored was she by the hints of identical jealousy she saw shining in Miguel’s deep brown eyes. “Sadly, he’s not very bright,” she tried to ease out of the awkward moment with an attempt at humor. “Besides, I didn’t want to cheat Lissy out of her chance to spend the whole day having fun with Ali,” she further explained, grateful when all semblances of jealousy fled Miguel’s demeanor. Hell. Maybe she imagined it all.

    “You don’t LIKE like him?” MJ asked dubiously, softening up a little at the edges.

    “Mijo,” Pilar chided, removing Joshua from his booster seat and taking his untouched plate off the kitchen table.

    “Not at all,” Abby laughed, ruffling MJ’s dark hair just because she knew he hated it so. She grinned down at him when he scowled, pleased to see the sparkle return to his brown eyes.

    “Bee,” Joshua hiccuped, rubbing at his wet brown eyes fretfully and wiggling mightily in Pilar’s arms.

    When the doorbell rang, Pilar looked to Abby in resignation, handing Joshua over to her waiting arms.

    Joshua immediately twined his limbs around Abby’s neck and waist, the fingers of one tiny hand twirling a heavy strand of soft tawny hair while his other hand hung limply across her shoulder. The toddler pressed his tear-streaked face against her neck, his hiccups gradually lessening.

    “That’s probably Christopher,” Miguel stated the obvious, rubbing Joshua’s knee soothingly as he looked up into Abby’s hazel eyes.

    “Why don’t I take him with me?” Abby pressed her lips against Joshua’s forehead with a sigh. “MJ too if he wants,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at her waiting ‘date’ and his daughter standing just inside the front door. “Lissy’s already going with us. What’s two more? That way any illusions Christopher has left about me being interested in him romantically will be taken care of, and I know I won’t be bored with these two around.”

    “MJ?” Miguel turned to his oldest in question. “It’s up to you. What do you think?”


    “Dad!” Sara raced back to Hank excitedly after running ahead in impatience, “I want to jump in the bouncy thing. Please. Please, Dad.”

    Hank smirked at the incredulous expression on his wife’s face as she slowly took in her surroundings.

    “My God, Hank, this Grand Opening is a parent’s worst nightmare. I may have to rethink being on better terms with Theresa after this,” Gwen muttered.

    “Just go with the flow, Babe,” Hank chuckled. “Every kid deserves one weekend of fun like this one.”

    “Cotton candy!” Emily exclaimed gleefully. “Mommy, I want pink.”

    “Cat got your tongue, Little Buddy?” Hank teased, dropping his arm over his son’s young shoulders.

    “Let Mom at Ali’s aunt Theresa, Dad. There’s no way I’m being in her stupid fashion show,” Jake grumbled in disgust.

    “Aww, come on, Jakester. You mean you don’t want all the women of the six grade lusting after you?” Hank winked.

    “For goodness sake, Bennett. He’s ten years old,” Gwen expelled a slightly annoyed breath. Her frown was replaced with a smile though when she spotted Beth manning a coffee stand a couple of feet away. “Caffeine is the key to my ultimate survival.”

    “Dad, can I go see if Ali’s here yet?”

    Immediately recognizing the pleading tone of his son’s voice, Hank quickly gave his permission and joined his wife.

    “Hi, Hank,” Beth greeted him with a friendly smile. “I was just telling Gwen that Sheridan and Luis haven’t gotten here yet. Jake’s going to be disappointed.”

    “Not for long,” Hank said, giving Beth a brief hug. “Where’s Boy Wonder? You’d think he would have scraped enough nickels together to take you on a much deserved honeymoon already so you wouldn’t have to slum it with the league of former debutantes today,” Hank shot a teasing grin his wife’s way.

    Ignoring Hank’s remarks about Ethan, Beth laughed when Gwen rolled her brown eyes, promptly walking away to look for her wayward daughters. Handing over Gwen’s latte and change to Hank, Beth spoke. “He and Shane had some contracts to draw up then they’re dropping by the Mansion for Ivy.”

    At the mention of Ivy’s name, Hank narrowed his eyes. “Care to tell me why your mother-in-law’s giving Tink so much hell lately? Surely Ivy’s not winning any brownie points with Boy Toy by antagonizing his sister the way she did last night at the Lobster Shack.”

    “I’m not sure, but there’s definitely something going on there,” Beth agreed before becoming distracted by a new customer.

    “Don’t work too hard,” Hank threw out a little bit of advice upon leaving.

    “I won’t,” Beth promised with a twinkle in her eyes.


    “I can’t believe Hank’s jumping in that…that thing with all those kids,” Sheridan laughed as she and Luis watched Hank flop and bounce around with several hyperactive children, basically making a fool of himself but having too much fun to care.

    Luis shook his head in disbelief. “I can,” he smirked.

    “Has anyone seen my husband?” Gwen heaved a long-suffering sigh, rolling her eyes reflexively. Uncrossing her arms from her middle, she grasped Sheridan’s hand in passing. “I’m stealing your wife, Luis.”

    “Theresa and Pilar can’t be having an easy time dressing all the kids,” Sheridan told him, ignoring Gwen’s insistent tug on her hand and brushing her lips across her husband’s mouth.

    “You two are worse than newlyweds,” Gwen groaned. “Unless you want to see my son scale that building over there in an effort to escape ‘the stupid fashion show,’ I suggest you go with me. Now,” Gwen emphasized. “Any day now,” she sighed when Luis reached his hands up to cup Sheridan’s face, continuing the gentle kiss. Watching Luis caress Sheridan’s cheeks with the pads of his thumbs made her feel more like a voyeur than if she’d accidentally walked in on the two making love. Still, she could be nothing less than completely delighted for them. They’d earned a little uncomplicated happiness. “Sher, don’t you want to see how beautiful Ali looks, how Theresa covered up Cristian’s black eye? Do me a favor, Luis,” Gwen requested.

    “No problem,” Luis answered her, though his gaze never left Sheridan’s face. “Anything.”

    “Don’t let Hank kill himself in there,” Gwen muttered. “I know it hasn’t dawned on him yet, but he isn’t seven years old anymore.”

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 7

    “Mama!” Theresa’s voice echoed off the walls of the upstairs studio. “Cristian doesn’t have enough concealer on!”

    “More make-up?” Cristian whined as Theresa grasped his chin firmly, studying his black eye from all angles.

    “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz!” Emily, brown braids flying behind her, sang as she skipped by them, caught up in one of her frequent daydreams.

    Hot on Emily’s trail was Sara, stomping furiously and giving Theresa her best ‘death’ glare for having the audacity to put her into a dress.

    Shades on, MJ strutted back and forth in front of the mirrored wall, stuffing his hands in the faux black leather jacket and lifting his chin in the air with an uncanny air of arrogance. With his gelled hair spiked, he bore more than a fleeting resemblance to both Miguel and Luis. The attitude, however, was all Kay.

    Watching him, Theresa giggled. “MJ thinks he’s hot stuff, doesn’t he?”

    “He gets to wear the cool outfit,” Cristian mumbled, casting his big brown eyes down to the floor in mortification. This was worse than the suit Mommy made him wear at Easter. “Aunt Theresa, I feel like a nerd.”

    “You look adorable, Mijo,” Pilar complimented him as she knelt at his feet, dabbing a bit more make-up over the uncooperative bruise maligning Cristian’s left eye.

    “I told you so,” Cristian sighed, looking back up to Theresa with pleading puppy dog eyes. “I’m not a baby, Nana,” he told Pilar pointedly.

    “I’m the biggest nerd of all,” Jake grumbled, fumbling with the ends of the ivory bow tie looped around his neck.

    “Oh, Jake,” Theresa beamed as she tied the bow tie for him, “You look so handsome,” she gushed. “You and Ali are going to…”

    “Whoa,” Jake tugged self-consciously at his collar. “Me and Ali what?” He ducked his head when Theresa reached a hand out to give his mop of unruly curls some sort of order. “Watch the hair,” he muttered with a scowl. “What about me and Ali?”


    “I present to you, Lady Lissy, and Sir Joshua Baggy Bottoms,” Abby announced, bowing at the waist, “Your Majesty, Princess Ali.”

    A vision in shimmering ivory satin and lace, Ali giggled, stepping out from behind Abby with a shy smile on her lips.

    “Oh, Ali,” Lissy brought her hands to her mouth in awe. “You look so pretty. Like a fairy princess,” she whispered softly, lifting a shaky, hesitant hand up to touch the garland of tiny pink and white baby rosebuds sitting atop Ali’s golden head. “Can I?” she looked to Abby in question.

    Abby gave her consent with a smile, snagging Joshua by the waist of his oversized swim trunks and hauling him into her arms. Joshua’s flipper-clad feet kicked out helplessly as she tickled his ribs, and his mouth opened in a wide grin, showing perfect pearly white teeth. “What’s that?” Abby paused in her tickling just long enough to let the toddler catch his breath, pretending to entertain the idea of stopping her assault—but only for the briefest of moments. “Your refusal to surrender will be the end of you, Sir Baggy Bottoms,” Abby promised gleefully, sneaking a hand behind Joshua’s knees and tickling the sensitive skin there.

    Ali’s blue eyes sparkled as she carefully placed the crown of flowers and ribbon atop Lissy’s glossy tawny mane, and the pair’s smiles were equally bright as they turned to face Abby.

    Abby set Joshua back on his feet and whistled in appreciation. “Watch out, AliCat. Looks like you’re not the only princess in town,” Abby winked, causing Lissy to lower her eyes and twirl a long strand of tawny hair around her forefinger in embarrassment.

    The bathroom door creaked as it opened behind them, and Ali swept past Abby and Joshua, wrapping her arms around the waist of their new arrival. “Aunt Ivy!”

    “Look at you,” Ivy held Ali at arm’s length, her blue-green eyes softening with affection as she regarded her little niece. “You look lovely, Darling.”

    Abby gritted her teeth, and her hazel eyes fluttered shut at the sound of the other woman’s voice. They opened in surprise a moment later when she felt Lissy’s gentle touch on her arm.

    “Miss Abby?” Lissy’s voice was soft with concern. “Is it okay if I go with Ali?”

    Abby smiled reassuringly and placed Joshua’s small hand in Lissy’s hand. “Take him with you. I’ll only be a minute.”

    Both women waved goodbye to the children as they filed out of the door, but as soon as the door shut, the temperature in the room dropped several degrees as they stared right through each other.

    “What the hell is it now, Ivy?” Abby finally snapped, raking a hand through her tawny hair in aggravated frustration. “If you don’t stop harassing me, I swear to God I’m going to have a restraining order taken out on you.”

    Ivy lifted one regal brow and smirked at the petite blond, unruffled by the threat. “I just want the truth, Abby. Something you’ve neglected to tell Pilar and the rest of her family from the moment you insinuated yourself into their lives.”

    The truth? Who really knew the damned truth anymore, Abby wanted to shout. Instead, she bit her tongue on that subject with great effort, her stomach churning as Ivy stepped closer, backing her up against the bathroom counter. “Shane hasn’t met Bitch Ivy, has he?” Abby growled, shoving Ivy aside as she stalked angrily toward the door. Her hand tightened on the door handle, knuckles white, with Ivy’s parting words.

    “The company we keep says a lot about us. Do you really think the Lopez-Fitzgeralds want a criminal’s ex-wife anywhere near their children? Your own brother disowned you, Abby,” Ivy’s reminder was all too painful. “Your ex-husband is a drug addict. Attempted murder and manslaughter bought him an extended stay in a New York penitentiary. Do you think they want you anywhere near their families if he decides to look you up after he gets paroled? Do you honestly think so?”

    Abby didn’t think. She whirled around, and before she could stop herself, her palm hit Ivy’s cheek in a stinging slap that left both women stunned.

    Ivy gasped, cupping her tender cheek with her hand as her flinty eyes flashed dangerously at Abby. “Why should I be surprised you reacted with violence?”

    “GO…TO..HELL,” Abby grit out over her shoulder, yanking the bathroom door open and stumbling outside. Ignoring the curious murmurs and glances of concern from Theresa, Pilar, and the bewildered children, she took the stairs two at a time, putting as much distance between Ivy and the ugly reminders of her past as fast as she could. She was bound to make a mis-step.

    Nick had no choice but to catch her when she fell.


    “Does that tickle?” Simone pulled the tiny paintbrush back from Kendall’s nose with an amused smile.

    Nose scrunched up and green eyes blinking slowly, Kendall nodded his sandy blond head ‘Yes.’

    Beside them, Katie too was all smiles and gentle teasing. “My puppy’s ticklish everywhere,” she revealed, winking at Simone. “But he really starts barking when I tickle his tummy.”

    “Hmm,” Simone sounded, scattering freckles across Kendall’s painted cheeks. “His tummy, you said?” Whiskers were last, each squiggly stroke eliciting giggles and toothy grins from the little boy, mixed in with a few breathless barks. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” Simone pledged, dark eyes twinkling as she sat back and admired her handiwork. “Quite possibly the cutest puppy dog I’ve ever seen. If I do say so myself.”

    “Thanks, Simone,” Katie told her warmly, handing her a couple of dollars in payment. “You really did do an amazing job,” she said with sincerity. “Have you ever thought about opening up your own studio?”

    “It’s an idea,” Simone responded, “but the time never seems to be right. The last time I gave it serious thought was before…before Kay died,” Simone finished in a whisper as Miguel joined them. “Miguel, I’m…”

    “Katie’s right,” Miguel didn’t seem affected by Simone’s attempt at an apology. Glancing down quickly at Kendall, only the brightness of Miguel’s eyes revealed his inner feelings. “You’ve always been the talented one, Simone, just like Reese has always been the brain. I was just the guy who almost didn’t recognize his best friend to be the best thing that ever happened to him.”

    “But you did,” Katie reminded him, “and I know, from Sam and Grace, and Noah and Jessica, that you made up for those years of teenage stupidity and blindness.”

    Her words were delivered with a smile that told him she meant no harm, and they made Miguel smile in return.

    Something in the way they smiled at each other aroused awkward feelings within Simone, and she fixed all her attention on Kendall, fitting her hands beneath his arms and lifting him onto her hip. When she noticed Noah making his approach, she pointed him out to the child in her arms, and Kendall immediately started squirming to get down.

    “Nowa!” Kendall cried joyfully, racing to Noah’s open arms and squealing with delight when he swept him up over his shoulders and piggybacked him back to Katie, Miguel, and Simone.

    “He really loves Noah, doesn’t he?” Simone commented.

    “He adores him,” Katie corrected her with a beaming smile, “almost as much as I do.”

    The sincerity of her answer should have made Simone feel better.

    Oddly, It didn’t.


    Pilar watched her youngest son from afar, the worry she couldn’t help but feel lately for him evident in the crease of her brow.

    Grace finished tying the brightly colored string of the balloon around the wrist of the little girl standing before her, feeling a tug at her heartstrings as she watched the little girl look up at her father with thankful, adoring brown eyes. Just around the eyes, she thought. There’s something about her that reminds me of Kay. Just around the eyes. “That’s the biggest, reddest balloon we have,” she told the little girl.

    “Tell the nice lady thank you, Kayleigh,” the father gently reminded her.

    “Thank you,” Kayleigh beamed.

    Grace felt her eyes mist over, and her smile was bittersweet as she answered the child. “You’re welcome, Kayleigh. You have such a beautiful name.” Grace felt Pilar come up beside her, and she gripped the hand Pilar offered hard. At that moment it was her lifeline, and she clung to it long after the little girl and her father had left them. “Her eyes, Pilar. Just around her eyes,” Grace explained in a choked whisper.

    Pilar squeezed her hand knowingly, and together, they waited for the moment to pass.


    That’s it, Abby. Throw yourself at the man’s damned feet, she thought, every nerve ending in her body in a heightened state of awareness as Nick’s arms wrapped tightly around her waist to keep her from tumbling headlong down the rest of the stairs. It couldn’t get much more pathetic than this, and dammit, she couldn’t think when he was this close to her. Her heart was going to jump right out of her chest. If she didn’t throw up on him first, she realized, lifting a shaky hand to her mouth when an unwelcome wave of nausea assaulted her. Weakly, she pushed against Nick’s broad chest with free her hand, but it was like pushing against a brick wall. She lifted her chin in annoyance, hazel eyes burning into his gray ones. “You can let go now,” she muttered tiredly, “I may have the grace of an elephant, but my feet and legs still work.”

    Nick’s answer was simple and to the point. “No.”

    Blinking in astonishment, Abby felt the blood in her veins start a slow simmer. “Excuse me? I can’t have heard you right. Did you just refuse to let go of me?”

    Nick smiled to himself when he stared into her eyes. It seemed anger made the flecks of gold appear too. He tightened his arms around her almost unconsciously. “You heard me,” he answered, his hand rising of its own volition to tuck a stubborn strand of tawny hair behind her ear. Letting his fingers linger along her jaw, he dropped his voice to a low, determined whisper. “This is the closest you’ve let me get in months. I’m not letting go. Not until you talk to me. We NEED to talk, Abby.”

    Oh, you have no idea, the nagging voice Abby couldn’t tamp down inside her brain practically shouted, making her wince. She couldn’t suppress the shiver that traveled down her spine when Nick’s hand slid lower, resting almost protectively against the small of her back. She was having difficulty determining whether the lightheadedness she felt was attributed to morning sickness or the man’s proximity. Abby decided no matter the reason, the blame rested solely on Gray Eyes’s strong shoulders. Taking a slow, deep breath, she tried to ignore how right it felt to be held by him again and not let him see her heart in her eyes. If he pushed hard enough, she feared she’d crumble, especially today. “We need to talk?” she finally said. “About what? I read too much into our relationship. I was stupid to think it was more than sex between us, and I got burned. Hell, I asked for it. I pushed and pushed and pushed. Two, three years ago, it would have been enough, but not now,” she admitted, more honestly than she would have liked. God help her, living in the shadows of Sheridan’s and Luis’s, Kay’s and Miguel’s, and Gwen’s and Hank’s happy marriages had made her want more. She wasn’t going to settle for less no matter how tight a grip Gray Eyes had on her heart. “I need more, Nick. Maybe not more than you can give me, but definitely a helluva lot more than you’re willing to give me,” she told him, her voice hoarse with raw emotion. “Now, please,” Abby pleaded. “Let me go.”

    Nick’s arms dropped to his sides, and though nothing had ever felt more wrong, he did what she asked him to do, his mind telling him it was forever. His heart was saying no way in hell.


    “So?” Luis grinned, capturing his wife about the waist as soon as she was within reaching distance, “Has our beautiful little AliCat
    bewitched Jake into proposing marriage yet?”

    “I thought you weren’t letting Ali date until she was forty,” Sheridan laughed, clasping her arms around his neck and gazing into his eyes.

    “Forty-five,” Luis corrected her, “And I didn’t say she COULD marry him.” His fingers played with the golden curls at the nape of her neck as his lips twitched with the makings of another smile. “I just wanted to know if he had asked yet.”

    “He hasn’t even seen her yet,” Sheridan smirked, “Theresa’s insisting on keeping them separated.”

    “Just like a real wedding day, huh?” Hank joined them, chuckling. “Poor kids. They haven’t even hit puberty yet, and we have their entire lives planned out for them. Come on, Luis. You sure you really want to be in-laws with me?”

    “I sensed a little hesitation on his part, Bennett,” Gwen sent a teasing grin Luis’s way. She turned to Hank, her golden brown eyes roving over him, ostensibly to check for any injuries. Arching her brow at him, she couldn’t resist one last jab at his earlier activities. “Make any new friends? The little redhead coming over for a play date next week?”

    “Nope,” Hank played it straight, but nothing could disguise the devilish twinkle in his dancing brown eyes. “Her mom said she’d pick me up tomorrow around 7-ish. Mandy doesn’t like to play with boys, but her mom said we’d find something interesting to do. She didn’t say what, but she promised she wouldn’t let me get bored.”

    Luis hid his smile, tugging Sheridan close to his side when he saw his sister’s petite figure practically bounce out onto the makeshift runway, ready to truly kick off the day’s festivities.

    “They’re about to start,” Sheridan breathed, Hank’s antics already forgotten.

    Gwen simply rolled her eyes and gave her husband’s arm a playful shove when he reached for her. “You’re incorrigible, Bennett. A hopeless case,” she added after their brief tug of war ended with her in his arms. “God help poor Ali. She doesn’t know what she’s getting into.”

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 8

    “Let’s give Ali, Jake, and the rest of our models another round of applause!” Theresa grinned, her enthusiasm fueling the crowd as she clapped her hands together. “They did such a wonderful job,” she praised, squatting down and wrapping Cristian up in a bear hug despite the embarrassed blush on his cheeks. “All of them.”

    Jake basked in the applause. Maybe being a nerd wasn’t so bad, he thought, giving the cheering audience his most charming grin. Heck. A little adoration always felt good, he reasoned, straightening his slim shoulders proudly and tossing his head back when a lock of unruly brown hair fell forward into his eyes. This was the good life. He was the man. He was…sweaty and nervous, and blushing. No! Blushing was something girls and Cristian did. He was turning red. His cheeks were on fire! And it was all because…because…because…He gulped, his brown eyes shifting downward and widening at what they saw. Ali’s hand was in his, and it felt like it was glued there. He couldn’t let go of it no matter how much he wanted to. It was just like the moment, not even ten minutes ago, when she first appeared at the end of the runway, a beautiful angel walking slowly towards him with her magical smile on her lips. He couldn’t stop staring as she made her way to his side. Why did looking at her make him feel like he had a thousand butterflies flapping around inside his chest, trying desperately to escape? His brown eyes reluctantly traveled up Ali’s slender arm, past the gentle curve of her neck to her face. Her pretty blue eyes drew him in, mesmerizing him like the most powerful of witches’ spells. He tugged at the constricting bow tie around his neck with his free hand, offering her a bashful smile. The sounds of the crowd and the rest of the kids surrounding them died away, Theresa’s announcement that ‘Over the Rainbow’ was now officially opened for business barely acknowledged as the smile on Jake’s lips blossomed into a full-fledged grin. “You look…,” he paused, coughing awkwardly as the dryness of his throat seemed to increase a thousand-fold when her sparkling blue eyes lit up with expectation. Heat began to creep up his neck and into his face, his ears, and Jake shifted his feet in nervous exasperation as his tongue suddenly seemed too thick to say the words. “Ali, you look…”

    “She’s the fairest princess in all the land,” Martin stated proudly, reveling in the delight on his young granddaughter’s face upon discovering him.

    “Grandpa Martin,” Ali giggled prettily, slipping her hand from Jake’s and wrapping her arms tightly about Martin’s waist. “You’re being silly again,” she told him, squealing slightly in surprise when he lifted her up into his arms easily as if she weighed no more than a feather. Her hands gripped his shoulders as she leaned forward to happily scatter kisses on his cheeks, her crown of roses slipping unnoticed from her head.

    Jake bent to retrieve the crown, guarding it close as his sisters and MJ tore past him excitedly, pulling Cristian and Joshua along with them. He sighed disappointedly when Sheridan and Uncle Luis joined Martin and Ali seemed to forget all about him.

    Martin couldn’t help it. His eyes twinkled merrily when he noticed young Bennett’s newfound fascination with the ground at his feet, and he glanced back at his granddaughter now safely ensconced in the arms of her adoring father. Young love was something to behold, he thought to himself, forcing the amused smile from his lips when he looked again at the disgruntled boy in front of him.

    “Ali dropped this,” Jake commented, offering him the crown. “Will you give it back to her?”

    Shaking his head in dissent, Martin gently pushed Jake’s outstretched hand away. “YOU give it back to her. When the time is right,” Martin added when it become apparent the idea held no appeal at all to the boy. “In the meantime, keep it safe.”

    “If you say so, Mr. Fitzgerald,” Jake muttered. “I’m going to get out of this stupid monkey suit.”

    Martin only chuckled. One smile. One smile from their sweet Ali was all it would take to restore the charming twinkle to young Bennett’s brown eyes and the spring to his step—so enchanted was he.

    Jake was Ali’s Jake.

    Ali was Jake’s Ali.

    Martin liked to believe it was foretold.


    “Did I tell you they’d look adorable or what?” Theresa bubbled, giving Chad’s hand an excited squeeze. “Oh, Chad, it’s going better than I even expected. Look at all these people,” she gestured broadly at the brimming shop, her eyes dancing with the sheer thrill of it all. “Over the Rainbow’s a success. A huge success!” she squealed happily, cutting off his oxygen supply with her fierce hug.

    With much difficulty Chad loosened her arms from his neck, his answering laughter sounding more like croaking. “T-girl, you won’t have anybody to walk down the aisle to if you do that again. Damn, that’s some grip you got,” he said, wincing slightly when she threw her arms back around his neck, only slightly less tightly. Surrendering, he wrapped his arms around her tiny waist, grinning when he realized she’d never actually stopped talking.

    “…and I owe everything to you, Chad,” Theresa said, finally pausing to take a deep, replenishing breath. “That’s why I’m going to help you discover just the person to make Blue Note Records a household name. Someone with charisma, savvy, and talent to spare. Let’s not forget fashion sense,” she added seriously. “The way a person dresses says so much about them…”

    “And if the person has no fashion sense whatsoever, well, they’re totally wrong for the job, right Theresa?” Whitney said teasingly, the smile on her face stretching wide at the astonished expression on Theresa’s face when she whirled around to face her.

    “Whit!” Theresa exclaimed, “I thought you couldn’t make it.”

    Whitney returned Theresa’s hug tenfold then pulled back, shaking her head. “I told you I’d do my best, didn’t I? Besides, I missed you, Mom, Dad, Simone, everybody,” she said, giving Chad a sincere smile. “No matter where I go, Harmony’s home.”

    “And it always will be,” Theresa agreed, linking arms with Whitney and dragging her off to parts unknown. “You know, Whit. I’ve been thinking…”

    Chad crossed his arms across his chest and watched them leave with a smirk on his lips as he caught the end of Theresa’s ‘thought.’

    “…it’s past time you moved back to Harmony.”


    “Is she going to be alright, Mr. Shane?” Lissy asked solemnly, chocolate eyes large and welling with undisguised concern.

    A wry smile flirted on Abby’s lips, and her hazel eyes were bright as she looked up at her older brother. Always her protector, Shane was. But even he had his limits—as she remembered all too well. “Don’t worry, Lissy. I’ll live to make the same mistakes again tomorrow. I just never learn,” Abby’s laugh was sharp and strangled on a half-sob as she snatched at her brother’s large open hands. She’d tell him to muzzle his bitch later. Right now she just needed to draw calm and comfort from his touch.

    Shane half-turned to Lissy, his voice warm and reassuring. “She’ll be fine. I’ll take care of her,” he promised, pulling a handful of Kleenex from the box resting behind Abby. “Tell your daddy we’ll meet him in front of the carousel in 15, 20 minutes tops. Can you do that for me?”

    Lissy nodded her tawny head, backing slowly toward the bathroom exit.

    Shane crossed the small space to twist the lock into place as soon as the little girl was gone, his brow etched with worry as he watched a single tear trail down his little sister’s cheek. “Okay, Runt,” he sighed, moving to stand in front of Abby. “There’s more going on here than your little feud with Ivy. Which came out of nowhere, I might add,” Shane felt the need to interject. Lifting his hand, he gently dabbed all evidence of the tear away with the soft Kleenex, dismayed to discover that the action actually seemed to trigger more tears. He tossed the wadded tissue toward the trash receptacle in the bathroom’s corner, pulling his baby sister into a fierce bear hug. “Tell me what’s wrong so I can fix it, Baby Girl,” he murmured into her silky crown of hair as she cried against his shoulder.

    Smiling through her tears, Abby’s focused her attention on the straightening the collar of her brother’s shirt, refusing to meet his searching gaze. “The sentiment’s always been nice, but we both know the messes I get myself into usually don’t have solutions so easy. Once a screw-up, always a screw-up, right?” Abby tried to laugh the comment off. “I always have to fall for that unattainable guy, don’t I? The one I just can’t have. Hey, at least this time I’m not married. Then again, it’s not always a good thing in some social circles to bring a baby into the world without a ring on your finger. It’s supposed to be a modern world, but you never know.”

    “Abby,” Shane whispered, grasping her chin and forcing her to meet his eyes. They weren’t shocked or accusing. Just filled with brotherly concern. “You haven’t told him, have you?”

    “And get the obligatory marriage proposal?” Abby snapped, immediately softening the tone of her voice when she continued. “It’s like a knee-jerk reaction with nice guys, and Nick’s a nice guy even if he doesn’t love me. As scary as it sounds, I’m better off having this baby by myself. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to tell him because I am. I will. Whenever I can force the words out. Probably at the worst possible moment because we both know my timing sucks royally,” she muttered, holding onto his shoulders for support as she jumped down from the bathroom counter. “He’ll be a wonderful father,” she said, wiping the remains of her tears away with the back of her hand.

    “I’ll make an even more wonderful uncle,” Shane teased, bringing a much-needed smile to her lips as he slipped an arm around her waist, steadying her when her step faltered momentarily, and her hazel eyes shimmered briefly with tears again as she looked into his understanding eyes. She visibly swallowed past the lump in her throat, tucking herself more firmly against his side as he led her back outside into the teeming crowd, her answer no more than a whisper.

    “That goes without saying.”

    “A kissing booth?” Luis scoffed. “Of all Theresa’s bright ideas. I can’t believe Gwen’s going along with it,” he said, unable to hide his grin at Hank’s obvious discomfort with the idea. “I’m a little worried, Buddy. Are you two having any problems you haven’t told me about?”

    “Ha, ha. Funny, Luis,” Hank muttered sarcastically. His Jake-like scowl said it all. He wasn’t thrilled with the prospect at all, and Luis was only making it worse. “It’s for charity. Right, Chad?”

    Chad sidled up beside Hank, sporting a similar look on his face. “Yeah. Charity.”

    Luis laughed openly at their ‘pain,’ insinuating himself in between them. One hand gripped Hank’s shoulder firmly, and the other rest at the base of Chad’s neck. He smiled at Gwen and Theresa when they glanced back in his direction, his smile growing wider when both women smiled back. “They look awfully excited about fulfilling their charitable duties.”

    “I always knew the old smartass Luis lurked inside that body somewhere,” Hank rolled his eyes. “Mr. Perfect,” he muttered under his breath, shrugging Luis’s hand off of his shoulder. “Ha. Ha.”

    “Have a little more sympathy, Man,” Chad said in a near-whine. “Theresa’s your kid sister,” he reminded.

    “Who’s all grown up,” Luis replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “Now if that were Sheridan up there it’d be different.”

    “Different how?” Sheridan sauntered up to them, a smirk playing on her lips.

    Chad felt a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth when he saw the mischievous twinkle in her blue eyes, one that virtually dared Luis to make an ass out of himself.

    “Fess up, Buddy,” Hank grinned evilly, this time slapping his hand on Luis’s shoulder. “You’re not so different from the rest of us, after all. You’d be green with jealousy, festering inside at the thought of another man kissing your beautiful wife,” he said, putting special emphasis on the part concerning ‘another man.’

    “That’s where you’re wrong, Buddy,” Luis said cheekily, the perfect answer to his wife’s question suddenly on the tip of his tongue. “I wouldn’t have a problem with Sheridan kissing another man because I know I’m the only man who has her heart. She’d be thinking of me the whole time.”

    “Good answer,” Sheridan said, sliding her hands up his chest to the open vee of his shirt and smiling into his dark eyes just moments before she bestowed a kiss on his lips that left him breathless and giving Hank and Chad his best ‘take that’ smirk and arched dark brow. “Not every woman has a husband so understanding.”
    “Understanding?” Hank snorted, watching the disbelief war with jealousy and embarrassment for most dominant expression on Luis’s face as realization slowly dawned that Sheridan had played him and played him big time, joining Theresa and Gwen just seconds after leaving him in a puddle of speechless, spineless goo. “That’s the biggest crock of bull$#*! I’ve heard all day.”


    “Luis pulled out $100, yanked Sheridan out of that booth, and two hours later, they’re still playing kissy-face,” Hank informed Abby with an over-the-top roll of his brown eyes. “It’s a permanent honeymoon. I predict,” he told her with a sly wiggle of his brows, “that Crane-Lo-Fitz joint endeavor numero cuatro will be well on the way before Hope’s potty-trained.”

    Abby’s hazel eyes drifted to the pair, tucked away in a relatively quiet little alcove, lost in each other. Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, she held in the envious sigh that wanted to escape her lips and arched a tawny brow at her companion. One kiss fractured the fairy tale she hadn’t realized she’d wanted, but it hadn’t seemed to have much of an impact on Sheridan’s and Luis’s life together. Luis’s non-reaction didn’t really make sense to her, and she had to wonder…but wondering never did do her much good. She shook the thought from her head and turned to Hank with a smirk on her lips as another, much more amusing thought took its place. “How much did you cough up for Gwen? I’m assuming your offer wasn’t attractive enough considering you’re over here with me, and she’s spending quality time with the Chief,” Abby teased, giving Gwen and Sam a quick wave.

    “Where’s the respect? Us stay-at-home dads aren’t exactly hauling in the big bucks. Jeez, Tink. You slay me,” Hank pretended to be offended, melodramatically clutching his chest with his hand. He grinned at her and started to explain himself, “The Little Buddy swiped my last $20 to buy something for his girl. I ask you, who am I to stand in the way of true love? I’m really a romantic at heart. If the wife can’t see that…”

    “The world needs more true romantics like you,” Abby muttered sarcastically, elbowing him soundly in the ribs when he gave her tawny head a playful tousle that would have made any annoying big brother proud, including Shane. “Congratulations, Hank. It took a supreme effort to really give a damn what I looked like today, and you just shot all my hard work to hell.”

    Hank tossed an arm over her bare shoulders and tugged her close, studying her tired profile intently for a few minutes before he responded. “So you’re using Wedgie Boy to stick it to Taylor.”

    “Wedgie Boy? I don’t even want to know,” Abby sighed, covering her face with weary hands. Pinching the bridge of her nose, she looked at Hank out of the corner of her eyes. “You don’t have to sound so pleased.”

    “Taylor’s a jackass. He deserves to suffer,” Hank retorted with a simple shrug of his shoulders. “You, on the other hand…” he trailed off. “Something’s up. You’re not yourself. See these worry lines?” Hank pointed to his forehead. “I was admiring myself in the mirror the other day, and I noticed them. Now, I’m not going to lie and claim that the Little Buddy and Sar have been perfect little angels lately, but the last few months have been relatively quiet. They didn’t put these lines here. You did, Tink, and if you don’t fess up to what’s been bothering you, I’m holding you partly responsible for the ulcer the kids have already helped begin, not to mention making me a little gray before my time. I can’t go gray before Sammy. Not when being the little brother finally has its perks. Just so you know what you’re dealing with,” Hank told her in his most serious voice. “Talk to me. I’m a sensitive male.”

    Laughing in disbelief, Abby reached up to give Hank’s hair an answering sisterly tousle and pressed her lips to his cheek before resting her tawny head tiredly on his shoulder. “Romantic and sensitive with hair a girl can run her fingers through. Are you sure there’s not something you want to tell ME, Hank?”


    “Are we 100% positive those two weren’t separated at birth?” Gwen commented dryly, reaching down to wipe at a droplet of apple juice clinging to Kendall’s chin with her thumb.

    Juggling the drowsy toddler in his arms carefully, Sam stood up to join Gwen, and he finally answered her with a wink and a smile. “Anything’s possible in Harmony.”

    Gwen’s brown eyes twinkled back at him warmly as she took the sippy cup that dangled precariously from Kendall’s tiny hand, combing her fingers through the boy’s sandy hair. Green eyes fluttered at the touch, and in that instant, Kendall didn’t just resemble Katie. He vaguely reminded Gwen of someone else…someone she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She shook her head laughingly. “He’s almost gone.”

    Sam nodded. “It’s been a long day. I’m going to see if Grace still wants to take Joshua and this one and call it a day. If you see Katie and Noah…”

    “Of course,” Gwen agreed. “Should we look for you at morning Mass?”

    “We’ll be there,” Sam promised.

    Gwen watched them go, her mind still puzzling over the brief moment of recognition. Glancing at her watch, she decided to perform her good Samaritan act of the day and go rescue Martin and Pilar from her lovely children. With half the day gone, it was the least she could do.


    “Mr. Fitz?” Emmy piped up between slurps to the towering—and melting—strawberry ice cream cone grasped between her small hands.

    Martin smothered a chuckle at both the valiant attempt she was making to conquer the ice cream cone and the expression on her face. “Yes, young lady?” he answered her with a smile.

    “Is Jake Ali’s boyfriend?” Emmy asked curiously.

    “Yuck!” Sara exclaimed as she and MJ joined them. Munching on the popcorn she and MJ shared, she looked at her sister as if she’d grown two extra heads.

    “But he does like her, doesn’t he, Mr. Fitz?” Emmy prodded. “And they’re going to get married when they grow up, and Ali’s going to look just like a princess. Right, Mr. Fitz? Jake’s going to be handsomer than Daddy.”

    “Don’t listen to her,” Sara warned Martin, her brown eyes flashing in annoyance as Emily spun her fairy tales. “Sometimes she’s loonier than Grandma.”

    Eyes twinkling merrily, Martin could only smile wider. “MJ, you’re being unusually quiet. What’s your opinion on the matter?”

    MJ just sighed, cramming more popcorn into his mouth to quell the irresistible urge to comment and risk having one cousin in tears and the other fighting mad at him. From his standpoint, it was a no-win situation so he wisely kept his mouth shut or otherwise occupied. He’d learned a valuable life lesson early on: sometimes just opening his mouth in the company of girls could get a guy like him in trouble.


    “I have to give credit where credit is due, Pilar,” Ivy murmured appreciatively as she held up an adorable pink jumper fashioned of the softest fabric imaginable for further inspection, “Theresa’s really done well for herself. Hold on to this for me. Hope will look positively scrumptious in it, don’t you think?”

    “Yes, Ivy, but…” Pilar grabbed at the jumper before it fell from the heaps of baby clothes already in her arms.

    “And this dress,” Ivy cooed. “Oh, Pilar, this dress will make her look like a little doll. She’s blessed with such a beautiful complexion. She’ll be able to wear anything and look good in it.”

    Pilar was momentarily blinded by the new addition, wincing as she stumbled into a display of baby tees of the palest hues and nearly toppled it over. “Mrs. Crane!” she finally exclaimed in frustration. “I am no longer your maid!”

    Ivy, along with seemingly everyone in the boutique, went quiet. After staring at Pilar with her mouth hanging open in dumbfound silence for several seconds, Ivy was finally spurred into action—as were the rest of the boutique’s patrons. “Of course not, Pilar. Let me help with some of those,” she blustered, taking a good portion of the baby clothes into her own arms. “I apologize. I just got a little…” Ivy’s smile was a tiny bit embarrassed, “teensy tiny bit carried away.”

    “Already you spoil her,” Pilar shook her head disapprovingly. “One little baby cannot possibly wear as many clothes as my granddaughter already has waiting for her at home in her own bedroom closet. Buy her something more practical.”

    “You’re absolutely right, Pilar,” Ivy beamed as she was hit with the makings of a brilliant idea. “’Shoes! I saw the most adorable little sandals over here…”

    Sighing resignedly, Pilar followed her. Ivy was an unstoppable force of nature if allowed free reign when shopping. SOMEBODY had to be the voice of reason.


    Jake stuffed the coil of colorful satin ribbons into his pocket, his earlier feelings of pride over his gift for Ali replaced with a mixture of disappointment and embarrassment. Sure, Ali HAD always worn pretty ribbons in her pale blond hair for as long as he could remember. But that was before she got sick. Before she…His gift was stupid and useless, and he’d probably make her cry if he gave it to her. He scowled at no one in particular as he trudged through the aisles dejectedly. He never used to be so dumb BEFORE he liked her. Jake wondered if liking a girl did this to all guys. He was so deep in this particular train of thought that he wasn’t alerted to the presence of the tawny-haired girl in front of him until she startled him by giggling.

    “Hi, Jake,” Lissy smiled brightly, clasping her hands loosely in front of her. “You looked kind of scared there for a minute. Did I scare you?”

    Heck, yea…”No,” Jake blurted, feeling his cheeks start to burn when he glanced around and realized he was standing in front of the girls’ dressing room. “Where’s Ali? Have you seen her?”

    Lissy giggled some more before answering him. In a roundabout way. “Ali!” she called over her shoulder.

    Jake blinked when Ali suddenly appeared in front of him wearing an exact replica of the baby-blue spaghetti-strapped tank top and white capris that Lissy proudly sported.

    “Hi, Jake,” Ali greeted sweetly, gazing at him expectantly.

    “Uh…um,” Jake stammered uncomfortably as he admired the way Ali’s big blue eyes seemed even bluer and brighter. “I um…nevermind,” he mumbled, deciding NOW would be a good time to make his exit and hide under the nearest rock. “I’ll just, I’ll see you later. Bye,” he waved, unable to meet her eyes again without blushing. “Bye, Lissy,” he forced out before bolting away, the sounds of Lissy’s and Ali’s girlish laughter following him, mocking him, the entire time. Girls definitely made guys stupid. He couldn’t be the only one.


    “This is it,” Theresa motioned to their surroundings with infectious enthusiasm, “the home of Blue Note Records. Small but state of the art.”

    “And conveniently next door to ‘Over the Rainbow’,” Whitney teased, causing Katie and Simone to laugh and the guys to smile.

    “Looks like you’re off to a pretty good start,” Ethan remarked admiringly.

    “It’s a work in progress, Man,” Chad accepted his praise. “Things are going to be a little slow at first.”

    “Don’t listen to him, Ethan,” Theresa interjected, slipping her arm around Chad’s waist. “By the end of the night, Blue Note Records’ first superstar will be born.”

    “When Theresa dreams, she dreams big,” Miguel commented.

    Katie laughed softly, and Whitney, Simone, and Noah shared a knowing look.

    “There’s nothing wrong with having your cake and eating it too,” Theresa defended herself, slipping her other arm around Chad’s waist and hugging him tight.

    “Nothing wrong with it far as I can see,” Chad agreed.

    Mock groans resounded interspersed with playful teasing about the soon-to-be newlyweds and their ‘disgusting’ happiness.

    And the ache of Kay’s absence settled heavily in Miguel’s gut.


    Twilight had fallen, and the doors of Over the Rainbow had closed as dozens of acts took the stage and music filled the streets of Harmony.

    Off to the side of the stage, Theresa watched Chad’s face as he listened to performer after performer. They ranged from good to bad and in between, but she could tell none had captivated him yet. Maybe she’d spoken too soon. She hoped she hadn’t. Resting her chin on Chad’s shoulder, she whispered into his ear. “At least everyone’s having a good time.”

    Chad smiled in agreement as he realized just how right she was.


    “Are you going to tell me where you and Theresa disappeared to?” Luis quizzed the woman in his arms with a somewhat worried expression. “Theresa had that twinkle in her eyes. The dangerous one,” Luis elaborated. “Come to think of it,” he mused, gazing into her smiling blue orbs, “you’re twinkling too. All right. What are you two up to?”

    “I’m twinkling, Luis?” Sheridan smirked, casually running her fingers through the dark hair at the nape of his neck as they swayed gently to the music. “How do you define ‘twinkling’?” she teased, smiling into his exasperated kiss.

    Luis chuckled. “Is this ‘Tease Luis Day’ or something?”

    “Maybe,” Sheridan gave him a soft smile. She pressed a lingering kiss to the corner of his mouth, resting her hand upon his strong shoulder as she looked into his eyes. “I’m happy, Luis. Thank you.”

    Equally surprised and touched by her unexpected proclamation, Luis simply raised a hand to her cheek. He opened his mouth to respond, but a small hand tugging at his shirt interrupted anything he could have said.

    “Daddy?” Cristian looked up at him pointedly. “Daddy, I want to steal Mommy.”

    Biting back a smile, Luis turned to Sheridan. “What do you say, Mommy? Are you going to do it? Are you going to let him steal you away from me?”

    “I’ll give her back,” Cristian promised solemnly.

    “He’ll give me back,” Sheridan told Luis with blue eyes that positively danced with humor. “It’s just for one dance. Then you can steal me back.”

    “One dance,” Luis playfully warned his little son. Then he stepped back, letting Cristian claim their girl.


    “Looks like there’s another Lopez-Fitzgerald Casanova in the making,” Hank commented with a chuckle.

    For all his fierce determination, Cristian was obviously a novice in the art of sweeping a girl, in this case his much beloved mommy, off of her feet with a whirl around the dance floor. Gwen just had to laugh. “I bet Sheridan’s toes haven’t been this sore since, oh, that ill-fated date she suffered through with the police chief’s black sheep brother years and years ago. What ever happened to that guy?”

    “Local legend has it that he conned a jilted Harmony socialite into marrying him so he could live off of her money for the rest of his life,” Hank lowered his voice to a gossipy tone.

    “I heard there were children involved,” Gwen carried on the charade, smiling thoughtfully as she scooted closer to him on the picnic bench. “And one day they just woke up and realized they were having this crazy love affair.”

    “Love HAS to be involved to put up with her mother,” Hank continued with a barely-there smirk. “I’ve heard she’s a real pill.”

    “True,” Gwen agreed. “Learning to accept her mother was an amazing feat within itself,” she acknowledged, dropping all pretenses as her golden brown eyes took in his proud grin. “But you did it, and here we are.”

    “Becs and I have an understanding,” Hank shrugged, sliding his arm around her shoulders and pulling her closer so they were shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh. “I’ve been thinking, Babe. Sar and Emmy are starting school in the fall, and there won’t be much for me to do around the house except look at Gus’s ugly mug all day…I was thinking…maybe I could, I don’t know, become some sort of entrepreneur or something.”

    “Entrepreneur?” Gwen laughed, giving him a questioning look.

    “Yeah,” Hank grinned. “I figured I had a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting hired on somewhere so I’ll just create my own job. I figure it can’t be that hard. Then you can live off of MY money.”

    “Are you telling me being a househusband’s not glamorous enough for you?” Gwen teased lightly.

    “I prefer to think of myself as a professional dad,” Hank told her matter-of-factly.


    “Do you dance as well as your nephew?” Katie’s green eyes sparkled in the darkness as she smiled down at Miguel, sitting Indian style on a patchwork quilt and keeping watchful eye on MJ and his cousins.

    At the mention of Cristian, Miguel looked up to her with a half-smile on his face. “Even better,” he replied, pleased with the way her smile seemed to grow before his eyes.

    “Mind if I…” Katie trailed off, indicating the vacant space beside him.

    Miguel voiced no complaint, and when she had settled beside him, delicate hands clasping her knees, he resisted the temptation to stare at her in wonder for seeking out his company in his current state of melancholy. Instead he blurted a question that seemed to startle her. “Where’s Noah?”

    “Remembering old times with Whitney, Theresa, and Simone,” Katie responded softly. “I don’t think they’ve missed me yet,” she told him with a small laugh. “I know it’s silly, but I felt…kind of like I didn’t belong or something. You know? And you looked a little,” Katie paused, seemingly thinking better of what she’d been about to say and continued only when he met her green eyes again, “you looked like you’d appreciate the company of another adult. Those three wearing you out yet?”

    “They’re wearing THEMSELVES out,” Miguel grinned, nodding at Emily rubbing at her eyes sleepily with her small fists. The frantic pace of MJ’s and Sara’s game of tag had even slowed to something more like a tired stagger as they weaved in and out of the shadows. “They’re dead on their feet. They’ll probably sleep through the fireworks.”

    “Fireworks? I’m impressed,” Katie said appreciatively. “Is there anything your sister doesn’t think of?”

    Theresa and her dreams, Miguel mused. He used to think she didn’t think past happily ever after, but he wasn’t so sure that was true anymore. Dreamers, though, weren’t always practical, and he turned to face Katie with a smirk on his lips. “Who’s going to clean up this mess after the party’s over.”

    “My favorite brother and all my wonderful friends,” Theresa announced, giggling as she threw her arms around Miguel’s neck and hugged him happily. “It’s just a few fireworks. Nothing big or splashy like the 4th of July.”

    Recovered from the momentary shock of his sister’s appearance, Miguel rolled his eyes. “I’m your brother. Not free labor.”

    “Miguel, you know you love me,” Theresa giggled into his ear. “And you love your niece even more,” she singsonged, using emotional blackmail on him. “This is really more for Ali than it is for me, and…”

    “Okay, okay,” Miguel relented finally. “Sisters fight dirty,” he told Katie.

    “Brothers are just powerless to fight our charms,” Theresa added her two cents, winking at the amused blond “Noah’s looking for you, Katie. He got a call from the station,” she said with a note of apology in her voice as Katie climbed to her feet, green eyes searching for her fiancé.

    “I see him. Thanks, Theresa. Miguel,” Katie waved with a smile. “Bye.”

    “Bye,” Theresa sang, wrapping up Miguel’s right arm in both of hers and watching him watch Katie leave. She demanded his attention with a quick squeeze to his arm, forcing him to meet her eyes albeit reluctantly.

    “I know that look,” Miguel emitted a faint groan.

    “What look?” Theresa played the innocent. “You and Luis are paranoid,” she huffed indignantly, skating her nails across the back of his palm before turning it over and sliding her fingers through his. “It’s got to be exhausting to always be so suspicious.”

    “Being your brother is exhausting,” Miguel retorted jokingly. “What else could you possibly have planned for tonight?” he asked, his curiosity finally getting the best of him.

    “It’s a surprise,” Theresa countered coyly, giving him a quick kiss to the cheek and standing up. “Meet me upstairs in 15 minutes,” she instructed him, quickly disappearing from sight but still audible. “And bring MJ!”

    Miguel just shook his head. His sister…


    Whitney watched with envy as Noah and Katie exchanged goodbyes as only a young couple very much in love could. “They’re so sweet,” she sighed.

    “Yeah. Doesn’t it make you sick?” Simone laughed, tucking her arm through Whitney’s arm as they ambled along the sidewalk. “It sucks to suck so badly at love.”

    “Simone, Honey, you just haven’t found him yet,” Whitney spoke with gentle hopefulness. “You’re smart, funny, and beautiful—inside and out. When you find him, he’s going to fall head over heels in love with you. I know it.”

    “What about you, Whitney?” Simone asked, deflecting the attention away her own pitiful lack of a love life. “You’re all those things that I’m not. I’m sure you’d have a date lined up for every day of the week if you’d give some lucky guy the time of day.” Simone fell silent when she saw that Whitney was visibly embarrassed by the turn their shared commiseration had taken. “I’m sorry. We’ll talk about something else.”

    “Thank you,” Whitney murmured appreciatively.

    “Do you know what this surprise of Theresa’s is?” Simone wondered out loud. “Luis and Chad have been going crazy trying to figure out what she’s up to, and Sheridan’s been no help, refusing to say a word.”

    Whitney just smiled. “You can never tell with Theresa.” Her brows drew together in concern when she saw Nick standing several feet away with another man, looking stone-jawed and slightly angry. “Isn’t that Abby’s brother with Dr.Taylor?”

    “They look like they’re arguing,” Simone frowned. “I wonder what they’re arguing about.”

    “Not what,” Abby pushed by them, effectively abandoning her ‘date’ and his young daughter. Her mouth was set in a hard, unforgiving line. “Who. I’m going to kill him.”

    Whitney crossed her arms primly, averting her eyes from the inevitable scene before them, but Christopher and Lissy were having no such luck.

    “I’m sure she’s not going to literally KILL him,” Simone smiled weakly, not knowing which ‘him’ she was talking about. “So,” she exclaimed loudly. “Everybody having a good time?”


    “What is this, Nick? What do you hope to accomplish by pissing me off?” Abby lambasted Nick as soon as Shane reluctantly left them alone.

    “Knowing I care enough to listen when your brother approaches me out of concern for you pisses you off?” Nick snapped. “Dammit, Lady. I don’t understand you. You want me to love you, but you don’t want me to care?!”

    “Shane had no right to be talking to you about me. I’m none of your business anymore. You agreed to let me go, remember?” Abby spat, barely concealed hurt flashing in her eyes. Turning on her heels, she started walking quickly away without another glance in Nick’s direction.

    Swearing under his breath, Nick jogged after her. He was sick of letting her run away from him and what he felt for her. Catching up to her, he grasped her arm hard, pulling her into the shadows with him and pushing her back against a brick wall, effectively trapping her. “You did all the talking. I never agreed to let you go. Stop fighting me so hard, dammit,” he swore when Abby struggled against him. His heart clenched when he saw real panic in her hazel eyes, and his fingers loosened around her wrists, sliding down to capture her hands. “I’m not going to hurt you, Abby,” Nick soothed, resting his head next to hers. “Not anymore. I’m not letting you go either. If I have to do all the chasing this time, I’ll do it,” he vowed.

    Abby shivered involuntarily when his warm breath caressed her cheek, flexing her fingers against his. “Why?” she asked in a strangled whisper. He was so close, too close after the distance she’d imposed on them both, and she felt like she was dissolving in his arms as the seconds ticked by. “The challenge? The thrill of the chase? You can’t possibly want m…” Her nails dug into Nick’s palms when he closed the minuscule distance between their mouths, tugging her bottom lip between his lips and engaging her in a sweet kiss that was more a soft exchange of breath than anything else. When Nick’s hands left hers to cradle her face in his palms and his gray eyes hinted at words he couldn’t say, a little part of her heart crumbled with the realization that, in that moment, she’d willingly believe any lie he told her. That’s just how gone she was. She kissed him back, and the kiss took on a life of its own. When his hand brushed against her stomach, she shuddered, breaking away from him with a startled gasp.

    “Abby?” Nick anxiously waited for her response, breathing hard. “Nothing’s going to convince me to give up on you. Not after the way you just kissed me.”

    “I think I have something to say that will change your mind,” Abby muttered, dropping her head back against the brick wall in resignation and closing her eyes.

    “Abby, whatever you’re going to say isn’t going to make a difference in the way I feel about you,” Nick stared into her now open eyes. “Abby, I…”

    “I’m pregnant.”


    “Somebody’s coming,” Jake cried, pulling Ali with him behind the first door he saw.

    “Is it Beth?” Ali whispered over Jake’s shoulder. “Uncle Ethan? Jake, we’re not supposed to be up here. What if they’re looking for us?”

    Jake turned around, blinking rapidly when he discovered how close he and Ali were actually standing together. “You never get into trouble, do you? It’s not that bad. Really,” Jake insisted with a rascally grin. “It’s kind of fun.”

    Ali looked past him in disbelief, her blue eyes wide and worried when she heard footsteps outside and a voice she recognized. “That’s my aunt Theresa.”

    “Yeah,” Jake shrugged. “So? C’mon, Ali,” he cajoled. “The fireworks will be so much cooler from the roof. What, are you afraid of heights or something? That’s impossible. You’re the bravest girl I know. Are you coming or not?” Without waiting for an answer, he started to climb the stairs leading up to the roof. He smiled when he heard her footsteps rush after him and felt her hand clasp his hand a moment later. With great flourish, Jake pushed the door open, leading Ali out into another world just as the first fireworks were beginning to ignite in the midnight sky.

    “Oh, Jake,” Ali whispered in complete awe, releasing his hand and walking closer to the roof’s edge. “They’re beautiful. Look! Look, over there,” she cried, grabbing his hand again in her excitement and pointing as another firework exploded in the sky, bathing her pretty face in sparkling pinks, purples, and blues.

    Jake reveled in her happiness. He didn’t even complain when Ali reclaimed his hand.

    To Beth and Ethan, watching from afar, he looked quite like the cat that ate the canary.


    “Here we are,” Sheridan removed her hands from Luis’s eyes as soon as they stepped into the open studio. “You can open your eyes now.”

    Glancing around, Luis noticed many of the people he loved gathered together, looking every bit as confused as he felt. “Mama?” he turned to Pilar. “Do you have any idea what this is about?” he questioned, when he realized Sheridan was no longer standing by his side. She, and Theresa it seemed, had disappeared. For the second time that night.

    “You know as much as I do, Mijo,” Pilar answered truthfully.

    “Don’t worry, Uncle Luis,” MJ said. “Aunt Theresa promised it was a good surprise. One we’d all like.”

    Miguel shrugged, laughing at his brother’s suspicious expression and the remembrance of Theresa’s comment earlier. Luis WAS like a dog with a bone where a mystery was concerned.

    Theresa emerged from a door at the end of the room, grinning from ear to ear. “Sheridan,” she called. “You can tell them to come in now.”

    “Them? Theresa, what’s…” Luis’s voice left him at the picture before him.

    “Aren’t you going to welcome us home, Luis?” the petite brunette smiled tearfully as she cradled his crying daughter in her arms.

    “Paloma. Is it really you?”


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