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Thread: Anna Begins

  1. #9
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    Oct 2000
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    489

    Re: Anna Begins

    Finally!

    Finals are over. I have less than 2 weeks off from academic torture, and I'm going to try to make the most of it, lol.

    Here's the new chapter.

    Hope you enjoy.





    Chapter 8




    Stepping into the darkened house with a heavy sigh, Pilar let the strained smile fall from her face as she pushed the door closed on the outside world with a soft click.

    Miguel and Charity meant well but their hovering only served as another reminder to the purpose of this day: saying goodbye to Ethan and her Theresita.

    Filtering through the curtains, the beauty of the fading day mocked her, and the injustice of knowing her daughter would never again look upon such a sunset pulled a hoarse sob from Pilar’s throat. Lowering her head in her hands, she sank into a chair at the table and allowed herself to cry the tears she’d kept pent in the entire day.

    As the long minutes ticked away on the clock, the shadows shifted and the moon crept into the dusky sky.

    Wiping her tears with the lace handkerchief clenched between her hands, Pilar moved to stand and felt something hard crunch beneath the toe of her shoe. Crouching down, she gingerly trailed a fingertip over a jagged shard of glass.

    “Dios mio.”

    She winced as a droplet of blood appeared on her finger and straightened, crossing the room to the sink and discarding the offending piece of glass along the way. Her eyes drifted to the window sill as the cold water washed over her hand, and she felt her heart go still inside her chest at what she saw there.

    Two unlit candles remained, their weak flames doused; the third was conspicuously absent, a white envelope propped against the window pane in its place.

    With a shaky hand, Pilar shut the water off and reached for the envelope, her throat tight as she recognized the handwriting. Closing her eyes, she broke the envelope’s seal and withdrew the lined pages. She smiled through her tears as she read the first line.

    “I love you, Mama.”


    ~*~flashback~*~


    “Look at her, Ethan,” Theresa whispered, leaning back into her husband’s embrace. “Isn’t she the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”

    Pressing a kiss to Theresa’s temple, Ethan’s breath stirred the dark hair there as he murmured his agreement. He tightened his arms around her slender frame, holding his breath as Theresa trailed her fingers across their sleeping newborn daughter’s cheek and only releasing it when the action failed to disturb her.

    “I wish Mama could be here,” Theresa sighed sadly. “See her. Hold her.” She tested the weight of one of the stars that hung from the mobile in her palm and let her brown eyes travel the room they’d spent hours decorating as her pregnancy had neared its end. Stars, clouds, the Man in the Moon…it was a place where dreams came true; dreams had played such a large part in bringing them together, after all.

    Pressing another kiss to her hair, Ethan settled his hands on her hips. He guided her to the rocking chair that occupied the place of honor, in front of a tall window that overlooked a sea reminiscent of home. Sitting in the chair, he pulled her into his lap, tucking a hand beneath her knees and set the chair into creaking motion. “One day,” he promised her. “She’ll hold her and fall in love with her just like we did that very first moment. But until then we’ll send her pictures. You can even send her the one of me changing my first diaper if you like.”

    Theresa giggled and pressed a kiss to his grinning mouth. “At first I thought you were completely hopeless. You’re only partly hopeless now,” she teased, combing her fingers through his dark blond hair.

    “Hey,” Ethan pretended to be offended. “Changing diapers wasn’t included in the Crane family handbook. We had nannies.”

    “You miss being one of them,” Theresa said quietly. It wasn’t a question. It was a revelation she’d gradually come to accept in the years since their leaving.

    “I was never *really* one of them,” Ethan answered. His eyes fluttered shut at the gentle touch of her hand on his face, and he covered her smaller hand with his own.

    Remembering the look in Julian’s eyes that night that seemed so long ago now, Theresa begged to differ. “They loved you, Ethan—each of them in their own ways. You *were* one of them.” She placed a finger to his lips when he tried to speak, if only to convince himself. “You’re always telling me it’s okay to miss my family.” Winding her arms around his neck, she pressed a kiss to his cheek and made no mention of the curious dampness she found there. “It’s okay to miss yours, too.”

    “I have my family right here,” Ethan whispered, tightening his arms around her.

    They stayed in that rocking chair until the moon climbed high in the midnight sky. Then—kissing their sleeping baby girl—they retired to their own small bedroom down the hall.

    They dreamed of home.


    ~*~end of flashback~*~



    “Hey, Ladybug,” Sam bent to kiss the top of Hope’s red head.

    Barefoot and pajama clad, Hope knelt in front of the coffee table, happily scribbling away with a yellow crayon. “Like my picture, Daddy?”

    Ruffling Hope’s hair with his big hand, Sam pressed another kiss to her temple, peering over her small shoulder and narrowing his blue eyes before pasting an appreciative smile on his face. “Mmm hmm.” Dropping onto the sofa beside Kay with a tired sigh, he scrubbed a hand over his face before meeting the concerned eyes of his eldest daughter.

    “That’s Sadie,” Kay told him, hugging the pillow in her arms more firmly to her chest and curling her legs beneath her.

    “Sadie? I don’t think I’ve met this Sadie,” Sam mused. “Tell me about him,” he deliberately misspoke.

    “Her, Daddy,” Hope dropped the yellow crayon in disbelief. “Sadie’s a girl.” She tucked a stubborn lock of red hair behind her ear and turned back around, but not before Sam caught a glimpse of her rolling her blue eyes at him. Choosing a red crayon that was but a nub from the pile she had gathered before her, she painstakingly set out to recreate the letters Kay had drawn out for her earlier on her own sheet of paper.

    Sam’s smile this time was more genuine as he teased her. “Looks good, but what are we going to do about Shrek? I thought he had the place of honor on the fridge.”

    Kay bit back a smile at the reference to the hapless amphibian Hope had previously been infatuated with and labeled hers. She still remembered the evening she’d taken the trash out only to discover the neighbor’s cat enjoying quite a feast. Though there had never been any definitive proof that it had been Hope’s beloved Shrek, they’d felt the need to protect the little girl anyway. As far as Hope was concerned, their Shrek had met his very own Fiona.

    “Dogs are cooler than frogs,” Hope shrugged. “Shrek wouldn’t mind.”

    “I’m sure he wouldn’t,” Sam chuckled.

    “Daddy?” Abandoning her artwork, Hope turned to him, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth and scrunching her nose up as she placed her small hands on his knees and scrambled into his lap.

    “Hope,” Sam dropped his voice an octave as she looped her short arms around his neck and nestled her head on his shoulder. He knew exactly what was coming.

    Tracing her fingertips around the open collar of Sam’s shirt, Hope continued to chew on her bottom lip for several seconds then looked up at her father with large luminous eyes. “Can I have a puppy, Daddy?”

    “We’ve had this conversation before,” Sam sighed, sliding an arm beneath her knees and cradling her to his chest much the way he had when she was a baby, not much smaller than he imagined Anna to be now.

    “Many times before,” Kay said, tugging playfully at one of Hope’s toes as she scooted closer, her shoulder brushing against her father’s shoulder.

    “And many, many times before that,” Sam shared a meaningful look with his eldest daughter.

    “And did I ever get a puppy?” Kay retorted, dark brow arched in challenge. “Face it, Hope-less,” she tickled the soles of her kid sister’s feet, making her squeal and squirm in their father’s arms. “A puppy in the Bennett house? No way.”

    “But she could sleep in my bed,” Hope pouted.

    “YOU sleep in *my* bed,” Kay scoffed.

    “Not tonight,” Hope stuck her tongue out. “I’m sleeping with Jessica.”

    “Boo hoo.” Kay pretended to wipe away a tear.

    “Girls,” Sam spoke warningly. The corners of his mouth twitched.

    “Please, Daddy,” Hope poured on the melodrama, clasping her hands in a prayerful pose and batting her blue eyes at him.

    The significance of the day and the memory of another pair of less familiar blue eyes stalled the tried and true answer in Sam’s throat, and his stalwart resistance to the idea melted, just a little bit. “Maybe,” he said. “Maybe when you’re older.”

    “One day older?” Hope’s smile was buoyant and blindingly bright.

    “Older than that,” Sam chuckled, sliding her from his lap when Jessica appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, Grace’s slender form visible behind her putting away the multitude of dishes they’d collected throughout the day as somber well-wishers had dropped in to voice their condolences. Giving Hope a gentle push in Kay’s direction, he stood up. Winking at Kay, he told Hope, “Keep your sister out of trouble. I’m going to help your mother.”

    “Yes, sir,” Hope saluted him with a giggle, clambering onto the sofa beside Kay and practically gluing herself to her side.

    Shaking her head, Kay crossed her arms, marveling at her already considerable skill in the art of parental manipulation. “You little con artist.”

    “Huh?” Hope’s face crinkled in confusion, making it appear as if it had even more freckles. “Hey!” she cried when Kay tousled her hair, and Jessica made her approach from the kitchen. “Jessica, guess what?” she practically bounced in place, raking her red hair back from her face impatiently.

    Jessica smiled, unable to hazard a guess before Hope plowed on.

    “Daddy’s getting us a puppy!”



    ~*~


    Luis lifted his hand to knock at the cottage door, the white gauze and tape stark against his tanned skin. He bit back a wince as his tender knuckles rapped against the wood, peering through the window and pulling back abruptly when he saw Hank emerge from the depths of Sheridan’s home. A black scowl was firmly in place on his countenance when Hank answered the door, having the gall to sound annoyed.

    “If you’re here to take another shot at her…”

    “Where is she, Hank?” Luis shouldered his way inside, ignoring the implications of Hank’s trailing words.

    Hank’s brown eyes skirted the periphery of the cottage, and a smart-assed smirk was on his lips as he ambled by Luis on his way to the sofa. “Not here.”

    “I can see that,” Luis bit out impatiently. “Listen, Hank, I need to talk to her.”

    “You mean yell at her some more?” Hank’s look turned dark and just as dangerous as the look Luis currently wore. “Not going to happen.” He settled himself on the sofa, throwing his arms possessively across its back. “Look, Man. If you want to be miserable, fine. Be miserable. Don’t go taking it out on everyone else.”

    Luis glowered at Hank, stalking around the cottage’s living room like a caged tiger.

    “And another thing,” Hank leaned forward, his pose a little more casual but still tension-filled, “Sheridan didn’t come up with those guidelines. If you ask me, those guidelines have your sister written all over them.”

    Luis bristled at Hank’s defense of Sheridan and all-too-true estimation of the situation, staying silent. Theresa’s part in this whole mess simultaneously filled him with reluctant affection and unrelenting exasperation. Life wasn’t a damn fairy tale; in the end, the pre-maturity of her death had spoken to that. If she were here, he’d shake some sense into her. But Hank knew that, and she wasn’t.

    “I know you, Man.” Hank’s voice was closer this time. “I know you came here thinking you’d make her see the light.” When Luis didn’t so much as flinch at the accusation, he continued, “You’re stubborn that way. It’s the way you work. But you’re forgetting something. Sheridan is just as damn stubborn, if not more so, and she’s not going to give up that baby without a fight.”

    Rounding on Hank, Luis snapped, “She’s not hers to give up.”

    Hank forged ahead, ears deaf to his friend’s claims. “She’ll fight tooth and nail. You know why? Look around, Luis,” Hank swept his arm out in an arching motion. “She loved Ethan and that baby. Just as deeply as if they were her blood.”

    For the first time, Luis noticed the pictures. Everywhere his eyes landed were pictures. The pictures he memorized in private, Sheridan displayed for all the world to see. She loved Anna freely, openly, wide open; he kept his love a tightly held, cherished secret in his heart. Guilt made the line of his shoulders soften.

    Loving Anna shouldn’t be that way; she deserved more.

    Reaching around Luis, Hank plucked a silver frame from the mantelpiece and offered it to Luis.

    Luis’s big hands closed around the frame instinctively, and he felt a lump begin to grow in his throat as he studied the picture.

    “This is one of her favorites,” Hank told him in an emotion-filled whisper.

    Anna, just a few months old, with her tuft of dark curls and blue eyes two sizes too large for her face, rest against Theresa, her head beneath her mother’s chin. Theresa, dark hair disheveled and tousled by an unseen breeze, had her mouth open in joyful laughter while Ethan bent his head over Anna’s pink feet and made her smile toothlessly, pressing kisses on every inch of skin he could reach.

    “They’re happy she said. They’re in love. They’re a family,” Hank leveled his dark eyes on Luis’s unreadable face. “They’re *her* family, Luis.” He placed a firm hand on Luis’s shoulder. “They’re her family just like they’re yours, and Anna’s all that’s left. Think about that, Luis.” He squeezed Luis’s shoulder in emphasis and left him alone, his footsteps fading in the distance to be replaced by those of another. His heart cried as she hesitantly called out his name.

    “Luis?”




















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    Thanks so much for reading!!!

    P.S. Thanks to everybody that has responded to this story so far.

    P.P.S. Let me know if there are any outlandish typos. I can deal with the itty bitty ones (well...sorta).

  2. #10
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    Oct 2000
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    Re: Anna Begins

    Chapter 9




    Groaning as Hope wedged her body more tightly against the small of her back, Kay flung an arm out, fumbling for the lamp chain and finally succeeding in dousing the bedroom in a weak yellow glow.

    Hope merely moaned in her sleep, burying her red head beneath the fuzzy purple pillow she managed to keep close no matter where she slept.

    Rolling onto her back, Kay gently pushed the yielding little body over a few inches, breathing a sigh of relief at the scant distance the maneuver afforded her.

    Even as a baby, Hope had always snuggled impossibly close, always keeping that point of contact regardless of how small, as if she were afraid that having any one of them a finger’s breadth away would allow them the opportunity to disappear.

    Kay understood that feeling; it was the same feeling she got whenever she thought of leaving Harmony and striking out on her own. Would the family she left still be there when she returned? She wondered how long her parents would continue to keep up appearances when they had only Hope in this house, a child who didn’t know the parents Kay had known growing up, parents untouched (although that had NEVER been completely true) by the actions of the past. They wore the strain of their lies like a brand, invisible only to the outside world, but they weren’t fooling anybody that didn’t want to be fooled. Sometimes she wished for the luxury of the denial Jessica seemed to be firmly and happily rooted in.

    Hope whined softly, her feet kicking out restlessly, and flopped onto her back, eventually rolling onto her side to face Kay again.

    A small, resigned sigh escaped Kay’s lips as her kid sister tossed an arm about her waist and molded her small body against her side, her breath puffing warmly against Kay’s collarbone. Shifting her eyes to the nightstand, she searched out the alarm clock, unsurprised to find that it was well after midnight and that sleep continued to elude her. Too much was on her mind. Her inability to cry for Theresa and Ethan, her dad’s revelation earlier that night of the contents of the will, the surprise meeting of Reese’s girlfriend…for reasons she couldn’t fathom herself, meeting Sara had left her more unsettled than all the other events of the day.

    Sara was pretty, nice, smart, and *blond*. She could easily pass for Charity’s cousin, more easily than Kay herself.

    Whether she was more troubled by her similarities to Charity or her very existence in Reese’s life, Kay couldn’t say, and her initial, instinctive yet irrational dislike of the girl worried her. So much so, that sleep, she’d already determined, was impossible for her tonight. Combing her fingers through Hope’s sweat-dampened tangled hair, she thought back to that afternoon, the four of them playing catch with Sadie in Reese’s front yard, and the way Sara’s blue eyes followed and seemed to study her. It had been unnerving to say the least, and when her mother had made good on her promise to call, it had been an unexpected relief.

    Hope wiggled again, whimpering in her sleep, due no doubt to a bad dream. Her forehead crinkled and the corners of her mouth turned down in a pout as she blindly sought out Kay’s hand with her own small one.

    Squeezing her hand between hers reassuringly, Kay soothed her with the low hum of her voice close to her ear and a kiss to the crown of her head. Extinguishing the lamp so that only the moon lit the room through the half-open curtains, she banished all thoughts but Hope’s comfort from her mind and lay there quietly, in the hopes that sleep would eventually claim her.


    ~*~


    Luis focused on the drip-drip of the coffee maker in the background and the feel of the kitchen countertop digging into his side, anything but Sheridan’s eyes as they flickered across his face searchingly. He knew she was looking for some clue, some indication of what he was feeling in that moment, but through sheer force of will he kept his face expressionless, his emotions carefully under wraps. He couldn’t do what he was about to do if she caught even the slightest glimpse of weakness in his countenance. Retreating to the kitchen had been Sheridan’s idea, and for that he was thankful; the bright smiles, happiness cut short, and reminders of all they had lost—he could no longer convince himself that his grief, his mother’s grief, Sam’s and even Ivy’s grief were the only ones of true significance—haunted him and gripped his heart painfully. Here, at least, their eyes didn’t follow his footsteps, didn’t judge his words. Only her blue eyes did. She had, Luis realized, started crying again. His hands ached to comfort her; his mouth had other ideas. “Your accomplice skip town? He never was any good at sticking around when the going got tough.” She turned her back to him, but not before Luis caught the flash of anger his comments had inspired.

    “He thought we needed some time to talk.” She set two coffee mugs down on the counter with a thud and yanked another cabinet open, her shoulders tight and back ramrod straight. “I’m out of everything. You’re going to have to drink it black,” she poured then plunked a steaming mug down in front of him.

    Luis grimaced, swearing under his breath as the liquid sloshed over the rim of the mug and scalded his abused skin. “Dammit,” he hissed, cradling his hand close to his body, the white bandage soaked through. He flinched away when Sheridan reached for his hand. “Don’t touch me. You’ve done enough damage.”

    Sheridan’s hand dropped back to her side and her voice lowered to a whisper. “It’s never going to be enough, is it? I said I’m sorry, Luis. I’ve said it a hundred, a thousand times. What’s it going to take?” She flattened her palms against the kitchen counter and watched as he struggled to remove the bandage one-handed. Making a decision and daring him with her eyes to stop her, she moved to stand at his side, taking his hand in both of hers and gently removing the stained gauze. “Oh, Luis.” Her fingers hovered over the angry, reddened flesh. “These…they’re bad.” She coaxed him to the kitchen sink, holding his hand underneath cool water. “What did you do?” she murmured, tracing her fingertips gently over the wounds. Turning his hand over, she noticed for the first time, his raw, bruised knuckles.

    Luis didn’t answer her. Disentangling his hand from hers, he awkwardly dried his hand with the clean dishtowel she offered, refusing to meet her concerned blue eyes or to acknowledge the electricity that seemed to crackle like a live wire between them. When the bar was safely between them again, Luis found his voice, denying her insistence that he see a doctor. “I don’t need stitches. It looks worse than it is.”

    Sighing, Sheridan shook her head in censure. “Stop being so damn stubborn. At least let me put something on it. I have a first aid kit around here somewhere.”

    Luis followed her out of the kitchen, protesting the entire way. When she disappeared down the hall, he decided it was an exercise in futility and dropped wearily to the sofa, leaning his head back tiredly against the pillows. His eyes open to half-slits, he watched her as she knelt on the floor between his knees and took his hand again in her own. “Sheridan, what are you…” he began, only to break off, hissing and jerking his hand away. “That burns, dammit!”

    “Baby,” Sheridan chastised, gripping his hand firmly and blowing gently on his skin. “I have to clean it first,” she rolled her eyes at him when he glared blackly at her.

    Luis watched, achingly aware of her position and the warmth of her touch, every muscle in his body tightened in tension. Her fingers were agile and her demeanor worked hard to seem detached, but underneath it all there ran a current of caring that he didn’t deserve, hadn’t deserved in a long time. Of its own volition his hand tightened around her wrist when she moved to stand and he was strangely pleased when her breath seemed to stall between her lips at his touch. He wanted to thank her but what came out instead was, “You didn’t have to.” Bending forward, he searched the depths of her blue eyes for answers—how could she find it in herself to show him kindness after the myriad of ways he’d proven himself unworthy over the past years, the entirety of his knowing her—and felt something within him shift at the unnamed emotion he saw glimmering there for the briefest of seconds before she cast her gaze to their touching hands.

    “There are other ways to punish yourself, Luis.” The fingers of her other hand lingered at his pulse point. Whatever else she’d wanted to say was lost in the breath between them as Luis cupped the back of her head with his uninjured hand and pulled her into his kiss—desperate, sloppy, and scorching hot. She surrendered to the bruising pressure of his mouth on hers, giving him the control he so franticly sought in the tailspin from which they found themselves powerless to escape. When the kiss ended, her lungs scrambled to replenish themselves, and her chest heaved with the effort. Sinking back on her heels, she closed her eyes at the loss and the intensity of the feelings still rushing through her.

    Luis’s hand shook as it combed through her short blond hair and ghosted over her cheek. His fingers clenched in the black material covering his thigh, the denied need to keep touching her sweet torture in itself. And he admitted to himself that this time, she couldn’t have been more right. “We can’t stay here.” He’d be damned if he lived right under Alistair Crane’s nose.

    “Anna needs her own bedroom.” Sheridan’s eyes were bright as she left the rest unspoken, covering his hand and squeezing hard. “We can do this.”

    “For Anna.”

    “For Anna,” Sheridan echoed.


    ~*~


    The letter, it had turned out, hadn’t been much of a letter at all. Just three words scrawled on a piece of plain white paper in Ethan’s simple, uninspiring handwriting.

    “I forgive you.”

    Irrationally disappointed at first, Gwen had thought the words to be some sort of joke. Surely, she’d reasoned, it wasn’t as simple as that. Three words—no preamble, no beating around the bush—just there. She’d sifted through the contents of the envelope, and finding another, smaller envelope within, had hurriedly slid her fingernail underneath the seal, eager to discover what was inside.

    Photographs—some wallet-size, some larger—that recorded the various highpoints of their failed relationship stared back at her.

    She choked back a laugh at seeing one of the first pictures of them as a not-couple—awkward and unsophisticated; they’d moved in the same social circles, their families had haunted the same boarding schools. Looking back, their introduction had no doubt been orchestrated as a means of furthering the strength of their family businesses. But their relationship had been more than that: they’d grown to be friends. And slowly, they’d grown to love each other. Yet, if she were being brutally honest with herself, she’d admit to the fact that she couldn’t recall a single moment where they fell IN love with each other.

    She still carried her pain too close to her heart to admit to *that.*

    College socials, Ethan’s law school graduation, stolen lunch dates in between meetings at her father’s company, some quiet moments interspersed—they were happy. They were even content. The camera had captured some great smiles, some genuine moments of affection.

    But not glimpses of a grand-scale love affair.

    So her heart ached even while it wanted to soar.

    She was forgiven. She should feel peace. But it wasn’t as easy as that, she realized, knees pressing into the moist, soft earth and eyes staring straight ahead at two names forevermore linked in her mind and the minds of others; Theresa’s and Ethan’s love affair had been cut tragically short.

    And she could find no peace in forgiveness wrought by Death’s cruel hand.

  3. #11
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    Oct 2000
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    489

    Post Re: Anna Begins

    New chapter, friends.

    It's shorter than the last several, and in my opinion, it sucks (lol), but after the trouble I had getting it written, I'm not going to complain too much. Obviously, you need a chapter 10 before you can get to chapter 11, and if all goes as I plan it, chapter 11 should be much more interesting.

    All that being said, I hope you enjoy the new chapter.












    Chapter 10




    “Did I ever tell you how beautiful my wedding was, Mama? Just me and Ethan and the sun rising over the ocean and a dress that made me feel like Cinderella at the ball. It was perfect, Mama, in every way but one: you weren’t there.

    Theresa’s recalled regret was Pilar’s own, and though she had her reservations about the expediency of the hasty union Sheridan and Luis had pledged to enter into, she wasn’t about to be absent yet again. Where two days before, she’d gathered with friends to mourn their shared losses, activity bustled.

    I always thought when I got married it’d be in a church, Mama, with you and Luis and Miguel there. Paloma’d be there too, and so would Papa. He’d come home to us, and he’d give me away. Ethan would take my hand—it was always, always Ethan, Mama—and he’d smile at me, and I would be so busy smiling back at him that Father Lonagin would have to repeat my name to get my attention. I wasn’t married in a church, Mama, but it didn’t matter. God was still there, and I could feel you there too, holding my hand when my nerves started to get the best of me and I stumbled over my wedding vows.”

    Sam and Grace’s small but tidy yard was hardly a church, and the scattering of folding chairs lining the perimeter of a crudely approximated aisle weren’t pews, but Pilar could still feel God’s presence, in the brilliant blue of the cloudless sky and the banding together of those she counted as her friends and loved ones to help Sheridan and Luis see this through, down to those people in her life that defied classification, including Ivy Crane.

    I missed you, Mama. All of you. But you know who else I missed, Mama? I missed Ivy. I missed Ivy because Ethan missed her, and whatever else she might be to me, she’s Ethan’s mother and I know that she loves him even if I don’t agree with her way of showing it.”

    Excusing herself from Charity and Jessica’s pleasant company, Pilar made her way across the small distance that separated her from Ivy, her steady steps faltering uncertainly when, after years of mutual separation, the two women suddenly found themselves sharing the same space again.

    “We disagree about so many things, Mama, but having Anna has made me realize we’re not that different, Ivy and me. We both love Ethan, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t agree with the choices Ivy made—maybe I never will—but I understand them better now.”

    Skillfully applied blush could not cast away the sickly pallor of grief from Ivy’s cheekbones and rose lipstick did nothing to detract from the downward tug of Ivy’s lips. Only her blue-green eyes remained bright, but it was with the sheen of carefully held-in tears. She greeted Pilar with a tight nod of her head, not trusting her own voice.

    “I understand them better because I’m a mother, and mothers don’t always love with reason.”

    With the whisper of her daughter’s words in her ears, Pilar inhaled deeply as the truth of them settled and took up residence within her very bones. Breaching the void the past had wrought between them, she extended her hand to Ivy.

    But you already knew that. Didn’t you, Mama?”

    Ivy hesitated slightly, but her reaction proved to be just the encouragement Pilar needed. Taking Ivy firmly by the hand, she led her inside, her voice softened around the edges with the pain she knew they both shared, as mothers. “Come. It will please Sheridan to know you are here.”


    ~*~


    “I thought you were supposed to wear white to weddings.”

    Sheridan smiled in response to the apologetic look on Grace’s face and the glare of censure Kay shot Hope before dragging her bodily from the small bedroom, protesting all the way.

    “What?” Hope’s voice could still be heard clearly from the hallway. “It’s not a real wedding if you don’t wear white. Mom said so.”

    “I didn’t…Sheridan, I hope you don’t think,” Grace lowered her eyes from Sheridan’s frozen smile, biting her lip fretfully. Looking back up at the younger woman, she exhaled slowly and explained. “I told her that once when she said she wanted to get married in a purple wedding dress because it was her favorite color.”

    Sheridan’s features relaxed a bit, and she smoothed her hands over the skirt of the pale pink strapless dress she’d chosen that morning (with Hank’s reluctant help) in lieu of a more traditional gown. “That would have been a sight,” she agreed, turning to study her reflection critically in the floor length mirror that stood in the corner of the room.

    Over Sheridan’s shoulder, Grace smiled and clasped her hands together. “I think you look lovely.”

    Turning her back to the mirror, Sheridan embraced Grace warmly. “Thank you, Grace. For everything. I know you and Sam don’t exactly agree with what Luis and I are doing.”

    “We just don’t want you to get hurt. Either one of you,” Grace emphasized as she held Sheridan once again at arm’s length. Over the years she’d come to regard the woman standing before her with growing affection, recognizing in the course of their knowing each other a giving, kind heart too easily and too often hurt, often at Luis’s hand. She feared this arrangement they were entering into for Anna’s sake spelled nothing but trouble for both of them. She knew from experience the price of ‘faking’ a marriage. “A wedding and a marriage are two totally different things, Sheridan. Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

    “I have to be.”

    “Okay,” Grace gave the hands in hers an encouraging squeeze. “It’s almost time.”

    Sheridan’s smile was tremulous at best as she let go of Grace’s hands and nervously smoothed her skirt one more time. “Show time.”


    ~*~


    Shoulder to shoulder with Luis, Sam watched his daughters take their seats, Kay pulling Hope into her lap and straightening the blue bow that drooped in her red hair while Jessica placed herself beside them and beckoned Charity and Miguel to join her. In the row of chairs parallel to them sat the unlikely trio of Gwen, Pilar, and Ivy. Sam felt every muscle in his body tighten with tension when Grace hurried down the aisle and slipped into the only remaining seat—beside Ivy. Keeping his expression carefully neutral, Sam muttered, “I think you’re taking that attitude adjustment we talked about a little too far.”

    Luis’s reply was terse. “I won’t have Anna raised in that house. I’d marry the devil himself to keep that from happening.”

    Whistling under his breath, Sam gripped Luis’s shoulder firmly and directed Luis’s attention to a point beyond the scattering of guests. “Hardly looks like the devil to me.” Quietly, he excused himself, Father Lonagin taking his position behind Luis.

    Luis was none the wiser, his eyes irresistibly drawn to one person.

    Like a deer ready to bolt at the first hint of danger, Sheridan stood at the end of the aisle, her blue eyes wary. Smiling at something Hank leaned down to whisper in her ear, she patted his arm gratefully and kissed his cheek before slowly making her way toward them. As she took her place at Luis’s side, Father Lonagin began to speak.

    “We are gathered here today…”
















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  4. #12
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Anna Begins

    Well, I can tell you guys are reading (or at least looking) by the number of views the last chapter got. Pretty inspiring. Just think how much more inpired I would be if you...nevermind.

    Well...here's chapter 11. Twice as long as chapter 10.

    Hope you enjoy it.










    Chapter 11



    “We had a wedding at my house today, Mister Reese.” Hope scratched Sadie between the ears, and the dog’s tail thumped happily against the porch steps as the little girl slid her arms around the its neck to press her cheek against the golden fur.

    “You should have come.” Kay’s voice was soft, a mere whisper beneath the evening song of the crickets, too soft she thought in the long moments it took Reese to acknowledge that she had even spoken at all. Turning her body so that she faced Reese more fully, she leaned her back against the porch railing and brought her knees to her chest, regarding him with unspoken questions in her eyes.

    “Yeah,” Hope twisted her neck to shoot a grin in Reese’s general direction. “Uncle Hank called it a half-cocked shotgun wedding.”

    Kay covered her eyes from Reese’s view with a small groan as Hope continued.

    “But I don’t remember seeing any guns.” Hope’s grin morphed into a thoughtful frown as she considered the incongruity of it all, and she failed to notice the twinkling of Reese’s blue eyes behind his glasses or the amused smile that her sister couldn’t tamp down. “Where were you, Mister Reese?”

    Hope’s curiosity-laden question jolted Kay back into responsible older sister mode. “Hope Bennett, that’s none of your business!”

    “It’s all right,” Reese finally spoke for the first time since they’d arrived at his doorstep over a half hour earlier under the pretense that Hope just had to visit Sadie or die a horrible death from missing her.

    Recalling her kid sister’s melodramatic pleas even now put a smile on Kay’s lips, and she half-shrugged at Reese apologetically, not daring to admit to herself that she shared some of Hope’s curiosity.

    “Someone came to look at the house,” Reese told them, pushing his glasses further up on his nose.

    “They weren’t interested were they?” The question escaped Kay’s mouth without her permission, and ducking her head in embarrassment, she backpedaled furiously, thankful for the twilight that hid her cheeks’ blush. “I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. You just…the FOR SALE sign is still there, and I just thought…” she trailed off awkwardly, blessing Hope for choosing that moment to blurt another probing question, even if the subject inexplicably made her feel as if a ball of lead were settling in the bottom of her stomach.

    “How come Sara’s not here? Did she have to go home to her house?”

    Squatting down in front of Hope, Reese reached out to ruffle Sadie’s gleaming coat. “She had to go back to school.”

    “School?” Hope’s nose crinkled in disgust, the connotation of the word for her not a positive one as it inevitably took Kay away from her for long stretches of time that felt interminable in her little girl view. “I’m never going to school. Ever.”

    “Ever’s a long time,” Reese stated thoughtfully as he lowered himself to the step alongside Hope, Sadie content between them.

    “I’m a Bennett,” Hope shrugged. “Tell him, Kay.”

    Chin propped in her hand, Kay delivered the oft-repeated saying with a quirk of her lips. “Once a Bennett sets her mind on something, it takes an act of Congress or God to change it. Least that’s what Dad says.”

    Reese seemed to carefully digest her words before returning his full attention back to Hope. “Tell me more about this wedding.”


    ~*~


    The house was much too quiet without Hope in it, Grace realized, looking around and finding her heart hurting with the discovery of so much…emptiness.

    Jessica was gone—her middle daughter catching a late bus back to school and the place Grace knew she now thought of as home, and the last guests from the wedding, Charity and Miguel, had left nearly an hour ago with Pilar. They planned to stay with her in the long, lonely night ahead, delaying their own departure until morning.

    The thought of asking them to spend the night here, in this house instead, had occurred to Grace, but the notion had quickly faded, leaving her cold over her own selfishness; now she busied herself with the mundane task of clearing and cleaning up the kitchen to chase the residual guilt away.

    “Use some help?” Sam hovered in the doorway, his arms crossed across his middle, waiting for her answer. Taking her slight nod as his cue, he advanced deeper into the room, his elbow brushing against her arm as he came to a stop beside her and picked up the clean dish towel from the kitchen countertop. Rubbing the plate she handed him until it shined, he worked in silence, and if he noticed how she stiffened at the innocent touch of his skin against her own, he didn’t acknowledge it.

    Grace willed her racing heart to slow down and forced her hands to remain steady as they fell into a routine borne in the early years of their marriage, she washing, he drying.

    “We have a dishwasher, you know,” Sam remarked as he took another plate from her hands.

    Grace’s shoulders tensed at his comment. Always, and Sam knew it well, she washed the dishes by hand when something was bothering her. It may seem silly to other people, but she’d worked out many a frustration during their twenty-plus year marriage at this sink. Ivy Crane’s simple presence, no matter how fiercely she had tried to pretend otherwise today, was the biggest frustration of all. “Sam, you don’t have to…”

    Sam cut her off with a strong hand on her arm, gently turning her to face him. “Grace, I know Ivy being here today upset you.”

    Grace avoided his intense gaze, focusing instead on her feet. “Water’s dripping all over the floor, Sam,” she told him, pulling her arm free of his hand and trying to turn away from him again.

    “It’s water,” Sam snapped in exasperation, trapping her with his arms. “I’ll clean it up later,” he added in a softer tone. “Grace, we need to talk. Grace,” he implored. “Look at me.” His hands moved to rest on her hips, and he ducked his head to try to look in her eyes.

    His hands on her were so familiar, his scent one she could pick out in a crowded room. Grace felt the weight of the distance she’d forced between them come crashing down on her shoulders, and suddenly, it was too much. Tears filled her eyes as she finally honored his request, and her lips trembled when his hand came up to cup her jaw. “I’m not upset, Sam. I…”

    Sam’s other hand rose of its own volition, and he cupped her face in the palm of his hands. “You’re lying. Be honest with me, Grace,” he said, sighing regretfully when his words had an unintended effect, and she recoiled from his touch, shrugging away from his attempts to keep her close.

    Grace’s laugh was hollow as she held her husband off with a staving hand. “You’re telling me to be honest?”

    “Grace,” Sam protested, but this time she was the one to cut him off.

    “No. No,” Grace shook her head firmly. “You have some nerve, pleading with me for honesty, when it was your own dishonesty that brought us to this…” she swept her hands out at a momentary loss for words, “this place we’re in right now.”

    “I’ll admit I made the first mistake in not telling you about my past with Ivy,” Sam’s blue eyes glittered with anger, “but you can’t put the sole blame on me for the state of our marriage right now, Grace. You can’t. You’re just as much to blame as I am. Only you refuse to take the responsibility for your actions.” The small measure of satisfaction Sam felt at finally getting those words off of his chest was instantly dwarfed by the ever-present guilt that consumed him whenever he witnessed that flicker of hurt in her blue eyes. He lowered his voice to a pained whisper. “We can’t go on like this, Grace. It isn’t fair to either one of us, and it sure as hell isn’t fair to the kids.”

    “What are you saying, Sam?” Grace cried, the dread at his answer making it difficult to get the question out over the lump lodged in her throat.

    Sam’s answer was weary, hardly an answer at all. “I don’t know what I’m saying, Grace. I don’t know anything anymore.”

    “Let me make it easy for you then, and ask the question nobody wants to ask.” Grace’s voice was quiet, and now it was Sam who avoided her eyes. “Sam,” she began, unaware of their audience hovering in the same doorway Sam had occupied earlier.

    “Grace, don’t,” Sam pleaded, watching as Kay tried without success to coax Hope back into the living room but the little girl’s feet stayed stubbornly rooted to the floor.

    But Grace continued, oblivious still to the little ears listening, and it was too late, the question hanging heavily in the air.

    “Do you want a divorce?”


    ~*~


    It was still early, it’d take a couple hours yet for Jake’s to live up to its status as the busiest bar in Harmony, but a few people milled about inside getting a head-start on the rush.

    “What a surprise to see you here,” Hank smirked as he eased himself onto the barstool next to one patron in particular.

    A few tendrils of blond hair had escaped from their pins, curling slightly in the humid atmosphere, and brown eyes narrowed at him over the top of her glass. “I’m not front page material anymore. Why not? What are you doing here?”

    Sheridan had freely offered up her cottage to him, but without her there, it seemed wrong for him to stay. Staying at the Bed and Breakfast would be too much like spying since Luis and Sheridan were making it their temporary home until something more suitable came along, and Hank didn’t feel much like checking into a cheap motel, which somehow added up to his being here, in Jake’s, without a place to crash and without a plan for his foreseeable future, except taking too much enjoyment out of bugging the blond socialite beside him. Wait, he corrected himself silently. The jilted debutante, who looked to be well on her way to living up to her reputation. “How many of those have you had to drink?” he indicated, the glass at her lips.

    “None of your damn business.”

    The instant, smart-assed reply made Hank grin, and he hailed the bartender over. “I’ll have what she’s having. Keep ‘em coming,” he said, laying down a wad of cash that made Gwen’s brows raise in surprise. “What?” he held up his hands defensively. “Can’t let you have all the fun.”

    A few drinks later, equally dispersed between the two of them, Gwen twisted on her barstool to face him, their knees bumping awkwardly. A wry smile on her lips, she made an accusation that hit a little too close to home. “You’re in love with her, aren’t you?”

    Nursing the beer in his hand, Hank laughed her off, lifting a hand and ordering them another round.

    “Admit it,” Gwen leaned in close, resting her hand on his thigh for balance as she searched his brown eyes for the truth he wouldn’t say.

    Finally, Hank gave her a non-answer, picking at the peeling label on his bottle. “She’s in love with him, always has been, always will be.” Sliding another bottle in Gwen’s direction, he finished off the beer in his hand. He arched a teasing brow at her when she spoke again, her voice just the slightest bit incredulous with discovery.

    “You’re trying to get me drunk.”

    “Who says I have to try?” he said, and his eyes drifted to where her hand still rested on his thigh. He grinned at her belated realization of its location and the way she snatched her hand back and decided to risk wearing a tattoo of her hand on his cheek with his next comment. “Babe, you’re doing all the work for me.”

    Gwen leaned back, crossing her arms across her middle and letting the new beer bottle dangle from her fingers as she regarded him coolly. “Why? What possible reason…”

    Hank watched her jump to conclusions, enjoying the newfound fire in her brown eyes. He just continued to grin as she started railing at him, her beer bottle hitting the bar with a resounding thud.

    “No. No way. Not in a million years,” Gwen vowed.

    “Why not?” Hank asked, unashamedly admitting to himself that the idea gained more appeal by the second, especially (and Sam—hell, Luis too—would call him on his perverse logic if he were here) after witnessing the passion with which she refused the very suggestion.

    “Why not?” Gwen was aghast. She tried to get up, to leave, but the smallness of the space between the barstools worked to her disadvantage, and she found herself trapped, Hank’s arm handily blocking her exit. She sucked in a deep breath of surprise when she realized his other hand was resting on her hip.

    Hank wanted to laugh at the shiver she couldn’t suppress, but he knew that move might earn him a strategically placed knee. Schooling his features into a perfectly calm, expectant expression, he waited for her to calm down and give his proposition some more thought. Her second round of protests, thankfully, was much more subdued, halfhearted even.

    “How could it possibly be a good idea for me and you to…we’re both in love with other people,” Gwen stated the obvious.

    Hank shrugged, his thumb unconsciously rubbing patterns against her hip. “She’s married. And he’s dead.” The reminder came out more gently than he’d intended. “Maybe it’s not the best idea,” he acknowledged. “But it’s a better idea than drinking ourselves to oblivion.” His other hand dropped to her waist, and he gave her a hopeful look, the smirk returning to his mouth when he felt her lean into his touch, just slightly. “Come on, Babe. What do you say?”

    Snagging the beer bottle from the bar and slinking out of his arms, Gwen paused just a few steps away, her voice barely audible over the increasing crowds of people milling around them. “Get your ass in gear, Bennett, before I change my mind.”

    Nearly stumbling in his haste to catch up with her, Hank drawled, “Yes, Ma’am.”


    ~*~


    Sheridan let the curtain drift closed with a sigh, wrapping her arms protectively around her and resting her forehead against the cool glass of the window. Moonlight washed over her in a silver glow until a sliver of yellow replaced it, and Luis’s towel-clad image was reflected before her. She felt her heart beat faster when his footsteps approached and her senses were filled with his clean scent. Dragging her lip between her teeth, she worked up enough courage to turn around and face her new husband.

    Crisp white towel knotted around his waist, Luis rubbed vigorously at his wet hair with another towel, frowning slightly when his eyes met hers.

    “Maybe it would be better if I moved my things into the extra room at the end of the hall,” Sheridan suggested, remembering the other room Grace had talked about before fitting the key to this room into her palm. She watched as Luis’s brows knit more tightly together, and his dark eyes sparked at her.

    “No,” Luis dismissed the idea, turning from her and bending at the waist to pull a pair of pajama bottoms from the open suitcase on the floor. “We already talked about this, Sheridan,” he said, giving her a significant look as his fingers worked at the knot in the towel.

    Heat filled Sheridan’s veins as she whirled around, and she clasped her hands together, worrying the ring on her finger, a family heirloom he’d surprised her with during the wedding ceremony. The words he’d whispered to her after, just before he’d pressed his mouth to hers in a short, hard kiss, echoed in her mind before Luis even repeated them.

    “We have to make this look real,” Luis’s voice sounded closer.

    Sheridan jumped as he reached around her to turn the bedside lamp on.

    Luis looked at her oddly. “You okay?” he asked, padding across the room to turn on the television in the corner. He turned it back off without waiting to hear what was being said when their images flashed across the local newscast. “This is only temporary,” he reminded her, pulling a pillow from the bed and tossing it into the floor, where the beginnings of a makeshift bed lay. “Once we find a place, we’ll have our own rooms. You won’t have to pretend you can stand the sight of my face anymore.”

    Anger welled up inside Sheridan at the thought that he was deliberately baiting her, but she tamped it down, taking a calming breath before she steered the subject back into what she thought was more neutral ground. “I’ve had my real estate agent draw up a list of available properties fitting our requirements,” she knelt before her own suitcases, withdrawing a bulging folder from one and standing back up to offer it to him with a proud smile. The smile on her face fell when he scanned through the folder’s pages, abruptly thrusting it back into her hands with a black scowl.

    “No. These are all wrong.”

    Sheridan’s mouth dropped open in shock for a moment before her earlier anger returned tenfold and her blue eyes flashed fire at him. “What do you mean they’re all wrong? Each of them has at least three bedrooms, one for each of us. All of them have big, open yards so Anna will have lots of room to play; a couple of them are even within walking distance of Lighthouse Park. I made sure all of them were within a reasonable distance from the police station,” her voice escalated as she ticked off reason after reason on her fingers without a change in his obstinately held demeanor. “They’re near the best schools, the best daycare centers, the safest neighborhoods. How can they possibly be all wrong?”

    The expression on Luis’s face grew even darker, and the fire in his eyes flamed to match hers. “The safest neighborhoods?” he scoffed. “You’re talking about the neighborhoods on the other side of the tracks, right?”

    “No. No,” Sheridan repeated more vehemently as soon as she realized his implication. “That’s not what I meant at all,” she objected.

    Luis yanked the folder back from her hands and opened it, running his finger down the first page. “Two miles from the Harmony Country Club.” He flipped a couple of pages further, and his mouth was drawn in a mean line as he said, “These two aren’t that far from the Seascape. This one,” he flipped to the last page and ripped it out to wave it in front of her face, “is practically in Alistair’s backyard.” He tossed the piece of paper at her and rounded on his heels, pacing the confines of their room like an angry tiger, before advancing on her, backing her up until the sharp edges of the antique vanity bit into her flesh and made her wince.

    There was real menace in his eyes mixed with the vaguest shadows of hurt pride, and Sheridan found herself wanting to apologize, but her stunned mind lacked the words. She placed one hand on his bare chest to stop his advance, and the other fumbled behind her for purchase. She vaguely recognized the distant sound of shattering glass as he spoke again.

    “Let’s get something straight right now,” Luis growled. “Anna is not going to grow up into a spoiled rich princess too good to mix company with the people on the other side of the tracks. My people,” he emphasized. “People like Mama and Sam and T.C.—people like Theresa.”

    Sheridan felt her throat grow tight at the enormity of his misunderstanding of her intent and her feelings. “Luis, I didn’t mean…”

    “No,” Luis stopped her with a finger to her lips. “This little charade doesn’t have a chance in hell at working if all you’re interested in is erasing that side of who Anna is, if you’re not able to accept who she is.” The fight and the fury left his eyes, and they become unreadable as he watched her shakily stoop before him to gather up the shattered pieces of glass, the scent of the spilled perfume permeating the air around them only then reaching his nose. “Leave it,” he sighed, crouching down close beside her and stilling her trembling hands with his own before she accidentally cut herself on the jagged shards.

    Sheridan didn’t trust herself to look up at him so she kept her eyes focused on their hands, her throat closing up at the matching wedding bands. Grateful for the welcome distraction of a rapping knock at the door, she slowly rose to her feet without a word. She felt more than heard Luis’s solid presence behind her as she answered the door and choked back a gasp at what she saw.

    Julian stood before them, a dark-curled child sleeping in his awkward embrace.









    So...what did you think?

    Proofed but not perfect.

    Any favorite parts? Huh, huh?

    LOL!

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    Last edited by UAgirl; 8.12.07 at 8:04 PM.

  5. #13
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Anna Begins

    Not thrilled with this chapter myself, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.








    Chapter 12




    “Careful,” Julian groused as, no longer frozen in disbelief, Sheridan moved to take Anna from his arms.

    “She’s a baby, Julian.” The lingering scent of baby powder and the warm puff of air Anna exhaled into the crook of her neck as she settled sleepily against her almost paralyzed Sheridan. She felt an unbearably sweet ache blossom inside her chest as she stroked the sweat-dampened dark curls. “Not a bomb.”

    Luis finally found his voice, questioning his newly acquired brother-in-law suspiciously. “How did you…”

    “I didn’t violate any laws, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Julian answered in a superior tone. “I merely expedited a process that was already in progress. Contrary to your beliefs, the Crane name is not always used for nefarious purposes.”

    Both men’s eyes fell on Sheridan, and the picture she made, holding Anna protectively close, rendered each of them silent until her whispered words restored their capabilities of speech.

    “Thank you, Julian.”

    Julian’s voice turned gruff with embarrassment over the unaccustomed praise, and he turned stiffly toward the door, intent on making his exit, “Yes, well. I thought it time to bring her home where she belongs.”

    “Julian?” Luis stopped him before he could disappear completely. “Thank you.” The words left his mouth with great reluctance.

    “She’s all yours now. Take care of her,” he advised, stepping aside to let the chauffeur bring the few possessions that had made the journey to Harmony with Anna inside. His eyes lingered on the pair across the room, the message in their dark depths coming across loud and clear.

    Sheridan looked up then and offered him a tremulous smile, and shock rendered Luis powerless to reply as a surge of unexpected protectiveness coursed through his very marrow with one look into eyes of teary blue.

    “Take care of her,” Julian repeated.

    Then he was gone, and it was just the three of them, and one thought kept running through Luis’s mind.

    ‘She was his now.’

    Hours later, with dappled sunshine making Sheridan’s blond hair a golden halo upon its snowy white pillow, Luis was still reeling from the reality of the new world he lived in as he watched the pair before him sleep.

    Anna slept on her belly, the thick terry sash of Sheridan’s robe clenched between her tiny fingers. Her full pink lips were parted, and a droplet of moisture clung to the corner of her mouth. The fuzzy pink blanket she’d clung to so desperately the night before rest at her feet, kicked off during her restless night.

    Though the early morning’s bright rays spilled through the thin curtains, the coolness of the previous night lingered within the four walls with just enough bite to make a chill travel up Luis’s spine. Moving from the armchair where he’d taken sentinel after Anna’s last bout of frightened tears, he crouched beside the bed, one large brown hand hovering over Anna. Thick, curly black lashes fluttered briefly against her cheeks when Luis gently recovered her, only a small whimper escaping when he gave in to the urge to fit his palm against her small back. He startled when Sheridan spoke, looking up when she covered his hand with her own to prevent him from removing it.

    “It’s okay,” came the whisper. “You’re not going to wake her.” As she spoke, her thumb traced unconscious patterns against Luis’s skin, and she only became aware of her actions when Luis pulled away from her touch, the gentleness in the action solely an effort not to wake the sleeping child. Biting back her own disappointment, she settled her hand against the tiny girl’s back in his stead, the rhythmic rise and fall reassuring and welcome after such a difficult night. She watched Luis move across the room and slip a black tee-shirt over his head. “Luis?”

    “Go back to sleep.” The suggestion sounded like an order, even to Luis’s ears, and he made a deliberate choice to soften his next words with not-quite-feigned concern, his dark eyes intent on her as she propped herself up on one elbow to protest. “You’ve had a long night.”

    “All of us have had a long night,” Sheridan answered sensibly, her hand falling from Anna’s back as she twisted slightly beneath the covers to track his progress across the room. “Luis, take a look in the mirror,” she indicated the dark circles under his eyes. “You’re dead on your feet. Luis, are you even listening to me?”

    Luis swallowed, tearing his gaze from the naked shoulder exposed to his eyes when she had shifted in the bed, and let his eyes meet hers briefly before looking away uncomfortably as a heavy awareness suddenly sparked and flared between them. For several long seconds he said nothing, closing his eyes when he heard movement again. When he next opened his eyes and dared glance at Sheridan, she was the one who could not, would not meet his gaze, and the robe was pulled high and tightly closed. Clearing his throat, he picked up a pair of jeans and headed toward the bathroom. “I have some things to take care of down at the station.” Re-emerging just moments later, he assured her, “I won’t be long.” What he didn’t say was that he wanted to check Julian’s story out, make sure they now had custody of Anna on legitimate terms.

    Sheridan read between the lines anyway. “Julian didn’t…”

    “We don’t know what your brother did or didn’t do,” Luis cut her off, palming the keys to his jeep. Repeating his earlier statement, he promised, “I won’t be long.”

    Sighing as the door closed behind him, Sheridan lay back against the pillows and curled around Anna once more. “We’ll be here.”


    ~*~


    Strands of red silk tickled Sam’s nose, but he didn’t dare move, didn’t dare breathe in case the necessary action jolted Hope from her hard-fought sleep. Tucked beneath his pillow and consequently, Hope’s head, his left arm prickled with the pain of a thousand knives; his other arm was draped across his daughter’s sleeping form, wrapped within her own arms and stretched across the scant space she’d allowed between him and Grace the night before. The fingers of his right hand twitched uneasily against the curving slant of Grace’s hip, and his eyes mapped a slow route across her body only to find her blue eyes staring back at him intently. In them, he found his own regrets about the previous night reflected.

    “No!” Hope erupted, shrugging Kay’s hands from her shoulders and stepping forward. Her small hands fisted at her sides, and her chin trembled dangerously as she glared at her mother for even daring to ask such a terrible question, though her young mind didn’t yet understand all of its implications. “Daddy can’t divorce us. He loves us. Tell her, Daddy. You love us. Don’t you?” Hope looked uncertainly from one parent to the other, shrinking back into Kay’s supporting arms when both adults still seemed frozen in shock.

    “Kay,” Grace pleaded with her eldest daughter in a choked voice. “Take her...take her upstairs. Hope, it’s past your bedtime.”

    “Daddy?” Hope’s question escaped again—this time in a thin, plaintive wail. “Don’t you love us?” Her wet blue eyes welled and spilled over, the tears making rapid tracks down her freckled cheeks.

    Without another thought, Sam scooped her up with his hands beneath her shoulders and clutched her close in a fierce, breath-stealing hug. “How can I not love you?” he whispered against her soft hair as she wrapped her arms and legs tightly around him, his eyes straying to Grace’s own tear-filled eyes. “You’re my ladybug.”

    “What about Mom?” Hope mumbled against his neck then pulled back to stare into his eyes, roughly swiping the back of her hand against her nose. “Don’t you love her?”

    “Grace.” Sam winced when her name came out louder than intended, and he frowned when she shook her head silently, frustration building within him. When she nodded at Hope though, a finger lifted to her lips, he felt the frustration start to dissipate, just a little.

    “No. Don’t go,” Hope moaned in her sleep, rolling over and burying her face in Sam’s chest then kicking one sock-covered foot out and atop the covers.

    Sam brought his free hand up to cup the back of Hope’s head, stroking her hair soothingly until she calmed in his arms. Pressing his lips against her forehead and sharing a significant look with his wife, he made a solemn promise. “I’m not going anywhere.”

    “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Sam,” Grace warned, rubbing her own hand comfortingly up and down Hope’s arm until the girl sighed and gradually relaxed the iron grip she had around Sam’s neck. Lacing her fingers together with those of her daughter, she shifted closer until she was a warm, solid presence against the child’s back, sharing the same pillow as her husband.

    Reaching out and placing a tender hand along Grace’s jaw, Sam felt his throat grow tight with the realization that his words had done little to chase away the doubts in her pretty blue eyes. He was going to have to do something about that. “I’m not going anywhere,” he repeated thickly when her desire to believe betrayed her misgivings and she leaned into his touch, just the tiniest bit, breaking his heart by slow degrees. “I’m right where I belong.”



    ~*~


    She was wearing his tee-shirt. For reasons Hank couldn’t fathom, the thought made him inordinately happy. Scrubbing his hands over his sleep-fuzzy eyes and face before making a cursory detour through the mess that was surely his bed-head hair, he cleared his throat, quickly hiding his smirk when she whirled around to glare at him, spilling water all over herself and the floor in the process.

    “Dammit.” Gwen muttered the curse, tugging self-consciously at the tee-shirt that flirted with her thighs as she crouched to clean up the mess. When Hank bent to help her, she waved him off. “I was hoping you were a figment of my imagination,” she grumbled.

    Hank just grinned. The whole situation was surreal. He’d experienced a similar feeling of disbelief mere minutes ago, waking up tangled in silk sheets that still bore her scent. Last night had given him more than a new appreciation for her perfume; he was seeing the woman that wore it in a whole new light as well. Brown eyes traveling up her long smooth legs when she straightened, his smile only grew bigger when Gwen snapped her fingers, and he saw that the glare had morphed into certain daggers of death. Nope. It hadn’t been the alcohol talking. The morning after and she still had some seriously great legs.

    “My eyes are up here,” Gwen growled a reminder.

    Deciding to tone down the gleeful grin a notch—children would be nice someday, Hank schooled his expression into a blandly apologetic smile, scratching absently at his chest. His witty response stalled in his throat when Gwen’s brown eyes narrowed at him suspiciously, just before she whirled back around, presenting him with her lovely backside. He wondered if she realized that the tee-shirt provided precious little cover when she raised up on tiptoe like that and tried (and failed) to grab another glass from the cupboard. Hooking his thumbs in the belt loops of his jeans, he slouched back against the kitchen counter and enjoyed the show.

    Finally giving up, Gwen huffed in frustration, eyes flashing at him and hand held to her aching head. “At least put some clothes on,” she complained.

    “In case you’ve forgotten, Babe, that’s my shirt you’re wearing.”

    “Don’t flatter yourself,” Gwen answered with a haughty toss of her head that clearly made pain lance through her pounding skull. “It was the only thing clean.”

    Ouch, Hank winced. With the hangover she surely had, that had to hurt. Belatedly, her last comment registered with him, and he looked at her in disbelief. A small smile twitched at the corner of his lips; he’d heard better excuses made up on the spot by preschoolers. “If you wanted it for yourself, you could have just asked,” he couldn’t resist teasing.

    “Get over yourself, Bennett,” Gwen sneered at him, arms crossed over her chest. “I fired the cleaning lady last week.”

    Glancing around at their surroundings, Hank noticed, in the stark light of morning, a few things he hadn’t much cared to pay attention to last night, stumbling through the front door with his lips happily attached to the curve of her neck and his buzzed brain past caring. Now that she mentioned it, the place was an unqualified mess—it actually bordered on looking like a disaster zone. “Oh.”

    “Oh?” Gwen raised a very dangerous looking brow.

    “Nothing,” Hank shrugged, scolding himself for finding that brow so sexy. “Just…it explains a lot.”

    Gwen rolled her eyes at him and turned around again. “If you want coffee, you’re going to have to make it yourself.”

    “Let me guess,” Hank stepped closer to her, their shoulders bumping as he familiarized himself with the contents of the open cupboard in front of him, the inkling of an idea starting to form in his brain. “The cleaning lady made the coffee. Did this cleaning lady have a name?”

    “I like you better when you’re not talking,” Gwen snapped irritably, stalking out of the room.

    “Really? That’s funny,” Hank called after her. “Because you are a lot more fun drunk!”







































    Thanks for reading!!!

    Feedback is love!

  6. #14
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Anna Begins

    Finally!


    A new chapter!

    Sorry, guys, for the glacier-like pace of this story (and my updating); I'm having to sit on my hands not to rush things, lol.

    Thanks to those that responded to the last chapter.

    I hope you enjoy this one.
    Happy New Year!!!






    Chapter 13




    “Luis,” Quinlan, hot on Luis’s heels as he zigzagged through the cluttered, mostly unmanned desks en route to Sam’s office, called. “Lopez-Fitzgerald,” he clamped a strong hand down on Luis’s shoulder just outside Sam’s closed door. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be on your honeymoon or something?”

    Meeting the other man’s eyes, Luis was able to read another, underlying, message there. He knew. “Relax, Quinlan. I’m just here to see the boss, talk to him. I promise I’m not here to cause any trouble.”

    Quinlan straightened, the wary set of his shoulders relaxing marginally. “The Chief’s not here,” he informed Luis, letting his hand drop back to his side. “He took the day off to spend some time with his family. Isn’t that what you should be doing?” Under Luis’s intense stare, his cheeks reddened, and his eyes strayed to a point beyond Luis’s shoulder as he cleared his throat. “No offense, but if our places were switched…”

    “Quinlan,” Luis spoke warningly.

    “All I’m saying is you’re a lucky man,” Quinlan continued uncomfortably, “and I don’t understand why you’re here when you could be…there.” He cleared his throat again and let his eyes flicker across Luis’s face before looking away once more. Only when Luis began to talk did he release a sigh of relief.

    “I promised Sheridan I wouldn’t be long.” Deciding to switch tactics, Luis forcibly relaxed his stance and schooled his expression into an earnest one. “Look, Quinlan. Marty,” he amended, hoping to use their familiarity with one another to his advantage, “you know me. Would I be here now, would I willfully violate a direct order—the day after my wedding, if it weren’t important?” Luis watched, pleased, as the tension seemed to melt from Quinlan’s shoulders, and the suspicion in his eyes transformed to mere curiosity.

    “I guess not,” Quinlan decided. Rubbing a hand over his chin thoughtfully, he considered his next action for only a moment before pushing the door to Sam’s office open and preceding Luis inside. When they were alone, the door closed once more, he turned to Luis, arms crossed across his middle and voice sure. “Okay, Lopez-Fitzgerald. Something’s up. Lay it on me.”

    “Sheridan and I had a surprise visit from her brother last night,” Luis began.

    “On your wedding night?” Quinlan interrupted incredulously.

    Shaking his head, Luis refused to let the other man veer off track of the conversation. “He had Anna with him.”

    Now it was Quinlan’s turn to shake his head, in confusion. “Wait a minute. Your sister’s kid? How did he…I thought...” He broke off as he watched Luis cross the necessary distance to Sam’s desk and pick up one of several frames that lined the perimeter of the boss’s desk. A closer glance afforded him a glimpse of Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald’s smiling brown eyes and the child they all knew only through pictures, at least until now. “You don’t think he went through the proper legal channels,” Quinlan deduced, the fog of confusion lifting abruptly.

    Returning the picture to its rightful place, Luis acknowledged Quinlan’s line of thinking with a rhetorical question. “When have the Cranes ever thought they weren’t above the law?”

    Quinlan thought about reminding Luis he was married to a Crane now but thought better of it. The circumstances behind Luis’s introduction to his wife of but a day notwithstanding, Sheridan Crane was different, and they both knew it; Quinlan had faith in the fact that Luis wouldn’t have married her otherwise. “Unusual wedding present,” he tried to joke.

    The humor was lost on Luis.

    “Ever occur to you that he meant it as nice gesture for his sister?” Quinlan put the suggestion out there. “Excuse me for saying this, but you’re not the only one who lost someone. Maybe he finally figured it out: life’s too short.” Deciding to let Luis chew on that for a little while, he walked around the boss’s desk, placing both palms flat on the cool surface as he looked Luis in the eyes, hoping he hadn’t overstepped the bounds of the comradeship they’d shared in their years spent on the force together.

    Finally, Luis spoke. “Anna belongs with her family. I don’t want anything to jeopardize that.”

    Settling into the chair behind him, Quinlan accepted Luis’s words with a nod of his head. “I’ll look into it—make sure everything’s above board.”

    “Thanks, Quinlan,” Luis voiced his gratitude.

    “No problem.” Quinlan grinned at Luis when he hovered in the doorway. “Don’t you have somewhere to be, Lopez-Fitzgerald? Sheesh, you aren’t acting like any newlywed I’ve ever known.” He chuckled when that finally seemed to spur Luis into action, and the other man turned to walk out of the office. “What?” he crossed his arms over his middle and arched a challenging brow at Luis when all but his head had disappeared around the corner.

    “Nothing,” Luis smirked. “Just wouldn’t get too comfortable in the Chief’s chair if I were you. You and I both know he’s married to this place.” Quinlan’s retort was snappy and all too true, and Luis was hit again with the realization of all the changes that lay ahead for him and Sheridan on this path that they had chosen to keep Anna in both of their lives.

    “That makes two of you.”


    ~*~


    Hope’s sneakers made wet impressions in the shifting sand, and when Sam and Grace finally came to the end of the trail of their youngest daughter’s footprints, they discovered her poised atop a jagged outcropping of rocks, arm stretched out before her and voice high with excitement.

    “Daddy! Look, Mom!” Hope’s blue eyes were wide, standing out in her pale face as her red hair whipped about in the bluster of the sea winds. “You can see the lighthouse from here. Isn’t it amazing?”

    Grace couldn’t see the grin on her little girl’s face, couldn’t recognize the beauty in the view, for the sudden icy grip of terror she felt in looking upon Hope’s precarious position. When her vocal cords refused to cooperate with her mind’s demands, she clutched Sam’s upper arm in a bruising hold.

    Sam gave Grace’s hand a gentle, reassuring squeeze and stepped around her, infusing his voice with a calm he knew Grace needed. “It is amazing,” he agreed, holding out a beckoning hand to his reluctant daughter. “You know what’s even more amazing?” he let a knowing smile twitch on his lips when Hope regarded him skeptically. “C’mere, and I’ll show you.”

    Hope slipped and slid her way back to them, and Grace held her breath with every step that she took. When the child lost her balance, pitching forward with hands held out in front of her, Grace felt as if her heart had stopped beating altogether. Only when she saw Sam snatch Hope up in his strong arms, enveloping her in a fierce hug, did she feel the aching muscle resume its skipping beat. “Hope Bennett,” the air escaped her lungs in a panicked stream of unheard words, “you know better.”

    Arms slung low over Sam’s shoulders and cheek pressed to his, Hope stared back at her with eyes that were bright and blue and filled with a bravery Grace was ashamed to admit she’d never really possessed. “Did you see it, Mom?”

    Sam’s voice was a low, reassuring hum near Grace’s ear, his large hand cupping the back of Hope’s head as he commanded her attention. “She saw it, Ladybug.” He couldn’t resist a smile at his daughter’s beaming expression, but one glance at Grace out of the corner of his eyes had him sobering up. “But next time, don’t you think you should wait on your mom or me before scaling mountains?” The comment earned a tinkling giggle from Hope. Then, more seriously, he told her, “Mom was a little scared, seeing you up so high.”

    Though she’d been well within her rights to worry, Grace silently chastised herself when the smile on Hope’s freckled face fell. She busied herself re-tying the trailing laces of her daughter’s shoes when she couldn’t bear to face her disappointment, wiping the gritty sand from her fingers against the rough denim of her jeans when she was finished. She had to swallow back the lump in her throat when Hope’s skinny arms looped around her neck in an apologetic hug, her previous joy all but gone. Clearing her throat, she returned the hug, and tucking Hope’s red hair behind her ears, pulled back to remind her, “Your dad promised you something even more amazing. I’d hold him to that.”

    At Grace’s words, Sam lifted his daughter in his arms, smiling at the excited sparkle generated in her eyes by his actions. With some effort—Grace’s and his own—and much surprised squealing from Hope, he settled her on his broad shoulders, wrapping his hands around her small knees.

    “Daddy, you better not let me fall,” Hope cried, squirming to gain purchase and unintentionally pulling at her father’s hair in the process. “Mom, look how high I am now.” Her face lit up with pleasure, she braved letting one hand go long enough to hold her wind tousled hair away from her eyes.

    “Very high,” Grace agreed, realizing with a start the position of her hands and noticing, for the first time, that Sam’s eyes had never left her face. Lowering her eyes from Sam’s intense blue gaze, she focused on brushing particles of damp sand from the navy cotton of his shirt, steadfastly ignoring the way his breath stuttered and stalled at her light touch. “She’s getting sand everywhere,” she explained in a soft voice, letting her hands drop from his chest in embarrassment when she dared lift her eyes again.

    “Grace,” amusement colored Sam’s answer and his eyes twinkled kindly at her when he again found his own voice, “we are at the beach.”

    Hope chose that moment to wriggle again, grabbing healthy handfuls of hair with one hand and nearly blinding her father with the other.

    Sam frowned accusingly at the twitching smile Grace was too slow to hide from him. “What’s so funny?” he asked, gentling Hope’s hands between his own and steadying her once more.

    “Nothing,” Grace replied, ducking her head and veering back to the path they’d been on before they’d put their heads together to trace their elusive young daughter. “How’s the view?” she turned back to them, allowing another glimpse of the smile she wore.

    Freezing mid-wince, Sam continued to rub at his ‘injured’ eye and smiled disbelievingly at the note of teasing he detected in her voice, following in her wake. “What do you think, Ladybug?” he tossed the question to Hope, happily admiring the lay of the land from her prominent perch.

    “Amazing. Super amazing. Super-duper amazing fantastic!” Hope giggled, the sound rising up and floating above the constant push and pull of the waves.

    She had no way of knowing, Sam reasoned, that her thoughts echoed his own.


    ~*~


    Chin propped in hand, Kay eased a nail beneath the page of the catalog lain open before her and perused the varied selection of cookware advertised. She sighed heavily as a fresh wave of boredom crashed into her, closing the catalog and pushing it aside. Picking up the pen nestled between the pages of the Bed and Breakfast’s guest log, she twirled it between her fingers, her eyes becoming unfocused as she stared off into space and remembered the events that had led to this—her volunteering to man the front desk while her mother and father attempted to escape the real world for a few hours and spend the day with Hope. She was vaguely aware of the faint noise of the swing creaking to and fro outside, and the rustle of leaves in the breeze. She jumped in surprise, though, when a distinctly recognizable bark sounded, and a familiar shadow darkened the Bed and Breakfast’s door.

    “Hi.” Reese’s greeting was soft, his smile somewhat shy as he lingered in the doorway. “Sadie and I were out for a walk and thought you and Hope might like to join us.”

    Sadie issued another lively bark and wagged her tail invitingly when Kay bent to comb her fingers through her golden fur.

    Straightening, Kay gave the canine one last pat between the ears and informed Reese, “I’m afraid Hope’s not here.” She bit her lip and glanced back at the empty desk. “And seeing how Mom left me in charge of this place…” she trailed off, inwardly kicking herself for the disappointment she saw briefly flare to life in Reese’s eyes.

    “Oh. Oh,” Reese repeated, hooking his fingers in Sadie’s collar and turning to leave. “You’re busy then. Maybe some other time.” He nudged his glasses further back on his nose with a finger and turned to leave.

    Kay imagined she saw a tiny slump in his shoulders, and Sadie whined in protest at being led away. “Wait!” Acting on impulse, she called out to them, letting the door to the Bed and Breakfast bang shut behind her. “Don’t go.” Recognizing the indecision on Reese’s face, she softly entreated, “Stay. I’m bored out of my mind, and you’re the first real-live humans I’ve spoken to since Mom and Dad left this morning. Please stay.” She offered him what she thought of as her best smile.

    Reese’s blue eyes danced behind the lens of his glasses. “I didn’t know you considered dogs to be human, Kay.”

    Mouth dropping open, Kay scoffed at him and rolled her eyes. “You know what I meant, Reese Durkee.” The raised brow of warning she gave him looked a little less menacing when Sadie was upon her, happily bestowing her affection. Gently pushing the golden retriever aside, she led Reese to the swing and offered him a seat. Soon, the wooden bench swayed under their combined weight, Kay sitting sideways to face Reese and Reese studiously ignoring the suspicious look with which she was studying him, staring straight ahead.

    “Didn’t Mrs. B ever tell you it’s not polite to stare?” Reese finally blurted.

    Bursting into laughter, Kay touched a fingertip to the reddened ear in front of her, belatedly realizing the tinge of color was, in fact, traveling. “You’re blushing,” she accused. She giggled some more when Reese squirmed away from her touch and turned around to face her, his posture defensive. “All right,” she finally sobered. “Relax. I promise. No more teasing. See? Pinky promise.” She crooked a finger at him and smiled when he returned the gesture. They fell into a comfortable silence, and Kay was sure she must have dozed at some point, eyes closed and breeze fluttering against her face. She opened her eyes again when she felt the gentle touch of Reese’s hand on her face.

    Reese tucked the renegade strand of dark hair behind her ear then pulled away, the expression on his face unreadable.

    Ignoring the baffling quickening of her heartbeat, Kay reacted on instinct and grabbed Reese’s hand in her own, giving it a friendly, reassuring squeeze to let him know everything was okay. Almost a whisper, she pleaded, “Tell me how you met Sara.”

    “It was at one of those convention things.” Reddening again when Kay stifled a giggle, Reese nevertheless began to weave his tale.


    ~*~


    “Sheridan.” Arms full, Luis nudged the door shut behind him with his foot. “Sheridan, you in here?” he called again, his heart skipping a beat as his eyes traveled over the bed she’d occupied just that morning, finding it empty and newly made. “Sheridan.” Luis winced when he picked up the note of panic in his own voice and deposited the entirety of his collection of bags at the foot of the bed before heading toward the adjoining bathroom. The door easily gave way under his touch, and Luis was greeted with the sound of soft, melodic music just seconds before he was met with a most unexpected sight.

    In the claw-foot tub in the corner of the small room, covered in frothy bubbles with her black curls piled atop her head, Anna shrieked with laughter.

    Creeping further into the bathroom, Luis discovered the source of her laughter.

    Sheridan’s fingers danced over and under Anna’s chin, skittering across her protruding little belly, then flitted underneath the small arms as Anna squirmed to elude her touch. Her other arm held tight to the tiny body, the gleam of the ring on her finger catching Luis’s eye. She, too, was covered in foamy bubbles and laughing—until she noticed Luis.

    Clearing his throat awkwardly, Luis looked away sharply, focusing all of his attention on the small radio placed somewhat precariously along the window sill. In a gruff voice, he scolded, “This shouldn’t be in here.” He turned it off and unplugged it, removing it from the sill and placing it on the top shelf of the linen cabinet. “It’s dangerous. Not to mention the fact that it could have been anybody walking through that door.” He knew he was blowing things out of proportion—even if Kay and Reese had barely noticed him as he’d walked past—but dammit, something about the woman made logical thought fly right out the window. For the first time since entering the room, he met Sheridan’s eyes.

    “It wasn’t anybody, Luis,” Sheridan placated. “It was you. Now calm down. You’re scaring her.”

    His drummed-up anger fled him when Luis realized a worrisome effect of his tirade; her giggles quieted, Anna was completely silent, clinging to Sheridan’s neck and staring up at him with huge blue eyes. Cursing underneath his breath, Luis grudgingly looked to Sheridan for help when he took a step forward and the action made the tiny girl hide her face from him.

    “Anna,” Sheridan gently pried Anna’s arms from her neck. “Don’t be shy, Anna Banana,” she whispered in one ear. “It’s just Luis. He won’t hurt you.”

    Luis’s eyes flew to Sheridan’s face when he heard the nickname. Hearing it and seeing it on paper were two completely different things, and he was hit anew with the realization that his baby sister was gone, just like that, and the little girl clutching at Sheridan in desperate fright was his now to love and keep safe. He swallowed hard with the knowledge that the only other person who knew and felt the same awe-inspiring responsibility was staring deeply into his eyes with naked understanding. Speaking of naked…feeling a familiar heat start to course through his veins, blooming and settling in the pit of his belly, Luis once again looked away uncomfortably and moved to go, only stopping when he felt her touch against his leg. “I should go.”

    “Stay,” Sheridan said firmly, giving his pants leg an insistent tug. She shifted in the tub, Anna cradled against her, and a line of bubbles slipped down her bared shoulder. “Come closer,” she beckoned with a teasing smile, giving his pants leg another, directing pull, “I promise we don’t bite.”

    Rolling his eyes at her, Luis obeyed her instructions, crouching down then seating himself beside the tub. With a hesitant hand, he touched the soft curls atop Anna’s head. When the little girl didn’t shrink away from his touch in terror, he wound a curl around his forefinger and leaned in closer to her face. “Hey, Anna,” he whispered, a tiny, non-threatening smile on his lips. The move, he belatedly noticed, also brought him disconcertingly closer to Sheridan’s own face, so close he could feel her breath warming his skin, and irresistibly, he found himself drawn to the blue of her eyes. Lost in her fathomless gaze, he only had a second’s warning, her mischievous smile the only clue at what was coming next.

    Pressing her lips against Anna’s forehead, Sheridan freed one of her hands to scoop up some bubbles and cried, “Watch this, Anna.”

    When Luis blinked his eyes open, foamy white bubbles sliding down his face and off of his chin, Sheridan’s mouth was wide open with infectious laughter and her eyes were alight; Anna, grinning and showing off her few perfect, pearly teeth, was held in front of her like a shield. Lifting up a hand to flick the bubbles back at Sheridan, Luis couldn’t resist returning her smile, but the glint in his dark eyes was decidedly dangerous.

    “You wouldn’t,” Sheridan smirked. Still, she scooted backward until one of Luis’s hands wrapped around a slender ankle, refusing to let her retreat any further. “Luis,” she warned, as he pulled her closer.

    Dipping his other hand beneath the warm suds, Luis arched a dark brow at Sheridan in challenge as he echoed her earlier words, “Watch this, Anna.” Then he smeared his own mountain of bubbles across her face, her neck and shoulders, trapping Anna between them. “Thought I wouldn’t do it, didn’t you?” he grinned at her when she glared at him in outrage. “See that, Anna Banana?” his wolfish grin softened as he looked down into the little face, her wet, soapy body soaking the front of his shirt and his sleeve. “She thought I wouldn’t do it,” he repeated, his triumphant gloating dying to a whisper as awareness slowly dawned, and his senses were overwhelmed with the slippery slide of the warm, smooth skin of Sheridan’s back beneath his open palm. “She thought…” Unable to finish because of the intensity in the blue eyes that stared back at him, Luis swallowed hard when Sheridan whispered back to him.

    “Thought what, Luis?”








    Any mistakes are mine. Let me know if there are any particularly glaring ones.


    So...Q is Quinlan. Bet some of you were going 'WTH.'

    Favorite parts? Favorite lines? Favorite anything?

    LOL!

    Feedback is LOVE!
    As always, thanks for reading, and happy new year again!!!

  7. #15

    Re: Anna Begins

    I'm so loving this fanfiction. please update soon i have loved youe shuis fanfic for years and glad to see you are still a shuis fan. i forgot my password years ago but i just had to post a comment on this fanfic so i registered again. keep up the good work.

  8. #16
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Dubuque, IA
    Posts
    118

    Re: Anna Begins

    Shae, updates! Updates please!!! I am dying here!! It is getting really really really good!!!!!

    Lynne

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